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The Art of War(craft): Introductory guide to fighting hunters

Zach once sat down with Thrall and Varian Wrynn and had a laugh over some glasses of cold, green tea.

Two weeks ago we kicked off a series of introductory guides in PvP intended to give players a general idea of what to expect when facing certain classes. Understanding the behavior, capabilities, and limitations of a class puts players off to a great start in PvP, and after discussing the druid and the death knight in the first two installments, we now turn our attention to the hunter. Hunters have long been a force to reckon with in the Battlegrounds, an environment where they thrive. Also, as strong as they were back in vanilla WoW, they're even more powerful in Wrath of the Lich King, gaining new tricks, losing old limitations (e.g., traps can be deployed in combat), and having access to diversity of pets that make PvP encounters more interesting than ever.

Hunters are the game's premier pet class. More than even warlocks, hunters rely on their pet to accomplish their goals, with the best hunters mastering the art of micromanaging their pets and its varied abilities. Recognizing a hunter's spec is only aspect of identifying a hunter's strength and weaknesses. Part of learning how to deal with hunters involves recognizing a hunter's pet type who now even have their own talent trees. Let's take a closer look at this master of beasts after the jump.

Long range combat

Hunters are the masters of long range combat, dealing most of their damage from far away. It used to be that hunters had a monumental Achilles' heel, a range between 5 to 8 yards where hunters could do almost nothing because their melee strikes couldn't go beyond 5 yards and most of their shots couldn't be fired under 8 yards. This was called the 'dead zone'. Effectively removed in Patch 2.3 where the minimum range for their shots was brought down to five, the change broke one of the oldest and most reliable strategies to use against a hunter.

The basic principle, however, is still the same. Get close. Unless you play another hunter, you're going to be better off bringing the fight to under five yards. A hunter's most lethal strikes are done from long range, and if you manage to keep the fight close, you'll be removing most of the sting -- pun intended -- from their attacks. Hunters still have a considerable arsenal at their disposal which allows them to get back to long range or, barring that, endure harrowing close encounters. At close range, hunters can use Wing Clip or Frost Trap apply a snare, some can use Scatter Shot to buy time, others will drop a Freezing Trap to set up, desperate ones will use Deterrence to survive, and every single one of them will eventually use Disengage to create distance. So while it is an optimal strategy to get up close to a hunter, it would be a grave mistake to think they are powerless at that range.

Pet peeves

And then there are their pets. On top of their wide array of abilities and powerful attacks, they have a companion that's tailored to their preference or play style. Changes to hunter pets have made them considerably more powerful than ever, with abilities unique to each pet family and even talents that allow further customization for their roles. Pets have access to one of three talent trees: Cunning, Ferocity, and Tenacity.

Cunning pets are usually general-purpose pets, with a talent tree that is remarkable in PvP for one particular ability, Bullheaded, which gives the hunter's pet an additional way to remove movement-impairing effects. Ferocity pets are designed for damage, with most talents geared towards improving DPS. One talent jumps out for PvP in the Ferocity tree, the Heart of the Phoenix, which is an extremely useful ability for when opponents eliminate the pet first. The Tenacity tree is basically a tanking tree intended to make hunter pets passable tanks, although a couple of warrior-like abilities make PvP interesting. Charge (also available in the Ferocity tree) and Intervene are excellent pet abilities that can get a hunter out of a tight spot. Tenacity and Cunning pets also have the Roar of Sacrifice, which can help mitigate damage to the hunter.

Not only do pets have talents to make them better suited for their tasks, each pet also has one ability that's unique to their family. For some time, scorpids were extremely popular pets in PvP because of their stacking poison which made removal of debuffs extremely difficult. The ability has since been nerfed massively and with all pets getting their own abilities (scorpids were among the first pets to receive a unique ability) has fallen out of favor among a lot of hunters. Popular pets in PvP include those that have some sort of rooting ability such as a crab with Pin.

Below are the pet families grouped according to talent tree, along with a list of their abilities:

Cunning
Ferocity Tenacity Pets *Exotic pets, can only be tamed with Beast Mastery

Aside from their family-exclusive abilities, pets also have another basic attack ability such as Bite or Claw. Many of the pets you'll encounter in the Battlegrounds will have abilities that contribute to PvP, such as roots or snares. Casters will have to watch out for a few pets such as Core Hounds or Serpents, whose special abilities reduce casting speed. Other pet abilities as specialized against certain classes, such as a wasp's Sting which prevents stealth or a Bird of Prey's Snatch, which can disarm opponents. Even the most innocuous-looking pets have something to add to the mix, such as a tallstrider's Dust Cloud, which can save a hunter from fatal melee attacks in clutch situations. Most importantly, a hunter with a pet out can cast the powerful PvP ability, Master's Call.

The point is that hunter pets, while nowhere near as deadly as their masters, deserve serious consideration. It has always been a goal of Blizzard's design team to make pets a tactical choice in PvP -- opponents must either expend effort in taking down a pet, leaving themselves open to the hunter's attacks, or ignore the pet at the expense of getting beaten down on two fronts. One way to handle it is to crowd control the hunter long enough to take down the pet or conversely, crowd control the pet for as long a time as possible to take it out of the fight. Abilities such as a hunter's own Scare Beast works well here, as does a druid's Hibernate.

While it makes a lot of sense to try and kill a Ferocity pet because of the threat they pose with their damage, just remember that Heart of the Phoenix can mean having to kill the pet twice. Tenacity pets are fairly tough to kill, which makes them suboptimal targets. Fortunately, these pets aren't known for their damage but can still make fights difficult with abilities such as the spell-interrupting Pummel of a gorilla or a crab's rooting Pin. By and large, with the likely exception of crabs, Tenacity pets won't be too common on the battlefield, anyway. Cunning pets are a mixed bag, and the option to kill them is mostly situational. Don't forget that a hunter still has Revive Pet to bring his pet back, either. It takes ten seconds to cast, but talents can reduce that to four.

Figuring out hunter pets can be a bit complex at first but becomes more familiar as your experience with hunters grows. Pets in the Battlegrounds tend to be limited to a few optimal PvP choices, although it becomes a little more diverse when it comes to world PvP encounters. In the hands of mediocre hunters, pets are a mere annoyance. In the hands of a skilled player, pets are downright deadly. Here's the kicker, though... as annoying or deadly as hunter pets are, we haven't even really gotten to the hunters themselves.


Filed under: Hunter, Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

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