Decks based around the new Jade Golem mechanic were one of the most hyped ones before the expansion was released. And one of them seemed particularly strong – Jade Druid. As it turned out, a little over week after the expansion, Jade Druid is indeed the strongest Jade deck. It’s also one of the most popular decks in the meta and probably the main reason why Pirate Warriors are running all over the ladder.
Justsayian hit rank 1 Legend with Jade Druid a few days ago and it’s his list I will be talking about. It’s most likely very similar to the ones you’re seeing on the ladder anyway, even if they’re homemade, because there aren’t really a lot of ways you can build Jade Druid. The only “unique” decision in his deck is the lack of Raven Idols, but I guess it makes some sense – I’ll explain it later.
Now, the meta is still in the early stages and I’ll be honest that I have no clue whether Jade Druid will remain strong or will fall out of the favor after few weeks, but at least for now, it’s one of the best decks to ladder with… as long as you dodge Patches the Pirate and his crew!
Jade Druid is one of the hardest decks to label. I like to call it a Combo Ramp deck, because it has parts of the both archetypes. Ramp is obvious – it plays the tools to ramp up in the mana and relies on the early ramp to offset the fact that Jade Golems are very slow and require many turns before they get strong. And the combo part? Because against some slow decks it doesn’t exactly play like a Ramp deck. It plays more like a Combo one. Other Control decks don’t try to outvalue it, they try to rush it down. They try to outtempo it. And Jade Druid tries to survive while cycling through the deck as fast as possible. Yes, it looks exactly like a Control vs Combo matchup. Once Jade Druid gets to the bottom of his deck and starts filling it with Jade Idols while drawing more cards, no Control deck can fight against that. So once it starts performing its “combo”, the game is over.
The deck is insanely strong in those slow matchups. That’s what it was made for – both Ramp and Jade Golem mechanics work incredibly well in those. However, it isn’t equipped too well to fight against fast, rush decks and that’s why Pirate Warrior preys on it. Of course, people have started teching against it, but it’s still not a good matchup.
General game plan of Jade Druid is quite simple – ramp up early, start playing your Jade Golem synergies (first weak, but since you’re ahead on the mana, even the weak ones will be okay pretty early in the game), cycle through your deck, play even more Jade Golem synergies, do your best to not get overrun on the board, set up your Gadgetzan Auctioneer + Jade Idol turn, win the game. As you can see, it’s simple – in theory. In practice it gets much harder, because your opponent, knowing your game plan, will try to put as much pressure on your as possible and will try to not let you snowball the Jade Golem.
I wanted to touch on why Justsaiyan’s list doesn’t run Raven Idol. The thing is, Jade Druid has a huge core. Most of the cards you just can’t cut. For example, the Jade cards – they have insane synergy with each other, so you want to play ALL of them. The more you play, the stronger they get. You also have to play the Ramp, have to play the cycle (Drakes/Nourishes/Auctioneer), have to play early removal. This deck struggles most in fast matchups, so Justsaiyan HAD to fit cards like Feral Rage, Acidic Swamp Ooze or Ancient of War, which aren’t important for the Jade Golem plan, but are important ways to survive, especially in faster matchups . Since Raven Idols are the only cards you can cut without hurting your game plan OR hurting the Aggro matchup, he cut them.
I’ll divide mulligan section into two – against fast decks and against slow decks. Fast decks are generally the Aggro decks (e.g. Pirate Warrior) or high tempo Midrange decks (e.g. Midrange Hunter). Slow decks are slower Midrange and Control decks.
Vs Fast Decks
Higher Priority (keep every time):
- Innervate, Wild Growth, Jade Blossom – Your ramp cards. Even in fast matchups, they’re really necessary. You want to be able to get to your Taunts before dying, so the more mana you will have available, the easier it will be to survive. Don’t keep ALL your ramp cards if you get too much – you generally should keep one Innervate AND one Wild Growth or Jade Blossom. Wild Growth is generally superior if you can choose between two, because it costs 1 mana less and the Jade Golems snowball isn’t that important against fast decks anyway.
