The passing of this April season marked the second month this year that I have finished without any World Championship points. While this may come as a disappointment to me, I learned a lot about the value of information and perceptual bias in the process.
Throughout my time as a Hearthstone player I have largely been known as a Face Hunter aficionado on several fronts, and this perception has often caused me to utilize the deck as a crutch pick whenever I am encountering difficulties with my ladder experience. However just because it is arguably the most efficient ladder deck in the game, both in terms of mana consumption and potential number of games played per day, as well as my most practiced strategy, does not make it the best pick for me at all times.
For an entire week I continuously jammed games with lists that barely shifted 1 or 2 cards. Nothing happened, and I attributed my lack of definitive gains to bad match ups and poor coin flipping. While that may have been true to an extent, my confidence in my go-to strategy also had a negative impact on my play. Tunnel vision. Plenty of my ladder acquaintances including Muzzy, Jab, and Curdy among others all seemed to be climbing steadily and without issue, so why couldn’t I like I had in past seasons? A quick but far too late inquiry regarding their deck selection revealed an alarming trend. They were all playing Midrange Hunter and I was not.
In contrast to its drag racing counter part Midrange Hunter is not “hero power-centric”. On any given turn with Face Hunter the most optimal play pre turn 7 usually involves some combination of a 2 damage spike to the face and a small creature. With MH this is not the case.
The deck has a much slower curve relying on Piloted Shredder and Mad Scientist into Freezing Trap to isolate sticky minions and remove them from the board without any awkward cleanup, which often means you will be tapping out with no hope of being able to hero power for the first several turns of the game. Because of this a critical mass of minions is required to close out most games with any amount of ease and this can only be accomplished through playing inefficiently with your mana at times to accommodate your need for dudes. In the same way that spells may feel clunky but necessary in arena, this is MH’s reality with minions.
While all of the aforementioned are powerful tools to tempo your opponent out of the game, the end goal with all of this is to stick a Savannah Highmane. There’s a rule often thrown around with some jest among higher level players, “If highmane attacks once you win.” While this may seem like a sweeping generalization it’s usually true. If you are in a position to play and attack face with Highmane it usually results in a life total swing that is almost impossible to come back from. Because Highmane is so crucial to our game plan with this list, saving the coin and treating it like a resource becomes much more viable than just powering out a 2 drop on turn 1. Granted there will be times when your curve just supports a 1-2-3-4 play so well that it may seem silly not to do, always ask, “Will I be too far behind if I don’t make this early play? Or can I afford to save this to accelerate my late game?”
Card ChoicesPiloted Shredder
What MH lacks in raw synergy it makes up in spades on individual power levels, sporting some of the most efficient cost to stat ratio minions in the game. The most notable being Piloted Shredder. By now everyone knows how powerful this card is. It’s a snap addition to almost any midrange strategy for the same reason that Sludge Belcher was and still is a powerhouse staple in its own rite. Barring a silence, forcing your opponent to dedicate two separate sources of damage minimum to killing one card is insane. Shredder easily tops our list of key cards both in terms of value and raw power.
Knife Juggler/Unleash the Hounds
While Knife Juggler has come to be known as the little aggro staple that could, it fills a very key role in keeping MH viable against a fast meta. When you look at how many sweepers require you to tap out for no board presence, Juggler starts to stand out. Consecration, Swipe, Twisting Nether (Just an example), Hellfire, Shadowflame, Holy Nova, the list goes on. Everyone who played back when Buzzard/UTH was 5 mana knows how oppressive Hunter was. Knife Juggler may not draw you a bunch of cards immediately, but it can put an unsuspecting opponent so far behind that it might as well have. It may not be the Buzzard/UTH of old, but the similarities in mana cost and overall board position coming out on the other side are striking.Mad Scientist
Ever since Naxxramas came out I’ve been blown away at how this card was allowed to stay at its current power level. In Hearthstone there is little to no deck manipulation readily available to the masses for good reason. What I mean by deck manipulation is the ability to draw and thin your pile until there is nothing left but gas and win conditions. Not only does Mad Scientist reduce the amount of potentially clunky draws you could have on any given turn, it allows you to play them for free. Conceptually speaking Mad Scientist into Freezing Trap shouldn’t be possible, but it is. For that reason Scientist is one of our best cards against slower strategies trying to get some free attacks in on our Animal Companions.Savannah Highmane
