Fundamentals of Deck Building: Bloodlust Combo
Hello again everyone! Welcome back for the second installment of the Fundamentals of Deck Building Series. Due to popular demand, this second article of the series will be about building a competitive Bloodlustcombo deck. While I have seen some good shaman players use Bloodlust as a singleton finisher in the legendary ranks, the card has generally not been built around. Thus, I [and several of you] feel that Bloodlust has some untapped potential.
Due to continual feedback and conversation with readers, I spent the first half of this month tweaking the Mid-Range Whirlwind and Divine Wisdom decks I previously wrote about (updated deck-lists provided at the bottom). Though my original intention was to use this deck for the entire duration of this season, I believe exclusive play of the deck starting at rank 10 still serves as a good benchmark when keeping in mind that many of the legendary rank players from last season are currently still around that rank.
To quickly recap, it was illustrated in the first part of the Fundamentals of Decking Building series that the basic stages of deck construction consists of motivation, constraints, initial brainstorming, initial testing, and refinement. The motivation, as specified in the aforementioned previous article, for building this Bloodlust deck would be for a constructed ladder climb. Furthermore, I self-implemented the constraint that the deck may only consist of non-legendary and non-epic cards. This guideline would allow for more active participation from readers via feedback and comments and therefore give a greater portion of the community a chance to try the deck out too.
One of the first things any critical thinker/player will ask about this deck is “Why should I play this deck as oppose to the token druid deck?” This is a very valid question and ultimately shapes how a Bloodlust deck should be designed. Savage Roarcosts three mana (two fewer than Bloodlust) and even increases the attack of the hero. In a vacuum, the only thing Bloodlust has going for it is the one additional attack power per minion on the board. Thus with two minions on board, Savage Roar generates a total of six attack power (including the hero), which is the same as what Bloodlust would generate.
However, each additional friendly minion on the board would slowly tip the scales in Bloodlust’s favor. Consequently for three minions, the damage output of Bloodlust would be greater than Savage Roar by one. When factoring in the additional two mana needed for Bloodlust, this damage output is still unfavorable when compared to that of Savage Roar. Therefore, I believe the MINIMUM amount of minions needed for a strong Bloodlust is four. Though still somewhat unimpressive, one would now at least theoretically be able to pay an additional two mana for two damage. This is the same exchange rate as seen in cards such as Mortal Strikeand Pyroblast.
In order to really maximize the damage output of Bloodlust, one should ideally aim to put 5-7 minions on board. For convenience, I’ve attached the following table to quickly summarize the damage output for both Bloodlust and Savage Roar as a function of the number of minions on board. Please note that the table does not account for the base attack stats of each respective minion. Therefore, the total damage output will be the base attack stats of each minion plus the Bloodlust damage. This means if you have 7 1/1 minions on the board ready to attack, you will be able to deal 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+21=28 points of damage in that scenario.
The most obvious counter-argument to having 4+ minions on board is the notion of over-extending. As many of you know, there’s nothing worse than committing your entire hand to the board only to see your opponent follow it up with a devastating sweeper such as Flamestrike. This type of unnecessary overly-aggressive play is the quickest way to lose to a control deck. As a result, card choices should reflect the generation of multiple minions in order to provide enough ammunition for a strong/lethal Bloodlust while not exhausting all of one's cards at the same time.
Fortunately, shamans are able to continuously put minions onto the board through the use of Totemic Call. In this respect, Bloodlust has an advantage of Savage Roar since the deck does not have to expend as many cards to get enough minions on the board for a big Bloodlust play. The hero ability can also be complemented with minions that draw a card upon entering/leaving the battlefield. This allows the player to develop a board without feeling as bad if the opponent plays a sweeper since they would have already gotten some value out of the card. Furthermore, cards that continually produce minions on their own each turn can aid the strategy as well since they only require an initial investment of only one card.
Single Point of Failure
When constructing a combo deck, one always has to evaluate what happens if he doesn’t draw the necesary combo card(s). If the answer is “lose”, then the player better maximize the number of draw cards in the deck to guarantee drawing the card over the course of the game. In addition to card draw, another way to facilitate against not drawing the necessary card (Bloodlust in this case) is to implement a fallback strategy in case things don’t go according to plan during the match. Even miracle rogue, the most popular combo deck in the current meta-game, has a plan B of playing a very large Edwin VanCleef. In general, having more angles of attack allows players to be flexible in real-game situations and thus gives opportunity to maneuver around problematic board states. Furthermore, opponents will less likely be able to assess your hand (i.e. predict your next play) if the deck is non-linear and attacks them from several axes.
