decklist and concept
playstyle and matchups
I've played Hearthstone since around February or early March. I started by playing a bunch of arena almost exclusively, going infinite at some point. I've dabbled in constructed a few times, generally not getting past rank three or four.
When the season started, I was excited to test out what the meta would be like. I wanted to start playing with Hunter because the class still seemed really strong and would be a good fit for an open meta.
This was roughly my second draft of the deck, making some changes while I was rank eleven or twelve. Then I went on an incredible run. It ended with me hitting legend for the first time and entering legend as #1 on NA.
Sligh is an old deck concept from Magic: the Gathering. The deck was designed by Jay Schneider and played into fame by Paul Sligh. As I understand, it more or less introduced the concept of a mana curve to aggressive decks, instead of being pure cheap burn. Hearthstone is not MTG, and the differences are pretty major in terms of what a more controlled aggression brings to the table, but I think the idea of disruptive aggression is similar to this, in a different way than Warlock Zoo does. (Source)
This deck seeks to curve out while making strong and aggressive pressure plays every turn, in a way that makes me think of the idea behind Sligh decks from Magic: the Gathering. You keep demanding your opponent to have the answers, winning when they don't, and then burning them out a fair amount of the time even when they do. You can also often harshly punish any misplays that they make if they don't account for your potential combos or guess right on what you have in hand or as a secret. You can always just combo them out with things like Hyena the turn after an activated Snake Trap.
What I think makes this deck more powerful/stronger than Zoo as I've seen it lately, apart from the surprise factor, is the extent to which this deck is full of synergies with cards that are independently good. Keeping your eyes open as to what kind of plays you can make between Knife Juggler, Scavenging Hyena, Snake Trap and Unleash, to start with, can lead to some pretty incredible outcomes. Basically everything can work together well. Even Leokk is often helpful!
Your weakest independent cards are probably Undertaker and Hyena, which are the cards with the most incredible power potential given that you get board control.
Also, your mana efficiency is crucial. If nothing else, making plays that your opponent feels obligated to directly answer while Hero Powering consistently can lead to easy wins. For example, turn six Houndmaster on a Haunted Creeper or Snake token and Hero Power is likely to be a better play than a Highmane in many/most matchups and situations. The point in that case is to make plays that do some damage and gum up the works of the opponent's game plan while keeping them on the consistent clock with the Hero Power. I find that, as opposed to Zoo's late game strategy, burning face for two is a lot more fun and effective than drawing something that might not even do anything helpful while taking two damage.
You have the beast synergies along with four of the strongest cards from Naxxramas in Undertaker, Mad Scientist, Haunted Creeper and Sludge Belcher, as well as classic arena all-stars like Knife Juggler. Altogether, the deck has a high power level and a really strong game plan that all works together in a coherent way."
The one-ofs in Hunter's Mark and Explosive Trap are the cards that I'm least happy about ever seeing multiple copies of hence why I run one. Their very high power potential, however, is what keeps them in as nice silver bullets.
Hyena + Snake Trap/Unleash The Hounds
Some of the most frightening and damaging combos that can be had against a board full of small minions. This play is either a mini Avenging Wrath or a very large beast for two mana on top of the little beasts. Scavenging Hyena can put a sudden strain on the opponent's removal, or end the game on its own if unanswered though it will likely need to be played the turn after a Snake Trap trigger. A Knife Juggler and a trap versus a Zoo player before turn five can create a no-win situation: either Explosive Trap or Snake Trap will often be devastating.
The Undertaker Engine
Like half of the other decks out there right now, this deck is running Undertaker. The value-oriented Webspinner, and the Houndmaster-capable, Haunted Creeper both find comfortable homes here and Mad Scientist is often an incredible tempo swing in the early game. That Belcher and Highmane also buff the Undertaker doesn't hurt either.
