Warlocks are magic users specializing in Shadow and Fire spells. Warlocks are what could be considered the “evil” spell caster of the Warcraft world. They can draw power straight from the souls of their opponents. Their offensive magic divides into two main paths – Affliction, which based around curses and spells that put the enemy into a slow agony and Destruction, which revolves around powerful, direct damage spells.
But probably the most iconic magic Warlocks might use is Demonology. It’s used to summon powerful demons and bind them to the Warlock’s command. They can summon a variety of demonic entities – Imp, Succubus, Voidwalker, Felhunter, and Felguard. Each one of them has different strengths and weaknesses, so only Warlock masters will know how to properly use them. On top of that, Warlocks can summon more powerful demons for shorter periods of time if the situation is really dire – an Infernal that deals massive area damage and a Doomguard, which excels at the single target combat.
In Hearthstone, Warlock class is represented by Gul’dan. At this point, the Warlock class has no alternative Heroes.
Themes and Mechanics
Warlock’s Hero Power is Life Tap. After using it, the Warlock takes 2 damage and draws a card. Depending on the matchup, it might be the strongest Hero Power in the entire game though new players tend to dismiss it very easily. After all, dealing damage to oneself is not something you normally want to do. But that’s one of the ongoing themes in Warlock – they sacrifice health in order to gain other advantages. In this case, card advantage. There are matchups where your health total doesn’t matter and when playing against such decks (like Control Priest or Control Paladin), Life Tap is simply a free source of card draw. Since Warlocks have built-in card draw, they also don’t have to worry about playing more cards that draw and can focus on the actual theme of their deck more.
The most iconic Warlock’s mechanic is sacrificing one resource in order to gain other advantages. A lot of the Warlock cards have higher stats or more powerful effects but also come with a natural disadvantage. Sacrificing your own health is most common – Life Tap already does that. But there are many more cards that sacrifice health to gain something else. Bloodbloom and Cho'gall trade health for mana, Flame Imp, Wrathguard and Pit Lord trade health for minion stats, while Chittering Tunneler trades health for card advantage (similarly to the Hero Power). Other resources Warlocks can trade is mana, although this one is far more questionable. Destroying a mana crystal needs to come with a great advantage to even be considered. That’s why Blastcrystal Potion has seen quite a lot of play (because destroying a minion is a very powerful effect in a class with weak single target removal) and neither Felguard nor Demonfuse (destroying own mana is very similar to giving the enemy more) were ever played. Warlocks can even sacrifice their own minions to gain some advantages (Power Overwhelming, Void Terror, Shadowflame, Void Crusher, Ravenous Pterrordax).
On top of all of those, another way Warlock can gain some sort of advantage over the opponent is the Discard mechanic. While it’s not entirely tied to the Warlock class (Deathwing and Astral Communion are other cards that feature the discard mechanic), it’s the only class that can actually utilize it. Not only are the Warlock Discard cards are powerful (Soulfire, Doomguard, Darkshire Librarian, Lakkari Felhound), but the class has some countermeasures against the negative effect. Malchezaar's Imp lets Warlock draw for every card it discards, while Silverware Golem, Fist of Jaraxxus and Clutchmother Zavas are great discard targets because discarding them results in a positive outcome. Even the Warlock’s Un’Goro Quest – Lakkari Sacrifice – is based around Discards. However, discarding six cards is a rather big requirement given that the Discard decks are built around tempo and it’s pretty slow.
There are also some ongoing themes when it comes to the Warlock cards. When new cards are released, there is a significant chance that some of them will fall into one of those categories:
Demon – The main Warlock tribe. Almost every Demon in the game is a Warlock class card (the few exceptions are Illidan Stormrage and Prince Malchezaar) and it’s the only class with Demon synergies. While there has never really a successful deck built only around Demons, pretty much every Warlock deck plays some of them. Some of the most popular ones include Voidwalker, Flame Imp, Imp Gang Boss, Doomguard, Abyssal Enforcer and Lord Jaraxxus. There are also multiple cards that synergize with Demons, including Demonfire, Sense Demons, Voidcaller, Demonwrath, Crystalweaver, Krul the Unshackled and Mal'Ganis.
AoE Damage – Even though Warlocks have relatively weak single target removals, they excel at dealing with the massive boards. They have tons of ways to clear multiple minions, but they all share a common theme – either they’re mirrored (affect both sides of the board) or you need to sacrifice some other resource in order to play them. Some of the most iconic Warlock AoEs are Hellfire, Shadowflame, Demonwrath, Felfire Potion, Abyssal Enforcer and Twisting Nether.
