TGT! Ok, fine…not quite yet. However, we are dangerously close to the release, and I for one have both my pre-order and gold rearing to go. Yet, while many people are staring starry-eyed into the future, there are many players who are still racing to legend. One such person is LonelyLink, who managed to hit the orange diamond earlier this month with, in my opinion, the most fun version of Warlock: Combolock. There have been a lot of iterations of this deck, but this one does something a little different than most traditional lists, which comes with both advantages and disadvantages. This deck is not just powerful, it also does something that most combo decks do not do; it runs two different combos. While you primarily want to win your games through the classic Arcane Golem/Power Overwhelming/Faceless Manipulator, you also have the back up combo of Voidcaller/Lord Jarraxus or Mal’Ganis. The two demon lords are very important to this type of deck because, not only do they allow you to get more ways to win instead of just going all in on one strategy, but each of them also works to keep you alive longer, which is the number one goal of piloting this deck. Your life total is very important (which we will get to soon) and you need to be able to mitigate it in the most ways possible.
Something you will immediately notice about this deck is the lack of taunts. While Sludge Belcher makes an appearance as always, Sunfury Protector and Defender of Argus are nowhere to be found. Instead of the taunt givers, this deck opts to run more early control-ish options as its anti-aggro tool. While this may make you weaker to decks like Face Hunter, the inclusions of cards like Imp Gang Boss will give you more resilient threats against midrange and control decks. As a combo deck, you only want to think about winning with a charging golem. This means that every turn you play you want to check your hand, check how many pieces of the combo you have, and then think about how close to lethal you are. Mindsets are a very key part to playing any deck, and if you get in the habit of looking for all of these things, you will be able to plan your turns out better. If you can push the combo you should, but don’t make sub-optimal plays if you are still too far away. Knowing the difference is key to piloting this deck.
I bring this card up for two reasons. One, to bring up a point about the card itself and two, to talk about the combo as a whole. First off, it should be noted that Power Overwhelming is a very powerful card that allows you to trade up with a lot of your small, early game minions as well as proc huge Shadow Flames. Never be afraid to use the first Power Overwhelming as a value or tempo play. If you need to kill a 5/5 with your Haunted Creeper, then kill the 5/5. One thing that many people get caught up with when playing combo is they never want to use their combo pieces for anything other than the combo. This is a fine way to think, as you typically do not want to use the combo except for lethal, but the main rule of this deck is to stay alive, and if that means using an early power to kill a Knife Juggler or the like, the so be it.
The second thing to remember is that you have two copies of Power Overwhelming in your deck. Once again, may seem like a silly thing to bring up, but you will forget that when piloting this list. While this is the main reason it is ok to burn one power early on in the game, you should also understand what deck you’re playing against. With one Power Overwhelming, the Arcane Golem/Faceless Manipulator combo does sixteen damage, and with two, it does twenty four. That is a large damage gap, and something you need to be aware of. Yes, the golden rule is to always use power if you have to, but some matchups require both powers as opposed to one. If you are playing against Handlock, Zoo or Tempo Mage, chances are you won’t need the whole combo and can freely burn one power. However, if you are going up against Priest, Paladin or Warrior, chances are you are going to need the full twenty four damage, and should try to keep the full combo together. A very small distinction, but a very important one when getting faced up against aggro or control.
Haunted Creeper/Imp Gang Boss
This is a deck phases. Meaning, while you want to end the game with a huge burst of damage (or sometimes a demon overlord) you aren’t going to operate strictly as a combo deck all the time. In fact, if you did operate as a combo deck the entire game, people might catch on early, which would really hurt your chances. Instead, you are going to start the game off with a small “control” package that will carry you to the midgame, which will hopefully push you all the way to the end. There are several cards that do this very well, but the two being discussed here are Haunted Creeper and Imp Gang Boss. This is because most of the other cards that help deal with aggro are spells, and not only do most people know what they do, but they don’t exemplify the point of this deck nearly as well. Both minions in question are cheap early drops that are in this deck for one very specific reason: they can clog up a board really, really quickly.
