Secret Pirate Mage
Top 200 Legend
Pirate Secret Mage
Deck Code: AAECAf0EBOu6Atm7ApG8AqLTAg1xuwKVA5YF1AXsBaO2Ate2Aoe9AsHBApjEAo/TAvvTAgA=
The Holiday season wraps up a super busy fall for me. After becoming a new dad, I moved across country with my family (Toronto to Calgary), and then started a new job at a downtown Calgary law firm (I am a lawyer by day). Luckily, December is a pretty slow time in litigation, and alongside the Christmas break, I was able to find some time to experiment with the new goodies from Kobolds and Catacombs.
I started out working on a promising Murloc Buff Paladin list. The deck combined Murloc aggro elements with a Lynessa Sunsorrow/The Voraxx/Primalfin Champion package, alongside buff cards like Spikeridge Steed, Potion of Heroism and Blessing of Kings. I tried so many variations of it, from aggro to control to midrange, and just couldn’t seem to crack the code. The best I was able to get was a 55% winrate list, but eventually had to admit to myself that the buff package was just too cute, and the deck was simply more powerful as a more streamlined Aggro Murloc list. (here’s my best performing list, if anyone wants to see if they can crack the code).
Giving up on the Buff Paladin dream, I messed around with some fun secret-based Hunter lists, before circling back to my two favourite archetypes: Eternal (aka Big) Priest and Secret Mage.
Both archetypes got some fun goodies from the new set, but Secret Mage made the biggest jump forward.
Earlier this fall, I criticized Blizzard’s inability to print viable new Secrets, and I bemoaned the fact that Knights of the Frozen Throne featured no viable new tempo Mage cards. Well, I guess someone at Blizzard must have read my rant, because Team 5 did good this time around.
Explosive Runes is a fantastic new Secret, which swings tempo in a way that no other Mage Secret is able to do. A 3 mana (or 0 mana) Fireball to the face is generally pretty great for a deck like Secret Mage. The ability to split that damage efficiently between a minion and the face is even better! Explosive Runes fills an important role in helping the Mage player fight for the board against aggro decks, while also helping put pressure on your opponent’s life total. It fits the Secret Mage gameplan far better than Mirror Entity does, and is a slam dunk addition to the list.
The Mage legendary weapon, Aluneth, also provides the deck with a powerful new finishing effect. If you liked paying 3 mana to draw 2 cards, how paying 6 mana to draw 3 cards a turn for the rest of the game?! Aluneth gives Secret Mage exactly what it needs to dominate control decks (as if it didn’t already do that): a continuous flow of gas. Secret Mage is great at getting the upper hand early in games, and Aluneth is a great nail in the coffin, virtually assuring that you will draw the last few burn spells you need to finish a game.
In the neutral camp, Secret Mage also received a fantastic new gift. While Corridor Creeper is generally pretty broken in any aggro deck, it feels particularly good in Secret Mage. Between Creeper and Kabal Crystal Runner, the deck now has a critical mass of discounted 5/5’s to allow you to efficiently reload a depleted board. On the other hand, Secret Mage is pretty good at dealing with opposing Creepers, with Fireball and Explosive Runes.
These new additions to the deck fundamentally change the way that you build a Secret Mage list. Most have caught onto the renewed effectiveness of Kabal Lackey, while some have also caught onto the fact that the last aggro’ish deck without Patches in it, is actually just better with him.
I probably don’t need to tell you how well-positioned Patches is in the current metagame, because he has always been good, but he does seem even better than usual, at the moment. There are just so many more one toughness dudes around at the moment, with Aggro Paladin and Tempo Rogue both featuring a good number of them. Even the control decks in the environment feature cards like Kobold Librarian and Loot Hoarder.
On top of Patches’ generally powerful nature, the Pirate package also synergizes very well with Secret Mage’s new additions. Patches is great at powering out early Corridor Creepers, while Southsea Deckhand gets to act as late-game burst damage alongside Aluneth!
Overall, the Pirate package, alongside Explosive Runes and Corridor Creeper, provides Secret Mage with a lot more ability to fight for early boards, particularly against Tempo Rogue, which was Secret Mage’s Achilles heel before Kobolds and Catacombs was released.
