Thank you for coming over to this guide! Shadow Demon is a sorely misunderstood hero and has been for many patches now, so I wanted to shed some light on one of my favorite heroes and maybe convince you that he is worth playing :) Shadow Demon is actually a pretty versatile hero and can be played effectively in a few different roles. This guide will cover how to play hard support and mid lane Shadow Demon as well as his strengths and weaknesses.
As an SD player, watching The International this year has been very fulfilling because SD is picked or banned in almost all games! I'm now a retired Dota player but I'm guessing we're seeing him a lot more in pubs as well now. But I think what makes me the most happy is that these TI support players are playing him almost exactly the same way that I do. It's also interesting to see that many players at TI are underestimating him. I saw Zai outplay the enemy Timbersaw by sneaking 5 stacks onto him and blowing him up. I saw another SD player sneak 5 stacks onto the enemy Drow Ranger. The SD player died and I just saw the Drow blow up after a few seconds. We've seen a number a SD players use Disruption to hold off high ground pushes or make pushes of their own. In one of the most intense upper bracket matches of the tournament (EG vs Wings), EG held off a high ground push just with Disruption for about 6-8 minutes while the enemy Aegis expired and then turned it around for a victory. We've seen SD's using Disruption on their carry and using the illusions to farm or seige. We've seen some very farmed SD players (even one SD player setting the farm record at TI on supports). So SD has been extremely successful at TI so far and is carrying many teams to victory.
Apologies for the poor formatting of this section, but I am not particularly skilled in formatting these guides very well so if you know how to make it look better, feel free to comment below :)
Your usage of this spell will largely determine the success of your game. This spell can be used in a number of different, and you need to decide the correct way to use it in a given situation...
- Saving an ally
- Catching an enemy so your teammates can catch up
- Initiating a gank for your team
- Counter-initiating a gank from the enemy team
- In a 1v1 situation, you can use it to give yourself an extra stack or two of Shadow Poison
- Making illusions of your carry to push towers
- Making illusions of yourself to scout/deward in dangerous places
- Making illusions of the enemy Spectre, Phantom Lancer, or Anti-Mage and have them kill enemy supports
You must always determine the best way to use this spell throughout the game as you will usually only get one chance to use it in a teamfight.
SD has one of the few abilities in the game that amplify damage taken and his is the best IF you can land it correctly. This ability will randomly target anything in the aoe including creeps, but there are ways to ensure it hits the target you want.
Here is the WRONG way to target Soul Catcher. If you target it this way, you have a good chance of hitting a creep instead of the hero.
Here is the RIGHT way to target Soul Catcher. If you target this way, the hero is the only one inside the aoe so it is guaranteed to land on him.
This ability has the potential to be the highest damage nuke in the game. At 5 stacks with Soul Catcher this ability does over 1500 damage! I personally always max this ability first for its insane kill potential. This ability also makes SD a good jungler since he can kill large stacks of creeps easily as well as being able to stack multiple camps at once by right-clicking into one camp and casting Shadow Poison into another. It is also a great zoning spell in lane. Here is a list of the damage this ability will do with 5 stacks at each level...
- Level 1: 320
- Level 2: 560
- Level 3: 800
- Level 4: 1040
SD has a powerful Ultimate ability that disables through Black King Bar and deals 600 damage (900 if the target has Soul Catcher). Demonic Purge is a fantastic ability for kiting melee carries such as Sven, Ursa, or Juggernaut. The slow also lets you apply more stacks of Shadow Poison to get up to 5 stacks and just blow them up.
I would consider Aghanim's Scepter a core item on SD. Agh's gives your ult 3 charges each on a 40-second cooldown. With an Agh's you become the best hero in the game at kiting heroes. Ideally you will be casting this on the enemy carry so they cannot move around in teamfights but you can also use to chase down fleeing heroes or to solo gank in the early game.
I'm about to show you why this hero is one of the best supports in the game and actually makes a great mid hero. If you are using the suggested build above, here is your damage output at levels 1, 3, 5, and 7.
Level 1: With 5 stacks of poison you deal 570 damage (50 damage for each cast of poison x 5 casts = 250 damage plus the detonate damage of 320 = 570 damage at level 1!)
Level 3: With 5 stacks of poison you deal 810 damage plus auto attacks and damage from Disruption illusions. It is very easy to deal over 1000 damage at level 3 which is enough to kill any hero in the game early on.
