By Spike, Regular Contributor
Secret Mage has been a strong, much hated part of the Wild meta for a good few expansions now. The combination of strong Secrets from the past and a few new tools from Madness At the Darkmoon Faire, most notably Rigged Faire Game and Sayge, Seer of Darkmoon, allow a deck that can rely heavily on burn- but also survive the aggressive meat grinder that is the Wild meta via board control, and draw enough to pull it all off. Despite no longer being the undisputable best deck in Wild, Secret Mage is still very strong and more than capable of posting a good winrate, with the opponent often getting burnt to 0 by Turn 6-7.
Secret Mage Deck List
There’ve been an influx of Secret synergies in Madness At the Darkmoon Faire. Mage received five cards built around Secrets, including a new Secret and a Secret-based Legendary. There was also the Neutral card Inconspicuous Rider, for a total of half a dozen new Secrets/Secret synergies for Mage to try out- so which made the cut?
The list below is my list, which is slightly different from most- I chose to include a second Flame Ward and Counterspell over a second Occult Conjurer and Rigged Faire Game, and I still run Aluneth instead of Sayge, Seer of Darkmoon. I’ve experimented with all of the new cards and this is my personally preferred list, but if you want a more “standard” list, just replace a Counterspell, a Flame Ward, and Aluneth with a second Occult Conjurer, Rigged Faire Game, and Sayge, Seer of Darkmoon. Some lists cut Ice Block, but that’s just not a great idea with how close some games against Aggro get right now. There’s also a list going around that uses Khadgar, 2x Netherwind Portal, 2x Spellbender, and 2x Occult Conjurer just to be funny, but it’s more of a meme list than a viable deck.
Deck code is (AAEBAf0EBMABotMCkOEDkeEDDXG7AuwF9w3XtgLrugKHvQLBwQKP0wK+pAO/pAPdqQP0qwMA).
*Note: since publishing, I have dropped Occult Conjurer for a second Rigged Faire Game. You can also drop either a Counterspell or a Flame Ward.
So, of the six new Secret package cards Mage had access to from Darkmoon Faire, the majority of lists only run two or three of them. The best lists ignore Game Master, Inconspicuous Rider, and Ring Toss- but why?
First off, Ring Toss. Quite frankly, it sucks in Wild Secret Mage. You run three cards that will possibly Corrupt it (Kabal Crystal Runner realistically isn’t going to stay at full price by Turn 6 unless you draw horribly)- Aluneth/Sayge, Seer of Darkmoon and two copies of Cloud Prince- and when not Corrupted, it’s not great. Discovering a Mage Secret and casting it for 4 Mana isn’t terrible (since Mage has mostly good Secrets), but Secret Mage is a packed deck, and you don’t want to play anything short of excellent.
Speaking of excellent- that’s why you don’t play Inconspicuous Rider. It’s a great card. You sacrifice about one Mana worth of stats to draw and cast a Secret from your deck. Issue is, at 3 mana you’d rather play Kirin Tor Mage- control which Secret you play, activate Arcane Flakmage and/or Kabal Crystal Runner, and get 2/1 of extra stats for the same cost, but without thinning your deck. So Inconspicuous Rider sees little or no play.
Game Master is the last one. To be honest, it’s a really solid card. I tried a 1-1 split of Game Master and Mad Scientist, and it worked pretty well. The issue is, it’s not super beefy, and your opponent’s probably going to remove it the first chance they get. The best option is to play it with a Secret on Turn 3, but on Turn 3 you just have better things to do. Even with the ongoing effect, Game Master isn’t quite worth the slot.
Rigged Faire Game, Occult Conjurer, and Sayge, Seer of Darkmoon, on the other hand, generally make the cut. Though some lists run the first two as 1-ofs, especially Occult Conjurer, and Aluneth is still about on par with Sayge, they’re good cards and made the cut into a lot of lists. So what makes them worth the slots in a jam-packed deck?
