Hey there, Hearthstone Players!
This has been a weird season. It seems like almost everyone is playing Warrior, Handlock, or Face Hunter, with a smattering of Flamewaker Mage and other aggressive decks. So what can you do when the common opponents span the extremes of the aggro-control spectrum? Control them even harder!
Grinder Mage, popularized by Strifecro, aims to out-value every possible opponent with Duplicate and a host of card advantage-generating minions. It is comfortable going to fatigue or against a turn 1 Leper Gnome. What more do you want?
The differences in this list from the one Strifecro used last season are -1 Toshley, -1 Baron Geddon, +1 Cairne Bloodhoof, +1 Sen’jin Shieldmasta. I’m not a big fan of Baron Geddon, and I don’t think Toshley does enough (it only synergizes with Archmage Antonidas). Cairne is stickier than any other 6-drop, and is insane when Duplicated against Warrior or other control decks. Sen’jin is a solid card that gives you a proactive play against control, where your hand is often filled with removal, and a defensive play against aggro, where you just need more time.
Big Game Hunter might seem like an awkward two-of since it doesn’t have any targets against aggressive decks, but against those decks he is a fine three-drop. The deck lacks three-drops outside of secrets, so in the match-ups where you need to get on the board early BGH can fulfill that duty. He’s also awesome to Duplicate against Handlock or Control Warrior.
The choice of Ice Barrier as a second secret might seem odd, but the fact that Grinder Mage has so much value packed into it means you just need to survive to win. Between the two Ice Barriers and the two Antique Healbots the deck has THIRTY-TWO points of healing, so it is very difficult to get rushed down. Against decks with burn spells, It is often correct to let an enemy minion survive a turn in the late game so that they can attack you and trigger the Ice Barrier for extra healing.
Duplicate is difficult to play correctly due to the fact that Mad Scientist can pull it at awkward times. Against aggro it’s fine to copy whatever, as anything in play is fine to fight for the board and you will win the mid and late game. Against control, it is often incorrect to play out a poor minion such as a Zombie Chow next to a Scientist since it will hurt a lot if it gets copied. I’ll go over the best minions to Duplicate in each matchup in the matchup section.
Packing two Flamestrikes is usually not a good idea outside of arena (in there you should pack 5), but this deck is so slow that you will get good opportunities to play it every game. As a bonus, basically no one plays around a second Flamestrike.
Archmage Antonidas doesn’t have any cheap spells to feed on (you can only ever get one Fireball the turn you play him unless you saved the coin), but he is still very valuable as a source of card advantage. Getting one Fireball then dying is a 2-for-1, and playing Antonidas into Duplicate to get a Fireball and two more Antonidas is back-breaking. If he ever survives a turn you get at least two more Fireballs and probably just win the game immediately.
As mentioned earlier, you want to take the control role in every matchup as Grinder Mage. When presented with decision points, you almost always want to take the safe route rather than push to end the game, as you can beat every card in the opponent’s deck if it comes to that.
In addition to the “cards to keep” I’ve listed for each matchup, you want Water Elemental/Sen’jin Shieldmasta if you have a play for turn 2 already or don’t need one because it is a control matchup. Additionally, you want to save the coin to produce a Fireball with Antonidas if at all possible in control games. You probably won’t need the tempo it provides early on, and getting a Fireball for playing second is definitely worth it.
Cards to keep: Mad Scientist, Big Game Hunter, Water Elemental
I would also keep Zombie Chow, Explosive Sheep, and Frostbolt on ladder since you don’t know for sure that the opponent isn’t Zoo.
In this matchup you want to play for the super long game, which you can only lose to Lord Jaraxxus since you have so much removal. Try not to knock the opponent below 20 health in the midgame so they can’t play Molten Giants. Once you have Duplicated a Big Game Hunter and have a hand free of removal you can start being aggressive.
Use Big Game Hunter on giants and save a Polymorph for Sylvanas Windrunner. The opponent has 6-8 threats (2 Mountain Giants, 2 Molten Giants, 2 Twilight Drakes, and maybe Dr. Boom, Ragnaros the Firelord, and Jaraxxus) and you only have 4 hard removals, so you need to kill threats with your minions on board if you can, especially in the early to mid-game so you don’t do enough face damage to unlock their Molten Giants. You should also try to kill one of the Handlock’s threats with Flamestrike + a minion if possible.
Once you have accumulated answers for Moltens (or the opponent has locked themselves out of them by playing Jaraxxus), drop down Ragnaros and use any Fireballs you’ve gathered from Antonidas to close the game. Playing Grinder Mage is actually the most comfortable I’ve ever felt against Handlock with any deck. A favorable matchup.
