Guide to Aggro Warlock in Post GvG Arena

Tired of slow, control based arena playstyles? Win more with aggro Warlock - learn the matchups and key cards needed to succeed post GvG.

Introduction

Before the release of the newest expansion, Goblins vs Gnomes, Warlock was in a pretty sad state in arena. Post Naxxramas arena was all about control, and classes without a hero power that affected the board were at a disadvantage. Some made up for this disadvantage with powerful class cards — Warrior had weapons, Shaman had efficient removal, and Hunter had strong Beast synergy. But Warlock was left with mostly mediocre class cards and a hero power that did nothing while you were behind on board.

However, GvG shook things up drastically. Now, card advantage and a strong late-game curve are less important than maintaining tempo. Even Mage, the go-to arena hero, has taken a slight hit, as a turn seven Flamestrike is sometimes too slow to catch up to an aggressive start from your opponent. Before the release of GvG, drafting a strong aggressive Warlock deck in the arena depended upon what cards were offered to you; but with the addition of many new early-game minions, it has become significantly easier to draft a powerful low-curve deck that takes full advantage of Warlock’s hero power. By playing a more aggressive Warlock that focuses more on tempo than it does value, I’ve managed to keep a consistently high win-rate and rarely go fewer than seven wins with my favorite arena class. In this article, we will look at aggro Warlock in the post GvG arena metagame and how to utilize this style to its fullest.

Building a Solid Curve

The first thing you need to do in an aggro Warlock arena, is draft a good deck. This means constructing a deck with a solid early-game curve. Missing a play on turn two is effectively a lost game when playing an aggressive deck with few comeback mechanics, so the more two mana minions you have (within reason), the better off you are. One mana minions are also incredibly important for establishing early tempo as a Warlock.

One mana 2/1s have often been frowned upon in the past for their tendency to be picked off by the opponent’s hero power; however, they serve an important function in Warlock. If the opponent spends their second turn using their hero power, they are not developing their board, which means you hold the tempo advantage.  It also prevents them from playing a 2 mana 3/2 or they just allowed you a favorable trade-up. The nightmare is that they play a two mana 2/3, but even then, you get to push for some face damage and might even have a way to pick off the opposing 2/3 afterwards with Mortal Coil or your own 2/3.

The following turns, a strong three drop helps to solidify your board position going into the mid-game and keeps your mana usage optimal. Your four mana slot should either help you catch up in case you lose the early game or snowball out of control if you are already ahead on board. As you head up the curve from here, each slot becomes less important. Your plays on turn five and on will often include two cards or one with Life Tap.

As an example curve, you can look at the decklist I have provided. This list recently achieved a 9-3 record for me despite having only one card, Siphon Soul, which costs more than five mana. During the draft, I even considered passing the Siphon Soul for an Arcane Golem to give me more reach, something I was lacking at the time. This draft wasn’t ideal in terms of curve. The one mana slot is adequate but not great. I’m also lacking a bit in reliable two-drops with only six, which is about the minimum amount typically required for a good aggro deck . Ideally, you’ll want seven or eight plays on two mana. This does not include situational two-drops such as: removal spells, Battlecry dependent minions like Ironbeak Owl, or Nerubian Egg/Ancient Watcher, which cannot immediately contest the board.

In the three mana slot, I have five solid plays, excluding Raid Leader, which should be saved until it can be used to trade favorably. Note that cards like Dancing Swords and Deathlord help make up for a smaller amount of two-drops because of their ability to trade with multiple two-drops. My four mana slot is the weakest part of the deck, with only two solid plays. However because of the nature of the deck, I often had board control which allowed Imp-losion more leeway to act as a four-drop. The five slot is strong, with four solid plays and one situational play. Siphon Soul as the six+ drop is rarely played on curve because of its ability to swing games later on in the match.

A more ideal curve for an aggressive Warlock deck looks something along the lines of 4-5 one-drops, 7-8 two-drops, 5-6 three-drops, 5 four-drops, and 4-5 five+ mana plays. The rest of your cards will usually be more situational plays that you might not want to play on curve. As you can see from my example draft, you don’t need a curve that looks like this to succeed; this is simply the ideal aggro Warlock curve.

