The Comprehensive Showdown in the Badlands Preview



Oof. That’s a very expensive freeze effect for the sake of excavating. If excavate is budgeted as a 1-mana effect, which seems to be the going rate judging by the other cards, then a simple freeze isn’t worth the extra 1 mana. The good news is that this freeze can be targeted face, which makes it possible for us to spend the mana to progress excavating even if the opponent doesn’t offer us targets, but this is still a bit weak.

Admittedly, this is one of these spells that would possibly be too strong at 1 mana, but we favor making daring cards rather than cautious ones. If Mage must, it will run Cryopreservation, but it won’t be happy to.

Score: 2

Overflow Surger

This single, class-specific support card for Elemental Mage confuses us a bit. Elemental Mage is currently very underpowered, so only giving it Overflow Surger and expecting it to compete with vastly stronger strategies is peculiar.

The minion isn’t terrible. If we curve out Elementals on the first three turns, then we’re summoning 4 3/2’s on turn 4. That’s quite a bit of pressure. Surger can continue to scale up until it summons a full board of copies, as long as we keep chaining an Elemental every turn. The issue is that we’re playing Elemental Mage. This deck is very rigid in its plays, with Overflow Surger further pushing it towards a specific play pattern. Miss one turn in the early game and the consequences are significant.

We’re not fans of these decks. Even if they become competitive, players don’t often care about them, since their sense of agency is limited.

Score: 2

Sunset Volley

Sunset Volley is a massive effect at a massive cost, summoning a random 10-drop while dealing 10 split damage amongst enemies. On an empty enemy board, that 10 damage goes face. As a reminder, Mask of C’Thun dealt 10 damage the same way. It was a competitive Hearthstone card at 7 mana, without any other effect attached. Face damage of this amount is very valuable.

Having said that, this is the proper way to design 10-cost cards. Something so expensive that has a very short window to be playable in the average Hearthstone game, needs to pack a punch. And still, there is no doubt in our minds that this card is never going to see constructed play unless Mage finds an effective way to discount it or scam it out earlier.

Promising opportunities are not obvious. Barbaric Sorceress is still in Standard for another 4 months, but there’s no Balinda, the cornerstone card of Big-Spell Mage decks. Millhouse Manastorm is around, but you still need to get to 10 mana to use him.

So, Sunset Volley does seem like a “big picture” card. It’s possible a card will emerge in a future set that makes us remember its potential, but until then, it’s probably going to sit in our collection and bide its time.

Score: 2

Heat Wave

Heat Wave is a positional AOE spell for 2 mana, identical in its baseline to Powershot, a forgotten 3-mana Hunter spell that never saw much play. There’s a big difference between 3 mana and 2 mana, so the card might seem more playable. On Quickdraw, Heat Wave turns into Consecration. A full, asymmetrical, 2-damage AOE that also goes face.

That does sound nice in theory, but we’re still not big fans of reactive cards being given Quickdraw. Responsive cards need to find specific scenarios and timings for them to be useful. If we draw Heat Wave when our opponent has a single 4/4 in play, then we’re not really utilizing the effect to its full potential. A proactive Quickdraw card is much better than a reactive one for that reason.

Heat Wave should mostly be judged on its baseline. Would any Mage deck be interested in a 2-mana Powershot? We’re guessing the answer is no.

Score: 1


Stargazing is another strange spell with a very specific role. A quick look at the Arcane spells at Mage’s disposal leads us to conclude that this card is partly meant to offer support for Lightshow and Rewind. It’s a tutor that allows us to repeat the cast, which obviously is strong on paper when Lightshow is the target.

The reason Lightshow Mage failed to become a competitive deck is that it requires a strong minion shell that can survive enemy pressure without a plethora of removal spells that we have to avoid running to curate Rewind. The inability to deal with pressure through the board means that Lightshow itself becomes an ineffective damage spell, soaked by enemy minions instead of being targeted face. There’s nothing in this Mage set that increases our confidence about Lightshow Mage’s prospects. We’ve always liked the idea of the archetype, but it’s too far from being competitive.

The other potential utilization for this spell is to tutor Wisdom of Norgannon in Rainbow Mage. A single copy seems feasible, though competition for slots in Rainbow Mage is fierce. There might be a future spell that causes Stargazing to make more sense.

Score: 2

Blastmage Miner

We look at the cost and the effect of Blastmage Miner and think of “Marrow Manipulator”. The body is smaller, but the damage is spread more efficiently. This 6-drop is an excavate card that leans quite aggressively. You could treat it as a pseudo-board clear, but based on Mage’s Tier 4 treasure, the class’ excavation package promotes an aggressive, beatdown style more than it looks to pivot to the late game for some elaborate win condition.

