How to Play Mage Class – Hearthstone Strategy Guide 2.0

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Introduction

Welcome to the Hearthstone corner. We will be having a look at Mage – Hearthstone‘s starting class and one of the best classes to play Arena with. Blizzard has been very kind to Mage in providing lots of useful cards with each newly released Expansion[1]. A lot of the decks that have become possible are very fun to play. My personal favourite is Echo Giants Mage, but I am also partial to Freeze Mage. They both provide a unique Hearthstone experience.

We will start by looking at the best cards that Mages have at their disposal. Card crafting will be next, and I won’t forget to mention the usefulness of each Expansion to a Mage’s card collection. From there we will move on to look at a starting Mage deck. We will finish by having a look at the various decks that are being played on the Ladder[2] in the current meta[3]. We won’t forget to take a glimpse at the Arena as well.

Ready?
1-One-of-the-nice-things-about-playing-Mech-Mage

One of the nice things about playing Mech Mage is that it rarely fails to wipe the floor with Face Hunters early in the game.

What does a Mage want?

Mage’s hero power is offensive, it affects the board but unlike a Druid’s or Rogue’s class power, it bypasses Taunted Minions and doesn’t cost any health when used against Minions. This makes it the most useful class power in Arena, where the ability to deal 1 point of damage each turn, killing Minions with 1 health straightaway, becomes very valuable.

Mage is also strong in class-specific cards. Let’s look at the best ones.

Mana Wyrm is a wonderful 1 mana Minion for a class that plays lots of spells. Even with 1 attack power, it is very useful against aggressive decks; against slower decks, it can grow a bit first and then trade with a more expensive Minion.

Flamewaker is one the most powerful Mage cards, single-handedly giving life to Tempo Mage as what used to be one of the strongest decks in the post-Blackrock meta. He has good stats for his cost (extra health is useful in a Minion who is far more valuable for his ability) and can wreak havoc when used alongside cheap spells – Mage has a lot at her disposal. It’s also good to notice that she deals 2 points of damage separately, which is useful against cards like Living Roots, Muster for Battle or Imp-losion.

Snowchugger and Goblin Blastmage most often make an appearance in the same deck alongside other Mechs. Snowchugger‘s ability to freeze is incredibly strong against characters who use weapons while Goblin Blastmage creates tempo[4] like it’s nobody’s business. His stats are appropriate for 4 mana, making the 4 random points of damage practically free.

Flamecannon/Frostbolt – these spells are used for early game removal, they are cheap and Frostbolt‘s ability to freeze Minions and Heroes often comes in handy. It also synergizes[5] well with Ice Lance.

Polymorph is the best kind of Minion removal as it not only practically kills the Minion, it also removes all of its effects, including its Deathrattles. Against Minions like Tyrion Fordring, this is very much a good thing. Polymorph: Boar can work similarly (a 4/2 Boar is preferable to Ysera), while also being usable offensively.

Flamestrike is some of the best AOE[6] in the game as it does a lot of damage using a single card. It can save the player from a board full of enemy Minions – it can just as easily wipe out a Zoo Warlock’s army or a board full of Murlocs. There are alternatives like Blizzard, although they may work best in decks that can take advantage of the Freeze effect (such as through running a Doomsayer).

2-Duplicating-Sylvanas-Windrunner

Duplicating Sylvanas Windrunner against a Handlock player is the way to go. He will know what hit him but he won’t be able to do a whole lot about it.

Mage is one of 3 characters with access to Secrets. Mage’s Secrets are the most expensive at 3 mana but they can significantly alter the course of the game. Duplicate is a staple of Mage Control decks[7] where it copies high-value cards, Taunted Minions or Minions that heal. Mirror Entity and Effigy are predominantly used in Tempo decks leading to a situation where the opponent loses the ability to catch up. Ice Barrier is Mage’s method of healing, which can be a bit too expensive for other decks than Freeze Mage while Ice Block prevents the player’s death for a single turn. In Hearthstone 1 turn is often all that a player needs.

Mage’s Legendaries are legendary. Archmage Antonidas is the winning condition of many Mage decks as he can create a lot of fireballs the same turn that he enters play. Mech Mages use spare parts, Tempo Mages cheap spells.

