17 September 2014 - 02:48

DarkArbiter's WDS: SecretMage

In this Weekly Deck Spotlight, DarkArbiter looks at the Secret Mage deck played by StrifeCros in the recent Deck Wars tournament!
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Welcome to another DarkArbiter's Weekly Deck Spotlight, where I bring you an in-depth analysis of a recently played deck. For more information on what this article entails, check out my first Spotlight article here.

For today's Spotlight, we'll be looking at a Mage deck from a Pro who is considered by many to be one of if not the best Hearthstone players...no, it's not Reynad (Get it? Because Twitch thinks he's the greatest player ever. No? Ok, bad joke. Moving along).

No, today I will be talking about a deck that Cloud9's very own StrifeCro ran last week during episode fourteen of DeckWars against DKMR_Brad. For those of you that weren't able to watch it, it was a pretty intensive fight, but in the end StrifeCro was able to overcome Brad's powerful lineup of decks and take home the victory.

Both players utilized a wide variety of decks during the match. In particular, both ended up getting the most wins out of their Hunter lists, but neither of them really caught my eye or left a lasting impression, although Brad's deck was somewhat unique in that it utilized Stranglethorn Tigerover Savannah Highmane.

Then I saw this deck, and did an immediate double take. StrifeCro is well-known for his innovation, and this deck is no exception. It is a deck that he has run consistently on the ladder with positive results, and while it did not win out against Brad's Hunter list it is still worth taking a look at.

So, let's jump right in to StrifeCro's SecretMage deck!

The Decklist

What a varied bag of assorted goodies we have here! It's obviously an aggressive deck, due to its steep early-game curve, but there are some additions that leave me wondering what StrifeCro's thought process was when he included them.

I'll get to them in just a bit, but for now I want to continue to talk about the main reason this deck ended up being the deck I chose to Spotlight. After the rounds were over for the episode, StrifeCro said during his interview that he pilots the deck on the ladder, with successful results.

This has my interest peaked above all, as this means the deck has done well against the waves of Hunters and various control decks on the ladder if StrifeCro is talking about it in this light.

If you've looked through the deck yet, you might notice right off the bat something oddly lacking from a deck titled "SecretMage". Give up? Why, secrets of course! That's right, there are no secrets in the deck, something that took me a couple of minutes to comprehend when I first saw the deck.

In fact, the real reason this deck is named like it is because this is a deck StrifeCro had been using on the ladder, yet no one had caught on to it or even really knew he was piloting, hence a "Secret" Mage deck. Knowing a deck's name, however, is less relevant than understanding the logistics of a deck archetype such as this.

Before Naxxramas, aggressive decks had one main objective; ignore the board and smash your opponent in the face as continually and as quickly as possible. Mage in particular was good at doing so, as its spells are capable of producing a huge amount of burst damage to finish off your opponent while being able to bypass your opponent's taunt minions in the process.

Since Naxxramas hit, minions have become more resilient, meaning that aggressive decks have had to evolve as well. They now have to be capable of making some trades while still being aggressive, meaning that maintaining board tempo has become more critical to the success of aggressive decks overall.

There are still some decks that are somewhat capable of ignoring the board temporarily, such as the ever-infamous Face Hunter variants on the ladder, but this has almost become the exception rather than the rule.

With that in mind, we need to asses the cards included in the deck.

Card Composition

Mana Wyrm

As always, before we can go into the unique cards, we have to take a look at what makes every class tick...their staple cards.

Right off the bat, we have our staple minions for an aggressive Mage list. Mana Wyrmis a strong early-game card that can normally provide strong trades whenever you are able to cast even a couple of spells while it's on the board.

Undertakeris a card that has been making waves on the ladder recently, especially in aggressive lists. It can produce impressive amounts of value, especially when ran with cards like the ones StrifeCro is running here, such as Harvest Golem, Haunted Creeper, and Loot Hoarder.

Curiously, StrifeCro only runs a single copy of Loot Hoarder while many lists strive to run two copies. This is probably due to one of the unique cards he is running, and though you might have already deduced which card that is, I'll save talking about it until I'm done talking about the staples.

Sorcerer's Apprentice

In addition, Sorcerer's Apprenticemakes an appearance. While only used sporadically in Mage lists, this little minion can produce some value, as making your spells cost one less allows you to fit more damage into a single turn than what you may have been able to produce normally. In particular, she can make the difference when trying to finish off with your burst damage.

