It's been a long time since I felt the need to agonize over what spec I want to play on my hunter in raids. Usually there's one clear cut winner, but in Siege of Orgrimmar both survival and beast mastery are doing pretty darn well. Maybe we're not putting out warlock numbers, but we're well into the upper half of the charts when it comes to DPS. The recent hotfix to Aspect of the Hawk gave us just enough of a kick to keep us competitive as everyone continues to gear up. Marksmanship has cemented itself as a popular PvP spec in 5.4, and maybe it's OK that one spec is more PvP oriented. At least we have large numbers of hunters playing all three specs -- it's not a luxury we've always had in the past.
One of the most common questions I see from new hunters is what spec should they play for the best DPS? It's difficult to answer such a question, and it reminds me a lot of the "what is the best pet?" question. If we're talking about PvE it really comes down to beast mastery vs. survival. I haven't forgotten about marksmanship, but in my opinion it's just not as versatile for raiding this tier, or this entire expansion for that matter. As for choosing between survival and beast mastery, the best place to start is to learn the differences.
If you rolled a hunter for the pets, chances are this will be your spec of choice. It's the only way you can tame exotic beasts, which includes the elusive spirit beasts. Beast mastery is a little bit more forgiving with errors since your pet is taking care of such a large chunk of damage.
- Strong burst capability. For example, if you are on conveyor belt duty for Siegecrafter Blackfuse, you can make sure your Bestial Wrath is available for each belt and have little trouble downing the add.
- Some of the best AoE in the game if you use Blink Strikes.
- Can use almost any piece of gear optimally. The three secondary stats (crit, haste, mastery) for beast mastery are virtually equal in value and they synergize in a way that you can stack any of them.
- More pet buffs available.
- Requires extra pet management, including certain macros to ensure the pet is switching targets properly.
- Not ideal for heavy target switching fights. DPS time is lost as pet runs slowly between targets.
- Blink Strikes is the only viable option in the level 75 talent tier because of its interaction with beast mastery AoE and its blink functionality to improve pet DPS uptime.
Survival has stronger DoTs and extra perks with its traps such as Entrapment. Your pet still plays a vital role, but more of the onus is on you.
- Capable of excellent sustained DPS. With the T16 4-piece bonus and a high amount of crit, it is arguably higher single-target sustained DPS than beast mastery.
- Set-and-forget AoE. Keep Serpent Sting ticking on every target in sight with very little management, allowing you to continue a full single-target rotation on your primary target.
- Good for target switching fights, with the option of leaving your pet full-time on a single target so it has no DPS downtime, e.g. General Nazgrim.
- Less burst capability. A prime example is how much more opening damage beast mastery can do on Kor'kron Dark Shaman to get those wolves down compared to survival (as much as a million more DPS for the first 5-10 seconds). However, if you know a need for burst is incoming, you can always fish for a Lock and Load proc with a trap.
- Crit is far and above the best secondary stat, so survival needs crit on as many pieces as possible for optimal damage. Crit/haste pieces are especially needed as mastery is quite weak here.
There's not a whole lot of difference here. A standard crit > haste > mastery reforge works well for both specs so you can always swap without bothering to reforge. If you are running beast mastery only, you can choose to reforge for haste if you want, or even mastery. The stat values are that close. The only piece of gear you'd have to consider swapping is the trinket. The best-in-slot for beast mastery is Assurance of Consequence and Ticking Ebon Detonator. For survival, it's Assurance of Consequence and Haromm's Talisman. You can read more about Siege loot in the earlier Scattered Shots article.
If you're sitting on a bunch of hit and expertise gear, you may want to consider holding onto it since those will be swapped for new DPS stats in the 6.0 pre-expansion patch when hit and expertise get removed. Best-in-slot lists could shift slightly, and there will be other changes like Haromm's Talisman working with pet attacks because it is likely going to be converted to multistrike rating in that same patch.
Some people like to stick with one spec, but I personally find it more interesting to change it up when I can. These are my personal favorites in Siege of Orgrimmar on a per fight basis:
- Immerseus (survival): Easy to fish for that Lock and Load proc for each immersion phase. The pet has too much distance to cover to get off many Kill Commands as beast mastery.
- The Fallen Protectors (survival): I like being able to multidot everything here (overlap your Black Arrows if you have Assurance of Consequence!).
- Norushen (survival): The ability to multidot adds on every corner of the room is nice while leaving the pet on Amalgam of Corruption full time (once cleansed).
- Sha of Pride (beast mastery): I love the Beast Cleave burst on the smaller adds.
- Galakras (beast mastery): Lots of clumped up adds? More Beast Cleave please. Nice burst for the mini bosses on top of towers.
- Iron Juggernaut (survival): I enjoy trying to beat my Explosive Shot streak record every week (from the T16 4-piece bonus).
- Kor'kron Dark Shaman (beast mastery): The opening burst is ludicrous and helps get those wolves down fast (and who doesn't like seeing their DPS measured in the millions for the first 10 seconds). Beast Cleave is great for quickly dealing with the slimes.
- General Nazgrim (survival): Since pets can continue attacking during defensive stance, I tend to just leave the pet on the boss full time except in emergencies.
- Malkorok (survival): Again, I really seem to prefer survival for single-target fights once I got my hands on the 4-piece bonus.
- Spoils of Pandaria (beast mastery): Aside from the pet occasionally getting stuck in a box, I prefer beast mastery's AoE and burst here.
- Thok the Bloodthirsty (beast mastery): Pets can occasionally despawn due to distance here, but at the same time I can cast Kill Command even if I am out of range of Thok, which is nice.
- Siegecrafter Blackfuse (beast mastery): I'm usually on the conveyor belt and find it easier to reliably kill things on there with beast mastery since I can always line up a Bestial Wrath.
- Paragons of the Klaxxi (beast mastery): A little more burst can be helpful for blood adds or the amber shell, but honestly survival is just fine here as well.
- Garrosh Hellscream (beast mastery): Beast Cleave for phase 1 adds and transition adds is the main benefit here. It's also nice for cleaving onto mind control targets without dotting them.
I'm sorry if you were expecting to find a solid answer at the end of this article. The truth is, these specs are so close right now in both performance and mechanics that it's always going to come down to personal preference or what side of the bed you woke up on that particular morning. It also illustrates why the hunter specs are in need of a little differentiation. We know changes are coming in Warlords of Draenor, we've heard as much from both Celestalon and Ghostcrawler before he left. We have no idea how significant they will be other than "no new resources" and "not an overhaul." A fine line must be walked here since there are many hunters quite happy with how things are playing out right now. For the rest of Mists of Pandaria, you can't go wrong with either spec.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From raiding tips and hunter addons to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the ten support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?