Today we feature an article from Joseph and he’ll be guiding through the Control Midrange Druid! It’s a bit of a budget deck containing no Legendaries, great for those that wish to put together a deck without Legendaries yet.
Hey, Joseph Scalise here to discuss something that I believe is very important to Hearthstone players, climbing the ladder without needed to own every card in the game. In fact, the list that I am about to show you not only got me from rank 22 to rank 6 last season (and I am currently back to rank 9), but it managed to do so without any legends. Now, that is not to say the deck is not expensive, it runs four epics and a good amount of rares, but I have yet to spend a single cent on the game, as all of these cards were either crafted or acquired from packs. However, even with the epics, I would still definitely call this a budget deck (all four epics are as much dust as a single legend) and this list is a good, strong, competitive build for people looking to climb the ranks without spending a lot (or any) of their hard earned cash.
At first glance this list seems like your stock Druid Control Deck (barring some key changes that I will cover later), but in reality it is much more of a midrange deck than anything else. The main reason for this is the fact that there aren’t any giant finishers here that you play after clearing out threats, but rather a bunch of powerful creatures designed to take over the middle of the game (hence MID-range). If you try to take down each and every threat and then finish with a Ragnaros the Firelord or Ysera you aren’t going to win. Why? Because the deck doesn’t run those. Rather, this deck relies on strong cards and powerful interactions to take control of the game. It is a fun, wallet friendly deck that, most importantly, will shoot you up many rungs in the ranked ladder.
How This Deck Came About
After trying (unsuccessfully) to find a good way to combat the surplus of aggro decks in the metagame, I desperately wanted to find something that would allow me to have a good matchup against the Hunters and Warlocks without having to fork up cash to buy legends. I had a good amount of rares, and I knew the Druid’s removal (hello Swipe and Wrath) were very strong against aggressive builds. So, with years of TCG experience under my belt, I sat down at my workbench and got to building. It is plain to see I started with the stock Druid control list, but the truth is, trying to simply replace the legends wasn’t working for me. A lot of times my replacements would make the draws feel clunky, or my deck would still just crumble to decks with extremely aggressive starts. I tried a lot of different cards, and after much testing, found which ones made the deck very strong against aggro decks, while also giving control decks fits.
Before going into individual card choices, we have to discuss the curve of this deck. As you can see, it is very top heavy, and of the eleven cards that cost under four mana, four of them (Savage Roar, the two Innervates and Big Game Hunter) aren’t something you are always going to be playing during the early turns. As such, you always want to try to mulligan into early game cards (Loot Hoarders!) that will give you something to play during turn two and three. Yes, there are games where you get stuck with all four and five drop openers and then die to a Hunter, but those games are far and few between. Typically you will see one early game card, be it a Loot Hoarder, Harvest Golem or a Wrath and that’s usually enough to get you to your real threats. Also, you have Innervate.
I’m going to say that again. Innervate. This card is bonkers, out of this world, insane and 100% the reason why this deck works. It lets you bring cards in early, has some insanely good plays with the coin and also allows you to have some great late game turns (such as double Chillwind Yeti on turn six or an Azure Drake/Swipe on turn seven ). Something that’s very important when dealing with Innervate is knowing when to fire it off. Always be aware of what you’re playing against. While it may be tempting, playing a threat turn one is not always the option. If I have the coin and can play a turn one yeti, I normally will against Paladin (have a Peace Keeper or Die), Priest (Nice Shadow words) or a Hunter (kill every creature they play). However, against a Mage (because of Frost Bolt), a Rogue (Backstab/Eviscerate says hi!) and against Shaman’s (Hex) I usually hold onto Innervates to play later threats.
