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Skilling Spree
How to Skill Your Way to Success

Read this guide if you:
• Like to get first blood
• Dislike having useless skills
• Appreciate the subtle advantage of skilling the right ability
• Think you know it all
• Appreciate a bit of light comedy
• Are a self-righteous nerd who plays computer games (eg. a DotA player)

Skilling (or levelling) the right ability is an important process that most people don’t spend much time thinking about.

Of course, some skills are more useful than others, some skills assist you early game whilst others counter or aid lane combinations. But all too often I see a Drow Ranger at level 12 with no Silence. Or an Obsidian Destroyer going for first blood with Arcane Orb.

This guide is for people that have ever felt annoyed when their lane partner levels Backstab over Smokescreen; or died because they didn’t level Blink at level 1; or even been pissed off that Warlock has two of the seemingly shittest skills in the game ON THE SAME DARN CHARACTER!

Who am I to start spouting all this crap? Well, I’m just an overly analytical part-time DotA player who decided to give his opinion. Also I often go for First Blood where choosing the right skill to level is essential - and I tend to get annoyed when my partner skills Brain Sap over Nightmare or Glaives of Wisdom over Curse of the Silent. Of course feel free to disagree with any points of mine – if we all had the same opinion there would be no use of me expressing mine. But I hope that most of you out there learn something from this guide and possibly open your mind to the subtleties of skilling for the professional DotA player.

Three (3) Basic Starting Questions

There are a few factors you need to consider before picking your FIRST skill:

1. Am I solo? If so, do I have some means to escape a level 1 gank?

Being the target of First Blood is not only annoyingly debilitating, it also has a permanent psychological effect on your gameplay. If you ARE a solo, I thoroughly recommend skilling an escape skill of some sort, or at least a disable.

Example - Level up on Anti-Mage over .

2. Am I in a dual-lane and if so does my skill synergise with my ally’s?

Synergy and teamwork are essential in DotA. Skilling two stuns early is a common and powerful tactic.

But don’t level an ability without knowing what your opponent is getting. A few examples:

You are playing Centaur Warchief and level Hoof Stomp first. Your ally is a Witch Doctor who levelled Maledict first (because it has a higher chance of giving you first blood). But now you have no reliable way to land your stun – in this case Paralyzing Cask would have been a better bet, or even Maledict + Double Edge.

You are Storm Spirit and your ally is Pugna. Pugna casts Decrepify on the enemy, thinking you are going to Static Remnant. But you skilled Electric Vortex first, thinking that Pugna had Nether Blast.

Or the obvious anti-synergistic skills – eg. +

3. What am I levelling this skill for?

The last question comes into relevance depending on what your game plan is.

Are you planning for First Blood – level a disable skill.
Are you intending to farm peacefully – grab a passive.
Do you want to survive for as long as possible – level a defensive skill.

A great example of this is Windrunner. All three of her skills are potentially viable at level 1.

- First Blood
- Farming (although also fairly useful for First Blood if you are a good aim against a dense opponent)
- Survival

Depending on the situation, you may choose to level any one of these skills.

Overall the important thing when you level your first skill is simply to THINK BEFORE YOU LEVEL. As outlined in the ‘Common Mistakes’ section below, all too often we get sucked in thinking about the power of the skill in later levels, rather than right now. A perfect example of this is Pudge.

"Yay, I'm perfect!"

Meat Hook is an incredibly powerful and useful skill – but Rot is still far superior at level 1. This is like dating someone older than you because they would suit you in a few years – get a girlfriend your own age!

¿ Some More Questions (Just to Confuse You?)

These questions apply to a variety of situations. Basically they follow the same basic theme of THINK BEFORE YOU LEVEL. But since this is a guide and not a series of commandments, more questions seem appropriate.

1. Is this skill going to be the most useful skill until I gain another level?

Eg. Solo Dragon Knight would take over for survivability. If he’s with a partner, Dragon Tail is more useful.

2. Can I support this skill? Eg. You are playing Lion and want to level Mana Drain – but you are facing a Clockwerk Goblin or Tiny (both heroes who have two early game interrupts), or Nerubian Weaver who will instantly dodge the Drain with Shukuchi.

3. Is this skill necessary RIGHT NOW? (This often applies to skill points used in the heat of the moment – for instance, levelling up a stat point when under the effects of Shadow Word.

4. What am I levelling this skill for? (For instance, if you are levelling Shadow Strike for the slow or Laser for the miss chance (lol please do not do this), don’t level it past level one.

That’s right. That last question looks familiar. That is because it was in the first section (yes you can scroll up to check that now) and it is one of the fundamental questions of this guide.

Since the person playing is YOU, the way you build your character is entirely up to you. If you want to make a caster Axe, level up Battle Hunger and Stats and tell your teammates to get stuffed. Know what your skills do and what you want your character to be doing and together you will go far.

+ + =

The Power of Statistics (Section 3/5)
90% of statistics are merely interesting facts that don’t actually have any relevance.

In fact I am not talking about kills-per-minute per se, but instead the ‘Stats’ skill or more correctly known as the “Attribute Bonus” skill. But we can call it Stats anyway.

