Why Merit? Why Merit Bard?
It's easy to tell who's merited and who isn't. Merited BLMs do more damage and get access to spells that unmerited BLMs don't, merited DD do more damage and have access to abilities and traits that unmerited DD don't. The same is true of endgame bards. Most endgame shells require applicants to have made at least an attempt to improve their jobs beyond the 75 EXP cap.
The problem is, of course, that you're limited to a certain number of merits in particular categories, the most problematic of which are 'Magic Skill' and 'Combat Skill.' Using my own situation and choices as an example: I have both BRD and RDM at 75. Deciding to cap both wind and singing skill to 8/8 meant, conversely, that I couldn't cap enfeebling magic and elemental magic. This means that deciding to merit my Bard job was also a decision to permanently cripple my Red Mage job in comparison to other merited RDMs.
Although I like RDM well enough, I chose to merit BRD because I spent more time on the job and eventually I just happened to prefer playing it over my RDM. On the one hand, meriting BRD made me a less flexible player -- on the other, it made me a much stronger BRD.
Merits are also the single cheapest way to improve your favorite job. A fully merited bard can get by on cheap gear, and even outperform someone with 'better' gear. Going 8/8 wind/singing skill merits is equivalent to wearing an extra +32 skill casting wind-based buffs and debuffs, and an extra +16 skill casting string-based buffs and debuffs. Nothing to sneeze at.
How to Know if You're Ready to Merit Bard
Only merit BRD skills if you like spending all of your time on the job. 'Fully merited' bards are incredibly rare in the endgame scene because meriting BRD means not meriting any other mage jobs, and also tends to mean being 'stuck' on BRD for the duration of your endgame career. Even a few BRD skill merits will make a noticeable difference in your resist rates. Merit bard if you don't mind this -- but be aware of the risks!
However, if you're not a main bard but you have the job leveled and want to use it as a stepping stone into an endgame shell, merits can sweeten the deal and increase your chance of acceptance. You can avoid becoming a main bard by limiting yourself to the BRD Group 1 and Group 2 category merits.
What to Merit
I have two paths of advice, one for diehard mainjob bards, and one for the serious endgame players who have it leveled and want to perform well -- but would prefer not to be stuck on the job forever.
For the diehards: 8/8 wind skill, 8/8 singing skill, 5/5 Minuet, 5/5 Lullaby, 5/5 Nightingale, 5/5 Troubadour, 5/5 CHR (MP and HP merits at your discretion)
Some bards may prefer string skill over wind, but I privilege wind skill for diehards because all of our march instruments are wind instruments -- and march tiers are thus wind-based. Meriting Minuet is almost a given. I say almost, because some bards prefer to merit Finale/Lullaby. I wouldn't recommend it for a diehard for the simple fact that Finale and Lullaby are used less often than Minuet is. The other popular option is Minuet/Madrigal -- this is good if your linkshell has few bards, or if you'd prefer not to merit Lullaby. Although you can merit Minne, and there are some who do, I chose to do Minuet/Lullaby because of how often I use both songs. Minuet has applications in both endgame zerg and merit parties. Lullaby recast can be critical in both Dynamis and Einherjar, particularly on dark-resistant mobs.
For the supportive endgamers: Singing and wind skill merits are optional if you have another main job. I suggest 5/5 Minuet and 5/5 Madrigal, and at least one merit in both Nightingale and Troubadour. I would be thrilled if more bards had 5/5 Nightingale and 5/5 Troubadour, but that's a lot of work for someone who isn't doing it as a main job.
My rationale for suggesting capped Minuet and Madrigal is that it makes a bard more flexible in a zerg situation. I can't count how many times I'm at events and either I'm the only one with capped minuet, or at best there's another bard there with minuet merits. It's an absolute godsend to have a bard who can do both. Merits have a substantial effect on melee ATTK and ACC stats, and there's some anecdotal evidence that you can tell the difference between a merited and an unmerited bard by looking at melee parse results. 5/5 Nightingale isn't strictly necessary, but it's nice. 5/5 Troubadour reduces the job ability to 10 minutes and aligns it with the /BLM Elemental Seal. One 5/5 Troubadour Bard can practically solo-elegy Khimaira. Roughly 7:00-7:30 out of every 10 minutes of the fight can be covered by a single ES Elegy that way, as both of the relevant JA timers coincide. It's powerful stuff.
Meriting your bard job is a cheap (albeit time-consuming) way to both contribute to your endgame shell and make your bard life easier. Your DD will hit harder, your debuffs will land with less effort, and as a result you may find that you enjoy playing the job more than ever.
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