After a fun month of April messing around with the new Un’Goro standard format, the start of May came with an intriguing announcement: Blizzard was finally providing tournament support for the Wild format. For the month of May, the top 64 Legend ranked Wild players would qualify for a mysterious Blizzard sanctioned tournament. Seemed like a good enough excuse to take a crack at a new format!
Wild spent most of last year as a bit of a laughing stock of a format. Reports abounded that few players were playing the format, long queue times were commonplace at high ranks, and you would frequently play the same players over and over again at the high levels of ladder. The fact of the matter is that this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. While Wild was fun, it still had zero support from Blizzard as a competitive format. With a limited number of sets that were Wild-only, it didn’t even provide that much of a unique experience, either.
Fast forward to the present. Wild all of a sudden features two years worth of Wild-only sets, along with the Hall of Fame cards, and actually represents a pretty unique and fun format. Most importantly, between streamers running Heroic Tavern Brawl and the draw of a Blizzard feed-in tournament, it seems to have revitalized a format that had never really been “vitalized” to begin with.
I delved into the format at rank 25 and started experimenting with a bunch of cool brews. Some of them worked, while others didn’t. At the end of the day, I ended up in a familiar place: playing Secret Mage!
If you caught my article last month, you won’t be surprised that Secret Mage has been my pet deck since shortly after the release of Un’Goro, while it was still an off-the-radar list in standard. With the potential to super-charge the deck in Wild with the power of Mad Scientist, I decided to give the deck a run in Wild…and I was not disappointed.
The most debated card choice in my previous standard list was my choice to run Secret Mage with no Ethereal Arcanists. As powerful as the Arcanist is, it is also a bit clunky and slow. After my last article, one of my favourite streamers, and Mage-maste- extrordinaire, ApxVoid picked up Secret Mage and continued the refine the archetype. ApxVoid took the deck in an even more tempo-oriented direction. Not only did he drop the Ethereal Arcanist, but he also eschewed Avian Watcher in favour of more early tempo and burn. He took his list to the high legend ranks, legitimizing the strategy and turning it into a deck that is currently considered tier 1 in Standard.
Meanwhile, with all of this refining being done in standard, Secret Mage still remained a fringe strategy in Wild, still sitting in tier 3 to this day. Part of that may be that the lists that have been seeing play in Wild haven’t caught onto the innovations that have proven themselves in standard. If Ethereal Arcanist is too slow and clunky for Standard, why would it make the cut in Wild?
With that introduction, allow me to introduce you to the new and improved Wild Secrets!
Attacking a New Format
One thing that I have always loved to do (both in Hearthstone and Magic) is to innovate and try to solve nascent formats, before they have matured. Wild is exactly that. The format gets minimal attention from streamers and writers, and so you get a lot more variety of decklists and more homebrews. That having been said, there are certain pillars that you have to be ready for. Primarily, you have to be prepared to face three specific threats: 1. Pirate Warrior, 2. Control Shaman, and 3. Reno/Kazakus decks.
Pirate Warrior is basically the same as it is in standard, except with the additions of Ship’s Cannon and Death’s Bite. Pirates are a format-warping deck, especially in Wild. Ship’s Cannon is ridiculous in the early game alongside Patches, and Death’s Bite will occasionally pump Frothing Berserker to insane proportions. Frankly, Blizzard needs to do something about the deck (I think it is fair to say that there should be a power cap on relatively mindless SmOrc decks, and this deck surpasses that threshold).
The reaction to Pirate Warrior is that Control decks need to be built in a far less greedy, more anti-aggro manner. Control Shaman keeps up with Pirate Warrior by playing insane amounts of area of effect cards, alongside Healing Wave and late game taunt walls like Sludge Belcher or Earth Elemental (often backed up with Ancestral Spirit). Reno/Kazakus lists attack the Pirate problem with early game removal, Reno himself, and their own Sludge Belchers (P.S. Sludge Belcher is an important card in this format).
In attacking a format like this, my preferred method is to attack the hunters (ie. Control Shaman and Reno/Kazakus lists) instead of attacking the hunted (ie. Pirate Warrior). The fact of the matter is that Pirates are the hunted for a reason. It is the best deck in the format, and even if you build a deck to beat it, you just can’t dominate the matchup. Pirates just does Pirates things, and occasionally you just lose. If you play a Reno list, you can very commonly lose before Reno ever sees play, and even if he does, Wild Pirates can often have enough pressure on the board to just kill you again.
