While it may be a patch late, with this article I will have written a full guide on my Seasonals lineup (Yordles in Arms, Sion, and Aphelios Zoe) from the Magical Misadventures Seasonal, which I piloted to a 7-2 finish without top cut seeding.
A fellow testing partner and Boom Baboon enthusiast, Ptash, was also able to pilot this line up to a 7-2 finish, however he did have top cut seeding.
I believe the Piltover & Zaun flavor of Aphelios Zoe has been one of the most powerful decks in the game since Aphelios got his Moon Weapons reverted to two mana in patch 3.4.0. The deck has become even more powerful this expansion – the addition of The Winding Light gives this archetype access to a true finisher.
Breaking Down The List
Besides the new cards, a key difference between Mtucks’ deck and the lists from last season is the inclusion of Flame Chompers!.
Running three copies of Chompers in the main deck gives up some flexibility in order to lean more into the deck’s very powerful proactive gameplan. While I personally prefer a version without Chompers, the Chompers versions are more linear and a great place to start learning a deck as complex as Aphelios P&Z.
Zoe is an incredibly powerful and flexible card. She is honestly worthy of a full three copies, however, Vi provides some utility that Zoe can not.
What Zoe can do, is create a free Starchart or trade up in mana, oftentimes both. On top of that if she ever levels up it will almost always result in a won game.
It is important to recognize Zoe’s role in the matchup, though – are you trying to flip her, or should you be using her as a way to draw a card and trade up in mana?
A lot of players struggle to become proficient pilots of this deck because they don’t understand Aphelios’s role.
Aphelios isn’t a value card, he is a tempo card.
In theory, Aphelios can cycle his Weapons every turn, providing near-unlimited value. However, as the game goes long the value Aphelios provides becomes much less impactful compared to other late-game threats and engines.
When playing this deck I primarily try to use Aphelios as a way to create an immediate 3 for 1:
- I'll play Aphelios when I can get an action to have Aphelios see me play a Moon Weapon,
- The opponent will spend a card like Get Excited! or Vengeance to remove Aphelios,
- I can now cast a spell to have Aphelios generate a second Moon Weapon.
These two weapons will do a lot to help us get back some of the value we lose from playing a very cheap and low-to-ground list – since Aphelios' nerf was reverted, his Weapons costing two mana makes them very efficient tools to create powerful attacks.
Vi is a very nice one-of in this list. Being a unit with Challenger, Tough, and growing attack power, she is a very flexible and welcomed inclusion.
She can function as interaction against rival champions, something we lack since Calibrum can only target followers.
Being able to discard Chompers at burst speed allows for some incredibly powerful swings where you push lots of damage. Additionally, a zero-mana spell to play can also allow for some very oppressive Zoe level-ups or two Moon Weapon turns with only 4 mana reserved.
The Daring Poros also are great for chip damage, and if it’s a fun game, to give the board elusive after leveling up Zoe.
The Lunari Duskbringer is a great role-playing card.
A 2/1 for one mana that creates either Discard fodder or a way to enable our Nightfall units, two of our most important cards. The ability to play a round-six The Winding Light can be game-winning in many spots.
Much like the Duskbringer, the Urchin is a great role-player. Another 2/1 for one mana, but this one lets us discard cards like Flame Chompers! or Gems to cycle through our deck, to be able to constantly refill the board and find the important cards for the matchup.
My spirit animal and his trusty sidekick.
The Baboon and Chompers are key to the deck, allowing you to set up massive swings to push large amounts of damage. This especially punishing when you combine Chompers with cards like The Serpent or an Aphelios turn where you play Gravitum and Calibrum.
If you set up these turns properly, your burn and The Winding Light should allow you to easily close out the game.
With the addition of Celestial Trifecta and Sputtering Songspinner in the Worldwalker expansion, the Targon P&Z 6+ cost spell pool got much stronger – Ferros is now a very powerful inclusion in the list.
Most of the time the Goat is just a 3/2 that makes discard fodder, through Gems, on strike.
