The phrase “Know thy Enemy” was drilled into my head while studying both Kung Fu and Aikido. I found the study of my opponents in Tae Kwon Do to be very useful in point sparring and also in Fencing. The general tendencies of virtually any fighter can be derived by easily noticed things such as the martial art they practice, height, weight, age, etc. If you want be be an effective fighter when you reach the more advanced ranks you have to find information where most others would fail to look. For instance, when awaiting a match in my tournament years, I would watch my opponents prepare. I would watch them as the put on their gear, untied their shoes, nervously chew on their mouthpiece, so on and so forth. From this, I could often figure out whether they were a steady/grounded fighter, or a bouncy/flashy fighter. I could tell you if they were right or left handed, preferred to use their hands or feet, or whether they relied on experience or athleticism. In Aikido, much less information was available prior to a sparring session as tournaments were frowned upon. We often sparred against guests and I had to quickly gather information about my opponent, using information such as the stance they opened in, weight on the front of the foot versus the back of the foot. The times that I did not take the time to study my opponent, I was often met with painful reminders proving the importance of taking the necessary time to prepare properly.
How does this relate to Hearthstone? Well, on the show we did just last night, I got onto my soapbox a little about how players are over-reacting to Shaman’s current presence on the ladder. At one point, I called out my co-host, telling him to “get better at playing against Shaman”. I feel like the point that I was trying to make was lost in the mix, so this is just a quick blog to clear up the point I was trying to make. The cards that most of the people seem to be claiming are overpowered have been here since before the first adventure in Naxx. Doomhammer and Rockbiter have been a combo for a couple of years now and no one started to complain about them until they showed up in aggro shaman. I have a couple of points about aggro shaman that I want to make, but first, let’s talk about the cards that have been around while people were playing everything but shaman. I know this because I was playing shaman even when everyone else wasn’t, telling everyone I knew that shaman wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it was, but no one seemed to be willing to listen. The finishers in today’s shaman are the same they were back when I began playing so we will begin with those first. Doomhammer, Rockbiter Weapon, and Lava Burst. The cards haven’t changed at all. Not one, single, bit. I am sorry, but these cards were fine then and they are now, you just have to prepare for them. The part that HAS changed, is that shaman’s early game was buffed with several cards, only two of which are shaman exclusive cards. The aggro shaman’s early game centers around Tunnel Trogg, Tuskarr Totemic (in some lists), Totem Golem, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, and Argent Horserider. Tunnel Trogg is easily dealt with early if you have early removal. If you don’t, then frankly, it’s your own fault. Aggro decks currently run rampant on the ladder and have been for the better part of the last 18 months. If it isn’t aggro shaman, it’s aggro something most times. Tunnel Trogg benefits from Feral Spirit if it isn’t dealt with the turn after it comes into play, and so early removal has to be spent on it, as most early game creatures can’t trade with it efficiently. The second minion on the list is Tuskarr Totemic, which after the change hits is effectively a non-factor at 3/2 and a neutered battlecry. The change to Tuskarr was brutal, and you shouldn’t see it played very often after the nerf, even with it’s synergy with Thing from Below. The fact that it will rotate out in just about 6 months or so make the change much easier to swallow. Totem Golem will also rotate out when the next Standard rotation occurs, but this card is really good. The 2 mana for a 3/4 is an amazing bargain, even with the overload that comes attached. This card can easily make other classes fall behind as a 3/4 minion on turn 1 or 2 is extremely hard to manage, especially if you have already had to deal with a Tunnel Trogg. Moving along, Sir Finley has impacted shaman more than any other class. Shaman’s hero power is, by far, the worst in Hearthstone, so ANY other hero power is almost always an upgrade. Sir Finley will be around for a while, but with shaman losing both Tuskarr to the nerf and rotation, as well as Totem Golem, early game Finley will probably see less play. That leads us to the card that, in my opinion, has also really impacted early game shaman play, Argent Horserider. The charge/divine shield 2/1, only costs 3 and pairs well with Flametongue Totem and Abusive Sergeant, allowing shaman to trade with virtually any minion played before turn 5. Argent Horserider also rotates out with the next rotation.
The cards listed above have had a profound influence on how shaman is played and the birth and vitality of aggro shaman. These cards should be the focus of player’s wrath, as they are the enablers the turn 6 Doomhammer/Rockbiter combos. Honestly, though, once Spring rolls around and 3 of these cards rotate out ( and with all the complaining, I doubt Blizz will replace them with similar substitutes) aggro shaman will fade from Standard play and everyone will have to find a new aggro class to complain is overpowered.
During this week’s show, I also promised a listener a list of the six decks that I have that are effective against shaman. Since most of the shaman we see on the ladder these days is aggro, I am assuming that is primary counter being asked about. I have included screenshots of the six decks I turn to when I want to concentrate on climbing the ladder. Since most of the ladder from 25-10 is aggro, the list below fields between a 68-81% winrate. I will offer an observation. I have played more games as a shaman (not aggro) than all my other classes combined. I know the turn tendencies, the typical card inclusions, and most importantly, when my opponent misplays or misses an opportunity. Your results may vary based on how adept you are at knowing what a shaman is doing and when they are doing it. Once again, the best way to know how to beat shaman is know how to win with it.
1. C’Thun Druid
Early spell and battlecry based elimations and midrange/Heavy taunts. This deck curves out great and forces trades. Disciple of C’Thun is very valuable, use it wisely. Mulch for Faceless. I have found that this deck performs spendidly against the typical aggro shaman decklist.
2. C’Thun Warrior
Heavy control. Brawls are key. Know when you are being baited and think out your turns. Once again, Disciple of C’Thun is a key card. Execute should be saved for Faceless.
3. Control Shaman
If you can’t beat them….no you can beat them. This deck is full of removal. Play patiently and use your health as a resource, but know when to clear the board. You should mulligan to have either a Healing Wave or Elemental Destruction in your opening hand.
4. Dragon Priest
Hard to deal with taunts. Early game removal. Dragon Priest is just really good against aggro shaman IF you maintain control of the board early. Shaman should exhaust resources and run out of gas as it tries to get through your tougher bodies.
5. Straight up Control Warrior/ Control Paladin
These games are LONG. I am not going to include the decklists here as I have them archived currently as I am using several slots to test theory decks. You can find these lists anywhere and they are probably all going to run very similar. Key cards are War Axe and Bash in Warrior, and Consecrate/Equality/Pyro in Paladin.
Bonus Deck: Jury is still out on Secret Hunter, but I think there is potential there. Lists vary, but important cards to note are Freezing Trap, Deadly Shot, Hunter’s mark/Explosive Trap, Snipe.
I will part by saying that these lists simply give you the tools to beat shaman on the ladder. What you do with these are entirely up to you. I hope these have helped in your quest to conquer the elementals.