A Comprehensive Guide to Aggro Shaman

This month I didn’t want to play around at the lower ranks so I just rushed Legend with Aggro Shaman. On Monday the 12th I started grinding from rank four five stars and about 6-8 hours later I achieved my goal. The deck is super strong if piloted correctly. A friend, which was stuck at […]

This month I didn’t want to play around at the lower ranks so I just rushed Legend with Aggro Shaman. On Monday the 12th I started grinding from rank four five stars and about 6-8 hours later I achieved my goal. The deck is super strong if piloted correctly. A friend, which was stuck at the lower ranks, asked me what deck I played to Legend; I admitted my sins and told him Aggro Shaman. Seeing my success he started playing the deck, I had converted an innocent soul to the SMOrc life. Out of curiosity I asked him if I could spectate him, he agreed in exchange for some feedback on his plays. What I noticed is that, whilst the deck made him climb, he did do a lot of subtle mistakes which if avoided would have bumped up his win percentage up. For this reason I made a comprehensive guide on Aggro Shaman, this deck is very powerful as well as very cheap to craft, meaning it should be accessible to all semi-competitive players. If you want to reach a certain rank but don’t have an absurd amounts of time to play, Aggro Shaman is a good deck to try to achieve your goal.

Note that the version I am writing about is the pre-Karazhan one, I don’t think the spirit claws Aggro list is an improvement on it. I see Spirit Claw as being a better fit in a more midrange oriented deck rather than a fully aggressive one.

The Deck

The standard Aggro Shaman list is extremely refined, thus there is not much space for creativity in it. In this section I go over the role of every card in the deck. If you are more interested in the game-play aspect and are not particularly fond of reading, I suggest you skip this section and look at the match-ups and mulligan sections. I will say that understanding the role of every card in the deck is an essential part of mastering a deck.

2 x abusive sergeant: The card is amazing to trade up, it can win you games thanks to the huge tempo swings it can provide. Against certain decks, for example Hunter, it is an additional card you can play on turn one in order to trade against their early minions. Lastly, it can always be used to deal two damage face, which is acceptable in an aggro deck.

2 x argent squire: Argent Squire has been a solid one drop since the start of Hearthstone. Being able to hit the three damage threshold with Abusive Sergeant is a big deal, it usually means you should be able to trade with nearly any two drop in the game. This can grant both huge tempo swings, and value. Except against mage, it is usually hard for your enemy to deal cleanly with the leftover 1/1 meaning that it will usually require some awkward play in order to be dealt with.

2 x lightning bolt: Given the one overload Lightning Bolt is bad if played early, as a Shaman you really want to curve out into your threats. Spending two mana and blocking your future plays usually means you have to play sub-optimally for multiple turns. The reason you play the card is that you want additional burn to close out games and the synergy with Tunnel Trogg makes it slightly better on average. The biggest mistake I see new Shaman players make, is to always keep this card in the mulligan. I will go into mulligan tips later on, but keep in mind the main purpose of this card in the deck is burn and tempo rather than early game trades.

2 x rockbiter weapon: The card is good if you are going second and need to react to a particular threat. Additionally, we all know what the real purpose of it is in the deck, six damage for one mana when coupled with Doomhammer.

1 x sir-finley-mrrgglton: This card is awesome. Usually, apart from very specific situations, you are fine getting 6/8 of the other possible Hero Power options. What this means is that when you use Finley you have 100% of at least going even. There are three options, Druid, Hunter and Warlock, which are definite upgrades. Statistically this implies you have a whopping 82.1% to get to pick at least one of the three big upgrades. Finley also gives you another one drop you can play in the early stages of the game, even if this is not ideal. Consider that in the first three turns of a game totems are valuable as they can provide some board presence, if you have other plays try delaying your Finley for the later turns.

2x tunnel trogg: Shaman’s Mana Wyrm which works with overload, insane 1-drop which usually ends up with at least 2-drop worth of stats. On top of that, it is pretty hard to remove on turn one thanks to the three health, meaning that it can sometimes snowball a game by itself. The card just adds consistent early game for the aggressive game plan.

