Zagara: Princess Swarming
Zerg queen, lane destroyer, force of nature. Such is how you describe Zagara, the relentless brood mother of the Zerg host. Her strengths are many, and her weaknesses vital, but she’s a popular Specialist choice for Heroes due to her strong damage and utility, her immense entrenchment, and her team-breaking ult. With a little practice, you can be the Queen you’ve always wanted to be.
As a Specialist, Zagara is designed for pushing. She has great damage potential and a large amount of utility, and if you play her right and build for it, some really good sustain in lane. But it always comes back to crushed waves of minions and squeezing the life from your enemy, one tower, one wall, or one fortress at a time. Without the range of Azmodan or the free clear of Sylvanas, Zagara has to fall back on her unrelenting push and some slick tactics, but the end result can be huge pushing power and incredible one-on-one damage.
Zagara’s Trait is called Creep Tumor, and it allows her to plant a cancerous growth in the earth and spread Creep for her and her many minions. While on a field of Creep, Zagara regenerates much faster, and both her and all of her hordelings move faster over it. Perhaps more importantly, each individual Tumor also grants sight, making them invaluable tools for zoning and scouting your enemies.
Key placement can single-handedly make many strategic areas of several different maps your team’s, giving you relative safe travel through them and advance warning of incoming attacks. However, the individual growths themselves can fall prey to area damage or well-placed shots, so try to hide them well and maintain them.
Beyond this, Zagara has a variety of abilities that mostly let her make good use of the Swarm, each of them in turn bringing in a different form of outside help, including some of my favorite units–Hydralisks, in particular.
Zagara’s Q is Baneling Barrage, and it is very aptly named.
When Barrage is used, Zagara locks herself down and unrolls a pack of kamikaze Banelings in a straight line, with solid range. The critters erupt on contact with an enemy or once they reach the end of their range–assuming they do. Baneling Barrage is best used against a static wave of minions or enemy structures, of course, though the area damage can be surprising if paired with good allied crowd control.
Her W ability is called Hunter Killer, an ability you will become very familiar with.
Hunter Killer is a targeted ‘mark’ spell that summons and sics an allied Hydralisk onto an enemy unit of your choice. It will pursue them unerringly as long as it can, until it dies or its time runs out, and attack them at every opportunity. This will probably be your main source of Hero damage as Zagara, as the Hydralisks get ridiculously strong late-game. Forcing your enemy to stick around and take their damage–or keeping them in place with crowd control–can quickly turn a fight in your favor.
Zagara’s E is Infested Drop.
This ability is a moderately small area-of-effect projectile, dropped from the sky mortar style, that leaves two Roachlings behind on impact. With the delayed and avoidable damage of Baneling Barrage and the secondary attacking units of Hunter Killer, you’ll find this strikes a nice balance between the two. Of course, it won’t do the damage of either, but it arguably serves better for pushing, as minions will take both halves of it standing up.
When studying these core abilities, a pattern begins to form, and you’re not wrong in that. Zagara has a pretty routine style of play, for many of your games, but that doesn’t mean it’s passive. Far from it, as a passive, static Zagara is an easy target.
Her main strengths are her zoning and her relative safety. Zagara can not only push like a monster, which she arguably is, but she can follow that up with immense early-game structural damage. And since most of her push is hard to eliminate outright, it can leave weaker laners gasping for air. And even catching her out becomes difficult, because every Hunter Killer she drops forces you to commit to taking damage while she waddles off to safety. Even if she fights, the Hydralisk can out-damage her, making you weigh your focus.
This does come at a cost, though. Zagara’s health sustain is free and easy, if she keeps her Creep up, but her mana costs are extraordinary. This can be mitigated with her build, and most players do, but the choice can leave her a little weaker or force her to compromise. On the other hand, she has no natural escapes, and even then she only gets Bolt of the Storm at level 20, which is hardly going to make or break her early or mid-game.
And when you talk about her Heroic abilities, you will almost always be referring to her Heroic ‘ability’, singular, because as every Zagara player knows, there’s really only One True ult.
That’s right. You know it, you love it. Devouring Maw is everything you want in Void Prison, at the same cost and cooldown, with only a second less uptime. But it does damage. We’ve all seen the videos of a huge Maw turning a teamfight around, and if you haven’t, go find one… I’ll wait.
