Written by @F2K_Varranis
Every week the pros from team Fade2Karma break down the “Deck of the Week” . These decks are seeing a lot of play either in constructed ladder or tournaments. Team F2K explain the deck lists and how to play them. View past Deck Lists of the Week.
Hearthstone does not have any true control decks like you would find in other established CCGs such as Magic: The Gathering. There are two big reasons for this:
- Hearthstone is a much more tempo-oriented game than other CCGs. This is because a minion serves as both a threat and removal. Thus playing a minion is stronger than playing a spell in most situations, particularly early in the game. An early minion can act as a removal spell and double as a means to apply pressure to an opponent’s life total. Only the best removal spells see play, and they’re generally used to obtain board dominance once board presence has already been established.
- Up until TGT, Hearthstone didn’t have any efficient “catch-up” spells. “Catch-up” spells allow you to single-handedly come back from a losing position. Examples of these in Magic are Day of Judgment and Sphinx’s Revelation. Control decks in Magic typically play very few creatures. Day of Judgment allows a control deck to leave the battlefield uncontested but not get overwhelmed by aggressive strategies. One of the hardest decisions a control player usually has to make is when to cast their Day of Judgment. You can cast it immediately on turn 4 (and sometimes you have to against especially aggressive decks), but what if you could wait until turn 6 and remove twice as many of your opponent’s creatures? Similarly, your opponent has to constantly consider how best to play around your board clear. Overextending into Day of Judgment could spell disaster as you’re left with too few threats to end the game. Not deploying enough threats could grant the control player the few extra turns they need to cast a massive Sphinx’s Revelation, bringing their life total out of lethal range and accumulating an insurmountable card advantage. This tension between control and aggro players is common in many games of Magic, but is incredibly rare in Hearthstone.
Even Hearthstone’s prototypical control decks are more midrange than control. Priest and Warrior both play their fair share of 4 and 5-mana threats. For these decks, control usually means playing a turn 1 Zombie Chow or a turn 2 Cruel Taskmaster followed by a turn 5 Sludge Belcher. Freeze Mage is the closest thing Hearthstone has had to a true control deck, but even it borders dangerously close to being more of a combo deck.
So what does control look like in Hearthstone?
Elemental Destruction is the most efficiently costed board clear ever printed in Hearthstone. It deals more damage than Flamestrike and can be played 4 turns earlier. 4-5 damage is enough to deal with nearly all of the common threats currently played in Hearthstone, and is bolstered by the relative ease with which Shaman can obtain spell power. Elemental Destruction is so efficient that you can use it to clear an opponent’s board and play Dr. Boom on the same turn late in the game. Talk about a board swing! While Elemental Destruction’s power is fairly obvious, many have shied away from the card due to its egregious overload. In many cases “Overload: (5)” reads the same as “Skip your next turn.” Such text would render most cards unplayable in Hearthstone. Hearthstone’s tempo-oriented framework demands that you make the most powerful and efficient plays each and every turn. Think about the number of games you may have lost to an untimely disconnect stealing a turn. So why does Elemental Destruction work in Fade2Karma’s Pure Control Shaman? Elemental Destruction works because our deck is often fine with doing “nothing.” Similar to the aforementioned control decks in Magic, our deck is built in such a way that we can afford to play Elemental Destruction only at the most opportune times. You will never want to slam an Elemental Destruction on turn 3. In fact, it’s frequently correct to wait a turn longer than seems comfortable and allow an aggressive opponent to deal 8+ damage to you just to milk Elemental Destruction for a few extra cards of value. The more value you get from Elemental Destruction, the fewer resources your opponent will have to rebuild their board and threaten your life total.
Healing Wave heals back all the health you lost waiting to play that perfect Elemental Destruction. Heal Spells in CCGs are historically unplayable outside of all but the most aggressive metas. A card like Healing Wave which does nothing except for heal is inherently negative card advantage. So why are we playing it in a deck that cares so much about card advantage? The short answer is that 14 health is enough to be worth a card. The long answer is that it is the perfect counterweight to our deck’s passive playstyle. Fade2Karma’s Pure Control Shaman deck works to convince your opponent that they are winning and then flips the game with Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave. Healing Wave is more than just a counter to aggressive decks. Opponents will often interpret this deck’s passive plays to indicate a weak hand and attempt to capitalize by going on the offensive. This usually translates to your opponent expending resources to deal damage, allowing you to undo their hard work with Healing Wave. As we mentioned earlier, Hearthstone is usually all about tempo. A common way to gain tempo is to pressure your opponent’s life total and force them into making suboptimal plays to stay afloat. Healing Wave allows you to punish the tempo heavy meta and take control of the game. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the list.
