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Fade2Karma Deck of the Week: Pure Control Shaman

by - 6 years ago

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Written by @F2K_Varranis

Every week the pros from team Fade2Karma break down the “Deck of the Week” . These decks are seeing a lot of play either in constructed ladder or tournaments. Team F2K explain the deck lists and how to play them. View past Deck Lists of the Week.

Hearthstone does not have any true control decks like you would find in other established CCGs such as Magic: The Gathering. There are two big reasons for this:

  • Hearthstone is a much more tempo-oriented game than other CCGs. This is because a minion serves as both a threat and removal. Thus playing a minion is stronger than playing a spell in most situations, particularly early in the game. An early minion can act as a removal spell and double as a means to apply pressure to an opponent’s life total. Only the best removal spells see play, and they’re generally used to obtain board dominance once board presence has already been established.
  • Up until TGT, Hearthstone didn’t have any efficient “catch-up” spells. “Catch-up” spells allow you to single-handedly come back from a losing position. Examples of these in Magic are Day of Judgment and Sphinx’s Revelation. Control decks in Magic typically play very few creatures. Day of Judgment allows a control deck to leave the battlefield uncontested but not get overwhelmed by aggressive strategies. One of the hardest decisions a control player usually has to make is when to cast their Day of Judgment. You can cast it immediately on turn 4 (and sometimes you have to against especially aggressive decks), but what if you could wait until turn 6 and remove twice as many of your opponent’s creatures? Similarly, your opponent has to constantly consider how best to play around your board clear. Overextending into Day of Judgment could spell disaster as you’re left with too few threats to end the game. Not deploying enough threats could grant the control player the few extra turns they need to cast a massive Sphinx’s Revelation, bringing their life total out of lethal range and accumulating an insurmountable card advantage. This tension between control and aggro players is common in many games of Magic, but is incredibly rare in Hearthstone.

Even Hearthstone’s prototypical control decks are more midrange than control. Priest and Warrior both play their fair share of 4 and 5-mana threats. For these decks, control usually means playing a turn 1 Zombie Chow or a turn 2 Cruel Taskmaster followed by a turn 5 Sludge Belcher. Freeze Mage is the closest thing Hearthstone has had to a true control deck, but even it borders dangerously close to being more of a combo deck.

So what does control look like in Hearthstone?

Look familiar?

Elemental Destruction is the most efficiently costed board clear ever printed in Hearthstone. It deals more damage than Flamestrike and can be played 4 turns earlier. 4-5 damage is enough to deal with nearly all of the common threats currently played in Hearthstone, and is bolstered by the relative ease with which Shaman can obtain spell power. Elemental Destruction is so efficient that you can use it to clear an opponent’s board and play Dr. Boom on the same turn late in the game. Talk about a board swing! While Elemental Destruction’s power is fairly obvious, many have shied away from the card due to its egregious overload. In many cases “Overload: (5)” reads the same as “Skip your next turn.” Such text would render most cards unplayable in Hearthstone. Hearthstone’s tempo-oriented framework demands that you make the most powerful and efficient plays each and every turn. Think about the number of games you may have lost to an untimely disconnect stealing a turn. So why does Elemental Destruction work in Fade2Karma’s Pure Control Shaman? Elemental Destruction works because our deck is often fine with doing “nothing.” Similar to the aforementioned control decks in Magic, our deck is built in such a way that we can afford to play Elemental Destruction only at the most opportune times. You will never want to slam an Elemental Destruction on turn 3. In fact, it’s frequently correct to wait a turn longer than seems comfortable and allow an aggressive opponent to deal 8+ damage to you just to milk Elemental Destruction for a few extra cards of value. The more value you get from Elemental Destruction, the fewer resources your opponent will have to rebuild their board and threaten your life total.

Healing Wave heals back all the health you lost waiting to play that perfect Elemental Destruction. Heal Spells in CCGs are historically unplayable outside of all but the most aggressive metas. A card like Healing Wave which does nothing except for heal is inherently negative card advantage. So why are we playing it in a deck that cares so much about card advantage? The short answer is that 14 health is enough to be worth a card. The long answer is that it is the perfect counterweight to our deck’s passive playstyle. Fade2Karma’s Pure Control Shaman deck works to convince your opponent that they are winning and then flips the game with Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave. Healing Wave is more than just a counter to aggressive decks. Opponents will often interpret this deck’s passive plays to indicate a weak hand and attempt to capitalize by going on the offensive. This usually translates to your opponent expending resources to deal damage, allowing you to undo their hard work with Healing Wave. As we mentioned earlier, Hearthstone is usually all about tempo. A common way to gain tempo is to pressure your opponent’s life total and force them into making suboptimal plays to stay afloat. Healing Wave allows you to punish the tempo heavy meta and take control of the game. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the list.

