Secret Mage Deck List Guide (May 2017, Standard) – Season 38

Our Un’Goro Secret Mage deck list guide will teach you how to pilot this popular Season 38 deck! Our guide features mulligan, play, and card replacement strategies!

Introduction

Secret Mage is a tempo deck that’s built around mana cheating mechanics of the Mage’s Secret package. While people have tried to make similar decks work ever since Hearthstone’s beta (around Kirin Tor Mage and Ethereal Arcanist), the deck has only started to shape up in the last few expansions. After Karazhan’s Medivh's Valet and Gadgetzan’s Kabal LackeyKabal Crystal Runner duo, it seemed that the deck might finally work, but in the end it still fell short.

It was the Journey to Un’Goro that made Secret Mage really playable. After many early experiments, players have finally found a strong, working list. Arcanologist proved to be really important, because if you combine its effect with a card that makes the Secret free, it closely resembles or even tops one of the most broken cards in the game – Mad Scientist.

The currently most popular deck list (and the one I will be basing this guide on) was created by Sveiks. He hit #1 Legend on EU, while another player, Sytrax, peaked at #4 Legend with the same list.

Check out our List of the Best Standard Un'Goro Decks for Hearthstone Ladder

Secret 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):

  • You don’t keep your Secrets by themselves, they’re way too slow if you can’t play them for free.
  • Mana Wyrm – Highest priority 1-drop. The 1/3 statline is already good enough against the 1/1’s and 2/1’s Aggro decks play on turn 1, but the fact that it can grow even further makes it amazing.
  • Arcanologist – Incredible card, it’s probably the highest priority mulligan target in the whole deck. The deck really needs to play Secrets to work and Arcanologist not only puts a 2/3 body on the board, but also guarantees that you will have a Secret for turn 3 combo with Kirin Tor Mage.
  • Frostbolt – Early removal, you often need it against Aggro to answer some early plays.

Lower Priority (keep only if certain conditions are met):

  • Kabal Lackey – You keep it with a Secret. Generally, turn 1 Secret against Aggro might not be that useful, but every bit of tempo you can get is important.
  • Medivh's Valet – Keep it with Kabal Lackey and a Secret. You can combo 3 of them on turn 3 – play Lackey, Secret and immediately kill something with Valet. It’s a great tempo swing.
  • Kirin Tor Mage – Keep it with a Secret OR Arcanologist (which will give you a Secret after you drop it on turn 2).

Vs Slow Decks

Higher Priority (keep every time):

  • You don’t keep your Secrets by themselves, they’re way too slow if you can’t play them for free.
  • Mana Wyrm – Similarly, Mana Wyrm is the best 1-drop. While you don’t exactly need it to contest the board, it can snowball the game heavily, especially if you have some cheap spells (e.g. Coin, free Secret or Sorcerer’s Apprentice + Primordial Glyph).
  • Arcanologist – Again, it has a highest mulligan priority. Keep it every time, even 2 copies if you get them.
  • Kirin Tor Mage – In slower matchups, I like to keep it even without a Secret in my hand. Not only is there a chance that I’ll get one by turn 3, but even if you don’t get one, the 4/3 body is probably still your highest tempo turn 3 play.

Lower Priority (keep only if certain conditions are met):

  • Kabal Lackey – With a Secret. However, you don’t always want to play that on turn 1 – e.g. if you’re going first, you don’t want to Counterspell on turn 1, because your opponent can counter with The Coin.
  • Babbling Book – Keep it if you don’t get any other 1-drops. It’s not as good as Mana Wyrm or Lackey + Secret, but it still gives you a turn 1 play and the 1/1 body might not get answered immediately, which gives you a few points of damage. Plus the random spell might come in handy.
  • Kabal Crystal Runner – I keep it if I have either Lackey or Kirin Tor and a Secret already. Even after a single Secret, it can be a great 4-drop – 5/5 for 4 is already strong enough to play on curve. If you happen to draw another Secret (or get one from random effects) and get it down to 2 mana, it’s even better.

