Scalise's Sessions: Hybrid Hunter
Oh, Rexxar, where have all the good Hunters gone? While I can't believe it, after checking my records I found that I have not covered Hunter on Scalise's Sessions. Though the class has dipped in popularity over the past few weeks, that doesn't mean it's dead. Instead of just thinking "well, the class doesn't see any play" you just need to adapt. This week's deck, an aggressively-slanted midrange build, does exactly that. Instead of just folding to other power decks, this list seeks to use board presence to overpower its opponents. That is a small change, but by focusing on the first turns of the game rather than the last the deck gains a lot of power past builds haven't had.
This list is Nickchipper's legend deck that he had quite a lot of success with. Hybrid Hunter has always packed some interesting minions, and while nothing here is too crazy or out of the ordinary, there is a little bit of spice. Instead of building this like every other Hunter deck with a few tweaks, the list pushes the early turns with a lot of small minions. This is important because it allows you more consistent mulligans and more ways to get ahead on board. All Hunter cares about is building a strong curve, and that is exactly what this deck does. There are no bells and whistles. You push from round one and see how far a strong string of minions can go. Simple, but quite effective.
As mentioned, your opening is the focus of the deck. Almost all of the early cards (with the exception of Scavenging Hyena) are built around getting the board during the first three turns of the game. You have three crabs, good synergy, and a lot of cheap beasts. The gameplan here revolves around using your first push to set up your later turns. That means getting something against an empty board. This is not going to be easy to do, but you should hyper-focus on trading to start out. Board presence is king and you never want to risk losing it by not taking an easy kill. Letting a small, innocuous minion survive may not seem like a big deal right away, but if that minion then kills your board and gives you opponent tempo you can quickly fall behind.
Play to your board presence and do everything in your power to set the table for the middle game. Even when you are playing through the first turns you should think about your three, four, and five plays. Everything you do early on is going to pay off later. Know this, and try to map your future turns. Planning ahead is key with this deck because it will help you make good trades and help you decide what path to take. Sometimes you want to be aggressive and sometimes you want to sit back. Knowing your future turns greatly helps with this.
Your curve ends at five. That means the middle game is almost always going to be your late game. Treat turns four through seven as your end plan and do what it takes to close things out quickly. As much as you play like a midrange build, you are an aggressive deck. The lack of late threats (and high number of early minions) means you are not going to be able to tango with a lot of decks that are built to go deep into games. Don't try to compete with decks that can bring haymakers. Even if you are ahead, losing the board and topdecking some random two drop can lead to a loss. You have to recognize when your opponent is going to drop a big taunt or make a play you cannot beat. If you suspect you are going to be locked out you should push hard and try to get your opponent down to a life total where your hero power can finish them off.
Though this is going to be play out differently depending on what you're up against, you should do your best to play to damage. This does not always means how much pressure you can put on (though sometimes it does). Rather, this refers to how much pressure you can threaten at any one time. Every class in the game fears Hunter because of the inherent damage it can do. If things go according to plan your opponent will always play to you. That gives you ways to get in more and more hits while your opponent uses their mana to stay alive. If you have a good lead on the board you should try hard to push.
If you played the game right (or if you aren't getting blown out) you should have your opponent on the ropes during the later turns. Most of the time the game won't get here, but when it does you need to focus on finding ways to get closing damage. Do not be afraid to go face and use pressure to stop your opponent from conducting their plan, whatever it is. The strategy here is going to be the same as the middle turns, but much more focused on life. As you cannot beat the bigger finishers, you need to make your opponent worried about dying at all times. This includes slamming down a non-lethal Leeroy Jenkinsor equipping Eaglehorn Bowand going face. Not only will that make your lethal easier, but it also will cause your opponent to take defensive routes. That then ties up their mana and enables your hero power to get more and more value.
A breakdown of the different decks I see while grinding up the ladder.
Mage is going to be one of your better matchups. While there are going to be times where they jump out ahead and push harder than you, most games you are going to be in control. Discover is a reactive deck for the first two-thirds of the game. They only switch over to a more aggressive stance once they have made it to the later turns. Watch out for burn and press your advantage. This is going to be fought like aggro vs. control. Your opponent is going to use removal to pick off minions, while you are going to push damage and try to get things to stick. Go the full pressure route and work hard to leverage damage where you can find it. This game is going to be on a clock (turn nine) and every hit counts.
