Bard has certainly lived up to his namesake as the Wandering Caretaker in recent weeks, traveling from Bilgewater and Ionia down to Demacia and Noxus, leaving his mark on the meta wherever he goes. But if you’re tired of Tentacles and want something a bit more… explosive, Piltover and Zaun, or PnZ, is where we want to land.
Bard and the City of Progress seem to have a lot of potential together; Trivo took his own spin on the deck to a win in the last Seasonal tournament. While Trivo’s list featured Vi and a big pile of burn, we’re aiming lower and leaning hard on the Discard and draw package from PnZ to either rush our opponent down or to blow them out of the water with Chime value.
To understand why Bard and PnZ go together like PB&J, you need to know what each brings to the table.
The PnZ discard package has retained a strong position in the meta since release, (most recently in the Viktor/Aphelios and The Winding Light deck), because of the sheer amount of value that they offer through card generation with Boom Baboon, draw via Zaunite Urchin, Sump Dredger, and Rummage, and the real star of the show… Flame Chompers!.
Flame Chompers! is summoned instead of being Discarded, which makes it a very valuable target for our discard/draw cards. This allows us to get an action ahead of our opponents by putting two units on the board at once when summoning it with Zaunite Urchin or Sump Dredger, or we can summon it at Burst speed with Rummage to deny our opponent the chance to respond and develop additional blockers. It can also come in clutch as a Burst-speed blocker of our own!
Bard takes all of these value advantages and turns them up to 11. Each draw is now more than just another card in hand – it’s the opportunity to draw another Chime.
Thinning out our deck also makes it more likely for us to hit Chimes in the future, as Bard places three Chimes in our deck at the start of each round. Fewer cards in the deck means more Chimes per card on average, and higher chances of getting one with each subsequent draw.
In most Bard decks, you don’t want to see him until he’s leveled and you really don’t want to see two of him early… but we’re not most Bard decks! Because of our high rate of draw, we can be more careless with the caretaker. We are very likely to see another copy, and want to fill our deck with additional Chimes as quickly as possible.
Seeing a second copy isn’t bad for us either! His champion spell, Traveler's Call, does everything we want: draws us another card and triggers Chimes. Once Bard has leveled, this spell becomes even more powerful and can immediately swing the board in our favor.
Bard doesn’t like to travel alone, though, and we’re playing three copies of Byrd, The Bellringer and Esmus, Breath of the World from the Bard package, to stack the deck in our favor and ensure that we’re getting early Chimes to take over the board.
Byrd, not to be confused with Bard, makes for a strong early tempo play; they are able to trade into most things your opponent plays, and gives immediate value to your hand.
Esmus, in addition to the Chime it gives you, progresses Bard level by two each time it supports another one of your units, as it grants +1/+1 and can quickly build an immense threat if left to its own devices. We don’t have a ton of other options for leveling Bard in our deck, so keeping Esmus on board can help accelerate the big Bard beatdown clock quite a bit.
Byrd and Esmus reduce variance in our deck, and that early Chime payoff is important as they have an outsize impact on our units due to their low base stats.
Taking our units from one health to two makes them much more durable, turning previous headaches like Withering Wail or Twisted Fate’s Red Card into a thing of the past, and allowing our board to rapidly grow out of control.
Unfortunately, Blighted Ravine and Avalanche are a bit more difficult to outgrow consistently with our one-health units, but Flame Chompers! and Esmus, Breath of the World both only need a single Chime to survive. An early Esmus can help push our Zaunite Urchin or Boom Baboon out the danger zone as well!
The extra point of power is valuable as well, and not just for pushing Nexus damage. Going from two to three power is an important breaking point – three health is a common stat line, therefore three attack allows our cheap units to trade up with our opponents' more expensive units, and also block Fearsome units. Most importantly, Chimes give our Flame Chompers! a lot more bite.
