It’s week 2 of The Brewmaster and we are moving forward quite swimmingly. In the past week I have learned a lot about what makes Control Shaman, Control Shaman and that has really allowed me to shape this deck in the way that I want to. While this list is still as reactive as the first version, it is reactive in a very different way. It no longer depends on waiting for your opponent to make the first move. Rather, there are a lot more minions that can be played throughout the first ten turns. That really helps build out the deck, and brings some very important elements that were missing from the initially list. One such example is switching Justicar Trueheart for Sylvanas Windrunner. While I loved Justicar and her ability, it just was dead in a lot of the control matches. I noticed that I would struggle because of this, so I added in Sylvia to help curb those games. Those type of choices are what allowed me to move up in rank, and while the list is not finished, I think that is the best direction to take moving forward.
Where We Are Now
A lot can change in a week. I originally played a much more “all in” version of this deck that used Molten Giant and Defender of Argus to fight back against aggro. However, without defender the giants just weren’t good enough, which was a huge problem. The more you play, the more things you learn about a deck. As I continued to grind games with Shaman (and finally became gold!) I realized there was one major problem with my list. Despite the healing, giants and the taunt I had, I could not beat aggro. I would win a game or two and then get obliterated by Hunter or Paladin. Anyone who plays on ladder knows how much of a problem not being able to take on those two decks is. That is what caused me to shift the deck from the spell-based list to more taunts and healing.
Antique Healbot, Sludge Belcher and Earth Elemental were all essential to making this deck survive ladder. One of the most important parts of climbing in Hearthstone is adapting to your ranks. If you are seeing a ton of one deck or one archetype you should tune your deck more towards those lists. That is what I did here, creating a deck with a ton of ways to fight back against aggro. I knew my control games were generally good with the inclusion of both Neptulon and Sylvanas Windrunner, but I needed more ways to not die by turn five. Those are the decisions you need to make when building a deck, and the one to tune this deck against the forces of aggro has been essential to putting some win streaks together.
One last important note about the changes is the decision to cut Ancestral Knowledge for Far Sight. The reason was that knowledge just wasn’t cutting it. In control games you really didn’t want or need the card draw since it would just bring you closer to fatigue, while the two overload would just lose you the game against aggro. However, for all of the early removal, this deck has a very high curve. I still wanted card draw, but I wanted something that would help smooth that out. Far sight does that masterfully, and has been great as a replacement (as seen in the videos).
This section will help to explain why certain cards are in the list, what I think about them, and how they’ve performed so far.
This is perhaps the biggest change I made to the deck. In my fight to stop the constant waves of aggro beating me down, I knew I needed to add in the chow. I originally ran Stormforged Axe in this spot, but while the weapon would clear a ton of cards, it would do so at the price of life. That simply was not cutting it. I needed a card that could soak up a lot of the early game while also giving me something that could challenge Knife Juggler, Shielded Minibot and Mad Scientist. Zombie Chow does that and a lot more. Turn two has become a very important turn in the game. This is where a lot of decks fall behind, and where I found myself struggling. While we have access to removal and AOE, I just wanted one more thing that can contest those turns.
Another card that I completely overlooked during my first build of this deck, Earth Shock has been essential. It is a one of “silver bullet” type card, but what a bullet it is. This card has two very important functions in this list, and both of them are needed for Control Shaman to play in the way that it does. This list is chock full of big minions, removal spells and AOE. However, as any Warrior will tell you, those cards do very little against powerful deathrattle minions like Piloted Shredder or against things like Shielded Minibot. I discovered many games where I would lose because I would clear the board, but a 2/2 or 3/2 would be left around to keep attacking. The shock completely fixes that issue by making sure when you clear the board, it is actually cleared.
The other function of Earth Shock is to shut down big minions you don’t have immediate removal for. What I mean by that is, this card can stop the ability of Sylvanas Windrunner or Ysera while you dig for removal, threats or set up a turn of giant AOE. A lot of the games I played would be lost to some random minion ability. This card fixed that completely. It is also important to note that this card clears out a lot of early minions (Mad Scientist and Haunted Creeper) that decks depend on to keep control throughout the first turns.
