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Learn, or Drown!! – an Illaoi Bard Deck Guide

It's been a while since a deck was so dominant in Ladder – Leer dives into Chimes and Tentacles to share tips and insights for Illaoi Bard

Illaoi Bard has been putting up one of the highest winrates on the ladder one week prior to and after the Forces From Beyond expansion. It combines the powerful IllaoiIllaoi package with BardBard’s ChimeChimes to get a head-start on the board, while leveling BardBard through the Spawn mechanic.

Regions
Bilgewater
30 cards
Runeterra
10 cards
Rarities
26 100
champion
6
epic
3
rare
7
common
24
Mana cost
0
0
8
1
11
2
3
3
9
4
6
5
3
6
0
7+
Champions
6
4
Bard
3
Bard
4
Illaoi
3
Illaoi
Followers
18
1
Byrd, The Bellringer
3
Byrd, The Bellringer
1
Watchful Idol
3
Watchful Idol
2
Esmus, Breath of the World
3
Esmus, Breath of the World
2
Fortune Croaker
3
Fortune Croaker
2
Hired Gun
3
Hired Gun
3
The Sea's Voice
3
The Sea's Voice
Spells
16
1
Ye Been Warned
2
Ye Been Warned
2
Answered Prayer
2
Answered Prayer
4
Tentacle Smash
3
Tentacle Smash
5
Blood in the Water
2
Blood in the Water
5
Cosmic Binding
1
Cosmic Binding
5
Eye of Nagakabouros
3
Eye of Nagakabouros
6
Riptide Sermon
3
Riptide Sermon
Open deck in builder

LoR Deck: Illaoi Bard Breakdown

LoR Deck Illaoi Bard -- Bard, our Chiming Champion

If you’re reading this, you probably know how IllaoiIllaoi functions. We want to Spawn a big TentacleTentacle that in turn grows IllaoiIllaoi into a gargantuan, Overwhelming menace. Since this is a guide, let’s go over our TentacleTentacle techniques:

The Squids

Illaoi

As mentioned above, our goal is to get a big TentacleTentacle that on attack buffs IllaoiIllaoi’s attack stat. Especially once we level her, Illaoi (level 2)Illaoi (level 2) makes it easier for us to Spawn a new TentacleTentacle should the old one die.

Since we won’t draw IllaoiIllaoi in every single game, we need a backup plan to win. Since we’re good at creating a high-attack unit, why not give it Overwhelm to push for lethal? The Sea's Voice does exactly that on attack. 

While she might be a three-drop, we usually won’t play The Sea's Voice on curve, but rather wait till we have a strong enough TentacleTentacle to push enough damage.


With these two cards we’re able to win the game with big feelers. But how do we get our big bois down in the first place?

Watchful Idol Answered Prayer Eye of Nagakabouros

Watchful IdolWatchful Idol is our MVS (most valuable Spawner). If we play this in round one, we get a 3|3 TentacleTentacle in round four, perfectly in time for IllaoiIllaoi and our other cards relying on TentacleTentacles.

Answered PrayerAnswered Prayer is another way of swiftly summoning a TentacleTentacle. It’s less powerful than our MVS, so we usually won’t keep it in our Mulligan and only run two copies of it, but it’s still useful to enhance our TentacleTentacle-reliant deck.

We almost never want to spend five mana with this card, by the way. Quick math tells us that we can either pay two mana to Spawn two, i.e. pay one mana per Spawn, or pay five mana to Spawn four, i.e. pay 1.25 mana per Spawn. Also, if we spend five mana on this card, we will oftentimes tap out of mana to threaten an IllaoiIllaoi or Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash.

Eye of NagakabourosEye of Nagakabouros is an efficient all-rounder that Spawns at Burst Speed, while also refilling our hand. Simply having the threat of playing this card while blocking/attacking makes it dangerous for our opponent to block our TentacleTentacle, giving us an edge.


No deck is fun if it can’t interact with the foe’s board. Let’s take a look at how Illaoi Bard is able to do this through even more…

…wait for it…

TentacleTentacles!