Flame Chompers! is what really makes this deck shine in my opinion. Having a free 1/3 or 2/4 Challenger is incredible early on, and allows for us to force favorable trades while we push damage to face. A buffed-up Chompers will often trade with multiple enemy units before being removed, especially when Supported by Esmus, Breath of the World.
With our swap to a more aggressive discard-focused strategy, we need to leave Vi behind and nobody is better suited to take her place than her sister, Jinx. Jinx works well with this deck not only because a Chimed-up 5/4 Quick Attack unit is a menace on the board, or because the burn she provides with her Super Mega Death Rocket!, but because of the incredible value that she offers as a draw engine once leveled.
Drawing an extra card at the start of each round is great for us because it doubles our chances of hitting Chimes and accelerates the thinning of our deck, which as I mentioned before further increases our likelihood of finding additional Chimes.
One last key unit to address is Augmented Experimenter. Our augmented friend is here as our fixer; he can remove an important enemy unit, refill or replace our hand if we’re running out of gas, draw us a ton of chimes, or ideally do all three! I initially hated this card because I didn’t want to be forced to discard buffed-up units, but it typically finds you at least one more unit and plenty of chimes to make up for the cards you lost.
As far as spells go, the most popular blend is currently running three copies of Mystic Shot, Rummage, and Suit Up! with two copies of Iterative Improvement. Mystic Shot provides us with some removal and additional burn, but you need to be careful with how you use it! It is your only source of Fast-speed removal. and your only burn outside of Super Mega Death Rocket!.
Rummage is here for a few reasons: it allows us to Burst-summon Chompers, draw more cards and Chimes, and level up Jinx or create a Super Mega Death Rocket! at Burst speed.
Iterative Improvement progresses Bard' level-up by 2 and gives us some flexibility in our play patterns (stealing Tybaulk is amazing!). Copying a Flame Chompers! is often a good option as it gives you more discard fodder and a 1/3 Challenger unit.
Suit Up! works very well with our game plan as the buff of the targeted unit counts towards Bard’s level-up and can set up burst lethal or more favorable trades after our opponent has declared their blocks. Creating a 4/4 Elusive by casting Suit Up! on Esmus is good, but Suit Up! is especially strong when combined with Flame Chompers!.
Lulu and Chompers is an incredibly strong combo that has been around for a while, but the stats fade after a single turn. Suit Up! lets us grant those stats instead, and without spending unit mana on something that could be removed before we gain value. Did I mention that it’s at Burst speed?
Piloting the Rocket
So now you know the cards, let’s get down to our General strategy. At its core, our game plan revolves around generating value with Chimes and our discard package to make favorable trades on the board, and drain our opponent's resources while smorc-ing their Nexus into oblivion. One of the key synergies that makes this deck work is Flame Chompers! and Chimes.
Chompers are a powerful board-control tool with boosted stats from Chimes, Esmus, Breath of the World, or Suit Up!. It is our main method of forcing unfavorable trades from our opponent, and gives us the ability to find face damage faster. We can also use an unboosted Chompers to just push more Nexus damage when needed, but most of the time it is better for us to let a few Chimes hit it first.
We can combo this by using Rummage on Chompers and then, with a little luck, a Suit Up! draw can give us a 4/4 Challenger and draw us two cards at Burst for four mana. And even at six mana this is a strong play for us, and can be an incredible tempo swing in our favor by removing our opponent’s champions or clearing their board.
Keeping this in mind, we always want to try and find Byrd, The Bellringer and Boom Baboon or Zaunite Urchin in our mulligan. You can keep Flame Chompers! in your opening hand as well if you already have Byrd or Zaunite. We don’t want to keep Chompers by themselves, to avoid risking having to play it at cost and potentially without any Chimes on them.
In the early game we have a couple of options – we can stick the tried-and-true discard aggro approach and flood the board at first and then switch to burn to finish our foe, or take a slower, more grind-ey approach to kill them with Chime value over time.
