Weekly Legends: Beast Druid

I must confess, I am not somebody who plays a lot of Druid. Once upon a time it was my most played class, but I strayed from the wild side once my Malfurion became golden. While I really wanted to explore the possibilities of Beast Druid, it wasn’t on the top of my list. I […]

Introduction

I must confess, I am not somebody who plays a lot of Druid. Once upon a time it was my most played class, but I strayed from the wild side once my Malfurion became golden. While I really wanted to explore the possibilities of Beast Druid, it wasn’t on the top of my list. I knew someone would eventually bring the deck to legend, and once they did I would be able to cover it. The_FunkmasterJ answered my prayers, creating a very strong beast-centric Druid list. He did this by making a very smart move. I have often discussed deck building on this series, in that you don’t always have start from floor one to make a good deck. Going full-beast, for lack of a better term, was not the way to make a competitive beast deck. There are too many fringe or low-tier beasts in the game, and Knight of the Wild is an awful card. What FunkmasterJ did was take an already proven Druid deck (that of combo) and gut the center of the deck. Taking an already tested Ferrari and giving it all new parts. Yes, the combo is still your primary win condition, but this list is much more terrifying due to the influx of strong minions, ways to get board control, and, of course, the extra pair of cheap 7/7’s.

Druid is a very scary class to play against because of Savage Roar. The three mana spell is probably responsible for more Hearthstone deaths than any other card in the game (or at least close to number one). It can give you kills out of nowhere, and all you need are a few minions to set it up. This is very important in a deck like this, which runs a lot of minions that can stick around on the board. You always want to be pushing lethal in this deck, trying to find ways where you can win with a topdeck or burst combo. You want to think of your later turns much like a Hunter deck does. Understand the ways you can get lethal if you ever start falling behind on board, because damage will allow you to catch back up. Make your opponent kill your minions instead of trying to set up a good position. This will happen due to that fear of Savage Roar, and you can easily tweak that fear to your advantage. Combo is the way your are going to win most of your games, but that does not mean this is a combo deck. You have a lot of tools that are used to put on pressure, and each beast minion has a certain place in the overall build.

Key Cards

Druid of the Saber

Druid of the Saber was a huge underdog coming out of TGT. Almost everyone (including me) overlooked the unassuming two drop, but it quickly turned into one of the most playable cards in the set. A 2/1 for charge is not great, and a 3/2 with stealth isn’t either. However, being able to choose what mode you want is incredibly powerful. Each mode of this card is very strong. The charge mode allows you a good, cheap way to clear out minions or push damage through. It can act like a pseudo-combo when paired with Savage Roar, and can also drop your opponent down to the all important fourteen health. While I am not a huge fan of selling the combo by putting your opponent to low life on turn eight or nine, it really cannot be avoided in this deck. You want to hit your opponent hard whenever you get the chance, and this little card just enables you to have one extra threat when the time comes.

When you aren’t charging Druid of the Saber, you can stick it into stealth mode. In this way, it acts much like Shade of Naxxramas. Saber also has the added bonus of being a beast, which means you can use the stealth as a way to give your Druid of the Fang or Wildwalker ways to proc. Having a 3/2 on the board gives a really good threat that you can keep around until you need lethal (see how to use Shade) or just threaten your opponent’s drops. Even coining this out can discourage a lot of plays, such as Hunter playing an early Knife Juggler or a Warrior dropping their Acolyte of Pain. Those little plays, combined with the versatility, make this card an essential part of this deck’s early game.

Power of the Wild

Power of the Wild is one of the few on-ofs in this list, but it has a good reason for its inclusion. When analyzing a random one-of, you need to breakdown each mode that Power of the Wild has. Starting with the obvious, the 3/2 panther that it makes is a beast. This can give you some extra synergy in a pinch, and help you establish early board. It also can give you an extra threat for Force of Nature/Savage Roar. Furthermore, though it is never the ideal situation, this card can be a simple two drop to open the game against classes where getting something onto the board early is vital, such as Mech Mage, Midrange Hunter or Zoo. However, you only want to make the 3/2 if you absolutely need to. This card can fill in the gaps when needed, but it is not in the deck to make a panther, it is in the deck to buff your minions.

You run a lot of different minions that all do different things. However, they all are similar in that they usually don’t have a lot of power (outside of your three 7/7’s). Power of the Wild allows you to push those minions to the next level. This can give you surprise trades, let your minions kill your opponent’s minions and live, or just push through damage for lethal. Even buffing Force of Nature to nine damage can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing. More often than not you want to get some good value out of this card. Just know that does not always mean waiting until you can buff four or five minions. Sometimes that means just buffing your 4/6 Druid of the Claw into a 5/7 to get rid of a Sludge Belcher. As long as you are making good tempo plays with the buff, through either trades or pressure, then you are using the card in the right way.

