Xixo has done it again. For at least the 2nd time, he has made it to No. 1 legend before anybody else in the season. In season 9 he creamed it with his Sea Giant/Imp-losion Zoo Deck, and now he’s back with this uber-toxic Face Hunter. Designed to punish the ladder harder than a tortoise shell encased in granite, Face Hunter is a force to be reckoned with in season 11.
Like Zoolock decks of old, Face Hunter has the reputation of being relatively skill-less to play. This is in fact not the case at all. While the basic strategy of this deck is, of course, to hit face with everything. Situations arise where it is best to make judicious trades or even do nothing besides hero power and pass.
The deck includes many Charge minions which are best served up as finishers (yes, even Wolfrider); but they can also be used for trading in a pinch, or to hit face pre-lethal if you have no other good play.
Using up your full curve is not always the right option. The correct option is usually the one which will dish out the most damage this turn while giving you a good play next turn (excluding Charge minions from the equation).
Against aggressive decks such as Mech Mage, other Hunters, and to a lesser extent Zoolock, you’ll actually want to play a small amount of board control against certain high priority minions in the beginning. As the game progresses, start upping the damage to face, and choose a point to commit to full face somewhere in the mid-game. Choosing this point depends on you and your opponents’ class, hands, life totals and the board state and is often critical to turning a loss into a win or vice versa. In aggressive match-ups, you want to build board presence as much as possible and not worry too much about using your hero power at first. On turn 3 for example, prefer a play such as Leper Gnome and Mad Scientist over Leper Gnome and hero power. Do not try to out-race your aggro opponent, unless it has become apparent she got a slow start. Take away her key minions with your weapons, buffed minions and secrets, then go face.
Get rid of high priority minions as fast as possible. Snowchugger is a nightmare against our Glaivezooka and Eaglehorn Bow; Mechwarper gives the opponent way too much early game tempo (but can be safely ignored if played in the late game) and Knife Juggler is a menace for our many 1-hp minions. We want to stamp out these threats when playing against an aggro deck with smart trading. If possible, use weapon charges as removal since we don’t care much about our life total when playing this deck – win fast before life becomes an issue, or fail spectacularly. Don’t drag the game out unless it’s unavoidable.
Once the opponent starts to run out of steam, go full face for the rest of the match. Do not change your strategy back and forth between control and full-face. Once you start to race, if you switch back to control, you will almost certainly lose the match.
Against Mid-Range and Control
Against classes such as Druid and Priest, go full face from the start. Trickle out minions onto the board each turn and slam face. This includes playing a card such as Abusive Sergeant on turn 1 without a target to buff. Save Owls to pierce through Taunts and generally don’t bother to Silence anything else. When playing these decks, prefer to hero power on every turn where possible. On turn 3 for example, prefer the damage play such as Leper Gnome and hero power over Leper Gnome and Mad Scientist (ie. the opposite play to the aggro match-up).
Most of the time, we won’t trade board against mid-range and control decks. If we do have to trade, try to avoid using the deck’s win conditions (eg. Kill Command, Arcane Golem and Leeroy Jenkins) to do so. Taunt will often be a problem in these match-ups. If you don’t have Owl, try to use your weapons and low-cost minions where possible to trade away a Sludge Belcher before you resort to your Charge minions.
Note that in a tough spot, Arcane Golem and Glaivezooka can be combo’d together to remove a Sludge Belcher and its Slime in a single turn.
First, please note two important modifications I made compared with Xixo’s original deck: the addition of a 2nd Ironbeak Owl and a 2nd Glaivezooka, and the removal of Clockwork Gnome and Hunter’s Mark. In the current meta (February 2015), I feel that Silencing Taunts and other big roadblocks is more efficiently done by Owl over Hunter’s Mark. Owl gives us more tempo at the expense of life total. Clockwork Gnome is a card that mostly helps in mid-range decks due to the Spare Parts it yields. However as a 1-drop in this deck, it mostly serves to give us an even more aggressive start since the Spare Parts are unlikely to help out too much. I prefer the double hit from Glaivezooka which is harder to remove, saves us trading a minion if we are removing something from the board with it, and can deal more total damage than Clockwork Gnome (typically) at the expense of tempo. Of course, by all means include the Gnome if you prefer!
