Nerfed Four Times, Still the Best Deck in the Game – What Is Going on With Demon Hunter?

The introduction of the first new class to Hearthstone since release has been a wild ride, to say the least. Demon Hunter came, it saw, it conquered. Then it was nerfed, and nerfed, and nerfed, and then it conquered again. What is going on with this class?

A Brief History of Demon Hunter Nerfs

Demon Hunter now holds the ever-lasting record of the fastest nerfs in the game. On April 8th, just one day after the release of Ashes of Outland, four Demon Hunter cards were changed:

The crazy part is that these changes had no effect on the use of Skull of Gul'dan and Eye BeamAldrachi Warblades saw its popularity go down, but it is still a strong contender in any slower Demon Hunter lists, such as the recent Control Demon Hunter decks. Imprisoned Antaen was the only card from this first nerf batch that was actually cut from decks.

Less than two weeks later, on April 20th, Demon Hunter was hit again:

  • Altruis the Outcast mana cost was increased to four, up from three. It also received an Attack buff to four, up from three. Given that no one has ever seen Altruis attack, this buff made no difference.
  • Battlefiend Attack was decreased to one, down from two.
  • Glaivebound Adept Attack was decreased to six, down from seven.
  • Frenzied Felwing Health was decreased to two, down from three.

Most of these were minor adjustments that had hardly any effect on how the cards were used. At the time, I thought that Battlefiend losing one Attack would make it weaker, as it could potentially be value-traded by other one-drops, but its effect proved to be powerful enough to keep it a staple in every aggressive Demon Hunter deck. The change to Altruis the Outcast together with the simultaneous nerf to Kael'thas Sunstrider (mana cost increased to seven, up from six) was enough to remove OTK Demon Hunter from the meta, but made no difference to the more popular Tempo Demon Hunter. The nerf to the neutral Frenzied Felwing resulted in that card getting cut from most Tempo Demon Hunter decks, but the archetype quickly found good replacements.

One month later, on May 18th, it was time to nerf Demon Hunter again:

This time, the changes had a clear effect: the slower variant of Tempo Demon Hunter that was built around Priestess of Fury ceased to exist, and only the Warglaives of Azzinoth variant survived. Crimson Sigil Runner was also cut from some of the lists: it remained a playable card but was no longer the best-performing card in the deck.

Finally, on June 18th, it was time for yet another Demon Hunter change:

  • Twin Slice and Second Slice mana cost was increased to one, up from zero. They now give +2 Attack instead of +1 Attack.

Ironically, this change was devastating for the Wild format, where Odd Demon Hunter received a major buff from it and became even more of a monster. In Standard, it cut down the speed of Demon Hunter a little but caused no changes to the decks themselves.

The Nerfs Had a Bigger Effect Than You May Think

If you just look at Demon Hunter being at the top in April and Demon Hunter being at the top now, it is easy to think that the nerfs were ineffective. However, they did have several effects.

The initial Demon Hunter decks that dominated the ladder were based on the trio of Raging FelscreamerImprisoned Antaen, and Priestess of Fury. Have you seen any of those decks around recently? Nope, the Antaen nerf killed the trio and the Priestess nerf killed everything that remained of it.

At one point, many pro players were of the opinion that OTK Demon Hunter is the most powerful version of the class. The nerfs to Kael’thas and Altruis stopped that variant.

Meanwhile, the more aggressive Tempo Demon Hunter deck has kept evolving. Sure, it still retains its signature tools in Warglaives of AzzinothMetamorphosis, and Kayn Sunfury, but it has improved by leaps and bounds over the past weeks.

For example, the deck was initially very vulnerable to anything that can deal two damage because most of the minions in the deck had two health. Frenzied Felwing was crucial in those early days as a lone three-health minion, and when it was nerfed the deck needed some new solutions. Beaming SidekickBonechewer Brawler, and Guardian Augmerchant were all answers to reduce the vulnerability to two-damage effects. Some lists have also experimented with Amani Berserker as an additional card in the same role.

