We take a look at what could be one of the popular decks coming from Knights of the Frozen Throne, Frost Lich Jaina Control Mage. This theorycraft guide will help you consider crafts, mulligans, and gameplay!
Introduction and History
The ups and downs of Control Mage have been well documented throughout Hearthstone’s metas. In the past, a controlling Mage deck was equivalent to the infamous Freeze Mage for the longest time, until Reno Jackson‘s design was followed up by Kazakus (and Inkmaster Solia) in the Mean Streats of Gadgetzan expansion. In the later stages of its lifecycle the deck rose to prominence as the go-to control archetype, stalling the game and exhausting the opponent out of resources until it eventually won after the enemy had nothing left to win with.
Journey to Un’Goro changed things up a lot by rotating Reno Jackson out of Standard and introducing powerful new tools for Mage such as Primordial Glyph and Arcanologist, which brought a lot of consistency to how often the class had access to its signature Ice Block, enabling decks to care less about board control and transitioning pretty much all of the class’ archetypes to a burn style of gameplay. The infamous “Günther Mage” was the first more controlling deck with tournament success and soon almost the entire class and all of its decks followed suit, eventually combining into “the Mage deck” by the end of Un’Goro, which was essentially a control deck that won the game by transitioning from a removal-based early game to sending burn to the opponent’s face and hiding behind Ice Block.
Knights of the Frozen Throne brings along with it many lategame and slow, value-oriented cards that make a good fit for any control deck and Mage is here to take full advantage of the new toys. While the burn strategy may or may not remain viable in a slower metagame of Lifesteal and big threats that can’t be easily ignored, a true Control Mage can really shine, returning to its Mean Streats shell of outlasting other decks. This version features the powerful new Death Knight card, Frost Lich Jaina and uses the synergy between her the combination of N'Zoth, The Corruptor with Pyros for massive sustainability and board presence in the lategame.
Frozen Throne Frost Lich Jaina Control Mage Mulligan Strategy & Guide
The mulligan section will be divided into two parts – 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. There is another slow type of deck that doesn’t quite fit the normal criteria and those are Combo decks.
If you are unsure what you are facing, follow the general rule of thumb of keeping cheaper cards and tossing away expensive ones, look to curve out as best as you can and keep any cards that can serve multiple purposes such as Arcanologist or Primordial Glyph.
VS Fast Decks
Against aggressive decks you want to find every bit of early interaction and sustain – cheap minions to have some board presence in the early game and low costing removal to remove key threats. It’s OK to hard mulligan for your most important and cheapest pieces, especially Volcanic Potion.
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Arcanologist – This is exactly what you are looking for in any mulligan, but is especially strong against aggressive decks. The early game body will let you play on the board and drawing an Ice Block off of her can and most often will save your life and let you set up a turn where you can take control of the game.
- Frostbolt – Low cost, good damage, it’s everything you want out of your early game spells. Three damage is a lot against aggro and what it doesn’t kill, it freezes, so it has good applications going forward into the midgame.
- Volcanic Potion – Less so against midrange decks, but this card is an absolute aggro killer. There are many applications for a 2 damage AoE effect and this is as cheap as they come.
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Doomsayer – While he is a great tool against aggro, most decks nowadays can deal with a “naked” Doomsayer even on turn 2 and we have even seen Pirate Warrior having the potential to kill a coined Sayer on turn 1. Keep if you also have Frost Nova or if there are no other early game plays in your opening hand. He can still go off and is better than a completely random card, but odds are that other cheap cards will be better.
- Primordial Glyph – If there are no other early plays in sight than this can be a keep, but remember that it’s not guaranteed to find those discounted Volcanic Potions and Blizzards that you’re looking for. The tempo loss from playing it on turn 2 is significant, but is often worth it.
- Ice Block – You are ideally looking for it from Arcanologist anyway, might as well keep it when there is not one in sight. It’s a bit clunky to use, but at the end of the day it’s going to keep you alive one more turn and that can be the difference between stabilizing and losing the game.
- Medivh's Valet – This is quite a risky keep, even with a secret to support it as it can come down only after that has been played, but there will be situations where just about any cheap minion helps. Look out for those and don’t be afraid to keep him around, he can become very strong as soon as you play that single secret.
