This guide is intended for newer players. It does assume basic MOBA vocabulary such as farm, last hit, push, ganker, and carry. It will be longer than usual as I will explain item and skill builds in some depth. If you are new to Dota, I highly recommend reading Purge's excellent starter guide, "Welcome to Dota, You Suck", and then coming back to this guide. I am still learning the game and am writing this for others getting started with Dota 2 (or MOBAs in general) but also as a way to organize my thoughts and solicit feedback. This guide is relatively long and details multiple item builds--expect some walls of text, though I'll do my best to summarize up front.
Once her basic mechanics are mastered, Lina is a good choice for newer players. She is surprisingly flexible: She's an effective laner (extremely so with the right partner) and has good potential as a ganker, support, and pusher as well as generating solid (burst) DPS. Aiming her spells can be tricky at first, but bot games can get one up to speed on this relatively quickly.
Since most spell damage scales with SKILL level (as opposed to experience level) in Dota 2, Lina's damage potential is arguably greatest early on. The recommended build below exploits this by maxing her damage spells first, then relying on items for utility lategame as her spell damage falls off in relation to opponents' HP pools.
Roles such as support, ganker, initiator, and carry are among the most important concepts in Dota. They are somewhat analogous to positions on a basketball team, for example a point guard is usually an initiator. Like these positions, roles are a general guide rather than a hard and fast rule. LeBron James is certainly a carry but is effective as a ganker (he is extremely disruptive on defense), initiator, or support as game circumstance dictates.
As a beginning player you will likely be in low level public matches. This is like pickup basketball: You can't be certain of teammates' or opponents' abilities or whether they understand these roles. This is why I think flexible heroes like Lina are so good for beginners. They provide some degree of adaptability and reward you for thinking "what should I be doing now to best help my team"? I think this is the single most important habit you can develop as a player. It doesn't hurt that her burst damage will score you a kill once in awhile, which can keep you from getting discouraged. You should know that, at the highest competitive levels, Lina is played as a "hard support". As you move up in skill levels, for example, you will be expected to ward for your team, and should eventually read a guide on that topic. If you're looking to move up in skill level, you should master skills such as warding and pulling as quickly as possible.
Lina is also capable of generating farm (gold) with her spells. Beginning players tend to have trouble last hitting early and also keeping up with farm as the game goes on. Lina can be particularly challenging to last hit/farm with, as her attack animation suffers from a long delay. Fortunately, her spells help a LOT with both issues. Be judicious, though. Lina does not need many items to be effective. If you are laning with an Anti-Mage or Faceless Void, they should be getting the majority of the last hits. You aren't the team's leading scorer, so don't be a ballhog! You also need to have sufficient mana for ganks and team fights, so spamming spells early on is discouraged.
As is typical for int heroes, Lina's nukes are skilled first to maximize their effectiveness early in the game, when their damage is largest relative to opponents' HP. In some cases (see below) you may wish to max Light Strike Array before Dragon Slave. Lina's ultimate is skilled whenever possible. Fiery Soul requires Lina to be casting spells often to be effective, and is thus taken later on when mana regen permits.
Creates a wave of fire, causing damage in a long rectangle in front of Lina. Note that the wave's range exceeds the casting range- in other words, if you click on the ground too far from Lina, she will actually have to move in range of where you clicked before releasing the spell, and the spell will travel well beyond the point where you clicked. Ideally, then, you want to cast this spell on the ground on a line between Lina and her target(s), close enough so that the spell is cast immediately but far enough from Lina to judge the line accurately. Practice in bot games is recommended.
Dragon Slave is useful early as both a last hitting and harassment tool. For example, autoattack the ranged creep once or twice, and either switch to a melee creep or simply wait for your friendly creeps to get one to sufficiently low HP, then use Slave. This can generate 2-3 last hits and, with practice, also damage opposing heroes. Be careful doing this, as it will both push the creep wave closer to the enemy's tower (putting you at higher risk of a gank). If you're duo or trilaning, this can also take farm from your lane mates, who may very well need it more than you do. If on a side lane, stacking and pulling (see several guides on this site) can help with both issues and is highly recommended.