And here comes a contradiction. While Excavate cards do help us fill our hand to some extent, with Blastmage Miner also counting the treasure it produces before dealing its damage, a beatdown Mage deck is unlikely to be super effective at filling its hand. At least, if it tries to do that through Infinitize the Maxitude, it’s likely to lose its initiative.

Our point is that Death Knight is quite adept at maximizing Manipulator’s damage output without holding back, while we don’t have the same confidence in Mage’s capabilities of maximizing Miner’s output. If a slower deck ends up running Miner instead, its impact on the game and the opponent’s face will be weaker.

Score: 2

Azerite Vein

Another Mage card that seems to have infiltrated this set without a clear motive. This secret’s activation might be the most complex one we’ve seen. This is not a compliment, as there’s a good chance Azerite Vein is going to be up for several turns, having no impact on the game. It is remarkably easy to play around.

Other than a flavorful and elaborate “counter” to Quickdraw cards, we can’t think of any reason for Azerite Vein to be in this set other than pre-emptively nerfing Reliquary Researcher so that we can feel worse about it.

Score: 1

Reliquary Researcher

The secondary payoff of Mage’s excavation package, Reliquary Researcher further pushes an Excavate Mage in an aggressive direction, since secrets are much better when they are backed by board pressure, forcing the opponent to play around them while trying to survive. A 4 mana 3/5 that casts 2 random secrets is quite good. However, our ability to play this on turn 4 comes into question, considering that one of Mage’s excavate cards is very expensive. You’d have to find and play 2 copies out of the 4 cheap available excavate cards by turn 3. And one of these excavate cards is Cryopreservation. That doesn’t sound that strong, aggressive, or consistent anymore.

It might be that Mage’s excavating is best utilized in a Secret Mage deck, since Researcher does have good synergy with Contract Conjurer.

Score: 2

Tae’thelan Bloodwatcher

You may not remember it, because it never saw competitive play, but Arcane Luminary was a Mage 3-drop that had a similar effect but reduced the cost of cards by 2. Tae’thelan is slightly more expensive, with a stronger discount and the same limitation, covered by legendary wrappings.

The problem of “not less than 1” cards is that while they do placate a crowd of players that believes mana cheating is the devil of Hearthstone, they end up not being good enough to see play since they’re simply not powerful enough to swing a game. In the case of Tae’thelan, you need to work hard enough to generate cards throughout the game (which tends to put you behind on board), but the reward of accumulating them is limited by another penalty. You can only cheat out one card on turn 5. Two cards on turn 6 and so on.

The longer the game goes, the opportunity to discount another card is negated by the fact your opponent is also building up their own synergies, ones that are often more lethal than a bunch of generated cards. Tae’thelan is just not a card that you can build around to reliably swing the board or win a Hearthstone game. Until that elusive perfect turn that your opponent is certainly not helping you get to, it just rots in your hand.

There’s nothing elegant in “Not less than 1”. If the card is possibly broken without the limitation, then don’t make it, or make it with a much more expensive cost. But wasting a legendary card slot like this, is not some grand design win.

Score: 1

Mes’Adune the Fractured

Mes’Adune draws an Elemental and breaks it into two halves. Both halves keep whatever text the original card had, but have their stats and costs split evenly. If one of the values is an odd number, the split is randomly distributed between the halves. For example, if the Elemental drawn is a 9/9, you could get either a 5/5 and a 4/4, or a 4/5 and a 5/4. The only case where there is no even split is when a 1-health Elemental is drawn. Both halves maintain 1-health, so they don’t die upon being played.

Turns out that the Elemental legendary that draws an Elemental… is not even a good card to run in an Elemental deck! Indeed, Mesa’Adune is a weak and slow body for an aggressive deck. A 6 mana 6/5 just doesn’t cut it, while the draw effect is not impactful for reloading. Elemental Mage has a much better draw engine with Unchained Gladiator.

Where Mes’Adune makes more sense is in a non-Elemental Mage deck, alongside a small package of big Elementals. For example, Ragnaros and Neptulon. If you split those cards, you get strong threats that are better than the sum of their parts.