Cards to keep: Mad Scientist, Water Elemental, Arcane Intellect, Zombie Chow
Zombie Chow is fine as a way to prevent the Warrior from stacking up armor early. If they have the Fiery War Axe it’s not a big deal since you have so much value in your deck. However, only keep the Chow if you have two of the above cards already.
The best card to Duplicate if you get one off a Mad Scientist earlier is Water Elemental. It prevents weapon use while being out of range of weapon removal, so it is an all-around great counter to Warrior’s best card advantage mechanism. If you naturally draw the Duplicates, you want to Duplicate Cairne (the value is almost impossible for Warrior to overcome – it’s like in beta!) or play Antonidas into Duplicate to get a Fireball and two more copies of Antonidas. The Fireballs are great as an efficient way to kill Shieldmaiden – 5/5s are oddly hard to deal with for Grinder Mage since you don’t want to Polymorph it.
The game plan is to survive until fatigue and beyond. Make sure the Warrior doesn’t have 50+ health so you don’t fatigue to death, but generally you should hit fatigue around the same time while you have way more cards at your disposal. So instead of playing for card advantage in the typical sense, play for card equity where each of your cards trades for the maximum amount of your opponent’s cards. A reasonable answer to Dr. Boom, for example, is to Frostbolt + ping + run in Zombie Chow then ping again the next turn. You could BGH it, but you get a better use out that Zombie Chow this way than you would otherwise. In a longer game you can usually afford to play as if you had your whole deck in your hand and line up the most card-efficient answer for each threat.
If you have complete control of the board with stacks of removal in hand, feel free to ping any Acolyte of Pain they play to fatigue them faster. Save a Healbot for after you get Alexstrasza’d, and play Sludge Belcher if you are danger of getting low on health to a Grommash Hellscream. A favorable matchup.
Cards to keep: Mad Scientist, Frostbolt, Water Elemental, Sen’jin Sheildmasta if you won’t present a target for the first charge of Deaths-Bite.
Patron plays out similar to control Warrior for the first few turns, and by the time they can start doing crazy stuff you’ve had plenty of time to set up. Water Elemental gives them fits, and all of the healing helps prevent and recover from combo turns. Water Elemental is the best card to Duplicate by far, and Belcher is also fine since you have Flamestrike to clean up Patrons that feed on the slime.
Don’t put out more than two minions at a time in the late game so you don’t die to charging Frothing Berserkers. Don’t play Sludge Belcher once the opponent has Warsong Commander + Grim Patron mana unless you have a follow-up Flamestrike to clear the board after they use your slime to get more Patrons.
The double Flamestrike and plethora of healing make this matchup pretty good at lower levels. I haven’t played any top 100 Patron players, but I imagine the matchup is much worse if the opponent doesn’t spew value and saves everything for a double Frothing Berserker OTK setup.
Cards to keep: Zombie Chow, Mad Scientist, Frostbolt, Explosive Sheep, Water Elemental and Sen’jin Shieldmasta if you have a turn 2 play, Sludge Belcher and Antique Healbot if you have a turn 2 play and something to play turn 3 or 4
If you are going second, it is worth it to coin -> hero power to kill their turn 1 Leper Gnome or Abusive Sergeant.
You have 32 points of healing, so if you get a turn 2 Scientist that grabs Ice Barrier out of the deck you’re in good shape. Expect the first taunt to get silenced, but if you can follow up with another taunt or Antique Healbot you should be in great shape. Duplicating a taunt minion is obviously game-winning (they’ll never attack your Healbot, so that’s a pipe dream).
Once you are able to get a minion to stick and remove their play every turn, start getting a bit more aggressive to close the game before you get burned out. If you have taunts and Ragnaros you don’t need to attack into traps. This matchup is close, but if you have Scientist into taunt + healing you are favored.
Cards to keep: Same as Face Hunter
The early plays out similarly, but the midgame is a big departure. If the opponent’s turn 1 play is Webspinner or they play a Piloted Shredder, you know you have to save your Polymorph for Savannah Highmane (or have a big board with an Explosive Sheep in hand). Coining turn 1 to kill the opponent’s turn 1 Webspinner isn’t worth it, as the 1/1 doesn’t put on very much pressure and it is more important to get a 4 or 5 drop down.
