Zilean Build Guide by Embracing
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Threats to Zilean with this build
Hello, I'm Embracing, a mid lane aficionado. I was once Diamond II in Season 3 in the 2nd Chinese server (祖安), and I took a long break in between, playing normals with friends. Currently, I'm playing in NA and have been hovering between Diamond III and Diamond V. I am also the starting mid laner for the Division 1 Penn State Collegiate League of Legends Team and have competed in numerous tournaments such as the Collegiate Star League, where we finished in the RO16, as well as placing first in the PSU LAN, an intercollegiate tournament where teams from numerous other universities came to compete.
Zilean has always been a relatively niche pick due to his inherent reliance on matchups in early lane and vulnerabilities to heavy burst and dive. Recently there has been a resurgence of Zilean being played competitively in mid lane, not only for his utility, waveclear, and scaling, and the nerfs and weaknesses of other utility mages that were once dominant (primarily Lulu and Orianna), but also the fact that Zilean has numerous acceptable matchups and fits in the current meta of scaling zone control mages with high range and good damage output. Zilean really comes and goes in terms of competitive viability, but his strengths as a utility / zone control mage really stand out and make him definitely a champ worth learning.
I created this guide to provide you all with a concise but optimal approach to playing Zilean in a competitive and individual setting. Hopefully you can learn a thing or two from the information I’m about to present.
|||||+ Exponential scaling
+ Explosive burst damage and AOE hard CC
+ Consistent low CD movement speed buffs
+ Low CD revival ultimate for saving teammates
+ Strong waveclear
+ Great zone control
|||||Zilean is an extremely potent scaling utility mage that gives extremely strong, low CD movement speed buffs as well as great zoning through proper bomb placement. Landing double bombs (QWQ) can be extremely difficult to land on multiple targets against potent enemies but is very game-changing not just because of the CC but also because of the high damage. Zilean also enables his team to act a lot more aggressively because of the revival ultimate.|
|||||- Weak early game and very matchup dependent
- Extremely vulnerable against mobile enemies
- Long CDs after burst combo (QWQ) before CDR
- Lack of control over game
- Forced trade offs between damage and utility
- Nonexistent damage when behind
|||||Zilean does have clear fallouts, too. His early game is extremely weak and heavily reliant on the lane matchups to not get outranged or blown up. Even after laning phase, against mobile enemies or enemies that can burst Zilean even after his ultimate, Zilean has a hard time positioning or retaliating. Zilean players also must also take extra care in landing the bombs (Q) early on because of how long the cooldown is on his W and how high the mana costs are for a double bomb combo (QWQ). Lastly, Zilean is extremely team reliant - he acts as an enabler and needs either a strong ADC or a initiating tank / bruiser to fully impact the game. If not, you will find that most of the time Zilean is extremely limited in what he can do to control the game.|
|||||FLASH||||||Absolutely crucial on a squishy champion because it’s simultaneously beneficial in both offensive and defensive purposes. With Flash you can escape to safety over walls or just by clearing distance, dodge abilities, reposition yourself, gap-close against enemies, etc.|||||
|||||TELEPORT||||||Helps you survive laning phase with that one or two Teleports and also grants you more lane pressure as it enables you to trade heavily then back and Teleport back in for more map pressure. Generally a safe option into most matchups, but proper usage is crucial to maximizing its effectiveness.|||||
|||||CLEANSE||||||Beneficial against enemy teams that have hard cc abilities that can pick you off easily (EG: Ashe, Lissandra, Morgana), but is picked mostly against hard-cc laners where you aren’t as pressured in lane (most noticeable example is Twisted Fate) for efficiency in value and also the extra utility in the game overall.|||||
|||||EXHAUST||||||Helps in 1v1 scenarios and is very useful for establishing lane pressure against low-range but strong assassin laners such as Zed. Exhaust will more often than not be the deciding factor in whether or not you can maintain lane pressure without having to compromise your positioning due to the fact that the enemy laner can all-in you that much easier without Exhaust.|||||
There are three viable mastery sets for mid Zilean: 18/12/0 with Deathfire Touch , 12/18/0 with Precision , and 12/18/0 with Intelligence , but I’ll be elaborating on the most standardized competitive mastery set, 12/18/0 with Intelligence .
Sorcery - All of Zilean’s damage output comes from his abilities rather than his auto-attacks. Pretty self-explanatory.
Feast - Lane sustain is extremely beneficial compared to extra damage you give and take in Double-Edged Sword (not ideal for a squishy and weak mage in lane) and the extra team damage in Expose Weakness , which is simply unnecessary and unused for the majority of early game.
