Why Bristleback is staking his claim as the best offlaner at TI12

It’s not quite time to look back on The International 2023 yet, with still a weekend of epic gameplay to go — but one hero certainly wants to turn his back on you.

In an era of uber-tanky cores, Rigwarl the Bristleback is proving to be one of its brightest stars. Do you want to dive anywhere with impunity like Team Spirit’s Magomed “Collapse” Khalilov?

Then learn to abuse Rigwarl’s timings, learn why he’s so good in this meta, and the perfect items to take your Bristleback to unkillable status.

How Bristleback became front and center at TI12

Bristleback, mostly played in the offlane, is amazing at securing objectives. Vicous Nasal Goo’s armor reduction is impressive against heroes, yes, but it’s also phenomenal against important targets like Roshan and Tormentors.

Bristleback is also one of the few heroes that can reliably and safely solo the Tormentor. Due to how armor reduction interacts, negative armor building up on the neutral creep proves extremely effective.

The hero’s counters have also taken a backseat. Rigwarl doesn’t like Breaks, since he relies heavily on his passive. Heroes with natural, in-built breaks are few and far between, and though Shadow Demon and Primal Beast have seen quite a bit of play, Viper, Phantom Assassin, and Hoodwink have had abysmal showings at the tournament.

Plus, it’s the meta of the tanky frontliners. This hero doesn’t quite go Blademail and Heart of Tarrasque, but he follows much of the same principles — he loves to prolong fights, he can literally dish back any damage dealt to him thanks to his passive, and he’s seemingly unkillable with the right items.

The offlane suits the hero, because he’s great at cutting creep waves and dragging them into jungle creeps for extra jungle farm. This frees your support up to stack the triangle, and ancient stacks are paramount at ensuring this hero hits his rather greedy item timings.

Bristleback’s new item build is all about casting

Credit: Valve

Rigwarl’s preferred item build is straightforward. The first two items of choice are Arcane Boots and Vanguard — Arcane if you are crushing the lane and can convert the extra mana to more spells and a bigger lane advantage, Vanguard if you need the sustain to stay in the lane.

Then, it’s time to farm the next big item, and the absolute core of your build: Aghanim’s Scepter. The item was reworked in the big 7.34 patch, but it took some time for pros to truly uncover its potential. It’s able to quickly send out six quills, which can simultaneously be used with his own Quill Spray and Hairball spells to quickly get up to eight stacks on an enemy. Bristleback’s low cooldown means that it’s trivial to spam it, even for solo heroes.

The next big item after Aghanim’s is more than likely the Bloodstone. This is what makes the hero truly self-sustaining, and bonus — you can disassemble Arcane Boots and Vanguard to get your Energy and Vitality Boosters back for some extra efficiency. This item truly unlocks the infinite sustain this hero can get from spamming his spells.

You can see this in action with Marcus “Ace” Christensen’s Bristleback against Evil Geniuses, even in a fight the Bristle eventually lost. It takes a disproportionate amount of effort from EG to kill the hero, and even when broken by Silver Edge, he regained a substantial amount of health through Bloodstone’s active.

From here on out, the build gets more flexible. Dispels like Lotus Orb can be good against potent single-target disables that prevent you from moving around the teamfight. Black King Bar is another defensive item you can consider. If you want full out offense, Boots of Travel are good for mobility and joining fights whenever you need to, or something like Sange and Kaya for even more spell damage.

While older item builds have leveraged the hero’s armor reduction and Warpath’s right-click damage, it’s become obsolete in favor of this new build going all-in on spell lifesteal.

Take note — leave Bristleback’s signature passive at level one

Bristleback’s new penchant for spell lifesteal also opens up an alternative skill build. Quill Spray is your most important spell to max, but it’s important to leave the Bristleback passive at level one for math reasons. Since Quill Sprays only trigger when hitting a damage threshold — which takes into account any damage reduction, including the hero’s own passive.

It then becomes more efficient to not max out the spell to take more damage, thus triggering more Quill Sprays, which triggers spell lifesteal and enhances survivability, and more Quills… and you get the picture. Gustavo “Bowie” Mattos, a Brazillian Dota 2 caster, goes into more detail in his video here.

It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but the math checks out. It’s not something that makes glaring, obvious differences through the course of a game, but Quill Spray’s stacking damages means that one extra trigger can really make a big difference.