Scalise’s Sessions: Tempo Mage

Another week, another lesson. This time around we are going to cover a very popular deck in Tempo Mage. This is perhaps one of the most interesting decks on ladder because there are just so many versions of it running around. Some decks run minion-heavy versions, some run more burn-oriented builds, and many fall somewhere […]

Introduction

Another week, another lesson. This time around we are going to cover a very popular deck in Tempo Mage. This is perhaps one of the most interesting decks on ladder because there are just so many versions of it running around. Some decks run minion-heavy versions, some run more burn-oriented builds, and many fall somewhere in the between. Whatever version you end up playing, they all depend on properly managing resources and knowing how to use your burn. Priority is key with a deck like this, and understanding your different tools is important to winning games. To help with this, we are going to break down how to pace against some of the most popular decks on the ladder and how to get value from every card in your hand.

The Deck

I have chosen to go with a low-curve, more aggressive version of Tempo. The reason for this is because I believe this deck needs as much early game as it possibly can get. You need reliable starts in a tempo deck, and while running the higher curve helps out in slower games, I do not think it is worth it in the end. Of course, that may be different for you, but I believe that consistency is the most important aspect Tempo Mage can have and this list reflects that.

Early Game

You are going to open in one of two ways. You are either going to come out lightning fast with things like Mana Wyrm and Cult Sorcerer, or you are going to control your opponent’s plays and build to an explosive middle game. The way you decide how you are going to do this is largely by the way your hand is structured. If you have a quick minion opening you should take it and let your opponent answer you. However, if you have more spells do not be afraid to hold back and just be reactive for a few turns until you can get set up.

Damage is another very important aspect of the early turns. While many of your games are going to go down different paths, they are all based on the principle of doing early damage to set up your end game. You are a deck with a lot of burst, which means you want to be blasting off spells once you hit the later mid-game when your opponent takes over the board. That is a very strong plan as long as you find ways to push early on, but without the initial push you will really struggle to cap things off. As a result, always look for opportunities to sneak in hits. While you may want to trade your 4/3 Mana Wyrm into your opponent’s minion, it is often better just to get in the hit and let them answer you.

Finally, always find ways to protect or get value from your early drops. For instance, you typically want to run out a turn two Cult Sorcerer over a Sorcerer’s Apprentice to test for removal because the apprentice is much better. However, if you think your opponent has no answer to your two drop then you want to play the apprentice to set up a strong turn three. Another example of this is holding off on a turn one Mana Wyrm against Warrior so you can play it turn two with Mirror Image to stop Fiery War Axe. These are small adjustments but they matter.

Middle Game

The middle section of this game is going to come down how your first few turns went. That is to say, if you control the game state you should keep pushing as hard as you can, but if you need to get a hold of the board start dropping big threats and focus on your minions. You are a deck that builds better than any in the game, and if you have the opportunity to hit your opponent you need to do it. How you go about that is going to be key.

Despite your burn, you typically want to control this stage of the game through your threats. While you do not have the largest creatures around, the constant threat of burst damage is going to make anything you play, from Azure Drake to Barnes, a must kill card for your opponent. That means you want to leverage them to force your opponent so spend their mana on removal. This keeps you in control and allows you to build at your own pace.

Flamewaker is perhaps the most important card for these turns. The three drop can be used in two ways and both are very important. You either want to use it to clear the board and bring you back into a game that’s slipping away, or you want to use it to push through massive amounts of damage when your opponent has no board. Both of these modes are more than acceptable. Hold the Waker for a big clear against board-based decks and drop it down with a ton of spells against slower decks that do not have ways to amass minions.

Note: Always calculate your damage against your opponent’s health. This is the part of the game where you want to start planning lethal and you do not want to use valuable burn on the board when you do not have to.

Late Game

The end game is all about that burst. Though you do have some big finishers here and there (depending on how you structure your list) you are built to finish off your opponent rather quickly once you move into turns seven, eight and nine. These are the parts of the game where you want to hoard your damage and work hard to kill your opponent from the mid-to-low teens. This is never going to be easy, but it is quite possible if you plan ahead and make sure you know how you are going to use your mana each turn.

In that same vein, always play to your outs. There are many situations where you are going to have to decide if you want to try and control the board or if you just want to trust in your deck. Keep track of the spells you’ve used so you know what the chances of drawing lethal are.

Another very important part of the final turns is building towards both Firelands Portal and Ragnaros the Firelord (or Archmage Antonidas if you run him). The reason is that, while these cards do well when you’re behind, they can just end games if you are ahead. If you plan on using either of these to cap off your curve, you generally want to make sure that your opponent has a weak board when they cope down. This is one of the only times where you want to control your opponent’s minions and keep them in check. Using a Fireball on a minion typically feels bad as the game goes on, but if it sets up an eight damage Rag or five damage and a large threat then it is worth the trade off.

