Arena Play by Play (Mage) – Part 0: Drafting a Mage
The Arena Play by Play series covers a complete Arena run with very detailed commentary - more so than the video format would allow. With almost every ingame event showcased on a separate screenshot, you can be sure you won't be missing out on anything! This also allows for a more extensive commentary than a video would. All the plays will be documented with pictures except when noted: I set my recording software to take a screenshot every second. (That means around 6-700 per game for me to go through and choose from.) I hope you will find it informative and entertaining!
- Part 4
As with all arena runs, we begin by paying the entry fee…
…and choosing a class. It’s either Rexxar, Jaina or Anduin: conventional wisdom suggests that Mage is the strongest class in Arena and I would agree with that. Hunter generally relies too much on Beast synergy and Priest is a bit slow for my liking – so Mage it is. Surprise!
In any case, the draft is on!
In general, since arena decks can’t really rely on strong combos or synergies, you want to pick cards that are powerful on their own and have a strong immediate effect. There are multiple tier lists online that you can use but note that they are not the perfect guidelines on their own: you need to consider the cards in your deck that you’ve picked so far as well. Tier lists great but they won’t get you to 12-0 on their own. With that settled, let’s begin!
The first choice is already an interesting one: Blizzard or Knife Juggler? (Ethereal Arcanist is out as it is unreliable and I obviously don’t have any secrets yet anyway.) In the end, having some area of effect cards is vital and even though Blizzard ain’t no Flamestrike, it’s very nice as it is. As such, no matter how nice a card Knife Juggler is, I pick the card in the middle.
Ice Lance is useless except in combo decks specifically built around it; Oasis Snapjaw is mediocre; on the other hand, the Shattered Sun Cleric is one of the best common 3-drops. (So much so that it actually had to be nerfed from a 3/3!) I draft her in my deck without hesitation.
This is a more difficult pick: Stranglethorn Tiger or Venture Co.? Both are pretty strong 5-drops. After some deliberation I decide to go with the former just because I don’t yet know what other cards I’ll be getting: if I end up with a lot of strong but expensive minions in the deck, the mercenary’s penalty could very well hamstring me.
Easy choice. Fireball is one of the best cards out there. 6 damage for 4 mana? Crazy! Not only good for removal but it can also bash in the opponent’s face. It would take something really special to make me pick something else.
Hmm. Generally, cards that do nothing but add health are not valuable enough in arena as they don’t help you change the state of the board – so I’ll pass on Ice Barrier. Two cheap cards remain: one controlled damage or three randomly delivered hits? Considering my hero ability is kinda like a more flexible but also more expensive Stonetusk Boar, I choose the missiles. Perhaps we’ll get some minor synergy later down the line.
Widely regarded as the best common card in the game. That fifth hitpoint on turn 4 makes it a really sturdy creature. It’s a no-brainer.
Mirror Image does nothing in arena. It is useless if you are ahead and it only buys you some time if you are behind – like the Ice Barrier, it does not affect the board. Arcane Missiles are fine but they are not good enough to take two of them. Gnomish Inventor, on the other hand, provides card draw. It may have mediocre stats but a constant stream of cards is a very important part of a strong arena deck. I rate card draw a bit higher than people generally do: it is an easy pick for me here.
This is a straightforward one. Polymorph is one of the best hard removal cards in the game. You may want to consider picking a different card when you have two or three of them already, but there is absolutely no reason not to have at least one.
Another difficult choice for me. I must confess that I like the 1-cost 2/1-s in arena, even though they can be killed by the opponent’s hero power if I am facing Druid, Mage or Rogue. If you consider that they have to use the coin or the option to play a 2-cost minion to remove something so cheap, I reckon it’s not a bad idea to draft one or two of them, especially if they have such a strong effect as the Young Priestess does. However, this was not enough to convince me this time around: Kirin Tor Mage has a very nice 4<sup>th</sup> attack point as a three-cost minion, which occasionally helps it trade up. Also, who knows, we may get some secrets later down the line! More importantly, we’re 8 cards in and we’re severely lacking in 3-cost minions. I need to do something about that – and I’d prefer the mage over the rushy Arcane Golem. My deck isn’t shaping up to be aggressive enough to be able to afford giving an extra mana crystal to my opponent in the early game. In any case, this was the choice I’ve spent the longest time on so far.
Ancient Watcher is pretty useless in arena – as you either have to silence it or give in Taunt to make it work, both of which are unreliable solutions in Arena. Same goes for the Arcanist, especially with almost no synergy due to the lack of secrets. Easy call.
Hmm. The owl is too weak for its own good – silence is good but not great and it is definitely not good enough to pay essentially an extra mana for a 2/1 –, so the question is this: golem or warlord? The golem is generally simply not enough on turn 7. What’s the best scenario, trading for two smaller minions? It’s generally not good enough for a catch-up card and not effective enough for a premium 7-turn play. The warlord has such untapped potential with the buffs – not to mention that it is cheaper – that it seemed like a better choice.
