So you want to master the Hunter?
Welcome to the Hunter corner of Hearthstone. In the Warlock guide, I admitted to hating Aggro decks (stands for ‘aggressive’, where the strategy is to deal lots of damage from the start and play cards quickly). Therefore, I thought this was a good enough reason to pick the most Aggro class of them all for my next guide. You guessed it – it’s Hunter time. The king of Aggro and Face damage is finally here, and he means business.
I haven’t played much Aggro recently, let alone Face Aggro (where you’re going almost entirely for the enemy hero’s health rather than trying to control the board). So I spent a fair amount of time familiarizing myself with this style of play and I may have even grown to like it a bit.
Hunter has always been predominantly about Aggro and fast play. In the Naxxramas expansion, many great cards were added for this gameplay style which continued to use several of those cards even after the nerf that occurred to Undertaker (nerf: a change to a card that makes it less effective, the aim being to balance the game).
The Goblins vs. Gnomes set (GvG) brought in primarily slower cards, which failed for the most part to turn Hunter into a viable Control class (playing to control the board state, eventually winning with the help of strong late-game Minions). So far it seems that the newest expansion Blackrock Mountain won’t change things too much for Hunter, either.
In the following sections I’ll start by pointing out the most useful class-specific cards for the Hunter. Then I’ll go and hunt some Beasts for you in order to build a free starting deck before looking at possible later additions to it if you want to make it more competitive.
We’ll consider the Ladder (the 26 ranks within ranked play) and I’ll give you more details on the particular Hunter builds that are running up and down the Ladder. If I were you, I would prepare to see the word ‘Aggro’ thrown around a lot. I will do my best not to swear when talking about it. No promises, though.
Later, I’ll also mention what’s been happening to the meta (the way that the game changes as a whole as some strategies and cards become more popular) and how card nerfs changed the class in the past, as the Hunter has had a great deal of nerfs over other classes – 4 cards that Hunters were using heavily have been nerfed in the (still quite brief) history of Hearthstone.
Hunter as a Class
Hunter’s class power (Deal 2 damage to the enemy hero) is the main reason why this class primarily lends itself to aggressive play. Most other class powers can affect the board but Hunter can do this only with the help of GvG‘s Steamwheedle Sniper, a card so easy to remove as to make this kind of strategy almost entirely unfeasible.
Playing the Arena is equally difficult for Hunter as the class power necessitates an aggressive strategy. Hunter is good at this mostly due to his class-specific cards and numerous synergies. These are hard to pull off when you make your deck (near) randomly as you do in Arena. Don’t get me wrong, Hunter is still one of the stronger characters to play if you go for Aggro, but it’s not for the unskilled… or the unlucky.
Hunter is all about Beasts, but he has some weapons too and some damage dealing spells. He’s also got some strong secrets, three of which frequently make an appearance in Hunter decks.
Hunter’s Minions are numerous and strong. Webspinner is a wonderful starting card in that it provides free card draw and can give you access to very strong cards. I have received a King Krush from this card a few times. Timber Wolf is a nice buff giving card if you happen to be running lots and lots of Beasts or if you want to Unleash the Hounds (hounds count as Beasts). Houndmaster is an okay card for its cost, but add to that the buff and the Taunt that it can grant a friendly Beast and you have an exceptionally high value card.
Scavenging Hyena synergizes with Beasts nicely and can grow a lot if you have lots of Beasts on the board (think Unleash the Hounds again). Tundra Rhino is weak for its cost but it charges itself, which comes in handy especially as it has relatively high health and can take out a weak enemy Minion on the turn that it enters play. More importantly, it gives charge to all your Beasts, no matter their value. If you manage to combo it with another Beast later on in the game, all the power to you. Savannah Highmane is also an insanely strong Minion but can cost a lot if you happen to be playing a very quick aggro deck. If you add up the Deathrattle effect to the base stats of the card you are getting a 10/9 for 6 mana. Yep.
