The time has finally come. Midrange Shaman was one of the worst decks in the game for a really long time already. If you discount a slight resurgence after TGT (Totem synergy!), it wasn't a really popular deck since, I don't know, Classic/Naxx? I remember a lot of Shamans being played at that time, including Shaman bots. Funny thing, actually, is that you could play in the middle of the night (like 3-4 am) with a deck that counters Midrange Shaman and farm easy Legend on all of the bots, because at that point most of the real players were in beds, yet bots grinded the ladder constantly.
But, Midrange Shaman isn't associated with bots for a long time already. It's associated with a weak deck, with a bad design. There were tons of problems with the deck - meta not favoring it, overload mechanic being too costly without having good ways to remove it, it had no real early game, it was heavy RNG class and you often had to win 1/4 Totem Roll or 1/2 Lightning Storm roll in order to not fall back, it required board presence to do ANYTHING and it was pretty hard to reset the board after a clear... You know what? Most, if not all, of the problems were solved. For the last few expansions, Shaman was getting more and more strong cards. And I'm talking about BRM and further, so all of them available in Standard. Removing Naxx + GvG (where Shaman didn't lose anything very significant) AND adding a few more strong cards in WoG was like throwing a match into a barrel of gunpowder. Guess what happened.
Midrange Shaman is one of the strongest decks in the current meta game, and I'm pretty sure that it will stay on the top even once the meta settles. It's like the new Midrange Druid, expect to face Shamans all the time on the ladder and see them in every lineup in tournaments. I compared it to pre-nerf Midrange Druid, because the decks share a lot of similarities. They both want to play proactively, they both can play minions ahead of the curve (Druid with Innervate, Shaman with Overload mechanic) and they both have big burst finisher (Druid had FoN + SR, Shaman has Doomhammer + Rockbiter and/or Bloodlust).
I want to present you my own version of the deck. It's still hard to tell which version is the best, because right now there are SO MANY cards you'd want to play in the Shaman deck, but just can't, because you don't have enough card slots. Expect the deck to be optimized in a few weeks from now, but right now there are quite a few different versions going around on the ladder - more aggressive ones without late game (not Aggro, but just aggressive Midrange), the Totem version, the Bloodlust one, I've even seen a slower ones with cards like The Mistcaller and Al'Akir the Windlord. And a lot, a lot of decks mixing a few of those. But the most popular versions share the same, strong core and I'll talk about good, alternative cards you can put into your deck later. Okay, let's get down to business!
The highest peak rank I had this season so far was 50 on EU. Midrange Shaman is definitely a high Legend material right now. Just logged in and made a quick proof of Legend (the win put me exactly at rank 100 btw :D):
Current Midrange Shaman is kinda a mix between the old, old Midrange Shaman builds AND the more recent Aggro Shaman. It's definitely not a slow deck, even though it can play a control game if it needs to. Shaman is incredibly proactive, it wants to get onto the board and snowball the game from there. Each minion on his board is a threat - it can be buffed with Flametongue Totem, it can push for tons damage with Bloodlust or it can get evolved with Master of Evolution. Considering the quality of the Shaman's early game, it's very hard to keep him from getting the early game board control.
And when you play Midrange Shaman - that's your game plan most of the times. You want to get onto the board, protect it and start pushing for damage while efficiently removing opponent's threats. That's right - you don't want to go all-in on the face. I mean, you can do that sometimes, if you know that you're not winning value game you can try rushing opponent down, but you generally do the trading. The reason is that you're less vulnerable to AoE clears then. If enemy clears your board while his board is empty - that's okay, initiative usually goes back to you. But if he has minions on the board, it's very rough to come back.
The huge strength of this build is how much a board with 5 attack total (spread among 5 minions let's say) can be threatening. Even though it seems that 0/2 Totems aren't a big threat, they are. That 5 damage board can turn into 20 damage board with one Bloodlust. It can also get a really efficient trades with Flametongue. Enemy often feels forced to AoE the board full of totems, which is really fine for you. Besides the early game push (you might try to rush enemy down if you get a very high tempo start) you can take the game slower - bait the AoEs with smaller boards (which enemy will have to AoE anyway) and then go all-in and make a final push.
