Why play this deck?
Though it was developed only at the end of last season, Bard/Illaoi has kept itself on top of the last meta, and remains as one of the most consistent and strong decks in the current meta. Its win rate currently sits above 50%, ranging from 53% to 55%, which is impressive, as Kai'Sa, which was released this season, has proven herself to be quite a match to our Kraken Priestess. Both decks battle for dominance as the format's Tier 1s.
This deck is based on being another Midrange to end all Midranges, and if you like big units and broken decks, this is for sure the deck for you. It remains as a very viable option too for those that want to play something easy and well-established, besides supplying a great source of serotonin through the trap Chimes sound that rings each time you buy them.
In this article I will explain a bit how to understand, play, and dominate the ranked ladder with this extremely strong deck.
As we mentioned before, this deck plays as a classic Midrange, with the peculiarity of bringing Bard as one of its champions. Though Bard is a great strength in this deck, here we use him more because of his origin, the ability The Wandering Caretaker:
Which means we will have a lot of trap Chimes and many reasonable units becoming great threats as the turns pass. Bard provides this effect just by being put in your deck, so he isn't essential to your matches themselves.
Instead of him, we have much more important cards, such as for instance, Byrd, The Bellringer and Esmus, Breath of the World. These cards are part of Bard's set and because of him can be added to your deck. When summoned early, these units speed up your "tempo" a lot through the trap Chimes they plant on the top card of your deck and through the buff Esmus, Breath of the World provides when attacking. This greatly increases your board advantage in terms of units, be it by their status or their amount.
As for The Sea's Voice and Illaoi, they are your offensive cards, which will be your steps through the victory ladder. They create your win conditions, the Tentacles, and through Overwhelm, they offer plenty of threats on your board. Any one of them buffed by Esmus, Breath of the World or by trap Chimes already threaten enough to make your opponent concede immediately.
Tentacle Smash and Riptide Sermon, besides making more Tentacles spawn, are great removals to deal with problematic units on the opponent's board. Both are cards that increase your tempo enormously: They create units and remove units in the same action, making it so that your opponent has to run to keep up with your board development and your unit removal, all at the same time.
Your win condition most times will occur through Illaoi's Overwhelm and her Tentacles, through The Sea's Voice. We also have the fact that Bard will create even more trap Chimes on your cards as the rounds pass, so your units will be bigger and bigger and, in case he levels, the situation might escalate in your favor in an exponential way. Besides that, we have tools such as Blood in the Water to Rally and put even more pressure on our opponents.
As a classic Midrange, this deck's strongest suit is to always have favorable trades in combat and keep a board full of threats that are hard to remove. The idea of this deck is to summon big units, attack with Overwhelm, Rally and make your opponents cry, whichever comes first.
The art of Mulligan in Legends of Runeterra is extremely based on which matchup you're playing. Because of that, I've separated initial card options from this deck for each of the matchups that you might face as a player.
Against aggressive decks, keep your low cost units, such as Byrd, the Bellringer, Watchful Idol, Hired Gun, and also keep key removals such as Tentacle Smash and Make It Rain. These cards will be essential so you can hold on throughout the game and set up your offensive on later turns.
Against combo decks, your main objective will be to get to your win condition before them, so keep your board wide and buffed with the following initial cards in hand: Byrd, the Bellringer, Illaoi, and The Sea's Voice. Try to set up a lethal attack before the combos can combo!
Against control decks, you must keep Rally tools in your initial hand, such as Blood in the Water. You will probably have to attack multiple times with your tall units. Most mass removals in control decks currently only deal 2 damage, so your units that have more health than that will be in the advantage.
Favorable and Unfavorable Matchups
As not always our opponents will play in an optimized way with their decks, it is usually more productive to think about specific cards that can be the answer to your deck. When banning, in competitive formats, it is an interesting strategy to ban "cards" instead of "archetypes".
In Bard/Illaoi's case, the cards that can absolutely wreck your strategy are: removals such as Vengeance, The Ruination and Disintegrate, and freezes and barriers. Our deck doesn't have answers to the above quoted removals, though The Ruination can be played around with unit developments in defensive turns and "safe" moments.
As for freezes and barriers, we also don't have good answers to those, except for some specific buffs our deck has and the card Make It Rain (which many times will be countered by a Nopeify! by the current barrier deck, Bard/Shen). Besides that, freezes and barriers greatly slow down Illaoi's level up condition and your deck's overall rhythm, compromising our whole win condition.
However, if you want a more archetype oriented answer, we can say that Bard/Illaoi has good matchups against burn and aggros in general, because it has good low cost units which end up having even better status with Bard's trap Chimes. This makes you able to not only offer aggression in offensive turns but also defend your Nexus well in defensive turns.
Control decks are simply too slow currently to be able to hold off Bard/Illaoi's midgame and as we mentioned before, cards such as The Ruination can be avoided, and the mass removals used currently don't deal more than 2 damage to units, which already doesn't kill your deck's units. Besides that, keeping Blood in the Water in your hand can bring you the victory, as control decks suffer to multiple Rallies.
Keep in mind that playing with this deck means playing around your board, so everything you will do will be with the objective of developing better units than your opponent and keeping your board advantage through good trading.
Early game, your focus will be to potentialize the trap Chimes or even save your mana in case you have some removals in hand and good targets to use them. Try to summon early on your Byrd, the Bellringer, Esmus, Breath of the World and even The Sea's Voice, in case you get a good aggression on early turns. Pay attention to who is getting your trap Chimes, as some units are better targets than others. Specifically, Watchful Idol is a lousy target for trap Chimes, so choose your developments well at this point of the game.
Midgame, it is time to set up your offensive. Cards such as The Sea's Voice and Illaoi will be your main units for attacking, so be careful so that their buffs are well optimized. Always attack with The Sea's Voice before Illaoi and pay attention to Esmus, Breath of the World's supported ally, as increasing the Tentacle most times has more value than increasing Illaoi's status.
Late game, the only thing you can count on is that your Bard will be level 2, and all your trap Chimes will be potentialized, besides having a great amount of them in your deck. So take advantage of this to create the biggest attack possible. Using the Eye of Nagakabouros or Bard's champion spell can be a play to increase your units' status during a final attack, in case he is leveled and on your board, and this way you can get a lethal attack.
Some cards can be added instead of others to adapt this deck to the flavor of the week or day.
Playful Trickster and Citrus Courier can be options in case the meta develops into a slower feel and more control decks end up showing up in the ranked ladder. These two cards have Rally effects, which we know to be control's weak spots.
Buhru Lookout can be an option in case you need to develop two units at once on round 5. Decks such as Scouts, which have Quinn, take advantage of multiple developments, and maybe you'd like to keep up with them better. It is also a good option against removal focused decks such as Katarina/Twisted Fate which will have to work double to remove two units at once. Besides that, this unit is a great target for trap Chimes.
The List, which has already been added in a few versions of this deck, is a great addition to remove units that need to be removed immediately because they threaten the game a lot due to their effects, such as Twisted Fate, Kai'Sa, Viego, Veigar, or Lissandra. Furthermore, it is also possible to get extra attacks with Illaoi, as there are other cards in your deck that also grant enemies vulnerable.
This deck has been the focus of many bans in the competitive scene and has also kept itself as a dominant force in the ranked ladder. As we will have balance changes soon, on August 17th, it is a good idea to take advantage of this deck's strength to reach the oh-so-desired masters before it has its cards altered. I hope you've enjoyed this article, and once more, my thanks go to all that helped me write it!
See you next time!