Welcome to the Messiah's weekly series of articles that examines many interesting, popular, powerful, or just plain different deck builds that are out there for the Hearthstone Constructed Deck format.
WARLOCK - HANDLOCK DECK
This weeks deck is a perennial favourite for Warlocks as it makes heavy use of the class’s hero power to maximize the effect of several already powerful cards. This deck has been strong right from the early stages of the Hearthstone beta and has shown no sign of slowing down. In fact it is such a key part of the meta game that many decks include several cards just to be able to deal with it. The deck I am talking about could be any of the three solid Warlock deck types, but is in this case the Handlock deck.
While this deck has always been strong, we will have to wait and see how the Curse of Naxxramas cards play with the meta in Hearthstone to see how strong it remains. There are several new cards that could really hurt the deck, but also a few that could help it once they become available.
This deck is heavily based on controlling the early pace and then slamming your opponent with huge minions starting in the mid-game, hopefully before they can deal with them. You will however tend to take a significant amount of damage (much caused by your own ability) so be prepared for it.
There are many different versions of the Handlock deck out there being used. Most of them are fairly similar using at least 22+ of the same cards. The version that I like and have been using is as follows:
- Warlock Cards:
- 2x Soulfire
- 1x Mortal Coil
- 1x Power Overwhelming
- 2x Hellfire
- 1x Shadowflame
- 2x Siphon Soul
- Neutral Cards
- 2x Ancient Watcher
- 2x Ironbeak Owl
- 2x Sunfury Protector
- 1x Big Game Hunter
- 2x Earthen Ring Farseer
- 1x Defender of Argus
- 1x Leeroy Jenkins
- 2x Twilight Drake
- 2x Faceless Manipulator
- 2x Sunwalker
- 2x Mountain Giant
- 2x Molten Giant
There are so many important cards in this deck that work better in combination with each other or with the Warlock power that I will just look at the most critical here. It is also important to realize when and how to play each card, but that is covered in more detail in the strategy section later on in the guide.
Hellfire and Shadowflame – These cards offer you a great way to remove enemy minions, and in fact most of the time to completely clear the board. Both cards have nasty side effects though so make sure you consider what they will do to your side of the board as well as your opponents side before using either. Both cards are still extremely strong even with their downsides though.
Soulfire, Mortal Coil, and Siphon Soul – These cards offer you individual removal options. Since Soulfire makes you discard a random card, it is a little harder to use since you do not want to lose a critical end game card, however 4 damage for no mana is too good to pass up. As long as you keep your hand full of cards, the odds of losing that critical one are reduced.
Ancient Watcher, Twilight Drake, Mountain Giant, and Molten Giant – These minions all offer really great value as serious blockers when teamed up with your Sunfury Protectors and Defender of Argus. They can be extremely cheap to get on the board and then form a large wall against you, as well as in most cases a serious offensive threat. The Giants form the big hammer in the deck to drop your opponents health low enough to pull off a win, and sometimes are able to win the game by themselves.
Leeroy Jenkins, Power Overwhelming, and Faceless Manipulator – Leeroy tends to form your primary win condition in this deck, and teamed up with a Power Overwhelming and a Faceless Manipulator can deal out a massive 20 damage on turn 10. Most of the time you will not even need that much after your giants have a few turns pounding on your opponent.
Sunwalker – This minion is extremely powerful for her cost. She can effectively protect you against several rush / aggro minions when facing any of the common rush decks often trading for 3+ cards. This helps solidify your card and board advantage, even though at that point you may be significantly behind on health.
IDEAL OPENING HAND CARDS
This deck wins by putting out large minions before most other decks can deal with them and then pounded them into submission. This overall strategy does need to change though when you spot that you are likely to be playing a rush / aggro deck and therefore there are two different opening hands that you could be looking for.
The best cards to look for in a normal opening hand, and to try to mulligan for are: Twilight Drakes and Mountain Giants. If you have one of each in your hand before you mulligan, then you could also go looking for a Sunfury Protector of a Hellfire for board clearing ability.
When you are playing against an aggro deck then you will want to look for slightly different cards. Those cards are: Ancient Watcher, Ironbeak Owl, Earthen Ring Farseer, Sunfury Protector, and Hellfire. These cards let you come out with a much more defensive stance and allow you to survive until the late game.