My overall record was 47-18, with the deck, for a 72% winrate. My first 22 testing games were done between ranks 5 and 2, while my remaining 43 games were done at Legend ranks (I switched to Eternal Priest aka Big Priest to finish the initial Legend climb). I finished my games for the month at rank 177 Legend, before heading off to celebrate New Years. Strangely enough, my Legend record was better than my pre-Legend record, as I posted a 34-10 record (77% winrate) at that level.
General Mulligan Strategy
With previous builds of Secret Mage, I recommended mulliganing aggressively for Mana Wyrm, Arcanologist and Kirin Tor Mage, with other keeps being contextual. The current list does not need to be quite as aggressive with its mulligans. Southsea Deckhand is another solid turn 1 play, which reduces the deck’s reliance on hitting Mana Wyrm.
Deckhand is the only additional all-purpose keep, but the deck has many contextual keeps now. You keep secrets a bit more often than you used to, because Runes is a better early play than Mirror Entity was, and the presence of Kabal Lackey provides another way to cheat them out. The presence of Lackey also increases the number of games where you keep Medivh’s Valet. Corridor Creeper is usually a keep, as long as you have at least one early minion to go with it. Frostbolt is usually a mulligan if you are going to be on the offensive (eg. vs. Priest), but often a keep in matchups where you need to fight for the board (eg. Vs Aggro Paladin).
Priest (15-7): It is kind of hard to differentiate between the many Priest decks that are around right now. Most of my matchups were against traditional Razakus Priest, with some against Dragon Razakus Priest, some against Spiteful Summoner lists, a traditional Dragon Priest or two, and a Big Priest. Unfortunately, it is tough to give precise numbers on these matchups because they often play with similar cards. If your opponent blows up on turn 5 after playing a Northshire Cleric and Shadow Word: Pain, what list are they running? If your opponent plays a couple of dragons, but no duplicates and no Raza/Kazakus, are they playing traditional Dragon Priest or Razakus Dragon Priest?
Either way, the strategy against Priest is pretty consistent, and all of the varieties of Priest are favourable matchups. The exception to this is Eternal (aka Big) Priest, which is a tough matchup, assuming your opponent knows how to play the matchup. I, honestly, feel favoured in this matchup no matter which side I am playing, but that is partially due to putting in so many games with both decks, and partially build related. I, generally, play double Silence in all my Eternal (aka Big) Priest builds, which is a key card for proc’ing a Counterspell when leading into a Dragonfire Potion or Pint-Sized/Horror turn, and that free proc often means the difference between winning or losing.
One card I use, as a curveball, is Potion of Polymorph. The main reason for the inclusion is for the Cube Warlock matchup, but the surprise value renders it an effective card in several other matchups, too. In addition to the Warlock matchup, Potion of Polymorph is especially good in the Eternal (aka Big) Priest matchup in order to polymorph Obsidian Statue, or whatever their first big dude is, and is great in any situation where your opponent is likely to try to stabilize with a taunt. Several Priest lists now play Tar Creeper, which is very well-positioned against us. Potion is fantastic at stunting this play on turn 3, ideally while being played off a Kirin Tor Mage.
As I mentioned, most of my matchups have been against Razakus Priest, or one of the Dragon Priest or Spiteful Summoner variants. In all these matchups, you are aiming to take and keep the tempo without running out of gas. When you lose any of these matchups, it is almost always because you just ran out of gas. Duskbreaker is the most common reason why this happens, since there is no counter to its battlecry. This is the reason why I will happily keep Aluneth on the mulligan. It might not come out until turn 6, but it just utterly dominates Priest. Opponents will often just concede when you play it on curve. Your cards are so efficient (especially once your Kabal Crystal Runners are free), and you have so much burn, that Aluneth will almost always close the door on the game. Meanwhile, it is an extremely rare game where you are actually down on tempo to any Priest list on turn 6, since even a Duskbreaker board clear can usually followed by a Creeper/Crystal Runner reload.
