When hearthstone’s newest hero, Illidan Stormrage, made his way into the tavern back in April, Hearthstone’s entire game turned upside down. Demon Hunter immediately dominated standard, arena, and the format I will be focusing on today, wild. There was no escaping the Illidari, and you cannot hunt a demon hunter.
Four months later, demon hunters are practically extinct on the wild ladder. Odd demon hunter, Illidan’s predominant wild archetype, has gone from a ubiquitous powerhouse and mainstay of high-level wild play to practically unplayable and obsolete at the competitive level. How is it even possible? To answer this properly, we must analyze the history of Odd Demon Hunter. I present to you, the rise and fall of Illidan Stormrage.
When demon hunter released with the Ashes of Outland expansion, I immediately fell in love with the class. Since that release, Odd Demon Hunter alone has received nerfs to 12 different cards. Demon Hunter received more nerfs as a class, but 12 nerfed cards specifically impacted the odd archetype.
Even considering the massive nerfs to the deck in April, I finished on the legend leaderboards for the April season using exclusively Odd Demon Hunter. Then I took it right back into the top 50 in May. In August, I achieved legend rank 3 in the wild format with Odd Demon Hunter, only stopping the wild climb to switch formats.
I succeeded in becoming one of the very first, if not the first player on the North America server to achieve legend rank in both standard and wild. I used Demon Hunter exclusively. I’m about as serious of a Demon Hunter main as can be.
Given my extensive history with the class and specifically the Odd Demon hunter archetype, I can earnestly say there is currently no reason to play this deck to climb the ladder. Having fun is what it is, and I wholeheartedly support that, but if you aim to win games and be competitive, steer clear of the Odd Demon Hunter deck.
That may sound pretty harsh, so let us back up and put this into perspective. The following are my builds at four specific points in time (please note many cards have had their mana cost increased to an even amount, causing these lists to look incorrect, more on these nerfs below). First on release day, then at the start of the May season.
Following will be my rank 3 Pre Scholomance build, concluded by my current build. I believe showing you the four editions of the deck is the best way to showcase just how much this archetype has adapted and changed throughout these past four months.
Without any new cards before the Scholomance Academy came out last week. The archetypes significant evolution on display here was caused only by balance changes, and the subsequent effects those changes had on the wild meta.
Current build code:
Illidan’s last stand (August before Scholomance):
The deck has been through a lot. The recent lists share less than half of their cards with the initial builds. Being a very aggressive strategy with a mighty upgraded hero power from Baku the Mooneater, it seemed odd Demon Hunter would always have a place in the wild format.
So what happened? Here is a breakdown of all the cards specific to Odd Demon Hunter that changed since the class release on April 7.
April 9 (The fastest nerfs in Hearthstone history):
Skull of Gul’dan was the only way Odd Demon Hunter could draw cards. Without any ways to draw, keeping steam in the later turns is now a glaring weakness to the archetype.
We were not prepared! The deck was still clearly too good at this point, not to mention how broken a class has to be to dominate the wild format with only a single set of non-base cards to work around. Let’s move on to the next patch.
April 20th (Round 2):
Bad Luck Albatross allowed Odd Demon Hunter to stymie singleton strategies. Adding two albatrosses to your opponent’s deck stopped cards like Reno Jackson from triggering. Considering how popular singleton strategies are, this was a very impactful nerf to Odd Demon Hunter.
Altruis, The Outcast, allowed Odd Demon Hunter to clear wide boards. Odd Demon Hunter has no way to produce AOE damage after this nerf, another glaring weakness.
The archetype had lost some tools and had some staples nerfed and was still extremely popular. Being a brand new cheap class contributed greatly to this, and players were successfully experimenting with new lists in both standard and wild.
Demon Hunter’s popularity on the ranked ladder caused a large portion of the community to denounce the class adamantly. These complaints started on release but seemed to increase as Demon Hunter’s popularity remained steady in both formats, despite the speed and impact of the nerfs. Interestingly juxtaposed with the haters were the Blizzard fans who have always loved Illidan as a character.