Jungle Panther

Out of every card in the deck, this is easily the strangest choice. However, much like Druid of the Saber, it plays a very pivotal role due the fact that it has stealth. Jungle Panther is almost impossible to remove outside of AOE. This is important for two reasons. One, it will always give your Wildwalker a target as well as enable your Druid of the Fang. This is really important for a solid curve. Wildwalker onto a Jungle Panther gives you a Chillwind Yeti and a 4/4. Since you will usually use the panther to remove a minion, that can give you an incredible amount of board control. Though you pilot differently than most Druid decks, you still want to try and keep board as much as you can since it is the best way to set up the finishing combo. Jungle Panther gives you many ways to do this. I would almost think of this card as Druid of the Saber 3 and 4. However, it also has one more attack, allowing it to threaten later game minions and also represent more damage. The panther is a very simple card, but you always need to be aware of when to stealth and unstealth it. If you really want to trigger your Druid of the Fang on turn five, there usually isn’t a reason to unstealth on turn four. However, if you’re playing against a Paladin, you might want to trade it into something since Consecration kills it anyway.

Wildwalker

Half of this deck is the classic combo build, and half of it deals with beasts. Wildwalker is one of the cards that allow the second half of that equation to exist. Health has (almost) always been more important than attack in Hearthstone. For instance, Northshire Cleric and Dark Cultist would both me much, much worse if their stats were flipped and Savage Combatant would be much better as a 4/5. That being said, a card that gives health is also not terribly strong it’s own. It has been years since Blood Imp was good, and it’s not like Upgraded Repair Bot is crushing the ladder. Giving minions health is very strong ability, but the card itself has to be powerful enough to justify the inclusion. This is why Wildwalker is good. A 4/4 for 4 is average. Enabling a trade or using it to save your minion while also killing something else to give yourself an immense amount of board control is not.

Most Druid lists use taunts to control the board and stay alive. This deck uses minions. Giving your beasts health can be game saving, and will enable you make trades that you normally wouldn’t be able to. Wildwalker allows something as simple as a Druid of the Saber to run into a Knife Juggler, or a Jungle Panther to run into a Piloted Shredder and live. That is very key in any list where you want to keep minions on the board. The combo is often fourteen damage for the win, but sometimes you are going to need that extra minion or two to be on the board. Killing your opponent from the low twenties is a bit harder for this deck, and Wildwalker can allow that to happen by enabling you to keep board control in situations where you normally wouldn’t be able to.

Druid of the Fang

You knew this was coming. You aren’t going to run a beast Druid deck and not run the big, mac-daddy beast of all. Druid of the Fang may just be a 7/7, but it is a 7/7 for five mana. That price reduction is very important, not just for your curve, but also for your Innervates. Playing a stealth’d Druid of the Saber on turn two and then Innervating fang out on turn three can be a gigantic swing that will almost always end the game in a just a few turns. The 7/7 is easily the biggest threat you have access to, and you should try and hit face with it when you can. That is not to say that you never want to trade it into smaller minions, but you don’t want to be the deck that is killing off 3/2’s with a 7/7. You want to kill your opponent. Though fang is scary, it is very easy to chip down a 7/7, so get that damage through when you can and let your opponent try to find a way to answer you.

Without the buff, Druid of the Fang is very weak. A 4/4 for 5 is pretty much a disaster. However, sometimes you just need to get things onto the board. Stuff is usually better than nothing. You may be inclined to hold this card back to try and make it into a 7/7, but if you can play it onto a favorable board, even as a 4/4, that’s fine. For instance, a 4/4 onto an empty turn five board is worth much, much more than a 7/7 on turn seven or eight. This deck is built in a way that you will almost always have a beast on the board. The four stealth minions are key to this plan, and they usually will be the ones triggering fang. Always remember that this card also baits out a lot of Big Game Hunters. While that can feel bad, it also sets up your Dr. Boom, which is a much bigger threat. If you do manage to bait out a BGH early on or on turn five, then you can slam a turn seven doctor with no worries.

