Weekly Legends: Go BIG Shaman

It’s climbing week here on Weekly Legends. While I always play the decks I cover, they usually aren’t my main deck. So, while I’ll use them to climb a few ranks, my “off stream” (for lack of a better word) decks are a lot more all over the place. However, this week I am switching […]

Introduction

It’s climbing week here on Weekly Legends. While I always play the decks I cover, they usually aren’t my main deck. So, while I’ll use them to climb a few ranks, my “off stream” (for lack of a better word) decks are a lot more all over the place. However, this week I am switching things up and covering a deck that I have played a ton of over the past week and a half in Go Big Shaman. As everyone knows, I love Shaman. In fact, it’s probably my favorite class. I like the mechanics, I like the spells, and I like the minion interactions. However, people who know me also know that I hate to play popular decks. As a result, I like this list because it allows me to play my favorite class without having to give into the Midrange orgy that has taken over the ladder.

This deck is pure control and operates very similar to things like Control Warrior and slow Paladin. While it does not have the healing or removal that those classes have, it makes up for it in both AOE and big minions. This list is very strange because you have access to some of the largest threats in the game, but you’re going to spend most of your turns making totems, healing, or clearing the board. It is all about the slow burn here and making the most out of your cards. Resource management is key in Hearthstone, and this week we get to see why that is. Not only is this list a ton of fun, but it’s something different as well. And that counts for something.

Key Cards

Maelstrom Portal

One of the biggest advantages this list has over other control decks is its mass removal. AOE is very important for any slow deck, and you get to run a whole slew of different options (six in fact). Maelstrom Portal is a very important part of those options, but it is much weaker in the control shell than your other clears. As such, unless you are playing this card against aggro, you always want to try to combo it with other cards. The extra one damage can do a nice job of finishing off minions that didn’t die to Lightning Storm, and it also is very good at helping you set up spot removal. Even so, you almost always want to try to combine this card with spell power if you can afford it. Two damage for two mana is very strong, and once you get it to three with double spell power it leads to extreme blow outs. As stated, resource management is one of the most key aspects in this deck and the more value you can get out of portal the more you can save your other AOE for bigger threats. Many boards that Lightning Storm hits can be ruined by a spell damaged portal as well. Understand this and always try to save your spell power minions for the two mana clear. You may be tempted to take out a couple of small minions early on, but saving this for greater value later in the game can often be much more important.

Elemental Destruction

Elemental Destruction is the most powerful board clears in the game and is the only reason this deck can exist. Five damage across all minions for three mana just blows out a ton of decks running around the ladder, and it will often lead to your game-winning swings. Your biggest advantage is that almost nobody you play is going to see this coming. Most Shaman decks are midrange, which is what your opponent is going to you are for the first part of the game. Then, by the time they overextend into the board it is going to be too late. For this reason, never underestimate how important it can be to pretend like you are a different deck (holding back an Ancestral Knowledge to put down Feral Spirit) when playing towards this card.

While the overload is a big part of this card, it is very important to note that you do not need to use it with Lava Shock. That is always going to be the first mode, but you should always evaluate your health and the board to see if you can use it in other situations. Typically, if you don’t have Lava Shock in hand, you want to use destruction on turn seven or later. This is because that guarantees that you are going to have at least three mana your next turn, setting up key cards like Hex and Healing Wave. However, if you absolutely need to clear the board, or if you can survive skipping a turn, you can often take the chance. For example, I have used this card many times turn five against Zoo to eat most of their cards because I knew I could survive through their damage after missing a turn. These type of plays are important and will help set up this card.

Feral Spirit

One of the strangest inclusions in the list, Feral Spirit is a necessary three drop that helps you in two different aspects. First, this card is two taunts for the price of one. You will find that there are many games where you just need to stay alive as long as you possibly can. Two 2/3’s may not be the most value in the world, but two taunts that also help chip away or kill off your opponent’s board can buy you two or three extra turns. That is a huge help that gives you more options to find removal or draw healing. If you don’t run the dogs out early, you typically just want to save them for when you can swing the board and block off a troublesome minion. Mitigating damage is a big part of this deck, and protecting yourself from a surprise Grommash Hellscream or Leeroy Jenkins can be key to winning.

