My regular readers, or anyone who has taken a look at my article archive, might be surprised to learn that my favourite and most played class in Hearthstone is actually Mage. Why would they be surprised to learn this? Well, since my first article went up on June 1st, I have literally written at least one article about a deck from every single class, except Mage! Today, it is time to finish the set.
So, you might ask: If Mage is my favourite and most played class, why haven’t I written about it until now? The answer is pretty simple: I like to write about viable under-the-radar decks, and there simply hasn’t been one in the Mage class recently. The vast majority of my Mage games have been with Tempo Mage and, while there has been some amount of innovation in the archetype in the last few months, there hasn’t been any really good Tempo Mage list that I have seen that was innovative enough to be considered truly off-the-radar. As for the other Mage archetype, Freeze Mage has, for the most part, continued to look the same, and has dropped from being a tier 1 list just before the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, to being a tier 3 list recently.
Freeze Mage has always had very polarizing matchups. It traditionally owns decks like Zoolock and Miracle Rogue , while having a tough time with Midrange Hunter, Aggro Shaman, and getting destroyed by Control Warrior. Freeze Mage has been on the decline over the last few months largely because control variants of Warrior were doing well (traditional Control Warrior and C’Thun Warrior), while Shaman and Hunter had been staples of tier 1 and high tier 2, respectively.
But, what if you could construct a Freeze Mage list that destroyed Hunter, and held its own against Shaman? And, what if you could do it at a time when control versions of Warrior had dropped down to tier 2? Well, then you might have a very well positioned deck for the metagame…and, it just so happens that is exactly the deck I have for you today!
The two cards that separate this deck from traditional Freeze Mage builds are: 1. Medivh’s Valet, and 2. Kirin Tor Mage.
Medivh’s Valet is the new card that makes the Secret subtheme worth pursuing. A two casting cost 2/3 that Lightning Bolts something when it comes into play is overpowered. The Valet requires a bit of set-up, but Ice Block and Ice Barrier are standard inclusions in Freeze Mage anyways, so the deckbuilding constraints of including Valet are pretty negligible in this archetype. Ice Block, in particular, is the best possible enabler for Medivh’s Valet, because it usually (and hopefully) sits in play for many turns before getting popped.
Kirin Tor Mage is a bit more of an off-the-radar option in Freeze Mage. I have seen people experiment with it in the past, but before Medivh’s Valet was around, there just wasn’t enough support to make the card worthwhile. In this list, however, Kirin Tor Mage plays a very important role.
The goal of Freeze Mage is to stall the game long enough to set-up a lethal combo of burn (or freeze) spells. Generally, this is accomplished with some combination of Doomsayer, Frost Nova, Blizzard and various direct damage spells. You are fully expecting to lose the board to any aggressive deck, but that is ok, because you don’t plan to win with minions, anyways. The difference between a win and a loss with Freeze Mage is often the difference of one turn, or a couple of points of damage.
Kirin Tor Mage and Medivh’s Valet provide different options and lines of play, and can act as strong Tempo swings. Freeze Mage traditionally sacrifices a lot of tempo freely, planning to simply freeze or clear the board to make up for doing so. Kirin Tor Mage and Medivh’s Valet are both tempo plays that help to delay the time before you have to start using your freezes and board clears, while Valet can also act as additional burn to the face to help finish an opponent off.
Kirin Tor Mage is typically played in a two different circumstances. First, it is often played on turn 3 or so alongside a Secret. This gives you a 4/3 presence on the board, while also getting your secret down to enable Valet, or just to save the mana of doing so later. Your opponent now has to deal with a 4/3 on turn 3. If you are playing against a Shaman deck, for instance, your Kirin Tor Mage will trade with a Totem Golem, and can potentially eat wolves or troggs. As such, your Shaman opponent often has to either trade into the Kirin, or remove it with a Lightning Bolt or Rockbiter Weapon. Doing so, means that the Bolt or Weapon is not going to your face, and means that your opponent is spending mana dealing with your board, instead of developing their own. If they don’t have a removal spell, your Mage can trade with their Totem Golem which would otherwise have dealt 6 or 9 damage before it likely would have been frozen. The important thing to remember with all this is that your Kirin was essentially free (due to the free 3 mana spell it let you cast), so you are gaining tempo no matter what card they use to deal with it, while potentially also forcing your opponent to use spells that would have contributed to dangerous late game burst turns. Of course, this same thing applies against other decks: Hunters have to Quick Shot a turn 3 Mage, or trade it for a Huge Toad, Druids have to Wrath it or trade it with a Mire Keeper. All of these exchanges are great for you.
