Weekly Legends: Banana Shaman

Let’s face it, the old Shaman decks just don’t cut it anymore. Not only do they get locked down by overload, but their starts are nowhere near as powerful as what Hunter and Paladin can do. As such, Shaman has been getting a lot of flak lately. The class was supremely hyped at the start of […]

Introduction

Let’s face it, the old Shaman decks just don’t cut it anymore. Not only do they get locked down by overload, but their starts are nowhere near as powerful as what Hunter and Paladin can do. As such, Shaman has been getting a lot of flak lately. The class was supremely hyped at the start of TGT, and now…well, now it hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations (or gotten anywhere close). Totem Golem is still a strong card, but it just  doesn’t quite have the power of Shielded Minibot or Darnassus Aspirant. That, combined with overload and a lack of boar clears, has once again squeezed Shaman into a tight corner. That being said, there is still lifeblood in this class. Wissoul proved that this week by taking the stock “board flood” style of Shaman and making some very powerful changes to alter it into a legend-worthy token build.

Shaman, despite all of its problems, has always lived by one truth: once you have board control it is very hard to lose the game. However, it’s getting board control that’s really difficult to do. The classic and totem Shaman builds are very strong on paper, but usually lack something in practice. This build alters the curve a little bit, and plays much more like Zoo than anything else. Yes, you don’t quite have the same aggressive power that the Warlock deck does, but you have a finisher in Bloodlust as well as a lot of minions that trade up really, really well. This deck is built in a way where, either through sheer power, sticky minions or totems, you are going to be able to keep something on the board. When that happens, you can then use those small minions to trade up, play the tempo game, and get into a position where you will eventually burst your opponent down.

Key Cards

Abusive Sergeant 

We start our discussion off with a very strong card that has never made it’s way into Thrall’s army, and after playing this deck I honestly have no idea why. Abusive Sergeant has been commonly seen as an aggressive card, but it does exactly what this deck wants to do. Two damage is not a lot in the scheme of things, but it gives you a reliable way to turn your totems and junk minions into threats. Combine that ability with the fact that this card can turn on things like Nerubian Egg and be combined with other buffs, and this card moves an average one drop into something you want to see almost every single game. Abusive Sergeant is one of the most versatile cards in Hearthstone, and that versatility translates even better into a deck that always has something to play on board.

Hearthstone is a game that, with the addition of TGT, has largely become about the early game. Just as with this deck, most top tier decks depend on snowballing from their early turns in order to win games. Sheilded Minibot is the new norm, and Darnassus Aspirant has also risen alongside the resurgence of Mech Mage. You simply cannot do nothing for your first turns anymore. Sitting back and waiting will lead to a quick loss. However, while there is a lot of strong, resilient early game in this deck, a lot of decks have cards with a little more health. Rockbiter Weapon gives you a great way to control the first turns of the game, and abusive fills in the rest of the gaps. Remember, this deck is predicated on always something on board, and even a 2/1 can pair with a Flametongue Totem to trade with a four or five drop if you need it.

Nerubian Egg

Haunted Creeper and Shielded Minibot are the king of the two drops these days, and Zoo is long gone. As such, Nerubian Egg has long faded into the days of Hearthstone past. However, that does not mean that this 0/2 is bad by any means. The deck currently runs a 1 Haunted Creeper/2 egg split, but know that those numbers can be adjusted as you like. However, a 4/4 for 2 is great, and a 4/4 for 2 that also kills a minion before it becomes a 4/4 is miles better. This card has always been solid in Shaman due to the influx of Defender of Argus and Rockbiter Weapon. However, the inclusion of Mukla’s Champion (more on that later) and Abusive Sergeant give you even more ways to turn this unassuming two drop into a threat. The egg is an incredibly strong card that, in a deck like Shaman, is extremely hard to ignore. Beyond that, this is perhaps the best tempo play in the game, and that is more than worth two slots.