The problem is that you’re still playing a 6 mana 6/5 to set it up, so unless this play has a Balinda-esque impact on the game, it’s probably not worth running. It also requires us to not run other elementals and take the penalty hit whenever Ragnaros and Neptulon are naturally drawn with their original costs. Nevertheless, there is some serious scam potential here, so we’ll respect it. It’s the type of card that can pop up in any deck, so it’s very likely that some Mage archetype in the future successfully utilizes it.

Score: 3

The Azerite Hawk

To understand the power of Mage’s Tier 4 treasure, a good comparison would be Queen Azshara and one of its ancient relics, Horn of Ancients.  There are, of course, major differences in the way we set up and complete each prize, but the principle of power is similar. This card is meant to overwhelm the opponent with a heavily discounted, unique legendary.

Azshara is strong when we can activate her early. For example, a Coin/Prep/Bone Spike/Azshara from a Rogue on turn 2 is probably the most powerful way to leverage Azshara. The reason is that we can play a Colossal very early in the game, before our opponent has the mana or the resources to deal with it.

So, when we think of when The Azerite Hawk would be strongest, we need to think of how early we can generate it. The answer is, quite clearly, much later than a Horn of the Ancients can be generated. It is more consistent to achieve since excavation doesn’t require us to draw a specific legendary, but if we’re talking about timing, a completed Azerite Hawk is rarely going to come down before turn 7, especially when one of Mage’s excavation cards costs 6 mana.

Queen Azshara is notorious in falling off in the late game since Horn of the Ancient on turns 8-10 is easier to deal with. The Azerite Hawk is a strong treasure but completing it in the late game doesn’t strike us as a form of strong inevitability. This is particularly accurate for a treasure you cannot plan for or build around, since the Titan is random. The Azerite Rat encourages leveraging through deckbuilding, for example. The Hawk doesn’t do that.

Considering that we’re not too hot on Mage’s excavation package in general, its reward doesn’t inspire us with great confidence either. It’s just okay.

Score: 2

Final Thoughts

Showdown in the Badlands Set Rank: 11th

Overall Power Ranking:  9th

Underpowered, disjointed, scattered and lacking direction, we find Mage’s set to be the biggest disappointment of the expansion. The class might pay for it dearly.

We first start with its excavate package, which seems quite underwhelming. Its two excavate cards seem expensive for what they do, making them awkward to fit. The secondary payoff is serviceable but not exciting, while the Tier 4 treasure is a powerful card, but not one you can build around and leverage.

What’s worse is that the excavate package is probably the most coherent element in the Mage set, which is filled with random cards that seem to have ended up here by chance, not really connecting with others.

We don’t understand the half-hearted support for Elemental Mage. We don’t know what to do with Sunset Volley. Mes’Adune might be a powerful card, but one that you can’t really build a deck around. It’s a scam package card. The other Mage legendary, Tae’thelan, genuinely irritates us. The set is just all over the place.

You might be surprised to hear this, but we’ve built many decks that utilize these cards. We’ve tried to milk the most out of their potential. We’re just not confident in their ability to compete.

Should attempts to build around Mage’s Badlands set falter, Rainbow Mage could be left alone to fight as the sole, serious representative of its class. The deck’s win condition is very reliable, its defensive tools are powerful. It’s probably the most well-designed archetype of TITANS.

But classes that skip expansions almost always pay for it. It’s possible that Rainbow Mage, with very few or no new cards, can manage to hold off the increased power of its competition. It’s more likely that its relative power will decline to some degree.

And if the decline ends up being drastic, Mage may lose its grip on the Hearthstone ladder and slip.

1 Comment

  1. The problem with the DK rune system is less that it’s “too restrictive” and more that there is not enough incentive to run decks that aren’t mono-rune. This is less of a problem with Frost-Unholy since there is some support for deathrattle decks there, but there is no reason at all to run a Blood-Frost deck, and the only Unholy-Blood archetype that currently exists (Handbuff) isn’t interested in running Maw and Paw or A Fistful of Corpses. It’s true these two cards don’t really make sense in their current iteration but a better solution would be to design them to also work in a potential Blood-Unholy archetype rather than just knocking off an Unholy rune and calling it a day.

    The way the rune system should ideally work is that the more general, building-block type cards should have one or no rune. The more runes a card has, the more powerful and specialized it should be. However, two-rune cards should still be designed to work in multiple archetypes. With that in mind, Reska, the Pit Boss is a good example of a well-designed two rune card since it synergizes both with the corpse-heavy Rainbow DK and the UUF Deathrattle DK. If neither of those archetypes pan out and they “buff” Reska by removing a Frost rune I’ll be pretty disappointed, since that’ll create even less incentive for players to try out interesting rune combinations.

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