Thrall is the new face of control

varshaSimilar to control decks in Magic, the bulk of our deck is removal with a small complement of finishers to end the game once we’ve achieved control of the game state. One thing that we lack is a powerful card draw engine, a staple of most competitive control decks in Magic. What I found fascinating during the creation and testing of this deck is that you actually don’t need a powerful draw engine. Exploring why this is the case is crucial to understanding how the deck works.

Card draw is important in a Magic control deck because it allows you to find the answers you need to specific situations. Magic decks are 60-cards in size and allow up to 4 copies of each card. While this sounds comparable to Hearthstone’s ratio of 2 copies of each card in a 30-card deck, the truth is that each draw in Hearthstone is more likely to find the card you want than in Magic. While your initial odds to find a card are the same (4/60 = 2/30 = 1/15), each draw in Hearthstone reduces your denominator twice as quickly as a draw in Magic. Ten cards into your deck, you have a 2/20 or 10% chance to draw a specific card in Hearthstone, but a 4/50, or 8% chance to find the right answer in Magic. Not only that, but the smaller size of Hearthstone decks means it’s far more likely that a Hearthstone deck who wants to take the game long will see every card in their deck than a similar deck in Magic.

Let me reiterate – this deck is incredibly passive. Your first two turns will almost always be used to hero power or play your single copy of Ancestral Knowledge (which will cause you to skip turn 3, but that’s ok with this deck). In some ways similar to Handlock, this deck naturally accumulates card advantage merely by not playing cards. Additionally, aside from some of the spot removal, every card in our deck is worth more than one of our opponent’s cards. Elemental Destruction or Lightning Storm will frequently be one of the first cards you play. These spells will usually 3-for-1 your opponent, giving you an early +2 lead in card advantage.

Our passive game plan and redundancy mean we’re not as reliant on card draw to find the specific cards we need. In fact, my first build of this deck originally included 2 copies of Ancestral Knowledge. However, the more I played the deck, the less necessary the new card draw spell felt. I would frequently be sitting on 8 cards on turn 4 including a board clear, spot removal, and a heal spell. Not only would drawing more cards put us dangerously close to overdrawing, but there aren’t really any cards we even needed to draw! The sheer ability of cards like Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave to “catch-up” and the redundancy of our answers mean that we can lean on our draw step to find the correct answers. Interestingly, I also found that against slower decks, you don’t want to draw many cards. This deck will nearly always bring the game to fatigue in a control mirror, and it’s important that your opponent hits fatigue before you.

It’s also important to note the redundancy built into this deck. It’s fairly easy to bucket each card into a general category:buck

While Crackle and Lava Shock can do very different things in specific scenarios, as a baseline they are both reasonably efficient removal spells for early threats. Similarly, while Elemental Destruction is more powerful than Lightning Storm, they will frequently serve the same end against an aggressive deck like Secret Paladin or Zoo. This redundancy means we will rarely be starved for that one specific answer to solve the threat our opponent is presenting. Instead of a 2/30 chance of drawing a board clear, we have made it a 5/30 chance through deck construction. One of Shaman’s biggest strengths as a control deck is that it has access to two of the game’s most powerful board clears in Lightning Storm and Elemental Destruction. Running all 4 copies is somewhat akin to if Paladin could run 4 Consecrations or Druid running 4 Swipes. The inclusion of Big Game Hunter is to achieve this redundancy for answers to large threats. While aggressive decks are much more popular than midrange decks at the moment, we didn’t feel 2 copies of Hex would be quite enough to handle all the Control Warriors and Handlocks on the ladder.

The importance of iteration

We’ve gone through many iterations of this deck to bring you our current list. My initial list included some of the usual suspects in older control Shaman decks. Doomhammer seemed like a powerful way to provide burst while Malygos was all but an auto-include with the amount of reach in the deck. I tested with 1 copy of Elemental Destruction, I tested with 2 copies, I tried out Lava Shock, I tried out various different finishers. I tested different iterations all to some success, but each felt fairly clunky. The finishers were answered easily and Lava Burst was always the worst kind of slow, even against a class like Druid which is rife with 5-health minions.


