While I have played every class under the sun over the past week or so, none have intrigued me more than Hunter. The reason is that, while the pieces seem to be there, the class just can’t seem to win. I tried buff, super buff, secret, all-beast, but they all crumbled in the wake of never ending pirates, dragons and jade golems. However, I didn’t want to give up. When something isn’t working in a deck, I find there is a set reason for it. Sometimes it is just bad, but most of the time if it feels right, there’s something there. Though everything told me that Hunter wasn’t working, I couldn’t get Rat Pack out of my head. Not only is the card unreal levels of good, but it does everything you want in a strong, early minion. It’s sticky, its a beast, and its amazing with buffs. Then, after much deliberation, I had a thought: “I really wish I could play this in Zoo.” Then, I had another thought: “Why don’t I just make Hunter into Zoo?” And so I set out to do exactly that.
Deathrattle. That is the point of this deck and it is what makes the whole thing tick. In traditional Zoo (we’re going back to pre-standard days here) you won games by playing a bunch of OP deathrattle cards (Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg) and then trading them up over and over while you poured on damage. Though you do not have the card draw that Zoo does, you are much better at finishing out games. Steady Shot continues to be one of the best hero powers ever made, and this deck is a great example of why. Once you get ahead it is very hard for other decks to catch up.
I would say this deck is a hybrid build more than anything else. You want to start out controlling the board and then push for damage hard once you get ahead (I’m not kidding when I say this is like Zoo). Hunter’s greatest advantage is that it is able to leverage damage better than any other class. While some decks struggle with finishing, you can really put the hurt on your opponent once you get ahead on board. This puts them on the back foot and makes them spend their turns removing minions while you keep adding to the board. That style of play only worked before during the days of GVG because of your sticky minions, and I think there are enough deathrattle here to make it work again.
The biggest addition to this deck is Defender of Argus. Hands down. In my early testing the hardest matchup was Pirate Warrior and adding two more taunts on top of Houndmaster has made a world of difference. There a ton of great taunt targets in this deck and if you ever get two sticky things buffed up against aggro the matchup is pretty much over.
This section will explain certain key cards to the list as a whole.
Abusive Sergeant/Dark Iron Dwarf
Taking a page directly from Zoo’s book, I think this pair is a very important piece to what I’m trying to build. The reason for that is because we currently live in a world where minion health is critical. In the early days of this meta almost all decks thrive on being able to win early minion combat, which they then use to put on pressure and simply take over the game. One of the biggest problems I kept running into while testing was that I just couldn’t quite kill that 3/4, or just didn’t have the board to trade into a 4/5 or whatever. The reason was that, while Hunter has plenty of buffs, getting extra stats to thing in your hand doesn’t matter. You need to get power onto the board, and that’s where Abusive Sergeant and Dark Iron Dwarf come in.
While Abusive Sergeant, which is one of the most iconic one drops in history, is pretty self explanatory, Dark Iron Dwarf is a little more subtle. The four drop was not originally in the list, but the more I played the more I wanted another way to bring up my minion’s atack. Abusive wouldn’t show up all the time, or I would often use it early on so it didn’t help moving into the middle turns. In addition, I also wanted more ways to take advantage of Rat Pack‘s ability. This now gives you six strong four drops that help build on your early deathrattle cards, which I believe is essential right now. You need to be able to hit hard and make use of things like Kindly Grandmother that normally don’t have a huge impact. These are the changes that really allow to really turn your board around.
Dire Wolf Alpha
Another classic Zoo card, Dire Wolf Alpha has even more value in this list because of the beast synergy. While I think the two drop would not have been good enough in past versions of Hunter, we are in a meta where one extra attack matters. Being able to trade your Alleycats and Argent Squires into two and three drops is exactly the type of swing plays you need for this style of list to be good. You are going to start out on turn one and you are never going to look back. If you ever stutter or if you have a bad turn then the whole thing starts to come apart. This card makes a wonderful bridge between your early and mid game while also presenting a must-kill threat that your opponent has to deal with. Giving that extra attack puts a target on the wolf’s ahead, which then usually clears you for the turn after it comes down. In addition, this also serves as a great way to pour on damage. While you are not a face deck by any means, you are still a Hunter and you want to end games in a relatively quick fashion. Being able to get some extra hits in over a couple of turns does that quite nicely.
