[Guide] In-Depth Survival Guide

Hunter
Introduction
When Legion launched, Survival specialization was changed to melee and given an entirely new tool kit. But this you probably already know, however it is still a new specialization, with many different guides on the net offering contradictory advice. Parts of this guide follows the precedent set by Icy-Veins.com's Survival guide (shoutout to Azortharion), however especially the Rotation section varies significantly.
I've been playing purely Survival since launch and currently raiding with the spec as well. At the moment it is widely considered to be the weakest of the 3 hunter specs, and while that might be true, a large part is the inherent complexity of the rotation. So lets get started!

Ability Overview:
  • Mongoose Bite[MgB]: Main damage dealing ability, with 3 charges that applies a 12 second buff increasing all further MgB damage by 50% per stack. Stacks up to 6 times but the buff does not refresh. Is the baseline for the DPS windows covered in the Rotation segment. 12 Seconds CD affected by Haste. No focus cost.
  • Mastery: Hunting Companion[M:HC]: The bread, butter and bane of Survival hunters. Gives your pet's special attacks a chance to grant an additional charge of MgB. 500 Mastery equals 1% pet procc chance.
  • Explosive Trap[ET]: A hefty damage dealer with a 12 second cooldown (After Talents and Traits). Damage is split between the initial burst and a lasting DoT. AoE. No focus cost.
  • Flanking Strike[FS]: Solid damage with a 6 second base cooldown affected by haste. Double chance of proccing M:HC. Costs 50 Focus.
  • Lacerate[Lac]: DoT with 12 seconds duration and 10 seconds cooldown. Costs 35 Focus.
  • Dragonsfire Grenade[DfG]: AoE ability with split damage between burst and DoT. Long cooldown of 30 seconds. Recommended talent (See Talents). No focus cost.
  • Throwing Axes[TA]: Talent. Main filler ability, 2 charges with 15 seconds cd affected by haste. Quickly throws 3 axes, good both melee ranged.
  • Fury of the Eagle[FotE]: Artifact Power. Damages in a cone and is channeled for 4 seconds. 45 seconds cooldown. Is affected by the damage buff from MgB and also increases the duration of the MgB buff by 4 seconds. Is now on global cooldown after the content patch containing Emerald Nightmare.
  • Carve: Filler AoE. Low on damage, but better than nothing. Can be replaced by Butchery (See Talents), which is not recommended. Costs 40 focus.
  • Harpoon: 5-40 yard range charge mechanic. 20 seconds cooldown.
  • Raptor Strike[RS]:Purest trash, probably tied for worst in the game. Does around 10% of the damage your other abilities does, even after unavoidable
    Artifact damage increases. Should only ever be used when everything else is on CD. Costs 25 focus.
  • DPS Cooldown Overview:
  • Aspect of the Eagle[AotE]: Primary dps cooldown. Gives an additional 25% chance for your pet to procc MgB charges and increases all damage done by 30% with Aspect of the Skylord Artifact trait. Lasts 10 seconds with a 2 minute cooldown.
  • Snake Hunter[SH]: Talent. Instantly grants you 3 charges of Mongoose Bite. 1.5 minutes cooldown. Note that it gives new charges, not stacks of the buff.
  • Pet Overview
    The nature of our Mastery means there are two significant factors about your pet.
    Firstly the pet should be specced Tenacity, since it gives an extra AoE attack that can procc M:HC.
    Secondly it should come from one of three pet families: Either Scorpid for [Deadly Sting], Riverbeast for [Gruesome Bite] or Carrion Bird for [Bloody Screech]. Which of these three doesn't matter. The reason for this is that they count as extra special attacks and can procc M:HC.

    Talents
    Tier 1:
    Throwing Axes is the clear choice here, giving decent damage and works as a good filler. Animal Insticts applies a random buff for 7 seconds every FS, however neither 10% Haste nor Mastery is particulary useful, and the 33% chance to get 30% increased movement speed is downright bad. Way of the Mok'Nathal is a talent I've seen a few guides recommend, and it's good - On paper. This talent is bad, the primary problem being the incredibly low damage of RS, and having to get 4 RS off AND reapply one every 8 seconds is a huge waste of DPS.
    Testing this talent and maintaining the buff currently costs me around 55% of my dps. Bad idea.

    Tier 2:
    3 interesting talents, however SH is completely necessary to achieving 6 stacks of MgB consistently, so there's no competition. The others are good, but not essential, unlike SH.

