Skillhunter- A Guide to Midrange Hunter

Wonder how a Hunter deck could take skill? Falathar delves into the Midrange Hunter deck he used in top EU Legend this season!

Introduction

Hello everyone, Falathar here with a brand new deck guide. I played Midrange Hunter to Legend Rank 20 this season. I’m currently floating in the EU Top 4 – 100, and play many different decks (everything from Control Warrior to Oil Rogue to Handlock etc). Hunter was widely presumed to be dead after the Undertaker nerf, but once again Hunter has adapted and is still a very popular class. If you have read my previous articles, you might not consider me a Hunter player, because Hunter is “dumb” and a “cancer” deck. This conclusion is just wrong. Ultimately, Hunter is not stupid to play, and even the hated Face Hunter has a place (I had an 80% win rate pre-Rank 5 in the Face Hunter mirror, by making decisions the majority of people are unaware exist in a Face Hunter match).

All variations of Hunter are easy to learn, but hard to master. There is a huge difference between a high Legend  Hunter player and a Rank 5 Hunter player. The reason I like playing Hunter can be summarized easily in a sentence. Hunter is a quick deck, requires skill (so a better player has an edge in the Hunter mirror), and punishes misplays and greedy deck building choices (high curve, lots of legendaries) from your opponent like almost no other class.

For the scope of the article, I will not analyze every card and explain why it is a good card, because the majority of Midrange Hunter cards are self-explanatory. I will instead focus on giving an in-depth analysis on how to play this deck at the highest level. With the help of this guide, achieving at least Rank 5 with this deck will be an easy task.

Why should I play Midrange Hunter?

Midrange Hunter is a proactive deck. This means the majority of time you are the one being aggressive. Your opponent is forced to have answers for your minions through either his minions or removal for your minions, otherwise the game will quickly snowball out of control.

If you want to reach higher ranks quickly, and want a deck that is easier to play than decks such as Oil Rogue or Control Warrior (easier to play, not easier to master), while still being rewarded for good plays; then you should probably try Midrange Hunter.

Midrange Hunter vs Face Hunter

As you probably all know, there is another version of Hunter being played: Face Hunter. Face Hunter is faster than the Midrange counterpart; this means it has a lower curve and plays zero late game minions. I prefer Midrange Hunter over Face Hunter, because it has more balanced match-ups, meaning you have no match-up where you get crushed. Face Hunter has some really terrible match-ups. Another appealing aspect of Midrange Hunter is that you have comeback cards in your deck. If Face Hunter starts with a bad hand (such as Explosive Trap, Kill Command and Wolfrider) it is doomed. With Midrange Hunter, you can have an awkward starting hand and still manage to win the game. This is largely because you have access to very powerful minions like Savannah Highmane and Dr. Boom.

In addition to offering balanced match-ups, Midrange Hunter is also less vulnerable to tech cards. If you are playing Face Hunter, and your Paladin opponent draws double Antique Healbot you are in a world of trouble. When playing Midrange Hunter, tech cards are less significant. If you have Savannah Highmane on your side of the battlefield, you simply don’t care about Antique Healbot. One hit with Savannah Highmane, combined with a shot from your hero power, will completely undo the Antique Healbot’s battle cry.

The Deck

I did not build this deck, it is from the European player Naiman. I made one change to his deck, removing Ragnaros the Firelord for the second Eaglehorn Bow. It is my preference to avoid Ragnaros’ randomness; not just in this deck, but in any deck. If you can deal with Ragnaros’ RNG, feel free to add him back into the deck. I will not analyze every card on the deck list, because the majority of them are self-explanatory. I will instead cover the more unusual cards you normally don’t see in Midrange Hunter, and why they are excellent in this kind of deck.

  • Defender of Argus

This is a card you normally don’t see in Midrange Hunter. It’s similar to Houndmaster, because it is a body that improves your board presence and can be combo’d with Unleash the Hounds and Snake Trap. Unlike Houndmaster, Defender of Argus requires more initial board presence. Taunting a single Webspinner is obviously not as powerful as taunting the same card with Houndmaster. Another important note, is that Defender of Argus gives taunt to two minions (which makes you less vulnerable to Ironbeak Owl) and allows you to taunt non beast minions.

  • Cult Master

Ever since Starving Buzzard was crushed by Blizzard’s nerf hammer, Hunter has lacked a good card draw engine. Cult Master is, of course, not in the same league as the two mana Starving Buzzard, but he is better than any current alternative. When you and your opponent both have board presence, and you play Cult Master, you gain an incredible tempo boost. Cult Master also has great synergy with Snake Trap and Unleash the Hounds.

