Hitting Legend with Handlock: Optimal Plays for Efficient Laddering
Hi, I’m take_eacy. I’m a F2P Legend Handlock player who played Handlock exclusively from rank 9 to Legend in Season 3 with a win rate of 58-61% between rank 5 to Legend (58% as an extremely conservative estimate).
I peaked at Rank 469 before I tanked my rank by trying to learn other decks. I spent most of my rank 5 to Legend grind during the 2nd – 3rd weeks of June and hit Legend on the 26th after a half week break. I had used Hearthstats, but my program got really buggy during the final part of the climb so I don’t know my exact stats for sure.
As an US medical student, I want to offer a perspective on how to hit Legend as a busy person with a normal working life – unable to dedicate huge chunks of time to laddering. While I am by no means a top pro, I am a Handlock fanatic, and I stay on top of the latest Handlock updates, watch a lot of the Twitch streamers and pro players who main Handlock, and have had many discussions with other Legend Handlock players about laddering with Handlock.
The decklist I’m presenting is what I believe is the optimal laddering shell for the classic, tried-and-true Handlock style. This deck was designed in mind not for the top 300 player meta, but rather, this aims to have the highest win % against the general ladder with a more unpredictable meta.
I subscribe to the Strifecro mentality of having less polarized matchups in favor of more consistent win rates. Thus, you’ll find that the deck doesn’t particularly tech against one deck or another, but it strives to do its best against hard counters at the cost of having a slightly weaker game against stereotypically strong matchups.
I will also show you how to tech the deck to more strongly counter certain matchups, so you can adapt if your meta shifts or if you prefer having more polarized matchups. Given the constantly shifting and diverse meta on the general ladder, having less extreme matchups and more consistent win rates leads to a faster path to Legend! :)
Strengths and Weaknesses
Handlock is difficult to play – the optimal playstyle is to live on the edge. The deck does its best at the lowest safe life total outside of their lethal combo range. This means that you are using the maximum number of Life Taps and thus draw the maximum number of cards you should ideally have in that game.
At the lowest safe life total and the largest hand size, you are also able to play Molten Giantand Mountain Giantat the lowest costs for that game. You must be willing to take tap aggressively and be able to recognize the chance of drawing the answer you need. Recognizing the probability of your draws is crucial to deciding whether you should life tap for the turn or make a less optimal move with the card currently in your hand.
This risk-taking playstyle is also one of the best reasons to play Handlock – many games feel extremely epic, and your wins are often very satisfying, especially as your Giants punch in their damage. One of the major strengths with Handlock is that it has a lot of consistency; you draw so many cards – you very often draw into your answers. Handlock also has a place in the current meta especially with the prevalence of Miracle Rogues, Midrange Druids, and Zoo. If you see a lot of these, Handlock will be a great ladder pick.
My win percentages against these decks in the rank 5-Legend grind were respectively around 60%, 55%, 65%. Again, this is taking into consideration that you are piloting Handlock against other players who don’t make many significant mistakes if at all with their deck especially when you’re in the rank 2-Legend range. Outside of rank 5 is a different story. I had a straight win streak from rank 9 to 5 with Handlock; my point is that it’s hard to really judge the true matchup difficulty when you’re playing against players who make more mistakes.
As for the cons of playing Handlock, this deck can be very weak (~25-40% win rate) against aggro decks piloted by experienced players. Your hardest counters can be Aggro Pally, Aggro Mage, Aggro Rogue (Backspace), and Aggro Huntard. If these combined comprise more than 50% of your matchups, I recommend you take a break with Handlock for at least a few hours and switch to another deck (such as Druid or Zoo) that is strong against these matchups.
Against Non-Aggro (Control, Midrange, Zoo)
In these matchups, you get to play Handlock at its strengths. You tap, tap til Turn 4 if you’re going 1st. If you’re going second, tap Turn 2, play something turn 3 or maybe out Twilight Drakeif you’re being pummeled and if you don’t have a Mountain Giant. I typically like to save Coin until pretty late – often for Turn 5 Siphon Soulor Turn 5+ taunting up as well as Turn 8 or 9 combo finishes. I only coin tap Turn 1 in really safe matchups like Priest, and I used to do it all the time against Druid, but Druid decks are much faster now, so I like to save it. I would only Coin tap against Druid if you feel like they have a slow start or if your hand is incredibly horrendous.