Secret Mage Win Rates

Winrates provided by Metastats

Secret Mage Play Strategy

Secret Mage is a tempo deck, probably one of the best examples of this archetype in the history of Hearthstone (I’d argue that it’s significantly more tempo deck than Tempo Mage was). Cheating mana and gaining the early/mid game tempo that way is the basic premise of this deck. Kabal Lackey and Kirin Tor Mage let you gain tempo by playing the 3 mana Secret for free (the actual amount of tempo depends on how well the Secrets work). Sorcerer's Apprentice is 1 mana worth of tempo any time you play a spell + you can double that amount with Primordial GlyphKabal Crystal Runner can be played as a 0 mana 5/5 in the best case scenario, but even at 2 mana it’s still a lot of tempo gained. And more. Pretty much every card in this deck is meant to give you tempo one way or the other.

As you’ve probably figured it out already, “tempo” is the main key word when it comes to this deck and this guide will be full of it. That’s your main win condition in most of the matchups and you have to do your best to play into that win condition all the time.

Vs Aggro

In most of the matches against Aggro, you take on the Control role. Sometimes, if you get a perfect start with Mana Wyrm, Arcanologist, free Secrets and things like that, you can take on the beatdown role, but that’s extremely rare. Most of the time you want to be defensive and kill everything your opponent plays. Then, at some point in the game, usually around turn 4-5, you swing the game around with a big turn and start to work on your opponent’s life total. Those big tempo swings are most important and you have to plan your turns while having those in mind.

While the deck is pretty straightforward, planning ahead is incredibly important. You want to use the full potential of every card and you want your plays to be mana efficient, those are the two most basic things about planning. And so, you don’t really want to drop that Medivh's Valet without getting the Battlecry off. But what if you have a Kabal LackeyMirror Entity too? A lot of players would drop Lackey + Entity on turn 1, but that’s not always correct. Not only is the Entity on turn 1 very bad against Aggro, because you’ll most likely copy a 1/1, but there is almost no way that you will get to proc Mediv’s Valet on turn 2. So instead, you can take a seemingly slower approach, which might be much better in the end. You can skip turn 1, ping your opponent’s 1-drop on turn 2 and then play Lackey + Mirror Entity + Valet on turn 3. The first play would mean that you’re even on the board in the best case scenario. Second play means that you have 2/1 + 2/3 in play, you’ve countered your opponent’s 2-drop (with 3 damage from the Valet) and you have a Secret in play. Now, an Aggro deck can still probably counter it with something small, but it might make them play off-curve, which is – once again – great for you.

Try to go for plays that will give you most tempo (either right away or over next 2-3 turns). It’s better to play fast cards first to not fall behind in the early game and then, once you’ve established some board, play the slower cards. For example, if you can choose between turn 3 Kirin Tor Mage (without Secret) or Arcane Intellect, go for the body on the board. Once you have a board lead, you can go for the slower plays, because you don’t risk your opponent overwhelming you completely – you still have minions to trade with.

Primordial Glyph can be clutch vs Aggro. While you often end up picking whatever is best at the time you play it, there are some things that are great in general if you don’t know what to pick. Defensive Secrets like Ice Block and Ice Barrier are great. Not only do they let you survive for longer, but they also activate the Secret synergies – especially Block which makes your Medivh’s Valet much more consistent. AoE damage is good, but try to pick the cheaper ones, so you can clear the board and then play some minions in the same turn. Volcanic Potion is probably the best one, but more expensive stuff like Blizzard or Meteor aren’t bad either (remember that they will still only cost 4 after the discount, maybe even less with Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Sometimes a single target removal is also good, especially if your hand is very proactive (you prefer to clear something with a spell instead of using minions).

Vs Control

Games against slow decks are significantly different from those against Aggro. Your play style is completely different. Instead of playing the Control role, you play the beatdown and try to get an early big board + deal as much damage as possible before your opponent stabilizes. It’s quite simple – you can’t play a slow game against Control, they will simply outvalue you in the long run. So your best bet is to curve out nicely, get a lot of early tempo, push with the minions and then finish the game with burn spells.