Warlock Class Cards

As mentioned previously, Warlock’s class cards are among the weakest in arena, possibly second only to Warrior. Because of this, you will often pass up many of the class cards offered to you. However, a few of them are exceptional. The following are the best class cards that Warlock has to offer:

Flame Imp

Flame Imp is a snap pick in arena, even if you don’t want to take an aggressive route. Although it technically has the downside of lowering our own health, we will almost never lose to opposing aggression, making the health loss negligible. Because it costs one mana, Flame Imp allows us to seize early board control, and unless the opponent has a one-drop of their own, they will probably be behind on board for the rest of the game. For one mana, Flame Imp offers the body of a two mana minion, and it can even trade up later in the game thanks to its stat distribution. If we’re playing an aggro variant, Flame Imp could be offered against a Ragnaros the Firelord and a Dr. Boom, and it would still be correct to pick the Imp in most cases.

Doomguard

If Flame Imp is the snap pick Common card of Warlock, Doomguard is the snap pick Rare. Although its downside is much worse than that of Flame Imp, Doomguard’s synergy with the Warlock hero power means that even after discarding two cards, you have a built in way to refresh your hand. For its mana cost, Doomguard’s stats are incomparable, and with Charge, it is guaranteed to trade with whatever you want. If you ever manage to fall behind in the early game, Doomguard is the easiest way to catch up later on, and if you stay ahead on board, it further solidifies your board position by getting favorable trades.

Imp-losion

If Fire Elemental has taught us anything, it is that removing opposing minions while developing your board is amazing for both value and tempo. Imp-losion isn’t a minion strictly speaking, but it still deals damage while also developing your board. Rolling only two damage is what keeps this card from being absolutely insane, but rolling three or four damage can quickly swing entire games and allow you to snowball the board out of control. The Imps also share excellent synergy with Power Overwhelming and other minion buffs.

Power Overwhelming

Power Overwhelming is one of the best removal options for aggressive Warlocks. Think of it less as a card that forces you to trade two-for-one with the opponent, and more as a card that allows you to trade your two-drop for their six-drop. Although both are often true, remember that we are playing for tempo not value. As the aggressors, we care far more about maintaining board control than we do about squeezing every bit of value our of our cards. Power Overwhelming also works well with tokens, including Spectral Spiders and Imps, which are fantastic in aggressive decks. If all that wasn’t enough reason to pick this card, it also gives us some extra reach in case we ever run out of steam after a large board clear. Still, we need board presence before Power Overwhelming does anything, so good early-game minions should usually be picked first early in the draft.

Mortal Coil

Although it doesn’t look as flashy as the above cards, Mortal Coil offers something that Warlock sorely lacks – a ping. Good players will often exploit the lack of one damage sources that Warlock has, so having a couple of Mortal Coils can swing games in your favor. Mortal Coil also provides cheap cycling, and although we don’t really need this as a Warlock with Life Tap, it is still helpful to allow us to draw cards early game while still developing our board.

Dread Infernal

Look! It’s another ping in Warlock! Dread Infernal isn’t the most important card to pull in Warlock, but it is still fantastic for its ability to ping the entire board and thus create favorable trades with our smaller early-game minions against our opponent’s bigger minions. There is some anti-synergy with Dread Infernal though. We will often have at least one minion with only one health left on the board, and sometimes, we won’t want to use that minion to trade. Still, the downside rarely overshadows the benefit, and with few late-game Warlock minions, there isn’t much competition for Dread Infernal. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t want too many late-game minions as a Warlock, but one or two Dread Infernals can be incredibly strong.

Soulfire and Darkbomb

I’ve classified Soulfire and Darkbomb together because they are both cheap, efficient removal options for Warlock. Basically, the more late-game you have, the better Darkbomb becomes, but because you will rarely be forced to choose one over the other, this doesn’t come into play very often. Anything that allows you to develop your board while taking out opposing minions is good in Warlock, so these have a place in any strong Warlock deck.