Now, what makes it worthwhile is exactly that, the ability to shape a fight by deciding who stays in it. Almost any outcome is favorable, as long as you Devour more than you spare, but even turning a 5v5 into a 5v4 in your favor can be immense, if that one person is dangerous enough. And catching out three or even four players in a single Maw can turn an entire game around. It doesn’t have to do a lot of damage, because if you and your team can make the most of those four seconds, you’ll quickly find yourself wondering if you or your Maw should have gotten credit for all of the kills.
Is this terrible? No, it actually isn’t. As most Zagara players will again be able to tell you, Nydus can actually be very useful in a wide variety of situations and team compositions. Just not as useful as Maw. Compare a split-pushing Zagara with a little better sustain than normal, and a Zagara who does to teamfights what free Nova week does to her win/loss ratio. And therein lies your answer.
There are certainly situations and maps where you may want to take Nydus, and it might actually be a good idea. But my advice? Let your team know before the game starts. They might not like it, but if you’re dead-set on taking the tunnels with you, at least give them advance warning.
So, builds. Believe it or not, they aren’t actually that complicated at all. In fact, Zagara really has one main build path for most players, with a little divergence here and there, for flavor.
Centrifugal Hooks: With this talent, your Baneling Barrage will send your squishy children twice as far. Useful, but not really necessary.
Corpse Feeders: This tanks your little Roachies out somewhat, reducing the damage they take. But not from Heroes, and in any case, it’s not enough of a boost to warrant taking it over the other two Talents available at this tier.
Reconstitution: On the other hand, Reconstitution doesn’t sound very potent on the surface, but it can be really strong over time, and it’s taken quite a bit. What it does is triple Zagara’s health regeneration bonus when on Creep, and over time, it can keep you surprisingly topped-up.
Demolitionist: Another decent but less useful Talent, this is the standard ‘ammo destruction’ tool for Specialists, and it’s no different here. If you don’t need Reconstitution, it can be a helpful pickup, but Zagara’s extra minions do more damage and take more ammunition anyway, so it isn’t a must-have at all.
Envenomed Spines: Envenomed Spines adds bonus damage over time to your attacks, and 20% more range. Now, there’s a lot of debate over taking this, or Medusa Blades, below. You can compare damage versus number of targets, damage over time versus clear, and so on. They’re about the same, damage-wise, but the added range usually sways it in favor of Spines.
Medusa Blades: This makes your attacks split and hit three extra targets beyond the first, adding to 75% total bonus damage, but it does require multiple targets to benefit. On the other hand, in addition to the range increase, Envenomed Spines also works well on one or two targets.
Tumor Clutch: Useful, but not useful enough. Tumor Clutch simple removes the mana cost on your Creep Tumor and reduces the cooldown as well. It can be handy if you absolutely need them for vision, but you lose a lot without taking one of the attack modifiers above. I generally wouldn’t consider it.
Envenom: As can be expected from the name, this is the same active ability many other Heroes get, and deals a hefty chunk of damage over time. Reliable, and it can be useful for countering some healers, but it’s not very strong on Zagara overall.
Infest: This is, again, a spell we’ve seen before, and one that doesn’t really feel necessary on Zagara. As usual, it will greatly enhance a minion’s pushing damage for a while, and can be used twice. But it doesn’t offer the same fighting power as Envenomed or Medusa.
Battle Momentum: You may recall this skill as one that lowers your ability cooldowns on every attack, and you’d be correct. You’d also be right in saying that this is a strong ability on Zagara. Rapid Incubation sees more use, but Battle Momentum is a very strong second choice.
Volatile Acid: This increases the damage of your Banelings by a good bit, but only against non-Hero units. As such, it doesn’t do as much as you’d probably like, and it doesn’t really stand out, since neither Zagara nor her Banelings really need the help against minions and structures.
Ventral Sacs: This adds another Roachling to your Infested Drop, for a total of three. Helpful for pushing, but limited by the amount they can get done in the brief eight seconds they’re alive.
