(Featured image by Esports Edition.)

Dota 2 Counterpicking Guide: Draft Your Way to Victory

Dec 15, 2017
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(Featured image by Esports Edition.)

Counterpicking is hard to deal with. We’ve all been there before. You queue and find a match. Teammates are alright. You actually get to pick the position you prefer. Seems good so far.

But the instant you lock in your hero selection, the other team counterpicks. They choose heroes that are strong against yours, and take advantage of your hero’s weaknesses. And there’s not much you can do about it.

The match starts. It’s impossible to lane against these enemy heroes. You’re forced to retreat into the jungle. You have to hide in the trees to leech lane experience. Game is hard. At this point, you’re just hoping to get carried.

That’s not fun. You know what’s fun? Counterpicking your opponents. This guide explains how to do just that.

Counterpicking in Dota 2 Is All About Options

Dota 2’s depth separates it from similar games. You can choose from a massive pool of heroes. You can play each hero in a number of ways. The variety of items and talents makes every hero even more flexible.

The options are overwhelming. But this means that there’s always something to learn. Regular players and seasoned professionals have this in common: we’re all learning.

(In all fairness, pro players are learning at a exceptionally advanced level. Pros are analyzing nuances that we plebs can’t comprehend, but that’s besides the point.)

In the spirit of learning, let’s look at the principles behind counterpicking rather than tediously listing counters for each hero.

How to Counterpick Specific Heroes

When most players think of counterpicking, they start by targeting individual heroes on the opposing team. To do so, we need to be aware of the abilities and attributes of our mark. What skills does the target rely on to survive and deal damage? Is the hero a meatshield? Elusive? Mana dependent? Stealthy? Weak in the early game? If we don’t understand what our target does, we can’t counter them.

Dota 2 Counterpicking Guide - The image is of a festive Pudge, wearing a Santa hat and holding a piece of mistletoe in his right hand.
Merry Frostivus from your favorite butcher! (Image via the Dota 2 Blog.)

As an example, let’s take a look at the most played hero in Dota 2: Pudge.

  • Pudge’s signature skill is “Meat Hook.” The ability deals a ton of pure damage, which ignores Armor and Magic Resistance. The hook pulls a single unit to his location, but requires precise aim.
  • Pudge’s second ability, “Rot,” significantly slows and damages all nearby enemies. It also damages Pudge in the process.
  • As for attributes, Pudge has one of the highest Strength growths (Strength added each level) in the game. This is amplified by his third skill, “Flesh Heap.” It provides additional Strength for being involved in kills, as well as some Magic Resistance.
  • Pudge’s ultimate ability, “Dismember”, allows him to hold an enemy hero in place while absorbing their health points (HP).

We can conclude that Pudge’s primary power lies in landing Meat Hooks. A good hook can isolate an unsuspecting opponent. Once they’re grabbed, Pudge activates Rot and Dismember to finish them off. Pudge can also use his Meat Hook defensively to pull teammates out of trouble. As for attributes, Pudge is beefy. The hero naturally has a ton of HP thanks to his Strength growth and Flesh Heap skill.

Five Ways to Counter Pudge

Based on these observations, which heroes can we pick to counter Pudge?

  • Mobile heroes. We can dodge Meat Hooks. (Queen of Pain, Puck, Storm Spirit)
  • Heroes who spawn illusions or summon units. We can block hooks with dummies. (Lycan, Phantom Lancer)
  • Heroes with good vision. It’s easy to avoid hooks if we can see where Pudge is. (Night Stalker, Clockwerk)
  • Heroes with armor reduction abilities. High HP heroes typically lack armor. Pudge is no exception. (Ex: Bristleback, Dazzle)
  • Heroes that deal percentage-based damage. Abilities that don’t deal a flat amount of damage are super effective against beefy heroes. (Lifestealer, Timbersaw)

There are many ways to deal with any individual hero. But you need to understand their strengths and weakness first. The best way to do this is to play the hero a few times. (For those who lack time or patience, I recommend Turbo mode.)

The ideal counterpick to address a certain hero will change from match to match, and also depends on who the other heroes in the game are.

Counterpicking The Other Team’s Draft

I have a confession to make.

For most of my DotA/Dota 2 playing experience, I completely ignored the other nine heroes in the game. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. I just played whatever hero I wanted. And I built whatever items I felt like. It wasn’t until I started watching professional matches that I realized how much I had been missing.

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Always analyze both team’s lineups. What are each team’s advantages and disadvantages? Does one team consist of five carry heroes? Who has big teamfight ultimates like Tidehunter’s Ravage or Enigma’s Black Hole? Is there a lack of stuns/damage/pushing power? Is either lineup good at taking down Roshan?

Don’t be intimidated by the enormous amount of potential lineups. Almost every game will have different heroes. That’s the beauty of Dota 2. With so many combinations, the best example is an actual competitive draft.

