Cataclysm survival hunter rotation – a question of priorities

If you want a spec with a high potential damage output but which requires you to chose the right ability at the right moment, Survival is the spec for you. It can be a bit overwhelming, though, if you’re not sure how your abilities work together. Never fear. Here’s our guide to a basic Survival Hunter rotation – Cataclysm style.

Standard rotation

As with the playstyles of most DPS classes in Cataclysm, ‘priority system’ is a more accurate description than ‘rotation’. That’s all the more true of Survival, where an incorrect situational choice can have a real impact.

Apply Hunter’s Mark before combat begins, and then open with Serpent Sting. Unlike hunters using other talent trees, you shouldn’t have to worry about refreshing Serpent Sting as it will be refreshed as a side-effect of Cobra Shot. After that, your basic priority system is:

  • Use Midirection on the tank if your threat is high. It’s always worth using this at the start of a fight, regardless.
  • Explosive Shot if your focus is high enough. At 50 focus, this is quite expensive.
  • Kill Shot if it’s usable – that is, if the target is on 20% health or less.
  • Black Arrow unless the target won’t be alive long enough to warrant it.
  • Arcane Shot if you have an abundance of focus (at least 80).
  • Cobra Shot

Explosive Shot and Kill Shot should always be used whenever they’re available, so the two really contextual abilities here are Black Arrow and Arcane Shot. Black Arrow is a DOT, which will apply damage for 15 seconds. With a 30 second cooldown, you won’t be able to keep it up constantly, but the decision as to whether to refresh it really depends on how long you think your opponent will last. Your decision might also be affected by how long a cooldown is left on Explosive Shot – if that’s just about to become usable it might be worth skipping Black Arrow and saving the focus for Explosive Shot instead. Arcane Shot is a focus-dumping ability. Only use it if you have focus to spare. You shouldn’t expect to use Arcane Shot as often as you might in another spec – you’ll usually have something better to do instead.


Cobra Shot is the only ability in your standard priority system that has a cast time. You should be able to do most of your movement while casting your other abilities, which means you should be able to take most fights in Aspect Of The Hawk rather than Aspect Of The Fox.

AoE rotation

Survival is a very strong AoE spec, with a moderately high threat. Your priority for a multi-target combat remains very similar to the standard system, the main differences being:

  • Multi-Shot replaces Serpent Sting at the start of the fight, and takes a high priority after that. Be sure to take at least one point in the talent Serpent Spread. This will cause your Multi-Shot hits to also apply the Serpent Sting debuff.
  • Explosive Trap should be added to your priority system, and used whenever it’s off cooldown.
  • Substitute Cobra Shot for Multi-Shot when you run low on focus.

For large packs of low-health mobs, you probably won’t use Explosive Shot or Kill Shot at all, but for mobs with larger health pools they are still contextually valid, even during AoE.

Further reading

As is often the case, the Elitist Jerks forum thread is the definitive reference for Survival playstyle. You might also want to check out Warcraft Hunters Union and, of course, MMO Melting Pot’s own guide to Survival Hunter Stats, Gemming and Reforging. You might also want to have a play with the Hunter DPS Analyzer at