However, the Gem can be very valuable – I will usually cast Gems as: a Nightfall trigger, an Aphelios trigger to phase a new Weapon, a Zoe level-up progress, or to push damage on a wide swing.
Mystic Shot either functions as cheap removal or a little bit of extra reach. It’s hard to justify building a deck in P&Z without Mystic Shots.
Pale’s ability to keep units alive can be crucial for defending key threats, or pushing more damage when the opponent is being forced to try and remove your units on the attack.
While +1/+1 isn’t a very significant stat boost, the amount of units we can flood the board with, combined with Aphelios and Flame Chompers! incredible ability to cull the board, should make your opponent very tight on mana when it comes to answering all of your units, which can make the +1/+1 backbreaking.
It also helps us cycle through the deck to find wincons and continuously refill our board.
Get Excited! either functions as cheap removal or a little bit of extra reach. It’s hard to justify building a deck in P&Z that uses discard synergies without Get Excited.
A 4/3 for 3 mana is a great body. Sump also helps facilitate all of our discard synergies as well as cycle through the deck.
Trifecta is an insane value card that is great for randomly creating wincons.
When you cast Trifecta, you Invoke three times; you pick one option that costs between 0-3 mana, one option that costs between 4-6 mana, and a final option that costs between 7-10 mana.
The Winding Light, or dubbed by some “The Winning Light”, is perhaps the best finisher this deck could have gotten.
We have a very easy time of going five- or six-units wide on rounds six, seven, or eight. Not only does Winding Light now give you the ability to play a strong boardwide stat buff in Targon/P&Z, but you also can make your entire board evasive without Zoe's level-up.
While we can never justify keeping a Winding Light in the opening hand, it is certainly a card you want to see almost every game.
These cards are good inclusions if you want to lean away from the very strong proactive gameplan of the deck for a bit more flexibility.
Silence effects are pretty good in the current meta. If you want to lean away from the proactive gameplan and lean into how flexible the deck can be, silences can be a very powerful inclusion.
The 0-3 cost invoke pool can be very powerful and the Sketcher’s discard requirement can create very strong plays when combined with Flame Chompers!, especially if The Serpent or The Charger are Invoked.
Extra protection that can also be used aggressively, just like pale. Another card I like if you decide to lean away from the proactive gameplan and focus a bit more on the Champions.
Sub is a big Elusive unit that draws a card. He is a bit on the expensive side, but he is a good threat to topdeck later in the game. Additionally the card’s requirement of casting 10 different cards to get +4/0 on summon, is very easy to achieve in this deck through standard play patterns.
This is a proactive, aggressive deck. Please drop all other preconceived notions of Aphelios before reading further.
If it’s my opponent’s responsibility to end the game, my gameplan is very simple – I find some units to block early and I find Aphelios. And after I get Aphelios I make sure I get a unit to strike after putting a Severum on it.
It’s generally best practice to do a two Moon Weapon turn with Severum and Infernum to play around Noxian Fervor. If the Severum unit ends up striking and the Lifesteal goes off, you should win the game.
When it is my responsibility to end the game, the gameplan is a lot trickier to identify, but a lot more fun to execute!
Tempo and Layering Threats
A major reason why this deck is so strong is because it has so much tempo, in this case the “tempo” means it gets more cards than the opponent. The deck gets more cards both in the sense it gets to cast more cards, because they are cheap, and it gets to see more cards, because of all the cycling and the engines that Zoe and Aphelios provide.
You need to use this access to more cards to layer your threats in the best way possible, to stress your opponent's resources.
Layering threats refers to the order in which you decide to play out your threats (cards): your goal is to find the balance between efficiently developing your own board while making your board hard for the opponent to efficiently answer. Ideally, you can stress their resources enough to reach a breaking point in which you can create one massive attack leading to a lethal opportunity.
Understanding how to best order your threats doesn’t have some magic formula, and will change game to game, and even for the same matchup games can play out very differently.
Finding a Breaking Point
When deciding the best order to play your cards, you want to be asking yourself two things generally.
First, you want to ask, "What can the opponent do in response and how can I try and force them into an awkward play?"
