All hail Blizzard’s balance patch!
Not only do I think that it will bring some very healthy changes to the metagame, but they were also nice enough not to touch the deck that I am bringing you today! I am so glad that I don’t write about tier 1 decks, because if I was planning to bring you a Midrange Shaman build today, all of my work and testing over the past few weeks would have likely gone to waste. One of the many benefits of sticking to off-the-radar content, I guess!
Speaking of the pre-nerf standard format, this past weekend was the Second EndBoss Hearthstone Online Open. Congratulations to our Champion: SleepyHuman took down the title in a riveting 5 game title match against WinXploit. SleepyHuman is a regular legend player on ladder from New Zealand, who showed some awesome dedication in playing the event, despite the fact that it started at 4am local time for him! You can check out all the archived footage from the tournament stream on our Twitch page here, and soon it will be transferred over to our newly created YouTube page here.
On that note, I am trying something new this week. I am putting together some VOD (video on demand) content for the new EndBoss YouTube Channel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get them up before this article went live, but check out our YouTube Channel here and if you are interested in seeing some sample games from my testing with today’s deck give the channel a subscription and the content should be up in the next few days. While I don’t expect to ever have the time to get into actual streaming (although someone else from EndBoss is doing so, check out the Sign Off section below for details), I am going to try to do a few of these each week, if the interest is there to see example games, in addition to the article content.
And now…on with the show!
After many months of not having any interesting Mage decklists to talk about, I finally wrote my first Mage article a couple weeks ago, with Super Secret Freeze Mage, which turned out to be my most viewed article to date. Well, when it rains it pours, and after months of drought, I am back with my second Mage list in 3 weeks. And, this time I get to write about my first Hearthstone love: Tempo Mage!
As much as I love playing Tempo Mage, I hadn’t actually found any lists that were interesting enough to justify talking about in the last few months. I would find one list that innovated by adding a bit more burn, and another that innovated by adding a few more minions, but, when all was said and done, they all just represented the evolution of an established archetype. None of them really had enough of a revolutionary aspect to them for me to really consider them off-the-radar enough to feature.
That all changed when I found RayC’s top 5 legend Tempo Mage list featuring this guy:
After making some adjustments to RayC’s list (I still don’t know why people like Babbling Book, and including 2 Books and 1 Mana Wyrm just seems straight-up unjustifiable to me), I arrived at the list you see on your right hand side, which I like to call: The Rhonin Show!
Let’s put it this way, I have played 70 games with the deck between ranks 5 and 3, and I have never lost a single game where Rhonin’s deathrattle triggered!
This list has much more of a combo feel than most Tempo Mage lists. Sometimes you will get an aggressive early curve with Mana Wyrm, but it is the late game fireworks that this deck excels in.
The combo element occurs when you can get your opponent to kill Rhonin. Then you have 3 Arcane Missiles in your hand, plus whatever other low cost spells you still have in hand. Once you are in that position, you can go-off by dropping a Sorcerer’s Apprentice + Flamewaker and maybe a spell damage dude, and just start firing off missiles. Alternatively, you can do something similar with Archmage Antonidas, getting a pile of free Fireballs in the process.
Remember, with a Flamewaker, each Arcane Missiles is worth 5 damage (meaning a minimum of 15 damage if you only have the 3 Missiles from Rhonin). If you also have a Cult Sorcerer or Bloodmage Thalnos, your Arcane Missiles are worth 6 damage each (for a minimum of 18 from your Rhonin ones).
Now, if you want to get really silly, you can combo off even harder by following Rhonin with Emperor Tharrisan (which you typically only have the time to do against decks like Control Warrior, and in that case you get a hand that looks like this:
Yup, I won that game.
Unless your opponent has experience playing against Rhonin, they probably have no idea how much trouble they are in when that man dies.
Of course, while Rhonin is the star of the show, a not-so-humble stage manager named Barnes is often the source of your most broken plays. First of all, Barnes into Rhonin is absolutely absurd! Barnes into Emperor Thaurissan or Archmage Antonidas is also ridiculous. And, it is also important to note, that there isn’t a single dead Barnes draw in this entire deck. If you hit a Flamewaker, you are pretty happy. If you hit a Loot Hoarder or Bloodmage Thalnos you are pretty happy. Your weakest Barnes reveals are Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mana Wyrm and your spell damage minions, all of whom are still much better in this deck than a random 1/1 would be.
I am sure that everyone reading this article has probably experienced the power of Maelstorm Portal by now. In conjunction with the Spell Damage effects played by Shaman, at the moment, Maelstorm Portal often results in turns that drastically alter the course of a game.
