Disclaimer: I understand this deck is very similar to Ambushino’s “Gormok the Smork” deck. However, I wanted to take a moment to say I developed this list completely on my own. Any similarities are completely coincidental. The names and faces have also been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
Today is one of my favorite type of articles. One where I get away from breakdown and focus on deck building to let you guys into my thought process when crafting a deck. I am an innovator, and getting to legend with a deck I made is one of my favorite aspects of this game. That being said, b0ilding a deck is never easy. However, I am particularly proud of this one due to the amount of time and tinkering that went into it. Originally, this list started with a simple idea: create a token Hunter deck. Token is a strategy usually reserved for Druid and Paladin, but Hunter has a lot of good token cards such as Unleash the Hounds, Snake Trap and Haunted Creeper. These cards generate ways to flood the board and give you ample paths in which to control the early game. Initially, I wanted to try and generate as many tokens as possible. Looking to the Midrange Hunter shell, that also gave me access to Dr. Boom, Ram Wrangler and Savannah Highmane. All of those were fantastic token cards and pushed my game plan. From there I started tinkering with numbers, eventually landing on a swarm package with Mukla’s Champion, Gormok the Impaler and Cult Master. The deck performed very well, climbing the ranks with a relative ease. However, once I hit the higher ranks I started to stall. The deck didn’t seem to have the consistency I wanted, nor did it have the sheer firepower I was looking for. This is where a friend of mine suggested a fabulous solution. Instead of trying to mix token with the Midrange Hunter build, why not mix it with face?
That one suggestion shows the importance of knowing what kind of deck you want to make. Having a goal in mind, or being open to changing your initial idea, can give you a brand new deck you never saw coming. I never thought to take this build and make it into an aggro deck, but that is exactly what I needed to do. Once this change was made, I cruised to legend. Beyond a mindset, it is also important to know which cards will make your deck the strongest. While tuning the list to be more aggressive was important, adding Scavenging Hyena was also essential. While I will discuss that choice later in the guide, it is those small things that make or break a deck. Thinking outside of the box is a very important part to fleshing any new idea. You need to analyze cards you’ve looked at a million times and think “what if…?”. This type of mindset is perhaps the most important part of Hearthstone, and it is exactly why this deck worked for me. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Chances are your first deck idea isn’t going to work, the second and third might also not work, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. Stick with it, and you never know what could happen.
This card is the best removal in the game. There, I said it. While many aggressive decks favor running a pair of Ironbeak Owls, I didn’t want to go into this list without Hunter’s Mark. This card is very strong on it’s own, and gets about a hundred times better with all of the small tokens running around. Being able to trade a snake for an Ancient of War is very, very good. Ironbeak Owl is a very good card in aggressive Hunter decks. Not only is it a beast, but it can shut down anything with taunt, ranging from Annoy-O-Tron to Sludge Belcher. However, what it cannot do it play the tempo game. Hunter’s Mark costs zero, which makes it very, very strong. The lack of mana cost enables you to add to the board and kill off your opponent’s minion at the same time. This type of play is instrumental in an aggressive build because it will give you the necessary tools to win games. Even just being able to play a Knife Juggler or Mad Scientist is incredible when you can also kill an opposing minion in the process.
The way you want to look at Hunter’s Mark is as a free Assassinate. No nonsense, no rigmarole. Just a card that effectively kills or removes any minion in the game. Oh yeah, and it’s free. Did I mention that? Yeah, no mana. Sure, sometimes you will wish you had an owl to deal with one of the more annoying taunts (Tirion Fordring says hi), but this card does a better job more often than not. The number one rule of using Hunter’s Mark is to always be aware of high priority targets. Just like when using Hex or Polymorph you never want to burn it on something low-impact like a Northshire Cleric unless you absolutely have to. Rather, always think a few turns ahead, and try to discern what you want to mark. Of course, it will not always be that simple. You have to react to situations, but if you have a target in mind, then be careful when using it on anything else.
