We have already touched on the subject of how the new talent system, while being more or less a linear upgrade for the majority of heroes, can also open up completely new playstyles for others. Ember Spirit’s magic damage build is among the most popular new, meta strategies, but he is not alone.
Queen of Pain has been out of the meta for a very long time. There was no place for such risky tempo heroes, with almost no utility. She was occasionally picked in the professional scene, mostly with a right-click, late-game build in mind, but it rarely worked out—10 games during TI6 and 3 games in the Boston Major don’t necessarily prove the hero’s weakness, but the professionals did avoid her.
Now, in the new 7.xx era, Queen of Pain is making a return. Her pick rate in pubs has increased from roughly 5% to 8.5%, though her win rate still remains largely static, capping out at 44% in the 5k+ bracket. So what exactly makes people want to play her, despite frequently being a game-losing hero?
“The Blade Mail build” is probably even more self-explanatory than the magic damage Ember Spirit. This build focuses on the level 25 talent of the hero, which grants 70% spell lifesteal and though the wording might be confusing, it does indeed work with items as well, including the lifesteal from Blade Mail’s damage return active.
What it means, essentially, is that at level 25 with this talent and Blade Mail activated, the hero will heal most of the damage dealt to her, while returning all of it to the aggressor. With an Octarine Core, the spell lifesteal jumps up to 95%, making the hero almost unkillable during Blade Mail’s 4.5 seconds.
On paper, this sounds overpowered—it essentially provides the hero with unlimited scaling damage and almost complete immunity, all while she can safely right-click and cast her spells. But, as with everything Dota, there are pros and cons to it, and in this case the balance might be tipping towards the cons.
The current meta often revolves around tempo—pub and pro players alike have adapted to the new patch with a higher emphasis on the early- and mid-game, trying to take advantage of the laning stage to propel themselves to victory. Whether this adaptation is adequate remains to be seen, but the tempo game is the game most of us are currently playing.
Queen of Pain is the Queen of Tempo. She comes online fast with tons of burst damage. Moreover, this damage is very reliable—having a natural Blink ability makes positioning a lot easier and allows for maximization of targets, caught in the AoE. She also holds her own in the midlane—she is not so easily ganked, has a decent harassment tool in the form of Shadow Strike and her right-click damage and attack rate is superior to most matchups.
Previously, there were two competing builds for the hero—the recently popular right-click one, with an Assault Cuirass as one of the core items, and the spell heavy one, with a frequent Aghanim's Scepter pick-up. Both of them also heavily concentrated on adding some utility to the hero, either in the form of Scythe of Vyse or Orchid Malevolence. Sometimes, the circumstances forced the hero to go for safety options, with Eul's Scepter of Divinity being an early game one and the Black King Bar taking over if the game went for long enough.
Depending on the build, the hero peaked at different timings—Aghanim’s Scepter allowed her to constantly take teamfights, where the damage from Sonic Wave is capable of almost wiping the enemy in the early game, but is a significantly lower threat in the later stages. The right-clicking one, however, could not boast the capability to fight often and for the most part concentrated on pickoffs, ganks and farm in the early game, in an attempt to get the hero to the pseudo-hard-carry stage.
The question is, where does the Blade Mail build fit on the whole Tempo vs. Late-game scale?
The answer to this question is genuinely weird—the build simply does not fit anywhere on the scale. Overall, it is hardly even a build—just a combination of a talent and an item or two.
Blade Mail offers good attributes for the price, but so does a handful of other items. As an early game purchase this item cannot be justified as a tempo play, since it has a very high opportunity cost. And it does not truly shine, until very much later in the game—the necessary talent comes at a level 25.
Naturally, this means it is best to delay the purchase of the Blade Mail, but what do you get in the meantime? Cooldown reduction and spell lifesteal from an Octarine Core guide the hero towards more tanky/ability damage build, which is notoriously known for falling off hard in the late-game, but can provide some necessary momentum. Also, as discussed in our previous post, Veil of Discord is almost never a bad idea. In the end, you generally have an option between going for more survivability/sustain, or going for right-click DPS.
