Shredder Pilot’s Guide: Tips for playing MechMage

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Back when I was toying with MechMage in the early days after Goblins vs Gnomes was released, I didn’t imagine that it would eventually become the most hated deck in Hearthstone. But so it goes. My initial builds were very raw, as I was experimenting with lots of different cards, but ultimately served as the basis for Strifecro’s Kinguin for Charity winning deck, and then the deck took off from there. With the Undertaker nerf, MechMage has replaced Hunter and Warlock Zoo as the go-to aggressive deck on the ladder, much to the chagrin of everyone who hates taking a Fireball to the face.

I’m certainly not trying to claim all the credit for building the deck. Frankly, all I did was look for the most powerful mech-related cards and put them together. The deck kind of built itself. I think the people who tuned versions of the deck since then did a great job finding cards that complement the tempo-based strategy of the MechMage shell, and the versions that are running rampant today are far better than my initial lists.

That said, my time testing and tuning the deck gave me a lot of insight into how it ticks, and I wanted to share some of that knowledge with you. While many players disparage any kind of aggressive deck as “skillless”, there are subtleties that can help give you a better shot at riding Mechwarper and friends up to Legend.

First, this is the most recent list I have been playing. Nothing special, with the major difference from early builds of the deck being the adoption of the Mad Scientist/Mirror Entity package. I never really liked Undertaker in the deck, like some players used before the nerf, because it felt like too demands on your early synergy draws, but the Scientist/Mirror Entity plan gives you so much power against decks built around mid to large sized minions that I think it’s worth it.

MechMageArticle

Let’s get started, shall we?

On Mulliganing

MechMage is a tempo deck more than anything else, so you want to mulligan for a strong start. The best hands are the ones with Mechwarper, and you should never mulligan one. I pretty much always keep Snowchugger against any weapon based classes, including Druid, since it’s good at locking down their ability to interact with your minions. I’ll keep Clockwork Gnome on the play against anything without a hero power that kills it, except Priest, since it’s so vulnerable to Northshire Cleric, and I’ll keep Annoy-o-Tron against Hunter and Frostbolt against Hunter, Mage, and Shaman, since it’s good at dealing with early minions, like opposing Mechwarpers.

Keep in mind that these are only guidelines, and the goal is to have an effective curve, not the absolute best possible hand every time. If you have a hand of Mechwarper/Spider Tank/Piloted Shredder against Warrior, for instance, you shouldn’t mulligan the Tank and Shredder to try to find a Snowchugger. You have pretty much a perfect curve, including a turn three Shredder if your opponent can’t kill your Mechwarper right away. If you mulligan the Tank and Shredder and replace them with Dr Boom and Fireball, your hand went from being excellent to horrible, and you don’t want to throw away good hands in the hopes of finding incredible ones.

That’s a general rule of thumb, and one that I find that most simplistic “keep or mulligan” style guides tend to overlook. You’re trying to assemble a strong *hand*, not just digging for your best possible cards. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when you have a starting hand that works well together and curves out fine.

On Mechwarper Management

MechwarperThe single biggest mistake that I see new players make when playing Mechmage is not taking as much advantage of their Mechwarpers as they could. Mechwarper is the most powerful card in the deck, but it’s also quite fragile, and many decks have easy ways to kill it as soon as you play it. For instance, Warriors have Fiery War Axe, Druids have Wrath, Mages have Frostbolt, and Shaman have Rockbiter Weapon or Lightning Bolt/Crackle.

If you have a hand with a Mechwarper and the Coin, it’s tempting to just Coin out your Mechwarper on the first turn and just hope to go nuts as fast as possible. And sometimes that’s the right thing to do. But it’s important to keep in mind what your opponent can do to react to your play, and what the implications are for their own mana expenditure on their turn.

Against Druid, for instance, you may want to Coin out Mechwarper right away because if they Wrath, they’ll at least miss playing Wild Growth on curve, and you can still just follow up with your second two drop on turn two. But against Warrior, for instance, or Shaman, if you have a hand with Mechwarper and a second two cost mech, like Snowchugga or Annoy-o-Tron, you may want to wait until the second turn to coin out the Mechwarper and then immediately play the second mech as well. This means that they only have one turn with three mana to respond to both of your plays, instead of one turn with two mana to respond to the Mechwarper alone. If your opponent has, say, a Fiery War Axe or a Powermace, they may only be able to kill your Mechwarper and not your Snowchugga, or they may be stymied completely from killing your Mechwarper thanks to the Annoy-o-Tron in their way.

It’s usually safe to coin out Mechwarper against Paladin, Priest, and Hunter, since they don’t really have much they can play on the second turn to kill it and prevent you from getting at least one use of the acceleration. Priest has Shadow Word: Pain, which isn’t very common, and Hunter could have something like Glaivezooka to pump a minion already in play, but Paladin needs something like Blessing of Might on a Zombie Chow to really stop you. Against other Mages, you’ll often want to coin out a Mechwarper if you have both a follow up two drop and a three to ramp into, since if they’re Mechmage it keeps them from playing their own two drop to Frostbolt yours, and that’s worth the risk. You certainly don’t want to coin out a Mechwarper into a Clockwork Gnome or Cogmaster where it can just die.