So, instead of trying to build a deck that could win 60% against Pirate Warrior, I aimed to build a deck that could put up an 80% winrate against the lists that hunt Pirate Warrior.
What Secret Mage Gains in Wild
At its heart, Wild Secrets is a tempo deck, just like its Standard cousin. It aims to swing the board with powerful, undercosted effects like Medivh’s Valet, Kabal Crystal Runner and free Secrets. Then it leaves your opponent to try to catch up, while trying to play around mystery effects that will often blow him out with a single misstep. Your opponent has to play sub-optimally to avoid getting blown out by your secrets, and often simply has no choice but to play into them and hope that you don’t have the right one.
The biggest difference between this list and its Standard cousin is undoubtedly Mad Scientist! This guy terrorized standard before rotating out, and still continues to dominate in Wild. He is a 2/2 for 2 that brings a 3-drop directly into play when he dies. That sort of value is simply insane!
Mad Scientist partners with his “fixed” standard cousin: Arcanologist, to give the deck an exceptionally strong ability to contest and control the board in the early game. This two-drop base, alongside Mage staple Mana Wyrm provides this list with a lot of early game pressure.
One of the aspects of Mad Scientist that you might miss at first glance is its ability to set-up an early Medivh’s Valet. Many games on the coin start with coin + Scientist into turn 2 Valet. This sort of a start is tough for any deck to compete with, especially if the Secret you get off Mad Scientist is Duplicate!
This brings us to one of the other big gains in Wild. Duplicate is one of the most difficult cards in the deck to play properly, but also a card which straight-up ends games. Duplicate is at its best when you only have one or two minions on the board. It can be a great card to play naked (ie. When your board is empty), to set up a future turn. A turn 3 Duplicate on an empty board, followed by turn 4 Medivh’s Valet or Kabal Crystal Runner is a very good way to win a game. Two extra Valets is a lot of extra value, but multiple bonus 5/5’s for 2 or 0 is just insane! You can often set up a really good Duplicate by trading less valuable minions into your opponent’s board. Your opponent often doesn’t have the option of playing around Duplicate either. You can’t just ignore your opponent’s 5/5’s for very long.
Discussing Duplicate also brings me to one of my favourite Duplicate targets, and all-around anti-control all-star: Loatheb. Yes, I have actually locked an opponent out with 3 consecutive Loatheb turns with this deck! But, even if you don’t have Duplicate to go crazy with, Loatheb is a beast in his own right. The play of locking your opponent out of his spells on a key turn will frequently end games. One of this deck’s biggest strengths is its ability to fearlessly over-extend onto the board. Between Counterspell and Loatheb, you can often lock your opponent out of being able to play big board-clearing effects until your board has already had the chance to put your opponent into burn range.
Last but not least, this deck also gets to make use of good-old Dr. 7. In standard, Secret Mage’s late game finisher is usually Firelands Portal or Pyroblast. Dr. Boom dominated the pre-standard era for a reason. Boom is at its best when you have a tempo advantage. It is almost impossible to profitably deal with both him and his Boom Bots. Even if you have a full board clear effect, like Lightbomb, you are still taking about 5 damage to the face just from the bots. This deck usually has tempo advantage going into turn 7 against any non-Pirate opponent, so Boom tends to finish a lot of games, and serves as a great card to prevent this deck from running out of gas too soon.
My record with the deck is 44-19 (70% winrate). Testing was done from rank 9 through legend.
General Mulligan Strategy
The mulligan strategy for this deck is generally pretty simple: you want Mad Scientist, Arcanologist and/or Mana Wyrm in your opener. Kirin Tor Mage is almost always a keep, too, but everything else is contextual. Sometimes you will keep Frostbolt, if you anticipate important early targets (Mana Wyrms and Tunnel Troggs primarily). Medivh’s Valet is a keep if you also have Scientist, and is also usually a keep if you have Lackey + Secret or Arcanologist. You generally don’t keep Secrets in your opening hand unless you have a Kirin Tor or a Lackey that you want to keep. Primordial Glyph is usually a mulligan, but in a slower matchup you will certainly consider it if you have a turn 1 Mana Wyrm already available.
