One month into Hearthstone’s Journey to Un’goro expansion and few people would have predicted the current meta. New decks have, despite some underestimations and overestimations, lead to a diverse and interesting spread of decks. However, one gloomy pre-Un’goro prophecy seems to be at least partially correct: Jade Druid is still a defining facet of the meta.
Despite unfavourable matchups against Quest Rogue, the ramp-focused anti-control deck benefited massively from new Un’goro cards like Earthen Scales and Primordial Drake, as well as a general weakening of the field due to the Year of the Mammoth Standard rotation. Even while losing Azure Drake and Living Roots in Standard, it’s become a tier 2, or arguably tier 1 deck. Especially strong are its impressive tournament performances due to the ability to hard-counter Taunt Warrior.
But is its continued existence holding back its class from new, exciting possibilities?
Unpopular, Not Oppressive
Jade Druid was especially controversial initially due to how it invalidated Fatigue decks with its infinite threats and deck size. However, this issue has become less polarizing. Since Control decks have far more reasonable options for ending games available, the infinite nature of Jade’s threats is no longer forcing completely impossible matchups. Instead, most decks have the ability to at least occasionally out-tempo and finish off Druid before they can access their infinite value engines.
What’s more, its chronic weakness to face decks is now represented as a weakness to board-centric early game and combos, as represented by its poor matchups against Token Druid, Silence Priest and Murloc Paladin. Rather than incentivising pure aggro strategies, it’s mainly rewarding decks that play minion instead of burn. The two most common complaints against Jade Druid, that it’s oppressive against Control and overly rewards aggro, simply no longer hold true.
Jade Druid’s incredibly late-game strength requires very little sacrifice. The slight tempo downside of playing multiple Jade cards is not so much as an issue as the tempo downside of playing a late-game oriented Druid. Any other late-game Druid would have the exact same issues, only would have much less payoff in return for the lack of flexibility. Ramp, Combo or even Control archetypes are all out-tempo’d by Jade, while retaining worse late-game win-conditions.
Jade is holding back the Druid class simply by being better than anything else that fits its gameplan of ramping into winning, which is pretty much the only reason to play any late-game Druid deck. And for a game that wants to constantly keep things, the 12 mandatory Standard Druid cards and the nine mandatory Jade cards do not make for a particularly exciting experience. Recent experiments with five mana-minion based quest-oriented Ramp cards added in Un’goro seem to confirm this.
When Ramp Isn’t Fun
Put Jade druid aside for a minute and cast your mind back to the classic Ramp Druid, maybe Astral Communion variants or older pre-Naxxramas builds. What was fun about that deck? For many people, myself included, Ramp Druid was fun because it allowed you to play big, silly minions that otherwise never saw use. Deathwing, Ysera, Soggoth the Slitherer and Y’shaarj are fantastic, interesting, unique minions that feel awesome to play and even better to win with. However, it’s not anywhere near as competitive as playing Jade; and that’s a problem.
Jade benefits from Ramp, arguably doubly so as each minion essentially acts as a Ramp mechanic itself. Not only do you accelerate out mana, you accelerate out ever-larger minions. However, Jade Druid, while unmistakably a Ramp deck, suck out much of the fun from that playstyle; namely the payoff. Instead of a legendary recognizable dragon with an epic voice line, you get a generic green soldier who arrives with a dull whoosh and unenthusiastic grunt.
Design Space and Hitting Face
Currently, there are two competitive Druid decks: Jade and Token. Perhaps more diversity could happen with different stripes of Aggro or even Midrange Druids, but as long as the Jade package exists in standard, there will be no late-game Druid decks better than Jade; at least not without significant power creep. Here then, Team 5 has painted themselves into a corner. Any new Druid archetype that doesn’t live and die on the first four turns will have to be incredibly potent to be stronger than the late-game potential of Jade. Either Druid is stuck with Jade and Aggro until the next Standard rotation, or Control decks will have an even harder time finding a reason to be played against the further massive spike in late-game Druid power.
That’s not the only design-space-limiting factor. Team 5 will have to be wary about any anti-aggro or early-game board control they print for Druid or in the Neutral category, as each could potentially make Jade Druid completely unstoppable. Druid may just have to be stuck with lackluster early game removal, and Neutral may have to stop seeing cool new anti-aggro techs like Tar Creeper or Primordial Drake.
An Unfixable Problem?
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to solve this. Since Jade decks are so dependent on reaching a critical mass of Jade activators and nerf or rotation to Hall of Fame of any one card could quickly invalidate the whole card, leaving players who like the archetype without their favourite deck and Druid potentially without any slower options that are competitive. Meanwhile, leaving it in simply raises too many problems. Adding counters like a “Jade Crab” doesn’t solve the core issue, as if the counter is too powerful it will soon suppress Jade Druid and then stop seeing play, allowing Jade (and not other Druids) to return once it’s cut again. In addition, since other Jade archetypes are infrequent at best, the hyperspecific counter would struggle to merit an inclusion.
However, the cruel realities of Hearthstone may leave us with Jade Druid for the time being, and creative Druid deckbuilders may have to wait until the end of the Year of the Mammoth to flex their creative muscles.