Kyle’s Decks: Secret Tempo Mage

Secret Tempo Mage
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Kyle “EndBoss” Smith

Secret Tempo Mage

Overview
Testing Data
Mulligan
Matchups
Matchups – Rogue
Matchups – Warrior
Matchups – Hunter
Matchups – Druid
Matchups – Mage
Matchups – Paladin
Matchups – Priest
Matchups – Shaman
Matchups – Warlock
Potential Substitutions
Matchups
Signoff

After a lengthy break, I have returned! My recent absence is the result of a combination of factors, from family matters (my wife is pregnant!), crazy times at work, as well as a really terrible Hearthstone metagame, post-Gadgetzan. I have a certain standard that I strive to maintain with my articles. I don’t write about tier 1 decks, unless I have a unique spin on the archetype to share. I will not write an article unless I have a deck to share with a high enough level of quality, and if I don’t have a deck worth writing about, you just won’t hear from me. I write articles entirely as a hobby, so I’m not going to write about a new spin on Pirate Warrior just to keep content coming.

The Pirate/Reno metagame was just straight-up terrible for innovative decks. Almost every cool archetype I came up with got stomped by Pirates. The ones that didn’t get stomped by Pirates, got stomped by Reno decks…and the metagame was basically just Patches and Reno. Overall, the post-Gadgetzan metagame sucked the fun out of Hearthstone for a while. Since Blizzard didn’t bother trying to fix things in a timely way, I just spent more time playing Magic and working on another project of mine.

I gave Blizzard some slops for Gadgetzan, so I will use this space to give them credit where credit is due. Ranked floors are my new favourite thing! You get specific opportunities to test your wacky new decks, against real competitive opponents, without killing your ranking! For brewers like myself, every floor I hit feels like a breath of fresh air, when I can pull out whatever wacky brew I have been wanting to work on, and give it a whirl. A month into the new metagame, I only have good things to say about Un’Goro! The last week or so has been the healthiest metagame that this game has seen in almost a year, and I am having a blast playing a pile of new viable archetypes!

Overview

On day 1 of the new format, I found this awesome brew I was going to write about…unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one to figure out Cavern Rogue. By the end of day 1, the deck was considered tier 1, and I was moving onto other brews. I have found a few other brews that I really like, and are really competitive, but today’s deck is a step above the pack!

Allow me to present to you, Secret Tempo Mage!

After climbing some ladder ranks with Cavern Rogue, I found myself at the rank 10 floor, and used the opportunity to test out a fun new deck idea. Honestly, I had played around with Mage Secret decks ever since Karazhan, with Super Secret Freeze Mage being my only success. The Tempo versions had always been pretty lame and underpowered. But, I threw together my new Tempo Secret list, and lo and behold it won…and kept winning!

I guess the reason why I was so surprised by the deck’s success is because it was not viable before, and features very few Un’Goro cards. The new cards are pretty powerful, though…

arcanologist-55450

Arcanologist is really the big gain from Un’Goro, and illustrates the importance of having good early drops. Good one and two drops have a tendency to turn non-viable decks into viable ones (see Tunnel Trogg and Small-time Buccaneer). Arcanologist fills that role for Tempo Secret Mage. Alongside Mana Wyrm and Sorcerer’s Apprentice, this deck has some very strong weapons to allow it to get on the table early, and do some quick damage.

The other new addition is Primordial Glyph, which is the deck’s swiss army knife. It doesn’t do the everyday heavy lifting that Arcanologist does, but it solves problems that no other card can, and it is a strong tempo weapon. Remember, tempo is not about raw speed from turn 1, it is about putting together turns that swing the tempo advantage from one player to the other, and then maintaining that advantage. Glyph is great for that, because of its ability to give you a tool to swing tempo, with a discounted price tag. You can use that tool immediately, if you want, but oftentimes, it is better used on a following turn, where your discounted spell will contribute to a bigger tempo swing.

Some of the other major tempo swinging cards are Kirin Tor Mage, Kabal Crystal Runner and Medivh’s Valet. All 3 cards give you significantly discounted effects that allow you to do much more with your mana than your opponent, thus, swinging the tempo. Turn 3 Kirin Tor Mage is the backbone play of this deck. Playing Kirin alongside Mirror Entity or Counterspell is often just backbreaking. You paid 0 for that secret, and if you hit a 3 or 4 drop minion with Entity or a removal spell with Counterspell, you are way ahead of the game.

kabal-crystal-runnerCrystal Runner is usually a strong mid-game play, acting much like Thing from Below has for Shaman. Do you remember all those infuriating Shaman turns, where you thought to yourself, “Ok, he’s used up all his mana. I can deal with this board, unless…”, following by the sound of you throwing your keyboard across the room when a free Thing from Below or two came down? Yup, Crystal Runner is a close approximation of that. Playing a 5/5 for 2 or 0 mana is a ridiculous tempo play. It may not have taunt, but we can’t all be Shaman.