Endless Creep: With this, your Creep Tumors have half-again as much range they can spread, and double the health they normally get. It sounds weak, and it can be. And it usually is. However, there are players who know how to find your creep, and area damagers who can easily take it out accidentally. In such situations, this can be a safe pick to keep your Creep network strong, and your vital vision-giving Tumors safe and alive for your team to benefit from.
Rapid Incubation: This is a useful skill that you’ll see on a lot of Zagara players; when used, it seals up Her Highness in a fleshy cocoon and gives her back a quarter of her life and mana. This is her main tool for sustain in lane, and counters a lot of her mana problems. I’d say in most situations, this should be your go-to skill, but you can easily skip it if a Malfurion is on your team, or if you don’t mind backing more. Having Nydus is also a pretty good qualifier.
Mutalisk: Simply put, this turns your Hydralisk into a Mutalisk, which will attack your enemies as before with Hunter Killer. It’s very useful, with a multi-target bouncing attack and a longer duration. On the other hand, its biggest strength is that it can chase enemies over walls and past obstacles, which makes it more useful in cluttered maps with a lot of cover.
Grooved Spines: Grooved Spines also touches on your Hydralisks, instead granting them largely increased range and damage with their attacks. This will usually be your better choice for DPS, but either of these skills is usually fine.
Bile Drop: Bile Drop doubles the damage on your Infested Drop, which already isn’t too much. It’s damage, which is nice, but there’s no way it can compete with either of the above skills here.
Giant Killer: Another potentially useful skill, as it empowers your standard attacks against Heroes to do more damage, based on their health. And, as with all instances of Giant Killer, it’s pretty much only useful against teams with a lot of tanky, healthy characters. Even then consider something like Grooved Spines, on Zagara, but if you feel the need, at least it won’t be wasted.
Spell Shield: Potent, but just not really worthwhile. Zagara has no escapes, and Spell Shield might save you in a straight duel, but the damage from Grooved Spines can do that as well.
Baneling Massacre: A very fun Talent, and one that straight doubles your number of Banelings launched from your royal hindquarters with every Barrage. You send out a massive eight on use, if you take Massacre, which can just ravage buildings and jungle camps in cascades of green delight. It’s unfortunate then that Brood Expansion just outweighs the damage you can do with it.
Brood Expansion: Simply put, this lets you save up a second charge of Hunter Killer, which as you can imagine is very strong. It’s also versatile in its use, letting you stack alternate Hydralisks or Mutalisks, or drop both of your stored up warriors at once. Your savage minions can decimate a single person unexpectedly fast if they both lay into them, especially with Grooved Spines. Definitely recommended.
Metabolic Boost: This skill really just doesn’t fit into this tier, I feel, but there you have it. Metabolic Boost simply increases your movement speed bonus on your collected Creep up to 40%, and really, it’s just not that worthwhile.
Stone Skin: Another useful talent that’s just outshined by Brood Expansion, Stone Skin is a commonly seen active shield that’ll protect a portion of your life from damage. It can be useful to save yourself from a looming assassin or a Nova’s burst, but you’re cutting away a lot of your late-game damage to do so, so bear that in mind.
Tyrant Maw: This ups your Devouring Maw damage and gives you a nice hit on its cooldown whenever you score a kill, but you’ll rarely be taking it. Why? Bolt of the Storm.
Broodling Nest: If you happen to take Nydus, this skill can be handy, popping out a clutch of Broodlings every time you drop out of a tunnel mouth. On the other hand, it’s unnecessary extra push for Zagara, and can lead enemies to your canals. And Bolt of the Storm.
Fury of the Storm: Fury of the Storm charges up to hit a group of enemies with a burst of damage on your next attack. Useful for pushing, and it stacks well with either Medusa Blades or Envenomed Spines, but again, Bolt is what you want here.
Bolt of the Storm: Picking up a pattern? Good. Bolt is hands down one of the most important Talents on this or any build, for most Heroes, and Zagara especially. At this point in the game, if you’ve done well, you’ve survived without any escapes at all, and congratulations. But you need one now. It’ll let you play it a little more loose, avoid getting caught out, and overall make better plays. Just trust me on this.
The Build, or Widowmaker
If you couldn’t guess, I’ve been leading towards this build the whole time, so here it is all laid out. Feel free to deviate, but this is a very popular build for a reason, and will usually get you by without any outside factors to worry about.