Pit Lord

Although it is nearer the bottom of the list of great Warlock class cards, Pit Lord is an incredible card for aggressive Warlocks. Much like Doomguard and Flame Imp, because it comes with a downside, Pit Lord has amazing stats for its cost. Unlike Doomguard and Flame Imp, however, Pit Lord is an Epic card and thus won’t be offered to you very often. Still, in terms of Warlock class epics, Pit Lord is the only one that you should be excited to see, so it gets a mention here. As a 5/6, Pit Lord trades favorably with almost every other four-drop in the game, and even the ones with which it trades evenly with can typically be picked off with smaller minions later on. The tempo swing that Pit Lord can provide is insane and almost always makes up for the five life you lose when you play it.

Other Warlock class cards have their place, but not as good as the ones mentioned above. Here are some more situational cards that might still be quite good in your draft.

Voidcaller

I will probably get some hate for not praising this card more highly, but Voidcaller simply doesn’t always fit into aggressive builds of Warlock. The main reason for this is its low stats for its cost. At four health, Voidcaller is a prime target for common removal such as Truesilver Champion, Flamecannon, Swipe, Eviscerate, Death’s Bite, Crackle, Soulfire, and more. Although it can bring out a turn four Dread Infernal, it can also just be a four mana 3/4, which is awful for tempo. Still, if you have a couple of Dread Infernals and a Doomguard, Voidcaller’s value can be off the charts.

Demonfire

Much like Voidcaller, Demonfire is a card that only gets better if you have Demon synergy in your deck. Unlike Voidcaller, Demonfire is considerably more flexible–it can be used as removal and works well in conjunction with cheap Demons as well as more expensive ones. You should never be sad to pick up a Demonfire, but if you have a couple s and [card]Voidwalkers, its value increases by quite a bit.

Shadowflame

This card is less situational than the aforementioned ones, but it’s still touch-and-go. Although Shadowflame is the strongest AoE available to Warlocks, we want to be in control of the board and should never be at a point where we need to catch up. Even so, Shadowflame can allow us to trade favorably and can even be used as a worse Arcane Explosion. Remember, because we have no ping, a worse Arcane Explosion in Warlock can be better than a Flamestrike in Mage. Take Shadowflame if you have several high attack minions or if you have a couple of Power Overwhelmings to make it better.

Floating Watcher

Floating Watcher is a card that sounds very strong on paper but is not quite as good in practice. As an immediate presence on the board, Floating Watcher is quite weak, clocking in at a five mana 4/4 or a seven mana 6/6 when used in conjunction with Life Tap. With these poor immediate stats, Floating Watcher can be bad for tempo, but it gets exponentially better the longer it sticks on the board. This is a card that you will usually pass on early on in the draft but might take more highly if you don’t have much late-game. You should also pick this card slightly more highly if you have a Voidcaller or two.

Other Warlock class cards range from good to mediocre. Regardless of the class, always look at synergy as you are drafting. Just because Sacrificial Pact is one of the worst cards in the game doesn’t mean you should never take it, and even though Wisp might seem useless, a free 1/1 is infinitely more valuable than a Core Hound that never lands on the board.

Neutral Cards to Look Out For

I have already mentioned multiple times that Warlock has pretty poor class cards in spite of some major winners. Some neutral minions stand out as especially useful in aggressive Warlock lists.

Minions that Spawn Other Minions

Minions that spawn other minions are good in aggressive decks. As a tempo oriented deck, we will often have board control, and spare 1/1s can help create favorable trades for us, especially as a class without a ping. Warlocks in particular , which can buff smaller minions with Power Overwhelming, benefit from them more than most. For this reason, even minions that immediately spawn 1/1s go up in value in Warlock. Similarly, Deathrattle minions that spawn other minions are really difficult to remove and can make it more difficult for your opponent to regain board control. These minions also help protect us from AoE, which is crucial when we are flooding the board. Murloc Tidehunter, Razorfen Hunter, Imp Master, and Silver Hand Knight should be picked more highly in Warlock, and Haunted Creeper, Harvest Golem, and Piloted Shredder are always amazing cards that are even better in aggressive Warlock decks.