Tracking – the only card draw mechanism in the deck, use it wisely. You can play this any turn you have 1 mana spare, but it is often best to use it towards the end of your game to pick a card most likely to give you lethal. This card is great for finding a beast in your deck to help proc Kill Command or vice versa, and to find an elusive Ironbeak Owl to get through Taunt.
Abusive Sergeant – playable on turn 1 in a pinch, this card synergizes excellently with any minion in the deck for extra face damage or a trade. It can often be combo’d as a finisher with Arcane Golem or Leeroy Jenkins – 2 extra burst damage often matters. As for the body, we don’t care about it really except on turn 1. This minion is played almost purely for its Battlecry effect.
Leper Gnome – this card virtually guarantees 2 damage to the opponent and you’ll be surprised how eager many people are to remove it with their weapons and take even more. When you don’t have the coin, this is the turn 1 play you want.
Glaivezooka – this is an amazing value card which is flexible and remains relevant for the whole game. The absolute best case scenario for using it is when you have one minion on board which can attack this turn and nothing to trade against. Note: it’s important that you play the weapon after you’ve summoned your Charge minion but BEFORE any non-Charge minions to ensure the one extra point of damage is instantly benefited from. It is however sometimes also correct to play the weapon without a buff target. Once you have played the weapon, if you are playing against aggro, prefer to take out enemy minions with the weapon’s charges and attack face with the buffed friendly minion. Keeping board presence against aggro is extremely important.
Explosive Trap – your “secret” weapon (haw haw!) against aggro decks, you ideally want it to come down from a dead Mad Scientist but also consider the board state if you end up with one in your hand. If you have an empty board and your opponent has several minions with low health, prefer to play Explosive Trap over new minions, so that all her minions die without giving her the chance to kill yours first. Remember, your opponent will know you are running Explosive Trap in the majority of cases and will default to trading.
Haunted Creeper – a great sticky turn two minion which also serves as a good buff target. Not much to say here, other than once it’s dead, you can still do 2 more points of face damage at a minimum! Combos nicely with Glaivezooka, Abusive Sergeant and Knife Juggler.
Ironbeak Owl – using this card correctly is pivotal in achieving a high win rate with the deck. It has 3 main applications: Silencing big Taunts such as Sludge Belcher, Druid of The Claw, Ancient of War and Annoy-o-Tron (in Mech decks with few Taunts), Silencing tech cards in decks with few Taunts such as Armorsmith in Control Warrior, and finally proc’ing Kill Command as a finisher. Many games can be won by simply holding an Owl in your hand and throwing it out with Kill Command and hero power on the final turn for lethal. Bear in mind that there are only 6 other beast-generating cards in the deck besides the Owls, so this final use can often be very important.
Knife Juggler – this card is proc’d by virtually everything in the deck, and although Unleash The Hounds is the obvious combo, doing 3 or 4 damage to random minions by the time you get to turn 5 doesn’t actually matter that much usually. You want the damage to go to face. Nonetheless, every point helps and against aggro decks where their board is likely to be flooded, this helps you trade more easily (just the high priority targets).
Mad Scientist – a staple of Hunter decks, this card not only replaces itself but plays the secret it tutors out, so it has extremely high tempo. You will almost always prefer to play Mad Scientist over a trap directly, unless you need to guarantee the trap triggering on your opponent’s next turn.
Eaglehorn Bow – another deck staple, this card is essential for both face damage and removing high priority threats such as Knife Juggler and Mechwarper in the early game. If you know you can play a secret in the next turn or two (or have a Mad Scientist killed), then it is best to save the last charge. However with 4 weapons in the deck, and if no secret is going to be quickly available for triggering, it’s okay to use the last charge for whatever you like.
