DKMR Game Plan: Midrange Shaman vs Handlock

We at DKMR are always putting in hours to be the best Hearthstone team we possibly can, and our roster features some of the most talented players around. We came up with the idea for DKMR Game Plan because we want to share the strategies and techniques that we’ve spent countless hours developing for the […]

We at DKMR are always putting in hours to be the best Hearthstone team we possibly can, and our roster features some of the most talented players around. We came up with the idea for DKMR Game Plan because we want to share the strategies and techniques that we’ve spent countless hours developing for the community. What you can expect from a DKMR Game Plan is a structured plan that details our thoughts on the best way to approach the game in order to come out with a win for each matchup that we cover.

Handlock is one of the more feared decks in Hearthstone; it can throw down huge threats as early as turn 4, and is capable of coming back from seemingly insurmountable deficits. Luckily, Shaman is one of the best equipped to deal with the Handlock threats. That said, Handlocks have recently altered their decks to even the odds, so tread carefully.

What’s in a Handlock Deck?

2 mountain-giant

2 twilight-drake

2 molten-giant

2 sunfury-protector

2 defender-of-argus

2 soulfire

2 earthen-ring-farseer

2 ancient-watcher

Also extremely common are:

1-2 ironbeak-owl

1-2 hellfire

1-2 shadowflame

1-2 mortal-coil

1-2 siphon-soul

“The Combo”: leeroy-jenkins, power-overwhelming, and faceless-manipulator

Other oft-included cards are

big-game-hunter alexstrasza lord-jaraxxus cairne-bloodhoof sylvanas-windrunner bloodmage-thalnos

Knowing Your Enemy’s Mulligan

Knowing what cards the Handlock player is likely to keep in their opening hand is important so that you can counter them or play around them. The two cards Handlocks will look to keep versus Shaman are Mountain Giant and Hellfire.

Mountain Giant can be a blowout if the Shaman doesn’t have a good answer, while Hellfire can deal with a Shaman board filled with totems and Feral Spirits. Going second, a Handlock may also keep an Earthen Ring Farseer in order to have a turn 3 play; coining out a Twilight Drake is simply too dangerous versus a Shaman.

Mulligan Strategies

Let’s first talk about how to deal with the cards that Handlock is likely to keep. There are a couple of ways to deal with a Mountain Giant. The most obvious move is to hex it and move on. A less obvious but certainly viable (and nearly as painful to the Handlock) is to use a Flametongue Totem in combination with either your Totems or Feral Spirit to kill it off.

Remember, there are only so many threats in a Handlock deck, and as long as you’re dealing with their threats cost efficiently (card-wise), they may run out of ways to win the game.

With that in mind, Hex is an obvious keep versus Handlock, but Flametongue Totem is not too far behind. And though a Handlock is loathe to play a Twilight Drake versus a Shaman, it’ll still be thrown out if there’s no other play to be made. In particular, if you ever run into a Handlock that coins out a Twilight Drake on turn 3, be prepared to face another Drake on turn 4; the Handlock is betting that you don’t have two Earthshocks in hand.

Keep your Earthshocks as well (since Earthshock is also very good versus Zoolocks, it’s actually the one card you should definitely keep if you don’t know what kind of Warlock you’re playing).

Finally, both Unbound Elemental and Mana Tide Totem can put pressure on your opponent (in different ways), so those cards are also good to have in your opening hand. In summary, keep as many Hexes and Earthshocks as possible, and keep only one of Mana Tide Totem/Unbound/Flametongue/Feral Spirit/Argent Squire/Harvest Golem (obviously if you happen to run Big Game Hunter in your Shaman deck, keep that too).

Playing the Matchup

Although you have plenty of tools to deal with Handlock’s threats, you’re the aggressor. That means you have to apply pressure without overextending. Unlike most Aggro versus Control matchups, you must be wary of both overcommitting to the board and to putting too much damage onto your opponent, because of the possibility of multiple taunted Molten Giants hitting the field in one turn.

One move in particular that is ill-advised is to place a Flametongue between Feral Spirits in the early game just to deal more damage to your opponent. Not only does it allow him/her to be cost efficient in clearing your board with a hellfire, but it gets him closer to safely playing Molten Giants, since bursting a player down from double-digit health without a board or mana is very difficult to do.

Always be cognizant of possible back-breaking plays from your opponent: Hellfire on turn 4, Hellfire and Mortal Coil on turn 5, Ancient Watcher and Shadow Flame on turn 6, any minion plus Power Overwhelming and Shadowflame on turn 7. Be aware of how much health your minions have, as well as deathrattles or other effects that can make it hard for your opponent to clear your board.

Even if you’re dealing with most of their threats, Handlocks can be incredibly resilient because they typically have many options to choose from at any given time. If possible, it might be worth it to save your Lightning Bolts or Fire Elemental battlecry in order to get behind a huge taunt wall. Similarly, if you have a Windfury creature/spell/weapon in hand, it may be best to save your Rockbiters so you can burst him down before he can get his Molten Giants up.

Lastly, always be aware of your opponent’s ability to burst you down. If you haven’t seen Leeroy or Power Overwhelming or Soulfire yet, keep a close eye on your health, his mana, and the amount (and health) of taunts you have. At 10 mana with no board, a Handlock can hit you for 24 damage with just four cards. Even with Feral Spirit and a Stoneclaw Totem, four cards can hit you for 17 damage. Note any suspicious activity (such as constantly clearing your board without playing a threat), and don’t be afraid to throw down a Defender of Argus just to play it safe, if you feel like you’re already ahead.

Final Thoughts

While it may seem daunting that your opponent is always carrying a ton of cards, remember that many of those cards will be used to deal with your hero ability. If you play it smart, you can force Hellfires and Shadowflames to be played against boards with 1-2 cards and totems.

Being able to refill the board after it has been cleared is a crucial part of this matchup, as it prevents your opponent from playing his biggest threats (Alextrasza, Jaraxxus) or making the most optimal play (waiting a turn to taunt two creatures instead of one). Once you have established board control in the midgame, don’t bring his health below 15 or so unless you’re capable of dealing with giants or you can finish the game through his taunts.

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