VS Slow Decks
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Arcanologist – There really is no reason not to keep her off of the mulligan phase. Both secrets she can pull are relevant and strong, especially Counterspell which can provide a massive tempo loss for the opponent.
- Primordial Glyph – In a slower game it’s good to make sure you have options and Glyph is the reigning champion of providing options. Look out for a good moment to play it, generally when you have more information about the opponent’s gameplan.
- Pyros – This is one of the best threats in the deck and it’s playable as early as turn 2. You really want its Deathrattle to go off and in the early game it’s hard for the enemy to remove it with a silencing effect.
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Polymorph – You want to make sure you have unconditional answers for the enemy’s big threats and this is as good as it gets, however it’s a slow card that might not have targets for a good while. Keep if you have other things to do or are certain you will need it before you have time to dig through most of your deck. It’s very crucial to be able to answer The Lich King as soon as he comes down.
- Counterspell – Ideally it will be tutored by Arcanologist, but in the case it shows up in your opening hand it can be a decent keep if you know you are facing a slower deck. Most of them will rely on a big spell to capitalize their advantage or blow away your board, so Counterspell shines in those matchups.
- Arcane Intellect – If there is nothing better, keeping AI is perfectly acceptable. In a slower metagame you can find the proper time and place for a low tempo turn that will refill your hand with gas to keep the match going.
VS Combo Decks
This section will only highlight the very important keeps against combo decks because everything outside those cards can range from conditional to irrelevant. If you can’t find any of these in the mulligan phase, try to generate and draw as many extra cards as possible.
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Arcanologist – Spell-based combos are stopped by a timely counter and almost no reasonable combo can kill through an active Block.
- Counterspell – Most combo decks employ the use of key spells in order to go off. Learn to identify the turns after they have finished setting up and delay the combo or blow them away with a well placed counter.
- Ice Block – Outside of combos that try to draw your entire deck (or, historically, both player’s entire decks) and kill you with Fatigue Damage, no combo can punch through an active Block and very often decks that spend most of the game in assembling a combo and “go off” can’t do it a second time.
- Doomsayer – There are some minion-based combos that are easily stopped by a well placed preemptive Doomsayer. If you think they can kill him, dig for the second one and play both on the same turn.
Frozen Throne Frost Lich Jaina Control Mage Play Strategy
As a general strategy, you are going into most games with a clear plan in mind that involves these steps:
- Find Pyros and have it die as many times as possible.
- Use a powerful suite of removal to keep the opponent’s board to a minimum.
- Set up an Ice Block before a big swing turn.
- Play the 10/10 Pyros or use N'Zoth, The Corruptor to spawn a big board of Pyroses, preferably behind an active Counterspell.
- Play Jaina and give the huge elementals Lifesteal for an unrecoverable life total swing.
In most games where you’re not under pressure you will have relative freedom and the time to set up and execute this plan. Of course, that won’t happen all the time, but the deck has enough removal and interaction to kill things for days and sufficient lategame to give even other greedy control decks a run for their money. Adapt your game plan depending on what you’re facing:
The primary goal against aggressive decks is to stay alive until Frost Lich Jaina completely takes over the game. The deck boasts a diverse and powerful array of removal spells and cheap interaction as well as multiple ways to buy time through extra life and big minions that demand immediate answers.
Volcanic Potion is an excellent tool against those fast decks and depending on how prominent they are within the metagame, you might want to add an additional copy of it instead of the clunkier Meteor. The primary things you want to see off of Primordial Glyph are AoE and freezing spells – things like Blizzard and even Cone of Cold can prove invaluable in extending the game until your more powerful cards can take over.
The deck runs a single Blizzard that’s mostly a nod to Token Shaman’s boards of Fire Fly and hero power tokens, as well as Druid’s Living Mana. Naturally, Potion answers those as well, but Blizzard is here for extra redundancy and an additional mass freeze effect to compliment Doomsayer. In a more aggressive meta, look to swap the slow Sindragosa with Medivh, the Guardian and start playing an additional Blizzard and one Flamestrike.
While Ice Block is essential in keeping you alive just that little bit longer, against faster decks consider running Ice Barrier as the extra secret in the deck, as well as a couple more early game minions.