Having good curve is most important. You need to get as much as you can from your turns 1-4, because that’s when your deck is strongest when compared to your opponent’s deck. Don’t be afraid to go all-in, this deck often needs to dump the whole hand in the early game and hope that the opponent won’t have a way to answer that. Prioritize playing minions over spells in the early game. For example, if you have a choice between turn 2 Primordial Glyph and Medivh’s Valet (without Battlecry), go for the 2/3 body. It’s almost impossible that your opponent will be able to answer every early minion you play, so that 2/3 can give translate into 4 or 6 damage over a few turns.

Tempo gain from Secrets is incredibly important. Try to set up Mirror’s Entity before your opponent’s big minion turns and Counterspell before AoE turns (when you have significant board that would be countered by AoE). For example, in the Dragon Priest matchup. You want to set up Mirror Entity before Priest’s turn 5 to get Drakonid Operative and before his turn 6 to counter Dragonfire Potion (alternatively, before turn 5 to counter Holy Nova if your board is vulnerable to it). Your opponent might obviously play around them, but that’s still good. For example, your opponent will need to play some cheap spell instead of Dragonfire, it means that your board survives for an extra turn. If it does, you get extra damage that might let you close up the game. If your opponent has to make a suboptimal play in order to counter your Secret, it’s far from your Secret being wasted.

Primordial Glyph choices are also significantly different from those vs Aggro. Vs Control, you don’t want to pick defensive things. Ice Block, Ice Barrier or AoE are pretty bad. Single target removals like Polymorph are okay, extra tempo Secrets like another Counterspell/Mirror Entity/Spellbender (in some matchups) is also okay-ish. But burn damage or card draw is best. Some of the best choices are: Firelands PortalFireballPyroblastArcane Intellect or Cabalist's Tome. Basically, anything that brings you closer to lethal. Situationally, a freeze spell like Frost Nova or Blizzard can be worth more than the burn if you can protect your board with it.

Don’t be afraid to use your burn to control the board if you have minions to protect. Minions are worth more over time than your burn spells. E.g. if you have a 5/5 minion on the board and your opponent drops his own 5/5. You definitely want to Fireball it down in order to keep your minion alive. Otherwise your opponent would just trade them and yes, you’d have 6 more damage in your hand, but 5 less damage on the board. Minion damage is always better, because its repetitive and demands answers. It keeps your opponent is busy it gives you more time to find the cards you need. The only situation where I’d abandon board control and keep the burn is before a big AoE turn I can’t counter. The Priest example I’ve mentioned before – if there is no way I can counter that Dragonfire, I’d rather keep Fireball in my hand for the burn damage.

