Weekly Legends: Naga Ramp!

It may seem odd how often I gravitate towards Druid, but honestly, for all the hate that it gets (and deserves!) it is a pretty cool class. Ramp is a sweet archetype and I personally enjoy Druid’s connection to nature from a lore/fantasy standpoint. As such, it is always cool to be able to take […]

Introduction

It may seem odd how often I gravitate towards Druid, but honestly, for all the hate that it gets (and deserves!) it is a pretty cool class. Ramp is a sweet archetype and I personally enjoy Druid’s connection to nature from a lore/fantasy standpoint. As such, it is always cool to be able to take Malfurion into battle with a list that doesn’t run the Force of Nature/Savage Roar wombo-kill you from thirty life because I happened to draw the right cards in the right order and oh yeah you can’t kill a 2/2 because you were too busy answering all of my constant 5/5 threats-combo. This week’s list follows that rule by going in the exact opposite direction of the classic Midrange list and doing what Druid was always meant to do: kill people with some really, really, really big minions.

Ramp has always been a fringe archetype, a deck that has existed in the shadows of the game. However, it has always had a lot of potential, and can just run over most decks if it gets rolling. In my history with this game I have found that most people try to play ramp with half-measures, meaning they don’t go all-in. This is understandable, as it can be scary to play a deck that doesn’t have finishing burst or that gets rolled over by having a rough mulligan. However, you simply cannot play a deck like Ramp by living in that middle ground. You have to go all-in if you want to win, making everything either ramp or end the game. There are a ton of awesome giant minions in Hearthstone (especially in Druid) and this deck’s only goal is to power them out. Of course, it does run some early removal as well, but you are really looking for your minions to carry the day.

Key Cards

Wild Growth/Darnassus Aspirant

It would be criminal to discuss a ramp deck and not talk about the early game that makes it happen. While it may seem like overkill to run both of these cards in the same list (some people prefer to run a 1//2 split), you absolutely have to if you want to have a chance at winning. As stated, this is not a deck of half measures. Your job is to play your giant threats, and every other card should work to get you there. The biggest weakness of Ramp decks is consistency. Almost every good deck in the game has a certain amount of consistency that allows them to enact their gameplan reliably each game. While that is a important to many decks, it is absolutely crucial to this one. Missing early ramp can really set you back against a lot of decks, and even lead to straight up losses against things like Tempo Mage or Zoo. For that reason, you should always play Wild Growth over Darnassus Aspirant against any deck that can easily kill the two drop, as the extra mana will be more important in the long run. However, against something like Paladin that has trouble with early removal, you should stick down the two drop to give you some much-needed board control.

Naga Sea Witch

This is perhaps the spiciest card in the list, and one I would argue really allows the deck to work. As stated, half of this deck is ramp cards and half of the deck is big minions. Naga Sea Witch is an extremely strong ramp card that can instantly win you the game if your opponent doesn’t have an immediate answer. In that way, this card operates a lot like Emperor Thaurissan that comes out one turn earlier. Yes, you may not get the lasting effect that Thaurissan gives you, but its affect is usually more powerful it can live a turn. It is important to note that this is the best card to Innervate or ramp out early in the deck. Playing this card on turn two, three or four can act as a win condition on its own if your opponent has no way to combat the play. While you only really want to make that play if you have a big minion to go with, it is often better than ramping out a Sludge Belcher or Druid of the Claw because the Sea Witch basically has taunt, but it comes with more upside.

You want to protect your Naga Sea Witch at all costs. That means clearing a threatening board or putting down a large taunt before getting her down. The reason is that the ability only has a small window where it is really good. As the game goes on making your minions five (while never bad) is going to get worse since you will be able to just play your bigger threats. While you can just run her out from time to time onto a board and hope your opponent doesn’t have the extra damage, they most likely will (or they have just have a silence). It should also be noted how strong this card is when facing decks with AOE (which you are naturally weak to) like Warlock, Priest or Warrior. The reason is that you can bait out mass removal with a couple of big minions while holding the witch and some other giant legendary. Then, if your board does get cleared, you just put down the 5/5 alongside a Ysera or Ragnaros the Firelord.

