It’s rare in Dota for heroes to get new abilities outside of total reworks or an Aghanim Scepter upgrade. That was the case with Night Stalker in patch 7.06, when he got a buff to Hunter in the Night that allowed him to briefly fly. But can it really be called flying if you’re only soaring for two seconds?
A small change in Dota can have a butterfly effect. Minute, decimal point tweaks to base attack speed, turn rates, or stat gain have been able to vault heroes in and out of the meta.
In Epicenter Moscow, Night Stalker rose to first round pick/ban material, and he’s currently the 5th most picked and banned, with a 58.3% win rate when he’s been let through the draft. The hero has been deadly in the hands of team LGD.Forever Young, who is currently 3-0 with him, which includes a 2-0 dominating sweep over team OG.
Night Stalker’s wings now are more than just cosmetic. The change to Hunter in the Night, compounded with global buffs to Strength heroes and a meta shifting towards a dynamic early and mid game, has made Night Stalker one of the top picks in the current meta.
Aghanim’s Scepter was always a must purchase for Night Stalker. While it was an expensive purchase, especially for a 4 position Night Stalker, the impact it has was always worth the wait. It was a great "win more" item, but also a great way to get back into the game by securing additional map control.
With the new active for Hunter in the Night, the item is now most likely obsolete. While it doesn’t offer the same vision range and constant sight, wily players are able to find the right opportunities to make the most of the active’s 14 second cool down (at level 4). The active is sufficient, such that the upgrade from Aghanim’s Scepter isn’t worth the 4200 gold and the period of vulnerability it takes to build towards it.
LGD.Forever Young’s Night Stalker dominated with a 8/0/21 end score, a net worth greater than OG’s Terrorblade, and an inventory absent of Scepter. iG.Boboka built towards a similar aura carrying support, with Vladmir’s Offering and Assault Cuirass, in another dominating match against Clutch Gamers.
An aura carrying offlaner that isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but one that eschews Aghanim’s Scepter is a fairly new development for Night Stalker—even looking at something as recent as the Kiev Major we can find that Aghanim’s Scepter was part of the core build in every NS game.
Pub strategy tends to lag behind pro strategy. It’s not a surprise that pub players opt for the fighting abilities, with nearly 80% choosing attack speed over mana, even if overall it results in a -2.8% hit in win rate. Pub and pro players differ the most in the choices of the first two ability builds, where players have to choose between spell casting buffs (+cast range, +mana) or strength (+7) and attack speed (+25AS).
To this day, more than half of pub players still use Night Stalker as an offlaner. And in just this past month, they’ve built Abyssal Blade more often than Assault Cuirass, Vladmir’s Offering, and Heaven’s Halberd—the usual staples in the item builds of pro players.
During Epicenter, pro players have been using Night Stalker in a dynamic support role, favoring cast range and mana as their early ability builds. The takeaway is that Night Stalker is still an effective fighter without needing that extra attack speed and strength. His early builds often involves strength items like Urn or a Bracer building towards Drum of Endurance. What he lacks is Mana, which is now even more strained with his new active.
Night Stalker’s peak potential is in the early to mid game. It's difficult to bully Night Stalker out of the lane with his high base HP and armor. In most cases, he trades favorably against other supports, without spending a lot of mana. He does have an avenue to be a capable, physical damage dealer, but planning for that in the early game, by taking his fighting abilities, or building towards carry items would be missing why he’s become such a threat in today’s meta.
All eyes will be on these final round of tournaments leading up to TI7. While these events can be a period of experimentation for new strategies, it's still a crucial time for teams who are still fighting for a limited number of coveted invites.