Aside from that, it is important to remember the timing on your Secrets, specifically Counterspell. Dragonfire Potion is the key one to stop, so time it appropriately. Explosive Runes is a lot easier. You basically just want to play Runes whenever you get the chance to cheat it out. Hitting a Northshire Cleric, Loot Hoarder, or Curious Glimmerroot is perfectly acceptable, as it hurts their tempo and get you in some face damage. If you get a Raza or Draknoid Operative, even better!
Aside from keeping Aluneth, the mulligan for this matchup is pretty standard. I will generally keep a single Counterspell on the coin, but mulligan on the play. On the play, I will often keep a single Runes or Potion of Polymorph, if I have no Arcanologist in hand. Kabal Lackey is a keep, if you have an early Secret you want to play, while Frostbolt is always a mulligan.
And, here is the big difference between the current Pirate Secret Mage (or even normal Secret Mage) lists, and the pre-Kobolds Secret Mage lists. Tempo Rogue was a nighmare matchup beforehand (I think I ran about 30% winrate against it). Well, that has changed!
There are several changes that have made a difference, but Explosive Runes is probably the biggest. Kirin Tor into Runes on turn 2/3 will often chop down one of Rogue’s best tempo plays: Southsea Captain into buff’ed Patches. You used to lose lots of Sorcerer’s Apprentices to this play. Even if you only hit a Swashbuckler with your Runes, it means you get in 5 damage, and you have usually altered your opponent’s line of play. That extra life total pressure makes a real difference in terms of how aggressive your Rogue opponent can play. Alongside some damage when they use their weapon, the damage adds up, and often forces the Rogue to protect their life total to stay out of burn range.
Additionally, Runes shuts down a lot of things that Mirror Entity simply did not. Runes shuts down Sonya Shadowdancer (who opponents usually want to play as their first minion on a turn), while also killing minions like Vilespine Slayer before they can be Shadowstep’ed. Runes can even protect you from a game ending Leeroy (or Leeroy/Shadowstep) play!
The Pirate package also makes a difference in the matchup, especially alongside Corridor Creeper. Southsea Deckhand/Patches in turn 1 or 2 is much better at fighting Rogue for the board than Sorcerer’s Apprentice was. All of the trading of pirates also makes Creeper much cheaper. Even if your opponent is also running Creeper, they often have to wait longer to play it, to avoid playing into Runes, and Fireball gives you a relatively clean solution to the issue.
As for mulligan’ing, I will almost always keep a single Runes, if I don’t have Arcanologist. Southsea is a keep, too. Counterspell and Potion of Polymorph are mulligans. They are, generally, pretty weak in the matchup, although Potion has definitely gained points now that people aren’t playing around Mirror Entity. If they have already seen a Runes, opponents will often put you on Counterspell, then get wrecked when their Cobalt Scalebane gets Polymorph’ed. Potion of Poly can also act as an additional safety net in the late game to avoid a surprise death by Leeroy.
Cube Warlock (7-2) has become a very popular deck since the release of Kobolds and Catacombs, with occasional Zoolock lists (1-0) showing up. Cube Warlock is a pretty strong matchup for this deck.
The key to this matchup is putting pressure on the Zoolock’s life total before they can get a Voidlord on the board. Once Voidlord hits the board, you should not expect to be able to get any more minion damage through. Bashing through 18 health worth of minions is not an easy task. This means that you need to get in as much minion damage as you can before Voidlord hits. As a corollary to this, try not to play an Explosive Runes just before your opponent hits 5 mana, or else Possessed Lackey might just turn into a Voidlord and ruin your day. That extra turn of attacking the face can often make the difference.
So, what do you play on turn 4, if not Explosive Runes? Why, Potion of Polymorph, of course! This matchup is really the reason why Potion is in the deck. Ideally, you want to have Potion out right before your opponent hits 5 mana, so that they will play a Possessed Lackey into it. Your opponent will usually expect Counterspell or Runes, so it won’t even enter their mind that their Lackey might be at risk. Polymorphing it will really wreck their day. Other great uses for Potion of Polymorph? Well, Voidlord is a good one, if they get to hard cast it, but my favourite is hitting Carnivorous Cube. It is simply hilarious to watch your opponent kill their own dude, just to see the Cube get Polymorph’ed! Every time I have hit a Cube with Potion of Poly my opponent has immediately exploded.