Matchups

A breakdown of the most popular matchups in the game.

Midrange Shaman

Shaman is a very tricky matchup that is going to be largely dictated by the first two or three turns. If you can get some early minions to stick/trade with their totems you should be able to easily cruise through most of the game. However, if you fall behind and are forced to use burn on their mid-game threats you aren’t going to be able to adequately keep up. You want to work hard to cement the board in any way you can during this game, which will then give you a chance to put Shaman on the back foot. Hit them early and often and try to constantly threaten their life total. This will force them to use spells to control the game, which then will often cause them to overload and lock down their curve.

That being said, just because you start slow does not mean you are going to lose. One of your biggest advantages is the ability to comeback through big Flamewaker or spell damage plays, and that really goes a long way here. The middle to late turns of this match are going to be a balance between stopping your opponent from amassing too many minions and trying to put enough fire power together to end the game before it gets too far out of reach. While you can try and run Shaman out of cards, they have so much value in their deck that it is unlikely that is going to happen. Rather, you need to understand when the game is slipping away so you know when you should give up the board and just reallocate all of your resources to your opponent’s dome.

Secret Hunter

Secret Hunter is a matchup that, quite obviously, comes down to secrets. Or rather, how well you play around your opponent’s secrets. Hunter’s have access to many different cards that are very good against you, but only if you play into them. If you can force them to get little value and slowly build up a strong board you should be able to take this one down. The general rule is, when testing for Freezing Trap, to never attack a minion if you are worried about Snake Trap and never attack their face if you are worried about either Explosive Trap or Bear Trap. In addition, try to save a small minion like Babbling Book to trigger Snipe and save a small spell to trigger Cat Trick before trying to clear. In addition, if your opponent has no board presence you can simply just amass minions like Flamewaker and slowly chip away at their health. Don’t attack just because you think you should.

The other half of this game is controlling priority through damage. Hunter is a class that is used to playing ahead. Once they fall behind they are forced to be reactive, which makes them use burn to damage the board instead of your face. That then gives you some breathing room and allows you to pace yourself better than your opponent. While you want to clear out their minions, you want to try to do that while also advancing your own board in any way that you can. Your overall goal is to get ahead by turn six. If you are behind when they drop Savannah Highmane it is going to be very hard to comeback. Also remember that Ragnaros the Firelord is in just about every Hunter. Have a plan for the 8/8 when you get to the end of the game.

Tempo Mage

The mirror match is a very interesting game because you typically want to take it slow. If you can get out on the board early you should, but that is unlikely going to happen. More often, this is going to be a battle where both players kill each other’s early drops and then hoard up cards until they just launch a series of spells at the other’s face. As a result, you want to get as much damage out of your different cards as you can. This is a game that is most often going to come down to the last few turns, where you and your opponent are going to be blasting spells at each other’s faces. This often means that whoever gets ahead in health going to the end is often going to come out ahead. Look for chip damage and do not be afraid to make plays where you do nothing more than take a solid chunk out of your opponent’s health. Another part of this is trying to bait out damage wherever you can find it. While it may not feel great when your opponent uses Frostbolt to take down an Azure Drake, that is three less damage that is going to end up going to your face. Killing minions is always going to be your first priority, but once that part of the game ends you need to be aggressive.

Zoo

Zoo is a very even matchup where balancing damage is more important than anything else. Your first mode here is going to be clearing. Zoo has very little removal and a bunch of small minions. That means you are going get a lot of value from your clear spells, especially your pings like Flamewaker and Arcane Missiles. You want to spend the majority of this game just removing minions and making sure they never get a real foothold. This will force them to tap, which will naturally bring them down into your burst range. Use your cheap burn on the board and try to save your stronger spells for the final push. Be patient here. You do not need to just clear a board because you can. Holding off a turn or two will let your opponent add more to the board, giving you more value. The only exception to this is if you think your opponent is going to play Defender of Argus. In that case, kill off minions before they get buffed.

Another very important part of this matchup is knowing how your opponent is going to kill your minions. Zoo’s only real removal spell is Soulfire, which means that a lot of your bodies are going to stick when you put them down onto an empty board. For this reason, this is one of the few matchups where you can actually play small combo cards on their own in order to set up a future turn. Of course, you need to count your opponent’s removal (see the video) and make sure they don’t have too strong of a board, but if you have the opportunity to get down any threat ahead of your opponent you should. Zoo is a deck that needs minions to win. If you ever can get something to stick you can just go face and then break them down with your various spells.