In addition to the strong new tools, a big reason why this deck is now viable is because of the rotation. The card pool is much smaller than it was a couple of weeks ago, so decks are, generally, less powerful. Secret Mage lost very little in the rotation (Arcane Blast, maybe?), with many of the key payoff cards being from Karazhan (ie. Avian Watcher and Medivh’s Valet), or Gadgetzan (ie. Kabal Crystal Runner).

Additionally, Un’Goro brings with it a couple of mechanics that play into our gameplan extremely well. First of all, Quests are great for this deck. All Quest decks typically play their Quest on turn 1, which lets Mana Wyrm establish early tempo. Secondly, Quests are a big flashing target telling you what your opponent is going to be doing. I have caught a couple of Crystal Cores with Counterspell. I think my best moment with the deck was turn 1 Kabal Lackey/Counterspell to catch another opponent’s Warrior Quest.

In addition to the Quests, Mirror Entity is a backbreaker against Elemental decks. Just like Quests, it is super-easy to figure out when a big Elemental is likely to come down, since they need to set it up the turn before. If your opponent is going into turn 7 with an Elemental played last turn, then your mirror Entity will probably get to copy a Blazecaller. I have gotten a lot of those. Four mana is also a key slot for Elemental decks, and copying your opponent’s Tol’vir Stoneshaper is very strong.

kabal-lackey

Just a quick note on Kabal Lackey. This little guy is often misunderstood, but is a powerful tool in this particular deck. It is important to remember that he normally isn’t a turn 1 play, he is a mid-game tempo play. Not only is a turn 1 Mirror Entity often less than impressive (Yay, I got a Swashbuckler!), but the tempo swing of getting a 1-mana Secret later in the game is more powerful that some early chip damage. Kabal Lackey can also be used to give you certainty with some of your triggers. For instance, Turn 3 Lackey + Mirror Entity + Medivh’s Valet is a pretty strong tempo turn. Sometimes you need some added certainty on Avian Watcher, so waiting until you have 6 mana, then playing Lackey/Secret/Watcher, can be a strong turn. Sometimes, Lackey is just used to ensure that your Counterspell is up at the right time. Against Warrior, sometimes you want to swarm the board, then finish with Kabal Lackey/Counterspell to guard against Brawl. Lackey is a very valuable tool in a lot of situations, but dropping him on turn 1 is generally only a good idea if you can potentially wreck someone’s day by countering a Quest. Aside from that, you usually want to you use your Lackey as a tool to ensure that you can drop your Secret at the most opportune time, without needing to lose tempo to do so.

On a related note, part of the art of playing this deck is setting up Secrets that will not get triggered right away. Ice Block is your most reliable card for triggering Watcher and Valet, but sometimes you don’t have that option. Watcher, in particular, is tough to play on the same turn as a Secret, unless you have Lackey. As such, sometimes you need to consider playing the Secret, on turn 4, that you don’t expect to be triggered, so that Watcher gets the full power-up on turn 5. Sometimes this is a coin-flip, but sometimes the state of the board will tell you which way to go. If you are playing against an opponent whose spells are mainly targeted removal, and your board is full of low value minions, Counterspell is probably a good bet to survive until your Watcher hits the board (and, of course, then your Watcher gets the value of the Counterspell protection). If you are playing against a minion-light deck like Quest Freeze Mage, then your Mirror Entity is probably most likely to survive. This is a situational call you have to make, but it is one that can make a big difference in the way a game plays out.

Testing Data
I started playing the deck at the rank 10 floor, and between this deck and next week’s deck, I climbed to Legend. This deck had a record of 44-20 (69% winrate), including games during the climb and at Legend.

secret-tempo-mage-winrate

General Mulligan Strategy
Mulligan’ing with this deck can often be contextual, but there are a few cards that you always want. You never mulligan Mana Wyrm, Arcanologist, Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Kirin Tor Mage. All of those cards are key to early tempo, and your win rate is much higher when you have them.

