Weekly Legends: Combo Who? (Ramp Druid)

Sometimes in life you have to get greedy. Really greedy. I’m not talking about eating an extra cookie with lunch, I’m talking about a whole mess of giant minions and one of the highest curves Hearthstone has ever seen. This week on Weekly Legends we are going to look at a legend ramp Druid decklist […]

Introduction

Sometimes in life you have to get greedy. Really greedy. I’m not talking about eating an extra cookie with lunch, I’m talking about a whole mess of giant minions and one of the highest curves Hearthstone has ever seen. This week on Weekly Legends we are going to look at a legend ramp Druid decklist made by Ganbangarang. This list, instead of going the more common combo Druid route, focuses on trying to power out huge minions that simply take over a board on their own. Yes, it is a little risky going that big in today’s meta, but this deck truly shows the importance of focus when it comes to deck building. This takes a traditional idea, and then injects some new card choices into it as a way to better adapt to the current meta.

Darnassus Aspirant has drastically changed Druid. And I’m not sure if it was for the better. While the two drop was initially seen as a way to give ramp Druid more options, it actually just enabled combo decks to flourish. However, it gives a mana crystal, which means the ramp potential is still there. Giving “go big” Druid three ways to get to the all important turn seven can be incredible in the right hands. While many Druid decks simply try and tear their opponent down from fourteen health, this deck wins through sheer attrition. It may not be the way that most Druid decks have gone in the past, but all of the tools are there. These tools allow you to have a very strong curve, which then enables you to simply out-minion your opponent as the game goes long. This deck is what Druid was originally intended to be. Not a combo-oriented build that tries to get a minion to stick to set up lethal, but the type of deck that goes so far over your opponent’s head they’ll wonder why they even thought to play their puny minions in the first place.

Key Cards

Zombie Chow

This card is the only reason this deck works. And no, that is not hyperbole. In today’s world, you have to be able to respond to the first two turns of the game. It doesn’t matter how many giant minions or impressive creatures you stuff into your deck, if you can’t do anything on the first few turns you will die a horrible, horrible death. While Darnassus Aspirant and Wild Growth are your set turn two plays, it also helps to able to get something else early onto the board when you don’t have ramp or just need to combat aggro. Zombie Chow does both of these extremely well. A 2/3 for one mana is nothing too exciting, but it gives decks like Face Hunter, Zoo and Secret Paladin absolute fits. Most aggro decks these days are based around the idea of making sure their minions trade well. Chow completely ruins that plan by either allowing you to two for one or by eating early removal (which means your opponent isn’t adding to the board).

One of the most important things to remember about Zombie Chow is that it does not need to trade twice. While you may want to try and eek out every inch of value from this card, just trading it into a turn two Knife Juggler is a great way to begin the game. This card acts as removal more than anything else, and should be viewed as such. It is your version of Holy Smite that also has some serious upside in that it can kill more than one early minion. Ramp Druid is a deck that wants to spend its turns building up for huge minions. Chow enables you do to that while not having to worry about that pesky Shielded Minibot or Leper Gnome that keeps hitting you in the face. It allows you to get more mana quicker, which then enables you to get to your taunts that will eventually win you the game.

Sen’jin Shieldmasta

The original version of this list ran Aviana. However, in my first games of testing I immediately found her too slow and too gimmicky. As such, I wanted to change her out for something that would allow me a little more play against aggro decks. Sen’jin Shieldmasta fills this role while also smoothing out your curve with one extra four drop to hit off of your ramp cards. I personally love the Ramp style of Druid, and Aviana is a very powerful card to top off your deck with. Yet, the curve of this deck is already extremely high. While being greedy is good, there is a limit to that greediness. Perhaps the only weakness to Ramp Druid has is the amount of games you start out with four seven drops and insta-lose on turn three. That is quite a drawback. As such, you want to limit that from happening as much as possible. Your ramp cards help with that, as do your four removal spells, but I think the decks needs one extra push in the lower direction. Now, that does not mean you need to cut Aviana (you can cut any card off of the top end of the curve), but I don’t think you want to pilot this list without at least one shieldmasta. How you go about making that switch is completely up to you.

