Dota 2 Auto Chess Chess Piece Analysis

by rogerclee

It’s been a little over a week since I last wrote a guide for individual chess pieces aimed at the more casual/new audience, and since then there have been some patches and we have a more fully fleshed out meta.

Early game refers to roughly turns 1-15, midgame is around turns 16-27, and late game is around turns 28+.

Due to tier lists being all over the map, I will keep the same breakdown as before, discussing units separately by price category, but not sorted by any particular quality.

Some general comments: one, auto chess is a game that rewards flexibility, and every unit can be useful in some situation, even the worst units in the game. Two, weak 2* units with no synergy are generally better than strong 1* units with synergy early on. Don’t get too hung up on the tier of a unit, collecting 2* pieces and making your composition work from there is the core mechanic of auto chess.

$1 Pieces:

Bounty Hunter: BH continues to be the best round 1 opener due to its flexibility and overall quality on a DPS/HP basis. BH + 2 goblin/mechs can carry you through the early game, and he’s a great piece to dump items on (magic damage, short CD, fast attack speed) since you will probably sell him sometime in the early game. Very solid assassin if you decide to go that route.

Clockwerk: Sort of a decent unit, its main selling point is that it’s a goblin/mech with decent stats. Try not to keep him around too long, the 3-gob synergy falls off pretty quickly.

Tusk: It’s a warrior/beast, so he synergies well with other early game units (lycan especially). His ability is strong before turn 10, but falls off quickly as people reach 7 supply. Usually one of the first things you’re looking to cut in favor of better units.

Enchantress: These days enchantress is mostly used to farm gold (buy any other druid + 2 ench, sell the 2* ench for 3 gold, 1 gold profit), though an early 2-3* enchantress can do decent work, and it has a beast tag to use with lycan/tusk. Like all druids other than LD, its ability becomes fairly useless in the midgame unless 3*.

Antimage: Divisive unit at the moment, antimage 2* is a great early unit but drops off midgame since it’s too much of a crapshoot, then comes back as being possibly useful in the endgame to snipe key disablers. TB/antimage/demon is a somewhat weak strategy due to its inflexibility and subpar performance in the late game. As far as I can tell most people basically pretend AM doesn’t exist and do just fine, but several high profile players like him a lot.

Tinker: A worse version of clockwerk, but it’s a goblin/mech. Place him in the frontline since his autocast damage isn’t so good but his ability is actually really strong — tinker just generates mana too slowly if he isn’t being hit.

Batrider: Batrider is basically only useful for its knight + troll tags, which are strong tribals. Late game, place him off to the side to try to mess with their assassin dives/disable, as he is not a useful combatant.

Ogre Magi: A little underrated, ogre magi usually goes pretty uncontested and is a key part of mid-game mage armies due to the flexibility and tanking he offers.

Shadow Shaman: A mediocre early game fighter that’s not too hard to 2*, its main use is for the 4-troll synergy, though he can pair off reasonably with just troll warlord before you get your whole army going. Disruptor’s best friend, you usually want disruptor if you have shadow shaman in play.

Drow Ranger: Terrible unit on its own merits, but pretty painless to 2* or even 3* since few people go for drow. Undead synergy is strong in the early-mid game. Probably not as bad as people think, but not great, as going for hunters is a pretty volatile strategy, and without her synergies she is useless.

Axe: Criminally underrated in auto chess’s early days, the flexibility and power of 4-orc is now well established, and axe is possibly the second best of the orcs overall. With an ability that provides mild CC, 2* axe is a monster tank at a measly 3 gold investment that can be useful well into the late game.

Tiny: There must be some number of buffs they can give tiny to make him good, but we haven’t gotten there yet. Terrible elemental tribal and an ability that is often a negative since it basically tosses a heavily damaged unit out of range of your attacks. Tiny synergizes slightly with units that transform/summon (lycan, DK, TB, maybe venomancer), since it makes fights longer, which is what transform units want.

$2 Pieces:

Timbersaw: Post-nerf timbersaw is a little weaker, but the same things apply. It has great stats/damage (pure type), is fully capable of being effective into the midgame even without his tribals, and timber/clock/tinker is the strongest common opener in the game.

