Weekly Legends: Actual Midrange Shaman!
One of the most unfortunate parts of Hearthstone is other people. Of course, the game could not actually exist without other people, but it's true. Sometimes, due to popular decks or public perception, your favorite class will take on a identity that you hate. Though I have spent more than 500 games with each class, my favorite by far is Shaman. I love the tempo build, I love the art, I love the mythology, and I love the way the class plays by adding cool minions to the board each turn. However, I despise what it has become. Not only is it the most popular class (something that makes me not want to play it), but it also has shifted to the pure-aggro variant that is pretty dull to play. However, this week we get a break from that and get back to Shaman's roots.
This week's list comes from mjjdota, who took Thrall to Legend by packing this deck full of good cards. I love midrange decks, especially when they have the power of the elements to guide them. While there are a lot of familiar elements that you are going to see in all Shaman lists, there is enough variation and cool inclusions that I wanted to cover this list in depth. Midrange Shaman is not an easy deck to play, and you can only pilot it well by thinking about the class in a different way. For instance, Tunnel Troggis not going to be Mana Wyrmhere, it's going to be Zombie Chow. Totem Golemis much more for board control rather than damage and you want to look for value much more often than face. Just because this deck has all of the parts you know does not mean it is the same old, same old. I wouldn't cover if it was.
I bring up this old staple for a very specific reason, which is a quick comparison to Rockbiter Weapon. Lightning Boltis a very strong card, but I honestly am not sure if it is better than the other one mana/three damage option. This is largely a personal choice and I wanted to lay out both cards to help you figure out which one best suits you.
Rockbiter Weaponis very strong on two different fronts. One, it is a really good way to keep your curve going without sacrificing any of your mana to overload. The one overload from Lightning Boltmay seem like it doesn't matter, but it can really hold you back in a lot of situations (especially when you don't have the coin). Rockbiter gives you the ability to removal early threats (or trade up using your small minions) and stick to your curve. In addition, it has a natural combo with Al'Akir the Windlordto give you huge chunks of burst damage. This list eschews the usual inclusion of Doomhammer, so that would be the only combo you are going to get. However, that surprise burst can help you win a lot of games.
All of that being said, I favor Lightning Boltfor two reasons. The most important for Lightning Boltover Rockbiter Weaponis that it can go around taunts. Almost every deck in the game runs some sort of taunt and sometimes you really need to kill something behind them. There have been games where I have lost to a Tunnel Trogghiding behind Feral Spirits, and this card fixes those kind of problems. In addition, where Rockbiter has natural synergy with finishing burst, this card works really well with Hallazeal the Ascended(more on that later) and Tunnel Troggby triggering both of their abilities. Those two synergies, combined with the ability to take down hard-to-reach minions or an opponent hiding behind a taunt, pushes this over the top for me.
Mana Tide Totem
Two Mana Tide Totems is not something Shaman has seen for a long time, but it really adds a lot of power and consistency to this deck. As Hotform once told me, Mana Tide is the only unrestricted card draw in the game. That is to say, it is the only card that can generate card after card if left unchecked. That is an insane amount of value and creates a "must kill" option that goes far beyond something like a Loot Hoarderor Acolyte of Pain. In that way, this card is just as much of a threat like your bigger minions and will just eat as much removal. While it does not impact the board directly, it does help with Thing from Belowand can be used with cards like Flametongue Totem. The most important thing about Mana Tide is getting it onto a protected board. This will force your opponent to use premium removal on it, giving you card advantage and clearing the way for your later game. The way you do that is either hiding it behind taunts or putting it onto an empty board.
When playing Mana Tide Totemyou always need to assess the game state and determine if you want to use it as a tempo play or if you can try and get as much value out of it as possible. If you have other options early on (this deck runs a lot of three drops) then it is generally a good idea to go with the early board presence over the 0/3. The only exception to that rule is when playing Druid since they will have to spend their four turn removing the card instead of adding to the board which builds your tempo quite nicely. However, against most decks this card is going to come down later on in the game as a trump card when you and your opponent are both low on resources. You only want to get it out early if you have a truly bad hand or if you want to stall an extra turn to slow down your opponent. There are many uses for the three drop, and each of them are always going to keep your drawing.
Master of Evolution
When Whispers first dropped, this card had some of the most hype in the set. While most of that hype has faded, and this card has slipped out of lists due to the overwhelming popularity of Flamewreathed Faceless. While Faceless is a very strong card, I think this card is better, especially for a midrange list. This is because this card has no overload, which really helps your curve. It is so easy to assume Shaman as the overload class and not think of anything past that. However, midrange is much, much different than face. While Face does not generally care about overload and runs cards like Lava Shockto mitigate large swings, you absolutely need a good curve. This deck only runs a few overload cards, and all of them are extremely necessary for both tempo swing and board presence. The fact that Master of Evolution has no overload makes it very strong on turn four and allows you to keep up your pressure or advantage during the middle turns of the game.
