Marksmanship/Survival Hunter for Classic WoW (Leveling, PVE & PVP)

When I was playing a Hunter in Vanilla WoW, and more recently on a private server, I leveled up as a Beast Mastery Hunter. A big reason I enjoyed the Hunter was for the pet, and so it made sense to maximize the pet for my leveling.

Of course, Beast Mastery is highly regarded as the best leveling spec for a Hunter, and with good reason. Your pet does the damage, tanks the mobs, and you stay safely back plinking at them. Plus, the pet is better at maintaining aggro compared to non-Beast Mastery Hunters.

However, I disagree that it’s the best leveling spec. While a BM Hunter’s pet does a lot of damage, and can take a lot more, than a Marksmanship/Survival Hunter, the killing speed is a lot slower too. It’s safer and easier, but slower in my experience.

This Marksmanship/Survival build is a great all-around build. It’s great in PVE (leveling and raiding), as well as PVP. It has high burst damage and good survivability (no pun intended). If you’re looking for a Hunter build that doesn’t require you to respec later on, then this is it.

What Makes Marksmanship/Survival Good?

The biggest difference between a BM spec and a MM/Survival is where the damage comes from. Obviously BM is relying on the pet to do the damage. If you’re MM/Survival then you are the source of damage.

This was something I started playing with once I had reached 60 with my Hunter on a private server. I was tired of the BM spec and just felt it was weak overall.

Damage, Damage, and More Damage

The Marksmanship tree has a few talents that really push a Hunter’s damage. The first you’ll encounter is Lethal Shots, which increases your ranged crit chance by up to 5% with 5pts in it. A 5% increase in crit chance is great.

Next you’re going to come into Aimed Shot. At level 60 Aimed Shot increases damage by 600. This is the highest damage dealing ability you can get and it’s possible to see crits over 3,000 damage. More commonly you’re in the range of 1,500 – 1,800 if you’re a fresh 60 though.

To get those jacked up crits off Aimed Shot you’ll be investing in Mortal Shots, which nets you 30% crit damage increase.

In the Survival tree, the biggest increases in ranged damage is going to come from two talents. The first is Killer Instinct and 3pts in here gets you another 3% crit increase. This one is all crits, not just ranged. With Lethal Shots combined you’re up 8% to crit chance.

The second talent of note for damage is Lightning Reflexes. At 5pts this gets you a 15% increase in Agility. That’s huge.

Agility is everything to a Hunter: attack power and crit chance, while also improving dodge and armor value. Having a 15% agility increase means it scales very well with better armor and stat increases.

Some people do not spec that far into Survival until end game when they’ve got better gear. The thought being you’re maximizing that 15% boost more by having better armor – higher return on investment. Those people will run heavier into Marksmanship, maybe dip into Beast Mastery, and then respec when they’ve got the gear.

While that’s one approach, I feel getting this talent before you start putting together your tier sets is still very much worthwhile. A 15% agility increase is still a 15% increase regardless of everything else. I don’t feel that anything else you could get instead of this in another tree is better until you get nice gear.

That being said, I’m not a min/maxer. I’m more casual and play the way I enjoy.

Marksmanship/Survival Build (21/30) Explained

Now it’s time to cover my build in more detail. I’m sure this build already exists. I can’t be the first to build this way, but I built this based on my experience as a Hunter and not because I read it was the best build somewhere and followed a template.

The reason I like this build is three-fold. One, it makes me as the Hunter the primary source of damage. While I love, love, love pets in Classic WoW, relying on a pet for your damage can be tricky. It’s easier to keep yourself alive than it is your pet. A dead pet is not contributing damage and if that’s your reliance for damage (pet), then your DPS just took a nosedive.

Second, this build is great in PVP. I’ll cover this more below, but it gives you a lot of abilities to escape bad situations and really lay down some burst damage.

When I PVP’d with BM I just found is dull. The reliance on a pet in PVP isn’t ideal. Your pet is going to get CC’d, killed, or just ignored. When that happens you’re left with mediocre damage and find yourself struggling to down any single target.

Third, this build can be very active. By active I mean more than sitting back with auto shot. It has a lot of tools for various situations which I find makes it much more fun than a typical BM or pure Marksmanship build.

Here’s the link to the build and a shot of it below.

Let’s go over the choices here.

Start with Marksmanship

I like to start this build going full down the Marksmanship tree to get to Scatter Shot. The first priority is Aimed Shot for some solid damage. You can get that by level 20.

I feel continuing down the Marksmanship tree is the best way to go because none of the early Survival talents are essential early on while leveling. However, the gains in Marksmanship to crit chance and crit damage are.