Defender of Argus
I bring up Defender of Argus to explain my decision to keep one in this list. Without Molten Giants it was really easy to cut one. However, as I played more I realized that I wanted more taunt than I already have. Two Earth Elementals and a Sludge Belcher were doing a lot of work, but Ironbeak Owl exists. That card would almost always stop my first taunt, which would then make me find a second one quickly or succumb to pressure. Defender of Argus is not just a taunt, it is two taunts. That extra taunt was routinely saving me, especially because totems gave me constant targets. Aggro decks have ways to fight through one big taunt. However, if you keep putting roadblocks in your opponent’s way they will eventually run out of cards.
It is very easy to fall behind in this meta when you have one turn without essential removal or board presence. The curve of this deck was already really high, so I didn’t think just putting another Sludge Belcher into the deck was right. Defender of Argus solved this problem completely. Remember, while you simply want to get two taunts onto the board when playing against aggro, do not be afraid to drop this on two totems against control. That creates a threatening enough board that will usually bait some form of AOE and make room for your later plays.
On the topic of adjustments, I think the addition of Earth Elemental was a fantastic choice. When looking at a deck like this you never want to fall into one category. That is, you need to be able to fight a wide range of different decks. Earth Elemental is a perfect example of that type of thinking. Not only does it shut down aggro decks that do not have a silence at hand, but it also gives you two more huge threats that control has to deal with. A lot of people focus on the overload this card comes with, and admittedly that can be a downside, but you are also running Lava Shock. Even with the overload, this card gives you three mana on turn six which allows you to play a lot of your comeback cards such as Healing Wave, Lightning Storm or Hex.
One of the biggest issues with Earth Elemental is how bad it makes the Druid matchup. Every non-aggro Druid runs (and seems to always have) Big Game Hunter somewhere in their deck. Not only that, but they also all pack two Keeper of the Groves. They will get through this card, and it will hurt when they do. However, as I said, you need to adapt to problems. I have barely seen Druid at my ranks, but I there is a lot of Paladin and Hunter. This card helps in those, and that is what currently matters.
I have long believed that the two most important elements of Hearthstone are versatility and surprise. While Alexstrasza does not scream surprise, she sure embodies versatility. This decks plays in two distinct ways. The first is constantly trying to heal and taunt your way past an aggro deck. The second is against Control, where you are trying to conserve your resources as well as you can until you hit. Alex helps in each of those situations, which is why she is the perfect finisher for this build. During the last week I did toy with both Ysera and Nefarian, but neither of those dragons did what Alex did.
Alexstrasza is the perfect control card because she is good against all styles of decks. Against aggro, she is a life saver. You usually run her out in those matchups when you are down to five or less health. The extra boost, along with the 8/8 body, she supplies almost always puts you out of range or gives you more time to dig for more taunts and heals. That healing is the reason she is in the list, but she has a job against control as decks as well. When playing against the slower decks in the meta you are almost always going to go to fatigue. For that reason you want to do your best to save the big dragon until the last possible second and use her to either heal up or put your opponent down depending on who is at what life.
These are the four matchups that made up almost all of my games in my climb. I want to focus on how you need to adapt to the big decks you are seeing, so I’m not going to bother with fringe lists.
Before Earth Elemental this was an extremely hard matchup. After the inclusion of the big rock, it has gotten much easier. Remember, when making a new deck it is all about adaptation. Despite all of my healing, Zombie Chows and AOE, I was still struggling against this deck. That was a major problem, and something I needed to fix ASAP. I soon realized that almost none of the Secret Paladin lists I was facing ran Equality. That gave me the idea to put a road block in my deck that they would have to fight through. Secret Paladin is a deck that loves getting ahead on board and they love triggering secrets. Forcing them to trade their board into a 7/8 taunt negates both of those. That was the missing piece. It stalls them out for an extra turn or two, which then allows you to set up your AOE, healing or big minions.
This matchup is pretty straightforward as far as matches go. You need to stay alive, and you need to make the most out of all of your tools. Your spot removal is usually going to be used on threats like Knife Juggler and even the first half of a Piloted Shredder, while your healing will continually bring you back into the game. Always try to get the most out of your AOE, waiting one extra turn to take out more threats can be a great way to get ahead. However, you also don’t want to save your AOE if you’re getting beaten down, it is one of the best ways to stay alive. Another large reason this matchup falls into your favor (now) is because of Hex. Always save one of these for Tirion Fordring and then use the other on whatever large threat you don’t kill with BGH.
