v1.1 (10th July) - updated Masteries to increase gold generation and added ranked results pic
v1.2 (11th July) - updated results pic and added commetns about Doran's + Sorc builds (having tried them)
1.3 Added sections on Playing Zil and why Glass Cannon AP builds aren't that good.
Does it work in Ranked Games? - Yes it Does!
Note how modest Zil is - brag-worthy KDA's are not his cup of tea at all.
Quietly and unassumingly making his team win are....
Now support Zilean is a much underrated champ, but not as easy as many supports to play.
He doesn't sit in bushes and try to grab people like Blitz or Nautilus; he isn't a stun/silence healbot like Taric or Soraka. In fact for the first few levels he doesn't seem to do much.
He pokes a bit with his bombs (but soon runs out of mana if he is Q+W+Q comboing them), and might speed up or slow a bit as required, but he is fragile and dies fast if caught away from the tower.
But, and here's the but, he is quietly giving all the other champs a level or so edge in XP over the other team and he is building up to be a mid-game nightmare for the other side. Permanently speeded up, super-mobile and uncatchable with almost inexhaustible mana. Also with the ability to perma-slow anyone his team are hunting down/speed up his team-mates for insane bursts. he will also make you kill his team's carries twice before they die and can spam his Ult every 35 secs or so.
Those are the attributes of support Zil and what makes him so dangerous in mid-late game.
As for damage - well a well placed bomb-combo can drop 1000 pts in an area in the middle of teamfight so he can certainly help, but in a support build damage is never the primary goal.
Magic Pen reds/Flat mana-regen yellows (you don't need it scaling as you build an early Tear)/CDR Blues and HP Quints.
Early mana/mana regen and CDR are key for Zil and with the runes this gives him 15% CDR and +6.6 mana regen/5 out of the gate. I have also gone for an extra 40 starting gold and +2 gold/10 - which is handy whether or not you go down the early Philo route.
If you are needing more sustain in lane than a few red pots can provide and are getting zoned then you might well need to pick up either a regen bead (build into Emblem of Valor) or Regrowrth Pendant (for Philo Stone) asap, but ideally your first items are Tear + Ionian Boots - you only need to earn 1650 gold to finish buying these (if you get the Meki Pendant to start) and they really make a huge difference to Zil's effectiveness.
There are two ways to go with this.
One option is to go for Philo Stone as a first item. If you do that you either get the Faerie charm and 1-2 wards + pots to start. The downside is that leaves you spending a lot of cash on consumables to start and you are already slowing down your core build to get the Philo in the first place. With the masteries giving you 515 gold to start you can go instead with the Regrowth Pendant and either 2 pots (red/blue or one of each) OR a ward. You have CV to check for ganks every 30 secs but without an early ward laning is going to be tougher (and you aren't great early in lane).
However I prefer ditching the Philo and gold/10 route (tempting though it is to go Philo/Kage's Pick/HoG - all of which you can build into something useful) as building those gold/10 items early does little to address the key things Zil needs early - mana and CDR.
I go Meki Pendant and usually ward + one red pot. If it looks like I am going to come under really heavy harrass early I occasionally get 3 red pot instead. If twitch or eve (and sometimes teemo) is around then I'll get a pink ward.
The Meki Pendant and the runes/masteries give you c. +10 mana regen/10 and you also have clarity - mana problems are solved from the outset.
You can build the Meki into Tear or into Chalice. If you are getting magic dmg harrass then Chalice might be preferable, but usually Tear is the way to go. Zil has fantastic synergy with Tear and builds it up to max in no time. It also then build into Archangels in mid game (I usually get mine right after Guardian Angel to add about 140 AP (which adds about +50% dmg to your Q at that point).
CDR boots are key - not because there aren't other nice boots or other ways to get CDR (there are) but because you want max CDR as quickly as possible in the game. With boots you hit 30% CDR and a blue elixir will see you hit the cap very early on in the game. That means faster mana pool increase thru Tear and you transforming in the the perma-speed monster that is mid-game Zil as soon as you can.
The next item I tend to get is Guardian Angel - I usually get the chain armor part first. It gives me armor and magic resist and means, if they do decide to focus me in a teamfight they have to 'kill' me 3 times over to get a kill - with the pauses for my resurrects my carries will have murdered them by the time they do that and even killing me whilst stun-locked won't help them the first time!
Another possibility is Aegis if you are finding yourself in teamfights but not getting focussed - you can build the two component items Aegis has in common with Guardian if you want to defer that decision.
The final item I have listed is Abyssal - helps mage damage, adds to your dmg and beefs up the magic resist. All good. If you aren't dying then a quick Mejah's can be pretty funny/cost effective.
Rarely will you build much else before the end. You also spend a lot of $$$ on wards and blue elixirs.
