People grind to legend for different reasons. Some grind to get the card back (my initial reason), some grind for personal gain, for ego or for Blizzcon points. Last month, I did it for another reason. I did it to prove a point. While I set out last season to make the climb to the top of the ladder with Taunt Warrior on my Brewmaster series, I had hit a roadblock at rank 2 and did not have enough daylight left in the season left to work the deck in the way that I wanted. As such, with just about a day and a half left, I set out to find something different I could use to complete the climb. However, I didn’t just want something different, I specifically wanted to play Hunter. And not just any Hunter, I wanted to bring back some good old face action.
Over the past few months I have heard time and time again that Hunter is “dead”. That the class just doesn’t have what it takes to stand up to the meta, and that its time in the sun is over. I tire of such things, and always like to show people that any deck or class can make the climb with enough skill, determination and practice. For this climb I used a deck that WalleyeHS took to the legend, which does a great job of taking the classic Face Hunter build and making some very important tweaks. Remember, innovation is not always starting from scratch or building this crazy new idea that you’ve never seen before (though that is awesome). Sometimes it is simply taking a deck that no longer works and injecting some new life into it. There are a lot of familiar faces in this list, but there are quite a bit of new ones as well. While some of the choices in this list may seem odd or just plain wrong, they all serve a very important purpose when it comes to adapting to the meta. A lot of people don’t like Face Hunter, and a lot of people don’t give it enough credit. While it is easy to win some games with here and there with, mastering it takes a lot of skill.
Tracking is a card from Hearthstone’s ancient past. A one mana spell that used to be a staple, but has long since fallen out of favor due to stronger minions and more reliable curves. However, it is especially relevant in this deck because there are many cards you only want to draw at certain times. For example, while Mad Bomber is incredibly powerful during the early turns of the game, it is something you typically don’t want to draw during the later turns. This card helps you avoid things like that, skipping over Ironbeak Owls when your opponent has no taunt, avoiding Southsea Deckhand when you have no weapon and dumping extra weapons when you already have one equipped. Face Hunter is a deck of situational cards, and Tracking makes it so you can avoid would-be dead draws to keep on pushing damage through.
While some people are against it, I am a firm believer in playing Tracking on turn one if you have nothing else to do. That may not allow you to sculpt your deck in the way that a late-game Tracking does, but it gives you the best use for your mana at that given time. Face Hunter is a deck that is all about resource management which, despite what some people believe, is a very difficult skill to learn. You need to constantly be planning a few turns ahead, calculating damage, thinking about possible topdecks, and getting the most value out of each mana crystal. In that vein, always try to only use this card later in the game when you have nothing else to do or you absolutely need to find finishing damage. Just using Tracking to use it is not the way to get value out of the card.
One of the strangest choices in this list, Mad Bomber is worth talking about for two reasons. One, because of the exact purpose it serves. And two, because of how important and versatile the two-drop spot is for Hunter. There are three other cards that commonly fill this spot, Haunted Creeper, Knife Juggler and, to a much lesser extent, Flame Juggler. I have always hated Haunted Creeper in Face Hunter because, even though it’s a beast, the one attack is very underwhelming, especially when stacked up against all of the other aggressive plays in the meta. It does have some synergy with Knife Juggler, but once the knife-thrower is gone, there is no need to keep the creeper around. Which brings me to the biggest question now is, why cut Knife Juggler?
Juggler has long been a staple in aggressive Hunter decks due to how well it works with small minions, early curves and Unleash the Hounds. It also can bring the pain on its own and its ability can serve as a type of burst. However, Mad Bomber fills a similar role, serving as (sometimes) burst that can also reach out and pick off a bunch of small minions. While this was originally put into the list to deal with Living Roots, I found it to be useful in a ton of different situations; killing Leper Gnomes, Silver Hand Recruits and even other two drops. However, by far the biggest bonus of bomber over juggler is that it can be played on turn two. As aggressive as Knife Juggler is, it just is not a two drop in most cases. You are usually going to hold it back to combo with other cards, or try to save it when your opponent has minions. That can really mess up your curve if you aren’t careful. Bomber does not have that problem, and gives you a way to run out a 3/2 on two in almost any game.
While the original version of this deck ran two Misdirections (a card I will discuss below), I decided to tech in a Flare. I bring this up because I would not cut this card for anything in the world. A big part of this game is getting ready for the decks you face the most. Two of the most popular decks in the game right now (especially at the higher ranks) are Secret Paladin and Freeze Mage. Those decks don’t just run secrets, they depend on them to win games. While Secret Paladin is the closest thing you will ever have to a free win, Freeze Mage can be very tough without a Flare by your side. This card, quite plainly, wins games on its own. Not only does it take away your opponent’s main source of power, but it does so for just two mana. Add on the fact that this also draws you a card, and you have a real winner here. Flare is a great tech tool in the current game because, unlike things like Kezan Mystic, it is never dead (card draw), is cheap and completely deals with the secret problem, killing off a single Ice Block or an entire tree if you need it.
