Welcome back to another week of Meta Breaker! In this weekly series, I discuss the process of building and refining your own decks to combat whatever’s currently dominating the Standard metagame. Here’s what to expect for those of you new to the series:
- Analyzing the current meta and choosing what deck(s) we’d like to target.
- Assessing the strong and weak points of our target(s).
- Identifying cards and strategies that may prove effective against our target(s).
- Building an initial version of our deck and trying it out against the field.
- Continually refining the decklist using observations and statistics taken from test games.
The Evolution of the Meta
As we are now on the third week of the Doom in the Tomb meta, we’re seeing a few classes and archetypes consolidate as the heavy hitters of the format. Last week we took a look at Secret Highlander Paladin, which remains the winning-est deck in the format, but another class is hot on its heels and rising fast: Shaman.
Part of what makes Shaman so scary going into this meta is that there are a variety of strong Shaman archetypes, and there are even a bunch of different ways to build those archetypes. Quest, Token, Murloc, and even Big/Malygos strategies are all quite prevalent on the ladder, and mulliganing correctly against Shamans can be very difficult given the huge scope of strategies you could be facing. Furthermore, Evolve is ridiculously strong with some of the support it has in Standard and does insane work in decks built to take advantage of it. Let’s take a look at one of those decks- this Token Shaman from our most recent Standard Meta Report:
Let’s ask some quick questions about the deck for a deeper understanding:
How does this deck win?
Token Shaman is an aggressive deck with a combo plan B. At its most basic level, this deck swarms the board, buffs its minions with Bloodlust and Vessina, and closes out the game, not unlike the Murloc Shaman deck we looked at a couple weeks ago. However, the deck also contains certain combinations of cards that, while they might not be amazing on their own, make for devastating plays when used together. For example, Desert Hare + Evolve gets you 4 random 4-drops for 4 mana and 2 cards, which is a massive tempo play. The cheap Overload cards enable powerful haymakers like Thunderhead and Likkim, and with all the deck’s token generation, Sea Giant and Mogu Fleshshaper come down for very cheap. Finally, Spirit of the Frog and Mana Tide Totem give the deck a ton of card draw, which either sets them up for their mid-game combos or lets them refuel in the late game. The end result is a deck with an aggressive gameplan, massive midgame tempo potential, huge amount of burst damage, and plenty of card draw. Pretty scary.
How does this deck lose?
As is the case with most token decks, the counter will still be either early board control or AoE. AoE might be preferable given the deck’s combo potential, but the AoE would have to be unconditional, i.e. can still remove Sea Giants and the like. If this is possible, it seems like this would be the most reliable way to beat the Shaman- a lot of their cards are quite useless while they have few to no minions on the board, and keeping their board clear can often leave them stranded with an effectively-empty hand.
Here are the traits we’ll look for in our counter-strategy:
- Be able to (repeatedly) clear boards of 4-drops or higher (by far the most important)
- Early board control is a plus
- Solid late-game plan that can close the door (before the Shaman draws a million cards)
- Healing (the Shaman has a solid amount of face damage between Likkimand Lightning Bolt)
Most of these traits point towards a control strategy, so that’s what we’ll go with. What classes have the best control tools for dealing with boards of midrange-large minions? Warlock has Twisting Nether, but that costs too much for my tastes. Plague of Flames is too situational as well. But let’s take a look at Shrink Ray:
- 2 Shrink Ray - Downsizes every minion on the board, Sea Giants and all. It’s a great play to make after your opponent has a strong Evolveturn, and can combo with several other cards to create a full clear. We’re not including Equalityin this list because Shrink Ray is a much stronger play by itself in a vacuum and is well worth the extra mana.
- 2 Consecration - Clears early boards against aggro decks. Combines with Shrink Ray in the late game to create an unconditional board clear. Can finish off the opponent in a pinch.
- 2 Wild Pyromancer - Can also combine for a full clear with Shrink Ray provided you play the Pyromancer first, although it hits your own board as well. Also has a good bit of synergy with a few other cards we’re planning on including in the deck. Even has the added bonus of being able to clear out early boards with the coin and a couple cheap spells, too!
Ending the Game
My first version of this deck was a classic-looking control Paladin that aimed to finish the game by grinding out value and ending with Tirion, Ragnaros, Sylvanas, etc. The unfortunate reality of playing a Control paladin like that is that so many decks have access to insane amounts of value in the late game now (Quest Druid, Quest Shaman, N’Zoth decks) that running that kind of win condition often won’t cut it against the late-game boys. Instead, we’re going to run the Holy Wrath combo finish that has seen occasional success in Control Paladins over the last year or so:
- 1 Shirvallah, the Tiger - Strong card in a deck with many spells, but in control matchups, we mostly care about this card’s 25-cost. If you think a matchup will go late, you usually want to hold this unless you need the healing until you can shuffle another copy into your deck with Baleful Banker.
- 2 Holy Wrath - Drawing Shirvallah with this lets you do a cool 25 damage to your opponent’s face. Can be done as a Hail Mary if you’re going to lose the game anyway, but usually, if you can, you want to wait until your deck is empty or at least down to 1-2 cards.
