I’m Camzeee, a top 100 legend player on the NA server. I want to bring you a deck analysis of one of the new upcoming decks in the metagame – the Handmage. First popularized by Hyped’s freeze variant and then also worked on by Crusher who added in taunt givers, the deck plays like a hybrid between a Handlock and a Freeze Mage.
The general strategy of the Handmage is to draw cards in the early game to develop a large hand from which you can drop large twilight-drake and mountain-giant on the cheap to overwhelm your opponent.
The deck is built around two new Naxx cards – mad-scientist and duplicate. Duplicate, in particular, is crucial to the deck and can generate two extra copies of some very threatening minions.
Mage was all but non-existent on the ladder pre starving-buzzard nerf due to the prevalence of hunter and flare. But since the nerf and the relative decline of hunter, mage now has room to grow and find its place in the metagame. This deck has favorable matchups with lots of the current flavor of the month decks – notably Shaman, Priest and Miracle Rogue.
The matchups by class:
Priest: 65 – 35
Warrior: 60 – 40
Shaman: 60 – 40
Rogue (Miracle): 60 – 40
Warlock (Hand): 50 – 50
Paladin: 45 – 55
Druid: 40 – 60
Warlock (Zoo): 40 – 60
Mage (Aggro): 40 – 60
Hunter: 35 – 65
General Play Strategy
The general play style of Handmage is similar to Handlock in that the early game is focused on drawing cards and staving off aggression followed by playing some huge minions in the mid-game and closing out the late game with big damage on board while holding on with ice block and AOE.
Here’s an example of the first few turns.
After these early turns consolidating the board position, the rest of your hand dictates what’s next. You can play a sludge-belcher on 5, draw with Arcane Intellect or drop a threat. Keep an eye on your mountain-giants at all times. You’ll want to try to play them as early as possible so make sure you plan your turns ahead so you can afford them.
Secrets are best activated through Mad Scientist, but if you don’t have them, you can play them on your own turns preferably turn 5 or 6 so you can Fireblast or do something else with your mana.
Closing out the game should be the easy part. You can get cheap molten-giants from your opponent inevitably taking you low. Taunt them, try to funnel opponent attacks into them for duplicate, and make sure you’re safe from dying to combos with ice-block. Save burn damage for the face if possible, and keep planning turns ahead of time.
This deck is tricky to play, and it’s easy to make mistakes that will cost you. Here are some of the ones to avoid.
- Overdraw. Make sure you aren’t in danger of overdrawing from duplicate. If you have Duplicate in play and a minion out, make sure you don’t have more than 7 cards in your hand at the end of the turn. If that means burning the coin for nothing, do it. You do not want to burn a crucial ice-block or alexstrasza.
- Wasting AOE. You only have 1 blizzard and 1 flamestrike. Make them count and don’t use them until you have to. They’re particularly important against Shaman and Zoo.
- Playing too greedily. There are lots of temptations in this deck to say pass your turn to get bigger Mountain Giants or using Arcane Intellect hoping for that 3 mana Giant. Don’t do it. Play with the mana you have, and the cards you have. unless you have to take risks in order to survive.
- Draw first. If your play involves using Arcane Intellect or getting card draw in some way, do it first. Options are always welcome and in this deck, extra cards can enable a lot of things. Be careful not to draw though when you have 10 in hand or you’ll be guilt of 1. Overdrawing.
- Play bigger threats first. This is a very subtle tip. If your board gets AOE cleared, the first minion you play while Duplicate is up will be the one to be copied. As such, it’s better to play your biggest threats first if you’re playing multiple of them in one turn.
What you choose to mulligan depends on the matchup but there are some general guidelines to observe. There are a few cards you’re looking for to start setting up for the mid-late game where you can start dominating the game.
Handmage is weak in the early game and needs to be able to fight off early aggression as well as prevent the opponent from establishing too big of a lead especially in games against aggro.
