Sven, The Guide
Sven is a hero that has seen very little love in quite some time, as far as this forum goes and DotA itself goes as well. I think the ultimate example of this is people using a build that stopped being remotely effective after 6.0, so as a result this guide has come to exist. Sven is one of the easiest heroes to play in the game, with really only his item build (which, as said, people tend to botch up often) and his ultimate being aspects of him that tend to get confused.
This guide will explain what is necessary for you to be able to play Sven well. It will be concise, because Sven doesn't take particularly much thought to play well other than the ability to chain Storm Bolt, gank, and knowledge of an effective item build. Hopefully I'll stop seeing so many poorly built Svens and everyone will be happier.
I. Hero Concept
Sven is a versatile, well-rounded hero. What Mario is to every God forsaken sport, racing or fighting game he's put into is what Sven is to DotA. With the ability to hold down a lane early with Storm Bolt, gank effectively through his stun and his inability to be killed, tanking later in the game and lastly having the potential to crank out a huge amount of damage in very little time (admittedly the hardest thing to do with the Rogueknight), Sven can do just about everything you want him to do.
One reason people play Sven badly is because they vest too much trust in his ultimate ability, God's Strength. It does not last very long, expects Sven to be able to hit his target without any trouble and also expects that Sven won't get disabled. It's a potentially devastating skill, but a horribly unreliable one. The other reason Sven is played poorly is because people vest too much money into items that are solely useful for using God's Strength. In three words: Black King Bar.
II. Skill Descriptions
Storm Bolt is Sven's most important skill. With it he is able to kill heroes early, gank during the mid game and hold heroes down so he can hit them late in the game.
A magical hammer is thrown at an enemy unit, causing damage and stunning the target for 2 seconds.
Level 1 - 100 damage. (75 with spell reduction)
Level 2 - 150 damage. (112 with spell reduction)
Level 3 - 200 damage. (150 with spell reduction)
Level 4 - 250 damage. (187 with spell reduction)
Cooldown: 8 seconds.
Great Cleave is most certainly not Sven's most important skill. Killing creeps more quickly serves very little purpose other than pushing into the enemy base, which generally results in you getting ganked and killed. Useful for creeping neutrals, but little else.
Sven strikes with such force that all nearby enemies take damage.
Level 1 - 10% damage is splashed.
Level 2 - 20% damage is splashed.
Level 3 - 30% damage is splashed.
Level 4 - 40% damage is splashed.
The uses of Devotion Aura are, again, rather marginal. Slightly beneficial late in the game for a nice armor boost, but other than that this ability is rather lackluster.
Sven is here to pump you up!
Level 1 - Increases base armor by 1.
Level 2 - Increases base armor by 2.
Level 3 - Increases base armor by 4.
Level 4 - Increases base armor by 5.
Provided you don't get disabled into the ground and pop out at the right time, God's Strength has the potential of absolutely wrecking everything. 150% damage equates to, well, a lot, but the downside is that it's very easy to either dispel it from Sven or simply keep Sven from moving long enough that he can't do anything with it.
Sven gets pumped up! Adds bonus damage for 25 seconds.
Level 1 - Adds 100% damage.
Level 2 - Adds 125% damage.
Level 3 - Adds 150% damage.
Cooldown: 120 seconds.
III. Skill Build
Level 1: Storm Bolt
Level 2: Stats
Level 3: Storm Bolt
Level 4: Stats
Level 5: Storm Bolt
Level 6: Stats
Level 7: Storm Bolt
Level 8: Stats
Level 9: Stats
Levels 10-11: God's Strength
Storm Bolt is maxed, of course. Stats are taken in conjunction with it because they're infinitely useful in boosting Sven's HP, mana, and damage. Cleave and Toughness, on the other hand, are virtually useless early in the game. God's Strength is not taken at level 6 because the mana necessary to use it is better spent on Storm Bolt at this point in the game. The stun is more useful than the extra damage from GS.
