Shadow Fiend is one of the most popular heroes in the game, second only to Pudge. Today, I will explain how you can counter him as a mid laner.
The first 5 minutes are fundamental
Shadow Fiend has a very poor starting damage (35-41), but owns an ability to rise it drastically: with Necromastery, he can steal the souls from the units he kills, gaining bonus damage for each of them. After collecting a sufficient number of souls, his damage has no equals in the early game, and he can dominate the lane phase.
Our mighty Frog balanced the hero by giving the opponents plenty of chances to ruin his early game:
A low health pool of 500.
Almost no armor: 1.33 at level one.
No escapes or mobility skills.
No disables to stun or slow the assaulters when ganked.
The hero is quite weak against gankers, and I even recommend to opt for a dual mid during the first minutes of the game.
Your support can zone out SF, so he will remain behind in experience and won’t be able to get souls. After losing the first 5 minutes of the match, he will turn into a weak threat in the mid game.
Bane is one of your best companions for this job.
Enfeeble reduces even more the already low attack damage of Shadow Fiend, making last-hitting a real pain.
SF has only 500 health at level one, so the pure damage of Brain Sap is a big issue. Bane can out-harass him and heal himself.
Nightmare is a perfect tool to prevent last-hits or even set up a gank.
Mid lane counters
Now you have an idea about Shadow Fiend’s vulnerabilities and how you can defeat him with the help of the team. But, winning the mid lane is easy even when alone, if using the appropriate strategy and heroes.
You need heroes that can play aggressively from level one, can out-damage him (which is rather easy considering his poor starting damage), or with an innate mobility to avoid his Razes
Templar Assassin is a great counter in all stages of the match
Definitely, Templar Assassin is the hero you want to learn to deal with the excessive amount of Shadow Fiends in the game.
Refraction for damage and protection. The ability has two uses: it increases your damage, which helps last-hitting and harassing (thus limiting SF’s souls count) and is a lifesaver against Shadowraze. Even a single level into the skill is enough to survive against a fatal triple-Raze.
Psi Blades as a harassing tool. The extra attack range and pure damage provided by Psi Blades are excellent to harass any opponent in the mid lane. An excessive aggressiveness may push the creep wave under the enemy tower, but do not be afraid as without souls Shadow Friend can’t really last-hit there.
Psi Blades isn’t an easy skill to utilize, and a lot of practice is necessary to master it. A newbie Templar Assassin won’t win the lane against an experienced Shadow Fiend only because she is a natural counter.
Also, be sure to skill it at level one: even without the bonus damage from Refraction, TA still has the advantage thanks to her higher base damage.
If completely zoned out, Shadow Fiend can still get extra farm by stacking jungle camps and cleaning them with Shadowraze, but Templar Assassin can do the same thanks to Psi Blades.
At level six, you can just kill Shadow Fiend on your own by slowing and damaging him with Psionic Trap, and using Refraction for bonus damage.
TA works also in the late game because her huge physical attack damage can’t be mitigated by SF’s Black King Bar.
Ranged heroes with a solid damage are SF’s nightmare
Overall, any ranged hero with a good attack damage can deal with him. As a ranged hero, you can’t be hit by a triple-Raze easily, so Shadow Fiend won’t be able to inflict fatal damage and score a kill.
- Heroes like Viper, Tinker, Windranger, or Huskar are all great choices because - thanks to their skill-set - they can play aggressively, survive, and win the lane. Most heroes with a higher damage than him, and that can avoid or survive to Shadowraze, will have the upper hand in the lane phase.
- Puck is great if in the hands of an expert player. He has 50 more range and about 20 more damage at level one, so with some damaging items (two Null Talismans) he can easily last-hit better than SF and out-harass him.
If well-played, Shadow Fiend will soon fall behind in levels and Puck will snowball. Instead, playing passively and letting him stack souls is the best way to lose the lane. Finally, Phase Shift is also a handy tool to avoid Razes if caught off-guard.
- Pugna is a very underrated counter. He possesses a better auto-attack damage, and Decrepify can be used to contest creeps. With Nether Blast, Pugna can easily push the lane into the enemy tower, making last-hitting even harder for Shadow Fiend if he couldn’t collect enough souls. Still, I suggest this pick only to veteran players.
The game-changing Infused Raindrops
A not common choice in lower MMR brackets. The Infused Raindrops are one of the best items you can buy to counter Shadow Fiend during the lane phase.
If you manage to maintain the control of the lane, denying as many souls as possible, Shadow Fiend can only rely on Shadowraze to harass you, and hope to pull out a triple-Raze to get a kill.
The Infused Raindrops - available for purchase at the 3 minute mark - prevent this issue, saving your hero from your own positioning mistakes. For 225 gold you get 5 charges that block 120 magic damage each, more than enough to survive at least against two Shadowraze combos. Do not be greedy and preserve your life!
Header image: Valve
Vincenzo is an esports writer with five years of experience. Former head editor for Natus Vincere, he has produced content for DreamHack, FACEIT, DOTAFire, 2P, and more. Follow him on @SkulzDota.