Hello, I’m LightsOutAce, and today I want to talk about what I believe is the best deck in Hearthstone currently, Handlock.
I piloted this deck to legend during the July season, and have iterated on it as new cards have come available. There aren’t any cards from the August 5 wing that interest me for this deck, so this is my list going forward. I’ll go through my distinctive card choices and general tips for all games, give some insight into common matchups, and then write a little bit on other matchups you may encounter.
Card Choices That May Require Further Explanation
I believe that going forward Handlock decks will be separated into two variations: aggressive (Nerubian Egg) and defensive (Sludge Belcher). I fall into the former camp on ladder, as I want to finish games quickly and win the games where I’m ahead. Killing the opponent on turn 7 (which this deck does regularly) accomplishes both goals.
Nerubian Egg – I’ve always felt the weakness of Handlock is that some matchups require you to do stuff before turn 4. This guy slots right in and shores that weakness up a lot. Turn 2 Egg turn 3 Coin+Hellfire puts a stop to any aggressive shenanigans right quick, and T2 Egg into T3 Power Overwhelming it to kill a guy and be left with a 4/4 is pretty sick as well. You want the egg in matchups where you need to be proactive (Hunter, Priest, and Paladin all have late-game plans that can beat yours).
0 Sludge Belcher – It’s hard to find space for another 5+ drop in such a top-heavy deck. I like Sunwalker a lot better as a “stay alive” taunt since he deals 4 damage with every hit and not 3 with the first then 1. I tried cutting Leeroy/Power Overwhelming to make room, but that led to a lot of long, protracted matches where I eventually ran out of life to draw cards and Leeroy would have just killed them. I tried cutting Nerubian Eggs, but then there weren’t enough minions to pressure opponents with lots of removal. In the end it comes down to a preference between consistency (Sludge Belcher) and power (Nerubian Egg), and I choose the latter when I have the ability to draw as many cards as Handlock does. You’re not hurting for taunts with 2 Sunfury Protector, 2 Defender of Argus, and a Sunwalker. No one played Senjin Shieldmasta in Handlock before Naxx, so why would you run a more expensive one now?
Ironbeak Owl– A lot of Handlocks are cutting this guy, but like Leeroy Jenkins and BGH it’s nice to have 1-of’s that solve a lot of problems. Often the Owl is saved to wake up and Ancient Watcher for lethal or to silence a Tirion Fordring or Cairne Bloodhoof. With Nerubian Egg in the decklist it’s no longer advisable to turn 2 Ancient Watcher->turn 3 Owl and attack. Save the Owl like you save a BGH in matchups where he’s relevant.
Big Game Hunter – Obviously the stone nuts in the mirror, but trusty ‘ol BGH is useful in other matchups, too. A 3 mana 4/2 isn’t terrible late game for pushing damage (be sure not to play him if you have a giant in play, as the battlecry is mandatory!), and there are a fair number of Ragnaros the Firelord floating around. He’s not a terrible Shadowflame target in a pinch, either. Basically, you’re a late-game board control deck, so you need tools to fight other late-game decks, and BGH is the best option.
2 Hellfire, 1 Shadowflame – Hellfire gives you 7 ways to trigger Nerubian Egg (4 taunt givers and Power Overwhelming as the others) and is better against aggro and Shaman. If the meta becomes infested with Druid and the mirror (where Shadowflame is better), feel free to switch the mix of sweepers. You technically CAN Shadowflame a Nerubian Egg, but I’ve never had to and I hope I never will.
1 Sunwalker, 0 big legends – You need to have a taunt up every turn in the mid- to late-game as Handlock, so it helps to have a 5th taunt card. Sunwalker is also just insane against everything; if I had to play 31 cards the last one would be a second copy. He’s basically Cairne Bloodhoof with taunt. I cut Ragnaros when Naxxramus came out, and I haven’t missed him. There aren’t many attrition match-ups anymore, so he’s too slow. The same goes for Alexstrasza and Lord Jaraxxus, only they’re even slower. Maybe if control Warrior and control Priest come back big time Rag can have a home here again.
0 Void Terror – This card sucks. It’s a win-more, the combo with Power Overwhelming is underwhelming (the PO is better used to kill the opponent or pump a Shadowflame), and there are plenty of other ways to activate a Nerubian Egg. I would play the 2nd Sunwalker, 2nd Faceless, and Sludge Belcher before dipping into Void Terror.
