Greetings one and all. Lately (and by that I mean last week) I discussed the idea of going back to the roots. To the classic days of Hearthstone, when Hunters could draw ten cards for four mana, Warriors ruled the streets (if you could afford them) and Druid’s taunt capabilities were a force to be reckoned with. That is, I wanted to take Weekly Legends and cover some of the more classic decks this game has to offer. While it is always nice to brew, and while it is always good to be looking at the next best thing, sometimes it helps just to be really good to go back to the basics. I find that many people have trouble climbing the ladder because they are either missing fundamentals, or just never grasped the base of a deck. Enter raQQoon; a player who recently hit legend with a classic Shaman build that would make Fight Night proud. There is nothing too crazy going on here, but Shaman is one of the most under-powered classes in the game, and you can learn a lot from someone who the elements all the way to the orange diamond.
This week’s decklist is a great example of two very important lessons every player should learn. One, it reveals a simple, bare-bones way to play Hearthstone, balancing both creature combat and spell rationing (more on that later). Secondly, it also shows the importance of evolving. While there are some skeptics who will say that changing a card or two in a deck doesn’t make it new, it really does. This version of Shaman takes the shell that everyone knows and loves, and makes one small alteration (adds a lot of taunt) which gives it the staying power it truly needs. Shaman has always been fine in the slower Midrange or Control matchups, but aggro is one of the biggest problems the class has. The increased taunt allows you to stay alive longer, and lets you play stronger cards (like Sludge Belcher) in lieu of weaker healing cards like Antique Healbot. Some of you may laugh, others may be skeptical, but there are all things to improve on when it comes to Hearthstone, and this deck will show you why.
This is the first legend Shaman deck I have seen in months that runs two Earth Shock, and that is very important to note. While this is not the most impactful card in the game, it is one of the most important in the deck. Can you imagine if Warrior had this card? Thrall, like Garrosh, depends on solid removal to get rid of minions. You only have one form of AOE (and an unreliable one at that) but you have solid removal spells and ways to trade up your minions. For this reason, Earth Shock is a great no-nonsense to make sure those trades stick. Earth Shock has two modes. The first is to remove the early game minions that you don’t want to deal with. While it is rarely going to get paired with spellpower, especially because this deck forgoes Bloodmage Thalnos, it is ok to simply turn off a Nerubian Egg, Mad Scientist, Imp Gang Boss or the like.
The important thing to remember about Earth Shock is spell reservation. That is to say, this deck depends on knowing how and when to use your removal. Lightning Storm should only be saved for boards that desperately need to be cleared, Hex should only be used as a very last resort, and Earth Shock should only be saved for minions that you need to silence. Ok, so what does that mean? That means, you need to break down each situation, analyze the board, and then decide exactly how the game will play out based on whether or not you silence something. For instance, let’s say you’re playing Midrange Hunter and they have a Mad Scientist on turn two. Most people will instantly shock the scientist. This is a fine play, but it often not right. Why? Because you are going for the long game, you know that Midrange Hunter has much scarier threats coming. Piloted Shredder, Sludge Belcher and Savannah Highmane (if you don’t have Hex) all need to be silenced more than a scientist. So then, the question becomes, can you trade? If shock kills the scientist, then it could be a good tempo play, but leaving a 2/1 on board just to avoid Freezing Trap (which usually doesn’t hurt you anyway) is not worth it. This may seem like a lot of thinking, but it is these type of plays that will help you down the road and make sure you don’t lose to a turn six Highmane.
Rockbiter Weapon is very similar to Hex, which I have already covered numerous times in my Shaman guides. That means, you need to be able to know how Rockbiter is going to be used in each match. The one mana removal has three forms, and you need to understand each one. First, it can be used as early removal, getting rid of a almost every turn one or two minion in the game. Second, it also allows your minions to trade up, and triggers your Nerubian Eggs (which if often the best case scenario). Finally, whether you are running the windlord or Doomhammer, Rockbiters often serve as ways to kill your opponent.
Understanding the above modes is very key. You almost always want to trade up with eggs against any deck that doesn’t run AOE, but Rockbiter is almost always going to be some type of tempo play, ighting back against aggro or killing midgame minions with some of your smaller creatures. A three damage buff is nothing to sneeze at, and anytime a Zombie Chow trades with a Sludge Belcher, that’s a win for you. Just with Earth Shock, you want to try and analyze when to use Rockbiter based on how important it is. Since this deck wins through controlling the board, it is best to always look for tempo plays. However, there are some games where you will either be pushing for lethal, or you will need to burst to win (because your opponent’s health is too high). In those situations, you need to think about just how important the burst is to winning. If you absolutely need it to win, then don’t use Rockbiters to clear since you are going to lose without them anyway. However, if you can play the long game, always point them at the board.
