Weekly Legends: Zoo Druid

This week, as we so often do on Weekly Legends, we are taking a trip into the past. Hearthstone’s history is forever relevant for any player/deck builder, and this time we get to go back and look at Druid. This week’s list, which I am calling “Zoo Druid”, is an aggressive list that builds a […]

Introduction

This week, as we so often do on Weekly Legends, we are taking a trip into the past. Hearthstone’s history is forever relevant for any player/deck builder, and this time we get to go back and look at Druid. This week’s list, which I am calling “Zoo Druid”, is an aggressive list that builds a quick board to overwhelm your opponent and then kill them out of nowhere with burst or Savage Roar. Unlike the spell-based Druid decks that are running around, this is a build of small minions that just aim to swarm the board and overtake their opponent before they can properly react. In addition, it enacts that plan with a whole slew of strange minions and powerful tech choices that we have not seen in Druid in some time (or ever). That originality is worth looking at on its own.

The reason this list is a piece of history is because it harkens back to the aggro Druid decks of old. Though the class has almost always been midrange or ramped base, there was a solid chunk of time where the deck was as aggressive as aggressive can be. This list, built by holyji_hs, is very reminiscent of that time in many ways. However, unlike those decks, you can actually scale up and play the long game if need be. That duality really gives you some extra power that lists like this normally don’t have, and that is very important in today’s meta. It is always key to react to the most popular decks around, and this does that by combining a very fast shell with sticky midrange minions.

Key Cards

Dragon Egg

Out of every early game card in this list, Dragon Egg is perhaps the hardest to use. This is because it is one of those strange minions where it comes down early but you really need some support to set it up. The 0/2 is an army in a can and if you can put it into a good situation it will get you a ton of value at many points across the game. In fact, this is one of your best ways to always make sure you have value on the field. You have a lot of strong minions at your disposal, but they are very small and can be easily taken out. Egg helps you in this regard by making sure you have something on the board following AOE. Playing this alongside a few minions can really cause some decks a lot of trouble and allow you to keep getting damage even in the face of solid removal.

The other way you want to use Dragon Egg is combat. When not dodging AOE, this is a card you want to buff up and get a good trade out of it. While you do not have too many buffs at your disposal, the fact that this card can wear a Mark of Y’shaarj or Power of the Wild and trade is very relevant against other aggro decks and can also cause problems versus by creating a sticky threat. Just know that when you attack with the egg you want to try hard to make sure it lives. While trading up and then getting a 2/1 is not bad, it is basically a Harvest Golem. You need to look for value wherever you can find it, and you want to stretch out the 2/1’s as far as you can.

Mark of Y’Shaarj

Mark of Y’shaarj is a very interesting card because, as you will notice, there are not a lot of beasts in this deck. Your only true targets here are the panther from Power of the Wild, Mounted Raptor, and Druid of the Claw. While hitting those targets is very strong (and should be your first priority if you have the chance) you are most often going to use this card as a simple +2/+2 buff. That may be not the most exciting card in the world, but it goes a long way during the early game. For instance, using a Living Root to kill off a turn one Tunnel Trogg or Mana Wyrm can instantly allow you take over the board and build priority for the rest of the game. The whole point of this deck is to build damage through steady board control, and this is one of the best ways to make that happen. Do not shy away from playing it on a non-beast, and know that you typically want to use the extra attack to trade. This deck almost always plays the tempo game early on, and many matches are going to come down to one key turn. Mark is the card that gives you a gigantic boost in those situations. Not to mention, it is also a good way to build a threat and push through extra damage, which is also nice.

Power of the Wild

Power of the Wild is a card with two modes (obviously) but the goal here is to use it to buff up your board. Most of your games are going to be about getting a lot of use out of your smaller minions, and this card is one of the best ways to do that. If you have Power in hand you want to sculpt out your future turns to try and figure out the best time to use it. For instance, using it on turn three with a Living Roots to also buff up your Dragon Egg. That gives you a strong board out of nowhere and puts you in control of the game. Just note that if you are going to take that line then you want to play your Dragon Egg on turn one over your Raven Idol. Those type of interactions may be small, but they matter. Also, don’t hold out too long on this card trying to get maximum value. Anytime you can buff more than two minions you want to pull the trigger.

The only time you want to switch up the script and make Power of the Wild into a 3/2 panther is when you absolutely need to get some board presence. The most common example of this is when you need an early play to challenge an board-based deck like Shaman or Mage. A 3/2 may be easy to kill, but it can also trade with things like Tunnel Trogg, Secretkeeper, Sorcerer’s Apprentice or a Flame Imp. It is easy to forget that you are a deck that can go longer than more traditional aggro lists. Because of this, sometimes it is ok to just stall. You want to try your best to play a minion each turn, and having something is always better than having nothing. This is not a deck that wants to fire blanks, so do not be afraid to use the panther to smooth out your curve.