Shaman always had problems with refilling the board. It got removed - Shaman could usually play like one minion + Hero Power. It's not really that strong. Right now, however, it's incredibly easy to refill and make a very threatening board. For example - enemy completely clears everything, you drop Tunnel Trogg + Totem Golem + Flamewreathed Faceless. And now you have 4/3, 3/4 and 7/7 on the board - another board enemy really has to clear or you just put him on a very short clock. Another incredible way to refill is Thing from Below. It's an insane tempo play - by the time you want to refill the board after AoE it's usually down to 0-2 mana, so you can drop it without even hurting your other plays. And almost free 5/5 Taunt is insanely strong. If you don't play right into opponent's AoEs, you should have enough steam to reload like 2 or 3 times even after getting completely cleared. And that's usually more than enemy can handle.
Shaman still has some problems, one of them is most certainly lack of sticky minions. You have zero minions with Deathrattles or Divine Shields or stuff like that - it means that one spell like Flamestrike can often completely wipe your board. Like I've said - it's not that big of a deal since you can refill, but if you run against a heavy AoE decks like RenoLock (Demonwrath, Hellfire, Shadowflame, Twisting Nether) it can be a problem in a way that you might actually run out of steam because of their AoEs. And the everlasting problem of Shaman is that you need to have board in order to really do anything - you have some cards that are pretty dead without you being in the control of the game. So if you play against Zoo Warlock who curves out perfectly, it might be impossible to win without a good turn 3-4 Lightning Storm. Totem RNG is still a problem, sometimes getting or not getting certain totem is a matter of life and death. But that's a much lesser problem if you can back up your totems with so many strong cards.
Like I've said before - expect Midrange Shaman to be dominant force in this meta. Even I have finally started playing the class (and if you know me, that would be a big indicator of how strong the deck is, because I really disliked the Shaman's gameplay). So if you want to rank up - a good idea is to either play the Shaman or equip your deck to face the Shamans.
I will try to keep it short for the obvious staples and talk more about the new WoG cards or more important cards.
2x Rockbiter Weapon - Early game removal, late game burst (mostly with Doomhammer). Early game it's like a 1 swing of Fiery war Axe. 3 damage for 1 mana is a really good tempo play, it has a downside of not being able to go through the Taunts and you having to sacrifice your health (just like with the weapons). Later in the game you use it in combination with Doomhammer to have a huge burst turn - then it's 6 damage for 1 mana.
1x Argent Squire - 1-drop, to make the early game curve more consistent. Argent Squire was the obvious choice for Shaman, because it has great synergy with Flametongue Totem.
2x Tunnel Trogg - The main reason why Shaman's early game is so sick. 1/3 base stats make it really hard to remove it when dropped on turn 1. Then every time you overload yourself, it grows. The card can snowball out of control really quickly. Even if you just follow it up with a Totem Golem, you have a 2/3 and 3/4 on turn 2 - it's a really threatening board possibly even before enemy could drop anything. Later in the game it's a curve filler if you intend to play an overload card the same turn - for example you can drop this + Flamewreathed Faceless on turn 5 to get a 1 mana 3/3.
2x Flame Juggler - One of the best neutral 2-drops in the game. Shaman doesn't really have access to great 2-drops besides Totem Golem AND the class really could use some ways to ping. Flame Juggler solves those problems. The card is great against Zoo, where 1 attack minions are very common + 2/3 stats line up really well against their t2 plays - Knife Juggler, Dark Peddler and Dire Wolf Alpha.
2x Flametongue Totem - This card can straight up win you a game or be almost useless, depending on the situation. You don't want to drop it on turn 2 most of the time. If you have no board, it does nothing. But then again, if you have the board control and 2-3 minions, possibly one or two with Taunt, Flametongue can do wonders. It boosts your trades, it puts a lot of pressure on your enemy and it requires removal - one Flametongue can e.g. let you trade 1/1 and 0/2 into 5 health minion AND push for 4 more face damage with the rest of the board AND eats a removal from opponent. And that's all for 2 mana. Insane if it sticks to the board, if enemy has no way to kill it, Shaman can outvalue or outdamage any deck.
2x Totem Golem - What's so good about this minion? After all, you pay 3 mana total for a 3/4. Well, if you look at it that way, it's pretty weak. But the strong point is that you play it on turn 2, where pretty much nothing can contest it. You can play it into 2/3, into 3/2, whatever, and most of the time you'll get a trade and your minion will still be alive. Totem Golem gets 2 for 1 very frequently. And the Overload part is actually very nice if you drop turn 1 Tunnel Trogg.
