Written by Daniel “Flubb” Jacoboski
Edited by Sam “Ursinity” Holland
If you are the type who dares to defy the meta and be bold, confusing the enemy by your mere existence, and want to infuriate the enemy team as much as a Techies or Pudge can, boy, do I have a strategy for you! Despite some nerfs and changes to the hero since his heyday in 6.83, Sniper is still a very strong hero when played at his full potential. Though he can be viable in positions like mid and safe lane, today we will look at why he can be a great role 4 support in the right hands. Before r/dota2 sends a mob after me for spreading the gospel of Sniper support, it is important to note that this is not for everyone. The keys to success as a support Sniper are positioning (both Sniper himself and your Shrapnels) and knowing the potential of the enemy team in any given situation. If you are not familiar enough with all 112 heroes, this strategy may not be for you.
There are four stand-out reasons why Sniper support can work: 1.) he creates space while simultaneously able to side jungle camps, 2.) what his skills have to offer in a variety of different scenarios, 3.) how heroes match up with and against him, and 4.) his item choices can be versatile and help the team in many different ways depending on what is needed in any particular game. Now, before I corrupt people into the Flubb way of thinking, I want to make it clear that no one in a pub will believe you when you talk about Sniper support and will most likely treat it as a feeding pick. They may try to purposefully lose/feed because innovating is something only the pros are allowed to do, for some arbitrary reason. So when trying to learn support Sniper, I suggest only playing it in a stack and make sure everyone understands the strategy from the get-go; tilting your own team with weird picks from the start is a recipe for failure! I still only play with Sniper when I know for a fact I can trust the members of my lane to take advantage of the opportunities it gives. OK, so now that I feel that I have warned you enough, I will get down to explaining one of the most satisfying strategies I have ever made by showing you when and how to pick Sniper.
So the question that I get asked the most, and for good reason, is “When do you pick Sniper support?” Well, like any hero in DotA there are certain strategies you want to look out for when picking a niche hero like Sniper. The thing about Sniper support is that pretty much no one sees it coming unless you know me or have read this article because the abilities that Sniper has suggest that he is made to be a straight-forward right-clicking carry. This is made most obvious by having two passives that help his right click. This way of thinking is valuable to know, but I will take it one step further and ask “what is this ability’s purpose?” Headshot does have the percent chance to do extra damage, but the real value is that the proc is the same at all levels with the same movement speed and attack slow. So instead of having an ability that helps you harass while getting last hits, you can use it to harass constantly given the ability to proc on the hero where you’re much more likely to disrupt enemy movements in addition to dealing additional harass from the proc damage. This idea is similar to how support weaver and pre-nerf support phantom assassin work where you use the ability in conjunction with the new blight stone to reshape the definition of a support. Take aim enables you to harass much more freely than lower range lane supports who may draw creep aggro or may end up trading hits with by the offlaner. At face value, Assassinate is a straightforward magic damage based nuke that has one of the largest ranges of the abilities that are not global range; more importantly though, Assassinate gives true sight which allows the hero to spend less than the average support on true sight and can also help in the instances when the hero shouldn’t innately have the way to go invisible such as an invisibility rune. On top of all this, the cooldown of Assassinate is very short compared to many other abilities, scaling from 20 seconds at level 1 to only 10 seconds at level 3!
The ability that outshines all the others is Shrapnel. Though it may start off a little weak at level 1, over time it becomes a very deadly ability that can be used three times in succession. It is a large area slow that does has the potential to do ultimate-level damage (165/385/605/825) if the target stays in the AoE and like all of his abilities has a very long cast range (1800) to help him not over step where the Sniper should be positioned. These ideas are generally understood about the ability, but there is so much more that can be achieved with the ability with a little innovation. Since it gives sight of the effective area so you can use it as a mini scan for your cores, as a chasing ability to hunt enemies trying to escape, and on-top of that it disables enemy blink daggers too! Core Snipers usually just use it as a slow and for sight on a tower while sieging during night time. The ability also has the potential to have you help others with stacks or do them yourself with 1 or 2 Shrapnels depending on the size of the stack and what level you have Shrapnel at which gives you the opportunity to get levels and let your other support get the tome, virtually guaranteeing that both of you will be level 6 at or around 10 minutes.
