Patch 7.00 sufficiently rocked the Dota 2 boat, but as the waters calm, new strategies and metagames have emerged from the sea. The addition of talents, gained at levels 10, 15, 20 and 25, has significantly strengthened several heroes, and others rise to the occasion the good ol' fashioned way: buffs, both direct and indirect. The quick application of patch 7.01 helped dull the edges of some of the more drastic spikes in power, but a new fold has risen up to test the ranks of illusion heroes and the usual suspects of the 6.88 meta.
Competition is still scarce until ESL One Genting 2017 kicks off, but there have been enough tournaments in between to see emerging trends. As you break out your shiny new mechanical keyboard from the holidays and settle in for a long winter of Dota, here are some of the emerging heroes you should be grinding some games on.
Note: this article will be competitive-focused, so the Treant that's been terrorizing your pub games won't be on the list, due to his removal from Captain's Mode.
It didn't take more than a couple of competitive matches for Visage to become pick/ban status. The spectral gargoyle received a significant number of buffs to its more potent abilities in Gravekeeper's Cloak and its familiars. The Cloak buff now not only has a higher damage threshold and added damage reduction, but also extends to Visage's familiars, his stone birds that deal incredible damage. That damage output was not only increased, but also recharges faster now, as the familiars' salvo resets after two seconds instead of 15. Add on actual health meters for the birds, instead of taking three universal hits to kill, and Visage has become a potent support pick yet again. Note that patch 7.01 has significantly reduced the health of familiars though, which could see teams less likely to first pick the gargoyle as much as they did in the span of base 7.00.
A single bullet point in the patch notes completely shifted Brew's presence in the meta. "Drunken Haze miss chance rescaled from 45/55/65/75 percent to 70 percent" meant the keg-toting mid laner could contest just about any lane, forcing the opponent to think carefully about when to move in to last-hit. Even more, when split into three with his ultimate, the Storm Brewling's Dispel Magic ability now deals 1000 damage to summons, making Brewmaster a potent counter to illusion-based lineups and carries like Chaos Knight. Many pros and pundits were already eyeing the Brewmaster for a resurgence, but now, he seems to be a sleeper pick ready to burst into the meta.
"When split into three with his ultimate, the Storm Brewling's Dispel Magic ability now deals 1000 damage to summons, making Brewmaster a potent counter to illusion-based lineups and carries like Chaos Knight."
If you've played a Dota 2 match in the last week or so, you've no doubt seen a Lich transition into a right-click carry halfway into a match. The frosty support's level 20 talent, which gives it a boost of +150 damage, can put Lich over the damage threshold of many carries, and a level 25 talent takes it further, giving the undead mage a free Eye of Skadi. Though it might be hard to imagine a fast level 20 on any support, Lich is a perfect candidate; combine his Sacrifice experience boost with the new scaling Amplifying Tomes, and a four-role or even three-role Lich can hit 20 faster than you might expect. It won't be replacing any hard carries, but some of the more experimental offlaners and four-role players might look to use Lich's newfound attack power in future matches.
Just days after his induction into Captain's Mode, Evil Geniuses have already put Underlord to work at the China Top 2016 tournament. Though his Pit of Malice was reworked a little, the longer duration and multiple-root potential gives the Underlord a great deal of zone control in teamfights. His ultimate, Dark Rift, also allows for interesting plays: defensively warp your entire team to a shrine, to heal up and re-engage, or jump to another lane after taking one tower, forcing teleports or a ceded objective. Talents help him scale heavily into the late game as well, with his level 25 talent granting a whopping +50 health regen. This big guy can bring a lot of presence to your team, and in the hands of an organized squad, can pressure objectives and suffocate lanes.
The map changes and new runes, alongside longer creep camp spawn times, all encourage roaming, aggressive supports. Few do this better than Gondar, a mobile assassin who can fight early and put enormous pressure on lanes. Beyond making the mid laner scared of losing their bottle and courier in the first five minutes, Bounty Hunter can make fittingly good use of bounty rune spawns, as running around with a bottle can save him a few trips home. Track helps you follow enemy rotations, and some early talents help boost him come mid-game. No one has made use of the level 25 Jinada talent yet, but even then, Bounty Hunter poses a much more prolonged threat in matches, and in a meta dominated by rotating supports, Gondar will always be a solid option.
Runes moving to the old, old system of randomized spawns at two minutes has re-opened the middle lane to many aggressive, mobile carries, and the current favorite among teams is Templar Assassin. Refraction allows TA to contest opponents one-on-one and come out on top, and using Psi Blades, which now proc on illusions as well, she can hit you in the back lines even behind creeps and heroes. Her traps add extra map control as well, useful for keeping an eye on the new Roshan pit, bounty rune spawns and shrines. Many mid-lane carries are seeing a resurgence, but right now, Templar looks to be the frontrunner in most mids' minds.
A little more ambiguous of a pick, Chaos Knight received a few needed buffs to be put in the eye of patch theorists. The armor debuff moving to Reality Rift means CK can do more damage without having to invest heavily in his passive, while Chaos Strike gives him much-needed early lifesteal, lessening his item burden in the early game. Talents up this further, letting him choose to make his Rift pierce spell immunity if he needs the extra sticking power on a Lifestealer or BKB-holding carry. The real theorycrafting comes down to his new Aghanim's upgrade, which allows him to cast Phantasm on allies. Many have been quietly speculating and crafting four-role CK builds, getting an Agh's and using Phantasm on carries like Phantom Assassin or Drow Ranger.
Added to captain's mode in patch 7.01, the reworked Necrophos certainly benefitted from having his passive and key ability condensed into one skill. In its place Necro gained Ghost Shroud, which gives him an early ethereal and also bolsters his healing and outputs a decent slow. In a more aggressive meta it's difficult to say if Necrophos will rise out of obscurity, but he certainly has more tools to work with, and some pros who have kept Necro in the pocket might make good use of his new toolkit to surprise teams with drafts built around the scythe-wielding necrolyte.
Though Weaver already saw some play in the Boston Major thanks to Ilya "Lil" Ilyuk of Virtus.Pro, the bug carry got some nice touch-ups in a moderate Agility increase and some nice scaling talents. Extra Shukuchi damage lets him fight earlier and make good use of a maxed-out Shukuchi at level 10, and his usefulness increases through each rank, up to the racecar level 25 talent that lets him break the natural movespeed cap in Shukuchi. Hard carries feel a bit overlooked for buffs, as most of the radical changes happened in the other lanes and roles, but among the radical shifts and meta changes, Weaver looks to be a safe pick. Able to dodge ganks with Shukuchi and Time Lapse, output significant damage even earlier with Blight Stone/Germinate and The Swarm, and solid all-around stats, it's hard not to see Weaver as a regular safe-lane pick alongside standards like Lifestealer and Luna.