Some observations on NP’s Sven-Invoker strategy

Team NP have put up some impressive results since forming two months ago, including a dominating run through the Boston Major qualifiers and 2nd place at their first LAN event. A lot of their success is off the back of Sven, who is their most played hero (21 games, 62% winrate). Sven has been most commonly paired with Invoker (9 games, 56% winrate); notably both heroes were taken together in the first phase three games in a row vs EG, and recently in the finals of the BEAT Invitational against Wings. In this article we explain some of the strengths of the strategy, give examples of how NP approach their games, and have a look at how Wings deal with it.

I. Strengths

Typically Sven drafts rely on securing ancient stacks and exploiting item timings to win teamfights off the back of an overfarmed Sven. Sven-Invoker, however, is very well rounded and has a lot of overall strength which gives them plenty of different ways to win the game. Moreover the two heroes have natural spell synergies and work very well together in the “macro” sense.

  1. Farm. Sven of course farms extremely quickly and efficiently with Cleave. He is also fairly tanky, and because he often farms neutrals he rarely shows on the map, which means his movements are hard to track and he is difficult to catch. Invoker can farm lanes without fear of getting picked off throughout the whole game via Forge Spirits, Alacrity, and Ghost Walk. This means both heroes farm very well together: Sven takes the safe neutral creeps (including ancients) and Invoker takes the dangerous lane farm. This makes the map unusually “big”— there is a lot of total farm on the map that they can take.
  2. Objectives. Both heroes are good at pushing buildings with high physical damage output in God’s Strength, Alacrity, and Forge Spirits, and high physical damage resistance in Warcry. This also means they can take Rosh easily.
  3. Teamfights. Invoker is probably the best teamfight spellcaster in the game, and the high amount of control he provides helps Sven, who has low mobility and can sometimes be kited. In particular Alacrity is a very good attack speed buff and is hugely valuable on Sven. They also tend to have very strong item timings — most importantly Invoker Aghanims and Sven BKB often come at the same time.
  4. Pickoffs. For a large part of the game Invoker offers high global kill potential via Sunstrike. Generally Sven will prioritise farm over kills. Once he gets Echo Sabre and Blink, however, a Blink into Storm Hammer with Sunstrike and double attack is a sure kill on almost anything — God’s Strength can also be used to ensure kills on important heroes well into the mid game. Furthermore, Sven Blink often comes with Invoker Boots of Travel, which can allow isolated pickoffs to turn into tower pushes.

Just two hero picks make the draft already well rounded, and with few glaring weaknesses. The biggest one I can see is that both Sven and Invoker can be punished in lane. Although Sven has decent laning he can be pressured by strong aggressive offlanes — particularly anything involving Batrider or Sand King, and it is possible for Invoker to win almost any matchup mid (even when slightly unfavoured) but he is very susceptible to support rotations. These weaknesses can be addressed in the support and offlane picks. In 7 of the 9 games NP pick at least one high impact early game support — Ogre x3, Enchantress x2, Undying x2, Treant Protector.

(In general of course these strengths are only important in the context of the game — the offlane/support picks and opposing heroes are always relevant)

Overall the strategy is a combination of map pressure and outfarm with two scaling cores, rather than overly reliant on a very farmed Sven. If a team focuses too hard on shutting down Sven’s ancients then NP can trade by taking objectives on the other side of the map; conversely if they commit too heavily in defending objectives then they cannot stop Sven and Invoker from farming.

II. Taking initial objectives

This is the pattern of a typical smoke that lots of teams and drafts like to do. The goal of the smoke is to take the Radiant tier one tower rather than kill any specific hero, but a kill into tower is ideal.

Worth noting that during the smoke Sven can farm in the general area, and so can assist if a fight breaks out or in any subsequent tower push

There’s nothing immediately special about this picture. After a couple of examples, however, we will see that this smoke (and corresponding smokes toward other lanes) is very easy and efficient for a Sven-Invoker draft to execute and has a high chance of success.

The timing of the smoke occurs around an offlane or support power spike, for example an offlane ult off cooldown or a support level 6. In this game vs EG, NP smoke soon after Slardar hits 6. At this point Invoker has very high damage and good tower push, so NP get both the kill and the tower.

Watch how Sven farms ancients while the smoke is happening [24:27->29:23]

NP can smoke like this to any lane. They will almost always make a similar smoke towards the mid lane, which is generally more contested than the sidelanes and difficult to push.