Aside from that, Kabal Lackey, Medivh’s Valet and the Secrets are all contextual keeps, depending on the matchup, and the rest of your hand. I will talk about matchup-specific stuff below, but in general terms: Lackey is a keep if you have another Secret you want to play early, and Valet is a keep if you expect to be able to activate it early (eg. Lackey/Valet/Secret, is a keep, Kirin Tor/Valet/Secret/Coin is a keep). As for Secrets, you usually want to have exactly 1 in hand, unless you are on the coin and have a crazy hand with more than one Lackey/Kirin Tor Mage. Arcanologist counts towards this Secret count, so you usually mulligan all your other Secrets if you have an Arcanologist. Aside from that, the Secret keeps are matchup-specific.

Matchups

Rogue (12-4) – There are a lot of Rogues on the ladder right now, and this deck is pretty ok with that. My matches were about half against Cavern Rogue and half against Miracle Rogue (two loss to each archetype). Both matchups are strong, although I like the Miracle Rogue matchup more. Rogue has a tough time dealing with this deck’s tempo plays. While Rogue decks can fight you for tempo, it costs them too much life, and you often end up finishing games with a volley of direct damage. Current Rogue lists have no life gain and no ability to disrupt an Ice Block, so if they manage to wrestle control of the board from you, you often have a couple of turns to put together enough burn to finish things.

Cavern Rogue is interesting to play against. They typically have very little early pressure, since they are busy bouncing their dudes and replaying them. You want to be the aggressor in this matchup, and mulligan aggressively into Mana Wyrm, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Arcanologist and Kirin Tor Mage. Counterspell will steal you games, but timing of it is critical. Watch your opponent’s Quest. If you Counter it, that’s probably game over right there. Alternatively, if you have Counterspell up and it stops their Preparation, it means that they won’t have the mana to develop their board after playing the Crystal Core. Either way, you want to keep them off the board in the early game, while still pushing damage to their face, then get them low enough that you can burn them out before their Crystal Core allows them to retake the board and kill you.

I like the Miracle Rogue matchup better, myself, since they have less explosiveness (as weird as that is to say about Miracle Rogue). This matchup can often turn into much more of a grind. Mirror Entity is a card which is usually absolute trash against Cavern Rogue, but can be very strong against Miracle Rogue. It is usually best to play Mirror Entity just before they hit 4 mana, since Sherazin, Corpse Flower is almost always their default 4 mana play, if they have it. I have copied Sherazin a lot! Counterspell is weaker here than in the Cavern Rogue matchup, and it is usually used to protect your minions from removal. You may only end up hitting a Backstab, but if you played that Counterspell for free with Kirin Tor Mage, then that is still a good deal. If you payed 3 mana for it, however, it is less than ideal.

Warrior (9-7): The other class I have played against the most is Warrior. Warrior has two types, and they play very differently: Pirate Warrior or Taunt Warrior. I generally mulligan as if I am playing Taunt Warrior, since I have been seeing a lot of those, but the mulligan’ing wouldn’t be that different against Pirate Warrior. Both want strong early tempo plays. The one card you would keep against Taunt, but not Pirates, is Counterspell, although, even this is contextual.

Against Taunt Warrior you want to be aggressive at getting in damage, and developing your early minions (Mana Wyrm, Arcanologist, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Kirin Tor Mage). Fiery War Axe sucks for you, as always, but I still think the best method is to play into it, because once their taunt wall is up, it is tougher to get your opponent into burn range. Avian Watcher and Kabal Crystal Runner are excellent follow-up cards, that will often let you punch through their wall of taunts for a couple of turns. Counterspell is key. You often need to overextend into Taunt Warrior to ensure that you get through enough damage, and Counterspell allows you to do that while being able to prevent you from getting blown out by Brawl or Swim with the Fishes. Mirror Entity is a bit hit-or-miss, since their dudes are much better defensively than offensively, although sometimes they can help to shield your lower toughness guys.

The key in the Taunt Warrior matchup is to play to win (as opposed to playing not to lose). You have to be aggressive, and sometimes you have to risk being blown out by Brawl or Ravaging Ghoul/Sleep with the Fishes, because you can’t give them too much time. You can stay with them for a long time, but once their Quest is complete momentum swings your opponent’s way very quickly.

The matchup against Taunt Warrior was 5-4, although it felt like my opponent usually had more room for error than I did. If Taunt Warrior ends up getting too common, I would recommend adding Pyroblast to the deck (likely in the Firelands Portal slot). That extra burn can make all the difference. That having been said, I think that Firelands Portal is better against more matchups, due to its versatility.

