This article will analyze the balance & meta changes that came with the Big Update. Needless to say, there are plenty of them and here we’ll attempt to make it as easy as possible to understand what works and what doesn’t after the Big Update:
We’ll start out with the old Alliances and how the big update changed how successful they are. As you can notice below at a glance, the Big Update made many low to mid-tier strategies a lot better, which in general is great for the metagame as (at least at first glance) it seems there are multiple viable strategies you can go for.
Alliance icons are clickable and reveal the information.
Hunter: (6) Hunters wasn’t a viable build at all before the Big Update. Now, however, they are quite a lot stronger. First, there are two more Hunters, making it easier to get the full bonus. Second, they have an Ace effect, which helps a lot in the late game. Third, Terrorblade is a Hunter. All of these reasons in addition to some buffs from the actual Underlords mean that Hunters have an extremely high damage output. Mattjestic thinks that Insect/Hunters are THE top-tier strategy right now.
Trolls: having five instead of four heroes makes it much, much easier to get the (4) Trolls bonus, keeping in mind one of the old four was a 5-cost Ace and wasn’t really available before you hit lvl9. (4) Troll builds are quite viable now, usually used with Knights and Warriors.
Savage: huge winners in this patch. One more Savage hero (Bristleback) who serves as the main damage dealer and the actual carry in Savage strategies. He is a big reason they don’t fall-off in the late game as they used to. Another VERY important reason, however, is that heroes have twice as much HP. This means battles last a bit longer in general and Savage are able to accumulate higher bonus damage numbers despite the bonus damage nerf.
Brawny: the bonus health gets spread over all Brawny units. This makes a lot of sense and means that your late game Brawny heroes (Bristleback, Disruptor) will get some bonus HP right when they enter the battlefield. There is one additional Brawny hero – Bristle. He brings the total number up to five and makes it much easier to get the (5) Brawny bonus.
Primordial: obviously better because there are 7 Primordials in the game (Void and Io are the new ones) as well as three levels to the Alliance bonus (new third level Eidolons) and an Ace effect (Eidolons cast a DoT that mini-stuns when they die). That said, I still doubt builds centered around (6) Primordials would become meta. I find it more likely that (4) Primordials + Enigma would be a great addition to Mages or other builds they fit.
Druids: the 5th Druid and new secondary Alliances (Ench is also a Healer, Io is Primordial, Nature’s – a Shaman, and Treant - a Brute) make Druids better in general. They used to be an extension of Elusive strategies, and now they are quite a bit more versatile. That said, the main reason Druids are more useful now IMO is that Io is an extremely strong Hero on his own and can be useful in a lot of drafts.
Knights: the 7th Knight with the Ace effect are situationally useful in the late game. What really makes Knights stronger is that it’s much easier to get (4) Trolls with them without having to rely on Troll Warlord.
Mages: thanks to the Human change, Mages are much less reliant on Crystal Maiden (although now you almost always want (4) Humans, which usually means including Dragon Knight in your final comp). Moreover, Keeper’s total mana has been decreased. This means he gains enough for Illuminate faster, which makes a difference.
Human: the Human Alliance lost the silence and gained what used to be Crystal Maiden’s mana gain aura. This means Humans are absolutely mandatory in Mages (you’re usually aiming for four). More interestingly, it means the mana gain mechanic is no longer unique to Mages and you can try to abuse it in other compositions to gain an edge and cast your spells earlier than your opponents (most notably Knights, which now also have (4) Humans). Moreover, there is a total of 9 Humans in the game, which is a benefit, especially with the Jail system.
Shaman: there are now two extra Shamans, which makes the (2) Shaman bonus a lot more convenient and easy to get. This means Shamans are included more naturally in other strategies (e.g. Trolls, Brutes, Primordials). That said, the actual bonus is a bit weaker because of this important clarification: “Each shaman can only turn each enemy into a chicken once per battle.”, as well as the fact that you need (4) Shamans for the full bonus (otherwise you get shorter Hex duration).