Your 4 and 5 drops beat the Hunter’s straight up, so use them to trade until you have stabilized behind a taunt. Midrange Hunter can keep up with you for a lot longer than Face Hunter, so playing an Antique Healbot when you have board control doesn’t lock up the game. Have a contingency plan to deal with Highmane or Dr. Boom, and other than that play as if the opponent is Face Hunter. This is another close matchup, but a little bit better for you than against Face Hunter since they have targets for your expensive removal like BGH and Polymorph that allow you to have tempo-regaining turns.
Cards to keep: Zombie Chow, Mad Scientist, Frostbolt, Water Elemental and Sen’jin Shieldmasta if you have a card to play before them, Explosive Sheep if your hand is otherwise good
Against Mages that play Mirror Entity, it is worth holding Zombie Chow in your hand turn 1 if you have a Mad Scientist to fight for board control turn 2. Making your opponent’s secret give you 5 life is as good as you might imagine.
Explosive Sheep isn’t an always-keep because the minions you are most afraid of, Mana Wyrm and Flamewaker, don’t die to it, but it is good against Mirror Image and sorcerers-apprentice.
Flamewaker Mage is all about board control. If you can clear the first wave and have removal for Antonidas or Dr. Boom you will probably win. Azure Drake can’t do much against your minions, and if they use Fireball as removal they won’t have enough reach to push through your healing. Surviving until Flamestrike with enough life to survive Fireball is often enough to win. This is a difficult matchup because so many of your cards are so expensive, and Belcher or Healbot into a board of 3 or 4 mid-size minions doesn’t do much.
Cards to keep: Mad Scientist, Water Elemental, Sen’jin Shieldmasta, Frostbolt or Polymorph if you have a Scientist and 4 drop
Ideally against Druid you can get on the board before they do with a Scientist or 4-drop. It is hard to keep up with one big minion a turn if you don’t have some minions to help out with trading. Save taunts as long as you can, as you will want them to play around the Force of Nature – Savage Roar combo later in the game. For example, play Water Elemental over Sludge Belcher on turn 5 if your curve permits it. You want to trade with all of your minions, and you can’t do that if you’re dead. Duplicating Sludge Belcher is great for this purpose.
Druid has very poor removal, so running Antonidas out onto a clear board is excellent, as they either spend their whole turn on Swipe + Wrath to kill it or lose the game. Ragnaros is similarly powerful, but he dies to BGH so isn’t as reliable. Using Ragnaros to bait a BGH so you can get a better Flamestrike is a good play if you have enough life, against Druid and in other matchups.
This matchup depends almost entirely on your opponent’s draw. If they have Wild Growth + Innervate, you will probably lose. If you play the first 4-drop and their answer isn’t Dr. Boom, you probably win.
There are several other decks people play, but I going to combine them because they are both less popular and not markedly different from matchups described in detail above. I will note which deck each is similar to, which is where you can look for the mulligan guide and general play pattern.
Control Priest is similar to Control Warrior. Don’t play a big minion in the late game unless you have a way to deal with it if it gets hit by Mind Control. They don’t usually have targets for BGH, so Ragnaros is a good choice to give them.
Midrange and Control Paladin are similar to Control Warrior. Don’t use Polymorph on a target besides Tirion Fordring unless you have the second one in hand already.
Aggro Paladin is similar to Face Hunter. Try to use your cards faster than normal to deny a big Divine Favor.
Freeze Mage is similar to Control Warrior for the mulligan. Gameplay-wise, just be as aggressive as possible, save Healbots for after you get hit by Alexstrasza, and let them hit your face with a minion if you have Ice Barrier up since it otherwise won’t be triggered.
Mech Shaman is similar to Flamewaker Mage. Save BGH for Fel Reaver and Frostbolt their face if you have otherwise stabilized to prevent dying to Doomhammer + Rockbiter Weapon. Keep Explosive Sheep here.
Zoo is similar to Flamewaker Mage. They don’t have any reach, so surviving until Flamestrike is excellent if you have a minion on board to trigger Nerubian Egg or Haunted Creeper’s deathrattle beforehand. Save BGH for Mal’Ganis and don’t kill Voidcaller on your turn unless you have a way to clean up the demon that turn (or the opponent has no hand, obviously). Keep Explosive Sheep here.
Oil Rogue is similar to Patron Warrior. Try to pressure them and lock down their weapon with Water Elemental, but don’t over-extend into a big Blade Flurry. You can switch to ultra-control mode and try to fatigue them if you Duplicate a Sludge Belcher. Polymorph Violet Teacher immediately if you don’t have Flamestrike for the next turn.
Grinder Mage is a fun control deck with a lot of good matchups, but the games are very long. If you enjoy control decks, give this a try! I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy yourself.
Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments, and all comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!
Until next time,