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Shen Bard, aka Shard
Shen Bard (Shard) is a novel archetype that started to show up in data about a week ago.
The deck aims to gain the upper hand in combat through Barrier effects like Moral Support, while simultaneously leveling Shen. Once Shen is leveled, he can provide additional pressure through giving +3 to units with Barrier.
Add to this board-centric game plan Bard, and you have a coherent, top-performing archetype. Shard has been putting up numbers lately, sporting a 53%+ winrate over the past seven days, with even higher numbers a couple of days ago when the deck was less known.
What pushed the deck over the edge was the addition of Kinkou Student. She directly benefits from Barriers on allies, and thus helps to level Shen and buff Greenglade Caretaker.
Furthermore, the addition of Moral Support was key for the Shen Ionia package to work with Bard. Before, Shen relied on Demacian combat tricks and Barrier spells like Prismatic Barrier and Riposte to work. Now, the Ionia region can sufficiently support Shen and we can afford to run the (card-wise sparse) The Wandering Caretaker Origin.
While this sounds great in theory, how does Shard work in practice, and why is it currently this favored in the meta?
Our voyagers took this new deck for a spin on their climb, and this is what they found:
Shard is really good at beating Illaoi Bard (Chimey Tentacles). The Barriers make it impossible for big Tentacles to out-trade us, and Homecoming protects us from Illaoi and The Sea's Voice giving a Tentacle Overwhelm.
Kinkou Student is nuts in this deck. It is the exact card Shen was missing to become good again. With our many Barrier-giving effects, we can consistently activate Kinkou Student and level Shen (or our third champ, Greenglade Caretaker) rapidly.
If you didn’t know: Ki Guardian can activate Kinkou Student and Greenglade Caretaker twice – once when we Barrier a unit in hand, and again when we play out the unit. (Note: This seems to be a bug!)
This interaction becomes significant in combat. When we attack with a Student, we threaten to indirectly give it Barrier for two mana. So either the foe blocks, and runs into a Barrier, or they don’t and we don’t have to cast the spell at all.
Our recommended list runs Ghost as a way to cheese in some damage, especially with Greenglade Caretaker; that list is the best right now, according to the data. Personally, I have found success with a non-Ghost list in Diamond, and climbed two ranks with it.
Admittedly, I didn’t play this much but I did get a few games in and I played against it enough to get a feel for the deck. I like it!
While this deck is arguably only powerful because of some bugs with Ki Guardian, Shen’s level-up and the new two-drop Kinkou Student, the deck is a lot of fun to play.
In the few games I played, I managed to find wins both through Bard and Shen. You’re able to quickly set up a wide board and go around the outside with Stand United, or go under with Ghost.
This deck does some strong things when everything goes right, but it can flop and fall prey to pings pretty easily. It’s not the best deck but it does a very good job of beating up on Bard Illaoi, you might consider taking Shen for a spin if you’re seeing lots of the Tentacle queen.
- Reapplying barrier with Shen (level 2) on the board will give his buff – in other words, a unit having Barrier does not prevent it from getting Barrier again, and Shen will again give the unit a +3 attack buff,
- Stand United can be used to block elusive units with non-elusive units,
- Commit your attack before using Bard’s Traveler's Call – use it as a combat trick (shout out to Prodigy for championing this).
Ahri Bard is another archetype that looks to target Bard Illaoi. With their Recalls, they can repeatedly stop Illaoi from getting a big attack in. And with their Chimed-up Elusives they can elude enemy blockers and push Nexus damage.
I feel like any game tips I could give would be better explained by Monte’s Ahri Bard Deck Guide, so I will leave the gameplay advice to his article!
In my games, this matchup felt almost unlosable if we drew at least two Recall spells like Homecoming or Ionian Tellstones. But what about other matchups? For a deck to have a positive WR, it needs to win against more than half the field, not just the most popular deck.
While I didn’t play a single game of Ahri Bard last season, and this was my first time trying the deck, I found surprisingly much success with it. In my 10+ games tested, I won 77% of my games at around Diamond 2/3.
Only one of those games was against Bard Illaoi! It might definitely be that I got lucky in my games (e.g. I faced Jayce Elise Sentinels twice – a matchup that I feel in theory should be problematic for us), because I don’t think Ahri Bard is that favored against the field, here’s the data from Legna’s website:
Doesn’t look so rosy, ay? =)
Despite this fact, the only archetypes I lost against were Kai’Sa Demacia ones. Their early game with Petricite Broadwing and Merciless Hunter is too fast against our small Elusive units, and if we don’t keep up the mana to bounce Kai'Sa (on an already losing board for us), we immediately suffer defeat.
But, as said above, at least from personal experience Ahri Bard worked great for me in Diamond!
Katarina Twisted Fate
The brainchild of fellow MaRu Squad member, CameronHanzo, this is the latest riff on Annie TF.
We’ve done away with Annie in favor of Katarina due to the pressure she provides. Access to Rally lets you keep the pedal pressed to the metal, constantly threatening your opponent and forcing them to play in suboptimal ways so they can get around your threat of Kat. Additionally, Katarina gives you access to free copies of Blade's Edge which will allow you to activate Ravenous Flock or Disintegrate.
I sat down with fellow MaRu Squad member and Katarina TF enthusiast SantaTCG to get my learning journey kickstarted.
Katarina Annie is a deck that wants to win the game through a combination of Tybaulk, champion pressure, and Riptide Rex. You want to get through the early game keeping your HP high, and sometimes getting chip damage. You achieve this by playing units like Marai Warden, and clearing the board with Twisted Fate or your various ping spells.
