Control Warlock, Handlock, or Demonlock is a popular deck list in the early stages of the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion. Check out our deck guide that features mulligans, strategy, and card replacement suggestions!
Introduction to Control Warlock (Handlock)
Contol Warlock decks have been regularly present in the Hearthstone meta since its release: first in the form of Handlock, which abused the Warlock hero power Life Tap to ramp giant minions, and then as Renolock, which was a Highlander-style toolbox deck. Lacking the necessary healing cards to compensate for Life Tap, Control Warlock has been largely unseen since it lost Reno Jackson to the 2017 standard rotation. However, with the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, Control Warlock gains Bloodreaver Gul'dan, giving the deck consistent healing and late game pressure. This, combined with its other new tools that complement Warlock’s already impressive board clearing ability, has made the deck relevant again.
Update – Frozen Throne Control Warlock September 2017, Season 42
Unfortunately it seems Warlock is still at the bottom of the barrel in terms of class strength. The dominance of Druid is currently casting a shadow over the class, and it remains to be seen if a nerf to Druid is coming anytime soon. For now only play this deck for fun and if you have the cards because it would be a rough climb.
Control Warlock Mulligan Strategy & Guide
VS Fast Decks
Your opening hand needs to have cards that keep you in the game and remove minions from the enemy board.
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Mistress of Mixtures – Great to trade with early minions and makes using Life Tap on your second turn less punishing.
- Voidwalker – Great to trade with early minions and for absorbing weapon charges.
- Defile – Amazing at clearing early aggressive boards.
- Mortal Coil – Allows you to simultaneously finish off a minion and dig deeper into your deck; also helps set up numbers for defile.
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Hellfire – Very efficient at clearing early minions. Keep with The Coin or if you have higher priority cards already.
- Earthen Ring Farseer – Gives you an early minion to play and helps heal off early damage. Keep with The Coin or if you have higher priority cards already.
- Twilight Drake – Great at trading with early minions, but is too slow to count on if you don’t already have earlier answers. Keep with The Coin or if you have higher priority cards already.
VS Slow Decks
Your opening hand needs to have cards that establish hard to remove board presence.
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Twilight Drake – If you can Life Tap on the first few turns, Twilight Drake‘s health is enormous. This is a very difficult minion for most control decks to answer on turn 4, especially Priest.
- Mountain Giant – Much like Twilight Drake, if you can Life Tap on the first few turns this gives you a large minion to play on turn 4. This is a very difficult minion for most control decks to answer this early.
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Hellfire – While generally efficient at clearing early boards, Hellfire is especially great at slowing Priest decks down, as most of their early minions have 3 health. Keep against Priest or if you already have higher priority cards.
- Defile – If you can set up the math right, Defile clears boards at all stages of the game, so it’s good to have in your hand as early as possible. Keep only if you already have at least one Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant.
- Voidwalker or Mistress of Mixtures – If you have The Coin, you can play a 1 cost minion on turn 1 or 3 and still be able to Life Tap every turn before playing one of your big turn 4 minions. Keep only if you have at least one Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant already.
Control Warlock Play Strategy
Control Warlock decks aim to play large, hard to answer minions on turn 4 by repeatedly using Life Tap, and to keep control of the board until the late game, when it can play Bloodreaver Gul'dan to close the game out.
Against aggressive decks, Control Warlock throws out its strategy of Life Tapping into big minions and focuses exclusively on survival. Having abandoned excessive Life Tapping, your excellent board clear cards become the stars of your deck. If you can manage to gain board control in the mid game with a decent amount of life left, the match looks good for you.
With the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, Warlock gets its best early game survival tool ever in Defile. It can be played on turn 2 if your opponent is playing pirates, or it can be played at pretty much any point in the game to clear an aggressive board. Something to remember with Defile is that it hits your minions too, and attacking one of your minions into an enemy minion changes two health totals, so look at your own board as well before you play it.
Mistress of Mixtures, and to a lesser extent Earthen Ring Farseer, are extremely helpful with making it through the early turns. If you’re going first, and sometimes if you’re going second, a turn 1 Mistress of Mixtures play allows you to Life Tap care free on turn two, which helps you dig for Hellfire.
