Beastmastery has pretty much dominated the world of Hunters in Burning Crusade, with Serpent's Swiftness alone nearly singlehandedly allowing for the most efficient damaging shot rotations possible -- With a little bit of wrangling between haste and ranged weapon speed, of course. While the changes to Auto Shot clipping in Wrath will likely make shot rotations as we know them a thing of the past, Beastmastery is still looking to be a very viable tree in Wrath of the Lich King, thanks to some clever synergies and some amazing pet buffs.
Early Tree Changes
Unlike some other trees and classes, Beastmastery's early tree has remained relatively unchanged, but there is one new talent that deserves a look. Master's Call is a new talent in the 3rd tier of the tree. It replaces Bestial Swiftness, which is being shifted to a pet talent. With this talent, the pet will remove remove all stun and movement impairing effects on a target, and make them immune to all such effects for another 4 seconds.
Certainly, most dedicated Arena PvP hunters will eventually move to a Marksmanship/Survival build for better utility, but there is a lot to be said for the red rocket spec, especially in lower brackets, and Master's Call will make Beastmastery even more desirable for PvP, especially since it appears to be usable on the Hunter's teammates as well.
Of course, it still may be a problem keeping your pet alive so you can actually use the ability, but one more escape mechanism for PvP should be rather helpful. It probably won't help fix the Hunter underrepresentation problem too much, but it should make life a bit easier for beginning Arena Hunters.
The other important early tree changes are in another tree altogether. In the past, a traditional Beastmastery PvE DPS build has included 20 points in Marksmanship into order to pick up Lethal and Mortal Shots. Now, with a bit of swapping of tiers and the revamp or addition of certain talents, the early Marksmanship tree is a different beast altogether, but still one a Beastmaster will likely want to spend a lot of points in. For a full analysis of the changes, please see our Wrath Marksmanship Analysis article.
Pet Aggro, Mana Regen, and Synergies
A good chunk of the new deep tree Beastmastery talents focus on creating synergies between Hunters, pets, and each other, and through that, creating new ways to deal with some of the current complaints about Hunters, namely in the area of mana regeneration and pet aggro capabilities.
Invigoration is a new talent on the 35-point tier. For up to 2 talent points, a pet's special ability critical strikes will cause the Hunter to gain up to 2% up their max mana. Certainly, Hunters have been clamoring for more methods of mana regeneration that are more convenient than Aspect of the Viper and less expensive than chain-chugging mana potions, and this definitely looks to fit the bill at first glance, especially if Kill Command counts as a special ability. However, preliminary reports from the Beta servers suggest that there is some sort of internal cooldown on this ability though, which could be a concern: If the cooldown is too long, this ability may not be as helpful as it seems.
In the 40 point tier lies a new talent that should not only increase pet DPS by a handy amount, but also synergizes well with Invigoration. Cobra Strikes provides a 60% chance for a pet's next 3 special attacks to critically strike when their Hunter critically strikes with Steady Shot, Arcane Shot, or Kill Shot. That means that every Cobra Strike has the chance of triggering at least one hit of Invigoration, depending on any Internal cooldowns. Given that a Hunter should be constantly cranking out Steady Shots and Arcane shots, especially with the clipping changes, it seems that, barring any restrictive internal cooldowns, this talent should up quite often, providing more pet-based DPS and more chances for Invigorate to give back some mana to the Hunter, not to mention more chances for Ferocious Inspiration and Frenzy to activate.
Longevity is another new talent on the 40 point tier. At 3 points, it will reduce the cooldown on a pet's special abilities, including Bestial Wrath (and presumably The Beast Within by extension) and Intimidation by 30%. That means that Bestial Wrath will cool down in just under a minute and a half, allowing PvPers more chances to break free of snares, roots and stuns and PvE types more chances to unleash a burst of damage. That also means that Growl will lose a second and a half of cooldown time, allowing more growls and more threat output by your pet for soloing, especially when combined with Improved Growl in the Tenacity pet talent tree. Combine that with the extra threat the extra damage from Cobra Strikes will provide, and hopefully a Beastmaster's pet should be a lot more reliable for emergency tanking.
Aspect Mastery, or lack thereof
The one place where the new Beastmastery talents really fall short is with Aspect Mastery. The talent, at the 45-point tier, costs 5 talent points. With it, you get up to 10% more mana from Aspect of the Viper, 50% more AP from Aspect of the Hawk, or a 10% damage reduction component from Aspect of the Monkey.
However, given that one can only have one of these buffs up at any given time, and that all 3 new other talents are amazingly useful, and that there's more useful talents in the first 3 tiers of Marksmanship, I can't really see how one could justify spending 5 points on this skill.
For example, assuming 5 points in Aspect Mastery and the highest rank of Aspect of the Hawk, you'll get an extra 150 AP, but only when AoTH is active. In the meantime, for only 3 points in Marksmanship, you can get Careful Aim and increase your AP by 100% of your intellect. Unless you're specifically dressing yourself in nothing but Rogue gear, you should easily be able to clear 150 intellect even at level 70 -- and the bonus from Careful Aim is always on, and scales as you gain better gear with more intellect.
