How to Build: Mage in Un’Goro
Hello everyone. This is the second installment of the “How to Build” series in Un’Goro. After the last week’s Priest, this time I’ve decided to cover another diverse class – Mage. While Mage doesn’t have as many popular builds as Priest, there is still a lot to write about. The class is also top tier right now, having two Tier 1 decks (and like one or two more viable builds).
In the article I’ll first identify Mage core cards – basically the cards that make it into every single Mage list. They’re a great start when you’re trying to build any Mage deck. Then I’ll identify a few most common archetypes and talk about the cards that go into them, while giving example deck lists (they aren’t necessarily the only working and best lists, there are multiple ways you can build each deck). If you like the class, you should find something useful here!
It’s pretty neat that two of the new Un’Goro cards have become a part of the Mage’s core right away. Those 8 cards are present in basically every Mage build I’ve seen this expansion. You can safely put them into your deck no matter what deck you’re making.
- Arcanologist – The card can be an exception if you’re building a Mage deck without any Secrets.. but to be honest, it’s worth to put those 2 Secrets even if you didn’t want to play them just to be able to run this card. It’s simply insane – 2/3 for 2 that draws you a card on Battlecry. Not only that, a card that you can play on the curve if you’re missing a turn 3 play. Just compare that to something like Novice Engineer or Jeweled Scarab. The 2/3 stats are actually good enough to get some early threats or require a removal, unlike the 1/1 guy.
- Frostbolt – Very flexible early removal / burn damage. Every deck runs it, because it’s great at the early game board control and does get some value later. You can use it to deal some face damage or you can use it to freeze a big minion and ignore it for a turn. You can also use it to freeze an opponent and prevent a weapon attack. How cool is that? Probably the best out of all “3 damage for 2 mana” cards (maybe Quick Shot is better in the right deck, but it’s still close).
- Primordial Glyph – The ultimate flexible cards. You get to discover one of the three Mage spells and it costs you.. nothing. I mean, the spell costs 2 mana, but the 2 mana discount it gives means that any 2 or more mana card you pick costs its original amount. But you get the flexibility and you can pick a card and not actually play it, but rather save it for a better opportunity, while still having that 2 mana discount. E.g. you pick Flamestrike on turn 3 and play it on turn 5 for just 5 mana, which can save your skin.
- Arcane Intellect – The most basic card draw – 3 mana for 2 cards. It cycles through the deck, it generates card advantage. Every deck wants to run it – slow need to cycle through their deck and faster decks tend to run out of steam quite quickly, so replenishing the hand is quite good + they also want to cycle in order to draw their burn finishers.
- Fireball – Probably the best burn card in the game. 6 damage for 4 mana is very efficient (it does as much damage as 2x Frostbolt and it rarely happens – e.g. Pyroblast should deal 15 damage if that was the case, but it’s not) and it can be used both as a burn damage and as a removal. Yes, some Quest Mage builds don’t run the card, but I think it’s still fair to call it “core” when it’s in like 99% of the Mage decks on the ladder.
But those aren’t the only cards that Mage decks tend to run most of the time. There are few more, what I call “Almost” Core. Those cards are incredibly common, but some of the builds don’t run them. They might be present in 3/4 of the builds, or maybe sometimes they’re played as one-ofs (like tech cards in some decks). Either way, they’re incredibly common in the Mage class, but you first need to look at which archetype you’re playing before putting them in.
- Babbling Book – Very flexible 1-drop, it cycles itself with a random spell, so it fills the turn 1, but it’s also good play later in the game. Spell being random is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Since it’s random, you can get something bad, like a Vaporize against a board full of 1/1’s or Shatter with no Freezes to play it with. But at the same time, since the card you get is random, your opponent can’t play around it, because he simply doesn’t know what you got. One of the most “hated” cards, because if your opponent plays it and gets the perfect answer or lethal damage or whatever’s best in the situation, it leads to, let’s just say, some frustrating moments.
- Mana Wyrm – Before, it was used only by the fast builds. But right now, even the Control/Burn Mage list plays it. Freeze Mage and Exodia Mage don’t play it, but well, it’s still incredibly common and it appears in the most popular builds. With the worst offenders like Tunnel Trogg or Small-time Buccaneer gone, Mana Wyrm is probably the best 1-drop in the game. Its snowball potential is insane – it can easily become a 1 mana 3/3 or grow even further if it’s not dealt with almost immediately.
- Medivh's Valet – Thanks to the Arcanologist, most of the Mage builds run Secrets right now. And if you run Secrets, Medivh’s Valet is pretty good. While not 100% consistent, 2 mana 2/3 with 3 damage Battlecry is just broken. Of course, most of the Secrets are popped right away, so you need to combo those two together, but it’s mainly used by the decks running Ice Block. And well, Block is much harder to pop, so in the mid game this card’s effect is consistently active.