Remember that Katarina doesn’t always have to attack! You can play her for the rally alone, leaving her on the board as a blocker or to threaten Death Lotus.
This deck is a lot of fun, very strong, and a bit tricky to play. I would suggest you read Dr. Chekhov’s guide on Annie TF. While not entirely the same deck, they do play out similarly enough that there will be notes of value in that article.
I know this is the same deck I tested two episodes ago, but it was a different meta back then and I have another good reason: Currently, the ladder is swarmed by Chimey Tentacles and Kai’Sa archetypes – together they make up more than 25% of the decks played.
If we look at the currently popular archetypes on the ladder, there is no list that convincingly beats Chimey Tentacles and Kai’Sa. Azir Irelia and Jhinnie are great at bullying Kai’Sa for example, but fall short against Illaoi Bard. And for some more secret tech like Shard or Bard Ahri, they destroy Chimey Tentacles but get smacked by Kai’Sa.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a deck that beats both of those archetypes?
Ahem… I said: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a deck that beats both of those archetypes!!
*Pantheon comes flying through the ceiling*
Oh, great meta-savior! We have awaited your return for so long!
Let’s look at my reasoning behind Fated in more detail now:
Illaoi Bard can go reasonably wide to defend against aggro, but to push its advantage and go on the offense, it needs a big Tentacle. Hence, what is its main weakness? A unit bigger than Tentacle-san or Illaoi-sama.
Similarly, Kai'Sa Sivir/Mono Kai'Sa has close to no bad matchups, thanks to Kai'Sa's reliable level-up on round five or six. With Icathian Rain, it can even shoot down small units. But what does it struggle against? A chunky Fated warrior or a Fated dragon that can block Kai'Sa.
This is why I decided to dust off Pantheon Yuumi and took it for a spin on the ladder (and, let’s be honest, my never-dying love for Pantheon may have factored, too =). I decided to throw in some copies of Concerted Strike and Blinded Mystic to be even more solid against our two targets.
(I also considered Starhound Pack, but ultimately decided against it because we can’t play it before round four, when we want to start our Fated-activation chain)
In my games, the deck felt incredibly strong into Kai’Sa archetypes. In particular, the rounds when they play Kai'Sa but can’t give her Spellshield through Second Skin or Supercharge, and we can remove Kai'Sa with a combat trick, were game-winning.
Versus Illaoi Bard, Fated also performed quite well, though I got overrun in one game by too many small units. If the draws align for Chimey Tentacles, they can definitely aggro us down if we are not careful (or draw our Fated units =).
Does this mean that Fated is back? With a heavy heart, I have to say that I’m not so sure. Pantheon feels quite underwhelming in his current state (without being able to get Scout), and the lack of open attacks with Overwhelm units makes it frustrating to play against other popular matchups, like Azir Irelia with Defiant Dance or Noxus decks with Arachnoid Sentry.
If you’re looking to specifically target Kai’Sa and Bard Illaoi, I think Fated has what it takes to consistently beat them. And if you're looking for a fun ladder deck with which you will win more than you lose, Fated definitely has the potential. But if you’re looking for the absolute best to milk the winning chances out of your deck choice, it is still the better choice to join the dark side and play Kai’Sa and Illaoi Bard!
Bard LeBlanc is the brainchild of top AM player, deckbuilder, and fellow MaRu writer, Dr. Chekhov!
LeBlanc is the ideal pairing for Bard should you want to play him in Noxus – while she normally boasts great offensive power, Bard helps patch up LeBlanc’s main weakness of dying to Mystic Shot. Once she levels up, Mirror Image can and likely will win you the game.
This deck has been my best-performing deck this season. I’ve used it primarily on my climb from Plat 3 to Diamond 4 and it absolutely crushed my opposition. Over the course of thirty-four games, I managed to achieve a 70% win-rate and was even slightly positive into the various forms of Kai’Sa I encountered (final record 5-2 W-L). This was achieved by understanding the matchup and utilizing Trifarian Gloryseeker to clear off early units with keywords (so Kai’sa has no targets for Second Skin) and Bloody Business to then clear off Kai’sa herself.
This deck looks to set up a board filled with big, chonky units that your opponent will have trouble dealing with.
Once you’ve started to get on the board with your oversized units, you’ll want to aggressively swing to force trades and activate Reputation. Turning on Reputation will make your Whispered Words a two-mana draw-two, and it will make Incisive Tactician a six-mana rally. These mana discounts from Reputation let you take some very powerful mid-late game turns.
I’ve had games where I was able to draw with two copies of Whispered Words, and then drop a Trifarian Assessor to draw even more! It’s a bit nutty how much draw this deck actually has available to it when it hits.
Finishing games can get a bit weird, but you’re usually able to level LeBlanc and draw through most of your deck to find Incisive Tactician and a copy of Might. Between Rally, Overwhelm, and access to Mirror image for more attacks, attackers, or draw, you should be able to find the line that lets you close out the game.
Some things you should know about Mirror Image: it is an exact copy that also counts as a summon. This means summon effects like Trifarian Assessor’s draw, or Crowd Favorite’s buff will reapply. Allegiance also activates (if the condition is met). If you double LeBlanc, the clone will have the same progress towards another Mirror Image – this means that you can often get a second copy for free and still be able to double rally.
Illaoi Bard and Kai'Sa are surely the Forces Behind (this Meta) and the threats to beat, but no matter if you feel like fighting Chimes with Chimes (with Shen, Ahri, or LeBlanc), opting for a spicy twist of a known archetype (Kat TF), or even going back to the classic past (Pantheon), there really are lots of Ladder options.
We hope you liked this leg of our Voyage through Diamond, and see you next week!