Welcome to cherylchalla’s TIY, a series targeted toward newer players, who want more control over the decks they play.
I’m finding that one of the biggest mistakes committed by newer players is net-decking without putting thought into it. Sure, pro-players have optimized decks to perfection, but, if a player doesn’t understand why the deck was composed the way it was, the suboptimal plays that result will be the same as playing a suboptimal deck. In addition, being able to tech a deck can allow a player to create a deck that suits their own play style and the meta they’re currently in. Note that this series tries to walk you through the thought process of deck composition, rather than telling you what tech decisions are correct or incorrect!
Table of Contents
- Intro and “Core”
- Inclusion decisions
- Being mindful of the curve
- Extras and Tips (combos, sequencing, positioning, mullies)
Today’s TIY features the Handlock archetype and Handlock specialist Joeysc2, a high level player and streamer, who reached Rank 1 Legend with Handlock during December 2014.
Let’s start by taking a look at the “core” of a Handlock deck, where the “core” is essentially the cards that make Handlock Handlock.
By looking at the core, we can see the idea behind this deck is being able to fill your hand, control the board, and make it into the mid to late game where the deck really shines with high value minions. Since we’re tapping so much to fill our hand, as well as to get closer to playing Molten Giants, we have taunt givers to protect our life total, as well as the heal from Healbots to bounce back when necessary.
Now, we have to add all the bells and whistles that make this deck work. We need a means to survive into the mid/late game and the threats that constitute our late game plays. Let’s look at the spells and minions that allow us to do just that.
The spells that are available to us include Mortal Coil, Dark Bomb, and Siphon Soul, as well as AOE cards like Hellfire and Shadowflame. Deciding how many of each of these spells to include can really depend on the kinds of deck you find yourself facing off against the most. Mortal Coil is excellent against aggro decks that have an abundance of one health minions, while Siphon Soul is a one- (or none!) of that will only serve you well against slower decks, simply because of how expensive the card is. You will often see Dark Bomb as a two-of in most decks, because of how useful it is in removing both early and mid game minions, as well as occasionally giving you that extra reach for lethal.
The two most “common” constructs of Handlock involve either 1x Shadowflame and 2x Hellfire or 2x Shadowflame and 1x Hellfire. I have personally even seen people running 4x AOE in their decks. How many you choose to include of each really just depends on what you’re facing. Although both of these AOE spells cost 4 mana, Shadowflame is slower because it requires you to have a minion to target. This means, for example, that running 2x Hellfire is a much better tech decision if you are running into many of the faster decks on the ladder.
BGH is considered a must-include tech, as it is such a powerful swing card. Although Handlocks have plenty of large minions to contest the opponent’s large minions, you want your own large minions to be turning over more turns for value, rather than being used only for a single trade. Additionally, almost every current deck seems to include Dr. Boom, giving this card value in almost any matchup. Ironbeak Owl is, more often than not, a very useful minion, simply because there are so many silence targets in the game. However, there isn’t a universal answer for whether this card should be a one-of or a two-of. In Joey’s and my own opinion, the sheer amount of silenceable minions justifies 2x owl, especially when we take into account how much of a threat Sylvanas tends to be against a developed Handlock board. Players that do choose to run only one owl, however, must be more conservative when deciding whether or not to use the owl.
As the whole idea of Handlock is to stall into the mid/late game, it is essential that you include high-value cards in your deck. Loatheb is a popular five drop. Six drop choices are usually Sylvanas or Emperor Thaurissan and Dr. Boom is the strongest 7-drop there is at the moment.
But wait - why wasn’t Lord Jaraxxus, a high-value Warlock card, included as a “core” of Handlock? “Jaraxxus is a good comeback card that has the potential for infinite value,” Joey explains. “It is extremely good against heavy control decks with no burst (like most Priests) and can often times win games on its own, or it can be used as a big heal against a very aggressive deck if the game even gets to turn 9. On the other hand, you'll often find Jaraxxus as a dead card against decks featuring a burst win condition (e.g., 1x/2x Combo Druid, Oil Rogue, Control Warrior with Harrison).”
Zombie Chow is an excellent card to help Handlock survive against the early aggression of fast decks. One Zombie Chow often trades with two of your opponent’s small minions, which can buy you just enough time to stabilize and lead into Handlock’s large minions. “I would generally include him as a substitute for mortal coil and/or darkbomb,” says Joey, “as Chow is a great early board controller who can trade with two 1-drops, a 2-drop or a 1- and a 2-drop.” Although a Zombie Chow can remove more minions than a Dark Bomb could, keep in mind that it is essentially a dead card if drawn in the late game.
