borderlands 3 zane

Borderlands 3: Reviewing EVERY Zane Skill Tree

If you’re playing Borderlands 3 as Zane for the first time, or even if you’re a seasoned vet, you’re going to want to try to make the perfect build. Zane is my main character in Borderlands 3, and as your resident Zane expert, in this guide I’ll be reviewing all the skills Zane has available to him in Borderlands 3.

The Skill Trees – Borderlands 3 Zane Skill Tree

borderlands 3 zane skill tree

Zane has 3 skill trees in Borderlands 3, and each tree has a different focus.

Under Cover is focused on survivability and upgrading Zane’s Barrier skill. It provides a ton of damage mitigation, shield improvements, and abilities that cause and capitalize on cryo damage.

Hitman is almost entirely Kill Skills, and it makes Zane a force to be reckoned with, especially when paired with the Seein Dead Legendary Class Mod. In addition to the kill skills, it also offers improvements for Zane’s SNTNL Action Skill, which is an autonomous drone that hunts down enemies.

Doubled Agent is mainly focused on improving Zane’s Digi-Clone action skill while also providing several DPS abilities for Zane himself. It also gives quite a few abilities related to grenades.

Which is the best tree overall is up for debate, but most people generally consider the Hitman tree to be the strongest of the 3, but since the capstone ability for Hitman is fairly weak, most people playing Borderlands 3 currently build Zane using some combination of all 3 trees.

Under Cover – Borderlands 3 Zane Skill Tree

under cover

While the green tree is focused on survivability and survivability is generally not considered to be very exciting in a frenetic game like Borderlands 3, a lot of people swear by the “Calm, Cool, Collected” build, which requires pretty much maxing out the Under Cover tree. Here’s my review of every skill in this tree:

The Skills

Adrenaline – This skill reduces your Action Skill cooldowns. The closer your shields are to max, the more benefit you get. Action Skills are huge for Zane and this skill tends to be a staple in most Borderlands 3 Zane builds, especially since the other options on tier 1 are not really that competitive.

Hearty Stock – Increase’s Zane’s shield capacity by 30%. It’s a straightforward defensive skill. Most people skip this. If you need 30% more shield capacity, usually you can just get a better shield. 30% is pretty significant, but since there’s no DPS benefit to taking this skill, it’s not really worth it.

Ready For Action – Lower’s shield delay by 35% and increases shield recharge rate by 30%. Like Hearty Stock, this is kind of a boring defensive skill. However, it’s better than Hearty Stock because of the way it functions with other Under Cover skills, many of which get their full benefit when you’re at max shields. Most people take this as a filler skill to get further down the tree.

Brainfreeze – Critical hits slow enemies by 20% which stacks until they’re totally frozen. This is an alright skill, but it sort of relies on this idea that the enemy is going to survive 5 critical hits. If you’re not doing enough damage to melt through things, it’s a big help. If you’re going to go for the Calm, Cool, Collected build, this is a must have. Otherwise, it’s up to you whether to take this or Ready For Action in order to unlock the next tier.

Stiff Upper Lip – Whenever Zane takes damage he gains16% damage resistance against that damage type. Combined with a later skill in the tree, this gives Zane basically permanent ~30% passive damage resistance at all times. Honestly, if you take all of Zane’s defensive skills he can be quite the tank. Unfortunately, if you do that, he will kill things so, so slowly that you’ll just absolutely crawl through content. Most damage can be avoided, and the best defense in Borderlands 3 tends to be a strong offense. I rarely see anyone put points in this skill.

Rise to the Occasion – Zane gains passive 5% max health regeneration per second. Another strong defensive skill. Complete waste of points. Even if you care about health regeneration, the lifesteal provided by Refreshment later in the tree or Hitman’s Salvation skill are much better options.

Confident Competence – Unlocking this skill and the action skill augmentation on the same tier are the main reason you’d want to go into this tree if you weren’t going for a full Under Cover build. It increases Gun Damage by 35% and accuracy by 33% at full shields. This is a huge bonus. It only costs 1 point. You should absolutely put a point into this.

