Two weeks ago, we brought Priest back from the brink into the land of living. This week, we’re gonna give Hunter the same treatment. Hunter is a class that many (hello Firebat) have heralded as dead. However, it is also a class that I believe cannot die due to a mix of its hero power and incredibly powerful minions. This deck proves that by giving us a hybrid list that is the closest thing to a true Control Hunter you will ever see. While it does not have many of the classic control cards, it does run in a very interesting way. Instead of just going all in on the beast/midrange plan, the deck runs a ton of haymakers that it can use to close out games just in case something goes south. That is something we have never seen in a Hunter shell and it works really, really well here.
Make no mistake, this deck is a midrange deck. It is just a midrange deck that has elements Midrange Hunter has never seen before: finishers. One of the biggest problems with Midrange Hunter in the past is that it has not really had any end-game punches. Rather, it just tries to slowly (or quickly) slam pressure down its opponent’s throat to control the board and quickly close things out. This deck throws all of that out the window and gives us a deck that is built to start out early and go long. It is very rare that decks are able to have a 1-10 curve. In fact, I cannot honestly think of a deck in the history of Hearthstone (besides Reno decks) that has. However, Hunter is so strong during the middle of the game and has so many powerful, high-impact minions that it more than helps you get from the bottom all the way to the top.
As cool as this deck is, I have made a couple of changes that I think really enhance it. One of those was switching the Freezing Trap/Hunter’s Mark split into two Hunter’s Marks. While I get the idea behind Freezing Trap, I honestly just don’t think it is that good, especially in this meta. The problem with running one random Freezing Trap is that you have no real synergy with it and most of the time it doesn’t do what you want it to. You ideally want to use this to bounce giant threats like Flamewreathed Faceless or Sylvanas Windrunner, but there are so many small and battlcry minions running around you are much more likely to hit a non-factor or give your opponent value. Hunter has very limited removal options, which makes it hard to get the trap to do what you want most of the time.
On the other hand, we have Hunter’s Mark. I think Hearthstone has gotten to the point where you want two of these if you’re teaming up with Rexxar. Hunter is a class that is stocked full of minions and really nothing else. Even most of your spells are minions. As a result, you need ways to clear things, especially in this post-BGH nerf world. Tons of popular decks, from aggro to control, run big threats and not having a way to punch through them in a deck so focused on minions can lead to a quick loss. Hunter’s Mark lets you do this quite well, acting in the same way as Power Overwhelming does in Zoo except sometimes you get to keep your minion around and you don’t need to be within four damage. Even with the nerf, Hunter’s Mark is one of the best removal spells (if not the best) around. You will never make it on ladder if you cannot deal with big threats, and having two of these means you’re likely going to draw at least one throughout the course of the game. Not to mention, they work really nicely with Flame Juggler, Huge Toad, Fiery Bat and Unleash the Hounds.
The original version of this list ran two Hungry Toads and one King’s Elekk, but frankly, I think that’s a mistake. While this deck does not have some super curve where you are going to win all of your jousts, you have three gigantic minions (two Savannah Highmanes, N’zoth, the Corruptor) that are all essential the later turns of the game. While you won’t be able to play them for a while after you draw them, you don’t actually use a draw with the Elekk so it’s fine to keep them around for a while. I especially like running two Elekk for N’zoth because of just how good he is for your end game and how almost no other deck is going to have a ten mana card to compete with him in a joust. While you do not need your big cards to win games, having two on-curve 3/2’s that sometimes draw you them from your deck for free is never a bad thing. An important thing to note about the current meta is that almost all early minions are quite weak outside of Shaman. A 3/2 is a lot stronger than it once was and can really get in some damage or valuable trades if left alone. Add on a relevant ability that meshes well with your end game on top of the fact that this card is a beast, and this deck cannot really ask for a better early game minion.