Starving Buzzard is one of those 4 cards that were nerfed in the past for being way too OP (acronym for overpowered) – now it costs 5 mana, which is a lot for Hunter, but can work for card draw in a slower deck – it goes wonderfully with Unleash the Hounds or Snake Trap. Animal Companion is a spell, not a Minion, but it summons 1 out of 3 specific Beasts, all of which are not obtainable any other way. All 3 of those Minions are worth more than the 3 mana casting cost, and they all work well with fast decks – there is a Charge Minion, a strong Taunt, and a buff for all Beasts. Highly recommended.
And then we have Unleash the Hounds, which synergizes so well with so many other Hunter cards that it can win games on its lonesome. This card is always expected by shrewd opponents though, and so it will tend to cause them to be careful with putting down too many Minions.
As you can see, Hunter has an insane amount of very high quality Minions. On top of that, his weapons are pretty good, too – Glaivezooka is lovely for the buff it gives (aggro likes buffs), and is fine at 2/2 for 2. Eaglehorn Bow is good at 3/2 but gains durability with each Secret used. Given that Hunters practically always carry 2 secrets (sometimes more), this makes the card rather strong.
Hunter has a number of secrets, but about 3 of those see the most play. The first is Explosive Trap, an amazing card for getting rid of small enemy Minions and it harms the opposing player too, which makes it useful in just about any type of Hunter deck. It is the only source of AOE (area of effect) damage for Hunter, but given the nature of this class, it tends to be enough. Secondly, Freezing Trap can significantly slow down, or stop entirely, an opposing player’s ability to attack with his Minions. It’s very important to play this secret well and at the right time, as a good opponent will know how to play around it if they have the ability to trigger it with a cheap Minion. Thirdly, Snake Trap synergizes well with several cards (for example, Knife Juggler) and puts some bodies on the board. Those bodies happen to be of the Beastly persuasion, which helps.
Hunter’s Mark is useful given that Hunter tends to have the ability to summon 1 attack Minions easily. This can take care of troublesome taunts or dangerous late-game Minions. Tracking is a card I don’t use, but it can do well in a deck that works on specific synergies or in a situation where a specific card can finish the game. Quick Shot is the newest Hunter card and it’s a good one. It grants a very useful 3 damage and also offers card draw for a player out of cards. Face Hunters like this card. Kill Command is the last Beast synergy card I’ll mention. It deals a lot of damage and can finish games.
There are other strong cards that Hunter has at his disposal but currently there is no overly successful deck that Hunter can use them in. Maybe in the future it will be possible to build viable Control Hunters and those cards will come in to common use. Until that happens, I won’t mention them.
I tend to finish this section by talking about the class-specific Legendaries. I have some bad news, folks. Hunter’s Legendaries are kind of crap. King Krush is strong at 8/8 with Charge but it costs 9 mana, which is potentially enough, only it always comes too late. Hunters like Charge but they tend to prefer cheaper options, Leeroy Jenkins being the most expensive Charge Minion that they will play. Gahz‘Rilla would be awesome for any class other than Hunter – it’s easy to double it’s attack and it would be possible to do so several times per turn. However it’s such a slow deck card. And what can we say about Hunter? He doesn’t like slow. Shame. Perhaps as more cards get introduced to the game, this card will see more use.
Starting Hunter Deck
Below, I’ll list a deck built entirely out of basic cards (cards that are available from the start, as well as class-specific cards granted for reaching level 10 with Hunter, which is best done in Practice mode), with an explanation of how the deck works and some basic strategy.
We’ll then briefly look at some possible additions and improvements to the deck, counting our dust in order to figure out which cards to craft first.
- 2x Hunter’s Mark
- 2x Timber Wolf
- 2x Arcane Shot
- 1x Tracking
- 2x Animal Companion
- 2x Kill Command
- 2x Houndmaster
- 2x Multi-Shot
- 2x Starving Buzzard
- 2x Tundra Rhino
- 1x Stonetusk Boar
- 2x Bloodfen Raptor
- 2x River Crocolisk
- 2x Razorfen Hunter
- 2x Oasis Snapjaw
- 2x Core Hound
As you can see, this starting deck uses almost all of the available starting class-specific cards that the Hunter has. The rest of the deck is made up of Beasts who all synergize with the class-specific cards. This makes the deck a great opportunity to learn how to synergize, plan ahead, and play strategically. It is a strong starting deck and it will do well against decks running better cards, but it does require some skill to play.