Sayge is a pretty self-explanatory card. It’s a good replacement for Aluneth, generally drawing 4-6 cards all at once instead of a few each turn. It doesn’t have as much of a risk of causing Fatigue (Toxicologist is a cool tech I’ve seen to prevent Aluneth from overdrawing by dropping its Durability, but obviously it isn’t a good card in the deck), but it also runs the risk of overdrawing. The 5/5 body is better than a 0/3 Weapon, and it’s just a slightly better card. I still run Aluneth because I prefer it, but Sayge is an excellent replacement.
Occult Conjurer looks, on paper, like a super powerful card in a deck that nearly always has Secrets in play. 8/8 of stats spread across two bodies for only 4 mana? Obviously good. However, there’s a reason some lists run it as a 1-of- it doesn’t do anything but put bodies on the board, and Secret Mage doesn’t care as much about that as some decks. Usually, the minions in the deck are going to draw Secrets, or make it cheaper to play Secrets, or deal burn damage when Secrets are up- the bodies on the board are just bonuses a lot of the time. In the deck, a card that just puts stats on the board isn’t as useful.
Rigged Faire Game is, quite possibly, the best new card in the deck. It’s an amazing card against Control decks, since it’s a 3 mana card that draws you three cards on your next turn a lot of the time. Against Aggro, it stays up for a while, allowing you to activate Secret synergies on Medivh’s Valet and Cloud Prince more easily. It’s just a solid card in general, and I only run it as a 1-of instead of two copies because I want to fit more copies of other cards.
HIGHEST PRIORITY (KEEP EVERY TIME)
- Ancient Mysteries/Mad Scientist- Two of the best cards in the deck. Aside from the fact that they both tutor a Secret from your deck, with Ancient Mysteries you can play that Secret for free whenever needed- and, at 2 mana, it’s a net mana cheaper than playing a Secret normally. Mad Scientist puts a small body on the board, allowing you to make an early trade, which is nice.
- Kabal Lackey- At one mana, this little guy allows you to play a Secret that turn for free. If you have a Secret in hand, he allows you to have a Secret in play Turn 1, which can be followed by a Medivh’s Valet Turn 2, which is a very strong first 2 turns. Even if you don’t have a Secret in hand, holding him for later often allows you to have a very good, mana-cheating turn in the mid game. Plus, he has premium 2/1 stats for an aggressive one-drop. All in all just a great card and a large part of why Secret Mage is so good.
- Explosive Runes- If you can cheat this out with Kabal Lackey, it’s absolutely amazing, but even if you play it Turn 3, it’s just solid. 6 damage to a minion is enough to kill most (if not all) early game minions, and any excess damage goes to the opponent’s face. With Secret Mage being a burn deck, this is just a natural fit in the deck and a wonderful early game card. It does tend to fall off in the late game, though, but even then goes a long way to prevent the opponent from sticking a large threat.
LOWER PRIORITY (KEEP ONLY IF CERTAIN CONDITIONS ARE MET)
- Counterspell- Keep against Mage, Shaman and Druid. If you can get this out Turn 1 going first with Kabal Lackey against Quest Mage, you’d be surprised how many of them forget to test with Coin before playing their Quest, especially in lower ranks- and if they do, it’s often a free game. Even against other flavors of Mage, preventing an early or mid game Spell, though not especially impactful, still often means an extra turn to set up. Against Shaman, this prevents them from cheating out a big minion early, or, occasionally, from buffing their Murlocs to giant sizes, but it’s less needed than against the other 2 classes. Against Druid, the card is crucial in the mid and late game to prevent bombs such as Survival of the Fittest or Ultimate Infestation, or to disrupt combos, though most players will try to trigger it prior to dropping Malygos or Kun, the Forgotten King combos.
