Here I am expanding on what was an already long comment on Mania's latest RFC: whats-the-weakest-leveling-pet. I am slowly in the process of revising my own pet reviews and this RFC is something I feel fully qualified to comment on.
My original comment is number 59 on Mania's site. I've reposted it here and expanded some.
Back in October last year I wrote a review of every pet family available to low level hunters. Blizzard have made several changes to pets since I last updated my post but it is still broadly relevant now.
The reviews are at: http://wowdecrypted.blogspot.com/2008/10/hunter-pet-reviews-pre-wrath-patch.html
The main changes since then have been the change to +5/+5/+5 to family stats, adding thunderstomp as a talent for all tenacity pets and tweaks to furious howl and rake.
Mania specifically asked – “For this post, I am mostly interested in levelling and questing before level 40 (although I would love to hear your thoughts on higher levels as well). That’s pre-exotics, and also pre-Thunderstomp for the Tenacity pets.”
Pets get their first talent point at level 20. The first few points make little difference to pet usability, its only when a bunch of talents stack up that it is really noticeable – usually around level 40. The biggest factor then in the lower levels is the pet’s family skill.
Diet can be removed as a factor in pet choice by use of the minor Glyph of Mend Pet. Spam mend pet a few times out of combat and your pet is happy again.
So, what factors make a good family skill for use by a low level “noob” hunter?
– aids in threat management.
– has a short cool-down or longer uptime.
– ease of use.
So, in the 3.1 environment:-
Poor: (5 families)
Bats – Sonic Blast
- 2 second stun and small damage on 20 yard range, long cooldown. Sometimes seems to stutter.
Birds of Prey – Snatch
- limited single target/ humanoid only effect on long cooldown.
Moths – Serenity Dust
- Heal over Time and 10% attack power boost on long cooldown. If left on autocast its often too little too late. Tied to a macro its much more useful. The healing is at best 20% of the pets health for most of the level ranges considered here. Rated poor because its tricky to use well.
Tallstriders – Dust Cloud
- Causes all attackers within 10 yards to miss one attack. 8 second duration, 40 sec cooldown. Hardly worth the effort. What I hadn't considered here is the AOE threat generation. In my testing last year I found they couldn't hold aggro very well on a single target compared to others in the same talent tree.
Crabs – Pin
- a 4-second channelled pin that does little damage on a longish cooldown. This skill is never available when you need it and it's channelled nature makes it more difficult to use successfully. Like most of the immobilise moves, it gets better when tied to a macro.
OK: (7 Families)
Dragonhawks – Fire Breath
- smallish direct damage and 2-sec DoT on fast 10-sec cooldown. The problem with this skill is its 20 yard range - the pet has a tendency to "stutter" into range before it eventually gets its attack off.
Ravagers – Ravage
- decent damage attack, with a 2-second stun. The long 40 sec cooldown is the main issue here. Like other stuns, its better bound to a macro.
Spiders – Web
- 40 second cooldown, 4 second immobilise. Its a bit better than bat's Sonic Blast, simply because its more likely to fire off at a useful time and lasts longer. Much better when bound to a macro.
Wind Serpents – Lightning Breath
- 20-yard range, 10 sec cooldown smallish nature damage attack. The 20-yard range and stutter effect are the problem here.
Boars – Gore
- decent damage, 10 sec cooldown melee attack. Its special bonus is tied to successful use of the charge talent, so should go off about every 2nd fight. Rated as OK simply because other pet's specials don't require talents to be effective.
Turtles – Shell Shield
- 12 seconds per minute of 50% damage reduction. Its pretty nice in an emergency, but on too long a cooldown for general use, plus it doesn't help retain aggro.
Raptors – Savage Rend (Demoted from "good" for this revised post!)
- 1 minute cooldown medium damage + medium damage DoT. Its extra damage boost only comes into play when the pet gets a crit hit using this ability. Low level hunters will not see the benefit from this.
Good: (8 Families)
Serpents – Poison Spit
- 30 yard range, 10 sec medium-high nature damage DoT (8 seconds uptime). It also has a slowing effect on casting times. This ability is great. The 30-yard range means the pet gets off its first shot at the same range the hunter does most times. It has a short cooldown and is effectively up 80% of the time. The anti-caster effect is an added bonus.
Carrion Birds – Demoralizing Screech
- 10-sec cooldown AOE Attack Power debuff (that generates threat) to all in melee, with 100% uptime AND a single target medium-damage attack (also generating threat), thats also available widely at any level you like? Sign me up!
Cats – Rake
- 10 sec cooldown, low damage, low DoT melee attack that has almost 100% uptime. Easy to use, decent ability that can occasionally be paired with a successful Prowl.
Hyenas – Tendon Rip
- 20 sec cooldown low-medium damage melee attack with a 6-second slow. Like all disabling moves, this would be better on a macro but even autocast the combination of duration and cooldown means its ready to go when needed most fights. The damage it does is a nice threat boost too.
Raptors – Savage Rend (moved to OK section for this revised post)
Wolves – Furious Howl
- 40 sec cooldown, 20sec duration Attack Power boost for both pet and hunter. For most fights this is a better than 50% uptime DPS boost that is fairly easy to manage. This skill was reworked somewhere between 3.0.3 and 3.1. It is a much better levelling skill than when initially reviewed.
Bears – Swipe
- 5 second cooldown (!) AOE melee damage. Uncomplicated and deadly. It appears that the front-facing limitation has been removed in a recent patch. One of the best skills available for a levelling pet.
Crocolisks – Bad Attitude
- 2 minute cooldown, 45 sec uptime melee AOE medium-high reactive damage. This skill is interesting. Every attacker that hits the pet takes damage. Every single attack, for 45 seconds. Great for AOE aggro generation and generates significant damage in the right circumstances. Probably better taken off autocast and tied to one of the hunter's attack buttons so its not triggered too early.
Scorpids – Scorpid Poison
- 10 second cooldown medium-low DoT nature damage with 100% uptime. Simple to use. Rarely resisted. Sustained aggro generation.
Not available to low levels: (12 Families)
Chimaeras – Froststorm Breath
Nether Rays – Nether Shock
Silithids – Venom Web Spray
Sporebats – Spore Cloud
Core Hounds – Lava Breath
Devilsaurs – Monstrous Bite
Spirit Beasts – Spirit Strike
Wasps – Sting
Gorillas – Pummel *lowest level gorilla is level 32.
Rhinos – Stampede
Warp Stalkers – Warp
Worms – Acid Spit
By the time a hunter can get one of these pets, they and the pet have significant talent points to spend. Individual family skills make less difference in most cases than appropriate talent choices. The exotic pet families usually combine skills that are similar to others reviewed above. Also by this stage, most hunters have learned a thing or two about playing their class, further smoothing out the rough edges in family skill differences.
What pets would I recommend? Probably Bear and Carrion Bird for most playstyles. Both are AOE, but only in melee range. Serpents are awesome if you are regularly going against humanoids. Thunderstomp for tenacity pets, available at the earliest at level 44, is an awesome addition. Ferocity pets become essentially unkillable once they get bloodthirsty by the mid-30's.