Focus your energy on getting through Ice Block. Steady Shot is amazing against Jaina and her freeze because, quite simply, she has no way to stop it. Once Mage loses block they have two turns (sometimes just one) to live. Period. Understand that dichotomy and spend your damage quickly. This is the one game where simply using burn to get your opponent on the ropes is right. Any sort of comfort will allow Discover Mage to curve into Alexstraszaand burn you down before you can say "RNG." There are going to be games where your opponent uses the dragon on themselves, and that is exactly what you want. Get them to be defensive.
Aggro is as aggro does, but I would argue that Pirate Warrior has shifted to a much more midrange build than they once were. They can still bash your face in, but they depend a lot more on minions than they used to. This is great news for you because it makes your opening package much stronger. Getting the early board is important, but it is not going to be easy to do. In fact, most of the time Pirate will be able to take things on turn two. To fight back against that you are going to have to value deathrattle and hope your opponent has a slower turn. You will take a lot of damage while you get set up, but if you can get a clutch Houndmasteror use your Eaglehorn Bowto control the board you can right the ship before it sinks.
Do not get complacent in this matchup. Pirate Warrior's weapons will take you down if you let them and, despite their new focus on the board, the deck has very few dead draws. Almost everything they grab is live, which enables them to force priority at all points in their curve. Do not sit back and try to play the trade game once you get to the later turns. This is eventually going to turn into a race, and you need to treat it like one. Go fast as soon as you get the chance to do so and bluff damage. For example, if you and your opponent both have a minion out you should not shy away from ignoring it and going face. Don't do this at low life, but if you're in your teens or so this can be a good way to make your opponent play to you rather than you playing to them.
In contrast to the first two matchups, you want to forget the early damage when playing Shaman. This is a game that is going to be played similar to other midrange builds. You want to control the early board with your minions and only push ahead for face once you have a good hold of the board. That two-toned style is nothing new, but it is important here because of the way Shaman opens their curve. Not only do they have access to Maelstrom Portaland Patches the Pirate, but Jade Clawscan be an absolute blowout if you aren't ready. Always prioritize stickiness and do everything you can to protect your board. Shaman feasts on slow opponents, so do only mulligan for one drops or two drops if you have the coin.
If you lose the board or fall behind you want to get aggressive. Every Shaman packs at least one Bloodlust. You cannot race that card once you slip behind. This is important because your only advantage once this one starts to get away is going to be your pressure. Once you feel the board slipping (or once your opponent has a big swing turn) you need to switch gears from a board control midrange deck to a full on aggro build. Go hard at your opponent's face and convert all of your resources into damage. This may not always give you the advantage you want, but trying to keep up with Bloodlust is never going to work.
No deck in the game makes better use of their board than Aggro Druid. Malfurion has a large amount of burst, and they can quickly turn something as simple as an Enchanted Raveninto a 5/5 death machine. For that reason, this matchup is all about the board. Do everything you can to get control for the first three or four turns. Trade well, use your minions effectively, and build up to your bigger threats. Turn five is when Living Manais going to drop down. Similar to Bloodlust, that is not a card you want to tango with. You want to be aggressive on turn four to discourage the card and put your opponent into a position where if they are going to go for the 2/2's they are going to take a lot of damage.
The way you win this one is by setting up giant threats that your opponent cannot answer. An early Scavenging Hyenais a great way to shut down the game, but any big body will do. As good as Aggro Druid is, they are a deck that runs no removal spells. Rather, they depend on their minions to lock things up. If you can get out ahead early your opponent will be playing cards into your board rather than the other way around. This puts you in control of trades and makes it so they will have a one turn cool down before they can do anything. Understand the lack of removal and if they have a weak play do not be afraid to push.
Paladin has taken a huge dive over the past month, but it still holds on (and may make a big comeback now that Quest Rogue is gone). This game is going to be the closest thing you will see to a mirror match outside of the usual Hunter vs. Hunter. The reason is because you and your opponent are both doing the exact same thing, controlling early board and then switching to damage once you're ahead. However, it is key to remember that your opponent packs an insane amount of heat at the top of your curve. Going back to the core here, you need to focus on being aggressive. This game may feel like a push-and-pull affair for a lot of it, but you do not want to suddenly find yourself staring down Tirion Fordringor Primordial Drakewith no way to get through. Almost all of this one is going to play out on turns three through five because that is where you can get the most damage in. Ragnaros, Lightlordis a terrifying card. Play this one as if it ends on turn eight. That will help you know the best avenues to take with your damage.
