Hearthstone’s upcoming expansion, Ashes of Outland, will bring more than just a new set of cards. Demon Hunter, Hearthstone’s 10th class, has also been announced. This is a drastic change to the game, and one we would have never expected to see years ago, as Team 5 seemed content at sticking with the original 9 classes back in the day.
Launching an entirely new class and expecting it to be competitive with the rest isn’t easy considering that the original classes have a much deeper card pool. Therefore, Demon Hunter will be immediately given a Basic set of 10 cards, an Initiate set of 20 cards (for free), as well as an expanded Ashes of Outland set of 15 cards. In this year’s next expansions, Demon Hunter will also be given 15 cards compared to the 10 cards other classes are normally given. After the Year of the Phoenix ends, Team 5 will construct an evergreen classic set for Demon Hunter, comprised of Initiate, Expansion and possibly unreleased new cards.
So, what can we expect from Demon Hunter? The first thing we must evaluate is its hero power.
The Hero Power
Demon Hunter already drastically differs from other classes by having a 1-mana hero power, and we think it could be the best one.
- Hero powers are usually used when you have nothing better to do, and it’s much easier to fill the curve with a 1-mana hero power than a 2-mana hero power. Skipping turn 1 is less punishing for a Demon Hunter compared to other classes. Genn Greymane has already shown us in the past how 1-mana hero powers can increase early game consistency. Demon Claw screams consistency.
- Demon Hunter’s hero power directly affects the board and is very similar to Rogue with one main drawback and a couple of advantages. The drawback is that you can’t store it for later use, as it isn’t a weapon. However, it’s cheaper and easier to utilize efficiently. It also stacks on top of weapons rather than interfere with them. That makes Demon Hunter’s utilization of weapons very promising, especially if the weapons have scaling abilities such as Lifesteal.
To conclude, Demon Claws is a hero power that already sets up the class to be very strong at early game board control. This is valuable both for aggressive decks that want to establish the initiative, and control decks that want to stifle the opponent’s initiative.
But while the hero power sets it up, several cards that synergize with it reinforce that belief. It might be very hard to overwhelm a Demon Hunter in the early game.
This card may look harmless at first, but it removes an early game minion while replacing itself. The two most important principles in Hearthstone are Initiative (“Tempo”) and Resources, and Chaos Strike excels at both. It takes away board development from the opponent, while helping you gain card advantage. This card is the Chad version of Shiv.
This weapon allows the Demon Hunter to constantly chip away at the opponent’s board while gaining life, and it synergizes exceptionally well with our hero power as well as with other attack boosting cards. Could easily heal more than the guaranteed 6 life it offers at baseline.
The crème de la crème of early board control. This is a split Pounce (making it much better) that works incredibly well with all the Demon Hunter’s attack modifiers. Can put your other removal options in reach of minions you wouldn’t normally be able to remove and can help kill a 3-health minion as early as turn 1 alongside Demon Claws. Insanely strong and versatile card that has too many upsides for us to list.
This card reminds us of the old Blade Flurry and can potentially blow out swarming opponents. Works well with Demon Claws, but obviously needs more synergy than that. Very powerful with weapons and Twin Slice.
This murloc is crazy. Even if you play it on turn 3 alongside a simple hero power, it’s better than most 3 drops. Just an excellent removal option that can alternatively put a lot of pressure on the opponent with its high attack value. EVIL Miscreant wants nothing to do with this bad boy.
The Outcast Mechanic
Demon Hunter will have a class-unique keyword called Outcast. It provides a bonus effect for a card if it’s played as the left- or right-most in your hand. This mechanic can completely influence how you make decisions as there is now a consideration to manipulate your hand so that Outcast cards can be utilized to their full potential.
Outcast cards influence deckbuilding, because they encourage the selection of non-Outcast cards with certain characteristics: relatively cheap, well-rounded and easy to dump from hand. Expensive and/or situational cards that get stuck in your hand are more likely to hinder your ability to efficiently use Outcast cards.