In my perspective, Cult Master feels like a legendary minion. It is an extremely powerful minion when you can use it to draw ridiculous amounts of cards, but playing two Cult Masters often feels clunky and situational.

  • Snake Trap

The standard Midrange Hunter does not usually play this card. But with cards like Defender of Argus and Cult Master included in this deck, Snake Trap becomes an obvious choice. Snake Trap can provide you with some huge tempo swings, especially when people don’t expect it. Even if people respect the card and play around it, Snake Trap still forces your opponent to use AoE removal or make clunky trades.

Tips on How to Play Midrange Hunter

First of all, this is not an aggro deck. Unlike Face Hunter, you care about having board control. Having board control will translate into more life loss for your opponent, as opposed to simply ignoring your opponent’s board and going for face as soon as possible. Therefore, wasting your Eaglehorn Bow charges for face damage at the beginning of the game is a mistake the majority of time. You are better off using your weapon to fight for early board control. The same concept applies to Kill Command.

And secondly: be flexible! Knowing when to fight for board control and when to start racing your opponent (aka going full nuts and only caring about as much face damage as possible) separates a decent Hunter player from a very good Hunter player. This is very important. I see many people at lower ranks fighting for board control when it does not make any sense (it does not increase their chances of winning the game), or going face when they are better off fighting for board control.

  • With Face Hunter, you want to squeeze in as many Hero Power shots as you can. When playing as Midrange Hunter, you want to avoid using your Hero Power very early. Playing Haunted Creeper and using your Hero Power on Turn 4 is a weaker turn than simply playing Piloted Shredder. You mainly want to pressure your opponent with your superior board, and then start squeezing some damage in with your Hero Power. Because of this, almost every other play is more powerful than using your Hero Power. Imagine a Turn 2 versus Druid when you both have an empty board. You have the choice between using your Hero Power, or playing Freezing Trap. Simply play the Freezing Trap, it is way more important than the two damage. As the game progresses, you may curve out in such a way you won’t be able to play the Freezing Trap.
  • Unleash the Hounds coupled with Knife Juggler is your biggest comeback mechanism when board control is lost. Avoid wasting one piece of the combo. Also, be aware that Knife Juggler gets triggered by Savannah Highmane, Haunted Creeper, Snake Trap etc.
  • The decision about using Kill Command for board control or saving it for later can be the difference between a win and a loss. If you are unsure in a given situation, I’d recommend using it to fight for board control.
  • Ironbeak Owl is one your most flexible cards. Against Face Hunter, I prioritize silencing Mad Scientist the most, because it denies them a board sweep and damage push with Explosive Trap. Against other Midrange Hunters, you have lots of different targets available, ranging from Sludge Belcher to Mad Scientist. The optimal usage in this match-up depends on your hand, your curve, and the board. In every Hunter mirror (does not matter if it’s Midrange or Face), tempo is very important. Essentially, don’t be too fancy with Ironbeak Owl. Simply silencing a Haunted Creeper and playing it on Turn 2 is better than using your hero power, or playing Webspinner. Unlike Face Hunter, your main enemy in this game is not taunt minions, so don’t waste the silence effect on a taunt, so that you can simply do face damage. You are better off removing the taunt without silence, and saving your Ironbeak Owl for later, especially against decks that have cards like Sylvanas Windrunner or Tirion Fordring.
  • Don’t be too fancy with Cult Master, making poor trades to draw lots of unneeded cards. This can cause a loss of momentum. Always be aware of what you can draw into, and how it can benefit you in any given situation. When your Warrior opponent has double Shieldmaiden on the field and you have double Savannah Highmane on the field, it may be very tempting to trade with them and draw two cards, but that is not a good play. Just go for face and play the Cult Master, let your opponent do the trading for you.
  • Loatheb is a very powerful card, and to make perfect use of the battle cry you need to play him at the right time. Ideally, you want to play Loatheb on a board where you already have tempo, to prevent your opponent from clearing the board. When you have the choice between playing Sludge Belcher or Loatheb on an empty board, play the Sludge Belcher. Loatheb is a better follow-up than Sludge Belcher.
  • Savannah Highmane is your most powerful minion. Cairne Bloodhoof is an underpowered version of Highmane. Savannah Highmane is a very resilient and threatening minion. Therefore, you should keep him in your opening hand against slower decks like Warrior, Priest, or Demonlock. These decks struggle to effectively get rid of Savannah Highmane. Don’t keep Highmane against decks like Paladin, who have an efficient answer against for Highmane with Aldor Peacekeeper.
  • Only keep Webspinner against other Hunter players. Face Hunter plays a lot of one health minions, so in this match-up it is an excellent keep. Don’t get tricked by the fact that it costs 1 mana and seems good to play on Turn 1. It is in the deck to trigger Kill Command, and to provide a body for Houndmaster. You have far better and more consistent cards (Captain’s Parrot, I hate you!) against the majority of match-ups to mulligan for.

