Our Secret Tempo Mage deck list guide for the Kobolds and Catacombs expansion features one of the top lists for this archetype. This Secret Tempo Mage guide includes Mulligan Strategy, Gameplay Tips, Card Substitutions, and Combos/Synergies!
Introduction to Secret Tempo Mage
Secret Mage, one of the biggest decks of the last meta, has been quite popular over the last six months. Not only does it have a strong opening curve and powerful, efficient spells, but it also comes with a slew of finishing burst that helps it close games out. Reach is something that all aggressive decks must have, and no class has more of it than Mage. This deck builds off of its strong opening curve to try to close things out before the opponent can get fully set. Not the most original plan, but one that is fun to implement and that works quite well. While KFT did not bring too many new cards to the list, it did bring a new meta. And that is where this shines.
Kobolds and Catacombs Update
Secret Mage is still Mage’s best option for laddering in the Kobolds meta. The deck got a couple of key class cards that helps it stay aggressive. Explosive Runes is a nice addition to the list, giving it the ability to never really waste any damage and has pretty much replaced Mirror Entity in the Secret package. Aluneth, which is one of the few Legendary weapons seeing meaningful play, rewards aggressive gameplay because of the ability to draw those extra cards every turn. Corridor Creeper even fits in this deck without the Pirate package. You have enough small minions in the early game that can quickly reduce the cost of the Creeper.
Update: Secret Tempo Mage (February 2018 – Post Nerf)
Secret Mage is currently one of the strongest decks after the nerf patch. The only card gone from the list is Corridor Creeper, and that card wasn’t performing amazingly well in the deck anyway, since it’s rather spell-heavy. The reason why you had to play Creeper
The deck performs best against slow and grindy decks. Thanks to your ability to snowball in the early game and finish opponent with burn, Secret Mage turned out to be a great counter to slow Warlock decks, Big Spell Mage or Mill Rogue. On the other hand, Aggro matchups are still pretty bad, because the deck has no way to come back on the board outside of a random AoE from Primordial Glyph. All in all, it’s a great choice, but you might consider something different if you run into a lot of aggressive decks.
Secret Tempo 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
- Kabal Lackey – Decent early game minion that can help you tempo out a secret.
- Mana Wyrm – Great at stopping 1-Health minions and can force trades out of your opponent.
- Arcanologist – You want to always be developing the board and the 3-Health on this minion can lead to 2-for-1s in your favor.
- Frostbolt – Good at stopping minions that can potentially get out of hand if left alone, but you are mostly looking for your early minions.
- Medivh's Valet can be kept when you need a two drop and have no other opening minions against an aggressive class like Shaman or Warrior. This is especially strong with the coin because getting something out ahead of your opponent can often be the difference between winning and losing.
- Arcane Intellect can be kept here if you have a good opening. While not good enough on its own, having extra, on-curve draw can be a great way to get ahead once you cement the board.
- Explosive Runes – If you have Kabal Lackey already and need a Secret to play alongside. Runes is better than Counterspell, because most of the Aggro decks are pretty light on the spells and clearing a minion is going to accomplish more.
- Kirin Tor Mage should be kept with Arcanologist so you have a guaranteed Secret to play. Best kept when you have a 1 and 2-drop already in hand.
VS Slow Decks
- Kabal Lackey – Decent early game minion that can help you tempo out a secret.
- Mana Wyrm – A great snowball card that demands removal if you are able to support it with spells.
- Arcanologist – Solid stats and pulls a secret out of the deck which can tempo well with Kirin Tor Mage.
- Kirin Tor Mage – Always keep this with Arcanologist because you have a guaranteed secret. You can be a little more greedy with your mulligan against slower decks.
- Sorcerer's Apprentice – Solid 2-drop that can help you snowball wins with Mana Wyrm.
- Aluneth – It’s your main win condition in slow matchups. Having it on Turn 6 is often the matter of life and death – while you sacrifice some tempo, you will never run out of cards to play until the game is over. If your opponent’s deck isn’t heavy on healing, you should be able to burn them every turn until they’re dead.
- Frostbolt – Good for removing annoying minions and buffing Mana Wyrm.
- Primordial Glyph – You can keep it with Mana Wyrm or Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Against slower decks you should look for direct damage or removal for taunt minions.
- Medivh's Valet serves the same purpose as against fast decks. You should keep this card when you want to play on curve and have no other early minions to play.
- Counterspell is keepable if you have Kirin Tor Mage but don’t have Arcanologist. Counterspell is much better against slower decks that have a harder time playing around it. Try to play it after they use their Coin if they go second.