Animal Companion – Huffer. Always Huffer. More seriously, this card can either give great damage with Huffer (especially when buffed by Glaivezooka or Abusive Sergeant), protect your minions with Misha, or buff them all up with Leokk. Remember to play this card before the rest of your turn so you can decide what else to play based on the yielded Beast. With Huffer, you usually want to buff it with Glaivezooka or Abusive Sergeant; with Leokk, Charge minions may help; with Misha, you can do as you please.
Kill Command – like Ironbeak Owl, timing in the use of this is critical. This is one of the deck’s primary win conditions and should only be used to trade with a minion in emergencies (to prevent your opponent from having lethal). The rest of the time, you should go face with it. Against decks that have healing – and don’t forget many classes are running Antique Healbot these days – you ideally want to play this on the turn where you have lethal to prevent the opponent from healing after. Against decks where heal is not available, you ideally save it just in case you need to trade and use it when you have lethal.
Unleash The Hounds – Hunter traditionally uses this as a form of board clear, but in this deck we go face with all the hounds usually. It is often perfectly okay to play this vs only 2 enemy minions, especially if it gives you lethal with a proc’d Kill Command for a total of 7 damage (9 with hero power). It is also a good play if the opponent has several minions, one of which is a high priority target with 1 or 2 health remaining (e.g. Dr. Boom). Trade with a couple of your hounds if need be and go face with the rest.
Arcane Golem – one of the deck’s win conditions. The significance of the drawback – and hence, whether you can use it as something other than a finisher – depends on the opponent’s hero and how far into the game you are. When faced with a hand containing Wolfrider and Arcane Golem, prefer Wolfrider unless the extra point of damage is crucial. Giving Druids and Rogues extra mana in particular is a bad idea due to Druid’s existing ramp capabilities and Rogue’s extremely cheap removal spells. In a pinch, you can use Arcane Golem to trade but you almost always want to go face with this creature.
Wolfrider – As with the Golem, this is one of the deck’s win conditions with no drawback. Once again, you want to prefer going face here. Don’t play this minion on turn 3 unless you have to. If you do have to, use it to trade a high priority minion or go face.
Leeroy Jenkins – this card will push your win rate up by a couple of percent all on its own if you use it right. Never use this until you have lethal unless you can be sure that using it now will give you lethal next turn. In the late game you can combo it with Unleash The Hounds to protect it (if you don’t have lethal) by killing the whelps or (if you do have lethal) for additional face damage. If you are using it the turn before lethal, it is beset to trade against a big Taunt and not for face damage.
Besides Leeroy Jenkins, this deck is very cheap to craft and no substitutions should be necessary. If you can’t afford to craft Leeroy, you can substitute him with Reckless Rocketeer or even Nightblade. Be wary though that cards like Ragnaros The Firelord are too slow to be used as substitutes. My colleague reached rank 4 with the deck at a 60% win rate by replacing Leeroy Jenkins with Coldlight Oracle for extra card draw. Adding the Clockwork Gnome back in or another Tracking for some card draw can work too.
In the current meta, Ironbeak Owl is viable against both aggro and control match-ups due to the number of great Silence targets available. In a meta with more control, you may like to throw back in the Hunter’s Mark to get rid of otherwise impenetrable big minions. Really though, you want to avoid trading as much as possible so the over-arching deck strategy remains the same regardless of the meta. This isn’t really the sort of deck you can tech out.
These are simplified guidelines only – your mileage may vary.
Always keep Leper Gnome, Haunted Creeper and Mad Scientist (max 1).
Always mulligan Tracking, Explosive Trap, Ironbeak Owl, Kill Command, Unleash The Hounds, Arcane Golem, Wolfrider and Leeroy Jenkins.
If you have a 1 drop or the coin, keep Glaivezooka, otherwise mulligan it.
If you have no other 1 drops, or you face an aggro deck and have at least 1 other 1 drop and at least 1 other 2 drop, keep Abusive Sergeant, otherwise mulligan it.
If you have at least 1 other 1 drop and at most 1 other 2 drop, keep Knife Juggler, otherwise mulligan it.
