Guide: Hunters in the 1/13 meta
A not very popular class before the recent patch, the Hunter returns with new strength after the buffed Unleash the Hounds.
Ever since the remake of Unleash the Hounds back in December, Hunter has been considered by many to be the weakest class in the game. While this is true to a large extent, the Hunters were slowly able to find their niche and they’re now regularly seen in the current meta.
The Hunter players made several attempts to make a good Hunter deck after the December patches but few worked out. The new Unleash the Hounds was a card with many synergies and thus good on paper but its big mana cost made it difficult to extract value and trigger combos until the later turns. Control Hunter was also experimented with and although the class has lots of strong removals, the lack of good class minions and a hero power that does not impact the board made the deck inconsistent at best.
Eventually, an all-in aggro build was found, constructed with the sole purpose of countering the then dominating Warlock midrange and aggro builds. As Patch 1/13 only helped it become stronger (reducing UtH to 2 mana down from 4), the all-in Hunter decks became good not only against Warlock but against all classes that lack healing or can’t get taunts out fast. As they’re also cheap to craft and easy to play, those builds are running rampant in constructed.
The deck on the right is sort of a jack of all trades which makes it more control oriented. There are aggressive minions in it but not nearly as many as in the hyper aggro builds. Although the deck’s idea is to still go for the face as often as possible, it also implements a variety of card draw, board control and synergy mechanics and is overall more complex to play than its cousins.
Knife Juggler and Starving Buzzard are key cards in this build, which use the same synergies but to different effects (the Juggler damages, the Buzzard draws cards). You’ll want to combine them with Unleash the Hounds or protect them with Snake Traps.
There are a few other cards which are exclusive to the slower Hunter. Loot Hoarder and Nat Pagle provide additional card draw sources for the games in which the Starving Buzzard synergies are not draw. Deadly Shot, which is too slow for aggro builds, clears the board from the big threats that can’t be traded off with minions or Kill Command. It also softens the drawback of King Mukla if the opponent decides to feed all the bananas to a single minion.
The build on the left is the complete opposite and cherishes aggression above everything. Every minion in the deck is there to give quick, even instant value. Most come in charging or give bonus attack on battlecry. Others have deathrattle effects (Leper Gnome) or card draw (Starving Buzzard) to help with the bashing and refill the hand with more chargers. Eaglehorn Bow also helps with the damage (especially if “repaired” through secrets activation) and so do the Kill Commands. Even the traps in the deck – Explosive Trap and Misdirection – are there more for extra points of damage to the player (although the board control they provide is helpful as well). The mindset is simple: go for the face, curve out with your hero power and burn the opponent as soon as possible.
In both versions, alwas play Unleash the Hounds when it can be combo'd with something (check the card combo section below). 1/1 charging Beasts are not especially usefull unless they provide the last few damage points that finish the opponent.
Both of the archetypes shown above can be brought to their very extremes. For the control version that means adding even more removal (Wild Pyromancer, Hunter’s Mark, Tinkmaster), Flare for mirror matches and Sea Giant as the end-of-the-curve finisher. Although the deck lacks too many damage spells, a Bloodmage Thalnos can be played to amplify the effects of Explosive Trap and Kill Command as well as provide with extra draw.
The aggro decks, on the other hand, can go full all-in. It forgoes any Beast synergies coming from Starving Buzzard and Scavenging Hyena and adds Arcane Shot (not even for a removal but for a one-mana version of Steady Shot) and two Ironbeak Owls to remove taunts (and taunts only! Don’t be silencing that Sylvanas, it makes no difference).
The most problematic mach-ups for the Hunter are the classes with heals or pseudo heals. The Hunter class has very limited damage output and if the opponent decides to fortify himself, a win is very hard to achieve.
The Warrior is by far the toughest opponent for the Hunter. Not only does their hero ability directly counter Steady Shot but Warriros also run Armorsmiths (which heal them even more), Frothing Berskers (which can trade for several minions before dying) and Whirlwind (which clears more or less everything on Hunters’ side of the board). Unless you draw godly (and the Warrior doesn’t), victory is almost unachievable.
The Paladins counter Hunters because of the sheer amount of heals they possess. They can use Reinforce to clean 1-health minions and Truesilver to the face for +2 health, thus killing the pace of the Hunter. Consecration wrecks the board and if the Paladins survive till Lay on Hands the game is pretty much over.
Druids combine the powers of Paladins and Warriors (heals and armor) but they also run a lot of taunts that protect their face. They can Innervate out Druids of the Claw to absorb six damage, Keeper of the Grove to snipe a minion and trade for one or two more and heal through Ancient of Lore to make for a rough race. Smart Druids will also opt to Shapeshift every turn if possible and play with just a couple of taunters on the field to soft-counter Steady Shot and Unleash the Hounds.
Hunter’s best match-up by far is against Warlock. Against giants controls (the primary build after 1/13), your ability to deal damage really fast and to bypass taunts in the late game will put you in the lead and will make Warlocks think twice before life-tapping. Warlocks are hurt even more by the fact that their most useful AoE removal is Hellfire, which will deal 3 damage to them as well, thus helping you with the race. Their other sweeper Shadowflame need some setup in order to work and in the early stages when you put them under preasure, this setup is hard to create. They'll try to stabilize for the whole game but you should keep the pressure on. Keep some surprises in your hand to be able to deal 10-15 damage in the end to finish them before the second wave of giants come up.
You are very favorable to win against Shamans and Rogues (especially if you play aggro), since right now they run few taunters and have no built-in heal. Unless they draw perfectly, Rogues will often take double damage from the minions of the aggro Hunter as they’ll use their dagger to remove it. They also only run Defender of Argus as taunter so getting to their face should be easy.
Shamans, on the other hand, are running up to two Farseers but unless they draw both of them or get early wolves they’re toast. Nevertheless, beware if they turn the game around and start racing, since they are also very good with the burst damage: a chain of Lava Bursts and Lightning Bolts deals massive damage for very few mana.
It’s hard to properly assess the chances of the Hunter decks against Mage and Priest because they are so rare and we can only speculate.
On paper, Mage should be in the disadvantage because it’s a no-heal class but their hero power will ping away almost all of Hunter’s threats. With their unused mana, they can initiate a health race and because they’re extremely cost efficient in burning down opponents it should be a close race, especially if Ice Black is used to gain extra turns.
Like Warriors, Priests’ hero power counters Hunters’ but their AoE is at 5 mana (a bit late) and they have to count on Smites, Wild Pyromancer to survive and taunting Ancient Watchers to survive.
- Snake Trap + Knife Juggler / Starving Buzzard: A great way to protect your utility cards and deal damage/draw cards in the process
- Unleash the Hounds + Scavenging Hyena: Hurts the enemy board while growing your Hyena.
- Leeroy + Unleash the Hounds: The drawback of Leeroy actually helps you here. It spawns two more minions for your opponent, meaning two more hounds for you. It can be cast on an empty board for eight damage to the face.
- Unleash the Hounds + Timber Wolf: The 1/1 beasts are now 2/1 beasts!
- Leeroy + Unleash the Hounds + Timber Wolf: On an empty board, this will deal 10 damage for 7 mana. Better than Pyroblast!
- Snake Trap/Unleash the Hounds + Sea Giant: The late-game finisher for the Giants control Hunter. It needs some getting used to before it can be pulled off perfectly, though, but it hurts a lot when you can cast cheap 8/8’s.