Then, you want to ask yourself, "What do my future turns look like and how do I best set myself up for success?"
Through asking yourself the first question and answering it well, you should be able to layer your threats in a way to stress the opponent's mana.
Then, if you asked yourself the second question and reached a fine conclusion, you should be able to set up the turn where you can reach the breaking point and have a good opportunity to find lethal.
This can work in many different ways depending on the matchup, your hand, and the game state.
They don’t have a lot of ways to interact with Zoe if you can prevent the Roiling Sands from granting her Vulnerable, so Zoe's level-up is a great win condition.
The best way for Sun Disc to efficiently deal with Zoe is to use Quicksand on her and one other unit, to trade with them in combat and preserve some health or units. In order to best prevent this from happening, you will want to try and develop very aggressively into your attacks to force them either tap under Quicksand mana or take a lot of damage.
If you do this and properly plan out your future turns, you should be able to create lethal with Zoe level Two, or find another way to beat the Sun Disc player down due to spending too much mana to answer our one-drop.
Against a deck like this, when you have Aphelios you want to try and take advantage of the fact it can be awkward to answer Aphelios efficiently.
If you can slip Aphelios on the board at some point and he doesn’t immediately die, and you can get two Moon Weapons – one from playing him, and a second weapon from phase – you can do a lot to pull ahead in cards and convert it to meaningful damage.
Additionally, having cards like Pale Cascade to protect Aphelios from spot removal allows you to start trading up a lot of cards. Even the threat of Aphelios and making the opponent burn more mana than you do can be extremely useful, as we often can play more cards in a turn than the opponent can.
Tips, Tricks and Intricacies
Understand Zoe’s Role/Count Your Zoe Progress
Zoe’s job will change game to game.
Some games I won’t even swing with my Zoe because I value her level-up very highly, whereas other games I will happily block with her on round two after she made a Supercool Starchart.
Being able to identify Zoe’s role properly game-to-game is what makes a great pilot of this deck.
This deck is phenomenal at leveling up Zoe, and I’ve seen many players overvalue Zoe's level-up, as well as many players undervalue Zoe's level-up.
Zoe level Two can often be game-winning, but over-playing into a Zoe level-up is a quick way to lose a potentially won game. When deciding to commit for a Zoe level-up it's important to consider the amount of interaction the opponent has, how close Zoe is to leveling, what cards she has already seen, and what can your hand actually do with level Two Zoe’s ability.
Unless the opponent’s deck is very low on interaction, it's often not worthwhile to hard-commit to a Zoe flip until she has seen six or more cards. If you decide to play towards a Zoe flip too early, you can often make suboptimal lines towards facilitating other gameplans and you will fall extremely far behind if Zoe doesn’t flip for whatever reason.
What Celestial to take from Supercool Starchart
All of the Celestials from Zoe’s Starcharts can be extremely valuable and picking the most optimal Celestial can often be what determines the outcome of a game.
The Charger is a great cheap unit for being aggressive or blocking. A one-mana 4/1 is quite powerful for its cost, if pings aren’t an issue.
The Trickster is great if you need higher threat density. The 3/3 body can be a bit awkward for decks to remove, combined with the fact it has the Elusive keyword.
Moonsilver is best used for accelerating Zoe's level-up, an early Winding Light, or cheating out another Moon Weapon with Aphelios.
Crescent Strike is a great tool to stave off threatening attacks, as well as set up devastating attacks of your own. It’s important to note that the card can be a bit expensive to use offensively if you have to develop into your attack.
Aphelios is a very complex Champion, with several non-intuitive interactions. But before we get to all that, let's go through the basics of the Phase mechanic.
The Phase mechanic says “Pick the next Moon Weapon for Aphelios.” This means that if Aphelios sees you play two cards and you don’t have a Moon Weapon in hand, Aphelios will create the Moon Weapon you Phased.
This creates a few interesting interactions.
If you play Aphelios without Nightfall and you haven’t Phased during the current game yet, then when Aphelios sees you play two cards he will Phase a random weapon.
