I think it’s fair to say that Hunter has got some new, shiny tools this expansion. While we didn’t see anything as spectacular as Call of the Wild (luckily), pretty much every Hunter archetype got stronger. When I’ve started thinking about it – Hunter is one of the most diverse classes. Even though we mostly see the same old Hybrid/Midrange Hunter on the ladder over and over again, there are currently (as far as I know) 5 playable Hunter decks. From Aggro, through Midrange all the way to Control.
I wanted to talk about how Karazhan affected each archetype. Did it get stronger? How commonly is it played? What were the biggest changes, if there were any changes at all?
Just a quick reminder, this expansion Hunter got 3 cards – Kindly Grandmother, Cloaked Huntress and Cat Trick. Each one of them has seen some play in Constructed. Kindly Grandmother is played in pretty much every Hunter deck (besides Yogg decks), so I assume that it’s going to be a new staple. Although when it comes to the other cards, it’s still hard to say whether they will stay in the meta or fade out after the initial testing period.
Even though there were a lot of Aggro/Face Hunters with Cloaked Huntress + Secrets for tempo going around, I’ve decided to go with the Cursed’s list here, because it seemed most successful. At least in his case. He hit high Legend ranks with it, it doesn’t run a lot of new cards and it feels much more… “classic”. Face Hunter is a deck you love or you hate. Mostly hate. But no one can deny that it’s one of the most recognizable decks in Hearthstone history.
The deck has lost a lot of its popularity in the last months, so I still feel like I need to explain it to newer players. Face Hunter is a hyper-aggressive deck that relies on high tempo early game to deal as much damage as it can, and then finish opponent off with the combination of Charge minions, burn spells, weapons and Hero Power. It’s one of the only decks where I can give you that advice – if you aren’t sure what to do, go face. Hence the deck’s name. Obviously, that’s not universally true, because even Face Hunter has some decision making (if not, everyone would be Legend) like when to trade, order of playing minions, how much you have to Hero Power to not run out of steam before you kill the enemy etc. But I won’t lie by saying that this is the most skill-intensive deck ever. That’s why it was very popular among new players, players who don’t have big collection and a lot of experience. It’s both cheap (if you cut Leeroy Jenkins, you can build it for around 1k dust), and relatively easy to play.
The deck got out of meta with Standard, for a few reasons. First, it lost some cards – Haunted Creeper, Glaivezooka, Mad Scientist. Then, other cards that were commonly seen in Face Hunter were nerfed – Leper Gnome, Knife Juggler, Ironbeak Owl. And then again, the new meta wasn’t really great for the Face Hunter. But as it appears, it can still be successfully played. Surprise factor might be one of the reasons – people don’t really expect Face Hunter, but honestly, that’s not a huge deal, because mulligan against Hybrid (which they do expect) is very similar to mulligan against Face anyway.
Kindly Grandmother was the new addition to the deck. It fills the slot of Haunted Creeper. Even though the first body is not really great – it’s only 1/1 – people can’t really ignore it, because after 5 turns or so the damage will pile up. They have to kill it eventually, but they have to do it twice. It’s quite resistant to AoEs and really annoying. Besides that, the deck didn’t really change much. Maybe the number of Charge minions – it rarely used 2x Argent Horserider and 2x Wolfrider. But if it works, then sure.
I don’t think that Face Hunter will take off just because it got one new card. But if you hit some good matchups, you might have a nice run with the deck. I’d have to rate it Tier 3 right now. Meaning it can work, but you shouldn’t expect wonders.
Midrange Hunter is another “old” Hunter archetype. It has been around pretty much since the game’s release. The deck had funny names like “Safari Hunter” and “Sunshine Hunter”, but they were closest to what we currently know as Midrange Hunter. Deck list I present here was created by JAB, who is one of the best Hunter players in the game. Before Standard, Midrange Hunter has lost most of its popularity. It didn’t work too well against the meta and it had problems with closing the games. The class was blessed in WotG by Call of the Wild, which – as we’ve already found out – is straight up broken. And it skyrocketed the Midrange Hunter’s popularity from “it’s lucky if I play against one in 50 games” to “it’s lucky if I don’t face one in 5 games”. While Warrior took the Hunter’s top spot after a while, right now Hunter seems to reclaim it thanks to all the new cards. According to the latest vS Data Report, Hunter is the most popular class on the ladder and Midrange Hunter is, by far, the most popular deck below Legend (and even in Legend it’s close to the top).
