Ability Draft is my favorite mode in DOTA because it’s like a playing a brand new set of heroes every game and it requires players to be creative to be successful.
A lot of people treat it like a joke mode, especially when it becomes apparent that their builds suck, which is annoying because I assume that if you’re playing a competitive game like DOTA in the first place, you probably want to win. If you want to win, you should take any mode in any game seriously. With that in mind, I decided to write a guide for those that care.
I’m not a master of this mode or anything but I’ve got 400+ games of Ability Draft played, so there are definitely things I’ve learned that I can point out for people who like the mode but feel a little lost or just can’t seem to draft a good build.
I’m positive I missed a lot in this guide, so feel free to add combinations and ideas you’ve been successful with in the comments section.
Let’s get started.
As soon as the game loads, quickly identity your hero, identify your hero’s main stat (int / agi / str), and then start scanning the abilities for good fits. If you don’t know the hero’s stat, tab out and look the hero up using Google. Google “hero name dota 2 wiki” and the first result should list the hero, ranged/melee, and their main stat without you having to click on anything else.
The entire time you’re drafting, don’t just focus on the one ability you’re going to pick. Someone will usually take it and then you’ll be panicking. Make sure to have 2-3 backup abilities in mind for each pick just in case this happens.
Your Base Stat Is Important
Generally, if you’re int then you want to build spells, strength can be offensive or annoyingly defensive, and agility should be offensive. There are exceptions to this rule, but unless you can get Fury Swipes (Ursa), Focus Fire (Windranger), Glaives of Wisdom (Silencer), Arcane Orb (Outworld Devourer) or Overpower (Ursa), then building right click abilities on Int heroes tends to be a really bad idea. The same goes for building heavily mana dependent spells on strength or agility (except for stuns). The latter can work but it’s extremely item dependent.
I’ve seen some wacky shit work but if you break this rule, chances are your build is going to suck nine times out of ten.
Balancing Your Build
This is the primary reason people don’t have fun in Ability Draft. You can’t just draft anything that piques your interest if none of your abilities synergize with each other. When I begin a draft, I go in with a very basic plan.
Draft your core ability first (I’ll list these below) and then draft around that ability. Make sure that you draft an offensive ability, defensive ability, a disable, and an initiating ability. If you’re a melee hero, it doesn’t matter how strong you are if you can’t catch up to your target or stay on them. If you’re a ranged hero, it doesn’t matter how strong you are if you’re squishy with no way to create space for yourself.
If you can’t get a good core ability because you’re super late in the draft or one just isn’t available then just draft stuns and disables. You can never go wrong with stuns and disables.
Also, it’s almost never a good idea to draft all passives. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but in general don’t do it – especially on melee heroes. Ability Draft games tend to be short, so it’s usually not a great idea to build an melee carry that won’t get off the ground for 45 minutes because you’ve got nothing but passives and no way to secure kills.
The Core Abilities
Some abilities are incredibly strong and should be drafted as soon as possible because they will be the core of your build, and they should be drafted in this order (in my opinion). Your opinion may vary, of course.
- Fury Swipes (Ursa)
- Thirst (Bloodseeker)
- Glaives of Wisdom (ONLY IF YOU’RE SILENCER)
- Chemical Rage (Alchemist)
- Grow (Tiny)
- Berserker’s Blood (Huskar)
- Permanent Invisibility (Riki)
- Drunken Brawler (Brewmaster)
- Shukuchi (Weaver)
- Tiderbringer (Kunkka)
- Overpower (Ursa) – Especially good on ranged.
- Enchant Totem (Earthshaker)
- Jinada (Bounty Hunter)
- Blink (Queen of Pain / Anti-Mage)
- Vendetta (Nyx Assassin)
- Essence Shift (Slark) – Especially good on ranged agi heroes.
- Flesh Heap (Pudge)
- Teleportation (Nature’s Prophet)
- Jinada (Bounty Hunter)
- Untouchable (Enchantress)
- Windrun (Wind Ranger)
- Arctic Burn (Winter Wyvern)
- Curse of Avernus (Abaddon)
- Incapacitating Bite (Broodmother)
Some abilities are very strong but ONLY when combined with other abilities. They are listed as follows, in no particular order:
Sticky Napalm (Batrider)
Anything with rapid instances of damage will allow you to break a game with Sticky Napalm. The perennial favorite and most overpowered ability is Shackles (Shadow Shaman). However, there’s a bunch of other abilities that work well. They are Fatal Bonds (Warlock), Rot (Pudge), Ion Shell (Dark Seer), Curse of the Silent (Silencer), and Dual Breath (Jakiro) to name a few. DO NOT combo Sticky Napalm with Nightmare (Bane) because the first instance of damage will break the nightmare.
