Weekly Legends: Hybrid Hunter

Today on Weekly Legends we are going to tackle what I consider to be a very important question: When does a deck become original? That is something I have never been able to answer well, but it is constantly on my mind. As a deck builder I like to think I make original decks, but […]

Introduction

Today on Weekly Legends we are going to tackle what I consider to be a very important question: When does a deck become original? That is something I have never been able to answer well, but it is constantly on my mind. As a deck builder I like to think I make original decks, but this is not always the case. Is a deck original when it changes one card? Probably not. What about two? What about if it uses the core but has different finishers or changes a part of the core? I have no idea, but in my mind a deck becomes original when you change the point of the list. That is to say control to tempo or, in today’s case, midrange to hybrid.

The reason I am so philosophical today is because we are going to tackle a list that feels quite familiar but is something I consider to be very original. Today we are going to look at Hybrid Hunter. Now, the actual idea of Hybrid Hunter is not a new deck idea, but it has never been used to success in Standard. This week’s list challenges that notion and blends a lot of classic aggressive cards with some of the heavy hitters that makes Midrange so strong. One of the inherent weaknesses of something like Face Hunter right now is that almost every deck in the game has some huge lategame threats at their disposal. To avoid getting outmatched, this deck stretches out its curve, combining fast damage with some of the best cards Hunter has ever seen.

Key Cards

Argent Squire

Though this decks looks similar to midrange with a low curve, it is actually much more tuned to an aggro deck with some beefy finishers thrown into the back end. If you want to build a list in that way, you need to be able to start strong, otherwise you will never reach your slower cards as you die a horrible death. In those terms, Argent Squire is perhaps the best card you have access to. A 1/1 for one is not exciting, but a 1/1 for one that also has divine shield is very strong for two purposes. One, it is inherently hard to kill. This means it can get in quite a bit of damage before it dies. This can come in handy against a lot of decks that do not want to work to take off the shield, such as Warrior or Hunter. If you can open the game with a pair of squires it can really help you cement an early board as well.

The other reason Argent Squire works so well is its ability to knock into other minions. Though your cards are always going to be damage first and board second, the one drop really helps you nail down a game against decks like Hunter and Zoo. A 1/1 that can hit twice may not seem like it is going to have a big impact on the game, but just having something on the board is much better than having nothing. A 1/1 can help your removal, allow you to squeeze in an extra point of damage when pushing for lethal, or just challenge any other small minions your opponent could have. Though there are more aggressive early game cards you could run, like Brave Archer or Worgen Infiltrator, they are not going to have the stickiness you need for this deck. Sometimes you are going to be aggro, but squire helps in the slower games as well.

Abusive Sergeant

Though it may be easy to overlook this card, Abusive Sergeant is key to understand if you want to pilot this deck well. Sometimes you are going to be hyper aggressive and play just like Face Hunter. In those games sergeant is going to do what it does best, which is pile on damage and put down a 2/1 threat. However, you are not a Face Hunter. Though this deck is slanted towards damage, there are many games where you are going to need to control the early turns, especially when you have some midrange or slower draws. The sergeant is vital for those situations as a way to trade up and steadily advance toward your larger threats. Hybrid decks are always going to be interesting because you need to always have a dual mindset when playing them. That is to say, you need to know which games you need to be an aggro deck and which games you need to sit back and be a slower midrange style list. Sergeant, like Argent Squire, fits both of those roles well, but in entirely different ways. Two extra damage on top of a body can really put the hurt on someone (or set you up for two turn lethal) but it can also help you trade your smaller minions while also taking down real threats. Playing a three drop on turn four and then using Abusive to allow a one drop to trade up is one of the strongest plays you can make.

Argent Horserider

I bring up Argent Horserider because you need to understand that, despite the bells and whistles, this deck is still an aggressive list. It is easy to get caught up in the “play slow” version of this deck, especially if you are used to midrange or control decks where trading is priority number one. Here you want to start fast and always look for those “shut down” opportunities where you can pour on so much high damage in one turn that your opponent will not be able to outlive your hero power. This card helps with that because you can run it out for a quick two damage and then force your opponent to deal with it. Because the horserider is so sticky it is one of the best ways to keep up pressure against slower or spot removal decks. Even if your opponent deals with it you are going to get some immediate value.

That being said, like all other cards in this deck, Argent Horserider also plays the midrange game very well. One of the genius parts of this deck is that every card can play whatever mode you need it to. While Infested Wolf does that better than most, Argent Horserider is a close second. The ability to trade into minions and live is very important, especially during the early turns of the game when you need to get as much presence as you can. This does a very nice job of taking down things like Knife Juggler, King’s Elekk, Huge Toad and the back half of a C’thun’s Chosen. In that way, this also helps you solidify a board by acting as a removal spell that can also protect your other minions.

