30 October 2014 - 18:00

Adapting to the Meta: Shaman

This guide is for dealing with the standard mid-range Shaman build and bot list that's currently quite popular on the ladder. Dig in!
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“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup.

When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”  - Bruce Lee

Adapting to the meta is what brings wins. Today, we're looking to capitalize on the rise of Shaman bots on the ladder and the bots that often pilot them.

These are typically seen between the ranks of 10-3 and can be very effective. Luckily, we can also turn this to our advantage by playing better as only humans can.

This guide is for dealing with the standard mid-range Shaman build and bot list rather than the Crusher control variant or the Zeus Spell Shaman which are far rarer.

Shaman Overview

The mid-range Shaman deck is built to dominate the board and is a little different to the mid-range ones most commonly seen.

The AI is programmed to clear the board as much as possible and deal with threats as they come up.

A lot of the turns are fairly simple as Shaman; namely, clear the board efficiently and put as many threats on board as you can.

The AI is pretty good at this, but what it's not good at is prioritizing threats.

If it doesn't see a way to get past a threat on board, it will use hard removal on say a Sludge Belcherwhen playing Control Warrior.

This is particularly useful to note when playing against a Shaman bot. Other than that, approach the match like you would any other Shaman and this guide is here to help with that!

ShamanThreats

Shaman is a class that really needs to have the board in order to win. They have a lot of minions and spells that help them do that so it'll be a long hard fight to win the board in the match.

That said, if you can take the board back, Shaman is one of the worst classes at playing from behind and it's likely to lead to victory.

Here are some of their main threats.

Flametongue Totemis one of Shamans most potent cards. It has great synergy with the totems they generate, and can lead to some impressive burst.

Luckily, it's relatively easy to play around it. Simply clear the board and it becomes useless.

That's not always possible however with its horde of sticky minions like Haunted Creeper.

Keep an eye out on what you have on board vs theirs, and anticipate a Flametongue Totem where you can and prioritize removing it when it does come down.

Hexis arguably the best hard removal in the entire game of Hearthstone. 3 mana for a transformation removal means your big minion becomes toast instantly.

Keep track closely of how many Hexes your opponent has used and try to bait it out on something a little annoying but not an overwhelming threat.

If you can get them to burn a Hex on say a Sludge Belcherinstead of your Ragnaros the Firelordthat's a big win.

This is particularly possible with Shaman bots because of their impatience and lack of foresight.

Doomhammer is Shaman's premium weapon and can end games in a hurry.

Although a few bots don't choose to run it, you are much better off anticipating this card being in your opponent's deck rather than not.

It represents 16 damage over time and if left unblocked, can really swing your life away.

What makes Doomhammer particularly scary is the fact that it can be buffed by Rockbiter Weaponfor 10 damage burst which can be used to clear or to finish off the last of your health.

If you're seeing a lot of Shamans wielding Doomhammer, consider teching in Acidic Swamp Oozeor its arch-nemesis Harrison Jones.

Sea Giantis a card used in a lot of Shaman bot lists. They often split a Haunted Creeperand then play Sea Giant for the reduced cost.

It's a large threat which can be played for cheap. Against Shaman in general, they don't have too many threats worthy of hard removal, so save it for these guys.

Fire Elementalis also a big enough threat worthy of hard removal, and if you have Big Game Huntersave it for dealing with the Sea Giants.

There's not that much to say on individual card threats in Shaman, it's the large number of things they can stick on the board which makes it difficult.

Combating Shaman - Deckbuilding

Now that you know what Shaman's biggest threats are, let's look at tech and deckbuilding choices you could make to help fight it.

I'm going to highlight 3 cards, but its the effect in bold which is the important element in learning to combat Shaman.


Area of Effect

Baron Geddonrepresents everything you need to know about combating Shaman. It's a large minion that tempts removal while not being a particularly dominant threat on its own.

Its effect is amazing at dealing with Shaman's board full of totems, and being able to harness Area of Effect elements will make you much better equipped to deal with Shaman.

Warrior and other classes that don't have good or reliable Area of Effect spells have a hard time against Shaman, and teching in cards that give this effect such as Baron Geddon or Wild Pyromancercan help immensely in that fight.

Area of Effect is really great at dealing with Shaman's threats, but simple two-for-one spells such as Priest's Shadow Madnessare also immensely effective at dealing with multiple Shaman threats at once.