Cheap Taunts

Sometimes it takes way too many of our smaller minions to trade into our opponent’s larger ones, which can cause a swing in tempo back in the opponent’s favor if we decide to clear his board. In times such as these, cheap Taunt minions can help give you time to develop larger minions that trade favorable with the opponent. Voidwalker, Annoy-o-Tron, Deathlord, and Sen’jin Shieldmasta are great for their ability to stall the opponent for one turn and give us the time we need to do just that. They can also block our more important minions while we try to push for lethal damage over the course of two turns. Sometimes even a Silverback Patriarch or a Mogu’shan Warden can be a decent pick for this reason despite their weak attack.

Buff Minions

Minions that provide stat buffs have a great place in tempo decks for their ability to enable trade-ups. Most of these minions are universally regarded as good cards – Abusive Sergeant, Shattered Sun Cleric, Dark Iron Dwarf, Defender of Argus etc. In aggressive Warlock decks, sometimes even weak win-more type cards like Raid Leader, Dire Wolf Alpha, Young Priestess, and Enhance-o Mechano can be very effective picks.

Minions that Ping

I’ve mentioned already that Warlock’s lack of a pinging hero power is one of its major weaknesses. We can make up for this by drafting cards that do this. Obvious choices are Knife Juggler and Stormpike Commando, but even Stonetusk Boar, Elven Archer, and Ironforge Rifleman can have increased value in aggressive Warlock decks.

Life Gain

Although it isn’t necessary, with so many ways to deal damage to ourselves, life gain can be a welcome addition to a Warlock deck. The best life gain minions are ones that can also heal minions like Earthen Ring Farseer and Darkscale Healer. In most games, the extra heal isn’t necessary, but the flexibility to stay out of range of burst damage or heal minions can be incredible. Voodoo Doctor is also a fine card for the flexibility of its healing ability and even as a play on turn one. Antique Healbot can also work, but it generally is more effective in more control based styles.

How to Play More Aggressively

One of the biggest downfalls of arena players is that even with an aggressive deck, they don’t know when to trade and when to go face. Generally speaking, you’re best off fighting for the board in the early game. Remember that as a Warlock, you will win almost every topdeck war. If you need to, you can fight for the board the entire game and win the late-game by sheer card advantage. Still, most games won’t end up this way. While it is difficult to say generally when it is best to trade and when it is best to go face, there is a right answer in most cases.

As an example, you usually don’t want to spend a lot of damage removing small minions unless you are trying to protect a minion of your own. If you have a 4/5 Yeti staring down a 1/1 token, trading is almost certainly playing overly conservatively. Sometimes though, if you’re ahead by enough, removing those tokens can be correct to prevent your opponent from slapping a large minion buff on it such as Velen’s Chosen or Blessing of Kings. Whenever you can, make favorable trades (a 3 drop killing a 4 drop is favorable, a 2/1 killing a 3/2 is favorable etc) and deny your opponent from ever taking control of the board.

Some other helpful tips include not being afraid to keep your low health minions alive. A lot of players will often trade in their low health minions to keep their higher health minions out of AoE range. While this is sometimes your best course of action, you should also consider the risk vs. reward of either play and how likely it is for your opponent to have AoE. If your opponent likely would have used Flamestrike on your board in a previous turn, you can play a bit more aggressively because the odds of them having it go down drastically.

Another important thing to note about AoE is that losing your entire board isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. If your opponent is spending their entire turn removing our board, we still maintain board initiative and can just reload with more threats. AoE is more dangerous when the opponent can clear the board and follow the play up by developing their board. Thankfully, this is relatively uncommon because the larger board clears are expensive and the cheaper ones make it more difficult for them to full clear.

