It was more than a year and a half ago that we talked about Zeus’ inevitable rise. Zeus is firmly in the category of heroes that do well in pubs, but rarely picked in pro games (this group also includes familiar pub stompers in Abaddon, Omniknight, Necrophos). The line of thinking is that these heroes work well in pubs because they’re inherently strong, strong enough that they have such an influence on pub win rates across thousands and thousands of matches. In the case of Zeus, he works in pubs because he can have an impact even in the hands of beginner players. Just press R. He’s a poor laner, with poor survivability. He can’t kill towers, and he can’t farm efficiently. But still he floats to the top of the win rate charts. That’s not always the case in pro games, where his weaknesses can be exploited even further.
That’s the story of Zeus, as with many heroes in this category. Great overall impact, good in some situations, but he has a potential to be absolutely dismal in the wrong ones. Fortunately, due to a shift in the meta and a series of incremental buffs across the last few patches, players are finding more situations for Zeus to be effective in. He’s been played as a support, offlaner, and the mid lane in the recent Mars Dota League. He’s a natural counter to illusion heroes, when it seems that Chaos Knight is making a surge into the meta.
Zeus is still the same hero at his core, but there have been a few significant changes, since we last talked about him, that have edged him more towards relevancy in the competitive meta. A bevy of talents, a new Aghanim’s Scepter buff, buffs to Strength and Intelligence, and it was all just enough to bolster some of Zeus’ weaknesses in his early laning and late game viability.
The talent tree has been a neat device by which Valve can target specific balance changes to heroes at different points in the game. It’s clear that his survivability was a point of focus. Since 7.00, his level 10 talent has been tweaked twice (+150 to +175 health, +175 to +200 health) before just being replaced altogether with 25 movement speed bonus. Both level 15 talents were also buffed (5 to 7 armor, 10% to 15% magic resistance).
First at level 10, the bonus in mana regen still has a non-trivial 1.5% win rate across all pubs. That flat +2 regen is equivalent to a slightly better Void Stone on a level 10 Zeus, who has base mana regen of 1.86. In the recent Mars Dota 2 League, 3 out of 4 players all opted for the same talent choices, with the exception of EG’s Sumail, who chose +25 movement speed, though he played the hero mid and had the luxury of a Bottle.
Another detraction pro players make is choosing +0.5s Lightning Bolt Ministun over +75 Arc Lightning Damage at level 20. These later talents target Zeus’ presence in the mid to late game, when the scaling of magic damage and the pickup of BKBs, Pipes, and Glimmer Capes tend to nullify the impact of magic heroes. It’s here that pubs favor the Arc Lightning damage, even though it’s to a win rate disadvantage.
Lightning Bolt’s ministun interrupts Tinker’s Laser and turns the fight
And yes, the ministun talent works on Nimbus, Zeus’ new Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade. It’s a welcome change from his old upgrade, which just made his ultimate deal more damage, about 120 damage after reductions, every 90 seconds.
Nimbus can stun for 0.7 seconds every 2.25 seconds, an interval rate which can also be buffed by Octarine Core. Pub players may still be picking Arc Lightning damage out of habit, when the alternative used to be a 40 second reduction in respawn rate. But now this talent has synergy with Nimbus, and it makes Aghanim’s Scepter a reasonable choice in Zeus’ core build.
When Glimmer Cape was introduced, it became the bane of many magic damage dependent heroes. It was a natural counter to Necrophos’ Scythe, which had just enough of a delay for an enemy to cast Glimmer Cape’s active. But since the item’s introduction, it has been nerfed significantly. Its passive resistance buff decreased from 20% to 15%, and over two patches the active’s magic resistance bonus reduced from 66% to 45%. The active, with a 5 second duration, has little effect against a patient Zeus player. It’s why Zeus can still scale in the late game, when BKB timers are just as short.
Nimbus serves as a nifty counter for Tinker
Zeus’ buffs since patch 7.00 has mitigated his weaknesses to a point where teams can take the risk that he might be exploited and pick him in the right situations. The new Nimbus is a surprisingly good counter to Tinker, as shown by EG’s match against OG in MDL. It’s a global skill that ministuns an escaping Tinker, and there’s nowhere to hide if Zeus opts to reveal first with Thundergod’s Wrath. But it’s against illusion based heroes where Zeus thrives, and he’ll have an impact regardless of what role he’s in. Support Zeus was in vogue when Naga was a rampant hero. And in today’s meta where Chaos Knight and Terrorblade are relevant, then so is Zeus.