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Crystal Maiden: The “1-Protect-4” Support Guide

The support everyone needs but doesn't deserve

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Article originally published on Spout360. Written by Xing Yang

In DOTA 2, the term “4-protect-1” describes a strategy where a team’s composition and game plan revolves around four heroes creating space for their one hard carry to farm and eventually get so big it can single-handedly win them the match during the late game. This strategy was especially popular in competitive play during the TI2 days, where having a super-farmed Anti-Mage or Morphling would give a team a high chance of taking the game.

In your pub games today, you are more likely than not to see the reverse: 1-protect-4, where all four teammates decide to pick core heroes, leaving you to be the solo support that secures vision and protects the team with minimal space for yourself to farm. What would be the best hero you can pick to fill this role? A compelling answer to this question would be Crystal Maiden (CM).

In this guide, we will discuss what makes CM the best 5-position hero in the game, and how to get the most out of her and her skillset.

1. Why Crystal Maiden?

Despite her poor base attributes, CM remains a popular pick with a win rate of over 54% in pub games. Her strength lies in her four skills, all of which are very useful throughout the game in helping her support the team. She also does not require many items to be effective and fits into most lineups.

Crystal Nova

Fun Fact: CM’s Q ability was named Frost Nova and worked like Lich’s Frost Blast in the early days of DOTA 1, but was since replaced by the current AoE spell.

Crystal Nova is a 425 AoE radius spell that deals 100/150/200/250 magic damage, slows attack speed by 20/30/40/50 and movement speed by 20/30/40/50% for 4.5 seconds. It is somewhat lacklustre at level 1, but the slows are incredibly powerful at level 4. You can use it as a nuke to clear creepwaves or slow enemy heroes to kite or allow your teammates to catch up with them.


Frostbite applies a ministun that cancels channeling abilities including TP scrolls, roots the target for 1.5/2/2.5/3 seconds and deals 150/200/250/300 magic damage. On non-ancient creeps, it roots for 10 seconds and deals 1000 magic damage at all levels.

Frostbite is a root and not a stun, so enemies can still cast spells, but since the change to root mechanics in patch 7.00, it now disables many movement and phasing abilities, including all types of Blink, Faceless Void’s Time Walk, Mirana’s Leap, Puck’s Phase Shift, Slark’s Pounce, Storm Spirit’s Ball Lightning and Timbersaw’s Chain. This has made CM a relatively strong counter against these mobile heroes as she can chase and counter initiate them if they jump in.

Against neutral creeps, Frostbite can be used to kill non-ancient creeps, allowing CM to farm experience for levels and gold to buy the support items the team needs, without sapping experience from lane.

Arcane Aura

Arguably, CM’s strongest skill is her Arcane Aura. The global aura greatly benefits the team, providing allies and herself with 1/1.5/2/3 and 2/3/4/8 mana regen respectively. During the laning phase, it gives mana-intensive cores the extra juice they need to sustain their lane and allows your roamers to cast the extra spell to gank enemy heroes. It also allows your teammates to travel around the map for much longer during the mid-game without having to return to fountain to regenerate.

Freezing Field

CM’s Ultimate is a 10-second channeled spell that slows enemies’ movement and attack speed by 30% and 30 respectively and deals 105/170/250 magic damage per second in a 835 radius around her. As a channelled spell, CM cannot move while casting FF, making her vulnerable to stuns, silences, or enough damage to kill her to cancel the ultimate. This makes FF difficult to cast to maximum effectiveness and good positioning and situational awareness is required to execute it well. That said, a well-casted FF deals enormous damage and slows against the enemy team and completely turn a team fight around in her favour.

This makes FF difficult to cast to maximum effectiveness and good positioning and situational awareness is required to execute it well. That said, a well-casted FF deals enormous damage and slows against the enemy team and completely turn a team fight around in her favour.

2. Item Build

a) Starting Items

As A Solo Support

If you are the only hero buying support items for the team, this is the build to go.

Smoke of Deceit: Used for ganking. When you gank the enemy mid or offlane, there is a high chance that it is warded and an enemy that sees you walking towards it will dodge the gank. SoD will help you remain invisible under enemy wards and thus increase your chance of a successful gank.

Observer Wards: For providing vision. Wards give your team information on enemy movements, allowing them to know whether they should play defensively or offensively in lane and throughout the game.

Tangos & Clarities: To help you sustain during the laning phase. Even though CM has Arcane Aura, her mana pool is very small and clarities will be needed.

Iron Branches: As mentioned, CM’s mana pool is very small for an intelligence hero and her spells are very mana intensive. Her mana pool at level 1 is 251 and can only cast one frostbite, after which you will have to pop a clarity before casting your next. The two iron branches will boost her total mana to 273, allowing you to cast the second frostbite when it comes off cooldown, which can sometimes secure you a kill on an enemy hero. In addition, she will gain an additional 40 total hp and is used to make a magic wand later.

Animal Courier: Needless to say, every team should have this at the start of the game.

With A Second Support

If your team has a second support that is willing to buy support items, ask him to buy the courier and use the extra gold to build as shown below.

