Beating the Current Meta with Tempo Mage

Having hit Legend this season with Tempo Mage, here are my thoughts on how to win against the most popular matchups in the post-LOE meta.

Introduction

Hi there! Now that all of the wings from League of Explorers have been opened, I wanted to provide you with my thoughts on how to play Tempo Mage against the new decks that have been prominent on ranked ladder and the strategies that I used to hit Legend rank.

If you’ve never played Tempo Mage before or would like to learn more about the fundamentals of the deck, I definitely recommend referencing Stonekeep HSP’s very elaborate guide on Tempo Mage.

General

Mulligan

  • Look for your 1 and 2 mana cost minions: mana-wyrm, mad-scientist, clockwork-gnome, sorcerers-apprentice.
  • Get rid of the heavy cards you can’t play early. This means spells that are 3+ mana and minions that are 4+ mana: mirror-entity, counterspell, arcane-intellect, piloted-shredder, azure-drake, ethereal-conjurer, archmage-antonidas, dr-boom.
  • Do not keep a hand if you only have low cost spells but no minions, Tempo Mage needs minions on the board early.
  • While arcane-intellect is a solid card to play on turn 3, I think it’s still better to have the option to respond to the board with a minion + spell rather than just playing a spell.

Tips

  • Play Ethereal Conjurer over Azure Drake when nothing that you can draw from your deck with Azure Drake’s battlecry will be as helpful.
  • Never play a spell when you can play a minion that can put pressure on board or trade with their minions. When considering whether or not you can maximize the value of a card due to its synergy with spells (e.g. holding Sorcerer’s Apprentice or flamewaker in hand, instead of playing it on the same turn as other spells), think about the type of deck your opponent is playing. For example, if you’re fighting an Aggro Shaman, you know you’ll need to address a lot of low cost minions – coining out a Mad Scientist on turn 1 and/or playing a Sorcerer’s Apprentice on turn 2 and/or Flamewaker on turn 3 gives you the ability to trade and fight for board control.
  • Be efficient with your damage. Even though Flamewaker and arcane-missiles are random damage, it’s better to play arcane-blast against a monster with 3 health rather than a monster with 1 health because otherwise you’re “wasting” a point of damage. Make the plays that maximize the probability that your random damage will kill a target.
  • Think about how you would respond to the board if you were in your opponent’s shoes. This sets you up to consistently have board control and they’ll run out of AOE clears eventually.
  • Pinging face with hero power when you can kill a minion at 1 health is a very aggressive play that signals to your opponent that you might have lethal the next turn.
  • On a turn where you’re going to be playing Unstable Portal, do it FIRST in case the minion you get is a better option than the other cards you have in hand. Similarly, play Sorcerer’s Apprentice first so that all your spells are discounted – it could mean the difference between having 1 mana left over and being able to use hero power to ping a monster or their face.
  • Don’t play Counterspell if you’re going first and haven’t seen them play Coin yet. It’s a free way for them to check what your secret is.

Detailed Matchups

Vs Aggro Shaman

  • If you can establish early board control, you win the game. This is because most of the cards that they play have Overload, and if you’re able to efficiently respond to early threats then they’ll be further and further behind. If they play feral-spirits (Overload 2) on turn 3 and you can address with your minions on board and removal in hand, then they go into turn 4 with only 2 mana.
  • Think about the options you have for your next turn, and possible things that your opponent can play. Let’s say you have a starting hand with Coin and Sorcerer’s Apprentice. If the enemy plays leper-gnome on turn 1, I would coin and ping the Leper Gnome with the understanding that on turn 2 he can play a 3/4 totem-golem. Had you passed on turn 1 and played Sorcerer’s Apprentice on turn 2, he would be able to trade in his Leper Gnome and you would have to deal with his Totem Golem AND his next drop. Not falling behind on board is essential.
  • This deck doesn’t run lightning-storm from what I’ve seen, but Aggro Shamans have a lot of direct damage. They’ll try to hit your face with spells, charge minions, and doomhammer. And they’ll try to snag Druid or Hunter hero power with sir-finley-mrrgglton.
  • When calculating if Aggro Shaman has lethal (to decide whether or not you should go face or trade), remember that even if you have Counterspell up, Doomhammer is Overload 2 and can buff a tunnel-troggthey have on board.

