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Learn to control pets with Dota 2's Lone Druid

Advanced Tactics

Once you feel comfortable with the basic mechanics of swapping between multiple units, give it a try in lane. Having a pet with you lets you overcome the age-old problem of "two creeps are dying at the exact same moment, which one do I hit?" by simply hitting them both with your two separate auto-attacks. It's addictive, but the real trick is being able to recognize when it's too dangerous to have both Sylla and Spirit Bear up front racking up denies and busting open gold piñatas.

Sometimes you have to use your pet to safely last-hit creeps while Sylla hangs as far back as possible. Spirit Bear will auto-attack enemy creeps (if you leave auto-attack enabled in the settings), but it won't deny unless you directly order it to do so, just like heroes.

Trying to rack up the absolute maximum amount of gold and XP in the lane is good, but keeping both Sylla and Spirit Bear alive is even better. You're vulnerable without Spirit Bear, and its summon cooldown is several minutes, so play it safe if you accidentally let it die. And don't feel bad when you try to frantically tell Sylla to retreat and realize you had your Spirit Bear selected instead, sending the poor Lone Druid into the time out box for a spell. It's happened to all of us.

If Spirit Bear does get in trouble, use its Return ability to teleport it back to Sylla (keep in mind that the ability can only be activated if you haven't taken damage from an enemy hero or hero-controlled unit in the last three seconds). The timing on this is something you'll want to master. Among many things, it allows you to tower dive onto an enemy hero, using Spirit Bear to root them in place with it's passive ability that gives every hit a chance to snare his target. It's perfect for setting up an ally alley-oop without having to suffer the consequences of overextending.

When you're too slow on that escape and the bear gets hit too hard, you can send it back to base to heal up on its own. Sylla can stay in lane and soak up XP and gold during the bear's trek.

This is the second phase of your advanced training: learning to use Spirit Bear away from Sylla. Spirit Bear can't attack when it's more than a moderate distance away from his partner in tree-hugging. If you want to see the exact distance, open up your console (~ key) and type in dota_range_display 1100 . This will put a green circle around your character that shows the maximum range Spirit Bear can be from Lone Druid and still attack. To remove the circle later, just type in dota_range_display 0 .

But there's still plenty of uses for sending Spirit Bear out on its own. First, it can function as a courier, buying and bringing items to Sylla on the front lines.

When it's not buying, rooting, or fighting, Spirit Bear is best sent spying. After you clear a jungle camp, send Sylla towards the next one and Spirit Bear towards the most likely route an invading enemy would take towards that next camp. You'll either see them early and be able to retreat safely, or have peace of mind when clearing the camp safely. Teleport Spirit Bear back to Sylla with its Return ability when you're ready to fight. This same scouting strategy can be used to check nearby jungle areas while in a lane, as well.

These are just some of the main uses of a combatless bear, but there are plenty more out there. Start looking for opportunities where having someone soak up damage would be helpful. Creep wave headed towards an undefended tower? Send Spirit Bear to absorb the hits instead of the building, or, even better, lead them into jungle creeps who will fight them for you.

Master tweaks

If you can lane effectively with a pet, that's great, but remember that laning is pretty much square one for most heroes and there are a lot of tricks we've yet to master with Lone Druid.

For example, you can use Spirit Bear to block single-target skill-shot abilities from enemy heroes, like Pudge's Meat Hook . Doing so will require knowledge of your opponents' abilities, crazy quick reflexes to move your hero and your pet into the perfect positions, and getting a feel for your individual opponents' playstyle and timing. But when you pull it off, it feels great. Of course, most of Dota 2's skill shots affect areas rather than the first target it hits, so you're mostly just hoping to bait the ability casts by pressuring them with Spirit Bear. Every ability cast at him instead of an actual hero on your team (I hope Spirit Bear doesn't maul me for saying that), is a small victory.

And, of course, it works both ways. You can also use Spirit Bear to leap-frog friendly abilities forward, like Dazzle's Shadow Wave to deal extra damage to the enemy heroes from distance or Lich's Ice Armor to slow enemy attackers if they try to hit Spirit Bear.

Start to experiment with Sylla's Bear Form in lane as well, and learn when its extra defenses and melee boost outweigh the cons of losing ranged attacks and moving slower. It's impossible to give blanket rules for when to shift forms, but you'll get the feel of it as you play and size up your opponents in each match.

Some general guidelines to get you started: True Form (Bear Form) is usually the best choice outside of laning. It makes Lone Druid more tanky and increases his damage output, if he can afford to get into melee range.

No matter what Sylla's doing, Spirit Bear can set up some easy kills for your team. But learning when to push him onto enemy heroes is more art more than science. You need to be willing to send it into danger, but don't want to offer it up as a free sacrifice. Its passive abilities give it a chance to root its target (and the Orb of Venom you hopefully bought for it adds a slowing effect), and it can sprint in crazy fast with the right items.

Learn to recognize when a teamfight is about to engage, and send the Spirit Bear in after a squishy that your team is ready to pounce on, or to block a path that they might try to use as an escape. Outside of team fights, use Spirit Bear to check treelines or trap enemy heroes trying to pester your team from the jungle.

And of course, your magnum opus will be when you find yourself in an abandoned co-op game vs. bots and you take control of all five heroes and manage to micromanage them to victory singe-handedly. Once you've done that, you will be declared an official pet master. Fair warning: that's going to be at least 10-15 different abilities to manage, so if you get overwhelmed easily you might want to just focus on making two of them efficient, and just let the others auto-attack between ults.

Your homework

Happy pet taming this week, Dota 2 all-stars. As always, you can download Dota 2 on Steam . You'll need a beta invite if you aren't already in, but Valve has been giving them out like stale Halloween candy, so it shouldn't be hard to find one. If you need one, ask in the comments below and a PCG reader will likely help you out. Once you're in the beta, all of the heroes, including Lone Druid, are 100% free, so you can practice with him right away.

Five goals to aim for as you learn to control pets with Lone Druid:

1. Root an enemy hero with your Spirit Bear when it matters most, and your team gets the kill.

2. Let Spirit Bear revel in the victory of getting a last-hit on an enemy hero.

3. Teleport your Spirit Bear out of battle with Return when it has less than 20 health left.

4. Clear the entire jungle without dying.

5. Fill all 16 available item slots in a single game.