Anybody that has ever played Sniper before know that positioning is the most important thing about being able to play Sniper. The difference between a bad and a good Sniper can be just 50 units of area or even not moving at all when you see your enemy turning their hero towards you. Once you understand the ways to make space out of nothing, his potential is unmatched by other slowing supports. So, Sniper support requires one to look at the support in the idea of creating space, not locking people down or saving allies lives in the traditional sense, though he is certainly capable of helping in those areas as well.
At its most basic level, Sniper is a defensive style support that is about team fight, transitioning into late game, giving sight, and, most importantly, punishing low mobility enemies. He is strongest as part of a trilane that allows him to go partial jungle or can work as part of a dual lane, but needs a partner with some true form of CC (stuns, hexes, ensnares). My objective with Sniper in lane is to harass the offlaner out of lane, forcing him to jungle and allowing me to then go jungle as well or to keeping an aggressive enemy duolane/trilane at bay with Shrapnel and by peppering them with right clicks, abusing my superior range. When versus a solo offlaner I level Headshot to lightly pepper a melee offlaner most of the time and Take Aim versus a solo ranged, I sometimes will level up Shrapnel at level 1 to add to the other CC that is offered in lane. If I level up either one of the passives first the next 2 level ups have to go into Shrapnel; Shrapnel is your bread a butter and needs to have the increased slow (15%/20%/25%/30%) available for after and during laning phase. Now, if I am going against a aggro trilane or a dual lane that looks aggressive then I upgrade Shrapnel level 1 and Take Aim at level 2 instead. Grab one level of Headshot at 4 after your second level in Shrapnel to start punishing them for staying in that lane any longer. Generally, if I am able to, I try to stack a camp for later use no matter the scenario. Once I hit level 5, I go to a camp that I have stacked a few times and lay a Shrapnel down so it barely clips the top most part of the AoE. I do this so when the creeps come after me I can take advantage of the creep leash on their way to me and back with Sniper’s long range; as the Shrapnel rains down, side step and attack evenly, letting Shrapnel do most of the damage, try to hit the ones closer towards the front of the pack to make them body block each other under Shrapnel (headshot procs will make this even more effective!). If done correctly this should give you level 6. Once you hit level 7 the distribution of spells absolutely needs to be 4/1/1/1, regardless of the opening order of spells. At level 6 and 7 your character is very strong thanks to high levels in Shrapnel and your first point of Assassinate and you should take advantage of that strength in both teamfights and skirmishes/ganks with teammates that have some set up in their arsenal. After character level 7, I generally will go for 2 more points in Take Aim to give yourself the needed distance because about that time enemies will be more well equip to close the distance between you and them. After level 9, level up Headshot the rest of the way only breaking to level Assassinate at level 11, for your right clicks are falling off at that point and need a boost. From there, you can level Take Aim one last time but you most likely already have your dragon lace by then and don’t really need the last level unless you feel like you’d benefit from it (i.e. if you’re getting jumped on despite your already long range). For players that know the limitations of Sniper very well, sometimes I have had more success with alternating back and forth between his two passives after level 7. It all depends on how quick you can get your dragon lance and if you get first blood. If you run Sniper support you should consider picking your mid last every game you do so. So if you are picking Sniper as a support, it is not that bad to reveal him early for then they will likely invest into countering you as a core when it’s really just a support. Heroes you want to stay away from are mostly gap closers that do not need blink dagger (PA, QoP, etc.). With all that said, let’s go over some examples of drafts and heroes he works well with and those he doesn’t work with!
