Let’s face the facts: Mages had a tough year in 2018. First they had to say goodbye to Ice Block, one of the most important cards in the Mage toolkit, which meant that their journey into the Year of the Raven has been uncertain from the very start.
What started on a slightly rocky road ended with the October Balance Update, introducing a nerf to Mage’s early game powerhouse Mana Wyrm to make aggressive Mage archetypes substantially weaker.
In early 2019, the iconic spellcaster class boils down to two archetypes: Odd Mage, an aggressive archetype that destries to fill Tempo Mage’s shoes, and Big Spell Mage, a hyper-control list mostly carried by Frost Lich Jaina. With the Year of the Raven coming to an end, what will Mage be left with, and which archetypes could rise back to the top after the introduction of the upcoming Standard year?
Mage’s Lost Cards
Journey to Un’Goro
With the rotation of Journey to Un’Goro, Mage mostly loses cards tied to control archetypes. Arcanologist already lost a lot of value after the Tempo Mage nerf in October.
A much more severe loss will be Open the Waygate, making Quest Mage a Wild-only archetype. This incredibly unique list marked the upper ceiling of hyper-control lists and the dawn of creative OTK decks. Molten Reflection bites the dust as well, ending the Standard life of OTK Antonidas Mage which derived from Quest Mage.
Besides that, Mage’s control archetypes have to take anotherbig hit: Meteor. Now only Polymorph is left as the one single removal spell, and that will make Mage’s life against lists like Deathrattle Hunter or Big Priest, two archetypes that very well could surive the rotation, even harder.
Primordial Glyph shall receive an honorable mention as well. This card serves as a prime example of the Discover mechanic: a well-designed card that resembles Mage fantasy and offers choice and versatility for only 2 mana.
In the Neutral Card section, Elemental Mage will basically lose 90 percent of its minions. A whooping four class-exclusive Elemental minions has been printed in the last three expansion, so Elemental Mage lovers can have to hope that Team 5 decides not to let this very unique and flavorful minion type die a slow death.
Knights of the Frozen Throne
From a number perspective, KotFT really didn’t have too much to offer for Mage. The loss of the one card that has seen regular play, however, will have incomparable impact on the Mage class as a whole: Frost Lich Jaina.
Especially after Ice Block has been moved to the Hall of Fame, Mage’s Hero Card has left its mark on almost every single archetype. The ability to control the game with an overwhelming amount of Water Elementals and other Elementals with Lifesteal may have been the biggest reason why multiple iterations of Control Mage lists were able to stay competitive throughout the Year of the Raven.
Mage players should not even think about life without Frost Lich Jaina yet, just because the future looks so grim already. It will take a whole lot of utility and design masterwork to replace such an insanely valuable Hero card. But as we all know, removal of both the other Deathknight Heroes and The Lich King will mean decrease in power level for most other classes as well, so there is at least that!
Kobolds and Catacombs
Kobolds and Catacombs provided tools for aggressive and control Mage archetypes alike. Both Aluneth and Explosive Runes played major roles in the rising of Tempo Mage. In the light of the recent nerfs, the loss of those two particular cards shouldn’t hurt too much.
The fact that Mana Wyrm received such a harsh change in stats may indicate towards some kind of intention that this kind of aggressive Mage list should not be played as of now.
The rotation of Raven Familiar, Arcane Artificer and Dragon's Fury will have a much bigger impact though. One of the reasons why Big Spell Mage made its way up in the tier lists was its massive boardclear potential against archetypes like Odd Paladin as well as Deathrattle Hunter or Big Priest. That combined with cheap armor gave control lists more support after the loss of Ice Block.
Now that both of these control powerhouse cards will be gone eventually, Control Mage as a whole needs to rethink its strategy and – last but not least – hope for the best to regain its strength in the form of new tools to control the board and its life total.
Mage’s Upcoming Archetypes
Compared to other classes, Mage doesn’t lose as many pivotal class cards. This and the fact that almost no neutral cards from Un’Goro, KotFT and KnC were played in any Mage archetype really shows one and only one thing: Mage still has one or if not the best Classic and Basic set amongst all classes.
That should be reason enough to not lose hope as a Mage player. Let’s take a look at what archetypes could remain after the rotation:
This one should not come as much of an surprise. Rastakhan’s Rumble in particular catapulted Odd Mage up the tier lists by adding tons of Hero Power utility cards like Pyromaniac or Daring Fire-Eater.
In combination with old and new secrets and Secretkeeper, we could see some sort of board-centric mid-range version of Odd Mage making an appearance in the early phase of the new Standard year.
The Spell Damage package has been fiddled with for the longest time; of course, one could argue that cards like Black Cat would encourage players to use it within the Odd Mage Archetype.
But there are still many more even-cost cards like Celestial Emissary and Cosmic Anomaly that would love to help you launch 5-damage Arcane Missiles. All fun aside, this archetype should most definitely be on player’s radars after the upcoming rotation – it may produce Unexpected Results!
And even if Spell Damage won’t make the cut, you still have the Archmage Arugal/Book of Specters combo. This pair of cards made both Murloc and Elemental Mage a thing on ladder, and if Mage will get some new cheap minions to support it, we could see some interesting experiments coming out of the Tempo Mage archetype.
Big Spell Mage
Similar to Odd Mage, Big Spell Mage will most likely make the cut after the rotation. The list uses a lot of Classic and Basic cards, and sleepers like Blast Wave have been waiting to be able to join new iterations of the list.
The question if the archetype can hold a spot at the top remains, just because Frost Lich Jaina makes this deck so much better than it actually is.
Despite the fact that Elemental Mage loses a majority of its minions with the rotation of Un’Goro, it could make a comeback with the new Standard year. Why else would Team 5 decide to print three cards – Elemental Evocation, Scorch and Arcanosaur – with Elemental synergy with Rastakhan’s Rumble?
By the looks of it, we could see Elemental Mage become some sort of minion-centric archetype similar to early Dragon Priest – which would, by no means, be a bad thing, just because this would perform greatly in a supposedly much more aggressive early meta of 2019’s new Standard year.