The important thing to remember with your mulligans is that Wyrm, Arcanologist and Mad Scientist are key. Your win rate is much higher if you have one or more of those in your hand. Most of the contextual keep cards become mulligans if you do not already have one of those three key cards already available.
Shaman (12-2) – I shouldn’t be surprised by how many Shamans I saw on ladder, but I have to admit that I was pretty shocked to see it outnumber the Warriors. The bulk of these matchups were against Control Shaman, which is one of the deck’s best matchups (8-0). One of Secret Mage’s biggest advantages is that it is difficult to play against, and the Control Shaman is a great example of that. Control Shaman typically relies upon expensive swingy effects to win games. A countered Volcano usually warrants a “Well Played”. A copied White Eyes or Earth Elemental usually has the same effect, as does a Duplicated Kabal Crystal Runner. Loatheb is a kick in the teeth, and many of Shaman’s effects simply do not matchup well against you. Most of your dudes have 3+ toughness, so Maelstorm Pulse is less than stellar, and Lightning Storm is only a 50/50% on most of your dudes without spell damage. Meanwhile, Devolve looks pretty bad when you are staring down Kabal Crystal Runners.
The basic strategy against Control Shaman is to put them on a clock and keep dropping secrets to keep them guessing. This forces the Control Shaman player to play off-curve to test for your secrets. While players will try to play around your secrets, there usually isn’t time to do so. Often your opponent will hold off on a key card for too long, to avoid being blown out, and end up dying to burn. Other times, your opponent will risk getting blown out, and…well, get blown out!
Aggro Shaman is certainly a tougher matchup, but still positive (4-2). Do not hesitate to use Frostbolt on a turn 1 Trogg or Totem Golem, if it will clear the threat. Your Mad Scientists and Arcanologists are undersized in comparison to Trogg and Golem, but you can usually swing the game back in your favour in turns 3-5, if you can deal with their early pressure. You will usually end up taking the board back, and then you just need to preserve your life total to avoid getting burned out. Ice Block is one of your best trump cards, if you can get it down in the mid-game without losing momentum. This matchup is often a race between your minions (and burn) vs their burn cards, with them having the early life advantage. The extra turn Ice Block provides will very often make the difference.
Warlock (6-0) – Renolock held the top spot on the Tempo Storm tier list while I was doing most of my testing, so when I was constructing this deck to beat Reno decks, this was my primary target, and it would appear that I succeeded. This deck destroys Renolock. Like with Control Shaman, Renolock thrives by playing large catch-up effects. It is tough for them to jam Mountain Giant, when they haven’t tested for Mirror Entity. It is also tough for them to jam Siphon Soul or Twisting Nether when they haven’t tested for Counterspell. Renolock also does a fair amount of damage to themselves, and even gets less use out of Reno himself, in this matchup, since they are often having to play him prematurely. This is a result of being unable to control our board effectively. If the Reno player is at 19 life, and is facing down 12 points on board, he has to Reno, because Fireball + ping will finish the game. Often Reno players either hold Reno too long, not accounting for the possible burn finish, while others are forced to play it too early, allowing you to put a large chunk of immediate damage on them.
Your game plan is the same as against Shaman: just keep applying pressure and keeping them guessing with secrets. The Renolock player has all the pressure to play the game perfectly, and at some point, they are likely to step into one of your traps
Warrior (6-6) – The Warrior matchups comprised two archetypes: Pirate Warrior (4-6) and Control Warrior (2-0). You should kill Control Warrior for the same reason as you beat Control Shaman and Renolock. Pirates, however, are a much different story.
I was actually surprised that my matchup against Pirates wasn’t worse than it is. The deck can hold its own if it can get a solid start, but the Pirates have much more of a margin for error. When you win, you usually win by the skin of your teeth, or because Ice Block bought you an extra turn. When you lose, it is usually a blowout. Pirates goes wide, making it tough to keep their board under control, and you have difficulty against their weapons. You often lose your Arcanologists, Mana Wyrms and Kirin Tor Mages to Fiery War Axe, so it is tough to control their early aggression.
