Introduction and Stats
Hello there, Raphterra here again! Hecarim Zed and the Ephemeral archetype has been slowly receiving several buffs and support cards from the recent patches, and I think the addition a new support card from The Darkin Saga: Domination finally makes the deck competitive.
Today, I’m sharing my guide on Hecarim Zed, the deck that I used to climb from Diamond to Masters at 73% winrate (27 Wins, 10 Losses). I copied this exact decklist from fellow APAC Master player, Kawakita Saika. This seems to be a decent counter deck against Seraphine. My score against Seraphine decks during my climb was 12 Wins and 3 Losses.
If you want to see the deck in action after reading this article, check out my full video guide!
The Hecarim Zed Deck Build
The Key Units
Hecarim Zed is an aggressive, explosive, combo deck that wins by making wide attacks with Ephemeral units. Shark Chariot is the deck’s most important unit since it revives itself every time you attack with Ephemerals. Setting up an early Shark Chariot allows the deck to make multiple explosive combo attacks for the following turns. The more Shark Chariots you can setup, the stronger your attacks become. Fading Memories provides an easy way to make more copies of our Ephemeral shark buddy.
The two champions of the deck are Hecarim and Zed, both of which can trigger Shark Chariot by summoning Ephemeral units on attack. Getting to Level 2 Hecarim is usually game-winning since he permanently buffs all your Ephemeral units for the rest of the game.
The Supporting Cast
Most of the deck is built to make your Ephemeral attacks stronger. Soul Shepherd is a backline buff engine can deal significant accumulated damage throughout several attack turns. Moonlit Glenkeeper is the latest addition to this deck from the new expansion. This card is also a buff engine similar to Soul Shepherd, but it also functions as an Ephemeral generator with its Nightfall effect.
In order to activate Shark Chariot consistently, this deck runs several Ephemeral units or Ephemeral generators like The Stagehand, Sapling Toss, Onslaught of Shadows, and one of the main stars of the deck: Dragon Ambush. Dragon Ambush is an amazing spell that can be used offensively catch opponents off guard, especially when you’ve already setup multiple Shark Chariots. The lifesteal from the Dragonlings can be very impactful in situations where you just need to stall for a few more turns to win.
As usual, we have some utility cards to close off the deck build. For card draw, the deck has Field Musicians and Glimpse Beyond. Nopeify!, Syncopation, Twin Disciplines, and Memory’s Cloak are all tools to protect our key units from removals.
For the mulligan, you want to keep and hard mulligan for Shark Chariot and Zed. An exemption is against matchups that have access to early removals for Zed like Mystic Shot or Death’s Hand. Against these matchups, you only want to keep Zed if you already have Shark Chariot in hand. Otherwise, you need to mulligan away Zed as well to look for Shark Chariot.
If you already have Shark Chariot, you can start keeping other cards in your opener. Fading Memories is an auto keep if you already have Shark Chariot. When thinking of what other cards to keep, you just need to imagine how the first four turns will play out. For example, if you’re attacking on odds, a curve of Shadow Apprentice into Shark Chariot into Zed is very powerful. If you’re attacking on evens, a Turn 2 Shark Chariot into Turn 3 Soul Shepherd + Sapling Toss into Turn 4 Shark Chariot + The Stagehand would be solid.
General Gameplay Tips
- The moment the game starts, you need to plan your actions 3-4 turns ahead.
This is an aggressive combo deck, and you need to be planning your combo turns as soon as the mulligan begins. The first thing that you want to do once the mulligan starts is to check who has the attack token. This will give you a better idea of how you want to structure your turns. You always want to have an Ephemeral unit or Ephemeral generator for your attack turns, while you want to setup cards like Soul Shepherd on your defense turns. Another example is preparing for Turn 6 Hecarim. You usually want to prepare spell mana for backup protections spells like Syncopation or Memory’s Cloak.
- Offense is your greatest defense.
This should be your mentality when playing this deck, especially against aggressive decks. You want to force your opponent to react against your pressure, instead of you reacting to theirs. Only dedicate resources defensively if you really need to. Calculate how much damage you can afford to take on defense, and use your resources for offense as much as possible. Sometimes, just stalling for one more defensive turn is all you need to finish games on your attack turns.
- Learn to adapt your gameplan if you don’t draw Shark Chariot or Zed.
Shark Chariot and Zed are key units for the deck, games will go very differently if you don’t draw them in the opening hand. Prepare to adapt to a different gameplan for those scenarios. Sometimes you might need to rely on Shadow Apprentice or Saplings as your main offensive units. This of course will vary depending on what you have on your hand; I showcased some games in my video guide, so check that out if you’re interested!
Meta Matchup Tips
Pantheon Fiora / Vayne
- Pantheon decks tend to have a weakness against swarm strategies. Follow the usual gameplan of setting up Shark Chariots and going for wide Ephemeral attacks.
- They need their board to stay intact to be effective. Race them down and force them to block against your Ephemeral units.
- Golden Aegis is a big punish if they have a wide board. If you think that your opponent can cast Golden Aegis, it may be dangerous to develop. Consider forcing them to block by attacking or by casting Dragon Ambush.
- They will likely use Concerted Strike on Hecarim, so prepare spell mana for Memory’s Cloak or Syncopation.
- The matchup against Pantheon Vayne is favored. However, you may struggle against other Vayne variants like Vayne Fiora and Vayne Jax.
- This matchup is a full-on race. Kill them before they kill you. Block units when you can, and go full offensive on your attack turns. As usual, force them to block with the units that they usually want to attack with.
- Casting Dragon Ambush can be game winning. Just be careful not to drop down to 3 HP so that your opponent can’t respond with Noxian Fervor.
- This matchup is slightly unfavored, because they are very likely to deal significant Nexus damage in the first three turns. There’s nothing much you can do but to follow your own gameplan and go offensive!
Seraphine Ezreal Noxus
- Do not keep Zed in the opening hand. He will most likely just die to a cheap removal spell like Mystic Shot or High Note. You want to go all-in on setting up as many Shark Chariots as you can.
- They don’t have much early pressure, and they won’t have enough removals or blockers to deal with multiple wide Ephemeral attacks. Feel free to setup early and overwhelm them in the mid-game!
- Level 2 Hecarim will be game-winning as long as you can back him up with Memory’s Cloak or Syncopation.
- This matchup is favored. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I went 12 wins and 3 losses when playing against Seraphine decks. Ionia variants might be closer to even because they have access to Deny and Nopeify!
Hecarim Zed was the deck that I used to reach Masters in my first two seasons of playing Legends of Runeterra. This was way back in the Rising Tides expansion, and Ephemerals weren’t really a competitive archetype even then. Riot slowly pushed the archetype with consecutive buffs and support cards, and I think it’s finally time for Hecarim to shine.