The little three drop that could, Carrion Grub is much, much better than it seems at first glance. In fact, at first glance this card seems quite mediocre to just plain bad. A 2/5 body seems very weak (especially after being so used to playing 3/5’s throughout the history of Hearthstone), and the beast has no other abilities beyond that. While vanilla minions were once good, GVG and Naxx showed us that you need abilities to compete. However, the game has changed and this meta is not the one you know. A 2/5 beast for three is by no means as bad as it sounds. The body is much stronger than it was before standard, as it can clear out a ton of small minions to help control the early game. Midrange decks are all built around the ability to keep minions on the board as the game progresses, and this worm does that extremely well.
The biggest part of Carrion Grub is how well it smooths out both your curve and overall deck. In a midrange deck like this you never want to play too many cards at any one mana slot. Animal Companion is your go-to three drop, but having an extra one at your disposal is really nice. Desert Camel does not fit this deck (or a world with Tunnel Trogg) but you do want something solid that you can play in the games where your companion is out of reach. The other reason this card is so strong is because of how well it slots into Houndmaster. Normally, Oasis Snapjaw was the best Midrange Houndmaster target, but that required the coin to really play on curve. Getting the grub into master is smoother, easier and creates a huge 4/7 taunt for your opponent to deal with.
Honestly, I was very skeptical of Stampeding Kodo when first piloting this deck. While Paladin has readily adopted it, they have the tools to make it work. For Hunter, the body is meh and years of playing this game taught me that there are almost no targets running around for Kodo to hit. At least, there wasn’t. The more I played this card the more I began to realize just how many high-value targets there currently are for it. Almost all of Zoo’s minions fall to the beast, as do Shaman’s totems, a lot of Warrior minions and, one of the most important, Doomsayer. I feel like this card is almost as good as The Black Knight right now. While it may not have quite the same impact or swing that the taunt-killing legendary has, Kodo does a great job of putting down a beefy body while also removing an enemy minion. As mentioned above, you are very limited in your removal options with Midrange Hunter. That means anytime you can easily kill something while also advancing your board is something you want to pay attention to.
Once upon a time, in the world of Piloted Shredder and Loatheb (shudder) minions were much stronger than they are now. While it may not be obvious, the power level of the game has dropped quite a bit since the introduction of Standard. That means there are many smaller minions running around that their once were, giving Stampeding Kodo more ways to become a huge swing. Flamewaker, Bloodhoof Brave, Acolyte of Pain and Imp Gang Boss are just some of the premium cards you can kill with the 3/5, but anytime you can kill a minion you should. Do not hold out for a high-quality target, just use this anytime you can get value. Hunter is all about the curve, and a body is always worth more than the ability.
N’zoth, the Corruptor
You cannot mention a deck like this without bringing up the Old God that makes it all happen. While the way you play N’zoth, the Corruptor is rather straightforward, I bring it up here to explain the effect it has on the way you play the deck. As mentioned, Hunter is not a deck that has ever had finishers and N’zoth, the Corruptor is the perfect finisher for a midrange deck. You do not run a ton of deathrattle cards, but you don’t need that many to make the Old God work. N’zoth’s ability is good even if you are just bringing back a pair of minions. As a Hunter, most of the time your opponent is going to be in the mid-to-low-teens when turn ten rolls around. Even if your opponent is trying to take over the game, three minions (one of which is a 5/7) is going to threaten lethal. Leverage this play and always take the chance to make it if your opponent is in danger of dying.
This card and Call of the Wild both give you a way to comeback from games when you are out of resources. That is incredibly valuable to Midrange Hunter because the archetype has never had that option before. Most of the time if you were to run low on cards or out of minions, you would have damage as your only out. Now, you have your usual Kill Command type cards, but you also have summon three animal companions and arguably the best finisher in Standard. The old God has the all important factor of surprise as well. Nobody (and I mean nobody) is ever going to expect the N’zoth play from Hunter. That is really nice because there are many decks who will try to outlast you rather than stack up pressure. I had more than a few games where I would have succumbed to damage but my opponent spent their time clearing and slowly building up their board instead. While that works against normal decks, it just means you are going to be obliterated by the old God.
