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Flying Solo: How to Play Mid in Dota 2

Patrick Bonifacio  | 
Dota 2

Shadow Fiend is a classic mid hero from the early days of Dota. (Photo courtesy Valve)

Mid lane (or “solo mid”) is one of the three core positions in Dota 2, sharing that classification with the safe lane (or “carry”) and off lane roles. As the name implies, mid players will almost always be in a one-on-one matchup in the middle lane, with no assistance from other players on their respective teams.

This means that the matchup in question revolves heavily around individual skill and mechanical prowess, and is typically seen as the most impactful role in Dota 2. But just how do you play mid anyway? Read on to learn about this highly coveted spot!

What are the basics of playing mid?

The mid lane is a purely one-on-one affair, where two players on the Radiant and the Dire share the lane with no one else on either team. As one of the core roles, the mid lane is generally expected to be one of the first to impact a game of Dota 2 in a significant manner. This is because heroes in this role receive more experience points over a shorter period of time as a result of not having to split them with teammates.

Mid heroes can leverage this experience advantage in the early game—either by quickly destroying the first tower in the lane by constantly shoving the creep wave towards the other side, or by rotating to the side lanes in order to secure early kills for their team. Of course, this isn’t the only way that the role can be played. Other mid heroes are more content to simply sit in the lane in order to farm both gold and experience, which we’ll get into later on in this guide.

The mid lane is also the shortest on the Dota 2 map, and has its first pair of towers sitting closest to where the lane creeps typically meet up—which is the middle of the river that splits the map in half.

Dota 2

The middle lane is the shortest in terms of total distance and the distance between each tower.

Because of the short distance between the creep wave and the tower in the middle lane, it is very easy for midlaners on either side to retreat to the safety of their tower. This is opposed to the side lanes, where creeps meet up closer to the tower on one side rather than doing so equally.

What constitutes a mid hero?

Heroes designed to be played in the mid lane are often those that benefit the most from the solo experience that the lane offers. These heroes typically want to get levels early, in order to get more skill points that they can then invest into their abilities.

These abilities tend to be high-impact spells that can easily lead to kills in the early to mid game, such as nukes like Lina’s Laguna Blade or Puck’s Waning Rift. On the flipside, some mid heroes sport abilities that greatly accelerate their farming pace, such as Storm Spirit’s Static Remnant or Shadow Fiend’s Shadowraze. Thus, the more skill points a mid hero can invest in a short amount of time, the better.

To contrast them with carry heroes, for example, mid heroes require more experience in the early game in order to hit their respective power spikes at the optimal time. Carries, on the other hand, need gold more than experience early on—usually due to their own abilities scaling better in the late game than the early or mid game.

What are the types of mid heroes?

Tempo Controller

The tempo controller is the classic archetypal mid hero: they hit their power spike in the early or mid game, prefer to rotate to the side lanes every now and then to secure kills on the opposing team, and generally dictate the pace of the game depending on their team’s overall gameplan.

By constantly applying pressure around the map, the tempo controller forces their opponents to play reactively, causing them to commit resources like spell cooldowns, mana, and sometimes even their own lives to defend important objectives like towers and other core heroes. Heroes that can get aggressive early on fall under this category; picks like Queen of Pain, Void Spirit, and Puck—with their innate mobility and heavy burst damage spells—are quintessential tempo controllers.

These heroes weave in and out of combat often, put out lethal amounts of damage in the early and mid game, and help create space for their teammates by relieving pressure from them in turn. They are also colloquially called “gankers” because of their ability to gank other heroes fast, or “semi-carries” due to them taking on the role of the carry in the early goings of the game. By the same token however, tempo controlling mids typically should not be expected to carry the team in the late game as they are often designed to fall off significantly at that point.

