Zed Build Guide by MrNath
Not Updated For Current Season
This guide has not yet been updated for the current season. Please keep this in mind while reading. You can see the most recently updated guides on the browse guides page.
Zed, full AD Assassin
Core Mid Game Purchases
Hey summoners! My name is Nath and I'd like to welcome you to my very first guide here on MobaFire! I'm here to teach you guys how to play one of my favorite champions, Zed, the Master of Shadows! A little background on myself, I'm a Motion Picture Science major currently attending the Rochester Institute of Technology and an avid league player. I'd like to use my video engineering skills that I'm constantly refining at school to provide enjoyable content for my fellow summoners to enjoy! I hope you all enjoy my take on playing Zed!
First of all, who is Zed? For those of you who aren't familiar with the champion, Zed is a highly mobile melee assassin who specializes in quickly bursting down squishy enemy carries, he utilizes switching places with his shadow clones ( Living Shadow) to swiftly get in range of his targets or to make a quick escape. His quick burst output as well as his high mobility makes him a very versatile champion and in my mind, one that is extremely enjoyable to play.
PROS / CONS
Here's a brief look at some of Zed's strengths and weaknesses.
PROS+Extremely High Burst
+Hard to Gank
+Great Poke Potential
+Kit Uses Energy Instead of Mana
+Strong Wave Clear
+Supports Aggressive Play-style
+Exceptionally Fun to Play
CONS-Skills Not Very Energy-Efficient
-Vulnerable to Ganks if Living Shadow is on Cool-down
-Full Burst Requires Melee Range
-Very Hard to Comeback with if Behind
-Team Fight Presence Low if Death Mark Burst Does Not Secure Kill / Severely Hurt an Important Target on Enemy Team
It's important to note that by just glancing at this list you can see that in my mind, Zed has more strengths than weaknesses. I consider him a great assassin and an extremely powerful duelist, which makes him perfect for the top or mid solo lanes. Zed is a well respected champion in the community as a whole; you can see him often picked in professional play as well as appearing as a tier 1 champion on several lists including Reign of Gaming's Competitive Tier List.
I use fairly standard AD 21-9-0 Masteries on Zed. I make sure to pick up all 4 points in Sorcery to get as short of a cool down on his abilities as possible, any slight cool down reduction on his Living Shadow could be the difference between surviving a jungler gank or giving the enemy team a kill. Executioner is also a must, as it only increases the effect of Zed's passive, Contempt for the Weak.
In the Defense Tree, I focus on putting points in Hardiness over Resistance because you're more likely to be facing an AD champion than an AP one when you go top lane. If however, you're expecting to swap lanes with your mid or want to take Zed to the mid lane, it'd be a good idea to put more points into Resistance .
Greater Mark of Attack Damage
Greater Seal of Armor
Greater Glyph of Attack Damage
Greater Quintessence of Attack Damage
I like to utilize flat AD marks, glyphs, and quints to give Zed an early AD advantage over his opponent. I take flat AD over Armor-Pen because as the game goes on you will have two great sources of Armor-Pen through The Black Cleaver and Last Whisper. However, if you know that you are facing a champion with higher base armor or one that is likely to start Cloth Armor and 5x Health Potions then feel free to replace the flat AD with Armor-Pen.
I grab armor seals to give Zed higher armor to help him sustain through any early game harass being dished out by his lane opponent or jungler pressure. I favor grabbing AD over MR glyphs because if you're playing Zed top lane you are more likely to go against another AD champion and any extra AD he has will give him a higher starting advantage and will assist his already high AD scaling. However, much like with his masteries, if you are planning on a lane swap or to play Zed mid, feel free to adjust your runes accordingly.
- Flash: In my mind, a must for most champions. Provides an excellent escape for bad situations as well as a great tool for surprise initiations. When combined with Living Shadow, lots of ground can be covered in a very short amount of time. His Living Shadow combined with Flash makes him an extremely difficult target to gank and allows him to play more aggressively while feeling relatively safe (similar to Ezreal and his Arcane Shift).
- Ignite: My preferred second summoner spell on Zed. Not only is it a great tool for securing early kills but it also synergies very well with Death Mark because by popping it after the ultimate is cast, it can possibly give you the kill if the mark pops and leaves your opponent extremely low. However, it is important to note that Ignite does not add additional damage to Death Mark's detonation due to Ignite being classified as true damage. Death Mark only is affected by physical and magic damage, for example, popping Blade of the Ruined King while the ultimate is active would add additional damage.