Medivh’s Valet is a great early play, especially if Mad Scientist sets it up early. If you have a Duplicate, use it early, if you can. It doesn’t matter if you are only going to get to copy Kabal Lackey, because it will get you zero value later in the game. Pirates rarely attack minions after about turn 3 or 4. If you can regain the board, Frostbolt is a great card to help you finish, because freezing an opposing weapon will often extend the game for a full turn. You will occasionally need to take Freezing Potion off a Primordial Glyph for the same reason.
After my testing for this article, I have been trying some tweaks with the list, and have been trying some different ways to make the deck stronger against Pirates. So far, I think the best tech I have come up with is Water Elemental. If you can get it going, you can totally lock a Pirate player out of the game. Even if they remove it, they usually have to use their weapon to do it, buying you two extra turns (one for the attack against Elemental and one while they are frozen). Other options you could try include Acidic Swamp Ooze, Gluttonous Ooze, Second Rate Bruiser or Golakka Crawler. If you choose to go down any of those routes, the flex slots in the deck are the ones that currently hold Kabal Lackey and Azure Drake.
Mage (8-4) – Mage is probably the most varied class on ladder at the moment, with four common approaches: Tempo Mage (2-1), Freeze Mage (2-1), Reno Mage (3-2), and Secret Mage (1-0). Part of the skill of playing against Mage is figuring out which list you are playing against as early as possible. This is very important, particularly because all of those lists frequently run secrets, due to the power level of Mad Scientist and Arcanologist. An early Mad Scientist or Arcanologist gives you no information at all about your opponent’s deck. Usually, you are safe to assume your opponent is playing Ice Barriers and Ice Blocks, although be aware that some Reno Mages have started using Duplicate and/or Counterspell. This is also important to remember when considering how your opponents see your deck, from the other side of the table. Your opponents will often get caught by early secrets, if you haven’t played them through Kirin Tor or Kabal Lackey.
Against Freeze Mage and Reno Mage, you are going to play the aggressor role. Freeze Mage is the easier of the two since their Ice Blocks do not get followed-up with Reno. Once you pop a block, it usually just keeps popping with hero power, unless they can kill you, or drop a defensive Alexstrasza. Against the Reno lists, the result of the game usually comes down to whether they have both Block and Reno. They usually have less than half of their deck to find them both, but if they do, they will usually beat you. If they don’t, then you should win. Unlike against Renolock, Ice Block means your opponent does not need to play an early Reno, so they can use their full 30 health, and then get 30 more. This is usually more than you can handle, barring Duplicate shenanigans. But, the probabilities of both Block and Reno in the top half of the deck is low enough, that you are still heavily favoured in the matchup.
Against Tempo Mage, you want to be a bit more controlling. You like being the tempo player, but they need to be the tempo player. Flamewaker always has to die on sight, and ideally Sorcerer’s Apprentice does, too. You have more long game firepower than most Tempo Mage players, as cards like Arcane Missiles are terrible once you have run them out of gas. As such, make sure you remove their key dudes, grind out some favourable trades, and finish them with 5/5s and Dr. 7.
Priest (2-3) – There are two types of Priests you are likely to face: Inner Fire Priest or Reno Priest.
I had the most trouble with Inner Fire Priest (0-3). They have the ability to produce huge Deathlords, which you just can’t burn your way through. 16 toughness taunts are a real problem for a deck with damage-based removal. If you have the option on a Glyph to take Polymorph or Meteor, go for it. The games that I lost usually revolved around a huge taunt minion I couldn’t answer. Potion of Madness is also very annoying when it steals Mad Scientist. The matchup doesn’t feel as bad as the record indicates, and it is a small sample size. The matches were often very close, until a giant Deathlord blocked my path, and often I was one burn spell from winning anyways.
The control matchups are a different story (2-0). While the sample size is still small, the matchup feels very similar to playing against Renolock, except they don’t do damage to themselves, and they have Potion of Madness to mess with your Mad Scientists. While the deck is still strong in this matchup, it is not as favourable as the Renolock matchup, and in the games I played, I generally won by having just enough burn to finish the job. Once again, the sample size is small, but your strategy remains: just put on pressure, keep them guessing on secrets. One thing I would add is to trade in your Mad Scientist for value if you have the chance. The value of the 3-drop secret you get is much better than risking the scientist getting stolen.