- mad-scientist – This card is an auto keep. It can fight early aggression, set up a board presence, and also start setting up secrets.
- acolyte-of-pain – This card represents important card draw and can be played against both control and aggro. Opponents usually focus on shutting it down quickly which prevents damage to face as well as a minimum cycle.
- frostbolt – 3 damage for 2 mana is really solid, and it can be used to remove early game minions on both the aggro and control side. I rarely throw this back unless I know I’m playing a Handlock or another super control deck.
- arcane-intellect – I keep this card in almost all matchups to start gaining card advantage. It’s only poor against really aggressive decks like zoo and is smart to throw back if you have no 2 drop to play.
- big-game-hunter – Keep BGH against Handlock. Otherwise, throw it back.
- twilight-drake – I keep this on occasion to guarantee a big play on turn 4. Your drake will almost always be at least a 4/6.
- mountain-giant – I only keep this if I’m on the coin and have Arcane Intellect in hand because you can play it on t4 that way.
- duplicate – Keep if you have a good four drop that you’d like to duplicate like a Twilight Drake.
- water-elemental – This is a frequent keep. If you have some kind of early game in hand already, it’s usually right to keep this.
- sunfury-protector – Usually keep against Shaman to deal with their early totems/draw out a lightning bolt. Also helps against Hunter and other super aggressive classes.
- molten-giant – Tough call, but sometimes against really aggressive hunters and zoo, it’s correct to keep this.
Matchups really dictate the playstyle of the Handmage, so I’ll be going through a number of popular decks on the ladder currently and how to play against them effectively. I’m also going to include a key card to beware of in the matchup.
This matchup is a strange one. You have big threats, but he has shadowflame and that can really devastate you. Try to put this one to bed early, and burst him down with spells. The extra reach of the spells can be crucial especially if he plays too greedily and tries to get cheaper molten-giants.
Use the control mulligan, and keep big-game-hunter. Often on ladder though, you won’t know it’s Handlock, so if in doubt, mulligan for zoo since the punishment for not mulliganing correctly for aggro can flat out lose you the game before it’s even started.
With no burst, this deck is definitely weaker in the late game, but you have it, so use it to put the game away. Big Game Hunter is also a hugely important card as well as polymorph. As a meta call, Handlocks run a lot less burst than they used to, so you can play a bit more aggressively and still be okay.
Card to beware of is Shadowflame. It can clear your board of giants in one turn and leave you out of threats.
This is a very favored matchup. You have big threats, duplicate to get even more threats, and Priest has little burst to put you away. Try and duplicate a twilight-drake since Priest has a hard time dealing with it.
Use the control mulligan. Card draw is very important to get the most out of your Drakes and Giants. Try your best to get more than 1 card out of acolyte-of-pain so coining it out against a northshire-cleric for example maybe a good choice.
To close out the game, drop big threats, try to duplicate them and swing for the face. Make sure to shut down Priest’s card draw and they will run out of ways to deal with your threats.
Card to beware of is Auchenai Soulpriest. It can enable big bursts withzombie-chow and circle-of-healing as well as some big AOE clears.
This is a tough matchup. Token druids in particular have no problem bursting you down while the ramp variety can drop some really big mid-game minions earlier than is comfortable for you to deal with. Try and get your threats out asap and beware the force of nature + savage-roar combo which hits for 14 on an empty board.
Use the control mulligan and search for mid-game threats. It’s really tough, but if you get a good draw, you can compete. The big minions are hard for Druid to deal with and you can stall a few turns with ice-blocks and alexstrasza.
Card to beware of is Innervate. Don’t assume the Druid will be playing cards on curve since they can always innervate out something bigger. It’s also wise to play around an Innervated Force + Roar combo which can end the game early before you expect it.
This is a favorable matchup in the same way that Handlock is good against Warrior. Warriors, unless they’re the face variety, have slow starts which can give you time to draw into your threats. They have great single target removal, but not much of it. If you duplicate a mountain-giant or a twilight-drake, you are likely to run away with the game.