Also, Innervate is largely dependent on your hand as well. You don’t want to power out a four drop if you have nothing else to do for the five turns, and sometimes if you have a good curve (Wrath, Harvest Golem, Keeper of The Grove) you can afford to hold off on the Innervate as well. However, it is nice to be able to play larger threats (or multiple threats) early, and it is the main reason that Chillwind Yeti is even in the list. Speaking of which…
Chillwind Yeti. This four/five is a very interesting card that in my opinion is one of the most underrated in the game. Yes, it is very unexciting, but it is has so many upsides it’s hard to ignore. For most spells the damage curve ends at four, and doing five damage is something that a lot of classes have a lot of trouble dealing with. Swipe, Wrath, Eviscerate, most early creatures and Lighting Bolt, all do less than five damage, and even if you’re not going to the face, you can easily take over the mid game with the Yeti killing off problematic minions to set up later plays. It is a huge bruiser and, because of being able to be innervated out on turn two or turn one with the coin it is one of the lynch pins that make this deck so powerful.
Going back to the curve, almost all of our early drops are there to deal with aggressive decks or decks with aggressive starts. Innervate we have already covered, but Wrath is a great, versatile, kill spell that gets rid of early minions (sometimes netting you a card in the process). The Loot Hoarders also act as kill spells (don’t be afraid to coin these out) that trade with most early threats while also replacing themselves with a card. The singleton Earthen Ring Farseer is strictly there because of the popularity of aggro decks, gaining three life back in the early game while also giving you a minion to trade off with. Honestly, if you see a lot of aggro on the ladder you could even find space to run a second, although I am not sure where one would go. Next up, and perhaps the most important early game card in the deck, is Harvest Golem. This card is pretty self explanatory (very powerful, replaces itself, is in a trillion decks etc.), but is undoubtedly the kind of thing you want on turn three. It is a great against aggressive decks, I usually try to Innervate it out turn one against Hunter or Aggro Warlock, while also serving as a good tool against control .
The last two three drops in this deck are both later game cards, but are also two cards I would not cut. The first is the singleton Savage Roar. If you look over the list you will see there are no six drops, which also means there is no Force of Nature. Some people love this combo, but I personally find it a little gimmicky and situational at best. I’d almost rather have a kill spell or a minion on the field than the trees. However, that does not mean that Savage Roar doesn’t serve a purpose. Versatility is the key with Druid cards, and in this deck Savage Roar has a myriad of uses. Sometimes you want to use it on turn three to kill a creature (such as a Knife Juggler), sometimes you play it to trade up and kill some of your opponents larger minions, and sometimes it just wins games. Only one copy is necessary but it is definitely necessary, swinging games in your favor out of nowhere.
Big Game Hunter
The second late game card is Big Game Hunter. I’m not going to lie, I don’t think this card is very good. Actually, I think it’s pretty bad. However, that being said, because of the current meta (Ragnaros and Giants) it is a necessary evil, even if it does nothing about ninety percent of the time. Even so, I would not recommend just running it out against most decks, as you never know if they have a random giant, Ragnaros the Firelord of Alexstrasza lurking somewhere in their thirty.
Further hammering home the mid-game theme of this deck, there are significantly more four drops (nine to be exact) that any other spot in this deck. This is because four is a great spot to be with Innervates, and it also happens to be the most important part of taking over a game. Once the early game is dealt with, you typically want to start applying a different array of threats that set you up for the four and five spots. Four mana cards are the meat of the deck, and even when you’re not Innervating them out early, each card serves a specific purpose that helps this deck run. Swipe is great removal and can set up some sick two for ones. Senjin Shieldmasta and Defender of Argus both largely fill the same role, and are in the deck to help fight against aggro (which this deck has a very good win rate against).
An interesting choice is the singleton Spellbreaker, but with Keeper of the Grove being the only other form of silence in this deck, I think it’s important to have one more option. You can replace this with another Defender or Shieldmaster if you want, it comes down to personal taste. Keeper of the Grove is another card that excels due to versatility. Silence is very strong (especially against the likes of Nat Pagle), but I find Keeper is more often used to control the early game, killing off a lot of problem cards such as Faerie Dragons and Knife Jugglers.