The aim, once again, with this deck is to generate huge hand sizes and lower your life total as quickly as possible. This allows you to get massive Twilight Drakes onto the board, and to summon giants earlier than normal. This means that in most games your first few turns will be nothing but using your Life Tap class ability to both gain cards and lose life.
Once you have reached turn 4, it will then be time to summon a big Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant onto the board to start taking control. This can be delayed a little depending on the state of the board and your health, but remember the key win method with this deck is to beat your opponent into submission with the giants.
If the enemy player has strong minions in play then you need to look to establish board control before going in with your big minions. Cards like Ancient Watcher with either a silence or a taunt added can be extremely strong, as can a hellfire to clear the board.
Once into the later part of the game, you need to get the rest of your giants out for aggression and your Sunwalkers for defence. You can then use the Faceless Manipulators in multiple ways as the situation dictates. The end game comes when you can bring out Leeroy Jenkins to finish off your opponent.
Obviously, the above is an ideal strategy, but not one that will often happen due to your opponent trying to implement their own strategy. This means that you will need to adapt and plan when to best use your defensive or removal cards instead of following your own strategy. Siphon Soul offers a lot of removal power, the only downside is that costs a lot and therefore your turn will be limited. It does however allow you to remove large threats. Shadowflame lets you clear a lot of enemy minions at once, but costs you a minion (Ancient Watcher can be a good choice).
A key thing to remember when playing Handlock is to not panic. Very often the game will go wildly against you at the beginning, only to see you come back with a massive game changing swing when you summon multiple giants and clearing the enemy board all in a single turn.
In the end balance what each card can do, and how much damage it will either do to the enemy, or prevent you from taking. Maximize that and you will be well on your way to legendary.
OPTIONAL CARDS / ALTERNATE DECK
There are several other cards out there that you can substitute into this deck and still keep it as a Handlock style deck. They do however change the play style slightly, but that could be an advantage to you depending on how you like to play.
Duplicate Cards (Mortal Coil, Shadowflame, Defender of Argus) – Adding a second of any of the listed cards can change the deck significantly. If you are not getting enough taunts out, then another Defender of Argus can help a lot. If you are playing a lot of rush aggro then another Mortal Coil can save you in the early game. If you are seeing a lot of mid-game control decks then a second Shadowflame can save the day.
Sen’jin Shieldmasta – When you find yourself playing against a large number of aggro decks, then this early game minion can really save your life. At 4 mana for a 3/5 with taunt, he will usually stop 3 aggro deck minions before being taken down.
Alexstraza – This minion changes the deck significantly as it allows you either a solid hit late game if your opponent has managed to survive unscathed, or allows you to heal up to 15 after dropping lower due to your hero power or damage. It does slow the deck down a little though.
Lord Jaraxxus – This card used to be a staple in Handlock decks, however at 9 mana it currently can slow the deck down too much against aggro decks. If you are not seeing many aggro decks though this card can lock down the end game more than anything else out there.
HOW TO PLAY AGAINST IT
Playing against this deck can be frustrating as huge minion after huge minion comes into play. There are ways to beat it though.
The best way to defeat it is simply to rush it down with an aggro deck, which is one of the weakest matchups for it. A solid aggro deck stands a bit better than 60/40 chance of winning against this deck. However this deck seems to get the same 60/40 win rate against almost anything else.
If you are not playing an aggro deck, then your best defence against this deck is to save your removal for the big threats. Sure killing off that early 4/8 Twilight Drake may be good, but will it then leave you open to take 8 damage from the giant the following turn? If so, don’t use your only removal card, take the 4 damage instead of 8. Also even if you cannot kill off the huge minions in one turn, if you can delay them and kill them over several turns that works as well. That means either freezing them, returning them to your opponents hand, or setting up taunts to stop them from hitting you.
It is also important to remember that a Handlock will often drop their own health low enough that you can finish them off fairly easily with some direct damage of your own. This means that many times you should consider saving your direct damage spells like Fireballs for the Warlock instead of for their minions.
If you have not tried out this already classic deck style for Hearthstone, you really should. Even if it is not your favourite play style, learning how it works will certainly help you while playing against it later on. Give this version of the deck a try and let me know how you fair with the deck in the comment section below.