    Tier 3:
    Choice is between [Farstrider] and [Posthaste] although if you want 3 more seconds of Aspect of the Cheetah it won't matter that much. Personally use [Farstrider] for better combat mobility, since I play a gnome and [Escape Artist] allows me to escape roots. Either works.

    Tier 4:
    2 of these talents provide some nice PvP utility, the last one is a strong PvE boost. Improved Traps is the choice for the 50% cd reduction on ET, no discussion really.

    Tier 5:
    3 PvP utility talents (Sticky Bombs deal no damage). Personally use Camouflage because I'm trying to convice the Rogues to let me into their secret class hall. (No luck yet)

    Tier 6:
    AoE Tier. Actually used Butchery to great success early Legion, but the long cooldown and only 3 charges meant that you'd be out of AoE after the first mob group since it completely removes Carve. DfG provides a nice single target DoT as well as spread damage to go with ET. Serpent Sting sadly falls way behind the other two in damage output.

    Tier 7:
    First talent [Spitting Cobra] allows for increased focus regen and a bit of damage. Since Survival is not focus starved it's hardly relevant. [Aspect of the Beast] is useless since
    our pet is specced Tenacity anyway and having it reducing 15% damage is rather pointless. [Expert Trapper] is the way to go.
    Artifact Traits
    Baseline Artifact Traits should look like [http://bit.ly/2dLxG1v]. Note the detour to get [Sharpened Fang], this is important since MgB is literally half our DPS. Further improvements should follow [http://bit.ly/2d83SOL] this pattern. Even further points should be put into [My Beloved Monster], the Flanking Strike buff, rest doesn't matter much. Relics should also preferrably increase [Sharpened Fang] levels, but any relics that buffs damage that is not RS are decent.

    Stat Priority:
    Agility > Versatility > Critical Strike > Mastery > Haste
    This is the primary issue facing Survival hunters, and something thats causing a load of itemization problems atm. Haste is bad for survival hunters, its a dump stat and should be avoided whenever possible. Now, almost all of the Emerald Nightmare mail loot gives Haste, which makes itemizing a Survival hunter rather difficult since you can't use most of the armor from the primary raid. Same problem with Legendaries but we'll get to that later.
    So is Haste really that bad? Imho, yes and here's why: Haste decreases GCD by a small amount, which is decent but the amount of haste to reduce our GCD from 1.5 to 1 second is huge, and since we're working within 12 second damage windows the benefit isn't great. It also increases Attack Speed, but since we have no inherent auto attack steroids before [Talon Strike] at 785K Artifact power it doesn't do much. Our Auto Attacks are also kind of puny, contributing <5% of our DPS. Haste also grants Focus regen, but since our main damage abilities MgB and ET are Focus free, it doesn't do much. It also gives Pet Haste, but doesn't reduce its cooldowns, and since our Mastery only applies to Pet Special Attacks, that part is useless. Finally it decreases cooldown on some of our abilities slightly, which is neat, however Survival rotation is already so packed with stuff you barely have enough time as it is.
    NOTE: This is still in the early stages of theorycrafting, and time may prove me wrong.

    Rotation:
    I will preface the following segment by saying that Survival is, without a doubt, the most complex DPS spec I've ever played. And even after days /played since launch I still mess up from time to time. The spec will punish you harshly for failing, but do it right and you'll actually look like a valid DPS spec. Unrewarding is usually the term tossed around, but if you enjoy a good challenge then this is a good place to start!

    Single Target:

    Survival DPS orients around the 12-second damage windows that start when the first MgB lands, and the primary goal is to optimize the amount of MgB strikes hit while still maintaining our DoTs. It is essential that you familiarize yourself with the following DPS priority:

    1: Minimize the amount of time spent with 3 Mongoose Charges during combat.
    2: Optimize the amount of Mongoose Bite hits when the buff is active - Fury of the Eagle should be used at maximum possible buff-stacks before expiration.
    3: Maintain Explosive Trap, Lacerate and Dragonsfire Grenade DoT uptime (in that priority order) as effeciently as possible without compromising priority #2.
    4: During Mongoose buff downtime, optimize use of Flanking Strike and Throwing Axes without interferring with priority #3.

    Survival does not have one set rotation, since our Mastery works the way it does there will always be an element of RNG involved. The above list should always be kept in mind during fights to figure out what the next correct move is.
    While specific rotations can't be transcribed, it is possible to sketch a framework for different openings due to the nature of our cooldowns shoring up the RNG. So what follows are two different rotation foundations that at least creates an outline to follow. These will only cover the OPENING MOVES of the MgB windows, since after that RNG will dictate the correct order.
    (It is worth noting that your pet should ALWAYS be on Passive, with Pet Attack being a seperate keybind.)