There’s wiggle room in this build as well for whatever suits you.

For example, my first 5pts goes into Improved Concussive Shot. This gives me a 20% chance to stun the target for 3 seconds. I admittedly take this because I like to PVP, but it has proven very useful in PVE situations as well, such as kiting mobs.

Instead you could opt to take Efficiency and get a 10% mana reduction in your shots and stings. Whatever suits how you play is a good choice.

Notice I also have 1pt in Improved Hunter’s Mark. This point could be spent anywhere you like; it’s not a build breaking choice.

I’m a fan of Hawk Eye to get a 6 yard increase in weapon range. This is another choice I mostly make for PVP. I don’t find in PVE that it’s a required choice, though useful by all means.

If you’re not a big PVPer, then you could move those 3pts into Efficiency. In fact, if you took the stray point I put into Improved Hunter’s Mark, you could get 4pts in Efficiency, or Improved Concussive Shot depending on your choice earlier. That would still be a solid choice.

The rest of the choices are the crucial ones: Aimed Shot, Lethal Shots, Mortal Shots, and Scatter Shot*.

Aimed Shot is your big burst damage. Lethal Shots up your crit chance and Mortal Shots to increase that crit damage.

Scatter Shot is great for dazing something off you so you can run away (useful for both PVE and PVP), or for interrupting casting. In fact, it’s our only way as Hunters to interrupt casters.

*I will say that Scatter Shot is not the most crucial element of this build. You could spent that point elsewhere, either in Marksmanship or in Survival. In fact, if you skipped Scatter Shot, then you could get Wyvern Sting in Survival. Dealer’s choice!

However, as I love PVP and want a build I can use in PVE and PVP, Scatter Shot is invaluable to me.

Diving Into Survival

Now it’s time to go down the Survival tree. As with Marksmanship, the choices here have leeway.

I like putting 5pts into Deflection for 5% parry. Other than just being a good defensive measure, it pairs well with Counterattack later on.

This choice is mostly for PVP, though it has uses in PVE as well, at least solo play. You could skip this if you’re purely PVE and raiding is more you’re thing. Instead you could pick up Monster Slaying and/or Humoid Slaying for some extra damage against those mobs.

The next tier has options too. I really like getting Savage Strikes for the 20% crit increase for Raptor Strike and Mongoose Bite. We may be Hunters, but the fact is we get into melee now and then. If you PVP then it’s unavoidable. Having a big slow weapon and putting out a 1K crit on a caster is pretty nice, I won’t lie.

I also like Improved Wing Clip for a 20% chance to immobilize my target for 5 seconds. Great in PVP and also in PVE solo play for kiting and getting safely away from something.

Entrapment is a good choice here too. At 5pts you get a 25% to entrap the target. I can’t tell you how annoying this is when it’s done to you and you get stuck in a Frost Trap for a minute because this keeps triggering and keeps you pinned there over and over.

So yeah, Entrapment is far more a PVP choice than PVE.

The next tier has more options, but my preferred choices are Deterrence and Survivalist. Deterrence is both useful in PVE and PVP. Boosting both Dodge and Parry by 25% is big and can save your butt more than you’d think.

Survivalist is kind of a quality of life choice. You don’t need it but it’s nice to have, especially for PVP. That 10% increase to stamina will be around 300 HP when you’re 60. Also, as a percentage it means it will scale with gear as it improves.

Clever Traps is a solid choice, especially if you’re going with Entrapment above. Again, it makes you super annoying in PVP and that’s a good thing.

Moving down is Surefooted for a 3% hit chance increase. If you’re doing any raiding, then having that 3% hit chance increase is pretty well required. If you’re not raiding, then it’s still a solid choice to reduce those pesky misses on level 60 mobs.

Surefooted also gives you a 15% chance to resist movement impairing effects, which is super useful for PVP and has limited use in PVE.

Now we’re down to Counterattack and Killer Instinct.

Counterattack gives you a 5 second root on a mob after parrying. This of course synergizes well with Deflection above and is great for PVP. If a Rogue jumps you, then you pop Deterrence and in a few seconds Counterattack will be up to root the Rogue in place while you escape to a distance. It also makes another great escape method in PVE as well.

Killer Instinct is a 3% crit chance increase, pushing this build to 8% ranged crit through talents, a 3% crit increase base melee, and 23% crit increase to Raptor Strike and Mongoose Bite. Crits, crits everywhere!