Zoo Cards – Zoo is probably the most recognizable Warlock deck and this kind of strategy is getting consistent support from Blizzard. Powerful early game minions (Flame Imp, Dark Peddler), minions that summon tokens (Possessed Villager, Imp Gang Boss), spells to generate multiple tokens (Imp-losion, Forbidden Ritual, Feeding Time) and cards that synergize with multiple tokens (Darkshire Councilman, Reliquary Seeker, Ravenous Pterrordax) – they’re all cards that support the Zoo play style and are pretty common Warlock theme.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Powerful Early Game – Warlocks have access to some of the most powerful early game minions in Hearthstone. While some builds decide to ignore the early game in order to Life Tap for the first few turns and start with a powerful mid game (Twilight Drake, Mountain Giant), it’s generally really easy for the Warlock to dominate the first turns if the deck is built to support that. The Discard theme also allows the Warlock to swing the early game tempo heavily with combos like Malchezaar's Imp + Soulfire or any card discarding a Silverware Golem.
Strong AoE Clears – Warlock is known for their ability to control wide boards really well with their AoE cards. Hellfire and Abyssal Enforcer are good at dealing with low health boards, Felfire Potion can clear anything up to 5 health, while Twisting Nether is a full board wipe no matter how big the minions are. On top of that, Shadowflame is a flexible AoE tool – it can be played on a smaller minion to deal two or three damage, or it can be played on a huge 8/8 to deal a massive eight AoE damage.
Access to Unlimited Card Draw – Well, maybe not exactly “unlimited” because it’s limited by the health, but the truth is that card draw is not as important in matchups where the health is a problem. No matter what Warlock deck you play, it’s more or less built around the Hero Power. Faster decks for Warlocks don’t need to play card draw because once they run out of steam, they still draw two cards per turn instead of one. And in slower decks, you don’t need to play any extra sources of card draw because you can Life Tap almost as much as you want.
Control Warlock’s Health Issues – For Warlock, health is an incredibly important resource. It can be translated into value (Life Tap) or into tempo (Flame Imp, AoE spells that damage Warlock, Bloodbloom). At the same time, Warlock doesn’t have access to any strong healing cards. So in the end, the class relies on the neutral health refill options. For example, while Antique Healbot was in Standard, it was an auto-include into any slow Warlock deck. Before Reno Jackson rotated out, a Highlander deck was also one of the most common Warlock themes, simply because the healing from Reno was always useful in the Warlock class. However, with no powerful class healing and no good healing cards in Standard, the class really struggles, especially against the aggressive decks, where the health total is even more important.
Discard Theme’s Randomness – Discard is probably the most powerful Warlock theme in Standard after Reno has rotated out. However, it suffers from an issue that can’t really be dealt with. Discarding is inherently a very random mechanic since you get rid of a random card in your hand. Imagine a situation where you have 2x Soulfire and Silverware Golem in your hand, while you sit at two or three points of mana. The outcome of a simple 50/50 can easily decide the outcome of a match. If you discard Silverware Golem, you can deal 8 damage and you get a 3/3 in play. And if you discard a Soulfire, you deal 4 damage and have no minion in play. The difference is tremendous. Similarly, the decks are very draw-dependent – you can easily draw a hand full of discard cards you want to get rid of without any way to discard them.
Zoo’s Board Dependence – Zoo Warlock decks are incredibly dependent on the board. Cards like Abusive Sergeant, Dire Wolf Alpha or Defender of Argus are incredibly common in Zoo and running a lot of them is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you happen to have board, they allow you to constantly trade up and keep it. But if you happen to lose board control, those cards are nearly useless and they can hold you back – you’d rather have something more proactive in your hand. With limited ways to refill, Zoo is countered by board clears or by decks that can take the board control in the early game and not let the Warlock develop.
Meta Decks and Strategies
Here are the Warlock decks you can use on the ladder in the current meta. While not every deck listed here is high tier, they all should be viable options, especially to climb through the lower ranks.
Zoo has been one of the oldest established archetypes in Hearthstone. The core strategy behind it never really changed, and it doesn’t change with the new expansion. The strength of Zoolock lies in flooding the deck with cheap and high-value minions, combined with clever mana usage and aggressive use of Life Tap, the Warlock’s Hero Power.
What’s new in this version of Zoolock is the use of one of the more controversial cards of the new set, Prince Keleseth. This card makes use of a new mechanic that involves not having x-mana cards in the deck. In this case, having no 2-mana cards in the deck will result in a +1/+1 buff for every minion left in the deck.
Calling this a wet dream for every Zoolock player would be a clear understatement; in fact, it is not a great problem to leave out 2-mana cards for that archetype, and the battecry affects literally every single card, giving your deck +30/+30 in raw stats.
The deck’s 1-drops gain the most from Keleseth’s buffs. The early-game package needs to be as strong as it gets since the deck has only one 2-drop. Argent Squire and Flame Imp have always been a great starter, and Acherus Veteran, one of the new buff cards in Zoolock, make the package even more aggressive.