Natural Talent - Both are honestly up for grabs seeing as how weak both are, but in an ideal competitive scenario where your enemy will be hesitant in trading and aggressing as often Natural Talent is better. Else in a messier scenario, Vampirism is better for lane sustain.
Oppressor - Consistent damage increase against CC’d targets is much more valuable than the damage output increase dependent on kills in Bounty Hunter . You cannot guarantee that you will get enough kills against unique champions every game and given the abundance of crowd control, Oppressor is a safer bet.
Savagery - Being a laner constantly hitting minions alone is enough to justify Savagery , but the fact that you’re a low AD squishy and weak AP laner just makes it even better. It doesn’t matter how good you consider yourself at last hitting, this mastery is just simply much more valuable than the mere 3% movement speed you get out of combat.
Secret Stash - The best option because of lane sustain, especially since you don’t need extra lane presence from the damage output increase in Assassin , and Runic Affinity is just simply less valuable.
Merciless - Merciless is just much more efficient than Meditation . The 1.5% of missing mana is extremely weak since it basically necessitates you to spend more than half of your mana pool to get around 3 to 5 mana every 5 seconds, and as a mid laner that’s simply useless. The extra damage output is just infinitely better since you are getting at least 20~30 extra damage against lower hp targets consistently. Meditation is fine on supports but it’s just useless on mid laners.
Dangerous Game - There really is no comparison here - Bandit gets you nearly nothing compared to the extra sustain you get from Dangerous Game , allowing you to go for all-ins and come out living with a slither of health a lot more.
Intelligence - Zilean synergizes extremely well with 45% CDR, as his bomb combo (QWQ) has an extremely long cooldown early on, not to mention his utility abilities are constantly lowered in CD as well. Precision is better on most damage-oriented champions, but Zilean just simply benefits a lot more from the cooldowns in a competitive environment. However, if you’re trying to maximize your control over a game, Precision might be a better option, especially in a solo / dynamic queue setting where you play off of enemy mistakes.
Thunderlord's Decree - Best option because of consistent damage output increase. Other two options just aren’t good on Zilean.for obvious reasons - Zilean hardly benefits from Stormraider's Surge movement speed buffs and loses out on numerous trades without Thunderlord's Decree , and Zilean doesn’t have shields for Windspeaker's Blessing .
|There’s really only one start for Zilean because of how safe he is able to position while also maintaining lane pressure despite his weak early game.|
|||||DORAN'S RING||||||The standard setup for mid lane AP champions, Doran's Ring provides the balance between damage increase and HP for trading, not to mention the mana gain on its passive is extremely beneficial. The 2 Health Potions are standard for lane sustain.|||||
|The changes in the mid lane meta due to champion and item changes over the years got us to a point where mid lane is played as a safe lane with high scaling. Previously all mid lane mages would go for a mana regen / CDR item ( Morellonomicon or pre-reworked Athene's Unholy Grail or Rod of Ages into Needlessly Large Rod items and Void Staff, but now more greedy scaling builds with both Rod of Ages and Morellonomicon are viable on scaling mana-hungry mages like Zilean.|
|||||MORELLO NOMICON||||||Provides a great balance between damage output increase and overall utility through mana regen, CDR, and ability power, not to mention that the CDR and mana regen are efficient stats. Overall a better purchase than the other available options on a utility mage like Zilean.|||||
|||||VOID STAFF||||||Crucial for maintaining damage output against MR, without this you will lose a ton of pressure. Typically best around third or fourth item as that’s when enemies will have an Aegis / Locket and start to build more MR. In games where you are more ahead than the enemies and you notice a lack of MR, you can purchase Rabadon's Deathcap before Void Staff for an overall DPS increase.|||||
|||||RABADON'S DEATHCAP||||||THE AP item - Deathcap gives the most flat AP in the game. Not only does this substantially increase your damage output, but it also makes the heal from your ultimate more potent. Deathcap is the best option around third or fourth since you already have two scaling items in Rod of Ages and Morellonomicon that provide a sizeable amount of AP, multiplying the AP you have and ultimately making it more valuable than other items.|||||
|For the last item you have a choice between a higher increase overall damage output or a relatively lower increase in damage output and an extra passive for survivability.|
|||||ZHONYA'S||||||A great option against threats without compromising your positioning to survive, Zhonya’s gives you a substantial damage increase and the amazing golden passive that helps you avoid damage and focus or position aggressively depending on the scenario. Overall the standard last item on Zilean in most cases where you do give the enemies respect for being able to punish you.|||||
|Sometimes the game just don’t go according to plan. Every now and then you will have to play against horrid matchups or laners, extremely fed enemies, etc, where deviating from the standard build can aid you in winning the game itself.|
