I first want to thank Sam “The Plaid Pirate” for giving me the opportunity to share with you, the reader, the secrets of tread switching. I’ve uncovered these secrets through hours of playing Dota, hearing casters refer to tread switching, and then Googling “tread switching” to find out what they meant. If you follow Dota on Reddit, you may know that tread switching is one of the very basic tricks that all the 9k Redditors know, like countering entire heroes with one item (BKB), and only losing because of the Peruvians on your team. Understanding tread switching will add somewhere around 2,000 to 3,000 MMR to your solo account – you’re welcome! (therefore my actual MMR in the absence of my tread switching ability is somewhere between 300 and negative 700)
More seriously [No, probably not more seriously – Ed.], tread switching is one of the many game mechanics in Dota that is completely unexplained and likely emerged from players’ actual play, rather than being an express design decision of IceFrog. It gives you some more efficiency in resource use (hp and mana), and critically makes you feel like a professional dota player. The esteemed gamer Sean “Day” Plott explained in one of his “Day Dailies” that esports and gaming are great because you can watch what professionals do and then do that very thing in a game against your own peers, and feel good about yourself, even if you’re never going to win GSL or an International. So really, tread switching is about positivity and feeling good about yourself! Tread switch, WLDers - you’re worth it!
Here’s how it actually works: when Dota adds or subtracts attributes (STR, AGI, INT) from a hero, it maintains the same percentages of hp and mana that the hero had before the attribute change (throughout this essay I will use the term “attribute” to refer to STR, AGI, and INT, and “resources” to refer to hp and mana). This is why, for example, when Undying throws a couple Decay stacks on you, you have “full” health, even though you’ve only got 200 hp. What’s interesting about this is when you combine 1) Power Treads’ ability to quickly move around attributes with 2) the expenditure of resources, mainly (though not exclusively) mana.
An example: Say you are Dragon Knight (a STR hero) and have 300 mana without Treads, and you’d like to cast Level 1 Dragon Tail – a spell that costs 100 mana. You do so, and you now have 200 mana, or 67% of your previous total. This, I think, is fairly straightforward.
Since you’re playing DK, you buy Treads. In STR form, they add the normal +25 attack speed and +45 movement speed, but also 180 health, some health regeneration, and +9 damage. But you want to stun your opponent, so you switch to INT on your treads, which among other things not relevant to our example adds 108 mana, so your total mana pool is now 408. You cast Dragon Tail, which costs 100 mana, and you now have 308 / 408, or around 75% of your pool. Here’s where the magic happens: when you switch back to STR, Dota maintains your percentage of expended mana, and you have 225/300 instead of 200/300. Free 25 mana!
This works in all sorts of examples, too, some of which I’ll mention in the next section. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re dealing with spells that have low cooldowns and low mana costs, it can add up and really improve your efficiency.
What follows is a brief explanation of how you can learn to do this. It is how I went about learning tread switching, and so it is almost certainly the objectively correct one. Behold: The Liberace Method.
The best part of the picture is the scepter he’s holding.
For whatever reason, I decided early on in my Dota “career” to learn to do it and incorporate it into my muscle memory so if I ever got better (spoiler alert: not going so well!) I’d at least have that little mechanic down. I used to play quite a bit of Starcraft II, and I always insisted on playing “the right way,” even if I did so poorly, so I would have a good foundation on which to improve (spoiler alert: it didn’t go so well!). That’s maybe not “fun,” and it’s incredibly nerdy and actually kind of embarrassing to type out, but that’s how I approach games like this for myself.
Step 1: Regen
An easy tip for Treads that I think most people know is to only use your Bottle to regen hp and mana when your Treads are on AGI. Since your hp and mana are then at a relative minimum raw value, Bottle’s +75 of the resource increases it by the largest percentage, which is then maintained when you switch back to INT. So if you’re playing Storm Spirit or Windranger, make sure you’re on AGI when Bottling! And, of course, AGI for the Fountain and Shrines as well.
Step 2: Spam Low-CD, Low-Mana Spells
The easiest way IMO to learn to tread switch for casting is to pick heroes who do it a lot, usually in situations where you’re not under pressure from the enemy team. My chosen hero was Slark.
Example: Dark Pact costs 40 mana at Level 4, on a 6 second cooldown. It does 300 damage to enemy units around him, and while he takes 150 damage, he also heals super fast when nobody can see him so it’s not that important. During that mid-game period when you’re AFK farming instead of teamfighting and your teammates are pinging you and All-chatting “Report slark jajaja,” going from camp to camp Dark Pacting them all down speeds up your farm a lot.
Slark is an AGI hero, so generally my Treads are on AGI. But when I cast Dark Pact, I switch them to INT, so the 40 mana is paid from a larger pool, then switch back to AGI for the damage and armor when I’m right-clicking the creeps that I’m farming. I keep my Treads on “S,” and have “Q” for Dark Pact, so my routine is S-S-Q-S. That’s “AGI to STR,” “STR to INT,” “Dark Pact,” “INT to AGI.” Now, if you’re really pro, you can have them on STR while the 150 health is counting down, so you can execute S-S-Q-S-S-[wait for the hp expenditure to complete]-S-S. But that’s above my pay grade, and I’ve watched Arteezy and EE play Slark on stream and they don’t even do it. But it is technically more efficient, I think.
This also ought to be done with Anti-Mage’s Blink – S-S-W-click on target location-S. Anti-Mage and Slark are heroes who don’t have huge mana pools early or much mana regen necessarily, so this actually keeps you out on the map quite a bit more than if you just stuck on AGI and did it. So pick heroes like that – even in a practice lobby – and just SSQS and SSWclickS around the map training your muscles to do this. Before you know it, you’ll be like this:
Step 3: Complicated (read: Fun) Stuff
I also buy Treads on Medusa because with Mystic Snake, you can have almost infinite casts of it. She’s an AGI hero, so stay on AGI most of the time, but then switch to INT when casting Snake, but switch back to AGI before it comes back, because it adds raw mana and when your Treads are on not-INT, you have a smaller mana pool and it will increase your mana by a larger percentage. Necrophos is another fun one because Death Pulse costs mana and heals hp, so you cast it while on INT, then when regenning mana and hp from what used to be Sadism, you should be on AGI because the regen is raw numbers and AGI treads provide the relative minimum for those resources.
But there are cooler examples, too. Clinkz is another hero who usually builds Treads, and with a Soul Ring and his ultimate ability Death Pact, Treads can extend his resources almost indefinitely (until you walk under a Sentry Ward and get Laguna Bladed). Soul Ring costs hp and gives raw mana, so you switch to STR Treads, use the Soul Ring active, then switch to INT Treads to cast Death Pact which gives you hp, then cast Invisibility. The calculations are complicated, especially when incorporating Death Pact’s weird treatment of hp, but you can do the whole thing at almost no cost. I use “X” for my Soul Ring, so it’s S-X-S-R-E, then I go fail a gank.
There are probably countless more cases that I haven’t listed. Have fun, explore the hero pool, and find your own!
Follow these steps:
1) use a Bottle efficiently so you get the idea of flat regen having the most effect on AGI;
2) practice some spammy, low CD, low mana spell, like Dark Pact or AM Blink;
3) move on to more complicated heroes like Medusa or Clinkz;
4) say “yes” when PPD calls you to play for EG, to replace his carry who left for another team.
Thanks for Sam for the opportunity to write this. I hope I wasn’t wrong about too many mechanics, and someone was at least entertained a little, even if my advice was crummy. I love the WLD community and was excited to be able to contribute to it.
CherLiberace ([Cher] Jm J. Bullock]