Houndmaster on a Haunted Creeper/Webspinner
A great way to maintain pressure and force your opponent to trigger an unpleasant Deathrattle for you. Houndmastering a Highmane will be rarely a great choice, both because a Highmane that isn't interfered with is usually winning you the game anyway and because Houndmaster makes silences and removal/Sap that much more devastating.
Knife Juggler + Haunted Creeper
Following up a Haunted Creeper with a Knife Juggler the next turn is a quick and easy way to get a couple of dagger shots early on.
Leper Gnome dies for free too often between Northshire Cleric, Voidwalker and Zombie Chow, as a few examples, this card just doesn't do enough. The two points of burn is nowhere near good enough to make up for being a 2/1.
Loot Hoarder has many of the same problems, except it costs two mana and is thus even more irritating. This makes Undertaker significantly weaker, but I think leaves the deck more consistently powerful.
Flare takes up valuable slots and mana that can be used for other things. Every card here is too important and synergistic to run some filler that's going to consume some of my/your precious mana when it doesn't do anything useful like 80-90% of the time.
Tracking is, in some ways, like Flare but even more so. At least Flare kills Freeze Mage if you run it. Sparing the mana might be difficult, and I hate the thought of discarding traps and making Mad Scientist a useless 2/2. More generally, the original concept of the deck was to run as many powerful cards as possible for consistency purposes. I don't feel like any more one or two cost Deathrattle minions can be cut without endangering the whole Undertaker engine: most of the other cards that can be considered have at least the potential to make a huge impact.
Freezing Trap is unexciting. It seems like it would branch off to a different direction for the deck. I also think three traps is the right number for this sort of deck, the two Snake Traps are mandatory and Explosive is both board control and burn.
Harvest Golem would do well, but it doesn’t really win games. Two damage from a three drop is really weak for the deck's plan. I also have nightmares about Cabal Shadow Priest.
Zombie Chow is good, sometimes, on turns one or two and then steadily tends towards awful after that.
Belcher and Knife Juggler the most flexible slots in the deck. You could also cut a Highmane, but I'm pretty sure two Highmane is what keeps the control matchups from being even worse.
In terms of alternate choices, Dire Wolf Alpha seems interesting but might be too weak on its own. Your beast levels for Houndmaster are already really solid and running a situational/rushdown type card that makes board clears even more devastating seems risky. It definitely might be a part of a more final version of a deck like this though.
The exclusions above might also be worth considering, but their weaknesses should not be messed with. I find the general power level of the deck to not be worth messing with, but your results and playstyle may vary, especially because the list can feel a bit gimmicky.
One change that I've since made that's a definite improvement is replacing a Belcher for a Leeroy Jenkins. There was really no good reason not to have included it in the first place and I think it especially helps in the control matchups a lot. I haven't had the opportunity to really test other changes and see how they affect things.
Mulligans with this deck are often simple, in that you're always mulliganing for Mad Scientist. Sometimes, especially on the play, Undertaker is going to be useless because a lone Undertaker is going to get outclassed by either a faster/bigger Undertaker from the opponent or a Zombie Chow. This is especially true in this deck, which runs a total of only six cheap Deathrattle minions. In those sorts of scenarios, you'd really like an Eaglehorn Bow to clear out smaller minions and fight for the board control your opponent will have likely gained by turn three.
Your choices on the play versus the draw can shift significantly even within the same matchup. Figuring out what the best strong start you can put together is a decent plan and Mad Scientist is very often the most important card to look for.
In terms of generally playing the deck, adhering to a continuous pressure philosophy has worked pretty great for me as well as keeping an open mind each turn and draw in terms of getting to a win. Conserving Eaglehorn Bow for trap activation versus clearing/attacking before a Taunt is played is one of the more complicated examples of choosing how you think you're going to win a particular game.
