The format of the blog post will be the same: I will briefly introduce the hero and state the reasoning behind his popularity in the current meta. It will be followed by analysis of the hero's strengths and weakness to finally reach a conclusion on the drafting scenarios where the hero can truly excel.
Shall we begin?
To be perfectly honest, I am a terrible Rubick player. I either play him too cautiously and do not contribute enough to the team, or try to do the "plays" and miserably fail. Good thing is, it is me being unable to pilot the hero effectively, rather than him lacking potential for flashy plays.
That said, I have still spent enough time playing Dota 1&2 to analyse his strengths and weaknesses, albeit from strictly theoretical standpoint.
There is a lot the hero offers to the team, what cannot be offered by many other supports. He has a very reliable disable ( Telekinesis), which does not only have a minuscule cast point of 0.1s, but can also move the enemy into even more trouble and/or stun in a decent AoE. The duration of stun on both lift and land effects is decent, but not by any means impressive, though.
His Fade Bolt can be considered one of the spells, which is heavily underrated. It did receive a substantial number of nerfs, throughout the last couple of years, making it less of a nuke, but it's outpush potential, especially in a meta where Chen and Enigma are popular picks is amazing. It is also a substantial DPS decrease against illusion-based heroes (pre Diffusal Blade) and in the early-level teamfights.
Speaking of underrated - [missing skill: rubick-null-field-5451] has received a lot of criticism about being useless or at least underwhelming. While it might feel like it needs at least some minor number tweaking, it is by no means an underwhelming ability. An increase of 15% EHP against magical damage on the majority of heroes (effect stacks multiplicatively with innate magic resistance) can and will make certain heroes a lot less threatening, though the last patch introduced a heavy indirect nerf to Rubick with two heavy magic bursters - Queen of Pain and Lina getting a pure damage treatment on their ultimates.
So when is the hero best picked, exactly? In many cases Rubick is a response to some huge threat on the enemy team - something with a potential for being game-changing. Heroes, such as Enigma, Magnus and Omniknight come to mind - given your proper positioning it is going to be easy to steal either of the big ultimates and turn the tide of battle.
A lot of minor spells also become a lot more potent with Rubick's superior cast point: Fissure, Ice Path, Light Strike Array and Split Earth are among these. While the last two have a bit of a delay innate to the ability, it is still quite easy to land either reliably. And each spell is incredibly strong, compensated by poor animations on the host hero, which is something Rubick bypasses.
When thinking of drafting Rubick you primary focus should be on the enemy initiators and supports, as in many cases carries provide very little of use for you. Notable exceptions are Anti-Mage and Weaver, each with a powerful escape/mobility spell, which can be spammed.
Heroes Rubick is definitely weak against, are the heroes which exhibit higher amount of synergy between their otherwise weaker spells. A good example of this would be Io, where pretty much all of his "strong" skills rely on Tether. Shadow Demon also falls in this category, to a lesser extent. And Tidehunter deserves a special mentioning, since it is quite easy not to get away Ravage, given its huge AoE and the spammable nature of Anchor Smash. Rubick might not exactly be bad against him, but do not expect to secure anything of value against a competent player.
The hero surged into popularity when heroes like Brewmaster were dominant in the meta - in certain cases having a longer silence with a very small cast point and long range can be a lot more beneficial than a shorter duration hard disable. The magic damage amplification has further strengthened the ability of a team with Skywrath Mage to quickly burst down enemy initiators with suicidal tendencies.
Currently, after receiving a multitude of small nerfs, the hero has given up his spotlight, however he remains a very strong situational pick.
His skillset is pretty straightforward - all of his abilities have a very long range and deal or amplify damage. In most cases it allows the hero to stay safe, behind his team, dishing out a lot of damage while providing a safety net against blink-initiations.
In ganking scenarios at early levels, his damage and slow/silence is often enough to secure most kills on squishy heroes which rely on mobility, rather than health to survive ( Puck, Queen of Pain). Given how Ancient Seal has a cast range of 700 and the initial speed of Skywrath Mage is among the highest at 325 ms, enemy heroes have less than a second to react against him ganking under the effect of Smoke of Deceit.
His ganking potential is further boosted with two of his abilities providing vision of the target on impact and around the projectile. The best part is that this vision lingers for extra ~3.5s, which is lower than the cooldown on Arcane Bolt making jukes impossible against the hero and allows him to continuously dish out damage, provided he has enough mana.
High cost on his ultimate ability and a rather unreliable nature of it makes it an extremely risky spell to use alone, especially after the slow nerfs to Concussive Shot. It requires setup in a form of a stun to be effective, hence wasting it in a teamfight or only dealing partial damage can lead to a lot of wasted opportunities.
For comparison - a level 4 Arcane Bolt with no intelligence items will deal ~200 damage for 70 mana on a 2s cooldown. It will match the damage on a single full Mystic Flare after 6 seconds + the time it takes the projectile to reach the target, at only 3/5th of the mana cost.
If the enemy leaves the radius of Mystic Flare in 1.2 seconds or less, effectively reducing the damage by half, two Arcane Bolts would actually deal more damage. The break-even point for damage is 1.6s at level 7 - use this information to weigh your options.
