Dragons. One of the most mystic, iconic and awe-inspiring mythical creatures of all time. A race of beings so grand and majestic that they have inspired novels, comics and movies all on their own. A centerpiece of lore, a favorite of the fantasy world and, with TGT, they are finally playable in Hearthstone. However, while Dragon Warrior has been around for some time, and Dragon Priest is currently storming across the ladder, I am here today to bring you a different take on the Dragon strategy: Dragon Druid. Malfurion is not the guy you would go to when thinking of the flying lizards, but this week’s deck does that to great effect. Now that I got the whole “strong cards in old decks” thing out of my system, I am back with a crazy TGT legend build for all of your brewers out there. This one comes from one of my favorite deck builders named Badware, who uses a solid midgame base to create a very powerful combo deck.
Before we begin, note that this list is not your stock Druid, though it does run stock druid cards. Rather, it takes the very old idea of [card]Malygos[/card]/[card]Moonfire[/card] and gets rid its weaknesses by making it a midrange deck. How? Instead of going full combo, this deck is a midrange deck with the combo in it. That is a huge difference that takes this build from something gimmicky to something extremely consistent. Yes, there are only six dragons in the deck and four taunts. However, six is more than enough activators, and you keep control of the game through removal more than anything else. Surprise is, once again, a huge factor in this deck, and will lead to countless games you have no business winning. That alone makes it a great choice for the meta, add on the fact that is good against almost all of the most popular decks in the game, and you have a real winner.
[cardinsert card=”moonfire” float=”left”]
This is single-handedly the most important card in the entire deck. Not just because of what it does, but also because of what it represents. When piloting this deck you need to know what style of game you are going to play. Do you need to burn your [card]Moonfire[/card]s early on or combo them with [card]Azure Drake[/card] to clear your opponent’s board? If the answer to that is yes, you are just going to play out a straight midrange game. This usually means controlling the board, and slowly overwhelming your opponent with big minions. On the other hand, if you are going to hold your small burn spells for the end of the game or for a quick lethal, then you need to play like a burst-down combo deck. Moonfire is a card that can be used in multiple ways, and you want to decide quite early on if it’s going face or at your opponent’s minions.
Hearthstone is a game of quick decisions. When playing this build you need to figure out what the deck you’re playing against is, and then play to that build. For instance, against slower decks like Priest, Handlock or Control Paladin, you are going to save your [card]Moonfire[/card]s at all costs, since you will eventually need the burst to push through. However, against Hunter or Paladin, you will almost always use them to clear early aggression and help you stay alive. Also note that there is a middle ground to this. When playing Control Warrior, for example, you want to save your Moonfires for [card]Malygos[/card] as a way to clear out big minions since Warrior will most often have too much health. That versatility makes this card quite strong, and gives you a lot of different options in every match.
[cardinsert card=”living-roots” float=”right”]
As with many cards in this game, [card]Living Roots[/card] is good because it has multiple uses. In this deck, those uses go even further than they normally do. Not only can you choose one of the two options (damage or Saplings) but, just like [card]Moonfire[/card], it is a piece of the overall combo as well. Even without [card]Emperor Thaurissan[/card] helping you out, a [card]Living Roots[/card] combined with two [card]Moonfire[/card]s make [card]Malygos[/card] do a whopping 19 damage. However, if you can get the roots to zero mana with an Emperor activation you truly have some versatility.
The main rule of [card]Living Roots[/card] is to just use it as needed. Where you want to make a decision on [card]Moonfire[/card] pretty early on in a match, you just want to play Living Roots by ear. If you are playing a Priest and they are at 30 life on turn twelve, you most likely want to save your roots to try and go full combo on them, since it will be the only real way to win. However, if you are playing against Hunter, Paladin, or even Mage to a certain extent, you simply just want to make two 1/1’s on turn one. Every game with this deck is most likely going to go a different way, and you should always adapt to those situations as they come. Two damage can clean up a lot of minions hit by [card]Swipe[/card] or [card]Wrath[/card], and three damage when paired with [card]Azure Drake[/card] can kill a lot of problematic minions as well. The broadest way to think about this card is, against Control this card is most likely damage, while against aggressive decks it is two minions. That does shift sometimes, but for the most part you just want to use this as removal in one way or another. Just also never forget that at some point in the game it is going to become seven damage for one mana.