When trying to decide which way to go, think about whether they can punish a wide board, and if they can keep up with your development. For example, Lissandra Taliyah can’t develop as quickly as we can, but Blighted Ravine or Avalanche can stop us dead in our tracks.
As we reach the midgame, we can look to level Jinx to accelerate our Chime draws and give us additional burn via Super Mega Death Rocket! to finish off their Nexus.This is also where our Augmented Experimenter comes into play.
Our excitable Experimenter can do a lot for our board, all at once. He will automatically level Jinx and also gives us the ability to get off a Super Mega Death Rocket! on the same turn if we need that last bit of Nexus burn, most likely via Rummage. The Experimenter also draws us three new cards, which can draw us more Chimes!
Augmented Experimenter can’t be played until round six, which means that our Chimes are more concentrated and we’re more likely to hit a few. This can be important for finishing off our Bard level-up or with a Bard (level 2) in play this amount of draw can result in a huge stat boost for our board.
Aggro? Control? We’ll Blow Them All Up!
How we approach our game plan and mulligan for each match varies wildly based on our opponent and the tools they have available.
Jinx and Bard dominate aggressive decks; the deck currently has >60% win rate against Annie Jhin and Azir Irelia. It also smashes Draven Sion with a 72% win rate! Against these decks we actually want to play slower and go for value plays. Just like bigger Demacia always beats smaller Demacia, the same goes for aggro – the slightly slower deck has the upper hand. Our units can get bigger than theirs to force uneven trades, and we can also trade more aggressively as we outlast them with our draw engines.
Having an early curve to block is the most important as we are still vulnerable to burn – like Decimate or Get Excited! – later in the game since we have no way to heal. Match their development tempo and don’t be afraid to open-pass if you are even on board: they are under much more pressure to make plays early as we will always win the late game with Chimes if we keep our Nexus out of burn range. This play style also gives us better opportunities to punish their development with a souped-up Flame Chompers!.
Against Demacia midrange decks, with the exception of Kai'Sa, we want to play out an early curve and force trades down the board. Finding our Boom Baboons and Chime generators is important to push early damage and keep them from developing a wider board for swings with For Demacia! or Golden Aegis. Flame Chompers! helps us to control their board as well, by removing their threats or moving their blockers out of the way to allow for us to push more Nexus damage. We can also go for the late game with Bard if we are able to keep our opponent’s board manageable through turns five to seven.
Against Kai'Sa decks we are at a severe disadvantage, though. We lack any form of hard removal for her, and taking her down on rounds five or six is only possible with all three Mystic Shots in our deck as Augmented Experimenter’s effect only puts out 3 damage, leaving enough mana on turn 6 for a single Mystic Shot. They also tend to run Radiant Guardian, which makes finishing with burn more difficult. It is possible for us to outgrow the enemy board if they cannot find their Kai'Sa by round six, but Rite of Calling makes this unlikely.
Thankfully we have a better match with the other juggernaut on the ladder, Illaoi Bard. This is one of the few games where I will keep Bard in my opening hand if I have my early game tools, like Byrd, The Bellringer or Zaunite Urchin, because our endgame plan is to just be bigger than our opponent and accelerating our level-up is an important part of that. We are able to outdraw our opponent by a large margin, giving us more Chimes as the game goes on. They can also struggle with managing a wide board efficiently early, making the aggro plan viable.
We CANNOT let them keep a Tentacle growing on board, though. Once they have gotten past two health it is very difficult for us to remove and they can plow right through our board with The Sea's Voice or Illaoi. If we can manage their Tentacles, this matchup is absolutely winnable.
Against Noxus control, like Annie Twisted Fate, our goal is to force them to make two-for-one trades with Chimes and Esmus, Breath of the World, and exhaust them of their resources. It is very expensive for them to deal with a board of two-health units as most of their spells only do one damage, like Make it Rain or Blade's Edge, before they finish their Ravenbloom Conservatory. Some variants are swapping out Annie for Katarina, so I prefer to hold a Mystic Shot for when they drop Katarina to prevent her from leveling, and limit the value they generate when resummoning her.
