One week of TGT is down, and boy have things changed. Secrets Paladin had a chokehold on the ladder for about fifteen seconds, and now everything is evening out all around. Many classes that I have not seen in some time (Druid and Shaman come to mind) are much more prevalent, adding some much needed diversity to the ladder. The new cards have had some huge impacts on a lot of decks. While nothing truly new outside of Secrets Paladin has truly surfaced, a lot of old decks play in new, more exciting ways. One such build is a Tempo Mage list made by one of my favorite streamers, Hotform. This list may seem familiar at first glance, and that’s because it uses an old shell. However, while this deck only runs one new card from TGT, it is a direct product of the expansion.
When a new set comes out, there are a couple of routes you can go while deckbuilding. One way is to simply adapt to the changing meta in the best manner possible. This deck is a perfect example of that, taking an outdated build and adapting it a brand new way. There is no reason to (once again) go on about how much I despise the Tempo Mage decks of old, but this list has a very solid curve that takes a lot of early game and finishes it with a very strong ending punch. While there is one large change from Hotform’s original list (something we will get to in further detail later on) the other twenty nine cards are perfectly tuned to take on today’s meta. Hearthstone is, and has always been, a game of adapt or die. That is the nature of CCG’s in general, and it is especially true when a new set drops. You simply can’t just play old decks and expect to win in the way you once did. You need to be able to see what is good, or what is popular, and then take on the ladder through that lense. This list does that with traditional Tempo Mage. Taking what has always been an aggressive build and turning it into a very strong midrange machine.
We start our guide with one of the best examples of adapting to a changing world. The early days of TGT have seen a huge rise in both Paladin and, as a result, Hunter. What do both of those decks have in common? They both play a lot of small minions. And, outside of Flamewaker (another card on this list) nothing takes care of 1/1’s like Arcane Missiles. In the past, the missiles have usually been a-one of in Tempo, if it was run at all. However, it is an all-star in the new meta, and an easy auto include into this deck. While three random for damage for one mana is very underwhelming on paper, it is very, very good in practice. This card has some really nice synergy with Flamewaker, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Archmage Antonidas. That, combined with the fact that it can win games on it’s own, makes Arcane Missiles one of the strongest cards in this list.
The most important part of using the missiles is knowing exactly when to play them. There are really three modes you always want to be looking for. The first is to clear an early rush. If you ever get overwhelmed or feel like the board is slipping away, you should pull the trigger on this card early. This is not the best use of the missiles, but remember you are a tempo deck. If you ever lose the board, then you are most likely going to lose the game. The second mode is to save the missiles for Flamewaker. This is probably the most common mode, as turning three damage into five while also adding a 2/4 to the board is one of the best tempo plays you can make. The third and final use for this card is holding it to respond to your opponent’s play. While it is not true of all decks, there are a lot of games where you are going to need to clear a small board. This usually means Unleash the Hounds, Imp-Losion or Muster for Battle. Each one of those cards is a centerpiece of their respective decks, and if you have a one mana answer, it tilts the game heavily in your favor.
While this card is more than standard fare for Tempo Mage by now, Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a card I still wanted to make special note of. Why? Because it makes Arcane Missiles cost zero mana. One thing that is important to understand about this deck, and something that you will see in the videos, is that this is not a list that is going to kill your opponent out of nowhere. While you will win some games by curving out and simply running your opponent down before they can react, you typically are expecting to go long. That means that your later cards, Rhonin, Archmage Antonidas and Dr. Boom are going to come down. The first two of those cards are very important finishers, and apprentice makes them much, much better.
While you should always burn your apprentices early, once the first couple of turns pass they really lose their value. This is a very important distinction to make, knowing when you can get full value out of them, and when you want to save them for a game-ending combo. Both Rhonin and Archmage Antonidas instantly become a lot more deadly when you have an apprentice in hand. Making Rhonin’s missiles free can wreck an opposing board or give you a large number of fireballs. Even if you haven’t seen either of those cards, it is usually the right move to hold onto the apprentice unless you absolutely need to play a spell or you need to get something on the board. This card is more of a combo-oriented card that most of the choices in this deck, and you usually want to play it when you can “go off” by slamming a good number of different spells. Beyond this, once the key area has passed, you can also save apprentice for Flamewaker, which can give you a lot of pings if set up right.
