The New Standard: Karazhan Edition! (Beast Druid)

This week I want to sit down and have a very serious investigation into a topic that has been bugging me for the past two weeks: what the hell happened to Beast Druid? The deck was supposed to destroy the metagame and since the release of Karazhan it has completely disappeared. I mean completely and […]

Introduction

This week I want to sit down and have a very serious investigation into a topic that has been bugging me for the past two weeks: what the hell happened to Beast Druid? The deck was supposed to destroy the metagame and since the release of Karazhan it has completely disappeared. I mean completely and utterly gone. I’m not really sure why this is, especially because I don’t think the deck is bad. In fact, I think it’s kinda good. As a result, I wanted to break it down and take an in-depth look at the different pieces of Beast Druid to get an idea of how it’s built. I’ve had some success with this so far and I’m beginning to think this may be a case of a deck that isn’t bad, but is perceived as so. Let’s find out.

The Deck

This deck is all curve. So much so that, if you notice, there are only twelve spells in the entire list. Of those, four can be minions (Power of the Wild, Living Roots), two just help out your curve (Innervate) and four are solid removal. Everything else in this deck is a minion, and for good reason. You are a midrange deck that hinges on being able to escalate threat after threat after threat. If that fails or if you have a weak turn you often fall behind with very little chance of coming back. As a result, you want to do what you can to maximize your minion count and the chances that you will always have something to play.

The biggest thing I want to go over in terms of card choices is the lack of Savage Roar. This is a card I have seen in every single Beast Druid list, but I’m not sure you need it. The rule of this deck is to just have a curve that is better than your opponent’s. Not only does that invalidate the need for Savage Roar, but having the spell can make your draws worse. Yes, the spell can give you random wins, but a lot of the time it is going to throw you off of curve, which does more harm than good.

Another important note about this deck is that there are many beasts that could be in list, but I think these are the best options. Druid of the Flame is an option, as are things like Huge Toad. However, after looking through the beasts in my collection I am not sure than any of them are good enough. The only card that could be cut for more minions is Power of the Wild, but I would advise against that. The buff comes in handy a lot of the time (as we will see below).

Key Cards

This section will help to explain why certain cards are in the list and how they’ve performed so far.

Innervate

Innervate is perhaps the most important card in this entire list. The zero mana ramp spell is not easy to use in a deck like this because of how tight your curve is. While your first inclination may always be “play this now”, that is rarely going to be the case. There are going to be times where the card just sits in your hand and there are going to be games where you use it only for minimal value. Do not be afraid of those situations. I find that people will often use Innervate at inopportune times because they feel pressured to do so and they want to just get some use out of it. However, patience is key here. Always think about your future turns when using Innervate and evaluate if you actually need to play it right away or if you can get more value later on.

The way you use this card is going to depend on three different things: your hand, your curve and your opponent’s class. If you have a solid one-two-three curve you rarely need to use Innervate during those turns against a midrange or control deck. However, when playing against something like Zoo or Shaman, where you want to just flood the board, you should try and pump as many minions as you can. You can also use this card to get out a clutch Power of the Wild or Mark of Y’shaarj. However, those cards have a much lower impact than minions, so always be sure that you need the buff right away when taking the extra mana.

Note: Always be aware of how the coin plus Innervate affects your curve. Being able to jump up two mana and then one on back-to-back turns can really push you far ahead if sequenced right.

Power of the Wild

Power of the Wild gives you a choice (obviously) and choosing the right mode is very important. I would say, by default, you almost always want to use this card for its buff more than its minion. Having a 3/2 beast can be very strong, but most decks today can easily remove a 3/2 without much thought. For that reason, you only want to take the panther route when you need a threat to keep up pressure or when you have to stick to your curve. A 3/2 on turn two is underwhelming, but it also isn’t the worst play in the world. Three attack goes a long way in trading into today’s popular early game minions, and it also presents a solid amount of damage. Your opponent’s are going to have spend some resources to kill it.

When Power of the Wild is in your hand you need to always think about how the buff is going to effect your board. Suddenly having an extra 1/1 across two or three minions can make a huge difference in terms of both damage and trading. While it may not seem like a big deal, having your 5/5 live as a 6/1 can stretch out your opponent’s mana and tie up their turns. Even if you are playing against a class that can do one damage this means they have to use their hero power to clear rather than adding it to the board. You typically want to always take the chance to hit this if you can get multiple small minions. Also try to use this with Living Roots for maximum value.

Druid of the Claw/Druid of the Saber

I am lumping both transform minions together here because they are your only two minions with charge. That means you can always get use out of these and they are always going to be live, unlike your other minions that need a turn to get ready. Without Savage Roar you really need to work hard to maximize your damage and think about how you are going to get your opponent to zero. While you may want to put up a 4/6 Druid of the Claw on turn five, it is often better to play your Azure Drake unless you are specifically protecting your face or one of your minions. This is because your drake needs to wait a turn before getting in for damage, while you can always charge your druid later on. However, if you play your druid and it gets removed, you no longer have that pressure. Saving charge minions in your hand is an essential part of this deck.

