Scalise’s Sessions: Episode 2, Secret Hunter

Note: Sorry about the frame-loss in game 2 in the video. Now that our toes our wet, so to speak, we are moving on with the curriculum and entering Week 2 of Scalise’s Sessions. For this class we are going to break down one of the current pillars of the meta: Secret Hunter. Though it […]

Note: Sorry about the frame-loss in game 2 in the video.

Introduction

Now that our toes our wet, so to speak, we are moving on with the curriculum and entering Week 2 of Scalise’s Sessions. For this class we are going to break down one of the current pillars of the meta: Secret Hunter. Though it is not quite as straight forward as past iterations of Midrange Hunter, this deck is very much in the same vein. Your goal is to play to a strong curve and use overpowered minions to simply wear your opponent down turn after turn. No deck in the game (except maybe Shaman) has better minion quality than this list. Combine that with some very powerful burst, a strong hero power, and a ton of small interactions, and you have one of the most solid decks around. Now, lets learn how to play it.

The Deck

This list is a take on the Midrange Hunter lists of old. On one hand you have a strong curve and on the other you have a plethora of small interactions that really help you build a solid foundation. There are many versions of this deck running around right now, but I think this one is the most optimal because of its strong lategame. The single Call of the Wild is a great surprise card that gives you another out in slower games, Ragnaros the Firelord is the best threat in the game, and The Curator package gives you a lot of added flexibility. You only have strong threats and powerful spells here, which gives the deck a lot of power and consistency other lists lack.

Early Game

As much as you are a midrange deck that depends on curve, you are going to start out slow. This is because you want to spend the first couple of turns just setting up secrets or an Eaglehorn Bow. Your spells do a lot of work at setting up your strong middle game and you want to know that going in. Understanding how to sequence your various secrets is important, but that will be put in detail further below.

Your two big opening threats are Secretkeeper and Cloaked Huntress. Play to both of these cards and understand when they can get the most value. For instance, a turn one keeper is fine against any deck if you are going first, but you don’t want to run it out into an opposing one drop where it can easily die. While it costs one, there are many instances where it is ok to hold onto it until you can play it with some secrets later on. Turn four keeper/huntress/secrets is a very solid play that instantly lets you take the board.

When you have Cloaked Huntress in hand and a turn two secret you typically want to use your hero power and then play the secret on turn three. The extra two damage may not seem like a big deal, but in many games you are going to need to stretch out your pressure as much as possible. The only exception to this is when you absolutely need to get value from a secret on turn two, such as using Freezing Trap against a Totem Golem) or buffing a Secretkeeper.

It is also important to set up Eaglehorn Bow if you have it in hand. To do this, only play secrets before it that are not going to get triggering right away.

Middle Game

This is the meat of the game, and it is also where you make your money. As you have such strong mid-game threats, there are very few decks that are going to be able to keep up with you during these turns. This means you want to spend turns three and four setting up your larger threats as best as you can. That means clearing out the board or just making sure you are head on threats when your high-impact threats come down.

The most important rule of this section is to always play the threat or card that is going to have the biggest impact at the immediate time. While the first turns are centered on setting up cards, here you need to work to cement the board. For example, let’s say you are going into turn three with the coin and your opponent has a Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem. While you may want to just coin out Barnes, it is often better to Quick Shot the trogg and then coin/Freezing Trap the golem.

Another huge part of this deck is setting up Savannah Highmane. If you ever have the lion in hand you want to work hard to either be ahead or to have a clear board when the 6/5 comes down. This is almost always going to give you the win, so pace your opponent in a way where they don’t have any threats on turn five. One of your primary goals is to make sure your opponent never has an easy way to take down the lion and then easily clean up the hyenas that come after.

Late Game

No matter what you are up against, the end of the game is going to be completely centered around burst. As much as you are a tempo-based midrange list, you are still a Hunter. It is important to never forget that because you want to always try and force through pressure in any way that you can. That does not always mean that you need to get in damage, but that you are trying to maximize your damage potential at all times.

Going off the top paragraph, using your hero power is often much more important than playing a stagnant minion. This will not always be the case, but you never want to downplay just how important it is to get in the extra two damage. Always count out how fast you can put together lethal compared to the number of cards in your hand and then sculpt your turns (and your plays accordingly). For instance, playing Cat Trick can be better than Savannah Highmane at times because it can give you a push for lethal that your opponent cannot interact with. While the lion is stronger, it is much harder to remove a 4/2 with stealth.

