"I'm a leaf on the wind-watch how I soar."- Hoban "Wash" Washburn, Firefly
As of late, I've been playing Windrunner a lot; she's a great overall hero with so much potential to be a great disabler and nuker with strong pontential to survive in the "suicide lane" alone, or to thrive with a lane partner or with ganks early. Her stun, Shackleshot, is a "game-breaking" (qtd. SunsFan) ability that can effectively disable for a total of 7.5 seconds (3.75 seconds * 2 heroes stunned), assuming you can line it up right. Her second ability, Powershot, allows for long-range pick-offs as the opposite team is fleeing, or to help quickly burst down a hero you've shackled. Her third skill Windrun, makes her deceptively tanky towards physical DPS, and gives her survivability in the offlane. Her ultimate, Focus Fire, allows you to rip through towers, and heroes that think they can 1v1 man-fight (or rather, woman-fight) you. When all is said and done, you are still a support at your core, however. The item build above allows you to be a mildly tanky support, while still contributing a great deal of disable and damage via abilities and rightclick output.
As with my Rubick guide, this isn't a "be-all-end-all" authority on the hero; just what I've found that works, and what I've gleaned from watching the highlight reels of pro players like Na`Vi.Dendi, QPad.SingSing, LGD.Taobao.Yao, and iG.YYF.
The most important aspect of this hero is positioning. Being able to line up a perfect shackle isn't something you're born with. Just practice it, and in time, you'll be able to land jaw-dropping Shackles and drill fleeing enemies with a perfectly placed Powershot.
Skilling Windrunner is relatively easy to remember; just keep a few things in mind. First of all, I like to take Windrun at level 1 to aid in an escape from potential level 1 ganks. Use it AFTER you're stunned/slowed so you don't waste the precious 2.75 seconds of valuable escape time. Don't forget that it can be used offensively as well, as the slow can be great for chasing; just be sure you don't literally run into the rest of the enemy team!
Always, always, ALWAYS max Powershot first. That's your main harass tool/cs bread-winning skill. You can also use it mid to push the lane for rune control. Use it in fights to nuke the daylights out of the opposition, or in conjunction with Shackleshot to burst down whoever you manage to catch. You can even use it to clean up stragglers retreating from the fight. Don't forget, also, that you can interrupt the channel time at 0.6sec to deal full damage to the first target (but less damage to consecutive targets hit), but to catch someone you might otherwise miss.
Thirdly, put all the rest of your points into Windrun, and another point into STATS at level 13, then take Focus Fire at the rather unusual levels 14, 15 and 16.
You may be thinking, "Rift, you can't be serious. Don't you take all ultimates as soon as you're able?" Well, yes; but in cases like Windrunner and the pre-6.78 Dragon Knight, not exactly. Your ultimate is very mana-intensive and extremely situational. If you need to go 1v1, you could Windrun into Focus Fire, or use Focus Fire to disintegrate towers, but I don't usually advocate for use on heroes, because it's more or less overkill most of the time, so I mainly just use it to push and take towers quickly. If your team is taking towers extremely early, a single point at level 10 or above is sufficient to push towers down quickly, but you need to remember to watch your mana pool.
Another reason to skip the ultimate until later on is that Focus Fire also decreases damage done by 50%, 40%, and 30% for levels 1, 2 and 3, respectively, making it practically useless until you start stacking bigger intelligence items; which won't happen until later on.
As a support, you should buy either courier or wards at the beginning of the match. If you already have someone who buys one or the other, or sometimes both, take 2 "gg branches" to build into a Mekanism, 1 salve, a stack of tangos, and either a Mantle of Intelligence for easier last-hitting early and use in a Null Talisman and/or 1-2 Rings of Protection; firstly to build into a Ring of Basilius and/or Tranquil boots. The early items are heavily dictated by what you believe you'll be facing up against.
If you're going mid, pick up a tango stack and 2 iron branches, also for use in Mekanism. The Mantle of Intelligence could also be picked up if you're mid, but it will slightly delay your bottle. The balance here is between how much harass you're going to cop/dish out, how comfortable you are with last-hitting, and whether or not you're building Mekanism.
