Daniel Howell contributes BigRedKitty, a column with strategies, tips and tricks for and about the Hunter class, sprinkled with a healthy dose of completely improper, sometimes libelous, personal commentary.
We didn't make 80.
Nope, we were much more focused on obtaining a Spirit Beast for a hunter-guide movie. We failed.
But we spent hours patrolling in Sholazar Basin, playing with Gorilladin, making leatherworking gear, and trying out all the hunter talent trees while not leveling as fast as we could have. Actually, we leveled from 77 to 78 without doing any quests at all.
We also haven't run any dungeons or raids. OK, we did one Utgard Keep, but it didn't count. The entire party, except the healer, was was way over-geared for the place.
We also haven't done hours of arena, battlegrounds, or PvP-zones. We've done a little, killed and been killed, but nothing that would give us a serious insight into the solutions that Blizzard has come up with to make our class more amenable to PvP.
We have played all three trees, full 51-points each, for at least one entire level. We have tried just about every tree/pet-class combination at least once. Except Spirit Beast, natch.
And we've cranked our leatherworking to 432! /win!
So when we discuss the new hunter talent trees, keep in mind that your opinion of our opinion my vary. We may have some seriously beta-PvP-experienced hunters who disagree with some of our assessments of the new talents. We may have some Naxx-raiding hunters who disagree with some of our conclusions.
But that's OK! The major purpose of this column is to give you, the WoW Insider reader, a point of reference. You know our writing, you know our play-style. You should know our limitations and the areas at which we're not too shabby.
Read, absorb, analyze, and prepare to test to it all yourself on Tuesday.
Tier one and two talents are unchanged. For leveling, we always recommend Endurance Training and Thick Hide. Focused Fire is always a nice, additional DPS tweak.
Tier three has a reworked Pathfinding. Once the worst talent in the BM tree, it now gives you an increased mount-speed. Since you're not going to be flying in Northrend any time soon, you can be excused for taking this. We would recommend against it, though, as the bonus from the new Aspect Mastery is super-sweet.
Tier four is unchanged. Take it all, especially the Improved Mend Pet, just for the mana-savings alone.
Tier five has one critical upgrade, and that's to Spirit Bond. Notice the nice bonus to pet-healing now? Take it. It works with Mend Pet, healers, the Rift Stalker two-piece bonus, and even bandages.
Tier six, has a modified Animal Handler. If you've never used Master's Call, you won't know how handy it is. The problem with it is its one minute cool-down. Two talent points here will reduce that to fifty seconds, but you're going to have to sacrifice some nice talents further down the tree to take it. We would recommend against it.
Tier seven is unchanged. We still don't recommend Catlike Reflexes, unless you're going to attempt to become a full-fledged Tanking Hunter. If your friends will let your pet main tank five-man instances, grab some CLR. Otherwise, stick to Ferocious Inspiration.
Tier eight gives us a new talent, Invigoration. Mana is a huge issue for 70-78 level hunters, and this might look like a great solution. Unfortunately, it's not a pet-crit that procs this talent, but a pet special ability crit. Our experience leads us to believe that had this talent been pet-crit based, instead of pet special-ability-crit based, it'd be a no-brainer. But since our pet's special abilities normally proc only once or twice per fight, the mana return from this talent does not justify the two talent points required.
Tier nine is where the fun begins. Your choice is between Longevity and Cobra Strikes, and it's a tough one. If you'll notice at the top of this column, our level 79 crit rating is 21%. With three points in Cobra Strikes, only 60% of those crits will result in a Cobra Strike proc. But with Longevity, we can reduce the cool-down of Beastial Wrath from two minutes to eighty-four seconds. Longevity will also reduce the cool-down on all our pet's abilities, like Thunderstomp and Acid Spit. Until our crit gets much higher again, we don't think Cobra Strikes is a better choice than Longevity. We shall re-access once our crit gets to 30% again.
Tier ten, and the living is easy. Kindred Spirits rocks. End of story.
Tier eleven, and perhaps the most anticipated talent becomes available, Beast Mastery. Exotic pets are loads of fun, but the extra four pet-talent points are the real power of this tree.
Remember that, as a Beast Mastery hunter, your power lies in being able to keep your pet alive. Blizzard has done some remarkable work to make that a reality, but if your play-style does not permit you to micromanage your pet, you may want to consider another tree.
The Marksman Tree
Tier one, and the changes start right away. We've got a changed Improved Concussive Shot that extends the slowing effect instead of dazing the target. We would've liked to see this as a 2/4 second ICC, instead of a 1/2. Since a hunter's major method of escaping melee is going to be Disengage, we don't see a need for ICC.
