Mastering the Midrange Druid: Advanced Guide

This is part 2 of this extensive deck guide series. Be sure to check out the other sections: Part 1: Beginner Guide Part 2: Advanced Strategies, Alternate Cards, and Tech Choices For mulligans and matchups, visit the Midrange Druid meta section and check out the MUA (Matchup Analysis posts) In the advanced guide, we want to talk about the […]

This is part 2 of this extensive deck guide series. Be sure to check out the other sections:

Introduction

In the advanced guide, we want to talk about the most important thing you have to think about when playing Midrange Druid (or Druid in general) – it’s the mana. Druid is the only class which can effectively cheat the mana curve (“ramp up”) and play ahead of it. There are three tools in the deck to do so: innervate, wild-growth and emperor-thaurissan.

Besides ramping, we want to talk about importance of playing on the curve and tech cards you can include in your deck to fight the meta.

Ramping Up

The most basic way to ramp up is Wild Growth. It sacrifices your tempo on turn 2 (or whatever turn you use it, but it’s best on 2) to give you tempo on later turns. In Hearthstone, the 1 mana difference between minions isn’t so big. With help of some cards, 2-drops can trade for 3-drop and 4-drop can trade with 5-drops. It means that playing your 3-drop into enemy 2-drop is good, but not really great. Enemy likely won’t have any problems dealing with it. But then, the 2 mana difference is really big. If enemy plays a 3-drop and you play your 5-drop, now that’s something. For example – if enemy drops a spider-tank (one of the stronger 3-drops stat-wise) and you answer it with druid-of-the-claw, it’s suddenly a really big deal. When you’re the one dropping bigger threats – enemy has to play reactively. And Druid excels at playing proactive game. You want to be the one pushing enemy into the wall and putting threats all the time. That’s why Wild Growth is really important in Druid deck. And if you draw it in the late game, it cycles itself.

The second card is Innervate. It’s a little different than Wild Growth, because it affects only your current turn, but gives you a huge tempo boost. Dropping your keeper-of-the-grove on turn 2 is a perfect answer to enemy 2-drops. Getting out dr-boom on turn 5 means that if enemy doesn’t have an answer you win the game (and besides big-game-hunter, it might be hard to kill it on turn 5). Innervate also serves different purpose – fixing your curve. Thanks to Innervate, not only you put a big pressure on the board, but you also don’t skip your turns (e.g if you don’t have a 3-drop, you might innervate out 5-drop). Innervate also lets you play more threats per turn in the late game. For example, after you use your 7-drop on turn 10, often you’d be left with just Hero Power to use. But with Innervate, you might get out your 5-drop on top of that. It can give you a huge tempo advantage.

Third way to ramp up is the Darnassus Aspirant. New TGT addition that combines the ramp and a small drop. The card is really flexible and it’s something you can drop on turn 2 in pretty much any matchup. The great thing about Aspirant is that it’s a low risk, high reward card. If it dies to some removal, it’s just like you’ve played some other 2-drop. Not a big deal, trades 1 for 1 most of the time. And if it sticks to the board, you got a 2/3 minion + Wild Growth in one. Meaning you ramp up without losing the tempo, which is a great addition. Darnassus Aspirant is especially good in the faster matchups where you need to fight for the early board control. Before Aspirant, your smallest minion was the Shade of Naxxramas, so unless you had Innervate, you had no way to drop any minion before turn 3. By that time, some Aggro decks already had 2 of them on the board. While a vanilla 2/3 isn’t very scary, it’s good enough to trade into enemy 1-drops and 2-drops.

The last card is Emperor Thaurissan. It’s commonly accessible and not restricted to Druid, but Midrange Druid if one of the decks that benefit most from this guy. He’s a little slower option, because 6 mana is much. His main role isn’t ramping you up, but rather smoothing out your curve and giving you more options. With a Druid, it’s often hard to fit more than one minion each turn. Making all your cards cost 1 mana less opens new possibilities. On turn 8, you might drop two 4-drops and a 3-drop. It’s really big deal, because for the same amount of mana, you’re getting another minion on the board. It puts a lot of pressure on the enemy. Emperor itself also puts a pressure – enemy is forced to deal with it or you get more than one discount. Also, discounting your combo pieces is a big deal. It means that you might fit more of them into one turn or that you can play them alongside your other drop.

