Dragon Lance: godlike or garbage
It started innocently enough. I was playing DotA with three friends, drinking beer and relaxing to the randomness that Single Draft offers. The ten-minute mark comes up and the four of us start talking about what items we should each build against our enemies. As Luna, I started getting conflicting messages from my teammates about my item progression. One person suggested that I finish a Dragon Lance and then work on getting my Manta Style. It seemed like a solid enough suggestion, until someone else interjected with, “Don’t do that. Dragon Lance is a garbage item for garbage players.”
Wait, what? Dragon Lance has been a core item on many ranged heroes since it’s introduction in patch 6.86 nearly two years ago. Just last week, the item was picked up 22 times in the StarLadder i-League Invitational Tournament, and only six of those pick-ups turned into losses for their team. A success rate of 73% seems pretty solid for a “garbage item”, but I was willing to hear him out.
His argument was that despite the attack range and increase stats, buying a Dragon Lance delayed more important core items. He would rather put that gold toward an earlier Desolator or Manta Style depending on the hero. We eventually dropped the conversation and moved on without coming to a consensus or resolution, but the topic piqued my interest. I decided to take a look at the data and see if I could come to a conclusion for myself.
Before we discuss the pros and cons of the item, we need a quick refresher on exactly what it does. Dragon Lance is a 1900 gold item that gives +12 Strength and +12 Agility, as well as an attack range bonus of 140 units to ranged characters only. 12 Strength translates into an additional 240 health, as well as 0.72 health regeneration per second. 12 Agility translates into 1.71 points of armor and 12 attack speed. As long as a Strength or Agility hero picks up the item, they will also gain 12 bonus damage to their auto attack. For comparison, an Ultimate Orb grants +10 to all stats, and costs 2100 gold.
Outside of Dragon Lance and a few specific hero talents, there is no other way to affect a character’s attack range. This makes the item fairly unique in DotA 2’s item pool.
Dragon Lance: Godlike Argument
Many of the pros of Dragon Lance have already been discussed in the previous paragraph. 240 health is significant in the early game, and can enable more aggressive play or reduce the success of enemy ganks. 12 attack speed also makes it just a little easier to get those important last hits on a hero.
If we spent the 1900 gold on building a different core item instead, we might not get many of these bonuses. If we use Desolator as an example, 1900 gold is enough to purchase a Blight Stone and one Mithril Hammer. This translates into 24 damage and -2 armor on enemy heroes hit. If instead we’re looking at getting a Manta Style, 1900 gold almost gets us a completed Yasha, which grants 16 agility, 10 attack speed, and a movement speed bonus. While these bonuses are great in their own right, they lack the additional survivability offered by Dragon Lance.
Another important feature of Dragon Lance is that it builds into Hurricane Pike, an incredible engagement tool. Hurricane Pike offers an additional 3 Strength and 8 Agility over Dragon Lance for 2750 more gold. This is in addition to the 10 Intelligence and 6 health regeneration that Force Staff grants. Not every hero needs these additional bonuses, but they can make up for key weaknesses in the right hands. Take Luna for example. Not only does she have terrible attack range, but her Lucent Beam nuke quickly drains her limited mana pool. Hurricane Pike makes up for these weaknesses and gives Luna a reliable way to engage or disengage during fights.
“But what if I’m playing a hero that doesn’t like to build Hurricane Pike?” you cry. Well, that leads me to another important feature of Dragon Lance: it can be disassembled. If the item is underperforming, you don’t have to sell it at a loss to build something more useful. Disassembling the item grants you the Ogre Club and two Bands of Elvenskin back to build into more appropriate or more late game items like BKB, Aghanim’s Scepter, or Sange and Yasha.
Dragon Lance: Garbage Argument
However glowing the previous section might appear, Dragon Lance is not without its downsides. While many alternative items lack the survivability I mentioned, they have their merits. If your team is stun heavy, maybe you don’t need survivability because you’re not taking damage in fights. In this case working toward that Weaver Desolator or Luna Yasha might be more valuable to help burst down stunned targets more quickly.
This might be the heart of the argument against Dragon Lance. Though it shows up as a core item in many hero builds, it isn’t always the best item to buy. Does Viper really need a Dragon Lance, or would a Shadowblade be better for ganking early? Does Weaver really need a Dragon Lance when he already has Shikuchi to help him engage targets? Players don’t ask themselves these questions often enough in lower MMR pubs. Often times they will instead blindly buy whatever the next item is on the guide they are following.
Also, while the item certainly helps heroes like Luna, it doesn’t solve her problems completely. Even with Dragon Lance equipped, Luna is still out-ranged by the basic attacks of more than 40 heroes. In the end, you can achieve a similar effect with the Yasha movement speed bonus. Not only does it give Luna more catching power, but the higher agility bonus means she gets more damange and armor than Dragon Lance as well. From there you can segue into Manta Style, which gives Luna her split pushing power and the survivability she missed by not purchasing Dragon Lance.
Dragon Lance is a unique item that gives great stat value for its price while being versatile enough to build into different items without eating a huge gold loss. However, players shouldn’t purchase the item on impulse without first considering the game situation. After seeing both the pros and cons, I found my opinion fell squarely in the middle of the “Godlike to Garbage” spectrum. Situational is probably the best word to describe the item.
Think about it. The only heroes that want this item are ranged carries with low attack range, which is a relatively small percentage of the hero pool. If you are not planning on building into a Hurricane Pike, then purchasing a Dragon Lance becomes even less appealing. If purchased at the right time and for the right reason though, it can give your carry the momentum they need to win their lane and in turn the game.
I guess it’s pretty much like every other item in the game then huh?
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