Image by Jeremy Klein and Ziedrich
Anti-Mage is currently in top15 most successful heroes in 5k games with a healthy pick rate of almost 8%. For a hero many consider to be weak in lane, unfit for the meta and a huge gamble in most games, these stats are definitely surprising. So why is he suddenly relevant, despite receiving no significant buffs for more than 4 months?
Despite no significant changes to the actual balance of the game, meta still evolves. It is a natural process and a sign of a healthy game. Once players at TI started figuring out they can be a little bit more greedy and still come out on top, despite losing some of their lanes, the trend was immediately caught by high level pub players and eventually trickled down to all matches.
Greed is still punishable, but it isn’t as punishable as people assumed it to be. That is how we got Spectre back at one point and how offlane dual lanes were often filled with what essentially was a third carry. Anti-Mage is a greedy hero, but he is also great at punishing greedy heroes of the enemy, very similar to previously popular Alchemist.
Given equal lane pressure, Anti-Mage will get online much faster, at least in terms of his farming capabilities. From this point onward it is the same old story of split-pushing, farming up and only coming for a clean-up. This, however, proved to be a very successful gameplan in a meta, where players generally like to push their greed as much as they can, without losing the game outright.
Anti-Mage being weak in lane is not necessarily a myth, but his weaknesses are certainly exaggerated. He does very little in a tri-lane vs. tri-lane, but against a dual lane he is actually great at trading hits. Mana Break is a very strong lane stabilizer and experienced Anti-Mage players know how to push their hero to the limits.
We often see Anti-Mages go for seemingly suicidal auto-attack trades, only to blink out later and salve up. Most of the time, if the enemy salve is also forced, it means that in 10 seconds both heroes are going to be back in lane with full health, but now the enemy doesn’t have access to their abilities.
Anti-Mage doesn’t really have anything to offer in terms of spells, at least in lane, so it is definitely a net win for him—both him and his opponent are pretty much glorified creeps who default to farming and creep contesting. This is a good lane state for Anti-Mage and a very bad one for any enemy, who wants to play active and apply pressure.
On top of it, all of his regeneration is generally slightly more effective, since not only does he have a decent amount of armor, but he can also take an early point in Spell Shield to make the enemy mana a lot less efficient.
Anti-Mage is definitely known for his prowess against Intelligence heroes. Bad positioning can often result in half the enemy team being wiped with a single spell, while previously discussed Mana Break will have a lot more mana to work with, hence will apply the extra damage for longer.
Necrophos, Storm Spirit, Invoker and Zeus are all among the top15 most played heroes in the game in the 5k+ bracket, with almost 20% pick rate each. Add to them Grimstroke and Silencer in the support positions and you can see how Anti-Mage can actually be relevant not only from the 10th pick position. He will often either take away the opportunity for the enemy to play their comfort hero, or will be a great counter.
Against many other heroes in the top15, Anti-Mage might not be the best predator, but he definitely isn’t a prey either: both Ursa and Tiny will have trouble dealing with Anti-Mage by the end of the laning stage, while Anti-Mage outscales both of them in a core position.
Despite all the changes to the game, Anti-Mage build is as static as it has always been: you want your early Ring of Health in lane, since it is great for keeping your alive and is very effective on you, courtesy of high armor and magic resistance. You want you small filler item, be it Ring of Aquila or Magic Wand for early stats. You need your Power Treads and then immediately go for Battlefury.
This build, after being tested for almost a decade, is more or less non-negotiable. There are alteration every now and then, with the build order being switched once in a while, but most high level players default to it for a reason. You need every bit of early stats to secure your life pre-Battlefury, and you need Battlefury to do exactly what meta needs Anti-Mage to do: get ahead of greedier opponents and punish them for not applying enough pressure on you.
Interestingly, talents for the hero are also pretty static, with +20 AS, +400 Blink Cast Range, -2.5 s. Blink Cooldown being picked in 90% of cases. While level 15 and 20 talents are more or less self-explanatory and their alternatives aren’t particularly consistent, the +20 AS is a weird one.
Yes, it helps a lot with the farming speed and will probably shave off a couple of minutes from the Battlefury+PT to 6-slotted progression, but +10 Strength definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. On a hero with so much resistance, extra 180 health can go a very long way.
We wanted to highlight for a very particular reason: to have a proof that meta is still evolving and it is too early to call it completely figured out. Our regular caveat of this applying to core heroes only is still intact, but at the very least 60% of the player base shouldn’t have too many reasons to complain. There are still ways to fit in heroes you might like and there are still reasons to pick off-meta.
For support players our only advice would be to be patient and wait for the next patch, which might make more than 5 heroes in the pool viable. Alternatively you can still spam Grimstroke, who remains pretty powerful, or try position four Anti-Mage, if you feel like going for the extra tilt.