I’ve been playing Dota Underlords regularly since beta and have made it to the global Lord of White Spire Knockout leaderboard. I take hourly snapshots of the ladder, which are presented below, along with a collection of my thoughts and tips about game strategy.
I currently hold spot number 97 globally in Knockout mode, peaking at #52 (these counters update automatically).
Knockout Strategy Basics
This only applies to Knockouts; most importantly, Knockouts have no interest, punish tanking heavily, and prioritize getting units to three stars much more than Standards.
GET RICH. There’s no interest in Knockouts so you don’t have to bank money, but don’t burn it on rerolls. If you click on the arrow in the top left corner you can see the net worth of every player’s team - that’s the number you want to maximize and the most important predictor of victory. That number isn’t the cost of your units - it’s what all of your units would’ve cost in Standard. If you get offered two copies of a hero in the store, you almost always want to get it, especially if it’s tier 1 or tier 2, since you can sell ⭐⭐ versions of those for full price (and ⭐⭐⭐ versions of T1, but you almost never want to sell a ⭐⭐⭐).
DON’T LOSE. If you have a choice between a comp that may pay off in a round or two when you get a good unit to fill out your alliance, versus just getting a random-ass ⭐⭐ that doesn’t fit in your comp at all, or if you have an opportunity to upgrade something to ⭐⭐⭐ but at the cost of selling a unit that’s key to your comp, prioritize the thing that wins you the immediate round. Unlike in standards, losing round 1 in Knockout hits just as hard as losing the final round, so just winning round 1 usually gives you a pretty high chance of not finishing last.
Don’t get attached to comps. You want to play Hunters but happened to roll two copies of a Slark in the shop? Congratulations, you’re now playing Assassins. Upgrades are much easier than in Standard, so they’re the absolute top priority. Starting comps almost never matter.
HAVING SAID ALL THAT, do learn your hypercarries, broken comps, super-high-value ⭐⭐⭐ heroes, and Underlord synergies:
- Hypercarries: Spectre, Terrorblade, and Slark are always priority 1 picks (Terrorblade to a lesser extent, since he really needs to be enabled by hunters or a good item preferably). If you get offered a hypercarry and can afford them or easily get them to ⭐⭐, you almost always want to do so. Morbid Mask is an extremely valuable round 1 item pick if you can fit one of those into your comp. Rubick 2 and 3 is broken as shit.
- Broken comps: Assassins are always super contested and can easily pivot into spirits, poisoner brutes, rogues, etc. Spirits are also extremely good if you can get them, and can pivot into mages or Healers and druids basically guarantee getting top 3 since they’re based around a lot of low cost units and synergize great with literally everything. Knights are also super contested for the same reason. Heartless, brutes, and summoners are extremely strong in the lategame but take a while to get going.
- High-value ⭐⭐⭐ heroes are getting a separate section.
Heroes to prioritize
Super high value:
- Bounty Hunter 3 gains 1 gold on each kill. With a Dagon or other damage boost he can almost double your income if you’re lucky, and is the only way to improve your economy in Knockouts.
- Crystal Maiden 3 globally reduces all your cooldowns by 20%, super high-value for mages, spirits, and healers.
- Dazzle 3 gives everyone around him a free Vesture of the Tyrant, i.e. any units around him survive for 5 seconds after getting dealt a killing blow; absurdly strong with squishies that deal a lot of damage, e.g. Hunters or Mages (especially with KOTL)
- Juggernaut 3 boosts the max hp of all your units by 15% of his own
- Kunkka is insane on his own, but ⭐⭐⭐ gives him basically a half-board AOE stun (7x7 tiles)
- Luna 3 gets an AOE 5x5 stun. Note that her bounces do not trigger passives and orbs.
- Meepo 3 clones items, which is insane with “once per round” or high cooldown items like Horn of the Alpha, Shiva’s, Bloodthorn, Scythe of Vyse (Scythe in particular is hilarious on Meepo 3), and Mekansm (which makes him basically unkillable if you’re playing healers)
- Slark 3 gets a self-cleanse (which is a spell, so don’t put Mask of Madness on him against CC-heavy comps if you get to ⭐⭐⭐)
- Shadow Shaman 3 completely disables his target for 7 seconds on cast and his summons deal massive amounts of damage. Great target for a Refresher Orb.
- Rubick 2 or 3 is absolutely insane. He copies every spell cast within 5x5 (7x7 at ⭐⭐⭐) of him at his current star level with no mana or cooldown; additionally, he has a one-hero alliance that he grants to Legion for free which gives stasis on dropping below 50% health, synergizing incredibly well with Healers and letting him frontline to cover almost the entire board with his copy.
