Spirit Breaker is one of the most fearsome heroes to face in pubs these days. Not only does he hold the 4th highest win rate across all games, he also has the highest win rate in 5k+ MMR games, on top of being the third most picked in said bracket as well. He’s a strong roamer that is tough to bring down, sporting 3 base armor and 2.7 Strength gain. He can have a huge impact on the laning stage, possibly even winning multiple lanes by himself, all the while scaling well into the late game with both talents and items. But how does one deal with a hero that finds this much success across the board?
One of Spirit Breaker’s biggest strengths is he can pose a mid game threat as a 4 position support (sometimes even as a 5 position), on top of potentially dominating the early game. Whenever he is out of a team’s vision, there is no telling if he’s about to set up a gank or if he’s attempting a solo kill. With Charge of Darkness and Nether Strike, Spirit Breaker can initiate from virtually anywhere. He usually has sufficient damage with few items, enough to kill squishy supports, and doesn’t need much support in killing cores.
Opponents can mitigate his mid game threat by keeping vision at key points around the map to know early when a charge is coming in. Unlike other roamers, Spirit Breaker is quick, so usual ward spots around the river may not be sufficient to buy yourself enough time to react to his ganks. Warding behind towers in the mid game is quite crucial here. For the laning stage, wards along the river or around Tier 1 towers should be sufficient, as Charge of Darkness will be at a low level. Good ward spots also include the enemy jungle, especially around their safelane pull camps, to see any early rotations.
With only a 12 seconds cooldown, Charge of Darkness works both as initiation, as well as a means to escape. Its greatest weakness however is that it leaves Spirit Breaker quite vulnerable. While he can cancel the Charge, it is generally easy to counter his initiation with proper vision. Any long range spell that can disable him or cancel the charge will leave him vulnerable for 12 seconds. Additionally, Nether Strike has a long animation, so any disable can buy enough time to deal with him.
Initiators like Spirit Breaker thrive in environments with low amounts of disable. The more disables a team has, however, the easier it is to deal with him, especially in early fights where he doesn’t have any items to speak of. Unlike other core initiators though, it is best to have long ranged disables to better deal with his initiation during all stages of the game.
It may sound trivial, but having stable lanes is the best way to deal with any roamer. Dedicated roamers tend to struggle to farm and scale without any early impact. If their laning stage doesn’t go well, they can fall off and become weak in the midgame. Roamers like Earth Spirit, Kunkka or Monkey King still have a lot of teamfighting potential and other utilities to offer, whereas Spirit Breaker is usually just an initiator. Without a good start, it can become difficult for him to find the necessary levels to keep up and not become food for cores.
Lanes can become more stable through a variety of ways. While picking the right composition is one thing, i.e. heroes with defensive or even healing capabilities and/or heroes with good escape mechanisms, it’s often more important how to use those heroes. Dual lanes provide a lot of stability, as any solo hero will be an easy target for charges. Keeping the creep wave close to your own tower through pulling, aggressive denying or attracting creep aggro is another way of making sure that any attempted gank from Spirit Breaker bears a great risk. Supports with counter-initiation potential, i.e. disables or strong healing/saving, should carry TPs early on, potentially even in their starting items. The weaker his early game, the longer it takes Spirit Breaker to become a real threat in the mid game.
In their TI7 group stage match vs. Team Secret, Evil Geniuses let their support player Cr1t play Batrider in a support role and last-picked an Enigma against Team Secret's aggressive laning stage line-up, which included a Spirit Breaker. Enigma can greatly stabilize his own lane at any time and pull the creepwave back, making it difficult for Spirit Breaker to gank him (on top of the push potential Enigma provides of course). EG's Lycan provided added stability in the first night time of the laning stage and both Sand King and Earthshaker are excellent heroes to deal with Spirit Breakers mobility and impact, allowing Team Secret to find their first kill only 11 minutes into the game.
While nobody wants to counter a support hero specifically, it’s worth considering heroes that either do especially well against him or that don’t become food for him.
Disruptor is an option to deal with any hero who relies on mobility. With Glimpse and Kinetic Field, he can restrict any heroes movement and Glimpse can nullify an incoming Charge of Darkness. With good positioning and vision, Disruptor is one of the few supports who don’t necessarily die to Spirit Breaker ganks. Static Field is also a good spell to deal with Spirit Breaker, whose low cooldown on Charge of Darkness actually relies on his spells more than one would assume.
Nether Strike’s long animation is vulnerable to any disable, so spells like Cold Snap or Battery Assault will have Spirit Breaker awkwardly dancing until he has to give up using his ultimate or the spells run out. On top of that, Clockwerk’s Cogs are an excellent Charge deterrent, making it difficult to actually kill Clockwerk as an offlaner and Rocket Flare can provide extra vision to keep tabs on the “Space Cow”. To top it all off, Hookshot is an excellent spell to chase Spirit Breaker with.
Among all the supports with defensive capabilities, Oracle is the only one that combines a way to stop Charge of Darkness and a saving ability for successful Spirit Breaker initiations. False Promise is one of the best spells to have for cores that get initiated on, and since Spirit Breaker is all about physical damage and physically attacking opponents, the disarm from Fate’s Edict comes in extra handy as well.
Generally speaking, any core who can survive a Spirit Breaker initiation is already a good pick. The best cores however are those that don’t rely on Black King Bars or Linken’s Spheres, as both items get countered by Spirit Breaker quite easily. Additionally, Spirit Breaker does not deal well with illusions at all and Diffusal Blade carriers can easily kill him as well.
Naga Siren may not be tanky early on, but once she scales into the lategame it becomes difficult for Spirit Breaker initiations to burst her down. Spirit Breaker will always be a good initiator, regardless of how tanky a hero is, but Naga Siren’s ability to reset the fight with her ultimate make her especially strong against a failed gank attempt. It’s also possible for her to dodge Charge of Darkness with a timely Mirror Image usage and she can keep him in place with Net. All of her usual item choices (Radiance, Butterfly, Diffusal) make it difficult for Spirit Breaker to really harass her outside of his spells.
At the end of the day, there’s a reason why Spirit Breaker is good across the board. He fits well into the meta and as a support, nobody wants to dedicate picks to counter him specifically. He’s considerably easier to play than other roamers, as his skillset is rather straightforward. But with any hero, there are ways to deal with him, even if it may not be easy.