Lina is an incredible nuker and pusher, able to rapidly throw out deadly blasts of fire - no other hero can match her ability to inflict targeted AOE magical damage. She also does some double duty as both a support hero, and potentially as semi-carry, thanks to her passive ability.
However, she is not an easy hero to play, with a slow attack animation, lack of escape and spells that require skillful use to fully exploit. Read on for how to get the most out of her...
+ Incredible range of low cooldown AOE Nukes
+ Fantastic burst damage
+ Strong base attack damage and range
+ Can semi-carry under the right circumstances
+ Strong pushing and farming ability
+ Great intelligence growth
- Slow movement speed
- Fairly squishy
- Stun is unreliable
- Spells lose some potency later on
- Awful attack animation
- Serious mana problems
Dragon Slave is a strong AOE nuke that also allows for some pinpoint targeting in the right hands. The damage scales up nicely, and the cooldown is fairly low, so once you have your mana problems sorted, you'll be able to spam this freely for both farming and fighting.
The key to getting the most out of Dragon Slave is to understand the shape of it's AOE. Near the start of the spell effect the width is easily enough to hit an entire wave of creeps at once, however this narrows to a very small point at it's maximum range.
You should quickly get used to standing in the right place for creep farming, but picking off retreating heroes will take a bit more practice. Remember that you don't need to be able to see your target, as long as you can take a good guess at where they will be.
Light Strike Array is your stun and secondary nuke, and using it well is the mark of a good Lina player. Once fully levelled it has the same maximum damage as Dragon Slave, but the difficulty arises from it's casting delay - you need to predict where your target will be when the strike actually arrives.
This often leads to a game of cat and mouse between you and opponents - players who aren't smart are usually easy to predict and you'll land your stuns almost all the time. Others are more difficult, and you may end up playing mind games to try and catch each other out. Start by getting used to the stun delay so that you can hit predictably moving targets, and work up from there.
The unreliable nature of Light Strike Array means you work best with other heroes who can set you up with either a reliable stun or a good slow. Later on you can get Eul's Scepter of Divinity to allow you to set them up yourself (cyclone the enemy, wait 2 seconds, and then cast where they'll land).
Light Strike Array's AOE is also useful - it means you can target enemies who you can't actually see (for example, invisible or juking heroes), and that you can hit multiple targets with the same blast. This means it works well with grouping powers like Vacuum and Reverse Polarity.
Fiery Soul is your only passive skill, but it still can help with your damage output. Every time you cast a spell, you receive a "stack" of Fiery Soul, which increases both your attack and movement speed for a short duration.
This is a little at odds with Lina's main focus on being a nuker, but it does help a lot as the game goes later and your nukes start being less effective. This is ultimately the skill that lets her become a semi-carry instead of being a strictly support hero.
The first level offers a large stack of increased attack speed, so usually you'll take a single level early - this offers more damage than an extra level in Light Strike Array at this point. (The "standard build" maxes LSA first)
Don't be deceived by this skill however - you're still not a great carry choice and certainly shouldn't be the main one on your team. Also be aware that you need pretty good farm to get the most out of this skill.
Some people recommend maxing this skill before Light Strike Array, but that's incredibly situational, and probably only for pubstomping.
Laguna Blade is one of the most deadly single target abilities in the game. It delivers a jolt of damage that can insta-kill many heroes in the early-mid game.
Timing and picking your target are the keys with this spell - there's really no point knocking 100-200 off a target to kill them, Dragon Slave can do that instead. Be aware of your current damage level and how many health bars the enemy player has.
Try to target squishy heroes who'll lose a higher proportion of their HP and may well start to live in fear of you. Don't waste it on heroes with a good escape unless you're pretty sure you have enough to finish them quickly.
If you're supporting a carry, try to use Laguna Blade on the enemy hero early, so that your ally can take the kill instead.
Your ultimate is improved by Aghanim's Scepter - as a nuke improvement this is well worth getting if you can get it early enough. As the game progresses there are other items that could benefit you far more.
Looking at Lina's skills - the nukes and amazing ultimate for ganking - the obvious place for her to go would seem to be solo mid. Quick levels, bit of farm to solve her mana problems, then destroy the opposition side lanes..?
The big problem with this is her awful attack animation. It's one of the slowest in the game and doesn't do you a lot of favours when trying to last hit and deny. Her high base damage and long range make up for this somewhat, but you can't afford to be 1v1 with a really effective last hitter of a similar skill.
Safe Lane Solo?
Ok, so solo mid is very situational, she's too slow and vulnerable for a long lane solo...how about a safe solo? Well, this can work as long as you're not against some horrific ganking lane - you can use your long range and spells to grab some farm. This does depend on your team having a slightly unusual setup however.
The other option is to play support - this is the usual and probably most useful choice for your team. But what about your fast levels and mana problems? Unfortunately they just have to wait - on the other hand you're a very dangerous laner, and with the right partner can quickly wrack up that farm and experience for both of you...
You're also a great "recovery farmer", once you have some half decent mana regeneration equipment and levels you can flash farm faster than almost anybody else. Setup a creep wave with an auto-attack or two on each one, then hit them with your combo = instant gold. This makes you great for defending towers or pushing lanes too.
This matchup very much depends on the situation. Against opponents with a lot of HP you will probably have to try to whittle them down with auto-attacks and the occasional Dragon Slave and hope they're daft enough to hang around for your combo when the chance arises. Against squishier heroes this is much less of a problem!
If you think your combo is enough to take down an enemy hero quickly, try to sneak into Light Strike Array without them seeing you (e.g. through the sidelane trees), this should make it easy to land. Immediately follow up with Dragon Slave and Laguna Blade as appropriate. With a point in Fiery Soul you have a quick burst of movement and attack speed that can make it easy to finish the job.
