DOTA 2: The Sniper
How does a blade hold its edge? By sacrificing flexibility.
Brittle materials form excellent edges. Their rigidity means that they can be shaped to very fine points that don’t deform when pressure is applied to them. More pliable elements, while easy work with, just don’t cut it. That’s the trade-off: the sharper the blade, the less flexible it must be.
The Sniper is DOTA’s sharpest blade.
The Sniper is one of DOTA’s primary ranged carries. He’s designed for one thing: auto-attacking. He has excellent AGI growth, unmatched range (at max skill), and a passive multi-effect attack bonus. Most guides will suggest that you ignore Sniper until you’ve become a better player, but I disagree.
The Sniper is one of the simplest characters to play (at least, he is the way I build him). He also lets the player focus on the more universal aspects of the game as opposed to the more character-specific ones due to his auto-attacky nature. In particular these aspects are:
- Animation Speeds – Every character in DOTA 2 has very particular attack, casting, and movement animations that you need to be familiarized with before getting better.
- Casting delay – A number of heroes have spells that require a “spin-up time” before the spell is unleashed and mastering this timing is the key to winning many engagements. The Sniper’s ultimate has this delay, but does not have the complicating factor of having to target it very skillfully. As a result, it’s easy to get familiar with the idea of a delay without constantly suffering the setbacks of screwing it up!
- Health bar estimation – Health bars in DOTA 2 are divided into segments of 250HP per mark, a piece of information that is invaluable when trying to do a quick calculation as to whether the spell you’re about to drop on someone will kill or simply maim your opponent. Sniper’s 1st level ultimate does roughly 330HP, which is a great number to play with when trying to ensure hero kills (which is something Sniper should always be aiming to do). Also, since this attack is primarily Physical (as opposed to Magical) damage, its scaling is easier to understand at first grasp.
Okay so with that errata out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of actually playing a game with Sniper as an AGI Carry.
- Take Aim
- Take Aim
- Take Aim
Sniper’s best position is solo mid. In this lane he can use his range and projectile speed advantage to effectively farm and deny the opposing player. Some general tactics to follow are to play semi-aggressively by harassing the enemy hero every few attacks. Try not to let your own creep wave move past the river (though a good Sniper will likely be pushing the tower very early on, as his passive Headshot skill makes short work of creeps in early game), but also make sure that you don’t let enemy creeps push your tower too hard either. With Sniper’s inherent advantages and no need to press active skills, you should have an easy time controlling the lane.
COUNTERS: Sniper is easily and effectively countered by heroes with strong early-game nukes if you’re not careful. Lina, Disruptor, Death Prophet, and even a good Windrunner can quickly take the wind out of an amateur Sniper’s sails with a few well-placed spells. The most dangerous hero against Sniper is Silencer, due to his spells being both powerful AND difficult to defuse without active skills. Against these characters play extra safe, bring healing items, and never stop moving.
(As an aside, a good Pudge will WRECK a solo mid Sniper. Never stop moving and always stay behind a creep!)
ITEMS TO BUY
- Circlet, Tango (x2 if need be), Agi shoes!
- Upgrade to Wraith Band ASAP, Boots of Speed
- Belt of Strength (part of Power Treads)
- Upgrade courier if need be
7. Take Aim
10. Stat up
12. Stat up
13. Stat up
14. Stat up
15. Stat up
If you’ve done well, you should approach level 6 just a hair faster than your opponent. This hair, however, can be judiciously exploited and turned into one of those hairs that get caught in your hand like some kind of hair splinter that gets infected and festers into a boiling wound resulting in the untimely demise of the other team. This is because Assassinate is a hugely powerful spell early on in midgame. Its range is pretty much unmatched and few characters have high innate physical resistance at this stage. Once you hit level 6, abandon the middle lane and attempt a quick and dirty gank of your team’s least effective lane (this will likely be the short lane). This should net you more than enough cash and if you speed back to mid, you can still manage to profit from the creep wave.
If you were the first to gank, you’ve now set a precedent and if the opposing team is smart, they’ll try to stuff you. This means that they will likely find your lane and try to team rush it, blunting your gold and exp. Anticipate this by either lane swapping or jungling (but really, don’t), or counter-pushing a lane with your own team. Sniper’s Take Aim skill is uniquely powerful in this regard: he outranges towers. As long as he has sight on the tower, he can attack without worrying about retaliation. In fact, during daytime Sniper doesn’t even need a creep wave to gain sight on the tower. Use this to your advantage.
Team engages in this phase are reliant on your tank/initiator being patient (and smart) enough to wait for you to be nearby before engaging. You’re clean up. Until you itemize up to gain damage, your main job is to ensure that stragglers don’t get away. Be sure to land solid hits, focus on their nuke and disable and pray for lots of ministuns. But always, always pay attention to health bars and once a character drops below that last marker (250HP) pop Assassinate and drop him. Easy money.
