2x Wild Growth
2x Savage Roar
Big Game Hunter
Mind Control Tech
2x Shade of Naxxramas
2x Keeper of the Grove
2x Sen'jin Shieldmasta
2x Azure Drake
2x Druid of the Claw
2x Force of Nature
The Black Knight
2x Ancient of Lore
Hi! My name is Eden Cheung and I go by edennnnnn -- that's 6 ns, but just copy and paste it -- for esports related endeavors. You can follow me on Twitter or on Twitch. I've played Hearthstone since open beta and have recently begun to have some success by making legend rank every season since June.
I had a lot of success with this deck this January and I hope you do too. A special shoutout goes to Frazwah, who was one of the first players to use Mind Control Tech in this archetype and my special thanks go to Sixis, who brought the archetype back to my attention and who played this deck to Legend Rank 1 NA.
If you've been playing ladder, you'll have noticed a sudden resurgence of the Druid class. In a ladder meta defined by Zoolock or Hunter on one end and Control Warrior or Handlock on the other, Druid has found a niche between the two extremes and contributes as a valuable part of the ladder ecosystem.
There are two main builds of the Druid class: Wall Druid and Combo Druid. Both classes seek to manipulate mana crystals via the class cards Innervate and Wild Growth and play beefy minions earlier than otherwise possible. But while Wall Druid aims to lock out aggression with a never ending stream of Taunt minions and Kel'Thuzad, Combo Druid will attempt to catch opponents off guard with a sudden explosion of fourteen or more damage. This guide will be focused on the Combo Druid.
In order to understand this deck, we begin must at the end. We run two copies of the Force of Nature-Savage Roar combo. These two cards combine for a total of fourteen damage from hand for nine mana plus two damage for every minion on the board from the turn before. Our game plan will center around staying alive long enough to play the combo while getting our opponent into lethal range.
Since Savage Roar becomes even more powerful when a minion remains on the board, we include several minions that help us achieve this goal.
Shade of Naxxramas is summoned with Stealth -- and once it reaches a certain size -- will resist most forms of area of effect board clear. A common opening move is to play Innervate and Shade on turn one, effectively adding “Give a friendly Shade of Naxxramas +2/+2” to the card text of Innervate.
At four mana, the traditional and dependable Chillwind Yeti has been changed instead for Sen'jin Shieldmasta. The loss of one attack power is more than offset by the defensive Taunt. When played on curve, Senjin has enough offensive power to clear almost any minion played by the common aggro decks: exceptions are Dark Iron Dwarf, a hatched Nerubian, Misha, Goblin Blastmage and Spidertank.
Five mana brings us to two familiar cards which have been played since Hearthstone was in closed beta. Azure Drake, which gives us access to Spell Power boosted Swipe, can really help shoulder the Druid class' weakness of poor area of effect while still providing a respectable sized minion and drawing a card. Druid of the Claw gives us flexibility and reliability by offering access to both Charge or Taunt. This flexibility is what allows this Combo Druid to really shine in its role as a midrange deck. A 4/6 Taunt minion will lock a Zoo Warlock out of the game. A 4/4 Charge minion will clear off accumulated Armor from a Control Warrior and then deal another four if they are forced to clear with a weapon.
Not much needs to said to justify the inclusion of Ancient of Lore. Ancient of Lore has been an almost automatic two-of in every Druid deck for a year. Going back to an earlier theme, the importance of Ancient of Lore is that it allows us to dig through our deck while still maintaining a presence on the board. It simply provides too much value in one card to not include.
Speaking of too much value... we have Dr. Boom! A total 9/9 in stats added onto an average of five random damage to enemies all in a single card! Boom even has synergy with Savage Roar because he spawns three separate minions. This card is strong when you're behind because the bombs are more likely to deal damage to minions that way and it's strong when you're ahead because it's 9/9 in stats that are spread out.
This brings us to the five minions of which we only run one copy. As a class identity, Druid has weak/expensive removal spells. Three of these minions are chosen to circumvent this weakness. Big Game Hunter allows us to simulate single target removal when we need it most. Typical Big Game Hunter prey is Mountain Giant, Molten Giant, Alexstrasza, Ragnaros the Firelord, or Dr. Boom. Mind Control Tech allows us to simulate an early board clear spell. Mind Control Tech value might not necessarily occur on turn three and is worth holding onto even against control decks because of the prevalence of Dr. Boom. The Black Knight is another single target removal spell with a hefty body to immediately threaten lethal damage when combined with the combo. Typical Black Knight prey is Tirion Fordring, any Giant or Twilight Drake given Taunt in Handlock, Ancient of War, Druid of the Claw, and, in a pinch, Sludge Belcher. Alexstrasza tops our curve and epitomizes the nature of this mid-range deck. She can burst for fifteen damage to the face and let us reach for lethal when we play the role of beatdown against a control deck. Alexstrasza can also bring us back from the brink of death and buy us an extra turn or two when we play the role of control against an aggro deck.