I'm not super excited about any matchups other than either major Warlock deck. That's in part a reflection of the deck's playstyle more than a lot of the field actually being difficult matchups. You make many educated assessments and then hope they don't have the answers. If the game isn't over, or all over by turn six, there's likely going to be a choice of when to start racing for the win. Doing the assessments on that involves both knowing the your outs and making reads on your opponent.
How likely they are to have the answers is going to vary quite a bit depending on the list you encounter, but rest assured that the deck is naturally strong enough to overcome a lot as long as the opposing deck isn't dedicated to anti-aggression.
If it is dedicated to anti-aggression and healing, i would expect to lose heartily and without much hope apart from their busted draws.
I'm very very grateful that I didn't encounter many or any control Paladins on my run.
Against more 'traditional' Undertaker Zoo you are the control. Get board control or get the ability to pressure without being vulnerable to counterattack. Mad Scientist basically wins games on its own in the context of this deck. You may not technically draw cards but when you have an Undertaker/Webspinner/Mad Scientist type hand, you have something even better than drawing cards that they pay mana and life for their draws. Depending on the opponent's build and playstyle, I think this can be closer to even as a matchup. That said, during my run I repeatedly ended up with a fairly strong board at 15 Health against an empty board. Blowouts were the norm in my games.
Handlock, similarly, was generally an utter blowout. Being extremely careful about actually going for the kill makes a huge difference. Building a strong, removal-resistant board, to take your opponent from 16 to 6 in one turn with a Kill Command in hand will win games. Don't panic, Hero Power, and stay one step ahead of your opponent. We apply too much pressure in too many areas for them to ever fully execute their game plan; and when they falter, they die.
Control Warrior is not pleasant, but depending on the build/opponent can be surprisingly okay. Baiting out the Fiery War Axe will do a lot of good. Armorsmith needs to die extremely quickly, and running the armor math, will often be worth a Kill Command. Sometimes, they'll have a bunch of useless legendaries in their hand and you can just press for the win.
Against other Hunters, this deck got me many wins by simply going face in the mid to end game. I continuously Hero Powered and pressured. You'll trade wins on Undertaker starts which you'll have less of because of no Leper Gnome or Loot Hoarder. That's okay, because you get to do things like Unleash + Hyena/Juggler on turn five way more often. Control versus aggression is really messy in a Hunter mirror. Being able to stay on your toes and ask yourself how you can actually win the game is crucial.
This deck felt relatively weak against opponents playing a more standard/value oriented Hunter list who were aware of what I was playing but your raw power level is still quite strong and things snowball so hard in either direction that I think it tends towards a coin flip even if you're not favored.
Against Priests, you're in a state of desperation from turn one. You must be mana efficient and you must clear the board effectively. If you don't get ahead with pressure early, you're not going to have a chance. Deathrattle seems easier to beat than Wild Pyromancer builds, which I think this deck will generally have basically no chance against. I expect this matchup to get even worse as decks continue to evolve to the new meta.
I encountered very few Druids and that's probably a bit lucky: I expect the matchup to be something between mediocre and awful depending on build. All of their cards are quite good at naturally countering your cards and Keeper of the Grove will probably single-handedly crush you very often. Baiting out the Swipe is also essential: drawing some timely Highmanes can give you a fighting chance, and I would guess that things usually improve if the build is more aggressive/midrange instead of Taunt-heavy. Undertaker is another really good card and they can have inconsistent and overcosted hands, so the matchup might be better than I think.
I'm not sure how to assess the Miracle Rogue matchup regardless of build, but against a strong opponent it's probably very rough. An opponent that properly plays Fan of Knives can blow you out strongly when it comes to Snake Trap and them having the coin is a nightmare with turn two SI:7 Agent. If they draw enough removal, they'll probably be in a good spot, and they don't help you with your Unleashes. On the other hand, sometimes their deck just doesn't really work and you can win because you're more consistent than them. The matchup can be improved, but in general I think they'll probably be more efficient than you and it'll never be a matchup you especially want to see, depending on the build.
May the heart of the cards be with you,