TI9 Meta Recap, Playoffs Day 2: The Open Meta

In the second part of our TI9 meta recap series I discussed the two games Na’Vi managed to win against their CIS rivals - VP. I talked about how Na’Vi weren’t sticking to the meta, but rather were playing their own favorite heroes and strategy with great success. The conclusion from this observation was that the meta is actually quite open – the state of balance of the game is good and if teams want to, they certainly don’t have to stick to the popular picks and strategies. Playing what you’re good at is definitely viable.

In today’s main event Liquid vs TNC series, this openness of the meta was showcased in another very interesting way:

Liquid vs TNC, Game 2

TI9 Liquid vs TNC

Team Liquid didn’t play the main strategy that they’ve been using for years, but rather they countered a classic Dota strategy (currently relatively off-meta) in the most textbook (but very off-meta) way possible with great success.

Before I explain what I’m talking about, here’s a simple concept about the basics of Dota 2 Tactics:

Tactics Relationship

The basic idea is that there is a limited amount of moves you can do on the map, and your actions interact with the movements of the enemy team a certain way:

  • Ganking counters Rat Dota (split-pushing, split-farming), because when you’re farming and pushing away from your teammates you are essentially over-extending and you are vulnerable to ganks.
  • 5-man Dota counters Ganking because when you are sticking together with your team, you are impossible to gank. No one on the team is over-extending, and any gank attempt by the enemy team will simply become a team-fight.
  • Rat Dota counters 5-man Dota because when you move as 5 you can only be at one place at a time. This means that you are vulnerable to getting split-pushed or even simply out-farmed (the split-up enemy team is utilizing the resources on the map more efficiently).

You can utilize all three main tactics in any game, but some strategies are built to be particularly good at one of the tactics, while naturally lacking in one or even both of the others.

TNC’s 5-man Dota Strategy:
Bristle Portrait
Death prophet
Tidehunter Portrait
Oracle Portrait

TNC’s draft is a textbook 5-man Dota strategy. They have:

  • Tower damage: DP, to a degree Bristle
  • Tanky cores who are very hard to initiate on – Bristle, Tide, even DP is very survivable
  • AoE control and AoE damage to win team fights
  • Save mechanics – if you are the one pushing, the enemy team will be the one who can initiate fights. It’s important to have saves for the heroes who the enemy team jumps on. In this case, the main hero with a save is Oracle.

The game plan is to:      

  1. Do well in lanes, get your first wave of core items.
  2. Group up and push all outer towers.
  3. Use the map control you just won to out-farm the enemy team and claim Roshan.
  4. Finish the game before the late game comes (e.g. before min 35).

Liquid’s Rat Dota Strategy:
Anti mage
Underlord Portrait
Shadow Demon Portrait

Liquid has a classic Rat Dota team with:

  • Anti-Push to stall the enemy pushes without committing to full-on team fights, coming from SD, Rubick, Underlord, even Lesh.
  • Split-pushing capabilities: the team needs to be able to shove waves extremely quickly and efficiently to stall the game and when an opportunity arises – to threaten to take towers by split pushing (done with Lesh and AM).
  • A hard carry that can out-scale the enemy team and secure the victory in the late game – Anti Mage in this case.

Liquid has the opposite game plan: they don’t want to force fights like TNC – they want to avoid fights, keep the waves pushed-out, threaten objectives when TNC wants to commit to a push by split-pushing, and reach the late game where your harder-scaling pos. 1 will win the game.

As you can notice, Liquid’s game plan is to a degree tailored to beat TNC’s. They have the tools to outmaneuver them, delay the game for a long time, and win late. TNC simply lack the tools to catch Liquid’s split-pushers and punish them for “overextending”. I.e. TNC’s draft is great at team-fights and pushing, but is quite bad at ganking.

In this meta:

Why this game, in particular, is very significant for the TI9 meta is because both drafts are quite off-meta. The meta picks are SD + Lesh on one side and Mirana + Tide on the other. All other heroes are played much more rarely, and the popular strategies are usually not that specialized into 5-man Dota or Rat Dota.

This means that TNC thought it’s viable to utilize a more specialized 5-man Dota draft. This makes sense, as ganking is a big part of the meta that dominated the group stage.

And instead of sticking to the meta picks and strats, Liquid simply drafted the textbook response to deal with the 5-man draft and won a convincing victory with a lineup which is even more off-meta than TNC’s.

The point is that the current meta seems to be very, very open. This is great because it means teams will have the freedom to show the best they are capable of not only in terms of play but in terms of creativity and strategic understanding of the game, unrestrained by the current popularity of heroes and strats.


This realization, if true, might mean that more experienced teams have a big edge in this tournament over newer stacks who have simply “figured out the meta” and have a shallower pool of strategies they can play on a high level. In other words, Secret and/or Liquid seem fairly likely to make a deep lower bracket run until they face teams of the same caliber in terms of experience.

Use the code GOLDEN LOTUS for an up to $200 bonus!

Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying our TI9 coverage, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter (below) in order to get notified when we publish new articles. Also, the likes/shares really help to spread the word!

Make sure to check the website every once in a while! We will try to publish new articles every day after the games finish.