Hunter in Rastakhan’s Rumble – Do We Need Another Nerf Patch?

When I think about this topic, it always reminds me of the old Nerf Now comic strip. While it clearly referred to World of Warcraft, it seems that Hearthstone devs have a similar way of dealing with stuff. We have the same pattern repeating for years now. A certain class (usually a bottom of the barrel one) starts receiving powerful cards over a few expansions – it gradually gets stronger, while the nerf patches are destroying everything around it. Then it finally reaches the point when it’s clearly too powerful and stays that way for a while. Finally, a rotation or some balance changes happen and another class which has been getting powerful cards recently takes its place (sometimes preceded by a brief period of no clear “best” class). Notably, once the class is hit, it’s usually hit so hard that it’s pushed back to the bottom of the food chain to slowly climb back again after Blizzard notices that it had enough. After five years, we had multiple periods of one class dominance. The most recent one was Druid, which became the main victim of the recent nerf patch and it’s basically no longer relevant.

And now it’s finally Hunter’s time. It was one of the least powerful and popular classes for a long time, before players have started experimenting with new strategies like Spell, Recruit and later Deathrattle. Year of the Raven was amazing for Hunters. Not only did the class get quite a lot of new, strong cards, but it every strong deck around it was hit by nerf patches, while none of the nerfs affected Hunters directly. The perfect chance to do something about the class came very recently, but Blizzard has decided to leave the class as it is. Right now it’s by far the most popular and powerful class on the ladder, with four viable meta decks (as well as some off-meta decks), which have a roughly 1/3 representation on the ladder (it’s lower at Legend, but peaks at almost 40% at certain ranks like R16 or R11). In other words, welcome to Hunterstone.

Why Is Hunter So Powerful?

It’s true that the real Hunterstone started in Rastakhan’s Rumble, but a class doesn’t get that sort of domination overnight. It was slowly raising in popularity and power throughout an entire Year of the Raven. Actually, everything has started even before that. One of the key card in basically every successful Hunter deck was released almost 1.5 years ago, in Knights of the Frozen Throne. Deathstalker Rexxar, while more of a “fun” card at first, has turned out to be one of the most impactful Death Knight Heroes. One of the biggest problems with Hunter class was always the lack of card draw. Once out of resources, Hunter couldn’t really do anything as long as the opponent was not in the range of few Hero Powers. Deathstalker Rexxar has turned the class on its head, letting Hunters decks that normally conceded after running out of steam give even the most greedy Control decks a run for their money.

While Deathstalker Rexxar was a strong card, at first it wasn’t taken seriously, simply because Hunter didn’t have tools to make it good. Hunter decks were aggressive – turning their Hero Power into infinite value tool was cute, but still not enough most of the time. The real breakthrough for Hunter was Kobolds & Catacombs. Looking at the expansion now, it might have been the highest power set we’ve ever had, and Hunter was one of the classes which took the biggest advantage of that. It’s the expansion which created Spell Hunter, thanks to To My Side! (a card which was laughed at first and called the worst card in the history) and Rhok'delarKathrena Winterwisp (+Seeping Oozeling), while heavily underplayed at first, turned out to be the base of Recruit Hunter, which was later optimized and turned into the deck we now know as Deathrattle Hunter. Lesser Emerald Spellstone is probably the main reason why any strategy utilizing Secrets is so powerful – it’s very easy to upgrade it to full, and four 3/3’s (12/12 stats in total) for just 5 mana is absolutely nuts. On top of that, the best Secret in the Hunter’s current arsenal – Wandering Monster – also comes from Kobolds & Catacombs. For good measure, Candleshot and Flanking Strike, both of which are now Hunter staples, also come from Kobolds & Catacombs. And of course, we also have a neutral Carnivorous Cube, which at first helped Warlock more than it did Hunter, but turned out to be incredibly powerful in decks that can trigger it easily (so, again, Deathrattle Hunter).

The final expansion of the Year of the Mammoth basically laid the foundations for the current best Hunter decks, without it the class wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as it is right now. And so, Year of the Raven expansions had a very easy job – foundations were already there, they just had to add a few building blocks here and there. And that’s how we finally get to Rastakhan’s Rumble release. Saying that the expansion was underwhelming would be a huge understatement. Most of the decks experimented with 1 or 2 new cards, but a lot of them were cut quickly. So in the end, a lot of the best decks in the meta use no new cards at all. No viable archetypes based on new mechanics were created either. But when it comes to Hunter, the story is quite different.