His best allies are tanky heroes that can create a body between Sniper and the target(s) while simultaneously helping CC heroes (though with enough lock-down anything is possible). First off, Mid is where your draft should have some flexibility to shore up what the rest of the team does not offer for the fight. Personally, my favorite offlaner to play with support Sniper is good old Faceless Void. Void is the best choice since he compensates for virtually all of the weaknesses Sniper support has: he’s a tanky front liner, makes it hard to teleport away thanks to his chance for bash, has a leap that can start a fight, has a slow is that makes it hard to burst Sniper down with spells, and his greatest benefit is Chronosphere which will lock people in place for Shrapnel deal as much damage as possible in addition to free right-click damage (and hopefully Head Shot procs!). When done correctly, it is 300 damage while trapped in chrono from spell damage alone; Chronosphere also creates a very hard battle field for enemies to escape from since they are slowed from the Shrapnel in addition to all of Faceless’ slows and bashes. The damage output with this combination has the potential to be incredible! The other offlaners that work in well in support Sniper comps are Beastmaster, Clockwerk, Sand King, Axe, Spirit Breaker, and Puck. The support I have had the greatest success pairing with Sniper are definitely the inseparable brothers, Ogre Magi. Ogre Magi brings a lot to the table for a Sniper; Ogre offers a stun to stop people from teleporting out, a targetable area slow that compounds on Sniper’s slow, an attack speed and movement speed buff which both benefit Sniper, and most importantly a big tanky body to hide behind. Other supports that I have had great success with in the past are those who have either slows to work with Sniper’s slow or stuns to lock them down, notably Treant Protector, Sand King, Venomancer, Kunkka, Spirit Breaker, Vengeful spirit, Jakiro, Lion, and Ancient Apparition. Lastly, the carry needs to be someone that has a stun or slow and/or offers extra damage to their allies. My personal favorite carry to have is the Goddess of the Moon herself, Luna; The bonus damage that she offers in teamfights and laning is an enormous boon to Sniper, on top of that, her mini stun nuke which stop teleporting and causes enemies to stutter step in Shrapnel, and an ultimate that makes them fear diving her and Sniper. Heroes you do not want to draft with Sniper are heroes with the ability to put foes to sleep like bane and elder titan, and enemy team comps that the potential to steamroll over you with some momentum in the early/mid-game. So, now that you know the teammates you will need to help led you to victory, all that is left is to know the items you will need to turn him into a force to help your allies.
Starting the game you should be spending a minimum of 300 gold on support items such as wards, courier, smoke, or possible dust. With the rest of the money you have, by a set of tangos (don’t be greedy, pool some to mid) and a Ring of Protection if your carry won’t be buying an Aquila, otherwise just save your gold and purchase a Blightstone from the side shop versus a solo offlane or a Magic Stick versus a dual/tri. When you get to the safe lane try to ward above the ramp of the river connecting it to the lane; sight is very important for you to understand the limitations you will have for harassment in the early levels. Next priority after your Blightstone is always boots (and flying courier, of course). After you have the blightstone and basic boots, finish the Ring of Basilius at the side shop to give you and your carry more mana regeneration and survivability. You should not need mana regeneration before this point since Shrapnel costs only 50 mana, and you do not want to spam it at level one unless you believe you could get first blood. Next, Infused Raindrops are a necessity both to help you survive early fights against magic damage and to give you more regeneration as you start using Shrapnel more often (this is particularly true if you skipped Basilius). As you are getting these items, make sure you are always purchasing wards when you need to. If you have the Ring of Basilius, you will want to build towards the Ring of Aquila and then upgrade your boots. Go for Power Treads unless their team has a lot of harassment or global abilities (Bloodseeker, Zeus, Ancient Apparition) in which case you will need to buy Tranquil Boots. Next, you will be going for a Dragon Lance to help you participate from even farther away and give you the stats that a Sniper so needs to start being a real force to be reckoned with as the game goes longer. The path here then diverts to either Desolator, for further armor reduction for the team, or Force Staff into Hurricane Pike to help both teammates and yourself put distance between your enemies. Once you have one of these proceed to pick up the other. After all that, you’re into the realm of luxury items. Some items that I have found useful are Maelstrom, Drums, Glimmer Cape, Shadowblade, BKB, Assault Cuirass, Manta Style, Ghost Scepter, Eul’s Scepter, and Veil of Discord. All have their places in the right match and it about knowing your opponent to why they might be useful.
Hopefully, you now have the complete blueprint on how to wield the beautiful-yet-destructive power of Sniper support. I feel as though I have cracked open Pandora’s box by releasing my creation onto the world of DotA. I only wish I could do more to disrupt the idea of what the “meta” truly is. Happy Hunting!