Stings are an integral part of being a hunter that often gets overlooked while leveling and raiding. To be a truly successful hunter means knowing when and where to use stings properly and quickly. Often times hunters know the basics behind what stings do, but fail to apply them situationally as may arise. As hunters we have stings to tackle a huge array of encounters; we can save a tanks life, deal damage to untouchable targets, increase our DPS, and sleep/silence casters. Hopefully this mini guide can help new hunters work these power allies into their play. Knowing the mechanics behind stings can help even the saltiest of hunters improve their utility and dps. Enjoy.
In today's raid encounters Viper sting is almost completely worthless. However there are a few situations that may arise in which viper may be useful. Raid bosses have too much mana to be able to fully drain them, even with 2 or 3 hunters in a raid. This limits it's boss effectiveness to simply returning mana to MM hunters. For instance, MM hunter's can use Chimera Shot near the end of viper to refresh the sting and return mana to the hunter! If rotated properly you can increase your mana efficiency and overall DPS. Another good example of it's usefulness is on mobs that are immune to physical damage but not to mana burn. The giant void walkers that pat the room with Karazahn's Curator are a great example. Damaging these mobs will reduce their mana bar until it reaches zero and the mob dies. By viper stinging them right away you can drastically reduce their "health" while you and everyone else burns down the mana wyrm adds. While leveling you can use viper to reduce a mobs mana to zero, forcing them to run to you and melee - usually the damage is laughable. This is helpful if you are taking on multiple casters or pull too many. Note - with the next patch viper will be draining a percentage of mana, instead of predetermined amount. This would negate the aforementioned situation and further reduce vipers usefulness.
Serpent sting is the bread and butter of early hunter leveling, and it's because of this that many hunters today refuse to use any other sting. Unfortunately this poison sting is almost as worthless as viper in raid situations. It's biggest downfall? Mana efficiency. This shot has the least amount of DPM [damage per mana] of any hunter shot, sting, or trap. Lets take a look at the basic formulas of serpent. For the sake of ease, we'll use RAP of 3500. Also remember that hunter's base mana is 5046 as well.
410 mana talented [Efficiency]
1910 over 15 seconds
2483 over 15 seconds talented [Imp Stings]
DPS +165.5 talented [Both]
.40 DPS/Mana talented [Both]
Now compare that to Arcane Shot if you used it every single time it was available.
273 mana talented [Efficiency]
1017 every 6 seconds
1170 every 6 seconds talented [Imp Arcane Shot]
.71 DPS/Mana talented [Both]
So in summation when you keep serpent sting on a raid boss you are at the MOST increasing your DPS by a measly 165.5 and also using the single most mana inefficient hunter ability we have. One could argue that by using Chimera Shot the DPM will increase and this is true, however you have to consider the better alternatives for your Chimera Shot in conjunction with other stings. It's worth noting, that during trash pulls I will use serpent to increase my DPS slightly. I will only do this during trash pulls because I do have time in between to sit and drink, a ability that I do not have during a boss fight. It's also great for leveling but once you ding that level cap, retire it as your main squeeze. IMO, Serpent Sting just plain sucks.
For me, when I finally found Scorpid Sting, it was as if the clouds parted, music played, and hot naked women danced around me with beers. Well OK, not really but I think scorpid is almost that great. This is the single most important sting for the raiding hunter to know and use every chance he gets. In a nutshell, instead of dealing a type a damage, scorpid simply reduces damage. Lets do the breakdown. Scorpid effectively reduces the targets chance to hit by 3%. There isn't a tank I know what wouldn't LOVE to know that you are reducing the targets chance to pwn his face in by 3%. And most time when the tank lives = we win. The Patchwerk fight in Naxx is a great example of where this sting can actually save the raid from a potential wipe. Given the speed and the sheer amount of damage at which Patchwerk hits, reducing his chance to land a hateful strike is essential. If you are a hunter fighting patchwerk you MUST use scorpid. So while it may not seem like the most glorious shot in terms of charts / melting face, the utility far surpasses any other sting in the game.
This has been touted as a mainly PVP sting and I would hardly disagree. There is not much to say about this sting; pre-WOTLK when crowd control was essential and precise trash pulls were needed the 12 second sleep was helpful but not amazing. You could in turn sleep the target in order to lay a trap, then hit them with a scorpid sting to remove the wake up DOT from wyvern, then let them walk into your trap. Or you could just buy a mage. Really in PVE this is not useful, at least when compared to it's PVP advantages.
When To Choose What
Very briefly here is a guide that can help you quickly determine when to sting and with what. This is mainly based on utility and mana efficiency. Remember this only applies when single target dps targets. If you bring that Volley O'Death there is no need to worry about stinging.
Raid Boss [physical damage] - scorpid
Raid Boss [caster] - none, conserve mana
Raid Trash [physical and caster damage] - serpent, none
Regular Mob [physical damage] - serpent
Regular Mob [caster] - viper if you can drain it all, otherwise serpent
Higher Level Regular Mob [physical damage] - scorpid
Higher Level Caster - run
If anyone has questions, please let me know. I talk a lot.