2x Feral Spirit - I didn't really like this card before Tunnel Trogg was released. I mean, it wasn't THAT bad, but 2 mana overload really hurts and paying 5 total mana for 2x 2/3 Taunts wasn't the best deal. But just like with Totem Golem - the fact that it comes earlier (turn 3) and the fact that it buffs Tunnel Trogg reedem Feral Spirit. It's awesome in Aggro matchups, where enemy might have really hard time to get through two 2/3's. It's also really aggressive play if you can follow it up with Flametongue on next turn - your 2/3's turn into 4/3's and enemy can't kill Flametongue without spell removal.
2x Hex - Hands down the best hard removal in the game. Not only it gets rid of anything you want (well, except Shroud minions, but they're really uncommon), but it also denies the Deathrattles, it denies the ability for C'Thun to come back to life (through the Doomcaller) and couple small things like that. And that's all for 3 mana. It is very high value AND tempo card, so you really want to play two of those.
1x Lightning Storm - Aaaand this, on the other hand, is slightly weaker. Yes, it's 3 mana (+2 next turn) so it can be crucial against decks like Zoo where you really need early AoE. But on the other hand, the fact that the damage it deals is random might be really annoying. Sometimes rolling 2 when you really need 3 hurts. Rolling a 1/4 Spell Damage totem before helps, but yeah, it's also RNG. I think that since the deck is really proactive and once it's on the board it has a lot of ways to deal with opponent's stuff, it doesn't need 2 copies UNLESS you play against a lot of Zoo, then 2nd copy would be really good.
1x Mana Tide Totem - Card draw mechanic. Usually it's a 3 mana cycle that takes a removal (so basically 2 for 1 value). But in some cases, if you can protect it and enemy has no removal or other more important targets to kill - yeah, it can get out of control. Drawing additional card every turn is very huge, if it sticks onto the board for a few turns you definitely aren't going to run out of steam. I see a lot of players going for 2 copies, but I don't like it - I feel that even one might be a dead card in the hand sometimes, since you really want to make tempo plays in the early game. And I also have 2x Azure Drake for a card draw.
2x Tuskarr Totemic - Right now, we have 7 totems in Standard. It means that Tuskarr Totemic has a 1/7 Chance to give you Totem Golem, which sometimes just straight up wins you the game. Insane value - 3/2 and 3/4 for 3 mana in one card. In a pretty aggressive deck. Then it also has 1/7 chance to get Flametongue Totem or Mana Tide Totem, both of which need to be dealt with ASAP. Then, there are normal totems, which aren't that terrible either, every of them can get you some value. Creating 2 bodies means that it has nice synergy with Flametongue and Bloodlust + summoning totems makes your Thing from Below cheaper.
2x Flamewreathed Faceless - Yeah, I know, some overload cards were really terrible. Just take the Dust Devil. 2 mana overload for something like that? It's a 3/1 with Windfury for 3 mana.. But then again, this is an exaggeration in the other way. 4 mana 7/7 is incredible. And with only 2 points of overload, even if we add the total cost it's a 6 mana for a 7/7, so over vanilla stats. Totem Golem is really good even with 3-drops vanilla stats, just because it can come a turn earlier. This has better than vanilla stats and can come TWO turns earlier. With Big Game Hunter no longer being played that much (I haven't seen him even once in like 2 or 3 days already) AND it being out of range of pretty much any minion, it's hard removal or bust most of the time. Yes, if Priest can answer it with Shadow Word: Death, it's good. But if enemy doesn't have it, even one hit connecting with his face spells a hard game.
1x Master of Evolution - Card with a huge potential, but slightly too RNG for my taste to run two of them. I mean, getting a Doomsayer out of totem is not really what you want when you have the board lead. But, it's very strong when played on certain minions. The deck has some "weak body for the mana cost with strong effect" cards. Those are ones you want to evolve. Good examples is your 3-drop - Tuskarr Totemic. Even though it costs 3 mana, the body is only 3/2. If you evolve it into a 4-drop, you can be almost sure that you'll get something better. Even a 2/4 or 3/3 are better. Yes, even if evolving Tuskarr Totemic you can get something really bad, but it's about the chances. Same goes for your 6-drops - getting a random 7-drop out of them should be really good after they've done the job already. Plus you can use it to "heal" your minions. E.g. trade Fire Elemental into 4 Attack minion, it survives at 1 health, you Master of Evolution it and the 7-drop is at full. I like the card as an one-of but I don't think I'd want to run two of them.