Thrall is the new face of control
Similar to control decks in Magic, the bulk of our deck is removal with a small complement of finishers to end the game once we’ve achieved control of the game state. One thing that we lack is a powerful card draw engine, a staple of most competitive control decks in Magic. What I found fascinating during the creation and testing of this deck is that you actually don’t need a powerful draw engine. Exploring why this is the case is crucial to understanding how the deck works.
Card draw is important in a Magic control deck because it allows you to find the answers you need to specific situations. Magic decks are 60-cards in size and allow up to 4 copies of each card. While this sounds comparable to Hearthstone’s ratio of 2 copies of each card in a 30-card deck, the truth is that each draw in Hearthstone is more likely to find the card you want than in Magic. While your initial odds to find a card are the same (4/60 = 2/30 = 1/15), each draw in Hearthstone reduces your denominator twice as quickly as a draw in Magic. Ten cards into your deck, you have a 2/20 or 10% chance to draw a specific card in Hearthstone, but a 4/50, or 8% chance to find the right answer in Magic. Not only that, but the smaller size of Hearthstone decks means it’s far more likely that a Hearthstone deck who wants to take the game long will see every card in their deck than a similar deck in Magic.
Let me reiterate – this deck is incredibly passive. Your first two turns will almost always be used to hero power or play your single copy of Ancestral Knowledge (which will cause you to skip turn 3, but that’s ok with this deck). In some ways similar to Handlock, this deck naturally accumulates card advantage merely by not playing cards. Additionally, aside from some of the spot removal, every card in our deck is worth more than one of our opponent’s cards. Elemental Destruction or Lightning Storm will frequently be one of the first cards you play. These spells will usually 3-for-1 your opponent, giving you an early +2 lead in card advantage.
Our passive game plan and redundancy mean we’re not as reliant on card draw to find the specific cards we need. In fact, my first build of this deck originally included 2 copies of Ancestral Knowledge. However, the more I played the deck, the less necessary the new card draw spell felt. I would frequently be sitting on 8 cards on turn 4 including a board clear, spot removal, and a heal spell. Not only would drawing more cards put us dangerously close to overdrawing, but there aren’t really any cards we even needed to draw! The sheer ability of cards like Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave to “catch-up” and the redundancy of our answers mean that we can lean on our draw step to find the correct answers. Interestingly, I also found that against slower decks, you don’t want to draw many cards. This deck will nearly always bring the game to fatigue in a control mirror, and it’s important that your opponent hits fatigue before you.
It’s also important to note the redundancy built into this deck. It’s fairly easy to bucket each card into a general category:
While Crackle and Lava Shock can do very different things in specific scenarios, as a baseline they are both reasonably efficient removal spells for early threats. Similarly, while Elemental Destruction is more powerful than Lightning Storm, they will frequently serve the same end against an aggressive deck like Secret Paladin or Zoo. This redundancy means we will rarely be starved for that one specific answer to solve the threat our opponent is presenting. Instead of a 2/30 chance of drawing a board clear, we have made it a 5/30 chance through deck construction. One of Shaman’s biggest strengths as a control deck is that it has access to two of the game’s most powerful board clears in Lightning Storm and Elemental Destruction. Running all 4 copies is somewhat akin to if Paladin could run 4 Consecrations or Druid running 4 Swipes. The inclusion of Big Game Hunter is to achieve this redundancy for answers to large threats. While aggressive decks are much more popular than midrange decks at the moment, we didn’t feel 2 copies of Hex would be quite enough to handle all the Control Warriors and Handlocks on the ladder.
