This guide first appeared here.
Hello everyone, I’m Ignatius. Today I want to present an elaborate analysis and tour of Midrange shaman, which has recently exploded in popularity -- but more importantly, in variety -- on the Ladder in this September season.
In the time I’ve written this, two other posts on Midrange Shaman have come across this forum. I read through them to try to avoid significant repetition and content; I’ve tried to ensure that I’ve presented additional analysis and thoughts to what has already been said in other posts (excellent posts by Ownerism and DoyleHS) on the archetype.
I will be offering my thoughts on the archetype, its recent variants, its playstyle, and a guide to a list that I used this season to hit Legend.
I hit legend on Day 6 playing just one list of Midrange Shaman at 63% WR from rank 16 down. I held favored matchups against all classes except Rogue (and 1 more loss to Warlock, partially due to not knowing how to navigate the Discardlock matchup).
I found in the current meta that the deck functions more consistently without Tunnel Trogg and Feral Spirits… have been referring to the list as “No-Trogg” Shaman.
I think every list of midrange shaman holds its origins in some other player, and I am not sure the source of this particular list, but I welcome attribution of credit in the comments if anyone knows, this would be appreciated.
Also, I’d like to offer a special thanks and acknowledgement to VLPS. His play, analysis, and affinity for Midrange Shaman in general attracted me to play it. Thank you. :)
Part I: Understanding Decklist Variations & Win Conditions
I consider the former “standard” of midrange shaman to include 2x Tunnel Trogg / 2x Feral Spirit / 2x Flamewreathed Faceless.
The win conditions for such a list vary based on mulligan, opening hand, and how the early board plays itself out. Generally, I find that midrange Shaman has two routes to victory:
- You look a little more like Aggro Shaman. You open with Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Feral Spirits, and Flamewreathed Faceless. Your opponent doesn’t have the answers for your opening. Then you protect the opening with a Lightning Storm / Thing from Below (if necessary). You win the game somewhere between turns 6-9.
- Your opening hand doesn’t have the most ideal curve, OR, your opponent answers your opening minions efficiently. Going into the midgame, you trade minions, and then swing the game with AOE or strong Tempo plays with Fire Elemental / Thunder Bluff Valiant. Sometimes Al'Akir the Windlord is necessary to close out a game with value trades or burst from hand. The snowballing tempo of your board pushes you to a win sometime after turn 7-8.
My biggest improvement in playing this archetype came with recognizing the matchups, the opening hands, and the early-game situations wherein I should lean towards the first or the second win condition.
Part II: General Concept Behind a “No-Trogg” List
The list I used this season recognized that when Midrange Shaman lines up against the current meta, the early game often becomes one of value trades.
Versus Midrange Hunter, Dragon Warrior, Aggro Shaman, Tempo Mage, and especially in the Mirror match, it is very inconsistent to rely on the first -- more aggressive -- win condition. However, this list excels at getting out of the early game (the first 5-ish turns) with a clean board, safe life total, and strong set of resources in hand to set up a consistent mid-game to finish the opponent. The addition of Spirit Claws and Maelstrom Portal seem chiefly responsible for this possibility.
You will notice in my stats to legend, Druid/Shaman/Hunter/Warrior composed more than 75% of the meta I faced. The winrate of this archetype versus these classes played out as follows:
Versus Druid: 79.3% [23-6]
Versus Shaman: 63.6% [28-16]
Versus Warrior: 66.7% [22-11]
Versus Hunter: 61.1% [22-14]
Perhaps these stats would reflect similarly in using a standard Midrange Shaman list (with 2x Tunnel Trogg & 2x Feral Spirits). Personally, I found the playstyle of this list to be more consistent, and especially stronger in the mirror.
Part III: Guide to the No-Trogg Midrange Shaman (common matchups)
75.1% of the meta I saw in the climb to legend was comprised of 4 classes, and most of the matchups versus the respective class involved the expected meta archetype of the class. I will cover in detail the matchups against Aggro/Midrange Shaman, Dragon Warrior, Midrange Hunter, and Token/Yogg Druid, and I will conclude with just a few notes about the Tempo Mage and Zoolock matchups.
Versus Dragon Warrior
General Strategy: If handled correctly, this matchup is consistently favored for the no-trogg Midrange Shaman. While Dragon Warrior loves to counter your Tunnel Trogg / Totem Golem opening with Fiery War Axe followed by Ravaging Ghoul / Slam / Blood To Ichor procs; this list doesn’t rely on those minions to keep the early tempo.
Your goal is quite similar to the Aggro Shaman matchup: manage the early board in such a way that you can set up for strong swing turns. The difference in this matchup is that Dragon Warrior does not have efficient ways -- like Lightning Storm & Maelstrom Portal -- to deal with a substantial board.
