DKMR Game Plan: Freeze Mage Vs Handlock
In this article [DKMR]Kisstafer is going to give you the scoop on the best way to play the Freeze Mage deck when paired up against an opponent who is piloting a Hand Lock deck. Hand Lock is one of the most dominant decks on the ladder right now, so our goal here at Team Don’t Kick My Robot is to give you a game plan that can beat it very consistently.
WARNING: This is an advanced deck, and is best suited for more experienced players. It is also on the expensive side to craft, featuring 5 epics and 2 legendaries. However; for those of you who are prepared to continue we will jump right into the strategy talk.
DKMR Says: Freeze Mage is the favorite in this matchup.
Deck At A Glance
Freeze Mage is a unique deck that can only be described as a combo deck. This deck employs the unique strategy of using powerful class specific freeze spells like Frost Nova and Blizzard, and board clears like Flamestrike to stall the game until it draws enough damage spells to burn the enemy from full HP to zero. This type of Mage contains a plethora of card-drawing cantrips that are played as mana allows in between casting freeze spells so that it can draw into it’s win condition faster.
The primary kill-move of this deck is when it plays Alextrasza to cut the opponent’s life to 15, it then finishes them off with Fireballs, Frostbolts, and Pyroblast. The key ingredient that allows this deck to function so successfully is Ice Block; this card enables Mage to stay alive long enough to finish their opponent.
Freeze Mage relies on spells and not minions to deal lethal damage; the primary weakness of this deck is if the opponent has the ability to heal back up. The deck only contains a finite amount of damage, so any healing past that renders it futile. Other weaknesses include an inability to stop the damage incoming from decks that use mostly charge minions and any Hunter decks that feature the card Flare.
Early game plan
Hand Lock is well known for being a deck that uses it’s hero power ‘life-tap’ until turn 4 almost every game, so as the freeze mage player you have 4 free turns to do whatever you want early on. The best way to take advantage of this dead time is to use your mana on getting some card-draw out of the way early on while simultaneously getting poke damage in from your Loot Hoarders. This damage you can get in early on is often relevant in this matchup, because this is a matchup where you can often get away without even playing Alextrasza due to the self-damage the Warlock inflicts through his hero-power. For details on what to mulligan for, there is a mulligan guide attached below.
As a freeze mage, one of the hardest things to deal with against Hand Lock is if they consistently drop a giant or Twilight Drake every turn starting from turn 4 and onwards, and keep mounting increasing board pressure. The reason that this can be so hard to deal with is because normally it’s inefficient to spend freeze spells on single minions, but because the Hand Lock’s creatures are so powerful, it is more appealing to burn a freeze spell rather than take 8 damage. As a result, the large creatures have the power to burn through the mage’s reserve of freeze spells fairly quickly if not dealt with in other ways.
If there is not enough stall to last until late-game, taking one hit from a single giant can be “OK” as long as you are able to continually freeze their minions going forward. If your hand truly lacks freeze spells, it will be necessary to fireball a giant if you can get in the remaining 2 damage from a Loot Hoarder to finish it off. Since Warlock’s do so much self-damage with their hero power, spending a fireball this way is “OK” (though far from ideal), just make sure that you still have enough damage left over to kill them in the end.
Though the Hand-Lock’s powerful minions put a strain on your freeze-spell reserve, they are very weak to alternative stall cards like Doomsayer, Mirror Images, and Vaporize. These three cards are very effective against Giants for the same simple reason: Giant’s cost a lot of mana so they can only be played one at a time.
If you play a Doomsayer on an empty board right as the Hand-Lock has 4 mana, you have essentially denied him from dropping a giant for an entire turn. If you play mirror images early on, the heavy mana cost of giant’s means they won’t have other minions on the battlefield to take out the taunts for them and will often have to spend entire turns attacking the 0-2 taunt minions. If the Hand-Lock uses Hellfire to remove the Mirror Images, they will be able to attack through to face, but it will also deal damage to their own giants, making it easier to remove them permanently.
Last but not least, because giants have such a heavy mana-cost, a well timed Vaporize on a Giant sets the Hand-Lock back by an entire turn. Depending on how many they drew it may give you several turns of respite. By using these three cards effectively, the freeze mage can make up for the strain on their freeze spells.
Mid-game is when freeze spells have to be spent every turn in order to stay alive. Because giants have so much HP, they can tank multiple Blizzards without coming close to dying. For this reason, a strategy you can use is to chain Blizzards into a Flamestrike in order to finish off most of the board. If you attempt to do this, it is better to use frost nova’s first so that you can use Blizzard later when he/she has more giants on the board, to ensure the eventual flamestrike will kill as much as possible.
