Our Un’Goro Control/Burn Mage deck list guide will teach you how to pilot this popular Season 38 deck! Our guide features mulligan, play, and card replacement strategies!
Control/Burn Mage (the deck has been called both ways, because it’s pretty hard to classify) is a new, interesting archetype that became viable with the latest expansion. The deck combines the removal and board control play style of the Control deck with a burn finisher of more combo-oriented decks. The deck has became very popular recently, especially at the Legend rank, where it peaks at almost 10% representation. It’s also powerful, sitting in top 5 of decks at every rank.
It’s a very unique deck and it doesn’t really play like anything we’ve had before. While it shares some similarities with the Freeze Mage, the ultimate goal is much different – it doesn’t rely solely on spells to kill the opponent. Medivh, the Guardian turned out to be a key minion for this deck, with Atiesh becoming a way to control the board while tempoing out with random minions at the same time. You can completely stop your opponent by removing everything they play, while developing your own board at the same time.
While there are many different lists played on the ladder, in this guide I’ll cover the b787‘s one. He has hit #1 Legend with it on the Asia server recently, making it one of the most successful builds.
Control/Burn Mage Mulligan Strategy & Guide
I’ll divide the mulligan section into two – against fast decks and against slow decks. Fast decks are generally the Aggro decks (e.g. Pirate Warrior) or high tempo Midrange decks (e.g. Midrange Hunter). Slow decks are slower Midrange and Control decks.
Vs Fast Decks
Higher Priority (keep every time):
- Mana Wyrm – The only 1-drop in your deck, while it’s only 1/3 at the start, you can pump it to 2/3 quite easily with just a single spell. It should be able to trade well into other 1-drops and possibly even 2-drops if you follow it up with a spell.
- Arcanologist – One of the strongest cards in Un’Goro, 2/3 for 2 with a card draw attached, incredibly powerful, you always want to have it, because both of your Secrets are defensive and good against Aggro.
- Frostbolt – Early removal, best with Mana Wyrm, but it’s good for early board control even by itself.
- Volcanic Potion -The only early AoE you run, hitting it on turn 3 against Aggro Druid or Pirate Warrior might often save your skin.
Lower Priority (keep only if certain conditions are met):
- Medivh's Valet – With Arcanologist, you can play turn 3 Secret and turn 4 Valet + Frostbolt/Ping/second Valet. Not worth keeping by itself, because you might not draw a Secret and it’s just a vanilla 2/3, which is too slow.
- Primordial Glyph – With Mana Wyrm in your hand already. It’s not good enough by itself, because you might not pick anything playable and you basically skip turn 2, which is not something you want against Aggro. With Wyrm on the board, at least you also buff it to make your trades better (maybe even to 3/3 if you pick a spell you can play right away).
- Gluttonous Ooze – Against decks running weapons, so in Aggro’s case mainly Pirate Warrior.
Vs Slow Decks
Higher Priority (keep every time):
- Mana Wyrm – You still want Mana Wyrm, but for a slightly different purpose. If your opponent happens to have no removal, you can snowball it quite nicely with all your spells.
- Arcanologist – 2/3 that draws a card, obviously you keep it.
- Arcane Intellect – Spending a turn to draw cards is too slow against Aggro, but it’s good in slower matchups. You want to cycle through your deck to find Medivh as soon as possible and be ready with the mid/late game removals.
- Kabal Courier – While in a perfect world you prefer to drop Discover cards later when you know what you want from them, it’s still a good 3-drop to fill the curve.
Lower Priority (keep only if certain conditions are met):
- Frostbolt – Always keep with Mana Wyrm. Without Mana Wyrm it depends on the matchup – will you have a good target for it in the early game? If yes, keep. If no, don’t. E.g. I’d keep it against Priest to kill the Northshire Cleric or Radiant Elemental, but wouldn’t keep it against Taunt Warrior, because there might be nothing you want to Frostbolt on turn 2/3.
- Primordial Glyph – Similarly, keep with Mana Wyrm so you have a higher snowball potential. In this case it’s not about being too slow, but you really prefer to get it later when you know which spells you need.
- Gluttonous Ooze – Against weapon classes, e.g. Warrior, Paladin.
Control/Burn Mage Win Rates
Control/Burn Mage Play Strategy
At first glance, it might seem that the deck has no clear win condition. I mean, there is Alexstrasza + burn, but if you want to go that way, isn’t it just better to play Freeze Mage? Well, yes, even though this deck looks a bit like Freeze Mage, the actual play style is very different. At some point in the mid game, Freeze Mage wants to drop board control completely. It just constantly Freezes it and then survives thanks to the Ice Blocks. This deck is a bit different – at no point in the game do you want to abandon board control, unless you’re already burning your opponent down and you have Ice Block up. Instead of running Freezes and ways to stall the game, you run board clears and ways to swing the tempo in the late game.
With pretty much every kind of removal – small single target, big single target, transform effect, small AoE, big AoE – you should have the right removal for the right scenario most of the time. You control the board as well as you can and at some point you go for one of the two game plans – Medivh + tempo or Alex + burn.
