- Huge magic nuke damage, most of it AoE.
- Good synergy with most heroes in the game with powerful AoE ultimates.
- Extremely strong in the late game.
Mages are, once again, an S-Tier strat in the Dota Underlords meta. The reason this happens often is quite simple – the late game is dictated by AoE damage and control. Mages are the best Alliance at AoE damage, so they are quite comfortably one of the best late-game builds in Dota Underlords. Whenever the meta is a bit slower and reaching lvl10 is possible, Mages start to take over. We are currently in such a period, so learning to play them well is well worth it.
(3) Mage Heroes: Enemies take 40% more Magic damage.
(6) Mages Heroes: Enemies take 100% more Magic damage.
The goal with Mages is to reach a powerful late game build that deals extremely high AoE magic damage. A great aspect of the Mage bonus is that it amplifies the magic damage dealt by non-Mage heroes as well, which means that good late-game units with powerful AoE spells have great synergy with Mages.
Mages are a level-value strategy. This means it's better to invest in experience rather than rolls. Mages don't benefit from low-tier three-star heroes too-much, but they work great with 4 and 5-cost heroes, so reaching lvl10 plays a big role in your in getting close to the builds power-cap.
The key heroes in a Mage build are the Human Mages because they allow you to get the key for the strategy (4) Human mana generation bonus easily. Moreover, a two-star Keeper of the Light is one of the key carries of a Mage build.
The Primordial Mages are also quite Important - in our late game Underlords builds test Mages and Primordials were pretty much the best Alliance combo for late-game strength.
Needless to say, the quickest way to get the three Mages is with Razor, Ogre, + 1 (usually Puck or Crystal Maiden). Going only for Mages in the early game is not a good strat, however. You need to think of your frontline. The three most common options are:
Tiny: With Razor and Tiny (and possibly Morph later on) you have a good frontline that can possibly go in two different directions. Razor + Tiny + Morph is the usual opening for Primordial/Mages with a Primordial frontline. It’s also possible, however, to go for three Warriors (thanks to the Tiny) and a backline of three Mages (thanks to the Razor).
Scrappy: a (4) Scrappy frontline is also possible, but Scrappy units are a bit more expensive so you wouldn’t be able to find all four that quickly. This means that in order to go in this direction you need to keep Primordial/Warrior units at least temporarily.
Knights: the least-common opening for a Mage strategy, but it’s still possible. Like with Scrappy, with Knights you’re aiming for more expensive heroes, so you still want to keep some starting frontline units temporarily.
Realistically speaking, any lvl10 build with 6 Mages + four good heroes (that can tank and provide utility) can do very well in the late game. The problem is getting to that point.
Mages are not particularly strong in the mid game. Moreover, the fact that you deal mostly AoE damage means that if you’re losing rounds, you’re often losing to a lot of enemy heroes left on low HP, which costs a lot of life. It’s generally speaking pretty easy to try to commit to six Mages early, to lose the mid game extremely hard, and to be forced to row down earlier so that you don’t stand a chance to reach to late game when you’re at your strongest.
So, here we’ll give you a couple of distinct Mage builds which are good in the mid game but at the same time have the potential to grow into something even stronger later on:
The disclaimer for this opening is that getting to six Mages quickly is relatively difficult to pull-off. The reason is that you often end up with a weak mid-game lineup and get eaten by strong mid-game builds like (6) Assassins. That’s the reason why all builds below stay on (3) Mages until the late game and are in general more consistent than the quick six Mages.
That said, this is arguably one of the best ways to reach (6) Mages quickly. You need at least (2) Primordials for your frontline, and the three Human Mages + an additional Human (usually Dragon Knight, but if you're not finding him Kunkka can also be adequate) for the (4) Humans syanregy.
In the late game, you usually want to go for (4) Primordials. Void, Enigma, and Lich are your most important Ace hero finds.
Primordials + Mages is arguably the best possible late-game Alliance combination.
In the early-mid game, the key is getting to (4) Primordials (who provide your lineup with tankiness) and (3) Mages for some damage amplification.