[cardinsert card=”twilight-guardian” float=”left”]
While [card]Blackwing Corruptor[/card] and [card]Blackwing Technician[/card] are both strong in their own right, this is by far the reason to run dragons in this deck. [card]Twilight Guardian[/card], in addition to being a dragon, is perhaps the second (if not the first) best four drop in the game. Yes, it is just a Tazdingo with an extra health, but that extra health matters oh so much. Unlike most Druid decks, this list is very light on taunts. Rather than hiding behind [card]Sludge Belcher[/card] or [card]Druid of the Claw[/card], you are much more proactive. Most of the game will be spent taking the board with a mix of heavy minions and a seemingly-endless stream of removal. That plan works very well, but it works even better when you can stonewall your opponent for a few turns. It is very hard to get to six damage, and in addition to clearing just about every single early minion in the game, guardian can also save you health or buy you time.
There is nothing too fancy about this card, but it you have to remember that it does require a dragon to trigger it. Missing triggers can be detrimental in this list, and you almost always want to keep dragons to make sure your cards work in the way you want them to. This will be explained in further detail in the mulligan section, but having a dragon is a big part of this deck. [card]Azure Drake[/card] is the usual card you are going to stick with, but keeping [card]Twilight Guardian[/card] in your opener hoping for a Dragon is by no means a bad move. This gives you two very strong benefits. A turn four play that can take over the early turns of the game in addition to an activator should you do something else early on.
[cardinsert card=”nefarian” float=”right”]
Badware’s original list ran [card]Chillmaw[/card] in this spot. However, I don’t like [card]Chillmaw[/card]. I like [card]Nefarian[/card]. Why? Because while Chillmaw does protect you from pesky aggro decks, you usually have more than enough removal and early presence (not to mention [card]Ancient or Lore[/card] and [card]Ancient of War[/card]) to deal with them. In addition, aggressive decks are usually careless with their life total, and almost always fall into combo range should you survive long enough. For these reasons, I didn’t feel it necessary to give myself yet another taunt minion. Rather, I wanted something that could go a little longer. Nefarian enables you to do that. Yes, there are those who will argue there are a lot of bad spells in the game (and there are) but you almost always get something that is relevant. He has given me tools to win many games, or at least removal that enabled to live a few extra turns. That upside, tacked onto an 8/8 body, made Nefarian feel like a perfect end-game threat for this deck.
Whatever choice you make, understand that you do need a dragon in this spot. While [card]Chromaggus[/card] is too slow and wonky for this type of life, you can switch out Nef with the classic [card]Chillmaw[/card] or go with [card]Alexstrasza[/card] or [card]Ysera[/card]. All three of these dragons are also very strong choices, and each comes with its own benefits. I personally like to stick with Nefarian since, not only does he get you immediate value even if he has an unfortunate meeting with [card]Big Game Hunter[/card], but he also provides more pressure on your opponent than [card]Ysera[/card] and [card]Chillmaw[/card]. The rule here is if you want to be a little more combo focused, go with Alex, if you want to try and play a control game, then Ysera or Nefarian is perfect, and if you are seeing more aggro, then Chillmaw should be your weapon of choice.
