Mage guide: Frost Mage control in current meta
Written by: Chacruna and Nydra
The first part of our Mage guide looked at the fiery incarnation of Jaina in her explosive aggro clothes. Today, we look at the other side of the medal and make a trip back in time to dig out and resurrect and old build that once ruled the meta - the frost Mage control.
To help us write this guide, we turned to Wildcard's pro player Mikkel "Chacruna" Nibbelong. Chacruna has been favoring frost Mage a lot in both tournaments and on ladder and agreed to provide his insight on how this deck actually fares in current meta.
Make sure to subscribe to Chacruna's YouTube channel as Mikkel's dech tech videos do have a few things to teach you.
1. Origins of the Frost Mage
The first instances of the Frost Mage control appeared back in the winter of 2013. Aggro builds were the standard for Mage at the time until Reckful first displayed on stream during the Innkeeper's Invitational a then unorthodox deck featuring Ice Block and various stall mechanics like Frost Nova, Cone of Cold and Blizzard, whose sole purpose was to survive until the finishers (Pyroblast most often) were drawn.
The community promptly picked up on the idea and in the following months different Frost Mages were invented. Some featured extensive draw mechanics to accelerate their deck while others sacrficied some of this power and exploited the power of Mountain and Molten Giants to drop huge threats on the board.
Both decks became increasingly popular on the ladder and perfected with every iteration. Their extremely passive playstyle, freezing spells galore and the inevitability of the Pyroblast death eventually created an uproar withing the community. Not being fans of stale gameplay, Blizzard crippled the Mages in two patches, raising the mana costs of Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Blizzard and Pyroblast, essentially forcing the control players to seek other alternatives. A GosuGamers newspost from December 2013 with the title "Eight Mages rule this week's Managrinds" perfectly paints the level of domination the class enjoyed back then (one of the winning builds shown on the right, designed by none other than Gnimsh).
2. New age frost (obviously NOT the deck on the right)
Although the Frost Mage went extinct for almost half a year, the build has been seeing some rising popularity in the current meta, sparked by the meta itself. Overlooked until now because of his weakened spell arsenal, the Frost Mage turns out to actually be good against many of the decks plaguing the ladder - Handlock, Zoo and Miracle Rogue (match-ups covered below).
Many of the things that made the old Frost Mage deck returns in this new age build and playing it follows more or less the same paradigms. The deck wants to start with some early draw mechanics (Loot Hoarders, Arcane Intellects), stall through the mid-game via freeze spells and unleash its finishers past T8.
The only thing that's changed is how opponents die. The older versions used back-to-back Pyroblasts and/or Giants to finish the deal but this is no longer optimal. Instead, they take note from their contemporary aggro brothers and use Alexstrasza into a spell barrage through Sorcerer's Apprentice, Bloodmage Thalnos or Antonidas. Everything else follows the same old dancing steps: Draw, stall, sweep, destroy.
Although calling this Frost Mage strictly a Chacruna invention might be slightly inaccurate, as it was mentioned on the recent Turn 2 podcast that StrifeCro is also testing one such deck and we saw the DKMR guys coming out with a similar build a few days back, the Dane was one of the first to bring one such deck to actual tournaments and do a video breakdown of it. His Frost Mage deck tech video is dated on May 21st and he already has two GosuCup top 3 finishes under his belt, favoring the build shown below.
If you look past the glitter of Chacruna's all-gold Frost Mage, you will notice that very Draw -> Stall -> Sweep -> Destroy sequence we mentioned in the first paragraph, which give an easy to understand outline of how the deck is played.
Similar to the aggro Mages, the Frost Mage has one ultimate goal: Find all its spell burst pieces. However, while aggro Mages employ early game aggression in order to bring down the opponent to low life and kill him from there, the frost Mages take the very opposite root. They stall and stall some more, Alexstrasza down their opponent (if needed), and then do their burst thing.
At this point (meaning neither of the decks is extensively tested and compared in ladder and tournament environments just yet), it's hard to say which build is better. They do share a lot of similar cards - in fact, 15/30 cards from the aggro Mage repeat in the Frost Mage - and have comparable results against the popular builds, so choosing one over the other is mostly a playstyle preference (obviously, although they share the same finisher, the two decks play out completely different).
The original version of Chacruna's frost Mage featured extensive card draw mechanics. In addition to [card]Loot Hoarder[/card] and [card]Arcane Intellect[/card], the deck ran two copies of [card]Novice Engineer[/card] as well as a single [card]Coldlight Oracle[/card], very reminiscent of the beta builds.
