Dota 2 is such an open, complicated and flexible game that you could theoretically play every hero in any role, like, for example, the offlane Crystal Maiden that we recently saw at the recently concluded BTS Summer Cup online tournament.
Unlike other instances, however, this one is particularly rare. Crystal Maiden is almost exclusively played as a support in pro games. In fact, prior to the four times — yes you read that right — we saw Offlane Crystal Maiden picked and played at the BTS Summer Cup, the hero was played as a core in pro games only once since Patch 7.07 hit nearly a year ago.
Overall, according to DatDota, Crystal Maiden has only been played as a core 41 times since March of 2012, when Dota 2 was still in closed beta and patch 6.74,
Of course, as is the case with Dota 2, anything can and will work. The only question is how effective it is.
Having said that, it’s at least worth taking a look at how offlane Crystal Maiden works and if it’s a good idea to give this unorthodox playstyle a go in pubs.
What is the Typical Crystal Maiden Playstyle?
Crystal Maiden is a rather unique support. When judged by the regular 1-5 scale, you can’t exactly pigeon hole her as a 4, because she’s not exactly a particularly greedy roamer. But, she’s not exactly a hard support or a position 5 either, because running her excusively to babysit a core in the lane is a huge waste of her potential.
Then again, Crystal Maiden is still expected to do things that supports do. This includes buying the majority of the support items, like Observer Wards and Sentry Wards, diving deep to plant said wards and tank smoke ganks when necessary. You know. The usual. But, because of how her Frostbite works against creeps — 10 second duration at 100 damage per second across all levels — she is often run in the jungle from the get go instead, taking the larger creeps on her lonesome starting at the 30-second mark and continuing to do so as often as possible in between rotations to gain a significant XP and gold advantage. The former is extremely important because of how effective the hero’s Arcane Aura is (Allie Mana Regen Bonus: 0.8/1/1.2/1.4)
To cut it short, to play Crystal Maiden effectively as a support, you have to stay active all over the map, whether it’s taking larger creeps, setting up ganks, or harrassing enemy heroes, to make a significant impact via your skills and the support items like Lotus Orb, Glimmer Cape, Solar Crest, Force Staff, or Ghost Scepter, you can and should build because of your added farm potential.
What Has Changed?
As one of the game’s most famous heroes, Crystal Maiden is a common fixture in pubs. In pro games? Not so much. At least, not in the past year. In fact, according to Dotabuff, between patch 7.07 and patch 7.17, a period of nearly seven months, Crystal Maiden was the eighth-least played hero in pro games, with only 41 games in total and a record of 43.90%. But, since patch 7.18, Crystal Maiden’s viability in pro games has spiked significantly.
From relative obscurity, Crystal Maiden is now Dota 2’s fifth-most played hero in pro games. Pros have picked the hero as many as 28 times since June 28, which is a lot considering the scarcity of pro games these days.
What prompted this change, you ask?
Well, Crystal Maiden is still pretty slow. Her base movement speed (275) is atrocious. The jungle also remains a lot less viable from when she was competitively viable, which was roughly around a year ago. However, the recent set of buffs since patch 7.16, with the latest one making Crystal Nova (increased damage from 100/150/200/250 to 130/170/210/160) and Arcane Aura (increased mana regen on self from 1.6/2.4/3.2/4 to 1.8/2.6/3.4/4.2) has made Crystal Maiden a lot more attractive in pro games. At least, among Tier 2/3 teams.
At the BTS Summer Cup, in particular, Crystal Maiden was the second-most picked hero (27), tied with Phantom Lancer.
The Viability of the Offlane Crystal Maiden
Of course, Crystal Maiden’s return to prominence as a support doesn’t even begin to explain how viable the hero is in the offlane, and normally, this wouldn’t even warrant a discussion. Pro gamers and teams in general are weird in that they sometimes just run pretty much what they want. But, when pros play a support hero in the offlane as a core three times in the same tournament, losing only once, you can’t just let it slip by that easily.
The two players to have played Crystal Maiden as a core are Mohammad ‘AfrOmoush‘ Abu Al Eis and Lee ‘Forev‘ Sang-don. However, it’s worth noting that, of the two, only Forev is a true core player and the only one who ran offlane Crystal Maide. Meanwhile, the other is a support player who ran the hero as a greedy roaming pseudo-core for GangSquad in their win against Vega Squadron.