Beastmaster: The best $2 unit even with the slight nerf IMO, he’s tanky, does tons of damage, and orcs are strong. Useful even as a standalone unit into the midgame, and very viable late game as part of a 4-orc tribal. I always buy BM early.

Treant Protector: Druids are not popular at the moment, and even though tree is the best of tree/ench/furion, it still sucks. Has its uses as an early game tank, but get rid of it ASAP unless you’re lucky enough to roll an early LD.

Slardar: Solid early game unit that hits like a truck, but usually one of the first to go since the naga tribal isn’t that useful until the late game, and the warrior synergy drops off in effectiveness into the midgame.

Queen of Pain: Solid unit even post-nerf, and a staple assassin if you’re going for that synergy. It’s a flexible unit since it can jump if you place her in the back, but often it can be better to place her 1 square behind your frontline her since scream does so much damage that you just want it to go off ASAP and hit as many targets as possible.

Juggernaut: The worst of the orcs, but still pretty good. Not too interesting of a unit, reasonably good target for a mana regen item like a crown since you want him to start spinning a little before your opponent’s abilities go off, but don’t commit too hard to jugg.

Luna: It’s a solid knight that loves +dmg items — not great, not terrible. 2* luna falls off hard, so unless you need her for her knight tribal she isn’t that useful.

Chaos Knight: Popular choice in the early game since he’s a demon, he gets outclassed later on by other options (SF/doom). Late game not that useful unless you want to go 6-knight. Another solid item hog since he’s likely to get sold in the midgame. Worth noting that 2* CK is an early game monster.

Puck: Mostly just a DK enabler (dragon knight/puck/viper), puck can also see some action in the midgame for its mage synergy (usually with razor and ogre). Not useful unless you’re using her synergies.

Witch Doctor: It’s a troll/warlock, so like troll knight/shadow shaman, it’s a bad unit with useful tribals.. Paralyzing cask can do a little bit at 2-star, and you can pair it just with troll warlord until you’re ready to go for 4-troll, but as a standalone unit (or even just as a warlock) it’s not useful. Unlike bat and shadow shaman, 3* witch doctor is actually solidly worth going for in the late game with 4troll synergy.

Furion: Its only strong use is for combining other druids or obtaining the 4-druid synergy, probably the worst unit in the game on its own merits.

Morphling: OK choice for a 6-assassin strategy, but its stats/damage/elemental tribal is a bit lacking, and you can probably do better if you’re only going for 3 assassins, though if you’re going for assassins, you should generally take any early 2* assassin that comes your way.

Crystal Maiden: Niche/situational unit, mostly only useful in very endgame situations where you want your AOE to go off before your opponent’s and she’s your third mage, or you badly want disarm (human synergy) for a creep round.

$3 Pieces:

Shadow Fiend: The DPS king and most popular unit in the game, most compositions that need damage (ie tanks) can just throw in SF and call it a day. Core part of any mage strategy since its ability does tons of magic damage, and it’s a warlock also. SF is just a very strong and flexible unit since it makes sense in so many situations to run it.

Lycan: Lycan is the most annoying unit in the early game for your opponents since its summons are so effective and deal damage at the end of the round on a win, and 2* lycan is just plain overpowered if you manage to highroll it early. 1* lycan needs to have tank support since he’ll have trouble getting his ult off, but 2* lycan is a frontliner that can just carry you almost by himself while forcing the rest of the lobby to either go aggressive or risk taking 10-15 damage from you a turn for a long time. Lycan has powerful tribals, but his ability loses effectiveness considerably in the endgame (unless 3*, which is rare).

Razor: A bit weaker since the nerfs, is a little inconsistent, and its 1* form is unimpressive, but don’t judge razor on its 1* form. 2* razor is an absolute core piece of the 3-mage synergy (6-mage isn’t worth it), and even on its own 2* razor does tons of damage in any mid-late army.