The fast nerf response created a sort of love or hate divide amongst the community. The latter was much more vocal. Demon Hunter was one of the strongest aggressive archetypes in standard, which did not help the situation. Despite being completely outclassed by warrior in the Standard format. Warrior received minor nerfs while being far and away from the best deck in the standard format for months.
At the professional level, Warrior held a 100% ban rate for multiple weeks running. The high ban-rate of Warrior furthered the exposure of Demon Hunter, causing Demon Hunter to appear on stream consistently, dodging bans that stuck to its hard counter, warrior.
The lack of Warrior in the professional scene is very significant to what happened to Demon Hunter. The reason for this is because Blizzard undoubtedly heard the loudest in the room constantly complaining about Demon Hunter, without seeing its counter in Warrior.
I feel this is the point where the balance changes implemented by the developers were more to quiet the community than in the past. Despite the huge success of Ashes of Outlands as an expansion, despite the obvious fact that if Demon Hunter sucked, the game wouldn’t have been as successful. It was becoming clear that a large part of the community would not be satisfied until Demon Hunter was no longer popular.
May 18 (Round 3):
June 18 (Round 4):
The “nerf” to Twin Slice improved the Odd Demon Hunter Archetype significantly. Previous iterations of the deck had trouble clearing three or four toughness minions, especially early in the game. Due to this change the deck remained tier 2 through the next patch and until the release of Scholomance.
July 14 (Round 5):
One change I want to discuss more in-depth is the nerf to Warglaives of Azzinoth.
The nerf to Warglaives of Azzinoth was backbreaking for Odd Demon Hunter. If it weren’t for the twin slice changes, this change alone would have driven the deck below similar archetypes. Demon Hunter has no card draw, no way to gain gas late.
At five mana, the card was very strong, and perhaps reducing it to 2 power (putting it more in line with Doomhammer) may have worked. Still, the card was very strong, especially in combination with the Odds upgraded hero power. Warglaives were an amazing asset to the deck and allowed it to push consistent damage after dealing with the minions’ initial wave.
Warglaives of Azzinoth single-handedly improved the decks’ inherent weakness to taunt minions. It mitigated the issue of running out of gas and the lack of ways to gain resource advantage. It also allowed you to press significant and constant damage that was difficult to remove against control decks. In its current iteration, these are all glaring issues with the archetype.
Now here we are. Scholomance academy is one of the strongest sets in the history of Hearthstone. From the Scholomance Academy, several cards have had a significant and immediate impact on the wild format.
Previously, the high-level meta worked in such a way Odd Demon Hunter could thrive. Quest mage was our best matchup, by quite a lot in the meta at the time. The majority of the format, including harder matchups/counters for Odd Demon Hunter, all folded to quest mage. Because of this, Odd Demon Hunter’s position in the overall meta improved significantly. At the time, Odd Demon Hunter preyed on the best and most popular deck format.
Simply put, things change. While it was undeniably one of the top three aggressive decks in the format before Scholomance, I struggle to rank it within the top eight aggressive strategies in the format now, post-Scholomance Academy. Let me break how drastically the release of Scholomance Academy affected the wild meta:
Reno priest received Lorekeeper Polkelt, Sphere of Sapience, Mindrender Illucia, and Raise Dead. Lorekeeper Polkelt is now a staple in the archetype, drastically increasing their ability to cast Reno on time.
What was once a close matchup is now very, very difficult. The fact that Mindrender allows Reno priest to beat its hard counter, Quest Mage, is awful for Odd Demon Hunter. Not only has our Mage prey faded into the background and allowed Reno Priest, our new hard counter, to take the throne, but the new additions and changes that the priest build can afford to include are also just too much.
This is now one of the most popular matchups you will find on the ranked ladder, and it is abysmal. The deck just doesn’t have the tools to keep on the gas and compete. We are simply free wins for the reno players. We used to dominate the best deck in the format (Quest mage), keeping us relevant while the mages winnowed our counters. Now the tables have turned, and Tyrande once again torments Illidan.
