Ability draft is an alternate game mode for Dota 2 that lets you combine skills to create a "new" hero.
(Featured image via Valve.)

The Not-so-Complicated Ability Draft Guide

May 22, 2018
(Featured image via Valve.)

Ability draft is one of Dota’s alternate game modes. At the start of an Ability Draft game, players are assigned a Hero and take turns selecting three regular abilities and one Ultimate from a pool of randomly selected abilities.

For example, if you’re playing Dragon Knight, you might be able to grab Mirana’s Arrow, Slardar’s Slithereen Crush, Lycan’s Summon Wolves, and Naga’s Song of the Siren Ultimate. It’s basically like Mr. Potato Head for Dota Heroes. Some Heroes (and their abilities) are unavailable in Ability Draft for balance reasons– For example, you won’t be able to play Meepo, Techies and Earth Spirit, or snag their abilities. For the full list of heroes that aren’t included in Ability Draft, click here.

Choose Your Abilities Wisely

Certain skills are more valuable than others in Ability Draft. After you’re assigned your Hero, the draft alternates between teams. The team who gets first pick will have to wait while the enemy team picks up eighteen abilities in a row, so you better make your first pick count. The draft “snakes” (like in Captain’s Mode) and players successively select abilities. There’s not a lot of time to make your decision, so it makes sense to go in prepared and have some backup ability choices. Ability Draft games typically don’t take as long as normal matches, so you shouldn’t rely on buying expensive items.

I just witnessed some next level inception in an ability draft game from DotA2

Have you always wanted to pay tribute to Khaleesi by giving Queen of Pain the Elder Dragon Form ability? Now you get to live out your weird GoT/Dota 2 crossover dreams.

Ability Draft is a great way to blow off steam if you’re not in the mood for “regular” Dota, but it’s also a great way to get better at thinking on your feet. Your item and ability builds need to be dynamic and flexible if you want to win in Ability Draft.

Ability Draft Is Not Ideal for New Players

The game requires good knowledge of each of the available Heroes’ individual skills as well as how they interact. It’s difficult to pick a good skill combination if you don’t understand how each Hero works. This can be really punishing for newer players.

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Perpetually Bugged?

The coding for Ability Draft is probably responsible for a lot of unexpected gray hairs in Valve’s development team. The code for every ability has to be broken apart and able to stand independently, then be available to be cast by any Hero in the pool. I can’t even get a 60-line python code to run without hours of troubleshooting. Trying to get Ability Draft to run smoothly without breaking the rest of the game sounds like a programmer’s nightmare.

One of the most persistent and annoying bugs is that certain Heroes have access to two Ultimates– They keep whatever one they’d normally have and then the user is able to add one during the drafting phase. Zeus, Lifestealer, Nyx Assassin, Ursa, Gyro, and Treant Protector have all seen this bug. Since the Heroes are randomly assigned to each player at the start of each Ability Draft game, this adds a not-so-fun RNG element to the gamemode.

Given that Ability Draft isn’t played all that much, it seems to be pretty low on Valve’s bugfixing priority list. There’s a lot of weird interactions and general bugs with the game so, before you jump in, you should check out this list.

Check out this clip to see what an Ability Draft game looks like.

Broken and Overpowered Skills in Ability Draft

Everyone hates playing against Rearm in Ability Draft. Rearm resets the cooldown on all of a Hero’s abilities and items.

There are forum posts going back to 2014 complaining about how broken Rearm is in Ability Draft. You need a Hero with decent mana to use it but it opens up a lot of doors for spamming some of Dota’s most obnoxious abilities. If you get Zeus as your Hero in Ability Draft, you can cast Thundergod’s Wrath, Rearm, then immediately cast Thundergod’s Wrath again. The other team will be totally miserable, and you’ll snowball your way to a GG.

Some Hero abilities make more sense in a specific role (i.e. for supports) or with Heroes with a specific strong attribute (i.e. high Intelligence Heroes). But there is a short list of abilities that are worth picking up no matter what Hero you’ve been assigned. There’s a good list here, and you’ll notice that most of the top priority abilities offer escapes or invisibility.

No matter what Hero you’re playing, having a reliable way to get out of harm’s way or disappear entirely is going to be useful. Blink is a great skill, since it means you won’t have to farm a Blink Dagger. Weaver’s Shukuchi maxes out movement speed, gives invisibility, and deals damage. No matter what kind of Frankenstein Hero you’re creating in Ability Draft, that’s going to be useful.

Damage and CC are Key

Picking up a damage booster active or passive is helpful, especially if you have high base damage. Brewmaster’s Drunken Brawler is a great choice; it’s a passive, so you don’t even have to worry about activation. With Drunken Brawler on a high-damage Hero, you can hope the RNG gods are good to you and give you lots of crits and evasions.

If you’re playing support in Ability Draft, pick abilities that help you replenish your mana and powerful stuns. If your team looks like it might be casting a lot of spells, pick Outworld Devourer’s Essence Aura and enjoy the free mana regen. Stuns are always a good choice, especially if you have good team coordination. Remember, disables win games.

Mind Over Mana

Ability Draft forces you to think about the intrinsic properties of each Hero rather than how they’re usually played in normal games. If you have a Hero with terrible movement speed, escape abilities are even more valuable. If your Hero has terrible Intelligence gain, don’t get Medusa’s Mana Shield. Be wary of abilities that are dependent on other abilities, too. For example, Luna’s Eclipse doesn’t actually do anything if Lucent Beam isn’t skilled. With the new Skill Trees, some of the Talents won’t be useful — if you’re playing Mirana, you won’t be able to get anything out of either of her Level 25 talents (+2 Multishot Sacred Arrows/+100 Leap Attack Speed) unless you got those abilities in the draft.

Most importantly, don’t pick an ability that you don’t understand. You don’t want to be stuck with something you have no idea how to use during the game.

Improve and Adapt

Ability Draft isn’t for the faint of heart. Be prepared to be frustrated when the other team is assigned Lifestealer AND Zeus and has access to seven Ultimates. But it’s a fun change from regular pub games, and it can help you improve at Dota.

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Kara has been following professional DotA2 since the TI4 qualifiers. When not watching matches on Twitch, she can be found working (or attempting to find work) as a geologist and enjoying nature.
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