Overloaded With Overload: Is Shaman Dead?

Hey everyone, Killswitch here again with another article to stimulate your senses and tantalize your mind. Today I want to share with you my hypothesis (albeit a popular one) behind the reason that the Shaman hero class has never seemed to gain any momentum in constructed play. We’ve all seen numerous decks come and go throughout Hearthstone’s […]

Introduction

Hey everyone, Killswitch here again with another article to stimulate your senses and tantalize your mind. Today I want to share with you my hypothesis (albeit a popular one) behind the reason that the Shaman hero class has never seemed to gain any momentum in constructed play. We’ve all seen numerous decks come and go throughout Hearthstone’s short history, particularly decks like Control Warrior, Face Hunter, Handlock, and Tempo Mage (to name a few) that seemingly have stood the test of time. Regardless of the meta, these decks never really truly go away, and neither do the hero classes they spawn from.  Warrior, Paladin, Warlock, and Hunter appear as though they’ll always be relevant now and in years to come.

Shaman has always been a hero class I’ve always hoped would gain a full head of steam and really become a wicked threat. In the past Shaman has gained some ground with decks like Mech Shaman and more recently with the release of TGT the Totem Shaman. Regardless of how strong past and present Shaman decks have been, they’ve always felt as though they were missing something–some intangible that puts this hero class at a severe disadvantage especially when compared to stronger more efficient hero classes.

Personally, I’ve throughly enjoyed the time I’ve dedicated to playing with a Shaman deck in constructed play. The class cards can be extremely rewarding when you are able to garner the value from them and make the game enjoyable–which is the entire reason we play Hearthstone to begin with. However, its occurred to me that I find fewer and fewer Shaman opponents the higher in ranked play I manage to get, and success in my own climb seems to level out around rank 15-13. I believe I have discovered the cause for this phenomena: The Overload Mechanic.

The problem has been there all along ever since beta, and became even more apparent with the release of Goblins vs. Gnomes. By the time of that expansions release, Shaman had all but disappeared from competitive play and has never seen a period where it had a strong place among the dominant deck archetypes, which stands in stark contrast to every other hero class in the game.

There are several mitigating factors that contribute to overall lower-end-of-the-totem-pole (pun intended) existence Shaman dwells in.  Primarily, it can be blamed upon the flawed Overload mechanic, however the RNG component that effects Shaman class cards more so than other classes is also a strong contributor. An additional problem exists also because the Overload cards that are meant to be overwhelming powerful the turn they are played simply are not.

Overload Mechanic Problem #1: Tempo

Blizzard initially, intended the Overload mechanic to be an advantage over other hero classes, but despite the best of intentions it’s actually become the leading factor behind the Shaman’s inability to be played competitively in constructed play. The reason behind this is largely because it works against one of the main components to victory: game tempo. I’m an old school MTG player, which is one of the reasons I’ve always been so drawn to Hearthstone. When compared to MTG, Hearthstone is meant to be played in an even faster time frame then the typical MTG game. Most of you will agree, the average game lasts anywhere between 3 min on the low-end and 30 min on the higher end (usually when playing control vs. control or up against that irritating opponent who makes a career out of every turn).

The most obvious reason behind the rapid fire game time (compared to MTG), has to do with mana access. In MTG you’re restricted to the amount of mana you can draw each turn, which means if you’re mana screwed it’s going to take significantly longer to get your deck moving in the winning direction, provided of course that you win at all. This is the reason that MTG runs so many numerous search/reshuffle mechanisms and why Hearthstone runs so few. As we all know, in Hearthstone you’re gaining mana at the cyclic rate–1 per turn and the ability to play your hand is contingent upon drawing into the right cards at the right time. Additionally, when you consider that your deck is half the size of a typical MTG deck, the minions function slightly more proactively, along with a few other minor contributors, you can begin to understand why game tempo is so essentially important to a Hearthstone win–even more so than in a typical MTG game.

In MTG, unless you’re up against and extremely aggressive/burn deck, it usually isn’t the end of the world if you miss a drop here or there. Worst case scenario, should you miss a drop you can always use a creature as a bullet sponge and block your opponent. If you end up having to field a 2-drop during T6 in MTG it isn’t the same loss of tempo as it ends up being in a Hearthstone game primarily because that creature will shield you from the damage you’d otherwise be absorbing.

