Welcome to our WoW Classic guide for survival hunters! Hunters are predominantly marksmanship or beast mastery specialization, but there’s also the unique survival specialization. While hunters traditionally fight with a bow or gun, survival hunters jump into the fray to attack with melee weapons!
That’s right, a survival hunter is in fact a melee hunter! This makes it quite different from the other two specializations, considering you’ll use different abilities and therefore have different needs. Survival hunters thrive when they’re able to take direct damage, allowing them to dodge and parry, which allows the use of Mongoose Bite and Counterattack.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you’d want to know about playing a survival hunter. We’ll go over your rotation and how the class functions in combat. We’ll also cover every aspect of optimization, including your consumables, enchants, professions, and your stat priorities! Race and talents are also important to survival hunters, so we’ll detail those just below!
Hunters have the flexibility as playing either for the horde or the alliance. Even for the survival specialization hunter, horde racial abilities are far superior. At the same time, alliance hunters shouldn’t be overlooked as they offer solid defensive bonuses for a melee-oriented hunter.
If you’re curious what each race offers for a survival hunter, take a look at all your options here. You can also check out our analysis for each faction just below!
If you want to play as an alliance hunter, you’ll need to pick a dwarf or a night elf. Dwarves are typically the best option, but the playing field is more even for the survival specialization. Dwarves do still have Gun Specialization, which will still provide passive bonuses despite attacking with melee weapons. They also have Stoneform for added durability, making them a good choice.
Night elves are also a decent choice considering that they have the highest base agility value in the game. They also have the passive ability, Quickness, which add +1% Dodge, crucial for enabling Mongoose Bite. Considering this is less likely to happen in a raiding environment, it makes night elves less effective. This gives dwarves a slight advantage, but not by much.
The horde definitely have it made when it comes to survival hunters. Tauren are an alright choice simply due to naturally higher health with Endurance and a stun with War Stomp. Outside of that, they have the lowest starting agility value of any race, but also have the highest starting strength value.
Trolls are typically the best choice of hunter if you want to raid, but they’re less valuable as a survival hunter. They’re definitely better than a tauren considering they have Bow Specialization for passive bonuses and Berserking for an attack speed cooldown. Trolls would be the best choice, but orcs are just better.
Orcs have access to Command, which boosts pet damage by 5%. They also have the passive ability Axe Specialization, which will require you to use an axe to benefit from the added weapon skill. Unlike the other two specializations, survival hunters actually can benefit from Blood Fury, one of the strongest racial abilities in the game that grants +25% melee attack power for 25 seconds on just a 2 minute cooldown. Orcs are clearly the best, but a troll makes for an alright choice too.
Considering that survival hunters are not designed to pump out massive amounts of damage, your talent choices won’t always be about what does the most damage. Many talents that seem like defensive choices double as offensive talents considering that survival hunters can deal more damage if they dodge or parry an attack.
This 15/0/36 build is the strongest talent setup you can use in just about any environment. Nothing low enough in the marksmanship tree is worth grabbing, and you’ll notice that you actually take Improved Aspect of the Monkey, meaning you’ll use Aspect of the Monkey rather than Aspect of the Hawk. This goes deep enough into the beast mastery tree to pick up talents that bolster your pet, meaning you should also be focusing on keeping it alive. The only thing you might consider picking up is Unleashed Fury if you know that you won’t ever be taking direct damage to dodge and enable Mongoose Bite.
Before you understand how to optimize a survival hunter, it is important to understand the purpose of the specialization. Survival hunters thrive when they’re able to hold threat and take damage, but they aren’t strong enough to function as a tank. Without taking damage, survival hunters lose access to two of their core abilities. This severely limits the damage output of a survival hunter, which means it isn’t typically viable in a raid setting.
There may occasionally be settings where you will be taking direct damage (think whelps on Onyxia), which can make the specialization quite impressive. This is not often the case, which makes the specialization underwhelming as a whole. You should not expect to top the damage meters as a survival hunter, but optimizing is the only way for you to do passable DPS!
Stat priorities for a survival hunter are quite different than the other two hunter specializations. Considering that you attack with a melee weapon, attack power and strength become far more important for the survival specialization. You’ll still need hit rating and agility, so gearing turns into a fun balancing game.
With that in mind, here are the priorities for a survival hunter:
- Hit Cap to 8% – The hit cap for a survival hunter is different because it follows the melee rules. You’ll want to get your hit cap to 8% so Raptor Strike never misses, but this is extremely easy thanks to 3 points in Surefooted, giving you 3% hit chance. You can also get 2% hit rating from enchants, meaning that you’ll need another 3% from gear.