- Teleport: Not my favorite choice on Zed. Can be quite risky to grab in solo queue as you are not in direct communication with your team. Can be useful if you wish to help other lanes excel or get the jump on out of position enemies later in the game. I'm generally not a fan of this spell in general as it has a very high cool down and is an extreme risk to take in general, it could either end up being extremely beneficial for the team or severally hurting the team. I would recommend to take Ignite for the added kill potential, but feel free to take Teleport instead if you're confident using it or if it works well into your team's strategy.
SKILL SEQUENCE / EXPLANATION
As you can see from the ability sequence chart above, I prefer to max Razor Shuriken first, followed by Shadow Slash, Living Shadow, and taking points in Death Mark whenever available.
Razor Shuriken I believe is the most useful skill to max first, it gives you the highest single target damage out of any skill in his kit. By maxing it first and picking up an early point in Living Shadow at level 2, Zed is able to harass his lane opponent without ever getting within melee range, this makes Zed's harass extremely frustrating to lane against because more often than not, unless your lane opponent is a ranged champion, they can do nothing to retaliate.
Maxing Shadow Slash second gives Zed plenty of AoE wave clear and damage in team fights. However, it is definitely worth taking a point early at level 3 due to the ability's slow. In case of an early jungle gank, a quick Living Shadow into Shadow Slash combination can more often than not insure your safety. The slow combined with the high mobility through Living Shadow are what make Zed an extremely hard target to gank. Maxing Shadow Slash over Razor Shuriken however is not a terrible idea if you've fallen behind and just wish to farm or if you are playing Zed in the jungle.
Contempt for the Weak is in my mind one of the most powerful and useful passives in the game. This passive is what makes Zed such an easy champion to farm with. The extra damage to targets below 50% health makes last hitting extremely easy, where as most champions you have to wait until the creeps are around 70 hp before you can last hit. The ability to clear minions at higher health than your opponent can also give you an early experience lead, allowing you to hit level 6 before your opponent and possibly use that advantage to all-in them before they hit 6 themselves.
Contempt for the Weak is not only useful for farming but quickly finishing off low-health enemies. While in lane if your opponent is around or below 1/4 hp a quick Living Shadow, Razor Shuriken, and Shadow Slash poke combination into a re-activation of Living Shadow and a single auto attack utilizing Contempt for the Weak can ensure an easy kill.
Razor Shuriken is Zed's main form of poke and single target damage. One of the most important thing when learning to master this ability is knowing your range. Razor Shuriken does not have an extremely long range, however, this range can indeed be extended through the use of Living Shadow. As soon as you hit level 2, you want to start harassing your opponent with the use of these abilities.
If you want to poke safely, you can use Living Shadow into Razor Shuriken while you are far away from your opponent. However, spamming this combo at a far range is not the most efficient way to harass. You want to position your shadow so that both your own and your shadow's Razor Shurikens are able to hit and therefore refund energy. Doing this will maximize your damage while also staying energy-efficient, allowing you to harass more often.
Razor Shuriken is also a great tool for farming while playing against opponents who can punish you early by taking advantage of your necessity to be in melee range to successfully last hit using auto attacks.
Living Shadow is the ability that single-handedly makes Zed such a fun assassin to play and such a frustration for the enemy team. The ability to essentially have a second Flash makes Zed one of the most difficult champions to chase in the game. Having the option to switch between different shadows, especially after Death Mark has been activated, makes Zed a duelist that can easily out-play and confuse his opponents.
Although Living Shadow can be used for both aggression and defense, it is by far the most important ability to keep tabs on while playing Zed. You must always be aware of when it's available and when it is on cool-down. The first thing any enemy jungler will tell his lane when trying to gank is to try to get him to burn his Living Shadow. This is why whenever you are pushed past the river in your lane you should not be using Living Shadow to harass unless you are sure that the enemy jungler is at another lane or if you have your lane warded well. Knowing when you can safely use Living Shadow and not use it prematurely can be the difference between surviving a gank or being picked off in a team fight.
