Crystal Maiden, the Perfect 5
Welcome to my guide on Crystal Maiden. Dismissed as a casual hero, she can bring a ferocious amount of utility and benefit to almost any team. The ultimate in selflessness, she can set up ganks, thwart an opponent's gank, boost the team's mana pool, and bring a back-breaking ultimate. All she asks is for a team that can take advantage of what she brings. She can't deliver kills; she can set them up. She cannot initiate a team fight but she can win them. Being so team oriented, CM should adjust her items and build order depending on the entire team's needs. As such, this guide will discuss how to deviate from a backbone rather than proclaim the One True Build Order.
Why a 5?
For those not familiar with the 1-5 nomenclature, the number refers to the farm priority. 1 has the highest farm priority (the hard carry) and the 5 has the least. The Crystal Maiden generally inhabits the depleted barrens of the 5 role for one simple reason: she doesn't need gold and frankly wouldn't scale very well if she had it. She is such a team-oriented hero, when playing CM you might as well go all the way and maximize team utility (wards, courier, smoke, dust, etc.) Trying to play her 'selfishly' to maximize K/D is an exercise in frustration. You're not going to win the game with bold solo play and six-slotting your inventory. Your teammates, bolstered by you, will win the game.
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Share your items (especially tangos and wards) by ctrl-clicking then targeting the recipient. You don't need much health regen as you shouldn't be getting hit. I grab the single Clarity to fuel two early Frostbite casts in the jungle to accelerate.
Aside: Magic Stick
CM is one of the rare heroes I pass on getting the Magic stick. Wands are great, wands change games, wands are close personal friends of mine. But Magic Sticks cost money (200! That's ward money...) and you're certainly never going to turn it into a Magic Wand (too costly, you don't need the backpack space, or extra charge capacity) and your Arcane Aura is doubled on you. A magic stick that never gains charges or has its charges used is a total waste of money. Grab one if you're facing some unholy combo of Batrider and Bristleback constantly casting spells and harassing, but outside of extreme corner cases like that I recommend that save your money.
Be the good girl you always had to be
Your core is modest. Your shop's wards should be constantly be on cooldown and continually placed at key areas (river runes, jungle, cliff lookouts) After getting Tranquil Boots to improve your mobility, any spare money should be spent counter-warding and denying enemy vision. Always carry a scroll to make sure you are a part of every teamfight. Teleport aggressively to set up surprise ganks with Frostbite and Crystal Nova. Your lane partner should be soaking in the last hits and you should be denying and keeping them safe.
Aside: Town Portal Scroll
I don't want to get into every nuance of hard support but it is important to always be responsible and carry around Town Portal Scroll with you. Yes it costs money and yes you're broke all the time and yes you're so close to Staff of Wizardry for your core items... but you still have to buy your scrolls. Utility is 90% proximity and as CM you are all about contributing to the team which you can't do if you're not there. Be responsible: you're not a carry so don't blow the gold and the cooldown teleporting back to the lane after death. Walk the walk of shame.
Frozen fractals all around
Eventually though, you'll get some cash from towers, assists, and so forth and a Force Staff is your mid-game priority. Great utility item for CM. It can save a teammate, finish a gank, and position you for a devastating Freezing Field. Also it is cheap and can be bought in components. Eul's Scepter isn't as good of a fit overall, with the added cost and less necessary mana regen. However it does provide badly needed movement speed, purging of enemy buffs and removing a dangerous character from a teamfight for 2.5 seconds. I usually prioritize Force Staff but if there is a clear and present danger on the opposing team to whirlwind, get the scepter.
The Urn of Shadows is a bit of a special case. If there is no other urn carrier on your team and you're being active causing ganks and the like, it can be a very valuable pickup to heal your allies. But if you're not regularly filling it with charges, it's worse than dead space.
Aside: Blink Dagger vs. Force Staff
Choosing between a Blink Dagger and Force Staff will come down a lot to personal preference. Personally I view the Blink Dagger as more of a tool for initiators ( Tidehunter, Brewmaster etc.). Freezing Field is a strong spell; killer in teamfights. But it is channeled and that makes it a poor initiator because it can be so easily broken. CM doesn't want to go in first, she wants to go in after enemy stuns are spent. Also, despite the similar cost, the Force Staff can be bought in pieces, greatly reducing the risk of lost gold due to death. The Force Staff can be used to help you escape where the Blink Dagger goes on three second CD when struck. Finally the stats, while not incredible, are helpful.
The cold never bothered me anyway
Generally speaking, you will be far far too broke to afford these excellent team-oriented items at any reasonable part of the game. Also, CM is not a great aura carrier because she is delicate, slow, and behind the front lines. Hopefully you have responsible 3 or 4 grabbing some of these. But if not, and if you get lucky with bounty runs, assist gold, etc. do not be shy about filling in any holes in the lineup. The list above is my default priority order but as always, adapt to circumstances. If Zeus is running around, the Pipe of Insight is going to have a much larger impact on the game than a default Mekansm.