• Bloodlust – The great thing about Bloodlust is that it’s a one card combo. However, it requires a very specific type of board state in order to be effective. This board state requires having multiple friendly minions but none of which have to be very imposing on their own. With multiple minions on the board, Bloodlust will always exceed its expected value with respect to its mana cost. Fortunately, there are several ways to flood the board with minions. Moreover, the hero ability helps greatly in setting up the proper board state as well since it's available at all times for two mana.
• Imp Master– Imp Master creates a lot of problems for control decks. Opponents will have to find an answer for it quickly due to the swarming nature of the card. Even if your opponent uses a spot removal spell on it immediately, you’re still left with a 1/1 Imp. Moreover, they don’t really want to waste a sweeper spell on it since it is still technically a 1-for-1 trade. One of the really nice synergies Imp Master has with the shaman hero is the combo with Healing Totem. Healing Totem allows for an endless stream of 1/1 Imps if your opponent cannot deal with the Imp Master. Keep in mind to play Imp Master first before using Totemic Call. This allows the Imp Master to take damage (creating an imp in the process) and then get healed at the end of the turn.
• Violet Teacher– Though it comes down a turn later than Imp Master and requires a little bit more of a setup, Violet Teacher fills two very important roles for the deck in addition to being a minion generator. First and foremost, Violet Teacher fills the void of the 4-drop in this deck, bridging the gap between the plethora of 3 drop minions and spells and Bloodlust on turn 5. However, keep it mind it is usually correct to wait and play her alongside an additional spell to get immediate value out of her. Secondly, she can generate multiple minions on the same turn, thus allowing you to quickly get back in the game with otherwise dead Bloodlust cards in your hand. It is much more difficult to do this with Imp Master.
• Mana Tide Totem– Every combo deck has to have some card draw in order to find its combo pieces. For this deck, Mana Tide Totem serves as a reoccurring card draw engine. With the amount of low-cost removal and taunt minions in this deck, it is not too difficult to protect Mana Tide Totem for multiple turns to ensure multiple draws. Additionally, it is always guaranteed to draw at least one card while usually expending an opposing premium removal spell. Therefore, it should at worst be a 2-for-1.
• Azure Drake– Azure Drake is the best 5-drop in the game in many people’s eyes for good reason. In this deck, both of his signature abilities are relevant once again. Similar to his role in traditional mid-range shaman decks, Azure Drake provides needed card advantage while increasing the damage from spells such as Earth Shock, Lightning Bolt, and Lightning Storm. This is very relevant for handling pesky aggressive decks that just go straight for the face.
• Earth Shock– Earth Shock is a core staple for all shaman decks due to its versatility. It can kill 1 toughness minions or silence an otherwise threatening minion. Sometimes it can do both against minions such as Twilight Drake.
• Lightning Bolt– Lightning Bolt is premium removal for the low mana cost of 1, killing almost any creature played on the first two turns of the game aside from Argent Squire and Shieldbearer. In addition, it can also generate additional damage with a Wrath of Air Totem in play. However, it does have the overload drawback of one mana on the next turn so use wisely. In some instances, Lightning Bolt can also be used to get past taunt minions to deal the last few points of [lethal] damage.
• Rockbiter Weapon– Rockbiter Weapon serves as Lightning Bolts #3 and #4 without the overload drawback. It has the same damage output as Lightning Bolt (assuming no extra spell damage) but potentially requires you or a friendly minion to take damage. As expected, you will want to use this on yourself to kill off opposing minions in most cases since maintaining board presence is vital for game-winning Bloodlust plays.
• Hex– Hex is another efficient spot removal spell in this deck that is typically played in all shaman deck variants. It serves as the catch-all utility card for anything that Earth Shock, Lightning Bolt, and Rockbiter Weapon can’t handle (i.e. Ragnaros the Firelord).
• Lightning Storm– Similar to its mid-range brethren, the deck can have problems dealing with ultra aggressive decks such as zoo and murloc. Thus, Lightning Storm is a necessary card that helps regain and maintain board control. Unlike miracle rogue, establishing board control is vital to the success of this deck. Though cantrip minions such as Mana Tide Totem and Azure Drake are not expected to apply a ton of pressure on the opponent, it is still vital to keep them on the board in order to prepare for a large Bloodlust.