Assassins: Assassins gain an Ace effect in addition to three new Assassins (Nyx, Void, Anti-Mage) while losing Sand King and Bloodseeker from their ranks. It’s interesting to note that there are (3) Elusive Assassins (AM, PA, TA), which makes it quite easy to get both bonuses together. With three 1-gold Assassins, they are quite easy to build in the early game. More importantly - with the Ace effect in mind, a (6) Assassin draft definitely feels stronger in the late game.
Blood-Bound: the Alliance had two heroes. Now it has three, which makes it 50% better automatically. Jokes aside, a high-star Bloodseeker is a great hero to make use of the Bloodbound bonus without needing the Big Time Contract item. That said, you probably still need at least one BTC to run a Bloodbound strategy in the late game.
Demons: technically worse when there is only one Demon in the build compared to before the patch because you need to wait for the cast to gain the same bonus damage. That said, now it’s definitely possible to run more Demons in a build without needing Demon Hunters (which are gone from the game), which is a big upgrade to the Alliance as a whole. The first Demon that casts silences the others for 4 seconds, which is a drawback, but the benefit is that it gains 50% bonus damage for each additional Demon, which is a lot.
Elusive: “All Elusive units have a [10/20]% chance to gain +100% Evasion and +35 Attack Speed for 3 seconds when attacked.” This makes them a bit worse defensively in general but better offensively. If this was the only change they even might be better than they used to be because the Elusive Hunters (Wind & Mirana) and Assassins (Phantom and Templar) use the offensive part of this change very well.
The reason I think they are slightly worse, however, is that they lost Treant and Natures Prophet who are now a Brute and a Shaman. This is a big deal because Treant was their only real tank, while the (2) Druid synergy made Elusive strategies quite strong in the early-mid game. This suggests it’s quite a lot more difficult to try to run a (6) Elusive draft from the start of the game, and the right way to play might be to run (3) Elusive (usually Assassins, because Anti-Mage is now the third Elusive Assassin) + another main Alliance.
Warriors: they are not weak by any means and can still win games for certain, they are just no longer the top build in the game as they were before the patch. Axe and Doom are no longer Warriors, which is a problem on two levels:
Heartless: “worse” is a strong word considering there are more Heartless heroes in the game, but I decided to put them here because even though there are more Heartless heroes, it’s extremely hard to get a high-level Heartless Alliance bonus in a normal build.
First, there isn’t a single duplicate Alliance in the Heartless ranks, which makes it very hard to go for a high Heartless level in another strategy. Second, Fall from Grace doesn’t exist anymore. This means that (4) Heartless is no longer a natural inclusion in Knights/Hunters with FFG.
To get the (4) and (6) Heartless bonus you actually have to buy a lot of Heartless heroes, and a full-on (6) Heartless build still doesn’t seem like a great idea – you need other damage-dealing synergies to make use of the Heartless bonus.
Brute: a new mix of an offensive and defensive alliance – they reduce the damage of their targets and deal some bonus damage in the process. It doesn’t seem like they would become and S-tier strategy in the current meta, but interesting builds with e.g. Druids and possibly Shamans are definitely possible and quite viable.
Healer: quite a straightforward secondary Alliance. You usually get it with Necro + Dazzle for the (2) Heartless and (2/4) Trolls Alliance bonus. The third Healer in the draft is the one you change based on the situation. Healers fit Knight drafts most easily because of Necro (with Abaddon) + Dazzle (with Batrider) + Omni Knight.
Insect: the (3) Insects bonus is surprisingly powerful and the Spiderlings deal a considerable amount of damage while also preventing some of the damage output of your opponents. Insects/Hunters seems to be the easiest way to make them work because of Weaver.