If you're struggling against Shaman, focus on putting in more of these multiple minion targeting cards such as Warrior's Cleave.


Early Game Board Presence

Having an early game drop is really useful against Shaman. Sunfury Protectoris a card with a lot of specific uses in classes to give taunt, but against Shaman, it's often correct to play it as a 2/3 on turn 2 as a totem killer.

At best, it'll kill a bunch of totems and disrupt their early board development. At worst, it'll get removed by Lightning Boltor Rockbiter Weaponbut that's less burst for the Shaman later down the line.

Cards like Zombie Chowcan also do work in this capacity and are frequent includes even in control decks to fight the myriad of Hunters and Shamans populating the ladder.

Tech cards like Acidic Swamp Oozeare also underrated and infrequently used in this meta but it does great against Shaman and can double up as early game too.


Silence

Ironbeak Owlis the best choice of neutral silence in the game against Shaman.

Shaman has difficulty dealing just 1 damage with any of its cards and without a hero power to top off its damage, it can end up over-killing the owl by quite a bit by using 3 dmg removal on it.

The best part about the Owl though is the Silence effect which is useful against a large number of Shaman's minions. Most Shamans run a host of sticky minions like Haunted Creeperand Nerubian Egg.

Having Silence makes dealing with these threats so much easier. Silence has never been more valuable in this metagame, and a class without natural Silence really benefits from the effect of the Owl or Spellbreaker.

Flametongue Totemis also a prime Silence target and is shut down quite comprehensively by it.


Combating Shaman - In-Game Advice

Shaman are a tricky class to pin down because they're constantly filling up the board and giving you tough trade choices.

The general rule is to focus less on bursting down the Shaman and more on clearing their board because they have little threat without a board presence (although there has been some recent metagame changes to make Shaman more bursty.)

Checklist

These are things that you should keep in mind when facing a Shaman. They are instincts you will develop after playing a lot of them, but by reading this, hopefully you'll either learn something new or remember to keep these hints in mind.

  • Mulligan for AOE. This is almost universal across the classes. Having AOE can give you a big board swing and that's invaluable against Shaman. Your general gameplan is to disrupt theirs and get ahead on card advantage. AOE accomplishes both these things, and having it at the ready in your opening hand gives you flexibility in when you choose to use it rather than being forced to use it suboptimally off the top of your deck because you're so far behind already.
  • Shutdown Flametongue. Flametongue Totemopens up a lot of Shaman's offensive capabilities and can double their board menace instantly. Having Silence is a perfect answer, or just single target removal works too. Leaving it up spells trouble most of the time, so get rid of it ASAP.
  • Prioritize Spell Damage givers. and Azure Drakeare Shaman's primary spell boosters. Get rid of them so that their Lightning Storms and Lightning Bolts don't decimate you. There's nothing worse than losing because he zapped you for 4 dmg not 3 with Lightning Bolt for lethal because you just couldn't be bothered to kill that pesky Spell totem.
  • 4 Health is Safe. A lot of Shaman's damage removal comes in at 3. Lightning Bolthits for 3 unless spell boosted and Fire Elemental's battlecry also deals 3. Lightning Storm as well hits 2-3 across all minions so if you're at 4, you force them to have Spell Power to take you out. Heal your minions if you have that option to 4 health or more and the Shaman will be very frustrated that there's nothing clean to remove.
  • Clear the board. A Shaman without a board is a Shaman without much power. Clear it out as best you can. You should clear all the time unless you're pushing for lethal and the totem left on the board poses no threat even when buffed by a Flametongue Totem. You often won't be able to, but keep it down to a minimum and give them fewer options to work with.
  • Beware of Argus. Defender of Arguscan often really disrupt your plans. Most often, it buffs minions out of range of AOE, so keep this in mind if you plan to AOE in following turns. I had a nightmare of a game where I pushed for lethal and dropped Loatheb thinking the Shaman had no way of taunting up with Feral Spirit. Defender of Argus decided to crush my dreams, so don't let him crush yours!
  • Keep track of removal. Shaman has amazing single target removal. Earth Shockis an incredible card for them to limit your card text and Hex is just straight up rage inducing. They only have two of each though so if you see one, you can play more freely, and two means you're free to drop the biggest, baddest thing you have to try and win the game.
  • Starve them of cards. Shaman's biggest weakness is that it has no natural card draw built into it. It utilizes Azure Drakes and Gnomish Inventors to give them card advantage as well as Mana Tide Totemwhich should be a priority to remove. Force them to make inefficient trades and pile on your own card advantage, and soon they'll be grasping for ways to deal with your threats.
  • Mana count. Keep track of how much mana your Shaman opponent has available next turn. Their Overload mechanic means they often have less mana than you do and this can make a difference and eliminate some fear. As an example, if they Lightning Bolted you on turn 5, you can feel safe playing a 3 health minion without fear of Fire Elemental coming down and instantly getting two-for-one value.
  • Don't die to burst. Shaman has some incredibly scary burst that it can use to close out a game. I have this all listed in the next section on combos. Read up and stay out of reach!

