With the new set out and ready to be played with, I went all-in on Zilean to try and figure out how viable he is and what kind of decks he can be included in.
In order to do that, I played a lot of ladder with all sorts of experimental ideas, to finally arrive at four decks I feel comfortable presenting. Early in day 1, I faced some other Zilean players, but I haven’t seen a lot of them on the ladder since. It seems meta struggles to offer a good home for him.
The lists I will showcase range all the way from ones I believe are capable of winning games to others that are fun strategies that I believe are worth trying out if you’re looking for a less serious approach. The decks are listed in this exact order – from most viable to most meme-y.
Nasus works phenomenally as a finisher in a faster midrange deck of Nasus Thresh, but it is also a great tool for much slower control lists that need his stats to finish the game.
This deck uses Zilean as yet another control tool, thanks to his defensive stats, but mainly to the Time Bomb cards he generates, with his level up being a great bonus. Thanks to the Predict mechanic, it is possible to consistently find Time Bombs rather early, which are supplementing the SI removal, as well as pushing chip damage for Nasus to be able to close games earlier, especially against lists that do not fuel his stats. Cards that grant Vulnerable, as well as Rampaging Baccai, give even more ways to clear the board and get more Slay stacks for Nasus.
All in all, this is a list that utilizes Zilean in the most obvious way; as an AoE removal generator. Thanks to this, the list does very well into Irelia: The Box, Withering Wail, Time Bombs, and Nasus are the perfect ways to ensure these pesky Blades are aiding you instead of your opponent. In general, aggro decks should have a hard time fighting against this removal-packed deck, while slower lists that avoid fuelling Nasus can beat this list pretty easily.
I can recommend this deck as it is one of the more fun takes on SI control; it is also quite viable and for now, I find it to be the most consistent way to make use of Zilean.
In a similar fashion to our previous deck, this one aims to clear boards on the opponent’s side. The difference is, the finishing blow is not dealt in one turn, but rather spread out as chip damage and potentially a Swain + The Leviathan combo.
In a way, Zilean in this deck imitates what Twisted Fate used to do in the Bilgewater pairing for Swain. With his early Predict, he is able to grab the right removal for whatever you are facing, while Time Bombs are akin to Red Cards. The bombs do a fantastic job of helping you level Swain, alongside the usual Noxus damage spells like Death’s Hand and Ravenous Flock. Where Shurima helps a lot is the ability to Predict into the finishers, as Swain archetypes tend to run out of steam when they do not find Leviathan early enough.
Additionally, both Leviathan and Swain can get extra protection from Rite of Negation and, to a lesser extent, Zilean’s champion spell.
Thanks to Culling Strike and Death Lotus, this deck can hurt most aggressive decks, especially ones utilizing Azir and/or a multitude of small and fragile units.
In general, board-based decks struggle against Noxus, as Ravenous Flock is an insane removal card; even if the opposing units are well-statted, a single House Spider chump block can unlock either that or Scorched Earth and remove a large threat. Sadly, decks with lots of removal are favoured against Zilean Swain, as even with Rite of Negation, the amount of threats in the deck is not high enough to be able to put enough pressure on a list like Trundle Lissandra Control.
If you used to like TF Swain in the past and are looking for a new take on that sort of archetype, this is a list for you; it is lots of fun to play, as are most Zilean decks and it packs quite a punch.
Now we are entering a less known territory, and in this case, the deck is definitely way less refined. I’ve had the pleasure of trying out this champion pairing a bit on the ladder and I really enjoyed the playstyle, although I can’t say I am sure how to build this deck. I love pairing Shurima and Targon together though and I believe this strategy has potential.
Both of the champions are strong as ‘standalones’ and that’s what we are trying to utilize in this list.
Additionally, thanks to a lot of Predict in the deck, we can rely on the biggest pile of stats in the game that is Xenotype Researchers. The plan is simple; get the champions leveled and overwhelm the opponent with multiple Invokes, tons of Celestials. Either champion leveling is very likely game over, and we have a lot of ways to make sure they stay alive. Pale Cascade, Bastion, Soothsayer,
This list is not completely refined, as obviously it is fairly early on in the expansion and not many people have played with the idea at all. It is an interesting deck in the sense that it actively works to level champions that usually are put in decks for their level 1 power, with the level 2 form as a powerful bonus. It is a deck unlike any other I have played and I encourage everyone to try it out; it’s fun, it’s unique and refined it could be a nice off-meta way to gain some LP.
I do not have many hopes for this list to be viable, but it was the first deck I played with when the expansion dropped and I find it to be a lot of fun – and overall just a cute idea. Plunder Zilean attempts to make use of the fact that Time Bombs explode at the beginning of a round, thus allowing all your Plunder cards to be played with their respective bonuses.
Pilfered Goods and Black Market Merchant are the biggest targets for this effect, as well as Riptide Rex in the late game. Most likely the most essential payoff is that it helps you work towards that Gangplank level-up, which is a huge upgrade from his base form.
With The Dreadway as the final finisher, the deck packs quite a punch and is able to close out games in a timely fashion. The list also includes some of the Shurima power cards, such as Merciless Hunter,
This deck wants to be ahead on tempo, especially with Plunder effects of Black Market Merchant and Monster Harpoon. Rite of Negation helps to protect your threats once you did take over board control, while Gangplank and The Dreadway take care of ending the game. Power level-wise, this strategy is not to be considered for serious climbing, but it is still capable of winning against strong decks if you can draw well.
I’d recommend the deck if you want to play around with new concepts; but not if you want to climb up the ranks!
Is Zilean viable?
I left the most important question for last. I also wrote the first impression review article and having played Zilean, I feel confident that for the most part, I was right about his power level and potential problems.
He never really feels bad, as he comes with the Predict mechanic, and shuffles those Time Bombs in your deck, which essentially replace themselves in your hand for 2 mana, while also being a strong AoE tool. He slots in quite well in control decks, as he supplements that playstyle.
The problem with Zilean seems to be that the decks he goes in are a little too weak to be Tier 1. It is also worth noting, however, that we are only in the first days of the expansion and a champion that isn’t very synergistic will always take some time to find its place in decks.
Overall, I really enjoy playing with Zilean and I believe he has the potential to be a contender for a meta spot, most likely somewhere in Tier 2, if a deck that can utilize him well is built. I hope you will enjoy him too after trying the decks included, whether you’re a seasoned ladder player or a “for fun” gamer that prefers memes!