Living Shadow as stated above has a plethora of uses. Not only can in be used to quickly escape the scene after an assassination or to gap close to a squishy target, but it can also to grant vision. By throwing a quick shadow over a wall you can grant easy non-destroyable vision of the enemy team. Also it allows you to harass via Razor Shuriken with this granted vision and in some rare cases you may even be able to sneak a dragon or baron steal if the enemy jungler does not have Smite available.
The positioning of your Living Shadows is also an important skill to learn when playing Zed. As i previously said in the Razor Shuriken section, positioning your shadows in a spot where both of your Razor Shurikens can hit is a must for efficient harass. The slow percentage is also increased if both Zed and his Living Shadow hit a successful Shadow Slash. It is also imperative to keep tabs on where your Living Shadow is. I can not count the number of times I have poked my lane opponent with a Living Shadow into Razor Shuriken combo only to have them walk right back into my shadow and given me an open opportunity to land an easy Shadow Slash for free extra damage. One of the most common misconceptions with Zed is that after he throws his Living Shadow into Razor Shuriken combo, he has no more poke potential. People are often lured into a sense of false security and approach Living Shadows thinking they are home free. You can use this misplaced confidence to punish your opponent and deny them from farming effectively or if they severally misplace themselves, go in for an easy kill.
Living Shadow can also be used to add additional damage to your Death Mark activation if you are confident you will not need to use Living Shadow to escape, or desperately want to burst down an enemy carry and are unsure if you have enough damage without the use of your shadow. By popping Living Shadow after you activate your ultimate, you are adding an extra Razor Shuriken that is thrown and therefore adding damage to the detonation of Death Mark. Living Shadow can also be useful in this scenario if your target attempts to fight you, because re-activations of both Living Shadow and Death Mark can allow you to dodge any skills they may try to throw at you and ensure that they are the only casualty of your engagement.
Having an ability in his kit that slows like Shadow Slash combined with the mobility from Living Shadow makes Zed one of the hardest champions to gank in the game, similar to Kassadin and his Riftwalk, Zed can have junglers banging their foreheads on the table in frustration.
The primary use for Shadow Slash is its slow. More often than not, Shadow Slash is the skill that either seals the fleeing champion's fate or allows Zed to get away. Much like Razor Shuriken, you want to position your Living Shadow so that both your own and your shadow's Shadow Slash hit your target. Ensuring a double hit increases the slow's percentage as well as restoring 60% energy. However, unlike Razor Shuriken a successful double hit does not deal additional damage.
Shadow Slash also combos with Contempt for the Weak very well. Once Zed has a few items under his belt, Shadow Slash can nearly one-shot an entire wave of minions. Combining this AoE clear with his already strong farming capabilities due to his passive makes Zed a very strong split pusher.
There are a couple of different ways you can utilize your Shadow Slashs while trying to harass your opponent. In a normal trade situation, you want to open with your Living Shadow into Razor Shuriken followed by Shadow Slash. You generally want to prioritize your Razor Shuriken first because it has a higher cool-down of the two abilities, so you want it available as soon as possible. However, if your lane opponent seems to be dodging your Razor Shuriken or its just not your day for skill shots, feel free to open with Living Shadow then Shadow Slash followed by Razor Shuriken. Opening with Shadow Slash will put an immediate slow on your opponent and ensure and easy hit for Razor Shuriken. You also may want to lead with Shadow Slash if you're wanting to go in for the kill. If you lead with Living Shadow into Shadow Slash you can ensure that with a quick re-activation of Living Shadow your opponent will be still be slowed from Shadow Slash and in range for Death Mark. If you can execute this combo with good timing, Shadow Slash may even be off cool-down and be able to be utilized again to add damage to Death Mark. However, after already using such a long combo, you may be running low on energy, in which case you would want to prioritize Razor Shuriken over Shadow Slash for the single target damage.
Death Mark is in my opinion one of the scariest ultimates in the game. If you get fed enough with Zed, Death Mark can be true to its name and ensure death for the squishy enemy carries. Death Mark gives Zed yet another shadow, that when combined with Living Shadow can give him even more mobility and ensure that he gets the kill and gets out alive.