Similarly, be sure to consider Mechwarper in your plays in the later turns, and look for places that you can effectively generate extra mana by getting Mechwarper discounts immediately. Often you’ll be best served to look for opportunities to play both Mechwarper and a discounted mech in the same turn, simply for efficiency’s sake. For instance, if you can play a Fireball on an opposing minion on turn five or play a Piloted Shredder (assuming you have a board already) and you have a Mechwarper in your hand, you’ll get better value for your mana by Fireballing on four and playing Mechwarper into Shredder on five. As a general rule, too, you’re better off using your burn spells to kill opposing minions that might stop you from connecting with your own minions than saving them for your opponent’s face. It’s easy to run out of gas with a hand full of burn that you saved for your opponent’s face instead of using it to get repeated damage in with your minions.

There’s two tips in one for you!

Maximum Annoyance

Annoy-o-TronAnnoy-o-Tron is an aptly named card. As a baby Sunwalker, it’s a very frustrating card to play against, especially for any deck that looks to control the game with weapons or mid to large sized minions. The ability to develop your board and attack your opponent while protecting your offense with Annoy-o-Tron is extremely powerful, and not something you should squander.

Against decks that rely on mid to large size minions or weapons to contest your board, like Druid, Warrior, or midrange Priest/Shaman decks, avoid wasting Annoy-o-Trons. Don’t simply play out an Annoy-o-Tron in the early turns of the game when your opponent can easily kill it with a hero power activation and an attack or a couple attacks from a small minion. Annoy-o-Tron can soak tons of damage in the right circumstances, and you don’t want to lose that chance. Sometimes, you’re better off keeping an Annoy-o-Tron in your hand and using your hero power rather than commit it to a board where it’s not going to have much of an impact.

Superior Secrets

Mirror Entity is a very powerful card. It’s at its best against decks like Druid that play a lot of mid to large sized minions, but even in matchups against opponents with a lot of smaller minions, there are ways to make the most of it. It’s important to keep in mind what the key mana flashpoints are for your opponent’s deck when it comes to their best minions.

Against something like Hunter, for instance, playing an early Mirror Entity is likely to get you something unimpressive like a Webspinner or Haunted Creeper. Similarly, an early Mirror Entity against Warrior is likely to lead to a Cruel Taskmaster or Armorsmith going your way. But if you time your Mirror Entities right before your opponent’s sixth turn, you can either delay their ability to play one of their best minions on curve – in these cases, Savannah Highmane or Shieldmaiden. When in doubt, play it right before your opponent has seven mana to try to copy Dr. Boom.

If your opponent plays something else instead, then you’ve thrown off their ability to play their own game at its most efficient. And if they have no other play and decide to just run their big minion out there – well, that’s even better. It’s a win-win scenario for you either way.

Making The Most of Spare Parts

This + Antonidas = The Fix

This + Antonidas = The Fix

Spare parts, in themselves, are not very powerful cards. But they do have their uses, and you can maximize your success by learning to use them effectively.

Pretty much all of the spare parts obviously work well with Archmage Antonidas, who gives Mechmage much of its late game power. The best is the cloaking field, which can make Antonidas nearly unkillable for a turn to let you unleash a barrage of Fireballs on your next turn guaranteed. The odd part out is Time Rewinder, which will work and get you a Fireball but forces you to bounce your seven drop in order to do so. I’ve actually won a game making that exact play, so don’t discount it entirely, but keep in mind that Time Rewinder comes at a big cost as part of your finishing combo.

Time Rewinder is much better used with other minions to reset their battlecries, like Goblin Blastmage, Loatheb, and Tinkertown Technician. You can also use it as an overpriced heal on pretty much anyone, and don’t hesitate to use it as such if you don’t have a better use for your mana and you can get value out of it. Also, keep in mind that it can reset the divine shield on Annoy-o-Tron, which – as we discussed above – can come in very handy.

You might be tempted to use +attack and +health spare parts as soon as you get them, but you’re usually better served to wait for an opportunity to surprise your opponent by making a trade they weren’t expecting, or to keep a minion alive from a potential AOE effect. Similarly, Reversing Switch has many better uses than just swapping your Mechwarper to hit your opponent for an extra point of damage, like swapping Sludge Belchers to make them easier to kill, or swapping opposing damage minions to keep them from being able to trade up against your stronger minions. Reversing Switch can also just flat out kill zero attack minions like Flametongue Totem and Doomsayer, the latter of which can be particularly troublesome for Mechmage, so be sure to keep that in mind.

Against opposing control decks, I like to save Finicky Cloakfield to protect a high value minion from removal for a key turn. Obviously Antonitas is the best option, but I’ll use it to protect a Goblin Blastmage from an opposing Death’s Bite for a turn, for example. Control warrior in particular often has few good options in the middle turns of the game if they can’t effectively attack your minions or cast removal, and getting a chance to take a chunk out of their armor is often worth using even a quality spare part.

 

And More…

That’s a lot to say about a “simple” deck, and there’s a lot more I could say, too. But it’s easier to show than tell, as they say. Be sure to tune in to my stream where I explain my thought process as I play. I’m live pretty much every weekday starting at 10 AM or so PST until the early afternoon, so come by and say hello!

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