Stonekeep takes an in-depth look at the newly popular Beast Druid deck list!
Beast Druid Overview
As an archetype, Beast Druid is pushed by Blizzard in almost every expansion. It was briefly popular after Whispers of the Old Gods, but it really launched off with One Night In Karazhan’s new cards – Enchanted Raven and Menagerie Warden.
Currently, there are a lot of Beast Druid decks you can see on the ladder. Every build is Midrange, but they vary in tempo – some players prefer the fast, aggressive play style and others like more value-oriented approach. The list I present is something in between, with the high early game tempo and a single Savage Roar as a finisher, backed up by some bigger drops and card draw to not run out of steam. I’m currently maintaining over 60% win rate in Legend with this list.
Beast Druid Mulligan Guide
I’ll divide mulligans into two sections – the cards that you always want to mulligan for and the ones that are situational keeps. First group is “always keep” unless stated otherwise – e.g. if you get two different 1-drops, even though individually both are “always keeps”, you might want to keep only one of them. The second group heavily depends on your matchup and the rest of your hand. I’ll explain carefully when to keep each one of them and why.
Innervate – This card allows insane early game tempo spikes. Getting out a 4-drop on turn 2 or 5-drop on turn 3 is a huge advantage. It also allows you to fix your mana curve when you’re missing a certain early game drop. It’s way worse in the late game, thus you want to mulligan for it heavily.
Living Roots and/or Enchanted Raven – Early game tempo is very important for this deck, so you really want to open up with a 1-drop. If you already have a 2-drop or Innervate to follow up, you won’t likely want to keep more than a single 1-drop. You can keep two if you aren’t sure about your curve (1-drops are easy to fill up your curve with) or when you’re playing in a fast matchup – e.g. against Zoo Warlock or Midrange Hunter.
Druid of the Saber or Power of the Wild – Just like with the 1-drops, you generally don’t want to keep too many of those or else you’re going to run out of cards too quickly. You can keep two 2-drops in faster matchups when you’re starting with Coin – you Coin out one on t1 and then follow-up with a second one on turn 2. In Midrange/Control matchups you keep only one – Druid of the Saber is better in the early game, because it’s easier to dictate the trade due to Stealth/Charge. And Power of the Wild gets extra value later in the game, because you can use it as a buff.
Mark of Y'Shaarj – It’s good in the early game, but only when you have something to play it on. I keep it only along with Enchanted Raven (because it’s very likely that a t1 Enchanted Raven will survive) or Druid of the Saber (because the Stealth nearly guarantees that it survives). It’s much harder to set it up in the early game, so if you don’t have a clear way to do that – throw it away.
Wrath – Keep against decks with high priority early game targets. For example – it’s 100% keep against Tempo Mage, because an unanswered turn 2 Sorcerer's Apprentice might snowball the game for Mage. It’s also keep in matchups where you drop the plan to out-tempo them in the early game and play a more value-oriented catching up game – e.g. Zoo Warlock. It’s very unlikely that you will win the tempo game against them, so you can keep the removal. Never keep it in the slower matchups – you want to play proactively in the early game.
Druid of the Flame – I tend to keep this card if pretty often, since it’s my only 3-drop, but not always. I throw it away only if the rest of my hand really sucks (e.g. I have no 1-drop or 2-drop at all). I also consider throwing it away if I already have Innervate in my hand – Innervating out a 5-drop is very common turn 3 play, so Druid of the Flame might be pointless.
Fandral Staghelm or Savage Combatant – You can keep one of those alongside Innervate as a turn 2 play. Fandral has good stats and is very hard to remove on turn 2 + it can get a lot of value if you also have cards like Living Roots, Wrath or Druid of the Saber in your hand. On the other hand, Savage Combatant’s effect is very powerful in the early game – it’s very likely that you can remove whatever your opponent plays with your Hero Power and start punching enemy for 5 each turn. Hero Powering on turn 3 is not very optimal curve-wise, but it’s still very strong to kill opponent’s minions for free.
Beast Druid Strategy
Beast Druid is pretty aggressive, but it’s still a Midrange deck, so the most important thing you need to learn is to adapt your strategy to the matchup and situation. The deck is best suited to play proactively and make the enemy answer to whatever you do. But it’s not uncommon that you have to play from behind through the early game and then swing the tempo in your favor in the mid game with a big Swipe or Menagerie Warden.