- Agility – Agility is still the best primary stat for a survival hunter. Agility grants 1 Melee Attack Power just like Strength, but it also grants a slight critical strike and dodge chance, making it individually better than a point of strength.
- Strength/Attack Power – Just below agility is strength or raw attack power. Strength will give you a single point of melee attack power and nothing else, making it equal to pure attack power. This is important for boosting your auto attack damage and Raptor Strike.
- Dodge/Parry – You might be surprised to see defensive stats here, but they’re actually very important. Dodging will enable the use of Mongoose Bite, while parrying will allow Counterattack. In raid encounters where there is only one boss and no other enemies, you’ll never be able to use these abilities or benefit from these stats. However, anytime adds are attacking you this will give you a great chance to avoid damage and deal more damage.
- Critical Strike Rating – After dodge and parry, you can benefit from critical strike rating. This is less effective due to helpful talents. Lightning Reflexes increases your agility by 15%, while Killer Instinct grants +3% crit chance, and Savage Strikes boosts the critical strike chance of Raptor Strike and Mongoose Bite specifically by 20%. This means that your strongest ability already naturally has around a +25% crit chance bonus on top of any crit chance you already have, but more never hurts!
- Intellect – Mana problems are definitely less important for a survival hunter considering that you won’t always get to use your full toolkit. In the fights that you do, you’ll want to have enough mana to last through a fight. Intellect will let you swing away for longer.
Weapon skill is particularly important for a survival hunter, especially because you fight using a melee weapon. Raising your weapon skill will allow you to avoid glancing blows, which severely reduce the damage an attack does. This will also help you to make sure your abilities actually land in the first place, a priority considering how few abilities you have access to in the first place.
Each time you level up a weapon skill you’ll gain:
- 0.04% reduced chance to miss.
- 0.04% reduced chance of opponent blocking attack.
- 0.04% reduced chance of opponent parrying attack.
- 0.04% reduced chance of opponent dodging attack.
- 0.04% increased critical strike chance.
Professions are also quite important for helping a survival hunter be useful and deal acceptable damage. Engineering should almost be a requirement for the class, considering that bombs are a decent way of supplementing your damage. You can pick any other profession that suits your playstyle, it just won’t perform as well as engineering.
These are the best choices for professions as a survival hunter:
- Engineering – Not only can engineers make bombs and useful gadgets, but they also have a unique interaction with hunters. With Feign Death, hunters can effectively leave combat to enable use of Goblin Jumper Cables XL. This can allow them to occasionally resurrect an ally in combat, adding important utility to a weak specialization.
- Mining – If you’re going to be an engineer, then you’ll also want mining. Mining will allow you to gather all the materials necessary to craft all those bombs and gadgets that make you relevant!
- Leatherworking – As an alternative to engineering, you could also pick up leatherworking. Leatherworking is especially useful because you can craft the black dragonscale set for a great start to gearing.
- Skinning – If you want to be a leatherworker, you should pick up skinning. Skinning will let you farm all the leather necessary to make the armor you want to use. Anything that allows you to save money is a win!
Enchants are also an important part of optimizing your survival hunter. Falcon’s Call is less effective for the survival specialization because you won’t benefit from ranged attack power, but the hit chance will still help. Additionally, the scope you pick doesn’t matter much, especially considering that Biznicks 247×128 Accurascope only applies to ranged attacks. Everything else is focused around giving you as much melee attack power as possible.
You’ll want to collect these enchants as a survival hunter:
- Helm – Falcon’s Call, +24 Ranged Attack Power, +10 Stamina, +1% Hit Chance or Lesser Arcanum of Voracity, +8 Agility
- Shoulders – Zandalar Signet of Might, +30 Attack Power
- Cloak – Lesser Agility, +3 Agility
- Chest – Greater Stats, +4 All Stats
- Bracers – Superior Strength, +9 Strength or Mana Regeneration, +4 MP5
- Gloves – Superior Agility, +15 Agility
- Pants – Falcon’s Call, +24 Ranged Attack Power, +10 Stamina, +1% Hit Chance or Lesser Arcanum of Voracity, +8 Agility
- Boots – Minor Speed, + Movement Speed or Greater Agility, +7 Agility
- Melee Weapon – Crusader, Chance on Hit to Give +100 Strength and a Minor Heal
- Ranged Weapon – Biznicks 247×128 Accurascope, +3% Hit Chance (ranged attacks only!) or Sniper Scope, +7 Damage
Survival hunters don’t need as many consumables as your average class, but you’ll still need to collect a few. As long as you have an elixir, food, and jujus, you’re giving yourself most of what you need to succeed from consumables. Considering that survival hunters don’t naturally deal a ton of damage, going out of your way to collect consumables is a great way to help show your dedication to your raid group.
