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Killshot: Why Support Sniper is Invading Your Pubs in 7.26c

Patrick Bonifacio  | 
Although we've seen much stranger things before, support Sniper is the latest and greatest in unorthodox strategies (Image via Valve)

Although we've seen much stranger things before, support Sniper is the latest and greatest in unorthodox strategies (Image via Valve)

Over the course of Dota 2’s rich history, Kardel Sharpeye the Sniper has typically been played in the safe lane or in the mid lane roles. Leveraging his long attack range, he stays behind his team taking potshots at the enemy squad, allowing him to deal plenty of physical DPS from a safe distance.

This has remained unchanged pretty much since the dawn of time—until International 7 champion and current Team Nigma captain Kuro Salehi “KuroKy” Takhasomi showed the potential of playing Sniper in the support slot at ESL One Los Angeles. Although he and the rest of Nigma ended up losing the series they employed it in, it was clearly effective nonetheless and has definitely inspired pub players to try it out in their own games.

Filtering results for Sniper in the offlane (technically as the soft support/position 4 since that position typically goes to the offlane) on Dotabuff indicates that although his pick rate in that lane is low at around four percent, his win rate there is over 55 percent.

And strange as it might seem, support Sniper is a legitimate strategy with several reasons as to why it’s so good—backed by statistics as well. We’re here to tell you what those are and how to make the most of this new trend to gain MMR.

Scepter of the Marksman

Let’s first address the elephant in the room: yes, this build is enabled primarily (but not entirely) by the Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade rework in Patch 7.23 from November last year. It’s kind of amazing that it’s taken almost six months for someone to discover its utility, but that’s a story for another day.

For now, let’s take a look at what it does exactly. With an Aghanim’s Scepter equipped, Sniper’s ultimate ability Assassinate (R) has its cast time halved from two seconds to one and its stun duration from 0.01 seconds to a whole 1.5 seconds. This effectively allows Sniper to function much like Beastmaster with his Primal Roar (R), but from 3,000 units away instead of almost melee range. In essence, this upgraded Assassinate retains Sniper’s insane reach while giving it plenty more utility in teamfights and gank attempts.

Now, on paper this doesn’t seem like much, especially considering that Aghanim’s Scepter is an item worth 4,200 gold. But the upgrade is just the beginning. It’s actually the many other factors surrounding Sniper as a whole that makes it work wonders—which we’ll be getting into with the rest of this guide.

Rapid Reload

The first of these factors is the level 10 talent that grants 15 percent cooldown reduction off the bat. Since cooldown reduction talents usually don’t get unlocked this early in general, having it at level 10 allows Sniper to be incredibly active with his first ability Shrapnel (Q). This is especially noticeable in the laning phase, since Shrapnel slows for as much as 30 percent in a huge area of effect.

Having three charges to start with makes Shrapnel immediately oppressive, and gives Sniper the power to cover a lot of ground. The vision it provides is the icing on the cake, and good placement of the ability prevents targets from juking into the trees under the cover of the fog of war. With the ideal lane partner (say, Slark or Riki), Shrapnel poses a serious kill threat from the get-go.

Adding the cooldown reduction talent to it just tips it over the edge, making it the ideal early game ability. This also applies to Assassinate later on, which can be cast every eight seconds for 650 damage and a 1.8-second stun—all from a very comfortable 3000 range. This annoys enemy heroes during high ground sieges to no end, and a key target gets caught out of position with a well-timed Assassinate, the rest of Sniper’s team can move in for a quick and decisive pickoff to start the teamfight.

Sniper can lock targets down from an absurd distance every eight seconds.

Sniper can lock targets down from an absurd distance every eight seconds.

As a side note, the cooldown reduction talent also opens up an avenue that isn’t really available to any hero in the current metagame: Hand of Midas. Sniper is pretty much the only hero that can make good use of Midas nowadays since his talent makes it a lot more efficient and allows him to pay it off much faster once he hits level 10. The experience multiplier from Midas also allows him to get to that level sooner. This should not be your focus, though, and we recommend this only if you get a really good start.

