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Which Doctor?

Heroes Marc “Jackwraith” Reichardt


(Headline image via Gomes Brown)

Nazeebo is one of the more recent reworks, having had his entire talent tree gutted and rebuilt back in September. However, he's also one of those whose changes have had very little impact on the game overall and absolutely none in the pro scene unlike his fellow Nephalem, Valla. For a short period this year, he was one of the more popular heroes in the game because of a bug in the way his level 13 talent, Toads of Hugeness, was implemented. He saw constant use in the lower leagues because of it. Once that bug was fixed, his popularity began to dwindle. Even when the overhaul came through two months later, his usage didn't see an appreciable uptick and, as has been the case for almost two years now, he still saw no use in the pro scene. Just as a comparison, Nazeebo's rework came in the same patch that saw significant changes to Malfurion, Chen, and ETC; all of whom see regular (if not dominant) pro play.

The main problems that the character has are basic ones:

1. He has no escapes or even CC to keep himself alive without a properly placed Zombie Wall.
2. He doesn't do anything that other heroes don't do better.

In the case of #1, Blizzard has stated that that's part of his design. They don't want him to have escapes in the same way many other heroes don't like, say, two of his closest thematic comparisons, Gul'dan and Lunara. The problem is that he lacks durability or any kind of sustain in order to survive being dived, even for a couple seconds. Gul'dan, obviously has durability and life gain. Lunara does so much single-target damage that you often don't want to pursue her. Even more significantly her CC, Crippling Spores, affects everything currently poisoned by her and is on a ten second cooldown. Nazeebo's Zombie Wall has a cooldown of 14 seconds and is easily avoidable, unlike Spores which simply happens.


(Image via Carbot)

Now you're saying, "You can't make that kind of comparison, since those two are assassins while Nazeebo is a specialist whose trait only affects non-heroes". Yeah. That's kind of the problem. An assassin like Gul'dan clears waves faster and better than Nazeebo does and still does massive damage to heroes. An assassin like Lunara clears waves and buildings with Nature's Culling almost as well as Nazeebo does and still does massive damage to heroes (and provides vision with Wisp). Direct comparisons to other siege-focused specialists are even worse. The range, durability, massive pressure, and reach of heroes like Sylvanas, Xul, and even the only-seen-in-pro-play-more-often-than-Nazeebo Azmodan leave the Witch Doctor in the electronic dust. It's kind of funny for us Diablo 3 players, given that the Witch Doctor was supposed to be the replacement for the Necromancer from Diablo 2, but has never been as popular, and still isn't when both of them got to the Nexus.

Taking a closer look at Diablo 3, when the game was released, the Witch Doctor was supposed to be the short-ranged Wizard. The problem is, the closer you are to things in D3, as in any game, the easier it is for them to kill you. It took the biggest character overhaul in the game, with huge increases in damage, for them to get the class to be playable. Like the Necromancer in D3, the Doctor is a pet class. That's not the case in HotS, which means that Nazeebo has to get close to things in order to have impact but lacks the Zombie Dogs to run interference for him and has seen his other protector, the Gargantuan (who is a limited heroic, rather than a constant presence as in D3), severely nerfed in recent days. Even more obvious, the Witch Doctor in D3 has Spirit Walk, one of the best escapes in the game. Nazeebo, of course, does not. But let's take a look at his abilities and talents and see where the design folks have left us:

Voodoo Ritual: On the one hand, they added Death Ritual's functionality to the trait, which was the talent that everyone took at level one before the changes. On the other hand, they made the trait only affect non-heroes and no longer restore health when things die. The reason that Nazeebo worked at all before the changes was because killing minions kept his life total up and you could apply a small DoT to heroes when they tried to contest the lane with you. Now you can't do either of those things and have to wait for any kind of durability until well into the game, meaning that you're something of a liabilty to your team until that point.

Corpse Spiders: Formerly, you could toss jars everywhere and release the arachnid horde. Now, it's a skillshot. That's fine if they wanted to increase the skill level of the hero. But the problem is that the spiders still don't do that much damage, often don't emerge, and the impact damage of the jar is half what it used to be. Plus, the developers did the inverse of what the D3 devs did, by reducing the travel speed of the jar. One of the complaints about the D3 Witch Doctor was that he couldn't do as much damage as other characters because the slow speed of his graphics reduced his overall DPS. Nazeebo has that same problem now, wherein his skillshot is easily avoidable.

Plague of Toads: Better than spiders, with a shorter CD, two charges, and significantly more damage... but as a DoT, surrendering the burst that the toads used to provide as a ward against divers and still leaving the toads as easily avoidable for anyone not at point-blank range.

Zombie Wall: His best ability by far since the rework, based purely on the level 16 talent, Ring of Poison. But it's still on a 14 second CD and is as easily avoidable as Malfurion's Entangling Roots used to be. Now, some would argue that Roots' speed is what has made Malfurion such a terror in the game and the #1 support pick at all levels. But Roots also does far more damage than Wall does and zones people out almost as effectively.

Gargantuan: The Garg used to be fairly annoying, as it would wander halfway across the map in pursuit of you. But now it's very limited, since its guarded area is so small and the fight will almost always move away from it or Nazeebo, lacking durability, will have to leave the area that it's guarding. It's especially problematic when the enemy is fleeing and you'd like to be able to add to the damage being inflicted on them and perhaps get more kills or a wipe. But the Garg is rooted to one spot, your abilities are short-ranged, and your trait doesn't affect heroes. So perhaps it's time for...