2 x flametongue-totem: If you have two minions on board, Flametongue enables you to trade magnificently or push an additional four damage for two mana. Consider that Flametongue Totem has to be dealt with, Shaman can really benefit from the effect thanks to the wide boards they can create. Pre Whispers of the Old Gods, this slot was occupied by Crackle. Now that Face Shaman has access to less burn, a more board centric approach is needed to close out games.

2 x totem-golem: The card is a Totem, meaning it synergises with Thing From Below, as well as having vanilla stats for its cost. The real reason why the card is so powerful is that it can come down on turn one, nearly no class has a way of dealing with a coined Totem Golem. Even if minor, the fact it buffs Tunnel Trogg to a two drop worth of stats needs to be considered. Everybody has succumbed to the Trogg into Totem Golem curve, it can put huge pressure if you lack the answers. Overall super strong early card you can keep in your mulligan.

2 x argent-horserider: I am a real fan of this card, I started playing it in my Combo Reno Warlock deck. Argent Horserider is very flexible, it can provide a body for early trades as well as granting you as sticky minion with which you can go face multiple times.

2 x feral-spirit: By itself the card isn’t great, but consider in Hearthstone small Taunts really shine in aggressive decks. Hiding higher attack minions behind the wolves can be really annoying to deal with for your opponent. The fact this card synergises with Tunnel Trogg is probably what pushes the card into the optimized Aggro Shaman list.

2 x lava-burst: It is burn, this is the main role of the card in the deck. Sometimes it can be used as removal, in this role it is comparable to playing a Fireball for five Mana split over two turns. I say this because whilst the five damage break point is very different from the four damage one, there aren’t many x/6 minions you need to hit in the current metagame.

1 x lightning-storm: The card was the last piece that was introduced when optimising the Aggro Shaman list. It is a very strong card as it can singlehandedly win you games against certain decks (for example Zoolock). Sometimes, you will find yourself hitting only two minions with the card in order to protect your minions, this is entirely ok as it means you converted an Aoe into face damage.

2 x tuskarr-totemic: This card is broken, there is at least 3/7 chance to get an awesome result. What most people don’t realise is that more often than not the probability is actually 4/7, usually there is at least one Shaman Totem which fits the situation perfectly. Overall the card probably needs a soft nerf, so use it an abuse it!

2 x flamewreathed-faceless: There must be a reason a meme was created around this card, Flamewreathed Faceless is extremely powerful. If the opponent doesn’t have an immediate answer for the 7/7, the damage can quickly add up. This is especially relevant considering Aggro Shaman has very respectable reach to close out games. Remember, more often than not if you can attack with Faceless you should go face.

2 x doomhammer: Playing this card very often signals you are forfeiting your board presence in exchange for huge amounts of damage. Doomhammer can usually threaten a kill him in the following three turns after it is played. Sometimes, you will find the card is useful to enhance the board presence in the Shaman mirror,  but usually you only trade with it to the extent it helps you maximise damage with minions. Obviously it can also function as a finisher, everybody has lost at least once to Doomhammer plus Rockbiter combo. Overall, the reason I like Classic Aggro Shaman more than Spirit Claw Aggro Shaman is that you can play two Doomhammers, the card is absurd thanks to the pressure Shaman can apply in the first few turns and the burst available to the class.

2 x thing-from-below: The fact you get discounts whenever you use your Hero Power is already good. What makes it really over the top is that you can play cards which you already want to play on curve (Totem Golem, Flametongue Totem and Tuskarr Totemic) and get discounts for huge tempo swings later in the late game. Playing a 5/5 for zero is nothing to joke about! Additionally, the stat line means it is pretty hard to deal with, there are a lot of things which deal four damage but not so many which deal five.

Possible substitutions

Against Zoolocks and other shamans -1 feral-spirits or flamewreathed-faceless and +1 lightning-storm.

Against Control Warrior – flamewreathed-faceless  -1 lightning-storm and +2 unbound-elemental.

That being said, the deck is optimized to have a decent shot against ladder as a whole. This is why I think the current iteration of the list is the one which you should play, on average it is the one which performs the best.