In general you want to mulligan for Mountain Giants and Twilight Drakes, maybe keep a Molten and a Sunfury Protectorif you feel that they will try rush your face down. I rarely like to keep Ancient Watcherunless I have Shadowflamealready in hand. Watcher + Ironbeak Owlis generally only really strong against Aggro decks with low attack/low HP minions.
Otherwise, many other decks can quickly dispatch your Watcher with minimal investment. I believe that it usually is a better value to try power out an early Mountain Giant or big Twilight Drake by tapping the first few turns. Watcher plays delay Mountain Giant from coming onto the board and shrink your Twilight Drakes. Furthermore, Watcher doesn’t save you from Zoo that much – instead Hellfireis really critical in that matchup. In summary, Watcher + Owl/Sunfury in the early turns denies you two Life Taps – thus to make this play, you have to be sure that this combo can hold you over until you can play your delayed Mountain Giants and weakened Twilight Drakes.
Also keep in mind that this play has to compensate for the lack of Life Tapping in the early turns. Thus, I usually think this play is not strong enough against many decks that have strong board control. I often prefer Hellfiring on Turn 4 to gain board control against Zoo and Shaman – if you tap enough you can almost draw 1/3 of your deck by Turn 4 so your probability of getting Hellfire is pretty decent even if you didn’t get it in the mulligan already. One caveat though, Ancient + Owl is not bad against Shaman, but that's only because they can Earth Shockyour Twilight Drakes, Hexyour Mountain Giants, and lack many silence-worthy targets.
Handlock doesn’t play like many other control decks, and in its current place in the meta, this version of Handlock doesn’t have the same inevitability as decks like Control Warrior or Control Paladin. While the old Lord Jaraxxusversion had the late game secured, that version is now too slow, and we have to adapt to a faster game. Once you get your Giants to stick and have a wall of taunts, you tend not to try trade board that much with the Giants – you still have to kill key targets and minions that threaten your board or the game such as Azure Drake(spell power OP) and Gadgetzan Auctioneer. Even then, I would prefer to use Soulfire and Twilight Drakes to take out those targets so that I can leave my Giants at an out-of-reach HP. You really just want to smash their face with your giants and try to end the game in 2-3 turns if your Giants don't die. Keep the board clear with all your other minions and spells.
A good Handlock game in my opinion often finishes around turn 7-9 because you’ve powered out fast giants and big threats and you just maintain that momentum.
The key thing to remember is to try play more proactively and less reactively. Examples of this include throwing down your Mountain Giant on Turn 4 against a 4 attack minion or putting down a Earthen Ring Farseerfor 2 HP gain. The exception to this rule is if you're really trying to bait out premium removal like Execute, but even then, you usually have to plop down at least a Twilight Drake and make the most use of your mana.
In general though you have enough card advantage, and you don’t need to eke it out like other control decks. As Handlock, you’re always on the cusp of falling behind and being locked out of the game because of the early Life Taps– Card Advantage is less of a concern than with other Control decks. The number 1 rule of Handlock is still to make sure you're always out of the other deck's lethal combo range unless it's a super low probability (they've played parts of their kill combo already).
You don’t have the luxury of playing typical Handlock. Sometimes, your hand forces you to play the normal tap, tap Mountain Giant game, but it’s just not the best play you would wish for. In aggro games, early Watcher + Ironbeak Owlis the best thing you can do; Earthen Ring Farseeris also fantastic. AOEs are needed to clear the board. You want to taunt up and try mount pressure against them; you don't necessarily have to clear the board all the time. Just kill key minions such as Timber Wolfand race them. In many of these aggro matches, you have to try to win more quickly because these decks often feature direct damage finishers like Kill Command, and you have to finish them before they topdeck these cards. In this matchup, huge Twilights aren’t a big deal – just taunt up as much stuff as you can and try stabilize ASAP.