**Note: If you build a Null Talisman, it should be for the stats (supports shouldn't build Dagon)**
During your laning stage, it's really up to you whether or not to build Tranquils or start straight into your Phase boots; if you do, a handy tip would be to farm up most of your mek, and your sage's mask, and disassemble your Tranquils to get the Ring of Regen for the Headdress and use the Ring of Protection to finish your Basilius. After this, start on your Phase boots. If you're not building Mek, use the Ring of Regen for your Force staff. A casual Cloak is also a great thing to pick up as the game transitions to the mid to late game. Windrunner is great at surviving physical DPS, but is very susceptible to magical burst. A cloak will help immensely; and if you're not building mek, a Pipe of Insight is a nice pick-up for your team as well. You can also get a Magic Wand early on if you feel you need it, but I generally don't.
Why do I keep referencing Mekanism? Well, the reason is simple. First of all, it gives tankability to our lovely red-headed friend, as well as a fantastic active that is necessary as the game progresses. As she is your typical Intelligence-based hero, her strength, and thus her hp and hp regen, aren't too great, and Mek/Force staff armor and regen helps fill in where stats are lacking.
The reason why I also keep talking about your Force staff and Phase Boots is because both help position you for the perfect Shackleshot. Nobody's gonna let you just meander up and hit a shackle, you need to out-maneuver (and out-think, to some degree) your opposition to land shackles that will give your team an advantage in the fight. Blink Dagger is also very handy in this regard, but you can't use it defensively to get your team out of trouble, and it can be easily disabled by pesky things like Radiance burn and DOT effects; that's why I usually get Force staff.
After you finish your core items, start building into either a Sheepstick (Scythe of Vyse) or Orchid; the intelligence provided, and therefore damage, will help you melt towers with Focus Fire. If you plan on roaming/ganking or someone is already building Mek, an Urn of Shadows is also relatively viable, because it also helps you bulk up with extra strength and aids in mana regen. Some may also argue for a Shiva's Guard if there's no need for single-target lockdown, and your team is focusing on bolstering AoE teamfight capability; but I haven't gotten around to actually building one yet. Rod of Atos also comes to mind as an extension item; but I never find myself building it on Windrunner.
What DOES come to mind, however, is the fact that 99% of the time, you will be called upon to be a support; buying Observers, Sentries, Smoke, Dust, Gem (a very viable option because of Windrunner's innate tankyness due to Windrun) and even a Ghost Scepter if you're dying to a right-click hero. If your team is also in need of extra split-push, you could try for Necronomicon, but it's only really worth it if you can upgrade it to Necro-III before the end-game.
If you're playing as a Semi-Carry (I would hope this is situational and not intentional), A Linkin's Sphere is great for nullifying nasty single-target lockdown, as well as the stats and regen it provides. Coupled with a Shadow Blade (to take the place of Force staff in terms of positioning for shackles effectively), MKB, some form of Crit item (Crystalys/Daedalus), or even a *disappointed sigh* Dagon, if you land a shackle, whoever's on the receiving end is more or less done for. If you end up building Divine Rapier (which I really, REALLY hope you're not considering...), just be sure that you're not the guy that starts the hot-potato game with the Rapier. It should be purchased as a trophy as the ancient falls, or if your team is going to lose if you don't buy it; not as a core item.
No matter what your build is, however, it is critical that you don't get Aghanim's Scepter. It's just not worth it. You'd need to spend the money on an item that gives you an "orb effect," or Unique Attack Modifier, and that doesn't jive with how Windrunner is played.
Another notable item that could potentially replace one of your core items is Arcane boots, which could help alleviate mana issues early-on. This is not recommended unless absolutely nobody on your team is building them. It's not optimal, but it could help the team, which should always be the goal of a good support.
[+] Great at soloing the offlane; able to push "squishy" carries out of lane completely with Powershot harass
[+] Very versatile
[+] Great abilities even into the late-game
[+] Fantastic escape mechanisms (Windrun + Phase + Force out of danger)
[-] Unbelievably susceptible to Magical Burst
[-] Hard-countered by heroes that Silence/Stun (Death Prophet, Silencer, Sven, just to name a few)
[-] Relatively "squishy" all game
[-] Positioning Dependent
[-] Requires tons of practice
Solo Mid (2 role)- Start with a stack of Tangos and two branches. Rush bottle first, then boots and headdress, then farm up the rest of your Mek and upgrade to Phase boots. Rune control is very helpful here, especially if you can keep last-hitting/harassing/pushing out with Powershot and fueling your mana pool with bottled runes. As for ganks, I generally wait until I have my Boots of Speed and a decent rune to gank. Continue on into Core Items.
