This post goes over the relative pros and cons of the different hunter talent trees for PVP. It leaves aside the strengths and weaknesses that hunters have in general, focusing instead on how the specs compare to each other.
Let’s head from left to right through the hunter trees as they’re shown in game, going over the pros and cons of each. Since the `pros’ and `cons’ are somewhat subjective appraisals, please feel free to leave a comment below if you feel I’ve left something out, been too harsh or too generous, etc. Note that the pros and cons I list are not in any particular order.
Following our examinations of the trees individually, we can turn to the overarching question of why we have this commonly-asserted spec hierarchy of MM being somewhat better than BM, and both of them being decidedly better than SV.
- BM has controlled burst via Bestial Wrath and Fervor.
- It has an additional CC remover via Bestial Wrath (note that Bestial Wrath no longer offers CC immunity).
- BM generally has more Focus than the other specs.
- It has cooldown time reductions via Longevity and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera.
- It attains more pet dps and/or pet utility via extra pet talents.
- BM has a native 3 second stun.
- Its damage is more evenly divided between pet and hunter (sometimes but not always a good thing).
- Pet damage, including Kill Command, can occur out of LoS from the hunter and is not affected by disarms on the hunter.
- BM can provide extra buff/debuff utility via exotic pets (including spirit beast self heals). Incidentally, this leads to BM being the only hunter spec that can provide a Mortal Strike debuff that does not suck, via Devilsaur. That does not mean it is as good as other MS debuffs, though, since Devilsaurs never refresh theirs before it is off the target and sometimes there is a delay. It is still better than Widow Venom, though, which costs a global and Focus.
- Now that the pet Focus bug is fixed, BM has a harder choice between taking MM dps talents and SV utility talents. The top BM hunters that I looked at seemed split on the issue. The fix on the bug also means that BM dps went down.
- BM has no silence/interrupt (unless you count the stun).
- It is reliant on physical damage, meaning reduced damage to high-armor targets.
- CCing or killing the BM hunter’s pet shuts down a lot of BM damage, especially if the hunter doesn’t have Heart of the Phoenix. The “pet-has-next-to-no-health-for-a-few-seconds-upon-summon-bug” only adds more pain to a pet death, potentially causing the pet to die again upon reappearance. Pet CC being as hurtful as it is also leaves BM in a position where its Master’s Call is pulling double duty, so to speak.
- The Killing Streak window is very, very small, making it hard to take advantage of in PvP.
- MM has automatic Hunter’s Marks.
- It has controlled burst via reduced-cooldown Rapid Fires and Readiness.
- MM can pair two high-damage abilities, Aimed Shot and Chimera Shot, into consecutive globals.
- It can potentially double the usage of every cooldown with Readiness. And it can do it whenever it wants, introducing a genuine wild card into PVP environments.
- It has a ranged silence+interrupt.
- MM scales well with weapon damage, increasing the spec’s power relative to BM and SV as a season goes on and hunters aquire the new top-ilvl weapons.
- MM possesses built-in snares (reducing globals used on Concussive Shot). Note that this includes Multi-Shot and not just Chimera Shot.
- It has self-healing via Chimera Shot (some is better than none, right?).
- It merits summing up that Chimera Shot marks the target, snares the target, heals the hunter, refreshes Serpent Sting (if it’s applied and it typically isn’t) and does high, efficient damage. That’s a ridiculous amount of utility packed into a shot that the hunter would fire for the damage alone.
- Improved Steady Shot is hard to keep up in a PVP environment
- Piercing Shots cannot be controlled and increases the chances of a hunter breaking their own CC.
- Master Marksman procs cannot reliably be predicted. While the procs are certainly nice and have a forgiving window for usage (at least compared to, say, Killing Streak), they are hard to plan for and therefore hard to incorporate into moments of focused burst.
- Many MM talents are underwhelming or flawed for PVP: Termination, Improved Steady Shot, Resistance is Futile, and Piercing Shots. Some of them have to be taken anyway, though, for lack of better alternatives.
- Steady Shot is very weak, and yet it is a necessary part of an MM hunter’s rotation. This ensures that MM pressure is frequently and reliably punctuated outside of cooldowns.
- It has a starker choice than BM between pet utility and dps talents.
- MM can’t take both Spirit Bond and Entrapment.
- Its spec buff is fairly common, leaving it more likely than the other specs to provide redundant utility rather than complementary utility.
- The spec has lots of magic damage, which ignores armor.
- It has a spell reflect.
- And it has an extra CC.
- It has frequent burst that follows off its own CC.
- SV gets Entrapment and Survival Tactics natively.
- It has more frequent and better traps.
- SV can spec into Spirit Bond and One With Nature without as many regrets as MM.
- SV is hurt quite a bit by dispels, not only in that a lot of its damage is dot-based but also in that it loses 10% of its damage if Serpent Sting is not on the target. On top of that, SV has no dispel protection to deter dot dispels.
- Its extra CC is not especially great since it is broken by any damage and is on a long cooldown. Moreover, it actually leaves a dot on the target, making it problematic for chaining with some other CCs, including the hunter’s very own traps and Scatters.
- Its burst is hard to save for when it is needed, owing to it procing off traps which are typically used on cooldown. Granted, the burst is typically needed after a Freezing Trap goes down.