Savage Roar

You are an aggressive Druid deck, which means you are running two Savage Roars. Period. This is a strong card in a list like this because it allows you ways to push extra damage, set up lethal, and clear the board. All of those modes are very important to how this list operates, but the damage is what you want to focus on. Unlike other aggro decks, one of the big advantages of this list is that you can win a lot of games by just bursting down your opponent before they can get set up with their gameplan. Roar allows that to happen and if you have one early you want to look to use it during turns four, five or six. That is the time where you are going to have your biggest swarm and when you can inflict the most damage. If you ever have the card in your hand you just need to work hard to get maximum value out of it. You do not always need lethal. If you are worried about a turn five Brawl on your board, do not be afraid to use this on turn four to hit them for a gigantic chunk of health.

As mentioned, this card can be a good way to clear up a tricky board. Trading up is not going to be your first choice, but it is going to be necessary against problematic minions (such as Flamewaker) or huge taunts. You run two Savage Roars, so if you burn one on the board you still have another one to use as a finisher. However, this does not mean you want to casually use this card because you have two. When the three mana spell is in your hand you always want to calculate potential damage and play to that as best as you can. Clearing is an option with roar, but it should usually be your last. You only want to use that mode when you need to clear a “must kill” minion but you don’t want to sacrifice your whole board to do so.

Druid of the Claw

Druid of the Claw is your Doomguard. That is to say, it is a gigantic minion that can lock down a board, be used to trade, or just give you that finishing pinch of damage you need. Both modes of the five drop are going to come in handy in a wide range of situations, and when you have the card in hand you always want to think about how it is going to be best used. For example, putting it down as a 4/6 can be great against Warrior if you want to force them to spend their next turn building up for a large removal spell, but that mode is sub-optimal if you need to get immediate damage. If you need to push damage, then making it a 4/4 and going face is more than fine. On the flip side, when racing an aggro deck, having a sudden 4/6 wall can protect your board and quickly lock them out of the game. Choosing a mode is not always going to be easy, but you want to understand which you need before you make the call.

A big part of this card is not playing it when you can. While that may seem counter intuitive to the whole idea of actually putting the bear in your deck, you need to remember that it is one of the only cards in your deck with charge. As a result, it is also one of the only cards that you can use to clear and one of the only cards you can combo with Savage Roar. As an aggro deck, you want to follow the rule of stagnant minions. That is, you want to play your slow minions (that need a turn to get ready) before you play your chargers. This will help you maximize your damage and give you more options as the game goes on. While playing this on curve is usually right, if you can build up a board of non-chargers before playing it, you often should.

Matchups

The five decks that I see the most when playing on the ladder.

Midrange Shaman

While Midrange Shaman is a very solid deck, and while it has a ton of powerful cards and incredibly strong (too strong) interactions, this matchup is all about one thing: AOE. Though swarms once gave Shamans a lot of problems, they now have access to both Maelstrom Portal and Lighting Storm. That gives them four outs to small board, which is particularly problematic for your early game. You are going to win this game by running out just a few minions (enough to threaten lethal with Savage Roar) but also holding back enough where you can rebound if you lose your board. This is a tricky balance, but if you always have threats on the board and threats in your hand you should be able to come out ahead. Pace this game and make your opponent use their removal when they don’t want to by keeping up pressure.

The other way you beat mass removal is by putting yourself into situations where your opponent’s clear isn’t going to do a lot of work. You run a lot of sticky minions and buffs, both of which can push you out of range. Take those routes if you want to go all-in on the board and make a final push for the kill. Beyond that, you really want to work to set yourself into situations where your opponent uses most of their mana to clear, or where their overload is going to cripple their middle game. You do this by clearing the board and making sure they are always playing spells instead of minions. This game is going to often be more tempo than straight up aggro because you want to advance your pressure by clearing everything they have. The only exception to this plan is when you start to lose the board. Once that happens your goal is all about fast damage.

Secret Hunter

If Secret Hunter ran Explosive Trap this would be an extremely hard matchup. Thankfully, almost all Hunters have foregone the trap, which makes this close to a 50/50. Out of every matchup you have, this one is going to be the tightest. That is to say, you and your opponent are going to be stretching your mana and fighting hard for board control. This is because the first person to get it is going to be able to pressure the other’s face and take over the game. Nothing is more important here than playing around secrets. You can easily answer just about all of them, but playing into the wrong one can lead to a loss on its own. You typically always want to check for Freezing Trap first with your weakest minion. When doing this, attack face if you do not care about Explosive Trap or Bear Trap, but attack a minion if you do not care about Snake Trap. Beyond that, always play low-impact or high-health minions into a potential Snipe and only trigger Cat Trick when you have a strong board that can easily trade with it.

Every single point of damage counts here. Hunter is the most aggressive class in the game, and secret has a ton of ways to pour on the pressure (especially the lower-curve aggressive lists). You need to fight that by pushing your own damage through in any way that you can. If you win the health battle, then you are also going to be in control of priority. Anytime you can dictate the pace of the game you should be able to come out on top against Hunter because they are not a class that plays well from the back foot. Trading early on is fine, but you really want to start pushing for damage around turn four or five. This will cripple Hunter’s midgame and lower the chances that they can build a strong board going into Savannah Highmane.

