Our Dota Underlords Positioning Guide will provide you with all the basic knowledge you need regarding the different alliances and how to best position your units in order to optimize play!
For the purpose of this guide, we'll be going alliance by alliance, since these often determine the general positioning strategy of the units (with some key exceptions).
While the creeps in this game are underpowered in comparison to their Auto Chess counterparts, you should still be aware of the creep rounds and adjust your board positioning if you feel you may have a hard time. If you are employing a positioning strategy where you have all your units bunched up when they don't need to be (no proximity buffs), you could spread your units out a little during creep rounds to ensure that they are all free to move and so that your units can surround the creeps in an effective way. Keeping your board bunched up together could lead to some units not attacking or not moving at the start of the round.
On Round 15 when facing the Dog & Pony Show, you may want to reverse your board, placing your ranged characters on the "frontline", while your tankier melee units go in back. This is done because the creeps on this round act like Assassins, jumping beyond your frontlines. Reversing your positioning during this round will ensure that your melee characters are the ones being attacked by the creeps first.
With Warriors, you generally want to position them as your frontline since they tend to be quite "tanky" given their armor alliance buff. The exception with Warriors being generally considered as frontline pieces would be Troll Warlord, since he attacks with range and has no active ability. The ability of a unit is important when considering positioning, since certain units will have abilities that you absolutely need to activate to optimize your strategy. This is why you'll often see experienced players place their units like Kunkka and Lycan - units with powerful abilities - in the corner frontline of the board. This is done because you wouldn't want Kunkka or Lycan being attacked by 2-3 of your opponent's units. You want your tankiest Warriors in the form of level 2 or level 3 Pudges, Axes and Juggernauts in the middle to absorb some of the major initial damage, while Kunkka and Lycan are in the corners battling 1-on-1 with a unit, giving them a better chance to activate their ability!
We begin with Mages and Warriors because they contrast well and really give you a clear vision for why they are to be treated differently when considering position on the board. While warriors have a lot of health and armor, Mages tend to be a lot weaker defensively (For example: A level 2 Puck has 900 HP, while a level 2 Slardar has 1,300 HP). What they lack in defense, they tend to make up for with sheer offensive power.
For this reason, Mages are generally placed behind your frontline and often can be seen bunched up in a corner so that opposing units won't be able to breach so easily and defeat the Mage units before they activate their ability. You'll usually want your Mages like Keeper of the Light, Crystal Maiden, Lina and Puck in the corner or bottom of your board, protected by a frontline. Razor is a Mage who players make exceptions for due to his Primordial alliance buff. Since he can disarm enemies with his alliance and has a powerful ability that you want to utilize as soon as possible, some players choose to position Razor in the frontline, often in the corner front-line position.
Hunters are the next alliance to be covered as they often employ some elements of both Mage & Warrior positioning strategies. Hunters like Beastmaster and Tidehunter can often be found on the frontlines, while ranged Hunters like Sniper, Mirana, Windranger and Drow are placed at the back. It is important to note that both Drow Ranger and the Hunter global item "Hunter's Focus" are more likely to have a positive impact on your game if all your Hunters are bunched up together. With hunters, a good general rule is that your ranged attackers are placed in back, while your melee attackers are on the frontlines.
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Knights are a little more complex in terms of positioning than the above alliances since their alliance buff has a proximity-based component and Knight attacks can be ranged or melee (and sometimes both in the case of Dragon Knight). While your tankier Knights like Abaddon, Chaos Knight and Omniknight will be on the frontlines, your other Knights like Batrider and Luna will be behind the frontlines so they can benefit from not getting hit by the initial rush. Dragon Knight is different and his positioning will likely depend on the rest of your build. With the Dragon alliance buff, you'll want him in the back since his attacks will be ranged at the start of the game. If you only have the 6 Knight buff, you might want him somewhere in the middle of a bunched-up group of Knights since their alliance buff grants them additional damage reduction if they're 1 cell away from each other. If you don't really have any buffs, you may consider placing the Dragon Knight in the corner frontline of a board so that, like Kunkka, he can go 1-on-1 with a potentially weaker frontline unit and still be able to activate his ability.
Assassins, like Knights, can be a little challenging to newer players when deciding where to position them on your board. With Morphling, you'll usually want him positioned on your frontline since he has a powerful ability that can deal AoE (Area of Effect) damage to multiple enemy units. He is also a Primordial unit like Razor, granting him a great defensive alliance buff should he be paired on the board with another Primordial unit. The Sand King is another Assassin unit that should usually be placed on the frontline since he has a good amount of health, a great base armor (10) and an ability that is similar to Morphling. Most of the other Assassins have low health and armor stats with high offensive stats, making them better suited in the back where they can then proceed to jump to the back of your opponent's board - bypassing the enemy's frontlines.
Warlocks tend to be ranged units (Shadow Fiend, Venomancer, Witch Doctor, etc) and are thus normally better suited behind your frontline. Since they have a proximity global buff - Soul Sucking Syphon - that regenerates health when the Warlocks are close to each other, you may even consider bunching up your units together and spreading out the Warlocks amongst your bunched-up units so that even non-Warlocks are benefiting from the Syphon perk. Some exceptions in the Warlock alliance in terms of positioning include Alchemist who is one of the bigger tanks in the game with 2,000 Base HP, 5 Armor, and 2 Health Regeneration at Level 2, and Enigma who has 2,000 HP, 5 Armor and 5 Health Regeneration at Level 2. Enigma is also a Priomordial unit who can take advantage of his alliance in order to secure the activation of his ability, so you may want to consider placing him on the corner frontline.
Beyond this basic positioning guide, it can be a good general strategy to keep ranged characters in the back, while melee characters are placed on your frontlines. While this theory generally holds true, there are some exceptions including but not limited to the ones listed above.