Sometimes the best way to win is by losing. Deliberately.
That's not wholly true in the case of Dota Underlords, of course. But I've been messing around with a variation of the idea, where you forcibly tank every single one of the first ten rounds, sans the neutral waves.
It's an odd, risky way to approach Underlords. It inevitably guarantees that by the time you have a serviceable army, you'll be at least 40 to 50 HP behind by the 10th round, possibly even more.
But it also means you'll have the best economy going into the mid-game, collecting full interest by as early as the 10th round. It's hands down the riskiest way to play the game, but it's also one that leans into the pure randomness of Underlords — your luck in pulling the heroes you need from the shared pool, and some good fortune with the matchups you draw once your army starts ramping it.
How it generally works is this. You buy a hero, usually a tankier one, and maybe lock the rest of your hero roster if duplicates of your first hero appear. The most effective way to stabilise is by upgrading the lowest tier heroes you have — Tusk, Batrider, Axe, anything that generally costs one gold.
In the first three neutral waves, there's one item in particular that you'll absolutely want above all else: Silver Lining. A tier two item, it grants you a free gold every time you lose a fight. In the context of this strategy, that's an extra seven gold from the losses alone, not to mention the extra gold you collect by moving up interest tiers faster.
Other global items can help you stabilise after those first ten rounds though: the bonus for Knights makes your entire army much more durable. That won't necessarily stop you from losing, but it can help you kill an extra enemy hero or two on the board, which reduces the amount of damage you take every turn (giving you more turns to build your preferred composition).
A key part of this strat also involves making sure the basic heroes are at least two star, if not three star, by round 20 and beyond. Because your chances of pulling higher tier units increases every time you level, it's also important to focus on rerolling for basic heroes instead of upgrading your player level.
It's such a highwire strategy, and a lot of the time, it's too close for comfort. I've lost count of the amount of games where I've dropped to below 10 HP, which is the end of the line after the 20th round. But consequently, I've had games where I've persisted on a bee's dick worth of health, facing the prospect of being the first player out of the game, only to hang around to the final two or three.
There are some things in Underlords that you can't plan for. You might have finally arranged a good setup with a couple of damage dealers in the back — Luna, maybe Troll Warlord — and then just right when the battle looks like it'll turn your way, an assassin teleports behind enemy lines and all that attack speed, that kill you desperately needed, goes out the window.
Sometimes the gamble doesn't pay off. You don't get the mix of defenders you need, or everyone else in the server doubles down on a similar composition to yours, and so you end up burning more money than you really have on rerolls just to stay competitive.
Eventually, everyone runs out of steam. And when you're burning the candle at both ends of the stick, a single change — should you pick up that 1-star Engima or Lich at the very end of the game, hold out for something that will maximise the synergies you've got, or just focus on repowering up your economy — could be the end of the game.
And then sometimes you spend all of this time only for the Wi-Fi to drop out, your mobile internet goes to shit, and you lose the whole game and 25 to 30 minutes of progress without ever knowing what happened.
Ah well, that's the fun of Underlords. But then there's the reward, where you spend the whole game clawing back from sitting on 4 HP to go on a massive win streak to win the game, like I did as I was writing this article.
Isn't Underlords great?