As Dima “Rdu” Radu took down the DreamHack Summer Hearthstone Grand Prix this past weekend one thing was clear — Aggro Shaman is the best deck in competitive Hearthstone and it’s warping the metagame around it.
Throughout both the swiss rounds and elimination stage of the tournament players were aggressively banning Shaman, tuning their class choices to beat it or relying on the mirror match to give them an edge. It was common to see players whose Shaman wasn’t banned to lead out with it in the Last Hero Standing format looking for a clean 3-0 sweep on the deck.
Rdu’s deck selection certainly had all of this Shaman-centric madness in mind. He brought Zoo Warlock, an obligatory Shaman list, Tempo Mage and Midrange Camel Hunter.
In order to combat these Shaman-dominated matches Rdu brought Zoo — a deck he’s known for being one of the best in the world at playing and Shaman’s unofficial “hard-counter” — a Shaman of his own and Tempo Mage. Of course the Mage is the most unique of all of these choices, but did a lot to contribute to his success at the event. Tempo Mage is one of the only decks in competitive Hearthstone right now that matches up favorably against both Shaman and Zoo, which made it an impressive pick for the weekend.
Lastly, Rdu’s Camel Hunter looked good for his fourth choice because the rest of his decks were so clearly targeting the aggressive decks. The Camel Hunter acted nicely to insulate himself against Tempo and Control Warrior and other slower decks without one-drops. Having Savannah Highmane and Call of the Wild late is exactly what you need to beat those decks and was very necessary with such a dramatic hedge towards beating the Shaman menace.
Above all else the event acted as a nice settling point for the Standard format, as more than any event recently the top decks were clear, and many of them were built in a uniform way.
DreamHack Summer Grand Prix: Where the Standard format has landed
Leading up to the event, it’s been clear for weeks that Warlock Zoo, Aggro Shaman, various Warrior decks and Midrange Hunter were the decks to beat in tournament Hearthstone. But what we learned at DreamHack summer, was that many of the specific card choices that have been called into question recently, specifically in Hunter and Shaman, have been locked-in.
After Thijs “Thijs” Molendijk’s win at the HCT EU Springs Champs showed the Hearthstone world Camel Hunter, DreamHack was crawling with this version of the Hunter deck. Players like Rdu have identified that having this Hunter deck is the best way to combat Warrior strategies without making your classes too susceptible to being swept away by Aggro Shaman. Among the top players at DreamHack there were virtually no other styles of Hunter builds present and the Camel Hunter had a lot of success in beating the slower decks that it’s supposed to like Tempo Warrior and RenoLock.
Additionally, and more importantly, Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert’s version of Aggro Shaman with Thing From Belows at the top of the curve was the consensus choice for Shaman at the event. With so many matchups boiling down to Shaman mirrors, when it wasn’t banned, having the curve-topping taunt presence is just far too important to be playing any other version of the deck. With board presence being integral to victory in the mirror playing other adaptations of Shaman puts players at too much of a disadvantage in that matchup.
To a lesser extent the plethora of available Warrior decks looked to be consolidated into two archetypes: C’Thun Control and Tempo Warrior. Of course these decks are much more customizable but these two look to be the most prominent going forward.
The “Beat My Shaman” Strategy:
Throughout the swiss and elimination rounds of the event, players seemed to be running a similar strategy when their Aggro Shaman deck was left unbanned, simply running into their opponents’ counterpicks and trying to sweep them with the Shaman.
It’s important to mention that this event in particular was Last Hero Standing, rather than conquest which allowed this sweep strategy to be possible.
In general, this hasn’t been a conventional strategy as in past metagame iterations counter strategies have been very powerful and effective. However, this Aggro Shaman has the potential for such busted openings — whether it be double Totem Golem or double Flamewreath Faceless — that even its bad matchups are winnable. For this reason pro players have been fine running their Shaman into opponents who have a counter deck picked out, because if they’re able to win the matchup they can simply run through their opponent's next few decks with ease.
With this in mind it begs the question of whether or not it’s just best to ban the Shaman to avoid the sweep that we saw so many times this past weekend.
The Shaman Mirror:
Time and time again, players who felt it necessary to leave the Shaman unbanned on both sides ended up playing the mirror to decide the match. With most players running Thing From Below, the matchup really came down to who could best keep control of the board. It can’t be stressed enough that more so than any matchup in the game, if you lose the board in the Shaman mirror the game is over.
For this reason the mirror begs for some strange lines of play. More than once in the event we saw players opt to Lava Burst a 2/3 minion rather than attack a minion into it that would win the fight in order to maintain board presence.
With the importance of board control and the stock decklist being fairly set in stone right now, you might see players looking to play some new technology for the mirror going forward. Multiple times in the event players had to play out minions to fight for the board in a way that would have been punished hard by a Lightning Storm. In fact, George “BoarControl” Webb played one Lightning Storm in his Shaman deck that he took to the top four, something that might become more prevalent going forward if players are less aggressive about banning Shaman.
Keith Capstick is a Toronto journalist with an affinity for esports, baseball and casting the Magic card Dark Confidant. You can follow him on Twitter for endless live-tweets of university parties.