+ Best anti-heal in the entire game
+ 3 disables
+ Massive attack range (675)
+ Powerful spell damage
+ Magical damage amp
+ Scouting capabilities
+ Global presence
+ Minuscule cooldowns
+ Flexible build
- Very squishy
- Hard to land abilities
- Slow farmer
- Dependant on tempo
- Requires experience to play as a core
AA has pretty clear winners on all tiers, but two of outliers are essential if you go for a build centered around Aghanim's Scepter.
AA's abilities are very good in the sense that they combine really well into each other. Slows make sure Cold Feet activates, it helps targeting your ultimate, and the damage amp for Ice Vortex makes all of above just that deadlier. Our item progression will follow the intent of securing this combo and keeping up his damaging and disabling potential.
First off, you start the game like almost any other intelligence mid would. 2 Circlets, Mantle of Intelligence, Faerie Fire and an Iron Branch for your pooled Tango. If you don't get pooled, no problem, just buy a second Faerie Fire instead, you'll need the damage to contest creeps. Turn all of that into 2 Null Talismans, get a Bottle for sustain and rune control, buy Boots of Speed and Magic Wand if it's necessary.
Now where the build starts to stand out. Your next item that you need to get as quickly as possible is Rod of Atos. I used to play Skywrath Mage quite a bit, and during that time realised AA is basically Sky, but actually useful. So I tried the Sky's build path on AA, and it fit perfectly. Atos is pretty much a quintessential item - it's relatively cheap, has a comfortable buildup, covers up your abysmal health pool and most importantly, lets you nail your combo in pretty much any situation. You can even buy it before completing your Arcane Boots if you get the chance, but you might run into some mana issues, so plan accordingly.
A lot of AAs used to (and still do) build Eul's Scepter of Divinity as a means to secure Cold Feet. This is much worse for a few reasons. First, Euls active effectively wastes 2, and if badly timed, even 3 ticks of damage from it, losing out on a lot of potential damage. It also makes them invulnerable for 2.5 seconds so neither you nor your allies can whack on the enemy trying to escape. Second, you blow your precious escape to secure a butchered version of your combo, leaving you pretty much defenseless. And finally, while Euls offer some defensive capabilities and better mana sustain, they don't give you any effective HP, and you are still a valid target for various oneshots, which is a no-go. You can still use them, but mostly as a purely defensive tool to purge off debuffs or win some time for you to get help if you get jumped on.
Next is Kaya, an essential pickup for any magical damage dealer. It bumps up your damage output while allowing you to spam more spells with the reduced mana costs. Now, some players usually prefer pairing it up with another blade for either Yasha and Kaya for more aggressive approach, or Kaya and Sange for some defense, but I prefer a different option. The one that also provides you with great sustain, and lets you capitalize on your snowballing potential.
Bloodstone. This item gives you plenty of stats to work with, makes all mana problems a thing of past, gives you a panic button which can turn a fight around, and most importantly, allows you to gain more power with each kill you get. And AA is more than capable of racking kills around the map with his deadly combo. It is especially useful as of 7.26, when Bloodstone is the only way to truly scale your spell damage and not just increase it once or twice.
From that moment you can build a lot of different items. AA is pretty flexible, and you can choose what aspects of him you want to empower, be it damage, disables, utility/saves, or maybe items to counter specific heroes of strategies.
Boots of Travel can be a nice pickup right after Bloodstone as you disassemble your Arcane Boots to make it. A lot of snowbally mids tend to pick them up relatively early to traverse the map faster in search of pickoffs, and join their allies whether a fight breaks out. AA can do it as well, but only if you feel like you won't be punished for the greedy purchase.
Ghost Scepter will often be your next priority item, sometimes after Kaya or even after Rod of Atos if the situation calls. You should avoid dying at all costs to not lose your tempo, and Ghost Scepter is very important for AA. As soon as you find yourself getting blown up by physical burst - IMMEDIATELY cancel you current item plans and buy a Ghost ASAP. This is pretty much like Black King Bar for most carries: purchase it too late and you might not be able to come back from this.