God's Strength should obviously be taken at level 16. When you take Cleave and Toughness Aura is up to you, really. Remember that when farming you shouldn't be hitting the creeps over and over again, expecting them all to die from Cleave because 1. this will cause you to miss kills and 2. this will push you closer to gankable territory. Keep this in mind when deciding if you should take Cleave over Stats.
More justification, hooray. Devotion Aura's only use early is to protect you from potshots. Stats, on the other hand, protect you from both physical attacks and nukes by boosting your HP, as well as boosting your mana so that you are more easily able to use Storm Bolt. Stats also help you last hit by boosting your damage, while Cleave will only help you get creep kills if you stand there and attack mindlessly. If you attack mindlessly you will die, so Cleave early is a bad idea as well.
IV. Item Build
2. Boots of Speed
3. 1-2x Bracer
4. Boots of Travel
5. Complete Linken's Sphere
First of all, you should not go running out into your lane with an empty inventory with the mindset to buy a Ring of Health at the start. No pre-Perseverence item is mentioned because, as always, early items are based on preference and environment. I'm particularly partial toward a Ring of Regeneration + Tango + Branch start with Sven.
Perseverence is extremely useful for Sven, and can be made into Linken's Sphere later. The large amount of health regeneration helps with Sven's tendency to get kicked around a lot early and the mana regeneration is crucial to using Storm Bolt freely.
Bracers are a nice way to fill our your HP and mana a bit, although how many you get is up to you. Boots of Travel, on the other hand, is a core item choice for Sven. It helps a great deal for ganking, farming, and staying with your target so you can hit more times with God's Strength. It is a very lovely item.
Linken's Sphere is important for giving Sven's health a boost and to solve his mana issues, which remain prevalent thoughout the game. The Spell Block is an incredible asset to a hero who is terrified of disables and you simply need the +Stats. Plus, Sven is one of those heroes who actually needs the large quantity of regeneration that comes with Perseverence.
Radiance may seem strange as it does not synergize with God's Strength. Remember, however, that we need to look at items that aren't solely for dealing more damage with God's Strength, like Heart of Tarresque. Radiance is a very powerful damage item for any STR hero and is simply lovely for Sven. The damage it grants you is not dependent upon whether you have God's Strength ready to go, so your hero is useful regardless of whether your ultimate is ready or not.
After Radiance I'd recommend a survival item like Heart, Aegis, or even Satanic. However, at this point what you get is up to you.
V. Items Not To Get
Black King Bar
Why not Black King Bar? BKB really hasn't worked well on Sven since it was nerfed to 10 seconds duration God knows how many versions ago. Considering that you have to cast it, then cast God's Strength, then run out into the battle you've only got about 7-8 seconds of Spell Immunity to work with. By the time you've hit anything once you're already shrinking back to normal Sven mode again. Simply put, BKB doesn't last long enough to be effective on most melee heroes. Linken's is a far more dynamic item that - although being unable to protect you from virtually everything like BKB can - does not give you only a 7 second window to hit anything and works quietly in the background.
Mask of Madness
Mask of Madness has the dubious honor of being an item that really shouldn't be bought on any hero, ever. Taking extra damage is a horrible, horrible thing and is not worth the IAS boost that the item gives. If you're really so obsessed over getting attack speed then just buy a Hyperstone.
Cleave does stack and you do have a Perseverence available to you that's intended for Linken's Sphere, but then there's the problem of Cleave sucking horribly. Unless you're Magnataur and have the ability to pull the entire enemy team within melee range of you (and even then I'd advise against it), stacking Cleave just isn't very useful.
Yes, someone actually recommended this. Unless your hero has a lot of natural attack speed to make use of Bash you shouldn't be purchasing this item. As cool as it is to have permabash on Sven it's just not a feasible thing to do.