Molten Giantis a boon, and Sunfury Protectoris lovely to keep in mulligans. Mountain Giant would be a luxury. Your chances of winning this matchup are not high, but the silver lining is that winning or losing these matchups tends to be decided pretty quickly, and it doesn’t waste much time for laddering. Never concede early with Handlock since your lower life total only helps you out, and you can often draw into game swinging plays.
In both control and aggro matchups, don’t forget to check if you can Life Tap at the beginning of the turn. If you know you will Life Tap that turn, do it first and see what card you get – that information can often change your plays for the better.
Card Choices & General Principles to Best Use Each Card
This section is meant to not only explain why each card earns its slot in the deck, but also demonstrate how Legend players think about how each card is meant to be played. Many cards also mention expert tips in given matchups. Refer back here if you're confused about when and how to use a certain card!
Learning how to Soulfire is a big & confusing part of playing this deck; using Soulfire to clear board and kill key targets is very critical. This is usually best done after you play a Turn 4 Mountain Giant or Twilight Drake. The only time when you wouldn't Soulfire then is when you have basically the best hand in the world to counter their deck. Don’t be afraid of your discards – you will draw into more threats and answers by tapping! Oftentimes, I use Soulfire on an Azure Draketo protect my Giant from being killed via spell damage + Azure Drake attack next turn.
Even if you discard a Giant, it’s better to lose the Giant in hand than the one on the board. If you have to Soulfire, evaluate your hand quality first - if you really like it, then Life Tap (if you have the mana) to reduce the chances of discarding something good. If you don’t like your hand, don’t hesitate to Soulfire then Life Tap. Also, don’t forget about the situations with 2 Soulfires in hand and YOLO bursting down someone’s face. The Leeroy Jenkins+ Power Overwhelming+ Faceless Manipulatorcombo + 2 Soulfires = 28 damage. Obviously, don’t throw your game if you don’t need to, but sometimes if you’re losing control of the board/game, then you gotta be a man and take the calculated risks - weigh the probability of you discarding the second Soulfire after your Leeroy combo and see if it’s higher than your chance of winning in the next few turns :)
2 Mortal Coil
Mortal Coil is one of your main defenses against Aggro decks. Just shoot it at the first available target – such as Leper Gnome, Wolfrider, and for Zoo decks, Young Priestess. It's also good with Hellfire for killing 4 HP minions like Azure Drake, Dark Iron Dwarf, Keeper of the Grove. A common play against Zoo is a Turn 4 Hellfire and then Turn 5 Mortal Coil a or Dark Iron while playing a Mountain Giant or Twilight. Against slower decks with fewer 1 HP minions, it's worth using two Mortal Coils to shoot down a minion with 2 HP left. I had tried dropping 1 Mortal Coil for a while, but it really hurts whenever you play against any aggro deck.
1 Power Overwhelming
I had tried 2 for a while – it helps you finish the game much more quickly to race other decks, but it makes the deck less consistent. If Handlock were not so tight on slots, I would like this more. It’s most desirably used as a finisher with or without the Leeroy Combo, but it’s also good to combo with Shadowflame. PO on even an Owl or Sunfury or Argus with Shadowflame can kill 6 HP guys or you can also use their buffed body to pop a divine shield on Sunwalkerbefore sacrificing to Shadowflame. You can also silence your own minion after PO to not let it die at the end of turn; silencing it after PO can basically be used as a temporary 4 HP shield.
2 Ancient Watcher
Classic Ancient Watcher system activated by Ironbeak Owland taunts. Also a great Shadowflametarget. Ancient Watcher is discussed in much more detail in other parts of this guide.
2 Ironbeak Owl
Owl is important vs Freeze Mage, Control Warrior, silencing Ancient Watcher against cancer/aggro decks to race them/dump cards from your hand if you’re worried about Divine Favor. It’s often good to silence is also a good target. You can unfreeze and also revert Aldor Peacekeeper/Humility/Repentance/Hunter's Markeffects on your Giant just to name a few effects. As always, silencing Sylvanas Windrunner, Tirion Fordring, Cairne Bloodhoofsometimes, Ysera are never bad either! I had tried dropping one, but I think it’s just too versatile right now. Ironbeak Owl's value will probably only increase once the Naxxramus expansion comes out with all of its Deathrattle minions. Dropping one may work with some of the newer more experimental lists I’ll mention later on.
