The New Standard: Control Shaman

This week on The New Standard we take a dive into the meta again and take a crack at Control Shaman. When Mean Streets first dropped I instantly knew I wanted to play Control Shaman. Not only does the deck have some extremely powerful tools at its disposal, but it also has some of the […]

Introduction

This week on The New Standard we take a dive into the meta again and take a crack at Control Shaman. When Mean Streets first dropped I instantly knew I wanted to play Control Shaman. Not only does the deck have some extremely powerful tools at its disposal, but it also has some of the most fun cards in the game. At its core, the deck has everything you need to win. You have healing, you have AOE, and you have some of the strongest spot removal around. That spread gives you a very powerful core that can go toe-to-toe with just about anything else you’ll encounter on the ladder. However, for the longest time I could not get it to work. I initially tried to go into a more spell-based version of this list with big finishers and things like Arcane Giants, but it just wasn’t working. However, after a lot of deliberation and tweaking I finally came to a list that I think is strong enough to take on the ladder.

The Deck

This deck is a crazy balance of removal, healing and large deathrattle-based finishers. It is a control deck through and through and seeks to set the tone of the game early and often. You are going to spend almost all of your games just making sure you stay alive turn after turn, be that healing, removal or AOE.

While there are many finishers you could use to make this deck work, I think the deathrattle package is absolutely the way to go. Not only does White Eyes slot right into that plan, but being able to get two Storm Guardians on top of a N’zoth trigger allows you to play more threats than most control decks can handle. There is a large spread of fast aggro and heavy control on the ladder and you need to be able to handle both. You have a mass of anti-aggro cards, but in order to fight control you have to have a mass of threats. The deathrattle package lets you do that with a very low amount of cards.

There number one card that elevated this deck to where it is now is Dirty Rat. This was one of my latest additions, but is it fantastic. Like everyone else, the 2/6 is a card I initially overlooked as a gimmicky anti-aggro card. However, this card is absolutely unreal. I will explain this below, but the two drop is what makes this whole thing tick.

Key Cards

This section will explain certain key cards to the list as a whole.

Finders Keepers

While this was originally a two of, there are so many good cards in this deck that I had to cut Finders Keepers down to one. However, that should not fool you into thinking that the pseudo-Raven Idol is a bad card. Quite the opposite. Versatility is perhaps the most important element in Hearthstone because it gives you the ability to freely adapt to any situation at hand. Finders Keepers is great for this because there a ton of strong overload cards that help with a ton of different situations. There is AOE (Forked Lightning, Lightning Storm, Elemental Destruction), there is strong removal (Storm Crack, Lava Burst) and, thanks to Mean Streets, you can even get healing through Jinyu Waterspeaker. Not to mention damage with Doomhammer, taunt with Feral Spirit, and large threats like Flamewreathed Faceless or Earth Elemental. AOE should always be your first inclination, but taunts and healing are great against control and large threats can help you pace slower decks. Being able to have a card that helps you freely mold your gameplan to the situation at hand is incredibly powerful and I would not cut this. In fact, I may try and find a way to go back up to two.

Dirty Rat

Wow. Just…wow. This card (though not prevalent in the videos) has proven to be one of the missing pieces that makes this list work. Two weeks ago I never would have thought to put it in, but being able to bring out your opponent’s minion and they immediately take it down with Hex, Lightning Storm or Elemental Destruction is absolutely fantastic. In fact, a lot of the time the right hit can straight up win the game on its own. Here’s a quick list of good hits in the current meta: Edwin Vancleef, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, Kazakus, Reno Jackson, Brann Bronzebeard, Leeroy Jenkins, and pretty much any other minion you can think of with charge or battlecry. It is hard to put into words just how powerful this card is but the first time take your opponent’s finisher and then turn it into a frog you will understand.

