Weekly Legends: Control Mage

This time around on Weekly Legends we look at a very strange list. That is not to say that the list is odd in what it does or how it plays, but rather it something we have never really seen before. In the past, Mage has predominately been either been Freeze (combo) or Tempo. The […]

Introduction

This time around on Weekly Legends we look at a very strange list. That is not to say that the list is odd in what it does or how it plays, but rather it something we have never really seen before. In the past, Mage has predominately been either been Freeze (combo) or Tempo. The class supports those styles very nicely and has a lot of tools to burst your opponent down in numerous ways. This week we are going to break that mold by looking at a strict Control Mage. This idea has been supported a bit in the past with both Reno and Grinder, but those decks were much more value oriented than straight remove-your-guy control. However, this deck plays very much in that style and uses Mage’s classic removal package to put together a solid control deck that just aims to win the game by going long.

Strifecro (who created the deck) first made this list popular by streaming it, and zemanjaski got it into my series by taking it to legend. While the end-game here is often going to be burst-oriented, this deck does that in a way that is vastly different from Freeze. In fact, I would look at this much more like the Control Warrior decks of old where you spend the whole game clearing out minions until you can finish off your opponent with the old Alexstrasza/burst combo. It works brilliantly here and utilizes a lot of tools we have not really seen used in this way.

Key Cards

Doomsayer

A staple in any control or slow mage build, Doomsayer is one of the most important (and one of the hardest to use) cards in this deck. The first mode of this card is running it out on turn two to shut down an early play and gain board control. This is the line you want to take against just about any midrange deck, including Hunter and Shaman. This is because those decks love to play an early drop and will rarely have a solid answer to the 0/7 on turn two. While you may not be able to use the board in the way of something like Paladin, getting a free turn to draw or set up a secret is very important. In fact, this play is so good that you always want to look for ways to play this when your opponent has no way of killing it. Beyond that, you want to typically use this in combination with Frost Nova. It is rare that decks have a good answer to the sayer, and even if they do you are still likely going to slow the game down and eat burn or removal. If this soaks up seven damage that is usually a win.

The other extremely important use for this card is using it proactively to take down a play before it happens. For example, playing it on turn five to discourage a turn six Savannah Highmane. This situation comes up quite a bit, but you only want to do it when you need to buy time or you need to take something out that you have absolutely no answer to. While your removal is going to be able to kill a lot of minions, there are also a lot of beefy or sticky creatures that simply give you fits. Always understand your opponent’s curve, know what they are trying to play to, and do your best to cut them off before they can get something going. This is not always easy to do, but if you have the sayer you should do your best to predict what your opponent’s next few turns could look like in order to set up the play.

Medivh’s Valet

More Frostbolts please! Though Medivh’s Valet has a small impact overall, this deck would not be able to exist without the two drop. The reason this list works is because of how many removal options you have at your disposal. You can clear a board, wipe out multiple minions, freeze big threats and take down smaller things one by one. Killing minions is your gameplan and you need to work hard to stick to it. Valet is a very key part of this because it adds a lot of consistency against a lot of popular decks. Yes, you cannot play this until you have a secret (most likely an Ice Block) up, but once you get block the two drop is always going to be live. That really helps out your curve and can be used early on to take down a threat like Flamewaker or Tomb Pillager that can cause massive amounts of damage before your late game arrives.

One of the biggest problems with playing any type of non-Warrior control right now is that every deck has so many ways to contest the board. That means that, unless you have 10000 armor, you will eventually die to a constant string of threats your opponent pumps out throughout the game. Being able to kill something and put a body down may not seem like a big deal, but it is gigantic. Almost every deck today is obsessed with board presence. That means anything, no matter how small, is going to have to be dealt with. That makes Valet better than Frostbolt because people will take time to deal with the 2/3, giving you more turns to work with and stretching out the game. Just remember to set the two drop up as best as you can and don’t depend on using it with Ice Barrier (which often breaks right away) unless you are going to play both in the same turn.

Flamestrike

Flamestrike is one of the best AOE cards ever printed and it is one of the reasons this deck works as well as it does. Most of the top decks in the game right (especially Shaman) love to get minions all over the board. This card is essential for that type of meta because it allows you to clean up whole armies with one card. As mentioned, the most difficult part of playing control is keeping up with the strong minions that have taken over Hearthstone. While you may have a removal spell for the first two minions you see, the third one is going to kill you. Being able to set up strike prevents that from happening by allowing you to conserve removal and two-for-one your opponent. As a result, if you are planning on using a Flamestrike, you typically don’t want to spend any removal the turn before you drop it down.

