It has been a long time since I started the Revisiting hearthstone series and I’d like to continue it in full flow now that expansions and adventures are out of the way from keeping us busy for a few months at least. Freeze Mage is one of the most iconic hearthstone decks, because of the way it has been able to live on through the years – something not too many decks can brag about. In fact, Freeze Mage is one of the decks that dominated the early stages of the game and had to be nerfed in Hearthstone’s infancy. Let’s take a look at how the deck fared through the expansions and adventures and what lies ahead for the deck in this chapter of Revisiting Hearthstone. If you want to check out the previous writeup of the series, head to: http://hearthstoneplayers.com/revisiting-hearthstone-part-history-warlock
So what is Freeze Mage? Freeze Mage is a deck that has various stall elements through ‘freeze’ spells like Cone of Cold, Frost Nova and Blizzard that stop opponents from being able to use their minions on board and then the deck proceeds to put together spells for bursting opponents down with the help of cards like Bloodmage Thalnos, Archmage Antonidas and Alexstrasza to finish opponents. In fringe cases Malygos is also one of the win conditions in niche decks. You also have Ice Barrier and Ice Block for keeping your health pool safe and give you ‘immunity’ for a turn even if lethal damage is dealt when Ice Block is in play.
Classic Era: Nerfs Galore!
It was not difficult to piece together a Freeze Mage deck because of the high levels of synergy the Mage cards had were telling and people found out how they could build such a deck with the massive range of tools. The deck grew in immense popularity in the Alpha stages of the game and Blizzard had to tweak the costs of the cards to a great extent to avoid making the games non-interactive for opponents. There was a lot of hue and cry about the deck and Blizzard stepped down to take some action. Even though the deck was nerfed quite a bit, things did not change much for the deck but it surely toned down the power levels. If you were wondering what was so crazy about the deck that it required changes then take a look at the following:
- Alexstrasza’s Battlecry could remove armor instead of just setting a player’s HP to 15. Can you imagine what the Control Warrior vs Freeze Mage matchup would be like had the card not been changed? This was rectified in a patch in 2013.
- Cone of Cold required only 3 mana to cast, Blizzard required 5 and Frost Nova was 2 mana. This was a very big deal because you could pull off combos with Doomsayer and stall the game a lot more efficiently. All of these cards were hit by the nerf hammer and their costs were increased by 1 each.
- In a later patch, Pyroblast was nerfed from being an 8 mana card to a 10 mana card. Both Pyroblast and the Priest card Mind Control were 8 mana spells and they had their costs increased.
Blizzard did an exceptional job with the nerfs, they understood how annoying the deck but they did not go overboard with the nerfs and toned them down enough to neither make them broken in the meta nor unplayable. The deck managed to do fine even after the nerfs and it was one of the most popular tournament decks for a long time! One of the reasons behind its popularity was the matchup versus Zoolock, which is highly favorable for Freeze Mage – this holds true even in 2016!
Curse of Naxxramas: Experiments and A New Enemy
Mad Scientist, one of the best 2 drops in the game of all time for Hunter and Mage came out in the adventure, and people started including it in Freeze Mage lists because you not only developed a 2/2 body on board but you also under paid for your secrets by one mana without losing tempo. This was a big deal in the fast paced meta and the deck managed to get a whole lot stronger in a vacuum. There weren’t any other particularly good adds from the adventure that were included in the list, some people did try the occasional Sludge Belcher but it was cut off eventually.
But even though Mad Scientist boosted the power levels of the deck, there was also a notorious enemy that came along – Loatheb. One of the most popular hearthstone legendaries, the card when played at the perfect moment could outright lose you (the Freeze Mage player) games and leave you no choice but to concede even. Loatheb was quite popular and people who played Freeze Mage had to be extra careful about the card because of how much it could slow down your game plan. From preventing burst damage to avoiding AoE for one turn, it could generate a massive swing on its own and it only made the Freeze Mage deck a bit more complex to play because you would have to keep Loatheb turns in mind.
Goblins versus Gnomes: Back From The Junk Heap
Just like Naxxramas, GvG also added another useful card to the Freeze Mage set of tools – Antique Healbot. Paladin was one of the top classes after GvG because of the number of tools they got and Mid Range Paladin was one of the best decks around due to the explosive early game and lategame threats in form of Dr. Boom and Tirion Fordring. Healbot helped a lot in dealing with the aggression and it was a solid tech card for a long time until the set rotated out this year. It was also a consideration Freeze Mage players needed to make because most mid range decks ran Healbot and you would have to have a backup plan after Alexstrasza and ensure you would be able to close out the game even if your opponent gained some health.
