Our Big Spell Mage deck list guide is fully updated for the post-nerfs February 2018 meta of the Kobolds and Catacombs expansion! This guide will teach you how to mulligan, pilot, and substitute cards for this archetype!
Introduction to Big Spell Mage
Big Spell Mage is the spiritual successor to Control Mage. It is one of the purest control decks in Kobolds and Catacombs: seeking to remove the opponent’s threats throughout most of the game and then finally pushing forward with some big finishers. The central card of the archetype is Dragon's Fury, a powerful area-of-effect damage spell that is only effective when the deck is built around expensive spells. Early versions of Big Spell Mage experimented with tempo-based plays with Spiteful Summoner, but Dragon’s Fury directs the deck more towards pure control play. Currently, Big Spell Mage decks range from control decks with a number of powerful late-game win conditions to almost pure fatigue builds, sometimes even including N'Zoth, The Corruptor. This guide is written from the perspective of a control build, not a fatigue build.
Big Spell Mage Card Choices
Building a Big Spell Mage deck is a delicate exercise. As a control deck, it is highly reliant on the meta that surrounds it, and it needs to adapt to whatever is prevalent in order to have the right answers. For this reason, I expect some changes to be necessary even after a brief period of time. In this section, I strive to explain the card choices in the sample list and what you may need to do to adapt to the meta you are facing.
As a control deck, Big Spell Mage is in large part defined by its removal package. Most of the removal in the deck is damage-based, and may need to vary depending on the meta.
- Dragon's Fury – The definitive card of the deck, always included in two copies. It is the most powerful area-of-effect damage spell available to Mage and also the cheapest such spell that deals three or more damage.
- Blizzard – A flexible area-of-effect damage spell: you can use Blizzard to stall and prepare for a bigger spell next turn, or even to prevent the opponent from responding to your minions in order to hit face. Almost always included in two copies.
- Meteor – A powerful area-of-effect damage spell, especially suited for taking down individual big minions with some friends tagging along. Meteor is more meta-dependent than Dragon’s Fury and Blizzard, but in the Kobolds and Catacombs big minions meta, it has established a strong position in the deck.
- Flamestrike – Area-of-effect damage spell for taking down wide boards. Kobolds and Catacombs meta has generally not favored wide boards that have been prevalent in various token metas before. If the deck does not run all possible removal, Flamestrike is currently the card that is most often cut, at least down to one copy.
- Polymorph – The sole piece of hard removal in the deck, doubling up as a silence effect. Silence is very common and highly useful in the Kobolds and Catacombs meta, and Polymorph does a lot of work for the deck. When playing against opponents who can resurrect their minions, such as Control Warlock and Big Priest, good use of Polymorph is vital. Against Control Warlock, for example, denying early activation of Rin, the First Disciple is crucial, but if Rin is not seen until late, rendering the Seals inconsequential, polymorphing Voidlord becomes a higher priority. Against Big Priest, it is important to polymorph unique minions so that they cannot be resurrected with Lesser Diamond Spellstone: The Lich King and Ysera being the main targets.
- Firelands Portal – Often used for removal, but this is actually one of the few spells in the deck that can hit face. Some lists also include Pyroblast, but it has fallen in popularity as Big Spell Mage has moved away from a burn plan.
- Doomsayer – In the pre-nerfs meta, Doomsayer was usually too slow. Yes. Seven health, turn two, meet Patches. No longer! With the aggro nerfs, Doomsayer is actually a capable removal piece, especially in the early game. It can also be combined with Blizzard later in the game, but as the meta is heavily focused on silence, it is not very reliable there. Doomsayer’s main late-game use is to play it after a board clear spell to ensure an empty board for the following turn to get something like Frost Lich Jaina out safely.
In addition to removal, a control deck needs some solid card draw. Big Spell Mage uses less card draw than many other control decks, but it would not find the right answers without any.
