Neeerrrrfffssss. Now that Pirates have taken a hit and fallen back on the ladder, it is time we get back to some of the basics. And by basics, I mean my favorite class of all time. Hunter, like an old friend, has always been there for me in the darkest of times. It has a strong core and, quite frankly, a lot of powerful cards that just can’t stand up to turn one Muster for Pirates. However, with Small-Time getting struck down I thought it would be time to do some fresh theorycrafting for all ya’ll.
This week’s The New Standard is interesting because we are playing with a brand new deck (well, one that hasn’t been played in months) that comes with a lot of different flex spots. This is not simply “here are your thirty, go play.” Rather, Hunter as a class has a lot of competition at different levels of the curve. That means there are a lot of choices and you should always make the ones that best fit your preferences or style. You can tweak the deck to be more aggressive, you can up the curve with stronger threats, or you can fall somewhere in between. With my particular list I chose to settle somewhere in the middle.
This build is the classic Midrange Hunter with a little bit of a twist. Upon testing I found two important things. One, Hunter has a lot of strong minions that can all take over the board given the right situation. And two, you need to be able to kill people sooner rather than later. There is no doubt about what this deck is trying to do (control the board), but you can never forget what you are. Being a Hunter is all about leveraging your minions and then turning those threats into damage. The whole curve here, from the plethora of small early minions all the way up to Leeroy Jenkins, is to press any type of tempo you can make. Though there are many strong “duh” cards here, the whole list is actually very flexible. There are several routes you can go with and, even with the must-haves, there is room for variation. However, to take advantage of the post-nerf meta I would recommend going the faster route.
This section will explain certain key cards to the list as a whole.
Out of every single card in this deck, this one is the sketchiest. Not only does Smuggler’s Crate not impact the board (which is basically all this deck is trying to do) but it also is inherently slow. However, after testing the one mana spell quite a bit I think there is definitely a place for it. Unlike most decks, Midrange Hunter can actually make good use of buffs. Not only do they help you fight for the board and put on extra pressure, but they also trigger some of your most important cards. This can lead to gigantic tempo swings and give you ways to take boards that you would normally concede to. A 2/2 Rat Pack may not be that scary, but a 4/4 one is absolutely terrifying.
The number one reason I put this card in is because time after time I found myself going, “if only x minion just had some extra stats”. Not in the way that I wish I could play better cards, but in the way that I wish Shaky Zipgunner had hit my beasts. That thought eventually led me to the conclusion that I wanted more Zipgunner-like effects. Smuggler’s Crate fills that role very nicely because it helps you advance your gameplan while also stretching out your mana. Just try to use it sooner rather than later because its value drops through the game. A 3/3 Alleycat or Kindly Grandmother is a lot of pressure, but a 8/7 Savannah Highmane isn’t quite as powerful. Also remember this only hits beasts. That means you know the extra 2/2 is going to go on your Rat Pack or Dispatch Kodo rather that your Houndmaster.
Unleash the Hounds
I bring up Unleash the Hounds because it is an important flex spot that needs to be discussed. Right now (at least in the early three days) I am seeing quite a bit of Zoo. And, as strong as Hunter is against Druid and Reno decks, it is not good against aggressive Warlock. In fact, the only way you can really beat them is by getting on the board first (which is not an easy task) and then using that leverage to race them down before they can get set. The only way to change that narrative is Unleash, which serves both as extra damage and valuable AOE. Being able to clear is extremely necessary for that matchup, and this card is very strong if you’re seeing a lot of it. It’s also pretty solid against Shaman because the totems are going to let you generate many dogs.
Now, if you are not seeing a lot of aggro or you just don’t like the hounds, you can try to flesh out the curve a little bit. Rather than clumping up the middle you can play some bigger threats or bigger finishers. While my version is aggressive, cards like Ragnaros the Firelord or Call of the Wild work well at giving you that extra push in the longer games. You could also go the other way lower the curve with some one drops or maybe a few secrets (Cat Trick is something I’ve thought quite a bit about). These changes make the curve more aggressive, but that can work if you’re seeing a lot of slower decks.
Something else that you may notice is that this deck (and Hunter in general) has a lot of three drops. That’s a bit of a problem, but there really isn’t anything you can do because you need cards like Kill Command and Eaglehorn Bow for this whole thing to work. However, if you are looking to drop down that density, I would not remove Shaky Zipgunner. The reason for that is, as with Smuggler’s Crate, the +2/+2 buffs matter. However, Zipgunner is much stronger because it also enables you impact the board. Going with a two drop into a Zipgunner into a four drop (buffed or not) is very good and is one of those strong tempo plays that both builds up your immediate threat count while also giving you free value later on in the game.