In this game vs Infamous, NP repeatedly smoke towards the Invoker until they get a high value kill with Beastmaster Roar. Even though they are behind on networth NP are still strong enough to successfully push the mid tower, and all this happens while Sven is farming — first top lane, then he ports mid in case he is needed to help push, then ancients.

Keep an eye on Sven (dark green) [24:45->26:30]

Although similar smokes happen in pretty much every game of Dota, with Sven-Invoker these smokes are very strong for several reasons.

  1. Low committal. Invoker has a lot of damage at this point in the game — stun into Sunstrike is almost a kill on pretty much anything. This means that usually only MSS + one support need be smoked up. It also means that while the smoke is happening NP remain efficient — they are always farming on their positions 1 and 2.
  2. Hard to predict. Low committal smokes are generally hard for the other team to see coming, because fewer heroes smoked means more heroes showing on the map. Furthermore, both Sven and Invoker are “doing what they should be doing” — Sven is farming either a lane or neutrals and Invoker is pushing a lane — on the other team’s minimap nothing unusual is happening.
  3. High reward. There is a high chance of a kill because someone is forced to defend Invoker’s push. In addition there is a high chance of a tower kill, because Invoker is so good at pushing (Sven can also join the push if need be).
  4. Low risk of enemy counterplay resulting in a bad trade. An Invoker pushing a lane is a very vulnerable, high value hero. Smoking towards the Invoker protects him from potential enemy ganks. At the same time Sven is farming neutrals or a secure lane, and so positions 1 and 2 are unlikely to get killed, as is position 3 (who is in the smoke).

(This means that, for the enemy team, Invoker pushing a lane at the same time as an early game offlane/support power spike is the biggest indication of a smoke towards that lane — that’s got to be pretty difficult to spot)

We see this idea of “smoking to where you are most vulnerable” again later in NP vs Infamous. This is a great play by NP — they know Slardar has Blink, they show Invoker on the top lane as Naix is respawning, and then smoke towards Invoker expecting the Slardar gank.

Watch the minimap. Follow Slardar (orange) and Ogre (light blue). The missed scan means that actually Ogre blocks the Radiant smoke while trying to ward — but the idea is there. [28:50->29:23]

III. Winning the game

Because of Sven and Invoker’s excellent tower push, the strategy has a very clear win condition in a very large timing window: win a fight on the enemy side of the map. [1, 2]

An interesting observation is that, with the exception of one crazy game vs Elements, NP have never relinquished a meaningful networth advantage. The sample size is of course very small (9 games) so take this with a grain of salt, but it does suggest that if this strategy gets ahead then it is very hard to stop.

This should not come as much of a surprise. Drafts that are good at farming and good at taking objectives are usually hard to stop when they get ahead, as they use a farm advantage to take objectives, which gives them more of the map, which turns into a bigger farm advantage and so on. The opposing team must get kills — either find a pickoff or win a teamfight. Sven and Invoker are difficult to catch so high value pickoffs are low-percentage. At the same time they themselves have very good catch and very good outpush, which gives them a tight grip on the map, in turn this gives them the freedom to pick and choose when and where teamfights happen. They can then exploit item timings (“when”) to guarantee a teamfight win on the other side of the map (“where”), or if the opposing team refuses to give up high ground advantage, Sven and Invoker can farm the whole map until they have an overwhelming networth lead.

In the late game, farm and tower push generally matter very little, because (1) heroes become slot limited and as the total networth increases the proportional networth difference decreases, and (2) heroes get much stronger than towers. Games are more often decided by how well teams push creep waves and who wins teamfights. Sven-Invoker is very good at both, and so even if the game goes late the strategy is still very strong. [1]

IV. Playing from behind

One of the biggest strengths of the strategy is that when playing from behind there is almost always still a win condition: maintain farm relevance on both Sven and Invoker. No matter how late the game gets or how far behind on total networth or objectives, a relevant Invoker can find a way to win teamfights and keep some semblance of map control.

In practice this is essentially just “split push until you can win a teamfight or are forced to take one”. The only unusual thing is how the heroes work together so that both Sven and Invoker can find farm. Invoker pushes lanes. This gives Sven enough map to farm neutrals. Sometimes Invoker will force reactions that give space for Sven to outpush lanes on the other side of the map.