Really Expensive Jacket – Status effects on Zane last half as long. Again, another fairly potent defensive skill. It only costs one point. If you’re going this far down into the Under Cover tree, you’ll probably want to stick a point into this, but it’s not really necessary.

Best Served Cold – Whenever Zane kills and enemy, it creates a Cryo Nova. This is fairly strong. It won’t always affect a lot of enemies, since enemies tend to be more spread out than you’d expect, but if you’re in this tree it’s one of the few damaging abilities you get and it certainly helps him freeze enemies. I’d take it thematically. It’s fun. I don’t know if I’d say it’s objectively a good skill.

Futility Belt – For 8 seconds after getting a kill, Zane converts all damage to non-elemental damage. Additionally, he passively gains 15% damage resistance to non-elemental damage. It’s a huge defensive buff for just 1 point. I don’t really condone purely defensive skills in general, but the bonus you get here for such a small point investment is really significant. If you’ve made it all the way to this tier, I’d say it’s worth taking.

Refreshment – Whenever Zane damages a frozen enemy, he gains back 24% damage as health. This is a good skill for survivability. In practice, though, 24% is way more lifesteal than you’d ever need, and enemies won’t be frozen as often as you’d really like. Put 1 point into this.

Calm, Cool, Collected – This skill is basically the main reason why anyone would ever invest all the way into the Under Cover tree. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it. It is a good skill, so if you’re in this tree it’s an absolute must-have, but spending 20 skill points (~6 of them being truly useful) in this tree to get this skill is kind of a waste. Whenever you freeze an enemy, your shield recharges; if your shield’s full, your health recharges; if your health and shield are full, your Action Skill Cooldowns reset. Useless on many bosses. Other builds are capable of keeping your Action Skills up almost indefinitely, and the Action Skill Cooldowns are already pretty short. Tons of people love this skill. Personally, I think it’s just ok.

Nerves of Steel – Increases Zane’s accuracy and handling by 6/7% per second respectively, as long as he has full shields. Accuracy and handling are not, but it’s usually not something you want to focus on. It would be an alright skill if it was lower in the tree.

Distributed Denial – Gives Zane’s barrier the effects of your shield mod. Like most of Zane’s capstone skills, it’s a little underwhelming. If Zane’s barrier is on the ground, granting the dome to the party, nothing really penetrates that anyway, so this skill’s effect is not very noticeable at all. If Zane’s wearing his personal barrier, it’s hard to tell what this skill does since you’re already getting the benefits of your own shield mod.

The Action Skill Augmentations

Charged Relay – Increases Reload Speed by 20% and Movement Speed by 11% for 8 seconds for anyone who touches the Barrier. This skill is kind of cool. It’s not that powerful, but it’s a nice little team buff and if you’re not going far enough down in the tree to unlock the tier 4 augmentations, it’s probably the best option you have for your second augmentation slot.

Nanites or Some Shite – Everyone in the barrier gets 4% health regent, -33% shield delay and 11% reload speed. If you’re playing in a group, this is a pretty nice skill. It turns the barrier into a real safe spot.

All-Rounder – If you’re going to use the Barrier Action Skill, this is basically necessary. It turns the barrier into a 360 degree dome that fully protects you on all sides. This works when you pick on the Barrier as well. Again, if you’re using the Barrier, this is your #1 go-to augmentation. Definitely use this.

Redistribution – Gives you 10% gun damage for 3 seconds when the Barrier gets attacked. Would be a great skill but it doesn’t work when you pick up the Barrier, making it a team-only skill. If you’re on a team, a 10% damage buff for all allies is kind of nice, but the Nanites skill is probably more useful in most cases. 10% is not that significant overall.

Deterrence Field – Enemies that touch the Barrier take shock damage. This one’s actually pretty good. It works when you pick up the Barrier. The shock damage is actually fairly decent and it even sort of… bounces/stuns the enemy that it effects, which allows you to just sort of run into this and bump into them in order to unload in their face. This is probably the second most useful skill after All-Rounder.