Sange and Yasha
Not a horrible item, persay, but not a very good one either. The Agility largely goes to waste, Maim is mediocre at best and the other benefits of the item don't redeem these flaws.
Animation Cancelling: As... always, Sven swings his little swordthing for an unnecessarily long amount of time when he attacks. When chasing after a hero, click ahead of him immediately after Sven attacks so that you don't lose ground while you're sitting there brandishing your weapon. When farming creeps early, move back immediately after you've struck so that you don't sit there and get the hell beaten out of you.
Storm Bolt and God's Strength both have animations as well where Sven clenches his fist and raises it into the air. Sven is wasting YOUR time when he does this, so click somewhere else the moment you cast GS or throw out a Bolt.
Farming Correctly: With Cleave, you might be tempted to just sit there and whack the creeps over and over until they all die. This causes you to push farther into the enemy base as well as miss some kills. Therefore, don't do it unless you're right at your tower with about 50 Ghouls surrounding you. Always last hit for creeps kills, always. Cleave is most useful for ripping apart Neutral Creeps, so do neutrals when the opportunity presents itself once Cleave is maxed.
VII. Laning Correctly
Lane with a hero that you can chain disables with like the Crystal Maiden or Rhasta. Storm Bolt isn't exactly THE MOST AWESOME SPELL EVER but it's still rather powerful if chained. If you've got a strong disabler with you you can really lay down the hurt on your enemy with Sven's meatiness and mass stuns. Sven is very difficult to kill, so your fragile ally can make good use of your thickness.
Storm Bolt doesn't function that well by itself. Yes, against some really abysmal players you can cast it, hit the hero then run alongside him and cast it again but this doesn't tend to work well. It is possible to use Storm Bolt to initiate for things like the Ursa Warrior's Overpower + Swipes attack but this isn't the most effective way of using the spell. Sven needs a strong caster ally to get the very most out of his primary ability.
VIII. The Complete Guide to Storm Bolt!
There are three main uses of Storm Bolt: chaining it with allied attacks early, chasing a weak hero alone with it and disabling + killing off heroes with it in ganks.
Using Storm Bolt early is what newer players screw up the most. Storm Bolt is not a nuke that you randomly harrass with; Sven only has enough mana at level 1 to use it once. The spell really is only effective if used in conjunction with an allied spell like Frost Bite. Example: The Crystal Maiden casts Frost Bite, you run up and hit the enemy once then cast Storm Bolt and proceed to keep hitting, the Crystal Maiden uses Frost Nova and the hero is dead in one more hit. Randomly doing about 100 damage vs killing a hero in three seconds, the choice is yours. Really all you have to keep in mind when doing this is to make sure you use Storm Bolt when the hero isn't already disabled. If you cast Bolt the moment the CM uses Bite then you've wasted the stun.
As one of Sven's main jobs is ganking you will be using Storm Bolt a lot to kill weak heroes. The idea is simple: cast Storm Bolt, hit a couple of times, run alongside your target and cast Storm Bolt again. As Sven is a very hard-to-kill hero you also have the ability to run through towers to get off that last Storm Bolt. As long as a Bane Elemental isn't right around the corner don't hesitate to tower-dive and cast Bolt to finish off a weak hero. Finally, remember that casting spells on heroes does not cause the tower to attack you. If possible, run right through the tower while your creeps are near it and use Bolt on the enemy hero.
The last use of Bolt is simply to throw it at a hero in a large battle, then run up (hopefully with God's Strength on) and beat the crap out of said hero. And that's it for Storm Bolt!
IX. God's Strength
The most important part of God's Strength is making sure not to cast it in plain sight of your enemies. They'll still probably figure out you've got it on five seconds after they see you but that five seconds is absolutely crucial. Linken's Sphere and the element of surprise are your tools to evade Cyclone as well as any other disable that would keep you from hitting your target. 25 seconds is a very long time for a skill like this (compare to 10 seconds of Strafe), so take the time to cast it out of sight.