**Note: Don't forget to check your opponent's items. If you have tangos/boots and they don't, eat a tree, then go blow-for-blow with them. Generally, you'll come out ahead, since you will be regenerating extra health with the tango. Just play it smart, and don't give away first blood.**
Suicide Lane (3 role)-
Start with full regen (a salve and stack of tangoes), 2 branches and Mantle/RoP/clarities as deemed necessary. Farm up Tranquils and Headdress Recipe. Disassemble Tranquils and build Headdress/Basilius. After you have Headdress, upgrade your now brown boots to Phase boots, then complete Mek and Force Staff. As mentioned before, push the enemies out of lane with consistent Powershot spam; keeping enough mana handy for a Windrun in case things go south.
Offlane Support (5 role)-
If you're playing in an offlane dual-lane, see the above, but instead skip the Tranquils and go straight for Mek and Phase boots. Defend your carry, and play like you would a Keeper of the Light. Hide in the woods and nuke the living daylights out of the enemy carry when they go to last-hit. If you're up for it, try for a Shackleshot to set up for a gank or kill-attempt. Keep enough mana in the tank for a Windrun just in case, you'll never know when you'll need it. As a support in a dual lane, you'll probably be nominated as ward carrier; buy them when you're able, and go about warding the enemy jungle and pull camp if necessary. If called to de-ward, buy Sentries and ask no questions (apart from "where do you think their wards are?"). It is your duty as a support, as is Upgrading to a Flying Courier if that hasn't been done yet.
A Scoll of Town Portal is necessary for everyone. Buy them, and keep at least one on you at all times to counter-gank, push, or return to fountain to heal up and get mana.
**Because of your innate escape mechanism, You're going to be in the offlane more than 90% of the time**
If you can, talk with your teammates; let them know what's going on. Time your wards and Roshan (put time of completion and/or warding in chat for reference), to keep yourself on task, and co-ordinate stuns to chain-disable during ganks. If you're not talking/using chat, you're doing it wrong! I find the voice chat feature especially helpful in coordinating with my team, mapping the push-to-talk to my 'V' key for quick access.
A great way to think about Shackleshots is to picture an imaginary line from your hero through the other hero, and about the width of a tower (this is a VERY rough estimation) beyond the enemy hero. Think to yourself "Will it hit a tree/creep/enemy hero if it keeps going," then ask yourself, "Will the target move away from the tree/creep by the time the shackle gets there (don't forget about the flight-time; this is NOT an instant ability)?"
If the answer is "yes" to both of these quick questions, let fly with the shackle. If not, hold it for a bit longer. Don't beat yourself up if you whiff, though. This skill has a short cooldown, and will ministun even if you miss. Though a full shackle is recommended, it's not absolutely required.
Powershots work much the same way; they travel in a line that extends beyond the enemy hero. It's hard to miss, but if you do, do as Windrunner suggests. "If at first you don't succeed, stand closer, shoot again."
Don't forget that this also gives vision and destroys trees, so if someone jukes into the trees, chase with a Powershot, and follow them with the path you've created. If you catch up to them, a Shackleshot amongst a bunch of trees is hard to miss.
If you want to practice, Bot matches are a good way to hone your skills without embarrassing yourself in front of people. In a custom lobby, you can give yourself level 4, and enough gold to buy a Force Staff, Shadow Blade or Blink Dagger and Phase boots. After this, practice positioning and work on your skillshots to find out what works best for you.
A sampling of gameplay from different Professional players can be found on Youtube:
I would like to thank you for viewing my humble guide to Windrunner, my favorite hero in all of Dota 2 as of late. Don't forget, practice pays, especially when you finally get the hang of hitting epic, game-changing Shackleshots. You may start off being, quite literally, hit-or-miss with Windrunner's skillshots, but eventually, you'll learn to line up skill after skill, and be that one stud that everyone knows to fear in a teamfight.
Good luck, and don't forget to have fun playing the game,
Also: Don't forget to tell me anything I missed, borked up, or should change in the comments below. It's hard to amend my guide if there's no constructive criticism.
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