I love me some Xul. Occasionally I’ll do a writeup on him, because he’s a fascinating and interesting character, that seems completely mysterious and inscrutable to people. Full warning; this will be extremely long, and thorough. Full disclosure; I love Xul because I played necromancer in D2 for five years. It is my childhood. I am a level 65 Xul, Gold 5, 56% Winrate. These are just my opinions. I am not a financial advisor.
TL;DR – If you see a Xul picking Q, he wants to enable poke damage and disengage. If you see him picking W, he wants to clear the map, and hard engage with swishes. If you see him picking E, he wants to ambush and is praying to God you follow up his roots.
Xul suffered badly from the removal of the specialist role. He was the very last hero to be put into that slot, and almost immediately got removed from there and put into the “bruiser” category. This, in my view, has been the source of most of people’s misunderstandings about what Xul is, and what he’s supposed to do. It puts him in the same category as Sonya, or Artanis; he’s obviously not supposed to be there. He doesn’t go toe to toe with other bruisers, because he’s not supposed to go toe to toe with other bruisers.
To add to Xul’s general confusion, he has this kind of Varian-esque talent spread, which lets him completely change the way he interacts with the game, depending on what’s being picked. Xul can change from being a terrifying aoe front line, to a straight mage, to a ganking machine. Because Xul offers such wildly different ways to interact with the game, this means that the player will often be at odds with his teammates, all of whom have different ideas of how Xul should be played.
What is consistent with Xul is that you should expect Xul to double soak. This often means, as a Xul, you’ll be pitted up against other bruisers. Don’t worry about it. Xul isn’t there to fight Sonya. Xul’s there to kill minions. Once you adjust this in your mind, Xul’s gameplay opens up to you. Don’t try to face fuck Sonya while she drops bombs on you. Safely Q from a distance, clear the lane, disengage, go to the next lane. Occasionally, you can run into the minion wave to clear it with your W while Sonya’s there, and you use your shield to deflect damage until the wave is gone and you disengage and leave. If this sounds lame to you, then you don’t want to play Xul.
Xul has some of the best waveclear in the game. Very few characters can keep up with him. Even an untalented W build is still extremely fast waveclear that allows Xul to outpace other off laners. I can’t stress this enough, if you’re not interested in double soaking minion waves, then you should not play Xul. This is what he does. This is what he’s designed to do. This is his primary purpose, and it is consistent across all builds. If you are not double soaking with Xul, you are playing him incorrectly. If you are not allowing Xul to double soak, you are making a massive error.
But where Xul starts to really shine is his lane push. His trait, Raise Skeletons, increases the power of his pushing minion wave by 40%-50%. Even more importantly, Raise Skeletons allows Xul to continue pushing under towers, because a new minion wave will come just as the tower is killing off the old one. You turn that minion wave into skeletons, the tower aggros them, and by the time they’re dead, your new minion wave has arrived to reinforce. This lets Xul keep the pressure on structures so reliably, that if he’s ignored, the tower will go down.When people think of Xul, they think of his W, Cursed Strikes. Makes sense; it’s a very impactful, and impressive looking ability. It even *sounds* amazing. Everyone’s seen the videos of Xul getting into a melee scrum and just swish swish swishing away. I’m not going to lie, when the enemy goes all melee, and you pick Xul, and go W build, it is extremely satisfying. You cannot die. You will destroy them. It will not be close.
However, Cursed Strikes is not the true epicenter of Xul’s power. In fact, it generally ends up being a utility ability. Most teams are not all melee, and if you go full W build with Xul, it is generally for powerful map control. Xul can start solo clearing camps at level 4 in W build. He will always be able to clear waves with W. All of this is extremely useful, and the build precedes Xul’s reputation for a reason.
Xul’s true power lies in his E, Bone Prison. For some reason, the community really downplays the importance of a point and click root on a bruiser. No one else in the category has a point and click CC, and yet it is often dismissed as trivial. I do play games with Xul where I can tell the person I’m offlaning with has zero respect for it.