As aforementioned, this was one of the most important stepping stones to creating the final list. A friend tipped me off to this card after watching a few games. A fantastic idea that turned into one of the most powerful cards in this list. Yes, you have to kill beasts to trigger the hyena, but you have a lot of ways to make that happen. Haunted Creeper, Webspinner, Unleash the Hounds and Snake Trap all have potential to make the hyena grow. I often found myself killing people with large hyenas due to the way you can set it up. Just with Hunter’s Mark, this is a card you want to plan ahead for, since you don’t want to play it raw if you can avoid it. If you play it smart, you will almost always be able to get one or two activation once the hyena comes down. If that happens your opponent will be put into a very tight spot. They need to kill the two drop, but will most likely not use premium removal to do so. If you can force their hand, burning any type of removal or damage, then you are doing just fine.
You want to try and leverage this card as a threat. That is, don’t be afraid to play it. Yes, a 2/2 is hard to keep alive, but if it does live a turn the game is over. Typically, it is good to try and leverage the situation at hand. If you can buff the hyena, you should most likely get it down when you have an opening. In that same vein, there is no reason to try and go for the homerun. Some people will look to get the most “value” out of the hyena by going as large as humanly possible. There is no reason for all that. This is a 2/2 for 2 with a scary amount of potential. That’s good news for you since if they remove the hyena without you wasting any resources it doesn’t matter. However, if they don’t get rid of the laughing-beast, you will usually end the game in a few turns.
Snakes? Why’d it have to be snakes? The answer is because there is no better token generator in the game. Beyond that, it is important to remember, due to a certain mad two-drop, this card is going to be free most of the time. That is very important, because you can simply play out your cards, daring your opponent to attack you. You are an aggressive build. Being a Hunter, that build comes to the forefront with cards like Snake Trap. Why? Because once your opponent knows that Snake Trap is hiding behind the question mark they will stop attacking your minions. However, not-attacking your minions is something your opponent’s cant afford to do. If they do attack your minions you will eventually wear them down through both damage and hero power. One rule of Hearthstone is, you cannot race Hunter. This has been true since the early days of beta, and it sure is true now. Three snakes may not be the most exciting play in the world, but it gives your Houndmaster targets, enables you to have an early board, and triggers Gormok the Impaler, Kill Command and Scavenging Hyena. All of those synergies are what make this card so powerful in this list.
Beyond inherent value, the other reason Snake Trap works so well is because of the guessing game. Almost no one is going to see this card coming. They usually play right into it one way or another, and even if they don’t you should be fine due to the catch 22 it often puts your opponent in. I often find that you can get many free wins when your opponent’s guess Freezing Trap or Explosive trap and it comes up snakes. Three snakes can be planned for if you have time to prepare with cards like Death’s Bite. However, if your opponent doesn’t see the trap coming, the game is most likely over. This card is also very strong against Paladin, working alongside Knife Juggler and Unleash the Hounds. Yes, Consecration exists, but the three 1/1’s directly challenge Muster for Battle and give you a way to take priority on turn four with a timely Houndmaster.
Defender of Argus
This was a card I had in the original midrange-inspired list that I just couldn’t bring myself to cut. Defender of Argus is not a normal Hunter card, but it is very good. Especially in the current meta of small minions fighting small minions. Here, defender serves a purpose very similar to the way it plays in Zoo. It gives buffs to your minions (allowing you to pour on more damage), make favorable trades, or simply protect you in a tight spot. Defender is one of the most overlooked aggro cards in the game, and can really put the hurt on when there are so many small minions running around. Snake Trap and Unleash the Hounds both give you very good targets. Even something as simple as buffing a Mad Scientist or Knife Juggler to get two threats down can really start to push the game forward. Remember, you are a Hunter. You can win the game through life pressure alone, forcing your opponent to react to plays in ways they don’t want to. Defender helps with this, because it isn’t an expected card. I will never stop talking about the importance of surprise in Hearthstone, and a card like defender, which no one will see coming, is a great tool to have at your disposal. Damage and creature protection are perhaps the two most important reasons this card is in the list. However, you also can’t forget it helps greatly in aggro matchups because it enables you to continue hitting face while your opponent has to find a way through your taunts.