It may seem like an obvious assertion but Highmane is the strongest card in the deck. Because it is so strong you can often get away with utilizing the Coin in ways you otherwise couldn’t with other Hunter variants. I often find myself keeping 1-2-2-6 hands because the Coin can be such a valuable resource in tandem with our goliath kitten. Whether it be Druid, Warrior, or even Rogue, Highmane is too strong to overlook in any opening hand (on the coin).Sludge Belcher
Back when this deck first came to fruition after Naxxramas and Face Hunter was still dormant, Belcher was primarily used to set a pick for Highmane. What I mean by that is saving Belcher for the turn after you play Highmane to catch your opponent off guard and force serious damage to the face putting them on a 2 or 3 turn clock. Often times the sheer number of times Belcher requires you to swing into it will create a window of opportunity for lethal. The card had recently fallen from its golden pedestal due to Ironbeak Owl being extremely pesky in FH, but since we are starting to see a regression in that particular list I expect to see Belcher auto included in future iterations of this list. That said there is a possibility that Shredder is already filling that role due to having 2 separate bodies of comparable size. Even if that is the case I don’t think there is any harm in running 1.Glaivezooka
I’ve noticed that a lot of players are steering away from the 1 Glaive that used to be a staple in MH in recent times, and I’m not sure I agree. MH has such a high concentration of value 2 drops that synergize well with an early Glaive making it seem kind of silly to get rid of a potential 2 mana 2 for 1. I can see cutting the Belcher for a single Quick Shot but with all the aggressive strategies popping up It definitely has a home in this deck. It’s worth noting that I think 3 weapons is the sweet spot for Hunter, no more no less.Houndmaster
Era seems to think that 2x Houndmaster is an optimal number but I have a hard time getting behind that. With shredder being so good on its own and offering very comparable stats over the same number of bodies with no conditionality, it seems difficult to justify having more than 1. That said, there are situations where Houndmaster on Creeper or Highmane is exactly what you need on a specific turn, and maybe his experience has led him to believe that interaction is stronger than Shredder. I’m naturally skeptical but I’m also excited at the prospect of Shredder potentially not being a cookie cutter include in a top meta deck for once.
One of the biggest perks to being a hunter main is the price of the deck’s variants in terms of dust. Not only is it top tier, it’s incredibly cheap. One of the only substitutions you would really have to make is for Dr. Boom. While there isn’t another card that fills the exact same role, you can tech your top end to help your win percentage against another deck, for instance Ragnaros if you’re facing a lot of control match-ups.
I have recently been reworking Era’s rank 1 MH list due to my dissatisfaction with Quick Shot conceptually in a deck where there will almost always be something in your hand that you’re pocketing for turns 7-9. I don’t think the card is bad but I did want to try some other options. So far I’ve been liking -2 QS +1 Belcher +1 Glaivezooka. I’m a fan of Glaive in a deck where you lack 1 drop pressure and need to rely on Scientist/Creeper to get you to t6. QS just doesn’t have the 2 for 1 potential you need if you’re behind on board early. I’m not entirely sure if those cards are the end all answer the deck is looking for but it feels promising.
Along with testing replacements for QS I’ve also been running +2 Shredder -1 Kezan Mystic -1 Houndmaster. I don’t have a really in depth explanation other than I like unconditional value out of my cards and not just situational value. Kezan’s viability varies from day to day and I’m not a fan of double Houndmaster.
On some days I’ll consider taking out a UTH if I’m running into less aggro in favor of another Belcher or something more suited to dealing with control match-ups like Ragnaros or Sylvanas. This doesn’t come up very frequently but raising the question never hurts.
Some people prefer -1 Explosive Trap +1 Snake Trap but I’ve had really poor experiences with it. If they’re not immediately activating snake and they figure it out it can get incredibly problematic. A combination of that and Explosive being a necessary clear against Zoo/FH leads me to believe Explosive is optimal.
Match-ups and Mulligans
I’m going to start taking a slightly different less results oriented approach to my match-up details which will include a distinct lack of any percentage or “favorable/unfavorable” generalizations. Just because someone knows that a match-up is favorable doesn’t mean they know why or how to execute a game plan well enough to get to that point, so it just seems more practical to focus on relevant information in each match-up to help you get the win more often rather than giving you a set of predetermined outcomes that may affect your perception of how you should play.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures except Ironbeak Owl, Animal Companion if curve is 1-2-3, Consider keeping Piloted Shredder if curve is 1-2-4 as a turn 3 play is very easy to hit.