    α-Window (with SH available, AotE not required - Assuming distance pull):
    1: Dragonsfire Grenade the boss when pulled from range.
    2: Harpoon
    3: Explosive Trap
    4: Lacerate
    5: Mongoose Bite
    6: Flanking Strike
    7: Mongoose Bite x2/x3+ (Depending on FS rng)
    8: Snake Hunter (+ Aspect of the Eagle)
    9:Mongoose Bite x3+
    10: Fury of the Eagle
    11: Mongoose Bite if charge available before buff expiration.

    β-Window (with SH & AotE unavailable - Assuming character in melee):
    1: Mongoose Bite
    2: Flanking Strike
    3: IF M:HC procc, Mongoose Bite, IF NOT: Explosive Trap
    4: Explosive Trap (unless used in #3)
    5: Lacerate
    6: Dragonsfire Grenade
    7: Flanking Strike
    8: Mongoose Bite x3 (1 charge will come off its natural 12 sec CD)
    9: FotE if available

    A boss fight will usually start with an α-window rotation, and later MgB windows will be β-Windows until your SH is back up. Use AotE as you see best. Note that FotE has a 45 sec cd and SH has a 1.5 min CD. This means that half your FotE should be used in α-windows, the other half in β-windows. Also When FotE is active it extends your MgB buff by 4 seconds.
    If its been cast close to buff expiration, and you still have a MgB charge left, you can squeeze it in right as FotE ends.

    The difference between the two windows is that SH guarantees a 6 stack MgB buff, which means that to optimize you have to use your DoTs first or risk time constraints. A 6-stack MgB buff expiring with additional charges available is a significant loss in potential DPS. AotE is procced midway in the α-window to ensure the 30% damage increase on FotE and 6-stack Mongoose Bites.
    β-window is all about optimizing your POTENTIAL MgB charges, which is why the DoTs are cast during the 12 second damage window instead of before. FS is used directly after because a FS that actually proccs a MgB charge is a ridiculously good attack in terms of damage (Think FS damage+MgB damage with 3+ buff stacks).

    Your next MgB window should start the instant you're at 3 charges again, not before. The filler period inbetween should be used as the DPS priority dictactes. Now it's worth noting that sometimes everything will be on CD for a single GCD. This will only happen if you're unlucky with the M:HC proccs, but it does occur. Use RS as absolute last resort, and consider getting more Mastery.
    (For reference, this usually happens once every 2 hours of raiding for me)

    Another note for using SH is to pay attention to MgB's natural CD. If you get another charge naturally in <5 sec, use that first and then use SH so you don't "lose" the cooldown.

    MULTI TARGET

    Luckily AoE is somewhat more simple for Survival than single target. If SH is available (AotE a bonus) simply use ET->DfG and then stack 6 quick MgB buff charges and watch your FotE dish out some serious hurt. If FotE is on CD however, a different approach is recommended. This is where Focus actually comes into relevance. Basically the goal is to avoid Focus-capping while maintaining ET and DfG. Rotation goes as follows:

    1: Dragonsfire Grenade at pull
    2: Carve
    3: Explosive Trap
    4: Carve
    Etc.

    The reason to do a single Carve before ET is so that your focus can regenerate during the 1.5 GCD after ET. Essentially you gain another 1.5 seconds of Focus regeneration this way. If you start in Melee with the group, consider doing Carve->ET->DfG->Carve instead.
    The role of the pet:
    Small segment here to address this issue since this is where I've seen most survival hunters fail. Your pet SHOULD NEVER ATTACK unless you have <3 MgB charges. All your pets special attacks have a chance to procc M:HC and using them when at max charges is a waste of potential DPS. Pet Attack should be a separate keybind because having it on Passive will cause it to disengage whenever its current target dies. This is only an issue in AoE fights, and easily fixed with using Pet attack during larger group clears.

    Disclaimer: This rotation takes practice and familiarity, and basically every fight is different depending on your luck.
    Treat the α and β windows more like guidelines than actual rules

    Itemization/Enchants/Gems
    Follow the stat prioritazion. Get items that have preferably Vers/Crit, but anything that's not Haste is honestly decent. Don't replace ALL your Mastery, I've found that around 41% Mastery (so 10.2% M:HC procc chance) seem to strike a good balance between having mostly Vers/Crit, but still getting an extra MgB charge once in a while.
    Enchants are pretty straight forward. [Mark of the Satyr] on neck, Versatility on Rings and Agility on cloak.
    Gems is just 1 [Saber's Eye of Agility] for 200 extra agility, and the rest socketed with [Versatile Maelstrom Sapphire] for 150 extra Versatility each.