Basically, every of the major Hunter archetypes has gotten some new, strong cards. Oondasta for Deathrattle Hunter, Baited Arrow for Spell Hunter, Masked Contender for Secret Hunter, Springpaw and Master's Call for Midrange Hunter… And of course, a new Hero card – Zul'jin – for Spell and Secret Hunter. The card gives Hunter access to a massive board refill. Between Spellstone, Animal Companion and such, it usually creates a board full of minions. Given that it’s played in decks with Secrets, it also lights up a Christmas tree around his own face. And then possibly even clear some minions with Deadly ShotCrushing Walls or a random, lucky hit of Kill CommandFlanking StrikeBaited Arrow. To make a long story short, each of the Hunter’s strategies got stronger, while most of the other powerful decks haven’t moved even an inch forward.

What has also helped Hunter heavily is that it flew under the radar for so long. Believe it or not, but Hunter was the ONLY class that wasn’t touched throughout 2017 and 2018 balance patches. Every other class was nerfed directly (by changing one of the class cards), and a bunch of them was nerfed indirectly on top of that (by nerfing some Neutral card that played an important role in one of their decks). The “biggest” nerf for Hunter was actually Giggling Inventor, a card that was played by nearly half of the ladder at one point, a card that played no important role in any of the Hunter decks. Different archetypes from other classes were either crippled or even completely gutted, while Hunter thrived.

Different Faces Of Hunter

We’ve already established the obvious – Hunter is strong. Too strong. But while I was already hinting at that fact, I didn’t specifically mention it. One of the main reason why Hunter is so strong in the current meta is that it has four different, popular archetypes and each one of them has different strengths, weaknesses and play style. It means two things – that it’s very hard to find a deck that works well against all Hunter versions (when you counter one, you often have a bad matchup against another) and that mulligans and early turns can be difficult, since it’s hard to be sure which archetype you face exactly. The same points actually applied to Druid when it was at the peak of popularity last expansion, to an even bigger extent (since you often couldn’t tell them apart until well into the mid game).

Currently, there are four popular, viable Hunter archetypes. Let me talk about them quickly, showing some of their strong and weak points. Next to their name, I’ll list their popularity at Ranks 4-1 (from the latest Vicious Syndicate’s Data Reaper Report) to more or less show how often you can expect to face them. 

  • Spell Hunter (14.1%) – It’s the first viable deck without minions we ever had in Hearthstone. We had decks that were very light on minions before, but nothing came close to running zero of them whatsoever. The pay-off here is being able to play To My Side! as well as Rhok'delar, both of which are quite strong. But the reason why this deck exists in the first place is because Hunter has so many ways to summon minions without actually playing them – Wandering Monster, Animal CompanionFlanking StrikeLesser Emerald Spellstone etc. The deck’s main strength is that because of all the Secrets and removals, it works quite well against Aggro compared to other decks. It can also flood the board multiple times during a single game, forcing the opponent to have a few AoE clears to answer them. It’s also the best deck for Zul'jin. As for the weaknesses, since it can’t run minions, it misses a lot of synergies and most of the minions are vanilla stuff. It often relies on Turn 5 Spellstone to gain a huge advantage in the game, but if it gets hit with AoE, then it might be a big problem. It also can’t run late game bombs, so it has to rely on Deathstalker Rexxar heavily during the long games.
  • Deathrattle Hunter (7.8%) – Deathrattle Hunter, while sharing some cards with Spell version, has a completely different game plan – it’s a very minion-based deck. It has a few win conditions, but a lot of them are based around Deathrattle cards, hence its name. The fastest way to win games is an early Devilsaur Egg triggered with Play Dead or Terrorscale Stalker. A play like T3 Egg, T4 Play Dead + Stalker creates a massive board that might be very hard to answer. The second win condition is Carnivorous Cube – basically, once you eat something, it becomes a better Egg, since it summons two copies of that minion whenever it’s triggered. Even eating a 3/3 minion is often good enough to win the game if you can activate it. And finally, it plays Kathrena Winterwisp with a package of big Beasts, the card is meant to pull ~20 mana worth of stats between the Battlecry, Deathrattle and the 6/6 body itself. The biggest strengths of the deck is the ability to snowball with the right draws, the number of bombs it plays, and Deathrattles being quite hard to deal with, e.g. providing an AoE protection. When it comes to weaknesses, vulnerability to aggressive strategies is definitely one – without perfect draws, the deck tends to have slow starts. Being a minion-based deck, it has limited board control tools, so once it falls behind, it might be hard to come back. And finally, it’s quite susceptible to Silence effects – Silencing a Turn 3 Egg can really mess up with their game plan. 
  • Midrange (Beast) Hunter (5.8%) – I’ll talk about the full Beast builds, since they seem to be the most common form of Midrange Hunter right now. Those are classic, quite aggressive Midrange Hunter decks with a twist. While Midrange Hunters were always based around Beasts and Beast synergies, Master's Call gave Hunters an opportunity to go full Beast mode and drop all other minions. While sacrificing cards like Houndmaster or Houndmaster Shaw hurts, Master’s Call is an insane card in such a deck – drawing 3 for 3 is already good, but you also have a rather high chance to pull out Beasts that you’ve buffed with Dire Frenzy, giving you the ability to swing the tempo in late game. It’s the fastest of popular Hunter builds, and it wants to close the games quite quickly. When it comes to its strengths, it’s mostly the Master’s Call power, as well as the aggressiveness, it can utilize Hunter’s Hero Power quite nicely. Thanks to Dire Frenzy + Master’s Call, depending on what you buff and shuffle, you can either have a few mid-late game bombs (if you shuffle Tundra Rhino or Savannah Highmane) or a bunch of strong, high tempo plays (e.g. by shuffling in Springpaw or Crackling Razormaw). As for the weaknesses, it relies heavily on Beast synergies to make use of cards like Razormaw or Scavenging Hyena, it had to drop some strong cards to make Master’s Call work, so not drawing it means that you’re playing a weaker Midrange Hunter, and the deck relies on board presence while not having too many strong tools to gain it, meaning that it can lose against Aggro decks that fight hard for the board control in early game, such as Odd Rogue and Odd Paladin.
  • Secret Hunter (4.4%) – And last, but not least – Secret Hunter. It’s a deck built, like its name suggests, around Secrets. While there were multiple attempts to have a Hunter deck like that before (ever since Cloaked Huntress was released in Karazhan), it’s the most successful one so far. The deck was created mostly thanks to The Boomsday Project’s Subject 9. Putting a 4/4 body AND drawing up to 5 cards for 5 mana is just insane. While you don’t always draw all five, 3-4 is probably the average, making it still a great play. Playing it thins your deck heavily, adds a lot of value, and gives Secrets to feed Secretkeeper, Lesser Emerald Spellstone and Zul'jin with. All of the Secrets, as well as a Spellstone swing, make it quite good against aggressive decks – they have a hard time keeping up. Actually, it has quite solid matchups across the board, with Odd (and Quest) Warrior, as well as Exodia Paladin being the biggest outliers. Basically, your Secrets aren’t that strong if your opponent doesn’t have an incentive to trigger them, and your Spellstone is not that good if you play against deck that can deal with it through AoE. However, despite being the least popular of the four, stats put it at the #2 in terms of strength, right after Deathrattle Hunter.

