Fundamentally, Bard Illaoi is a midrange deck that revolves around two things:
- Abusing the fact that Spawn counts towards leveling up Bard.
- Growing your units to insane stat lines after you level up your Bard.
While most midrange decks are considered boring, I actually enjoy Bard Illaoi. The deck feels like a puzzle where every turn I have to figure out the best way to level up Bard, take board control, and advance my win condition.
First, let’s go over the key cards in this deck and what the gameplan is. The general gameplan for this deck is to simply make big units and win through large stats + overwhelm, or board control where eventually your opponent just can’t block enough of your 10/10s. The key cards for successfully accomplishing these win conditions are: Bard, Illaoi, The Sea’s Voice.
Bard is the main reason your units get so big. With Spawn counting towards Bard level up, it’s very common to be able to play a leveled up Bard on turn 5. Then after you have the leveled up Bard in play, your units just grow insanely fast. If you’re able to attack with Bard, you will start to draw Chimes like nobody’s business and no other deck in the game can keep up with your stats.
Illaoi and The Sea’s Voice fulfill the same role of winning with the large stats + overwhelm . The Sea’s Voice really shines in this deck since it has the chance to get hit by a Chime and come down as a 4/4, which is much more difficult to deal with on turn 3 than a 3/3.
Now, we’ll go over the support cards that help you accomplish your gameplan’s of large stats + overwhelm, or board control. The main support cards are: Watchful Idol, Byrd, The Bellringer, Tentacle Smash, and Riptide Sermon.
Watchful Idol is an amazing card in this deck since it helps both main gameplans. It’s essentially a 1 mana 3|3 which is already above average stats, it gives Bard 20% of his level up condition, and starts the setup for your main removal spell Tentacle Smash (more on that card in a minute).
Byrd is a staple in every Bard deck since it’s basically a 1 mana 3/2 which again is above average. It starts buffing your units immediately, and if you have a Byrd in your opening hand, you can sometimes manipulate your hand to force the Chime onto a really important card like The Sea’s Voice, Illaoi, and Bard.
Tentacle Smash is your main and best removal spell for this deck. It’s like a single combat, but also buffs your unit +3|+3 before they fight. It’s also versatile in the fact that if you need it to be, it can just be a 4 mana 3|3 tentacle, which isn’t the best use of the card, but it’s definitely not bad. If you already have a Tentacle in play, Tentacle Smash gives you 6 stats towards Bard level up (which is more than 25% of the total level up condition). So just with Watchful Idol + Tentacle Smash, you’re already 50% finished with Bard level up.
The final key card is Riptide Sermon. Riptide Sermon is another great removal spell, that also helps you with Bard level and board control. Riptide Sermon deals 4 damage which is an important break point. Having a spell that deals 4 damage is really good since you get to kill a lot of the problem cards that don’t fully die to 3 damage spells, right now the best example of this is level 1 Kai’Sa. Then on top of being a very solid removal spell, Riptide Sermon spawns 3 which again is another 25%+ towards Bard level up condition, AND the card randomly deals 2 damage to the opponent’s Nexus (I honestly have no clue why it does this).
For the last part before the mulligan guide, I’ll quickly cover the other cards in my version of the deck, and explain their purpose and go over a couple of cards I don’t play and why they’re also ok to play.
- Ye Been Warned: It’s a good way to clear opponent back row units and give you a favorable trade while also replacing itself
- Answered Prayer: cheap card to spawn 2 to either make a unit if you need to early, or a way to hyper level Bard late game by giving out 8 stats for Bard level up
- Esmus, Breath of the World: Chime + buffs Sea’s Voice on turn 3 attack
- Fortune Croaker: develops your board while draws you into chimes
- Hired Gun: It’s a good way to clear opponent back row units and give you a favorable trade. Most of the time you can for Vulnerable on the card you want it to.