Nerubian Egg has two modes, and you need to understand both. For the first, it can be used as a very powerful early game 4/4 that also can be used to trade into a minion. On the other hand, it also makes wonderful AOE deterrent, and can keep your board ahead. AOE (as will be elaborated on later) is one of the biggest problems for a deck like this. You need minions to win the game, but if you overextend into AOE you will most likely lose. This is true for many aggro decks, but is even more relevant with this style of tempo. Now, most people take the phrase “overextending” as not playing too many minions onto the board. That’s a big part of it, but it also means making sure your deathrattle or high health minions stay that way. Popping an egg might give you a 4/4 now, but then can your opponent clear your board in two turns? Or, is keeping the egg in its first form going to give you lethal after that turn seven Flamestrike? These are the questions you always want to keep in mind while you have an egg on board. Against most decks, you want to pop it early you should (Druid), but sometimes it is much more dangerous as a 0/2.

Loatheb

As aforementioned, AOE is the number one problem for this deck. Spot removal rarely does anything or merit, and most minions can be traded away or removed before they cause any real damage. However, if you extend too much, Flamestrike, Consecration and the like will simply ruin your day. There are ways to deal with this, such as being careful about what exactly you play or only popping your Nerubian Eggs or Haunted Creeper when absolutely necessary. However, Loatheb does a fine job as well.

Tempo is the name of the game with this deck. You want to set up early board, and then constantly trade-up while adding more minions to the field. Never underestimate what Loatheb can do, and always think of him turns ahead of when you will use him. A lot of Hearthstone comes from planning ahead. If you can plan Loatheb for turn five or six to cut down a clutch Consecration or Lay on Hands then you will be able to win that game most of the time. Stopping AOE is very important, but also shutting down a key piece of removal or lethal Fireball can get you that extra turn you need.

Bloodlust

Every Shaman deck needs a finisher. That is a fact that any Shaman player needs to acknowledge before teaming up with the elements. While most decks choose to run Al’akir the Windlord or Doomhammer, anytime you are going to spam minions onto the board, Bloodlust is always going to be your weapon of choice. Adding three damage to every minion adds up to lethal really, really quickly. Another important note is that, no matter how many minions you play, people rarely play around Bloodlust. They will always expect some sort of burst, but if they can’t plan for the extra damage to come on turn eight or so, or to come by the way of a swarm of minions, you will almost always be able to kill them before they can adequately prepare.

While Bloodlust is most often going to be lethal, it is also important to remember how well your minions trade. I compare this card a lot to Force of Nature/Savage Roar. It is a combo card that can kill your opponent from a very high life total, but it also can be used to trade in a pinch. Sometimes you just need to clear you an opponent’s board, or sometimes you to simply need to avoid dying. This card gives you the tools to do both. The value you can get from one swing with Bloodlust can drastically change the game in your favor, especially if you can clear but also leave something behind. Not only that, but the fact that Bloodlust costs five is also important, since you can clear and then drop something else after the dust settles.

Mukla’s Champion

We end the card discussion with the namesake of the deck, Mukla’s Champion. When the set first got revealed, this five-drop beast was overlooked by almost everyone (myself included). However, it has a lot of power, and can end games very, very quickly if it isn’t dealt with right away. In addition, not only can this card build you a very quick lethal in a pinch when you don’t have Bloodlust, but it also can allow you to make some really solid trades that your opponent did not plan for. Allowing your Piloted Shredder to trade into an Ancient of Lore, or having your Zombie Chow and Haunted Creeper being able to trade with Emperor Thaurissan can lead to a huge swing.

When looking at this card, a lot of people may ask, why not just run Thunder Bluff Valiant? That’s a very good question, since it’s also a five-psuedo-seven drop that buffs your board. The simple answer is, the champion is a lot less situational. A big shift in this list from traditional Shaman builds is that it shifts away from Totem Golem in favor of a more resilient, non-overload, opening. That cuts your totem count down by two, and makes thunder bluff much less powerful. The fact that Mukla’s Champion buffs everything on your field regardless of what it is, is extremely important. It may not seem like enough to simply give everything one attack, and truthfully it isn’t. However, the extra health can make a world of difference, and bring things out of AOE range should the need arise. This is not the most exciting card in the world, but it fills a much-needed hole.

Matchups

Secrets Paladin

This deck, while as popular as ever, is getting worse and worse as the days go on. Yes, it can still randomly steal games every now and then, but so can Face Hunter, and that’s a way more consistent deck. However, as Secret Paladin still remains popular, you need to be ready for it. This is perhaps the only matchup where you strictly want to play the board control game and do your best to stay alive at all costs. Paladin is still, no matter how many secrets they play or cards they draw, a deck that has almost zero burst. They usually depend on finishing you off through something like Blessing of Kings or Truesilver Champion to push through their finals bits of damage. Know this, always be aware of your life total, and use Defender of Argus if your life ever dips too low.

