What is Ability Draft?
Ability Draft (AD for short) is a less serious gamemode where each player is assigned a random hero with no spells or passives at all, instead allowing you to draft (choose by taking turns) the passives and spells you want to have. This allows for very powerful and interesting spell combos that would never be apparent in normal modes.
How does the draft work?
First of all, not all heroes are included in Ability Draft. As of right now, only the heroes that have exactly 4 spells and/or passives are included (the only exception being Meepo, since he was removed after players realized his ultimate was way too imbalanced for this mode).
When the draft starts, you see a screen containing the picking order, each player’s hero and their spell selections, as well as the spell pool. The spell pool comprises of all the spells and passives of the 10 heroes that were randomly assigned to the players as well as the spells and passives of 2 more heroes that can be found in AD. This ensures there is always an adequate number of spells to select from.
At this point, players take turns choosing the spells and passives they want, until everyone has filled their 4 spell slots. Afterwards, the game starts.
How to draft
After having played a lot of AD matches, I noticed that many players, despite being mechanically competent, cannot manage to draft well enough, and end up doing very badly. There are, however, some things that you can keep in mind that will improve the quality of your drafts dramatically.
1) Look at your hero. Determine if the hero is STR, AGI or INT, if he is long ranged/short ranged/melee, if he has a high/medium/small mana pool, if he has high/average/low base damage, if he has good/average/bad attack speed and animation, if he has a fast/slow cast speed. These attributes will tell you your actual role in the game.
2) Look at the spell pool. How many disables are there? How many of these disables are reliable? Are there many game-breaking abilities in the pool (more on that later)? Is the pool spell-heavy, passive-heavy, or balanced? Are there any orbs? The spells that are available will tell you how easy it is going to be to make your hero adhere to your chosen role. If it is too hard, you must hybridize your role, or choose another one altogether.
3) Choose your role. The roles are the same roles as in normal gamemodes. Carry, Semi-Carry, Ganker, Midlaner, Jungler, Support, Hard Support, Initiator. At this stage, you combine points 1 and 2 to make your decision. I’ll give you 3 examples.
(a) You have a Huskar. Huskar is STR, medium ranged, low mana pool, average base damage, average attack speed and animation, fast cast speed. He is decently suited for attacking, with STR offering extra damage and survivability. He is not suitable for spellcasting, since his mana pool doesn’t support it, however you could sustain 1-2 low mana cost spells with careful use. The spell pool is balanced, offering a variety of disables, as well as carry-oriented actives and passives. With this information, you would be wise to choose a Carry, Semi-carry, Ganker or Midlaner role, since they are the roles that best suit your base hero and available spell pool.
(b) You have a Vengeful Spirit. Venge is AGI, medium ranged, average mana pool, average base damage, average attack speed and good animation, fast cast speed. She is decently suited for attacking, with AGI offering her a decent chance at a late game potential, but is squishy early on. She is decently suited for spellcasting, so long as the spell isn’t very mana intensive. The spell pool is heavily biased towards spellcasting, with a massive amount of disables. You would be wise to choose a Ganker, Midlaner, Support or Hard Support role, leveraging your decent manapool and cast animation/speed to effectively assist your team.
(c) You have a Dark Seer. DS is INT, melee, high mana pool, high base damage, average attack speed and good animation, fast cast speed. You are decently suited for attacking, but INT doesn’t offer much window for carry potential by means of attacks. You are excellent at spellcasting, even if the spell cost is high. The spell pool is heavily biased towards attacking, however, with multiple orbs and passives. You would be wise to choose a Semi-Carry, Ganker, Midlaner, Support or Initiator role, leveraging your high mana pool and casting and potentially combining it with a good orb (more on orbs later) to create a hybrid attacker/caster.
These are but rough examples, and only indicate half of the total thought process. For the other half:
4) Choose your spells and passives. There are a few rules you need to follow here.
- First and foremost, you should try to pick abilities such that when you are level 6, you can have a 3-1-1-1 build, with the 3 points in one spell offering maximum utility or damage, while the 1 point in each of the other spells is enough to offer a good amount of utility or damage as well. We are going to refer to the 3-point skill as your “main” skill, while the other 2 are going to be your “1-point wonders”. The ultimate is an obvious exception, being very useful even at level 1 most of the time.