• Argent Squire– In my opinion, Argent Squire is arguably the best neutral 1-drop minion in the game. The divine shield helps her circumvent most removal spells (aside from Earth Shock) in the early phases of the game. Furthermore, many players won’t even bother to kill her since they lose a lot of tempo in using two removal effects to get her off the board.
• Flametongue Totem– Flametongue Totem is Dire Wolf Alpha’s super-athletic cousin. If played on a board with two other minions, it has base stats of 4/3 similar to Dire Wolf Alpha. However, the amount of burst damage it provides is greater since it can generate four attacking power as opposed to two the turn it comes out. In addition, each neighboring minion "trade" generates an additional two power so trade chaining with Flametongue Totem has even more potential to outperform Dire Wolf Alpha. However, keep in mind that it is very fragile if left alone on the board due to having an attack power of 0 so protecting it becomes even more crucial.
• Feral Spirit– While technically a spell card, Feral Spirit actually represents two taunt minions that help stabilize against fast aggressive decks while contributing towards a big Bloodlust play. However, make sure to mulligan this card away as the overload (2) drawback can be backbreaking during the early stages of the match.
• Unbound Elemental– The density of overload cards in this deck compared to traditional mid-range shaman decks is slightly lower due to the absence of Stormforged Axeand Lava Burst. However with six overload cards present (Lightning Bolt, Lightning Storm, and Feral Spirit), Unbound Elemental is still consistent enough to grow at least once. Doing so already makes him an efficient investment that should generally warrant a removal action from your opponent. Due to its propensity to bait removal, having a baseline health of 4 goes a long way in making Unbound Elemental durable.
• Fire Elemental– There will be games where Bloodlust isn’t drawn. In the event that happens, Fire Elemental serves as an excellent plan B. If your opponent exhausted all of his removal to take care of all of your minion generators and the respective minions they produced, it’s highly likely they won’t have an answer by the time Fire Elemental hits the board. In most cases, I try to sandbag the card for as long as possible to get maximum value out of his battlecry damage.
Possible Legendary Additions
• Bloodmage Thalnos- Bloodmage Thalnos would be an auto-include if I were considering legendary cards. It functions as an additional card draw effect with the added advantage of providing +1 spell damage. Similar to Azure Drake, Bloodmage Thalnos helps accelerate the deck while increasing the potency of cards such as Earth Shock, Lightning Bolt, and Lightning Storm.
• Hogger– Hogger might be useful against super aggressive decks as the taunt effect(s) should help slow your opponent down. The recurring minion generation also grants virtual card advantage while setting up for a big Bloodlust.
• Onyxia– This card can completely turn the tides in the late game. Due to the fact that your opponent is likely to use his sweeper spell in the middle stages of the match, Onyxia quickly helps refill the board with minions at the expense of one card. This essentially puts opponents on a one turn clock since you will most likely already be holding Bloodlust in your hand.
Initial Testing and Refinement
As always, there were some cards that looked great on paper but disappointed in the preliminary testing. Some notable exclusions include Novice Engineer, Loot Hoarder, and Knife Juggler. Both Novice Engineer and Loot Hoarder were supposed to help "thin" the deck out by providing extra draw effects while providing minions on board to set up a big Bloodlust. However in practice, Novice Engineer was too easily removed while the delayed card draw from Loot Hoarder really hurt. During testing, I was often forced to run Loot Hoarder straight into an enemy minion just to accelerate my deck.
Knife Juggler often got killed if played early (as expected) but did too little if played later in the game. More often than not, I think using the hero ability just to put another minion on board (without spending a card) would have made better use of my available mana. This leaves the opponent in a predicament. He can either waste his removal spell(s) on free totems that have already given me value in the form of another minion or potentially risk losing to a massive Bloodlust.
Feel free to provide suggestions as I may have missed something while developing the deck. I realize I am using many of the cards that are in traditional mid-range shaman decks. Though that was not my original intent, I believe the staple of good class cards gives the deck added flexibility to play a normal game (without needing to draw Bloodlust) while always threatening the combo-finish. Ideally, this forces your opponents to waste their spot removal and sweeper spells prematurely for the fear of a game-ending Bloodlust.
I run into quite a few number of legendary players from last season (evidence by their card back) so the ladder climb should serve as a good barometer of where this deck stands. I look forward to updating everyone with how this deck performs for the remainder of this season.
I hope this article has given great insight to how I approach deck building. There are many issues and questions to address when constructing a new deck and this article only scratches the surface since the article is mostly focused on building from a combo perspective. Finally, feel free to try the updated versions of my Mid-Range Whirlwind and Divine Wisdom decks!