Ancient of War

Out of all the cards in your deck, none are more important than Ancient of War. While this card is weak to silence (as most of your finishers) this card is the reason ramp works as well as it does. A 5/10 is very hard for most decks to get through, especially if they don’t have a silence. Being able to play this on turn seven can instantly get you the board, and Innervateing it out on turn five can sometimes end the game on the spot. This card works very well as a on-curve or early threat, but it also does a very good job at baiting out key removal. Yes, a 5/10 with taunt is very strong, but against slower control decks or midrange lists with limited forms of clearing, it does a great job of paving the way for your real finishers like Ysera. If you are facing an opponent and you are worried about some type of removal spell, it is often best to get the ancient down first to test your opponent’s hand.

Do not be afraid to uproot. Check that. Be afraid to uproot, but also understand when you should. While this is rarely going to happen, it does come up from time to time against both aggro and control. There are many big threats you have against aggro, and if you can keep them busy throughout the game, a sudden 10/5 on an empty board can make you the aggressor. That play may seem very risky, but often times waiting against aggro in the lategame is going to be just as dangerous. In addition, making this a 10/5 against control can give them a ton of problems if they have already used their removal (or Big Game Hunter) on other cards. As mentioned, you normally want this to be the card taking removal, but those rules can change if you get it during the later turns of the game. Also note that a 10/5 is very strong against an opponent who has already played the Golden Monkey.

Kel’thuzad

I bring up Kel’thuzad because he is one of your primary win conditions. Without any strong burst you are going to mainly try and grind your opponent down. No card does that better than the Lich King. Kel’thuzad does a very good job of locking out almost every strong deck in the game, and can be fantastic when hiding behind a taunt. In fact, if your opponent doesn’t have an immediate answer for the 6/8 the game is usually all-but over. Yes, there are many forms of removal in the game, but a 6/8 is very hard to remove on the right board. It trades very well with most minions, dodges Big Game Hunter, and provides near infinite value that keeps coming back turn after turn.

This is the card you really want to work hard to set up. While there is nothing wrong with just playing the 6/8 to slow your opponent down (it immediately going to require some sort of removal or trading) you are only going to get one small window to play the legendary eight drop, and you need to make it count. There are two ways you can go about doing that. You can either get immediate value from the skeleton’s effect by playing him on a turn when you trade away the board, or you can wait to set him up behind taunts when your opponent has run out of removal. The way you do that is largely based on the game state as well as what deck you are facing. Against aggro or midrange you generally just want to get the 6/8 down behind some large taunts and call it a day. However, when facing control you just want to get immediate value when you can since they will usually be able to take down Kel with spells or AOE anyway.

Arch-Thief Rafaam

I have long believed that Arch-Thief Rafaam is essential for ramp decks for two reasons. One, the all-important versatility I always love to talk about. And two, burst. Each of these is very important to understand this card and realize why it is in the deck. When it comes to the idea of versatility, all three artifacts that Rafaam lets you discover are going to come in handy. While you almost never want to take the Timepiece of Horror, ten damage over a board can be a good way to clean up tokens or break down an aggro deck. Most of the time you are going to look for Mirror of Doom. A board of 3/3’s is very good, even if your opponent assumes you have it in hand (which they will). This makes it so they are going to try and hold AOE if they have it, which can give you some extra leeway with playing your minions. It also gives you a very important safety net when you head into fatigue or if your opponent does have a way through your big minions. Also note that if you have mirror against aggro you want to get it down anytime you have a window because it usually locks up the game.

As a non-combo Ramp deck (or as a Ramp deck in general) you have no burst damage (unless you count Ysera‘s dream cards). That makes it really hard to finish off decks that can stall really well like Reno Lock, Control Priest and Control Warrior. Rafaam is very important for those games because of his ability to get you Lantern of Power. Ten damage comes out of nowhere and acts as your win condition a lot of the time. Think of this card a lot like Grommash Hellscream in that it is the way you break open control games and find lethal. Yes, it does require a minion on the board, but that will usually happen as the game drags on. What makes this play really important is that almost all of your opponent’s are going to assume you have the timepiece in hand (especially when facing control), which makes this a very strong way to close things out.

