Hunters and Spell Penetration for PvP

Cataclysm edition…

Green Arrow is spell pen cappedWhile working on my PvP guides, one thing I’ve been taking a hard look at is Spell Penetration. I’ve not really focused on it as a stat up until now, as I’ve been using my PvP gear to pull double-duty for me in BGs as well as dungeons. However, I’ve now amassed enough alternate pieces to be able to throw a decent PvP set together, optimized with PvP stats.

So onto the topic of Spell Penetration and Hunters…

Hunters are not casters, so wtf do we need spell pen for..?!

The reason hunters need spell penetration is because although we don’t cast spells per se, we do fire shots that do spell damage. A good portion of our DPS in PvP is supplied by way of spell damage – namely these three shots:

Because all hunters rely upon at least one of these shots, and because pretty much all of our PvP foes will have some form of resistance up, Spell Penetration is an important stat for PvP – especially in arena.

What does Spell Penetration do for hunters..?

Simply put, it increases our DPS in PvP by negating enemy resistances to our spell damage attacks. For example, a player with Mark of the Wild up will resist over 14% of your incoming spell damage. That is huge when you consider that could mean a loss of a few thousand damage per shot. For this reason, no other gear enhancement can boost your PvP DPS as much as Spell Penetration can.

How much Spell Penetration does a hunter need..?

That depends, so rather than make you drink the Kool Aid, I’ll break it down so that you may determine what sort of spell pen level best suits your needs and play style.

First off, I suggest that most all hunters who are serious about PvP should have at least 100 Spell Penetration. Here’s why… 100 Spell Penetration will cancel out Mark of the Wild / Blessing of Kings (both 97 resist), as well as all racial resists (85 resist). These are very common buffs which you’ll see in every battleground, so being able to negate them is a nice advantage.

Beyond those buffs, here are other reasons why you may want to boost your Spell Penetration over 100…

Mage Armor stacks with other resists and provides an additional 44 resistance to all schools of magic damage. Hence, a Mage with BoK on them will have a total of 141 resistance to all magic damage. Depending upon the buffs, a Mage can pack as high as 239 resistance.

Paladins can provide 195 resists to fire, frost and shadow damage by way of Resistance Aura, and Shamans can provide 195 fire, frost and nature resists with their Elemental Resistance Totem. Considering both types of buffs provide resistance to fire, it’s advisable for survival hunters to consider boosting their Spell Penetration to 200, for the boost to Explosive Shot damage. 195 fire resist will chew up 25% of your Explosive Shot damage, which is huge… especially when considering what it will do to crits.

Marksmanship hunters may want to go to 200 as an answer to the Shaman’s totem, but I’d suggest only doing so for competitive arena. Going beyond 200 is largely unnecessary, as the only advantage would be when dealing with Mages and capped resists. Unless you’re in a highly competitive arena bracket that’s chock full of Mages, then I’d avoid stacking beyond 200.

There are other resists that players may possess, but they’re pretty inconsequential when it comes to hunter PvP. A Shadow Priest’s shadow resistance really only affects Black Arrow, which only pertains to survival hunters, and is not all that important anyway, as Black Arrow isn’t relied upon for PvP DPS. A hunter can use Aspect of the Wild for nature resists, but c’mon… what hunter does that..?!

Hunter Spell Penetration needs broken down by spec…

Beast Mastery hunters should be fine with 100 Spell Penetration. This allows us to overcome Mark of the Wild and Blessing of Kings, enabling our Arcane Shots to hit at full force (apart from resilience mitigation).

Mage vs HunterMarksmanship hunters should have at least 100 Spell Penetration, but may want to go as high as 200. This amount of Spell Penetration counteracts all of the most common buffs which can nerf the damage of Arcane Shot and Chimera Shot.

Survival hunters should strongly consider going with 200 Spell Penetration. Apart from the stacking effect of Mage Armor, 200 Spell Penetration allows every juicy tick of Explosive Shot to hit with full force vs all classes.

How can a hunter add Spell Penetration to their gear..?

The best way to do this is through a combination of gem socketing, along with a cloak enchant. The Stormy Ocean Sapphire provides 50 Spell Penetration, and the scroll of Enchant Cloak – Greater Spell Piercing adds 70 Spell Penetration.

Personally, I like one 50 spell pen gem + the cloak enchant. Even though as a Beast Master I really don’t need much over 100 spell pen, the cloak enchant is a good bang for the buck in that slot, as there really aren’t any stellar cloak enchant options for hunters in Cataclsym. Also, having 120 spell pen helps a tad when dealing with Mage Armor resists. The 50 spell pen gem can go into any blue armor socket.

