Guide: Be the Aggressor Mage
In the world of Hearthstone, while I am a primarily midrange player, it’s always nice to mix it up and play something a little different. As such, for the last week or so I have been trying to put together an aggressive mage deck that can climb the ranked ladder.
Starting off, I knew I wanted to play an aggressive deck, but I didn’t want to join the endless pool of Zoo Warlock and Hunters that flood the ladder. I wanted something different. However, my efforts were largely futile, and I ended up losing most of my games.
On paper it made sense. You have a class that, while not the most aggro minded, has access to some of the best direct damage spells in the game. Combine that with some cheap, aggressive creatures and you have a winner right? Seems like that would be the case, but in reality my lists were falling short again and again.
Either I wouldn’t draw the right sequence of cards, or my opponent would stabilize with taunts and I would die. One damage really doesn’t do it when you’re facing down two 9/9 taunted Molten Giants. However, last week something happened that not only changed the way I looked at Mage aggro, but it gave me the missing piece of the puzzle.
It was a weekend, and I was casually browsing the Hearthstone Forums for new ideas on what to add to my deck, when I came across a list that was running a card that I had never even considered: Ice Lance. The card seemed innocuous at first, but as I got to thinking it just seemed to get better and better.
I immediately opened up Battle Net and reworked my list to include the rather innocent looking one mana spell. The effect was almost instantaneous. As a deck builder, when you come across something that works, you know it. You start climbing the ladder, winning games you previously thought were unwinnable, and moving up ranks.
Ice Lance gave the deck everything it needed, and cemented it as a contender in the current metagame. Before I knew it I had climbed eleven ranks, and was winning matches I has previously written off as unwinnable.
As I climbed the ladder I made a few tweaks here and there (getting some help from the aforementioned list in the forums) and put together a list that I believe is a very strong, fun, fresh look at aggro in the Hearthstone meta.
How To Play
This deck is different from matchup to matchup. I cannot emphasise that point enough. Unlike Hunter and Zoo, you don’t necessarily want to go to the face the entire time. Sometimes the best option is to trade minions and other times it’s not.
For example, you’re almost never going to outrace Zoo, so killing off their early creatures and maintaining board control is the way to start off the game, whereas you want to kill Druids quickly before they stabilize with big creatures.
This deck operates on two levels, because you can remove enemy creatures with your own minions, your ability as well as spells, you always want to base your plays around what will net you the most damage output.
If you have creatures on board and your opponent plays a big creature is it right to remove it with your only Fireball?
If your opponent has a lot of life, then yes it is usually good to keep your creatures swinging and make sure they live because your creatures living another turn will probably be worth more than six damage. However, if your opponent has lower health, then just pushing and hitting face may be the right play since your opponent will be faced with lethal damage and must trade minions next turn, netting you an advantage in life difference. This is a simplified example, but these small choices are what make the deck so exhilarating to play, and can make the difference between winning and losing.
The reason this deck works so well is because of the direct damage spells (something I will get into deeper detail about later). You almost always want to use your haste creatures when you can.
If your opponent has an Ancient Watcheron the board, and you have a choice of either playing a Wolfrider or a Frostbolt, the right answer is always Wolfrider. This is because, once the Ancient Watcher gets taunted the rider loses its power while the frostbolt still does damage. This deck succeeds due to the fact that you can always finish off your opponent with Fireball, Ice Lanceand Frostbolt.
You typically want to play creatures out on to the board, finding ways to do the maximum amounts of damage output and then bringing your opponent down with direct spells. It is not always that simple, but that is a general idea that will help you better understand the card choices.
To The Face! (The Cards)
Honestly, Arcane Missiles are my least favorite card in the deck. A lot of times they seem like a weak form of direct damage and are a horrendous top deck. However, they work in the deck as a great early game answer to aggro.
Not only that, but when your opponent has no creatures on board, they also are three damage to the face. A Sinister Strikeis not always what you want, but it can be useful to bring your opponent into lethal range. Arcane Missiles is not the most exciting card, but it is useful enough to include in the deck.
Mulligan for it early and hope it doesn’t show up late. Always be aware of the RNG factor this card brings and make sure you are confident in the play you are making with this card even if in the end the RNG does not favor you.
The card that made the deck what it is, Ice Lance is a wonderful, multi-functional card that can be used as a tempo card or as a finisher (which is most often is).
Remember, this card only does damage when the target is frozen, but when combined with Frostbolt it becomes seven damage for three mana, which is one of the best ways to finish games.
Ice Lance can also be used in tight situations to shut down an opponent’s creature for a turn to allow you to have lethal the next.
The direct damage output with Ice Lance, in conjunction with either itself or Frostbolt, make it the premier kill spell in this deck. Add that power with a spell that can also stall creatures or buy you an extra turn, and you have an incredible card.