The second main time that the Kirin Tor Mage is used is after a Doomsayer board clear. This gives you a board presence which can either be used to trade for a future opposing minions, draw a removal spell, or send damage to the face. The ability to go to the face is important to remember. Your opponent has to respect the burst potential of Freeze Mage, and so they cannot take 4 damage to the face lightly, especially when it is coming from a repeatable damage source.
Medivh’s Valet is slightly different in its use, but compliments the use of Kirin Tor Mage. Medivh’s Valet is usually not played until about turn 4 or 5, since you need time to get a secret down. When it does come down, Valet will usually allow you to remove an opposing creature, and then will present a roadblock that your opponent will often have to spend an attack dealing with. Just like Kirin Tor Mage, Valet is often played alongside a spell that doesn’t affect the board, like Arcane Intellect or a Secret, and allows you to get that spell played, without losing much if any tempo. All of this helps to develop your own plan (through drawing cards or getting your secrets down), while pushing back the critical freeze turns or Ice Block pops that extra little bit. As an extra bonus, once you are ready to combo your opponent out, Medivh’s Valet is also as efficient a burn spell as Frostbolt (minus the ability to enable your Ice Lances), so it makes for a very flexible tool.
General Play and Mulligan Advice
In general, Freeze Mage’s strategy is not all the different than it always was: survive long enough to set up a turn where you combo your opponent out with burn. Playing the deck feels like constructing a puzzle. You have to plan several turns ahead, and chart your path to victory. You need to do a lot of math, count out the damage in your hand, how much mana you have to cast it, how much potential damage your opponent can do, etc. You also need to know how to switch plans if one isn’t working. Sometimes this means Alexstrasza’ing yourself, instead of your opponent, and going manual with Archmage Antonidas for the win. Sometimes, it means using an Ice Lance or two to delay for a critical turn, instead of keeping them for your combo kill. Sometimes, it means throwing damage at your opponent’s face and banking on hitting that last Fireball you need on the river. Playing this deck effectively means playing to your outs, and understanding what threats you need to play around on the other side of the table. From there, it’s just math.
In terms of mulligan strategy, you are generally looking for card draw, Doomsayer and Kirin Tor Mage in your opening hand. This means that you want Acolyte of Pain, Loot Hoarder, and Arcane Intellect, to go with the Doomsayers and Kirin Tor Mages. In terms of secrets, these are very contextual. If you have a Kirin Tor Mage and one other secret, keep it no matter what it is. Having an Ice Block to combo with a Kirin Tor Mage on turn 3 is one of your best case scenarios, since it means your Medivh’s Valet’s will work for the remainder of the game. You don’t want too many secrets in your opener though, so you will usually mulligan extras.
You never want to keep combo pieces in your hand, so this means always mulligan’ing away Frostbolt, Ice Block and Fireball. You want these in the late game to win, but if you keep them in your opener, you often end up having to use them early for removal, which is far from ideal. Send them away, and hopefully you can solve the problem with whatever card you got instead. Similarly, Medivh’s Valet is usually a mulligan, too. If you get a hand of Kirin Tor Mage + Secret + Valet, you can probably keep it, but short of that, you shouldn’t plan to be able to play Medivh’s Valet until at least turn 4, and usually later, so you send it away, even though it is a two drop.
One last contextual keep, I will pretty much always keep Frost Nova if I have a Doomsayer, but will always send it away if I do not. Having the combo board clear available, if need be, is usually worth it, but otherwise you aren’t expecting to use Frost Nova until much later on, as a one-turn delay tactic. I will, however, send the Frost Nova away in the Shaman or Zoolock (and sometimes Hunter) matchups, since I will often drop turn 2 Doomsayer there, instead of holding it for the full board clear later on.
