The Grand Tournament Card Review: Hunter and Druid

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I’ve been putting up video reviews of The Grand Tournament on my YouTube channel, but I know that I personally prefer written content that I can peruse and consume at my own pace. To that end, I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on each of the Grand Tournament cards in written form over the next week or so until the set comes out – starting today with Hunter and Druid cards.

Stablemaster

Stablemaster is pretty much a more expensive Argent Protector with a narrower range of minions it can effect and an ability that only lasts one turn. I can see it potentially being effective in a midrange beast-focused Hunter deck in a very midrange-heavy metagame, since the Immune effect, like Divine Shield, is much more powerful when it’s letting you effectively trade it for larger minions. That said, two health for three mana is very weak in general, and I would be surprised to see it show up very much in tournament decks.
RamWrangler

Ram Wrangler is another potentially solid card for a midrange Beast Hunter deck, since it generates a lot of value for its cost.  It’s a very swingy effect, since it could give you anything from an Angry Chicken to King Krush, but on average, you’re generally going to be getting well more than five mana’s worth of total stats between the Ram Wrangler’s body itself and the free beast you get. This even might be powerful enough to get Hunter decks to move away from Piloted Shredder at four in order to better enable its Battlecry. Oasis Snapjaw meta inc?!?

Powershot

This is very comparable to a three cost Consecration in a lot of situations. It won’t wipe a full board or help kill the opponent, but it can devastate an aggressive opponent’s early game. If a control hunter deck exists after the new set releases – and most of the new class cards seem aimed in that direction – Powershot is likely to be a big part of it. It certainly doesn’t slot readily into any of the existing builds of Hunter, but I expect that we will see the class branch out quite a bit in the future.
KingsElekk

As a 3/2 beast for two mana, King’s Elekk offers is a reasonable but unexciting rate upfront, and has huge possible upside if you win the “joust”. This is another card that seems aimed at enabling a more controlling version of Hunter, since it’s obviously at its best in a deck that has a significant number of high cost minions for you to hit with the Battlecry trigger. Even in a typical midrange style of Hunter deck, though, you’d often be happy to play a 3/2 for 2 that effectively draws an extra card around half the time. I can see it potentially taking the place of Knife Juggler in some builds, especially in a world where Unleash the Hounds falls out of favor.

It’s worth noting that Hunter has a number of spells that create minions, like Animal Companion and the new Bear Trap, so you can actually fill out some parts of your curve with cards that won’t make you less likely to win jousts but still allow you to play to the board. I can even imagine a kind of weird combo deck with all spells except for King’s Elekk and a few key minions like Emperor Thaurissian or Malygos, so you’re almost certain to hit them with the joust effect.

Dreadscale

Acidmaw

These two are clearly intended as a pair, with the cute synergy that if you play them both together, they kill off every other minion in play. I’m not sure that is enough to convince me to put a seven cost 4/2 into my deck, but maybe the sort of global Hunter’s Mark effect is important for a control Hunter deck to handle decks with a lot of big minions. Acidmaw also works very well with Powershot, or something like Wild Pyromancer. Dreadscale, on the other hand, just seems like a totally reasonable card in its own right. It may only have two health, which would normally turn me off of a three cost minion since it can trade down against one drops, but its ability to clear out one health minions means that your opponent is very unlikely to actually ever have a 2/1 in play to attack it. On its own, Dreadscale can swing games against aggressive decks by clearing the board of Imps, Silver Hand Recruits, and Leper Gnomes, making it very attractive for a Hunter deck that’s looking to play a longer game. On top of that, it’s a beast, which means it works with cards like Houndmaster that may help keep it around for more than just a single turn. Not the card you want to play against an opponent with Acolyte of Pain or Grim Patron in play, for sure, but certainly a strong minion that can swing games on its own.
BearTrap

An interesting addition to the Hunter trap repertoire, this is another card that opens up possibilities for a more controlling style of Hunter. Most of the existing traps are very tempo or damage oriented, while Bear Trap offers a way to cheaply generate a meaningful board presence that can actually defend you from opposing minions. It can also turn Mad Scientist into the best deal on raw stats around
9BraveHunter

 

Brave Hunter is the only new Hunter card that really feels like it has a home in aggressive decks, and even then it’s not clear that she’s going to make the cut. While her ability is quite powerful – offering an extra two points of damage on your hero power activation if your hand is empty – there’s a lot of competition for the one drop slot already. Generally the best you’re going to be able to hope for is getting a single trigger of Brave Hunter’s inspire, which means that she’s unlikely to edge out Leper Gnome’s virtually guaranteed damage, nor the flexibility of Abusive Sergeant. I could see some argument that perhaps she could replace Worgen Infiltrator thanks to being a better late game draw, but Infiltrator’s stealth helps it get a hit in quite often when Brave Hunter would just end up doing little to nothing. Maybe Brave Hunter will be enough incentive for Face Hunter decks to lean more on the empty-hand theme and just play even more one drops, dropping more situational cards like Unleash the Hounds or extra traps to more consistently activate Quick Shot, along with Brave Hunter’s Inspire ability.

