In my push to Legend this season, I experimented with a bunch of different decks, with varying degrees of success. I was trying for a while to find a version of Priest that I liked, and messed around a bit with Shaman as well, but the fact that I had already earned the golden heroes for both classes dissuaded me from playing them much more. Instead, I decided to play my other old favorite that was getting close to a shiny portrait itself – Druid.
I had tried a variety of different Druid decks right after Goblins vs Gnomes came out, but hadn’t been very happy with any of them. I had a Ramp list filled with taunts to beat the aggro decks, but felt it was too weak in the games where it didn’t draw Wild Growth on time. I had a MechRamp version that used Mechwarper as essentially additional copies of Wild Growth, but it lacked enough late game punch. And, of course, I had my Dragonmaster deck, but it was frustrating to play in a sea of Big Game Hunters.
And then I discovered Hobgoblin.
Hobgoblin was a card that caught my eye when it was first revealed in the Goblins vs Gnomes spoilers. It’s the kind of card that makes you look at old minions in an entirely new light. A repeatable +2/+2 buff is clearly extremely powerful, but the relatively weak body and the restriction of only effecting one attack minions makes it a challenge to use effectively. In order to get value out of Hobgoblin, you either need to play minions to buff on the same turn you play it, or have it survive a full turn cycle – no easy task when it’s a 2/3 for three mana.
Thankfully, Druids have Innervate, which makes it much easier to play Hobgoblin and immediately flood the board. Against decks without an easy way to remove it – like Zoo or Priest – you can even just Innervate out a Hobgoblin on the first turn and then start dropping minions to pump immediately.
Against most decks, though, you’ll generally want to save Innervate to allow you to cast both Hobgoblin and another minion in the same turn, since you want to ensure that you can actually get the Hobgoblin triggers. The best minion to buff by a large margin is Echoing Ooze, since you end up with two 3/4 minions for just two mana. That’s a hard deal to beat. After that is Annoy-O-Tron, and then probably Argent Squire, since Divine Shield is very strong on larger minions. Haunted Creeper is last on the list, but is still a great value when you can trigger it, and is obviously great on its own against many of the aggressive decks in the field.
That’s the thing I really like about this list (which I adapted from one used by Reynad in Deck Wars a few weeks back). While it uses Hobgoblin very effectively, it isn’t reliant on it. Lots of people have asked why I don’t play cards like Wisp, or Angry Chicken , or Goldshire Footman, or whatever other random one attack minion they might think of. While playing a deck full of cheap one attack minions may lead to some explosive starts with Hobgoblin, it can also lead to very weak draws when you don’t find one.
All of the one attack minions in this deck are reasonably powerful on their own. Lots of decks play Echoing Ooze, Haunted Creeper, and Annoy-O-Tron on their own just because they’re solid cards. Argent Squire is a bit underpowered these days, but it’s still a totally reasonable first turn play against aggressive decks with cards like Clockwork and Leper Gnome. If you never see a Hobgoblin, your cards are still competitive, which isn’t the case if you start loading your deck with Wisps. Your best draw may get better, but your bad draws get a whole lot worse.
I’ve considered playing Jeeves, because it synergies with Hobgoblin and proves the ability to reload after you empty your hand, but I think Ancient of Lore is a better choice. Ancient is a more independently powerful card that generates both a meaningful board presence and card advantage at once. Ancient is also much more flexible, since you can use it for healing when you’re in a race situation. And while Jeeves may be great against control decks that always have a fist full of cards, it’s a double edged sword in aggro mirrors, since it can benefit your opponent as well.
Azure Drake is in the deck for a similar reason. It provides a solid body that fills out the higher curve of the deck while also helping you reload when your hand starts to run out. People have suggested cutting them for Bloodmage Thalnos, or Novice Engineer, again trying to bolster the Hobgoblin theme, but the deck doesn’t need more cards that are good when it has Hobgoblin – it needs cards that are good when it doesn’t, and Azure Drake is one of those cards. The spell power comes in handy, too, even with so few spells it buffs. Adding one more damage to Swipe is a huge deal on a lot of boards.
Violet Teacher also raises some eyebrows, since the deck isn’t particularly spell heavy. The main reason the deck includes Violet Teacher is because it already wants to play Power of the Wild as an extra tool to pump the swarms of small creatures it can pump out, and Power of the Wild works especially well with Teacher. It’s not crucial to the deck’s game plan, and I could certainly see playing a version without it, but the overlapping synergies give the deck a lot of ways to generate strong boards without relying on drawing a single specific card like Hobgoblin.
I only have one copy of Wrath and Keeper of the Grove because I want access to both effects, but generally want to be proactive and don’t want my draws glutted with too many reactive cards. It’s possible that this is wrong, but when I was playing a version with multiple Keepers I found myself frequently drawing both and just not being able to play out my hand very efficiently. Wrath can always cycle, but that costs mana, and you don’t always have a target. I could see the argument for playing a second copy of Wrath over one of the Argent Squires, for instance, since you rarely want to draw two of those unless you have a Hobgoblin, but for now I’ve liked playing minions over spells where I can. Similarly, I only have one copy of Force of Nature because I don’t want my hand to be glutted with situational cards. Force of Nature is great to close out games with Savage Roar, but it’s clunky otherwise, especially in a deck that’s trying to play a tempo game and can’t afford to miss drops in the early turns.
Generally with this deck, you’re looking to mulligan into aggressive openings. I pretty much always keep Innervate, and I’ll keep Hobgoblin if I have Innervate or the Coin and an Argent Squire, but will generally throw it back otherwise. Keep in mind that Hobgoblin isn’t the core of the deck – it’s simply a card that allows you to get a lot of extra power out of your early game minions once you reach the middle turns which can also enable explosive openings with the right cast of supporting characters. I’ll keep Wrath against Warlock and Hunters, and Keeper along with Innervate or the Coin against Warlock, but otherwise I’m generally just trying to curve out and apply pressure early on.
I played Hobgoblin Druid from around rank 12 to rank 4 or so before I reached my goal of golden Druid and switched over to different classes. My monthly stats include my experimentation with other builds of the deck and are missing a large chunk of my games overall, including all of them on my iPad. That said, they are still a good look into how the deck’s matchups can go.
In my experience, the deck has the tools to win pretty much every matchup. It can be a bit inconsistent and draw dependent, especially against decks like Warrior where you really lean heavily on getting good value out of Hobgoblin and finding your Ancients of Lore, but you’re generally competitive with every class. As the stats showed, I did struggle quite a bit with Paladin, since they have good answers for your explosive openings as well as strong late game to keep up with your Ancients and Azure Drakes. Consecration, in particular, can be a huge problem, especially since they can back it up with minions, weapons, and Equality, making it harder for you to buff your minions out of range than it is against something like Priest’s Holy Nova.
While I don’t think Hobgoblin Druid is the best deck in the format, it’s certainly competitive. It has the ability to win quickly with its explosive draws, which makes it great for climbing the ladder. But most importantly, it’s tons of fun to play. Who doesn’t love running their opponents over with giant Oozes and Annoy-O-Trons?
Check out some of what the deck is capable of in the videos below, and have fun taking it into battle yourself! And if you’re reading this article the morning it went up, be sure to come by my stream to watch me play the deck live!