With the radical changes in 1.30, one hero in particular have seen a substantial rise in popularity; the Keeper of the Grove (KotG). In the recently concluded European WGL Qualifier #1, KotG was picked as the first hero 81,6% of the time (31 out of 38)! And this trend is not limited to the Western scene alone. Very similar numbers could be taken from the Netease September Qualifier.
This craze leaves answers to certain questions desired: What changed? Is this just a temporary trend? How do I utilize the potential of KotG? In this article I'll give my estimate on the above mentioned questions.
Perhaps you forgot, or maybe you didn't even read the patch notes for the two recent big patches, but nonetheless here's a brush-up for what is the cause of the current change in meta regarding Night Elf heroes.
Keeper of the Grove
Force of Nature
Not only did KotG get buffed, but the former supreme king of Night Elf heroes, Demon Hunter, also received a nerf, making a new first hero candidate all the more desirable.
The sudden rise in popularity of KotG reminded me a lot of Far Seer after the 1.29 patch went live. After the meta was allowed to settle a bit, Far Seer did, however, quickly fell out of favor, as opponents learned how to handle him.
I decided to compare the amount of games played with KotG played first as opposed to Far Seer. The data used is extracted from Liquipedia (Big thanks to the guys updating the tournament grids!).
I know there are certain sources of error when showing such data directly, but I still think the graph above is very relevant. Though KotG is seeing an obscene amount of play right now, I think it's quite safe to say, that the numbers will decrease in the months to come. But will KotG find a permanent place in the meta unlike Far Seer? That question brings us straight to the next paragraph!
I want to start this paragraphs with a little disclaimer. Since the meta hasn't had time to settle, it's extremely hard (borderline impossible) to know where KotG will find if place. Hence I may be completely wrong about some of my prediction. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on how you think the meta will shape out to be!
Right now everyone is experimenting with various ways of playing him, and KotG is no stranger to experimenting. Players like ThomasG and HoT have for instance played him together with Fire Lord in order to make for extremely sharp (and risky) pushes many years ago.
Match overview ThomasG v. Grubby Zotac Cup 146 (2010)
There is not much to be discussed about what general playstyle-category KotG belongs in. As his two main abilities (Force of Nature and Entangle) both are vulnerable to dispelling abilities, he tend to struggle once the opposing players achieves tier 2/3. Compensating for this weakness, he's one of the strongest early game heroes in the game. Therefor your goal when playing KotG is to either close the game as soon as possible or make use of your strong early game to get a substantial lead by, for instance, by delaying the opponent while making a safe expansion.
ToD v. Foggy Echo Isles
This recent game between ToD and Foggy from WGL 2018W Qualifier #1 is a perfect example of the latter mentioned scenario. Foggy utilizes the cheaper and stronger Force of Nature together with Ancient of War to creep the three orange camps extremely fast (2 orange camps before ToD crept 1 green and 1 orange), and thus achieving level 3. He could afford to tech while expanding and delaying his Hunter's Hall a ton, which would normally be super greedy, since he know the power that KotG posses early on. He used the fast level 3 to harass ToD's expansion with level 2 Force of Nature. ToD defended it very well, but, almost inevitable, still lost time and resources, which extended Foggy's lead and brought him to a comfortable late game.
Zhou_xixi v. Fly100%
This game played between Zhou_xixi and Fly100% during WGL 2018W Netease Qualifier (September) shows a the other, much more brute-ish way of utilizing KotG. Zhou_xixi manages to take out the 2018 World Championship's finalist by putting on pressure from the get-go. Getting an early Hunter's Hall and two Ancient of War to pump out massive amounts of Huntresses that ended up being too much for Fly100% to handle.
So now that we've established the main strategies with KotG, let's talk about what matchups he works best in. In my opinion he shines the most against Human and Orc compared to against Undead and Night Elf.
When playing against Undead you'll have a hard time closing the game out brutishly, like we Zhou_xixi did against Fly100%. This is mainly due to the nearly impenetrable base of Undead, which will allow them to stall the game enough for them to counter you efficiently. Planning for a longer game is the other option. Though you will be able to get a substantial advantage in the early game, the Undead will still eventually be able to reach their infamous power spike, where they'll send of a devastating push. Having Demon Hunter over KotG works much better against this, as Undead rely a ton on their hero abilities (Death Coil and Frost Nova), due to Mana Burn. By keeping their mana low, you take away a big part of their strength.
Against Night Elf I find KotG lacking due to the dispel again Force of Nature from Wisps, Moon Wells and the Mana Burn from Demon Hunter. I know that you can keep your distance from Mana Burn with the longer range of Entangle, but this will be very hard to avoid the entire time without wasting all your mana, as Demon Hunter can replenish his health much more effectively that you can restore your mana. So in short I simply think Demon Hunter works too well against KotG.
The Foggy game shows well why I like KotG against Human. If they don't get an early Arcane Tower up, they'll struggle a lot against Force of Nature harass. The Human can opt for 1-base with Riflemen into casters, which is probably the best strategy against KotG. You can combat this quite well by going for a fast tech and getting Mountain Giants (or Bears), which they'll have a very hard time dealing with. Your focus should be on delaying their t2 push as much as possible to make time for your tech.
Orc units are notoriously known for being few and beefy. This improves Entangle quite a bit, as the difference between trapping and killing a Grunt compared to a Footmen is huge. Losing a Grunt in the early game can be devastating for an Orc. I'll advice against stretching the game out too long against Orc, since they have good ways of dealing with you given time. Therefor I suggest fighting brute with brute and going for a Huntresses push (maybe with Fire Lord like some have tried?)
As I mentioned earlier I'm eager to hear your thoughts on KotG in the upcoming meta. Do you think he'll see play anywhere? Though it's all speculations I encourage you to let out your opinion so we can have some interesting, healthy discussion!