The entire format improved. While Reno Priest is now the most popular deck, it wasn’t the only deck that received new valuable tools. Quest mage received Wand thief and wandmaker. Both very strong cards.
Big Shaman received Lightning Bloom, increasing its speed significantly. Aggressive Druid also got bloom and Voracious Reader, catapulting the deck past Odd Demon Hunter in power.
Even shaman is also happy with their new blooms and Diligent Notetaker, which is just a good card. The best use of bloom is in combo druid, however, in which bloom is practically the best card in the deck.
Rogue archetypes, previously inferior to Odd Demon Hunter, are now vastly superior. They are gaining very powerful ways to draw cards in Secret Passage and Cutting Class. Along with Raiding Party and Myra’s Unstable Element, rogues never seem to run out of gas.
Rogue is also receiving Vulpera Toxinblade, a very strong card in its own right. Both Kingsbane Rogue and Odd Rogue are now strictly better than Odd Demon Hunter. Kingsbane Rogue is, in particular, much more powerful than before and is looking to be one of the better decks in the format.
Warlock decks have access to a new sweeper in school spirits along with raise dead and flesh giant. Even a deck that was not a huge beneficiary of the new set, pirate warrior, gained the powerful voracious reader, (another card that improves other aggressive decks) further cementing its status above Odd Demon Hunter.
Since the Scholomance Academy expansion, several new archetypes have arisen, mostly hybridized/improvements on older unviable archetypes. The warlock decks, in particular, Even Warlock and Pain Warlock, are both very strong. Pain warlock is now in contention for the king of the format.
They both use the new cards, Raise Dead and Flesh Giant, to great effect. They are also both bad matchups for odd Demon Hunter. Even Warlock is a previously irrelevant control style warlock deck; they aim to control the board then stick multiple massive taunts, which is essentially game over for Odd Demon Hunter.
Discard Warlock was already a great deck, now with Raise Dead, the Darkglare engine has reached a critical mass of synergistic tools, along with flesh giant for a new payoff. They also aim to control the board and then combo cards with Darkglare to produce a massive swing turn involving, you guessed it, a massive board full of multiple taunts. Aggressive warlock can be full Darkglare, full discard, or a mixture of both, and those are all hard matchups. Warlock decks, like many other aggressive strategies, flood the board and expose yet another weakness of Odd Demon Hunter, lack of AOE. It doesn’t stop here though, we are just getting warmed up.
Tour Guide is one of the best cards in the set and became a staple of many decks upon release. It allows Darkglare decks to more reliably trigger its mana refresh ability, and is generally fantastic in Warlock.
The real trouble is that Tour Guide is simply one of Baku decks’ best cards, including Odd Rogue, Odd Shaman, and Odd Paladin. Even in Odd Hunter, it is essentially one mana 1/1 Battlecry deal three face damage.
It is even better in Odd Paladin and Odd Rogue, allowing those decks to start their game plan much faster. Three 1/1s on turn one is nothing to scoff at. Some of you may be thinking, “well, if all Baku decks are better, that is good for Odd Demon Hunter, right?”
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Sadly, Tour Guide’s effect of discounting your next hero power to 0 mana is completely useless, being the only class in the game with a hero power that naturally costs one mana. The reduced hero power cost means Demon Hunter has very little benefit from it. While in other classes, such as Paladin, Tour Guide says in context: one mana summon three 1/1s, or, one mana summons a 2/2 weapon, for Odd Rogue.
Paying one mana for a hero power is something Demon Hunter always does, so when you factor in the one mana you are spending on the Tour Guide itself and consider the outcome, the card equates to a stinky, useless wisp. Tour guide improving Baku the Mooneater strategies in every class except Demon Hunter drives Odd Demon Hunter into obsolescence. If you want to play an aggressive odd deck now, Demon Hunter is probably the last class you would want to choose.