Terror Blade: Firstly, 1* TB is plain useless even with the slight buff he received since he can’t effectively transform, and as I mentioned before, I personally find TB/AM/demon weak. 2* TB,, however, is a very solid DPS carry. Overall though, TB is a bait in most situations, he’s just too expensive/speculative, and sitting $3 units on your bench for long periods of time is a losing strategy since it ends up costing you more gold than you might realize ($10 in bench units doesn’t cost you 1 gold this turn, it costs you 1 gold PER turn).

Viper: Pretty much only used to enable Dragon Knight, viper can actually get some work done as a 2* unit, but fairly useless unless going for at least one of its synergies.

Omniknight: Knights are pretty good, and omni is somewhat average to below average as far as knights go. His tanking and heal is pretty strong in the early-mid game, but like all other heals, falls off strongly in the late game. You’re pretty much only going to keep omni around if you’re going for 4-knights in the late game.

Venomancer: It can be useful for its tribals (beast/warlock), but venomancer itself is definitely underpowered. You might get a venomancer to snowball an early lycan start, but it’s one of the most situational pieces in the game.

Abbadon: Every time you have abbadon on the field, you should be thinking “undead” and scanning for stuff like necrophos/lich, because that is abbadon’s primary advantage over comparable units like omniknight. Abbadon as a knight is a fairly underwhelming tank, so you need to be using him either for 4-knight or undead synergy to be really useful.

Windranger: I would describe hunter as a whole as high risk / medium reward, and that is windranger’s main problem. It’s a pure DPS that doesn’t pack as much of a punch as other options, but on the flipside is usually not too hard to 2* (just expensive), and is also much stronger at 2*. Too situational for my taste, but if you think going for hunters is viable, windranger is a core piece of that strategy.

Sniper: Everything that I wrote about windranger applies to sniper, except sniper is a little worse since the dwarf synergy isn’t as useful as elves, and its ability is less consistent since it can target a summon or already heavily damaged unit.

Phantom Assassin: It jumps and kills stuff, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. It’s a decent assassin on a stats/damage basis with an elf tag, and usually goes pretty uncontested, so most assassin comps will end up with a 2* PA and feel good about it.

Slark: Bad unit since he basically transfers damage to his teammates by taking breaks from large fights, slark is only good if going for 6-assassin. Probably the worst assassin since he’s so expensive, and going for 6-assassin is already a very econ-driven strategy.

Sand King: Much maligned early on, 1* SK is hot garbage but 2* SK gives assassin lineups something they badly want (CC). My opinion on SK has changed a lot, and I now consider 2* SK a very strong member of any assassin lineup.

Lina: They buffed her, but like tiny, she still sucks. Not necessarily a mistake if you’re just handed an early 2* lina in a mage lineup, but definitely do not go out of your way to go for lina. Overall quite weak and feels like a $2 unit to me, too much of an econ drain for what you get in return.

$4 Pieces:

Kunkka: Not as powerful as once thought, kunkka still remains a core CC option in the game for armies that have a flex spot, but as people understand endgame compositions better, they also discover that kunkka simply doesn’t belong in many of them. Still, kunkka is a strong, flexible transitional piece for any army, is still a very viable option in the late endgame, and remains one of the best units in the game.

Lone Druid: The best standalone/1v1 unit in the game as well as the best tank, lone druid is a very important transitional piece that allows any army to survive better towards its endgame goals. 2* LD is easy to obtain and seldom right to turn down, but similarly, it’s also usually wrong to still be running LD in the very late game (unless 3*) since he doesn’t have useful synergies and is not much of a team fighter. Getting an early LD also opens up the option of going for the 4-druid synergy (important: not the other way around, don’t buy the 3 early game druids and pray for LD, get the LD then scramble the druids together).

Doom: Ovestatted and one of the best frontliners in the game, if you don’t have a demon yet, you can basically shove doom into any lineup to improve it. Doom’s ability is so strong that you shouldn’t fear running doom+SF if it makes sense.