Now let’s move onto the specific builds, or “packages” you can run to complement your core cards.
Example list was created by PsyGuenther. It’s his latest build. Variations of it are all over the ladder.
Right now, Burn Mage is one of the two most popular Mage builds on the ladder. The deck started to gain popularity pretty early in the expansion and quickly moved into the Tier 1. While it might not be as powerful as it was at the start, it’s still great ladder and tournament choice. Burn Mage, often called Discover Mage or Control Mage depending on the exact build, is a pretty interesting deck. It remind me of Freeze Mage instead, but imagine that Freeze Mage wanted to constantly clear the board instead of stalling. The deck has similar end game goal – Alexstrasza + Burn – but it achieves it differently. It tries to constantly keep the board control instead of simply cycling and freezing.
Your goal when playing this deck should be basically clearing everything your opponent plays throughout the early/mid game. Then in the late game you have two big win conditions. First one is simple – you get your opponent down to 15 with Alexstrasza and then you finish him with whatever burn you have in your hand. The second one, however, is more interesting. The deck utilizes Medivh, the Guardian as an insane way to swing the tempo in the late game. The card is a tempo loss initially, but it changes as soon as you start playing your expensive spells. With five spells that cost 6 or more mana in the deck, it should be hard to find a good target. For example, if you Firelands Portal to kill a 5/5, it’s already a nice tempo swing. But imagine spawning an extra random 7-drop on top of the random 5-drop. Unless you low roll, you should end up with two medium/big minions that your opponent simply has to answer. And that’s just 1 charge of Atiesh, you have two more.
The deck is very fun to play, especially if you want to – and I’ll say it bluntly – screw your opponent. A lot of the games feel like you’re cheating, you pull a win condition out of nowhere, you live for many turns where you should just die, you kill every threat your opponent plays etc. This deck can do pretty much anything with the right draws and the right RNG. Because yes, it’s very RNG-based. Babbling Book, Primordial Glyph and Kabal Courier can all give you insane options or simply not give you anything good if you don’t get lucky enough. I usually hate RNG and I think that there’s really too much of it in this deck, but it still feels pretty nice to play.
Oh, and one more thing. I like this deck because thanks to the Meteor people have suddenly started to care about positioning. And if they don’t, they can finally get punished. Before, pretty much no card like that was played. Maybe Cone of Cold in some Freeze Mage builds… but with Meteor being much more popular, there’s another layer of skill when you ladder – positioning of your own minions.
This specific build was used by ZachO to hit Legend early this month. It’s a variant of the standard Secret Mage build which drops Kabal Lackeys and opts to play slower cards – Pyros and Faceless Summoner. This reduces the win rate in fast matchups a bit, but increases it in slow matchups significantly.
I’ll be honest, Secret Mage is one of the archetypes I’ve been waiting for a long time. I’ve first tried to make it work back in Classic with just Kirin Tor Mage and Ethereal Arcanist, but it was never too good. I had my hopes up high in Gadgetzan, when Kabal Lackey and Kabal Crystal Runner were released, but I ended up being disappointed – the deck might not have been that bad, but the meta was simply too fast. With so many Pirates running on the ladder, the deck was pretty weak. But finally, with the new Standard rotation, heavy Aggro decks being less popular and new cards being added (especially Arcanologist), the deck is finally viable. And not only viable, it’s a Tier 1 deck – #1 deck in the current meta according to Vicious Syndicate.
Secret Mage is a heavy tempo deck that relies on the early tempo swings and then burn damage to close up the game. Playing a Secret for free with Kirin Tor Mage is a big tempo gain. If you play Medivh's Valet with Secret out, it’s the same thing – 2/3 that deals 3 would be worth like 4 mana and you pay only 2 for it. Kabal Crystal Runner can be played for 2 or even 0 mana if you play enough Secrets before. Overall, the deck is full of those little ways to gain tempo that in the end, with the right hand, it’s almost unstoppable. Some of the openings are so crazy that your opponent can’t do anything else than concede.
There are few variations of the deck on the ladder – some run a slower build with Ice Block, some use Yogg-Saron, Hope's End as a kind of “when all things go wrong” card, others play even faster version with the Kabal Lackeys (the one I’ve mentioned at the beginning). The final, “best” build is still shaping up, but it’s hard to deny that the deck works incredibly well in the current meta.
This list was used by Payton in the first (April) season of the expansion to hit #1 Legend on Chinese server. It’s a very standard list and there isn’t too much variance among the Freeze Mage builds. The biggest difference is probably Novice Engineer vs Loot Hoarder and Ice Barrier vs Cone of Cold. But those changes are pretty small and won’t likely affect your general performance.
