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Weekly Legends: The Return of Hobgoblin Druid
It’s time to go back. Not to the future, but to an earlier time of tokens, Hobgoblins and Druids. For this edition of Weekly Legends, we are going to look at a deck which Brian Kibler first popularized at the start of the year. However, while Kibler played this deck at Legend rank, EmptySet2 actually geared up and took it all the way to the orange diamond. Not only does this deck have the ability to beat the top teir decks in the game, but it’s consistency makes it a solid choice for your laddering needs. Like all Druid decks, you are going to be using Innervate to pull off some crazy combos. And, like the classic token decks of old, you are both going to use Violet Teacher to cover the board, and Savage Roar to finish the game. However, this deck has the extra punch of Hobgoblin (and some awesome 1 attack minions) at your disposal, which takes the deck to the next level, giving it both burst and late game power.
This deck is a very succinct blend of two different play styles. Ultimately, you are pushing through with either the combo or with a giant Savage Roar, but how you get to that point varies greatly. Just like Aggro Paladin, Zoo and the like, this is a deck that wants early board control and aims to win by never giving it back. You have a slew of extremely resilient two drops (plus Wrath). That alone is usually enough to lock up the early game and give you the edge you need to pull it out in the long run. The road to victory here is simple, keep filling the board until you win by combo or face damage. However, the execution of this strategy (just like all decks) is much more complicated that it first appears.
Though Innervate seems like one of the most standard Druid cards, I bring it up because it operates differently here than it does in most Druid builds. This card, instead of being used to power out an Ancient of Lore or Emperor Thaurissan, is typically used to create a bunch of small combos that work together to create board presence. While you will still have games where you want a turn five ancient or Dr. Boom, you want to try and go for the big turns instead of the big plays. What that means is, if you have the opportunity to Innervate out something like a Dr. Boom or a chance to play Hobgoblin into two minions, you should go with the two minion play.
This is a very important point, because it goes against first instinct. Innervate is made to get to your large minions faster, but here you just want to get more things onto the board. Due to the way this deck is built (especially with two Savage Roar) you always want to get board control. Once that happens, you will almost always take the game. This deck thrives when you opponent is on the back foot, and pushing for a huge Violet Teacher or Hobgoblin play will almost always pay off. Of course, there is AOE. However, not only are your minions resilient, you will almost always be accelerating with Innervate on turns much earlier than common AOE.
Power of the Wild
Power of the Wild is a very interesting card because, like so many good cards, it has a deep versatility. Before going into the minor uses, it is important to actually talk about this in mulligans. Power is a card that can be absolutely fantastic when used in the right scenario, but it is also a card that, when nothing on the board, is mostly dead since you typically don’t want to just play a 3/2 for 2. As such, there is a very fine line when to use this in the early stages of the game. You need to have minions for this to get value, and the more the better. For instance, if you have a Haunted Creeper on turn two, you typically want to trade the spider away and then buff the ghosts. In the same vein, you want to keep this with Echoing Ooze, but only in games where both Oozes will live to get the buff. In this way, you typically want to only keep power early when you have minions to go with it, and get rid of it when it can only buff one minion.
Turn four, which is when you can either get two minions down or have the Violet Teacher/Innervate combo, is when you are typically going to use Power of the Wild. This of course can change with Innervate, but when you decide whether or not to keep the card you want to be think “how will this work on turn four?”. That’s a good way to visualize this card that will allow you set up later plays. Of course, if you draw power later in the game, it also does a great job of giving you some end game punch. And remember, with Force of Nature, this card does nine damage, or allows you to go to seventeen with Innervate.
Savage Roar usually has one, simple mode: lethal. And, despite this section, do not be fooled, that is the main reason it is in this deck. As with all token decks, you are typically playing to the combo. However, in this build, that combo can sometimes come in the form of a turn six or seven roar. Double roar also does the job as well. I bring this up for two reasons. One, though this deck can go long, it is an aggressive deck at heart. You want to keep the board, but you also want to constantly put pressure on your opponent and keep them in fear of the combo. Fear of the combo is a very interesting thing, and will constantly keep you opponent on the defensive. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to push damage though instead of trading. This may not always be the best move, but you will win some close games if you race with roar backing up your pressure.
