Weekly Legends: Control Warlock

We are getting right into the thick of summer, and while I desperately wanted to cover yet another Priest build, I figured it was time to switch gears and go back to an old favorite: Warlock. While Zoo, Handlock, and even Malylock to a certain extent, are quite well known, this week’s list, created by […]

Introduction

We are getting right into the thick of summer, and while I desperately wanted to cover yet another Priest build, I figured it was time to switch gears and go back to an old favorite: Warlock. While Zoo, Handlock, and even Malylock to a certain extent, are quite well known, this week’s list, created by Eyecelance, is something a little different. At first glance, this deck seems like many other forms of Warlock. However, what is important to note is that, while it may be similar, it is not the same. This deck is an amalgamation of both the classic Demonlock deck as well as Handlock, and truly gives up all gimmicks and unfair cards to simply play the long control game. It may not be the most exciting way to win, but it gets the job done, and it gets it done very well.

This deck is all about the grind. While you don’t have as many clearing tools as say the traditional Handlock did, you have a surprisingly high number of cards to outlast your opponent. Voidcaller can be very strong as putting down early board presence, while the usual package of removal, Lord Jaraxxus and healing allows you to really stretch out games. Defender of Argus is also very good at keeping you alive. The point of the deck is to simply know your matchups, understand just exactly what you are up against, and know how to play in that scenario. Against aggro, you need to watch your tapping while also using your taunts and healing to live as long as you can. On the other hand, when playing against Control or Midrange, you need to establish board presence and keep trading until you can use your finishers to slowly grind them out. Fortunately, the deck operates well in both modes.

Key Cards

Mind Control Tech

I bring up this card because, unlike most cards in the list, it stands out immediately. Mind Control Tech is a card that saw some play during the first months of this year (thanks Dr. Boom), but has fallen out of favor since. I am not entirely sure why that is, but perhaps most decks have better tech cards to play. That does not hold true in Warlock. Mind Control Tech is very strong against aggro, which is a the deck that Warlock, due to the hero power, is most susceptible to. That is the single reason that this card is in the deck above things such as Kezan Mystic. Unlike many classes, Warlock is at a huge disadvantage when it does not have an early answer to aggro. That is because, not only are you losing board, you are also taking two damage a turn from your hero power. It is very hard to comeback once that happens, but Mind Control Tech gives you a way to climb back.

MCT is not a card that will commonly get you much value against Control or Midrange decks, but it can win you games. Beyond that, it also can just pull you right back into tight situations as well. This is largely a flex spot, and can be filled with any single tech choice you want. You could opt to run a second BGH (as the original list did) but it is so bad against aggro that I don’t think it can be justified. It is also worth to note that, while not a straight tech card, Earthern Ring Farseer could also slot it in here. It too gives you a good tool against aggressive decks, and enables you a way to catch up through healing.

Hellfire/Shadowflame

While I rarely discuss two cards at once here on Weekly Legends, sometimes it is necessary. What do the two above cards have in common? That’s right, they are both AOE. Not only that, they are your only AOE. A very important distinction, and something to always keep in mind. This is a control deck that operates on the precipice of removal. You have a very small number of threats, which means you are largely depending on your clears to carry the day. While most of your options are great at getting rid of minions throughout the game, there are inevitably going to be times when you desperately need a board clear. These two cards are your fail safes for that reason, but they need to be used sparingly. You cannot just simply run out Hellfire or Shadowflame against a board of 1/1’s or useless jank, you need to be patient.

Every single matchup in the game has a “must clear” board. That is to say, a critical point in time (or a certain set of cards) where you need to have AOE ready. This looks different every in every match, but it is important to be aware of what you need your AOE for. For example, against Patron, you obviously want to wait for the patron combo. Hunter it is usually Unleash the Hounds or Snake Trap. When playing Mage, you typically want to use your AOE around turn four or five when they usually dump out most of their minions. Of course, there will be games when you have to use it in other situations, clearing boards to gain tempo or to not die, but when you do always think “is this really necessary?”. If the answer is no, hold back. If it is, go ahead and pull the trigger.

