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.
More than a month ago, you may have had read my original Deck of the Week write-up on Fade2Karma’s Pure Control Shaman. The deck was designed based on the principles of control archetypes in other CCGs, such as Magic: the Gathering. Most decks that wear the “control” moniker in Hearthstone are actually glorified midrange decks. They rely on early removal to combat aggressive decks and use powerful mid-game minions to pave the way for late game haymakers. True control decks in other CCGs are comprised almost entirely of removal and card draw and play what is often referred to as a “draw, go” strategy. In other words, a control deck merely draws a card before passing the turn back to their opponent. True control decks are highly reactive, only playing cards when absolutely necessary in order to stabilize the board. Such decks are filled with a myriad of tools and answers meant to exhaust the opponent’s resources before deploying a difficult to answer threat to end the game.
Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave are the key cards giving this strategy life in Hearthstone. Each is unique amongst Hearthstone cards in its own right. Elemental Destruction is one of the most efficient and flexible board clears Blizzard has printed. It is the most powerful board clear you can play on turn 3 and its cheap initial mana cost allows you to play a powerful threat like Dr. Boom in the same turn during the late game. Healing Wave is on par with Tree of Life in its ability to keep you in the game, but comes at the low, low cost of 3 mana. Healing Wave can be played at almost any point in the game alongside removal or a threat. Against aggressive decks, one Healing Wave is often worth multiple of your opponent’s cards and negates a large amount of their mana investment and tempo.
If you’d like to know more about the early build of the deck, you can check out the original write-up here:
But let’s take it to another level.
After an overwhelmingly positive response to the original deck, I decided to prove its merits by embarking on a particularly audacious journey. In one week I was to take the deck from Rank 25 to Legend on my EU account. Our journey would begin on September 22 and end with the season, success or failure. We’d be earning each and every star on the ranked ladder through blood, sweat, and Shaman. Not only were we to adorn our Ranked chest with all 95 stars the game had to offer, but we’d be streaming the whole adventure for the world to watch. This article is the story of that journey and the lessons we learned.
Day 1 – Angry Chicken…it’s been awhile.
I haven’t been Rank 25 in a long, long time. I usually play on the NA server, achieving Legend essentially every season I’ve been active in Hearthstone. Nothing could prepare me for the horrors I was about to face. Boulderfist Ogres lurked around every corner, their monstrous footsteps punctuation for the cries of Goldshire Footmen ready for action.
Joking aside, we knew this was our opportunity to test some crazy options – and we went hog wild. Hogger wild even. After writing the original article, it occurred to me that there was something else Hearthstone secretly had from Magic – Planeswalkers.
In Magic, Planeswalkers don’t act as creatures, but rather provide you with a selection of powerful abilities, of which you can use one each turn. They have their own life total known as loyalty (the 4 in the bottom right is Elspeth, Sun’s Champion starting loyalty) which can be increased or spent to use the associated ability. They are often difficult to remove and can provide significant value over the course of several turns. For example, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can increase her loyalty by one to make three 1/1 creatures every turn. Planeswalkers are common in Magic control decks due to their ability to singlehandedly generate significant value if protected and are often used as a control deck’s primary win condition.
I’m not about to guess what ignited Hogger’s spark (Magic joke, sorry), but Hogger achieves many of the same roles Planeswalkers achieve in Magic. Namely, Hogger is a source of potentially infinite value if left unchecked. And that’s exactly what our deck is looking for to end the game. If the goal of our deck is to exhaust our opponent’s resources, than they should have scant few means to remove a Hogger resolved while players are nearing fatigue. Another important aspect of Planeswalkers (and Hogger) is that even if they’re dealt with swiftly, they usually generate some value. If Hogger is Swiped, you still have a 2/1 taunt. If he lives for more than one turn, you’re likely to have multiple Gnolls to show for it. Interestingly, Hogger also fulfills one of the criteria Magic players use to identify the best Planeswalkers – it protects itself. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was a particularly powerful Planeswalker during its time in standard largely due to its ability to protect itself with 1/1 Soldiers (any creature can block/taunt in Magic). While not as obstructive as Elspeth’s ability, Hogger’s Gnolls make his removal a less than simple feat without targeted spells.
Our initial test list for Day 1 explored Hearthstone’s “Planeswalkers” to their fullest with Violet Teacher, Kodorider, and Hogger all making the cut. Our goal was first to confirm the hypothesis that such cards are effective finishers and second to see which proved most valuable. All three proved very effective, giving merit to our conjecture that such a mechanic would serve our deck well. By the end of the day, Kodorider proved strongest due to its larger initial value, higher difficulty to remove, and faster threat acceleration. While effective, Hogger was susceptible to a lot of common removal and empowered Patron players. Violet Teacher was also effective, but it didn’t play well with Elemental Destruction (both want to be played in the mid-game) and likely wouldn’t be as strong against archetypes more established than Goldshire Paladin.
Another “Planeswalker” we tested on Day 1 was Nexus-Champion Saraad. Unfortunately, we found that he was most often a 7 mana 4/5 with Battlcry: draw a card. The decks in which Nexus-Champion Saraad succeeds frequently play a very strong mid-game, meaning they have minions which can protect a turn 7 Saraad by removing opposing threats. Examples of such decks are Tempo Mage and Dragon Priest. Not only does each deck have a strong mid-game, but both play effective or efficient taunts in Mirror Image and Twilight Guardian. Sadly, it did not seem our deck had the tools to make Saraad effective.