The other, and more important, reason this card is in the deck is for board presence. That may seem strange in a deck that plans on drawing twenty five plus cards every game, but being able to control the board can be very strong. The reason is that you have a whole range of strong minions that you can use to take over a board and push damage through. Often those are going to come down during the later stages of the game, but there are some games where you curve out and just do the whole Shaman thing. The wolves are a big part of that because they allow you to get ahead against decks like Zoo or Hunter. You should try and play these as early as possible against decks that are going to have a hard time dealing with them (looking at you Druid). This even includes coining them out on turn two.

Hallazeal the Ascended

Though he has not seen much play during his time in Standard, Hallazeal the Ascended is key in this list. Not only is he a strong tool and “must kill” threat for many decks, but he’s also a win condition in his own right. Being able to power him with Elemental Destruction and go back to thirty, or just combining him with storm to gain fifteen or more health will often wrap up games where your opponent’s only out is to topdeck damage (looking at you Hunter). This one of those auto win cards that makes a control deck possible. Yes, the heal is not always going to matter, but Hearthstone is a tempo game and being able to put down a body and gain life at the same time is always going to be strong.

There are many games where you can tempo Hallazeal without worrying about getting full value from his ability. This does not mean you want to play him raw (never play him without getting some value) but rather than you can just use him with a Lightning Storm or Stormcrack/Lava Shock combo to put down a threat and gain some life. It is easy to get caught up in going back to 30, but that’s not always needed. Though burst still exists in this meta, it is not anywhere close to as common as it once was. That means you have a lot of leeway and you do not need to gain as much health as you once did. Unless you are at the end of your rope, you are often going to use the 4/6 to get breathing room more than anything else.

Note: If you have ten mana, always look to roll spell power when using Hallazeal to get some extra life.

Ysera

While there are a lot of big minions in this list, none are as important as Ysera. The dreamer is perhaps the most crucial card in this deck because she will absolutely take over a game if not answered. Though this list is strong, it runs very few threats relative to other control decks. That means you can lose games where your opponent simply runs you out of ways to do damage. To avoid this, you need to work hard to get a finisher than keeps getting you value turn after turn. Enter Ysera. The dragon just dominates the card advantage game and will bury just about any deck that tries to match her toe to toe. Because of that, you need to make sure that you work hard to put her in a position where she won’t be killed or stolen as soon as she comes down.

I bring up Ysera because she is a card you want to hold off on and let it sit in your hand. Not many popular decks run a lot of hard removal, and you can often drain what little options they have with your Arcane Giants and Flamewreathed Faceless. Always bait out whatever you can before Ysera because if she comes down uncontested the game is over. Always count your opponents removal and know what they have played. Do everything you can to make sure they are out of resources when you drop her and do not get trigger happy. She is not a tempo play. Holding off a turn or two to truly make sure your opponent has nothing can be very important.

Matchups

The five decks that I see the most when playing on the ladder.

Midrange Shaman

God, I cannot wait until this deck is off the top of my list. I am sick of Shaman being number one just like everyone else, but number one it is. This is one of your stronger matchups simply because Shaman runs so little burst these days. That means they are going to have to play the attrition game. While they can play that well, they don’t play it as well as you. Your whole game plan here is to just clear board after board after board until you can slam down your large threats and put the pressure on your opponent. Any big minion should be able to take down Shaman once they are out of cards, but getting to that point is not easy.

This most important part of this deck is knowing when and how to clear a board. For example, a couple of totems and Tunnel Trogg on turn five is often not worth a Lightning Storm. However, it is on turn six because of the threats of a turn Thunderbluff Valiant. In that same vein, always try and hold back a big clear for an extra turn or two where you can to catch extra minions in the blast. Being able to kill even one extra threat can be key to preserving your removal and helping you go into the later stages of the game. You typically want to use Storm early and save Destruction for later, but pulling destruction is almost always right if your opponent has a huge Thing from Below turn. Beyond that, just watch out for Bloodlust. While not super popular, if you think your opponent might have it do not be afraid to burn an AOE on a small but threatening board.

Secret Hunter

Is Secret Hunter as strong as Shaman? I have no idea. However, I do know it is just as popular. You need to be ready for Rexxar these days and, quite surprisingly, I find this matchup to be tilted slightly in your favor. Though they do have a constant source of damage and a number of large threats at their disposal, they also have a lot of cards that do almost nothing. You do not have to trigger traps, which means they are often going to play a lot of dead cards. Just sit back and slowly play around whatever they might have. The only secret that can really hurt you is Cat Trick. Do your best to save a small spell to cast before AOE to kill the panther.