Invoker pushing top lane means that Sven can farm the left hand side of the map relatively safely. Dire must respond to the pressure at top, which would allow Invoker to pressure bot and Sven to outpush mid [NP vs Inf, 18:16]

In NP’s Boston Major qualifier group stage game vs Infamous they come out of the lanes quite far behind, and for a large part of the game Sven and Invoker split push while Infamous take all outer towers. They do this very successfully (only one death on Sven after the laning phase, zero on Invoker, while trading evenly on towers and farm) despite Infamous having good pickoff— Batrider, Puck, and Bounty Hunter.

This is ~3mins after the picture above, and notice how well NP have controlled the map and traded objectives [NP vs Inf, 21:55]

In this picture the mid and top lanes are pushing towards Dire. Invoker safely farms neutrals “behind the lane”. Sven is bot because the mid and top pressure is likely to force a Dire reaction, which would give him the space to push the bot lane safely. In case Dire make a move on Sven, who is more vulnerable than usual as he is farming lane creeps rather than neutrals, NP move their supports and offlane through the Radiant jungle to cover the bottom lane. Nyx and Witch Doctor are picked off but Sven pushes two waves bot and Invoker gets the top tower.

[35:28 -> 36:08]

This whole game is great to watch if you want to learn how to split push without getting picked off — watch how Invoker stays out of vision while pushing lanes slowly with Forge Spirits, and when Batrider and/or Puck shows he punishes by pushing hard with hero and summons. Envy and Aui are probably some of the best players in the world at applying lane pressure without risking their hero.

Because both Sven and Invoker are farming NP have a much higher chance of winning a crucial teamfight that will get them back into the game. If the draft is too reliant on Sven then it is possible he gets ignored and kited in the fights (sometimes even through a full BKB duration), but a farmed Invoker provides the control necessary for Sven to connect on damage.

Another small observation is that a farmed Invoker forces enemy cores to buy BKBs, often at a time when Sven’s initial burst is still a huge threat.

At the start of this clip have a look at both the networths and the lane positions — Sven and Invoker are on top of farm and the sidelanes are on the Dire side of the map. The persistent sidelane pressure forces Infamous to push mid. This is the very best place for NP to take a fight — high ground gives a huge advantage of course, but also pushing the mid lane makes it a lot harder for Batrider to find a catch as he is always in Radiant vision. Also notice how Luna and Batrider feel forced into BKBs that do absolutely nothing in the fight (Sven has too much damage that is guaranteed to connect in his first jump, and in this particular case Spirit Breaker is very good anti BKB).

Watch how NP manage to catch Batrider (dark green) separated from his team because they have full vision of him — this is the best way they could possibly start the fight [37:50->38:40]

V. Wings’ answer

NP [dotabuff.com]
Wings [dotabuff.com]

Most recently NP drafted Sven-Invoker against Wings at the BEAT Invitational. Remember that the strategy is a combination of outfarm and map pressure; broadly speaking Wings’ idea was to (1) trade farm, and (2) contest objectives.

  1. Trade farm. Instead of trying to contest NP’s early game stacking, Wings focus on their own jungle and ancient stacks so that Alchemist can accelerate faster than Sven. Once Alchemist gets Radiance it is very difficult for Sven to ever catch up.
  2. Contest objectives. Wings have excellent tower defending spells (Splinter Blast, Acid Spray, Fade Bolt), and in Slardar and Naix they have two cores who are very strong at fighting in the early and mid game. Slardar has high mobility early game with Sprint and later with Blink, and a very low cooldown AoE stun that is always valuable. Naix has innate spell immunity via Rage, and Open Wounds allows him to stay on a target in the early game (not enough farm for kiting or saving tools eg. Force Staff, Ghost Scepter).

This approach means Wings go into the mid game with a significant networth lead, but also an insignificant tower deficit. Because they never lose control of the map the Alchemist, Naix, Slardar tricore is very effective — Alchemist constantly pressures lanes and so Slardar has a lot of freedom to make moves with infested Naix. Wings can then exploit pickoffs or item timings to take teamfights and objectives, and end the game with an overwhelming farm lead as Alchemist approaches six slots.

Wings networth advantage [opendota.com]

Although NP take an excellent fight in the midgame and almost go on to win, the game goes mostly as planned for Wings. Let’s have a look at some specifics.

Here NP do the usual smoke toward the mid lane Invoker and it is perfectly executed — they get the kill they want (Alchemist) at the best place (he’s right next to the tier one tower), as well as an extra kill on Rubick. You would expect them to turn these kills into a successful tower push, but Wings’ draft allows them to defend.