Nourish

This is a blast from the past. Nourish is a card that hasn’t seen the light of day in a long, long time. However, in a deck that has six fast start ramp cards, it is an incredibly versatile tool to have at your disposal. While it is very easy to see the “draw three cards” clause that is tacked onto this one, you actually want to use both modes in two different ways depending on what stage of the game you are in. The first (and much more important) mode of this card is the ramp option. Two crystals is nothing to sneeze at, and will get you to huge minions in a hurry. For that reason, anytime you ramp into this on turn two, three or four you want to try and get the crystals. This may not always be the best play if your hand is empty, but anytime you have a huge threat that you want to get down (or something as simple as an Emperor Thaurissan) then you want to get to the ramp. In addition, always remember that the crystals you get are full. This means you can use Nourish and then use your hero power or do something like Wrath a Knife Juggler.

Once you get past the early stages of the game, Nourish suddenly becomes a third or fourth Ancient of Lore. Three cards is an absolutely ridiculous amount for just five mana. Most decks are going to spend a lot of resources to fight through your large minions or endless taunts. On the flip side, you are going to run out of resources trying to ramp into those minions. This usually creates a dual game state where you and both your opponent get low on cards. When this happens, Ancient of Lore and Nourish are the way you pull ahead. While ancient is of course more powerful because it puts something on board, the extra card from Nourish does a wonderful job of setting up the end of the game. However, since it doesn’t put anything down, you always want to look for the perfect opportunity to play it. If you are fighting for board, you never want to play this over a minion, but if you have a window where you can draw, you should.

Kel’thuzad

Soldiers of the cold dark! Kel’thuzad is a card that started to creep into Ramp Druid decks long after the icy halls of Naxxramas closed for good. However, he is back and better than ever. While still a fringe card in most lists, the Lich King has always been a great choice in Ramp Druid simply due to the high amount of taunts. He has always been a powerful choice when bringing back another huge threat, but when you can hide Kel behind a Ancient of War, Sludge Belcher or Druid of the Claw the game is almost always over. Even if he doesn’t bring back ancients or druids in their taunt form, the board presence of being able to trade a minion and have it return is just as important as the protection. Hearthstone is all about sticky minions. Kel’thuzad not only makes your minions sticky, but it is also a threat that must be answered immediately or the game simply ends.

When playing Kel’Thuzad (or rather when trying to figure out when to play Kel’Thuzad) you want to have the same mindset as when you play Zombie Chow. That is to say, you don’t need to go all in or get the absolute most value possible. While you can get some gigantic blow outs with the Lich King, he is not in the deck to resurrect your Sylvanas Windrunner. He is in the deck to just provide a little value and give you another huge finisher. Many people will often save Kel’thuzad because they don’t want him to get easily removed or they are afraid that he’s not going to provide enough value. You need to get that out of your head. Yes, there is no reason to simply play him onto the board just to die, but if you can even bring back one big minion before he gets killed he has served a purpose. If you can get him down behind a wall of taunts, that’s even better, but it isn’t what you’re trying to do.

Sneed’s Old Shredder

One of the things I love about this archetype is the litany of answers it has to all different styles of decks. Typically, Ramp Decks are strong against aggro. Though they can start out a lot of games on the slow side, if you begin with a good curve your huge taunts and giant minions will out class aggro every single time. That being said, while it is always good to have a way to beat aggro when going into the ladder, Ramp Druid has always been a little lacking against control. This is because, not only does Druid not have a great way to get rid of big threats, but by running the combo you are going to have a very, very hard time killing things like Handlock, Control Warrior and Control Priest. The solution? Cards like Sneed’s Old Shredder, which not only provides you with one really solid body, but also a very resilient minion that acts as two threats for the price of one.

Sneed’s Old Shredder is an incredibly powerful card. Yes, it is slow. And yes, it doesn’t immediately impact the board, but it’s base ability is incredible and it will tear through your opponent’s board if they don’t have a silence at their disposal. While he does not see play due to the weaknesses listed above, he works very well in a deck that can just keep pumping out threats like this one. He gives you an extra threat against control, which is really needed in many games. When playing the shredder you do always be wary of Sylvanas Windrunner. While a silence is not the end of the world (since you still have a 5/7 on the board), Sylvanas will absolutely ruin your day. For this reason, when playing against decks that run her I will hold back the mech until I have already seen Sylvanas or if I also have a Keeper in the Grove in hand.

Matchups

Secret Paladin

If my recent matchup guides have taught us anything, it is that Secret Paladin is currently king. Not to say it’s the best deck, but it is definitely the most popular. Gangbangarang said that he built this deck specifically to counter Secret Paladin, and that is a promise that holds up quite well. While there are times where you may falter early on, the ramp is so consistent and the taunts are so huge, Secret Paladin will have a very hard time keeping up with your list. It is important to remember that they are a deck that heavily relies on the actions of their opponent. This is a problem for many decks because they are based around the idea of trading, trading and trading. However, you have such a high volume of large taunts that you can often sits back and make Paladin trade into you. That takes away the power of their secrets, which need to trigger on your turn rather than theirs, and really puts a chokehold on their plans.