Arcane Nullifier X-21
Beyond Sludge Belcher, Arcane Nullifier X-21 is the only “strange” card in this deck. This brings up one of my larger points. With no Powermace in the deck, Arcane Nullifier X-21 simply serves as a 2-5 Faerie Dragon with taunt. Yet, it is this one card that makes all the difference. If you can manage to combine this card with Defender of Argus, it suddenly becomes a 3/6 that is impossible to remove, but even if you can’t get the buff it still acts as a great aggro-stopper. That goes double when it curves right into Sludge Belcher. This card does get hit hard by Ironbeak Owl, which is why you also have access to your other taunts, but most aggro decks only run one owl. If you can bait them out early, it will set up your late game quite well.
Arcane Nullifier X-21 may seem like a rather trivial card, but having a turn four play that does a great job at protecting your life total, really makes this deck viable. You may have an inclination to run Powermace as well, but that is both not necessary and not worth it. Rather, this is just a great example of how one minor change can fix a deck’s problem. RaQQoon understood the heart of what made Shaman weak, and then used one of the most resilient taunts in the game to fix it. This is not the greatest or most innovative change that has ever been made, but when exploring your decks always try and keep moves like this in mind. What does your deck lose to? What is the weak link? If you can find the answer to this and fix it (as shown here) you will be able to shoot up the rankings.
This deck, while strictly midrange in both form and play style, needs a finisher. Shaman does not have a lot of card draw outside of Mana Tide Totem and Azure Drake. As such, you will mostly depend on one last push to win the game. I bring up this card just to say that you can use any finisher you want here. I have a long-standing and very public feud with Al’Akir the Windlord, so I do not put him in my decks. Though, if he is more your style, then that’s fine. It should be noted, due to the high volume of small and resilient minions, Bloodlust is also great in this spot. I prefer something that goes a little bit longer, and since you are running two Rockbiter Weapons, going for the Windfury seems an easy route. To each their own. I merely mention the hammer to highlight how important burst is, and to know you do want some type of finisher in this deck.
While the original deck ran Al’Akir the Windlord (a card I openly despise) I much prefer Neptulon as my game ender of choice. While it is true that the Windlord is very strong at killing people from 12 or 15 life, without Rockbiter Weapon it is one of the most overcosted and underwhelming cards in the game. On the other hand, Neptulon gives you a great, giant minion that is strong against both aggro and control. The Murlocs serve as a second wave against Control decks, letting you push for damage past their early removal AOE, and also lets you fill the board against more aggresive opponents. That versatility is a good enough reason to run him.
Simply running the eight mana 3/5 also makes Dr. Boom the only Big Game Hunter target in the deck. It does not matter what the meta is like, or how much ladder is filled with Zoo, Hunter or Patron, every deck is going to have a Big Game Hunter on the off chance they run into boom. Not only that, but they will almost always have one in hand when you play the doctor. Neptulon gives you another target, which can either set up Dr. Boom to be come down unmolested or, if boom is already dead, you have a little more free range with Neptulon. Also, like the doctor, when Neptulon gets hunted down by BGH, it is not the end of the world due to the amount of value he gives you.
Control Warrior is not just gone at the higher ranks, I’m pretty sure someone took it out behind the woodshed and put a bullet in its skull. Patron Warrior has exploded over the last couple of days, recording for more than half of my games. This is good and bad for two reasons. One, it makes it so you don’t have to deal with Control Warrior, which can be really tough, grindy games. But two, it means you have to be very careful when and how you play your minions. For those who follow my series, you know I am a huge proprietor of the phrase “never play afraid”. That mindset will win you more games than you lose, but when you’re facing Patron, it is good to be afraid. If you’re not, you will most surely die on turn eight.
As a Shaman, you have a lot of small minions (and one %$$#% totem) that gives them more Grim Patrons. These are all great during turns 1 through 7, but as soon as that ends, you need to be very careful. Most Patron lists do not run Grommash Hellscream these days, which means they are only going to have to face down two waves of the combo. Unfortunately, two waves is almost always going to be enough to kill you. A big thing to remember about Patron Warrior is that they really don’t need you to get lethal. They have more than enough combo pieces to do thirty on their own with things such as Frothing Beserker, Warsong Commander and Unstable Ghoul. However, more often than not Patron will be their call to victory. The only real way you have to beat this is through Lightning Storm, which should be saved when they try to go all in. Azure Drake should also be saved to play with the storm, since getting low rolls can also lose you the game. The goal here is to control the board early, take out their minions, and play around the combo late by only playing big minions.
Holy Hunter, Batman! While Face Hunter truly seems to be gone (at least until the next expansion) Midrange is everywhere on the ladder these days. When I’m not playing against Patron Warrior, I’m usually playing against this deck. This is very bad news for many people, but it is fantastic news for us. Even with all the taunt, Face Hunter is one of the most difficult matchups in the game for Shaman. However, now that they are on the back burner, you can assume that most of the Hunters these days are Midrange. These matchups are based around board control, but it usually comes down to two cards: Hex and Earth Shock. The amount of taunt you have access to will almost always keep their smaller minions at bay, but you need to watch out for Dr. Boom, Piloted Shredder and Savannah Highmane. While Dr. Boom is a great Hex target, Savannah Highmane is public enemy number one. You always want to save Hex for the lion, and use your spare removal and minions to deal with everything else. Earth Shock is also good in a pinch, allowing you to trade without worrying about deathrattle, and has the added ability to shut down things that get buffed by Houndmaster.
