When Rexxar Hunts Alone - Diving into the Kobolds Spell Hunter Archetype
Spell Hunter is a new archetype brought to us with Kobolds & Catacombs. Let's look at what makes it tick and why you should be giving it a shot.
The Face is the Place
Rexxar does not, typically, hunt alone. Hunter has been an aggressive class since Hearthstone was in beta, providing players with minions, spells, weapons, and a hero power that collude to deal damage early and often. So-called Face Hunter decks were a force years back, when Knife Juggler and Leper Gnome aided Rexxar's beasts, and the archetype has surged back time and again. It's usually what Hunter does best.
That hasn't stopped Blizzard from promoting other Hunter archetypes. Cloaked Huntress and Professor Putricide inspired decks that leaned heavily on secrets to keep tempo and win games. Deathstalker Rexxar and its Build-A-Beast mechanic gave players perhaps their first means to keep up in control match-ups. But these cards lack consistency. While other classes had decks of 30 cards working in synergy, Hunter decks attempting anything other than aggressive gameplans felt like an amalgam of disparate parts: a fast opener, Savannah Highmane on turn six, Deathstalker Rexxar late. Reinforcing this stagnancy is a hero power with no flexibility, unlike Warlock, Paladin, and Mage. For a while, this formula hasn't competed with tier 1 decks.
No Minions Allowed
Enter Spell Hunter, the newest Hunter archetype not-so-subtly presented by Blizzard. Not to be confused with Secret Hunter, Spell Hunter runs zero minions—just spells, weapons, Spellstones, and the Death Knight. Two new cards promote this archetype. To My Side! summons two random animal companions for six mana (only one if your deck contains minions), while the legendary weapon Rhok'delar features a Battlecry that fills your hand with random Hunter spells. Both have so far over-performed expectations, making Spell Hunter an immediate threat on ladder.
The best part? Although Hearthstone is increasingly criticized for being expensive, Spell Hunter is a relatively cheap deck, requiring just a handful of cards from the Kobolds and Catacombs expansion.
Kibler immediately popularized the archetype, piloting his list to seven straight wins on stream after Kobolds and Catacombs went live. It's worth noting that most of those matches were against Tempo Mage, which fares poorly against this deck (especially Freezing Trap). It struggles to combat Warrior's armor gain and removal and hits a wall (after wall after wall) against Control Warlock. But competitive viability aside, the deck is just plain fun. We'd wager this is the reason for its popularity anyway.
Kibler's list runs a lot of cards that will get Hunter fans excited. The secrets confuse opponents and often force awkward, sub-optimal plays, triggering the new Lesser Emerald Spellstone in the process. These Spellstones flood your board with Beasts after you have committed secrets, making their removal difficult without a timely Hellfire, Dragonfire Potion, or Whirlwind/Sleep with the Fishes combo. If your Wolves manage to stay on the board for a turn, they deal repeated damage and threaten buffs by both To My Side! and Call of the Wild. Flanking Strike provides a means to protect these wolves and regain tempo if you have lost it. And fewer things are more satisfying than using Hunter's Mark and either Candleshot or On the Hunt to remove a Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound or Deathwing unscathed.
|Ability (25)||Weapon (4)||Playable Hero (1)|
Which RNG Is Best?
People can argue about To My Side! all day, but there's no denying that Rhok'delar is ultimately what persuades players away from sticky minions like Savannah Highmane and toward low-cost spells like Hunter's Mark. It's effect feels reminiscent of Yogg-Saron, Hope's End, only it will always fill your hand with things to play—and never kills you. It can even give you more secrets, in case you haven't had an opportunity to trigger your Spellstones.
[Side note: In Wild, the existence of Lock and Load makes Rhok'delar better by a lot.]
There's merit to the argument that the benefits of Rhok'delar and To My Side! do not outweigh those of playing, say, Yogg and Arcane Giants, even Cloaked Huntress, in the same spell-heavy package. Yogg provides a last-ditch win condition, the Giants provide much-needed late-game threats, and Cloaked Huntress, in the right hand, can trigger an overwhelming early tempo swing. Or will these decks fade out entirely as control decks tech in the AoE they need to keep Rexxar's arcane Wolves at bay?
The answers to these questions will be worked out over the next few weeks, as the meta continues to change and players continue to experiment. But for now, Spell Hunter has asserted itself as the new, fun, and inexpensive deck to beat.