Freeze Mage is one of the oldest decks in Hearthstone. It dates back to the closed beta, when Freeze cards were much more powerful than they are now. I remember Frost Nova, Cone of Cold and Blizzard all costing 1 mana less, while Pyroblast was at 8 mana. But the nerfs didn’t mean that the deck is dead. Freeze Mage was present in pretty much every Hearthstone meta, but it was never really the most popular deck. It was used by some pros to hit high Legend ranks, or as a specific counter deck, but because of how hard it is to master and how easy to counter, majority of the players didn’t even touch it. Early in the Un’Goro, it looked like Freeze Mage would be the #1 Mage build, but Burn Mage was soon discovered and Freeze Mage got less popular. It’s still sometimes seen on the ladder, it’s still not a bad deck (some people are hitting high Legend ranks with it) and it’s definitely a viable tournament choice, but the two previous builds are much more prevalent.
I don’t really need to talk much about the deck, because pretty much everyone knows it. But I guess that if you haven’t met many Freeze Mages, I should give you some info. Basically, it’s a Combo deck that wants to draw the cards and stall the game as long as possible. The deck pretty much consists of three things – card draw, stall and burn. You want to draw cards to find stall and burn. You stall the game with Freezes and Ice Block in order to have more time to draw. Then you finish the game with either Alexstrasza + burn or even burn alone if you get enough of it.
The deck used to have crazy burst turns with Evolved Kobold + a lot of spells discounted by Emperor Thaurissan (including Ice Lance), but that’s only possible in Wild right now. If you don’t take random effects into account, you can only deal up to 15 damage in a single turn. That’s still a lot and still enough most of the time, but it gives your opponent much more possible counterplay. E.g. Priest can restore tons of health with Priest of the Feast + a bunch of cheap spells, Paladin can just Forbidden Healing for 20 etc. That’s why I’ve said that Freeze Mage is very easy to counter – on the one hand, the deck works very well against some decks, but with the right techs (like a lot of healing or , nearly every class can counter it).
Yes, there is more. There are other Mage builds, but they didn’t get to the main list for one of the few reasons. They might not be popular enough, they might not be powerful enough, or maybe the article already got too long and I had to cut something :p
- Exodia/Quest Mage – It was incredibly popular in the opening days of Un’Goro, but it was a failed experiment right from the start. Even though it had like ~10% representation on the ladder, the deck’s average win rate was sub-35%, which is absolutely terrible. Right now when masses stopped using it and some dedicated Mage experts have been trying to build a viable list, it’s working better and better. For example, the list I’ve linked looks really weird, but it actually works much better than you might expect. The deck’s creator, Rage, has took it to #24 Legend, which is pretty good for a deck like that. But if you’ve opened that Mage Quest and you want to jump in and play it, be careful, the deck is incredibly hard to play. It’s one of the biggest reasons why the initial win rate with the deck was so low. Most of the players didn’t know how to pilot it correctly.
- Tempo Mage – Tempo Mage used to be one of the most popular Mage decks around Karazhan. With no new additions in Gadgetzan, it wasn’t really played too much in the last expansion. This time is similar, but not because of the unfriendly meta. The deck lost some of the most important cards – Flamewaker has rotated out and that’s an incredibly big hit. Whole deck was kinda based around it. Azure Drake rotating to Wild and other cards like Arcane Blast or Forgotten Torch also rotating have hit the deck pretty hard. But some players still try to make it work. One player – Sintolol – has even brought the deck to the HCT Europe Spring Play-Offs (well, he didn’t qualify, but the fact that he brought it means that he thought that the deck is good enough). Current lists are mostly based around early game Mana Wyrm/Sorcerer's Apprentice shenanigans + late game Archmage Antonidas Fireball generation with Coins from Burgly Bully.
- Elemental Mage – Elemental Mage isn’t played at all in the higher ranks. But it’s still semi-common (like 1 in 100 games) in lower ranks. “Elemental” is the new theme that’s friendly for new players, similarly to C’Thun in Whispers of the Old Gods and Jade in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. It’s easy to build a deck around, because you just throw a bunch of Elemental + Elemental synergies and it should somehow work. It’s also relatively cheap, most of the Elemental cards are Common/Rare, with Blazecaller being the only significant Epic (and maybe Pyros as the Legendary in case of Mage, or Kalimos, Primal Lord in case of Shaman). Anyway, the deck doesn’t require a huge dust investment, so it’s – once again – more friendly to new players. Is it good? Well, it’s definitely possible to hit rank 5 with it. Legend too if you’re a good player. But it’s definitely not the best Mage deck there is.
That’s all folks. I hope that you’ve liked it. I might have missed some builds, but I think that I’ve covered the ones that see any play on the ladder in the current Standard meta. Let me know if you like this kind of decks and what class would you like to read about next!
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!