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Detailed Deck Guide: Zilean Xerath

Monte delves deep into the intricacies and countdowns around one of the staple Landmark decks: Zilean Xerath.

Hello everyone, I’m MonteXristo and I’m back with another deck guide.

Today I’m here to give you the breakdown on Xerath Zilean! I’ve enjoyed the Landmark archetypes since they were introduced all the way back in the Monuments of Power season. Though I typically prefer Taliyah decks (so I can show off my gorgeous skin) I’ve really enjoyed learning this Xerath Zilean deck. As a day-one believer in Zilean, I’m glad he’s finally found a home. 

This deck looks to win the game in one of three ways:

It’s important to identify how you ideally want to win each matchup and also what win-conditions are actually available to you in any particular game. 

For example, it might be optimal to win the Scouts matchup with a Xerath board lock but if you find yourself without a Xerath and multiple Zileans, you should just play for the Zilean level up!

Regions
Bandlecity
10 cards
Shurima
30 cards
Rarities
29 600
champion
6
epic
4
rare
19
common
11
Mana cost
0
0
4
1
14
2
10
3
7
4
0
5
2
6
3
7+
Champions
6
2
Zilean
3
4
Xerath
3
Landmarks
7
1
Ancient Preparations
2
1
Hexplosive Minefield
2
2
Preservarium
3
Followers
12
2
Rock Hopper
3
3
Endless Devout
3
4
Desert Naturalist
3
8
The Arsenal
3
Spells
15
2
Ancient Hourglass
2
2
Pokey Stick
3
3
Quicksand
1
3
Rite of the Arcane
3
3
Unraveled Earth
3
4
Rite of Negation
1
6
Minimorph
2

Deck Breakdown

I liked the way my fellow writer Leer presented his deck breakdown in his last Scouts guide so I thought I would try something similar. Please let me know how you feel about this grouped breakdown and whether you’d like to see it again in the future!

Champions

The nice thing about this champion pairing is that their level-up conditions help each other out. Zilean creates Time Bombs which are Landmarks, with a countdown of one, that deals one damage to the enemy board when they countdown.

They help to expedite your Xerath level up while also powering up The Arsenal. If you don’t find your Xerath, Time Bombs can act as a stand-in until you do, you may get some use out of them by tricking your opponents into targeting Zilean with their hard removal.  

Losing your first Zilean is a benefit to you as it is much easier to level up any subsequent Zilean you play. If they waste hard removal on your Zilean it makes it less likely for them to have an answer for Xerath or The Arsenal. It also means there will be more Time Bombs in the deck as you can play a second Zilean; this makes for a higher chance of drawing into them, letting you deal with bigger boards.

Time Bombs also have the benefit of ignoring combat tricks, because the damage occurs on round start, you can get around things like Ranger's Resolve.

One last thing to note with level two Zilean - using an Ancient Hourglass on him will not give you cards on the following turn, you will however get them in two turns. This is because the Stasis Statue counts down after the turn rolls over so Zilean doesn’t register that a new turn has started. 

Xerath is a bit less complicated to use. You typically do NOT want to let him die but it can sometimes be advantageous to allow your opponent to target him with removal so you can pop an Ancient Hourglass and put down a second Xerath. Be cautious that you do not do this into a deck running The Ruination unless you have a Rite of Negation handy!

Xerath is very powerful in combination with Roiling Sands.  Apart from being one of the fastest ways to level him, it also makes playing out units VERY awkward for your opponent. 

Units

This list runs pretty light on units, this is because not a lot of units in the game are beneficial for this archetype. The decklist is so tight that we only have room for the most essential units, one thing you’ll notice about the units we play is that they all work towards our win conditions! Rock Hopper and Endless Devout both summon Landmarks which will speed your Xerath’s level-up and give The Arsenal more keywords when they count down. 

Desert Naturalist is super important to the deck -- combine Naturalist with the Sarcophagus that hits the board when an Endless Devout is removed for one of the best tempo plays in the game. Summoning a total of 12/11 stat points in a single play, part of which has the Fearsome keyword, is far too much for most decks to reasonably deal with.

