Welcome to the ★★★ meta! In the Mid-Season Patch, every ★★★, 3-cost unit was buffed to encourage building such units over simply rushing for ★★ versions of 4- and 5-cost units. The meta moved slightly in that direction, but ★★★ units really took over after the Head-to-Head update, which removed Alliance items, and moved some of their effects into baseline Alliance traits.
This has caused a number of strategies, namely Brawny, Primordials, and Elusives to climb to the top of the meta, while Knights have fallen off a bit. The ★★★ buffs went to 3-cost units, and Knights rely on ★★★ Luna and Chaos Knight, both 2-cost units. Abaddon and Omniknightare fine at ★★★, but they are nothing compared to Terrorblade, Slark, or Phantom Assassin. Our reigning top build from the previous meta snapshot was also hurt by less access to Troll Warlord and loss of Coordinated Assault. Knights are still played, and you can win with them, but they seem to be a step below these other strategies in terms of consistency and strength.
4 Primordial + 3 Mages Arc Warden
Key items: Summoning Stone, Dagon, Big-Time Contract, Bracers of Desperation, Brooch of the Aggressor.
- Core of 1 and 2 cost units makes it easy to start building right away
- High initial burst and sustained damage output
- Reliant on Summoning Stone to reach maximum potential
- Weak to AOE since it relies on so many summons
- Few CC or healing effects
Primordials are definitely my favorite build at the moment. Since their Alliance was reworked, they moved from a secondary defensive Alliance into a more primary offensive role. This build is the best way to utilize an early Summoning Stone, since not only are all the Eidolons from the Primordial Alliance buffed, the Arc Warden copy also gains Health and Attack Speed! This build can absolutely run over enemies in fights, with endless summons and clones, but it does lack CC effects outside of Tiny. Your Eidolons act as a semi-CC, hopefully keeping your more important units alive. Be wary of AOE effects, especially Luna, who shreds Eidolons with ease.
Puck has taken over as the damage dealing Mage of choice, due to the lowered mana cost, meaning it is much easier to spam Illusory Orbs over and over again. The Dragon Alliance with Viper or DK can also make Puck extremely resilient, dodging AOE, and being strong in 1v1 situations. Sand King is a natural late addition, completing the Assassin Alliance with Viper and Morphling, plus providing a solid AOE magic damage stun.
Key items: Blade Mail, Helm of the Undying, Octarine Essence, Bracers of Desperation, Heart of Tarrasque
- Flexible build from core of Brawny units
- Scales well into the late game due to infinite scaling health
- Strong against burst magic damage
- Needs Brawny units very early to get kills against creep rounds
- Very weak when playing from behind
Another beneficiary of the removal of Alliance items, Brawny units now have scaling health per kill as a baseline Alliance! This means that Axe is now one of the best turn 1 picks in the game, letting him farm lots of kills in the opening creep rounds. This build is very flexible: outside of the Brawny units, you can use a mix of Warriors or Hunters to maximize Axe/Juggernaut and Beastmaster. Most combinations of 3 Warriors and 3 Hunters are viable, and some players, like cmel's and snofe's 2 Brawny + 6 Hunters builds from WePlay Underlords Open.
Blade Mail has always been one of the worst items in the game since the damage was so low, but is actually quite strong in this build. Put it on Axe, which will help him get kills, which increases his health, which increases the damage Blade Mail deals. Brawny really needs to get going early to start this snowball effect though, so if you do not have a few of them early, it is not worth switching into later.
Key items: Arcane Boots, Bracers of Desperation, Pipe of Insight, Brooch of the Aggressor
- Extremely powerful 3-star units in Tinker and Clockwerk
- Scrappy units are often uncontested in the mid and late game
Key units cost 3 and 4, meaning you will not know if the build is possible until the mid game
Weak to burst Magic Damage
Ever since Clockwerk and Tinker were reworked in the Mid-Season Update, they have been steadily gaining popularity at the highest ranks. As the meta shifts towards 3-star units, Tinker and Clockwerk are among the best, since not only did their stats get buffed, their abilities now hit much faster at 3-star! The 4 Scrappy buff is such a powerful frontline ability, and they are great when paired with the high damage output from Mages.
This build has amazing flexibility into the late game, with options for 3-star units when at level 8, or level up to 9 or 10 to get the 6 Scrappy buff. You can also look towards adding other Magic damage dealers, like Gryocopter, Shadow Fiend, or Disruptor. Even a 2-star Dragon Knight goes well into this build since you already want Puck!
- Some of the best 3-star options, Terrorblade, Phantom Assassin, and Slark
- Highly flexible build at 7 and 8 units
- Somewhat weak early game
- Weak to magic damage
Elusives gained slightly from the removal of Alliance items, in that the 9 Elusive buff now gives the Evasion effect to all your heroes. Of course that only matters in the case of 10 (or more) heroes, but it critically gives 9 Elusive builds a strong late game if they choose to level up. Terrorblade and Slark were already strong 10th units, but giving them Evasion is just craziness.
But Elusives are not just strong at 10 units, they are very powerful at level 8 as well, when they can assemble 6 Elusives and 2 other units. There are a lot of choices in regards to which 6 Elusives, and which 2 others though. Treant Protector and Nature’s Prophet are really the only two constants. If you find a Blink Dagger for Terrorblade, picking him and Anti-Mage are strong options. You can then add Puck, Luna, and Dragon Knight to get the Dragon and Knight Alliance.
Or you may find some strong Hunters, maybe you have some strong DPS items like Maelstrom. In that case, Windranger, Mirana, and Sniper can make a strong addition trio. Or even Assassins, with Phantom Assassin, Templar Assassin, and either Slark or Viper. There are lots of possibilities based on the units you find.
Key items: Refresher Orb, Bracers of Desperation, Blink Dagger, Summoning Stone
- Best in long, drawn out fights
- Very strong early game
- Weak to burst magic damage
- Savages themselves lack strong tanks or CC
The final build on the top of the meta right now is a 6 Savage build. This build is once again empowered by the removal of Alliance items and the adjustment to the Savage Alliance. The bleed effect from Tooth and Claw is now baseline for Savages, giving them much more consistent early game power. The bleed represents a huge portion of their damage early on, and with Venomancer, Tusk, and Enchantressall at 1-cost, it is very easy to start with lots of Savages.
The weakness of course is late game, where even a 15 damage per stack bleed starts to fall off slightly. The Savages also have little in the way of tanks or CC effects outside of a late game Sand King, so they are often paired with Warriors. Pudge and Tiny in the early game can provide lots of health and a stun. Kunkka is another option later in the game as well for his big stun. Necrophos is also a great addition to take advantage of the Heartless from Pudge, and the Warlock from Venomancer.