Hearthstone's Shaman class has always been a controversial topic. It used to be a laughingstock, too heavily reliant upon randomness to be consistent and many in the community were up in arms about the lack of a good class identity. So Blizzard gave it one, proceeding to give it buffs in consecutive expansions. Now many complain about how it's been too strong for too long. Midrange Shaman had its time and Aggro Shaman really dominated most of 2016 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Max McCall, Game Designer at Blizzard, took some time to write an in-depth post over on the Blizzard forums regarding the current state of Shaman. It's a fascinating read where he admits that Shamans aren't actually too overpowered, what makes them stifling is how popular they are. This is amplified by how similar each of the archetypes feels early on in the game due to cards like Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem.
McCall goes on to say that the team is keeping an eye on it and will consider nerfs if it stays too popular. He cites the Pirate Warrior and Mech Mage problems which quickly subsided on their own as examples of the meta correcting itself. If that doesn't happen, we may see some more power taken away from the Shaman class, but it's hard to predict exactly what will happen when the new Standard rotation begins this Spring.
Here's the post in full:
We are keeping an eye on Shaman decks and we’ll see how they develop. We say that a lot. Here is what it means:
Okay, so: there are a few different kinds of Shaman decks:
- There are aggressive Shaman decks that play a Pirate package and no Jade cards
- There are slightly slower Shaman decks that play Pirates and Jade cards
- And there are even slower Shaman decks that play the Jade cards but no Pirates
All of those decks are strong, but they are all weak against Dragon decks (like Priest and Warrior) and Reno decks. If you’re tired of losing to Shamans, play Reno Warlock. In some ways, that is fine: Shamans are popular, but there are strategies that are good against them.
In other ways, it is less fine. Collectively, Shamans are popular; you play against a Shaman about one game in four. Now, the reason that a ‘balanced’ metagame is desirable isn’t because ‘balanced’ metagames don’t have dominant strategies. They are desirable because you play against different classes more frequently, which means you have a wider variety in the types of Hearthstone games that you play. Playing Shaman isn’t a dominant strategy – again, they lose to plenty of decks – but it is still boring to play against the same class over and over again.
And even though the Shaman decks have distinct differences, those differences are small. If you played against Warlocks one game in four, but half of your Warlock opponents were playing slow Reno control decks and the other half were playing aggressive minion decks, those games would feel very different from one another. On the other hand, when you lose to Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Feral Spirit three times in a row, it doesn’t matter if some of those Shamans had a Pirate package or if one of them had Jade cards. Your games still felt very homogenous and weren’t that fun especially the third time around.
The point I am trying to make is ‘classes can be problematic even though they do not win too often.’ Shamans don’t win too often. Right now, they are more popular than we’d like. If they are too popular for too long, we will do something about it, as we did when we nerfed them a couple of months ago. However, it takes time to assess whether or not a class will cause the game to feel too homogenous for too long. On release, Mech Mage and recently Pirate Warrior were more popular than Shamans have ever been – but only for a few weeks, then people discovered alternative strategies and the decks became less popular. Because we know that Shamans have weaknesses, we hope that those strategies will become more popular and drive down Shaman popularity a bit so that you play against more classes more often.