Guardian Druid is proving itself to be a powerful addition to the Scholomance Academy metagame. Guardian Druid has explosive starts due to Druid’s ramp’s power and Kael’thas Sunstrider still being playable after an intense nerf.
The key to building this deck is including only four or five large beasts as valid targets for Guardian Animals to guarantee a large tempo swing in your favor. Building the deck, to abuse powerful cards such as Kael’thas Sunstrider and Lightning Bloom in addition to Guardian Animals, is what brings the deck together.
Contrary to what the name might suggest, Guardian Druid relies on casting Survival of the fittest as early as possible and then getting value out of Guardian Animals. Survival of the fittest will turn Guardian Animals into fetching a game-winning board position.
Guardian Animals, the deck’s namesake, is the key to the success of the deck. Guardian Animals provides such a tempo swing when casting early in the game. Even without the Fittest buff’s Survival, grabbing two Twilight Runners with Rush can be game-ending.
It is necessary to ramp mana to cast Guardian Animals before your opponent can assemble any form of real board presence. A turn four Overgrowth allows for a turn five Guardian Animals or Kael’thas Sunstrider. Lightning Bloom both allows you to play your combos two turns earlier, but also combos with Kael’thas Sunstrider as a free spell.
Kael’thas Sunstrider is the key to making this deck work. Playing him out and then casting a cheap Survival of the Fittest should be game-winning. Your opponent will likely be unable to clear an 8/11, and you can abuse his ability to cast a cheap Guardian Animals or Overflow on your next turn.
Twilight Runner is the key five mana beast that you grab with Guardian Animals. Not only providing a large body but also as a way to go through your deck quickly. Twilight Runner is the best possible choice to tutor with Guardian Animals.
Ysera, Unleashed is your plan B if your opponent can clear your board state. Most games with this deck will draw to fatigue, so it is common for you to summon most if not all of the dragons shuffled in with Ysera, Unleashed. Ysera, Unleashed is key in matchups that go long and provide you with a seemingly endless supply of dragons to finish out the game.
The most important build choice is what Beasts you should play in addition to Twilight Runner that you can tutor with Guardian Animals. Most lists are running some number of Teacher’s pet and Lake Thresher. Escaped Manasaber is another possibility, but is mostly unsuccessful.
Most lists run cheap spells to trigger Kael’thas Sunstrider as consistently as possible. These can include Innervate, Crystal Power, Nature Studies, and Moonfire.
Many Guardian Druid Decks run copies of Ironbark, Anubisath Defender, and Bogbeam to fight aggressive strategies. Your goal in this deck is to get to seven mana as quickly as possible, so you should be casting these for free almost every game.
Speaker Gidra can be a powerful addition to Guardian Druid as you are casting large spells such as Guardian Animals, Survival of the Fittest, or Overflow. Just remember that casting a one-mana spell with Kael’thas Sunstrider will trigger Speaker Gidra for +1/+1 rather than its full cost. Often I find it beneficial to use Speaker Gidra in combination with Overgrowth rather than wait until I can hard cast a more expensive spell.
The final inclusion is the need to refill your hand after using most of your cards to ramp out large threats. The best refill available to druid is Overflow. Some lists are forgoing the second copy of Overflow to put in more ramp in Wild Growth.
The stock list runs one copy of Wild Growth to help out with some additional ramp. The stock list is the most common list run on the ladder since the Scholomance Academy release. If you find Wild Growth useless, an alternative could be to play a second copy of Overflow to guarantee you can get the needed refill.
Our second list runs Animated Broomstick in place of Crystal Power and another Lake Thresher and Overflow as a replacement for Anubisath Defender. Animated Broomstick provides another avenue in the games that we cannot cast a Guardian Animals and draw our beasts. Giving them rush enables us to get triggers off of Twilight Runner and otherwise guarantee value out of our minions.
The absence of Anubisath Defender causes us to take a few matchup points against aggressive strategies, but the extra copies of Lake Thresher and Overflow should help us to stabilize. The broomstick list should have a better matchup against Libram Paladin, and I love surprising opponents with Broomstick.
The final list is a bit spicier and runs Exotic Mountseller and copies of Moonfire to push harder into the small spells archetypes. The tradeoff here that you have fewer minions to tutor with Guardian Animals, but the list is less reliant on Survival of the Fittest as noted by the exclusion of one copy. The Exotic Mountseller list should play more like the spell druid before the expansion release with the added combo potential of Guardian Animals and Kael’thas Sunstrider.
