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Heavy Burden: How to Play Carry In Dota 2

Patrick Bonifacio  | 
Carry

Carries are most often the primary win condition for their team. (Photo courtesy Valve)

The hard carry role (known as “safe lane” in ranked role queue) is the first of the core positions in Dota 2. Carries are primarily tasked with farming creeps in the early to mid game, often leaving the fighting during those stages to other members of their team. This is because carries are the most item-dependent heroes in Dota 2, and are otherwise extremely weak without them.

They do, however, make up for this in the late game, which is when they are at their strongest. Carry heroes can put out tremendous amounts of physical damage over a short period of time in the late game, especially when they have their desired items on hand. The concept of the carry in the late game is very important considering most other core heroes fall off during that time, due to spell-based damage being more unreliable later on.

The carry role may not be the most mechanically demanding, but it is crucial to victory nonetheless. Just how does one go about playing in this position? We’re here to teach you how to farm your way to victory.

What are the basics of playing carry?

Nine out of ten times, carry heroes will take the safe lane. “Safe lane” is a term for the Radiant bottom lane and the Dire top lane, and is called as such because the lane creeps meet closer to one side’s tier 1 tower. This makes it easier for heroes to retreat to the safety of their tower in the lane—hence the name “safe” lane.

carry safe lane

This is the favored lane for carries as it allows them to farm the creep wave easily, while retaining the confidence that they can simply run back to their tower in case their lane opponents attempt to dive them.

As for the matchup itself, the safe lane is more often than not a two-on-two contest, with the carry and his support (typically the hard support) vying for lane dominance and creep kills against the enemy offlaner and soft support. The goal of the carry is to stay alive for as long as possible, avoid taking too much damage from the opposing heroes and their harassment, and gather as much gold as they can in order to get their items quickly.

Meanwhile, the enemy offlaner and soft support must put pressure on the carry and his support, or at the very least try to stay even in the creep score battle. If they are unable to do this, the carry can simply run away with the lane victory and farm to their heart’s content. It is for this reason that the mid laner can, in certain situations, rotate to assist in pressuring or ganking the carry.

While very uncommon these days, safe lane trilanes (meaning three heroes – the carry and two supports – all go to the safe lane) are also seen from time to time. With the right hero composition, safe lane trilanes can be potent, and can be a means to shut down the opposing off lane and soft support. However, trilanes tend to slow down a carry’s farming pace, since they are expected to fight in the lane rather than spend all of their time farming.

Trilanes also pose the risk of having all three heroes fall behind in levels, since they share experience points whenever they are near each other. Basically, if your trilane isn’t getting any kills in the lane, you are much better off sending the third hero to the off lane rather than continuing to slow each other down.

What constitutes a carry hero?

Those that can dish out a lot of physical damage in the late game are typical carry heroes. Carries are typically designed to be very weak in the early game, and with a preference for farming rather than fighting in the laning phase.

Carries are also quite fragile in the early game, and some even lack built-in escape mechanisms. As a result, many carries also need direct support from their teammates; this is a strategy known as “babysitting”. This is usually done by the hard support player, as most hard support heroes have kits that can help reduce the difficulty of the lane for the carry, or save the carry outright in case they get ganked.

Unlike mid heroes, however, carries don’t really want to soak up as much solo experience—though being able to is of course a nice bonus. In most cases though, carries would rather have gold over an experience boost, as they are more dependent on items than levels.

What are the types of carry heroes?

Pure Farmer

The pure farmer is the very definition of the safe lane carry. Extremely item-dependent and unable to really contribute much in the early goings, pure farmer carries mostly want to sit back and avoid fights in order to focus entirely on gathering gold and building into their core items.

They make up for their relative weakness in the early to mid game by becoming absolutely unstoppable in the late game. Pure farming carries with full inventories are sights to behold and forces to be reckoned with. The sheer DPS these heroes can put out past the 40 minute mark is frighteningly high. Some can also be almost impossible to take down depending on their innate abilities.

Examples of pure farming carries are heroes like Anti-Mage, Terrorblade, and Medusa. These heroes are designed to come online later in the game, and should not be bothered to participate in teamfights in most cases until they have their items on hand.

Brawler

Brawling carries are designed to be active on the map even without that many items early on, and can participate in engagements almost entirely from the start of the game. These heroes have abilities that give them immediate damage, sustainability, or ways to disable key targets before they can retaliate.

Brawlers are perfect for teams that look to exploit strong timing windows in order to close out games before the opposing carry can get going. These heroes spend less time in total farming creep waves and jungle camps, and instead look to push the tempo by joining their teammates early and often and taking towers down as they go.

The biggest weakness of the brawler carry is that they tend to be rather underwhelming past a certain point in the game, mostly due to their lack of late game scaling. Brawlers that are unable to close the game out can find themselves at a huge disadvantage if playing against a pure farmer. This means that brawlers are on a pretty tight timer, and must ensure victory before their respective timing windows pass.

This is not to say that they should never farm, however. Carries are carries, and even brawlers still need some items to work with. Knowing when to back off and farm the next core item and when to force the issue is the key to success when playing as a brawler.

Examples of brawling carries include Lifestealer, Weaver, and Slark. These heroes can go toe-to-toe with the enemy without requiring a full inventory, but should not be expected to carry the team in extreme late game situations.