Rhonin is also worth mentioning, even if his usefulness is most evident in decks that take advantage of his Deathrattle. Both Archmage Antonidas and Flamewaker like the 3 Arcane Missiles that he produces at death.

What about those Neutral Minions?

As always, I will keep this list brief – there are far too many cards that a Mage player will find useful so I think it’s best not to mention them all. I will stick to the best ones.

Classic

Azure Drake (card draw is good for Mage, as is added spell power)

Alextrasza (more often used offensively, this Legendary Minion can be the beginning of an opponent’s destruction, useful in several decks)

Naxxramas

Mad Scientist (The Deathrattle saves Mage 3 mana, making this an amazing tempo card and one of the most OP[8] cards in the game. Some Secrets are more useful than others – for example, a Duplicate played early in the game can be wasteful)

Sludge Belcher (best Taunted Minion at Mage’s disposal)

Goblins vs. Gnomes

Explosive Sheep (Mage is the only character who can himself shoot the sheep, making this card a valuable early-game source of AOE damage)

Piloted Shredder (the most popular 4 mana Minion in the game, stickier than bubble gum)

Dr. Boom (the best late-game Legendary in the game, useful in most decks)

Blackrock Mountain

Emperor Thaurissan (slower Mage decks tend to have large hands, making this card very valuable as the more cards it affects, the better)

There are other cards that are essential for specific types of decks, but they tend to only be useful in a single deck archetype – for example Molten Giant in Echo Giants Mage, or Mechwarper in Mech Mage.

3-Normally-Blingtron-is-a-risky-card-to-play

Normally Blingtron is a risky card to play. In a deck with multiple ways to freeze the enemy hero, it can be very useful.

To craft or not to craft

With each new Expansion, of which there have been 3 just this year, the number of cards that Mages can use rises.

Mages will have a hard time collecting all of the cards needed for any typical deck. While the Classic set contains several necessary Mage cards, most decks only become functional with the addition of several cards from different Expansions. NaxxramasMad Scientist is too valuable to miss out on if you are playing any Secrets while Goblins vs Gnomes provides numerous useful Minions for Mech decks. Blackrock Mountain is necessary for Tempo Mages, providing both Emperor Thaurissan and, more importantly, Flamewaker. Other Expansions are less useful unless you choose to play something like a Dragon or Highlander deck[9].

My policy on crafting is to collect dust until I can afford to craft a card of a Legendary rarity. I go for Neutral Legendaries first as those are useful across several characters and deck types. I sometimes craft Epic cards, if they are necessary for a specific deck type or they allow me to employ a synergy I find useful or interesting. Cards of lesser rarity come sooner or later but Epic and Legendary cards can take a long time to collect, especially if they are spread out across several Expansions.

It is entirely possible that you will want to specialize in playing Mage or a specific type of Mage, in which case it makes sense to craft all that you need.

With crafting out of the way, let’s have a look at a basic deck that will get you started.

Starting Mage Deck

Reaching level 10 with Mage will give you access to all of the basic cards. You can use them to build an adequate basic deck that won’t take you beyond rank 15 but will give you a fair chance against players with access to better cards. Best of all, playing a deck like the one below will teach you a lot about Hearthstone strategy. As you open packs with better cards, feel free to substitute for the ones below. A big part of learning how to play Hearthstone is in building your own decks and finding out which combinations of cards work and why some cards are better than others.

4-This-deck-can-hold-its-own-against-players-with-much-better-cards

This deck can hold its own against players with much better cards. Out of the different classes, it is one of the best ones to start with.

Class-specific cards

Neutral cards

This is a Control deck. It’s best to mulligan[10] for the 2 mana options – Frostbolt, as well as the 2 Minions (more on Acidic Swamp Ooze below). Arcane Missiles work great against some opponents – Paladins or Hunters for example.