Bone Prison turns Xul into a terrifying gank machine. If you are playing with a Valeera, Zeratul, Falstad, even a Dehaka; any number of heroes will do, they can leave the four man, momentarily, and, because of your E, you will secure a kill with it. Because Xul doesn’t actually trade well by mashing into people (Why anyone expects a necromancer to mash into a sonya is baffling and weird to me, but that’s the opinion), it’s actually easy to bait people to over-extend in the lane. Pop the E, they get popped.
This is also true of the team fight. Xul takes heat because he has a bad engage. He has a point and click root. The play could not be more obvious. Xul comes down, waits in a bush, picks a target, pops the E, pop the hero. This seems extremely obvious to me. The community has no respect for a point and click root though, so Xul remains mysterious and inscrutable.
Speaking of mysterious; Xul’s Q build; Spectral Scythe. This build gets no respect for one specific reason; the scythes are goofy. I actually argue that if you made this ability look and sound alot cooler, it would get much more respect. Have Xul summoning literal screaming banshees, or have a blade jump up from the ground and screech across the battlefield, and people’s perception of this skill would change dramatically. It should just look and sound cooler.
Q is the ultimate disengage tool, and the Q build turns Xul into a straight mage. I’ve had games where an ally was shit talking me because I “wasn’t doing anything”, and then we win with me as MVP, because of the massive utility that the Q build gives. It creates a zone that the enemy cannot enter without being hit with debuffs. It allows your poke damage to engage far more safely, while safely clearing away enemy minions. It lets you stand beside your chromie, protecting her constantly, and if a genji dives on her, root him, scythes, and back away. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, if you hate killing minions and disengaging, you should not play Xul.
The slow travel back to Xul is the key. You can put yourself in danger for a fraction of a second, to place the Q, and then run aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way back to your towers, and the scythes follow you. If anyone chases, they get popped with a scythe, which spawns a skeleton. Depending on your specific build, this means they’re also slowed, or have reduced damage.
So, you thought this was getting long eh? Well now I’m going through every single talent and talking more specifically about each one. If you make it to the end of this, you get a prize. (Hint: The prize is my respect. So… that’s worth about as much as you’d expect:) ) It’s worth doing though, because understanding Xul’s talents, in specific ways, will let you pierce the veil into the mind of the player, and get a better sense of what they want to be doing in the game. Just like Varian, if you see a Xul pick W or Q or E at level four, you’re going to get an extremely different type of Xul.
A link if you want to read up on each ability: https://heroesofthestorm.fandom.com/wiki/Xul
Level 1 – The Bone Armor Tier. Bone Armor is Xul’s primary survival ability. It gives 25% of his health as a shield, and plays into his playstyle of going in, doing what he can, and then disengaging. Xul can be a hero who pops all his stuff, and then disengages. The shield lets him survive that.
Backlash: 12% max health damage makes this pretty obvious when you should be taking this. They have a team of chonky big butts. Blow them up. You’re going to be offlaning against an enemy Death Wing, while using an E or Q build. This gives you a big damage blast. DW is actually the perfect example of when to use Backlash, because he’s immune to slows.
Shackler: An absolute must take for the W build, and still extremely useful for E or Q builds. A 35% slow lets you extend your control of the enemy during a gank, once the E disappears. It’s true power though is the cooldown reduction. If you get this humming with W against even two heroes, you can get your shield back up in the middle of a team fight. That’s extremely powerful. If you’re fighting against a team that’s primarily melee, this is the major reason you cannot be killed; you can get your shield back very quickly. Popping a 25% max health shield two or three times in a team fight means you win the teamfight. Think of it like healing 50% of your health from two casts, and you can see why this is powerful.
The utility of Shackler in gank, or skirmish situations, along with its potency with the W build in teamfights means that I take it most often.
Shade: Extremely limited in its utility, but extraordinarily powerful in the few situations it comes in. Making Xul immune to basic attacks is functionally increasing the amount of shields that he has. I’d only ever consider taking this talent against a double AA team, specifically to survive a dive past the frontline to hopefully catch one of those AA. But I’d only ever do that if I thought my team was smart enough to follow up on that. Given the total disrespect a point and click root gets, they aren’t.More baffling than anything else in Xul’s kit, is the increase of the cooldown by 10 seconds. (A 25% cooldown nerf!!!!!) While it is a powerful ability, in the right situation, with the right team, this nerf seems extremely hacky and weird, and is enough to relegate this talent to the bottom of the tier, and only pickable in extremely specific situations, and with extremely specific teams.