Level 5: With level 3 Shadow Poison and 1 point in Soul Catcher you will deal 1260 with 5 stacks of poison plus auto attacks and Disruption illusion damage. It is very possible to deal around 1500 damage at level 5 to a single target.
Level 7: With your full combo online and maxed Shadow Poison, things start to get a little ridiculous. Here is your damage at level 7 using your full combo...
5 Stacks of poison = 1290 damage (250 damage from casting the posion plus 1040 from detonating it)
Demonic Purge = 200 damage so we're up to 1490 damage so far
1 point in Soul Catcher amplifies it by 20%
1490 x 1.2 = 1788 damage at level 7. No other hero in the game even comes close to this amount of damage.
You might think to yourself "So what? It's probably really hard to get up to 5 stacks of poison and deal that much damage". You're wrong. With Disruption to keep the enemy in place and Demonic Purge to slow them, it's very easy to get 5 stacks of poison on a hero and blow them up. But in the early game, you don't even need 5 stacks to kill someone. A 4-stack combo still deals a little over 1000 damage which is more than enough to kill almost any hero in the early game.
Support SD has made a recent comeback in the meta as of 6.88 and TI6. With small buffs to Disruption over the last few patches, he has finally started to see the light of day again in the pro scene. As we discussed above, Shadow Demon can actually bring a ton of damage to the table at lvl 1 and you can bully any hero out of lane in the early game. You can also stack and farm the jungle very well with Shadow Poison. As either Radiant or Dire, you can actually stack multiple camps at once by firing Shadow Poison into one camp and auto attacking into another if you time it correctly. So we'll briefly cover how to play support SD as it's pretty straightforward in theory. Putting it into practice is a little more complicated though.
This section will cover various items you will typically buy on SD as well as some more obscure items you can experiment with :)
Arcane Boots: SD does a LOT of spell spamming throughout the game so these boots are invaluable to you.
Tranquil Boots: The alternative pick for boots if you're extremely poor. This is partly the reason I encourage SD players to max Shadow Poison first so you can farm faster in the early game.
Urn of Shadows: This is a great item on almost every support (less great if you're playing mid SD). A neat interaction with this item is that you can cast it on yourself or a teammate then immediately use Disruption on them and they will heal up while in Disruption. But if you Urn an enemy and Disrupt them, they won't take the damage inside Disruption.
Blink Dagger: I consider this item to be core on SD regardless of the role you're playing. As a support you can stay safely back in teamfights and blink in at opportune times to assist your team. As a mid, you can use this item to gank very effectively and chase heroes down to guarantee 5 stacks of Shadow Poison if you need them.
Force Staff: A great item for support players, less great for mid SD although still not terrible. Use this item to chase enemies, help allies retreat, pull enemies toward your team, etc.
Veil of Discord: A great item for both mid and support SD. Amplifies your already ridiculous spell damage even more.
Aghanim's Scepter: This is another item I consider to be core on SD regardless of the role they are playing. Gaining 3 charges of your ult is absolutely devastating to the enemy. It becomes almost impossible for enemies to chase or flee (even with Black King Bar active) and it guarantees you to get 5 stacks of poison on at least one target in a teamfight.
Dagon + Ethereal Blade: A great combination for mid SD players. Soul Catcher causes this combo to do absolutely massive damage. Just cast Soul Catcher in a teamfight and see who it lands on, then blow them up with your ult and these items. EZ.
Shiva's Guard: A fantastic late game pickup for SD if you can afford it after getting your core items. Pick this up against melee carries and combined with your ult it will be impossible for them to move around in teamfights.
Scythe of Vyse: Always a great late game pickup for Intellect users. For SD it means more time to spam Shadow Poison at a target to reach that all-important 5 stacks. It's a reliable disable to protect your teammates as well.
There are a ton of items I didn't cover in this section that can be viable on SD, but these are the ones that you will typically pick up. Let me know in the comments if you would like for me to add specific items to this section!
Your job in the early game is similar to most other supports: domination of the laning stage. You can do this in a number of ways...