Druid of the Saber has the same set of rules as claw but comes with much more flexibility. Unlike claw, which is almost exclusively going to be saved for damage, you can hang onto saber as a form of removal. Though this card is almost always going to come down in the early game as a 3/2 with stealth, anytime after than you typically only want to play it as a charge minion, and only when you need to get immediate damage. Having a 2/1 that can attack right away may not seem like a big deal, but it helps a lot by being able to clear totems, trigger secrets and finish off bigger threats. You want to hold onto this for as long as you can during the later parts of the game and spend your time developing your other minions first since this is always live. Also remember that this plus Menagerie Warden or Mark of Y’shaarj can be a great way to find lethal.

Stranglethorn Tiger/Druid of the Saber

I bring up Druid of the Saber again (this time in combination with Stranglethorn Tiger) to discuss stealth. This is a very easy-to-understand ability that is going to be much harder to use than you may think. While you will often just attack with these minions when you can, there are going to be times when you actually want to hold them in stealth. There are several reasons for this, and you want to be aware of them. The first reason you would hold off attacking is when you want to get use out of a buff or Menagerie Warden and you don’t want to risk your opponent removing them. Saving a Druid of the Saber for your Mark of Y’shaarj can be a good way to guarantee a target, which then is going to help pull through your deck. In addition, there are also times where you want to keep these cards hidden to prevent your opponent from being able to interact with them. For instance, I won a game where I didn’t attack my Hunter opponent on turn seven with my Stranglethorn Tiger because I didn’t want him to be able to clear it with his next turn Call of the Wild. That play allowed me to fully clear his call next turn and eventually gave me the win. That type of thinking will put you ahead in games, and before unstealthing something you want to think of how your opponent is going to respond.

The Curator

The Curator is one of the best cards in the deck and ultimate curve-topper for a list like this one. The card was touted as a taunted Ancient of Lore, and that’s exactly what it is. This is going to get your some random beast (all of which are fine on turn ten or beyond), Azure Drake and, if you haven’t drawn him, Sir Finley Mrrgglton. All three of those cards are going to generate an insane amount of value and let you get back into a lot of games that you’re losing. Even without Sir Finley, this is still netting you two cards and putting a huge threat on the board. That play is a large tempo swing, and really comes in handy if you’re already ahead on board because it protects your other threats. At that point the game is usually over.

The other important part of The Curator is that it is a taunt minion. While your curve is the way you win your games, there are going to be some matches that are close. Every good aggressive deck, midrange or otherwise, needs ways to beat aggro. Your Druid of the Claws do that, but having one extra big body helps a lot. You don’t need to overload your deck with taunts, but it is definitely something you want access to in this world of burst and Doomhammers. The sixth health on seven is particularly relevant against a turn eight Call of the Wild because it stops Huffer cold in its tracks. While this card could be something like Ragnaros the Firelord, it is important to have a way to fight back against control and have a tool that comes in handy during longer games. For that, card advantage plus a body is the way to go.

Matchups

Some of the most common matchups I see while playing ladder.

Aggro Shaman

As strong and as annoying as Aggro Shaman is, this is a 50/50 game, which are always some of the most fun. Like when playing against any other deck that loves having the board as much as Shaman does, your whole gameplan here revolves around getting board control in the first two or three turns. Once you have the advantage you can put them on the ropes, but be very careful to clear everything they have as efficiently as possible. To win this game you need to understand the way Shaman plays and know their curve. They have a lot of powerful early minions, but they also have a lot of cheap and efficient removal. You should always be aware of how they can kill your minions and the different options they could have. This will better help you figure out if you want to go face, if you want to be conservative, or if you are ok with letting them have priority. Typically, you always want to control the trades because anytime Shaman uses burn as removal it takes pressure away from your health.

Be aware of Maelstrom Portal. Pretty much every Shaman in the game is running this card, and it will blow you out if you are not careful. Even if doesn’t have a huge impact on your opponent’s tempo, you never want to set them up for an easy clear. It is also important to be aware of any possible AOE. As aggressive as Shaman has become, a lot of versions like to run things like Lightning Storm to help out their aggro matchups. For this reason, you only want to flood if you really need to push or specifically want to test for any mass removal. It also important to understand that almost all versions of Shaman run Doomhammer. This means you need to work hard to get control of the game (and the damage) by turn five. This is so important that you should ignore playing around AOE when facing against any Shaman that plays hyper-aggro cards such as Abusive Sergeant in preparation of the weapon.

Midrange Hunter

Midrange Hunter is going to be the closest thing you will see to a mirror match. Like Shaman they are a deck that loves to fight for the early board, but unlike Shaman they can can continue to fight you as the game goes on. This makes for very interesting board states where you are going to constantly be debating if you should clear or if you should just push for face. The way you want to to decide this is by looking at your curve and comparing it to your health versus what your opponent can do. Hunter has many ways to burst you down, and you always want to be defensive if you ever fall into their range. However, you also need to be aggressive enough to invalidate Savannah Highmane and Call of the Wild. Both of these cards, like Doomhammer, will just instantly win your opponent the game if they are ahead on board. Once Hunter can ignore your minions and just go face you aren’t going to be able to keep up. For that reason it is very important to use your resources to hold the board on turns five and seven. In addition, do not be afraid to just play a taunt on turn seven in preparation for Call.

