Does the game have a worst class? Why Shaman? We take a look at what’s going on in the metagame.
While cute and all, Hearthstone is a complex game. With so many existing cards and so many more coming every couple of months, a perfect balance and equal win rates for all nine classes is something unachievable. And that’s actually okay. If the game is dominated by two decks, we have a problem. If the game has a healthy distribution of archetypes between four, five, even six classes, at the expense of one or two, that’s something we can deal with.
I remember an interview with designer Ben Brode before the release of One Night in Karazhan, around the reveal of a rather controversial card – Purify. In the olden days, Priest was considered the worst class in Hearthstone. Go figure, right? Well, things were different back then. The problem was, Priest didn’t really have it's own gimmick. It steals cards, but Rogue does it better. It heals, but Paladin does it better. It drags the game on, but not as well as Mage. And then Purify came and enraged players even more, since they felt this was the opposite of what it needed. However, Brode mentioned that during playtesting they found an amazing Priest build, and thus the ‘hunt for the Unicorn’ begun. Unicorn being the magic all-powerful Priest of legend, that nobody yet knows about. Well, the unicorn wasn’t really found, but Raza the Chained came one expansion later, and with the help of a few other pieces, Priest became a force to be reckoned with, building a solid presence in the arsenal of pretty much every pro player.
Why am I talking about Priest so much when there’s a murloc up there in the background picture? Well, mostly because Shaman is the new Priest.
Take a look at this graph, provided in a tweet by Cresmos:
The big four decks – Paladin, Priest, Mage and Warlock represent 75% of all decks played. And that’s the HCT we’re talking about, so it’s an accurate representation of the high echelons of Hearthstone play. Shaman is also in the graph, sporting a 0.47% tournament presence. That’s a big difference. So why is this so? Here’s just a few reasons:
Core class features
Classes are built different, that’s their very purpose. Some classes have clear goals – Hunter goes face, Paladin likes minions. Others, however, have more intricate interactions – Warlock has to manage his health and hand size, and Shaman has to be very careful with his play order and targets.
Yes, this is Hearthstone, a game of chance in more ways than one. But Shaman has excessive randomness, more so than most other classes. His Hero Power is RNG-based, and so are his key removal spells. More randomness is exactly what competitive players stray away from.
Say what you will, but it does exist and it affects the game in a huge way. Remember how Dr. Boom was an auto-include in literally every deck? Should it return back to Standard right now, most decks won’t even spare the slot. This is how far things have gone. Power creep is especially bad for Shaman, since it's keyword – Overload, is a downside to otherwise powerful cards that get devalued by the expansion, while keeping the setbacks. If things continue like this, we will see even less of Thrall in the tavern long term.
Lack of support
Players have been arguing about what’s strong and what’s overrated in Shaman ever since the game was in Beta. Al’Akir the Windlord has always been a controversial card, despite the constant reassurance from Blizzard that according to their stats, he has a positive win rate and is indeed a good card. Last few expansions Shaman received lacklustre ‘bomb’ cards that failed to elevate any particular build to top-tier level.
It’s by design
Remember, the game designers want to have a ‘worst class’ in the game, and that’s fine. They have taken a page from the book of the grand-daddy of card games Magic: The Gathering. Magic's lead designer Mark Rosewater has stated many times, that bad cards are being printed on purpose. This is done so that players can tell the good from the bad ones and be rewarded for the improvement of their deck-building skills.
Big plans for the future
It’s never only doom and gloom. The fact that Shaman is bad now, does not mean it will remain bad forever – just look at the Anduin example earlier in this very article. The meta shifts with every new set of cards and what’s garbage now can turn into a powerhouse with just the addition of a couple of good cards. According to the spoilers for the upcoming Witchwood set, Shaman is the only class to receive a new Hero card, and it’s a powerful one. With the proper support, there’s a good chance to see the Witch Shaman rise to the top as one of the game’s strongest archetypes. And really, we’d appreciate that.
The once proud Warchief of the Horde (and his fishy little colleague) deserve better than that. Lok’tar ogar.