1x Doomhammer - Mainly a tool to, well, smack opponent's face. It's crazy how much damage can be packed into one card. Even at the base, it's 16 damage over 4 turns (including the one you play it). By pushing 4 damage per turn with your weapon alone, you put enemy on a clock. It usually means his turns are weaker, because he needs to play defensive - Taunt up, heal himself etc. And this means that you can push your board advantage, which is a win-win situation. Enemy doesn't care about Doomhammer - you just kill him with it. He cares - you take other advantages. The worst case scenario is obviously Harrison Jones - it's a rather popular tech card and it completely ruins your dreams (Acidic Swamp Ooze is also terrible, although not as bad as Harrison). Doomhammer can give you a big burst turn with Rockbiter Weapon, meaning that if you suspect enemy having a way to destroy your weapon you might keep it + Rockbiters and play them at once for a surprise burst out of your hand.
1x Bloodlust - Another burst win conditions. Burst combos are really good, because enemy often can't play around them. You have 4-5 minions on the board, because enemy couldn't clear them? You punish him very hard and push for 12-15 more damage, most likely killing him at the same time. A secondary use is board clear tool. If your board is full of totems and you really need to do the trading, but you don't have Flametongue Totem (or you have it, but need more) - Bloodlust can be useful. It's very easy to reset the board if you have just a few small minions. It's similar to Savage Roar in a way that you generally want to keep it for the burst, but using it as a removal is okay if you can't burst the enemy down.
2x Azure Drake - Strangely enough, this build doesn't run spells, so the Spell Damage part of Azure Drake is nearly useless. I mean, it has a nice synergy with Lightning Storm and that's it. But, that's not really the point of this card. It's mostly about the card draw, as it turns out there aren't a lot of great neutral card draw mechanics and I prefer Drakes over 2nd Mana Tide Totem (because they are more relevant on the board). The deck also doesn't have any 5-drops. I mean, Doomhammer is kinda a 5-drop, but you don't really want to use it until you already have a board lead or you're close to lethal + it overloads you going into turn 6, which isn't perfect. Azure Drake is a welcome sight in the late game when you're already out of steam.
2x Fire Elemental - I remember the times where Fire Elemental was considered one of the strongest Neutral minions in the game. And you know, it still kinda is. It has a 2 mana worth of removal attached to a 6/5 body and that's for 6 mana total. So it's like (not exactly, but to understand the point) 4 mana 6/5 and 2 mana removal (like Darkbomb, Quick Shot etc.) in one card. It's still very strong, I like it a lot since there are a lot of 3 health minions in the current meta. Fire Elemental almost always gets 2 for 1 and is a strong tempo play. Another value + tempo in one card, that's exactly what this kind of deck wants to play.
2x Thing From Below - Even though it costs 6 mana, you will NEVER use it at 6 mana. I don't even remember using it for more than 4 mana and at 4 mana it's already a great play. Want more tempo? Here you have it. What's cool about this guy is that the mana cost gets down no matter where he is. So in the mid game you can easily play it for the 3-4 mana, but if you topdeck it in the late game it will most likely cost 0-2. It's one of your main ways to refill the board after the clear - enemy drops a big AoE, you play two of those and you have huge board that requires answering once again.
I'll shortly talk about the cards you could put into the deck. You can use my list as a baseline and tinker with it yourself, depending on your play style, preferences, matchups you face etc. Here is the list of the cards that you could seriously consider. They were all tested by me, people I play with or pro players.
- Primal Fusion - I'll be honest - I haven't experimented with this card yet, but I definitely will. At first I haven't seen it as a very good card. I mean, it seemed okay. But after playing some Midrange Shaman and realizing how many totems you sometimes have on the board, yeah... Even with 2 Totems, which is really easy to get, a 1 mana for +2/+2 is okay. And it's easier to get it even bigger - 1 mana Blessing of Kings? Why not.
- Lightning Bolt - Early game removal, another way to buff your Tunnel Trogg, slight synergy with the Azure Drake, possible late game burn spell. I see a lot of lists running Bolts, but not running Fire Elementals. And it probably depends on the matchups you face - Bolt is better in faster matchup, as an early game removal. Fire Ele is better in Midrange/Control matchups, because it does the same later in the game, but comes with a big body too.
- Eternal Sentinel / Lava Shock - Generally ways to get rid of the overload. I don't find overload being that big of a deal in this list, so I don't play them. But if you want to go for the more overload heavy one, like add an Elemental Destruction or Earth Elemental, you should definitely consider those (and if I had to pick one, I'd say that Eternal Sentinel is stronger).