Your goal against Aggro decks is to survive. Prioritize removing opponent’s stuff over going face. Try to keep your life total high – attacking into a small minion with your Hero Power to keep your minion alive is fine, but you don’t really want to Hero Power 4+ attack minions (do that only when you’re still at relatively high health and you feel safe). Try to be efficient and do as much as you can with all your resources (so don’t float mana, try to squeeze as much as you can from each of your minions etc.). Early game is very important – if you don’t fall behind that much on the board and don’t lose too much life, you should be able to comeback easily. You shouldn’t think about the synergies etc. – don’t hold your Wrath if you can kill something immediately just because you might play Fandral Staghelm soon. Prioritize tempo plays over value plays – Wrath for 3 damage instead of cycling it, play out the Druid of the Claw or Stranglethorn Tiger over Azure Drake if you don’t immediately need the card draw etc. Copying a small Beast with Menagerie Warden is also okay if that puts you ahead on the board, although the best target here is Druid of the Claw (because of the Taunt).
Remember that you can’t play the removal game forever. Eventually you’ll have to start being aggressive. After you stabilize with Taunts and removals, you need to start punching the opponent’s face. Even though you value your health more than the damage, sometimes it’s okay to leave the opponent’s minion on the board. For example – throwing in 5 damage to kill a 2/2 is not always correct. If you have extra damage in your hand – especially Savage Roar – putting enemy on a quick clock is often better than removing every single minion he plays. Killing the enemy a turn earlier means that he has less draws to kill you, less time to swing weapons, less time to Hero Power (if his Hero Power deals damage). Not to mention that when you go aggressive against the Aggro deck, he will always suspect that you’re holding a way to kill him quickly and might start being defensive himself. If you force Aggro deck to initiate trades or use burn spells on your board, you’re in a great spot.
Midrange matchups are very back and forth. Usually the player who gets a higher early game tempo assumes the role of aggressor and the other player tries to defend himself and swing the tempo back. The roles can change throughout the game thanks to the cards like Fandral Staghelm, Menagerie Warden, Swipe (possibly with Spell Damage). It’s very important to understand which role is yours. If you’re ahead on the tempo, try to push it even further and kill enemy fast. It doesn’t mean that you want to ignore everything opponent plays – kill the high priority targets like Spell Damage minions (which can help enemy clear your board) or let’s say Beasts against Beast Druid (so he’s left with no target to copy with Warden). And if you’re behind, try to protect your life total and swing the tempo back through the efficient minion trading and removals. This rule is not universally true, but it looks like that in most of the Midrange vs Midrange games. If you’re ahead on the tempo and you don’t take advantage of that, it might backfire and you can give enemy an easy way to come back. And on the other hand, if you’re behind, but you still try to go for the face and you don’t care about your life total, you will most likely lose the race.
In games against Control, you’re the one who is aggressor. It puts you in a favorable position, because this deck wants enemies to play the reactive role. I’d say that there are quite a lot of things you need to think about in these matchups. First of all – early game. You want to have high tempo early game to put pressure on the enemy. In best case scenario you curve out with 1-2-3-4 or for example 1-2-5-4 (with Innervate) – it’s very unlikely that enemy will have clear answers to every of your threats. There is a slight chance that enemy drew poorly, doesn’t have early answers at all and you will be able to rush him down by turn 5-6. But it’s nearly guaranteed that you’re going to deal quite a lot of damage with your early game minions if you curved out well.
Mid game against Control really depends on how the early game looked. If you had high tempo start, enemy is quite low on health – you want to continue with that strategy. And so you once again prefer the aggressive moves, like Druid of the Claw in Cat Form (Charge) or even Swipe into face if you’re close to lethal and you don’t want to overcommit to the board. On the other hand, if your early game was quite slow and you’re in no position to rush down your enemy, you also have to play slower. Slower doesn’t mean slow – in the perfect scenario you keep 2-3 mid-sized minions on the board at the same time (so enemy has hard time clearing them all with single target removals, but you don’t play into AoE), remove opponent’s minions and push for some face damage every turn. Try to squeeze as much as you can from every card you play – you can keep Fandral until you get some cards you can immediately combo him with, you can wait on your Wrath until you get a good Spell Power + Wrath to deal 2 damage and cycle. You also want to get maximum value out of your Menagerie Warden – unless you’re pushing hard for the tempo (enemy is low and you need power on the board), don’t copy a small Beast like a 3/2, wait until you get a 4+ drop to copy or buff a small Beast first with Mark of Y'Shaarj before copying it. This deck holds quite a lot of value, so it’s very possible to keep up with a Control deck in the mid game.