God's Strength is useful in ganks, large battles, and sieging towers and raxes. Ganking tends to be when God's Strength has the most success, as you're far less likely to get chain-disabled into the ground in this case. Simply cast it in the trees before you run out to kill the unwary enemy hero. In 5v5 battles you might only get two or three hits off with God's Strength on because the hero you target is able to get away or you get disabled - this is why we get Radiance! Sieging is pretty much a no-brainer. Turn the ability on and hit the building. Again, it's likely the enemy team will try to stop you and disable you into the ground, but such is the dilemma of Sven.
Any ordinary disable is a pain to you and your ability to deal damage, but there are some that are particularly notable. The biggest is easily Eul's Scepter of Divinity, which dispels GS as well as flinging you into the air for a long, long time. There is virtually always at least one hero with a Eul's in his inventory, and this is why Cyclone is the most dangerous counter to GS.
Purge totally shuts down Sven's ability to deal physical damage, slowing him to a crawl and, again, dispelling his ultimate. Medusa is a very, very nasty hero but hopefully Linken's will save you from certain doom and if not, you at least have Radiance for a backup way of dealing damage.
X. Gameplay Walkthrough
Take a lane, again preferably with a powerful caster hero. Aim for kills at level 3 or so if with a competent teammate, remember chaining spells! You can only use Storm Bolt once with your low mana pool, so make it count.
The order which you purchase your items is up to you. If you want you can run right for Perseverence, or get it after Boots and a Bracer or two. I favor getting a Ring of Health as early as possible, then getting Boots and some Stat items, then finishing up my early game shiz with a Void Stone. Perseverence is great for running around the map ganking and for staying in your lane. It's just lovely for Sven.
I would recommend waiting for Storm Bolt to be maxed before roaming the map for kills. At level 7 you should have just enough mana to use Storm Bolt three times, which means you can go as far as killing a wimpy hero all by yourself (although you should never waste mana like this). Remember that Sven has the ability to tower-dive early because of his beefiness. You can run right through the first level tower to get off a second Storm Bolt if your gank gets a bit botched.
Hopefully you can finish up Boots of Travel at a reasonable time. The sooner you get it the sooner your ability to gank skyrockets. Teleport to a lane and run down your unsuspecting target, turn on God's Strength in one lane, finish a tower, Teleport to another lane and slaughter a hero with GS still going, etc. Your added speed lets you keep up and throw off that finishing Storm Bolt with far greater ease. Keeping up so you can hit more with GS on is an easier task because of Boots of Travel.
Again, large battles are basically an exercise in luck and the element of surprise as far as using GS goes. You might get disabled immediately or you might kill two heroes before anyone even realizes what happens. Always cast GS where people can't see you and the latter situation will be most likely to happen. You have 25 seconds, that's a long time!
Linken's won't exactly dramatically alter your game but it's a nice asset when it's completed. You shouldn't have mana issues ever again which means more Storm Bolts! The Spell Block may save you from an ugly Cyclone which is an infinitely awesome thing when it happens. Even if you're saved from Hex that's three more seconds of rampaging with God's Strength on (or off).
Radiance is, as said, the typical tank's damage item. For Sven it means you don't need God's Strength on all the time to deal physical damage. Sven's late game isn't terrible but a lot of heroes (mostly ranged ones) have a much easier time carrying than he does. Try to end the game as soon as possible if you don't have an ally who's stomping ass. Use God's Strength to siege and if things go well the enemy base tower will go down with ease.
Every one of you who made a post listing off an item build and stating that this guide doesn't work can kindly go to hell. If you're posting to criticize the strategy used in this guide, actually doing some criticizing is quite unbelievably a requirement. I don't care about how useful Mask of Madness is on Sven unless you tell me why beyond "HELPS YOU TANK TOWERS" or that you need Devotion Aura early because it "HELPS SURVIVE".