- Second, you should try to deny the enemy the ability to create winning combos (more on that later), such as Enchant Totem+Tidebringer+Jinada, or Sticky Napalm+Ion Shell. Sometimes, this is even more important than picking spells to fit your 3-1-1-1 build (this depends on the spell pool). On the same note, you should try to pick such combos yourself, but only if they fit your role even vaguely (you shouldn’t go for Enchant Totem + Tidebringer + Jinada on Crystal Maiden, for example, since by the time you will actually be doing any damage, the enemy will have complete control over the game).
- Third, you should maximize the amount of spells and passives that strictly fit your role, and pick ones that vaguely fit it afterwards. For example, a support prioritizes disables and nukes, a carry prioritizes attack damage and speed bonuses and an initiator prioritizes mobility and AOE ultimates.
- Fourth, you should always try to counter-pick the enemy. If their lineup is invisibility-heavy and Track/Amplify Damage is in the pool, picking it up is a wise choice. Similarly, if they are building spell-heavy and Repel/Rage is in the pool, it would definitely be a helpful tool.
- Fifth, never go full passives. Even though it sometimes seems like a good idea to pick up Lunar Blessing, Feral Impulse, Poison Sting and Coup De Grace, you will not be able to do anything with these. An enemy that is even somewhat intelligent will shut you down with harassment and spells, and you will not be able to retaliate at all, since you have no spells of your own, and solely rely on attacks. You will also be useless in teamfights, and will need to farm forever to “come online”. Remember that the early-mid game is more important than the late-very late game in AD.
- Sixth, work with your team if possible. While text chat is disabled during the draft, voice chat works (!), so you can actually communicate your plans with your team, and maybe prevent the annoying occurence of a teammate taking a spell that would be best suited for you.
After all these points have been taken into account, you should have a pretty clear plan for your hero’s role and spells. If you are ever undecisive when it comes to attack-based vs spell-based, try to go for spell-based, even if you have a low mana pool. Disables are king in AD, and usually the team that picks the most will win.
Main skill and 1-point wonders
Your main skill should be one that near-perfectly suits your chosen role. It should normally have good scaling, so as to incentivize leveling it up. It should offer you good utility and/or damage nearly throughout the game.
Your 1-point wonders should be spells with very high damage and/or utility with just 1 level in the spell. An example would be Shackles or Pounce. They will become better as you level them up, but even with only 1 point they work, well, wonders. These spells can be ones that perfectly or vaguely fit your role.
Choosing skills this way allows you to avoid the conundrum of which spell to level up first. While it may be a good idea at first glance to pick Breathe Fire + Dragon Slave + Avalanche (~900 magic AoE damage!), which of the 3 do you level up first? This is an example of a conundrum that can easily be avoided by using the 3-1-1-1 rule.
I mentioned these a while back, but what are they? Simply put, they are spells or passives that can turn a lone hero into an unstoppable killing machine, since they are balanced on their hero of origin, but woefully broken when combined with the chaos of AD. The most prominent examples are: Berserker’s Blood (Huskar’s passive), Permanent Invisibility (Riki’s Ultimate), Shadow Dance (Slark’s Ultimate), Shapeshift (Lycan’s Ultimate), Chemical Rage (Alchemist’s Ultimate). There are many others that are extremely strong, but these are the ones that can allow nearly any hero to stomp the enemy team.
Attack orbs are spells that modify your attack in some way, and can be autocast or manually cast. These are: Frost Arrows, Poison Attack, Glaives of Wisdom, Searing Arrows, Arcane Orb, Burning Spears, Liquid Fire. An attack orb allows harassment of enemies without aggroing creeps, while adding damage to the attack. While they are technically spells, they count as an attack instead, meaning that anything that procs (happens) when you cast a spell will NOT happen when you cast an orb (with the only exception of Arcane Orb, which does count as a proper spell). Perhaps the most important feature of attack orbs is that they will always have the range of the hero they originated from when manually cast, meaning they will turn your melee hero into a ranged hero when you manually cast the orb on a target. Also, attack orbs cast by melee heroes will have no projectile, and their travel time will be instant! Very useful.
