Handlock is one of the oldest decks in the competitive metagame. This deck has demonstrated excellent staying power in the scene by combining powerful threats and consistent card draw.
Since most players should have a good idea of how to play Handlock, I decided to take a different approach with this article. Rather than going over each card and matchup briefly, I've decided to go deep on the new additions and two of the harder matchups. After all, Handlock is pretty straightforward when things are going well but beating Hunters is the mark of a true expert.
Handlock's main weakness is its lack of early game interaction. While the threats which Handlock can deploy on turn four are well ahead of the curve, the cost is that Mountain Giant and Twilight Drake require a passive first three turns.
Handlock's main weakness is its lack of early game interaction. The problem with facing Hunter or Zoo, therefore, is that these decks force a deviation from the "sit back until turn four" plan. All of these decks are so fast that they can likely ignore a turn four giant if you've done nothing up until that point. Look for your two drops -- Ancient Watcher, Ironbeak Owl, and Sunfury Protector -- when mulliganning for these matchups. Playing these minions early may keep you off Mountain Giant, but your late game plan is better than the aggro deck's so you just need to make it there.
This guy is likely the most natural fit in Handlock from GvG. Healing for eight is a huge chunk of life in the aggro matchups and is usually the difference between winning and getting burned out.
When playing with Antique Healbot, there are just a couple things to keep in mind. Firstly, do your best to hold it back until you cast a Molten Giant. This may not always be possible of you're under pressure. If you can pull it off, however, Giant-Healbot-Sunfury is a backbreaking turn seven. In the opposite case, you should play your Healbots before Jaraxxus. The Eredar lord caps your Health at 15 so don't try to heal up to twenty-three.
Note: there are two slightly different builds regarding Antique Healbot at the moment. Some players are running a 1-1 split with Earthen Ring Farseer while greedier builds play double Healbot.
With the nerf to Soulfire, Dark Bomb is another obvious addition to the deck. While three damage is less than four, the downside of discarding is thankfully gone. Losing a point of damage is not even that bad since most of the time Dark Bomb will be hitting 3/2s or coined Undertakers.
The doctor is in.. almost every control deck since the release of GvG. That said, he earns that spot by being an incredible threat on any board and almost impossible to handle favorably. While the bombs provide some randomness, Boom's 7/7 body and the awkwardness of having to kill the bombs more than make up for it.
While not in every Handlock deck, this guy is seeing some play. Recombobulator will generally hit one of two targets: he can fully heal a giant; or he can upgrade a Healbot or Argus once they've used the Battlecry.
Mechwarper, etc. Handlock is especially well positioned to deal with the mech decks because of our three board clear spells. Explosive Mechwarper starts aren't as scary when a Hellfire sweeps them away.
The main struggle in this matchup centers around how much you can afford to Life Tap and how much burst is available because of Kill Command. In terms of when you are allowed to Life Tap, you should only do so when there are no other options for the turn. Even then, if you are starting to go above three activations in a game against Hunter you should be careful. The burst damage from Kill Command is the other tricky element of this matchup. As a general rule, if your opponent has both Kill Commands in hand you are already dead. I find that it is best to keep you life total above seven. By staying above seven Health, we can ensure that we are not dead to a Kill Command and a Hero Power.
Overall against Hunter you want to come out fast. If you can keep yourself out of range long enough to go through some of your deck, you should be able to find a giant or other large minions to quickly end the game in your favor.
First up is Dark Bomb. While lower than Soulfire in pure efficiency, Dark Bomb gets the edge because it no longer counteracts our gameplan of building a large hand. Another benefit of playing Dark Bomb now over Soulfire is that it opens up the number of good targets we have. With Soulfire, it used to be that most threats weren't worth the card disadvantage. Being able to trade 1-for-1 means that you can be less choosey.
Hellfire is one of the main ways that you can get back in to the board control race. Hellfire is one of your most powerful spells in the matchup and firing off a Hellfire on turn four is the correct play. There are only three cases where casting Hellfire on four is incorrect:
- You have Dark Bombed an early minion and they haven't yet recovered.
- They have used Life Tap in their first turns and not fully committed to the board.
- They have curved out slowly with Deathrattle minions: Haunted Creeper, Harvest Golem, or Nerubian Egg.