- Medivh’s Valet- Keep if you already have Kabal Lackey and a Secret or Ancient Mysteries in hand. Aside from the burn damage, you can also use it to clear early threats such as Satyr Overseer, Hench-Clan Thug or Vicious Fledgeling. It’s just a good, versatile card.
- Arcane Flakmage and Flame Ward- keep against opponents that are likely to be Aggro, such as Paladin, Rogue, Demon Hunter, or Warrior. Clearing out an early board is often the difference between winning and losing, and the deck isn’t very suited for dealing with boards that have already snowballed out of control. This is especially crucial against decks such as Pirate Warrior or Odd Paladin.
- Ice Block- keep against Druid/Warlock/Mage. All three classes have Combo decks or decks that have a huge payoff (Time Warp, Gul’dan, etc), and this often allows you the one extra turn to sneak in burn damage for lethal. It’s also good because it (normally, unless the opponent plays anti-Secret techs) should stay up the entire game, allowing you to activate Medivh’s Valet and Cloud Mage.
- Aluneth- Keep if you already have a decent hand. I tend not to keep it unless going second, because despite how good it is once you play it, it’s a dead card until Turn 6 (or 5, with Coin).
- Rigged Faire Game- keep against Control or against Aggro if you have Medivh’s Valet/Occult Conjurer in hand. It’s either draw or an activator for synergies depending on your opponent, and it’s just a decent card all around.
Of course, that isn’t a strict guide, just guidelines. Sometimes you may want to keep something like Kabal Crystal Runner, or Cloud Mage, or Fireball, but it’s a bit more of a risk, and really comes down to the intuition that develops from playing around enough with the deck.
General Playstyle and Strategy
The deck is simple enough to pilot. Get your early Secrets out with Kabal Lackey and Arcane Mysteries, along with the mid-game Kirin Tor Mage, use your mid-game cards such as Medivh’s Valet and Occult Conjurer to keep the opponent from developing, then pivot to face as much as you can around Turn 5-6. Kabal Crystal Runner is a good threat that often comes down on Turn 5 or earlier, and then between Cloud Prince and Fireball being directed to the opposing Hero’s face you often manage to close the games out then and there. If needed, you drop Aluneth to pull yet more burn from your deck, and direct it all to the opponent’s dome. The playstyle of the deck has somewhat shifted with the addition of Darkmoon Faire cards, as it’s slightly more long-game and less burn focused, but mostly it’s just more versatile and the overall strategy hasn’t changed dramatically.
Honestly, your playstyle doesn’t shift all too much depending on if you face Aggro, Control, Midrange, or Combo. The basic gameplan of the deck is just to send burn to the opponent’s face, and the opposing archetype only changes how devoutly you stick to that. At any rate, there are a few differences, so…
Aggro is simply a race to kill them before they kill you. Arcane Flakmage and Flame Ward are helpful for clearing early boards against the likes of Mech Paladin, Discard Warlock, Odd Demon Hunter, Odd Paladin, or Pirate Warrior decks, while your minions and Medivh’s Valet are often going to be forced to be used as single-target removal for high-priority targets. Explosive Runes is amazing for killing a minion and dealing a bit to the opponent’s face as well. If you manage to have minions on board, they will often be used for trades rather than to hit face, simply to keep you alive.
However, in this race, you need to direct burn to face as much as the board state allows. Cloud Prince, Fireball, and Medivh’s Valet are all good tools. I can’t stress enough how important it is to time your Flame Wards and Counterspells right to prevent big boards or buffs, but that’s a skill you should quickly develop from playing the deck. Play your cards right, and this is a race you should normally win.
Essentially, against Aggro, you’ll have to direct burn to face while still keeping their board in check. This is something that you’ll need to fine-tune your skill at by actually playing the deck, but isn’t super difficult and you should get the hang of rather quickly.