This is the mid-game power spike that you should aim to achieve in most games. It can also be used in conjunction with Hexplosive Minefield to remove problematic blockers and let you get in for a good chunk of damage. A lot of decks in the current meta are not playing more than two to three units at once, so stunning one (or two if you play the Hexplosive Minefield on the same turn) can put you very far ahead. Against other Landmark decks, you will want to use this as removal -- The Bandle Tree doesn’t stand a chance against us!

The Arsenal is probably your most consistent way of ending games, especially if you’re allowed to play multiples. By the time they come down, they should have, at least, 3+ keywords and you can use an Ancient Hourglass to deny your opponent’s removal spells and DOUBLE YOUR KEYWORDS! The Arsenal’s effect is both on summon and a continuous one which makes for this awesomely powerful interaction.

Toolbox


These cards make up your toolbox, they’re your draw, protection, and removal cards. Finding success with this deck will require you to understand their roles and use them effectively.

Ancient Preparations and Preservarium are pretty straightforward inclusions - good Landmarks to passively level your Xerath

There are two things you should keep in mind when playing Ancient Preparations

The first is that you should not take a sub-par option just because it’s “ok”, it is often better to skip than to take something that you’re unsure about. 

The second thing is that you may want to delay playing it until turn two so that way you have a Landmark to destroy with your Rite of the Arcane on turn three. Many of the major threats in the current meta come down then, for example Miss Fortune or Lulu.

Passing turn one also leaves you the option of casting Rite of the Arcane for a mana crystal on turn two, if you feel it is absolutely necessary. This is NOT something which I would recommend doing but, you may find yourself needing to make this play against something like Iceborn Spiders.

Hexplosive Minefield is a great answer to problematic threats before you have Minimorph available. As you may have picked up, you can get two stuns out of this in a single turn. Using your Minefields effectively is a key to finding success with this list. Combine this with Desert Naturalist or Rite of the Arcane for big swing turns.

Ancient Hourglass is your primary protection spell and you should pretty much always save it to defend Xerath or The Arsenal. You can also use it to save a leveled Zilean but be aware that you will not get cards back on the following turn. The best use of this is letting you play multiple champions or doubling the keywords on The Arsenal

Pokey Stick doesn’t need much explanation, it lets you ping off 1hp units in the early game and units that you’ve chipped down with Xerath or Time Bombs. If your hand is looking particularly dead, don’t be afraid to use this just to cycle.

Quicksand is kind of like a bad, third copy of Minimorph. It can help you answer problematic units like Pantheon or Ahri in combat, it also makes those pesky Daring Poros a lot easier to manage.

Rite of the Arcane is your primary removal turn, remember that this will also activate your Xerath’s ability if he is on the board and you opt to destroy a Landmark. This is a great way to gain some board advantage, use it to remove your opponent's main threats (4 damage will deal with most major threats in the current metagame). Unless you have The Arsenal already in hand and beefed up with quite a few keywords, it is perfectly fine to use this at the cost of a mana crystal. Using this in conjunction with Xerath is a good way to remove bigger units on small boards.

Unraveled Earth is a great way to make your opponent’s plays very awkward. It’s also one of the fastest ways to level up your Xerath. On top of that, it is also one of the most powerful plays when you have Xerath on the board as any unit they play will either be removed or cause another unit to be removed.

Rite of Negation is your denial spell. This can serve as protection in other ways than Ancient Hourglass as it can protect your entire board or nexus hp by stoping big spells like The Ruination or Feel The Rush. Keep this for critical moments and DO NOT use it on a unit if you need it to go off and there’s even the slightest chance your opponent can kill the unit you’ve targetted. 

Minimorph is your final protection/removal spell, this is primarily going to be used to stop units with one or more keywords from getting in. Some prime targets are Pantheon, a big buffed up Wounded Whiteflame, Kindred, an opposing The Arsenal, and any other key unit your opponent may play.

Other Cards

 

This is the only other card I would seriously consider running in this style of Landmark deck as it plays directly into the win-conditions of the deck. It may even be better than the Ancient Preparations for ladder games and you could certainly make a straight swap if you wanted. 

If you play this on turn one you will have a Landmark available for Rite of the Arcane until turn three, whereas you have to hold off on playing Ancient Preparations until turn two if you do not want to destroy a mana crystal. As such it is also a bit more of a beginner-friendly card. 

This card is a consideration as well but I feel it is too expensive and you do not usually have the time or mana to actually cast it. 