Overload’s essential function to a Shaman was to provide a means of “cheating” the mana curve, by allowing them to play a more powerful or value enriched card for typically one less mana. Should your enemy coin out a 2-drop on T1? No problem, you simply throw down that lightning-bolt and congratulations you’ve just went 2 for 1 on him. Sweet, sweet card advantage!

His T2 response is of course, to field a 2/3 or a 3/2 minion and in case you’re wondering (and prepare yourself for this one because I’m about to blow your undies off), your turn 2 is…wait for it…it’s…nothing! Unless you’re lucky enough to have another Lightning Bolt or rockbiter-weapon, you have no play and you’ve also surrendered the tempo to boot. Your opponent now has board control and will drop an additional wicked threat on your sweet cheeks on turn 3. Unfortunately, your now on a downward spiral having to respond during your turn 3 with a 1-drop if your lucky, which he’ll kill off with a minion he fielded the previous turn and from here on out you’re playing catch-up my friend.

In this regard Overload actually works against the current, malfunctioning every step of the way and becoming directly contrary to its intended purpose. Instead of providing the Shaman with the initiative, it ends up stealing game tempo from them because as a Shaman you’re unable to keep pace with the natural rhythm of the game. Throughout the course of the game, your opponents mana pool grows the way that it should, while yours meanwhile grows at the same rate of Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree–short and stunted.

If you thought things couldn’t get any worse, consider further situations which Shaman needs to utilize some AoE, with cards like lightning-storm. A 3 mana cost card to wipe out a hoard of minions rushing you down from a Face Hunter, basically means that on T4 the Shaman can only cast a 2 drop at best, and summon a totem at worst in response to the opponent’s 4-drop. Now essentially, you’ve lost 2 turns of tempo as some kind of weird punishment for playing what should have been an absolute devastating response to your enemy’s initiative. (Don’t even get me started on my rant regarding what happens when Lightning Storm doesn’t even clear the board,  in addition to putting the Shaman behind the pace of the game).

Overload Mechanic Problem #2: Opportunity Cost

Think back to your economics class you took that first semester in community college. When you weren’t sleeping, playing words with friends, or surfing Facebook, your professor hit on an economic topic that exemplifies what the loss of tempo means through the course of a Hearthstone game: opportunity cost. When ever you play an Overload card, it drains several of your resources. The most obvious resource is the mana cost required to play it on that turn, another is the missed opportunity to play an alternate card in your hand or in your deck. Fact is all similar competitive card games utilize this in-game mechanic as a standard of cost. The problem is Overload tacts on an additional penalty: the opportunity to have a play the following turn.

At the end of the day, this mechanic makes Overload cards more costly than their counterparts even if the net mana cost is identical. To further put this into context consider Warlock’s darkbomb versus Shaman’s Lightning Bolt. Each card requires 2-mana to play, however the difference is Darkbomb’s opportunity cost only effects resources the turn it’s played, whereas Lightening Bolt will further drain your mana pool over the course of two consequtive turns. Consider further, AoE spells like hellfire which costs 4-mana with the draw back of taking 3 damage points to the face the turn you play it, while Shaman’s Lightening Storm essentially cost’s 5 mana and you run the risk of being unable to totally clear the board as efficiently as Hellfire does. To further prove my point, things seem to get even worse with Shaman cards like ancestral-knowledge, which costs more than complimentary cards like Mage’s arcane-intellect and still carry with it additional opportunity costs.

Overload Mechanic Problem #3: Blizzard’s Remedy (Part I: Black Rock Mountain)

Furthermore, the once decent Shaman class cards that did provide some incremental value the turn they’re played have lost the small amount of potency they once had due to the emergence of stronger decks and further game expansions. feral-spirit, was once considered a Shaman staple despite the crippling Overload effect on turn 4, is now matter-of-factly swept aside with Secret Paladin and the not-so-long-ago pre-nerfed warsong-commander Patron Warrior.

After GvG was released Blizzard attempted to tackle the issues surrounding the Shaman head on with a couple of cards released through Black Rock Mountain.  The cards that they had hoped would address the problems were intended to do so from varying angles: lava-shock and fireguard-destroyer.