Lastly is Lightning Reflexes for that 15% agility increase. As I said above, I feel this is worth getting regardless of where you are at with your gear. Any stat increase that’s a percentage like that is always a good choice and only improves with better gear.

Leveling & Solo Play

I know I talked a lot about PVP choices, but this build works very well while leveling and also for soloing in general. The damage output is very high with this build and I’ve had no issues leveling this way. In fact, I feel like this build has been faster leveling than when I leveled to 60 with Beast Mastery.

I also find this build more engaging. Let’s be honest. Hunter is a lot of send pet, use a few shots/string, and just auto shot. This is true of any build you create for a Hunter.

However, this MM/Survival build has a lot of tools for when things go bad: Scatter Shot, Deterrence, Counterattack, and even Improved Concussive Shot and Improved Wing Clip. There’s very few situations you can’t get yourself out of with this.

The biggest problem I’ve had with this build and leveling is pet aggro management. I talked about this in my article on hunter pets, but basically the problem is that my damage output is so high that I continually pull threat from my pet.

I’ve done a lot of pet experimentation in this area to find pets thats paired well with this build. First, a boar is basically a perfect pet for this MM/Survival build. That initial charge, bite, and growl build a ton of threat up front and holds aggro well.

Boar Pet

Second, I found a Carrion Bird did very well with aggro. The constant screech from the pet coupled with growl held on to mobs very well. I also added bite to my Carrion Bird to let it get in, screech, growl, and bite for frontloaded aggro. I found using claw instead of bite was just too focus intensive. So, an Owl might have some issues compared to the Carrion Bird.

Lastly, cats. Shocker, right? The pure damage of cats is enough to hang on to mobs. I like using claw over bite because claw gives you more attacks and more chances to crit and in turn generate more threat. By this logic, a Raptor should work out well too if that’s your preference.

I will give notable mention to the Wind Serpent. I tried this out for a bit and overall it wasn’t bad. The Wind Serpent wasn’t as good as the 3 mentioned above, but you can definitely use one and be fine.

PVP

The added bonus with this build is the PVP element. I never felt strong in PVP as a BM Hunter. My pet was rarely a factor in the fights for various reasons. However, as MM/Survival I’m able to put out some strong damage at any level I jump into a BG. I don’t have to wait till 60 to feel confident in my build.

While this build does pump out some very high damage, I think the biggest factor to it doing well in PVP are those talents that cover the Hunter’s weaknesses, basically melee.

  • Scatter Shot to get out of melee range or interrupt casters.
  • Counterattack to deal with melee classes who want to lock you in place.
  • Deterrence is a great “oh crap!” button when you get jumped.
  • Improved Wingclip will also get you out of a jam.
  • Improved Concussive shot can keep someone from getting to you and for shutting down flag carriers in WSG.
  • Savage Strikes gives you the ability to put down some solid melee hits for when you just can’t escape.

This build really shines in PVP in my opinion. I’m not saying it’s any better than other builds for PVP, but it gives you a lot of tools and makes the Hunter a ton of fun to PVP with.

I PVP’d with BM, and I’ve also done deep Marksmanship to Trueshot Aura builds, and they were boring for me. There just wasn’t much to do. I also kept finding myself in situations not ideal for those builds with noway to handle it.

That’s when I came up with this build. Again, noway claiming I invented this, but I also didn’t pull this from anyone else either.

Anyway, once I started running this build I started having way more fun in PVP. I don’t feel there’s a situation I can’t handle any longer. Sure, some situations aren’t ideal, and this build isn’t going to save you from everything, but you’ll enjoy yourself.

Raiding

While raiding has never been a focus of mine, I have indeed raided with this build and it’s done great. Again, it pumps out solid and consistent damage with great bursty crits. You will have to watch your threat though because those enormous crits can pull threat very quickly.

For raiding damage it’s really about the Marksmanship side of things. However, having Survivalist for the 10% HP boost is great, Surefooted for 3% chance to hit, Killer Instinct for another 3% crit chance, and Lightning Reflexes for 15% more agility from Survival are all contributing factors too.

Again, I just feel this build is solid for every situation. It’s not perfect for any single area of Classic WoW, but it will certainly let you do anything you want without spending precious gold to respec.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the opening, if you want a build that’s strong leveling and doesn’t require you to respec between different types of content, then this is that build. I’ve never been a fan of leveling as one build to only later respec. There’s a lot of value and experience that comes from leveling as your end game build.

It’s just a fun build with a lot of options available to it that I just haven’t found in other builds.

If you’d like some Hunter tips that covers a range of things from leveling to pets, then check that out.

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