There are also some other Hunter decks, such as Odd Hunter or Recruit Hunter, but they’re in the minority right now. The chances are that if you face a Hunter on the ladder, it’s going to be one of the four decks listed above. Of course, it’s not a huge help, because you still don’t know which one it is. But in general, it’s safest to assume that you face a Spell Hunter, since it’s clearly the most popular out of the bunch.

Are There Any Counters?

If you read the rest of this article, you’ve probably already guessed that answering this question won’t be that easy. The thing is – yes, of course, there are counters to the individual Hunter decks, otherwise they would be absolutely unstoppable, which is not the case. But the problem is that there are no decks that counter every single popular Hunter archetype at once. Since their play style, strengths and weaknesses are so different, playing a deck that counters one of them often puts you at the risk against some other Hunter build. Let’s take the two most popular archetypes – Spell Hunter and Deathrattle Hunter. Spell Hunter, to put it simply, works well against faster decks, but is weak against slow decks. And Deathrattle Hunter is the opposite – it’s weak against Aggro, but it crushes slower decks.

If I had to pick a single deck that works best against all Hunters, it would – funnily enough – be Odd Paladin. Yes, the deck that just got nerfed recently. While Level Up! was certainly a powerful play, after replacing it with Frostwolf Warlord the deck lost only a part of its strength. The main advantage of being able to flood the board with the Hero Power alone is still there. While usually the Secret-based Hunter decks work well against Aggro, Odd Paladin is a sort of exception. The thing is, a lot of the traps like Freezing Trap or Wandering Monster are good at stopping or at least slowing down decks that run less minions, but against the kind of board flood that Odd Paladin can create, it’s nearly impossible. While Explosive Trap is amazing in this matchup, two AoEs (well, three if we count Deathstalker Rexxar) are still not enough to counter them playing 2-3 minions per turn, every single turn. Which makes Odd Paladin basically the only deck with solid matchups against all Hunter archetypes. It still has only a slightly favorable matchup vs Spell and Secret Hunter, but a great matchup vs Deathrattle Hunter.

Another solid contender, and another deck that’s pretty underplayed right now, is Even Shaman. The story is similar to the one of Odd Paladin – it’s another build that can flood the board faster than Hunter can answer. While it’s not as fast as Odd Paladin, it has quite a lot of synergies that make the board floods even more powerful. Great thing about the deck is that it can answer Spellstone much easier than other fast builds thanks to the attack buffs like Flametongue TotemDire Wolf Alpha (which make the trades much easier), as well as direct damage cards like Fire Elemental. Even Shaman has a 50/50 matchup vs Secret Hunter and a slightly negative (roughly 45/55) matchup vs Spell Hunter, but it’s working well against both Midrange and Deathrattle builds, making it a solid contender if you want to counter Hunters.

