Adapting to the Meta: Hunter
Today, I'm writing an in-depth piece about how to adapt your decks to best counter Hunter in the metagame. It's a long-held fact that it's much harder to reach legend by playing just one deck/decklist no matter how good you are with it. There will be times where you'll have to change certain cards in your deck or even change decks entirely.
My best deck is Handlock, but last season, I had to play Deathrattle Priest to make it to the top of the ladder due to the large number of Hunters which counter Handlock.
Let's dig in and look at Hunter first as it's arguably the purest form of aggro out there and is currently very popular.
Hunters typically run very aggressive builds because of the nature of their hero power and class cards. I have a typical Hunter deck list on the sidebar for this guide. There are however a few key cards to keep an eye out for.
Undertakeris taking the metagame by storm. A fantastic neutral 1 drop that has the potential to spiral into something really devastating.
Deathrattle hunters are the most common variation on the ladder and they play very aggressive early game minions like Leper Gnomeand Haunted Creeperto rush opponents down.
With Undertaker, these cards just boost its power to levels far exceeding what a 1 drop should be capable of.
It's being debated right now that the Undertaker in its current form is overpowered, but until Blizzard decide to take action, us players have to adapt to it and learn to neutralize it.
This card is a staple of an aggressive Hunter build, and being able to combat it more effectively is what this guide is all about.
Haunted Creeperis the next card that is now an ever-present in hunter decks.
Classified as a beast card before its Deathrattle triggers, it has great synergy with Hunter's class cards like Kill Commandand Houndmaster.
The real value of Haunted Creeper though is it's incredibly stickiness. It offers 3/4 worth of raw stats split up between Deathrattles which makes it incredibly difficult to remove from the board.
The one good thing about Haunted Creeper though is the fact it has such weak attack which makes it less of a threat as it sits on the board.
Don't underestimate its power though. It can easily be buffed up by Houndmaster and becomes a 3/4 which can swing boards.
Freezing Trapis one of the most powerful secrets in the game and is run in almost every Hunter deck for tempo.
It's a great card to play to try to outsuss your opponents, and it makes it difficult for opponents to get and hold a board unless they have taunt and can simply let the hunter come and attack them.
Freezing Trap has gotten even better since Naxxramas because of Mad Scientistwhich has an incredible effect of putting a secret into play instantly.
It means that Hunters can often keep piling up minions why having their Deathrattle from the Scientist trigger to keep the tempo going.
The snowball effect that can come from a Mad Scientist trigger into a Freezing Trap is huge and often decides games against Hunter.
Savannah Highmaneis definitely one of the best cards in the game. It offers 10/9 worth of raw stats at 6 mana which is huge.
I've always wondered why Highmane was classified as a rare card when its stats and power are more akin to a Legendary minion. The fact that Hunters can run two of these makes them incredibly scary.
You may think you're winning against an aggro Hunter if you've stabilized the board, but if you have nothing that can deal with Highmane, the momentum will swing big time and there's a good chance you won't be able to come back.
Combating Highmane is the usually one of the last big challenges of fighting Hunter, and if you can beat it or rush it before it dominates the board, there's a good chance you can win.
Combating Hunter - Deckbuilding
Since this is more of a general guide on how to tech and beat aggro decks, I'm going to be doing broader breakdowns of how to beat Hunter rather than specific class advice.
Most classes will be using the same neutral minions to stem the flow of attack, and while there are some minute differences in how a class might play their curve out, generally, the same rules apply.
I'm going to highlight 3 cards which are really great now in the metagame, but its the effect in bold which is the important element in learning to combat aggressive hunter builds.
If I had to use one card to sum up how to combat Hunter, this is it. Sludge Belcheris without a doubt one of the most important cards in the current metagame.
It offers 4/7 worth of taunt stats that need to be fought through and costs just 5 mana. It's basically a Sen'jin Shieldmastaand a Goldshire Footmanstapled together.
It's stickiness and ability to block damage from coming into face makes it ideal at stopping Hunters from just swinging for face.
Most control decks are better off with Sludge Belcher in their decklist for the very purpose of shutting down aggro, but it also helps that it's generally just a good card that is resilient and playable at any stage of the game.
Teching in Sludge Belchers into your deck makes it instantly better against Hunter and if you're struggling against them, I'd highly advise it.
Ironbeak Owlis seeing a big resurgence in the metagame because of the increased value of Silence.
It isn't the fact that the Owl is a particularly good card in and of itself, it's the fact that its Battlecry gets so much more valuable now that Naxxramas has made Deathrattles such a prevalent part of the metagame.
The Owl itself as a card isn't what's important, it's the Silence effect. Class Silences like Keeper of the Groveand Mass Dispelare often run over the Owl in certain decks, and that's totally understandable.
Spellbreakeris also a great card to run, but because of its increased cost, it means that you often have less mana to work with which can stifle your turns.