The first card of note in the five spot is the ever powerful Starfall. For the longest time while developing this deck I found that I still wanted more answers to aggro (I wasn’t running Shieldmaster at the time), and Starfall gave me a way to remove a board filled with small minions. Not only that, but it also gives you a way to deal with bigger threats that Swipe can’t kill. Druid of the Claw is pretty much a staple at this point, but be wary about the mode you’re choosing. You almost always want to put into Bear Form (taunt), unless there is something you need to kill immediately that turn or if you’re applying a lot of pressure on your opponent’s life total/dealing the killing blow. Comboing the Panther Form (charge) with a Savage Roar is not an uncommon way to win games. The other five drop staple is Azure Drake. The only thing to say about this card is that the spell power is more important than the card draw. I will only play Drake on turn five onto an empty board or if I need to get a threat down. It is almost always better to wait until you can combo it with a Swipe or a Wrath.
The last five drop in this deck is another epic, and one of the most important cards we have access to, Faceless Manipulator. This card is your legend that changes every game. Sometimes it’s a Cairne Bloodhoof, sometimes its a Ysera and sometimes its a Ragnaros. However, it is also sometimes a Druid of the Claw against aggro decks and sometimes its a second Ironbark or yeti. This is by far the hardest card to play in the deck, and it should almost always be comboed with another card. It is here as a good way to combat legends, but also has a lot of utility. The most common use for Manipulator is in combination with Big Game Hunter, taking a Rag or Giant and then killing it off. In addition, it also is very strong with silence, taking a Ysera or Cairne and then silencing your opponents’ is a very powerful move that can swing games. Just remember, always silence after playing the Manipulator, because if you don’t the Manipulator will copy a silenced version of the minion, and that’s not what you want.
Ancient of Lore
The final four cards in the deck are the heavy hitters. First, Ancient of Lore is an incredible card, that thrives due to its utility. Being able to heal against aggressive decks while also being able to gain card advantage over control is key. Innervating out an early Ancient of Lore is the best Innervate play you can make (as it replaces the cards you use) and leaves with you a five/five on the board.
I said at the beginning of this article that there aren’t any finishers in the deck, and while that is true, Ironbark Protector is as close as it gets. This card can be used as a finisher, but is in this deck mainly because of the taunt. I cannot count the number of the times this deck has stopped my opponents onslaught cold, while also managing to keep me alive for four or five key turns against aggressive decks. I would not recommend replacing this card with any other large creatures (even Ragnaros), because while the beefy body is strong, the taunt is much more important. The only real replacement for a protector is Cenarius, as he gives two taunts along with a five/eight body as well, but he does not fit into our budget play style.
Strategy: Or, How On Earth Do I Play This?
This deck is by no means easy to play. Every turn is very important, and sometimes not using a creature to its fullest potential is the right move even though it may seem wrong. You always want to be in control of the game, or have means to control the game. For instance, some games if there are no creatures on board and I have a removal heavy hand I will play a Keeper of the Grove and just do two to my opponent’s face. Is that an optimal play? Absolutely not. However, it makes sense in that context, as it gives me a body my opponent has to deal with, which also happens to be backed up with kill spells.
You always want board control in this deck, so much so that I have even played a Faceless Manipulator on an empty board as well. Being reactive is a good way to lose, and the only deck you want to be reactive towards is Hunter. Against everything else you want constant board control. A good rule is after turn three you never want to pass a turn without doing something, whether that is playing a kill spell or killing off a creature One more thing of note, is never be afraid to use your life a resource.
Druid has one of the strongest hero powers in the game, and using it to kill a six/one or a five/one in order to save a kill spell is something you should not be afraid to do. This deck is all about choices, and putting your cards in the right modes is the most important aspect of the deck. There are a large number of cards (Druid of the Claw, Keeper of the Grove, Wrath, Starfall) that all have two modes. Always know which one is right for which situation. This is not something that comes right away, but as you get a feel for the deck, you will realize the best way to use each card.
Vs. Aggro Warlock/Paladin
These are the matchups you pray for. Druid’s power negates the Paladin’s, and the large amount of taunt combined with healing and kill spells all do wonders against their early rush. Remember, sometimes it’s ok to take extra damage in order to put some hard to deal with threats on the board. Basically, the name of the game is to stay alive, and there are more than enough ways to do that. Always be aware of your life total, try to get taunts down, and you should be fine.