General Match-ups

Midrange Hunter

In today’s metagame Hearthstone seems to be all about tempo. This match-up is exemplary of that fact, the person who gets ahead on board will more often than not win the game. Most of the times you should be able to out-tempo the Hunter, your cards trade very positively into theirs. Argent Squire with a buff is especially good in this match-up, you can put the Hunter really behind if you trade positively in their two drop. The way you usually lose this match-up is either by completely bricking your draw, or if Hunter manages to develop call-of-the-wild. You have no good way of answering that turn eight power play. The biggest mistake you can make in this match-up is over trade. Remember that Hunter has no heal, thus if you can safely push damage to a somewhat decent lethal range go for it.

Dragon Warrior

Against Dragon Warriors you have two options: either close out the game with Doomhammer and burn, or just go very wide on the board. Dragon Warriors, at least the aggressive variant, usually don’t run brawl thus don’t bother playing around board wipes. Overall, in this particular match-up going second is so much better than going first, coin into Totem Golem avoids the alexstrasza’s-champion value trade into your one drop and the blood-to-ichor plus fiery-war-axe combo. Sometimes, obviously, you will get snowballed out of the game. This is to be expected against a top tier deck in today’s meta. I think the match-up is slightly un-favourable but not un-winnable.

Aggro Shaman

On average I actually find the mirror match-up quite interesting. Whilst it is true that sometimes one of the two players will just snowball off a lucky Tuskarr Totemic or a god curve, usually you have to make quite a few decisions. The match dynamic involves one aggressor, that has the ability to continue going face but not optimally expending his resources, and one defensive player, which has more cards but cannot establish board presence. Sometimes you will find your best bet is trying to race the opponent, whilst other time board control is your only option. What you have to absolutely remember is that you need to play your outs, don’t trade if your only winning play is top decking burn! One last thing, Doomhammer is a killer in this match-up, thus if you can safely develop it on turn five you should go for it.

Midrange Shaman

This match-up is certainly unfavourable in the late game, Midrange Shaman has much bigger threats than you. That being said, I have beat Control decks turn 15 in the past with this deck thanks to Life Tap from Finley. Your best bet in order to win the match-up is either snowballing off some early trades and putting the opponent way behind on Tempo, or going super aggressive and rushing the opponent down with Doomhammer and burn. Overall, being aggressive in this match-up is essential, if the Midrange Shaman manages to go head for head with you on your curve he will probably beat you in the long run. 

Rogue

Rogue doesn’t run that much life gain, meaning that if you just go face you will win most of the times. Doomhammer is godly in this match-up because, by the time Rogue manages to set up the kill on you, Doomhammer should have close to no charges left and consequentially Rogue should have barely any health. This is one of the match-ups where coin Doomhammer is nearly always the right play. The only way you lose this match-up is a huge un-answered edwin-vancleef, or if the Rogue has every answer against you; it happens but not that often. One last tip is to try forcing out the Sap before you play Flamewreathed Faceless in order to not lose to preparation into sap. This should minimise the tempo gain Rogue can gain from the card. Overall smack the face and most of the times you will win, don’t over trade let them do the dirty job!

Control Warriors

Against Control Warrior I find that you either blowout the deck thanks to a removal hole in their curve or you will just lose. What might enable you to go through a long grindy game against Control Warrior is getting Life Tap from Finley, incredibly this Hero Power should give you a really good chance of out carding your opponent. Overall you would usually rather not play the 7/7 on turn four if you haven’t seen execute yet, obviously if you have no other play you probably should just go for it. Also consider that sometimes it might be better to not Totem Up in order to play around Brawl. Overall quite a rough match-up you want to avoid.

Malygos Druids

Malygos Druid is easier than Token Druid because the former deck doesn’t run ancient-of-war unlike the latter one. The good thing about Aggro Shaman is that you should be able to beat them before they play yogg’saron-hope’s-end. Flamewreathed Faceless is super strong in this match-up, very often you will manage to hit face with it multiple time. A tip I can give is to not be afraid of leaving violet-teacher up if you can put substantial damage to the face, even if they set up wide boards this shouldn’t stop you from destroying their health pool. Overall it is a decent match-up, and whilst sometimes the odd insane innervate game will happen you should usually win against them.