While Zoo has Voidwalker, this deck has Mirror Image. This card, like almost every card in this deck, is really good at what it does.
This is a card you almost always want to see in your opening hand (except against Hunter). It protects your creatures really well, and allows you to hit for extra damage all throughout the game.
Also, remember that Mirror Image combos really nicely with Knife Juggler, and is a nice free spell with Sorcerer's Apprentice.
You don’t always have to wait to use in conjunction with those cards (for instance it’s better to use with Mana Wyrm and Coin) but those are small connections that make it even stronger.
Argent Squire, after seeing so much play in so many forms of aggro, is not a card that needs much explanation. There is only one in the deck, and I added it in as a throw away more than a solid card. I originally had two in the deck, but went down to one when I decided the number of one drops was too high.
If you want to run two that’s fine as well. It is a good, hard to get rid of card, that just gives you another resilient early game threat.
Sometimes Mana Wyrm feels like the most pathetic top deck in the world, and sometimes it feels like cheating. It is because of the latter that two are automatically included in this deck. If you going second, aggressively mulligan for this card, as the Coin is a spell and makes this card incredibly powerful.
The best turn one play this deck has is Mana Wyrm, Coin into Mirror Image, which allows you a lot of early board control that only direct removal can deal with.
Even when you don’t have the Coin or Mirror Image, Mana Wyrm is a strong card that gets better and better as the game goes on. I have won many games due to an unanswered Wyrm, and for that reason it is your best turn one play. Always mulligan for them.
When it comes to damage output, few cards do it better than Leper Gnome. Like Argent Squire, this card doesn’t really need much explanation. More often than not this card is just a two damage spell, but if it does get to hit your opponent consider it a gift more than a guarantee.
This card helps you stack up damage fast and early hits, combined with it’s death rattle, brings your opponent close to lethal extremely quickly.
Three damage, two mana, kills creatures, freezes your opponent, what else you want? Frostbolt is all you ever wanted and more. I almost never use it to kill creatures (as its primary mode is to be combined with Ice Lance), but the fact that it can makes it very useful. Just like Fireball, the use of this card almost always depends on the opponent’s life total and the stage of the game.
However, there are some big targets that should almost always elicit a Frostbolt, such as Knife Jugglers, Voidwalker and opposing Mana Wyrms. If you have to use it to take out a troublesome creature or a taunter, do so, but always be wary, because once you run out of Frostbolts your Ice Lances become much less effective. I usually horde them until I have lethal or they have to be used in order to keep control of the game.
Another card I’m not crazy about, Knife Juggler is very good at times and very poor at others. However, just like Mana Wyrm, Knife Juggler excels so much with Mirror Image, and does so much when he goes unchecked, it’s hard not to include him in the deck. His RNG can be a little annoying at times, but overall it’s a three/two body that can add up damage quickly.
Playing him turn one off Coin is very powerful, but always be aware of doing that against a class that can easily remove him such as Druid’s Wrath. Sometimes it’s better to wait until turn four or five where you can guarantee a knife hit or two before he dies (which he most definitely will).
The only legendary on this list requires souls, and lucky for you, your opponents have plenty to spare. Bloodmage Thalnos is key in this deck. He might not bring the pain in terms of damage, but his spell power is crucial to huge finishing turns. Not only that, but the fact that he nets you a card when your opponent gets rid of him is just icing on the cake.
It is never right to play Thalnos until you can combo him with spells, and doing so usually allows you to quickly finish off your opponent. It should be noted that if you do not have access to Thalnos you can always replace him with a Kobold Geomancer, but losing that card draw can sometimes be a big deal.
Loor Hoarder is a personal favorite of mine, and perhaps one of the first cards I put into the deck. Loot Hoarder is a one more damage, spell powerless Thalnos, and that’s ok. Much like Leper Gnome, you should never expect this card to hit your opponent (he is almost always killed) but when they do consider it a gift.
Loot Hoarder is an aggressive card that attacks very well and lets you dig deeper into your deck for Fireballs and finishing spells.
Perhaps the strangest card in the deck, Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a card that really seems odd unless you play with it yourself. It is a rare occurrence when Sorcerer’s Apprentice leads to a weak turn.
Free Ice Lances, Arcane Missiles and Mirror Images are all very strong plays and being able to cut the cost off of spells is useful. In a recent game I finished off my opponent by playing an Apprentice and then Fireballing him, using two one mana Frostbolts and a free Ice Lance. This turn is a little extreme, but plays like this are not uncommon when you have the Apprentice in play.
With the Coin, if I do not have a strong turn one card, one of my favorite plays is turn three Apprentice into Coin, Arcane Intellect. Be wary that, since it doesn’t have charge, Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the few cards that has no impact late game. As such, keep them in your opening hand, and try to make the best of their ability.
