Dominating the meta season after season, the Hunter class is infamous for being the aggressive powerhouse in Hearthstone, abusing his Hero Power, Steady Shot to put pressure on his opponent. In this article, I will analyze nerfs, card additions and meta changes that influenced Hunter, and made it as dominating as it is today. I feature decklists from LiquidHearth’s Power Rankings from as far back as early 2014, insight from JABLOL and theories from the Hearthstone community.
In case you missed the first part of the History of the Hunter, you can find that here.
Goblins vs Gnomes
Before the release of Goblins vs. Gnomes, Flare was nerfed to 2-mana, which didn’t change much, as I’ll explain below.
After the removal of Undertaker, and Leeroy Jenkins still not seeing competitive play, using the new, strong Naxx and GvG cards, Face Hunter started to be seen on ladder yet again.
This isn’t the most optimal GvG Face Hunter list, though. The list still tried to mimic the Face Hunters of old, holding on to cards such as Tracking and Leeroy Jenkins, and experimenting with new cards such as Clockwork Gnome and Glaivezooka.
It was a start though, showing that Face Hunter isn’t dead without its beloved 4-mana Leeroy. Using Mad Scientist’s Deathrattle to assure you don’t draw your Secrets, and the Glaivezooka to buff your drops and control the board early in the game, Face Hunter had the tools it needed to make a resurgence.
This has been debated between professionals and Hunter experts alike, did the Flare nerf buff Hunter as a whole? It’s been debated by many, but the general consensus from players is yes.
The original Flare had the same effect as it does now, but at the cost of 1-mana. This was extremely useful cycle for Hunter players, not only being devastating against the mirror match and Mages, dispelling an enemy Hunter’s Traps or a Mage’s Counterspell, for example. A 1-mana cycle like Flare also let the Hunter draw into lethal/a play faster. This was once a staple in every Hunter list, with at least one in every deck.
After it’s nerf to 2-mana, Hunters ran more early drops en lieu of Flare, causing the next wave of Hunter lists to have stronger early game than previously seen. So were the changes to Flare as bad as they seemed? The card may have been gutted, but the Hunters of the future benefitted from the changes, as you can see with the following list...
SenX MidRange Hunter
As the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion led way to a meta of Mech Mage, Oil Rogue, Midrange Paladin and other classes that benefitted from the new expansion, it seemed Hunter was left in the dust with disappointing cards such as Metaltooth Leaper and Gahz’rilla. Not to mention the Undertaker nerf seemed to leave Hunter with less options than before.
Then, in early February of 2015, a player by the name of SenX reached #1 Legend on the EU server with this Midrange Hunter list. Using a fairly standard Midrange Hunter core, SenX added strong GvG cards such as Piloted Shredders and Dr. Boom along with well-established Naxx cards to create a new Hunter powerhouse.
This list was perfectly tuned to the meta then, with two Freezing Traps to disrupt the tempo-focused decks such as Mech Mage and Oil Rogue; not to mention the one Abusive Sergeant, added in to trade your Webspinner into a Mage’s Mechwarper or to have another one-drop for early board contesting, not to mention the utility the card offers for trading or for extra pressure.
The rest of the inclusions were so the player could constantly have more steam to back up your early drops, snowballing your strong early game to a win.
This exact list caught the Hearthstone community by storm, with many players, including Trump, piloting the deck to #1 Legend. Having a taunt line to protect your board and against aggro, and a strong lategame to take down the defensive classes, this was a premier ladder and tournament deck, with very little bad matchups and being nearly unstoppable when you could curve out perfectly.
As the new expansion was figured out, with Dr. Boom being incorporated into many metadecks and the meta stagnating, Blizzard went on to release their second Solo Adventure, Blackrock Mountain. This granted new tools for every class, and gave Hunter a source of removal/card draw with Quick Shot.
This turned out be a useful tool for Hunter, giving both Face and Midrange a source of card draw (this was moreso the case for Face), reach, early removal and just general utility.
