On paper, Lion seems like an incredible hero. Multiple disables, infinite mana, and a scaling ultimate that is equal parts satisfying to use and highly effective at taking out important targets. It’s no wonder that Lion has been a popular pick for both support players and core players farming role queue tokens. Lion also happens to be one of the most despised heroes to team with for most players as well.
You see, Lion is a lot like an opening act for your favorite band. He takes up space and time, offers little value in the guise of being useful, and probably ends up killing the mood with awkward, off-rhythm playing more often than hyping things up. It turns out that winning games requires more than just some cool spells. As Dota continues to evolve players find new ways to utilize heroes and for Lion, it is past time that we explore the hero beyond a "Blink, stun, Hex, Finger, and die" playstyle.
All heroes have strengths and weaknesses and the best heroes in Dota are the ones where people have figured out how to capitalize on those strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Take Sven for example. Even after the new “Superman” Aghanim’s Scepter was introduced the hero still struggled to find relevance for a few months. It wasn’t until players started to figure out what the right item order and talent choices were that we started to feel the true strength of Sven as a hero.
I like to start theory crafting on a hero by listing the pros and cons of picking it.
Looking at this list, it becomes immediately clear that there are several fairly daunting issues with Lion as a hero. We need stats but lack the farming ability to acquire these items. We are good at ganking but lack the mobility to do so effectively. We can scale well but have a hard time surviving long enough to do so by winning fights or farming safely. Finally, we have a high impact ultimate but can barely ever use it because of a long cooldown early in the game.
Looking at the most used items on Lion there is a pretty clear trend of focusing on fixing the hero’s poor mobility. This makes a lot of sense as good mobility not only allows us to utilize Lion’s disables and burst damage to find kills. Mobility also often equates to survivability but also means that you must rely entirely on good positioning to have any impact in the game. It also could be said that almost all of the popular items for Lion address the issue of survivability/mobility and not much else.
There are a couple of key items here in this list that I want to focus on initially that hold underrated value for Lion. Aghanim’s Scepter is every Lion player’s dream purchase but even so I think the item is undervalued. Despite the hefty price tag of 4200 gold, Agh’s solves a whole host of issues at once and this is why I think it is possibly the most important item to buy for anyone trying to make Lion a viable hero. Not only does the item give us some much-needed stats to survive longer and cast more spells, it also turns Finger of Death into a true team fighting spell that can rapidly scale to become a real problem for enemies to deal with. The cooldown reduction also means that you can begin to farm creep waves with the spell or throw it out with more recklessness to try and snipe a random kill and gain further damage stacks. Aghanim’s is definitely not a first item purchase
Glimmer Cape is another item that gives Lion exceptional value for the cost. In addition to being a survivability item, it lets Lion sneak up on people while invisible to close the gap for a stun or Hex. The new version of Glimmer Cape also provides attack speed which means that Lion’s ridiculous +70 damage talent finds a lot more value as well. It is this talent that we want to partially capitalize to help fix the issues of farming speed and tower pressure.
I think it would be foolish to discount the value of items like Aether Lens, Blink Dagger, and Force Staff on Lion but I also don’t think you need all three. Lion gets a pretty solid cast range talent at level 15 and if he already possesses mobility, do you really need cast range to blink Hex someone? Similarly, Aether Lens gives Lion mana regeneration and a bigger mana pool but with Mana Drain the regen is fairly irrelevant and an Aghanim’s Scepter provides a comparable amount of mana to the hero.
The general idea of Lion would need to change significantly as well. A hero that currently falls into the set up and die role would need to become more of an integral part to the team. Building early stacks of Finger of Death and baiting enemies by being surprisingly tanky are areas where Lion hasn’t really seen a ton of exploration. I could see items like Veil of Discord, Spirit Vessel, or several of the aura items being of great use to this style of Lion. Other tools to survive and tank up such as Heaven’s Halberd, Bloodstone, Rod of Atos, or Guardian Greaves could also go a long way to making Lion more viable in a new role.
Speaking of the role, to access the great talents that Lion has to offer we can’t just be under-leveled, farmed, and dying every fight. I think it is definitely worth exploring Lion in core roles like mid or the offlane. If you are a support player wanting to stick to your guns then treating Lion more like a late-game scaling hero such as Rubick, Phoenix or Warlock would seem much more appropriate than going all-in on an early game that just isn’t very good.
At the end of the day, maybe the hero just needs a rework or some buffs. Dota is a problem solver’s game though and so it’s fun to try and figure out how to adapt a hero to create a viable asset without any outside help from Icefrog.