Another card we wanted to try was Frost Giant. While I knew Molten Giant was effective, I was intrigued by the possibility that Frost Giant could be a more consistent Molten Giant. In practice, however, Frost Giant was unplayable against aggressive archetypes while Molten Giant was often the reason we won against aggressive decks. Decks like Hunter and Druid could get our life total dangerously low too early for Frost Giant to be a reasonable play. Not only that, but Frost Giant’s usually non-zero cost meant it was much more difficult (often impossible) to play alongside removal and heal. It became apparent that Molten Giant’s strength was in its ability to be played for free when in dire straits and that it was the premier giant for this archetype.
We tested several other cards on Day 1, including Wild Pyromancer and Bolf Ramshield. Wild Pyromancer was a solid card for increasing our ability to trade in the early game and for clearing Paladin’s recruits. In this deck, you essentially use Pyromancer for its pseudo spell power +1. Bolf Ramshield on the other hand was fairly disappointing. We hoped he could possibly serve as a slightly more powerful Antique Healbot since his stats are much better and he essentially gives you 39 max health. Unfortunately, he was nearly always a 6 mana spell which healed 9 since the opponent could ignore Bolf and attack face to remove him. Our first day served its purpose to feel out various options for our deck and to explore which direction we should take it. You can see our detailed results below.
We ended the day with an 82% win rate over the course of 17 games. At least two of our three losses were winnable if we had made slight adjustments to our play or played safer. These losses highlighted an important fact about the deck – it is more often correct to make the safe play rather than the aggressive play. This deck is looking to go long, not end with a blistering flurry of blows. If given the option, playing Healing Wave is often better than deploying a threat if there’s any risk you could lose on the following turn.
Day 2 – Things are getting a little spooky.
At the suggestion of a viewer, we tried one particularly spooky card on Day 2 that also turned out to be an especially exciting card. While The Skeleton Knight is on most players “must dust” list, we found that he could have significant potential in the right deck.
The Skeleton Knight can provide incredible value. He will nearly always trade for a minion or premium removal each time he is played. Just one or two successful jousts and he can easily prove his worth. As a form of recurrable removal not unlike Flashback in Magic, The Skeleton Knight excels against other control decks like Priest and Warrior. We had several games where The Skeleton Knight single handedly carried the game after being played three or more times. If we were to put together a highlight reel of our run, The Skeleton Knight would have easily made the cut several times over. Unfortunately, The Skeleton Knight is very dependent upon the meta and how you build your specific variation of Control Shaman. Since Warrior’s curve tends to be very high, cards like Doomsayer and Big Game Hunter may be detrimental to The Skeleton Knight’s jousts. He is also far too slow and mana intensive to consistently be effective against faster decks like Hunter and Paladin. For these reasons, we eventually cut The Skeleton Knight from our deck. However, given our experience with the card, I wouldn’t be surprised if we returned to it given the right meta or it became a center piece of a fatigue oriented deck.
Our results showed continued high performance with a 69% win rate across 16 games for an overall to date win rate of 76%. Moving into Day 3, we were excited to test some old staples in a new control shell.
Day 3 – Old stand-bys.
While our list strives to be control in its purest form, there are several midrange minions which were worth testing. Sludge Belcher and Earth Elemental had been near the top of my list of cards to test for a while, so for Day 3 we created two variations of our deck specifically intended to test the efficacy of these midrange taunts in our control shell. Our hope was not only to provide some protection against aggressive decks, but a means to apply pressure to our opponents earlier than our deck had yet allowed.
Despite continued strong results with the deck as a whole, Belcher and Earth Elemental proved difficult to evaluate as they were often as underwhelming as they were effective. The biggest downside to the taunts was that they turned on a lot of our opponents’ removal that was otherwise dead. Since we run few to no early or midrange minions, removal like Fiery War Axe and Wrath is generally close to useless against us. Making cards like this useless is a large benefit of playing a control deck since most decks play a considerable number of such cards in order to combat aggressive strategies. Unfortunately, all those cards are effective against Sludge Belcher and Earth Elemental. Midrange taunts are fairly common in midrange and control decks, so nearly every aggressive is well equipped to handle them. If I had to choose one of the two to play, I’d go with Earth Elemental. While susceptible to Big Game Hunter, it still provides a large threat if silenced and can end games on its own. While theoretically a better taunt, Belcher has been popular in the meta long enough that nearly every deck has incorporated a way to deal with it. Whether it’s 5 attack minions, silence, or a blistering curve of 4+ health minions, Belcher hasn’t been the same in recent seasons as he was when Curse of Naxxramus released.
Day 3 was largely successful with a 65% win rate over 46 games and a steady push to end at Rank 8. The big winner on Day 3 was Lava Burst. Control Shaman only has so many Hexes to deal with large minions. Lava Burst diversifies the deck’s removal suite, not only adding burst but a way to consistently remove 5 health minions without the need for Hex or favorable RNG on Crackle. In particular, Lava Burst improved the Druid and Handlock match-ups. Lava Burst would become a near staple for us for the rest of the run.
Day 4 & 5 – Closing in.
Day 4 saw us streaming for nearly 7 hours as we played 38 games and got closer to both Legend and a refined Control Shaman list.
