Juggernaut has always been a popular pick in both competitive and casual Dota. His skillset offers a great mix of offensive and defensive abilities which are relevant throughout the whole game. Relatively recent changes to his BAT have also solidified his position as a farming carry, with potential AS second only to Alchemist.
The hero has been played in many ways. Originally Juggernaut was played as any other farming melee core would be— Battle Fury was the staple first item choice. Later, after some tweaks to Omnislash, the Aghanim's Scepter rush has become prevalent. Before the changes to BAT Juggernaut would generally fall off rather quickly and going for extra tankiness and reduced ultimate cooldown was considered to be the best option—this build has allowed him to fight continuously and close off games before the enemy cores came online.
Then came the Mask of Madness era. A value point in each skill and maxed out stats was the most popular build at the time. While being undeniably effective, this MoM craze has made Juggernaut and several other heroes less unique—it was no longer about the abilities the heroes had, but rather about what stats they brought to the table. Luckily it did not take too long for the game to stabilise itself after what some perceived as a game design disaster.
As of now, the hero has returned to his original state with a focus on his unique abilities rather than his stats, partly due to the cooldown nerfs to the early levels of Blade Fury, partly because of the MoM nerfs. His skill build is still quite open, with different players prioritizing different abilities, but Blade Fury is always maxed out first, usually with value points in Healing Ward and Blade Dance. Investing early level of stats for an increased mana pool is also not uncommon, but it is rarely a priority afterwards.
The hero excels in the middle MMR brackets with the highest win rate of 51.79% in 3-4k. Except for 5k+ games, the hero has a 50%+ win rate in all brackets and even at its worst it is still at a respectable 49.65%.
Juggernaut is primarily played in the safe lane with an insignificant presence in the offlane. In the offlane, the hero is generally accompanied by a support, however solo hard is not completely out of the question— it is rarely the most efficient way to lane the Juggernaut though.
His pick rate has been stable throughout pretty much the full history of Dota 2—he has always been in the top 5 most picked heroes, partly due to his relative simplicity, partly due to his effectiveness. Subjectively speaking, he is also one of the more fun heroes to play—effective early game aggression coupled with inspiring battle-cries make for a very popular pub hero.
One of the biggest reasons Juggernaut has always been popular in the professional scene is his flexibility—depending on the item build the hero’s role can range from a tempo-controlling pushing semi-core, to an effective late-game carry. Understanding the reasoning behind the item choices is key to playing an effective Juggernaut and in most cases his proper itemization depends on the other 9 heroes in the game—complementing the strengths of his team while exploiting the weaknesses in the enemy lineup is mandatory.
Some of the items, such as Drum of Endurance, are pretty much a staple on the hero and are not interesting to discuss, hence the focus will be aimed towards item choices which are heavily debated or highly situational.
The biggest discussion in Juggernaut’s item build revolves around Battle Fury. Over the last several years, opinions on this item have varied between both extremely negative and extremely positive. After the MoM craze died out, it was Fear who reintroduced the infamous Battle Fury into the professional scene and the item has become somewhat of a staple since then.
The benefits of the item are quite self-explanatory—it increases the farming speed of the hero by a decent margin and in the case of Juggernaut it also opens up the ability to take out large stacks of ancients. The downside is equally obvious—the item offers little in teamfights and for 4500 gold it can become a liability, if the Juggernaut’s team loses control of the tempo.
As such, it is advised to carefully evaluate the early game before the purchase—when behind Battle Fury can be a game-losing item, even if purchased in a timely manner. However, if your team is breaking even in the laning stage or manages to get ahead, it can be one of the best investments.
There will always be an argument surrounding Manta Style vs. Sange and Yasha as a stat item. The latter offers slightly higher move speed and tankiness at the expense of damage and the ability to dispel and disjoint some disables or debuffs. The cost of Manta Style is also substantially higher, hence the answer to which of the items is better is not clear-cut.
In most games an early Yasha is non-negotiable. The item offers a lot of farming potential both through an increase in DPS and through a MS increase. It also synergises well with the skill set of the Juggernaut, since he is extremely reliant on movespeed in all stages of the game. Moving on from the Yasha becomes a bit trickier.
In general, it is not uncommon to see the casual Yasha until much later in the game, when it is eventually upgraded into Manta Style, however going for S&Y can be forced by the circumstances in the game. Overall, it is not a bad idea to go for S&Y when facing an aggressive line-up—the return on the extra tankiness can significantly outweigh the downsides of having a less slot-efficient item.
This item choice is not debatable in most games. Its main purpose is to dispel Ghost Scepters, since they can completely ruin the effectiveness of Juggernaut in the late-game.
This, however, does not mean that the item is weak on its own—it offers a lot of extra DPS and some intelligence, which can come in handy in prolonged engagements. Moreover, it synergises exceptionally well with Manta Style, while giving a small amount of extra damage during Blade Fury.
Going for this item as 3rd or 4th slot is not uncommon, especially when facing lineups with little burst—Juggernaut is not a naturally tanky hero and is sometimes forced to go for items to become more survivable.
This item is slowly becoming what it was in the pre-6.50 era in a sense that it is now a staple on pretty much any melee core. The versatility of this item is among the highest in the game and in many cases it is what enables Juggernaut to be effective in the later stages—focusing down a support or two before the fight even started, can snowball your team into victory.
While providing no DPS on its own, this item should not be underestimated. The potential uses for it include initiation, focus change during the Omnislash, escape when split-pushing and farm speed boosting. As such, it should be considered a core item in most games.
Once the go-to item is currently heavily undervalued in both professional and pub scenes. With the carry aspect of the hero substantially buffed, many players have decided that going for pure DPS from auto-attacks over DPS from abilities is more efficient and while it is not far off the truth, there are certain exceptions.
With a cost similar to S&Y and Battle Fury, Aghanims Scepter fills the mid-game item slot. Its effectiveness is dependent on the ability of Juggernaut’s team to profit from a reduced cooldown. As such it is best used in aggressive lineups with low-cooldown abilities AND against team with low mobility which concentrate on team-fights and have no natural Eul's Scepter of Divinity carriers. These restrictions result in a rather narrow scenarios of when this item is going to be more effective that the substitutes, however, in these rare cases, an Aghanim's upgrade can be the absolute best thing for the price.
Juggernaut falls into the category of timeless classics—the hero has not been reworked since his introduction into the game and has always been a potential pick regardless of meta.
In his current state, the hero can offer a great deal of both damage and utility and can even be a decent split-pusher with decent itemization. With an innate magic immunity, he can sometimes even be a better choice in split-pushing scenarios, since he does not have to sacrifice BKB charges for clean escapes.
It is understandable that his popularity has been rather low in the Eul-dominant meta, however, slowly but surely the hero is making a comeback in the professional scene. Flexibility and reliability are qualities which should be valued highly.