Matchups

Secret Paladin

Shhh. It’s (still) a secret. This is a matchup where you are going to be aggressive. Very, very aggressive. Secret Paladin is a smug little deck that will always win if it can do what it wants. Letting them sit back and just play out minion after minion into Mysterious Challenger will lead to their victory most of the time. However, much like Tempo Mage, they do not like people interrupting their curve. And you can interrupt their curve. Swipe and Wrath are both must keeps in this matchup, as you can really steamroll the board if you have your early minions backed up by removal. Make them uncomfortable, and put them on the back foot. Sometimes they can start out very strong, but you also havr the ability to meet them punch for punch.

The most important thing to note going into this matchup is what style of secrets you are facing. Some play Dr. Boom and Tirion Fordring, while others try to spam small minions and refill their hand with Divine Favor. While you are going to play each type largely the same (pressure), it is good to note what cards you are going up against. For instance, playing the more aggressive version allows you to be more liberal with your Keeper of the Groves, since you won’t need them for Tirion. However, if you are playing the slower version, you want to be ready for the turn five Sludge Belcher, which can kill a lot of your early minions if you aren’t careful. There isn’t enough space here to break down how to play around each secret, but other articles on this site do a nice job of it. If you know how to operate around the five usual suspects while also keeping pressure up, you should be fine. This is not a hard match as long as you know what you’re doing, and are ready to handle their turn six.

Hunter

Hunter is back. Oh boy is it back. These days I play Rexxar more than any other class. Part of this is just the strength of Hunter as a whole, and part of it is due to the fact that they have too many threats now. I hit Legend with Hunter last month (which I will go into next week) and the build was very different than most out there. Most people didn’t know how to play around it, and that led to a lot of easy wins. Bear Trap, Snake Trap, Freezing Trap and Explosive Trap make secrets very hard to play around, and there are all sorts of Hunters running around these days. While you once could identify a single type of Hunter by their opening (Leper Gnome was face and Webspinner was Midrange) it is not so simple anymore. Hybrid exists, and you just can’t really plan around the cards they are going to drop over the next turns. Which bring up the question, how do you win?

This deck may be a complete flip from the way you play Secret Paladin. Instead of only caring about aggression, here you only want to care about staying alive. Of course, if you can push through damage or steal board you should, but your life total should always be priority number one. All of the Hunters these days have the usual gambit of Eaglehorn Bow, Quickshot and Kill Command, but they also all run a bunch of random charge minions or giant creatures. The best way to combat this is through playing each one the same way. Defense is going to win this game. You want to use your removal and keepers to clear up the early game, and only hit face once you get a large minion to stick. Yes, Savannah Highmane is scary, but if you are at a comfortable life total you can actually ignore it. This is a battle of wills, and seeing who will blink first. Don’t ever dare them to have damage, as they most often will. Just use your resources wisely, be ready for bigger threats, and stay alive until turn nine when you can combo them down.

Control Warrior

You knew this was coming. You had to. As soon as Patron Warrior starts to really get to me, it completely disappears (though I have no doubt it will back next week). Control Warrior is rapidly evolving more than any other deck in the game right now. Bash and Justicar Trueheart gave it new ways to stay alive longer. More armor means they have a lot more leeway to play cards like Gorehowl. However, no matter how many beasts you run or how many different spells they have, you are still a Druid deck and they are still Warrior. This game goes heavily in your favor (ignore the video, that game didn’t happen). The combo has always been a problem for Warrior, and your stealth minions can give them a lot of headaches. Their late game is much better than yours, but if you get them low enough on health it won’t matter. The most important part of this matchup is understanding just how aggressive you need to be. If a Warrior is gaining a lot of armor, you want to try to hit their face and hit it hard. This little extra pressure will cause them to go on the defensive early, and will allow you to set up the combo. However, if you can’t get that extra pressure though, they will be able to play their larger cards and take over the board.

Brawl is the number one card you want to watch out for. Warrior has many removal options, but you never want to overextend to give them a 2 or 3 for 1 if you can help it. Besides that, you want to simply sit back and slowly wear down their resources. Unfortunately, with the addition of Bash, they do have more ways of getting rid of your early minions, but you can still force their premium removal if you’re careful. Remember, both Execute and Shield Slam don’t have great targets against you. Make them burn those early on in the match. This is not a war of attrition, as Control Warrior is for so many matches, but rather a race to get them down before they can stabilize. Clear their minions if you can afford to, and try and get rid of Armorsmith in the simplest way possible. Just like how Secret Paladin can do anything with enough time, Control Warrior can do anything with enough health. Keep on their back foot as much as you can, don’t be afraid to get aggressive (making Druid of the Saber into a 2/1) and make sure you hit the combo before they get get behind their wall or armor.

