This guide is aimed at players who have a basic understanding of the game and are ready to move on to the next step, improving their hero lineups and understanding early, mid and lategame heroes and their concepts. While this is great information for anyone, it may not help new players as much as players with some experience as new players most likely lack the hero cards to take advantage of the information here, and may also not fully grasp game stage concept.
That said, hero composition is a very important part of this game. The three playable heroes are a major unique aspect of this game, and with such a gap in character ability per character and stage, (except lolnosferatu) there is much to learn to take your gameplay to the next level.
In ths guide, there will be three stages of the game frequently referred to.
Early Game is roughly the first 15 minutes of the game, which should consist almost entirely of laning. Characters who have a poor early game can somewhat avoid this problem by jungling if the map is FoC, and the ratings here do NOT reflect the possibility of jungling. A character's early game rank is greatly dependant on their ability to stay in lane and harass the enemy, and doesn't take things such as "level 1 minerals trick" into account.
Mid game refers to the period shortly before carries are able to carry, the period in which base points tend to start being lost, and laning has become more or less replaced by roaming ganking and base pushing. Depending on the game, midgame may last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, but midgame is generally over at 30 minutes. Keep in mind that many higher ranked games end long before Midgame ends, especially games in Crimson Plains. Midgame character ranks are dependant greatly on the ability to gank, push down base points early, and wrap up farming.
Endgame refers to the rest of the game. Endgame is the period where both sides are vying for an ace, and bases can be dropped easily in a matter of minutes. Carries dominate this stage in the game and characters such as Minity Grey and Laair Hathy lose a lot of their power here. Endgame tends to begin around the 30 minute mark, but a character that's been fed or farmed well may reach endgame as soon as 22-25 minutes, and it can be hard to recover a game at that point if the early endgamer is a carry (or has a carry in his cards). Endgame character ratings depend heavily on an offensive character's carry potential, a support character's support ability against well farmed characters, and a tank's ability to ignore enemy carries and destroy bases.
Character stage specialty:
I will be listing all characters, and ranking them by grades, S being EXCEPTIONAL and E being of little use at all. Three rankings will be given, one for each stage.
Format - Name: Early Game Rank/Mid Game/Late Game
Stella: C/C/A Randy: B/C/A Irene: B/D/A Nosferatu: A/A/A Minty: S/B/C Laair: A/C/E Octavian: C/C/B Merino: A/A/A VMB: B/A/C Foxlady: E/C/B Kilmor: B/B/C Atin: D/D/C
Characters with a grade lower than B most likely will not be described in the stages below, as they are not characters reccomended to be played at those parts. Characters such as Atin, which do not really compare to other characters at any stage, may not be covered at all.
Balancing Your Lineup:
As you can see, and as you probably noticed, not all heroes are equal in each stage of the game. While Stella will dominate most characters lategame, early game she suffers from long cooldowns of low damage nukes, a frail and easily harassable character, and attacks limited to melee range. While these problems are not prevalent after the laning stage, they are important early.
On the other hand, Laair's dots do fantastic damage early but once she's leveled the skill to max, the damage will stop improving... despite the enemy's HP continuously improving. So Laair loses her usefulness, as does other nuke-based characters, very quickly.
Naturally, auto-attack orientented characters (which are, generally, the best endgamers) are very item reliant. So they are a poor choice for early game, because if they get shut down (as they usually easily do) they won't be able to farm the items they need for an effective late game.
For this reason it's important to choose an early game character, as well as a late game character. Your remaining slot is flexible - but it's best to choose a character that counters the characters that your main 2 are weak to.
Randy - While his early game isn't as good as, say, Minity, Randy has a good early game if he takes Snipe. This is perhaps the best harassing skill in the game, and is believed to be able to even crit. Randy has the longest range of any character which makes him difficult to harass. He doesn't have a specific farming ability, however, or AoE attacks which makes his farming less than most early gamers.
Nosferatu - There is not a stage in which Nosferatu is a bad character. Early game he has a stun, slow, drain, and can even take Bat at level 1 to counter Very Mary Bell if she's in his lane. VMB's natural counter for this reason. His farming isn't so great (though if you can harass your enemy out of lane, you can switch to sword for very good, very easy farming) but he secures an early game position for his ranged auto attack and great harassment power.
Minity - Perhaps the best early gamer in the game, Minity has Box (which hurts like a mother), Invitation (which also hurts like a mother, and farms creeps like crazy) and Teatime which makes it impossible to harass her out of lane. Oh, and if you're on Crimson, you can drop towers at level 6 with the help of Puppetshow. She is a great harasser, a great farmer, and quite possibly the very best early game character.
Laair - Laair farms very well and harasses quite well, though she lacks a hard CC or stun to finish the job on her enemies. Laair is underplayed and in public games can often get free reign of her lanes due to players not understanding her and fearing her DoTs more than necessary. She quickly becomes weak, however, and can do little to towers when she reaches them.
Merino - Merino has a fantastic early game. He can't be harassed out of lane because of Vegetarian Taste and 1,000,000V is a great farming and harassing tool. Is only beaten out by Minity because her self heal also heals MP, and because two nukes make her a better harasser.
