It’s easy to predict the least played heroes in Dota pubs, before taking a look at our win and pick rate page. It’s not surprising that many of these heroes are also among the lowest in win rates. The rare few who do pick these unpicked heroes can’t even win with them. First, you have the usual lineup of heroes that requires controlling multiple units or summons: Broodmother spiderlings, Chen creeps, Naga Siren illusions, Visage birds, Meepo Meepos. Then there’s heroes whose mechanics can be beyond an average player’s understanding and skill: Io, Oracle, Earth Spirit, and finally, the recent late bloomer in recent tournaments, Shadow Demon.
Despite his unpopularity in 6.88 pubs (6th lowest pick rate), Shadow Demon is having somewhat of a resurgence in recent tournaments. To compare, during ESL One Frankfurt, he was picked 6 out of 190 games. But at the two most recent premier events, he was the second most picked hero at The Summit 5 LAN and the most at the Starseries LAN, where Team Secret has first picked Shadow Demon five times in their series against Digital Chaos and Complexity Gaming. But despite his high favorability at these tournaments, he was also rarely banned. It’s a sign that rise comes at a time where he has long disappeared from both professional and public consciousness. So where did it all begin?
A History Of Buffs
Shadow Demon’s patch changelog
Shadow Demon has received buffs nearly every patch since 6.79, missing a note in 6.83. That’s close to three years of incremental changes, none of which had amounted to much success in the meta, which is why he continued to receive those buffs. It’s a familiar story arc for many heroes that rise in popularity. Sometimes it’s heroes that received major changes that become meta picks, but more often than not it’s the hero that finally gets noticed, after one final tweak. This was the case with Windranger, who rocketed to the top of our pick rate list in 6.84, where her Shackleshot cast point was reduced from 0.3 to 0.15. It punctuated a series of buffs since 6.81.
Shadow Demon has had every skill tweaked. Over three patches, Shadow Poison has had its mana cost, duration, radius, and stack counts buffed. Soul Catcher cooldown was rescaled. And with his new Aghanim Scepter upgrade, he joined Doom in an exclusive group, out of the hundred heroes and hundreds of skills and item abilities, who could apply Dota’s new Break mechanic through spell immunity.
But it was the three consecutive buffs to Disruption, from patch 6.86 to 6.88, that dragged Shadow Demon out of obscurity. All three were buffs to the illusions that the spell generated, and in turn they unlocked a new side to the spell’s offensive potential, when before it was used primarily as a setup for another stun or as a defensive spell to nullify single target disables or buy time for elusive carries, like Weaver and Ember Spirit.
This also comes at a time where heroes like Terrorblade, Luna, Juggernaut, and Alchemist are coming into the meta—all popular pairings at the StarSeries LAN. Past level one, Disruption illusions deal more damage than Manta Style illusions (33% melee, 28% ranged), and at all levels they take less damage at 150% (350% melee, 400% ranged for Manta). The only issue was that they didn’t last long enough. Since patch 6.86, the illusion duration has increased, over two buffs, from 8 to 14 seconds at level 4, a 175% change.
All of this only adds to Shadow Demon’s utility. He already had everything you wanted in a support. A potent wave clearing spell, a defensive spell, an offensive one, a disable, and now he has offensive synergy with the current meta heroes.
A collection of abuses
From the Manila Major to Starseries, Shadow Demon has been on an upward trend in competitive play.
This game was only one out of two Shadow Demon picks throughout all of 101 games of the Manila Major LAN finals. From rat doto to horse doto, Alliance displayed some new, roundabout ways to break high ground during the Manila Major group stages. Though the mechanic of [missing skill: centaur-warrunner-return-5516] with his illusions is well known, it was usually too gimmicky to incorporate. And it may still be. Centaur is nowhere close to being part of the meta, but this was a neat showcase of a cheese strategy, taking advantage of Disruption’s illusions 150% damage received. Shadow Demon hadn’t received his last 6.88 buff yet, but this was a sign of things to come.
Fnatic, along with Team Secret, has favored Shadow Demon strongly in recent tournaments. And they’ve found success, recording a 7-2 record with SD over the past month. That reputation led Digital Chaos to pick Shadow Demon, against Fnatic, to deny the hero at Starseries. Before that game, they had played the hero twice in the last six months. Fnatic has commonly paired their Shadow Demon with Terrorblade, but their use with Luna at The Summit 5 was a throwback to an older combo.
In typical Team Secret fashion, they find how to to extract, or abuse, the most out of their strategies, in this recent matchup against Digital Chaos at Starseries. They had two kills at 23 minutes and were already knocking on DC’s high ground. By 28 minutes, Arteezy was six slotted on Alchemist, and abusing the Octarine-shortened cooldown of Manta Style to the fullest. Despite the kill score difference, Team Secret were already snowballing on the strength of their draft. Shadow Demon’s illusions just made breaking high ground that much easier.
This new offensive potential for Shadow Demon elevated him into the professional meta, but it may also bring him out of the gutters of pub play. His skills are a little finicky for pubs, but using Disruption as an offensive, pushing spell doesn’t require good timing or positioning. You just click and send the illusions in. It’s a no risk scenario that can’t backfire, like an ill-timed Disruption would. Pros are certainly maximizing Shadow Demon’s newfound potential. Everyone else should hop on too.