Vs Midrange Druid

  • I’ve seen decks replace shade-of-naxxramaswith mounted-raptor, which helps them in the early game. Flamewaker + Magic Missiles can be used to clear shade.
  • Combo is the primary win condition for Midrange Druid. As the game gets longer, pay attention to the damage they have on board and how much damage they could do with force-of-nature+ savage-roaror Savage Roar + Savage Roar. It’s good if they use Force of Nature to clear your board. If they’ve had a turn with emperor-thaurissan on the board, take into account the discounted mana costs.
  • Pay attention to which cards the enemy has been holding onto – you can infer that those are either Combo pieces, innervate, wild-growth, or high cost minions (e.g. ancient-of-lore).
  • Sometimes you can’t control this, but if you can decide when to trade in your Mad Scientist to get a secret, I would do it around turn 4 or 5. The tempo you gain from copying a Piloted Shredder or druid-of-the-claw with Mirror Entity is huge. If they want to play around the secret with darnassus-aspirant+ wrath, they spent the turn addressing a secret you got for free rather than playing a bigger threat. Mirror Entity the turn before they get to 7 mana is good too because that’s a big turn for Druid.
  • A lot of Druids will either swipe Flamewaker or run into it with Druid of the Claw in Charge mode.
  • Playing a beefy minion from Unstable Portal early in the game is difficult for Midrange Druid to answer.
  • Use Fireballs to maintain board control. Druid of the Claw, Emperor Thaurissan, sylvanas, Ancient of Lore are good targets. I would personally never Fireball a Piloted Shredder unless it’s near the end of the game where maintaining board control is vital.

Vs Aggro Druid

  • Keep Frostbolt and Flamecannon in case of an early Innervate + fel-reaver.
  • Early game: Be ready to answer living-roots, Leper Gnome, druid-of-the-saber, knife-juggler. Don’t let them swarm the board early.
  • Mid game: Have answers to Druid of the Claw and Fel Reaver.
  • End game: Play around Combo and address Dr. Boom while pushing for lethal.
  • Because Tempo Mage has a lot of low cost spells that can be further discounted with Sorcerer’s Apprentice, consider whether or not it’s worth burning cards when they have Fel Reaver on board. If you can get rid of Force of Nature, Savage Roar, and Swipe, you’ll be able to be more greedy in the endgame.

Vs Renolock

  • Keeping track of the cards Renolock has played is critical to winning this matchup:

    • Heals: earthen-ring-farseer (3 mana), healbot(5 mana), siphon-soul (6 mana), reno-jackson(6 mana)
    • Taunts: sunfury-protector(2 mana), defender-of-argus(4 mana), sludge-belcher (5 mana)
    • AOE: demonlock(3 mana), hellfire(4 mana), shadowflame(4 mana), twisting-nether (8 mana)
  • Consider the cost of Warlock AOE and what you could potentially play on an empty board following a turn where they’ve spent all their mana on a Demonwrath or Hellfire.
  • A huge swing for Warlock in general is molten-giant + Shadowflame OR minion + power-overwhelming + Shadowflame. The Molten Giant + Shadowflame combo costs their current health+ 4 mana. There are times when not attacking the opponent in the face improves your chance of winning or decreases the value of Reno Jackson. Unless you have lethal, I would not advise bringing their health to any lower than this equation: 10 + their current mana.
  • Dropping Flamewaker on turn 3 is fine because it’s awkward for Warlock to respond to and strong against imp-gang-boss.
  • Before trading into a voidcaller, think about how you would address the worst case situation, e.g. if doomguardcomes out, can you Fireball + ping to kill it or Frostbolt it and deal with it the next turn?