Scythe of Vyse will almost always find its way into your inventory if a game goes on long enough. The additional disable is invaluable, it gives a lot of stats, and is generally a no-brainer for any caster in the game. Nothing better than to let the enemy carry chill out for a while as a little piggie.
Aghanim's Scepter is a powerful, but controversial item for AA. Like I said previously, it seriously changes the way you play the hero, and requires some adjustments to the build. Actually, come level 10 you should decide whether you are going for Aghs or not, since it requires both Chilling Touch talents to be viable, and a Bloodstone is almost mandatory to keep up with the mana consumption. AA has surprisingly high agility gain for a mage, though you should also consider some attack speed items like Bloodthorn and Mjollnir to ramp up your DPS, but we're barging deep into late-game territory with this.
To sum it up, this is basically a whole new flavor of AA ice cream. Aghs AA packs quite a punch and can be a strong sustained damage dealer, but you need to build around it, and preferably have allies to protect you from potential dives.
Octarine Core is a well-rounded late-game option that improves almost every aspect of the hero. Cooldown reduction is a very valuable and rare effect, and with AA's already short cooldowns and possible synergy with Quickening Charm/ Spell Prism it can lead to some absurd amounts of spells flying all over the place. Additionally, it gives an absolutely massive increase to your mana pool, which goes really nice along with Bloodstone's active, and even more health. And spell lifesteal, while not as important, also brings you some more survivability to keep you up and cool.
Shiva's Guard can be useful to bulk yourself up while also giving you an additional nuke and SCREW THIS, EVEN MORE SLOWS. This is particularly good for defending as you slow down the approaching creepwaves and take more time for enemies to push a structure.
Ethereal Blade is a logical upgrade of your Ghost Scepter which can be used in a multitude of ways. You can still use it on yourself for protection, protect an ally from being focused, keep an enemy from attacking, or even lead a combo with it for destructive results. Just be careful not to ruin a potential kill with the ethereal form, this **** lost a lot of games.
To buy, or not to buy, that is the question - which any core asks themselves when considering Black King Bar. While AA might often get away without buying one, in some games it is absolutely invaluable, and if you find yourself focused down by enemy spells constantly, don't be greedy and just go for the damn BKB.
Linken's Sphere serves the similar purpose, but you need it to block one key enemy spell that leads to your untimely death, be it Doom, Flaming Lasso or something along those lines. Alternatively, if you're being stunlocked to death, Aeon Disk might be your choice.
If you need to dispel debuffs, but don't want to invest into BKB and Euls active feels like an eternity, Lotus Orb might be the item for you. It gives you decent stats, and the active further discourages enemies to attack you - or any other ally you chose to save with Echo Shell.
A lot of other situational items can be built depending on the situation in the match, and it's up to you to read it and answer accordingly. Be it Heaven's Halberd to shut down an enemy carry, Crimson Guard to protect from a Lycan pushing you, or a Spirit Vessel to state it loud and clear "THOU SHALL NOT HEAL", you can always surprise the enemy.
As AA, you can freely pick him earlier in the draft. Nobody expects him to go mid, and it can often throw off your lane opponents. You may find some backlash from your teammates, but these fools just don't know the truth. Forget the toxic teammates, mute button is my new friend.
Starting off, grab your items, an Observer Ward and ask for a Tango. If you get one or two, great, if not, swap Iron Branch with Faerie Fire and carry on with your day. Place a ward from the trees at around -00:20, it still gives you time to go back for a creep block and makes it last longer into the game.
Few people have experience with it, but AA is actually a very solid midlaner who wins a lot of popular matchups. His massive attack range and Chilling Touch allow him to keep a safe distance from his lane opponent, while harassing them out of reach. Cold Feet is also a very powerful spell that makes your enemy choose: whether they want to contest creeps, but then get frozen and potentially lose a sizable portion of health, or to back up, but lose 2-3 creeps in the meantime. The cooldown is low, so you can freely repeat that every creepwave to gain a creepscore advantage.
