New Dota heroes generally follow the same pattern: they are too powerful at release and then start receiving a long series of small nerfs over the course of several months. Quite often they also do rather poorly in public matchmaking, not being played well or in an unsuitable roles. Because of this misuse and misunderstanding, their win rate generally starts at below 45%, with further nerfs exacerbating the problem.
Whether it is because of the new role-based ranked matchmaking or improved understanding of the game from the community, but Grimstroke has managed to avoid this fate. There is no question he is a support, and a very strong and versatile one at that. He was and probably still is a bit on the powerful side, and it is clear from his stats—in 5k+ games he was consistently over 50% win rate even after the nerfs.
So what exactly makes him a strong support worth picking in roughly third of our games?
Laning stage is incredibly important in the current meta and Grimstroke excels at it. He has one of the strongest level one nukes in the game, for a relatively low manacost. Crystal Maiden was propelled into meta when the damage on Crystal Nova was increased to 130 and she didn’t completely vanish out of it when the manacost on the spell was also increased. At level one she can use her Crystal Nova twice.
Grimstroke can use Stroke of Fate four times before he runs out of mana. It is also guaranteed to deal at least 120 damage and can do substantially more if the enemy positioning is off. Naturally, the spell is harder to land on multiple targets and it doesn’t slow as much, but it works wonders as a way of guaranteeing last hit on a ranged creep, while also harassing the enemy.
The latter progression for the hero varies from player to player, with some opting to maximize Ink Swell, some preferring Phantom’s Embrace and some doing an even split between the two.
It is hard to say definitively which build is the better one: stats for the hero don’t show a clear winner, so depending on the game, going for either build can be the optimal choice. That said, many players still heavily undervalue and misunderstand Ink Swell—something we will try to change.
The spell description is rather long and confusing and almost two weeks after the hero’s release many players even in high level pubs are struggling to fully understand and utilize the ability.
The defensive component is rather simple: affected hero cannot be attacked with right-clicks or attack-modifying attacks. They can still be targeted with spells, get caught in AoE and dealt damage, so this save it is at its best when used on an initiated ally, while most enemy spell are on cooldown. The target is also Disarmed and Silenced, but moves faster, allowing it to either start escaping, or, preferrably, counter-initiate. It is also dispellable—something worth keeping in mind when playing against heroes like Oracle.
The offensive part of the spell is a little bit trickier. The DoT part is similar to Ion Shell, attempting to deal damage to all heroes in a 400-radius. The big finale, however, is probably one of the most confusing parts of the hero.
Ink Swell DoT deals damage to all enemies in a 400 radius in 0.2 second intervals, gaining a “charge” for each instance of damage dealt to enemy heroes or Arc Warden’s Tempest Double. The amount of charges is capped at 30—the value at which Ink Swell expire effect will deal the maximum amount of damage and apply the longest duration stun for the level.
With three seconds of DoT and 0.2 damage instances, the most you can get from continuously damaging a single target for the full duration is 15 charges, resulting in 110/140/170/200 damage and 1.1/1.4/1.7/2-second stun. This alone is decent value, considering the ability will also deal 75 damage from DoT effect, meaning that you can always deal 185 damage and apply a 1.1-second stun to a single target, at level one of the ability. For 90 mana.
With multiple targets getting to max value becomes much easier. Three-second stun is massive in a game of Dota and with level 4 of Ink Swell it can be achieved by simply following a target, while passing by one of its allies for roughly a second. This ability is absolutely game-changing and is the reason why here at Dotabuff, despite conflicting statistics, we strongly suggest maxing Ink Swell over Phantom’s Embrace, especially if you are playing with friends and can coordinate with them.
This ability is by no means bad—it can deal a lot of damage while silencing the enemy and works decently well with Grimstroke’s ultimate, Soulbind.
That said, maxing it gives less value than maxing Ink Swell in most cases, given decent understanding of the latter. Phantom’s Embrace is very good as a value point and gets a decent qualitative upgrade at level three, but the difference between level three and level four is rarely worth an extra skill point, if you have other spells to upgrade.
At level 10, there is a choice between 90 GPM and +30 Movement Speed and most players understandably default to the former. GPM talents always prove to be very effective and despite a -0.3% win rate differential in favor of the latter, we would still recommend going for an economy booster. 30 extra MS is massive, but given the role of the hero and how he can easily afford to stay very far in the backlines more often than not it is redundant.
+125 Cast Range at level 15 is more or less mandatory and probably require no explanation—the further you stay from the frontline, the more you can do as a support, getting better choice of targets and maximizing your mana pool effectiveness without being initiated on. +12% Spell Amplification is maybe worth considering if you are playing core Grimstroke, but there are a lot of much more viable hero options when it comes to core positions.
At level 20, going for +600 Stroke of Fate cast range can sound very appealing, but most of the time is only really worth it if you are forced to play defensively against highly mobile heroes. It doesn’t do much in teamfights, but does provide an option of outpushing from the safety of your fountain, deep inside your base. Otherwise, the extra two hits on Phantom’s Embrace will do much more for your teamfight presence. Stroke of Fate is the hero’s most iconic tool, but you can’t expect to win games if it is the only ability you are using effectively and 2000+ cast range won’t come into play if you intend on using your other abilities with ~1000 cast range.
Finally, at level 25 +200 Ink Swell radius is a clear winner, despite, once again, many players defaulting to the Stroke of Fate upgrade. This radius upgrade increases the already respectable AoE of Ink Swell by 125%, making it a lot easier to achieve the 4-second stun on multiple targets. Your team has to be exceptionally underfarmed and underleveled to not be able to capitalize on a highly probable 4-second stun on two+ enemy heroes.
Somehow we managed to talk about Grimstroke for so long without ever touching his ultimate and it should be an indication of how potent the hero is. Grimstroke in his current form is an incredibly powerful hero even without good synergies with his ultimate. In fact, in many games we’ve seen the hero being played, the best results were generally achieved when his ultimate was used as soon as an enemy hero was in vision, providing shared vision to your team and slowing the opponent.
Doubling the effectiveness of some spells is certainly something you want to do, but given how Soulbind will automatically latch to any enemy hero coming into AoE, not using it as soon as possible is often a mistake.
Grimstroke is a hero who is quite easy to utilize effectively and who can get absolutely overpowered when played by highly dedicated heroes. He is going to get nerfed and he is going to get nerfed pretty heavily, probably before the beginning of the new DPC season, so we strongly recommend playing and learning the hero now.