Finally, there are two copies of Water Elementalbeing ran. For some people, this card is hard to evaluate. It definitely has really good stats on top of its ability to freeze a character damaged by it, but some believe that the stats are too skewed towards its defense. Nevertheless, I believe it is a ridiculously good card, as it synergizes with a couple of the Mage's spells.

While we're on the topic of spells, let's talk about the staple spells with aggressive decks as well. Frostbolt, as always, is an auto-include in any Mage list, unless of course the purpose of your deck is to lose (No? No laughs? Just the crickets? Ok, moving on again.).

Arcane Intellect

Some Mage decks have been only including only one copy of Arcane Intellect, but StrifeCro obviously wants to go with consistency, as he includes two here. It's not surprising really; Arcane Intellect is the poster card for how much Blizzard values card draw in this game, and this card sets the standard at 1.5 mana per card drawn. Combo'd with Sorcerer's Apprentice, this card allows you to get through more of your deck and get to your answers quicker for one less mana.

Mirror Imagealso makes an appearance here, although only as a single copy, which is a bit curious. Normally you want to be able to consistently draw it early on, as it provides a strong barrier between you and your opponent's minions. StrifeCro's inclusion of only one means that he assigns a different value to it. Just like with Zombie Chowin last weeks Spotlight, it is stronger in the early game and a dead draw in the late-game, so this is a decent enough explanation for its inclusion. Another may be to stall for time if needed, as there are almost no other taunt minions in the deck.

Fireball

Finally, we have the pair of Mage's most powerful spell, Fireball. At four mana, this provides a huge amount of burst damage, and as a result is normally saved until later in the game when you are trying to seal the win. It can be used to take care of minions, but that normally provides a small victory for your opponent, as Mages really only have a finite amount of burst damage that they are capable of with spells.

Unique Cards

Of course, no Spotlight deck is complete without the unique card choices the creator decides to include in the deck. This deck especially has a few incredibly different choices to it, and it's only fair that I analyze as much of them as I can.

Bloodmage Thalnos

Bloodmage Thalnos: Remember when I said how odd it was that there was only one copy of  Loot Hoarder in the deck? Seeing as how this card is in the deck, it's less-surprising that there is only one included. Bloodmage Thalnos has never been a particularly flashy or ridiculously good legendary, but it is consistent. You will never have to worry about RNG with this card, nor will you have to worry overly much about getting value out of him.

Especially in Mage lists, this little two-mana legendary just reeks of value. It gives your spells extra reach and when all is said and done it will even provide you with an extra card draw for the trouble the opponent went through to get rid of him.

Despite that, not many Mage lists run him, as many are beginning to transition into getting value out of their minions rather than their spells. I don't particularly agree with this tactic though, as I don't believe Mages have consistent ways of getting the most value out of their minions like other classes do.

Because of this, it's a nice change of pace to see a deck that goes back to prioritizing what Mages are best at; killing you with spells.

Dancing Swords

Dancing Swords: What's this? A card many people view as bad in a pro player's deck? Heresy I say. We should automatically shun this deck and go on to something else.

In all seriousness though, my apologies for my unintended sarcasm here. However, ever since this card was spoiled people have declared it as a weak and even bad card from the set. I have almost always disagreed and even put it quite high up on my ratings of the Naxxramas cards in a past article. I have always been interested in alternative casting costs for cards, and this one is no exception. As a result I've had quite the soft spot in my overly-critical heart for this card.

Three mana for eight stats is a pretty good deal, and the value can usually be compounded with this deck, considering it helps to combo off of cards like Undertaker, increasing their value in addition to its own. Your opponent will almost certainly have to trade either one mid-game or a couple of early-game creatures in order to remove this card from the field, meaning that even with giving your opponent a card draw it will more often than not generate value even on its own.

Defender of Argus

Now, in the late-game it might be less impressive, but many early-game cards function this way. It's resilient against Priest decks and a decent tempo card, so I will continue to vouch for it.

Defender of Argus: This card is a pretty interesting inclusion here. Normally seen in minion-heavy lists like zoo, Defender of Argus is sometimes a difficult card to get value out of, as you can't always depend on a minion living past a single turn in this game. If they do live longer though, this card can produce some strong and unexpected trades, and as an added bonus is able to put up a couple of taunts when you really need them.

Other than that, there isn't much else to say. StrifeCro is running enough sturdy creatures that it can be quite useful in the deck, so I see nothing wrong here.

Azure Drake

Azure Drake: Once considered the best neutral five-drop in the game, Azure Drake has only been played sporadically since the full release of Naxxramas. This may be because there is now a better five-drop, the ever infamous Sludge Belcher. This doesn't in any way mean that Azure Drake is a bad card now, and indeed it still has a place in the meta, just not as prominent a place as it used to.