Combos

7 mana - DoomhammerRockbiter Weapon+ Rockbiter Weapon= 16 damage

This one is really potent and game losing. Usually, you'll only see one Rockbiter tacked on, but that still represents 10 damage. If you haven't seen any Rockbiters yet and no Doomhammer equipped either, be careful that you stay out of the 10 health threshold and you should be relatively safe from harm.

10 mana - Al'Akir the WindlordRockbiter Weapon+ Lightning Bolt= 15 damage

A brutal combo that's relatively easy for a Shaman to pull off. Stay out of range of this one too, so at maximum mana, have a Taunt up that he has to get through and more than 12 health. This one is slightly tougher for a Shaman to pull off than the Doomhammer + Rockbiter combo because they are frequently overloaded which means they won't have the mana to do this sometimes.  I usually am happy at 13 health since a Shaman by turn 10 isn't likely to have many cards in hand to hit you with this, but if you have the option of being safe when he has a relatively full hand, take extra precautions.

10 mana - Al'Akir the Windlord+ Flametongue Totem= 10 damage

This one is also a common Shaman game ending tactic. This is more dangerous when the Shaman still has semblance of a board. Because they can attack in an order they choose, they can usually get 4 dmg off the Flametongue before Al-Akir gets access to it and that can hit for 20 damage sometimes with the right board. Taunt is your best friend, and that's why it's so crucial to clear your opponent's board.

Bonus*** Shaman Bot tips

If you suspect your opponent is a Shaman bot and this is usually apparent pretty quickly by the identical intervals at which they attack and the lack of targeting arrows, there are a few little things you can do to try and game the AI.

  1. Bait removal. This is something you should be doing against a human opponent too, but against a bot it's much easier for this to work. Play a medium threat rather than a large one that's just out of convenient removal range of your opponent. An example is playing a Sludge Belcheragainst a board of Feral Spirits. It's inconvenient to remove especially when overloaded, so the bot will often take the easy route.
  2. Maximize AOE. Bots are much worse at playing around AOE. Instead of hitting your 1 health minion with their 3 atk minion, they'll break a Haunted Creeperbecause it's more damage efficient and leave themselves open to getting their entire board wiped in one go. Take advantage of this and sweep them when they've left themselves open.
  3. Don't play into their hands. Bots are by nature only built to deal with what they have in front of them. Hearthstone's metagame is beyond them and they do much worse against "feel" decks like Miracle Rogue or Handlock. Those decks take knowledge of your opponent's playstyle, threats, timing of what they can put out to counter them.  So use that to your advantage even if you're playing a more straightforward deck like Zoo. Secrets are also great against bots because they're such a process to test and the bots usually muck it up pretty badly.
  4. Burst. Save your cards and burst them down rather than put your threats on the board for them to deal with. Play a little more unpredictably and hoard your cards so they don't know what you have planned and lure them into your lethal traps.

Conclusion

Shaman is a really good class in the metagame at the moment. It counters Handlock and Warrior and is fair against most other classes.

A Shaman fight is all about board, and who controls it. Disrupt their gameplan, make them trade inefficiently, and play good value Hearthstone and you'll start to see results.

It can be extremely frustrating losing to burst, but that's something you improve on the more you play. Practice is key, and getting instincts about what threats your opponent is holding.

Teching in additional AOE, Silence and Early Game goes a really long way to improving the matchup.

If you don't have AOE or were thinking of cutting them, the number of Shamans on the ladder should make you reconsider since they are the most effective way of dealing with Shaman's board of goons.

Next up on Adapting to the Meta - Priest.

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