Just like Scavenging Hyena, the presence of Houndmaster and his beast synergy is instrumental to this deck. I often think of these cards are the third and fourth Defender of Argus. That is not to say they are worse than defender, but rather than they simply pilot in a much different way. Everyone knows how strong Houndmaster is. It is a fantastic, aggressive four drop that allows you to trade up, protect yourself or simply get two, really scary threats onto the board. This is another card made possible by Snake Trap. When building the original shell, I knew that two Houndmaster was a must for this style of deck that wanted to get small minions and then use them to trade up. There aren’t an overwhelming amount of beasts in the list, but between the traps and the hounds, there are more than enough to make sure the Houndmaster has enough time to let the dogs out.
Unlike most traditional Hunter decks that run Houndmaster, you typically don’t want to use it as a defensive card. Yes, you do need to stay alive from time to time, but once again remember than face is your first priority. Many times you will play this card and then be inclined to trade your buffed beast into something. That is a fine play every now and then in games when you are battling for board control, but it is important that you go face more often than not. Hunter is one of the few classes that can use life total as a resource. By putting on pressure, or having the constant threat of lethal, you can make your opponent make play in a certain way that fits your style. Being reactive is not good in Hearthstone, but most players will spend most of their time reacting to your plays if you step on the gas. Houndmaster is one of the best cards for this type of play. Not only do you add a 4/3 to the board, you add a protected 4/3 that also gives you even more damage.
Secret Paladin is becoming a thorn in the side of the meta. Something that is not going to be life-threatening, but it sure is annoying and persistent enough to make you take notice. That being said, this matchup is very, very much in our favor. Snake Trap, Knife Juggler and Unleash the Hounds are all very powerful here. Paladin is a class that thrives on swarms. Secret Paladin even more so than its predecessors. They rely on getting a solid curve into Mysterious Challenger, or an extremely aggressive start followed by a clutch Divine Favor. To win this, you just want to battle their curve with your curve. Play out your early minions, and trade as best as you can. The way to lose this game is to allow them to have a lot of minions on board. Even if you have more damage, a really clutch secret turn can just ruin your day. This is simple enough to prevent, as your Haunted Creepers, Webspinners and Mad Scientists all do a great job of meeting their openings punch for punch.
Once upon a time this was the best deck around. It was very hard to understand what was going on. You couldn’t plan for their secrets (Paladin runs secrets?!?) and were generally just guessing at what was going to happen after challenger came down. However, those days are long, long over. Secret Paladin is a deck that spends its time racing to turn six. If they have a solid board once they hit Dr. Six, then the game is just about over. However, if they don’t have a board, it is almost impossible for them to win. Not in general, mind you, just against this deck. If you are ahead on board or in life by the time their large threats start coming down you can always just lean on the gas and go face as hard as you can. This is one of the best advantages Hunter has at their disposal. You can always start to make your opponent sweat if you fall behind of if they play some giant minion. Against Paladin that strategy is one of the best ways to win games.
I give up. I really, really do. I can’t write about just one Hunter, because (as this article proves) there are too many ways to play the class. It has gotten to the point where Rexxar has hit a critical mass. There are a thousand iterations of Hunter these days, ranging from aggro to midrange to hybrid to midrange to slow midrange. They all end the game with the hero power, but they all do it in a distinctively different way. You can try to identify the style of Hunter you’re playing by looking at their one drops, but I have been caught off guard by a Leper Gnome/Explosive Trap/Savannah Highmane trap too many times to be comfortable with that strategy. This is the only matchup where you simply play to your curve. Read your mulligans and starting hands by power level. While in a lot of matchups there are certain openings or cards combinations you want to hit, here it simply comes down to strong starts. A Webspinner into Haunted Creeper is a great keep, but so is Mad Scientist and Animal Companion. Haunted Creeper into Coin/Houndmaster or Defender of Argus is also powerful. You want that type of opening, and then adapt to the cards they play as they come down.