There are only a handful of heroes that can pose a threat to AA in the mid lane:
Templar Assassin: Like any other squishy burst mage, Lanaya tears through AA like paper. Though, if played smart, he can at least tie even with her. Cold Feet makes quick work of Refraction, and a Chilling Touch attack takes away 2 shield hit points due to it being a separate damage instance. Chilling Touch can also reliably secure lasthits, so he is ensured to get at least some farm, and his attack range lets him stay out of Psi Blades range until it's maxed. He can also catch her off guard when she leaves the lane to farm nearby jungle and, most importantly, ancients. She usually drops pretty low on health, and a timely Ice Blast can send her to chill out in the fountain. Just don't forget to set up wards in her usual farming spots.
Viper: He is, and always was, a great annoyance in lane. Corrosive Skin discourages you harassing him, and his fast attack animation makes it harder to contest lasthits. Just play safer and concentrate on the creeps, using Chilling Touch mainly to secure ranged lasthits. Weave your way to level 6 and find kill opportunities around the map.
Lina: She has the same range as you, two strong nukes, and actually good waveclear. Your main goal is to dodge Dragon Slave so you don't lose too much health. If you feel more or less safe, you can try and get an occasional Chilling Touch+Cold Feet in, but generally play it accurate. You'll have your fun when you get your ultimate.
Void Spirit: Very hard to outfarm die to his high damage and ability to use Quelling Blade. You should try to pressure him out of lane with your spells, but watch out for Aether Remnant. You can lose a lot of health if you get caught on one. Be very careful when he hits level 6 as his combo makes quick work of your laughable health pool.
Puck: Her main strength is harassment immunity thanks to Phase Shift. There isn't really such thing as pressuring Puck out of lane, since she has both an easy dodge and good waveclear. Contesting creeps can also be tough thanks to her strong early right-clicks, so move your attention to other lanes when have a choice. Try not to get caught in Dream Coil as it's pretty much a death sentence for you.
Zeus: He just outranges and outpushes you. Fit a magic stick] into your starting items and play it safe, focusing on creeps. Try not to lose too much health, and every time he goes to [[lightning bolt you, make sure he receives some icy love himself.
Arc Warden: A good Arc can be a real menace to lane against. He is very tanky early on, and Spark Wraith is a powerful zoning tool that can cut off a lot of your lane maneuvers. Don't get close to him or you'll find out first-hand what helplessness feels like.
Broodmother: Switch lanes.
Most of the others should be pretty easy for you. Use your spells to zone out your lane opponent and secure creeps comfortably. You might want to practice last-hitting as AA prior to game as his damage isn't overly high, but his attack animation feels real smooth and you'll get a hang of it pretty quickly. Don't forget to push out the 3:30 wave so you get a good chance at securing the rune. More often than not it might lead to a kill, especially considering you should be closing to level 6 at this point.
Acquiring Ice Blast is a huge powerspike, as you can now assist a skirmish in any spot of the map or try and pick off a low enemy disengaging. But first, you should attempt a kill on the enemy midlaner. A lot of players severely underestimate the damage AA can dish out, so if an enemy overextends, it's very unlikely for them to escape. Point blank Ice Blast is difficult to react at, and combined with Cold Feet and a couple Chilling Touch attacks should be enough to finish off most of the heroes you might encounter.
Skillbuild-wise, you should pretty much always be maxing out Chilling Touch, as this is what makes AA such a strong laner. A value point in Ice Vortex is actually crazy helpful, because for just 40 mana you already get yourself the vision and the full duration, combined with a decent slow and some damage increase. I usually tend to take it at level 8, when I already have a strong combo and need to secure it, but you can sometimes even get it at level 4 instead of a second point in Cold Feet if you feel like. But Cold Feet is going to be maxed out next, as by the time you max it you will probably already have your Rod of Atos to secure the freeze, and the damage and uptime on the spell goes up drastically. Get a talent at level 11, pick your level 2 Ice Blast and get the remaining points in Ice Vortex.
Start building Atos from 2 Crowns. They offer amazing stats for their price. AA is extremely squishy and he loves all the health he can get to not get instagibbed by a couple of nukes, and those two can literally give you like a fifth of your total health pool. Finishing Atos is your first priority, as it will allow you to start locking down heroes and killing them to get you snowball… well, snowballing. If you're doing great, you may delay your boots upgrade after this - your combo is relatively cheap mana-wise for how much damage it deals, and you can always ferry a couple of Clarity to keep your mana up. After that, complete Arcane Boots and aim for Kaya next.
