September 22nd marks the end of an era. The era of at least still having chicken. The era of time being up so just doing it. The era of 5 mana filling up the hand of a Hunter because somehow it's balanced. The era of certain card emotes leading to insta-concedes. At least it seems that way as I write this. Most people believe, and I agree, that the nerfs to Hunter and Leeroy will likely kill Hunter's dominance on the ladder and lead to a meta with much less burst potential and I, for one, welcome our new Handlock overlords. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention in all that the return of the Handlock!

These nerfs do a lot to help Handlock become incredibly powerful on the ladder again but we also have some great Naxx cards that can be added as well. The reason Handlock was a liability when Hunter was so prevalent is the combination of Hunter burn spells and hero power, as well as the ease of taunt removal with Hunter's Mark. The idea behind Handlock is to fill your hand up at the expense of life and then use the large hand and low life to enable cheap giants. This deck was not viable when Mage was popular and wasn't viable against Hunter either. Now with Hunter likely going the way of the dodo, unless Mage comes back, Handlock will crush a lot of the minion based decks that are left.

One issue that Handlock faces, however, is the nerf to Leeroy removing the huge burst potential of the Leeroy Jenkins + Power Overwhelming + Faceless Manipulator that had become a staple of the Handlock deck. The good news, if you're playing Handlock, is that this is just an extra win condition. There were already plenty of ways to kill your opponent without the combo. Also, if you really love the burst combo you can still run a version of it with Arcane Golem.

We'll go over a deck with no Leeroy combo and discuss some cards that can be added if you would like to play the version with burst potential.

The Deck

Dills Handlock - Post Naxx, No Leeroy

Soulfire - obvious pick for any Warlock deck. One thing to note when you play Handlock is be aware of the quality of your hand. There are times when you cannot Soulfire because you may lose a card that is too important but in most cases if you can clear the board or remove a big threat, it is correct.

Hellfire - this card is huge for dealing with Zoo or aggro decks and running two means you will have one more consistently. The side effect of dealing damage to yourself enables your Molten Giants and is absolutely not a negative in this style of deck.

Shadowflame - unfortunately the Leeroy combo is gone but there are still plenty of good uses for this card. You can use Watchers, Owls, Sylvanas and Loatheb or even a giant to get massive board clears. You can potentially run one of these since it is a bit mana intensive to set up but again, it's more consistent to have a second.

Siphon Soul - this card kills all the big threats and also heals. It's pretty nice and in Handlock you should always run two. I expect lot of mirror matches will be coming so getting value with this card will be key.

Ancient Watcher - this deck utilizes the Watcher better than any other deck. You can silence it with Owl, taunt with Defender or Sunfury and also use it to Shadowflame the board. You get a lot of value for 2 mana.

Ironbeak Owl - this is a card you can get away with just one of but I'm using two to deal with all of the deathrattle and especially the Sludge Belcher. When you do get your giants out there are a lot of times when the Owl allows you to get the lethal damage in through taunters as well.

Sunfury Protector - giving taunt cheaply is incredibly powerful in this deck since the mid-game turns are usually tight in the mana department. Later in the game when the Molten Giants are free yuo can use the Defenders but early on this is the best option to protect your health total and your threats.

Earthen Ring Farseer - since you are always tapping your health pool down to dangerous amounts it is important to have a few cheap tools to get out of burn range. You also have nothing on turn 3 and this card helps smooth out the curve when going second to get turn 4 Mountain Giants. When you go second you pass, tap and then play Farseer and you can play a Mountain turn 4 for exactly 4 mana.

Defender of Argus - once you are at 10 life getting out the double Molten and taunting and buffing them with this card is almost always a win. Also, getting taunt on to your Watchers is huge. I've seen people run one of these but I really feel that you want all the taunters you can get your hands on.

Twilight Drake - If you don't get the Mountain Giant for turn 4 then you will likely at least have one of these. Be aware that Shaman may make a comeback as well and Earthshock outright kills these. However, the upside of getting out 4/9s on turn 4 is way too high for the downside of potential silences. Against Paladin I recommend throwing these out before your giants if possible to bait out the Aldor Peacekeeper but against almost everyone else, use giants if there is a choice.

Faceless Manipulator - even without the combo there is plenty of great targets for this guy. Getting an extra giant or Sylvanas will give plenty of value.

Loatheb - just start every deck by putting in Loatheb and then worry about the rest of the cards. When the board state is susceptible to board clearing spells, this guy can protect your win condition. It's also a good 5-drop if Belchers aren't available.