Matchups

The five decks most popular decks at my current ranks.

Secret Paladin

As we move towards Whispers, Secret Paladin still remains extremely popular. The midrange deck is still a premier list in the game, and, as usual, their perfect curve can really hurt you. You want to play this by trying to clog up the board as much as possible. This will force Secret Paladin to run into your minions and make them trade in ways they normally don’t want to. Once that happens, you can then use your spot removal to clean things up. This is a game where you want to get going as soon as you can to make sure your curve can out-race your opponent. It is also important to never run into secrets unless you have an easy answer for them (like Big Game Hunter). Avenge and Redemption are both quite strong against you, and you don’t want to give your opponent an early threat for no reason. In that same vein, always play around Repentance by playing your smaller (or less important) minions into secrets first if you can afford it.

You want to treat this deck like an aggro vs. control match, where you do everything you can to wear your opponent down. Secret Paladin is very strong when they have the board, but if they have to trade they will run low on cards, weakening their future plays. Once that happens you can simply out-pace them by playing more large minions than they can possible handle. This game is going to be entirely fought on the board, and you want to challenge it better than they can. While they do usually have access to Keeper of Uldaman, that is their only real way to challenge big threats. Once they use it, you can just power out everything and force them to answer.

Note: Always save one Keeper of the Grove for Tirion Fordring unless you absolutely need to use your second one to prevent yourself from dying.

Zoo

Though some may debate this, I would say Zoo is one of the toughest matchups you can have. While there are some games where you power out gigantic beasts, Zoo has a ton of ways to clear even the highest-health minions. That, combined with the fact that Zoo never runs out of cards, means you are going to be on the back foot for almost all of the game. The way you beat the aggressive Warlock deck is by using Innervate to give yourself a strong curve. While sometimes that means a turn three Ancient of War, you should tend towards value plays like powering out your five drop on turn three so you can have a smooth turn four and play your other threat on five. Those type of moves are not flashy, but a body each turn against Zoo is worth a lot more than one big minion on turn three that they can quickly Power Overwhelming down.

Beware of their burst. Old versions of Zoo has very limited burst options, which meant you were usually safe in the mid-teens during the later stages of the game. However, the newer versions tend to pack either Enhance-o-Mechano (windfury) or Leeroy Jenkins (if not both). This can be a real problem if you aren’t ready for it, because both cards give a large amount of burst in their own way. To make sure you don’t get quickly killed, you want to keep at least one taunt up over other minions as you move into the later parts of the game. This will help keep Zoo off of your back, or make it so they have to use that burst to crash through a taunt.

Another card to keep in mind is Sea Giant. You only run one Big Game Hunter, and you never want to let Zoo play their 8/8 too early. If they drop it down on turn ten or later that’s fine, but having no answer to a quick giant can spell disaster. Always track the amount of minions that are on the board.

Aggro Shaman

Aggro Shaman is another very popular aggro list that likes to end the game by turn five. This game is going to be very easy or very hard depending on how the first turns go. If they start out blinding fast in a sea of minions, you most likely aren’t going to keep up. However, if you can get your ramp going early, or if they just miss a turn, you can take the board and never look back. You want to spend the early parts of this game clearing and making sure your opponent’s minions do not get in damage, but once you start getting your large threats out you need to go face. Like Hunter, Shaman can slowly wear you down with burn even if you have a wall they cannot get through. If you are at a good life total or have a huge taunt you need to pressure them as much as possible.