Mid to Late Game, Slave can also be used as a 'poke', i.e. to inflict initial damage on one or more heroes before a teamfight, due to its excellent range (note that Slave does NOT provide vision). Be VERY careful doing this, as you are extremely fragile. As a general rule, Lina should NEVER be in front of her teammates. Particularly late game, you are hurting your team severely if you get killed doing this before a big fight.
Light Strike Array
Creates a circular explosion, both stunning and damaging enemies. The stun is arguably the more important, and is always 1.6 seconds regardless of skill level. Array can be quite tricky to land. It has a roughly half second delay between casting and effect, and the area is small enough for targets to dodge the spell. The casting range is also actually slightly shorter than her autoattack range. Though the two spells actually do the same damage, Slave is typically maxed first as it is much easier to land (especially in teamfights).
Array becomes MUCH more powerful when Lina is laning or ganking with a more reliable stunner or disabler. For example, Sand King's burrow strike allows Lina to land Array easily. Remember that stuns do NOT stack, so if you are already in cast range when the first stun lands, toss out an autoattack (or at least wait so your partner can get a couple more in) before casting Array. Other slows or disables such as Venomancer's Gale or Rhasta's Hex aren't quite as nice but still make it a lot easier. When laning with a strong disabler, it may make sense to max Array before Slave.
Slave and Array can combine to create large burst damage. Early game, Array is usually cast first so that the two take effect almost simultaneously. Later on, when Lina has sufficient mana to spam both spells, Slave is often cast first due to its longer range and cooldown. Mid to late game, when mana is plentiful, Slave then Array can clear creep waves nearly instantly, giving Lina good pushing power and helping her keep up in farm. Again, DO NOT overuse this. If a carry is closeby, you should at least ask (if not assume) they plan to take that farm. Also always remember you are very fragile and have no escape mechanism- do NOT farm lanes alone unless you know where most or all of the enemy team are on the map.
As if spamming spells wasn't fun enough, this skill gives you even more reason to do it. Each spell cast provides Lina with a percentage based bonus to attack speed and movement speed. Soul stacks with itself up to three times, and with other items that provide movement speed bonuses. Lina's base damage isn't stellar, but this skill can make her a respectable DPS even between casting spells.
Fiery Soul is usually taken later on when Lina's mana pool permits spell spamming. Unfortunately, each instance of Soul lasts only 7 seconds while the cooldown on Slave and Array are 8.5 and 7 seconds, respectively. In other words, Lina will only get maximum benefit from Fiery Soul after using her Ultimate.
Lina's Ultimate is the most damaging single target nuke in Dota (Lion's Finger of Death is slightly more damaging when both are level 1). It creates a huge, blazing bolt of lightning together with awesome sound effect. Getting a kill with this spell is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, especially if it is Zues or Sniper (Yes, I have typed "<- GOD OF LIGHTNING" and "SNIPE THIS" into chat. Do not do this. Well, maybe only once.)
That being said, repeat after me: Laguna Blade is your least efficient spell. DO NOT use it against an opponent who is low on HP, unless that opponent is otherwise absolutely certain to escape. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT use this spell to steal kills from teammates, especially carries (we hate Zues and Sniper for a reason). Laguna is best used when combo'd with Lina's other spells, either to gank a tricky and/or dangerous opponent like Anti-Mage, or to quickly kill or cripple an important enemy hero in a teamfight. I understand that Crystal Maiden with one segment left in her HP bar is tempting- save it for that Sand King who your teammates all seem to be beating on with an air of desperation (hint: his ulti is up).