However, if you have already Phased a Moon Weapon in this game and you play Aphelios without Nightfall, then Aphelios will create the Phased weapon when you play two other cards in a round.
Similarly, if you discard the first Moon Weapon you made in a game, then Aphelios will create a random Weapon the next time he sees you play two spells in a round (since you haven't Phased a Weapon yet). But, if you Phased and then discard a Moon Weapon Aphelios will create the Phased weapon.
Another important interaction to know about Champions, is that when they level up their leveled form is like they just entered play. Meaning that, when Aphelios levels up, his "Other cards seen in the round" text reset to 0/2.
Due to this, when Aphelios has seen two Moon Weapons played, you have a Weapon in hand, and haven’t created the Phased weapon for the round yet, you can set up a three Moon Weapon rounds.
You don’t often get to do these, but if you can they are almost always huge tempo swings, if not straight-up game winning.
What Moon Weapon do I take?
When you play Aphelios in this deck, you generally want to play him in a situation in which you can guarantee to get off at least one Phase.
Since we play Aphelios with this philosophy, we generally pick our weapon off of Aphelios based on which two Moon Weapons we want.
The main three weapons you will cycle through are Calibrum, Gravitum, and Crescendum. All of these Moon Weapons essentially allow us to go up one unit on board and up one card – Aphelios creates a free card and we either kill a unit, stun a unit, or summon a unit.
However, depending on the exact spot, some Moon Weapon combos will be more valuable than others.
For example, versus Pantheon it’s generally best to generate Gravitum – Calibrum generally isn’t very effective against a tall deck like Pantheon, so we want the stun from Gravitum to remove a big unit, and we want the unit from Crescendum to be aggressive.
Additionally if the opponent stops playing followers they can lock you out of Phasing if you Phased into a Calibrum. And you can never forget about the funny Infernum Vi lines.
Start Your Rounds with Moon Weapons
When playing against decks that have interaction for Aphelios, it’s best practice to start your rounds by casting your Moon Weapon. This way, if the opponent tries to remove your Aphelios you have the option to play a spell to create your newly Phased Moon Weapon.
General Mulligan Advice and Examples
When playing this deck I am almost always looking to aggressively mulligan for my Champions.
Most of the cards in the deck are fairly interchangeable; they almost all work towards helping you efficiently get on the board and be aggressive.
Aphelios Zoe and even Vi are the cards that allow you to do a bit more than efficiently develop – these champions have the ability to create massive advantages early in the game, something most other cards in the deck can’t realistically accomplish on their own.
Unless Mystic Shot is key removal for the specific matchup, I’d never keep any cards from this hand. None of these cards allow us to be aggressive quickly by themselves, they don’t want to play together, and there is no champion to play towards.
This hand is similar, but Zaunite Urchin is a card I would often consider keeping.
It pairs very nicely with any Flame Chompers! we draw, supports our aggressive gameplan by being able to be played on turn one, and can help fix a bricked hand by replacing an awkward card.
This is a hand we are very happy to see!
We have Zoe to play on the first round – and we have the Attack Token – and have strong plays already set up for the following turns.
We can either curve up and be aggressive if the opponent wants to answer Zoe, or we can play for Zoe's value and have a Sump Dredger in our back pocket to cycle into more threats.
We already have a very powerful hand, but we still need units to get on the board with, and that we would be happy trading away.
Since we are attacking first, I probably wouldn't keep the Pale Cascade because it can be awkward to cast with the Nightfall trigger in the coming turns, and I really want units to trade with.
I wouldn’t keep the Chompers because I have no discard synergies in hand and I would like units so I'm not pressured to trade away my Aphelios or Zoe.
This is a good example of a hand where Pale Cascade is a much better keep.
We have a one-drop to allow us to get aggressive, and it can activate Aphelios on three with Pale Cascade backup to keep him safe from spot removal. I would only keep Pale if there is relevant removal we are keeping Aphelios safe from, though.
This is a very interesting mulligan. We can only consider keeping this Vi because we have the attack token on turn five.
Keeping only Vi in the mulligan can be a bit risky because we have one less look at cards that we want to be playing in the first few turns.
