We're less than a week away from the launch of Mists of Pandaria, when overnight we'll have to start the short grind back up to the level cap, after which we'll replace all of our hard-earned purple gear with fresh greens and blues.
When it comes to leveling, hunters have it easy. You could go through and choose the worst possible optimization and still have an easy time of it. I should stress this at the outset: you don't need any special tricks to solo quest your way to level 90.
That said, by optimizing your hunter for leveling you can certainly make the trip to 90 a bit easier. What follows are my recommendations for preparing your hunter for optimal leveling.
Best leveling spec
There is really no clear best leveling spec for Mists of Pandaria. Every hunter spec can flawlessly level through to 90. That said, for Mists I favor BM for leveling. The changes to Kill Command allow your pet to speed over to your target, solving the previous downtime issues BM had for leveling, and Beast Cleave makes for ideal and effortless AoE pet threat. BM is incredibly fun to play and level nowadays.
Everything you read online about best hunter rotations is designed for raids, and is not optimal for leveling. As a general rule of thumb, if you're butchering your way through quest mobs, DoTs like Serpent Sting are not worth the time and focus cost, nor is manually applying Hunter's Mark.
For leveling your goals are to kill the mobs fast, keep threat on your pet, and try to have enough focus to move immediately on to the next target. With the changes to pet Growl keeping single target threat on a pet is no problem at all for BM, and a single Misdirection with Beast Cleave should be enough to keep AoE aggro on your pet.
If you'll pulling just one or two targets, don't even worry about Misdirection. Just send in your pet with Kill Command (and Blink Strike if it's up) and use Arcane Shot and Cobra Shot until it's dead. Use Kill Shot if you get a chance, but often the mob will die before you can. Use Bestial Wrath liberally -- don't worry about saving it for special situations.
Your choice of leveling pet really comes down to two things: do you want to level with a ferocity or tenacity pet, and what pet buff do you want to bring?
When you're leveling you can really use any pet at all. If you plan on doing lots of crazy AoE grinding to level, then you'll definitely want to bring a tenacity-specced pet, but if you're just going to be questing a ferocity pet will work just fine.
If you're really concerned with what pet brings the most DPS, then you want the exotic shale spider for the 5% agility buff. After that a cat or spirit beast is a great DPS choice.
The needs of a leveling hunter are very different than the ones of raiding. You aren't concerned about maximum sustained DPS, but instead about butchering your way quest mob to quest mob with as little downtime as possible. These are my choices for leveling talents:
- Level 15: This is the one tier in which there isn't any kind of obvious choice. I personally like Posthaste -- I can hit Disengage just as I'm finishing off a mob for the speed boost moving on to the next place I need to be.
- Level 30: Wyvern Sting is great for when you get uninvited adds for a bit of extra crowd control.
- Level 45: Spirit Bond is the ideal self-heal for the leveling hunter. The steady passive healing is perfect for bringing you and your pet back to full between pulls.
- Level 60: Fervor is my focus regen choice for leveling. It's a convenient button to push after finishing off a mob or three to boost your focus to full while you dash over to the next target. With Fervor you'll rarely need to Cobra Shot while leveling.
- Level 75: Blink Strike is a great way to get your pet instantly to the target with a nice heft smack of damage (and threat) to lead off with. Blink Strike followed by Kill Command is half the battle right there.
The glyph changes that patch 5.0.4 brought greatly expanded our glyph selection, bringing with it a lot of great new glyph options. A lot of these are very PvP oriented and only situationally useful in leveling, but a handful are great.
- Glyph of Marked for Death allows you to get Hunter's Mark up on your targets without wasting valuable leveling time.
- Glyph of Mending is a phenomenal leveling glyph. The bonus 60% healing from Mend Pet can make a huge difference on the occasional big pulls.
- Glyph of Pathfinding is very valuable when leveling just to help you get from place to place faster. You often spend more time running or riding around when leveling than you do actually killing things.
- Glyph of Misdirection was once a must-have leveling glyph, but is now an optional third glyph. With the new pet Growl acting as a taunt, threat is less of a concern than once it was. However, if you're really killing stuff rapidly and doing lots of AoE pulls, the Glyph of Misdirection can be helpful.
- Glyph of Aspect of the Cheetah is great, allowing you to hang out in cheetah without risking the daze.
- Glyph of Fetch is big fun for cleaning up all that loot laying around.
/cast [@target, exists] Fetch
If you have a dead mob targeted it will cast Fetch on that target, and if not it will cast Fetch on the last thing you killed. Note you do have to be standing still during Fetch.
Combat ratings changes
As you level, the combat ratings ratios will change too -- and fast. This means that you'll need more and more hit and expertise to stay capped. For fighting same-level mobs you only need 3% hit and expertise, so the extra you have from raid gear will come in handy fast.
But hit and expertise are the only combat ratings that will change: you'll need more and more mastery to get the same effect, and more and more crit rating to still get 1% crit.
If you are a raid-geared raid hunter, the overall effect of the combat rating conversion is that as you level up you'll actually do less DPS than you did at lower levels. This happens because you are way, waaay overgeared for leveling content and it'll take a few levels before you finally start to get new gear to replace your badass gemmed and enchanted level 85 raid gear.
So when you're getting ready for leveling in Mists, clearing out your bags and your bank and saving up 25 daily quests to turn in, just make sure you have a BM spec in your back pocket and a good selection of leveling glyphs and talents ready to go.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter and choosing the best patch 4.2 gear to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the nine support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?