Welcome back to another week of Meta Breaker! In this weekly series I cover the process of building decks to counter strong/popular decks in the Standard metagame. Here’s a summary of what you can expect from each week’s column:
- 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.
Enemy of the Week
In the past two weeks, we covered a couple of different decks that were targeted at the general 3-deck metagame of Tier 1, according to HSReplay- Highlander Paladin, Highlander Hunter, and Murloc Shaman. However, I think it’s finally time we tackle the beast terrorizing tournament play and higher ranks with explosive combos- that’s right, it’s Evolve Shaman.
Let’s go back to our good old questions:
How does this deck win?
Evolve Shaman is yet another swarm-based Shaman deck- we’ve had plenty of experience covering that already with Murloc Shaman. However, while Murloc Shaman is generally more focused on rushing the opponent down with aggressive minions on curve, Evolve Shaman is a little trickier to play, which is why you see less of it at lower ranks. Its namesake card, Evolve, leads to all sorts of powerful combos with the tokens it generates with cards like Desert Hare, Voltaic Burst, and Thunderhead. The deck features plenty of other ways to take advantage of its tokens, from board buffs like Vessina and Bloodlust to reducing the cost of Sea Giant and Mogu Fleshshaper (the latter of which is great to Evolve, by the way).
In general, the deck plays the first few turns of the game pretty slowly, only swarming the board against another aggressive deck. Otherwise, it waits to play most of its cards until it has access to a powerful combo, such as Desert Hare + Evolve, Mogu Fleshshaper + Mutate, or Spirit of the Frog/Thunderhead + Zap/Voltaic Burst. Once the deck has established board control with one of these combos, the rest of the deck does a great job at accelerating that lead and bursting the opponent down.
How does this deck lose?
As is the case with many token-based decks, Evolve Shaman requires a strong board presence to get good value out of most of their cards. When their boards are consistently kept clear, it’s tough for the deck to have much of an impact. In addition, its reliance on strong 2-card combos makes the deck a bit inconsistent in the early turns. As long as your deck is capable of consistently establishing an early board presence, you can punish slow starts by the deck when they have a bad mulligan.
So we’ve got 2 plans of attack:
- Run lots (I mean lots) of board clears, and run them out of resources. Evolve Shaman is not good at playing off the top.
- Be aggressive (I mean very aggressive) and punish their slow starts.
I’ve decided to go with plan A for this deck, partially because it’s been a while since I’ve written about a control deck, and partially because I feel it will be the more effective option. As for what class we’ll be playing, I’m looking at the class with the most plentiful/most efficient board clears- Priest.
Having access to so many board clears makes Priest the ideal candidate for this kind of strategy. Our goal is going to be to trade evenly when we can and use AoE removal in response to their combo boards. Then once we’ve exhausted their resources, we’ll clean up the game with whatever finisher we decide is most effective. In other words, we’re playing a classic old-school Hearthstone control deck!
- 2 Holy Ripple - 2 copies of this card is a bit of a tech choice, but this effect is absolutely necessary to combat Evolve Shaman since they do a lot of swarming with 1/1s. It’s also quite effective against decks like Paladin and Murloc Shaman, so the card’s actually pretty well-suited for this meta.
- 2 Lightbomb - Priests are lucky enough to be able to play with this card while it’s in Standard. It usually clears everything on the board, 1/1s and Sea Giants alike.
- 2 Plague of Death - Will absolutely clear everything on the board, no questions asked. This card isn’t as important in this matchup, but it helps a lot against other decks that have strong Deathrattles. Plus, it still counters their Soul of the Murloc.
- 1 Mass Hysteria - This card’s less effective versus Shaman since they often have a bunch of random 1/1s, but it’s still nice to play after they play an Evolve.
- 1 Mind Control Tech - This one’s more for the Hunter matchup than anything- can help slow down some of their scariest draws.
The Midrange Curve
- 2 Northshire Cleric - I think in this meta currently, you need to be able to contest the board early at least a little- you can’t rely entirely on board clears to carry you to the late game. You need at least a couple of good minions to trade early so you don’t just get run over by explosive draws. Cleric does that and can even draw you a couple of cards.
- 2 EVIL Conscriptor - Again, we mostly just want something that can trade with cheap drops and generate a little value. I could see this being something else like Loot Hoarder since we don’t use Lackeys too well, but Loot Hoarder’s 1 Health is kinda rough in this meta.
- 1 Bloodmage Thalnos - Pretty much a free inclusion. Can cycle early, and can give you some nice combos with Holy Ripple.
- 2 Vulpera Scoundrel - I will never stop randomly putting this card in decks. I honestly think that given how our deck is running, we don’t care TOO much about efficient stats on our low drops and care more about the quality of the value generation (this is because of the quantity/strength of our AoE). Thus, we’ll go with the queen of flexibility for the 3-drop slot.
- 2 Hench-Clan Shadequill - The MVP returns from last week! This guy’s honestly not that great in the Evolve Shaman matchup specifically, but he trades well in Highlander matchups. We don’t care that much about the drawback since we’re planning to win in the late game anyway.
