Even though Patch 7.16 tweaked Kunkka’s level 25 talent (50% Tidebringer cleave damage), Kunkka’s effectiveness as a core in the meta is undeniable. With a string of buffs over recent patches and the reversion of the mid lane meta to one on one matchups, Kunkka has appeared on the big stage at recent tournaments.
Kunkka was banned nearly every game for a day at the recent ESL One Birmingham Major. Then, on the Grand Finals stage, VP picked Kunkka for No[o]ne in game 2, who held his own in the laning stage against Razor (a hero who commonly dominates against melee heroes) and sealed the game winning fight.VP.No[o]ne with a well timed Torrent and an X Marks The Spot to pick off the retreating OpTic team
At MDL Changsha, Kunkka was the fifth most contested hero of the tournament. At the Epicenter XL Major before that, PSG.LGD kicked off the grand finals series with a game 1 win off Somnus’ core Kunkka, which prompted VP to deny pick him in the first round of game 2, and expend a 2nd round ban in game 3.
Kunkka as a core hero isn’t anything new. For years, Attacker and his bag of tricks practically rode the hero into MMR heaven. Kunkka’s sweep of Talent buffs, including the +50% Tidebringer damage, appeared in patch 7.07, 7 months ago. But it’s only his recent success that has prompted a nerf from Valve. As the meta has shifted toward a fighting dynamic, teams are starting to find that Kunkka proves to be a great fit.
He’s great against meta picks of Phantom Lancer and Dragon Knight. The synergy of Torrent and X that makes him potent as a support hero also makes him a constant threat to opposing midlaners. Ghostship is a devastating spell with a 40s cooldown. And with the midlane returning to a more traditional, 1v1 rhythm, Kunkka shines with Tidebringer.
Dota’s quirkiness is built on strange spell interactions. While Valve has ironed out some of the game’s eccentricities over the years, a few still remain. For example, Tidebringer applies its bonus damage on creep denies without expending a charge. And here’s another one: the damage from Tidebringer’s cleave is applied as if the unit had 0 armor, regardless of the armor of the initial target. This interaction works in contradiction to a spell like Templar Assassin’s Psi Blades, which deals the same amount of damage to the cleaved target as the initial target.
The practical difference is that as TA you can gain an advantage by targeting the spill damage off a lower armored unit (melee creeps have 2 armor). And as Kunkka, it doesn’t matter.
Call it a bug or an intended trait, but that’s how the spell has always worked. And now that Kunkka is a viable pick in the meta, every advantage he has can feel a bit overpowered. With teams like Secret and PSG.LGD putting Kunkka on the map, we’re now noticing the buffs that he’s been getting under the radar.
His base regen moved from 0 to 1.5, and his Strength gain increased from 3 to 3.3—an important attribute due to how Crits scale with base stats. Patch 7.10 buffed Tidebringer’s damage from 25/45/65/85 to 25/50/75/100. And 7.07 added crucial talents that aid his early and mid game growth.
Not only was Tidebringer already complete nuisance to navigate around in the laning stage, it got buffed along with Kunkka’s tankiness. At just level 3, with level 2 Tidebringer, he has 50 bonus damage to deny creeps and to harass his opponent. By level 5, with both Torrent and X Marks The Spot at his disposal, he’s a threat to initiate. With X’s duration at 4 seconds, his teammates don’t even need to be in position. They can just TP in.
There are plenty of strong level 25 talents, but Kunkka’s 50% Cleave damage had the feeling of being too strong. It’s the helpless feeling of being one shotted from 1200 range away that might have prompted Valve to make a move.
From our statistics across pubs, the talent has offered little to no advantage over the Ghostship Fleet (+3 Ghostships). Nonetheless, it has been pivotal in closing out a few games at recent Majors. Teams are not picking Kunkka and banking on getting him to level 25, armed with two Daedaluses, but it's a nice option to have as a late game ace.
Though the nerf targets his late game potential, his potency in the meta hinges on his strength in the early and mid game. So far, the change seems misplaced. Who knows, Kunkka may just end up being the flavor of the month, as teams concoct more strategies to counter him. But the 7.16 nerf seems like it won't be slowing Kunkka anytime soon.