S21 Theme Pushing Guide

Content of this article:

  1. Overall Strategy
  2. General Usefulness / Ranking
  3. Beam
  4. Snowball
  5. Twisters
  6. Meteors
  7. Fire Wave
  8. Group Play
  9. Video Guide
  10. Summary


So after pushing around 5500 keys on my DH and another 1500 on my Nec, I felt like I have some things to share about the Season 21 theme (Trial of the Tempests). So here's a guide on how to do it most effectively, since this is something you won't learn while farming but it's very impactful for your leaderboard ranking. This season's theme is quite competitive with the S19 theme in power, which was the strongest one so far and it also has some other similar aspects. Right now I estimate the overall gain for solo pushing to be around 6-12 tiers depending on class or build. Hopefully it will help you out!

If you want to learn about the basics of the theme first, check out the following link explaining them:

Overall Strategy

The season theme is defining the solo (and group) pushing this season, similar to S19, be it with or without Bane of the Stricken equipped. Playing around the RNG of these effects optimally, knowing when and where to make pulls and what to kill for easy stacks will dramatically increase your performance over what would otherwise be possible on nonseason.

It's hard to give a broad guideline that works in every situation but generally it goes as follows (these numbers are taken from my solo 150 pushes where I kill the RG with the 9th seasonal theme proc at 13:30 into the run. Obviously a run can be faster by intervals of 1.5 minutes if you managed to reach the RG earlier so 12:00, 10:30, 9:00 etc.). On regular setups with Stricken you will end up with slightly more stacks since you need to spawn the boss a few minutes earlier:

First proc: make a huge pull and squeeze as many kills as possible out of it, depending on mob type you want to get to somewhere between 40 (e.g. on Zombie/Grotesque) and 100 (e.g. Armored Destroyers) here. If you want, you can prepare your first pull without killing anything and then leave the rift and rejoin to reset your timer after ~45-60sec to squeeze a bit more out of a run (only relevant if you intend to kill the RG with the 9th seasonal theme proc, which can be delayed from 13:30 to 14:30 like this).

20-40sec before your first theme proc, depending on the enemies' hp/speed & your stacks, you want to move on and either combine your first pull with more trash from beyond or quickly rush into another big room to pull everything around together, then release your first theme to get the most stacks.

On most typical rifts, I am landing between 40-100 stacks after the start. Typically you can ignore elites here because your main objective is to build momentum with the theme, you can assess whether it's worth trying to kill an elite later on (when in doubt, in 90% of cases the correct answer is: SKIP all elites).

From there you progress your way through the map, and have to make calls on how much you want to squeeze out of a floor vs. just going for the big juicy pulls. On good maps it might be worth trying to kite everything with you all the time, especially when you have fast-moving enemies (e.g. Bee/Accursed) or very juicy mid sized trash where stacks are sparse (e.g. Lacuni Slasher/Horror).

If you're not careful, your momentum and with it pretty much your entire run can end abruptly from either unlucky meteors, unprepared twisters or a bugged fire wave. Unfortunately with meteors you don't have much control besides staying in the pull and hoping for the best but the average outcome is okay anyway. Twisters can most easily end in a disaster if you didn't prepare the pull in a good spot for them, so you need to be aware of where most of them are moving and sometimes just accept your fate if you decided to make your pull in a large open area. With slow-moving enemies, you might not have a chance to kite anything through them and they might fly away very quickly. The fire wave is usually something you don't want to see unless you have 100+ stacks, at which it actually becomes rather strong to even melt most of an elite's hp if you kite them through it from start to finish.

