The Boston Major is debuting this weekend at the Wang Theatre, and for many teams, it's the last chance to innovate on one of Dota 2's longest-lasting patches, 6.88. The current patch since June 12, 6.88 will have lasted through both an International and major, and has been considered one of the most balanced patches in Dota 2's history.
Though smaller alterations have been made in the months since, the overarching 6.88 has been a solid rock for competitive, as teams have been free to innovate and create drafts to counter each other's strategies rather than the prevailing metagame.
The end of the Boston Major will be the end of that era, as 6.89 is likely to hit right after the major. And so the balance will shift again. For now, here's a few of the prevailing themes that dominate the current metagame, heading into the first major of the 2017 season.
One of the recurring themes you will hear is illusions, or rather, specific carries that can make potent use of illusions. The Shadow Demon-Luna combo is infamous at this point, allowing teams to gradually siege towers with little commitment. Other carries, like Drow Ranger, have even been utilized in the illusion siege strategy, though Shadow Demon is often the crux of it.
In response, teams have been turning to a variety of methods to deal with Shadow Demon. Banning the support out of the draft is a standard approach, but other heroes have crept into prominence between TI6 and now that help teams cope with the SD draft. Outworld Devourer, an Intelligence carry that has seen a resurgence in the mid-lane thanks to buffs to his Astral Imprisonment, can whittle down illusions well with his Arcane Orb, and provides a good deal of teamfight damage with his "hammer" ultimate, Sanity's Eclipse.
Other teams have used items like Mjollnir, or heroes like Axe and Timbersaw, to effectively dispatch illusions sieging towers. Shadow Demon, and other illusion carries like Alchemist and Naga Siren, are still tough to handle, but teams have generally found methods to combat them. Still, you can likely expect at least one Shadow Demon-Luna combo at Boston; it's beatable, but that doesn't mean it isn't strong.
Rock of ages
Though some teams put him to good use at The International 6, Warlock has since become a more hotly contested hero, with many seeing in him what a few saw back in Seattle. A series of gradual buffs over the past few patches has silently raised the old summoner to the top of the support pile, from a better healing ability to his golems having a bit more health to withstand hits.
Warlock's magic immunity-piercing ultimate, Chaotic Offering, is the most obvious benefit of having the summoner in your draft. Even in the lane phase, though, Warlock makes his presence known with substantial healing from Shadow Word and his Fatal Bonds dealing massive damage across enemies.
That bonds benefit is especially useful when considering the return of trilanes. After a long period of offlaners and four-role players all grabbing Iron Talon and heading to their respective woods, teams have started utilizing offensive and defensive trilanes more often, or even just rotating the four-role to the safe lane more often. Fatal Bonds allows you to still output significant damage as a dual-lane, and Shadow Word buys time for other players to teleport in, or your carry to make an escape from a gank. If you've been absent from Dota drafting meta-discussion since TI6, Warlock is probably the biggest phase you've missed in the ever-changing 6.88.
Know thy enemy
When pinning down meta discussion around 6.88, it's better to look at individual teams. TI6 saw teams' drafting catered to the situation, rather than a list of Must Bans and a catch-22 of letting one or two overpowered heroes through that your team could deal with better.
More and more, picks and bans have been identifying weak points in teams, often singling out the points that a team wishes to attack another on. Against EG, Venomancer will likely be a frequent first-round ban, but other captains are more likely to never consider the hero. Teams playing OG or Team NP will look to remove Naga Siren from the pool, as each squad has proven Siren players; when facing Wings Gaming they will be less inclined to, as Chu "shadow" Zeyu holds a 36 percent win-rate on the hero going into Boston, and his only pick of Naga Siren since TI6 was in an 0/4/0 loss to Virtus.Pro at The Summit 6.
Targeted bans will be more important than ever, and teams that better identify comfort picks and pillars will be more likely to advance in the single-elimination bracket. The increased importance placed on draft and replay analysis, with teams picking up more staff to identify key data in matches beyond what the coach sees, could be a make-or-break tool in Boston, and at events to come. In a meta as theoretically balanced as the current Dota 2 patch is, showing up prepared could mean the difference between the first major title of the 2017 or a quick trip back home from Massachusetts.
The Boston Major will kick off group stage play Friday, with the main event bracket starting Wednesday, Dec. 7.