Image by Zaphk
The rise of ranged position one carries opened the melee position five support route. It is definitely a good thing, as some long-forgotten heroes are now starting to see play. At the same time, once players figured out how good heroes like Treant Protector are, they started trying to get away with even greedier and even squishier carries, ultimately ending up with Lina, Shadow Fiend, Drow Ranger and Sniper as the biggest trendsetters. Only one of them is not like the others.
We’ve talked multiple times about how powerful Lina’s laning stage is. The same is true for Shadow Fiend, who can deal a tremendous amount of damage with his nukes come level three. Drow is also surprisingly potent: the Frost Arrows extra damage and the ability to harass without aggro is worth a lot.
Sniper and his Shrapnel are roughly in the same boat. It is a very powerful slow that has three charges. While each charge individually takes ages to cool down, having the ability to cover the battlefield with a very annoying effect is worth a lot. Even with the last nerf to its radius, it is still a potent ability and most high level players now max it out first.
There was a trend that concentrated on Headshot and Take Aim, but it is long gone from both professional and high level pub meta, since it makes Sniper too weak in lane. With a Shrapnel build the hero is more than comparable to the other meta carries in lane, so the reason why he had a ~44% win rate this week in Divine+ games has to lie elsewhere.
Let’s look at what the meta carries offer their team from midgame onwards. Lina is Lina, it is a hero with an AoE stun that has a ~36% uptime. It is insane how powerful it is in certain scenarios.
Drow Ranger probably has the lowest utility of them all. After all, the slow on Frost Arrows is single-target most of the time. Gust is a very powerful silence with insance cast range and good duration. It is usually dealt with by the end of midgame, but it almost always forces a dispel item out of one or two enemies.
On top of it, Drow’s Aghanim’s Shard is one of the most potent Heal and Regeneration reducing tools in the game and in certain matchups it is worth a lot. For a low price of 1400 gold Drow can essentially get a better Skadi, that doesn’t go through BKB, but can be devastating against heroes like Leshrac, Viper and Razor who often rely on Bloodstone heal in the midgame.
Shadow Fiend has a screen-covering, Fear-inducing ultimate. His utility is already through the roof. His ultimate has a relatively long cooldown and cast time, but both problems can be solved by the late midgame.
On top of it, come level fifteen, Shadow Fiend gets an incredibly potent pushing aura that allows him to capitalize on any won fight with an objective. SF is extremely punishing to lose a fight to.
Then there is Sniper, who is now frequently going the Aghanim’s Shard route. Concussive Grenade is pretty good, but it is barely utility. Its Cast Range is pretty low, so most of the time it is best used for self-save.
Shrapnel, as discussed previously, is amazing. It is also a very potent Blink-canceling tool, which currently suffers from how good Pipa dell'Intuizione is. The latter appears in almost every game and is a very strong counter to Shrapnel.
Finally, there is Assassinate which is just not great. It is so mana intensive and mediocre, most professional players skip the ability altogether, concentrating on getting Sniper’s passive maxed out first. It has a very strong Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade, but it is still a 4200 gold investment with stats Sniper doesn’t need for a long range “setup” stun.
Don’t get us wrong: we think that Sniper has utility to offer and the Assassinate upgrade especially is very underrated as a way to low-commit to a potential fight. The problem is, all of the utility on Sniper comes at a great opportunity cost and is very niche, especially when compared to a straightforward ~36% uptime hard disable.
Finally we get to what Carries should be about: dealing damage. To understand some of the arguments we strongly recommend giving our primers on Attack Speed and Armor a quick look. Some information in them is outdated, but the general ideas are still relevant.
Drow Ranger is theoretically one of the highest DPS heroes in the entire game. Her Marksmanship is a +50% Agility steroid, which means more AS and more Damage, as long as conditions are met. But while it is already very impressive, she also gets 40% chance to ignore all base armor on a target, which in certain cases can be comparable to having 4x+ crits.
She also has a very strong teamfight ability in Multishot, that deals bonus damage on top of bonus damage she gets from Marksmanship. And it also fully applies Hypothermia stacks from her Aghanim’s Shard. Shard, that also shatters killed targets for extra AoE damage. It is really hard to compete with Drow damage output, though the hero is still balanced around needing very specific conditions to deal that damage.
Lina is a lot more straightforward. She just gets +385 Attack Speed and good Intelligence growth. Unlike Drow, this is very hard to prevent. A good Lina player will always have Fiery Soul stacks coming into a fight and will keep them up. This is basically Troll Warlord levels of DPS increase, but without the need to build up Fervor.
Shadow Fiend has multiple DPS things going for him. Good Teamfight ultimate that can blow up isolated targets until the later portions of the midgame. Triple Razes, that can deal a tremendous amount of damage. Insanely high right-click damage with a potential +140 from Necromastery and crits from Aghanim’s Shard, all bolstered by his armor reducing aura.
Because of innate high damage output, he can also freely go for an Arcane Blink and Refresher build, adding even more teamfight damage. Being a mixed damage core in the later portions of the game is also pretty good: it is a way to deal with high armor targets and there are SF builds that can concentrate on that aspect of the hero.
Finally, there is Sniper DPS. His Headshot adds an average of 44 extra damage per hit, rising to 56 with the talent. While Take Aim is active, it essentially turns into a +140 Attack Damage boost, which is very much comparable to what Shadow Fiend has, but is a very far cry from what Lina (+385 AS) and Drow (+50% Agility) get to work with. This +140 attack damage also has a ~29% uptime at best: Take Aim is quite restrictive.
The Magic Damage output of Sniper is also pretty weak. Shrapnel can be a ~100 DPS DoT effect, but with the radius decrease, avoiding it is easier than ever. There is also the aforementioned Pipe that mitigates a lot of it. Moreover, DoT effects are just straight up weaker than burst damage: late game regeneration has to be taken into account.
Assassinate is a respectable nuke, but it can’t really be used during the fight. The cast point is very long and going Aghanim’s is not always an option.
The end result is that Sniper is very much inferior to Lina and Drow in terms of right-click damage, while also not offering even a fraction of magic damage Shadow Fiend gets to offer. His utility is quite limited and is mostly about keeping Sniper safe.
With his extra attack range and multiple ways of repositioning himself, Sniper can be the safest of all three carries, but what is he being safe for? In the later portions of the game his DPS is not going to be enough to deal with most equally farmed threats. He will also take longer to kill weaker targets. His scaling is very much limited.
Hence the conclusion: yes, Sniper is very much overrated and is among the least reliable carries in the current patch. Do you agree with us? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.