Tentacle Smash Riptide Sermon

If Watchful IdolWatchful Idol is our MVS, Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash is our MVR (most valuable removal) (author’s note: most valuable smasher would be cooler, but that would be double naming MVS).

Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash will oftentimes trade two-for-one, especially if we have a TentacleTentacle before playing Smash. It also Spawns, which means it works great with IllaoiIllaoi. Think about lines of play like:

R1: Watchful IdolWatchful Idol -> R3: Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash -> R4: IllaoiIllaoi -> Attack

… which are difficult to deal with for any opposing archetype.

Riptide SermonRiptide Sermon is the latest addition to the list, originating from the Forces From Beyond expansion. It complements our MVR as the only other direct-damage spell we run in our list, and similarly to Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash, it also Spawns (and it even damages the opposing Nexus on top of that). Notice a difference, though: 

Riptide SermonRiptide Sermon doesn't require our Tentacle and the target to strike each other – on the one hand, it means that in Riptide's case the Tentacle will always survive, but on the other hand it means that Riptide will always deal exactly four damage (unlike Tentacle Smash, which will deal as much as damage as the Tentacle is big). 

It turns out that four damage is the perfect number (JhinJhin would agree!) for dealing with most champions, e.g. GwenGwen or YasuoYasuo (or, again, Jhin!). Dealing two damage to the Nexus looks negligible at first, but sometimes this two damage is all we need to set up a lethal attack.


Before we talk about BardBard, let’s look at our other means of interacting with the enemy board:

Ye Been Warned Hired Gun Cosmic Binding

When you play BardBard, it turns out that you have to include 30+ cards of one region into your deck. This means that not all 30 of those cards will be S-Tier. Ye Been WarnedYe Been Warned is one of those filler cards.

You might remember the more popular Illaoi pairing with Demacia (known by some as “Squid Surprise” =) which worked so well in part because it had access to the powerful combat tools of Demacia, like Single CombatSingle Combat and Concerted StrikeConcerted Strike.

Since Bard Illaoi doesn’t have access to those tools, we have to get a little more creative at interacting with our foe’s units. Ye Been WarnedYe Been Warned is the result of that. 

The payoff of this card is manyfold: 

For once, we can target a key threat to make it Vulnerable and force it into combat. For example, a low-attack unit like an opposing BardBard can be a great target. 

On the other hand, we can pick a weak unit that IllaoiIllaoi or our TentacleTentacle can challenge to push damage while not dying. 

And obviously, if we succeed at killing the target, we can cheaply cycle our hand.

Ye Been WarnedYe Been Warned might be a filler card, but let me tell ya, this spell is no deadbeat either – Ye Been Warned! =)

Hired GunHired Gun on the other hand is an S-Tier follower in the current meta. Its 2|3 statline means that it oftentimes trades two for one, and the Vulnerable-granting effect can hit vital opponents like Kai'Sa or IreliaIrelia to set up a devastating attack.

Cosmic BindingCosmic Binding is one of the flex slots in this list that can be replaced by a multitude of other cards (see Tech Choices below). In the current meta, when one big threat like Kai'Sa or IllaoiIllaoi attacks, a stun can buy us that one final turn to set up a lethal attack.

Note that you need two targets on the board for Cosmic BindingCosmic Binding to Stun (similar to Bard’s LoL ability =), so keep a second enemy unit alive if you rely on the Stun effect!


The BardBards

Bard Byrd, The Bellringer Esmus, Breath of the World

I doubt that you’re reading this guide and don’t know what BardBard does. It’s always the same thing: BardBard shuffles ChimeChimes in our deck every turn, and eventually, we will draw them to buff up our units in hand.

The reason BardBard works in this deck is because growing a Tentacle through the Spawn mechanic counts as buffing a unit, thus progressing BardBard’s level-up condition. 

This means that BardBard can be leveled around round six and above. When our foe has costly dealt with IllaoiIllaoi and her TentacleTentacle, chances are high that they can’t remove the following BardBard. Since he will be leveled by then, BardBard can easily run away with the game by out-valuing our opponent on board.