And I also think that it’s a great time to play Midrange Hunter. After a strong start in WoG, it got even better in Karazhan. Kindly Grandmother is played for similar reasons as in the Face Hunter. I can’t stress out how amazing it is against 2/1 1-drops. It trades and you still end up with a 3/2 on the board. It works quite well as “ping” in any scenario where you need one – when you’re missing one damage to trade, Kindly Grandmother is great. And in the meta where sticky minions are pretty much gone, having one is a boon.
The other card that this list plays is not a Hunter card, but it seems like it was made just for the Hunter. I’m talking about Barnes. As suspected, Barnes got into quite a lot of decks and is common thing you see on the ladder. While not as broken as some (including me) have expected, it’s solid minion in deck like Midrange Hunter. Let’s do a quick counting. In this list, out of the 15 minions (excluding Barnes himself) the deck runs, 12 have some kind of positive effect that will make Barnes stronger than vanilla 3/4 + 1/1. It’s very unlikely that you hit a vanilla 1/1 minion when playing Barnes. Sure, getting a Fiery Bat or Tundra Rhino (on turn 4) is usually not the most exciting thing ever, but it’s still positive. But then, there are 6 minions that spawn something on Deathrattle – Kindly Grandmother, Infested Wolf and Savannah Highmane (2 copies of each). Getting any of them is great. Plus there is a Ragnaros, the Firelord and in case of this deck, you don’t really mind what it hits. It hits a minion and kills it? That’s great. It hits face? That’s also sweet, 8 face damage for free.
Midrange Hunter was already strong in WoG and it got even better in Kara. If you want to play Hunter, that’s a great time to do so. I feel like one of the two – Midrange or Hybrid – is definitely a Tier 1 deck. And I feel that even though Midrange Hunter is more popular (for a good reason), Hybrid Hunter might be even stronger.
Another list by JAB. Thanks JAB! Hybrid Hunter is a pretty common concept ever since, I don’t know, BRM? Yes, I think it was around May 2015 when Protohype hit rank 1 Legend with Hybrid Hunter list. Then the archetype started becoming popular and at one point it was all over the ladder. The deck was, basically, a hybrid between Face and Midrange Hunter. It tried to take best of both worlds – high tempo early game and Chargers of the Face Hunter (Leper Gnome, Abusive Sergeant, Glaivezooka, Wolfrider) with strong mid game presence of the Midrange Hunter (Piloted Shredder, Loatheb, Savannah Highmane). And it worked. Early game pressure lead people to waste their resources in the first turns just to survive and then the midrange minions were a great finisher.
And the deck came back right now. And the concept is very similar, although this time the deck seems to take more from the Midrange Hunter than the Face Hunter. And that’s understandable – Midrange seems like a stronger archetype of the two. But if you overcome the main problem of the deck (falling behind early often equals to losing the game) by adding much stronger early game plays AND top that with the broken mid-late game of Midrange Hunter (Savannah Highmane, Call of the Wild) you get something that, once again, took best from the both worlds.
The deck might seem very similar on the first glance, but they differ quite a bit. Hybrid Hunter is lower on removals (no Deadly Shots), card draw (no King’s Elekk) and mid-late game threats (no Tundra Rhino or Ragnaros the Firelord), but instead it runs way more early game stuff. Notice how Midrange Hunter has only two 1-drops – 2x Fiery Bat. Hybrid Hunter runs 6 – on top of those 2, it also plays 2x Argent Squire and 2x Abusive Sergeant. It makes the deck fight much better for the board control. Argent Horserider is another card that Hybrid Hunter took from Face Hunter – it’s a good tempo move against a lot of the 2-drops. You play it, you kill something and you still have 2/1 on the board. Win-win situation. While sure, it loses some of the mid/late game power – it runs out of steam faster, it has no way to handle big minions etc. the early game it gained means that it doesn’t have to remove big stuff etc.
Both Highmane and Call of the Wild are great cards, but they’re simply insane when Hunter is ahead on the board, ahead in tempo. Dropping Highmane into opponent’s board never feels good. He will usually find a way to kill it. Dropping it on empty board is already much better, because even if he kills it, he most likely loses whole turn. Dropping Highmane when YOU have the board control is broken as hell, because if he spends whole turn dealing with Highmane, you just punch him with the rest of your minions. And if he deals with the rest, you punch him with Highmane. It’s nearly impossible to completely clear board in such case. Same goes with Call of the Wild – every minion on the board means more damage and more pressure. It’s already hard to remove three Animal Companions at once, if you throw in something like Infested Wolf and Argent Squire to the mix, it’s nearly impossible to clear efficiently. And that’s the main power of the Hybrid Hunter. Midrange Hunter has insane mid/late game power, but because it’s kinda inconsistent in the early game, it often cannot put it into a good use. Hybrid Hunter can.