You might look at the humble Arcane Explosions in my list and wonder to yourself, what’s up with that? No one plays Arcane Explosion, right? After all, isn’t is just strictly worse than Maelstorm Portal? Well, Maelstorm Portal might be a better card than Arcane Explosion in a vacuum…but, Hearthstone isn’t played in a vacuum, and Shaman can’t spell damage like Mage can!
Bloodmage Thalnos and Azure Drake are the only spell damage minions that Shaman typically has access to (unless you count the 1 in 4 shot of hitting spell damage totem off your hero power). Mage gets to play Thalnos and Drake too, but also gets to use Cult Sorcerer to provide even more spell powering goodness! Getting an Arcane Explosion for 2 or 3 against Midrange Shaman is an absolutely backbreaking play! At the end of the day, I don’t really need a random one-drop to make my mini-Flamestrike feel good!
If you check out the VOD content on the YouTube page when it goes live later this week, you will see the power of Arcane Explosion in action. Two of the videos I will be posting are from matches against Midrange Shaman (since it was everywhere while I was testing) and in both the featured matches Arcane Explosion does some devastatingly good work.
I played 70 games with the deck, posting a 41-29 record with the list. My full matchup data is as follows:
Yup, Warrior is back with a vengeance…which is awesome for The Rhonin Show! All of my matchups were against either Control Warrior or Dragon Warrior, and both matchups are very strong.
Warrior has the huge disadvantage that it has no way to effectively deal with Rhonin outside of killing their own Sylvanas (don’t let them do this to you, it is not fun). As such, Rhonin usually gives you his delicious bounty, and Warriors are often surprised to learn that they don’t get another turn thereafter. My Warrior opponents consistently underestimated (or couldn’t do a damn thing about) the burst potential of this deck. I have had multiple games where my opponent killed Rhonin at 20 life plus some armour, and died on the following turn…apparently it was “Astonishing” every time!
Against Control Warrior, you have to play into Fiery War Axe. I learned this lesson the hard way. If you hold back on early minions like Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Cult Sorcerer for a potential late-game combo, the War Axe will still do its damage to other minions, and you end up giving the Warrior time to armour himself up enough that you can no longer combo him hard enough. Get on the board early, and force the Warrior to use his removal to keep you off. Mulligan away typical keeps like Cult Sorcerer and Sorcerer’s Apprentice, because you much prefer to have them in the late game to combo (but still play them in the early game if you get them after your mulligan). You want early minions like Mana Wyrm and Loot Hoarder to draw out early War Axe hits. I also will play Bloodmage Thalnos on turn 2 for the same reason. Sometimes it gets hit with Ravaging Ghoul, but that’s fine, you still get your card out of the deal, and it still forces him to use up the Ghoul instead of using it in conjunction with a War Axe to get rid of an Azure Drake, or something.
Against Dragon Warrior, you just have to fight for the board early. Using early Fireballs and Frostbolts is totally fine and, in fact, encouraged, although hang on to your Flamewakers unless you can get a big swing turn with them. War Axe gives them the early game edge, but if you don’t fall too far behind, you can swing that back pretty consistently in the midgame. Arcane Blast is very strong here, so a Cult Sorcerer + Arcane Blast to kill a Frothing Berserker or Blackwing Corruptor is often a very big swing. Keep yourself above 15 if you can, because Fireball kills a 6/6 Draknoid Crusher, but a 9/9 one is much more trouble. Then, try to set up for one of your big effects like Rhonin, Antonidas, or a big Flamewaker turn to put the nail in your opponent’s coffin.
While all my testing was done before the nerfs, making Execute more expensive should only weaken Warrior, making this matchup even better.
Video 3 of 3 that I will be posting on the YouTube page later this week is a Dragon Warrior matchup, so check that out later this week if you want to see an example of how that matchup plays out.
I do not expect Midrange Shaman or Aggro Shaman to disappear after the nerfs, but I do expect this matchup to become significantly easier. Against Midrange Shaman, in particular, many of my losses are directly attributable to Totemic for Totem Golem or Mana Tide Totem. That having been said, even pre-nerf, the matchup was a slightly favourable one against either of these lists. With Rockbiter weapon being more expensive and Totemic becoming less swingy, it should only help to improve the matchup. You can note, however, that the double Arcane Explosions, while good in almost every matchup, are in the deck mostly as tech against Midrange Shaman. So, if the nerfs lessen the number of those on ladder, you may be able to cut one Explosion.
If you can get an early presence on the board in the Shaman matchup, then you are probably in a pretty good position. Mana Wyrm is always where you want to start, and can help clean up totems. Cult Sorcerer + Arcane Blast is a great way to solve a Totem Golem issue. But, Shaman fights for the board pretty well in the early game. Random RNG stuff like Totemic for Totem Golem would often swing the early game, but luckily we don’t need to worry about that anymore. That having been said, Spirit Claws is still a big RNG element. It is pretty lame against you without spell damage, but excellent against you with it, so a well-timed hero power can sometimes make a big difference when it comes to fighting for board control (part of the reason I hate the swingy design of Spirit Claws in Shaman). If you lose the board, you often need a big Arcane Explosion turn or Flamewaker turn to swing things back. It can be very hard to get on the board against Shaman once they have a presence, and you can’t be spending your valuable burn on totems (unless they are Golems).
