For the longest of times, Silencer has been looked down on. He’s had little to no presence in the professional scene, but recent trends have shown greater interest in the hero. In both pro games and pubs he is played in a variety of roles, with a greedy position four, poor five and mid being the most prevalent.
Silencer is also a rather “weird” hero. He can scale incredibly well, but his skillset doesn’t do much in early skirmishes, nor does it really help in prolonging the game. As a support he is a below average ganker and a mediocre babysitter. So what made the hero click to justify 14 picks and 14 bans during the DAC?
Ever since the rework of Curse of the Damned into Arcane Curse back in 6.86, the hero didn’t see much change. There were a couple of small buffs, but they were very minor and his talent tree doesn’t seem exceptional either. His comeback into the meta should be largely attributed to the changes in the overall environment of the game.
There were several major global changes to the game as a whole in the last several months. Highground got a lot harder to breach, but the importance of tempo is at an all time high since TI4. Split-pushing is almost dead, which means teamfights are more important. Finally, more easily acquired resources on the map mean teams can be slightly greedier than they used to be.
It created an opening for a huge variety of heroes, most of whom have largely been discussed at this point. However most of them fell into the category of “catch”-initiators. Not survivable enough for the offlane and not strong enough to jungle from level 1, heroes like Slardar found themselves roaming the map, applying pressure in the strategic points, and stealing enemy bounty runes. But Silencer is very, very different.
Most of the time what a team wants from their support is utility. Silencer has a massive utility ultimate, but that is more or less the full extent of the hero. Arcane Curse and Last Word deal respectable damage, but their effects are delayed, can be played around, and generally feel rather unreliable.
Given how the hero is rather underwhelming at ganking and might have trouble getting his levels through early kills, it must be the case that his ultimate has that much value. And in theory it certainly does—it is a great follow-up for an initiation that doesn’t allow the enemy to respond. It is also a decent counter to the enemy follow-ups.
In practice most of that holds true, but with one major caveat—Silencer is useful only once every 130 seconds. In a sense, he is similar to Warlock, who is another greedy support who recently entered the meta. Unlike Warlock, however, Silencer doesn’t offer sustained damage or pushing potential. So what does the hero offer?
Silencer loses to Warlock in terms of lane sustain, damage output, and pushing potential. He more or less breaks even with Warlock when it comes to interrupting strong channeling spells through BKB, but where he really excels is at catching highly mobile heroes and forcing them to stay close.
He is also a much better harasser—Warlock can offer more defense for his core, but in a more action-packed laning scenario Silencer will deal a lot more damage and will keep the enemy second-guessing their actions. Moreover, early point in Glaives will allow him to auto-attack the enemy without aggroing the creep lane.
These two points are essentially what make Silencer a viable alternative to Warlock. And the previous points about higher focus on teamfights and higher amount of readily available resources are what make heroes like Warlock and Silencer viable in the meta in the first place. It is a condition within a condition, yet the requirements for both these conditions are frequently met in the current patch.
Silencer is also sometimes played in the mid lane as an auto-attacking core. His utility, cooldown reliance and many other aspects covered in the support section still hold true, but with more gold and experience the hero can start becoming a very late-game potent carry.
He is also quite strong in 1v1 scenarios. He can harass with or without drawing aggro, which is a much bigger deal than it seems. Silencer also has full 600 attack range and a very annoying harassing spell which punishes enemy retaliation.
That said, he is also an extremely vulnerable target, with below average MS and low starting armor and HP values. Lack of mobility spells don’t help his case either, hence a babysitter may be required for the hero in the mid lane. Moreover, he can’t flash-farm so he is extremely reliant on the early game to get an edge and start snowballing, otherwise he will lose the farm war and can quickly become irrelevant, especially once enemy cores get their BKBs and enemy utility heroes get their Greaves and Lotus Orbs.
And, once again, heroes in Dota do not exist in a vacuum, and when picking Silencer mid carefully consider whether there is a better alternative, since in many cases there will be one. As mentioned previously the main selling point of Silencer is his combo-breaker potential and catch versus highly mobile heroes.
Silencer is not the most reliable hero, he doesn’t deal the most damage and doesn’t offer the highest utility, regardless of his role. But in specific scenarios against certain enemies, he can be the absolute best pick and when he is, he is unrivaled at what he does.