Many of you are already familiar with Handlock I’m sure, but it feels a lot different to play it than it does to play against it. Basically, you get beat up until you play a couple of giants, then you sit behind huge taunts while you smash with said giants. I’ll get more in-depth in the match-up analysis, but there are several situations that remain constant across all match-ups.
If you’re going first and want to play a Mountain Giant on turn 4, you must tap turns 1 and 2. If you’re going second, you only need to tap one of those turns and can play a card or pass the other without doing anything. If you have a Mountain Giant in your opener against a non-aggressive deck, you’ll want to go with this opening and keep a 2- or 3 –drop while mulliganing if you already have a Mountain Giant.
If you’re playing against an aggressive deck, Mountain Giant on turn 4 is suicide without Ancient Watcher + Sunfury Protector turn 5, and even that is extremely risky. It’s much better to treat the giant as a dead card and aim for Hellfire on turn 4 (or 3 with coin), ideally with a Nerubian Egg on the board from a previous turn and a taunt giver with a taunt target in hand. It’s still correct to tap on turn 2 or 3 against aggressive decks, however, as you need to find your sweepers and taunters and you want big Twilight Drakes. You might even get lucky and be able to deploy a Mountain Giant later on, like on turn 6 or 7.
If you have another play it’s best to save Ancient Watcher for the turn you taunt him as he doesn’t do anything until you taunt or Shadowflame him and it’s easiest to fit in a 2-mana play. For example, turn 5 it’s better to tap and play an Earthen Ring Farseer so that on turn 6 you can Watcher+Sunfury Protector+tap/another Ancient Watcher.
Faceless Manipulator is sweet with Leeroy/PO for 20 damage on turn 10, but unless you have the full combo in your hand and the opponent is at 20 or less, that usually isn’t the best use for him. If you play a Mountain Giant on turn 4 and it survives with 5+ health, copy it! If your opponent can’t deal with one giant, what are the chances they can deal with two?
In all matchups, once you are in range of an OTK combo, taunt up EVERY TURN. It doesn’t matter if you can only taunt one minion or that minion is low health – none of your accrued value matters if you’re dead. I tend to play around everything if I can, and with Handlock you can usually win even if you expect the worst case scenario. Specific numbers to watch for will be highlighted in the matchup analysis.
Common Matchup Analysis
I would keep the Egg/PO combo in my opening hand in every matchup, but I wouldn’t play the Egg on turn 2 against control and I wouldn’t play it turn 3 on the play if I had a Mountain Giant. I would almost never pump it to hit face in any matchup, as it’s card disadvantage if the opponent uses one card to take out the 4/4 AND you gave up your main strength by not tapping.
Cards to mulligan for: Hellfire, Molten Giant, Sunfury Protector, Ancient Watcher if you have Sunfury Protector, Twilight Drake
This is a VERY favorable matchup. They can’t deal 15 damage in one turn, so you will taunt Molten Giant and they will die. Keep Molten in your opening hand, that’s how good it is here. If you can sweep the board once and taunt up 2 minions with a combined health of 10 or more you should have an easy time. Try to stay above 9 health (Soulfire+Doomguard) unless you have taunts, in which case you can go to 9.
Mountain Giant is basically a blank here since you don’t have time to tap up to him. Twilight Drake -> Soulfire their best creature is your best play once you hit 4 mana if you don’t have a Hellfire. Failing that, each taunted Ancient Watcher is a 2- or 3-for-1 and it won’t take too many huge guys to run them out of cards.
The matchup is overall very simple; play your best card every turn and taunt whenever possible.
*Always mulligan for Zoo, as you’ll have time to find what you need against Handlock (also, I recommend writing down the archetype of each Warlock player you face so you know how to mulligan if you play them again).
Cards to mulligan for: Mountain Giant, Big Game Hunter, Mountain Giant, Faceless Manipulator, Mountain Giant
Whoever plays the first Mountain Giant is way ahead, so you want to have one of those right away. A timely Shadowflame can catch you up if you fall behind in the giant race, but mostly this matchup is about keeping some fat giants taunted so you don’t get one hit KO’d. Save your Siphon Soul for Sunwalker or a taunted giant if you can.
If you are going first and your opponent matches your turn 4 giant with one of their own that you can’t remove, TRADE GIANTS. If you don’t they can Defender of Argus theirs to kill yours for value, copy it with Faceless Manipulator to put you in a bind, or (worst of all) bash you for 8 then Shadowflame to kill your giant and whatever else you’ve played up to that point. Don’t be greedy; trade and stay at parity.
