Hunter: Not Dead Yet
After the nerf to Starving Buzzard many predicted that Hunter was about to fall to the bottom of the totem pole. A lot of people were excited for this shift and what it would mean for the ladder and the overall balance of Hearthstone as Hunter had been on top for quite a while at that point. Hell, I was one of them. The first night after the nerfs went live I played Handlock all night and had a blast. Little did I know that almost instantly Hunters would make their triumphant return. Sure, the deck list has changed and the mid-range Hunter isn't nearly as good as it was with the Buzzard/Unleash combo but the class is going as strong as ever.
In this article we'll take a look at what a modern Hunter deck looks like without Starving Buzzard or Leeroy Jenkins and break down each card and its place in the deck.
- this has been a Hunter staple for a while but without Unleash The Hounds we can cut this to a 1-of. It's still important to deal with big taunts and minions that will trade with multiple units.
x2 - this is how to win the mirror match as well as beat up on Mages and Miracle Rogues. At its worst it's a 1-mana cycle that thins the deck. At its best it removes traps that would otherwise destroy your board and enable Eaglehorn Bow swings. Since you will be facing a lot of other Hunters at the moment 2 of these is a requirement.
x2 - there isn't much draw in the Hunter deck anymore so this card allows you to buff your Undertakers and also gain a bit of card draw. The problem is that the card is random and could be terrible. In the end the upside is worth the downside. It also enables Kill Command and Houndmaster.
- this trap is very situational but it can wreck an aggro deck so I like to have one of them. The real benefit of the secrets is the additional charges on your bow. A lot of the damage this deck can get early is through the bow, either swinging to the face or clearing the board to allow your creatures to live.
x2 - running two of this trap is great for maintaining a tempo lead. In some situations it's a super while in others it can fall short against good opponents. The key is recognizing when to play it and how to get value. You want to hit big targets, of course, but sometimes it can be used to save your minions from death and getting the opponent to expend mana inefficiently.
- only 1 of these but this trap does a few cool things. The snakes are beasts so you do get some Houndmaster and Kill Command value. They also essentially have haste since they pop on the opponents turn and are usable on yours if they live. This is an aggressive secret for sure but one that can swing games in your favor and keeps the other player honest. When you have 3 possible traps they cannot play around them as easily.
x2 - this is one of the primary sources of damage but also can be used to maintain board control to allow your minions to keep hitting face. You always want to get at least 3 swings by getting a trap out before using up the last charge but don't be stubborn. If it makes sense to swing to save an important creature then you do what you gotta do.
x2 - the randomness of this card is made up for by the fact that all 3 outcomes are fantastic for 3 mana. Not to mention it's a beast. I don't think I've ever seen a Hunter deck not run two of these so I don't think I need to get too in detail about what makes this card good. You guys get it.
x2 - this is one of your finishers but is also an amazingly cheap removal spell if you have a beast on board. 5 damage can be tough to deal for a lot of classes so the ability to remove some big creatures should not be overlooked. Calculate how much damage you could do with minions if you keep them alive by removing something with this. If it's more than 5, go for it.
x2 - there aren't as many beasts in the deck as their were in the days of Buzzard/Unleash but there are enough to make this card a huge value drop. The main targets for its buff will be Haunted Creepers, Webspinners and the Hyenas that pop out of Highmanes.
x2 - speaking of Highmanes, this is the best 6-drop in the game by a large margin. This card is the win condition that allows Hunter to beat Control Warrior and other heavy control decks. Against control decks it is recommended that you even keep this card is your opening hand. It is that important to the game. If the Highmane lives a turn the damage potential and trade value is off the charts. This card is also one reason to run an Ironbeak Owl for the mirror match. Getting this card on board first can often be the difference between winning and losing.
x2 - a staple of any aggro deck and for good reason. This little guy is a guaranteed 2 damage and if played on turn 1, or to buff an Undertaker, can represent much more. The point of the deck is to pressure the opponents life total and this is the best way to get that ball rolling on turn 1.
x2 - this guy makes a huge difference to any tempo decks ability to get early damage in. This is the key 1-drop in the deck and one you mulligan for aggressively. The ideal starting hand has Undertakers, Leper Gnomes and Webspinners to maximize the damage before removal is available. If you can coin out an Undertaker and a deathrattle minion on turn 1 it is always correct to do so.
x2 - while the 1 power on this guy may seem weak the real power lies in the deathrattle giving two token spiders. Deathrattles that spawn minions are very powerful to fight through board wiping spells. This card is also a beast for extra awesome.
