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79 Votes

Playing the Scales (ANTI alt-tab)

June 23, 2013 by Sp12
Comments: 26    |    Views: 588100    |   

Build 1
Build 2
Build 3
Build 4
Build 5

Chinese (Pipe)

DotA2 Hero: Dragon Knight

Hero Skills

Breathe Fire

3 4 5 7

Dragon Tail

1 12 13 14

Dragon Blood

2 8 9 10

Elder Dragon Form

6 11 16


15 17 18


I'm Sp12 -- I write guides here and can be found streaming at; if you have any questions/comments feel free to post at either.

This is a set of builds for Dragon Knight, one of the more interesting strength carries and a member of the transformation class of carries. He gets built a lot of different ways depending on where you're playing. Each build gets its own minisection for you to check out, so consider this an anti alt-tab guide. The formatting for this guide is matched heavily with my Faceless Void guide, which you can check out if you play him.

DK lives in the gray area between semi and hard carries, and he brings a lot to the table at level 6 or even before, an important factor in the 6.78 push meta. He is one of the best laning carries, with a stun, nuke, and built-in regen/armor with dragon blood. His nuke is one of his signature features as a carry -- it's spammable for pushing/flash farming/harassing/bursting. His defensive skill's early strength and his very long (3.25s on 9s CD) stun are also relatively uncommon among carries this hard. His signature skill, Elder Dragon Form (unsurprisingly) turns him in to a dragon, which boosts his movespeed, cast range on his stun, attack range, and gives an effect depending on the level of the ultimate. This is where most of his carry potential comes from, and is really good. At level one you get a solid DoT, level two adds a strong ranged cleave, while level 3 gives you an AoE Eye of Skadi effect on attack.


I'm not going to list out skills/whatnot. There's a well-maintained wiki, great replays, and even video guides on how to play DK. An easy way to get better is to watch replays on player perspective -- filter recent games for DK and very high skill level.


  • Good farmer/pusher/teamfighter with Breathe Fire
  • Very strong early stun, which gets even better with dragon form as it becomes a 400 range roar on 9s cooldown.
  • Early game durability and regen via Dragon Blood
  • Versatile
  • Incredibly long stun on a very low CD, despite the poor scaling and low damage
  • Poison dragon form allows for early towers
  • Red dragon form allows for quick stack clearing
  • Good against illusion based heroes with splash damage
  • Combos with AoE with splash damage
  • At level 16 his attacks are replaced by ranged epicenter pulses
  • Frost dragon slow good against BKB carries
  • Very strong agility growth for a strength carry (2.2)
  • Secretly a ranged hero
  • No cast time (!)
  • Counters anti-mage with high armor for mana break, strong early pushing ability to pressure him early, splash damage for the eventual manta, and very long stun to prevent him from blinking

  • (Very?) bad base damage
  • Limited starting intelligence and mediocre growth combined with semi-expensive spells requires mana regen
  • Survivability skill does nothing for pure or magical damage and doesn't scale that well late
  • Needs IAS
  • Stun is melee, so it's really only useful against people who don't fear it appropriately and let you get in melee range or as a followup from a ranged stun until you get a level in your ultimate
  • Really reliant on ultimate to perform, meaning he's only up half the time and making Aegis and buyback minimally effective. This is actually a pretty big reason why he isn't able to truly keep up with some of the hardest carries
  • Slow
  • BKB (or pipe) is required in most of games. Physical damage is pretty useless against maxed dragon's blood early, but magical and disables can ruin your day.

Noob Guide Fix Skillbuild

No skillbuild is appropriate for every game. Consider this one a suggestion. I will try to discuss when and why you skill which way so that it makes some sense.

Dragon Tail is really strong at level 1, but it scales terribly. Grab one and done. Having a stun can be crucial for evading or securing first blood. On the other hand extra armor and HP regen from Dragon Blood can help with a bad lane where you're harassed to tower and not likely to be involved in either side of a kill. Most of the time I don't need either skill desperately, and I will wait until level 2 to skill both of them.

Dragon's Blood is a strong passive, and can easily replace breathe fire as maxed at 7 if your lane is bad. With the equivalent of a free platemail and ring of health at level 7 most laning harass should do nothing to you. You limit your pushing and farming capability but it can let you survive the early game.

Breathe Fire is your nuke, and as general in dota policy you max your nuke at 7 unless you have a reason not to.

Some people suggest skipping your level 2 ultimate, but that is an outdated build from before the 6.78 buff to the level 2 form.

The items are just a suggestion. If you know your lane isn't going to be safe don't get a Quelling Blade get a Stout Shield. If you're playing as a ganker Urn of Shadows makes sense. Some people really like starting with the Soul Ring recipe when going sidelane. Instead of a Circlet for a Bracer some people start with 3 branches for a Magic Wand. Do what works for you.


