I find, at the start of each season, there is hope. Hope at the new, at the unknown and excitement at what’s to come. While Weekly Legends continues to by mainstay, The Brewmaster is quickly becoming my favorite series. I always love experimenting with deckbuilding, and the more I tweak decks and try to adapt the meta the more I learn about the game. Remember, there is always room to get better. Continuing with the theme from last month, I want to further my discussion on the difference between climbing to legend, just climbing, and staying stagnant. I explored the idea of adaptation a lot last season, and this time around I want to look at the idea of card quality. We are going to be taking a class that has always been aggressive (Hunter) and forcing it into a much more controllish build. That is going to be very tricky to do because, unlike classes like Warrior (or Shaman if you tuned in for Season 1), there are no inherent cards that support control. The minions are aggressive, the spells do damage and the hero power does nothing to impact the board. However, I always loved a good challenge.
I will be the first to admit that Control Hunter is not a new idea. However, it has never been done well and I honestly cannot think of a list off the top of my head that took it to legend. There have been some builds that have made a more top-end version of Midrange, but that is not what I’m going for here. I want a deck that really pilots like a control deck. Big finishers, grindy games and lots and lots of removal. I am not sure how that is going to work, but as many before me have noted, there is a lot of potential. Hunter has fallen out of favor as of late, but there is also plenty of time to bring it back into the limelight. There is a fine line between control and midrange, and I am going to do my best to resist the temptation of some of the more classic Hunter cards like Houndmaster or Kill Command to make something entirely new.
This deck is going to be a lot of forcing a square peg into a round hole. While Hearthstone does have a lot of room for innovation, there are some classes that are more designed for a set purpose. Hunter is one of those, built purely with aggression on the mind (no matter what Blizzard says). Moving away from that is not going to be easy, especially with how much success the class has had as an aggro deck. The biggest question here is, how strong can Hunter really be when it doesn’t have aggression? I honestly have no idea, but that is something I need to explore if I want to climb up. While Midrange Hunter was a really successful deck for a very long time, it was basically a slower aggro deck that tried to end the game on turn six or seven, if not earlier. While I am not opposed to winning early, I want to make something that plans on going much longer. There are a couple routes I can go with that, and all should be explored.
The one thing we have going for us is simply how much removal Hunter has at its disposal. It is unreal how many kill spells the class has and how many different tools there are. While it is chock-full of things like Kill Command, Unleash the Hounds and Eaglehorn Bow, Rexxar also can use Explosive Shot, Powershot, Deadly Shot, and Hunter’s Mark to clear the board time and time again. Many of those cards are very strong and will make up the core of the deck. However, as strong as they are, the removal also illustrates a larger problem at hand, which is the card draw. Almost every deck in the game has a wide range of sticky minions, which makes one-for-one removal really weak. Using spell after spell might seem ok in theory, but in practice most opponent’s will eventually just run you out of resources. I am not sure what style of card draw I want yet, but there has to be something to keep your hand refreshed and the spells flowing otherwise this is never going to work.
Sir Finley Mrrgglton
There was no way I was going to make this deck without Sir Finley Mrrgglton. The little murloc has done a lot for aggro decks all over the ladder, giving them ways to draw extra cards or do face damage, but it also has potential for slower decks as well. When the murloc was first spoiled many speculated that it could be great for control decks, giving them ways to dump their useless hero powers (Rogue, Shaman) and give them something a little more relevant to the task at hand. That is exactly why I want this card here. Steady Shot is not anything close to what we want to be doing with this deck. Two damage a turn that has no effect on the board is not only weak, but it supports a system that we don’t want to be apart of. A 1/3 on turn one is not a bad deal in itself, and being able to also tweak our hero power to the matchup at hand could really let us steal some games we would normally lose.
Discussing different hero powers, almost anything is better than Steady Shot. Two armor a turn can be useful in outlasting opponents, as can healing. Totems can gum up the board, while making recruits can be very good in Control vs. Control games. Of course, the number one power we are looking for is Lifetap, followed by Totems and Fireblast. All three of those powers really support the “go long” gameplan this deck has, and they each enable you a way to pick off minions. Shapeshift can also be strong, but it is distinctly worse because it requires you to take damage to clear. Overall, you want things that impact the board as much as you can. That will also change from match to match depending on what you’re facing (you typically don’t want Lifetap against Aggro Shaman) but that versatility is exactly why Sir Finley is so good.
For the times when you don’t have Sir Finely Mrrgglton. The other way to make use of a largely useless hero power, Steamwheedle Sniper is a card that I have been dying to try out. It is a tempo-based two drop that has a ton of different control applications. The easiest comparison to this card is Fallen Hero. Both minions make their hero power deal two damage to minion, both come down on turn two and they are both strong at clearing the board when unanswered. However, Fallen Hero’s biggest setback is that it is a 3/2. Two health as a two drop is only good if it gets secrets or throws knives. Otherwise you just end up dying to a Shielded Minibot, which basically invalidates your play and sets you way back. On the other hand, the sniper, much like Darnassus Aspirant, is a 2/3. That extra point of health in huge because it allows it to trade and live through many common openings. That is especially important on a card with a static ability.