Another key inclusion, Argent Horserider is a fantastic play that helps your deck in two different ways. One, it serves as a sticky body that can help push damage through, and two, it is another card that trades incredibly well. This list is all about value trading and pushing damage, and when you get a card that can do both it is unreal. The best thing about Argent Horserider is that it is never a dead draw and will always help smooth out your curve. If you want to play it on an empty board that’s fine because it is very hard to remove, but if you want to play it on a crowded one that also works because of the shield. And, like so many cards here, it’s really strong with buffs.
Usually this card is going to be used to control the early board, but if you don’t need it during the first turns of the game you want to prioritize it last. That is to say, always try to get down your non-charge minions first if you have the option to do so. This may seem like a small point in the grand scheme of things, but being able to put off this minion allows you to maximize damage, which can be the difference between winning and losing. This is also important because Argent Horserider also combos very well with both Abusive Sergeant and Dark Iron Dwarf. That is not always going to be the use, but having cards that give you a way to play both the aggro and tempo game are what make lists like this work.
The entire the reason the deck exists, Rat Pack is an amazing card when you can take advantage of its ability. The three drop may seem very innocuous at first glance, but being able to have a solid threat that fills up most of your board when it dies is insane. Honestly, I would compare this to the beast version of Onyxia. You get a first investment that is not too strong, but that becomes incredibly powerful once it dies. Like Zoo (have I said that enough yet?) you just always want to make sure you have minions on the board. The pack is perhaps the strongest “keep minions on board” card in the game. For that reason, if you ever want to be hyper aggressive and overextend into AOE just make sure you can put down a rat as insurance.
Though you do not need to work to set this card up (it is just fine as a 2/2 that makes two 1/1’s) you do want to try to get its attack up whenever you can. Just one extra attack makes the world of difference, and if you ever hit this with a Dark Iron Dwarf or Houndmaster its pretty much over. Always try to play the rat into situations where your opponent must answer it or you are going to take over the board. This forces their turn and clears you for a strong follow up. This card threatens a lot of power and will be threatened right away. Understand that, and use it as such. I have had many games where I have stopped Pirate Warrior in their tracks because they dealt with the three drop instead of going face. That may seem silly on their part, but if this ever gets taunt it is almost always going to be game over and they know that.
Tundra Rhino is the latest inclusion to the list, but it is a very strong tool. So strong that I’m considering running a second (though I don’t want to make the curve too high). This card really helps you fill out the five drop slot and gives you an extra way of dealing pressure. In addition, it also helps you with your deathrattles. There are quite a few cards in this deck that create beasts when they die, and you can really take advantage of that with Rhino for some powerful turns. Always look to get value out of the five drop because if it ever sticks for a turn you are likely going to win. When you play this use it for either large amounts of damage or as a way to clear your opponent’s threats. I don’t really like playing it just to play it, you need to have a plan.
I would look at Tundra Rhino like a third Savannah Highmane. By that I mean it is a must kill threat that is extremely strong when you have control of the board. You want to work hard to curve right into it, and to do that you want to make sure you have full control of priority when it comes down. This is one of those strong swing cards that can just end the game on the spot. Play to it if you have it in hand, and always think about how your opponent is going to deal with it when setting it up. Even if they do kill it, it means they are going to spend their turn doing so, which then opens the door for a turn six Savannah Highmane.
Some of the most common matchups I see while playing ladder.
The reason that other Hunter decks cannot exist, Pirate Warrior is absolutely public enemy number one. That means, if you can’t beat it you might as well just pack up and go back to the drawing board. For a long time this deck could not beat Pirate Warrior, but the addition of the lower, more-aggressive curve on top of the four taunt givers has changed that narrative. This is a game where you want to work very hard to control the board during the first three or four turns before you turn up the heat and end the game by five or six. You want to work hard to push Pirate back against the wall because anytime they have to use their weapons or damage on the board they will not be able to keep up. Always look for opportunities to threaten them more than they can threaten you.
While these games are going to be easy (they are always going to be close) they will usually fall in your favor. You should treat this like an aggro vs. aggro match, where you need to work to hammer home as much damage as you can and find ways to get in that extra gut shot here and there. However, you have a huge advantage because you have four taunts and they have none. That means you can work hard to bait them into a race, and then crush them with a surprise wall. The best use for your taunts is clearing your opponent’s board on turn four and then putting a wall down to intercept an Arcanite Reaper. Just always make sure to keep them above twelve health when you are racing if you can help it.
