How To Build: Reno Mage
Hello everyone. Normally, I give you a full deck list and then I go through the process or explaining things – mulligan, strategy etc. However, this time I’ll cater to your inner deck builders. If you like deck building or you would want to learn more about it, stick with me and hopefully you’ll leave with some extra knowledge that will be useful on the ladder.
Deck building is a very important part of every CCG. You can’t just throw in random cards and expect to win. Since Hearthstone is both digital and VERY popular, not everyone has to be a great deck builder. We can easily follow the latest trends, copy the lists from pro players, streamers etc. We can netdeck. But I’m still convinced that deck building is an important skill for multiple reasons. Building a deck yourself makes you understand it better – the win conditions, the way you want to play it etc. It also makes it easier to optimize it, tech to the meta you’re playing in. Remember that most of the pro lists are optimized for either tournament or high Legend gameplay, not necessarily for the ladder grinding. Deck building skills also help greatly right after the new expansion, when there are no “strong” lists established yet, you can quickly build something yourself and take it to the ladder instead of watching what pros play and trying to copy it (it’s always the most fun I have in the game – deck building right after new cards are out).
After the RenoLock deck building guide around 2 weeks ago, this time around I’ve decided to go with the Reno Mage. It’s another deck which can offer a lot of choices – it might have seemed that the Reno Mage build has stagnated, but then people were coming up with more and more innovations.
When you a build a deck, it’s important to establish its core. Of course, once you get better with deck building you will be able to do that on the fly, but first you want to know which cards are vital to the deck and are irreplaceable. Establishing a core is important, because once you know it, you can build on it. You can add and remove cards, but you know that you don’t want to touch the core.
Core mostly consists of the cards that are vital to the archetype – they define it one way or another. They are generally present in every list, they have unique effects that you can’t replace with other cards. They don’t necessarily have to be the deck’s strongest cards, it’s just that you can’t build a successful deck without including those. In case of Reno Mage, those cards are:
- Arcane Blast – Early removal, very mana efficient. You’d probably play it even as a 2 damage for 1 mana just to remove the early Small-time Buccaneer without losing the tempo. However, since the deck runs some Spell Damage, you can play it a bit later as a 4 damage for 1 mana, which is amazing removal.
- Frostbolt – Early/mid game removal, stall tool against a single big minion, way to negate weapon attack for a single turn, potential burn damage finisher. Very versatile card, one of the strongest early game removals in the game because of the Freeze part.
- Arcane Intellect – Unlike RenoLock who can draw cards with Hero Power, Reno Mage needs some cycle. In fast matchups you want to get to your Reno and other important cards faster, in matchups where you need to burst your enemy you want to draw your burn faster etc.
- Forgotten Torch – Even though the first part isn’t very mana efficient, the card’s power lies in the fact that it gets recycled into a 3 mana Fireball later. Gives you early/mid game removal + more burn later + an edge in matchups that go to fatigue (because you get +1 card in your deck).
- Ice Block – Getting an extra turn instead of dying for just 3 mana is incredibly powerful. Very useful against Aggro, because extra turn might mean that you survive until Reno Jackson or you draw some other ways to heal/stabilize. It also turns some matchups vs combo decks from bad to okay or even good.
- Volcanic Potion – Early AoE, very efficient, great against Aggro decks. Thanks to the Spell Damage minions and Mage’s Hero Power, it’s also much more useful in the mid/late game, because it can kill some 3 health targets too.
- Fireball – Mid/late game removal + burn spell when necessary. Very powerful, unconditional 6 damage for 4 mana that passes through the Taunts is only available to Mage. Other classes would kill to use this spell.
- Kazakus – After Reno Jackson, the most important Highlander card. When playing against faster decks it might give you an extra board clear and/or Armor gain. Huge value tool in slower matchups, especially when combined with Brann Bronzebeard.
- Polymorph – One of the most powerful single target removals in the game. Only slightly weaker than the Hex, which is in my opinion the best single target removal ever printed. You can clear anything with it – it has no upper limit of health, no attack restrictions etc. Since it transforms a minion, it also negates every Deathrattle or minion resummons like Anyfin Can Happen or Doomcaller.