Tempo Mage

As Freezing Mage has cooled off in the past week (haha, get it?) Tempo Mage has made a big resurgence. While I blame Blizzcon for this trend, it does not change the fact that you need to be ready for it. This is the match where pressure is priority number one. Yes, there will be times where you need to fall back and try to play the long game, but your really need to get your opponent to use their burn on your board. If you can do this well you should be able to steadily grind them down and run them out of cards. Once that happens, your goal is to push hard and overwhelm them with constant sources of damage. Every Frostbolt that they use in the early game gives you more breathing room and lets you be more careless with your own health. Always keep track of your opponent’s potential spells, which will help you know how aggressive you need to be as the game goes on.

Pressure is important, but know that you build here by clearing every minion you see. Tempo Mage thrives on inter-minion interactions and you never want to let anything stay up if you can afford it. Mage has a ton of spells at their disposal, which means they are almost going to be able to clear the board. That is important because it means that the Sorcerer’s Apprentice you let live suddenly becomes untouchable and just checks you for three damage a turn until you die in a flurry of burn. You want to be in control and you want Mage to make suboptimal plays. One of the best ways to do this is to set up your sticky minions and create boards that are very hard to clear. Tempo makes a living on one-for-one removal, and anytime they need to spend multiple spells taking out a minion they are going to be in a bad spot. You will almost always win the top deck game, so you shouldn’t mind if it happens. That goes double if you are controlling the board.

Control Warrior

As with any strong aggro deck, Control Warrior is going to give you problems. This is your hardest matchup because, unlike many popular midrange lists, Warrior has extremely efficient ways to deal with both your early minions and strong middle game. That blend means that you are constantly going to be struggling to get a footing on the board. You are going to be in priority here and you typically just want to play to your curve and try to get your opponent to use their removal. The most important part of this game is playing around Brawl. Warrior is a very solid deck, but you can beat them by forcing them to use the AOE much earlier than they want to. Any good Warrior player will respect Savage Roar, which means you can usually get them to clear a board of three minions. That then allows you to easily refill and keep up the pressure.

The way you win this game is by just pushing as hard as you possibly can. You never want to give Warrior time to sit back and build up answers. As such, your goal should be to hit them hard right out of the gate, which will then force them to burn a lot of cards before you get to your bigger pushes during the middle turns. You never want to have a dead turn here, and you always want to make sure that you are getting damage through in some way. Your sticky minions are going to do a lot of work, and you want to prioritize them. This is the game where you want to force your opponent to make their plan around you and just sculpt your board in a way where you are always threatening lethal but you are not committing too far into AOE. Just remember to play around Ravaging Ghoul and Revenge as well. Sometimes it is right to not put them to twelve to avoid an easy two mana clear.

Spell Druid

No matter what Blizzard tries to do, they cannot stop Malfurion. Yogg or no Yogg, Druid seems to be back and in a big, big way. That isn’t the worst news for you, but it’s not the best either. That is because this matchup is more than winnable if Druid ever stumbles or has a blank turn, but it can quickly get out of hand if they just chain early removal into gigantic threats. Like when playing Shaman, your goal here is to force your opponent to use their whole turn dealing with your board. This will make it so they are never able to get minions down, which helps you rebound time and time again. Druid is not a class that does well with swarms, and you can pressure them straight out of the game if you pace this well. Work hard to get up your sticky minions early to test Druid’s removal, and then play around their various spells accordingly. From there, you want to build up threats until they are completely locked out of the game. Druid is not a deck that can deal with your curve so you want to get priority as early as you can. This is especially true when facing spell Druid because you will eventually die to Malygos or Arcane Giants if the game goes too long.

Note: Always have a plan for Ancient of War if you get to turn seven. The 5/10 will destroy you if you aren’t prepared.

Mulligan Guide

You are a low-curve aggressive deck and you want to keep as many one and two drops as you possibly can. Innervate, Dragon Egg, Living Roots, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Faerie Dragon and Loot Hoarder are your must keeps, and you can keep both Argent Horserider and Mounted Raptor if you have the coin or an early curve.

Raven Idol is a good keep, but you never want to keep it with a weak hard or without minions. Mark of Y’Shaarj follows these same rules. Power of the Wild should only be kept if you absolutely need a two drop against an aggro deck to gain early board presence. Barnes can be kept anytime you can curve into him (especially with the coin). Fandral Staghelm also follows that rule but you generally only want to keep it with cards that have synergy with it. Swipe is a great keep against any aggro deck if you have a good opening or low-cost minions.

Conclusion

Nature will rise against you! While we do not have access to the combo anymore (thank God) Druid still packs a very strong aggressive punch. I enjoy this deck for a couple of reasons, but mainly because there is just a lot here that you do not normally see in the class. Mixing up roles is always fun, and that is especially true when you can throw in some extra cards like Faerie Dragon. A very interesting list that is also fun to play. Until next week, may you always roar your way to victory.