Hi everyone, den here to talk about one of the high-profile decks from the newest expansion: Ekko Zilean!
Personally, I find the deck very rewarding to play. It is one of the most skill-intensive archetypes out there right now, but it is also a ton of fun! The Predict mechanic feels like it finally has a place in the meta – the same can be said about Zilean, who felt a little underwhelming up to this point.
PnZ + Shurima is a peculiar region combination: both regions are very tempo-oriented – but in a different manner. PnZ is the ‘tempo through spells’ region, using Fast and Burst speed spells to keep their opponent at bay. Shurima usually gains tempo through its units, using the Vulnerable tag to force trades and dominate opponents through combat.
The combination of these two regions leads to a very versatile deck, capable of controlling tempo while building towards Level 2 Ekko who will then take over the game.
For now, it is unclear as to how good the deck might end up being in the long run. Its lack of healing might hold it back, while a somewhat similar archetype like Ezreal Draven might feel better if you’re looking for pure board domination.
It shouldn’t keep you from giving Ekko Zilean a try though, as the deck feels fairly decent in this early evolving metagame at most ranks, and it also offers some unique synergies and fun play patterns.
The deck’s gameplan relies on these two pillars:
- Controlling your opponent’s tempo and development. You can’t afford to lose too much health, as your main weakness is the absence of healing. Devoted Council can help with that – I found the card to be a bit clunky for my taste, but feel free to give it a try if you face a lot of aggressive decks.
- Advancing your own win condition through the Predict mechanic. Ekko‘s level-up can be our route to victory in most games, but we need to create a good situation to play him. If the opponent will be able to deal with him before we is able to pay us off in value, we will find ourselves out of resources. If you face a lot of control decks, you can add
Khahiri, the Returnedas a second win condition.
Almost everything in the deck, both in the way it is built and in the way we will be piloting it, is revolving around these two pillars that are essentially tied to the concept of tempo.
Because the deck is a bit slow out of the gate, and because we have neither a big-damage finishing combo nor healing, we need to have a proactive mindset, while also playing a control role for most of the game.
Against aggressive and unit-oriented decks, the gameplan shouldn’t be too complicated as you’ll assume a defensive role. The Predict should be used to find your most important cards in order to survive what your opponent could throw at you.
The more intricate decisions will come against decks that can compete with us in a resource war or deal with Ekko fairly easily. Against those, cards like Rite of Negation and Ancient Hourglass will be premium to create tempo and gain an edge.
Against combo or control decks like Thralls, for example, the deck can really struggle as it can be hard building up early pressure. Going all-in with Xenotype Researchers and finding the buffed units early usually is the best way to develop pressure before they reach their comfort zone.
As a coach, the main advice I would give to anyone who really wants to give this deck a real shot would be to understand its different components.
This list can do a lot, but the wrong hand can sometimes make you feel as you can’t do anything against your opponent at all. It is therefore very important to understand how the various parts of this archetype work, and how the Predict mechanic ties them all together.
- Be smart with your Predictions
It’s really important to think of Predict on any card as a separate function from what the card does without it. Sometimes when you play a Predict card, you do it for this keyword specifically, but other times you’ll play a Predict card for its other characteristics, in which case you’ll be treating the keyword as just a nice bit of added value.
An example is the Aspiring Chronomancer, a 2/3 with the Predict attached to it. Sometimes, you will want him primarily as a unit. Other times you will need him as a Predict to help level Ekko. And there would be further scenarios when you’ll be looking to find specific cards with it – such as Hexite Crystal, Dropboarder, or other situational answers.
Knowing why you are Predicting and what you are looking for will come a long way with reaching good results with the deck.
- Be flexible with Ekko
He is the key to the deck, but he isn’t necessarily your go-to win condition all the time.
Most of the time, Ekko is a resource generator and the piece that provides you with Chronobreaks, which are your key finishers. If this is his role in the game you’re in, try to avoid playing him before he levels.
Other times, Ekko can be a distraction as most opponents will try to kill him before he can grant you too much value. In aggressive matchups, for example, Ekko will be a perfect pressure soak to buy yourself more time to find your defensive cards and stabilize the situation.