We quickly broke into Rank 5 territory and found ourselves dipping between Rank 4 and 5 for the rest of the day. While a 58% win rate was the worst so far for the season, it is still very good, particularly post-Rank 5. Not only did we maintain an effective win rate, but we identified a particularly successful build with our Day 4 Starting List. This particular build employs a number of tools with Doomsayer, Big Game Hunter, Defender of Argus, and Sylvanas providing answers to a host of different situations. The removal suite in this build is also particularly diverse, meaning you’re rarely at a loss for the right removal. While ineffective against Control Warrior and other match-ups that inevitably end in fatigue, the pair of Ancestral Knowledges give the deck enough acceleration and card selection to find heals and AOE on the necessary turns. This build also finds the right balance between threat density and removal, offering Sylvanas and Dr. Boom as both means for removal and threat. While Kodorider is the deck’s true finisher, Alexstrasza and the Molten Giants serve well to soak removal and provide an earlier win condition against aggressive strategies.
Day 5 saw our win rate improving to 61% for the day and 65% for the season. Nearing the end of the season and on a positive trajectory, we continued with our Day 4 Starting List with little variation. With two evenings left in the season and a refined, high-performing decklist, we were well on our way to Legend.
Day 6 – There’s always a plot twist.
Day 6 VOD: N/A
I started our run on Day 6 hunched over my phone in the car with a pad of paper and pen to record results. Earlier my wife had received a surprise call informing her that her father was not doing well and that we should visit as soon as possible. Her father had been successfully battling cancer for years, so we weren’t sure what to think. Fearing the worst, we dropped everything and prepared for the five hour trek to her parents’. We kept optimistic, sure that the trip was more of a “get well soon” adventure than a goodbye. Gripped by a bevy of emotions but not wanting to give up on our run just yet, I loaded Hearthstone on my phone and continued our grind on the road.
Needless to say, our results were disheartening. With a 31% win rate on the trip, we found ourselves falling to Rank 6 with less and less time to recover. Given the circumstances – whirling fears and an uncomfortable car ride – I have to imagine our results were an outlier. As we struggled to maintain our previous success, we tried several new options including Feral Spirits, Farsight, and Combo Shaman. Farsight proved to be somewhat clunky, not adding the consistency to the deck which we had hoped for. Feral Spirit was effective in certain situations, but suffered from many of the same faults as Sludge Belcher and Earth Elemental by making our opponents’ removal more effective. We played three games as Combo Shaman, dropping the threats of our control build and adjusting some of the removal to add card draw, Windfury, Leeroy Jenkins, and Rockbiter Weapons. While the deck went 1-2, it showed some promise with the ability to burst 27 damage or more. But that’s a deck for another journey.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived at the hospital. My father-in-law is a six foot plus teddy bear of a man with a soft smile constantly etched across his thick, grey beard. I couldn’t help but imagine that we’d arrive only for him to reassure us in his kindly way, with his comforting smile, that he was a day away from better. We’d laugh at ourselves for worrying the worst, but stay and chat until he recovered.
Instead we found this giant of a man emaciated and jaundiced, unable to speak. His once broad nose came to a point and his once burly arms sagged with loose, yellowed skin. Understanding filled me with an immense weight. Dismay ate away at my frayed senses while my wife held her father’s hand. She mouthed comforting sentiments. It was all he could do to move his fingers in recognition of her presence. I feigned to understand numbers on displays on devices attached to him. If this number went up, did it mean he was improving? Was it bad if another number went down? I grasped at any sign of hope, pretending I didn’t understand the truth. He was dying.
Day 7 – All things come to an end.
Sometimes we play Hearthstone, and sometimes life plays a hand. I spent the final day of the season at the hospital. My father-in-law laid on the bed in the coronary care unit. Eyes barely open, his chest heaved mechanically with each pump from the respirator. He had gone into cardiac arrest that morning. He had been resuscitated, but I could tell he was already gone. Family stood around solemn, fumbling for a tissue every so often to wipe away tears. Undecided between respectful attention and contemplative sorrow, eyes danced from my father-in-law to the floor. His 90-year old mother sat in a chair by his bedside looking over him. The scene was as real as a Rockwell painting. The morning sun trickled through the half drawn blinds, washing out the colors from the canvas.
Weeks later, it’s still hard to imagine he’s gone. He was a man I was excited to grow close to over the next twenty years of my life, not someone I was ready to let go of before my second wedding anniversary.
Where we ended.
Despite the tragic end to our run, we were able to gather a large amount of data and learn a lot about Control Shaman. Our Day 4 Starting List proved to be our most effective and refined list, being the one we were using both times we peaked at Rank 4. Let’s explore some of the individual choices in the list and why the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Lightning Bolt – When it comes to cheap, efficient removal, it doesn’t get much better than Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is a keeper in your opening hand against nearly any opponent and is your go-to source of early removal and late game burst.
Ancestral Knowledge – Ancestral Knowledge is best on turns 4 and onward when it can be cast alongside your hero power or removal. Use it early if you know you’ll need AOE, heal, or Hex soon. Note that if you find yourself facing other control decks that go to fatigue, it may be worth cutting Ancestral Knowledge. Control Shaman is a very slow deck and is built in such a way as to drag the game out, often to fatigue. You are at a big advantage if your opponent hits fatigue first. Most control decks play little burst, so you will likely see your entire deck without playing any card draw. Control mirrors are more about maximizing the value you gain from each of your individual cards rather than how many cards you have in hand or on board relative to your opponent each turn.