Vs Secret Paladin

  • Secret Paladins don’t have a direct way to remove anything on your board before turn 3 – they can only trade with minions.
  • coghammerwill swing the game in their favor. Be aware that they can give Divine Shield and Taunt to a high health minion (like mysterious-challenger) and get a free trade. Similarly, blessing-of-kings will let them buff a weaker monster and trade.
  • Flamewaker is great to clear muster-for-battle. Save Coin if possible for a big Flamewaker play on turn 3 or 4.
  • Fireball + ping is a good way to get rid of Mysterious Challenger and redemption.
  • Secret Paladin has haunted-creeper and shielded-minibot on turn 2, Muster for Battle on turn 3, Piloted Shredder on turn 4, loatheb on turn 5, Mysterious Challenger on turn 6, Dr. Boom on turn 7, and tirion-fordring on turn 8. If the Secret Paladin can play on curve, it’ll be very difficult to keep up. Just be aware of the threats that they can play every turn.
  • divine-favor is a way for Secret Paladin to get back into the game. You typically won’t have to play around Divine Favor with Tempo Mage, but it’s something to think about if you’re sitting on a lot of low cost spells, especially when their hand is empty and they are relying on their top-deck draws.

Vs Midrange Paladin

  • Muster for Battle + quartermaster is a huge turn for Midrange Paladin. Do your best to preempt it by using Flamewaker to clear 1/1 tokens early, but they might save both cards to play on turn 8.
  • Midrange Paladin has heal through lay-on-hands and truesilver-champion. Some decks will run tuskarr-jouster. Don’t go for face unless you have lethal.
  • Dr. Boom, Tirion Fordring , and Quartermaster (with justicar-trueheart hero power) are the endgame threats. If you’ve lost tempo and can’t keep up with the improved hero power, look for flamestrike from Ethereal Conjurer to get back into the game.

Vs Entomb Priest

  • Early game momentum is key to win this match. Even though entombanswers Dr. Boom and Archmage Antonidas, it is 6 mana they have to spend on their turn 8, leaving 2 mana left to deal with any other threats you still have on board.
  • Get rid of northshire-cleric as quickly as possible.
  • AOE/field clear combos include auchenai-soulpriest+ circle-of-healing and flash-heal, wild-pyromancer, lightbomb and holy-nova. Plan out your moves at least a turn in advance. They can swing the game in their favor if they do a full board clear and you don’t have anything to follow up with.
  • Play Flamewaker as early as possible. cabal-shadow-priest can steal it.
  • Play around velens-chosen by clearing monsters even if they are low.

Vs Dragon Priest

  • Similar strategy as the Entomb Priest matchup – use early momentum to win the game fast.
  • In the early game, look for Flamecannon against wyrmrest-agent.
  • ysera is expensive to address. If you’re behind on tempo, you can look for polymorph with Ethereal Conjurer to address Ysera and even chillmaw.

Vs Miracle Rogue

  • If the Rogue has to use weapon to clear your minions, it’s additional damage taken that puts your opponent closer to lethal.
  • An early Prep + sprintis actually a pretty significant tempo loss for Miracle Rogue.
  • Be ready for tomb-pillager on turn 4. Having Flamecannon or a Frostbolt is a really easy way to maintain tempo.
  • Play minions on curve, as it gets harder and harder for Miracle Rogue to respond. They only have two Sap.
  • Clear violet-teacher and gadgetzan-auctioneer as soon as possible. If you draw Flamewaker later in the game, consider saving it and a spell to address Violet Teacher.
  • Putting a lot of early pressure on the board forces inefficient removal. If they have to waste eviscerate and blade-flurry to clear board, it means you won’t be taking those sources of damage to the face.
  • If you keep the board clear, Rogue will be able to get less damage in with tinkers-sharpsword-oil.