Byrd, The BellringerByrd, The Bellringer is one of the strongest one-drops in the game since it can give you a head start on board, especially if its ChimeChime lands on IllaoiIllaoi

Esmus, Breath of the WorldEsmus, Breath of the World is another one of these filler cards that is here because we have to put 40 cards in our deck. It doesn’t do as much as Byrd, but its ChimeChime can still be game-deciding. In the late game, Esmus can be a threatening attacker if a couple of ChimeChimes land on it.

Fortune Croaker Blood in the Water

Fortune CroakerFortune Croaker is just another way of cycling through our hand and getting to our more important cards. The nice thing about BardBard is that playing weak units that draw a card is strong because we can draw multiple ChimeChimes and get an additional body to get buffed by BardBard.

Blood in the WaterBlood in the Water is the good old win-more mechanic better known as Rally. Once again, we try to mimic Demacia's Golden AegisGolden Aegis and CataclysmCataclysm to compensate for our lack of a second region!


Tech Choices

Let me show you the most popular Illaoi Bard list on the ladder right now:

Regions
Bilgewater
31 cards
Runeterra
9 cards
Rarities
27 000
champion
6
epic
4
rare
6
common
24
Mana cost
0
0
8
1
12
2
3
3
11
4
4
5
2
6
0
7+
Champions
6
4
Bard
3
Bard
4
Illaoi
3
Illaoi
Followers
19
1
Byrd, The Bellringer
3
Byrd, The Bellringer
1
Watchful Idol
3
Watchful Idol
2
Esmus, Breath of the World
3
Esmus, Breath of the World
2
Fortune Croaker
2
Fortune Croaker
2
Hired Gun
3
Hired Gun
3
The Sea's Voice
3
The Sea's Voice
4
Zap Sprayfin
2
Zap Sprayfin
Spells
15
1
Ye Been Warned
2
Ye Been Warned
2
Answered Prayer
2
Answered Prayer
2
Make it Rain
2
Make it Rain
4
Tentacle Smash
3
Tentacle Smash
5
Blood in the Water
1
Blood in the Water
5
Eye of Nagakabouros
3
Eye of Nagakabouros
6
Riptide Sermon
2
Riptide Sermon
Open deck in builder

As you can see, it is viable to run Zap SprayfinZap Sprayfin in this archetype and cut copies of Riptide SermonRiptide Sermon and Blood in the WaterBlood in the Water for it. Zap SprayfinZap Sprayfin has the upside of drawing us an additional card and being an Elusive that can push serious damage once buffed by ChimeChimes or BardBard (or both!). On the downside, Zap is a four-mana play (technically three mana thanks to its Attune, but we still have to pay 4 non-spell mana upfront) for a 2|2 body, which is far from ideal. It also doesn’t support our IllaoiIllaoi game plan.

Since we need to have enough spells in our deck to draw with Zap, we also play two copies of Make it RainMake it Rain. And that’s exactly why I don’t like this list. 

Make it RainMake it Rain trades one-for-one in the best-case scenario in a lot of matchups, and zero-for-one in most of the other ones. It’s not even that good against aggro, since they play two-health units like Legion RearguardLegion Rearguard and we can’t deal another point of damage after Make it RainMake it Rain. A half-decent player will be playing around Make it RainMake it Rain with very few problems.


Speaking about lists – The ListThe List is a popular replacement for Ye Been WarnedYe Been Warned. Maybe I miss the point of this card, but I don't think The ListThe List is that great. You can only make an enemy Vulnerable through Hired GunHired Gun which is too early in the game to effectively use the free Attack effect of The ListThe List

That being said, it’s nice to have a  zero-mana threat of making an enemy Vulnerable, meaning your foe will always have to be on the lookout. On ladder though, opponents don’t know your decklist, so they will have to decide if they play around The ListThe List no matter if you run it or not. 

The real advantage I see in this card is against aggro, where you might not have one mana open. In this setting, removing one attacker for zero mana is great, because IllaoiIllaoi decks struggle to go wide and defend against aggro archetypes.


Mulligan

Watchful Idol Tentacle Smash Illaoi

Our main-line Mulligan is simple: Find our MVS, MVR, and IllaoiIllaoi. Everything else takes a back seat and only gets consideration once we have one of the above.

Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash is an S-Tier spell. We want to keep it almost always, no matter the matchup. It can kill AnnieAnnie or GwenGwen in an aggro/control match, remove a backline threat like ApheliosAphelios or Kai'Sa, or gain us a tempo advantage by killing a two-attack unit and trading two-for-one.

Similar things can be said for IllaoiIllaoi. While she doesn’t remove enemy cards, she removes the enemy Nexus. As soon as we draw a single TentacleTentacle card, she becomes a serious threat that needs to be dealt with. And because of her high health, she will often trade two-for-one as well.

Our last staple card is Watchful IdolWatchful Idol. This is a true 'always keep'. We never, ever think about throwing this card away. It gives us a 3|3 TentacleTentacle for one mana that enables our entire deck.

Reader: But, Priestess, what if…

Illaoi: No! The Sea cares not for “what if”! We keep Watchful IdolWatchful Idol in our opening hand – LEARN, OR DROWN!!

Answered PrayerAnswered Prayer can be a keep, but only if we have IllaoiIllaoi or Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash in hand. Otherwise, we never keep it, since it doesn’t do enough on its own. 

Riptide SermonRiptide Sermon is great in a midrange or control setting where we can disrupt a foe's key threat, like GwenGwen in a control deck (not against aggro, though!!!). It’s somewhat of a high-risk keep in the Mulligan, because it will be dead for the first three turns. And if our opponent doesn’t end up giving us a target, we can’t just pass with six mana open – they can pass back, waste our mana, and get a tempo advantage.


About Byrd, The BellringerByrd, The Bellringer

Even though Byrd is always useful, we only keep him in matchups where we need a one-drop. Instead of thinking, “Is this a good card?”, ask yourself, “Does this win us the game?” 

In most matchups, the answer is no. We oftentimes want to find a Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash to deal with threats like AkshanAkshan; or find IllaoiIllaoi to progress our game plan. If we have our core pieces, we can think about keeping Bryd. But before that, focus on finding more important cards.

If we happen to get Watchful IdolWatchful Idol and Byrd in our starting hand, The question arises of what to play first. 

In most cases, I will go for Watchful IdolWatchful Idol to get the Spawning going, and because hitting a ChimeChime on Idol sucks since it doesn’t change the amount we Spawn. 

It can also be a useful trick to Spawn one (or two) from Idol, trade away the 1|1 (or 2|2) TentacleTentacle, and Spawn a new one. Especially versus enemies that want to go wide (e.g. Aphelios Viktor or Jhinnie), this is a great way of trimming down the enemy board instead of remaining with one big Tentacle.

On the other hand, if our opponent plays a Legion RearguardLegion Rearguard, we sure as heck play Byrd, The BellringerByrd, The Bellringer first! =)


Matchups

LoR Deck Illaoi Bard -- Illaoi, our Win Condition

Kai'Sa archetypes – slightly unfavored

Golden Aegis Valor

Mulligan: Hired GunHired Gun, Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash, IllaoiIllaoi, Riptide SermonRiptide Sermon

This matchup can go two ways. Either you start with IllaoiIllaoi in hand and try to push your Tentacle game plan before they level Kai'Sa, or you don’t and then play the reactive game.

Removal like Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash and Riptide SermonRiptide Sermon are your friends, alongside Hired GunHired Gun. It is entirely about Kai'Sa, so always think about how they could play her in the current or following round.

Threaten to play your Removal by keeping enough mana open and not attacking. Remove cards like ValorValor on round four to prevent Kai'Sa from copying its keywords with Second SkinSecond Skin

Remember that once they play Kai'Sa, you get an action to play a slow spell before they can cast the Focus-Speed Second SkinSecond Skin.

Only attack when you threaten a substantial amount of damage with a big TentacleTentacle and IllaoiIllaoi. Or when you hold Blood in the WaterBlood in the Water. Since it is a one-of in most decks, I don't think it’s a good idea to bluff having the Rally effect. 

This matchup can get rough if they level Kai'Sa in round five and have several copies of her. If you granted her Vulnerable, open-attack to play around Barrier effects like Brightsteel ProtectorBrightsteel Protector and Golden AegisGolden Aegis.