It’s a mirror match; you can’t do much but hope you draw more giants than them.
Cards to mulligan for: Mountain Giant, Twilight Drake, Faceless Manipulator if you have a Mountain Giant.
Mountain Giant on turn 4 is the best possible thing (Another Mountain Giant or a Faceless Manipulator for turn 5 is gravy), but sometimes you have to settle for Twilight Drake. Don’t play the Drake if they have a Harvest Golem out, as trading your 4-drop for a Keeper of the Grove battlecry and half of their 3-drop is a fast ticket to Savage Roar KO town.
Don’t taunt a giant if you don’t have to. In addition to making it vulnerable to The Black Knight (the second biggest blowout in the matchup), it makes it vulnerable to being attacked by Force of Nature or Druid of the Claw. It’s much better to taunt up Ancient Watcher, even just one, to protect your giants so you can kill them.
Always clear their board so you don’t just die to Savage Roar. It’s tempting to bash their face for 8, but it’s better to kill that Ancient of Lore/Violet Teacher/Chillwind Yeti. The only exception is 1 or 2 power minions when you have taunts out. I would never attack a Haunted Creeper with anything bigger than a 2/3.
Never tap below 14 health if you don’t have to. Actually, never tap period if you have the cards in hand you need to kill them. If you can beat your opponent by deploying what you have and you just need time there’s no point in losing life to draw more cards you don’t need. If I have Leeroy/PO/Faceless in my hand and my opponent is at 20 I won’t tap anymore unless they have life gain in their deck.
The key to avoiding BGH/TBK is to not let them wreck you. If the Druid gets a ridiculous start with Wild Growth and multiple Innervates you need to make desperate plays and if they have it, they have it, but you can usually play around everything with Handlock since you get to draw so many cards and so many if your cards are powerful. Plus, Druid has 2 hard removal minions tops and you have 4 giants. If you are ahead, make them have it!
Swarming the board is great because Swipe doesn’t even kill one minion and if they cast Poison Seeds you will be ahead afterward (plus that means they have Poison Seeds in their deck, so you’re in a good place anyways).
The slower the Druid, the better the matchup is, so ramp is our favorite and token is slightly harder. All versions of Druid are extremely favorable, though.
Cards to mulligan for: Mountain Giant, Twilight Drake, Sunfury Protector, Defender of Argus, Loatheb
In this matchup I would mulligan Egg/PO, as they likely won’t have a minion to kill with it and you need to tap to play big guys starting turn 4. Shadowflame is nice to have for a Concealed Gadgetzan Auctioneer, but I would not keep it in my opening hand unless I had 2 Mountain Giants/Twilight Drakes already.
The plan is to tap the first couple of turns then start dropping big dudes. Starting on turn 7 I would look to have at least one taunt every turn so as to not die to Leeroy+double Shadowstep. Tapping as low as 10 is fine if you have taunts up because 10-18 is pretty much the same if they haven’t used any Shadowsteps. If you get a good start and burn through both of their Saps (Ancient Watcher is particularly good at eating them up) the matchup is easy and you wonder how you could ever lose, but sometimes they have all the answers and you get tempo-ed out and it feels like you got crushed.
It is very important to clear their early minions like SI:7 Agent and Azure Drake, as any non-spell non-Leeroy damage you take makes you very vulnerable since you’re hurting yourself with Life Tap already. Using Soulfire or Siphon Soul one of those guys is totally fine, as they don’t have many targets for removal anyways.
Loatheb is great in this matchup, but you don’t really need him as the matchup was fine pre-Naxxramus. If you do luck out and draw him, save him for the turn after they play Gadgetzan. Unless they have a Conceal that turn (which takes up their whole turn anyways), you get to kill their best card for no disadvantage in cards or tempo.
This is a slightly favorable matchup, but you need to play around everything and plan ahead to get to that point against a good miracle player.
Cards to mulligan for: Mountain Giant, Hellfire, Nerubian Egg
This matchup seems like it should be hopeless (Earth Shock your Twilight Drake, Hex your giant, GG), but it’s actually a lot closer than it seems with this version of Handlock. Nerubian Egg in particular helps a ton because 4 health is out of range of Lightning Bolt and Rockbiter Weapon and you need to tax their removal to get ahead.