- Elemental Destruction - "Oh shit" button, a board wipe when you really need to, good against some decks like Zoo Warlock that can just flood the board and you lose the game. I don't particularly like it in Midrange lists, because they are the ones that want to have the board and play proactively. It's very often a dead card, because you don't want to blow up your own board. But if you play a slower version, it could fit.
- Earth Elemental - Some players were using it in the latest Dreamhack and they worked quite well. The biggest problem with Earth Ele was always a Big Game Hunter. You pay 5 mana + overload for 3 and it could get cleared out so easily without any immediate value. But, with BGH pretty much gone from the meta and more ways to remove overload, Earth Ele might have a comeback. Great minion if you face a lot of high tempo decks - putting a 8 health Taunt wall on turn 5 that one-shots everything running into it is often more than they can handle.
- Thunder Bluff Valiant - Another cool Totem-based card. Very good in slower metas, it can alone win you a control matchup if enemy doesn't have a way to kill it. It turns your totems into actual big threats - if you play it on 3-4 totems it gets you immediate value, so even if enemy removes it, he still has to deal with the rest of your board that now is able to punch back. Another minion that I really need to experiment with, I especially like it against slower Warriors.
- Harrison Jones - Probably the strongest tech card in the current meta. Shamans are incredibly popular and hitting Doomhammer is like hitting the jackpot. Warrior (Midrange, Patron, Control, C'Thun) are also pretty common and now with the resurgence of Miracle Rogue that's like 50% of your matchups where Harrison can get a lot of value. Obviously it depends on your own stats and the decks you face, but I'd say that it's a great time to put him into the deck.
- Cult Master - This is one of those cases where card can be completely useless or can win you the game. That's the situation with Cult Master. If you have 4-5 small minions on the board, play Cult Master and Flametongue, sac all the minions in and draw TONS of cards, yeah, then it's value. And enemy still has to remove your 4/2 or you'll draw more. but if you have no Flametongue, you have minions you don't want to trade off or you can't trade off or even worse if you don't have the board - the card is nearly useless, because it's 4/2 for 4. If you play the deck and feel like you need more card draw, especially in the slower matchups, you can try one copy of Cult Master.
Mulligan with the deck is actually quite easy and it doesn't vary a lot from matchup to matchup. I'll start with the cards that are always a keep: Rockbiter Weapon, Tunnel Trogg, Flame Juggler, Totem Golem and Tuskarr Totemic are keeps 100% of time, no matter who you face.
Also, in every matchup, you might keep the Argent Squire + Flametongue Totem combo, because it's really good (Argent Squire often gets 2 for 1 against their 2 or even 3-drops that way). You also MIGHT keep Flametongue with Tunnel Trogg, but only if you have no other t2 or t3 play. If enemy drops a 2-drop into your Tunnel Trogg and you have no way to buff it at all, you can lose it for free, which you don't really want to. If you're on Coin, Tunnel Trogg + Feral Spirit is another keep in every matchup - amazing tempo move, even though you often skip turn 3 (so it's best to keep it alongside another 1 mana play like Rockbiter or Argent Squire, so your turn 3 won't be completely dead).
In faster matchups - like Aggro Shaman, Zoo Warlock or Aggro Paladin - you want to keep Argent Squire, Feral Spirit and Lightning Storm on top of the cards I've mentioned at the start. Those are the matchups where you really need to keep up with their tempo. They can flood the board by turn 3-4 and that's why Storm comes handy - since it's only 1 copy, you don't really want to rely on topdecking it.
In slower matchups you can keep the Flamewreathed Faceless. It's too slow to keep vs Aggro, but it's great vs Control. Yes, it might backfire - Priest might Shadow Word: Death it, Warrior can Execute it etc. and you lose the tempo but it doesn't mean it's a bad keep. Remember the Fel Reaver in Aggro Druid? He wanted to Innervate it out as soon as possible. That's the whole point - the ealier you drop such a big body, you give enemy less time to get their answers. The chances enemy has a big removal if you drop it on turn 4 are much lesser than when you drop it in the late game.
I also like keeping Mana Tide Totem against Freeze Mage - if I know 100% sure it's freeze, of course. Mage often drops a Frostbolt or Forgotten Torch on your 1-drop/2-drop and there is a big chance that he won't have a way to answer it. And even if he will - it still cycles and you've got rid of another burn spell. On the other hand, if it sticks to the board, you won't run out of steam - that's the biggest deal against Freeze Mage, if they can constantly remove your board you might run out of ways to refill it and you REALLY want to put a lot of pressure on Freeze Mage.
