Though not as popular as it once was, Handlock is still a very strong deck. The large amounts of healing, strong taunts and reliable card draw allows you to adapt to many decks and makes it a great choice for climbing up the ladder. These days, if you want to reliably move up ranks you have to be able to fight Secret Paladin, which the Handlock shell does quite well. In this guide we will study exactly why that is, and give you the tools you need to take down Uther and his swarming army of secrets.
These days, Handlock is more popularly Demon Handlock, the version of the deck that also chooses to run the very strong midrange package of Voidcaller/Mal’ganis. While this matchup guide will mainly focus on that style of build, you should know that Demonlock has many of the same properties the traditional build. You can use this matchup breakdown no matter what style of Handlock you want to play.
Hearthstone is constantly changing, and you need to make the right choices in order to adapt. Below are some of the more popular Demon/Handlock lists that may help you sculpt your deck in the way that you want and gives you the best chance on where you are on ladder.
Cards to KeepMortal Coil Darkbomb Ancient Watcher Ironbeak Owl Hellfire
Sunfury Protector is a fine card to keep with Ancient Watcher or if you just need to get an early body down.
Voidcaller is good if you have a giant demon to go along with it, though it is the weakest of your four drops.Twilight Drake Mountain Giant
Defender of Argus is a keep that heavily depends on the other cards in your hand. If you find yourself flooded with giant minions or Ancient Watchers, this can be a great way to let yourself bounce back.
The Handlock shell is a deck that constantly searches for four drops. That can come in the form of Mountain Giant, Twilight Drake or Voidcaller. However, when playing against Secret Paladin sometimes turn four comes too late. As such, you should only always keep a key turn-four play if you have the coin. That will allow you to see more cards, which gives you a greater chance of drawing early removal. On the other hand, if you don’t have a good curve or the coin, you should only keep those four drops if you have access to a board clear or a taunt and heal to rebound on turn five or six.
How to Win
In the past, aggressive Paladin decks have been an absolute nightmare for Handlock. Not only do they put on a ton of early pressure, but Divine Favor kept their hand filled and Equality would just shut down any last ditch taunts you could throw up. However, Secret Paladin has all but gotten rid of Equality these days, running only one Ironbeak Owl as their answer to taunts. This means your walls will usually stay up, and if that happens it will almost always lead to a win.
While they may try to disguise their plays, it is important to understand that Secret Paladin is an aggro deck. Yes, their curve is high, but they can do a lot of pressure in a hurry. As a result, the way you are going to win this game is by balancing your life total. Molten Giants are quite strong when put down for free, but your opponent will play around them as best as they can; sitting back and waiting to burst you down. You need to combat this by removing Paladin’s minions and simply dropping threat after threat until they run out of answers.
This is a match where you can take your time. Once you get your heavy taunts onto the board, you just want to meticulously pick them apart one minion at a time. Going face is the way you are going to eventually win, but unless you have a strong amount of burst you want to be very careful. This comes in many forms, such as healing up instead of adding another threat to the board, or simply dropping a Sludge Belcher to test for an Ironbeak Owl before you play Molten Giants.
Resource management is one of the most important aspects of Hearthstone, and it is truly on display in this game. A lot of this matchup is a battle of wills, where Secret Paladin tries to set up a giant burst and you try to go down far enough in life to play your threats without falling into that burst range. It is a tricky balance, but if you do it well it will be very hard for them to win. Without the help of Equality Secret Paladin is going to depend on Blessing of Kings and Truesilver Champion to remove your threats. This means you can get a lot more leverage out of Sludge Belcher and a taunted Ancient Watcher than you once did. Remember that, and use those taunts to bait out any silences or removal you suspect your opponent might have.
Though it is easy to see how your giant minions or wall of taunts will win the game, AOE is extremely important. Hellfire and Shadowflame are excellent board resets that can absolutely crush Secret Paladin if played at the right time. As a result, you should always be careful when using these cards. Save them for moments where you have no other way to clear or for when you’re falling behind. If you have removal that can clear a board without having to burn AOE, you should almost always do so. In that same vein, remember taunts also function as psuedo-removal. For instance, while you may want to Hellfire your opponent’s Piloted Shredder and three Silver Hand Recruits, getting down a Sludge Belcher almost does the exact same thing since they need to trade their board to get past it.