You should look to present such a board by Turn 7, and manage the main threats to your life total leading up to this point (mainly, Frothing Berserker, and the Drakonid Crusher at 9/9 on turn 6). Setting up for turn-6 Fire Elemental and turn-7 Thunderbluff Valiant often goes unanswered by the warrior.
Keep → Argent Squire (Flametongue Totem if you already have a Squire) / Rockbiter Weapon / Spirit Claws (Bloodmage Thalnos if you already have Claws) / Totem Golem
If your mulligan looks good → Look for multiple copies of the “Keep” cards
If your mulligan looks bad → Need to dig hard for 1-drop / removal / Totem Golem
An early Sir Finley Mrrgglton that rolls into any board-removal hero power is devastating for your chances of winning. Giving the warrior a consistent extra 1 damage on so many of your minions / totems that would otherwise survive (alongside the 1/3 body to wear down your totems) is simply overwhelming. If an early Finley hits the board and rolls such a hero power, expect to take significant risks in order to still manage a victory.
If you fall behind on board, dropping a Mana Tide Totem for 1 card and forcing your opponent to remove it is okay.
Primal Fusion into a value trade that preserves a must-remove item (like Flametongue / Mana Tide Totem) can often be the play that seals the game in this matchup.
Versus Shaman (General)
General Strategy: For the most part, do not count on controlling the board more efficiently than they do in the first 5 turns. You are looking to prevent damage to your face in these turns, while managing the board efficiently enough to plan a significant swing turn. This swing turn will come in the form of a buffed Maelstrom Portal / Lightning Storm, and ideally followed by a discounted Thing From Below.
If you plan for this type of swing, and hoard resources while preventing face damage in the turns leading up to it. Your finishers cannot be answered by your Aggro Shaman opponent. Some players do not seem to realize that part of creating a swing turn is hanging onto resources that you could actually play earlier. If you can play a Thing From Below earlier in the game, but you don’t have the board and you believe your opponent can go right through it with a Lava Burst, then you have not planned efficiently for the swing turn.
Granted, if you have to play it to protect your life total, that is a distinct scenario. But simply pushing your hero power in turns leading up to the swing can be an excellent way to steal the game from your opponent.
Keep → Argent Squire / Rockbiter Weapon / Spirit Claws / Totem Golem / Tuskarr Totemic (if you have coin)
If your mulligan looks good → Hex / Tuskarr Totemic / Maelstrom Portal
If your mulligan looks bad → Lightning storm is okay to keep
Often the mirror comes down to card advantage. Protecting one Mana Tide Totem (or ignoring one of your opponent’s) can be the difference in the game.
Since the list does not run Harrison Jones nor Feral Spirits, your only protection from Doomhammer is Thing From Below and Al’Akir the Windlord. Keep this in advisement as you plan out protecting your face from opponent’s burst damage.
Versus Midrange Hunter
General Strategy: Whether or not you can survive turn 8 has usually already been decided by the start of turn 4. What this means is that your mulligan should be aggressive, and how you handle turns 1, 2, and 3 are decisive for winning.
You want to be very proactive with your removal and development, and also very conscientious of the detriment any overload might cause you if your opponent is to present a predictable minion on the following turn. Ideally, if you can secure something on the board by turn 2, you can then drop priority removal targets (Flametongue and Mana Tide Totem) on 3 and 4 that interrupt the Hunter’s ability to swing the board back. Tuskarr Totemic shines in this matchup because turns 3 and 4 are so decisive!
Expect Savannah Highmane on 6, and save your Hex for it. But, if using it on 4 for the Infested Wolf gives you significant tempo, that is okay. Lastly, prepare for turn 8 with your Lightning Storm and Thunder Bluff Valiant buffs to seal out the game.
Keep → Argent Squire / Rockbiter Weapon / Totem Golem / Tuskarr Totemic
If your mulligan looks good → Maelstrom Portal (for Fiery Bat, Kindly Grandmother, Infested Wolf)
If your mulligan looks bad → Mulligan aggressively for the “Keep” cards
Do not forget to carefully consider the sequence of your trades in the first few turns to manage the deathrattles of Fiery Bat and Huge Toad.
Avoid playing a Thing from Below if you have not cleared all beasts from the board (if possible, of course); Kill Command moves right through it too efficiently for it to have an impact.
Realize that sometimes Midrange Hunter steals games with its curve. If that is happening, you have to take risks to move the match back into your favor.
Versus Druid (General)
General Strategy: This matchup is so significantly favored for the Shaman it’s somewhat surprising (since the Druid is indeed a very strong deck).
The mulligan differs significant in this matchup from others, as you simply want to find things to play on the early turns, so that you either force the Druid to delay their ramp by removing, or you punish them for not removing by continuing to develop the board. Thing From Below “on curve” -- even playing it for 4 mana -- is still very strong in this matchup.
