Welcome to enemy week. For the first time in a long time I am giving up the light and joining the dark side by teaming up with one of my mortal enemies: Tuskarr Totemic. It is very rare that I play with cards I despise as much as the fish-loving walrus, but this week’s deck is very cool. So cool that I thought it was necessary to travel back to the Thrall side of things. My goal is to bring you guys interesting and competitive decks in this series, and there is no doubt this list is both.
This week we are looking at an all-totem Shaman deck. This list is largely midrange and has many cards you have seen before, but operates in a slightly different way than I have previously experienced. I have always been a big fan of board-focused Shaman builds, and this delivers that on all fronts. This is a great break from the current Spirit Claw Midrange or Classic Aggro lists running all over ladder and looks at some cards that do not normally get to see a lot of play. This was built by steveng83 who found a way to take the idea of totems and crank it up to 100 percent. While totems are usually one of the weakest parts of the Shaman class, this deck makes them one of the strongest. That’s good enough for me.
The best buff in Standard, Primal Fusion is an absolute beast of a card that can just dominate games if it ever goes unchecked. Getting +1/+1 for each totem may not sound like a lot, but if you have three totems out (which is quite reasonable in a deck like this) you get to give a minion +3/+3. That is absurd and both pushes pressure and allows you to make some incredible trades. Even a one mana +2/+2 buff can go a long way, especially when fighting for board during the first turns of the game. Your goal here is to just use this card when you can and to maximize the value it can give you. If you have the chance to get 3 or more power from it you should almost use it. Always think about your turns when this is in your hand and see the different ways you can utilize it. This will help you both figure out how to maximize your totem count as well as understand what target you want to use this on.
What makes this card so powerful is that it can turn your totems into threats. This is very strong because you have a lot of real threats that your opponent has to deal with and decks don’t want to waste their removal on some random 4/6 Spell Power Totem. Even being able to just buff up an Argent Squire can cause a lot of problems for decks like Warrior or Druid that want to conserve their removal spells to get as much value out of them as they can. For instance, creating a 3/5 healing totem while also developing a Thing from Below or Thunderbluff Valiant can instantly shut down a board and give you priority for most of the game. There is no good way for your opponent to respond to plays like that, and they are going to have to kill the higher-power target (always the non-totem) giving you an insane amount of swing value as the game goes on.
Mana Tide Totem
As you probably noted, this deck runs two Mana Tide Totems. That is a rare thing for most Shaman decks, but it is very strong here. Not only does having more totems simply help out your deck’s consistency and different interactions, but having access to two really opens up your draw options and helps keep your hand full. In most Shaman decks you really need to conserve your totems and work hard to play this at the exact right time. However, here you can just run one out and let it draw to buy you turns or smooth out your curve. There is nothing wrong with this being a Loot Hoarder if needed. That being said, you should try as hard as you can to get value from the three drop by playing it on an empty board or hiding it behind a taunt. This is the only non-capped card draw in the game, and if you can get it to live for more than two turns you should almost always be able to win by burying your opponent in card advantage.
Though you may not see it at first glance, Mana Tide Totem is one of the best tempo plays you have. The reason is that you will often be able to start the game quickly, which means there is going to be a lot of board contention during the first two turns. This will often lead to you having priority on turn three. When that happens you can just run this out and force your opponent to use their turn to answer it, which then leads you to control turn four. That type of building is very strong and one of the best ways to operate with a Shaman list like that one. Though that strategy will not work against all decks, forcing Druid to use Wrath or Hunter to use Quick Shot over playing a minion can be very strong. If you have an empty board or you are ahead on board and this is going to put your opponent into a bad position you should run it out. They may not even kill it, which then allows you to get free value that grows throughout the game.
One of the strongest additions to the totem build, Wicked Witchdoctor is a very powerful card that acts like a Violet Teacher for basic (basic!) totems. Though summoning basic totems on top of a 3/4 is not the most exciting thing in the world, it helps you in two ways. First, it enables you to really go big and just push hard for a large Thunder Bluff Valiant or Thing from Below turn. You always want to plan out your turns ahead of time, and this card is a great way to go for the gold. The doctor also gives you an army-in-a-can that can be used to bait out or respond to in AOE. Using this card can be a great way to get your opponent to push out a Flamestrike or Brawl without committing too much to the board. On the flip side, you can also hold this back with two spells to instantly grab board presence after your opponent clears. It also threatens to fill the board as well, meaning it will often bait out premium removal before you drop a bigger threat.