- 1 Zap Sprayfin: Random Elusive win con late game. Zap can become a 6/6 elusive easily and also can draw you your Ye been warned to help you clear opponent board
- Blood in the Water: Rally broke
Cards I don’t play that other players do and are fine options for your deck:
- The List: Basically 0 man version of Ye been warned that can randomly kill a unit when paired with Hired Gun
- Shakedown: Ye been warned replacement that lets you give 2 units vulnerable instead of 1, and Shakedown also pops spellshield at burst speed so you can shakedown and Riptide Sermon/Tentacle Smash in the same action
- Make it Rain: Good against aggro as well as popping spellshield, and if your opponent doesn’t play around it, you can make it become a solid 2 for 1 spell
Mulligan and Matchup Guide:
Alright, now for the section everyone asks for, the mulligan guide. Fortunately, mulliganing for this deck is very simple and the plan doesn’t change much from matchup to matchup.
The main cards you want in every matchup and want to keep in your opening hand: Watchful Idol, Byrd, The Bellringer, and The Sea’s Voice. Aggressively mulliganing for one of these 3 key cards will make your hands much better and you’ll have explosive games where your opponent will feel like “man there’s nothing I can do here” more often. You can keep Bard and Illaoi if you already have 1 of these cards, otherwise I’d mulligan them away to find one of these cards.
Cards that are good vs specific archetypes:
Now for the Matchup Guide! I’ll go over the most played meta decks and give a mulligan guide and tips on how to play the matchup.
- Byrd, The Bellringer
- Watchful Idol
- Hired Gun
- Tentacle Smash
- Riptide Sermon if you already have 2 good cards
Bardif you have a hand that can hyper-level him (e.g. 2 Watchful Idol and Tentacle Smash)
Gameplan: Your units outgrow theirs really easily and quickly. If you can kill Kai’Sa on 5, you win. If Kai’Sa isn’t leveled you can kill her with Riptide Sermon, or if she is leveled or if they’re representing Sharpsight, you can use Tentacle Smash. Try to keep their board small so your huge units just kill them because they don’t have enough blockers.
Gameplan: Take Tentacle control. If you can keep their Tentacles in check, they won’t have a way to remove your champions or large tentacles because Tentacle Smash will be a lot less scary. Mostly, make sure you can level your Bard first so you can start to out-stat your opponent.
Gameplan: Keep their board clear.
Mulligan: Byrd, Watchful idol, , Sea’s Voice,Eye of Nagakabouros
Gameplan: Keep their board clear early, trade into their small bad units. Mid-late game your units just straight up get too big for Annie/TF to remove without drawing 3x Disintegrate. Open attacking is broken vs Annie/TF because it takes away their main stall tool of Arachnoid Sentry.
Gameplan: Basically the same as Annie/TF except easier, because Yasuo/Katarina is a much worse deck that doesn’t play Tybaulk to kill you quickly.
Gameplan: Overload the Jayce/Heimerdinger deck with threats. Most Jayce/Heimer players are going to want to pass for the first 2 turns, so you can use those turns to push a little chip damage and you get max value out of Watchful Idol. Turn 3, consider open attacking if your The Sea’s Voice isn’t a 4|4 because Jayce/Heimer is looking for a way to spend 6 mana this turn and it’s typically going to be
Lulu Sneezy Biggledust:
Mulligan: Byrd, Watchful idol, Tentacle Smash, Sea’s Voice, Hired gun to threaten Lulu on 3
Gameplan: Develop a nice board and apply as much pressure as possible. Don’t worry too much about forcing blocks from your opponent since they will always be able to refill their board then open attack you with Sneezy Biggledust! for a lot of damage. Force them to either use their attack token to trade into you, or they have to override their units on your turn, then you can do a good attack since they typically aren’t going to want to block with their new units. If your opponent isn’t representing a Flame Chompers! on turn 3, you can usually Tentacle Smash a smaller unit, then threaten a block on Lulu with the 3|3, or if you already have a Tentacle in play, you can just Tentacle Smash Lulu to be safe.
That covers 41% of the meta, and you can use the generalized mulligan guide to cover the rest of the random decks. Usually a good thing to do is figure out what deck listed here is closest to the random deck you’re playing against and use the same gameplan. For example Gwen/Annie plays really similarly to Annie/TF, so you can just use the Annie/TF guide.
If you want to see the deck in action after reading this article, check out my gameplay video!