The importance of iteration
We’ve gone through many iterations of this deck to bring you our current list. My initial list included some of the usual suspects in older control Shaman decks. Doomhammer seemed like a powerful way to provide burst while Malygos was all but an auto-include with the amount of reach in the deck. I tested with 1 copy of Elemental Destruction, I tested with 2 copies, I tried out Lava Shock, I tried out various different finishers. I tested different iterations all to some success, but each felt fairly clunky. The finishers were answered easily and Lava Burst was always the worst kind of slow, even against a class like Druid which is rife with 5-health minions.
I showed the deck to my new teammates, and they made some important innovations. Theude took the deck in a much more minion heavy direction, opting to use Tuskarr Totemic to build board presence on turn 6 alongside Elemental Destruction and Azure Drake to bridge from the mid to late game. However, his most exciting change was to give the deck a little Handlock flavor with the inclusion of Molten Giants, Sunfury Protector, and Defender of Argus. Molten Giant plays perfectly to the deck’s strategy. Similar to Handlock, this deck expects to fall to a low life total and recover. Molten Giant is an excellent, cost-efficient threat to deploy after an Elemental Destruction or before a Healing Wave. With fewer large, cheap threats than Handlock, however, I felt that three taunt givers was too many and eventually trimmed down to a single Defender of Argus. Additionally, the intention of the taunts in Handlock is often to save your life total, a role which is already filled by Healing Wave. I noticed a significant improvement in the deck after these changes. I was frequently able to catch my opponents off guard with a timely Molten Giant. While my opponents likely had no idea I was playing Molten Giants and would never play around them, this deck is also poised perfectly to punish an opponent who does play around Molten Giant; the best way to play around Molten Giant is to build a board strong enough to find lethal in one turn – a strategy which is punished by Elemental Destruction.
There are many cards you can change in this deck to adjust to your playstyle, particularly when selecting finishers. Frost Giant, Ragnaros, Malygos, Ysera, and Neptulon are all quality finishers. I found I had few situations in which I could play Neptulon without overdrawing, but my experience could have been circumstantial. Ragnaros was very strong in testing, but was also frequently an all-or-nothing play. This deck is very precise, and a single miss from Ragnaros’s ability could cause a game to go awry. Malygos is likely a good include in the deck if you opt to play one or more Lava Burst. While I often found Malygos to be a win-more card, there were also times when he made my Lightning Bolt exact lethal or allowed me to use Elemental Destruction to remove my opponent’s Alexstrasza and Grom Hellscream.
The elephant in the room
There’s one very unique (and important) card we’ve yet to discuss.
If you’re a Magic player, you can probably guess why we’re playing this card as well as draw a few parallels to powerful singletons in Magic control decks. Charged Hammer’s purpose is to provide a permanent, persistent win condition. Now when I say win condition, I don’t necessarily mean you’re going to win the game over ten turns pinging your opponent with some Lightning Jolts. What you will be able to do is grind out every last shred of value from each and every one of your cards. Lightning Jolt (the new hero power Charged Hammer gives you) gives you a powerful mana sink every turn and essentially upgrades all of your removal spells. A Lightning Bolt can now finish off an Ancient of Lore and a Crackle is likely to fell even Raganaros. As we’ve mentioned before, our deck is looking to take the game long, so you’re likely to see your Charged Hammer and likely to get significant value from it. It’s at its best against midrange and control decks where you’ll almost certainly get to proc the deathrattle. It’s too slow to adequately answer the early game of most aggressive decks, but provides an almost guaranteed win if you’re able to stabilize with Lightning Jolt active. It’s also important to note that running a weapon allows us additional control over our health total, enabling more opportunities for Molten Giant plays.
Show me how to mulligan.
I’ve summarized which cards you generally want to keep in each match-up in the diagram below:
While you need to consider all cards in your hand, this diagram should provide you with a general sense of the cards you’re looking for in each match-up. Against aggressive decks you usually want spot removal, board clears, and sometimes heal. Against slower decks, you want consistency and Charged Hammer.
Want our thoughts on specific cards? Have questions on additional strategy? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts and questions!
I’m Varranis, former member of teams Don’t Kick My Robot (“DKMR”) and IHEARTHU and the newest member of team Fade2Karma. Follow us on twitter @F2K_Varranis @Fade2Karma and check out my stream at twitch.tv/varranis. I hope you enjoyed this exciting new look at Shaman and I hope you look forward to my next write-up!