    Legendaries:
    Of the 8 Legendaries Survival has available, half of them are actually good. One could argue that the remaining 4 are viable due to their higher agility, but the Haste drags them down.
    I will have to test them to say for sure.
    The viable list in priority goes as follows:

  • [Call of the Wild]: These bracers are Survival BiS, no question. With these and the Artifact trait at 276k AP you can get AotE down to 45 sec CD which is a huuge buff. Best legendary by far.
  • [Hellbrine, Robe of the Mist Marauder]: 30% damage increase based on Harpoon distance for 10 seconds. Not great, since most of our damage comes at the end of our 12 sec MgB buff, but not
  • bad since it gives all your early DoTs and MgBs a nice boost. Decent all around.
  • [Frizzo's Fingertrap]: Spreading Lacerate with Carve to a nearby target is surpringly useful due to the many 2-3 monster trash groups floating around. Ungodly amounts of Haste, but offset by the equip-effect and comes with a neat socket too. Could be better, but still good.
  • [Prydaz, Xavaric's Magnum Opus]: Yeah... The one neck most other classes dread is actually decent for Survival. Only Legendary without Haste (wohoo!), and the effect gives us a small survivability boost, which is nice since we're ironically rather squishy.
  • 3 remaining Legendaries all have PvP focused equip-effects and Haste so I'm going to disregard those. [Nesingway's Trapping Threads] deserve a mention however since their equip-effect, while clearly PvE designed, is insignificant. 15 extra focus every time a trap is activated (so 12 seconds) on a spec that isn't focus based is not going to make christmas come early.
    And then itemized with the 2 worst stats to boot (pun intended). Only consider using these if you want to look shiny, or your existing shoes are bad enough that the extra Agi makes them worth it.

    Consumables
    Food should be [Seed-Battered Fish Plates] for 375 Versatility or Koi-Scented Stormray for the cheaper 300 versatility version. [Flask of the Seventh Demon] is a rather obvious choice and damage potions should be [Potion of the Old War] (And not [Potion of Deadly Grace] as I've seen some guides recommending).
    [Defiled Augment Runes] are a nice boost if you can afford them too.

    Thoughts about the Future
    So Survival is in this interesting spot where it is actually decently viable even though the available raid loot is horribly itemized.
    However looking at Nighthold loot tables show that Blizzard are aware of this, and as such things are looking quite a bit brighter in the future ahead. Especially T19 [Eagletalon Battlegear](http://bit.ly/2egNgFP) is looking really sweet for Survival in terms of stats and bonuses. The 2 set bonus means that FS now yields 4x the M:HC procc chance, which will reduce the RNG significantly and
    probably change the stat priority to be Ver > Crit=Mastery > Haste, time will tell. Mastery might even surpass Crit until the 25% M:HC cap is reached. (Where FS has a 100% chance for an extra MgB charge). 4-set bonus is looking really sweet as well, with a 50% damage increase when 6-MgB buff stacks are reached. Considering the amount of MgB hits you can get in, especially in an α-window, that set bonus is going to translate to a lot of extra damage. Will Survival be top dogs come Nighthold? Probably not considering the strength of the other set bonuses as well, but maybe. At least serious contenders for the throne of #1 DPS
    You made a mistake on stat priority, it's: Agi > Versatility > Crit > Haste > Mastery
    Mastery is our worst stat for now, and by far (twice lower than Haste). Theorycrafting, IG testing confirm that.
    1) How is Mongoose Bite half of our damage? Lol.
    2) Stat priority is wrong, Mastery is next level terrible.
    3) Pet recommendation to not have it attack at certain times is retarded, absolutely no mathematical basis for such an outlandish claim.
    4) Everything you say related to Mastery is basically wrong. You should avoid it whenever possible and the ideal is having 0 of it, if that was at all possible.
    5) Prydaz is a !@#$ty legendary precisely because it has so much Mastery, our worst stat by a %^-*ing landslide.
    All you people shouting about how poor mastery is:

    Mastery is the only thing that make SURIVIAL pets usefull. 40ish% gives our pet attack a 10% chance to give us a mongoose bite charge. I for one,dont see how thats "useless".