- Living Roots – Strong turn 1 play (2x 1/1), it can also serve as the early game removal against small drops.
- Wrath – Another early game removal, the main priority against fast decks is to survive first turns without taking too much damage, so removing their stuff is a priority. You can also cycle it on a 1 health minion to not take damage + get deeper into your deck.
Lower Priority (situational keeps):
- Acidic Swamp Ooze – You keep it against fast decks that play early weapons – e.g. Pirate Warrior or Aggro Shaman. Sometimes you can get value as soon as turn 2, but even if you don’t, it’s better to have it. Hitting a weapon might save yourself A LOT of damage for only 2 mana + you get a small body to fight for the board with.
- Fandral Staghelm – You keep it with ramp. It’s not like Fandral will likely get you a lot of value in those matchups, but it’s a 3/5 body with pretty much a Taunt – opponent won’t likely ignore it. And if he does, he might get punished with cards like Wrath or Feral Rage.
- Azure Drake – With ramp. It’s not a great card against Aggro, but it’s better than not playing anything + it gets you closer to your Taunts and life gain.
Vs Slow Decks
Higher Priority (keep every time):
- Innervate, Wild Growth, Jade Blossom – Ramp is always important, both against fast and slow decks. In case of slow decks, you prioritize Wild Growth and Jade Blossom, especially the latter as it starts to roll the Jade train. Innervate is also a strong keep, but you prefer the permanent mana gain. And funnily enough, Ramp cards are the only cards you’re looking for with the high priority. If you get them – you can keep more, but if you don’t – you should throw away everything and look for your ramp.
Lower Priority (situational keeps):
- Acidic Swamp Ooze – In weapon matchups. Even if it’s a slower matchup, it’s good to have the weapon destruction for when it’s necessary.
- Jade Spirit – If you have a way to ramp yourself to 4 mana, it’s your only 4-drop, so keep it. E.g. if you go first and have Wild Growth or you go second and have Jade Blossom (and you’ll coin it out on t2).
- Azure Drake or Nourish – With Ramp. You will need to start cycling as soon as possible and those cards allow you to do that. In general, I’d say that Azure Drake is a better keep, because it also gives you a body on the board = you can fight for the board control or slow the game down a bit. Playing Nourish right away might be too slow. On the other hand, if you don’t get Innervate and not Wild Growth or Jade Blossom, you can keep Nourish to ramp up on turn 3. It’s best if you have some follow-up, like another card draw or at least t6 plays.
- Fandral Staghelm – With Ramp AND some card to combo it with. For example, if you have ramp + Wrath or Nourish, Fandral might be a good keep. You can get more value out if it later, but it’s still good at stalling the game.
Vs Fast Decks
I’ll start with the fast matchup, where the gameplay is rather straightforward. It’s hard to mess something up, because you won’t have a lot of decisions to make. Most important thing when playing vs Aggro is surviving. If you deal with their early board AND you survive until your Taunts or Feral Rage, you should win the game. Once you take the board control in the mid game, you put them on a few turns clock, especially if you play a few Jade Golem cards.
You would prefer to ramp up. Once you ramp up, you will have much easier time dealing with early boards. Here’s the thing – without ramp, you will most likely be losing the tempo game. Your opponent plays two 1-drops and you have to Wrath one of them. Now, you spent your turn 2 on killing one of the minions and one is still in play, while Aggro deck drops another. If you had ramped up, you might have enough mana to play another removal, Hero Power, or even drop some minion.
But nonetheless, your first priority is keeping the board clear. Try to remove everything your opponent plays if that’s possible. Don’t go too greedy, even 1/1 can pile up the damage over time. Don’t try to get out value of your minions – play them for the bodies. Dropping Brann Bronzebeard on 3 mana is fine, because it’s a 2/4 body that your opponent will most likely clear. Same goes with Fandral on 4 mana.