If your opponent does manage to get a Voidlord resolved, the plan is to burn them out. You have Firelands Portals, Fireballs, Frostbolts and Medivh’s Valet. Alongside Aluneth, you have plenty of reach to finish opponents off. Your opponent will usually do some damage to themselves with Life Tap, but be careful not to let Dark Pact mess up your math.
In terms of mulligan’ing, I will usually keep a Counterspell on the coin, if I don’t have Arcanologist, but mull it on the draw (Counterspell’s ideal target is Defile or Hellfire). Runes is an occasional keep, if it is your only Secret, you have no Arcanologist, and you have a Kirin Tor or Kabal Lackey. Basically, you want Runes if you are confident it will come down on turn 2/3, but not if you are likely playing it on turn 4/5, due to Possessed Lackey. Unlike against Priest, I will usually mull Aluneth in this matchup. While it is a good card, it is not as dominant as against Priest (since Cube Warlock can finish the game quicker after stabilizing), and it is more important to get a strong start.
Most of these matchups have been mirror or semi-mirror matchups (5-2), while I did face a random Big Spell Mage in there, too. If your Secret Mage opponent is not running the pirate package, then you have a good advantage. Early board control is important, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice is pretty bad at fighting for the board. The random Potion of Poly is also an advantage, due to the surprise factor (unless they read this article). Virtually no one plays them, and so it often catches opponents off-guard. Potion is also a much better tempo card than Ice Block, which is the Secret most people run in that slot.
The matchup is about getting tempo on the board, and keeping it. Neither of you are likely playing any sort of AoE (unless someone gets one off Glyph), so there is no harm in overextending. You also want to play around your opponents’ Secrets as efficiently as possible. Assuming either Counterspell or Runes on every Secret is probably pretty safe. Playing low value minions like Kabal Lackey and Southsea Deckhand is best for playing into Runes, in the early game, since the face damage is rarely as important as the card value, and both of those cards still net you tempo value.
The matchup does change significantly if you have Aluneth, or if your opponent does, since the player with Aluneth will, inevitably, win the long game. This is why tempo important, because, if you get the tempo advantage and draw Aluneth, you will have the chance to play it and takeover. If you have the tempo advantage and your opponent spends turn 6 playing Aluneth, then you can probably burn them out before they stabilize.
In terms of the mulligan, I will rarely keep Frostbolt, despite it being a board control matchup. I prefer to have proactive weapons, but will sometimes keep a bolt alongside a hand like Wyrm/Arcanologist. Keeping a single Secret is fair, unless you have Arcanologist, but, as usual, I would only keep Counterspell if I have the coin. The player with the coin has the advantage in the mirror matchup, because it is the easiest Counterspell proc, in addition to buff’ing Mana Wyrm and letting you get Kirin Tor + Secret out first.
These matchups were split between Aggro Druid (2-0) and Jade Druid (2-1). The Aggro Druid matchup is another one that has improved a lot from pre-Kobolds. You get on the board quicker, have Runes to help control the board. A good tempo Counterspell will often ruin a Druid’s day, since their army is much less impressive without a resolved Mark of the Lotus or Power of the Wild. That having been said, with only two testing game in, I can’t say too much about how the matchup plays out.
Jade Druid is a bit of a tougher matchup, depending heavily on the build. You need to be the aggressor, and need to finish the game before they overwhelm you. Counterspell is best used on Spreading Plague, or sometimes, Ultimate Infestation. My loss was to a version with a fair amount of defensive measures, like Lesser Jasper Spellstone and Oaken Summons/Ironwood Golem. To be fair, though, we queue’ed back into each other right after that, and I won the immediate rematch, despite how many defensive measures his deck had. Overall, it feels like you have more margin for error, but they do still have some cards that can ruin your day.
And, here we come to the deck’s only common bad matchup. While Pirate Secret Mage is much better at controlling the board than the previous versions have been, Aggro Paladin (either the normal or Murloc versions) is definitely still better at it. The best plan I have found is to try to exhaust them. You won’t be able to outrace them, but your 5/5’s give you more bulk than they have. Counterspell is best played right before your opponent hits 4 mana, so you can shut down Call to Arms and Blessing of Kings. That is one of the best tempo swing plays you can make in the matchup, and often the key to winning.