You will almost always build treads on DK. You will need either a Bottle or a Soul Ring to fulfill your mana needs, with Urn of Shadows, Medallion of Courage, or Orchid Malevolence as potential substitutes. You will need at least one mid-game item like Drum of Endurance/ Maelstrom/ Armlet of Mordiggian/ Shadow Blade, maybe more if your early game is going poorly. You will need either pipe, heart, or BKB at some point.

All these builds are variations of the above. DK is DK and his weaknesses must be addressed somehow.

Another point worth discussing is the concept of a tank. There are very few heroes that can be described as a tank in dota, in large part since players get to choose who they attack and unless you're giving them a reason to attack you they won't. Building straight durability on DK (say, going purely for defensive items like BKB then heart) means you will be very hard to kill but contribute very little until you reach frost dragon form, and even then only mediocre DPS. DK is incredibly durable with his passive and natural stat growth, but you should never focus on building him as a "tank". Think about durability, but always be able to provide damage. He has strong strength and agility growth, and an AoE cleave -- don't waste that.

Chinese (Pipe Timing)

This build focuses on building a Pipe of Insight after your core in order to not only solve your vulnerability to magical damage, but give you a strong timing window to take teamfights and push (hopefully T3s) with pipe's regen and active along with dragon form. You can replace drums with maelstrom or armlet, but I like the aura for pushing and the extra intelligence is nice.

Your early game is pretty standard. Treads, Soul Ring, Drums are your early game with good durability to extend into Hood/Pipe. You don't have much damage (basically your nuke, DoT from poison form, +30IAS from treads, and drums stats/aura), so you can replace or augment drums with armlet or mordiggian (+25IAS, +65 damage, +5 armor, +500 burst HP, 8 passive regen), blademail (+22 damage, +10 intelligence, +5 armor, return), or Maelstrom (25IAS/24damage, chain lightning) if you don't have any other real DPS (magical or physical) on your team. Once you have treads/soul ring and ulti feel free to push the T1 in your lane with poison dragon form. If you can take the T2 and/or rotate to other lanes as you have ultimate.

Once you have hood you're incredibly tanky with 14+ passive regen (more if armlet), along with fantastic magic and physical resistance. Finish pipe and start forcing towers with your team as your teamfight ultimates are off cooldown, probably taking level 2 dragon form for the splash. If you've missed your timing window (pushing T3s at 25-30 minutes at the latest), don't fret as you can extend into a Mjollnir or Assault Curi***, easily beating out semicarries. If there's a hard carry and you've not pressed your early advantage things might be harder, but you scale pretty well.

Pinoy (Bottle Crow Midas Shadow Blade)

A funky build that's often ran solo mid. You get a fast bottle and proceed to use dragon's breath to last hit as you have mana from bottle crowing. DK is not dominant in mid but you really can't deny him CS/harassment with his nuke. A fast midas lets you start pummeling towards level 16 while adding some extra attack speed. Meanwhile, you build shadow blade (pretty good item overall with decent damage/IAS stats), which adds very strong initiation and mobility, as well as a mediocre escape. Bottle crowing keeps you on top of your mana needs, plus you can grab runes as you roam. You (split?) push towers with poison form, backing off with shadow blade as heroes go missing from the map. As needed you can gank with a shadow blade->backstab damage->dragon tail->nuke->attack combination. Once you reach level 16 you become a teamfight monster, and can extend into a harder carry role as needed.

Your early game is a bit different. You go mid, which is not that great for you as you're a relatively passive laner. You are really hard to deny CS though, so you'll get your farm. Dragon Tail does give you some kill potential as a followup stun for a gank in your lane, and you have decent rune control via pushing out the wave via fire. At 6 you can start trading harass and CS with most mids, and probably take tower if they leave lane to gank (which you can too). Try to have bottle ASAP, Midas by 8 minutes, with treads and shadow blade done by 20.

By split pushing you can try to limit 5v5 engagements. Once you have Shadow Blade they realistically can't expect to kill you without two stunners and dust, so push, just use caution. Make sure you use midas on large jungle creeps to accelerate your exp gain. You really want to hit level 16 fast so you can start destroying teamfights, but remember the power of lothar's as a ganking and pushing tool.

Modern North American

This is the most common NA build for DK. You get treads, soul ring, one minor damage item (maelstrom or shadow blade) then BKB. If the game goes late you extend into Mjollnir and eventually heart unless you need else. This build is very simple and easy to play but very effective.

Your early game is fairly standard. You last hit, harass, cooperate with ganks and counterganks. Once you have soul ring you can abuse breathe fire to flashfarm/push with dragon form as always, something helped with the minor damage item of your choice.

You can fight when you have BKB, but as always frost dragon form is the goal before you start forcing teamfights. Your extensions are open depending on the game but Mjollnir is your strongest DPS choice (as usual).

Classic North American

A semi outdated build based around stacking ancients with a quick Helm of the Dominator which are then cleared with level 11 dragon form. There's options for a Battle Fury or Radiance in here as well, but those are even older builds.