Try to go for the highest tempo plays – keep your Nourish and Azure Drake for until you don’t have any other good plays in your hand. Those cards give you value and cycle, but are slow – it’s better to play them AFTER you’ve already stabilized the board if you have other things to do. Same goes for the Taunts – try to keep them for AFTER you’ve stabilized. If your opponent still has minions on the board, clearing that Taunt will be much easier. But if you play it AFTER you’ve killed the minions, now the Taunt might stick and protect you for much longer. That’s why, if you can afford to take some more damage, I’d for example drop Aya Blackpaw instead of Jade Behemoth, as it gives you more bodies in total to make trades with (Aya Deathrattles into another Jade Golem after all).
After you’ve stabilized, drop Taunts, play Feral Rage (for Armor) and just go face. Try to set up lethal as quickly as possible – you might ignore a small minion or two, especially if you have Taunt on the board or high enough life total. The more turns you give them, the higher is a chance that they will draw their necessary burn. Sometimes leaving that 3 or 4 points of damage on the board to set up lethal a turn earlier might be a way better play.
So that’s it, against Aggro you just try to survive. You can ignore going for the synergies, combos, high value plays – you try to tempo out as well as you possibly can.
Vs Slow Decks
Slow matchups are much harder to play correctly than the fast ones. But I’d say that they share certain similarities. This deck is rarely an aggressor. Even if you play vs a Control deck, it’s usually your opponent who will try to put as much pressure on you, outtempo you and kill you before the late game. Sometimes you get a perfect ramp into a lot of Jade Golem cards and you will be able to get the tempo too, but that’s not always the case. If your opponent knows how to play this matchup, he will try to abuse Druid’s weaknesses.
First, and probably the biggest Druid’s weakness is the lack of board clears. You have Swipe, but even with Spell Damage it won’t clear a bunch of mid game minions. Right now the most popular slow decks are Reno decks – Warlock, Priest and Mage to certain degree. You’re generally a favorite in those matchups, but don’t think that they will be easy. Reno decks generally have a solid amount of mid game minions and if they start dropping them while you’re still ramping, drawing etc. – you might not be able to come back on the board. That’s why you CAN’T be too greedy. Greed in those matchup is literally the worst thing you can do. You will outvalue them 100% of time if you don’t die before that happens, so there is no reason to make any greedy moves. The game should generally look like that – they play a minion, you try to remove it. If you can’t remove it, you play your own minion(s). Try to stay ahead or even on the board at all times. You can’t afford to play Nourish for draw after Reno deck already has 2 minions on the board. You won’t play anything, he will play another one and now it’s 3 vs 0 – you can’t handle it, he will punch you for 10 damage every turn and you will die before you can do anything. The same thing goes for cards like Fandral Staghelm – you can’t get too greedy with it. Playing turn 6 Fandral + Wrath is a good play if it gets you back on the board.
I’d say that ramp and curving out is most important in those matchups. If you’re even on the mana, you usually can go 1 for 1 in terms of tempo. They drop 1 minion, you either remove it or drop yours and pass. But if you’re even 2-3 mana ahead, now you might be able to do both. For example, they play a 5/5 minion, if you can drop Azure Drake + 2x Living Roots to kill it, it’s a nice tempo swing for you. Now you’re ahead on the board.
Now, your Jade Golem cards. Those are very important and you want to start the Jade Golem train before the late game. If you summon a 1/1 or 2/2 Jade Golem in the mid game, it’s not that big of a deal. But if it will be so small in the late game, it might be a death to your tempo. The key to play those cards correctly is to squeeze them in when you’re ahead OR when playing them won’t be a big tempo loss. You need to play them, but if you play them when you’re behind instead of let’s say dropping an Ancient of War, you can get even more behind on the board. Dropping one with Brann is a nice way to snowball them a bit faster. Especially Aya Blackpaw, as Aya + Brann gives you 3 Jade Golems in total. Even if the first one is 2/2, the last one will be 4/4 and the next one you drop will be 5/5. That’s a big deal. Jade Spirits are best either on 4 mana, when you have nothing else to play, or after you snowball your Jade Golems already. Behemoth is okay-ish even if your Jade Golems are pretty low, because 3/6 Taunt can buy some time.