Ravenous Spirit: Except that, unlike its heyday when it could dominate teamfights all by itself, the Spirit still doesn't do enough damage to justify the self-stun involved in channeling. Think of all the channeled abilities or heroics in the game and then think about how many of them actually see use. Spirit is no different and that's why Garg remains the dominant pick, roughly 60-40 across all leagues and 70-30 on Master (per Hotslogs.)

Talents:

First off, it has to be pointed out that, post-rework, Nazeebo has one of the more limited talent trees in the game. There are only three selections on every non-heroic tier until you hit 20. That's not a sign of a problem, since ETC has the same setup and remains one of the most popular heroes in the game at the pro level. But it does lead to a feeling of a lack of options and, even worse, a more obvious "default pick" in a lot of cases.

Level 1:

The most glaring problem here is the two quest talents.
Both Widowmakers and Pandemic are among the few quests in the game that give nothing other than the final reward. Their damage increases when they hit a certain level, but doesn't increase along the way, unlike something as widespread as Seasoned Marksman, for example. What this leads to is feeling like you haven't even been granted a talent when you begin the game, until you're 10 or 12 levels in and suddenly gain a bit of a damage spike.

Gul'dan's top pick at level 1, Echoed Corruption, is similar, but Corruption has great range and a wide AoE, which means that completing that quest is typically easier than either of Nazeebo's so the feeling of being gimped at the start of the game is much less. The fact that Corruption does far more damage than either Toads or Spiders doesn't hurt (you), either.

That makes Thing of the Deep the most appealing pick (41.6% currently on Hotslogs; 50.5% in Master) because that talent addresses one of Nazeebo's problems: his lack of range. So, your level 1 choices are either nothing for 10 levels or a patch that feels like it should be part of your kit to begin with.

Level 4:

Hexed Crawlers is too conditional, granting you health only when the spiders hit heroes, something you should be avoiding since your trait doesn't affect them, anyway.

Blood Ritual does what the old trait did, which makes it appealing for sustain. But most people gravitate toward increasing the long-term gains with Big Voodoo (currently 53% on Hotslogs; 48% in Master) in the hopes that his survivability in the late game will be a thing, since Nazeebo is demonstrably a late game hero.

Level 7:

Spirit of Arachyr adds to the difficulty of a skillshot for little real effect and, given that Nazeebo is a waveclear hero, almost completely contrary to how you'd like to play him (i.e. getting as many minions in the impact as possible.) So you either mildly increase his damage against heroes or, again, feel like you've passed on a talent against minions and mercs. 

Toads of Hugeness is conditional and does nothing when they're launched at point-blank range when getting dived upon. That makes Dead Rush the default (63% on Hotslogs; 60% on Master), since it makes a solid ability even better.

Level 13:

This is the only tier short of level 20 that has a fairly varied selection.

Ice Block remains dominant among master players, but only about 40% of the time.

Guardian Toads, a genuinely solid talent for close encounters, shows up at 30% and so does Superstition. The latter is the very definition of a conditional pick, as if you take it against Valla and Illidan, you are gonna die. But if the opposing comp is Li Ming, Chromie, Falstad with the Hammer build, and so on, Superstition becomes amazing because you suddenly have the durability of a tank against all of those Orbs, Blasts, and bolts of lightning. As you might expect, it's picked only 16% of the time across all leagues, because I think it's one of those talents that take a while for people to really learn to exploit. But it's this tier and the last one, among all of the Nazeebo's talents, that may be the saving grace of the character with some upgrades.

Level 16:

Spider Colony is conditional and only affects one ability, unlike Hardened Focus, which is a ridiculous restriction.

Soul Harvest requires you to do exactly what you don't want to do: be in the middle of a fight. If it came earlier in the tree, it might be viable, because it would lead to quicker lane clears and help in lane fights. But at 16, the laning phase is often close to being done and the game becomes more about teamfighting, which means that the only enemies who are normally going to be in range in order to exploit the talent are the ones that will kill you in two seconds or less. That makes Ring of Poison the default pick (71%; 61% on Master), even after the recent nerf.

Level 20:

Gargantuan's problems are not CD or mana cost; neither is Spirit's range or movement speed. Fury of the Storm is almost uniquely situated to be a great ability for Nazeebo but not at level 20, which is why it's never been popular for any hero that's had access to it. Vile Infection, OTOH, finally returns the effect of Voodoo Ritual to enemy heroes and accelerates it enormously, which is why it's the default pick (47%; 73%.) So, if you can make it to level 20, Nazeebo can be awesome, which is not exactly a great selling point.

Again, the major problem that Nazeebo has, even past the lack of mobility, is that he simply doesn't do anything that other heroes don't do better. Tweaking his talent tree may or may not solve this, as the recent rework didn't save him from the purgatory he currently inhabits (9.6% popularity currently across all leagues.) This puts him in the zone of currently-unloved supports like Tyrande and Uther and other partially-failed reworks like Arthas, all of whom see play at the professional level. But those heroes' lack of time can be possibly explained by meta shifts, rather than the complete abandonment which has been Nazeebo before the overhaul and after. The new heretic witch doctor has only been around for a couple months, so perhaps the devs are still waiting to see how he develops (like the long wait for Gul'dan that now seems to be paying off) but I'm betting you'll see the dead walk before that happens, without some kind of changes.

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QUICKPOLL

Is Nazeebo's problem a design problem or a meta problem?

Design. The voodoo is failing!
Thank you for voting!
Meta. The spirits are not listening!
Thank you for voting!
Marc “Jackwraith” Reichardt

I've been gaming since Asteroids in the 1970s(!) and have been into HotS since the Alpha. Along the way, I've owned a comic studio, built a political party, and even written a thing or two. You can find me @Jackwraith.

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