Midrange Druid: Face is the Place

With the introduction of the standard format to Hearthstone, Midrange Druid will more than likely be nerfed. This is because it has been a competitive deck for over two years, has not gone through drastic changes, and of course because of combo. Yet even after all this time, people still misunderstand it. It is a deck that I have played since the beginning of Hearthstone. It has become one of my favorites.

The number of people who view Midrange Druid as anything but an aggro deck is disconcertingly large. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen Druid of the Claw played in charge mode in the past six months. They argue that just because the deck will sometimes include a taunt minion with ten health there is no way the deck can be a “real” aggro deck. Players have been including Sylvanas Windrunner in their decklists since 2014 and are only now realizing how incorrect that has been. Aggro decks in Hearthstone do not need to be low curve. They do not need to play Leper Gnome or Knife Juggler. Adding these cards would certainly make the deck more aggressive, but they are not the only things that make an aggro deck.

Midrange Druid has a very clear game plan. Use Wild Growth and Innervate to ramp, hit your opponent’s face, and use combo on nine mana to end the game. This is clearly an aggressive plan. If everything goes perfectly, the game will be over on turn eight. This is the path you will follow in most of your matchups. Druid has one goal: combo them out of the game. It is the existence of combo that allows Druid to be favored in as many matchups as it is. It is also why Druid has no unwinnable matchups. Sometimes you are just going to draw the perfect curve into combo on turn eight, and there is no deck in Hearthstone that will beat that consistently.

An example of Druid’s aggressive nature is the deckbuilding choice previously employed by Archon Amnesiac. Before the release of TGT, he would include Stranglethorn Tiger in some of his Druid decks. He has reached rank one legend with this list multiple times. Stranglethorn Tiger is a card not often seen in high level play. The reason Amnesiac included this card in some of his decks is simple: You pay five mana for a minion that will deal five damage to your opponent’s face. While that isn’t good enough in most decks, in Druid, that five damage is much bigger than it seems on the surface. Most decks in Hearthstone require you to deal 30 damage to your opponent to win the game. Druid, however, only requires you to deal 16. This is, of course, because the standard Force of Nature Savage Roar combo deals 14 damage on an empty board. As recently as January 21st, Amnesiac was playing a list with 2x Stranglethorn Tiger and was ranked in the top 100 of North America legend.

Some may argue that Druid is not an aggro deck because of all the taunt minions commonly played. Ancient of War and Sludge Belcher are both often included in top Druid lists. In every other deck in the game these cards would be strictly defensive. It isn’t that simple in Druid. Sludge Belcher is a card that often forces your opponents into inefficient trades, and sometimes they will not be able to clear the slime at all. In the same vein, Ancient of War has so much health that killing it often leads to other minions not being cleared. It becomes much harder for your opponent to remain at a high enough life total to survive a combo while you have a minion on the board, even with as little as three damage added to it. This is why the number one tip given to people asking how to beat Druid is “clear all of their minions.” The main benefit of these cards is that they let you survive against aggro decks until you can either draw combo or acquire the necessary mana. So while both of these cards are defensive in nature, they still work toward Druid’s game plan.

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Here is an example of Ancient of War functioning as an aggressive tool. This match is between Thijs and Savjz in the Grand Final of the Curse Trials. Thijs is known for his exceptional Druid play, and he shows it on this turn. The obvious play that I think most players and even the casters jumped to is using Azure Drake and Wrath for two damage on Savjz’s Emperor Thaurissan. This would allow Thijs to take board control by trading in his Earthen Ring Farseer, and it would allow him to draw two cards from Azure Drake and Wrath, but it is not correct.

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In this situation you can see that Thijs opted for the more aggressive line of play. He chose to play Ancient of War and attack with Earthen Ring Farseer for three damage rather than killing Emperor Thaurissan. This puts Savjz in a tricky spot. He can’t afford to use his own Force of Nature to clear the Ancient of War because then he would have no threat of combo and would be playing from behind for the rest of the game. He instead has to leave Ancient of War alive, settling for killing off only the Earthen Ring Farseer with Living Roots, playing Sylvanas Windrunner, and passing the turn. This sets up for Thijs to win the game off the back of a discounted combo.

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Thijs takes the game after spotting an aggressive two turn lethal instead of playing safe and taking board control. If Thijs had opted for the board control line of play, it would have taken the pressure off of Savjz and allowed him to regain control of the board with Sylvanas Windrunner and stall until he could draw his own Savage Roar.

A card that does not work toward Druid’s game plan is Sylvanas Windrunner, yet people have insisted on playing it since the deck’s inception. Just because “Midrange” is in the deck title does not mean Sylvanas Windrunner fits in the deck. Sylvanas Windrunner is a fantastic card, but it has no place in Midrange Druid. This is because Druid isn’t a midrange deck in the same way Midrange Paladin is. Paladin focuses on board control and value to win games. Druid mainly focuses on going face. You would not play Sylvanas Windrunner in Midrange Hunter, so why would you play it in Druid? When you play Sylvanas Windrunner on turn six, you are not actively doing anything to advance the game state. In a deck that wants to end the game as soon as you reach nine mana, you don’t have time to play Sylvanas Windrunner. It does not work toward the deck’s overall plan.

Simply put, Midrange Druid is a deck that is as aggressive in nature as many Hunter decks. It may not play Knife Juggler or burn spells, and its curve may be higher, but that does not change that the deck is, at its core, aggressive. Druid is not a deck that plays for value so you should not be playing Sylvanas Windrunner. The fact that it took two years for people to stop putting Sylvanas Windrunner in their Druid decks is beyond me. Understanding what a deck wants to do and its game plan is an imperative step to mastering a deck.

When playing the deck, you want to put yourself in positions where you are the aggressor as often as possible. You want to be able to at least threaten lethal with combo every turn in the later stages of the game, even if you haven’t drawn into it yet. Always make your opponent worry about the potential threat of combo. Often this can be just as powerful as combo itself. And remember, Druid of the Claw has more than one form. You would be surprised how often just hitting them in the face for four works.

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This is the decklist that Archon Amnesiac used to reach top 100 legend last month.

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