How about one Healbot vs. having two? “It depends,” says Joey. “If the card replacing the 2nd Healbot is a value card or a bomb, I think it’s too greedy and it's harder to realize the value of the replacement card. I can see the potential if it's another anti aggro card, since playing a healbot without being able to deal with the board is essentially useless. I've said that two healbots is pretty necessary in Handlock, because we take a lot of damage from tapping and, if you're about to die, you find yourself making plays that are inefficient in order to survive. That’s why, to me, Healbot is a card that increases the value of every other card. A lot of classes already feature one Healbot and they don't take all the blowback/have dead turns from tapping.”
Sludge Belcher is another minion that is often included by Handlock players. “Belcher is a great defensive option, as it can protect either your own life total or stop favorable trades from the opponent,” says Joey, “but is not in itself a value card that will often be less than a 1-for-1 in a control matchup. If I was teching for heavy control in a tournament, for example, I would probably ditch belcher altogether.” Especially now that Grim Patron is around, the Sludge Belcher’s deathrattle Slime makes this minion more of a liability.
When you’re deciding what cards to include in your deck, always keep two things in mind: the “theme” of your deck and the decks you are seeing a lot of on the ladder. The “theme” refers to the kind of Handlock you are trying to build - are you going for anti-aggro? Anti-control? Something more combination based, with burst? Or a hybrid Demon-Handlock? The theme of your deck, of course, will depend on what you’re seeing on the ladder.
Remember to give every card a fair evaluation. Just because a card worked great in that one game where that one situation happened doesn’t mean it’s a consistent card or a must-include in your deck. Give every game an honest reflection - if I had X card instead of Y, how might the game have gone differently? You can even keep scores in your head - “card X was excellent one out of the five games I played today, but Y probably would’ve been great in all five of today’s games".
An example of an inclusion decision every Handlock player had to go through was whether or not to continue with the use of Earthen Ring Farseer when the Antique Healbot was introduced. Why is it that Earthen is often cut altogether from Handlock now? When asked, Joey says that “Earthen was kind of like a mini Healbot that had flexibility to heal other minions. Healbot allows us to put more high value cards in our deck and also decreases our dependency on Siphon for the heal. That said, some people still do use Earthen because of its flexible healing or to have a strong turn 3 against more aggressive decks.”
Another thing to keep in mind is: don’t be afraid to try new things. Imp Gang Boss is a card often used in faster zoo/midrange decks, but Joey experimented with it in his Handlock. “The potential of not having a turn 3 has really hurt me in some matchups, so I put in Imp Gang Boss, which has helped a lot in faster paced matchups or matchups that can flood early like midrange Paladin,” explains Joey. “Especially when some classes can flood the board with a single card like Muster for Battle or Implosion and you are forced to ‘board clear’, you only end up getting 1-for-1 value out of it.”
Be receptive to what’s working and what isn’t. Don’t fall for confirmation bias. And, most importantly, don’t ever test your rendition of a deck in casual mode - have confidence in your abilities!
Given the nature of Handlock, it is true that Handlock will easily have more late game drops compared to other decks. However, you don’t want to risk having a curve that is too clunky or too skewed to one side! This can easily kill the consistency of any deck. For example, including both Emperor and Sylvanas? “I think that’s too crowded, personally,” answers Joey. The lack of a 3 drop against aggressive decks can also make Handlock weak (see Joey’s inclusion of Imp Gang Boss in his Handlock deck in section 4, “Inclusion decisions”.)
For those completely new to Handlock, here are some helpful tips (combos, sequencing, positioning, etc.):
- You can tap into cheaper giants (but don’t overdraw!)
- Tapping makes your Moltens cheaper
- You have a 4 mana Mountain Giant and it’s turn 5? You can tap! 2 mana (used to tap) + 3 mana (reduced cost of the Giant) = no floated mana!
- Always try to have non-taunted minions in the middle, so that battlecries of Sunfury and Argus can get full value
- Ancient Watcher is no one-trick pony!
- Buff it with a taunt
- Silence it so that it can attack
- Shadowflame it
- Sylvanas and Shadowflame is easily one of my favourite combos in the game
- In general, you’re digging for your 4 drops (Twilight Drake, Mountain Giant), unless you’re facing aggro
- Against Hunter, you want your Molten Giants and any of your anti-aggro tech (Zombie Chow) and spells like Mortal Coil and Dark Bomb
- Owl is a decent keep against Hunter, as it gives you a body on the board and can silence a Knife Juggler
- Dark Bomb is great against Priests and Warriors in order to deny them of card draw (takes out Northshire Cleric or Acolyte of Pain)
- Hellfire is great against Paladin
Now go out there and make your own Handlock deck! Now that you understand exactly why you're including what cards, I promise you games will become much more intuitive.