Hi, my name is Camzeee, and I recently hit legend playing only Handlock this season even amidst the hunter onslaught. Now that the nerfs are coming, I thought it’d be nice to write up a beginner’s guide on how to play Handlock since many new players will be looking for a new deck after jumping ship on Hunter. I’m not a famous streamer or anything, but I do have a lot of experience with the deck and its ins and outs, playing it for 3 seasons to legend.
When I was learning how to play it, I didn’t understand a lot of things, and Handlock is by and large a complex and difficult deck to pilot. I hope my guide helps new players looking to get into one of the most fun decks in the game.
How do you play it?
Handlock is a control deck that focuses on putting down gigantic minions and dealing a lot of damage really fast. It requires a lot of expensive and rare cards that are epic and a few legendaries depending on preference.
The goal is to stick some giants or drakes, use huge board clears in Ancient Watcher + Shadowflame or Hellfire to free the board in subsequent turns for you to dominate. There is also single target removable in Siphon Soul for dealing with the Ragnaros’ and Yseras of this world.
Handlock is good against Warrior, Priest, most Druids, Miracle Rogue and Zoo. So if where you are in the ladder are those kinds of decks, Handlock is a great choice.
However, it’s unfavorable against Shaman especially ones with burst and weak to Paladin with their Peacekeepers and full board clears. It’s not by any means unwinnable though, and the only deck that’s truly a nightmare is hunter who doesn’t care about your giants which he can Hunters Mark and steady shot his way to victory. With the buzzard nerf though, I’d say Handlock is set to dominate the meta.
By my estimations, the matchups are as follows:
The general gist of playing it goes like this when going first:
- Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant
When going second:
- Ancient Watcher/Farseer/Coin Twilight
- Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant
From there, you can play Belcher on 5, tap Giant on 5 and probably do a board clear/removal on 6 to pave the way forward. Save AOE for what you think are their biggest threats, and be conscious of your own life which becomes steadily a liability. You’ll want to tap at every opportunity and reap that beautiful card advantage.
Against aggro, a lot of this goes out the window. You play what you need to in order to survive. One of the best early plays is coin Ancient Watcher > Ironbeak Owl. It’s often optimal to do that even in control matchups simply for the Innervate Yeti effect. It’s also often right against the likes of hunter to play Sunfury against a Mad Scientist on an empty board for example or to Owl an Undertaker. Remember that playing an early threat means you not only get a minion on board, but prevent two damage from the tap!
- Is my hand full? This is a beginners mistake to overdraw. Make sure when your turn is over, you have no more than 9 cards in hand, and fewer if your opponent happens to be running mill elements or sap. You can do quick checks if you have a mountain giant in hand. 5 means 8, 4 means 9, 3 means 10 and you have to play something.
- Living on the edge. As Handlock, you want to be as low on health as possible while remaining unkillable. Make sure you don’t lose to burst, but try to get those moltens out. Remember that you get essentially free taps on molten giants between 20-10.
- Molten Giants are almost unplayable with Jaraxxus. My deck runs Jaraxxus, and he sets the maximum life to 15 thereby making Giants cost 20 at 15. Play them before Jaraxxus.
- Coin Mountain Giant. lol. Don’t do it!
- Tap first. If your play involves tapping at any point, do it first as long as it doesn’t overdraw you so you get more options to work with.
- Always check lethal. Handlock has incredible burst (if you run it) and even with the upcoming Leeroy nerf, a Leeroy + Power + Soulfire combo does 14 dmg for 6 mana. That’s often enough to end games on the spot.
Card by Card
- x2 Soulfire – I know people have been dropping soulfire lately, but its damage output and utility I’ve found is just too good not to have. Not only does it give extra reach with Leeroy bursts, but it can give you back the board on the turn you play a threat on t4.
- x1 Mortal Coil – I can’t remember how many times I’ve thought to myself, please get a mortal coil so I can finish off that silenced drake or a 5 health minion. It’s really useful, and I’ve run two in the past, but 1 is usually okay too.
- x1 Power Overwhelming – This card might very well end up on the chopping block post Leeroy nerf. But I find it has utility in many situations. I’ve sometimes lost the board so badly, that I had to Ancient Watcher + PO + Shadowflame for an 8 dmg AOE to come back. Owl works well too especially with the deathrattle meta. Also combos well with Leeroy for obvious reasons.