Also, make sure to keep your hand size low in the midgame to play around Divine Favor. You can reasonably empty your entire hand while still keeping some unknowns around, in the form of Secrets. You also have more powerful cards than your opponent, so you should be able to win most top-deck’ing wars, especially if Divine Favor is a completely dead card.
This is one of the matchups where you do like to keep Frostbolt. Against the Murloc versions, you will want to hit Warleader, and against other versions, Knife Juggler is the key card to get. Those extra knives make a big difference in terms of fighting for board control, but, luckily, since Juggler is usually the first minion played, it also lets you occasionally ruin their day with Runes or Potion of Poly.
For other mulligans, once again, Counterspell is great if you are on the coin, but if not, then it is sub-par, since your opponent will usually use their coin to enable a turn 3 Call to Arms, thus, allowing them to test for Counterspell painlessly. Runes is great, so keeping one, if it is the only Secret in hand, is fair. Aside from that, the mulligans are pretty normal.
I played against two varieties of Hunter. I had games against a couple of Secret variants, and three games against midrange. All of the games felt very good. I have typically done very well against midrange hunters with different Secret Mage variants. In the past, Mirror Entity has typically been very good against them, and Runes might be a bit weaker, but not by much. That having been said, three games is too small a sample size to claim definitive dominance in the matchup.
The Secret Hunter variants feel like great matchups as they are slower than us. They rely on being able to pressure their opponents’ life total, but they just can’t do that very well against Secret Mage, and without life gain cards, it is tough for them to play defence well enough to beat you. Counterspell is key for this matchup, while Runes is far weaker, as they often have far fewer actual minions (as opposed to ones summoned by spells).
If you don’t know what you are playing against, I would mulligan away Runes and Potion of Poly, just because they are pretty poor against the spell-focussed Secret Hunter decks. Aside from that, the mulligan strategy is pretty standard, focussing on getting solid aggressive starts.
Shaman and Warrior (nope):
Not a single game against either of these classes. Honestly, I am pretty content to have these be the two garbage classes, at the moment. A little time away from Pirate Warrior and game decided by totem rolls or evolves feels good for the game…and my sanity.
One of the great things I have always been able to say about Secret Mage is that it is a particularly cheap deck to build. It gets a bit more expensive with this version, with the additions of Patches and Aluneth. You can certainly sub out both of these cards, but taking out Aluneth, in particular, will definitely weaken the deck. That having been said, Secret Mage was viable before, and you can feel free to take a look at my previous Cobalt Secret Mage list if you want a perfectly viable (albeit more midrangy) version with zero legendaries.
If you take out Patches, then the Southsea Deckhands go, too. I would probably allocate those three slots to Sorcerer’s Apprentice and a second Kabal Lackey. You could also consider a Gollaka Crawler in one of those slots. If you take out Aluneth, then you should also probably trim another slot somewhere and add a couple of Arcane Intellects back in. Intellect has never been one of the deck’s strongest cards (especially due to how many 3-drops we play), but the deck needs some sort of card draw, and if you don’t have Aluneth, then Intellect is the best option available.
As for the epics, Corridor Creeper is pretty much a must-have for a lot of decks, so you might want to just invest in those. You can substitute for them, but any substitute will be a lot less efficient, and probably puts the deck back into a more midrangy approach. Cobalt Scalebane would be my best substitute option, but who pays 5 for a 5/5 anymore?! That having been said, if you are going that route, you might want to consider going the more midrangy direction and including Bonemares in the list, as well. Similarly, Primordial Glyph is pretty staple for Mage decks. You can substitute for it, but you are definitely downgrading the deck to do so. I would probably go for an additional Secret (Potion of Polymorph or Ice Block), and maybe an Arcane Intellect, if you were going to take out the Glyphs.
Between my new job and my 4-month old daughter, it could little while before I get another article written. If you want to know when future articles are posted, the best way is to follow us on Twitter or Facebook, and I will post there when new articles go up. Alternatively, you can subscribe to my articles below. And, of course, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to join the discussion on reddit here.