Leon "Nine" Kirilin was one of the most creative players at The International 11 (TI11). His unorthodox hero pool in the mid lane contributed heavily to Tundra Esports claiming the Aegis of Champions.
Nine's most-played hero in patch 7.32 is Tusk, with seven total appearances at TI11, six of them being victories.
Tusk was picked or banned in five of the last six games between Team Secret and Tundra Esports, a testament to Nine's impact with the hero.
If you're a mid player who wants to pick up the hero and roam around the map bringing enemies down, then you've come to the right place. For starters, let's look at Nine's skill and talent build for Tusk:
Tusk stats overview
Tusk has a lot of things going for him in terms of base stats.
The hero has 310 starting movement speed, which is faster than 70% of the heroes in Dota 2. Tusk also comes with 3.9 strength gain, the fourth highest in the game.
His starting armor of five is nothing to scoff at either, and with 2.1 agility gain, Tusk remains reasonably tanky against physical damage throughout the game.
The hero's spells aren't exactly expensive, but they are spammable, and will strain his mana pool in a fight.
Tusk's starting mana pool of 291 and intelligence growth of 1.7 means the hero must invest in at least one mana item if he wants to stay active on the map.
Tusk's first skill allows him to summon Ice Shards to create an impassable cone of ice. The shards can be cast up to 1800 range away and last for seven seconds at max level while dealing 300 damage to enemies.
Nine always maxes Ice Shards by level seven, as the spell's cooldown decreases significantly per level.
Ice Shards not only enables Tusk to chase down enemies, but it can also save the hero and put him out of reach of his opponents with careful usage.
In addition, enough levels in Ice Shards and Snowball lets Tusk clear creep waves quickly, letting the hero farm faster and push out lanes.
Tusk and any nearby ally hero can roll into a Snowball, dodging all enemy damage for up to three seconds.
The Snowball can target enemy heroes and neutral creeps, dealing damage and stunning all targets it comes into contact with.
With four enemies in the Snowball, the spell deals 660 damage, which is almost enough to bring down heroes in the early game. As the game drags on, Snowball's utility truly shines, as it allows Tusk to save his allies from dangerous situations.
Nine's use of Snowball allowed Tundra to fully dodge the effects of Team Secret's Chain Frost, winning a crucial fight in Roshan's Pit.
As before, enough levels in Snowball and Ice Shards lets Tusk clear creep waves quickly, letting the hero farm faster and push out lanes.
Among all of Tusk's skills, Nine values Tag Team the least, maxing it last and only investing points in Tag Team after Ice Shards and Snowball have four skills points each.
Tag Team isn't a bad spell, but the bonus damage relies on Tusk and his allies actually hitting the opponent several times, something that isn't always possible in the mid lane.
The spell's lack of utility and conditional damage makes it the weakest in Tusk's skill set when he's played as a mid hero.
Tusk's ultimate has several things going for it.
It deals a huge amount of extra physical damage which cannot miss. Walrus Punch has a 100% hit guarantee and pierces spell immunity, making it a fantastic ultimate for controlling enemy cores.
The spell stuns enemies and then slows them down for four seconds at max level. Once Walrus Punch is maxed out, the spell's effects last for 5.5 seconds, almost the entire duration of Black King Bar.
Walrus Punch has a 10-second cooldown at level three, allowing Tusk to spam the spell during late game teamfights.
When it comes to controlling a target or bursting through squishy supports, there aren't many spells better than Walrus Punch.
What talents does Nine take on Tusk?
Tusk's Talent choices give the player a choice of more utility through extra health and lower cooldowns or more damage on his spells.
At TI11, Nine followed the exact same Talent choices in every game, always opting to go for the same build regardless of the team lineup or state of the game.
Level 10: +0.5s Walrus Punch Stun Duration vs +25 Tag Team Damage
An extra 0.5-second stun on Walrus Punch goes a long way in allowing Tusk to control his enemies. It's a 50% increase to the spell's stun duration and as Dota 2 pros always say, Stuns win games and you can never have enough of them.
One thing to note is that Nine usually takes the level 10 talent at level 14, preferring to put three points into Tag Team before picking up any Talents.
As mentioned earlier, Nine doesn't value Tag Team as much as Tusk's other spells and maxes the spell last. Nine also preferred the extra lockdown talent at level 10 over the bonus damage on Tag Team.
Level 15: +120 Snowball Damage vs +325 Health
Extra health for a hero with the fourth-highest strength gain in the game is a little redundant. Tusk is naturally durable and while 325 extra health is nice, as a midlaner, Tusk's goal is to inflict pain, not absorb it.
Which is why Nine went for 120 extra Snowball Damage. Not only does the talent make it easier to bring done enemies, but it also allows Tusk to clear out creep waves with Ice Shards, greatly enhancing the hero's farming capabilities.
Level 20: +75% Walrus Punch Crit vs -6s Ice Shards Cooldown
By the time Tusk reaches level 20, enemies will be able to survive the hero's combo, which means Tusk needs a little more oomph behind his attacks.
That's why Nine always takes the extra critical damage when he hits level 20. The talent gives Walrus Punch 475% crit damage. That's higher than Phantom Assassin's Coup De Grace ultimate.
The other Talent choice reduces Ice Shards cooldown to eight seconds, which is a solid choice. However, Nine focuses on bringing enemies down as early as possible in fights and the extra crit damage is far more suitable for that playstyle.
Level 25: -8s Snowball Cooldown vs 12% Chance Walrus Punch
While Nine never reached level 25 in a competitive match with Tusk, he has done so plenty of times in Pub games. Whenever Nine makes it to the final Talent choice, he always opts for the 12% Walrus Punch chance.
The talent provides an extra 45% damage to the hero, along with the ability to control enemy cores. The talent uses a pseudo-random distribution, which means that the spell will rarely proc twice in a row but it also makes the spell more reliable.
Similar to the reduced cooldown on Ice Shards, being able to use Snowball every seven seconds is nice, but it doesn't help kill enemies as fast as the other Talent Choice, which is why Nine always goes for the free Crit chance at level 25.
This is just part one of our two-part guide on how to play mid Tusk like Tundra Esports' Nine. Part two will look into Nine's item build for Tusk, so keep an eye out for it.
Otomo is a long-time gaming enthusiast and caster. He has been playing games since he was 10 and is the biggest Dota 2 fan.
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