- Stay ahead of problems
Because we lack healing, a bad tempo state can result in a loss very quickly. As such, I would advise using resources proactively instead of trying to hold onto them until the perfect situation. Waiting usually costs you health – the trade-off you can’t really afford.
If you have to take risks, take them early when your opponent is low on mana rather than when they have a lot of possibilities to punish you. And remember that tempo is always good, as it forces your opponent to interact with you.
- Generally good to keep: Fallen Feline – Aspiring Chronomancer – Zilean – Xenotype Researchers. All of these are useful to develop tempo early and advance your deck’s win conditions.
- Against aggro (ex. Pirates, Discard): Mystic Shot – Scrying Sands – Thermogenic Beam. Removing early board will go a long way towards helping you stabilize and develop your synergies.
- Against control (ex. mirror, FR/SI): Fallen Feline – Aspiring Chronomancer – Zilean – Xenotype Researchers. Greedier cards that advance your deck’s win condition but don’t do much on board are fine to keep against slower opponents if you already have a way to pressure early.
- Against combo (ex. Thralls): Fallen Feline – Xenotype Researchers – Ekko – Aspiring Chronomancer. We want early pressure, force them into being reactive, and not allow them to assemble their combo peacefully. Predict as much as possible to level Ekko – especially once you’ve already played out your Xenotype Researchers.
The metagame is still evolving, so treat this section as an assortment of recommendations rather than some definitive guide. Here I’m going to mention some of the most popular matchups and use them to extrapolate into how to play against similar archetypes in general.
Highly unit-reliant decks are usually a great thing for us, as they don’t have a lot of removal for our important units and we have a lot for theirs. In this case, play to destroy their tempo and let your win conditions develop naturally as the game progresses.
The main thing is to not get caught up in a race/unit battle which they will likely win in the end. An empty board on both sides is way better than a full board for each player.
Because we lack healing, reducing the damage we take from units is key in those matchups. Either go for a quick board development with aggressive Predicts to find the Dropboarders or the Hexite Crystal (if you had a turn 1 Fallen Feline), otherwise, just use spells and units to prevent as much Nexus damage as much as possible until you can stabilize and naturally take over.
These tempo-oriented matches are usually difficult to navigate as we have to constantly switch from developing our side to controlling our opponent’s side.
The key to these matchups is knowing what you can and cannot leave on your opponent’s side of the board. Usually, the champions are must-kill targets. Keep in mind that also in these matchups, most of the time, no one has healing, so getting chip Nexus damage can be very valuable.
Go all-in on early board, you have a lot of units with 3 health which is great against Avalanche and Blighted Ravine. You won’t last long once the 8/8’s are getting onto the board, so don’t even try to make it a late-game battle. Rite of Negation on their Promising Future can be game-altering and give some precious time.
These matchups are very hard as we will be under pressure the entire game. The best way to win them is to go full-tempo early on or try to be lucky with Fallen Feline and find the Hexite Crystals early on.
This is not an easy deck to pilot at first, and amongst the new archetypes that have risen with this expansion, it might be the hardest one to play and even to build. But to compensate for that, Ekko Zilean is a very rewarding deck to play that puts the emphasis on your understanding of matchups and situational gameplay.
It’s hard to say if it is a good deck or not, its recent results on the ladder showing it to be a solid middle-of-the-pack choice. Its demanding skill-floor and a lack of healing might hold it from becoming great in the future as other decks will progress and learn how to be more consistent against it.
It is starting to drop in popularity amongst top players, which is also a concern. It looks like high-profile players who tried the deck early on have decided to abandon it. It might be that they simply are exploring other options, or maybe they’ve found the deck to not be suited for the highest level of play.
I’d recommend this deck to players looking to play something different – something that can offer diverse gameplay and flexible deckbuilding. They will have a deck they can learn and play with for a long time without feeling bored of the same repeating patterns.
I hope this guide has been helpful to some of you out there. I assure you the deck is very fun and might be one of my recommendations if you are looking to learn the game at a high level. However, I wouldn’t recommend it though for a quick climb on the ladder or as the deck is hard to play unless you’re entirely focused on what you are doing.
If you want to discuss this guide and much more, you can join me and the rest of the RuneterraCCG community on Discord. Otherwise, you can find me on Twitter for anything related to the game or if you’re looking for coaching.
Good game everyone,