Vulpera Scoundrel, a card that was previously great in Odd Demon Hunter, is now practically unplayable. While it was once the only real way for the deck to gain card advantage, the spell pool is now larger and much worse overall. Scoundrel no longer consistently offers you anti-aggro options when you are looking for one, for example.
The number of Vulpera Scoundrel buckets I have gotten with just blurs, Felosophys, and double jumps is just shocking, and there were already many terrible options like soul split. The original advantage was that most Demon Hunter spells were strong, and the card pool was so shallow, Vulpera Scoundrel played almost like Zephrys, the Great. There are seven Demon Hunter spells in the Scholomance Academy expansion, and none of them are great with Vulpera Scoundrel.
You could argue demonic companion is fine, or maybe in some unlikely scenario, Glide could be useful. But Fel guardians, Double Jump, Cycle of Hatred, Felosophy, and Soul Shear are all terrible.
Side note, Cubelock, and Mech paladin are both unpopular now, the former mainly due to warlock gaining other extremely strong new decks. So Consume Spirit, a great card, isn’t as well-positioned anymore without producing free wins vs. Voidcallers & Voidlords. So while other decks got new options, these two tools became less viable.
Finally, while every odd deck got Tour Guide, while Rogues got multiple new draw spells, while almost every strong deck in the meta has received multiple new tools and became that much stronger, Demon Hunter received only ONE good inclusion in the new set, Ace Hunter Kreen.
I have tested this deck for months, I have played with everything from a mech package to Magic Carpet/Hobgoblin/History Buff to Mukkla to a freeze package to a healing package and all back again. I have tried everything you can think of and a lot of things you can’t imagine. Once the new set came out, I tried all the possibilities I could think of extensively. Demonic companion is usually Blazing Battlemage, and a lot of the time, much worse.
Intrepid Initiate forces you to play your cards suboptimally. Where Robes of protection is much better on paper than in practice, decks like Priest don’t care about it, sweep you and win. The card is also terrible by itself. Even Ace Hunter Kreen, while powerful, is just a single legendary, so only one copy. Ace Hunter Kreen is much more effective vs. creature decks, and is also situational, making it a vanilla 2/4 a lot of the time.
Magehunter is somewhat similar to an Earth Shock, except it costs three times as much. In my opinion that card is completely overhyped for Wild. I was excited about Trueaim crescent, and while not unplayable, it’s just a lights justice in too many matchups. The ability is hard to manipulate consistently and rarely produces the desired outcome. The weapons ability happens before cards like a Satyr Overseer, Hench-Clan Thug, or Battlefield Trigger. It just hasn’t been testing well for me at all; it is extremely low impact.
Blizzard achieved one thing, though; I haven’t heard anyone complain about the Demon Hunter class at all in either format. It would be naive to think the constant complaining and unprecedented initial imbalance did not have serious repercussions regarding the Demon Hunter cards’ design/power in the Scholomance Academy.
If some of the completely broken cards in the set (Lightning Bloom, Secret Passage), were Demon Hunter cards, there would be rioting in the streets. Illidan is still in pretty good spot standard-wise, though, so at least we have that. In the Wild format, however, I have no idea when the class will be playable again.
Right now, there is absolutely no reason to play Demon Hunter over another class in wild. The card pool is way too shallow. I have tried some non-Baku the Mooneater decks like Glide Aggressive style decks. I even went as far as to test Pirates in Demon Hunter extensively. However, Pirates in Demon Hunter are simply worse than in other classes.
Rogue, for example, is just better in every aspect. Demon Hunter has many sweet cards and is amazingly fun. Still, as Wild currently stands, Demon Hunter is, in my opinion, the worst class in the format alongside Hunter (sorry Rexxar fans). Odd Demon Hunter might be my baby, but there is no other way to say it, the deck is bad now.
Demon Hunter will always be working with just a fraction of the other classes’ card pool. That may not affect the standard format; however, in Wild, it may be a very, very long time until Illadin is back at the top tables. I, for one, hope it is significantly less than 10,000 years.
Thank you so much for reading! I appreciate every last one of you. Honestly, you all possess true power.
Until next time,