When battling against hordes of Aggro Paladin, Zoo, Hunter and Tempo Mage, you want to have access to options that allow you to be proactive rather than reactive. These two cards, due to their amazing resiliency and ability to put more minions onto the board, can shut down an aggro onslaught all on their own. This is very important because, as noted, this deck has very few taunts. These minions are expected to do a lot here, and truthfully they do. This is especially true when you can back them with solid removal spells or midgame minions. While this is a combo deck, you do play a lot of minions, and you want to use those minions to trade, apply pressure, and take some heat off of your hero. These two cards do that masterfully and give you the best early game options to get you to the later stages.
Surprise is very important in combo decks (especially ones such as this) and so is having very resilient minions that can clear the board to buy you turns. Twlight Drake is both of these. While Haunted Creeper and Imp Gang Boss both serve a very important purpose, there are a lot of games where you will have the Handlock opening. This means, you will spend your first three turns tapping or removing minions with spells, and then dropping a Twilight Drake on turn four. Of course, this is by no means ideal, but these openings are not always the end of the world either. Twilight Drake is a huge card that either baits a silence (which can set up your Voidcallers quite nicely) or kills off a ton of minions. On that note, always make sure to lead with your Twilight Drake before your Voidcaller if you have one of the big demons in hand, just in case of a silence. However, if you have no demon, it is often better to lead with the Voidcaller to set up the dragon.
Beyond the sheer power of the card, Twilight Drake will throw most of your opponents off your trail, and make them think you are playing either Handlock or Malylock. This is fantastic, and will lead to many wins that you otherwise would not get. Once your opponent puts the combo out of their mind, it is always a surprise. You should use this to your advantage as much as you can. When people are scared of dying, they will often make plays that are ultra-safe, such as playing a Sludge Belcher over Dr. Boom or using Force of Nature to clear your board instead of slamming an Ancient of Lore. Those plays are bad for you, and you want people to be relaxed at 20 or so life. If your opponent does not see the combo coming they will often make the wrong play that will lead to death. Twilight Drake is one of the reasons this happens, and a huge bonus to playing the dragon.
While this deck is not Handlock, for you Handlock players out there it is best to think of Voidcaller as a Mountain Giant. That is to say, a huge four drop threat that needs to be answered right away or it can truly take over the game in one swing. If you have never played Handlock before, then it is best to think of this card as a Piloted Shredder that only drops giant bombs onto the field. Voidcaller is a very scary card, and a combo piece all on its own. The idea behind this deck is to simply attack your opponent from two different angles. On one front, you are constantly threatening the ability to 20 damage out of nowhere, and on the other front you are threatening to slam a super demon onto the battlefield. While one is clearly better than the other, they both can win you the game under the right circumstances.
As stated above, Voidcaller is a interesting card when it comes to silence. It is often worse to get silenced that drake, because its ability is much stronger, and a key piece of the deck. However, if it does get silenced you have a 3/4 on board instead of a 4/1, which is much more valuable against some decks. As such, you want to always be analyzing what four drop to play and why. Voidcaller is perhaps the only card in the deck that you can always throw down onto the board, even if it is doing nothing more than summoning an Imp Gang Boss or another Voidcaller. Though it operates as a combo card, you want to remember that just replacing itself in any way is very strong. Don’t get lost in the hail mary here. Any type of demon makes this card good, and using it to bluff can also powerful way to slow your opponent down a turn or two.
As I do every time I cover a deck running Voidcaller, I am going to cover Lord Jaraxxus. Jaraxxus is a very powerful, end-game card that should be treated largely in the same way that Power Overwhelming is. Why? Because both of those cards have two different modes that pilot very differently based on the matchup you are playing. Sometimes, you are going to want to get Jaraxxus onto the board from Voidcaller and just use it is a value engine to trade away minion after minion. This will often be against midrange or aggro decks. However, in that same vein, you also have games against those decks where you are going to need the life gain and can’t afford to cheat it into play. This is important to realize, and you should always weigh how important it is to have Jaraxxus on the board versus how much you are going to need to become him later on.
The other half of Jaraxxus is, of course, the main mode of becoming your hero. Control matchups can be very grueling, and sometimes they can simply stay ahead of your combo through healing. For these, there’s Jaraxxus. This demon is almost always a win against control decks since, no matter how much solid removal they have access to, it is nearly impossible to stop an endless army of 6/6’s. It can also be the only way to win against a Warrior, Paladin, Druid or Priest who has simply gained too much health or armor. One last note is that, as always, Jaraxxus only has 15 health. That is a dangerously low amount of health in Hearthstone, and you always want to be sure your opponent can’t just kill you the turn after you decided to become the demon lord. Sometimes it is going to happen and there is nothing you can, but most times you can think about what your opponent has played, and then go from there.