2 Sunfury Protector
This is a great cheap taunt – I am happier to see this in my hand than Defender of Argusbecause it can let you taunt up on Turn 6 with a Twilight Drakeor Mountain Gianteasily and for very cheap. If possible, if you think you can won’t die next turn or won’t put yourself in range of lethal burn damage range, I try to wait until I can taunt up two minions. It can be scary to wait, but you have to live on the edge for optimal play :) Obviously the beefier your taunted minions are the better, but oftentimes, taunting two smaller minions instead of only one big minion can be better. Just having any two minions taunted will save you 1 attack to your face, and if necessary, is worth tanking the damage for a turn. I usually have no hesitations taunting a Twilight, but if a deck runs The Black Knight, I try not to taunt a Giant unless if I think I’ll die within two turns if I don’t taunt the Giant.
2 Earthen Ring Farseer
You’re always low on life and it’s nice to heal. If you’re not too worried about life total in the game (such as playing against Priest), healing your own Giants or Drakes is often a great move - keep them out of burn spell range or out of range for the opponent to trade their minions. Don’t worry as much about healing your own self unless they’re really rushing you down. Board control is still important, and don’t wait to heal yourself for max value 3 full health or another minion if you feel that it is necessary to drop Farseer for the sake of having a body on board. Turn 3 Farseer is great if you are on the draw, but I rarely play like to Farseer before Turn 5 outside of this exception and in aggro matches. This is your only 3 drop.
2 Hellfire+ 1 Shadowflame
Good for most metas when there are aggro decks. 2 Shadowflames is nice if you see more than 50% Miracles and Druids, but if there is any decent amount of aggro, I think 2 Hellfires is better. Hellfires can also be used to deal damage to the face and win. I've closed out a few games with double Hellfire + Soulfire.
A side note: 3 versus 4 AOEs in the decklist: I think Handlock only really needs 3 AOEs - whether that's double Hellfire or double Shadowflame. More than that has made me feel like I'm holding one too many AOEs. Reynad and Dandido had made a similar comment, but they weren't sure what was a better replacement for the 4th AOE. I also find that in a typical game it's hard to get the opportunity to use Shadowflame twice. I used to run the 4 AOE build, but I felt like a more judicious use of Shadowflame has been sufficient. Hellfires are also really good for the Shaman matchup to kill and mass totems. I like being able to tap turns 2 and 3 which often helps draw into the Hellfire you need for Turn 4. Shadowflame on Turn 4 requires setup and you draw into one less card - thus this means that an early Shadowflame would require you to have a hand mulliganed in such a way to play a turn 2 or 3 creature to prep for the Turn 4 Shadowflame. Some smart players will sense this and kill the minion you try setup with. Having the option to tap more helps prepare for a Turn 5 Mountain or Twilight after the Hellfire.
2 Defender of Argus
Its use is very similar to Sunfury but slower. I don’t like to keep them for mulligans unless it’s a match where I’ll be rushed down and I already have Moltens in my hand. It’s very nice for buffing minions out of range for being pinged off and is great with Ancient Watcher for a turn 6 play. Against Priests, try not to buff 4 ATK minions past 4 and buff your other minions (most often Earthen Ring) into 4 ATK to avoid Shadow Words. Also, if you have Argus and Sunfury, try play out the Argus first if you have the mana. This is so you can save Sunfury as a cheaper taunt in case of an emergency where you have to taunt up very quickly.
1 Leeroy Jenkins
This card is OP. You can quickly win the game out of nowhere with your Leeroy + Power Overwhelming+ Faceless Manipulatorcombo for 20 damage, and it’s good even without all the pieces. Since you’ll often also be holding Hellfire or Soulfire you can often do massive lethal damage to the face in one turn especially if you already have Giants on the board. It’s also great for Shadowflame with and without Power Overwhelming, just don’t forget to attack first!
