- 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.
The key heroes in a Mage build are Keeper of the Light, whose huge AoE damage will wipe the enemy team and Crystal Maiden, who enables Keeper (and the rest of your mages) by giving them mana.
Needless to say, the quickest way to get the three Mages is with Razor, Ogre, + 1 (usually Puck or Lina). 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) you have a good frontline that can possibly go in two different directions. Razor + Tiny + Morph is the usual opening for Primordial/Mage/Assassins 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 four distinct lvl8 Mage builds which are strong 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. A (3) Warrior opening with Tiny with a backline of (3) Mages with Razor (for (2) PrimordiaL) is strong in the early game.
Later on, when you find Keeper, Kunkka, and Crystal Maiden (and ideally get her to two stars) you can replace your early-game Warriors and get to the core draft above.
The benefit of this draft is that you get to (4) Humans quickly, while also maintaining a relatively strong frontline thanks to the tankiness and disables of Kunkka and Tiny.
Alternative: nowadays, a new variation of the quick six Mages is becoming more popular in high-skill lobbies which is, in essence, a mix of this build and the Primordial/Mage/Assassins build. Instead of three Warriors frontline based around Tiny, you invest in an Assassin frontline with Morph and Queen of Pain. Those two units deal very high damage with the Mages bonus, so even though your frontline is weaker compared to Warriors the whole draft deals much more damage in the mid game and depends a lot less on finding a two-star KotL quickly enough.
There are multiple late game variations of this build, but the one above is relatively standard. Tide helps you get the (3) Warrior bonus while providing you with an additional powerful AoE disable, which buys your Mages time. Replacing Ogre with Lich is also pretty standard – Ogre provides very little value to this lineup, while Lich is a key unit in the late game.
If you have the luxury to get to lvl10, Disruptor is a great option. It might seem like a waste as you have no Warlocks, but his ultimate is strong enough in a Mage draft to justify including him. The long silence will buy your heroes (especially KotL) a lot of time to charge their spells and wipe the enemy team. Another possible option is to go for Dragon Knight. He will give you less control, but more damage, and you already have Puck to activate the Dragon synergy on both heroes.
The build above is a very creative strategy innovated in the WePlay Underlords Open. It uses the fact that the three Assassins above deal primarily magic damage to create a build much more powerful in the mid game than most traditional Mage builds, while the Primordials give you a strong early game.
While Assassins aren’t traditionally thought of as tanks, in this build they do a wonderful job:
Morph + Sand King have an ability that helps them to reposition themselves once they get full mana and in this way disengage the enemy aggro while dealing plenty of AoE damage.
Viper doesn’t have this option, but with the activated Dragons synergy he becomes tankier (against magic damage). Putting survivability items on him and trying to get him to three stars is a great idea. Another big benefit of running him on the frontline is that he applies the Corrosive Skin debuff to everyone attacking him, which in turn deals significant magic damage that gets amplified by the Mage bonus.
Viper is not an Assassin anymore, so you need to run QoP as well (additional great AoE magic damage) to get the (3) Assassins bonus. This means the build matures at lvl9. Generally speaking, Arc Warden is the last hero you want to add because the (4) Primordials bonus is the least important.
This build has two viable options.
In this variation we lose Tiny to free-up space for the six Mages, which is the most common decision. The (4) Primordial synergy falls off in the very late game when AoE becomes more common.
You can also get rid of other units depending on which hero is on a high star-level. The (3) Assassins synergy is also not that important as the only hero dealing good physical damage is Morph. If your Morph is not three stars, it’s entirely possible to replace him instead (or to get rid of both in favor of stronger late game heroes).
Going for Enigma for the (2) Shaman synergy with Arc Warden is definitely possible, but not as valuable since the Shaman nerf. DK is also an option since you already have Dragons on your lineup.
The Scrappy Alliance gives you a tanky frontline. Moreover, Tinker has a great magic damage output and benefits a lot from Crystal Maiden’s aura.
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 positioning in the example above is good versus late-game comps with AoE spells. If that’s not the case (e.g. you’re playing against Assassins/Hunters), a corner formation would generally be better because your AoE spells will hit more enemy heroes.
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.
(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 speciffic 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.
The lineup above is the natural extension of the core Knights/Mage build. It has the same benefits as the core draft but deals much higher magic damage thanks to (6) Mages and Lich. Moreover, Lich + Abaddon give you (2) Heartless, which helps your DK and CK deal decent physical damage.
Staying on 5 Humans is usually sufficient, but if you feel you need more control and don’t value the tankiness as much, it’s entirely viable to sell your weakest Knight (usually CK) and replace him with Kunkka, who will give you the full (6) Human synergy in addition to a valuable AoE stun.
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.
Crystal Maiden and KotL: It’s a good idea to keep CM at the very corner of the board instead of KotL. This way she will usually live for a long time and provide mana for your formation. Equally importantly, if the enemy team has Pudge, KotL wouldn’t get Hooked, CM will.
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.
Human Silence: You have plenty of Humans, so in a 1v1 situation in the late game, try to put Human heroes in front of your opponent’s important AoE casters like Disruptor or Kunkka. Keeping such a hero silenced for long enough can easily win you the round.
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 before you have Lich. 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.
Lina: 2g, 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.
Puck: 2g, Elusive, Dragon, Mage
Another hero who is a decent three-star upgrade, especially with Octarine Essence. Unlike Lina, he deals plenty of AoE damage. He’s also very useful for providing Viper (in Assassin/Mage) and Dragon Knight (in Human/Mage) 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: 3g, Human, Mage
Her mana gain aura is absolutely vital for a six Mage lineup. First, all Mages benefit from the mana gain because they want to cast their devastating spells ASAP. Second, Keeper of the Light, in particular, has a 150 mana pool, so without Crystal Maiden on the team getting 150 mana in time with his weak attacks is almost impossible. Last but not least, the extra mana gain helps the frontline utility heroes in a Mage lineup cast their AoE disables faster than the frontline heroes of the enemy team. (She is also a Human).
Keeper of the Light: 4g, Human, Mage
The “carry” of a Mage build. He has a very large mana pool and charges his spell for ages, but once he casts it he usually wipes the board clean. The damage is considerable (450/600/750 for a full channel), 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.
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.
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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