Some of the tech cards used against Demon Hunters were also adapted for use in Demon Hunter decks themselves: Frozen Shadoweaver and Blowtorch Saboteur can help the deck in the mirror and they also provide more minions with higher than two Health for the deck, further reducing its vulnerability to spells such as Explosive TrapHoly Nova, and Breath of the Infinite.

Demon Hunter is a new class. Everything about it is new, and it has taken some time to fine-tune it. The nerfs could have been effective against a class that was already well-tuned, but Demon Hunter has evolved faster than it has been nerfed. The current Demon Hunter decks are miles ahead of the ones that were played in April. I guess that gives some perspective into how completely broken the class was at release.

As a budget deck builder, I have felt the effects of the nerfs more than the average Demon Hunter player. Budget Demon Hunter decks have needed complete overhauls multiple times during Ashes of Outland, and I’m still not sure how to best respond to the Twin Slice change that struck my latest Questing Adventurer builds. Demon Hunter decks have become more and more expensive because the importance of Warglaives of AzzinothMetamorphosis, and Kayn Sunfury has increased and some of the newer tech cards used in the class – Vulpera Scoundrel and Blowtorch Saboteur – are Epic cards. All of the nerfs have hit the cheaper and more accessible Demon Hunter cards and not their signature powerhouses.

This can be interpreted as a good thing: the new player ranks are swarmed with Demon Hunters because the free set of cards for the class makes it a superior choice compared to anything else a brand new player can get their hands on. By nerfing some of the cheaper Demon Hunter cards and making it more difficult to build Demon Hunter decks on a budget, the pressure on new player ranks can be alleviated to an extent. A cynic might view it as an attempt to not provide players with too much free dust. We’ll never know the full thought process.

Looking into all of these details, the nerfs have done a lot to Demon Hunter. Yet, it is still at the top. Is it a problem? What can be done about it?

Is Demon Hunter a Problem?

Power level aside, I think Demon Hunter is a fun class to play. It has an interesting class mechanic in Outcast that can be skill-intensive and rewards planning your plays several turns ahead. It also has very low levels of randomness: your plays dictate the results, not the random resources you generate. I would even go as far as to say that Demon Hunter is the best-designed class in the game.

The problem is that Demon Hunter is such a smooth and powerful class to play that the old classes cannot compete against it with the inferior tools they have. When you cannot compete fair and square, what do you do? You scour every possible option to scam the game. Dragoncaster into Puzzle Box of Yogg-SaronBreath of Dreams into Overgrowth into Exotic Mountseller with Bogbeam and Ironbark. An army of free cards from Heistbaron Togwaggle and Galakrond.

Demon Hunter is not the problem. Demon Hunter is what all classes should be: a fun and powerful class with a unique playstyle. The problem is successfully designing ten such classes and introducing new tools for them all three times a year while keeping them all balanced. Without Demon Hunter, all the ways to quickly do a broken thing and win the game would still be here. They would still have been found and they would still be present in top tier decks. Demon Hunter merely made that process faster by being such a huge target that had to be answered.

There are a couple of decks at the top that are unique and powerful without excessive randomness: in addition to Demon Hunter, Highlander Hunter, Bomb Warrior, and Enrage Warrior are such decks. All four have a completely different playstyle too. It is possible to have classes that are both strong and fair. The classes that are too weak have been given a variety of gimmicks to win games, or abandoned altogether. The result is a meta where traditional control and combo are both dead, but this is not because of Demon Hunter because you can build control decks to answer Demon Hunter despite all of its power.

What is going on with Demon Hunter is that it is a good class with a highly synergistic package of cards all introduced at the same time. Maybe one day all classes can be more like the current Demon Hunter and less like the current Druid.

Old Guardian

Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is a writer and video creator focused on analytic, educational Hearthstone, and building innovative Standard format decks. Youtube: Twitch:

Check out Old Guardian on Twitter or on their Website!

Leave a Reply


  1. Frijamabob
    July 2, 2020 at 1:19 am

    Please stop nerfing DH.. I dont even play DH
    every expansion each class has their moment. let DH have theirs

    • Nihaoma
      July 2, 2020 at 7:08 pm

      I disagree, DH is problematic because there is no reason to play any fast/tempo deck with other classes since DH has much better draw, removal and burst potentials than anyone else. Also, the difference in winrate between DH and Shaman has gotten a bit ridiculous considering the fact that shaman was BUFFed while DH was NERFed repeatedly.