These spell and passive ability combos are strong enough to allow a hero to win the game alone. They are ridiculously powerful, and under no circumstances are you to allow the enemy to get such a combo. The most prominent of these are: Tidebringer+Enchant Totem+Jinada/Walrus Punch, Sticky Napalm+Damage Over Time spells or passives, Teleport+Any summon spell+Rearm, Nether Ward+Rearm, Rocket Flare+Rearm, Living Armor+Rearm, Overpower/Focus Fire+Nethertoxin/Fury Swipes, Liquid Fire+Poison Sting. While you may occasionally win against such a combo, it is not worth the risk. If you can get one such combo, however, and it fits your role even remotely, go for it.
Tips, tricks and awesome combos!
- Warpath, Overload, Fiery Soul and Aftershock are even better than usual in this mode, and synergize extremely well with low-cooldown spells.
- Permanent Invisibility does not break when you cast a spell, thus picking high-damage nukes with Permanent Invisibility really makes you a stealth killer.
- Shapeshift will attack from range if your base hero is ranged.
- Silencer will steal INT from nearby dying enemy heroes even if he has none of his original spells.
- Treant Protector has the highest base damage in the game, and is unbelievably powerful in the early game, even more so if he has an attack orb or Tidebringer.
- Lina has the highest base range in the game, and is an excellent candidate for Impetus. The Aghanim’s Scepter item will consider only which ultimate you currently have, and not which ultimate your base hero normally has.
- The abundance of players going for attack-based builds makes Heaven’s Halberd a near must-have in this gamemode.
- Arcane Orb, Arcane Bolt and Glaives of Wisdom are very powerful when on a hero with high base INT and/or high INT gain. Use on Silencer with lots of assists for the best results.
- Put Thirst on your gankers to eliminate juking.
- Don’t be afraid to pick spells that were originally on your hero – they were there for a reason in the first place!
- Flak Cannon and Split Arrow can apply Moon Glaive on each hit, making you an AoE machine who can solo a team very easily if farmed with these abilities. Juxtapose also works with each hit, generating an unbelievable amount of illusions.
- Passives that enhance your survivability (Reactive Armor, Untouchable, Corrosive Skin, Kraken Shell, Spell Shield, Gravekeeper’s Cloak) can be used to great effect on nearly all heroes – just make sure you are somewhat survivable in the first place!
- Mobility spells (Burowstrike, Blink, Skewer, Timber Chain, Leap, Pounce) are extremely powerful when picked along with huge teamfight ultimates (Black Hole, Reverse Polarity, Ravage, Echo Slam, Epicenter).
- Spin Web will work as it does for Broodmother (invis, regen, free pathing, movespeed) on any hero that picks it.
- Nearly every hero can be made into a decent level 1 jungler with the right spells and passives, but that doesn’t mean you should go for it every game!
- Combo a powerful nuke with Soul Assumption for a remarkable burst of damage.
- Brilliance Aura is very effective in this mode, since few heroes can actually sustain the manacost of spells during the early to mid game.
- Grow is very powerful on carries, and even more so on ranged ones, since the Aghanim’s upgrade will allow you to do splash damage at range!
- Dragon Form will add about 350 range to your hero when active, meaning you can attack from VERY far away, and is very useful for sieging towers in the early game (a 600 range hero with it active will outrange a tower). Beware though, as it has been reported that Dragon Form doesn’t work properly with melee heroes!
- Arcane Orb counts as a spell, and will thus trigger passives such as Aftershock and Fiery Soul.
- Chakram counts as a spell both when being sent out as well as when being returned, and will trigger passives such as Aftershock. The passives will be triggered even if you hit chakram return as the chakram is already returning!
- Faceless Void can ALWAYS move inside Chronosphere, even if he is not the one that cast it! This means you can potentially have Void + 1 other hero moving inside Chrono, but it can also mean that your friendly hero casting Chrono gets wrecked by the enemy Void, so beware! Also of note is that only the caster (regardless of whether that is Void or not) of Chronosphere will gain 1000 movespeed and phase for its duration.
- I hope you found this guide useful! Remember that this mode is mostly about having fun, but it has a surprising amount of strategic depth – stay informed, stay ahead, stay entertained!