The other important note is, there are two Savage Roars in this deck. Roar is a very good finisher, but it also allows you to trade up. Now, you only have once Force of Nature, which means you typically want to save that for the lethal combo, but you can be much more flexible with the other. You usually only want to use one to clear the board, but a good number of your minions trade very well. Annoy-o-Tron, Haunted Creeper, Echoing Ooze and Violet Apprentices all do a fantastic job of killing minions bigger than them, with tron and creeper usually leaving something behind. In line with keeping people on the back foot, if you can get rid of your opponents big minions and still have board presence, it is usually hard for them to rebound.
The namesake of the deck, Hobgoblin is nothing special. It is just another card in the game and does nothing extraordinary whatsoever. Ok, that’s not even close to true, but it is the best way to think of the little three drop. As stated, this deck builds off of a large amount of small combos that come together to create a cohesive whole. Hobgoblin is a just another one of those combo, a card that is very powerful but should not be forced. Often, people get to caught up on trying to get value out of the goblin, keeping bad hands or making really bad plays. I would say this card works very similar to Violet Teacher: It is great if you have it, but you don’t need it to win games. You should never keep Hobgoblin without a crazy coin/Innervate opening, as it is much better drawn organically in the later stages of the game.
Loatheb, like most cards in this deck, is a combo piece. A 5/5 for 5 is quite solid in a deck running so many small minions, and a 5/5 for five that basically secures your board, is even better. This deck loves solidifying board control, and nothing does that better than the fungus-loving five drop. If you can time Loatheb right, usually when your opponent’s board is clear, or the turn before a Consecration, Flamestrike or Hellfire, it can really cause a nightmare for your opponent. Hearthstone is a game that is all about planning, and Loatheb upsets plans and ruins turns. For that reason alone, he is easily worth a spot in this deck.
The other reason I bring up Loatheb, is to once again discuss planning. Just like going for face over trading, you want to always think “when can Loatheb get me lethal”. It is very difficult to upset Force of Nature/Savage Roar, and the best way to fight it is through clearing the board. Loatheb not only makes clearing your board nearly impossible (as spells are the main source of removal) but it also gives you a 5/5 that, just on its own, makes the combo do 21 damage. Carefully laid plans are very important in a sub-combo deck like this, and Loatheb is a good example of how you always want to be thinking two or three turns ahead.
A breakdown of the five matchups I see the most on ladder.
Some weeks it’s Control, this time around, it’s Patron. I am not sure why the different Warrior decks change as they do, but you need to be ready for whichever one comes. Patron Warrior is perhaps one of the trickiest matchups for obvious reasons. You need to have a bunch of small minions on the board to win, and they want you to have a bunch of small minions on the board to combo. So, the question then becomes, how do you remedy this situation? The answer is quite obvious: kill them before they kill you.
I have long talked about the ideas behind “playing unafraid”. This match is a great example of that mantra. While you may not want to play into things like Whirlwind, Warsong Commander, Grim Patron and Frothing Berserker, you need to get things onto the board or you will die. They are a combo deck, just like you are, and whoever goes off first will almost always win. Of course, you do want to clear their board if you can, but Patron Warrior is not a deck that typically spends it turns gaining armor. As such, if you can deal with Armorsmith as soon as she comes down, the damage you do usually sticks. If you can whittle them down to fourteen health throughout the first eight or so turns, they will answer your board instead of focusing on your life total, which will usually give you enough time to win.
As with most Tempo Mage matches, the games come down to the first couple of turns. You have solid removal and hearty creatures (in addition to your combos) but they have Mana Wyrms, Sorcerer's Apprentices, and a large slew of spells. They will clear your board if you give them the chance, and once you lose the board against tempo, it is very hard to get it back. The best way to play this match it to run them out of cards, trading away minions and forcing their removal. You just need to stay alive long enough to combo them down. As always, be aware of the amount of Fireballs and Frostbolts they have, and try to get them to use those on your minions. Every time they use damage on your board, it is less damage you have to worry about on your face.
An important reminder about Tempo Mage is, a lot of the newer builds run one copy of Flamestrike. This is their only AOE (besides crazy Flamewaker/Arcane Missiles turns) as they typically focus on targeted removal. Try and get the board full early, and then hold back around turn seven or so if you think they are holding cards. Tempo Mage usually has one or two good clearing turns in them, and once those pass, they will almost always run out of steam.
Paladin has two tools against you, and that’s really it. If you can play against those tools and keep them off the board, you will almost always win the game. The two cards in question are Consecration, which can really give you a bad time if you’re not careful, and Muster for Battle, which not only gives them board presence, but also a weapon that can pick off your small minions. Shielded Minibot and Zombie Chow can also be annoying, but you can usually overwhelm those cards, or take care of them Wrath. Hobgoblin is fantastic in this matchup, as is Violet Teacher. Especially because many Paladin decks are not running Equality anymore.