Clips for Creep Waves

The existence of Shrapnel actually makes Midas somewhat irrelevant, since Sniper doesn’t really have problems farming items even in the soft support slot. The consistent damage of Shrapnel combined with its low mana cost makes it an efficient farming spell and helps Sniper clear creep waves and neutral creep camps quickly.

The former is very important in the deathball-heavy metagame, as shoving waves towards towers forces teams to respond by sending at least one person to shove it back. Sniper and his team can exploit such a reaction by immediately taking a favorable engagement with a numbers advantage backing them up.

Meanwhile, the latter means that Sniper can easily stack creep camps with his attack range and clean them up with well-placed Shrapnels. This fuels his item progression and allows him to hit a good Aghanim’s Scepter timing.

Potshots Galore

Of course, Shrapnel and Assassinate aren’t the only things Sniper has going for him in the support role. Headshot (E) allows him to trade and harass fantastically well in the lane, as the bonus damage and momentary movement speed slow can be irritating to melee heroes in particular. Proper positioning in the lane is key here, as Sniper himself does not have high base movement speed and has no way to escape sudden kill attempts.

With enough Headshot procs, Sniper can easily build a sizable health advantage between the two sides in the lane. Melee carries, in particular, will be hesitant to go up to the creep wave in fear of taking damage, and possibly getting gone on thanks to Shrapnel. If you are good at keeping the pressure while maintaining your own health, your lane opponents will quickly realize that they cannot play in the lane without constantly endangering themselves.

The best partner for Sniper in this regard is Tusk, whose ability Tag Team (E) has ridiculously good synergy with Sniper’s kit in the early game. The sheer speed control and damage output of this combination become evident straight away, with a serious power spike at level 2 that they can immediately exploit.

Sharpeye’s Vision

Sniper’s vision game is the last of the factors that allow him to be such an effective support. We mentioned earlier in the guide that Shrapnel helps with kill attempts in the lane thanks to the vision it provides, but it should never be underestimated in the later parts of the game. Its vision is very valuable in the mid game especially, since teams will start to invade each other’s jungles at that point.

Early game dives are likewise made much easier by Shrapnel. Under the cover of night, Sniper and his team can sneak around and pressure mid laners who retreat to the nearby neutral creep camps in particular. Sniper himself can stay relatively safe thanks to his vision and effective range, allowing his teammates to box out and do most of the dirty work.

And speaking of night time, another underrated aspect of Sniper is his superior natural night vision. Compared to other heroes who have 800 units of night vision, Sniper has 1400—which is almost as much as that of Slark and Night Stalker. This gives Sniper a unique advantage every five minutes of elapsed game time, as he can scout ahead in relative safety and even shut down the enemy’s ward game without risking his life. And of course, his extended night vision also makes it easier to know where exactly to place additional Shrapnel charges when chasing targets down.

Make sure to abuse this advantage as much as possible. Roaming around in the jungle at night time can present gank opportunities, particularly against heroes that are vulnerable to early rotations. In the mid game, your long line of sight can also allow your team to initiate from afar and start each teamfight or gank attempt on your own terms.

True Aim

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, we can now move onto the actual game plan for support Sniper and the execution thereof. As mentioned in the introduction to this guide, you’ll want to go with your team’s offlaner in most cases. There will be instances where you’ll have a safe lane hero that pairs well with Sniper in your draft, though, so this isn’t a hard and fast rule.

Generally, you should open with Boots of Speed and a set of Tangoes at the start of the game. Put your first skill point into Headshot, as you will be leveraging the bonus movement speed from the boots in order to trade and harass with your lane opponents. Headshot is also much better than Shrapnel at level 1 because casting Shrapnel will disturb the lane’s creep equilibrium too much early on. So keep it simple and go for Headshot first then take Shrapnel at level 2.

You’ll want to max Shrapnel first, though, as its scaling per level is really good despite having a fixed mana cost of 50 at all levels. Keep Headshot at level 1, but don’t forget to get a value point in Take Aim at level 4.

