So you want to master the Mage?
Welcome to the Mage corner of Hearthstone. Mage is arguably the strongest starting class with its powerful class-specific spells – both in removal and in dealing damage. It is not the most popular class in Hearthstone tournaments, but it is versatile and keeps on changing and evolving as new cards are introduced. There are many Mages on the Ladder (the many ranks of ranked play, all to be climbed by you, brave reader, in your claim to fame as you aim for the legend rank), and Mage also remains the undisputed king of the Arena with its strong class power.
I really got into playing Mage after the recent Goblins vs. Gnomes (GvG) expansion as it received one of the best 2 mana class-specific minions, a strong mech synergy (combined effect of cards) minion and a number of useful neutral cards. I’ll talk about all of these later.
In the beginning days of the GvG expansion, Aggro Mage (fast aggressive deck with many low cost minions) was one of the most common sights on the Ladder, joining the much hated Aggro Hunter and Zoo Warlock (many low cost minions) as one of the quickest ways to climb the Ladder. To this day, Mage is probably the strongest class for playing a mech deck.
In the following sections I will give a brief overview of how Mage works, using its class-specific cards to illustrate the core mechanics. I will then craft a starting deck, just for you, dear readers, using solely basic cards and spending the exact amount of 0 dust. Call me a cheapskate if you will. We will then look around our card collection in order to see where we can take our mighty deck next.
Given that Mage is such a specialized class, which requires very different cards based on your chosen build, I will spend a fair amount of time looking at the various types of decks that are popular in the current meta (the way that the game changes as a whole as some strategies and cards become more popular).
Mage as a class
Mage’s class power is nothing short of wonderful as it deals that all important 1 point of damage that can take out cheap 1 health minions or finish dying minions without any harm done to the Mage. This power is what makes Mage the most played class in the Arena.
Mage, as the name implies, is the master of spells and secrets. Great at removal (taking minions off the board), great at dealing damage via spells, and great at making the opponent wonder which secret is currently active. Mage can be a bit different from other classes in that a lot of its cards only get used in specific deck types, making the building of several types of Mage decks a fairly expensive venture. I find it’s best to first figure out which type of Mage you would like to play, based on the cards available or your prefered playstyle, and then to acquire new cards accordingly. I will be looking at the most popular types of decks later on, but for now, let’s have a look at some of the cards.
Polymorph is a great removal spell – it’s cheap at 4 mana and gets rid of problematic Deathrattles, or other lingering effects. For direct damage Mage can employ the lovely Fireball spell which deals 6 damage to any character (face or minion), then there is the freeze inducing 2 mana Frostbolt, a must for early game removal and for the power to stop a dangerous minion for 1 turn. Flamecannon is a possible alternative depending on how many 4 health minions you run into. Pyroblast is a finisher card for the Mage, dealing a lot of damage at 10 points but also costing all of 10 mana. It is an epic card and mostly sees use in Freeze Mage decks nowadays (we will get to this build later).
Area of Effect (AOE) damage is very important in Hearthstone and Mage is the undisputed king (or should it be queen) of AOE damage with its Flamestrike – it deals 4 damage to the entire opponent’s board. Blizzard, an epic card, is another option: it deals half the damage but also freezes all enemy minions. That makes it (yes, you guessed it) another essential card for the dreaded Freeze Mage.
Mage gets its card draw from Arcane Intellect – 3 mana for 2 cards is a good deal, wouldn’t you say? This makes it a Mage staple no matter the deck build.
Mage secrets are a good way of gaining advantage on the board – you can use them to counter spells, summon an identical minion to the one your opponent summons, make copies of your dying minion, protect yourself with armor or make yourself invulnerable for 1 turn. Even though you can still see some decks bursting with secrets on the lower ranks of the Ladder, running cards that synergize with secrets, I find it more practical to pick 1 or 2 that best fit the build (defence for Freeze Mage, copying for Control) and stick to those.
Even though we’ve established that Mage is mostly about spells and secrets, Mage also has access to some very sweet minions, even more so since GvG came around. Water Elemental is an aging, but still lovely mid-game minion with its freeze effect which can stop enemy minions for a turn or freeze a weapon-wielding opponent. Snowchugger sees a lot of use these days, the freeze effect being very useful so early in the game. It is also a mech, making it a staple in Mech Mage decks. Goblin Blastmage is also insanely strong – a 5/4 for 4 mana that deals 4 points of random damage. Unlike most other characters, Mage received 2 very strong mech related class-specific minions in the GvG expansion.