The Mulligan and the Curve

Going First

Obviously the mulligan depends against what deck you are facing. In general, if you are going first the mulligan is quite simple, you try to find a “1 Totem 3” curve or something along those lines. Against most decks you want to mulligan for either Trogg or Argent Squire, but more often than not I find myself keeping Abusive just to play something on turn one. This is especially important against Hunters Zoolocks as Abusive contests all their one and two drops. One thing that you absolutely must not do if you are going first is keep Rockbiter Weapon or Lightning Bolt in your hand, this is usually just wrong as you want to be proactive rather than reactive with the deck.

There are obviously some exceptions. Against a deck such Shaman if I have Argent Squire in my hand I will keep Rockbiter Weapon because it can help me kill a coined Totem Golem as well as a Tunnel Trogg. Additionally having double Abusive can also be kept against Shaman as you can Abusive into Abusive to kill a coined Totem Golem or Trogg. In general, as time will pass you will understand better which combinations of cards are good against which decks, when you start playing Aggro Shaman try to think if your hand synergises well against the current opponent.

Sometimes you will find yourself keeping a 3-drop because you have Argent Squire into a Flametongue Totem, in this case keeping a Tuskarr Totemic is correct. One last thing is Sir Finley Mrrgglton. Ideally you want to play this card later on in the game, but if you have no other options you should play it turn 1, even if you have Thing From Below in Hand. Usually you want to get Thing From Below discounted by Totem Golem and Tuskarr Totemic anyway. Finally, for the love of god don’t keep a 3-drop in hand if you have Totem Golem in your Mulligan.

General Rules going first

Keep: Tunnel Trogg, Argent Squire, Totem Golem, Sir Finley Mrrgglton.

Don’t Keep: Lightning Bolt, Doomhammer.

Situational (match-up or hand dependent): Abusive Sergeant, Rockbiter Weapon, Flametongue Totem, Lightning Storm, Argent Horserider (very questionable going first, only if you are targeting something specific).

Going Second

Here is where the mulligan gets much tougher, you have loads on options when going second as Aggro Shaman. The first thing to emphasise is Totem Golem, against every deck playing this card turn one is very strong as nearly no deck can deal with it. It is so powerful it is better to play Totem Golem before Tunnel Trogg in most match-ups. The “2, 1, 3” curve is what you are aiming for when going second.

Another very strong curve is the “1, 3, 3” play with a one drop into Tuskarr Totemic. This curve is especially strong if you have Argent Squire as your one drop. Sometimes the second 3 drop will be Spirit Wolves, in this case the strongest follow up you can have is a Flametongue Totem into Doomhammer.

Another type of curve which is playable even if it has a much more all-in style is the “1, 3, 1” play with Tunnel Trogg into Spirit Wolves into a 1-drop. If the opponent manages to somehow deal with the Spirit Wolves you risk losing if you commit to this play, I would suggest going for it only against Druid or Hunter.

Another cool trick is skipping your turn 1 if you have both Tunnel Trogg and Tote Golem in order to coin out both turn 2, against classes such as Druid this will guarantee they won’t have answers for both threats. I will say I just prefer to coin the Totem Golem out as it is more consistent.

Lastly you can always go for the “1, 2, 2” curve and save the coin for a later turn. I will say the earlier you use the coin the strongest it is, tempo early game is more valuable than tempo late game.

Overall the curve you look for has to be smooth and be able to contest the most probable threats from your opponent. I won’t do a general keep for this section as it is very complicated, what you mulligan for is very hand dependant. If you have a 2 and 3 drop you mulligan for a one drop and so on, just follow the curve advice above.