Surprisingly, Aggro matchups aren’t as bad as they might look like. You’re mostly afraid of the very fast starts, the ones that you can’t counter without getting Volcanic Potion (and with only a single one in your deck, there is a high chance of not drawing it) and the burn/weapons/charge minions – the kind of damage you can’t answer with removals. If your opponent tries to play minion after minion on curve and attack with them, they will most likely be in a bad position, because you should be able to remove them one by one. Ice Block and Ice Barrier also help with surviving.
The idea is to take as little damage as possible. Your goal is usually to either run your opponent out of resources and then kill them with a mix of minion damage or burn spells or survive until the Alexstrasza turn, which should be enough to swing the health in your favor (especially if the Ice Block is still not popped) and with an 8/8 on the board and burn you should be able to finish the game very quickly.
Try to play for tempo. Prioritize playing stuff over using your Hero Power. If you play too slowly, you fall behind. If you fall behind in the early game, it’s hard to come back, because your first “big” AoE comes on turn 6 (Meteor).
When it comes to Discover choices, you most likely want to get high tempo stuff – health gain, cheap removal, cheap AoE, another defensive Secret. Sometimes picking card draw might also be a good idea, because you have most of those things in your deck and it’s just a matter of getting to them. Against Aggro, you don’t want to be greedy and pick something like burn damage unless it’s already late in the game and you know that you’ll need it. One interesting thing is that you can pick an AoE like Blizzard/Meteor/Flamestrike early, let’s say on turn 2, and play it on turn 4/5 with a discount. Normally those cards come pretty late, but if you play the 2 mana one upfront, you can really surprise your opponent while they still don’t play around them.
Even though Alexstrasza on yourself might be considered a standard play vs Aggro, it’s not always right. It depends on your health total, whether you have Ice Block or not and how the rest of your hand looks like. For example, if you have Ice Block up and Alex sets up lethal, just use it on your opponent. Finishing the game as quickly as possible is valuable, because you don’t give your opponent more time to let’s say draw a weird tech like Eater of Secrets (it happens). You also want to Alex your opponent if you’re in a desperate situation, where your Ice Block will be popped either way (e.g. vs a big board you can’t clear), then healing basically doesn’t matter and you have a higher chance to do something after bringing your opponent to 15 – you can still find some ways to stall or enough burn. Sometimes you can also play Alex just for the 8/8 body – even if you aren’t low and you don’t have the necessary burn to kill your opponent, Aggro decks often don’t have a way to deal with 8/8 and you will just kill them with the minion.
Matchups vs Control are much more interesting and skill-intensive. While it’s true that this deck sometimes relies on the random effects to stay in the game (Glyph or Courier Discovers, minions you summon with Firelands Portal and Medivh), knowing how to use that randomness to your advantage is often important. Also, keeping the right balance between clearing the board and pushing the face damage is very important, because if you use all your burn to clear the board, you won’t have enough to kill your opponent and vice versa – if you refuse to use the burn to clear board, you will die before you can do anything.
Early game is much more peaceful than vs Aggro and that’s great for you. First, if you get a fast opening, you might try to sneak some early game damage. While ultimately it might not matter because of Alexstrasza, if you get your enemy down to 20 or so, it opens up a possibility of keeping Alexstrasza to heal yourself later as opposed to simply HAVING to use it on your opponent. And to be fair, if you get lucky enough, unanswered Mana Wyrm(s) might deal so much damage that finishing the game with burn is just a formality. But if you don’t get a fast opening, it’s not a big deal either. With a slower one, you probably want to draw as much as possible. Play Arcanologist, Arcane Intellect, set up your Secrets so you don’t have to do it later etc.
It might be a little surprising, but you can win some games with value. Your expensive removals are very efficient and can usually get 2 for 1, sometimes even 3 for 1. A simple example – you kill a 4/5 with Firelands Portal and you spawn your own 5/4. Now your opponent might have to use let’s say Shadow Word: Death to kill it. Meteor/Flamestrike are AoEs, so they usually get more than 1 for 1. Elise the Trailblazer just screams value in slow matchups. The 5/5 for 5 alone is quite meh, but usually gets 1 for 1. But the pack, with 5 cards you usually open at least 2-3 things that are big or give you even more value. And finally, Medivh, the Guardian. Atiesh + big spells are great way to get a tempo win, but every big minion you have can also either draw an answer from your opponent or get some big trades. So ultimately, even though the deck doesn’t seem like it could engage in a value war, it’s often the right strategy.
Talking about Medivh, the card is MVP in slow matchups. Playing it increases your win rate by A LOT. While the 8 mana 7/7 is slow, it doesn’t matter in slower matchups. But the weapon, if not destroyed of course, basically gives you three random big minions for free. In the best case scenario, you play it with Meteor, Fireland Portals and Flamestrike for 6-7 drops. That supports 2 strategies – the value I’ve mentioned or the tempo. That’s one of the ways to win in slow matchups. Your opponent develops the board -> you clear it and get a big minion yourself. Now he either has to answer it and slow down their play, so you get more time, or they don’t answer it and you play another big removal on whatever they play and get another minion. Either way, it’s like a win-win situation for you.
