Heya, freshlobster here with another combination of a written guide & some gameplay examples!
While Xerath Zilean is not an entirely new concept, it has benefited greatly from the recent HP buff to Xerath and has reemerged as a competitive deck over the last week. Italian tournament grinder Broken Ball played it successfully in high Masters elo, and fellow RCCG writer Sorry even managed to climb to the top 10 of the EU ladder with it!
The deck is centered around landmark synergies. It is very versatile and can play at just about any speed because of its combination of effective removal, explosive midgame turns and crazy Arsenal finishes.
Our early game can be a bit weak, but we use it to set up our big swing turns in the midgame. We try to get landmarks rolling right away with the help of Ancient Preparations, Rock Hopper, or Zilean to shuffle Time Bombs into our deck. If we don’t find any early units, that’s no problem – it can often be good to bank spell mana on turns 1 & 2 so that we can play Unraveled Earth into Endless Devout on turn 3.
This does not only disrupt our opponent’s development but can also allow us to send our Endless Devout into his inevitable doom right away, setting up a crazy power play with Desert Naturalist as early as turn 4. Destroying that Sarcophagus gives us a 5/3 Restored Devout, a 5/4 Grumpy Rockbear as well as a 2/4 Desert Naturalist. That’s a lot of stats for turn 4!
By turns 5-7, our Xerath should already be leveled. We try to make use of his passive effect to remove our opponent’s attackers or chump blockers, depending on if we try to outrace or outcontrol them.
We can pair that passive with some effective protection in form of Ancient Hourglass and Rite of Negation as well as various removal & stalling tools, like Rite of the Arcane, Minimorph, Hexplosive Minefield, Zilean’s Time Bombs, Pokey Stick, and Quicksand. Keep in mind that even cards like Ancient Preparations or Preservarium can be turned into removal as long as Xerath is on the board!
To close out the game, we make use of one of the most consistent finishers in the game: The Arsenal. It will often have 5-8 keywords when coming down on turn 8, and if we don’t find the ones we’re looking for right away, we can use an Ancient Hourglass to double down on the summon effect and fill up the remaining keywords or even stack ridiculous amounts of Impact.
Tips & Tricks
- Landmark synergies always resolve favorably for you!
Let me elaborate: Imagine you have a Time Bomb, a Stasis Statue with a Xerath stored inside as well as a Preservarium at Countdown 1 on our board. At first, it can be very confusing to keep track of which Countdown effect resolves first and which unit gets damaged by which effect in which order.
But here’s your rule of thumb: Xerath’s passive always deals the maximum amount of damage possible. That means that in the scenario above Time Bomb resolves first, and Xerath then damages whichever weakest units are left alive afterwards, no matter the position of your landmarks. While this can be counter-intuitive, the same happens if you have two hourglassed Xeraths on your board – both Xeraths make use of their passive twice.
- Think about the matchup dynamic at the very start of the game!
This will greatly impact your mulligan and early decision making. Which type of removal hits your opponent’s biggest threats? Do we need to swarm the board early on or just focus on leveling Xerath and The Arsenal?
- Make your opponent’s life miserable with Roiling Sands!
Try to time your Roiling Sands so you get those landmarks right before your opponent would like to play a key unit – e.g. when facing Kindred, at the end of turn 3 or start of turn 4.
- Vs Aggro
Any early units and removal. Ancient Preparations, Rock Hopper, Zilean, Pokey Stick and Endless Devout are usually great. Depending on the matchup, Rite of the Arcane, Hexplosive Minefield and Xerath can be good as well, especially if you already have some other solid early game cards.
- Vs Midrange, Control & Combo
Since our deck is so versatile, this is highly matchup dependent. Generally speaking, we try to mulligan as greedily as we can afford to without being overrun. If we try to rush down our opponent, Endless Devout in combination with Desert Naturalist will be our strongest finds. If we play for the Xerath level-up and a swole Arsenal, Unraveled Earth and Zilean will be some of our best bets.
- Vs Aggro
Inventive Chemist, Treasure Seeker, more Pokey Stick & Quicksand. Cut down on The Arsenal, Rite of Negation, and Minimorph.
- Vs Midrange, Control & Combo
The deck already feels pretty well rounded for slower matchups. If you run into a lot of Iceborn Poros, Elusive or Overwhelm decks, more copies of Quicksand can do wonders.
Thanks for reading!
Let me know what you think of this guide + video format and what you’d like to see more (or less) of. Any constructive feedback helps a lot!