The final part of setting up your end game is playing to your finishers. You have three end game threats here in The Curator, Ragnaros the Firelord, and Call of the Wild. While all of these cards have different uses in different situations, they each represent a way to win the game.

The Curator is going to surprise a lot of people, making it a great way to lock down a board in a game where you are racing with your opponent. If you are in a damage battle, set this up and slam it down as soon as you can. It also does a nice job or protecting a strong board and setting up a turn eight Savannah Highmane (since it’s the only beast in your deck).

Ragnaros the Firelord and Call of the Wild both fall into the Highmane category where they are almost always going to be an insta-win if you are ahead or pushing for damage. Remember, you are a deck that thrives on pressure. These are the best forms of pressure at your disposal, and if you want to play one you need to figure out if you want to put it down on a clear board or if you should just push and use it as a way to keep pouring on damage.

Matchups

A breakdown of the most popular matchups in the game.

Midrange Shaman

Public enemy number one, Midrange Shaman is a match that you can win. Freezing Trap and Snipe can both destroy Shaman’s early curve, and they are also going to have a lot of trouble dealing with an early Cat Trick. Explosive Trap is also great at clearing out totems and resetting their board. The key to winning this game is correctly sequencing all of these secrets by properly anticipating your opponent’s plays and knowing when and how they are going to react. For example, holding off on a turn two Freezing Trap to see if they are going to play a Totem Golem or running out an early Cat Trick to hit the coin or challenge Feral Spirit. These small interactions are how you build this game and pace it in your way. Snipe on turn two is a great way to discourage Totem Golem, but bluffing Snipe works just as well.

The other part of this game is looking for ways to control the tempo. Clearing your opponent’s board (especially their totems to stop spell damage) is important, but you always need to hit them when you have the opportunity to do so. In fact, there is always going to be a part of this game where you switch to the aggressor and just force your opponent to answer you. If Shaman is comfortable they can play to their curve and easily take the game. However, if you just keep stacking threats and force them to blast off removal you can choke their mana on overload and seriously cut into their curve. From there, your hero power can usually take over. As long as your opponent can’t build a board you don’t mind going long here.

Freeze Mage

Freeze Mage is very good against most decks in the current meta, but they have an inherent weakness to Hunter. The is because of your high damage output. You are going to win this matchup by simply keeping pressure on your opponent and constantly finding ways to do damage. Freeze is a deck that wants to end the game around turn ten so you need to hit them hard and never let up. Understand that you are on the clock here. If given enough time, Freeze will kill you regardless of your board or your hand. This game is almost always going to be a race until turn nine, where you need to threaten them and break their Ice Block before they can set up Alexstrasza. Get a lot of use out of hero power and work hard to put up board that they cannot easily remove. The biggest part of this is finding ways to answer Frost Nova/Doomsayer. You typically don’t have a good answer, but Cat Trick can help. If you have that combined with a way to three damage (like an Eaglehorn Bow) you should save the secret until turn four. Beyond that, just always run out Ragnaros the Firelord as soon as you can to get the damage rolling.

Secret Hunter

The mirror match is very interesting and it will often come down to two factors: who can keep up more pressure and who can better sequence their secrets. All of your secrets are very strong against Hunter, but only if you know when to get them down. Explosive Trap does a lot of work at stopping early pushes, Snake Trap builds a board, Cat Trick is great at pushing in early damage, and just about every minion gets crushed by Snipe. Know that and play around your opponent’s secrets as best you can by always playing and attacking with the weakest minion you can. Once you hit turn four or five you just need to push hard and make sure you control the board before Savannah Highmane drops down. The lion is the game winner. You want to try to save Freezing Trap for the lion if you can. Even if your opponent gets a way around it on turn seven, just putting off that damage can be key to winning.

Pressure is vital here, which often means whoever can get their opponent to blink first is often going to win. A good example of this is the person who has to kill the other’s Savannah Highmane (rather than ignoring it and going face) is usually going to be the one to lose. For this reason, your list is extremely favored against the more traditional secrets running Kindly Grandmother. Just build up as much pressure as possible and go face as soon as you ever get ahead on board. While your opponent may be able to clear your threats, if you can get them down far enough (especially if you have a bow up) then it will not matter.

