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Published May 7, 2013

There's an old adage in the world of Dota: carries win fights, supports win games. There's no denying the appeal of a fully-farmed Antimage scything through heroes and towers as if they were rice paper, or the nearly unlimited mobility of a high level Storm Spirit bounding across the map with impunity. But behind every fat, happy carry is a hard-working support hero. Playing this less glamorous, but absolutely essential, role is a great way to get your bearings in Dota 2 and build the skills that will help you be more effective when you do take the role of carry for your team.

In this guide, we'll review common (and eventually, uncommon) support heroes, breaking down their pros and cons and identifying their distinguishing features, helping you to understand when to pick them and how to make the most of them. For this first installment, we'll cover a number of heroes that are beginner-friendly but just as rewarding as you build your supporting chops: Crystal Maiden, Venomancer, Lina, Bane, Lion, and Shadow Demon. But before we get started, let me say a few words about this breakdown.
 
The information below is geared towards newer players, especially those looking to start playing supports or try different supports than they're used to. I find it helps to read a lot of different guides when you're looking to understand a hero, so use the information below to help you hone in on a support hero that will fit - or challenge - your playstyle.

With that out of the way, let's dig in!

Crystal Maiden

Rylai the Crystal Maiden can be an incredible friend and lane partner for heroes with strong early-game damage potential. Crystal Nova slows in a wide area with good damage, while Frostbite is a moderately strong disable that deals damage over time. Together, they combine to make Crystal Maiden a serious threat in lane. Crystal Maiden also helps her team with their mana needs throughout the game through her global Arcane Aura, which provides a small but significant buff to mana regen. Rylai herself reaps double the benefit of the aura, letting her be slightly more selective about which item she builds and allowing her to shore up her weaknesses of mobility and survivability.

Crystal Maiden's ultimate, Freezing Field, is a channeled spell and as such is tricky to use, leading many builds advise skilling it last or not at all. If your team has a powerhouse initiator - Tidehunter, Enigma, Beastmaster, or even Naga Siren - you may get more mileage out of Freezing Field. But if you're the hero your team is looking to for slows and stuns, stick with those skills and do the best you can. If you find yourself with a surplus of gold and all your staples (courier, wards, boots) built up, consider an item to give yourself more mobility and chances to escape. Ghost Scepter and Blink Dagger are both good choices.

A powerful early-game assistant, Crystal Maiden begins to fall off as the game wears on. Players will be forced to focus on staying alive, trying to keep up with faster team members, and avoiding increasingly dangerous enemy heroes. If you did your job well and gave your carry a good start, this should matter little. A fed, fat, and happy carry is the reward for a support's good work.

Strengths:
  • Rylai's slow and stun make her a real threat in lane.
  • Passive global mana aura helps mana sustainability for Crystal Maiden and her team.
  • Good cooldowns on both Frostbite and Crystal Nova mean more chances to shut down your enemies.

Weaknesses:

  • Crystal Nova offers weak flash-farming potential, as it is both mana-intensive and you will rarely want to be alone as CM.
  • Low health and movement speed limit your ability to harass and ganks. Take care to balance aggression and survival.
  • Crystal Maiden lacks a stun/hard disable (enemies can still use orb effects through Frostbite).

Venomancer

If your team has a good number of stuns and disables, or you're looking to create a push-focused lineup, Venomancer is a natural choice for the 4-5 role. Veno's Plague Wards are his most notable ability, allowing him to aid or impede pushes with ease and provide early vision to watch wards or tip off enemy ganks. In the early game, care is required with Plague Wards; with a bounty of 14 to 17 gold apiece, using them carelessly may give your opponents a small but completely preventable edge.

Venomancer's other skills are all about damage; specifically, damage over time. Venomous Gale is a combination nuke and slow. Try to use it in combination with stuns or nukes from your lane partner to get first blood. Venomancer's passive skill, Poison Sting, also combines a slow and damage over time effect. Consider taking a point in it early on to punish enemies who get too close to your creeps. Finally, Venomancer's ultimate ability, Poison Nova, deals potent damage over time in a wide radius. It can help your team enormously if used at the start of a long team fight. But exercise caution -  you'll be a bigger help to your team if you aren't instantly sniped after popping the Nova.

Veno is a support who encourages experimentation. He's very item-independent, but benefits nicely from equipment that gives access to disables, stats, and mana regen. If you get a great start, consider a Shadow Blade to shark around the map, dropping your wards and looking to harass isolated heroes. It might be difficult to get a solo kill, unless you find someone particularly squishy, but you'll be buying your team time and space to farm up and prepare for the finishing blow.

Strengths:
  • Plague Wards make Venomancer a natural addition to push-heavy lineups.
  • Venomancer's wards give him cheap vision (though they are not a total substitute for Observer Wards).
  • Poison Sting and Venomous Gale make Veno a strong harasser.

Weaknesses:
  • Venomancer lacks escapes and disables, relying on items for both.
  • Some potential as an initiator, but take caution as you are still quite fragile.
  • Care is required with Plague Wards in the early game to avoid feeding the enemy team.
  • Venomancer's strengths as a pusher are magnified with push-friendly teammates, so consider your team position before making a Venomancer pick.
Lex Kotose
Lex Kotose is an occasional TEST logistics pilot whose love of EVE aligns nicely with his passion for vertical video game learning curves. When not exploding in space, he is usually dying in Nethack or tantrum spiraling in Dwarf Fortress.

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