So you want to master the Warlock?
Welcome to the Warlock corner of Hearthstone. Warlock is one of the strongest and most diverse classes in the game. It offers a lot of competitive options – either the more expensive but very popular Handlock (a deck that relies on using Warlock’s class power to draw many cards, and uses Minions that benefit from a full hand or low health), or the cheap, fast, but very effective Zoo (the name comes from Magic the Gathering and describes an aggressive deck with mostly cheap Minions who synergize well).
Zoo is wonderful in allowing people who are starting out to play Hearthstone competitively, as well as people who don’t want to pay real money or wait for better cards. However, it’s not too easy to play either. I am not a huge fan of aggro, either as a player or when facing against it, but this may have to do with me not being very good at playing it. On the other hand, Handlock I love, adore, worship and build shrines to. It’s a very different way of playing from any other class or type of deck and it’s so much fun.
The recent Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion (GvG) brought in a plethora of interesting new cards. A lot of them are Demon-orientated (including a fascinating new Legendary) which has had the community busy trying to build a deck that utilize Demon synergies. This is something that the class seems to have been built for, yet until recently players have been mostly unsuccessful coming up with reliable decks. There is currently only one competitive deck I know of that combines Handlock with some Demon cards and it includes the lovely new Legendary too.
In the following sections I will start by pointing out the most useful class-specific cards that Warlock brings to the table before moving on to building a starting Warlock deck. I think you’re going to like as much as I do; a lot of love went into building it. I will then take a look at the Ladder (the 26 ranks within ranked play) and give more details on the particular Warlock builds that are running, climbing, screaming and pulling hair, all up and down the Ladder.
I will also mention the meta (the way that the game changes as a whole as some strategies and cards become more popular) and the more recent nerfs (Blizzard’s retroactive changes to cards that have made them less powerful in order to balance the game).
Warlock as a Class
Warlock’s Hero power (Pay 2 mana and take 2 damage to draw a card) is frankly wonderful, given how important card draw is in the game. Having more cards equals more options, which can mean a higher chance of kicking your opponent’s butt. That’s good. When playing a quick game, which sees you fielding a large number of Minions, card draw is essential as you will be running out of cards quickly. In Arena, Warlock is often considered to be one of the weakest characters and his class power is partly to blame. Don’t get me wrong, card draw is always good, but in Arena it’s a lot harder to replenish that health with any certainty and the inability to do anything on the board with the class power is a huge disadvantage.
Warlock is a sacrificial character: everything comes at a price. Just as with the class power, a lot of his cards will cost him health, whereas other cards cost him discards (and one Minion even costs him a mana crystal). Some of these cards do a bit more damage than they should for their cost, or are bigger Minions than they would be normally, so it is nothing to be outraged about when having to pay extra costs. It’s all about knowing when to sacrifice at the right time (or even avoiding a sacrifice at all, such as trying to play a card with a discard cost when your hand is empty).
There are also many Demon-type Minions. Demons don’t get played a lot competitively – there are a small number of them that are staples, especially in Zoo, but the majority of them don’t see any play and until recently, it’s been very rare to see anyone going for Demon synergies.
Flame Imp is the strongest 1 mana Minion in the game, making it an ideal turn 1 play for a Zoo deck. Voidwalker is just as important – it can stop early opposition and take out more dangerous foes when buffed. Doomguard is an excellent finisher – an unusually strong Minion with Charge that only costs 5 mana. Unlike other Minions with Charge, it tends to survive more than 1 turn.
Void Terror gets used sometimes – it can activate a Nerubian Egg, and it also goes well with Minions being triggered by Power Overwhelming. Voidcaller is fascinating if you happen to be playing strong Demons – getting out a strong Demon for no cost (including any life or cards that would have to be discarded) is beyond tasty (and nasty). Getting out Mal’Ganis in this way is going to drive the opposing player mad. Floating Watcher is also strong from the get go as it synergizes well with the Warlock’s Hero power.