Focused Aim looks to be a PvP-focused talent. Since the majority of successful arena hunters have been mana-drainers, not DPSers, we're not sure how useful this will talent will be. If the dynamics of arenas and our class have sufficiently evolved such that we can be effective DPS in arena, this could be a useful talent. We shall have to wait and see.
Tier two has a tremendous gift in Careful Aim. We're recommending that everybody should take it, even before Mortal Shots. In our opinion, a majority of hunter-builds will probably involve some form of X / >=14 / Y so they can get Careful Aim.
If you're a raiding hunter, and your raid has melee-DPS in it, you may want to take Improved Hunter's Mark. It's a nice raid-buff, but only one hunter in the raid need have it. Coordinate amongst your guild's hunter and make sure that no more than one hunter trains it.
Tier three is unchanged, but the huge buff to Aimed Shot -- it's an instant-cast shot now! -- means that that bad-boy is back in play, and not just for the mortal-strike debuff, either. As an instant-shot, Aimed Shot could return to your shot rotation, and will definitely become another PvP weapon for kiting melee classes. Remember that "14" we used when talking about Careful Aim? Aimed Shot is where that fourteenth point will go.
Tier four is modified in that we only need three points in Improved Stings to get this talent's full benefit. 51-point Marksmanship hunters will take this every time.
Tier five... and hold onto your hats. Scatter Shot is gone. Yes, it's been relocated to the Survival tree. Now, Marskman get Readiness. What's the first thing a Marksman hunter should see with Readiness here? Double Silencing Shots. Should be amazing being able to silence a caster and a healer at the same time, or double the time a caster/healer is silenced. /drool
But watch this! You Beast Mastery hunters should take note that, at level eighty, you'll have a very important decision to make.
While the traditional BM build should be 51/20/0 or 51/15/5. If you give up Beast Mastery and shun exotic pets, you can spec yourself 50/21/0 and get Readiness. If you don't like exotic pets, or get along just fine with your Cat or Gorilladin, you can get Readiness with your Bestial Wrath. /flex
Tier six and Combat Experience got a little love. Not a lot, just a little. And no, we still don't think it's worth two talent points.
Tier seven brings the Raiding Marksmanship hunter back to the game. The biggest problem with the Marksman tree, in terms of DPS at higher levels, is that Trueshot Aura did not scale. The hunter's TSA gave a nice bonus to Attack Power, but it was the same power with blue-gear as it was with Tier 6. No more. The new Trueshot Aura gives a big 10% bonus to attack power. And not just to the hunter's party, but the entire raid. The era of raiding with two BM and one SV hunter is over. Bring a MM hunter, foshizzle. Your raid will demand it.
We also get to play with Piercing Shots. Mandatory talent, this one is. As a huge lover of Ignore Armor, we wish like crazy this were lower in the tree, so we BM hunters could get it as well. /jealous!
Tier eight brings Rapid Recuperation. It's both a Rapid Fire and Rapid Killing modifier, and not a bad one either. If you're a Rapid Fire/Killing addict, take this talent and don't froth at the mouth too much. However, if you want to save three talent points for the next tier, we don't blame you.
Tier nine has our Silencing Shot, nab it, natch. But we can also play with Improved Steady Shot. The low-percentage procs of this talent may scare you off, but if you're able to stand and deliver Steady Shot rotations, this talent should be exceedingly worthwhile.
Wild Quiver is the third choice among Rapid Recuperation and ISS. Were it placed at a lower tier, say instead of Combat Experience, we'd all take this in a heartbeat. The 10% proc rate is worst than ISS's though, and that's why we chose the latter instead of this talent. If you wanted to go heavy-Marksmanship and take more than 51 points in this tree, we could easily see you returning to Rapid Quiver.
Tier ten is new, and Marked for Death wins the award of Best New Hunter-Talent Name.
Tier eleven is Chimera Shot, probably the single hardest-to-master spell in our entire arsenal, regardless of talent-spec. It is sting-based, procing in different ways depending upon which sting you've placed on the target. As such, opponents who cleanse themselves of your sting will severely reduce the effectiveness of your Chimera Shot. Thus Improved Stings is mandatory for those hunters who choose to take this talent. You'll be using all your stings in different combinations against other classes, so if this is the direction you wish to go, get all your stings on your action bar again, yes even Scorpid Sting. Do not be discouraged when you mess up your stings and have the wrong proc against your enemies. Also don't forget that Readiness will allow you eliminate Chimera Shot's cool-down.
Folks, this tree isn't simple at all. Be patient with yourself. If you invest time and energy into playing this tree to its potential, you should reap serious rewards.
The Survival Tree
Tier one and we get something fun already. Improved Tracking is the Ranged Weapon Specialization of this tree, but notice that it only works with non-periodic damage. In the beta, this worked with stings too, but it got nerfed. We cried. Why do we only have two points in it? Because we want Hawk Eye.