- Blizzard – It’s not very efficient damage-wise, but thanks to the Freezing effect you can treat it like a Volcanic Potion + Frost Nova combined in one card. Which makes it quite powerful. Freezing effects are great at stalling + the 2 damage AoE is often very significant. You can also combo it with Doomsayer for a potential full board clear.
- Flamestrike – One of the strongest AoEs in the game – 4 AoE damage is enough to clear all the early and a big part of mid game drops. It’s amazing against board floods + you can combo it with either ping or Thalnos to get 5 damage.
- Acidic Swamp Ooze – I feel like in the current meta game Ooze is a core card in Reno decks. Non-Reno decks can’t always afford to play it, but Reno decks can and should – removing weapons is very powerful in the meta dominated by Pirate decks. In the best case scenario, it saves your life by removing tons of damage (e.g. against Arcanite Reaper). But even buying some tempo by removing the Rogue’s dagger is good enough.
- Bloodmage Thalnos – This deck combos really well with Spell Damage. Thalnos is the best cheap source of Spell Damage – you can combine it with AoE for a bigger clear, single target removal to kill the minions you wouldn’t be able to kill otherwise (e.g. Thalnos + Fireball + Ping to kill 8 health minion) or add some extra damage to your burn combo. And it cycles itself, which is very important.
- Doomsayer – Must-have minion in the current meta. Having an early Doomsayer increases your win rate against Aggro decks significantly. It either clears the board with 1 turn delay or tanks 7 damage for 2 mana – no matter how you look at it, it’s very efficient card. In Mage, you can also combo it with Freeze effects for a semi-reliable board clear in the mid/late game.
- Brann Bronzebeard – Even though the deck’s core doesn’t run a lot of Battlecries, there are A LOT of complementary cards with Battlecry and most of the lists end up with multiple Battlecry minions. But the biggest reason for Brann is a combo with Kazakus – it’s often your main win condition in slow matchups.
- Azure Drake – Spell Damage, cycle, midrange body on the board. One of the strongest and most used neutral cards in the game.
- Reno Jackson – It heals you up to full whenever you want, it completely destroys Aggro decks, but it’s a very powerful card in nearly every matchup. Can save your skin against burn, can keep you alive a few turns longer in fatigue etc. One of the most important, if not THE most important card in the deck.
Now that we know what’s the deck’s core, we can move forward to the complementary cards. Core was 17 cards, so we have 13 more slots to fill. It’s much more easier than you might think – there are actually way more than 13 extra cards you’d like to have in the deck. In the end, you will need to make some choices, some cuts – and that’s the most important part of the deck building. Knowing not only which complementary cards you want to include, but also why. I’ll try to divide the rest of the cards to a few categories and explain why each of the cards fits the deck and against what decks it is good (e.g. this and this is a tech against Aggro). It should help you with making those decisions. But in the end, you also need to realize what meta you’re facing. It’s best to keep track of the stats, but you generally should know how much Aggro Shamans or how much RenoLocks you face.
I didn’t list every possible card you can play in the Reno Mage, only the more popular/common choices. Flexibility is the nature of Highlander decks and you can most likely find more cards that fit the list – but those should give you big enough card pool to have some hard choices when deck building already.
P.S. Some cards fit into multiple categories. If that’s the case, I will describe the card in its main category and just mention it in the others.
Early Game Minions
Let’s list some early game minions you can add to the deck. Generally, having some stuff to play in the early game is important for two reasons. First – it helps tremendously against Aggro. Second – there are matchups in which you want to be proactive. For example, against Jade Druid, if you just Hero Power until turn 4, you’ve probably lost the match already.
- Babbling Book – Even though the 1/1 body for 1 mana doesn’t seem impressive, it’s actually stronger than you might think. Since your turn 2 is often Hero Power anyway, you might be able to kill some 2 health minions thanks to it. Also, against Pirates, every 1/1 minion matters – if anything, it will usually at least trade with the Patches, leaving one less ping target on the board. And it’s also a value card – it gives you a random spell from outside of your deck, which makes the card useful later in the game and in the slow matchups.
