Oh Zuul’Goth… you are in the hearts of every Gems of War player. “I get to use THAT?!” Yes, you certainly do, but only through patience of collecting 24 Orbs of Ascension so you can make 8 Orbs of Power (or invest thousands and thousands of gems into an event to get first place).
What is it about Zuul’Goth that is so alluring?
Certainly the artwork is one of the most notable aspects. You see Zuul’Goth for a week every month and you repeatedly kill him. He is seen as a menacing opponent able to wipe out your team one by one. So naturally being able to use that yourself seems fantastic.
Then there is the mana cost. Higher mana cost is usually associated with more power. That makes sense: the game is trying to delay how soon after the battle starts that you can use its ability and how frequently it can be used over the course of the battle. Mythic troops range in mana cost from 20 to 32, but there are 49 Mythic troops and only 7 of them have a mana cost above 25, with two at 25 (Umenath, Elemagruim), two at 26 (Shahbanu, The Possessed King), one at 28 (Scorpius), one at 30 (The Worldbreaker), and Zuul’Goth at 32.
Many powerful mythics have relatively common costs to them – Megavore, High King Irongut, Infernus, and Aquaticus only cost 24 each. The question then becomes: what makes a cost worth costing more than others? For instance, does Elemaugrim do more damage than others? Not necessarily… but Elemaugrim can loop itself because it creates a gem color it uses. Increasing its cost helps prevent repeated loops. The same is true for Shahbanu Vespera and The Worldbreaker (exploding 18 gems on the board, unassociated with its magic, thereby unaffected by Webbed).
Scorpius has a high cost because it has an opportunity to instantly kill two targets. It can’t poison the back line troops by itself (it does apply poison when doing skull damage, but only to the front target obviously and no one runs Scorpius in the front), but it is incredibly easy to apply poison to troops, so delaying that lethal hit is important for balance.
Zuul’Goth is a sort of combination of a lot of mythics in a way, with some drawbacks and improvements on each:
Kill an Enemy. This does exactly what you think it does. Point at a target and they are dispelled and killed (unless they are Invulnerable – like enemy Raid Bosses, Invasion Towers, and Doom troops). There are very few troops in the game that can instantly kill an enemy troop.
- Scorpius always hits the back two targets and only does lethal damage if they are poisoned.
- Ubastet only does lethal damage if the first target it hits with normal damage is killed.
- Dullahan has a 50% chance for lethal damage, but only against the first target, and that first target is randomly yours or the enemies.
- Lady Morana can do lethal damage but it is tied to a base 10% chance boosted by purple gems (generally speaking the upper bound of number of purple gems on board without a match possible is around 20-22 – but that is getting into the territory of leaving a 4+ match around for the enemy). You gain 2% for each purple gem, and generally speaking you’ll be casting this with a total of 25-30% chance for lethal.
- DRACOS 1337 has a flat 25% chance for lethal.
- Scylla also has a 25% chance for lethal, but only against the last target.
- Captain Macaw has a 100% chance for lethal if the enemy target is submerged – but unlike Scorpius, it can submerge the target. This is also, I believe, the first troop ever that can apply a positive effect onto an enemy troop.
- Bladewing has a 20% chance of lethal but only if there is a Storm.
- Executioner has a 10% chance of lethal, with no boost.
Of course… lethal damage isn’t limited to troops. There are weapons too that provide a shot at that sweet lethal.
- The latest to come out is Deathdealer, which has a 10% chance to kill an enemy boosted by Doomskulls (2% chance per Doomskull). This one is a bit more scary than Lady Morana and her purple gems though. The lower the boost, the less Doomskulls are on the board, the less chance there is a match of them… but the more Doomskulls, the higher your lethal chance is, but you also give your opponent the opportunity to match Doomskulls. Very catch-22, resulting in most uses of this weapon having a very low 12-20% chance (it creates a doomskull so there will always be a 12% chance, and 20% chance means 5 doomskulls total).
- Before that came Drill Shooter which features its final weapon upgrade of Vorpal: 20% chance to kill the first enemy. Very effective considering Drill Shooter itself creates Red/Yellow enemies that can loop with other mechs, providing a lot of casts.
- Assassin class weapon: Serpentine Dagger. This weapon has a flat 10% chance to kill a target, boosted to 20% if the target is already poisoned. Note that the weapon does poison the target, but that doesn’t mean it’s always 20%. The game checks to see if the target is poisoned before the weapon has poisoned them, then it does the appropriate lethal check (this is evident because lethal damage does a fixed amount of very, very high damage, and the damage is always done all at once, so Serpentine Dagger will never deal damage and then deal more damage if it does lethal, it will always either deal damage and poison, or deal lethal damage).
And then of course there are the two classes, Archer and Assassin, which have their own forms of lethal:
- Bullseye: 15% chance for Skull damage to be lethal.
- Assassinate: 10% Chance to assassinate the last enemy when I deal Skull damage.
The wording on these is very different, and I’m not entirely sure if they do the same thing. For instance, I’m pretty sure that Bullseye can in fact do lethal damage even if the enemy doesn’t target any skull damage. I think the 15% chance for lethal is actually triggered just by your Hero (important) matching skulls (while being in the front). Assassinate on the other hand I believe only triggers when Skull damage is dealt. This means if the enemy troop has Barrier, Bullseye could kill them, but Assassinate could not kill the last troop.