If needed and you have the cash build situationally - some tenacity might be nice or a Zhonya's for 2 more seconds of annoying immunity and more armor and AP. Banshee's Veil and QS are also good if you are at real risk of getting caught and stunned.
Just a note of the 'support Zils' that take ta 'third option' and go 2x Doran's Ring and Sorc Boots. That simply isn't as good as this build (unless maybe your team is set up to gift you rather than mid or jungler every blue buff from no. 2 onwards).
2x Doran's give you far less effective mana than Tear (and build to nothing whereas for another 1860 gold later Tear will give you +140 or so AP which is a 50% dmg boost), lose you gold as you have to sell them later, and the 'extra dmg' from the Sorc boots (which cost more than Ionian) is less than you get from being able to spam your Q 15% faster (to say nothing of the fact that you get to cast your E and R 15% more often too which gives a massive boot to your utility). Any support Zil who is happy to sit on 10-15% CD (depending on runes) or 20-25% with a blue elixir) in exchange for a little more burst dmg well into the mid-game isn't going to be able to do his job properly...
The +30AP (15/Doran's) is marginal so far as adding dmg to you Q goes.The +160 HP is nice I guess, but simply trying to build support Zil as a carry only really works in runaway games where you get so many kills in lane that you are showered in gold anyway.
The other risk is that Doran's to start (475 gold) leaves you easy to zone out of your lane if you meet an opposing carry with better range than you (e.g. Vayne/Cait) as you have no spare cash for red pots for sustain.
If you want to play Zil as a mid, then take him as a mid; but that's beyond this guide.
Start with Q and then W for the Q+W+Q combo in case you can net a quick kill or assist with it.
I take a level in E third unless I'm really hammering them with bombs in which case Q might be better. By the time I get my ult at 6 I usually have 3/2/1 or 2/2/2 depending on need. Once you have a couple of levels of E you won't need any more until endgame. Quite often at 11 another levels in W is better than R depending on how much you need the extra life on rez - maxxing cooldown is king for Zil.
CV - you are support. Supports without CV are like junglers without Smite. Sure you 'can' do it. I 'can' stick my testicles in a golf ball cleaner. No idea why I'd want to though!
Clarity is critical early game and handy for your carry as well. You have the right mastery to boost it too. Unlike heal it's pretty useful even mid game - when your Tear filled mana pool actually does diminish you can still get a healthy amount back and it can still be handy for AD team-mates who might be running low.
Obviously I'd like flash but I'm not usually so selfish and whilst flash is a nice get out of jail card free if you mess up your positioning Zil has other routes to escape anyway. That said - if you are prepared to put up with a little less mana in the first couple of laning phases (or if you are paired with a champ who doesn't benefit from clarity) then Flash may well be the way to go.
Ghost (unless you are trying to break a speed record) or Teleport are pointless as you zip round so fast anyway.
Exhaust is not good on Zil - you already have the slow and CV/Clarity/Flash offer much more.
Ignite is likewise not in keeping with his core attributes. IF you want to play carry Zil go play mid...
How to Play Zil as support
Zil has great range - if you find yourself standing in the middle of teamfight with Zil you have usually got your positioning wrong. The only exception is perhaps if you are doing your 'kill me 3 times' trick to the enemy team whilst your teammates are aceing them.
In many ways playing Zil reminds me of Veigar. He is all about good positioning.
Early you just need to be careful. Make sure your carry understands that you can poke a bit and speed up or slow down for a quick gank or emergency escape but you should not be looking to pull up any trees at least until you get your Ult. Especially if you don't take flash and you don't have a ward up you should not be pushing that lane. For that reason dropping bombs on opposing critters early isn't a great idea. If the enemy has you under pressure at you tower and has pushed their critters right up to it and your carry isn't managing to last hit them all then you can push them back near the freezing zone by dropping a bomb either directly on them or (if you want to stay rally far back) by putting it onto one of your critters marching up to them.
Assuming you are good enough (and know how to use E if required) to avoid skill shots like Nid's spear, Blitz's grab and Sivir's Q, your worst enemies early tend to be those few toons with greater range than you - Vayne/Cait etc. Just don;t lead - Zil leads from the rear at all times. And ward and CV. Lots.
One trick once you get your R is do bait an opposing champ to tower dive and 'kill' you - slowing them and ulting yourself as they come in - you rez with Q and the tower simply murders them as they are etuck under it with aggro (and you can often double bomb them when you rez to help them on their way).
Actually Zil is pretty good at defending towers even solo well into the middle game - his Q+W+Q double bomb clears creeps very fast (and he can pop them on advancing creeps of his own to push back safely), his E makes him dangerous to dive and his R means you'll have to kill him twice.
Once you get Tear and Ionian Boots (+1860 gold) and either you have an elixir or your W is up to 4 you reach 'permaspeed'. This is where your CD on W and E is such that you can move around constantly at +55% over boots 2 speed by spamming W and E alternately. You can also perma slow any opponent you happen to meet using the same technique (so you become and awesome gank assistant esp. as you will be merrily throwing in bomb after bomb at the same time).