When using Death Mark your main priority is to do as much damage as you can to your target before the mark detonates. Therefore, if you're going for maximum damage, you want to try to save all your abilities until after you've activated Death Mark. Keeping that in mind, if you are able to get the jump on your opponent, or reach them without having to use any of your abilities besides Death Mark you want to open with Blade of the Ruined King if you have it, followed by Living Shadow into Razor Shuriken then Shadow Slash. Due to slows from both Blade of the Ruined King and Shadow Slash you should be able to reach them for an extra auto attack or two as well. If you're able to successfully deal enough burst (which is pretty likely) the auto attacks will mean even more because they will proc Contempt for the Weak dealing even extra damage while adding to the amount that will incur from Death Mark's detonation.
In a team fight situation the positioning of your Living Shadow while using Death Mark is as important as ever. If you're confident in your damage output or want to ensure your escape, you may want to consider leaving Living Shadow out of your burst all together. If you do use it however, make sure to position it so that you're still able to hit your target but will be able to escape or dodge abilities by switching to it.
Death Mark's re-activation is also something to always keep in mind. The re-activation is what turns many 1 for 1 exchanges into 1 for 0 exchanges. A quick re-activation of Death Mark can allow you to escape lots of sticky situations. For example, if your assassination attempt fails and the enemy team shows up. Also, by running in the opposite direction of Death Mark's shadow, using Flash and then re-activating Death Mark you can completely juke a perusing enemy team, you may even be able to blow some of their own Flashs as well. This re-activation is also especially pertinent when being turret dove, by combining a re-activation of Death Mark with Living Shadow your are able to dodge abilities while ensuring your enemy is taking as much turret damage as possible.
Death Mark not only allows you to quickly catch your opponent but it can also help while trying to run by turning the fight in your favor. When playing Zed you can lure your opponent to use their ultimate before yours by running away, however, Death Mark makes Zed untargetable. This means that if timed properly, you can negate a ton of damage while leaving your opponent with nothing left to use. This untargetable effect works much like Vladimir's Sanguine Pool. A few examples of ultimates that can be dodged by this would be Fizz's Chum the Waters, Lux's Final Spark or Ezreal's Trueshot Barrage. This is why if you're playing a normal game and you find yourself in a Zed vs. Zed match-up, the Zed who ults last, wins.
Heads up! Zed's ultimate saw some changes right before the launch of season 4!
Death Mark now places its shadow at the location of the spells casting, no longer directly behind the location of the enemy you activate it on. What does this mean? It means that you have to be more careful choosing targets. If you try to pick a target that's far away or can easily slip away, Death Mark's second shadow will miss, preventing damage from the detonation. All in all, not a super nerf, just can't easily yolo straight into their carries anymore.
All in all, Zed's skills can be used in a variety of different combinations, knowing when to use which combo is one of most important things to master when playing Zed. In my opinion, for new and experienced Zed players, the most important thing is to always keep tabs on Living Shadow, mastering that timing is what will separate you from the "always going in and getting himself killed Zed" from the "I want to shoot myself because I can never catch this Zed".
I know that in this section there is lots of text about each ability, so here's a cheat sheet if you're looking just for which skill orders to use in specific situations:
Max Damage Poke: Living Shadow > Shadow Slash > Razor Shuriken ( Shadow Slash and Razor Shuriken order interchangeable).
Low HP Pre-6 All-In: Living Shadow > Razor Shuriken > Living Shadow > Shadow Slash > Auto Attack > Ignite
Early Level 6 All-In: Death Mark > Living Shadow > Razor Shuriken > Shadow Slash > Auto Attack > Ignite
Mid/Late Game 100% Kill Assassination: Death Mark > Blade of the Ruined King > Living Shadow > Razor Shuriken > Shadow Slash > Auto Attack > Ignite
Team Fight Carry Assassination: Living Shadow x2 > Death Mark > Blade of the Ruined King > Razor Shuriken > Shadow Slash > Auto Attack > Ignite > Death Mark
Enemy Jungler Gank Response: Living Shadow > Shadow Slash > Razor Shuriken
Minion Wave Fastest Clear: Living Shadow > Razor Shuriken > Shadow Slash
Fortunately, Season 4 did not bring about any crazy item changes for Zed. His starting options and final builds are still standard / situational based on the team you're facing. Woohoo!
Recently in the LCS a lot of Pros have been utilizing Doran's Shield counter lanes that would try to harass a lot with auto attacks (mostly mid-lane casters or ranged champions). Start this if you're worried your lane match-up's auto attacks will prevent you from farming effectively.