Under Cover Overall Review

If you’re playing in a dedicated 4 person squad where someone else can be the person really focused on melting through enemy health bars, going Under Cover can be a lot of fun. The survivability makes you a big tank, it makes you freeze enemies constantly, and it provides a lot of utility for your team. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t do is give you any skills that help you kill things quickly, except Confident Competence, which most people pick up regardless of their build since it’s so early in the tree.

The Barrier Action Skill is actually quite excellent, not only due to the defensive bonus, but due to the 25% Amp Damage that scales incredibly well into endgame and into the higher difficulties. Since most people like to use the Barrier and All-Rounder is basically necessary, almost everyone dumps 11 points into this tree to get All-Rounder and Confident Competence. Other than that, I’d say if you’re rolling with a team it has a lot of fun skills that help out the party. If you’re mostly playing solo, I’d just take the 11 points and move on.

Hitman – Borderlands 3 Zane Skill Tree

borderlands 3 zane hitman skill tree

The Hitman tree is Zane’s main damage tree and it’s almost entirely kill skills. The kill skills themselves are extraordinarily effective, so whenever Zane gets a kill, he goes into overdrive for about 15 seconds and just wrecks everything in his path. Unfortunately, if you’re fighting bosses, sometimes you don’t have the adds necessary to keep these skills active as long as you like. Fortunately, if you have the Seein Dead mod, these skills are active literally 100% of the time, making every one of the extreme buffs in this tree essentially just a passive ability. Easily the best skill tree for Zane in Borderlands 3 right now.

The Skills

Violent Speed – Makes you run 40% faster. It doesn’t provide damage directly, but it does provide significant damage via Violent Momentum and, let’s face it, running around really fast just feels good. This is a pretty good skill.

Cold Bore – Increases weapon swap speed and gives you bonus Cryo damage after swapping your weapon for one shot. This skill sucks. No one takes this.

Violent Momentum – Your gun damage is increased the faster you’re moving. You get a 20% bonus at standard walk speed. More with Violent Speed active, even more if you’re sliding. Since you’re generally moving around while you fire in Borderlands 3, this is pretty much just a 20% gun damage bonus, which is great for a tier 1 skill.

Cool Hand – Passively increases Reload Speed and further increases Reload Speed on kill. This increases your reload speed significantly. It’s a great skill. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of competition on this tier, between this, Drone Delivery, Salvation, and putting points into whichever skill you didn’t grab on tier 1. Usually what people do is max out Violent Speed and Violent Momentum, put one point in Drone Delivery and Salvation and put whatever’s left over here. (2 points. 2 points are left over). You don’t have to do that, though. You could put more in this and less in one of the other skills if you want. They’re all good skills.

Drone Delivery – This lets your Drone launch grenades. Since Zane doesn’t normally have access to grenades unless you take this skill or one of the grenade skills in the Digi-Clone line, this is pretty much your main method of making use of your grenade mod. It costs 1 point. You’re gonna want it.

Salvation – Gives you lifesteal for a while after you get a kill. It goes up to 10% if you max it out, but honestly you don’t need that much lifesteal. You do want this, but 1 point is usually sufficient. 2 if you really want to see your health regen slightly faster.

Death Follows Close – Increases the effect of all kill skills by 25% and makes them all last 15 seconds instead of 8 seconds. One point. Definitely take this. It’s a no-brainer. Between this and the Seein Dead mod, which also increases kill skill efficacy by 25%, that’s a 50% increase to everything. 60% movespeed instead of 40%. 45% gun damage instead of 30%. One point. Huge impact. Snag this.

Violent Violence – Increases fire rate by 30%. This is a huge damage increase, especially if you’re using an Assault Rifle or an SMG. I’d say this is a must have, but it’s competing in the same tier as Playing Dirty, which is also a fantastic skill. Between the two, Playing Dirty is probably a bit better overall in you have Seein Dead. Here’s the thing. You want exactly 7 points in Playing Dirty, so if your Seein Dead has +3 or more in Playing Dirty you don’t need to max it out. Keep that in mind.