Matchup Analysis and General Mulligan Strategy

As already mentioned, it is very important for Midrange Hunter to have board control. Hunter’s Hero Power is very weak when you are behind in tempo and on the board. On the other hand, the Hero Power is great when you are ahead, allowing you to further snowball pressure against your opponent. In this section I will tell you how to gain board control in every match-up, and how to mulligan and play properly against the most popular decks on the ladder.

vs. Face Hunter

Let us start with the pseudo mirror. As already mentioned, Face Hunter is the aggressive cousin of Midrange Hunter. Therefore, there is no point in starting to race them at the beginning of the game. Your best chance of winning is to stop their early aggression, and protect yourself behind taunts while pressuring them. You are better off taking a defensive approach and trading with their minions. For example, ignoring their Knife Juggler with your Knife Juggler and going face will put you in a losing position, because they have more burst in their deck.

Additionally, don’t make awkward plays when you are at 10 life and your opponent is at 30 life. A taunted Savannah Highmane can end the game with a few swings, so don’t get unnecessarily aggressive when the time has not come to be aggressive.

In this match-up you want to mulligan for your early game cards like Mad Scientist, Ironbeak Owl, and Haunted Creeper. Don’t keep Eaglehorn Bow, because your life is so precious in this match-up. You should try to remove opposing minions with your own minions.

Mulligan for: Ironbeak Owl, Haunted Creeper, Webspinner, Knife Juggler, Mad Scientist and Animal Companion

Verdict: unfavorable match-up

vs. Warrior

Against Warrior, you want to have a resilient and threatening board. Cards like Animal Companion, Piloted Shredder and Savannah Highmane help you build that board. Eaglehorn Bow is also a great keep, because it helps you remove annoying, small minions that would otherwise trigger your Freezing Trap.

Knife Juggler, Mad Scientist , and Haunted Creeper are either very easy to remove or don’t put a ton of pressure on the Warrior, so you should not keep them in your opening hand. You win the majority of games with your mid-game minions, so mulligan accordingly.

Therefore a hand with Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow and Savannah Highmane is a great starting hand. Don’t keep Dr. Boom, because getting another Highmane is always preferable to getting Dr. Boom in your starting hand. When Dr. Boom is your only threat, having him getting destroyed by Big Game Hunter will make you lose all tempo and probably the game.

Mulligan for : Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow, Piloted Shredder, Sludge Belcher and Savannah Highmane.

Verdict: slightly unfavorable match-up (I know that there are people who say otherwise, but after playing both sides I can say safely that Warrior is favored if both players play perfectly).

vs. Druid

Combo Druid is the most popular build of Druid on the ladder. It is a good match-up for Midrange Hunter. If your draw is decent, you will win the majority of time. On occasion, you will still face Ramp Druid with lots of taunts. Unlike Face Hunter, you can deal with taunt minions, so Ramp Druid is an even better match-up. Ramp Druid struggles to play their combo, and can’t put counter pressure on you. Ideally, you want to flood your board early with cheap minions and then follow-up with your more powerful threats. Always fight for board control, because once you have complete control of the board it is an almost impossible task for the Druid player to come back, because they only play tempo inefficient minion removal.

Mulligan for: Mad Scientist, Knife Juggler, Animal Companion and Piloted Shredder

Verdict: favorable match-up

vs. Mechmage

This matchup is very draw dependent. If you have a better start, you will very likely win. If your opponent has a better start, you need to draw into your Unleash the Hounds and Knife Juggler combo. If you do not get your Unleash the Hounds combo, it will be nearly impossible to comeback. In this match-up, having board control is super important. Always kill their Mech minions, to deny them value from Tinkertown Technician or Goblin Blastmage. Be aware of Mirror Entity, it’s usually the only secret Mech Mage plays. Animal Companion does not trigger Mirror Entity, so you should play that over similar cost minions to not lose any momentum, if they have a secret and the board state is balanced. Always keep track of Spare Parts, so that you don’t mistake Spare Parts for real cards. Also, don’t keep Unleash the Hounds in your opening hand. It is a comeback card, but you’re better off being proactive in this match-up.

Mulligan for: Mad Scientist, Knife Juggler, Animal Companion and Eaglehorn Bow. Keep Piloted Shredder if you already have a good curve, otherwise ship it.