- Mistress of Mixtures – Very common 1-drop in the current meta. 2/2 for 1 are solid stats, which might get a decent trade in the early game. While the card gets obsolete against slow decks, it’s always useful against Aggro – you get 4 points of healing for 1 mana, even though it’s a bit delayed. One of the best early game drops in the current meta.
- Loot Hoarder – See “Cycle/Value” category.
Reno Jackson alone is hardly enough when it comes to defensive tools. Current Aggro decks are incredibly fast, sometimes you might lose the game even before getting to turn 6 if you don’t have other ways to stop them. On top of that, you can’t rely solely on drawing a single card in 30 cards deck to win the game vs high tempo decks. Thanks to the other defensive mechanics like Healing cards and Taunts, you can survive the Aggro onslaught much more easily.
- Ice Barrier – The most basic life gain, 8 health for 3 mana. Doomsayer is a bit more efficient, but it has a big downside of not preventing lethal if your opponent has it on the board (he will just ignore the Doomsayer and go face). Ice Barrier, while not very mana efficient, usually provides enough health to survive an extra turn in order to draw something. Remember, however, that it doesn’t work against spell burn – your opponent needs to attack you (with a minion or a weapon) for it to proc.
- Earthen Ring Farseer – One of the most basic healing cards. 3/3 for 3 + 3 points of healing. The healing isn’t powerful, but what I like about it is the flexibility. Not only you get a 3/3 body (meaning that you can drop it on turn 3 without getting the healing value), but the healing is targeted – you might opt to heal a minion in slow matchups instead of your Hero, which makes a difference sometimes.
- Refreshment Vendor – 3/5 for 4 + 4 points of healing. When it comes to pure Hero healing, it’s more powerful than the Farseer (3/5 stats are much better and it heals for 1 more), but it obviously costs 1 more mana and loses a bit of flexibility. It also heals your opponent, which doesn’t matter most of time, but there are situations in which you don’t really want to do that (e.g. your opponent is almost in the burn range).
- Second-Rate Bruiser – Basically, the card is either trash or amazing depending on how many minions your opponent has (so mostly on the matchup). For example, it’s very strong against Pirate Warrior or any kind of Shaman, because those decks often play multiple small minions (Hero Power in case of Shaman). 3 mana 4/5 Taunt is incredible. However, if you have to play it at the base cost, it’s very weak. Because Reno Mage tries to constantly control the board with removals, it’s not a very common choice, but it still sees play in some lists.
- Alexstrasza – See “Big Minions/Control Games Win Conditions” category.
This category is for the cards that are meant to give you card advantage. They either cycle through your deck or give you extra value from outside of it. Both effects are very important in this deck – you want to cycle to find your win conditions (e.g. Reno in fast matchups). You also want to get as much value from outside of your deck as possible in slow matchups, because fatigue is a real concern.
- Loot Hoarder – One of the most basic cycle cards. You get a small body (1-drop stats on a 2-drop), which cycles itself when it dies. Since it only has 1 health, it rarely gets a significant trade. However, it often baits a ping, a weapon charge or even a 1/1 minion has to run into it.
- Acolyte of Pain – Cycle card with a very high potential. You can get up to 3 draws from it, however it’s very hard to achieve that. Most of the time you get 1 or 2 draws, depending on the board state you drop it on and the amount of resources your opponent wants to spend to prevent the extra draws. Combos very well with Mage’s Hero Power – you can draw a card immediately by pinging it.
- Kabal Courier – Value card, pretty powerful, because it allows you to pick cards from the other classes. Some cross-class synergies are really strong, and since it only offers you class cards you can consistently pick something significant.