Everyone has seen Trump dying from fifty life on an empty board to this deck. Why is that relevant? Because it shows that no matter what you play or what you do, Patron Warrior will kill you. That means that you need to kill them before they get the chance. This is perhaps one of the sloppiest matchups out there. That does not mean the matchup is necessarily hard, it just means that you need to play a little looser here than you will in most games. Patron is a deck that primarily relies on combos that only come around turn eight and beyond. They have very little early pressure, and often cannot do all that much for the first half of the game besides draw cards and clear with weapons. You don’t mind this, because it allows you more time to tap and dig for your combo. In fact, strange as it may seem, the scariest card in the game is easily Armorsmith, which is really the only way they can successfully pull out of combo range. I usually kill them on sight for this reason.
Execute, which is usually one of the most powerful tools they have, does almost nothing here. It can hit Mal’Ganis if you are not careful, but often they will be forced to waste it on a Twilight Drake, which is exactly what you want. In addition, though there is almost nothing that you (or anyone else for that matter) can do about their combo, you still have to be ready for the Patron swarm. This means two things. One, start getting rid of your smaller minions in the midgame, and save your AOE at all costs. This deck only runs one copy of Hellfire and Shadowflame. These are the only real answers you have to the swarm, and so you need to save them for when that time comes. The only exception to this is when you are facing down lethal, and even then you want to think twice before burning them.
I am lumping both of these decks together, because you play against them in the same way and they both largely do the same thing. Each of the primary Mage decks (yes Mech Mage is back, though I’m not sure why) looks to grab the board in the first two turns, crush you with larger minions as the game goes, and then end it in a flurry of Fireballs and Frostbolts. However, Mech Mage, just like its tempo-based counterpart, crumbles if you can interrupt its game plan through removal, AOE or simply large minions. This is one of the simpler matchups to play because if they get board you can’t win, but if you do anything to knock that plan off its axis, you should be fine. Kill of their early minions, force them to use spells on your board, and you will have them playing your game rather than the other way around.
In a deck where you are going to be tapping, you want to be very careful against Mage. I have said this before, but always count their Frostbolts and Fireballs, as that is the primary way they are going to win games. Each of those cards represents lethal in some way, and if you get careless you will die. Antique Healbot really shines here, and can bring you back from the brink. Lord Jaraxxus also does something similar, and this is a matchup where you want him to always take over your hero portrait. Healing is key and, like most aggro matchups, you want to be very aware of when and how much you’re tapping.
Though less popular than it once was, there is no doubt that Rexxar and friends make up a large part of the ladder. Midrange Hunter is a very interesting matchup because, while they have almost zero ways to interact or stop your agenda, you have to spend most of your time killing off their threats and making sure your life total is above zero. For all intensive purposes, Midrange Hunter is a combo deck, and that is how you should view this matchup. Just like Freeze Mage or Grim Patron, this is not a deck that cares about what you do. They do not adapt to you, you adapt to them. While you never want to be forced to play their game, Hunter decks have so much damage potential, and so many ways to kill your from 15 or so life, that your turns should be focused on keeping the board clear. While they will eventually run out of cards and topdeck a Mad Sceintist or Ironbeak Owl, every turn that goes by brings you closer to your combo, which is closer to lethal.
Antique Healbot and Sludge Belcher are your best friends here, and will allow you to win topdeck wars. This goes especially for belcher, as it can buy you a ton of time if you already baited out a silence on a Twilight Drake or Voidcaller. Midrange Hunter is a crazy amalgamation of random cards that all somehow form a pretty scary deck. You really need your early minions and removal in this match, and you should always mulligan exclusively for them. Most decks beat Midrange Hunter by putting on pressure first, and then forcing Rexxar to use his resources to clear. However, since you run very few solid threats, that is not a luxury you have. The whole means of the game is staying alive, which should be done at all costs, even if it means burning a combo piece or two.
