Aghanim’s Scepter is a peculiar item. It currently improves abilities or ultimates of 96 out of 115 heroes, however it is rarely picked up by anyone but the intelligence cores or utility offlaners. For most supports it is out of reach in terms of gold until the very late game and for most carries there are simply better alternatives which provide specific attributes or necessary answers to enemy items.
While the item has a decent stats-to-cost ratio, they are spread out equally across all three attributes, making Aghanim’s very suboptimal in terms of increasing you right-click DPS or survivability. Yet there are situations where this item on your right-clicking core might be the best solution to what the enemy has and this blog will be dedicated to highlighting and explaining potentially game-winning situational Aghanim’s upgrades for your carries.
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Luna is often thought of as a strong position one carry with a great flash-farming ability that is coupled with insane movement speed, which allows her to accelerate her farm, take ancients early and potentially snowball out of control, while the enemy team is playing catch-up. She has a strong lane presence, high teamfight potential from level seven onwards, good wave and tower pushing abilities and it is understandable how she is currently one of the most popular and successful heroes in the game, with 13% pick rate and almost 53% win rate across all skill brackets.
Aghanim’s Scepter on such a hero really seems redundant—it doesn’t solve her survivability problems, offers very situational DPS that is easily countered with a BKB and generally feels like a wasted item slot. 7.07 addressed these issues with two rather strong talents: +100 Lucent Beam damage on level 20 along with a level 25 Eclipse 0.25s ministun and it jumped the Aghanim’s upgrade for the hero from “situationally mediocre” to “situationally good”.
Latest meta developments have shown that professional teams often prefer to have two flexible heroes on mid and safelane positions, who can be interchangeable in terms of who actually gets farm priority and ultimately carries the game. Luna might have a bad carry matchup developed during the draft, she might be picked for her early game tempo or she can be shut down during the laning stage. In this scenario her strengths of a flash-farming hard carry can be severely mitigated, but Aghanim’s can be a way for her to have a big impact on the game regardless.
A 400 damage long-range nuke and a very strong ultimate can make her a threat without her having to engage in the fight and frontline for her team. It can wipe out supports, force the enemy cores away and add the extra necessary damage to a frontlining ally. Late game Dota is frequently about a single good fight and even with an Aghanim’s build Luna will still be excellent at taking objectives, if she gets to them and is uninterrupted. Aghanim’s can give you this necessary fight, while Refresher Shard can allow her to counter the enemy buybacks as well. It is also an amazing counter to heroes who sit on their highground and stall the game, like Tinker or Sniper, especially when coupled with a high mobility core ally.
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The latest patch has nerfed Medusa, but she still remains one of the strongest carries of the meta and essentially tells the enemy team they either have to win in 40 minutes or less, or they will have a very bad game. The effect is two-fold: the enemy can be often forced into making mistakes from the pressure alone, but can’t afford not to take risks in trying to shut Medusa down. However, despite her apparent strengths, the hero is not unbeatable—she might be approaching 57% win rate in 5k+ games, but there are heroes who are definitely good matchups against her even in the late game.
Get manaburn is essentially what Medusa-countering strategy boils down to. Weaver, Anti-Mage and Mirana have natural manaburn talents and often back it up with extra Manta Style, while many illusions heroes go for Diffusal Blade. This is when Medusa’s Aghanim’s Scepter can start doing a lot of work, since Mystic Snake becomes a one-host ability against illusions.
It rarely is a good pick up against “low value” illusions of Phantom Lancer, where it is almost always better to go for a BKB+Mjolnir combo, but against Chaos Knight or even an Anti-Mage, it can ensure a quick wipe of the mana burning targets, which can potentially save an ally or Medusa herself.
It also has an added benefit or a downside of “petrified” status effect, which increases physical damage on the enemy, but completely shields them from magic one, so use the upgraded Mystic Snake with caution.
Drow Ranger in the professional scene is often picked as a safelane position two or even three, in terms of farm priority. Her main goal is not necessarily to deal damage herself, but rather enable her team in the fights and then start taking down buildings, while fully concentrating on her own safety. She works well with heroes like Puck, Storm Spirit, Queen of Pain etc., who can completely take over the map by midgame with a little help from their teammates.
Drow’s job in this scenario is to get very farmed and not to die, so that the lanes are always pushed in and there is a lot of space on the map for her other cores to farm. Aghanim’s Scepter is a great transitory item in this regard, since it substantially increases her survivability, while increasing her farm and wave-clear speeds, so that she can get to her Agility items much faster.
It is still a stalling item, for when a Drow strat goes wrong and early game doesn’t look too good for your team, and you don’t think you will be able to close the game early. Most of the time, with a good start, you can push directly into more proactive itemization.
It is also a great anti-illusion item, especially coupled with Mjolnir. Drow has certain vulnerabilities against multiple in-her-face targets, so it can be a very natural progression even when she is a position one carry against certain heroes.
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Magic Damage Shadow Fiend is becoming more and more viable—the changes to the Shadowraze significantly increased their potential, while the reworked talent tree really pushes player to explore this possibility. But is Aghanim’s Scepter a natural progression for a full on magic damage SF by Arteezy or is it in fact better suited for a hybrid or even regular right-clicking Shadow Fiend?
There is an argument in favor of the latter—Shadow Fiend’s level 25 talents are either 40% cooldown reduction or +3 damage per Necromastery stack. And the Aghanim’s Scepter increases your maximum soul count by 10. This has a two-fold effect, increasing the effectiveness of the ultimate as well as increasing the right-click damage of the hero by at least 20. As such, it is actually a very decent value proposition for this hero, since the stats-to-cost ratio is not only decent, but a lot more focused.
So to get a full effect from Aghanim’s Scepter, SF wants to go for the +3 Necromastery damage talent, forgoing the 40% cooldown reduction of Magic Damage SF. Does the hero really want it in general or what situations it can be good in is up for debate still, since the vast majority of high level players still generally prefer 40% cooldown reduction talent for their Black King Bars, Manta Styles, Hurricane Pikes, Shiva’s Guards and many more active items.