Over 52 games with the deck, I put up a record of 32-20 (for a 61.5% winrate). I tested from ranks 7 through 3.
I’m not going to go through the specifics of every matchup, since I feel like I would be repeating myself a lot (delay your opponent, freeze their stuff, drop Ice Block, drop Emperor Thaurissan, drop Alexstrasza, then kill them). In general, the important things to remember in each matchup are: what cards could my opponent possibly have that would let him pop my Ice Block if I do X or Y? That may be Rockbiter Weapon + Doomhammer. That might be double Fireball. That might be Quick Shot + Kill Command. Whatever it is, you just want to make sure to know which of those cards might be in your opponent’s hand, so you don’t end up with your Ice Block getting popped a turn earlier than you can afford, if you had the chance to stop it.
I am going to only deal with a couple of the matchups that are markedly different than with traditional Freeze Mage lists, starting with the biggest one:
One important matchup that I want to address is Midrange Hunter, since this is the biggest matchup difference that I have found between this list and traditional Freeze Mage lists. Historically, Freeze Mage has struggled against Midrange Hunter, and it has been one of the forces keeping the deck down on ladder. This is because Hunter can apply a lot of pressure, has direct damage to pop your Ice Block earlier than you want, and has a hero power that almost always allows them to kill you the turn after you run out of Ice Blocks, even if you drop an Ice Barrier and freeze their team (often while having enough board presence to kill you if you Alexstraza). Well, as you may be able to tell from my 10-3 record against Hunter, I can confidently say that the Midrange Hunter matchup has gone from one of the reasons not to play Freeze Mage to one of the big incentives to play Super Secret Freeze Mage.
The vast majority of my Hunter matchups were against Midrange Hunter, with a couple against Hybrid or Secret Hunter lists. Hunter is at its most dangerous when it is able to get a strong early game push, with Fiery Bat, Huge Toad, Kindly Grandmother and Animal Companion. This list has much more ability to deal with this early push and maintain a healthy life total. Loot Hoarder is a pain for them to deal with on turn 2, as it trades with Huge Toad, while drawing you a card. Similarly, Kirin Tor Mage plus secret on turn 3 is a very strong tempo play that forces a removal spell or a trade, while leaving you with some extra armour or an Ice Block in play. Kirin Tor Mage is well positioned against Hunter, since it trades or outright kills any of the three Animal Companions. This is in addition to Doomsayer, which has always been a great weapon for Freeze Mage in this matchup. You can feel free to drop an early Doomsayer without a freeze, as long as your opponent isn’t presenting enough damage to easily kill it. Trading Doomsayer for Huge Toad and an empty board when you start turn 3 is fantastic, and if they use Kill Command to remove your Doomsayer, that is also totally fine, since it means they won’t have the direct damage later, and they didn’t drop a recurring damage source. Medivh’s Valet is also great in this matchup, because it kills a lot of their creatures like Huge Toad, Huffer, Big Bad Wolf, Infested Wolf, Houndmaster, etc, while also distracting attention from your face.
With all of the aforementioned tools combined, you will generally get to the midgame with a healthier life total than traditional Freeze Mage lists are used to having. Then, when Hunter does start spiraling into board states that are tough to remove (ie. Highmanes and Infested Wolves) you can simply freeze them until you are ready to drop Alexsztraza with an Ice Block in place and kill them on the following turn. They have no way to gain life after an Alexstrasza, so you can be confident that if you are sitting with at least 15 points of direct damage in your hand and an Ice Block in play, the game is over, whether your opponent knows it or not.
Shaman has always been a problematic matchup for Freeze Mage, too. This list holds its own against Aggro Shaman (probably a 45% matchup), while having the edge against Midrange Shaman (probably a 55% matchup). Similarly to the Hunter matchup, Kirin Tor Mage on turn 3 with a secret is very well positioned. Trading for a Totem Golem probably saves you 6-9 damage that minion would have done before you dealt with it. As such, your opponent will often be forced to use removal on Kirin, which is fine, because it means they aren’t adding to their board and they are using up Lightning Bolts or Rockbiter Weapons that could have contributed to a late game burst to pop an Ice Block earlier than you would like.