This is perhaps my favorite card choice in the deck. All throughout the Tempo Mage timeline, Water Elemental has largely been shunned. It is a very solid four drop, but most versions of this decks were either going too aggressive or too control-oriented to justify including it. However, in a deck such as this one, where you really operate on a midrange level more than anything else, this card is the king of your curve. A lot of this deck comes down to getting strong minions onto the board, and then controlling the game through your spells. Water Elemental helps with this by being a very sticky minion that also kills almost all of the early drops in the game. Three damage is not entirely threatening on its own, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at either. In addition, the six health is very tricky to remove, especially if you curved out well. In that way, this card is a lot like Loatheb. While it obviously does not have the same lock down power as the fungus-lover does, it can really solidify a board and make your opponent’s plays have very little power. Also, being able to completely lock out weapons classes like Hunter, Paladin and Warrior is very important, since they lose a lot of momentum if they cannot swing with their weapons.
Flamestrike is in this deck as a “get out of jail free” card, plain and simple. Most of your spells do a really good job of clearing the board, but there are a lot of swarm decks on the ladder these days, and you need a way to answer them. Just like Arcane Missiles, Flamestrike has always been a powerful card that just got stronger due to the way the meta has shaped. While running two is too much, and will often result in dead draws, having one gives you another great option for your toolbox. While this card is obviously for decks such as Zoo or Paladin, you never know when you will need to clear out a couple of solid minions without having to sacrifice burn. Not only that, but there will also be games where you are racing, and this card will quickly end those by giving you the edge. Controlling the board is the entire point of this deck, and no AOE does it quite like this card.
The most important part of playing Flamestrike is understanding when to use it. You only have one copy, and that means you are only going to get to do this trick once. That means you need to weigh your situation, and see if it is your last resort. For instance, if you are facing down a Murloc Knight that has already triggered. Is it worth striking? Most of the time the answer would be yes, but do you have other options? Can you just Frostbolt or Fireball it instead? Once you know this, you need to then ask yourself is clearing the board more important than holding burn. If your opponent is low on life, then you probably want to save the burn, but if not, then maybe saving your strike for Muster for Battle would be better. It is a lot of thinking for just one card, but that type of thought process can make the difference between winning and losing games. Your three finishers are going to win you games, since Archmage Antonidas always allows you to combo your way to victory. As such, sometimes you need to stall or push for a couple of extra turns. Using Flamestrike at the wrong time, or using it before your opponent fully commits to the board, can take away those turns. This is not a card that you just throw out, but something you want to use very carefully by calculating life total, cards that have already been played, as well as your other removal options.
Out of all the cards in this deck, Rhonin is the one that demands the most explanation. Before even getting into the card, I should note that the original list ran Nexus-Champion Saraad instead of the mage legend. However, I think that Saraad just doesn’t have the same kind of game-ending power as Rhonin, who can steal games out of nowhere. Hotform did note that he thought Rhonin was too slow for this list, and if you want to lower your curve, Saraad is a fine choice, but I think it’s incredibly weaker. By running Rhonin it allows you to play to the later game than you normally would. This also gives you a lot more options for Archmage Antonidas, and gives a third finisher that this deck really needs. What sets Rhonin apart, besides the obvious combo potential, is the way that it can pressure your opponent so heavily. A 7/7 in a class that runs both Frostbolt and Fireball is terrifying, and a 7/7 that also gives you nine random damage (15 with Flamewaker) when it dies, makes it almost impossible to deal with outside of silence. There were many games where I drew Rhonin on turn five or six, and the rest of the game was just getting to turn eight, playing him and winning as a result. In fact, his deathrattle is so powerful, there were a couple times where I killed him myself to clear the board or push for lethal.
There is not too much to say about playing Rhonin except that you need to get him onto the board whenever you can. Yes, he is not good when you are behind, but he can absolutely lock down a game when you’re ahead. In fact, you can pretty much clock any game where you play him while ahead a win. This is because, just like Tirion Fordring, Rhonin gives your opponent a choice of two horrible options. Give you three spells that do nine collective damage, or leave a 7/7 on board. However, what makes him different from a card like Tirion is that you are playing Mage, not Paladin. That fact is what pushes Rhonin over the top. Seven damage can always be lethal in Mage, so Rhonin must always be dealt with in one way or another. Even if he does get silenced, and your opponent loses their board by clearing him, you have paused the game in your favor. Rhonin is not the most flashy card in the world, and he doesn’t come down until at least turn eight, but he does exactly what this type of deck wants. Gives you a huge finisher than interacts really well with other cards. He triggers both Archmage Antonidas and Flamewaker, is a threat and a board clear, and sometimes just gives you the old three Fireball lethal when you otherwise have no other way to win.