Dota 2 Counterpicking Case Study

OG vs. TNC – MDL Macau Grand Finals, Game One

Last weekend, OG and TNC Pro Team faced off in the Grand Finals of the MDL Macau Minor. The teams have been rivals ever since TNC pulled off a stunning upset against the original OG back at TI6. The draft was a duel between two Canadian captains, OG’s Tal “Fly” Aizik and TNC’s Theeban “1437” Siva.

OG TNC MDL Macau finals game one lineups
OG vs. TNC  game one draft. (Screenshot via Dota Digest’s Youtube highlight video.)

Let’s look at the draft for game one and see what we can learn from the pros about counterpicking.

Bans

  • TNC bans Shadow Shaman
  • OG bans Night Stalker
  • TNC bans Shadow Demon
  • OG bans Nyx Assassin
  • TNC bans Broodmother
  • OG bans Ancient Apparation

Banning in pro games is different from All Pick pub matches, but the main principle is the same. Teams ban heroes they don’t want to play against. Heroes that counter a team’s gameplan get banned, and the opponent’s comfort picks usually get taken out of the pool as well.

Early Picks

  • TNC picks Tusk
  • OG picks Elder Titan and Bane
  • TNC picks Clockwerk

Both teams start off by picking heroes with disables. TNC’s supports both have abilities that block movement (Tusk’s Ice Shards and Clockwerk’s Power Cogs). On the other hand, OG’s supports are both able to put heroes to sleep (Elder Titan’s Echo Stomp and Bane’s Nightmare).

The Game Changers

  • OG bans Silencer
  • TNC bans Shadow Fiend
  • OG bans Dragon Knight
  • TNC bans Puck
  • OG picks Morphling
  • TNC picks Skywrath Mage

Every pick and ban is influenced by the ones that came before it. At this point, OG wants a hero that can evade the trapping abilities of TNC’s first two picks. TNC are aware of that and ban Puck, one of the most slippery heroes. OG goes with Morphing, a hero who can bypass barriers with Waveform. Morphling is a popular pick in the current meta, and the hero’s total tournament win-loss record is 11-2).

TNC counters with Skywrath Mage. Morphling is weak to burst damage early in the game. Skywrath has Arcane Bolt, a spammable nuke. Skywrath also has a silence (Ancient Seal) which amplifies damage and prevents Morphling from toggling his survival skill (Attribute Shift). Finally, Skywrath’s ultimate spell Mystic Flare synergizes with the trapping abilities of TNC’s first two picks.

This is an image of the Dota 2 hero Skywrath Mage, taken using the Abyssal Reef
(Screenshot by Esports Edition.)

TNC’s Skywrath Mage counterpick is risky. Skywrath becomes an easy target if Morphling gets farmed. It also means that TNC has two mostly offensive supports. But Skywrath was a TNC special. They were the only team to pick Skywrath Mage in the entire tournament, and went 1-2 with the hero.

  • OG picks Omniknight

OG counterpicks TNC’s counter. Omniknight’s Repel nullifies Skywrath’s damage and disables. Omniknight’s Degen Aura also takes away Skywrath’s speed advantages. With a huge heal (Purification) and teamfight ultimate (Guardian Angel), Omniknight is one of the best defensive heroes in the game. In the grand scheme of things, OG’s counterpick ensures their Morphling’s safety.

The Rest of the Draft

  • TNC picks Terrorblade
  • OG bans Tinker
  • TNC bans Death Prophet
  • TNC picks Storm Spirit
  • OG picks Tiny

TNC plans to shut down Omniknight in lane with Terrorblade’s Metamorphosis. Storm Spirit’s mobility enables him to dodge many of OG’s spells. OG last picks Tiny to execute combos with their support’s sleep setup.

Overall, OG wins the draft. TNC must play perfectly to win. In every fight, they have to find and kill Omniknight first, while avoiding disables from OG’s supports and kiting OG’s heavy-hitting cores.

It was too much to ask. OG won in just under 40 minutes with a dominating 26-9 kill score advantage. Morphling didn’t die a single time.

Counterpicking Doesn’t Guarantee You’ll Win

Counterpicking can give you an edge, but Dota 2 is a complex game. We are all still learning. Don’t rely on specific countering guides/charts as a crutch. Understanding why specific heroes are strong against others is fundamental. Building a powerful team composition is just as important as picking to counter the other team’s lineup. Find a balance between covering weaknesses and exploiting the enemy’s.

That’s great and all, but how do I avoid getting counterpicked?

We’re not always lucky enough to pick last. Getting counterpicked is part of the game. The great news is that there’s an item, talent, or playstyle for every situation.

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Jonathan is a dedicated Dota 2 staff writer for Esports Edition. His writing has also been featured at Cybersport.com, Unikrn News, and Mineski.net. Of all the heroes in Dota 2, he enjoys playing Tidehunter the most.
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