- Raven Familiar – The first sign for an opponent that you are playing Big Spell Mage, Raven Familiar only draws a spell when it is more expensive than a random spell from the opponent’s deck. While this can be easier said than done – Spiteful Summoner decks only run very expensive spells, for example – Raven Familiar is reliable in drawing against aggressive decks, where you need your answers the most.
- Bright-Eyed Scout – Card draw tool that is only useful for decks that run plenty of cards that cost five mana or more. Luckily, more than half of the cards in a Big Spell Mage deck fit that bill! Some great high-roll potential, if it hits one of your big win conditions. Acolyte of Pain or Coldlight Oracle are sometimes used instead: Acolyte is a solid and a little boring option, whereas Coldlight Oracle is a good choice for a heavy control meta, where you anticipate fatigue games and may want to mill some of the opponent’s cards.
Control decks also need some healing. Big Spell Mage has Frost Lich Jaina and Alexstrasza that are also win conditions, and it also has Arcane Artificer. Arcane Artificer is not a one-drop! You never keep it in the mulligan or play it on turn one, it is a comeback tool best combined with area-of-effect damage spells for healing while clearing up the board. It can do a lot of work with Blizzard, especially if the opponent cannot then remove the Artificer and it lives to provide more armor next turn.
What about those win conditions? Big Spell Mage has several.
- Frost Lich Jaina – Jaina can take your game to fatigue, or simply overpower the opponent with endless Water Elementals. Once you have turned into Frost Lich, the game becomes a math puzzle where you try to find ways to get minions down to one health so that you can turn them into Water Elementals. The basic level is to do this to the opponent’s minions. The more advanced view takes a multi-turn approach, combining area-of-effect damage spells and minion damage to provide a steady stream of Elementals. Finally, you can also turn your own minions into Water Elementals, or refresh a Water Elemental from one health to six by simply pinging it with your Hero Power.
- Medivh, the Guardian – Atiesh is a natural fit with big spells. Why not get some big minions to go alongside your board clears? Sometimes, however, you may also want to hit things, or the opponent, with Atiesh when that one damage makes a difference.
- Dragoncaller Alanna – Another win condition with natural synergy with big spells. A fully charged Alanna can summon six 5/5 Dragons on the board, providing enough damage for lethal on the following turn, if the board cannot be answered.
- Alexstrasza – While Big Spell Mage lacks burn, it can have powerful boards, from example thanks to Medivh and Alanna. Alexstrasza can help finish those games, and she can also heal your hero against aggressive decks.
The remaining cards in Big Spell Mage are for defense, swings, and disruption. Hearthstone provides limited ways to disrupt your opponent’s plays, but Big Spell Mage makes use of what tools there are.
- Dirty Rat – Disruption tool that can be used to deny combo pieces, Battlecry effects, and simply to pull powerful minions from the opponent’s hand to a removal turn. Some prime targets include N'Zoth, The Corruptor and Dragoncaller Alanna. Against aggro decks, Rat can also sometimes be used in the early game simply to stall. With Corridor Creeper out of the meta after the nerfs, an early Rat is a bit safer now than before.
- Skulking Geist – A key tool against decks that rely heavily on one-mana spells. Removes Jade Idol from Jade Druid, Deadly Poison from Kingsbane Rogue, Evolve from Evolve Shaman, Inner Fire from Combo Priest, and perhaps most importantly, Dark Pact from Warlock.
- Tar Creeper – With all the spells costing a ton, some early defenses are needed, and Tar Creeper can provide exactly that. Bonus points for being an Elemental, so it gains Lifesteal when you turn into Frost Lich Jaina.
- Arcane Tyrant – It’s not quite pre-nerf Corridor Creeper, but following up a board clear with a 4/4 minion is a good tempo swing, even when mostly used for defense.
Big Spell Mage Mulligan Strategy & Guide
VS Fast Decks
Your priority is survival and heavy emphasis is placed on early defensive cards.
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
- Raven Familiar – Early minion to contest the board and also draw your answers.
- Tar Creeper – Early defensive minion.
- Doomsayer – Early board clear.
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Polymorph – Keep against decks that cheat out big minions early.