Mountain Giant turn 4 is a nice start to pull some removal out of their hand and slow their development. Twilight Drake is actively bad since it dies to a one mana removal spell, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got. Don’t taunt it up, though, as then the silence is a double whammy. If you have a Hellfire you can catch up from way behind, so try to save them as long as possible.
The way the matchup usually goes is that you play a few guys, they get removed at a tempo gain for the Shaman, you finally stick a minion, clear their board, taunt up, and then pray they don’t have double Lightning Bolt or Lava Burst. Al’Akir the Windlord and Argent Commander are also really scary if they have Flametongue Totem, so kill that guy ASAP, with Soulfire or Siphon Soul if necessary (they don’t really have any big minions other than Fire Elemental for the Siphon anyways). Sometimes you don’t have a sweeper and can’t even get to the stabilization phase, which is why the matchup is iffy.
Tapping is iffy since they have so many damage spells; I like to stay in double digits. If you can run the Shaman out of cards they don’t have much burst, so if the game devolves to topdecking you can tap down to 7 or so (out of range of Al’Akir and Doomhammer).
You have more giants than they have removal spells as long as a giant doesn’t get Shield Slamed, so getting their armor to 0 before playing a giant is paramount (Shield Block + Armor Up! = 7 armor). As such always lead with Twilight Drakes and Earthen Ring Farseers to chip away at their armor. You usually establish a dominant board presence before the legendary parade comes out, and it’s academic to finish them from there. Try to stay above 12 health so you don’t die to Grommash Hellscream. Good Matchup.
Shadow Word: Death hurts. Playing giant turn 4 on an empty board is fine, as they’ll have to skip their next turn to kill it, but if they have any board presence Twilight Drake is the card to have. Taunting up Twilight Drakes and Ancient Watchers with Defender of Argus is fine, as a Shadow Word on the Drake means they won’t have one for your giants later. It’s a tough matchup if they Thoughtsteal more removal, but overall favorable if you resist the urge to slam giants right away. The games you lose are the ones where they have aggressive Injured Blademaster/Auchenai Soulpriest starts backed with removal, but those can be slowed significantly with Ancient Watchers and Sunwalker. 4 attack is good against priest, who knew? 11 health is the safe number here, as some Priests run Mind Blast for some reason. I’m not complaining about them playing bad cards, but I don’t want to lose to them.
Play giants, attack. Tapping down to 15 is fine since Alexstrasza will put you there anyways. Save Siphon Soul and Earthen Ring Farseer for after the life set, as killing you from 21 is near impossible. You can also break Ice Block extremely easily if they ever miss a freeze past turn 5 or so, so this is a very good matchup. Don’t forget silencing your frozen minion will allow it to attack that turn!
*Kolento or Healadin
This is an intricate dance of you playing enough guys to bait an Equality but not enough guys that having them all killed cripples you. Hold a couple of Giants in reserve, never play out more than 3 creatures, and then go crazy once they blow both Equalitys. You ideal board is a taunted Drake or Ancient Watcher and a giant. Save Ironbeak Owl for Tirion Fordring. 5 life is fairly safe even if you have no taunts (Truesilver Champion), but I like to stay at 9 so Equality->Avenging Wrath doesn’t kill me.
This plays out like a slower Zoo matchup. Taunting up a giant is lights out.
*Aggro Mage, Aggro Hunter, Aggro Warlock, Shockadin
You pretty much can’t win. Hellfire ASAP then taunt Ancient Watchers, Twilight Drakes, and Giants, but they all have some sort of reach that can pass through 12 health taunt walls. The fact that you skip your first few turns while hurting yourself doesn’t help either. Sometimes you get lucky and they don’t have the card that beats you, so play risky (hit face when you have taunted guys instead of clearing the board, play out minions so you can kill next turn instead of taunts, etc) and pray.
Almost as unwinnable as aggro Hunter, and unfortunately getting more popular. Occasionally you get to taunt up while above 15 health, and if that happens you should attack their face and only play out one non-taunt minion at a time. It helps to suicide your Sunfury Protector or Defender of Argus after they do their jobs so the Hunter draws fewer cards off of Starving Buzzard–Unleash the Hounds. You want to stay above 7 if at all possible, since that’s how much a Beast-powered Kill Command + hero power does. Stay aggressive and ignore small deathrattle minions like Webspinner and Haunted Creeper.
And that about wraps it up! Feel free ask any questions in the comments, and all comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!