Champion: sounds amazing on paper, but this high potential is actually hard to realize in practice. You definitely need an early two-star Legion commander so that she can start getting a bit of bonus damage from Duels. Although she has a unique Dragon effect (if you run her with Dragons), she is NOT a Dragon herself (which means you can’t run e.g. Legion instead of Viper in a Knights draft to transform Dragon Knight). This means that she is a bit hard to include in a lot of drafts and works best in a balanced draft where she can get some sustain/durability as well as some damage from your Alliance bonuses.
Nyx: 1g, Insect, Assassin
A very versatile new Assassin. Spiked Carapace makes Nyx survivable and gives him great control, making Nyx a great frontline hero in an Assassin build. At the same time, Vendetta (the bonus damage on the first hit after Assassin-jumping) means you can easily position him as a normal damage-dealing Assassin and still get great value. He’s almost
Dazzle: 2g, Troll, Healer
The heal is great, but the ability to get (4) Trolls reliably without the need to find Troll Warlord is even better.
Weaver: 2g, Insect, Hunter
Insect/Hunters are a very well-performing build, and Weaver is the main reason you can get both easily. He performs very well for a 2-cost unit because the low CD Shukuchi allows him to easily lose the enemy aggro and survive for very long (quite often he’s the last hero standing in your lineup). This, in turn, allows him to deal quite a lot of damage over the course of the round. That said, his evasiveness comes at the cost of below-average stats.
Io: 3g, Primordial, Druid
Both Primordials and Druids are considerably stronger than they were before the Big Update, and Io is a major reason for this change. His link (Tether + Overcharge) is a very powerful buff for any carry hero, and Relocate is just the cherry on top. Sometimes it feels pointless (because the spell is very slow and the round is won/lost already), but sometimes it can win you the round on its own by bringing back a key hero before the fight is over. Needless to say, Io excels in teams that fight longer rounds because of the slowness of Relocate. You want most of your army to still be alive and well once Io returns with the extra hero.
Lifestealer: 3g, Brute, Heartless
Unlike Io who is a true utility/support hero, Lifestealer is the newest addition in the ranks of the 3-cost carries. The price is relevant because you have the highest chance to roll 3-cost heroes on lvl7 and 8. Strategies that don’t need to push for lvl9 or 10 usually stay for a long time on lvl7 & 8, making 3-cost carries the easiest ones to get to three stars. All of this combined with his passive (Feast) makes Lifestealer the main carry in Brute drafts. The fact that he’s Heartless also helps – it’s easier to get the (2) Heartless bonus in Brute builds.
Bristleback: 4g, Brawny, Savage
Bristleback has become the centerpiece (main carry) of both Savage and Brawny strategies. If he’s able to survive for long-enough, his Quill Spray deals extremely high AoE damage. He works wonders with Octarine Core and often tops the DPS charts. It’s a great idea to run him with Healers/Warlocks to make sure he can survive for as long as possible – the longer the fight, the more AoE damage he deals.
Faceless Void: 5g, Primordial, Assassin
Void has the best AoE disable in the game. It has one big downside, however – it can affect your own heroes. This makes it a bit difficult to run Void with a (6) Assassin lineup even though he gives them a very valuable Ace effect. Assassins jump on top of the enemy backlines, and so does Void, so with a team full of Assassins he’s very likely to disable a big part of your own army. Void, however, works absolutely wonderfully with Hunters and Mages because the Hunter/Mage long-range armies stay way out of Chronocube range.
Shadow Demon: 1g, Heartless, Demon
His Demonic Purge acts as a dispel, but at the same time deals a lot of damage at the end of the duration. His main use, however, is as a versatile hero that you can put in a lot of drafts to gain the Heartless bonus. Keep in mind that after the Big Update running more than one Demon is possible. That said, he definitely falls-off in the late game and you might find yourself replacing him more often than not for your final build.
Magnus: 2g, Brute, Shaman
Empower is quite useful if you’re running a Brute draft or any other strategy with powerful melee damage-dealers. That said, not casting his spell on the right target ASAP decreases the impact of the hero a great deal because Mag deals low damage himself. Aside from the utility of Empower, Mag can act as a decent tank especially if the (2) Shaman synergy is active.