Steamwheedle Sniper is another card that lets you get some real use out of your hero power. A big part of Control Hunter is doing everything you can to make your hero power just a little more useful. That may seem like a huge overreaction to one part of a list, but not having a relevant hero power has held many decks back (just ask Aggro Shaman). This is even more accentuated in control decks where you are going to be using your hero power a lot throughout the game. This card is also very strong because it, like so many other powerful cards, is quite versatile. It can come down on turn two to enable you a way to fight against most of the other two drops, but it also can be utilized in the later game where you can ping small minions or finish off larges ones.
I first took Dreadscale to legend in my “All Beast” Hunter back when TGT first came out. He was an intricate part to that deck for a couple of reasons, but the biggest was simply how strong he was against Paladin. It has been a long time since then, but Secret Paladin is still one of the all-stars of the meta. Not only that, but there are a lot more swarm decks nowadays than their once were. That pretty much makes Dreadscale an auto-include into any slower Hunter list. When building a deck to take to the ladder you need to constantly have the meta in mind. Right now the meta is a sort of triangle between swarm aggro, midrange aggression and heavy fatigue control. Of those, swarm aggro and midrange aggression both enjoy flooding the board with small minions, especially Zoo and Secret Paladin. Dreadscale’s ability naturally combats those decks and can give you a lot of board presence that other three drops would not afford.
The other reason that Dreadscale works do well is its combo with your removal. One of the hardest parts of building a control deck is finding ways to implement hard removal into your list. Hearthstone is a game where being able to completely remove a minion is getting harder and harder to do. The primary mode for Dreadscale is to combo with Hunter’s Mark to kill any minion in the game for three mana and two cards. That’s a really good deal. However, even when not straight up removing something, Dreadscale helps you finish off a lot of minions in the same way that Wild Pyromancer does. Almost all of your removal is damage based. While most of the time that is enough to clear, sometimes you will need one extra damage to help clear the board, making this card invaluable.
Ball of Spiders
While most of my first articles are based on speculation and gut feelings, I think this is going to be one of the most important cards in the list. Ball of Spiders is a card that is normally considered bad, especially when compared to cards like Mysterious Challenger or Fire Elemental. However, it is a form of card advantage. This card basically reads, add three 1/1’s to the board, then draw three cards. While still not that strong in a vacuum, if you can play this on a favorable board or in a situation where you are ahead then they do get a lot better. There are a lot of beasts in the game right now, some strong and some weak, but all three of the cards you are going to get from Ball of Spiders are going to be bodies, which is really important when putting together a finisher.
A big part of Control decks in Hearthstone is having cards that can take over games. Cards that you can play onto an empty board when you are your opponent are both low on cards that seal the deal. Ball of Spiders, as underwhelming as it seems, is one of those cards. This is a great topdeck, and can be used as a finisher in its own right. If you manage to clear out your opponent’s board late in the game and then drop down three Webspinners that will then turn into three larger beasts you are going to be in great shape. This is one of those cards that lets you just play the way you want to and then let it come down when the time is right. It also has a really nice combo with Hunter’s Mark and can even be used to trade into a midrange minion from time to time. Also, if any of the spider’s live you can then trade as you like and play down your extra threats on the same turn.
Another largely overlooked card, Gladiator’s Longbow is a very efficient removal spell. There are very few cards in the game that survive five damage to the dome, and the fact that you take zero damage when you use this is extremely powerful. This under-used weapon is basically two removal spells for the price of one, all while protecting your face. As you can see, there is no healing in this initial decklist. While that could become an issue later on, I wanted to focus on the idea of “minions won’t hit me” rather than “what do I do after they do?”. A big Achilles heel of weapon-based control decks has been their health. Warrior and Paladin don’t care all that much about taking damage because they gain tons of health through healing and armor. However, Control Rogue has always been held back because they would use their weapon to clear and then end up dying to minion damage. This card gives you a way to clear the board with weapons (did I mention that it does five damage?) without taking any damage to your health. This card gives you the upside of a weapon without the downside of taking the damage. A pretty good package for what this deck wants to do. While much less relevant, it is also ten damage to the face if you want to get aggressive.
Control Hunter is a deck that I have been thinking about for a long time. However, each time a season rolls around I find myself distracted by other ideas. Now that I have a valid excuse, I am going to go hard into this build. There are a ton of options for this style of Hunter, and I want to explore them all. I am not yet sure which version is going to come out on top, or just how reliable the removal in Hunter is, but it is definitely worth a try. I cannot wait to break this in. I think it’s going to be a blast.