If you have at least 1 other 1 drop and at least 1 other 2 drop, keep Eaglehorn Bow and Animal Companion, otherwise mulligan them.
Never keep more than 1 weapon in your opening hand. Prefer to mulligan Eaglehorn Bow over Glaivezooka.
Exceptions to the list are given in the per-class notes below. Unless otherwise stated, always mulligan.
If you suspect Ramp Druid and have a 1 drop and a 2 drop, keep Ironbeak Owl.
High priority early-game Owl targets for Druid: Druid of The Claw, Sludge Belcher.
Always keep Eaglehorn Bow unless you have a Glaivezooka, or no other 1 and 2 drops.
Always keep Explosive Trap.
High priority early-game targets for Hunter: Knife Juggler, anything which threatens your board presence.
Mage (primarily Mech Mage)
Always keep 1 of the following 3 in order of most-to-least preference: Eaglehorn Bow (for removal), Abusive Sergeant (for a turn 2 buff) or Ironbeak Owl (for Silence), in case you face Mech Mage.
Keep Unleash The Hounds if you have at least 2 other 1 or 2 drops in case you face Mech Mage, as you can get good value from the card early on while your opponent swarms the board.
With the above in mind, never keep more than 1 card in your opening hand which costs 3 mana.
High priority early-game targets for Mech Mage (in descending priority order): Mechwarper, Snowchugger, Cogmaster, Annoy-o-tron.
Always keep Unleash The Hounds as a response to Muster For Battle. Note that in the mid-game and late game, your priority should be to hit face with the Hounds, not to remove the Silver Hand Recruits! In the early game, trade the Hounds for the Recruits in case of Consecration or Quartermaster.
No special changes.
No special changes.
No special changes.
If you suspect Zoolock, keep Knife Juggler and Eaglehorn Bow unless you have no other 1 or 2 drops.
If you suspect Handlock and have a 1 drop and a 2 drop, keep Ironbeak Owl.
If you suspect Handlock and have the coin, keep Ironbeak Owl.
High priority early-game Eaglehorn Bow targets for Zoolock: Knife Juggler, Voidwalker.
High priority early-game Ironbeak Owl targets for Handlock: anything with Taunt.
If you have the coin and several 1 and 2 drops, keep Ironbeak Owl.
High priority early-game Ironbeak Owl targets for Control Warrior: Armorsmith, Acolyte of Pain.
The following information is only relevant to the current meta (February 2015).
Best match-ups: Rogue, Shaman, Warlock
Good match-ups: Priest, Paladin, Mage
Marginal match-ups: Druid
Poor match-ups: Hunter, Warrior
If you find yourself in a rank region with many Druids, Hunters and Control Warriors, I recommend you switch to a different deck.
Some general advice:
- The deck is very streaky and it is not unusual to win or lose 6 or 7 games in a row. Do not be disheartened when you go on a losing streak. Xixo designed this deck to pump out matches for laddering up as fast as possible, not for pure win rate.
- Be picky with your mulligan choices: this deck necessitates a fast start; if you fail to get one, you will probably lose.
- Avoid playing Mad Scientist when you already have an active secret unless failing to do so would be catastrophic. Not getting value out of the Scientist can cost you the game.
- For the most part, don’t bother playing around board sweepers by holding back minions. If the way your opponent has played gives away the fact she is sitting on something like Blade Flurry, then slow down by perhaps playing 1 less minion on your next turn. Generally, choose to ignore AoE removal threats.
- Use of Kill Command: if your have (for example) 3 mana left on a turn and your choices are between hero power and Kill Command, prefer hero power if your opponent can heal or is far from death. Use Kill Command when your opponent is near death and cannot heal. If your opponent is near death but can heal, save the Kill Command for when you have lethal. Try not to use Kill Command without a beast on board. Always prefer Wolfrider over Kill Command when you have no beasts out and your opponent does not have Taunt. One of Kill Command’s key features is that it can bypass Taunt to go face – the Charge minions cannot. When considering your opponent’s ability to heal, remember that all decks have access to Antique Healbot.
