The important question though, is why? Obviously a rather important reason is quite simply, I find him super fun, but he is certainly by no means as weak as he is typically believed to be. On the contrary, I personally believe him to be an exceptional support, and with the new passive he is slated to receive, I genuinely think he is likely to be a highly contested pick from patch 5.21 onward.
But again, why? What makes Zilean such a strong pick? What does he excel at, and when is he not such a strong pick?
- One of the hardest carrying supports. While his direct impact might
seem rather low, pumping out stuns, shutting down divers, kiting melees
as well as enabling his allies to go ham can absolutely devastate
teamfights. Need your TF to run down a straggler to land a gold card for
a free pick? Let's do the Time Warp again. Want to enable your ADC to
go full glasscannon and shred teamfights, but don't want a pesky
assassin popping them with ease?
- Insanely strong mid and late game. He scales so exceptionally well with stats such as CDR, and getting to a state where his obscene mana costs no longer hinder him allows him to be a terror.
- Rather easy to play. While he can be slightly tricky to get in to due to his quirky kit, it doesn't take long to be comfortable on Zilean.
- Very few bad matchups. While they do exist, there are very few champions that are both common and will give you a hard time.
- He's fun! I know this is somewhat of a subjective point, but it's hard not to take immense satisfaction in singling out a target and making sure they don't get to play league of legends.
- Strong in the current meta. Linking back to his lack of abundant bad matchups, he destroys so many meta champions it's borderline unfair. Assassins? Have fun being useless because Chronoshift negates any attempt to dive and kill a priority target. Juggernauts? Enjoy being permaslowed and kited in to oblivion. Plus, the slow paced meta that factors such as double teleport compositions have brought around is fantastic for Zilean, as early dominance is less abundant, for fear of being punished. As such a Zilean pick can often make it through the early game with little abuse.
- A rare pick. Be honest, when was the last time you saw a Zilean? Do you know the do's and definitely do not's you need to follow in order to beat him? I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard things that are just straight up wrong about Zilean, simply because people don't understand his current state. This can completely catch people off guard, and while it is somewhat cheesy, cheese wins solo queue. Obviously this doesn't always work in your favour, as allies will forget what you do, and waste resources when you're able to save their life, but more often than not, the elusive mystery that is Zilean will work in your favour.
- Obscenely safe. The phrase "Can't killean the Zilean" didn't come out of nowhere, he is an absolute pain to stick on to and actually kill. Great quality in solo queue.
- Sub par lane phase. Your goal in lane is typically to play defensive, and attempt to scale up. This can be easily exploited by players who know what they're doing, and lead to being snowballed on or denied.
- While they're not abundant in number, there are several flat out horrible match ups you should try to stay away from. Avoid someone such as Vayne like the plague, as her kit can negate yours, and you are unable to punish her yourself during the early game, as yours is comparably crap.
- Squishy. Getting a GA for an ultimate and being a nightmare to catch comes at a price, and that price is poor base stats. You need to be very careful about your positioning, otherwise you will die. Fast.
- AoE, damage or CC, can decimate a Zilean. He can quite easily be locked up by a Tibbers and be unable to ult who he needs to, or an Equaliser can melt his team, but unfortunately he can only save one person.
Setup: There is a fair amount of debate between the few Zilean players as to what runes to run, how to spec masteries and what item path you should follow, and while the setup I run has treated me nicely, I'm not going to try assert it is the best. It has simply worked for me, but it is very possible that it could be improved upon. I'd encourage you to experiment when you get comfortable with him, but for now, here's what I do, and why I do it.
Masteries I've personally never been a fan of running 9 points in offence as a support, although I could see it working on Zilean. It'll make you extremely squishy though, so I wouldn't. 21 points in to utility is simply the best option for almost any support, and again, while you could make a case for taking a mastery such as Meditation over Inspiration, it's not something I would do.
Runes Magic Pen reds are probably going to be universal to any Zilean page, for obvious reasons, however the other runes are more open to debate. Health yellows are a must on almost any support, however the question is, why would you run scaling over flat? If Zilean's early game is that bad, surely you'd want to rectify that as much as possible? It is my logic that levels one to five you often play passive anyway, and they provide equal amounts of health from level 6. If you're looking to scrap early on, then you should probably swap them for flat health, however I haven't had many times in lane where if I had just a little bit more health I'd have survived. Zilean shouldn't be taking enough damage such that an extra 60 HP would make or break a fight. It is for a similar reason that I don't run armour quints or MR blues, and instead opt for flat AP, in order to bolster bomb damage, however you could probably run mana regen runes if you have them.
Exhaust or Ignite? Zilean has a massive amount of defensive power as it is, I personally feel Exhaust is often overkill. Ignite helps ensure you're not a total pushover early and actually have some ability to stand your ground and fight back. Nevertheless, Exhaust can be mandatory if:
- You're against champions that pack a punch and can wreak havoc otherwise.
- You're laning vs Kalista, unless you don't feel like landing any stuns.
Item Path: Time to be super controversial. I believe Spellthief's is wrong on Zilean, outside of a few matchups. Coin allows you to sit back and stagnate the lane, which often favours you, whereas with Spellthief's you'll likely just get pushed out of lane. Thanks to Zilean's high base damages and the extra 26 AP from runes, you do not need Spellthief's for your bombs to hurt, although the extra 9 damage per bomb can be rather nice of course, should you be able to get away with it. And of course, Relic Shield isn't a serious consideration.