Use the control mulligan, and focus on drawing out his removal. As a result, try to play your Drakes before Giants and keep him from stacking his armor for easy shield-slams.
water-elemental is a humongous pain for the warrior since they are so reliant on weapons. Try and duplicate it and keep the warrior frozen.
Card to beware of is Brawl. Be careful of overextending if you haven’t seen one used yet. Also, play your bigger threats first on an empty board so that your Duplicate will give you back a Giant instead of Bloodmage Thalnos for example.
This is a good matchup if you get your AOE clears. You’d think that would be be good against you because of their great removal and favorable matchup against Handlock, but you have a few things going for you that the Handlock doesn’t have.
- ice-block. This is superb at holding off the Shaman compared to Handlock’s dependence on Taunts to keep them out.
- Freeze. blizzard can just shut down a Shaman for a turn and will help immensely.
Use the control mulligan but keep sunfury-protector if you have no Mad Scientist so you can start shutting down the Totems as they come up. Spellpower boosted AOE and direct damage can hit hard and since most Shamans have no healing, you’ll be able to count the damage needed for lethal well in advance.
Card to beware of is Hex. Keep track of how many have been used and try to tempt them out on lesser threats like sludge-belcher or Twilight Drake. Also watch out for its interaction with Duplicate. It sucks to get Duplicated frogs.
vs Miracle Rogue
This is a favored matchup for sure. Not only has Miracle lost it’s most potent burst in leeroy-jenkins, it also struggles to remove big taunting threats which you can setup quite easily. water-elementals are also really clutch in this matchup for its freeze capability.
Use the control mulligan. Look for big threats to play on T4.
Throw down your big threats and force the miracle to deal with them. flamestrike is great at clearing out those stealthed gadgetzan-auctioneer which represent the Rogue’s card draw engine. The Gadgetzan is the priority target since shutting it down can stem the flow of cards into the Miracle’s hand.
That said, the Auctioneer is an obvious target so the card to beware of is sap. It can mess up your hand calculations and cause you to overdraw. Make sure you don’t have more than 8 cards in hand if you just played a big threat just in case he uses this.
Zoo is a really hard matchup for this deck since it’s so fast. You need very good draws to keep pace and not lose tempo off ice-blocks to keep them at bay. If you can hold on until turn 9, clear their board then alexstrasza yourself back to 15hp, you’ve practically won. The taunted molten-giants are great for stemming their onslaught of damage.
Use the aggro mulligan. Deal with threats as they pop up and try and hold on until the late game.
A key part of playing against zoo is making sure that they have as few minions on board as possible for their buffing battlecries. Full clears are god sent, and if you have the opportunity to clear the board, do it.
Card to beware of is their biggest threat – Doomguard. Be careful you don’t die to that 5 dmg charge and/or a Soulfire to the face.
vs Aggro Mage
Aggro mage is a really tough matchup. They can do a lot of damage fast and they have burst that ignores taunt. Recently popularized by thefishou at Blizzcon EU Qualifiers. Play your threats, try to play your usual game and preserve your life as best you can.
Use the aggro mulligan. frostbolt away threats, mad-scientist is clutch here for being able to setup secrets without tempo loss and for being able to at least delay enemy onslaughts.
Try to play around secrets as much as you can, but it’s tough and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. But there’s one secret that can really mess you up for good.
Card to beware of here is Mirror Entity. Be careful dropping large threats on the board since it can just be copied and it’ll set you back a long way.
Yep, they’re still around and they’re a complete nightmare for this deck. They can flare away your secrets, deal consistent unblockable damage and have some really big snowball threats in undertaker and scavenging-hyena.
Use the aggro mulligan and focus on keeping their threats off the board. molten-giants come out really early against hunter, so keep them in your starting hand.