The Removal Suite
- 2 Forbidden Words - You didn’t think we were just gonna be running AoE removal, did you? This one’s a really nice flexible removal spell that can take out problem minions at any point in the game, albeit kind of inefficiently in the late game.
- 2 Penance - A nice spot removal spell for the early game- these are a must with the number of aggro decks running around. Also happens to play nicely with Thalnos.
- 1 Shadow Word: Pain - Forbidden Words #3.
- 2 Shadow Word: Death - We have a lot of tools to trade with early minions, but we’re going to need ways to efficiently remove an early Sea Giant. This card fits the bill perfectly.
Top of the Curve/Winning the Game
- 1 Archivist Elysiana - This one’s been a bit far removed from the meta since they nerfed Dr. Boom and increased this card to 9 mana, but I think it’s our best option. A lot of aggro decks actually have a way to generate a TON of value (like Zul'jin), so we need to be able to over the top of that. Forcing the game to fatigue and grabbing 10 extra cards should put the nail in the coffin.
- 1 Sathrovarr - In case you didn’t quite finish them off with the first Elysiana, drop this guy and get TWO MORE. Even Control Warrior should get out-valued by that.
Four Flex Spots
We’ve filled out our early curve, and we’ve got plenty of removal to force fatigue, so I’m going to fill in the last 4 slots with various roleplayers that can fulfill certain needs.
- 1 Spellbreaker - Having a Silence randomly comes in handy quite a lot, particularly against cards like SN1P-SN4P. Should randomly win us the game some non-zero percentage of the time.
- 1 Sylvanas Windrunner - Sylvanas is just a really good card.
- 1 Cabal Shadow Priest - There are a LOT of targets for this card running around in the meta right now. I expect this card to be useful in 90% of matchups.
- 1 Batterhead - Another board clear. This guy is particularly great against Evolve Shaman because he doesn’t care at all about Soul of the Murloc- he mows those 1/1s down all the same.
Let’s see what the deck looks like:
First of all, I got the chance to test this deck against Evolve Shaman specifically to make sure the deck was strong in the matchup, then I played some random ladder games:
Well, if you look at just the top rows, the results look fantastic! The only game we lost was one we got a bad draw and were expected to lose. Posting an 85% winrate against such a strong deck is very impressive.
However, uh… once you get to the bottom rows, it doesn’t look so great anymore. We literally were not able to beat any deck other than Evolve Shaman. What the heck happened?
Well, to start, we can catch a common theme- we’re consistently getting outvalued in the late game, even by aggro decks. Why is that? We have Elysiana + Sathrovarr, right? The problem is that our opponent’s high-value plays (Zul'jin, Shudderwock, N’Zoth) are powerful enough that they close out the game far too quickly. Even the N’Zoth Rogue deck beat us- sure, we can Plague of Death the first N’Zoth, but how are we gonna deal with the next 10?
Here we’ve hit the classic dilemma when building decks specifically targeted for one matchup. Our focus was a little too narrow, and that tunnel vision leads to the deck being poorly matched against the rest of the field. When building the deck, I’d theorized that Elysiana and Sathrovarr could help us go the distance, but the reality is that late-game win conditions need to put the opponent on a faster clock to stay competitive.
What Can We Change?
We should start by re-evaluating the deck’s win condition. The main package of removal and midrange creatures is very effective at beating Evolve Shaman- I didn’t ever need to play Elysiana or Sathrovarr in the Evolve matchup. Ideally, we want a package of cards that can help us compete in the late game without using up too many card slots, allowing us to keep the main portion of the deck intact. Let’s look at some ways to do that:
- -1 Archivist Elysiana, -1 Sathrovarr, +1 Ragnaros the Firelord, +1 Alexstrazsa: These Classic legendaries are pretty efficient when it comes to closing out games with the opponent low on resources. Hopefully, once we’ve played a couple board clears the opponent should need to spend some time redrawing. That’s when we drop one of these bad boys and close the door before they can recover.
- -1 Archivist Elysiana, -1 Sathrovarr, -1 Sylvanas Windrunner, -1 Spellbreaker, -1 Cabal Shadow Priest, +2 Inner Fire, +2 Divine Spirit, +1 Batterhead: Going back to ye olde Priest win condition. Slapping Divine Spirit/Inner Fire on a Hench-Clan Shadequill or a Batterhead oughta finish the game.
There are a ton of other ways we could restructure this deck- shifting into a Resurrect strategy, for example- but that would require changing a lot of cards and could hurt the Evolve Shaman matchup, which is the point of this deck to begin with. Overall, my thoughts on this deck are that it has some potential, but unfortunately, with the current state of the meta and finisher cards, it seems unlikely that this deck will be able to compete super well in its current state.
That’s it for this week’s Meta Breaker! What did you think of today’s deck? How might you try and make it more Standard-viable? Let us know in the comments below.