Deck Tech: Demon Handlock
While decks like last week’s Secrets Paladin have an explosive strategy, Handlock relies heavily on having as many options available to deal with threats. Warlocks can Lifetap allowing them to lose 2 health in exchange for drawing an extra card during the turn. That’s where the deck name Handlock comes from. While the deck first originated just after the Naxxramas adventure was released, it received a key component from Goblins vs Gnomes in the form of Antique Healbot. The 8 health gain allows the player to drop a Molten Giant for free if the player is at 10 health and then to rocket back up to 18 by playing the Antique Healbot.
Handlock decks tend to have little variation when it comes to the late game minions — usually Molten Giants, Mountain Giants, and Dr. Boom. Most opposing decks usually pack some kind of Big Game Hunter with some class-specific spells to handle the other threats (such as Execute, Hunter’s Mark, or a Hex). But most decks don’t pack enough countermeasures to deal with four giants and a Dr. Boom, which is usually how this deck wins: Overwhelming muscle.
On the mulligan
One Mountain Giant is usually excellent to have in hand. Ancient Watchers, a Sunfury Protector, Dark Bombs, and Mortal Coils provide excellent defense in the form of board presence or removal spells, so you can tackle opposing minions in the early game. If you’re against control decks, you may not need the damage spells right away and can afford to keep other, mid-game cards.
- Ancient Watcher x2
- Ironbeak Owl
- Sunfury Protector x2
- Big Game Hunter
- Defender of Argus
- Twilight Drake x2
- Antique Healbot x2
- Sludge Belcher x2
- Emperor Thaurissan
- Sylvanas Windrunner
- Dr. Boom
- Mountain Giant x2
- Molten Giant x2
Turn 4 is the the first real question mark of the game. One frequent decision you’ll run into is whether to play a Mountain Giant or a Twilight Drake. The answer is that it will always depend on the opponent and the situation. A Twilight Drake is vulnerable to a silence like from a Keeper of the Grove. A Mountain Giant is susceptible to an early Big Game Hunter (or an Execute and Inner Rage). If neither of those options are available, an Ironbeak Owl on your own Ancient Watcher can provide an early offensive.
Remember to Lifetap first before committing to anything (unless you already know what you’re doing that’s going to use up all of your mana). Count your cards, too. Play out possible turn moves in your head. If you have 8 mana but are planning to play Emperor Thaurissan (which is 6 mana), Lifetap first. AoE spells like Hellfire and Shadowflame are at your disposal, and offer different options when it comes to massive board removal. Hellfire has a short range against control decks with big minions. Shadowflame needs another card to pair with, and if you don’t have a suitable pairing, it’s dead in your hand.
During the late game, all you need in most cases are your giants. Lord Jaraxxus will be the difference maker in case games come down to the wire. Keep generating those Infernals and apply constant pressure. Think of Jaraxxus as a form of life gain. You want to have board presence before you play Jaraxxus, or have a way to immediately equalize and re-gain board control the turn after you play him. Survival is important, and hope that your opponent has no way to burst you down.
Alternative cards to consider
There isn’t much in the way of variation. You can tech in specific cards if you’re running into problems on the ladder, or if you’re going to a local tournament and have an idea of what to expect. Zombie Chow gives you a more favorable edge against early game aggro decks. Acidic Swamp Ooze will help you out against all the weapon classes. Don’t use Harrison Jones though, since you’re more than likely not going to need the cards from his ability. Voidcaller and Doomguard can be inserted for extra demons. If you happen to Voidcaller out your Jaraxxus, it’s not the most terrible thing, since he can be taunted up into a massive wall with that 15 health.
- Druid: Try not to Lifetap below 15 health here. If you are running into a slew of Druid players, Loatheb can provide some protection against their Force of Nature and Savage Roar combo. This presents a problem though, since Druids can easily bypass the Molten Giant range by simply killing you with their combo, preventing you from even playing them. There isn’t much in the way of early game aggression other than from Shade of Naxxramas or Piloted Shredders. Activated (or silenced Ancient Watchers) will give them a bit of a tough time. Try to mulligan for a Twilight Drake or a Molten Giant and force them to deal with it. You might get lucky and they won’t have any answers to either of those cards.
- Hunter: Mulligan hard for a Mortal Coil, Dark Bombs, and Molten Giants. You need to stave off the early game rush in order to have a hope of surviving. Even then, Hunters can simply whittle away at your health with their hero power and other assorted damage spells, or just slip by any taunt minions you have up. Ironbeak Owls are a premium card to have against Midrange Hunter though, due to the sheer number of silence-worthy targets.
- Mage: Against Tempo Mage, look for your removal spells. Flamewakers, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and Mana Wyrms are all juicy targets. Watch your health though, Antonidas can feed them a steady supply of Fireballs that will go straight to your hero (in other words, stay above 12 health). Hellfire is a card that you must keep.
- Paladin: Hellfire or Shadowflame can automatically deal with Muster for Battle plus other early minions that Paladin players have. Divine Shields are going to be tricky to deal with, and Divine Favor will score big amounts of cards for them against you. Equality can ruin your day if all your giants are on board, but unchallenged Molten Giants will almost always secure victory for you.
- Priest: Dragon Priest and Control Priest should be pretty easy for you. Shadow Word: Death, Big Game Hunter, and Mind Control (if there is one) can remove some of your late game minions. But if you can get early game control with your Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant, they’ll be hard pressed to put much pressure against you at that stage of the game. Owls can deal with any buffed minions from Velen’s Chosen, or shut down an opposing Sylvanas.
- Rogue: Rogue decks are similar to Druids, in the sense they can burst you down quickly without even worrying about you dropping Molten Giants at all. Many of their cards tend to react to your minions. A few lists are starting to run Violet Teacher for extra 1/1s, which is what your AoE spells can solve. Spell power minions are priority for removal. Sap will be annoying to deal with, especially if used against your taunted up minions. Just remember that you’re on the clock.
- Shaman: You should be able to run over Shaman easily. Keep your removal spells to eliminate their early minions. Your AoE spells can easily knock out their mass of totems. Hex can only shut down two of your bigger minions at best. You should be able to crush them late game.
- Warlock: Unlike many other mirror matches, the Handlock mirror will often be different, due to the wide array of cards available to both players. You’ll end up using two Life Taps right away when the game begins, before the game actually begins. If you can, try to keep their health above 20 until you can burst them down. Shadowflame and Molten Giant will clear the whole board (and they can do the same to you). With Zoo, simply duck behind your wall of taunt minions. Keep your Mortal Coils and Dark Bombs. Ironbeak Owl is fantastic against Voidcaller and Nerubian Eggs.
- Warrior: With Patron, keep Dark Bombs to annihilate their Acolyte of Pain immediately. Consider silencing it to starve them of cards. Try to keep a Shadowflame or a Hellfire to deal with Grim Patrons. Emperor Thaurissan is another priority target, because even one turn can give them the game. Don’t over-commit your side of the board either, unless their Brawl is gone. Against Control Warrior, they can just about answer every single one of your threats, so if they manage to pull all their cards, you’ll have nothing left to win with. An Ironbeak Owl into your own Ancient Watcher can help knock off their armor gains and prevent them from using Shield Slam. Play your Twilight Drake over Molten Giant (so that they Execute the Drakes instead). Control Warrior has a far more potent late game than yours. Oh yeah, and watch out for Brawl.
Expect games to potentially carry into fatigue — good luck!
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