Weekly Legends: Control Shaman

For those who have been following me since the early days of The Brewmaster, you know how much I love the idea of Control Shaman. So you know, when I saw someone took one of my all-time favorite archetypes to legend I instantly jumped on the train. In my opinion, what makes Control Shaman more […]

Introduction

For those who have been following me since the early days of The Brewmaster, you know how much I love the idea of Control Shaman. So you know, when I saw someone took one of my all-time favorite archetypes to legend I instantly jumped on the train. In my opinion, what makes Control Shaman more fun than other traditional control decks is that you get to play way cooler minions. Since LOE, most control decks have focused on slowly grinding their opponent down to fatigue and then winning the long game. This lists fights against that by winning the game with a really nice blend of powerful threats and big finishers that your AOE cards and healing keep you alive long enough to get down. In that way, this deck is very similar to Ramp Druid.

Today’s deck, while control in practice, is more of a mashup of heavy control and Crusher Shaman. That is to say you are using massive healing and AOE to lock down the game, but you are going to win with a near-constant stream of big threat after big threat. And my, does this deck play a lot of big threats. It is very rare to see a list these days loaded up with high-cost or high-damage threats, but this deck is absolutely jam-packed with them. Yes, that does make you weaker to aggo, but you have some very solid healing and AOE at your disposal. Once you start off the minion train you should be able to just out-power every single deck in the game. However, getting there is not easy. While this deck is flashy, you need to understand how the more subtle, easily-overlooked cards pilot if you want to win with it.

Key Cards

Ancestral Spirit

We begin this week with an odd, but strong card in Ancestral Spirit. It has been a long time since people have attempted to use this strange spell in Shaman, but when played at the right time it can be a straight up game winner. What makes this card interesting to play is that you are going to use it differently depending on your matchup and the situation at hand. Against control you typically just want to place this on any large minion to force your opponent to use several spells to take it down. For example, getting this on a Flamewreathed Faceless versus Control Warrior means they are going to have to spend an Execute or Shield Slam plus another spell to remove it rom the board. In that way you can grind down their hand and slowly run them low on cards, which then sets up for your real finishers to take over the game.

On the other hand, when you’re facing aggro you want to save this for a taunt to eat as much damage as you possibly can. Your two primary targets are Earth Elemental and Thing from Below. Giving either of those Ancestral Spirit is going to pretty much lock aggro out or force them to use almost all of their resources to clear. Once that happens, you then have free reign to heal up or slam down a huge minion depending on the situation. You can also use spirit as a pseudo-removal spell where you play it on a huge threat and trade it into another minion to give you a full heal and remove their board. Though that is less common, understand how strong this can be and try to get as much value of it as you can. Also remember that Faceless Manipulator copies the Ancestral Spirit buff as well.

Lava Shock/Eternal Sentinel

While this pair is very self-explanatory, I bring them up to illustrate just how important balancing your overload is in this list. You have a lot of overload here, and getting too locked down can lead to some very quick losses. You need to always check your mana and try to balance it around cards like Elemental Destruction, Flamewreathed FacelessAncestral Knowledge and Lightning Storm. Lava Shock and Eternal Sentinel are both great at making sure you stay on curve, but you want to save them for the right turns. Sometimes you are going to overload and it isn’t going to affect you, either because you will still be able to play cards the following turn or because your opponent isn’t threatening you. Other times, where you need these cards, you are going to overload for too much or succumb to pressure if you miss a key turn. Know the difference between those turns and try and recognize how important it will be to have mana the turn after you lock down your mana crystals. That will then tell you if you need to unlock them.

Note: While the original list ran two Eternal Sentinels, I am running one to open up the list for Stormcrack.

Elemental Destruction

There’s AOE, and then there’s AOE. Elemental Destruction is an absolute blow-out card that comes down and crushes just about every card in the game. This thing is a better Flamestrike that hits for the low, low price of three mana. Even with the gigantic overload price (which can be offset) that cost gives you a ton of flexibility. You can clear the early board if your are being run over by a fast deck, but you can also use it later on to clear out your opponent’s board and put down a huge minion in the same turn. A lot of the time you need to get as much value out of this as possible to win the game. Most of your opponent’s will try to play around it once they understand your deck, so try and wait that extra turn if you can afford to. This helps you hit as many minions as you possibly can.

When setting up Elemental Destruction you always need to calculate how its going to affect your next turn. Locking down five mana can be back-breaking, but it isn’t as bad if you plan ahead. While you are almost always going to only play this when you can also offset the overload, you are not always going to have that luxury. In that way, the best time to play this without Lava Shock is on turn seven. The reason is that you will have three mana open the following turn, allowing you to play Lightning Storm or Hex depending on what your opponent does. However, you also can tank a turn if your opponent is a slower deck, or if they are out of cards. You always need to assess the situation at hand and weigh clearing the board against losing (or almost losing) your next turn.