  2. SLima
    June 30, 2020 at 11:44 pm

    Alright, extreme salt post ahead.

    I don’t like the extreme RNG of things like Puzzle Box but making every class play like Demon Hunter with almost no RNG is going to make everything way too boring and predictable. I hate to play against DH because they always play the exact same way. Every game is a copycat of the previous match. It’s so boring and annoying. And even if i know exactly what they are going to do, it still doesn’t matter because of their overpowered cards.

    I have to totally disagree with the notion that DH is fair. It’s not. And that’s just because of two cards. Kayn Sunfury and Altruis are the most obscenely overpowered cards in the game. There shouldn’t be a card that can devastate a board and the player at the same time no matter the amount of setup required. It swings the game in such a hard way that it’s almost always a guaranteed defeat after a big Altruis turn even if you were at full health. I still remember the game that i lost in one turn from full health because of Altruis. I lost a board with an 8/8 and a 4/12 and took 22 damage. I went from a winning position to complete defeat after that. That was totally demoralizing. I started just despising DH after that.

    Kayn being able to ignore taunts is just rubbing salt in the wound. Taunt is a defensive mechanic of the game whose purpose is to prevent extreme aggression (in particular from charge minions) and provide another way for a slower deck to stabilize. It’s a companion to removals. It can be bypassed using silence which is a situational tech effect. But a charge minion that doesn’t just ignore taunts but also makes everything else ignore taunts is simply absurd. Classes without reliable sources of health gain simply can’t do anything about it. And even with a ton of healing they can still kill you through Altruis and their many other sources of damage.

    In the end, i already gave up on standard. I simply can’t stand it anymore. I moved to wild where i face a huge amount of priests, warlocks and mages. But i barely see any DHs and the better tools available in wild makes them not a big deal so far. I faced only 5 of them the whole month while in the previous month in standard i probably played against more than 100 of them. I also started playing Battlegrounds a lot more because the ranked meta has become way too stale (in both formats). I’ll just wait for the next expansion.

    • H0lysatan
      July 1, 2020 at 5:14 am

      All I can say is, the meta this time is based on Aggressive Deck. I too despise DH so much because the only way to beat DH is to draw the perfect cards from the start.

    • Nihaoma
      July 1, 2020 at 8:36 am

      Yea dude I also moved to wild, but guess what? Odd DH is crawling the ladder once again! You literally can’t escape DH matchups until they delete the class altogether lmao.

      • Nonagon4
        July 1, 2020 at 10:43 pm

        Thankfully Odd DH can’t run Kayn or Altruis. Still busted though LOL

  3. Peter
    June 30, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    Biggest problem I have with demon hunter is how every game feels the exact same, doesn’t matter if they are “control” or tempo, there is only like a 5 card difference in the deck lists cause demon hunter only has like 40 cards worth playing. Should have given them twice the cards they did to make there some choice…

  4. Alglyphic
    June 30, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    I’m not a particularly serious player, but the situation with Demon Hunter reminds me of my experience with Mage – over the years, it seems that Mage’s pool of cards to work with have been increasingly random, with the few times it’s been viable were because the random elements were just aligned enough to be effective, as with Conjurer Mage. Until we got to that point, Mage had to work with theoretically interesting ideas like Book of Specters and Dune Sculptor or pray for a Hail Mary with Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron. Mage had little consistency to work with because the class already had a straightforward Basic set of 6 face damage for 4 mana.

    So where does that leave Demon Hunter? It might be that the only way to rein in the class would be for the new set to give Demon Hunter nothing of note, as the short end of the expansion stick has been passed around for a good few classes, on top of other classes having something to build a deck on.

  5. Nihaoma
    June 30, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Simply put, my biggest problem with DH is that it has an amazing aggro/tempo deck that can actually draw through their entire deck quite easily. This alone goes against the fundamental philosophy of hunter and shaman for a long time, and DH leaves very few reason to play other aggressive decks because of its amazing card draw abilities. Also Twin Slice Nerf was in the wrong direction since it actually feels like a buff… and DH doesn’t need a buff if we look at winrates across standard and wild.

