Hearthstone’s Journey to Un’Goro expansion cards have all been revealed, and now is the time to really start theorizing over upcoming decks.
The Druid legendary quest, Jungle Giants, looks really strong, and might just be the thing Ramp Druid needs to make a comeback.
The quest requires you to summon 5 minions with 5 or more attack, and the reward is Barnabus the Stomper, a 5-mana 8/8 minion with a battlecry to reduce the cost of minions in your deck to 0. Yes, that’s right. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
Well, that’s truly something.
Upon closer examination of the wordings, we can see that the quest requires the minions to be summoned, not played. This means that you are not limited to just directly playing cards from hand, but any other means you have to generate minions with 5 or more attack also count for the quest. Some immediate ideas on how to fulfill the quest condition include Y’Shaarj and Menagerie Warden.
Regarding Barnabus’ battlecry, note that it reduces the cost of minions in your deck, not in your hand. A million Druid players who really wanted to make Malygos or C’Thun combo work just sighed. Running Jungle Giants in a combo deck is a big coin flip: if you draw your key combo minion before completing the quest, you have no win condition. I don’t expect Jungle Giants combo decks to be a thing.
The many varieties of Ramp Druid: Y’Shaarj Ramp Druid
Y’Shaarj has seen play in Ramp Druid decks before, but that was right before Jade Golems happened. Because the quest is completed by summoning, not playing, minions, the ability of Y’Shaarj to summon big minions, and the possibility to grab an early Y’Shaarj with Barnes look like attractive propositions.
Alas, the core of the old Y’Shaarj builds are either rotating out or do not synergize well with the quest. Without Aviana, Emperor Thaurissan, and Ragnaros the Firelord, the good pulls from Barnes or Y’Shaarj are much fewer in number.
The powerful deathrattle and effect of Cairne Bloodhoof and Ysera, on the other hand, do not synergize with the quest.
Furthermore, summoning minions prevents Battlecry and Choose One effects from taking place, further weakening the synergy.
Y’Shaarj and Madam Goya combinations are a much better fit for Control Shaman than they are for Ramp Druid.
Beast Ramp Druid: New minions!
There is a powerful Druid card that allows you to summon big minions: Menagerie Warden. If you can build a more beast-oriented version of Ramp Druid, Menagerie Warden can both help complete the quest and provide a big swing after completing the quest.
It is a lot less vulnerable to bad draws than a pure combo version, because it is enough to discount either the Warden itself or the beast. So, if you’re running Menagerie Wardens with Tyrantus, you can have either one at full cost as long as you can draw the other one for free to pull of that double 12/12 and a 5/5 turn.
The traditional ideal pairing for Menagerie Warden has been Stranglethorn Tiger, and this combo could still see play in order to activate the quest.
Druid is also receiving a number of new beasts that can synergize with Menagerie Warden, and possibly Mark of Y’Shaarj, although given the low overall number of minions in play, the Mark might not be easy to actually cast, so it is not an auto-include in a slower Beast Druid that focuses on bigger minions.
Elder Longneck is the cheapest new Beast. A 3-mana 5/1 with Adapt if you’re holding a minion with 5 or more attack, Quest Druid is the place for this card. It is going to be a painful card to play, as you have a 30% chance to find any one specific adaptation. In this case, you really want the +3 Health, which would make it a 5/4 for 3 mana, and that’s huge value. However, Divine Shield, Stealth, and +1/+1 stats can also help it get something done, so the overall strength seems to be good enough to play.
Shellshifter is another new card that can probably find a spot in the deck. A 4-mana Choose One minion that comes out as either a 5/3 Stealth Beast or a 3/5 Taunt Beast – or, with Fandral, a 5/5 Stealth Taunt Beast, which can sometimes hurt you as it cannot block attacks until it has revealed itself. It’s a better, more flexible Sen’jin Shieldmasta, and Sen’jin is an OK card already. Shellshifter could even displace Stranglethorn Tiger as a combo piece for Menagerie Warden if its defensive option is in high demand – in those matchups you never have the time to pull off the Tiger combo anyway.
Verdant Longneck was already revealed a while ago. A 5-mana 5/4 with Adapt, I don’t expect it to see a lot of play in the long run. With Stealth it’s worse than Stranglethorn Tiger, with Taunt it’s a Booty Bay bodyguard. With +3 Health it’s a fairly impressive body, but that’s about it. You need to pick what minions you want to complete the quest, and Verdant Longneck is at the top of the list to be cut from decks. It mostly competes with Druid of the Claw as Verdant Longneck can advance the quest whereas Druid of the Claw cannot. Once we have more experience on how many activators are needed, it is easier to estimate which card wins.
Giant Anaconda has clearly been designed with the quest in mind. A 7-mana 5/3 with a Deathrattle to summon a minion from your hand with 5 or more attack. It’s slow, it does not do anything to the board when played, and it has anti-synergy with Ancient of War. I do not expect it to see play.
