Welcome to my Post GvG Handlock guide! I’m so excited to be writing about Handlock again after taking a break from the deck to explore other meta options.
You may know me as the guy that wrote the massive guide to Handlock on reddit.
This article refreshes that old decklist and is focused on advanced tips for playing Handlock at a high level.
Handlock is by far my best deck and the one that I’m most qualified to write about from a competitive standpoint.
I’ve made it to legend every season that I’ve dedicated to playing Handlock and made top 100 a few times with it.
I’m confident that if I dedicate the time to just exclusively playing the deck on ladder, I’d be able to pilot it to top 100 every season in ANY meta.
It’s a bold claim, but hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll understand why I hold the deck in such high regard.
Let’s begin with the deck strategy as a refresher!
Handlock is a control deck that focuses on putting down gigantic minions and dealing a lot of damage really fast. It requires quite a few rare and epic cards and a few legendaries to round it out.
The goal is to stick some giants or drakes, use huge board clears like shadowflame or hellfire to free the board, and crush your opponent in the late game.
There is also single target removal in siphon-soul for dealing with large high mana threats.
Handlock is good against Warrior, Priest, most Druids, Rogue and Zoo. So if where you are in the ladder are those kinds of decks, Handlock is a great choice.
However, it’s unfavorable against Shaman especially ones with burst and aggressive combo Druid. Neither of these are truly unfavored though, more like 50/50, and the only deck that’s truly a nightmare is Hunter.
The good news is, I have extensive experience playing against Hunter with Handlock and since GvG, the matchup has been leveled considerably and could even be considered 50/50 now.
Of course, you’ll have to play it right to get those win numbers, but I’m here to help you with that.
Basic Principles of Handlock
Playing Handlock really well has a different set of requirements to your usual Hearthstone deck.
It requires that you not only play your own hands well, but account for your opponents’ moves as well.
We’ll get to that later on since even veteran players are prone to making mistakes with the simpler nuances of the deck.
You’ve got to get the basics down first before considering the more advanced tactics and how to adapt to each game.
Handlock has its own set of unique rules you have to follow.
Here are some of basic tenets of the deck:
- Do not overdraw. Overdrawing is unacceptable when playing Handlock since there are so many key cards you don’t want to lose. Make sure when your turn is over, you have no more than 9 cards in hand, and fewer if your opponent happens to be running mill elements. You can do quick checks to your hand size if you have a mountain-giant in hand. 5 means 8, 4 means 9, 3 means 10 and you have to play something before ending your turn.
- Living on the edge. As Handlock, you want to be as low on health as possible while remaining unkillable. Make sure you don’t lose to burst, but try to get those Moltens out. Remember that you get essentially free taps on molten giants between 20-10.
- Molten Giants BEFORE Jaraxxus. My deck runs Jaraxxus, and he sets your maximum life to 15 thereby making the Giants cost 20 at 15. Play them before Jaraxxus or don’t expect to play them at all.
- Play Mountains and Drakes first. Play your cards that depend on your hand size first. It’s easy to miss, and can ruin your entire turn if you decide to dark-bomb before playing Mountain Giant and then find out you have no mana to make the play.
- Tap first. If your play involves tapping at any point, do it first as long as it doesn’t overdraw you so you get more options to work with.
- Always check for lethal. Handlock tends to win by hitting really hard over a few turns rather than chipping at opponents’ health. Check to make sure you don’t miss lethal!
Now let’s jump into the updated card list for post GvG!
Card by Card
- x1 mortal-coil – I can’t remember how many times I’ve thought to myself: “please give me mortal coil so I can finish off that silenced drake or a 1 health minion.” They are really useful, and running two is correct if you’re teching it to be even heavier anti-aggro.
- x2 darkbomb – The first real update to my old list. Dark bombs replace Soulfires in the deck and are really great at fulfilling the simple role of early removal. They are great for anti-aggro and considering how fast some of the most popular decks are, having a 2 mana removal like this is so useful. Helps immensely against Undertaker and Mechwarper opens.
- x2 ancient-watcher – A deck staple. Use it to taunt up, shadowflame, as a 2 mana drop to prevent yourself from overdrawing. It’s really important to the deck and I don’t recommend cutting them.
- x2 ironbeak-owl – Silence, especially cheap silence is really important in this metagame. It’s also got a lot of dual utility in this deck being able to silence your own Watchers, any negative effecting spells like Humility on your own minions not to mention the myriad of other scary deathrattle threats.
- x2 sunfury-protector – One of the deck’s most important cards. Two are required. Often times, it’s better to drop a naked Argus then this card simply because it’s cheaper in tough spots for giving taunt.