Fireguard Destroyer, unfortunately at its bare bones is nothing more than a more powerful Overload card. Granted, no other 4-drop in the game has the stat value that Fireguard Destroyer brings to the table except hungry-dragon (released at the same time in the BRM expansion) which also comes with its own draw back. The problem with Fireguard Destroyer stems from the fact that its a card composed of a collection of stats. That said, I’m not claiming that the those stats aren’t incredibly efficient, what I am saying is that it’s lack of ability makes it a liability. The vanilla chillwind-yeti, on occasion will make its way into a competitive deck, but the vast majority of the time experienced Hearthstone players incorporate cards that are BOTH stat heavy and possess a powerful effect.

To further illustrate this point consider further that no one plays bloodfen-raptor in constructed play, however many will run double copies of knife-juggler not so much because of his 3/2 stats but because of his ability. Sure, Fireguard is guaranteed to pick up one additional point of toughness than Yeti and potentially has 1-3 more attack points (the RNG drawback again). However, Fireguard was very underwhelming against Patron Warrior, it will and has done nothing against a Face Hunter’s onslaught, and misses the party altogether against Secret Paladins.

It has a 1 in 4 chance of side stepping shadow-word-death and 1/4 chance of ending up on the wrong side of big-game-hunter‘s shot gun. There is a 50% chance it will have no answer for mysterious-challenger when he emerges. Oh, and the dude who played the Yeti? We’ll he’ll smack your sticky buns with a 5-drop while you’re sitting pretty and your mana pool is all locked up unable to provide an answer.

Now, I’ll admit that there is an argument that Fireguard can make a decent splash in the Arena, but even then you’re still running the risk of losing tempo where it’s even more critical than in constructed play. The fact is you’ll almost always see Fireguard on the ladder and rarely if ever will he emerge in the Arena, because Shaman lacks consistency in the 4 mana slot.

Now, the alternate angle Blizzard tried to utilize to correct the Shaman’s deficiency is by getting rid of the Overload effect altogether via Lava Shock. For the price of 2 mana, you can completely eliminate the locks on your mana crystals both the turn you play it and the following turn. The problem is, this solution does nothing to address the primary problem: tempo loss. You’re still paying 2 mana!

Suppose you locked up your crystals on T4 with Lightning Storm, then used Lava Shock to unlock them, you still only have 2 available mana crystals to use on turn 4. Consequently, you still have no way of playing a 4-drop which equates to a loss in tempo and you’re still playing catch up in the following turns. Furthermore, Lava Shock itself is horribly inefficient when compared to similar cards within other hero classes many of whom have spells that deal 2 damage to any target for 1 mana, like holy-smite for example. Others have cards that’ll deal 2 damage for 2 mana, but will have an added benefit like slam. Lava Shock attempted to strengthen the Shaman class, but only managed to add more weakness through a mana-inefficient card. This is exactly the reason why even in Shaman decks that aspired to greater things like Bloodlust Shaman, Lava Shock continued to be left in one’s collection manager to sit and collect dust. First of all its a terrible card, and second any Hearthstone player worth their salt builds competitive Shaman decks and strive to completely avoid Overload altogether due to is crippling effect.

Overload Mechanic Problem #3: Blizzard’s Remedy (Part II: The TGT Fix)

Developers have realized that Shaman is in desperate need of an overhaul, however they keep trying to stop the hemorrhage with a Band-Aid. When The Grand Tournament expansion was released, along with it came cards like healing-wave (RNG and deck design dependant of course) and more Overload with totem-golem.

The Golem seems at surface value like a great card: 3/4 stats for a whopping low price of 2 mana. Easily, its the most stat heavy 2-drop minion in game, the exception being millhouse-manastorm and no one wants to see that bearded man unless its as a sighting at a piloted-shredder‘s funeral. Here again, the Totem Golem’s potential to be a viable card falls prey to the Overload mechanic, ending up really costing you 3 mana, and on T3 you’re still running a step behind, often only able to summon a hero power totem and hope you’re getting healing-totem to heal that Golem from the damage its taking from clearing out your opponents board. Additionally, just like Fireguard it still only ends up being a nice collection of stats with absolutely no ability except to hinder yours.

The Tourniquet Fix

I’ve always despised that brown-noser at work who can ambush the boss from the shadows with his almost super human ability to point out the problem with every policy and standard operating procedure with his pie in the sky claims he can do it better. If you notice that guy has a complete inability to offer any kind of solution, just blanket statements that red carpet will roll out and champagne will fall from heaven. I do not ever, under any circumstance want to be that guy.