- Your first turn if you have the coin is quite nuanced and you should prefer to play a minion that will trade with whatever your opponent has played. For example if they play Flame Imp, just play Leper Gnome and save the coin for later. If they play Zombie Chow however, coin out Knife Juggler to get an even trade.
- A turn 2 Mad Scientist is something you should only do if you have no other good plays, or if it is already worth playing: you want the trap to damage and hopefully kill as many minions as possible. Taking out a single minion with it – or worse, none at all when you are hit with a weapon on an empty board – is a tremendous waste of value and tempo.
- Trading minions for survival: if it turns out your opponent has some random minion with 4 or more attack and 1 hp remaining and you have a minion which does 1 damage on the board that can cleanly trade-up, do so if your life total is getting low (the critical point depends on your opponent’s class). If on the other hand your opponent has something like a 5/1 and you have a 3/1, go face unless not clearing the 5/1 would give your opponent lethal next turn. In other words, the trade value must be extremely high for you to take the trade instead of going face.
- Trading of non-high priority minions for increased damage: the key principle here is to kill minions if it is likely to increase your future damage output. For example, if you have an equipped Eaglehorn Bow and you play Animal Companion which yields a Huffer while the opponent has a Zombie Chow on the board, then it’s in our best interest to trade since Huffer will likely be able to attack again on the next turn unopposed. If the pressure is really high though, it may be preferable to just go face with both for 7 damage.
- Wasted weapon charges: the only valid reason to waste a weapon charge is if you need to swap out a Glaivezooka for an Eaglehorn Bow. This could be because you need one more point of weapon damage, or because the opponent will proc your secret next turn and you want to get the free charge (a good play).
Rogue and Shaman
As long as you get a fast start these match-ups are a walkover. Take out Azure Drake and Gadgetzan Auctioneer unless doing so prevents you from having lethal next turn or requires you to use up a Kill Command. Ignore Blade Flurry, Lightning Storm, Fire Elemental, Violet Teacher etc. and all totems. Hold onto Explosive Trap to clear out Teacher tokens and totems if things get too heavy, preferably playing it when you have an empty or near-empty board. Otherwise go face with everything – these classes cannot heal but both have late-game combo potential. Finish them off before they get the chance!
Against Zoolock, be ready to take out her small Taunt minions and absorb damage from Doomguard, and hit face with everything besides what you need to clear the Taunts. Zoolock is based on board control so if your opponent plays in a predictable fashion, she will be busy clearing your 1 hp minions out while you chip away at her health. Prioritize removing the opponent’s Knife Juggler if she plays it, as this is one of the most problematic cards for you in this match-up.
Against Handlock, try to hold onto an owl to get through Taunted giants or an Ancient Watcher. Don’t bother trying to micro-manage the opponent’s life too much; just spam face and hope for the best. A typical exception here would be if doing a couple extra points of damage (from a weapon, hero power or Charge minion) this turn will allow the opponent to play a giant and Taunt up next turn when you don’t have Ironbeak Owl available. In this case, prefer to use the last of your mana on something that doesn’t cause direct damage to the opponent. Don’t use Kill Command on a Taunted minion unless there is absolutely no other foreseeable way through in the next turn or two. This is a somewhat less favorable match-up than Zoolock and really depends on the kind of start you both get.
Priest has little on-board presence at the start of the game so just spam face with everything. Ignore Injured Blademaster and Northshire Cleric. Ignore the possibility of board sweepers (Wild Pyromancer is particularly effective against Face Hunter). Ignore cards like Sylvanas Windrunner. Hold back owls to Silence Sludge Belcher.
Early turns against Northshire Cleric are very important in the Priest match-up: don’t put out a card like Leper Gnome here. The Priest will simply run her Cleric into it and heal – you have then given her a free card and have no board presence. Prefer to put down something sticky like Haunted Creeper, something that can trade directly with it like Knife Juggler, or hero power. Minions that the Northshire Cleric can’t kill outright are a good play here: if the Priest does attack with the Cleric and heals it while leaving you with something on the board, you have cost her both tempo and 2 life!