You never want to play Dirty Rat early in the game. Ever. This card might scream “anti-aggro turn two taunt play” but playing this out turn two is a great way to get absolutely crushed by things like Kor’kron Elite, Frothing Berserker, or a surprise Ragnaros the Firelord. Always have a plan when playing out the rat. You never just want to run this out for the sake of running it out, you need to have removal to back it up so you can always be ready for whatever comes from your opponent’s hand. If you think they may have a huge minion you want to play it with Hex, but if you think they have a solid midrange card you want to kill, then a simple removal spell or AOE will do.

The AOE

A huge part of correctly piloting this deck is properly using your mass removal. You have six AOE spells, and all of them are going to be essential to winning games. However, they are not going to be easy to use. This is because not playing AOE is just as important as playing it. That is to say, when you have something like Elemental Destruction or Lightning Storm in hand you want to think to yourself “what else could I kill with this if I wait a turn?” I find that it is very easy to jump the gun on this and use it too early to escape taking some damage and then instantly losing to the next board your opponent builds. You really need to see how many cards your opponent has, their possible future plays, and run that against the amount of damage you can take. This deck has a lot of healing, so don’t be worried about taking an extra nine or ten here and there. Getting to wipe one extra big threat could really help you take the game.

Of course, the hardest clear to balance is Elemental Destruction. Five overload is no joke, and planning for this incorrectly will almost always lead to a quick loss. The general rule is that, if you don’t have Lava Shock in hand, you want to burn the three mana spell when you are going to have eight or more mana the following turn. The reason for this is that there are many things you can do with three mana that still keep you safe when your opponent rebounds, such as Hex or Healing Wave, but your options become severely limited when you a stuck with two or one. Of course, there are going to be times where you have to limit your mana even more, but you want to limit those scenarios as much as you can.

Note: Do your best to save your AOE for Dirty Rat. As mentioned above, getting an extra minion caught up in the blast is invaluable, especially if it is one your opponent is deliberately trying to hold back.

Jinyu Waterspeaker

Another card this deck could not function without, Jinyu Waterspeaker allows you to play with an Antique Healbot that comes down a turn earlier and has a very relevant body for its cost. If that sounds insane, it’s because it is. The 3/6 is by far one of the most underrated Shaman cards right now and gives you even more ways to stay alive and dig through your deck. All a deck like this needs to be good is the ability to make it into the later stages of the game where their big threats and never-ending AOE can just take over. Having five ways to heal instead of three makes a big difference, especially when two of those ways actually let you build up a board instead of just playing a three mana spell.

While it rarely comes up, notice that this card can be used to heal minions as well. You run very few big threats in this list, but you do have four finishers that all have a solid amount of health (not including the Storm Guardian). If your opponent ever makes a chip play where they are clearly trying to take something down across two turns, do not be afraid to heal it back up to full health. You can also use this mode after trading a large threat that you don’t want to die, such as Sylvanas Windrunner, into a smaller minion. I will also add that you almost never want to play this as a tempo move unless you are facing down an aggro deck or Druid that had a dead turn. Healing is always going to come in handy and you are not the type of deck that is going to care much about having an extra 3/6 down early.

White Eyes

Every strong control deck needs a good finisher, and White Eyes perfectly fits the bill for this one. The 5/5 is everything this list wants and more. You get a taunt, a relevant body stapled to a midrange threat, and a finisher all in one card. White Eyes is this deck’s Elise Starseeker. However, he can be played freely against any deck and will allow you to keep both your removal and healing instead of turning them into a bunch of random (and largely useless) legendaries. To play a deck like this you need to be a little greedy. That is to say, you have to be able to front load the list with a bunch of removal and only run a few finishers. While Elise could be an option, there are many games where you want to save certain spells for the end. White Eyes gives you that ability on top of a taunt that also helps against aggro and comes back with N’zoth. Just phenomenal overall.

