All 3 hunter specs now close in DPS, play what you want

Updated: These simulations and some of this information is now outdated after we’ve received more hotfixes in the weeks since this was posted. The overall point of the article still stands, but you should know the following:

  • Survival has the highest single target DPS potential (especially with Focusing Shot, but also Lone Wolf in many cases). Its AoE is also very strong.
  • Marksmanship remains strong single target, but has weak AoE.
  • Beast Mastery has the weakest single target (just a smidge below MM), but it’s AoE is very good.
  • Specs are within 5-10% of each other for single target DPS (varies depending on your gear).
  • Updated simulations for patch 6.1

Original post follows.

A post I made a little over a week ago about spec inequality and bad attitudes towards players who choose not to play the “best” spec ended up generating a lot of discussion in the community. At the time, marksmanship was simply doing more single target damage. I argued it wasn’t such a gap that you should feel guilty for playing something else, but some people have a hard time just saying “no” to extra damage.

Well, we don’t have to worry about this stuff anymore. The specs are now relatively balanced after a couple of rounds of hotfixes. Here is the gist of what was changed:

  • Aimed Shot and Kill Shot damage was nerfed by 10%
  • Serpent Sting damage was buffed by 60%
  • Focus Fire now grants 25% bonus attack power when used at 5 stacks (up from 10%) via the Draenor perk

These changes were enough to get the specs so close together that I feel comfortable in saying you can play anything you want, even in a competitive/progression group. Let’s take a look at each spec’s strengths.

Marksmanship: Good single target

Marksmanship will still come out on top for those situations where you have mostly single target damage and little movement (where you can keep Sniper Training up 80+% of the time). Marksmanship also has other strengths such as being able to burst down adds (such as on Brackenspore) extremely quickly.

While it will come out ahead in that specific situation, this difference is 5% or less. One could argue you’ll do just as well as BM or SV if you play it better.

Is Marksmanship your preferred spec? Then play it.

Beast Mastery: The AoE King

Beast Mastery excels at 5+ target AoE, but it’s also pretty good at single target and 2-3 target cleave as well. The Focus Fire buff was immediately noticeable for me. Not just on the meters, but beefier Kill Command crits! It further emphasizes just how important Focus Fire is now. It’s literally your highest priority button.

The only thing that sucks is when you get unlucky streaks and no procs for an extended period of time. It is rare, but I am thinking about making a WeakAura to track the stacks and timer now. I’d rather use a 3 or 4 stack that’s about to expire than lose it completely. On the flip side, you can sometimes get really lucky and have another Focus Fire ready even before your current one is finished.

Is Beast Mastery your preferred spec? Then play it.

Survival: Jack of all Trades

Survival excels at 2-3 target cleave, but it’s also very good at single target (it can even be the best if you have a lot of multistrike), and also very good at 5+ target AoE (just slightly behind BM). Basically it can do everything well. The Serpent Sting buff was a small single target buff, but a tremendous cleave and AoE buff.

Survival’s sustained damage is quite high, but it has very little burst to speak of. You will most likely see yourself slowly rise on the meters as the fight progresses and you get past everyone else’s opening burst. Once you get into execute range, you will start to see others catch up to you. If the idea of high sustained damage (basically the same DPS for the entire fight) appeals to you, then Survival may be your thing. As mentioned above, the cleave and AoE is also excellent after this buff.

Is Survival your preferred spec? Then play it.

What spec are you best at?

That is the real question! Small differences in DPS can be erased or reversed if you are more comfortable with one spec over the other. That’s the beauty of having the specs as close as they are now. No need to worry about losing “potential” DPS anymore. The gap is small enough that quality of play will be the biggest deciding factor in how well you do with each spec.


These simulations were outdated so they’ve been removed. For some patch 6.1 sims, see this post:

What about Lone Wolf?

Lone Wolf is still strong for single target, there’s no denying it. The gap between the talents is much less for survival. This is probably due to its elemental mastery and the fact that Serpent Sting is not buffed by Lone Wolf. For me it was less than 1k DPS between Exotic Munitions and Lone Wolf.  The gap is probably a bit bigger for MM. Focusing Shot is theoretically higher than Lone Wolf, but that is under ideal conditions (and again, the gap is very tiny).

In my opinion, if they were to very slightly buff Exotic Munitions (just the Poisoned Ammo) it would put the whole talent tier in a better place. Not a big buff. Just a little one to get it closer.


My results in the real world line up with what I see in the sims. If you want a good place to test this stuff out, I recommend hopping into LFR. Unlike previous LFRs, you don’t have to worry about wipe fests. Just have fun testing out the specs and talents you want on live target dummies!

I personally am running a BM and SV dual spec for the time being. I’m not sure how much I’ll actually use SV, but I will endeavor to use it on a couple of fights at least. BM is still my preferred choice.

TLDR: Just play what you want.


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30 thoughts on “All 3 hunter specs now close in DPS, play what you want”

  1. F*ck yeah!
    Erm.. Sorry about my happiness burst but I felt horrible saying good bye to my pet every time I needed to be at top of my A-frame.

    Big Red Kitty wait for me, I’m coming!

      1. Interesting. I know BM gets the bonus to extra Mastery, but AMR and such are putting multistrike as the main man for BM? Is that right?
        But I am loving LW MM so I’d rather just get everything crit I guess that should still work.