Repeat after me: All item builds are situational. Even if there is one build that you really like, your purchase order can and should vary from game to game to avoid long detours back to base, to the secret shop, or monopolizing the courier. You should always be communicating with your team about item builds to avoid duplicating items like Mekansm or Drum of Endurance. For reference, since I know this section is long, my inventory at the end of a typical Lina game will typically look like: Arcane Boots, Bracer or Drum of Endurance, Eul's Scepter of Divinity, Force Staff, Town Portal Scroll, and if the game went late usually Scythe of Vyse or occasionally Crystalys/ Daedalus.
Your starting items should always include Tango and salve and sometimes a second set of tangoes. If no one else buys the Animal Courier after a few seconds, do so. If someone else bought the courier, buy three Ironwood Branches. As you get more confident and want to participate in early ganks, at least one clarity is a must (if needed, forego the third branch).
Boots of Speed should almost always be your first purchase in lane. If you are doing well in lane, consider saving the 1000 gold for Energy Booster (NOTE: this can be purchased from the side shop!) to get early Arcane Boots, particularly if you are laning with heroes like Sand King or Sven who have powerful skills but poor mana pools in the early game. Early arcanes are really powerful- you can harass and gank and still have plenty of mana for team fights. If you die early on or are generally getting harassed and/or suffering gank attempts, go Bracer and Magic Wand before upgrading your boots. Either way, don't forget about that wand when you're in a fight- it can easily save your life.
If you are your team's only support and/or you have a solo mid character who is highly bottle reliant, you should purchase the Flying Courier (right after your boots if you are doing well). If you somehow end up solo mid (not my favorite situation with Lina but it does happen) pick up a Bottle and look to control runes, spamming Dragon Slave for harass and last hits and to push the lane right before runes spawn (this forces your opponent to choose between last hitting and going for the rune). In the highly unlikely (and probably unfortunate) event you end up solo top or bottom against a dual lane, either Tranquil Boots and Soul Ring to deal with harass and spam spells, or Phase Boots for last hitting and mobility are viable choices as well, but this is really not a situation you want to be in.
IMPORTANT: If you get behind
We all have those games where, due to some combination of early mistakes, bad teammates, or whatever, we find ourselves on a team that's losing badly even from fairly early on. If this happens it is CRITICAL that you boost Lina's survivability with a second Bracer and possibly even Power Treads set to strength. Lina is squishy in any game and end up feeding enemy heroes who have been given an early farm advantage. Your goal should be to get to 1000-1200 hp so you can at least get your spell combo off reliably in teamfights. There's no hard and fast rule for this, but if I don't have my arcanes by 10 minutes in I'm generally thinking about that second bracer and/or treads, especially if one of my teammates already has his arcanes up. In these games I am simply looking to get my spell combo off in engagements without dying, and once I have my hp up I'll generally look to go Force Staff for easier positioning and escapes.
Eul's Scepter of Divinity is simply a fantastic item on Lina. It addresses three of her four weaknesses: mobility, mana dependence, and lack of a consistent disable. With proper timing, cyclone sets up a guaranteed Light Strike Array, which can set up a devastating spell combo. This adds to Lina's already formidable ganking ability, as well as making her a decent chaser and helping hugely in teamfights. Note that each of the components of Eul's can be acquired at a different shop, so which I get first depends on where I am on the map.
Starting at the 10 minute mark you ALWAYS carry a Town Portal Scroll. I cannot stress this enough: This is the point in the game where Lina is arguably at her most powerful, and you need to be ready to assist with ganks, team fights, and tower pushes or defense at a moment's notice. By not carrying a TP scroll you are severely hurting your team.
This obviously isn't a "hard support" guide- we haven't even mentioned warding. In many cases, however, my next item is support-ish. Note that unlike the first two sections, here we will usually pick ONE (sometimes zero) of the listed choices and move on.