Overall, you should always prioritize getting stacks first and killing elites second. Finishing off packs is very hard and sometimes RNG even with a good proc (e.g. a snowball might start bouncing in an unpredictable pattern, twisters don't cooperate, 300 stacks meteors trying their best to never hit a target etc.). Getting started from 0 in the middle of the run is a big struggle since it typically means you have to take whatever trash is around and dps it down over the next 60 seconds or so and then rush to try to make another big pull somewhere else very fast, usually leaving behind some of the more valuable mid and high progression trash with low hp. It can be worth to go for some elite kills when you have very high stacks and want to gamble for snowball or beam but typically you want to stay in the flow with your stacks. Best case, you position yourself and the pull in a way where you can react to and control the theme proc in your favor. After you found out which one is coming, you usually have a ca. 3sec window to aim it and that can make all the difference (esp. twisters should usually start in a corner, snowball should run through the pull and come back, fire wave needs to avoid walls/wallers and enemies need to follow you through it).

If done well, I can get my season theme to do around 40-70% progress and eventually also the boss kill for me during a run. Obviously some of that comes from simply finishing off low hp targets I would have otherwise killed myself if I wouldn't spend my time for the theme but the overall message is: it's really strong and even only 1-2 good procs during a run can make all the difference, essentially imitating a conduit effect here and there.

General Usefulness/Strength Ranking

Following I have created a ranking with explanations for the individual theme procs. This list is just an overall guideline and in some situations one of these procs can be very devastating while another one would turn out rather useless, it always comes down to exact positioning, monster size, hp, etc.

Here's how I rank them in the grand scheme of things:

  1. Beam
  2. Snowball
  3. Twister
  4. Meteor
  5. Fire Wave

This doesn't mean that the procs on the bottom of the list are necessarily all that terrible, each of them can shine in their own perfect situation and suck in another. Even a strong beam might not do much for you if you have a spread-out 5 elite illusionist blue pack or not prepared a pull to blast it with,or you might mess up a snowball and it bounces off to nowhere, etc. This list is just measuring the average effect I get out of these procs.

The Procs in Detail

1) Beam

Overall best proc during a run, since you have full control over what you damage and usually get a lot of value out of it. If you prepare the pull well, you can easily get back all your stacks immediately and even finish or kill entire elite packs with enough stacks. Just make sure you are staying alive and try to not move around too much, else you will lose valuable beam time. Getting yourself in a safe spot on dangerous pulls is key.

  • 40-50 stacks -> kill medium sized trash
  • 90-140 stacks -> kill blues
  • 160-200 stacks -> kill yellows

Main strategies:

  • make sure your defensive buffs are up when beaming
  • stay on one side of the pull and beam through the biggest cluster
  • aim for elites to lower / finish them
  • with particularly strong beams, you can try to carry it to a second pack of mobs
2) Snowball

The most important proc, since this is the main Rift Guadian and elite killer. Can also help you out in tough situations where you can't build any stacks, as even a weak snowball can give you back stacks and momentum for your run. My record with a single snowball is 30% progression (incl. 4 elite kills). The bounce happens at the same angle that it hit the wall with (hence you can do infinite bounces in the same spot with a perfect 90-degree shot against parallel walls).

  • 30 stacks: becomes useful and able to oneshot small trash
  • 50 stacks: very good to finish elites or bounce in a narrow spot
  • 100 stacks: minimum to consistently kill RGs, oneshots bigger trash and kills elites in a few ticks
  • 100+ stacks: can kill most elites in seconds, typically oneshots any trash mob, make sure you kite everything around through the snowball

Main strategies:

  • bounce in a corner: choose a narrow area, try to predict the bouncing pattern and position yourself so that enemies follow you through its path
  • bounce between parallel walls: allows you to kill elites and even RGs with very few stacks, but you can't cover a lot of area, so enemies need to enter the kill zone one by one
  • send it on a straight path: if there are no suitable corners and the snowball might bounce unpredictably, you can just send it down the rift in the direction you need to go and kite enemies from behind you. Useful when you can (almost) oneshot most enemies in the pull
  • with unpredictable bounce pattern: don't risk too much, rather send it straight through the pull, let it hit a wall behind it and use 1-2 bounces. If it runs off after that, don't waste too much time if there is no hope for it
3) Twisters

Potential RG killer with a lot of stacks, otherwise starts being useful after 50 and then depends on your luck and your kiting abilities. If you prepare are large enough pull around a corner, it can be devastating. That being said, it's extremely hard to damage or kill elites with it, usually you just get the trash and move on. I have gotten exactly two elite kills from 100 -> 0 with twisters in my pushes so far, but it’s also what made me kill the RG in my successful GR150 solo clear.