Vs. Aggro Hunter
Beware of Unleash the Hounds. I know that may sound like a very obvious statement, but I’m serious. Never try to have more than two creatures out at a time (trading is fine in this matchup), and try to make sure the creatures you have out are taunts. This matchup is generally pretty straightforward, if you heal when you need and keep taunts in place it’s a pretty easy game. Always mulligan into early plays, and try to play around secrets. Misdirection can do a lot of damage if you attack when one of your large creatures, so always be wary of that.
This is by far the hardest matchup we have. At best you feel like you steal a win, and most of the time you get crushed. You always want to mulligan into a strong curve and try to find silences. Most of your removal won’t help you here, but silencing a Twilight Drake is key. Big Game Hunter is also a very strong tool against giants, as is Faceless Manipulator. As odd as it sounds, the best way to play here is to attack them down to fourteen or thirteen life (so their Molten Giants still cost some mana) and then alpha strike them to death with a charged Druid of the Claw or Savage Roar.
Vs. Control (Mage, Shaman, Paladin, Priest)
When facing control decks you typically want to out card them. Use the insane amount of card draw to your advantage and outlast their threats. Shaman and Mage only can have two Hexes/Polymorphs, and you have many more threats than that.Constantly drawing cards and constantly applying threats combined with removal is the best way to go. The only card you really need to watch out for is Tirion Fordring, as he is very hard for this deck to deal with. Always try to kill him as fast as possible, as the Ashbringer usually will not matter in the grand scheme of the game unless you are at very low health.
Vs. Control (Warrior)
I find this matchup to be around fifty/fifty, with some matches going strongly in their favor and others going strongly in ours. Silence is one of the strongest tools in this matchup, and taking out a Acolyte of Pain or a Frothing Berserker can win games out right. Their finishers are much better than ours, but Ironbarks and removal spells can usually deal with them pretty effectively. The biggest tip for this matchup is to largely ignore their Armor Smith’s, armor doesn’t really matter as they only have two Shield Slams and this match is about outlasting them, not killing them as fast as possible.
Rogue has really fallen out of favor lately, and I have honestly almost encountered none of the ladder. If you do see Rogue try and discern if they’re playing midrange or miracle, and react accordingly. Miracle can be a tough match up, with midrange being much more favorable. The general rule against Rogues is to remove their threats and get up taunts. Do that and you should be fine.
A very interesting mirror match. A lot of these games go very long. Try and always have the bigger threat out when you can and use Innervates early and often. Yeti is your best friend in this matchup as is a taunted Druid of the Claw, both have a lot of power against Druids and can keep you in control of the game.
Budget Wealthy Choices
Honestly, I would not reccomend this list if you cannot get the epics, there’s just no real way around that. Ancient of Lore is an amazing card and, while being the best Innervate target in the deck, also gives you so much utility against both aggro and control it would be hard to play without it. In addition, the Faceless Manipulator has won me more games than I can count and gives you a strong way to fight off opposing legends. Big Game Hunter normally would not be necessary, but with Ragnaros being so prevalent in the meta, I would not go into ranked without it. If you are looking to put some legends in this deck there are only three replacements I would make.
Bloodmage Thalnos could replace a Loot Hoarder (although I am skeptical about this due to the fact that Thalnos can’t trade with x/2s), as could Pagle. Nat Pagle is a better choice because, even though he can’t trade with early creatures, he usually eats up damage anyway, while also propelling you to the late game. The last change, as I already mentioned, is Cenarius for an Ironbark Protector. Any other late game legend without taunt is really a risk and would make your aggressive matchup worse. Some people also like Cairne (and he is a great Innervate target) and if you wanted to slot him in the deck I would probably due so for an Azure Drake.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a fun, interesting budget deck to climb the ladder standings I would give this deck a try. The versatility of each card keeps the game interesting and unique. Not only that, but this deck is very strong against aggressive builds, which is the reason it is so good at climbing the ladder. If you want a powerful deck that will get you ahead in the game without having to break open the bank I would heavily recommend giving this a try. You won’t be disappointed. Until next time, thanks for reading, and may your Ironbarks come late and your Innervates early.
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