- Cabalist's Tome – Value card. Gives you 3 extra cards from outside of your deck, 3 Mage spells. Generally Mage spells are pretty strong and obviously combo nicely with Mage deck. You can sometimes draw blanks like Shatter when you have no Freeze effect available, but most of the time you get something useful. One of the most powerful things about this card is that your opponent can’t really play around the cards you get from it. If you get a Secret and play it, it can be anything, which makes their decisions way harder.
- Ethereal Conjurer – It’s like a mix between Kabal Courier and Cabalist’s Tome. You get a body and a Discover effect, but you can pick only from the pool of Mage spells. It almost never fails and should find you what you need – more value, more burn, maybe AoE removal etc.
- Babbling Book – See “Early Game Minions” category.
The deck’s core is very, very light on the minions. You would struggle even in Aggro matchups without a mid/late game you can stick to the board and kill your opponent eventually. Since you can’t realistically win games with spells only, you need some minions – mostly Midrange minions. While “Big Minions” are better game finishers, Midrange minions are stuff you can stick to the board in order to pressure the enemy or trade with. They are rarely significant to your game’s plan and they aren’t big, flashy win conditions, but they’re still important to have – having minions to curve with means that you won’t skip the important mid game turns.
- Water Elemental – Very strong 4-drop. Since it has 3/6 stats, it’s very hard to kill right away on turn 4. It can get a lot of efficient trades. The card is also extra powerful against weapon decks – if you manage to attack your opponent’s Hero every turn, you prevent him from swinging with the weapons. That’s why it’s insane against let’s say Pirate Warrior, which relies on the weapon damage to kill you.
- Burgly Bully – Pretty uncommon card, but I’ve seen it in more and more lists recently. Since it’s a pretty significant body, it will often have to be removed with spells. And if it gets removed with spells, you get Coins. Coins aren’t as powerful in Mage as they’re in Rogue, but they have one amazing synergy – Archmage Antonidas. If you play Burgly Bully, you definitely want to play Antonidas too. Even a single Coin translates to an extra Fireball + 1 more mana to possibly cast yet another spells. I often get 3 extra Fireballs thanks to a single Burgly Bully, which is pretty amazing in slow matchups.
- Faceless Summoner – The card has no unique effect, no strategy around it, it’s very simple. It’s just a semi-big body which summons another body. Sadly, the card is pretty RNG and the “random 3-drop” can range from 1/1 (Blubber Baron) to 5/5 (King Mukla), although the average stats should be close to 3/3. It’s still one of the better proactive 6-drops, as it should provide 7-8 attack on the board, meaning a lot of pressure + it can’t completely die to a single target removal.
- Refreshment Vendor – See “Healing/Taunts” category.
- Second-Rate Bruiser – See “Healing/Taunts” category.
- Ethereal Conjurer – See “Cycle/Value” category.
Big Minions/Win Conditions
Those minions might be insignificant in fast matchups, but they’re amazing in the slow ones. You use them to either gain a lot of value, tempo or win the game. They’re all late game minions which usually require a big removal or will generate a lot of value or put tons of pressure otherwise. Different builds run between 2 and 4 big minions, depending on their specialization – optimized against Aggro usually stick to two, but those optimized to fight slow decks run up to 4.
- Emperor Thaurissan – Reno Mages often operate on a big hand sizes, meaning that Emperor Thaurissan often gets more discount value than he costs. It increases the tempo of your future turns, but also makes other cards significantly better. Fore example, discounting Brann Bronzebeard makes comboing it with something else easier. Discounting Archmage Antonidas and/or spells means that you’re able to generate more Fireballs etc.
- Sylvanas Windrunner – I’d say that Sylvanas is pretty uncommon in the Reno Mage, because the deck doesn’t really have any good synergies (you can sometimes Fireball it for an immediate steal, but that’s it) and there are multiple ways to deal with it in the meta (like Hex, Polymorph or even Silence in RenoLock lists). Still, it was used in some builds, because it’s a high value card in general.
