Shudderwock Syndrome: Why uninteractive is worse than overpowered
Witchwood is finally out, and amongst all the experimentation, one deck in particular is drawing complaints. From the noise made on various discussion forums, you’d imagine Shudderwock Shaman was an unstoppable monster. And while that may be literally true for its win condition, the deck itself is far from strong. According to HSReplay.net, the deck averages an atrocious 42% winrate.
So why the disparity? What is it that makes Shudderwock Shaman so despised, more so than various aggro Paladins or controlling Warlock decks that continue to dominate?
The solitaire problem
At its base, Shudderwock Shaman contains just four things: lifegain, removal, Battlecry minions and card draw. Often, several of these categories will be lumped into one. So far, so standard for a combo deck. The problem comes with how the deck builds its win condition.
Other single-focus decks have counters to their final win condition. Charging minions can be blocked by taunts. Burn can be outlasted with armor or lifegain. Geist can trash crucial spells. Board-based finishers are cleared up with AOE. But the only real counter to Battlecry minions and Shudderwock in particular is Dirty Rat. With Dirty Rat out of standard, the only real counter to Shudderwock is to kill it before it kills you. Luckily, that’s not too hard for most decks. But the problem remains, that to defeat Shudderwock you cannot interact with their primary win condition.
One counter to this argument is that this is simply how it’s meant to be. Combo punishes greedy Control. But while it’s necessary that there exist counters to overly reactive strategies, this can have an unwelcome impact on the meta. When strategies that counter reactive decks become dominant, then the meta can quickly over-centralise around aggro, because there is little to keep it in check. And while aggro strategies are a necessary part of a healthy meta, overly-dominant aggro is one of the worst meta experiences for many players.
Of course, the more prominent aggro is, the more attractive reactive decks become once more. But this then leads to a rock paper scissors meta, with interesting even matchups relatively rare. For the meta to be healthy, there has to be a way for decks that succeed against aggro to have a way to not only do decently against combo decks like Shudderwock
The Control mindset
And while many may deride “greedy” decks, they often contain some of the most interesting and fun gameplay experiences for players. They contain a lot of decisions, idiosyncratic playstyles and are often less draw-dependent than aggressive decks. The players who choose these decks do so less because of their winrate, and often simply because of love of a class and playstyle.
These players are especially aggravated by decks like Shudderwock. Not because they lose, because losses are part of Hearthstone. But because it forces them out of the playstyle they enjoy, to become a poor imitation of a midrange beat down deck, with victory heavily dependent on drawing well and curving out.
When a deck like Shudderwock is introduced, players whose fun from playing Hearthstone comes from interacting with the opponent’s strategy rather than single-mindedly progressing their own end up with an extremely demoralising experience. Blizzard should take this into account when designing future cards and tech cards that can interact with them. Or at least, not cause the experience of losing to an uninteractable combo take less than several minutes.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.