Troll Warlord: One of the most divisive units right now, troll warlord is an incredible DPS and the centerpiece of the 4-troll synergy. Personally I find troll warlord (and 4-troll as a whole) to be an excellent, consistent performer, capable of complimenting a lot of tanky lineups like orc/knight/warrior. I’ve noticed warlord is more popular in pubs than private lobbies simply because troll/knight and troll/orc are pretty linear strategies, but that doesn’t make it weak.

Templar Assassin: Heavily nerfed and yet still the strongest assassin by a mile, TA’s ability makes it a great item hog. A random 2* TA even with no synergies can make some sense, as she’s an excellent solo fighter who can mess up enemy targeting or occasionally snipe a high DPS unit.

Dragon Knight: Strong build-around potential with puck/viper, but also a great unit with just a knight-based frontline, DK strategies are so varied and interesting that you could write an entire article about it since DK/puck/viper is only 3 units (it can work with knights, mage, or assassin). Not terribly useful as a 1-star, however, so going for DK is always a little bit of a gamble, especially in a lobby where it’s being contested. Ideally you’re going to want two 2* DKs in the endgame if you’re going to build around it.

Medusa: Bad as a 1* unit since she just has too much trouble surviving (which is necessary for her ability to be effective), 2* medusa has one of the best CC abilities in the game and is a core part of your late game army. The fact that she has synergy with tide, both as a hunter and as a naga, is actually one of the reasons hunter is viable in the late game. Great unit provided you can make it a 2*, but not worth buying early on since you won’t have the economy/army to support it yet. Medusa is basically the new Kunkka.

Disruptor: It was broken pre-nerf, and post-nerf it’s still somehow one of the best units in the game. With the flexibility of 4orc, many late game battles are decided by whether disruptor goes off quickly enough. You usually want to place disruptor in the front line by itself (if 2*) next to your opponent’s most important abilities and give it some mana regen.

Alchemist: Useful in tank compositions that need help getting more damage in, alchemist is pretty good even with no tribal value and even as a 1* unit, and its ability becomes better the later in the game it gets. It stacks well with undead synergy and plays well with SF since they’re both warlocks.

Necrophos: Quite powerful, especially as a 2* unit, necrophos is a strong backline unit that provides damage, support, and powerful synergies since both undead and warlock are useful.

Keeper of the Light: They buffed it, and honestly he’s not overwhelmingly terrible, but it’s still one of the worst units in the game since his ability tends to go off after you’ve already won or lost the fight. 2* KotL still has its uses, and is definitely strong in a mage lineup, but is a bit of a money sink for the power that you get in return compared to other $4 units.

$5 Pieces:

Firstly, any 2-star $5 unit will make your army a lot better and is one of your main aspirations in the endgame regardless of synergy. You should always be willing to drop one of your synergies for a 2* $5 unit, and often be willing to drop weaker synergies for a 1* $5 unit, they are all incredibly powerful.

Tidehunter: Tide is the best CC unit in the game, and in the very late game, that makes him pretty much the best unit in the game. The most consistent of the 5* units. Pairs well with medusa in the endgame as a complete CC package that also provides magic resist.

Enigma: Incredibly strong effect if you can get it off especially vs tanky frontlines (knight shields don’t affect enigma damage), and it’s also a warlock. Super strong, probably the second best overall $5 unit. I like to place enigma off to the left or right front in most situations. Special shoutout for round 40 trolls, you want to keep an enigma on the bench just for that purpose if you think you might get to round 40.

Lich: Lich has the most useful synergies of any $5 unit, but its power at 1* is a little lacking compared to the other options. Solid candidate to go for a 2* version since its power becomes much higher and lich is often not as contested.

Techies: Not as dependable as the other $5 units, but makes up for it in pure highroll potential. You might want techies in situations where you’re ahead in life but behind on army and just need one good fight to close the game out. Positioning is very important, as you want techies bomb to go off ASAP without dying or getting disabled. I try to put him near the front alongside a tank in most situations.

Gyrocopter: Like techies but more dependable/less powerful, gyro has really fast attack speed and decent range so he’s best placed somewhere near the backline to build his meter up safely. Solid as a flex spot but the other $5 units are generally a little better.

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