The only real thing you need to be constantly thinking of when playing Hunter is the possibility of their traps. Bear Trap sees fringe play, while Snake Trap, Explosive Trap and Freezing Trap are everywhere. Guessing wrong, just like people guessing wrong for this deck, can be a disaster. The way you overcome this is by testing for one certain trap, and then having a backup plan for each scenario it could be. For instance, if Explosive Trap blows you out but you have a reaction to Snake Trap, then attack their minion. That way you hedge your bets against Freezing Trap as well. In the opposite vein, if you cannot afford to get hit by freezing, then simply sit back and let things play out. If you can’t beat Snake, then attack face but keep in mind it could also be Bear Trap. These type of plays are important, because they can be the difference between and losing the game.
Ah, good old Control Warrior. A nice, honest deck that doesn’t rudely kill you in one turn. Wait? Did I say honest deck? I meant an annoying %^#[email protected]&@ deck that gains so much armor it makes me want to pull my hair out. This is a game where you need to go and go fast. Sometimes you are the pure aggressor, sometimes you want to be more conservative, and sometimes you want to go tempo. Here, you need to be aggressive. Very, very aggressive. Control Warrior has hit the point in its evolution where armor is all that matters. Shieldmaiden and Shield Block were good starts, but the addition of Bash and Justicar Trueheart have pushed it over the edge. You absolutely need to get early damage here, and if you don’t the game starts to fall out of your favor very quickly. This does not mean you need to start burning Kill Command on turn three, but you want to aggressively mulligan for a solid curve. Even keeping an Animal Companion without the the coin is not good enough unless you have a curve coming before it. Starting on turn three is just too late, you need to get to them faster.
Houndmaster and Defender of Argus are the best cards in this matchup, which puts you in a very tricky spot. Each of these cards can help shut down a Death’s Bite or save your minions from weapon hits. However, they also cost four which means you aren’t going to keep unless you have a perfect curve before them, which rarely happens. In this matter, you typically want to just look for those aggressive starts and hope you draw into these cards. However, if you have an early curve you absolutely must keep the taunt givers. Eaglehorn Bow (curve pending) is also a fantastic keep against Warrior, since it is the only form of recurring damage you have access to should they start putting on the armor. This is the only match where are going to play the face role out of the gates. Being slow means you will lose you to their armor most of the time.
Tempo Mage comes down to a very simple question. Do they have Arcane Missiles or Flamewaker? If yes, the game is going to be tricky. No? The game is just about over. It is no secret I don’t respect Tempo Mage, and this deck just preys on Jaina and her crew of small minions. Similar to Mech Mage, tempo is not a deck that does well with swarms. Snake Trap gives them absolute fits, and even a simple start of Webspinner into Haunted Creeper can force them to tap on the brakes. They only have one, one-drop in the form of Mana Wyrm, which means you are almost always going to get something down before they do. That is the most important aspect when playing against Tempo Mage. Their only AOE beyond a lucky Flamewaker turn is Flamestrike, which normally comes far, far too late to do any real damage. The best way to combat their mid-game plays is to have board when they start playing one minion a turn. From there, you can step on the gas and finish them with burn.
In the end of the game, they are going to operate in the same way you do, trying to leverage life total to make you blink. This is a key point in this match, because you need to be aware of how much damage they can possibly do versus how much you can manage. Always, always count their Frostbolts and Fireballs. This will give you a way to try and assume how much more damage they can do. Of course, you cannot always account for extra damage from Arcane Missiles or Flamewaker, but overall just have a ball park figure of their damage potential versus theirs. No one races better in this game than Hunter. You should know that, and your opponent’s will know that too. If you do something like Kill Command their face on turn seven just to scare them into holding back damage it can swing a game. I’m not saying do that all of the time, but you need to really grab Tempo Mage by the throat if you want to win. Come turn seven, when they start playing large minions, you want to start attacking them hard to make sure they aren’t focused on your life total.