Playing Dirty – For 5 shots after you get a kill, your bullets have a chance to deal damage twice. At 5 points by itself it’s a 50% chance, so 50% damage increase for 5 shots after a kill. At 7 points with both Seein Dead and Death Follows Close, it’s 105% chance per shot always. So, basically, double damage. Definitely get that 7 points here. Remember, you only need 7 points.

Good Misfortune – Every time you get a kill it extends your Action Skill duration. The tooltip says up to a max of 10% or something. Honestly, it seems to be a complete lie. If you have a point in this skill and you have the Seein Dead mod, as long as you keep shooting things, your Action Skills seem to last almost forever. You don’t need more than one point here. You can dump the rest of your points for this tier into Violent Violence.

Seein’ Red – It activates your kill skills whenever you activate an Action Skill. Completely and utterly useless. It’s made fully obsolete by the Seein Dead mod and even if you don’t have that mod, it’s only moderately useful since your Action Skills are active far more often than they’re deactive. If I could give a suggestion to the developer it would be to make this skill do Seein Dead’s ability (kill skills activate on damage), and make Seein Dead just do the extra 25% kill skill efficacy. Maybe they’ll do that at some point. But as it currently stands, never put a point in this. An extra point in Violent Violence is better spent.

Skill Augmentations

All the skill augmentations for SNTNL are pretty good so it’s kind of up to you in the end, but I’ll go through them anyway.

Winter’s Drone – Converts your Drone’s damage to Cryo. I like this one a lot and it’s what I usually run with. Most enemies are less resistant to Cryo than standard damage so it is a damage increase overall, and plus it slows enemies which gives your drone some nice utility.

Bad Dose – In my opinion, this is the best of the SNTNL skill augmentations. It makes your drone fire a beam that affects multiple enemies, dealing damage while simultaneously buffing Zane’s fire rate and movespeed. It’s really good. You should try it.

Static Field – The drone shocks enemy shields and refills Zane’s shield. This is pretty good, too, but it’s kind of situational. When you’re in the situation where it helps you out, it’s really good. But most of the time you’re not in that situation. So, overall, not the best. A lot of people run with this, though.

Boomsday – Gives your drone rockets, which is just a standard DPS increase. Your drone’s DPS is not… great in endgame, and this skill doesn’t improve it that much. During the regular story though, the drone DPS is pretty nice and this is a pretty significant increase, so you might want to run with this skill on for the story.

Almighty Ordinance – Gives the Action Skill drone its own Action Skill. It’s not that great. I’d say Boomsday gives the drone more DPS overall, just spread out over a longer time period. Since if you’re running an endgame Hitman build your drone stays up practically forever and you can only use this once per summon, this skill adds almost nothing in endgame. Not great. Skip this one.

Hitman Overall Review

No matter which tree you go into for your primary tree, you’re probably going to be rolling with a ton of points in Hitman because the bonuses in here are so significant. If you have the Seein Dead mod, nothing comes close to what’s available in this tree. Not even close. Almost everyone playing Zane in Borderlands 3 right now runs full Hitman, minus the useless capstone, for good reason. It melts everything. This is the “murder every boss on Mayhem 4 with half a clip” build. It’s so good the other builds might as well not even exist. I wouldn’t say they should nerf Hitman though, because it’s a super fun build. I think they should probably just buff the other trees. Hitman is good in the sense it’s on-par with what Amara and Fl4k can do. The other trees are below average compared to the other characters.

Doubled Agent – Borderlands 3 Zane Skill Tree

borderlands 3 zane doubled agent skill tree

Doubled Agent is the red tree, and it focuses primarily on strengthening Zane’s Digi-Clone while also providing some buffs to Zane himself and a variety of skills that help him launch grenades. As a damage tree, without the Seein Dead mod, you could sort of make an argument that it’s better sustained DPS than the Hitman tree, but since that mod exists, it can’t hold a candle to it in any way. The main problem with the Doubled Agent tree is it doesn’t scale well into endgame. It’s a great (and very fun) tree for the main story, however.