It not only helped evolve Face Hunter to how we know it today, it removed the need for Tracking to dig for cards, and also was a more practical Flare. Not only a buff to the class, but in reality, it changed the playstyle incorporated with Face Hunter.
“But, Aidan!” you gasp, “Isn’t every Face Hunter the same hand-barf SMOrc ‘til-I-drop aggrofest?!”. Well, let’s compare a BRM Face Hunter to the Face Hunters of old. When Buzzard was still a viable inclusion, Face Hunter played like somewhat of a combo deck, keeping board control and putting pressure on the opponent until a combo was available. In Face Hunter’s case, this was the Buzzard-UTH combo, or drawing the player more damage and potentially the cards to close the game, while also having 1/1s to clear the board or to push more damage.
Looking at Face Hunter today, there is heavy emphasis on a strong, aggressive early curve, featuring 6 1-drops, namely being Abusive Sergeants, Leper Gnomes and either Worgen Infiltrators or Argent Squires. These drops are followed up with strong, tempo 2s such as Glaivezooka, Mad Scientists, Knife Jugglers and if the situation calls for it, Ironbeak Owl. The card choices that cost 3 or more are consistent with all other Face Hunters; Chargers, Eaglehorn Bows, Animal Companions and a UTH or two.
To sum it up, Face Hunter of old relied mostly on deck-digging, but lacks in consistent, on-curve damage. The Face Hunter of new relies on early board presence and curving out well, but has no card draw tools. Quick Shot alleviates the pressure of having no efficient cycle in Hunter, making up for newer Face Hunter’s weakness by rewarding it’s inherent playstyle, as in no time your hand will be empty with such a low-cost curve. As you can see, Quick Shot not only helped Hunter with it’s weaknesses, but helped mold the successful lists we see today. Speaking of lists we see today...
As the months progressed, so did the decks. The aforementioned JAB evolved further on the ever-so-successful Midrange Hunter with this list from May 2015. In the second half of my interview with JAB, I asked a couple questions about the list. As I already covered the core of Midrange and how it’s evolved into this current state above, I only asked about the nuances of the list.
Aidan: I see you’ve included one Explosive Trap, are you that worried about the Aggro matchup even with two Houndmasters?
JAB: I always preferred running 3 traps over 2 because it makes Scientist live more often, and allows you to pull off some mind games. It's really easy for your opponent to play around your traps if they know you only run one set of them. Explosive is a really powerful card vs. Hunter mirrors, Zoo, and Aggro Pally which are quite popular decks on the ladder. Sometimes I run Snake Trap, but overall I found it to be pretty inconsistent in aggro mirrors. And yes, sometimes double Houndmaster is not enough.
Aidan: Are two Quick Shots a preference, or a necessity?
JAB: Most lists these days have cut down to 1, including my own lists, to make room for other tech choices.
Midrange Hunter has never often had much wiggle room, but as you can see from the latter of my interview with JAB, you can always make a change or two that helps your winrate, but doesn’t change the deck entirely.
Hunter has become quite diverse as of recent, featuring Face Hunter, Midrange Hunter and the recent addition to the crew, Hybrid Hunter. Being occasionally seen on high Ladder, or played in tournaments, what is Hybrid Hunter? Hybrid Hunter aimed to blend Midrange Hunter’s core mechanics with the raw early game power and the damage potential of Face Hunter. This led to a Hybrid of the two decks.
As Face Hunters run 5-6 one-drops, and Midrange running 2-3, Hybrid Hunter aimed right in the middle, running 4 one-drops, namely Abusive Sergeants and Leper Gnomes. As you work down the list, you can see the 2s remain consistent, as you can’t pass up the raw value of cards such as Knife Juggler or Mad Scientist.
As you get to the 3-drops, you see it sharing the core Hunter cards such as Eaglehorn Bow and Animal Companions, but also incorporating the Chargers of Face Hunter with Wolfriders and Arcane Golems.