There is also talent selection—at level 10 you have a choice between respectable +20 damage OR +5 Strength—one hundred HP, for all intents and purposes. Percentage wise it can be meaningful, since QoP is a naturally squishy hero, but +20 damage generally looks like a better deal, regardless of the build.
Then, at level 15 you can choose between +90 GPM or 12% cooldown reduction. QoP gets her levels extremely fast, if played properly, so this +90 GPM over the course of the game can translate into a half of a major item purchase, crucial buyback or a timely slot upgrade, where you sell the cheap item in favor of something more relevant. But with the Blade Mail build in mind, cooldown reduction is also exceptionally nice. It still takes your ultimate two minutes to cooldown, but your other abilities, on average, lose 0.68s off their already small cooldowns. On top of it, your Blade Mail active uptime goes from 25% to 28.5%.
At level 20, you get another health upgrade, this time around it is double the power of the previous one—200 health OR +100 Attack Range. Once again, the health seems more lucrative, since it directly translates into more tankiness and potentially more Blade Mail damage or survival in-between Blade Mail activations.
And then comes level 25 and you get to pick the 70% lifesteal talent. Naturally, losing free 35 Intelligence is not ideal, but suddenly, you get to be this tanky machine who cannot be killed.
With Octarine Core, your Blade Mail uptime goes up to 38% (7.5s between uses), meaning you are pretty much invulnerable almost half of the time. And your blink cooldowns in-between the BM active duration, so you can jump in, turn on BM, “safely” deal damage and jump out.
The goal of the build is to become a threat in the late-game, forcing the enemy team to deal with you, not to become a massive dummy target, with some magic burst damage, who can be largely ignored after it used all of its big spells. During your in and out jumps, you can use Scream Of Pain to deal some damage, but when you are level 25 and not absolutely crushing the enemy, this damage is not as significant. You need to bring in the right-clicks into the equation.
For that, you need proper items—low BAT and decent intelligence growth are definitely helpful, but you need items on top of it, for the right-clicks to actually matter this late into the game. There are a lot of different choices, and we’ve gone over them in one of our previous blog posts.
On the other hand, you also really want an Octarine Core—a very expensive item, which adds a nice finishing touch to the BM build. Octarine core is not a good DPS item, neither is it a particularly exceptional stats item. And at a point, when you start considering Octarine Core, you should ask yourself—wouldn’t it be more beneficial to get a Scythe, Assault Cuirass or even a Bloodthorn?
The problem is, core itemization is an arms race—you need to get to the next level of DPS as soon as possible, to keep up with the naturally rising HP pools and physical damage resistances of the enemy heroes. Once you fall off this cart, it is very hard to get back in. Going for an Octarine Core in the middle of your right-click damage progression is akin to intentionally jumping out of this cart. Getting a 2200 gold item to fill up a slot this late into the game is tying yourself to a ball and chain as you are doing it.
It doesn’t mean it is always a bad idea—we are not talking about general game progression, just the right-click DPS part of it. But it does mean that once you make that decision and spend 8100 gold on this lucrative combo, you should not expect to be a significantly relevant right-clicking carry QoP can be.
At the end of the day, your talent, ability and item builds should be flexible. This is a universal truth.
Sometimes you will absolutely need QoP to be a strong right-clicking carry, when your team consists mostly of semi-cores and tempo heroes. If your team is lacking damage, in most cases, it will be preferable.
Sometimes your team will have most of the DPS covered and will need a tanky frontliner, who can jump in frequently, disabling blinks, forcing out BKBs, initiating with a hex and generally running interference. In these cases, the Blade Mail Queen of Pain can be a superior choice.
Think, try out different things, and experiment, and you will eventually find a general pattern that works for you.