And finally… drum roll: the Shadow level 100 talent: Rising Shadows, which provides a 7% chance to assassinate the last enemy when another enemy dies. This used to be 10% but it was nerfed because it’s incredibly easy to trigger. How easy? Well, you know those Skull crasher troops that pop in? That can trigger Rising Shadows because an enemy is being killed. Same with any of the troops that kill themselves, like Bombot, Sunbird, and Fire Bomb: which actually works to the enemy’s advantage if they are using Rising Shadows and you are the only killing your own troops.
As you can see, lethal damage is actually pretty common in Gems of War, and that’s excluding the obvious other lethal source: Devour. So then why is Zuul’Goth so good if lethal damage is so accessible?
Well, you’ll notice a common range of chance for lethal, between 10 and 25%. And those aren’t good odds. In fact, one of the best pure faction teams for Crypt Keepers (without potions) runs 3x Lady Morana and just banks on getting lucky with lethal damage while having backups for more chances.
And the ones that do have guaranteed lethal (Scorpius, Captain Macaw, and Ubastet) are only guaranteed if other conditions are met. They are definitely more controllable because you can calculate, for instance, if Scorpius is going to kill either of the targets it hits, because you know the damage and you know how much health the weakest target has.
But that is where Zuul’Goth just doesn’t care. It has no conditions. It just kills. Well… kind of. Unlike Ubastet and Scorpius, you have to target still with Zuul’Goth, which means you can’t target enemies that have Stealthy talent.
Then there’s the fact that Ubastet and Scorpius both kill TWO targets at once, while Zuul’Goth kills only one. However, Zuul’Goth can kill any target, and the other two are heavily restricted to the weakest targets and the backline targets.
But there’s much more to Zuul’Goth, unlike the Raid Boss version, Zuul’Goth does a whole lot more than just kill a target. Raid Boss versions might only create skulls, or only poison enemies. Nope, player Zuul’Goth burns and freezes all remaining enemies and creates 12 skulls.
Classes with Fireblade (Diabolist, Dragonguard, Hierophant, Slayer, Sunspear, and Warlord) can do triple damage against burning enemies, a deadly combination given Zuul’Goth burns enemies and then creates a ton of skulls. But is 12 skulls a lot? I’d say it is!
Most troops that create gems are very limited in how many they create for a reason: there will usually already be gems of that type on the board when you choose to cast the ability, and creating more is going to allow for looping. Elemaugrim, which we talked about earlier, creates 8 gems, up to 12 from burning enemies. Queen Aurora creates 10 gems of any one color. Shahbanu Vespera creates 9 gems. Yasmine’s Chosen creates 10 green gems. Umenath also creates 12 skulls, but only if the enemy dies (and while it does do a ton of damage, it’s not guaranteed lethal!)
Certainly there are troops that can create more skulls. Bone Dragon can create up to 15 skulls. Queen Moonclaw can create up to 17 Skulls.
But you almost never see players using those troops becase, well, that’s all they do, they just spawn skulls, and that’s not very useful. Instead, people use troops that convert specific colors to skulls. Why? Consistency. And consistency is, after all, the reason most people avoid the inconsistency of most all sources of “lethal damage.” No one wants to gamble a match on a 20% chance of lethal.
So what’s the downside to Zuul’Goth? There’s actually a ton of them…
- It costs 32 mana, so you need some kind of generator to fuel it. There is nothing that is going to start it off with 50% mana, the best you’ll get is Medal of Anu for 20%, which will start it off at 6 or 7 Mana.
- It uses three colors. This isn’t a terrible problem, but it does mean you’re actually going to want it toward the back. Is that a good thing? Eh, yes, because you want it to survive longer, but it does mean that all the Attack it gets from its trait Manifestation (5 Attack from every skull match) is wasted. But really, that trait is only there for the +5 Armor and +5 Life on skull matches.
- Its troop type is Boss, effectively cutting any “troop type” bonus down to 3 max.
- Its kingdom is Karakoth… not exactly a hot spot for troops, so you won’t be getting a Karakoth bonus either (or at least it isn’t recommended). That being said, Green Slime and Dark Troll are from Karakoth, and they are great ways to make purple gems for Zuul’Goth.
- You won’t want to use teams without it. Seriously. Whenever you can’t use him, you’ll be saying to yourself “Ugh, I could just one shot that enemy with Zuul’Goth!”
- It’s hard to do more than “Kill an Enemy.” Certainly they could relase other variations of Bosses that do something like “Kill an Enemy. Silence and entangle all remaining enemies” or something, but meh, why bother?
So… should you save all your Minor and Major Orbs of Ascension to make those Orbs of Power? Yes, definitely. Zuul’Goth is one of the most fun troops in the game, period. Do you need him though to be effective in the game? Absolutely not. There is no place in the game where you need Zuul’Goth to succeed.
I use Zuul’Goth in my explore team, but based on my timings, he’s not even the fastest team. Why? Well, it just takes a long time to get 32 mana over and over, but it’s fun every time.