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There is a subset of heroes who are considered “The International Heroes”. It might be coincidence, or perhaps they are just comfortable for the players on the big stage, but huge teamfight heroes like Enigma, Earthshaker, Beastmaster, Batrider and Tidehunter always make their way back into the meta around TI seasons. Four out of five iconic TI heroes are already trending up, making waves in both professional and pub scenes, but Tidehunter is nowhere to be seen. What happened?
Over the last several patches, Tidehunter received a mix of both buffs and nerfs. On one hand, his early game, as well as his damage output, were substantially weakened. On the other, his new Shard: Tendrils of the Deep, is one of the better options for starting fights in a non-committal fashion.
Tidehunter became a hero about being tanky and providing tons of control. But his early laning stage, his ability to apply pressure in the early midgame and his teamfight contribution without Ravage all took a massive hit.
Even his negative Armor build, with an Aghanim’s and an extra armor reduction talent is no longer an option. The talent is gone, while Gush was nerfed to reduce one less armor.
What he got in return were multiple Kraken Shell buffs and the ability now can theoretically block up to 110 damage. It is an absolutely massive amount even though it is reducing damage before Armor. Most heroes will have a hard time getting through Tidehunter, but the problem is, most heroes don’t particularly care about him.
When a hero is very durable his main job in a fight is to become unignorable. Heroes like Timbersaw do it by having a massive damage output. Underlord does it by simply existing in a fight with his aura and hitting people quite hard. Mars does it by forcing enemies to stay inside the arena, while also sometimes taking away ranged enemy DPS with smart Bulwark usage.
Tidehunter is currently tanky for the sake of being tanky. Once Ravage and Tendrils of the Deep are used, he is mostly irrelevant in the context of a fight and is very much ignorable. Anchor Smash is annoying to play against and it does have a pretty strong base damage reduction, but ultimately, it doesn’t make Tidehunter a priority target, effectively wasting his tankiness.
One solution to this problem, and the one we see more and more players opt for, is building Tidehunter differently. Instead of relying on Blink + Ravage initiation, Tidehunters nowadays build Aura items like Wraith Pact, or even Rush Aghanim’s Scepter. This first, crucial item choice already makes them a lot more relevant when their ultimate is on cooldown.
We particularly like an early Vlad’s aura, since not only does it give Tidehunter a lot of extra mana regeneration, it also sustains him in terms of HP: even after lifesteal nerfs, hitting a wave of creeps with Anchor Smash restores a respectable amount of health.
Another situational item might include Mage Slayer. Anchor Smash is an instant attack in an AoE that applies all debuffs. When playing against heavy ability damage heroes, Mage Slayer might become your best option, as it will severely restrict the enemy damage output. It will essentially make you unignorable and will indirectly protect your teammates as well.
All of the above is aimed at making Tidehunter relevant in your everyday pubs. Over-relying on one ability is ill advised in the vast majority of cases, so perhaps building a good frontliner first and foremost is a better option.
All of the above is how the hero should be played in pubs, in our opinion. This is mirrored by Immortal pubs as well, where most pro-level players opt for Wraith Pact into Blink into Shard item progression. However, even with this build, Tidehunter is still far from being professionally viable.
The hero is extremely reliant on a very long cooldown. The same can be said about Enigma, one of the biggest heroes of the patch, but unlike Tidehunter, Enigma can be a lane pusher and a lane dominator even without his Black Hole.
Even Earthshaker as a support seemingly has more relevance without his Blink Dagger + Echo Slam combo: at least he has an out-of-fog unexpected stun to set up a kill.
We feel like there isn’t a magical build or a good itemization that will make Tidehunter a popular pick right now: the hero needs to be addressed directly. Getting extra lane presence or maybe making his new Shard slightly stronger could go a long way.
Alternatively, making Anchor Smash BKB-piercing like it historically was could be a way for the hero to make a comeback. The damage on the ability is largely irrelevant outside of some very questionable builds. But the ability to apply damage-mitigation effects could potentially make the hero more viable.
What do you think of Tidehunter and do you feel like Valve are going to buff the hero before the International? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.