    Good guide other wise,interesting to see how other people think.
    14/10/2016 05:02Posted by Wyrdhoof
    All you people shouting about how poor mastery is:

    Mastery is the only thing that make SURIVIAL pets usefull. 40ish% gives our pet attack a 10% chance to give us a mongoose bite charge. I for one,dont see how thats "useless".

    Good guide other wise,interesting to see how other people think.


    stats are good or bad, or 'useless' only if compared to other stats.
    Of all the benefits the secondary stats can give us, the benefit of Mastery is the least.

    That's it. Other stats give more.
    Mastery gives something indeed, but not enough compared to every other stat out there...

    My own view: if Mastery is your worst stat, or even 'one of the worst' than something is designed wrong.
    Mastery is tailor made for your spec, it is adjusted to your very own mechanics.
    It should always be a good stat, simply by being 'mastery, the stat that is different for every spec...'
    On the guide itself.
    It seems pretty good, still taking into consideration the remarks of some above posters (which I think are valid).

    Not sure if another guide was needed, also not convinced it's the better version.

    But I do applaud the work you put into making it. It's a comprehensive and detailed guide. No harm in being several available.
    Mastery actually feels good if you don't have too much of it. Going from (arbitrary values) 5% to 10% proc is huge. Above ~12% i try to avoid it.
    13/10/2016 11:48Posted by Poulp
    You made a mistake on stat priority, it's: Agi > Versatility > Crit > Haste > Mastery
    Mastery is our worst stat for now, and by far (twice lower than Haste). Theorycrafting, IG testing confirm that.


    You have haste almost 20%, vers 10%, should be like that?
    14/11/2016 14:55Posted by Nepomrd
    13/10/2016 11:48Posted by Poulp
    You made a mistake on stat priority, it's: Agi > Versatility > Crit > Haste > Mastery
    Mastery is our worst stat for now, and by far (twice lower than Haste). Theorycrafting, IG testing confirm that.


    You have haste almost 20%, vers 10%, should be like that?


    this post is almost one month old. there is some things to take, things not to. it needs to be updated.

    right now haste is the best stat for us, stack it. (should be haste > vers = crit > mastery) note : you should not have less than 11% mastery, if not the spec will feel clunky as hell. (once you got there, you should take A murder of crows over Snake Hunter.)

    have fun. (ps : icy-veins guide is outdated too. seems like there isn't any guide up right now, and I'm too lazy to do one. soz)
    14/11/2016 15:04Posted by Sjlwesters
    <span class="truncated">...</span>

    You have haste almost 20%, vers 10%, should be like that?


    this post is almost one month old. there is some things to take, things not to. it needs to be updated.

    right now haste is the best stat for us, stack it. (should be haste > vers = crit > mastery) note : you should not have less than 11% mastery, if not the spec will feel clunky as hell. (once you got there, you should take A murder of crows over Snake Hunter.)

    have fun. (ps : icy-veins guide is outdated too. seems like there isn't any guide up right now, and I'm too lazy to do one. soz)


    Ok, thanks. So if I stack haste what percentage versatility should be?
    14/11/2016 18:32Posted by Nepomrd
    Ok, thanks. So if I stack haste what percentage versatility should be?


    whatever, it doesn't matter that much. you should consider vers and crit as same weight. worse than haste, but better than mastery once you reach the cap.

    so a haste/crit piece of gear should be equivalent of a haste/vers one.
    (try always to have haste as Major stat on your items)

    have fun.
    15/11/2016 08:42Posted by Sjlwesters
    14/11/2016 18:32Posted by Nepomrd
    Ok, thanks. So if I stack haste what percentage versatility should be?


    whatever, it doesn't matter that much. you should consider vers and crit as same weight. worse than haste, but better than mastery once you reach the cap.

    so a haste/crit piece of gear should be equivalent of a haste/vers one.
    (try always to have haste as Major stat on your items)

    have fun.


    Ok, will try that, thanks.
    I don't think Blizzard want to make survival viable. Not only the spec removes the greates utility as a Hunter - Being RDPS, but the numbers are the lowest from all mele classes. Playing survival seems like a waste. No decent guild would ever take SV hunter over any other mele dps in the game. Blizzard need to be bold with the spec and up the numbers so high, Rogues would cringe in envy.
    Christ, serious wall of text. All that to have *fun* playing a spec. Good thing I don't raid. Raiding seems too much like working and I already have a job tyvm ;)
    How is this a sticky on our official forum when the guide is completely outdated and thus gives absolutely terrible advice and will confuse the hell out of new players wanting to try this spec... this is our official forum, and this is up... madness.
    .

    I failed to delete the post. So I will just leave this dot here.
    Moo

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