The final win condition is basically burning your opponent down. If you count every source of potential face damage, the deck runs up to 44 points of damage. Plus Hero Powers, plus random burn you can get from Primordial Glyph. And that’s not even counting the Alexstrasza, which is up to 15 damage (usually closer to 10, which is still a lot). Some games are won simply by altering between answering your opponent’s board and throwing some burn spells into his face. Ideally, you want to play Alex and then deal 15 damage next turn, but it doesn’t always work like that because of all the heals, Armor gain etc. “Burn your opponent” might sound easy, but you need an actual game plan. Try to deal as much damage with your minions as possible. Try to play Alex on a turn when you already have some board presence, which means that you can get your opponent even lower in case he heals up. Sometimes using Fireball on a minion will be ultimately worth more damage than using it as a burn, if you can protect a minion that will hit your opponent more than once. Small stuff like that matters and while some matchups are very straightforward, other classes like Paladin or Druid have A LOT of health gain in their decks, so you need to maximize your damage.
- If you’re setting up a Secret for Medivh's Valet in the early game, Ice Block is a much better option than Ice Barrier. The second one can be popped and Valet’s Battlecry won’t be active any longer.
- If you plan to play a Discover spell, play it first before doing anything else. In the mid/late game it’s probably even worth it more to play Primordial Glyph before Mana Wyrm. You lose 1 attack, which likely won’t matter, but your play might change. You might not want to drop the Mana Wyrm, because let’s say you got card draw and you drew Firelands Portal that you prefer to play instead.
- If you know that your opponent’s deck might run weapon destruction, don’t get too greedy with your Medivh, the Guardian. Try to drop it as soon as possible and then instead of waiting only for the big spells, you can also use some smaller stuff. The longer you wait, the higher the chance that your opponent gets a way to counter Atiesh is. Sometimes the best way to play around tech cards is to play whatever your opponent is targeting before they draw the tech.
- Try to keep Polymorph for specific targets that you want to transform instead of just kill. Common examples are Deathrattles like Tirion Fordring and Aya Blackpaw. You can also use it to play around some other cards, e.g. Redemption or Getaway Kodo, or cards that do something when they take damage (Acolyte of Pain). Basically, you should use other removals like Fireball on more “generic” minions (unless you need that Fireball for the burn) and keep Polymorph for better targets.
- Meteor can be devastating, but better opponents will probably play around it by positioning his minion in the right way. However, sometimes you can use your Hero Power or cheap removals like Medivh's Valet/Frostbolt to “fix” the positioning to be Meteor-friendly again.
Control/Burn Mage Card Substitutions
The deck is quite expensive to play, but luckily, a lot of the cards can be substituted quite easily. There are only a few cards that you absolutely can’t remove from this deck.
- Bloodmage Thalnos – The card isn’t absolutely necessary. You generally use it as a flexible source of Spell Damage – e.g. before a Flamestrike turn to deal 5 AoE, to boost the Meteor’s adjacent damage to 4, to get a 4 damage Frostbolt etc. But even though he’s useful, you should be able to play without it. Put Loot Hoarder or Novice Engineer into your deck instead.
- Elise the Trailblazer – Great value tool in the slow matchups, but also not necessary. You can play a second Kabal Courier or Cabalist's Tome in her place.
- Alexstrasza – Unlike the other two, Alex is necessary. She’s one of the key cards in any matchup. Vs faster decks you use her to swing the game by healing yourself to 15 after your opponent is out of resources, and in the slow matchups you use it to set up the burn damage. The deck won’t work without it.
- Primordial Glyph – While powerful and removing it is not a great idea, if you don’t have Primordial Glyph, you should still be able to play the deck. You can play 2x Babbling Book (if you have Karazhan expansion, which you should have if you want to play this deck). Alternatively, you can play something completely else like Sorcerer's Apprentice, second Volcanic Potion or Cabalist's Tome (or a mix of those).
- Gluttonous Ooze – You can sub it with Acidic Swamp Ooze.
- Ice Block – No way to replace it, it’s a vital part of the deck.
- Meteor – Second Flamestrike, although Meteor is better, because it 1 mana cheaper (which is important in fast matchups) and the 15 damage on the main target can serve as a big single target removal too.
- Pyroblast – I’d say that the burn is necessary. Without Pyro you might find yourself with not enough damage to close the games. But if you have it, you can put Archmage Antonidas instead (but it’s a Legendary, so not really a “budget replacement”).
- The deck also runs 3 cards from the One Night in Karazhan adventure – Medivh's Valet, Firelands Portal and Medivh, the Guardian. Well, technically the Firelands Portal is free (it comes with the Prologue wing everyone gets for free), but both Medivh’s Valet and Medivh himself are very important and can’t really be replaced.
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Good luck on the ladder and until next time!