A little blurb on Stats:

That little cross is

^^ See. Jesus knew the power of a good stat gain.

Thinking to yourself “ah I’ll level up over stats because Warcry does something” is the same as saying “Lets use Windows Vista instead of Windows 7 because there’s only a few numbers different.”


And level up stats too.

Heroes who stats look good on:
  • Sven
  • Medusa
  • Luna
  • Silencer
  • Warlock
  • Juggernaut
  • Enchantress
  • Invoker
  • Morphling

(if you were like “Invoker WTF” then good on you, you’re reading this properly. If not, shame on you. )

Why Stats are cool:

Each point gives you (thanks to bubbleTea00):
  • 38 HP
  • 2 damage
  • 0.28 armor
  • 0.06 hp/s regen
  • 2% attack speed
  • 26 mana
  • 0.08 mana/s regen

In comparison, a normal skill like Upheaval simply does some pretty yellow lights a (usually) ineffectual slow.

“But Upheaval is cool”, you say back to me. “Even if I don’t use it at all you still have the OPTION of clicking on the cool ‘respect’ icon and making some pretty yellow lights.”


“ But just because some idiot included a Self-Destruct button with your tank doesn’t mean you have to press it. And wouldn’t you prefer it if they had fitted the tank with a slightly bigger gun instead?” Just because you have the OPTION of using your head as a hammer doesn’t mean it’s better than investing in an actual hammer.

Common Misstakes

Mistake – Levelling Shackles to level 4 as soon as possible
ExplanationShackles realistically only needs level 2 or 3. In a serious game, how long do you really end up shackling somebody before being hit by a stun or disable (in reality, Shackles is a mini-stun most of the time)

Mistake – Learning Rearm ASAP
ExplanationRearm is an awesome skill and immensely powerful, but unless you have a level 6 Boots of Travel or are TPing all over the shop, why not invest in a more powerful nuking combo. Also at higher levels, a 1 second Rearm may be all sweet and dandy, but have you taken into consideration the fact it costs a whopping 350 mana.

This is like basic Ebay shopping – do not buy the rare comic book from the creepy paedophile if you can’t afford it.

Mistake – Learning your ultimate straight away
Explanation – Remember that your ultimate makes your mana go down faster than a Crystal Maiden in a brothel. Spending that point into a higher level of Diabolic Edict/Stats etc. can really help you out.

MistakeCommand Aura taken early.
Explanation – Please. Please please. Please please please only do this if you have Zeus, Specter and a level 11 Drow Ranger on your team.

Wave of Terror gives line of sight AND increased damage, as well as looking WAY cooler and enabling easier ganking.

Another real-world example; levelling Command Aura early is like ordering a fat stripper - Not only do you not get your money back, your friends don’t get anything out of it either.

A quick mathematic example for all you nerds out there, using a level 2 Vengeful:

Command Aura – Gives about 6 bonus damage
Wave of Terror – Deals 25 damage, on the average hero drops armour by 13% (on sample VS from 19% to 5%), amplifying damage by 14% so that an attack from VS now deals a bonus 7 damage
Overall summary – You still deal MORE damage on attack, plus reduce their attack, plus give line of sight, plus deal a small amount of damage

MistakeLightning Bolt first
Explanation – Unless you have a dedicated gank planned and either need a few seconds of truesight or a mini-stun to stop a teleport, Chain Lightning offers pretty much the same damage with less cooldown and mana-cost. Again, think about what you are levelling, don’t just assume that Lightning Bolt at level 1 is as overpowered as it is at level 3.

MistakeArcane Orb levelled first for damage
Explanation – You see so many people levelling up Arcane Orb early because it is “Imba Haxors”. That may be the case, if Imba Haxors early game means roughly 23.64 damage (with circlet, 3 mantles, tangos, ironwood). I’m not going to go deep into the pros and cons of Astral Imprisonment, as Archangel -- has already written a great guide on Harby anyway. Harbinger, the Destroyer - DotA Guides

Mistake – Multiple instances of Warcry/Great Cleave over Stats
Explanation – I’m pretty sure all intelligent forms of life level up Storm Bolt ASAP, so I’m not going to talk about that. I DO see quite a few people levelling Great Cleave or Warcry repeatedly though. And although I condone a single level of Warcry, early game Cleave or multiple levels of Warcry will just make you look like a tryhard in the face of some solid stats. To quote a miscellaneous comment, “your stat gain will be like a limp penis” – something no Sven would like to boast about.