If the lane gets pushed towards the enemy tower, your task is to pull the hard jungle camp closest to your tier 1 tower. This isn’t really specific to Sniper himself, but is just a good practice in general so that you aren’t always playing in dangerous spots in the lane. You don’t have to use Shrapnel for this, though it may be worth doing so if the camp in question is stacked.

From there, you can try rotating to other lanes as you inch your way to level 6. This pretty much depends on the opponents’ draft, though, so be warned that assessing whether or not this is a good idea is not an exact science.

Heating Up the Barrel

As you approach the mid game, you should have yourself some Tranquil Boots and a Magic Stick in preparation for the Aghanim’s Scepter. Tranquil Boots allows you to recover health from tanking creep stacks (which you’ll be doing a lot of while farming the Scepter), so they’re our recommendation for your Boots of Speed upgrade. Ship out Clarities as needed to keep your farming pace up, and to ensure that your mana pool is always topped up—just in case you need to TP to a lane in order to respond to a gank.

There is a pit that pub players tend to fall into when playing support Sniper, however. A lot of them tend to neglect helping their team in the early game and focus solely on rushing Aghanim’s Scepter. While it is true that Scepter is a huge part of what makes this build work in the first place, it isn’t everything. The rest of Sniper’s kit should still be used to secure early kills and generally stop greedy lineups from just farming to their hearts’ content.

If you succumb to the tunnel vision and do nothing but farm for your Scepter, your team can very quickly get overwhelmed by a draft that can fight early and often. You should always be checking the minimap so that you’re aware of the enemy team’s movements. Respond accordingly when needed, and your teammates will get the space they need.

Shooting Gallery

Once you have your Scepter, the real fun begins. Look for opportunities to get pickoffs on the map, especially at night. Assassinate will feel like it has no cast time whatsoever at this point, so there’s not a lot to think about; just let it rip if there is anyone out of position or someone you need to disable right away such as a hero with a channeling spell.

The extremely low cooldown and absurd range of the spell means that you can spam it at will—especially with the bonus mana from the Scepter. Of course, you should still try to stagger the stun from Assassinate accordingly, unless your team needs the damage right then and there. Exercise restraint in order to maximize the time the target is disabled. Oh, and you can even cast it point-blank if someone is chasing you down.

In the late game, your job is to stay out of sight or reach, depending on what your opponents have at their disposal in terms of gap closers. Hide in the trees during teamfights if possible, or just stay as far back as you can without making yourself useless. A late Blink Dagger purchase can work wonders here, as it allows you to instantly teleport to the treeline or create distance as needed. The added mobility is also great since Sniper’s movement speed is terrible as said before.

You’ll likely notice that the frequent casting of Assassinate in engagements causes issues with your mana pool. 275 mana per shot is no joke, after all, and Sniper can easily find himself with no gas in the tank when it matters most. Aiming for a Kaya and Yasha solves this problem nicely, cutting the mana cost of the spell down to around 240 while also increasing the damage output.

If your team is facing a high ground push, that is your time to shine. Sniper is already one of the best at defending the tier 3 towers, a fact made even more obvious by Assassinate. Melee carries, in particular, will be very afraid of walking up the ramp to hit the tower, as they can easily get stunned long enough to get picked off. Shrapnel prevents them from escaping if they have no magic immunity or something like a Force Staff, so be sure to use your two spells in conjunction.

Done correctly, you and your team can stage a comeback effort with well-placed Assassinates. Don’t be disheartened by a net worth lead on the other side; hunkering down with support Sniper can pay off over time.

As a final note, the talents of choice for this build after level 10 are all the Shrapnel-related ones. The others either pale in comparison or are better suited to core Sniper (i.e. +30 Attack Speed).

***

And there you have it. You might get yourself reported for trying this strategy out, but not more than the Wraith King build that was popular several weeks ago. More and more pub players are starting to believe in support Sniper, and for good reason.

Good hunting out there, soldier.

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.