Our Big Spell Mage deck guide goes through the ins-and-outs of this updated deck from the Rastakhan’s Rumble expansion! This guide will teach you how to mulligan, pilot, and substitute cards for this archetype.
Introduction to Big Spell Mage
One could say that the history of the Big Spell Mage started in Un’Goro with Burn Mage, a slow deck, which wanted to control the board through majority of the game, and then turn around and start killing your opponent with big tempo swings. This deck is similar, but it leans even more on the control side. The “real” Big Spell Mage was created in Kobolds & Catacombs, when Dragon's Fury, Dragoncaller Alanna as well as a few more “Big Spell” synergies were printed (although cards like Spiteful Summoner or Arcane Tyrant rarely see play in this archetype). The deck was never a top tier meta deck, but it was a quite popular off-meta choice.
Sadly for the Mage fans, Ice Block has rotated to Hall of Fame, and Ice Block was a pretty key card in the slow builds like this one. However, players have already figured out how to play it without the removed Secret, simply because the deck didn’t lose much besides it. Between all of the stall tools, single target and AoE clears, it’s usually enough to survive until the late game, where Frost Lich Jaina takes over – health shouldn’t be a problem at this point.
The deck has taken many forms over the course of Year of the Raven. In Rastakhan’s Rumble, Odd Mage is the more popular version of the deck, but a classic Big Spell Mage is not a bad ladder choice either. It plays a few new cards, mainly Hero Power synergies, which work pretty well both before and after turning into Death Knight Hero.
Big Spell Control Mage Deck List
Check out alternative versions of this deck on our Big Spell Control Mage archetype page!
Big Spell Mage Mulligan Strategy & Guide
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Prince Keleseth – Since Big Spell Mage doesn’t have many 2-drops available anyway, players have decided that Keleseth route might be better. Any deck that plays Keleseth wants to get it on the curve, so it’s always a keep.
- Acolyte of Pain – No matter whether you play vs Control or vs Aggro, you want to draw cards. Against Control, you want to get to your DK Hero as quickly as possible, and against Aggro you want to get your board sweeps.
- Dragon's Fury – It’s another keep. Against Aggro, it’s probably the best card you can get besides Keleseth – it’s a nearly guaranteed board clear on T5. Against Control it might not be THAT good, but one of the ways to close slower matchups is by taking too much damage from their small minions.
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Gluttonous Ooze – Keep against decks that run weapons.
- Tar Creeper / Saronite Chain Gang – Keep vs Aggro, those can be pretty hard to get through on some boards and save you a lot of health, let you survive longer in case you don’t draw your Dragon’s Fury to clear on curve.
- Skulking Geist – Keep if you’re 100% sure that you face deck against which you want to destroy 1 mana spells – e.g. Combo Priest (Inner Fire) or Taunt Druid (Naturalize).
- Frost Lich Jaina – If you face a slower, Control/Combo deck. It’s a bad keep against Aggro (because you prefer to have some early/mid game cards instead), but it’s the main way to win the game in slow matchups, so you always want to have it as soon as possible.
Big Spell Mage Play Strategy
Versus Fast Decks
When you face a fast deck, there is basically one thing you want to do: survive. This is generally going to be harder without Ice Block, that’s why you want ot use every resource to minimize the damage you take. Your goal is to survive until you run your opponent out of resources, then stabilize with Taunts or Frost Lich Jaina. Alternatively, survive until Turn 9, then drop Dragoncaller Alanna and set up a very quick reverse clock.
Finishing the game is not a problem – surviving until you can finish it is. There are two kinds of Aggro matchups and it’s important to identify which one you’re facing. First one is board-oriented – like Odd Paladin or Zoo Warlock. Those decks are generally easier for you to deal with, simply because they don’t run much in terms of burn damage. As long as you keep the board clear, you know that you will be relatively safe. When you play against this type of deck, remember that they can usually flood the board a few times before running out of resources, so you need to be a little bit more greedy with your AoEs. At the same time, with less burn damage, you can take a bit more hits before getting to a dangerously low levels of health. For example, do not play Blizzard against three or four 1 Attack minions, unless you think that your opponent can have some way to buff them. Try to bait them into playing more before you AoE, especially if you don’t have many AoEs in your hand. If you face such a board, it might actually be a good time to drop some minions. If your opponent trades into them – it’s a win for you, because he doesn’t deal damage to your Hero. And if he leaves them be – you will be ahead in tempo once you clear their board next turn.