Even Paladin is yet another deck that’s good for similar reasons as the two listed above, but I honestly wouldn’t call it much of a “counter” – it has roughly 50/50 matchups against most of the Hunter decks, meaning that it’s a way to survive the Hunter onslaught, but not really beat them. Even Paladin is an interesting deck in general, because the same thing could be said about most of the matchup on the ladder. The deck doesn’t really counter anything, but it’s also not countered by anything – it has 50/50 or slightly positive matchups against majority of the ladder decks, which makes it a good choice if you hate losing to the matchmaking RNG.

Odd Warrior and Odd Quest Warrior are good choices against 3 out of 4 most popular Hunter decks. They both work fine against Spell Hunter, Secret Hunter and Midrange Hunter. Thanks to their massive Armor gain, as well as multiple ways to clear the board, they can beat those quite consistently, since they have hard time rushing them down, but also hard time outvaluing them. If I had to pick one of the two, I’d go for Quest version, simply because it’s a much better choice against Deathstalker Rexxar. With the regular Odd Warrior, no matter how hard you try, you can still lose to an on-curve Rexxar from Hunter. They will just create an extra threat every time over the next 20+ turns, and they can even high roll into some Raptor Hatchlings to escape fatigue. Quest Warrior has an advantage of an extra, inevitable win condition in a form of 8 damage Hero Power. If Hunter goes for Rexxar, Quest version will just outtempo them with Hero Powers. The issue with picking a Warrior as your Hunter counter, however, is Deathrattle Hunter. The deck crushes both Warrior variants. It can snowball the game early with triggered Eggs, and if you don’t find an answer, they will outdamage your Armor gain easily. A good mid game Cube can also seal the game. Deathrattle minions make your AoEs much less powerful. Let’s say that they have Egg on the board, you Brawl and their 3/3 survives. Now they still have 8 damage right after you’ve AoEd, and if they just drop another Deathrattle, or Cube the 5/5, you are in a difficult spot again. Deathstalker Rexxar is also more scary against them than against other Hunter archetypes, because once they stick a big threat to the board, they can Cube and trigger it, making your life miserable. Still, OVERALL, those two Warrior decks are a solid choice against Hunters, since Deathrattle version is only 1/5 to 1/4 of all Hunter builds.

Exodia Paladin is a similar story to Odd Warrior and Odd Quest Warrior, but to a lesser extent. It has a bad matchup against Deathrattle Hunter, but not as bad as Warriors. And it has good matchup against the other 3, but not as good as Warriors. Which means that if I had to pick one of the three – Odd Warrior, Odd Quest Warrior and Exodia Paladin – I’d go for the Odd Quest Warrior, assuming that you’re just looking at the Hunter matchups.

And last, but not least, Clone (Resurrect) Priest. Surprisingly, the deck has solid matchup against all Hunter decks but Midrange Hunter. In general, the deck tends to lose to faster, more aggressive decks, but handles the slower matchups quite well. I wouldn’t call it a Hunter counter, because other Hunter matchups are roughly 55/45 for Priest (so favorable, but not amazing), but it should still be a solid choice in this Hunter-infested ladder. The deck handles Spell & Secret versions quite well, because a) it doesn’t have to trigger Secrets early, thus reducing a big chunk of those decks power and b) it has nice answers for the Spellstone. Mass Hysteria is great on curve, but Psychic Scream is probably even better, as it shuffles a bunch of weak cards into your opponent’s deck. It’s especially powerful vs Spell Hunter, because shuffling the minions in means that their spell-only cards (To My Side! and Rhok'delar) are no longer active. And when it comes to Deathrattle version, for the most part, the deck is just not fast enough to rush the Priest down, so once it gets to the late game, the can can do its magic (start reviving big minion after big minion, heal up to full with boosted Spirit Lash, combo the opponent down). That said, those matchups are heavily draw-dependent. 45/55 is still very close, so if Hunter gets a fast start, he can seal the game before Clone Priest can show its true power.

Do We Need Another Nerf Patch?

That’s actually a very good question, but it’s not an easy one to answer. Maybe let’s start by asking whether we MIGHT get another patch at all. You see, Blizzard’s way of doing things so far was: expansion -> nerf patch (usually around 2 months in) -> another expansion. Ever since they’ve started doing it, we haven’t seen a second nerf patch in the same expansion. That said, releasing a nerf patch roughly 2 weeks into Rastakhan’s Rumble has already messed up with their usual schedule. I get why they did it this way, because waiting another month or so would be hard to bear, but right now we’ve got almost 3.5 months between the nerf patch and next release.