Crackle – Crackle gets a bad rap due to its inherent RNG. In truth though, this deck wants as many Darkbombs as it can get. Flexible removal that can be pointed at minions or face is important as it adds another dimension and win condition to the deck. If Crackle was always 2 Mana – Overload (1) – Deal 4 damage, it would likely be considered a very powerful spell. Consider a comparison to Flamecannon, a spell which sees reasonable play in Mage despite targeting randomly. Crackle is as good as or better than Flamecannon 75% of the time. While that 25% can be painful, Crackle serves an important role as both Darkbomb and potential Lava Burst.
Lava Shock – Lava Shock is somewhat of a necessary evil in this deck due to the inclusion of Elemental Destruction and other overload spells. While unlocking 5+ mana crystals is often worth the price of admission, it’s important to try to get a full card’s value from Lava Shock. Don’t cast Lava Shock targeting your opponent’s hero unless you have to. If Elemental Destruction clears the board, wait until the following turn to play Lava Shock so that you’ll be able to trade it for a minion.
Doomsayer – Doomsayer’s primary role in the deck is as a form of AOE which ignores divine shield. Doomsayer is at its best when played on turns 2 or 3 to trade for your opponent’s turn 1 and 2 plays. This is especially effective against Paladin and Hunter who both run a bevy of 2-drops. Doomsayer still has utility in the late game by either effectively gaining you 7 life or forcing your opponent to skip playing minions on their turn. It’s worth noting that Doomsayer is particularly effective against Mage due to the prevalence of Mirror Entity.
Elemental Destruction – Elemental Destruction is a key player in this deck’s success. It frequently allows for 3-for-1 or better plays which swing games dramatically in your favor. Be sure to maximize the value you get from this card. It’s often worth taking 5+ additional damage from waiting a turn to cast Elemental Destruction in order to remove an extra minion or two you expect your opponent to play. I find myself playing Elemental Destruction most commonly on turns 5 and 7 when it can be played alongside Lava Shock, your hero power, and/or Crackle.
Healing Wave – Healing Wave is critical to defeating aggressive strategies and allows you to keep up with control decks in fatigue wars. It is one of the key cards which allows you to play passively and reactive. Healing Wave is often worth 2-3 cards from a Hunter and is worth keeping in your opening hand in that match-up. Against other classes, you don’t want to see Healing Wave until near the end of the game. Don’t be scared to bait your opponent into making especially aggressive plays only to Healing Wave out of lethal range. Healing Wave is also the reason why this deck can play Molten Giants. While Handlock uses taunts to protect their life total after a Molten Giant play, this deck relies on the massive heal which Healing Wave provides in order to recover from precarious situations.
Hex – Control Shaman has few other ways to deal with large minions and powerful deathrattles, making Hex one of the most important resources in your deck. Always be mindful of which threats you expect your opponent is running and which of those will require Hex to dispatch. As a control deck, we expect our games to be long and to have to deal with nearly every threat our opponent has. You know Secret Paladin will play Tirion, so you have to save a Hex to deal with him. What do you do if your opponent plays Dr. Boom on turn 7 and you have a Hex in your hand but already used the first Hex to deal with a Mysterious Challenger? Unless you will lose the game otherwise, you cannot use the Hex to remove the Dr. Boom and will need to use some combination of AOE and removal to dispatch it. This thought process is especially important when you are deciding to use Big Game Hunter or Hex to remove a minion. It is nearly always correct to use the Big Game Hunter before using Hex since Big Game Hunter targets a far smaller population of minions than Hex. Against a class like Druid, you can use Hex more liberally since they have very few targets which require Hex to remove. It is often correct to Hex a Piloted Shredder in the Druid match-up since it is one of the more difficult threats to remove. Against Mage, it can sometimes be worth using Hex on a non-priority target if you know they have Effigy or Duplicate since it will effectively trade 2-for-1 as neither a Wisp nor two Frogs is worth a full card’s value.
Lava Burst – While not a necessary inclusion in the deck, I feel Lava Burst fills several important roles. First, it provides an additional means with which to remove resilient minions like Emperor Thaurissan, Ancient of Lore, and Shieldmaiden. Second, it significantly improves the deck’s burst potential. Both these factors are especially import in the somewhat shaky Handlock match-up. Lava Burst goes most of the way toward removing a giant or going around taunts for lethal burst. Lava Burst is not particularly mana efficient compared to similar cards in other classes, but it is Shaman’s best option for a sizable and consistent, flexible burn spell.
Lightning Storm – Lightning Storm is a critical complement to the deck’s AOE suite. It’s important to recognize that Lightning Storm is more effective than Elemental Destruction in certain situations. While all AOE is strong against Secret Paladin, Lightning Storm tends to be much more effective at clearing their early plays. Against Secret Paladin specifically, it’s also important to know when you’re going to trigger Avenge. Sometimes it’s worth bolting a Minibot to pop its shield before casting AOE in order to ensure all the Paladin’s minions die simultaneously and Avenge doesn’t trigger. Against classes like Warrior where Lightning Storm is weak, be sure to play it whenever you can gain reasonable value from it. It can be correct to play Lightning Storm as a very expensive Lightning Bolt against such classes as there may be very few situations where it will actually produce value.