Level 4 – The Varian Tier. This is the Tier where Xul defines himself. If you’re playing with a Xul, pay close attention to this pick. It completely changes the way Xul operates and interacts in the game space. Aligning your thoughts with Xul’s thoughts is crucial to having a good game with Xul.
Reaper’s Toll: This turns Xul into a mage. It’s a hard commitment into the idea that you don’t really want to be in the middle of the action, and would be better suited standing outside the action, acting as a massive deterrent and disengage tool. While 2 second reduction, and 15 mana reduction on Q doesn’t sound huge, if it read “Reduce Q’s cooldown and mana cost by 25%” you’d take it a bit more seriously.
This is best to take against dive comps, or to hard enable poke comps. It lets you be useful outside of the frontline scrum, while simultaneously being exactly where you need to be to peel that genji/valeera/zeratul off of your jaina/liming/chromie. It doesn’t provide huge burst damage. It provides AOE sustain damage, with big utility, as we’ll see later on.
I cannot stress this enough. If you are a tank, and you see Xul pick this, it means he wants you enabling poke and disengaging more. It means he wants you to play WAY SAFER. If you're ETC sliding into the middle of a team of five, expecting Xul to follow with big swishes, then it's 100% on you when you get blown up. Xul thinks our poke beats their poke, and wants to make sure that our poke is safe. He wants you there for when the enemy team finally throws their hands up and attempts an engage, only to get completely thwarted, by you. Xul understands why this might annoy you. Xul understands that you want yolo youtube plays. Xul just wants what's best for his Hanzo and Mephisto.
Side note: This ability used to have a quest on it, that I’m so happy they got rid of. The soonest I could get to that cdr was level 10, but way more likely at level 13. This made Xul’s early game, with this build, extremely tedious and difficult. Big change.
Grim Scythe: This is what people think of when they think of Xul. I’ve already talked about it, but it turns Xul into a map presence god. You can clear camps solo, you can clear waves no problem, and if they have even three melee heroes, you are a terrifying frontline. It is completely possible to win the game with just clearing map objectives, and I always consider doing this in disorganized teams. If I focus on clearing the map, and my team just doesn’t die, we win.
If you see Xul take this, he wants to live the dream. He wants to be in the middle of the enemy, swishing his heart out. He can't really start to do that until seven though, and not reeeeeeallly doing it until 13, so give Xul a moment.
Jailors: This is, low key, Xul’s most powerful playstyle. Bone prison now spawns skeletons which attack the person rooted. This increases the damage to them by quite alot, because the talent not only spawns skeletons, it also buffs all your skeletons. If you manage to pop an E on someone and you have a bunch of skeletons around, they can kill them pretty hard. Your Q spawns a skeleton, by default, your root spawns 2 skeletons. If you’re in a minion wave, you’re spawning more skeletons. These skeletons blow up when they die. It’s a big power boost that focuses on something Xul isn’t actually particularly well known for; single target damage.
If you see Xul take this, he desperately wants you to follow his root. He desperately wants one player to break off from the four man, preferably after a win, and ambush their offlaner. He wants to root people and have those roots matter.
Level 7 – How do you want your survival?
Harvest Vitality- If you picked W at 4, you should probably take this at 7. Unless, you’re dead convinced you’re never going to hard engage into a teamfight, this is the pick. It gives Xul an enormous amount of survival in the team fight, benefitting massively from his resets. As you level, this is the true reason Xul becomes unkillable. (EDIT: lawl, i keep saying “this is the reason xul becomes unkillable”. It’s all of them. They all are the reason.)
Trag’Oul’s Essence – This is more a sustain talent. If you’re running with a Q or E build, and you’re double soaking (which you should be doing because you’re Xul.) This lets you heal back up while your enemy has to use a well, or go back home. I do think this talent needs a minor buff to heal xul when a skeleton spawns, as well as attack, but that’s very minor. Also provides a bit of survivability in the team fight, but that should not be the primary consideration. This is a double soaking sustain tool, and it does a fine job at that.