Infested Wolf

Out of every card in this list, I think Infested Wolf is the best representation of this list. The reason is that this card sits in the middle ground between aggro and midrange, fully embracing the idea of a hybrid deck. At its base, Infested Wolf is a 5/5 stretched over a 3/3 and two 1/1’s. All of those are beasts and it comes with a built in deathrattle. In  that way, this card is very good as a stand alone threat. However, it is also very strong when you have the board and are pushing for that final punch. This is going to be your premier four drop and the card that really starts to get the game spinning out of control. I would think of this card along the same lines at Piloted Shredder in that it is just a damage powerhouse once you have the early board. Your main function with this card is to present a solid-bodied threat that is very hard to remove and can keep stacking up the hits even after the shell has been killed.

The other reason the wolf is so strong is because of how it bridges the gap between your early and late game. You are going to often notice that, unless you are making an extremely early aggressive push, your turn five is usually going to feel pretty underwhelming. Either you are going to have to play an undercosted minion or hero power and pass. Infested Wolf greatly helps with that downtime because it gives you a body on the board that can both trade and hold off any threats you may not be able to remove. Even if it does die or if you use it to trade, you still get the two 1/1’s that help advance your future turns. You never want to have a turn where you have nothing on the board, and the wolf does that marvelously against a lot of the most popular decks in the game.

 

Call of the Wild

Everyone who has played Standard knows the power of Call of the Wild. I do not bring up the card to talk about how to use it, but rather to remind you to always play to it if you can. The eight mana card has one of the highest power levels this game has ever seen and there are a lot of games where you just need to live until you get it down. What makes this card so strong in an aggressive shell is that your opponent is going to backpedaling for most of the game, doing what they can to keep their health up and your minions off of the board. As a result, their life total is usually going to be low during the final stages of the game. When your opponent is at low health they are not going to be able to recover from the beat down machine that is the call.

Having Call of the Wild in your hand is fundamentally going to change the way you look at the game. This is because, once you know you have such a strong turn eight you can play slower or more aggressively depending on the board state. There are some games where I am being aggressive against a control deck and I will switch gears to make sure I have a clear board on turn eight. The same goes against midrange and sometimes it can even be right against aggro. In the same vein, this card can also make you push much harder than you were. The spell is always going to be five damage and three bodies in addition to what you already have on board. As a result, some games you are also going to need to just attack face as much as you can (especially when racing) because you know you have a trump card in your hand.

Matchups

The five decks that I see the most on ladder.

Control Warrior

Well, it finally happened. After weeks of talking about it, Control Warrior has finally climbed to the top of the meta. The heavy armor deck has been flirting with it for some time, but now it is fully vested. While that spells bad news for a lot of decks, it is actually not that bad for us. The reason is that you have a strong start, something that a lot of Warriors do not like. Though Control runs a good amount of removal options, they do not have the endless tools they need to combat a swarm of small minions (especially ones with divine shield). Once you get the train rolling they are quickly going to drain their resources clearing and staying alive, allowing you to come back with the haymakers.

The two best cards in the game against Control Warrior are Savannah Highmane and Call of the Wild. You run both and you want to play to them as much as you can. While Warrior has a lot of ways to stay alive, unless they played Justicar Trueheart you can slowly grind them down with your hero power in addition to your minions on board. You need to get in every piece of damage that you can, and Steady Shot is your best way to do that. This game is going to be played in two different parts. The first half where you stack up as many hits as you can, and the second where you surprise your opponent with your big game finishers. Stick to this plan and Warrior should almost have no chance, especially if you can bait out their removal early on.

Midrange Hunter

Another deck that has been skyrocketing in popularity, Midrange Hunter is a dangerous deck that combines an impressive curve with gigantic amounts of damage. This is probably one of the most even matchups you will face. Though you cannot directly combat most of their midrange threats, they do not have the same kind of prolonged burst that you do. That creates a very interesting balance where you need to constantly weigh your damage potential versus being able to clear the board. Though they are slower, Midrange Hunter still has a lot of burst and ways to end the game out of nowhere. You need to always be aware of that and constantly count the number of spells they have used. Once you’ve baited out some of their damage you can be more aggressive, but if the game is locked head-to-head then you want to play it closer to the chest. The only exception if when you can take a huge chunk out of their life.

This matchup is going to usually come down to who has the most pressure, and that is controlled through damage. If you can keep knocking their life total down before they can set up their big threats they aren’t going to have enough breathing room to play something like a Savannah Highmane or the like. For this reason you should always try to amass a big push before turn six. This will make it so they can never get a foothold on the board because they are much too scared of dying. In the same vein, once they get ahead it is going to be very, very hard to properly recover. Always concentrate on the board, but start to push hard for face once you begin to feel your presence start to slip away.

