Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, because school is in session. While The New Standard/Brewmaster had a great run over the past year, I am switching gears to a brand new teaching series called “Scalise’s Sessions.” This is something I have been thinking about for some time, and something I asked many of you about. Well, needless to say, I got a lot of positive feedback that sparked me to actually put this into action. So, moving forward we are going to be looking at some of the best decks in the game and breaking down how to pilot them.
The way this is going to work is I will take a new top tier deck and break it down in a couple of different ways. We will look at how you want to play the deck through each stage of the game, how to use it against some of the more popular lists around, and then specific mulligans and general tips. All of this will be backed up with an in-depth video explaining the deck itself as well as showing some game footage to explain strategy. For those who have seen my other series, the format will be similar. However, this is going to be much more technical and game-centric than those.
This week, we begin the curriculum with Token Druid.
Token Druid is a powerful list that takes the classic Yogg/Malygos shell that was so popular over the past few months and just tweaks it. Instead of the OTK burst that those decks had, you have a very solid midrange core that I think fares much better when facing against the Shaman and Hunter decks of today. While there are several versions running around, I think this minion-heavy version that uses the spells as backup and packs on some extra finishers is the way to go. Today’s Hearthstone is all about the board, and you want a deck that can contest it in the best way possible.
You want to play the opening turns of the game largely as a control deck. That is to say, your goal here is going to be removing your opponent’s minions as efficiently as possible. Living Roots, Wrath, Raven Idol, Feral Rage and Swipe all do this extremely well. Every popular deck in the current meta has extremely powerful early game threats that you must be able to deal with in order to get to your middle game in one piece.
The only thing that will change this plan is ramp. Innervate and Wild Growth (which will be discussed further below) can instantly jump you ahead and give you control of the board. You typically only want to run into an early minion if you are playing against a class where you are going to get some value out of it. For instance, putting down a turn two Fandral Staghelm against a Warrior is probably not a good idea because of their efficient removal, but it is very strong against Mage because it is going to cost them multiple resources to deal with. Always think about how the minion you are going to ramp out is going to be dealt with.
One of the most important decisions to make here is whether or not to draw with Bloodmage Thalnos or Wrath. This is largely going to be based on the rest of your hand, but do not be afraid to get extra cards if you have an awkward or slow draw. For instance, using Living Roots and a one damage Wrath on a three health minion instead of just killing it with just Wrath or simply playing Bloodmage Thalnos on turn two.
Note: Raven Idol should always be used as a spell and turn one Living Roots should always be two 1/1’s unless you are playing against Warrior.
This is all about priority. Now, priority can be a tricky thing to understand, but it refers to the person that gets to play the first card on the board. That is to say, whoever is playing the minions has priority and whoever is spending their turns removing minions does not. While just playing on curve or keeping ahead of your opponent is the most basic form of this, forcing certain turns is also important.
For instance, if you play a threat on turn five (such as an Azure Drake) that your opponent is likely to play a spell instead of a minion, which then gives you the board on turn six. These type of plays can be hard to see, but you always want to look for them because they will allow you to naturally build into larger and larger threats throughout the course of the game. While being reactive is fine for the start of the game, here you have to be much proactive. Especially when facing Shaman.
Always try to set up Swipe with spell power if you are facing a swarm deck like Shaman, Hunter or Zoo. The clear spell is often going to come down on turn four to deal with a high-attack threat, but if you can save it later on you want to do your best to get the extra buff. Two damage to a whole board goes a long way and can bring you back into games where you are almost locked out.
One of the most important parts of this game is planning for Violet Teacher. The 3/5 is one of your win conditions and you want to go big with it against any aggro or midrange deck you see. Even without Power of the Wild, generating two or three 1/1’s alongside a must kill threat really sets a lot of decks back and interrupts their plays. The only time you want to hold back on the teach is against Control Warrior of Murloc Paladin because of their AOE. Just make one or two tokens to test their hand before going big.
Know that Emperor Thaurissan is one of the best ways to instantly take the board from your opponent. The dwarf is one of the largest “must kill” minions in the game and your opponent is going to use all of their resources to kill it on sight. Playing him is one of the best ways to force trades or to bait out hard removal.
How you play the late game is largely going to differ from match to match, but the most important aspect is looking for opportunities to play your finishers. The two most popular classes on the ladder are Shaman and Hunter. Each of those loves to pressure all throughout the game, which then chokes their opponent’s mana and prevents them from ever taking a turn developing a big threat. You are usually only going to have one opportunity to drop down a big threat, so you need to take it when you can.
One undervalued aspect of the late game is also taking priority through damage. Many of your opponent’s are going to respect the fact that you are a Druid, which means they will play scared if your can push hard for damage. Bluffing like you are building towards lethal is a great way to get some much-needed breathing room when your opponent. This does not meant to ignore your opponent’s threats, but understanding when it is ok to hit face over killing a 3/3 or 4/4.
A breakdown of the most popular matchups in the game.
