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Hearthstone: How Hunter got to #1

It only feels like yesterday that Hunter was the lowest of the low. Back in the Gadgetzan meta, it tied with Paladin for the worst class. Over the past couple of years, Hunter has come back with a vengeance. Though it has had its low points, Hunter has achieved an apotheosis of ladder dominance and competitive viability. So what changed between now and Gadgetzan? What are the key cards and meta changes that allowed it to succeed?

Reactive Rexxar

Hunter has better tempo removal to play a more reactive gaemplan

One key component of Hunter’s newfound success is its arsenal of reactive tools. Though Hunters always had a few removal options through the likes of Hunter’s Mark and Eaglehorn Bow, it has not been enough to support slower playstyles. That is, until the last year or so.

High-tempo removal options have put Hunter in a much better position to cope with mid-game threats and capitalize on some greedier cards. Newer options like Flanking Strike, Spider Bomb and Baited Arrow have bumped up Hunter’s ability to win even after getting behind on board.

The best example of this is Candleshot. This incredibly efficient and versatile weapon allows hunter to poke down early minions, or remove big ones in the late game with Hunter’s Mark. And vitally, it means that the Hunter doesn’t need to spend precious life points. All in all, this has shored up Hunter’s traditional weaknesses and allowed it to play from behind far better.

Where is the aggro?

Although Hunter’s ability to react improved, it still lives and dies on the board. Traditionally, a lack of lifegain or boardclears, along with mediocre early tools, means it’s vulnerable to aggro. As such, Hunters have always been kept in check by aggro-heavy metas.

But recently, aggro is relatively scarce. Slower, more midrange Even decks are far more prominent. In such an environment, Hunter can thrive far more. While they’re ponderously building boards, Hunter can set up for its powerful early beasts, deathrattle combos or board-building mid-game spells.

One card win condition

hunter
Building beasts got better and better

If there’s one card that has single-handedly changed Hunter’s matchups, it’s Deathstalker Rexxar. On its release, it was already a potent value generator that could give Hunter a way to never ‘run out of gas’ in control matchups.

But while this was originally only really strong in the slowest of matchups, it has become increasingly versatile. As we saw more and more Lifesteal and Rush beasts, Deathstalker Rexxar became a way for Hunter to stabilise against midrange or aggro. With Cave Hydra, Bloatbat and Poisonous minions, it can even give Hunter full boardclears.

The once and future king

However, many of these factors have one key thing in common: they all change drastically on rotation. While Hunter may be strong now, things will look very different in March. Without Candleshot, Flanking Strike, Deathstalker Rexxar, Keleseth, Razormaw, Carnivorous Cube, Emerald Spellstone or To My Side, all current Hunter decks will look massively different.

But there’s good reasons to believe Hunter will survive well. The Classic set is far stronger than the other classes. The strategy of curving out into Animal Companion, Highmane and the Hunter hero power will likely always do well; especially with aggro as weak as it is. So while the classes’ current dominance is probably short lived, we likely haven’t seen all of Rexxar yet.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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