Note that unusually Sven joins the smoke — NP have low damage supports and they need Sven to kill an Alch with ult [23:41->24:45]

In the next clip Wings “snap smoke” — they see two heroes bot, scan Sven at Dire’s ancients and Slardar ult tracks Invoker’s movement to defend top — so the Invoker is a very high percentage, high reward, opportunistic kill.

NP trade with the Radiant bot tier one and continue pushing. Again, instead of securing the Dire top tier one, Wings scramble to defend the bot lane. Note that despite the Invoker pickoff this is not a clear cut fight for Wings to take: Rubick has no mana, Winter Wyvern has half hp and mana; NP have every single cooldown. Still Wings are very decisive and Wyvern manages to position the fight so that it is very favourable.

Look out for the Radiant scan on Dire ancients, and the two Dire heroes showing on bot lane. This information allows Wings to smoke top. [25:40->27:18]

Blink on Sven is an excellent tool that allows NP to start fights and get pickoffs without overcommitting. This is a similar situation to the previous clip, the difference is that the Blink allows them to catch the most important tower defender — Winter Wyvern — and without using any important spells. Wings again try to defend but Wyvern is a big kill (probably the best) and NP use their spells perfectly.

Follow Sven (dark green) on the minimap at the start of the clip [28:40->29:18]

From 20mins to ~25mins NP group up and try to force towers with Aegis. For me this is a mistake and causes them to lose their grip on the map.

NP put themselves in a position where they have to make low-percentage plays — to push successfully they have to find a catch on Wyvern and/or Alchemist — it’s very difficult and Wings give them no opening. If they instead spread out and farm then Wings is the team forced into making moves with Slardar and Naix, and NP have a lot of tools to protect the map — Treant Protector, Beastmaster hawks, there should’ve been a gem for sure. Their tentative five-manning actually makes them lose the map as Wyvern defends, Alchemist split pushes, and Slardar-Naix are free to set up for openings.

Slardar-Naix (purple) are allowed to move top, NP cannot push into WW and Alch, Wings find the pick when NP inevitably split up [32:51->33:56]

I could well be wrong here though. The knee-jerk reaction to playing vs Naix bombs is to group up — in any game, let alone against Wings. Some of the moves Wings do abuse conventional wisdom to find openings and they play the map like no other team in the world, so it may be that grouping up and giving Faith_bian no opening is the right play. Let’s have a cursory look at a type of move Wings make.

NP outpush top lane, Wings have good vision and try to cut them off as they retreat. Notice how NP are far more concerned about the top lane entrance to the Dire jungle than the mid lane entrance, because they believe the mid creep wave pushing into Radiant “covers” the Dire jungle entrance.

Watch the minimap. Follow Slardar (purple) and also Treant (brown). [42:32->43:06]

This is how I think most teams would execute the move:

First Alchemist pushes out mid, then Slardar-Naix move behind the mid creep wave through the Dire jungle toward top. If Warlock retreats when Alchemist shows mid then he is safe.

However Wings play “ahead of the lane”.

First Slardar-Naix wraps around the mid creep wave into the Dire jungle (always out of Dire vision). Then Alchemist ports mid and pushes— this forces Warlock back where he is cut off by Slardar.

This is very unusual — I’m not sure if any other team in the world is doing this kind of thing — which makes it very difficult for NP to read the map. Things are happening about five seconds faster than they expect.

[Note after watching some of the Summit 6] Some teams are doing sort of similar things but I’ve not seen anything as pronounced or quickly executed. For example: (1) Ehome vs VP, the exact same move as above but about two seconds slower, which costs them a kill. Compare with (2) Wings vs NP, this is a pretty crazy move and they end up way behind enemy lanes, even though they don’t get a kill they clear almost the whole map and get a big farm win.

Regardless, NP never get a good grip of the map (no gem, poor vision) from about 20mins onwards, and this contributes in part for their eventual loss (although I think the game was essentially decided on teamfight execution).

VI. Further questions

What heroes other than Sven and Invoker would work in a similar strategy? NP seem to interchange Invoker and Mirana, but I think that’s actually quite different (much worse objective pressure but more damage in teamfights and better lane pressure).

What else is good against it? [1, 2]

How do other teams run the same/similar strategies? For example VP [1, 2]

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