Siphon Soul

For you Shaman players out there, Siphon Soul is a lot like Hex. It is premium, no-nonsense removal that must absolutely be saved for the very last second. This is not a card you do want to waste on a mid-game card like Emperor Thaurissan or Loatheb, this is just for the big boys. As with the AOE I discussed above, you need to be able to save Siphon Soul for the thing that needs to die.

Knowing your opponent’s deck is one of, if not the, most important aspect in Hearthstone. Every deck these days has some huge minion that needs to be dealt with, and that is going to be your Siphon Soul target. Wait for it if you can, and do everything you need to trade before using Siphon. Even things like Dr. Boom or Ragnaros the Firelord, which are often great soul targets, can often be traded or killed through a combination of other removal (Big Game Hunter anyone?). The trick with this card is, before you cast it, or when you’re thinking about casting it, you should stop, analyze the board and see if there are any other ways to remove the threat. Then, if there are, see if those ways are better than using the spell.

Emperor Thaurissan

In many decks, Emperor Thaurissan is there to enable some crazy combo. However, in slower control decks (like this one) he is simply there to give you a boost on your mana and add to your board. This deck, as almost all non-Zoo Warlock decks do, will constantly have a large grip of cards. As such, Thaurissan will most likely always get you a huge discount. Now, this may not always be the craziest or most exciting play, but removing one mana can go a long way. One Thaurissan discount can enable you to many great things, such as Jaraxxus/hero power on the same turn, or use a flurry of removal and then play Antique Healbot. As stated, you’re not looking for any one combo here, you are just trying to get a little bit of value out of the six drop. Simply running him out when you can is a fine play, as he always will give you a discount on something.

Emperor Thaurissan, beyond being a lean-mean value machine, is also a card that will instantly be removed when you play it. This is important for two reasons. One, you can use it to bait out removal. As shown above, premium removal is very important in this game, and needs to be saved for end-game threats. Thaurissan is by no means an end-game threat, but he will often eat end-game removal. You can use this to your advantage by taking out things like Execute, Shield Slam or Shadow Word: Death. This will hurt them later on and pave the way for cards like Mal’ganis or Dr. Boom to take over when the time comes. The other reason Thaurissan is great is because he often can buy you a turn (or some damage) against aggro. Due to how powerful he is, many decks will take a turn to get rid of him, which can give you the reach you need to either heal or taunt up.

Lord Jaraxxus

I wrap up my card discussion with the Eredar Lord of the Burning Legion for two reasons. First, to bring up that this deck plays two Voidcallers. Why is that relevant? Because sometimes they will drop Jaraxxus into play. Sometimes that is very strong, and can be paired up with Defender of Argus to give you a 4/16 beat down machine. However, other times it will lose you the game. Maybe not right away, but Jaraxxus is the only real “go long” card you have that will enable you to grind out games towards the end. In many matchups he is the main (and sometimes only) way to win, which means that you need to be able to save him. In aggro matchups (Paladin, Mage, Hunter or Zoo) he is a great card to get off of a Voidcaller, because you typically aren’t going to need him for his ability. His body is large, and when pair him with a Defender of Argus the game is usually over. On the other hand, when fighting through control, he is most often going to be your best bet.

Now, this does not mean that you should avoid playing your Voidcaller on curve, but sometimes it you do want to hold back. This especially goes for the later stages of the game. Often, Voidcaller will bait out a silence of some sort when played on turn four, and even if it doesn’t, you won’t always have Jaxx in hand. Yet, once the game starts to go long, or you begin to realize you are going to need that last bit of reach, you really don’t want to Jaraxxus to hit the field. One last note is that, Jaraxxus, while very powerful, puts you to fifteen life. As such, you always want to be extremely careful when you become him. Some games you might just have to YOLO in order to gain the life, but every deck has some type of burst. There’s no reason to lose just because you got antsy.

Matchups

Midrange Hunter

While I am very hesitant to say this, the days of Face Hunter may finally be over. However, even as that sun sets across the plains of Rexxar’s home, a new threat rises in the west. That threat is of course Midrange Hunter, which has gladly taken the place of its faster predecessor. When playing against this deck you just need to stay on top of their curve as best at possible. What that means is, don’t let anything live. Their entire strategy hinges on board control, and once they don’t have it, it becomes very hard for them to both win and stabilize. You want to use your AOE anytime they fill up the board, but typically want to wait for either Snake Trap of Unleash the Hounds. Both of those cards give them an incredible amount of reach, and can put on a lot of pressure when unanswered. Something else to think about, and something that people tend to forget, is never let than have beasts. Houndmaster can ruin your day if you aren’t careful, and Kill Command is usually used for removal (and efficient removal at that).