Whenever your R is on CD you should be spamming W. You can get it down to about 35 secs CD I think.
Spamming also increases your mana (and therefore lets you do it more and converts to more AP when you get the Archangels).
With your range and speed and key role to rez any carry-type teammate who is going to fall - you just need to make sure you are at the back and out of trouble. Your speed and range also often enables you to hide in bushes nearby and zoom in when the enemy think they have got a numerical advantage. Your Ult and sudden appearance turns a 5v4 into a 5v6 in an instant.
In teamfights where you are visible to the enemy team and in lane as you square up - dropping a bomb onto your advancing critters is also often a way of adding a little damage safely without having to engage yourself.
If you have aura items (and there are several Zil can pick up) that's all the more reason not to go get yourself killed (as your team-mates lose their benefit when you are dead).
Zil is not an 'on the edge' kind of guy. Of course it's OK to die if you can trade your death for two of the enemy (or even for one if it's a carry or key dmg dealer and your R is on CD), but you want to play cautiously most of the time. You might have to die several times but you do die fast.
You will constantly be spamming W and Q in your teamfights and when to use your Ult is skill that isn't that hard to learn usually (as an aside if you're finding it hard to sellect correctly in a melee you want you can select a team-mate for your Ult by clicking on that teammates picture on the top left hand side of your screen.
What is often overlooked in teamfights is your E - you can also spam this to kite a melee or hold it back to use on teammate either trying to get away or chase for a kill. Out of teamfights you'll use it like that as a matter of course, but remember that it can have similar uses within the melee (esp. as it breaks) as well.
Another use of Zil's Ult is to help a team mate tower dive (or just backdoor a tower). Be ready with E after his rez if he needs to make a fast getaway.
As key bindings go I have self-cast E bound to my space bar (for my own escapes).
The other thing about Zil's speed is that it makes him quick to ward up. However if ganked he can die fast, so use your CV in mid and late game to scout ahead and lay your wards safely. Once you have a lane well warded you can push it really fast for gold with the old Q+W+Q double bombing.
Why you shouldn't play Zil as AP Glass Cannon
His Q is quite powerful at the start of the game but rapidly tails off in effectiveness (esp. if anyone buys MR items). W and E don't scale with AP at all, but his Ult does to the extent of recovering additional HP's when saved.
To that extent it makes little sense to me to try to build Zil as some sort of AP glass cannon. This build gets 140AP out of 1860 gold when upgrading to Archangel (too good a return to ignore) and up to another 40 from the blue elixirs (180 AP means your base dmg with Q is 500 (you will of course hit for less given base MR) and your Ults bring champs back to life at 1500 health (which is usually plenty).
But paying for more late game AP - at say 50 AP per 1000 gold - just doesn't do that much. 1000 gold put into late game AP increases your Q dmg by 10% and HP on rez by 100(<7%).
Even a Rabandon's (if you could ever finish it) would at that point take you up to 416 (with an elixir going) which would add 236 AP for 3600 gold (65 AP/1000 gold). Sure your Q would hit for 47% more and you would now be rezzing at 2000 health but you would also have spent 1000 Gold more than a Guardian Angel costs you and would be one-shotted by just about any toon with dmg.
You really don't have that much spare gold unbless you are stomping the game anyway. You don't take much in lane and also needs lots of ward money. You can farm OK but really shouldn't spend a long time solo in lane in mid-late game. You should be supporting your team mates - that's where you are most use.
Really and honestly - if you like the positing style of play of Zil but want to go full AP and blow things up then try Veigar - he is just better at it than Zil.
Pros / Cons
Weak to start..this build has no gold/10 (unless you take Philo to start) and little health regen. You are doing well if you just hold lane, help your carry be harrass-free enough so he can last hit and let your passive give your team the edge from 1-10 or so.
Also not great at taking down turrets personally - though his speed and Q+W coombo makes him amazing at pushing lanes/warding/farming and he can often get back to the teamfight/team-mate in distress in time to drop his ult.
If you are poor at positioning or partnering a gung-ho carry who expect you to heal/save him when he dives into the bushes at lvl 5 then play something else.
But in mid game and through to the end he is a brilliant support champ. Saving your carries' lives gets you no joy so far as stats are concerned and he has to work a lot harder for assists than Soraka with her global heal etc. - but he really is putting in tremendous shift.
Time after time your team just wins and doesn't realise the reason why - the edge in levelling, the perma-slowed enemy for the carry to kill or as a speed boost to allow a 10HP escape, the wipeout they got when the other team focussed you and you 'died' three times - and of course the bread and butter 'kill my carry twice over please' move (which to be fair the carries do at least notice) ... Zilean the modest support does it again....