- Dragon's Fury – Your cheapest big area-of-effect damage spell, can be kept if you anticipate surviving until turn five in a decent shape or if you have the Coin.
- Bright-Eyed Scout – Some minion presence and card draw, can be kept if you have some other early game as well.
VS Slow Decks
Early survival is not that much of an issue against slow decks. However, you need to find answers specific to your opponent and can afford to keep some of them in the mulligan.
Higher Priority (Keep every time)
Lower Priority (Keep only if certain conditions are met)
- Polymorph– Keep against decks that cheat out big minions early. Keep against Warlock also in case of Rin.
- Skulking Geist – Keep against decks that rely heavily on one-mana spells: Jade Idol from Jade Druid, Deadly Poison from Kingsbane Rogue, Evolve from Evolve Shaman, Inner Fire from Combo Priest, and perhaps most importantly, Dark Pact from Warlock.
- Frost Lich Jaina – Keep if you’re expecting a slow fatigue game.
Big Spell Mage Win Rates
Big Spell Mage Play Strategy
VS Aggro Decks
Your plan against fast decks is going to be the same across all classes: clear the board. Decks like Zoo, Hunter, Tempo Rogue, and Paladin make a living off of strong early game and powerful minion interactions. Your goal to combat that should be to do everything in your power to never let them go too wide. A turn two Doomsayer is a great way to make that happen, but your endless removal does the trick as well. These are games where you need to find a balance between proactive and reactive plays. You want to get the most value out of your big clears, but you also don’t want to wait too long and fall into burst range. Every single aggro deck these days runs a wide range of fast damage, and they will kill you with it if you take too long to get on top of their boards. Always calculate your opponent’s damage potential and then adapt accordingly.
On that note, healing is extremely important in these games. You have access to both Arcane Artificer and Frost Lich Jaina, and you need to try to use both when possible. Frost Lich Jaina can often close out games against aggressive decks, but it can be difficult to find the time to play her, and you cannot afford to keep her in the mulligan, as you may not find enough early answers if you do. A board clear followed by Doomsayer is often your best chance to get enough breathing room to secure a Jaina turn. Arcane Artificer works well with all of your board clears, and can also sometimes provide enough Armor to secure a safe Jaina turn.
I should also mention that Secret Mage is always going to be a rough battle for this build. Counterspell hits you extremely hard, and there is no real way to play around that unless you’re on the Coin, which you should save for Counterspell. You often need to have your early minions if you’re going to have a chance. If you do make it to the later turns of the game, you should prioritize healing over everything else.
VS Control Decks
When going up against slower decks, you typically want to lean on your finishers. This deck packs the big three of Medivh, the Guardian, Frost Lich Jaina, and Dragoncaller Alanna. All of those cards do a lot of work, especially when you’re trying to slowly grind your opponent down to dust. In every game, if you have the option of become Frost Lich Jaina, you should. The Death Knight is the best control tool in the game right now and will allow you to create a constant stream of threats for your opponent to answer.
The hardest part of going long is deciding when to drop Dragoncaller Alanna. Your opponent will often try to save a board clear to respond to Alanna, and if you can force them to use it, Alanna can win the game. On the other hand, sometimes you want to play Alanna to force the opponent to use that board clear instead of doing something proactive.
Remember, this is a deck that is going to slowly break people down. You are taking things slow, which means that against control builds you need to take things even slower. Awareness of your opponent’s resources is the key to victory. For example, against Control Warlock with Rin, the First Disciple, Rin is your primary Polymorph target, not Voidlord. However, this changes in the very late game, when the Seals no longer make a difference in fatigue – then you can safely use Polymorph on other targets.
Big Spell Mage Card Substitutions
There is one glaring omission in the sample list on this guide: there are no Secrets! The history of the Secret package in Big Spell Mage is an interesting one, and understanding it can help you decide whether you want to include some kind of Secret package into your deck. The very first builds at the start of Kobolds and Catacombs ran no Secrets. They were crushed by Highlander Priest’s one-turn-kill Velen combos, and soon Secrets were introduced into the build, often in the form of two copies of each Arcanologist, Ice Block, and Medivh's Valet.