Master of Evolutionis the essence of value. It is a card that can just be a 4/5 on four to keep your presence strong, but it also serves as a minion that can suddenly give you a huge push or end the game by giving you some absurd threat. You are commonly going to use master on your totems. While there are only a few strong two drops, getting to upgrade a zero attack minion into something that can trade is very strong and helps you play the tempo game extremely well. You always want to further your board in anyway you can. Though it may not be exciting, putting down a big body with a smaller one for four mana is a great way to do that. The other way you want to use Master of Evolution is on damaged minions. You are going to be crashing into your opponent's board a lot, and being able to turn your hurt card into a powerful new threat can outright win you the game.
Hallazeal the Ascended
In the original list this card was The Mistcaller. I know you're expecting me to tell you not to run The Mistcaller. That it's slow, it sucks and it's the worst card in the game. However, I actually think it is a strong option in this spot. That may surprise my usual readers, but Mistcaller actually does a very good job at providing you with extra power and can carry games against control. One of the ways Midrange loses against slower decks is running out of threats. The Mistcaller changes that by making everything powerful. A 5/5 Azure Drakefollowed by a 7/6 Fire Elementalor 4/7 Thunder Bluff Valiantcan really stretch out their removal. Not only that, but even something as simple as a 4/5 Totem Golemis a good topdeck. However, I do not see that much control, so I think it is better to go with another option in Hallazeal the Ascended.
Now, I want to say that this slot can be many, many different cards. It comes down to what decks you see the most as well as your particular playstyle. I know that seems like a cop out, but it's true. The Black Knightand Harrison Jonesare both great here as tech options, and even Stampeding Kododoes the job. However, Shaman has always been at a lack of healing, and this card has saved me against a lot of decks. While the meta has slowed down, there is a ton of burst still running around. Tempo Mage has resurged in popularity, Zoo and Face Shaman are both still everywhere, Warrior has Grommash Hellscream, Druid has C'Thunand Hunter comes with their hero power as well as Call of the Wild. As a result, I really love having an option to heal up. There are only four cards in the deck that actually interact with Hallazeal, but they can lead to really big swings.
This is without a doubt the hardest card to use in this deck. The reason is that its role is going to change from game to game. Sometimes this is going to be a tempo play (similar to how you use Hallazeal) where you just need a big body, sometimes you need to use it just for meager value or a key trade, and sometimes you want to save it for a huge, game-ending swing. It can also be used to bait out removal to set up another large minion. The way you play Thunder Bluff Valiantis going to be completely dependent on the game state as well as the class you are up against. When facing aggro this is almost always going to be a five drop, since it has soft taunt and has to die immediately. Six is not easy for many small decks to reach, meaning it will at least soak up some hits. On the other hand, you want to save this against control. Midrange Shaman is very good at running control low on resources, meaning that you want to really stretch out all of your different finishers as much as you can. While you can play this at a tempo move when you need to get something down, you usually want to save it for when you have at least a couple of totems out.
The five decks that I see the most on the ladder.
Aggro Shaman still packs a punch and, due to the way its structured, can outright steal games when you aren't looking. However, you actually have a big advantage here because you do the same things they do, but better. What I mean by that is, where they have a bunch of random burn spells and weak aggro cards, you have some of the best midrange options in the game. Hex, Lightning Storm, Fire Elementaland Azure Drakeall give you strong options that can instantly take control of the board. This then forces Shaman to react by using their burn on your minions instead of your face. The biggest rule against Aggro Shaman is to force them to become reactive, which you can usually do as soon as you get one large minion to stick.
One you get board it is almost impossible to lose this game. That may seem like an overstatement, but, as mentioned above, aggro is a deck that only has so many options and you can go over every single one. That gives you an incredible amount of consistency and power and makes it very hard for them to keep up. However, in that same vein, you need to restrict them from getting ahead. Turns four and five are very important because of both Flamewreathed Facelessand Doomhammer. Those two cards can put you on too fast of a clock, giving Aggro the big finisher they need to back up their early damage. To restrict that you need to try and clear their early cards as much as possible. This is not a game where you need to apply pressure, you just need to hold on until your real threats take over.
While not as popular as it used to be, you are still going to see a lot of Zoo throughout the ladder. In my small sample size, I can say that this is easily going to be the hardest matchup you face. Zoo is a deck that always seems to have a perfect curve, which means you need to draw your one-two-three opening or it is very unlikely you are going to be able to keep up. This is the one game where you want to really start out fast. Not to do damage, but rather to just have some bodies on the board. Zoo will play the tempo game and make sure to always take the time to clear. You can use that to your advantage by just playing down threats and getting Zoo to clear to buy you an extra turn or two. This is a game where bodies are much more important than any value.