Midrange Shaman is the most popular deck in the game and it is going to be one of your tougher matchups around. While this is undoubtedly hard, you can win it if you are patient and work hard to limit your opponent’s board in anyway that you can. Press for priority here and work hard to always make your opponent answer your threats rather than the other way around. Though Shaman has ample ways to control the board, the more they are focused on your threats the less they are going to worry about stacking totems and pushing for lethal. This allows you to dig through your deck and find your finishers. Also note that many of the current Shaman builds are filled with overload spells. Getting them to burn multiple cards can really limit their potential and cripple what they can do on any given turn.
The biggest reason this match is so hard is because of Shaman’s inherent AOE. Lightning Storm does a lot of work against you, and Maelstrom Portal can just lead to gigantic blowouts. As a result, you need to work hard to find a balance where you are committing enough to the board to bait mass removal, but not so much that you are going to lose when it comes. This is a learned skill, but the general rule that I have is if you have three threats or two threats that stack up a lot of damage, you don’t need more. Finally, always be hyper aware of Thing From Below. The 5/5 is Shaman’s best tempo play, and it will crush you if you don’t have it in mind. As the game always see how the game state will look with a sudden huge taunt on it.
As Shaman rises, so does the ice. Freeze Mage is a very strong counter to Thrall, which is why it has just gotten more and more popular over the course of the game. This is very tricky for you because, while this match is winnable, it is not going to be easy. The way you beat Freeze Mage is by balancing consistent damage with late-game healing. While you are usually a reactive deck, you have to power out threats and try to always have your opponent worried about losing their Ice Block. Any Freeze Mage is going to depend on the secret to end a game, which means they will use burn if they fear it is going to get popped. The more than happens, the less damage you have to worry about. However, being complacent will allow them to easily hoard cards and set up their finishers.
It is very important to look for ways to deal with Doomsayer. Nova/Sayer will absolutely destroy your boards, and you cannot lose than kind of priority in a match like this one. Even one dead turn against Mage can be game-ending. Another important winning line is to going to stack up as much armor as you can. Your hero power may not be as high-impact as Warrior’s, but it does a very good job of gaining extra life over the course of a game. Always look for ways to fit it in around your usual curve. In that vein, always use your Feral Rages as healing and try and find extra health with with Raven Idol. The one mana spell should almost exclusively be used as a way to gain extra health following Alexstrasza. The only exception here is when you need to find a spell for lethal.
Secret Hunter is still one of the strongest lists in the game and one of the most powerful decks you will face. The key to winning this game is accurately playing around secrets and understanding what your opponent could have. While Explosive Trap is unlikely to hurt you, Snake Trap, Freezing Trap, Snipe and Cat Trick (your nightmare) are all very popular. Be careful when they have the question mark up and only test for secrets that you can immediately answer. For instance, holding back on triggering Snake Trap until you can hit a Swipe. Also note that you do not have to give charges to an Eaglehorn Bow if you don’t want to. Holding back minions and just building a board is often better than giving your opponent a 3/3 or 3/4 bow for no reason.
The most important part of this matchup is turn five. This is because you need to build as big of a board as you can before Savannah Highmane hits the field. Going back to the idea of priority, you have no way to interact with the lion so you need to simply overwhelm it. If you pressure enough your opponent is not going to have the luxury of dropping the six drop, which then crushes their curve. Beyond that, you simply just need to keep track of your opponent’s spells and watch out for damage. Hunter still has the best burst around and they will absolutely punish you for playing behind or loose. Clear their board as much as you can. You do not want to assume the role of aggressor unless you are very far ahead or you know they are out of options.
Control Warrior is the most popular slow deck around and a matchup that you are going to win by slowly breaking them down turn after turn. This is one of the few games where you are the pure aggressor. Start pushing from turn one and keep playing threat after threat. This will force your opponent to use their various removal cards early, which then sets up your end-game really well. You are favored in this match as long as you know how to pace the game in your way. This is because you can create so many large minions and so many powerful turns that eventually Warrior is going to run out of cards and then you are going to crush them. Hold back your combos and try and make your opponent use two cards to kill one threat. For example, putting a large threat into a situation where they cannot easily Shield Slam or Execute it.
Of course, the most important part of this game is playing around Brawl. As with Shaman, you want to work to create seemingly powerful boards that your opponent will clear without committing too much. For instance, a Violet Teacher and two tokens or maybe double Azure Drake and a 3/2 Panther. Just only do this if you have gas in your hand. Finally, do what you can to hold Raven Idol to use it with Fandral Staghelm. While you are going to want to look for spells like Savage Roar, you typically also just want to turn the spell into extra bodies as well. This game is usually going to go long enough where you are going to need as many threats as possible.
To my surprise, Paladin has been one of the most popular ladder decks over the past few weeks. This game is going to play out a lot like the Control Warrior matchup, but with a lot more mindgames. The reason is that Paladin does not have much removal and largely depends Equality to carry them through games. As when facing down Brawl, you win this game by playing enough cards that they are going to burn that precious clear but never go all in. However, in this game you do need constant pressure so if you make a read they don’t have AOE you want to go in hard. Understand that you are on a clock here. There is not way you will be able to live through two Anyfins, so you have to kill your opponent before they every get to that point. Keeping constant pressure is how you win this game, as is finding ways to build lethal in your hand. It is right to hold onto multiple damage cards and burst your opponent down. If they think they are going to die they will often heal up, but if you can catch them in the mid teens you should be able to pull this one out.