General Tips

Every deck has a question you need to ask when playing it. For Aggro Shaman the question is: “Can I set up a lethal within three turns?” When answering this question what you have to consider is how you are expecting your opponent to punish you if you go face and ignore their threats. Sometimes, even if they can deal with your board, you can put him on a certain two or three turn clock if you consider your cards carefully. When I saw my lower rank friend play Aggro Shaman, I saw that often instead of doing the “winning play”, he would commit to not lose the following turn but wouldn’t give himself any outs to win. This is a fatal mistake if you are playing this deck. The decisions that Aggro Shaman puts in front of you usually don’t involve a ton of options in hand but rather involve how to trade minions and which minions to go face with, this is why it can be sometimes tricky to play optimally.

Another important point to make is about dumping your hand down too aggressively. Suppose you are against a Control Warrior and your curve consists of the “1, 1 1, 3” curve, it might be wise to use your hero power instead of dumping both your one drops on turn two. Also if you have the “1, 3, 3” curve with double Argent Horseriders, it is usually better to go “1, Totem, 3”. Remember Totems still grant you discounts on Thing From Below and Horseriders have charge thus can be used to trade effectively at any time. On the other hand if you are planning to go face always play Argent Horserider over Tuskarr Totemic, only after four turns the latter would surpass in damage the former.

About positioning I have only one main thing to say, don’t be an idiot! What I mean is that instead of rushing your turns and jamming minions on the board randomly try thinking what is the best positioning in case you draw a Flametongue Totem. Usually you want Divine Shields on the outside as this enables you to trade minions and not block the Flame Tongue Chain. I don’t think it has to be said, but if you are playing only one minion on a Flametongue you have to play the minion on the left to make sure that if you use your Hero Power or Feral Spirits you maximise the effectiveness of the card. Other than that, try to consider what damage thresholds you are looking to hit against the current deck you are playing and base your minion positioning on this knowledge.

The last thing I wanted to cover is when you should play the deck. Whilst the deck is consistent against nearly any metagame, it should be emphasised that it struggles against Control Warrior. Additionally if Zoolock makes a huge comeback it is well worth to consider second storm in the deck, with only one storm it can be quite a rough match-up. Overall, the strength of the deck is that you should be able to have at least 40%+ win rate in any unfavourable match-ups with statistics usually hovering around 45% against counters. What this means is that even if the counter decks are really popular you should be able to hover close to a global 50% win-rate, obviously this is not considering misplays by you or your opponent.

Analysing a Play

When climbing I came across a good example of decision making when playing Aggro Shaman. I was playing against a Tempo Mage and, as you can see, I had quite a few lines of play available to me. Firstly, I could curve out with Thing From Below into Doomhammer into Flamewreathed Faceless. The problem with that plan is that it is countered on board by a simple fireballand a turn five development by the Mage.  The other option is to delay the Doomhammer in favour of an early Flamewreathed Faceless play into a follow up with Feral Spirits and Thing From Below.

If we consider the fact the opponent had already used one frostbolt and that there is usually nothing Mage can do to deal with a Flamewreathed Faceless turn four, it seems that developing the 7/7 is nearly a guaranteed seven damage face. I went with this play (and won) because whilst being a bit subpar in the in the following two turns the seven damage face was extremely relevant. The Doomhammer charges can always deal damage later on in the game, the 7/7 cannot if it is dealt with. On top of that, if I curved Thing From Below into Doomhammer into Flamewreathed Faceless, this would mean the 7/7 would have to come down turn six which means it could be answer by a simple Fireball plus ping. Whilst I think from the position showed you win most of the times, I think the play I chose has a slightly higher chance to win you the game.

Decisions when playing Aggro Shaman aren’t hard but, if you are inexperienced with Shaman, do require some time in order to be seen. Overload and damage management are the two mechanics to look out for in order to achieve a high win-rate with the deck.

Concluding Remarks

Overall the deck has a bad reputation because it can be very frustrating to lose to, this doesn’t mean it is an easy deck to master. Whilst it is true that sometimes you will get default wins because of the godly curve, what distinguishes the high legend player from the one stuck at rank 5 is how many of the hard games the former can win. If you are a new player or stuck in your climb to legend this deck is certainly an optimal place to start, it is a deck that if mastered will reward you with a ton of fast wins. Additionally it should also teach you about the mentality you should adopt when playing the game, play to win rather than not to lose.

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