- Medivh, the Guardian – Popularized by LifeCoach in his Reno Mage build, some people still use it. Since the deck might run a few bigger spells like Blizzard, Flamestrike, Firelands Portal or even Kazakus potions, you should be able to summon 3 mid or big sized minions. Even though the card is very slow initially (you get a 7/7 for 8 mana and that’s it) and it’s vulnerable to weapon destruction, it can gain a lot of value and tempo in the turns after it’s played, which still makes it a solid choice.
- Archmage Antonidas – One of the most common big win condition in the Reno Mage lists. The goal is to gather a few cheap spells, play Antonidas and follow it with at least 2-3 spells to generate multiple Fireballs. If Antonidas sticks to the board, you just win the game – you can remove anything you want for free or push A LOT of face damage every turn. Gets extra synergy with cards like Burgly Bully or Emperor Thaurissan.
- Ragnaros the Firelord – Probably the most aggressive and highest tempo big drop on the list – Ragnaros remains one of the most popular late game cards in the game. Even though it’s not the #1 choice in Reno Mage, using it definitely isn’t wrong. It’s used as the immediate removal or way to push for more face damage. It puts a lot of pressure on the board and its hard to get rid of without hard removal.
- Alexstrasza – I think that it’s the most popular choice and it’s been in almost every Reno Mage deck. I didn’t put it as the core, because there were some pro builds that decided to not run it (e.g. LifeCoach’s one), but it’s very close, so you PROBABLY want to run it. It works nicely with the burn strategy – you can play the slow game while gathering your burn cards and then unleash the turn 2 lethal combo – you get your opponent down to 15 and if he can’t heal up, you kill him next turn. It’s also the only big card that’s actually useful in fast matchups – if you manage to survive until turn 9 against Aggro, (and you often do with this deck) healing up to 15 might actually be enough to seal the game.
When you play a slow deck, you usually want to have some ways to answer the board. RenoLock is known mostly for insane AoE clears – most of the lists run around 5 AoE spells, making the mid game flood strategies really weak against it. Besides the core 3, you have a few options to pick from. On the other hand, the deck was always struggling with the single target removals – there are just not enough good options available to Warlock and RenoLock players are often forced to AoE down a single minion because of that. Still, there are some cards you can pick and you probably should get at least one of them.
- Forbidden Flame – Flexible single target removal. It has to pay a big price for the flexibility, however, as its not efficient at any mana cost. For example, at 1 mana it does 1 damage (Arcane Blast does 2), at 4 mana it does 4 (Fireball does 6) and at 5 mana it’s only 5 (while Flame Lance does 8). However, the fact that it scales makes it a solid choice, because it will be meh, but usable on turn 2, just like on turn 5 and on turn 10.
- Ice Lance – Mostly used as the extra burn option. In some matchups, most importantly against RenoLock, burning your opponent down is the best win condition. Ice Lance helps with that a lot – Fireball + Frostbolt + Ice Lance alone is 13 damage, 14 with Ping and 16 with Bloodmage Thalnos – most likely enough to kill Lord Jaraxxus. It can also be used in combination with Frostbolt or Blizzard to deal 4 damage to some minion.
- Twilight Flamecaller – Another small AoE damage on a 2/2 body. Especially against Pirate decks, having an extra small AoE + small body packed into one card is very solid. Later in the game it can be combined with other AoEs to increase their effect, or on the turns where you need to ping multiple minions.
- Flame Lance – Basic single target removal. It’s not that powerful (I mean, compare it to Polymorph or even Fireball), but because you can’t use multiple copies of the better removals, you’re often stuck with cards like that. Good if you want to make your deck more reactive.
- Firelands Portal – A mix between a midrange minion, removal and burn – very flexible card. It’s often used to swing the tempo in your favor by destroying a 4-5 health minion and summoning one of your own. Similarly to the Faceless Summoner, the RNG range is pretty big in this one (between Starving Buzzard and Earth Elemental), but on average it should give you something around the 4-drops stats.
- Pyroblast – Burn spell that can be used as a removal in desperate situations. Great because it’s rarely expected. If you’ve used a Fireball or maybe even some more burn, people rarely will play around more burn from you. You can easily surprise them with Pyroblast. Decks that run Pyroblast usually run Inkmaster Solia too, because that’s a really good combo you can use as a removal – normally removing something with Pyro is very costly, because you spend your whole turn doing that. This way you can do it for 7 mana with an extra 5/5 body on the board.