The other important move here is to draw early on as a way to find a Hex for Savannah Highmane. The lion completely destroys your gameplan and you need to have an answer at the ready. Sometimes that can be a removal spell plus AOE, but just make sure you plan for turn six. In addition, always look for ways to heal out of your opponent’s burst range. Most Hunters have both Quick Shot and Kill Command, and they also run Ragnaros the Firelord. All of those cards can drill you out of nowhere, so do not be afraid to use Healing Wave or Hallazeal the Ascended if you think you’re too low.

Control Warrior

Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen, because oh my do we have a matchup. This is a very fun fight where both people are going to spend their turns slinging giant spells and strong minions across the table. The way you win this is by being aggressive. That does not mean you want to try and attack as much as possible, but rather that you want to just string out large minion after large minion to eat your opponent’s resources and whittle down their hard. This match is one of attrition, and it will grind you down if you don’t have control over the pace of the game. You need to power out your big minions and do your best to keep Warrior on the back foot.

Ysera is one of the ways you win this matchup. While checking for Shield Slam and Execute is important, you also need to make sure she isn’t going to get stolen by Sylvanas Windrunner. Even without hard removal, the 5/5 coming down across the board can lead to some huge problems. For this reason, try to save a Hex for the 5/5. Finally, just be very careful about playing too far into Brawl. The AOE is one of the only ways Warrior can easily deal with your minions and it can give them an easy out to a hard-to-solve board. If you have a big minion that they cannot answer do not drop another one and do not make totems unless you’ve seen both Brawls.

Spell Druid

Still going strong, Spell Druid is a good fight that can go either way. In fact, Druid may be favored. To win this game you need to know what you are going to use your spells on. This is because burning the wrong removal or AOE at the wrong time is often going to lead to a loss down the line. While Druids do not run that many minions, you want to be ready for double Arcane Giant (which happens quite a bit). Save two AOE spells for this situation, which gives you a way to take down the 8/8’s without having to use your premium removal. Then, save your Hexes for both Ragnaros the Firelord and Malygos. Each of those cards need to be killed on sight and the frog is the cleanest way to do it.

Of course, the key to this matchup is watching your health, counting your opponent’s spells, and making sure you never just randomly die to Malygos. Like when facing Hunter or Mage, you want to be very proactive with your healing. Anytime you feel like you are falling into burst range (or if you are falling into burst range) then you want to heal as soon as you can. Using Hallazeal the Ascended or a single Healing Wave to bounce back into the twenties can force your opponent off their gameplan and lead them to a couple of dead turns. Once that happens you can slam down a couple of big threats that Druid cannot answer and just take over the game.

Zoo

Ah yes, Zoo is back. I am not sure which forces govern the ladder, but the aggressive Warlock has seemed to rise up from the ashes out of nowhere. This is absolutely fantastic news for this deck, because you have a ton of ways to crush Gul’dan. Like when playing Shaman, your goal is to just clear the board as much as you can. This matchup is all about getting the most out of your AOE. Lightning Storm, Elemental Destruction and Maelstrom Portal all do a fantastic job of taking down Zoo and you want to get as much value from them as you possibly can. Watch out for their burst, and never pull your AOE trigger until you absolutely need to. No deck can fill up a board like Zoo, so you need to hit as many minions as you possibly can. Also try your best to put down minions when you can. You are not going to have too many opportunities to sneak something onto the board, but every threat can be used as extra sources of removal. Plan ahead for your minions and always prioritize playing them if you aren’t under immediate pressure.

Mulligan Guide

Mulliganing with the deck is all about getting early removal, card draw, and AOE. You win the game by killing things early and playing things late. Everything that costs five or more should be thrown back, but you want to always keep Ancestral Knowledge and Feral Spirit. Stormcrack is a good keep against any non-control deck and Bloodmage Thalnos can be kept with any damage spell that you need to use on an early threat. Lava Shock should be kept against any deck that has an early two health minion you need to kill or with Elemental Destruction.

While it can be useful, you do not want to keep Healing Wave early on. Hex should also never be kept unless you are facing Druid or Shaman and you have a good curve. Maelstrom Portal and Lightning Storm are both must-keeps against any swarm deck (Shaman, Zoo) and Flamewreathed Faceless should always be kept against Druid or when you have a strong early curve coming before it.

Conclusion

As much as I hate what Shaman has become, this is a very refreshing break from the same ol’, same ol’. It is always great to get a break from the norm, especially with a class that has become very one dimensional over the past few months. I loved reuniting with Thrall (or Morgl) and I hope you enjoy the deck as well. Until next time, may you always, always, always clear the board.