Most decks in Hearthstone fall under specific archetypes, but Handlock has always been one unique deck that cannot exactly be pin pointed to one archetype alone. I feel despite its control elements, the ability to play the deck by manipulating your health pool and hand size is really amazing. If you joined Hearthstone sometime after Whispers of The Old Gods, then it is more than likely you have not faced the old school Handlock decks. The deck seeks to utilize the Warlock hero power and generate massive card advantage and get value out of cards like Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant in the early mid-game. The lists also ran Molten Giant before it got nerfed and it allowed players to play with their health total and play out the giants to add pressure on the board.
While most other control decks follow the removal and lategame plan, Handlock worked quite differently and being able to push out extremely large minions on turn 4 and later, that are twice as big as what other decks would play on curve sometimes also added a touch of ramp into the play style.
Neirea, of Team Liquid recently took an all Classic card Handlock deck to Legend last season as a challenge, and Thijs worked his way to Rank 1 Legend a few months back with a list similar to one I used this season. I hit Rank 8 Legend with the deck very early in the season with this list and it worked really well for my grind up the ranks. Agreed, the deck wins a lot out of the surprise factor because most people simply assume you are Renolock but the surmounting pressure that keeps adding up on board gets really out of hand quickly and you can go into beatdown mode and end the game in a handful of turns from setting up a big board. Let’s head straight to the card choices before moving on to the mulligans and I’ll explain how to play the deck.
Mortal Coil: A simple tool to kill off tokens or use to pick off minions that survive after you play a board clear. Cycling through the deck to your big threats is really important in the deck and Mortal Coil helps you do just that.
Soulfire: Due to the absence of Darkbomb in the Standard meta, Soulfire works great as a removal and burn tool to deal with threats. I was torn between Soulfire and Shadow Bolt but Soulfire seemed to work better overall in the meta due to the slow nature of the other options.
Dark Peddler: With the meta as aggressive as it gets with on curve plays being extremely popular, being able to deal with threats is absolutely essential. One of the best things about Dark Peddler is that it does not mess up your subsequent turns involving Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant because you maintain the same hand size when you the card allowing you to get the maximum value out of the aforementioned cards. An emergency Soulfire or Power Overwhelming from Dark Peddler goes a long way when it comes to controlling the board.
Doomsayer: One of the most important cards in the deck. Since you start dropping threats mostly turn 4 onwards and keep pressuring your opponent, it is important that you do not fall behind too much. A lot of matchups change the way they pan out depending on whether you draw Doomsayer early in the game or not.
Sunfury Protector: One of five taunters you have in the deck. It allows you to protect your health pool by activating Taunts on your large minions forcing your opponent to use multiple resources in most cases. Do not shy away from playing the card to deal with early aggression since it is fine as a 2 mana 2/3 if you desperately need to regain board control.
Brann Bronzebeard: With 10 Battlecry minions that benefit from Brann being present in the deck, it was only fitting that this little guy join the giants and dragons for our adventures. Being able to heal for twice the value from your cheap heals or buffing up your minions can be really helpful in turning the tides of some games.
Earthen Ring Farseer: One of the few neutral options available in the game right now. It is a cheap and efficient way to heal and also gain some board presence. Personally, even though I like this card a lot I do not feel it’s that great. With Mistress of Mixtures coming up soon in the upcoming expansion, I expect the card to replace Earthen Ring Farseer because it is a very cheap drop that deals with the opponent’s early game and even if they ignore the minion you can trade and get 4 heal out of the one drop. Earthen Ring Farseer is the only good neutral heal option available to us right now apart from Refreshment Vendor for now.
Defender of Argus: Another taunt giving minion that also buffs the adjacent minions. Positioning your board state properly is essential to get the maximum value out of this card. The card is very powerful and allows you to buff up your board and create a wall of taunts, making it extremely hard for board heavy decks to get past.
Faceless Shambler: While I initially started with two Faceless Shamblers in the deck, I felt I needed to add more AoE so I cut one copy of the card. The card on its own is actually better than Faceless Manipulator, a Handlock staple in the current meta. Being able to get the taunt effect directly without needing to play another taunt activator makes it very efficient to play.
Hellfire: An efficient board clear that helps you wipe out aggressive boards quite efficiently. It is an essential board clear to help you clean up the board before your big threats drop in and stabilize.
Twilight Drake: One of the best minions in any control Warlock deck, being able to set up a high health and reasonably high attack minion thanks to the Warlock hero power being able to squeeze value into the dragon’s health pool makes it a great minion to include.
Refreshment Vendor: A solid anti-aggro minion that is able to deal with cheap drops while healing you for 4 health. Since the game almost always goes to the lategame, the heal to your opponent does not matter at all. In pressure situations it is also a good taunt target against aggressive minions due to the high health it has compared to its attack. It works very well with Brann as well for additional healing.