Broodmother: 4g, Insect, Warlock
Her main use is to get the (3) Insect Alliance bonus, which is quite powerful. She isn’t particularly popular outside of Insect builds because while her ability is useful (slow with a decent AoE), it’s not game-breaking. You can use her in (4) Warlock builds, but usually only until you find a better Warlock to replace her with. The fact that the web doesn’t deal damage means she doesn’t get a lot of value from triggering the Warlock link.
Sven: 5g, Human, Scaled, Knight
The downside to Sven’s ability is obvious – it removes the tankiness of Knights entirely. If this happens at the wrong moment (before big enemy disables), it can lose you rounds. As we mentioned in our speculations article, you need to abuse the fact that you don’t lose the tankiness of knights until Sven casts God’s Strength. Put Sven as far back as possible to make sure he triggers AFTER important enemy disables. Even with this in mind, however, he is still a risky Knight to run in your strategy. Some people are speculating that he might be most useful in drafts where you run Dragon Knight + Sven as your only Knights so that the downside of God’s Strength is less impactful.
Legion Commander: 3g, Human, Champion
With the interesting new Champion Alliance, people had high expectations of Legion. In reality, however, it’s hard to make her work and it definitely feels as if she needs at least an attack speed buff to increase her impact. Her stats are low, so it is expected that the Alliance bonuses will compensate and turn her into a super carry. In reality, however, it feels the bonuses are rarely enough.
Anti-Mage: 1g, Elusive, Assassin
The main reason I consider AM better is that when he’s an Assassin, he easily reaches the enemy backline where he’ll stay alive and burn the mana of important spell-casters for longer. Moreover, being an Assassin means that there are currently three Elusive Assassins in the game (with Phantom and Templar), making it very easy to get the (3) Elusive bonus in Assassin builds. The drawback is that he loses the Demon Hunter bonus damage, but the Assassin crits he gains compensate to a degree.
Batrider: 1g, Troll, Knight
Batrider is a bit weaker on his own (smaller Sticky Napalm AoE), but the fact that there are 5 Trolls in the game now makes him much better in a strategic sense. If you want to build (4) Trolls, Bat will be your main damage-dealer in the early game. He is still most common in Knight/Troll builds for obvious reasons, but you can definitely play him in other Troll strats.
Shadow Shaman: 1g, Troll, Shaman
Shadow Shaman is much better than he used to be for two reasons. First, the (4) Troll bonus is much easier to get right now, which means Shaman is pretty useful just because of his Troll tag. Second, his Hex got buffed in terms of mana-cost and cooldown. This makes it a single-target disable with very low downtime. Shaman is still not an S-Tier unit, but he is much, much more useful than he used to be.
Enchantress: 1g, Savage, Druid, Healer
Gaining one more Alliance doesn’t hurt, but the main reason she’s better than she used to be is that both (4) Druids and Savages are MUCH more viable in the post-Big-Update meta. She could still be replaced in the late game, but keeping her for her Alliance tags is certainly possible.
Mr. Warlock: 1g, Blood-Bound, Warlock, Healer
Warlock simply gained an additional Alliance (Healer), making him a bit more useful outside of Blood-Bound strategies. He makes it possible to activate both (2) Warlock and (3) Healer with only four heroes. That said, you’re still quite likely to replace him with a better hero in the late game.
Nature’s Prophet: 2g, Druid, Shaman
The fact that he’s no-longer an Elusive (together with Treant) is a big loss for the Elusive Alliance. That said, losing the evasion bonus is not that big of a deal for NP. He is still useful in Primordial/Druid/Mage drafts because he deals plenty of magic damage while allowing you to get the (2) Shaman bonus quite easily.
Lina: 3g, Human, Mage
She became a bit more expensive (tier three instead of tier two) and in return gained a slightly better attack speed and slightly more damage for her Laguna Blade in addition to a 5-second DOT after the initial nuke (2.5% of their max HP per second).