Not a card I had initially considered in this list but it makes sense, allowing you to target specific problematic units can be important as a good player will not block your Endless Devout to prevent giving you the Sarcophagus.

Matchups

Ahri Kennen - Slightly Unfavored (Time Bomb dependent)

This matchup is apparently favored according to the ladder stats but a competent Ahri Kennen player should be able to dance around your plays. Though I’ve not directly tested it, Merciless Hunter should be a good inclusion if you’re looking to keep AK up in a tournament.  

I talked with GrandpaRoji, the AM shard’s most prolific Landmark player and he believes the AK SI matchup is favored, if only slightly, but the Shurima versions present some problems as a result of The Absolver

In either matchup, you need to play for Zilean and his Time Bombs to find some success. It’s also good to make their plays really awkward with Unraveled Earth on t3 so their Kinkou Wayfinder turn becomes really awkward.

Scouts - Favored

This is a good matchup for us, my fellow Mastering Runeterra writer Sirturmund goes as far as saying it’s Scouts’ worst matchup. Time Bombs let you by-pass Ranger's Resolve. Between Xerath and Rite of the Arcane you should be able to effectively deal with all their threats.

Darkness - Favored

This is a really good matchup for us. All you have to do is stall out until you can play The ArsenalAncient Hourglass is incredibly strong in this matchup as well, you can cast it to deny a Darkness and slow down Veigar’s level-up progression. Your removal tools are capable of removing their champs without much effort so fire them off when it makes sense to do so.  

A few things you should be aware of:

If you have multiple Roiling Sands on the field and you want to turn one into a Grumpy Rockbear using your Desert Naturalist target the rightmost one. If you don’t, they can cast Vile Feast to pop the first Landmark and deny your skill.  

Always be conscious of the potential for them to have Mist's Call

Feel the Rush - Favored

Another good matchup, this one should be a cakewalk against anyone not super comfortable with Feel The Rush. Against a player who is comfortable with the deck, you will have to manage an early Trundle which isn’t too problematic.

The biggest thing in this matchup is ensuring you always keep mana up for Rite of Negation if they have the mana for Feel The Rush, even if you don’t have the deny it’s important that you keep mana available to bluff it! To go alongside this, don’t waste your Rite of Negation on something like a Vengeance if it’s not absolutely essential, try to keep Ancient Hourglass as your primary protection spell in this matchup.

You’ll want to leverage Desert Naturalist and Endless Devout in your midgame to take the lead and put on the pressure. The HP thresholds of the aforementioned units make them quite difficult for FTR to deal with. Eventually The Arsenal will come down and be an extremely problematic threat for your opponent. 

Hexplosive Minefield is another excellent card in this matchup. The primary way FTR wants to push damage is through big overwhelm units (Trundle and Tryndamere) -- because of this, stuns are great for keeping your HP high.

Pantheon - Unfavored

This matchup should be a bit rough. While Minimorph is a good answer to Pantheon, they start putting on pressure well before he comes down. Your best bet is to once again leverage your powerful midgame, use Hexplosive Minefield in conjunction to push some damage early then pray your Arsenal hits powerful keywords. 

Zilean’s Time Bombs may not be fantastic here but his level up is likely going to be the best way to keep you ahead in this matchup. 

Kindred PnZ - Favored

Pretty much the same as the other control matchups, keep Rite for pivotal turns, stop removal with Hourglass, generally stall out until you can play a copy of The Arsenal with a TON of keywords.

Iceborn Legacy - Unfavored

Iceborn Legacy decks can be managed if they play into Zilean’s Time Bombs. Otherwise, they simply get too big too fast for you to effectively contest them. If you’re playing in a tournament and you can afford to ban the iceborn deck, do so every time. Luckily, you shouldn’t be seeing too many Iceborn Legacy decks on the ladder at this point in time.

About the Author

MonteXristo has been playing LoR since closed beta and has consistently made it to masters every season he’s been active. His accomplishments include having peaked in the top 20, taking first place in the “Streamer Sideboard Showdown” and LPP Riot Grand Prix. When he’s not writing for Mastering Runeterra he keeps his card-slinging skills sharp by playing in the Runeterra Academy tournament with his team, The Wobbly Wombats, as he tells in his Way of the Wombats article (link).