Despicable Dreadlord and Abyssal Enforcer are the minions you want to see leading up to turns 5 and 7 respectively. What’s great about these minions against aggro is that they’re both board clears and board presence at the same time. If you play one of these minions to clear your opponent’s significant minions then you’re in a good spot, as long as you’ve managed to protect your life total well enough.
Against control decks, Control Warlock tries to both get out enormous minions and keep board control as much as possible before playing Bloodreaver Gul'dan.
When you’re up against slow decks, you can afford to be pretty greedy with your Life Tap, which is good because it’s the reason you’re running Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant. If you’re going first, the maximum health of a turn 4 Twilight Drake is 9, and the lowest Mountain Giant can cost is 4; considering this, if you want to get the most value possible from your turn 4 Twilight Drake, or if you want to play Mountain Giant on turn 4 at all, you can’t play any cards during the first three turns (unless you’re killing a minion with Mortal Coil on turn 3). If you have both Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant in your hand, playing Twilight Drake on turn 4 is optimal in most situations, as you can Life Tap and play Mountain Giant on turn 5.
Going second you have a little more freedom. With The Coin in hand, and an extra card from your mulligans, you’re two cards ahead of where you would have been going first. This means you can play a Voidwalker or Mistress of Mixtures on either turn 1 or turn 3 (but not both), while still being able to Life Tap twice and maximize your large minion value. Remember, if you Life Tap on turn 3 but don’t play a 1 cost minion on turn 1 or 3, you’re going to overdraw going into turn 4.
After turn 4, try to get out as many Demons as possible leading up to your 10 mana turns, as Bloodreaver Gul'dan becomes a much safer play with each Demon you’ve played during the game. While it might not seem that impressive, Voidwalker ends up being very important on your Bloodreaver Gul'dan turn, as it helps protect your life total before you can start using Siphon Life to build it back up.
Control Warlock Card Substitutions
- Corrupting Mist – If you’re seeing mostly aggro decks on the ladder, this is a card to strongly consider adding in. It acts as a third (or fourth) copy of defile on turn 2 for clearing pirates, and can be valuable throughout the game.
- Tainted Zealot or Bloodmage Thalnos – These 2-cost Spell Damage minions can be super handy with your board clearing cards, especially Defile. Tainted Zealot survives the first Defile cast, and Bloodmage Thalnos draws you a card when it dies. Both have their merits, so which one you add is up to you.
- Drain Soul – If you’re having trouble with aggro decks, this card gives you another minion removal tool while also giving you some marginal survivability. If you’ve opted to add a Spell Damage minion to your deck, this card scales very well with it, and helps set up numbers for Defile. However, if you’re not seeing a lot of aggro Drain Soul is a dead card a lot of the time.
- Spellbreaker – Silence is very good right now. Obviously great for disabling taunt minions, there are also a few decks running cards that buff their minions, and removing those buffs can be game changing. If you’re running into a lot of Quest Mage, Spellbreaker can be a good option to unfreeze one of your big minions.
- Leeroy Jenkins with Faceless Manipulator – While not as strong as it once was, this combination still pushes 12 damage from hand, which is a lot of burst damage for Warlock. This combo is a mirror match winner, and can be helpful in other matchups where your opponent is hanging out at low life totals.
- Dread Infernal – While this card doesn’t make the initial cut, Dread Infernal is an excellent card to either replace Legendaries you might not have or to fill in your minion curve, as it comes back with Bloodreaver Gul'dan and you don’t otherwise have any 6 cost minions.
- The Black Knight – Bonemare and The Lich King are seeing a lot of play right now, and The Black Knight is an excellent answer to both these cards.
- Eater of Secrets – If you’re running into a lot of Quest Mage, this card is arguably a necessity. Not only do they run double Ice Block, but who knows how many they’ll generate through random effects. Considering your board pressure doesn’t really start until turn 4, the turn you would pop Ice Block the first time might be your only chance to win the game. Much like Spellbreaker, this card probably takes the place of one of your other tech options, so consider which other decks you’ve been up against the most before you make the switch.
About the Author
Martian has been playing Hearthstone regularly since early 2014, and consistently makes it to Legend in both Standard and Wild. Slow control decks are Martian’s favorite ones to play, and traditional Handlock was his go-to for a long time.