Shadowflame: A more powerful but resource heavy board clear. With Dark Peddler being available in the deck, you can potentially draw into a Power Overwhelming and use it for a better clear or simply use it with one of your big threats and it is more than likely the entire enemy side of the board gets wiped out in most situations. We run only one copy of the card in the deck because of its situational nature and requirement of having board presence.
Emperor Thaurissan: With so much card advantage at all times, Emperor Thaurissan is a great fit in the deck for discounting your hand and out-valuing your opponent quite handily. You get at least 5-6 mana at the very least with a single end of turn proc.
Siphon Soul: While it is not the best spot removal in the game and happens to be on the more expensive side of things, it does the job and also heals you up a bit. We run only one copy of the card to help deal with big threats that your minions or spells would not otherwise be able to deal with.
Sylvanas Windrunner: A must have in any control deck, she makes quite the impact in the deck specially with Shadowflame which is one of the best endgame combos perfect for dealing with other control decks that have N’zoth the Corruptor or C’thun as their win conditions to completely shut them down. It can also work with potential Power Overwhelming draws from Dark Peddler for stealing minions at the end of your turn for 7 mana.
Ragnaros the Firelord: Easily the best neutral legendary in the game that not only add pressure by chipping away at the enemy health pool, it also takes out threats if his fiery shots land on big threats. If you do not have him in your collection or the meta is filled with decks that spam the board then you can choose to run Twisting Nether as a comeback mechanism.
Alexstrasza: I happen to be extremely aggressive when it comes to using Alexstrasza. The most common way I try to play her is by setting up a big enough board that can kill the enemy hero if I use Alexstrasza offensively and it works out quite often. Being able to use the card flexibly as a comeback mechanism as well as an offensive swing play makes the dragon aspect a worthy inclusion in the deck.
Lord Jaraxxus: The EREDAR LORD OF THE BURNING LEGION simply cannot communicate without the Caps Lock button on! Every time you play him against decks like Control Warrior or super aggressive decks that ran out of steam, you stage insane comebacks and simply outvalue your opponent with the hero power and weapon across multiple turns. He is one of the best comeback mechanism cards in the game and offers massive amounts of value. It is a perfect card to get you back into the game and despite its drawbacks (weakness to burst damage and flooded enemy board states), the card is excellent in the deck for closing out the game.
Mountain Giant: We run two copies of Mountain Giants in the deck to add some serious pressure. With a massive hand size in the early game you can easily drop them as 4 mana 8/8s on curve. They are very hard to deal with when taunted and dish out severe amounts of damage. If left unchecked, a pair of Mountain Giants as taunts can end the game in a few turns.
A lot of people asked for my decklist when I hit high ranks and a lot of them had the same queries about deckbuilding. I’d like to go over them and cover why I have certain cards in the deck.
- Faceless Shambler vs Faceless Manipulator: This is the most common topic that pops up when people see the list. While you lose out on the potential to copy enemy threats and use it against them, the instant taunt helps out a lot and I believe it fits in better than Manipulator in the deck.
- I did not make the deck from scratch nor do I take credit for making this list, I simply picked up Thijs’ list from a few months back and tuned it up a bit based on the cards I have and made some meta calls to come up with the list.
- Acidic Swamp Ooze is a key consideration in the deck and you can take out Ragnaros or a Defender of Argus for it if you have too much trouble against weapon classes.
- Twisting Nether and Spellbreaker are also cards that can be considered in the deck depending on your matchups.
- Is this deck viable for high ranks? Yes, if you play it right. Half the games I am on my toes and nearly every game feels like a close shave. Even though my winrate might suggest I had a smooth sailing with the deck, it wasn’t – it gets a bit too tense and taking risks with your health pool is what makes the deck so much fun to play. There are plenty of decision-making situations that pop up and you need to make the most out of your turns.
- I got the urge to play Handlock for my climb after nearly a year thanks to Team Liquid’s Neirea who used the basic and classic card pool to hit legend with Handlock last season, I wasn’t as willing to take up such a challenge so I stuck with the entire pool of cards. If you want to check that deck out head to https://twitter.com/LiquidNeirea/status/790966364395728896?lang=en
Proof of legend:
- Doomsayer (high priority)
- Twilight Drake (+ Sunfury Protector with a good curve)
- Mortal Coil
- Dark Peddler
- Twilight Drake
- Mountain Giant
- If you have both the above minions in hand, you can also keep on curve threats to play beyond turn 4
Knowing the meta and the decklists help out a lot when in the Mulligan stage of the game. While Mortal Coil is generally good against aggresive decks, you do not always get value out of it in a lot of aggressive matchups. Depending on what you expect to face, you should choose the cards to keep at the start of the game. You can also keep Mountain Giant in your starting hand against aggressive decks if you see yourself getting it cheap enough while also controlling the board with your removals and spells.
