Image by WEi-Zi
Abaddon has been a top tier pick in pub games since his release—his winrate has always been well above 50%. There were many explanations for this trend, most of which did not involve the incompetence of lower MMR players trying to deal with a tanky target, yet the hero remained largely ignored by the professionals for the longest of times.
The hero was deemed too greedy and level dependent to be a support; he doesn’t offer any disables and his strong dispel from Aphotic Shield is mostly situational. Despite all of that, the hero has finally found a place for himself in the meta.
Heroes in Dota do not exist in a vacuum—the popularity of certain heroes influences the popularity of others and so on. When the initiator or, more specifically, the “catch” role has moved from offlane to the fourth position, offlane suddenly became vacant. Naturally, the void had to be filled and many teams were faced with a question of whether they truly need another AoE disabler, if they already had position four Monkey King, Sand King or Slardar on their team.
The definitive answer to this question was given by the Chinese teams during the DAC playoffs, who instead of going for extra offensive utility in their offlane, frequently went for a defensive one. After an abysmal group stage, the hero recovered and went on to win 6 games out of 9 during the main stage part of the tournament. Core Abaddon is not meant to be a carry or a damage dealer—he is still a utility hero, but his utility was much harder to calculate and analyze and it might have been part of the reason he was under the radar for so long.
Talents made previously unviable heroes playable and made new builds possible. In case of Abaddon, it is a little bit of both. His talent tree offers one of the most game-changing level 25 talents in the form of +300 Aphotic Shield capacity/damage and a level 10 XP acceleration talent. Both these talents were buffed in the mini-patches leading up to the DAC, pushing the hero over the edge.
The accompanying nerfs were not nearly as strong—the 0.2 reduction in strength growth results in 100 HP lost at level 25, which is made up for with the increased damage absorption of the Aphotic Shield, while the mana cost increase on the Shield was small enough to be almost inconsequential.
This transition of 100 HP from the hero to the Shield benefits from greater flexibility and damage output, while the 15% cooldown reduction at level 20 is the icing on the cake. A 5-second cooldown 500 Heal/Damage ability that has strong dispel properties is sound both on paper and in practice.
It should be clear by now that a level 25 Abaddon is an absolute powerhouse, both in terms of utility and even residual damage. The question is, how does one get there on a melee hero with no flash-farming abilities in the offlane position?
The answer is surprisingly simple: Hand of Midas and teamfights are your friends. Hand of Midas was built on the hero in almost every game of the DAC and for a good reason. +20% XP talent at level 10 affects the 2.5x XP multiplier of the Midas transmute, making for a powerful combo.
The Midas cooldown is similarly affected by the Cooldown Reduction talent at level 20, making the final push that much easier. This passive XP gain increase doesn’t come at a huge cost, since Abaddon is extremely greedy XP-wise, but not gold-wise and can be very effective with the simple "brown boots".
His teamfight effectiveness comes from the very strong Aphotic Shield as well as Curse of Avernus. Enemies are generally really unwilling to come close to you because of it and since you are the frontliner of the team, it is hard for them to get to your team’s backline as well. And they generally don’t want to initiate on you either—most of their initiation will be quickly wasted, once you turn on the ultimate.
This allows your team to push objectives in relative safety and with the added benefit of extra AS from Curse of Avernus. As long as you keep your backlines safe and secure and position well, enemy initiation should not be a massive problem.
In the professional matches of the DAC there were two sufficiently different Abaddon builds, however both of them concentrated on utility first and foremost. The more popular one involved Midas into Radiance rush. While it may seem like a DPS build, it is not.
Radiance is primarily used as a split-pushing tool and, perhaps more importantly, area denial tool against the enemy initiators, as if their life wasn’t miserable enough. It was occasionally followed up with Manta Style and Octarine Core for poor man’s Naga style of play, but if dealing with constant split-push is not an issue for your team, going for more regular Aghanim’s Scepter is a preferable option.
Another utility build concentrates on, well, utility, but in a more conservative way. The items in this build include Vladmir’s Offering, Force Staff, Lotus Orb and other items of the sorts. It should be noted, that this build was only utilised when the team with Abaddon already had a better Radiance core, be it Alchemist, Naga or Spectre. Otherwise, nothing is stopping the hero from going these support utility items after getting the Radiance. Octarine Core and Aghanim’s Scepter are, as always, an option.
We’ve discussed previously that it is rather likely we'll receive another balance patch before the Kiev Major, but it is unlikely Abaddon will be nerfed severely, if at all. He wasn’t the most successful hero of the tournament or the most popular one. But he confidently left the “niche” realm and is likely to be mainstream in the following months.
Initiation and low-cost/cooldown “catch” are essential in a good draft, but they do have diminishing returns and sometimes, a nigh unkillable and extremely annoying tanky frontliner is what your team will need the most.
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