[cardinsert card=”malygos” float=”left”]
I am the essence of magic! Well, I’m not, but he is. While not the original namesake of this deck, [card]Malygos[/card] sure packs a hell of a punch that gives you so many out-of-nowhere wins it is almost silly. At first glance, using the legendary dragon is pretty straightforward. Play him, play a bunch of spells, win. However, using him requires a different mindset that most people are used to, and that is what makes him tricky to use. When playing a deck that has Maly-God in it, you always need to have him in the back of your mind. This goes for turn one and turn ten, no matter the board, what the life totals are, or even whether or not he is in your hand. However, if you do have him in hand, you always want to think about your damage potential, the burn you have left, and how close you are to lethal. Sometimes you will consider sacrificing valuable combo pieces in order to stay ahead on board, but then draw Malygos a few turns later and you no longer have lethal. Obviously, if you need to use combo pieces to stay alive, then use them to stay alive. However, you always want to make sure you absolutely have to burn combo pieces to further your win. There are four different damages pieces that combo with this deck, and even more if you thrown [card]Emperor Thaurissan[/card] in the deck. That does give you some leeway, but always count the burn that’s left in your deck, how much is in your hand, and then add five for each spell.
Another important note with the big dragon is, while you are almost always going to play him the turn that you win, be aware there are a good amount of games where you can play him without casting a spell. A 4/12 is very hard to deal with for a lot of decks, and just getting something of that magnitude that also has such a game-breaking ability will usually lead to wins. You want to always count your opponent’s removal, and make sure they can’t deal with. [card]Shield Slam[/card], [card]Execute[/card] and [card]Equality[/card] are all the best ways to deal with Malygos. Outside of that, you also want to watch out for [card]Sylvanas Windrunner[/card], damage on board as well as [card]Siphon Soul[/card]. If you can play around those cards, or bait them out beforehand, then it is ok to drop Malygos down without lethal. Just know what matchups can easily remove him and which ones can’t.
[cardinsert card=”avenge” float=”right”]
Sigh…Yeah, this one’s not going away. While Secrets Paladin has gotten a lot (a lot!) more inconsistent now that people actually know how to play against it and the best ways to react to secrets, it is still the most popular deck around. People went too far in on the build not to keep playing it, so you need to be ready for this battle. However, the good news is that you are extremely favored here. How favored? I once beat ten straight secret Paladins of all different builds. The play style is pretty straight forward in that you just remove everything they have, play around their secrets, and save your [card]Big Game Hunter[/card], [card]Keeper of the Grove[/card] or hard removal for their giant [card]Mysterious Challenger[/card] turns. If you can manage their first wave the game falls out of favor for them really, really quickly.
When playing this matchup you typically want to just be a control deck. Remove their minions at all costs, and do everything you can to stay alive. Paladin always lives off of a full board, and if you can keep theirs empty by way of efficient removal or large minions they usually can’t keep up. This is perhaps the only matchup where you want to always look for Keeper of the Grove no matter what. Yes, they are going to have a lot of different secrets, but they are quite easy to check for one at a time. They even easier to fight when there is four or five, since everyone knows the motions of [card]Noble Sacrifice[/card] into [card]Avenge[/card] into [card]Redemption[/card] by now. [card]Swipe[/card] is by far the best card against Paladin, and you should always keep it no matter what, the same goes for [card]Wrath[/card]. You have a good early game and a lot of ramp. Just don’t worry about face here, keep your hand low and their board clear. Your large minions will eventually pull you through.
[cardinsert card=”slam” float=”left”]
Sorry to say boys and girls, but this didn’t take long. Patron Warrior dipped down momentarily to take a breath when TGT released, and now that the hype is over, it has come back with a vengeance. This deck is as unfair as it ever was, and it easily the hardest matchup for us. I wouldn’t call it unwinnable, but it is pretty near unwinnable territory. However, “near unwinnable” means there is a small amount of hope. Most Patrons these days run three removal spells in the form of two [card]Execute[/card]s and one [card]Shield Slam[/card]. You need to bait those out on your non-taunts before dropping things like [card]Twilight Guardian[/card] or [card]Ancient of War[/card] onto the board. That is perhaps the most important part of this match, because if you lose your taunts too easily, you have no chance of stopping [card]Frothing Berserker[/card] or an army of “get in here’s”.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this build is, being a Druid, you can’t answer [card]Grim Patron[/card]. [card]Frothing Berserker[/card] is scary, but also can’t bypass a huge taunt without the help of extra removal. On the other hand, if your opponent simply drops down a board chock full of the drunken dwarves, there is almost nothing you can do. Yes, it stinks, and yes it is part of the nature of Grim Patron. This matchup is playing combo to combo. You need to be safe with your taunts and hope you can find your combo pieces before they find theirs. Most of the time they are going to be able to get to theirs first, but you can mitigate that by always keeping their board clear to stop huge [card]Battle Rage[/card]s, and to keep your minion count low to stop giant frothings from getting giant bursts of lethal. The less tools they have at their disposal, the harder it will be for them to win the game.