That being said, while sometimes you want to let them try and figure out a way past your Druid of the Claw, it is always a good idea to remove their minions when you can afford to. Swipe is almost a must keep as an answer to Muster for Battle, and Wrath is very important to fight off early pressure. Keeper of the Grove is also your best friend in this matchup. Not only can it be ramped out early to kill off a Knife Juggler or the like, but keeper also has the added bonus of being able to shut down some of the most problematic cards Paladin has. While you almost always want to answer Avenge with either trades or hard removal, you need keeper as a way to shut down Blessing of Kings, which your hard removal often cannot hit. In addition, the four drop is your only answer outside of Sylvanas Windrunner to effectively deal with Tirion Fordring. For this reason, you should always attempt to save one keeper until the end of the game if you can.

Aggro Hunter

I didn’t put this as Face Hunter because there is a subtle difference between Face Hunter and what Hunter has become. Hunter is not necessarily strictly face in the way it once was. Rather, it is now a strong aggro deck that mix and matches threats as it chooses. From Wolfrider to Abusive Sergeant to Savannah Highmane or Snake Trap, Hunter can run anything it wants. You can challenge them to a point, but without the combo there is simply no racing in this one. Most of your taunts are simply ways to extend the game, and your Ancient of Lores are going to be used for healing purposes 99% of the time. Hunter is a deck that can kill you from very high life totals, and it also has the innate ability to finish you off behind taunts. However, they also depend on a strong start to make that happen. A Zombie Chow or Darnassus Aspirant can do a very nice job or eating a good four or six damage, and that will give you the power to ramp in the way that you want to. Just remember to mulligan aggressively for early removal or board presence in this matchup.

The way you take down Rexxar is, as you may have guessed, through taunts. However, no matter what the board state is, if your health is low you need to be very, very careful. Hunters run two Ironbeak Owls as there primary way to handle big taunts and that is really it. Kill Command and Quick Shot can also be used to clear, but that is damage that isn’t going to go on your face. While they may have answer for the first or second Druid of the Claw, the third wall you set down is the one that is going to kill them. Always test for owls as best as you can. That means you don’t simply want to run out a turn five or six Ancient of War if you haven’t seen an Ironbeak. Rather, play something like a Sludge Belcher. That is still a big enough threat where they have to silence it, but it is also a much worse silence target than the ancient. That type of thinking is very important, since those small moves are what is going to eventually give you the edge.

Tempo Mage

I have been playing Hearthstone a long, long time and I still have no idea if Tempo Mage is supposed to be favored against Druid or not. However, what I do know is that Tempo Mage is a deck that is not built to deal with huge minions. That fact alone is going to make Tempo Mage an easier matchup, since they are not very well equipped to handle the cards that you play. However, you are also prone to starts where you are focused on ramp, and you can fall behind very quickly. Always plan ahead here. While it can be difficult to try and see what Tempo Mage is going to drop due to the high amount of possible cards they can play, you need to always think about ways to protect yourself.  Just like going up against Hunter or Paladin, you want to take the opportunity to kill everything that comes down early on. Of course, ramping into removal or huge taunts is always priority number one, but you want to make sure you don’t let Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Flamewaker live too long. That damage adds up, and once you get too low in health no amount of taunts are going to save you.

You should note that you’re going to go long in this matchup. In fact, most of your matchups are going to take some time. Going long usually means you are going to see Tempo Mage’s top end, ranging from Dr. Boom to Archmage Antonidas to even sometimes Rhonin. For this reason you need to keep your life total high. While Ancient of War can lock down a board against tempo, it cannot protect your from the legendary wizard. Remember, Tempo Mage is an aggro deck through and through. They might play more midrange cards, and they might win some games with huge minions, but they are a deck that loves to apply early pressure and then finish the game off with a flurry of burn spells. Being a ramp deck, you have the tools to prevent that and disrupt their curve, but you must make sure to keep their early pressure at bay.