Like I’ve said before, I feel like one of the two is a Tier 1 deck right now. Maybe even both. But if I had to pick one, I’d say that Hybrid Hunter is stronger of the two and one of the strongest decks on the ladder right now. I went 10-3 in Legend with this deck, finishing the season just outside the top 200.
Deck list by LifeCoach. There were a lot of people testing many versions of Secret Hunter, but most of them were more or less similar to the Midrange Hunter. I took this version, because it seemed most unique and it’s best at showcasing what Secret Hunter’s game plan is, as opposed to the other decks.
It’s a new archetype, we didn’t have anything like that before. I mean, back in Beta we had a Hunter deck that relied on Eaglehorn Bow + Secrets. Then we had some other versions that were Secret heavy. But I don’t think the recent Secret decks were any good, unlike this one. It’s mostly thanks to the new cards released in Karazhan.
Let’s start with the biggest one that made the archetype viable. Cloaked Huntress is an interesting card. It has good base stats – 3/4 for 3, and a VERY STRONG effect. Every Secret is free while she’s on the board. It means that if you have 5 Secrets in your hand, along Cloaked Huntress, you can play all of them on turn 3. And that’s what makes the deck strong – insane tempo swings thanks to the Huntress. The deck runs 5 different Secrets, 9 copies in total, so as soon as you draw Huntress you can start doing miracles. But, Huntress isn’t the only card that synergizes with Secrets. We probably need to mention Secretkeeper – with 9 Secrets in your deck and the ability to play them for free, that’s a snowball card you can play. Playing just 2 Secret means that it’s a 1 mana 3/4. Another very high tempo card. Then, the deck – obviously – runs 2x Eaglehorn Bow. This has insane synergy with Secrets. It’s okay by itself – 3 mana for 3/2 weapon is just about right (let’s face it, Fiery War Axe is too strong) but the deck runs it mostly because of the effect. Each time your Secret procs – it gains one extra charge. In reality, it usually means 2-3 extra weapon charges per game. Maybe 4-5 if things like up right. And that’s quite a lot if you ask me. Let’s even say 3 extra charges – that’s 9 damage for free. If you get a 3/5 weapon for 3 mana, that’s really good. You use it to clear the board, to deal face damage, whatever – having the ability to hit pretty much every turn once you get it rolling is great. And not only that – if you have weapon up, the enemy will be more reluctant to proc your Secrets. And you, as a Hunter, definitely don’t mind enemy taking things slowly – your Hero Power is great in such matches. And he’s going to attack at some point anyway. And last, but not least, LifeCoach tries another new Karazhan card – Avian Watcher. Since your Secret uptime is pretty high, the card activated pretty consistently. Without activation, it sucks. Vanilla 3/6 for 5 mana? No, thanks. But after activating – 4/7 Taunt for 5 mana – it sounds much, much better.
When it comes to new Karazhan cards – the deck also plays Cat Trick, Kindly Grandmother and Barnes. The latter two I’ve already talked about enough, but the first one is interesting. It’s not really something you want to put into every deck. Sure, in the best case scenario it’s a 2 mana Jungle Panther that enemy didn’t expect. It can give you a good trade, something on the board after board clear and even lethal in some cases. But it’s still up to the enemy to proc it – sometimes it might stay “dead” for a few turns in a row. That’s why one could argue it’s not worth 2 mana. But how about 0 mana? That’s a different story. At 0 mana, even if it doesn’t spawn at the most opportune moment, it’s still a positive tempo move. And the good case scenario becomes even better. it also has nice synergy with Snake Trap. In order to clear the Snakes, enemy will often have to use spells (like AoE). And then you get the 4/2 in Stealth.
Overall, the deck is really cool and unique. We didn’t really have such a Hunter deck. We didn’t really have such a Secret deck. Sure, Secret Paladin was a thing, but it was completely different. It didn’t care that much about synergies between Secrets and other cards. It just played a bunch of Secrets to get insane tempo swing on turn 6. This one is not only harder to play, but the Cloaked Huntress isn’t broken like Mysterious Challenger, so deck should stay pretty niche – you won’t see it all over the ladder.