General Tips

  • If you plan to play multiple spells in a single turn, it’s best if you drop the Sorcerer's Apprentice first. After just 2 spells, you get that 3/2 body for free and then you start to get extra mana. The card combos best with Primordial Glyph, because you can get double discount value, and card draw (Arcane Intellect), because you offset some tempo loss with the discount and you can potentially draw more spells you might want to play.
  • It’s not always worth it to play a Secret, even if you can play it for free. For example, turn 1 Kabal LackeyCounterspell when your opponent is on the Coin isn’t really the best play. You’re basically trading a card for a Coin – you’re not gaining any tempo (0 mana for 0 mana) and you’re losing card advantage. Similarly, playing Mirror Entity when your opponent is most likely going to play a 1/1 is not getting you too far. While sometimes you still take it, it’s often worth it to wait a bit and play the Secrets strategically before your opponent’s key turns. For example, when playing against Midrange Hunter, it’s good to set up Counterspell for turn 3 (Animal Companion) and Mirror Entity for turn 6 Savannah Highmane. It won’t always work, but sometimes Hunter might have no way to play around them and will just have to go for it, hoping that it’s another Secret.
  • Playing Kabal Crystal Runner for 4 mana is fine. You don’t have to get too greedy with the discounts if that’s going to ruin your curve. Let’s say it’s turn 4 and you can either drop the 5/5 or play a Secret and make it cost 2 mana. On the one hand, you could play that 5/5 for 2 or even 0 mana next turn/the turn after. But on the other hand, it means that you have a Secret up instead of a 5/5 on the board – and 5/5 is usually way more significant.
  • If you’re holding onto the Medivh's Valet, you might actually want to play the Secret your opponent isn’t likely to proc first. For example, if your opponent is most likely to drop a minion, you can play Counterspell in order for the Secret to stay active. This way next turn you can get the 3 extra damage from Medivh’s Valet and then you can set up the other Secret too – a nice tempo swing turn (you get the board control AND you have 2 Secrets up).
  • If you have no good minion to play Firelands Portal on, just play it on your opponent’s Hero instead of keeping it. Every point of damage is significant and the random 5-drop is better than nothing, you still develop the board.
  • Be careful with Mirror Entity against the decks that run Doomsayer. If you get a copy of it, it’s guaranteed to go off at the start of your turn, destroying your whole board. There are few options – you can not play Mirror Entity at all (unless you’re in a desperate situation and you just need to copy something significant), play it only when your board is small and getting Doomsayer’d won’t hurt (like in a situation where you wouldn’t want to kill it anyway) or play it only after your opponent has used Doomsayer already (at least one copy).

Secret Mage Card Substitutions

With no Legendaries in the list, the Secret Mage deck is incredibly cheap to build. However, you absolutely need to have the Karazhan adventure.

  • Primordial Glyph – Only Epic card in the list. You can most likely play the deck without it just fine. You can play a mix of other early game spells, like an extra Secret (read below to find out which ones are good), Mirror Image and/or Arcane Missiles. You can also add Water Elemental as a more consistent 4-drop.
  • When it comes to the cards from Karazhan, Firelands Portal is free and Babbling Book isn’t really necessary. However, Medivh's Valet is absolutely necessary and he’s from the 4th wing of the adventure.

Alternative Secrets

Counterspell and Mirror Entity are the two most universal tempo Secrets that should work in most of the metas. They’re always a good starting point, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t adjust the deck by either adding more Secrets or switching out the existing ones depending on the matchups you face. Right now there are two other viable Secret options you can play in such a deck:

  • Ice Block – Best in heavy Aggro meta. It gives you an extra turn, which is often enough to win the game. Not to mention that the Secret is constantly active for the sake of Medivh’s Valet. However, it’s pretty bad in Control matchups – you rarely need to cheat the death for an extra turn, because you play the beatdown role.
  • Spellbender – Situationally it can be a significantly better Counterspell. If your opponent plays a deck with any kind of buffs, then Spellbender can get a lot of value. For example, it’s good against Token Druid (Mark of Y'Shaarj) and amazing against Paladin (Spikeridged Steed). However, it won’t stop AoE damage or burn damage that targets your face, so it’s more of a tech card.
  • Potion of Polymorph – Great tempo tool in slower matchup. You wouldn’t want to play it at 3 mana, but having a 0 mana Polymorph that denies any minion your opponent is going to play next turn can be great. The main problem with this Secret is that it’s nearly unplayable against Aggro in the early game. Mirror Entity at least gives you that 1/1, this Secret does exactly nothing when your opponent plays some really small drop.
  • Mana Bind – Yet another way to get tempo. It’s a bit similar to the Counterspell, but instead of gaining the tempo from denying the spell, you gain tempo from being able to play it yourself for 0 mana. It can really be good or bad depending on what spell you get. If you get something like Firelands Portal against Mage when you’re ahead, it’s probably better than Counterspell. But if you get a random copy of Brawl, then it’s really bad, because most of the time it’s a dead card in your deck and you’d prefer if that Brawl just never happened.

Remember that the more Secrets you run, the harder they will be to play around. Your opponent might make mistakes and play around the wrong Secret. But at the same time, the more Secrets you run, the less consistent your deck is going to be.

 Closing

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. If you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.

Good luck on the ladder and until next time!

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