L4: Envenomed Spines
L7: Rapid Incubation
L10: Devouring Maw
L13: Grooved Spines
L16: Brood Expansion
L20: Bolt of the Storm
This build allows you the most sustain and damage you can squeeze out of our Queen, with a distinct focus on Hunter Killer, and again, with good reason. You’ll generally want to focus on clear and harass at the same time, so you can minimize enemy contact, and with your Hydralisk doing damage after you’ve left, it’s easy to out trade unwary enemies.
Use your Barrage and your Drop sparingly until you get Incubation, unless you really need to hammer the enemies hard; if you have to spend the mana, though, make sure you’re getting damage on them or some mana costs backs, both if you can. If you have to leave to fill up, you want to make sure your enemy laner or laners won’t be in a position to capitalize.
On the other hand, if you have to push less to stay relatively safe, say against a superior force or an opposed Specialist with help, then feel free. Zagara can handle soaking under the towers just fine, and is one of the better Heroes for diving on the opportunity for a counter-push. You can also handle jungle objectives with ease, especially once you get Brood Expansion.
Hunter Killer is extremely punishing for enemies who can’t escape its range, but so are your other abilities. Heading off a good allied cc-chain with a quick cast of it and Infested Drop, and then a line of Banelings, can make a huge contribution to any teamfight. Perhaps most important of all, though, learn how to aim and time your Devouring Maw. Using it to save yourself or doom enemies becomes second nature, but it might take awhile for you to spot the gleaming, crystalline moment of time when four enemies line up and you get the perfect shot.
To this end, Zagara works extremely well with three things: Area crowd control, sustain (especially mana), and great peel. An allied ETC or Nazeebo can really set up a lot of damage for you, and someone like Johanna, Uther, or Arthas can keep enemies off or help land your abilities. And of course, Malfurion’s sustain is an incredible boon. And there’s almost no one who doesn’t work well with Devouring Maw, whether it be Jaina for her area damage or even Gazlowe with his great area control.
And then you can counter her, as well. Zagara is weak to burst damage, mobile assassins, and pretty much any crowd control, especially something that forces her out of position. You’ll find that you can break even with enemies like Sylvanas or Sgt Hammer, and you can easily come ahead with some good plays and your strong early push, but enemies like Nova, Kerrigan, and Arthas will be able to give you a lot of trouble. And getting caught out and manhandled by Stitches or Diablo usually results in you being in the middle of a hostile enemy team with no escape, in which case, can I have your vinyl collection? I’ll take good care of it, promise.
Line yourself up to hit the enemy caster minion with your Baneling Barrage, if possible. The splash damage will be guaranteed to hit the entire enemy wave. Even if you have to hit the group on the move, a couple of solid bursts will help your clear immensely.
Zagara is good on most maps, but she really shines on a few, like Blackheart’s Bay and Tomb of the Spider Queen. Here, her area control is an amazingly useful tool for her team; your Tumors provide vision and speed, and your Infested Drop or Hunter Killer are excellent tools for denying turn-in objectives.
Your Devouring Maw can help and hurt, if you’re not careful. You can’t trap allies with it, fortunately, but you can save them from allied damage, ultimates, pulls, and more. Generally, your goal will be to carefully wait for opportunities your team can capitalize on. Saving a clustered group of enemies for your allies to get close is in particular a good strategy, but it can also be used to escape.
It’s tempting to drop both Hydralisks on a single enemy (and oh so rewarding when you do), but the smart play is to sometimes save one. You might need it for a different focus target, to get some heat off of your own back, or just in case. And you can always let slip the ‘lisks of war a few moments later, if the fight goes your way.
If your Hydralisk is going to chase into enemy turret range, consider dropping him a couple of friends in. Your Roachlings will draw some turret shots away from your main beastlet while he keeps the chase up.
Try to hide your Creep Tumors off the side of the main path in lane, where they won’t just get killed straight away. It’s always nice to have them in bushes, too, for the vision, but since you don’t need the creep at all times, you can leave them in strategic spots, by objectives or side paths, or at crossroads, such as in the Haunted Mines, to keep track of wandering foes.