Ah, Midrange Shaman. Have you seen any of them on the ladder recently? I feel confident in saying that you probably have – mostly because the deck is about a quarter to a third of the ladder and has a 55% winrate despite being by far the most highly represented deck in the game. It does everything well – you’ve got undercosted early game minions, undercosted midgame minions, undercosted late game minions, premium targeted removal, card advantage, and powerful area of effect removal. What’s the best way to beat this monster?
- Be brave and play freeze mage, hoping to dodge warriors and also all the other bad matchups.
- Make a metagame call, learn a deck with a 50%ish mid shaman matchup (like secret/face hunter), and navigate your games with tight technical play.
- Learn how to crush the mirror match!
If you want to hit legend this season, option 3. is likely the easiest way to get there before the new cards are released – and there are definitely ways to play your games in a way that will give you a strong advantage when playing as and against Midrange Shaman.
Key question – How can we gain an edge playing the best deck against the best deck?
Having played lots (and lots and lots) of Mid Shaman mirrors, I came to the vS analysts with the initial assumption that maximizing AoE value is how to win the matchup. The numbers came back and there’s quite a lot of interesting data here to suggest that – let’s take a look and start with the big clear.
But first, a brief note about data
Before we go any further, please note — we are not dealing in absolutes here and data as a whole asks very specific questions. We will learn below what generally happens when certain cards are played on certain turns — but we do not know what would happen if the cards weren’t played, nor do we know the context of the games in specific, decklist variations, player skill differentials, etc etc etc. What we will identify are trends – when a player does a specific thing on a specific turn, generally this is what happens. Plus, it is important to note that the underlying assumption is that when a player does something, it is the best move they could make, according to their assessment. However, we emphasize that the numbers should not be viewed a as gospel! Great players are able to identify when to take a chance, buck the trend, play in an unusual or generally “suboptimal” way and claim victory from defeat.
We asked the database “what was the winrate of playing Lightning Storm on turn X” and put it together in a table that also included total number of games in which Storm was played on turn X. We combined all late game turns with less than 100 games (Beyond turn 15). (Spoiler: We’ll be doing the same thing for Maelstrom Portal in a second.)
Wow, take a look at the difference here – the winrate line trends straight up. The differences between the low end and high end win percentage is a whopping 33%! The chance of winning the game doesn’t trend above 50% until turn 8, at which point the likelihood of taking the win jumps turn after turn after turn. This makes sense, if you think about it – turn 8 is the turn after Thunder Bluff comes down and represents a large tempo investment that can be reset with a big board clear. We ran some averages of before turn 8 and after turn 8 and came up with the following:
- The average win rate when Lightning Storm is played before turn 8 – 40.9%.
- The average win rate when Lightning Storm is played after turn 8 – 57.7%.
- The average win rate when Lightning Storm is played after turn 10 – 61.5%
The difference between playing Lightning Storm before turn 8 and playing it on or after turn 8 is 17% on average. If you can manage to get by without playing Storm until turn 10, that jumps to a 21% difference.
What does this information tell us? Well, the obvious answer is “hold your storms if you can” – playing them early to gain tempo or press an early advantage locks down your midgame with overload, rewards your opponent for holding AoE, and prevents you from punishing your opponent from going wide. However, this also tells us that forcing our opponents into using an early storm is extremely beneficial to us.
As a reminder from our above caveat about the data… there will be some games you win because you have to play an early storm and it works out. There will be times when holding storm will lose you the game! Again, this is a an average result, not a guarantee. There’s also an interesting bit of data (albeit with a small sample size) — starting on turn 15, the lategame win percentage starts trending downwards, though we still land north of 50%.
Midrange Shaman doesn’t mind early pressure because of its resilience to midgame pressure thanks to free 5/5 taunts and ability to clean up messy boards. However, one of the ways Midrange Shaman can lose is if enough early pressure comes down to put the life total under constant danger. While the overload cards are powerful, they can prevent you from dealing with threats in successive if you are constrained in your ability to respond. There are some openings in the mirror that embody this kind of aggression – typically involving Totem Golem, Flametongue Totem, and/or Feral Spirits – where huge chunks of life can be carved out by turn 5. If you are able to force lightning storm with an early aggressive opening, it will likely reward you – as long as you have the tools to refuel/rebuild afterwards.
