I decided to write this guide because I feel that it is one portion of decision-making that way too many people take for granted. After 7 years of playing dota including 2800 dota 2 pubs, over 500 inhouse games (NEL, ixdl, nadl), playing every single role many times, I have collected a pretty broad understanding of how to take advantage of every piece of eatly game gold this great game gives to you. By no means will reading this ensure your invitation to TI5, but you might pick up some useful information. As with anything in dota, plenty of opinions are involved, feel free to reply with anything you disagree with or have questions about. Forgive my formatting, it’s my first time using it on Reddit, but I’ll do my best.
I will put the most detail into starting items, because I think that they are the most important, potentially game changing decisions that you will probably only realize you can improve on if you see someone else do it (or read this guide). Enjoy, and give feedback.
Section 1: Level 1 Items
This section could almost be summed up in one word: intuition. Use it! If you spend just a few seconds analyzing your lineup, the enemy lineup, and what you plan to do, you will most likely vary your starting item selections, and I can guarantee that it won’t even resemble the recommended starting items given by the user interface. Really sit there and consider all of the circumstances and the options you have.
Tangos: It’s as simple as this. The only time you shouldn’t buy a set of these is if you’re solo mid and are getting pooled 1-2 tangos from supports (don’t pool 3, the cooldown is too long). Even then, this should only be done in a few specific occasions, like hero’s that bottle rush (shadow fiend, DK, magnus, etc). This being said, if you have a hero on your team that could greatly benefit from an extra tango or two, you should probably give him one. Pooled regen wins lanes.
Salves: Less useful than tangos. These can get canceled in a multitude of ways, and you can’t use them to cut trees for double pulls or sneaky initiations and escapes. 95% of the time you should be walking out of base with one of these, unless you’re bottle rushing or playing support and have invested your gold elsewhere.
Clarities: Far less useful than tangos and salves, but still crucial on supports and a few offlaners. Some heroes like Earthshaker should buy more than one, even if it means going without a level one salve. Take into account what laning situation you will most likely be in to make your decision.
Observer wards: Buy these as soon as you get out of the gate. It will start the cooldown timer, and there’s always a need for observers. If you’re running an aggressive trilane, bring both wards with you into the tri, otherwise consider giving one to your offlaner and bringing the other to ward your safelane/rune.
Smoke: Take a look at whether this item will actually help you at level one. If you have greedy supports that aren’t great early game gankers, you should probably spend that 100 gold on something else, or even save it. If you have aggressive supports like visage/lion/anything with a stun, pick one up and start the cooldown timer. Smoke gank their mid and half the battle’s won.
Sentries/Dust: This is pretty much one or the other, but certainly not neither. Sentries are a must have for aggressive trilanes for dewarding, and against weaver and a few others, whereas dust gives you better returns against offlane bounty hunters because of the 15% slow when he goes invisible. If you can afford to get both (and dust is necessary), do it.
To wrap up consumables, a general rule of thumb is one support buys observers and courier, the other buys sentry/dust and smoke. Both buy tango and salve and one clarity.
Branches: Overrated. Too many supports buy these and then lack regen or other crucial items. That being said, most mid heroes and cores should buy two of these.
Stout shield: All around great item on any melee hero. If you’re a core melee hero and you didn’t buy this at level one, you’re probably doing something wrong. Never buy this on a ranged hero under any circumstance. On occasion, consider picking one up on tanky melee supports, but only if you have enough item slots, and remember that consumables (including dust/wards/tp) are a priority.
Poor Man’s Shield: Not viable at level one. Costs too much money.
Magic Stick: Good if you can guarantee a lane against a batrider/zeus/pa to accumulate stacks and gain an early advantage to snowball upon. Also decent if you anticipate a very early team engagement. Never buy on supports at level one, as buying the proper consumables doesn’t allow for it.
Quelling blade: Usually pointless to buy this at level one, some people like to buy it on kunkka mid, or antimage in the safe lane to get more last hits. It’s a good pickup from the side shop on melee carreies that will be utilizing jungle alot. You shouldn’t use this to get “easier” last hits, that’s just gravy on top of its other uses.
Ring of Protection: Pretty good item on the right hero. Pretty bad on others. A must for ranged sidelane carries. A no-no on supports. There’s too many other useful ways to spend 175 gold as a support. Decent on heroes like lycan, axe and centaur, bad on most every other melee hero. Getting it at level one is important because you should be letting your mid and whore the courier as much as possible.
Wraith band: Pretty legit on mid lane agility heroes for that huge 9 damage. Not very good on most side laners because then you can’t afford stout/ring of protection and regen.
Null Talisman: Good on a few intelligence mids, like OD, QoP, Storm. Check to see who you’re laning against to see whether you need to bottle rush or not, since buying the Null only leaves you with enough gold for one regen stack.
Boots: We all love our boots first sniper or pudge, but let’s be real here. This item is only useful on offlaners who need it to stay out of stun range and every once in a while, heroes that can get an early initiation off for a first blood. If you decide to buy boots, grab tangos and a clarity for sure
Section 2: Early Laning Phase
The first thing to keep in mind here is that all of your gold will be unreliable until you get a hero kill/assist or a tower kill. That means if you die you’ll lose it. There’s not too much you can do about this, just something to consider when making decisions. I’ll break this section up into roles as they can be somewhat generalized.
Supports: Use your consumables wisely. Right now, they make up your entire net worth. If you’re in a trilane grab a magic stick as soon as you can. Otherwise, save up for a tp (counterganks win games) or a courier upgrade. Crow that shit at 3:00 sharp so your mid can bottle crow faster. With such a minuscule amount of gold you’re given in this stage of the game, every bit counts. Don’t save up 700 gold because you can’t decide what to buy. Making a less than ideal purchase is better than dying and losing all that unreliable gold.
Use TPs sparingly. If you die, don’t tp back to lane unless you’re needed urgently. It’s simply too expensive for you, in addition to putting your TP on cooldown.
Mid: If you’re on any hero with a spammable ability, get your bottle ASAP and start bottle crowing. Next, get boots+TP or midas if you’re the next Arteezy. Always TP back to lane if you die., and ferry out a salve in a pinch. Exp/gold given from lane is too crucial at this point in the game to miss out on.
Carries: If you’re against a trilane, pick up a magic stick at the side shop as soon as creep equilibrium allows it. Next, ranged carries finish your basilius, melee carries consider Poor Man’s Shield or quick boots. If you’re not against a trilane, you can rush midas (greedy, pays off later) or phase boots(extremely strong in 1v1 side lanes). Just make sure you have regen accounted for before those two luxury items. Like mids, TP back to lane if you die, you can’t be missing out on early game creep EXP/gold.
Section 3: Misc.
I’ve covered most of the basics, but there are a few ways to make your moves more efficient. If you need to go back to base, spend all your unreliable gold and suicide to neutrals. It’s faster. Always make sure your carry has all the regen he needs, it’s an absolute priority. If you’re a support and both you and your carry are low, give him your salve, suicide to neutrals, and walk back to lane. It seems like simple stuff, but it’s surprising how seldom this is done correctly. Little things like this are what generate snowballing leads, or help you come back from a rough start. Always remember what each item’s uses are and when you should have them, and that your decisions will always be better than what the recommended item list provides.
Thanks for reading, good luck.