Mulligan Guide for Guardian Druid
Guardian Druid falls under a category of hard mulligans. You want very specific cards in your opening, and not knowing what they are can lose you games.
Generally, you are looking for two things with the mulligan: Ramp and combo pieces. Overgrowth and Wild Growth should be your primary targets for the mulligan. After that, looking for Guardian Animals, Nature Studies, Lightning Bloom, Kael’thas Sunstrider, or Innervate should serve you well.
I would be more inclined to keep more expensive spells such as Overflow or Survival of the Fittest if I already had a Kael’thas Sunstrider in hand. Against aggressive strategies, I would be more inclined to keep Crystal Power or Bogbeam as they can help stabilize to play your combo later.
If you draw all of your beasts too early, you will have nothing to tutor with Guardian Animals, and you will likely lose the game. Because of this downside, it is vital to play Guardian Animals as early as possible, to limit your drawing beasts.
General Strategy of Guardian Druid
There are three types of hands that you can have when playing Guardian Druid:
1. Combo hand with Kael’thas Sunstrider.
Kael’thas Sunstrider opens your combo possibilities. Kael’thas plus two cheap spells allow you a one-mana spell, usually Survival of the Fittest, Guardian Animals, or Overflow: in that order. Remember that you can cast these spells before you play Kael’thas. The best opening with this deck is a turn four double Lightning Bloom into Kael’thas into Survival of the Fittest. Such a powerful opening will ensure that you can cruise into an easy victory, especially if you have a Guardian Animals or Overflow to finish the game.
2. Ramp hand
Overgrowth allows for some early Guardian Animals to overwhelm your opponent. While not as exciting as Kael’thas Sunstrider hands, this hand can still come out of the gates swinging. Nature Studies can reduce the cost of Overgrowth and allow you to play it a turn early. If you do not have a Kael’thas Sunstrider, it is worth it to innervate or the coin to push out an Overgrowth, which will give you a permanent return on investment.
3. The whiff
One of the downsides of playing such a powerful deck is that some hands just let you down. Whiffing is fairly uncommon, but the game is usually over if you mulligan or draw into your beasts. Guardian Animals will grab nothing, and spending five mana on these beasts is not worth it. It is still possible to win games like this, but conceding these games doesn’t hurt for time efficiency in your overall climb to Legend.
As for general play, there are only a few areas that need consideration. When going off with Kael’thas Sunstider, always play Survival of the Fittest before Guardian Animals unless you are facing down a lethal board state. Because if you are already at seven mana to play Kael’thas, you can play Guardian Animals next turn. Otherwise, Survival of the Fittest will rot in your hand for at least three turns providing you no value.
I have found that saving Ironbark to play on a minion as late as possible is more effective than adding the buff to an already full board. Many times your opponent’s only answer to a board full of buffed up creatures is to wipe the board through a powerful spell.
Board wipes such as Brawl are becoming more common and nullify the effectiveness of Ironbark. Instead, try casting Ironbark on a buffed Ysera, Unleashed. I believe this is your best chance of surviving the late game, especially if you have already had your board cleared.
Crystal Power is cast as a healing spell more often than removal. The only exception is against fast creature-based aggressive decks such as Aggro Demon Hunter, Face Rogue, or Zoolock. The rule of thumb is if the creature can deal more than five damage before you can play a taunt or remove it; otherwise, it is worth removing with Crystal Power.
Matchups and Meta for Guardian Druid
Generally, Guardian Druid has enough explosive potential to win any matchup. Even so, the deck generally does better against any strategy it can outvalue with Guardian Animals and finish off with Survival of the Fittest.
Guardian Druid is weak to aggressive strategies and will struggle in any of those matchups. Additionally, the stock list falls flat in the Libram Paladin matchup, one of the most popular decks in the Standard format. Priest is also a difficult matchup to navigate as they have enough board wipes and removal to keep up with the pressure of Guardian Druid.
Guardian Druid has a good matchup with any deck that does not fall under lists found in the previous paragraph. If nerfs come to Libram Paladin or other aggressive strategies, Guardian Druid has the potential to be the best deck in the format if it already isn’t.
Guardian Druid is not only fast but can win the long game. With more time spent refining the meta, this deck will remain one of the top contenders unless there is a nerf wave. Picking up this deck requires you to learn difficult lines before smashing your opponent’s face with large minions.
The nerf to Kael’thas Sunstrider hardly hurt the speed and power of the list. Playing your cards a turn later was not enough to topple this deck from its dominant position. The power level of Survival of the Fittest along with Guardian Animals pushes Guardian Druid as a mainstay in the post-Scholomance Academy meta.
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