Rhonin is much less reliable here because of Hex, but if you can draw one out on a Drake, Flamewaker or Emperor, then you can often land Rhonin and ride him to victory.
Against Aggro Shaman, you often have better pieces to fight for the board than against midrange. They don’t have as much of a second wind as Midrange Shaman does, so something like a turn 3 Flamewaker + Coin + Arcane Missiles/Arcane Blast turn will often put them in a tough spot. If they start using Lava Burst on minions you know that you have probably already won. Frostbolt is particularly important in this matchup, and should often be saved to freeze Doomhammer for that extra turn you need to burn your opponent out. That having been said, if it is your only way to deal with a Totem Golem, you can still do so. Hopefully, the Rockbiter nerf will make the Doomhammer/Rockbiter combo less common or, at least, a little slower. That having been said, unless it disappears from the metagame, you have to respect the potential of it when you are deciding how much damage you can afford to take.
As far as mulligan goes, if you see Thrall (or Morgl) across the table, you are looking for Mana Wyrm, Arcane Blast, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Loot Hoarder, Frostbolt and Cult Sorcerer. You will keep Flamewaker if you have coin, and will keep Arcane Explosion if the rest of your hand is looking pretty good, or if you have a Cult Sorcerer or Bloodmage Thalnos already. Oh, and Thalnos is a keep if you have Arcane Blast or Arcane Explosion already.
This matchup is certainly one of the strong incentives to play the deck. Both midrange and hybrid have trouble fighting for the early game board against you. Fiery Bat dies to hero power or Arcane Missiles, and Huge Toad dies to Arcane Blast (as do all the Animal Companions if you have Cult Sorcerer or Bloodmage Thalnos), so you have lots of ways to take the early advantage. Often you get an early advantage and snowball it to victory, if they don’t have a good answer to Mana Wyrm and a pile of direct damage. If you don’t get an early game push that is still fine, because your midrange also fights theirs pretty well. Unlike most Tempo Mage lists, you deal pretty effectively with Highmanes and Infested Wolves, as you can pop them and then Arcane Explosion away the remains. Flamewaker does a lot of damage in this matchup. Keep their early beasts off the board so they can’t Houndmaster (although Kindly Grandmother might be the exception if they refuse to pop it). You often run them out of gas, which is when Rhonin or Archmage Antonidas can actually get some work in to finish the game.
Mulligan for Arcane Blast, Mana Wyrm, Cult Sorcerer, Loot Hoarder, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You will sometimes keep Arcane Missiles, although you can throw it back if the rest of your hand is sub-par. Flamewaker is a keep on the coin (especially if you also have Arcane Missiles to accompany it). Thalnos is also a keep if you have Arcane Blast.
Ok, I really need to talk a bit about these statistics, because they are pretty skewed. I don’t know if it was my Super Secret Freeze Mage article or Tom’s successful Freeze Mage list, but for a few days I just seemed to run into a lot of Freeze Mage. Ice Block is pretty rough on this deck, and my record against Freeze Mage was pretty miserable (I believe about 0-5). Based on my experience with the matchup, if Freeze Mage ends up being a popular deck, you might want to consider playing a different deck, because it seems to be a miserable matchup.
That having been said, aside from those few days Freeze Mage has been pretty much a non-factor on ladder, so I wouldn’t expect these sorts of poor Mage numbers in the future, since the Tempo Mage matchup is pretty solid. I believe I was 3-1 against Tempo Mage (with an additional loss to the strangest Prince Malchezaar Mage list I have ever seen), with my one loss being due to my opponent getting Ice Block out of a Cabalist Tome.
Against Freeze Mage, all you can do is try to be aggressive and pop their Ice Block as early as possible. Against Tempo Mage, however, you are usually the control player. You want to extend the game because you have better late game weapons than they do. Some Tempo Mage lists play Archmage Antonidas, but he has become an exception rather than a rule. Rhonin is your biggest trump card, because he is huge, they have to deal with him, and he give you huge value once they do. Unless they get a lucky Polymorph off Babbling Book, they just have no way to deal with Rhonin. As such, don’t get into a damage race against another Tempo Mage player, unless you are damn sure you will win it, because a 7 turn game favours them, but a 12 turn game heavily favours you.