Level 6 Total Combo Damage: 230 + 90 + 450 (minus 25% magic resistance) = 577
Level 11 Total Combo Damage: 280 + 280 + 675 (-25%) = 926
This very much depends on your partner, if they have a slow or stun then really they should initiate and allow you to chain Light Strike Array afterwards. If they stun, remember to start your strike half a second or so before the opponent recovers. Whenever possible, try to hit multiple enemies with your nukes - this can really help swing the fight in your favour.
If one of the opponents has a good escape skill, try to target them first if you think you can burst them down before they get a chance to react.
These are a trickier situation for you - you're squishy but can also deal a lot of damage, so expect to be high on the enemy's list of priorities. However all your abilities have a good range, so try to stay back as much as possible.
Obviously you want to hit as many enemies as possible with your nukes, throw them out as soon as they come off cooldown, with a focus on trying to burst down weakened enemies when possible. Between spells your Fiery Soul stacks should be letting you throw out plenty of auto-attacks.
As the game goes later, more and more heroes will likely get Black King Bar or Linken's Sphere for magic immunity. Even then, it can still be worth throwing out your spells to get the increased attack speed.
As we've already discovered, Lina has a strange mix of roles - you'll often initially be playing support (and possibly even continuing to do so), but will also need a reasonable amount of equipment in order to be effective.
Starting and Core:
A fairly standard set of items here, mostly regen and a few cheap stats. You may want to consider a Null Talisman start if you're going solo, but this does depend on having an opponent who can't harass you too much.
I've gone for a very simple core item set here as you'll probably be playing support and so won't have had a lot of chance to farm - hopefully you'll pick up a few kills or assists to let you get those Arcane Boots earlier.
Some people do prefer Phase Boots on her, as they let you chase better, and provide good hitting power when combined with Fiery Soul. Personally I tend to want the larger mana pool and regen though. You may even consider getting Arcanes to start with, them disassemble them to make a Soul Booster later on.
I've listed 4 of the most common choices for Lina after you've got your core items. Really this will depend on the situation, and the amount of farm you've managed to obtain:
Eul's Scepter of Divinity is the most common choice if you've not had a brilliant game, or have been stuck buying wards and haven't got a lot of cash to play with. It works wonder for your mana regeneration, gives you a chance of escape, and also makes it much more reliable to land your stun - so it's well worth considering in any situation.
Aghanim's Scepter is probably the most difficult to recommend - while it rounds out your stats nicely and improves your ultimate, this only really works well if you get it early in the game - when the extra nuke damage will make a difference.
Bloodstone is an expensive item, but it works wonders for both your mana problems (it basically solves them) and also your sustainability in a fight. The ability to build up further mana regeneration, and respawn faster are an added bonus.
Veil of Discord is an interesting item, adding a good dash of armour and health regeneration - good against heroes who rely on physical damage. The active ability boosts your potential damage substantially, and is extremely worthwhile if the rest of your team has some big nukes and ultimates.
As well as the above extension items, there are various luxury items you can consider on Lina. Usually at this point in the game enemy carries will have Black King Bar and so be somewhat difficult for you to target directly. Everyone else's hitpoints are probably starting to scale enough to make your nukes less effective - you'll probably have to target support heroes, or be able to stay alive until their carry's immunity wears off.
At this point, the best thing you can do is often to work on your right click and survivability. Personally I really like to try and get Black King Bar on Lina as the game goes late - it pretty much guarantees you can get your spells off, while also increasing your HP and a damage a little.
Fiery Soul means that your attack speed will remain high as long as you throw out spells occasionally, so you can stack up any intelligence/damage items - maybe even a Crystalys to improve your right click power.
I think Lina works best on a team with at least one other support hero, a few squishy enemy heroes (most supports, agility carries, etc), and a dual lane where she can combo with an offensively minded ally. Your early damage potential is somewhat wasted on a pure babysitting job.
Ideally you want your lane partner to have a reliable stun, so they can set you up for Light Strike Array, such as Sven, Chaos Knight or Sand King.
You also lane brilliantly with other burst damage heroes, such as Lion, Bane, Tiny or Nyx Assassin.
Finally you combine well in team fights with heroes like Dark Seer and Magnus who can group enemies for you to nuke.
You're a strong counter to squishy, evasion based heroes like Weaver, Windrunner and Phantom Assassin.
Unfortunately you are very vulnerable to quite a wide range of heroes - gankers like Pudge and Night Stalker, burst damage heroes like Nyx Assassin, and frankly most other heroes who manage to get you before you can get them!
However, the ones you'll really hate are heroes with a Silence, or magic immunity such as Juggernaut, Lifestealer and Omniknight.
Lina is a very situational pick - you need enemies who are going to be vulnerable to your combo, and allies who are going to be capable of ganking fairly early on.
The first skill of a good Lina player is knowing when, and when not, to pick her. She's brilliant in the right situations, but will really struggle in others. Have enemies who you can melt, and have allies who can help you do that.
Usually you want to go with an aggressive safe lane carry, or with another aggressive semi-carry/semi-support on the long lane. Most of your gold early on will come from kills and assists, so try to score them whenever possible. Level 6 is a big milestone for you - your kill power suddenly increases massively and you can often catch out enemy laners at this point.
Once you've got some mana regeneration together, start flash farming to push and defend towers, and continue taking any opportunities to score kills and assists. This works well against pushers who take some time to get online. You can rack up a lot of gold quickly, but be careful not to take it off your carry. Continue improving your mana regeneration and find ways of increasing your survivability.