Image by Tinek
Lion and Shadow Shaman are often thought of as a similar type of heroes — they are disablers, often picked when your team is lacking teamfight or ganking utility. They are also good counters for extremely mobile heroes who rely on positioning to stay alive, courtesy of a 0 cast point hard disables. And both of them came out buffed in 7.07, with the changes to hex mechanics.
Yet, despite apparent similarities, the heroes are very different, especially in the current meta. The introduction of talents, coupled with a multitude of indirect changes, made the argument between Lion and Shadow Shaman a lot more complex than “do we, or do we not need extra pushing potential?” We will be highlighting in this post when to pick the better hero for the right scenario.
There is a rather sizeable gap between Shadow Shaman and Lion win rates in pubs, with the former having an almost 7% advantage. If the heroes truly interchangeable, it would pretty much be the end of the discussion, with Shadow Shaman being a straightforward superior choice.
This kind of conclusion isn’t necessarily too far from the truth and Shadow Shaman is a better choice in the majority of games in the current meta. He is stronger at pressuring the offlaner, courtesy of a strong nuke and ridiculous level 1 auto-attack damage. Arguably, he does more with farm, and as a result is a bigger threat in the prolonged games. Yet, there is still a decent amount of arguments in favor of Lion.
Both heroes require a great deal of understanding to play effectively, but when it comes to micro moments and correct and timely usage of spells, Lion has a much higher skill ceiling. Both Lion and Shadow Shaman often double as “catch” heros once they get their Blink Daggers, but unlike SS, Lion can become a full on team initiator, if required.
Earth Spike is almost always possible to land on two targets and 3+ targets aren’t out of the question either, especially in a pub environment. This bonus isn’t as pronounced during the laning stage, but come midgame it can be an absolute game-changer.
Lion is much better at dealing with illusion heroes, especially come level 20. From the get go, he has two abilities which simply destroy the illusions, and with an appropriate talent he can pretty much guarantee an instant wipe of something like Chaos Knight’s Phantasm.
It is futile to compare Shadow Shaman’s Ether Shock damage to an instant destruction effect, even with the level 25 talent which puts the damage to 720. At this point in the game this damage probably won’t be enough to kill the illusions in the first place, while the talent itself has too high of an opportunity cost, since the +60 Serpent Ward damage is too good to pass on.
In a given teamfight, especially when team with Shadow Shaman is on offensive and forces an objective, Serpent Wards are guaranteed to do more damage than the Finger of Death. Yet there are situations where the latter can be superior.
It mainly boils down to how effective Finger is against heavily armored targets and how fast it deals its damage, which can potentially prevent heals or reposition saves. Against certain targets like Morphling or Phantom Assassin, it is much better at ensuring a clean kill — it will probably deal more damage and it will deal it much faster.
Lion’s lane sustain is one of the reasons he is often recommended to newer players. With Mana Drain they can use their spells more liberally, so not every single Earth Spike has to be absolutely effective for the hero to have an impact.
However, many players tend to disregard another quite obvious aspect of Mana Drain — it steals mana from the enemy. This effect is often an afterthought, rather than the primary motivation to use Mana Drain, yet against a multitude of heroes it can be absolutely soul-crushing.
Against many heroes, like Brewmaster, Sven, Chaos Knight etc. Mana Drain can effectively become an extra disable. You can catch Brewmaster after Blink+Clap combo with hex and prevent him from using his primal split. In a span of one second, you can prevent Chaos Knight from using two extra Reality Rifts and the list can go on.
Moreover, Mana Drain is also one of the fastest and most reliable Linken’s counters — something that can’t be overestimated against elusive, highly mobile targets.
The fact that level 1 hex on Lion is more than a full second longer than it is on Shadow Shaman only supports the idea of getting extra points in Mana Drain early and in certain games the latter can even get a priority over extra levels into Earth Spike.
There is no denying that Shadow Shaman is currently one of the top heroes in the meta. He is extremely popular (almost 20% pick rate), has a high win rate, and is often picked in the professional scene. He is in an extremely good place and you can almost never go wrong with a first pick position 4 Shadow Shaman, especially in pubs where the possibility of a third Roshan is quite high.
Yet, completely forgetting about Lion would be bad practice. The hero is more niche this patch, with Shadow Shaman being better or equal in terms of some responsibilities they share, but there are games where he can truly shine. Think, pick smart, and you will probably find places for both heroes.