The upside for keeping Vi can be quite considerable, though, as she will come down with a very high attack power if she starts the game in your hand.
Additionally, a lot of decks aren’t able to efficiently deal with a Vi and will either have to give up units or mana on round five in response to us playing Vi. I would heavily consider how impactful Vi is in the matchup before I commit to keeping the Vi in my mulligan.
Specific Match Up Advice
Viego Variants - Slightly Favored
Viego decks can often have a hard time efficiently getting on the board early in the game – in the first few rounds, you want to try to be aggressive to take advantage of this.
In the mid-game, when they want to try and establish their Viego or Legion Deserter, try and take advantage of the fact they don’t have good ways to interact with Aphelios and establish one of these threats. After the opponent has gotten a Viego or Invasive Hydravine established later in the game, it is important to try and transition into a Burn or The Winding Light gameplan, to fully close up the game.
Ravenous Flock Decks - Slightly Favored to Favored
There are two ways to abuse Flock decks when playing Aphelios P&Z.
The first is to take advantage of the fact that Flock decks can’t run healing. All of the damage you push sticks, and you are very good at pushing damage.
The second way to take advantage of Flock decks is to abuse the fact they can’t efficiently deal with three-health units. This means they will have a difficult time removing Aphelios – usually needing two cards to deal with him.
This means that Aphelios will almost always put you two cards ahead of the opponent, and if you can play Aphelios when you can guarantee one Phase, then he will put you three cards ahead of the opponent.
This incremental value will add up and should lead to victory.
Pantheon decks have a hard time against swarm strategies, and we can swarm very well.
Other Demacia Midrange - Slightly Unfavored to Unfavored
Demacia Midrange can be quite difficult for a couple of reasons.
Additionally, Challengers are quite good at interacting with our key units.
Generally the best ways to beat these decks is either through going under them, or hard out-valuing them. It's your job to identify, based on your hand and the opponent's hand if you need to go under them, or outlast them.
Against Fizz Riven the match up often becomes a race, but we are very good at being aggressive and if they want to save mana to set up a combo turn we will push a ton of damage.
Additionally, if we have an Elusive blocker on turn 5 or 6, it is very hard for them to set up an OTK with Fizz, especially if you are healthy.
Frozen Thrall - Very Unfavored
This is the only matchup I truly feel bad about playing. Their removal is very efficient at managing our board, and we don’t have a good response to multiple Thralls.
The most common way I’ve found to win the matchup, besides when the opponent bricks, is to try and get a quick Zoe level-up, ideally on round five or six, and set up a lethal attack on round six or seven.
Buried Sun Disc - Favored
Sun Disc has a hard time dealing with aggression, and an even harder time dealing with Zoe. Zoe's level-up is a very common win condition in this match up.
And we can essentially never let the opponent access the Sarcophagus from the Endless Devout – between Flame Chompers!, Gravitum and Equinox, there is no reason to ever give the opponent access to that landmark. Just this one fact alone will do a lot to slow the Sun Disc player’s gameplan.
Jayce Heimerdinger SI - Slightly Unfavored
While I feel quite good about playing this matchup, it is very difficult.
You also want to make it difficult for the opponent to spend mana and develop their Champions to advance their gameplan: you want to have a play lined up to punish the opponent for spending that much mana and not interacting with your board.
The matchup is a lot about building incremental advantages while preventing the opponent from advancing their gameplan. Ideally, we can slowly build a board, maybe even get some chip damage, and set up for The Winding Light turn.
Against Heimerdinger decks, The Winding Light is very good at pushing massive amounts of damage if combined with a wide board, as Heimer’s turrets aren’t very healthy units.
The deck is very complex, and there are very few defined play patterns, so I aimed to provide a solid understanding of how the deck wants to operate. However, if you take the time to learn the intricacies of the deck, I truly believe you will be rewarded as this is one of the most powerful and well positioned decks in the game.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to read this deck guide. If you have any questions about the deck or any suggestions, feel free to reach out over Twitter, https://twitter.com/CardGamerLoR, or over Discord, Card Gamer #6777.