What’s Wrong with Shaman?
In the higher ranks of ladder, the Shaman class has become a sight rarer even than Goldshire Footman. This was largely the case throughout the last expansion, and Kobolds and Catacombs, a month into the meta, has done next to nothing for Shaman’s competitive prospects. Instead, Blizzard doubled down on the gimmickier aspects of the class. It is perhaps at its weakest point since before Whispers of the Old Gods.
How is it that Shaman fell so far and so calamitously from grace? The answer is a combination of factors that have combined to create a perfect storm in terms of class balance. I’m going to examine in this article how Shaman used to be, how it is now, and what happened with all this to make Thrall such a diminished hero.
As most of you will know, Shaman hasn’t always been so ineffectual. During the Naxxramas era, Shaman was certainly on the weaker side, with few compelling decks beyond some fun tricks revolving around Reincarnate and Feugen/Stalagg. Shaman really emerged as a force to be reckoned with shortly after The Grand Tournament came out in mid-2015. Over the next year and a half, immensely powerful cards emerged back to back: Totem Golem, Tunnel Trogg, Lava Shock, pre-nerf Tuskarr Totemic and Spirit Claws, to name just a few.
It was borderline oppressive shortly after the release of Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, in early 2017. The powerful tempo provided by Jade Claws and Jade Lightning synergized perfectly with the aforementioned greats. A perfect opener of one or two Tunnel Troggs, Jade Claws/Totem Golem, Spirit Wolves and finally the Hearthstone God, Flamewreathed Faceless – with a couple Lava Shocks sprinkled in to get rid of the pesky overload – was enough to smack your enemy back to Rank 20 in fits of rage.
Aya Blackpaw provided much-needed power in the later stages of the game. Tempo Shaman survived the nerf to Spirit Claws and Tuskarr Totemic because they weren’t part of their insane Overload combos. Drawing cards was no problem, thanks to Ancestral Knowledge. Thing from Below provided the killing blow to other tempo decks. Maelstrom Portal tore apart Pirate Warrior, and Shaman minions had such pumped-up stats for their cost that with Lava Burst and Crackle, it was easily possible to SMOrc faster than Warrior and Hunter.
So What Happened?
In short, it was the April 2017 Standard rotation that really, really hurt Shaman. Most of the cards that I mentioned earlier vanished from Standard, leaving the strongest archetype of Tempo Shaman with far fewer tools to gain and keep board control. Shaman has almost no card draw outside of Mana Tide Totem, which is a painfully slow and vulnerable card.
Journey to Un’Goro, perhaps deliberately, did not compensate for the loss of Tunnel Trogg and co. The Shaman quest, alongside that of Priest, Warlock and Druid, was quickly relegated to a sub-par tier. Murloc Shaman is certainly a potent deck, buttressed by Call in the Finishers and Finja, the Flying Star; but it has never reached the consistency that the Paladin version had prior to Un’goro, complete with Anyfin Can Happen.
The introduction of Elemental Shaman gave the class some real strength as a control deck. Volcano is one of the most versatile removal cards in the game, but it isn’t enough. The unholy trinity of Quest Warrior, Pirate Warrior, and Jade Druid largely pushed Shaman out during the Un’goro meta.
While other control decks took off during Knights of the Frozen Throne, boosted by extremely powerful Death Knight cards, Shaman was once again left in the arcane dust. Thrall, Deathseer is widely understood to be the weakest of all the Lich King’s servants – it’s cheap but very unreliable. It does not seal the game in nearly the same manner as Jaina or Anduin. In summer 2017, Priest skyrocketed in power, boosted by Raza, the Unchained; Jade Druid became even more of a monster; Shaman got Brrrloc. I won’t even mention Moorabi, because for one it’s shockingly, abysmally, Purify-level bad, and no-one is aware it exists anyway.
Shaman and Kobolds – Gimmicks Galore
With Kobolds and Catacombs, Blizzard seems to have taken Shaman in two directions, neither of which solved any of the class’s problems. One direction was back towards Elementals. Most YouTubers, notably TrumpSC and Kibler, saw the immense potential of Grumble, Worldshaker and Murmuring Elemental, and rightly so.
The second direction was to take Shaman back to pre-Whispers of the Old Gods days, by pushing Totem Shaman as an archetype. Sadly, it is almost as impotent as Freeze Shaman in the previous expansion. Windshear Stormcaller appears to be a newbie-trap of the highest order – it’s incredibly difficult to get all four totems on the board, let alone leaving enough space for this guy and Al’Akir.
On paper, Shaman has a great deal of potential in this expansion. There is a lot of powerful synergy. Corridor Creeper can be combined with Thing from Below to create a tempo dream of huge, free minions. Volcano also combos very well with Creeper and Arcane Tyrant, and together with Crushing Hand control Shaman has real strength. The Evolve plus Doppelgangster combo remains excellent, albeit unreliable.
Jade Claws and Jade Lightning are still around, and are seemingly included in every Shaman deck still on the ladder. Tempo decks with the Jade package and Patches the Pirate are fairly strong, but a mere shadow of their former glory. Overall, I would argue that despite these enduring strengths, other decks easily push Shaman out of the top spot.
A Bleak Future?
If that isn’t bad enough, it isn’t looking good for Shaman in the near future either. In a couple months, all the expansions of 2016 will rotate out. The prospects here are looking a lot like they did at the beginning of the Year of the Mammoth, when Tunnel Trogg and friends bowed out.
Shaman will lose nearly all of the key cards that they currently rely heavily on: Evolve, Doppelgangster, Thing from Below, the Jade package, Patches the Pirate, etc. The list of powerful cards moving to Wild this year is almost as long as last years’. Evolve Shaman, and therefore Thrall, Deathseer, will be vastly worse without Doppelgangster. The fun Recruit deck I’ve seen a few times, which uses Guild Recruiter to pull out 7/7s, won’t work.
We can only hope that the first expansion of 2018 improves the ladder situation. Because Blizzard produces expansions two in advance, this will be the one made with the KoFT meta in mind. We should therefore expect some kind of compensation for the joke that is Freeze Shaman, akin to Priest’s post-Purify transformation. We’re going to have to wait and see.