Hearthstone: Why the Demon Hunter class is a game-changer

As the game celebrates its sixth birthday, Hearthstone players can use a tenth class for the first time ever.

The Demon Hunter class was released on Wednesday (NZ time) and offers "an in-your-face playstyle, cutting down foes with weapons and claws, or crushing them with enormous demon minions".

Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the game and the Warcraft universe it's a part of, is also trying to make it easier than ever to get into Hearthstone for the first time. 

And as much of the world is on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be the perfect time to try out a new game.

"Hearthstone is a really fun collectible card game and now has never been a better time to get into it. We're offering a free competitive deck, a class of your choice and the Demon Hunter class is also free," says Chadd Nervig, Hearthstone senior game designer.

"There's an awesome prologue that will tell you the story of Illidan Stormrage, who he is and how he became a Demon Hunter. Completing that will give you the class, the hero, their entire basic set, their entire initiate set and a deck to get you started, all for free."

I spoke with Chad and the game's associate software engineer Sarah Chen about the Demon Hunter class.

This is the first time in Hearthstone's history since launch that a new class has been added, how did you land on Demon Hunter?
CN: We looked at Warcraft lore and the classes it has. We were really excited about Illidan, one of the most iconic characters in Warcraft. We really wanted to get him into Hearthstone and we were really excited about Outland, which makes for a perfect setting to introduce Illidan and Demon Hunters.

Why do you think Illidan struck a chord with Warcraft fans?
CN: Illidan is an anti-hero. He's very aggressive and is willing to make tough choices and hard sacrifices. His main goal is to stop the Burning Legion, this army of demons that are crusading across the universe. And he's willing to make some very questionable choices to do that - he fights fire with fire, he takes on demonic energy himself in order to fight the demons. So his own people view him as a betrayer and was locked away for 10,000 years, which left him a little bitter. He's a little angsty about that, but he still has the same main goal and maintains his harsh view of reality.

Hearthstone: Why the Demon Hunter class is a game-changer.
Illidan Stormrage, the Demon Hunter. Photo credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Every Hearthstone player has their favourite class - what sort of player will favour the Demon Hunter class?
SC: When you look at the Demon Hunter class, the first thing you'll probably notice is it has a 1-Mana Hero Power, which is indicative of just how aggressive its playstyle is. It's the only hero that can consistently do something on the first turn. Players who are like playing the aggro decks like Rogue and Hunter will see similarities with the Demon Hunter. But I think the new class will also appeal to players who like hand gymnastics and planning the order in which to use their cards, because of the unique keyword 'Outcast' we're introducing with Demon Hunters. If you play a card with Outcast and it's in the left-most or right-most side of your hand, it'll have a bonus effect. So players who like the strategic momentum of the game and how they organise their hand will really enjoy that playstyle.

And of course, other players won't want to play as Demon Hunters but will battle them - what advice would you give people using other classes against the Demon Hunter?
CN: As Demon Hunters are commonly very aggressive, you can run them out of resources by playing defensively. You can also take advantage of their weaknesses, especially using the new cards that come with the Ashes of Outland expansion. For example, Prime cards are a great way to get back in the game when you're in the late game and have survived the onslaught of the Demon Hunter. Primes are a new mechanic where these legendary minions and the first time they die they get shuffled back into your deck - stronger, more powerful, rebuilt as mechanically optimised versions of themselves. They can create powerful late-game swings that will really help you out.

One card that appeals to me in the basic Demon Hunter deck is the 'Inner Demon' card - tell me a bit about that.
CN: It's just a really big increase to your attack. It combos well with a few things but you can just also use it for one big burst of damage. In some ways it plays kind of like a Pyroblast, but in other ways you can use it along with something like Blade Dance to clear off a bunch of enemy minions. Or you can use it with an already equipped Warglaives of Azzinoth to attack a bunch of minions multiple times. Another good card to combo with that might be Kalecgos, the legendary mage minion card we released recently. There's lots of different ways to use Inner Demon, it's very strong.

Tell me something unexpected that you discovered about the Demon Hunter class after you started playing with it?
SC: Demon Hunter has changed a lot since we started developing it about a year ago. At first it was really hard trying to nail down what the Hero Power should be, but after a while it became obvious. Once the 1-Mana Hero Power came about we realised it just fit really well with the archetype - a Demon Hunter attacks multiple times, is aggressive, has a bunch of small minions to sacrifice. I feel like the 1-Mana Hero Power was a turning point that marked the Demon Hunter becoming a fully fleshed-out identity.
CN: We thought for the longest time we simply couldn't do a 1-Mana Hero Power. We thought they had to cost 2 Mana. So the biggest surprise was trying it out and finding it worked really, really good. We tried a whole bunch of different Hero Powers and it was quite late in the process when we landed on that, despite how simple it is.

What's your absolute favourite thing about Demon Hunter class?
SC: Demon Hunter as a class echoes the Rogue quite a lot for me. It uses its weapon a lot, it has a lot of attack damage. The feeling of having your hero be that empowered to do that repeatedly, to be the one controlling the board, that's the main appeal for me. I always played aggro as a Demon Hunter in playtests and the feeling of you being the powerful one rather than the minions you control, that was my favourite part.
CN: The art and sound. Our card art, visual effects and the sounds on them just knocked it out of the park. It's a challenge to have a visual language with our card art and visual effects that very clearly shows the difference between Shaman cards and Warlock cards, for example. And aesthetically the Demon Hunter is really a dark, aggressive fantasy and I think it just turned out really cool.

Hearthstone Demon Hunter cards Illidari Felblade and Metamorphosis.
Photo credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Lastly, tell me about one of your favourite Demon Hunter cards.
SC: Illidari Felblade, just because it looks amazing. Part of the whole appeal of the Demon Hunter class is the look - it looks cool, it looks edgy and I love that. 
CN: For gameplay mechanics, mine would be Metamorphosis. It's a really fun card that helps you finish off an enemy or take control of a board by clearing off a couple of great minions. It replaces your Hero Power temporarily for two turns, or two uses, anyway. It deals 5 damage but still only costs 1 Mana, so it's really strong. But you have to pay some up-front costs for it, so it encourages investing early for a big payoff later, which is a type of gameplay I really enjoy.