One last thing to remember, even against midrange you need to watch out for Unleash the Hounds. Most often, through either board control or your hero power, you are going to have a lot of minions on the board. Unleash the Hounds/Knife Juggler will burn you, and it will burn you bad. The best way to clock this matchup is to count all of their cards. Normally, you don’t need to keep such careful track of such things, but here it is vital. Houndmaster, Savannah Highmane, traps, Eaglehorn Bow and Dr. Boom all need to be played around with specific removal or minions on the board, while Kill Command and Quickshot need to be tracked so you know how close you are to dying. Always be aware of how close you are to dying, but sneak through damage when you can. You have no access to healing, so you typically want to stall, grab board and then burst them before they can kill you.
Remember the good old days when Malylock was the rage? I do, and I also remember when Warlock’s tried to win games with honest combos, not swarms of endless, impossible-to-kill minions. Zoo is back this week, and you better get ready for a grind fest. Zoo is a deck that starts fast and never stops. Earth Shock and Hex are absolutely essential here, and should be kept on sight. While Hex is usually for things like a late game Dr. Boom or Doomguard, this is the one matchup where you can use it for tempo. That is because, you need to deal with cards such as Voidcaller or Knife Juggler before they take over the game.
The basic rule of Zoo is the same it has always been: don’t let them have minions. You have access to a good amount of early game, and if you can match them punch for punch, you will almost always win in the long run. Arcane Nullifier X-21 is fantastic here, and will usually give you a very solid four drop that is not at risk for dying to Imp-losion. Lightning Storm is one of the best tools you have access to for this matchup, but you need to be very careful when using it. They have many strong, resilient minions. and you want to try and drop the AOE when they don’t have any Haunted Creepers or Nerubian Eggs out. The last rule is to know they have two Power Overwhelming. That card is their best way to deal with your taunt, but it is also one of their best ways to get lethal. Just be aware it exists, and count when they use it to see how in danger you are of dying.
Tempo Mage reminds me a lot of the original beast-centric Midrange Hunter deck. It was good once upon a time, and that nostalgia is keeping people from jumping ship even though the kitchen’s on fire and the band is playing. However, unlike that old beast Hunter deck, this deck is taking a lot longer to die. That being said, Tempo Mage still has that aggro deck charm where it can run you over if you’re not careful. Unlike Hunter or Zoo, which usually depend on a key spell or two to push past taunts, Tempo Mage has two Frostbolts and two Fireballs. Those cards add up to lethal very, very quickly. As such, you need to minimize damage every chance you get. Your mid-game taunts are great for this, but they usually get going in the first turns.
Unlike Hunter, where you can live with a Mad Scientist, the two drop should be Earth Shock[/card]ed on sight here. Mirror Entity and Counterspell can both cause you fits, and even end the game in some cases. There is no reason to worry about them if you can avoid it. Of course, Hex is strictly for Dr. Boom, Archmange Antonidas and Sylvanas Windrunner, but Earth Shock can be used on Antonidas or Sylvia if you have the board. This is not a deck that does well when you shut down their opening turns, and once you do that you should be in control for the rest of the game. If you can’t start out that strong, try and get the most from your taunts, and always, always be hyper-aware of your life total.
As everyone looks the other way, Druid is slowly creeping back to the ladder. It is not the most popular deck, though it will probably continue to increase in popularity as the weeks go on, but it is very good. However, as with all Druid lists since the dawn of time, they cannot handle Shaman. This is a very easy matchup, and actually takes some very bad luck to lose. While Druid does have access to the combo as a form of burst, you have too many threats and tempo plays. Not only that, but adding Arcane Nullifier X-21 and Sludge Belcher (both of which laugh off Swipe and Wrath) made the matchup even more in our favor.
Unlike Hunter, which punishes you for having a ton of minions, Druid cannot keep up with a full board. They have zero AOE, and typically have no way to deal with something as simple as a mass of totems. Rockbiter Weapon and Flametongue Totem are both fantastic in this match. Druid largely depends on undercosted (or Innervated) minions to keep control of the board. Those cards, along with Hex and Earth Shock, help you easily keep their board clear while adding to your own. If you just make sure they don’t have minions and keep your health out of combo reach, this game should fall exactly how you want it to.
This deck, besides teaching a great lesson about deck building and fundamentals, is also a great throwback on how to mulligan.
Shaman was the first foray back into some of the more classic decks and strategies, and I hope you learned something. While I may not just cover an old deck every week, it is good to always remember the fundamentals. Evolution is very important to this game, and always know there are ways to improve a list. That’s it for me this week, but I’ll see you guys next time when I get back to my usual brews. Until them, may you always roll Wrath of Air Totem.