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Arena Play by Play (Mage) – Part 2: Rope-A-Dope

YelloRambo is back with his detailed commentary - Part 2 of his Arena Play by Play Series. Check out the series as he continues his Arena run!

The Arena Play by Play series covers a complete Arena run with very detailed commentary – more so than the video format would allow. With almost every ingame event showcased on a separate screenshot, you can be sure you won’t be missing out on anything! This also allows for a more extensive commentary than a video would. All the plays will be documented with pictures except when noted: I set my recording software to take a screenshot every second. (That means around 6-700 per game for me to go through and choose from.) I hope you will find it informative and entertaining!

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Find the other parts here: Part 0Part 1Part 3

Part 4

We’ve successfully taken down our first opponent the last game, but let’s be honest, it wasn’t the greatest of test of skill or deck: the biggest lesson we’ve learned is that Sinister Strike is just not good enough. In any case, let’s move on to game number two!

Alright, we’re facing one of the more potent Arena classes this time around. I have a very excessive strategy against Paladins: clear their board no matter what! Considering that the class is heavily oriented towards creature buffing (Blessing of Might/Kings/Wisdom, Divine Shields, hell, even Blessed Champion, et cetera), I really want to avoid giving them any chance at all to spring nasty surprises. Of course, if it works out, I essentially make those cards useless for the time being. Needless to say, a slow start would be unacceptable. (Especially with a mage, whose AoE cards cost 6 and 7 respectively.)

I was desperately fishing for a 2-cost card, but alas, it wasn’t to be. I probably should have kept the Kirin Tor Mage as a backup plan, but if my opponent already has a 3/2 for two on the board, then it is a horrible trade for me. This glacially slow starting hand could very well cost me the game.

Thankfully my opponent had no turn 1 play, which relieves some of the tension. It probably means he also didn’t have a 2-cost card to play with the coin (though there are many very good reasons not to play it, especially if you don’t have another one to play on turn 2). I still can’t do anything apart from fireblasting his face, but I may have avoided an early knock-out blow.

A sub-par 3-cost card, but the fact that my opponent played it indicates that 1) he has another 3-cost minion and 2) he didn’t want to play that one on an empty board. It’s probably a Shattered Sun Cleric, in which case I’m still facing an uphill battle. Especially if I can’t play anything on this turn either!

I can Fireblast the 1/1 next turn if need be, but the Yeti is, of course, a much stronger alternative. Perhaps we actually manage to get out of this terrible opening unscathed?

I was almost right: he really did have a minion that he didn’t want to play on an empty board, but it was a slightly worse one than what I ultra-pessimistically assumed. Note that his play is questionable: he ended up floating one mana and he didn’t have to use the coin either to get these minions out on the field. (He did get a better trade this way, so it is not an objectively incorrect action, but suboptimal mana usage is always a thing to consider.)

This is exactly why I hate leaving minions on the Paladin’s board: if my opponent has a Blessing of Kings in his hand, this is just going to get worse and worse. The Frostbolt is a good contingency plan, but not much else. Let’s dig in and weather the storm.

Well, we now have multiple options. Which one out of the three 5-cost cards should I play? The Frostwolf Warlord is, of course, not the one: why play a 5/5 that could become a 6/6 or more under better circumstances when I can play a different 5/5 now that also happens to have stealth? I also opted against the tiger though and here’s why: it has stealth.

Sounds stupid, right? But here’s the thing: I expect my opponent to continue rushing me if he has a good enough 5-drop and a non-targetable minion would encourage that course of action even further. On the other hand, I will almost surely have to use the Blizzard next turn, so why not at least give myself the chance to give it extra spell damage? The card draw is also valuable: if I do survive the paladin’s onslaught, it is likely that the game will go on for a while. Having more options won’t hurt. If he considers the Azure Drake scary enough to trade for, I get some extra breathing space. If I get a 3-damage Blizzard, life will be nice. Win-win, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

And before I forget: I get to attack with the Yeti! Such a weird feeling to have a minion on the board, isn’t it? Needless to say, the Dire Wolf has to go. Killing it means that my opponent cannot kill the Drake with just the Cleric, which is something I really want to avoid.