Note: Do not forget that your opponent’s Secretkeeper triggers off of your secrets. Growing theirs is an easy way to lose and you never want to run question marks into it unless you have a very good reason to do so.

Control Warrior

One of your best matchups, Control Warrior is a deck that has very little answers to your minions. While they do have a lot of ways to build up armor, you should be able to simply crush them with constant damage. Treat this match a lot like Freeze Mage where you simply never want to have a dead turn. If you allow Warrior time to breath it is going to be hard to crack them, but if they use most of their cards early they will use their removal controlling the early board and then just die to your finishers. Eaglehorn Bow is one of your best tools and if you have one you never want to get rid of it if you can. Five damage really helps break Warrior down turn after turn.

Savannah Highmane (which Warrior has no good ways to deal with) is largely how you are going to win this matchup, but you have a lot of cards that just put you over the top. Your three finishers all give you immediate impact and force Warrior’s hand, while most of your spells and secrets help build damage. While some of your secrets are going to be low impact here, Cat Trick is one of your best tools. The 4/2 is a great way to keep up damage in spite of spot removal and it gives you a great out to Brawl. Always try and set it up into situations where you already have a minion on the board. Forcing Warrior to use removal on your 3/4 to give you a 4/2 is exactly how you win this. However, it is also important to get in as many hero power hits as you possibly can. The two damage negates their armor and keeps them from steadily healing. Just play smart here and try to bait out as much removal as you can before playing a huge threat.

Spell Druid

Like Warrior, Druid is a very good matchup for you. The reason being that Druid just does not do well against decks with strong midgame. They are a class built on the pillars of awkward spot removal and if you can pressure them throughout the game they will fold. Your two best tools in this match are Eaglehorn Bow and Savannah Highmane. Play to both of these cards and work very hard to keep your bow intact. Druid may not have a ton of tools, but they do have ways to heal. Getting in that constant source of extra three damage does a great job of eating into that. Use Highmane down in any situation where you are not afraid of taking lethal. Druid has no way to deal with the 6/5 and they will almost always lost to it.

A big part of of this game is knowing how far Cat Trick can go. Most Druids love to Innervate and Wild Growth on turn two, both of which the panther punishes. Run this secret out as soon as possible to try and assemble your damage as much as you can. Cloaked Huntress and Secretkeeper are both phenomenal because they force Druid to have early removal or they just take over the board and completely negate their mid-game threats.

As when playing Freeze Mage, you need to understand that you are on a clock. Though it may not seem like it, late-game Druid is always a turn or two away from just blasting off for 20 plus damage (epsecially if they have played Emperor Thaurissan). For this reason, you need to work hard to keep up constant pressure and force them to be uncomfortable at all time. They are going to have a lot of trouble answering your board, so they will often commit a lot of would-be-damage on your minions, crippling their end game plan.

The Secrets

The secrets are a very important part of this deck and knowing how and when to play them can be the difference between winning and losing.

Bear Trap: This should never be the first secret you play, but it can come in handy in a wide range of situations. Almost nobody plays Bear Trap these days, which means that almost no one is going to see this coming. Using this to protect yourself against lethal is very common, but it can also be a great way to take your opponent off their curve by suddenly giving them a threat to deal with. Know that you can play this turn two against a Druid or a Rogue because it punishes them for hero powering your face.

Snake Trap: This is one of your more situational traps. As a result, you only want to play it in games where your opponent has no good answer at the ready. Many decks can do one damage AOE, but they are not always going to have it at the ready. Read those situations and play the snakes accordingly. You also want to always play this in aggro matches because three 1/1’s do a lot of work in terms of trading.

Freezing Trap: Freezing Trap is an amazing trap that has to be set up in a very specific way. While it is easy to run this out when Sylvanas Windrunner is already on the board, you typically want to play it in anticipation of your opponent’s plays. This is not always true, but if you can set this up early it will open up your mana and give you more options in the later game. For example, running this out on turn three against Rogue doesn’t matter too much because you are usually going to hit SI:7 Agent, but it is much better turn four because it often hits either Tomb Pillager or Azure Drake.