Control Warrior

Grim Patron is now dead (at least according to everyone besides Xixo) which means that when you do face off against Warrior on ladder, chances are it’s going to be Control. That’s good news for us in that we don’t have to play Patron, but Control Warrior is no cakewalk either. The most important aspect of this match (and pretty much the only thing worth talking about) is your own minion management. That is to say, always be careful of what minions you put down. Control Warrior will kill most of your smaller creatures with weapons in order to save their premium removal. That removal comes in five or six cards: Execute, Shield Slam and Brawl. You can work around these cards as best as you can, forcing your opponent to use them at the wrong times or on the wrong threats. In that same vein, constantly count your opponent’s removal to make sure when you have the all-clear. Kel’thuzad and Sneed’s Old Shredder are going to serve as your finishers in this match due to their resilience. As you don’t have access to the combo, you are going to need to win the game through pure attrition. That means they are going to see all of your threats and you are going to see all of theirs. While you only really have access to Big Game Hunter as a way to combat Control Warrior’s minions, your sheer volume of powerful minions should put them back on their heals. To win this match you have to run them low on cards. That is a tricky thing to do, but if you can ramp fast and start to whittle away at their removal by baiting it out on things like Sludge Belcher this game should fall your way.

Note: This is one of the most important matchups to watch out for Sylvanas Windrunner. I will always save a Keeper of the Grove for her (even not choosing to silence an Acolyte of Pain), as an unanswered Sneed’s Old Shredder can win this match on its own.

Midrange/Combo Druid

The other half of Malfurion’s split mind, Midrange Druid is all about the insta-kill. That is something they have never been particularly subtle about. While some decks will try to slowly wear you down and then trick you into thinking they don’t have lethal, midrange Druid just keeps dropping threats until you don’t have an answer. Know that going into this match, and understand the combo Druid game is going to occur in two halves. The first few turns are going to feel a lot like a mirror match where each person either tries to ramp something out or just get access to more mana. However, that changes very quickly when they start putting out threats like Piloted Shredder or Shade of Naxxramas. When that happens, you simply want to try and ramp harder. You cannot meet Midrange Druid punch for punch, but you can go way over their head. That first half can be rough if you don’t have removal, but you usually can come out of it with something on board as a way to hold back or shut down their initial strike.

Once you get over the hump, the second part of the game is very similar to playing Hunter in that you just want to do what you can to stay alive. The combo is the only way Midrange Druid wins this match, since their minions cannot match up to yours, and you have to always be aware of how much damage they can do. You should always assume they have it in hand, because not doing so can lead to a lot of early losses. The combo is very scary. You have taunts, but Midrange Druid runs two Keeper of the Groves and have some decent removal. Count their cards, and see how well they can deal with taunts. Just like in any other match when you are attempting to stay alive, try and bait out your opponent’s resources with a soft taunt before dropping something huge onto the board. You can also bait out silences with cards like  Sylvanas Windrunner or Sneed’s Old Shredder. Those give you board presence without having to risk a taunt.

Mulligan Guide

Ramp, ramp, ramp…Did I mention ramp? One of the best things about picking up this deck is that it has a very straightforward mulligan guide. In fact, I would say, at its base, this has one of the easiest mulligan guides in the game. The plan is very simple, keep cards that allow you to ramp, keep early removal and keep Zombie Chow. Everything else gets thrown back. Your must keeps are the chow, Innervate, Wild Growth, Wrath and Darnassus Aspirant. That is going to be the gameplan for every matchup. The ramp is essential for starting strong, the Wrath hits a ton of targets, and even if you don’t need the turn one Chow, you don’t want to draw it later on. Beyond those keeps, Swipe should always be kept against Paladin, or against Hunter if you have a solid starting curve. Keeper of the Grove is also fantastic against any aggro deck (Warlock, Hunter, Mage, Paladin) especially if you have early ramp to go with it.

Now, as simple as this mulliganing is, there is one factor that really cannot be accounted for in a written guide. That is ramp. Every game you play is going to look different, and your mulligans can greatly change when Wild Growth or Innervate get thrown into the mix. Just as you are looking for ramp early on, you also should be aware of how ramp can change the cards you decide to keep. Sometimes you are going to keep Druid of the Claw or an Ancient of Lore or a Nourish because you can get to them very quickly. As important as the early presence is, ramping is even more important. You want to use the “must keeps” as your base for mulligans, but you can keeper bigger card when adapting to what else is in your hand.

Conclusion

I love Ramp Druid, and I hope you guys do as well. Sometimes here on Weekly Legends I go crazy, sometimes I play it safe, and sometimes I just look at a different take on a popular class. That’s what I did this week. There are many ways to play Hearthstone, but if you love big minions, then this is the deck for you. As always let me know what you think in the comments, and I hope you have a great week. Until next time, may you always Innervate as soon as you can.