- Harass the enemy laner(s)
- Gank a lane
- Pull creep waves to deny experience
- Carrying a TP to assist your teammates
Something I encourage support SD's to be doing is to stack and farm the jungle whenever the game slows down. SD is an interesting support hero because he functions very well in the 5 position, but also has the potential to farm very quickly with Shadow Poison. Make stacks for yourself in the early game and when you hit lvl 5 with 3 points in Shadow Poison, you can farm your stacks for quick Arcane Boots. Also, don't underestimate how easily you can kill a lane. Just spam Shadow Poison on the enemy laners and try to get 5 stacks on a hero. An easy way to do this is to get a couple of stacks on them. If you get a third stack on them, use Disruption. This will almost guarantee a 4th stack. Getting the 5th stack will be much easier this way. If your lane has a follow-up disable to your Disruption, it will be very easy to get the 5th stack. Your main job in the mid game is to gank the enemy and protect your team from ganks. SD's strength peaks in the early game so make the most of this time.
Mana Management: Until you finish your Arcane Boots (or if you don't buy them at all), your mana pool will suffer. I almost always start out with at least 3 Claritys and still end up buying at least 1 or 2 during the laning stage to keep my Shadow Poison spam going. Just don't be afraid to buy more Claritys if you need them :) The key here is to make sure you're not wasting Shadow Poison casts. The fewer Poison casts that go to waste, the more effective your mana will be. SO what do I consider to be a wasted cast? Something like the following...
- Using it to steal farm from your carry in lane
- Trying to harass the enemy hero and missing
- Casting it on neutral camps when you're not stacking or farming them
- Trying to farm neutral camps at lvl 1 (unless you have an Iron Talon)
- Only casting it once when trying to harass (you need at least 3-4 stacks for it to be an effective harass)
So hopefully you can avoid doing these things and make the most of your mana in the early game.
The mid game for you is similar to other supports. You need to be fighting with your team and protecting them in teamfights. Try to farm yourself a Blink Dagger in the mid game to give your team more initiation or protection. In a teamfight, your job is to pick an enemy hero and start stacking up poison on them. You could do this by casting Soul Catcher and seeing who it targets and go with them. Or you could just pick who you think the key target to blow up is. Either way, the more stacks of poison you can get into a teamfight, the better off your team is. Use Disruption and Demonic Purge at key times to protect your teammates and to shut down the enemy carry. And don't forget to constantly cast Shadow Poison on a target.
This is where SD's damage starts to fall off, but his utility does not. Soul Catcher is still a fantastic ability and causes your carry to deal massive amounts of damage to whoever gets caught. Disruption is still a fantastic ability to protect teammates or to make copies of a hero that deals a lot of damage. Demonic Purge is still a great ability to kite the enemy carry or to catch a fleeing hero. But your Shadow Poison damage starts to fall off. Hopefully by the 45-min mark you have a Blink Dagger and Aghanim's Scepter. Having 3 charges of your ult makes you an absolute pain to the enemy carry.
As with my Sven and Visage guides, I like to emphasize that heroes can effectively be played in non-traditional roles. SD is no exception here. He actually performs quite well in the mid lane against traditional mid heroes. He uses to his advantage...
- Long range and easy last-hitting with Shadow Poison
- Great auto-attack damage/animation
- Disruption counters a lot of traditional mid laners
- Great harass/kill potential with Shadow Poison
- Level 6 is essentially a free kill with your ult
It is very hard to deny a mid SD because he can use Shadow Poison on the creep wave and nuke it down with a few stacks. He also has very good auto attack damage and a great animation, making it easy for him to deny the enemy mid laner while being for the enemy to deny him. An easy way to zone out the enemy mid laner is to hit them with a stack of Shadow Poison every time they go for a last hit (this also works if you're playing support and are trying to zone out the enemy carry). Once you hit level 3 in the mid lane, it actually becomes quite easy to score a solo kill on the enemy mid laner if they aren't careful. With 2 points in Shadow Poison if you manage to get 5 stacks of poison, it's a guaranteed kill. At level 5, you only need 4 stacks of poison to kill them.
Mid SD also has a great time roaming to other lanes to secure kills. Even at level 4 you could roam to a lane and score a kill if you wanted, but it's much easier if you wait until you have your ult. As mid SD, you should rush a Blink Dagger then start working toward your Aghanim's Scepter right away. If you can finish your Agh's before the 25-min mark you will be a killing machine with your ult.
I hope this guide helped to shed some light on Shadow Demon and encourages you to play him! Feel free to comment below if you think there's something I missed or if you agree/disagree with me on how well he functions in the mid lane.
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