Dota 2 has iconic hero pairs that have made a lot of impact in the pro scene, either because they became a meta standard or because a specific team dominated with it. We recently covered Visage, a hero that, for the longest time, was part of a pocket strategy with Drow Ranger.
Chaos Knight is also such a hero, and together with Io he was a strong pick to be reckoned with in 2013, though Io has long since moved on to become a support that doesn’t rely on niche combos. Chaos Knight on the other hand has been nothing but a niche pick since, though that may have changed now. At the recent MDL, Chaos Knight was picked 12 times and won 8 games. Is this the beginning of a trend or is he still just as niche as before?
The hero’s concept is implied in the name, as all spells have a factor of RNG (random number generator, more on RNG mechanics in Dota here) in them. Be it the damage, dealt, the stun duration, the amount of illusions spawned or even the distance at which Chaos Knight will Reality Rift to, all of his spells have a factor of uncertainty with them.
Of course that in itself isn’t a reason for Chaos Knight’s lack of popularity, after all Phantom Assassin is another hero who heavily relies on RNG and is much more situational . While that is true, she doesn’t solely rely on RNG to be effective. Her slow and escape mechanism are quite reliable in fact, whereas Chaos Knight is RNG incarnate.
Icefrog realized this too and over the past few years, the RNG factor in Chaos Knight’s abilities has decreased quite significantly, or at the very least it’s been improved. Chaos Bolt’s damage and stun duration now work inversely, so that when the damage dealt is low, at least the stun duration is high. Before, a player could technically deal 1 damage and stun for only 1 second. Chaos Strike used to be a simple crit ability, similar to that of Juggernaut, but it has been experimented with to improve it, adding an armor reducing ability to it, though only to take it away and replacing it with lifesteal. The armor reducing ability has instead been transferred to Reality Rift.
All in all, Chaos Knight has received significant buffs over the past years, all abilities have been improved significantly and as a Strength hero, Chaos Knight has been buffed by many other global changes as well, which was then further emphasized with buffs to his Base Strength and Strength gain. Then Valve introduced Mangos, an item which is vital on a mana starved hero such as CK, as well as the fact that Clarities don’t get cancelled by creeps anymore. Chaos Knight has become a much more sustainable carry, who can be left alone in lane and can farm quite reliably.
When a hero has been continually buffed like this, it’s only natural to assume that the hero will eventually make his professional comeback and sure enough, Chaos Knight did succeed at the recent MDL. So how does he fit into the meta?
The current meta favors a lot of mid game carries who do well in the laning stage without much assistance, but still have killing potential early on, especially when paired with supports. Favorites such as Drow Ranger or Bristleback are often banned, leaving the pool wide open for other heroes to fill the role. Venomancer has been a popular pick for a while, but Chaos Knight has edged himself in at MDL.
A very obvious reason for Chaos Knight’s popularity is that he pairs well with a lot of currently popular supports. Out of all the heroes that were picked at least 10 times, Ancient Apparition had the highest win rate at MDL (82%), and he and CK are an excellent lane combination. Any support that has a reliable lockdown (or in AA’s case a lockdown that is made reliable with the help of CK) is a good fit for CK as a laning partner, as he deals sufficient damage with just his attacks. He also pairs well with defensive supports such as Oracle or Dazzle, where he can get the most out of his life and his Armlet in a teamfight.
Chaos Knight is also an excellent hero to take objectives with. His Phantasm illusions are among the tankiest with only 260% damage taken, they also last longer than most other illusions with a 42s duration and they deal 100% damage, rivaled only by level 4 Reflections from Terrorblade and a Dark Seer Wall of Replica with Aghanim’s Scepter. This means that, similar to a Terrorblade or a Dragon Knight, Chaos Knight can transition a successful teamfight into a tower push.
Despite having an ability that spawns illusions though, Chaos Knight isn’t as reliant on his illusions as other heroes. Yes, Phantasm is a strong teamfight and pushing ability, but Chaos Knight provides fighting prowess outside of his ultimate/illusions, something that doesn’t apply to heroes such as Terrorblade, Naga Siren or Venomancer, who are all dependent on either their illusions and/or long cooldowns on crucial abilities.
Sure, Chaos Knight has a lot of physical burst with his illusions, so much so that any other carry could melt within seconds, but with potent cores on his side, Chaos Knight can be a frontliner, initiator and overall big nuisance in teamfights. He is durable (9th highest Strength growth in the game, 13th highest base armor) and has strong teamfight controlling abilities. While he continues to have notoriously low mana, it isn’t uncommon to see two supports equipped with Arcane Boots and with Shrines, there is often sufficient amount of regeneration available.
A lot of Strength heroes have become rather popular in the past year or so because of certain items. Echo Sabre almost single-handedly brought Sven back into the meta and Heaven's Halberd continues to become a more and more situational pick-up, making any hero that would pick it up all the more viable as well. Helm of the Dominator has also been improved and provides an aura now, perfect for an illusion based hero. Ultimately, Chaos Knight can pick up a variety of items. Surely, Armlet of Mordiggian is a core pick up, next to a Black King Bar, but other than that, CK can pick any item without dropping off significantly in impact. OG’s n0tail recently built a Diffusal Blade on the hero (twice), EG’s Arteezy opted for a Blade Mail and LGD’s Ame prefers Echo Sabre as a 2nd item.
Flexibility is an important aspect in Dota and often enough, the most popular heroes also tend to be the most flexible ones. Chaos Knight is far from being the most flexible, but the fact that teams feel comfortable to play the hero with rather different item builds should show that he is viable. There isn’t just one way to approach the hero, there are multiple ways to do it.
Much like Visage, this recent MDL stint may just be a fluke and as TI approaches, trends could very well still change drastically. Nonetheless, Chaos Knight has made a statement. He doesn’t need Io to be a successful carry, and he certainly isn’t too RNG for the game anymore.