VMB - While Mary has trouble getting her enemy out of lane (unless they're dumb and don't take invisibility) she is still the best farmer in the game. With the help of her clones, VMB can farm the lane while taking nearby mineral points or neutral creeps, both of which she can take at a very low level thanks to invisibility and climax. What she lacks in harassment power she makes up for in farming ability, and can be an amazing compliment to an item-dependant lategame character.
Kilmor - The once-underrated Kilmor has great harassment ability and can farm well with his DoT. He is tankier than any other early gamer, allowing him to take lanes that many other characters couldn't survive in. While he lacks the farming power of VMB or Laair, and the regeneration power of Minity and Merino, he is a solid choice and has very little trouble with most characters.
Nosferatu - There isn't a single stage in the game that Nosferatu isn't good at. He's an amazing ganker thanks to his offensive, ranged power and debuffs, and he farms like crazy if left alone with his greatsword.
Minity - While weaker than she is at the start, Minity is still a fantastic ganker at this stage in the game and has the ability to easily push down towers with her ult.
Merino - Like Nosferatu, Merino doesn't have a bad stage. Sympathy for Sheep and Golden Bell make him god in ganking and team battles alike, and if he chooses to he can easily continue to farm with 1,000,000V.
VMB - Possibly the best midgamer, VMB's clones are now very powerful, able to farm on their own (she can leave them behind as she passes neutrals, and get gold for it) and she should have secured herself speed items making herself an amazing ganker. VMB enjoys great farm and has tons of opportunities to gank at this stage of the game, and she most likely is way ahead in creep stats by now.
Kilmor - With the laning phase over, Kilmor loses a bit of his power. He is, however, still valuable in ganking with his stun and is difficult to gank simply because of his tankiness. However, Kilmor probably has the weakest midgame of the characters listed here.
Stella - Stella enjoys a fantastic endgame, with great attack animations, attack speed and damage selfbuffs, and a great slow and stun. With her ultimate on she tears apart players and bases alike. While a poor choice earlier in the game, a well farmed character such as VMB changing to Stella is often the move that ends a game.
Randy - Like Stella, Randy has a great endgame in which he can annihilate towers and players quickly and easily. He has somewhat less item dependant than Stella, and can take down one structure quickly and easily with his ult, but must then wait to be able to effectively remove more.
Irene - Endgame, Irene has the ability to ignore most characters and simply pound on their base. She must be built for pure tankiness, or close, to accomplish this. However, an Irene who simply ignores Randy Rozz and Stella and wails on their HQ is a true threat to behold, as it causes the enemy to choose between trying to remove Irene, or deal with her team (who may soon join her at their base.)
Nosferatu - Nossy is a true carry. With Bat and Metamorphosis, he takes little damage from much of anyone and deals quite a bit with relatively little item requirement. If he chooses to take Sword, he will tear down buildings and tank enemy carries with a terrifying amount of lifesteal.
Octavian - Though not one of the strongest endgamers, Octavian can become quite fearsome, with an Irene-like ability to ignore entire teams thanks to abilities like Untouchable. Octavian can be built pure tank like Irene (though he will not destroy building as well as she will) or can be built for damage a-la Stella, making for a character with less damage output but much much less vulnerability.
Merino - Merino's midgame potential holds true, though 1,000,000V loses some of it's power. Still, Sympathy for Sheep and Be Vegetarian are at full strength, shutting down entire characters as and the supporting abilities (and powerful items) that can turn fights in this game. Oh, and Golden Bell wins teamfights.
Foxlady - Though not as powerful in team battles as Stella, and lacking her utility, Foxlady has the ability to get in, do tons of damage, and get out quickly. This makes her fantastic for backdooring buildings, and she can be the answer to an overly offensive team by forcing them to choose between turning back to defend, or turning the game into a baserace.
Making Your Choice:
With this in mind, it's a good idea to try out a few early game characters and late gamers. Do you feel most comfortable playing Stella at the end of the game? Then take someone who farms well, such as VMB or Minity, to make sure that when she shows up, she's a beast.
Not a fan of changing characters? Well, then Nosferatu and Merino are your best choices. If you like to tank or carry, Nosferatu. Support-oriented players may just find that Merino is the one for them, as his support abilities will hold true the entire game.
It is important to take both an early game and a late game character, however, you have one slot left. What you wish to do with it is up to you. I reccomend taking a character that covers a weakness of your other lategamer. For instance, Stella can be completely shut down by a Randy Rozz's rubbet bullet -> ult combo. However, Octavian can avoid this with Untouchable, and still use the same damage items that Stella would have used.
There are many lineups possible and it's important to try both early and late game heroes to find out which feel best for your playstyle. Once you have, you can build on that. Don't be in a rush to fill your last slot - try playing with one earlygamer and one lategamer for a while. If you notice that a specific character or character type is shutting down your lategamer, take a third card that isn't weak to that type of character.
And that's all there is to it, really. I hope this guide has helped you step up your gameplay to the next level. This guide and many others can be found at LOCOElite.net, where many of the game's top players will be happy to answer any questions you have and help you step up your game.