  2. I’m rocking BM for solo play and cleave raid bosses an SV for group play and single target raid bosses. Yesterday was a good day indeed. All the support classes were “What the hell is going with you, Myth?”. =D

  3. Its a lot better then it was but I am still not happy with Surv, which has always been my favourite spec, A dps increase is a dps increase, that was never my real problem with it. It feels naked.

    I wish they give the spec kill shot, even if it pushes the DPS to high…they can always nerf another ability a bit to adjust. I can live without rapid fire in that spec…haste seems pointless in that spec (pointless to the gameplay) but the spec needs something.

    I am glad I can stop playing MM, hopefully the situation continues (tier bonuses may change things).

    I played surv last night, while the other hunters played MM. I feel behind on gear because i missed two clears so i was about 12 ilevel below them with very garbage trinkets. Although i was on the bottom i could see a smaller gap. Once i get my ilevel up more and better trinkets i can see spec choices hardly making a difference UNLESS IT IS BRAKENSPRORE.

    I could not even come close to MM damage as surv on brakenspore. The blue mushroom haste buff has to much of an impact for MM hunters.

    1. At the end of the night, on the 2nd heroic butcher kill of the night (to use coins), the dps difference between the MM hunters (24k) and me was surv (23k) was very marginal. Especially considering their trinkets were a lot better then mine.

    2. It feels naked because it is naked. I think KS should be a survival signature, because MM has RF+AS, BM has BW+FF, Surv has ES and no cooldowns. Black Arrow doesn’t feel like a real hunter ability, never did.

      I’m happy to see Surv being buffed, even though I don’t think that it can really shine above MM under *any* circumstance, but I also think that this spec is in need of at least a minor overhaul and that probably won’t happen until the next expansion, if at all.

  4. Based on some testing I did yesterday (along with 3 other hunters in my raid) if you can manage your Sniper Training well, Marksmanship comes out 1-3k dps higher than BM with ~660 item level. So keep both specs and use as required.

    For me, these specs worked best for each encounter:
    Korgath – MM
    Butcher – MM
    Tectus – BM
    Brackenspore – MM
    Twin Orgon – BM
    Ko’ragh – BM
    Imperator – MM

  5. While I was perfectly happy playing MM, I am very happy that other hunters are able to play whichever spec they like best. This is how it should ALWAYS be for pure DPS, of any class. I will be keeping my offspec as BM for the occasional AoE encounter, taming spirit beasts, and soloing Valithria in ICC.

    1. Is there good transmog from Valithria? Because I honestly don’t like that hassle and if farming Invincible just skipping her is best!

  6. I have no clue what the status is for other classes, but those sim numbers make me very happy. Close enough but with a different winner for each, you can’t get it down more perfectly then that I think.
    I know I’ve moaned in my guild about blizzard not having a clue at the first 6.0 changes, but well, I’ll now also have to applaud them for fixing it to a satisfying degree.
    I still find SV to be a bit boring though, so I might just continue with my BM/MM. But seeing SV has been my choice for so long, it’s only a matter of time till I go back to it. And now I can do so and tell others to ‘go read up’ instead of griping at me for not being lone wolf.
    I like my pets.
    I remember seriously having a miserable feeling setting free my bear (flew to a nice forest in howling fjord to release it even) because I could only have 3 pets and needed a gorilla tank for better aoe farming.
    To go lone wolf and just look at all those pleading eyes and pff ‘I don’t need you all anymore. Thanks for getting me through several years of heroi-ing, but eh, well, Goodbye’. It never felt right 🙂

  7. I played as BM in LFR yesterday and luckily in both runs there were other hunters, either MM or BM. I have to say that all 3 specs looked competitive. It’s hard to compare exact DPS numbers since I didn’t check the gear of the other hunters.

    I think that by buffing focus fire BM’s dps has become a bit unpredictable. If you are unlucky with the number or timing of procs your dps can suffer a bit. Both MM and especially SV offer a much more consistent damage output.

    Perhaps Blizzard should have buffed Arcane Shot and buffed Serpent Sting and Focus Fire less.

      1. Yeah, personally I’m not a fan of buffing a “focus dump” ability unless it makes sense. I do like the buff to Focus Fire though – was thinking they would buff Kill Command, but this actually works better since it applies to everything we do while FF is active. RNG still plays a factor though and that’s the part that sucks but I have to agree with Bendak, I’d rather use a 3 or 4 stack FF than have it fall off unused (I have a WA tracker specifically for that reason).

        Also, after playing BM last night and seeing my numbers greatly increase, I feel more comfortable switching back to the spec I love (BM) and not feeling like I’m dragging the raids’ progress down by doing so. Hunters of the world UNITE! 😉

  8. I’m not sure where to point this out, it got burred in the hunter forums pretty quickly. The crock, spider and warp-stalker have the same ability, which slows their target by 50%, however the spider and crock enjoy a 10 second cool-down, while the warp-stalker has a 15 second cool-down… How do I get this to Bliz, or am I missing something important?

  9. I have always played BM i liked it in Panda land because every think worked like flowing water but in warlords it feels a bit clunky I might just be because of gear.

  10. I’m so glad hunters are in such a decent spot right now, but I can’t see myself switching from MM any time soon. The 35% Kill Shot is (to me) the greatest quality-of-life change since removing ammo and/or letting us keep five pets on hand.

  11. I like that they buffed FF for BM. In patchwerk style it’s #1 priority, but in other fights (in progress) delaying it for something important later on feels extremely rewarding. You can also remedy the RNG of FF a lot by keeping an eye on Frenzy and use FF when Frenzy is about to expire.

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