Face Hunter normally runs nothing past 3-mana, but this is where the Midrange elements come in, with big Tempo cards such as Piloted Shredders, Loatheb and Savannah Highmanes.
This was a new fascination on ladder, as its faster playstyle gave Midrange Hunters a hard time, and with enough early game, it could also compete with Face Hunters. Over time, players noticed it’s Hybrid nature led to an awkward playstyle at times, and it’s less resilient mid-late game made it weak to strong Control decks such as Control Warrior. Some players eventually went back to Midrange Hunter, choosing to leave Face Hunter behind as it had a very poor matchup against Patron Warriors, which were gaining more and more traction as it’s ladder and tournament dominance became more and more apparent. Face Hunter wasn’t completely left behind though.
The more people that picked up Patron Warrior, the more Face Hunters seemed to disappear. Having no chance in the late game with Patrons and Armorsmith combos, Face Hunters had to get great draws throughout the game, and hoping the enemy Patron Warrior had no or inefficient answers. Patron Warrior has been sitting as the #1 deck on Ladder for a few months now, but as much as Face players seem deterred, you can occasionally see very aggressive Hybrids or Face Hunters on high ladder. Although the deck is in a bad spot in the meta, it is by no means a bad deck...
Here I feature my own Face list. Although most Face Hunter lists are quite similar to one another, I played many different versions and settled on this list, as I feel it is the strongest of them all.
Using the tried and true 6 one drops formula, split into 3 sets of pairs, I have a strong early game, with enough ones to mulligan into them reliably. I run Argent Squires over Worgen Infiltrators, as the Divine Shield makes them not only resilient, but amazing when trading with Abusive Sergeant or a Glaivezooka buff, but sacrificing one attack. This choice is mostly personal preference.
I run only two Explosive Traps as my Secrets, as they slow down other Aggro decks, and grant you two damage when activated as well. My 2s are similar to any other Hunter, but I run double Ironbeak Owl to get through taunts, and only one Haunted Creeper as a half-measure against other fast decks, and as a Kill Command activator.
My 3 Drops are also typical, featuring two copies of the available 3-mana Chargers, but there are a few differences from some other lists. Namely, I run two Animal Companions, as there’s nothing sweeter than a Huffer on Turn 3, or a Misha against Aggro or classes with weapons; and you can’t complain when Leokk appears to buff your minions up to bust through taunts, or close out a game. I opt out of a second Unleash the Hounds. Why? Even with Knife Juggler on the board, Unleash is still a reactive card, while I aim to be on the proactive with this deck.
As mentioned earlier, the new Face Hunters, including mine revolve around a strong board presence, a quick playstyle and aiming to bring your opponent to 0 as efficiently as possible.
The Future of the Hunter
As a friend of mine said: “Hunter is like a cockroach... Annoying, and still annoys you even when you lop it’s head off..” Albeit a candid comparison, it is accurate, as from the beta-testing of Hearthstone, Hunter has had three of their once class-defining cards nerfed, and in the case of Unleash and Buzzard, nerfed two or even three times. A class that sports a Hero Power that can put a game on a clock, strong class cards and well-defined archetypes that dominate ladder and tournaments alike is destined for a permanent spot in the meta.
With the question begging to be asked, where will Hunter go from here on out? With The Grand Tournament expansion coming up, we have no idea what’s in store for the meta, or more specifically, the ever-adaptive Hunter. I’m confident, as is Reinhardt and JAB, that Hunter will stay strong throughout, and adapt to whatever the expansion throws at the metagame. Hunter has shown it’s stripes, surviving nerfs, metagame changes, bad matchups and tier lists alike, always reminding players that Hunter is around, and here to stay.
This concludes my article on Hunter, and its evolution throughout the history of Hearthstone.
I’m Aidan, Hunter enthusiast and Hearthstone analyst.
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May you always be lucky. And never get Leokk.