Then, there is another type of Aggro decks – “face” or “burn” decks, that can deal a lot of damage even without the board. Those are some of the hardest matchups on the ladder. On the one hand, you can remove everything they play pretty much immediately, but on the other hand, removing the minions is often pointless, as they already did their job. For example, them dropping a Wolfrider and going your face means that it already did its job – of course you have to remove it, but damage has been dealt. That’s why Odd Face Hunter is such a bad matchup (even though it’s not very popular now, but it’s just an example) – they can pump out so much damage even without any kind of board. In this kind of matchup, you absolutely need to preserve every point of life. The best way to win this matchup is sticking an Arcane Artificer – first you play Artificer + a spell like Polymorph or something, possibly Artificer + Meteor or Blizzard if it’s already so late into the game, gain some Armor and hope that it survives. Generally, once you get to Frost Lich Jaina you should be fine, with the 5 immediate Armor and then extra healing every turn, but getting there is really hard without an Ice Block. Since those decks are usually much less minion-heavy, it’s okay to drop an AoE vs 1-2 small minions, especially if you have more AoE in your hand – try to keep your life total as high as possible. This kind of matchup is not very common right now, but I’d say that Odd Rogue is close to “burn” matchup – between the constant damage of their Hero Power, lots of attack buffs and some Charge minions, it might be hard to keep them in check.
Zilliax is a great way to stall the game for an extra turn or two. It immediately clears something, heals you for 3 and if your opponent needs to trade into it, it might kill another minion and heal you for 3 again. It’s important to know when to drop Zilliax vs when to drop AoE. If your opponent has only one or two minions on the board, Zilliax is generally better. It does the same job, but also heals you up. It’s also the matter of whether you need the healing or not. If you’re low and you get into the burn range of your opponent, Zilliax can give you exactly what you need. Zilliax is also a good card to play, opposed to AoE, if you suspect that your opponent is holding a Charge minion. If you think that he might have e.g. Leeroy Jenkins in his hand, Zilliax can disrupt that game plan quite well (until he dies, that is).
Between Stonehill Defender, Tar Creeper, Zilliax andThe Lich King, you should be pretty safe once you stabilize. However, keep in mind that if you can pick between dropping a Taunt and clearing a board, you’d rather clear a board. You see, Taunts are much more valuable when your opponent has a small board and can’t get through them – they simply block him from doing anything. Dropping a Taunt vs a big board means that it will just get cleared right away and you will still need to AoE.
And finally, if you’ve survived, you want to find a way to win the game. Like I’ve said before, it shouldn’t really be that difficult. The easiest way to win is simply Frost Lich Jaina – unless Aggro deck can burst you right after you play her, that’s basically game over. You gain constant healing from your Water Elementals, as well as turn your opponent’s small threats into even more of those. But Jaina is not the only way.The Lich King can also seal a game if your opponent can’t kill it. 8 damage is a lot, and the Death Knight cards can help too. If you’ve dealt quite a lot of Hero Power damage over the course of game, Jan'alai, the Dragonhawk is a good play too. Not only it puts two strong bodies on the board, but one of them starts shooting immediately – it might even be used as a single target removal if you’re desperate (or vice versa – when you have a lot of health and losing a 50/50 won’t hurt you). Finally, if you’re at a reasonable health total, Dragoncaller Alanna is also a great finisher vs Aggro. You see, Aggro decks run no board clears, and definitely no big board clears – they have no way of dealing with a board flooded with 5/5’s. Ideally, you want to set up reverse lethal (summon enough 5/5’s to be able to kill them right away), but if you’re pretty safe, you can even go for 2 turns lethal.
Versus Slow Decks
Slow matchups are much more interesting than Aggro, simply because the game doesn’t immediately finish when you play your Frost Lich Jaina and such. There is also a lot more strategy, like how much removal you need to keep for their X plays, what cards you want to Polymorph etc.
First of all, your early turns are very slow anyway. There is no real pressure you can put, so that is basically never your win condition. I’ve played dozens of games with this deck, even more against it, and I’ve never seen Big Spell Mage winning with early/mid game minion pressure. So going for the tempo plays instead of planning around the future turns is a bad idea. For example, dropping that Gluttonous Ooze on T3 vs what you assume might be Control or Cube Warlock just to put pressure is a terrible idea. You very much prefer to keep it against Skull of the Man'ari, which can completely destroy you.
During the early and mid game, you mostly want to collect the resources. Draw your single target and AoE clears. Slow decks rarely put enough pressure in the early game, but some of the builds already start dropping big guns on Turn 4 – e.g. Mountain Giant vs Even Warlock or Twilight Drake vs Control Priest. Polymorph comes handy in those situations, since they are usually out of range of AoE removals.
