<
>

Takeaways from the Manila Masters

Evil Geniuses mid laner Sumail "Suma1L" Hassan has been riding a wave of success after the Manila Masters. PGLesports/Flickr

The Manila Masters represented an interesting time in competitive Dota 2.

It came to us just as the first level of the metagame was unveiled at the Starladder series, where teams like TNC Pro Team and Team Liquid showed off what could be done on patch 7.06. At Manila, some of the teams sitting at the top of Dota's pantheon unveiled even more as a brand new mid lane-centric environment took hold on the patch. With EPICENTER in Moscow underway, it's time to look back at some of the biggest takeaways we had at the Manila Masters.

It's SumaiL's world after all

It's safe to say that Syed Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan has bounced back from his sophomore slump. After winning the coveted Aegis at The International 5, SumaiL's 2016 season performance has been less than stellar. A combination of team instability, patch changes to his signature heroes and the rise of 2016's breakout player, Amer "Miracle-" Al-Barkawi, saw SumaiL struggle to have the same level of dominance he demonstrated when he burst into the scene at the Dota Asian Championships 2015.

But everything has seemed to line up for SumaiL recently. His form was noticeably better at the Kiev Major; and while Evil Geniuses failed to take the top spot in Ukraine, their win at the Manila Masters highlighted just how monstrous of a mid laner SumaiL truly is.

Every highlight reel from Manila showcased SumaiL's trademark aggression. From his late-game five man Vortex play on Storm Spirit against Team NP in the finals to the daredevil Aegis snatch he pulled off in the same series, SumaiL absolutely refused to let EG lose.

Patch 7.06 has been a great boon for SumaiL. Dota's current environment rewards mid laners with solid laning mechanics, which fits right in SumaiL's wheelhouse. Prior to the patch, SumaiL was routinely winning lane matchups he had no business winning, including an outstanding performance as Ursa Warrior against Anathan "ana" Phan's Outworld Devourer in Boston at the beginning of the season.

His heroes seemed to have resurfaced with him as well. Part of 7.06's intricacy is that while mid laners are expected to have immaculate creep scores, the extra gold and experience reaped in the mid lane also enable earlier and more explosive roams from the the center of the map, bringing back Queen of Pain, Puck and Storm Spirit, each one deadly in the hands of SumaiL.

Exactly how good is he? Nearly every mid laner asked at Manila Masters pointed him out as the best mid in the world right now. Both Faceless' Dominik "Black^" Reitmeier (who switched to mid laner from safe laner for the tournament) and Newbee's Song "SCCC" pointed out that it was SumaiL who gave them the most trouble.

Reports of deathball have been greatly exaggerated

When patch 7.06 hit, the changes to catapult siege damages, lessened high ground shrines and increased overall gold and experience in the map had analysts and pundits expecting shorter overall games. Indeed, the blowout games at Starladder seemed to reinforce that idea. After all, securing an early lane advantage means a team can roll over the opposition before they've reached their key items. An early high ground breach was possible as the defensive utility of lengthy, eight-minute buybacks and shrines were reduced.

But Manila Masters showed us that longer games were not only possible, but more than probable. Team NP's Day 1 opener against Team Secret ended at 65 minutes. Thirteen of 38 games ended in 40 minutes or more. In effect, the lengthened buyback timers and lessened base shrines have incentivized teams to play conservatively once the midgame matures.

Of course, as Team Faceless also demonstrated, games can and do end at approximately 25 minutes, but not due to deathball strategies circa 2014's International. With less early game regeneration, heroes like Io have returned to the fold, bringing with it aggressive global pick-offs with lineups geared towards 20-30 minute high ground attempts.

In the green of health

As we continue to explore what the new metagame has to offer, pros have been generally positive on the health of the format. Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg of EG has said that the metagame is still ripe for new strategies.

"We saw a completely different set of heroes used by Liquid to win Starladder than the ones we used," said Zai at the Manila Masters. "That's generally the sign of a healthy metagame."

Even power picks like Bristleback have so far left the pros unfazed.

"I think NP saw that Bristleback was powerful and took advantage," said EG captain Andreas Franck "Cr1t-" Nielsen. "But I think the hero is fine. It's very good but not overpowered."

There does seem to be a little bit of validation on what is overpowered. Immediately after the Masters, patch 7.06c was released. The cost and effectiveness of two of the most popular items -- Solar Crest and Halberd -- were tweaked. The combination of cheap build up, tanky stats and affordable damage helped make heroes like Bristleback seem absolutely unstoppable at the Masters. One question stands. Will we see these two items used in excess at Moscow as well?