The Skills

Synchronicity – Increases gun damage by 20% for each active skill. Since Zane usually has both of his skills active, this is pretty much a passive 40% gun damage increase. Excellent for a tier 1 skill. Almost everyone puts points into this regardless of their build.

Praemunitus – Increases magazine size by 25%. It’s a significant increase to magazine size, but more of a quality of life thing than anything else. It’s a nice, but not totally necessary, bonus. If there wasn’t such high competition on this tier it might be worth putting points into.

Borrowed Time – Increases active skill duration by 30% per active skill. Which basically means it increases active skill duration by 30%. It’s very noticeable. Between this, Good Misfortune, Adrenaline and the Guardian Rank talent Topped Off, your Active Skills are up a solid 95% of the time. You’ll want points in this. If you play a build with this and a build without this, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Donnybrook – This is a kill skill that perfectly complements the Hitman tree. It’s a straight gun damage kill skill that also provides health regen, and it also applies to your clone. If you’re going into Doubled Agent, max this out. If you’re going into Hitman, max this out. If you’re going into Under Cover, you’ll also probably want to max this out. This skill is so good a lot of min-maxers actually try to farm specifically for a +4 Donnybrook Seein Dead mod, regardless of the other skill bonuses on the mod. It’s good. Get it.

Fractal Frags – Lets your Digi-Clone throw grenades. It’s basically the same thing as Drone Delivery, but for your Digi-Clone. It’s not as good because your clone will throw a max 2 grenades with this. Once when it’s summoned and one when it dies or despawns, whereas the SNTNL will keep dropping grenades as long as it’s alive. Still, if you’re using the Digi-Clone, you should put a point in this.

Duct Tape Mod – Gives a sizable (20%) chance for you to launch a grenade the first time you fire after a reload. If you’re using a low capacity gun like a Maggie or The Lob, and you’re using a fantastic endgame grenade like a Recurring Hex, this can be a significant damage increase. If you’re going further down the Doubled Agent tree, you’ll probably want to put points into this. If you’re going Hitman, you’ll have a tough decision to make about whether you want to take a few points away from something else to put a couple in here.

Quick Breather – Refills your shield when you swap with your clone and heals the clone. This is actually very strong. If you’re using the Digi-Clone this just increases your flexibility a lot. Getting hit, getting into a dicey situation? Swap places with your clone and now not only are you not getting hit, but you’re healing and (if roll with the Binary System skill augmentation) all the enemies are slowed from a cryo nova. If you’re going this far into the Doubled Agent tree, it’s worth a point.

Pocket Full of Grenades – When you get a kill, you have a 5% chance to regenerate a grenade per second for 8 seconds. You’re gonna want a point here. It actually works pretty well. You tend to stay stocked up on grenades with even 1 point in this. I would definitely put a point in this, but I would never put more than 1 point into it.

Old-U – You can swap your clone in Fight for Your Life to get a free second wind. It’s pretty situational. The situation where you’d use this doesn’t come up that much. I’m not sure it’s worth a point. Still, if that situation does come up and you don’t have this skill it feels really bad. Up to you. It’s just one point.

Supersonic Man – Gain 12% movespeed for each active skill (so, 24% movespeed). Pretty good skill. Between this, Violent Speed, Death Follows Close and Seein Dead, you’re getting around 85% movespeed. It’s kind of silly. You move like a rocket. You move so fast it starts to become difficult to control. Which is pretty fun. Still, there’s such a surplus of good skills in this tree that you might not have the points to spare for this. It’s probably better to max out Duct Tape Mod.

Like a Ghost – You and the clone get a chance to ignore bullets. It’s a nice survivability skill. It’s pretty noticeable. Purely defensive skills aren’t that great in general, though, and with the Digi-Clone skill if you’re getting shot just swap with your Digi-Clone and you’re not getting shot anymore. This skill isn’t very necessary.