While there are going to be many situations where this card is good, you always want to be careful to make sure you are using it at the right one. You only have two Flamestrikes in this deck and burning one at the wrong time can lead to a quick loss. The general rule here is to only play the spell where you don’t have other means of clearing, or if you want to save your cards. For example, using the AOE to kill off a four health Thing From Below and two totems is often not as good as using a Medivh’s Valet and ping to take down the 5/5 and challenge the rest of the board. If you have a lot of health it is also ok to hold off using Flamestrike for a turn to make your opponent think you don’t have one. This usually allows you to catch extra things in the blast.

Archmage Antonidas

Archmage Antonidas has been played in just about every Mage deck that has ever existed, and for good reason. While he fills his classic role here, the seven mana legendary is important to discuss because he has a much wider range of flexibility than normal. As usual, the first part of Tony is using him to generate lethal. You will notice that this deck has very little damage. So little in fact that you don’t even run Fireball. Just about everything you have is slanted towards removal and controlling the board, making your burst potential just about zero. While you may be able to save a Frostbolt or two, the legendary is your finisher and you need to treat him as such. Look to get at least two Fireballs when he comes down, but really strive to set up Emperor Thaurissan and get three or more.

The other thing to know about Archmage Antonidas is that he doesn’t have to be used to kill your opponent. This may seem very strange, but Fireballs also makes an excellent form of removal in addition to extra face damage. If you are planning to go into fatigue, or if you are playing against a deck that is going to have a lot of threats, you can use Tony to just outpace them. Forcing out removal and gaining two or three extra removal spells is very nice and will often give you enough staying power to outlast most decks. While the seven drop is usually going to be used for his damage, his real potential comes from just how well he can be used as a control tool. He plays both modes very well and anytime you have a grip of Fireballs always think about how they should best be used.

Alexstrasza

While people who follow me know about Alexstrasza‘s ample flexibility in being to both heal yourself of kill your opponent, I am bringing her up here because I want to discuss how this deck wins games. There are two ways you take down your opponent, and those avenues are going to be through either fatigue or the Freeze Mage route. Alex+burst is a classic way to end a game, and it is going to be cap off most of your matches. However, as you are not a combo deck you need to know where you are going to get that damage from. Archmage Antonidas is the primary source, but Cabalist’s Tome and Babbling Book can also supply you with much-needed burn. When you are on the Alex plan you need to constantly keep track of the damage you gain throughout the game and hold onto it at all costs. Using the dragon too early and not having the burn to back it up can be a disaster.

Matchups

The five decks that I see the most when playing on the ladder.

Midrange Shaman

As we all know, Shaman is still the most important deck in the game and it is the one you have to beat. Fortunately, you have a decent matchup here for two reasons. One, the Shaman decks of today run very little burst. This not only means that Frost Nova is going to lock them down, but it also means they are also going to have a lot of trouble breaking Ice Block. As a result, they are just going to have a lot of trouble killing you. Shaman is a deck that operates in a way that is not built to take down a deck like yours. This is because they love to slowly dominate a board and then try and take their opponent down quickly during the late-middle turns. You can easily fight that plan by killing what you need, using AOE, and freezing until you put together lethal.

The other reason this matchup works so well for you is that Shaman does not interact well with decks that don’t have a lot of minions. Midrange is a build that depends on playing a style of tempo where they play strong threats and then back them up with very efficient removal. However, when those threats can be effectively picked off and they don’t any targets for their removal they often end up being very stagnant. The more turns they totem pass, the closer you get to drawing your finishing package and killing them off. Just take out everything that comes down and never let them build too many totems to shut down a surprise Thunder Bluff Valiant. If they do ever get to a point where your life reaches the lower teens you always want to calculate the damage they could have and play accordingly.

Secret Hunter

As strong as Shaman is, Hunter is right below it. And I mean right below it. Rexxar is always at the top of the meta, and this time around he comes with a blend of crazy secrets and powerful minions. This is not an easy match, but it is not impossible. That is because your opponent has a lot of inherent burst, but you also work around secrets quite well. Like Shaman, Hunter really depends on interacting with opposing minions (though they do it with their secrets). You simply can ignore that by pacing them and killing everything they play. Their spells are not going to outlast you, but once the board slips away the game rapidly spirals out of control. Stop that from happening at all costs.