With that being said, once your opponent blows a storm, your game plan likely has to shift a little bit back to the usual value-conscious approach unless you have the tools to refill the board and finish things quickly (e.g. Bloodlust). Do NOT use Lightning Storm as an aggressive weapon unless you absolutely have to – refilling the board when they’re overloaded is good, but using storm to clear out a couple of taunts and bring them to a low life total is not. You’ll likely get cleared and then you’re back to square one.
Now, there are some cards that reward an aggressive push… enter stage right!
The methodology is the same, but the results are quite different — the differential between the extreme outcomes is about 19%, which is still a big deal, but the average outcomes are much closer. Here’s how they look:
- The average win rate when Maelstrom Portal is played before turn 8 – 49.9%.
- The average win rate when Maelstrom Portal is played after turn 8 – 55.3%.
- The average win rate when Maelstrom Portal is played between turns 4 and 7 – 50.9%.
- The average win rate when Maelstrom Portal is played between turns 8 and 10 – 54.7%
- The average win rate when Maelstrom Portal is played after turn 10 – 56.7%
Looks like our averages here are much, much closer – only about 5% or so. If we cut out turns 2 and 3, the averages are only 4% apart from the key midgame turns of 4 through 7 vs the key lategame turns of 8 through 10. This card is much more flexible and there may very well be games where using portal as an aggressive tool is not a bad call, especially if it will bait a board clear from your opponent.
The biggest jump in portal winrates is actually from turn 3 to 4 with a 6% jump, after which the rate of the climb stabilizes until you see some really big late game jumps. Similar to how there’s a Thunder Bluff defensive swing turn with Storm, there’s a Wrath of Air totem offensive swing turn with Portal that corresponds pretty strongly with the 4th turn of the game… and there’s no overload to punish you for playing it earlier.
Note – please take the late games with a grain of salt, as about 75% of all games sampled had a portal played between turns 4 and 9 – those really late game situations may very well be indicative of slow starts from one or both players where portal was able to be significantly amplified and acted as lightning storm #3. (More on this later.)
A juicy midgame portal clear that can take out a few minions is likely worth your time, especially if it forces your opponent to storm on turn 6. That ruins the possibility of a turn 7 Thunder Bluff turn and sets you up to retake the board and punish your opponent’s overload. Don’t feel a need to hold it forever and get super greedy – if you are able to keep the board in a stable state by all means do so, but you don’t want to miss your opportunity for portal to be played and be relevant.
So what can we do with this information?
To start, we can maximize our advantage in deck construction. You’ll see many lists floating around from conquest tournaments and high legend finishes that only have one lightning storm – do not fall into this trap if you are grinding ladder! Unless you are lucky enough to dodge mid shaman (and zoo, for that matter), you need both storms and both portals. In fact, the best lists for the ladder likely include at least one Kobold Geomancer – if you can consistently amplify portals to 3 damage without RNG being required, you will have a significant leg up on your opponents and will be able to hold your storms for more effective massive clears.
During gameplay, we can master how to leverage removal tools and learn discipline. It is generally in your best interest to fight for board control but not fear your life total until you get to a life total where Spirit Claws can no longer be used to effectively trade – it depends on the game, but typically between 20 and 15 is where your life total has to start being preserved. As usual, you’ll want to build board control and seek favorable trades. Make sure that your board clears are gaining you actual card advantage and aren’t just eating up a couple totems and a Mana Tide.
We can also assume that our opponent has read this article or figured out how best to combat the mirror and master the practice of baiting removal. Think of Lightning Storm like Brawl – it’s very similar in the context of how we want to use it and how we want it used against us. If you can build a board that puts some reasonable aggressive pressure on your opponent — think of a Golem->hero power->Feral Spirits opening — you may be able to pull some AoE out of them ahead of schedule. The magic number is 3 – that’s the amount of health you want your minions to have going into the midgame. 2 health AoE clears are easy to find, but 3 health ones are much harder to build.
Cool! Who are you, anyway?
Who am I? None of your bus– I mean, I’m RidiculousHat, a 9-time legend player, sometimes streamer, and amateur Hearthstone tournament/league player with a background in CCGs (particularly Magic: The Gathering). You’re welcome to check out more of my blathering at twitter.com/ridiculoushat or watch me (usually on Tuesday and Thursday nights) at twitch.tv/ridiculoushat. Thanks for reading!
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