Lion is a classic semi-support hero with an excellent range of skills and none of the mana problems that plague most casters. He has a variety of strong disables, the ability to steal mana from enemy heroes, and a big single target nuke for an ultimate.
Lion is an excellent beginner's hero as his powers are all relatively straight-forward to get to grips with, but he does have hidden depths which allow you to expand his playstyle and fully exploit his abilities...
+ Excellent disabler
+ Accomplished ganker
+ Can sustain mana almost indefinitely
+ Very item independent
+ Strong intelligence growth
- Somewhat squishy
- Poor agility growth
- No big team fight ability
- Slow movement speed
Earth Spike is a very strong skill, offering both a good stun duration, and reasonable nuke damage on top. It can also hit multiple targets if you line it up correctly. As a general rule, you always want to max this skill ASAP - every point adds 60-70 damage and another 0.5 to the stun time.
In team fights you want to try and hit as many heroes as possible with it, and this relies on picking your moment and the right line - you should aim to hit 2-3 enemies. Some powers like Vaccuum may even allow you to hit all 5 heroes, as can careful positioning and fighting along narrow paths.
Spike is also your main pushing and farming ability. Once you've maxed it and have mana to spare, auto-attack the enemy creeps down to about half health, and then send a spike through the middle of them.
It can be targeted at the ground, or directly on a hero - either way your cast speed is so fast you're unlikely to miss.
Lion has a very strong Hex spell, and the duration is longer than both Shadow Shaman's version, and the Scythe of Vyse. While it lacks the damage and full disable of Earth Spike, Hex does have the advantage of removing most passive buffs for it's duration
This makes it especially potent late game when heroes are levelled up and have more items.
Early game Hex is still useful, but not as much as your other skills. Generally you might pick it up sooner if you feel you need the extra disable for escaping or getting kills - however this will be at the price of your mana sustainability.
Mana Drain is an unusual spell that not only regenerates your mana, but can also steal it from enemy heroes. For many enemies this can be worse than them taking harassment from your auto-attacks, leaving them unable to use their abilities to attack or escape. This also feeds your Earth Spike, allowing you to use it regularly for harassment or attempting kills.
As a general rule, you will almost always want a point in this at level 2, and mostly another at level 4 as well. This doubles the amount you can drain in a single go from 80 to 160 mana.
This is the ability that gives Lion his excellent ability to sustain away from the fountain and not require items for mana regeneration. Level 4 offers a huge boost to your regen ability.
A few things to bear in mind:
- You can drain from any enemy or neutral unit that has a mana pool, this includes ranged creeps and most of the larger neutral creeps.
- Mana Drain is a channeling spell, so you can't attack, move or cast anything else unless you want to cancel it. This means you should be careful about leaving yourself vulnerable, or failing to get a kill because you're not attacking.
- Mana Drain has a break distance where enemies can stop the spell if they move far enough away. Get used to this distance and start your cast from a bit closer than that. It's especially effective from the side of a lane where a hero will have more difficulty retreating out of range.
- Once you have a few levels in both, Earth Spike an enemy and then drain the mana back from them while they're stunned and moving away. You can keep repeating this every 15-20 seconds or so.
- This ability can be useful in team fights, but make sure you target enemies with small mana pools, and fire off all of your other abilities first.
Lion's ultimate is pretty straightforward - you point at someone, and they die. That's the plan at least. It's single target only, and the damage doesn't scale well into the late game - starting at 600 and topping out at 1025 with a scepter.
Because of this, it's essential to make regular use of it during the early-mid game, and to pick your targets carefully. You only want to use Finger when you can be pretty certain of a kill for your team.
As the game progresses the cooldown decreases substantially, so you can make use of it far more often.
This is one of the tricky decisions you have to make when playing as Lion. On the whole you play as a support hero, so don't want to be stealing kills from your carry...but you've got a 600 damage nuke burning a hole in your pocket...
I'd say there's two ways of playing Lion - either as a very early semi-carry who becomes a support later, or a support throughout the game. Semi-carry Lion will generally run as a mid solo or be a support in a lane which gets a lot of early kills.
If you're playing as a semi-carry Lion then I'd say take the kills unless it's a definite one for your main carry. You only have a relatively short timeframe to be effective and need to get some items ASAP. Later on let heroes who scale better take them if possible.
As a support Lion you shouldn't be taking the kills if at all possible - only if it's a choice between you getting the kill or them getting away. This means generally using your nuke to knock down heroes to very low health, where a team mate can finish them. Don't use it to kill steal.
There's some interesting choices available to Lion depending on the composition of your team, and your role within it. Are you the only support? Or one of many?