Sludge Belcher - this card makes Handlock so much better as it stalls the game out to get to the big creatures and soaks up damage. It also will often time soften up the opponents minions to set up big Hellfires and of course it stops lethal combos at that critical time when the game will end within the next couple of turns.

Sylvanas Windrunner - turning the board around is what Sylvanas does best and can be very valuable in this deck. You can taunt her up and also Shadowflame her for some huge swings in tempo. If you like other options instead you can also go with Ragnaros but for my money Sylvanas affects more games positively.

Alexstrasza - without the big combo this is a great way to knock down your opponent's health to set up lethal. You can also obviously save your own life total when you get low, and trust me, you will always get low. Jaraxxus has been making a comeback as well but when you play him you can no longer play Molten Giants since the 15 health total counts as full and the giants can never cost less than 15.

Mountain Giant - the Mountain Giant on turn 4 is the big play every Handlock hopes for. you mulligan your opeing hand heavily to find these guys and try to get them out early while your hand is still huge.

Molten Giant - this card is what makes Handlock so scary. Often your opponent will play around this card so heavily and avoid attacking that it allows you to keep getting out the other big threats and stalling until they come. Being at 10 life and having an empty board usually means death for other decks but with Handlock that is often just the turning point before an easy win.

Playing the deck

Handlock is without a doubt one of the trickiest decks to play in Hearthstone. There are many turns where it is correct to tap even though your life total can trick you into thinking that is crazy. Having a huge hand and a low life total is the key to making the deck work. Since this is unique to Handlock it is important to have a lot of games played with the deck or else it will all feel very uncomfortable. It takes a lot of heart to play this deck to its fullest and if you have what it takes then you can be very successful with Handlock.

The early turns are all taken up with tapping to draw cards. However, there is a bit more to it. First of all, you want to mulligan for Mountain Giants and Twilight Drakes as these are the cards you will play on turn 4. When going first you generally want to pass, tap, tap, Giant/Drake. Going second is a bit trickier since the extra card means you cannot tap on 2 and 3 since you will then discard on 4. Instead you want to play something one of those turns and tap the other setting up the turn 4 Giant/Drake. This can be an Ancient Watcher or an Earthen Ring Farseer. The other option is to coin/Drake on turn 3 but this removes the turn 4 giant possibility so I prefer avoiding it unless you are already falling way behind on the board.

The middle turns are all about clearing the way for your big threats. Using Shadowflame and Hellfire you should be able to maintain a good board position but it is almost always better to build your own board than to lose initiative by clearing when you cannot also play a minion. This is not a perfect science, however, so be prepared to face some tough decisions. One thing to note as well is that often you will be including a tap into your turn so be sure to get accustomed to mapping your turn out and then tapping before playing cards. Sometimes the card you draw will give you a better option. It is also important to keep track of exactly how many cards you have in your hand at any given time. One neat trick is to match up the edge of your rightmost card to the slash between your mana indicator. When you have 10 cards the edge exactly lines up with the slash. After a while you will be able to tell how many cards are in your hand at a glance but it will probably be after tapping with 10 cards a few times. That one really hurts.

End game is all about setting up the wall. What I mean by this is the Molten Giants taunted up and ready to swing. If you can get to this state then you are likely to win the game but be aware of a couple of things depending on the matchup. Do not overextend against classes with board wipes. This means Paladins with equality/consecrate and Warriors with Brawl. You can lose if you run out of threats so only play as much as you need to to set up lethal. Since this version does not run the burst combo you win with damage from your creatures and if you lose your creatures unnecessarily you will get blown out.

You can also run a version that includes Arcane Golem to keep some burst going. Below is a link to a deck that includes that and you can try that out of you like. Time will tell which version begins to take hold. I'm sure some of Hearthstone's premier deck builders will come up with some very imaginative and effective versions over the next few weeks as the meta settles after the changes.

Handlock - New Combo

Overall, I believe these changes will be good for the game and we will see many more decks on the ladder that are built around interaction with the board rather than setting up for a lethal combo. This creates a back and forth that rewards smart play and positive trading instead of just drawing well. I'm excited for the next few weeks on the ladder and will begin testing some decks that were once made obsolete by the Hunter onslaught. I'd love to hear what your versions of the deck include and also what you think of the card changes so please leave comments below and make sure to link your decks using the Hearthhead.com deck builder. If there is a particular deck you would like to see covered then let me know that as well. Next week's deck is up for grabs!

Until then, job's done!