I’ve addressed the problems, now here a couple of solutions I purpose. I’ve given these issue a lot of thought, in fact I’ve even scoured the web to sift through various forums placing my eye balls upon solutions others bring to the table. The top two fixes that make the most sense in my opinion also fall in line with my own train of thought.

Feel free to read on and find out how I can do it better.

The Tourniquet Fix #1: The Rollover Effect

One way we can counter the Overload mechanic is to implement an efficient change in how mana resources are spent. Simply leave the Overload mechanic the way it is, with one solitary change: allow the Shaman player the ability to rollover any unused mana crystals into his/her next turn. This would negate the loss of tempo (which in my opinion is the biggest problem with Overload) and simultaneously cause the player to choose how to wisely spend his mana. On the one hand, the Shaman player could crush every mana crystal during his turn on the utilization of those more value enriched Overload cards and suffer the penalty of tempo loss the following turn. However, the optional choice is to enable that Shaman player the opportunity to be rewarded if he can play his hand and still manage to escape his/her turn with floating mana still available in his pool. Those unused mana crystals would then be used to unlock the Overloaded ones the following turn, in a 1 for 1 exchange.

It would work something like this: should a Shaman player decide on turn 3, to field that wicked Totem Golem who carries with it that 1-mana crystal overload (plus the 2-mana cost for playing it) and plays nothing else and ends his/her turn, leaving behind a single unused mana crystal floating in his pool, on that subsequent turn 3 that one overloaded mana crystal in his pool will be unlocked leaving him with a 3-mana resource on turn 3 instead of two. (That was far too complicated to explain than I originally thought, hopefully it made sense). That extra mana crystal’s availability in this scenario doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it truly would make all the difference in the world, especially in the mid to late game.

I’m sure there will be some scenarios in which there will still be a slight loss of tempo in some situations, but there needs to be in order to offset the potency of the overwhelming powerful Overloaded cards in the Shaman’s card manager, just not to the ridiculously degree that currently exists. Adding this mechanic into the current game would provide the Shaman with more options as well as further interactivity with the hero power (furthering the interest of most inspire cards), and allow for better use of Overload cards in the mid-game.

The Tourniquet Fix #2: The Cool Down Effect

Okay, of my two purposed remedies this one is the lesser to be sure. It would work more like Overload version 2.0, however it’s a definite upgrade to the horrible, stunted effect currently in use. In my opinion, the need here is to balance out the Overload mechanic not totally be rid of it (although many of the Overload cards themselves needs an overhaul as well), and in the process restore some semblance of game tempo. Additionally, it would provide an upgraded cosmetic change to the Overloaded mana pool in the lower right hand corner of the Shaman’s screen.

It would function like this: anytime a Shaman player plays an Overload card, instead of the mana crystals becoming chained and locked up, they would swell and  bulge into an angry menacing, pulsing crystal of red energy. Every last mana crystal would still be available for use during subsequent turns, except with one caveat. For every Overloaded mana crystal the Shaman player uses during any of his following turns he takes 2 points of damage to the face. However, the option to bypass this penalty is available if that player allows one turn of playing nothing from his hand that would cause him to dip into those Overloaded crystals, and in doing so allows those mana crystals to “cool down”. After, that one turn of “cool down”, the mana pool goes back to normal until the player decides to utilize another Overload card.

The correct play is to clear the board with Lightning Storm on T3, but under the current system you’re severely handicapped on your following turn 4. This way you can clear that Face Hunter shenanigans and still drop that Piloted Shredder on your turn 4, while balancing the 4 damage points you take with your decision.

This remedy would make Overload a double decision; both choosing to play the card, and then choosing at what point during the game you can afford to let those mana crystals cool down. This solution is great for Shamans in the early AND late game; Overload isn’t too bad if you’re already ahead, and if your behind you can probably save more life by taking the damage points and securing the board.

Conclusion

As you can see Overlord cards, are significantly weaker than their direct counterparts and end up being more costly which is why they’re largely avoided in constructed play and a huge contributing factor behind the reason that Shaman has always been non-competitive. If this is ever going to change, Blizzard will need to take a serious look at revising the Overload Mechanic.

I’ve offered up some ideas to correct Shaman’s deficiencies and provide a better balance between the Overload penalty vs. game tempo, but I’d love to hear what you guys think. Feel free to leave me a comment, idea, or question down at the bottom of the page. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article as much as I did writing it. Until next we meet!