The longer the game goes, however, the lesser are your chances to win. Control decks excel in the late game. I’d say that if it’s late game and you still haven’t killed the enemy, you need to go for the tempo plays again. Enemy will start dropping big minions or gaining card advantage over you – you have a lot of cards that are very weak or even dead in the late game – Innervate, all the small drops, Mark of Y’Shaarj if you have no Beasts to put it on. I’d say that if the game starts going badly, make a last ditch effort to kill the enemy. Stop thinking about value and playing around stuff – throw everything you have on the board and to the face, even if you don’t have lethal yet. Just hope that enemy has no AoE, no ways to punish you. If it doesn’t work – such is the life, but it still gives you a higher chance to win than going for a control game against a Control deck. I won some games off the lucky Swipe/Druid of the Claw top deck when I needed last points of damage after going all-in. I wouldn’t likely win those games if I had tried to take them slowly.
Games against Combo decks are very similar to the games against Control, but you try to close the game even faster. Combo decks cycle heavily and usually run quite a lot of removals, so it’s very unlikely that you will run them out of cards or removal options. On the other hand, they’re usually low on the minions and the minions they run are mostly card draw and such. So don’t worry about trading too much (unless it’s a really good trade – like killing a full health Acolyte of Pain so they won’t draw multiple cards) and go face as much as you can. You’re on the clock for the whole game – if you don’t kill them before they gather up the combo (it depends on the deck, but it’s usually around 10 turns) you most likely lose.
An interesting card I haven’t talked about yet is The Curator. Pre-nerf Ancient of Lore was basically in every Midrange or slower Druid deck. 2 card draws for 7 mana on a 5/5 body was really powerful. The Curator serves a similar purpose. It (usually) draws 2 cards for 7 mana with a 4/6 body. Ancient of Lore was probably slightly stronger, because drawing 2 cards is – in this kind of deck – stronger than drawing 2 Beasts/Dragons. The Curator, however, has a slightly stronger body, because 4/6 is generally a better stat distribution and it has Taunt (which was often a problem with Ancient of Lore – you were often forced to heal against Aggro and then you didn’t draw cards). I’ve decided to go with only 2 tribes, because the only Murloc that realistically fits into this deck is Sir Finley Mrrgglton and I think that Druid’s Hero Power is good enough in most of the matchups (more about it in the next section). But it’s still a possibility and I see a lot of lists running it. The Curator is amazing in slower matchup, as you put a body on the board, draw 2 cards and one of those cards is Azure Drake, which cycles even further. Having an extra Taunt when you’ve already stabilized against Aggro is also very nice.
General Tips for Beast Druid
When placing Mark of Y'Shaarj on a minion, think about a few things. In many matchups you don’t want to buff a minion in advance. Try to buff it only when you attack with it to immediately get value. It’s mostly true in matchups where enemy plays removals. E.g. playing Druid of the Claw in Taunt mode an immediately buffing it makes it more vulnerable to cards like Execute, Hex, Shadow Word: Death etc. You can place it immediately if you know that enemy runs no hard removal, you won’t have mana next turn or you want to protect the minion. It’s also often worth to buff a smaller Beast instead of your biggest one to spread out the damage – buffing a minion that is already a juicy target for removals is not the best idea unless you’re sure that enemy has no removals left. If you draw Mark of Y’Shaarj later in the game and you already have Menagerie Warden in your hand, you can wait and combo those together – it’s really powerful.
Remember that you can place Mark of Y’Shaarj on non-beast minions too. While you don’t cycle, the +2/+2 buff is still often worth it. For example, if you play Living Roots on turn 1 and enemy drops Tunnel Trogg or Mana Wyrm, it’s often a good play to buff one of your 1/1’s and kill them immediately before they can snowball. Later in the game +2 damage on a non-Beast can give you a great trade or even lethal – don’t ignore that only because you won’t cycle a card.