Lion generally suits a role as an aggressive semi-support, he tends to get reasonable income from assists and can invest this in items that improve his early ganking power.
Alternatively, Lion can play as a hard support with fairly minimal or utility equipment, provided your positioning is good and you get your spells off quickly in a team fight.
A personal favourite is Tranquil Boots, they're cheap and effective - plus once you have a few points in Mana Drain you have a fantastic ability to sustain your health and mana almost indefinitely.
Occasionally you may want to consider fancier footwear - Phase Boots can make up for your poor movement speed and increase your damage. Boots of Travel can be worth trading up to in the late game if you have plenty of spare cash.
On the support build I've gone for a nice easy core set of items - Bracer and Magic Wand are there to bulk out your stats a little and give you some extra survivability.
As your item requirements are so modest, you can help out with warding and also look at utility items that your team may need. There's a fairly standard list in the section above, and Lion doesn't particularly suit any particular one - although a Drum of Endurance is usually my favourite for the stats and speed boost.
The Veil of Discord is only really worth considering if your team has other casters with strong nuking powers.
Ghost Scepter is well worth considering if you're against invisible gankers like Clinkz, and heroes like Juggernaut.
Timing and team composition is probably the key to what luxury items you buy.
Aghanim's Scepter is very well rounded, offering good survivability stats and an improvement to your nuke damage and cooldown. Usually I'd say that's your first port of call for a luxury item - but if the game start going very late and your farm is slow, you might want to consider other items instead.
Black King Bar gives you increased survivability and a fairly good guarantee that you'll be able to get your powers off in a team fight. Consider strongly if you're being heavily nuked or disabled yourself.
Bloodstone offers a range of benefits, mostly making you much harder to kill, and getting you back in the game much sooner if you are. It's regen also scales well in the late game where maybe Tranquil Boots and Mana Drain aren't quite cutting it anymore. Again, by no means a necessary item, but a nice one to have.
Items such as Scythe of Vyse or Orchid Malevolence are always useful, and give you yet more disabling power, if required.
The ganking style Lion requires a different approach - you want to make yourself as deadly as possible in the early-mid game, and acquire items that will help you do this ASAP.
Blink Dagger - Lion has generally poor mobility and this item allows him to overcome that. You can quickly blink in, chain stun and nuke the hell out an enemy unexpectedly - if they're squishly, low on health or you have any kind of support this is usually fatal. You also have an escape now to get you out of tricky situations, and position yourself optimally in team fights.
Aghanim's Scepter - This item works best if you can get it as early as possible, bringing down your Finger of Death cooldown and boosting it's damage. If you get this quickly enough you can really dominate teams and stack up a lot of kills.
Dagon - Lion has good burst damage, and combining this with even your level 1 ultimate allows you to inflict 1000 magic damage in the blink of an eye. Again, this item is only worth getting if you can get it early enough - over time hero's health will scale to the point where it's ineffective. Don't upgrade your Dagon, it's very expensive for a limited effect.
Lion is generally a hero that other heroes work well off, especially if they have unreliable stuns or other powers which are difficult to land successfully.
He combines especially well with other burst damage heroes like Tiny, Lina or Nyx Assassin. Heroes like Dark Seer, Enigma and Magnus are useful in teams fights as they can position enemies for multi-target Earth Spike's - just be sure to get your timing right and chain your stun to hit as their's expires.
He's an excellent pickup against mobility dependent heroes such as Anti-Mage, Queen of Pain, Weaver and Storm Spirit - long disables mean they have to absorb damage rather than avoid it.
He's also strong against squishy heroes who don't have the health pool to survive your big nuke.
Lion is somewhat vulnerable because of his slow speed, poor hit points and low armour. Your positioning has to be strong, and you have to be wary of strong enemy combos. Generally you rely on your disables to get you out of trouble early on.
Nyx Assassin is a particular terror for you - Mana Burn really hurts when you have such high intelligence, and the rest of his combo can quickly finish you. Heroes like Tiny, Pudge and Night Stalker also present a large threat to you when ganking unexpectedly.
Anyone with a Silence, or ganking you with either a Orchid Malevolence or Black King Bar is a real threat as you're helpless without your abilities.
Lion remains one of my favourite supports because of his aggressive playstyle and ability to sustain with minimal equipment. In the modern metagame you need supports who can deliver effective ganks and provide what the team needs on a tight budget.
He has a strong early game and can be a real pain to lane against if you play him correctly. Midgame he's a very effective ganker, can help with pushes and is very flexible on item choices. Lategame he does lose some punch, but your two disables ensures you will always be useful to have on the team.
As always, be flexible with your skill build - the main choice is usually between how many points to put in Mana Drain early on, and how soon to get Hex.
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