Cards games are notoriously expensive, by team Don’t Kick My Robot (“DKMR”) is here to show you how to play hearthstone on the cheap.
No Pyroblast? No Ice Block? No problem!
Check out this budget Mage list and guide crafted by Ihmo and Varranis of team DKMR!
The total cost of this deck is 860 dust. You should be able to craft nearly the entire deck soon after finishing your practice matches against the AI (don’t forget to defeat all the expert AI heroes, there’s a secret quest that gives you 300 gold for doing so!). Before we get into the specifics of the deck, let’s discuss some basic principles of card games.
#1 Card Advantage is King
Never forget this point. Many people look at life totals when they want to figure out who’s winning a game of Hearthstone. I look at the number of cards a player has on the battlefield and in their hand. Just remember, “The only life total that matters is 0.” Even if your opponent is at 1 life, they have a chance to win. The more cards in their hand and on the battlefield, the more likely they have the right combination to pull out a win no matter what their life total is.
It’s usually never right to aim a Frostbolt or Fireball at your opponent’s face unless it brings their life total to 0 or puts you in a strong position to do so on the following turn. The concept of Card Advantage is why Frostbolt is one of the best cards in the game and Sinister Strike for Rogue is rarely played. Both cards do 3 damage, but Frostbolt is usually able to destroy one of your opponent’s cards while Sinister Strike can never trade for one of your opponent’s cards. Card Advantage is also important to keep in mind when choosing how to attack. Going for the hero is sometimes right, but usually there’s a favorable trade you can make on the battlefield. If you have a 4/4 Dark Iron Dwarf and your opponent has a 3/2 Shattered Sun Cleric, it will usually be right to attack the Cleric with your Dwarf. Your Dwarf will live on as a 4/1 and will have the chance to destroy another minion!
#2 Tempo: Who’s the “Beatdown?”
I may have told a small lie. Card Advantage isn’t always king, sometimes Tempo is. Tempo is a very difficult concept to utilize correctly, and I highly encourage newer card players to focus on mastering card advantage before Tempo. You’ll gain a lot of skill by mastering the concepts of Card Advantage, while the easy tempo questions (do I shoot my opponent with Frostbolt when he’s at 3 life?) are REALLY easy and the hard tempo questions are REALLY hard (do I trade my two 2/3 Taunt minions and my 3/3 for my opponent’s Sylvanas or do I ignore the Sylvanas?). The answer to most Tempo questions relies very heavily on the exact board state. A quick, but often oversimplified, way to determine who has a Tempo advantage is to identify who has the best minions in play. You can also value Tempo based on how much mana your opponent had to spend to do a particular action and how many attacks they had to use. For example, trading a Flame Imp for a Knife Juggler is generally a favorable Tempo advantage since the Imp cost 1 mana and the Juggler cost 2. Also, having two 2/3 Taunt minions can give a greater Tempo advantage than having one 4/6 Taunt minion if your opponent has a 6/6 minion since his minion can only attack once and destroy one of the Taunt minions no matter how large it is
Rogue’s card Sap is a perfect example of a card that’s playable because of Tempo. It inherently provides negative Card Advantage (you lose Sap, the bounced minion is still a playable card), but gives you a temporary Tempo advantage. Sometimes this Tempo advantage is enough to win games! Imagine your opponent playing an impressive 5/10 Taunt Ancient of War just to have it Sapped and lose the game to the Rogue’s horde of minions.
Who’s the “Beatdown?” is a phrase coined by Mike Flores of Magic: The Gathering fame and is a good place to start when understanding tempo. Essentially what it means is that one player is the aggressor and the other player is the “control” deck. In other words, the “Beatdown” player is playing minions and attacking the opponent’s life total while the “control” player is trying to destroy those minions. Who is the “Beatdown” can shift many times during the game. It can be a difficult concept to master, but identifying it correctly will allow you to know whether you should be attacking your opponent’s life total or their minions and let you win games you had no business winning.
