Hey, guys! It’s RaFive. We here at HearthstonePlayers.com have decided to do a series of showmatches amongst our contributors as a fun way to let our readership see some innovative lists and high-level play from the folks who write the articles every week.
We had our first such showmatch recently, between myself and JulpaFTW. Because of the format (see below), I decided to lean heavily on two of my main ladder decks for this season, teched only slightly for a tournament-grade match. I’ve never shared my main laddering lists with anyone — and normally don’t — but as a special behind-the-scenes treat for y’all, today I’m sharing the decklists from those matches and delving into my thought process in choosing those particular cards and classes. Enjoy!
The showmatch proceeded with a format similar to ESL. JulpaFTW and I each prepared three decks played in a blind-picked, pre-chosen order, and then played two further games where we each blind-picked from one of those decks immediately before the game. I brought Zoo, midrange Hunter, and mech Druid (in that order), and chose Hunter and Druid again for games 4-5. Interestingly, JulpaFTW brought the same classes and archetypes in almost the same order — he went midrange Hunter, Zoo, and mech Druid, and then also chose Hunter and Druid for games 4-5. I went 4-1 in the series, winning every game except my Zoo versus his Hunter.
You’ll notice the format has no bans and eliminates counter-picks. This makes it inadvisable to (e.g.) bring double Big Game Hunter and double Ironbeak Owl to take down all those Handlocks going first, and forces players to draft for consistency in a wide variety of potential matchups, much like a ladder deck.
Midrange Hunter is an extremely strong, consistent deck with no seriously unfavorable matchups, so it was an obvious inclusion. Warlock is perennially strong, but as an F2Per I don’t have the cards for Handlock and didn’t feel confident enough with Zelae’s Combolock to bring it to a tournament-style setting, so Zoo was the apparent second choice. (Also, as an F2Per, I’ve historically played mostly Zoo and Hunter, so I’m highly familiar and confident with them at every level of play.) Mage or Druid seemed like logical picks for the third deck, and I spent a while trying a few different styles and seeing what felt good. Eventually, I decided that my Druid deck should pack some form of surprise factor, so I decided to play some mindgames — no, not the card — and bring the Mech Druid JulpaFTW had just covered on the site.
Obviously, those picks went pretty well for me. If I had to do it again, I’d probably play Druid first and Zoo last, but the Druid / Hunter / Zoo lineup is extremely strong, and should work solidly for any events with similar drafting rules. These are also all prime decks for laddering right now.
Next we’ll discuss the decklists, which you can see on the right. JulpaFTW already wrote an extensive guide for his Mech Druid, and I’m assuming any player reading this article already has at least a reasonable idea of what Zoo and midrange Hunter are about (and how to play them to a basic level of competence), so I’ll only be discussing specific picks and strategies rather than giving a general view of the decks.
Zoo was my first competitive deck way back during the last test season when Hearthstone first went live, and I’ve been refining my Zoo builds every week since then, developing a few of my own quirky preferences. Currently I’m running something that looks a fair bit like Xixo’s more popular lists, but with a few significant tweaks.
First, you’ll notice no Voidwalker. It’s an incredibly powerful card and a better standalone drop than what I’ve included instead, but I’m a huge fan of running both Clockwork Gnome and Leper Gnome if you’re running an aggressive Undertaker deck — the two extra 1-mana Deathrattles just make the difference too often between an iffy start and a great start. That said, this is strictly a matter of personal preference, and there are plenty of Zoo players who will give you exactly the opposite opinion. I’d broadly say running Leper Gnome is better against aggressive and midrange decks, while Voidwalker is marginally superior against control. You do absolutely need at least 2-3 Taunts in a Zoo deck for optimum performance, but I insist on double Defender of Argus, which in my experience obviates the need for Voidwalker.
Next, you’ll notice a couple of Legendary cards taking the place of Zoo staples, namely, Dr. Boom instead of a Doomguard plus the more normal inclusion of Loatheb instead of one Dark Iron Dwarf. Dark Iron is a strong turn 4 play, but Loatheb’s utility against removal really helps this deck keep its board intact going into the later game, so it makes sense, particularly in the tournament setting where hyper-aggro durdle is rare. The Doomguard switch-out is more controversial, but you generally don’t play him on curve anyway and the discard is just a killer. Considering Dr. Boom is generally harder to remove and also provides a late-game double buff to Undertaker, I picked him instead for better card advantage against decks that might try to run Zoo out of steam.