The thing about nerf patches is that they aren’t used solely to make the game more balanced, but also to keep it fresh and interesting. While (most of the time, this one was one of the exceptions) the meta change is not as big during an expansion’s release, it still shakes it up and keeps player busy for at least another month or so. And by the time it gets boring, new expansion gets teased, hype increases and the whole cycle begins anew. But it won’t work this time, because a) we still have more than 3 months until the next expansion. It basically means that even if we very generously say that it will take another month for players to figure out the meta, it will still be 2 months away from the next expansion and at least a month before the teases, leaving us with a monthly, empty period in which players will start quitting the game – and that’s something Blizzard doesn’t want.

One argument against another nerf patch is the upcoming rotation, which is going to fix the Hunter problem. With all of the Year of the Mammoth cards rotating out, it means that Hunter will be left without foundations for the most powerful decks. Secrets will no longer be as good without Lesser Emerald Spellstone (and Wandering Monster, to a lesser extent). Deathrattle Hunter will be basically dead without Devilsaur EggPlay DeadTerrorscale StalkerCarnivorous Cube and Kathrena Winterwisp. Midrange Beast Hunter might still be solid thanks to Master's Call, but let’s be honest – it’s the weakest out of popular Hunter decks right now, so it surviving a rotation is not a big deal. Even that deck loses strong Turn 1 and Turn 2 plays in a form of Dire Mole into Crackling Razormaw. Rotation should make Hunter balanced again.

Another reason why a second nerf patch might not be that desirable is that it’s not going to change that much. In order for the 2018 cards to see play, we would need to nerf most of the 2017 staples, which is simply impossible. Year of the Mammoth had significantly higher power level than Year of the Raven, and the only realistic way to get through it is waiting until the rotation. So a nerf patch that targets Hunter would indeed make Hunter weaker, but would it make the meta more interesting? Would we see some new decks, new archetypes, new cards, or we would just see another wave of old decks and the meta would get stale after 2 more weeks?

All in all, I think that I would still prefer a nerf patch over doing nothing for the next few weeks, but nerf patch always comes at a very high cost. No matter what gets nerfed, a big part of players will get upset for many different reasons. Maybe they didn’t like how it got handled, maybe they were playing the card, or maybe they want a Dust refund for cards that didn’t get nerfed directly, but were indirectly affected by a nerf (e.g. Saronite Chain Gang -> Shudderwock). Players will also start expecting multiple nerf patches per expansion, it will set a precedent. So if devs will not deliver next time, a lot of players will be upset. Not to mention that if the nerfs turn out to not fix whatever they were meant to fix, we might have a next outrage, another “Blizzard can’t balance their own game” tirade. Given that things will fix themselves relatively soon without any help, the risk/reward of doing another nerf patch might be too big. So all in all, I would love a nerf patch – Hearthstone isn’t particularly fun to play when it’s dominated by a single class and when all of the decks are already established archetypes without many new cards. But I don’t think that it’s going to happen.

What Hunter Cards Could Get Nerfed?

And finally, IF a nerf patch would happen – what should Blizzard hit anyway? A very common answer, one that I completely disagree with is Zul'jin. Zul’jin is not a problem, the card is played because current Hunter’s secret package is over the top. Zul’jin himself is well balanced for a 10 mana card, especially given that he’s basically played solely for the Battlecry, since his Hero Power is only a slight upgrade (and sometimes even a downgrade, if you’re already a DK Rexxar).

If a nerf would happen, the card I would like to see go first is definitely Lesser Emerald Spellstone. The card is too easy to upgrade and too powerful once it gets upgraded. There are a few ways to approach this nerf – the simplest one would be increasing mana cost to 6. It would still be playable, but no longer as strong on curve. Another way to hit it would be increasing the upgrade requirement from one to two Secrets. So you would need four Secrets in total to fully upgrade it. And finally, they could nerf the number of Wolves summoned to 1 -> 2 -> 3, although that would make the card basically unplayable without upgrades. I think that the second solution – to increase the number of Secrets necessary to upgrade – would be the best one. The card would still keep its peak power, but it would take longer to get there, so it could only be upgraded once on curve most of the time. That would most likely be enough to put the Secret strategies in line with other decks.

As for the Deathrattle strategy, it’s a bit more complicated. Since the deck has so many win conditions, it’s difficult to pick the one that should get hit. One likely candidate would be Devilsaur Egg. A seemingly innocent card gets super powerful if you can trigger it early for 1 or 3 mana. Making the Devilsaur 4/4 would definitely decrease the overall power level of the deck, although I’m not a big fan of that change, unless it gets reverted once it rotates out to Wild (since then it would be a strictly worse Nerubian Egg). Increasing the cost of Deathrattle triggers by 1 mana (Play Dead to 2 and Terrorscale Stalker to 4) could also work. Alternatively, hitting Kathrena Winterwisp in some way would nerf the deck’s late game. Again, increasing the mana cost or decreasing stats would be the easiest way to hit it. Alternatively, moving both Recruits to Deathrattle (instead of one being Battlecry) might be an interesting change. It would lower the initial tempo push, and make the card even more vulnerable to Silence. An upside would be triggering it with something like Play Dead and then it dying in natural way, it could Recruit four Beasts, where right now it would Recruit “only” three. That’s not a big difference, though, given that you rarely have four Big Beasts left in your deck by that time anyway (sometimes you don’t even have three).

