For a while now, Venomancer has established himself as a popular pick. What started as a Chinese trend for the mid lane has evolved into the 11th most picked hero during the qualifiers for this year’s International and the most picked safe lane carry as well.
But what makes Venomancer such a strong hero in the meta and why do teams value him so highly?
Despite being played in the safe lane, Venomancer doesn’t offer any classic carry characteristics. He’ll hardly win the late game by himself and surely can’t mow down buildings. No, Venomancer is a utility core, the likes of which you’d more often see in the offlane. His item build is very dynamic and can easily be adjusted from game to game. While Veil of Discord is the largely agreed upon must purchase item, every item afterwards is quite flexible. Some players opt for Hand of Midas to increase levels as quickly as possible for the hero’s level 25 talent (more on that later) and some go for the traditional Aghanim's Scepter. Other common pickups include Solar Crest and Heaven's Halberd, two items that allow Venomancer to take a more active role in teamfights or to specifically counter a hero, such as Bristleback.
And pretty much that is Venomancer’s role in a lot of line-ups. His itemization is often directed to counter a specific hero, since there are only a few items he really needs to fulfill his main role.
Venomancer’s Plague Wards are easily one of the most annoying things to deal with in Dota. They can become quite tanky, provide vision and deal a sufficient amount of damage. They are excellent tools to push and siege towers with, as they are difficult to destroy. Venomancer’s Level 25 talent increases their health to 1350 HP per Ward and by that point no mere support will be able to deal with them. This doesn’t even account for the 3x increased attack damage, with which buildings can melt quite quickly if he gets time to set up. This is why Venomancer is a desired safe lane carry, so that he can get as much experience and gold possible, even in addition to the Hand of Midas that many players build on him.
Venomancer is a hero that provides a team with a lot of control. He can provide a lot of vision but also set up an advantageous teamfighting area with his wards. He often forces teams in unfavorable positions and he is not easy to burst down, certainly not with most item builds, making it difficult to prevent him from using his devastating ultimate.
Another upside to Venomancer is that he can be left alone, both in the laning stage and the mid game. He does well in most 1v1 scenarios and needs the experience anyway. In the mid game, Venomancer should look to split push while the rest of his team should look to create space.
Lastly, Venomancer is an excellent flex-pick. As mentioned in the beginning, the Chinese started to pick him as a mid hero a few months ago and EG’s zai has shown that he’s also an excellent support/jungle hero that can farm quite reliably. Picking him early doesn’t necessarily reveal anything and it’s also not easy to straight up counter him, especially because he fills the utility core role.
The current meta favors mid heroes and roamers quite a bit, with a lot of emphasis on the success of a laning stage. As a result, there’s also more emphasis on the mid game, where teams look to snowball or prevent such momentum from building. Classic hardcarries are a rare sight these days and the 1 position is filled with utility cores and teamfighters, such as Bristleback, Faceless Void and of course Venomancer.
During the qualifiers for TI7, Venomancer was the 11th most picked hero with a 46% win rate. What’s more impressive than that though is the fact that he was banned 121 times, making him the 5th most banned hero in the qualifiers. His presence in the meta also helps other heroes shine and become more relevant, with heroes like Ancient Apparition and Bloodseeker synergizing well with Venomancer’s skill set.
Venomancer may fit the meta too well on paper, which is why Icefrog saw it necessary to nerf his strength gain in the recent 7.06e patch. As a result, Venomancer is already picked much less at the currently on-going MDL with only 4 appearances, only one of which resulted in a victory. It’s likely that, on top of the nerf, teams have started to adapt to the hero, causing him to slowly fade out of popularity. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a few pub wins with him anymore though. Venomancer will always be a viable niche pick, even if he falls off the popular list.