The one-ofs are situational but you'll be happy to have them when they're needed.
Finally, worth a special mention is the unique ability of Loatheb. The ability to block your opponent from casting spells and protect all of your minions for a single turn is very valuable for us. Since turn nine is when the combo usually goes off, an extremely powerful turn eight is Shade of Naxxramas and Loatheb. If they both survive just a single turn, the fourteen damage combo can now bash for twenty-six.
Any deck worth its dust must be able to survive the against early aggression. On ladder, this means Zoo Warlock, Hunter, and sometimes Mech Mage. Our main answers on the first three turns are an accelerated Keeper of the Grove, Wrath, and Swipe. If the board starts to get out of control, Mind Control Tech is the great equalizer. Keep an eye out for enemy Haunted Creepers which can be popped to help you get to the necessary “four or more minions” to active this little gnome.
Through the midgame we look to Sen'jin Shieldmasta and Druid of the Claw to buy us time while generating card advantage through favorable trading. An Innervate can let us play Azure Drake and Swipe on the same turn before our opponent expects it. Past turn seven, we will start to relinquish board control, attack the enemy hero directly, and attempt to use the combo to reach lethal before our opponent.
One of the biggest drawbacks of running two copies of the combo is that if we draw them early, they will sit in our hand unplayable for much of the early game. If we have a hand of five cards, and three of them are combo pieces, our hand is effectively only two cards. To alleviate this, we include cards that cycle. Wrath helps cycle in the early game, Azure Drake helps cycle in the mid-game, and Ancient of Lore helps cycle in the late game. It is almost always correct to use the Ancient of Lore to draw cards instead of healing: if the healing allows us to survive for one additional turn, we have effectively received one more card. If the healing allows us to survive for two additional turns, we were not under much pressure to begin with. Most exceptions to this rule happen when we already have a Taunt minion set up and need to avoid being burned out with direct damage: such as Kill Command or Fireball.
Savage Roar Math
Every turn, it is very important to consider the amount of damage we can deal with the combo given the number of minions we have on board and the number of Taunt minions our opponent has on board. I have seen casters add this up very awkwardly on stream, and would like to offer this as a quick and reliable alternative. I use it all the time in my own Druid games (and when I play against a Druid as well).
First, I remember the combo is 14 damage for 9 mana. Then I add up the damage of the minions on board as a running total. Finally, I add the buff damage from Savage Roar for the minions already on board.
Say we have a 3/3 Shade of Naxxramas and a 5/5 Loatheb. I would say out loud “14 and 3 is 17 and 5 is 22 and 4 is 26 so 26”.
I have found this to be the most reliable way to get to the maximum damage number. But we still have to factor in any Taunts.
Say our opponent has Tirion Fordring as his only Taunt. I have found it best to subtract in the order I plan to attack. In this case, it would be at least 1 damage for the Divine Shield and then at least 6 damage for the body.
I would say out loud “26 less 2 -- face attack is usually the weakest -- is 24 less 7 (Roar + Loatheb) is 17 so 17 damage will hit my opponent."
You should also be keeping track of your damage with only half of the combo to see if you can go off earlier. Force of Nature is easier in that it just adds six damage, but Savage Roar math is also important and it adds up to all your character damage plus two times number of characters. Before Taunts of course.
Obviously it's not a tremendously difficult calculation to perform, but if you do it over and over again, it's easy to make little mistakes here and there. I find that doing it in the same order every time greatly reduces the chances of missing lethal, especially when you have to include damage lost to overkilling minions.
Savage Roar adds damage equal to two times your characters.
Rules of the Early Game
1) Never coin into Wild Growth turn one unless you are already holding Shade of Naxxramas.
2) Never Innervate Shade into coin second Shade unless you are already holding Keeper of the Grove and even then probably don't.
3) Always try to at least justify using Hero Power to clear a one Health minions instead of using Wrath. Especially against Hunter. You will wish you had that Wrath when they roll Huffer. They roll Huffer every time.
4) In general, if you have a minion that costs your entire turn's worth of mana or two minions that cost your entire turn's worth of mana, play the single large minion. Exceptions would obviously include BGH, MCT, or TBK for value.
Matchups and Mulligans
Always keep Wild Growth and Innervate. The mulligan decisions come after this rule. I will list the cards in order of priority.
