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Zeri is Riot’s newest League of Legends champion, and once again, the studio made someone incredibly difficult to understand and explain. Zeri is, however, an extremely fun champion with a really high skill ceiling that surely won’t be mastered for quite some time. She also does mixed damage, enticing some players to try building her with ability power (AP) items.

Unfortunately for those players, despite her dealing a lot of magic damage naturally in her kit, Zeri doesn’t actually scale very well when building AP items. Sure there are a few fun things to try, and she definitely deals a nice hefty bit of burst damage when using her ultimate, but overall, Zeri’s damage is much lower when building AP compared to her other builds.

The numbers

Below are the single-target DPS numbers for her best core AP items: Nashor’s Tooth, Crown of the Shattered Queen and Rabadon’s Deathcap, with her fourth and fifth items listed in the chart. This chart shows DPS for builds with the main focus of dealing damage. The first number listed is her DPS without her ult, the second number in parenthesis is with her ult active.

Nashor’s is a must-build item for AP Zeri, otherwise her Q — which is her main source of damage — won’t even tickle her opponents. Crown is also strong on Zeri; she needs the protection thanks to her short-range and utilizes Crown’s additional movement speed mythic passive well.

Note: The numbers listed are for DPS on Zeri’s primary target. She will deal additional damage beyond this from her passthrough damage and ult passive. Each test was conducted with other dummies in the nearby vicinity for occasional additional cooldown reduction on her Spark Surge to simulate a real teamfight.

Stats for the categories are:

Base Dummy:  Squishy Carry: 50 Armor/MR, 2000 Health | Bruiser: 150 Armor/MR, 3000 Health | Tank: 250 Armor/MR, 4000 Health

Final Items Squishy Carry Bruiser Tank
Lich Bane, Void Staff 775 (1025) 525 (675) 375 (525)
Lich Bane, Shadowflame 775 (1025) 400 (525) 300 (375)
Lich Bane, Horizon Focus 675 (900) 400 (525) 300 (375)
Lich Bane, Demonic Embrace 700 (900) 400 (525) 300 (375)
Void, Shadowflame 625 (925) 400 (625) 300 (475)
Void, Horizon Focus 600 (900) 400 (600) 325 (425)
Void, Demonic Embrace 600 (825) 400 (575) 325 (425)
Shadowflame, Horizon Focus 600 (875) 325 (450) 250 (325)

If all Zeri needs to do is damage, her best build includes Lich Bane and Void Staff, along with her Nashor’s, Rabadon’s and Crown core. That build deals the most damage from squishes all the way through to tanks. But many of her other builds are comparable in damage if a player feels as though a shift is in order.

What this chart really explains, however, is how Zeri’s damage works differently while ulted or not ulted. Because of how much attack speed her ult gives, Lich Bane is less important when she’s ulting. Lich Bane really shines in the laning phase and when setting up around objectives. Plus, it gives bonus damage to towers, so it’s still a great buy on her despite its reduced importance in her ult.

Another thing to note is that her Demonic damage looks low in this chart based on a test where she was constantly DPSing a single target, but in a real fight, she may not be able to do that. In that case, hitting multiple targets and kiting would actually make Demonic stronger, since the burn would be on multiple targets and her attacks would be more spread out, to give a longer burn.

In those situations, however, Lich Bane also improves. So Zeri’s best AP DPS build definitely still includes Lich Bane, along with a Void Staff.

Other AP Zeri build options

Since she doesn’t do the best AP damage, other AP builds may offer a bit more fun playstyle. Zeri can become a tanky bruiser-style mage by buying Nashor’s and Crown (of course) along with Demonic Embrace, Rylai’s Crystal Sceptre and Cosmic Drive to increase her health pool while gaining more AP and applying a burn with Demonic. Zeri can also put the Cosmic Drive speed boost passive to good use by better weaving through teamfights.

Or, she can throw out that Cosmic Drive and get a Horizon Focus in that same build. She’d have the Rylai’s to get a lot of uptime on Horizon Focus’ passive which deals extra damage to targets she slows, along with the added bonus to any long-range W laser hits.

Zeri could also just… build all the defensive items? Zhonya’s and Banshee’s Veil don’t offer much in the way of damage, but since AP Zeri isn’t great at that anyway, these could at least allow a Zeri player to last longer in fights and bait out some of their enemies’ spells.

A well-timed Zhonya’s into a Zeri ult and dash immediately upon exiting stasis could provide her with enough time and mobility to bait out her enemies while her team gets in position to wipe them out. (This really isn’t ever likely going to be her best bet, but some people will try anything.)

At the end of the day, AP Zeri can be fun to mess around with, but even at first glance, her AP numbers don’t compare to her crit numbers in any way. She will always fail to deal as much damage when going AP rather than going AD.