As I have reiterated so many times, never forget that midrange is a Hunter deck. While they have some bigger cards and maybe even some slower turns (clearing your board with Eaglehorn Bow instead of bashing your face in) they can kill you in a heartbeat. You never want your life total to dip too low, and you always want to try and set up taunts. In fact, taunts are very important here for two reasons. First of all, they make it so the Hunter has a harder time killing you. Second, and even more importantly, they help advance your board. Most of the minions you are going to face in this matchup have a hard time getting through giant taunts, which will make it so they either have to spend removal or sacrifice their board presence. And, once Hunter is focused on the board instead of your face, you should be fine.

Tempo Mage

Tempo Mage is a very interesting deck that usually folds under AOE and targeted removal. Is that an exaggeration? Maybe a little, but they are not a deck that does well without minions. As a result, this is a matchup that largely falls in your favor. It is always important to understand that Tempo Mage is an aggro deck, operating in the same way Zoo does. It seeks for early board control, and then tries to outlast you using a bunch of unfair cards and large minions. However, unlike Zoo they don’t have any resilient minions, and will almost always collapse if anything throws off their plan. As a result, the best advice I can give about this matchup is, throw their plan off at all costs.

Ironbeak Owl and Darkbomb are both extremely strong insta-keeps because they both interrupt the early game. In the same vein, Hellfire and Shadowflame both do a great job of clearing the board, which usually leaves them with nothing. Another comparison to Zoo. Tempo Mage is not a deck that operates well with nothing in play. If you ever manage to run them out of minions, you will almost always find yourself in the driver’s seat. That does not mean they cannot win, but the match can quickly slip out of their hands. Mad Scientist is a very annoying card, and Mirror Entity can ruin your day if you aren’t careful. As such, you want to save a small minion in the later turns just in case it comes into play. Always count Mage’s removal, and keep your life up above where Frostbolt and Fireball can’t reach you.

Control Warrior

Prepare for the long game. Control Warrior seems to be the fad-of-the-week over its combo oriented brother, which is actually not the best news for us. While some games come down to different aspects, this is largely a game of legends. Big minions vs. big minions. This may be the only matchup where running one BGH could hurt you, but that’s something you have to live with. The best way to play this is, as with any Control Warrior matchup, you want to be aware of two things: removal and Grommash Hellscream. As a Warlock deck, you are going to have a pretty low life total, especially in a match where you are constantly drawing cards off of your hero power. You need to be able to play out your game plan while also not randomly dying to the raging orc. If you can keep your life total up (save those healbots for Alexstrasza) and hide behind taunts, Warrior will have a very, very hard time finishing you off due to your high number of removal spells.

You want to count their threats, and also count their removal. As stated, you have a very small number of actual minions, and Warrior has a large number of ways to remove just about anything in the game. If you can bait out their premium kill cards with things like Emperor Thaurissan or Sylvanas Windrunner, you should be fine. In the same vein, you always want to be aware of their threats, and know what you still have to face. Most games, both of you are going to see the whole deck, which means they are going to play all of their big minions. Remove their legends when they show up, and know exactly how many of them are left. In other words: save your premium removal. A very important note that I keep harping on, but it will be very key in matches like this. BGH can really be used on any target, but you typically need to save it for Ragnaros the Firelord and Grommash Hellscream over things like Dr. Boom. If you can manage this, you will typically just outlast your opponent before Lord Jaraxxus finishes the day.

Handlock/Malylock

As with Face Hunter, Zoo also seems to be disappearing little by little across the landscapes of the ladder. I for one am not sure why, as I believe it is still largely the best deck in the game, but that’s not the best news for us. Zoo is actually a pretty favorable matchup, while slower Warlock games can be very hard due to the fact that they play our game, but they do it a little better. The first thing you want to do against a slow Warlock is identify exactly what type of deck it is. Handlock runs giants, Malylock runs dragons. That is the difference, and one you need to identify immediately. Why? Because against Handlock, which you should treat like a control vs. control, you just want to keep their life total up so they can’t get free giants. On the other hand, against Malylock, you want to keep your life total up so you don’t die to the spell power dragon. In both cases, you need to understand which plan you need to be on, so try and figure out their deck as soon as possible.