Vs Patron Warrior (Unfavorable)

  • Deal as much damage as possible and threaten lethal before the Warrior can draw into his Grim-Patroncombos. If you haven’t seen Emperor Thaurissan, then turn 7 is a big turn for Patron Warriors. I’ve seen Patron Warriors run Sir Finley Mrrgglton for the Mage hero power so they can ping their own Grim Patrons and acolyte-of-pain.
  • As this Tempo Mage deck doesn’t run Flamestrike, it can be very difficult to address a board full of Grim Patrons. When you play Ethereal Conjurer, look for Flamestrike. If you aren’t given Flamestrike as an option, think about what card best plays with what you have in your hand, e.g. if you have direct damage spells but might need an extra turn surviving, consider frost-nova or ice-block.
  • Play Flamewaker early — Flamewaker’s ability loses value the longer the game goes on because you don’t want the missiles hitting their Acolytes of Pain or Grim Patrons.

Vs Math (OTK) Warrior

  • Similar strategy as the matchup against Patron Warrior – play aggressively and reduce their drawing power as much as possible. If you can’t get lethal by the time Math Warrior draws through most of his decks, you’ll inevitably lose to an OTK combo.

Vs Control Warrior

  • Count their removals: two shield-slam and two execute. Generally, Archmage Antonidas is your best chance to win this matchup. Don’t play him unless you know Archmage Antonidas will survive a turn or you can get a couple of Fireballs with him.
  • Flamecannon is good versus an early armorsmith.
  • Getting Counterspell up the turn before they hit 5 mana can negate a game-turning brawl.

Vs Tempo Mage

  • Typically the player with the better curve will have the advantage. If you can get in more damage early game, you’ll be in a more comfortable position as they can’t afford to take any more damage to their face and will have to use direct damage spells to remove your board.
  • Remove Mana Wyrm, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Flamewaker as quickly as possible, but expect them to do the same. It is alright to be greedy and wait for a bigger swing turn.
  • A Mirror Entity on turn 6 before you play Dr. Boom on turn 7 can give you a huge advantage.

Vs Freeze Mage

  • Be aggressive. Save direct damage spells to remove doomsayer and to finish the game.
  • Don’t wait to pop Ice Block. Remember to get their HP as low as possible before you trigger Ice Block. Say Freeze Mage has 7 health left and has an Ice Block up. If you ping and then Fireball, they’ll still have 6 health. But if you Fireball and then ping, they’ll only have 1 health the next turn.
  • Remember that secrets only trigger on your opponent’s turn, and not your own. If they have low health and play a defensive Doomsayer, you should by all means play Dr. Boom since the two boom-bot can deal lethal.
  • If your Mad Scientist dies and you get Mirror Entity, it’s possible that you’ll copy a Doomsayer and clear board at the beginning of your next turn. Just be aware of the risk.
  • The Piloted Shredder deathrattle will help keep pressure on board.
  • Ethereal Conjurer can give you an Ice Block of your own and even pyroblast.

Closing

I hope you found this guide to be useful. As a parting thought, I really want to encourage everyone to always anticipate the worst case situation for every given turn. This will teach you how to plan ahead and also make you more level-headed when the 1/8th chance of Arcane Missiles hitting their hero 3x instead of the 1 health minion occurs. Be as consistent as you possibly can be, and RNG will seem more like a blessing than a burden.

I did not include a matchup analysis for Face Hunter and Midrange Hunter for two reasons:

  1. I feel like Hunter decks post-LOE have remained fundamentally unchanged. Midrange has added Sir Finley Mrrgglton and tomb-spider but other than that, the matchup feels the same.
  2. I barely ran into any Hunters between Rank 5 – Legend.

Please feel free to ask me any questions, or if you would like clarification over any of the above.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge two individuals. Special thanks to Jesse “Aardvark” for all of the support and George “Flamewheel” for not letting me put leeroy-jenkins in every one of my decks.

Happy Feast of Winterveil, and good luck!