Hello, and welcome to our weekly Countering the Flavor of the Week Series! This series, as many of you know, discusses a dominant deck in the meta (usually a Tier-1 or Tier-2 deck), attempts to explain how it works, what it is strong and weak against, and how to counter that deck.
In today’s spotlight we are going to look at Handlock. Last week, Face Hunter dropped in popularity due to the end of the season scramble. That is to say, everyone wants to make sure that they have a spot in the top 100 Legends. This in turn means people tend to avoid playing a deck that is as easily countered as Face Hunter. Due to this, Handlock became one of the top-tier choices for ladder play. Therefore, Handlock has earned its spot as today’s deck to be exploited.
God, I love this gif so much!
Explaining the Deck
Warlock’s hero power is the best hero power in the entire game, there is no questioning this. What better way to exploit this immense power than with Handlock? With cards such as mountain-giant and molten-giant included in this deck, you can ensure these heavy-hitters are played early in the game, and gain a massive card advantage through liberal use of your hero power. These cards have such impact on the board when played early that a card such as big-game-hunter must exist to counter their impact.
Handlock is arguably the most consistent deck in the entire game. This happens because the deck draws more than any other deck, meaning you are likely to always have the best play possible for every situation. Regardless, there are many weaknesses in Handlock, but most of these weaknesses can not be countered in standard ways, outside of adding Big Game Hunter to your deck. You can only exploit Handlock’s weaknesses by either playing specific decks, or by playing with a very different style.
This deck has a colorful history. Handlock got popular after the Nat Pagle nerf. Warlock’s hero power was the second strongest draw engine in the game (Nat Pagle being the strongest). Nat Pagle was nerfed before the game’s release, and therefore Handlock has existed as a powerful deck since before Hearthstone was even officially a game.
In today’s spotlight deck list, I decided it would be nice to post my personal Handlock list. This deck uses no Sludge Belchers, instead substituting 2x antique-healbot, an earthen-ring-farseer, and 4x Taunt givers (defender-of-argus and sunfury-protector). I made these changes because I noticed how turn 5 Sludge Belcher did not have a large impact for Handlock, and that being more consistent was better than having Sludge Belchers in the deck. This deck also runs no zombie-chow, and focuses more on the mid-game and late-game fights.
I know you are dying to know why I added imp-losion to this deck, instead of something like a 3rd board sweeper. The thing is, Implosion helps a lot against Aggro decks, generating some small tempo that is immensely helpful in these match-ups. Handlock isn’t really great at generating tempo, so I thought it would be a nice idea to run Imp-Losion in my Handlock. So far, I have had success with this choice.
The Deck’s Strengths
Well well, Handlock has so many strong points that writing this will be very tricky for me. Regardless, I will try my best to convey Handlock’s strengths in this section. It is important to remember that in order to defeat a deck consistently you must understand how the deck works. This applies even more to a deck as complex as Handlock.
- Consistency – Handlock’s most famous strength. The deck draws so many cards that it is supposed to always have the best play in hand. And make no mistake: it most likely will. When playing against Handlock, you shouldn’t focus on what he must have in his hand. That being said, it is very important to pay attention to what he still has in his deck.
- The Turn 4 Deck – Handlock is known for having the strongest turn 4 in the game. With that said, it’s very common for Handlocks to win a game simply by having their turn 4 play (either a huge twilight-drake or a mountain-giant), because of these card’s immense board presence.
- Big Heals – Even though this deck takes a lot of damage (from both the opponent and its own hero power), Handlock has tons of healing. Not counting the Earthen Ring Farseers I added to my deck, the standard double Healbot in Handlock is often enough to keep up with most other deck’s pressures. Since GvG came out, even the Freeze Mage match-up (which was considered a nightmare before) is somewhat ok for the Handlock.
- Splashable – Before explaining this, the term “splash” is a MTG (Magic: The Gathering) term that refers to adding an extra color to a deck. I use this term here as adding extra strategies to your deck. The number of fluid slots in Handlock is such that you can add different sub-themes to the deck, such as adding Zombie Chows and early game defenses, Demons such as Voidcallers and malganis, Piloted Shredders, Sludge Belchers, or anything you want that isn’t absurd (like adding Murlocs to your Handlock, please don’t!).
The Deck’s Weaknesses
Handlock is powerful, there are no doubts about it. However, there are plenty of ways to fight that immense power. The 2 most basic ways of fighting Handlock are either to have a deck with a lot of Reach; or to stabilize and maintain control over the board, while having the right responses to the Handlock’s threats while still playing around their big comeback mechanics.
But what are those so-called big comeback mechanics? Well, first we have a possible big shadowflame turn, that combined with any of Handlock’s big minions will wipe your whole board unless you have some sort of persistent minions (such as haunted-creeper, piloted-shredder, piloted-sky-golem and so on….). Additionally, we have Molten Giants combined with Taunt-givers, that out of nowhere will put down a huge wall for you to deal with.
Overall the Handlock match-up is very tricky. Here are the weaknesses of the deck:
- Slow – Handlock is known to be the slowest deck in the game. This is because it will play its first minion on turn 4, and it does nothing most of the time until turn 4 comes. So, if you are able to get a good (and persistent) board presence before the Handlock gets his first minion out, you are likely to have a huge advantage in the game.
