Weekly Legends: Old School Handlock

You must go back with me! To the future? No, the past. Today, on Weekly Legends we are going back a whopping two years to a cleaner, simpler time in Hearthstone. An age when Hunter’s ruled the ladder, Naxxramas was just budding thought in Ben Brode’s mind and Druid’s had not yet figured out what […]

Introduction

You must go back with me! To the future? No, the past. Today, on Weekly Legends we are going back a whopping two years to a cleaner, simpler time in Hearthstone. An age when Hunter’s ruled the ladder, Naxxramas was just budding thought in Ben Brode’s mind and Druid’s had not yet figured out what the combo could do. I, of course, am talking about the first year of this game. There were many decks in those early days, and one of the most iconic was Handlock; a Warlock list that abused Lifetap and huge, cheap minions to win games. Though it has not been very popular over the past year and a half due to a faster meta, sticky minions and more reliable stronger damage, kleinesk1nd found a way to push it through the Whispers meta all the way to top 10 legend.

Handlock may seem like a very risky deck to play in today’s burst-heavy meta, but there are a couple of tools and tech cards in this list that allow you to very quickly go over your opponent’s head. In the past Handlock has just been too slow, especially with the nerfing of Molten Giant. It is hard to spend your first couple of turns tapping and doing nothing while decks like Shaman and Hunter fill the board. However, there are a few changes that have been made here (and a few more taunts) that enable you a way to stabilize just in case the game gets out of hand. Though the tech cards do not look the same as they used to, this deck feels very similar to the Handlocks of old. Even if it does pilot in a slightly different way.

Key Cards

Argent Watchman

Though the original list ran two Dark Peddler in this spot, but I think that the two drop doesn’t do enough. Yes, it may give you a clutch one drop card like Corruption, Mortal Coil or Power Overwhelming, but it also dies to all early removal and doesn’t trade very well. On the other hand, Argent Watchman gives you a large body that just crushes a lot of early game plays that you have an otherwise hard time dealing with. This card stacks up extremely well against Zoo and Hunter, but also creates a solid threat against Druid, Paladin and Warrior. For those reasons, and for the fact that it works very well when taunted, I think this works quite well opposite Doomsayer as the way you want to start the game.

The biggest thing holding Watchman back is the fact that you have to use your hero power in order to trigger its ability. However, this is a deck where you want to Lifetap as much as possible. Coining this out on turn one into Lifetap on turn two and turn three means this gets to clear as you need. A lot of the time you are going to play this on two into a turn three Lifetap into playing a four drop. That one bridge turn may not seem like a big deal, but killing an early threat is very good at saving a little bit of life moving into the middle game.

Note: You could also run Ancient Watcher here, as many once did. However, Watcher’s only really interacts with Shadowflame (a one of in this deck) and taunts. Also, it can never attack

Earthen Ring Farseer/Refreshment Vendor

To play a deck like Handlock, you need to have healing. Period. This is a very slow list that is going to grind during the first turns of the game, opening you up to plays like Mana Wyrm, Flame Imp, Alexstrasza’s Chamption and Tunnel Trogg/Totem Golem. While you will most often begin to take over the game on turn four, once you stabilized you need to make sure that you will have enough life where you don’t die to the endless burn that so many decks pack. These cards are the only good heals in today’s Standard, meaning that you need to play two of each to make sure you always have some way to bump your life total up. Your cards are inherently going to be above curve, but your weakness is the damage you take. If you can offset that, you should be able to overcome most opponents.

A big part of playing this deck is going to be properly taking care of your life, knowing when you in danger of dying and knowing when you can take a chance. Always calculate the amount of healing you have in hand at any given time and then compare it against your opponent’s potential burst. Every popular deck in the game right now has a lot of ways to do damage from the hand, and a lot of them have ways to do damage past a large taunt. You need to know what that is for each class and then understand your chances of dying each game. For instance, Mage and Hunter both can go through taunts, but Zoo’s only face option is Soulfire, meaning a taunt is going to be worth a lot more against them. Know how to prioritize your survival options in any given game.

Faceless Shambler

The four drop that makes this deck what it is, Faceless Shambler is a very interesting card because it allows the deck to pilot in a very specific way. Though this card is situational, you really want to look at it in the same vein as Sunfury Protector or Defender of Argus. The reason being that it is just a taunt wall that helps you feed off of your other big minions. While it cannot give two minions taunt, the one giant taunt does a very nice job at buying you valuable time, especially during the early game. Though you are a deck chock-full of big minions, you really pilot a lot more like a control build that uses taunts and healing to grind their opponent out of cards. This is one of your best options for that purpose.

While normally you want to just get value where you can, you should try your best to set up Faceless Shambler. This card is very strong at times, but nearly useless at others. The upside is so high that it is worth running, but you need to make sure you have a solid target for it when the time comes. It is very hard to get any minion to last a turn in Hearthstone, but things like an early Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant are great at living for at least one turn due to their high health. When they survive, you can then get a second one for the low-low cost of four mana, plus it has taunt. Also know that even making this a 3/5 or something similar can be the right move when under pressure. You don’t need a ton of value, just make sure its a solid body.