Early Game Strategy
Your early game, as with all Handlock early games, is going to go in one of two ways. The first mode is the “tap” mode where you spend all of your time taking hits and drawing cards. This works really well against a lot of different decks, but it is very risky here. Instead of being reactive for the first turns as you normally are, you generally want to try and play cards. Yes, this does make your Mountain Giants and Twilight Drakes worse, but those cards aren’t the way you win this game.
Early removal or early board presence are what you want in this matchup. Mortal Coil and Darkbomb are both great for clearing out their annoying minions. On the other hand, taunting or silencing an Ancient Watcher can ruin all of their openings and immediately set them on the back foot.
You just need to challenge Secret Paladin during these turns in any way that you can. Just having one thing down can be extremely important. Sunfury Protector is one of your best ways to stay alive later in the game, but it is also a 2/3 that can tangle up a Shielded Minibot, kill a Knife Juggler or chip away at a Muster for Battle. In that same vein, using an Ironbeak Owl on a Knife Juggler or Shielded Minibot can be fine. Just do that only if you have two, since one is eventually going to be needed for Tirion Fordring.
Though it is not priority number one, you always want to look for opportunities to tap during the first turns. Yes, if you can play proactively you should, but if you can afford to get some extra cards of build up Mountain Giants you absolutely should.
Always watch out for secrets. Noble Sacrifice is hardly a concern and you really cannot afford to play around the one-of Repentence. However, Avenge and Redemption can both be problematic if you trigger them at the wrong time. Always play around them by having an answer to a buff or by killing any minion you don’t mind coming back.
Here is where the game begins to turn in your favor. You are the king of the four drops, and getting any of them down on turn four is huge. Secret Paladin is a deck that gives up removal for board control, and you can make them pay dearly by dropping anything from a Voidcaller to a 4/9 Twilight Drake. These plays are crucial to the match since it puts Paladin in a very tricky spot. While they would be more than content to simply go face, they know taunts of coming. If they spend their turns using resources to clear out your minions then you are winning.
During this stretch Hellfire is commonly going to be your main use of removal. This is one of the best ways to deal with Paladins, and is a good response to a Muster for Battle. Mysterious Challenger is a card that loves having junk on the board. Even something like the second half of a Piloted Shredder or a couple of 1/1’s and an un-shielded minibot can turn it into a powerhouse.
You want to avoid that at all costs. AOE is the best way to make sure this happens. A good rule: on turn six you want to either be ahead on board or have some type of removal in hand.
Late Game Strategy
The later stages of the game are where Secret Paladin begins to run out of steam. However, where many decks simply begin to run them out of cards, you need to be careful because your life total is probably going to be quite low. Here you really need to turtle up, watching your tapping and being very careful to not let anything stick. Even if you feel like you’re ahead, always make sure you can get a taunt or heal onto the board before you ignore their minions.
Have answers to both Dr. Boom and Tirion Fordring. Boom is easily answered by trades or removal like Big Game Hunter or Siphon Soul. However, Tirion is much more of a problem. The legendary can ice games if you’re not ready. Always try to save an Ironbeak Owl for him if you can afford to, or hold onto Sylvanas Windrunner/Shadowflame once you get ahead.
The last two cards of note are the big demons, Mal’ganis and Lord Jaraxxus. If you didn’t drop them into play earlier in the game, you are going to use them to win. As stated, Secret Paladin does not have a great way to kill big minions, which means Mal’ganis is going to end the game most of the time when played from the hand. Jaraxxus is largely the same, though you need to look for an opportunity to use him to heal. The best case scenario is to use him to gain some health, and then use your new weapon to kill the last minion Paladin has.
Always think about the possible cards Paladin could run. While Divine Favor is very hard to play around due to the nature of Handlock, you should constantly think about tech cards Secret Paladin might have. For instance, though Equality is rare, never run too many things out just in case. Those type of plays can make the difference between winning and losing a game.