After hanging out with the young and wild vagabond Valeera for several weeks -- oh, how I loved the tempo of her beautiful weapons -- I have to admit I have fallen in love with someone new. Her character resembles Cersei Lannister; she is cold, threatening, and full of secrets. But I couldn't resist, as my pride (and the greed for more Arena gold) caused me to go to her.
In this article you will learn all details about Jaina, the Queen of the Arena. You will learn that her hero ability is the best and most versatile one among the battlefield. You will find out that she likes to pay totally different wages for her neutral mercenaries compared to other heroes. Finally, you will read about the powerful strategies that she has at her disposal for draft and combat.
Why is Mage the Queen of the Arena? First, she is incredibly popular. She is picked in almost 20% of all arena runs, almost double the expected average of 11.1% (Source: 140k games tracked by HearthStats).
Seemingly, a majority of gamers always pick Mage first when offered, unless they need to complete some other class-specific daily quest. As an aside, Mage, Paladin and Druid are picked in over 50% of the Arenas.
Second, Jaina is an incredibly successful ruler. She wins 53% of all her combats (Source: HearthStats).
Playing Mage is like adding 1 free win to each of your Arena results, and while the additional 3% may not sound huge to someone who is not a statistics nerd, but 3% over a sample size of 140k games is huge and quite significant. If you go 7-3, your winrate is 70%. Going 8-3 bumps that winrate to 72.7%, an increase of less than 3%.
Jaina does not have any ordinary weapons in her armory. Her power comes from mighty spells like Fireball, Flamestrike, and Pyroblast, as well as from her personal ability to cast Fireblast for 1 damage to any target. Malfurion the Druid and Valeera the Rogue have similar powerful hero abilities that affect creature combat and board control, but their abilities become weaker as games draw on since life loss becomes more and more a drawback for them over time. Jaina's Fireblast strikes from a distance, allowing you to pick off dangerous or damaged minions even if they are protected by a Taunt wall.
Controlling combatFireblast is probably the most frequently used hero ability in the game. It enables your minions to trade up with your opponents' more expensive minions. In a long, drawn-out game, Fireblast alone allows you to gain significant card advantage over your opponent.
Chillwind Yeti + Fireblast vs Chillwind Yeti results in a 4/1 creature left over for you by spending only 2 additional mana.
Countering Divine ShieldThe Fireblast ability removes Divine Shields easily, reducing the value of your opponent's Divine Shield minions. Argent Commander is the only natural Divine Shield minion where Fireblast does not work so well, as its Charge ability lets your opponent choose when to play it and pop the shield immediately. Rarely will you be so lucky that your opponent plays an Argent Commander on an empty board unless it is for the killing blow.
Silvermoon Guardian + Fireblast vs Silvermoon Guardian results in a 3/3 creature against you by spending only 2 additional mana.
Built-in Spellpower +1Finally, the Fireblast ability makes all random damage and AoE damage spells more powerful, as you can smooth out the effect of the spell with the ability. Other classes rely on Spellpower effect minions to buff their damage spells. When drafting, ignore the mediocre Spellpower minions (besides Azure Drake of course) and rely on your hero ability, as in most cases the following equation will be true:
Flamestrike + Fireblast ~= Flamestrike with Spellpower +1
The threat of AoEWith Flamestrike and Blizzard at her disposal, Jaina undoubtedly has the most powerful AoE spells. Good players have learned by time to play around Flamestrike by either keeping 5 health on minions or by trading for the Mage's minions before turn 7. Despite these adaptations, Flamestrike is still amazing whether your opponent smartly plays around it or foolishly runs into it. As Blizzard is a rare, it is less likely to show up in drafts, and not as many people play around it.
This was of my most powerful Flamestrikes. It killed 5 minions on turn 7 while leaving a shielded Sunwalker on my board and double Argent Commander as follow-up still in my hand.
As another bonus, Flamestrike, being feared by all, has another very positive upside. After struggling for board control in the early turns of a game, your opponent might suddenly start to hold back minions in his hand, not spending his mana efficiently because of the pure threat of Flamestrike. Just ping a random 5 health minion on turn 6 for no reason and your opponent will likely freak out and make suboptimal plays.
SecretsSecrets and plots are only good if they can’t be figured out. Unfortunately due to the limited amount of cards, there are not a lot of options and you will easily be figured out by a smart opponent, so all the Mage secrets, except maybe the Epic Spellbender, are below average. Yet when playing with secrets, one card that really shines is the Kirin Tor Mage. If I see one of these early in a draft, I find it okay to grab a Mirror Entity, a Vaporize, or a Counterspell, because the tempo advantage gained by playing the Kirin Tor Mage then a secret for free is tremendous.
Water Elemental, being as strong as everybody's favorite neutral Chillwind Yeti, is an amazing minion only available to Jaina. It can lock down an opponent's weapon, and it can stall for time to reach mana for Flamestrike. As a bonus for the mirror matchup, it is somewhat resistant to Flamestrike itself.