The two biggest problems for you here are Savannah Highmane and Eaglehorn Bow. You want to always have a plan for Highmane, which either means freezing it or by playing a turn five Doomsayer. While this card is eventually going to come down, you just want to delay it as much as possible. Bow is also a problem because it represents a ton of damage over the course of a game. Never attack into their secrets unless you absolutely have to. You are more than fine sitting back and waiting to draw your Acidic Swamp Ooze. That being said, it is important to watch out for Cat Trick. Just about none of the secrets are going to matter than much, but the 4/2 panther can really hurt you by dodging both Freeze and AOE. If your opponent has one up always play a small spell before going for a full clear.

Note: Always keep Ragnaros the Firelord in mind. Pretty much every Hunter deck runs the eight drop and you want to have a plan for it when the time comes.

Freeze Mage

As long as Midrange Shaman is around there is going to be Freeze Mage. The chilly deck preys on Thrall and also has a decent matchup against most of the field. That also includes you. This is a very hard game that you need to properly adapt for or you will lose (and you are still probably going to lose anyway). As soon as you recognize that your opponent is playing Freeze (when you see no early minion or a draw card like Novice Engineer or Acolyte of Pain) you have to try and pressure them as much as you can. The reason for this is that, even with two Ice Blocks, Freeze Mage is going to outlast you. They have more draw, more burn, and more ways to end the game first. The only way you can overcome that is by getting as much burn as you can and doing everything in your power to put them on the back foot. This game usually comes down to whoever can break the other’s block first, and that is usually Freeze. However, if you use your hero power on their face and constantly challenge the board you can pull this one out. Just never get complacent and always look for ways to do damage.

Control Warrior

Your most interesting matchup, Control Warrior is going to be a very long game where you are going to see all of your cards. While you are not always going to go to fatigue, just know that most of your cards are not going to do much. Most of this game is going to spent clicking “end turn” and being very patient. There is no rush here. You simply want to hoard your removal and kill every big threat that they can come up with. This will let you pace your opponent and make sure you have ways to deal with the few threats they do run. You are going to be under no pressure, so you want to treat this as a classic game of control vs. control. Look for value where you can it and never make a play just to make one. It is easy to run out cards simply because you want something to happen, but that line is often going to be wrong.

Elise Starseeker is the way you are going to win this game, plain and simple. Not only do you not have the needed burn to break through armor, but your ample removal is largely going to do nothing against Warrior’s constant string of spells. As a result, you need to draw as many cards as you possibly can. While you may be inclined to hold off on drawing to try and play the fatigue game, you are not going to be able to match Warrior’s health. As a result, you just want to get down as many large threats as you possibly can. Race to the Golden Monkey as quickly as you can and try and play it before your opponent can properly get set. They will be able to kill the first couple of threats you drop down, but you will eventually overwhelm them.

Spell Druid

With Yogg long gone (yay!) Druid has reverted to the classic Malygos deck that depends on spells and Arcane Giants to win games. Burst is how they gain stars, which means you need to work to keep off their damage as much as possible. Use all of your different spells to lock down the board and make sure your opponent never puts together a strong push. If you can simply push against your opponent until you package your own lethal you should be fine here. The only thing to be aware of is that most Druids have ways to flood the board with minions at one point or another. For this reason you want to save your Flamestrikes and only use them once your opponent goes big.

This is one matchup where you are typically going to save Alexstrasza for yourself. The reason is that Maly Druid is all about going in on one huge turn and killing their opponent with multiple burst spells. That works against some very strong decks, but all it does against you is pop your Ice Block. If you can then follow up their play by healing to fifteen and dropping an 8/8 down they are usually not going to have enough gas to keep up. Just always watch out for Arcane Giants. These are the only two real threats you need to worry about so save any hard removal for them if you can.

Mulligan Guide

As a control deck, your whole goal when it comes to mulligans is to look for removal and card draw. Babbling Book, Frostbolt, Acidic Swamp Ooze, Doomsayer, Ice Barrier and Ice Block. Beyond that, Medivh’s Valet should be kept alongside a secret and a good hand and you should only keep Frost Nova with Doomsayer against decks where it is a good play.

Bloodmage Thalnos can be kept if you have an odd hand or one where you need a two drop. Arcane Intellect should be kept against any slow deck or in situations where you have a good curve. Arcane Blast is not good against control, but you want it against any deck that has early minions like Hunter, Mage and Shaman. Finally, Elise Starseeker is a solid keep with the coin and a good curve, and you can keep Cabalist’s Tome against slower control like Priest, Paladin and Warrior.

Conclusion

Very cool. I always love when people take classes to new places, and this is one of the most interesting builds I have come across in some time. On paper it seems very wonky, but in practice it all melds together very well. There are a bunch of fun cards packed into this list and many things you just normally don’t get to play with. Playing something different is always refreshing, and this more than fits the bill. Until next time, may you always remove your opponent’s threats.