Against Mage, you want to mulligan to the standard stuff (Arcane Blast, Mana Wyrm, Cult Sorcerer, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Loot Hoarder). Keep Flamewaker on the coin, and you will also keep Forgotten Torch, since you are usually trading removal spells for minions in the early game (since you should assume you are playing against Tempo Mage).
I played about an even split of Malygos Druid and Token Druid. Both decks are tough but winnable matchups (probably about 45%). You often get on the board before they do, and then the question is whether they can swing the board back in their favour, and then whether you can respond. You can do a lot of damage on those midgame Flamewaker turns, but they have very big minions, so you need all the damage you can get. Rhonin is a definite swing card in your favour, since most Druid builds have no way to deal with him without triggering the deathrattle. The big question in the matchup usually revolves around whether they can put enough fat minions in your way to soak up your damage and hold the board. Druid has a lot of cards that hurt you. Fandral and Violet Teacher both often require Fireball as an answer, while still getting the Druid player additional value, and Ancient of War and Moonglade Portal are pretty powerful ways of slowing you down. That having been said, you have a lot more damage potential than most Tempo Mage lists, and often it is enough to get there.
Mulliganing against Druid is pretty standard. Keep Arcane Blast, Mana Wyrm, Apprentice, Cult Sorcerer, and Loot Hoarder.
Zoolock seems to have pretty much disappeared from ladder. I only played against it once (and won), and it feels like a good matchup (especially if you have Flamewaker and coin), but the sample size is obviously small. Double Arcane Explosion is a huge advantage here. I won my two Paladin matchups pretty easily. You have a lot of burst potential, which they have to respect, and it is difficult for them to keep you off the board, while also managing to keep themselves at a life total that you can’t threaten with burn. In the Priest matchup, I felt like I was going to win so many times, and was never able to quite do enough damage. Priest of the Feast is a real problem. He dies on sight, no matter what it takes. Lastly, I had two matchups against Rogue, and lost one horribly and won the other easily, but that’s how things often seem to go with Rogue. Based on that small sample size, I can’t really say whether the matchup is good or bad, but you strategy certainly seems to be to be aggressive, push damage to their face, and try to get them into burn range, since they rarely have any way to regain health. Backstab is their best card against you (and SI:7 Agent is quite good, too), because removing your strong 2-drops like Cult Sorcerer and Sorcerer’s Apprentice for zero mana is very strong.
Unfortunately, this deck has a fair number of legendaries, along with a couple of Epics (Arcane Blast), and none of them is particular easy to substitute for. Barnes, Rhonin and Archmage Antonidas are utterly irreplaceable, and I wouldn’t play the deck if you don’t have all three.
Similarly, Arcane Blast is too powerful to lose. Not only is Arcane Blast often able to remove Totem Golems or Azure Drakes for 1 mana, but it often removes even bigger things, since the spell damage effects stack! So, if you have a Cult Sorcerer, a Thalnos and an Azure Drake on the board, you can remove Ragnaros for 1 mana! Nothing else can remotely do that sort of effect nearly as efficiently.
If you don’t have Blackrock, and don’t want to buy it before it rotates out next year, then you can substitute out Emperor Thaurrisan. He is very good, but Sorcerer’s Apprentice enables your combos, too, so he isn’t strictly necessary. Bloodmage Thalnos also doesn’t have an easy substitute (since you are already playing all the good spell damage guys you can find), especially because he is so much better with Barnes than something like Kobold Geomancer would be. If you want to drop either Emperor or Thalnos, my first instinct would be to just add the second Forgotten Torch. I much prefer adding a spell, as opposed to adding another minion that isn’t as good of a Barnes reveal.
Sign Off and Announcement
As I mentioned at the top, the Second EndBoss Hearthstone Online Open this past weekend was a huge success! We had a blast streaming the tournament, and are planning to do another one soon (likely in November). If you want to be the first to hear about our next tournament, you can sign up for our mailing list here. And, of course, if you want to subscribe to my articles, please do so below. We do not sell any of your information, and will only use it to advise you of the content in which you have expressed an interest.
Also, in other exciting news, my partner in crime, Ben “Overseer” Wastle is launching his Twitch stream! You guys might have seen Overseer co-casting the last couple of Hearthstone tournaments with me, or read about his Overseer of Secrets deck that I featured a few weeks ago, but Hearthstone is actually not his best game. Overseer is a long time competitive gamer in multiple games, achieving high level status in Starcraft, World of Warcraft PvP and, most recently, Overwatch. Those are the games he will likely be streaming the most, although he is also an excellent Arena specialist in Hearthstone (having been an skilled booster drafter in his Magic the Gathering days), so I expect to see some occasional Hearthstone on his stream as well. I suspect that I may also make an occasional appearance on his stream for us to do a drunken Arena run together. You can check out and subscribe to his stream here!
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to join the discussion on reddit here (add link).