At this point you probably have the enemy's attention, and like said previously, the very first moment you find yourself getting focused buy either a Ghost Scepter or any other cheap escape. You rely on tempo, and to prepare for the later stages of the game you need big items which you can't just easily farm up in the jungle by the virtue of being AA. You get most of your gold from killing and assisting heroes. So your next item should be just that. Something that helps you kill enemies and hopefully also gain something else with each new kill. Get your Bloodstone and start traversing the map to gain charges. You have both high health regen from your level 15 talent and high mana regen from Bloodstone, so you can stay active on the map for much longer without needing to go back to base.
After that, you're pretty much free to do whatever the frozen hell you want with your hero. Dealing damage, disabling enemies, saving allies, inflicting crippling depression - all of that can be achieved with various item choices. Complete your build, hold a safe position in fights, scout with your abilities and generally just try to not die. As long as AA is alive and not disabled, he is bound to pump out impact in any form.
AA, as already said, is quite a versatile hero and can supplement almost any team. What he really likes is allied crowd control to help set up his spells, so heroes with cheap and spammable disables can make a lot of kill opportunities. Heroes with high magical damage output will also like Ice Vortex very much. A Vortex thrown under something like a Lina combo can destroy almost any hero in the game until later stages of the game. The best heroes to go along with an AA pick are those who tick both of the points, like Jakiro, Venomancer or Grimstroke.
I won't reveal anything revolutionary by saying AA is amazing against heroes who rely on healing or high regen. It's been his defining role for many years, and still stays true as ever. Huskar, Necrophos, Alchemist, Io - all of these heroes lose a large portion of their impact when their insane regen gets thrown out of the equation. Many other heroes who rely on their high sustain to be effective tend to struggle against him. Immobile and fragile heroes can also suffer from not being able to escape AA's high damage and disables.
His main weakness is, as well, being a squishy with no escape options. Strong, mobile gankers like Riki, Night Stalker, Void Spirit are AA's nightmare, as they can continiously assault him throughout the game and prevent him from getting any impact in. You need to build correct items to escape them, and preferably have your allies protect you as well.
Your spells have instant cast time. This allows you to immediately drop an Ice Vortex under the enemy you attacked with Chilling Touch, and precisely aim Ice Blast right where you want it. But it comes with a downside that you can't cancel the animation if you feel like you're going to whiff the spell, so cast responsibly.
Ice Blast places a debuff on all enemies hit by the ball even when flying. It has 275 AoE, so even getting slightly scratched by it affects them.
Ice Blast leaves behind a massive trail of vision for 3 seconds. Even if you don't get the kill by it, the vision can help set up another global ability like Sun Strike or Wrath of Nature to score it.
If you whiffed an Ice Blast tracer, don't just let go of it. Let it fly to the farthest lane and then release it. This will still give you a lot of vision, and in very rare cases you might actually randomly hit somebody with it, rather than just waste it completely.
If you're teleporting from the base to a fight, you can launch Ice Blast there preemptively. During the time it takes for the tracer to reach the point, you can teleport and walk to where the fight takes place, and once it's there, you can immediately send out the ice ball with huge AoE and no delay. Though, you'll need to predict it really well, and mostly use it during ganks in early game if you need more coverage for the explosion.
The interaction between Ice Blast and Refresher Orb is quite messy. There is a pretty old trick that allows you to blow up an instant Ice Blast anywhere on the map, although it can rarely find use and Refresher isn't really an item you want to pick up as AA. Anyway, the trick is a bit difficult to execute due to its speed, but after a little training should be no problem.
It goes as follows:
All in all, core AA is an interesting and entertaining hero to experiment with. Sure, he requires some investments and generally takes a strong player to execute well, but he is full of surprises and can create a lot of exciting and memorable experience. If you want something fresh in your Dota life, try him out - and make your enemies chill out!
As always, any feedback is greatly appeciated. Thanks for reading, and have an ice day!
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