Face Hunter gets to turn your Paladin opponent’s Muster for Battle against her with Unleash The Hounds. When you play this, hit face with the Hounds – do not trade the Silver Hand Recruits. Your opponent will have Quartermaster less often than you think and she will end up trading for you.
The scary turn when playing Face Hunter against Paladin is turn 8. While a few Paladins will drop Guardian of Kings on turn 7, the majority will be waiting with a turn 8 Lay on Hands. If this doesn’t come down and you’re not already dead, you are probably in good shape to win. However the real key is to try to play hyper-aggressively to end the game before turn 8 in the first place, and avoid the coin toss altogether.
If the game does go long, keep your Owl for Tirion Fordring – don’t spend it on a Sludge Belcher if it is clear you will not be able to win before turn 8.
Remove or Silence Mechwarper and Snowchugger as quickly as possible, not forgetting a potential Annoy-o-Tron. Keep an eye out for Goblin Blastmage which can easily clear your board of 1 hp minions. Don’t play around it too much though, just be aware that it is a strong possibility. Your game plan is to go face as much as possible while still keeping a minimal level of control over the board. For example, you might initially ignore Tinkertown Technician and Piloted Shredder, but after your Explosive Trap goes off, it may be better to mop up with tokens rather than go face if you’re low on health.
Mech Mage runs Mirror Entity and the best way to play around this is to play Mad Scientist in response – a low threat minion that is easy to remove, which not only gives you your trap to remove their cloned Mad Scientist when killed, but also denies the opponent value from her own Mad Scientist(s).
Playing against Druid is beatable but somewhat uncomfortable. This is pretty much a case of racing and hoping for the best. Use Ironbeak Owl to Silence any Taunts, plough face and ignore everything else. Unfortunately, you’ll often hit an impenetrable wall, get Swiped and overrun by the Force of Nature / Savage Roar combo.
The mirror match – assuming a competent opponent – is a coin toss which is almost purely dependent on who gets the fastest start.
When playing against mid-range Hunters, the odds are stacked against you even more due to the opponent’s secret synergy with Eaglehorn Bow and stickier minions that peak with Savannah Highmane. Remove Undertaker if the opponent is still using it as early as possible. If a beast can be removed easily and the damage value on the opponent’s Kill Command matters to you at this point, then get rid of it, otherwise ignore everything and go face. Do not bother trying to remove Savannah Highmane.
Control Warrior is the worst match-up of all for Face Hunter. The health of Armorsmith and Acolyte of Pain combined with the lesser attack of your starting minions means the Warrior gets every early advantage from these two cards. Fiery War Axe and Death’s Bite keep your side of the board clear of minions, and by the time all of this stuff is out of the way, Warrior is ready to pull out an army of legendaries and Alexstrasza. On top of this, Warrior has an endless amount of armor gain with double Shield Block, double Shieldmaiden and her hero power. Denying Warrior armor, card draw and taking 30 life off her before the late game is very difficult indeed.
In general, try to remove Armorsmith and go face with everything else, hopefully outpacing Warrior’s armor gain. On turn 1/2, play minions that are unfavorable for Warrior to trade into with Fiery War Axe – namely Leper Gnome on turn 1, and Haunted Creeper on turn 2 (or turn 1 with coin). Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Good players should see win rates of 60-62% with this deck in the rank 20-5 region; a highly skilled player should be able to push this to 65% or above (averages taken over 118 games).
Here are my per rank win rates up to rank 6 (where the streaky nature of the deck is highlighted – the average is 60%):
No deck guide can comprehensively cover all the strategies a deck can use in all possible scenarios, but I hope this guide to Face Hunter illustrates the subtle complexities involved in playing this archetype successfully – even if you feel a little dirty playing it yourself!
What are your thoughts on Face Hunter? Viable play style or scourge of the internet? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!
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