You also should learn to be less afraid of pings when playing for tempo. While it is true that your opponent goes ahead in value when pinging a one health minion, they also skip their play for the turn in the early game or force themselves to play cheaper minions later on, which gives you a boost in tempo. As a Warlock that can always draw extra cards, we don’t have to be afraid of running out of cards, and the tempo boost of forcing a ping is often times more valuable than the card advantage/value.

Similarly, we can also make unfavorable trades more freely because of our hero power. For example, it might feel terrible to allow the opponent to trade their Worgen Infiltrator for our Bloodfen Raptor, but the Worgen Infiltrator is nearly guaranteed to get value at some point in the game. Because of this, it is better to allow the opponent to take the favorable trade so that we can develop the board more freely later on. Don’t get stuck in a value mindset because it is the easiest way to fail as the aggressor.

Properly Utilizing your Hero Power

I have already talked briefly about when to use your hero power and when to develop the board, and the main points still hold true. Develop the board when you can, and Life Tap when you have the spare mana or when you’re out of cards. I cannot stress enough how important it is to play something on turn two. With the addition of many new powerful two and three mana minions, arena has become more based on tempo and early board control, and you simply cannot afford to use your hero power on turn two when it has no effect on the board.

Once you progress into the mid-game, you can use your hero power a bit more liberally. If you already have a decent board, you can use your hero power to smooth our your curve for a turn and search for cards to fill out your curve in the following turns. However, if you are still fighting for board control, it is better to develop the board as much as possible while still keeping AoE and removal in mind. Speaking of AoE, sometimes you will want to avoid overextending while your hand is relatively small in order to not fall too far behind in card advantage. In these cases, it can be best to hero power even if you have a mana efficient play for the turn.

As you enter the late-game, try to be mindful of your health. Although the opponent likely will not have done too much damage to us before this point, between Life Tap and cards that deal damage to ourselves, including Flame Imp and Pit Lord, we might eventually bring ourselves to a point where the opponent can finish us off with burst damage. If you have enough cards to close out the game and you find yourself at low health, you’re usually better off skipping Life Taps. However, if you enter a topdeck war, you will almost always want to Life Tap as much as possible, as the aggressive curve of the deck means you will often need to trade two-for-one with the opponent’s bigger minions.

Matchup Analysis

Any class in arena can consistently beat any other class, but there are specific cards that can swing the favor of a matchup one way or the other. Here is an analysis of arena matchups and how to play around each class’s best cards.

Mage

Despite having some of the strongest AoE in the game with Flamestrike and Blizzard, Mage is actually a pretty favorable matchup for aggressive Warlock decks. The problem with Flamestrike as a Mage against Warlock is that it is so expensive. As a Warlock, you can stockpile cards in the turns leading up to a Flamestrike so that when it does come, you can quickly reload the board and take back initiative. Aside from Flamestrike, Mage’s cards are quite weak against aggressive classes. Fireball and Polymorph are inefficient against a swarm of minions, and although Water Elemental can often trade with two or even three of your minions, it is a very slow card that can often be ignored. Mages often have trouble taking board control from Warlocks unless they match them in aggro/removal or get incredible value from Flamestrike.

Paladin

Paladin is one of the trickier matchups for Warlock. Consecration is the most efficient AoE against an early swarm of minions, and Truesilver Champion can handle everything else. However, the biggest problem for Warlocks in this matchup is the dreaded Shielded Minibot, which will often trade with two minions and comes out as early as turn one with The Coin. Try to play around Shielded Minibot when coining out a two-drop on turn one by playing a 2/3 instead of a 3/2. You should also try to clear whenever it is efficient to do so because of the threat of Blessing of Kings.