Season 4 made this the preferred safe start for Zed. Starting Rejuvination Bead, Stealth Ward and 5 Health Potions is no longer necessary since you can have a free ward through the trinket system.
Long Sword and 2 Health Potions is my preferred start for Zed. The Long Sword allows for extra AD against opponents who may start Cloth Armor and allows you poke your opponent to the point where they start to miss farm. The long sword also builds into Bilgewater Cutlass and makes securing it on your first back much easier, you'll only need 1,000 gold instead of the 1,400 it would cost without already having the Long Sword. Start this if you're confident in your map awareness and feel safe relying only on Living Shadow to survive any ganks.
Elixir of Fortitude and 3 Health Potions is what you want to start if you are going for the all-in at level 6. This is a bit of a risky start because you are relying on getting the early kill for this to be gold-efficient start. However, the bonus AD granted from Elixir of Fortitude can easily make you a much scarier level 6 Zed. Also, the bonus health granted can be helpful if they either try to fight or gank you. Start this if you are confident in your lane match-up or are looking to make early aggressive plays with your team.
Start Boots of Speed if you're planning on doing some early roaming or your lane match-up has skill shots that you want to be able to easily dodge.
I put this first because I'm a huge proponent of the "everyone should buy wards" mentality. It will help you survive ganks and your team will appreciate it if you lay down some extra if you have the gold to spare. Especially in lower elos, vision wins games. Just do it.
On a successful first back, you should be rushing straight for your Bilgewater Cutlass and from then on be working towards your Blade of the Ruined King. This is a huge item on Zed because it is the only item that can add guaranteed damage to Death Mark's detonation. This ups his assassination power significantly when he completes the item.
These two items combined with Blade of the Ruined King makes Zed's Death Mark simply devastating. Once you've completed all 3 items, your burst spells instant death for any squishy enemy carry. Furthermore, the added armor penetration given from both The Black Cleaver and Last Whisper allows Zed to be an assassin who can burst down even the tankier members of the enemy team.
If you have the cash, pick up an early The Brutalizer if you already have your Bilgewater Cutlass and don't have enough to fully complete your Blade of the Ruined King. I would also recommend to build straight towards Last Whisper before finishing The Black Cleaver because by waiting you are sacrificing free bonus AD. The Black Cleaver is an annoying and costly item to finish and the passive from The Brutalizer alone makes up for not rushing to complete the item.
Hexdrinker is a great item if you're playing Zed mid. Increased AD along with MR and the item's shield allows you to duel mid-lane AP opponents much more confidently. Definitely an item to consider.
As with many items outside those included in your core, what to upgrade Boots of Speed into is extremely situational and there is not necessarily a right or wrong option. Here's my two cents on the matter:
Unlike many Zed players, I actually prefer to get CDR boots if I have a choice. Any extra CDR on Living Shadow can be the difference between surviving a jungle gank or making it out of a team fight alive. Since I believe Living Shadow is what makes Zed shine, any cheap way to lower its cool-down is in my book, a plus. Ionian Boots of Lucidity's CDR is also fantastic when combined with the increased energy restoration given while wearing blue buff. These combined make Zed an even more mobile and powerful assassin.
However, you can't always have an idle situation and sometimes it's more beneficial to build Boots of Speed into another option. One of the major things to learn when playing league is to be adaptive in your builds, you always have to be looking at what the enemy's composition is and what they're building and react accordingly. Staying locked on a specific build in the long run can actually hurt you rather than help you.
That being said, you want to pick up:
Mercury's Treads if you're playing Zed mid and going against a strong AP opponent, or are facing an enemy team with lots of CC.
Ninja Tabi if the enemy ADC is becoming a serious threat or you are worried about other enemies who rely heavily on auto attacking.
Boots of Mobility if your other lanes are struggling and you are desperately needing to roam and give assistance or if you're trying to be a strong split-pushing threat.
If you are already fed or are just completely facerolling the enemy team, pick up The Bloodthirster to even further the domination. The added life-steal through Vampiric Scepter allows you to sustain in fights even if you're being targeted. This only furthers your dueling capabilities because you can easily turn on an opponent even if you're low HP due to the untargetable effect of Death Mark and your ability to life-steal through much of their damage due to the combination of Blade of the Ruined King and The Bloodthirster.