Let’s consider the more difficult Tempo question involving Sylvanas that I posed earlier. Who’s the “Beatdown” in this situation? It’s actually really hard to tell without complete details. In most situations I would say the player with the two 2/3 Taunt minions and the 3/3 is the “Beatdown” and would expect them to attack the opponent’s life total. What if the Sylvanas player also has several other minions in play and the other player is at a low life total? It can be tough, but Tempo can win games!
#3 Mana Curve
Mana Curve is a relatively simple concept, but no less important than the others. A Mana Curve refers to the cost of the cards in your deck. The term comes from the curve shape created when looking at a bar graph of your deck’s mana costs. Blizzard has kindly included a Mana Curve graph when playing Arena or when hovering over the name of your constructed deck. You typically want this graph to be in the shape of a bell curve, although some more aggressive or controlling decks may be more lopsided in one direction.
If you look at the Mana Curve of our Mage deck, you can see the bell curve shape I mentioned. A bell shaped Mana Curve means we’ll more likely than not be able to play a good card every turn. Not playing cards the first couple of turns can lead to a massive Tempo disadvantage (this is why you don’t play a deck of all expensive, powerful cards). Playing only 1 and 2 drops in your deck will mean your opponent will likely have more powerful cards in the mid and late game that will trade very favorably with yours and lead to a large Card Disadvantage.
#4 RNG Happens
Card games inherently contain a great many variables, many of which are left to chance. Your job as a player is to maximize the probably that these moments of chance land in your favor. RNG (Random Number Generation) is the term hearthstone players have adopted to refer to these moments of chance. The term originates from video games rather than card games, but is apt for some of the random moments you run into in Hearthstone.
The most important point I need to stress regarding RNG is that you can’t let it affect you. It’s hard not to rage when your opponent Tinkmaster’s your Ancient of Lore and gets the 1/1 Squirrel. It’s not a good play on your opponent’s part, but it happened. Raging, or going on tilt, will only impede your decision making skills in future turns and future games. Stay calm, cool, and collected and know that in the long term, over a large sample size, making the rights plays will put you ahead of random chance.
When RNG is involved in a situation, understand the best and worst possible outcomes and play accordingly. For example, use your Hero Power when playing Shaman before casting Lightning Storm. You could get the Spell Damage Totem and eliminate the risk of only doing 2 damage to a minion with 3 health. Always play your minions and order your attacks in a way that makes your Knife Juggler’s knives most likely to have a larger impact. One example of doing this is by killing the 2/3 side of a Harvest Golem by attacking it before playing a minion that will trigger your Knife Juggler in order to provide yourself a chance of killing the 2/1 Damaged Golem.
Remember: RNG Happens, and that’s not always bad. RNG is going to be good for one player, so play in a way that maximizes the chances that that player is you.
Budget Mage: Card by Card Breakdown
Now that we have a basic understanding of card games, let’s look at our awesome Mage deck and breakdown each card!
Arcane Missiles – Mage starts off with some of the best removal spells in the game! Arcane Missiles isn’t as powerful as some of the other spells we’ll discuss, but it provides a cheap solution to early minions and even buffs your Mana Wyrm. Sometimes RNG Happens and this card is amazing, and other times RNG Happens in the worst possible way. Remember to play in a way that maximizes RNG Happening in a good way.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Argent Squire – Argent Squire has become a must in aggressive decks. Divine Shield is one of the more powerful keywords in Hearthstone, and one mana is the best rate you can get on it. Argent Squire is fairly unimposing at first look, but you’ll be impressed by what this little minion can pull off. There are very few cards that can trade one for one for Argent Squire (remember, Card Advantage is King!), and even if your Squire doesn’t trade for a full card (it’s not uncommon for say a Rogue to use their Hero Power and a Novice Engineer to take out a Squire) it always trades for more than 1 mana and creates a favorable Tempo disparity (your opponent spent 4 mana and two attacks just to destroy a 1 mana 1/1 minion, talk about Tempo value!). Argent Squire gets exponentially better when she gets buffed by cards like Shattered Sun Cleric and Dark Iron Dwarf since you can usually then trade her for two 2 or 3 drops.
