There have been plenty of 1-mana cards in the past that just summoned a couple of 1/1’s and saw a lot of competitive play. Sneaky Snakes has the bonus of stealth, so the opponent can’t even clear the snakes on their turn. This is a strong, proactive turn 1 for Hunter, one that they’re guaranteed to use in the future. The only question mark for the next 4 months is Trinket Tracker. With Awakening Tremors and Bunch of Bananas proving to be priority 1-mana spells for the class, Sneaky Snakes faces fierce competition, as it may not be the ideal spell to draw from the tutor for some strategies.
However, this is very much splitting hairs. Good cards see play. Sneaky Snakes is a good card that should be strong in the opening hand.
Messenger Buzzard reminds us of Paladin’s Alliance Bannerman. Bannerman was a 3-mana Paladin staple that even ended up getting nerfed, but its effect was attached to a battlecry, which made it more powerful. It also had superior stats. Buzzard’s big upside is its lower cost. If Buzzard is played on turn 2 and dies over the next turn, its effect ends up resolving before Bannerman. Buzzard’s additional upside is that it specifically draws a beast. Hunter has access to a few beasts that highly benefit from getting buffed, so getting that guaranteed beast in hand before the buff occurs is quite useful.
So, Buzzard seems very comparable to Bannerman, at least when it comes to the early game. The major downside of Buzzard is how much worse it is than Bannerman in the late game. If you draw this card late, it’s extremely slow to have an impact, while Bannerman can find you another play with the mana you have left over. However, there’s no shame in being worse than one of the best handbuff cards ever. Buzzard has a good chance of enabling a Hunter handbuff deck.
Pour one out for Emperor Cobra. Blizzard has designed a horde of poisonous beasts over the years, with just a couple of them making it into competitive play, the most notable one being Venomous Scorpid. Silver Serpent has both Poisonous and Rush, making it quite a reliable hard removal option. Admittedly, destroying a minion for 3 mana isn’t that great of a deal.
If Serpent’s Quickdraw is active, the minion gains immune. This means you can kill something and leave up the Serpent, undamaged. This isn’t as strong as it looks because Silver Serpent is a reactive card by nature. The absence of control required to fully leverage Serpent is on both sides of the equation. You don’t control when Serpent is drawn, and you don’t control when a good target for it is available.
This makes Serpent, for all its glorious keywords, a very situational card. You’d have to give up Faithful Companions if you want to play it in a Hound Hunter type of deck, it doesn’t work too well in a Messenger Buzzard deck, but it’s not too useful in a faster deck either since it’s very reactive. It’s about as useful as an Emperor Cobra into an empty board. We’ll pass.
Ten Gallon Hat
This card is exciting on the surface because of its implication of “infinite” draw, and it has a great name! Its buff utility also lines up with other minions in this set, but the card is horribly slow. A 2-mana spell that draws a minion just isn’t good enough when the buff attached is so pitiful, since spending 2 mana on a 1/1 causes you to lose initiative over time.
Some players may fantasize over a heavy cycling Hunter, but what’s also important to remember is that Ten Gallon Hat only comes back to hand via deathrattle. It’s a slow card to both cast and get back.
So, imagine this: You play Ten Gallon Hat on turn 2, draw the ‘perfect’ minion for turn 3, then get the Hat back on turn 4 once the minion dies. That doesn’t even sound like a winning line, because to make full use of Hat, you need to be constantly playing it. Otherwise, it’s just a grossly underpowered version of Scavenger’s Ingenuity. Now imagine you play Ten Gallon Hat on 2 but ‘not’ find a perfect, playable minion on turn 3? Sounds like you’re losing the game.
The one saving grace for the card is that it makes it harder to run you out of resources in the late game, but that’s only useful if your opponent isn’t taking advantage of you persistently spending 2 mana to draw a minion every turn and running you over.
The only way Ten Gallon Hat is playable is if its minion tutor effect is so valuable that you don’t care about the stats. Imagine a Hunter deck where you only run a tiny package of minions but drawing them is how you win. That’s the competitive Ten Gallon Hat deck.
This 3-drop resummons itself if you land a single attack buff on it. What’s quite interesting is that you can theoretically keep buffing it every time it dies and have it stay on the board forever. Of course, the opponent can just clear the 3/3 before you get the chance to buff it again, but the point is that Bovine Skeleton can be a very sticky threat if not answered cleanly.
Hunter has a lot of ways to buff its attack. From board buffs, hand buffs and deck buffs, there are many cards to name that can activate Bovine Skeleton. The most important ones can reliably buff it before turn 3, so you’re looking at Thornmantle Musician, Bestial Madness, and Messenger Buzzard.
It’s a decent card, but it does require an entirely new archetype that’s capable of supporting it.
This buff offers a massive pile of stats. For 4-mana, you get an immediate 3/3 buff and a keyword (one of the eight available to One Amalgam Band). The minion you buff also gains a deathrattle, which summons a 3/3 Chameleon Beast with the same keyword. That’s a total of 6/6 in stats and two, often valuable keywords. For all intents and purposes, Camouflage Mount is a cracked buff card that piles so much pressure on the opponent and is so hard to cleanly deal with.
There is some variance in the usefulness of some keywords in specific situations, but the keywords can often be game changing. Windfury, Reborn, or Divine Shield when you’re the aggressor can just end games. Lifesteal or Taunt can save you if you’re under pressure. We’ll happily take the keyword variance when the baseline stats are so good for the cost. This card is going to win games.