Omni: 3g, Human, Knight, Healer
Omni simply gained another Alliance, making it quite easy to get the (3) Healer bonus in Knights builds.
Terrorblade: 3g, Demon, Hunter
With the Demon-Hunter Alliance lost, Terrorblade became a Hunter. It’s arguable if this is enough to compensate for the lost bonus damage when combined with Anti-Mage, but not needing AM makes him a bit more versatile – he is a great addition to any (3) or (6) Hunters draft. Moreover, keep in mind that you can run multiple Demons and increase his DPS in that way. Just make sure he’s the first Demon to cast his spell because the 4s Silence might be deadly for a TB if it happens just when he’s about to cast Sunder.
Keeper of the Light: 4g, Human, Mage
The main carry in a Mage draft received a direct buff – he now needs 50 less mana to start charging his Illuminate, which is a very noticeable difference in practice. Casting the spell faster means enemies have less time to reach him and kill him before he unleashes the full 5-sec channeled blast.
Sand King: 4g, Savage, Insect
Losing the Assassin tag isn’t a big deal for Sand King because the crits were never a major strength of the unit – he is useful because of his AoE stun. Moreover, not jumping to the back of the enemy team makes it easier to frontline him and trigger his stun faster. The Savage bonus is more useful in the late game than it used to be before the Big Update, and Sand King is arguably the best Insect hero, which means you always want to get him if you’re going for the (3) Insects bonus.
Enigma: 5g, Primordial, Shaman
Enigma received damage nerf to Midnight Pulse, but this is because the total HP of all heroes was doubled, and Enigma deals percentage based damage, so in nominal terms she deals as much damage as she did before. What makes her better, however, is that now there is a third level to the Primordial synergy (with six heroes) and that Enigma gives the Primordial Ace. This makes the hero a very straightforward pickup in all kinds of Primordial drafts.
Gyrocopter: 5g, Inventor, Deadeye
The new Deadeye Ace effect (attacks pierce the main target, dealing 100% damage to the unit behind the main target) is simply much better than the old one. Running Gyro + Sniper could be very powerful in the late game, especially if your Sniper is three stars.
Medusa: 5g, Scaled, Hunter
She is now the Ace of Hunters and gives them the old Focus Fire Hunters global item – increasing the damage of Hunters when they’re shooting down the same target. This simply makes (6) Hunters considerably better than they used to be in terms of damage output. Losing the offensive side of Scaled makes it a bit less likely to try to build (4) Scaled, but Scaled is mostly useful for the defensive bonus, so this change doesn’t mean you wouldn’t try to get at least (2) Scaled with Medusa.
Axe: 1g, Brute, Brawny
Axe + Beastmaster were the opening heroes and centerpiece of the Brawny/Warrior/Hunter strategy, which was one of the strongest in the game. Now, this strat is pretty much dead: Brutes are simply not as good of a frontline Alliance for Hunters as Warriors because they lack enough control. That said, Axe himself is still a powerful tank if you manage to get him to three stars, and he is quite useable in Brawny strategies.
Bloodseeker: 1g, Blood-Bound Deadeye
The change makes a lot of sense for Bloodseeker and he is quite powerful once a couple of Blood-Bound allies die and he starts dealing considerable damage, in turn healing himself much more easily. With that said, he was moved from a legitimate Alliance to a meme Alliance. Blood-Bound are still very gimmicky and rely on a specific item for the strategy to work, which means Blood Seeker is used less often in “legitimate” strats.
Tiny: 1g, Primordial, Warrior
Tiny got a lower stun duration (deserved, since he had the best AoE disable in the game for a 1-cost hero) and a slightly higher CD. That said, Primordial strats are more viable now with the (6) Primordial bonus and Ace effect, so Tiny is very unlikely to become unpopular despite the direct nerfs.
