Hunter’s rise was slow but steady. In Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, it tied with Paladin for the worst class. However, things gradually got better for Rexxar fans. Now it sits at the top of the tree, with a number of dominating decks showing good representation and winrates across ranks. But that tree is due for a shakeup, and the upcoming rotation may lead to Hunter crashing back down. How much will it lose? And will it be enough to push Rexxar back to the doldrums?
Un’goro: Unfulfilled hype
Remember when Quest Hunter was going to take over the world? Unfortunately, the Quest, much like the rest of the Hunter Un’goro roster, fell flat. Jeweled Macaw was OK, but later got squeezed out by better one drops like Dire Mole. The only two cards to see consistent play were Crackling Razormaw and (later) Terrorscale Stalker.
Of these, Razormaw was by far the most impactful. This stellar two drop can turn early beasts into powerhouse threats (if you get lucky with adapt RNG). Without it, Hunter loses one of the last truly powerful two drops still available, and much of the reason to play early beasts. Meanwhile, the loss of Terrorscale’s powerful efficient Deathrattle activation limits options for future Deathrattle variants of the class.
Knights of the Frozen Throne: Building the Framework
Knights of the Frozen Throne gave Hunter a slew of supporting elements rather than any single defined identity. Secret synergy, deathrattle synergy and controlling tools spread the support thin. But later on, several of these cards proved some of the most powerful in Hunter’s arsenal. Deathstalker Rexxar would later shine with better beasts, Play Dead would be incredibly strong in Deathrattle Hunter with Cube and Kathrena and Venomstrike Trap (occasionally alongside Professor Putricide) would find a core spot in Secret Hunters. It wasn’t all niche cards though; Bearshark was a nice solid 3-drop for Midrange decks, curving nicely into Houndmaster on 4.
With all these varied supporting elements going, virtually all of the class’ archetypes suffer. However, by far the biggest impact is the loss of Deathstalker Rexxar. Without this Death Knight, Hunters will actually need to include some beefy late-game to beat control when they can’t snowball the board.
Kobolds and Catacombs: Who needs minions?
Before the release of Kobolds, Spell Hunter was a bit of a meme. But swiftly, the naysayers were proven wrong. Bolstered by Flanking Strike, Emerald Spellstone and To My Side, it remained a solid and reliable mainstay for Hunter throughout. But it wasn’t just no-minions archetypes that these cards supported. Candleshot is fantastic removal throughout the game, synergising perfectly with Hunter’s Mark. Flanking Strike is fantastic mid-range tempo. Meanwhile, secrets like Wandering Monster lock down early aggression.
Without these tools, Hunter loses out on a whole bevy of early and mid game options. This, more than anything, puts Hunter at risk.
Conclusion: Where has the Early Game Gone?
Though Deathstalker’s loss will raise eyebrows, the biggest impact may come from Hunter’s early game losses. Without Razormaw, Candleshot, Wandering Monster, Flanking Strike, Bearshark or Emerald Spellstone, the early-mid-game curve begins to look very patchy indeed.
Hunter will likely urgently need replacements for this new early weakness, especially once Deathstalker can no longer single-handedly lock down the late game.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com.
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