I showed the deck to my new teammates, and they made some important innovations. Theude took the deck in a much more minion heavy direction, opting to use Tuskarr Totemic to build board presence on turn 6 alongside Elemental Destruction and Azure Drake to bridge from the mid to late game. However, his most exciting change was to give the deck a little Handlock flavor with the inclusion of Molten Giants, Sunfury Protector, and Defender of Argus. Molten Giant plays perfectly to the deck’s strategy. Similar to Handlock, this deck expects to fall to a low life total and recover. Molten Giant is an excellent, cost-efficient threat to deploy after an Elemental Destruction or before a Healing Wave. With fewer large, cheap threats than Handlock, however, I felt that three taunt givers was too many and eventually trimmed down to a single Defender of Argus. Additionally, the intention of the taunts in Handlock is often to save your life total, a role which is already filled by Healing Wave. I noticed a significant improvement in the deck after these changes. I was frequently able to catch my opponents off guard with a timely Molten Giant. While my opponents likely had no idea I was playing Molten Giants and would never play around them, this deck is also poised perfectly to punish an opponent who does play around Molten Giant; the best way to play around Molten Giant is to build a board strong enough to find lethal in one turn – a strategy which is punished by Elemental Destruction.

There are many cards you can change in this deck to adjust to your playstyle, particularly when selecting finishers. Frost Giant, Ragnaros, Malygos, Ysera, and Neptulon are all quality finishers. I found I had few situations in which I could play Neptulon without overdrawing, but my experience could have been circumstantial. Ragnaros was very strong in testing, but was also frequently an all-or-nothing play. This deck is very precise, and a single miss from Ragnaros’s ability could cause a game to go awry. Malygos is likely a good include in the deck if you opt to play one or more Lava Burst. While I often found Malygos to be a win-more card, there were also times when he made my Lightning Bolt exact lethal or allowed me to use Elemental Destruction to remove my opponent’s Alexstrasza and Grom Hellscream.

The elephant in the room

There’s one very unique (and important) card we’ve yet to discuss.


If you’re a Magic player, you can probably guess why we’re playing this card as well as draw a few parallels to powerful singletons in Magic control decks. Charged Hammer’s purpose is to provide a permanent, persistent win condition. Now when I say win condition, I don’t necessarily mean you’re going to win the game over ten turns pinging your opponent with some Lightning Jolts. What you will be able to do is grind out every last shred of value from each and every one of your cards. Lightning Jolt (the new hero power Charged Hammer gives you) gives you a powerful mana sink every turn and essentially upgrades all of your removal spells. A Lightning Bolt can now finish off an Ancient of Lore and a Crackle is likely to fell even Raganaros. As we’ve mentioned before, our deck is looking to take the game long, so you’re likely to see your Charged Hammer and likely to get significant value from it. It’s at its best against midrange and control decks where you’ll almost certainly get to proc the deathrattle. It’s too slow to adequately answer the early game of most aggressive decks, but provides an almost guaranteed win if you’re able to stabilize with Lightning Jolt active. It’s also important to note that running a weapon allows us additional control over our health total, enabling more opportunities for Molten Giant plays.

Show me how to mulligan.

I’ve summarized which cards you generally want to keep in each match-up in the diagram below:


While you need to consider all cards in your hand, this diagram should provide you with a general sense of the cards you’re looking for in each match-up. Against aggressive decks you usually want spot removal, board clears, and sometimes heal. Against slower decks, you want consistency and Charged Hammer.

Want our thoughts on specific cards? Have questions on additional strategy? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts and questions!

I’m Varranis, former member of teams Don’t Kick My Robot (“DKMR”) and IHEARTHU and the newest member of team Fade2Karma. Follow us on twitter @F2K_Varranis @Fade2Karma and check out my stream at twitch.tv/varranis. I hope you enjoyed this exciting new look at Shaman and I hope you look forward to my next write-up!

JR Cook

JR has been writing for fan sites since 2000 and has been doing Blizzard Exclusive fansites since 2003. He helped co-found BlizzPro in 2013. You can hear JR every week talk about Hearthstone on the Well Met Podcast published on iTunes.

0 responses to “Fade2Karma Deck of the Week: Pure Control Shaman”

  1. Tirth Mehta says:

    The deck looks really interesting! I tried it for some games and had a blast playing. The decisions involved in playing the deck brings joy. A question though: Why is Bloodmage Thalnos not a good keep in any of the listed matchup?

    Amazing guide with explanation, can’t wait for more of these!

    • Bloodmage is very situational. His primary purpose is to boost an AOE spell or provide a powerful burst turn for lethal. In the first situation, you’re usually mulliganing for the AOE. You can keep Bloodmage if you already have the AOE. You don’t need burst early, so there’s no reason to keep him for that.

  2. davehulick says:

    This deck has been a ton of fun, thanks for the guide.