I feel like the Hybrid/Midrange decks are better, but this one isn’t far behind. It feels like a solid Tier 2 right now. LifeCoach has peaked in top 200 Legend with this version and overall he was doing quite well, so I’ll say that this deck is pretty strong. If you want to play this deck, better do it now. People still haven’t figured the “optimal” Secrets, so they haven’t learned what to play around and what not to play around. And they sure as hell don’t play around Cat Trick, at least the few people I’ve faced against when testing this deck. They seem to play around Bear Trap much more often. And that’s the beauty of Secret Hunter too – Hunter has 6-7 Secrets that are viable and sometimes seen on the ladder. So you can’t realistically play around every single one and you often have to… guess. And mistaking let’s say Snake Trap for Explosive Trap can be a huge deal.
Yogg ‘n’ Load Hunter
Deck list by Kolento. It’s from about 2 weeks ago, but not many people play this deck so it’s pretty hard to find fresh lists. Yogg ‘n’ Load Hunter is a pretty fresh archetype. It all started with introduction of Lock and Load in TGT. People have tried to build a deck around it, but nothing was really successful. Lack of good enough spells + no clear finisher made the deck weak. But with the release of WoG, Hunter got exactly what he needed – new, good spells and finisher – Call of the Wild and Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End. And so the Yogg ‘n’ Load deck was created.
The point behind the deck is to play almost minionless list with A LOT of spells. Spells that synergize with both Lock and Load and then give you a huge Yogg to possibly finish the game. Obviously, relying only on Yogg is not a very consistent win condition, but that’s not exactly the case here. First of all – Hunter’s Hero Power is a win condition itself. Besides Warrior and Priest matchups (who can offset your Hero Power with theirs completely), you’re going to slowly whittle down their health pool every turn. Then, 2x Call of the Wild is also big. It’s very rare that those don’t give you any damage. And then, in the long games, Eaglehorn Bow should gain a lot of charges thanks to all the Secrets. And then, Lock and Load gives you random cards – it might be another Call of the Wild, it might be Kill Command or maybe a minion like Savannah Highmane. AND THEN, there is also some burn you can play from your hand – Arcane Shot, Quick Shot.
Even with all of those “win conditions”, it’s still not the most consistent deck ever, because you can’t win a lot of games without Yogg and as we all know, Yogg can go either way. That said, some people have hit pretty high Legend ranks with Yogg ‘n’ Load lists, so it’s not like the deck doesn’t work at all.
But, what did it get in Karazhan? Well, the answer might actually be “nothing”. The list I’ve presented plays Cloaked Huntress. It has nice synergy with the deck, because free Secret tempo is nice, especially if combined with Lock and Load. This way you can draw quite a lot of cards. But after playtesting the deck a bit, I feel like this list might be worse than the classic one. Or maybe similar. But I don’t feel like it’s stronger. Another thing I haven’t tested yet is Cat Trick, which might be cool in this deck, but I feel like Bear Trap fits the deck more, and you don’t really want to get rid of Freezing Trap, Explosive Trap or Snipe. I think that Cat Trick might be better than Snake Trap, though, because it has much higher chance to proc consistently. Another thing that could be tested in the deck is Arcane Giant. It makes sense – with so many spells, you will eventually drop 0 mana 8/8’s and that’s another win condition of the deck. I think that the list without Cloaked Huntress and with Arcane Giants might be stronger, but it would require quite a lot of playtesting. And I don’t like the deck enough to commit to that.
But, how does this deck fare in the current meta? Well… I think it’s more of a “fun” deck than a real deck to play competitively. It’s hard to defend yourself against all the high tempo decks and if you want to play Control deck or spell-heavy Yogg deck, there are more consistent decks out there. I’ll have to say that this deck is definitely weakest out of the bunch. It’s Tier 3 deck if you praise Yogg. Tier 4 if you don’t.
I feel like Hunter is in a great spot right now. A lot of people don’t notice it, but Hunter decks start to dominate the ladder and not only in terms of how many people play them. Also in terms of how people are doing with them. The decks are solid and it’s really a great time for Hunter players, as the class has so many playable lists. As a quick summary, I want to rank the decks above and make a sort of “mini power ranking” for Hunter:
- Hybrid Hunter – Tier 1
- Midrange Hunter – Tier 1/2
- Secret Hunter – Tier 2
- Face Hunter – Tier 3
- Yogg ‘n’ Load Hunter – Tier 3/4
Take this ranking with a grain of salt. I didn’t base it on a huge amount of data, more on my personal feelings and ladder experience. If I listed a deck to be between Tiers, e.g. Tier 2/3, it means that in my opinion it’s a low Tier 2 or a high Tier 3. Oh, and of course it all depends on your rank, time in the season, even the server you play on (meta differs a bit on each server). But I feel like it should be quite accurate overall.
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Good luck on the ladder and until next time!