The goal here is to improve Lina's survivability while helping with teamfights, which will be happening a lot by this point. Mekansm is one of the most powerful items in Dota 2 and will hopefully have been built by this point by one of your team's supports. If it isn't, by all means get one--it is less effective than if you'd rushed it but still plenty good. In most games I will go Drum of Endurance at this point, again assuming one of my teammates hasn't built it already. Against opposing lineups who rely on spell damage, I sometimes build Hood of Defiance and upgrade to Pipe of Insight. Finally, if our team is relying heavily on nuke damage I (rarely) go Veil of Discord. Veil is in theory a fantastic item on Lina, boosting her already impressive spell damage by 25%, but too often will come along a bit late and opponents' hp is already high. I really only look to Veil when I have multiple allies such as Sand King who do burst magic damage and aren't building this item themselves.
In some games, your teammates will have already built or be on their way to Mek and Drums, and in those cases it is totally ok to skip to the next set of items.
Here again mobility and/or survivability are our main concerns. Ultimate Orb is often my choice as a next item, as it gives a nice all around boost to stats and is used in several extremely powerful endgame items. If you are feeling really confident you can purchase a Mystic Staff instead of the orb.
Force Staff is a very strong choice and probably my most commonly built item here. This is one of the most powerful and flexible items in Dota 2. Many would put it ahead of Eul's as a core item--really the only reason I have it here is it takes practice to use effectively. FS pushes any unit 600 units in the direction it is facing. With practice, this can be used to set up ganks, mess up enemy positioning in teamfights, and of course is awesome as an escape mechanism. This item also hard counters some heroes, for example Rikimaru and Disruptor, and can even be built before Eul's against them. Don't forget you can also save teammates!
Black King Bar is a great survivability item, though you should rarely build it on Lina. Generally speaking, you should be positioned toward the back in team fights so enemy disablers have to go through your beefier teammates to get to you. Still, if you find yourself going into lategame against a very spell heavy lineup and dying to AoEs, BKB is a viable choice.
Ghost Scepter is listed here as it can function as a hard counter to heroes like Lycanthrope who have very high physical damage and the speed to chase you down. Again, I rarely build this item, but you'd be surprised at how often you'll see multiple melee DPS heroes like Lycanthrope, Rikimaru, Ursa, Anti-Mage, etc, on the same team. These guys LOVE to pad their K/D by feasting on squishy heroes like Lina. For a mere 1600 gold, you get to watch them try and beat on you while you and the rest of your team annihilate them.
Blink Dagger is a common(ish) item on Lina at higher levels of play. It can obviously get you out of trouble, though note that damage from an enemy hero disables the blink for 3 seconds. It allows you to jump into fights on your terms, either for ninja ganking or to keep multiple enemy heroes locked down after Tidehunter lands his perfect Ravage. However, those plays just don't happen all that often in low to mid level matches, and BD is extremely expensive (2150g) for an item that gives you zero stats. I strongly encourage you to try this item out in a few games when you are ahead and see what you think.
Finally, Crystalys is an interesting choice in the mid to lategame. It effectively augments Lina's burst damage taking advantage of the attack speed increase from Fiery Soul. If I find myself doing well and/or our team's carries are doing badly, I'll sometimes pick this up to give us a bit more right clicking power.
This section is here more for completeness--as Lina you are not really looking to go into the lategame, and you'll rarely be actively farming. Still, many low level games go late simply because people don't know what to do, and it's important to have a plan.
Scythe of Vyse should almost always be your item of choice after Force Staff. Its 3.5 second hex is an incredibly powerful disable for ganking, locking down opposing carries in teamfights, or to buy you time to escape.
Shiva's Guard is another viable choice, especially if the opposing team has multiple high DPS right clickers, meleers in particular. Its AoE slow and damage reduction are helpful in teamfights and the extra survivability provided by armor is not to be underestimated.
If the game goes very late, consider a Daedalus (see Crystays above) or Linken's Sphere. Especially late game, Lina is both fragile (a single disable can mean death) and rarely the enemy team's priority target, so Linken's can boost survivability.
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