Historically speaking, Dota 2 players tend to think of tempo controllers first when it comes to mid heroes. This is because tempo controllers were largely the most effective mid laners back in the early days of Dota as a whole. If you like playing aggressively, relishing in the thrill of getting key pickoffs in the early game, or just flashy heroes in general, the tempo controller is for you.

Carry

The carry is exactly what it says on the tin. These mid heroes prefer to stay away from early game fights much like a true hard carry, but also enjoy the increased experience gain from the mid lane. Such heroes tend to have area of effect damage abilities, which help them quickly clear creep waves and jungle camps. Thus, the more experience they get, the faster they can farm.

Dota 2 heroes under this category include Magnus, Storm Spirit, and the aforementioned Shadow Fiend. In order to facilitate their farm, these heroes leverage their cost-efficient spells to push the creep wave, simultaneously putting pressure on the opposing mid player to defend their tower from creeps.

Make no mistake though—carry mids still have strong mid game timings to work with. Shadow Fiend, for example, can take over games almost entirely on his own if left to his own devices at a point in time when traditional carries would prefer to farm just a little bit more.

How exactly does the mid matchup unfold?

In the past, the mid lane matchup was all about constant dueling between the two players, with the victor being the one who kills their lane opponent first. The concept of playing mid has evolved significantly from this bygone age, and is now a mix of that plus contesting creeps and applying pressure in different ways.

Despite the changes to the lane over time, however, the usual methods of playing mid have largely remained the same. Generally, you want to keep your lane opponent from getting as many last hits as possible, while making sure to keep your own creep score up. Levels are king for mid laners, which means denies are very valuable when it comes to keeping your opponent behind.

The head-to-head

Depending on your Dota 2 hero and your lane opponent’s hero, you can choose to either harass them out of the lane with regular attacks and/or abilities that deal direct damage, or put pressure on them by clearing the creep wave as soon as the creeps meet up in the middle of the river. Careful consideration of the exact hero matchup is key in this regard, as many factors between the two heroes facing off can affect the outcome significantly.

The power runes which spawn on both the top and bottom sides of the river every two minutes (shown below) also help determine the matchup. Because these runes are very close to the lane, they can be picked up easily by either hero. And depending on the rune that spawns, certain heroes can outright win the head-to-head or go for a very early gank attempt on one of the side lanes. The double damage, haste, invisibility, and illusion runes in particular can swing the tide of the matchup if used correctly.

Dota 2

The power runes spawn starting at the 2:00 minute mark, and every two minutes thereafter.

In addition, the power runes serve as an important source of health and mana regeneration for certain mid heroes—particularly those that purchase a Bottle as one of their first early game items. Refilling a Bottle with a power rune at the right time can help salvage a bad lane, further increase your own lane advantage, or simply speed up the farming pace of a carry-like mid hero. Thus, it is important to exert control of the runes if possible—though one should not trade away their life just to secure them.

Vision and creep blocking

The lay of the land in the mid lane in Dota 2 is also of great importance. Because each end of the lane is on higher ground than the river which splits it in half, maintaining vision over the ramp helps make the matchup a lot easier in the first five minutes or so.

It is strongly suggested that you as the midlaner purchase one of the two Observer Wards available at the start of the game for this purpose. There are several spots at which you can place the ward, but generally you’ll want vision over at least one of the runes and a small portion of your opponent’s high ground. Having both allows you to pull creep aggro whenever necessary (by right clicking your opponent and pulling back as soon as the creeps attack you) and keep tabs on the rune spawns at the same time.

This ward covers the top rune spawn (the wisp of light to the top left) and the high ground on the Dire side.

Another skill crucial to the mid matchup is creep blocking. This is done with the very first creep wave that spawns at the start of the game, and serves to delay the creeps’ arrival at the meeting point. Done correctly, creep blocking can give you a major advantage at the start since your creeps will be on your ramp rather than in the river or on the opponent’s ramp. To do this, you’ll need to weave left and right in front of the first creep in the wave, thus blocking their path and forcing them to stop and go.

