On Spec Differentiation

Blizzard has stated all along that Hunters were not going to get a major overhaul this expansion, so no melee BM is no surprise. This doesn’t mean we won’t get significant changes, and I would argue that the class doesn’t need an actual major overhaul to feel like it got one.

We know very little about changes they have planned for Hunter rotations, but here is what we know so far.

  • Arcane Shot will be BM/SV only.
  • The Snipe talent will replace Steady/Cobra Shot in the rotation.
  • Bola Shot will replace Arcane Shot. We don’t know if it will be BM/SV only.
  • With or Without You will allow MM/SV to play without a pet, and give BM and uber pet.

We know that Mage talents are undergoing extensive revisions, so it’s not unreasonable to think that Hunters might see something similar.

While we wait to see what changes Blizzard has in store for Hunters, I wanted to address why the Hunter specs all feel similar. There are two main culprits here, one is all three specs share many of the same abilities, and the second is that there is not enough synergy in the rotations to make them feel different. Let’s take a look at the active abilities that are spec-specific. As you can see it’s a pretty short list.

Beast Mastery



Everything else is shared. That includes Serpent Sting, Stampede, Rapid Fire, traps, and of course talents and utility abilities. When you look at DPS abilities and cooldowns you’ll see that using them is based on a priority order and that they don’t interact with any other abilities. The conditions under which you would fire Glaive Toss or use Dire Beast are the same for BM as they are for SV and MM.

The specs aren’t devoid of synergy, but much of it is passive and goes relatively unnoticed when you’re playing. Look at the following passives,

All three have different effects, but they’re all triggered by firing Multi-Shot. They do slightly different amounts of damage, but they don’t alter playstyle or behavior from one spec to the other. Other passive abilities like Piercing Shots, Cobra Strikes, and Viper Venom are all unique to their respective specs, and are triggered by actions you take, but their effects tend to go unnoticed while you’re playing.

What makes the specs different and unique are these subtle things that no one notices, and since they the don’t alter behavior the rotations feel the same.

It’s a shame that Marksman is the low spec on the bottom totem pole right now, because it has the most interesting rotation by far. Why? It has great synergy.

Marksman is interesting because it requires the use of a lower DPS ability, i.e., Steady Shot, to do it’s highest DPS.

Casting two Steady Shots in a row triggers Steady Focus. Casting Steady Shot also triggers Master Marksman which makes Aimed Shot free. Chimera Shot also refreshes Serpent Sting.

This interaction leads to a fairly fluid rotation. Steady Focus should not be allowed to drop, and thus a good Marksman Hunter is basing their rotation around keeping that up, but without going into Steady Shot spam.

Survival and Beast Mastery lack this synergy in their rotations. Survival does have Lock and Load, and yes, Cobra Shot refreshes Serpent Sting for both. Lock and Load is too random and unpredictable though, and the four-piece set bonus, while fun, turns the spec into an Explosive Shot spam fest.

Beast Mastery has a tiny, and I do mean tiny, bit of Synergy with Bestial Wrath. That’s just a damage buff to everything. Frenzy and Focus Fire have synergy, but again it’s too random and hard to predict.

Let me give you an example of a rotation from another MMO I play, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Their classes have limited DPS abilities, but great interaction, and I enjoy their rotations. I’ll use a Marksmanship spec Sniper as an example. Like Hunters, the Sniper is a ranged DPS class.

The core rotational abilities that a Sniper has are,

They have other cooldowns and utility, but I’m just focusing on the main rotation here. Doing max DPS revolves around the Followthrough ability.

Firing SnipeAmbushSeries of Shots and Takedown will all activate FollowthroughOnce activated, you have a five second window in which you can use it, and it’s cooldown can be reset by using other abilities in your rotation. It has a 9sec cooldown, but this cooldown will be reset after firing Series of Shots, Takedown, Ambush, or firing Snipe twice in a row. Additionally, firing Snipe twice in a row reduces the activation time of Ambush by 40%.

The rotation ends up looking something like this,

Takedown is like Kill Shot and is only available when the target is low on health. There are others things you would do as a Sniper, but this is the basic rotation.

As you can see it’s a very fluid rotation and the abilities all interact with one another, and it’s that interaction that helps dictate what the rotation should be. I’m not saying Blizzard should mirror this rotation, but I’d like to see more of this type of thinking go into Hunter rotations.

I did reach out to Celestalon to see if we’d be getting more synergy in our rotations, but alas, no reply.

I can’t wait for the beta to see what changes Blizzard has in store. If they can give each spec more unique abilities, and build in some interaction between those abilities, then Hunters in Warlords of Draenor could be a lot of fun.


  1. Definitely agree about Marksmanship having the more engaging priority system/rotation, and I’d also agree with Marksmanship Sniper being fun (even though it’s been a long time since I played SW:TOR).

    Personally, however, I’d say that Beast Mastery also has a very engaging play style, when played to its full potential. There is little synergy, I agree, as few abilities play off each other in the same way many Marksmanship abilities do, but Beast Mastery relies heavily on managing your pet in order to maximise your damage, something which is pretty much a non-issue for the other specs.

    If/when the With or Without You talent is introduced in WoD, perhaps we will see pet management become an even bigger aspect of playing Beast Mastery effectively than it is already, as your pet will be an even more significant portion of your damage. Whether or not this will be enough to say, “look, BM is so much more different now!”, remains to be seen, but I think it could help.

    Survival, on the other hand, I would totally agree with you on. I suppose doing something along the lines of shifting the focus of Survival to be more on Serpent Sting and Black Arrow damage could help, even doing something like reintroducing Immolation Trap as a Survival only ability (even if it’d kind of go against the whole idea of reducing button bloat), but with the removal of dot snapshotting in Warlords, would that really make a difference?

    1. Yeah looks like SV will continue to maintain it’s hold as the magic damage spec. I’ll be curious to see if the Flaming Shot talent becomes the chose for that spec.

  2. I’d like to see Survival make heavy use of traps and gimmicks and Marks become a spec like the old Ranger class in Dark Age of Camelot, to the point that Marks wouldn’t use a pet at all or the pet would do no damage but just hold aggro.

    1. MM may become the preferred spec to play without a pet, although I’m not sure I’d enjoy playing any spec without a pet.

  3. Given the amount of information I’ve seen on twitter it looks like Blizzard has not really started on the hunter class yet. I guess this is not surprising since the hunter class always seems to be the last class to receive changes each expansion (except when focus replaced mana).

    So far, it seems that the 2 specs which are already the most similar in play-style (SV and BM) continue to share both their focus regen (cobra shot) and focus dump (arcane shot). Only through using the With or Without You talent will the specs maybe feel different, although even that talent does not really alter your play-style in dungeons or raids.

    If Blizzard is really interested in implementing spec differentiation they would make Snipe a spec specific talent. At the moment it actually goes against spec differentiation since it replaces the spec specific focus regen shot with a single ability making the specs more similar rather than more different.

    If Blizzard is serious about making hunter spec rotations really different they should add some more synergy/dependencies to SV and BM’s simple reactive rotations. If MM’s proactive rotation remains the easiest to screw up (as it is at the moment) it should be rewarded with the (theoretically) highest dps. If they screw up hunter PvE DPS balance at the start of WoD MM might go extinct since the removal of Silencing Shot means it will loose its niche in PvP.

    1. I’m a big fan of Synergy. MM may end up being the preferred spec to play without a pet, and maybe that will be enough to make people more interested in it, although ultimately it will come down to how close is each spec to one another in damage.

      We all know if one of them is a bit higher than the others, that’s where we all gravitate.

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