Since the release of the Burning Crusade, we have emphasized that Hawk Eye has been unnecessary. There is no raid-encounter that required a hunter to get beyond thirty-five yards from the target, and arenas are LOS-city, where no amount of range could make up for that limitation. But much further down this tree, our ability to do damage from long-range will become necessary again. Take Hawk Eye, and stand by.
Tier two starts you on the path to choosing two philosophies: do you want to be a Trapper or a standard DPSer? If you want to excel at traps, start taking the trapping talents here with Entrapment. We love Snake Trap, and this just makes it better.
Surefooted got moved here, and nerfed as well. No more bonus to Hit Rating and the addition of Disengage means this talent is no longer required. Take Survival Instincts instead.
Tier three has loads of Win. There's our Scatter Shot, nab it quickly. Improved Feign Death has been renamed Survival Tactics, and we need to reduce the cool-down of our Disengage, foshizzle!
Survivalist? If you want its child-talent later on, you'll need five points here.
What about Deflection, why aren't we taking that? We've never been Disarmed, for one thing. And its child-talent, well, we'll talk about it when we get there.
Tier four is all about traps. If you're not trying to be an uber-trapper, skip it all. If trapping is what you're all about, then take them all. T.N.T. is second in the Best New Hunter-Talent Name contest, and Lock and Load is so much Win, it's silly. Keep your enemy trapped, either with snakes or fire or ice, and you're going to whoop his @ss.
Tier five, take your Killer Instinct. Good boy. /pat
Now, if you followed our advice and took your Survivalist, you can haz Hunter vs. Wild. Finally, something in another talent tree to boost a pet. Hunters have pets, regardless of spec. Why Blizzard waited this long to help the other guys out, we have no idea. Now just give Marksmanship hunters a pet-talent, and we'll be happy.
Counterattack. We know some hunters who swear by it and wouldn't venture out of Ironforge without it. But again, since our primary means of getting our of melee range is going to be Disengage, we think you can safely skip Counterattack.
Tier six, take your Lightning Reflexes. Good girl. /pat
Again, if you're a trapper, take Resourcefulness. If you're not, don't. Simple.
Tier seven, Wyvern Sting. Is there another form of crowd-control less utilized than this? We don't think so. Nab and proselytize.
Thrill of the Hunt, you bet. Not just for the talent itself, but for it's child, which we'll cover in a few paragraphs.
No Expose Weakness? Nope, it's been sledgehammer-nerfed. What used to be a raid-buff isn't even a party-buff anymore, it just helps the hunter himself. Time to say goodbye to Expose Weakness.
Tier eight gives us Noxious Stings. Not that important for PvE, you may safely skip it if that's your focus; the bonus to Serpent Sting is blah. But for PvP, the effect it puts on a Wyvern Sting-dispeller is cool! How effective is it in arena? More studying remains to be performed. Again, stand by.
Tier nine brings us back to Hawk Eye. We took that talent to improve our ability to utilize Sniper Training. This bad-boy increases our DPS, but only as long as we're thirty yards away from our target. With our normal max-range being thirty-five yards, this would permit us only a six-yard Max-DPS Zone. That's pretty small. So we take Hawk Eye to extend our Max-DPS Zone out to forty-one yards, giving us twelve yards from which to crush our enemies.
Now here's the Big Problem with Survival tree: the talent Trap Mastery. It is, with few modifications, the same talents that were available pre-3.0.2 with Clever Traps and Trap Mastery. As a forty-one point talent, this is substandard. The good news is that Blizzard has acknowledge this, and is promising an upgrade in a future patch. For now, go ahead and take it if you're a trapper, leave it alone if not.
Point of No Escape is another trapper-talent. Not a trapper, ignore it. If you are a trapper, it's another "gimme!"
Tier ten is a Survival's raiding talent, and notice you had to take Thrill of the Hunt. Hunting Party turns a Survival hunter into a raid-wide mana battery. Yes it's limited to ten-people, not an entire raid, but does it make losing the raid-effect of Expose Weakness worthwhile? We vote Aye. Take this talent and giggle.
Tier eleven is fun on a stick. Explosive Shot, we all want it, Marksmanship hunters especially. The short cool-down, the AoE-fire damage, the instant casting, it all adds up to a fabulous reason to consider leveling as a Survivalist, let alone PvP as one. We totally recommend a Gorilladin as a pet for a hunter who wishes to level as a Survival hunter with Explosive Shot. You've gotta try this combination out!
Thus ends our look at what you're going to see come patch 3.0.2. Please, if you've been in the beta or on the PTR and have something worthwhile to contribute, grab some Comment and let us all know.