And, once again, forcing Druid to remove your priority targets (Flametongue and Mana Tide Totem) on turns 3 and 4 significantly interrupts their ability to develop anything relevant.
Keep → Argent Squire / Totem Golem / Flametongue Totem / Tuskarr Totemic
If your mulligan looks good → Maelstrom Portal is okay to remove living roots tokens
If your mulligan looks bad → Look hard for the “Keep” cards
In this season my winrate versus Druid was 80% (which included a decent number of games). 5 of the 6 games I lost were due to Yogg-Saron, Hope's End. The matchup is so favored anyway, that it became a decent plan to value face damage so aggressively so as to close the game about before the Druid hit 10 mana, and this often came before turn 10 because of ramp.
Tip: don’t let the times where Yogg-Saron steals the game from you tilt you during your climb; tip the hat to your opponent’s good fortune, smile, and move on. :)
Beast Druid was not common in my climb, but if you are seeing it with frequency, the typical mulligan strategy that includes early removal like Rockbiter Weapon should be in play.
What you decide to Hex can be tricky. Ideally you want to hit Ancient of War or Arcane Giant, but if Hexing a Violet Teacher / Fandral Staghelm / or Azure Drake early gives you significant tempo and applies a lot of pressure on the Druid, then it is probably worth it.
Versus Tempo Mage
You must find early removal for Sorcerer's Apprentice and Mana Wyrm. If you have coin, this would include finding a Totem Golem to coin out on turn 1.
Always have a plan for how you will remove a Flamewaker if it comes down on turn 3, 4, or 5.
Thing from Below and Thunderbluff Valiant do not die to just Flamestrike on turn 7, but will die to Flamestrike + something else on turn 8, turn 9, and later. This is an important consideration as often the best way to “play around” it, is to simply drop these the turn before Flamestrike.
Save resources for the “post-Yogg-Saron, Hope's End moment” if you are far enough ahead to do so.
Versus Zoo Warlock
The regular Zoolock matchup is draw dependent but favored for the Midrange Shaman. Find early tempo / removal, and hang onto AOE’s for swing turns. Make sure you have an answer for Forbidden Ritual if you can afford to hang onto it.
I found the Discardlock to be a rather difficult matchup. Early tempo did not seem to hold no matter how nicely I handled it; their swing plays are really strong with Doomguard and Silverware Golem synergies (and in Discardlock, these synergies went side-by-side with more card draw). It became reasonable to keep Lightning Storm in mulligan and to use life total dangerously as a resource to maximize value.
I also found it useful to save Thing from Below even if it was a decent value play because it was necessary to follow a value-AOE removal with a strong minion to keep up with how much the Warlock can spit onto the board in one turn.
Versus Priest (General)
Aggressively find Hex in the mulligan (I ditch anything that isn’t Hex). Because the no-trogg list can’t live on an Aggro-based gameplan, early minions simply can’t out-value the deck in the midgame. Use Hex on Injured Blademaster. Use second Hex on Priest of the Feast.
Don’t play Azure Drake until you know you can protect it. Make sure you don’t buff the drake to 6-attack with Flametongue Totem or it is vulnerable to Shadow Word: Death.
If you find Primal Fusion, only use it if it means you are buffing a minion up to 4-attack, or if you are setting up a lethal.
Versus Paladin (General)
The most common Paladin I saw this season was the Non-N’zoth Anyfin Control Paladin. This is a difficult matchup as it has strong AOE removal, heals, and burst damage in the later turns.
In general, try to bait out an AOE clear by turn 6, and then go all in with your second round of board threats on 7, 8, and 9. Realize that Fire Elemental, Thing from Below, and Thunderbluff Valiant are difficult for Paladin to remove efficiently if the board is clear. Often times a tempo Thunder Bluff Valiant (without an inspire effect on the turn it was played) can be a strong play.
Save Hex for Sylvanas Windrunner and Tirion Fordring, but if you sense the game will be extending into fatigue (and this can happen), Hexing the Bluegill Warriors or the Murloc Warleaders can neutralize Anyfin Can Happen.
Note very carefully the heal that is achieved through Ivory Knight. Sometimes a low-mana heal means a cheap minion buff on a token that takes out one of your minions for significant tempo.
Versus Rogue (General)
Both Miracle and Pick-Pocket Rogue seemed to be very unfavored in my experience. Shaman has so many AOE clears, that Pick-Pocket Rogue tends to take at least one; this pairs with the other strong removal Rogue has and takes care of your threats.
If the Rogue seems to be hoarding removal, make sure you save a Hex for Edwin VanCleef.
Try to avoid playing Thing from Below on a turn that you aren’t dropping multiple other minions. Shadow Strike removal is amazingly efficient.