Polymorph, or transform effects in general, have an extra trait – your opponent is no longer able to revive them. This is huge in certain matchups. I’ve already mentioned the Warlock – ideally you want to keep Polymorph for Demons – (Doomguards or Voidlords vs Cube/Control, but also Hooked Reaver / Dread Infernal vs Even). While Even or Cubelocks don’t really run it, if you face a Control version, try to keep a Polymorph for Rin, the First Disciple. Another matchups when this comes handy are Priests running revive cards like Eternal Servitude and Lesser Diamond Spellstone also don’t like you transforming their minions. Against Resurrect/Clone Priest, transforming their Prophet Velen or Malygos (especially the ones that came from their deck, not from other effects) can save your skin from a massive combo. And finally, one more matchup in which Polymorph is super important is Taunt Druid. Not only the 1/1 Sheep is a Beast, which means that they can low-roll their Witching Hour, if you Polymorph their Hadronox, you basically win the game on the spot. However, since they usually pop it immediately with Naturalize, there is another card that comes into action first.
Skulking Geist is the MVP of those kinds of matchups. If your opponent has a key 1 mana spell, then Geist can really win it for you. Just like in the example above – normally, Druid will play Hadronox only when he can Naturalize it, reviving a big board and then he can get it back from Witching Hour. If you Geist, he can’t naturalize it, which means that he can’t pop it immediately and you can Polymorph it, meaning that his win condition is basically gone – now you have to deal with whatever Taunts he has left in his deck and that’s it. Similarly, the card is amazing against Combo Priest. While the deck is not that common right now, getting rid of Inner Fire means that your chance to win is way higher. The card is also great against Deathrattle Hunters – Play Dead gone means that they have a much harder time with immediately popping their Carnivorous Cubes, which in turn means that you might get a chance to Polymorph one.
The deck runs an interesting extra threat – Jan'alai, the Dragonhawk. While it’s clearly not as good as in Odd Mage, who can get it online much faster, but if you’re going for a longer game, you will eventually deal 8 or more damage with your Hero Power. And then it’s simply insane. Not only you get Ragnaros the Firelord for only 7 mana (it would be an auto-include in most of the decks in the game), but also a 4/4 body on top of that. While it’s almost impossible to get it on the curve (you would need double Daring Fire-Eater + Hero Power, as well as 2 regular Hero Powers), it’s a fine late game threat in slow matchups. Keep in mind that Ragnaros is also an Elemental, so if you drop it after turning into Frost Lich Jaina, you get some extra healing.
Frost Lich Jaina is the main win condition you have against slower decks. After you play her, your opponent will do whatever he can to not give you ping targets, but not only you can generate some on your own, but also set up his minions with AoEs. Try to plan ahead to get as many Water Elementals as you can. E.g. if your opponent drops a 2/2 minion and you have no board, you can simply ping it and pass your turn (2/2 is not a big pressure anyway). Next turn you can ping it again and get a Water Elemental. When it comes to AoE’s, Blizzard can set up 3 health minions in the ping range, Flamestrike – 5 health minions and Meteor – 4 health minions (on the adjacent one). On top of that, if you roll the 3 damage AoE or 5 single target damage from The Lich King, you can use those to set up minions in ping range too. Basically, it’s incredibly hard for your opponent to not give you any targets – he might decide to not play any smaller minions, but that’s also fine. If he drops something bigger, Polymorph + ping summon an extra Elemental.
Here’s also where Daring Fire-Eater comes handy. Normally, your Hero Power deals only 1 damage and your opponent will often play around it. But you can pump the damage of Hero Power to 3 thanks to Daring Fire-Eater, surprising your opponent and summoning Water Eles from minions that he didn’t think you would. That’s why in slower matchups it’s often good to keep those for after Frost Lich Jaina, unlike vs Aggro where they can be easily used as regular removal cards.
Your more flashy win condition is definitely Dragoncaller Alanna. Generally, you play her a) against decks that might not have huge AoE clears to deal with her and b) when your opponent has used the AoE clears on your Water Elementals already. She’s a finisher, so you don’t have to hurry up with her most of the time.
One more extra note is that once you identify your opponent as a slow, grindy matchup in which fatigue matters, such as Odd Warrior, you might want to not draw any cards. If you face a deck that cycles a lot, such as Control Warlock, different Druid variants etc. it’s not a problem – you actually WANT to draw. But against Odd Warrior, the game will most likely get down to fatigue, and getting even 1 or 2 cards further can be a death sentence (assuming you would normally end the game at 6 fatigue damage, adding 2 more draws adds 7 + 8 = 15 damage, which is something you probably can’t take).
Big Spell Mage Card Substitutions
Big Spell Mage is an incredibly expensive deck – different variants cost between 11k and 15k Arcane Dust. And sadly, there’s not much you can do about it. While some of the cards are optional, others are absolutely necessary. Also, the more of the good cards you remove, the worse the deck will become in the end. I will still go through all of the expensive cards, explain their role in the deck and try to offer some substitutes below.