Spell Druid

Spell Druid is a match where you want to break from your classic mold and play the minion game. Though this list does not have a ton of on-board minions, any solid body is going to be strong against Malfurion. While your combos are still important, this game is much more centered around the idea of just putting down threat after threat until your opponent is out of resources to deal with your string of damage. Fireball is almost always how you are going to end this game, and all of your other cards should be building to that. Know that you cannot answer Druid’s large minions, so you want to always make them answer you. If you are trying to answer them you will eventually become buried.

This is a game you tend to want to end during the mid-late game before your opponent can counter your final push. Beyond their finisher and giant minions, Druid has some healing that they can use to rise up above your burn spells. You need to limit that potential by killing them out of nowhere rather than giving them a chance to bounce back. For this reason, card draw is key. Tear through your deck whenever you get the chance. Druid is a deck that is going to have many turns where they do not interact with the board. Do not be afraid to draw during these situations and try hard to get as many bodies as you can. This will help you carve away their hard, which then runs them out of options and keeps you in control.

Tip and Tricks

By far the most important part of playing this deck is knowing when to use burn to control the board and when to use it to go face. You almost always want to be thinking about amassing lethal damage, but there are going to be many times where it is much important to kill a minion. Plan ahead each turn and count how close your opponent is to dying. You have a lot of ways to do damage, so it is ok to go long if you need to. Because of this, you don’t want to risk losing because your ignored a big threat.

Arcane Blast is one of the cards that brings this whole deck together. As a result, it is important to save a spell damage minion with it if you are facing a deck with a high-impact four health minion you know you are going to need to kill. Running out an early threat is often a good idea, but always think about how that spell damage can be spent before blindly dropping Cult Sorcerer, Azure Drake or Bloodmage Thalnos.

Never underestimate how much Frostbolt can help you out in a race. It is your only freeze effect, but being able to lock down an opponent’s big minion or shut down an extra weapon attack can be invaluable in some games. This is also one of your best ways to push ahead of a big minion. Freezing something like a Savannah Highmane or Flamewreathed Faceless can buy you valuable time.

Know what turn to use Flamewaker. It is very easy to pull the trigger too early with the salamander, but it also easy to wait too long and become overwhelmed. You typically want to play the 2/4 against a board of small minions or into situations where you know it is going to do a lot of damage. Once your opponent has a few high health creatures on board this drops in value.

Conserve your Fireballs. The six damage spells are by far the most important in your deck and you want to work hard to use them on your opponent’s face. Double Fireball is one of your win conditions, and it gives you a strong way to end games that you otherwise cannot win. Only use these on the board as a last resort or a large tempo play.

Mulligan Guide

As a tempo deck you want to play to your curve. Low cost spells are very strong, but you need minions if you want to be able to maximize your early threat potential. As a result, mulligan a low mix of both spells and minions to give your start some extra consistency.

Must Keeps:

Babbling Book Mana Wyrm Cult Sorcerer Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Situational Keeps:

Arcane Blast is a very strong keep against aggro, especially with early spell damage minions.

Arcane Missiles should be kept against aggro.

Mirror Image can be very good when you can use it early to protect a minion, but you normally want to sent it back.

Arcane Explosion is simply for any aggressive matchup that loves to flood the board like Shaman and Zoo.

Bloodmage Thalnos should only be kept if you have early burn (especially Arcane Blast) that you want to combo with it.

Arcane Intellect is a good keep if you have an early hand that needs some back up. It is also strong against control.

Flamewaker should always be kept with the coin or when you have a large amount of cheap spells against an aggro or swarm deck.

Barnes and Water Elemental can be kept anytime you can curve into them. Especially if you have the coin.

Fireball is a card you can keep with a good opening hand against decks that have strong midrange drops like Shaman and Dragon Warrior.

Replacements

As mentioned there are three different builds you can play with this deck. You can run the lists that add in more minions or ones that have more burn. If you want to run minion heavy versions you should consider playing another Water Elemental and maybe cut a Firelands Portal for Faceless Summoner. In contrast, if you want to go more in burn you should lower the curve to put in Forgotten Torches.

Arcane Explosion is largely a flex spot. Flamestrike works quite well in this slot, especially if you aren’t seeing much Shaman or Zoo.

Another good finisher is Archmage Antonidas. He can be played over or alongside Ragnaros the Firelord, and he also works very well when you are seeing a lot of control matchups.

Acolyte of Pain can be played over the Babbling Books. This is particularly a good choice for the burn-heavy versions.

Conclusion

Tempo Mage is one of the trickier decks to play, but it can be very rewarding when piloted well. Though there are some tough matchups floating around, the deck matches up well to many of the big players on the ladder. There are many ways to play it and many builds to explore, but it reliable and has a very solid gameplan. I hope you enjoyed this week and, until next time, may you always burn your opponent down.