Zilean Build Guide by Tumlin
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Zilean Built to Win.
Early Core Build
AP+Tanky Finish (Zhonya's or Deathcap)
Example Standard Full Build
Not Updated For Current Season
The masteries shown here are not yet updated for the current season, the guide author needs to set up the new masteries. As such, they will be different than the masteries you see in-game.
While this guide isn't colorful and fancy, it will tell you the key things you really need to know to play Zil well, without any **** yarns on the side. In short, it will give you a clear and logical explanation of HOW Zilean should be built and played and WHY this is the case.
Support Zilean is a pick that comes and goes. In some metas he is strong, in others he is weak. In the current meta, with mobile burst champs still popular, Zilean is weak pre 6 due to a bad engage and lack of instant reposition or hard cc. Post 6 however, he is very strong, due to Chronoshift negating the damage that popular mobile burst champs such as LeBlanc and Gragas bring to the table. If you Chrono Shift at the right time, you can prevent a team mate being blown up, then counter engage while the opposition abilities are on cooldown, resulting in easy team fight victories.
Zilean's main weakness and the reason people sometimes don't like it when their support player locks him in is that he can lose lane quite hard if not built right. This build is designed to be strong in lane, allowing you to get on top of the game and then transition into the more traditional utility support role that Zilean excels at.
As a final introductory note, a shout-out to Millenium's support Jree! I know how much he loves his Zilean and he has been a source of inspiration and build/play style direction. Also I'd like to thank short-term Alliance support Kazmitch, who introduced me to the 1 xp quint on the jungler Zilean strat, which I approve of greatly and will explain later in this guide.
Getting your masteries wrong on Zilean will be the death of you. DO NOT GO FULL UTILITY. If you go into the utility tree, you will severely lack lane presence, resulting in you having no chance of winning the lane and most likely getting pushed out of it.
The reason for going offense masteries is that you actually need them to hold your own in lane. Without them you can't do enough damage with your bombs and you will get shoved out. You can't really go the defense route, as defense masteries require strong auto attack trading for harass... And Zil's terrible aa animation doesn't let him do this. I have experimented with a vast array of masteries covering all trees and many hybrid setups before coming to this conclusion.
Some of the masteries from the offense tree become quite weak as you build more and more utility instead of AP, however this is the price you MUST pay if you want to do well in lane and get a lead to work off.
Keep in mind that while your masteries fall off during the mid game, they are better than utility masteries if you reach the late game and finish your build with a few AP items. Essentially, compared to utility masteries, offense masteries give you a much bigger early game, a slightly weaker mid game (which is outweighed by the fact that your early game got your team ahead) and a stronger late game.
You need flat AP runes to make your bombs hurt early and get lane control. No alternatives.
Quints: Greater Quintessence of Ability Power
Marks: Greater Mark of Magic Penetration
Seals: Greater Seal of Armor
Glyphs: Greater Glyph of Ability Power
Items: The Core
As of 4.3, both Ancient Coin and Spellthief's Edge are viable. Spellthief is stronger in lane, however I prefer to build coin. Spellthief gives you stronger auto attack harass, however on Zil this can sometimes be a double edged sword... His auto animation is so slow that if you go for regular auto harass, you are left quite open to counter play. Zil is so squishy and immobile pre 6 that giving chances to counter play can simply be too risky. Spellthief also give you a little AP. The main reason I build coin however, is that I like to rush Talisman of Ascension for the CDR and MRegen (not to mention the active!). Mid and late game Zil's most important stats are CDR and MRegen, as they let him spell spam for constant ulting and mobility. For starting potions, usually two Health Potion, one Mana Potion. If you think you will not be taking much harass and can safely bomb spam a bit to take control of the lane, take one health, two mana. Always start with Warding Totem, unless your team has a particular strategy that requires otherwise.
First back get Nomad's Medallion.
After that get Sightstone, for vision and gold efficiency. When you get this, swap out Warding Totem for Sweeping Lens.
Get Ionian Boots of Lucidity next for much needed mobility and huge CDR.
Next finish Talisman of Ascension. With masteries, Ionian boots and Talisman you are at the CDR cap already. With these core items completed and CDR cap reached, you now provide your team with exceptional mobility and regular ults through the ability to spell spam.