  • 50 stacks: useful to kill small and medium trash in narrow spots
  • 100 stacks: can kill big trash and elites in lucky cases
  • 150+ stacks: RG kill attempt possible

Main strategies:

  • release in a narrow corner: prevents twisters from straying too far, so one or multiple will stay on the pull
  • release in open area: only works well with a huge pull and typcially fast enemies that you can kite through a twister
  • for RG: find a very narrow corner / room with only one exit
4) Meteors

It's literally hit and miss, can be really good, can be really bad, depending on where meteors land. Typically you can expect 2-4 good hits in a large pull

  • 50 stacks: oneshots most small and medium trash
  • 100 stacks: potential for devastating damage on elites with multiple hits
  • 150 stacks: can wipe an entire screen including elites if you're lucky

Main strategies:

  • don't rely on meteors to do anything for you, consider them more like an unpredictable bonus
  • very often only part of an elite pack is hit -> ignore it if there is no chance of finishing it later on
  • impact locations are shown a few seconds before, you can move in there to lure enemies
5) Fire Wave

Unfortunately, this one bugs out very often and doesn't spawn at all, which can easily destroy your run even more than it already does simply by being so terribly weak. Also stopped by waller elites. Can be used on really large pulls, typically to kill small/medium trash and get back your stack investment at least.

  • 50 stacks: can kill small trash and at least give back the stack investment
  • 100 stacks: can kill medium trash and damage blues by 20-50%
  • 150-200 stacks: really strong and potentially wipes most of the pull if kited correctly, including elites

Main strategies:

  • release on one side of a large pull and forget about it - will result in low progression / stacks unless you overkill by a lot
  • release in one direction, rush in the same direction to tp your follower away, then run back and run with the wave -> enemies will follow you slowly through it, can be devastating to trash and even kill elites with high stacks
  • when it bugs out: try to get most out of the prepared pull and move on in the next 30-60sec
  • with waller elites around: stay on another side of the pull until you are ready to release the wave, then rush into position for the proc, then run back after to prevent walls from blocking its path. Try to keep your Kulle Aid ready for your season theme in case you get the wave with wallers

Group Play

My recommended strategy for 4man is to have 2 teams with of 2 people proccing on their own with their own timer and then sharing the stacks back from those who didn't proc afterwards. For this, two people should desync their timer ~30-60sec into a run by leaving/rejoining the rift and then coordinate with the rest of the group to make sure you are not all together whenever the timer of one of the teams comes up. The minimum distance to share/not lose your stacks is around 2-3 screens. Like this you will keep building up the stacks and can make your way through the rift mostly using the theme after you got the train rolling at the start. For meta groups (Nec/Crus/zMonk/zBarb) it might be better to just play normally or have only one person (e.g. the RGK or a Barb) keep the stacks to help you out a little bit during a run.

Video Guide

If you want to see some of these things explained by me in moving pictures (with examples for each of the procs and the things I've written about), feel free to check out my guide here.


Start with a huge trash pull, try to keep your stacks above 50+ after every proc, don’t waste procs on few targets / single elites, position yourself and the pull in a good spot and try to be aware of which monsters are killable for you with your number of stacks. Typically you can ignore elites and focus more on making the right pulls, then try to finish elites when you get a good proc (beam/snowball) on them. Use positioning and kiting to get most out of your theme, you can easily spend 50% or more of your time pulling enemies together.

I hope this guide helps you to get the most out of your pushing and maybe you have learned some things to use the next time you try to go for your new personal best. Good luck!

- wudijo