Dust Cost: 80
Elven Archer – This little freebie won’t be breaking any metas soon, but it serves an important role in this deck. I would shy away from ever slamming this on turn 1 (Argent Squire and Mana Wyrm are your go tos here). Instead, save the Archer to ping that last point of damage on one of your opponent’s nasty minions or enable Enrage on one of your own minions. You can also use it in conjunction with your Hero Power to deal 2 damage to a minion.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Mana Wyrm – Now this is a 1 drop. It slices, it dices, it comes into play on turn 1 and makes a mockery of most any other 1 drop out there. At 3 health, your opponent will have a difficult time removing it early in the game. Even if you only get this to be a 2/3, it’ll be big enough to trade for almost any two 1 and 2 drops or deal a load of damage to your opponent. This card is so much more powerful than most 1 drops that your opponent will be unable to play certain 1 and 2 drop minions without losing them 2 for 1 to your Mana Wyrm. This creates a huge Tempo advantage (which can materialize as a Card Advantage) in the early game as your opponent either chooses not to play certain cards or loses them to the Mana Wyrm.
Dust Cost: 80
Frostbolt – Another doozy. Frostbolt is one of the best removal spells in the game, and Mage starts with it for free! The fact that it Freezes its target is just a bonus to its already efficient rate of 3 damage for 2 mana. Frostbolt is very versatile and can be used to destroy minions, Freeze a particularly nasty minion, or go to the face. Most frequently, you’ll be using it to snipe Knife Jugglers and other powerful 2 and 3 drops. Don’t underestimate its ability to create a Tempo advantage by Freezing a powerful minion you can’t necessarily destroy just yet in order to let your other minions survive longer. It’s also good at stopping a Warrior or a Paladin with a Fiery War Axe or Truesilver Champion equipped.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Amani Berserker – Amani Berserker will be one of your biggest damage dealers. Play this on turn 2 (or turn 1 with the Coin) and shoot it with your Hero Power on the following turn for a 5/2 beast! Even as a 2/3, this card trades fairly well with popular minions. Don’t forget you can also use Elven Archer to trigger his Enrage if you don’t have enough mana for Fireblast!
Dust Cost: 80
Novice Engineer – Along with Argent Squire, this is one of the most commonly played minions in the game. And you don’t even have to craft it! It’s pretty clear why this card is so popular when you consider that Card Advantage is King. For 2 mana you get a 1/2 and a whole other card! Sometimes you can even trade the 1/2 for a 2/1 your opponent played and get very far ahead. The Engineer also provides a cheap body to buff in later turns with your other minions.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Acolyte of Pain – This guy should really be called the Acolyte of Card Advantage. He saw a lot of play early in the life of hearthstone and has seen a recent resurgence in the popular Warrior control deck. Fortunately, he’s really good in Mage too! Use your Fireblast Hero Power to ping him and draw cards or use him to take out pesky Loot Hoarders and Argent Squires. Buffing him allows for even more card drawing action.
Dust Cost: 80
Harvest Golem – One of the most ubiquitous minions in the game right now. Nearly every competitive deck runs him due to his ability to survive AOE spells and trade 2 for 1 with your opponent’s 2 and 3 drops. The Damaged Golem will frequently die to Druid, Mage, and Rogue Hero Powers, but when he lives, he’s usually trading for a Shattered Sun Cleric or Knife Juggler.
Dust Cost: 80
Raging Worgen – Another one of your big damage dealers. You can Enrage him the same as Amani Berserker and he gains Windfury! Windfury allows him to attack twice per turn, meaning your attack buffs are twice as effective on him. You can also attack a 1 or 2 attack minion with the Worgen to trigger his Enrage and get an immediate second attack. Never forget you always have a way to trigger his Enrage with your Hero Power.