Big Game Hunter – Oddly, Big Game Hunter’s inclusion is necessitated by the popularity of Secret Paladin, a deck which plays zero to one targets. Big Game Hunter is one of the cleanest ways to counter Mysterious Challenger. If played alone, Mysterious Challenger will nearly always receive the Avenge buff while the Defender from Noble Sacrifice will trigger Redemption. This allows an attack plus Big Game Hunter to clear Noble Sacrifice, Redemption, Avenge, and Mysterious Challenger while only leaving your opponent with a 2/1. Competitive Spirit triggering on the following turn means that your opponent lost a turn, a Mysterious Challenger, and 5 cards from their deck for a 3/2. Big Game Hunter fluctuates in effectiveness in other match-ups, but is rarely dead due to the prevalence of Dr. Boom.
Charged Hammer – It’s easy to underestimate how effective Lightning Jolt (the hero power you receive from triggering Charged Hammer’s deathrattle) is without having played it. Against aggressive decks, it is very difficult to lose after changing your hero power as Lightning Bolts trade for their largest minions and their smaller minions die to just the hero power. While most effective at improving your ability to trade, the hero power also provides a means to end the game or put you ahead in life during fatigue wars. Note that you can use both hero powers the turn you trigger Charged Hammer’s deathrattle, allowing you to get two inspire triggers from a Kodorider on turn 10.
Defender of Argus – It’s important that control decks have a diverse tool set in order to navigate the various situations they may encounter. Defender of Argus not only adds taunt to the deck, but can turn your totems into threats or provide additional points of burst damage. Defender of Argus also gives you a minion which can be used to play around Mirror Entity and Repentance. We are also able to steal a page from Handlock’s book and give our Molten Giants taunt in order to overwhelm aggressive strategies.
Antique Healbot – Playing the full number of Healing Waves and Antique Healbots gives our deck an oppressive amount of heal, stifling aggressive strategies and keeping us on par with fatigue decks. Healbot fits well in this deck, providing a body to trade and maintaining a reasonably high mana cost to improve jousts.
Kodorider – As discussed previously, our deck needs threats which can provide consistent persistent value. Kodorider generates exponential threat acceleration while becoming increasingly difficult to remove without a powerful AOE spell. Kodorider is also playable earlier in the game than most conventional control threats when playing against aggressive strategies which may choose to ignore the 3/5.
Sylvanas Windrunner – Control decks benefit from cards which can serve multiple roles. Sylvanas is a quality threat that can also serve as powerful removal. While less consistent, she is one of the few ways other than Hex that this deck can deal with large minions. Try to play her just before Mysterious Challenger or onto a heavily populated board in order to maximize her deathrattle.
Dr. Boom – Dr. Boom is at his best as the top end of an aggressive curve, making his inclusion here somewhat peculiar. Much like Sylvanas, Dr. Boom’s purpose is equal parts threat and removal. While many decks have answers to a 7/7, Dr. Boom can quickly end a game if left unanswered. Even when answered, his Boom Bots will allow you to trade effectively, either doing the work themselves or softening your targets for a Lightning Storm.
Alexstrasza – Alexstrasza is not only another threat but gives our deck another healing option as well as significant burst. Since our deck does very little damage in the early to midgame, Alexstrasza can often deal 15 damage to an opponent. This can set up quick kills with Molten Giants and burn or bring an opponent in range of a herd of stampeding kodos.
Molten Giant – The inclusion of Molten Giants adds an interesting dynamic to our deck. Our deck plays them in a similar fashion to Handlock, using Healing Wave to recover instead of taunt. They can be deployed as early game ending threats against aggressive decks. Against slower decks, they are best used to bait premium removal in order to clear the way for Kodorider. It’s important to identify which threat in your deck is the most powerful against each opponent and to sequence those threats accordingly, particularly against control decks with robust removal suites. If possible play your Molten Giants before Kodorider against decks like Warrior to bait Execute and Shield Slam.
So what’s the big picture.
Considering the unique circumstances of our final day of the run, I analyzed our overall results both excluding and including Day 6. I also filtered by Rank 10+ games and by several significant archetypes to better show performance at higher ranks and against common or perceived poor match-ups.
A few bits of information immediately jump out at me. While not relevant after Warsong Commander’s nerf, our results against Patron are a clear anomaly. The majority of Patron opponents we faced were not aware of how to play against our deck. Control Shaman takes the game long, allowing the Patron player to piece together their Frothing Berserker combo. If they play well, it is nearly impossible to defeat a Patron player since we cannot end the game before the combo is assembled nor can we go above 30 life. The Druid match-up is poor for similar reasons. It is difficult to stay above water when an opponent can burst 14 or more damage in a single turn with two cards. This is exacerbated by our deck’s desire to get to a low life total before gaining it all back with a single massive heal. Small heals that keep you above 14 health each turn are more effective against Druid than large heals like Healing Wave. This dilemma is reflected in our abysmal win rate of 24% against Druid.
On the upside, our win rate against Paladin, and specifically Secret Paladin, was phenomenal. An overall 72% win rate against Secret Paladin is significant given its current popularity. Our deck packs enough AOE to deal with Paladin’s aggressive starts and recruits while Hex and Big Game Hunter provide clean answers to Mysterious Challenger and Tirion. It’s worth noting that our success may be in part due to facing less refined builds of Secret Paladin as the deck was first becoming popular at the end of September. It may be worth considering the inclusion of spells like Earth Shock and Forked Lightning if the deck continues to rise in popularity.