Though I rarely write about them, Dragon Priest is a deck that I have seen quite a lot of lately. I’m not sure why, but it is a strong deck that can steal games due to an impossible-to-stop curve. They have four early game taunts, which are absolute nightmares to deal with. Wyrmrest Agent is perhaps the best card they have against you, but Twilight Guardian can spell a nightmare if you don’t have a Hunter’s Mark or Ironbeak Owl at the ready. This is a strange game, where you want to spend most of your turns trying to play around your opponent’s cards. Beyond Velen’s Chosen, which you can’t really plan for all that well since you don’t want to spend your time clearing minions, you need to watch out for both Lightbomb and Holy Nova. Each of these cards can absolutely decimate your board if you aren’t careful. However, they are also easy to play around.
Holy Nova can be overcome through creature buffs and making sure your tokens are bigger than two health (Houndmaster and Defender of Argus). It is harder to play around Lightbomb, but you can make small alterations such as playing out defender instead of Houndmaster since defender has more health than attack. Another important point about the two AOE’s is that they both take an entire turn to use. If you suspect your opponent has one in hand, or if they are playing like they have one, simply run out a board that looks threatening but didn’t cost a lot of cards to use (such as Unleash the Hounds or a triggered Snake Trap). This will enable you to sit back and force their hand before refilling the board. Never over extend in this match, watch out for early taunts and it is winnable.
Mulliganing with this deck comes down the early plays and stops at the three drops. The must keeps are Leper Gnome, Webspinner, Haunted Creeper and Mad Scientist. Knife Juggler and Scavenging Hyena should also be always kept if you have another opening card to go with them. For instance, Haunted Creeper into either of those cards is fantastic, and probably the best start this deck has. I am not a fan of keeping cards that cost three or higher, since they usually slow down your opening or can clog up your hand if you aren’t careful. The only exception to this is Animal Companion, which can always be kept with a curve coming before it or if you have the coin. Houndmaster and Defender of Argus can also be solid keeps with the coin if you have either Mad Scientist (which is secretly three snakes) or a Haunted Creeper. However, without the coin, or on their own, those cards are just too slow to try and force.
While the guidelines are there, there are a few cards that you need in certain matchups. Hunter’s Mark/Ironbeak Owl are fantastic keeps against both Warlock and Priest. Snake Trap should never be kept unless you are playing Paladin, in which it can be strong since their only method of removal is through directly attacking minions. Even playing trap into Knife Juggler can give Paladin fits. Quick Shot is a great utility to card to have access to, and should be kept against Druid (Darnassus Aspirant), Priest (Northshire Cleric) and Warrior (Acolyte of Pain). All other matchups can be handled by your early game. Beyond those individual choices, you simply want to try and curve out as best as you can. A lot of mulliganing is playing to the different cards in your hand. I noted earlier than you never want Snake Trap, but that can change if you have a Knife Juggler or Webspinner and Houndmaster. Mulliganing is never set in stone, but these are the overall guidelines to help you make the right choices. Just don’t get too stuck, and always look for a way to come out of the gates strong.
Hunter gets a bad rap. Yes, Face Hunter is one of the most horrible decks to play in the game and yes, Unleash/Buzzard or Leper Gnome/Undertaker were some of the darkest times Hearthstone has ever seen. However, those are mainly flashbacks now. Hunter is a class that has a lot of room to explore, and while most of the games are going to come down to wearing people down with steady shot, there are many fun or interesting ways to get there. Never stop exploring, never stop building and, until next week, may your Kill Commands always give you lethal.