You need to identify exactly what type of secrets deck you are playing against early on. This is key, since you need to know if you are going to run into things like Mad Scientist and Leper Gnome, or if you are going to face Tirion Fordring and Sludge Belcher. If you are playing the slower deck, use Hex to deal with their larger threats. Against the aggressive builds, you want to rely on spot removal and buffs to clear early on. In either case, you want to have access to Lightning Storm, which should be kept at all costs. Once you know the five playable secrets, this matchup becomes a breeze. Just have answers for Avenge, stay out of Consecration range and have Hex at the ready just in case the challenger decides to rear its ugly head.

Dragon Priest

Tempo Storm’s power rankings aside, I fully believe that Dragon Priest is the most powerful deck in the game. Their curve is phenomenal, their minions are extremely strong, and they have answers for just about everything. That being said, how on earth do you win? The answer is Bloodlust. While Priest operates in a much more reactive way than most Priest decks, they are still very weak to burst. Priest is a deck that is built to kill off everything that comes their way, and slowly grind you down with a big minion or two. During this plan, there will be one or two critical turns where you will have a lot of minions before they AOE. These are the turns where you want to push damage through and pressure their life total as much as you can.

This is a matchup where you need to keep both Hex and Earth Shock to deal with Velen’s Chosen as soon as it comes down. That is the number one card in this match, and can really put you behind on board if you aren’t careful. The other card you need to be wary of is Cabal Shadow Priest. Board control is the name of the game in this matchup, as you and the Priest both live off of it. If you can trade up early and get them into the “one card a turn” trap, you should be ok. Even most of their AOE is pretty weak to your boards, especially if they are filled with totems. However, as soon as you start to slip or let them drop a big minion down that you can’t answer, the game is going to fall out of your favor really, really quickly. Do everything in your power to prevent his from happening.

Midrange Hunter

Yep. Hunter…Yay. While I have been working hard to construct (another) new, exciting Hunter build, many people have been simply suiting up with old reliable and cruising up the ladder. Despite my obvious bitterness regarding this matter, this deck still is good. Very good. Hunter will always be strong due to the fact that they can pressure your life total better than any other class in the game. No matter how they play or what cards they drop down, Hunter is going to kill you with damage. Know that you cannot race them. Kill Command, Quick Shot and Eaglehorn Bow can still drop you to death out of nowhere, and unless you know you have lethal the next turn and they don’t, you never want to risk dying just because you wanted to ignore their Savannah Highmane. Hex is a premium card in this match. You should save it for Savannah Highmane and Dr. Boom. Nothing else. If you burn it too early, those two cards are going to ruin your day come turn six or seven. Of course, you can Hex something for early control, but always have those two in the back of your mind when you do.

I know I have said this probably a hundred times throughout this series, but you need to pressure Midrange’s Hunter’s life total to have a shot. It’s really the only way to beat them, since they will eventually wear you down given enough time. However, once they sit back on their heels and start using their big minions to clear the board, you should be fine. Besides watching out for highmanes and damage, you also want to be aware of traps. Freezing Trap is the most common, and it is also the easiest to play against. Simply check with your small minions or things that have solid battlecries like Defender of Argus. However, when checking for traps keep an eye out for both Explosive Trap and Snake Trap. Of course, you never want to trigger Eaglehorn Bow if you can help it, but it is always better to get a trap out of the way rather than sitting back and giving them extra turns to run out cards.

Control Warrior

I am not sure who gave the “ok” to Control Warrior to come back onto the ladder, but they did, and with a lot of armor. Warrior has always been a strong deck that relies on longevity and big minions to get to the end of the game. This plan has just gotten stronger with the addition of both Bash and Justicar Trueheart. However, as strong as Warrior has become, you are still greatly favored in this matchup. Warrior has long depended on efficient spot removal to win games. Most of your threats are either too sticky or too low impact to really warrant that premium removal. This makes it very hard for your opponent to play out his game plan, and they will often save their big plays for threats that aren’t coming.