Wolfrider is one of the most efficient charge creatures for its cost in the entire game, and nothing more. If you can get more than one hit in with the rider, you usually will win the game, but even as an extra three damage spell it is very strong.
There are usually better things you can do early in the game, but the Rider is one of the best mid-game ways to get your opponent into lethal range before the taunts come down.
Straight out of the Hunter’s playbook, Arcane Golem is what is always has been: damage. A third and fourth Wolfrider of sorts, Arcane Golem is a card that brings a big tempo swing to the game. It is worthy to note that, despite their power, they do have a major setback.
I will never keep a Golem in my opening hand, as you never want to play them early in the game. Unless you are piling on massive amounts of damage to setup lethal, you also never want to play golem just for four middle game damage, as giving your opponent an extra mana crystal can really come back to hurt you.
Besides the direct damage, the other reason this deck operates as it does is because of Arcane Intellect. The card itself is very self explanatory, but you always want to be wary of when to play it.
Arcane Intellect doesn’t immediately effect the board or cause damage, but merely sets you up for later turns. This is very useful, but because of its passive nature, you usually only want to intellect when you can either also do something else in the same turn or the opponent has not presented any threats on the board.
It is one of the strongest top decks you have access to, and unless you have Coin or Sorcerer’s Apprentice I will usually mulligan it away.
Another interesting pick, Coldlight Oracle is merely the Murloc form of a third Arcane Intellect. Much like the Arcane Golems, the setback is huge, and you should only play the Oracle on an empty board when your opponent is at low life, or if you need to dig for answers.
This card has saved me in numerous situations, and also won me numerous games. Because of that I would not cut it from the deck, setback or not.
Arcane Intellect is really good, and when you're playing a deck that depends on finding certain cards (Ice Lance and Frostbolt come to mind) having more ways to draw is always better than having less.
The one finisher to rule them all. Fireball is the most self explanatory get-them-dead card on the list. Six damage for four mana is great value, and this card straight up ends games. While Frostbolt can be used to take out creatures, unless I’m going to die, I will never point Fireball anywhere but my opponents face.
This card is the best way to get your opponent to zero, and should be used accordingly.
A small disclaimer, I do not own Leeroy Jenkins. In all honesty, this Argent Commander should be a Leeroy, and if you have him, making the switch should be easy. However, if you do not have Leeroy, don’t worry.
Argent commander is a wonderful replacement. Some people like playing Reckless Rocketeerinstead of Leeroy, but the Commander, due to its divine shield protection, is a much better option. Argent Commander is usually played to hit for four extra damage, but I always try to save it for when my opponents have no creatures, as it will be that much harder to remove.
However, doing this will somewhat allow the opponent to dictate how the divine shield is used and how much value is taken from it.
You are going to get locked out of games. That’s just a fact of life. Rarely have I played a game where my opponent hasn’t completely taken over the board through giant creatures and taunts.
However, by that time you should have utilized your resources so that you have lethal or close to lethal. Remember, every draw is important, and you can top deck a much needed spell at any time.
Always being within striking distance is the strength of this deck, and you should always be aware of what you can draw, what’s in your hand and your opponent’s life total.
The matchup from hell. Not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of gameplay. Hunter is a race ninety nine percent of the time, and usually never a fun one. The reason Hunter is tricky is due to the fact that if you stick to the regular game plan against them they will punish you.
Usually, you want to get out explosive starts with things like Mana Wyrm, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Knife Juggler and Mirror Image. However, they have Unleash the Hounds, which will crush you if you play too many creatures, and Explosive Trap, which will do the same.
Save your direct damage for the end of the game in this matchup and don’t be afraid to trade away value creatures such as Loot Hoarders and Leper Gnomes. Also, freezing them with a Frostbolt or Ice Lance to stop a Eaglehorn Bowcan also help you win the race.
This matchup is all about being smart, being wary of traps and watching out for the hounds.
They can heal, and that’s about it. Paladins, while strong, have a real weakness in the early game, and you should take full advantage of this. Mirror Image can be back breaking against them, and force them to consecrate a weak board.
Your power directly negates theirs and they usually have no answer for massive amounts of early haste damage. Knife Juggler really shines here as does Mana Wyrm. Once they start getting to Guardian of Kingsand Lay on Handsthey can stabilize, but for the most part, your haste creatures should set up the direct damage kill without much resistant.
Be aware of what they can play with their mana, how much they can heal, and always watch out for Consecration.
Unlike Hunter, Zoo is a very interesting aggressive matchup where you need to utilize your game plan in order to win. Your hero ability is an all star against both normal Zoo and Murlocs. Using it to ping small creatures or finish off slightly larger ones is almost always the right move.
Frostbolt usually removes Voidwalkers, and trading off creatures to set your opponent’s board up for Arcane Missiles is a good play as well. Knife Juggler is great here, and Mirror Image protecting any kind of minion is the opening hand you're looking for.