Mana Wyrm is an excellent 1-drop. If going first, it might get countered by The Coin + a 3/2 minion. But that only forces you to spend your second turn on Fireblast for the trade, so you are only down 1 mana that would otherwise been unspent. If you are going second and see a Mana Wyrm pop up in your opening hand, you may consider mulliganing aggressively for a 3-drop or a Frost Bolt. Against a slow deck, Mana Wyrm and a 2-drop (or a coined 3-drop) can set your opponent on a pretty fast clock.
This game ended pretty fast. Never try to stop a Mana Wyrm with creatures alone.
Sorcerer's Apprentice is a fine addition to any deck but it is not a must-have. The ability is nice in spell heavy decks, but due to the short life expectancy of 2-drops, you will find it hard to get much value out of the tiny mage. However, the idea of speeding up Flamestrike by one turn is frightening, and a free Arcane Missiles on turn 2 can lead to a huge tempo swing in your favor.
Jaina is very special when it comes to paying wages for her neutral mercenaries. You will learn that when drafting a Mage deck, you should adjust your Arena Tier Lists significantly.
Three and Four DropsThere are a lot of cards in the 3-slot that are below average, such as Secrets, or ones that you don't want to play early in the game, such as Acolyte of Pain and Arcane Intellect. This can easily leave a hole in your mana curve or skew it towards the 4-drops. So make sure to pick all neutral 3-drops a little bit higher than usual.
Enrage meFireblast can be used to enrage your minions on your command. This can often surprise an average opponent and is a powerful fact to consider during the draft. I recommend picking cards like Amani Berserker, Raging Worgen, and Gurubashi Berserker much higher than usual. Even a Tauren Warrior moves from below average to average in a Mage deck.
Embrace the randomnessIn the introduction I forgot about a fourth option for the hero ability. It says “redo a single random damage effect according to your needs." Arcane Missiles would be pretty bad if your Mage did not have the ability to improve the random outcome.
Mad Bomber and Knife Juggler are amazing in your deck as they let the hero ability shine even more.
Spells over minions?Mage decks usually turn out to be quite spell heavy, moving Gadgetzan Auctioneer higher and Cult Master lower in your pick lists. Just make sure to not pick too few creatures. If your opponent has a removal heavy deck and you have few creatures, you might have not enough threats to close out the game--especially if you're playing Warrior or Priests who protect themselves from direct damage by healing. When picking minions, choose those that give you 2 minions for 1 card or have Divine Shield slightly more often than usual. Silver Hand Knight, Harvest Golem and Scarlet Crusader are top picks for any deck and help you avoid the 4-mana oversaturation issue. As Mage you might also consider Silvermoon Guardian and Dragonling Mechanic slightly higher if low on minions. The drawback of Venture Co. Mercenary is negligible in a spell-heavy deck and sets up nicely for a Flamestrike if the opponent chooses to race.
Dealing with direct damageJaina has no class specific way to regain hit points that were lost. This makes her vulnerable to direct damage, weapons, and stealth creatures. You might pick Earthen Ring Farseer or Acidic Swamp Ooze a little bit higher than usual, but other than that your best defense is to not be greedy and use your powerful removal spells to stabilize on a reasonable high live total. Getting in control of the game at 10 or more hit points leaves you in a comfortable position to survive any nasty surprises, even in a drawn out game. If--and only if--you feel your deck is already overpowered and your only concern is how to survive long enough, you might splash in an Ice Block or an Ice Barrier late in the draft. Freeze effects can also stall out stealth creatures for a turn. Cone of Cold into Flamestrike once won me a game against a potentially lethal Stranglethorn Tiger.
Dealing with AggroBattlecries with direct damage are a little bit stronger than usual in Mage decks. Elven Archer is really nice for stalling against Aggro decks and is still not totally wasted in the late game since you can combine the one damage battlecry with Fireblast against a single target. Stormpike Commando and Stormwind Knight (effectively a low-health minion with a 2 damage Battlecry) can 2 or 1 too, so they move up a little bit in the pick list.
Mana Wyrm is definitely your best 1-drop. You can rank down Worgen Infiltrator a little bit because of that and because it might get in the way of your Mad Bombers.
By the way, I am not a big fan of Arcane Explosion in Arena. You are rarely able to hit more than one creature for the immediate kill so this is often equivalent to your hero ability.
MiscellaneousFrost Elemental is a nice way to set up for the Flamestrike and can be picked a little bit higher because of that.
Flesheating Ghoul shines if you managed to pick a lot of removal and might help to fill the otherwise starving 3-drop slot.
Shattered Sun Cleric, Dark Iron Dwarf, and Stormwind Champion rank a little bit lower than usual as you might be lighter on creatures than other classes.
How to mulliganIn an average deck, you want to draw minions in the early game and spells in the late game. So never hesitate to send back those Fireballs, as you only need them later. If you are going first and you have a 2-drop and a Frostbolt in your starting hand but the 3rd card does not fit your curve, I recommend sending back the Frostbolt too. Getting a good curve is usually more valuable than having multiple options for turn 2. However, you might consider keeping Arcane Missiles in your starting hand since it gets worse over the course of the game.