Warlock is pretty handy when it comes to removal – he has cards that deal a wide range of damage. Mortal Coil is great for the added card draw, Soulfire gets used a lot even after it’s cost has been increased to 1 mana, Darkbomb probably gets used more often. Siphon Soul can take out dangerous late game Minions and heal you in the process.
Area of Effect (AOE) damage is very important in Hearthstone and as usual, Warlock has a bit of a twist on it. Hellfire deals 3 damage to all characters, including you. Luckily it’s pretty cheap at 4 mana and when playing Handlock, masochism is par for the course. Shadowflame is lovely as it can exchange one of your dying Minions for the opponent’s entire board. Another option is Twisting Nether, which takes out all Minions on both sides of the board – but extremely costly at 8 mana. There won’t be much more that you can do that turn, which doesn’t tend to save lost games.
Imp-losion is one of the most fascinating new additions to the Warlock’s repertoire and it comes from the GvG set. Not only does it cause damage (always good), it also creates a number of new Minions. When GvG was first released, there was a Hearthstone player who first used it in a Zoo deck, synergizing it with Knife Juggler and Sea Giant. He was the first person in the history of the game to make it to Legend rank in all 3 regions.
Warlock’s Legendaries are just as special as all the other cards. Lord Jaraxxus is one of my favorite cards based on just how game-changing it is. Late game and not at risk of being killed easily (as he replaces the Hero and sets the health to 15, to which no more health can be added), he is such a power house that it is impossible to stand against him for more than a few turns – forgetting the 3/8 Weapon, there will be a 6/6 coming every turn with the new Hero power.
Mal’Ganis is only really useful in a deck that utilizes Demons, which is a rarity. It is very strong in such a deck as it protects the Hero, buffs all Demons and is a very strong Minion itself. However, as with many of these late game Legendaries, it is in grave danger of being shot down by a Big Game Hunter (BGH).
Starting Warlock Deck
Below I will list a deck built entirely out of basic cards (cards that are available from the start, as well as class-specific cards granted for reaching level 10 with Warlock, which is best done in Practice mode), with an explanation of how the deck works and some basic strategy for its use.
We will then briefly look at some possible additions and improvements to the deck, counting our dust in order to figure out which cards to craft first.
- 2x Acidic Swamp Ooze
- 2x Murloc Tidehunter
- 2x Razorfen Hunter
- 2x Shattered Sun Cleric
- 2x Chillwind Yeti
- 2x Ogre Magi
- 2x Sen’Jin Shieldmasta
- 1x Darkscale Healer
- 1x Frostwolf Warlord
- 1x Gurubashi Berserker
- 2x Boulderfist Ogre
- 1x Stormwind Champion
Warlock is admittedly not the strongest class to start with, given its weaker class-specific cards (that’s why there are only 5 of them in the deck). Having said that, this deck is actually pretty strong and it allows for a number of very cool synergies. Given that he is just fine on card draw (don’t forget to tap that Hero power often in order to have enough cards to be able to make better choices, not just only when you are running low on cards), no extra card draw is necessary, with the exception of Mortal Coil, which will also take out early game Minions or finish off dying Minions. If you want, you can also use Mortal Coil to charge your Gurubashi Berserker.
There is a lot of removal – 3 damage dealing spells against enemy Minions (careful about Soulfire – make sure that you are not going to lose an essential card), also a strong AOE spell, which damages you too. Don’t forget that a Gurubashi Berserker likes to be damaged – you can take advantage of his masochism here. All of the spells, including the AOE, can be boosted using Ogre Magi. If deciding between taking out an enemy Minion with a spell, or losing your own Minion to do it, remember that the Minion can deal damage next turn too, unlike the spell.
Dread Infernal is another useful way to boost your Gurubashi Berserker. If your Minions start getting a bit battered – through your hand or your opponent’s, you can heal your board up using Darkscale Healer. She is so kind that she will heal you too.
Shattered Sun Cleric and Stormwind Champion are a great way to surprise your opponent by the boost they can give to the attack power of your Minions. They will allow you to take out Minions that your opponent thought were safe. They may also allow you to trade without losing your own Minion.
