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Zilean Build Guide by Vapora Dark


Vapora Dark In-Depth Mid Zilean Guide 9.20 Season 9

By Vapora Dark | Updated on October 9, 2019
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Runes: Standard

1 2
Summon Aery
Manaflow Band
Gathering Storm

Magical Footwear
Cosmic Insight

+9 Adaptive (5.4 AD or 9 AP)
+9 Adaptive (5.4 AD or 9 AP)
+8 Magic Resist


LoL Summoner Spell: Flash


LoL Summoner Spell: Teleport


LeagueSpy Logo
Support Role
Ranked #7 in
Support Role
Win 53%
Get More Stats

Ability Order

1. Pros & Cons
2. Summoner Spells
3. Runes
4. Abilities
5. Items
6. Gameplay

Hi, I'm Vapora Dark, a veteran player that's been playing since season 1. During that time I've hit Master tier as a mid lane main in season 5, as an ADC main in season 7, again as a jungle main in season 8, and once more in season 9 playing a mix of all those roles. I can play every role to a very high level and have a very good understanding of the general aspects of the game on top of that.

I've been writing guides on MOBAFire since 2011, among which my achievements include winning the MOBAFire guide contest multiple times, achieving the highest score on the site multiple times with multiple guides, achieving the most comments on a single guide of all time by a very large amount which hasn't come even close to being surpassed in the 3 years that it's been archived, and having the most collective guide views on the site by a very hefty amount. I've also written some champion guides for Riot Games on the Lolesports site.

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. 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 hope you enjoy reading the guide as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that by the end you feel my guide was worth the privilege of your time.

|| + 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. ||

Zilean's rune setup is very self explanatory.

Sorcery & Inspiration

Summon Aery
Summon Aery - Summon Aery procs on allies when you use Time Warp! Arcane Comet probably has more damage with landing double bombs but the utility from Summon Aery is unmatched.

Manaflow Band
Manaflow Band - Really good for mana sustain in lane. Other alternative is Nullifying Orb if versus a scary AP laner that can threaten lethal on you. e.g. LeBlanc.

Transcendence - More CDR = more synergy. Zilean is heavily reliant on utility from his abilities and having more CDR in general just enables your team to do more. It's also simply a better option than the alternatives.

Gathering Storm
Gathering Storm - In general Gathering Storm just provides more scaling for Zilean who synergizes extremely well with more AP. Looking at the alternatives, Zilean cannot punish in lane that much so Scorch is less preferred, and Waterwalking is atrocious for laners.


Cosmic Insight

Magical Footwear
Cosmic Insight - All mages benefit greatly from CDR and Zilean is no exception. The reduced cooldowns on summoners and item actives is just an added bonus.

Magical Footwear - Gold efficient! Saves 300 gold from being spent on boots, and since Zilean is mobile enough with Time Warp saving the gold helps expedite the item build.
9 Adaptive Force
9 Adaptive Force
8 Magic Resistance

Inspiration & Domination

Glacial Augment
Glacial Augment: The core of the build! This makes all your items apply an additional slowing effect, helping you provide utility. This is great on Veigar because it provides him an avenue to be effective early-mid game but also doesn't affect his late game as he still gains stacks from Q.

Magical Footwear
Magical Footwear: A free pair of boots is basically putting you 300g ahead over everyone who doesn't take the rune. With the way Glacial Augment plays so well with specific items, being able to ignore the boost cost lets you rush those items more quickly allowing you to be so much more effective earlier on.

Biscuit Delivery
Biscuit Delivery: Sustain from biscuits helps greatly with surviving lane and they also scale well as the game progresses.

Cosmic Insight
Cosmic Insight: Extra cooldown reduction is nice, but more importantly is that this has CDR for your items. With Glacial Augment it's very important to be able to use your items as much as possible making this rune do some of the best double duty possible.


Taste Of Blood

Ingenious Hunter
Taste of Blood: This provides a decent amount of healing when in trades or simply dealing damage to enemies, making it better than the alternatives.

Ingenious Hunter: With Glacial Augment you want to make liberal use of items like Hextech GLP-800 and Twin Shadows to get the most out of the keystone. Being able to use them almost twice as much is incredibly useful which makes this rune a must have.

9 Adaptive Force
9 Adaptive Force
8 Magic Resistance

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.
Sorcerer's Shoes
Sorcerer's Shoes will greatly increase your damage as flat magic penetration is incredibly powerful.
Archangel's Staff
Getting an early Tear of the Goddess helps with mana greatly early on, and finishing Archangel's Staff will give a decent amount of AP as well as a great amount of mana and mana regen to work with throughout the game. Zilean is fairly spammy as a champion, especially during mid to late game sieges, so having Archangel's Staff will help greatly.
Oblivion Orb
While most items only become powerful when you fully complete them, the Oblivion Orb spikes when you finish it instead of the full Morellonomicon. Gaining magic penetration, ability power and some health makes for a powerful item in the early game for both mid and support.
Rabadon's Deathcap
THE AP item - Rabadon's 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.
Void Staff
While the Void Staff will allow you to penetrate all kinds of magic resistance which is very powerful, it's important to know it's not very cost efficient. The target must have over 80 magic resistance for it to even be considered. As most people buy flat penetration from Oblivion Orb and Sorcerer's Shoes you must check the enemy teams items before committing to buying this.
Zhonya's Hourglass
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.
Banshee's Veil
Banshee's Veil 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.
If you've bought Oblivion Orb early on for the magic penetration and the enemies have healing that you need the reduction for, Morellonomicon can be finished later to help greatly with healing reduction.
Hextech GLP-800
This item is a must buy with the Glacial Augment build thanks to every bolt causing a freezing ray. It's cheap for a 20% CDR item as well.
Twin Shadows
Again with Glacial Augment you'll want slowing actives in order to make liberal use of the keystone together with your kit. This and Hextech GLP-800 are both very cheap so you can quickly get to your powerspikes.

Luden's Echo
Provides the best early game spike among all the AP damage items, get this to replace Archangel's Staff only if you have an extremely stompy early game and are aiming to close out early. You will lose a lot of mana otherwise from Tear of the Goddess.

|| 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!)

Ability Sequence
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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.

Early Game:
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.

|| More often than not the enemy will try to shove in and force trades at level one because your lane control is abysmal with a long cooldown weak aoe ability and your ability to farm under tower is very weak with a very delayed AOE ability that can really screw up other minions as well. Once you get to around level two and three and get your double bomb combo you start to actually have some sort of way to retaliate to your enemies.

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 it for my Zilean guide! 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 decision-making 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.

Special Thanks

Thanks to MissMaw for the graphics.

And special thanks to Embracing, who wrote the majority of this guide and has much more experience with Zilean than I do.
League of Legends Build Guide Author Vapora Dark
Vapora Dark Zilean Guide