Boom. Enhance. – This is a one point skill that you’re definitely going to want if you’re using the Digi-Clone. It turns your Digi-Clone from a sucky meatshield into an Ultimate Super Badass Digi-Clone that’s capable of actually dealing some decent damage and that survives much, much longer. It eats 3 grenades every time you use it but, eh, between the grenade SDUs and Pocket Full of Grenades you’ll probably always have max grenades even if you’re using this every time it’s available.

Trick of the Light – Zane deals 36% additional damage as Cryo damage to enemies that aren’t targeting him. This is a very strong damage skill and if you’re swapping around with the clone you can be getting that bonus damage most of the time. If you’re this far down the Doubled Agent tree, you’re gonna want this skill.

Double Barrel – Gives the Digi-Clone a copy of whatever gun you’re holding when you summon it. This is a pretty good skill largely because your clone aimbots everything. So you can give him a powerful sniper rifle like a Lyuda or a nice assault rifle and watch him just go to town on everything. It’s a good way to take out those pesky flying enemies that can be hard to hit sometimes.

Skill Augmentations

Binary System – Whenever you swap with your clone, you create a Cryo Nova around your location and the clone’s location. This is more useful for the slow than the damage, but it’s still pretty neat. Swapping with the clone is kind of a get out of jail free card, and this augmentation adds a lot to that utility, so it’s nice to have.

Schadenfreude – Whenever the clone takes damage, your shields get refilled. This is nice to have, but if the clone’s taking damage, that generally means you’re not taking damage. Having used this, I didn’t find it to be that useful overall. If you’re taking damage, just swap with your clone. Presto. Done.

Which One’s Real – Increases the chance that enemies target your clone. It’s alright. It improves what the clone is good for. With this and Binary System, the clone really excels as a tank, but you probably only need one and Binary System is better.

Dopplebanger – You can detonate your clone for an explosion that deals huge damage if he has a lot of Action Skill time left. I don’t like this skill that much because if I’m going to use the clone, I’d rather just have the clone around, but launching suicide clones at people can be pretty fun. A lot of people like this skill. I don’t particularly like it. Up to you.

Digital Distribution – A (large) percentage of any health damage you receive while the clone is active is redirected to the clone instead. It’s a nice survivability tool. As you can probably tell from this guide, I’m not that into damage mitigation talents. Still, you might find it useful.

Doubled Agent Overall Review

Thematically, I like this tree a lot. I like the clone and I like all the grenade stuff. It complements the Hitman tree really well. If you’re just playing the main story or you don’t have a Seein Dead mod yet, the damage can be comparable to a Hitman build and the playstyle is really fun. Additionally, summoning both the SNTNL drone and the Digi-Clone during the main story with a Doubled Agent/Hitman build basically means you can just sit behind cover and eat a sandwich while your minions clear all the enemies.

While I currently run Barrier/SNTNL Hitman like everyone else right now, I really like the Drone/Clone better and I wish the Clone scaled better in endgame. Even though the Barrier is much more boring than the drone, which it brings to the table in terms of flat damage mitigation and a 25% damage increase is better than what the clone provides, and the boring 1 point Confident Competence skill in Under Cover gives you almost as much benefit of the entire second half of the Doubled Agent tree. I wish one of the skill augmentations let you supercharge your clone or gave you a damage increase or something. That’d help me justify switching back to Drone/Clone.

Anyway, that about does it for reviewing every Zane skill tree in Borderlands 3. Be sure to check out the Games Section for more content like this and also check out the Borderlands 3 Section for game guides for Borderlands including builds, tips, best guns, character reviews and more.


  • Ryan Night

    Ryan Night is an ex-game industry producer with over a decade of experience writing guides for RPGs. Previously an early contributor at, Ryan has been serving the RPG community with video game guides since 2001. As the owner of Bright Rock Media, Ryan has written over 600 guides for RPGs of all kinds, from Final Fantasy Tactics to Tales of Arise.

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