Azir Irelia – favored

Sparring Student Domination Defiant Dance 

Mulligan: Hired GunHired Gun, Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash, IllaoiIllaoi

The reason this matchup is favored for us is IllaoiIllaoi’s level-up condition. By repeatedly blocking Azirelia’s Sand SoldierSand Soldiers and BladeBlades with a TentacleTentacle, we rapidly level IllaoiIllaoi and threaten to finish the game. 

Even if they have one Recall effect like Defiant DanceDefiant Dance, we can just replay IllaoiIllaoi/our TentacleTentacle. Only if they can bounce them several times while having an unanswered AzirAzir/Emperor's Dais on board do things get rough for us.

Hired GunHired Gun and Ye Been WarnedYe Been Warned are great for removing frail followers like Sparring StudentSparring Student, Greenglade DuoGreenglade Duo, and DominationDomination.


Sneezy Lulu – favored

Lulu Flame Chompers! Sneezy Biggledust!

Mulligan: Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash, Hired GunHired Gun, Byrd, The BellringerByrd, The Bellringer

In a nutshell, we kill them before they kill us and that’s why we win.

Tentacle SmashTentacle Smash is a game-changer because we can disrupt LuluLulu. Even if we don’t find it, growing a TentacleTentacle bigger than a 4|4 means that it either survives the Flame Chompers!Flame Chompers! combo of LuluLulu, or blocks LuluLulu when she attacks. 

Hired GunHired Gun is also great because she stops our enemy from attacking with units that have less than three attack, like Zaunite UrchinZaunite Urchin


Twisted Annie – slightly unfavored

Ravenous Flock Disintegrate Arachnoid Sentry

Mulligan: IllaoiIllaoi, Zap SprayfinZap Sprayfin, Byrd, The BellringerByrd, The Bellringer

We keep Byrd, The BellringerByrd, The Bellringer to block early damage from units like House SpiderHouse Spider and Arachnoid SentryArachnoid Sentry.

This matchup is miserable because our opponent can cheaply remove our TentacleTentacles and IllaoiIllaoi with Ravenous FlockRavenous Flock, DisintegrateDisintegrate, and Scorched EarthScorched Earth.

We also get punished for developing before attacking because of TF’s Gold CardGold Card and Arachnoid SentryArachnoid Sentry

On paper, the match is still slightly favored for us though. This is because they can eventually run out of removal, and if the stars align, a leveled BardBard can win us the game. 

Maybe I’m biased because I have a negative WR against Annie TF, but at least to me, this matchup feels slightly unfavored.

Otherwise, I found that ChimeChimed-up Elusives can push a significant amount of damage. We put them in a difficult spot when they have to kill/Stun Zap SprayfinZap Sprayfin and potentially give us an opening for our TentacleTentacle game plan. That involves us running Zap in the first place though.


Conclusion

LoR Deck Illaoi Bard -- Watchful Idol, probably our best card

Illaoi Bard is a by-the-books midrange deck that differentiates itself from other, less interactable archetypes like Kai'Sa Demacia by reacting to the opponent’s board. 

With its diverse tools, there are few matchups for Illaoi Bard that stick out as bad, especially in this midrange and combo meta.

Suppose you want to bring this archetype for a Gauntlet run or other Bo3 setting (like the upcoming Mastering Runeterra Subscriber tournament). In that case, you could pair it with Sneezy Lulu and Annie TF, looking to ban Kai'Sa archetypes and prey on Irelia Azir. 

To be honest though, Illaoi Bard has such a great matchup table across the board, that you can pair it with any two coherent decks and have a solid lineup.


I hope you enjoyed this in-depth guide and have learned something new. I encourage you to try out your own decklist and make your own experience with Illaoi Bard, who I lovingly nickname Chimey Tentacles! =)

If you have any questions about the guide, don't hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter (@Leer97) or Discord (Leer#2026)! 

I’m also open to feedback and advice on how to improve the next guide for you, so please tell me what you’d like to see next!

Thanks for reading and see ‘ya in the next guide! =)


LoR Deck Illaoi Bard -- Hope you have enjoyed your deck guide!

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