The Frostwolf Grunt is just bad: an early Taunt is not enough to make it a viable pick over 3/2 minions or other 2-cost cards with better, stronger battlecries: it will never trade up and it is useless if you draw it later in the game. As for the Ironforge Rifleman, not only does it have terrible stats for the cost, but why would you ever pick a 1 damage battlecry over plus one health and a 2/1 deathrattle? Easy peasy.
This is a difficult one: the mercenary is a viable option, like we’ve discussed before and so is the card draw – but the ultima ratio is the lack of early game in this deck at the moment: I spend some time thinking over this one but I end up going with the Raptor. We need some buff targets for the cleric after all! And hell, cards to play on the second turn as well.
All three cards are pretty good: sadly I can only choose one of them. As much as I’d like another 2-cost minion, the buffs of the dwarf and the cleric are too good to pass up: and considering all the good 4-cost cards I already have and may accumulate even more of (as some of the best Mage cards cost 4 mana as we’ve seen), I decide to go with another cleric. It’s a close call and it may be the wrong one: only time will tell.
Meh. Not impressed with my options here at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make any use of Bloodsail Corsair and the Master Swordsmith isn’t really that good if you don’t have a lot of early drops to buff (case in point: this deck) so I go with Vaporize. It’s not great but maybe we can engineer some nifty things with it. Bonus points for the synergy with that poor Kirin Tor Mage that still hasn’t had any secrets to cast for free.
Like I said before, I’m not a fan of the Snapjaw. It’s a decent way to kill the early minions of your opponent, yes, but if you have to use it for that purpose, you’re already in trouble anyway. Not to mention the fact that it is bad against other 4-drops like the Yeti. It just doesn’t do enough. By now I have a decent amount of 3-cost minions so I pick the Berserker – it’s not a brilliant minion (it’s an extra expensive Snapjaw that can increase its damage) but the Mage’s hero ability certainly increases its effectiveness.
Oh look, an epic! Ice Block is not particularly great and the Mountain Giant is pretty counter-intuitive (“don’t play cards so you can play one big targer for less mana”) but the Sea Giant can sometimes get pretty cheap and it is playable even on its own later on. Clearly the best one out of the three.
Two Blizzards or not, you just don’t pass up on a card like this. Not only do they fill a different role, but Flamestrike is really in a class of its own. Did your opponent have a 4-health minion out then played two 3-costs on turn 6? It is a very useful spell to turn things around or to establish board control: it does enough damage that it can single-handedly turn a game around. You’ll almost always pick it and this case is no exception.
This is another Knife Juggler that I have to pass up: the Azure Drake is probably the strongest Rare out there. Not only does it increase the strength of my spells but it also draws a card! It is definitely worth one extra mana to have an upgraded Ogre Magi that redraws for itself. I’d almost always recommend picking this card.
We’ve only got 10 cards left, we really need to get some sort of early game here! The Kobold Geomancer, however, is too weak. I could have picked the Stormwind Knight to at least cover for the lack of small minions by charging down on one of them on turn 4 (or 3) but I instead decided to go for the Argent Squire. If I don’t have too many cheap creatures: at least I’ll go for ones that are difficult to remove.
I like the Cult Master a bit more than others but there is no way I can pick it now: we need an early game minion. They have the same stats and the Beast synergy is nonexistent in Mage so it’s the Faerie Dragon: the fact that it can’t be targeted by spells means that, again, it’s not that easy to remove.
Frostwolf Grunt is still garbage, but it is quite the toss-up between the other two. Mana Wyrm is a bit of a gambit: it needs spells to back it up or else it is useless. Also it is not the greatest late game drop. The Razorfen, however, is usually not enough on turn 3, and while it may help me cast a cheaper Sea Giant, I still don’t feel like using it. I checked the amount of spells I had and I decided that 8 out of 24 it is enough to warrant the inclusion of the former: Wyrm it is then.
The gnome is neat but the extra spell damage could be very useful with the Frostbolts and other goodies. By now we can clearly tell that we won’t be overloaded by Fireballs and Polymorphs sadly (as that’s a fate one would gladly suffer), so we might as well take another card that costs 4 mana to cast.
Voodoo Doctor does nothing early game and is negligible late game. As this is not the Cuban missile crisis, I pick Arcane Intellect for redraw. I tend to value card draw a bit higher than others, I think.
And the last card is… another Epic pick! Too bad they are all garbage cards. I was considering the Ice Block but then decided to strengthen my early game some more with the Murloc Warleader. It’s not a great card but I’ll have to bite the bullet on that one.
And that’s that! All in all, I’m not sure how I feel about this deck: I can’t wreck my opponent’s face with only one Fireball and the lone Polymorph may also prove to be insufficient. I do have a decent amount of AoE but I need to get to them: and I fear that my early game may be a bit too inconsistent to get reach the sixth or seventh turn unscathed. The lack of taunts will also make surviving the early game a bit more challenging. I'm going to predict 6 wins. In any case, it’s time to enter the arena: and if you enjoyed this article, I could sure use the company!