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Scattered Shots: Improving the hunter survival tree

Brian Wood

Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

In our ongoing series to give our feedback based on a passing comment made by World of Warcraft Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler, we've discussed how to improve the BM hunter tree and how to improve the MM tree. The discussion has been very interesting thus far -- particularly that BM had far more comments than MM ... more than twice as many. I'm curious to see what you guys think needs to change in SV.

Of course, it's also worth noting that patch 4.2 has launched. Happily, we're all up-to-date on the minor hunter changes in the patch, including new hunter gear. You can see a full roundup of every hunter-related change here.

Now, on to SV! Survival has had a heck of a ride throughout WoW. From the default PVP spec in vanilla, then dwarfed by BM throughout BC, to explode onto the raiding scene after the great BM nerf in Wrath, SV is the least recognizable spec from its vanilla roots. Let's take a look at where it is now and what we could change to improve upon it further.

What we're talking about

I just want to point out at the outset that we are not looking at DPS balance issues here, which are a separate thing. What we're interested in are the talent trees themselves, how they feel and function. I also think that specializations and masteries are fair game, and of course we want to pay attention to the interaction of the talent tree and the "feel" of the SV hunter and rotation.

The SV talent tree

For reference, here is the SV talent tree as it stands now. (You can play with it in detail on Wowhead.) I've tossed on here some of the talents that we typically take for a raiding build (though there is variability there), but in discussing potential talent changes, we have to take PVP into account just as much (and I am very much a random BG very casual PVPer).

SV specializations

SV hunters get the following special bonuses just for choosing the SV tree:

Certainly, SV has a truly nice set of specialization abilities, starting with the ability to rock Explosive Shot at early levels. Personally, I'd kinda like to see a teensy buff to SV mastery, Essence of the Viper. Right now, it's just very clearly worse than crit rating -- not a lot worse, mind you, but pretty obviously worse unless you have very, very high levels of crit (and I'm not certain we'll get crit levels that high in Cataclysm). It'd be nice if the mastery/crit balance were closer, but this is a nitpick, and the secondary stats are certainly close to each other.

Survival identity crisis

Before getting into a talent by talent analysis, the first thing that bugs me a little bit about the survival spec is that it seems to be going through an identity crisis -- or better, perhaps, to say that its identity radically altered in Wrath, veering off from what once it was.

Now, I don't necessarily object to the fact that the survival tree is no longer so much about survival. After all, the perception of WoW has changed over the years so that players now expect to be able to output similar DPS in any tree, and Blizzard has done an admirable job in making that possible. But along with the large DPS boosts SV got over the years has been a fairly huge loss in survivability as its signature feel.

If the plan is to make the survival tree still about survival, let's get some kind of self-heal (we're the only hunter tree without one). I'm fond of a talent that lets us convert some percentage of our damage into heals, personally. And why the heck did MM get to steal Readiness from SV in the first place? That was one of the huge survival talents of SV -- and we want it back!

If the goal of the tree has changed, that's fine too -- we understand that things change. But then let's please change the name to reflect the new reality. It's a bit silly to have a tree called "survival" that is not the best at survivability (and it's probably confusing for new players). Let's come up with a new name to reflect the tree's focus on magical damage. In fact, why don't we come up with a bunch of suggestions for Blizzard in the comments! What should we call this magical damage tree? Bonus points if your suggestion can be abbreviated as SV.

Talent changes

SV has some truly nice and unique talents in the tree -- but we also have some remnants from past expansions that have never been fully cleaned out. I have to say, though, that overall I'm happier with the SV talent tree than any other hunter tree. With one truly glaring exception, SV doesn't really have a lot of truly crummy talent choices.

That isn't to say that some of them couldn't be improved. In fact, one argument about the SV tree is that we don't really have a lot of choice in where to spend our talents, since we have a DPS talent option for just about every talent point expenditure. I wouldn't mind if, like MM or BM, we had to make some tough utility choices mid-tree in order to get farther down the tree.

Counterattack Okay, let's get rid of this hunk of rust already. Back in the day, Counterattack was taken after taking the talent that let us boost our parry by 5%; that talent went away in the Cataclysm talent tree redesign, but somehow, Counterattack stuck around. Let's replace this with that nifty self-heal talent! What about a 2-minute cooldown that for the next 6 seconds, all of the damage you do heals you instead of doing damage? Or perhaps instead of self-heal only, it would affect a target of our choice? Or really anything is better than Counterattack.

It's worth noting that when I saw Ghostcrawler in the halls at BlizzCon 2010, I asked him about Counterattack, and he said that it was something that he imagined wouldn't be around in a year -- but at the time, Blizzard had much bigger things on the priority list (like nerfing ret pallies). I figure patch 4.3 is the time to get this one done!

Trap Mastery So I'm probably going to get some flak for this one, but I think Trap Mastery should be nerfed to remove the DPS gain. I get that it's a PVP talent, and that's not something I do well (but I surely have fun), but this is also a must-have PVE talent for the Black Arrow damage boost -- particularly since there aren't more attractive DPS options in the second tier.

I say remove Black Arrow from this talent, and just buff the base BA to compensate -- or perhaps drop its focus cost down a bit so it doesn't make our rotation quite so tight when it's available. What I'd like to see is a situation in which we have a bunch of choice in that second tier of talents. I love Survival Tactics, I love Hunter vs. Wild up on tier 1, and I dig Entrapment for those AOE bosses -- but I have a hard time justifying taking those when I have to sacrifice DPS to do so. But take Trap Mastery out of the PVE DPS equation, and suddenly I have three points to spend on some of those neat utility talents!

Serpent Spread Yes, Serpent Spread rocks my world; however, this talent really doesn't need two ranks. In fact, that second rank is really there to trick you into wasting a talent point -- something I embarrassingly fell for myself until Zeherah asked me why the heck I was doing it. The only thing the second rank does is increase the duration of the DoT -- and while there are some few situations in which that is desirable, the vast majority of the time, if we're going to use Multi-Shot at all, we're going to be spamming it every opportunity. Thus, we'll always have Serpent Sting on all those targets with or without the second talent point. So let's drop this down to just one rank, or come up with a reason for the second rank. Instead of increasing the duration, it could increase the crit chance or the damage -- or heck, apply Black Arrow to all those targets as well (just kidding, we're not warlocks).

What do you think?

So these are my thoughts on tweaking the SV talent tree. The main things I'd want to focus on would be ditching Counterattack and opening up that second tier to give us a choice of utility talents. And, of course, I'd really like to see the identity of the tree clarified by either reintroducing a bunch of survivability or renaming the tree to something more appropriate.

But how about you guys? If Ghostcrawler were reading this article, what would you want to tell him about the SV talent tree? And what should the new name of the tree be?

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter through optimizing for heroics, pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, then on to choosing the right spec for the right job and how to "aspect dance" to maximize your DPS, we've got you covered.

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