What is a Spirit Beast? Any time you come up against a good BM hunter in PvP, they're likely using one of a small handful of pet types. The most common, and arguably the most versatile (not to mention powerful), is the Spirit Beast. This is a hard-to-get pet, as they exist only as unique rare-spawn mobs, often spawning only once every 6-12 hours and being both camped for by hunters and stumbled across by levellers. They are Ferocity, and they are Exotic--meaning only higher-level Beast Mastery hunters can tame and control them. They are usually ghostly or spectral in appearance, fitting with the "spirit" theme.
What does a Spirit Beast do? The Spirit Beast, like all Exotic pets, has two family abilities--plus a bonus. The first is the most powerful single damage buff that a pet can give the hunter, Roar of Courage. This (which is identical to the Cat family's buff) boosts the Agility and the Strength of the hunter, his or her pet and the entire party or raid, with a 100 yard range. This means that your raid, arena team or nearby battleground members get the pet's buff. The Spirit Beast's second family ability is Spirit Mend, a powerful instant-cast heal that heals for a medium initial amount, followed by several smaller Heal Over Time ticks. This can be left on autocast (and the pet AI will use it intelligently on any nearby party--NOT raid--members, including itself, who drop below 50% hp), or can be taken off autocast and used directly, or macroed. With the BM talent Longevity, this heal is on a 28-second cooldown, and the HoT ticks for 10 seconds, meaning you can have it running for about a third of the time in combat. Lastly, like the Cat family, the Spirit Beast can Prowl (in the Spirit Beast, "Spirit Walk"), stealthing the pet and slowing its movement speed.
In addition to the Spirit Beast-specific abilities, Spirit Beasts gain the added benefits of the Ferocity family's strong damage-boosting talents. Culling the Herd and Call of the Wild will boost both the hunter's and the pet's damage, while Spider's Bite, Spiked Collar, Shark Attack and potentially Wild Hunt (if specced) will make the pet a very intimidating source of damage.
|A Spirit Beast, like any BM hunter's pet, accounts for a large % of damage, as well as providing heavy hits of its own.|
When should I use a Spirit Beast? In PvE you'll always want to cover a buff which is missing for your raid, which means there's no pro or con as such in using any individual Ferocity pet. This means that the Spirit Beast is a nice replacement for a BM hunter's Cat, as it provides the same buff along with a heal. So if your group or raid is missing the Agility/Strength buff, this is a good pet choice.
In PvP, a BM hunter is well-known for heavy damage. Yes, we can be hard to kill, but when your cooldowns are up and that hunter pops Bestial Wrath, you know you're in for some serious pain. The Spirit Beast capitalizes on this, bringing to the table all of the Ferocity damage buffs and most powerful damage-buffing Family skill of any pet. In addition to this, the heal is surprisingly powerful; a Spirit Beast can keep you going when the going gets tough. It's not just the amount of the heal which is strong--it doesn't usually display particularly high numbers. Rather, the heal is universal--many pet abilities are situational, great in some cases and useless in others. Spirit Mend, though, is always useful--even when going toe to toe with a healer, since otherwise, that healer might actually be able to wear you down. Against casters, melee, ranged, whatever--Spirit Mend is strong.
The point is, a Spirit Beast will almost always be a Beast Mastery hunter's strongest choice for PvP.
When should I not use a Spirit Beast? Obviously, in PvE, if the Roar of Courage buff (again, Agility + Strength) buff is already covered, it's best for you and the group if you provide another buff instead. The RaidChecklist addon (which deserves its own post at some point) is a wonderful tool to see which buffs are missing from your party or raid. Good pets to have along in PvE to ensure buffs are covered include the Raptor for ArP, Wolf or Devilsaur for 5% crit, and Core Hound for Bloodlust/Time Warp/Heroism (Insanity), among many other options.
In PvP, there are a few situations where you may prefer another pet. Because your pet is Ferocity, users of Spirit Beasts will be missing out on Cunning and Tenacity talents--but as BM, you really should be capitalizing on your pet as a damage source over any other benefit. That said, if you're low on resilience or fighting a melee that's proving tough, there are a number of other options to choose from. The best other choices, I find, are the Silithid, the Chimaera and the Bird of Prey. The Silithid has a +Stamina buff and a ranged root; the Chimaera has a (situational) AoE and a ranged snare with nearly permanent up-time. Lastly, the Bird of Prey--the only non-Exotic I'm listing here--has a disarm, which can cripple both melee opponents and enemy hunters when used intelligently.