If you run either Warlock or Warrior in this aggro metagame, I highly advise running at least 1 copy of Ironbeak Owlor Spellbreaker. It can go a long way.
Try to save them for Savannah Highmanes since a Silence there effectively shuts down 4/4 worth of minions. Mad Scientistand Haunted Creeperare also acceptable Silence targets.
Try to avoid Silencing Leper Gnomes though unless you desperately need to because then your Silence gets 2 health of value and there is almost certainly better value to be had there.
Early Game Board Presence
Deathrattle Priest has really emerged as a powerful deck in the metagame and it's because it now has some powerful minions it can play as early drops like Zombie Chow.
Fighting for the board has never been more important in Hearthstone, and one way to stop Hunter from dominating the game is by trying to match them early drop for early drop.
Zombie Chow has a place in almost any board control deck in an aggressive meta because of its strong stats at 1 mana and if played early on, its Deathrattle effect can be entirely negated.
Priest, Paladin, Druid, Shaman even Warrior and Handlock can all put two copies of this card in the deck to give them much-needed early game presence which can be just what is needed to counter Hunter.
Zombie Chow is a particularly good card in terms of early game board presence because of its ability to trade favorably with both of Hunter's staple early game drops of Leper Gnomeand Mad Scientist.
Combating Hunter - In-Game Advice
Here's a quick checklist of things to keep in mind when fighting a Hunter. These are observations, things to really keep note of, and combos to be wary of.
These are things that you should keep in mind when facing a Hunter. They are instincts you will develop after playing a lot of Hunters, but by reading this, hopefully you'll either learn something new or remember to keep these hints in mind.
Remember that Hearthstone is a game that is won and lost by fine margins, and misplaying even a little especially against a ruthless aggressive deck can cost you the game.
- Kill the beasts. Beasts open a lot of doors for Hunter, most notably Houndmasterwhich gives a beast +2/+2 which can be a really big swing. By prioritizing killing beasts over non-beasts, you can prevent this buff from being applied. It also means that a Hunter can't use Kill Commandfor 5 damage.
- Prepare for Highmane. I totally understand if your hand just doesn't have the capacity to deal with threats in advance, but Savannah Highmaneis such an enormous threat that you should be playing cards around dealing with it when it comes down. Save a Silence for it if you have it, and/or hard removal. Not hexing a Sludge Belcher and saving it for a Highmane can win you the game whereas the other way around could well lose you it.
- Be smart about traps. This is a tough one to do consistently well but it's usually easier with Hunter than with other secret classes. Always try to trigger the trap when it's optimal for you. I like to assume that it's Freezing Trapmost of the time since it's the most commonly run secret. I only don't do this if the opponent has made a telegraphed play such as lowering all minions' health down to 2 and playing a trap which indicates Explosive Trap. To check best for traps, play around Snipefirst by playing a minion with greater than 4 health and attack face with a minion. A trap will usually go off if that happens, and if it doesn't, you'll know that it's Snake Trap.
- Starve them of cards. This is a tip that is great for all classes, but with Hunter, it's especially good in today's metagame because of the nerf to Starving Buzzardwhich means that Hunters don't have a good way of replenishing their hand. If you can frequently get 2 for 1s and trade favorably, they'll soon run low on cards and you can squeeze your small advantage into a big one.
- Don't lose to a lethal combo. This is all outlined in the next section.
9 mana - Webspinner + Kill Command+ Kill Command + Hero Power = 12 damage
This combo is a Hunter staple. Keep track of Kill Commands and make sure he can't hit you for this damage out of nowhere.
Of course at different mana costs, the Hunter will be able to do different parts of this combo, so just be wary and know that this is the maximum for this version of it. It's particularly scary because it ignores Taunt.
Ironbeak Owl, Haunted Creeper or another cheap beast is also usable for the Kill Command damage boost.
8 mana - Unleash the Hounds+ Leeroy Jenkins= 8 + Friendly Minions on Board
Leeroy Jenkins has thankfully been phased out of a lot of Hunter decks lately, but you shouldn't disregard this burst potential.
This is a scary amount of damage that can come rushing in especially if you have no taunts setup to defend from minion damage.
When you start getting low, try to have taunts setup at all times just in case they have face rush minions like Leeroy or cheaper alternatives like Wolfrider.
Beating Hunter is a difficult prospect and it doesn't even matter what deck you play. Some games, you will get steamrolled because of the incredible snowball effect of Undertaker. But if you stick to your guns, keep the checklist in mind and play good Hearthstone, you can really do well against it.
Teching in additional Taunts, Silences and Early Game goes a really long way to improving the matchup. If you find yourself struggling, try putting in more of these elements or the occasional heal from Earthen Ring Farseerand the matchup could start swinging your way.
Next up on Adapting to the Meta - Zoo Warlock!