A few closing notes about Spell Penetration…

Update – 06/28/11: As of Patch 4.2, Spell Penetration will now apply to our traps!

Spell Penetration DOES NOT affect a hunter’s traps. Sadly, no amount of Spell Penetration is going to make it less likely that you’re trap will get resisted. However, it will work on Scare Beast. 🙂 Having 100 spell pen should guarantee you sending those pesky druids running around all willy nilly for several seconds.

Spell Penetration IS NOT ADVISABLE FOR PVE DPS. This is a PvP-only stat folks — same as resilience.

If you’re using a mixed set of PvP and PvE gear for dungeons, then it’s not entirely necessary to gem for Spell Penetration yet, especially if you’re only planning on casual PvP. As much as spell pen can help you on the battlefield, it can also hamper your PvE DPS.

Does a hunter need to have Spell penetration on their gear in order to PvP..?

Not necessarily. You can still melt faces in BGs, but you’ll have to rely upon Tranquilizing Shot a lot more in order to knock off resists. While not a huge issue, it does lower burst potential by using focus and global cooldowns for shots that could have been used for damage instead, plus Tranq Shot holds no guarantees it’ll dispel the buff you want it to. You can still rock in other words… just not as hard as the hunter who’s sporting the spell pen. 😉

If you plan on doing some arena, I’d highly advise going with at least 100-120 spell pen, regardless of your spec.

Well… hopefully I’ve helped to further demystify Spell Penetration and how it pertains to hunters. 🙂

If you still have questions… as always… post them in the comments below.

Lastly, know that I do plan to have a new PvP guide up soon. I actually have one section already written, but I feel it fits better as part 3 or 4, so as soon as I can get part 2 tackled, I’ll have it posted. 🙂

Other Helpful Hunter PvP Guides


20 thoughts on “Hunters and Spell Penetration for PvP”

  1. Im a bm hunter and I roll with 220 sp even though I dont “need” to. I hate mages with a passion in pvp, especially frost and since ive got 220 ive yet to have someone resist a trap or a druid not get scare beasted ( unless he shifts out or has some ability to be immune ).

  2. Well lol next time I’ll finish reading before I post questions, nevermind on the question or the tips, it was all in there xD

  3. Hey I’m wondering, is Survival Tactics enough to make enemies unable to resist your traps (CC or Dmg) or do you actually need to gem spell penetration to be able to CC properly?

    In return for your info, you know you have tranquilizing shot, which removes a magic effect, so you can just use this to “purge” an enemy of his MotW or BoK, and then they won’t partially resist your spell damage anymore… This way, only auras will counter you, but no pala uses them because they expect the enemy team to have 195 spell penetration to counter them anyway, and you can just destroy shammy totems with 1 autoshot. Furthermore, stacking up with an affliction warlock should cover all enemies in jinx, reducing their resistances by 195, meaning that you won’t need spell penetration either if you’re teamed up with an affliction warlock.

  4. If it came down to it what would you choose: +60 Stamina or +50 Spell Penetration. I am currently at 120 Spell Penetration and I am a fairly avid PvP player.

    Thanks in advance!

    • If you’re BM, then 120 is probably fine, but I’d stick a 40 hit gem in your blue socket rather than a 60 stam. Reforge some of your existing hit into crit.

      If you’re MM or SV, then I’d go with the 50 spell pen.

  5. I was wondering if adding spell pen could possibly have any positive effects on stats and performance of the hunters pet?

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  7. Ah! Thank you for this guide!! This is exactly what I’ve been needing! My friend and I were just talking about what I needed for spell pen, and I guessed 200, based on what I’ve researched in forums. I never had anything that was very sure though…not until I saw this. 🙂 Got to say, I’m happy BM can afford to have a little less SP. I can swap out some spell pen for agi!

  8. Awesome info as always ! I had been thinking about a spell pen gem recipe for a while (hunter is a JC) but hadn’t thought about it for use on her…Now I know what my next gem will be. Thanks!

  9. holy crap… was totally overlooking this stat. was already melting face in BGs, and starting to in arenas, so looking forward to dialing this in and checking it out. great article.

  10. Thank you very much for this guide. I don’t PVP that much but may start soon since its always nice to f**k up your opposing race. Something about that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Keep up the good work you excellent hunter you and WOW friend from back in the day 🙂

    • Haha I also feel warm and fuzzy inside + a lil devious 😉 I know it’s wrong to say this, but knowing you’re “killing” a real player instead of an AI raid boss is just SO much more satisfying…

      Also thanks for the guide Gar, I was wondering or not if I should go spell pen cause I have read mixed articles, but always trust your views 😉 Got spell pen for my hunter now, so will be testing it tonight hopefully in Arena.


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