Valuable three-star upgrades could be Morphling (a great source of damage and decent frontline hero), Tiny if your frontline crumbles too-fast, and Puck if you e.g. Octarine + the Dragon synergy. That said, you rarely want to search for three-star upgrades right away and usually it's a much better idea to push for higher levels for a higher chance to find 4 and 5-cost heroes.
This build has two viable options.One, you can go for (6) Mages (6) Primordials which was the best performing build in our late-game strenght test (as shown in our Best Underlords Builds Tier List:
This build has extremely good survivability thanks to the Primordials, great AoE control, and insane AoE damage. The drawback is that you don't have a high Human synergy, which means your Mages aren't generating mana as fast as they could.
So, the second option is to stay at (4) Primordials and invest in Human-Mages instead to reach the other common lvl10 Primordial/Human/Mage build that we displayed above.
The Scrappy Alliance gives you a tanky frontline. Moreover, Tinker has a great magic damage output and benefits a lot from the Human mana generation bonus.
The Inventor Alliance deals magic damage on explosions. This means it has great synergy with the Mage Alliance bonus, especially when you reach (4) Inventors with their Ace bonus in the late game.
Finally, the three mages provide you with good damage. In this variation, we also have Shadow Fiend. He also deals great magic damage with his ultimate, and when combined with Alchemist unlocks the (2) Warlock bonus. That said, if you’re doing well enough to get to lvl10 you’ll have to sell him to free up space for six mages.
You have three options with this build:
Techies do physical damage with their Bomb, so the Bomb doesn’t benefit from the Mage bonus, but the ridiculous Inventor explosions do. Getting your Timber or Clock to three stars (and ideally finding a Heart for one of them) is great for this reason – they get a huge HP pool and deal ridiculously high damage when they die. With the Chain Reaction Ace bonus, such an explosion could wipe the entire enemy team if they’re not spread out.
Including Gyro is also possible in this build (he deals magic damage with his ultimate), but this way you’ll lose the (4) Scrappy bonus which could be useful against some physical damage drafts.
The Inventors/Mage late game draft has one of the highest AoE damage outputs out of any Dota Underlords build (probably THE highest). Its drawback compared to the other Mage drafts is that it has much less control and it performs significantly worse agianst spread-out positioning and ranged teams (like Hunters) because the Inventor exaplosions can't reach enough enemy heroes.
(P.S. Blink Dagger is and S-Tier item in Inventor Mages - it works wonders on Techies, but even other inventors use it extremely well. Exploding on top of the enemy backline is never a bad thing.)
The Knights Mage build is the rarest build of the three above simply because Knights are predominantly played with the regular (6) Knights build. That said, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any value in this Knight/Mage variation (that said, it is most likely the weakest of the bunch - it needs specific expensive units to come online and if two-star KotL/Puck/DK don't come soon enough you could be in trouble).
The benefit of the mid-game draft above is that you naturally gain the Dragons synergy bonus from DK and Puck and that you deal a good mix of magic and physical damage as a result. E.g. Abaddon deals AoE magic damage with his ult, which makes him a high three-star priority in this draft.
Moreover, there are two Human Knights, which makes it very easy to reach the (4) Humans bonus. Last but not least, your starting Ogre might give Bloodlust to DK or CK, increasing their damage output, so Ogre can be quite useful in the early-mid game.
If you have the luxury to reach lvl10, you usually want to go for (6) Mages. This means you'll have to sell Viper, but it's with the insane magic damage upgrade.
If you don't have the luxury to reach lvl10, you might want to stay on lvl8 and roll for three-star upgrades. Your three-star upgrade priority heroes are Viper, Abaddon, and Puck. Two-star Keeper and Dragon Knight are crucial, but getting them to three stars is only realistic if you're lvl10.
Corner Formation: You usually want to position your units in one of the corners. Your more vulnerable units (Keeper) need to be on the inside of your formation to give them as much time as possible, while tankier units go on the outside. Tanky heroes with disables go to the front of the formation, closer to the center of the board.
