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The rise of agility-based carries often leads to a much higher emphasis on magic damage output in high-level games. Dealing with a hero with ridiculous amounts of armor can be problematic if your lineup is primarily physical damage, hence several heroes came back to the meta to fill in the gaps. One of those heroes is Zeus and while the hero might look very straightforward on paper, his current professional skill build is anything but.
The New Way
So what do a majority of high-level pub players have in common with the professional players? They prioritize skilling up and maxing out Arc Lightning first.
For many years, Arc Lightning was more or less a value point for Zeus, to ensure last-hitting in lane and extra procs of Static Field. Later, with the increase of ranged creep’s value, players started going two points into Arc, to ensure they have much better chances of contesting the aforementioned creeps. Now, apparently, it is a skill that is maxed out first and not only does it work well in the professional scene, but is also slightly more successful in pubs as well.
Understanding the reasons
Looking at changelogs, there is one thing that clearly stands out: Lightning Bolt mana cost in the early levels was increased substantially. Level one of the ability now costs 35 more mana, an almost 40% increase in mana cost. If previously most Zeus players would go for a starting skill point in this skill, to ensure ranged creep last hit while not pushing out the wave, right now it is strictly not an option.
It is easy to see how and why the early skill points are usually spent on Arc Lightning now, but why is it maxed out? After all, come level four of Lightning Bolt, the difference in mana cost is trivial, compared to the previous patches. Maxing it out first would allow Zeus to retain his previous playstyle, with only a small lull in effectiveness during the laning stage.
In fact, many players still cling to the old ways and remain quite effective: Zeus is a pretty good hero in the current meta, especially against some picks, so it is not surprising that he can work with multiple different builds. To tap into the full potential of the hero, however, we have to consult the pros.
We believe there are two main reasons why players might want to change their habits. Farming Efficiency and Teamfight Prowess. Both of them allow for more consistency in games — a quality highly valued by the pros. While farming efficiency with maxed out Arc Lightning should be self-explanatory, the latter point requires a deeper analysis.
A year-and-a-half to adapt
Patch 7.21 came out in January of 2019, quite a while ago, and it was the patch that changed how Static Field works. Instead of affecting everyone in a 1200 AoE every time Zeus casts a spell, it would now only affect targets hit by Zeus’s spells.
Initially, it didn’t change much about the hero: his primary focus was bringing down a target as quickly as possible, and the change didn’t influence this playstyle in any way. In fact, it was bolstered by the increase of “current HP as damage” percentage of Static Field.
Not until a shift in the meta towards constant team fights did the players have to adapt. Right now it is really hard to fit in a core who has little teamfight presence, outside of potentially bursting down a single enemy: the positioning is better at all levels of play and players are much better at buying and using save items or save abilities.
This is where Arc Lightning comes into play: with its fixed mana cost of 80, low cooldown and high amount of jumps, it can continuously chip into the HP pools of multiple enemies, while allowing Zeus to stay relatively far away.
Maximizing Damage Effectiveness
The Damage per mana Spent is an interesting metric to look at, especially on a hero that is all about casting. Maxed out Lightning Bolt does have a sizable edge, compared to maxed out Arc Lightning, if we don’t factor in the Static Field damage. With a typical value point in Static Field, Arc Lightning can be more efficient on targets with more than 2000 current HP.
It is the case that these targets are not common in the early game and often quickly lose their HP, making Static Field less and less effective, while making Lightning Bolt more and more efficient in terms of Damage per Mana, but Arc Lightning can hit multiple targets and if your team can then capitalize on softened up enemies, this damage is every bit as effective.
In short, maxed out Arc Lightning isn’t significantly worse in terms of mana efficiency, at least at the start of the fight and especially against targets with high HP pools. But what about actual damage per second?
This is even easier: you can cast more than three Arc Lightnings over the duration of Lightning Bolt cooldown and you will deal more damage both to a single target you are focusing and to extra enemies caught in the jump radius.
To summarize: maxed out Arc Lightning is only slightly less efficient in terms of damage per mana on single targets, can hit multiple targets to make up for it and also has a higher peak DPS in fights. It also allows Zeus to farm more efficiently, outpush faster, be active earlier on, and perhaps an underrated bonus, all of it is possible with a spell with much lower cast point. Not only does it feel better to play, but it also allows Zeus to be more agile and weave in and out of enemy vision, to stay safe.
Zeus is one of the oldest Dota 2 heroes and it is really interesting to see something as iconic and historical to go through a metamorphosis. Interesting and pleasing, to a certain degree: it clearly shows how incredibly complex and deep the game is if some small adjustments to heroes can lead to drastic changes to their playstyles.
We hope you’ve learned something interesting today, and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on the new Zeus ability build.