The Casual Competitor #7: Understanding Midrange Hunter

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Deck Strategies and Tactics – Midrange Hunter

by Bryan “Kraska” Castro

I hunt alone! Well…except for all of my animal companions…but otherwise, I HUNT ALONE!

Introduction

In this edition of the Casual Competitor, we are going to be breaking down one of the most persistent decks in Hearthstone – the Midrange Hunter. This deck has a personal spot in my heart because it is the deck I used to get my golden Hunter portrait. The Midrange Hunter deck has always been a strong contender in the meta throughout many Hearthstone seasons. It is a flexible deck archetype that can compete against both aggro and control decks. This flexibility makes it a favorite of beginners and veterans alike.

Kraska TGT Midrange HunterThis particular article will not focus on a particular decklist (although you can try out my Kraska TGT Midrange Hunter list included here that I found effective in Season 18), as these tend to get outdated as the meta adjusts and especially when new cards are introduced. Instead, I will be giving more insight into how to play this deck through examples of common tactics and strategies in the early, middle, and late game. This will illustrate some of the core card choices and synergies. I will also discuss fundamental strategic concepts as they relate to Midrange Hunter to help beginning and casual players improve their overall knowledge.

Midrange Hunter Early Game – Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

Midrange Hunter has a couple ways that it develops tempo in the early game. Before I get into those, let’s talk about what Tempo is. Tempo refers to maximizing time (and to some extent mana). There’s a basic rhythm to Hearthstone – Player 1 plays a minion, Player 2 plays a minion, Player 1 attacks opposing minion with his minion while playing another minion, Player 2 plays a card to counter that minion, etc. However, if you can disrupt that rhythm to your advantage, where you either gain a extra step OR force your opponent to lose time, then you are said to “have the tempo” or to have “gained tempo.” Midrange Hunter has several tools to do this.

First, perhaps the most impactful of these is Mad Scientist and the Hunter secret Freezing Trap. Although Mad Scientist is only a 2/2 for 2 mana (see my article on evaluating cards if you don’t understand why this isn’t great), its deathrattle more than makes up for its underpowered stats. Because its deathrattle is to put a secret onto the battlefield from your deck, you essentially get the benefit of a 2 mana spell for free (well, at the loss of your Mad Scientist). Because Mad Scientist is a 2 mana minion, it will often trade for most minions that are played before it, as well as other two drops like Knife Juggler and Flame Imp.

Hunter’s secrets themselves – particularly the ones usually slotted in a typical Midrange Hunter list – are great tempo gainers. The secret that almost all of the Midrange Hunters run two copies of is Freezing Trap. The reason is that it almost always results in a gain of tempo. Why? If we remember our typical opening rhythm of play, we can see that Freezing Trap disrupts this rhythm because the opponent will end up returning a minion to his hand, or if he tries to play around Freezing Trap, will lose a tempo not attacking with a minion. Midrange Hunter’s other traps often find themselves in the rotation depending on the meta and the specific synergies you may be trying to play for – e.g. Snake Trap for Midrange Hunters trying to emphasize the Beast and Knife Juggler synergies or Explosive Trap when the meta contains more aggro. As of the writing of this article, Bear Trap is starting to also see some play – including in my Midrange Hunter list.

The Middle Game – Pressure and Pups!

By utilizing their early game tempo, Midrange Hunter is often ahead going into turns 4 and 5. At this point, he has several ways to keep the pressure up.

One of the classic combinations that Hunters use to punish opponents who try to catch up in the middle game is Knife Juggler and Unleash the Hounds. This is particularly useful against other aggro decks that can contest our early game tempo.

Consider the following position (provided by Legend of the Innkeeper streamer and friend Dragonrider):

DR Juggler Unleash Example

In this position, our opponent is a Warlock Zoo player who has developed an aggressive board. However, he perhaps has overextended himself because Dragonrider is about to Unleash the Hounds and do massive damage, including 6 damage in the form of knife juggles from her Knife Juggler and six charging pups who have [Imp] and Ironbeak Owl on their dinner menu. She went on to clear the board with a comfortable position after this turn.

This brings up a good point for those playing against most popular forms of Hunter. One needs to be careful not to play too many minions, particularly after Turn 5 if there’s no Knife Juggler on board and after Turn 3 if there is a Juggler on board. Also, try to remove the Knife Juggler as soon as possible when played against you. Unleash the Hounds is one big threat, but the deathrattle from a Haunted Creeper or just playing other small minions such as Webspinner enable Hunters to gain incredible value from their Knife Juggler. Be careful about playing a “naked” Knife Juggler with no follow up minions. It is often an error to play Knife Juggler on turn 2 alone because it is easily removed by spells such as Holy Smite, Frostbolt, or Darkbomb.

The other main way that Midrange Hunter creates pressure in the middle game is because of the deck’s Beast synergy. Besides enabling cards like Kill Command, Hunters can take advantage of the incredible value created by the buff from Houndmaster. The +2/+2 buff to a friendly Beast often allows you to trade up with a smaller minion – for example, a Haunted Creeper or Webspinner. If you draw Houndmaster later in the game, it can help give you extra reach when pushing for lethal (and an 8 attack Savannah Highmane is always fun). Besides stats buff, the taunt often allows you to attack your opponent’s face because the taunted minion stands in the way of your opponent’s board and immediate retaliation.

Here’s another excellent example from one of Dragonrider’s games:
Houndmaster example

In this particular position, Dragonrider has developed pressure because of her early game aggressiveness, resulting in the opponent’s life total being nearly cut in half. She intends to continue to pressure the opponent’s life total by using Houndmaster to taunt up her Haunted Creeper and attack the face with it.