Snipe: The hardest secret to use, Snipe is a card that is all about anticipation and proper planning. Every deck in the game has a good Snipe target, and they also have a ton of bad ones. For that reason you want to play Snipe into scenarios where, even if your opponent does play around it, it is going to mess with their curve. For example, playing this turn two against Shaman to either force them to lose a Totem Golem or simply use their hero power.

Explosive Trap: While many secret decks do not run Explosive Trap, I believe that to be wrong. Dead wrong. This is by far one of the most powerful traps in the meta because it is very strong against Hunter, Shaman and Zoo. You want to set this up where it is going to get you a lot of value or set up lethal damage. For that reason, this is usually a mid-game secret. While you can play it early, you only want to do that to stop a quick push. Also know that if you play this before Freezing Trap it will kill off small minions before they can trigger freezing.

Cat Trick: Your best secret, you want to almost always lead with Cat Trick over your other secrets. Unless you need to Freezing Trap a specific minion or Snipe a next-turn play, this is going to be your best choice because it is good against just about every popular deck. Having a 4/2 with stealth and charge is incredible and can serve as both removal and damage. While always strong, this is also great to play the turn before you anticipate AOE.

Tip and Tricks

Some final tips on the list.

Note that this list has no Kill Commands, which means your damage is more limited than other Hunter lists. Quick Shot is your only form of out-of-hand burst and you want to usually save it for the face if you have in the later parts of the game. In addition, always try to get draw off of the spell if you can. Extra cards go a long way in a list like this, even if it means making questionable choices to get rid of cards.

Always try and get the most value out of Unleash the Hounds as you can. You only run one of this card, which means you only can only use the trick once per game. This card has two uses, which are AOE or damage. Both are relevant in many games, and you always want to decide which mode you are going to play to early on. This is almost always going to be AOE against aggro decks and damage against slower or midrange builds.

When using Barnes you always want to think about the cards you can hit off of it before dropping him. The deck is optimized to where you are usually going to get something good out of the four drop, but you still want to plan for the various situations. This will help you set up your turn and give you various scenarios to plan for.

The Curator is only going to get you Azure Drake and Savannah Highmane. As such, this card lets you set up your turn eight by giving you a lion-curator-lion curve and helps you plan ahead.

Though it is great as removal, try and use Ragnaros the Firelord as damage as much as possible. Eight to the dome is almost always too much for decks to handle (especially against a Hunter) and it will usually end the game if you can slam it down onto a clear board.

Mulligan Guide

Must Keeps:

Secretkeeper Tracking Quick Shot Cat Trick

Situational Keeps:

Bear Trap is great against Rogue and Druid.

Freezing Trap is a solid keep against Hunter and Shaman to set back their early game.

Explosive Trap should be kept against any aggressive deck.

Snake Trap is a good keep against Hunter and Zoo to fight for early board.

Cloaked Huntress, Animal Companion and Eaglehorn Bow can be kept with a strong curve and the coin.

Unleash the Hounds can be kept against any deck that swarms the board (Zoo, Shaman) if you have a strong opening.

Barnes can be kept with the coin and a good curve.

Replacements

There are many different versions of Secret Hunter running around, and they all have different forms and iterations. I prefer the secret heavy, end-game list, but here are some quick changes you can make if you so desire.

Bear Trap and Explosive Trap can be both changed around. These can easily become other early game cards like Kindly Grandmother or Argent Horserider.

This deck can easily run a second Tracking. While I do not recommend it, cutting one of the above traps for a second one is a move you can make to add a little bit more consistency.

If you do not want to run The Curator or Call of the Wild you can add in different threats like Sylvanas Windrunner or Tundra Rhino. Azure Drake can also be removed (especially without The Curator) for the ever-popular Houndmaster/Infested Wolf package.

There is also potential for extra removal here. I have seen some copies running a single Deadly Shot or Hunter’s Mark. You usually do not need this, but they can be good tech cards is you are seeing a lot of bigger decks.

Conclusion

Another week, another subject. Secret Hunter is not an easy deck to play, but a lot of it comes down to how well you can make use of your secrets. Your goal here is to scale up as best as you can and always keep on pressure in new ways. The more you play with the deck, the more you will get a feel for it. Like everything, it just takes practice. Until next time, may you always draw the nuts.