It's inclusion in this deck is a pretty obvious indicator of how StrifeCro plans on utilizing the card; the card draw and the spell power will both play a large roll for the card since it is included as a one-of. Although it isn't as cheap as Bloodmage Thalnos, this card will still give your spells reaching power on top of being a stable presence on the board.

I could go on to question why there was only one Drake put in the deck, but with aggressive decks you generally want your curve to be intensive for the early game with only a handful of cards to push into the mid-game, and this seems like a fine card to keep up the aggressive tempo of the deck.

Loatheb

Loatheb: Another curious oddity for a deck like this, Loatheb has been taking the ladder by storm. He is an impressive tempo card and is nine times out of ten able to stick to the board for a couple of turns, allowing you to either make efficient trades with him or to continue an aggressive push without fear of retaliation.

With this in mind, I can for the most part understand StrifeCro's decision to include it in the deck. However, while I respect his innovation, normally Loatheb is used as a stalling mechanic to push into the late-game or to delay a combo deck's last surge of damage, such as Miracle Rogue or Freeze Mage.

Nevertheless, its inclusion will give the deck lasting power for the mid-game, improving its odds against midrange decks like Hunter, which normally is capable of steamrolling aggressive decks.

Pyroblast

Pyroblast: Wait...what?! What is Pyroblast doing in an aggressive deck list? I am honestly shocked at its inclusion. It is so strange to see it in a deck like this, that even after looking at the deck about a dozen times I'm still amazed that StrifeCro would put it in here.

To be fair, there's nothing wrong with the card. At ten natural damage for ten mana, Pyroblast is the big Mage finisher that can usually end the game with a bang. Add to that idea that it can take advantage of cards like Bloodmage Thalnos and Azure Drake to potentially boost its damage. Above all though, it's next to impossible to defend against if you have no way of healing yourself back above ten or eleven damage before it's cast.

Nevertheless, it's ten mana to cast, which in an aggressive deck is a lot of mana to use on a single card. There's also the issue of timing. Normally aggressive decks strive to end the game as fast as possible by pushing for damage, preferably before the game transitions into the late-game, where mid-range and control decks have a significant advantage over these decks. Therefore, the question on why StrifeCro would include a card like this still hasn't been answered.

In the end, the answer is actually pretty simple. This card gives the deck a huge finisher against most decks for when contesting the board has been lost, and gives a final burst of damage if the game transitions too far into the late game. More than that though, this card helps to improve the win rate against mid-range decks such as Hunter and Zoo. In fact, it's inclusion to combat Hunters is actually really cool innovation and not something you see every day.

My Thoughts

Water Elemental

So, with everything mentioned above in mind, what do I think of the deck? Well, to put it simply, I love it! StrifeCro's innovation with decks is obvious here, as he is using strategies that some might not even consider such as putting a Pyroblast in an aggressive deck.

While these may make the deck seem a bit more unwieldy to play with, in truth it provides more versatility when combating specific decks that it would normally be weak against, and therefore I can see this deck being utilized on the ladder at virtually any rank.

Above all of that though, the deck just looks like so much fun to play with, something you won't often see me say. We tend to forget it sometimes, but at its core Hearthstone is still a game, and part of playing a game is to have fun, so if you have fun with a certain deck then you are more likely to stick with it and learn to master it.

In particular, there are still many Hunters on the ladder at the moment, and that should give you a decent enough reason to play this deck if you want to, as it will provide a favorable matchup against Hunter Midrange, at least until the incoming nerf devastates them and they are left with absolutely no draw mechanic.

This might be subject to change once the nerf hits, but it shouldn't change the effectiveness of this deck too much. Aggressive decks tend to prove favorable against control decks, which I predict will become more popular after the nerfs hit.

Conclusion

That wraps up this weeks WDS. Last week's DeckWars provided viewers with some interesting new decks to try out, and SecretMage in particular was a stand-out above all. Once again, StrifeCro provided some out-of-the-box thinking that improved his odds of beating Brad, and I can't wait to see him play in the upcoming tournaments. As always, I hope you enjoyed the article, and tune in next week for another deck to come under the Spotlight.

If you have questions or comments about the article or the deck, feel free to email me at darkarbiter91@gmail.com or just leave a comment in the section below! In addition, if you have a deck list you would like to see in a future Spotlight article, feel free to message me as well, and I will showcase it if I can.

Thanks for reading!

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