Thankfully, Hunter got a heavy nerf to its card draw in starving-buzzard so there should be much fewer on the ladder to worry about. Still, if you draw well and they can’t keep the flow of damage going, the big giants can be too much to deal with.
Card to beware of is flare. It’s in my opinion completely broken in that it can just remove a bunch of key cards for 1 mana. Try not to get both Secrets flared off in one turn.
Card By Card
Okay, here’s a card by card breakdown of the deck and why I chose to run them.
- 2x frostbolt – This card has lots of utility. Use it to freeze/stall when needed to fight aggro decks and remove troublesome minions like Knife Juggler. It’s also valuable for late game burst damage.
- 1x bloodmage-thalnos – This is a flex slot, and I like the dual utility of Thalnos. I wanted another cycle card and this is a loot hoarder combined with spell damage which can give you that extra reach to close out games or for more AOE kick. It isn’t crucial though and if you don’t have him, a second acolyte or loot hoarder is a good replacement. The card draw is the more important element here.
- 2x mad-scientist – This card is critical to the deck. Mad scientist is extra potent in Mage where secrets actually cost more than the scientist to play. You’re mulliganing for this card in most matchups to play on curve. The streamlining of secrets in this deck also helps ensure you get the secrets you want or at the very least a 50/50. You can also Frostbolt your own Scientist if you’re in desperate need of an Ice Block to give you one more turn.
- 2x sunfury-protector – I got inspiration from Crusher to include two of these in the deck. They improve aggro matchups and the 2/3 body on turn 2 is always a welcome option especially against Shaman as a totem killer. It also can setup huge Molten Giant taunt walls or force opponents to attack into a particular minion you want to be duplicated.
- 2x arcane-intellect – Crucial card draw. In control matchups, you’re looking to play this as soon as possible to increase your hand size and to give you more options. It does represent a loss in tempo though and playing this against aggro decks you aren’t prepared to counter can be snowballed into an advantage you can’t recover from.
- 1x acolyte-of-pain – Try your best to draw at least two cards off of this. If you can, play it turn 5 where you can ping it for a guaranteed draw, but often you won’t have the opening to make such a slow play. Dropping it naked on the board is often correct but consider enemy responses and how they might be able to silence or remove it instantly and deny your draw.
- 1x big-game-hunter – This is a deck tech, and I’ve found it to be excellent in the current post-nerf metagame. It’s great against Warrior and Handlock and can often swing those matchups singlehandedly. Always find an opening to get value from the BGH. Often, it can get value in unorthodox ways like a Fire Elemental that’s receiving a buff from a Flametongue Totem.
- 2x duplicate – The card this deck is largely built on. You’ll want to keep it on occasion in your opening hand so you can set it up prior to a Twilight Drake, Mountain Giant or Sludge Belcher play. Be vigilant of the order in which you play cards and your board state once this is in play. Play your biggest threat first if possible so that if there’s AOE clear, and multiple minions die, your biggest threat is the one that gets copied and not your Scientists and Sunfurys. Also, be wary of your hand size once this is in play. Have no more than seven cards in your hand at the end of the turn or a duplicate trigger will cause you to overdraw.
- 2x ice-block – This secret keeps you alive in the late game and is critical. Try to trigger it organically like through a Mad Scientist rather than taking a tempo loss to set it up.
- 2x fireball – Unlike Hyped’s version, I chose to include the burst potential of Fireball. It represents extremely efficient damage to mana cost value, and can close out games you otherwise might not be able to. It also gives good single target removal in a pinch.
- 1x polymorph – This is important removal for big threats. Try to save it for the likes of Sylvanas or Ysera who could ruin the board state or a giant while you don’t have or have used the BGH already.
- 2x twilight-drake – Run two copies for the Handmage archetype. Try to make these as large as possible. They are excellent against Priest and for tempting out removal, being duplicated or otherwise getting good value.
