Druids often come under great scrutiny for several of their cards being over-centralizing to the class. Wild Growth and Innervate allow them to manipulate mana and make power plays that are impossible for most other classes. Force of Nature and Savage Roar in combination can burst the opponent down from fourteen health, on or after turn nine. Even the “Choose One” mechanic allows great versatility for other cards like Wrath and Druid of the Claw. However, there are innovative ways to pilot the class – you just have to look!
Players tend to get very excited about “Mill” strategies in Hearthstone because they don’t work out quite like in other card games. Whereas other games have a plethora of effects that directly remove the opponent’s cards from the deck, Hearthstone mostly lacks these. Instead, Mill strategies force the opponent to draw more quickly than intended and occasionally “overdraw” when they exceed the ten-card hand limit. Mill decks can be terrifying on both sides because the Mill player is simultaneously getting the opponent closer to fatigue and filling the opponent’s hand with potential counter-measures.
There are several cards that make a Mill strategy potentially powerful for a Druid, but the greatest candidate
is Naturalize. For one mana, Naturalize simply destroys a selected minion, but it also allows the opponent to draw two cards. This is normally a huge downside, resulting in a two card advantage swing for the opponent (the Druid uses one card to destroy one card, then the opponent gets two additional cards), but this “downside” contributes to the Mill player’s game plan. This is the primary tool to making sure the opponent reaches fatigue before you do.
In addition to this, Druid also has surprisingly effective board control spells that are typically too slow and situational to see competitive play. However, when both players draw their entire decks and the Mill Druid needs to be greedy, Poison Seeds plus Starfall is an important full board clear. Druids also have several healing options in Healing Touch and Tree of Life that can nullify early aggression. These strategies, in combination with the standard core of Coldlight Oracle and now Brann Bronzebeard from League of Explorers, make this deck quite viable.
Since viable Silence effects are few and far between in Hearthstone, Keeper of the Grove has made Silence Druid a real strategy since early in the game’s history. When Wailing Soul was released in the Naxxramas adventure, it made this strategy consistent enough for a decent deck. The idea was to abuse Ancient Watcher’s hefty stats for its mana cost by silencing it (or occasionally using other cards to give it Taunt.) The addition of Dancing Swords and Deathlord in company with Wailing Soul meant the deck also had additional silence targets. Over time, more tools have become available.
The most important addition is Darnassus Aspirant. Already powerful in “ramp” or particular control lists abusing mana manipulation, the possibility to make Aspirant’s effect permanent is a big deal, effectively putting you a turn ahead of the opponent. The other MVP is Fel Reaver. This card is already a mainstay of Aggro Druid despite its negative effect, but the ability to silence it makes it less of an all-in option. Other neutral minions like Zombie Chow, Ogre Brute, and Eerie Statue tie the concept together.
Silence Druid’s downside is, surprisingly, not its lack of consistency. The abundance of silence effects available mean that one is usually available. However, at this state in the game, a pile of stats is simply sometimes not enough. With efficient removal like Shadow Word: Death, Lightbomb, Big Game Hunter, and Brawl running around, the Silence Druid may find himself running out of threats, even when things go right. Also, aside from a surprise seven damage from Eerie Statue, the burst potential of the deck type is lacking. Despite these weaknesses, with an intelligent mulligan and strong starting curve, the deck can be very effective.
Standard Ramp Druid with Ancient of War can suffer from varying consistency issues and early power plays, but Astral Communion takes this to the extreme. The card instantly maximizes one’s mana crystals…at the cost of every card in the player’s hand. What this means is that the player going second could conceivably start the game with Coin (guaranteed), along with Innervate and Astral Communion, meaning ten mana will be available to use as early as turn one. Scary stuff. However, balancing the extreme strengths and weaknesses of this strategy can get complicated, so deck builders have come to a variety of conclusions.
The first strategy is to take advantage of where Astral Communion doesn’t hurt. Namely, it doesn’t wipe your board. Also, the mana crystals it gives are not empty, meaning they are instantly available. To profit from this, some decks include cheap drawing minions, such as Loot Hoarder, Bloodmage Thalnos, and perhaps Acolyte of Pain. By drawing after playing Astral Communion, it is possible to play a card like Ysera immediately and seal out the game. These cards also provide further consistency to draw into Astral Communion or establish a hedge if the player never draws it at all and needs to rely on more orthodox strategies.
The other camp recognizes that Astral Communion is typically followed by the necessity to “topdeck” in future turns, meaning the player has to use as his only option whatever he draws next. After an Astral Communion, drawing into something like a Loot Hoarder is pretty underwhelming. Because of this, some players cut out all but the most necessary low drops in favor of larger minions, more cycle through Battlecry effects, and more draw cards along the lines of Ancient of Lore and Nourish. Either way the deck is piloted, there will be good games and bad, but the insane situations the card allows make testing it out worthwhile.
The release of Druid of the Fang in Goblins vs. Gnomes suggested Blizzard was looking to create a Beast niche for Druids, but more support was sorely needed. We’ve seen the beginnings of this with Wildwalker and Knight of the Wild in The Grand Tournament expansion. Furthermore, new Beasts like Savage Combatant and Mounted Raptor can benefit from this support. Overall, it seems like Beast Druid is best piloted as an upper-mid-range deck, with the advantage engines of Beast Hunter but superior stat lines to force favorable trades around turns four through six.
Several other Beasts find their way into Beast Druid lists, as well. Haunted Creeper and Jeweled Scarab push card advantage in the early game and can take the place of Darnassus Aspirant. Rather than ramping into huge threats early, Beast Druid decks may prefer to collect meaty two-card combos to out-value the opponent toe-to-toe. Ironbeak Owl can take the place of, or function along-side, Keeper of the Grove to neutralize large threats, and Mounted Raptor from the League of Explorers adventure is another “sticky” minion to go with Haunted Creeper. Tomb Spider comes after the early Beast drops to push card advantage. Knight of the Wild is far from a necessary closer after all of these, but it is an efficient one, especially when dropped alongside something like Dr. Boom or Loatheb.
While the deck is coming together, it still seems like some pieces to the puzzle are missing. Hunter has Ram Wrangler and Desert Camel to provide Beast-related tempo, but most of Druid’s Beast support either involves hand advantage or creating strong single minions. Ideally, future sets will bring some more explosive power to the deck, so it can make even more effective use of the already-dangerous Savage Roar.
Comparisons to the Meta
So, with all of these creative strategies, where do these decks fall short? With the exception of Astral Communion, these decks tend to focus on winning in the mid-game through a combination of strong minions and card advantage. However, Mid-Range Druid is already one of the strongest decks in the metagame. The deck already has a plethora of incredibly versatile and valuable cards that typically provide the perfect mix of a solid minion body and good effect. In contrast, the decks listed here aren’t as fine-tuned.
However, Druid is a class Blizzard has been conflicted about in the past because of the potential over-centralization of Force of Nature and Savage Roar. They have begun to show a willingness to take the class in new directions, which is promising for further expansions. Hopefully, the growth of the card pool comes with a passion for innovation from the player base to take the class to new heights!