2 Twilight Drake
One of the most awesome reasons to play Handlock. I really like to use Twilight to kill other minions and to use my Giants more for the face. Twilight can be silenced, so especially in matchups with silence, I try to get the most value out of Twilight by using it to gain board control. It ideally has more HP than a Giant so it’s great for taunting. I also try to displace damage from the Giant onto Twilight to keep my Giants high on HP and safe. In the Priest match, this is reversed, and Twilights are your main beaters that you want to keep safe and high on HP since they’re so hard for the Priest to kill. In every other matchup, they’re like bodyguards for your Giants who will do most of the face damage. Really try make the Twilights as big as you can via safely, yet aggressively tapping during the turns before and maybe even the turn you play it. Don’t forget to play it or Mountain Giantfirst before playing other cards to achieve maximum value. 8+ HP Twilights really do tank that much more. This is one of the reasons why you almost always tap turn 2 in every matchup even against Aggro decks (unless you have a Watcher combo ready or a crucial Owl target). Not tapping really weakens your plays and your Twilights – again you have to be ready to live on the edge if you play Handlock :)
Coining out Twilight on Turn 3 is not bad if you really need it out to start trading or if you need to pressure the board (like in Miracle Rogue matchups), but it’s usually not worth it if it delays you from playing Mountain Giant in a slower matchup.
2 Faceless Manipulator
I really like Faceless for the Leeroy JenkinsPower Overwhelmingcombo (it closes out a lot of games), and it's pretty decent in a lot of matchups to copy your own taunted Giants or copy whatever is worst for the other deck (IE copy Twilight Drakeversus Priest). I want to play Alexstraszain its place, but Alex versus the second Faceless is still a debate for me.
Alex is marginally useful against Druid for dodging the 14 damage combo, but more and more Druids are waiting to play Innervate, double Savage Roar, and Force of Naturetogether for 22 damage. It's also not useful against Miracle Rogue since they can easily combo more than 15 damage. Alex is a bit better for Control Warrior, but the matchup is not that common and Alex isn't that much more game swinging than a Faceless other than having another guaranteed 8/8. Alex is useful for mostly just the Freeze Mage matchup in my opinion, and Freeze Mages can still combo you for 15 damage with Frostboltand 2 Fireballs.
Alex would shine most against burn/aggro decks if you survive long enough, but living to turn 9 is already so hard and the game is often decided by then - it's not really a reliable option. I would rather Faceless copy a big taunter on an earlier turn. A good Handlock game will have you close out the game within 2-3 turns of having a Giant stick to the board anyways, so you might not even make it to turn 9 or you might not really need Alex on turn 9 since you may win without Alex anyways. Faceless can also often be a cheap taunted Giant and offers a lot of flexibility. Sometimes, you just copy a Doomguardand try gain more board control.
Against control decks, you can also copy Ragnaros the Firelordand hope to randomly snipe theirs back. In short, having the second Faceless offers a lot of flexibility, and you don’t have to worry as much about saving it for the Leeroy combo. Never keep it for a mulligan.
Made all the difference for me. I would only play Big Game Hunterif you see a ton of 7+ attack decks like mirror match and old school Control Warrior. Even now though, modern Control Warriors are dropping a lot of their & 7+ attack minions, so BGH has become much more limited to primarily the mirror, the occasional Ragnaros, and oddball Baron Geddon. BGH is included in many tournament decks and top legend player decks because they tend to play in much more control heavy metas (often have many Handlock opponents), but for non-professionals like most of us, BGH is unnecessary tech.
Sunwalker is a much more solid all-around option. It is really solid in mirror and against aggro and zoo. It can't be killed instantly by burn spells, and it offers you a decent midgame play against Druids, Priests, Miracles, etc. I have tried Shadow Bolt; it's a nice turn 3 play, but only really shines on turn 3 if you don’t have other turn 3 plays. Otherwise, you should just Soulfireinstead. The 3 mana for Shadow Bolt is a bit slow for a deck like Handlock that has to quickly try to catch up after taking a few turns to Life Tap. I tried The Black Knight, but I think Sunwalker is better against aggro which is your bigger concern.
