All in all, it was a light week of Hearthstone and a slow but steady Legend climb in an environment where much may have changed around Illidan but he has pretty much remained the same. Have we found the gold standard of Tempo Demon Hunter? I think it’s quite likely…
- Introduction – 0/1000
- Week 1 – 118/1000
- Week 2 – 147/1000
- Week 3 – 208/1000
- Week 4 – 280/1000
- Week 5 – 388/1000
- Week 6 – 421/1000
- Week 7 – 529/1000
- Week 8 – 597/1000
- Week 9 – 640/1000
- Week 10 – 672/1000
- Week 11 – 704/1000
- Week 12 – 752/1000
Climbing the Stairway to Legend
Sometimes it feels like I’ve played a lot more on ladder thanks to this series than I have for most of the Year of the Dragon, especially when it comes to the early period of the month. Quick grinds from Bronze 10 to Legend on both ladders and a decently high finish last month puts me in a good position to vouch for the revamped ranked system: for a regular like me, it certainly feels like a big improvement. Essentially, this setup makes it easy for me to continue from where I was and offers much-improved matches on the way there.
Though it does make Legend itself much less of an accomplishent, the emphasis on the hidden MMR over your rank (which also seems to be what determines your 11-star bonus at the end of the season) means a good player will not have to wade through the low-Legend dumpster even if they have a slower climb. I can confirm that’s the case: last time I entered Legend at 632 on May 3 – now I got in at 561 on June 7. Having finished around 300, I think that’s a testament to the new system’s strengths and it’s a change I greatly appreciate overall.
But enough of this – let’s talk VENGEANCE.
Y u no Questing?
I’m always more fascinated by the minute meta shifts than the earth-shattering ones: those that only force out alterations in a build instead of kicking it to the trash dump. Regular readers of this column know that I’m enamored with the idea of shoving Questing Adventurers into Tempo Demon Hunter to get scalable threats – so it should come as a surprise that I opted against doing to in the current ladder environment, especially with more Druids showing up at the expense of Warriors.
This mostly has to do with the mirror match and it’s an interesting and unexpected consequence of the latest round of nerfs which kneecapped Priestess of Fury builds: lacking a viable late-game replacement (believe me, I searched high and low), Tempo Demon Hunter builds opted for a lower curve and further one-drops. This, in turn, made their opening turns more consistent, which means that a turn three Questing Adventurer + The Coin + whatever play is no longer an effective way to generate counterplay when going second in the mirror – which, of course, remains a crippling disadvantage.
Which brings me to what I consider the gold standard of Tempo Demon Hunter builds for the foreseeable future: XiaoT’s early Legend 1 take on the archetype, a simple, clean and consistent approach full of cards that just… make sense.
It doesn’t do anything special but it feels like just the right mix of threats and redraw tools, allowing you to squeeze out just a few extra percentage points off the back of consistency compared to more oddball builds like Cursed’s #4 take on the archetype with Guardian Augmerchant, Bonechewer Brawler and other oddities. (Interestingly enough, it seems like cutting one Eye Beam has become an acceptable thing to do, offering you a crucial extra slot to adjust your builds to the current metagame.)
Speaking of oddities, the other reason I’m quite confident about the XiaoT build is that I tried my damnedest to find some finicky alternative and ultimately came up quite short. There’s merit in exploring additional 2-drops to increase curve consistency (and to save yourself from the ignominy of having to play Beaming Sidekick as a vanilla 1/2 on turn one) but none of them improve on the build overall: Acidic Swamp Ooze seems like an option in certain pockets of the metagame but never really does enough, and even the more out-there ideas like combining Guardian Augmerchant with Temple Berserker to create stickier boards against Warriors turned out to be a waste of time. Higher up the curve, Vulpera Scoundrel is a card which comes up again and again in the comment section and the occasional builds: it’s nothing new, we’ve seen it in certain high-Legend Chinese decks immediately after the day one nerf. It’s… alright, but since it’s a poor tempo play, it doesn’t mesh well with your standard gameplan, and in general it doesn’t tend to work well when you try to toss comeback cards into your aggressive deck. I’m not a fan.
…but am I fan of Illidan overall?
The Future of Demon Hunter
Where do we currently stand on the Demon Hunter experiment? Has its inclusion made the game better, and how well does it slot into the metagame? Has it carved out a unique space or did it simply elbow out some of the original nine? No doubt these are questions worth revisiting once I crossed the magical 1000 win barrier – and we will learn a lot more about these matters once we see the kind of cards the class will get in future sets. Seeing how overtuned their Ashes of Outland toolkit was on release, and considering Team 5 works at least a year ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a delayed effect of this release in the form of awful class cards in 2021’s first set, especially considering Demon Hunter will be the only class that doesn’t lose anything with the yearly rotation.
We’ve discussed this before: Demon Hunter may be very strong, but at least it is fair. You know the cards it has to work with and the damage it can put out from hand. No doubt this could change once new sets arrive with support for different archetypes, but there are two other aspects of the class that seem to suggest they may stay this way in the future. First of all, their cheaper Hero Power will always make them more consistent than their opposition. It will, in turn, also constantly push the class towards more aggressive builds the same way Rogues are defined by their daggers. Second – and this is the part that makes me hopeful about many things in the game’s future – it has no resource generation or uncontrolled randomness so far. In fact, a search for the word “random” in the Demon Hunter card pool showcases the sort of controllable outcomes we haven’t seen since the Classic days: Blade Dance rarely fails to be a board clear (especially considering how you get to attack yourself), Soul Cleave is controllable, Wrathscale Naga and Fel Summoner are bad cards, Imprisoned Antaen and Priestess of Fury are quite reliable and Nethrandamus’ variance does not have an overwhelming impact, especially considering it has no initiative. Strong but stable, and you know what you’re going up against. I’ve missed this kind of gameplay, and at the end of the day, its return makes me grateful for Demon Hunter’s existence by itself.