This deck carries a lot of removal – Arcane Missiles against early low health Minions, especially useful against aggressive decks, Frostbolt and Fireball for bigger Minions (it’s never a smart idea to use any of those spells against the enemy hero unless it is ending the match). Polymorph is vital against late-game threats (make sure to keep it for those, it’s often tempting to use this card too early and smart opponents will try to coax you into using it before playing their biggest Minions). Don’t forget that Polymorph will disregard the Minion’s effect – save it for Minions like Sylvanas Windrunner where the Deathrattle can really hurt you. Flamestrike will take care of opponents who flood the board with Minions or if you fall behind. Arcane Intellect, with the help of the Gnomish Inventor, will do just fine for card draw. Don’t forget Water Elemental‘s ability to freeze – this can prevent an opponent from using a weapon next turn.

Shattered Sun Cleric is best played unexpected – allowing you to keep a Minion that would otherwise perish in a trade with an opponent’s Minion. You can also use it to raise your Minion’s attack power to take out an enemy Minion that was previously safe from being killed.

Acidic Swamp Ooze destroys weapons. It’s best to keep it in your hand until a weapon appears. This only applies to playing against Warriors, Paladins, Rogues, Hunters and some Shamans. Against classes that don’t use weapons, it serves as a standard early game Minion. Knowing when to play Acidic Swamp Ooze is important as some decks carry more than 1 weapon and some carry none at all. The trick is to learn how to identify what type of deck you are playing against and wait for the right moment to unleash the card.

Gurubashi Berserker is a great card for Mage as blasting him with your hero power will work as a + 3 attack buff every time that it is used. Don’t worry, he won’t mind.

The hero power works great in killing weak Minions and popping Divine Shields.

Look what I found on the Internet

The middle of the Expansion cycle that we have had has been very kind to Mage – introducing Mech Mage and Tempo Mage, two quicker types of Mage decks. The two more recent Expansions have done more to strengthen current decks than introduce new ones. Let’s have a look at the most played decks in the current meta.

5-Echo-Giants-is-my-favourite-way-to-play-Mage

Echo Giants is my favourite way to play Mage. Strategizing to copy the right Minions and then putting them all down at the right moment is a lot of fun. In this case, an Ice Block stops a Murloc Paladin’s Anyfin Can Happen and forces him to concede.

Freeze Mage is one of the harder decks to play, as well as one of the more expensive ones to assemble. It has been around since the beginning of the game but the most modern versions use cards from several Expansions. Emperor Thaurissan has been a very useful addition. This deck relies on surviving until it’s possible to set up for lethal[11], which usually begins with an Alextrasza to the opponent’s face. Playing against it can be hard for some decks but the usual strategy is to be aggressive and force the Mage to fight for her life total without the ability to prepare for the endgame through drawing and keeping all the necessary cards.

The often-mentioned Mech Mage is still relatively popular. It carries all of the best Mechs, including Mechwarper, to reduce their cost. Goblin Blastmage is to be expected from turn 4 onward. When it comes to Secrets, they almost always carry Mirror Entity. In the late game, they either use Archmage Antonidas along with spare parts created by the Mechs (one of which can make him invisible), or several late-game Minions like Ragnaros the Firelord and Dr. Boom. More aggressive versions of this deck may also field Fel Reavers. Playing against them is a matter of not falling too far behind and surviving for long enough. They rarely carry card draw, healing or AOE and a well-timed board clear tends to create trouble for them.

Tempo Mage appeared after Blackrock Mountain. It also plays quickly but it doesn’t create pressure solely through using Minions. The 3 mana Flamewaker is a huge problem if you can’t remove him straight away since a Tempo Mage deck will be bursting with spells that will come each turn. Those 2 points of damage stock up quickly. The finishing blows will come from an Archmage Antonidas (possibly preceded by Rhonin) or a small selection of late game heavy hitters. Be prepared for Mirror Entity, possibly Effigy and Counterspell. When playing against Tempo Mages, it’s important not to grant them tempo, destroying everything that they place on board while being prepared for their late game, unless it’s possible to beat them before that point in the game.

Control Mage is different from other Control decks as it tends to use Duplicate to mass produce their best Minions. It’s important to play around that as Duplicate only works on the opponent’s turn. There may also be an Echo of Medivh hiding in the Mage’s deck so be prepared. Otherwise, there won’t be too many surprises – Sylvanas Windrunner will probably make an appearance, as well as Emperor Thaurissan. There will probably be an Archmage Antonidas. Control Mages tend to run a lot of healing and Sludge Belchers to slow the opponent down. Both of those may also be duplicated.

