Gatekeeper’s Loading Screen by Noribu
Just last week, we discussed the fact that players will keep on innovating, even without drastic patch changes. Then, the South-East Asian fan favorite, Team Faceless, picked Warlock. They impressed, qualifying for The Summit 6 with a dominating run through their bracket. Like almost no other team, Faceless used Warlock to great success and inspired other teams even to pick the hero.
What is it about Warlock that makes him viable, and is he worth considering in pubs?
Excellent Lane Support
In a meta where farm seems available to everyone, and where the farm gap between the 4 and 5 support roles isn’t as big as it used to be, Warlock shines bright. He requires both farm and xp, but his early to midgame contributions don’t seem beneficial enough to warrant giving him the necessary space and time of a 4 support role.
Warlock fills the position of a 5 laning support quite well. He is fairly tanky and can trade hits with almost any offlaner due to his range and heal. Even if he is low on gold and xp, as long as he’s level 6 he can help out his team immensely. It’s similar to how old offlaners used to be played, such as Clockwerk or Puck, who were just fine going into the midgame with an ultimate and a bit of farm.
Bringing Back Midas
Despite fitting the 5 role perfectly, Warlock will still want to farm and get xp. As good as Chaotic Offering may be, it can drop off significantly as the game goes on, as weak Golems can be brought down quickly. Unfortunately for Warlock, he doesn’t farm at quite the speed as other supports would, as his spells provide no burst.
This is where Hand of Midas comes into play. Faceless’ Nutz has showcased that the item is essential on the hero, making sure that the level and item progression keep the hero competitive.
It may delay other items, such as the much appraised Aghanim’s Scepter, but it’s a valuable trade-off, especially considering that Midas helps farm other items quicker.
Midas is not only great for the 5 position Warlock, it is essential on any core position Warlock. A recent resurgence in mid Warlocks, spearheaded by Imperial’s Babyknight, sees a lot of the traditional Midas into Aghanim’s build.
Position 5 More Flexible
When it comes to item builds, Warlock has been rather one-dimensional in both pro and pubs. His most built item in pubs remains the Aghanim’s Scepter, and the next significant item in line is Refresher Orb.
For most of the time, this has stayed true in competitive games as well, as it was the most impactful way to play the hero. That was the conesus anyway.
Faceless’ Nutz has taken a different approach, and while he does purchase a Midas on Warlock, he continues to treat the hero for what it is: a support. Urn, Glimmer Cape or Force Staff; whatever item his team needs from him, he’ll buy it.
Warlock’s utility is still great, even without big items. His ultimate is not the only thing that makes the hero strong after all. Fatal Bonds is a great teamfight spell and Upheaval is one of the best slows in the game, if not the best. His ultimate, Chaotic Offering is more than just a teamfight spell. It perfectly transitions a successful teamfight into a push or into taking any other objective for that matter.
For all of his strengths and advantages, the hero is not perfect. It’s not a pick you can simply copy and expect to do just as well as others. Fnatic tried running the hero against Faceless in The Summit 6 SEA qualifiers, but to no avail.
Composition, Coordination & Communication
All of Warlock’s spells have high cooldowns, and they have only little potential in the early game, which is why positioning and movement around the map are crucial. To succeed with Warlock, it’s essential for players to know when to remain in lane to pull and farm or to rotate out for teamfights.
It’s rather redundant to rotate before level 6, so team coordination and communication is as crucial as ever. Securing a fast level 6, by either pulling intensively–something the carry needs to be prepared for–or by making sure that the other support’s lane presence isn’t as big, is key. It’s why Faceless often pairs the hero with a heavy roamer, such as Ogre Magi, and this is where other teams fail. By drafting another lane support, it drastically delays Warlock’s impact on the game–an impact he can only have if the rest of the team allows him to.
That’s why the team composition is important. Understanding that the hero thrives on timed fights and pushes is important. Aside from a suitable 4 position support, there’s preferably another hero, an initiator, that can benefit from the Chaotic Offering follow-up. It’s important to note though, that the team should not outpace Warlock. A team full of gankers and initiators will not be able to use Warlock effectively, as he is much less effective without his ultimate.
Warlock doesn’t deal well with momentum, because his skillset and itemization generally don’t allow him to build on it. Surely, huge momentum can allow him an early Agh’s, but even then that won’t necessarily make a huge difference. Other heroes can use momentum to build up items to get even further ahead, such as Blink Daggers. A Sand King with momentum is scary, a Warlock not so much.
He can take a team’s momentum, as a well placed Fatal Bonds + Chaotic Offering combination can turn the tides around, but that is why his team should not be built around acquiring momentum.
In this game 1 between Faceless and Power Gaming, Power acquires a lead in the early midgame and heroes such as Ursa or PA would allow them to keep building on that advantage. However, their pace is too high for their own Warlock. When pushing at 36:55 (21:30 gametime), Power does not have the Chaotic offering to back up the team. Even a minute later, as the ultimate is off cooldown, he can’t use it because his team is not in a position to capitalize on it.
Warlock can weigh a team down, if that team is not capable of playing around him. Drow Ranger is a bit of an exception to the rule, as her aura makes him quite capable outside of his ultimate, but she can also adapt to his timings better than most other carries.
Warlock here to stay?
In a meta, where the laning stage is so important and teamfighting is essential, Warlock seems like a good fit. EHOME may have been one of the few teams to realize his potential early on, but teams like Faceless carry on the torch. As always, it may come down to personal preference, whether or not other teams will look to pick up the hero as well, especially as a support.
As for pubs, it might be time to consider the hero’s worth. For a while now, Warlock has had one of the highest winrates in the Very High Skill bracket. Though out of the top heroes, his pick rate is the lowest. He certainly can shine as a support in pubs, but it is important that the other support has a distinctively different tool- and skillset.
For now, the hero remains a niche pick. The next LAN event may change that though.