On looking at a recent entry from Mama Druid a few minutes ago, I noticed she mentions respeccing her Hunter to Beast Mastery, because she felt there wasn't enough synergy with her pet. Pike also made a post about that issue earlier, as well.
I want to talk a bit about this, because I suspect that a rather unfortunate perception has arisen about Survival being (at least potentially) a no-pet-required tree. This topic is also going to go into my rationale for using Survival, more or less in general, since for me, a pet is still very much at the core of the class.
I've written before (at fairly great length, admittedly) about how I feel that Beast Mastery is an offensive spec, whereas Survival is primarily defensive. While that has changed to a degree with WoTLK, (due to Lock and Load, Explosive Shot, and Hunter VS Wild) Blizzard fortunately hasn't ripped the tree completely apart to the degree that I initially feared that they would, and aside from the change to EW, the fundamentals are still there.
That means that a Beast Master's focus is going to be, as Big Red Kitty has often stated, primarily on overwhelming damage. BM was the greatest of our three trees for that before WoTLK, and the word on the forum is that it's still no slouch on the damage meter these days, either. Because of that, a Beast Master is going to want a pet with a high damage output, (a Cat, a Ravager, a Raptor, or possibly still a Wind Serpent) to augment and maximise their own high base damage output.
Something else I also need to mention here is that for Beast Masters, threat isn't quite as much of an issue, I suspect, as it is for me. The reason for this, is that Beast Mastery does so much more damage, that even if they do pull threat, the mob will die more or less a split second after it leaves their pet anyway.
Because of this focus on high damage, Beast Mastery is very good for rapidly killing single (or smaller numbers of multiple) targets. Beast Mastery is also substantially more effective than Survival against caster classes, specifically, in PvP.
On the other hand, Survival's focus, as I said, is on defense. I get +10% Stamina from the Survivalist talent, and I also now get the equivalent of 30% of my Stamina as Attack Power, which, although that translates into damage, gives me an additional incentive to get items with more Stamina on them. With EW nerfed, Surv is also back to having the lowest direct damage output of any of the three trees, even with Hunter Vs Wild. If I spec for Explosive Shot and work very hard, I might just be able to scrape even with Marks, but I'd really have to work for it.
For the last several months, since the Charge nerf, I've had a Wind Serpent as a pet for general use. However, he's a DPS pet, so as Survival, I really don't feel the synergy with him, either. It's because his focus and intent is on DPS primarily, and mine isn't.
My focus isn't on being able to kill single targets as fast as possible, at the expense of threat, like Beast Mastery's is. My focus is on being able to survive an unplanned attack of 4-5 mobs, and kill each one sequentially, while not generating too much threat, so I don't get swamped by all of them at once.
Because of that, I'm a bit less like a Hunter in the exact same sense that Beast Mastery is, and a little more like a Paladin. I'm not an actual Paladin, no, and I wouldn't want to be entirely, (although I do have a Paladin alt, and I love that class as well) but a useful analogy might be to think of a Beast Mastery Hunter as also having some things in common with a Demonology Warlock, (because of the pet) whereas I have more in common with a Ret Paladin. (Remember my Dark Knight post?)
In order to avoid building up threat against a group like that, I have to perform a very delicate balancing act. I need enough damage to sequentially kill mobs reasonably quickly, before they kill the pet, because if the pet dies, I will follow, maybe 2-3 seconds after.
I can't do too much damage however, because if I do, I will pull more threat than the pet, to the point where even Feign Death won't work, and I will get swamped and die. I also need to make sure that my individual attacks don't cost too much mana to use, because if they do, I will run out of mana before the last mob is dead, and being out of mana will kill me before being out of health does; I can't kill a mob quickly with only autoshot.
In that sense, again, Survival is like Retribution. A Ret Paladin without mana is dead, and for me it is exactly the same. I have a lot more health than I do mana, but every ability I use relies on mana, and I have even less mana than a BM Hunter, because I need item space for Agility rather than Intellect. An empty mana pool means no ranged or melee specials; auto attack only. Even more importantly for me, it means no traps, Feign Death, or Mend Pet. I die far more often from running out of mana than I do from running directly out of health.
Paladins have things which I, as a Hunter, don't. They have plate armor, and they also have the (limited) ability to heal themselves. Hence, if Survival is going to be able to handle even small (4-5) groups of mobs, I'm going to need more health and armor than what I alone have. That's why I need a pet. I need a pet to boost my defensive capability, (health and armor) and to juggle threat with, to the exact same degree that a Beast Master needs a pet for damage. If I don't have my pet, against groups, I will die just as quickly as a Beast Master would.
DPS pets also generally have less health and armor as well, in exchange for their high DPS, so that causes me to feel that synergy even less.
Hence, for what I do, I don't want a pet that does a lot of damage, at the expense of less health and armor. I need a pet that is going to be able to take on a lot of mobs, one after the other, and stay alive (while I keep Mend Pet up, of course) for as long as possible.
So I need a pet that:-
a) Has a lot of health and armor.
b) Generates a lot of threat.
c) Preferably has an ability which allows them to get to a mob quickly, so it can begin attacking a mob the instant the mob hits my trap. This positioning is even more important in places where I don't have a lot of room, possibly because of other mobs. Sometimes I need to make sure a mob stays exactly where I want them, because if they're allowed to move around too much, or run away, I can get adds, which depending on the situation, (if it's more than half a dozen) can cause me to die.
If my pet does some damage, that's a bonus, but I'm not looking at it from the point of view of it being bonus damage, but bonus threat, which helps the pet keep the mob away from me.
That's the single most important thing to understand about my approach, in comparison to Pike's, and that of other Beast Masters.
Beast Mastery sees the world in terms of DPS, and wanting to maximise it. I, on the other hand, see the world in terms of threat, and wanting to minimise it, while still doing just enough damage to be able to kill mobs. Damage is actually a secondary priority, because of the fact that I understand that if I'm applying damage in the correct way, (burst for low armor, dots for high) the amount I need on a per-mob basis is generally minimal anyway.
Take a look at the image at the top of the page. ;-) My boar is in that picture, and I still have him. I'm going to spec into Tenacity with him and try it out, and now that we have more stable slots, I'm going to possibly get a Carrion Bird for AoE as well.
Boars, like me, get +10% to their health. Boars also have very high base armor. Boars also still get Charge in the Tenacity tree, (for holding a mob in place over the trap, even when Entrapment or TNT doesn't proc) and they also have another talent called Guard Dog which increases their threat, Blood of the Rhino, and Pet Barding, which add even more to their stamina and armor, respectively.
So in closing, I still do absolutely need pets. Beast Mastery uses a pet as an extension of its' role, which is damage output, and I use a pet as an extension of my role, which is defense. Granted, it might add a bit more direct synergy if Blizz were to add +5% or so directly to pet Stamina as part of the Survivalist talent, but I'm not too bothered if they don't.