You win this matchup by simply playing down as many taunts as you can. While Aggro Shaman does run one Earth Shock, you are never going to be in a position to play around it. Your job here, like when playing Secret Paladin, is to just fill up the board with enough walls that they have to exhaust their hand (and damage) getting through them. This will allow you to use your own resources on getting big minions instead of worrying about what your opponent has. It also helps against Doomhammer, which you basically have no answer to. If you ever fall into the low teens you need to be extremely conservative, and make sure you do everything you can to clear out all of your opponent’s threats to force them into a topdeck situation. Ancient of Lore should almost exclusively used for healing, since it is one of your only ways to stop direct damage from hitting your face.

Tempo Mage

Another tricky matchup, Tempo Mage can give you trouble because they have a wide range of midrange threats that slowly build throughout the game. When fighting against the spell-based deck your goal is to force them to use their burn on your board, which will choke them on resources and give them less ways to kill you once you set up your taunts. Mage is a deck based on removal, and you can easily outpace that with your number of high-density threats. The most important turns here are the early game, because you need to be able to get a handle of Mage or they will simply overpower you by turn four. Mulligan hard for your ramp, but always keep any removal you find. Also be sure to hero power as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to heal with Ancient of Lore. This game is often going to long, meaning that Archmage Antonidas (and a slew of Fireballs) can come out of nowhere. Even if your opponent has used their removal, there is always a chance they can suddenly get reach out of nowhere.

Midrange Druid

One of the best things about Ramp Druid is that it does a good job of taking down other Druids. The reason for this is that Druid just has very limited removal, and have very few answers to a constant string of big minions. If you can get your ramp going early your opponent is always going to fall behind. That being said, you also can rapidly lose control of the game if your opponent starts quicker than you do. This is a game where you don’t want to mess around. You only want to mulligan for Ramp and throw everything else back. Even removal is not going to be as valuable as getting Innervate or Wild Growth. This whole matchup is going to be fought on the board, and if you can get a big minion down and force your opponent to play reactively you should be able to control the pace of the game. Once that happens you usually have Druid beat since they can no longer use pressure on your life total as a way to set up end-game threats.

No matter how far ahead you are, you need to make sure to play around the combo. Most good Druid players, once they know they are going up against Ramp, are going to save double combo in hand until they can get a tick off Emperor Thaurissan. This means they will be able to kill your from thirty life if you let anything live.You want to play around this in two ways. The first is by baiting out Keeper of the Grove on some of your early taunts or important finishers (Ysera, Kel’thuzad), which will then help you get an Ancient of War (the best card against Druid) to stick. Once that happens they are most likely going to have to use one combo to clear a taunt, severely limiting the ways they can win. The other way you beat the combo (especially when you have control of the board) is making sure Druid never gets a minion to stick. You will win almost all combats, and you should spend most of your time taking down your opponent’s threats.

Mulligan Guide

This may be the easiest mulligan guide I will ever write. While there a few exceptions (which will be laid out below) the rule here is to look for all of your early ramp or removal and throw everything else back. Innervate, Wild Growth and Darnassus Aspirant are your first-tier must keeps, but Wrath is extremely strong against any deck that has an early one or two drop that you need to get rid of (Knife Juggler, Tunnel Trogg etc.). While Living Roots may seem like an auto-keep, it should only be kept against aggro or versus slower decks when you already have ramp in your hand.

The two flex mulligans are Swipe and Keeper of the Grove. Keeper should always be kept with a strong curve or early ramp, especially when you’re facing down aggro. Swipe is a card you always want to keep against token or board flood decks, like Zoo, Paladin or Hunter. Having the extra AOE is really important for setting up your middle game. Also understand how Innervate changes your hand. Remember that the rule of this deck is sticking to your curve. While you may not want to normally keep card]Druid of the Claw[/card], it gets much better as a three drop.

Conclusion

While Combo and Midrange have dominated Druid for a long time, Ramp is still a very fun and powerful take on the class. Yes, it may not be as consistent as some of the other builds, but it is a blast to play. That will be even more true when Whispers drops (I am dying to try my ideas for Astral Communion). However, that is still a few weeks away. In the meantime, I would highly recommend ramp as a fun, fresh deck to take to the ladder. Until next time, madness descends from above.