I wrote this about a week ago, before the unveiling of all the TGT cards. But most of my thoughts still apply to those new cards as well.
Of all the nine classes in Hearthstone, the one with the biggest set of issues is the Shaman. For a class that has the most variety of mechanics, many players – and even Blizzard for that matter – have no idea what to do with the class. It’s easily the class with the lowest play percentage and even among the popular streamers it’s low on the popularity list.
There are several reasons as to why this is. The biggest reason is the fact that the entire class is based around the Random Number Generator (RNG). Almost all of the Shaman’s major spells have a random element to them. Crackle deals between 3-7 damage and Lightning Storm is between 2-3 damage. Not only that, these spells have an overload cost to them. So Shaman’s are punished in more than one way for spells that don’t exactly do a whole lot.
The RNG also affects the Shaman’s hero power. Having to cross your fingers and hope you get a taunt totem in order to protect your board isn’t fun. Or hoping you get a spell power totem so your spells actually do the damage they need to. There’s no fun in winning or losing a game as Shaman simply because the game said otherwise.
Because of the RNG, players have to compensate for this by putting in extra cards that they normally wouldn’t. Azure Drake is pretty much required in a Shaman deck due to the extra spell power it adds. It actually makes many of the Shaman’s spells viable. The idea that the Shaman has to add in cards in order to make up for its own weaknesses is kind of sad. It’s a hole in the class’s design.
Blizzard has even taken notice of this. One of the newest cards for the Shaman class, called the Charged Hammer, actually changes the Shaman’s hero power as its deathrattle. Instead of summoning a random totem, it gives the Shaman the ability to deal two damage. It’s slightly stronger than the Mage’s hero power. At that point, why not just give the Shaman a different ability entirely? At least then Shaman players wouldn’t have to worry about RNG affecting their game.
Another issue with the Shaman is that its native class cards simply aren’t very good. Most Shaman decks run very few Shaman cards. The ones they do run though, are all the same ones. Every deck runs Hex, Lightning Storm, and Crackle. Some might also run Flametongue Totem, Feral Spirit, and Flameguard Destroyer. But that’s only six cards out of roughly thirty. The rest of the cards are neutrals.
When you look at its cards, the expansions don’t do much to fix it either. From each major expansion there has been one card that has stuck with the class in most of the decks that are used by players. There’s the Flameguard Destroyer, and Crackle. That’s about it. It will be interesting to see what happens when the latest expansion launches. Thus far it seems like Blizzard is trying to make Totem Shaman a thing. But again, how well that works depends on the RNG of the hero power.
How does Blizzard fix the Shaman? Well at its core the Shaman class needs an overhaul. The overload mechanic punishes players for using spells that most of the time, are not worth their cost. Spells like Crackle and Lightning Storm don’t deserve their overload costs, especially when there’s a randomizer attached to the spell’s effect.
So if Blizzard were to keep the overload mechanic, taking the randomizer off the spells and assigning them a clear damage number (it doesn’t have to be the highest number) that way there’s a clear purpose for the card. Cards like Crackle are only ever used in two situations: desperation: where you pray that the card does the number of damage you need, or you’ve already won and you only need three damage to win the game.
By doing this, the overload would have a purpose as well. It’s basically an extra mana cost the Shaman would have to pay the next turn, for using a powerful card. That would be unlike what it is now, which is a high mana cost, for using a card could be powerful, or be just like every other card.
Another small change that it seems like Blizzard is experimenting with, is letting the Shaman choose which totem is summoned. At the moment, Justicar Trueheart is required to let this happen. But what if it was the Shaman’s native power instead? You’d reduce the health of all the totems 1 (from 2) so that all the other hero powers could deal with it with their own hero power – examples include Mage, Rogue, and Paladin. You’d also remove the 1/1 totem from the list because then you’re just a Paladin with a better hero power.
Going back to general card balance, some of the Shaman’s seemingly powerful cards could use a little retooling. Something like Bloodlust costs 5 mana, and only gives three attack to all minions. To contrast, the Druid’s Savage Roar gives 2 attack to all friendly characters, which includes the hero itself. Yet that costs 3 mana. Something doesn’t exactly seem right does it?
Windfury is another mechanic that just didn’t seem to work out as planned. It’s something that’s rarely used and nine out of ten times, no one runs those cards anymore. Occasionally you’ll see a Whirling Zap-O-Matic, and even rarer nowadays is Al’Akir the Windlord. Despite having almost every possible keyword you could have, he just isn’t played anymore.
Blizzard’s thoughts on the matter would be extremely interesting to read. They have to wonder why so many people aren’t using all but a few of Shaman’s base cards. What fun is it to design cards if no one is going to use them in the first place?
Now that it isn’t to say that Shaman is completely without fun. Seeing someone pull off a triple Kelthuzad combo is pretty amazing. But those are few and far between. And nine out of ten times they happen because people rarely see Shaman on the ladder, and so they can get away with a lot more.
It’s possible that once the other ninety or so Grand Tournament cards are revealed there will be something that helps make the Shaman a stronger class in the current metagame. But considering the overload and the RNG that most Shaman cards are assigned, these cards are just going to have the same problems.
But there’s always hope, right?