This build doesn't get run much anymore for a couple of reasons. You can't stack ancients more than 3-4 deep with the recent AI changes, so you can't get the ridiculous 3K+ from a stack. DK has a strong mid game that's really not worth sacrificing for farming, as he doesn't really perform that strongly in the ultra late game anyway. Finally, games are just shorter. What used to be midgame is now bordering on lategame, so you just don't have the luxury of running games 4v5 anymore.

Your early game is pretty normal if boring. Treads and soul ring, but then instead of a damage or survivability item, you get a dominator and then use the creep to stack ancients and lifesteal to farm jungle. You have the option of a midas, but you want the dominator online as fast as possible to start stacking. Battlefury and radiance are other farming options, but force your team to play 4v5 for longer and longer. They do give solid GPM gains and some split push capability.

Your team has to play 4v5ish while you farm, but you focus on grabbing really hard carry items like Satanic, Assault Curi***, Heart, BKB, Daedalus, and the like. You then emerge and hard carry.

Armlet Orchid

An a aggressive timing build which gives you pretty solid DPS and great mana with an easy buildup. After being theorycrafted over at the playdota forums about a year ago, this has since become a semipopular lifestealer build as well.

An early oblivion staff gives you good mana regen, while the armlet provides the solid DPS and extra durability for midgame aggression. Once you finish your orchid you can liberally spam Breathe Fire, and the silence gives you a strong teamfight or gank contribution. I get this primarily against teams with blinkers/heroes that don't like silence, or when I'm feeling like playing unconventionally. Basically, Armlet and Dragon Blood make you tanky enough that you can participate, while Armlet and Orchid give you solid DPS and a powerful silence along with easy mana and HP regen.

An early HoIW and dragon's blood make your lane easy, while the Oblivion Staff should give you mana to use your nuke to farm. This build gives some good stats, and every piece is useful. As always, level 6 lets you push your tower assuming you have an oblivion staff for mana.

You have your typical extensions. The IAS from orchid and armlet work well with Maelstrom, but heart is good as always as you don't have a durability item besides armlet. Orchid remains relatively useful throughout the game.

So which build do I pick when against who and why?

That's a lot of builds. You have two big concerns:

What lane would I be most effective in? and
What's our timing?

If your team is up against a harder carry like Faceless Void you need to pick an early aggression build and force advantages for your team so you can end early. On the other hand, if you're the only thing resembling a carry on the map try either of the NA builds. If your team needs a mid the Pinoy build makes the most sense.

Also, be aware of your item picks. If you're up against a Lifestealer get armor or evasion, not raw HP. If you're up against a PL Mjollnir makes lots of sense. Anti-Mage adds power to the armlet orchid build. If they're pushers maybe an early maelstrom for counter pushing is important.

I can't give you a list of every scenario and every pick, so here's an easy pro/con table for the builds to help you choose.

Moderate buildup
Lots of HP regen
Resistance to both physical and magical
Great teamfight presence after pipe
Early pushing that doesn't end
Partially online fast
Not a ton of DPS
Mediocre farming limited to breathe fire spam
Awkward to transition out of, so it's best if you have another harder carry to transition to

Effective mid or sidelane
Feel like chen with all this crow micro
Cost effective
Moderately easy buildup
Strong farming ability
Scales well lategame with open extension
Midas gives you a fast level 16
Shadow blade split push and escape/initiation, plus it makes their supports poor
Open to ganks if mid
Less useful if you already have an invis hero
Lose your lane early and you're probably not relevant for the next 15 minutes
Overextensions possible because you think shadow blade=invulnerability

Modern NA
Easy buildup
Lets you participate all game
Strong contributions from first damage item
Strong teamfights from BKB that get better at level 16
Not that good at farming, though better than the Chinese build and pretty decent with Breathe Fire
Choice between Maelstrom or Shadow Blade

Classic NA
Tons of farm
Lifesteal and Satanic extension
Synergy with fast armlet
Takes creep micro to stack
Weak early and mid game forces your team to play 4v5
Ancients can't be stacked that deep anymore
Farming is boring

Armlet Orchid
Early mana and mana regen from oblivion staff
Once orchid is done you're very strong and can spam breathe fire
Early HP regen and burst HP from armlet
Great DPS
Comes partially online fast
Comes fully online fast
Easy buildup
Pretty cost effective
Great transition to heart
Armlet requires attention to turn off/on
A bit more expensive
Awkward on item slots early
Weird looks

I used your guide and lost

Blame your team.

Just kidding, consider whether your laning situation was appropriate. Not having strong lanes or lanes with a realistic farm priority (DK and Void in one lane?) can end your game before it really starts. On the other hand, if you went offlane as DK trying to do the classic NA build no wonder your game wasn't stellar. If every lane but yours lost then even great play by just you can't win the game. If you or your team made a major mistake (5-man Reverse Polarity?) that can cost you the game. It's actually really good to think about why you lost a game afterwards as it forces you to adapt. You can check out replays in your game history.


Those are the most common builds for DK. If you have any questions/comments/criticisms feel free to post them. At the very least I'd like a comment why if you feel like downvoting :P. If you feel it was worth the read a vote up helps get builds seen more.

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