Here are my matchups from this season, I will break down the matchups based on past experiences in previous months with the deck as well as the ideal ways they should pan out.
Druid: Against Malygos Druid you will have no difficulties at all, since they have absolutely no means of dealing with large threats efficiently. You want to build pressure extremely fast. A common strategy I picked up while playing the deck was to play a turn 3 Doomsayer if possible to negate their turn 3/4 to allow myself to develop the first threat. You want to add to the board pressure every turn and go into beatdown mode in the mid game. Aggro Beast Druid decks have been popping up recently and I recommend considering that during the mulligan phase, you do not want to hard mulligan for Malygos/Spell Druid and get blown out by an aggressive approach.
Hunter: It is a difficult matchup if they develop a board every turn and Doomsayer is extremely crucial in this matchup. The best way to beat Hunters is by taking a defense + heal stance until you stabilize and taunting up is an absolute must. Be wary of secret decks and do not play into their best possible outcomes. Always activate traps in the right order if you plan on dealing with them. Their sticky minions are very troublesome to deal with and you want to force them to trade with their minions so you can clear them later with AoE efficiently later.
Rogue: Sap is your worst enemy and you want to let Sap be played before taunting your big threats. If you manage to apply enough pressure you will win long before they even burst you down with Malygos (if you face Malygos Miracle Rogue). Questing Adventurer lists are trickier to deal with due to conceal. Soulfire is good in this matchup due to the large amount of 4 health minions in Rogue decks.
Mage: Both Freeze Mage and Tempo Mage are extremely hard matchups. While Freeze Mage is extremely unfavored, Tempo Mage isn’t as hard if you setup a wall of taunts. The goal is to negate minion damage completely since you have enough heal to get out of their burn damage range anyway. They do not have good spot removals to deal with high HP minions. The only way I see the deck can beat Freeze Mage is if they do not get their board freeze effects and Ice Block up in time.
Warrior: Control Warrior should be a great matchup for you as long as you are able to maintain the pressure against them. Do not play too hard into Brawl and you will win the game. Lord Jaraxxus, when hidden behind taunts is extremely powerful in the matchup and he can win the matchup for you easily. Pirate Warrior is a comfortable matchup but it heavily depends on you drawing your taunt activators. Once you start putting up a wall to protect Gul’dan you do not have much to be worried about.
Priest: This is a great matchup as well historically due to how efficient Lord Jaraxxus is at winning games. Twilight Drakes are very hard to deal with for the class and they can help you apply massive amounts of pressure. You have way more threats than their removals and as long as you keep them under pressure, you will have no trouble winning.
Shaman: Hex is one of the cards that can break your tempo. Mid Range Shaman is actually easier than Aggro Shaman lists because of a lack of spot removal. If you manage to protect your health pool behind big minions against Aggro Shaman you win. While Mid Range Shaman is the king of the meta, Zalae and Sempok’s Aggro lists have been popping up a lot lately. Mid Range Shaman is an even matchup and you need to use your AoEs wisely due to how often they can flood the board and never seem to run out of steam.
Warlock: Both Zoolock and Renolock are favorable matchups. While the Zoo matchup can easily be won by pushing out taunts and shutting down their board, Renolock lists do not have enough removal to deal with all of your threats and you will be able to win both matchups comfortably as long as you have the right tools available.
Paladin: Just like the Renolock matchup you will be able to outvalue them and close out the game handily. Even with Aldor Peacekeeper and Equality, they will not be able to sustain control over your board. You need to approach both Anyfin and N’zoth Paladin matchups carefully so as to not play into massive clears. Just like the Druid matchup you will be able to win the matchup taking the beatdown role.
Ladder Experience and Closing Thoughts
The deck does exceptionally well against Druids that are floating on ladder due to the class being unable to deal with high health minions at all and they just do not have enough removals. Also, you will be able to beat them down before they even get to their Malygos combos to kill you. Another amazing matchup is Control Warrior, which you can practically farm for your win and it is undoubtedly one of the most biased matchups for the deck if you play it right. I dropped only one game out of 7 against Warriors which happened to be a Pirate Warrior and have a clean sheet against Control Warriors of any kind. Admittedly, this deck is just a speck of what the predecessors of the archetype could do. With core early game removal, taunts and heals moving to Wild and the nerf to Molten giant weakening the deck.
I hope Mean Streets of Gadgetzan brings some tools necessary to revive the control style Warlock decks. While everyone is hyped around Priest coming back into the meta with a vengeance, Lord Jaraxxus can lead the Warlock army against Priests because he can solo games against other control decks quite handily. Let’s hope Blizzard pushes slower Warlock archetypes because they feel extremely satisfying to play and lead to very skill intensive matchups.
Although the deck is niche, it is quite viable and it worked well for me for my climb on the Standard ladder. If you have any feedback or want to share your results do let me know how it works out for you in the comments below!