Wall of Bones – Wanna survive a dive in to nail an E on a mage? Here you go. This is my most common pick as the 10% buff on the shield is already great; but the 20% spell armor is bonkers good. You’re just taking 20% less damage from spells for 3 seconds. It lets you do what you want to do with Xul; root a target so your team can blow them up, while living.
Level 10 – ULTIMATES!!!!!
Poison Nova – So you’ve taken Jailors, and you’ve got your Wall of Bones. You rode your horse and snagged the enemy Li Ming. Wanna blow her up? Yeah you do. The beauty of this ult, is that it lets you dive deep, and then do big damage to the frontline as well. The perfect cast is when you’re in the middle of the team. Sounds risky? Welcome to Xul. He wants to disengage; until he doesn’t.
The major consideration with this ultimate is whether or not they can interrupt it. 0.5 seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but so much of Xul relies on ambush and suddenness, that if this gets put on a 10 second cooldown, you’re very very fucked. If you see alot of stuns on the enemy team, don’t take Poison Nova. It’s better to land your other ult, then wiff a nova.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, Xul is not the primary engage. He’s been off double soaking, and now he’s here with the team. Stand in a bush. Wait. Have patience. Let the tank actually engage. Let the fight develop a little. Let people blow cooldowns. Then suddenly be in the middle and blow everything apart. There is almost no circumstance in which it is correct to charge in head first, ahead of the tank, ahead of the team, and try to snag someone. Wait in ambush. This is the way of the Xul. Xul’s not brave. He’s a necromancer. He’s sneaky.
Skeletal Mages – While not as terrifyingly damaging as Poison Nova, this ability can be cast at a really decent range, allowing Xul to close the distance and keep the fight in melee. This makes it my first choice for the W build. Nova is good in W, but that 0.5 second cast is 0.5 seconds you’re not swishing. Far better to open with the ult, and swishsiwshswish on slowed enemies, which, remember, reduces the cool down of your shield with shackler.
Again, the better choice if up against a CC heavy team, because it can’t be interrupted. It’s the obvious first choice in the Q build, as it offers great disengage value, and the fact that you can cast it at range means that you can stay safe while having a big impact.
Level 13 – Be Betterer
Echoes of Death – If you are in Q build, congratulations, you’re now a siege engine. This becomes an incredibly impactful AoE spell that is constantly present, constantly spawning skeletons, constantly damaging minions, heroes, you name it. It’s a death by a thousand cuts. If you’re on a team that understands what’s happening, you can take down a tower while your enemy watches you do it. They can’t engage properly into the team, and this gets way way way worse for them as you level.
Rapid Harvest – Only pickable if you’re in W build, but it ramps Xul’s map presence up immensely. He solo clears camps in seconds, and if the objective is a big swarm of something, buh bye. Think defending in Tomb of the Spider Queen. Xul clears one solo faster than the rest of the team clears one all together. No that’s not an over exaggeration. It also ramps up the team fight potential, and now Xul really REALLY cannot die. If you can survive the first three swishes and get it ramped up to full speed, you’re not dying.
Amplify Damage – Hey, remember how you took Jailors, which spawns buffed skeletons that attack the rooted target? Now those skeletons hit 25% harder and the root lasts longer! Isn’t that great? Oh, and by “the skeletons hit 25% harder” I mean, everyone hits that target 25% harder. I have no idea why people dismiss Bone Prison man. It’s a point and click root that let’s people blow up the rooted target. Oh hey yeah, your poison nova, and skeletal mages too. Root, drop the ult, /taunt. They die.
Level 16 – The Curse Tier. This is a kinda wonky tier, because you can pick off build talents and still be successful with them. This is also the tier where Xul goes from being a map presence nuisance, to being a serious problem for the enemy team.
Decrepify – Hey you know how you’re a Q build siege engine that the enemy can’t comfortably engage into without eating Qs? Now they slow. So do your skeletons. Wouldn’t it be great if after you dropped your Jailor root, your skeletons kept slowing the target after the root ended? Now they do. This is the perfect counter-engage, anti-dive tool that makes it impossible for the enemy team to engage. Your team will always get away. You will always be safe.