Nowadays, only Arcane Intellect and Loot Hoarder remain as early-game draws. The reason for that is mostly tuning the deck to perform better against aggressive deck like Zoo as getting lots of low-mana cantrips against them is fatal. The Novice Engineers have been basically swapped out for [card]Azure Drake[/card]s which, like in the aggro Mage decks, provide a valuable combination of big body, spell power and card draw.
Because there are only four cards than thin out your deck, it is essential that you mulligan for both Loot Hoarder and Arcane Intellect. Although it can be pinged away by certain hero powers, it's a nice way to deal 2 damage early on and get a card back, not to mention it greatly helps against Zoo if they don't have Mortal Coil or Voidwalker.
Your main goal for turns 4-7 is to survive the enemy onslaught. Your first minion which can apply actual pressure is Azure Drake on T5, which is also one of the only 4 minions with attack power in the deck, not counting Loot Hoarder, because it's mostly a cantrip.
This means that even control decks will be able to attack your face and you will be taking damage most of the game. Druids and Warriors will come at you with Druids of the Claw and Kor'Kron Elites, Handlocks will threaten you with early Giants or Twilight Drakes and Miracle Rogues, which typically trigger past T7, will send their SI:7 Agents, Earthen Ring Farseers and van Cleefs. Your job is to minimize this incoming damage so you don't die before an Ice Block can be placed or the burst down pieces are collected.
This is what most of your spells are here to do. Although the stall cards are spread all across your mana curve, you'll want to play them past T4 as against most match-up you won't be needing an early game stall (Zoo excluded).
1 Mana: [card]Mirror Image[/card] - This card is usually saved for later turns to stall the late-game finishers, but it can be useful if you happen to draw it after mulligan as it will absorb two attacks.
2 Mana: [card]Doomsayer[/card] - With the exception of Shaman, most decks find it hard to deal with Doomsayer early on so he makes for a good sweeper against aggro decks when played on T2. For later turns, combine with a frost spell (preferably Frost Nova), which results in a full board clear most of the time, unless a silence or sequence of removal spells happen.
3 Mana: [card]Frost Nova[/card] - Although it's significantly worse than when it was at 2 mana, Frost Nova can't really be overlooked. At T5, it creates a deadly combo with Doomsayer. Used earlier, it can buy an extra turn or be chained into [card]Cone of Cold[/card] on T4 to further incapacitate aggro decks. In later turns, its cheaper mana cost make it fit the curve better so you can play a big threat like Azure Drake and then follow up with a Nova.
4 Mana: [card]Cone of Cold[/card] - Another card that suffered a lot from the frost spell nerf. In beta, Cone of Cold was a card that was used for board clear but nowadays it's mostly another stall mechanic.
5 Mana: [card]Doomsayer[/card] + [card]Frost Nova[/card] = [card]Twisting Nether[/card]
6 Mana: [card]Blizzard[/card] - Unlike her frost cousins, Blizzard is still damn good even at 6 mana.
7 Mana: [card]Flamestrike[/card] - Well, it kills stuff that wants to hurt you.
Don't forget that because you have so many spells, a large portion of which deal damage, [card]Sorcerer's Apprentice[/card] (if you decided to squeeze it in the deck) and [card]Bloodmage Thalnos[/card] come in handy even more: the first will smooth up your curve - very important now that frost spells are expensive - and the second will add a bit more damage to it all. Turn 8 Thalnos + Blizzard will hurt anyone who thought was safe after a Flamestrike.
In addition to the frost spells, the Frost Mage employs a total of three life-saving secrets: two copies of [card]Ice Barrier[/card] and a single copy of [card]Ice Block[/card]. Combined, they give a total of 16 bonus life and an extra turn. You will grow to love Barrier against aggro decks, while Ice Block is absolutely fantastic against Miracle Rogue and all the other bursty OTK decks (Leeroy/Pover Overwhelming Warlocks, Windfury Shamans, aggro Mages, etc).
As we said already, the frost Mage takes from his aggro counterpart in how he finishes the opponents, i.e. the burst spell combos are mostly the same, minus those featuring Sorcerer's Apprentice:
3 card combos
Frostbolt + 2x Ice Lance = 4 MANA, 11 DAMAGE (or why we don't need Pyroblast)
Bloodmage Thalnos + Fireball + Frostbolt = 8 MANA, 11 DAMAGE
Frostbolt + Ice Lance + Fireball = 7 MANA, 13 DAMAGE
Bloodmage Thalnos + 2x Fireball = 10 MANA, 14 DAMAGE
4 card combos
Bloodmage Thalnos + Frostbolt + 2x Ice Lance = 6 MANA, 14 DAMAGE
Bloodmage Thalnos + Frostbolt + Ice Lance + Fireball = 9 MANA, 16 DAMAGE
5+ card combos
?Bloodmage Thalnos + Frostbolt + 2x Ice Lance + Fireball = 10 MANA, 21 DAMAGE
- Try to suck all your opponent's fuel dry. This is a slow methodical deck that wants to outlast everything. Be as efficient with your removal as possible.