This deck is not aggro so don’t be afraid to use up all your mana in a turn for playing cards, and only use the hero power when you have nothing else to do. You are not generally going for a quick kill, but for board control. Given how many synergies there are in the deck, don’t play cards just to get them on the board – plan ahead according to what you have in your hand.
Multi-Shot will come in handy removing enemy Minions. Be careful though, as it only works if there are 2 or more enemy Minions on the board. Arcane Shot and Kill Command will usually remove enemy Minions but can finish games too. Given how many Beasts there are in the deck, Kill Command will almost always be able to deal 5 damage. Hunter’s Mark can take out heavy duty Minions or tough Taunters.
For card draw you have Tracking, which gives you a choice out of 3 cards but discards the other two. Given that you are not going to be playing very long games, losing 2 cards is not a problem. Just make sure that you aren’t losing anything essential. Starving Buzzard is your late game card draw – only put it down if you have another Beast that you can play the same turn (there are several 1-3 mana Beasts in the deck). Opponents will usually take out the Starving Buzzard next turn if they can.
Animal Companion is usually the ideal turn 3 card as it will always give you a strong Minion. Houndmaster can buff one of your Minions (including the several 1/1s in the deck) in order to take out a Minion that was previously safe, survive an attack, or stop a Minion for a turn. Buffed Oasis Snapjaw will have a solid 9 health, which is great for a Taunter. Tundra Rhino synergizes with all of your other Beasts and if it survives until next turn, it allows you to really mess with your opponent – Core Hounds with Charge are a beautiful sight. Razorfen Hunter is useful in that it brings out a 1/1 boar, which is also a Beast.
This deck doesn’t have the usual Acidic Swamp Ooze that I like to have in all of my starting decks so if you happen to miss being able to take out enemy weapons, feel free to add him to your deck. Equally, if you prefer card draw over late game strength, add a copy of Tracking, it can replace 1 of the Core Hounds.
New Cards to Get
There are so many cards that will work well for Hunter. I will give a list of the major ones below, distinguishing them based on whether they come from Classic, Naxxramas, GvG, or Blackrock. I will then briefly mention the cards most worth getting.
- Abusive Sergeant (if you play it quick, the ability to buff one of your Minions by 2 attack is wonderful, especially as it costs only 1 mana and comes with a Minion)
- Worgen Infiltrator (it’s Stealthed which comes in handy given its low health)
- Jungle Panther (same story as above, just twice as strong and twice as costly)
- Ironbeak Owl (Hunter doesn’t like heavy duty Taunters, which is why he likes this card)
- Knife Juggler (lots of Minions make this card superb, which is a definite must if playing Aggro, or if you intend to use Unleash the Hounds)
- Scavenging Hyena (synergizes with Unleash the Hounds)
- Explosive Trap (takes out enemy Aggro Minions and deals damage to the enemy character too)
- Freezing Trap (slows down opponents)
- Snake Trap (useful for synergizing as the snakes that come in to play are Beasts)
- Unleash the Hounds (one of the best Hunter cards, synergizes in a lot of different ways and stops opponents from placing too many Minions)
- Eaglehorn Bow (strong weapon especially if you are running secrets)
- Savannah Highmane (best Hunter Minion, insane value, but it is not ideal if you are playing a super quick deck)
- Arcane Golem (great finisher)
- Leeroy Jenkins (an even better finisher)
- Webspinner (lovely turn 1 card that can potentially place a strong new Beast in your hand)
- Undertaker (since the nerf, this card has pretty much completely disappeared but it can still do some good in a fast deck that runs lots of Deathrattles)
- Haunted Creeper (synergizes with a number of other cards, it’s a Beast, it’s hard to remove)
- Mad Scientist (a must for its power to bring in Secrets for free)
- Sludge Belcher (best Taunter in the game)
Goblins vs. Gnomes
- Glaivezooka (great weapon, buffs a Minion)
- Feign Death (if you happen to be playing a very Deathrattle heavy deck, this can be a fun card to include)
- Steamwheedle Sniper (doesn’t see a lot of play as it’s so easy to remove, but the effect has potential)
- Gahz’Rilla (great card but too late for most decks, but needs to be triggered to be truly strong)
- Quick Shot (good damage for its cost, card draw useful for quick decks)
Hunters tend to like to play it quick so there aren’t that many Legendary cards that make much sense for Hunter. It is possible to go for a Midrange or Control Hunter in which case a number of other cards, including Legendaries, become feasible.