8BallofSpiders

My first impression of this card was that it was just an amusing combination of name and effect and little else, but the reveal of more control-oriented Hunter cards has made me wonder if maybe this card could actually have a home. Hunter decks don’t have a lot of card-draw power, and Ball of Spiders is kind of like “draw three random beasts”, but with more of an immediate board impact tacked on. It still feels like a lot to pay for the effect, and has a lot of competition at the six drop slot thanks to Savannah Highmane, but I can actually imagine a world in which this is a card that shows up in competitive play, as crazy as that might sound. I’m still not sure how this control Hunter deck survives to the point that it can actually play all of these random beasts, but this is a potentially powerful tool in attrition-style matchups. It does seem unfortunate that this effectively takes up a high-cost minion slot in a deck that likely wants to be playing King’s Elekk as well without helping you win jousts, but that’s likely the least of our worries when we have this in our deck.

7LockandLoad

Another card clearly aimed at a long-game attrition-oriented Hunter deck. Lock and Load isn’t a card that really fits into any existing Hunter decks, but seems powerful enough to potentially spawn an entire archetype built around it. Lock and Load quite clearly wants to go into a deck with a lot of cheap hunter spells in the hopes of chaining together things like Hunter’s Mark, Arcane Shot, and various traps – potentially drawing into even more cheap spells from Lock and Load itself! I find it more likely that this is the card that a Control Hunter deck leans on for card draw than Ball of Spiders, if only because it more naturally lends itself to a particular deck build and has a more immediate and dramatic effect. Also, the animation for it is totally sweet, and that’s gotta count for something.
Wildwalker

Wildwalker is aimed at supporting a Beast Druid deck, much like Druid of the Fang way back in GvG. Since then, we’ve seen a few other additional tools for the archetype, like Druid of the Flame, but it’s not clear there is quite enough to justify the shift from more of a “good stuff” strategy like we’ve generally seen out of the class so far. Wildwalker isn’t really a huge incentive for constructed decks. It offers less raw stat bonus and no taunt compared to Houndmaster, and that’s a card that doesn’t even see play in most Hunter decks these days. I think if Wildwalker were itself a beast to help enable Druid of the Fang, it might be on the cusp of seeing constructed play, but as it is, I imagine she’s more likely to find herself relegated to arena. Mulch

Any kind of unconditional removal spell for three mana is worth giving a second look, even if it has a signficant drawback. Mulch seems most comparable to Sap, in that it removes an opposing minion from the board but gives them an additional resource to use later. Of course, Sap gets around Deathrattle effects, which is a big deal against cards like Tirion or Sludge Belcher, while Mulch generally ensures your opponent will have worse options the next time around. Compared to Naturalize, I think Mulch is generally a much better choice, since a random minion is far less likely to help your opponent get back into the game than two cards they chose to put into their own deck. This is a card that definitely has potential to see play, since it does offer a big tempo swing in midrange and control matchups, though it’s a card I’m much less excited to play in a metagame with an aggressive slant. KnightoftheWildKnight of the Wild is the more exciting of the new beast druid synergy cards in the set, in my mind. It’s in the same vein as Druid of the Fang as a big undercosted minion if you meet the requirements, though this one doesn’t run the risk of getting blown up by Big Game Hunter. The problems with Knight of the Wild, however, are twofold. One is that there still just aren’t enough strong beasts to justify playing them all the way up your curve, though we may be getting close. You pretty much have to play two beasts before turn five to get a good deal on Knight of the Wild, since at that point you’re getting a 6/6 for five mana, which is a pretty good deal. The biggest issue is that you only get the discount on Knight if it was in your hand when you played a beast, which means that you need to keep an expensive minion in your opening hand in order for its ability to pay off. That runs the risk of throwing your curve off tremendously, especially if you’re the first player and only have three cards to look at – you basically have to have two early beasts in addition to Knight in order to justify keeping him. If you draw the Knight on say turn five, he’s likely to just remain inefficient all game, though you could potentially still take advantage of the cost reduction later on to play him along with another card in the same turn.
6LivingRootsToken Druid style decks have largely fallen out of favor recently, but this has the potential to be a strong tool for them if they experience a resurgence. Both halves of this effect are quite good against aggressive decks, since two 1/1 minions can trade well with 2/1s and two damage immediately is a strong effect against 3/2’s, the two of which make up a great deal of the creature base of a lot of aggressive decks. This card may just not be high enough impact to make its way into the typical style of midrange druid deck, but it’s definitely a card that can help shore up the deck’s traditional weakness against more aggressive strategies.
5DruidoftheSaber