Handlock is a classic control deck: slow at start, building a large pool of resources, and then using those resources to control the flow of the game, flirting with defeat, and then turning the tables on its opponent, in this case with huge minions that the opponent will not be able to respond to. Playing Handlock requires good knowledge of the opponent’s capabilities in order to use the right tools to control the game and find the path to eventual victory.
Handlock makes extensive use of the Warlock Hero Power. The other key feature of the deck is the large hand it typically holds, and the cards that benefit from that have remained the same since Classic: Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant become more powerful and cheaper, respectively, as you have more cards in hand, and no one is better at building a large hand than Handlock.
With Knights of the Frozen Throne and the Warlock Hero card, Bloodreaver Gul'dan, which gives Warlock access to formidable amounts of healing in the late game, Handlock experienced a brief resurgency in the early days of the expansion. Unfortunately, a single strong healing card with only a small immediate effect and large benefits over multiple turns is a difficult tool to use properly.
Handlock remains in a rough spot, but it is now more capable than it was during Journey to Un’Goro, and properly teched and piloted Handlock decks can win games, even though climbing the ladder with one is certainly a challenge and not really recommended.
Budget and Basic Decks
If you’re a new player without a big collection, you might be looking for a way to play Warlock without spending a lot of your Dust on the Legendaries.
A Basic deck is a deck with only the starter cards. Every player can make it after unlocking the class and leveling it up to 10 (which unlocks every Basic card). It’s a best solution if you have just started playing the game – you can test each class without investing into it.
A Budget deck is a cheap deck with no Epics, Legendaries or Adventure cards. Budget decks only run the basic cards + Commons and Rares, which makes them relatively cheap and accessible even for players who have recently started. Average budget deck will cost up to 1,500 Dust to craft, but the number goes down heavily when you own some of the cards already. Even with a relatively small collection, you should be able to build one with just a few hundreds of Dust.
Basic decks are mostly meant for the Casual mode and up to Rank 20 in Ranked. Budget decks can easily be played up to Rank 10 in Ranked, while some of the better ones can even get you up to Rank 5.
Basic Warlock Deck
This deck is a Basic Midrange Warlock. Sadly for the new players that want to pick up the class, Warlock basic cards are all over the place. We get the base of few different strategies, but none of them is developed more and to make a really working Warlock deck, a lot of non-Basic cards are necessary.
The deck mostly relies on the Neutral minions core, supported by the Basic Warlock removals. While not the best, we have a different single target (Mortal Coil, Shadow Bolt) and AoE (Hellfire, Dread Infernal) removals. Dread Infernal is probably the strongest card, as it has pretty solid base stats, and the AoE effect can be deadly if used correctly.
One of the main reason to run Warlock over other classes is the Hero Power. The class can refill its hand much easier than the other classes, but at the cost of health. Warlock’s Hero Power might be the most difficult one to use for the new players, so if you’re just starting your adventure with Hearthstone, I’d recommend picking a different deck instead.
Budget Warlock Deck
Zoo Warlock is a very old Warlock archetype. It was first popularized by Reynad back in the Classic Hearthstone, then it was going in and out of the meta multiple times. About a year ago, after One Night in Karazhan adventure, Zoo has raised again with a new version full of discard synergies. However, it as quickly fallen out of favor again, and we haven’t seen almost any Zoo Warlocks ever since then.
It didn’t seem like Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion is going to change that. While it was undoubtedly good for the Warlock class, it didn’t seem like enough in a meta that was full of bad matchups. However, more recent nerf patch has made everything different. Deck’s worst matchups are gone, and it’s back into the spotlight.
As for the budget version, it’s definitely not optimal. Back in the day, Zoo used to be one of the cheapest meta decks. Right now, however, it runs multiple important Legendaries. While you can play without them, the deck’s power will be significantly lower. The budget version should still be capable of hitting Rank 10, possibly Rank 5 with enough play, but you probably shouldn’t expect getting to Legend until you upgrade it to the full version.
Every 2 levels, up to level 10, you will get two copies of a Basic class card. A lot of those cards are staples, so it’s heavily advised to highly prioritize getting every class to level 10.
|Level 2||Level 4||Level 6|
|Level 8||Level 10|
Every few levels past level 10, you will be rewarded with a Golden version of one of the Basic cards. Leveling up past 10 doesn’t give you any competitive edge – all the rewards are cosmetic.
A Hearthstone player and writer from Poland, Stonekeep has been in a love-hate relationship with Hearthstone since Closed Beta. He's achieved infinite Arena and multiple top 100 Legend climbs. You can follow him on Twitter @StonekeepHS.