- 1x water-elemental – This is an extremely efficient card that can be a huge nuisance to weapon wielding classes – great against Rogue and Warrior by keeping them frozen. It’s also great as a prelude to your real threats like the giants and can tempt out hard removal.
- 2x sludge-belcher – One of the best cards in the game at the moment. It offers 4/7 worth of taunt stats and the Deathrattle effect makes it an even bigger nuisance. Duplicated Sludge Belchers are a nightmare to have to fight through and can keep you alive for you to take over the late game.
- 1x blizzard – AOE freeze is an amazing addition to this deck. It is especially helpful against Shaman who can flood the board quickly. My only regret is that I can’t find a place for a second copy.
- 1x flamestrike – I think of this as the cleanup crew. Best used after your opponent has refilled their board after an initial sweep by Blizzard. If you can clear up their board and taunt free Molten Giants, your opponent will likely throw in the towel.
- 1x alexstrasza – The Dragon Aspect is one of this deck’s most important cards. Use it offensively to go for lethal if you’re sitting pretty on health and have burst or defensively for healing purposes. This card will win you games and can be a large source of rage from your opponents.
- 2x mountain-giant – These can be a gigantic headache if you’re on the coin and can play these on turn 4. Try to duplicate them if possible since that’ll not only give you more threats but make them cheaper to cast!
- 2x molten-giant – These monsters are the deck’s single biggest threats. When you inevitably get low on health, these become humongous tempo swings and playing them for free, taunting them and Flamestriking the board is backbreaking. Try to get them duplicated if possible since you can easily dump them straight back out if you’re in Ice Block territory.
There are a number of ways the deck can be changed and modified to counter the metagame. Here are some suggested cards that can be teched in to help out.
- frost-nova/doomsayer – This is Hyped’s variant that uses the freeze clear to stall the game. It helps immensely against aggro. Can replace the taunt givers and burst.
- sylvanas-windrunner/cairne-bloodhoof – A slower more control variety that focuses on getting huge value out of Duplicate.
- defender-of-argus – Crusher added a copy of this to his deck for additional taunt. In my testing, I found them too situational by far and a bit too pricy to play consistently, but it does help against aggro.
- ice-barrier – Putting a copy of this in helps prolong the game especially if made active by Mad Scientist. Problem with this though, is that it makes the secret put in play by Mad Scientist less reliable and you can’t get those last ditch Ice Blocks quite as well.
- More card draw. This is a tough one to balance out. You can throw in another acolyte-of-pain in a pinch or loot-hoarders. However too many and you can end up taking away from your late game.
Countering the Deck
Handmage isn’t a very popular deck at the moment, and it’s rare that you’ll run into one on ladder, but it’s nice to be aware of its weaknesses so you can cover them or exploit them if you run up against one. Here are a few things to note.
- Weak to aggro –The deck struggles against aggressive decks that can be a little too fast for it to stem the onslaught. It also runs less freeze than the freeze mage which means more damage is coming in.
- Prone to weak early game draws – The deck struggles sometimes in the early game since it’ll be trying to draw cards and is often without a good turn 2 play.
- Heavily dependent on Duplicate. – This deck really needs Duplicate to kick in to increase hand size and to get more threats. If you can duplicate a weak minion it can fill the Mage’s hand with cards it can’t efficiently play. Frogs and sheep are the best things to duplicate.
I must admit, I didn’t think much of Handmage at first. It seemed like a weaker version of Handlock and had some glaring weaknesses, but after playing and tweaking it for a bit, it really has potential.
I’ve beaten lots of top level legend players with the deck and the surprise factor can also lead to misplays. ice-block is incredibly strong as lethal prevention, and it has some nifty tricks up its sleeve that you’ll learn on the fly. Sludge Belchers are often the MVP of the deck preventing damage from surging in, and the giants hit really, really hard. You just need to get them out there and stick them.
Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think. I welcome thoughts on the deck, what’s good and what you think could be improved and if I may have overlooked something in my write-up.