Verdict: even match-up, but very draw dependent

vs. Demonlock

The most popular Warlock build on the ladder. Try to keep a balanced hand that also respects Handlock and Zoolock. Against every different type of Warlock you want to have a good early game curve. Watch out for Voidcaller – don’t kill it when you can’t answer the demon that comes out. Voidcaller is less dangerous than cards like Doomguard or MalGanis. Paladin and Warlock are the only classes where you keep Unleash the Hounds in your opening hand. It’s a vital card against both Demonlock and Zoolock, and is not too bad against Handlock. Unleash the Hounds is an excellent answer to Imp-losion. Otherwise, not having a tempo efficient way to remove the imps is an unfortunate way to lose the game. Ironbeak Owl is also an excellent keep, because you have many targets like Voidcaller and Nerubian Egg.

Mulligan for: Mad Scientist, Knife Juggler, Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow, Ironbeak Owl and Unleash the Hounds

Only keep Savannah Highmane if you are sure that you are playing against Demonlock, otherwise ship it.

Verdict: favorable match-up

vs. Priest

The most popular build in high Legend is the “double Shrinkmeister and double Shadow Madness” popularized by Kolento. Against Priest in general, you want cards that answer Northshire Cleric and Wild Pyromancer, so cards like Knife Juggler and Eaglehorn Bow are very important. Don’t keep Haunted Creeper and Mad Scientist in this match-up. They are only good if you already have board control. Be aware of Shadow Madness shenanigans, it is important to play around Shadow Madness so that you don’t lose momentum or board control. Keep in mind that Priest has a tough time with 4 attack minions, so prioritize playing them. Also be aware of Auchenai Soulpriest and Circle of Healing. This combo punishes over committed boards.

Mulligan for: Knife Juggler, Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow, Piloted Shredder and Savannah Highmane. Also keep Loatheb if you already have a good curve.

Verdict: slightly favorable match-up

vs. Paladin

Before GvG, Paladin was prey for every Hunter player. Paladin lacked good early game, and had a hard time doing anything meaningful prior to Turn 4. With GvG that changed. Paladin now not only has Zombie Chow as early defense; it also has Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle. In this match-up, you want to fight for early board control, and then use that momentum to develop a superior board. If Paladin gains very early board control it is very tough to win, because Savannah Highmane is nearly not as good against Paladin as it is against other classes. Be aware of Quartermaster and Equality , these cards make Silverhand Recruits a must-kill priority, unless you are pushing for lethal. You don’t need to end this match-up very quickly, because the majority of Paladin builds are Midrange, and don’t play many late-game bombs. Unleash the Hounds is your most important card, because it can provide you a huge tempo boost with Knife Juggler when the board state is balanced. Additionally, Unleash the Hounds allows you to bury the Paladin in card advantage when used with Cult Master.

Don’t play Knife Juggler into their Shielded Minibot or Zombie Chow. It is too valuable a card in this match-up. I recommend saving it for later turns, if you can’t play him on an empty board.

Mulligan for: Mad Scientist, Knife Juggler, Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow and Unleash the Hounds

Verdict: even match-up

vs. Oil Rogue

Finally, the other deck I currently enjoy playing due to its proactive nature and powerful game plan. In my opinion, Oil Rogue is Midrange Hunter’s worst match-up (still only 40/60). Your best way of winning is to put huge pressure on the Rogue player, and end the game before they can end you with their high burst capability. In this match-up you want resilient minions that help you keep board control. Loatheb is the best card against Oil Rogue, so I would always keep him, but do not just mulligan for him. Loatheb without good support is not as powerful.

Always try to kill their minions as effectively as possible, to deny damage from Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil. Overall, this is a very complicated match-up, and knowing when to trade with their minions and when not to trade and simply go face is not an easy task. This knowledge requires experience with the match-up. You can’t expect to win this match-up by always trading your minions with their minions, because sooner or later they will draw into their huge burst, and simply kill you when you did not pressure them enough. Don’t always use Ironbeak Owl as soon as possible on Violet Teacher. Violet Teacher may actually benefit you in some games, by giving you a bigger Unleash the Hounds. In other circumstances, silencing Violet Teacher may simply help your opponent, because Violet Teacher can no longer mess up their Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil combo. In conclusion, make sure to be careful with your silence.

Mulligan for: Mad Scientist, Knife Juggler, Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow, Haunted Creeper and Loatheb

Verdict: unfavorable match-up

Conclusion

Midrange Hunter is a very good deck in the current Hearthstone meta-game, and is a lot of fun to play. I hope you all enjoyed my guide. If you have any questions regarding this deck, feel free to ask me in the comments!