Sylvanas Windrunner

Though everyone knows her ability, Sylvanas Windrunner has a lot of very important uses in this deck. The 5/5 is a very strong card to have as a tempo play and she also has some very nice interactions. The two that are most important are Shadowflame and Power Overwhelming. As a Warlock control deck, you only have hard removal. That means you are naturally weak to strong deathrattle minions or sticky boards. Sylvanas/Shadowflame is your way around that. In control games, it is one of your win conditions. So much so that you want to do everything you can to save it for something like a big N’zoth turn or when facing down C’thun. In the same vein, Power Overwhelming helps turn Sylvanas into a seven mana Mind Control. That is very useful for taking big across-the-board threats like Tirion Fordring. Finally, don’t be afraid to just drop Sylvanas down against non-control decks. Very few popular decks in today’s meta have a way to easily answer her. She is great as tempo on an empty board, but she is also very powerful when facing down multiple threats to guarantee some type of steal.

Alexstrasza

As mentioned, you need to be able to heal in this deck. A lot. There are many ways to go about doing that, but Alexstrasza is one of the best late game options around. Getting back to fifteen life is very important for a deck like this because that gets you to the point where you truly can dodge most popular burst. While you do not have Reno Jackson, Alexstrasza and Lord Jaraxxus are both going to help you reset your life and climb out a topdecked burn spell. The dragon is a great tool to have, and will often make it so you just need to live until you get to nine. If you have Alex in hand and your life total is going down or your are being pressured by an aggro deck, you need to do anything you can to extend the game. Once you get the 8/8, you should be able to properly rebound.

When playing Alex, you need to recognize the times when it is right to just dome your opponent for fifteen. You have a lot of big minions that can do a lot of damage out of nowhere. As a result, the dragon can stack up lethal very quickly and give you a way to end games before they get out of control. Even just using her ability can give you a way to take control of priority. Even if you don’t have big threats or immediate, you can also hit your opponent down to fifteen when you have board and are at a comfortable life total. Putting down an 8/8 onto an empty board to threaten half your opponent’s health is a great swing that will instantly shift the tides of your matchup. Just know what games you are going to need the healing and what games you can press for damage.

Matchups

Five decks I see most when playing ladder.

Control Warrior

As popular as ever, Control Warrior is one of your best matchups. There are two reasons for this and both are central to understanding this game. The first is that you have a high density of threats. Warrior has never been good at dealing with decks that can stretch their removal thin, and you can easily eat a lot of early Shield Slams and Executes. That will quickly run them low on cards and force them out of options moving into the middle-to-late turns of the game. Your entire goal is to just play threat after threat and let your opponent deal with them if they can. Warrior has a lot of ways to kill things and you need to bait them out as quickly as you can. The second reason you are going to win this is Lord Jaraxxus. There is not a control deck in the game that can handle a 6/6 each turn. Do everything you can to stall or clear until you can set up the 3/15.

If you are facing C’thun Warrior over Classic control it is important to note that you need to get to a point where you won’t die to a C’thun hit. This is especially true if your goal to win is playing Lord Jaraxxus. Though you can usually dodge the Old God by simply having a ton of health spread out across the board, you also need a way to answer him as soon as he comes down. While you can trade with him using your minions, it is often better to just get rid of him right away. Siphon Soul does that well, but you almost always want to save Sylvanas Windrunner/Shadowflame or Power Overwhelming to prevent Doomcaller shenanigans. Ont hat note, always watch out for Sylvanas Windrunner when facing down Warrior. The 5/5 hits your deck very hard and will create a ton of problems if you don’t have a plan for her.

Tempo Dragon Warrior

Dragon Warrior continues to climb in popularity and for good reason. The midrange/aggro deck has more than proven its worth and now has solidified its spot in the meta. This matchup is all going to come down to taunts. While they have a lot of ways to do damage out of hand, Dragon Warrior has almost zero burn (with the exception of Ragnaros the Firelord). The only way they can get through a big wall are their two Executes or using most of their cards in hand. As a result, your entire goal of this game is to get up a wall. Once you put up a couple big taunts Dragon Warrior is going to have some dead turns. While many decks can still press through big minions, Dragon Warrior will crumble almost every single time.

The other important aspect of this matchup is understanding your opponent’s damage when you do not have a taunt readily available. Dragon Warrior is largely an aggressive deck and they have a lot of ways to do damage out of hand, ranging from Fiery War Axe to Kor’kron Elite to Ragnaros the Firelord. Always heal up and constantly check your health. In addition, be aware of the big threats Dragon has at the end of the game. Ragnaros, Malkorok and Grommash Hellscream all add on pressure, and some decks run things like Onyxia and Deathwing as well. Drakonid Crusher can also be a concern so it helps to heal up above fifteen when you get the chance to do so.