This deck can manage to build up a a lot of Minions – there is Murloc Tidehunter and Razorfen Hunter who both field 2. Frostwolf Warlord will be all too happy to take advantage of this so don’t be afraid to keep those Hunter cards in mid game just for this purpose. A 6/6 for 5 mana is already a great deal. However be careful about bringing in a Dread Infernal if you have 1 health Minions on the board.
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, Hunters and to a smaller extent 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?). When facing an opponent who will have a lot of Weapons, save it for their most dangerous ones.
All in all, I have had a lot of fun with this deck and I like it not only because I was beating people with much better cards, but also because I was getting to deploy some great combos. This deck can teach a lot about buffing and how to do it in order to create an advantage on the board; it can also teach how to plan ahead and use synergies. In order to be able to take advantage of the deck’s combos, for which you need specific cards, make sure to start drawing cards mid-game and don’t worry about losing health too much. Learn from the Gurubashi Berserker and get your masochism on. It doesn’t hurt a bit.
New Cards to Get
There’s a large number of cards that will make your Warlock chuckle evilly with glee. Some of these cards are used between the different possible builds, while some of them are not. I will first give a list of useful cards based on whether they come from the classic, Naxxramas or GvG sets. Then I’ll briefly mention the cards most worth getting.
- Power Overwhelming (great, cheap buff, synergizes with Voidterror or Shadowflame)
- Flame Imp (quick, cheap and strong – a must in Zoo)
- Shadowflame (superb board clearer)
- Siphon Soul (excellent against late game Minions)
- Doomguard (strong finisher who can stay on the board for a while with his high health)
- Ironbeak Owl (no Silence inducers that are Warlock-only, so the owl will have to do)
- Abusive Sergeant (buffing is essential in a Zoo deck)
- Dark Iron Dwarf (yes, buffing is essential, especially if you can choose between small and large Minions to do it – this is the big version)
- Knife Juggler (lots of Minions, such as in Zoo, equals lots of knives thrown)
- Sunfury Protector (Warlock doesn’t have any class Taunters and this card provides Taunting for very little mana)
- Defender of Argus (useful in both Zoo and Handlock as it Taunts and buffs)
- Earthen Ring Farseer (Warlock tends to lose health quickly, so returning some of it can be essential)
- Twilight Drake (a Handlock staple, the ideal turn 4 drop)
- Ancient Watcher (if you can Taunt your Minions, or Silence them, this one starts making much more sense at 2 mana)
- Mountain Giant (similar to Twilight Drake – lots of cards in hand can cause this Minion to be dropped very early on)
- Molten Giant (given that Warlock tends to lose health quickly, this card can often be dropped for free)
- Lord Jaraxxus (it will hardly win a lost game but it will win games going to fatigue, help if running low on cards given the character power, and overall kick all kinds of butt)
- Undertaker (since the nerf, this card has pretty much completely disappeared but it can still do some good in a fast deck)
- Haunted Creeper (synergizes with a number of other cards through its effect)
- Nerubian Egg (Warlock has a lot of ways of triggering the 4/4, it can also be used as a defensive measure against opponent’s AOE)
- Sludge Belcher (best Taunter in the game)
- Loatheb (one of a kind Legendary that protects from AOE, other spells and prevents board wipes – it can protect your board in order to set up for a lethal next turn)
Goblins vs. Gnomes
- Darkbomb (cheap early game removal, often used instead of Soulfire)
- Imp-losion (superb card if you want to be dealing damage and have use for extra Minions)
- Enhance-o Mechano (Zoo tends to fill up the board quickly – this card can make that board even more ferocious)
- Antique Healbot (it’s not a huge Minion but it does a lot of healing, which is always a good thing for Warlock)
- Mal’Ganis (great force in a Demon deck)
- Dr. Boom (most decks run this card nowadays and with good reason – lots of value even if the good Doctor gets killed, leaving behind 2 bombs)
I’ve tried to list all of the most important cards but there are far more cards that you can use to make your deck stronger. I didn’t list all of the useful Legendaries either, as there are so many of them by now and a lot of them will work. Sylvanas Windrunner is always a great card and so is Ragnaros the Firelord if you want to have a strong late game Minion. Zoo doesn’t tend to run expensive late game Minions or Legendaries.