|||||ABYSSAL SCEPTER||||||Abyssal is a great option against AP mid laners either when you are placed in unfavorable matchups or where the enemy laner gets substantial advantages to the point where you need more resistances to have a fundamental amount of lane pressure. In most cases when you get Abyssal you’ll get it after Rod of Ages, but it’s also an okay choice after Rod of Ages and Morellonomicon.|||||
|||||GUARDIAN ANGEL||||||A great option against extremely dive-heavy enemies where you cannot contribute to fights and skirmishes without simply getting blown up, Guardian Angel helps you maintain enough pressure in fights without having to position awkwardly. Typically best 5th or 6th item after you get your Void Staff so you won’t have a noticeable power dip after enemies start to get MR.|||||
|||||Time in a Bottle: Zilean generates 2 / 3.5 / 5 / 6 / 12 experience every 5 seconds, which does not advance his own level. When he has enough to level up an allied champion and is out of combat in the last 10 seconds, he can right-click them to initiate a 1 second channel, after which he grants them enough experience to finish their level. Zilean receives the same amount. If the channel is interrupted, Time in a Bottle goes on cooldown for 2 seconds. Time in a Bottle starts the game on cooldown.||||||//|
Not the most noticeable or standout passive in the game but the extra EXP gain certainly does help you or your allies overall. In early laning, most cases you will be giving this to your jungler or support when they roam near mid or when you’re roaming with them so they can reach certain spikes or just get more pressure through level advantages. Later on you'll be prioritizing champions that benefit from certain level spikes or your tank / ADC.
|||||ACTIVE: Zilean throws a ticking time bomb to the target location that detonates after 3 seconds, dealing magic damage to all surrounding enemies. If a unit is near a Time Bomb as it lands or has already landed, they pick it up and become the holder, causing it to detonate at their location at the end of its duration. If a bomb holder picks up another Time Bomb, the first bomb immediately detonates and briefly stuns all affected enemies.||||||Q|
The bread and butter of Zilean’s kit, Time Bomb serves as Zilean’s primary source of damage output, waveclear, and zone control all in one. Landing the initial bomb is not a difficult task because of the relatively wide circle radius in the middle, but the difficulties come when you have to land two of them on multiple targets. The cooldown and damage are quite horrendous early on, but after you get a few items and blue buff you can spam this for zoning and damage.
|||||ACTIVE: Zilean reduces Time Bomb and Time Warp's cooldowns by 10 seconds.||||||||||||||W|
Rewind is a subtler part of Zilean’s core, as it enables Zilean to double bomb someone (QWQ) as well as speed up or slow down multiple targets repeatedly. The mana cost is quite low overall so you can use this ability quite often, though it does have an extremely long cooldown, making your double bomb combo stay on CD for quite some time.
|||||ACTIVE: Zilean bends time around the target champion, slowing them if they are an enemy or granting them bonus movement speed if they are an ally for 2.5 seconds.||||||E|
A very versatile utility ability, Time Warp is great for saving allies or enabling them to chase up to enemies. In conjunction with your W (EWE), you have a wide variety of options available in terms of speed buffing and slowing, as you can speed one ally consecutively, speed two different allies, speed one ally and slow an enemy, slow two different enemies, or slow one enemy consecutively together once you start to get mana regen and CDR.
|||||ACTIVE: Zilean places a protective time rune on the target ally champion or himself for 5 seconds. If the target takes fatal damage during that time, they are instead put in stasis for 2 seconds and are revived with a set amount of health.||||||R|
Another aspect of Zilean’s kit that provides utility, Chronoshift is core in being able to save allies or prolong their death to help your team turn the tides in a fight or skirmish. Proper use of this ability can really enable your team to punish the enemy team in situations where they all blow cooldowns in hope of picking off someone, where your team can then engage and get an advantage in fights. Just holding on to this ability alone will give your team more room to move around and aggress on the enemies (you do have to remember to use it when it matters though!)
You'll want to max your Q first, as your while kit relies on it. Secondly you’ll want to max out your W for more frequent double bomb combos as well as more frequent utilty from your E. Lastly you’ll want to max your E because its per-level benefits are not as valuable as the others. Add a point in your ultimate whenever you can.
Zilean is a scaling utility mage focused on movement speed buffs and debuffs as well as zone control and damage. He has a weak early lane but scales exponentially as he gets items and levels. He doesn’t have too many exact spikes in damage output but his utility and damage gradually increase as the game progresses. He excels primarily in skirmishes and sieges with his movement speed utility and zone control / damage, respectively, but is also great in teamfights in closer areas or against grouped enemies.
Zilean has a weak early game. He has long CD’s and very low lane pressure, not to mention he’s extremely squishy as well, which often results in a lack of active control of the lane. He can get completely bullied by mobile enemies who abuse his delayed abilities.