Be smart, trade off creatures unless you're winning the race, and trust your finishers will pull you through.
They will play Giants and they will taunt them. However, to date I am currently 5-0 against this deck. Not only do they do a lot of damage to themselves, outside of Soulfire they really aren’t equipped to deal with a turn one Mana Wyrm or an early Knife Juggler.
Hellfire is a concern, but it also helps our cause and brings them closer to the direct damage kill. Always be wary of their life. If you do not have direct damage in your hand, then don’t let them play free Molten Giant.
While Handlock does have some tools to fight back against this deck, most of it is based around taunt, which direct damage bypasses. This is one of the easiest matchups you will face.
I’m not sure why (it probably has something to do with the results of last week’s Managrind tournament) but there has been a large resurgence of mid range Mage decks in the ladder.
Still, while they do have access to Ice Block, which can be really annoying, they are pretty ill equipped at handling our pressure. Their sweepers come too late, and the only real problem creature is an opposing Mana Wyrms or Water Elemental(which is one of the only minions I have ever fireballed).
They can also pick off your creatures in a couple of ways. Arcane Intellect is a must have here, and should never be mulliganed. Even if an opposing Mage does manage to handle the early game, your top decks are so strong that they usually bring you to victory.
There could not be a deck more ill equipped to deal with our onslaught than Priest. Not only is Holy Novatheir only real saving grace, but most of their late game cards are irrelevant. Just keep the pressure up and they will have no strong answers.
Early pressure is great and finishing the game any kind of damage is usually pretty easy.
A deck I have been seeing more and more of, Rogue is another matchup you should hope for. Mirror Image creates all kinds of problems, and hiding a Mana Wyrm or Juggler behind the taunts gives them very few options apart from Backstab or SI:7.
Miracle Rogue is also a breeze, as they go off a turn or two too late to stop our plan. Be aware of Backstab, it can be very good, but without it they usually lose.
When it comes to playing Shaman, both decks concede an advantage to the other. Shaman has no real way of healing, which makes them very susceptible to late game bursts of Frostbolts, Ice Lances and Fireballs.
However, they also have a toolbox of anti aggressive cards - Rockbiter Weapon, Earth Shock, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Storm, Stormforged Axeand are all great against us, and can put our plans to a complete halt.
The removal is not too detrimental, as most of our cards have charge, but Feral Spirits can really shut down charge creatures early, making lethal hard to come to terms with.
Always try to find a way through the wolves, and don’t be afraid to Frostbolt them. If they draw their Lightning Storms early it can be trouble, but if they draw them late, they’re usually doomed.
The nightmare matchup, Control Warrior is a deck that will beat you in the early game rather than the late. While it might not seem so, their late game is horrendous against us. Cairne Bloodhoof, Ysera, Ragnaros the Firelordand Grommash Hellscreamall can be ignored and all take a turn to play.
The Baron Geddoncan be problematic at times, but also has no impact on charge minions and further helps our cause of face damage. During the later stages don’t play into a Alexstraszareset. Save your spells for a fifteen point kill rather than bringing them to low health.
However, in the early stages of the game Shield Blockis great, as is Shield Slam, Slam, Armorsmith, Fiery War Axe, Whirlwindand Cruel Taskmaster.
This matchup is tough, but relies on a simple rule. If they go into the later turns at low health they are almost always dead (as they can’t advance the board and protect themselves at the same time) while if they have a lot of armor or high health you have no chance.
One more note: freezing a warrior is fine (with a premature Frostbolt to the face) to stop a Gorehowlor Fiery War Axe attack and Ice Lance serves the same purpose. These are not optimal uses of the cards, but those plays can come in handy throughout the game.
An even worse matchup than Control Warrior. Where Control Warrior’s big creatures have low impact and very weak to charge, Druid’s large creatures heal and put up giant taunt shields. Not only that, but their hero power gives them armor and allows them to pick off your small creatures.
That being said, I still have won a good number of games against Druid, but the matchup is probably sixty-forty in their favor. Be wary of Druid of the Clawand Ancient of Lore, as those are their best tools for recovering.
Don’t be afraid of their hero ability, as you should be okay if they decide to trade two mana for three damage (Leper Gnome) or for one damage and a card (Loot Hoarder).
This is not an easy deck to play, but it is also not the hardest. Know what cards you could draw, and always try and mulligan for low casting cards. Most games Arcane Intellect is right to mulligan away, but I always keep it against opposing Mages, Warriors and when I have the Coin/Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
This deck gives a new spin on the aggressive strategy and is really fun to play. Yes, sometimes you will play the top deck game, but I find that both fun and thrilling. If you want a new deck to climb the ladder with, I would highly recommend taking this good, cheap deck for a spin and see how you do. It does what it’s supposed to very well, hit hard, win games and climb the ranks.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, may you always top deck your Fireballs when you need them.
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