Another small thing is that if your hand is good already, you might consider keeping Hex in matchups where enemy can drop an early big minion. So, for example Shaman (Flamewreathed Faceless), Druid (Innervate + 5-6 drop) or Handlock (Mountain Giant, Twilight Drake). If you already have a board advantage and you answer their big play with Hex, you often can win the game through the tempo generated this way. It basically means that enemy is exactly where he was before and you might even play an additional 1/2-drop on top of Hex or even just a Totem (which is also cool) + you get enemy closer into the burst range.
Strategy + Tips
One thing I will really emphasize is that this is a minion-based deck. Your main win condition is board control. You NEED to have minions to do anything most of the time. It means that you should try to keep them alive since the first turns. If you have a good trade on the board - you should take it. If trading a weaker minion will protect a bigger minion - you should do it. Pushing for face damage instead of taking good trades is strong only if you can realistically kill enemy very soon. If enemy is still at 20 health and you don't have burst in your hand - play the board game. If you're setting up for Bloodlust - also play a board game. Pushing for a few more points of damage means nothing if your minions will die in exchange (meaning Bloodlust will also be weaker).
Early game is mostly about curving out. You really want a 1 -> 2 -> 3 or 1 -> 2 -> 2 curve (second one in case Totem Golem is your 2-drop). There are few reasons for that - first of all, if you curve out perfectly, sometimes you might win the game through the early game tempo. I had some games where enemy got really slow start and I've just won on turn 4-5 because I had a lot of board pressure. Second reason is that having board control means you control how the trading goes - you can keep whatever minions you want, you can trade off the 1 health ones etc. Another reason is that it makes some of your moves a lot stronger. Hex isn't strong if you have no board. I mean, you deal with opponent's threat, but you don't do anything besides that. If you Hex something while having board presence, you instantly take down the 0/1 Taunt and push for more damage. You put pressure on enemy. Same goes for Mana Tide Totem - if opponent has the board lead, it's 3 mana "tank 3 damage + cycle a card". If you have the board lead, it can stay on the board for a long time and draw you cards. Enemy has to choose - let's say you have a 3/3 Tunnel Trogg and Mana Tide on the board. If he decides to kill Trogg - you're fine with that, because you will draw tons of cards. If he decides to kill Mana Tide - you're also fine, because your Trogg survived and will put more pressure.
Mid game is about really starting to hit opponent's face. Yes, you might have done it before, but remember - early game you focus on the board, not the face. Mid game - face should be a bigger focus, especially if you already have cards like Doomhammer + Rockbiter Weapon or Bloodlust in your hand. The faster you finish the game, the less chances there are that enemy will wipe your board. So try to set up lethal as soon as you can. Cards like Flamewreathed Faceless and Thing from Below are great distractions for the enemy - try to drop them when you already have other minions on the board. If they can't remove them - it's great for you, you push for tons of damage. But if they can - it's also okay, because the rest of your board should have survived. Remember, however, to not push the aggression if you know that you can't kill the enemy. If it's turn 6-7 and enemy Warrior has 30 Health + 10 Armor, no, equipping Doomhammer and going face is rarely a good play. If you know that you can't win by the early/mid game aggression, you need to start playing the Control game. Not the "full Control", but enough to stall the game. First of all - bait the AoE clears. That's the main way enemy can win the game. Don't overcommit on the board until enemy plays his Brawl, Hellfire, Excavated Evil etc. Play just enough minions to put pressure on the enemy (so he can't ignore them, he has to AoE), but not enough for it to be a huge hit. For example - Tunnel Trogg + Feral Spirit + a Totem. It's already an intimidating board for the enemy in case of Flametongue or Bloodlust. Enemy often has to clear it and that's exactly what you want. If he decides to play it greedily and not use any AoE, you also might play it slowly. Play another Hero Power and push for some damage, set up for the Bloodlust. At some point he needs to clear it or he dies to Bloodlust. Use Flametongue to take the efficient trades without removing too much of your board. In this kind of scenario, you might also use Doomhammer to clear the board. Your health total is not a big deal against Control as log as you play around their possible burst (like enraged Grommash Hellscream from Warrior or Auchenai Soulpriest + Flash Heals from Priest) so use it.