One of the best features of our deck is its favorable match-up against some of the meta’s most popular archetypes. Paladin, Mage, and Hunter continue to trend upward in popularity and Control Shaman posts excellent win rates against all three. While Druid, Handlock, and Warrior proved to be the deck’s worst match-ups, each is trending downward in populariy.
You’re never out of options.
Control decks generally allow for significant variety in card choices as they adapt to answer the current meta. Control Shaman is no exception to this. Fortunately, there are a bevy of options available to us. If you find a particular deck trending upward in popularity, consider the best cards for combating it. I’ve done my best to discuss nearly every option at your disposal and when and why you may want to use it.
Earth Shock – I receive more questions about the lack of Earth Shock in this deck than nearly any other card. The reason for Earth Shock’s exclusion is its narrowness. Silence is a powerful mechanic, but a silence effect by itself is rarely worth a full card. It’s been a while since Priest has run the card Silence, and Earth Shock is not much different in our deck. While it is very good against decks like Hunter and Paladin which run many cheap minions with powerful abilities that can be removed with 1-2 damage, it is nearly useless against classes such as Warrior and Druid whose minions frequently merit play on their stats or battlecries alone. If the meta shifts further toward Paladin and Hunter or we were to play more spell power in the deck, I could see Earth Shock’s inclusion. However, I don’t feel it has a place in our final S18 list as is.
Forked Lightning – Forked Lightning is a card to consider if and when the meta shifts more toward Paladin and Hunter. It’s a card we’ve explored to reasonable success in Season 19 and a card I think will warrant play going forward. Not only is it very effective against most starts from aggressive decks, but it serves almost as a form of spell power for your other spells, making it more reasonable to run a card like Earth Shock and potentially reducing some of the RNG inherent to Lightning Storm and Crackle. It’s also worth noting that Forked Lightning can often remove a Shade of Naxxramus, an ability which improves the previously poor Druid match-up.
Rockbiter Weapon – The usefulness of Rockbiter Weapon is entirely dependent on the composition of the rest of the deck. Without any windfury effects to synergize with Rockbiter Weapon, it is a much worse Lightning Bolt since it cannot get around taunts, is not affected by spell power, and causes you to take damage. With windfury synergy in the deck, Rockbiter is nearly always worth playing over Lightning Bolt. Our current builds neither play Windfury nor pack enough burst to warrant the combo’s inclusion. If you decide you’d like to play Doomhammer or Al’akir, I also recommend packing a couple Rockbiters. Otherwise, Rockbiter could be considered for the role of Lightning Bolts three and four, but I believe it’s worth diversifying your removal by exploring spells like Forked Lightning before playing the third Lightning Bolt.
Bloodmage Thalnos – Control Shaman has a lot of options in the card draw and 2-drop department. You generally don’t want too much card draw in this deck as it can be a liability in control mirrors which frequently go to fatigue. You also can’t afford to play too many cheap minions or you risk crippling your joust odds on Healing Wave. Given these factors, I don’t think you can play two copies of Ancestral Knowledge and Bloodmage. I also don’t think you can play more than two 2-mana minions (and sometimes two is pushing it). That being said, Bloodmage is an excellent option for Control Shaman as an alternative to Doomsayer and Ancestral Knowledge. Playing your card draw on minions makes the deck somewhat leaner and more powerful while the spell power improves the Druid and Handlock match ups. Ancestral Knowledge digs deeper faster and is stronger than Bloodmage when you need to find a specific answer. Doomsayer is a better option when you’re looking to clear several small minions rather than a large minion. Be sure to keep an eye on the meta and pick your options carefully.
Doomsayer – While our final Season 18 list includes Doomsayer, a second copy is not out of the question. Doomsayer is at its best when played on turn 2 or 3 against aggressive strategies to trade with their turn 1 and 2 play. However, Doomsayer has additional “hidden” modes which make it deceptively powerful. If your opponent does not have a silence, Doomsayer at its worst heals for 7 life by requiring your opponent to divert attacks to it in order to remove it and save their board. It can often even trade for a spell in these situations if your opponent needs to use a Frost Bolt or Kill Command to finish it off. Additionally, Doomsayer can be used to force your opponent to “skip” their turn. If you play a Doomsayer before your Paladin opponent’s turn 6, they either have to pass on playing Mysterious Challenger on curve or accept that it will die. This either makes it much easier to deal with the Challenger and secrets on the following turn or gives you an opportunity to clear overload and dig another card deep for an answer.
Wild Pyromancer – Wild Pyromancer is somewhat a mix of Bloodmage Thalnos and Doomsayer. It can be a Doomsayer against some Paladin and Hunter plays and still be a Bloodmage against Druid. The downside is that it doesn’t have the draw or burst potential of Bloodmage and isn’t quite as powerful as Doomsayer. In this deck, Pyromancer essentially serves as a neutral copy of Whirlwind. It’s not even necessarily wrong to sometimes use Pyromancer for both Whirlwind triggers in the same turn. I tend to prefer Doomsayer or Bloodmage in the 2-drop slot, but in testing, Pyromancer performed fine. Try out all three and pick your preference.