Against lane shovers and low waveclear enemies you will be primarily trying to get damage on both the enemy laner and minions with your bombs to not get shoved in and try to shove in the enemy in one or two waves. Ideally if you get the wave shoved in you can try to trinket around raptor camp to get more information on the enemy jungler and his pathing.
After you know when the enemy jungler finishes clearing, how you approach the lane is dependent on how much knowledge you have of the enemy jungler and support’s location. Typically you’ll want to ward up one side of the river and position leaning towards that side. If you have information on the enemy jungler’s and supports general location, you’ll want to lean towards the side that they are not in. In situations where you are unsure about the enemy jungler’s location you can pull the wave closer to your tower to be able to position and farm safer as well, putting the enemy laner at risk of getting ganked by your laner. If the enemy jungler pops up somewhere else you can afford to try shoving the wave in the enemy tower to deny him cs and lane pressure and ultimately give you more room to act.
|That’s the general gist of how you approach the laning phase with regards to enemy roams. Disregarding enemy jungler and support ganks, how you’ll approach trades and harass is dependent on the lane matchup. Against more difficult matchups such as Xerath, you might have to salvage whatever you can and play reactive, but in favorable or acceptable matchups like Lissandra, you can try to trade more actively and waveclear. In the end, Zilean has strong waveclear and even in some horrible matchups it’s not as difficult to simply double bomb the wave and regain some lane pressure.||||||
After the initial laning phase, you should prioritize keeping up mid lane pressure through wave-shoving with your double bombs and vision control alongside your jungler and support while also keeping yourself available when opportunities to roam occur. You should aim to control the lane and maintain pressure around it with your jungler and maybe support until opportunities to rotate or group appear.
Sometimes in reset minion waves the caster minions and the melee minions are far apart to the point where if your bomb latches on one group it won’t hit the other. One small trick you can do when trying to clear waves is to place two bombs on top of each other in the small gap between the casters and melee minions to maximize damage on all of them.
|||||With regards to smaller scale decisions in skirmishes or fights, Zilean is very versatile in how he interacts with the situation due to the utility from his movement speed buffs and debuffs. Proper usage of his kit allows for your teammates to close a lot of distance or reposition in getting picks or forcing skirmishes. Paying attention to your positioning, your enemies’ positioning, your team’s positioning, and the team compositions is crucial to success. Being able to slow down an enemy while also speeding up an ally can allow for quick picks or advantageous fights, but is also dependent on your own safety after your abilities are used, as you typically place yourself in potential risk of a collapse by the enemies with no method of escape without Flash if not watched for carefully. In skirmishes you have to pay attention to the priorities of champions your movement speed buffs and debuffs should go to.|
|In terms of teamfighting, most of them are nonstatic - you need to balance out spamming your spells on targets for maximum utility and damage and holding onto them in situations where they may be needed. You might be able to save that caught out support Thresh with your ultimate, but will your ADC Lucian be able to impact the fight to a victory without your ultimate? The key to success on not only Zilean but other champions in teamfights is to map out how the fight will be started, understanding potential changing variables, and picking optimal choices that either decide the whole fight or a small portion of the fight to give your team more room. Think about the game frame-by-frame and don’t just run off of your preconceived notions as for how the fight should be played - act accordingly to shifts in fights.||||||
Ultimately, you’ll want to be grouping with your team and maximizing efficiency through macro rotations and your own micro decisions with how your spells are used. You should aim to use bombs as zone control, damage, or pick tools whenever you can and constantly paying attention to when a potential opportunity for your team to act might occur and buffing the important initiators / carries when it matters, while also taking note of your team and your own vulnerabilities when certain spells go on cooldown and reacting accordingly. Using your ultimate to save people is great when it’s not needed in what happens afterwards, but when you know that there might be a messy fight where another priority in your team might need the ultimate to stay alive and / or play aggressive, saving that ultimate can be much more crucial to winning you the fight overall.
That’s all I have for now on Zilean. I hope, at the end of the day, that you’ve learned or taken something out of this to apply to your own gameplay, whether it be Zilean-specific details or just decisionmaking overall. Zilean is a very rewarding team-oriented mage, that when learned properly, can really make or break fights. While I definitely would not recommend picking him up for your solo queue / dynamic queue games, Zilean certainly does excel in a team environment where you understand what your teammates want and need and vice versa.
If you have any feedback feel free to leave them in the comments section or PM me in MOBAFire about it.
I'd like to thank MissMaw for all the beautiful banners done with such short notice, Thalia Kael for helping with screenshots, and Vapora Dark for help with formatting some walls of text.
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