Where next? First item should be Sightstone, as with most supports. HP is nice, free wards are great, and you're not a unique case like someone such as a Raka who scales with something like HP/5. By the end of the lane phase you should also typically look to have a chalice to provide you with sufficient mana regen, and Lucidity Boots due to how well Zilean scales with CDR.
Next item SHOULD be either Zeke's, generally the better choice, or Banner, should you need to shut down a magic damage threat, although if you're looking for fun a Mejai's is a very viable choice, but more on this later. You can, if need be, build a Locket instead of a Banner, but again, less fun, more tryhardy. Often can be a necessity should your team be rather squishy, or there's an awful lot of AOE burst you need to deny.
After this, Crucible becomes a priority should you need to cleanse a CC from an ally, otherwise work towards Talisman or whichever you didn't rush out of the Banner/Zeke's choice. Talisman is very good due to the fact that it is a nice cheap CDR item, it grants neat stats, and of course the active is very nice. Relieves the dependence on Time Warp for mobility, along with a few other minor benefits.
What about Mejai's? Honestly it's more of a "for fun" item, and the build path I already went over is often better, but I'd recommend it as a beginner item? Why? Because it is a fantastic tool to learn positioning with, and it's not actually a bad item. Zilean is a very safe champion, so acquiring and keeping stacks is pretty easy, and he scales nicely with the awesome amount of AP you can amass. Good item, but there are just better items.
If you're switched on, you've probably noticed that this is a lot of CDR, which'll end up putting you at anywhere from 45-60%, depending on whether you went Mejai's and how stacked it is, although counting a fully stacked Mejai's as a reliable source of CDR is risky, even for Zilean. Either way, the CDR boots have fulfilled their role as a massive early powerspike, but since the CDR is now excessive, you can swap them out for another set of boots as per your liking, normally Sorcs.
Skill order: Time Bomb level one, Rewind is unavailable and Time Warp would only perhaps be a consideration if you're invading and you need to CC someone so your allies can get in range. Even then, you'd likely only get a flash burned and it severely gimps your level one. Would not recommend.
A lot of people will say Rewind level two, however due to the unreliable nature of your bombs, you often won't land a stun without Time Warp or if your ADC provides some CC. Time Warp allows you to disengage fights and continue to play passive, however should a fight break out at level two, and you need the stun, take Rewind. While your goal is to generally sit back and try reach your level four powerspike, if your ADC is getting dicked on, go for the stun. In an all in people tend to be more predictable with their movement, and at the very least you can place the bombs on top of your ADC in order to peel anyone on top of them.
A second point in to Time Bomb at level three, as the damage and mana efficiency become much better to the point where it's worth using them to start pressuring the enemy bot lane. You can, if you're against a very aggressive bot lane, take a point in to Rewind purely so you have the stun, however if you do this, try to save your bombs for disengaging fights, not for harass, it's not worth the mana.
Once you've hit level four and have two points in Q and each of your three abilities is when you can look to start fighting, although do so very carefully. You're still a Zilean stuck in early game, not exactly a force to be reckoned with.
Take Chronoshift wherever possible, obviously, maxing Time Bomb first and Time Warp second. Rank one Time Warp is enough to land your bombs against an immobile target, and Time Bomb scales better with each level.
Laning: Sit back, try not to fight and just reach level six with the lane roughly even. Power spike level 4, can fight most bot lanes if even.
Goal in fights is to just peel for allies. People will dive HARD to kill someone, you not only shut them down hard with ult, but your CC makes their lives hellish too. In solo queue communication is pretty poor, so you can win fights simply because there's a mad dash to get to your squishies, but in doing so everything gets blown. And then you win. Kite backward and wittle them down. Especially if your ADC goes glasscannon, they should be able to tear through anything, and then you can run down any wounded survivors using appropriate CC combos.
- E -> Q -> W -> Q . Basic stun combo, mana hungry but is very hard to avoid without a dash. Works on targets close by.
- Q -> W -> Q Less mana intensive, but much harder to pull off vs good enemies. Works if your allies are providing the CC.
- Alt E -> Q -> W -> E -> Q. For when a target needs to be reached before you can combo, lead with E after Rewind so second bomb hits. Since target is not slowed with E for first bomb, not a reliable stun combo, however the 5 seconds of slow should be enough for your team to catch up. Mana intensive, but will likely be used in the mid/late when mana is not an issue.
- You don't have to land bombs on a target in order to land a stun, so should a target be near an ally or a minion, go for it. Catches a lot of people off guard.
- When a target is being revived by Chronoshift, if enemies are crowding around their corpse, you can stack bombs on the corpse such that when they revive, they instantly stun everyone in range so the ally can make their escape or turn the fight.
- Previous tip also works on an enemy returning from untargetability, such as Hourglass or GA. Stack bombs and when they pop up they are instantly stunned.
- Try to go for bombs when an enemy immobilises themselves. Examples such as a Thresh going for a hook or a Jinx using Zap spring to mind, although obviously try to dodge the skillshot. When an ADC goes to last hit is also often a good time.
- When fighting an enemy sitting in the brush early on, placing a bomb behind them will force them to walk toward you and eat more harass, assuming of course it doesn't just land. Especially at level one you can cheese a massive portion of their health bar by just forcing them to walk up and take AA damage from you and your ADC, as they can't just walk backward else they eat the bomb.
- Don't skill anything at level two right away. As you're not looking to fight most of the time, you aren't pressured to take anything, and against aggressive bot lanes using Time Warp will telegraph that you cannot stun.
- Remember to have fun!
Any questions? Fire away. If I don't answer them, I'm sure a more seasoned Zilean player will share some insight.
TL;DR - Play Zilean.