Enchant Totem (Earthshaker)
Enchant Totem is great by itself because it increases the damage of your next right click attack by 400% BEFORE crit effects. It’s downright obnoxious on a ranged agility hero. If you can snag it alongside either Walrus Punch (Tusk), Tidebringer (Kunkka), or Jinada (Bounty Hunter) then you will be in instagib territory.
It’s very hard to get this combination though, because these abilities tend to go quickly. If you do get it on a melee hero, try to get an ability to close distance like Life Break (Huskar), Blink (Anti-Mage/Queen of Pain) or Phantom Rush (Phantom Lancer).
Other good combinations for Enchant Totem are Flak Cannon (Gyrocopter), Impetus (Enchantress), Glaives of Wisdom (Silencer), and Arcane Orb (Outworld Devourer).
Take this early only if there are multiple abilities remaining that have low or no cooldowns. Aftershock works insanely well with Outworld Devourer’s Arcane Orb and Storm Spirit’s Ball Lightning. Both are zero cooldown and result in a complete AoE stun locks. Other abilities that Aftershock works well with include: Arcane Bolt (Skywrath Mage), Sticky Napalm (Batrider), Enchant Totem (Earthshaker), Static Remnant (Storm Spirit). The drawback is that this is easily countered with Repel (Omniknight), Rage (Lifestealer), or a BKB. Who cares, though? It’s still fun.
Overload (Storm Spirit)
Take this on ranged heros and combine it with a toggled or low cooldown ability like Voodoo Restoration (Witch Doctor), Arcane Bolt (Skywrath Mage), or Arc Lightning (Zeus) if you just want to be annoying and overpowered. Overload is usually really good for anyone if you can get a low cooldown ability to use it with.
Fiery Soul (Lina) and Warpath (Bristleback)
Just like aftershock, you need to find abilities with low cooldowns. Anything under 10 seconds to keep Fiery Soul stacked on you. Plague Ward (Venomancer) is very good for this because it turns you into a very annoying tower pushing machine. Quills (Bristleback) are always a strong choice, too. Anything under 10 seconds will make these abilities worth it generally.
Essence Aura (Outworld Devourer)
This ability can be abused by toggled abilities such as Ball Lightning (Storm Spirit), Pulse Nova (Leshrac), Mana Shield (Medusa), and Voodoo Restoration (Witch Doctor). Every time you toggle the ability, you have a chance of proccing Essence Aura, so if you spam the abilities, your mana shoots up to full. Essence Aura is a great ability for a spell heavy build in general.
Static Field (Zeus)
Static Field, like Aftershock, will not proc on toggled abilities like Voodoo Restoration and Mana Shield. Instead, use it in combination with very low cooldown abilities like Ball Lightning (Storm Spirit), Arcane Bolt (Skywrath Mage), and Arc Lightning (Zeus). Or if you’re so lucky, you can combo it with Chakram (Timbersaw) for a completely broken combo. You can usually get this combo if it’s available because nobody ever sees it coming unless they’ve seen it in action before. Static Field + Chakram generally results in an instagib.
Rearm is good for any high cooldown spells. Tombstone (Undying), Fatal Bonds (Warlock), Living Armor (Treant Protector), and Nether Ward (Pugna) are my personal favorites. High duration disables are also very strong like Frostbite (Crystal Maiden) and its ilk. DO NOT attempt to use rearm with minions if the enemy team has any semblance of AoE because you’ll just feed them gold. It’s tempting to make Eidolon (Enigma) and Nature’s Call (Nature’s Prophet) armies, but if the other side has any cleave at all, don’t do it. You will feed an ungodly amount of gold. Conversely, if someone tries this build against you, just build cleave to counter it. Splinter Blast (Winter Wyvern) is my favorite defense against these shenanigans.
Bugged Abilities and Weird Interactions
Any spells can be cast without breaking Permanent Invisibility (Riki). So you can get abilities like Ion Shell (Dark Seer), Pulse Nova (Leshrac), Rocket Barrage (Gyrocopter), Death Ward (Witch Doctor), Exorcism (Death Prophet), or any other number of spells that will make you an extremely annoying bastard to lane against.
Witchcraft (Death Prophet) grants no movement speed and only reduces the mana cost of Death Prophet’s spells. This ability isn’t usually worth picking up unless you’re Death Prophet, or have Exorcism, and even then it’s iffy.
Elder Dragon Form (Dragon Knight) doesn’t work correctly on most melee heroes and will result in you doing no damage with your right click attack. It works on a few melee heroes but I can’t remember them at the moment.