- Reach – There is likely to be a time when the Handlock will be low on Health, but with a huge Taunt wall protecting him. That is where the Reach will help you: Having ways to get through that big wall is game-winning.
- Tempo – Handlock is a slow deck. Outside from the big Shadowflame turns, the deck usually only wins the attrition wars. The attrition posed by this deck is so large that it is the only deck that can win against Rogue’s attrition. On the other hand, Handlock isn’t famous for its Tempo generating plays, therefore other Tempo-oriented Aggro decks are usually favored against Handlock.
How to Fight Against it!
This is the most important section in this article. Handlock has many particular things that can only be exploited by those who actually know the deck. So instead of writing down a huge wall of text, I decided it would be easier to read if I list the things you should do when you play against Handlock:
- Only rush him down if you have Reach (i.e. Ways of killing him through direct damage).
- Try to have a response for one giant before getting him below 15 Health(*).
- (*) In the case you are low on cards and have no way to respond to anything he does, or if you are playing a deck that has no draw mechanisms or responses (such as Mech Mage or Zoo) trying your luck and getting him below 15 Health is sometimes needed. Maybe he doesn’t have the Molten in hand, right?
- (*) Midrange and Control Decks usually have ways of dealing with Giants, as well as other threats; these are the decks that should wait and develop their board before going for the kill.
- When playing against Handlock, always try to develop your board to deal with a large Turn-4 threat.
- Specifically as Shaman, usually it’s best to hold your flametongue-totem as a surprise tool to use our small minions to trade for their large minion as soon as they drop them, instead of playing Flametongue Totem before the huge minion hits. This is because the Flametongue Totem might be killed by a hellfire, along with your whole board. Sometimes the fact there is no Flametongue in play makes it so the Handlock will wait to cast a Hellfire, choosing to play a Giant (or Twilight Drake) first.
- I don’t need to explain Rush decks, because they’ll do what they just do, rush the Handlock down and try to kill him before he has time to respond.
- The Rush deck tip also applies to Aggro decks, since as an Aggro deck we will lose the attrition game, we have to close it out quick. However, as an Aggro deck, we have the luxury of waiting a turn before going all-in. What I mean is that it’s better to leave the Handlock at 15 health, as opposed to leaving him at 10. This can translate to more damage the next turn for you.
- COUNT HIS MANA! Remember his Health being low means his Molten Giants are cheaper, which means there could be either a Molten+Taunt turn, or a Molten+Shadowflame turn. This means they have different ways of countering your plays the lower health they are. If you can make it so his turns are off the mana curve, you will have higher chances of winning.
- Tech a big-game-hunter in your deck, regardless of which deck you are playing. The meta game is in such state that around 90% of the match-ups will run at least 1 BGH target.
- Tech in at least one Silence. Silence is never useless, and is even more powerful now that the season is about to end. This is because people would rather play consistent decks over explosive ones. Just keep in mind that sometimes taking out a not-so-key card for an ironbeak-owl or a spellbreaker can sometimes win you the game.
I know, I bashed the “careful with Moltens” button so much it must be broken by now, but it’s very, very important to always think about them when making your plays later in the game.
This Week’s Meta Suggestions
Now that we are done explaining how to fight Handlock, let’s talk a little about the decks I suggest that you play this week.
We all know that we are in the last week of the season, therefore I suggest that you guys play more consistent decks, rather than explosive ones. You want wins, not percentage of wins. Playing decks that are more consistent, but slower than some rush decks, can help you address that.
Therefore, my suggestions this week are going to be quite standard when compared to other weeks. On the bright side, this means that we have guides for all 4 decks that are being suggested tonight!
The first 2 are Shaman and the Midrange Hunter, being spotlighted in our Premium Guides Back to Basics: Midrange Shaman and Skillhunter – A guide to Midrange Hunter. Both decks are awesome, so go check these guides out if case you want to go deeper with either of these decks.
When we talk about consistency, we always think about Druid. Druid has a lot of strong points, but the most notorious of its strengths is that it does well against other consistent decks. I would recommend the Druid list posted on the Combo Ramp Druid Deck Guide free article. Oh oh oh, let’s keep on with the consistent stuff? Sure! How about going a few CFWS guides back, where we spotlighted a pretty decent Warrior list, in Countering the Flavor of the Week #5 there is a small, but effective guide on how to play Control Warrior. I would suggest that deck as another option for this consistency week.
As for the lists:
Don’t forget that playing the actual Handlock list is also a good idea, since Handlock is very consistent!
This is it for tonight boys! I hope this article was clear about most of the peculiar things in the Handlock match-up!
By the way, I have some nice news for you guys!! Blackrock Mountain is just around the corner!! We decided it would be awesome to launch another Card Review of the spoiled cards, so next week expect an awesome video and/or article where I will be discussing the new BRM cards!
So, this is it for now boys and girls!
In case you are having trouble with any other specific deck, don’t forget to check out all our CFWS articles published so far!
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week/ (Mech Mage)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-2/ (Oil Rogue)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-3/ (Fast Druid)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-4/ (Midrange Hunter)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-5/ (Control Warrior)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-6/ (Demon Lock)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-7/ (Face Hunter)
- https://hearthstoneplayers.com/countering-flavor-week-8/ (This article, the Handlock one)
Hope to see you guys soon!