- 2 Baleful Banker - So here’s how the combo works in a perfect world- you draw out your whole deck, play Shirvallah, shuffle a copy into your deck with Banker, then deal 25 damage with Holy Wrath. If that doesn’t kill them, you’ve got another pair of Holy Wrath and Banker waiting. Sometimes you need to burn a Wrath for board control, but the Bankers should generally only be used to shuffle extra copies of Shirvallah.
- 1 Emperor Thaurissan - Brought back via Doom in the Tomb, this guy helps out this archetype quite a bit. With careful planning, it’s possible to create a 50 damage OTK- if you proc Thaurissan on both Bankers and both Wraths, you can do the combo twice in one turn with an empty deck! This makes it much easier to beat decks like Priest, Warrior, or Druid that run a ton of healing/armor.
Drawing our Deck
- 2 Novice Engineer - Now that we have a Shirvallah combo, there are a number of extra restrictions on the way we can build our deck. For starters, we need to be able to cycle through it ASAP so we can empty our deck and execute our combo faster. Novice Engineers help with that quite a bit.
- 2 Acolyte of Pain - Usually draws at least one card, sometimes two. We usually want to mulligan aggressively for our these and Engineers as it helps us hit our combo faster.
- 1 Crystology - It is incredible for thinning out our deck, drawing two of the minions mentioned above for just one mana. We’re only going to run one copy because we only have 4-5 hits, and the potential for the second one being a dead draw is pretty high.
- 1 Crystalsmith Kangor - Another nice Crystology target, this guy helps us stabilize against aggressive decks and heal out of the range of their burn.
- 2 Flash of Light - Keeps us alive, cycles through our deck, procs Pyromancer, heals double with Kangor. Checks off pretty much all the boxes.
Filling out the Curve
Most builds of this archetype will run cards like Hammer of Wrath and Time Out! in these slots, but I’d instead do something a little more proactive, given all the control decks running around in this meta. Getting something on the board that can attack face and draw removal seems like a better choice in this meta.
- 2 Vulpera Scoundrel - I was nervous about this card at first, but it’s performed amazingly for me in this deck. Having a decent play on turn three besides Acolyte is important, and there are many spells that, while they don’t necessarily warrant inclusion in the deck, are quite strong/synergistic. It also helps fuel your Shirvallah and can potentially net you an extra copy of Holy Wrath, fill out a board clear combo, or whatever else.
- 2 Sunreaver Warmage - I think this card is super undervalued, and wish there were more decks that could properly take advantage of him. I think this is one of those decks- we’re already running 2 Shrink Ray and 2 Holy Wrath. Warmage on curve does a ton to stymie the tempo of your opponent’s aggressive plan and can pressure control decks or finish off the last bits of damage otherwise.
More Big Spells!
Given the slow-ish nature of the current meta, I’m filling out the final parts of the deck’s curve at the higher spots and indexing a bit towards board control on turns 6-7. The final picks also have good synergy with the rest of the deck.
- 2 Avenging Wrath - Solid board clear vs. Token decks like Shaman. A good follow up to Shrink Ray. It also triggers Warmage.
- 2 A New Challenger... - This one’s a bit out there, but we do need a couple more spells to reliably have our Shirvallah cost (0). Not only that, but this card’s gotten quite a lot better now that Sylvanas and Thaurissan are in the pool. Having potential access to another Thaurissan can be a big game.
- 1 Archmage Vargoth - Combines awesomely with both of the previous two cards if you can protect this for a turn. Also goes well with Flash of Light and Consecration.
- 1 Subdue- Super-versatile removal spell for whatever random big minion is bothering you. Performed well for me in testing- would consider upping this to 2 copies.
Let’s take a look at the completed deck:
Results of Testing
Here’s a table with results from my first ten practice games:
Not a bad start! 60% winrate is decent. If you look at the turn numbers, you’ll notice that we reached late game in 7/10 games, with one of the quick games being a win due to an early concession. We also won both of our games against the Token Shaman archetype, so that’s great- although we had an unfortunate stomp by Quest Shaman. Also, the two slow matchups we played were very close, wherein both times I was one turn off of executing the second part of the combo. I think this deck’s biggest weakness is early boards- one game had an unanswered Hyena and one with an unanswered turn-4 evolve. I’d look to index a little more towards early removal or even include some Silence to help keep that under control. Here are some possible directions we could go with this deck from here:
- -2 Sunreaver Warmage, -1 A New Challenger..., +1 Subdue, +1 Aldor Peacekeeper, +1 Spellbreaker: This gives us some more general control tools that help us deal with random threats, and brings our curve down a bit.
- -2 A New Challenger…, -1 Avenging Wrath, -1 Sunreaver Warmage, +2 Hammer of Wrath, +2 Time Out!: Turns the deck into much more of a combo build, getting some extra draw in and having Time Out for when we know we’re gonna be able to combo soon.
- I won’t go into every single card change here, but I think this deck could function pretty well as a Highlander build that happens to contain the one-shot Shirvallah wonder. There are plenty of decent Paladin control tools or synergistic spells that don’t quite make the cut in the normal version but would be solid in the Highlander- such as Prismatic Lens or Arcane Dynamo. You also, of course, get access to Finley and Zephrys, who can both win games on their own.
That’s all for this week! How would you change today’s deck? What strategies have you been using to attack the meta yourself? Let us know in the comments below. Join me next week for another deck that may or may not be extra spicy (spoiler alert: it will).