Unique Effects/Tech Cards
Then, we have a few cards that didn’t fit the categories above. They either have a unique effect that can’t be categorized too easily, fit into multiple roles and generally are considered “tech cards”. We don’t have too many of those, so I hope that making this extra category won’t cause too much confusion.
- Frost Nova – Stall mechanic. It does nothing besides making the minions unable to attack for a single turn. Which usually means that you buy an extra turn. It can be combo’d with some cards like Ice Lance or Archmage Antonidas, but most notably with Doomsayer for a 5 mana semi-reliable full board clear.
- Mind Control Tech – Tech card, most powerful vs decks that flood the board. However, its power goes down a bit in Reno Mage, because you try to Control the board all the time with your single target removal, AoE removal and Hero Power. In slower matchup it might be great as an answer to Kazakus potion reloading the board or as a combo with Dirty Rat to pull something out and activate MCT.
- Dirty Rat – A very interesting card, but it’s often cut from the lists, because it’s not that important in Reno Mage. For example, it’s a staple in RenoLock, because it can disrupt some combos. Reno Mage isn’t afraid of combos as much thanks to the Ice Block. Still, the card is pretty strong. Vs Aggro you can play it in the mid game to pull out a Charge minion and don’t let it attack your face or even not pull anything when they’re out of minions already (and be a 2 mana 2/6 Taunt). Vs Control you can possibly pull out important minions like Reno Jackson or Kazakus vs other Reno decks.
- Manic Soulcaster – This card has a pretty unique effect. You can shuffle an extra copy of an important minion into your deck. Against Aggro, it might be a downside (unless you play it on something like Reno Jackson), because it decreases the chance to draw the card you need. However, against slow decks it can be a huge value tool – shuffling an extra Kazakus is amazing and the Brann + Kazakus + Manic Soulcaster combo not only gives you 2 more potions, but also puts 2 extra cards into your deck, making it a great card if the game goes to fatigue.
- Inkmaster Solia – I put it under unique effects, because it was hard to categorize. Inkmaster Solia is rarely seen in Mage lists, not because she’s bad, but because she’s not necessary. Against Aggro decks games are usually decided by turn 7 anyway and in slow matchup you rarely play for the tempo – you mostly play for the value. Still, Inkmaster Solia is sometimes seen in a lists that play some extra bigger spells – e.g. Firelands Portal and Pyroblast on top of the core. The card can quite consistently give you “0 mana 5/5”, which is a good tempo swing. But on the other hand, it’s often a dead card if you have nothing to combo it with or you just don’t need to cast the spell.
Now, once you know the deck’s core and complementary cards you can add, here are a few examples of the Reno Mage lists from pro players. They all have been played in high Legend or tournaments, which obviously means they were successful – but notice the differences in each of the builds. Try to compare them to each other and think about why certain players cut X or Y card, while others still play it. With the knowledge that you have, you can now either pick the deck that suits your play style and the meta you face most, or you can build your own list (either from the scratch or basing it on one of the lists below).
- JAB’s Reno Mage (ladder)
- StrifeCro’s Reno Mage (ladder)
- TerrenceM’s Reno Mage (ladder)
- Apxvoid’s Reno Mage (ladder)
- LifeCoach’s Reno Mage (ladder)
- Orange’s Reno Mage (tournament)
- Xixo’s Reno Mage (tournament)
- Eloise’s Reno Mage (tournament)
That’s all folks. I hope that you’ve learned something from this article. Deck building skills, while not directly, should influence your game play too – I wasn’t too much into deck building when I’ve started playing, I liked to copy the decks from around the web, but once I’ve started doing it myself, my knowledge about the game has significantly increased. And my motto is that the more you know, the better you play. If you liked this one, I can do something similar for a different deck too. Let me know which decks you’d like to see in the comments.
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!