As time went by, Medivh’s Valet was more commonly dropped from the build, and eventually Arcanologist was more often cut down to just a single copy – while it resembles an early-game card, it is more of an answer to combo decks in Big Spell Mage, and you do not have to find it early to succeed. Eventually, even Ice Block itself was sometimes cut down to a single copy – just enough to survive a single lethal blow from a combo deck, or sometimes from an aggro deck that you can then stabilize against with a board clear and Arcane Artificer.
Another factor that affects the usefulness of Secrets is anti-Secret tech. Eater of Secrets has been a rare sight in general, but in the early post-nerfs meta, its use increased sevenfold as other decks responded to the prevalence of Secret Mage and Spell Hunter. If anti-Secret tech is common, Secrets are less useful.
In conclusion, Ice Block is needed if combo decks are very common – you need to survive the combo and then heal up afterwards. It can also help against aggressive decks, but without combo decks to worry about, it becomes a more difficult call whether to include it or not. If you choose to go with Secrets, the most common builds use one Arcanologist and either one or two copies of Ice Block.
- Bright-Eyed Scout can only draw one card, and if it happens to be a cheap one, its cost increases. As an upside, the Scout is actually a somewhat useful body on the board, for example to contest aggro decks early on.
- Acolyte of Pain can draw up to three cards, and if you play it on Turn five or later, you can use your Hero Power on it to almost guarantee two draws. However, it is a weak body and you need to pay attention to your hand size when playing it or your opponent may try to force you to draw too many cards and burn some of them.
- Coldlight Oracle draws two cards for both you and your opponent. It is bad against aggressive decks, as you give them more fuel to hit you in the face with, but it is great in control matchups, as you get to draw cards without going deeper into fatigue than your opponent and you can also often time it to mill some of your opponent’s cards.
There are several tech cards in the list. Dirty Rat, Skulking Geist, and even Tar Creeper are all heavily meta-dependent choices. One of the most glaring omissions in the sample list is lack of weapon removal. Acidic Swamp Ooze is sometimes used for the purpose, often in place of Dirty Rat. With the Pirate nerfs, the days of Golakka Crawler in the deck seem to be over, but should Pirates experience a resurgence, it remains an option. Twilight Flamecaller is another card that can help in an aggressive meta, as long as the aggro decks run many one-health minions: it is good against Aggro Paladin, for example, but much less so against Murloc Paladin. If you find yourself needing some additional reach, you can also consider Pyroblast – I have enjoyed the surprise lethals with the card, but it is next to useless against aggro.
Big Spell Mage is not a budget deck. No matter how you look at it, it cannot be done on a budget, because you need powerful win conditions and you also need a bunch of removal cards, many of which are of Epic rarity.
- Frost Lich Jaina is absolutely irreplaceable. It is at the very core of the deck.
- You need a good removal package, and Dragon's Fury and Meteor are both Epics. You might be able to cut one Meteor, but you absolutely need both Dragon’s Furies.
- In certain metagames, you must have Skulking Geist in a slow deck.
Other than those, you can do some replacements.
- In some metas, Dirty Rat can be replaced with Acidic Swamp Ooze or Twilight Flamecaller.
- Doomsayer is good right now, but it has not always been core to the deck. In Aggro Paladin meta, for example, Twilight Flamecaller was able to do a fine job, but if aggro decks run mostly minions with more than one Health, it does not get the job done anymore.
- Bright-Eyed Scout can be replaced with Acolyte of Pain.
- Arcane Tyrant is a nice tempo swing, but it can make room for a Secret package, for example.
- You need some win conditions. Jaina cannot be replaced, but Medivh, the Guardian, Dragoncaller Alanna, and Alexstrasza can. The problem is, good replacements are Legendary cards themselves. If you have The Lich King or Ysera, you can go with them, but it still won’t be cheap.