Likewise, the Aspect of the Viper's 10% seems rather underwhelming -- Invigoration should probably take care of most of a Beastmaster's mana problems anyway. Aspect of the Monkey at least provides a unique effect, but using Aspect of the Monkey in PvP puts you in danger from Overpowering Warriors, and 10% probably won't protect you if you're truly being focus fired, not without the benefit of survival talents such as Deterrence that a Hunter won't have as a deep Beastmaster.
I'm not completely sure if Aspect Mastery can or should be fixed. My first thought is to scrap it for a new talent altogether, preferably one with a more universal passive bonus instead of 3 or 4 smaller situational bonuses. However, if Aspect Mastery is here to stay, there's a few ways to buff it:
- Double the bonuses to each aspect across the board. This gives Aspect of the Hawk a fighting chance to come close to Careful Aim in pure AP gain, and puts Aspect of the Viper and Aspect of the Monkey more toward "noticeable gain" territory.
- In addition to the base bonuses, make the talent "mix" the aspects. Aspect of the Hawk and Aspect of the Monkey could gain 50% of Aspect of the Viper's mana regen capability, while Aspect of the Viper could gain 50% of Aspect of the Hawk's AP. This will allow for a more permanent, meaningful bonus from the talent and lessen the penalty for a Hunter for switching between mana regeneration, defense, or DPS modes.
- With either of the above options, add a gradual reduction of chance to be dazed with Aspect of the Cheetah, preferably ending at 0% chance to be dazed at 5 points.
But overall, the problem with Aspect Mastery is clear. It's just not worth 5 points. You can spend them much more wisely over in the Marksmanship tree, or even use them to finish off Animal Handler, Frenzy, or any other number of earlier Beastmastery talents that will give you more bang for your buck in pretty much every aspect of play.
Are Exotic Pets worth 51 points?
The 51-point talent for Beastmastery is, in fact, Beast Mastery. This talent gives your pet 5 extra talent points (That's 20 levels worth), and allows to tame so-called exotic pets.
Unfortunately, no-one is quite sure what these so-called exotic pets could be. There's certainly been quite a bit of speculation, of course. There's one beast-tagged Proto-drake wandering about Sholazar Basin that seems like a prime candidate to be an exotic pet. Maybe we'll see the return of the Ghost Wolf. Either way, the talent is not implemented yet on the Beta servers, so we can't say for sure.
The one clue we do have is a post by Class Designer Koraa on the Hunter Beta forums. He hints at the possibility of tamable Devilsaurs, but also reveals that exotic pets will have different abilities -- although not ones that are so different from normal as to be overpowered. Me, I think they at least need to be powerful. Unique pet skins are fun, but not 51 talent points worth of fun. A 51 point talent feels like it should provide some genuine unique power or utility to whoever takes it, so at the least, these exotic pet abilities should provide some sort of new utility that normal pet abilities don't.
Of course, even if the above exotic pets underwhelm, those extra 5 points have the potential to pick up the slack in a big way. As we reported yesterday, a level 80 pet will only have 16 talent points baseline. It has been confirmed that even non-Beastmastery Hunters can get the top tier talents, but Beastmastery Hunters will be able to get more of them -- or make sure they have spare talent points to fill out useful talents in the lower tiers such as Great Stamina, Natural Armor, and Spiked Collar.
Mind you, the question remains, are the top tier pointers worth it? In some cases, that's not really a given. For example, Lick Your Wounds requires channeling and doesn't come with the dispel chance from Improved Mend Pet. Considering the current highest rank of Mend Pet heals more than 25% of your average pet's health, there's no reason at all to use Lick Your Wounds. Call of the Wild, while it looks powerful, only reaches 20 yards, meaning it will miss hitting the Hunter in a lot of situations, and takes 100 focus, meaning the Hunter will likely have to temporarily deactivate all autocasts just to save the focus to use it. Roar of Fortitude suffers the same problems.
Right now, I'm hoping for genuinely unique and powerful abilities for the exotic pets, and a revamp of some of the top tier pet talents to make them more useful -- a lowering of the focus cost and a widening of the range on the buffs would be lovely, to start.
Overall, the new Beastmastery talent look very promising, there's just a few issues that need to be addressed to make sure they're all that they can be:
- Make sure that any internal cooldowns on Invigoration and Cobra Strikes aren't too long. They need to be worth the point investment.
- Aspect Mastery either needs some serious buffs or total replacement.
- Make sure that the top tier pet talents and the unique abilities of exotic pets are strong enough to make Beast Mastery worth the 51 points.
If all three of those issues are properly dealt with, Beastmastery will remain a very strong tree and a good option for all your huntery needs in the 70-80 grind and beyond.