Just as with Paladin, Hunter was a very hard match that became much, much easier with the new addition of healing and taunt. However, unlike Paladin, this class will still give you a ton of problems. Healing does a nice job of controlling the board and applying pressure. You are going to fight that pressure with sheer attrition. Stay alive and clear. Those are the two things you want to be constantly doing. Your first taunt is almost always going to be hit by Ironbeak Owl, but your second and third will most likely stick. Because of that, always play your Sludge Belcher before Earth Elemental.
When facing Midrange Hunter you need to know what your removal is going to be used for. Almost every single minion they run either very sticky or very hard to kill. That makes your AOE much worse, so you are mostly going to rely on spot removal to carry you through the day. Big Game Hunter needs to be saved for Dr. Boom (as usual) and you absolutely must keep a Hex or Earth Shock for Savannah Highmane. You need to have a way to easily deal with the lion when it comes down, because it is too resistant to removal and applies too much pressure if it sticks around.
One of the hardest parts of fighting Hunter is finding ways to build pressure. While healing does a nice job of keeping you at high life totals, their hero power doesn’t care about taunts. That has been a problem for me at times. Some games I would heal, but lacked threats and would eventually die to Steady Shot. The only way to fix this is to get a high attack minion down during the later turns to try and end the game faster than they can. This could even be running out a Big Game Hunter to just hit for four.
Despite what happened in the video (I don’t want to talk about it), this matchup falls mostly in your favor. A big part of understanding a deck is understanding what cards are the most important in each matchup. This game has two key cards, and you need to be aware of what those are. For Warrior, it is the Grommash Hellscream/Alexstrasza combo. For all of the taunts and healing in this deck, it is very, very susceptible to combos. While I tried a couple cards that could fix that, I think that may just be a conceit of playing the list. That being said, you can almost always heal yourself above the damage Warrior can do. If they cannot kill you with Gromm, then you are almost always going to outlast them in the long run. Just save all of your heals for after they play Alex and have an answer for the charging orc when he comes down later on.
You are going to win this game in two ways: not drawing cards and Neptulon. Most of your big threats are going to die to one of the million removal spells Warrior has at their disposal. However, Neptulon’s ability cannot be interacted with. That is key here. The murlocs that come after Neptulon are usually played going into fatigue as a way to cement the board and apply pressure. For this reason you want to save Neptulon for the very last turns in the match, and you also want to do everything you can to bait out Brawl earlier on in the game.
As you can see in the videos, whoever hits fatigue first in the Control vs. Control matchup is most often going to lose. Understanding that is essential here. You want Warrior to draw as many cards as they can, but it is a tricky balance. You need them to draw enough where they are ahead of you by two or three cards, but not so much they can drown you in card advantage. Just always be aware of you and your opponent’s deck sizes.
Normally I write about Midrange Druid over aggro. However, as I stated, brews are all about adapting. While I did see more Midrange Druid at the lower ranks, the higher I climb the more aggro Druid I see. That is really good news. Aggro Druid is a deck that does very poorly against almost all of the control tools in this list. Not only are they very weak to taunts (their only silence being Keeper of the Grove) and healing, but they are a minion based aggro deck. That means Lightning Storm and Elemental Destruction are going to do a lot of work here. Never be afraid to use them on a Shade of Naxxramas, which is Druid’s best tool against you. The last card you need to watch out for is Fel Reaver. Just have a Hex or Big Game Hunter ready when that comes down and you should be fine.
One of the biggest weaknesses of this list is the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo. However, that is in reference to the Midrange Druid combo. It is very hard to keep clearing random 5/5’s while also saving your premium removal for big threats. Aggro Druid uses the combo much differently. They use it as pressure, and don’t rely on having a board to make it work. As such, you need to steer through this match by clearing and healing if you ever get near fourteen life. Unlike other aggressive builds, you can simply outlast Aggro Druid. Never be afraid to take them all the way to fatigue.
Another week, another change. One of my favorite parts about first playing a deck is going through the early changes. Exploring different card options is like a puzzle, and there is a certain level of gratification when you finally find a card that works. League of Explorers is coming up (will be out by the time this is published) and I have some plans for this deck that I think could make the bad matchups much better. Time will tell if that works. I hope you all like the series and, until next week, may you always draw Lava Shock with Elemental Destruction.