Dust Cost: 80
Shattered Sun Cleric – An excellent minion for 3 mana. The Cleric really lets your Argent Squires shine. Often, one of your best plays when going second will be to play a turn 1 Argent Squire followed by a turn 2 Shattered Sun Cleric using the Coin.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Wolfrider – Wolfrider serves a dual purpose in this deck. As a Charge minion with high attack he can either deal those last few points of damage to an opponent’s life total or he can be used as a 3 mana 3 damage removal spell. He will usually be much more valuable as a removal spell since he usually won’t trade for a card if played just to deal damage. Be careful when playing him against Druids, Mages, and Rogues who can easily dispatch your Wolfrider with their Hero Powers.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Fireball – Another one of Mage’s amazing starter cards. Fireball can be used to dispatch almost any minion for 4 mana or can be a powerful blow to your opponent’s life total. You’ll likely be using this card to close out most of your games. Fireball is one of the most powerful cards in your deck and I encourage you to save it until you absolutely need it.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Dark Iron Dwarf – This fellow is another staple in aggressive decks. A 4/4 for 4 mana is already fairly decent value, add on his +2/+0 buff and you have one of the most efficient minions in the game. He’s especially good at making Novice Engineers, Acolytes of Pain, and Argent Squires deadly and Raging Worgens game ending. Be careful though! He has to give a minion a buff when he lands, so if your opponent is the only one with minions, you’ll be giving one of them +2/+0. You can still play him if no minions are on the battlefield though.
Dust Cost: 80
Defender of Argus – The first rare on our list and arguably the best card in the game. We’re not telling you to spend 200 dust on these guys without good reason, he’s that good! Defender of Argus oozes value. Not only does he give two +1/+1 buffs, but he also gives both those minions Taunt. You can use those buffs to let your other minions trade more favorably with your opponents’ minions or to help control the Tempo of the game by making your opponent attack the minions you Taunt before your other minions. The Taunt can also save you when you’re behind or low on life.
Dust Cost: 200
Water Elemental – We’re only playing one Water Elemental as we have quite a few other 4 drops that are already better than the Elemental. That being said, Water Elemental is still a beating! As a 3/6, he’ll typically be able to trade for more than one of your opponent’s cards. On top of that, he gives you a way to constantly keep an opposing weapon user frozen. Be careful though, his Freeze only triggers if he deals damage, so Divine Shield and Armor will prevent the Freeze trigger.
Dust Cost: FREE!
Argent Commander – The only other rare in our list, and another one of the best cards in the game. This guy is Card Advantage and Tempo all in one package. Charge means he can quickly turn a game around and Divine Shield means he’ll be able to put his 4 attack to good use twice. Whether you’re swinging for game with Argent Commander or taking out minions, you’re nearly always going to feel his impact on the game. Definitely a rare to consider crafting a second copy of early.
Dust Cost: 100
Total Dust Cost: 860
Budget Mage: How to Play the Deck
Now that you’re familiar with the cards in the deck, let’s talk about how to play it! If you haven’t already guessed, we’re usually the “Beatdown” when playing this deck. Your goal is to get your opponent nice and toasty with a Fireball for game after having navigated through his minion horde with your super powerful and efficient minions.
With this in mind, let’s consider mulligan decisions by looking at some example opening hands (mulligan is the term used in most card games when you decide whether to keep or replace cards in your opening hand).