In this build, you have an extra TP scroll. Use it to TP to your safelane ASAP once you spawn and plant a lane ward that can see enemies entering your jungle. Chances are, the enemy offlaner will plant a ward near your easy or hard camp near the lane. If you see him walking in with a ward and out without one, predict where it is and buy a sentry to deward it once you have the gold.

If the enemy team has a Bounty Hunter, Riki, or Clinkz, they will probably try to steal your bounty rune (usually safelane) at the start of the game. Before the rune spawns at 0:00, camp near the rune spot but remain hidden in the trees, and pop the dust and kill him with your team if the rune is stolen.

b) Early Game

This is how your inventory should look like within 10-15 minutes.

Tranquil Boots: Tranquils is the first non-consumable you should complete. The +90 movement speed will help you travel the map much faster and close the distance on enemies you gank, and +14 health regen, together with Arcane Aura, will ensure that you never need to return to base.

Magic Wand: Once you get your Tranquil Boots, the next item will be Magic Wand. The wand gives precious stats to boost your health and mana pool, and the burst regen from the active is really handy when you need that extra bit of health to survive or mana to cast an additional spell to secure a kill.

Infused Raindrop: This item is optional, but I highly recommend getting it against magic-heavy enemies such as Lion, Lina and Zeus. The 120 block against incoming magic damage can often save you from their nuke combos.

TP Scroll: Always carry this with you. Watch out for enemy ganks on your lanes and be prepared to TP in if you are able to save your allies. A successful counter-gank not only saves your allies, but may also result in securing a kill for your team.

Observer and Sentry Wards: Whether you or your other support buys them, always ensure that the observer wards are kept out of stock. If there is more than one ward in stock, it is likely that your team is not having sufficient vision around the map.

As for sentries, try to have at least one with you, so you can deward enemy wards quickly when you figure out where they are.

c) Mid Game:

Once you have gotten your early game items, proceed to build a Glimmer Cape and Aether Lens. Aim for a 18-25 min Glimmer Cape (or earlier if you are snowballing) and 30-35 min Aether Lens.

Glimmer Cape: Glimmer Cape is a utility item that provides a lot of survivability to you and your team. If any of your allies around you (including yourself) get targeted by enemies, cast it on them to provide them with invisibility and bonus magic resistance. You can also cast this offensively, on yourself right before you walk in to cast your ultimate. If the enemy does not have detection or an AoE disable, you should be able to get off a good Freezing Field.

Aether Lens: With CM’s mana pool being so small, it can be difficult to cast her whole arsenal of spells in a fight unless you start off with full mana. Aether lens will give you the extra mana pool you need, and additional cast range that will allow you to cast your spells from a safer distance.

Situational Items

Force Staff: Generally a useful escape utility item, but a must-get if you are up against a Clockwerk to get out of his cogs.

Drum of Endurance: An all-rounded item that gives some stats, movement and attack speed. I personally do not favour this item as much as others do, as it isn’t particularly strong at anything, but I pick it up when my team wants to group up and push early.

Eul’s Scepter of Divinity: This item can be helpful in buying space if the enemy carry has detection (e.g. carries dust with them). Also provides a decent amount of mana pool from stats and movement speed.

d) Late Game

If your game goes past the hour mark, you can build up some luxury items around your ultimate, or go for more utility. If you think that getting a good Freezing Field off can win the game, go for the ultimate build. Otherwise, you may want to look at the utility build.

Ultimate Build

Blink Dagger: Some people get this in the mid game, but I favour getting the Aether Lens instead, as it is easier to build and provides stats. At the same time, the cast range from Aether Lens somewhat does what Blink Dagger provides, namely allowing you to initiate from distance. However, if the game drags on long enough and you have extra gold, you can purchase this to further help you in your positioning, including blinking into the trees to cast Freezing Field.

Black King Bar: If you are up against many disables such as stuns and silences, picking up a BKB will help protect you against them from interrupting your Freezing Field. However, take note that there are some disables that pierce the magic immunity provided by BKB, such as Magnus’ Reverse Polarity and Faceless Void’s Chronosphere, and you are still vulnerable to physical damage.

Aghanim’s Scepter: Another nice-to-have item is the Aghs. It applies Frostbite on enemies that stand in the Freezing Field for 2.5 seconds. Get this only if you are sure that you can get off a reliable Ultimate.

Utility Build

Scythe of Vyse: The Hex active is a disable that slows enemies to 140ms and prevents them from casting items, spells and attacking. Use it to catch split pushing heroes, or disable key targets in teamfights before they use their BKBs or after their BKB duration ends.

Linken’s Sphere and Lotus Orb: These are defensive items that you can use to protect your allies. Each is strong in its own ways and you should look at the enemy lineup when deciding which to get. For example, Linkens is strong against Legion Commander’s Duel, while Lotus does not block it (rather, it blocks and casts it back, causing the Duel to happen anyway). Also, Lotus applies a basic dispel, allowing you to remove some negative buffs such as hexes on allies while Linkens does not.

3. Skill Build

Start off with a level of Frostbite. This will allow you to jungle early and gank enemies.

