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My blog has undergone quite a transformation- originally a place for me to rant about things I don't like about S2, it somehow recently became the opposite- a place for me to defend S2 from day-to-day forum insanity. But really, the more I think about it, the more this Blog should really be about one thing and one thing only: Heroes of Newerth. So instead of analyzing forum behavior, let's instead talk about the game at hand!
It's only been a few measly hours since Shadowblade, the latest "Agility" Hero was added to Heroes of Newerth. Since then, I've played around 6 or 7 games with mixed results. And while I can't say I won every game with him (I did win ~half), I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Indeed, I'm actually very excited about Shadowblade, something which is perhaps in part due to the fact that I neglected playing him in Super Beta Tester games. This lack of knowledge on my part was a pleasant change of pace, as usually I've already gotten the gist of a new Hero by the time they've came out. This time would be different- although I knew approximately what Shadowblade was about (in theory anyways, a "hybrid hero with multiple roles" doesn't really say much these days!), I had no real idea what was to be expected.
First off, Shadowblade is a "hybrid" hero, but not the kind you are used to. Typically what a hybrid means, is that the Hero will be capable of two things, but (if balanced) not a master of either. A good example of a typical hybrid is perhaps Valkyrie. She's a Ganker, but she's also a semi-carry. She is not the hardest Carry in the game, nor is she the best Ganker in the game- she does both roles but only to a certain point. Shadowblade is different in this respect- because unlike these traditional Carries, Shadowblade can actually do multiple things to full extents. Shadowblade is a hard carry, but he's also a pretty hard initiator, and while at times he can be a hard squishy carry, he can also become a hard survivability machine that refuses to die.
To me, Shadowblade is what Morphling was supposed to be but never really achieved. A Hero that could do multiple things. I don't know DotA or DotA2 enough to know how Morphling turned out these days, but back when I played he was designed pretty badly. The option to change between a "tank" and a "agi carry" was managed through two autocast abilities which drained one attribute for the benefit of the other. Your primary attribute would change through this. His adaptive strike would also change depending on your primary attribute. Despite this effort to make Morphling an interesting Hero, Morphling ultimately (at least for me), failed in this regard. He was fun, but for all the wrong reasons. Waveform basically became your bread and butter, the skill he was most known for and his attribute changing mechanic, for the most part, took the back seat unless you really needed Strength to tank through a hectic situation.
By looking at Shadowblade for the first time you almost fear like its going to be the same thing. An ult which is essentially a passive that grants you a percentage of a target's primary attribute permanently? Sounds repulsively boring. But much to me surprise, it really wasn't.
Shadowblade succeeds where other Heroes have failed, to create a balance-able "hybrid" Hero that can actually do multiple things just as well- if only one at a time. Shadowblade's ultimate allows him to change his primary attribute to any he desires, and also gives him a bonus to this attribute depending who he targets. Using this ability, he can switch between a rather squishy but dangerous Agility Hero, or a formidable Strength "tank" (there is a fiasco about whether "tank" is a role or not- to me "tank" is a sub-role that simply means you have a lot of hitpoints). The fun part really comes into play when you use this ability in battle to suddenly change from a full fletched Tank into a squishy hard agility carry in the bat of an eye- a feat no other Hero can really pull off.
But really that's just the beginning. Your other abilities are what truly change the Hero into whatever you want. Gargantuan's Blast gives you a huge heaping load of extra Survivability and works well as an initiation ability (following Feint's Siphon). By using it after you've jumped into a fight (especially when you are using your ultimate to become a Strength Hero) you can be an extremely formidable Initiator, soaking up large amounts of Physical and Magic damage while your team widdles down the slowed masses.
Feint's Syphon is your most versatile spell. In addition to granting you +agility and +damage when used on an enemy (the +agility and movement boost stay on you even after you change forms!) it also provides you with movement speed. It can be used as many things: an initiation tool to combo with your Gargantuan's Blast ability for quick slowing, a simple burst in damage for out-damaging an enemy carry or bursting a support down, an escape mech (although admittedly very weak), or simply a burst in damage to be combod with Soul's Sight. Feint's Syphon can even be cast on yourself for a handy movement speed boost wherever you may currently be. It's your bread and butter and unlike your other abilities, is far from only situational.
Soul's Sight is basically the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of what would otherwise be an only mediocre and possibly boring Hero. Most Agility melee Carries suffer from not being able to maneuver around fights very easily. Their melee attack is a disadvantage right until the very end of the game, where every second of Shrunken Head activation time is precious and every moment not spent wailing on an enemy Hero is time squandered. These hard Carry Agility heroes- Heroes like Chronos or Magebane- they all suffer from this problem. Shadowblade suffers from other problems- primarily a lack of a reliable escape mechanism, no stun or mini-stun. What he lacks, however, he makes up with the ability to be permanently ranged whenever he wants. Yes, you read that right- Soul's Sight has an 11 second duration and only a 10 second cooldown. If desired, although this wouldn't be very practical, Shadowblade could stay in ranged for for how ever long he could sustain the (cheap) Mana cost.
Not only does he become ranged, but he gains vision of an area, making Juking impossible. When combo'd with his other abilities, a clear routine for teamfights begins to emerge:
- Be a Strength Hero via Essence Shift (prior to engagement)
- Initiate with Feint's Siphon
- Activate Gargantuan's Blast for Initiation, Slow and Tanking ability
- Wait for the initial onslaught of damage to dwindle, then activate Soul's Sight
At this point, you've become a ranged Hero that still has bonus damage from Feint's Syphon. If all goes well, at this point, your team will have followed up and layed waste to many of the Support Heroes- but perhaps there are still Carries that are alive. Usually at this point I hang back and lick my wounds for a moment, before I begin the second onslaught- this time with less crowd control on the field, I can roam more freely and become a glass cannon:
- Use Essence Shift on an ideal Agility Hero
- Initiate with Feint's Siphon
- If the enemy is distracted, simply wail on them until they react
- Activate Gargantuan's Blast for the slow only
- Activate Soul's Sight for the ranged attack and finish off the wounded enemy
When I had originally begun playing Shadowblade, I thought Soul's Sight was more of a situational ability, or perhaps an ability that was only worth using if I was using Intellect as my primary Attribute (something you should never do, thus making the ability pretty useless). As it turns out, Soul's Sight turns you into a ranged hero, buffs your auto attack damage, gives you a nice vision boost, and has no drawbacks! If it weren't for the fact that Feints Siphon (probably) gives more attack damage overall (although I can't confirm this), I'd be using Soul's Sight to damage enemies all the time. If it does turn out that Soul's Sight gives comparable DPS, I will probably just neglect using Feint's Siphon for anything else than a positioning tool for Gargantuan's Blast (and +Agility and MS boost), which I would then mostly chain into Soul's Sight.
Concluding, Shadowblade is a fun and effective Hero. Unlike other hard Carry Melee Heroes, he suffers greatly from not having a reliable escape mechanism, doesn't have any stun and has very little crowd control (just one Slow). What he lacks, however, he makes up for in his ability to be on your ass all the time. His blink strike, his ranged attack damage and vision- in a teamfight where the enemy can't make a full retreat, it's almost impossible to keep him off you. There is no place to run and no trees to hide behind. I love Shadowblade for what he is, a unique Hero that scales in an interesting way- having a metric crapton of one primary attribute is a very fun and interesting way to be a carry- having 2.7k HP very early in the game is definitely amusing, and if you have an Arachna or Gemini on your team, +40 Agility is basically ensured once you hit level 16.