Handlock is a deck that hasn’t been the subject of much hype since the release of Goblins Vs. Gnomes. The reason for this twofold. First of all, the ladder is overrun with aggro decks, which have a tendency to outspeed Handlock before they can set up their impenetrable wall of taunted giants. Second of all, Handlock did not receive much from the new expansion that upgraded or changed it. However, in the tournament setting, Handlock has always been the deck to beat, and Goblins Vs. Gnomes hasn’t left the deck empty-handed as we will see here in a moment.
Kinguin For Charity Christmas Edition 2014 is a tournament that recently took place, where all proceeds from the tournament were donated to charity organizations. An important thing about this tournament though was the fact that it was played using GVG cards, allowing players to get a glimpse of what cards/decks are strong after the release of the new set. The winner of the tournament was StrifeCro, whose Handlock was a strong force in his games. So strong in fact that his first few opponents chose to “veto” it, preventing him from playing it. However, he used it in the semifinals to defeat Amaz’ priest and warrior decks, and the results were quite impressive. Let’s take a look at the deck!
For those who are not aware of how the Handlock deck works, the idea is to use the Warlock hero power to add cards to you hand and deal damage to yourself, reducing the cost of [card]Mountain Giant[/card] and [card]molten giant[/card], and then using [card]sunfury protector[/card] and [card]defender of argus[/card] to give your giants taunt, protecting the small amount of life you have left, while having several extremely strong and difficult to remove cards in play. The deck is rounded out with [card]ancient watcher[/card] and [card]twilight drake[/card] to protect your early and mid game from decks that can push out early aggression.
Handlock has not changed much since the release of GVG. None of the new legendaries are absolute must-includes, and it is clearly not an aggressive mech deck. There are however, some neat tech cards from GVG that can be included in the deck such as [card]antique healbot[/card] that can help the deck to run even better than before! Let’s look at each of the cards in-depth!
This is a nice little cantrip card that can take out an annoying minion like a [card]leper-gnome[/card] and recycle itself. In a tournament setting it also has the added value of being great against [card]silver-hand-recruit[/card], which is very helpful with the number of Paladins that were seen at the tournament.
For those of you who are familiar with Handlock, you’re certain to know how this card works, but for those of you who are not, it may require a bit of explanation. The idea behind [card]ancient watcher[/card] is that it protects your early game. You can silence it with [card]ironbeak owl[/card], allowing it to trade into other minions, use [card]sunfury protector[/card] or [card]defender of argus[/card], to taunt it up, or you can use it as a body to [card]shadowflame[/card]. In a tournament setting, where you will face less agressive decks, the card is also useful because you can give it taunt and use it to protect your giants.
In the past, Handlock players used [card]soulfire[/card] to provide direct damage removal; however, since you have to discard a card for it, Soulfire was actually antisynergystic in the deck. Also, since you couldn’t control what card was discarded with Soulfire, you ran the risk of discarding one of your key cards. Darkbomb, though it does less damage and costs more, is a much better pick in a deck that is reliant on certain cards and having a large hand size.
This is one of my favorite cards! I love owls! And I like the silencing effect as well. In this deck, particularly, the card is used to silence [card]ancient watcher[/card], so it can attack. It also can silence an opponent’s [card]sylvanas-windrunner[/card], so that she can’t steal your giants.
This is used to give your giants, watchers, and [card]twilight drake[/card]s taunt! Don’t play it on its own! It’s very important for the late game.
[card]big game hunter[/card]
This card is huge in tournaments! Professional play sees the use of a lot of control decks, where high attack minions are very prevalent. Not only can it take out a minion with a much higher cost than its own, it also places a solid body on the field to aid in future trades.
[card]earthen ring farseer[/card] and [card]antique healbot[/card]
Even though it’s out of order, I wanted to talk about these two cards together. [card]antique healbot[/card] is the best card given to Handlock decks in the entire expansion. This card allows the user to ricochet from even as low as 8 health up to a respectable 16, which is plenty when protected by taunted giants. This card acts as a replacement to [card]earthen ring farseer[/card], which used to serve the same function in Handlock decks. Though most players have dropped Farseer completely, StrifeCro decided to run both the Healbot and Farseer, which, once his wall of taunted giants was set up, made his hero practically invincible since he could continuously heal. Farseer can also be used to heal your giants.
[cardinsert card=”antique-healbot” float=”right”]
[card]defender of argus[/card]
Another taunt enabler, who is a bit more expensive, but a lot more effective since he can give out a total of 9 stat points (5 on himself and 2 to each adjacent minion).
This card helps to clear out swarms of mechs, or deathrattle minions, or Paladin tokens, making it an invaluable card in those matchups. It isn’t as strong against control decks, which is probably why StrifeCro chose to only run one.
This card provides an even stronger board clear than [card]Hellfire[/card], and can be activated using the otherwise expendable [card]ancient watcher[/card]. It can also be used late game in conjunction with a giant to take out your opponents entire board (unless they’re running a 9+health minion, but those are very rare).
