I. Introduction – History Lesson on Control Shaman
Control Shaman is a deck archetype that I found very appealing from the start. I tried to make working since Reincarnate was introduced. The decks were more or less constructed to survive until you could unload a combo involving Ancestral Spirit, Reincarnate and Kel’Thuzad. Although you already got good control cards in the Basic and Classic set, the problem most of the times was surviving until you were able to unload your big bombs and the combo with K’T. In general, you were simply run over by aggro and even midrange decks before you could do anything substancial. The decks were just too slow, too inconsistent and lacked early removal as well as healing.
Since Curse of Naxxramas though, there were a lot more cards introduced that help this archetype out in different ways. There was Healing Wave introduced to give the much needed big heal against aggro decks. Further Lava Shock or more recently, but far less played, Eternal Sentinel help to clear small stuff while unlocking overloaded mana crystals. Since the beginning, Lightning Storm was the AoE to go for, but modern Control Shamans also use TGT’s Elemental Destruction for also Clearing mid-range minions. The damage to your own side of the board does not matter too much, because you expect to play from behind with control style shaman. The spell is extremely powerful in conjunction with either Lava Shock (for 5 mana) or Hallazeal the Ascended (8 mana), providing an extra burst heal with the latter and leaving a 4/2 or 4/1 minion behind with a mostly empty opponent’s side of the board. Crackle is no more, but Stormcrack is a worthy but slightly worse, successor. Finally, the disadvantage of mostly toteming up the first few turns was consistantly lessend by Thing from Below, which gives you an enormous tempo play around turn 4/5 and protects you from small to medium sized minions.
Before Standard, in September and November 2015, our friend Varranis from Fade2Karma wrote an article about the iterations he went through building a working Control Shaman. In his second article, he described once more how he teaked the deck throughout one week of playing it. Much of this is still true today. The deck seems to have become stronger than ever with an increasing number of players bringing controlish shamans to tournaments, namely TidesOfTime (NA Winter Prelims), Amnesiac (Hearthstone Invitational XFINITY) and Ignite (Hearthstone Festival, Lille).
II. Baking Control Shaman – Three Layers of the Cake
As I already hinted in the introduction, there are a good number of staple cards in this deck, some more flexible than others. I like to compare the decks with cakes, which can be deconstructed into three parts: base (core ), filling (flex core ) and topping (additional sub-archetype defining). By choosing cards from these different packages you can contruct the final deck to your liking. There is quite a big room for teching and personal preference in control type shamans. The lists may tighten up with more optimization in this rather new archetype though. E.g. it is still not settled if Far Sight is better than Mana Tide Totem, Ancestral Knowledge or even Bloodmage Thalnos. The deconstruction should help you to better understand in which directions professional players are thinking while contructing the decks and give you an Impression what choices are available for each function (e.g. healing or card draw) suitable in this archetype.
A. The Base – Core Cards
These cards are identical to every deck I listed in chapter III., with the exception of Reno decks which run (mostly) only one copy of each card. This is the utter core that defines the archetype most. It consists of what you expect from a control style deck: hard removal , AoE as well as mana cost reduction and overload unlock.
Lava Shock: unlock overloaded crystals, very powerful on turn 5 in combination with Elemental Destruction to whipe the board and not having 6 overloaded crystals resulting in a blank turn on turn 6.
Elemental Destruction and Lightning Storm: get rid of enemy minions. Be aware that E.D. affects your minions too. There is a synergy with Hallazeal the Ascended for burst heal as a powerful comeback mechanism.
Hex: simply one of the best hard removals in the game for only 3 mana. Consider trading before casting it because of the Frog having taunt.
Emperor Thaurissan: lower mana cost to play big stuff earlier. Owing his effect, he has a pseudo-taunt. If your opponent cannot deal with him the turn after he is played, he is in deep trouble. Thaurissan enables the Earth Elemental + Ancestral Spirit + Faceless Manipulator combo.
B. The Filling – Flexible Core Cards
This subset contains cards which are identical mechanic-wise, but may vary number and composition dependent on personal f preference and synergies with the package chosen for the third component (see next brake). Examples: card draw – Mana Tide Totem, Ancestral Knowledge, Far Sight.
Healing Wave: your mostly expensive minions favor the result of a big heal against aggressive decks, against which you need the huge heal most.
Hallazeal the Ascended: Use this minion wit hyour AoE to get a big late-game heal.
Thing from Below: 5/5 taunt for 4 mana on turn 4? I take it! In late game situations it can become even cheaper and is perfect in conjunction with Ancestral Spirit to proctect you from a lot of smaller minions. for little mana.