Warlock has always been a very strong character, as can be seen from the sheer number of useful cards found in the classic set. Cards from Naxxramas and GvG can significantly strengthen a Warlock deck of any kind but the majority of cards comes from classic.
As always, a lot depends on the direction that you want to take your deck. Zoo is one of the cheapest types of decks that you can build and it can still be extremely competitive. I personally don’t find aggro to be much fun to play but you may disagree (I certainly see enough of them on the Ladder…). I, for one, am very happy that the option is there to pay very little gold or dust and still have a chance at obtaining Legend rank. Zoo requires very specific cards – buffs, early game Minions, and such. These cards come easily from opened packs as they tend to be of low rarity.
Handlock is not a cheap deck to craft – it relies on Epic cards like the 4 Giants, and even some Legendaries. Jaraxxus, or Alexstrasza are more or less essential in the late game, as are many other cards that see use in more or less every Handlock deck. If you want to go in this direction, it may take a very long time to find all these cards in opened packs. Given the large number of Legendaries and Epics needed, it’s necessary to be clear on the order of cards that you want to craft. Also, figure out whether you will be playing solely Warlock or other characters as well. I almost never craft anything below Epic, most often waiting to collect enough dust to craft a Legendary.
Cards from the Naxxramas set come in handy especially if playing Zoo; GvG is utterly optional as both types of decks can be played well without cards found in the expansion. Nevertheless, GvG fills in a lot of holes and strengthens both decks. If wanting to play a Demon filled deck, GvG may be pretty essential.
Most Common Deck Types
I have written at length about both of the most popular types of Warlock decks already. Zoo is one of the most popular aggro decks in the game, losing some popularity with the advent of the GvG Mech Mage (curse him). The nerf of Undertaker hit Zoo a fair bit, making Deathrattle Minions a lot less essential. There are several highly functional types of Zoo – I have played the Zoo deck that made it to Legend rank in all 3 regions, the one I mentioned above that used Imp-losion and a Sea Giant (very unusual card in a traditional Zoo deck). Now I play a Zoo variation that uses an Enhance-o Mechano, which despite my intense dislike of aggro in general can be a lot of fun (but you didn’t hear me just admit that…).
Handlock also sees a fair bit of variation and can be more suited towards dealing with aggro or control decks (this is important on the Ladder as different types of decks are more prominent at different ranks, and there is even variation based on the time of day). There are some cards that always make it – Drakes, Giants, Taunt givers, the usual removal and AOE.
I come across some Demon decks on the Ladder but it happens very rarely and they tend not to do very well. Apparently, now there is a deck that combines Demons with Handlock, which has gained some popularity and works well on the Ladder. It is a relatively costly deck to craft, utilizing both of the class-specific Legendaries. I’m sure you can work it out from the above discussions of each deck.
Warlock brings out the best and the worst in me. Zoo can drive me crazy, yet Handlock is so much fun to play. It has taken me a very long time to collect all of the cards that make Handlock truly efficient – missing even 1 of the 4 Giants has had a tangible effect. I think that Warlock can offer something to most types of players and fit their preferred play styles. I am defensive by nature so Handlock suits me well.
Warlock has been a strong class to play in Hearthstone for a long time so it seems like it’s not being boosted as much as the other classes by the recent expansion. I wonder if this trend will continue as Warlock is still among the most popular classes to play, if we exclude the Arena. It’s strong enough to take you places.
So fare thee well, brave Warlock. May your Jaraxxus, “DOOM YOUR OPPONENT’S WORLD!!!” Whether you play Zoo or Handlock, I will look forward to meeting you on the Ladder.