- Doomsayer is a good way to test whether your opponent can deal with Antonidas since both have 7 health. Use it to also draw out removal and keep Antonidas once he enters the board. Azure Drakes on empty board sever the same purpose.
- Antonidas is a great way to trade your low-mana costs for Fireballs. If you don't have lethal through Frostbolt/Ice Lance combos, swap the latter for Fireballs while freezing an important target. Same goes for Mirror Image.
- While traditional Frost Mages run 2x Ice Block and 1x Ice Barrier, this goes for the opposite. The second Ice Block is not needed because it is rarely useful due to the high amount of sweepers in the deck, most notably the dual Flamestrike. Additionally, getting two Ice Blocks means one of them will be dead card for the entire game.
|[card]Mirror Image[/card]||It does too little early, but if you do end up getting it, playing it on T1 is fine|
|[card]Ice Lance[/card]||Single target freeze or combo piece - not what you need early|
|[card]Frost Nova[/card]||Mid to late game stall effect|
|[card]Ice Barrier[/card]||Mid to late game stall effect|
|[card]Ice Block[/card]||Late game stall effect|
|[card]Cone of Cold[/card]||Mid to late game stall/sweeper|
|[card]Fireball[/card]||Mid to late game removal or combo piece|
|[card]Blizzard[/card]||Mid to late game stall/sweeper|
|[card]Flamestrike[/card]||Late game board clear|
|[card]Frostbolt[/card]||Only against Zoo (or similar decks), if your hand has draw and if you don't have Doomsayer|
|[card]Doomsayer[/card]||Always against Zoo|
|[card]Azure Drake[/card]||Keep in slow match-ups, great follow-up to successful Doomsayer|
|[card]Archmage Antonidas[/card]||Basically never, but consider keeping against Warrior if you have Coin|
Druid: Depends if they are playing Ragnaros and/or Argent Commanders, respectively in Ramp/Watchers and mid-range builds. If they aren't it's an easy match-up. You might think the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo but in fact it's too slow.
Hunter: A lot of people will try to counter you with this, but so far I have won against it every time even despite Flare. Just make sure you don't have more than one secret to soft-counter it.
Aggro Paladin: Similar to Hunter but without the Flare threat. Divine Favor can be a problem since your hand will always be full but other than that it's an easy match-up.
Control Paladin: Not nearly as bad as Warrior, though if they run an absurd amount of heal you will need to wait with Alexstrasza until after you have gotten a few Fireballs with Antonidas.
Priest: See control Paladin.
Miracle: Freeze Mage is favored because even though Miracle can be fine-tuned to deal in the match-up, nobody really does it as Freeze Mages are rare. What helps you as that both decks go off around the same turns but you have Flamestrike to kill the Concealed Gadgetzan Auctioneer, freeze their next attack, Mirror Image to absorb Leeroy Hits or Ice Block to counter their OTK. Nevertheless, Miracle can still dish out tremendous amounts of damage and get through Mirror Images with Bladeflurry so it's not like it's a complete auto-win.
Shaman: It depends on how much burst they are packing. If they are not running either Doomhammer or Windfury (unfortunately, most Shaman builds do), it's one of the easiest match-up. However, be prepared for your Doomsayer to be almost useless since they have cheap and effective ways to deal with it in Earthshock and Hex.
Handlock: This is really hard to lose. Both of the decks are slow but the Handlock will help you by eating his life down with Life Tap. Once Giants are in play simply stall them and wait until Warlock's health is within burst range. Doomsayer/Frost Nova is game turning if they don't have silence or Siphon Soul at the exact moment.
Zoo: Also one of the best match-ups. A T2 Doomsayer slows them a lot which is all you really need. Once in the mid-game, unleash your array of sweepers and freeze spells until the board is clear. By the late game, they will be low enough for a burst.
Warrior: This is what you are trying to dodge, it is close to unwinnable if your opponent knows what he's doing. His hero power and Shield Block counter your burst. Besides the burn, you have a total of four minions which can attack (again, not counting Loot Hoarder), meaning you can't even draw all of Warrior's removal. If they curve their Armor Up! properly, you're done for.
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