Artwork by Matt Gretton, more here.
With a major patch around the corner, the Dueling Fates patch slated on November 1st, the meta is on its last days. But even through an aging patch there seems to be room for new quirks, as two recent minors, Starladder and PGL Bucharest, surfaced an old hero into the meta, Pugna. He was the 3rd most picked hero a SL and the 3rd most contested hero at PGL Bucharest (4th most picked).
Pugna’s pick rate spiked during the SL minor. Despite an expiring meta, pub players continue to experiment.
The picks on the Minor stages sparked a renewed interest for Pugna in pubs. His pick rate has settled since, but he peaked at a 9.48% pick rate, a near 23% increase for a hero in the middle of the pack, in terms of popularity.
The meta continues its churn of heroes and strategies even if there isn’t a major patch change, and Pugna rose as a result. In general, Pugna has a natural win rate advantage over the usual suspects: Skywrath Mage, Outworld Devourer, Necrophos. Heroes with high-cost spells, making them susceptible to Nether Ward. For the current meta, that means popular picks like Lich, Venomancer, and Necrophos.
While he can used as a counter-pick, he’s also equipped with a magical damage skillset that’s both sustainable and has high-burst potential. In the past, that’s what made him useful as a tower pusher, but players today are finding more ways to use him.
Traditionally, Pugna is a mid or safe lane hero. He benefits from the levels, and his strong nuke and long range auto attack (range increased from 600 to 630 in 7.06d) makes both him an able laner and a threat to enemy towers if his lane opponent rotates.
Pugna used to fill a spot for pushing lineups or when his Nether Ward was a convenient counter against certain heroes. That was his niche. Hit towers and counter heroes. What flew under the radar was his magic damage output in other contexts. Yes, Aghanim’s Scepter upgraded Life Drain can deal 3000 damage when fully channeled, before magic damage reductions, but is that enough to warrant a pick?Na’Vi.General gets an ultra kill, making use of Pugna’s magical damage burst. He dealt 73k damage in the game.
The answer seems to be yes. He doesn’t have to be part of a pushing lineup to rationalize his pick in a lineup. He does enough damage that even picking him as a support, underleveled and underfarmed, can be useful. Kuroky has taken Pugna as a support, where he was able to farm the jungle and pick up an Aghanim’s Scepter, in addition to the 27 wards he purchased that game.
Both Liquid.Mind_Control and EG.Universe have taken him into the offlane, both building towards Aghanim’s Scepter. Offlaners usually contribute utility and team fight ultimates, but Pugna just does so much damage on his own, along with the persistent threat of chipping away towers, that he doesn’t have to fulfill those responsibilities.
Mushi’s safe lane build in Mineski’s PGL match against Immortals. It doesn't always have to be about the Scepter, as Mushi built towards a Rod of Atos as his first core item.
The introduction of talents and the strength changes in 7.06 helped mitigate Pugna’s weak HP pool. Out of all the Intelligence heroes, he has the 2nd lowest Strength gain (Enchantress with the lowest). Even though our pub stats show that +3 Mana Regen has a slight disadvantage in win rate, it’s a negligible amount. Pro players across the board opt for the health talent.
It’s also no surprise that pubs favor Nether Blast cooldown over Decrepify duration. One skill is just easier to use than the other. Decrepify is both a valuable offensive and defensive skill, and the duration buffs up that bit of utility. That’s more time your ally can be safe, and more time to burst down an enemy.
As for the final talent, it’s a tossup between them. Nether Blast isn’t as effective late game, when the skill is more effective and mowing down early towers. That 100 damage won’t be that much more chip damage on T3 towers. Compare this to the Life Drain heal, which at this point in the game you’ll most likely have an Aghanim’s Scepter to maximize the ultimate’s utility. There is a case for both, but Life Drain will work in more situations.
There’s one more week before a major patch is set to change the meta once again. Pugna hasn’t necessarily dominated in the games he’s been, and since his time in the spotlight is brief and late, he might not be on the nerfing stands, just yet.