We don't have much time before Cataclysm hits, so let's get down to business. We've talked about some optimal talents for death knights and druids for PvP, so now we turn our attention to hunters. Hunters have always had a tough time in arenas, not necessarily because the class was broken but because the format simply wasn't conducive to the hunter playstyle. It got so bad, in fact, that Blizzard designed an arena -- the Ring of Valor -- specifically to benefit hunters. On the other hand, hunters have always lorded it over in the open expanse of the battlegrounds.
The good news is that battlegrounds will be cool again. Well, they've always been cool in my book, but soon they'll be rewarding cool gear, too. That means hunters will once again feel like PvP gods (without needing the help of an enhancement shaman). There's one big change to hunters in Patch 4.0.1 and that's the change in resource from mana to focus. The difference with the way focus behaves is that rather than a resource well that pays for spells and abilities (mana), hunters have abilities that generate focus in combat such as Steady Shot and Cobra Shot, and then a whole load of focus dumps. In a way it's like death knight runic power or warrior rage without the decay. This means you'll always want to have nearly full focus but never gain focus that will simply slough off because you're over your maximum. It's a careful balance of gaining and spending, although focus regenerates at a steady rate.
The PvP hunter
Hunters are going to have a lot of fun come Cataclysm, thanks to rated battlegrounds. But to eke out the best performance from your hunter, you'll need to pick out the best PvP talents -- that way, you will be doing more than just pewpewing from a distance. Committing to a PvP spec will mean that you'll be sacrificing some DPS talents for utility. In most cases, utility and mitigation talents win out over pure DPS for PvP. Let's have a look at the specs and what they bring to the table. As usual, we'll skip the 31-point talents, because for one measly point, you really should be investing in them, anyway.
From the get-go, beast masters seem suited for PvP, with their specialization ability, Intimidation, being one of the best PvP abilities a hunter has access to. The idea is to build upon such a great core ability, which has a longish, 1-minute cooldown. As this spec requires more micromanagement than either of the other two specs, it only makes sense to pick up talents to support your pet, as well.
- Pathfinding Some players knock this talent mostly because of a distaste for the daze mechanic built into the Aspects of the Cheetah and Pack, but a 30 percent speed increase is nothing to scoff at. It's easily the fastest speed boost without a timer and doesn't trigger the GCD. Pathfinding boosts both aspects by 8 percent and, more importantly for battlegrounds, grants a passive 10-percent bonus to mounted speed which can mean the difference between a captured flag and a defended one.
- Improved Mend Pet Critical to keeping your pet alive, the important thing is the removal of debuffs. In a battleground in which pets don't get focused, placing debuffs is one of the most efficient ways to eliminate them. Improved Mend Pet is a fire-and-forget way to increase pet survivability and quite possibly a better two-point investment than the somewhat underpowered Spirit Bond.
- Fervor, Bestial Wrath and The Beast Within Big, red, angry animal and its owner. Pet cannot be crowd-controlled. Add a Glyph of Bestial Wrath (major) for complete ridiculousness. Watch opponents weep. Beast Within's immunity to crowd control has been removed, which is a major nerf in PvP, but it's still a talent you can't afford to miss.
- Longevity Even more big, red, angry animal and its owner. Bonus: Pet special abilities get their cooldowns lowered, too.
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera Arguably the best PvP talent in the tree, CTHC reduces the cooldown of Disengage when facing melee classes and Deterrence when against ranged opponents each time you're struck by an attack or spell of the appropriate type. Push your survivability to near-obscene levels with the Glyph of Disengage (major) and Glyph of Deterrence (major), although the latter has a minor cooldown reduction. The cool name is just gravy. Heck, I'd go beast mastery just for this talent.
Marksmen no longer bring the same PvP utility as it did, especially with the change to Aimed Shot -- a return to old form without the Mortal Strike mechanic. In fact, a lot of the jack-of-all-trades utility that hunters provided have been removed, but with it comes a return to the basics. With marksmanship, it's all about hitting them from afar ... and hitting them hard.
- Rapid Killing This ability will come into play a lot in the battlegrounds as opposed to arenas and should be worth the two-point investment. It's fairly easy for hunters to get killing blows, so think of this as a free 20 percent damage boost you can keep up for a pretty long time. You'll also use this to gain focus, as we'll see a little later.
- Careful Aim When I said hit them hard, I was referring to talents like this, which whittles opponents down from a distance, giving you potent openers. A 60 percent critical strike bonus on top of your own crit is guaranteed to put the hurt on your enemies even before they get to engage you.
- Silencing Shot A true PvP glyph that gives marksmen a great counter to spellcasters. It's a blanket silence that's off the global cooldown and can be used preventively rather than reactively. It's even better when used as an interrupt -- can be glyphed with Glyph of Silencing Shot (major) to guarantee you focus every time. In the battlegrounds, expect to use the shot a lot.
- Concussive Barrage Marksmen need more kiting abilities than either of the other two specs, so a two-point investment on Concussive Barrage ensures that you'll keep a daze effect applied on your opponent very nearly all the time. Between Chimera Shot, Multi-Shot, Concussive Shot and even traps, it will become extremely difficult for enemies to close the distance. This is good because marksmen don't get out of melee quite as easily as beast masters or survivalists. Glyph of Concussive Shot (major) is good choice to augment your kiting toolbox. This makes Glyph of the Dazzled Prey (prime) worth a its slot because you can theoretically keep a daze effect applied on your targets indefinitely.
- Piercing Shots I'm giving Piercing Shots a special mention because bleed effects are pretty annoying in PvP. Although hunters can't take advantage of it, there are very few things in the game can remove bleed effects, making it one of the best debuffs on the field.
- Rapid Recuperation The focus gain during Rapid Fire is nice, but you'll want this talent to make the most out of Rapid Killing. That's 50 free focus every time you land a killing blow, so you can technically use your opponents as a resource.
- Readiness While the other two specs have enviable tools to extricate themselves from tight situations, marksmen have Readiness, which can be used defensively and offensively. The only downside to this ability is that it triggers the GCD.
- Posthaste This talent is important because when a marksman uses Disengage, it often means she really has to get out of the way, as opposed to beast masters or survivalists, who can close the distance and use Disengage more creatively. The 30 percent speed boost ensures that you create some distance between yourself and your opponent, well, posthaste. Since you'll want to use Rapid Fire every time it's off cooldown, anyway, being able to use it every 3 minutes makes this talent a no-brainer.