MistakeMana Break over Blink (This section includes all characters with a level 1 Blink ability – Queen of Pain, Void, PotM to an extent, Phantom Assassin)
Explanation – If you are a solo it is WELL ADVISED to level an escape mechanism over an aggressive mechanism:

> > >

MistakeShadowraze first
Explanation – All too often people instinctively skill Shadowraze over Necromastery on a solo Nevermore. Just think before you skill – “is this going to be useful at level 1”. Amazingly extensive and wonderful guide that I've just read by LoveYueru can be found here - LoveYueru's Guide to Shadow Fiend - DotA Guides

Mistake – Levelling Meat Hook over Rot at level 1
Explanation – The power and fame of Meat Hook overrides the practical superiority of Rot. This also applies to some other heroes with powerful abilities (such as Harbinger)

Mistake – No Stats levelled (this also applies to Enchantress)
Explanation – I’m not a big fan of Glaives of Wisdom early but I do know that in some orb-walking builds it can be powerful. I also know that at least one level of Last Word is essential. But Silencer is TOO WEAK to afford to level skills without stats unless you buy him a shiny vanguard and bracers and rush him off the playground as soon as things turn rough. Seriously, at level 25 with no stat gain, Silencer has 1233 HP. So think before you skill - is this more important than my health?

Similarly, Enchantress wins the weakest hero of the month award. At level 25 with no stats, she has 910 health! 910! Ignore stats at your peril!

MistakeBrain Sap over Nightmare at level 1
ExplanationBrain Sap is da bomb shizzle, but not at level 1. Nightmare on the other hand, is a 4s disable dealing 80 damage – that is MORE than Brain Sap deals.

Mistake – No Silence!
Explanation – Level up Silence! If you tell me you want PWNAGE damage and IMBA slow, then I say SILENCE. And I win.
I’ve also included a sample skill build for Drow below.

Sample Skill Builds


The following section is classified 'M' for a mature audience. It contains ideas and examples that may challenge the viewers expectations. The purpose of these samples is to give examples of thinking skills through before levelling them. All skill builds are products of the author's imagination and are used without any intent to anger or alienate the reader.

Reasons are in italics.

A Shadow Shaman wishing to go a support build laning with a carry such as Sven or Ursa. Alternatively a farming/pushing build would replace Hex with the cheaper costing Ether Shock.
  1. Shackles (great disable at level 1)
  2. Hex/Ether Shock (If you're looking to rush Scepter or farm instead of support, go with the cheaper mana cost of Ether Shock over Hex for the next few levels - thanks to Lauqhter)
  3. Hex (Hex gains some much needed duration)
  4. Shackles
  5. Hex
  6. Serpent Wards
  7. Hex
  8. etc.

For the all-round nuking Tormented Soul, dabbling in a few of all abilities. Pushing Leshrac's generally max Diabolic Edict in order to eat towers faster.
  1. Split Earth (disable at level 1, extra levels don't add much apart from being easier to aim. But you're pro, right?)
  2. Lightning Storm/Diabolic Edict (if you happen to gain level 2 alone with an enemy hero, this is a spur-of-the-moment 400dmg nuke.)
  3. Lightning Storm
  4. Stats
  5. Lightning Storm (3 levels of this give you a reliable nuke)
  6. Diabolic Edict
  7. Lightning Storm
  8. Diabolic Edict
  9. Diabolic Edict
  10. Pulse Nova
  11. Pulse Nova
  12. etc.

This version of Drow is a typical carry style. Alternatively, semi-carry/support drow levels up a higher level of Silence/Stats over Trueshot Aura.(carry style)
  1. Frost Arrows (early slow that does not gain too much from consecutive levels, orb-walking etc.)
  2. Silence (no excuse!)
  3. Trueshot Aura (damage? brokeness?)
  4. Trueshot Aura
  5. Trueshot Aura
  6. Marksmanship
  7. Trueshot Aura
  8. Silence
  9. etc.

For a roaming Tinker. Depending on the lane situation, Laser/Heat Seeking Missiles order is changed around. A fast farming Tinker who needs to teleport a lot could also grab Rearm a bit earlier - again go with the flow.
  1. Laser (pure damage nuke and a slight miss chance makes it better at level 1)
  2. Heat Seeking Missiles
  3. Laser
  4. Heat Seeking Missiles
  5. Heat Seeking Missiles/Laser (Facing a solo lane, get Laser. Facing two - get Missiles)
  6. Laser/Heat Seeking Missiles
  7. Laser
  8. Heat Seeking Missles
  9. Stats/Rearm (have you got Boots of Travel yet?)
  10. Rearm/Stats
  11. etc.

For roaming/ganking Zeus. As Lauqhter mentioned, farming Zeus staying in-lane would be better to level up Static Field early, but here I recommend Stats for the extra mana support.
  1. Arc Lightning (equalish damage, lower cooldown and mana cost)
  2. Lightning Bolt
  3. Lightning Bolt
  4. Stats (you need mana for your spells)
  5. Lightning Bolt
  6. Thundergod’s Wrath
  7. Lightning Bolt
  8. etc.


I hope after reading (or scanning, you bastard) this entire guide you have a slightly higher understanding of how and when to skill abilities. I welcome any feedback and suggestions, but before insulting me or the guide please take the time to ensure your insults are justified.

Other than that, have fun and hope to see you around!


Laughter (for general tips and advice)
bubbletea00 (correcting stat bonuses)
You! (for reading this)

Misc guide
Author: bYo
Map Vers.: 6.67c

Skilling Spree

How to Skill Your Way to Success

Date Posted: 06/16/10
Last Comment:16/03/2012
Total Votes: 34
Current Rating: 7.95
Views: 34154

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