Crystal Maiden: 2g, Human, Mage
She was the most central hero in a Mage draft and the fact that she lost the aura (now the Human Alliance bonus has it) makes her worse, technically speaking. That said, not being the centerpiece of the Mage build is a good thing in a strategic sense – she is simply one of the Human Mages that you could include in your draft while aiming at the Human synergy. Moreover, she has an interesting disable (low downtime on high levels), making her quite useful versus e.g. creep rounds and high-star-level Assassins, etc.
Slark: 3g, Scaled, Assassin
Slark got a nerf on his stolen attack speed (from [3, 5, 7] to [1, 2, 3]), but this was a required nerf bearing in mind heroes have higher HP and fights last a bit longer (i.e. he has more time to steal damage.). He also lost the Scaled Ace bonus, making him a bit less useful outside of Assassin drafts. That said, he is still top-tier in Assassin strats.
Treant Protector: 3g, Druid, Brute
Losing the Elusive tag is a bigger deal for Treant than it is for Nature’s Prophet. He was already a tanky hero, so the 50% evasion combined with the Leach Seed heal made him almost unkillable and arguably the best early-mid game hero in the game. He is still great in the early-mid game, but losing the evasion makes him quite squishier. That said, his newly-found Brute Alliance makes him the centerpiece in a (4) Brute (4) Druid strategy.
Doom: 4g, Brute, Demon
Being a Brute instead of a Warrior makes him slightly squishier comparatively speaking, and the Demon rework means that he needs to cast his spell before he gains the Demon bonus damage. All of this combined with the CD increase of his ultimate makes him a worse unit in almost every way, but let’s be honest – this was a well-deserved nerf. He’s still good enough to include in a Brute strategy or if you’re running multiple Demons.
Necrophos: 4g, Heartless, Healer
Necro lost his Warlock tag, which is a big deal because with the Warlock link and the AoE heal + damage from Death Pulse he was simply the most powerful healer in the game. Right now he is still quite useful for getting the (2) Heartless and (3) Healer Alliance bonuses, but he isn’t as game-breaking as he used to be.
balance of the game the most, it seems Valve found a great way to make them impactful and interesting without letting them define the game.
On a macro level, the game works the same way as it did before the introduction of Anessix and Hobgen:
After doing those two core things successfully, you can pick and choose among the skills and talents of the Underlords to strengthen your strategy further.
In other words, the Underlords don’t define what strategies you’re playing, but rather add another level of complexity and choice that lets you optimize said strategies, which is great and the devs deserve a lot of praise for their implementation of the Underlords.
With all of that said, you should still keep in mind a couple of general opinions that the community has converged upon after a few days of playing:
All in all, this means that Anessix is currently considered the better of the two Underlords. That said, it’s possible that she’ll receive some nerfs in the near future and/or that the introduction of new Underlords will make it less clear which characters are better in general.
There’s nothing wrong with an Underlords tier list. As long as the Underlords don’t define the way you play the game and build your armies – we’re more than happy.
Items drop rates have been changed from Wave 30 onwards. In a few words, you are more likely now to find high-tier items (Tier 4 and especially Tier 5). This doesn’t have big implications besides increasing the late-game value of Smuggler, making it a higher-tier item in the early/mid game.
The XP curve has been changed to accommodate gaining 5 XP for each 5 Gold spent (it used to be 4 XP per 5 Gold). This is mostly a quality of life change, making it easier to calculate how much gold you need to reach a certain level and to plan for how long exactly you want to stay on a certain level for the roll chance.
Thanks for reading! If you found this Dota Underlords article enjoyable, you can check out our other content about the game in the Library! If you're interested in builds, you can check out our Dota Underlords builds collection (however bear in mind most haven't been updated for the Big Update yet, we're still workin on it!).
Special thanks go to our sponsors, EGB, who make publishing free content like this possible for us. If you are into esports betting you should visit them - they offer great live odds and many bonuses on professional Dota 2 matches as well as all other popular esports titles!