Note: Another common Zilean core is Talisman of Ascension, Boots of Mobility and Athene's Unholy Grail. The reason why I prefer my stated core to this core is that I believe getting CDR cap from your first 2 items outweighs the greater mobility of the mob boots build, as with CDR and mana regen, Zilean will be whizzing around the map anyway. Also, with Talisman and Athene's, the 5% CDR from masteries becomes useless as you are over the 40% cap. Without Ionian Boots, or CDR runes (which would take away some of your lane presence), there is no way to hit exactly 40%. Regardless of this, as stated I believe that getting CDR cap an item earlier is absolutely worth it.
Items: Standard Utility Zilean vs. AP/Tanky Zilean
Once you have completed your core items, you have to choose whether it is best to build more utility or more AP/Tanky stats. There are many things to consider when making this decision, the most important being factors such as whether or not your team would really benefit from the Mikael's Crucible active, weighed against how much a bit of extra damage and front line stats would help in the given circumstances. Choose wisely.
With only your core items finished, your CDR is a bit ahead of your mana usage, so you NEED another mana item next. If you are building for standard utility Zil, Mikael's Crucible is the standard pick. The main reasons for this include the amazing active and the fact that the CDR on Athene's Unholy Grail would be useless as you are already at cap. If you wish to go for the more AP/tank heavy build, get Tear of the Goddess at this point, rush Archangel's Staff and start spell spamming to get full stacks ASAP.
You now have space left for 2 more items. If you are building standard utility Zil, the final 2 items are situation/personal preference. You may wish to get more AP items such as Zhonya's Hourglass and Rabadon's Deathcap to give you a stronger ult and more Q damage, or alternatively you may wish to get more utility from aura items or active items. It is up to you, so pick to suit your circumstances and play style.
If you are building AP/Tanky Zil, you are a bit more restricted in your options for your last 2 items. As you have Seraph's Embrace (you get fully stacked around the 30-35 minute mark), you would do well to get another mana item. Rod of Ages is a great item here, as combined with Seraph's it gives you a large amount of AP and makes you quite beefy. If the game is nearing the end, don't get RoA because it will take 10 mins to ramp up... However if you know you will have 10 mins to spare, RoA is an amazing item to get. For your final item, I would recommend either Zhonya's Hourglass or Rabadon's Deathcap. With Zhonya's, Seraph's and RoA you can join the front line and soak up a decent chunk of damage for your team. Alternately, with Deathcap, Seraph's, RoA and your masteries, you have a whopping amount of bomb damage and a ridiculously strong ultimate. The reason you don't get Void Staff here in any situation is because you are building AP to get stronger ultimates more than to gain damage. Your last item choice is usually decided by whether or not your team really needs that extra beef in the front line. Again, choose wisely!
The time at which you complete Ruby Sightstone is situational. If skirmishes are occurring rapidly across large areas or either team are rotating often, meaning you are having to move your coverage regularly, then upgrading to ruby stone early may be worth it. If movements are quite regular and linear, then you can get away with sitting on the basic Sightstone up until the end of your build.
Make your Time Bombs big ASAP with your first few points to take control of the lane.
Mid game once you get Chronoshift you want Rewind maxed for mobility and ult spam. Max this before you finish maxing Time Bomb.
Max Time Warp last.
Points in Chronoshift at 6, 11, 16.
Flash is a must, without it you will die.
Exhaust and Ignite are both viable. I prefer to take exhaust because a Zilean lane is very easy to jump on and it will save you and your carry's lives. Also, Zil is able to get close enough to use it well late game. Ignite is a good option instead if you are confident of smashing your lane and want added kill potential.
The One XP Quint on the Jungler Strat
Prior to season 4, junglers could quickly level to 3 from just killing red and blue camps. Now they must clear a third camp to get to 3. With Zilean on the team, this does not have to be the case. If your jungler takes one single Greater Quintessence of Experience, that combined with Zilean's passive allows them to get level 3 from killing only the red and blue camps. If they play smart they can turn this into a game winning advantage.
Getting level 3 from only the buff camps does let you gank much earlier than expected, however it is not the main tactic employed when using this strat. The best thing to do is ascertain which buff the enemy jungler is starting at, then counter jungle him with a level advantage before he has killed his second buff. If your jungler has killed both his own buffs, got level 3 and walked into the enemy jungle at the right place to meet the enemy jungler when he is only level 2, the jungle battle should already be won. Even if your jungler fails to kill the ememy jungler at their first encounter, he can force him out of his jungle and take control of it for himself for the remainder of the game, starving the enemy jungler of much XP and gold.
