Building the Best Deck: A Deep Dive on Hunter

With Goblins vs Gnomes around the corner, it's a great time to review the vanilla classes/decks. And today we explore why Hunter is one of the best classes.

Hunter is the best deck.

It‘s not a secret and it’s not surprising. Hunter is the perfect conflux of all of the elements that are powerful right now – deathrattles, secrets, and inevitability.

Deathrattles are powerful because of Undertaker. Enough has been said on this card already; it’s broken, not fun, and snowbally, but it’s there so you should use it. Hunter uses it the best because it has an extra 1-drop deathrattle in Webspinner and can use the best 2-drop deathrattle, Mad Scientist.

Mad Scientist leads right into the next point: secrets. Freezing Trap is insane tempo, is often Sap that makes the minion cost 2 more, and gives you an extra charge on your 3-damage weapon. Snake Trap punishes overeager attacks by releasing more power than there was before. Yes, traps can be played around, but Hunter doesn’t often give you the luxury of time to do so.

Time is an important resource in today’s Hearthstone. Zoo is trying to set up an unbeatable board before you can establish yourself. Priest and Warrior control are trying to stretch the game out until they have time to leverage their superior late-game plans. Hunter sidesteps all of this by just killing the other guy. Steady Shot trades blow-for-blow with Armor Up! and Lesser Heal, and the other cards in your deck can usually deal the last few points of damage.

The Core

The following 20 cards are the core to every Hunter deck:

2x Leper Gnome

2x Undertaker

2x Webspinner

2x Haunted Creeper

2x Mad Scientist

2x Freezing Trap

2x Animal Companion

2x Eaglehorn Bow

2x Kill Command

2x Savannah Highmane

Some people run fewer than two Highmanes, but that is just wrong. It wins the popular Priest and Warrior matchups by itself, so it doesn’t matter if it slows you down a bit in the earlier turns. Likewise, fewer than two Freezing Traps is almost certainly incorrect, as getting it off of Mad Scientist and playing a minion onto an empty board with Freezing Trap backup is the most powerful play available.

The Options

So how do we fill the last ten slots? There are a bevy of viable options.

Hunters-Mark

Hunter’s Mark is the best way to get through taunts. Hunter is weak against taunts, so it makes sense to play cards that kill them. Only the most extreme variants that don’t run Highmane and aim to kill before taunts come out should drop this.  Those face variants are bad against Priest and Warrior while retaining the same good matchups as standard Hunter. In other words, they are almost strictly worse than the standard Hunter that goes 50-50 or better against those matchups.

Flare

Flare is excellent in the mirror and gives you a little extra deck velocity to find the cards you really need in the midgame (like Highmane). The fact that it randomly hoses Secret Mage is a nice bonus and I highly recommend running two.

Tracking

Tracking is one of the best card selection spells in the game, but it can backfire if you are running only a couple of traps for Mad Scientist and discard one. Since you no longer need to fish for both halves of the Buzzard-Unleash combo, Tracking is often the first card to get cut when looking to add more high-impact cards.

Arcane Shot

Trusty ol’ Arcane Shot can take care of Undertaker on the draw (but never on the play – has your opponent ever NOT had another 1-drop deathrattle to coin out?) and eliminate small minions and Sludge Belcher tokens with ease, but it takes a whole card to do so, and without Buzzard-Unleash to make card advantage trivial Arcane Shot feels underpowered. Also, Hunter’s Mark does the job a lot better (and cheaper!) against minions you care about, eg. Big taunts.

Ironbeak Owl

Ironbeak Owl is another way to get through taunts, and helps against Undertaker and Haunted Creeper in a pinch. Not a bad pick at all, and a beast to boot!

Explosive Trap

There are few cards better at punishing overextension. Explosive Trap is a wonderful catch-up mechanism in the mirror and against Zoo (as long as the opponent doesn’t have a Huanted Creeper or Nerubian Egg). I think you need to run two AOE effects in the current meta, and your choices are between Explosive Trap and Unleash the Hounds. Unleash offers synergies with Knife Juggler, Houndmaster, and various wolves; while Explosive Trap can be set up proactively whenever it’s convenient at the cost of less Mad Scientist consistency. It hurts to get Explosive when you need Freezing and vice-versa, which is why I prefer Unleash for my board-clearing effect.