- x1 earthen-ring-farseer – Once a staple of Handlock, it’s become less important now because of the superior healing offered by Healbot. It’s still useful though because of the targeted heal for damaged Giants and also as a minion to play on turn 3 when you’re on the coin and at risk of overdrawing. I like having one but it can be omitted for more tech options if you feel the need.
- x1 big-game-hunter – In the current Dr. Boom meta, this card is too powerful to neglect. It is fantastic at higher levels where opponents play more control decks and of course it also shines in the mirror match. Be wary that you can’t play this card while you have giants out because its Battlecry is required to trigger if there are minions on the field with 7+ attack including your own.
- x1 hellfire – As a primary Handlock player, I prefer x2 Shadowflame to x2 Hellfire. I’ve been fought on this by numerous people, but even in aggressive metas, I never budge on x2 Shadowflame and instead add another Hellfire. For me, I don’t like that Hellfire is limited to 3 dmg and that it hurts yourself. I’m also of the belief that it’s overrated in the Hunter matchup because of the self damage. That said, it’s still a great clear, and lowers your own health for Moltens in control matchups and less bursty opponents. Run at least one.
- x2 shadowflame – I’m a huge fan of Shadowflame. It’s tremendous AOE removal, and doesn’t hurt yourself in the process. The downside is that it needs to be combo’ed, but once you get the hang of Handlock, this is a game winning card and only having one can and WILL lose you games. It’s especially good in Jaraxxus decks because you can blow up those 2 mana Infernos for 6 dmg clears. If that doesn’t win you back the board, nothing will.
- x1 defender-of-argus – You need at least one to have adequate taunt giving potential, but two I find can stifle your hand. The inclusion of Sludge Belchers helps out on the taunt front so that only one of these is necessary. It’s a strong card though and can be life-saving.
- x2 twilight-drake – Handlock staple. Try to make them as big as possible. Sadly, they are very easily dealt with by Shaman’s Earth Shock, but otherwise a terror, and will do great against priests. They are also your only true 4 drop and as a result, keeping against Hunter might be correct if you have early game removal already.
- x2 antique-healbot – This card has made Handlock an even more fearsome deck and is one of the best GvG additions. An 8 health heal out of nowhere is a lot and playing a Molten followed up by one of these is enough to stabilize your health and serve up a huge threat. They are life-saving in the aggro matchups too and are single-handedly responsible for improving the Hunter matchup. Definitely run two
- x1 faceless-manipulator – The best case scenario is a T4 Giant that they leave unharmed which you can then Faceless and proceed to wreck face. It’s got a lot of utility in the current meta and is also a part of the fearsome turn 8 combo of Faceless + BGH. There are plenty of good targets in the deck too so it is useful in all but the most aggressive matchups.
- x2 sludge-belcher – 7 health worth of taunts makes this thing a beast. 5 health is magical too, and he can be used to tempt out Black Knights and hard removal on occasion. Belcher is still the best standalone taunt in the game and there’s absolutely no reason to not run two in this deck.
- x2 siphon-soul – I like having two for the additional heal. They are also great in control matchups which I feel are becoming more prevalent at all levels on the ladder. One of these can be replaced by Ragnaros if you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind the RNG.
- x1 dr-boom – This card is overpowered right now and I won’t hear anything to the contrary which is why you should play him. He’s great when you’re ahead, he’s good when you’re behind, and he’s a huge pain to deal with. You have a bunch of BGH targets in the deck already, so adding him in is just another big nasty threat that can sink your opponent.
- x1 lord-jaraxxus – This card is my favorite in the game. I love his unique effect, heal potential and the crazy late game potential he has against non-burst decks. I considered Alexstrasza, but Jaraxxus in the pure control matchup gives incredible longer term value and that 3 dmg swing on arrival sometimes can be the dmg you need to win. In any case, I feel Handlock needs more threats and Jaraxxus is the ultimate threat. Play Moltens before him though or you won’t play them at all!
- x2 mountain-giant – A Handlock staple. They are fundamental to the Handlock playstyle. Tap as often as you can in the early turns so you can get these out earlier!
- x2 molten-giant – Handlock’s single best card in my opinion. Playing these for cheap or free is just far too much value for your opponent to deal with effectively. Just remember that you can’t play it after you Jaraxxus and you’ll be fine.
Handlock is a surprisingly easy deck to Mulligan most of the time.
Against control decks you’re almost exclusively looking for twilight-drakes and mountain-giants.
The goal is to tap in the early turns and bring these guys out on turn 4.
However, it’s only this straightforward for control decks. Against aggro decks which are pretty common, the mulligan is vastly different.