Ah yes, the new bane of the meta. Secrets Paladin is not a deck that many people saw coming, but it is one that took the ladder completely by storm. In fact, this deck is so powerful it has made people look to Hunter as the savior; a day I thought would never come. The bad news about Secret Paladin is that, while not as overwhelmingly popular as it was last week, it probably isn’t going anywhere. It is a very strong, consistent deck that has a ton of very strong tools at its disposal. However, the good news is that Hotform made this deck specifically to take down Uther and his swarms of annoying minions. While it may not seem like it at first glance, Secrets Paladin is a deck that is very reliant on Tempo plays. Muster for Battle, Knife Juggler and Shielded Minibot all take early board control before strong midgame cards and Mysterious Challenger finish it. As with all tempo decks, if you can stop that from happening, you can really cut them off at the knees.
The rule of this game is to be the control deck as much as possible, but also recognize what type of secrets deck you are playing against. Obviously, knowing each of the Paladin secrets is vital, but this deck also has two different modes. One mode is the hyper-aggressive version that tries to overwhelm you with Secret Keepers and Leper Gnomes. For this version, you want to kill everything that comes down, protect your health and be very, very careful of both buffs and Divine Favor. In contrast, the other secrets version is much slower, opting to run a lot of heftier cards like Piloted Shredder, Dr. Boom and, of course, Tirion Fordring. For that version, you really want to save your burn for their bigger threats and let your end-game minions take over. Flamestrike and Arcane Missiles are really good against both of these versions, and the most important thing is to know what secrets Paladins play, and the best way to test for them.
People started getting back into Hunter because Flare is a great way to combat the Paladin menace. Now, they just play it because it’s good. Ram Wrangler and Bear Trap have given Hunter great tools, and their shell is just as strong as it ever was. That makes this a hard matchup that can really slip out of your hands quickly if you’re not careful. While clearing is always important for Tempo Mage, since that is the way you are going to hold down the board, it is absolutely vital here. Midrange Hunter is one of the most creature-centric decks in the game, and that has become even more true with the inclusion of the new cards. An important thing to remember is that you run no silence, which means their Mad Scientists are always going to be live. When you check traps you want to attack face, since triggering a Snake Trap without an Arcane Missiles in hand can be a disaster. Most of the time you want to be prepared for Freezing Trap, but when you do attack their face, you want to be thinking about the 3/3 bear should it make an appearance.
As always, the number one rule of this match is to pressure them much more than they can pressure you. Midrange Hunter operates much like this deck does, putting down minions all throughout the game while also threatening a large amount of burst. However, if you can get to their life total before they can get to yours, they suddenly will lose control. A lot of this matchup comes down to who can threaten lethal first. Now, this does not mean that you want to just waste damage going for their face, nor do you want to ignore the board, but if you can hit them, hit them hard. When playing against Hunter, there are many, many things you need to constantly be aware of. Having an answer to Savannah Highmane is a big one, as is playing around Knife Juggler/Unleash the Hounds. Clear their beasts at all costs to prevent Houndmaster/Ram Wrangler, and count the number of Kill Commands and Quickshots they’ve used. You have to be very careful here, but if you can set up damage early, you can take this game.
An easy rule of Hearthstone is that, no matter what the meta looks like or what deck is the most popular, Control Warrior will always be good. Even beyond Justicar Trueheart and Varian Wrynn (who are both great here) the shell of the deck is strong against just about anything. Cheap removal, strong finishers and reliable card draw make this deck very powerful, and give it the longevity it has seen. That being said, this is perhaps the hardest matchup for us. That is because, most games you play with this deck, you are going to try and push finish your opponent’s off with direct damage instead of creature combat. However, Control Warrior is a class that usually can only be killed by minions due to the large amounts of armor they can gain (made even worse by Bash). Furthermore, many of your “anti-meta” tech cards like Arcane Missiles and Flamewaker are quite weak here since their minions are either too big, or like taking damage.
The way you are going to win this game, outside of some truly insane starts, is through your finishers. While it is nice to shut down their Death’s Bite with Water Elemental, or to force them to use a Shield Slam on an Azure Drake, you are really depending on the big three to close this one out. They have really powerful removal options, but all three of your end game cards don’t care about being removed. In fact, Rhonin welcomes it. Control Warrior is, and will always be, a very solid deck. However, it also has not evolved much during its time. This means you just need to stay ahead on board and play around Brawl and Alexstrasza. Grommash Hellscream is going to be the main way they win, so you always want to make sure you can stay ahead of twelve health if you can afford it.