KotL: It’s a good idea to keep Crystal Maiden or Lina at the very corner of the board instead of KotL. If the enemy team has Pudge, KotL wouldn’t get Hooked. He is the hero you want to protect for the longest possible time - two Blasts can win you a round easily.
Spreading-out: In the very late game more often than not you want to keep your corner formation. If you are facing other powerful AoE spells, however, (most commonly Disruptor, Kunkka, and other Mage builds), you will have to break up the formation and spread your army. Put your main damage dealers on the two opposite edges of the map (so that they don’t hit by the same AoE spell at the same time) and your tanks to the front and middle, spread-out as much as possible.
Ogre Magi: 1g, Blood-Bound, Mage
He is a good unit in the early game as he’s the only tank in the Mage hero lineup. Nonetheless, the only reason to keep him in the late game is to get the (6) Mage bonus easily. He is not very synergistic with a Mage build in general because Mages don’t benefit a lot from the attack speed increase of Blood Rage (decent if you have heroes that deal attack damage).
Razor: 1g, Primordial, Mage
The second cheap Mage and a very easy way to get the (2) Primordial bonus with Tiny or Morph (or both). This makes him an important early-game Mage. Even though he is cheap and you could get him to three stars, it’s usually not worth the bench space – the low range of his spell means he won’t provide you with a lot of value even if you manage to upgrade him.
Puck: 2g, Elusive, Dragon, Mage
A hero who is a decent three-star upgrade, especially with Octarine Essence. He deals plenty of AoE damage. He’s also very useful for providing Viper and more commonly Dragon Knight with the Dragon bonus, activating their powerful secondary abilities. If the Dragon bonus is active, put Puck on the outside of your Mage formation because he becomes harder to kill and can hold enemies there for longer. Try to position Puck at the edges of the board so that he casts his spell diagonally – it has a chance to hit the most enemy heroes this way.
Crystal Maiden: 2g, Human, Mage
One of three Human Mages, CM is importat for reaching the (4) Humans bonus. Aside from that, her spell is nothing game-breaking, but the single-target disable is still pretty good versus creep rounds or builds with strong individual carries like Assassins.
Lina: 3g, Human, Mage
One of many Human Mages, which makes it easy to get the (2) or (4) Human bonus. More importantly, she’s the only Mage with a lot of single-target damage. This is very valuable in creep rounds or versus fat three-star heroes. Upgrading her to three stars is rare because with Mages you usually want to get to lvl10. That said, if you get a chance to upgrade her she can provide a lot of value, especially with Octarine Essence. Laguna Blade deletes a hero from the game, and with Octarine the CD is ridiculously low.
The second Primordial Mage, Morph is hands down one of the best heroes in the Mage lineup. He works great as a frontline hero because once he charges his mana and uses Waveform he repositions and disengages the enemy aggro. This allows him to live for long enough to cast it at least one more time in the fight (usually more). This means he's a great three-star upgrade target (probably the best one in the whole Mage lineup) and works amazingly with items like Octarine, Bracer, etc. Last but not least, his Primordial Alliance makes getting the (4) or (6) Primordial bonus easy in a lot of Mage strats.
Keeper of the Light: 4g, Human, Mage
The “carry” of a Mage build. He charges his spell for ages, but once he casts it he usually wipes the board. The damage is considerable, but what makes this spell powerful is the huge AoE (e.g. the range is longer than the board itself). Like with Puck, you want to put him on the edge of the board so that he casts his spell diagonally to maximize the number of heroes hit. Keeper is the hero you want to protect the most because he needs the most time to be effective. Refresher on him is also quite powerful.
Lich: 5g, Heartless, Mage
The Heartless Alliance is relatively useless in a Mage build, but that’s where the drawbacks of Lich end. He is the Ace of the Mage lineup and helps all your heroes generate mana with attacks a little bit faster. His spell deals considerable damage and unlike KotL he casts it relatively fast, which makes him a prime candidate for Refresher, Octarine Essence, or even Bracers of Desperation if he’s two-stars and you put him on the outside of your corner formation.