But, you don't play every matchup like that. Remember that in most of the games, one person is the aggressor and second one is a defender. If you face slower decks - you're the aggressor most of the time. But sometimes, against Aggro and such, you're the defender. Here, your game plan is not to rush them down, but rather to survive. Your deck should hold a lot more total value than theirs - it means that unless they rush you down, they won't win. Against Aggro, you need to wrestle the board control from them and just kill everything they play while slowly pushing for damage. It might sound easy and it might be easy depending on the game. Games against Aggro mostly come down to who wins the early game. With a single copy of Lightning Storm being your only comeback mechanic, if you don't win the early game, you're going to have really hard time. So against Aggro go full-in on the tempo, don't worry about the value that much. Protect your health - if you go into the mid game with some board and 20+ health, Aggro decks have pretty much no way to win. Health also allows you to use Doomhammer as a board clear - it's actually very good against Aggro if you have enough health to spare, because a lot of their minions are 2 health or less + you can kill two per turn. Just don't fall down too low, because there are zero ways to heal with this deck.
Late game is very different every game. Against Aggro, there is rarely a late game - either they kill you by then or you stabilize and kill them. But against other Midrange / Control decks, late game can look differently. First of all - if you took the very aggressive early/mid game approach, you're at a value disadvantage in the late game. It means that it's your last call to kill the enemy. It's a good time to make a last stand - just flood the board and hope that enemy will have no answer. If you're at a clear value disadvantage, the longer you take, the lesser are chances you're going to win. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith, play 2-3 more minions and set up for a Bloodlust. If enemy clears it - you lost, it happens, but you wouldn't have won if you took it slowly anyway. On the other hand, if you took the slower Mid Game approach, you should continue that in the late game. Every time enemy decides to clear your board (which like I've said shouldn't be too strong - don't overcommit) you just refill with 1-2 new minions, a totem or two etc. Once enemy runs out of AoE clears, you should win the game. It's not that easy and you really need to know your opponent's deck + calculate the odds. "Feeling" your enemy is very important. Sometimes you want to cross the line just a bit to see if enemy has the AoE. Play additional minion into Brawl, make a board that enemy would really want to AoE just to check whether he has it. If he doesn't - you can go all in and hope that enemy won't topdeck it. If he has it - that's also fine, now you know what you're standing on. Don't go all-in unless you're sure (or well, almost sure) that enemy no longer has ways to AoE you. And that's generally the whole game plan - it's a pretty subtle dance of playing around AoE, baiting AoE and generally anything that relates to your board. It takes a lot of experience to be good at it - you need to know every matchup and how much you can afford to play into the AoE, what are the chances that they have it etc. Knowing when you need to make your push is important.
So, that's the general strategy. I also want to give you some tips regarding individual cards, matchups or scenarios. I might miss something, so if you have any specific questions, ask them in the comment section. Here we go:
- Flamewreathed Faceless is a great turn 4 play, but there are two matchups where you don't want to play it on turn 4 unless you have no other thing to do - Control Paladin and Rogue (pretty much any build). Those decks have multiple ways to deal with it that can put you behind A LOT, especially the Paladin. Paladin can use Humility, Equality, Aldor Peacekeeper or Keeper of Uldaman. The chances that you'll be able to attack with 7 damage on your next turn are really, really, REALLY low. Then, the Rogue has Sap, which is very good answer to that. Not only you can't replay it right away, but Rogue is one of the matchups where you absolutely need that tempo, or else they will get out of control. Rogue also can clear it quite easily with a combination of other cards - Bloodmage Thalnos, Backstab, Shiv, Eviscerate, SI:7 Agent etc. Overall Rogue has a pretty easy time dealing with a single big target right now, but struggles hard against multiple mid-sized targets (as long as they're out of range of Fan of Knives), so use that to your advantage and prefer the board flood style over "playing one big guy" style.
- Master of Evolution can be great or terrible depending on which targets you evolve. So here's a quick list of cards you want and don't want to evolve (rest are in between and can yield a good or bad result). You want to evolve: Hero Power Totems, Tuskarr Totemic, Azure Drake, Fire Elemental, Thing From Below. You don't want to evolve: Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Flamewreathed Faceless. It's just very, very likely that the 2/3/5 drops you evolve into will be weaker than the initial minions. Also, remember that Evolving any 1-drop (including your Totems) might be a risky move if you have the board lead, because of the possible Doomsayer roll. So if you don't NEED TO, if you're winning the board already, don't evolve 1-drops. Just like you shouldn't needlessly play Piloted Shredder pre-Standard, because you're just giving enemy a possible out. It's like 1.5% chance, but still - sometimes it's better to not take risk at all. Also, regarding the Master of Evolution - you prefer to evolve damaged minions, because it heals them up. So let's say Evolving a 7/1 Flamewreathed Faceless is a great play in a lot of cases, because if you get a 5/5 (for example), it's still much better than a 7/1.
