Ice Block isn’t long for Standard. The designers heavily hinted that the Year of the Mammoth would be the last year of Standard Ice Block. This is arguably long overdue, and will be welcome for many. However, it could also be problematic.
As defensive tools go, Ice Block is almost unrivaled. By buying a “free” additional turn of survival, it can allow for burst lethals or stabilisation. It has seen play in almost every Controlling Mage deck ever, from Reno to Frost Lich Jaina. But without Ice Block to provide Mage with key survivability, how can late-game Mage decks survive?
The answer to giving Mage enough survivability without Ice Block probably shouldn’t lie with unconditional lifegain. Reprinting an Antique-Healbot style big generous blob of health would be unsatisfying. Eroding class identity and deckbuilding choices is not worth the easy “fix” for survivability.
Instead, more cards that synergise and react to specific strategies and cards could allow for a more interesting solution. Frost Lich Jaina is a great recent example of this. By indirectly allowing healing with Lifesteal elementals, she gives Mages unparalleled late-game survivability, so long as she can keep a board.
More cards like this could make for interesting decks and decisions while boosting survivability. Lifesteal synergies would be perfect for this. It’s shown to be a powerful tool, especially when paired with damaging spells. Perhaps a Lifesteal spell, or a means of giving spells Lifesteal, could be an option.
Freeze upon Freeze upon Freeze?
Keeping minions from attacking is pretty useful in Mage. Stalling is a powerful tool when you’re counting down the turns to burst out your opponent or set up a clear. With Ice Block gone, Mages might need more flexible Freeze options in order to lock down boards.
Additional Freeze tools, especially cheap ones, could give mage more opportunity to survive losing board control early until clears can be unleashed or lethal organised. Doing so would most likely give all controlling or late-game Mages a new lease of life.
Unfortunately, this could come with some downsides. Mage already has a wide variety of Freeze tools. They tend to have more trouble avoiding direct burn and clearing sticky boards than simply a lack of raw freeze. Over-focusing on Freeze can leave Mage more vulnerable to burn, while making minion-based matchups more polarised.
Survivability isn’t just about the board. Mage has had a long-standing problem with dying to weapons, spells and charge minions. This is where Ice Block came in. Otherwise, these cards were almost impossible to interact with. One solution to the lack of Ice Block, then, could be additional ways of interacting with these cards. This falls outside the scope of most existing Hearthstone cards.
There are three current ways. Spell cost increase like Loatheb or Nerubian Unraveller could work, but minion based spell disruption tends to favour aggressive decks. Dirty Rat style battlecry-nullification already exists, but is too specific and does not affect spells or weapons. Finally, Armor can preemptively halt burn, but may fall too close to generic lifegain.
Potentially, more spell-focused disruption tactics could be included. This could consist of “Freezing” cards in the opponent’s hand, preventing their use for a turn. This and other strategies would need to be carefully monitored however. Team 5 is rightfully wary of overdoing disruption techniques, as too much creates counterplay but also intense frustration and feelings of powerlessness.
The Yogg approach?
A final option could be more late-game reactive tempo tools. Yogg used to be incredibly valuable in Mage, as its potential to clear and generate massive resources in a single turn was completely unrivaled; so long as it didn’t randomly lose you the game. Perhaps more spell-synergistic cards could be considered; albeit probably with slightly less variance.
Doing so would allow controlling mages to generate massive swing value if they could live to the late game. However, the card would need to be tooled so that it worked with cards in your hand or deck rather than being an overall value-bomb, to limit its power to the late-game Mages that would consider running the kind of synergistic packages such a card would require.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Custom cards via Hearthcards.net.
Note: All cards featured in this article are hypothetical examples of the Author’s design. They are meant for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to be well-designed or balanced.
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