I will briefly mention 2 more new cards – Unstable Portal, a RNG card (a card with an unpredictable outcome) that summons a random minion that costs 3 mana less than its original cost, which can bring in a very powerful minion for the Mage early in the game. Secondly, Echo of Medivh is an interesting way to refill your hand and overcome the need for more card draw in the deck – it copies all of the cards in play into your hand. It can be used in a minion-heavy deck that can place a lot of minions on the board.
Mage has a wonderful original Legendary – Archmage Antonidas. Apart from being strong in its own right and below the 7 attack that would make it susceptible to a Big Game Hunter (BGH), a card found in most decks nowadays, it can also create a stream of Fireballs for you to finish your opponent next turn. Good old Archmage goes well with a deck that has or that can generate lots of cheap spells (think spare parts, for example the Legendary Toshley).
I am not sure what the designers were expecting when they brought out Flame Leviathan – a card that deals 2 damage to everything as it is drawn (i.e. at a random time, often damaging you instead of your opponent). At 7/7 for 7 mana, it is not particularly strong, while being very vulnerable to a BGH.
Starting Mage Deck
Below I will list a deck built entirely of basic cards (cards that are available from the start, as well as class-specific cards granted for reaching level 10 with Mage, which is best done in Practice mode), with an explanation of how the deck works and some basic strategy. This deck is great for a Hearthstone beginner as Mage has some very strong starting cards.
We will then briefly look at some possible additions and improvements to the deck, but spend more time looking at other potential builds and cards that would come in handy for those. Mage is a very specialized class, requiring very different cards depending on the type of deck that you decide to run.
- 2x Arcane Missiles
- 2x Frostbolt
- 2x Arcane Intellect
- 2x Fireball
- 2x Polymorph
- 2x Water Elemental
- 2x Flamestrike
- 2x Acidic Swamp Ooze
- 2x Bloodfen Raptor
- 2x Shatterred Sun Cleric
- 2x Chillwind Yeti
- 2x Gnomish Inventor
- 2x Sen’jin Shieldmasta
- 2x Gurubashi Berserker
- 1x Boulderfist Ogre
- 1x Stormwind Champion
This is a Control deck (aiming for control of the board) that doesn’t rely on any complicated combos or specific cards to win the game. Given the large number of strong spells, great AOE and solid minions, this is a very strong starting class for you to play. Let’s take a magnifying lens and see what the small print says.
This deck carries a lot of removal – Arcane Missiles against those early low health minions, especially useful against aggro decks, Frostbolt and Fireball for heavier removal or to finish the game, Polymorph against late game threats (make sure to keep it for those and don’t use it too early) and Flamestrike for all your AOE needs, such as when your opponent dominates the board or overextends. 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.
Acidic Swamp Ooze is most useful for its Battlecry, which destroys weapons – consequently it is a good idea to keep it in hand against characters who use weapons, particularly Warriors, Paladins, Rogues and to a smaller extent Hunters and Shamans. Against classes that don’t use weapons, it serves as a standard 2 mana drop. Knowing when to play this card is a valuable skill to develop, which requires the ability to identify and predict the opponent’s probable deck build (i.e. is the Shaman you are facing going to be carrying a Doomhammer?).
Gurubashi Berserker is an interesting card that starts making more sense once it’s been hit a few times, as it gains +3 attack with each wound. Hitting it with your class power is a favourite trick of every budding Mage. Don’t worry, he won’t mind: he’s a bit masochistic like that.
It’s a very good idea to utilize the hero power to take out minions with 1 health rather than wasting your own minions, who can deal damage next turn without you having to pay 2 mana for it.
New Cards to Get
I will spend relatively little time on this section as the Mage is a very specialized class that can be funny in that it requires very different cards based on what kind of deck you are building. A Freeze Mage, or a Control Mage relying on replenishing his minions via spells and secrets both require vastly different cards, not even mentioning Mech decks that have become possible since GvG.
The basic deck above can easily be strengthened by a large number of cards. Azure Drake will do wonders both in boosting spells and in allowing for some more card draw. Pyroblast can be a wonderful finisher. Numerous mechs from GvG will work well here – the amazing Snowchugger for early game, the 2 piloted mechs. Goblin Blastmage is a wonderful card if you are running lots of mechs in general.
Also from GvG, Unstable Portal may be an interesting addition for its potential to bring in big minions early. From Naxxramas Sludge Belcher will work as a great taunter, while Mad Scientist can bring in all those wonderful secrets. Loatheb is always a great Legendary to have for board protection and Kel’Thuzad will work if lacking in other late game Legendaries and if you are running enough minions to make his ability useful. Archmage Antonidas is always a good idea as he can be used in most decks. Watching him produce one Fireball after another is a real treat, especially if you happen to have a lot of spare parts, which, don’t forget, are 1 mana cost spells. Make them burn! (Just be careful not to get singed.)