Those four cards give you a strong advantage over your enemy and often are necessary to win when you play the Druid. Playing ahead of enemy curve means that his answers are gonna be limited. Enemy might often throw his strongest removals on your 4-drops and 5-drops if you’ve played them ahead of him. On his turn 3, your 5-drop is really threatening and has to be removed in some way. You often get 2 for 1 just because your minions are much more resilient than opponent’s. Control decks can’t start developing their boards when they have to deal with yours all the time. And that’s exactly what you want.

The Curve

When playing Druid, manipulating your mana curve and playing ahead of enemy is really important. But what’s maybe even more important is playing ON the curve. Thanks to the TGT, the early game has became a lot more flexible. You can now use the Living Roots on turn 1 and Darnassus Aspirant on turn 2, meaning you can start getting the board dominance since the first turns. Still, your small cards are mostly ramp, removal or situational cards. Your Hero Power also doesn’t get a big value if you have no good target to hit (hitting enemy for 1 is not a big deal). It means that it’s very easy to float the mana or have some dead turns in the early game, and you don’t really want that. Let’s compare it to deck like Secret Paladin. They rarely float the mana, because they run a lot of small drops. So let’s say if they don’t have any 5-drop, they can play the 4-drop + Secret or 2-drop + one of their 3 mana weapons. Their Hero Power also develops the board, so it’s never really bad to hit it, even on the empty board.

When playing Midrange Druid, you want to push out the biggest threat you can every turn. It means that you have the initiative – enemy often can’t leave your minions and has to answer them. And then you play another minion. Keeping the board control is important, but don’t overvalue it. If you have two minions on the board and enemy plays something big, trading your both minions in is not always right. Pushing for damage is also important, especially if you already have the combo in your hand. Face damage is very important in Midrange Druid. Getting enemy into combo range makes you win a lot of games after you already completely lose board control. Unless you play around some cards or you’re low on health, you want to let enemy do the trades.

You have to use your mana wisely. You need to plan ahead. It’s one of the most common mistakes new players make with Innervate. Before Innervating something out, you need to think about your next turns. Innervating a minion on turn 2 and having your turn 3 and 4 dead is a really bad idea. Be sure to have your next turns after Innervate covered!

Another common mistake is floating mana points. If means “wasting” the mana by not using every point each turn. While there are situations where it is impossible, try to not do that. A rather simple example: You have 6 mana and two minions to play – Piloted Shredder and Druid of the Claw. Enemy has a 2/1 minion on the board. If you follow the “play the strongest minion each turn” logic, you should play your Druid of the Claw. But that’s usually wrong. Playing Piloted Shredder + Hero Power is the right play. It means that not only you’re removing their minion, but you also use all of your mana. Piloted Shredder contests everything Druid of the Claw would, and you can always play it on the next turn – also along with Hero Power (which is important to use against Aggro decks). The only exception is when you’re on low health and you desperately need a Taunt.

New players are often floating mana when it comes to the swipe. Let’s say you play against Aggro Paladin (with 4 mana) and you have 5 mana. He has 2/2, 2/1, 1/1 and 1/1 on the board. You have Swipe, loatheb and wrath in your hand. The most obvious play that many of the new players would make is to Swipe the board. It clears 4 minions, after all! But that would often be a mistake. Not only you’re floating one mana this turn, but next turn, if you plan to play Loatheb (because right now you have no other option), you’re also floating 1 mana (because you can’t use it alongside Wrath). Now, if you play Loatheb, enemy could read that you don’t have a way to deal with your board and want to stall. He won’t likely trade 3 minions into your Loatheb, since he’s the one playing Aggro deck. If he does – that’s also good for you! He might remove it with truesilver-champion and a 1/1, but then he’s left with only 1 mana to play with. He might have a 1-drop, but not necessarily – if he doesn’t, you force HIM to float the mana. And now, let’s look at the next turn. Not counting the draw that might change your play, you now have 6 mana to work with and Swipe + Wrath in your hand. If he ignored the Loatheb, played some more minions and gone for the face (because he read that you don’t have the Swipe), you can easily punish him. If he cleared your Loatheb, you might now easily clear most of this board with Wrath and Hero Power. You might even cycle the Wrath on a 2/1 and try to draw into a 4-drop. I’m not saying that playing Loatheb in this situation is 100% correct play, but I just wanted to show you the advantages of playing on the curve vs using your removals and floating the mana.

