Times are rough for Control decks. As well as having to contend with the likes of Quest Rogue and Spiteful Druid, any aspiring late-game deck must be able to deal with hordes of Warlock decks. But however daunting the task may be, there are strategies to deal with both Cube and Control Warlocks as slow decks. If you can exploit their weaknesses and play around strengths, you can turn impossible-feeling games into wins. With time, skill and experience, Warlocks of all stripes will crumble before your machinations. Well, more than they otherwise would, anyway.
Get the right tools
Beating Warlock isn’t just done on the board, it’s done on the deckbuilder. A healthy dose of tech cards will massively improve your chances. A good all-round choice for beating Warlock is Silence effects. Rin, Cube, Voidlord and Umbra are all juicy Silence targets that can seriously impede their chances. Canny Warlocks will play around Silence though, so it’s not quite as good if your opponent anticipates it. Regardless, forcing them to wait to Dark Pact their Rin or Cube is still very advantageous.
Beyond Silence, weapon removal is an excellent inclusion. While Control Warlocks tend not to run it, Cube is heavily reliant on Skull of the Man’ari. An extremely potent card, yes, but exceptionally weak to weapon hate. Harrison Jones in particular not only nullifies their effect but also draws you vital cards. Without Skull, Cube can often be forced to simply play their Doomguards from hand, risking discarding vital combo pieces and spending precious mana that could otherwise be used to combo.
Outside of Silence and Weapon removal, consider playing more hard removals. Many lists run Mountain Giants, which can quickly snowball out of control if not dealt with. Not only that, but leaving up a Doomguard can often mean, well, doom. Voodoo Doll is a solid option to accomplish this in many decks, and some even run Tinkmaster to have the double-whammy of preventing the resummon from Gul’dan.
One more tech to consider would be shuffling effects. Rin is an ever-present threat. To help you stay alive if your deck gets prematurely nuked, you can wait and play cards that add more to your deck. Elise, Baleful Banker or class specific cards like Dead Man’s Hand, Archbishop Benedictus or Astral Tiger are all solid options.
Play around their power spikes
Warlocks have several key power spikes to play around. When playing against them, always consider these key cards that regularly come down on certain turns.
First off, there’s Mountain Giant. On their turn 4, you should try and have cards or a board state that capable of taking down an 8/8. If you leave it up, you run the risk of getting blown out by a Faceless. As such, it’s often a good idea to mulligan for hard removal or cards like Doomsayer or Acolyte than can stall until you can draw that Death or Polymorph.
Then there’s the turn 5 Skull or Lackey. There isn’t much you can do to interact with this other than hope you’ve drawn your weapon removal or silence, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. This is often a good cue to do something powerful and pro-active, like developing minions or drawing cards answers. Ideally, you can do stuff like drop a 6 or more health taunt to potentially stop multiple Doomguard charges. Remember, Warlock has trouble developing and removing on the same turn, so forcing them to play reactive is just as good as countering their play in many cases. Also, if they drop Lackey when you don’t have minions on board, it can be worth not playing anything with more than 2 attack; forcing them to destroy their own lackey prevents them from doing potent plays like trade into Cube and Dark Pact on the following turn.
The final power spike to watch for is the turn 10 Gul’dan. Beyond simply saving AOE, you need to try and watch out for charging Doomguards. As such, putting up taunts or gaining life beforehand is also advisable. Further, if you’re planning to clear with symmetrical AOE like Brawl, Dragon’s Fury or Psychic Scream, it’s worth saving your development for after their Guldan. There’s no point playing that big scary threat if they can just block it with Voidlords and force you to clear it along with their demons.
Deny their Cubes and Facelesses
Once you know your opponent is Cubelock rather than Control Warlock (key indicators are Doomguards, Skull and Mountain Giants) then it’s time to start playing around the deck’s duplication effects. Playing around Cube is straightforward; just try and keep the board clear of high-threat minions like Doomguards and Mountain Giants. Without their ability to copy high-attack minions, they’ll be forced to play tempo 4/6s or duplicate low impact minions, severely cutting into the potency of the deck.
Faceless can be trickier to play around, for a number of reasons. Unlike Cube, Faceless doesn’t require Dark Pact to play around Silence effects. The main way to play around faceless is to follow the rules for playing around Cube but to expand it to include Cubes that contain threatening minions. If they managed to copy a Cube with Faceless, that’s another two Mountain Giants or Doomguards to deal with. Another aspect to think about is the threat of the opponent using Faceless on your own minions. That Grommash may look juicy to drop and value trade, but two Facelesses can quickly give your opponent 20 burst.
Learn the weaknesses of Rin
Rin is the most threatening anti-Control card that’s found in both Control Warlock and some Cube Warlocks. Once she comes down, it’s important to figure out a gameplan to defeat Azari’s deck-crushing effect.
The first thing to remember is that Rin’s cards are extremely low-tempo and cost large-clunky amounts of mana. Dropping your threats may get them removed, but it will buy you more time. Azari itself is 10 mana, so putting down sufficient pressure will force your opponent to delay his arrival, giving you more cards and less fatigue damage in the long run.
Beyond pressure, a good way to defeat Rin is to save your shuffle effects until after they play Azari. If you hold that Elise, then you can delay fatigue and immediately draw a pack the following turn. If they’re also reaching fatigue, this can mean the difference between victory and defeat. To achieve this, focus heavily on drawing cards to maximise your resources once the fatigue war begins.
Finally, it’s a good idea to save some hard removal for that 10/10; if it’s not in your hand when he comes down, you’ll never get a chance to draw it!
Watch for their burst
Finally, a Warlock on the ropes is still a dangerous foe. Even if you’ve outlasted all their threats, the three damage hero power adds up. Make sure you don’t get overconfident and die to their last flurry of burn.
If you’ve kept track of the opponent’s cards, either manually or with a deck tracker, you can accurately count the damage they can deal. Good break points to learn are 6 (Hellfire and hero power), 8 (Doomguard and hero power), 9 (Hellfire, Hellfire, hero power) and 10 (Doomguard and Faceless or Doomguard and Doomguard). If they’ve kept the coin all game, you can even potentially take 15 from Doomguard, Cube, coin, Dark Pact.
But outside of this, you should have finally outlasted your Warlock foe. Time to revel in that sweet victory, and to hope your next match isn’t against Quest Rogue.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.