With all these new beasts, and Druid of the Claw still hanging around as a powerful option even though it does not advance the quest, Beast Ramp Druid just might be up and coming. It has clear swing potential with Menagerie Wardens both in the mid-game and in the late game.
Traditional Ramp Druid
You can also decide to not run the Menagerie Warden package and go with a more traditional setup instead. This frees some slots in the deck and you can more comfortably fit in something like Yogg-Saron to give you free wins in already lost games: just imagine playing Yogg-Saron for free so that if it draws you cards you can actually use those cards on the same turn!
You can also more comfortably fit in Elise the Trailblazer to give you a pack of Un’Goro cards. As only minions in your deck are discounted by the quest though, any minions found in the pack will always cost the full amount. Still, with a bunch of free minions around, you have the mana to spare to use on its contents.
This kind of core would probably still run a number of new beasts, such as Elder Longneck, Shellshifter, and Tyrantus, but it would have more space for these legendaries as well as some other solid non-beast minions such as the Dark Arakkoa. I’m assuming Ancient of War will see play with or without Beasts.
Druidic problems: Hard removal
Druid is not without issues, however. Mulch is rotating out, and that leaves Druid with a predicament. How to remove stuff from the board?
Basically, there are three options for hard removal available for Druid: Naturalize, Tinkmaster Overspark, and Big Game Hunter.
I’m not a big fan of Naturalize, as giving your opponent two cards can often be fatal.
As for the other two options, it depends on the meta. If we start seeing Buff Paladins with their Stealth Killer Galvadons around, Tinkmaster Overspark suddenly looks really attractive. Tinkmaster can even synergize with the quest if you transform your own minion into a 5/5! No, that is probably not a good idea.
On the other hand, if we see just stats, Big Game Hunter can answer those.
All in all, none of the available options are as flexible as Mulch, so this is clearly a Druid class weakness. Putting a ton of stats on the board yourself can solve the issue to some extent, but not completely. Running Yogg-Saron can also give you a chance to clear the board in the late game, and that is something Druid has already come to rely on a fair amount of time.
Druidic problems: Card draw
Azure Drake has been a staple in Druid decks for a long time. A perfect combination of spell damage and card draw, Azure Drake + Swipe has cleared a lot of boards as well as allowed Druid to gain more resources.
Nourish and Wrath have their place in the Druidic card draw arsenal, but they need more help with Azure Drake gone.
Beast Druid has the option to run Mark of Y’Shaarj, but even that has its issues when not playing cheap beasts.
The new expansions brings in Bright-Eyed Scout that seems to be a potential fit into a deck with a lot of expensive minions. Bright-Eyed Scout is a 4-mana 3/4 that draws a card when played, and changes the cost of that card to 5. The statline is bad, so the effect better be good. Alas, even in a Ramp Druid deck, it’s essentially a coinflip: your curve tends to be evenly split at below 5 mana and above 5 mana. I don’t expect this card to be that good.
However, the return of Ramp Druid might bring Lunar Visions into the meta. A 5-mana spell that draws two cards is bad, but it reduces the cost of any minions drawn by two. As more than half of your deck is minions, and the cheap cards are mostly spells, the probability of getting a discount on at least one significant minion is pretty good.
Jade Druid decks typically include a Gadgetzan Auctioneer nowadays, so would you run that for card draw in Ramp Druid? Probably not. The Auctioneer shines with Jade Idol, and you cannot achieve that kind of cycle in Ramp Druid. There is Innervate and some other cheap spells, but saving them for an Auctioneer turn seems even more difficult in Ramp Druid than it is in Jade Druid.
Ramping up and Tortollan Forager
There is one more new Druid card that can fit in a Ramp Druid deck: Tortollan Forager. A 2-mana 2/2 that as a Battlecry adds a random minion with 5 or more attack to your hand. So, that can be anything from Magma Rager to Tirion. That’s a lot of variety.
The good thing about Tortollan Forager is that it is never a dead draw in the late game: you are almost guaranteed to be able to play it together with the created minion in a topdecking situation.
The downside is that it is not what Druid wants to play in the early game. At 2 mana, you want to play Wild Growth. You want to ramp up. It can be difficult to find a spot for Tortollan Forager on your curve, so I don’t think it is as good as it seems at first.
Sample theorycrafting decklists
Here are two theorycrafting decklists I put together while thinking about the Druid quest.
With the spell power from Azure Drakes gone, I have given Bloodmage Thalnos quite some thought. Another possible move would be to go for Starfall over Swipe. Neither of these options are in the lists yet, we will need to see how the meta shapes up to figure out the right removal options.
The Beast variant is very straightforward, and perhaps it would need a little more tricks up its sleeve, such as Yogg-Saron, Elise, or some form of hard removal.
The regular Ramp version has a few more tricks it can rely on, but lacks the Menagerie Warden package for those big swing turns. If Fandral turns up late to the party, a free Fandral combined with an Ancient of War can be a big thing here as well though.
Edit: Thinking this through further, it will be unlikely for Verdant Longneck to be better than Stranglethorn Tiger in this list.
In one more week, we can actually play with the new cards and see where to take the decklists!