The most realistic and often built end-game addition on most Zeds. The extra armor and MR allow you to survive in fights longer even if you're being focused. Also the revive is huge if an assassination attempt goes wrong because unlike many champions that are just instantly killed upon reviving, Zed can often make a quick escape through the use of his Living Shadow. This item is also a great pick-up because more often than not if you've become a severe threat, the enemy team will be building accordingly. For example, many ADCs will pick up a Quicksilver Sash to try to survive your burst. All around, my preferred final item and a great buy in general while playing Zed.
A great item if you earlier picked up a Hexdrinker. Gives decent AD and great MR and allows you to survive longer if an enemy AP carry is becoming a high threat. Its shield also allows you to more confidently duel that AP carry or allows you an escape after a failed engagement.
A more cost-efficient item in my mind than Warmog's Armor. Gives you the extra health that Warmog's Armor would while still giving you some bonus AD and another slow outside of Shadow Slash and Blade of the Ruined King's active. Pick this up instead of Guardian Angel if the enemy team has yet to be able to stop you. Will further ensure that your assassinations are successful.
Don't forget to pick up your elixirs if you're already full build or your game is stretching past that 45 minute mark. Will only make you an even scarier and helpful Zed!
I know there's a ton of info in this guide so I'll try to leave some quick final tips here:
-You want to use Living Shadow to safely poke your opponent and eventually force them to lose CS. Your goal should be to use this CS advantage to hit level 6 before your opponent and all-in them while you have Death Mark available and they don't have their own ultimate.
-Remember to adjust your runes/masteries for which lane your playing. Focus more on armor when going top and MR when going mid.
-Don't use Living Shadow while pushed up in lane, leaves you vulnerable to jungle ganks.
-You have high mobility through Living Shadow always be watching your map for roam opportunities!
-If you're having a hard time, request a jungle gank or roam from another lane. Zed is hard to come back with if he gets too far behind.
-Your job is to pick off any squishy enemy carry. Pay attention to how the game is going, the priority targets are not always the ADC.
-Unless your target is isolated and you have a clear path, don't be the first to rush in. If you blindly run in you risk their entire team peeling and your assassination will fail.
-Don't underestimate the power of Death Mark's detonation. It does A LOT of damage if you execute your full burst correctly. Don't go chasing down a low HP enemy before the mark has detonated.
-Know where your Living Shadow is. This is how you juke and confuse the enemy team.
-Know who you're fighting. It is not always advantageous to lead with Death Mark, try to bait out their own ultimates first.
-If you're ahead and have an opportunity to pick off an isolated squishy, do it. The most frustrating thing about playing against Zed is his insane gap close abilities. More often than not, the enemy team isn't ready for such a sudden engage. BE AGGRESSIVE!
-DON'T FORGET TO USE Blade of the Ruined King!!! I can't tell you how many games I had to play until I finally remembered to always use the item. It makes a huge difference. The slow as well as the additional damage added to Death Mark is huge.
I can't end my first guide without thanking a few people that made it all possible! I'd like to give special thanks to:
Jhoijhoi For the amazing "Guide on Making a Guide" I'm sure that many of the guides here on mobafire wouldn't exist without it!
Strider87 & TotalMook For peer pressuring me into downloading League after watching them play it at school.
Roffamau For teaching me the large majority of what I know about the game and putting up with how awful I was pre-30 and continually reminding me about how bad I still am.
I hope all my fellow summoners enjoyed my Zed guide! I know that it was a little lengthy in some parts, I'll try to more concise in future guides :). Also, as this was my first guide, I wanted to focus solely on the information so I also apologize for the very basic formatting, coding, etc. For my first guide I wanted to focus mainly on the content!
Please leave me feedback I'd love to hear it and have no problems editing the guide as more information comes in or as I try new things! I'll keep a regularly updated change log here on the guide! If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Give me an up vote if you liked my guide! If you feel it deserves a down vote, that's fine too. Keep leaguing! :D
September 3 2013: Guide Published
September 4 2013: Slight changes to masteries and small grammar fixes.
September 9 2013: More grammar fixes.
December 6 2013: Season 4 comments / item name fixes. (Will be updating S4 masteries after more testing)