I heard a fair amount of smack being talked about BM as a spec on the forum a week or so back. If I'm honest, in my weaker moments where one or two points were concerned, I also temporarily leapt on the bandwagon. However, a while ago on his old site, BRK wrote a post called, "Survivalists Need Love Too," where he had our back; today, I want to return the favour.
To start with, I'm going to outline why I think BM tends to get virtual rotten vegetables lobbed in its' direction from time to time, and then go about dismantling said image.
In the minds of at least some people, as a spec, Beast Mastery is seen as the Reese Witherspoon of the Hunter family. Blonde, busty, and otherwise gorgeous, and you could see yourself performing any number of explicit sexual acts with her quite happily.
However, it also appears to the casual observer that she doesn't have an IQ of too far above 50, and yet paradoxically, in some respects at least, she consistently outdoes her peers. People don't understand how this is so, the paradox irritates and mystifies them, (as paradoxes often do) and if they were going to be really honest with themselves, they'd admit that in many cases, they're afflicted with serious envy by this.
I did something a week or two back which I do every now and then; I respecced to 41/20/0 for 3-4 days. Reason why was because I thought it might be a bit faster for the Scholo farming I was doing. I also have a cat stabled, so I put my boar away and got the cat out for a bit.
After doing some pulls with BM and using Bestial Wrath and Intimidate a couple of times; it suddenly dawned on me. There are Survival specific abilities which do very close to the same things.
BW is (in many ways) a mirror image of Wyvern Sting. Both need to be used pre-emptively, at the start of a fight, and if done so properly, both can grant immunity to fear for most of the fight. BM has +50% damage for the duration; fully Imp Sting talented, Wyvern has about a 1.5k DoT. Both are consistent with their somewhat differing underlying philosophies, yet both will get you to exactly the same destination, in the end.
BRK's written about using BW and then Rapid Fire to dispatch someone very quickly in PvP, but I remembered a few scenarios where I've used Wyvern and then an Aimed, Arcane, Multi combo to do the same. Not only is the end result identical, but if you time it right, the process is eerily similar, as well.
Another thing I found out while doing Scholo, is that if you get Clever Traps, (and maybe Resourcefulness) Snake Trap can also be used as a fairly close analogue for Intimidation.
For a 3 mob solo pull, a BM solution might be to Charge/Growl one mob, Intimidate the other, and so pet multi-tank both mobs while the Hunter dispatches the third, if they're a caster.
For me at least, the Survival way of doing things has been to drop a Snake Trap in front of the three mobs, lead them into the trap before sending my pet, and then focus with my pet and myself on burning down the most powerful melee mob, while the other two mobs spend time smacking snakes.
It's true that Snake Trap doesn't draw aggro to the pet like Intimidation does, no...but that's actually a good thing. For Rattlegore and his adds, Snake Trap allowed me to regulate the amount of damage my pet was taking; if not for that, he probably would have died.
To also outline some scenarios where I probably wouldn't tell people to go with Survival before BM:-
1. Fast, straightforward farming where you're not expecting complications. For sheer damage, BM is always going to be around 100-130 DPS ahead of us, no matter what. That is usually primarily due to SS and the pet, however if you're fast and know what you're doing, you can also do a more complex rotation with BM which will increase the margin further.
2. Raids in pet friendly instances where your guild is ruled by politics, and raw DPS is the only thing your RL cares about. It's a sad fact of life, but some guilds suck and are run by narrow minded, ignorant people. Although this used to be Marks, these days BM is generally the one raid spec that if in doubt, you're not going to get kicked out of a guild for using.
3. Some PvP, especially the Arena before you get the requisite Agility. While Bandet has proven that Survival can do phenomenally well in the Arena, it isn't simple to do, and from what she has said, you need very much to subscribe to Survival's defensive philosophy. Given that most people are intractably stuck in the "personal DPS uber alles," mentality, it doesn't work for them.
4. If you're a player who has been taught to believe that DPS is the most important thing, and simply can't get that out of your head. Survival relies on a psychology where raw DPS is just one tool among many; one which can actually be dangerous if it is improperly used. If for you, DPS is the only important thing, then Beast Mastery is going to be a better fit.
5. If you're a player without a strong sense of individuality. In pre-TBC spec politics, when Marks ruled the roost, BM was seen as different, but it was tolerated. Survival was a spec that the use of was not tolerated at all among Hunters before TBC, and it only started to receive mainstream acceptance in patch 2.1. The derision I received both on the forum and in-game before the expansion was without mercy.
Thus, Survival Hunters get a lot of abuse, not only from other Hunters, but from other players in general. Survival is rare, it isn't well-known, and it involves doing the opposite of what Hunters are usually expected to do. As such, you're going to get called a newb and derided for your "lol Survival" spec often if you go Surv.
These days of course, according to conventional wisdom, BM is at the top of the food chain, Survival is second, and Marks is dead last. Thus, again...using Beast Mastery will generally only get you abuse from non-Hunters, not among Hunters themselves.
Why do I keep Survival rather than going with Beast Mastery myself?
1. Redundancy. BW and Intimidation are really nice, but their cooldown is long enough that per-fight anyway, once you burn them, they're gone. With my boar and a build including both Readiness and Resourcefulness, in Scholo I can take a four mob pull and then chain trap my way through another three adds after that. From what I've seen, although BM's damage is higher against single targets, it doesn't handle unforeseen adds as well, particularly with a cat.
2. Levelling. BM starts becoming faster after probably level 20, yes. However, unless you're rolling your second, speed in my own mind is not actually a Hunter's best friend when you're starting out. There is a lot to learn, and both burning through to the cap as fast as you can, and relying on the pet to do so, are not in my own mind the best way to pick things up. Also, Endurance Training and Thick Hide might be great for augmenting your ability to take damage, starting out...but Hawk Eye means you're a lot less likely to be in a scenario where you actually get hit in the first place.
I also levelled as Survival on a particularly nasty PvP server. (Jubei'Thos) The Horde/Alliance conflict on Jubei is both very real, and deeply personal. While I'll admit that I don't have any great love for the Alliance at the best of times, getting to 70 on Jubei will likely teach you to truly hate them. There was corpse camping for hours, and all manner of other mean behaviour engaged in.
Given my experience with that, I am never going to advise anyone to spec anything other than Survival for levelling in that context. Survivalist, Savage Strikes, and traps have let me kill Warriors melee in Warsong Gulch before 70, and although it may not be true since reaching 70, before the cap in world pvp I virtually never lost a fight against a Rogue.
3. Crowd Control. Given the talents we have, with the additional backup of Wyvern Sting, BM can't touch us in this regard. Beast Mastery, as I've said, does between 100-150 base dps more than Survival, pretty much always. Survival trades said 150 DPS for its' traps.
So as I've hopefully shown, despite using Survival myself, I still feel that Beast Mastery has some extremely viable uses in a number of different scenarios, and shouldn't get the sort of derision I've recently seen it getting.
I like to think that part of the philosophy behind Survival is the idea of being able to identify the right tool for a particular job. The reason why I temporarily respecced BM myself a week or so ago is because I'm not too proud or narrow minded to be able to admit that for some jobs (faster farming, PvP, more pet friendly instances, higher overall DPS) that can mean going outside Survival itself.