The introduction of the talent trees was a big step for Dota. While the system is still in its infancy, with some talents having less of an impact than expected, the possibilities with it are vast.
For the majority of heroes, the talent system was more or less a simple upgrade—the core playstyle of the hero was enhanced, rather than altered. For others, however, it opened a way for completely new builds, with the hero having two distinct choices.
The most notable developments of the early 7.xx era so far was the magic damage Ember Spirit. This build is not viable without the choice of the crucial talents, yet when played correctly can be both surprising and devastating.
The idea of a “caster” Ember has been floating for quite a while. Until recently, however, it was simply a gimmick—the Battlefury build provided a lot more utility, more reliable damage, better outpush and split-push.
7.00 changed a lot for the hero. We had a potential nerf to the cleave build, with the cleave mechanic itself and the Sleight of Fist reworks. The ability did become more reliable, since all attacks from Sleight of Fist now occur, as if Ember Spirit is standing in front of the target, from the direction of the casting location. But this change also limited the amount of damage he deals to the front line of the enemy team.
This reliability is definitely a double-edged sword—Ember can now more reliably try to focus the back rows of the enemy team, deciding himself, where he will deal the most damage. At the same time, the enemy team has access to the same information and can position themselves better, to minimize the effectiveness of cleave damage. The latter can be rather hard for an uncoordinated pub team to pull off, but in the pro-scene even huge AoE ultimates such as Song of the Siren were successfully played against, with teams spreading just well enough, not to get caught in some AoE follow-up.
Aside from the cleave rework, the hero has also received numerous buffs to his magic damage output. Some of these are optional, hiding behind a talent choice, yet some are universal. Most notably, the hero now deals 50% more damage from each remnant, when using level 3 Activate Fire Remnant, allowing for 900 damage AoE nukes, before magic amp and reductions.
The magic damage Ember Spirit is exactly what the title suggests. The hero deals a lot of physical damage by design, however, in most games by top players, almost 75% of damage they dealt was magical.
The talent progression for this build is more or less self-explanatory. At level 10 it prioritizes +15% magic damage. At level 15, the choice generally goes in favor of the stats, as opposed to somewhat redundant movement speed. Level 20 is a big jump, with a massive cooldown reduction of 15%. Finally, at level 25, the build usually goes for the extra duration on Searing Chains. Extra damage absorption can be a decent choice, however it does not directly increase the DPS and utility of the hero.
With this build, the hero becomes more of a nuisance, than he ever was—cooldown reduction coupled with extra magic damage, makes for a highly elusive target, which deals a respectable amount of damage without the need to actually attack its target. But that is not all.
The itemization of the hero has also completely changed. Boots of Travel are still the best choice for the hero, but they are not as prioritized in the early game, with Veil of Discord being the first core item of the build.
The item in its current state fills the void left by the rework of Drum of Endurance. It is a strong and cheap early game item, packed with amazing stats. It already gained in popularity, back when Death Prophet was reigning supreme in the mid lane, but has fallen out of favor since—there wasn’t a strong hero, who could fit it into their regular build. The magic damage Ember single handedly returned the item into the spotlight.
The active component of the Veil is often undervalued, but the 25% magic damage increase is a strong tool, regardless of the stage of the game. Since it debuffs the targets, rather than amp the magic damage from the source, it works exceptionally well in combination with other nukers. It also allows Ember Spirit to farm incredibly fast and even taking ancient stacks is not completely out of the question.
The typical follow-up to the early Veil is Boots of Travel and Blink Dagger. Magic damage Ember Spirit typically needs to use his remnants offensively, rather than defensively, leaving him with less escape and mobility options than the hero is used to. Hence, the Blink Dagger is purchased slightly earlier, compared to typical builds.
As the game progresses, this build starts to fall of slightly—the burn damage from the Flame Guard becomes less impactful, and the Searing Chains upgrade is still some time away. This is the time, where Maelstrom generally comes into play—with the cooldown reduction talent, Ember Spirit can use Sleight of Fist every 5.1 seconds. The proc chance of 25% is generally high enough to guarantee a proc on a wave of creeps and heroes, adding decent damage into the mix. It also allows you to save Flame Guard for when you absolutely need it, instead of using it to split-push—at this point creeps die almost as fast as with a Battlefury build.
After this, the Octarine Core is almost always a worthwhile purchase. Despite cooldown reduction stacking multiplicatively, instead of additively, it is still a major upgrade to the spell usage of the hero. For one, it reduces the cooldown of Sleight of Fist to ridiculous 3.825s, allowing the hero to safely outpush all enemy aggression, staying invulnerable. The cooldown of Searing Chains with this build is also reduced to 5.1s, and this number is very important, since it is only 0.1s longer than the effect of the Searing Chains with the talent upgrade.
Late into the game, Ember Spirit becomes elusive, constantly disabling targets with a decent damage output. In fact, when the build is “complete” and the hero has reached level 25, he can almost permanently control two targets, while staying almost completely safe—the SoF+Searing Chains combo allows for that.
At this point, he essentially has 4 core item slots: Boots of Travel, Blink Dagger, Maelstrom/Mjollnir and Octarine Core. The other two can be filled with essentially anything—Veil of Discord at this point has often already served its purpose. You can go for extra survivability and self-dispel with Manta Style, Black King Bar or even Eul's Scepter of Divinity. You can go for extra right-click damage, to transition into a more conservative, hybrid core. Radiance can be a good addition as well, but it generally should be fit in earlier, since it loses its value, as the game progresses. You can even go for a burst combo of Dagon+Ethereal Blade. The options are quite extensive, and purchasing the appropriate gear for the occasion is a must.
That said, late-game is also the time when this build starts to fall off and becomes weaker than the cleave counterpart. If you do not manage to close the game in time, you are almost guaranteed to face hard carries, who will be able to largely ignore your magic damage, while being better at taking the objectives. Moreover, even with several items boosting survivability, Ember Spirit is still a very squishy hero with an incredibly poor stats growth.
The enemy is also a lot more likely to have answers to your infinite Searing Chains combo—cores will have BKBs, supports and utility heroes might find money for a Lotus Orb and the actual distance between you and the enemy becomes much smaller, when half the enemy team has Force Staffs and Blink Daggers. Once you are caught in a disable—you are almost certainly dead, and this is true regardless of the build for Ember Spirit. The cleave one, at this point, simply has better chances of killing the enemy team before they kill him.
7.xx Dota seems to shape a tempo meta once again. The team in the driver’s seat is more likely to keep on dominating, courtesy of extra benefits being ahead provides. Getting into this seat, therefore, often becomes a priority.
Magic damage Ember Spirit is a tempo play—he comes online much faster, with good stat-boosting items and high damage output. He is not as easily killed, as the cleave one, since he can boast almost 7 extra armor and some extra HP. And he is almost as good when it comes to split-pushing and being a macro nuisance.
That said, he still suffers from the usual problems tempo heroes have—he will eventually fall off. Ideally, you want to finish the game before this happens, but coordinating with a team of random players can be a daunting task and you do not deal nearly enough damage to structures to win the game on your own. So, when you try this build, try to communicate with your team more and ask them to group up and push for victory, while you still can.