Sunwalker versus a second Shadowflameis tough, but Sunwalker can be better against aggro matchups where you haven’t drawn many cards. It’s just such a good stand-alone option. Shadowflame is hard to use when you don't have many creatures in your hand. Shadowflame is also more of a reactive card; Reynad was commenting about how Handlock play needs more proactive play since it's strength is kind of mid-late game. You'll lose in the long run against Control Warrior, Priest, Paladin decks, so it's important to play in a way that wins quickly once you play out your Giants.
To that end, Sunwalker is a bit more offensive than Shadowflame. I’m considering playing 2 Sunwalkers; it may replace the second Faceless Manipulator. Faceless is really good for locking in a position and pushing the game into a clear victory, but it’s not as good stand-alone. I just don’t like how Sunwalker is 6 mana versus Faceless’s 5 though, so that’s why I’m not sure. 1 Sunwalker is definitely recommended; I’m experimenting with 2.
2 Siphon Soul
Siphon Soul is definitely a staple in this deck; we need premium removal to take care of huge threats and keep our Giants in good shape. There has been some talk about dropping 1 Siphon Soul, and the reasoning is good - Siphon Soul is very mana expensive and is really good when you already have a threat on the board, but if you don’t have any threats that stick, it eats up your entire turn.
The problem is what you replace it with - some people use BGH which I disagree with. BGH can be a great tempo play, but it’s use is much more limited. While optimal use of Siphon Soul would coincide with BGH usage (best targets to kill are often Rag, Giants, etc), there are also many critical targets that BGH can’t kill. Think of all the Zoo matches where you have to clear Doomguard, Freeze Mage games where you have to kill Doomsayer, Druid games where you have to kill a Divine Shielded Sunwalker or Cenarius, Fire Elementalin Shaman, and the list goes on. I wish we had better premium removal alternatives, but the other solutions are to be more proactive via taunt creatures (Sunwalker or Sen'jin Shieldmasta) or just use another Shadowflame.
2 Mountain Giant
They are the key to playing Handlock. It’s great to keep against slower matchups and is key to beating Miracle, mirror, Midrange Druid. You really want to try play them on Turn 4 or 5. If you have no Watcher Play against aggro, sometimes you have to go for the Mountain Giant and taunt up. Then you can try to race them with the Mountain Giant once you have taunted it up.
Against Shaman, I like to Turn 4 Mountain Giant over Twilight Drake if they already have some serious minions on the board because a 1 mana Earth Shock play can also be combined with say a Chillwind Yeti, but if they have to Hex it, then all they can do is Totem. Good Shaman players rarely Hexthe Twilight unless they have a second one in hand or they’re going to destroy you anyways. Shaman often keeps Earth Shockagainst Zoo, so they’re very likely to keep it when they see a Warlock.
Sometimes, Mountain Giants become dead weightin your hand as the game goes later on, so sometimes, you have to weigh the risk of playing Mountain Giants for 6+ (basically all of your mana) versus taunting up that turn. If you have the time, try play the Mountain now and taunt later otherwise Mountain will likely be a dead card. However, this is a really tough call that requires a lot of experience, and this is an area where you really have to learn how to live safely on the edge of lethal damage range.
2 Molten Giant
This is my favorite part about Handlock. If you suspect not to be rushed down (ex. Priest, most Shamans, Miracle Rogue), toss it back in the mulligan. You will draw into it by the time you need it (if ever). Against matchups like Zoo and aggro, this is one of your top choices for an early taunt – keep it during mulligans. You can often prioritize playing Molten Giant a bit later because it’s cost will only decrease, but this really depends on the board and how much board control you want.
Don’t forget that life-tapping in the 10-20 health range before playing Molten will reduce the cost of Molten by 2 as well (basically giving you a free Life Tap). If you have 2 Moltens, one Life Tap can reduce the cost of playing both Moltens by 4. Sometimes if absolutely necessary, I will tap even if I already have 10 cards just so I can put down 2 Moltens and taunt in 1 turn. You can also Soulfire yourself to play Moltens cheaply. Moltens also works as a great low-cost sacrifice for Shadowflame if you need to clear the board.
Not Recommended Cards
I tried it for a long time. It's really good for those 2 damage Mortal Coils, 5 damage Soulfires versus Druid, but I felt like it was too inconsistent. You always have to pair it with another card to get value out of it; it felt a bit win-more than a necessity. Handlock's slots are really tight so while it is pretty good, I don't think it's good enough to justify a slot. There are better cards to run in its place right now.