Max Arcane Aura first

As mentioned earlier, the mana regen is very useful in helping your team sustain in lane. Also, the 8 mana self-regen when maxed will let you remain very active on the map, whether you decide to jungle or roam.

Max Crystal Nova next, then Frostbite

Crystal Nova is useful for clearing out creep waves. You can use it to push lanes or clear the small creeps after you frostbite the big ones. Remember, Frostbite does 1000 damage to neutral creeps at all levels, thus leveling Nova over Frostbite is better in accelerating your farm since a higher level of Nova deals more damage against creeps.

If you are up against mobile heroes like Storm Spirit, Anti-Mage, Queen of Pain and Faceless Void, you may want to max Frostbite before Nova. While this may hurt your farming ability, the extra root duration will be a nightmare for them.

Level +60 damage talent at level 12

The +60 damage talent is way superior to +15% magic resistance. +60 damage allows you to farm much faster, while +15% magic resistance doesn’t offer much considering that CM’s health pool is so small.

I personally prefer to max Nova and have a second level in Frostbite before taking my first talent. The additional 10% MS and 10 AS slow plus the 50 AoE damage in Nova is more important, and the 33% increase in Frostbite duration against heroes from level 1 to 2 is too much to give up for the talent.

Level 2 Ultimate at level 16

Unless you build a fast Aether Lens, you will usually not have enough mana to cast Nova + Frostbite + Glimmer Cape + Level 2 FF. The ultimate is also CM’s least reliable spell, so focus on leveling up other spells before coming back for the level 2 ultimate.

+1.5s Frostbite duration at level 25

As BKBs start to fall off in the late game, the root from Frostbite will become incredibly useful. +300 Crystal Nova damage is nice to have, but the root disable is way more valuable at this stage of the game. The only time you should take the Nova talent is if you are defending against mega creeps.

4. Gameplay

a. Pre-Game

Pool your midlaner two tangoes and your offlaner an observer ward. As mentioned earlier under item build, if you have someone to buy the courier for you, tp to your safe lane tier 1 tower and plant a lane ward. This will help you see the enemy offlaner walking into your jungle to plant their ward and watch their movements during the laning phase so you can gank them when they go too deep into the lane away from their tower. It will also help you spot rotations to and from their enemy tier 1 tower.

As Radiant

As Dire

As solo support, walking out to the lane from the base to plant these wards is a bad idea because the enemy offlaner has most likely planted their ward and will see you putting yours down.

You should instead ward the cliff near the offlane around the 2 minute mark when you go around collecting bounty runes.

As Radiant

As Dire

These ward locations are suggestions. You may want to ward the midlane instead if you feel that lane is susceptible to ganks.

b. Laning Phase

From 0:15 to 0:45, either Frostbite the large camp big creep for some gold and experience when it spawns at 0:30, or harass the offlaner with Frostbite and right clicks. At 0:45, move into position to stack either the easy or hard camp at 0:53. Once stacked, you can start pulling them into your lane at the 15-second or 45-second mark to pull your lane creeps to deny the enemy offlaner XP.

A few tips:

  • Never stand in lane and do nothing. If you stand in lane without helping your carry zone out the offlaner, you are simply sapping XP from your carry and wasting time not doing better things.
  • When farming the hard camp, right click one of the creeps to aggro them. Run away with your hero, then Frostbite the big creep when it starts walking back towards the camp. This will ensure that the smaller creeps do not hit you when you are farming the big one and that the big creep you are Frostbiting does not have the magic resist aura from the small creep (for Centaur and Hellbear camps).
  • Do not single pull the easy camp (pull without stacking first). This will cause the lane to push towards the enemy tier 1 tower and give their offlaner XP.

Spend the first ten minutes either jungling and stacking or ganking with the other support. Whichever you decide to do really depends on the circumstances of the game; do you need to shut down that enemy hero? Considering the enemy hero and your team’s hero in that lane, is that lane gankable? Ask yourself these questions before deciding on your course of action.

If you decide to gank, use the SoD with your other support and go for the kill when you see them in a bad position.

c. Mid-Late Game Phase

As the laning phase breaks down, look to take objectives with your team. Communicate with them to group up and take objectives (towers, Roshan) when they get their key items.

As a support, one of your key roles is to secure vision. As a hero with poor escape, it is usually a bad idea for you to walk into the enemy jungle alone unless you see 4-5 heroes elsewhere on the map. When the opportunity arises, ask your team to smoke with you into the enemy woods so you can plant some deep wards and perhaps get a pick-off on a high priority target. Deep wards will help you see enemy movements for gank potential and to see their supports planting wards so you know where to deward. Always deward at the first possible moment to deny the enemy as much vision as possible.

In teamfights, it is important that you position yourself well. CM is an extremely squishy hero and you will be food for enemy if you get caught in a bad spot. Sit behind your frontline tanks and cast your spells from distance. Once you build your Glimmer Cape, be ready to save allies that need help or glimmer in and cast Freezing Field when the enemies have expanded all their disables.

Communication is key to winning the game. Watch the minimap, predict enemy movements, and make calls for your team. Crystal Maiden herself may not always have the greatest impact on the game, but reading the game and helping your teammates make better decisions can ultimately decide the outcome of the match.