Tempo Mage

Tempo Mage is very popular these days and it is going to be one of your trickiest matchups. While Hunter and Shaman have some explosive starts, Mage can absolutely crush any deck that starts out slow. You cannot afford to ever fall behind in this match because once your opponent is playing cards ahead of you, you have lost. Knowing that, you need to commit all of your resources to securing the board and making sure you never lose priority. This means killing every early minion that Mage plays because leaving up anything can lead to a lot of problems. Everything from Flamewaker from Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Bloodmage Thalnos can give them a lot of value. Though they are aggressive, Mage has a ton of ways to clear the board, and you need to limit them all. This is a matchup where you want to be defensive and trust that your bigger threats will win the day.

The most important aspect of this game is counting your opponent’s cards. Understanding what Mage can do is very important because you want to know what minions they have at their disposal and what spells they could play. This will help you create better turns because you can see how much damage they can do or the various ways they can burn you out. For instance, some games you are going to want to flood the board with big bodies just to invalidate Flamewaker doing a bunch of damage to you, while other games you are going to run out a must-kill threat to make sure their second Fireball doesn’t go face. Forcing Mage to adapt to you helps you sculpt the game and will enable you to eventually run them out of burn (and thus cards).

Yogg Druid

This is perhaps one of your easier matchups, but it also can be one of the more frustrating. The reason for this is the only way you really lose is if your opponent has an insanely fast ramp start or a very lucky Yogg, both of which are out of your control. Druid has never been good against decks that just pump out threats, and you can do that with lethal efficiency. Having one strong threat after another can really hurt Druid’s gameplan and make them take a ton of plays they would never normally do. Once Druid loses the board (and this also applies to you so pay attention) they are never going to get it back. Always use your Innervates to push out minions and fill up the board any chance you can. Just putting down one threat your opponent can’t answer will snowball you to a win.

You are an aggressor during this game, plain and simple. That means you have to push as much damage as you can as quickly as possible. Druid is going to ramping hard for Yogg, and you want to try your best to cut them off before they get there. Remove their threats only if you need to make tempo plays, but always weigh how much damage you are losing for those trades against your hand before you make them. Yes, leaving up a Mire Keeper may allow your opponent to kill off your Savage Combatant, but maybe hitting them for five is just going to be worth a lot more in the long run. The only turn you need to be wary of is sever, as a lot of Druids are packing Ancient of War. The 5/10 taunt can end the game if you aren’t careful, so try and have a plan for it moving into the later game.

Zoo

Though Zoo dwindles, it holds on. The aggro Warlock deck is on the downswing, which is good news because I think this one of the toughest matchups you have. The problem is, while you have a lot of threats, most of those threats are constricted to big bodies. Zoo feeds off of those gameplans because of how well it swarms the board and tries to overrun their opponent. Your job here is to balance between adding damage and keeping your opponent in check. For that reason you want to play the tempo game in a way where you are both playing your own threats and ramping up while also being smart about your removal and never letting Zoo get a real foothold in the game.

You win this matchup by simply being aggressive. Anyone who has ever faced Zoo knows how much the deck likes to damage itself through minions as well as its constant hero power. Though they have a low curve and love to spam minions, Zoo’s real power comes from their constant card advantage. The way you stop this from happening is by attacking their life total and making sure you are the only ones who have minions on the board. That will make your opponent think twice about life tapping and keep their hand size (and thus their options down). Having the board is also important because it will make them use their usual burst spells (Power Overwhelming, Soulfire) on your minions instead of your face. You don’t mind if this game goes long because you can usually outlast them.

Mulligan Guide

Curve. I cannot stress that enough. You need to start every game as fast as possible and you have to mulligan to match that. Innervate, Enchanted Raven, Living Roots, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Druid of the Saber and Wrath are your must keeps here. Beyond that, you can keep Power of the Wild if you have no other early minions and you want to keep Mark of Y’shaarj (which is too weak to keep on its own) if you have a beast you can play it with early on.

When it comes to situational keeps, you want to keep Mounted Raptor when you have a good curve or the coin, and you want Savage Combatant if you have a solid curve leading up to it. Swipe is for any aggro decks or if you have a very strong opening against decks where you can get value from it like Shaman or Hunter. Finally, as always, understand how Innervate changes your mulligans. You normally don’t want to keep anything that costs five or more mana, but the ramp spell shifts your curve and allows you to go higher than normal.

Conclusion

Beasts unite! Honestly, while this deck is not as good as originally predicted, it seems very capable. So much so that I could easily see someone piloting this list all the way to the orange diamond and beyond. It has a strong curve, powerful minions and some incredibly fun plays to make. There are a lot of cool things going on, and I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty with Malfurion this week. I hope you enjoyed it as well. Until next time, may the beasts always obey you.