Because of that, we’re only going to look at what Forev did differently from the typical Crystal Maiden playstyle to try and predict if it is going to stick in the long run.
What Did Forev Do Differently?
For Forev to play the hero in ranked as a core and actually try it out in a pro game means that he has seen something that’s worth trying.
By looking at the available game samples, we can see Forev favoring a 4-0-3-1 skill build more, but he switched it up once in pro games, going 4-2-1-0, skipping the ultimate until Level 8 and getting Frostbite earlier than usual at Level 6 in their Game 2 loss against Let’s Do It in the Grand Finals of the BTS Summer Cup.
In terms of talent, Forev is getting the +250 health at Level 10 and the +150 gold/min at Level 15. At Level 20, he has taken the +250 attack speed once in a pro game, and if he manages to reach Level 25, he gets the +1.5s Frosbite duration talent.
If we look at the pro games exclusively, Forev’s mindset was somewhat clear. He will stay in the lane and spam Crystal Nova. With early points in Arcane Aura, he could spam it near-endlessly to zone out the enemy safe lane with the help of a lane partner that also had a way to zone out opposing heroes. This allowed him to last hit and gain levels towards getting that +150 gold/min talent as early as possible.
By the 15-18 minute mark, he’d have a Blink Dagger and enough levels on both Crystal Nova and Frostbite to get a kill or strongly harass the enemy while simultaneously making bank because of the +150 gold/min talent.
Non-Stop Harassment and Global Presence
Only a few heroes in Dota 2 can have a global presence right from the get go and Crystal Maiden is one of those.
Even an early point on Arcane Aura at level 2 can do wonders in helping mana-dependent safe laners and mid laners spam their skills. Meanwhile, the recent buff to Crystal Nova makes it a great harassing tool with a decent cooldown that you can use from a relatively safe distance.
By constantly harassing enemy heroes, you ensure your own safety as you farm — vital for a hero that moves slow, has virtually zero armor, low HP and has no escape mechanism — while opening up kill potential on the lane. Although the latter isn’t nearly as important during the laning stage because of how ganking is no longer as rewarding.
By the time you’re close to maxing out your first three skills, you’re ready to make your move and start applying pressure all over the map. This is because you have a good spammable setup/disable in Frostbite and an equally spammable nuke in Crystal Nova. Paired with Arcane Aura, you and the rest of your team will be able to constantly throw skills without worrying about having no mana. Plus, you’ll have a constant flow of gold with the +150 gold/min talent.
Unfortunately, the downside to offlane Crystal Maiden is that you won’t have Frostbite to help you set up ganks and importantly, escape incoming rotations, early on. The way Forev played the hero was that he either had a mana-dependent lane support like Pudge or Ursa or someone that had sustain like Witch Doctor to help minimize the risk of dying. He also picked up a Power Threads and a Drums of Endurance or Pipe of Insight for added survivability.
Offlane Crystal Maiden is a risky move that can easily backfire when not done right. It’s not necessarily a hero that can win you games either. But, it is possible that Forev is on to something here.
Crystal Maiden would’ve folded easily as it is in the roaming meta. The hero’s inherent squishiness makes her easy pickings all throughout the game. However, with static lanes and the 2-1-2 lane composition now prevalent, offlaners are no longer left to fend for themselves. This may have what opened the door to the possibility of an offlane Crystal Maiden and pairing the hero with a lane partner that preferably can take advantage of the constant harassment potential that both Arcane Aura and Crystal Nova offers.
The +150 gold/min talent is also significant. Before, Crystal Maiden was the sort of support that you’d have farming the neutral creep camps in between rotations. Now, you can run offlane Crystal Maiden pretty much in a similar manner to a support Crystal Maiden, albeit without worrying about falling off and becoming a liability because of the constant cash flow offered by the gpm talent.
It’s only about a month before The International 2018, so we can’t exactly say for sure how the hero is going to develop, and whether offlane Crystal Maiden is here to stay. But, the concept is at least worth trying — if not for the win, but for the heck of it.
What do you think of the offlane Crystal Maiden? Is it a viable strategy? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.