B2. Direct Damage
Both cards are cheap and effective with the (small) downside of overloading you. Highly effective against early- and mid-game minions or to finish off a big guy. Stormcrack cannot be used to burn the face late-game for the win.
B3. Card Draw
These cards are in my oppinion the most difficult to balance bcause every one has advantages and disadvantages.
Ancestral Knowledge: This is the cheapest option to draw cards at first glance. Effectively it is 4 mana over two turns though. It can be used to dig into answers effectively late game and will enable you to play the answer directly. Early game it blocks out tow turns most of the times.
Bloodmage Thalnos: The Bloodmage offers synergy with your damage spells and may be a guaranteed alternative to the 1:4 chance to obtain a Wrath of Air Totem. On the other it may only be a cycled card because your opponent may be able to remove him easily.
Far Sight: This one cycles through the deck while granting cost reduction. It is a slow card indeed but it may enable you to use Ancestral Spirit combos early or reduce the cost of a substantial minion to get it on board early. When you run it, you may want to reduce 1-mana cards as much as possible to reduce the risk of a total wiff.
Mana Tide Totem: It is a cycle in worst case scenario – with the associated tempo loss. On the other hand it can snowball, when behind a taunt and if the opponent is not able to remove it. You have to calculate which case is more probable to weight in between this and Far Sight.
C. The Topping – Sub-Archetype Defining Cards
These cards define the sub-archetype of the deck. They can heavily vary with the direction chosen. Examples: N’Zoth vs. Dragon synergy.
Notably, Reno Control Shaman decks, owing their nature of running only one copy per card, look very different to the other 3 major sub-archetypes, Ancestral Spirit, N’Zoth and Dragon Control Shaman.
C1. Ancestral Flavor
The gameplan is to use these three cards together after reducing the cost of two or more pieces with Emperor Thaurissan. Alternativly Ancestral Spirit is also useful in conjunction with Thing from below or other big minions.
C2. N’Zoth Flavor
This is the core of almost every N’Zoth decks. Some player mix a Twilight Summoners or Infested Tauren into this cocktail, but they are not necessary. Even bringing back one of the three big deathrattle minions is mostly sufficient. The only downside in Shaman is that there is no class deathrattle minion. It is noteworthy though, that minions on which you cast Ancestral Spirit (e.g. Earth Elemental) will not be resurrected. If you cast AS on for example Chillmaw on the other hand, it dies and the returnign Chillmaw dies again, two Chillmaws will be brang back to life by N’Zoth. Combine package C1 with this C2 flavor for even crazier plays – multiple Sylvanasses? No problem!
C3. Dragon Flavor
Dragon synergy at its core. I think everything about this package is known by now. Effective taunts, card draw, single-target damage and late-game bombs, what do you want more? Well, you are right, no classs specific dragon here 🙁 , please Blizzard give us a dragon in shaman!
C4. Pure Control Flavor
More board clears and Damage to the opponents minions or the face if the board was already swept is the plan of this package. Flamewreathed Faceless is in the mix to provide a cheap big body to contest most likely 2 or more early to mid-game minions.
C5. Individual Packages
In total Savjz’s version contains three of four Old Gods, very greedy!
C5.2. TidesOfTime’s Package
The first Control Shaman that saw professional tournament play after the release of WotOG. I so much wanted him to succeed.
C5.3. Neviilz’s Package
This is a very greedy and all in Dragon Control Shaman. I could not have believed it, but he got Legend with it in Season 27! This version is very much fun to play.
In this last chapter, I like to Show you, what decks were produced by the community. I will not cover every one of them, but this should give you a good Impression what can be constructed from the pieces explained above. This chapter is devided into three sub-categories: Standard decks, Reno decks and one Wild deck
A. Standard Decks
Ignite – Earth Elemental / Ancestral Spirit / Faceless Manipulator Combo
Thijs – Variation of Ignite’s with Hallazeal instead of Ragnaros
Savjz – Old Gods Control Shaman
Amnesiac – N’Zoth Control Shaman
Purple – N’zoth Control Shaman
m0gues – Dragon Control Shaman
Neviilz – greedy Dragon Control Shaman.
B. Reno Decks
The Reno decks might be more on the fun side of life but definetly worth checking out. I had some great moments while playtesting, but beware, they might not be viable for reaching legend rank.
Kripparian – Reno Evolve Control Shaman
Blake – Reno N’Zoth Control Shaman
C. Wild Deck
robophobe – Reincarnate Wild Control Shaman