This card synergizes with the playstyle of the deck and the Warlock hero power since you will likely have a large hand while running this deck, making the Drake’s battlecry more effective. The card also helps to round out the mana curve of the deck since there is no other 4-drop minion that would be played in the deck otherwise.
I’m sure you know how amazing this card is! It’s extremely sticky and helps in all kinds of different matchups since it is practically invulnerable to low-cost minions and can protect key targets in control matchups. The one issue with this card is that it is extremely vulnerable to silence, since a silence can remove both its deathrattle and its taunt effect.
Sadly, this is the only form of direct removal in the Warlock arsenal. It’s extremely costly, and the healing effect doesn’t make that much of a difference; however, direct removal in a control deck is very important, and so [card]siphon soul[/card] remains a necessary evil.
A lot of professional players consider this to be one of the strongest legendaries in Goblins Vs. Gnomes. Though Dr. Boom doesn’t have any extremely interesting mechanics behind him, you can manage to squeeze a huge amount of value out of this card. First of all 7/7 isn’t terrible for a 7-drop (compare it to [card]war golem[/card]) and the [card]boom bot[/card]s that Dr. Boom summons can have huge value! They can help to push for lethal damage on the enemy hero, and can also take out lower health minions that are still straggling about in the late game, such as [card]acolyte of pain[/card], or [card]hyena[/card]. StrifeCro, in particular is a lover of this card, and so it’s not a surprise to see it as a tech in his deck.
Though one could argue that Jaraxxus is unnecessary given the amount of healing from Healbots and Farseers and even Siphon Soul, and while this could very well be true in the aggro matchup, there is nothing that can possibly replace him in the control matchup. With him, you can control your life total even in a very long game, and in a late game situation, having an endless supply of [card]infernal[/card]s prevents you from ever running out of steam, even if the opponent’s deck has removed all of your important minions.
[card]Mountain Giant[/card] and [card]molten giant[/card]
And last, but definitely not least, are the giants. These two cards are the basis for Handlock and are quite terrifying cards. Warlock’s hero power is the best enabler for these cards in the game, and even a dedicated control deck can find it next to impossible to remove four 8/8 minions, especially when they can be played disgustingly early through the use of your hero power.
Though this deck is neither my own, nor designed for laddering, I would still love to offer an overview on Handlock matchups:
Warrior is the only control deck that can actually get out enough removal to take on the Handlock giants. Try to pressure them early and midgame so that they can’t get up to 8 armor, or they will be more easily able to remove your giants with [card]shield slam[/card]. Also, try to bait out [card]execute[/card] with your Drakes.
Some say that Shaman is the worst matchup for Handlock. They have good removal for the giants in the form of [card]hex[/card] and can take out a Drake for one mana with [card]earth shock[/card], but if you can bait out their removal, and use your board clears to take out their swarming minions, then you can win.
Taunts taunts and more taunts: a control Rogue’s worst nightmare. Mech rogue is a bit more difficult, but using your board clears and Watchers, you can keep yourself alive long enough to get out some taunted giants.
Another tough matchup. [card]Equality[/card] is really annoying since it can be used to easily remove your giants, and the early aggression of newer Paladin builds can be tough to recover from. The key is to bait out their equality with Drakes or Belchers before playing your giants.
Another difficult matchup. Mulligan as hard as possible for a Sunfury and a Watcher, getting these two cards can practically win you the game. Also, Hunter decks that don’t run [card]hunters-mark[/card] are at a huge disadvantage, since they have no way to take out your giants.
A much easier matchup than the past few. Druid has no hard removal, and this makes it very difficult for them to take out your giants. Save an owl to silence some of their key late game minions, and remember to always keep the [card]savage roar[/card] &[card]force of nature[/card] combo in mind when doing damage calculations.
Bait out [card]Siphon Soul[/card]. If you can bait out even one Siphon, your giants will have the advantage while trading.
[card]Polymorph[/card] is annoying, but otherwise, control Mage is very manageable. Mech mage is tough, but many don’t run 2 copies of Polymorph as most mage builds did in the past, allowing you to not have to worry as much about that.Make sure to take into account [card]fireball[/card] when considering whether or not a Mage has lethal, and try to get a Watcher combo in your starting hand.
If you can get a priest to use their [card] mind control[/card] on something other than a giant, you win. Otherwise, you still have a solid chance. Priest just doesn’t have the damage to pressure a Handlock player in the early game, and their removal is easily overwhelmed by swarms of giants. Remember that using [card]defender of argus[/card] on a Drake puts it in range of [card]shadow word death[/card]
Kinguin was an interesting event, and it was awesome to see all the new twists on old decks that the players brought to the tournament. StrifeCro’s victory was quite awesome, and his Handlock deck was a true terror to the competition. Though the deck isn’t designed specifically for laddering, in the hands of a masterful Handlock player, you can still have some great success, and have lots of fun! Thank you all for reading! I hope you enjoyed it! Leave any comments below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org