Acidic Swamp Ooze
Great in metas that heavily feature Warriors and Trap Hunters. The weapons in these matchups are the scariest because they represent easy ways to kill off Giants or tons of damage to your face. We're lucky that we're not in that kind of meta now. Rogue weapons are not as big of a deal, and there aren't enough Shamans with Doomhammerto necessarily warrant Ooze yet.
Big Game Hunter, The Black Knight, Shadow Boltwere addressed under the discussion on Sunwalker.
I haven’t tried Ragnaros the Firelordsince I don’t own him, but I dislike random chance, and I believe Ragnaros is also slow. I would want to run another Sunwalker before I run a Ragnaros. My belief is that Handlock needs more midgame options to carry you over into the late game; oftentimes, the rationale for Ragnaros is to have another finisher in case if they remove all your Giants.
I agree that using the 4 Giants as our midgame makes them prone to being removed before they can win us the game, but I believe Sunwalker sits well in that midgame and can eat up removal too. Turn 8 is a bit late, and Ragnaros doesn't help you gain board control or protect you like Sunwalker does. If you need removal as some Ragnaros supporters cite, then the Siphon Soul or Faceless is usually enough to deal with the situation.
If you really really want a stronger later game, then Lord Jaraxxusmay be considered if the meta gets slower and less bursty. The meta is just too filled with fast decks like Cancer Rogue right now to run Ragnaros in Handlock, and there are already better options to run in place of Ragnaros when the meta has slowed down.
I think Sunwalker is also better than Cairne Bloodhoofbecause of the built-in taunt. While the Divine Shield isn't as good as another life, it often comes out that the Sunwalker dies to only 1 less hit than the number of attacks to kill both Cairne and Baine. Also, both are equal in cost and stats if they get silenced.
From this tried and true list, I would only really play around with the 2 + 1 Hellfire versus Shadowflame distribution, the 2nd Faceless vs. 2nd Sunwalker vs. 2nd Shadowflame slot, the 2nd Siphon Soul vs. other removal or taunt options, and the Sunwalker vs. BGH slot. Handlock with the Leeroy combo is a very tight decklist with very little wiggle room.
Some streamers (C9's Hafu and also Strifecro I believe) are testing a more proactive version with a second Sunwalker, 1 Sen'jin Shieldmasta, 1 Alexstraszain place of the Power Overwhelming and 2 Faceless Manipulators. I have mixed feelings about this, but it could be the next direction Handlock needs to take to play a little faster and more proactively. The Sunwalkers and Senjin give you more taunts and offer more accessible board control options that don’t require as much setup as the Faceless Manipulators.
However, this style lacks as strong of a finisher as the Leeroy Combo, and thus they use Alex again. Alex becomes more supportable in this build because the deck can turtle up longer with the Sunwalkers and Senjin. The deck becomes a bit more mid-rangey than it is now. With this more proactive kind of play, you rely less on your Ancient Watchers in fast matchups and don’t need Ironbeak Owlas much. This is the only time I can see running 1 less Owl as a good idea. I’m not the hugest fan of Senjin, but I think it will shine mostly as an early plays against Aggro matchups.
Right now, I think a second Sunwalker or perhaps a Senjin in place of the second Sunwalker is sufficient tech against most matchups. I believe that this direction is a radical experiment for Handlock and only time can tell if this will play better than our current Handlock shell. The Leeroy combo gives you an option for a very strong and very fast ending, and I don’t like to lose that. However, with the Leeroy + PO + Faceless Manipulator style, I think this is the best list for general laddering. I will experiment with the new Handlock direction, and I’ll update once I am more sure about whether the radical change is worth it.
Good luck laddering! :) I wanted to leave you with an overall understanding of your arsenal in Handlock as well as a few principles to guide your games. While some general matchup notes were scattered throughout our discussion, specific matchup and mulligan information is available in a few other guides on this site. More importantly, I think specific matchups are a learned experience and not one that can be truly taught. Please leave questions you have here in the comments, and I will try get to them with time!