- Don't play around Harrison Jones unless you're sure you can win the game without Doomhammer. Yes, getting your Doomhammer destroyed like that is a huge hit, but sometimes you just need it to win. I've seen people waiting with Doomhammer needlessly long, and then still playing it much later when they've realized that they won't win the game otherwise. It just increases the odds that enemy has Harrison - if you play it on turn 5 (for example because you have no other good move or you need to start pushing damage) - the chances that enemy has it are much lower.
- Hex can be used on your own minions (like Hero Power Totems). It's a really old play, but newer players might have not seen that - people often used Hex to protect themselves against minions/weapons when they were really desperate. For example - if you play against Aggro Warrior and you're at 3 life, Hexing your own minion might play around Fiery War Axe, Arcanite Reaper, charge minions etc. It buys you one more turn to potentially find a better Taunt or just kill the enemy.
- I didn't put Argent Squire into "always mulligan for it list", because of how much the card sucks against Priest and Warrior if you don't have a way to buff it up. In those matchups, opponent's can potentially farm free cards from your Squire with their Northshire Cleric and Acolyte of Pain (it also sucks against Warrior's Armorsmith). It might also be bad against Freeze Mage and Control Paladin, as both decks commonly run Acolytes. Even if I get Argent Squire, I often prefer to keep it unless I already have Rockbiter Weapon, Flametongue Totem or at least a Totem Golem follow up (so the Totem Golem will be able to 1-shot the Cleric and Acolytes).
- Positioning is really important when playing the deck. Remember that you have a Flametongue Totem - position your minions in a way so you'd get most of your Flametongue. Positioning the disposable minions like Hero Power totems in a row is also a good idea - this way when you play Flametongue, you'll be able to sac them all in without needing to hit with a more important minion in between. Also, remember that Tuskarr Totemic always spawns a totem to his right side, and since it has a 1/7 chance of Flametongue, you want to always position it with that in mind (so left from the targets you want to buff with Flametongue this turn). This way in case you roll Flametongue, you can get immediate value on the minions you want to and not waste the buff.
- Another important thing is managing your overload. Doing the strongest play this turn and not thinking about next one is rarely a good way to go. For example - coining out Totem Golem while having Flame Juggler in your hand. If you really need to coin something out, Flame Juggler is better (not every time, of course, but a lot of times), because you can follow him up with Totem Golem and you can't do it other way around. Coining out Feral Spirit on turn 2 if you don't have Tunnel Trogg on the board (then it might be worth because of the +2 Attack buff) and no 1-drop in your hand is also pretty weird. You completely pass your turn 3 this way with just two 2/3's on the board. Maybe keeping the Coin and playing it on turn 3 would be better? Then you'd have 2 (+1) mana on the following turn and you could let's say coin out the Tuskarr Totemic. Or - if you're going into turn 6 where you really want to play the Fire Elemental, overloading yourself might not be the greatest idea, because this way you wont' be able to drop t6 Fire Ele. Also, sometimes it's better to wait until you can drop Tunnel Trogg before overloading yourself. E.g. it's sometimes better to wait until turn 4 with Feral Spirit when you can play Trogg + Feral Spirit on the same turn and instead dropping a Tuskarr Totemic or even Flame Juggler on turn 3. Obviously, all of those depend on the situation and that's why you need to learn it yourself. Curving out is important - skipping a turn is bad, especially if you don't have to, because you have some alternative that doesn't mana screw you.,,
That's all folks! I really hope you've enjoyed it and learned something.
I could make it even longer, I thought about adding strategy for each individual matchup, but I've decided against it. The thing is - a general strategy should teach you much better how to play the deck, and once you know how to play it IN GENERAL, you shouldn't have a problem learning individual matchups. Another thing is that it's really hard to list most popular matchups in the ever-shifting meta. For example, 2 days ago I've played against 30-40% of Zoo Warlock and yesterday I haven't faced a single Zoo.
But, if you guys have questions regarding specific matchups - feel free to ask and I'll try to provide the best answers I can. Actually, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions at all - leave them in the section below.