Probably your toughest matchup, Dragon Priest just has so much %^$^% value. So. Much. All of their minions are big, their removal is efficient, and they have some really good taunt walls. If Priest falters early you should be able to leverage your damage and powerful threats and just run them over. However, in a battle of minions you want to get ahead on turn four. The reason this is so important is because Priest has terrible comeback mechanisms against you and you will be able to simply run them over. Most Priests want to play things like Drakonid Operative on turn five, which does absolutely nothing to impact the board. Then they usually follow that up with Dragonfire Potion, which costs their whole turn and does nothing about your deathrattle minions. Pacing the game in that way is how you come out on top.
Another important part of this match is finding ways to get in damage. Dragon Priest has a lot of minions (did I mention that taunts?) and strong spells, but they have very little healing outside of their hero power. Always look for opportunities to get in a chip shot here and there, and do what you can to make use of your hero power. In addition, always ask yourself the reason for trading before you do it. It may be tempting to use a 3/3 taunted rat to kill a Twilight Whelp, but it is worth losing out on three damage? What is going to happen if you let the scaly baby live? Those questions should always be at the front of your mind, and they should always weigh your options before making any move. This game often comes down to one or two health.
Jade Druid is a very interesting matchup because you are insanely favored if they try and play the Jade/Ramp plan, but things get much harder if they have built in taunts. This is perhaps the only game where you only want to focus on curving. You can scale up extremely well, which Malfurion is not going to enjoy at all. Druid has always had problems with AOE, and they do not have an effective way to clean up deathrattle minions. In addition, the current versions of Druid love to ramp up (they now run four Wild Growths). Make them pay for that by putting on as much early pressure as possible. Your best tool here is Savannah Highmane, which Druid can do almost nothing about. If you have the six drop in hand you want to work hard to clear the board for its arrival.
The only thing you really want to worry about is Swipe. You have a lot of ways to fill the board, but almost all of those ways involve putting down 1/1’s. Work very hard to buff up your minions before the AOE can come down, and do your best to play minions to discourage such removal. For instance, putting down a Kindly Grandmother alongside a buffed minion can be a good way to make sure you are always getting in extra damage. Beyond that, save your buffs and damage spells for taunts. Druid has a nasty habit of powering out things like Jade Behemoth and Ancient of War. If you aren’t ready for those cards they can just destroy your board, but if you have an answer Druid will quickly run out of steam.
Renolock has gotten much better over the past week, but the new tools have not done much to improve the matchup against us. As many bells and whistles as the slow Warlock deck has, we can simply bully them into submission. This is a matchup where you just want to be as aggressive as you possibly can to force Warlock to take very risky or sub-optimal plays. They will never do anything if they do not have to, but if you strong arm them into using spells just to not die by turn four you should be ok. Renolock really only has one or two minions they can play during the early game, and if they have a slow roll you can just annihilate them before they get to turn six. Even if they do make it to an early Reno Jackson, if you have a full board with things like Savannah Highmane or a Houndmastered threat is won’t matter because you can just bring them right back down.
Like with Druid, the most important aspect of this game is playing around (or baiting out) AOE. However, the way you do it here is by always making Warlock clear you when you have deathrattles on the board. As mentioned above, you are usually going to have a board and Renolock isn’t. They almost always make up that difference by using efficient AOE. However, if their clears suddenly give you a board of three 1/1 rats and a 3/2 grandmother, they are going to have no real options. My rule for this matchup is to always run out as many minions as you can, but make sure to always have one deathrattle threat alongside them. In addition, test for a turn two Doomsayer before going all in (or until you can get to seven damage) and don’t waste your time trading in early here. This is a game where you are aggro.
You need to work hard to find your one and two drops in this one. So much so that you want to exclusively look for your one and two drops over keeping a solid two/three drop combo. Getting something, anything, onto the board is so important in almost all of the popular matches on the ladder that you don’t want to get caught behind by being greedy. As a result, your “must keeps” are going to be Alleycat, Argent Squire, Abusive Sergeant, Dire Wolf Alpha and Kindly Grandmother. Those take precedence over all.
Beyond that, if you have a good opening curve you can keep Quick Shot against board-centric decks like Shaman, while Rat Pack, Animal Companion and Argent Horserider are good with a curve or the coin. Kill Command should never be kept, and you can keep a four drop (Defender of Argus, Dark Iron Dwarf, Houndmaster) if you have a very strong opening with the coin.
You guys know all of the decks that I love, but you may be surprised to know that Hunter is my favorite class. There’s just something I find extremely cool about the beast theme, and I have always favored cool minions to cool spells. This deck is much a reflection of that, and really favors the type of tempo game that I enjoy. I always love teaming up with Rexxar, and I will get Alleria one day when I have some extra cash. I hope you find success with this, and if you have any suggestions let me know. Until next time, may the beasts be with you.