How exactly do you play the lane as a carry?

Two to Tango

As mentioned earlier in this guide, the safe lane will typically see a two-on-two matchup, which means that you as the carry will very likely have a lane partner to play with. This means that you will have to share experience gain with them (thus reducing the experience you get per creep and hero kill), but this is made up for by the fact that they can protect you with their abilities.

Your support will take care of healing you up after taking harassment damage, or box your lane opponents out with harassment of their own. You, on the other hand, should focus primarily on scoring last hits and being efficient with your farming while exercising due caution and ensuring you aren’t caught out of position. It is very easy to give up a free kill to your lane opponents if you aren’t careful about where you place your hero—especially if your support isn’t close enough to save you.

Keeping your enemies close

Maintaining the creep equilibrium is also of utmost importance. If the creep wave veers too far from your own tier 1 tower, walking up to it to collect last hits becomes significantly riskier and more dangerous. There are a few different ways to do this, but for starters we highly recommend refraining from simply auto-attacking enemy creeps.

Doing so increases the rate at which they die, while keeping your own creeps healthier since they spend less time getting hit by enemy creeps. The end result is that your creeps will push towards the enemy tower sooner, thus making it so that you have to step into hostile territory just to farm.

via Gfycat

Asking your support to pull the small neutral creep camp closest to the tier 1 tower also helps a lot. Successfully doing this forces your next creep wave to walk into the jungle rather than towards the enemy tower, which then causes the enemy creeps to go closer to yours. This is countered by enemy heroes placing wards on the camp, though (neutral creeps will not spawn if there are units close to their spawn point), so you and your support will want to keep this in mind and not rely entirely on pulling to win the lane.

Into the woods

If all else fails, retreating to the jungle is also a viable option—though only a certain number of heroes can reliably do this without additional levels. There are two bonuses to this option: you get to farm neutral items after the 7 minute mark, and your support gets solo experience in the lane (assuming they are able to survive). The latter is especially attractive, since support heroes want levels more than anything else.

If your pick can jungle efficiently in the first ten minutes, then you’re in luck. Otherwise, you may have to ask for a lane swap so that you don’t continuously fall behind in terms of farm—or worse, die repeatedly in the lane.

Which heroes should you pick as a novice carry player?

Taking up and doing well in the carry role takes a lot of advanced game sense, and hitting maximum farming efficiency goes hand in hand with it. That said, there are some carries that are simple to play and easy to pick up. If you fancy trying your hand at playing safe lane, here are some heroes we suggest you choose:

Sven

Sven is one of the most forgiving hard carries in the game, thanks in no small part to his natural durability and straightforward playstyle. Sven’s Great Cleave (W) helps him flash farm early on, and is the key to getting big items real fast. His Storm Hammer (Q) is a potent area of effect stun that can be used in the laning phase, and is great in conjunction with Blink Dagger in the mid game.

His Warcry (E) increases the armor, movement speed, and attack damage of all friendly units around him, making him and his allies a bit stronger in combat. Finally, his ultimate ability, God’s Strength (R), pumps his attack damage up to high heaven—and allows him to wipe the floor with the enemy team.

Juggernaut

Juggernaut is a very well-balanced agility carry, capable of contributing at any stage in the game. His Blade Fury (Q) allows him to deal a good amount of magic damage in the laning phase, while also protecting him from harmful spells in the mid to late game. Paired with a hero that can keep targets locked in place for a while (i.e. Shadow Shaman or Bane), Blade Fury can help secure early kills and give Juggernaut a nice headstart.

His Healing Ward (W) gives him plenty of sustain, whether in the early game or in the closing minutes of a match. It can also be moved at a rather fast rate, allowing Juggernaut to keep the ward alive by repositioning it at will. Blade Dance (E) puts a lot more power into his attacks, greatly increasing his physical DPS.

Omnislash (R) is one of the strongest teamfight ultimates in the game, and is capable of wiping entire teams if placed correctly. During Omnislash, Juggernaut jumps from target to target, striking them as he goes—with on-hit effects like Mjollnir’s Chain Lightning and Monkey King Bar’s Pierce applying as normal while active.

Wraith King

Wraith King is the ultimate in undeath. Not only is he extremely tanky to begin with, but his ultimate ability Reincarnation (R) gives him a second chance in teamfights—as it straight up resurrects him from death with full health and mana after a few seconds. He essentially plays like a more single target-focused version of Sven, since he doesn’t have built-in cleave and his Wraithfire Blast (Q) only affects one hero at a time.

The similarities to Sven don’t end there. He also has Vampiric Aura (W) and Mortal Strike (E), which allow him to heal himself through combat and deal devastating amounts of physical damage. Although Sven doesn’t have innate lifesteal like Wraith King does, he tends to pick up lifesteal items like Mask of Madness or Satanic. Sven also favors Daedalus for the synergy between its Critical Strike and Great Cleave—the former of which Wraith King already has access to even without items.


It takes both skill and savvy in order to make the most out of the carry role, but masters of the position truly feel like gods of Dota 2. It’s not easy taking on the burden of securing ultimate victory for your team—but there are few things that feel better than knowing you were the one that lifted your comrades to triumph.

Consistency and solid fundamentals are both keys to success as a carry player. Follow our advice and put in the hours, and you’ll be demolishing your opponents in no time!

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.