The point I am trying to get across is that while Mystic Flare does provide a lot of burst damage, it will still take away more than a third of your mana pool at level 7, even if you have Arcane Boots and Magic Wand, hence using it carelessly will put you at a huge disadvantage. It might work in lower-skilled brackets, but any decent player will leave the AoE quickly, even under the effect of Concussive Shot. Stay back, throw your Arcane Bolts on focused target, be ready to silence blink-initiator if there is one (or target the disabler who has not used all of his spells) and wait for an opportunity to burst down a disabled target.
As discussed previously, the hero excels at dealing with squishy mobile heroes and suicidal initiators. Therefore, when drafting Skywrath Mage, you are looking for one or a combination of either. Queen of Pain will severely suffer from your presence. While Black King Bar is not unusual on the hero, it will still force her to skip or delay other items, reducing her damage output, which will prevent her from snowballing hard.
Post-blink Puck is a bit trickier, since he has a silence of his own on an equally small cast point, hence you should always stay back from your team. You, however, can still prevent him from doing the whole combo and it is usually easy to guess where he is going to blink in. And while he will probably be able to escape, given the dispel on Eul's Scepter of Divinity, a failed initiation can have grim consequences for an advancing enemy.
This list can go on for a lot of heroes - Axe, Magnus, Tidehunter, Brewmaster etc. all suffer from an inability to initiate against a properly played Skywrath Mage. Look at accidental clumps of your teammates and have a mouse pointer in the area, only moving it away to quickly cast your Arcane Bolt - you should be able to disrupt the plans in most cases, if you pay enough attention.
Special mentions go to Troll Warlord, Sand King and Earthshaker. First two pre-cast their initiating abilities before blink ( Whirling Axes (Melee) and Epicenter), while the latter has no cast point. Additionally, never, under any circumstances, should you pick Skywrath Mage against Meepo. Your ultimate will literally be close to useless as well as your counter-initiating abilities. Same goes for Pugna, unless your team has a way to deal with Nether Ward
Lastly, more than pretty much any other hero in the game, Skywrath Mage becomes useless with Black King Bar on the enemy, hence is can be a risky pick in a team, where other heroes are equally as susceptible to magic immunity on the enemy. And be sure your team has at least some hard disables, if you are to last-pick Skywrath Mage. 2011-12 Goblak-style drafts tend to fail hard in public matchmaking.
I did a full-feature blog post on the hero a while ago, but as with many things in Dota, this information tends to becomes less accurate. However, I still stand firm about most of the things I have said, hence will only provide additional thoughts and errata here.
Strength carries are at an all-time low, hence his [missing skill: dazzle-weave-5236] is a little less potent. It still provides the same exact bonuses, however, reducing EHP to physical on a hero with 2.5 HP pool is very different to the same effect on a 1.5 HP pool hero. At the same time, a lot of currently popular Agility carries tend to go tanky ( Eye of Skadi) and teams generally tend to focus on building up a lot of physical damage, so the skill gained in defensive capabilities what it has lost in offensive.
Shallow Grave is as potent as it always was, made a little worse with an Axe popularity spike. I will not state that you should not pick Dazzle against Axe, since your [missing skill: dazzle-weave-5236] can really hurt his offence, but if you can - try to avoid it.
The hero is very weak when it comes to ganking, with no proper disable and a very conditional nuke, so he can only be reliably used as a babysitter and push/teamfight support. It might not necessarily be a bad thing, however, especially in a farming meta with an extremely complicated highground breach. The main problem is that while he is excellent at not giving away an advantage you have, he is not going to be of much use in trying to gain that advantage in the first place.
Nerfs to Mekansm's mana cost also hit the hero pretty hard, since he tends to experience a lot of mana issues with spammable Shadow Wave. Fixed healing effects generally tend to lose their potency the longer the game progresses and the skill can quickly become irrelevant. While it heals for a lot, it does not heal a single target and single-target burst heroes tend to dominate the battlefield in this patch.
Do not get me wrong - I still very much love the hero and he is still in my Top 3 favourite heroes in the game. But in public matchmaking his Shallow Grave is outclassed by ultimate of Oracle, while the latter also gives a lot in terms of disables/damage output/purge effects.
His [missing skill: dazzle-weave-5236], while unparalleled, can be substituted with Medallion of Courage on practically any support for defensive use (single target physical DPS ftw...). For offence you have a selection of Slardar, Vengeful Spirit etc.
His heal, unless you have a lineup for it, is weak both offensively and defensively (still a decent outpush though) and don't get me started on Poison Touch. Its only use is disabling Blink Dagger and it was there to compensate for otherwise extremely strong skillset, which, in my opinion, does not compare too well against newer additions to the Dota 2 hero pool.
The hero is excellent at what he is doing, but unless you are playing Captains Mode, there are better, more aggressive and higher utility supports in the game which can do pretty much the same thing, only with less conditions for success and higher single-target relevance.
This is all for the Top Tier support analysis. We have covered 10 most popular support heroes in the professional games and discussed their relevance to RMM/Pub players. Since the Blog Posts were well-received by the community, my next series will be dedicated to the offlane heroes and will keep the format of at most 3-4 in-depth analyses. It will probably be released in a week, so see you soon!