For the Pirate Warrior matchup, I assumed that the matchup would be pretty hopeless. It certainly feels that way when you lose. Surprisingly, I pulled out a 4-3 record in the matchup. Certainly, the Pirates have more margin for error than you do, but the matchup is not as unwinnable as I would have thought. The key, as usual against Pirates, is to survive and stabilize. Avian Watcher is your best stabilization tool. With some draws you can even fight them for tempo pretty effectively and put them on the back foot. These draws usually involve Medivh’s Valet, often with a Kabal Lackey to enable. Counterspell will often sit on the table for a couple of turns before activating, making it a solid choice to set up a Watcher trigger. That having been said, when Counterspell does finally activate it probably just saved your life. In my last game against Pirates, I Counter’ed one Heroic Strike, which would have killed my Avian Watcher, and one Mortal Strike, which would have killed me. While you rarely want Counterspell at the start of a game, it can help to solidify your win once you stabilize.

If Pirate Warrior ends up becoming more common in the meta, then I would probably try to get Golakka Crawler in here. Gluttonous Ooze would be nice, too, but the deck already has so many 3-drops because of the Secrets, so I think Crawler is much better positioned in here.

Hunter (7-0): I am glad to see Hunter becoming viable again, especially since this deck crushes it. Hunter has the same general weakness as Rogue: it can’t gain life. This means that, even if your opponent manages to stabilize, they are vulnerable to being burned out, which is often how these games end.

Midrange Hunter is the most common form I have played against (I think everyone is in agreement that the Quest version is less than stellar). Midrange Hunter is nice because they play on curve. Their aggression is based on using all their mana to play the biggest minion they can play on a given turn (as opposed to Pirates, for instance, who focus on flooding the board with as many small minions as they can). This makes Mirror Entity a very strong weapon. If you have board advantage and then get to copy their 4 drop with your 0 mana Mirror Entity, your opponent is having a bad day.

Counterspell is also very well positioned here. If you are on the play, try to wait until your opponent has coin’ed, but once he has, you are getting pretty solid value with this. One of their best methods of turning around your tempo is Unleash the Hounds, and when it gets countered, your opponent will often just blow-up spontaneously. Stopping Animal Companion, or saving minions from Kill Command, are also pretty devastating plays.

Druid (4-4): My games were all against the aggressive variant with Mark of the Lotus and Power of the Wild. You are the defensive player in this matchup, and you just have to outlast them. Counterspell consistently wrecks their day, as most of their spells are pay-off cards like Savage Roar, Power of the Wild and Mark of the Lotus. Occasionally, you will hit an Innervate, but all the rest of their spells are pretty crucial to their gameplan. Living Mana is a pretty rough card to deal with, so if you can Counterspell that, you are golden. Avian Watcher is very rough for them to deal with, and often eats a couple of their dudes and a Savage Roar.

Mage (4-1): The Mage deck that I have been seeing is primarily the Quest Freeze Mage variant, with a couple against plain old Freeze Mage, too. Both matchups play pretty similar. You want to get an aggressive start, as usual, and get them as low on life as you can. Counterspell is a beast in this matchup, but you generally don’t want it early, so you still want to mulligan it away, unless it is your only Secret (in which case you might need to use one early for the trigger). Counterspell allows you to end a game when your opponent thinks they are safe. Your opponent will often wait to freeze your board until they think they are at risk of dying. Hitting a Frost Nova, Blizzard or Ice Block will often result in the game ending a bit sooner than they were expecting. Against the Quest version, Counterspell can also stop their combo. By hitting Molten Reflection, your opponent can no longer go infinite.

One additional caution: beware throwing Mirror Entity out into Doomsayer. This will wreck your day. Usually, your opponent will hold their Doomsayers for a when they can put them out with a freeze effect. They can’t count on you having Mirror Entity, and so they usually won’t risk throwing out an unguarded Doomsayer (in the circumstance that your Secret is an Ice Block or Counterspell), since it is their best card to fully wipe your board. It is hard to give too much advice on this point, since each circumstance is different, but just be careful with your Mirror Entities and, to the extent possible, try to avoid getting blown out with Doomsayer.

Paladin (2-0): Matchups were against an aggro list and a control list. Too small a sample size to say too much, but I would expect to see more of the control than the aggro in the future, which is pretty good for us, since they often play juicy Mirror Entity targets and expensive spells that we can Counter.

Priest (2-1): All Dragon builds. Not much to say here, except Dragonfire Potion costs 6, and your opponent will explode if it gets countered. They also have lots of juicy Mirror Entity targets. Even hitting a Kabal Talonpriest will result in a pretty big tempo swing.

