Breaking down Survival in Cataclysm

Survival has returned, at least for the moment, as the number one DPS spec for Hunters. Let's see why and how to spec for it.

With the release of Cataclysm we have a new top dog in terms of which spec does the most DPS for us Hunter folks. And right now the king is Survival once again. Back from his short stint at the top during Lich King before Marksmanship took over, returning from it’s “I am awesome” status as the spec people showed off how big their Expose Weakness was.

And for the time being, Survival is rocking the house again. And you know me, my spec changes with whatever will maximize my DPS. So with that, let’s get back to posting like I used to and see about doing some number crunching.


First things first. A widely accepted build is as follows:

In the Survival spec you have a two free talents you can use in a couple places. In my build I placed them in Survival Tactics but if you prefer the extra health, 2/3 in Hunter vs. Wild is perfectly acceptable too.

Most of the other talents are self-explanatory as they are similar to things we have had in the past. Serpent Spread is the talent that allows Survival to be our number one AoE DPS spec since it interacts with a bunch of our other talents. It is affected by Improved Serpent Sting, Toxicology, and on subsequent casts, Noxious Stings. And if any of the bosses I have fought thus far, there are plenty of AoE situations to deal with.


Some might question the glyphs I have linked in that build, so it’s worth bringing up. A poster on Elitist Jerks, through their own testing, has indicated that on a 5 minute fight, it would only take ten and a half Arcane Shots to have the Glyph of Arcane Shot be equal to that of Serpent Sting. Other than that choice, the glyphs are the obvious choices in Explosive Shot and Kill Shot.

It would only take ten and a half Arcane Shots to have the Glyph of Arcane Shot be equal to that of Serpent Sting.

If you look at our major glyphs, you will notice that none of our glyphs are actual DPS increases compared to things like Bestial Wrath. Choose the glyphs that best suit your style or something you feel will help you individually. I have opted to go with Trap Launcher, Disengage, and Mending.

Hit Rating

This ever present beast hasn’t gone away and getting hit-capped should be at, or very very near the top of your priorities. Luckily, your character sheet now tells you what level mobs you are currently hit-capped for. But for reference:

  • 120.109 Hit Rating = 1% Hit
  • 961 (841 for Draenei) Hit Rating = Raid Boss Hit-Capped

Stat Priority

There really isn’t a big surprise here, focus on agility. We get a huge bonus to our agility if we do everything right (Not like me, who accidentally bought the stupid leather chest piece last week and never noticed) we can get an almost 30% bonus to our agility through talents and Mail Specialization. Also remember that we have reverted back to old school Agility ratios, where 1 Agility provides 2 Attack Power again. Hunters also require 324.85 Agility to get 1% increased critical strike chance.

  • 324.85 Agility = 1% Critical Strike

After Agility and Hit, look for critical strike, haste and mastery, with their priority slightly changing depending on your gear. The focus regeneration calculations is pretty bad so don’t expect to make noticeable gains in how fast your focus regenerates.

  • 179.28 Haste Rating = 1% Haste

Mastery for Survival Hunters is probably our best mastery due to its sweeping effects it has on our abilities

Mastery for Survival Hunters is probably our best mastery due to its sweeping effects it has on our abilities, increasing the damage of everything except for Auto-Shot and the physical portion of our Multishot (I say physical portion due to Serpent’s Spread).

  • 179.28 Mastery Rating = 1% Mastery Point


Hunters are in the unique spot to fill all kinds of missing buffs. By default I am currently opting to use my Wind Serpent for the 8% increased magic damage since we previously discussed how much of our damage is coming from magical sources. But I always keep my wolf and cat as back-ups in case that spot is filled.

As a shameless plug, I am still working on Pick-A-Pet to help make that process easier. I wish there was a development environment for WoW mods that didn’t require me to be in-game to test every chance and verify syntax.


Explosive Shot: The current calculation for Explosive Shot is: Ranged Attack Power * 0.273 + 453. This is, of course, assuming level 85. As an example, I am currently indicated to have 7934 Attack Power on the Armory so:

7934 * 0.237 = 1880
1880 + 453 = 2333.358

For number purposes, let’s assume I have no Mastery and I have the default 8% increase.

2335.358 + 8% (186.828)  = 2522.186

We can do that same calculation again, assuming the magic debuff from a Wind Serpent or Warlock of some sort.

2335.358 + 8% (186.828)  = 2522.186

We can also safely say that we would apply Serpent Sting to our target, further increasing our damage by 10%. To the best of my knowledge, these effects are additive. I looked around for evidence otherwise but since I am not at home, I will assume it is for now until I find something contradicting.

2335.358 + 10% (233.535) = 2568.893

In total, our damage increase on Explosive Shot from those 3 effects is 607.191. Personally in the heroic bosses I have fought, my Explosive Shot has been critting for over 9500 damage after buffs from a 5-man party.

Cobra Shot: The current calculation for Cobra Shot is: 276 + (Ranged Attack Power * 0.017). This shot also deals entirely Nature damage so it is unaffected by armor mitigation, just like Explosive Shot, it has it’s damage increased by the rough calculation we just did for Explosive Shot.

Dealing with Lock and Load

Our beloved Lock and Load was discussed extensively when it first was released, and the method for handling it is under review once again. There are two prevailing strategies on how to use it, though multiple ways being tested. These methods also are dependent on how much focus you have lying around.

Method #1 (High Focus): Explosive Shot, Arcane Shot, Explosive Shot. The astute reader will notice that Arcane Shot will indeed eat one of your Lock and Load charges. This produces a higher burst amount than other methods as it happens in a shorter amount of time.

Method #2 (Low Focus): Explosive Shot, Cobra Shot, Explosive Shot, Arcane Shot, Explosive Shot. In this method, you fill the gap in between your two Explosive Shots with Cobra in order to fuel an Arcane Shot and/or Explosive Shot after the proc ends. But make note that maintaining a Black Arrow if it comes off of cooldown during the proc is the ideal situation, and obviously Kill Shot ranks at the top of that list, especially with the glyph to reset it’s cooldown.


There is still a lot of testing to be done by the community to really hammer out the exact details of everything, but luckily raw numbers and modeling can give us a great starting point. And as always, as the game changes or gear gets upgraded another spec might move itself on top of the heap.

If you notice any bad math or incorrect numbers, please let me know and I will correct it as soon as possible. If you feel like I left out an important note, leave a comment as well and I can add it in. And as always, any thoughts, comments, or criticisms are welcome!

About Drotara

Drotara (or BehemothDan) considers himself a geek on many levels. A web developer and programmer by trade, he has no shortage of geeky hobbies. When not fulfilling husband and daddy duties, he enjoys WoW, the WoW TCG, Magic: The Gathering, and great board games with friends and family.