The most important thing to note here is that the totems get summoned before the spell resolves. That means, if you cast Lightning Storm and you summon a Spell Power Totem you will get the spell damage buff. Another example that comes up a lot is that casing Primal Fusion with the witchdoctor out will give you an extra +1/+1 because the totem comes out before the spell resolves. This is something to always keep in mind and one of the more important aspects of using the four drop. Always run through different totems you can get and understand how they could affect the board state or the spells you are going to cast.
You only have on Azure Drake in this list, so you want to get use out of it where you can. Spell power has always been strong in Shaman, and you have some cards that really benefit from it here. As a result, you typically only want to use them in unison with the five drop dragon if you can afford to do so. While there are going to be games where you just run this out on curve and net a card plus the additional board presence, you almost always want to save it for the later turns of the game. It is important to understand that you are a minion heavy deck. That means you will often have many options at your disposal during each slot of your curve, and you will not have to play the dragon right away. Being able to get the guaranteed extra plus one off a Maelstrom Pulse or Lightning Storm can really make the difference in a game and you typically don’t want to fall short because you played the drake when you could have played something else. The only exception to this rule is when you need to get some cards and your hand is running low on value or very weak. Card advantage is going to always be more important than conservation.
Thunder Bluff Valiant
The strongest card in the list, Thunder Bluff Valiant is your win condition and the reason you don’t need to bother with cards like Al’akir the Windlord or Bloodlust. Most games you want to build to this card and if you have it in hand you always want to be thinking about turn seven (when you can use it and inspire in the same turn). The best way to set this card up is, of course, by having the maximum amount of totems you can when you drop it down. Having just two or three totems out instantly leads to some insane swings that can seal the game on the spot. Work hard to use your hero power and do your best to drop totems from your hand over other minions when playing to the valiant.
Do not worry about Thunder Bluff’s ability. I know that sounds weird (especially after explaining so much about its ability) but you really need to separate the card from the totem buff. I know you’re sick of hearing me say this, but you always want to look at what a card is, not what it does. This is a 3/6 for five that absolutely must be killed in one turn or the game is going to rapidly slip out of control. That means you can play this out on curve or on turn six without getting totems just to force your opponent’s hand or eat removal. It also is a great play when you are pushing for damage or have priority because it instantly becomes the focus of your opponent’s removal and allows your other threats to stay alive. Like Mana Tide Totem this can be a fantastic tempo play that keeps you in control of the game because your opponent is going to take the time to kill it. And if they can’t, you will usually win.
The five decks I see the most when grinding the ladder.
Aggro Shaman is still as strong as ever, and now it comes with brand new tools. Though they are much faster than you are in practice, you largely want to treat this like a mirror match. Shaman has always been good at getting things on the board early, but if you can challenge that it will cripple their entire gameplan. Use all of your resources to gain the board during the first three turns and then push for damage hard once you have control. Though it may feel odd to go so all-in on killing minions and playing cards, card advantage is going to come second here. The focus of this game should be on the board for both you and your opponent.
You need to be very aggressive in this game. So much so that you want to play loose to really force your opponent to use their burn on your board rather than your face. Shaman loves to get ahead and then just slam you in the face with burn and Doomhammer over and over again. However, they will never get that chance if you can get ahead and force them to worry about dying. Leverage any taunts and always go in on totems when you can. Though some Shamans these days pack AOE in their aggro decks, it is not worth playing around. Even if they do use a turn wiping your board, that keeps you in control and means they aren’t adding up damage. It is important to make plays that force an answer, even if they seem a bit risky.
Midrange Hunter holds strong at the top of the meta, and it continues to have the best curve in the game. This is going to be a tricky game, but it is more than winnable. Your big advantage here is that, while Hunter ends better than you, you start out much faster. That matters a lot because it means you are going to be able to upend their plays and keep them off of their usual plan. Hunter has a lot of bells and whistles, but they operate in a very similar manner to Shaman where they seek to get early damage and then leverage it throughout the whole game. Your job here is to play your above-curve early minions and then use them to dominate the board. This will force Hunter to fall behind quickly, taking them off of their damage plan and allowing to get ahead moving up to turns six and eight (the most important in this match).
Know your removal and know how you want to use it as the game develops. That is to say, Hex has to be used on a Savannah Highmane in most games, but you can use it earlier if you think you are going to have a strong board by the time the lion comes down (allowing you to push for damage and ignore it). This also comes up when deciding to use AOE early or to try and save it for Call of the Wild. You need an answer to call, but that won’t matter if you’re dead by turn five. Using your removal at the wrong times will often lead to a loss and you want to do your best to conserve when you can. Hunter has a lot of minions that must be dealt with as soon as they come down, and you never want to get caught losing because you didn’t stack your hand correctly.