When talking about overall nerfs for Hunter, there are a few cards which see play in basically every Hunter archetype which could get hit. Candleshot is one of them. While it seems innocent, it’s a very powerful card. Making Rexxar immune is a very powerful effect – it can be used to control the board in the early game without taking damage, or to kill a big minion with Hunter's Mark – again – without taking any damage. In some games, the card prevents 10+ damage, which is almost like healing for that much for 1 mana. I think that removing one point of Durability, or making the immunity last only for the first turn (similarly to how Shadowblade works) would be the best course of action.

And finally, Deathstalker Rexxar. It’s one of the most powerful Hunter cards ever printed, and it’s definitely in the top 3 of most impactful Death Knights ever. It would be the nerf that would hurt Hunter most, but it might also be a hard card to touch. It’s difficult to do something about Hero Power without ruining its flavor. On the other hand, increasing the mana cost OR nerfing the Battlecry would make the card more polarizing. It would still be great vs Control (because you don’t play it for Battlecry, and dropping it a turn later or something isn’t a big deal), but it would just become weaker vs Aggro. At this point, it’s such an iconic card that I honestly wouldn’t touch it.

Of course, I’m not calling to nerf all of those cards – there’s no reason to kill the class when the rotation is happening so soon. But hitting some of those cards would lower the power level of Hunter class enough for it to stop dominating the meta completely.

And what do you think about the entire situation? What do you think about the current state of Hunter? Would you like to see another balance patch, and if yes, what cards would you like to see nerfed?


A Hearthstone player and writer from Poland, Stonekeep has been in a love-hate relationship with Hearthstone since Closed Beta. Over that time, he has achieved many high Legend climbs and infinite Arena runs. He's the current admin of Hearthstone Top Decks.

Check out Stonekeep on Twitter!

Leave a Reply


  1. Otto Rapp
    January 4, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Kinda getting tired of 8/10 matches being midrange/spell hunter, wheres the creativity and fun in that?
    possible Nerf for Zul’jin maybe? instead of casting all spells maybe an (X) amount of random spells that you’ve cast that game?

  2. Electronick
    January 4, 2019 at 8:12 am

    I’d personally like to see a nerf to deadly shot so that it kills a random minion rather than a random enemy minnion. That card is nuts with Zul’jin.

    Whilst I do think hunters are OP and there are far too many on ladder at the moment I don’t actually mind playing them. I enjoy playing around secrets and spells. As an almost exclusively control paladin player I make sure I have board clears and healing ready for their tempo plays.

    Deathrattle Hunter usually crushes me but if I can get some immortal prelates with taunt going I stand a chance.

  3. Talon
    January 2, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Impressive analysis as always Stonekeep! Thanks for an interesting read.

    Hunter is good right now and that’s fine. Rather than reiterate all the points made in the article, I’ll just say I don’t think any nerfs are needed to Hunter directly. There is reliable counterplay available.

  4. DukeStarswisher
    January 2, 2019 at 8:28 am

    Yeah sure everyone is playing hunter. idgaf because control priest has shown to be a HARD counter to all of those decks. The only time I’ve had trouble was when DK came out. The value generation on that card is insane and I would be really surprised if that card isn’t touched before rotation. If not, it will continue to limit beast design space.

    But as a priest main I can handle this hunter craze until rotation.

  5. Michiel 't Jong
    January 2, 2019 at 5:56 am

    Before last expansion came out, players thought the card: “Revenge of the Wild” would be the nr1 hunter changing card. 2 mana to resurrect al beasts that died this turn sounds insane! Now i see it almost never gets played, you guys have any idea why?

    • Ronadan
      January 2, 2019 at 9:21 am

      Revenge of the wild is a very high power level card indeed. the problem right now is that it has to compete with every secret in 2 mana slot and considering its situational or combo-based nature, it’s not needed. The card itself is pretty good, but no one need it right now

      btw i think we should wait until rotation. there is a good chance for it to see play

  6. Lorox
    January 2, 2019 at 3:47 am

    Hunter needs to be nerfed soon, waiting until April would be the same fault we had in the past years. At the moment the meta game is restricted to which decks are able to deal with 4 Spellstone + 4 To my Side in any way. And it was the appearance of Zul’jin which made this possible, so they learned nothing from the Yogg fiasco. Rexxar DK is okay on its own, but giving Hunter a second DK card was a crazy decision!

  7. James Currie
    January 1, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    I feel like most of the balance problems with hearthstone at the moment aren’t so much that hunter is too powerful – more that most of the other classes are simply too weak. What makes emerald spellstone so good for example, is that many decks simply don’t have a three damage aoe at turn 4-5. It’s a lack of ability for the other classes to respond, more than individual cards being too powerful.