I’m a big fan of everything this hand has to offer and wouldn’t mulligan any of these cards against a Warlock. If we weren’t up against a Warlock, or another class that generally plays aggressive strategies, I would probably mulligan the Arcane Missiles. Against Warlock, we will probably be able to use the Arcane Missiles to remove a Flame Imp or maybe even one of those elusive Blood Imps! Fireball is too good not to keep. It’s possible that we would want to send the Novice Engineer back, but I find it’s usually right to keep them since they draw us an extra card. We’re likely going to Coin into the Amani Berserker on turn 1 and either shoot it with Fireblast to make it a 5/2 or play the Engineer on turn 2 depending on the Warlock’s first couple of plays. It’s even possible we’ll want to save the coin and cast our Arcane Missiles on turn 1 if the Warlock plays an Imp.
Again, I would keep the Engineer as it is a safe turn 2 play that provides Card Advantage. It has additional value against a Paladin since it can kill two Silver Hand Recruits. Frostbolt is another one of those cards that’s too good not to keep. It’s always wise to hold onto a removal spell to deal with unforeseen circumstances. I almost always send back Argent Commanders. Argent Commander is very powerful, but it’s more important to sculpt a strong early game during a mulligan.
This hand is significantly more interesting. Mana Wyrm is our best turn 1 play, so we’re going to keep it. Mana Wyrm isn’t as good against Druid decks as it is against other decks since they tend to play larger minions the Wyrm doesn’t match up well against, but it will still deal a good amount of damage and hopefully trade for a quality removal spell from the Druid. I sent back the Raging Worgen and the Water Elemental to help improve my early game and snag a removal spell, but this isn’t an easy decision. I believe it’s right to send the Worgen back because the Druid can Wrath it for an easy Tempo advantage. The Water Elemental is somewhat more debatable since it could stall some of the Druid’s larger minions and can even trade with a Druid of the Claw (one of Druid’s best minions) in two attacks. It’s also worth noting that if we keep this hand we have a curve of turn 1 Mana Wyrm, turn 2 Fireblast, turn 3 Raging Worgen, turn 4 Water Elemental or Fireblast to trigger Enrage on our Worgen. And this isn’t even taking the cards we draw on future turns into consideration! Let’s see how things turned out after that mulligan…
I like this hand significantly more than our initial hand. We still have a solid curve of turn 1 Mana Wyrm, turn 2 Fireblast or Frostbolt, and turn 3 Acolyte of Pain. We got the removal spell we were looking for (Frostbolt) and even got an Acolyte who will serve as powerful early card draw. We drew an Elven Archer for our first turn and improved our early game that much!
Hopefully looking at these mulligan decisions has given you a good idea of how to play the deck! Generally, you’ll want to build a powerful early game and punctuate the mid and late game with buff minions and removal to increase the power of your early minions and trade favorably with your opponent’s minions.
Ihmo tested the deck in both ranked and casual play to a win rate of 75% in 17 games. Pretty good when your opponents are casting Ragnaros and Sylvanas! Take it for a whirl and see how high you can get in ranked!
Budget Mage: This Deck is Sweet! How Do I Make it Better?
One of the best parts about this deck is that it easily ports to a top-tier competitive Mage deck once you have enough dust! I highly recommend the following list as a strong template for a competitive aggro Mage list:
You’ll notice that crafting the budget deck will get you almost 2/3s of the way to this list! Really the only differences between the budget build and this list are that you’re replacing the Enrage minions (who are your primary damage dealers in the budget list) with Pyroblasts and a few utility Legendaries. You can even use Acolytes of Pain in this list instead of Loot Hoarders if you’d like. The Loot Hoarders are slightly more consistent since they cost 1 less mana, but they’re also far less powerful and die easily to several Hero Powers. Acolyte of Pain is particularly good against the current Warrior control deck that is popular at the highest ranks since Warrior’s removal tends to come in 2 damage packets; not enough to kill an Acolyte.
Budget Mage: I have questions!
Great! I and the other members of team DKMR are happy to answer your questions. Want to know even more about the Mage deck? Want to know why we’re not playing Polymorph? Want to know what decklists we’re running at the top of the ladder?
Check us out at:
Varranis (TwitchTV) and Ihmo (TwitchTV)