If your team is well-coordinated, you can probably down tower after tower without much downtime, which will lead to a quick and clean win. Try to do this. Fast.
COUNTERS: Mid game is really complex, so I’ll only focus on the hard counters to the tactics I’ve outlined here. Characters who can regenerate health (either normally or situationally) quickly or have high defense (Pudge, Dragon Knight, Death Prophet, Necrolyte) are bad targets for this tactic. Instead, save your Assassinates for other heroes OR be more judicious about using it (wait for them to have lower health). The biggest hard counters against this tactic are when a team includes Dazzle, as his Shallow Grave skill can really screw up your timing on Assassinate (or completely neutralize it, wasting the cooldown), and Skeleton King, who will reincarnate if his ultimate hasn’t popped yet, which will likely mean you can’t Assassinate him again for at least 35 seconds. You’re better off focusing on using the skill on other characters/a hero that doesn’t have the Shallow Grave buff.
ITEMS TO BUY
- Power Treads
- Shadow Blade
- Ring of Aquila (likely unnecessary, but consider your team comp)
- Maelstrom (situational)
Once you run into late game Sniper’s effectiveness drops dramatically if you don’t get the right items. Assassinate tops out at about 650-700HP damage and the cooldown remains too long to spam. This amount of damage around level 18 may be good enough against most INT-based heroes, but anyone else will likely have enough HP and damage mitigation to ensure survival. So what to do, what to do…
If you did well in mid game (but not well enough to win), your Crystalis/Shadow Blade combo should give you a significant edge in farming and ganking. Use this to your advantage! Farm unguarded lanes and Shadow escape if heroes come for you. Stack ancients and get money. All of this is working towards items that will buff your AD Carry ability, but not your survivability! This is the major danger. Sniper’s HP Growth is probably one of the worst in DOTA 2 and it’s not profitable for his role to mitigate this because it detracts from his primary functions too much. Arguments will be made about making Sniper less squishy before getting Daedalus/Butterfly/Mjollnir but these arguments are usually from Solo Sniper players, who really just have a completely wrong idea about how to play Sniper (and DOTA 2, for that matter).
So with that in mind, my suggestions aren’t about which items to get (because the consensus is pretty much Daedalus/Butterfly/Mjollnir) but about what order to get them in.
- DAEDALUS – DAED DAED DAED all day long. Daedalus turns you into the scariest thing on the map. At level 16 with a Shadow Blade and a Daedalus you will probably crit for about 500-660HP. THAT’S A FREE ASSASSINATE. Drop a ministun on top of that and you turn into a deadly long-range machinegun. In other words, a Sniper.
- MJOLLNIR – The suggestion to purchase Maelstrom in midgame is for the sole purpose of making Mjollnir easier to get later, because once you get Mjollnir, things go really bonkers. People will die. And die fast. And then you will have to worry more about turning around once they’re dead than clicking where they used to be, because seriously, they won’t be there anymore very quickly. Did I mention how quickly they die?
- BUTTERFLY – I list this last because it’s the most expensive and the least profitable item in terms of Sniper’s job: doing damage. Butterfly is a great item, no doubt. But its greatness comes from how well-rounded it is: it gives good damage, lots of stats, and survivability (in the form of evade). But for the cost, you could easily double, triple, or even quadruple your damage output with a Daedalus. Sure, you won’t have the survivability, but you should have a team (and your own wits) to deal with that. That being said, if you have the other two get it for sure.
The last item for consideration (and really, you shouldn’t have to go here, but I’ve seen games go here so I’m listing it!) is a Heart of Tarrasque. For obvious reasons, this item will basically put sniper over the top in terms of beastliness. And then if you want to get just plain ludicrous, get Divine Rapier or Abyssal Blade. Either one is good. Also, if you find yourself running low on inventory space, sell that damn Aquila!
COUNTERS: In late game pretty much anyone can counter Sniper if they have a sentry ward/gem/dust, a stun, and decent damage. His HP is horrendous. That being said, all the hard counters for Sniper in other phases of the game remain as such in the late phase (especially in teamfights). An exception might be Silencer, because in late game he’s like the INT-based version of Sniper. You can totally take him.
ITEMS TO BUY
- Heart of Tarrasque
Truth be told Sniper’s utility in any game is extremely narrow and requires a solid grasp on most of DOTA 2’s mechanics and team compositions to be good with him. But it’s also true that playing as Sniper is one of the more straightforward DOTA 2 experiences. Since I don’t build him with Shrapnel, ever, he is a one-button carry that is heavily item-dependent. If you learn how to use him effectively, you’ll familiarize yourself with aspects of DOTA 2 that can be easily transferred to playing any other character. And you’ll probably realize how easy playing Sniper is compared to most of those characters!
That’s it for this week’s case study. Stay tuned next week as we cover one of DOTA 2’s most tubular tanks: Tidehunter.