Tip and Tricks
You do not have to play Golakka Crawlerand Hungry Crabjust because they're on curve. While most of the time you are going to use them to fill in slots when they have no targets, saving them can give you a huge push. Always try to play your other beasts over these if you think you can get value from them later on.
Scavenging Hyenais one of the most difficult minions to use because you need to set it up. If you have the 2/2 in hand you should always think about how to buff it. You do not need to trade in a whole board here. Just a beast or two should be fine. Even if your opponent can remove it, that gives you priority by forcing their hand.
Always think about damage. It is so easy to get caught up in your tempo, board-focused style that you forget about pressure. However, at the end of the day you are a Hunter. The two most important cards for this are Kill Commandand Eaglehorn Bow. Three damage is going to be used to clear a lot, but also understand when it needs to go face. This is especially true if you can get use out of your hero power or have the board.
Unleash the Houndsis your AOE and, like AOE, you should try to hold off a turn when you can. Pulling the trigger on the hounds is a fine play, but waiting one turn can cause your opponent to really play into the spell. An extra hound or two does not seem like a big deal, but it helps trade and push damage.
Treat Houndmasteras a finisher. That does not mean you need the 4/3 to win games, but rather know that it will close out matches extremely quickly. Once you get a good buff (especially on an empty board) you should go face and press hard. It does not take a lot to take over a game once you get some type of control.
Leeroy Jenkinsdoes not need to be played as a finisher. While the 6/2 is always going to be used as damage (or to clear out a taunt) sometimes you want to sneak it in. This is not going to happen a lot, but if you are trying to put together lethal you should do your best to hit your opponent before they get down a wall. That way, even if they do taunt, your hero power can do the rest.
Curve, curve, curve. Midrange Hunter, like Midrange Paladin, is a deck that hyper-focuses on the early game. If you start off with some good drops you can roll, but if you sputter you will likely die. This is not a deck you want to take chances with. Keeping that strong three drop may sound great, but when you miss your first two drops and lose the board it is going to feel awful. Go for your early cards and then build from that.
Dire Wolf Alpha
Unlike your other two drops, Scavenging Hyenashould not be kept raw. The 2/2 body is fragile and you typically only want it if you have a one drop before it.
Animal Companionand Rat Packare both good with the coin or a strong opening curve.
Eaglehorn Bowis a good keep with a curve coming before it. However, just keeping this on its own typically isn't what you want.
As always, you want Unleash the Houndsagainst aggro. No deck swarms the board to the point where you should keep this on its own, but it is a good anti-aggression tool when backed up by other beasts.
Houndmasteris a tricky keep. It is strong, but only when you can get a trigger off. Make sure you will be able to maintain a beast when holding onto the 4/3 at the top of your curve.
The replacements in this one are tricky. That is because the build is clearly a hybrid deck that has been tweaked to a single style. You could make some big sweeping changes across the curve, but that would most likely just turn this back into a classic Midrange Hunter deck. While there is nothing wrong with that, it is not what we're trying to do here. As a result, there are just a couple changes.
If you wanted to cut something here, you could shave Fire Flyfor more traditional opening beasts like Jeweled Macaw. The birds are ok, but they don't give you as much of an early presence, which is what this deck wants to do.
You could go down to one or no Unleash the Houndsif you are not seeing a lot of aggro.
The original version of this deck ran only one Stranglethorn Tigerand two Hungry Crabs. This is a fine switch, but I do not see as much Paladin as some. As a result, I only pack one crustacean.
The tiger can also be tweaked as you would like. If you want to go full hybrid with a big top end you could try Savannah Highmane. This helps you back more of a punch and gives you a bit more tempo potential. If you want to keep the curve, you could also run Tundra Rhinoto help push through some extra charge damage. It is weaker to removal and more combo oriented than the tiger, but it has a higher top-end.
Down but not out. Hunter has a special place in my heart, which is why I was surprised I'd never covered it before. Not only do I have my most wins with the class, but I also just love beast synergy. This deck is a little different from the typically midrange builds, and that's good enough for me. It does not take too much to make a deck feel fresh, and that's the train we've been on (and will be on) for the next few weeks. Until next time, may you always curve into Houndmaster.