When facing control you need to make sure that White Eyes dies and does not get polymorphed by Kazakus or stolen by Sylvanas Windrunner. This is extremely vital because the difference between having two 10/10 finishers and having a 1/1 sheep is gigantic. In the slower games I would look at this card in the same way Murloc Paladin looks at Murloc Warleader. That means you need to make sure this is going to die against any control deck that can negate the deathrattle. In those situations I will just wait to use the 5/5 with Elemental Destruction or try and bait out things like Hex or Polymorph on Sylvanas Windrunner (which is usually weaker than Cairne Bloodhoof in those games.)

Matchups

Some of the most common matchups I see while playing ladder.

Pirate Warrior

You want a reason to play this deck? Here it is. As you may have guessed from the incredible amount of early removal, AOE, and healing, this list does a great job against both Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman (covered below). Slow control decks have always had trouble with aggro, but this list has so many front-loaded spells and early options that it’s not as hard as you might think. Even without weapon removal, you have enough taunts and strong plays to simply bully your opponent into submission. You win this game by simply running your opponent out of cards. Pirate Warrior is going to make a quick push at the start of the game and try to end things around turn five. If you make it through those turns with healing or taunts, you should be able to handle their top decks with ease.

Never take chances with your health. While you may want to let that Frothing Berserker live, or while you don’t want to use a Lightning Storm on two Small-Time Buccaneers, those are the plays you need to make to limit your damage. Every draw you make is one draw closer to healing or taunt, and losing the game by taking an extra hit from a big threat is never going to be worth it. This is the only match where you do not want to be stingy with your removal. Pirate Warrior has absolutely no card draw in their deck, so if you can manage to kill everything that comes down your will be able to stay out of burst range. In addition, while using Dirty Rat early can be a problem, it is quite good moving into the middle game to stop a turn five Arcanite Reaper or late game Leeroy Jenkins.

Aggro Shaman

Thanks to Reynad, Aggro Shaman is back and in full force. I am not sure if this is going to stick (it feels a bit like a flash in a pan) but there is no doubt that right now you have to prepare for it. This game is going to be a lot like the Pirate Warrior matchup, but your tools are even stronger here. Doomsayer just destroys Shaman’s early curve and Jinyu Waterspeaker buys you time while also eating almost all of their mid-game threats. As with Pirate, you just want to do everything you can to survive. However, in this match you want to be a little more careful. This is because Shamans can flood the board much more easily than Warrior, and they also run a slew of big minions like Jade Golem and Flamewreathed Faceless. Save your AOE as best as you can and try to maximize the value of your spot removal. Using a Hex on a Tunnel Trogg is never worth it if you are just going to die to a 7/7. In addition, while you are incredibly favored here, this game can get tricky if they run Doomhammer. Luckily, the most popular version of Aggro Shaman does not run the windfury weapon anymore. That being said, if you are seeing a lot of Doomhammer lists you could tech in weapon removal.

Jade Druid

Honestly, while this is the worst matchup for this deck, it has gotten much better (as the videos showed). I am not sure why that happened, but this game no longer feels like an instant-loss. Now it’s just an uphill battle. The recordings probably do better at explaining this game better than I can, but the way you win this game is by getting priority. You have three very solid threats that all give Druid absolute nightmares. However, as you are so reactive, most of the game is going to go by with Druid drawing cards and you answering their threats. That puts you behind and turns almost all of your turns into catch-up. However, if you can whittle your opponent’s cards down by using AOE on Jade Golem boards, leveraging Doomsayer and hitting value cards like Gadgetzan Auctioneer or Fandral Staghelm with Dirty Rat, you may be able to get down a Cairne Bloodhoof, White Eyes or Sylvanas Windrunner onto an empty board. Once that happens you have a chance to race to N’zoth to take the game.

Do your best to save your Hex for either Ancient of War or Aya Blackpaw. You may want to turn other things into frogs, but those are the two threats that can easily dodge your removal. Everything else they play will often be caught up in AOE. Though, if you do suspect they have Arcane Giants then you want to do your best to save two sweepers to take them down. Beyond that, the only way you are going to take this one is by making it go to fatigue or curving out deathrattles and racing to N’zoth. Each of these methods can work, but recognize which one you are going to use early on. This will help you set up your game and let you know how aggressively you need to use your removal as the turns progress. Druid is going to do a lot with their cards, be patient and look for an opening.