Stuff that’s high-priority for upgrades but isn’t necessarily a hypercarry:
- Drow (T1) gives insane attack speed to everyone around her (which synergizes with literally everything, and she has an alliance synergy with Lifestealer who entirely depends on attack speed) and has a massive attack speed slow on attacks at ⭐⭐⭐.
- Lich 3 (T1) gets an ult that can’t miss and slows attack speed for 7 enemies by 65% for 2.5s, insane with a Refresher
- Kunkka (T2), again
- Pudge 3 (T2) is a fantastic super cheap tank, if you just need something to absorb a shitload of damage, throw a Pudge in
- Juggernaut 3 (T2) grants 15% of his max health to all of your units. That’s 540 health base, plus:
- 3/6 per Brawny kill
- 30 per his kill with a Stonehall Cloak—and he has an easy time getting kills due to his high attack speed and Blade Fury proc rate
- 37.5 if he or an adjacent hero is holding a Vitality Booster
- 56.25 with a Vanguard
- 45 with a Silver Edge
- 90 with an Eye of Skadi
- 127.5 with a Satanic
- 150 with a Witless Shako
- 225 with a Heart of Tarrasque
- Lycan (T3) gets scaling on his max hp so benefits immensely from HP boosting items, crits on attacks and has a fast attack rate (which very quickly gives him more damage with Savages), summons four wolves at ⭐⭐⭐, gets insane value on Refresher Orb, and has three very useful alliances. Not much utility other than his summons taking aggro, but extremely good.
- Omniknight (3) is an insane tank, and despite being a healer, deals fuckloads of damage - I’ve regularly seen Omni top the damage chart with 25k+ damage dealt; his heal at ⭐⭐⭐ is a 5x5 720 damage nuke, it’s insane.
- Tidehunter (4) has a shitload of HP (highest of any tier 4 or below unit) and the strongest AOE crowd control in the game (7x7 stun for 3 seconds). Fantastic target for a Refresher Orb.
- Mirana (4) not only is the best Hunter, with 300 base dps at ⭐⭐⭐, an aggro purge, and a 7 second stun, 1400 damage nuke every 8 seconds, but also synergizes great with Hunters. With an Octarine Essence she can keep any unit stunlocked at ⭐⭐⭐, and only has 0.6s of stun downtime at ⭐⭐.
- Doom (4) completely disables any spells or passives of a single unit for 20 seconds. This is RNG as fuck, but if you get lucky enough to have him doom a Slark 3 or a Terrorblade or something similarly crazy, it’s basically an auto-win; great target for a Refresher Orb.
- KOTL (5) can delete entire teams with a cast. A 3 second channel isn’t as long as it seems, and with 3/6 mages at ⭐⭐⭐ it’s effectively a global 1115/1405 damage nuke with a 1s cooldown (4s downtime), 1240/1570 with a Kaya.
Underlord synergies and strategies:
- Anessix’s little demon archer counts as a Demon, and both of her ults also count as demons, which means she basically doubles the damage of any demons you may have. Enthrall in particular makes whoever she enthralls into a Demon, so they get the Demon alliance buff and will silence and get a massive damage boost after casting.
- Anessix’s little demon archer and the ult Golem also count as summons, so they benefit from Summoner alliances.
- Damage Anessix boosts all allied attack damage by 25-35%, which synergizes amazingly with Hunters, Demons, Assassins (especially Slark), and Legion.
- Healer Anessix heals your entire team for 360 hp, which obviously benefits from Healers.
- Only healer Anessix has stuns, with a 5x5 2s stun as her ult.
- Try to place Anessix so that she summons in front or diagonally, so that her Archer can tank. He’s not useful for much else—Anessix has the lowest DPS of all the Underlords, only really increasing your damage output with her damage boost and Golem summon—but the golem tends to get focused down and die quickly, since it has 0 armor.
- Barrels Jull doesn’t really have strong synergies with anything in particular , so he’s a great general-purpose pick; he gives all your heroes attack speed (which helps every comp, but especially things that have problems with mana generation, like Spirits, or shit like Slark, Lifestealer, Troll Warlord, etc).
- Healer Jull is the strongest Healer underlord, but… he only heals adjacent units, which is already a limiting factor with Healers, since everything wants to be adjacent to whatever Tree casts on. He delays 50% of all damage on ult, which has insane synergies with Healers, Spirits, and Mask Slark.
- Jull has no hard CC.
- Enno is also a great general pick since he adds a lot of DOTs and attack speed slows to your team and is hard to kill.
- Enno synergizes specifically with Poisoners and Alchemist, especially Healer Enno, since his heal depends on enemies being poisoned (90-300 hp).
- Damage Enno has a global stun as his ult. Hard counters KOTL.