Savage Roar is another card that you need to learn how to play. You don’t always use it to get lethal damage. Sometimes you can use it as a board clear / to boost your trades. Let’s say you have two 2/2 minions on the board and enemy drops Ancient of War. It’s really hard to get through, but a single Savage Roar can give you 6 damage you need. Then, if you’re the aggressor and you happen to have a lot of minions on the board and Savage Roar in your hand, you can use it even though you don’t immediately kill the enemy. Let’s say with 5 minions on the board, Savage Roar is 12 damage for 3 mana and that’s A LOT. Since you won’t likely use it as a value card, if you have a great opportunity to play it and some free mana – do it.
A very common mistake Beast Druid players make is to not play aggressively enough. Druid of the Claw in Charge should be a very common play, especially against slower decks. But even in faster matchups, it’s often worth to kill something immediately with Charge instead of playing Taunt form and giving opponent the initiative. Similarly, Druid of the Saber should often be played in Charge in the mid/late game. It’s 2 immediate damage that can’t be stopped and requires enemy to kill it. Even against classes that can ping, you force them to use 2 mana on Hero Power instead of possibly doing something else. Another mistake is trading too much – while you should always take a good trade, when you’re trying to push the enemy you can often ignore a small minion and go face instead. If there is a huge chance that enemy will have to make that trade himself, by trading you basically waste damage.
Alternate/Tech Cards for Beast Druid
I’ve tested a lot of versions of this deck. Even though this one worked best for me, there are a lot of cards you can try yourself. I’ll list the most common ones I’ve seen on the ladder with the explanation why they might fit into the deck.
When it comes to “flex slots” in the deck, so the cards that you can remove in order to put those in, they will most likely depend on whether you want to make your deck faster or slower. If you want to make it faster (by let’s say adding Sir Finley Mrrgglton), you can remove cards like Azure Drake (single copy), Druid of the Claw (single copy), Wrath (both copies). If you want to keep the current speed or make the deck slower (by adding bigger cards like Onyxia), you can remove cards like Enchanted Raven (one or both copies), Power of the Wild (one or both copies), Savage Roar.
First common card I’ve mentioned a few times already is Sir Finley Mrrgglton. The card is better in a faster version of Beast Druid, because then your aim is to get a more aggressive Hunter’s Hero Power (Steady Shot) or get the cycle power of Warlock’s Hero Power (Life Tap). It also gets some extra synergy with The Curator – if you don’t draw it before you play The Curator, he will guarantee that you can change Hero Power in the late game. I like Sir Finley in faster versions, I don’t feel like this more Midrange version needs to change the Hero Power – Druid’s Shapeshift is fine, as it is very versatile. You can ping minions with it, you can push for some face damage and you can get 1 Armor per turn when your life total is threatened.
Violet Teacher works really well in spell-heavy lists, especially if you also run free/cheap ones (like Innervate) or AoE buffs (like Power of the Wild). Current list plays 15 spells, including 2 copies of PotW. Violet Teacher works quite well in this deck. The reason why I don’t like Violet Teacher in this list is that the Teaches combos are usually slow. That’s the reason why Token Druids run a lot of Ramp – the quicker they get to 6+ mana, the easier it will be doing the combos. In this list, only way to combo Violet Teacher in the mid game is to also have Innervate and since you really want to Innervate stuff in the first turns, it’s hard to keep it for the Teacher. It might seem counter-intuitive, but Violet Teacher slows the deck down quite a bit, even though it’s only a 4-drop. I think you can make a successful mix of Token Druid and Beast Druid, but it would probably require more adjustments than just throwing the Violet Teacher in and I just don’t particularly like it.
P.S. If you decide to play Violet Teachers, you should probably also consider adding Raven Idols, because those two go really well together. Another cheap spell + you can possibly get yet another cheap spell or buff like PotW from Discover. And since your deck gets slower, Wild Growth might also be a good idea. Check out the JustSayian’s deck to see what I mean.
Mounted Raptor is a pretty strong 3-drop. It’s something like a mini-Piloted Shredder, but luckily more balanced, because a lot of 1-drops come out with 1 health, so they’re pretty easy to kill. My 3-drop of choice is Druid of the Flame mainly for 2 reasons – it’s more defensive and it combos better with Mark of Y’Shaarj (4/7 minion is way superior to 5/4 one). But Mounted Raptor would most likely be better in the faster lists, especially those running 2x Savage Roar. Since it has Deathrattle, it sticks better to the board and the 3 attack makes it a little more threatening than the 2 attack of Druid of the Flame (it can also become a 5/2, but without Deathrattle it’s much easier to deal with). Plus you sometimes can hit a jackpot and get a lucky Injured Kvaldir (2/4) or something like Mana Wyrm when you have some spells in your hand. Lists running 2 Raptors and 1 Druid of the Flame (or vice versa) are also quite common. I don’t feel like an additional 3-drop is necessary, because Innervate + 5-drop is also a very common turn 3 play.