Certain characteristics are also required from Outcast cards themselves to be successful. Their baseline power level shouldn’t be too weak. They need to be well-rounded rather than having to wait for the “right moment” to use. They need to be strong cards to draw off the top, since you’re encouraged to cast them immediately when they’re drawn.
Taking those factors into considerations, let’s look at the Outcast cards that have been revealed so far:
At its baseline, Silence for 1 mana is noticeably weaker than the 0-mana Silence available to Priest. The Outcast ability provides a cycle effect, which is quite good for the cost. However, silence is a very narrow “tech” effect that you’re not going to make full use of most of the time, so we’re not too enthusiastic about Consume Magic. Some decks might play this card strictly for the cycle effect, just as Hunter played a 1-mana Flare when it didn’t care too much about its ability.
For 3 mana, this card is still pretty good. It kills most 3-drops on curve while healing you for 3. Outcast makes it cost no mana, which is bonkers. Your opponents will usually have minions on the board (since they are playing Hearthstone), so finding a target for Eye Beam shouldn’t be too hard if it’s drawn off the top. The fact it costs no mana also makes it easier to manipulate your hand and push Eye Beam to one side with an entire turn’s worth of mana.
Felblade is a bit harder to fully optimize than Eye Beam. It’s a minion, and it always costs mana, so it’s harder to play on-curve with its Outcast ability. However, its baseline power isn’t bad, being a 5-attack rush minion for 4. Much like Eye Beam, finding a minion to run this into shouldn’t be too hard either. It’s a Militia Commander, with a lower floor and a higher ceiling.
We think Skull of Gul’dan is the strongest Outcast card we’ve seen so far. It’s an amazing draw off the top because you will very often want to cast it immediately, much like a Wonderous Wand that’s generated from Heistbaron Togwaggle. The cost reduction could make Skull essentially free of any tempo loss, since it can discount up to 9 mana. In addition, it’s a card that synergizes with the very concept of hand manipulation since we’re dumping cards to draw cards. At its baseline, it’s a pre-nerf Nourish, which is hardly terrible.
Spectral Sight could also be very strong since card draw effects should work extremely well with Outcast, but there’s more thinking involved when playing it off the top as there is no payback of tempo. With both Skull and Sight available, we think Demon Hunter is blessed with the card draw needed to support any kind of strategy.
The Pathways to Victory
We still haven’t seen most of the cards in this set, so envisioning full strategies with win conditions can be difficult at this time. However, there are three directions that we currently find interesting and worth highlighting.
The Swarm Plan
Flood the board with small minions and leverage their deaths. Demon Hunter has multiple ways of doing that and we’ll be interested to see more. Feast of Souls is a synergistic form of card draw that looks quite good next to Coordinated Strike and Command the Illidari. Wrathscale Naga is a pseudo-combo piece that leverages tokens into devastating damage, turning every minion you have on the board into a consistent Boom Bot!
The Burn Plan
We could leverage our weapons and attack buffers to hit our opponent in the face. In that approach, we would also look for intimidating finishers, and the 5-mana cards displayed offer exactly that. Warglaives is a stronger form of Assassins Blade that can control the board and push face damage on the same turn. Imprisoned Antaen should be an extremely intimidating finisher for a Demon Hunter deck that thrives on having initiative. Even though it gives the opponent two turns to set up against it, there is no great way to play around it when you’re on the backfoot: either your board takes a hit, or your face takes a hit and then you’re staring down a 10-attack menace. Metamorphosis is a cheaper, more versatile Pyroblast. We’ll take those.
The Big Plan
Shades of Warlock in Kobolds & Catacombs? Demon Hunter has shown some tools that can overwhelm the opponent by cheating out big demons. Raging Felscreamer is the most obvious enabler alongside Soul Split and Skull of Gul’dan. Brute, Overfiend and Pit Commander should fit this kind of deck well since they are demons that offer strong defenses.
These are our initial thoughts for Demon Hunter. We’ll be back soon with more thoughts on Ashes of Outland as more cards are revealed.