From similar reasoning, I packed Big Game Hunter instead of the single Shattered Sun Cleric I usually run in that spot. Boom and other powerful high-end cards are common in the current metagame, particularly at tournaments, and BGH is passable if unexciting dropped naked on the board against aggression, so he was an obvious inclusion.
Last but not least, you’ll notice I’m running Ogre Brute as my core 3-drop. As far as I know, I’m the only semi-prominent Zoo player to do this, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Harvest Golem does stick better, but it’s a far weaker card overall for trading favorably and also seriously weakens Zoo’s potential against Priest. Brute may not be a sexy card, but the “disadvantage” often allows you to bypass Taunt for better trades and the stats are powerful, consistent, and beyond Priest’s reach. Give Brute a try, if you haven’t — I’m betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised. He’s my secret weapon in Zoo — almost nobody counterplays well against him because he’s so solid and so unexpected.
Yeah, it’s a pretty stuck-up sounding name for a deck, but really, y’all, this list is an absolute beast. Dr. Boom tops the curve for a THIRD insanely sticky and difficult to remove minion after the two copies of Savannah Highmane, which seriously boosts matchups against control. On the same note, Big Game Hunter shows up again here for the same reason he did in Zoo, although Ironbeak Owl would be an acceptable substitute (especially for F2P), while the deck keeps an explosive, aggressive start by retaining the Clockwork Gnome / Leper Gnome / Undertaker consistency.
These are all reasonably normal picks in the current metagame, though, so I’ll focus on the three cards that I think pull this deck ahead of its competitors: Defender of Argus, Houndmaster, and the lack of Freezing Trap.
It’s fairly common for midrange Hunter to run either Defender or Houndmaster, but usually not both unless you’ve cut your high end out and gone for a Chakki-style list. Oftentimes, you’ll even see just a single lonely Houndmaster as the decklist’s only 4-drop. I think both of these are a mistake in the current metagame. Turn 4 is often a tipping point in the game, but Hunter’s cards are undercosted and stuff that’d normally come out turn 4 comes out a turn earlier, instead (like Animal Companion). Running a buffing Taunt-giver lets you basically extend that undercosted, explosive start and snowball it into an insurmountable board advantage, so if you’re running Highmane you really ought to be running at least two cards in the 4-drop slot.
On the other hand, you have to be careful not to overload. If you’re running high-end cards, double Defender is too slow because you need two minions on board for value, while running double Houndmaster often means you’ll have Spectral Spiders and Clockwork Gnome on the field with zero Beast synergies to exploit. One of each, however, provides consistent opportunities for a boost in value while not loading you up with potentially dead cards dependent on specific draws.
From the foregoing discussion, it should become pretty obvious that this list has some extreme power against midrange and control decks, moreso than the average Hunter. This comes at the expense of lower-end Hunter tech, such as Glaivezooka and, more notably, Freezing Trap. I’ve long said Freezing Trap is Hunter’s best trap and one of the best, most undercosted cards in the game, and I stand by that assessment. It protects your entire board, keeps Hunter’s game-winning tempo high, doesn’t trigger Deathrattles, and works against enemy minions of all strengths. However, there’s already enough solid stuff in the deck to counter bigger threats from slower decks, giving flexibility for the trap slots to take advantage of Mad Scientist-generated card advantage against aggression. For that reason, I’ve packed one Explosive Trap and one Snake Trap, since both are fantastic against aggression (and Snake is just all-around solid in general), leaving Freezing out to keep that speedy, explosive start and a good curve with an absolute minimum number of dead cards.
This particular constellation of elements — diverse yet consistent Taunt in the 4-drop spot, Highmane, Boom, Clockwork/Leper/Undertaker, and Explosive/Snake Traps — means there’s no point in the game at which the deck is weak and no matchup which the deck can’t handle confidently. I’m a pretty cautious guy, but this strikes me as pretty close to the best Hunter can get, hence the name!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the thought process that’s gone into building my ladder decks and taking them into the showmatch. More importantly, I hope my personally tuned favorite decks help you out on ladder. Most importantly, I hope this inside look at high-level Hearthstone play both informs you and inspires you in your attempt to build a better metagame!
Note: The showmatch series will go on, and there will be continued coverage, so stay tuned for more great behind-the-scenes insights!