Notably, both of Druid of the Saber’s forms are Beasts, so it’s a potentially important cog in the beast druid machine. Neither 2/1 Charge or 3/2 stealth for two mana are especially exciting, but each is a good enough deal that the option between the two is itself pretty attractive. Most typical Druid decks don’t have a lot of non-Wild Growth early drops, and I don’t expect Druid of the Saber to change that in most builds, since it’s just a matter of rates and not really doing anything especially powerful or unusual. It could end up being a centerpiece of a more aggressive style of druid, since a 3/2 that can dodge removal early and a 2/1 charge late both line up well against control decks, though I expect it to be more likely to be relegated to beast-centric builds.
4DarnassusAspirant

This is a very interesting card, since it’s effectively a temporarily Wild Growth – essentially Hearthstone’s take on the classic mana elf from Magic. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about combo’ing the Aspirant with Wailing Soul or Keeper of the Grove to make the mana gain permanent, but I imagine the more common use of Aspirant will be simply as additional ways to accelerate to midgame plays. One of the most common ways for Druid decks to lose is due to simply not drawing Wild Growth and choking on expensive cards with little to do in the early turns. Darnassus Aspirant doubles the chances to have some kind of ramp effect to bridge the gap to four mana, even if it is vulnerable to removal. If your opponent is spending their turn killing your Aspirant, they are at least not developing their board or killing you, and a 2/3 isn’t trivial for a lot of decks to kill.

My inclination is to try a more midrange focused Druid deck using both Aspirant and Wild Growth to ramp to strong 4 and 5 mana cards, with less focus on the really high end 6+ drops. Consistently being able to play cards like Piloted Shredder a turn early is a huge deal, even if you can’t continue curving up past that because your Aspirant dies. It’s also worth noting that Darnassus Aspirant is a great answer to Mirror Entity, which is something that Druid decks, thanks to their focus on big minions, have really needed for a long time. Having a cheap minion to not only break your opponent’s Mirror Entity, but actual punish them for it as well, can potentially be a big swing in Druid vs Mage matchups.
3SavageCombatant

This is just a really powerful card, and perhaps one of the best possible minions to ramp out early against opposing aggressive decks. With Savage Combatant in play, your hero power effectively becomes Fiery War Axe, and we all know how good that card is. Granted, it’s weaker when it’s not in your opening hand, and Savage Combatant is rarely going to let you attack for three on the second turn. That said, attacking in bigger chunks in the mid and late game remains quite valuable.

Savage Combatant’s big weakness is his four health, which is a major flashpoint in constructed Hearthstone. Once upon a time it was because of cards like Truesilver Champion and Swipe, but now it’s almost entirely due to two others – Piloted Shredder and Death’s Bite. Minions that cost four or more mana that can’t stand up to Death’s Bite or Piloted Shredder had better do a lot to justify their inclusion, since those two cards are everywhere. As powerful as Savage Combatant is, it takes an additional mana investment before it has any more impact on the game than a Lost Tallstrider, and neither Shredder nor Death’s Bite offer that kind of time. As much as I want Combatant to be good, I’m thinking it’s unfortunately likely to be relegated to the sidelines due to its poor matchup against those cards.
2AstralCommunion

Now this is a wild card. The best way to use this seems like playing things that let you bank cards, like Acoylte of Pain or Loot Horder, so you can play Astral Communion and then immediately start digging for something to do with your newfound mana. That’s a lot of things to go right, and such a deck would be wildly inconsistent. I’m definitely going to build a deck full of huge minions and Astral Communion to play on stream, because it’s sure to be a blast, but I find it unlikely that it’ll be something I lean on heavily in tournament play. 1AvianaThis is another card that fits right in to a deck full of giant minions, though people seem to be taking Aviana much more seriously. While she’s certainly exciting, it’s hard for me to imagine her really finding a competitive home. She doesn’t do anything until you have at least ten mana, since you have to pay for her and then another minion in the same turn. She does combo powerfully with Emperor Thaurissan, making all of your minions that were in your hand when he triggered cost zero, but much like with Astral Communion, that’s asking for a whole lot to go right before you’re really getting paid off.

Aviana can certainly generate some really impressive individual turns, but in many cases, you’re not that much closer to winning the game by playing Aviana plus a gigantic discounted minion than you would have been just playing that minion by itself in the first place! I’m definitely someone who has an affinity for doing big, powerful things, but you can only fit so many of those things into the same deck. Aviana is generally going to take the place of a different giant monster who would actually be able to have an impact on the game if you drew it by itself, rather than just helping your other big monsters come out to play all at once. Certainly a fun card, and certainly one I’ll mess around with, but like Astral Communion, not one I expect to take to any major tournaments.

 

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