Big Spell Mage: A Control Archetype for the Kobolds and Catacombs Era
When Blizzard banished Reno Jackson to Wild, Control Mage players lost a key tool in their quest to a late-game win condition. Though abundant removal spells help mitigate damage, it can still be difficult to stave off lethal pressure and trigger your transformation into Frost Lich Jaina—especially in a meta shaped by Patches the Pirate.
A few cards have helped. Tar Creeper, for example, often trades with two or more enemy minions in the early game. Kazakus is always a source of comfort, his build-your-own spell effect providing you a situational response to whatever type of board state has developed by turn four. And of course in the late-game, Frost Lich Jaina not only heals you over time, but generates perpetual value with her hero power, which can simply fatigue opponents into submission.
But rather than introduce powerful healing spells or more early game removal spells, Blizzard pushed an entirely new archetype: the Big Spell Mage. The reasoning for this seems clear - If they introduced healing or burn spells, they would incentivize more of the run-of-the-mill styles of play. Also, it’s just a lot of fun to play spells with awesome effects. It’s even more fun when you’re rewarded for building a deck around the most powerful spells in the game.
Big Spell Mage’s objective is relatively straightforward: stall until turn five, after which you use your deck’s abundance of removal—again, and again, and again—until given the opportunity to play our win conditions: Medivh, the Guardian, Frost Lich Jaina, and the new Dragoncaller Alanna. Control match-ups often grind into near-fatigue, while many aggro opponents will concede if you manage to stabilize going into turns six and seven.
Kobolds and Catacombs and Fire Dragons
Many cards from the Kobolds and Catacombs expansion—Dragoncaller Alanna, Arcane Tyrant, Spiteful Summoner, Dragon's Fury, Raven Familiar, and Arcane Artificer—made Blizzard’s hopes for a new archetype clear from the outset. The new legendary minion Dragoncaller Alanna might be the flashiest of all, summoning an army of 5/5 Fire Dragons, one for each 5-or-more-mana spell you cast. This provides yet another expensive win condition for Control Mages, one geared specifically toward this archetype. Arcane Tyrant rewards players for playing expensive spells with a free 4/4 minion. This is a powerful tempo play in Mage especially, where it’s now possible to not only wipe an opposing board of four-health minions with Flamestrike, but to also provide a threat of your own—all on turn seven. It’s an Elemental, too, which synergizes with Jaina. Spiteful Summoner makes playing Pyroblast tempting for obvious reasons, though relying on RNG may not be the most reliable of strategies.
The smaller minions help make this archetype viable, offering means for card draw and healing. Raven Familiar is pretty good (not quite an Arcanologist), but downright necessary in a deck that can’t afford to run Arcane Intellect. Meanwhile, Arcane Artificer is a deceptively good card, providing tons of armor over consecutive turns and at least a little in a pinch. Finally, the new Dragon's Fury finally gives Mage an AoE spell in the five-mana slot. It’s a good one, operating in a deck like this as a five-mana Flamestrike at the very least. The fact that it injures one’s own minions is usually irrelevant, considering we need only survive until we find the opportunity and mana to use expensive win conditions.
|Minion (19)||Ability (10)||Playable Hero (1)|
This is the structure of Kibler’s Big Spell Mage deck, at least. The synergies continue in his list: Medivh, the Guardian can generate powerful minions, while Tar Creeper and Pyros pull double weight as Elementals that gain lifesteal with Jaina. Acolyte of Pain for draw. Doomsayer to stall early on or pair with Blizzard. For a better chance against aggro decks, the most recent versions of the deck toss the two Polymorph for a Prince Valanar and Ice Block.
In general, mulligan for Raven Familiar, Acolyte of Pain, Tar Creeper, and Doomsayer—especially the last two if you suspect you are facing aggro. The meta seems to change every day, but at the time of this writing, the so-called Cube Warlock and Highlander Priest are dominating the standard format. Big Spell Mage doesn’t fare well against them, but you can tech in a Dirty Rat to steal a win or two against the Priests. If you are dead-set on playing a variant of Control Mage in this particular meta, it might be wise to counter them with Quest Mage. Against Dragon Priest and Aggro Paladin, two other powerful and popular decks, Big Spell Mage does pretty well, though winning the aggro matchup depends a lot on the strength of your opening hand. Having Doomsayer to reset the board can win the game, allowing you the time to stall and reach that devastating Dragon's Fury on turn five.
Though it doesn’t compete with the power of some decks on the Standard ladder at the moment, players can (and should) fire up Big Spell Mage for the sheer fun of it. Besides, it’s early in the life of the Kobolds and Catacombs meta, shifting what seems like every other day. When (or if) the popular combo decks fall out of the meta, that might be the time to bring Dragoncaller Alanna out to play.
Blizzard’s overt nudge toward the Big Spell archetype seemed before the expansion’s release to be a gimmick. It has so far proved itself at least a fun gimmick, and at best a board-dominant deck to fear when Patches the Pirate and Raza the Chained cycle to Wild. Until then, here's hoping you pull a Pyroblast and Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound from Spiteful Summoner.