Counter The Net Deck Series Part 3: Deck Building 101 The Control Freak

This part 3 of How To Counter the net deck and build you're own viable deck for use in game play. In this article we'll discuss the core fundamentals of the Control deck archetype.


Greetings, traveler! If you’ve been a regular reader of this particular series I welcome you back! Lets quickly recap where we’ve been and where we are headed in today’s article. The purpose of this series is to breathe some fresh air into the seasonal grind of constructed play (a.k.a. The Ladder). If you’re new to this series, I highly recommend that you read the previous articles which you can find here Part I and here Part II.  Otherwise, I’ll assume you can smell what I’ve been stepping in over the course of the past couple of weeks, and you’ll continue to follow me through the rabbit hole.

If you’ve been playing Hearthstone for as long as I have, you’ve probably noticed an irritating trend. Game play, specifically on the ladder is a lot like eating 5-day old left over pizza. It’s stale, it’s not exactly the best of times going down and what is that weird spot near the crust that resembles actual growing hair? With a shrug of your shoulders you devour it anyway, because hey, after all it’s still pizza.

Similarly, Hearthstone is the same way. You find yourself going up against the same stale Secret Paladin game in and game out. You already know what’s coming before it get’s where its going–that mysterious-challenger isn’t quite that mysterious anymore. The fruits of your net decking labors are not much better either, I mean how many times can you play a Dragon Priest deck before it becomes lackluster?

What’s funny is despite all the negativity, the stale game play as well as having to choke down the lackluster depth of popular deck builds (which is seemingly all that is available to you and to the competition) you just keep right on gaming, just to keep yourself respectable and well because hey, its still Hearthstone.

If you’d enjoy something more meaningful from your game play, then I encourage you to join me on my quest to find a fresh perspective on deck building and put your need to feed on stale net decking pizza every season to bed once and for all! Maybe, you’ll gain some knowledge to build a unique deck of your own in the process. Your goal may not necessarily be change the meta, but just to build a deck that makes Hearthstone fun again, regardless of its level of competitiveness or win-rate ratios.

If you recall, the first step in building your masterpiece is to choose a deck archetype as your deck’s foundation. In the last article we discussed at length, the Aggro archetype, the first of 4 basic deck archetypes with which to choose from to begin your build. Today, we’ll be dissecting and discussing at great length the  second archetype: Control.

Control Deck Cornerstones

This deck archetype is the complete opposite of aggro. This archetype is aggro’s ying to control’s yang. This is aggro’s night to control’s day, good and evil, black and white. While Aggro decks are highly volatile, highly rush-oriented, the control strategy is all about stamina, patience and fortitude. If you’re a control freak the objective is to outlast rather than rush down. You’re that crazy boyfriend/girlfriend neck-deep into your significant other’s Facebook account, you’re that dude looking through old text messages and scrutinizing old photos, you’re the final authority on friend selection, and you dictate all life in general–yes you’re a CONTROL FREAK. 

In Hearthstone, as a control freak you have an answer to every problem, you aggravate and harass, you seek and you destroy. For every damage point you take to the face, your healing twice as fast. Just as quick as your opponent field’s a minion, you’re dropping removal with as much swagger as dropping a mic. You’re dictating tempo; orchestrating board control like a boss.

If you’re a control freak, here are a few of a Control deck’s cornerstones that you need to incorporate into your build:

Oxi-clean Removal: Between Billy Mays and grandma, to this day there are fanatical people out there who absouetly swear by the cleaning power of Oxi-clean. In Hearthstone if you’re building a Control deck you better be swearing by it too–or at least in the cleaning power crystals of the spell removal variety. Control oriented decks/players spend the majority of their game play scrubbing out those stubborn murloc skid marks from the enemy’s board or hosing down that beefy, deeply engrained ysera, that’s reaking havoc via dream cards.

Your deck should be running a high amount removal and direct damage spells as well as several utility (a.k.a. tech) cards (i.e. card draw, life gain, silence, taunt, freeze, card steal, etc.)  Control decks desire to actively engage their opponents threats and stall the game into its later phases, when they can smash you like the cock roach you are with their monster finishers.

The Wal-Mart bargain bin: You’ve all seen them, especially around the holidays. Those huge overflowing jumble of yester-years greatest cheese DVDs for under $5. Here you’ll find with $20 you can you can cover the lesser known individuals on your Christmas list. Crazy uncle Joe will definatly enjoy another go around of Will Smith in Bad Boys II.

What we’re talking about as it pertains to the control deck is card advantage. Control freaks have to incorporate bargain bin minions and cheap utility cards that yield a high amount of card draw.  The acolyte-of-pain, for example will at worst (unless your enemy is running silence) replace himself in most scenarios, and at best grant you an extra card or two, plus provide you a 1/3 weenie for board presence all for the great low price of 3 mana. Control freaks love to quickly cycle through their deck to draw into those big, scary threats and pound you to dust as the game progresses. The key here is to consistently cycle through your deck as the game goes on, while at the same time maintaining tempo and control as well as gaining health and making smart trades.

