Hunters are in a bit of a bind when it comes to mitigating damage. Blizzard seems to prefer that hunters run away from damage rather than reduce its effects, but on many bosses avoiding damage is simply not an option. This is problematic in the current tier where our dps is low enough that raids are less likely to overlook our deficiencies in passive and off-global mitigation. We are not entirely without options for survivability, though, as I discuss after the cut.
I have written about our defensive cooldowns recently and so will simply direct you to that post. However, one ability that I did not mention there is Spirit Mend. If you play BM and have the option of running a spirit beast, make sure to get good use out of Spirit Mend.
Spirit Bond for BM – This is a talent all BM raiders should take. It is an excellent if boring buff that increases in value the more heals you take in a fight. This makes it great for a fight like Ultraxion where you take a lot of consistent damage (and you magnify the already-magnified heals with SB). Spirit Bond does little to help us survive a huge spike of damage; rather, it helps get us back to a safe level of health after the damage has been done. Spirit Bond also does not help us look better in parses: it increases our heals taken and does nothing to reduce our damage taken.
Hunter vs. Wild for SV – More stamina may seem like it has no value, but, well, it does. It allows you to take more damage before you die and survive larger single hits of damage, performing the same service that damage-reduction abilities perform. Its value can also be viewed in terms of time: with more stamina, you take longer to die, allowing (1) a greater chance for a healer to hit you with direct and AoE heals before you run out of hit points and (2) more tics of heal-over-time abilities to affect you before you die. A difference with damage reduction is that having more stamina does not save healer mana. Despite this drawback, Hunter vs. Wild still makes for an excellent use of SV’s two discretionary talents if the hunter does not need Entrapment or a reduced-CD Disengage.
Chimera Shot for MM – CS is a nice self-heal, but it is not primarily a self-heal nor is it a very big one. This means that often what little healing we would get from CS goes into overhealing because we time its use by its cooldown, not our health pool. The CS heal’s value increases the more consistently we sit below full health.
Of these talents, both Hunter vs. Wild and Spirit Bond are accessible by all three hunter specs. This means that all hunters can take them, but they will come at a cost to DPS when they are offspec talents (for example, it costs an MM hunter DPS talents to take Spirit Bond). Ordinarily, hunters do not take them as offspec talents, but they are something to consider if you are (1) at liberty to respec between fights and (2) can afford the dps loss and would meaningfully benefit from the survivability gains.
Knowledge, Raid Awareness and Positioning – These virtues are of great importance for all raiders, but they are of extra importance to hunters since we tend take more damage than other classes when we do get hit. The more we can do to not stand in fire, to not get cleaved, to stay in range of heals, to stack appropriately and so on, the better we will look at the end of the night. Also, simply being aware of those rare instances when our defensive cooldowns will help is very important.
Lightwell – Lightwells are great. Use them. Use them a lot. They require no casting, no global, just a mouseover and a click. If you raid with a Holy Priest on a regular basis, I recommend setting up an addon to track the hot from the Lightwell (called Lightwell Renew) so that you do not clip it or wait too long between uses. Incidentally, it does help to have keybinds for your rotation so that even if you otherwise click most of the time you can still maintain your rotation while your mouse is heading to and from the Lightwell.
Healthstones – Try to use a Healthstone when you will take the full heal from it. However, do not be so stingy with it that you never end up using it. Also, do not be afraid to ask for a healthstone before a pull; it’s the warlock’s job to provide these stones, just like its our job to, um . . . do other stuff. Yeah. Other stuff.
Helpful Ground Effects – Try to familiarize yourself with what the different helpful ground effects look like (Efflorescence, Healing Rain, Holy Word: Sanctuary, Power Word: Barrier, Socialist Totem) so that you can know which graphics you should try to stand in when possible.
Bandages – If all else fails, bandages do work and are worth having around.
In the final tally, hunters are far from helpless when it comes to taking damage. In addition to our decent mobility for avoiding damage (and moving into helpful ground effects), we also have some means for surviving damage. However, the fact remains that hunters simply do not look good in parses these days. What few damage-reduction abilities we do have come at a cost to DPS on the exceedingly rare occasions when they are useful. If you compare this with the hybrid DPS specs who deal as much or more dps than we do–like shadow priests, boomkin, ret paladins and so forth–that also have many options for damage reduction and self-healing, well, we just do not come out looking good. Frankly, our lack of suvivability options in the face of raid damage needs to be balanced by either above-average DPS or extra raid utility in other areas, and these days we do not seem to be able to offer either of those things. If I were a raid leader, I am not sure what incentive I would have to bring a hunter into the Dragon Soul other than things unrelated to class like player competence and reliability.