Silencer steals intellect regardless of his build. This means that Silencer is a viable right click carry if you can get the right spells, and especially viable and actually overpowered if you can get Glaives of Wisdom and combo with other offensive abilities and disables.
Glaives of Wisdom (Silencer) and Arcane Orb (Outworld Devourer) will interact with Elder Dragon Form (Dragon Knight) at levels 2 and 3 to give you an absurdly stupid ranged AoE attack. If you happen to get this combination on Silencer, the game is already over. It’s good on any other ranged int heroes as well.
Moon Glaives (Luna) do not work for any melee hero as far as I know. It will create a bunch of bugged glaives twirling on the ground though, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Walrus Punch (Tusk) causes a graphical glitch that multiplies each time Walrus Punch is used that will eventually make the map look like it’s filled with a bunch of Tusk ghosts at a disco. The ability still works but if you see a bunch of flying Tusk ghosts with green swirly shit around them, this is why.
Primal Split (Brewmaster) is kind of a pain in the ass to use because it doesn’t select the spirits for you when you activate it. So using the abilities takes an extra step. Not a huge deal, but it’s disorienting if you play Brewmaster at all.
Ranged abilities can no longer be manually activated by melee to grant the ranged attack. This used to be possible but recently got patched. Melee heroes can no longer activate Liquid Fire, Frost Arrows, Searing Arrows, Poison Attack, etc to give themselves a ranged attack. These abilities do still work in melee range, however. The only exception is if you happen to get Arctic Burn (Winter Wyvern) with Phantom Rush (Phantom Lancer). You will attack from an insane range with this combo, even as a melee hero.
More Info by Naskr
Melee heroes being unable to use certain ranged abilities is related to them having a projectile speed of 0. A list is compiled here (http://dev.dota2.com/showthread.php?t=131927) of the heroes that cannot use Glaives or EDF, and as an added note they might find trouble using Metamorphosis since it follows a similar logic. They can extend their range with Take Aim and Impetus, but anything that generates projectiles messes with them.
It’s also worth checking out Joe Kelley’s blog, as it provides some very interesting stats when it comes to AD. (https://www.joefkelley.com/?p=788)
Most notable is that certain abilities like Heartstopper Aura and Reincarnation end up as sleeper OP, and are brutally strong together. You may think Fury Swipes is good, but in practice it’s easier to play around than those other more subtle abilities and wins less often than you might expect.
Similarly, Pulse Nova has an excellent winrate because you can chuck it on any hero and it works, except it might be on a more naturally tanky hero or you can grab extra defensive abilities alongside it. This isn’t so bizarre now, but Lesh was under the radar a few patches ago and his ultimate gets underestimated constantly.
As for heroes, Warlock manages to be famously good in AD because of his naturally high strength and intelligence coupled with an excellent attack range and animation, making him able to be built successfully in almost any way.
He makes the observation that the best skills builds rather than following any sort of format, simply are made up of multiple skills that are independently strong. And he also reveals that the worst skills are the ones that sabotage people, and that the worst hero in the game may include obvious ones like Slark and Alch, but AD also reveals just how terrible Dragon Knight is on his own.
As for more funny ability combinations, here are a few:
Rot or Voodoo Restoration + Infest.
Auras persist whilst units are banished, so Rot and Voodoo will continue to be present around the infested unit whilst not taking health or mana away from the hero who has them. Can be combined with other auras, namely Natural Order or Degen Aura, choose your team’s tankiest hero to infest, and you have a build. Build aura items, or get a Helm of the Dominator and farm a lane whilst your allies do the work. My favourite because almost all the abilities are undesirable on their own but strong together, so it’s usually a cakewalk to draft it.
Split Shot/Flak Cannon + Feast/Insatiable Hunger
Multi-hit abilities typically do not apply extra attack bonuses or modifiers, and this is the same for most abilities. However, you can apply all the extra damage of the lifesteal passives on each extra shot, and lifesteal all of that damage simultaneously too. This means that if there are multiple targets around and you arent prevented from attacking, you have Satanic levels of sustain.
Laser and/or Heat-Seeking Missile + a good Aghs ultimate
Not particularly broken, but if you have something like Grow or Chaotic Offering then you can draft these skills, grab an Aghs and you’ve squeezed a ton of extra value out of this one item. Bonus points if you’re Nightstalker.
Snowball + Teleport
Teleporting immediately after casting Snowball will cancel the snowball and waste the cooldown, but will transport anyone who got inside to the target location. Essentially a global Dark Rift on a 20 second cooldown.