The wing man:At some point in your life, you’ve either desperatly needed the wing man or you’ve made that Medal of Honor leap onto the fug-ly grenade yourself, valiantly saving  your best bud in the process. Control decks need those bullet sponges too. They need those minions with taunt or those life gaining spells–anything to avoid having to snuggle up to that fug-ly grenade known as defeat. We’re trying to stave off death by Face Hunter rushes and Secret Paladain shenanigans, by implementing freeze mechanics or taunting stall tactics. You’re looking for a combination of minions and spells that are biding you enough time to accumulate enough mana to set up your win factors. The name of the game is “outlive and outlast”.

Finish him! Oh, those classic throaty Mortal Kombat words that cause our hearts to leap as we frantically mash buttons, our brains struggling to recall the right sequence within the right timeframe. The slightest miscalulation or fat finger slip and its all over. Sure you get the win, but sometimes its not always the winning that’s important. Its how your winning.

There is just something about the sound effect of a 10-12 attack grommash-hellscream, sending your opponent down a rung to the approving roar of the virtual crowd around your table, that has always been sweet music to my ears. This is the control deck’s bread and butter; its win condition. Surviving the course of battle just long enough to drop that juggernaunt right into your opponents face and win the war.

Example decks: Popular control decks that have been and continue to be lurking in the meta are: Freeze Mage, Handlock, Control Warrior, and Control Priest.

The Control Freak

We touched on the fact that a control deck’s best friends are removal cards and Hearthstone’s scariest most wicked minions. Unlike aggressive style decks that are very proactive, control decks are reactive; more defensive minded. Should you decide on this archetype to begin your build, be aware that you need an unlimited supply of patience. Rarely, if ever will you be the one taking the initiative.

Furthermore, consider that it has been a sticking point (argumenative even) in many circles that control decks are considered the more difficult archetype to play in Hearthstone, especially as it pertains to new guys. Personally, I subscribe to this school of thought and caution you noobs out there to take a safer route in your deck construction. I’d advise you to get a better feel of the game first, learn the game mechanics and allow yourself to gain a bit more experience before jumping in with the big boys.

Understand, to play a control style deck you have to have a solid handle on a lot of the game’s intagibiles. Any level of success is contiginet upon having a well-rounded knowledge of various opponent types: how much damage can they deal and in how many turns, what shades of scary are they running in their deck, which threats are left, what is the most efficient way to react to the board? Mentally, gathering this knowledge on the fly is absoultely critical when playing with a control deck. This information is needed so as a control player you can best plan out your turns, know what removal to play and when; know wheather its too early to drop that molten giant or too late in the game to bring out Trion.

If you’re still feeling frisky, and brave enough to venture into control freak terrority, then lets discuss how to balance a control archetype deck. A well constructed control deck handles with smoothness, fluidity and balance. A nice even amount of removals/direct damage spells, utility cards, and of course big scary finishers to round everything out. Lets look at little closer at the three of the main type of control style decks in the current meta: Handlock, Warrior, and Freeze Mage.

If you first examine common control Handlock and Warrior decks you can conclude that each deck potentially has a solid presence throughout the entire game. Despite the fact that they are both late-game focused their curve isn’t skewed to right most notch, because filling up on big finishers without the means of surviving long enough to drop them in your opponents lap is counter-productive. This is why its important to be sure and use those lower mana slots in your control deck for cheap, high-value Oxi-clean stain removal spells and minions, while utilizing those mid-game mana slots for utility cards, mass removal and finally rounding everything out with a handful of Babe Ruth-like finishers to ultimately bring that Pennet home.

I know what you’re thinking. What about Frost Mage? Considering that mana curve seems a bit uneven, its play style seems to mimic other control decks. The cheaper bargain bin removal and utility cards move its mana needle toward to lower end, but if you look closer many of its cards are often used together in the mid-range turns (Doomsayer and Frost Nova which are considered board sweepers and occupy the other vacant 5-mana slot). Also, you’ll notice most varations of Frost Mage hardly run any big game finishers, with exception to Alexstrasza and Archmage Antonidas (and a few others) the ladder of whom will 9 times out of 10 kill the opponent via fireballs and/or frost bolts (Ice lance combos) to the face.

The last thing I want to touch on is to point out that often times cards that most experienced control type players gravitate toward when constructing control decks are cards that can serve multiple purposes. For example, if played correctly mortal-coil,  is both a removal spell and card draw all wrapped up in a pretty, red 1 cost mana bow. The shieldmaiden,  and loatheb,  provide utility which come from a heavy body. The expirenced control freak will also run the armorsmith+whirlwind combo and benefit from the AoE damage, and also gain life via Armorsmith’s armor gain. If you take that same scenario a step further and throw in our bargain bin Acolyte of Pain as well as an execute, you’ll happily soak up all the above value plus some card draw and assassinate one of your opponents fatties to boot.


We’re 50% of the way through with our discussion with regards to the basic deck archetypes. Our next discussion we’ll focus more on mid-range oriented decks, and arm you with further knowledge to guide you toward a deck type you will feel comfortable enough to utilize as the basis for your deck build. As mentioned earlier, if you’ve not read the previous articles in this series, I highly encourage you do so by clicking here: Part I and here Part II. They will significantly help you understand the difference between the basic Hearthstone deck archetypes, which in turn provide you with the base knowledge of understanding the first step that goes into deck building. Until then, keep your noses to grind stone and keep climbing up that ladder!