This card is very reminiscent of Soul of the Forest but might be stronger since the average beast that costs 3 or less should be better than a 2/2 Treant. Utilization of Soul of the Forest in Druid has been limited to the fastest, board flooding aggressive decks. Hunter is capable of developing minions quickly, but it’s not as quick as Druid at vomiting bodies to the board.
For Saddle Up to see play, a Hunter deck imitating Aggro Druid needs to emerge. We’re looking at a very low curve and a high volume of 1-drops. The other issue is that Hunter has the capabilities of executing board buffs, but they’re not as straightforward or powerful as the board buffs available to Druid. Even with Druid’s current tools, the Aggro Druid archetype is very mediocre. While we do think Saddle Up is a decent card, it doesn’t carry an archetype by itself. We’re not too excited over the prospect of a Hunter deck with these characteristics popping up.
Starshooter is a value-centric weapon that would theoretically fit in Arcane Hunter. The 6 damage over 3 turns might seem slow for a 4-mana weapon, but three Arcane Shots are worth an additional 6 damage, which can be further scaled up with Silvermoon Farstrider or Halduron Brightwing. The additional Arcane Shots also offer nice activators for Ancient Krakenbane.
Starshooter’s main competition is Starstrung Bow. We’ve seen Arcane Hunter move away from the secret package after the release of Fall of Ulduar, but that required the support of Prison Breaker and Yogg-Saron being as broken as they were. Once they were nerfed, the optimal Arcane Hunter reverted to the Secret package. Though Starstrung Bow offers less total damage, its damage is dealt faster and costs less mana. Starshooter doesn’t strike us as a card that’s powerful enough by itself to push out the secret package, but it’s good enough to be playable.
Theldurin the Lost
The Highlander Hunter class-specific support seems to be the right kind of payoff for the class, which has good late game win conditions, but generally lacks survivability and comeback potential. Theldurin offers both a source of damage and a board clear. The best comparison for the card would be a pre-nerf Prison Breaker. A baseline Theldurin deals 3 damage to all enemies and develops a 3/4. It has one less attack than Prison Breaker, but is always available on curve, not needing any in-game activation.
Where Theldurin stands out is his potential scaling. Its damage is tied to its attack, so hand buffs or deck buffs increase his output. While any small buff can be nice, cards such as Hope of Quel’Thalas and Lor’themar Theron, which Hunter is already very fond of, turn Theldurin into a massive threat.
This is a card that can completely swing the game and has immediate, dramatic impact on the board. That makes it a winner.
At its baseline, Spurfang is a very slow card. A 5 mana 2/5 that summons a random 2-cost beast doesn’t seem to have much impact, even if it hides another 2-cost beast inside its deathrattle. The main upside of Spurfang is its scaling potential, which much like other Hunter minions in the set, is tied to its attack value. A 3-attack Spurfang summons 3-cost beasts, which gets more interesting. Once you keep buffing Spurfang further and further, you get a 5-drop that packs a lot of stats.
Intensive buff support with a curated pool of beasts that can be tutored by Messenger Buzzard and Selective Breeder could be in the cards, with Spurfang acting as a centerpiece. We do wonder if this kind of strategy carries the same level of inevitability as a Faithful Companion package. On one hand, it should be much more vulnerable to removal, and on the other hand it seems capable of applying more pressure in the mid-game.
This legendary is highly reliant on intensive support and a specific strategy to see play, and only then do we think it can shine. Compared to the carry potential of Theldurin, it doesn’t tug at the heartstrings the same way.
Showdown in the Badlands Set Rank: 9th
Overall Power Ranking: 7th
Hunter has some room for optimism, but also for some concern, as the class looks to diversify its identity. Arcane Hunter has been left as the only serious strategy with visibility at the end of TITANS, so will the class be able to carve out other strategies for itself?
We may see Hound Hunter evolve into Highlander Hunter. Out of all Highlander decks, Hunter possesses the most coherent and established late game plan with a concrete threat to end a game. In some ways, Hound Hunter already feels like a Highlander deck, currently running 13 duplicates in a 40-card build.
Other Highlander decks’ main issue, judging by the set, is their ability to close out games. Reno is a fantastic defensive tool but isn’t a late game finisher. Hunter seems like the exception. It’s got the kill threat, but now it’s getting a couple of superb swing cards in Reno and Theldurin. Based on history, whenever Hunter gets strong defensive capabilities, it becomes a very successful late game class. See Hollow Hound as the most recent example. This bodes well for Highlander Hunter’s chances.
Arcane Hunter’s prospects for improvement aren’t that hot. Starshooter will compete with Starstrung Bow as its weapon of choice. No other card in the Hunter set is a clear and obvious inclusion for the archetype. There’s danger of some stagnation here.
Hunter’s other focus in Badlands seems to be a beast, handbuff deck, centered on Messenger Buzzard. Bovine Skeleton, Twisted Frostwing (from the last mini-set) and Spurfang offer strong buff targets. The question is whether this deck’s board-centric pressure can overcome the removal toolkit of defensive decks, and whether its comeback mechanics are strong enough to contest aggressive decks. Both need to happen for this archetype to compete.
We think Hunter’s set is one of the weaker ones of Badlands, so the class’ established shells may have to do some carrying.