- sometimes there is a bunch of damage in your hand and on the board and you could win the game but a darn Sludge Belcher is in the way. In those cases having an Owl is invaluable so running 1 of these just makes too much sense. It's also a great way to deal with opposing Highmanes. You can silence them and Kill Command for 5 since the Owl is a beast.
x2 - what this card does in this deck is extremely valuable for 2 mana. He plays Traps for free which in turn give extra weapon swings, buffs Undertaker and essentially acts as card draw since you pull the secret straight out of your deck. This deck does lack draw so in a roundabout way this card helps solve that issue.
- if you read my deck guides then you are probably seeing a trend. Loatheb is in every deck. What Loatheb does is protect your damage dealing minions allowing you to keep swinging as well as being a 5/5 body. I'm running out of ways to say that Loatheb is really good so I'll just stop there.
- there was a time when Hunters would run two of these and a lot of lists probably still do. In my opinion, however, this card isn't going to deal much damage so it's really here to protect your other creatures and prevent lethal to allow you the one extra turn you need to finish your opponent off. In cases when I had two of these in my hand my damage ultimately felt a little gimped so I cut 1 and the deck has felt much smoother since.
Playing the Deck
This new Hunter deck is still a great deck for quickly climbing ranks early on in a season. All of the games will be quick, win or lose. This deck is all about maximizing damage to the opposing hero and consistently getting damage each and every turn until you can apply the final burst with a combination of minion damage, the hero power and spells like . Trading is still correct if it will allow you to get more damage over the next few turns. In the past Face Hunter decks used charge minions to get damage in each turn but the issue was that they were far too flimsy and died easily which meant the damage potential was essentially one attack. The new Hunter uses stickier minions that can get several attacks in as well as overwhelming the board through early tempo.
During the early turns you want to develop a board presence and make trades that allow you to continue to snowball with cards like Undertaker and Haunted Creeper. Mulligan traps away as you would much rather play them through Mad Scientist and have a bow in hand. Since the deck doesn't have much draw getting out to an early lead is important to allow you to trade efficiently while popping off Steady Shots. Most of the damage you will get by mid-game will come from Bow and Steady Shot swings but this is the consistent damage that allows you keep the pressure on. Once the opponent is around 15 life or so you can start to ignore trades since the opponent will be forced to make them for you or die. One huge advantage the Hunter has is the ability to push over the last bit of damage that some other aggro decks can't.
Some people may look at a deck like this and think it's a simple face deck but the decisions are important yet subtle. Trading at the wrong time can lead to a shortage of damage but if you don't then you can get blown out by board wipes and removal. Hunter before the nerf was so powerful because the Buzzard/Unleash combo allowed you come back from large deficits by drawing 3 or 4 cards, sometimes even more, and clear a board all in one turn. That type of swing is now gone but that hasn't made Hunter bad. It's just a bit trickier since falling behind can actually become an insurmountable obstacle. Seizing tempo and maintaining it is more important now than before and, like other aggressive decks, Hunters do start to run out of cards during the late game. This is really how it should be so I stand by Blizzard's decision to nerf Starving Buzzard. Anyone who has played on the ladder recently knows that Hunter is still an elite class and tough to beat.
Let me know how you feel about the current version of Hunter in the comment below. Did they get nerfed enough? Too Much? Just right? I'm also curious to know how others are building their decks in the post-Buzzard era. My build is similar to a lot of the Hunters that I see on ladder but these days there are some very cool ways to tailor the Hunter decks to fit your own playstyle.
Also as some of you may know, I am a rabid Giants fan. I even do a podcast about them called
. In honor of the amazing post-season run for them this year and Hunter Pence, my favorite Giant who happens to be a Hearthstone player, I made a fun little
Giants Hunter deck
. If you wanna have some fun in casual games check it out and let me know what you think. It's not good, but it can win some games in hilarious fashion.
Until next time, job's done!
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