There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Dueling Fates made massive changes to how the game is played, but it will take much more time for players to fully understand the information released in the patch notes. What will not take more time is for players to experience the true headliners of this patch: the new heroes. Dark Willow and Pangolier have invaded pubs the same way every new hero does shortly after launch. I admit partial fault for this, as I’ve been playing the hero extensively in an attempt to understand what makes her click. I will always have more to learn, but I wanted to share what knowledge I’ve gained so far in the hopes that it helps you either play a better Willow, or counter one on the enemy team.
Who likes crowd control?
I sure love crowd control. It is one of the reasons I was so attracted to this hero in the first place. Let’s start by breaking down some of these crowd control abilities and their uses.
Bramble Patch creates a large maze of thorns that roots enemies that touch the brambles. This skill has many qualities that set it apart from other similar abilities in positive ways. Even at level one, the brambles created by the skill last for a full 15 seconds. If Willow places a Bramble patch behind her team to help them escape, the enemy can’t wait out the duration. They either need a method of ignoring the root, or they have to give up on the chase.
Cursed Crown is a delayed area of effect stun that targets an individual hero. If it hits, this disable will stun all heroes within range of the targeted hero for a full 3.5 seconds at level four. I do use the word “if” for a reason though. Cursed Crown is probably the easiest stun in the game to dodge or disjoint with its 4 second delay. Activating BKB, Aeon Disk, Guardian Greaves or Manta style any time before the stun hits completely removes the effect. When the ability does hit though, it removes at least one hero from the fight for a substantial amount of time. To me, it seems worth casting even if it only baits out a premature item use due to its low cast time.
Terrorize, one of Willow’s two ultimates, forces enemies in a moderate area to flee toward their fountain after a short channeling time. This is a great disengagement tool on its own, but coupled with Bramble Patch it can flip a team fight on its head. If placed correctly, enemies will be unable to dodge the brambles, forcing them to both take damage and be rooted in place for upward of 2.5 seconds. This is definitely a large enough window for the cavalry to arrive and clean up.
But how does she do damage?
I’m glad you asked! Dark Willow’s damage lies primarily in her Shadow Realm nuke and Bedlam, her second ultimate. After taking her +300 Shadow Realm damage at level 20, Shadow Realm becomes a devastating 660 magical nuke. That’s not even the best part. The best part is that Willow becomes untargetable by spells or auto attacks while the nuke is charging. The 600 bonus range granted by the ability ensures that she’ll be able to hit her target, even if the target has turned around and given up chase.
Bedlam, on the other hand, requires Willow to be close to her targets. Once activated, Willow’s faerie companion will circle her while firing magic projectiles at the nearest enemy unit similar to Witch Doctor’s Death Ward. As Willow is not a durable hero, charging in with no plan is ill-advised. When used in tandem with Shadow Realm, Willow can keep herself safe while melting a single hero fairly quickly with Bedlam. It is important to note though that Willow is not completely immune while in the Shadow Realm. Any untargeted AoE abilities will still hurt her, so Willow players should be mindful of their positioning at all times.
So she’s a support, right?
Willow’s strength lies in her ability to disrupt the enemy, making her ideal for a support position. Cursed Crown and Bramble Patch make her incredibly useful for setting up kills and escapes in the laning phase. As Shadow Realm levels up, her increased burst damage and range can help secure kills on more elusive heroes as well. Add that to the fact that her abilities scale well with levels and not items, and you’ve got a solid support on your hands.
One of Willow’s biggest problems in the laning stage comes with her mana pool. Her abilities generally require tons of mana and have long cooldowns to start, making mana boots a must buy. A Kaya purchase in the mid game basically solves her mana problems for the rest of the game. The additional spell amplification also helps her nuke, making it a great item for support Willow. Unfortunately, Willow’s other weakness is that she is still incredibly squishy, even in the late game.
Initially, I thought that Meteor Hammer might be the item to solve this, but I was disappointed with the results. Though the strength gain and regen provided by the hammer seemed great, the active ability left me wanting. Even under the protection of Shadow Realm I frequently found myself unable to channel the hammer for the full duration. If for some reason you’re getting tons of gold as Willow, feel free to give it a try yourself. For those less adventurous, a Glimmer Cape will increase your survivability just fine.
Dark Willow has a lot of freedom in the late game when it comes to items. Rod of Atos can help lock a hero in place while you Bedlam them to death. Shiva’s Guard increases Willow’s tankiness and inhibits right click heavy line-ups well. Purchase a Scythe of Vyse if you absolutely need to lock down that one problem hero. Feel free to go more aggressive with an Orchid into Bloodthorn to increase damage as well. As long as you’re picking intelligence items that are appropriate to your individual game, it’s difficult to make a wrong choice.
But in a game I played…
Yes, I am fully aware of the number of carry Willow builds out in the wild. While I don’t think this is the optimal way to play the character, the concept is not without merit. In fact, Willow’s +200 attack speed perk at level 25 almost single-handedly enables this kind of build. First of all, the character’s attack animation is already solid even at level one, tacking almost two full moonshards for free at level 25 transforms her into a machine gun.
If you’re keen to try this playstyle, I would highly recommend the mid lane for a couple of reasons. First of all, you won’t have to be fighting for farm in another lane where your teammate thinks they’re a better carry than you. Secondly, Willow’s abilities benefit greatly from fast levels, which are inevitable in the mid-lane. Willow’s great attack animation should help secure the CS, and an early bottle will sustain her mana in the early game.
As a carry, the enemy team might try to focus you more than as a support. For this reason, a glimmer cape probably is not going to cut it as a defensive item. I have had some success purchasing a Linken’s Sphere as an alternative. Linken’s coupled with Shadow Realm invulnerability makes Willow maddeningly difficult to lock down, and the extra stats and regen help solve her mana problems further. On the way to level 25, additional intelligence items like Scythe or Atos still help with both her lockdown and attack damage. The magic burst from Mjolnir coupled with even more attack speed makes it a solid pick as well.
If you still have money after all of those purchases, Nullifier is a great addition to a carry Willow’s arsenal. By the time you get a nullifier, machine gun mode should be online. Willow will attack so fast that she’ll be able to keep a Nullified enemy slowed all by herself. Bloodthorn will keep enemies from fighting back while giving her machine gun attacks chances to crit.
What are your closing thoughts then?
I still don’t fully agree with carry Willow, but sometimes it is necessary to adapt to the needs of the team. There are worse heroes than Willow to answer the call for an impromptu mid player. Her world-class crowd control abilities make her relevant in every stage in the game, and her talent choices make her versatile enough to shift roles should the need arise. Though I’m sure we’ll all still be learning where she fits into the competitive scene over the next few months, putting in time on her now is definitely a worthwhile investment.
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