What’s the deal with shuffling Jade Idol into your deck? I’ve seen that mistake a lot. Since you play two, you DON’T shuffle in the first one. You never do, there is just no reason to do that. You play it as a 1 mana Jade Golem. It’s a nice tempo most of the time (even summoning a 2/2 is okay already for 1 mana) and you make your Jade Golems bigger. I’ve seen people shuffling Jade Idols into their deck too early and then drawing them in the mid game when they’ve needed cycle or something. Shuffling them on turn 1 is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when playing this deck. Playing them with Fandral in the mid game is also bad. Let me explain you why. First of all – there are a lot of games where you don’t even need to shuffle them. At all. With some Brann shenanigans, you can make Jade Golems up to 12/12 or 13/13 without extra copies of Jade Idol. A lot of times, it’s enough. You shuffle your Jade Idol in the late game, when your deck is thin, when you have Gadgetzan Auctioneer ready in your hand to start making your combo next turn. You do that if you suspect that your normal 12/12 or something might not be enough to close the game.
The deck is snowbally enough that you can win most of the late game scenarios without shuffling your Jade Idol. I mean, it’s okay to shuffle 3 copies if it’s already late in the game, you’re ahead on the board AND you have Nourish or Auctioneer in your hand already to cycle. But it’s really wrong if you do it in the early game or if you do it without a lot of cycle in your hand. I’ve won games against Jade Druid, because they were out of steam and instead of topdecking a Nourish or Azure Drake or any other card draw, they did draw Jade Idols 2 turns in a row. And even though they’ve spawned a relatively big minions, since I was ahead on the board, I won the game thanks to that tempo quite easily. If he did draw Nourish instead, and then dropped 2-3 Jade Golem cards back to back, I would have never won that game.
One last thing I want to talk about is ramping up with Nourish. Is it right to do so, and if it is, when? That’s also a very common mistake I’ve been seeing. Jade Druids have been playing turn 3 Innervate into Nourish… to draw cards. With more card draw in their hand (because then I’ve seen a second Nourish played from the left side). That’s really terrible play. If you have a second Nourish, or even Azure Drake/Wrath (cycle) you should play Nourish for mana. Being 2 mana ahead is a huge deal. It’s one of the easiest ways to win the slow matchups. If you ramp up, then you can start dropping your Jade Golem cards on the curve. Sure, they won’t be very strong, but if you drop your Aya Blackpaw (2/2 and 3/3 golem) into their 4-drop, it will still be alright. Ramp can snowball the whole game. Ramp is more important than cycle. Ramping up with Nourish is a solid play and you should do that if you can. I don’t ramp up with Nourish only if I have other ways to ramp up in my hand – for example with Jade Blossom and Innervate in my hand, I won’t likely need THAT much mana anyway, so I prefer to draw with Nourish. Or I don’t ramp with it if I don’t have any other cycle at all. Then Nourish is important to draw and get to your other cycle cards.
That’s all, folks. Even though Jade Druid seems to be one of the most straightforward decks, I’d say that most of the people on the ladder don’t play it correctly. Playing it perfectly is really hard in slow matchups, because it’s very easy to make mistakes such as falling behind on the tempo or cycling with Nourish when you need to ramp/vice versa.
I didn’t talk about specific matchups, because the meta is really in a constant shift. The matchups that might be popular right now, might not be tomorrow. For example, RenoLock has raised to one of the most popular decks over night, it’s really hard to keep up with anything. But if you have any questions about some specific matchup or strategy, feel free to ask them in the comment section below. I’ll do my best and try to answer all of them! And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!