Just for Fun: Samhain Druid

In keeping with the theme of druidic celebrations (during ancient English) for the dearly departed, this week we’ll look at an aggressive Druid deck running Undertaker!

Introduction

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re in the darker half of the year. The harvest has come. The shadows lengthen. The cold begins to nip at our ears and fingertips. In ancient England, at this time of year the dead had just come to visit the living during the Druidic feast of Samhain. In keeping with the theme of druidic celebrations for the dearly departed, this week we’ll look at an aggressive Druid deck running Undertaker!

Overview

Undertaker together with the common availability of cheap Deathrattle minions means any class can now have an early, aggressive, tempo-based board presence with significant snowball potential. Druid is an ideal vehicle for supporting this archetype, since Druid has flexible midrange removal, excellent silences via Keeper of the Grove, and huge burst potential for a minion-heavy game via Savage Roar. Running faster than the classic “fast Druid,” heavier, slower cards like Ancient of Lore and Spectral Knight are unnecessary, traded in here for a stronger early game. If you like fast games, unusual archetypes, tempo plays, and huge finishing bursts, this is the deck for you. It’s also significantly less expensive than heavier Druid decks, while running many of the same cards, so this is also a great potential pick for newer Druid players who want experience playing the class competitively but don’t have all the cards yet.

Major Combos

Force of Nature + Savage Roar: This is the classic Druid finisher. Deals 14 damage + 2 per minion already on the board, so if you have a 4-attack minion like Druid of the Claw out — not uncommon — you’ll do 20 damage. The big drawback of The Combo is it’s a relatively late-game play at 9 mana, so you’ll need your board carefully set up with Taunts cleared so you can blast the face down for victory. Note that if it’s turn 10 and you have Innervate, you can cast double Force of Nature if you have it in hand, for 22 damage + 4 per minion already on the board, which is almost a guaranteed kill. If you don’t have the second Force, you can also use the Innervate to use your hero power for one extra point of damage if needed.

Force of Nature + Power of the Wild: If there’s an opportunity for burst and you have 8 mana, or don’t have Savage Roar in hand, you can use Power of the Wild’s buff option for a lesser burst of 9 + 1 per minion already on the board, for 8 mana (I say lesser burst because it’s not FoN + SR, but it’s as good as Pyroblast in most cases). Opponents tend not to play around being burst down like that on earlier turns since most Druids don’t run Power of the Wild, so you’ll be able to sneak in a few wins this way. Note, of course, that on turn 10 you can cast double Power of the Wild (in the unlikely eventuality you draw ‘em both that late) for 12 damage + 2 per minion already in hand, which ends up pretty comparable to The Combo.

Power of the Wild + Savage Roar: +3 attack for every minion on board, plus a health boost for better trades and AoE resistance, all for 5 mana. If you have Echoing Ooze and Keeper of the Grove[card] out, that’s a whopping 15 damage on turn 5. If you draw well and are able to get ahead on board early, this should be a preferred finisher because of how early you can get it out.

[card]Echoing Ooze + Power of the Wild: Since the Ooze duplicates any effect you cast, you can basically get two vanilla 2/3s for 2 mana each, which is a great early board to have if you coin out Ooze and then play Power on turn 2. It’s only just barely mana-efficient, though, so you should generally look to lay down both the Ooze and Power in the same turn as you have a minion or two already on board, giving you significant value mid-game. The 3 health on the powered-up Oozes means they resist AoE like Consecration and Lightning Storm, giving you two extra bodies to multiply the damage from a Savage Roar.

Bloodmage Thalnos / Azure Drake + Swipe / Wrath: Thalnos and Drake are most in the deck as card draw (and an extra Deathrattle in Thalnos’ case). Mostly. You’ll find yourself in plenty of situations, however, where you’ll be able to kill a Dark Iron Dwarf on turn 4 with Wrath, or a Sludge Belcher turn 8 with Swipe (and maybe killing a couple totems or whatnot into the bargain), to say nothing of Swipe to the face late game as extra reach. If you have a burn spell and some spellpower boost in hand, it might be better to hang onto it if you can clear adequately with your minions.