Extra resources

Sometimes there just isn’t a way to avoid a bad hero matchup in the mid lane. And without anyone to help zone out your opponent, trying to brute force your way through the contest can put you way behind in terms of creep score and levels—or even cause untimely deaths. If your opponent picks a hero that crushes your own in the lane, consider farming the nearby jungle camps. Doing so helps you stay relevant in the game without having to force the issue against a hero that dominates yours.

When you can do this without dying to the neutral creeps yourself depends on your chosen hero’s kit of abilities, so you may not have much choice but to sit in the lane and absorb experience until you hit a level where you can jungle comfortably.

For carry mids, your goal is to push the creep wave to the other side in order to make it way safer for you to farm your own jungle camps. Doing this forces your lane opponent to choose between dealing with your creeps (thus granting you free rein over your jungle) or contesting your camps (allowing the creeps to deal chip damage to the tower).

Which heroes should you pick as a novice midlaner?

Though the mid lane in Dota 2 is perhaps the most demanding role in terms of mechanical skill, there are some picks in the position that are pretty straightforward when it comes to execution. These heroes have a very simple gameplan, and are quite forgiving in the lane matchup itself.

Thus, we recommend the following heroes to start with:

Zeus

Zeus is perhaps the easiest midlaner of all time, and has very few unfavorable matchups against other heroes. His Arc Lightning (Q) makes it dead simple to score last hits in the lane from a distance without having to risk his own life going up to the creep wave. Meanwhile, his Lightning Bolt (W) also serves as a potent harassment tool, particularly against heroes that don’t have built-in health regeneration.

Once he hits level 6, he can make an impact on the game without even leaving the lane thanks to Thundergod’s Wrath (R), which hits all enemy heroes present on the map for a moderate amount of magic damage at once. Later in the game Zeus can put out ridiculous amounts of damage in teamfights, especially with the Nimbus ability from his Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade.

Queen of Pain

Queen of Pain is a lane dominator. Her Shadow Strike (Q) deals heavy magic damage over time to a single target, making it much harder for her lane opponent to play comfortably without risking their life. Her Scream of Pain (E) aids her in flash farming creep waves, while her Blink (W) allows her to either get aggressive or escape gank attempts.

via Gfycat

Sonic Wave (R) is one of the most powerful teamfight abilities in the game thanks to its pure damage type. It tears through magic resistance effortlessly, and causes all units in its wake to get knocked back—thus acting as a soft disable.

Dragon Knight

Dragon Knight is a stalwart in the mid lane role thanks to his passive ability Dragon Blood (E). With the bonus armor and health regeneration from Dragon Blood, he is able to shrug off harassment like no other. Thanks to this he is able to comfortably sit in the lane, content to take every single creep with his decent base damage and access to a farming spell in Dragon Breath (Q).

Should his lane opponent choose to leave and gank other lanes, he can apply pressure with Dragon Form (R). This ability transforms him into a fearsome dragon with a ranged attack, that also deals damage over time to towers and other structures. This forces the opposing team to respond, typically by sending one of their heroes to defend the tower. If they don’t, Dragon Knight simply gets a free tower kill.

In the mid to late game, Dragon Knight becomes a fierce semi-carry, especially when Dragon Form is up alongside his potent stun Dragon Tail (W). As one of the longest single-target stuns in the game, Dragon Tail can help pick key targets off quickly—giving Dragon Knight’s team the immediate advantage in teamfights.

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Playing mid in Dota 2can be a daunting task, especially for newer players. The sheer amount of game sense and execution required of the role only comes with experience, however, and there simply is no replacement for practice in this regard.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the role every now and then; you might just learn a thing or two even as a support or carry player. It always helps to have perspective in Dota 2!

Patrick has been playing Dota since the dawn of time, having started with the original custom game for WarCraft III. He primarily plays safe lane and solo mid, preferring to leave the glorious task of playing support to others.