The five decks I see the most on ladder.
At this point, I am really hesitant to call the Shaman I am seeing “aggro”. While it is definitely not midrange due to the more burst-centric/burn slant, they run so many minions that you really have to wonder. Shaman used to be a deck that was almost entirely burn with a few early game threats to set up finishing damage. Now, it is almost completely minions based, changing out Crackle and Lava Burst for Flamewreathed Faceless, Tuskarr Totemic and Feral Spirit. Shaman does what it has always done, just in a new way. They try to build up the board and keep adding larger and larger minions before ending the game with Bloodlust or Doomhammer. To combat that you really need to be in control of the pace of the game and work hard to keep priority on all trades. Just letting them even keep a few totems around can give them enough tools to control the game with things like Rockbiter Weapon or Flametongue Totem.
There are several versions of this deck floating around, so it is really hard to play around each threat or spell they could have. Instead just stay up on board as much as you can, which will give you a nice window to react to the threats as they come. You never want to fall behind and then suddenly get stuck facing down a large threat you didn’t expect. Shaman leverages damage better than any other class right now, making it very hard to keep up once your life total dips too low. Just note that every Shaman, from the most aggressive to the slowest midrange, packs Lightning Storm as a one or two of. Never flood the board with small minions unless you absolutely have to. It is also important to try and bait out Hex before playing Savannah Highmane. Not only does the frog take away a lot of N’zoth value, but it also can just ruin your tempo swing in the same way that Sap does.
While Shaman is good, I think Zoo is just straight up better. The aggressive Warlock deck continues to punish control and midrange decks alike, making it a tough matchup for us. As always, this game is all about the first two turns. Zoo’s threats have gotten weaker in terms of stickiness, but much stronger in terms of power. Doomguard, Sea Giant and Darkshire Councilman all will end the game in a hurry, especially when paired with the usual Zoo burst gambit. They are no longer the soft-build deck that they once were. Zoo is now built in a way where having board for a turn or two will just allow them to pressure you to death. You need to get control of the game early on (something your one-damage minions really help with) or you are never going to have a chance to comeback. Unleash the Hounds really helps at taking down Forbidden Ritual or a board of minions, but you want to use that to cement your board rather than as a desperation play.
This is a matchup where you need to push. Damage is one of the best ways to beat Zoo, because their entire game plan is predicated on them doing what they want. They want to spend each turn putting down minions and then adding buffs to allow those minions to trade up into larger creatures. Luckily, as a Hunter, you can both push through massive amounts of damage as well as threaten to put on chunks of damage. If you ever get the board from Zoo you want to crash in as hard as you can and force them to use their buffs on you. Due to your various finishing tools, the longer the game goes the better it is for you. Also remember that Zoo has no idea what kind of damage you have access to and they will play scared because of that. If the game is locked in a stalemate do not be afraid to go face to force them to be reactive as to not die to Kill Command or Quick Shot.
While N’zoth Paladin is incredibly strong and possibly the best control deck in the format, you are going to win this game more often than you will not. The way you do that is a combination of burst and surprise. N’zoth Paladin has a ton of healing, but they only really want to use it during the later turns of the game after they have stabilized. While you are not a face Hunter, you have such a reliable string of threats that you never want to give them a chance to properly stabilize. They have a lot of ways to mitigate damage, and you want to keep forcing them to use them turn after turn so when they blank or play a slow card like Cairne Bloodhoof you can crush them. Damage is the king of this game and you need it to win. Always be on the lookout for Doomsayer, and save your Stampeding Kodo or Hunter’s Marks for it if you can.
In terms of surprise, they are not going to be ready for your end game. Call of the Wild creates a lot of problems for N’zoth Paladin, as does N’zoth himself. The Old God is almost always going to put this one away if used at the right time. Paladin, like so many others, is not going to be able to predict the finisher. That means they are most often going to burn their best reaction. This once again goes back to the idea of pressure, because you want to force them to use AOE as much as possible. Once they are out of removal spells, you are going to win the game if you got in early damage. Almost all of your end-game threats just take the sails out of Paladin’s gameplan and lead to a quick win. They do have stronger minions than you, but if you knock down their life total early they will not have an opportunity to play them or risk dying. That is how you get Paladin back against the wall.