Aggro Shaman

As aggressive as ever, Shaman still makes up a large part of the ladder. It seems there are currently two versions, and both are going to be very swingy matchups. Some Shamans now play the heavy midrange cards with an aggro shell, while others play the straight aggro with burn and quick damage. Though you have the tools to win these games, drawing slow or tapping early can lead to a very fast loss. Because of that, Doomsayer and Argent Watchman are the two cards you need to find in every single game. Getting a way to clear or trade well early on can be a huge help to getting you to turn four, where you can really start to build. Though Shaman does not enjoy pushing through gigantic taunts, they have a lot of burn and very large minions. Do you best to force them to use their board to clear. You can heal out of fast damage range, but it is very unlikely that you will be able to heal past something like a Flametongue Totem or Flamewreathed Faceless. If you get to the middle or later turns of the game where you and your opponent are topdecking you need to take the extra time to make sure you find a taunt to stop any game-breaking Doomhammer plays.

Zoo

Maybe because it’s the start of a new season or maybe it’s because the deck has never been bad, but Zoo has made a very steady comeback all across the ladder. The aggressive deck seems like it could be an easy matchup, but it is much harder than at first glance. While you are still favored here, it is easy to get swarmed down by the Aggrolock if you aren’t careful. The goal of this game is to get Zoo to use their buffs early on, which then sets up your later turns. The new versions of Zoo pack in a lot of burst, which can really hurt you if you aren’t ready or relying on one taunt to carry you through. Baiting out that burst early on is the way to overcome your opponent. Just focus on clearing and play to your larger AOE to win this one. Also, note that today’s Zoo has ample ways to do damage and you should always take the time to heal, especially if you cannot clear the board.

Always be careful when using mass removal in this matchup. Beyond just being able to fill the board with a bunch of random junk, Zoo always has Forbidden Ritual waiting in the wings. You only have three true board clears, which means if you pull the trigger at the wrong time you can open yourself to get hit hard. Your main goal is to cleanly clear Zoo’s minions with your own, or set up the walls and then push for their face. This will make them trade and allow you to preserve your Hellfire and Shadowflame for a time where you have no other options. Always look for ways to remove minions without burning AOE before pulling the trigger.

Yogg Druid

Another deck rapidly rising through the ranks, Yogg Druid seems to become more and more common with each passing week. The ramp deck is actually a go-big token build that loves to fill up the board with small minions and then build that pressure into bigger and bigger threats. Those threats, whether they are Onyxia, Cenarius, Ancient of War or Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End, should be your primary focus here. Similar to Zoo, you want to prioritize your mass removal in a way where you can clear and also keep something threat down on the board. This will help you force Druid’s hand or make them play sub-par minions into larger ones. Both avenues are going to lead to victory as long as you keep your threats coming.

This game should almost always be a win. Not only do you have ample AOE, but Druid has so little ways to deal with big taunts or huge threats. This is a matchup where you want to just play out any big threats you have because chances are your opponent is going to have a hard time dealing with them. They only run one Mulch and have no other hard removal in their list. Just clear Violet Teacher and Fandral Staghelm on sight to prevent them from getting value.

Like Dragon Warrior, it is also important to set up a big taunt to stop something like Savage Roar from randomly ruining your day. However, that is much easier to do in this matchup because you are going to have priority for most of the game.

Mulligan Guide

When mulliganing you need to try to do your best to find two and four drops. Though that sounds a bit slow, you are a deck that is going to use your hero power during the early games to play to turn four. You want to always look for low cost cards and then build as you draw. However, the cards you keep rapidly change based on the deck you are playing. If you are facing aggro and you want to be proactive you should always keep Mortal Coil, Argent Watchman, Doomsayer, Refreshment Vendor and Earthen Ring Farseer. Sunfury Protector also works well if you have no other two drop. If you have the coin or a good curve you should also keep Hellfire. Your four drops can be kept if you have a way to fight board early on.

On the flip side, when facing slower decks or control you want to aggressively look for your four drops. Mountain Giant and Twilight Drake are the two top cards here, but Faceless Shambler is also solid if you have a big minion to go along with it. Beyond those two cards, mulligan for low early threats like Earthen Ring Farseer, Argent Watchman and Refreshment Vendor. You typically aren’t going to be playing anything early so just focus on the middle game.

Conclusion

What year is it again? I always love when people resurrect long-dead decks, and Handlock is one of the coolest the game has ever seen. I have long toyed with the idea of making something in this vein, and I am glad somebody finally did it. This list shows you that, if you are ever stuck, hit the history books and see if applying new ideas to an old shell can bring you success. It sure did here. Hope you enjoyed the article and I hope you all are having a good summer. Until next time, may your Twilight Drakes always be 4/10’s.