Things to watch out for during the mid-game are a) Ironbeak Owl, b) Siphon Soul and c) Defender of Argus. Nothing sucks more than when your Ice Block gets popped because the Warlock silenced a frozen giant and smacked you for 8, it is prudent to drop Mirror Images even if the giants are all frozen. Along with Owl, Siphon Soul is another problem card because once the Warlock reaches 6 mana they can simply Owl/siphon soul any Doomsayer to prevent a board wipe, and they can also Owl/Siphon Soul your Acolyte of Pain to deny card draw.
Doomsayer + freeze combo’s can be attempted when facing a Hand-Lock, but you should be wary about relying on them. Doomsayer is a card you want to try to get down before turn 6 (Siphon Soul mana cost), and on an empty board (that is when it is most effective against Hand-Lock). Defender of Argus isn’t the biggest threat, but it should still be taken into consideration when planning out ways to use AOE to wipe their board. For example, if you plan to clear his/her giants’ remaining health with a flame-strike, make sure he/she can’t just simply play a defender of argus and foil your entire plan.
Success during the mid-game depends on how well you were able to delay the Hand-Lock’s early game through proper usage of cards like Doomsayer, Vaporize, and Mirror Images. If you were able to get value out of those cards, then you should normally have enough freeze to last until the end-game where you spend the rest of your turns casting damage on their face.
Getting card-draw early on is also a decisive factor, because drawing into multiple freeze effects makes the midgame so much easier than games where you have no choice but to take hits. The goal of the mid-game is to just take as little damage as possible while setting up ice-block and drawing into your damage spells that will win you the game.
End Game Plan
As stated earlier, Hand-Locks strength is their ability to consistently play near-invincible minions every turn which force you to have the necessary freeze spells or die. If you have managed to survive to the end-game vs a Hand-Lock, you usually are the favorite to win the match. Once you are into the late-game, you will have set ice-block by now and the Hand-Lock will be at a pretty low-ish amount of health due to the life-tapping they tend to do throughout the game.
This is one of the only matchups where you don’t actually need to play Alextrasza to have enough damage to kill them, the burn spells alone are usually more than enough. That said, there are some tricks Hand-Locks have up their sleeves that must be played around, and failure to do so can cost you the entire game.
Meet Juraxxas, and my friend Alextrasza (maybe you two have met?), these are public enemy #1 when it comes to freeze mage vs Hand-Lock. One of the easiest ways to throw the game is to spend all of your burn spells getting the Hand-Lock to 1 HP, and then giving them a turn to play Juraxxas and go right back up to 15. The approach you should be using is to get them to a “low-ish” amount of health - around 10 or so - and then burst them from that to zero all in one go so that they never get any value out of these two cards.
Other than that, the one thing to watch out for late-game against Hand-Lock is their Leeroy + Poweroverwhelming + Faceless Manipulator + Soulfire combo that can deal up to 24 damage in a single turn (or 28 with double soulfire). This means that when it comes to that tenth mana crystal, you should still feel a sense of urgency about killing them because they can still trigger your ice-block out of nowhere despite their entire board being frozen (mirror images help).
The end-game against Hand-Lock can get tricky if they have a lot of healing in their hand, cards like Siphon Soul x2, and Earthen Ring Farseer x2, so it is important to maximize the amount of damage you can do. If you draw Thalnos late-game, sometimes it is best to hold onto him so that you can deal a whopping 21 damage in a single turn with a Thalnos +Frost Bolt +2x Ice Lance + Fireball combo.
This is one of the only matchups where we advocate holding onto Thalnos in certain situations rather than just playing him for the card-draw, simply because he/she allows you to 1-shot the Hand-Lock easier and play around these life gain cards. Unless you draw Thalnos early on, then it’s almost always better to just use him to cycle a card.
The mulligan phase is at the end of this guide because the most important thing about making good choices during the mulligan is having your game plan clear-cut in your mind before the match even starts. You need to know how the matchup commonly plays out during the early-mid-late game stages in order to select which cards you want to keep at the start.
During the Mulligan phase at the start of the match, when faced against a Hand Lock you want to be looking for all of your early card draw as well as clutch cards like Vaporize and Doomsayer. It is fine to keep Ice Block in this matchup just to make sure that you have it - the enemy filling the board with 8-8 stat minions means your life totals could drop rapidly in even one turn if you run out of freeze spells. Ice Block is especially important because most Hand-Lock’s use Leeroy+Faceless+Power Overwhelming combos that can bypass freeze (but not vaporize!).
When you are in the mulligan phase vs a Hand Lock you should be looking for:
Acolyte of Pain
Arcane Intellect; Ice Block
Mirror images is also an acceptable keep, but you should only keep Mirror Images if you have higher quality cards like Loot Hoarder or Arcane Intellect in your starting hand already. It can be clutch if an 8-8 giant is forced to swing at a 0-2 taunt, but having card draw is simply vital. If you want further demonstration, please take a moment to watch the following video that contains footage of several mulligans.
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Written by [DKMR]Kisstafer