Note: Try and have a good answer to Doomsayer in hand. Like in Freeze Mage the 0/7 can crush you, but it is even worse here because your opponent can actually do something with the board priority.
Tip and Tricks
Here are some final notes on ways to play the deck.
Violet Teacher is one of your win conditions, but you need to know how and when to play her. I would treat her in the same way you would treat Brann Bronzebeard in dragon decks. That is, you want to run her out when you can get immediate value, when you need to bait out a kill spell, or when your opponent is going to have no good answer. Just having her sit on the board for a turn is more than fine. This same mentality also goes for Fandral Staghelm. However, you want to be much more careful with the 3/5 because you can only use him once, where you have two teachers at your disposal.
Work to set up your Arcane Giants. This means in terms of both mana cost and board states. An 8/8 is not easy for many decks to deal with, and it can just put a ton of added pressure on if you play it at the right time. Using spells to specifically get a turn five or six giant against decks without hard removal can often be the right play.
You do not need to use Innervate just because you have it in hand. Many people will use this card incorrectly just because they want to get “value” out of it. A lot of the time you just want to stick to your early curve and then use this to smooth things out later on. For example, using this on turn four to get an early Emperor Thaurissan into an Azure Drake is often better than just playing a turn two drake with no follow up for two turns. In addition, you want to use Wild Growth over this on two unless there is something you absolutely need to play.
Nourish should almost always be used for card draw. While this card was once only tuned towards ramp, the extra crystals matter much less than they used to. You are a deck with a ton of small interactions and nuances, so the more cards you can get the better you are going to do over the course of the game. The only exception here is when you absolutely need to ramp to get to a threat or when you are playing it early on and you want to smooth out your curve.
The final note here is to always look for lethal. While you play like a slower deck a lot of the time, you have many ways to hit face. Always count the damage in your hand and never be afraid to set up a two turn kill. It is easy to be reactive, but you don’t want to miss a way to lethal because you were too busy clearing the board.
The first thing you need to look at when mulliganing is your ramp. Innervate and Wild Growth rapidly raise the ceiling. I have long preached the idea to always count out your curve before you lock in your hand. While you never want to look for things that cost five or more, this can happen if you can push something out early.
Must Keeps:Innervate Raven Idol Living Roots Wrath Wild growth
Power of the Wild can be kept if you have an awkward hand against an aggro deck where you need an early play.
Feral Rage can be kept against any aggro deck (Hunter, Shaman, Zoo).
If you are running Mulch it can be a good keep against Shaman or Druid if you have a strong opener. It is also keepable versus Freeze Mage to deal with Doomsayer.
Swipe is good against aggro decks like Hunter, Shaman and Zoo.
You can also keep both Violet Teacher and Fandral Staghelm if you have a good curve into them and the coin.
Bloodmage Thalnos is largely a flex card. I really enjoy the cheap cost and versatility (not to mention card draw) he provides, but you can tech in a Jungle Moonkin in this spot. Moonkin is a little better if you are only seeing Shaman because he can Flamestrike thier board, but BT is better against a wider range of classes. Moonkin is also susceptible to Freeze Mage.
I am currently switching between double [card]Feral Rage and one Feral Rage/one Mulch. Mulch is a very strong card when you are seeing a lot of slower decks (Paladin, Control Warrior, Ramp) but it is much worse against things like Zoo and Hunter. It generally breaks even against Shaman because Rage is strong against their early game and Mulch hits their larger threats. I am trending towards Feral Rage right now because there is a high amount of Freeze Mage at my rank.
Emperor Thaurissan can easily become Sylvanas Windrunner. Though the fire-loving dwarf is very good at triggering micro interactions and big Violet Teacher turns, it doesn’t have quite the same power it has with Malygos. The windrunner fills this role quite nicely and gives you a strong play against slower control.
Ancient of War is also a flex spot that can be any other big threat. There are a couple options for this, all of which I think are worse than the 5/10. If you feel you do not need the taunt or you want something a little more proactive, Ragnaros the Firelord is a good option here.
I am currently playing Cenarius. However, as explained in the video, many people (including the original list) runs Onyxia. Either is fine, but I think Cenarius is better because it is a dead card less often and can give you lethal out of nowhere. Onyxia really needs an empty or nearly-empty board to be good.
You can also run Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End if you wish. However, I advise against this because I don’t think he’s good enough following the recent nerf. You just cannot afford to pay ten mana to skip your turn.
Well, we’ve only got five minutes left so I’ll let you out early. I’m cool like that. That is the first week of Scalise’s Sessions and I hope you enjoyed it. This is just my first crack at the teaching thing, so let me know what you thought. If you have any feedback let me know in the comments. Until next week, class dismissed!