Hunter likes the Naxxramas cards so splashing a little bit of cash to gain access to the expansion and its content makes a lot of sense. Mad Scientist, Haunted Creeper and a lot of other cards are very strong for Hunters and get played a lot. GvG on the other hand is a bit of a waste for Hunters, as most of the useful cards come from Classic. As of now, Blackrock Mountain is not that essential, either – Quick Shot is wonderful, but none of the Neutral cards do that much for Hunter. This may change as new wings are opened, but I doubt that it will change much.
Most Common Deck Types
9 out of 10 Hearthstone players agree that Hunters are an annoying bunch to play against. The rest play Hunter. Hunter has been an interesting class from the start, as most of the nerfs that Blizzard came up with over the past year were an attempt to balance this particular class. The nerfs to Starving Buzzard, Leeroy Jenkins, Flare and Undertaker all changed how Hunters are played today and almost entirely said goodbye to those cards in competitive play.
Still, Hunter gets played a lot and he is useful for climbing the Ladder quickly. Also, Hunter decks tend to be pretty cheap so they are a good way for beginners to the game to enter the competitive field. This is something that I value greatly.
Currently, most Hunters play very quick and aggressive builds. Face Hunter is very popular – playing lots of Charge Minions, possibly some Stealth, some damage dealing spells, weapons, basically everything that can deal lots of damage quickly. This makes for very quick games – if these decks run out of steam, they tend to lack card draw and strong late game cards so use this to your advantage when playing against them. Go for aggressive removal until they run out of ways to hurt you.
It’s much more rare to see aggro decks that are built around Deathrattles now that Undertaker lost some of his shine, but they are still out there and some of the new Deathrattle Minions from GvG can come in handy in those.
Midrange is gaining in popularity too – it takes advantage of the strong class-specific mid-game cards and some of the strong Beast synergies that Hunter can muster. In these decks you will see some of the usual Legendaries that make it to most decks nowadays.
Control Hunter still seems pretty weak to me when compared to the other deck types, but there have been attempts to make this build work. Expensive, flawed attempts at that… but there are some decks flying around the Ladder. You might be able to make it work for you.
As an enemy of all things Aggro, I should really hate Hunter, but I don’t. Back in the Naxxramas days, Hunter took me past rank 10 for the first time and the fast games that Hunter offers make for a nice change of pace after I’ve been playing lots of Control lately. Hunter can be annoying to play against but he is far from unbeatable. When facing lots of Aggro on the Ladder, it’s always possible to tweak a deck to stop these kinds of fast decks in their tracks.
As with the Warlock, Hunter offers new players a cheap and quick way of entering the competitive side of Hearthstone. It’s possible to make it to Legend rank with very cheap decks and that’s a good thing. At the same time, playing Aggro, even Face Hunter, is not too easy that it takes skill out of the equation entirely. There is a big learning curve here, too.
I wonder what will happen to the Hunter class next. I don’t see it getting much stronger with future expansions – it’s such a strong and popular class already. I’d like to see more cards that would make a Control build viable, and I hope that this will be the direction that Blizzard choose for the class.
As a closing statement, I would like to implore you to stay a decent person while playing Hunter, as for some reason a lot of Hunter players tend to behave like dicks. I think that this makes the game less fun for all of us. Being brash, arrogant and unfriendly with the speech macros in the game may seem cool to people stuck in the clutches of puberty (which, these days, seems to be an affliction that many adults suffer from), but it only makes you look like a dick to everyone else. Let’s have some gentle(wo)man Hunter players too, yeah?
So, good luck in your efforts, whether you happen to be a Hunter newbie or a veteran. May the lack of viable class-specific Legendaries fail to bring your mood down as you hit that face like a true Aggro master, fighting your way to the Legend rank. I will look forward to seeing you on the Ladder.