This strat is best played if your jungler has an aggressive counter jungling mindset and plays strong counter jungling champs.
A Few Lane Matchups
Bad vs heavy traders. Against a Sona or Nami who has combat masteries and a few potions you will get traded down and pushed out. Champs like Sona, Nami and Soraka with heals CAN still be beaten if they have utility masteries or if you use your damage and mana wisely. If they don't have many potions, you may be able to make them run out of mana before pushing them out of lane.
Good vs kill lanes with cc that cannot pass through minions from range, such as Blitzcrank and Thresh, as you can out position them and drop bombs on them and their ADC to really hurt them and push them out.
Bad vs kill lanes with cc that can pass through minions from range such as Annie and Leona. Pre 6 they will catch you and smash you, unless you play super passive, in which case you will lose lane hard. Against these champs you can still win, however you must position extremely well and out play them by juking their abilities and punishing their cooldowns.
Bad vs champions who can shield your bombs such as Morgana, Lulu and Karma, however if you can force them to skill up their shield, you can then bait out the shield and bully them when it is on cooldown.
Very good vs Alistar. Auto attack and bomb him at level 1, then keep him as low as possible. If you harass him down a lot, he can't risk engaging on you and you will push him right out of lane.
Very good vs lanes that can't sustain well or catch and kill you. If you are against another non-sustain harasser, chances are you will be able to out-harass them.
Against Zyra it is a skill matchup. If you can juke the snare you can punish her incredibly hard and push her out or kill her. If she hits you with the snare, you may die very quickly.
Zilean is best in 'protect the Doublelift' style comps. Powerful close range carries such as Vayne, Ryze, Fizz etc. can afford to get a bit closer to the action for a bit longer and take out an extra target or two quickly, before taking Chronoshift. If your comp is tank or utility heavy, with few carry champions, Zilean can keep these few carries alive for longer in fights so that you don't lose your damage source. If you are duo queuing with a trusted carry, Zilean can allow your partner to carry games with his Time Warp (carry positioning tool) and Chronoshift alone.
Zilean is great in dive comps. Chronoshift provides many opportunities to dive deep and pick up early kills, allowing snowballing, as well as providing the ability to dive turrets late game if advances elsewhere are not proving to be effective.
With Talisman of Ascension, Rewind and Time Warp, Zilean provides exceptional mobility for split push comps, as well as chase and engage comps. While a few champs (Karma springs to mind) beat him in this regard, he still provides stronger mobility than most common supports.
As support Zilean is not considered a dominant laner (mid Zil is a different story), early game laners with good ranged farm, re-position and wave clear such as Caitlyn are solid picks. In saying this, if you believe you can get through the lane phase on par or on top with a late game carry such as Vayne, Zilean can allow that late game carry to really crush the opposition in team fights once they start to pack a punch. Zilean also synergises quite well with Sivir, especially in full zerg comps. In lane, Sivir has strong presence, wave clear and safety to make up for what Zilean lacks, then late game On The Hunt combined with Talisman of Ascension and Time Warp provide extremely strong zerg potential.
Who to Ult?
I cannot give you clear advice on who to ult. It will always be situational. I will try and give a few pointers though!
If you have a single very fed player, usually save it for them.
If your damage is coming from a few different players, feel more free to ult the first guy who is going to go down, as the enemy team have probably blown their cooldowns on him anyway so the rest of the fight should go in your favor.
The result of fights will often depend on whether or not you get off a good ult, so really think hard about the best ways to use it.
Communication is key to good Zilean ults!!! Always let your team know whether it is up or down at key moments. If your engager knows it is up, he can sometimes afford to be a bit ballsy with his engaging, however if he thinks it is up when it is not, it could easily cause a wipe. Also remember to tell your team mates when you can do things with it such as dive for easy kills... They are not the ones who are used to utilizing its potential, you are. You know what you can do with it so make sure you communicate that to your team. The simple words 'I have ult, we can dive' will win you many a game.
I encourage feedback, questions, comments, up votes =P... Feedback is really helpful, as it allows me to grow as a player, improve my guides and therefore improve the knowledge and performance of the reader.
Instead of down voting (though I can't stop you!) I would prefer if you commented on what you didn't like, then give me a chance to correct or address it in the guide, then if you are still unhappy down vote away. Up voting and especially commenting a lot will result in a greater pool of useful and correct knowledge being collected in one easy to find location.
Thanks guys and girls :)