The buff is always going to be relevant moving into the later turns because, even if you can’t make use of it right away you will still be able to play your 3/3 Kindly Grandmother or Alleycat on turn six or later. That still gives you a cheap, powerful beast that needs to be taken care of by your opponent. Something to remember is that every single body (especially a beast) has to be killed. Your opponents are always going to respect beasts, especially when they are at low life. Do not hold back cards to try and get value on cards you need or want to buff unless you need a certain swing to win. Rather, stick to your curve and see what happens. Yes, you may not get your 8/10 Dispatch Kodo, but that power is going somewhere and that’s all that matter.
The pay off to all of the buffs, Dispatch Kodo is one of the most unfair things you can do as Rexxar. Not only does it have a decent effect on its own (Keeper of the Grove anyone?) but it is a beast, and that matters quite a bit. A 2/4 body is not easy to deal with, and your opponents will often take time to kill it for fear of Houndmaster turning it into a 4/6 taunted nightmare. This brings up another key point of the deck, which is to always take the tempo play. It is very easy to try and see cards for how they could be used, but as a Hunter a solid body is going to be worth more than anything else.
You should not shy away from using Dispatch Kodo as a 2/4. This can be one of those “feel bad” moments where you avoid a play because of all the value you could be getting, but remember to be proative. In fact, there are many situations where you should just put the 2/4 down and hit your opponent’s face for two. The reason being that if your opponent spends a turn taking out your turn four play, it then gives you a clean canvas for turn five. Looking one turn ahead of your play is very important, and Dispatch Kodo, because of its high health, is one of the strongest examples of that.
While there are many possible finishers this type of list could run, I believe Leeroy Jenkins to be the best. The reason is that, no matter what minions or spells you run, you are still a Hunter. And that means you are going to be aggressive. There are many matchups where your opponent spends their early and mid game taking down your threats only to stabilize at low health during the later stages. Once that happens, you need to depend on your damage to close things out. Quick Shot, Kill Command, and Steady Shot can all do their job. Not only that, but there are going to be times where you have to try and be as aggressive as possible (such as when playing Reno) and you are going to need to kill them as soon as turn five rolls around. Leeroy does all of that and more. You are also good at leveraging early damage, which enables you to switch to pure aggro and play to the legendary. Being able to switch to that style if why I prefer the 6/2 so much.
Some of the most common matchups I see while playing ladder.
While the aggro version is largely dead, Shaman will likely continue to dominate the ladder until rotation happens. This game is going to largely be a 50/50 affair that is mostly going to be decided by the early turns. Without their beloved Pirate package, most Shaman lists have turned to the classic Tunnel Trogg/Totem Golem/Flametongue Totem/Feral Spirit openings. As always, if you don’t have a way to answer that type of push you simply aren’t going to be able to keep pace. On the other hand, if you can get ahead of Shaman or force them to lock down their curve through overload you should be able to take them down before they stabilize.
There comes a point in this game where you need to switch from the board and start pushing damage. This is going to come at different times in each and every match, but it is very important to recognize when the opportunity arises. Though some Shamans pack Jinyu Waterspeaker or a single copy of Healing Wave, they are very bad when being rushed down by large bodies. Even something like an Infested Wolf knocking them for three each turn while they try to sit back and deal with buffed up minions can quickly take them to zero. This type of strategy is extremely important with the prevalence of Jade decks because you simply are going to beat them in the long game. Pace them for the first two or three turns and then bring the damage as hard as you can.
This is probably the biggest reason to play Hunter. Druid has never been good against large bodies, and they sure cannot handle a string of them. This is a game where you are naturally going to wear down your opponent just by sticking to your curve. Even something as simple as a 3/3 Shaky Zipgunner into a buffed Dispatch Kodo or Infested Wolf will likely give you so much board presence that Druid will not be able to come back. Though the Jade builds have some very powerful swing plays, they are designed to use their big threats to take priority and force their opponent back. You do not suffer from that because by the time they start going big with their Jade cards you can mash your hero power and point all of your damage at their face.
You should spend this whole game playing to either Houndmaster or Savannah Highmane. The reason is that most Druid decks have forgone Mulch, giving them very little ways to taking down anything that’s ahead of them on the board. Turning an Infested Wolf into a 5/5 along with a 4/3 are the exact tempo swings that Malfurion cannot keep up with. Always look for them, and do your best to make them answer you each and every turn. Also note that you want to try and get this one wrapped up by turn seven. Though you are usually able to push through a Jade Behemoth, things can get a bit trickier against Ancient of War. Either have a board that is so strong that a 5/10 won’t matter or have so much direct damage in hand that if they taunt they die.
