|Year of the Raven rotation, Ice Block and Ice Lance, very core cards for Freeze Mage has rotated into wild, making the deck no longer see competitive play in standard mode. For more information, see Game format.|
Freeze Mage is a mage combo deck which uses Freeze effects and board-wide removal to delay the game until it can deal lethal burst damage through specific combinations of spells. With Freeze Mage often dealing little if any damage until near the end of the match, Alexstrasza is commonly considered a critical card for the deck, bringing the opponent's Health within reach of a well-executed combo. Another Freeze Mage win condition is using Archmage Antonidas to generate Fireballs for burst damage .
A complex deck that usually requires repeated lethal calculations and planning two turns ahead, Freeze Mage is widely considered to be a difficult deck to play. However, it is also one of the game's oldest combo decks, it was especially popular in the professional tournament scene before Year of the Raven.
Freeze Mage play has two phases. During the first, it attempts to stall and delay any attacks from the opponent, while accumulating the cards needed to deal lethal damage. The eponymous Freeze effects like Frost Nova and Blizzard are used for this, often in combination with Doomsayer for full removal — something which poses little threat to the mage themselves since they will have few if any minions on the board. More straightforward AoE damage like Flamestrike or Volcanic Potion is also used to clear the board.
The main purpose of the first phase for the mage is to gain the cards needed for their various combos. This can be aided through card draw effects like Arcane Intellect, Acolyte of Pain combined with Fireblast, Loot Hoarder and Bloodmage Thalnos, although the last may be held for later for its Spell Damage. Mad Scientist is a special case, serving to put one of the Freeze Mage's Secrets into play, in this case not only saving mana but preventing valuable card draw from being wasted on those cards, as well as making their timely appearance more reliable. All of the Freeze Mage's early minions also serve to trade against the opponent's minions, slowing their attacks, or at worst to deal face damage, lowering the threshold of lethal by a few points, although this is often rendered irrelevant by Alexstrasza.
Against more aggressive decks, Freeze Mages will often see a substantial dip in their Health over the early game, despite attempts to curb this through Freeze effects and removal. In such match ups, this is often the critical factor in deciding the match — the speed at which the aggressor can deal damage, the efficiency with which the mage can remove the opponent's threats, and how long it takes for the mage to gather the cards they need usually determine the winner.
The second phase is the final phase of the Freeze Mage strategy: destroying the opponent. This is ultimately effected through a number of direct damage spells: Fireball, Ice Lance in combination with Frostbolt, Forgotten Torch and Roaring Torch, and Pyroblast, are the usual range of options. These cards are sought after during the first phase, and delivered in one or two turns as lethal draws within reach.
Wherever possible, the most critical legendary is first employed: Alexstrasza. This Dragon's Battlecry offers a potential reduction of 15 Health, as well as providing a minion capable of dealing a further 8 damage on the next turn. With the opponent frequently at 15 Health or less, the Freeze Mage can on the next turn employ a damaging combo such as Fireball + Fireball + Frostbolt for 15 or Fireball + Frostbolt + Ice Lance + Ice Lance for 17, likely securing a win. Without Alexstrasza, victory is still possible, but is often thwarted by a lack of sufficient spells to burst down a full Health hero — not to mention any Armor or healing involved.
A second legendary is often played as a means of gaining extra burst damage: Archmage Antonidas. Best combined with cheap spells like Frostbolt, Ice Lance, Frost Nova, Arcane Intellect or one of the Secrets, Antonidas can quickly generate a stack of Fireballs. This can allow the mage to throw these spells at the opponent with far less concern for their longevity, bringing victory far closer. Antonidas will generally be removed within a single turn, though, making it wise to play him at maximum mana with a few cheap spells. Ideally, play him following cost reduction of several cards by Emperor Thaurissan, allowing for an extended combo. This can provide the perfect opportunity for the first half of the burn phase: if the mage can reduce the opponent's Health low enough with the cards used to activate Antonidas, the Fireballs provided in exchange may prove sufficient to end the game the next turn.
Another alternate win condition is Malygos. Like Antonidas, this mighty Dragon's cost makes it cumbersome to play. Its value comes from playing it in combination with other cards, in this case damaging spells. Malygos is also likely to be removed the next turn, making cost reduction from Emperor Thaurissan key to getting good value. Under ideal circumstances Malygos can be combined with several spells to deal 30 or more damage to the opponent in a single turn, but if Alexstrasza has already been used, this is usually not necessary in order to reach lethal.
Of course, the path of the Freeze Mage doesn't always run so smoothly. Like the Handlock, Freeze Mages play a perilous game of chicken, balancing their dwindling Health total against their burgeoning offensive capabilities. Freeze Mage victories are often won with the mage at only a few points of Health, while the opponent is reduced from full Health to zero in a turn or two.
The limited supply of direct damage spell cards is one of the key challenges of Freeze Mage — spend too many of them removing enemy threats, or have the enemy heal or Armor too substantially, and the mage will simply run out of the damage required to reach lethal. Conversely, waiting too long to start the burst combo can allow the opponent to defeat the mage before they have a chance to play their hand. For this reason the timing of dealing damage to the enemy hero is key.
Ice Block is an indispensable aid in this delicate balancing act, allowing the mage to cheat death for a turn or two. A pair of Ice Blocks can provide what can seem to the opponent an interminable period of immunity, during which the mage can assemble their finishing play at their leisure. Ice Barrier is the other common Freeze Mage Secret, with a pair providing 16 Armor, increasing the mage's longevity considerably. The requirement of physical attack makes Ice Barrier a little less reliable than Ice Block, since spells and Hero Powers will be able to destroy the mage without triggering it. Ice Barrier is therefore often played early on, to empty the hand, but also to ensure that there is time for it to take effect before the mage's Health gets too low. Healing like Antique Healbot in may also be used.
The archetypal enemy of Freeze Mage is the Control Warrior, with the endless stack of Armor proving too thick for the Freeze Mage's limited burn spells to penetrate — even with Alexstrasza's help. Against aggressive decks, the main challenge is staying alive until the late game.
Playing against Freeze Mage is often a frustrating experience, not because they appear to be winning, but simply because they keep destroying everything you put on the battlefield. The danger of the Freeze Mage is that they may deal little or no damage to you for the first 10 turns, then suddenly deal 20 or more damage from the hand in a single turn. The strategy of the Freeze Mage is so strongly determined by their card draw, it is often very hard to tell where you stand. This non-interactive experience is one reason Freeze Mage was nerfed during the game's beta, when certain Freeze effects were a little stronger.
While deck compositions vary strongly over time, below are listed some key cards prominently seen in Freeze Mage decks.
The following cards are played in most or all versions of the deck:
The following cards are played more than occasionally, but not always:
- In November 2016, Freeze Mage accounted for around 3% of the player population.
- Hearthpwn - BlizzCon 2016 Dev Interview w/ Dean Ayala. (2016-11-05).
|Common deck types|