Medivh’s Valet also plays a strong role in this matchup, since it can remove troublesome minions that are hiding behind a taunt wall. Flametongue Totem is the most common offender, in this regard, but sometimes you are going to want to remove a Mana Tide Totem or buffed Tunnel Trogg, too. Your opponent will usually also have to use some damage to remove the Valet’s body once it is on the board, too, since they probably don’t want it clearing out their Spell Damage Totem or trading with a Tuskarr Totemic.
These little extra advantages in matchups like this make the difference of an extra turn, or sometimes two, which makes all the difference in the world for a deck like Freeze Mage.
While this is still a positive matchup, I wanted to point out a couple of differences that come not from the different version of Freeze Mage I am recommending, but ones that come from the different versions of Zoolock that are around now. In particular, the discard versions of Zoolock are actually a little tougher to beat than the previous versions of the deck were. Discard Zoolock has more explosive potential than the previous version (Blizzard was that really necessary?!), with Doomguard’s charge and multiple Soulfires often complicating your math, especially when your opponent will gladly throw them down early if you let them keep a Malchezaar’s Imp around.
That having been said, the matchup definitely feels better than my 4-3 record against the deck shows. I felt like I got a bit of rough luck to lose a couple of those. One particularly memorable game involved my opponent hitting both Doomguards and three Soulfires (one of them being from Dark Peddler), with the third Soulfire being his only out and being pulled off the top of his deck the turn before he was about to die (a little salty about that one).
Overall, the strategy in the matchup is the same as usual. The main differences are that: 1. You have to watch out for the additional burst cards that could pop your Ice Block early, and 2. Malchezaar’s Imp can sometimes allow them to keep the gas flowing without having to resort to using their Life Tap hero power as often, meaning that they don’t bring themselves within burn range as often as they used to.
There isn’t too much to say about the other matchups. Control Warrior is still miserable, because they have way too much armour for you to remove. If you play against Warrior, then you should hope it is Worgen OTK Warrior or Dragon Warrior. The Worgen list just one turn kills your Ice Block and then dies (whether by your hand or by fatigue damage), while Dragon Warrior is just another aggro deck relying on freeze-able minions to do damage. Rogue is still a good matchup, since they also run their burst into Ice Block and have no way to gain health. Priest is tougher than it used to be, just because they have more aggression than they used to, and you still need to burst them out in one turn, due to their health gain cards. That having been said, the deck is still low tier 3, and still quite beatable. Tempo Mage is still an even to slightly positive matchup (My 3-3 record against Mage was entirely against Tempo Mage), and you just need to be aware of how much direct damage your opponent may be able to do at any given time. Druid is still a very strong matchup, full of freeze-able minions. The complicating factor is their ability to armour up with Feral Rage and, to a lesser extent, their hero power, so just be aware that you may need a bit more burn to finish them off than you would against most opponents.
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Our second EndBoss Online Hearthstone Tournament will be taking place on Sunday, October 2nd at noon on the North American server. Like last time, we worked hard to make this event totally free for you, and in partnership with EPICA:AGP we are funding a $100 prize pool, so check it out on the Events page here. EPICA:AGP is an exciting new take on the Tactical-RPG genre, and we’re excited as we watch it grow. You can check out their Steam page here, and join in their Kickstarter here for early access. This may be our last free entry tournament for Hearthstone (we have some cool stuff in mind for future ones, so stay tuned), so take advantage of the freebie while you can.
Like last time, we are also planning to stream the entire event on our Twitch stream. Coverage will start at noon, when the tournament does (even though matches will be on a delay to avoid stream sniping), and, like last time, we will show all the semi-final and final matchups in their entirety. I will be commentating along with Ben “Overseer” Wastle. We had a blast doing so last time, and we are very much looking forward to this one!