  6. Nonagon4
    June 30, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    I’m mostly parroting the VS podcast here but while I do agree that the cheaty swingy cards of many of the old classes are a problem, Demon Hunter is also too strong.

    I too am not a fan of the broken mechanics that are keeping the other classes afloat. I don’t mind the Highlander stuff much, but the fact that Rogue and Priest can’t win without Galakrond is really problematic, and that Druid can’t win without perfectly drawing ramp into Mountseller is so annoying it makes me mad every time I play against Druid AND play as Druid. For Mage, Solarian is just restrained enough for me personally but Puzzle Box is just dumb.

    But Demon Hunter is broken too, it just has its brokenness all across its cards instead of concentrating in a few major culprits. It’s just way too consistent in early game, removal, and late game. Umberwing, Battlefiend, Satyr Overseer, and the new Augmerchant package snowball the early game into a late game that is overflowing with options like Skull, Warglaives, Metamorphosis, Kayn, and Altruis. It’s too much. The fact that Warglaives and Altruis can deal face damage AND wide remove boards in one turn is insane, and Kayn’s bypassing of Taunts means that the best meaningful defense against DH is a crap ton of health gain, which is why Warrior is the best at countering DH.

    So if you don’t want broken swings in the other classes, they need to make themselves as absurdly consistent as DH in order to compete. To be that consistent in the early game, for example, the other classes will need cards on the level as Baku in Rogue and Paladin, Tunnel Trogg/Totem Golem in Shaman, Mana Wyrm at Tempo Mage’s height in Boomsday, and Keleseth in Zoolock. And to be able to gain enough life to survive in the late game, classes will need cards on the level of Baku for Warrior, Branching Paths for Druid, Amethyst Spellstone/pre-nerf Dark Pact for Warlock, and Reno Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun with most of those cards when they were in Standard but they’re also oppressive and stifle other strategies from surfacing. We all got bone tired of Baku and Genn after a full year of dealing with Odd/Even decks because of how consistent they were, and I think I personally am getting to that point with Demon Hunter. I don’t think Demon Hunter is innocent and I don’t think I want to see all of the other classes buffed that way.

  7. Itch
    June 30, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    You give three examples of “cheating out” mana effects. You seem to hate the druid’s the most as can be implied from your closing paragraph. I ironically agree only to the other two. Box is pure RNG and cheating it out shouldn’t be more than a meme. Although rogue’s 7 cards drawn for 0 mana fits its class identity, the current build is literally a 28 mediocre cards and a 2 card win con (with RNG). In LoR there’s a term “get hearthstoned”.
    Druid is another story. Let’s compare to DH. DH is a tempo based class that face tanks a lot. Check. Maybe summon/big DH will get support some day. Also fits class identity. He pays with his health for strong tempo. He can be hard countered with control tools.
    Druid draws fast and ramps hard into swarm/tokens. Check. He used to ramp into big things (ungoro quest, embiggen, etc.). He pays with tempo for stronger tempo later. He can be hard countered with tempo, aoe, (and Nozdormu the Timeless).
    DH and Druid are both decently strong and can be frustrating when they nut draw against you. They both currently have counters. Balanced? Maybe not. RNG? Low. Unique (thematic) playstyle? Definitely. In other words, exactly how it should be.

    About synergy in decks; most tempo, token, aggro and big/recruit decks are highly synergistic. Highlander on the other hand… The old secret highlander Hunter was the only HL deck I didn’t mind. A lot of it’s synergy was precisely bc it was one offs.

  8. JakeRed96
    June 30, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Yesterday, bot mathematician ask the same questio
    Probably it’s tine to say that ALL the basic and classic card (except, of course DH) are shit! Blizzard should think about to introduce a massive buff for ALL this card (Netruals and Class) instead of thinking about BG, New expansions, nerfs or even money… More players mean more money 😉

  9. Sheikhhadii
    June 30, 2020 at 10:59 am

    1mana hero power give him the flexibility to mantain tempo