Aggro Shaman

My, how the mighty have fallen. Though Aggro Shaman is nowhere near gone (far, far from it) it is not the powerhouse it was just a few weeks ago. This matchup bodes well for you as long as you can make sure you are controlling the way the game flows. That is to say, if you are dictating pressure you should be able to win. You need to hit hard here. Both you and your opponent know how the other is going to win the game and pulling punches is a good way to lose. Just like with Midrange Hunter, this is a game where you need to make your opponent react to you. However, unlike Midrange Hunter, Shaman has a ton of out-of-nowhere burst potential that will crush you if you don’t respect it. Try and control the early turns of the game and run them down on cards before going for the face.

The most important part of this matchup is Doomhammer. The reason is that it is going to do ten or more damage out of nowhere, instantly putting you on a clock. That damage can really put the hurt on and you need to be able to race it. Even if you haven’t seen the five mana weapon, you always need to calculate it in when figuring out the amount of damage your opponent can do. Always assume you are at ten less health than you are, which will help you figure out how important it is to trade. Also note that most Shaman’s running around the ladder these days have regressed to their old forms, dropping most of their minion packages for quick burn like Lava Burst. Understand that and play around those cards as well. You never want to lose a game your winning because you let some minions live.

Tempo Mage

Though Hotform’s list has petered out a bit in the last few weeks, Tempo Mage is still strong and still popular. There are two popular builds right now are Horform’s list with more burn and draw, and the slower list that runs things like Flamestrike, Cabalist’s Tome and Ethereal Conjurer. Each of these lists is going to be a hard fight, but you need to play them both in the exact same way. Your goal here is to out-tempo them by making them use their early removal before they want to. Tempo Mage is a deck that needs a good number of cards to execute well and they also want to play them in combination with their minions. If you can push early on they will be forced to use their removal to handle your board, causing them to largely falter during the middle stages of the game. The whole goal of this game is damage, damage and more damage. If you sit back and let Mage play out their game plan you are never going to have a chance. However, the more you hurt their life total and force them to use their burn on your board the more you can grind them down. Also understand that Mage uses all of their minions to build into huge combos. They can snowball with the best of them. Pushing is important, but you never want to let anything live unless you are setting up a two or three turn lethal.

Tempo Dragon Warrior

Control Warrior’s lesser cousin, Dragon Warrior is also quite popular and sees more than a fair bit of play. This list is quite aggressively-tuned and will come out of the gates as fast as you. That means most of this game is going to be spent fighting for board where you only want to push when you are starting to pull ahead. This is going to be one of the only matches where damage is almost completely secondary. Of course, if you get ahead and have the necessary burn in hand you should go face, but for the most part you want to control the game through the board. Dragon can pour on their own pressure and have a lot of strong midrange cards to trump your push. Twilight Guardian is one of the hardest taunts to get through as well, so always be ready with six damage come turn four.

What makes Dragon Warrior so strong if their immense range of big threats and finishers. Once you start to run into the later stages of the game you need to push hard and be aware of their various late-game threats. Some versions of the list add in a big dragon like Ysera and Deathwing, but all of them pack Malkarok, Grommash Hellscream and Drakonid Crusher. Those cards apply a lot of pressure and bring about a ton of damage when you’re not ready. As with other matchups, your goal is going to get to your end game. Do not be afraid to play to the big threats and just do what you can to stay alive. Call of the Wild and Highmane will control the game and put you over the top most of the time. You just need to stabilize before then.

Mulligan Guide

This deck needs to mulligan low, no questions asked. You are entirely built off of a strong curve and if you don’t get that curve the game is going to be an uphill climb. This is not a deck where you keep a three or four drop because it could help you out later on. Your whole point here it to start out as soon as possible. Your “must keeps” are Argent Squire, Abusive Sergeant, Fiery Bat, Flame Juggler and Huge Toad. Quick Shot should be kept in almost all games, but you do want to throw it back if you have a slow opening. It is usually not strong enough on its own. Beyond that, you can keep Eaglehorn Bow, Argent Horserider and Animal Companion if you have a strong curve with them or they slot as a two drop following a one with the coin.

Conclusion

Ah, to be young and a Hunter. I always love revisiting one of my favorite classes, and I never will get tired of teaming up with Rexxar. This list may be similar to the popular Midrange lists right now, but the quick starts and element of surprise really push it over the top for me. It is always good to add innovation into your lists and it can really help you climb. Never be afraid to be different and never stop figuring out better ways to play current decks. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right. Until next time, may you always curve well.