Hobgen: he's arguably the better Underlord to play with Mages for a simple reason - he deals a lot of magic damage himself. Explosivo reaches Laguna-Blade damage levels in the late game, while Friendly Fire (with a bit of luck) is an insane source of AoE magic damage. Obviously, Super-Charged isn't that valuable in a Mage build, but with e.g. the Fire Break talent it could be used as a source of tankiness. When it comes to talents, you prioritize your Explosivo talents for a damage increase. That said, some Super-Charged talents can give good utility- e.g. Spark resets the cooldown of the Super-Charged target, which needless to say is very strong on most Mage heroes.
Anessix: she doesn't have such an obvious synergy with Mages as Hobgen - Mages rarely run Demons, which means she generates hype a bit slower, she doesn't deal any magic damage, and Mages are squishy, which means her sources of sustain aren't as efficient as they are on more durable lineups. That said, in e.g. Primordial Mages her heals can definitely be felt especially with the (6) Primordial bonus because the lvl3 tanky Eidolons take even longer to kill. When you play her with Mages, you usually want to use the Brill Bruiser Demon as an additional tank. Her utility talents (the Break sources and the summoned demon buffs) are also usually better with Mages.
Brooch of the Martyr: great in Mage builds who have frontline heroes with powerful spells that need to be cast ASAP, namely Tidehunter/Kunkka/Disruptor/Techies.
Arcane Boots: very valuable in a Mage build positioned in the corner – put it on a unit in the middle of your formation in order to reach as many mages as possible. Crystal Maiden will help Arcanes trigger faster, which in turn will help all your damage-dealing mages cast their spells faster.
Barricade: six Mage builds have frontline problems, so being able to block-in some of your squishy backline mages with the Barricade helps.
Target Buddy: like Barricade but better because of the Taunt. It acts as a free Axe and helps a bit with the frontline problem of six Mages.
Helm of the Undying can be used on any unit that's in danger of dying before casting its spell. Those are usually squishy frontline heroes like Morphing early on, but later on, you typically want to put it on Keeper of the Light. His huge mana pool and huge casting time mean sometimes enemies get to him before he's able to finish his blast. The 5 extra seconds pretty much guarantee that he'll be able to cast it, which is very important because KotL is the main damage dealer in a late game Mages lineup.
Brooch of the Aggressor: more useful on Mages than any other build. E.g. you can place it on Keeper to help him fill his enormous mana pool.
Blink Dagger: great with Scrappy/Inventors and some utility heroes, but not always useful with Mages. Sometimes you want all of your units in the corner formation and you struggle to find a good Blink carrier.
Bracers of Desperation: A poor man's Refresher orb, Bracers are extremely useful on frontline heroes with powerful AoE ultimates like Tide, Kunkka, Disruptor.
Dawning of Ristul: a six Mage draft rarely has space for Warlocks (or life steal), so Dawning is useful in that regard.
Octarine Essence: extremely valuable in a Mage lineup. Usually, it’s used on Lich or on a high star level Puck or Lina.
Maelstrom: the traditional DPS items are bad in a Mage lineup – you win rounds with your spells, not attacks. That said, Maelstrom could be useful because the Chain Lightning deals magic damage – i.e. it gets amplified by the Mage bonus. Nonetheless, this is still not an ideal choice – most of your units have a slow attack speed and you won’t see a lot of procs unless you have an Arc Warden.
Refresher: one of the best possible items in a Mage lineup. Put it on your two-star Lich and your overall damage will skyrocket. Not only are two Chain Frosts extremely powerful, but the AoE effect of Refresher will help other Mage heroes in proximity cast their spells more often.
Tombstone: again, a six Mage lineup lacks tanks. Tombstone can act as an additional one. The zombies will provide even more distraction for the enemy heroes while your KotL charges his board-wipe ultimate.
Dagon: deals magic damage, so it benefits from the Mage bonus. Best used on Arc Warden if you don’t have a better DPS item.
Shiva’s Guard: deals magic damage, so the AoE nuke gets amplified by the Mage bonus. More importantly, the big AoE attack speed slow helps a lot versus physical damage heavy lineups like Assassins, Hunters, or even Knights.
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