Once upon a time this was one of the strongest Face Hunter cards around. Misdirection was easily the most powerful secret in the game, and its ability was the bane of big minions everywhere. Since then, due to the shift to small, swarm decks in the meta, this has been dropped off in favor of things like Snake Trap or Bear Trap. Those cards are strong, but Misdirection is much better in a deck that only cares about going face. While Explosive Trap is still as good as it ever was (and has actually gotten better with the passing time) this card works well for one reason: the element of surprise. Nobody runs this card, which means your opponents aren’t going to play around it. I won many games by tricking my opponent into attacking into this with a big minion. That will happen a lot more that you think, not because your opponents are making the wrong move (though they are) but because they just won’t see it coming.
One other point I want to bring up in terms of building this deck is, don’t run four secrets. Just don’t. One of the only ways Hunter loses is by drawing too many secrets in their early hand, and you want to mitigate that as much as possible. You have two Mad Scientists, which is usually more than enough in terms of secret fetching. Each time the two drops you have less of a chance of getting stuck with a secret in hand. When it comes to card count, there is a huge difference between three and four. Know that, and know that Face Hunter is all about smoothing out your draws and sticking to a curve. You never want to do anything to jeopardize that.
I see people play this deck wrong all the time, and one of the biggest reasons is Arcane Golem. This card may seem very straightforward (four damage for three mana), but its downside is very important to note. Similar to Coldlight Oracle, this is a card that can be amazing when played at the right time, but devastating when played at the wrong. Using this card too early can lead to some very quick losses, while holding onto it for too long can also lead to a loss. You need to get this down at the exact right time, and that is going to completely depend on the time in the game and the class you are playing against.
Against aggressive classes you want to try to set this up for the middle of the game when you are making a super strong push for face. However, against Control decks you need to wait for the right moment. You don’t want to play this card too early and give them extra ramp into a clutch late-game heal or big finisher, but you also need to get it in before your opponent drops a taunt. This comes up more against Druid, but you need to constantly think about your opponent’s potential plays to know when to sneak this in. Don’t keep this card in mulligans and, should you have it early on, don’t play it unless you are going for a quick kill. This is something you want to save. Golem is meant for the finishing blow or to set up a two turn kill, everything else is just secondary.
The five decks that I encounter the most on ladder.
Uther is by far the biggest reason to play Face Hunter. As strong as Secret Paladin is in the current meta, it is a complete joke here. I would venture as far as to say you have to be actively trying to lose (or get a hand of all three drops) to not win this match. Even without Flare, you have a ton of tools that Paladin simply cannot fight through. Explosive Trap and Unleash the Hounds will destroy their board, and once you get rolling they will crumble to early aggression mixed with late-game burst. Secret Paladin is not a deck that does well when on the back foot, and you put them from turn one onwards. Just control the board at the start of the game and then go face as hard as you can. There is almost nothing they can do to stop you once you begin to win the health battle.
The only two things you want to be aware of in this match are Mysterious Challenger and Avenge. Avenge is important to note because if you trigger it too early (or trigger it at all) you can fall behind on damage, which is never a position you want to be in. A large part of this matchup is ignoring your opponent’s minions (except for Knife Juggler which has to be killed on site) and letting them figure out ways to deal with you, not the other way around. On the other hand, Challenger is a problem because of Noble Sacrifice. That is a very annoying secret that takes away a minion or weapon hit. Always be aware of that and plan for losing some damage on turn six.
Reason number two for playing Face Hunter, Zoo is a deck that can do nothing about quick damage and ample burst. Though they are also an aggro deck, they are an aggro deck that does damage to themselves through Flame Imp and Lifetap. One of Face Hunter’s greatest strengths is how powerful it is against other aggressive decks, and that really shines here. Every time Zoo dips into their deck they are making the game that much easier for you, and all of their minions, like Secret Paladin, are very weak to both Unleash the Hounds and Explosive Trap.
The biggest part of this matchup is spending the first turn or two clearing out the board. This means getting rid of everything you can, even using an Ironbeak Owl to trade into a Nerubian Egg. This prevents them from getting any kind of damage potential and really sets them back as you stack up damage and they move into slow midrange cards. Once that time is over, you need to start attacking their face as much as you can. This will force them to come up with answers and eventually succumb to your hero power.
Zoo’s biggest (and only) asset in this matchup is Defender of Argus. The four drop can be a little tricky, especially if you burned an Ironbeak Owl early in the game. If you don’t have a silence it is typically right to just bash through their minions as quickly as possible. That can give them some big threats, but by the time Defender comes down you should already be far ahead in life. Once that happens you can start leveraging your damage potential as a resource, causing your opponent to worry about the board. This stretches out the game, giving you more time to wear them down through your hero power. Zoo is not a deck you typically want to worry about. If you see a Warlock just mulligan as aggressively as possible, since you need a good start against this and Renolock.