The two cards that are most important in this matchup are Hex and Brawl. You need to watch out for Brawl by trying to force them to Brawl boards that you have committed very little resources to. For instance, a couple of argus’d totems or perhaps two Tuskarr Totemics. The cards that give the illusion of cards while not actually putting out all that much. This will let you recoup following the board clear and stick to your game plan. You can also combat this by keeping your eggs in their 0/2 form as well. On the other side of removal, you need to be very careful with Hex. It is a last resort card, and should only be used on absolute must-kill-now things that you cannot get rid of by any other means. Sylvanas Windrunner and wildcards like Sneed’s Old Shredder are the only things that must be Hexed on sight. Beyond that, see if you can do lethal damage to Dr. Boom or Ragnaros the Firelord before it becomes a frog.

Mech Mage

Beep boop beep. It has been a long time since the mechs have reigned supreme on ladder, but Paladin and Warrior have caused them to rise from the mechanical, oil-covered ashes. While it can be a little unnerving to see this deck again, know there are no surprises here. This deck does exactly what it has always done, controls the board in order to kills you very, very quickly. The secrets package is long gone, and so is Mad Scientist. Instead, they mostly rely on Mana Wyrm and Unstable Portal to provide extra threats in the early game. Never forget about your life total and make sure to count their damage potential as well as burn they have used. Every Frostbolt and Fireball that is used as removal is less damage you have to worry about later on. Hex is also a very strong option, and can deal with some of their larger, late-game threats. Almost every Mech Mage runs Fel Reaver these days, and that’s something you should be aware of turn five and on.

Just with Paladin, you want to clear every single thing Mech Mage plays as soon as they play it. Luckily for us, clearing is exactly what this deck does. Mech Mage relies on fast minions and a lot of card interaction in order to win games. You can interrupt this plan by starting out fast and gumming up the board as much as you can. Removal is very strong here, Lightning Storm wrecks them, and they usually have no answer to a strong 1,2,3 curve. Even just putting out some small minions or totems can quickly bring them to their knees when combined with any of your buffs. The most important note is at a certain point they will begin to pump out large minions. If you are behind by that point, the game is usually over. However, if you come out swinging, even Dr. Boom won’t be able to stop your board.

Mulligan Guide

This is not a deck that can take a bad mulligan. What I mean by that is, you cannot afford to sit back until turn four making totems. If you do that you will die, and you will die hard. The goal of mulliganing with this deck is to come out of the gates as fast as possible. All of the small minions are “must keeps”. That means you want to keep Zombie Chow, Abusive Sergeant, Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg whenever you can. If you have those cards, or any other strong early game, then you also want to keep buffs such as Flametongue Totem or Rockbiter Weapon. This deck is built on the back of your first turns, and you should always send everything back when searching for those first plays. However, if you do have early game cards, Tuskarr Totemic is also a great keep to make.

Looking beyond the “must keeps”, Shaman is a deck that runs a lot of situational cards. These are the cards that are important to understand when building a strong mulligan. Hex is only kept against Druid, since it is the only way to deal with an early Innervate. Earth Shock should only be kept against Paladin and Hunter, while Rockbiter Weapon is good if you have anything to pair with it (Nerubian Egg) or if you are playing against a class that has a strong turn two play like Darnassus Aspirant or Knife Juggler. It is also a great keep against Priest since it immediately deals with their one drops. With the coin, Tuskarr Totemic and Mana Tide Totem are very strong openings. Lightning Storm is a must keep against any aggro deck you face. Piloted Shredder or Defender of Argus can also be kept if you have early plays before them, and if you have the coin. Without the coin, your four drops and up should never be kept as they cost too much.

Conclusion

There it is. A legend Shaman list. I always try to give the unused classes a little love, and I have wanted to bring Thrall to this series for some time. Not just to show you guys that it is possible to bring any class to legend, but also that you should never give up brewing. Just because a deck isn’t working right now, or just because it isn’t coming together in the way you want, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Try, try and try again. There are countless strategies in this wonderful game, it is up to you to find them. Hopefully next week I will be bringing a brew of my own to the table, and I cannot wait. Until then, leave me comments and questions below and, as always, may you always roll the totem you need the most.