As you can imagine, the mirror match is all about board control. More specifically, board control throughout the first three turns. The way you start this game is going to be very important. In most matches you can catch up if you fall behind. However, since they are doing exactly what you are, that is not the case here. In fact, catching up is almost impossible for you and your opponent. This means that you want to use all of the resources you can to take board control early on, and you should assume they will do the same. Frostbolt is one of the most important tools here, as it kills both Mana Wyrm and Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Arcane Missiles should also be kept for this reason, though it is much less reliable due to Mirror Image.
Beyond the early turns, you also want to be ready for when the game starts shifting into the heavy hitters. Water Elemental is one of your best tools in this match, as it is quite hard to remove and will most likely eat a Fireball. While you do not have the same mid-game punch as classic tempo decks, you do have the tools to stay alive. If you have the early board Tempo Mage will quickly fall into the “one minion a turn trap” which will allow you to add to the board while removing theirs. Flamestrike needs to be played around, but you can easily do this by only committing a few threats a time. The last rule of this match is to play around secrets. Mirror Entity can be a huge problem if you’re not careful, and later on in the game it can be the right move to save a small minion to run into it. Effigy is also played these days, and you should test for entity first before trading into their larger minions.
Out of every class, Druid perhaps got the most tools and options from the new set. Token, Midrange and Ramp are all on ladder, and Beast Druid is something I plan to try very soon. Here I will briefly discuss Fast Druid, as I think it is the strongest and most popular version of the deck right now. When playing this matchup, you want to think about things a little differently than you’re used to. Druid, while very strong, is a deck that can quickly fall into the “one creature a turn” trap that tempo decks prey on (see above). However, you need to force them into this corner, since they are not good at keeping up with a rapidly dividing board. Aside from crazy Innervate games, your curve will beat Druid more times than it won’t. This is very simply a match of sticking to your guns, and using your removal for the large minions they will start slamming on turn five. If you can make good trades, they just can’t keep up. While it was not true a month ago, you always want Frostbolt in this matchup, as it is the only efficient way to kill the particularly annoying Darnassus Aspirant. One last thing to rememebr is, every Druid deck, no matter what type or iteration, is running the combo these days. Every later turn in the game, right after you look for lethal, always make note of your life total. While you may feel safe, it is best to never leave minions on board. No reason to die at 24 life because you got careless.
Though the deck has changed, the plan has not. It’s all about the curve. This is the golden rule of mulliganing, and if you do not follow it, you will die. Horribly. Tempo Mage is a deck that falls right into the “keep low, sell high” category of decks. That means, if it costs more than three mana you don’t want it, and if it costs less, you do. This is not completely set in stone, and there are some cards you want in every match. Those are, Mad Scientist, Mana Wyrm, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mirror Image and Unstable Portal[/card]. There are many cards that are very good, such as Frostbolt and Flamecannon, that you want most of the time, but aren’t “always keeps”. It is important to know this difference. For instance, against any deck that swarms the board or is aggressive in nature, you want to keep Arcane Missiles. However, you don’t want it against Warrior or Druid, since there are much better openings. While the rules of this are simple, you also want to favor early minions over early spells. While it may seem risky, I will toss back a grip full of cheap removal to try and find my two drops, since they are what get the deck rolling.
Never keep Mirror Entity. In terms of removal, while Fireball is too high for anything except for Druid, you want Flamecannon in every matchup where you wouldn’t keep Arcane Missiles. Frostbolt is a very interesting card. It is absolutely necessary in all matchups that can play a terrifying two drop (Knife Juggler, Darnassus Aspirant) but it’s not great against slower decks. The rule here is to feel the hand, see your matchup, and then go from there. I know that sounds like a complete cop out, but if you stick to the “start low” theory, you should be fine. Every game is going to have a different read, but if you can manage to curve out while also making sure you have a solid balance of spells and minions, you will at least have a chance in every game.
I always love to see how old decks adapt to a new world, and this list is a perfect option. While next week I will get back to the truly wacky lists that TGT has created, this week I did want to showcase a very important note about deck building. The summer sun is finally setting into the past, and we move into the chilly autumn days (well, in places outside of California). Hope things are going well for all of you, and until next time, may you always Unstable Portal exactly what you need.