Here we will always assume Mech Mage. Keep Wrath for Mechwarper, Mind Control Tech in case the board gets out of control, and Keeper of the Grove. You can keep a Sen'jin Shieldmasta if you already hold Wild Growth. If you know it is a slower Mage (Fatigue or Freeze), replace Wrath and Mind Control Tech and aim to have a smooth curve.
Keep Wrath for Undertaker, Keeper of the Grove for Huffer, and Mind Control Tech for Haunted Creeper. Swipe is a keep if the rest of those bases are covered. This matchup favors the Hunter 55 – 45 but you can definitely win with smart play. Never activate traps if Rexxar holds an Eaglehorn Bow until you have a Taunt minion to absorb the extra bow hit. If Explosive Trap would clear your minions, you have the option to not attack until you have built up lethal. If you see Wolfrider or Arcane Golem, it is a Face Hunter and you should play control and cast Ancient of Lore as a heal and pray for Alexstrasza to bring you back. Against Midrange Hunter, you should aim to race. Savannah Highmane is actually quite slow and the counter-intuitive play of Druid of the Claw in Cat Form is preferred. Highmane takes two turns to match the damage output of the Cat, and the game will be over by then.
Only the curve matters. Replace Wrath and Swipe. The only value target for Wrath is Acolyte of Pain which is not a big threat. You can justify keeping Keeper of the Grove if you have no other minions in hand, otherwise you should hold onto it for a Sylvanas Windrunner. Look for Shade of Naxxramas, Sen'jin Shieldmasta, and Druid of the Claw to fill out your curve. This matchup should be 60-40 for the Druid aggressor due to the way Warrior removal lines up with the Druid mid game.
Keep Wrath to beat Flametongue Totem, Manatide Totem or half of Feral Spirits; hang on to Keeper of the Grove to keep the Shaman Hero Power at bay. Swipe is generally not enough damage without the Spell Power from Azure Drake and can be replaced. I was surprised to see my stats list this as 55-45 in favor of the Druid, since this has traditionally been known as a Shaman favoured match.
The early game hinges almost entirely on who has Wild Growth. Mulligan very aggresively for it. The mid-game hinges on who gets to play Ancient of Lore first. Aggressively Innervate it out even if you have another five drop. I've had arguments with Nevil ( twitch.tv/neviilz ) about whether Combo Druid beats Wall Druid. Nevil's Wall Druid held Legend 1 on EU briefly while I peaked at Legend 5 on NA. This matchup will swing on what you manage to catch with The Black Knight. Remember to play Cat Form to deny his Black Knight. Both sides have to clear the board aggressively. We clear to deny Kel'Thuzad value, they clear to deny the combo. Stats say 59-41 for this deck in the mirror, but I'm sure it's closer to 50-50.
Keep Wrath to clear Northshire Cleric or an Injured Blademaster that didn't get healed; Keeper of the Grove to clear Wild Pyromancer; and Swipe to clear Dark Cultist. Other than that, the matchup is not particularly difficult. Priest will have difficulty clearing our mid game -- especially Druid of the Claw -- and our two Keepers are the only two targets for Cabal Shadow Priest. I will attack with my Shade of Naxxramas the turn that it is at 4/4 stats to get the damage in and to deny Auchenai Soulpriest + Circle of Healing value while being immune to Priest removal.
Keep Wrath to clear SI-7 Agent or Earthen Ring Farseer. Otherwise, you can mulligan pretty freely for Innervate and Wild Growth. You threaten just as much burst damage as Valeera. If you play Cat Form, you present very few value targets for Sap since Azure Drake and Ancient of Lore get to reactivate Battlecries. Rogue is not commonly seen on ladder these days, so it's hard to tell if the 55-45 win rate is just due to variance.
Keep Swipe for Muster for Battle, Keeper of the Grove for Knife Juggler, and Wrath for Shielded Minibot or Aldor Peacekeeper. Remember to save one Silence for Sylvanas Windrunner and The Black Knight for Tirion Fordring. Your combo should be faster than Paladin can handle since Equality needs several minions on board for full value. Remember you can cast silence on your own minion to undo an Aldor debuff. I found this to be 55-45 in favor of the Druid.
Always assume Zoo and not Handlock. Keeper of the Grove beats Knife Juggler in Zoo and Twilight Drake in Handlock and should always be kept. Against Zoo, keep Mind Control Tech, Wrath and Swipe. Play Druid of the Claw in Bear Form. If you know it is a Handlock, keep BGH and mulligan more aggressively for Wild Growth. Remember to stay out of range of Molten Giants since you can easily burst down a Handlock from 20 or more health. I'd argue Zoo has an edge over Combo Druid, but Combo Druid has an edge over Handlock.