In the last week I've had a large amount of time to play some cards, and in that time I needed to get down to the most important thing, testing for Block constructed. The State Championships are this weekend, and generally the way I look at the Block format is what deck do I always want to be in for draft. Generally, this only works of the beginning of the format, especially in this case when the power level on one of the sets heavily outweighs another, you're not going to want an even distribution of cards from each set in your deck. Another thing to consider is we have Champion Decks, and two different Rreasure Packs, which influence what decks people will be playing.
In that time I've been playing with a ton of decks, mostly starting from Core decks, and designs from draft decks I wish I had. Warlock Mid-Range, Rogue Control, [Grand Crusader], [Viewless Wing]s combo decks, you name it. But nothing really shines more to me than Mage. I'm nearly certain it's the deck I'll be playing this weekend. There's a few slots I'm still working on, but the deck functions much like the Core version of the deck, and I believe that Mage is the best deck in Core, thus if it gets better going into Block, or loses the least, I think you should be playing it. Here's my deck as of now:
Hero: [Drazul the Molten]
4 [Baxtan, Herald of the Flame]
3 [Thrall the World-Shaman]
3 [Daedak the Graveborne]
4 [Edwin VanCleef]
3 [Vanessa VanCleef]
4 [Flame Lance]
4 [Glacial Tomb]
4 [Frost Blast]
4 [Mana Agate]
4 [Ice Barrier]
2 [Infinite Brilliance]
4 [Miniature Voodoo Mask]
2 [Signed in Blood]
The deck is very similar to the list Joe Demestrio piloted to a Top 8 finish at the Darkmoon Faire in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago, with a few key changes. The biggest of the changes is the inclusion of [Daedak the Graveborne]. The boogeyman in Core Constructed right now is Alliance Hunter, so many of its cards are so aggressive and punishing that one poor draw down the stretch or one tier two play along your curve can generally cost you the game. One thing commonly overlooked however is the hero flip giving the deck the ability to clean out a four cost ally with health 3 or less without expending a card. This is precisely why Mage cannot afford to play [Daedak the Graveborne]s in Core constructed, but with [Jaral of Gilneas] not in the Aftermath Block, Horde players can play another insane four drop along side [Edwin VanCleef] without fear.
What are the reasons for wanting to play [Daedak the Graveborne]? The deck actually needs a ton of healing. I like the dual-class Monster Heroes, but each of them lacks the ability to survive going second very well. With [Traitors!], [Jex'ali], [Thrall the World-Shaman] and [Daedak the Graveborne], I feel the Mage deck finally has enough health to face a lot of the potential openings in the format and battle back from a hand without a one cost piece of removal. The other reason I like [Daedak the Graveborne] is a lot of the same reasons I like [Thrall the World-Shaman] in that you need a way to actually kill your opponent. Without a [Mystic Denial] lock to put your opponent into, you actually need to close out games before the [Mazu'kon]s, [Shadowy Apparition]s, and [Commander Ulthok]s of the world come out of no where to destroy your plans. [Daedak the Graveborne] both protects and can be killed with your own [Flame Lance]s and [Frost Blast] plus hero flip in a pinch to keep you alive. [Thrall the World-Shaman] on the other hand just is a threat. This deck started off really struggling with ways to interact with turn 3 [Edwin VanCleef]s even when it was on the play, but [Thrall the World-Shaman] has been a great answer. He can come down on turn 3 and completely mitigate the opponent's aggression, and on turn 5 he's my favorite card in the deck to play backed up with an [Overload] for your opponent's next turn. There's a lot of math involved with [Thrall the World-Shaman] however, so take your time when deciding whether or not to ready him, and if you need to heal up or unleash the pain, I know I've lost a few games by just not paying attention enough to health totals in testing.
[Thrall the World-Shaman] has been such a big part of my testing that it got me to try out [Rime and Freezin'] in my Mage deck. I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for when I put the card in, but I had seven Shaman allies at the time, and my Mage was a hero so it could act as a removal spell. The card was quickly cut, but the more I think about it, I might put a pair in this weekend and here's why. When you're on the draw, think about the scariest openings from your opponent. No matter what combination you come up with in this format, the Mage deck can battle against it, but it takes a very good draw on the decks part to beat their best draws. Consider this one however, which has been very consistent from most of my gauntlet:
Turn 1: [Jadefire Scout]
Turn 2: [Gilblin Deathscrounger]
Turn 3: [Thrall the World-Shaman]
Turn 4 [Edwin VanCleef]
This draw is very strong, and this deck really can't beat that when going second without some insane number of [Overload]s or a very powerful removal heavy draw on its behalf. Thus, I considered putting the [Rime and Freezin'] back in as a way to mitigate the power of opposing [Thrall the World-Shaman]s, and not really focusing on the Empower Shaman part of the ability.