Paladin (3-1) – The Paladin lists I played against fell into two groups: Murloc decks and Silver Hand Recruit decks. The Murloc lists were easier (2-0). Your Frostbolts and Valets are very well positioned against their Warleaders and Tidecallers. If you have the option, try to hold your Mirror Entities until their big guns are ready. This starts on turn 4 with Gentle Megasaur, but is even better with later guys like Tirion and Ragnaros Lightlord. Your opponent has to think twice about throwing Tirion into an untested secret, so your secret will either force them to play around it, or will force them to play into it. Either way is good for you.
The Recruit decks are more difficult (1-1). I only have a small sample size of two games, but one of them I felt pretty helpless. The fact is Secret Mage is not very good at dealing with wide boards. As such, grabbing an area of effect card off Glyph (such as Arcane Explosion, Volcanic Potion or Flamestrike) can make a big difference. It feels like you are disadvantaged in this matchup, but a strong AoE effect off Glyph, or a well-timed Counterspell on Muster for Battle provide some good ways to steal a win.
Druid (3-1) – Aggro Druid is a tough matchup (2-1), but certainly winnable. You can usually manage their initial rush with your removal effects and hero power. Counterspell and Loatheb are very key cards in this matchup, because it can thrwart their second line of attack: Living Mana. The other key cards to Counterspell is Savage Roar, which is their best way to kill you before their first line of attack runs out of steam. This is not a matchup that I hope to face on ladder, because it feels like you have little control over how explosive their draw is, but it is a solid matchup nonetheless.
My other Druid matchup was against Jade Druid (1-0). This one felt pretty favourable. Mirror Entity often gets decent, if not great value, but Counterspell can often be game changing. Countering a Jade Blossom with a turn 3 Kirin Tor + Counterspell puts your opponent very far behind. Countering Nourish is even better. You want to put on enough pressure that your opponent has to play cards like Earthen Scales for marginal value. If you do, then your burn should be enough to finish your opponent off.
Rogue (2-2) – I guess I should not be surprised that Quest Rogue has made it to Wild. The deck is essentially the exact same as it is in standard, but your deck is better. This matchup feels very favourable. One of my losses was to a total nut draw that I still would have probably beaten, if I had dropped Loatheb a turn earlier (didn’t think he could go off that turn). The other loss was to an aberration of a triple Preparation hand (due to Mimic Pod). He used two to resolve a Vanish through my Counterspell (the turn before I had lethal), then used the third to resolve Crystal Core alongside Bilefin Tidehunters (the next turn before I had lethal).
Anyways, aside from the bad beat stories, the matchup feels very positive. Your tempo plays give them a lot of trouble, and both Counterspell and Loatheb can delay their critical turn, allowing you to finish them off with minions and burn. For the most part, you want to be focussing your attacks at their face. Their minions usually cannot clear you off the board very efficiently in the early game, and you need the face damage to get them in burn range.
Hunter (2-0) – Is this still a class? Currently Hunter maintains a slot in tier 5, and so you probably won’t see it much. If you do, you have great tempo plays to put them behind. Mirror Entity and Counterspell usually both net you strong value. Just try to control the board and take the tempo advantage. If you can do so while keeping your life total high enough, then you should be fine.
The Wild version of this deck has more Legendaries than the standard version, but not by much. Your only two Legends are Loatheb and Dr. Boom. Of the two, Dr. Boom is easily the most replaceable. His main role is to act as a finisher, and provide the deck with some late game pop. The easiest substitution for him would be to go to standard route and use Firelands Portal in that slot. My next top choice there would probably be Ragnaros. You could use Archmage Antonidas or Pyroblast, but I feel like they are both a little too slow for Wild.
Loatheb does not have an adequate replacement. There is no other card that replicates his effect, aside from maybe Counterspell, but you already have two of those. Still, while it is a shame to lose him, the deck certainly still functions in his absence. I would probably use this slot to try to tech against Pirates, if I didn’t have access to Loatheb. Water Elemental would probably be my first choice, or you could play Gluttonous Ooze. Alternatively, if you want some better late game pop against control (where Loatheb usually shines), you could also consider Pyros. Pyros can be a beast in the late game against control, in particular, when you combine it with Duplicate. If your opponent is trying to grind you out, an unending steam of 6’6s and 10/10’s can put a crimp in that plan.
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