Freljord and Shadow Isles control decks can be a bit prickly for us. Avalanche and Blighted Ravine can quickly wipe our board unless we’ve managed to get our units above two health, and pings like Vile Feast can finish them off. If we wait too long to develop, The Ruination or Buried in Ice become awkward to play around, and our opponent gets closer to dropping their late-game bombs.
Our best chance to win is to find early Chimes and develop a threatening enough board to keep them from ramping, while also making their Avalanche and Blighted Ravine plays inefficient. If we’re able to get a Bard (level 2) on board before the Frozen Thralls thaw or our opponent drops Feel The Rush, we can outgrow their units and force them to trade away their win conditions.
Jayce Heimerdinger is a unique SI archetype that can be problematic if they are able to land the turret factory safely on board. If Heimerdinger is able to start pumping out turrets, the opponent will be able to trade down and refill even faster than we can, not to mention the additional value from the spells they are casting.
Similar to the other control decks, we want to maintain constant pressure to force them to spend mana to deal with our board, thus preventing them from developing their key units, while hoping that we find enough damage to kill Heimerdinger as soon as he is played. This may mean skipping an attack on turn five if your only response in hand is to drag him with Flame Chompers! and you aren’t threatening a significant amount of Nexus damage.
Removing Heimerdinger is also important because we have a huge problem on our hands if they produce an Mk6: Floor-B-Gone. We only have three Elusive blockers in our entire deck, and our only other options are Mystic Shot or Augmented Experimenter, both of which we would rather aim at their champions.
Ahri & Nami
Our limited responses to Elusive threats and general lack of removal outside of Flame Chompers! show up in a couple of other meta decks, specifically Ahri Bard and Nami Twisted Fate.
Ahri Bard is able to ignore our board, or just Recall it, and go over us with Elusive units. Recall with Homecoming is especially bad for us as it will typically draw them a card and remove any of the stat buffs on our unit when it returns to our hand. Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed, Shadow Assassin, and Dancing Droplet help them to keep up with our draws as well, making it difficult to out-value them.
Nami decks can be an issue for us as well, because they can both outgrow our side of the board once Nami is leveled, and go over it with their Elusives. Fleet Admiral Shelly and a couple of Wiggly Burblefish or a Zap Sprayfin can quickly become an issue. They have limited options for dealing with units that have more than two health, though, and we can significantly slow down their Nami level-up with our board pressure.
Rocket Tech Tips
The current deck shell is very solid and I wouldn’t recommend changing it too much, but we do have room to slot in a card or two depending on personal taste and which way the meta winds blow.
My current list swaps out an Augmented Experimenter for a Piltovan Tellstones.
I chose to swap in the Tellstones for flexibility, giving me the option to remove an enemy threat with Aftershock, draw three with Progress Day!, or go for a sneaky lethal with Hextech Transmogulator without discarding my hand.
Another card to consider is Slotbot. Slotbot may seem out of place, but the Round start stat buff (for each card that we’ve drawn) and the following stat swaps counts twice for progressing Bard. Combine this with the amount of draw in our deck and we can level Bard insanely quickly.
Aloof Travelers can also find a solid home in our deck. It helps create card advantage and finds us more Chimes. Its lower stat line isn’t as big of an issue with Chimes, and the potential to force our foe to discard The Ruination or Buried in Ice can swing the late game into our favor.
Most other cards that I tried ended up being clunky to play (I wanted Scavenged Camocloaker to work so badly!!) or just worse value compared to the current list.
Jinx Bard is a fun revitalization of the old Discard Aggro archetype and has given Jinx a viable deck for the first time in several seasons. I hope you learned a little reading about my favorite rocketeer, and best of luck blowing up the ladder!