- Prince Keleseth – You can technically go for a non-Kelesth version without hurting your win rate that much, although there aren’t many options you want to play in the 2-drop slot anyway, so that’s why Keleseth versions are just best.
- Zilliax – A great card from Boomsday, good mid game removal + healing / stall tool. While it sees play in many decks, it’s not absolutely necessary in almost any of them.
- Jan'alai, the Dragonhawk – New addition from Rastakhan’s Rumble. Another extra late game win condition – not necessary, but works quite well in the deck. Has a very high played win rate – if you can get it online, it WILL win you a lot of games.
- Sindragosa – Big body + value generator. The fact that she spawns two 0/1’s is especially powerful, since you can ping those yourself after you turn into Frost Lich Jaina. Such ping not only gives you a random Legendary, but also summons a Water Elemental. But she’s not necessary in the deck.
- The Lich King – It’s just a late game Taunt vs fast decks and a value generator vs slow decks. Not necessary in the deck.
- Dragoncaller Alanna – She’s a powerful win condition in slow matchups, but not really necessary in this deck.
- Frost Lich Jaina – You can’t replace Frost Lich Jaina. That’s it. She’s the deck’s main win condition.
- Gluttonous Ooze – Weapon removal is strong in the current meta. While you CAN replace it with a budget option, you also need to throw away Keleseth, since you can’t run 2-drop Ooze with it. You can also go for a slower, 5 mana Ooze, but that’s pretty bad.
- Arcane Tyrant – Good mid game tempo play, especially handy against Aggro. But it’s not necessary, you can use something else instead.
- Dragon's Fury – 100% necessary card – one of the reasons why you only play expensive spells in the first place. It starts as a 4 damage AoE for 5 mana and goes up to 7 depending on what you roll, it’s a very powerful card.
- Meteor – Well… When Firelands Portal was still in Standard, it was possible to replace Meteor and still have enough big spells. Right now, I’d say that Meteor is necessary.
- Skulking Geist – A tech card, useful vs Druid, Deathrattle Hunter and a few other decks running important 1 mana spells. That said, you can definitely play the deck without it.
Potential Substitutes / Tech Choices
As you can see, that’s A LOT of expensive cards. If you don’t have majority of them, or even one key card like Frost Lich Jaina or Dragon’s Fury, I’d say that you should give up on this deck for now and come back when you open them or will be able to craft them. I know it’s harsh, but without them, your deck will just be weak. However, if you’re missing only a few of the non-key cards, there is still a way to replace them while keeping the deck somehow viable (weaker, but viable). Here are some of the options you can use instead of the cards listed above:
- Acidic Swamp Ooze – You can use it instead of Gluttonous Ooze, but only if you go for a non-Keleseth version. Alternatively, you can go for a Corrosive Sludge, but it does the same thing for much more mana, so it’s not the best card ever.
- 2nd Acolyte of Pain – Turn 3 play. Since you can’t run Arcane Intellect, and you often want to cycle through your deck when you’re looking for Frost Lich Jaina, Acolyte is an okay option.
- 2nd Tar Creeper – Good early game defensive tool, useful mostly against Aggro decks.
- Witchwood Piper – Mostly a replacement for Bright-Eyed Scout; it also draws a card, it’s more consistent (because you generally know what you will draw – usually Artificer or Raven), but it has no high-roll potential.
- Rotten Applebaum – It’s like a new version of Sludge Belcher. A solid card, good mid game Taunt that can heal you on top of that.
- Meteorologist – Another new Boomsday addition – it works similarly to Astromancer, but it deals damage instead of summoning a big minion. Generally you prefer a minion, especially since damage is random, but it’s not the worst card to run in the slow build.
- Doomsayer – A good defensive option. In the early game you can drop it to clear a small minion and stall (unless it gets countered), later in the game you can drop it after AoE to slow down the opponent’s development, or combo it with Blizzard. Can only be played in a non-Keleseth deck, though.
- Arcane Keysmith – Well-rounded 4 mana play. Useful vs Aggro, since it can give you some defensive Secret, and useful vs Control to get more value or for mind games.
- Astromancer – If you’re missing one of the big threats, you can play Astromancers instead. Since your hand size is usually quite big, they will summon a big minion, making them solid threats.
- Baron Geddon – Not really a “budget” replacement, but if you have him, you can put him instead of one of the late game Legendaries. The fact that he’s an Elemental means that all the AoE damage heals you once you turn into the Death Knight.
- Alexstrasza – Another not “budget” replacement, but a card that can replace one of the high cost Legendaries. Alexstrasza is solid, because it can either be used as a self-heal, or as a way to set up reverse lethal. For example, she’s a great follow-up to one of your big minions, especially Alanna – if some of the 5/5’s survived, you can often kill the opponent right away next turn.