Earth Elemental

One of Shaman’s most iconic minions, Earth Elemental never really found a spot in the game due to the fast meta as well as the presence of Big Game Hunter. However, now that the meta has shifted to tempo and the Hunter was hit by the big nerf hammer in the sky, this card can give you some extreme value when used at the right time. As a control deck jam-packed with a ton of strong minions, your whole goal is to just stay alive as long as you possibly can. This card does that because, not only does it put up an eight health wall, but your opponent is going to have to expend some resources getting rid or it. That means you are either going to burn your opponent’s cards or eat their damage. Both of those buy you time and help protect your health.

The biggest part of playing Earth Elemental is knowing when to use it. Three overload can hurt a lot, especially during turns five or six where you really need access to your mana. The reason that setback hurts so much more than Elemental Destruction is because you are not actually removing anything, you are just playing a minion. If this gets removed immediately then you lost three mana and did nothing to impact the board. You do not just want to run this card out whenever you can, you want to be strategic and try to bait out removal before you play it. For example, wile this can crush Zoo or force them to use their whole hand to trade, it gets nullified by Power Overwhelming. Always try to bait out the one mana buff on one of your other strong minions before playing the 7/8 if possible. That will turn this into the trump card that it is supposed to be.

Chromaggus/Ysera

While there are a ton of big minions I could have chosen to cover here, Chromaggus and Ysera are the most important. You have many ways to combat aggro in this list, but fighting against control is a lot trickier. These cards help with that by giving you endless strings of card advantage that will bury your opponent if they don’t have an immediate answer. Due to your high density of threats, your opponent is going to spend most of the game removing different cards from the board. This helps to push your later game and sets up your finishers quite nicely. Once your opponent has spent their spot removal on your early threats, you slam one of these and sit back while they take over the game. There is not a control deck around that can handle you drawing a dream card or copying a card each turn.

Each of the dragons can win the game on their own. For that reason, you want to work really hard to set them up on an empty board or in a situation where your opponent cannot remove them. Every deck in the game has some form of big minion removal. You can have your dragons dodge that by running out early threats like Thing from Below and Flamewreathed Faceless into set removal to clear up your later turns. As a Shaman, your opponents are going to fear any damage they take. Even when they see you are a slower deck, most people are going to respect a possible Doomhammer or similar burst. That means they are going to do whatever they can to get rid of any big minions your play. By the time you get to your dragons they should be out of the resources they need to clear them.

Matchups

The five decks I see the most when playing ladder.

Control Warrior

In today’s world, Warrior is king. Though there are many different Garrosh decks at the top of the game right now, Control Warrior is by far the most popular. The armor heavy deck fights really well against most of the meta, but what they cannot fight is an endless stream of powerful threats. For that reason, this should be a relatively easy win for you. This is a game where you just run out as much power as you can and see what your opponent can do. Warrior is a reactive deck and they will make sure to take out every minion they see. You just want to keep forcing their hand over and over again until you can put down a dragon to seal the deal. Don’t worry about their armor or how much life they have, you will win the long game.

The most important part of this matchup is making the most out of Ancestral Spirit and Faceless Manipulator. While you do not have to use both together (though that can really take over a board) you always want to make sure you are getting as much value from these cards as you can. Faceless is great at giving you another big minion, and you should not be afraid to copy your opponent’s finisher (especially when you can also remove it in the same turn). In addition, you are going to use Ancestral Spirit on any big minion. That can be a Flamewreathed Faceless, but it can also be Ragnaros the Firelord. It doesn’t matter as long it is a solid body that Warrior is going to have to kill twice. Getting down a timely spirit is the best way to win the card advantage game.

Tempo Dragon Warrior

The second Warrior deck in our five, Tempo Dragon Warrior is an aggressive list that makes a living off fast damage and a strong curve. Though very much winnable, this matchup is going to trickier than Control Warrior because you can get overrun if you aren’t careful. The way you win this game is making the most of your healing and taunts. Dragon has a lot of ways to do sudden damage and you need to be aware of them all. Kor’kron Elite, Alexstrasza’s Champion, Fiery War Axe, Grommash Hellscream, Blackwing Corruptor and Malkorok all represent immediate sources of damage out of hand, as does Ragnaros the Firelord. Be aware of what your opponent has played and be defensive depending on what they have left at their disposal.