  8. Peter Leja
    January 1, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    I wouldn’t nerf anything for Hunter, because rotation will eliminate a lot of the powerful cards the deck has (while, hopefully, adding new ones). I also think Emerald Spellstone is mostly fine (just powerful). You have to build around it to make it successful, not just toss it into any Hunter deck. It is easy to upgrade, but the cards that are required to upgrade it (Secrets) are much worse as the game progresses. It’s also the main reason to play Spell Hunter, so nerfing it basically makes it not worth the venture.

    If there’s any card I want to see nerfed, it is Deathstalker Rexxar. This is a personal bias I have against basically all Death Knights, though.

  9. to
    January 1, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Hey now leave Hunter alone…it’s been at bottom true for 2 yrs prior to boomsday it deserves to shine awhile..

    January 1, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    I read this article as if I were reading a master’s dissertation thesis. Very well written, deep and width. Congrats! And excellent article that I think sums up what the majority of the community thinks with some huge insights into thinks we probably didn’t know as which cards could be nerfed. I think that it’s time that Blizzard recognizes that they screwed it up and find a way to fix. Blizz hates communicating for some weird reason, but I think being honest with us in this topic would create a huge bond. Stonekeep, thanks a lot for offering such a powerful and well written article

  11. goblinta
    January 1, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    One consideration in NOT nerfing hunter.

    Unlike many previous mismatches in the past – hunter vs hunter games or hunter vs X games are unusually skill intense.

    Kingsbane decks made the opponent passive. You just watched bad things happen to you. Odd Paladin was much the same.

    Playing hunter means guessing the secrets and anticipating the timing of key cards.

    Even if hunter decks are prevalent and stronger than other decks – as long as the meta is varied (four different hunter decks) and games are determined by play skill and not by the randomness of deck pairings – then Hearthstone is in a good place.

    Blizzard can wait till the rotation shift.

  12. Ronadan
    January 1, 2019 at 7:18 am

    thank you stonekeep.

    surprising for me right now, is the fact that after nerf patch, priests are returning to meta. it seems like a slow but steady rise in winrate, considering the fact that nerfs had no direct impact on it, though it is clear that meta is a bit less aggro and that’s perfect for priest. As we see u guys right now addressing some main issues in current meta, Do u have any plan for an analyzing article about that as well?

  13. mark ames
    December 31, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Druids have no answer to Hunter because of the sheer number of 3/3 put out. Then if you’re able to get to 8 mana, you have no chance against Rexxar due to combining rush, lifesteal, poison with more stats. Those beasts were intentionally low stated for a reason.

    • TardisGreen
      January 2, 2019 at 8:10 am

      Druids have no answers to anything right now. That is a different problem.

  14. Daniel B
    December 31, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Should the class be nerfed? Part of me says yes. Emerald Spellstone is too strong given the amount of support it has.

    As for DK Rexxar, this card bothers because it indicates that the designers have little interest in finding ways to make a class viable while still maintaining its class identity.

    That’s right, CLASS IDENTITY. Remember when Hearthstone had such a thing? There was a similar problem with Druid not too long ago; a class that could pump out fat threats but was checked by swarm strategies and poor targeted removal options. These traditional flaws were gapped by the addition of cards like Spreading Plague, (no longer weak to swarm) Jasper Spellstone and UI (both tier 1 removal cards) which caused a lot of problems.

    And now Hunter, a class that has always been premium for hyper aggressive strategies but was balanced by the fact that it could be out-valued no longer has this weakness.

    In conclusion, no class should be able to do EVERYTHING. That was the problem with Druid. Now it’s the problem that Hunter.

    Blizzard if you can hear me, all I want for Christmas is distinct class identities.

    • Ronadan
      January 1, 2019 at 7:28 am

      your conclusion is the main goal of deckbuilding. the problem with class identities is how blizzard wants to keep that and add diversity.

      warlock’s theme at first was “sacrifice for greater good”, but now it has tons of healing options that just ignore that. with druid, “ramp” is the main theme and it can make some OK ideas become pretty dominant. that’s one of the reasons why jade druid was the most successful jade deck

  15. nonya
    December 31, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    I think MTGA is a great game and I won’t miss Hunterstone.

    • Daniel
      January 2, 2019 at 5:36 am

      I have quit HS for MTGA, but at this point I would even say the game ranking is

      MTGA > TES Legends > HS > Artifact for me.

      Hearthstone ruined itself for me for relying on rng effects that any good player wants to minimize and thus takes ages on their turns. This is prevalent in BOTH Hunter hero cards. Zul’jin randomizes spell order and targets, Rexxar randomizes the pool of Zombeasts. But what ruins it for me is the length of most games. In the amount of time I put into a control mirror or even Control vs. Midrange in HS, I can play two games in Legends, or even a best of three in MTGA. If that means the return of Face Hunter, so be it. And you can’t simply give up games where you slowly loose because of the RNG factor. Trolden’s videos are a perfect example of people still winning, and it is prominent enough that people don’t give up before their health reaches 0.