    I find I am having a lot of trouble with Control Warrior matchups. In the early-mid game turns where nothing is going on, I find his hero power sets up for late game far better than mine. Any more suggestions for this matchup? I have considered adding a second Charged Hammer or even Justicar.

    • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it!

      The key to beating Warrior is patience. If played right, you should be able to exhaust your Warrior opponent of all resources. Play entirely for value. The goal is for your opponent to hit fatigue before you and for you to have the last remaining minion. If you can reach that point, the armor the Warrior has accumulated is irrelevant. The game is essentially guaranteed to go to fatigue, so drawing cards is actually detrimental unless you need a specific answer immediately. Allow the Warrior to use his weapons to push face damage and punish him with Healing Wave. Use your removal sparingly and try to set up effective Elemental Destruction plays. It’s ok to let the Warrior draw 3 off Acolyte.

    • Tim Sho 'nuff Huang says:

      I’m having some trouble as well. Warriors have enough removals to deal with 3/4 of the big threats in your deck. Top that off with many big threats of their own, and Justicar, it’s really hard to gain control late game. I played a game where we got 7 or 8 fatigue damage deep, but what I had left wasn’t enough to take down the 40+ monster armor he had accumulated earlier on…

      Is it ideal to hold off from playing cards until turn 5 or 6, where you can use an AoE to clear Acolyte, Armorsmith, Cruel Taskmaster, Shield Maiden, etc.?

      By the time Warrior starts dropping his big minions, I feel like you can’t really wait a turn and let those sit, or you’ll be too far behind on health. I suppose the answer is to drop your own big guys and face his relentless removal spells. But by this time he’s Shield Blocked and Armored Upped to 10+ and can get full value out of his Shield Slams. Paired with Executes, it feels so difficult to get your own minions to stick.

    • It’s all about patience in the Warrior match-up. You have to have the last minion in hand. Force them to fatigue first and wait out their last large threat.

  3. Tim Sho 'nuff Huang says:

    how do you hold a handlock at bay, who’s putting out 4/9, 4/10, 8/8 minions on the regular?

    • It can be tough, but you can usually orchestrate a strong Elemental Destruction or pull out enough burn to finish them

      • Tim Sho 'nuff Huang says:

        I don’t really it see this deck being able to beat Handlock a majority of the time. Fortunately there’s not many of them. As for Secret Paladin it’s been pretty hit or miss. Missing a turn after Elemental Destruction just means they re-fill the board and drop a Mysterious Challenger another turn or two later.

      • Tim Sho 'nuff Huang says:

        Ok beat my first handlock today with the deck. He didn’t run Siphon Soul at all which might’ve helped him but I did get him into fatigue removing all his big threats and outpacing Jaraxxus and killed him with his own fatigue with cards to spare.. not bad!

  4. Jason Tams says:

    The match-up I’ve been having issues comprehending is the druid one. It seems as though they have the perfect counter gameplan, hold back damage and minions until they can burst you down. What is your game plan against them? Is it correct to sometimes Healbot for less than 8?

    The deck is super fun though, and I haven’t dropped a game except to Druid yet, so hopefully I can play Dodgeball the rest of the way to legend!

    • Tim Sho 'nuff Huang says:

      Here’s my strategy with druid… early game let him build up keeper, lore, darnassus, etc., then elemental destruct it all. Use spot removal along the way if you dont draw it to begin with.

      Afterwards, continue to use a combo of spot removal, charged hammer, and maybe even another elemental destruction (though if you are efficient/lucky enough you won’t need it). get your life total just out of combo range as usual, and drop a molten or fireguard late game.

      Force him to combo you to near death then healing wave out of it. rinse and repeat for the second combo. If he has thaurissan + double savage roar, not much you can do in that case..

    • Tim gave an excellent answer to this question! The Druid match-up is one of the toughest the deck has. One additional piece of advice I’d give is to not be afraid to Hex anything with 4 or more attack or 5 or more health. You’re going to be leaning heavily on some lucky Elemental Destructions and you don’t have too many ways to deal with single 5+ health minions. 5/5 is about as big as any Druid minion gets, so there really isn’t anything you need to save the Hexes for. Hexing a Druid of the Claw or Ancient of Lore is more often than not a good play.

  5. I’m glad so many people are enjoying the deck! I wanted to share a few potential updates to the deck I’m exploring on my blog – https://varranishs.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/rank-25-to-legend-pure-control-shaman-stream-discussion/

    I also plan to stream the deck a lot this coming week, so be sure to tune in at http://www.twitch.tv/varranis

    • Tim Sho 'nuff Huang says:

      Looking forward to some more tips. Generally seems great granted you draw Healing Wave and Elemental Destruction somewhere along the way in most matchups.