Versus Control, you’re pretty much playing a burn deck. You’ll want to kill them as fast as possible before their payoffs or win conditions come into play, and the deck will require a fairly streamlined gameplan to do so. The deck is capable of dishing out exactly 30 pure burn damage, and depending on how heal-heavy the opponent is, you’ll usually use most of it, along with any minion damage you manage to sneak in. On the plus side, you don’t really need to worry about board clears or controlling the board. Rigged Faire Game is excellent against Control, because it allows you to draw more cards, leaving more options- a necessity for the deck.
Highlander decks such as Highlander Mage and Raza Priest are not good matchups. Cross your fingers they don’t draw Reno and hope for the best.
Against Control, keeping disruptive Secrets such as Counterspell, Explosive Runes, or Ice Block up is crucial. In fact, you should probably get Ice Block up as soon as possible, because they both won’t kill you immediately if they get a bomb off (allowing you to sneak that last bit of burn damage in) and because it’ll activate Cloud Mage. In the early game, getting Secrets up with your four cheat cards (Kabal Lackey, Mad Scientist, Ancient Mysteries, and Kirin Tor Mage) is essential. This also allows some early Kabal Crystal Runners and Cloud Mage burn damage to get set up. You’ll want to pivot to a pure burn plan as soon as the game state allows it. Essentially, in a Control matchup, the faster you burn them down, the better. If they manage to survive, Aluneth should find you that last bit of reach you need.
Your game plan against Combo decks is the same as against Control. Burn them down as soon as possible, and, if you can, disrupt their Combo with Counterspell or Explosive Runes. Make sure to get Ice Block up ASAP. There really isn’t much difference between facing Combo and Control, other than that Combo decks won’t usually allow you to dig out your burn if they survive to the late game.
First off, there’re a few versions of the deck, but usually the difference between them is only three or four cards. The most popular version cuts the cards listed up by the deck list. The two lists play very similarly, bar that the more standard version has less disruption in exchange for potential board presence.
Some lists also prefer to play an extra Occult Conjurer over the second copy of Flame Ward. You shouldn’t do this, because you want to have Secrets when you need them, and eight is around the number you need for consistency.
Likewise, some lists cut a Secret for Stargazer Luna. Don’t. You honestly don’t dump your hand that often with the deck, and it’s fast enough that a cycle card like Luna isn’t the best. It’s playable, sure, but not really worth the slot.
Budget-wise, this is a cheap list. At a tad over 3600 Dust, and half that being from Aluneth, it isn’t difficult to throw together, featuring only one Epic and one Legendary. However, if you want to build the deck even cheaper, you can cut them.
Aluneth is replaceable with either Arcane Intellect or Sayge, Seer of Darkmoon. The need for card draw is rather extreme, but Arcane Intellect isn’t terrible at that if you have nothing better.
Rigged Faire Game can be replaced with other Secrets such as Netherwind Portal or Duplicate. Duplicate is probably better for hand refill.
Occult Conjurer can be replaced by another Secret or Forgotten Torch. Torch is a surprisingly decent card in the deck, but has fallen out of favor in the best lists.
There isn’t really a replacement for Ice Block. It’s just solid. You should use another Secret to replace it for consistency, but there aren’t many spectacular options. Ice Barrier works like a budget version, but Netherwind Portal is a solid card that lets you have board presence. It really comes down to personal preference.
Apexis Smuggler, Arcane Keysmith, and Ethereal Arcanist are all inferior in the deck. Don’t bother with them.
At the end of the day, Secret Mage isn’t the powerhouse it was a few expansions ago, but it’s still a solid Tier 1- high Tier 2 deck. The deck is certainly more than capable of posting a high win rate, and even if you’ve never played it before it isn’t difficult to figure out. Once you do figure it out, you can expect your winrate to be at least 55%, if not higher depending on your luck and skill. Seriously, go on. Try the deck out, and burn it all.
If you’re looking for more articles like this, there are a handful of other Hearthstone articles up at https://amiibodoctor.com/ , with more scheduled to come soon!