The 9 mana means combo. You need to remember that. Enemy is gonna play around it even if you don’t have it. And what you want to do is to prepare for your turn 9. Previous tips are great ways to do so – ramping up, playing on the curve, playing biggest threats, pushing enemy. The easiest way to win the game is push enemy into the combo range – below 15 health. In some matchups, when you know enemy doesn’t have a lot of ways to heal or Taunt, you might sacrifice some value in order to get him low enough. Even though throwing a Druid of the Claw in charge mode or Swipe on his Face is a clear giveaway that you have the combo, some decks can’t do anything with that knowledge and you want to abuse that. But when you play the deck that can easily get out of combo range (like Control Warrior, with all the Armor gain), try to keep it more discreet.

Combo is your strongest tool and game finisher, but if you’re in desperate need, you might use it as a board clear. Dealing 14 damage on the board is often clearing it completely, which might turn the game around. If enemy is way out of the combo range and you’re losing the board control, keeping the combo is usually a losing play. When enemy is at let’s say 25 health, without board control you’re not going to win this game anyway. So while giving up the combo means that you lose your biggest win condition, you still have a chance to win just with the board or draw into the second combo later.

Alternate & Tech Cards

Right now, with the new TGT addition, the Druid’s deck is rather full. It’s hard to fit something else in, but there are some tech cards you might want to run. I’ll try to go through them and try to show the strong and weak sides of each one, as well as tell which minions you can switch out to include it.

One thing I want to note is that I’m including the Darnassus Aspirant and Wild Growth in a lot of “possible switches”. It doesn’t mean that you can take out all of them. One ramp card is a flexible spot – instead of 2 of each you can run 2+1 or 1+2.

Zombie Chow

One of the most basic cards you can add to when you’re playing ladder. Zombie Chow is great against fast, Aggro decks. He gives you an option to drop something on turn 1, increasing your tempo heavily. He counters most of enemy early drops. You don’t completely rely on ramping up, because you have something to play early. You can easily fit him into your curve on the later turns, let’s say when you have 5 mana, instead of using 4 mana and passing you can also drop Chow – it might make a big difference. If dropped on the first turns against Aggro, the heal usually doesn’t matter, because you’re gonna trade him into something anyway. The problem with Zombie Chow is that he’s really bad against Control decks. Getting him in the late game instead of one of your high cost cards might mean you’re going to lose. Healing also matters – when you’re getting enemy close to the combo range, you can’t drop it and heal the enemy. Add him if you face a lot of Aggro decks – especially at the start of the season.

Possible switches: Living Roots, Big Game Hunter, Azure Drake, Force of Nature (since you add him when you face a lot of Aggro, you don’t need two FoNs)

Acidic Swamp Ooze / Harrison Jones

Anti-weapon tech. Usually you have the choice between Acidic Swamp Ooze and harrison-jones, you won’t likely include both of those. I’ll start with that since the Patron Warrior was nerfed, and weapon destruction was played mainly for that matchup, those aren’t that necessary anymore. Rogue and Shaman are also one of the least seen classes right now. Still, Secret Paladin, Midrange Hunter and Control Warrior are another very popular decks utilizing weapons, so it’s not like those are completely useless.

When it comes to the choice between one and the other, let’s start with Acidic Swamp Ooze. It’s more flexible and better in the faster matchups. Since you can drop it much earlier, you can answer the turn 2/3 weapons like Fiery War Axe[/card or [/card or card]Coghammer. Later in the game, it’s a higher tempo play, because it can easily be squeezed into a lot of the turns. For example, if enemy plays a weapon on turn 7, you can play Ooze + a 5-drop, so you end up with a lot of power on the board. The 3/2 stats pass the vanilla test, meaning that it can be even used as a 2-drop in non-weapon matchups.

Harrison Jones on the other hand is a better option in slower matchups. Since you don’t necessarily need the biggest tempo play and you don’t need to answer the early weapons that much, you can keep Harrison in your hand until it gets value. The draw part here is very big. While Ooze is more of a tempo swing, Harrison Jones is mainly a value swing. Not only you deny opponent’s weapon hit(s), you also draw cards for each charge. In most of cases it’s one card, but that’s still a lot of value. Not to mention that sometimes you might play it for the draw value. Let’s say hitting a 1/3 Light’s Justice means that your 5-drop drew you 3 cards, which is A LOT. On the other hand, 5/4 stats for 5 don’t pass the vanilla test, so in non-weapon matchups, Harrison is a little underwhelming. It’s still a decent minion that needs to be taken down, but you’re simply playing a mediocre 4-drop for 5 mana.

I can’t really say which one is better, because it all depends on the matchup and situations. I generally prefered to play Harrison, but since Patron Warrior is going away, Ooze might be a better choice in Secret Paladin meta.

