What is this Guide about?
Set 3.5 is officially back for a limited amount of time and it received some Updates! Riot didn't simply copy pasted the final Patch, instead the Set will receive modern mechanics. This means you vote on a Galaxy at the start and you’re using the same items and Augments as in Set 10.
While the new items definitely have an impact on how to play certain units, adding Augments has a much larger impact. This can be perfectly showcased with Bard, who has become much more powerful than before.
Bard is a 3 Cost Astro/Mystic and he has both a passive and an active Ability. His Passive grants him more mana with every auto attack and his cast will spawn one Meep on your unit bench. You as the player can decide to sell these Meeps and receive 1 EXP for every Meep sold.
Activating the Astro trait will reduce his Maximum Mana from 90 to 60, allowing him to cast much more often, but since you need to find either Gnar or Teemo, who are both Tier 4 units, you usually aren't able to activate the trait early.
He also is unable to gain any mana during PVE rounds to prevent players from fielding a tank setup and farming tons of experience for free, otherwise players would always be forced to hold Bard on their bench.
March of Progress and Cruel Pact
Arguably the two most broken Augments in combination with Bard are March of Progress and Cruel Pact. March of Progress doesn't allow you to level anymore and with Cruel Pact you can push for a quick Level 7 but won't have any HP to push for Level 8 until way later into the game.
Bard can bypass the restriction of these Augments with the help of his Meeps. By farming Experience you can reach the thresholds for March of Progress faster, which in return grants you more EXP, therefore creating a snowball effect.
With Cruel Pact you have great Tier 3 and Tier 4 odds already in Stage 2, which means you have incredibly easy access to both Bard and the Astro trait. This allows you to play around Level 8, something that wasn't possible before.
Cluttered and Clear Mind
Something that isn't broken, but still worth talking about is the interaction with the Augments Cluttered Mind and Clear Mind, since they require either an empty Bench or a full Bench for you to receive the bonus EXP.
In short, the Meeps on your Bench will count as a unit and will therefore block Clear Mind and work with Cluttered Mind. Now in most cases this isn't that relevant, because unless you want to finish rolling on a specific Level, you usually just sell your Meeps anyways, as there is no benefit in stacking them.
Mana or Attack Speed Items
For Bard 2 Star the math is incredibly simple. Without Astro he needs to attack 3 times and with Astro he only needs to attack 2 times, since he will receive 20 bonus Mana with every attack even if he doesn't have a single item.
Any combination of Shojin, Blue, Adapative Helm or Nashor's Tooth should be strong enough to reduce his required attacks by one, as long as you aren't running Astro.
Reducing Astro Bard to a single attack is possible with Blue Buff + Adaptive Helm or 2x Adaptive Helm, but in most cases you will need to give him three items to fulfill this requirement.
The most popular choice for players who want to maximize Bard remains Guinsoo's Rageblade. Since he already gains so much bonus Mana from each attack, you can simply focus on a tanky Frontline in combination with a lot of Attack Speed and in some fights you will find yourself with a massive amount of bonus Experience after a single fight.
Tips and Tricks
Bard is an extremely powerful pick that you should always consider running in any board that is aiming for a fast Level 8 or Level 9. If you give him mana items you can easily transition into Astro/Snipers and with Guinsoo you can simply pivot into Xerath/Janna in late game.
He is much more powerful in early game, since fights tend to be a lot slower, so consider running for a few arounds as an economy boost and then replacing him once you need to field a stronger board.
He only has 3 Attack Range, which make him quite vulnerable and is often an easy target for Infiltrators, so make sure you protect him by placing tanky units next to him if you have face units like Shaco in upcoming fights.