Though Paladin usually has healing, they are really weak to the combo. They only run three taunts (two Sludge Belcher and a Tirion Fordring) which is the only way they can stay alive. While using a Keeper of the Grove early can be very strong to silence a Piloted Shredder or killing the back end of a Shielded Minibot, you always want to make sure to save one for the taunts. While Sludge Belcher is not the most formidable card, it can really put you back on your heels and, as always, not having an answer to Tirion can be game over.
You should, for the most part, treat this as a mirror match. What does that mean? You are the aggressor in most matches, but here, you are just trying to meet them punch for punch. The Warlock hero power will eventually run them down, and give you a way to finish them off with Savage Roar. However, you need minions on the board to do that. Zoo is a deck that makes a living off of trading effectively, but, beyond Wrath and Swipe, both of which are very strong here, you have a lot of minions that makes it hard for them to trade. Just like Druid, Zoo does not do well with a flooded board, and you always want to dump as much onto the board as you can. It is very hard for Hobgoblin to live more than a turn, but if you can keep it alive, or get it onto an empty board, you will almost always win.
After the dust settles from the opening turns, this game turns into a slugfest. You want to start curving into your large minions, and they will start to play Sylvanas Windrunner, Dr. Boom, Mal'Ganis and the like. Be ready for this to happen, and try to counter as best you can with your later game. Beyond that, know that Keeper of the Grove is one of the best tools you have here, as it can kill off both Flame Imp and Knife Juggler, while also silencing Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg. Get your minions out early, don’t be afraid to use your buffs, and always try to save your Swipes for Imp-losion.
Hunter is a game where you need to race them to win, as shown in the video. This is not a match where you can afford to mess around. You have two Annoy-o-Trons, but they have two Ironbeak Owls. In addition, your hero power heals one life, theirs does two. This is not a game where you can afford to be reactive, because as soon as that happens you will eventually fold to damage. You want to hit them early and hit them hard. Ancient of Lore is always for health (unless you can Innervate it out), and you really cannot afford to play around the hounds.
While they are many things, Hunters are not good at being reactive. Life total is a huge resource in this match that goes both ways. Pressure their life total, and make them trade into your minions. This works very well for two reasons. One, it makes it so they cannot just hit you in the face. The fear of the combo often keeps them from doing damage unless they have lethal, which can buy you key turns. However, if they choose to ignore your board and go face, they will often not be able to out race Savage Roar. Of course, you want to keep track of your life total and be aware of their potential damage, just to make sure you don’t get taken out by an errant Kill Command or Quick Shot. However, never forget about the amount of damage you can do as well.
The mulligan for this deck comes in two phases. One, solid early game, and two, looking for combos. What that mean is, you want to look for the “always keeps” and then check if you have any insane combos in your hand. The always keeps are Innervate, Annoy-o-Tron, Wrath and Haunted Creeper. Now, Echoing Ooze is a great early keep as well, but should really only be relied on if you do not have any other two drops, since it the weakest of the three. All of these cards help you get a stake in the early game, and you want to keep them on sight.
While you never want to keep any of the high costs cards (anything higher than keeper) or the combo, Hobgoblin can be kept if you have Innervate and minions to go with it. On it’s own, it is too weak, but in the right scenario it can be a game winner. This same rule goes for Violet Teacher. You don’t want to just keep her on curve, but with the coin and an Innervate, you should always keep her. Power of the Wild, as already covered, should only be kept as part of a combo. Swipe is fantastic against aggro with the coin, and a must against Hunter if you have things to play before it.
The last card, Keeper of the Grove, is an always keep with Innervate, and an essential against both Hunter, Mage and Warlock. While you never want to keep it raw, if you have a two drop (or two, two drops) to go before it, it should always be kept in those instances. Just with Swipe, it is not the best card to play on turn three, but as a three drop (thanks to the coin) it can save you games. Beyond that, you typically want to follow the “curve-out or combo” rule against most decks. Get your cards out early and race your opponent to the ground.
Well, another week, another legend. I love this deck, and hope you enjoy it as well. As we move towards the middle of the month I will be looking at some more interesting decks to explore how strange the meta game can get. However, that’s for a later time. Hope you all have a good week and, until next time, may your Innervates always come early and often.