There are a lot of Druid decks on ladder right now. Taunt, Malygos, Token and even Toggwaggle are proving strong. However, while these decks differ in win condition, they have one fundamental similarity; their spell packages. Though details differ, a huge proportion of the meta is playing the same 14-21 cards.
According to HSReplay.net, there are 5 spells that have 90% representation of two copies in Druids at ranks Legend to 5. And while Wild Growth, Nourish, Branching Paths and Jaspar Spellstone are the most ubiquitous, there’s also a 70% representation of Naturalize and Oaken Summons. Meanwhile Malfurion, Ultimate Infestation, Wrath and Spreading Plague see “only” more than 55% prevalence.
But does the ubiquity of these cards present a problem? Are they crowding out fun and innovative strategies? Or is this just how Druid should operate in a healthy meta?
The versatility dilemma
One of the reasons for such similar deck cores is Druid’s inherent versatility. Most Druid cards are sacrifice a small amount of raw power for better performance across a variety of situations. Take one of the most popular Druid cards right now, Branching Paths. Each one of the “paths” you can take is not especially strong. Drawing two cards for 4 mana is simply worse than Arcane Intellect. Giving your minions +2 attack also seems a lot like an inferior Savage Roar, although the buff is permanent. And other options like gaining 6 Armor and drawing a card seem little better than the 3 mana Shield Block. However, its versatility allows it to be perfectly tailored for any given situation.
But while this versatility reinforces Druid’s identity as the flexible “nature” class, it also undermines play experience. When every card does everything, then decks quickly just fill up with the strongest cards, regardless of archetype. Hence Branching Path’s inclusions in all the vastly different Druid archetypes.
Overcentralising around Oaken
One of the biggest problems around Druid archetypes’ similarity is Oaken Summons. By recruiting a 4 mana minion, it massively rewards Druid decks that only contain a select few low or mid-cost minions (usually Ironwood Golem and/or Violet Teacher). This massively limits Druid’s options. Since Oaken is so strong, virtually all Druid strategies must include it. But this means that 1-3 mana minions are out of the question. And since there only so many 4 mana minions and low-cost spells, Druids entire early game and the majority of its cards must be chosen from a tiny pool. This naturally leads to the most powerful cards being chosen, regardless of archetype.
What’s more, Oaken and 4 drop minions exacerbates an age-old problem with Druids; the Wild Growth dichotomy. When Wild Growth is drawn by turn 2, this leads to an immediate turn 3 tempo advantage with an incredibly strong 4 mana play. This can quickly and decisively snowball the game in Druid’s favour, leaving them ahead on both board and ramp. But when Wild Growth isn’t drawn, Druid has few minions or efficient 3 mana plays that impact the board.
Don’t nerf, just print
So what’s the solution? Well, one option would simply to be simply to nerf the most ubiquitous Druid cards (Oaken Summons comes to mind). But this likely wouldn’t actually lead to more diversity in Druids, just further centralisation around a lower power level.
What in my opinion is needed is simply more options for Druid’s early game outside of the current package of spells. Printing spells and minions that were powerful but with anti-synergy with existing potent Druid cards could open up more variety without risking crippling the class. 3 mana options reduce dependence on Wild Growth, strong 1-3 mana minions undermine Oaken Summons, and spells that are strong without reinforcing current armour synergies open up alternative strategies.
However, in pursuing this strategy, team 5 need to be very careful not to print more spells on the same power level as Spreading Plague; as if Druid gets even more anti-aggro strength, then we may be in for a repeat of the Jade Druid takeover.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.