Renolock

The big bad that isn’t so bad anymore, Renolock seems to have plummeted in popularity (at least at ranks three and four) thanks to the resurgence of Aggro Shaman and Rogue. Even so, you still are going to see Gul’dan and his army of one-ofs. This is a very interesting game where you really need to work hard to leverage both of your finishers (White Eyes and N’zoth the Corruptor). Each of these cards gives you ways to actually outlast Warlock and take control of the game. Watch their AOE carefully and take your time when playing out threats. This game is going to go to fatigue, and you want to make sure that you have access to your deathrattles and Storm Guardian when that happens. As a result, make sure White Eyes dies as soon as he comes down to dodge both Kazakus and Sylvanas Windrunner.

This is yet another example of where Dirty Rat shines. It is never going to be easy to know when and how to use this card, but I will almost always hold one towards the end of the game. Yes, this may give them a chance to get a Kazakus or the like during the middle turns, but Renolock usually saves their big play swings like Reno Jackson and Lord Jaraxxus for the finishing turns. If you successfully pull those cards you should be able to take this one. Beyond that, this is a matchup where I try to hoard both burn and healing by controlling the board through AOE. This is going to be a long one and you almost always have to be ready for fatigue. Being able to go back up in health or pressure your opponent’s face can be very helpful in that situation.

Note: The Leeroy combo is very popular so do your best to stay above twenty in the later stages of the game.

Miracle Rogue

Rogue, dead? Ha! As bad as the new cards for Valeera are, Preparation and Gadgetzan Auctioneer both still exist, and that means Rogue is going to be good. Miracle has now adopted the pirate package of Patches the Pirate and Small-Time Buccaneer, which sacrifices spells for consistency. This has allowed them to reach high legend multiple times and brought them back to the ladder. When I first started playing this match I thought it was impossible to win, but the more I learned it the more I learned it is vastly in your favor. The reason for that is Rogue does not have a ton of burst. If you can constantly wipe their board and keep your health in the twenties they will eventually run out of cards or ways to damage.

This is yet another match where Deadly Rat is absolutely incredible. Not only does it allow you to instantly negate Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Edwin Vancleef, but it also steals Azure Drake‘s battlecry, stops SI:7 Agent‘s combo and allows you to take out Leeroy Jenkins before he becomes a problem. I try to use these soon after the first Gadgetzan Auctioneer when they have already played a good number of pirates. The reason being that is the time where they have already played a lot of minions and have likely drawn into high-priority cards.

Mulligan Guide

Mulliganing with this deck is interesting because your are going to mulligan for archetype rather than class. When playing aggro you are always going to want to keep Doomsayer, Lightning Bolt, Maelstrom Portal, Lava Shock and Stormcrack. Then, if you have a good opening you should also keep Lightning Storm and Healing Wave. Jinyu Waterspeaker is also good with a strong curve if you have the coin. Against midrange you can also keep Elemental Destruction if you have the coin with Lava Shock.

In contrast, when facing control you want to look for Finders Keepers, Lightning Bolt, Ancestral Knowledge and Stormcrack. You can usually get away with keeping one Hex if you have a good opening. I also do not mind tucking away a Lightning Storm with a slow hand or keeping White Eyes with the coin and a removal heavy opening.

Conclusion

Man, I did not expect to have the success with this deck that I have, nor did I expect it to be as strong as it is. I always try to make my brews as powerful as possible, but this deck feels better than anything I have built in some time. I am not it is just a meta call either. The list has such a wide amount of tools and such a wide amount of power plays that it can go toe-to-toe with just about anything. Druid being an auto loss with my number one problem with this deck, and that seems to be something I may have fixed. Dirty Rat is one of the best cards in the game right now, and I am excited for you guys to see just how strong it is. Thanks for reading and, until next time, may you always clear the board.