- Damage Enno steals the lowest tier item at the start of the round, and steals successive items as enemies holding them die. Hard counters Morbid Mask Slarks since he’ll always target them first; if he steals a Vesture of the Tyrant it can win a round.
- Enno has AOE stuns from his passive no matter which build you go with, which hard counter KOTL.
- Hobgen has… no synergies except for Batrider, who isn’t particularly strong. Hobgen just deals damage.
- DPS hobgen deals a lot of damage.
- Support hobgen deals a lot of damage and has regular AOE stuns, but his ult is worthless—it gives a shitload of attack speed, but usually far too late to be of any use.
High Priority Items
- Gloves of Haste, Void Stone, and Claymore are virtually always safe picks.
- Talisman of Evasion is insanely strong if you’re playing Rogues 4. It boosts your evasion from 40% to 65%, meaning the holder will dodge two out of every three attacks and gain 20 damage.
- Chainmail is great. On a 5 armor hero it reduces physical damage taken by roughly 25%.
- Morbid Mask is insane on a Slark, Spectre, or Terror.
- Vitality Booster is okay by itself, but gets massive value if you have a Juggernaut, Lycan, or Legion on your team, since they can hold another item and still get the—much greater than normal—benefits of Vitality Booster.
- Kaya is not worth it most of the time, compared to survivability or mana boosts; Gloves or Void Stone increase the frequency of your casts and Chainmail, Hood of Defiance, Vitality Booster, Talisman of Evasion, or even Morbid Mask and Vitality Booster can increase the number of casts you get—for Kaya to pay off, you’d need to be casting at least five times for every additional cast that you would’ve gotten off a survivability item.
- Headdress gives 20 hp regen/s to at most three heroes, which translates to, for an average 15 second round… at most 900 effective health, barely outpacing Vitality Booster if all your affected heroes stay alive; you always get the full benefit of Vitality Booster (and the synergies with Juggernaut and Legion), but Headdress stops giving any value if the affected hero dies.
- Stonehall Cloak is insane, since it has no cap. Incredible synergies with Lycan, Juggernaut, and Legion. If you get an upgraded Slark early, he can win the game solo with a Stonehall Cloak since his exponentially–increasing attack rate and crits mean he tends to take most kills, and even with a Mask of Madness he tends to get easily focused down and die early due to his low base HP. I’ve seen Stonehall Slarks with quintuple-digit healthbars win 1v5s against ⭐⭐⭐ units.
- Dragon Lance makes Luna‘s glaives bounce across the entire board.
- Heaven’s Halberd is insane for Rogues.
- Quelling Blade and Armlet of Mordiggian can lose you the round. Quelling Blade makes heroes focus summons—which is almost never preferable unless you’re up against Meepo, who tends to die quickly anyway—and Armlet just kills you. It would at least be useful for Lifestealer if it gave attack speed rather than damage.
- Battle Fury cleaves two enemies for 50% of damage, so it effectively doubles your attack damage—after increasing it by 50. Insane on Spectre, Legion, early upgraded Slarks. Does not cleave for Terrorblade after cast.
- Mask of Madness is a priority one pick on Slark, it can fully make or break a Slark run. Yes, Morbid Mask gives more lifesteal, but Mask of Madness more than makes up for it in dramatically reducing the time it takes for Slark to come online. Almost always a good pickup if you have any manaless hero—Drow, Luna 2 (take it off her if she hits ⭐⭐⭐), Anti–Mage, Phantom Assassin, it’s a necessity for Troll Warlord. Ironically, not that great on Lifestealer.
- Octarine Essence is effectively a much better Kaya - it increases the frequency of your casts by 30%, which gets immense returns on disablers or healers. Great on e.g. Omniknight, Spirit Breaker, Kunkka, virtually all Mages.
- Silver Edge hard counters an entire array of heroes and items if you have it on someone who can apply it reliably to different targets, like Ember Spirit, Meepo 3, or a Vigilant. Medusa has a hardcoded exception for this item, presumably because it’d be too broken. It basically entirely removes the threat of Slark 3 if you give it to a backliner.
- Refresher Orb. Lycan 3 spawns eight wolves. Lone Druid spawns two bears. Shadow Shaman 3 spawns eight snakes and hexes two heroes. Doom fully disables two targets. Tidehunter 3 stuns the entire enemy team for six seconds. If you have anything that has a cooldown longer than 10 seconds or so, get a Refresher.
- Scythe of Vyse. Yet another way to remove Slark 3. Extremely funny on Meepo 3.
- Kaden’s Blade doesn’t seem that exciting at first, but it scales with percentage damage increases - Demons, Swordsmen, Fallen. A Magnus 3’d Hunter deals 49% of the target’s healthbar every time Hunters 6 procs.