The problem I've had is what I could consider cutting from the deck. Looking around, the weakest cards in terms of power are the quests, and likely the fourth [Miniature Voodoo Mask], but the cards are so important in their respective roles. [Traitors!] keeps you topped off on health at instant speed which pairs excellently with [Overload] and [Mana Agate]. [Signed in Blood] I originally cut from the deck, but after losing multiple games to allies I had previously [Glacial Tomb]ed turning into additional resources from [Shadowfang Keep], I determined that it needed to be in the deck at least in some number. Honestly though, the fourth mask might be excessive It's likely one too many, but I hate having games that are not interactive because you couldn't handle your opponent's [Grand Crusader] or double [Ice Barrier] draw. In all, I'd say 48 cards make the core, and here's cards you can consider messing around with:
1 [Thrall the World-Shaman]
3 [Daedak the Graveborne]
1 [Glacial Tomb]
1 [Frost Blast]
1 [Miniature Voodoo Mask]
2 [Signed in Blood]
I never thought I'd consider cutting [Mazu'kon] in a control deck, but you already have a ton of things to do. Honestly, I've considered removing them from my build and making them into a fourth [Thrall the World-Shaman], a fourth [Daedak the Graveborne], and a fourth [Vanessa VanCleef]. I might be in the minority, but I feel [Vanessa VanCleef]'s power shines both in and against this deck. In your aggressive draws featuring [Edwin VanCleef] into a free [Vanessa VanCleef], it's very difficult to lose the game. When you follow up that power play with a [Infinite Brilliance] or [Ice Barrier], the opponent is put in a very difficult position. Not only do they need to deal with one of the best allies in the format, but also an ability that is sometimes not answered by [Miniature Voodoo Mask]. There are so many close little things to test and look at before Saturday, that I'm not certain what the best build is, but my actual play with the deck is telling me I only want [Mazu'kon]s to answer opposing [Mazu'kon]s.
If you're going to play this deck I recommend testing with only a pair of [Mazu'kon]s to make room for other cards, but I definitely would not be playing cards like [Shroud of the Archmage] in its place. The reason this deck is amazing is that it has options all along the curve. Sure, turns 1 and 2 are really slow, but turns 3-6 turn into a sequencing dilemma I've never experienced in any other sort of tempo or aggro-control deck. The problem with [Mazu'kon] in that sequencing is that he puts you into a large number of positions where you are resourcing your only cards that allow you to change your line of play when reacting to your opponent, something this deck really excels at. I'm sorry to say I don't have a solid answer on whether or not [Mazu'kon] should just be axed from the deck, but I'm starting to believe that going over the top may not be ideal in this format and you want to end your curve at dive in some decks. If you're playing [Mazu'kon]s, start adding up the times in testing you run out of gas because you resourced up to six, or died because it was not an additional copy of a Protector or removal spell.
If I do end up removing the [Mazu'kon]s it will be for the aforementioned threats. I will also likely look to cut a [Glacial Tomb] and [Frost Blast] for [Rime and Freezin']s as the mid-game threat of [Thrall the World-Shaman] is very well reflected in his actual monetary price. If you're unsure of what to play in Block, I don't actually recommend this deck untested. Block formats are really quick to pick up, but you'll definitely want to play some games against a wide variety of opponents before you just run into the tournament with this deck. A single mistake is very unforgiving, and don't be afraid to play around things with this deck. I've found myself on multiple occasions not attacking with a [Baxtan, Herald of the Flame] into an exhausted out opponent just because the fear of [Vanessa VanCleef] cleaning out my answers to the Stealth and Untargetable threat.
Despite that, the deck is really sweet, and I wouldn't want to be playing anything else this weekend. It draws tons of cards, and I feel like I'm playing with [Lay on Hands] with no drawbacks because of all the damage I heal, something I never thought I would see in competitive play. Please leave your thoughts on this deck, and Horde Mage in general, in the forums, and I'll be sure to get back to them before Saturday.