Tempo Mage

Tempo Mage continues to grow in popularity with the resurgence of Paladin as well as the comeback of Hunter. You want to play in the same you would play against Paladin. Early pressure mixed with removal. That is the key to keeping them off their desired path by any means necessary. As with Control Warrior, Tempo Mage does not do well with stealth minions, and they really need to hold back their removal to use as burn. Don’t give them that option, and put out an early game they must have an answer to. It is worth noting they run one copy of Flamestrike, and that is their only AOE outside of some lucky Flamewaker hits. That means that once you manage to get minions onto an empty board the game is usually over. Early removal is key in this matchup, as is Wildwalker, which lets you leverage tempo in a way Druid usually cannot. Remember, anytime you kill one of their minions with a minion that lives, you are going to win the long game. Swipe is also very important here, since so many Mage decks now run the Water Elemental/Azure Drake package.

A huge part of Tempo Mage’s gameplan is to back up their early damage with large finishers like Dr. Boom and Archmage Antonidas. However, board control will always trump large minions. If they are getting down to the all important 14 health, you really don’t care about what scary threats they play. This is vital to the matchup, since, in the same vein, you will almost always lose if they get a chance to play those giant minions while ahead. Anyone playing against Tempo Mage is going to become a tempo deck themselves. That is the nature of the beast. Luckily for you, due to ramp and efficient minions, you can play the tempo game right back. Just remember, this is a matchup where you have to come out of the gates shooting, because if you don’t, you’re going to have a lot of problems. A golden rule is to not let them have anything stick.

Hand/Demonlock

I still have the utmost respect for Warlock, as it continues to be the scariest class in the game. Now that Blizzcon qualifiers have kind of blown over, less people are playing Gul’dan, but he’s still out there, and he will hurt you. Demonlock and Handlock both play the same. That means they run a lot of the same midrange and removal cards. You should be aware of this, and watch out for both Hellfire and Shadowflame. It also means they both run Molten Giants. Anytime you play a Warlock that taps on turn one, you want to be ready to keep their life total up. This matchup almost always falls into your favor, since you have the luxury to sit back and let them get into the midteens or low twenties before killing them. Never do too much damage unless you are really pushing for an early or two-turn lethal. Keeper of the Grove is a must keep against Warlock because it deals with Zoo, Twilight Drake as well as Voidcaller. Warlock usually only goes one way. You need to take your time, and count the cards they have played. Don’t extend into their AOE, and keep their life total as high as you need. You will kill them before they get low enough to really do what they want. If you do run into a turn four Mountain Giant or the like, start turning up the pressure. This will force them to trade and allow you to chip away at their larger threats.

Mulligan Guide

If you’ve ever played Druid before (and I trust most of you have) the mulligan guide for this list should feel very familiar. Innervate and Darnassus Aspirant are the two cards you are going to be searching for every game. Ramping early really helps smooth out awkward curves, and can give you some truly explosive starts. As always, Innervate changes the way you mulligan, but for the most part, the general rule is to always have something to do on turn two. That may be a Wrath, Power of the Wild or Druid of the Saber, but hero powering is always the worst option. For this reason, all of the two drops are must keeps, and I would also add Jungle Panther to that list if you have the coin or an early curve.

Typically, you want to mulligan for yourself. Meaning, you want to play the same way against every deck. As a combo Druid deck, you never want to keep the combo and, barring Innervate, anything five and up should be thrown back. Power of the Wild is another card I don’t like to keep, unless I have absolutely nothing else to play in the early turns. With the coin, Wildwalker and Savage Combatant can both be excellent keeps, especially if you have a Darnassus Aspirant to set them up. Wrath should always be kept in the current meta due to the amount of very strong two-drops, and you always want Swipe against Paladin. It can be also kept against Hunter if you have an early start. Keeper of the Grove is also very good if you have the coin, an early curve or are playing a Priest. Beyond that, you simply want to play to your ramp, keeping hands that find a good curve. When choosing, keep in mind both beast synergy and the way a lot of smaller interactions are going to play out.

Conclusion

Last week it was Rogues, this time around I went with beasts. You never know what you are going to find scaling up the Hearthstone ladder these days, and while there is plenty of reason to be salty, there is plenty of reason to be happy as well. The meta is shifting, and I find myself playing against a different deck almost every game. Yes, some are more prevalent than others, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. It is a wide world out there, and as the days grow shorter and the night’s start to turn cold, remember that innovation is alive and well. Until next week, when I cover the deck I myself took to legend, may you always ramp early and combo often.