Though I do not keep up with Tempo Storm or their “meta report” I blame them for the comeback of Dragon Warrior. This deck was completely gone, and now it seems to have creeped back into the game. This is very good news for you because, barring a perfect curve, you should be able to run this deck over with ease. The reason for this is that your curve is much stronger than Warrior’s, which defeats the purpose of the deck. Dragon Warrior makes a living on being able to curve out better than their opponent, and you have so much early game they usually aren’t going to be able to keep up. The only thing you want to keep in mind is the different swing plays your opponent can put together. Things like Blackwing Corruptor and Grommash Hellscream can punish you if you aren’t thinking clearly.
This is a game that you should be able to win by simply wearing them thin. Warrior runs very well when oiled, but they only have two hard removal spells in their Executes and depend on their minions to largely carry the load. You want to just push threat after threat here and constantly force them to answer your boards. If you can do this while building up your opponent should not be able to zero attack totems until after you have seen Alexstrasza’s Champion or Kor’kron Elite. Both of those cards will just crush you if they get to run into something like a Mana Tide Totem. Always protect your soft-minions here and count your opponent’s charge. One last important note is to try and save your premium removal for the later turns when your opponent can play their larger must-kill threats like Ragnaros the Firelord or Grommash Hellscream.
As has been the case since the very dawn of early beta, Shaman is favored against Druid. Not only can you flood the board due to their inherent lack of AOE, but you also have a lot of midrange threats that they just cannot effectively deal with. Druid is a very interesting class that only operates well when they are cheating or when their opponent is playing directly into their hands. Your gameplan halts both of those things because you can get ahead of the curve and pump out large threats (which Druid has always hated) while also using your removal to negate any mana jumps they might have. This is one of the simplest matches you are going to play. Just stick to your gameplan and make your opponent adapt to you. If they do get ahead for whatever reason, Hex any standalone threat (Violet Teacher, Frandral Staghelm etc.) and do not hesitate to use Lightning Storm on a board of even a few tokens.
This is a game where you want to look for any tempo play that you can get. That means any turn where you force Druid to use removal on your board instead of playing minions. If done correctly, you can just use this to slowly add more and more threats and build up turn after turn until you run them over. Even something as small as playing a Flametongue Totem with a small minion or another totem can be enough to take Druid off of their Fandral Staghelm or Emperor Thaurissan turn for fear of losing the board forever. Be aggressive here in both your plays and your damage. Never let Druid relax and make them think twice about trying to ramp up their mana.
Zoo is back and it is more discardy than ever. The new versions run a ton of burst, discard, cheap minions and powerful threats. However, you don’t care. Your deck is tailor-made to beat the aggressive Warlock. Zoo is incredibly strong, but they do not do well against decks that can flood the board and match their curve, especially when those flood decks are backed up with AOE. You just want to tempo this game out, doing all you can to match your opponent punch for punch and keep pace. If you do this your minions will eventually grow bigger than theirs, which is when you can strike out and really start to hit them hard. Zoo loves to Lifetap and will almost always be at a lower life total than you are. Use that to your advantage, and try your best to sneak in hits while you can. Though you may want to kill your opponent’s Dark Peddler, it is often better to hit them in the face and allow them to trade into you. Just be aware of their burst when making these decisions and keep track of what cards they have used. If you think they are going to play conservatively, or if you have two turn lethal, you should push. If you are behind, low on life, or if the board is contested, you want to just mitigate their minions as best as you can.
This mulligan is going to look a lot like classic midrange, where you want to search for your premium opening cards and throw back anything that is going to slow you down or junk up your hand. Your must keeps are the usual Shaman gambit of Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Rockbiter Weapon and Argent Squire. Tuskarr Totemic and Feral Spirit are both great keeps with the coin or an early curve, and Flametongue Totem should be kept if you have early game against any deck where you are going to be fighting for board early.
You never want to keep Primal Fusion, since it is too situational, but both Maelstrom Portal and Lightning Storm should be kept against any swarm deck. Hex can be kept against Druid or against Shaman if you have a good opening curve. Beyond that, always keep Mana Tide Totem with a strong opening curve or when facing Druid. Thing from Below is very good if you have a lot of totems early with the coin, and Wicked Witchdoctor should be kept with a solid opening and the coin.
I guess there are times when going against your grain is ok. It is never preferable to play with cards that you aren’t a fan of, but a cool deck usually overrides that for me. I have always loved Shaman, especially midrange versions that come with a natural push-and-pull. This deck is very much that and allows you to explore a new line of play the class doesn’t normally see. For those reasons, it was worth the switch over. Until next time, may your Tuskarrs always roll high.