Kezan Mystic did cause the occasional problems but not too many people ran it as the set got older, but when it did get played correctly it led to instant concedes. People who were experienced would play it on the turns they had lethal or steal the Ice Block to avoid lethal and threaten killing the Freeze Mage themselves. A lot of people ran Kezan to deal with Face Hunters and Mid Range Hunters and Freeze Mage would get caught in the crossfire once in a while leading to games that turned around on the back of that card.
Blackrock Mountain: The Frozen Emperor
If there is any card outside of the Classic set that made a huge impact to the deck upon arrival it is Emperor Thaurissan, it is an incredible card that allows you to add an extra win condition to your deck – the Thalnos OTK. And who doesn’t like discounts anyway?
The potential that Emperor enabled for the deck is just insane. From allowing you to get some extra Fireballs through Archmage Antonidas to setting up an OTK with Bloodmage Thalnos and your burst spells. Freeze Mage became a lot stronger yet again. But Mid Range Druid with the Force of Nature and Savage Roar combo was getting more and more popular and it kept Freeze Mage from making that big of an impact. Flamewaker pushed Tempo Mage quite a bit and people preferred the explosive Mage deck and Freeze started falling out of favor on ladder.
The Grand Tournament: Tanking It Up!
One of the biggest attractions in the expansion was Justicar Trueheart and every class scattered to put it in their decks however 2 of the classes that benefited the most were Warrior and Priest. While Priests being able to heal by 4 was not a big deal for Freeze Mage, Warrior’s upgraded hero power became a major concern and it made an already difficult matchup borderline unwinnable. Mage did not get anything in particular worth using and the deck started falling out of favor with Tempo Mage gaining even more popularity with cards like Spellslinger and Arcane Blast pushing the Tempo archetype further. But the rise in Secret Paladin a few weeks after the expansion hit made Freeze Mage a hit on ladder. Tempo Mage was quite poor against the aggressively curved Paladin deck and Freeze was one of the perfect counters for it. It did a good job of dealing with the deck mostly because Secret Paladin did not run any heal and Paladin as a class doesn’t do too well against combo decks.
League of Explorers: Torching It Down!
Forgotten Torch is one of the most powerful tools in the Freeze Mage arsenal right now and it did a great job of pushing the archetype quite a bit with Bloodmage Thalnos becoming even more powerful as a win condition due to better burst damage potential with the Roaring Torches because they cost 1 mana less than Fireball but do the same thing. You can just get a sizeable amount of burst in your hand and drop Emperor Thaurissan and follow it up with an OTK, without even needing to play Alexstrasza to set up lethal most of the time. Laughing, one of the best Freeze Mage players in the game if not the very best right now did a great job building optimal Torch Freeze Mage lists which he has been using at high legend ranks every season since LoE. I recommend watching his videos if you want to understand the intricacies of the deck.
Whispers of the Old Gods: Goodbye Old Friends
Whispers of the Old Gods did not bring anything for Freeze Mage and it kept pushing the Tempo Mage archetype through cards like Cult Sorcerer and Cabalist's Tome. The deck has been losing popularity ever since and the tournament meta is also slightly unfavored for Freeze Mage right now mostly because of cards like Ancient Shieldbearer and the dominance of Warrior in general. And of course Freeze Mage lost Mad Scientist and Antique Healbot which made the deck a lot weaker. But with the departure of Naxxramas, Loatheb went too and Combo Druid no longer remained the threat it was to Freeze because the combo was nerfed before the Old Gods expansion. It led to Freeze Mage being an usable deck in the meta under the right circumstances with Aggro Shaman and Control Warrior being notably bad matchups right now. The archetype might not be as good as before but it manages to get the job done even now for sure as long as you are not facing too many Control/C’thun Warriors.
One Night in Karazhan and The Future of Freeze Mage
One Night in Karazhan has not brought anything to light that Freeze Mage might benefit from but Medivh's Valet does have some potential in burn heavy decks as it acts as an extra Frostbolt. Kolento was playing a deck with the card at Rank 1 during his grind to Legend but cutting out card draw isn’t the best of ideas but there is potential if we are able to strike the right balance between burn and draw. Other than the classic deck we all know Freeze Mage has also branched out to niche archetypes like Aggro Freeze and OTK Mage, but they just did not have the consistency to repeatedly do well in the meta because they were designed to target specific decks that were popular.
We are yet to see what will become of the archetype in the post-Karazhan meta. With the 2017 rotation coming in less than a year, Emperor Thaurissan and Forgotten Torch will be going out of Standard. Will Blizzard inject some fresh blood into the deck or will it die out like some of our old, beloved decks like Handlock? Even if there is nothing new to revive the deck, it should still be viable enough to play on Wild since you will have all of your favorite tools to work with. But one thing is for sure, Freeze Mage will always be the ‘coolest’ deck of all time!