- Potion of Polymorph – Tech against Control and Cube Warlocks. Keep if you face Warlock, throw away in other matchups.
- Kabal Crystal Runner should always be kept against slow decks when you have a secret before it. Being able to play a secret on three and then a 5/5 on four is very strong and will give a lot of decks absolute fits.
Secret Tempo Mage Win Rates
Secret Tempo Mage Play Strategy
This is a deck where you want to play the fast tempo game. That is to say, you spend the first two or three turns cementing the board, and then you rapidly build into damage from there. This transition is not always going to be easy to see, but it is important to prioritize your damage when possible. Especially when your opponent begins to stabilize or take over the board. Unlike other fast decks (such as Aggro Paladin and Face Hunter) you are not going to blindly go face or just hit your opponent as hard as you can. Rather, you want to only play to the cards you have. If your hand is burn heavy, then go for it. If you have a good minion curve, work on protecting the board. The play styles of this deck are all the same at the core, but you want to shift from a burn to an aggro to a midrange list as much as you can. Also note that your top-end is all damage related. If you feel things slipping away do not be afraid to point everything at your opponent’s head in hopes of drawing more.
Most aggro decks these days are based around board control, so that is what you should focus on. The plan of attack against decks like Pirate Warrior, Token Shaman, Aggro Druid, and Murloc Paladin is to keep them off their early curve at all costs. This not only disrupts their synergies, but it also makes it so you can start to become the aggressor entering the mid-game. From there, you just need to make your opponent play defensively while you assemble your final burst package. That is not going to be an easy thing to do, but achieving it should always be your goal. Damage is strong, but it isn’t going to really come into play until turn four and beyond.
Always look for strong tempo plays in these games. As mentioned, most aggressive decks build off of themselves quite well. However, all it takes is for one break in that chain to set them back a few turns. If you can leverage any turn where you put down a body and remove a threat you should be ahead. Prioritize strong trades and try to make the most out of Medivh's Valet. Sorcerer's Apprentice is also very powerful when paired with removal like Frostbolt or Fireball. The last thing to note is, you have a strong finisher package that most aggressive lists don’t. There is nothing wrong with taking your time and playing the control route for a good part of the game. This can be especially helpful against decks like Shaman, whose entire value is about making things stick.
Primordial Glyph is often a game-changer against Aggro decks. Since your deck runs no natural AoE, if you fall behind on the board, you often have no way to come back into the game. Thanks to the Glyph, you might still be able to choose something like Volcanic Potion, Blizzard or Flamestrike. If you have an option like that, ALWAYS go for it unless you need something else right away (e.g. you’re staring at a huge minion and you need to remove it this turn). Thanks to the discount, you should be able to play that AoE before it’s too late – like Flamestrike on Turn 5. However, don’t rely on it completely – you still have only about 1/3 chance to get an AoE damage spell.
If everything else fails, you lose board control and you don’t get AoE from the Glyph, it’s time for the desperate plan – face burning. In this scenario, you basically try to win the game with your burn alone. You can use Ice Block to stall for an extra turn, possibly aim to get another one (or let’s say a Frost Nova) from Glyph and use your burn damage on your opponent alone. The only cases where you want to hit a minion is when that minion will put you on a much faster clock. For example, it’s generally worth to Frostbolt a 5/3 minion if it’s going to buy you an extra turn or two. Same goes for pinging a 2/1 minion – over the course of three of four turns it would deal 6-8 damage to you. Since you most likely left your opponent at rather high health total when you’ve shifted to this plan, it’s not going to work many times, but it’s still worth to give it a shot for that extra 5-10% chance to win.
Control decks, especially greedy ones, are one of the best reasons to play Secret Mage in the current meta. The way Secret Mage builds is not easy for slower lists to deal with, especially if they have a bad or awkward turn. This deck snowballs, and any deck that snowballs in this way is going to feast on bad draws or a slow mulligan. The goal for these games is damage. Lots and lots of damage. However, as with the aggressive decks, that damage does not need to come all at once. Rather, you should spread it out and find different ways to get it to build. Leverage your board, attack face with your minions and anticipate what big taunts or healing your opponent might have. Fireball and other big burn spells are great to finish off the game, but remember that you can also use them as the board control tools. If you have minions on the board, it’s often worth to Fireball that 5/5 minion that would slowly trade off your board than just keep the Fireball for face damage.