Unleash the Hounds

Even without its partner in crime Starving Buzzard (may he rest in peace), Unleash is a solid come-from-behind and burst damage tool against large boards. For 5 mana you can Knife Juggler -> Unleash the Hounds to create a devastating AOE, and for 7 mana you can make one of the hounds a 3/3 taunt with Houndmaster!

Knife Juggler & Snake Trap

These two should be run together if you choose to play them. Knife Juggler turn 3 or 4 with a Snake Trap set up is a very dangerous board for your opponent to navigate. If they attack to remove the threatening Juggler, you get three triggers and hopefully gank the attacking minion for free, and if they attack at all they risk getting blown out by Freezing Trap and falling too far behind on board.  You can play a lot of fun mindgames by telegraphing Snake Trap with Juggler->secret and actually playing Freezing Trap. The downfall of Snake Trap in my mind is that it’s worthless when you are behind and your opponent can just go upstairs and race you. They never actually have to proc Snake Trap to kill you, unlike the other traps.

Dire Wolf Alpha & Timber Wolf

If you are playing Unleash the Hounds and Snake Trap, these doggy-pumping wolves can be a great way to trade up with your 1/1’s. It’s hard to find space for them because they are such marginal effects on their own and you often don’t have a ton of options in your hand as Hunter. I wouldn’t run more than two copies total even in the Unleash/Snake Trap deck.

Wolfrider & Arcane Golem

As I said earlier, I think the type of deck these guys encourage is worse than standard Hunter. If you’re looking for insight on YOLO charge face Hunter, look elsewhere. I’ll acknowledge that they’re slightly stronger in the mirror, but it’s not worth it for the huge hits against Priest and Warrior.

Houndmaster

Houndmaster is excellent, and very nearly “core” status, but he does cost 4. There are 8 beasts in the core already, so there’s no need to include additional beasts just to power Houndmaster up. You need a good excuse not to run an absurdly powerful card like this or Undertaker when you get to do so without warping your deck around it.

Sludge Belcher

Sludge Belcher is ubiquitous nowadays, with two copies in almost every deck. It’s only natural that he would eventually make his way into even the most aggressive decks. That said, I disagree with his inclusion in any Hunter builds. The fact that it forces your opponent to activate your Snake Trap isn’t enough when Houndmaster can do that much more efficiently.  3 power for 5 mana, even as a deathrattle and taunt, does not mesh with the pressure-focused Hunter gameplan. If you want a 5 mana minion, run Loatheb. If you want even more, Stranglethorn Tiger is a superior choice.

Loatheb & The Black Knight

If you want to go a little bigger, there aren’t any minions better than these two. Both are frequently game-swinging effects that make it very hard to lose if you are at parity or ahead when you play them.

Bringing It All Together

As I’ve alluded to in the options section, I prefer a more robust early- and mid-game plan that has the ability to recover a lost board and the potential for blowouts to shut the door while ahead. My picks for the last 10 cards are:

2x Hunter’s Mark

2x Flare

2x Unleash the Hounds

2x Houndmaster

1x Loatheb

1x The Black Knight

Freezing Trap is so much better than every other secret that I don’t want to risk my Mad Scientist picking up other ones, and enough other people play Snake Trap for me, forcing the opponent to play around it anyways. I also don’t want to actually play traps from my hand, as I would rather be making proactive plays and having only two reduces the probability of drawing one.

The addition of a few more beasts (Unleash the Hounds) locks in Houndmaster as an amazing mid-game choice. Loatheb, The Black Knight, and Flare are for the blowouts, and all except The Black Knight are fine even when they’re not blowouts. I prefer Hunter’s Mark over Ironbeak Owl in my anti-taunt slot, but a split or even two Owls could be correct.

Conclusion

I believe this deck is within three cards of the best deck you can possibly create in Hearthstone. The flex slots would be due to metagame shifts, such as Sludge Belcher falling out of favor and removing the necessity for The Black Knight or Hunter popularity declining and reducing the need for Flare. Decklists are always a great place to start, but never stop tuning for the metagame you’re encountering at your current rank!

Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments, and all comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!

Until next time,

LightsOutAce

 

Bonus Decklist:

Snake Hunter

2x Leper Gnome

2x Undertaker

2x Webspinner

2x Haunted Creeper

2x Mad Scientist

2x Knife Juggler

1x Dire Wolf Alpha

2x Freezing Trap

2x Snake Trap

2x Unleash the Hounds

2x Animal Companion

2x Eaglehorn Bow

2x Kill Command

2x Houndmaster

1x Loatheb

2x Savannah Highmane