Shaman has seen some better days. The class has been an absolute beast several times during Hearthstone’s existence, but Forged in the Barrens has been hard for Shaman. We’d love to post some sweet Shaman decks for you, but unfortunately, there are none right now. The balance patch was expected to give Shaman a boost – Shaman got more buffs than any other class – but turns out that it did not do much at all.
So, what is going on with Shaman? Why is Shaman so bad now? Where should Shaman go next?
Let’s take a deeper look at the past and present of the class to figure it out.
Shaman in Standard Forged in the Barrens
I scoured the internet for any hints of Shaman success for this article, but I was unable to find any great feats. Shaman is not completely unplayable as such: there are two Shaman archetypes that can reach a 50% win rate over a long period of time, but neither of them can consistently remain above that crucial point.
The most consistent Shaman deck in Standard format at the moment is Elemental Shaman:
Elemental Shaman is a classic midrange deck: you play strong minions on curve and slowly gain an overwhelming advantage over your opponent. Compared to the average Hearthstone card, Arid Stormer, Lilypad Lurker, and Fire Elemental are quite powerful, and Kindling Elemental can help you play them ahead of the curve. Whack-A-Gnoll Hammer can further improve the stats of any minions you have on the board, so you can just play stronger stuff than your opponent turn after turn and march to victory.
That’s not a bad gameplan, but there are some clear weaknesses in it: the deck does not play well from behind as it lacks tempo swings, and Kindling Elemental is the only one-drop in the deck, so if you cannot find it in your mulligan, you are most likely going to play from behind and lose. There is a huge difference in the deck’s win rate depending on whether Kindling Elemental is played on turn one or not. Furthermore, there are no other great one-drops that the deck can use, so there is no way to fix it with the current card pool.
This is actually quite comforting: Elemental Shaman is a potentially powerful deck that simply lacks some core tools to consistently execute its plan.
The other Shaman deck that can sometimes win more than half of the time is Aggro Shaman:
Aggro Shaman is even more delicate and prone to streaks of wins and losses. It is also more polarized, and sadly very, very bad against Paladin.
Shaman is one of the few classes that have a good selection of direct damage spells at the moment, and Aggro Shaman makes use of those and the good old Doomhammer to simply smack people in the face.
There is not quite enough direct damage though, so you have to be able to connect with your weapon, and that means that decks with Taunt minions and some healing, like, say, Libram of Hope, can be impossible to overcome.
Shaman in Wild
Shaman has not always been bad, and its current state in the Wild format is quite alright. There are two Shaman archetypes that see play in Wild at the moment.
First, by far the most popular way to play Shaman in Wild is to play Murloc Shaman.
It is ironic that the new additions to Murloc Shaman in Forged in the Barrens – Spawnpool Forager, Firemancer Flurgl, , South Coast Chieftain, and Nofin Can Stop Us – were not sufficient to make the archetype good in Standard, but are all good enough to fit in the deck in Wild, where all cards are available.
Both of the above Wild Shaman decks are doing well at the moment.
Successful Shaman Decks in the Past – and the Failure of Overload
Shaman’s time in Hearthstone has been one big rollercoaster ride. The class has basically alternated between being at the very top and being at the very bottom, with each cycle lasting as long as one year.
Shaman has been one of the most successful classes in making use of expansion themes: Galakrond Shaman, Quest Shaman, and Jade Shaman all enjoyed their time at the top of the world, and Even Shaman was moderately successful in Standard and enjoyed a period of good success in Wild. From a long-term perspective, Shaman has been able to reinvent itself many times and has employed many different archetypes over the years.
There have also been recurring themes that Shaman has kept returning to: Murloc Shaman, Aggro Shaman (with Doomhammer), Elemental Shaman, Totem Shaman, and Evolve Shaman have all had their glory days as well as times when they have been the only archetype keeping the class in play.
Shaman has also had its affairs with a control playstyle, especially during the era of the original Old Gods, when Yogg-Saron, Hope's End and N'Zoth, The Corruptor saw play in various Control Shaman decks.
However, one notable Shaman mechanic has been largely absent from successful Shaman decks: Overload. It took the combination of Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, and Flamewreathed Faceless to make Overload desirable, and those were not particularly happy days for Hearthstone in general. It is notable that later in the lifespan of Tunnel Trogg, Midrange Shaman decks included only a handful of Overload cards for the synergy, but largely opted to use regular cards whenever possible.
Sure, Shaman decks have used some Overload cards because there have been no alternatives, but most of the time, Overload has proven to be too difficult to balance in a tempo-based game like Hearthstone. Usually, Overload cards have been too weak for the loss of mana from your next turn, and it would also be easy to make them too strong. Is Overload even necessary for Shaman class feel? I would seriously consider ditching the mechanic altogether because Shaman has had a large variety of archetypes that have been both unique and successful without Overload playing any significant role.
What Is Next For Shaman?
The current top Shaman decks in Forged in the Barrens – Elemental Shaman and Aggro Shaman – are archetypes with long traditions as part of the Shaman class. They are also some of the least controversial traditional Shaman archetypes alongside Murlocs and Totems. Incidentally, the current Shaman card pool provides support for all these archetypes: we could conceivably have a Shaman class that makes use of Elementals, Doomhammer, Murlocs, and Totems, and all of those would be deeply rooted in the class lore and history.
Even without Overload and Evolve, there are plenty of Shaman archetypes that could form the core of the Shaman class identity. It is not a matter of finding the fundamentals, it is a matter of finding the right balance. Most Shaman decks are one great one-drop away from being good.
While Shaman looks like a dead class at the moment, a closer look reveals that it is surprisingly close to being a part of the meta. So close, in fact, that a good mini-set could make Shaman great again. Blizzard does not even have to reinvent the wheel with Shaman: they have already released support for most traditional Shaman archetypes recently, there are still just too many holes in all of them to build great decks. While I am not optimistic about Shaman before the mini-set, I think Shaman’s current issues could easily be fixed with just a few good cards to support its current archetypes.