Farsight – I was very excited by the suggestion of Farsight by one of our viewers. In theory, Farsight is perfect for Control Shaman. It is a mana sink which improves our deck in a most vital category – consistency. Consistency is one of the most important aspects of deckbuilding and the reason cards such as Ponder and Brainstorm are among the most powerful in Magic: the Gathering. At 3 mana, Farsight is a far cry from Ponder in the efficiency department, but the potential it brings is more than worth consideration. Best case, Farsight can be used to cycle in the mid-game and generate a mana (or tempo) advantage in the late game. In practice, I found it was difficult to play Farsight in the mid-game. There is really only a space of two or so turns when it is ideal to play Farsight (this usually being on turns 3 or 4). These are turns when you’d otherwise be doing nothing other than using your hero power. Not only is this window fairly small, but it’s debatable how much more effective Farsight is than merely using your hero power. The Shaman hero power often may as well read “gain 2 health” as your opponent frequently has to respect your totems in fear of a Flametongue Totem or spell powered Lightning Storm. I’m not sure Farsight is efficient enough that it warrants play over broadening the diversity of your removal or threat suite. Increasing consistency is definitely a powerful trait for a card, however, perhaps warranting the card deserving of further investigation.
Feral Spirit – Feral Spirit was reasonably effective and often served as another form of board clear against aggressive decks. However, there are a few downsides. While curve isn’t important in this deck, having cards with varied cost is helpful for piecing together more efficient turns when crawling back in the mid to late game. Our deck is already chock full of 3 mana spells and turns 6 and 9 are already some of our better turns. Feral Spirit continues this trend rather than improving our ability to deploy effective answers at other points in the game. Additionally, 2 overload is a lot for a 3 mana spell, especially in a deck already playing so many overload spells. Similar to Lava Burst, there were turns when I felt Feral Spirit was an effective play for the turn but was concerned the overload could lead to a dire situation on the following turn if our opponent had an efficient response. There are far more ways an opponent can deal with Feral Spirit for no cost than say Lightning Storm. Since Lightning Storm creates value when played, we dictate the value it gains by deciding when to play it. While Feral Spirit has a different value in different board states, it is a proactive spell and thus can be managed by reactive spells from our opponent. For example, Leokk and Eaglehorn Bow make short work of a pack of Feral Spirits, pushing the value of the spell far below our 5 mana investment. Similarly, Priest frequently plays minions on turn 3 that can trade for both wolves and survive to be healed. If an opponent has a good response to Feral Spirit, we may gain almost no value from the spell. We also play very few small minions in our deck, meaning that we make all our opponent’s removal for small minions live when we play Feral Spirit. This not only means we give purpose to cards that were otherwise dead in our opponent’s hand, but that our opponent is more likely to have an answer to Feral Spirit when we play it. Feral Spirit is also a poor means for stymying an opponent’s combo. It is really only a roadblock to Druid and actually enabled Patron decks. While it can buy you a turn against Druid, our deck is not aggressive and thus cannot take advantage of the time Feral Spirit buys us. It is only delaying the inevitable outside of rare occurrences where the extra turn draws you Healing Wave or the particular removal needed to get out of combo range. Despite all the above, Feral Spirit was frequently effective against Hunters, Paladins, and Zoo. Given the percentage of the meta comprised by those decks, Feral Spirit may be worth continued consideration.
Refreshment Vendor – I was not impressed with Refreshment Vendor. It felt like a much worse Antique Healbot when I needed heals and a worse Piloted Shredder if I was looking for a body. The compromise of the two seemed to create a minion that never did exactly what I needed it to. Refreshment Vendor also hurts your jousting capability if played over Antique Healbot. It’s possible you could play him as Healbots three and four, but at that point I think this deck would benefit more from Piloted Shredder as a form of midgame removal. While the heal for the opponent is rarely relevant, it’s worth noting there were corner situations where I could not play Refreshment Vendor or it would prevent me from having potential lethal the following turn.
Azure Drake – Similar to Bloodmage Thalnos, Azure Drake allows you to play your card draw on a body and reduces some of the deck’s RNG via spell power. While a 4/4 body is not very effective in this deck or meta, it is undeniably more powerful than Ancestral Knowledge. The choice between Ancestral Knowledge and Azure Drake is a trade-off in efficiency versus power level.
Doomhammer – Doomhammer was tested in some of the early builds of this deck. Due to the lack of midgame pressure in this deck, Doomhammer was nearly always a value removal spell that caused you to take a ton of damage. This was sometimes useful for powering out early Molten Giants, but also frequently served as a liability. I found that the effective seven mana investment for the hammer was not worth its immediate impact. I often needed damage-less removal on turn 5+ to recover from an aggressive start. While Doomhammer was able to remove threats, it rarely kept me out of a lethal position. I could see Doomhammer warranting play if the deck is skewed somewhat to greatly improve burst potential.
Thunder Bluff Valiant – Some of my viewers have suggested this card due to the number of totems we generate throughout the game. However, it’s important to identify both the role of Thunder Bluff Valiant and the goals of our deck. While the frequent use of our hero power is a side effect of being a passive deck, our deck plays few to no ways to maintain a board of totems nor additional synergies with the totems. We are also actively trying to replace our hero power with Charged Hammer’s deathrattle. While there are corner cases when a turn 7 Thunder Bluff Valiant would be strong, it is not a situation our deck is looking to create nor is it a situation our deck could proactively create on a consistent basis. It’s also important to consider the role Thunder Bluff Valiant is looking to fill. Thunder Bluff Valiant is historically a finisher in more aggressive Shaman midrange decks. Is Thunder Bluff Valiant a better finisher than any of the cards we are currently playing? I would argue no. Thunder Bluff Valiant needs significant setup to work effectively. A minion such as Kodorider provides much more value up front, is more resilient to removal, and generates threat presence exponentially faster than Thunder Bluff Valiant.