While this matchup may seem daunting, it is actually not as bad as you may think. Most modern Priest decks run a lot of removal and strong AOE. However, in order to play those cards they have very little in the way of healing. Yes, they do have a lot of problematic early minions like Northshire Cleric, Zombie Chow, and Wild Pyromancer, but you can often push through all of their threats and slowly break them down. This is going to be a long game, and you have to know that going in. The biggest part of this game is using your hero power as much as possible. Yes, it does get negated by Anduin’s, but Priest isn’t going to be healing up every turn. They like to play both minions and removal. If you can keep them busy doing that while also grinding on your Steady Shot they will eventually succumb to your damage. Don’t get too jumpy here. There is nothing wrong with holding your damage in hand and waiting for the later turns.
The two minions you need to be ready for are Sludge Belcher and Deathlord. Each of these cards can cause huge problems, and you always need to keep Ironbeak Owl against Priest if you see it in your opener. While Deathlord may seem like a bigger problem at first glance, it is only a huge deal if you don’t have a board when it comes down. If you do have some minions you can usually punch through it with damage, which then gives you a minion on board. Because of this, if you only have one owl and you can kill off a Deathlord, you should try to save it for Belcher or a Velen’s Chosened minion.
Once gone in favor of its tempo-centric brother, Freeze Mage is absolutely everywhere. That is not an exaggeration. During one part of my climb I played Freeze five out of six games, and once I hit legend I ran into it four games in a row. That kind of popularity is the number one reason to run Flare. The two mana card single-handedly beats this deck. Though that may sound like an exaggeration, it really isn’t. You are very aggressive, and you want to strike at Freeze Mage as quickly as you can. Once they realize you are Face Hunter they will try and strike back at you with reckless abandon. This then forces them to play a little looser than normal, spending most of their turns drawing cards and freezing your minions as much as possible. That will eventually get them to a point in the game where they are depending on Ice Block to keep them safe. If you Flare the block at that point, it will be over.
Just know, for games where you don’t have Flare, you want to hit them with everything you have once you identify they are Freeze. This is not a match where you need to be secretive. Go face hard, even if that means using a turn five Kill Command on their face just because you have a beast on board.
Note: This is another matchup where it is good to keep Ironbeak Owl since of how well it deals with both Doomsayer and Mad Scientist.
This matchup is one of the most difficult you will face. Not only does Druid naturally run a lot of early removal and midgame taunts, but they can also kill you very, very quickly. While Force of Nature/Savage Roar is always good, it is especially strong against Face Hunter since you spend so much of the game trying to further your own gameplan. You are not a deck that can normally afford to clear, but here you always have to keep those fourteen points of burst in the back of your mind. This is especially true in games where you are fighting through taunts as much as possible. While Ironbeak Owl seems like a solid keep, you actually need to throw it back if you don’t have a fast start. A slow curve is the easiest way to get crushed in this matchup.
A lot of this game comes down to how it opens. If Druid stumbles or keeps a mid-game Innervate hand you should be able to run them over. However, if they start ramping early you are going to be in for a knife fight. When mulliganing you want to keep Quick Shot and Glaivezooka, since they both give you ways to deal with an early Darnassus Aspirant; which you need to kill on site. Beyond that, look for all of your early minions and try really hard to get a Mad Scientist. A 2/2 for 2 is surprisingly hard for Druid to deal with, and will usually get in a couple of hits before something like a Keeper of the Grove takes it down. Eaglehorn Bow is your best source of damage here and should always be kept alongside the coin or an early curve to get it out as soon as you can.
As I said in the video, the best parts of Face Hunter are its flow and the simplicity of its mulligan. You want to look for early minions and weapons, and that’s about it. While there are some exceptions to this rule, have that in mind when deciding what to keep. Leper Gnome, Mad Scientist, Mad Bomber, Glaivezooka and Abusive Sergeant are you “must keeps”. In addition, you always want to keep Southsea Deckhand if you have a weapon or no other one drops. On the other hand, never keep Misdirection or Arcane Golem. Explosive Trap should always be sent back against anything but aggro (Secret Paladin, Zoo, Hunter). Ironbeak Owl should always be kept against Warlock and Mad Scientist decks (Mage and Hunter), and can be kept against Druid if you have a strong opening.
The biggest impact on what you keep is the coin. One extra mana helps a lot of decks early on, but it is especially important for aggro. If you do have the coin, you can keep all of your non-golem three drops as well as all of your one drops. This card also makes it so you can keep a slower hand of two, two drops or a one drop into a three drop. This is very important and understand that you can be a little looser early on if you have that one extra mana at your disposal.
Man do I love Hunter. It is one of the classes I have taken to Legend the most, and I think the gameplay is extremely relaxing. While some naysayers like to discount it as an “all go face” class, it really is much more than that. Using Quick Shot on one turn instead of playing a Leper Gnome and Southsea Deckhand can often be the difference between winning and losing, and those type of things are often overlooked. Yes, sometimes you will just steamroll your opponent, but I find that to be a very enjoyable experience as well. As always, let the haters hate, and, until next time, may face always be the place.