Onyxia would most likely fit the slower lists (so this one too), as a big finisher. She’s a very powerful move on an empty/almost empty board. Great way to refill the board after the board wipe (e.g. Brawl). Very hard to clear, because enemy often needs to use both single target removal and AoE to get rid of everything. If the 1/1’s survive, they have insane synergy with Savage Roar – six 1/1’s with Savage Roar is 20 damage in total. I actually think that Onyxia works really well in this deck, but I faced too many fast matchups that I couldn’t justify playing a 9 mana minion. 9 mana minion card with no immediate impact (as in clearing board, healing your Hero, Taunt etc.) is just too slow. But if I started facing more Midrange/Control decks, I’ll definitely consider adding Onyxia.
This deck has big problem with… removing big minions. With the strongest removal dealing only 4 damage (well, 5 with Spell Damage), it’s easy to notice that if enemy starts rolling out a big threats like Ragnaros the Firelord or big Taunts like Ancient of War, answering those might be pretty hard. Mulch is a pretty heavy tempo play and it can be more or less compared to Sap (more expensive and more random, but still). I think one copy fits the deck quite well. Aggressive lists can get away with it by simply putting enough pressure and killing opponent before he can stabilize with big minions. But games with this list sometimes can get much longer. If you find yourself losing to big minions too often, Mulch can be the way to go.
A tech card I’ve noticed in some of the Reynad’s versions of this deck. He plays a more aggressive version with a bigger focus on the early game and stuff that puts immediate pressure. It dropped the card draw (besides Mark of Y’Shaarj), so it runs out of steam much faster, but then it also closes the games much faster. Leeroy is one of the reasons – card that might be pretty useless throughout the game, but serves as a pretty nice finisher. I like Leeroy in the aggressive version of Beast Druid, just like pre-Standard Aggro Druid used it. 6 Charge damage means that you can finish a lot of the games that wouldn’t be won otherwise, and the fact that you can attack with immediately means that it combos nicely with Savage Roar. Even from the empty board, Leeroy + Savage Roar is a nice 8 mana 10 damage finisher, which is in line with Warrior’s Grommash Hellscream. Since he likes to experiment with new decks a lot, he also tried cards like Abusive Sergeant, Dire Wolf Alpha, Jungle Panther and a few others that you wouldn’t even think about putting into a Beast Druid deck. Some of those I like, others I don’t, but Leeroy in particular is a great finisher for a faster versions of the deck.
Beast Druid Budget Version
It’s possible to build Beast Druid deck for a very little dust. Not counting the adventures, if you drop Fandral Staghelm (which is good, but it’s not necessary for the deck to work), you can build the deck for less than 1,000 Arcane Dust.
When it comes to adventures, you (obviously) absolutely need the first 3 wings of One Night in Karazhan to get Enchanted Raven and Menagerie Warden. Then, second wing of Blackrock Mountain awards you with Druid of the Flame and second wing of League of Explorers awards you with Mounted Raptor. If you’re going for the budget option, you don’t have to buy both – one is enough. You’ll probably want BRM if you want to build a slower/more Midrange list and LoE if you’re building a faster version. But honestly, for the most part they’re interchangeable.
If you’re going for a full budget option, you can completely drop the BRM/LoE expansions and just play Jungle Panther or Emperor Cobra in a 3-drop slot. This way it’s possible to build the deck with 3 wings of latest expansion and about 1k dust. It means that the deck should be easily accessible even to new or F2P players.
Beast Druid is definitely a strong deck. I suspect that it will stay with us after the expansion as a solid Tier 2 deck, maybe even Tier 1 depending on the meta. Since both Mark of Y’Shaarj and Menagerie Warden – the main reasons to play this deck – will be in Standard until the first expansion of 2018, I think it’s fair to assume that the deck will be played (or at least tested) whenever a new, strong Beast gets released.
This deck feels like a spiritual successor of the old Midrange Druid deck, obviously minus the combo. It focuses on the proactive plays and aggressive board control, so it should suit anyone who likes to play this kind of decks.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. If you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!