- x2 Ancient Watcher – A deck staple. Use it to taunt up, shadowflame, as a 2 mana drop to prevent yourself from overdrawing. It’s really important, so don’t cut it out.
- x2 Sunfury Protector – One of the deck’s most important cards. 2 are required. Often times, it’s better to drop a naked Argus then this card simply because it’s cheaper in tough spots.
- x2 Earthen Ring Farseer – Can’t imagine a Handlock without this card. A very good t3 play when on the coin, against aggro, and for healing purposes when your health dips just a bit too low.
- x1 Hellfire – I see lots of people running x2 of this, but I think x1 and x2 Shadowflame is better for a number of reasons. In our new control meta which is dawning, Hellfire often doesn’t do enough dmg to clear a few beefy creatures and I don’t like that it’s limited to 3 dmg. That said, it’s still a great clear, and lowers your own health for Moltens.
- x2 Shadowflame – I’m a huge fan of shadowflame. It’s tremendous AOE removal, and doesn’t hurt yourself in the process. The downside is that it needs to be combo’ed, but I feel it’s better now than ever since there’ll be more Handlock and big stuff around, and it’s brilliant in the mirror.
- x1 Defender of Argus – You need at least 1, but 2 I find can stifle your hand. The inclusion of Sludge Belchers I think helps out on the taunt front so that only 1 of these is necessary. It’s very rare that I have a hand that desperately needed a taunt giver with only 1 copy of this so I think it’s fine as is.
- x1 Leeroy Jenkins – Could very well be removed post nerf since the Leeroy + PO + Faceless Combo is off the table. That said, 6 mana and 14 dmg with PO + Soulfire is still really impressive so it’s not an auto-cut by any means. Also combos well with Shadowflame in a pinch.
- x2 Twilight Drake – Handlock staple. Try to make them as big as possible. Sadly very easily dealt with by Shaman with Earth Shock, but otherwise a terror, and will do great against priests.
- x1 Faceless Manipulator – I really want two. I really do, but I think one is correct. The best case scenario is a T4 Giant that they leave unharmed which you can then Faceless and proceed to wreck face. Combos with Leeroy too, albeit, less well post nerf. Still has an important place in the deck. One of my favorite plays ever is on 10 health. Double Molten, Sunfury, Faceless. That’s 3 taunting 8/8s.
- x1 Loatheb – Man, this card is so good. But you need the right opening. Best time to play it is when you drop giants/have giants and need a way to stop your opponent from bursting or clearing. It’s also nice to have an unconditional drop sometimes on the off chance you don’t draw any giants or drakes by t5 which sadly happens on occasion.
- x2 Sludge Belcher – 7 health worth of taunts split up makes this thing a beast. 5 health is magical too, and he can be used to tempt out Black Knights and hard removal on occasion. It’s just a strictly better Sunwalker and has a nice place in the deck for stalling while you tap into answers.
- x2 Siphon Soul – I like having two for the heal. Also, for some reason, I always seem to either not draw this when I really, really need it, or discard one through Soulfire. It’s also the only good way for Handlock to remove Ysera who’s going to be making a comeback in a big way in the slower meta. Can be replaced by Ragnaros if you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind the RNG.
- x1 Lord Jaraxxus – This card. Wow. It’s an alternate win condition, and that’s why I love it. Often, you can play say a Shaman and he hexes both mountains, earth shocks both drakes, and his board advantage removes the moltens. Then you drop this guy, and he cries. It’s also tremendous against priest after they’ve thought they’d won or pushed you to fatigue. I considered Alex, but Jaraxxus in the pure control matchup gives incredible longer term value and that 3 dmg swing on arrival which sometimes can be the dmg you need to win. In any case, I feel Handlock needs more threats and it’s always a surprise when played which can just about give you the edge.
- x2 Mountain Giant – Handlock staple. Very important threat and it’s not Handlock without them.
- x2 Molten Giant – Probably Handlock’s single best card. It’s the card you least want to discard with Soulfire and can represent an enormous swing when played for cheap or free. Just remember that you can’t play it after you Jaraxxus and you’ll be fine.