Nexus-Champion Saraad – Saraad is not only a card that looks like it should work well in our deck, but a card I very actively want to work well in Control Shaman. The unfortunate truth is that Saraad is very difficult to protect in a deck with a nonexistent board presence. Consider that Tempo Mage and Priest are the two classes in which Saraad most often sees play. Both decks rely on a strong midrange curve to either apply pressure or control the midgame. These decks setup well for a turn 7 Saraad and can often protect him for several turns using their minions and hero power. Control Shaman, however, not only needs very specific removal in hand to protect Saraad but requires the opponent’s board be essentially clear before playing him. I found Control Shaman could usually only generate one spell from Saraad and that the average quality of the spell received was much lower than the 3/5 created by Kodorider’s inspire effect. Saraad could be a consideration in a more midrange and/or taunt-centric build.
Bolf Ramshield – Unfortunately Bolf Ramshield nearly always serves as an overcosted heal spell. Play him if you actively want a 6 mana heal 9 spell with mild upside, but otherwise stay far away from this card in this list.
Hogger – Hogger may be considerably more viable with Patron Warrior on its way out. As we discuss earlier, Hogger serves the same role as Kodorider. While offering fewer stats, he provides taunts to combat aggressive decks. The primary issue with Hogger is that despite the taunt, he doesn’t provide quite enough stats for mana that the current meta demands. 4/4s die to a lot of removal nowadays and most aggressive decks are more than well equipped to run over a 4/4 and a 2/2 taunt. I hope Hogger has another chance to see the light of day, but I fear he may just be outclassed by other options.
Master Jouster – I was not especially impressed by Master Jouster in our testing. While it was never bad, I believe it was often weaker and less reliable than Earth Elemental. It may be worth consideration if already playing Earth Elemental, in the market for another beefy taunt, and your deck has a high likelihood of winning a joust.
The Skeleton Knight – While not making it into our final list, The Skeleton Knight was my favorite card we tested in Season 18. As benign as the deathrattle may seem, it can be incredibly powerful if successfully triggered multiple times. Unfortunately, this effect is at its best versus other control decks which have high curves and can often successfully joust against us and make triggering the deathrattle difficult. Given our experiences with The Skeleton Knight, I would not be surprised if he becomes one of the premiere threats in a future control deck or a card we revisit if we decide to rework our minion base to improve our joust odds.
Neptulon – We tried Neptulon off and on in various builds of Control Shaman and constantly ran into the same issues. This deck retains too many cards in hand to be able to consistently play Neptulon on the turns you want in order to apply pressure. While he often had a positive impact on the game when played, the lack of flexibility of when he could be played effectively caused me to cut Neptulon in every iteration he started in.
Ragnaros the Firelord – Ragnaros has several knocks against him in the current meta. First, he is relatively easy to remove. Essentially every competitive deck is either packed with a means to swiftly dispatch a minion like Ragnaros or to win the game before he can matter. All that can be forgiven if a large minion provides enough value the turn he is played. While Ragnaros used to be excellent at providing some form of value every turn, the rising popularity of Paladin means Ragnaros will often be relegated to picking off lowly recruits each turn. While you could do worse than Ragnaros as a threat, I think you could also do a lot better in this deck.
Ysera – Ysera is a reasonable threat for this deck and has been excluded mostly in lieu of other cards we felt were stronger. Having more health and being out of range of Big Game Hunter, Ysera is much more difficult to remove than a threat like Ragnaros. Ysera also provides much more relevant persistent value if left alive. The minions and removal she spawns are exactly what you want when fighting a fatigue war against other control decks or confirming the win against aggro. The only real strike against Ysera is that she does nothing to impact the game the turn she is played and is too expensive to allow you to play effective removal the same turn she is deployed. This is the primary reason we chose flexible and impactful cards like Alexstrasza and Molten Giant over Ysera.
Frost Giant – Next to Earth Shock, Frost Giant is likely the card I am most frequently asked about. One of our first tests with the deck was to try Frost Giant. The results were underwhelming. It became clear that Molten Giant was powerful because it could be played for 0 to 3 mana and that it took far too long for Frost Giant to reach that cost to be anything other than a blank card in aggressive match-ups. While Molten Giant frequently swung aggressive match-ups in our favor, Frost Giant was literally unplayable in those same match-ups. Frost Giant could be considered giants three and four to help against control, however, I feel if you’re looking to add threat density against control, a more powerful threat like Ysera would be more effective.
Al’akir the Windlord – Al’akir is worth trying if you decide to play Rockbiter Weapon, but is a definite no-go without. By himself, Al’akir neither has enough attack to serve as quality removal or burst nor enough health to serve as a reasonable taunt. A divine shielded 3/5 is surprisingly easy to dispatch at the moment, particularly given the current meta’s proclivity for Silver Hand Recruits.
Where do we go from here.
If you’ve given Control Shaman a try already, I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have! I’ve found the deck incredibly adaptable and rewarding to play. Let us know about your experiences with Control Shaman in the comments! If you’d like to see more of the deck and how it’s been developing, I streamed it once again for Season 19 at http://www.twitch.tv/varranis. Season 18 and 19 VODs can be found on my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/