Your advantage here is your sheet number of threats. Dragon Warrior only has two true removal spells at their disposal in their Executes. Beyond that, they have a very hard time killing big minions. You want to play this matchup in two stages. During the early turns you just want to remove anything your opponent puts down and keep them from gaining any real traction. Then, you want to slam down as many minions as you can to make it so they have to use their cards on your board. Once that happens they will stop worrying about doing damage and keep you in control of priority. You want Dragon Warrior to be on their heels, so do what you can to make them the reactive one. In addition, also remember to save your premium removal for their end-game threats if you can. No reason to Hex a Kor’kron Elite when you’re about to face down Rag.

Aggro Shaman

Still hanging around the edges of the meta, Aggro Shaman is enough of a problem that you need to prepare for it. While at first glance it may seem like you should crush Shaman, this matchup is not so easy. Shaman has a lot of real threats that are hard to remove and they also have a lot of ways to flood the board or rebound after AOE. For these reasons, this match is never going to be over until you have stabilized to the point where there is no way Shaman can cobble together surprise lethal. In this game you want to forget about big minions and just focus on the best way to use your mana. No deck will punish you harder for overloading than Shaman. You need to be aware of your removal options in hand and plan out what each one is going to be used for. This will enable you take the least amount of damage possible and live to your win condition of Earth Elemental/Ancestral Spirit.

You are going to play this game as strict control. Remove everything you see, always try to get taunts down, and do what you can to not die. Though it is easy to think you’ve stabilized, Shaman has near endless direct damage as well as Doomhammer. A ton of their damage goes around taunts and the hammer can bring you down ten or sixteen life out of nowhere. Like Dragon Warrior, you constantly need to calculate the damage that Shaman has used and how much they have left. This will tell you how important clearing is and when you need to heal. Beyond that, you always need to look for a window to drop a big threat. Not only do they trade well, but Shaman is going to have to use their precious burn to get rid of them. That takes damage off of your face and also runs your opponent low on cards.

Deathrattle Miracle Rogue

Though it is a shell of what it once was, Miracle Rogue is alive and well. However, instead of going all-in on spells and draw, the new versions favor the N’zoth version packed with deathrattle cards like Journey from Below and Undercity Huckster. Though the shell is still built around Gadgetzan Auctioneer drawing a bunch of cards with Preparation, they are much more a high-density tempo deck than a traditional combo list. You need to start slamming your big minions as early as you can to force Rogue to run out their removal and use their cards. Play this similar to control Warrior where you just keep running out minions until you overpower your opponent. The only card you need to watch out for is Sap. Never play Ancestral Spirit if you think your opponent has one in hand. Also, bait out the two mana spell before playing Earth Elemental.

This game falls in your favor as long as you can make the most out of your spot removal and AOE. While most decks no longer run Cold Blood, you still want to be careful about letting any Rogue minion live. The class has a lot of burst at their disposal so the more minions you kill the better chance you have of. The big card you want to watch out for is N’zoth, the Corruptor. The Old God will bring back more than a few minions, allowing your opponent to gain lethal damage from nowhere. Always save AOE for that turn. Since none of your opponent’s minions can bring something back when they die, one Elemental Destruction or two Lightning Storms usually neutralize their ending push.

Midrange Hunter

Midrange Hunter is a deck that fluctuates greatly in popularity, but make no mistake that they are a real threat. This entire game is going to come down to resource management and knowing how to use your removal. For example, you need to have Hex ready for Savannah Highmane, and you also need to get your AOE by turn eight to respond to Call of the Wild. Those type of plays are how you win the game, so you need to do what you can to make them happen. However, also know that you should try to take as little damage as possible. Saving Hex for the Highmane won’t matter if you’re dead on turn five. Unlike most classes, Hunter can race your big minions. They have a ton of burst and will wear you down with their hero power. You need to combat that by making the most of your healing and removing every card they get down. Clearing is priority number one in this match. Also try to hit your hero power as much as you can. Not only will that cheapen Thing from Below, but it will increase your chances of getting a taunt totem on the board to stop surprise taunts.

Mulligan Guide

This is a deck where you only need to mulligan for a few cards. The overall rule here is to never keep any of your five-plus drops with the exception of Thing from Below, which you can keep from time to time if you are facing a deck where you are going to have a totem-heavy opening. You mainly only want to look for all of your cheap removal, AOE and Ancestral Knowledge. Things like Healing Wave are often too situational for this type of list that needs those early kill spell to stay alive. Always keep Lightning Storm, Stormcrack, Lava Shock and Lightning Bolt. Eternal Sentinel can be kept if you have a lot of heavy overload and Elemental Destruction should always be kept with Lava Shock or Sentinel.

Conclusion

Control Shaman! I have spent so much time messing with this archetype and its so awesome that someone had success with it. Shaman has always had the right tools for heavy control, and this list seems to be optimal for the time being. I think this is a great way to satisfy that “wacky deck” feeling while also being competitive. I hope it brings you success and I hope your summer is going well. Until next time, may your Lightning Storms always roll high.