A really hard part about playing Zoo is using Lightning Storm. The AOE is very strong, but you often have to use it before Forbidden Ritual, which then sets you up to lose to the tentacles. You really want to save the conditional removal for ritual and use your minions to clear everything else. It may not always work out this way, but that's what you're aiming for. In addition, be very wary of Zoo's damage potential. Leeroy Jenkinsis pretty much a staple these days, and both Power Overwhelmingand Doomguardare everywhere. You need to be very careful and only allow minions to live if you are at very high life or if you have lethal. Also, a good amount of decks I have seen also run Soulfire, so play to that as well.
N'zoth Paladin continues to run the meta as the premier control deck around. They have healing, they have removal and they have some of the best finishers in the game. This is one of those matches where you win by playing chess. It is not as simple as just playing a minion each turn. You really need to think about your opponent's removal, what they have used and how they can take care of your board. For example, Truesilver Championis a phenomenal answer to Azure Drake, so you want to play around that interaction as much as you can by either taking another route or getting down a minion with more health. That then opens up your turns and forces them to use valuable resources on your drakes later on. Baiting removal is something you need to do here. You have a ton of threats that need to be dealt with, all of which can put on damage once Paladin is out of options.
This entire game is going to be used setting up your burst. There are two ways you can go about this, and both are quite effective. One, you can steadily build a board up and use that to push through pressure over a few turns, forcing Paladin to tap out and heal early. And two, you can simply attack as hard as possible and then try to put together any type of damage you have. Whichever path you choose is going to depend on the way the game develops. If you start out quickly and stack up a lot of early hits then you typically want to push for damage. However, if you have a slower game then you really want to work on baiting out Equalityand things like Aldor Peacekeeperon midgame threats rather than finishers. Also, save Thunder Bluff Valiantfor an empty board post-AOE.
The only real combo deck in the game, Miracle Rogue is a very dangerous threat that is almost impossible to combat with the cards that you have. That does not mean this is an impossible matchup, but it means you have to be as aggressive if you want any chance to win. The way you lose this game is by letting Rogue get comfortable and naturally draw into their combo pieces. You are not going to beat a Concealed Gadgetzan Auctioneer. It just isn't going to happen. If it comes down later on in the game you may have a slim chance on spell power/Lightning Storm, but on turn six or seven there's no way you can keep up. To fight that you need to make sure they can't Auctioneer because they are scared of dying. This is the one game where you truly need to take on the role of an aggro deck.
That being said, you never want to let any of Rogue's minions live if you can afford it. Most decks run a limited form of burst and rely on getting Cold Blooddown on a minion. You only want to let something live if you are setting up a two turn lethal.
Almost every single Warrior you face these days is going to be Tempo, and for good reason. The Warrior deck has a ton of extremely powerful options at all levels of the game and can simply run away with the board if you let them. You are going to challenge them each turn and do your best to set up your minions to combat their turns. For instance, you want to always be ready to do four damage on turn three (Frothing Berserker) and six damage on turn four (Bloodhoof Brave). Also, do what you can to save your Hexes. If you absolutely need to kill something to keep a hold of the board then use them early, but Warrior runs a lot of lategame threats that you need an answer to. If you can turn them into frogs they will run out of steam.
Your biggest advantage in this matchup is Tempo Warrior's lack of removal. While they do have a good amount of small AOE and two Executes, that's not going to stack up to all of your threats. As long as you can keep them on the back foot they will run out of cards. Tempo is important in controlling the board, but even more important is card advantage.
As with any midrange list, you need to mulligan for your curve and forget about everything else. There is not a game where you want to start out low, meaning that getting something down each turn is going to be vitally important. Tunnel Trogg, Lightning Boltand Totem Golemare the three cards you are always looking for, but you also want Tuskarr Totemicand Feral Spiritif you have the coin. Mana Tide Totemis very good as well if you are playing against slow control. The rule here is to look for any of your minions that cost three or less.
The biggest exception here is Thing from Below, which you can keep depending on how many totems you are going to play early on. In addition, Master of Evolutionis very strong if you have a good curve and the coin. Keep against any aggro or swarm deck, and you need to keep Hexagainst Druid to deal with Innervate.
Man, what a refreshing week. Sometimes ladder really gets to me, but when I get to sit back and play my favorite decks it is so much more enjoyable. I have always loved Shaman, and getting a chance to go back and play some classic midrange felt right. I hope you guys enjoyed this week as much as I did, and I hope you always like getting to look at a class from a different angle. Until next time, may you always roll high.