  6. Solithic says:

    What do you think about Malygos in this deck as a win condition? Do you think it would serve a better purpose than Dr. Boom? Or are most of the burn spells mostly used to clear the board that by the time it gets to late game you will have no spells to play? Thoughts?

  7. Kim Stege says:

    I have been wondering. Given this deck’s playstyle, wouldn’t it actually be worth considering The Mistcaller? I know he’s a “noob trap”, as named by Kripp, but if you’re having a passgo turn on turn 6 anyways, is there really a stronger play to make then? Just think about it. 9/9 moltens and Alex, 8/8 Dr. Balanced and 7/6 Fire ele’s. Heck, even 4/4 Healbot is significant.

    Also i’m having a bit of trouble understanding the reasoning behind Doomsayer in the decklist featured in this article. I get that it delays some damage usually, unless silenced. But other than that it doesn’t do anything proactively to deal with a strong board on opponents side, and thus feels rather lackluster. It practically begs for you having a taunt on your board, to increase the chance of succes. Just seems to me like Wild Pyro is a far stronger choice, due to it’s strong synergy with all the spells being run apart from Elemental Destruction, and thereby allowing more aggresive board when coupled with Lightning Storm for example. For example I just completely wrecked a mech mage, who had near perfect opening, thanks to that combo in particular on turn 5. Only a Turn 1 Cogmaster from his side, would’ve been a stronger start.

    • Ext Mons says:

      Doomsayer -> Mirror entity….mmmmmmmmmm the dream 🙂
      and even without that
      he is great
      if the opponent’s board sum attack < 7, then he'll lose the whole board or spend removal(s)
      People sometimes do crazy things. For example, they have useless weak minion(s) on the board, therefore they spend all their forces to rape him to save 2-nd drop,for example!!!! instead of go face and press "End turn"
      Doomsayer is good at the early game against multiple/hard-to-kill minions. i.e. as answer to cleric + Velen's choosen. If Priest doesnt have a SWP, he'll lose this powerfull minion, or even is he has, he'll lose his removal.
      another useful function is the preemptive. In the mid/late-game u can place it after one of your board clears, so ur opponent will have some difficults to rebuilding his board and u'll win some time to place ur own or waiting out an overload.
      ALWAYS when this guy goes to a board – this is shock and headache for an enemy…
      it put a spoke in wheel, you know 🙂
      i use him almost in every Control-deck

      • Kim Stege says:

        Mmm, I still don’t see it to be honest. In the higher ranks, people generally don’t make that many mistakes. I agree about the Cleric + Velen’s Chosen, but that’s really only one class that buffs their minions like that. And Doomsayer eating a SW:P is kinda redundant, since there are no other targets in the deck that it’s even worth using it on, so a priest losing the removal isn’t gonna change the outcome, other than it just got a little harder on you, since they got a headstart.

  8. Ext Mons says:

    Hello, nice deck 🙂 i play another one named “Shadow Priest” and it is “Pure Control Deck” too. Playstyles are almost same (i.e. Shadow Form -> Lighting Jolt, very huge heal [hero power+double healbots+double holy fire, 80% of deck are removals).
    So, it is cool deck too, but your is quite better and reliable.

    But when i started to play with it, i had a problem (i havent a BRM wing, where opens the Lava shock :O), so i decided to change x2 of them to x1 EARTH shock and x1 Stormforged Axe 🙂

    -earth shock is a some kind of target removal too, it can deal with early creatures (especially with deathrattles) like mad scientist with spell damage totem, AMAZING agains Handlocks (Twilight drake) and actually helps to deal with other annoying minions. so x1 of silence is good inclusion to every deck
    -Stormforged Axe! another one early removal as weapon. but it does a one more important function: it brokes our Charged hummer, when it rly needs.

    Sure, lava shock’s are important due to overload, but i rly dont have enouht troubles with it.
    What do you think about that? what else replacements can i do?

  9. Baylith katan says:

    Im a serious shaman player, i have been trying your deck and im finding my opponent is able to kill me right before i can draw out an elemental destruction, or has lotheb to buy that critial turn, am i waiting to long with my more single shot answers, or should i modify the deck for rank 15-10 play, i feel like i need sludge belchers or something

  10. Crash says:

    How does the deck fare against others?

  11. mazurati says:

    Well.. I’ve played 10 games with this deck so far, and I’ve only won 4 games. You practically are hoping they have no answer to your late game, because that’s all this deck has.