- It gets free shots rather than extra Focus as part of its burst potential, meaning that it has to deal damage rather than being able to choose to use utilities like Tranquilizing Shot.
- Counterattack may be the most useless ability in the game and yet it is SV’s ‘spec-defining’ level 29 ability.
- It has no way to reduce cooldown durations, aside from the flat reductions to trap cooldowns.
- It is more reliant on spell penetration.
- It does not also have a reduced cooldown for Scatter Shot, meaning that if it is exclusively using the Scatter-Trap method then the benefits of the reduced trap cooldowns are lost for trap CC.
- It has no silence, stun or interrupt (aside interruptions-in-effect provided by CCs).
- SV is reliant on dots yet dots break any hunter CC. This makes the target switching required for PVP quite problematic for SV.
- Immolation Trap offers sub-optimal damage, reducing the fire trap cooldown options to either Black Arrow (dispellable and costs 35 Focus) or Explosive Trap (AoE damage, often counter-productive to CC). Some think it is better to just leave LnL procs to the Freezing Traps and ignore fire trap abilities, and that in itself is a bad sign for SV.
- SV has a starker choice than BM between pet dps and utility talents.
Take my answers to the questions posed below with a grain of salt. I’ve done research for this post (reading a lot, watching season 10 videos, scouring armories, running BGs and arenas), but I have not ever been a gladiator. I don’t think at that level and can’t offer the insight that a high-performing hunter PVPer would. What follows, then, is the product of inference rather than experience.
Why are BM and MM Better than SV?
Despite its long list of cons above, SV is not a crippled PVP spec. It is has enough pressure to be more than adequate for farming Honor or even Conquest Points. However, the issue is not whether SV has viability for entry-level PVP; rather, the concern is how well it compares to BM and MM in conditions where marginal differences start to make all the difference. In arenas and rated BGs, SV’s shortcomings become more pronounced and detrimental. Its comparatively low ability to muster snap damage on demand impares it in the current arena environment where focused burst is important for exploiting momentary weaknesses. Its reliance on dots means that, with an active dispeller, SV will lose in a head to head on dps. Moreover, its reliance on dots puts SV in unavoidable conflict with itself: to dot to maintain pressure or not dot to leave open the possibility of CC? This internal conflict is present for BM and MM, too, but not to nearly as great an extent. In general, the combined issues with dots and uncontrolled burst leave SV deficient in damage compared to BM and MM. SV’s additional lack of utility when it comes to interrupts and stuns leaves its toolkit looking incomplete relative to MM and BM. Its absence of cooldown reductions (aside from traps) means that it is able to use Deterrence, Master’s Call, etc., less often than the other specs. Overall, Survival just does not have the self-control, damage potential and internal synergy present in the other specs. This does not make Survival non-functional, but it certainly makes it sub-optimal and non-viable for top level PVP.
Why is MM Typically Considered the Best PVP Spec?
BM and MM are both present at the highest levels of hunter PVP. Both BM and MM bring useful toolkits to arenas and rated BGs. Yet, as of writing this post, MM was the choice of 65% of hunters in ranked PVP (scroll to the bottom of the page in that link). Some of this may be a snowball effect with lower-ranked players emulating what the higher-ranked players are doing. That still begs the question, though, of why the highest-ranked players are favoring MM (you can see this trend for yourself by exploring the ladders here).
Rated PVP is about orchestrating and exploiting opportunities for defeating the enemy. You want to CC, yes, but you also don’t want it to be random or during a point where it makes no difference if the player is CC’d. Typically, you want it to be synergystic where the CC creates an opportunity to burn another player down. MM is quite good at this in more than one sense. The first is that it has CC and burst that it is in complete control of. Second, MM has some spontaneity to it in the form of Readiness. Readiness allows MM to engage in a CC+burst chain on demand (and/or other CD usage, of course). In an environment where opponents want to use the regularity of cooldowns to predict your actions, a wild card like Readiness is frankly awesome.
Does all of that make MM categorically better than BM? No. BM can plan its scatter-trapping around its Bestial Wrath cooldown and have synergistic bursts too. However, Readiness gives MM an extra tactical edge that BM can’t lay claim to. Bestial Wrath can be hugely powerful, but it can also be anticipated and even locked down given that it no longer provides a CC immunity while active (big red pet is a big red “it’s time to CC me now” indicator). Readiness breaks the cyclical nature of cooldowns but BM stays subject to them.
There are other arguments worth considering as well:
- MM does more in fewer globals with its built-in snares and marks.
- In general, MM snares are much better than BM’s, and that can make a lot of difference for breaking up trains, allowing the flag carrier to get ahead, etc.
- BM is hurt too much on high armor targets and when its pet is bugged, cc’d, etc.
- A 20-second CD silence beats a 42-second CD stun.
- BM requires a lot of pet micro-management, which can be an extra and potent tax on a player’s finite amount of situational awareness. Moreover, MM is not crippled if its pet dies.
However, to my mind, these secondary arguments all come after the Readiness argument already discussed. Readiness is not some amazing “!!rawr you lose now!!” button; however, in PVP environments where the margins matter, where what is viable is little different than what is optimal, a tool like Readiness counts for quite a lot and pushes MM ahead.