Rogue

Rogues have a ton of really efficient early-game removal, but in spite of this, you can win this matchup pretty easily by pressuring the opponent’s life total. Because their ping comes in the form of their weapon, the more damage you do to the opponent, the less they can use their weapons to remove your minions and the easier it becomes to burst your opponent. Fan of Knives and Blade Flurry are both very strong AoE spells against Warlock. Playing against Rogue can be a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, you want as many one health minions as you can so your Rogue opponent can’t easily pick them off, but conversely, one AoE spell can wipe your entire board at little cost to the opponent if you do try to do this. Assess the opponent’s board and your hand when deciding how to play around these spells. If you can easily regain the board after a Fan of Knives or Blade Flurry, you might be better off not playing around them. Be wary of Rogue too because they are one of the few classes that can match you for tempo and cause you to play more defensively than you’d like.

Priest

Much like Warlocks, Priests don’t have pings, which makes this matchup fairly easy if you keep up board control throughout the match. Because Priests can heal their minions, they can generate card advantage and tempo through their hero power even more efficiently than Warlocks can, which makes clearing their minions more important than in any other matchup. Priests also always have the threat of Velen’s Chosen when a minion sticks on the board, furthering the importance of maintaining board control. Watch out for Holy Nova, relentlessly clear the opponent’s minions, and try to deny potential draws from Northshire Cleric, and this matchup is usually quite easy.

Hunter

Hunter can be a tricky matchup because of how terribly the Warlock hero power matches up against the Hunter’s. Still, fighting for board control is usually the top priority. The less damage you take from their early-game minions, the more room you have to tap as the game progresses. Kill Command gives Hunters a lot of potential burst against Warlocks, but they will often have to use it for board control. Clear Beasts to dodge Kill Command and Houndmaster, and be mindful of Glaivezooka and Eaglehorn Bow, which can swing tempo in your opponent’s favor during the early game.

Warlock

The Warlock mirror boils down to draws, drafts, and Hellfire. In this matchup, it is very important to dig for a one drop to contest a possible Flame Imp. Fight hard for board control because Life Tap is one of the weakest hero powers in the game while you are behind on board, and try to make as many favorable trades as possible. Also try to take advantage of potential tempo losses from opposing Voidcallers by ignoring it for as long as possible. Trading into a Voidcaller is usually a bad decision because it can gift your Warlock opponent a large demon essentially with charge, whereas not trading can give you more time to react to the minion that is spawned on his end since it has summoning sickness.

Warrior

Warrior is an incredibly easy matchup because they have no pings outside of Whirlwind, which isn’t too common, Death’s Bite, which is delayed, and Cruel Taskmaster, which only hits one target. Flood the board because Warrior’s AoE is limited to Brawl, which is an Epic, and the weak Whirlwind. The only ways to lose this matchup are being cheesed out by a ton of instant damage from weapons and Charge minions or to lose early game board control to weapons, neither of which are reliable Warrior draws.

Shaman

Shaman is similar to Rogue in that it has a lot of efficient early-game removal, but their weakness comes in their easily exploitable Overload. Try to make their turns as awkward as possible by forcing them to Lightning Bolt on two mana and denying them high-value Fire Elementals on curve. Clearing totems and maintaining board control are both important to deny Flametongue Totem and potential Spell Damage value from Wrath of Air Totem. Watch out for Lightning Storm board clears and burst finishes with Windfury, Crackle, or Lava Burst.

Druid

Druid has one of the strongest AoE spells in the game in Swipe, which both clears mid-range minions and finishes off one health minions. Try to play around it to the best of your ability without forfeiting board control from one large Taunt minion from the opponent. Ironbark Protector and Druid of the Claw are dangerous, so it is important to keep something on the board to activate Power Overwhelming if you have it in your deck in order to make these trades more efficient. A Druid is helpless after running out of cards, so do your best to fight for the board until you feel comfortable rushing the opponent down over the course of a few turns. It is also important to realize that you might just lose the long game to back-to-back large minions, so always try to find the quickest way to kill the opponent.

Conclusion

Warlock is one of the most fun classes to play in arena because its aggro style strays so far from the typical value focus of many other classes. There is no feeling better than staying in control the entire game, and the Warlock class lends itself to this better than any other. Draft Warlock aggressively, and you will soon find yourself embracing the shadows with Gul’dan. As always, leave any questions or feedback in the comments section below, and I’ll be happy to respond!