In most Mage decks you will have too many 4-drops in my curve, so if forced to mulligan send back all 4-drop minions. That way you are less likely to end up with 2 or more 4-drops in your starting hand. Of course, I send back all 5-drops or higher as with any other deck – it is a pretty silly idea to keep a Flamestrike in your starting hand. Utility creatures, such as Cult Master, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, and Acolyte of Pain, are also good candidates for sending back, as you don’t want them in your hand till you have gain control of or stabilized the board.
Frost Bolt or Bloodfen Raptor on turn two?As a Mage deck is often incredibly strong in the late game, opposing decks will mostly challenge you in the early game. What do you if they start beating you down with 1 or 2 early creatures? Often you will have a choice choice between playing a creature to trade on the next turn and playing removal to handle a situation immediately. There is hardly a golden rule for that decision, but you should make your decision carefully.
Let’s take turn 2 as example. Your opponent has played a 3/2. You can play Frostbolt, Bloodfen Raptor, or use The Coin to get out a 3/3. Things to consider now:
- If playing the removal, the beating will stop for at least a turn. But you will have no board presence of your own and if your opponent plays another minion, the beating will soon go on. If the opponent can follow-up his 3/2 with a 4/3, you will have wasted your quality removal on the smaller threat. At least you have bought time for reaching mana for some big Taunt or some AoE spell. You get most lucky if he opponent has a leak in his mana curve and does not have a 3-drop minion ready in his hand. Then you have successfully stopped his offense and should be in a good shape, but by playing the 3/2 first and then the Frostbolt afterwards you still only take 3 damage.
- If you play the 3/2 minion, your opponent can use his removal spell or weapons in his hand and the beating might continue. He might also buff his creature so it trades favorably. If he plays removal, you have wasted 3 hit points of your hero, but the board did not get worse. If he can’t play removal and instead plays a 4/3 creature, you get more options on your next turn. You can then play the Frostbolt on the 4/3 and decide whether to race or trade with the 3/2.
- Wasting the Coin to get a 3/3 obviously isn’t a great option. Sure, the extra health of the minion helps against some of the 2 damage removal of Rogue, Hunter and Priest or 2 damage weapons of a Shaman. It would probably make no difference against 3 damage weapons of Rogue, Warrior or Hunter and 3 damage removal of Mage, so it is rarely favorable risking your better creature and wasting the Coin here.
All options have a lot of pros and cons and a lot of minor details can tip your decision in either this or that direction. If your opponent is Hunter, Priest, Rogue, or Shaman, he might have cheap removal and mana for a 2nd 3/2 minion. In those cases, you should favor playing your removal first.
If he has played a 2/3 instead of a 3/2, his clock on you is far slower. You are not under as pressure to use your removal now. If you play a 3/2, he might trade favorably by buffing his 2/3 with Shattered Sun Cleric. If that happens, your follow-up with Frostbolt + The Coin + Fireblast should be enough to clear the board.
If you have a 2/3 and your own Shattered Sun Cleric, the creature option becomes more popular again.
If you have a Harvest Golem or Scarlet Crusader in your hand instead, I would definitely coin out the 3-drop, as this allows you to trade while leaving a threat on the board.
If you opponent has played both a 2/1 and a 3/2, you have to go for the removal for sure. If you don’t, in the best scenario you might trade your minion for the 2/1. If the opponent has removal, you are on a pretty fast clock now.
You see that the simple decision of deciding what card to play on turn 2 requires you to think more than a turn ahead and to consider all possible cards your opponent might have.
Initiative after board clearsTry to have at least 1 solid minion to the board before playing your big AoE. If you only reset the board to be empty, your opponent will get the first chance to play out new minions and you will be under the same pressure as before playing your AoE.
Taunt vs FlamestrikeWhen playing from behind, avoid playing Taunts before the AoE, as this forces your opponent to trade with your Taunt and makes the effect of your AoE spell worse. So if you have the choice between Boulderfist Ogre and Sunwalker, always go for the big guy, as your opponent is less likely to throw multiple minions at it.
When to play card draw?Card draw is tempo loss and tempo is the biggest problem you usually have with the deck. So always wait with your card draw until you have more mana crystals than threats to play out. Acolyte of Pain has to be seen as a 5 mana, 1/2 creature with Battlecry: Draw a card. The only instance where I might consider playing the Acolyte on turn 3 is maybe against a Paladin with a horrible draw that can do nothing else but produce tokens on turns 2-4. Alas, this is an unlikely scenario.
Who is the beatdown?Naturally your default role is defensive, as your hero ability and your AoE gains you card advantage in the long term. Nevertheless, you should always watch for the opportunity to switch roles and start being aggressive. Fireball allows you to change the pace of the game at will. Always calculate the odds if leaving your opponents' Venture Co. Mercenary alive and sending the Fireball and your minions at your opponents head might be more favorable then the default defensive play.
These decks got 12 wins in Arena:
i) No AoE but quality creatures.
ii) Elven Archer and Mad Bomber tech. Some AoE and some big creatures.
iii) Had to use the 5 Fireball picture again. Wonder why no one notices the Kirin Tor Mage – Secrets combo.
iv) AoE and very solid creatures. Water Elemental OP.