When thinking of which card packs to go for, or whether to splash out on the Naxxramas expansion, Mage is once again a bit problematic. I like to play a lot of GvG cards with my Mage so if I was to choose, I would go for those card packs first. Cheap mechs come in quickly and they can be used well by Mage. Good cards from the classic set tend to require opening more packs and therefore take longer to acquire. Mage doesn’t benefit from as many cards in the Naxxramas expansion as some other classes, but some of the cards found there can be very important. While not a priority, it’s definitely something to consider.
As you open more packs and receive more cards, or collect vast amounts of dust for crafting, you may come to the conclusion that what you have available determines the direction that you want to take your Mage – for example some secrets allow for interesting strategies and synergies. If you happen to have a large card library, maybe it’s time to try out a freeze Mage deck.
The Specialized Mage
There are several strong Mage builds on the Ladder nowadays. We will start by looking at the post-GvG Mech Mage, my favourite, moving on to Control Mage as it is played in the current meta, finishing with the great finisher, the Freeze Mage.
Right after GvG came out, the Ladder was assaulted by a variety of attempts to create the ultimate mech deck. Mage was the only one that consistently made it to the top ranks, joining other well esatblished aggro decks (Hunter and Zoo Warlock). The combination of cards like Snowchugger and Goblin Blastmage, with the other neutral low cost mechs (using Mechwarper to bring in mechs earlier), allowed for very quick board control in the early stages of the game, with a few offensive spells like Fireball, Frostbolt or Flamecannon to take out enemy minions or finish the game. Loatheb often joined in on the fun, preventing a potential board wipe – which for a deck that can field a lot of minions at the same time can be pretty catastrophic. This type of deck is still frequently seen on the Ladder.
Slower versions of this deck are also common: decks that use mech synergy but run some more expensive cards like Piloted Sky Golem, joined by a few late game Legendaries. The current favorite is Dr. Boom (is there a deck these days that doesn’t include him?) or the Mage powerhouse Archmage Antonidas, who synergizes well with spare parts that a mech deck consistently produces. Good old Archmmage likes 1 mana spells – he likes them a lot. Especially if you get the spare part that gives him Stealth, which protects him for 1 more round of Fireball madness.
Control Mage, as the name implies, works around controling the board and removing opponent’s minions until it can deal a lethal blow later in the game. The most popular way of running this type of deck in the current meta is through using minion copying instead of, or as well as, card draw. The secret Duplicate can create a steady stream of strong cards, giving you 4 or 6 Sludge Belchers instead of 2. The new epic card Echo of Medivh can be used similarly but works better with a fuller board, which control Mage doesn’t tend to have. Mirror Entity is also a common feature of this deck. Given that Mage has great removal, great AOE, strong class-specific minions and access to a great Legendary, as well as room for some strong situational neutral Legendaries like Loatheb, Sylvanas Windrunner, or The Black Knight, this type of deck can be very successful.
Freeze Mage hadn’t made a lot of appearances pre-GvG but I have been seeing it a bit more often lately. Freeze Mage works around the idea of drawing cards quickly and freezing the board via spells, potentially clearing it on top of that using a Doomsayer, using secrets like Ice Block and Ice Barrier to survive longer. Time is needed by the Freeze Mage in order to find the Legendary Alexstrasza and take the opponent to 15 health, giving a lethal via offensive spells like Pyroblast or Ice Lance. Given that this deck doesn’t work very well without the expensive Legendary and a minimum of 4 epic cards, it is not a cheap deck to craft. It also requires a fair bit of skill to play.
Mage was one of the first classes that I played in Hearthstone and I can only recommend it to the new player as it is possibly the strongest class to start with. It is also a power-house in the Arena, due in part to its strong spells, but more importantly due to its class power that can take out low health minions without any harm done to the Mage.
Mage is versatile, allowing for quick aggro decks as well as slower control builds. Freeze Mage is still potentially one of the most annoying types of decks to run up against. Unlike some of the other classes, Mage has received a lot of new and deadly goodies from the GvG expansion.
Playing Mage in a more competitive setting requires specialization – there are several strong types of decks that can be played, but they all require specific cards that make those decks tick. There are also very different strategies for playing them that you will need to learn in order to get most use out of them. Mage is not an easy class to master, but for those of you requiring a challenge, it is just the class to pick.
So good luck to you, master Mage, in your epic quest to freeze and burn as many butts as you can. May you always have enough mana for that finishing spell, and may Antonidas make all your enemies quiver in fear. See you on the Ladder.