Let it go
I hesitate to even add these items since if you're this rich the game is already well in hand. But if your team is decked out with auras, you can splurge a little on yourself. Consider some protection ( Ghost Scepter if facing right-clickers, Black King Bar if facing casters), sheep stick, or similar big ticket item. The Aghanim's Scepter is a "win more" luxury; might as well screw around with a Heaven's Halberd or Daedalus.
Please don't purchase a Daedalus.
Even more so than other supports, CM should be flexible in her skill order. Your job is to support your team and that can and should change depending your teammates' needs. I like to use the 1-1-3-1 as a starting point but not my final destination.
Not as useful as it has been, it's still a decent tool for finishing a gank, pushing out lanes, and some harass. I get one point early to help ganks (freeze them in place and then land a Nova right as they break free). Too much Crystal Nova in lane pushes the creep towards the tower which is usually not what you want to be doing.
PRIORITIZE: Your team is aggressively ganking and the extra slow duration will help. You want to push your lane out early. Or you're babysitting and trying to harass opposing heroes.
POSTPONE: You have better things to do (which should be most of the time)
Recently buffed, frost is your bread-and-butter early game disabler. Pretty decent damage and a truly silly long snare. Don't overuse this but don't be shy about being opportunistic if your opponents get out of position, reckless tower dive, or if you have a rotation coming down to gank. I default to leveling Frostbite early as its single target damage is higher than Crystal Nova and it has better control.
Also a few patches ago they turned Frostbite into a surprisingly good jungling tool. Since it lasts 10 seconds on under lv 6 creep, dealing 1000 damage, you can pick off hard camp creep from level 1. This is great in the early part of the game and can power you to a quick level 2.
PRIORITIZE: You have good gank potential, either in lane or roaming. Team communication is high.
POSTPONE: You're babysitting a delicate hard carry, no gank movement on your team, very cautious opponents.
What an ability! Helping your entire team regain mana, this can help them spend money on more immediately useful items rather than mediocre regen like Ring of Basilius or Soul Ring. Being a flat mana regen that does not scale with +% items, this does tail off towards the end of the game.
All else being equal, I grab two points in Arcane Aura by level 3. The increased mana regen can fuel extra Frostbite harass or jungling.
PRIORITIZE: You have thirsty teammates (strength casters like Ogre Magi and Wraith King are common candidates).
POSTPONE: You are aggressively ganking. Even then, most likely this is still the first skill maxed.
A devastating ultimate that can dramatically swing teamfights, judicious use of Freezing Field can decide games. It asks a lot of you though: high cooldown, high mana cost, easily interrupted, tricky to position, and even trickier to time. Channel too early and you get stunned out of it and/or burst down immediately. Wait too long and your targets are either gone or out of range. There's no simple rule of thumb of where and how to time it. You want to be close to the action so you're there when your team initiates but not so close that you get picked off first thing.
Give the high cost, CM's modest stat gain, and your total lack of items, consider postponing subsequent levels if you aren't capable of casting it. This is a tricky judgment call: Freezing Field can have a huge impact but its moments to shine are uncommon and the cost high. I always get it right at 6 so it's available when I need it, but delaying the 2nd and 3rd point can also be the right thing to do if your mana pool can't support the jump in cost to 400/600.
PRIORITIZE: You have mana available (it's 200 at level 1), earlier points in Arcane Aura, Force Staff or Eul's Scepter of Divinity acquired.
POSTPONE: Laning is running long, your mana pool can't support it. You don't have any +int items
Remember as CM that you are the primary gank target because you are so vulnerable. Play as if you're always being hunted because you are. Your income is so slow every piece is precious. Dying loses money which prevents you from buying more wards reducing map vision leading to still more deaths. So *BE CAREFUL*. Do not wander down the river replacing wards if you don't know where enemy heroes are lurking. Do not get sloppy and YOLO ward placement or lane alone.
CM in aggressive tri-lane
In disorganized pub games, CM will almost always be lane support in the safe lane. However, she can be a great piece in an aggressive tri-lane. Early levels in Frostbite and Crystal Nova, along with a respectable right click, can lead to some early pickoffs. If you're running a tri-lane, postpone Freezing Field until teamfights are breaking out. Select Arcane Aura judiciously as you want to maximize your snares and burst potential but you're also leveling slower so consider getting a point at level two. Hopefully you have another team support to allow you to purchase 2 Clarity potions and maybe even an additional gg Iron Branch to fuel attacks.
Hard Support - Making the 5 Work, by Sandro
How to pick the right support items, by Tikru8
Thank you for your time in reading. I am still working on a list of friends/foes, both the mana-hungry teammates and favored lane partners. Please submit any questions, criticisms, and suggestions.
1.0 (Jan 15, 2015) Initial post with strategy, items, and abilities.
1.1 (Jan 16, 2015) Edited tri-lane overview, added defensive items, and delaying ultimate.
1.2 (Jan 23, 2015) Typo fixings, tweaks to tri-lane recommendations.
1.3 (Oct 30, 2015) Updates and other misc changes.
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