Hunter Comes Roaring Back!
You may have been noticing a change on ladder lately. With Cubelock out of the picture, Paladin no longer undisputed king of the meta, and Shaman creeping back in, it’s clear that the Hunter class is on the rise. We’re going to take a look at how Hunter has fared in the past, how it’s doing in the mid-Witchwood meta, and why now is the time to bring Rexxar back into the limelight.
The professional player Hunterace’s phenomenal performance in the recent HTC Seoul tournament is a major reason for why Rexxar is back. His midrange Hunter deck, proved that the class is more than viable. It didn’t quite hold up against SamuelTsao’s Odd Paladin or Odd Rogue – decks most players still regard as top-tier – but the fact that Midrange Hunter made it so far into the tournament is impressive. Hunter wasn’t really on the meta radar before Hunterace, and if Rexxar did show up he would only be slinging Spells.
With Hunterace living up to his name on the world stage in Seoul, the class got a huge boost to its reputation. The results are obvious. Midrange Hunter is now massively popular on ladder, but is there more to the deck than tournament hype?
There are many strengths to Hunterace’s deck. Bearshark has always been heavily underrated – it’s seven stats for three mana, and cannot be removed unless your oppent either has board control or a mass clear. When Houndmaster drops, it’s frequently a game-winning combination. Zoo-style or midrange decks, that focus on board control while pressing hard for face damage have not been popular for some time. The eternal strength of Mage, in addition to the plethora of board clears that are continually packed into every expansion, has kept midrange decks weak. Hunter had no access to Jades, which boosted Shaman and Druid through the 2016-17 metagames.
Midrange has a number of card combinations that have slowly come together across the last three sets. Pure value cards such as Flanking Strike and Wandering Monster enable it to fight off many aggressive decks. Explosive Trap is immensely useful against Baku decks, particularly Paladin (a fact Hunterace gambled on, unfortunately to no avail). Hunter Secrets are some of the best in the game in today’s aggressive meta. In tandem with Emerald Spellstone, Hunter has real flexibility. There are so many win conditions: press for face damage with Houndmaster/Bearshark/Crackling Razormaw; cheese out a turn 5 win with Secrets and a fully charged Spellstone; win a slow value game with Deathstalker Rexxar.
The change allowing Deathstalker Rexxar to make Zombeasts out of all new Beasts, rather than only those released before KoFT, was a big buff. The devs’ hesitation (it took nearly a year to implement) at making this change perhaps suggests that they knew it would make the Hunter Death Knight a must-have. It certainly wasn’t too powerful beforehand. Either way, DK Rexxar means that the deck can last beyond the point where 3-cost minions are no longer useful.
One major factor in Hunter’s flexibility is the strange and slightly confusing interaction between its Secrets. Venomstrike Trap triggers off Wandering Monster, meaning one enemy minion can summon two powerful minions for the Hunter, and then be returned to hand by Freezing Trap. It’s a perfect storm of traps. Eaglehorn Bow is crucial to all Hunter decks, in part because a 3 mana 3/2 weapon is just great, and because of the abundance of valuable Secrets.
The deck also has efficient removal. Freezing Trap can ruin Hadronox Druid’s day. As mentioned earlier, Flanking Strike can swing tempo in an aggro matchup back towards the Hunter. Deadly Shot is an interesting choice by Hunterace, probably made in anticipation of big foes like Primordial Drakes or Voidlords. A popular alternative is adding in Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark, in place of Flanking Strike or Venomstrike Trap. This adds the risk of drawing all your weapons at once and bogging down your hand, but ensures you won’t lose to hefty Taunts or pesky charging Pirates.
Why did it take until the Seoul tournament for people to realise that minion-based Hunter decks are viable in high ranks? The hype around Spell Hunter, lasting through from Kobolds and Catacombs, concentrated focus on whether The Witchwood made it viable. I would argue it has, but it’s clearly not very different in strength to midrange Hunter. The latter deck is more consistent - and it’s also important to note that it’s far cheaper in Arcane Dust, so many more free-to-play players can access it. Spell Hunter has not been popular in the tournament scene. For professionals and the average low-spending player, Midrange is the way to go. We can thank Hunterace for shifting the spotlight away from the gimmicky Spells deck.
The ladder is full of Hunters yet again, for better or worse. The YouTuber Kripparrian has argued that a meta in which Hunter is weak is good for Hearthstone. I, and evidently many other players too, disagree. Whether you choose Spells or Hunterace’s midrange deck, Hunter now provides a versatile and varied experience. There’s none of the old Face Hunter toxicity – personally, I’d say the Kobolds meta, flush with crazy combo decks like Cubelock, was far less enjoyable than today’s. So don’t feel bad for bringing Rexxar back – embrace the SMOrc!