Take a look at the resulting position from that turn:

Houndmaster Example 2

After Dragonrider attacks her opponent’s hero with the Haunted Creeper, her opponent’s life total will be at 15 with 7 damage on the board (6 if you assume that her opponent will kill the Creeper leaving the two Spectral Spiders) and minimum of 5 additional damage from the Eaglehorn Bow in her hand and her hero power on turn 6. Depending on what her opponent plays on his next turn, she also has the option to play the dangerous Savannah Highmane – probably with a clear opposing board due to her current board presence, leading us to a winning Endgame.

The Midrange Hunter Endgame – Bigs and Bursts

Normally, by Turn 6, the Midrange Hunter is often close to victory. We have a few tools to help us finish our opponents off. First, while the Midrange Hunter’s early game is characterized by a strong tempo game, our late game is characterized by two incredible value minions – Savannah Highmane and Dr. Boom. The second is the direct damage spell Kill Command.

One of the effects of these big impact minions and spells is that Midrange Hunter has incredible reach. Reach is the amount of damage to an opposing hero in a turn – typically via combinations or direct damage spells. For example, on turn 8, if there is a friendly beast on the board, Midrange Hunter’s reach is 12 damage from two Kill Commands and his hero power. Other sources of Midrange Hunter’s reach – although less consistent – comes from cards like Animal Companion and Tundra Rhino.

Consider the following position. What would you play?

Hearthstone Screenshot 09-27-15 20.50.09

In this position against a Secret Paladin, we have plenty of options to finish off our opponent thanks to Tundra Rhino’s ability to give other friendly beasts Charge. I had just silenced my opponent’s Tirion Fordring, and I anticipated my opponent’s Noble Sacrifice, but since my Ironbeak Owl had charge, I easily have enough for lethal with several options to trigger the secret before delivering the finishing blows. Hunter’s reach often allows the deck to come back from behind as well.

Midrange Hunter Tech Choices

As with many other decks, Midrange Hunter can put in specific cards to deal with particular problems in the meta. As cards get added to the collection, more options will be available, but here are a few popular ones that often make it into the Midrange Hunter lists.

Cult Master is a great card that synergizes very well with Midrange Hunter. Because of cards like Unleash the Hounds and Haunted Creeper, Midrange Hunter will often have several minions on the board that can be traded and trigger Cult Master’s ability. Because Midrange Hunter is not Face Hunter, it is often correct to trade minions to maintain or establish board control. This means that we can draw cards with Cult Master without sacrificing our other strategic aims.

Consider the position below. What would you do?

Hearthstone Screenshot 09-26-15 10.24.29

In this position, I have just played Cult Master. There are several options here, but I felt the best was to trade off my two [Spectral Spider]s into my opponent’s Haunted Creeper, but not before I silenced the minion with Ironbeak Owl. The result of this play was that I was able to draw two cards, and had the Ironbeak Owl and Cult Master in control of the board.

In certain meta situations, when Paladins and Warriors run rampant, another attractive option is Harrison Jones. Midrange Hunter does not necessarily need a ton of card draw, since its early and middle game is based on tempo and the pressure it can produce, as opposed to outlasting its opponent in a control style (where card advantage is more important). However, Midrange Hunter is not as fast as decks like Mech Mage or Face Hunter, so a little card draw can often help provide the necessary answers to finish off your opponent.

Against control decks, Midrange Hunter has two particular cards that have become staples that deal with bigger minions as well as other large threats. These are Hunters Mark and Ironbeak Owl. When the meta includes decks like Handlock, which run huge minions such as Mountain Giant, or Ramp Druid with their numerous taunts, these cards can be invaluable. Although at least one copy of these cards are almost always run by Midrange Hunter, there may be times when a second copy is warranted.

Conclusion

Midrange Hunter is a powerful and fun deck to play. It is also flexible and relatively easy to understand. As you get more experienced with it, there are more advanced tactics and nuances to keep play interesting. One other reason to play this deck is that even as the meta shifts from season to season, Midrange Hunter often finds a spot in the top tiers. I hope this article will inspire you to give Midrange Hunter a try and give you a solid introduction to its winning tactics and strategies. Special thanks to Dragonrider for her wonderful examples. Check out her stream on Twitch (http://www.twitch.tv/dragonriderdk) where she plays all forms of Hearthstone and has a friendly and fun time with her viewers. Until next time, good luck and have fun!

Your Turn

Suggestions

  1. Check out Tempo Storm‘s current meta report for the most current decklist. However, don’t be afraid to make your own tech choices based on the meta you are experiencing.
  2. Use a deck tracker or other method to understand the match-ups after you have played a number of games with Midrange Hunter. Use this knowledge to further refine your deck and tech choices.
  3. Watch streamers who play Midrange Hunter and try to guess what plays they are going to make. When their plays differ from yours, try to figure out why!

Solution to Hearthstone Puzzle #6

Find the lethal solution.

HS Puzzle #7

The solution to this puzzle revolves around making sure you play the Doomguard last lest you risk discarding one of the other required cards for lethal:

  1. Cast both Power Overwhelming on Loatheb, giving it 13 attack.
  2. Play Abusive Sergeant, giving Loatheb +2 attack for 15 attack.
  3. Play Doomguard for lethal.

Hearthstone Puzzle #7

This week we have a Hunter puzzle. Find the lethal solution and check back next week to see if you got it right!

HS Puzzle #7

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About Author

Kraska is a businessman and family man who loves strategy games. When he's not working or playing Hearthstone, he enjoys martial arts and spending time with his family.

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