Drow Ranger has long been a niche hero—historically paired with Visage or embedded into pushing, pocket strategies—but in this patch she has attained a wider viability. Drow Ranger has the 2nd highest win rate from the 3-5k MMR bracket, and the 4th highest in the 5k+ MMR bracket. She was a consistent first round ban throughout TI6 (the 4th most contested hero), solidifying her status as a hero that’s strong and flexible enough to be picked early in a draft, regardless of the potential of her counters.
A History Of Buffs
Ditya surviving with literally 1hp because of Hurricane Pike, an item addition that has greatly benefitted Drow Ranger
Some heroes are in a perpetual state of nerfs and rubberbanding tweaks. But for Drow Ranger, since her rework in patch 6.76 in 2012, she has received consistent, incremental upgrades to all of her skills, not to mention an Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade and Hurricane Pike.
In patch 6.76, [missing skill: drow-ranger-precision-aura-5021] increased ranged attack damage from 14%/18%/22%/26% of Drow’s Agility. Today, that is now 20%/26%/32%/38%—nearly a 50% increase. It didn’t all happen at once. The skill was buffed in patches 6.78, 6.79, and 6.85.
Frost Arrows used to only slow movement speed by 11%/24%/37%/50% in patch 6.72d. Those numbers have been buffed slightly, over three patches, with the recent patch 6.88 changing the movement slow to 16%/32%/48%/64%.
Gust was a skill for Drow introduced in 6.80. As a new skill, it’s expected for it to be continually tweaked, and it received buffs to its knockback duration and cast point in three subsequent patches. It received a cooldown nerf in 6.88c, making it Drow Ranger’s first nerf since patch 6.79, which reduced her night vision range.
Marksmanship has largely remained the same, but it has benefitted from an Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade that is strong enough not to be situational.
Wings.Shadow’s build from the main event of TI6
What finally put Drow Ranger into the meta was the introduction of Hurricane Pike. The cheap, buildup of Dragon Lance benefits her early tower pressure, while also giving her some cheap stats for survivability. But it’s the active on Hurricane Pike that has given her protection against her usual, gap closing counters.
Pubs vs. Professional
Does it matter if heroes have more of an impact in pubs or professional games, when it comes to the question of whether they need a buff or nerf? In patch 6.88, Valve buffed 24 out of the 25 heroes that went unpicked throughout the Manila Major Event. They also nerfed 8 out of the top 9 most contested heroes of the same event. But there have also been tweaks to heroes that had little impact on professional meta. Necrophos was punished for his ancient jungling. Windranger had a 31.25% winrate during the Frankfurt Major and at the time a 45.77% winrate in the 5k+ MMR bracket, and she seemed to be nerfed more for her popularity than her power.
If Drow Ranger were to be nerfed, there would be arguments for her strength in both pub and professional play. She was a top pick throughout TI6, and she is one of the most successful heroes in 3-5k and 5k+ MMR brackets. She can be picked early, with little fear of counter picks. The knockback from Gust and Hurricane Pike have both mitigated any negative tradeoffs from picking her.
In competitive play, Trueshot’s global damage buff allows pros to leverage every minor advantage in the laning stage. In pubs, the damage buff makes up for the ability of the average player to last hit. More importantly, Drow Ranger gives a team its win condition and its purpose. She can take towers early and push high ground late. She can solo Roshan, while also enabling her team to do so. Her hero concept is simple enough for pub players to intuit her purpose and the game’s objectives. She capitalizes on mistakes, which run aplenty in pub games. A fight lost at a tower also results in a lost tower.
Sometimes it’s not about the objective impact of a hero, but how it feels to play against that hero. It’s not how many games this hero wins, but in the way he wins. A hero’s public image can be enough momentum to line up a nerf. Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason, but sometimes it’s just indignation. Storm Spirit had below average win rates before he was nerfed, but the games he won felt incredibly broken. These are heroes that people hate to play against, despite the relative strength of that hero. Huskar is another prime suspect. He is immortal when paired with Dazzle or Oracle, and laning against him can seem impossible. Yet, this month he has a 46.93% win rate. Windranger had a paltry win rate (43.7% across 309 professional games in patch 6.85), but her Shackleshot was still nerfed. It’s no surprise that this skill was a high point of contention for complainers. Does it make sense to nerf a hero that people hate to play against, even if that hero is losing more games than he is winning?
One advantage that Drow Ranger has is that she’s a community favorite. She is the 13th most popular hero of all time, and the 7th most popular this month. The games she wins still feels like she’s operating within the rules of the game, even if she three-shots your hero. But it most likely won’t be enough to prevent an inevitable nerf.