Zharvakko the Witch Doctor is a ranged intelligence hero often played as a hard five position in Dota 2. His kit lends well to supporting, mainly focusing on his stun, heal, and powerful augmentation ability that could give your cores an extra oomph.
But this isn’t for a position five Witch Doctor. There’s plenty of guides for that. We’re here to break the meta. In the immortal words of TI8 winner Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, “everything can work.”
This is mainly a fun, alternative way to play a hero, and definitely not an endorsement for this to be a viable pocket pick in game five of The International grand finals. But, Clement “Puppey” Ivanov, if you’re looking for a new coach…
With this guide, you won’t be playing the good Doctor as a support. Instead, you’ll be playing him as an aggressive offlane core, well-suited to be in dual lanes due to his lockdown potential and high damage capabilities.
And when we say high damage, we mean high.
“It’s a fetish of mine”
Witch Doctor works well as an offlane core due to his powerful damaging skills. When played as a hard support, these skills usually don’t receive focus and are mainly used as damage augmentation for your team’s core. But playing the Doctor as an offlaner and without the pressure of needing to support means that you can fully pump your skill points into your damage skills.
Although Witch Doctor usually only has enough in the tank to burst one hero in the early game, Aghanim’s Scepter really unlocks his area of effect potential. With the additional levels and gold that you get from a core, Scepter is rarely a pipe dream and more of an achievable goal.
Head to the offlane rather than the mid or safelane because the long lane benefits Witch Doctor. The ability to roam around the jungle and trees to find killing spots is less noticeable in the enemy’s jungle rather than your own. The midlane is also a poor choice because even though Witch Doctor can capably win a lane with his high base damage and solid attack animation, he’s relatively immobile and sucks at clearing creeps, which means you’ll be stuck in the lane while your opponent accelerates in the jungle.
Picking Witch Doctor as a three position with a tanky support that has a stun is the most ideal. The lack of wave clear can warrant a greedier support with this capability, such as Mars, Sand King or Pangolier.
“With bones and spells I come”
Recommended skill build:
- Maledict first, followed by Paralyzing Cask.
- Alternate between the two skills, prioritizing Maledict for the first five levels.
- Death Ward whenever available at levels six, 12 and 18.
- Max Maledict.
- First point of Voodoo Restoration at level eight, Cask should be level two.
- Max Paralyzing Cask.
- Level 10 talent: +6 armor
- Max Voodoo Restoration
- Level 15 talent: +120 gold/min
- Level 20 talent: +125 Death Ward attack range
- Level 25 talent: +75 Death Ward damage
[Q] Paralyzing Cask scales relatively poorly, and the second point is mainly to add the potential of it bouncing back to the target, doubling your stun duration. It’s however very useful in some fringe cases, and when used well, can lock down your opponents for four seconds.
Due to its unreliability, its both picked up and maxed second.
[W] Voodoo Restoration is a great value point at level eight, healing 16 health per second while only draining 8 mana per second. Coupled with your level 10 talent, you become surprisingly resistant to physical damage.
It’s a big mana drain at higher levels, though, so max it only after you obtain some mana regeneration items. This gets the lowest priority.
Although Paralyzing Cask is the usual option for a support, just take [E] Maledict and lay into your opponents. With your high base damage and range, popping three or four auto attacks will likely cause your opponent to drop below half health. If your lane partner has a stun, your opponent is probably dead.
Max this first because it greatly decreases its cooldown and increases damage, and use it anytime there’s a slight chance of a kill. You’ll be surprised at how much damage this does.
[R] Death Ward is your bread and butter. It has a relatively short cooldown for such a high damage ultimate and it can be quite easy to escape from or stop in its tracks.
If you mitigate its weaknesses, you have a solid teamfight ultimate on your hand, one that can easily be used in every skirmish due to its cooldown.
For talents, the increased armor helps you a lot and it means that you can win fights with opponents as you channel your ultimate, instead of them just outright killing you.
The alternative damage talent is very powerful, but since the focus is on building up your ultimate, the armor is a better choice. You can consider taking the damage talent if you’re owning or if your opponents mostly have magical damage, rendering armor less useful.
Take the gold talent. There’s absolutely no leeway for this. The other level 15 talent is terrible. This will help you get to your Scepter and it’s also why Witch Doctor is able to keep up with other cores in terms of net worth.
The last two talents are pretty self-explanatory. Your ultimate is going to be your main source of damage and they both greatly augment it. It makes it harder for opponents to run out of range of your ultimate and the added damage is theoretically multiplied by five due to the Scepter upgrade.
“Malpractice makes perfect”
Recommended item build:
- Tangos/Healing Salve
- Ring of Protection
- Phase Boots
- Hand of Midas
- Aether Lens
- Spirit Vessel
- Aghanim’s Scepter
- Black King Bar
Late game items:
- Octarine Core
- Refresher Orb
- Aeon Disk
- Scythe of Vyse
- Rod of Atos
- Glimmer Cape
- Linken’s Sphere
- Blink Dagger
Starting and core items
Tangoes and salves are standard items for regeneration so that you can stay in lane.
Mangoes help you keep up your aggressive potential by supplementing your mana pool
Ring of Protection helps with your low base starting armor, allowing you to trade with enemies. You can leave the base without it and pick it up in the side shop after considering your lane opponents. It also builds into Urn of Shadows later, which works great with Maledict.
Phase Boots help you chase down enemies to cast your spells. The extra armor also helps with your physical resistance. Although the damage bonus is lowered for ranged heroes, it’s still great for extra laning and fighting power.