Another very good matchup, Reno Mage is a deck that simply does not like two things: fast damage and deathrattle minions. Luckily, you have both. Though you want to try and tempo out most of your opponents, when facing Reno you need to become aggressive. Very, very aggressive. That is extremely important against Mage because Ice Block enables them to actually turn the tide against you in the later stages of the game. Once they run you out of resources and climb back to 30 you are going to have relatively no chance. To counter that, you need to leverage all of your deathrattle minions and just add more and more to the board. This will never give Mage a chance to breathe and keep them off of their usual plays. Then, if they are busy responding to your threats they will not be able to build into their strong swing turns. Just understand how they are going to respond to specific minions. Yes, you do not want your opponent to Polymorph your Savannah Highmane, but if they go that route they just used up four mana of their six and they did not interact with the rest of their board. Also remember to conserve damage here and do your best to keep a board just in case they do get Reno Jackson down. This will help you keep pushing past the heal.
Though I have seen a bit of Zoo, I have also seen my fair share of Renolock. For that reason, I decided to cover the slower list instead. Like Reno Mage, this is a matchup where you need to push very hard. However, unlike Reno Mage, Renolock does not have efficient removal. In fact, they have little to no removal at all. They are a deck that hopes to tap a few times and then control the game through gigantic bodies. That strategy does very little against Hunter because you can just keep putting threats on board turn after turn after turn. Try to always have something with deathrattle out to resist AOE and make your opponent spend every turn answering you. Things like Twilight Drake can be scary, but you can also just rush right by them to keep your opponent on their heals.
The way this game is going to go depends largely on how you begin. If you start out quickly you want to take the form of pure aggro. In those cases you need to get good use out of your hero power and work to hit your opponent in any way that you can. The more damage you get in early, the more pressured they are going to be. That usually then makes it so by the time they Reno Jackson they are going to be doing so on a contested board. As always, that is your main goal because, like when facing Mage, you can keep pushing without missing a beat. Going to 30 is fine if you have things to follow that play up with. This is also a matchup where you want to conserve as much burn as you can. Normally it goes toward protecting certain deathrattle beasts, but you need damage for the games that go long.
As expected, Miracle Rogue appears to have come out on the otherside of the nerfs. While Hunter has traditionally done very well against Valeera due to her healing and general lack of taunts, that is not necessarily the case here. The pirate package still exists and it challenges your first board very well. Not only that, but Valeera has gotten very good at swinging games in her favor through gigantic minions and Sap (which hits you extremely hard). Similar to Reno, you fight that by being aggressive. This is going to be your only real plan of attack because Rogue is so darn un-interactive. Treat this battle like you’re facing combo. That is to say, allocate all of your resources towards pushing and only trade if you think your opponent is going to use some big minion to value trade or take the board.
You want this game to end around turn six. That means your opponent either has to be dead or functionally dead in that they cannot keep up with your damage. Both positions are fine, but once Rogue goes in with Gadgetzan Auctioneer things are going to turn in their favor extremely quickly. In fact, I would say the game ends in a turn or two from that point in one way or another. Do not be afraid to show your hand in this matchup and do not be afraid to make obvious plays to set up lethal. They have no taunts and no healing. That means they will have no response if you Leeroy Jenkins on turn five to make way for your double Kill Command on six.
When you have a curve-based deck you need to mulligan to the curve. Plain and simple. So much so that I would say you don’t even want to keep four or three drops on their own if you have nothing else going on. This is a list where you always want to keep Alleycat, Smuggler’s Crate, Kindly Grandmother, King’s Elekk, Quick Shot and Trogg Beastrager. Animal Companion, Eaglehorn Bow, Rat Pack and Shaky Zipgunner should all be kept with the coin or a good curve, and Unleash the Hounds is an always against aggro. Dispatch Kodo and Infested Wolf work very well with the coin and a curve, while Houndmaster should be kept anytime you can curve into it.
Hunter! Though the post-nerf meta may be short lived before dinosaurs come rampaging all over the ladder, we still have four solid weeks of fun. As stated, there is going to be a lot of slower decks being played this season and you should try and take advantage of that as much as you can. Hunter has been in the dumpster for quite some time, but a lot of the popular decks I have seen so far are good matchups. While you don’t have to follow my list, there’s something here and the month before rotation is a great time to experiment. Until next time, may the beasts be with you. Always.