Weaken – Just when you thought W build wasn’t busted enough; now the enemy does 35% less damage. NOW THE ENEMY DOES 35% LESS DAMAGE. This includes your skeletons too btw, so if you Jailor root someone THEY DO 35% LESS DAMAGE!!!!!!!!!! So, just to be completely clear; Xul has a point and click root that swarms the enemy with skeletons, makes the enemy take 25% more damage, and reduces their damage by 35%, but whatever it’s not a great skill forget about it. You can even pick this in Q build, because the Scythes spawn skeletons, which make enemies do 35% less damage. It’s a bonkers talent that we’re all just supposed to pretend doesn’t exist.
Bone Spear – I actually think this should be in Xul’s base kit. I’ve been saying that for a few years now. It’s a good ability, but not really worth spending a talent to get. The few times I do pick it, is to ensure a finish in an E build. Root them, throw the spear. It adds a liiiiiittle bit more damage, but 230 damage on a twelve second cooldown at level 16, while giving up Weaken or Decrepify to get? Doesn’t seem worth it. I really recommend this ability become part of Xul’s base kit, and we get a fun E curse. (Iron Maiden anyone?)
Level 20 – Coup De Gras
Andariel’s Visage – This lets you be way way way more risky with your attempts, and really increases the threat you bring to the enemy team. The healing you get from this is no joke, and because of it, you can dive deeper, be riskier, while also just being way more successful with less risky plays.
Cold Hand of Death – This turns the slow into a 50% (!!!) slow. An absolute boon to W build. The hidden gem here is the 5th scythe hit spawning a mage. Sounds weak. It’s not. With Echoes, you are hitting 5 heroes every fight, which means someone’s getting a 50% slow, just cause.
Mortal Wound – This is the best talent in the game. Reducing healing by 75% for 4 seconds on an AOE cast is insane. Even if you take this on an untalented Q, it’s extremely powerful. If the enemy team goes double support, you can free pick Xul, go Q build, and you will win at 20. It’s a guarantee. I don’t care what your comp looks like. I don’t care what the makeup is. If your team doesn’t go full moron and suicide, and you make it to 20 against a double support team. You win. My max reduction in a single fight is 6k. See if you can beat it!
Kalen’s Edict – The hidden gem in the tier, and worth taking a look at for the E build. Snag that hero, drop your ult, skellies start to pummel them, now they reduce the cooldown of your shield and your ult. Pretty groovy. AND, the skellies don’t have to be hitting heroes. They just need to be doing damage, so if you’re fighting in minion waves, and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing (killing minions), then that’s a lot of skellies giving you a lot of CDR. Remember when I said if you can get two shields a fight, there’s a strong possibility of winning that fight?
Xul is a map presence master, and a cruel murderer in the team fight; if he has a team that actually follows the root. This is the reason why Xul has such a poor reputation, especially in lower ranks. First of all, people don’t respect the root as a base tool, and then secondly, if they do actually follow the root and blow up the target they think “Heh heh I do so much damage and I’m awesome” and not “Xul just let you do 25% more damage to that target, while you took 35% less damage from that target.
He’s weird. He plays weird. People don’t know what to make of him, and that includes the development team. Is he a mage? Is he a bruiser? Is he support? How does he fit in? Even worse, every player has a different perception of what they think Xul should be doing, and those perceptions are wildly different.
Some players want to be aggressive teamfighters, looking for that swishswishswish play to give them the dopamine drop of dominating the enemy team. Some players want to be disengaging defencemen, protecting from ganks and dives, while providing utility for their poke. Some want to be sneaky ambushers, coming in and just the right moment to swing the fight. This is what makes Xul difficult; not only does the player have his own idea of what Xul does, his teammates all have their own idea of what Xul does. Often these opinions do not align.
Hopefully this writeup has added some clarity to Xul for you. If you see a Xul picking Q, he wants to enable poke damage and disengage. If you see him picking W, he wants to clear the map, and hard engage with swishes. If you see him picking E, he wants to ambush and is praying to God you follow up his roots.
God bless. Have fun.
P.S. Skeleton Mount Please.
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