Keeps on the coin: Webspinner, All 2 drops (Owl if other pressure is present), companion if curve is 1-2-3-X or 2-2-3-X (coin 2 drop t1), Savannah Highmane/Loatheb/Shredder if curve is 1-2-2-X or better. 2-2-4-5 is possible but risky. If curve is 1-3-3-X use coin t2. Always mulligan to lower your curve, staying ahead on board early is crucial to keep Freezing Trap relevant.
Whether or not Druid is being played heavily will often decide your deck selection as far as Hunter goes. Freezing Trap is your bread and butter in this match-up. Sticking Mad Scientist on t1 or t2 and isolating a Shredder is one of the best plays you can make. In some cases I’ll consider keeping Freezing Trap by itself because of how far it can put Druid back if they don’t have mana acceleration, but it is not recommended without early pressure to back it up. Control the board early, be weary of Swipe/Force, stick a Highmane and you’ll be in the clear.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures except Owl, Companion if curve is 1-2-3, Consider keeping Shredder if curve is 1-2-4. Shredder is incredibly tough for Warrior to deal with, try to abuse it.
Keeps on the coin: Webspinner, All 2 drops except Owl, companion if curve is 1-2-3-X or 2-2-3-X (coin 2 drop t1). I like pushing the limits of how high your curve can be in this matchup because your value cards are so impossible for warrior to trade efficiently with, i.e keeping double Shredder or Shredder + Houndmaster and a 2 drop, or keeping some early pressure and Highmane. Don’t be afraid to consider keeping bombs.
Freezing Trap’s and Shredders make this match-up much considerably easier than FH’s Explosive and no 4 drops. Because Juggle/UTH is so mediocre against Warrior I like to play Juggler as soon as possible to force them to have Fiery-War Axe. If they don’t have it on turn 2 you can usually overpower them before they hit an efficient answer. Treat this match-up just like you would Druid.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures including Owl, Companion if curve is 1-2-3, Eaglehorn Bow + Glaivezooka are necessary if your curve can support it as we need a 2 for 1 to get ahead early.
Keeps on the coin: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures including Owl, 3 drops are acceptable if curve supports it but be cautious, try to use Juggler exclusively with UTH unless you have a blatant opportunity to play it on a clear board, on that same note be weary of Implosion, consider keeping Juggle + UTH if you have a really good opener with solid pressure.
Imp gang made Zoo considerably more powerful than it was before BRM. Because we’re running 1 Explosive and Juggle/UTH, it’s not an extremely scary match-up, but you do have to play very cautiously. You definitely want to be full clearing every turn until you can solidify a clear advantage and play for a swing turn. This goes for most aggro match-ups where you are not the beat-down. Also do not be afraid to dump an activated KC on an Imp Gang early if you can full clear, the card gets really problematic if you’re not purposely activating it for UTH value.
Swing turns generally refer to a point in the game where you have enough board presence to ignore your opponents creatures and start drilling him in the face, forcing him to trade into your board. This requires a fair amount of practice to master and is more difficult against decks like Zoo that can turn the tide of a game very quickly if allowed a sufficient window of opportunity.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures including Owl, Companion/Bow/Freezing Trap if curve is 1-2-3, getting a good freezing on a scientist against FH is massive.
Keeps on the coin: There isn’t really any variation between draw/play mulligans against FH, in order to have a solid chance you need to have the quicker hand.
Mulliganing aggressively for value 2 drops and Webspinners is necessary. The only way you’re going to get a definitive lead on board against a deck with so much early pressure is something like t1 Creeper into Scientist into Eaglehorn Bow. This may sound like an idealistic scenario but if you force yourself to mulligan for early value cards you will see definite gains. Consider saving UTH for Juggle/UTH on t5 to give you some swing potential. That said, don’t hold UTH for too long if you need to be using it pre turn 5 to keep yourself from dying. I’ve played enough games with the deck to have messed up the timing on UTH on several occasions and if you’re unsure on an exact timing you want to be pulling the trigger too soon as opposed to too late. Don’t be afraid to keep Ironbeak Owl in your opener to lock down their Mad Scientists or Creepers.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures minus Owl, Companion/Bow if curve is 1-2-3, Bow is optimal on the play against Rogue due to all of their coin + 3 drop plays.
Keeps on the coin: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures minus Owl, Companion/Bow/Glaive if curve supports it, Shredder if curve is 1-2-4-X or better, Loatheb if curve is 1-2-3-5 or better (if 2-2-3-5 with Loatheb use coin t1, early pressure is necessary to make Loatheb relevant), the same applies to Highmane if you’re considering keeping it.