[cardinsert card=”flame-juggler” float=”right”]
Only a great player like Gnimsh could convince people not to play [card]Ancient of Lore[/card] in their Druid decks. I personally love this deck (it was almost my list for this week) but it does have it’s flaws. Flaws that can be exploited if you play this right. When going up against any class, you want to try and identify their build as soon as you can. As more and more decks come out, that becomes harder and harder to do. As such, one of the most important parts of playing against this style of aggressive Druid is to recognize them through the cards they might play. [card]Druid of the Saber[/card], [card]Flame Juggler[/card], the angels or [card]Power of the Wild[/card] are all good tip offs. Once you know that you are battling an aggressive deck rather than a ramp one, you can plan your attack accordingly. That means, clear, clear, and clear some more. Your life total is the most important commoditty in this matchup, and you want to do everything you can to protect it. Think about this game in the sense that, your goal is not to combo off, but rather to stay alive long enough so that you can eventually combo off.
[card]Force of Nature[/card]/[card]Savage Roar[/card] is still very much alive, and you should be ready for it when the time comes (and the time will come). As stated, our deck runs very few taunts, which does make us susceptible to the combo. However, if you can keep clearing out their minions and play to the long game, they will have a very hard time putting together the amount of damage needed to win. The best card against aggro Druid is far and away [card]Ancient of War[/card]. They usually cannot afford to use a combo to break through the giant tree, and if they can’t answer it right away the game is almost always going to just end.
[cardinsert card=”ysera” float=”left”]
I don’t care what anyone says, this is the deck I hate playing against the most on ladder. Dragon Priest is a terrifying build that, thanks to Kolento, runs a million different ways to kill or steal your stuff. How do you combat that? By giving them the respect they deserve. There are two giant swing cards in this matchup (well three, but that will be covered below). The first of these is [card]Velen’s Chosen[/card], and extremely annoying card that, when played on turn three or two, can just end a game before it even begins. Know this, and know that have two ways to deal with the chosen. The first is by simply making sure they have no minions on the board. You should almost always clear in this matchup, as you are going to win the combo 90 percent of the time. The second, easier way to deal with chosen is through Keeper of the Grove. You normally want to mulligan keeper away to try and find more dragon-related threats, but here you always want it to shut down big buffed threats. The other swing card is [card]Cabal Shadow Priest[/card]. You have very few targets for the six drop, but you do have targets. Board control is not the way you are going to win this game, but it is the way you are going to stay alive long enough to kill them through combo. You simply cannot afford to let them steal one of your minions, the price is usually just too high.
Beyond the above cards, this matchup largely comes down to two questions. First, can you kill [card]Ysera[/card]? Second, can they kill [card]Malygos[/card]? Each of those are vital to this matchup, nd you need to have an answer to each one. Every game I have played against Dragon Priest has come down to those two cards. Every single one. There are almost no good ways to deal with [card]Ysera[/card], and sometimes even a keeper isn’t good enough. However, on the other hand, outside of [card]Shrinkmeister[/card] shenanigans, they can’t do anything about [card]Malygos[/card]. You should be prepared to go long, and just hold onto the combo as much as you can, waiting to either kill them in one turn, or to kill Ysera (sometimes the right play). Watch out for their AOE, count their [card]Shadow Word Death[/card]s, and pressure their life total to make them more reactive then they would like to be.