Possible switches: Living Roots, Darnassus Aspirant, Wild Growth, Big Game Hunter, Azure Drake

Mind Control Tech

Mind Control Tech became really popular tech in Druid around GvG, but I haven’t seen it in a while. It’s great against decks that flood the board and against one card in particular – dr-boom. Since most of the decks were running it, and it spawns 3 minions at once, it was pretty easy to get Mind Control Tech value. The strongest thing about this minion is the surprise factor. The less players use it on ladder – the stronger it is. You don’t generally play around it in Constructed, so often you’re going to get great value. You might also use him as a 3-drop. A 3/3 for 3 mana is just average, so don’t worry about dropping him when you need some board presence. Even though the card has some RNG involved, the outcome is almost never bad. Once in a while you’re gonna hit the jackpot and steal a big legendary. But even if you steal enemy 1/1 minion, one of the worst possible outcomes, it makes MCT upgraded version of razorfen-hunter while killing enemy 1/1 at the same time (which usually costs you 2 mana – Hero Power of Wrath). Pretty good card against the Secret Paladin. It might sometimes win you the otherwise unwinnable games by stealing the buffed Mysterious Challenger or Tirion Fordring.

Possible switches: Living Roots, Darnassus Aspirant, Wild Growth, Shade of Naxxramas, Big Game Hunter

Kezan Mystic

If you face a lot of Hunters and Mages on the ladder, Kezan Mystic is a great include. Both of those classes, no matter which deck list they use, they play some Secrets. Kezan Mystic is especially strong if they play the Secret from their hand, but stealing the ones from mad-scientist is also fine. Getting explosive-trap against Face Hunter or mirror-entity against Tempo Mage might win you the game. Ultimate counter to Freeze Mage. Your matchup is good anyway, but if you include the Kezan and steal their Ice Block, it’s almost impossible for them to win. When it comes to the Secret Paladin matchup, the card is good, but not great.. Most of the Paladin’s secrets don’t have much value. Still, if you play it on the curve and steal something it’s pretty good. It’s a 1 card, 2 mana swing in your favor and you don’t have to play around Secret. Stealing something like Noble Sacrifice might also possibly make enemy unable to kill your Kezan. Big Kezan’s downside is that it’s bad against classes without Secrets. The 4/3 stats for a 4-drop are pretty underwhelming. It gets traded by pretty much any 2-drop and even by 1-drops with help of abusive-sergeant.

Possible switches: Living Roots, Darnassus Aspirant, Wild Growth, Piloted Shredder

Sludge Belcher

Sludge Belchers were cut from a lot of lists to include the new TGT cards. Still, Sludge Belcher is one of the best Taunt options in the game. You still prefer to run Druid of the Claw over Sludge Belcher. While Sludge Belcher probably makes a better defensive card, Druid of the Claw is more flexible, because it can also be played in Charge mode. When it comes to Sludge Belcher, he’s especially good in faster matchups. The 3 attack is enough to kill most of small drops and 7 effective health means that it can save your life in a lot of situations. It’s on the weak side against the Silence, making him a 3/5 for 5 mana, but it’s still not the worst thing ever. In slower matchup, Sludge Belcher might protect the rest of your board when you’re pushing for lethal, but won’t do that much itself. The 5 health also lines perfectly with a lot of mid game minions like Loatheb, Emperor Thaurissan or Sylvanas Windrunner. Still, if you face a lot of Aggro decks, Sludge Belcher is going to be a great include. Probably one-of, but it might boost some matchups a bit.

Possible switches: Big Game Hunter, Azure Drake

Loatheb

One of the most common tech cards in Midrange Druid. It’s a very strong mid game drop that has a great scaling into the late game too. The 5/5 for 5 are nearly perfect statline, it lines very well against most of the 4-drops and other 5-drops. But it’s not the stats that are most important here, but the effect. It allows you to do couple of interesting things. First, you protect your board against clears. If you take the board control and play the Loatheb, that’s often a game over for your opponent. He can’t AoE those, he can’t play single target removals (mostly), because they all cost A LOT. And if enemy ends up playing a spell, you don’t mind, because that was a huge tempo loss. Second, you deny enemy plays. For example, he might have wanted to draw cards with Arcane Intellect or play Unstable Portal. Or maybe Hunter wanted to play the Animal Companion? It denies a lot of plays and often makes enemy make suboptimal move. It also denies the Coin, so if you play it before an important turn, you can make opponent’s play really awkward. For example, if Secret Paladin is saving the Coin and you play Loatheb on the curve, he can’t Coin out the Mysterious Challenger now. And last, you often buy yourself one turn if enemy has lethal. In Midrange Druid mirror you might deny the Combo turn. Against Hunter you might deny the Unleash the Hounds + Kill Command. Mage won’t be able to 2x Fireball (for example). Even though one turn doesn’t seem like much, in Midrange Druid it often might win you the game. You might need one more mana to cast the combo, you might draw for lethal if you’re close(you have A LOT of cards that deal damage), you might draw into the Taunt / Heal that might save you etc. Loatheb is overall a solid card that fits the Midrange Druid deck pretty well.