Your goal is to deal as much damage as possible to the opponent, so every time you decide whether you trade, use burn damage to clear a minion etc. you need to look at the bigger picture. Fireball is always 6 damage when you hit the opponent’s face with it, so it’s easy to see that it’s a solid burn spell. It might feel bad to use it on a minion, but remember that if you protect your own minions this way, you might end up dealing more damage in the end. If that minion that you’re going to kill is currently the only way your opponent can deal with your board, then by all means, kill it. Over the course of a few turns, minions are much more useful. Not only they deal damage every turn, but they also keep your opponent busy. Instead of going for their own game plan, they just have to clear your minions, which gives you an extra turn or two before they can start, for example, dropping big minions that would kill you quickly.
To follow up on the last point, it doesn’t mean that it’s always worth to clear minions with your burn. For example, if you’re playing against a Control Mage and you’re approaching a big AoE turn (e.g. Meteor or Flamestrike), then it might not be worth it to clear a minion. Your minions are going to die one way or the other, and by keeping a Fireball you might have more burn to finish the game off. Those things should be judged on case to case basis.
A big part of beating the slower decks is finding damage early on. Sure, it is easy to see where to point the Fireballs and Pyroblasts, but you get a lot of mileage out of your early game. Even something as simple as a turn two Arcanologist can get two or three hits in. That’s six damage for two mana. Also try to make good use of Counterspell in the slower matches. Control or big midrange decks need their spells to control the board, and all it takes is one good counter of a piece of removal to run away with things. Just make sure you drop it after your opponent has used the coin. Use it when you feel like your opponent is going to AoE. When they have enough mana, when your board is big enough etc. Alternatively, you can also use it when you’re burning them in order to stop any kind of healing spell.
What’s worth mentioning is that Aluneth is an absolute MVP of slower matchups. Normally, you will run out of steam around Turn 5-7, depending on how quick your opening was. If that gets countered, you’re stuck with one card per turn for the most of the game. If you’re already out of steam, topdecking a Mana Wyrm or Sorcerer's Apprentice when you need some burn is not going to win you the game. However, Aluneth means that, unless it gets removed, you should have the whole game under control until the very end. With a total of 4 cards per turn as opposed to the normal 1, you will be able to put a lot of pressure every turn. If you aren’t behind when you play it, most of the time, your opponent’s only choice is to outlast you, and that’s rarely going to happen. With lots of cards in your hand, you can mix in board pressure with burn damage quite easily. For example, playing Kirin Tor Mage + Secret, Medivh's Valet + 0 mana Kabal Crystal Runner + Fireball on the opponent’s Hero is a quite normal turn when you have Aluneth up. And this way, not only you’ve put 4/3 + 2/3 + 5/5 on the board, but also dealt 9 damage to your opponent at the same time. Now he has to spend resources on both clearing the board and surviving, which is usually too much to handle. Just remember to play as fast as possible after Aluneth is going, because you’re on a timer. You will draw your deck over the course of the next few turns, and after that you’re going to die to fatigue very quickly. Plus you always want to keep your hand relatively empty in order to not overdraw.
Secret Tempo Mage Card Substitutions
For the most part, Secret Tempo Mage is a rather inexpensive deck. The deck still works quite well when played on the budget, but there are some cards that you might not have. Below, you will find potential substitutes with explanations.
- Medivh's Valet is a card from One Night in Karazhan. He’s pretty important in this deck, however, you should be able to replace it with another small minion. While not entirely optimal, some of your choices include Cult Sorcerer, Pyros or Raven Familiar. You can also fill one slot with a Silence minion like Spellbreaker or try to go for a more experimental route with Vicious Fledgling (the card is great against slow decks, but not so much against Aggro).
- Ice Block is very useful when you switch from the aggressive plan to the burn plan. Thanks to the Block, you don’t have to worry about the board or that you will die. You get one more turn to finish your opponent off (unless they teched in a Eater of Secrets, but that’s rare). However, the card is not necessary for the deck to function. You can play another Secret instead (e.g. Potion of Polymorph, Mirror Entity), add another Arcane Intellect (if you play a list with only one), or possibly a second Firelands Portal.
- Aluneth – The card is really amazing and I can’t imagine playing the deck without it. However, if you don’t own it, I’d recommend either adding a second Arcane Intellect if you run only one, or going for a more minion-heavy approach by adding some strong, mid game minion akin to Bittertide Hydra or possibly Cobalt Scalebane as a budget option.
- Pyroblast – The card is entirely optional, you really don’t need it to run the deck. You most likely want to play a second Firelands Portal instead, but you can honestly go for any of the replacements listed above.