Shaman (2-2): The key is timing your Mirror Entity effectively. They telegraph their big minions, and you usually get a big payoff if you get a Mirror Entity up when they are going into turn 6 (Fire Elemental) or 7 (Blazecaller or Kalimos). They can play around Mirror Entity if they are expecting it, but it usually involves messing up their curve, which can also cost them enough tempo for you to finish.

Warlock (2-1): Lastly, I played against one Handlock (easy 1-0) and two Zoolocks (1-1). Small sample sizes, but Handlock felt pretty good and Zoolock felt even. I got some aggression against Handlock, and then copied a Mountain Giant, which earned me a concession. Against Zoolock, it was much closer. The tempo will swing back and forth. Your job is to remove Malchezaar’s Imp, and then try to stabilize the board. Avian Watcher is very well positioned, as it survives even a run-in with Doomguard.

Potential Substitutions
Here’s one of the coolest things about the deck: it contains exactly zero Legendaries, so it is very affordable to play. As for the epics, there are only two, and those are absolute staples: Primordial Glyph and Ice Block. Ice Block is pretty much a must-have, since it’s effect is impossible to replace. Having an extra turn to burn your opponent out is just so important in some matchups, while Ice Block is also the best Secret to guarantee future Avian Watcher or Valet triggers (since it takes so long to be popped). Primordial Glyph, however, is replaceable. Babbling Book would probably be the easiest substitution. Cult Sorcerer is another strong possibility. Golakka Crawler would also be a consideration, if you are seeing a lot of Pirates around. You could probably even try out Pyros in here.

Setting aside card availability issues, there are a couple of other cards I would consider trying out in here. Ethereal Arcanist is another payoff card, which would slot into the empty 4-drop slot. I have left it out because it feels a bit unwieldy. Avian Watcher and Kabal Crystal Runner feel like better payoff cards, and I’m not sure if there is room for Arcanist, too. I also don’t want too much of the deck to stop functioning if I don’t have an active Secret, especially since all but Ice Block are generally meant to be triggered relatively quickly. It might be a good tool against Taunt Warrior, though.

Cult Sorcerer and Babbling Book are also Mage staples that deserve consideration, but I just don’t know what I would cut for them. Primordial Glyph seems like the easiest cut, but it is such a versatile weapon, which can set up such strong swing turns, that I am hesitant to cut it. Perhaps a single Cult Sorcerer could be added in there. The extra spell damage is nice for clearing minions, especially against Taunt Warrior. A single Arcane Intellect could also be cut, but the card does give the deck such a strong second wind that I would hesitate there, as well.

Bonus Section: Other Secret Mage Deck
While I was finishing up this article, I came across another Secret Mage list that was posted on reddit this past week. Before I finish up, I figured I should comment briefly on some of the differences between his list and mine.

The largest difference between the lists is the choice of Secrets. Where I am playing Mirror Entity, he is running Potion of Polymorph. It is probably a metagame call between the two. Potion of Polymorph is likely to be better against Taunt Warrior. You prefer to Polymorph a big taunt minion rather than copy it, because it is better defensively than offensively. Potion of Polymorph can also be used to disrupt combo decks like Cavern Rogue, if you can hit the minion they are trying to use to activate their Quest. In most other cases, however, I think I would prefer the Mirror Entity. Getting a copy of your opponent’s minion, that you get to use first, is a large tempo advantage.

The other big difference between the decks is his choice of Ethereal Arcanist over Avian Watcher. While Arcanist has the potential to be big, and has the potential to snowball, I can’t imagine playing this deck without Avian Watcher. Having a big taunt minion is so valuable. In any matchup where you are playing defensively (ie. Pirate Warrior, Aggro Druid, Hunter, etc) Avian Watcher is often the difference between winning and losing. In other matchups, having the big taunt protects your smaller minions, allowing you to play more aggressively without opening yourself up to bad trades. In slower matchups like against Taunt Warrior, I could see Arcanist being the superior card, but having a taunt minion like Watcher simply gives you a better variety of tools than just having one more potentially large dude.

Overall, I think his list is likely stronger in the Taunt Warrior matchup, and likely also has an edge against Cavern Rogue (although my record in that matchup shows that my list needs little help there), but I suspect that my list is stronger against the balance of the field.

Sign Off
As I mentioned in the opening, I write these on a casual/hobby basis, and so I don’t expect to be keeping up any sort of regular schedule for the time-being. 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.