The Yeti has fallen but the Drake has survived, allowing me to pretty much clear his board with my Blizzard. The Sea Giant is indeed an option, but it isn’t a good one. While it is quite tempting to get an 8/8 out on the board against all these small minions, you must consider the fact that I am at a health disadvantage and I am not even close to board control. It would be a very greedy thing to hope that I can get away with delaying the Blizzard for one turn: he can drop me down to 9 health even without playing anything else. It’s not like I must play the Giant now: I have a decent late-game and finally claiming board control after a slow start is a lot more important at the moment than getting a 50% discount on an 8/8.

I could do 4 damage with the Drake but I maintain my “kill-every-minion-whenever-possible-against-a-Paladin” policy and finish off the last Mohican. Let’s see his response…

I was happy to see that my opponent didn’t have any premium minions to play – Fen Creeper is decent but it won’t cause any major problems for us. I can even save my Drake – remember its colleague? Yeah, it’s time for the Ogre Magi to make an appearance.

The 5-damage Frostbolt knocks the minion out cold and ensures that I can kill it next turn with my hero ability. Keeping my Drake alive also has the fringe benefit of potentially making my Warlord stronger later down the line.

A quick note: summoning that 1/1 really could have backfired on him. It never hurts to be paranoid. You should almost always play around Mind Control Tech in the Arena if it doesn’t break you. In this case, however, he’s in trouble anyway. When your opponent can pretty much clear your board without using up any mana, you’ve fallen very far behind. The fact that this was the best play he could conjure is a good sign.

Also: see?

The rest of the turn is straightforward: I use my hero ability to finish off the Fen Creeper, trade the Azure Drake for the 4/4 and kill the Squire with my Ogre Magi. A lone 1/1 stays on the board but I’m going to have to live with that, I’m afraid.

This is one of the cases that show why silence isn’t that valuable as an ability in Arena: since the deck drafting process generally focuses on picking cards that are powerful enough on their own right (ie. have strong stats), you usually don’t run into heavily buffed minions that are valuable to silence – my opponent would have been better off with a Yeti here and he merely cast the Silence to be able to play the Spellbreaker.

The pressure on me is almost completely gone: my opponent apparently has absolutely no answer to my 8/8 and I have a lot more heavy-hitters on the way: he may have 12 more hit points than me, but the game is mine for the taking now. A bit of care and patience should ensure my victory.

Unlike last game, I decide to be really pedantic and slow. While it would be extremely unlikely that my opponent could finish me off if I decide to attack him directly with my Sea Giant, I’d much rather just play it safe. No rush: we’ve got a very powerful board, good reserves and I’d rather minimize the potential damage of an Equality-based combo.

An important note here as the Sea Giant finally reduces my opponent’s health below 29: don’t overcommit in Arena. If you’re winning and you have board control, sometimes it’s just simply unnecessary to play another strong card. Keep it in reserve! Just in case your opponent does manage to find a solution. Playing the Assassin here wouldn’t make my situation any easier, it’d only make a potential Equality+Consecration more painful. I opt to play the Engineer instead and then cast the secret. Just in case.

My opponent didn’t – or couldn’t – check for Mirror Entity. (It is generally a good idea to do so, considering it is probably the most commonly drafted Mage secret.) Then again, it is quite a luxury to do so when you are facing an aggregate of 19 damage.

Divine Favor is not the best option in Arena because it is less easy to empty your hand as it is it Constructed by playing an aggressive deck. Sure, it did end up functioning like an Arcane Intellect in this case, but reliability is the key in this game mode and this card is anything but.

Instead of going for the face with everything, I trade in the Sea Giant. It is perhaps an overly cautious move but I don’t want to let my opponent decide on what he wants to remove. Also: cashing in on a two-health minion that already killed multiple enemies and dealt 8 damage by killing a 7-cost drop is not bad at all – especially with reinforcements ready. It might prolong the struggle a bit (even though I’ll still have lethal next turn if things stay the way they currently are) – but why take a risk when you don’t have to take one at all?

Two down, hopefully a lot more to go! This game started off a bit scarily – my slight lack of early minions could have cost me this game, but my opponent’s pressure let off after my Blizzard and it never came back. I wouldn’t say Muhammad Ali would be proud of this performance, but “Rope-A-Dope” feels like an appropriate title, wouldn’t you agree?

Find the other parts here: Part 0Part 1

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