Dota 2's character roster can be intimidating, even after hundreds of games. It's easy to settle into the same familiar picks, and fear of falling deeper into the trench can prevent new and intermediate players from experimenting with lesser-seen heroes or new roles. In this series, we're going to highlight a hero that you might not be playing as much as you should: someone with a strong win-rate but low pick-rate. In short, an unsung hero of Dota 2.
This week, that's Warlock. According to Dotabuff, Dota 2's grimoire-obsessed demon-wizard is picked in only 4.6% of games despite enjoying a healthy 54.99% win-rate: the 11th highest in the game. He plays very differently to our last unsung hero, Omniknight, but some of the reasoning for his low popularity is the same. Warlock is typically played in the support role, has huge potential game impact, but his unusual skills fall outside of traditional archetypes. He's weird, requires good judgement, but is deadly in the right hands.
What does Warlock do?
Warlock is an intelligence ranged hero most commonly played as a support. His abilities provide strong harass and lane support as well as potentially-huge teamfight impact.
Fatal Bonds (Q) is cast on a single enemy, at which point it 'binds' them to a number of nearby units. When a bound unit takes damage, 25% of that damage is shared to all other bound units. In lane, this can be used to clear creep waves quickly or to harass an enemy hero by forcing them to share damage with their creeps: but doing so will push the lane, and potentially steal farm from a core hero. In teamfights, Fatal Bonds should be used at the beginning to maximise its impact. It has a huge cast range, so you don't need to endanger yourself to get it off. If you know that a distant low-health enemy is under the effects of Fatal Bonds, hit any other affected unit to finish them off.
Shadow Word (W)is a single-target spell that heals friendlies and damages enemies over time. At max level it does 495 damage/healing over its full 11-second duration, which is significant if you choose to max it first. Most players will underestimate just how much it does, either not realising how much health you or an ally stand to regain or falling too low to stay in lane during the early game. In a teamfight, Shadow Word on a single enemy plus Fatal Bonds on the entire enemy team amounts to 990 distributed damage (before magic resistance) that can be guaranteed before the fight has properly begun.
Upheaval (E) is a channeled slow that affects a huge radius and can be cast from very far away. This is Warlock's hardest spell to use effectively, but potentially his most deadly. The slow increases the longer it is channeled, up to a massive 84%. At max level, it reaches that point after three and a half seconds. Warlock has a bunch of 'fire and forget' spells for a reason: once his other three abilities have been used at the start of a teamfight, you should be able to position yourself to channel Upheaval for as long as possible. The enemy team should find themselves bound together, ticking down, and stuck in a quagmire.
The main reason to play Warlock is the way he pronounces the word ‘grimoire’ (warning: volume.) Nobody is prouder of anything than Warlock is of his grimoire. Back when I used to work on PC Gamer magazine, I could only dream of packing as many additional vowels into the word ‘magazine’ as he gets into ‘grimoire’. Come for the teamfight impact; stay for the grrrrlllleamwhaaaaaaaooure.
He's unusual, which is a blessing and a curse
It takes time and effort to unpick how Warlock’s abilities fit together, and their optimal usage will still be slightly different in every scenario. Enemy positioning and team composition, where a fight takes place, the relative advantage of your team—all of this matters. That’s the downside. On the upside, with the exception of his ult his impact is relatively subtle. He’s not firing off lasers like Lion or Lina: he’s at the back, channelling the slow that is getting everybody killed. He’s wearing down your offlaner with Fatal Bonds or Shadow Word. He’s off behind a tree, micro-managing the Golem that’s tearing down your middle lane. Played right, Warlock gets to slip into the shadows ignored: exactly where he wants to be.
His potential damage output is colossal
Despite his relatively subtlety, ignoring Warlock is a huge mistake. Good teams will kill or chain-silence him right at the start of a fight, because if he gets the opening he wants then his damage output will build and build. First comes Fatal Bonds, Chaotic Offering, and possibly Shadow Word. Then comes the reliable Pure damage nukes from the Golem, split between the enemy team, a threat that you ignore at your peril. And if you do manage to focus the Golem down, that provides time for Warlock’s allies to land free hits—hits that, once again, will be spread through Fatal Bonds, and so on.
He determines the pace of teamfights
This makes Warlock a character that you have to control, and this in turn gives him a degree of power over the pace of a teamfight. This, I suspect, is the reason for his win-rate in pub games: like Silencer he needs to be played around, and can catch teams completely off-guard in they fail to account for him. The exception to this rule is his vulnerability when he’s on his own: gankers like Nyx Assassin completely tear him apart, and he’s terrible against current meta favourite Broodmother. Fatal Bonds can do work against Spiderlings, but Warlock's worst nightmare is a character he can't hide from.
Items to consider
As a support, expect to buy the Courier, Flying Courier, and lots of Observer and Sentry Wards. You'll be the one to get Smoke of Deceit and Dust of Appearance, too. You know the drill by now. Warlock can run into mana problems early, so Arcane Boots and a Magic Wand are both common early solutions to that problem. If there isn't anyone else on the team suited to it, Warlock makes a good Mekansm and ultimately Guardian Greaves carrier—his Golem can benefit from the aura and healing too. If playing Warlock as a core or you're pulling in plenty of gold, Aghanim's Scepter and Refresher Orb are natural item progressions for him. The former causes Chaotic Offering to summon two Golems instead of just one, and the latter allows you to potentially drop it twice. That's four Golems! This is called 'going full boyband' by nobody in particular.
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