Possible switches: Big Game Hunter, Azure Drake

Sylvanas Windrunner

Since Druid has no way to deal with big minions, he might as well steal them. Sylvanas is pretty good counter to slow, control decks, especially those without Silence. Even if it doesn’t get any big value, it often stalls the game and disrupts enemy turns. Oftentimes opponent doesn’t want to drop his big minion into your Sylvanas just to get it stolen. Possible answers are flooding the board with small stuff, ignoring her or even skipping the turn. With some RNG, every outcome is good for you. Sylvanas sometimes works as a comeback mechanic. Druid has really hard time coming back after he lost his board presence, and Sylvanas might force enemy to either sacrifice all of their minions or give you something. Not as good in Aggro matchups, because a lot of Aggro decks run Silence, and a 5/5 minion for 6 is slow enough to just get ignored. Since she has no instant impact on the board, if enemy has the tempo advantage already, he might just play more stuff and don’t care about her. Sometimes, however, when enemy is gonna have no answer, you might get 2 or 3 for 1 with your Sylvanas. If you don’t die before that. It’s a decent card you can add to your deck, but it might be tad too slow.

Possible switches: Darnassus Aspirant, Wild Growth, Big Game Hunter, Azure Drake, Emperor Thaurissan

Big Minions

In the slower meta, against many Control deck, you might want to include couple of bigger minions – late game threats to keep up with your enemy. Mind you, those are not good includes if you face a lot of Aggro decks. Those cards are too slow and the game is often gonna be decided before you can even use them. Also, including more than one of them is usually a bad idea.

The first and one of the most popular options is Ragnaros. It serves few different purposes and can be one of your win conditions. If enemy has no answer for the Ragnaros, it gets great value. Insane against Control decks. Even though the shots are RNG, you want to throw him in when every outcome is good. For example, enemy is at 20 health and he has a 5/5 minion on the board. You throw in Ragnaros – if he hits the minion, it’s really good. And when he hits the face – it’s also good, because you put enemy in combo range. Might be used as a finisher to deal last points of damage. Unlike in many other Control decks, you actually want to drop him on empty board in Midrange Druid. The damage to enemy Hero is really precious. The bad thing about Ragnaros is that he dies to Big Game Hunter and rarely hits what you want against decks with a lot of small tokens (Paladin, Zoo Warlock).

Second option is Cenarius. This card may be used both offensively and defensively. If you already have some minions on the board – you might buff them to push for a lot of damage and make it hard to remove them. And when you have an empty board, you can drop two 2/2 Taunts. The 5/8 stats on the main body also put him out of range of Big Game Hunter. Putting 3 minions on the board increases the chances that something survives until next turn – which is often exactly what you need to finish enemy off with your combo. Cenarius is actually a little better against Aggro decks than Ragnaros. The two Taunts might sometimes save you. On the other hand, the 2/2 Taunts are perfect way for Grim Patron Warrior to spawn additional Patrons or buff their Frothing Berserker. They also die to pretty much any AoE, and the 5 attack on main body is sometimes not enough to contest what Control decks play in the late game.

Alexstrasza is a really rare sight in Midrange Druid, but it actually makes sense. Sometimes if you had slow start, you have no way to catch up and put enemy Control deck in the combo range. Alexstrasza helps with that – setting enemy health at 15 means that one more hit with anything and he’s gonna be vulnerable to combo. Doesn’t work so well against Warrior because of the Armor, but against rest of the decks it might win you the game. The 8/8 body also has to be dealt with. If you get to attack with Alexstrasza after using her on enemy, you generally win the game. Against Aggro decks, if you survive until turn 9, she may be used to heal you back to 15. It’s a pretty big deal, since amount of healing in Midrange Druid is really limited.

Possible switches: Living Roots, Wild Growth, Darnassus Aspirant, Azure Drake, Ancient of War, Dr. Boom (if you switch out Dr. Boom or Ancient of War, you can include two of them)