You are looking for:
- darkbomb – This card is what you’re really looking for. It shuts down Undertaker and Mechwarper and is the perfect card to deal with early aggression.
- ironbeak-owl – A lot of aggro decks run minions that are significantly weaker when silenced (Undertaker, Mad Scientist, Haunted Creeper). Having one of these in your opening hand is great.
- mortal-coil – Another keeper especially against Hunter. I don’t think it’s quite as important as the other two but certainly useful.
- hellfire – This card stars against Zoo. It’s not as good against Hunter but by no means bad. AOE wiping a Zoo board is devastating.
- molten-giant – Against really aggressive decks this is a good keep. It looks insane to keep a 20 cost card in your opening hand, but trust me, against Hunter and Zoo it is correct.
- ancient-watcher – I only keep this in tandem with Ironbeak Owl. Can make for a really good start against aggro.
- earthen-ring-farseer – I don’t like keeping this card in my opening hand in the aggro matchups without some of the above cards already. It’s too slow and 3 health won’t do enough if it’s the first thing you can play.
That seems like a lot, but if you get two or more of these in your opening hand against aggro you’re usually fine.
It’s ordered by priority of what you’re looking for, so a hand of x2 Watcher and Farseer is a total toss but if you have the first three, you can keep a Twilight Drake or Belcher and not be too bad off.
You’ll learn what composition of starting hands is good but generally, the ideal hands are:
Control: Drake, Mountain, Owl (no coin)
Aggro: Watcher, Owl, Darkbomb, Molten, Coin
Darkbomb, Coil, Molten (no coin)
You also have more leeway as a Handlock player than most with your opening mulligan since you tap every chance you get (at least you should be doing that!)
Checking in Burst
Now that you understand your own deck and how to play it, the real learning begins.
You have to know your opponents and what’s a comfortable life total to live at while still being aggressive and tapping as often as you can.
I’m going to go through class by class comfortable life totals at 10 mana. You can extrapolate from that for lesser mana totals. These numbers safeguard against all meta two card combos at 10 mana.
Of course there are times your opponent is going to unleash an insane 6 card combo to drop you, but those are extremely rare and if you let them have that many cards you probably deserve to lose anyway.
Let’s get into it!
- 13 – This is a very comfortable life total to face down a board and weapon-less Warrior. The typical Warrior burst is grommash-hellscream and cruel-taskmaster. That does a total of 12 dmg.
- 15 – If you’re below this threshold on turn 10 against a Druid be very, very afraid of that force-of-nature + savage-roar combo for 14 dmg that will end you. It does 14 dmg from an empty board.
- 8 – Unless the Priest is shown to be strangely bursty, this is a very safe life total. It keeps you alive to anything but the full auchenai-soulpriest + zombie-chow combo or more likely holy-fire and holy-smite.
- 10 – I am so aggressive in the mirror match that I often don’t stick to this life total and it costs me almost every time. x2 hellfire and darkbomb is really easy for a Handlock to amass in the mirror match and it’s your own fault if you lose to it. I might not run two Hellfires, but other Handlocks do and will punish you.
- 10 – You should have taunts up against Zoo as your primary defense but if you used your turn clearing their board, stay above 9 health and there’s almost no way they can drop you in one turn. If they’re out of cards, you could even drop that number to 6, since the only way they win is if they draw and tap into doomguard + soulfire or power-overwhelming.
- 13 – I’m very wary playing against Shaman. They have numerous burst combos but safeguarding against alakir-the-windlord + rockbiter-weapon is a pretty good benchmark.
- 7 – This is one of Handlock’s biggest advantages against Paladin. Paladin rarely runs any burst and are pretty useless from an empty board. This safeguards against truesilver-champion and consecration.
- 14 – This is safe for the most part. It keeps you out of range of a Mage’s turn 10 x2 fireball and fireblast. Any more burst out of them requires additional cards and you’re either really unlucky or didn’t play enough threats during the game for them to waste their burst on.
- 9 – This is pretty safe against a board and weaponless Hunter. He needs perfect cards to sink you from here on an empty board (on both sides if no taunt). Be wary of kill-command since it’s their primary finisher against Handlock.
- 10 – These are so rare on ladder nowadays I’m not sure what to expect. I guess safeguarding against double eviscerate is a good start though. Typically you’ll do most of your defending with Taunts in this matchup anyhow.
If you’ve mastered all the above things and want to push your Handlock game to the next level, consider these nuanced tips and suggestions.
I’ve learned these things after playing hundreds of Handlock games and getting my Golden portrait in the process.