      Legends has a very cool comeback mechanic with the runes. MTGA has such a precise gameplay developed that people know when they lost and simply give up when they know they cannot recuperate. But not HS. Here, everyone, no matter how bad they are play a 30 turn game loosing vs. Control Warrior. And RNG does not create tension. interesting turns create that.

      All in all, I am glad and sad I quit HS, after four years of good entertainment from it. Also I don’t think the current card designers aim for a fun game, but for maximized profit. Most good cards are class epics, with very few neutral exceptions. This switches up gameplay between classes which is good. But it creates the need for about 9 times as many epics to play all classes.

      • TardisGreen
        January 2, 2019 at 8:12 am

        Anything to say about the article. Or did you just feel like crying a bit.

  16. Wow
    December 31, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Nah pretty much every core hunter archetype is gonna rotate next year. Next rotation is gonna be the most balanced meta in a while.

    • JoyDivision
      January 1, 2019 at 3:49 am

      That’s a bold statement because nobody knows what the new year / expansion will bring… if Blizzard decides to keep Hunter on top, they just need to release 10 op Hunter cards and give trash to the other classes.

      I’m not saying that’s gonna happen, though. 😉

    • Ronadan
      January 1, 2019 at 7:32 am

      tell that to odd dragon warrior. that deck is a solid one right now and the rotation won’t hurt it that much. just give it another board clear and then we need another nerf patch

    • DukeStarswisher
      January 2, 2019 at 8:40 am

      I completely agree with this. Once all the broken mammoth cards rotate we are in for an actual balanced game.

      I find it hilarious how players whine about the weak power level of Raven and how it doesn’t change the meta but then also whine about the broken mammoth cards. You can’t have it both ways. Team 5 has done an exceptional job balancing this year (besides GI but that was corrected) and it will show more once the rotation hits.

  17. Darman41
    December 31, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    No nerf needed, DK Rexar is going to rotate in next 4 months, which is going to put Hunter on right place.

  18. Sinjin
    December 31, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    I do not think Hunter should be nerfed. Just play decks that play around Hunter. I mainly use anti-meta warlock and I run a chief Inspector and plenty of removal and I win 90% of the time.

    • Joe
      December 31, 2018 at 3:31 pm

      Hunter should be left alone. Players cry every time when a class gets to strong. But given time things change and rebalance. So it’s my time to stop crying and play Hunter and for others to wait there turn.

    • Pyre
      January 1, 2019 at 11:49 am

      Could you please share your list?
      I’d love to check it out

  19. TheArcanist
    December 31, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    I personally think that the best way to nerf Deathstalker Rexxar is simply removing some Beasts from its buckets; the main candidates are Cave Hydra/Exploding Bloatbat and Vicious Scalehide, the first two being just too good combined with Rush or especially Poisonous and completely wrecking Control decks, while the Scalehide can be combined with something big or even the two ‘AoE’ beasts for massive healing against Aggro decks. Some other Beasts could also be removed, but these three are causing most problems. Also, they could just simply raise the card’s Cost to 8 mana – it would still be good against heavy control like Odd Warrior or Big Spell Mage while not doing basically anything against Aggro.

    • Byk
      January 1, 2019 at 6:28 pm


    • DukeStarswisher
      January 2, 2019 at 8:45 am

      honestly, just getting rid of 5 mana beasts could balance the card. Make it only have buckets with 4 mana or below. Yes it doesn’t deal with scalehide or bloatbat but it wouldn’t ensure ridiculously powerful and big beasts every single time.

  20. Tuscarora87
    December 31, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    The Spellstone is total bs, but Blizzard is the one who unnecessarily brought us this “Hunterstone” situation. They purposely nerfed some stuff in order to something obvious happen – Hunter’s dominance. If it wasn’t their aim, then they are clueless anyway. Now it wouldn’t be fair to destroy some iconic cards just before the rotation which would lead to the destruction of some viable Hunter archetypes in Wild. Blizzard is surprising us more and more and therefore I believe we will get 2nd nerfs (in package with Big Priest), after people spend enough dust on these Hunter’s traps.

  21. Chris Givler
    December 31, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Increasing the amount of secrets for the spellstone is the best way to help bring it to a more balanced card. Two secrets for upgrade is perfectly fine. Also agree 100% about Candleshot. The ability to team it up with Hunter’s Mark (a card that nearly saw no play before the weapon) is down right filthy.

    • Byk
      January 1, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      The problem with DK Rexxar is that it can take your aggressive deck and can make it into something that can beat a control deck by itself. I love it and think it is fun… But one card shouldn’t be able to transform your deck like that.