These are the essential consumables for a survival hunter:
- Elixirs – Survival hunters benefit the most from Elixir of the Mongoose, which gives +25 Agility and +2% Crit Chance.
- Potions – You can use two different potions here. Mageblood Potion is nice for +12 MP5 for an hour, and Major Mana Potion is great for ~1800 extra mana every 2 minutes.
- Food – Your best choice is definitely Smoked Desert Dumplings for +20 Strength. Alternatively, Grilled Squid for +10 Agility won’t hurt either.
- Juju – Jujus are actually very important for a survival hunter considering you do benefit from melee attack power. You’ll need both Juju Power for +30 Strength and Juju Might for +40 Attack Power.
- Others – There a few other things that will help you, but are much harder to come by. Winterfall Firewater is one of these such consumables, granting +35 Attack Power for 20 minutes. You can also benefit from either Scroll of Agility or Scroll of Strength for +17 in either stat. The last thing you’ll need is pet food, which will help keep your pet happy for maximum damage!
Rotation & Gameplay Tips
Now that you know how to optimize a survival hunter, you’ll need to know how to master the unique gameplay. Survival hunters aren’t the strongest hunter specialization, but they can still pack a punch in the right setting. Understanding how the specialization operates is crucial to performing at your best.
Your only real cooldown (unless you picked an orc) is the talent Deterrence, which boosts your dodge and parry chance by 25% for 10 seconds on a 5 minute cooldown. Not only is this fantastic for increasing your survivability, but using it increases the chance for you to use Mongoose Bite and Counterattack. Make sure you use it only when you know you’re going to take direct damage. If you have access to Blood Fury, feel free to use it on cooldown, but try to line it up with Deterrence for a massive damage spike.
Even as a survival hunter, you still have two important ranged abilities. Wyvern Sting is your 31st talent, which puts an enemy to sleep for 12 seconds. Upon waking, a damage-over-time debuff is applied. This has a 2 minute cooldown, so it can come in handy if you need to quickly crowd control an add. Tranquilizing Shot is also important because it can remove frenzy. This is important particularly for fights within Molten Core.
Survival hunters pose quite an interesting dilemma. Their toolkit suggests that they play as a tank, but they don’t have enough defensive bonuses to reliably service as one in a raid environment. You cannot use Mongoose Bite without dodging, nor can you use Counterattack without parrying, neither of which will happen unless enemies are attacking you.
This means that a survival hunter is most effective as a backup offtank, only taking aggro on non-boss enemies. This will allow you the greatest use of your toolkit, which can actually be quite powerful. Unfortunately, the inability to use all of your abilities at all times is what makes the specialization difficult. On some fights, you will just be relegated to handling any mechanics, trying to rez with jumper cables, and using the few abilities you can.
Your pet is important as a survival hunter, especially considering that you’ll be fighting right next to it. Just like the other two specializations, your best choice of pet is still a wolf so you have access to Furious Howl. Furious Howl boosts the physical damage of you (and your party’s) next attack. This means it gives the greatest impact to you, making it the strongest pet to have.
There’s only one wolf that has access to rank 4 of Furious Howl, and that is Bloodaxe Worg from Lower Blackrock Spire. The Bloodaxe Worg actually doesn’t deal the most damage of any wolf though, meaning that you only want Bloodaxe Worg to learn rank 4 of Furious Howl.
One thing to consider for your pet is the use of Cower. Unlike the other two specializations, you actually want threat. Allowing your pet to drop aggro is great for helping you take it if the situation allows for it.
Depending upon whether or not you’re able to soak damage, your rotation will be basic or robust. If you don’t have the luxury of taking direct damage, then your rotation is as simple as using Raptor Strike and Wing Clip on cooldown, as those are the only melee abilities you have. Auto attacking will make up most of your damage if you’re unable to dodge or parry attacks.
This is why engineering bombs are fantastic for survival hunters. With the lack of abilities to use, you have much more flexibility to use bombs. Use your bombs at the beginning of a fight and immediately as they come off cooldown.
If you can take damage enabling you to dodge and parry, things get much more interesting. In addition to Raptor Strike and Wing Clip, you’ll now be able to use Mongoose Bite and Counterattack. In this scenario, you should still prioritize Raptor Strike, but you’ll want to use Mongoose Bite and then Counterattack if they’re available before using Wing Clip. If you need to pull aggro, you can use Distracting Shot to taunt.
To simplify, if you aren’t taking damage, Raptor Strike > Wing Clip, making sure to auto attack the entire time. If you are taking damage, then you’ll switch to Raptor Strike > Mongoose Bite (if available) > Counterattack (if available) > Wing Clip.