Some are matchup specific but most are broader more general tips.
If you focus on the basics from above you can do amazingly well simply on the back of the deck’s strength, but these tips and mindset suggestions are for PERFECT Handlock play which can be the difference at high legend.
Molten Giants are the MOST important card against Hunter – I played Handlock to legend PRE Buzzard nerf when the matchup was considered practically unwinnable and took home a 45% winrate. It was this realization that enabled me to maintain a passable win rate against Hunter. You mulligan for the Moltens, you do everything you can to get them, even tapping on two (if you have a coin Hellfire in your pocket). You can have perfect removal, AOE, the Watcher – Owl combo but you CANNOT win without Molten Giants.
Save your removal and silence for truly worthy targets – This is an advanced tactic that can be put in the basic tips sections but it’s so hard to do well that it deserves to be here. Siphoning a Baron Geddon is all good and well but what happens when your opponent follows up with Ragnaros or Alexstrasza? Thinking ahead and knowing your opponents’ real threats separates the men from the boys in Hearthstone.
One of the key cards that you MUST save silence for in a control matchup is Sylvanas. I see Handlock players silence Shredders or Sludge Belchers only to get faced down by a Sylvanas and flounder. She’s in your opponents’ deck, and she will be played when you least want to see her. Don’t get caught out!
Minions you want to give Taunt to go on the RIGHT – Minion placement is a very overlooked aspect of Hearthstone. Most of the time it doesn’t matter, but it can matter sometimes and you’ll be thankful you waited that half a second to put your minions in the right place.
So why the right in Handlock? Because Infernos from Jaraxxus are summoned on the right side by default. If you put your Watcher to the left of your board, you can’t Argus or Sunfury it along with the newly summoned Inferno. It also instills good habits by grouping the minions you most want to give taunt to together. Of course, priority goes to keeping your minions safe from positioning dependent AOE like Cone of Cold.
Coin tap turn one is often correct – I see some Handlock players advise not to Coin and Tap on turn one ever. I really disagree with this. However, it shouldn’t be done lightly. Here are the circumstances where I think you should coin tap:
- You are sure you are playing a control deck
- You have no Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant in your hand
- You have no Ancient Watchers or Farseers in your hand to play on turn 3
These bullets are listed by importance. You should NEVER coin tap if you’re not playing a control deck or if there’s even a chance they might be aggro.
Usually, if the first two bullets are true, I will coin tap, and certainly if the 3rd one is true too. You need threats, and coin tapping on turn one gets you closer to drawing them. Do not be afraid to do it unless you have a good hand already that allows you to curve nicely.
Play Jaraxxus as early as you safely can – I see some Handlock players stubbornly tap and pass their late turns even though their opponent has no board at all. The reason they give is that they won’t be able to play their Molten Giants and don’t want to lose health by playing him.
I’m gonna tell you now, the earlier you play Jaraxxus the closer you are to winning. It’s not often that you have the luxury of your opponent not having a board and you being at a comfortable enough life total that playing Jaraxxus will hinder you. Losing a few points of health and not being able to play Moltens is absolutely fine because you make 6/6s every turn! No hero in the game can compete with that and if they can’t burst you down, you will win. Simple as that.
The one exception to this is if your opponent is low on cards and likely has a Harrison Jones. In that situation, playing slow and grinding him out with card advantage is correct. But that goes along with playing Jaraxxus safely so the rule still holds up.
Tips on how to play the mirror match – I’ve played a good number of mirror matches and they can be frustrating but also some of the most exciting and fun games. The key to winning them more consistently is to be very aggressive with your life total. You’ll want to be tapping constantly, dealing with threats and FULL clearing as often as possible.
This includes inactive Watchers because they all run Shadowflame and all it takes is a big clear on their part to completely swing the matchup. You also want to be on lower health to threaten them with Moltens earlier. Sometimes I’ll refrain from playing a Healbot when I’m on say 18 health so that I can play my Moltens. Typically, the first player to Jaraxxus will win the Mirror Match but it all depends on whether you can get him out safely or not.
Play around secrets – This is usually something every player improves upon with time. It can be extremely daunting seeing your opponent with two or more secrets out but just play methodically and check them one by one. Not attacking with your big threats against Hunter is the best example so that you can have your cheap Taunt giver get Freezing Trapped. There are a number of guides out on Hearthstone Players that you can peruse to help with this.
I hope you guys learned something new about the great deck that is Handlock.
There’s a lot here I know, but the deck is truly one of the game’s best and if you learn to master it, it WILL get you to legend rank and beyond.
If you have any questions about the deck, please feel free to comment below. I’m open to all feedback you may have.