[cardinsert card=”molten-giant” float=”right”]
Though I must admit I am surprised, Handlock is back and appears to be in top form. This is not a deck that really got anything new or exciting (though I do want to test out some [card]Bolf Ramshield[/card]) but it is just a solid deck like it always has been. [card]Twilight Drake[/card]s are still the most annoying four drop in the game, and playing free 8/8’s is never bad. However, while they are a very powerful deck, they unfortunately lose a lot of life. That is not a place you want to be when facing down the essence of magic. I have yet to lose to a Handlock, and that is largely because of the fact that they are always going to try and play around the wrong combo. Here is where surprise comes into play again, revealing how your opponent not understanding your deck can be such a huge advantage. They are going to play against you just like they would against any midrange Druid. However, while an army of taunts is great against [card]Force of Nature[/card]/[card]Savage Roar[/card], it does to stop twenty points of burn to the face. This is a match where you can simply sit back, let them hurt themselves, and just control the board. Save all of your combo pieces as best you can, and try and make the game go as long as possible. You don’t care about length here, since they will always put themselves into lethal range at one point or another.
I don’t like to admit this, but I’m not entirely sure how to mulligan with this deck. Have I played a lot of games with it? Yes. Did I win a majority of those games? Yes. However, it’s not that simple. This deck is a dragon deck, but it also is a Druid deck. That split almost never comes into play, but it comes into play here big time. For example, if you have a hand of three large minions and an [card]Azure Drake[/card], do you keep the drake? Yes, it is slow, but you only have six dragons, and you don’t want to hit a [card]Twilight Guardian[/card], [card]Blackwing Corruptor[/card] or [card]Blackwing Technician[/card] with no way to trigger them. Badware, the deck’s creator, suggests that you should always keep [card]Azure Drake[/card] and [card]Twilight Guardian[/card] no matter what, since most games you are going to need an activator. That could be the right move, and I do tend to follow this advice when I have the coin. In fact, I have also kept [card]Malygos[/card] if I have a technician or [card]Twilight Guardian[/card] in hand. However, there are many games when I mulligan away such cards in hopes of hitting a [card]Living Roots[/card] or [/card]Darnassus Aspirant. The choice on wether or not to keep dragons is entirely up to you. I think it does differ from match to match, as sometimes your curve is more important. That being said, I didn’t make this deck, and sometimes it is right to follow the creator’s advice.
Even despite the above conundrum, there is a strict set of mulligan rules. Never keep combo cards ([card]Moonfire[/card], [card]Malygos[/card]) but always keep your early game. This means [card]Darnassus Aspirant[/card], [card]Innervate[/card], [card]Living Roots[/card] and [card]Blackwing Technician[/card]. All of these are essential to a strong opening. If you have the coin, [card]Twilight Guardian[/card] (dragon or not) is also a strong keep if you have other early game to pair with it. [card]Wrath[/card] should be kept against aggressive decks (Warlock, Paladin, Hunter) and you always want [card]Swipe[/card] against Paladin. The last situational rule is to keep [card]Keeper of the Grove[/card] against aggressive decks if you have early acceleration or a strong first few turns, and always keep it against Priest. As always with Druid, your mulligans are going to widely vary whether you have aspirant or Innervate in hand, but these are the general rules to follow.
What a fun deck. I love me some Maly-God, and this deck really shows how careful planning can give you wins. I will never stop talking about the element of surprise, and playing a midrange build but swapping out the finishing combo is a genius plan that no one will see coming. Summer is finally over, but we are in the thick of TGT, and it will just get more fun as time goes on. I hope you are having as much fun with the new set as I am, and I hope things are going well. I will continue to look at the strange decks of the future, and exploring what works. Until next time, may you always Innervate early.