You’re looking Drakes and Giants. Drakes and Giants in almost all matchups. Keep Watcher + Owl if you have them especially on coin for an early start. Against aggro like hunter, I keep Owl for the undertaker, Molten Giants and Earthen Rings if it’s particularly aggressive. Mortal coil if you get a drake/giant or two as a hedge.
- Warlock – It depends whether you think it’s Zoo or Handlock. Watch your opponents’ hand. Usually, a full mulligan indicates it’s Handlock since they’re looking for very specific cards, whereas a kept hand is often Zoo. I like keeping Mortal Coil too against Zoo. Clear the board whenever possible. Against Handlock, don’t drop him into easy Molten Giant range. I like 15 as a benchmark since he can’t play two and taunt them in one turn no matter what. If you have burst, I sometimes don’t even lower him below 19.
- Druid – Drakes and Giants. Almost anything else and you’re throwing it back. Control the board, try and stick a threat, and beware the FoN Savage Roar combo at all times. Same against both Naxx aggro and Ramp.
- Rogue – Drakes and Giants against miracle but if you know it’s Cancer, the Aggro mulligan works best. Watcher + Shadowflame is crucial to remove the stealthed Gadgetzan and beware of sap which could cause you to overdraw.
- Hunter – Keep Moltens, and mull hard for Ancient Watcher + Owl. As a result, I usually keep the owl and earthen ring too. Don’t keep the watcher without an activator. Drakes are okay too since you can sometimes coin them out and they’re the decks only true 4 drop.
- Paladin – Drakes and Giants. Mortal coil a bonus but don’t keep unless you have threats. Do not overextend. Do not overextend. Equality will decimate you. The good thing is, Paladin has little burst, so you can play dangerously and usually get away with it. Jaraxxus is king in this one often as a last ditch wave of threats.
- Shaman – Drakes and Giants. Yes, it’s depressing getting hexed or earth shocked, but you can come back if you get good board clears and time them well. Try and stifle Shaman’s draw which is its weakness and they’ll be left toteming and filling up a board while putting on little pressure.
- Mage – Drakes and Giants unless it’s aggro. This is a strange one. I never really know how it’s going to go. Secrets mage is annoying but manageable, Freeze mage should theoretically have an advantage but I’ve run into so few and the ones that I do run into tend not to be played well and are often an experiment. If it’s freeze, keep your board alive, break the ice block asap, and heal post Alex.
- Priest – Drakes and Giants. I relish this one. Drop threats, stick them to the board and Shadowflame clear. The new Kibler priest is making a big splash, but you should definitely be favored. The biggest threat they have is Sylvanas Windrunner. Save an Owl for it as it can muck up your plays big time. Siphon Soul is also good in case they have something obnoxious like Ysera as a late game threat.
- Warrior – Drakes and Giants. Keep their armor down as best as possible. Once they hit 10 mana, watch out for Grommash bursts especially with the Death’s Bite equipped. Siphon Soul is great here for dealing with Rag or Ysera type stuff. Beware of Brawl. Try and tempt it out with big drakes and a giant or two but don’t go all in. Earthen Ring to heal your minions is really important here to prevent easy executes say after attacking a sludge belcher.
- No burst. This is something I’ll be experimenting with post nerf. I love burst, and it’s a key part of the meta, but without the Leeroy 20 dmg combo soon. Slower variants could come out. I can see Sylvanas and the Black Knight/Ragnaros filling in for Leeroy and Power Overwhelming for more value/control play. BGH could also make a big return but outside of Handlock and Ctrl Warrior, there just aren’t that many targets atm.
- Alexstrasza VS Jaraxxus. Both are solid choices, but if you want something more immediately offensive, Alexstrasza is a good choice instead of Jaraxxus since it puts an 8/8 out on the board. I do however think at least one of them will be necessary going forward. Two is likely excessive since they’re usually dead draws until turn 11 or so.
- Additional taunts. In an aggro meta, techs of Sen’jin and Sunwalker are common, and can really help out. I just don’t envision that being the case post nerf. Second Argus is definitely arguable though regardless of the state of the meta.