It did not take long for Miracle to reclaim the throne. The combo Rogue deck was decent during the GVG era, and now it has become just as strong as it once was. While no longer obsessed with charge minions and Shadowstep, the deck can kill you from the twenties in a real hurry. I would say this, above all others, is your hardest matchup. Not only does Rogues early game removal (something they depend on to keep the board and get to their combo) match up really well against your early minions, but you have no way to properly deal with their combo. In fact, I would consider running a Deadly Shot if you see enough Rogue because a Concealed Auctioneer can quickly spell game over. Like Zoo, the way you beat Rogue is through pressure. You simply cannot sit back and let Rogue execute. Use all of your damage available to you, even if that means using Houndmaster on a 1/1 just to put something on the board and start hitting for three damage. Also do not be afraid to bow your opponent’s face. It is also important to note that the modern versions of Miracle run no charge minions. If you can kill everything they play they will simply never have enough damage to race you. For this reason, you need to clear all of their minions as the game goes long.
There are more than a few iterations of Warrior on ladder, but Patron is easily the most popular. This is a very even match that comes down to how quickly you can apply pressure in relation to how easily they can put together their combo pieces. The modern version of Patron runs a plethora of removal that will be able to kill just about everything you put down. However, if you can get out enough reliable threats you can run them low on their removal (and thus their cards). This is an interesting game because, while you do want to pressure, you typically only want to do later on in the game. This is a game where you slowly build up to your damage and then really start to pressure on turn five. The reason is that you have no way to fight the Patrons except through board presence. If they get their combo off you are going to try to win the game with damage, otherwise you will not be able to keep up.
An extremely important part of playing against Patron is to always make sure they are using their removal on an empty board. They are a midrange deck through and through, which means they have a long string of powerful threats. As a result, if you allow them to have a few minions out they will easily be able to control the pace by clearing what you put down and getting in hits. That cannot happen. You also need to try to clear their minions (unless you are pushing for damage) to limit any value they might get out of Battle Rage. Patron has a lot (a lot) of ways to draw cards, but if you can limit the two-mana spell they will be forced to take sub-optimal plays to get value from it. Stopping card draw also limits their combo potential.
Overlooking the bells and whistles, this deck is Midrange Hunter. As such, you want to mulligan for your curve. This is not a deck where you want to get fancy. The rule here is to keep all of your early minions and throw everything else back. King’s Elekk, Huge Toad, Flame Juggler, Fiery Bat and Quick Shot are your “must keeps”. Eaglehorn Bow and Carrion Grub both work quite well with the coin or a solid curve. Animal Companion should always be kept with the coin. Infested Wolf and Houndmaster are usually too slow, but you can keep them if you have a strong curve in addition to the coin.
The only card that really affects the way you mulligan is the coin. Having access to one extra mana is extremely important in a deck with so many early two, three and four drops like this one. Like Innervate in Druid, if you have access to the coin you want to keep cards based on how your curve is going to look (for instance keeping two three drops or two four drops). Just note that if your plan is to play two, two-drops in succession then you still don’t usually want to keep any turn four plays. Beyond that, only keep Hunter’s Mark against Druid to stop Innervate, Paladin to stop Doomsayer and Shaman if you have a strong curve. Unleash the Hounds can be kept with a good curve against aggro (especially Zoo).
Man, I love, love, love me some Hunter. And, I also love me some N’zoth. As a result, this deck fits right into my wheelhouse. Hunter may be rare these days, but it is nowhere near dead. It is always easy to fall into the trap of believing the masses, but you should fight it as much as you can. Going against the grain can really bring you some great opportunities and give you chance to take people by surprise. Also, it’s really, really fun. I hope you guys like the deck, and I hope you’re enjoying the series. Until next time, may the beasts obey you.