Loatheb: This fella deserves special mention even though he’s not exactly a combo all by himself. With Undertaker to start you off right and Power of the Wild to cement your board presence, you’ll take most games simply by getting enough bodies out on board to finish with a Savage Roar. However, your opponent will generally be able to do the math, realize the danger, and deploy a spell to sweep enough of your minions off the board to pull out of lethal range. Loatheb is the guy who lets you block that play, by making it almost impossible for your opponent to cast any spells the next turn and forcing them to unfavorably run their minions into yours (which just clears their board for a later Force of Nature + Savage Roar). He’s also particularly powerful combined with Druid of the Claw. Turn 5 Loatheb into turn 6 DotC is also an extremely powerful play to firm up your board, and turn 7 Loatheb + Echoing Ooze into turn 8 DotC + Savage Roar is a potential 21 damage a turn before the opponent generally thinks he’s in combo range. You’ll need a lot of experience to get the right feel for Loatheb plays, but he definitely deserves specific mention as a major factor in the success of this deck.

How to Play

If you’ve played tempo Hunter, the early game should be quite familiar — just get Undertaker and some minions out, control the board as necessary, and hit face. Mulligan hard for your early game, since your mana curve is good and you’ll find yourself able to draw into most of the stuff you’ll need. (Remember that Power of the Wild is perfectly serviceable minion early-game, too.) Because the middle of the minion curve is relatively low-impact, Innervate here,unlike in standard Druid, generally isn’t to get a fatter minion out early (unless your starting hand is Coin, Innervate x2, and Druid of the Claw), but rather as a tempo boost that lets you throw down one extra minion or whatnot.

After the first couple of turns where all you do is build board, how you play becomes somewhat more matchup-dependent. Against Shaman, Hunter, Zoo, and aggro/midrange Mage, you don’t have to worry about a potential heal out of Combo range, so your focus should be on getting the opponent’s life total to 14 as soon as possible, after which you should have your minions focus exclusively on clearing threats and Taunts until you draw into lethal. Against classes with life gain — particularly Priest and Warrior, but also to a lesser extent against classes that run heals, like Miracle Rogue and Ramp Druid — overextending is your greatest weakness, board control is your utmost priority, and you should fight for it tooth and nail to win through superior pressure.

Because of the many, flexible ways you have to summon cheap burst damage, your matchups are stronger the fewer Taunts and less life gain a class runs, and weaker as the Taunts and life gain increase. Right now, about half of the ladder is Hunter and Zoo, which means your matchups in general are excellent. None of the matchups are unwinnable, but Control Warrior and Deathrattle Priest are pretty obnoxious and Handlock is brutal if you aren’t quite experienced in juggling its life totals.

Substitutions

There’s not much to substitute here, given how cheap most of the deck is and how crucial most of the cards are to its success. Bloodmage Thalnos should be swapped out for a second Loot Hoarder if you don’t have him. Harvest Golem can be switched out for Shade of Naxxramas or Dancing Swords if your Priest matchup is suffering too much, but Golem is current the best pick for its stickiness and Deathrattle. Loatheb really ups the power of the deck but can be swapped for a second Druid of Claw if you don’t want to play him. Redditor n0blord (who as far as I know originated the aggro Druid in the current metagame) has two copies of Starfire instead of Loatheb and Druid of the Claw, but I personally don’t recommend doing the same, as this leaves you lacking in robust midgame bodies and I’ve found Starfire too slow for its impact. Lastly, do not play this deck without two copies of Force of Nature — it won’t work and there are no acceptable substitutes (though you can kick around at lower ranks with a second Druid of the Claw in place of one FoN).

Conclusion

Aggro Druid combines speed and ferocity with the solid Druid play-style, for a deck that’s fantastic on ladder. If you want a deck that’s strong against the popular aggro lists without being a popular aggro list, this is a good deck for you. If you enjoy playing Druid but want to ladder with faster games, this is a good deck for you. Most importantly, if you’re someone who enjoys playing something original, unusual, and challenging — and of course you are, that’s why you subscribe to this site! — then this is a good deck for you. I look forward to seeing this list on the ladder as we build a better metagame together!