I don’t know who told Handlock it was ok to come roaring back into the metagame, but I am going to have a word with them when I find out. This is not because Handlock is a hard matchup (I find that it often is around 50/50) it is because this matchup is so nerve wracking. You want them to be at 20-24 life, a space in time where they can’t play Molten Giants, will feel safe tapping, but will still die from the combo. However, getting them to that point is much, much harder than it first seems. This is due to the fact that Handlock has a ton of cards that punish you for dropping them to low life levels, but also a ton of turtle plays if you don’t drop them to those low levels. There is no matchup that is more dependent on you manipulating your opponent than this one. You want to make them feel safe enough to play non-taunt cards, because if you put them too far down in life they will start healing and filling the board with Sludge Belchers, Defender of Argus and the like.
These games tend to go long, and the only real rule is to always get rid of taunts. Even without your help, Handlock is a deck that will easily sink below 20 life at some point, making them always susceptible to dying to Arcane Golem. Even cards like Antique Healbot or meager healing is usually not enough to save them from the end. That being said, they do have a huge amount of taunts, which will ruin your day. You need to be able to clear every taunt that comes down, and plan for the ones that you have not seen yet. This is not a deck that is built to deal with taunt minions, and you always must be ready, even if that means saving removal for the later stages of the game.
This deck continues to rise in popularity, and grow beyond what it once was. Every single Paladin you face these days will be of the aggro variety, and that can spell absolute doom for this deck. In fact, while I have been doing quite well with this list, aggro Paladin has stopped me in my tracks several times. Handlock has always been notoriously bad against Shockadin and its variants, and this deck is similar but runs less taunts. That’s bad news, but the good news is that this matchup is by no means hopeless. In fact, if you can look for your early game and keep your card count low, you can take some games here and there if you know what to expect.
One of the unfortunate facts about this matchup is you are largely at the mercy of your mulligan. Not only do you want to try and tap as little as possible because you cannot afford to take damage, but you also do not want cards in your hand. This means that you will need to get a good starting hand or you usually just fall behind way to quickly. Tapping is always a last resort here, and something you need to avoid unless you absolutely need one card that you do not have. Remember, Divine Favor is the main reason that aggro paly is as good as it is, but it is a card that you can play around. Play everything you can, and dump cards as soon as you get them. Yes, you may play right into Equality sometimes, but that is better than letting your opponent draw five cards for three mana. Paladin is not a deck that primarily relies on charge to do damage. They are very dependent on buffs, so you should keep their side of the board clear as much as you can.
Mulliganing with this deck is exactly like mulliganing with any other slow or control Warlock. That is to say, you want to aggresily look for your early game, and settle for your four drops if you need to. Following that rule, Zombie Chow Imp Gang Boss, Dark Bomb and Haunted Creeper are all of your “must keeps” that will be very good in every matchup. Beyond that, Ironbeak Owl and Mortal Coil should always be kept against aggro decks (Paladin, Hunter, Zoo, Mage) as they will always have some sort of target in the first turn or two. Remember, even using an owl to take down a Knife Juggler is a fine play because it keeps you alive and stretches out your life total. The plan for this deck is to get to your early “control” game as soon as you can, hope that will lead you straight into your middle game, which will then give you enough time to combo. Buying time is the most important aspect of the deck, which is why these early minions are even more important than things such as Twilight Drake or Voidcaller. Turn four is too slow in a deck without giants unless you have something to go before it.
When mulliganing you never want to keep any part of the Arcane Golem combo, and the four drops should never be kept unless you have the coin. The coin always alters mulligans, and while a turn four Voidcaller or Twilight Drake is simply too slow, a turn three is vastly different. This also goes for Imp-losion as well, which is normally only kept without the coin if you are playing against aggro and you have plays coming before it. Coin/drake is great against most decks in the game, and the same goes for Imp-losion and caller. You are looking for a curve here (though that curve looks much different than most decks) and since you are a combo deck you aren’t too worried about switching from matchup to matchup. Just keep an eye out for the early board presence and never look back.
I love combo decks, and I also love Warlock. That combination makes this one of my favorite decks that I have covered recently. I hope you enjoyed the write up as much as I did, and I hope you are loving the series. Summer is on its last legs, and I will never come to terms with how quickly life slips through our fingers like so many grains of sand. However, looking forward, the future is bright with the gleam of swords and shields, and everything is about to change. Until next time, may you always combo golem for 24 damage.