This is definitely a match-up where I prefer to have Shredders over Houndmasters. Over committing to the board is something you need to be aware of on every turn and in order to have a chance at getting value out of your Houndmaster you’ll have to stick more than one beast in a turn which may be extremely sub-optimal. You will likely never get value out of an early coin due to how much removal they play so consider saving the coin for a t4 Loatheb or t5 Highmane into more gas.
If you have an early creature or 2 consider keeping a Bow or Quickshot to secure a way to deal with an Earthen Ring Farseer or Si:7 Agent. Allowing Oil a window to attack and clear with a 3/3 is almost impossible to come back from and should be avoided at all costs.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures including Owl, Companion if curve is 1-2-3, I’ll consider keeping Freezing Trap to try to isolate a Voidcaller if I have some pressure to support it, Shredder is also a consideration if curve is 1-2-4 or 2-2-4.
Keeps on the coin: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures including Owl, Companion/Bow/Glaive if curve supports it, Shredder/Houndmaster if curve is 1-2-4-X or better, Highmane is an option if curve supports it.
Unlike Handlock DL doesn’t really have any super threatening plays pre turn 5. Most of their potential value will come from Voidcaller and because we aren’t playing a ton of really powerful minions early in the game we can usually find a Freezing Trap/Silence/Hunter’s Mark before they have the opportunity to kill it off. I really like keeping Ironbeak on and off the coin here due to the sheer amount of valid silence targets in DL. Being able to silence an Nerubian Eggon t2 or t3 and kill it in the same turn is huge. There isn’t much out of the ordinary with this match-up, find some early pressure, trade efficiently, ride it into a Highmane, you get the idea.
Keeps on the play: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures minus Owl, Glaive if any other creatures are kept, Companion if curve is 1-2-3, Shredder if curve is 1-2-4 or 2-2-4.
Keeps on the coin: Webspinner, Any 2 drop creatures minus Owl, Companion/Bow/Glaive if curve supports it, Shredder if curve is 1-2-4-X or better, I’ll consider keeping double Shredder or Shredder and Houndmaster if I have a scientist, Loatheb/Highmane are options if curve is very strong.
While this isn’t one of our best match-ups you can definitely do some serious damage by sticking a Juggler early on due to Pally removal being super clunky. Your only reasonable window to deal damage is before they have Consecrate mana so use it wisely. Consider holding UTH for their Muster if you’re in a position where you think you can close out the game with a Kill Command. If you don’t feel like you can trade with a Shielded Minibot efficiently just ignore it until you can. There’s no reason to dump a bunch of resources into killing a 2/2.
Try not to burn your silence on something that isn’t aSludge Belcher or Tirion Fordring if you can help it. If I have a bow collecting dust on the board going into t5 or t6 I’ll at least consider throwing it at a creature or to the dome to keep him off of Harrison Jones value. Forcing a vanilla 5/4 onto the board on t5 is great for us.
Even though I’ve played significantly more Hunter than any other class and I feel like I have a very good grip on the game from that particular perspective, every meta is different. I had a difficult time getting a read on the ladder this time around mostly due to the small window I gave myself to acclimate, but the deck still felt very strong and I feel like anyone looking to bring it into the May season with hopes of success would not be reaching too far.
I would personally consider playing a faster version of Hunter to start the season off just to get more games under your belt and find out where the meta is headed before you commit to a hardcore Midrange list, but that’s just a personal preference and may not be in your best interest.
If Midrange feels a bit too slow but you’re enjoying the general concept, try my hybrid list that I ran to top 10 a few times and feel free to drop some feedback in the comment section below.
I was unimpressed with my play and overall level of focus this season. I allowed myself a bubble of complacency that I said only applied because I had plenty of time left and the first 3 weeks didn’t matter. While that may be correct on paper it is largely flawed in the grand scheme of the ever developing entity that is “ladder”. We can’t know what we’re most likely to play against without extensive testing and assuming we’re privy to that knowledge just because we have had notable accomplishments in the past is egotistical and wrong.
Another season without points will likely spell an early end to my World Championship race and that’s not something I want for myself. I would like to extend a challenge to our readers on HSP to raise the bar on your respective ladder experiences this season and to not settle on a mediocre effort. Thanks for reading and I’ll be sure to have a more complete compendium of information readily available to you in next week’s piece. Cheers!