Beyond life totals, you want to treat each game like a mirror match. Trade for board, use removal and just hit them harder than they hit you. Card advantage is very important here as well, and whoever has the bigger grip usually pulls ahead. Tapping is a premium, and Ironbeak Owl is perhaps more important here than in most matchups. While giants and finishers will ultimately end the game, Twilight Drake and Sylvanas Windrunner are two of the biggest swing cards in the match. Drake will eat multiple minions if unanswered, and Sylvanas will steal your board. Owl is a perfect answer to both, and should be saved only for those targets since you can easily answer most other things. On the flip side, Sylvanas/Shadowflame is the most powerful tool at your disposal. Not only does it give you a huge clear, but it also makes it so you can steal whatever you want. When used correctly, this play can often decide the game.

Midrange Combo Druid

I’m not sure who gave Druid the go-ahead to come back on the ladder, but it is a deck I have played against a lot in the past couple of weeks. All Druid decks these days run the combo, which means that you, under no circumstances, can allow yourself to fall to fourteen life without taunts. While their burst potential is scary, Druid is not actually a deck that does too well against us. BGH is always a concern, and you should always try and bait it out with Dr. Boom. Losing a 7/7 to a three drop is never fun, but an unanswered Mal’ganis will end the game on its own. Beyond that, they have very limited removal that will often not be enough to kill all of our threats. Keeper of the Grove will almost always be used on Twilight Drake. That is important to note, since that means that Sylvanas Windrunner, one of Druid’s biggest problem cards, will almost always be live.

As we live in a combo world, you want to make sure Druid’s board is always clear. This can be tricky to do sometimes, but even something as simple as a 5/5 puts their potential at 21 damage. Because of this, you just want to be strictly control, running them out of both cards and minions before ending the game later on. Sometimes you will even go as far as fatigue, which is fine as long as you can keep outvaluing them along the way. Swipe can be very powerful, and you need to play around it well. This usually mean either baiting it out with an Imp-losion, or saving Imp-losion for after a Swipe. Either way, watch out for the four cost removal, as it is the only way they can really take out a board. Beyond Swipe, Druid has little to no removal. This is one of the few matchups where you should try and get as many minions down as possible. While you always want to be playing the control player, if you can build early board pressure and swarm them down, you should do so without any hesitation.

Mulligan Guide

One of the advantages of this deck, beyond the cards themselves, is how simple it is to mulligan. When you step back and break down the cards, the deck really only operates in three phases. It has it’s anti-aggro cards, removal and big finishers. The way you want to mulligan against every deck is to keep your early game, and then try to power through the rest of the game with sheer card advantage. However, that being said, Darkbomb and Imp Gang Boss are the only two “must keeps” in the deck. That is because they are universal, cards that are great it just about every single matchup, while the other cards in the list are specific to either aggro or control.

When playing Control, it is ok to keep your powerful four drops, meaning both Twilight Drake and Voidcaller. Each of these demands a silence, and is very strong when left unanswered. You also want to look for Imp-losion here as well, especially with the coin, since it enables you to clear out an early minion and develop board. When playing against aggro, you want to look for Mind Control Tech, Ironbeak Owl and Mortal Coil. Hellfire is also very strong, and should always be kept against both Paladin and Mage. Obviously, Acidic Swamp Ooze is for any weapons matchup, and everything else that costs five or more should be sent back. For the most part, the best way to mulligan is to identify your opponent’s deck, and then keep what you need from there. It is important to aggressively mulligan for early cards against aggro, but, due to your lifetap, you have a little more leeway when facing down control.

Conclusion

Another week, another Warlock. Thank you all for reading and watching, and I hope, wherever you are in the world, that the sun is shining brightly down upon you. As the summer moves on, it might be time for me to take a break from the crazy decks and actually look at some of the more classic builds that are very strong in this meta. I am not sure if I’m going to do that yet, and only time will tell. Until then, may you always tap into the right answers.