A big portion of this decks is a nod to the expected prevalence of control decks, at least initially, in the metagame. The presence of Meteor in particular is very indicative of the need to be able to kill big minions such as The Lich King where only a couple of Polymorphs might not be enough.
There is trio of lategame minions that are good fits in Control Mage – The Lich King, Sindragosa and Medivh, the Guardian. While the Lich King is a clear winner, there are pros and cons to both of the other options and the deck can’t play all three without being especially greedy. Right now, Sindragosa’s slower but more value-oriented effect and somewhat of a synergy with N’Zoth (in this deck in particular), give her the edge over Medivh but it’s hard to pronounce a clear cut winner.
Drawing cards and finding your important pieces is very desirable, but it’s also as important to keep your pacing steady throughout the game. While this deck doesn’t feature too much card draw, the Arcanologists do fish secrets out of the deck and spacing your Arcane Intellects and sometimes even not playing them can be important to learn. Not often, but sometimes games will end up with the threat of fatigue against other slow decks that can generate more cards into their decks or whose card advantage engines add them directly to their hands, such as Priests.
If you want to pack even more value for the control matchups, you can cut Medivh's Valet for an Elise the Trailblazer and Manic Soulcaster, filling up valuable spots in your curve and providing extra value in the long run. Soulcaster can hit either Pyros or Elise, as well as any of your expensive minions that stick around, ensuring a lot more power come the later stages of the game.
Frozen Throne Frost Lich Jaina Control Mage Card Substitutions
Even though most cards in a deck can be replaced by ones that function similarly, some are better than others and can offer truly unique effects. Be on the lookout for these cards and avoid taking them out of the deck:
- Arcanologist – There is simply no reason to not play this common minion. Tutoring for any of the two secrets in the deck is incredibly powerful and the stats are excellent for the mana cost.
- Ice Block – This is one of the most important cards for controlling Mage decks and is especially crucial here in setting up Frost Lich Jaina or the the big N’Zoth turn.
- Firelands Portal – No real reason not to play Portal. The removal is relevant, the deck is relatively light on minions and it can double up as burn to back up previously established pressure. The card provides both a value and a tempo swing, which is a highly sought after effect.
- Frost Lich Jaina – While not entirely “uncuttable”, it’s not recommended to play the deck without her. She is going to give you a lot of sustain and allows you to execute your primary strategy of outlasting the enemy.
- The Lich King – In a lategame deck, this is one of the best cards, providing a huge Taunt body and card draw from a special pool of super strong cards. Immediate impact and massive stats make him a must-have for decks that are geared toward the longer game.
Other cards are more easily replaceable in the context of a specific metagame, budget constraints or to change up the deck.
- Volcanic Potion and Meteor are constantly fighting for a second copy of the card into the deck. Depending on whether you’re facing more aggro or more midrange/control, each has its merits. Don’t be afraid to switch them up accordingly.
- Counterspell can be replaced with Ice Barrier if you are looking for more sustain against aggressive decks.
- Sindragosa for Medivh, the Guardian. The cool undead dragon is definitely a slower card than the son of Aegwynn and the two are also constantly fighting for a spot in the deck. If you want to speed things up, Medivh offers a quicker and stronger impact, while Sindragosa extends her value better the longer the game goes.
- If you make the switch to Medivh you can also consider replacing N'Zoth, The Corruptor with Alexstrasza to give your deck a Burn Mage style of lategame.
- Pyros is a legendary that starts without a lot of impact and slowly ramping up to a big threat later. If you are on a budget, you can consider another solid early game minion such as a simple Water Elemental, an early-game focused Mana Wyrm or a value-oriented Manic Soulcaster. Just keep in mind that Pyros is the reason you are playing N’Zoth, so consider freeing up that slow as well if you go Pyroless.
- Polymorph serves as a very efficient removal tool for large minions but can be a bit clunky when the game transitions into the mid turns. An often times run removal that can double up as burn is the classic Fireball so you can look into that, but keep in mind that it doesn’t answer The Lich King, who will be in pretty much every deck that plans to keep playing after turn 4.
Stay tuned as the metagame develops and we learn more about Anduin’s place in it. The decklist is only going to get more refined from here, so check regularly for all the latest updates. Follow @HSTopDecks and keep up with all the action through the site’s coverage of Pro and Streamer decklists.