Echo Giants Mage is a very fun deck that combines some of Freeze Mage with a unique endgame plan. The plan is to allow the Mage to drop to low health and then play Molten Giants. Add to that double Duplicate and Echo of Medivh and you get the drift. There will be a lot of Giants. Knowing what’s coming is the best preparation against this deck. Also remembering that Molten Giants only come for free if the Mage’s health is at 10 or below.

Even though it is not a popular deck I decided to mention Majordomo Executus. It’s a risky deck to play as once the Mage gets replaced by Ragnaros, her health drops to 8. This can be okay if there is an Ice Block in play, or if Alextrasza comes the next turn. From that point onward the hero power is incredibly strong. It’s a fun deck to play but risky if your opponent knows what he’s doing.

6-I-run-Archmage-Antonidas-in-most-of-my-Mage-decks

I run Archmage Antonidas in most of my Mage decks. In this Tempo deck, the combination of Sorcerer’s Apprentice and several cheap spells leaves me with 3 Fireballs to finish the game.

As for Arena, Mage was long considered the strongest pick. This has changed lately with Paladin becoming the favourite. The main reason is the sheer number of strong class cards of low rarity that Paladin has. Mage finds it hard to compete. Nevertheless, spells like Flamestrike and Fireball make this class a strong one to play, not forgetting the class power which is arguably the best one out of them all for Arena.

Conclusion

Even though Mage is the starting character in the Hearthstone tutorial, I do not consider her the easiest hero to play. Strong basic cards make her a good character to start with but the more common deck archetypes like Freeze Mage require a fair amount of skill. Mech and Tempo Mage are both very welcome additions to the Mage stables as they provide a quicker way of playing the class.

Most importantly, Mage is a lot of fun to play with several mechanics that are unique to her class. Even though the game is growing and becoming more diverse in its options to players as a whole, Mage offers more variety than most.

I hope that you will have as much playing Mage as I have had and that this guide will come in handy. I will look forward to running into you on the Ladder.

  • [1]Expansions to date: Curse of Naxxramas, Goblins vs. Gnomes (introducing Mech Mage and Echo Giants), Blackrock Mountain (bringing in Tempo Mage), The Grand Tournament (allowing for Dragon type decks), and League of Explorers (introducing Highlander Mage with the help of Reno Jackson).
  • [2]Ranked play where players compete against each other, trying to reach higher ranks. The climb begins at rank 25, going all the way to rank 1, Legend rank and beyond.
  • [3]Meta refers to the meta-game. This is the level at which we think of which decks or cards work best when we take into account what other people are playing. For example, the Hearthstone meta has been very fast in recent history, meaning that fast, aggressive decks were prevalent in the game. This has made many slow decks hard to play until the appearance of Reno Jackson, who once again changed the meta.
  • [4]Tempo is the speed of your entire game as opposed to that of your player. If your opponent is reacting to your plays rather than the other way around, you are ahead in tempo.
  • [5]Synergy is the combined effect of 2 or more cards that brings about a stronger effect than the individual use of each.
  • [6]Area of effect – an effect that affects the entire (opponent’s) board.
  • [7]Control decks have the strategy of playing for the board until such a time when their late-game Minions are too much for the opponent to handle. These games are rarely fast.
  • [8]Overpowered. Stronger than it should be given its mana cost.
  • [9]A deck that uses League of Explorer‘s Reno Jackson to heal up to full health once critical health is reached. It tends to carry only 1 copy of each card or a small number of duplicates. It’s called Highlander because ‘there can only be one’ of each card so that Reno Jackson‘s ability works.
  • [10]Choosing which cards to keep at the beginning of the match.
  • [11]Having enough available damage to finish the opponent in a single turn.

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Pavel Oulik
Author: Pavel Oulik View all posts by

Pavel is a graduate in Economics and Business, as well as a lover of books, stories and writing in general. He lives in the Czech Republic, which isn’t only known for its beer. He played Magic the Gathering back in the day, entering the intricate world of Hearthstone around the time of the Naxxramas expansion. Pavel’s biggest dream is for a future world of mature and dignified conduct within the online gaming community.

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