Hand of Midas is actually important to his item build. Don’t use it as a gold farming machine, but rather as an insane experience boost. Consider getting a Tome of Endurance (ask your support, don’t steal it from them) to help with getting to that sweet level 15 gold talent.
Skip this if you’re not having a good game and invest the gold into an item that you can actually fight with.
Aether Lens helps with three of your spells. By increasing cast range, it’s easier to approach from fog to gank your enemies. Increasing the cast range of your Death Ward means it’s harder for enemies to find or stun you, improving your survivability.
Spirit Vessel allows you to remain a threat on the map even without Death Ward. The item synergizes crazily with Maledict, which deals damage based on lost health and Vessel decreases health by percentage. With Voodoo Restoration, you could get somebody up to full quickly.
Aghanim’s Scepter is fun. Why would you not want fun things in your life? Do you not want to mutate your Death Ward and allow it to shoot five heroes instead of one? This is the sole reason why we started playing the hero as a core, so you should buy it.
As an offlaner, you are mainly the utility core. If your team needs an item like Lotus Orb, or your ultimate keeps getting interrupted, consider picking something else up first. And depending on how fast your team takes Roshan, taking the Aghanim’s Blessing from Roshan could mean you save 4,200 gold.
Black King Bar is pretty much necessary for all heroes that have channeled ultimates, and it’s no exception here.
Unless your opponents somehow have five BKB-piercing stuns, don’t skip this item.
Late game items:
For your uber late game sixth item, the choice usually boils down to either Refresher Orb or Octarine Core. Refresher is better when teamfights are long since it allows you to get two charges of your ultimate and Black King Bar, potentially throwing off opponents.
Octarine Core is better when fights are constantly happening, allowing you to have lower cooldowns with all your spells. It also works with all your active items like Black King Bar, which can help improve survivability. The spell lifesteal doesn’t work with your ultimate though.
Aeon Disk is a great damage mitigation item on Witch Doctor if the opponents have a lot of damage but no stuns. Should Aeon Disk proc on you while you’re channeling Death Ward, your ultimate continues dealing damage since it’s considered a separate target from you.
Scythe of Vyse and Rod of Atos are alternative lockdown options for your hero if your team lacks them. But Scythe is very expensive and Atos is relatively unreliable, and ultimately doesn’t synergize as well compared to your core item build.
Glimmer Cape can be a good cheap way to hide in teamfights, provided your opponents lack ground targeted crowd control. It’s also nice to use with your Aether Lens, which can help save allies in a pinch.
Linken’s Sphere can be great against some team compositions, and necessary against a hero like Beastmaster with their BKB piercing single target stun. This could be a priority item depending on your enemies. Don’t skip BKB unless absolutely certain Linken’s is better!
Blink Dagger is a great way to reposition yourself. With increased cast range, it’s easy for you to find some trees to blink into, thereby concealing your own position while still channeling Death Ward. It’s also great for chasing heroes down when you need to.
Look at it go
Witch Doctor is a pretty simple hero to play. He’s no Ember or Storm Spirit, but there are some nuances to his gameplay that are good to take note of.
His Paralyzing Cask is a poor one-second stun when used on a single target, but becomes monstrous when spread between two or three. By timing it when the creep wave is almost dead or when two heroes are together, your cask usage will be much more effective.
Even as a core, Voodoo Restoration is good against sustained damage. Since it’s not a burst heal, it’s not very strong against Lina’s Laguna Blade, but it’s very effective against damage over time, like Venomancer’s Poison Sting. It also helps a lot when you’re pushing high ground because chip damage is sure to build up.
Maledict has a relatively long cooldown in the early game, but it’s totally fine to just use it even without kill potential. Dealing tons of damage to your lane opponents force them to play more defensively and get regen, allowing you to last hit.
All of Witch Doctor’s spells have relatively long cast animations, which could prove to be a hindrance. Once you play with it more and lead your spells a little, especially Maledict, you’ll be much more comfortable with landing them.
“Wait for it…wait for it…”
In lane, your hero is a monster. High base damage coupled with your powerful abilities spells doom for your enemies. Make sure that you last hit and deny well since you grow more powerful with a level advantage. Also, you farm really badly, making early last hits very important. You can get Midas to accelerate your experience gain.
Play aggressively at every turn, looking for fights even when your ultimate is off cooldown. Simply placing Maledict onto an enemy hero could prove to be the difference-maker. Witch Doctor is a terrible farmer, so don’t stay stuck in lanes or jungle for too long unless there’s literally nothing else to do on the map.
Push early and often since your ultimate also serves as a powerful zoning tool. Even the first level in Voodoo Restoration aids greatly when it comes to pushing by canceling out chip damage.
There’s no need to wait for the perfect time to use Death Ward. Even at level one, the spell deals 400 damage in a single second, ending up at over 1,000 damage per second with the talent. It’s fine to just plop it down even for two or three seconds, especially when you have Maledict on them.
Don’t forgo defensive items. Most of your damage already comes from your spells, which means that additional offensive items are kinda unnecessary. Witch Doctor never becomes a late-game carry in any shape or form. So buy defensive items, survive, and use the level and experience difference to press your advantage.
Witch Doctor isn’t a terribly difficult hero to play, but there’s an innate satisfaction of “cool guys don’t look at explosions”. There’s also no simpler pleasure than getting off a solid cask into Maledict and then shredding your enemy team to pieces with Death Ward.
Remember, anything can work, and don’t be afraid to experiment and break the meta with Dota 2’s massive hero pool.
Images via Valve.