Bristleback has been called "the tankiest hero in Dota 2," and while it might be true, it doesn't tell the whole story.


Everyone knows Bristleback excels at tanking damage with his passive, but few know his full capacity to hand out damage. A good Bristleback player will kite, spray and tank, expertly avoiding damage while pumping it out. But playing the hero properly requires more than just not turning around; it requires thoughtful itemization, game sense, and positioning.

Skill Build

Proper skill distribution can be somewhat unintuitive for those not familiar with the ins and outs of Bristleback. Your first skill point is pretty much always going to go into Quill Spray, a damaging area of effect spray that deals more damage with more uses. Quill Spray works so well at level one because the damage stacking allows it to quickly ramp up to lucrative amounts, and particularly slow heroes, are straight up dead if you simply follow them pressing W. However, Viscous Nasal Goo can be just as powerful if your team is backing you up. The 20 percent movespeed slow and two armor reduction can lead to easy kills, granted your team is behind you.

After this, your skill build should prioritize Quill Spray and the Bristleback passive, depending on if you are taking more damage. The Bristleback passive reduces all damage coming from his rear or sides, so this works wonders to increase effective health. Get your ultimate whenever possible, and make sure to squeeze in one point of Viscous Nasal Goo around level 4 or 5, as the skill excels with only one point in it. 


Itemization

Bristleback is one of the most interesting heroes in Dota 2, and that fact stems from his wide variety of viable item builds. The first one is likely the most common: the tank build. The tank build is built for one purpose and one purpose only, to take damage. Possible items that fit into this are Pipe of Insight, Vanguard, Heart of Terrasque, Blade Mail, or anything that gives you more HP, armor, magic resistance or evasion. Build to counter the enemies' strengths: if they have a lot of magic damage, build pipe, physical damage build armor.

The next build is a little more complex, as it focuses on dishing out magic damage and healing from it. The core item here is Radiance, an item which lets Bristleback pump out consistent damage throughout a fight as he stands in the middle of it and soaks up damage. The next big item to go for is Octarine Core, which among other things, gives plus 25 spell lifesteal. This works with both Radiance and Quill Spray, meaning you'll be healing for upwards of 200 health per second in a team fight. 


Positioning

Keep your back to the enemy whenever possible, even when chasing, be ready to turn on a dime to prevent 40 percent of damage taken. This means in fights you'll want to be smack dab in the middle with your back facing all five enemy heroes. If you do this with the right items and the right skills, your MMR will start stacking up faster than Quill Spray stacks.


Photo courtesy of Valve