Now, I mention these pets because they are all good PvP pets, and they're Cunning. I mention Cunning because if you are a hunter with low Resilience, perhaps still gearing up, Roar of Sacrifice can cover for you. This talent, which Spirit Beasts (being Ferocity) can't access, makes you immune to Critical Strikes for a full twelve seconds. You can use this while stunned, meaning that when that warrior finally lands you in an unescapable Throwdown or a rogue locks you into a full Shadow Dance, you can really ruin their day--and with Longevity, it's on only a 42-second cooldown. The pet will take 20% of the damage you take during this time, though--not transferred, just shared--so remember to Mend Pet when it's over if Mend wasn't already ticking.
So as you can see, there may be some PvP situations where you might prefer a Cunning pet, preferably with PvP utility, to cover your back, rather than going for all-out damage. The Cunning talents are something the Spirit Beast lacks--but it's not a negative point so much as a trade-off, and again, you just need to know when to use which pet.
Where Can I Get a Spirit Beast? Well, my main recommendation is to check out Petopia's Spirit Beast page here. This will list the Spirit Beasts, and link to their Wowhead pages for more information.
Some of them are easier to get than others. By "easy" I mean you can turn up and often find them spawned. Others are in zones with high player traffic or are camped for their looks by other hunters, and the competition can be tough.
Some general hunting tips:
* Download and use the addons NPCScan and NPCScan Overlay. These will alert you when a Spirit Beast is nearby, taking the human error factor out of your search. It will also make targetting the Spirit Beast easy, as well as placing a Raid Target icon over its head to help you find it. If you haven't used addons before, be aware that they're perfectly allowed and safe in World of Warcraft.
* Hunt very late at night or early in the morning. Afternoons and evenings, especially on the weekends, are the worst times to search for these pets--mainly because of the player traffic/competition. Most of the pets are killable, and some of the old Wrath of the Lich King ones are even part of an achievement; in addition, the silver dragon around their portraits entice many leveling or ore- or herb-grinding players who stumble across them into killing them. As a result, obtaining a Spirit Beast can be a frustrating trial.
* If you don't care which Spirit Beast you want, go check the spawnpoints for every single one. Chances are at least one will be spawned and available.
* Choose to either camp a pet consistently or periodically search for them all. Camping a single pet for an hour or two a day isn't likely to yield results quickly, as the "time alive" window for any individual rare is rather low. Rather, pick a pet and prepare to camp until it spawns, or check all of the pets' spawnpoints once or twice per day on the offchance that they're up--this last method is generally the best if you aren't cut out for long, boring periods of sitting staring at trees or snow.
Loque-Nahak This Spirit Beast is a large cream-colored leopard with glowing blue-green fire coming from his jaws and eyes, and darker brown, swirling spots marking his coat. His in-combat roars and growls are very loud and recognizable even after taming. He's one of the more striking and well-known WoW beasts, and there is both a lot of love and hate for his unique (and anatomically bizarre) model. He's found in Sholazar Basin (Northrend), mainly around the outer edges of the zone, and can be difficult to get due to high player traffic in this region.
Gondria This is a spectral (translucent) glowing violet-colored Saber Cat, with green-blue eyes that can be seen through the cat's body. She spawns in a variety of places in the snowier regions of Zul Drak (Northrend). She is sometimes somewhat easier to find than Loque-Nahak, but not by much; leveling traffic in this region (along with Hunter competition) is still noticeable.
Skoll The first non-feline Spirit Beast, Skoll is a Northrend Worg with a solid and very vivid bright blue coat streaked with animated lightning. His lightning coat emits a constant low-volume sound reminiscent of electricity, like a bad power line humming and sparking, which may irritate some players. He's found in a handful of small spawnpoints in the Storm Peaks (Northrend). Many players still hunt the rare mount-dropping mob of the region, the Time-Lost Proto Drake, and often stumble across (and kill) Skoll in their search, although he's usually at less risk than either Loque or Gondria.
Arcturis Arcturis is a pale blue and very ghostly glowing spectral bear pet. This is one of the "easier" to camp pets, as he only has a single spawnpoint. This, however, can make the competition far more fierce: several hunters might wind up sitting in the same spawnpoint, competing for the tame and even killing the pet when their "foe" is making the tame first (tsk, tsk, people!). He spawns in a patch of forest near the river to the west of the Alliance camp Amberpine Lodge in Grizzly Hills (Northrend). If you want to camp by turning on NPCScan and then sitting out of window while waiting for a spawn at 3 am, this may be your best bet.
Ghostcrawler Named after the (in)famous WoW developer, this pet--a translucent glowing blue crab--is one of the best to grab on a whim. He's in a very out-of-the-way corner of the Abyssal Depths of Vashj'ir, and is also unkillable by anyone who might happen to stumble across him--your only competition will usually be other hunters. That said, *finding* him can be a bit more challenging. He phases in and out while patrolling a very large area, meaning you can cover all of his range and not see him despite him being there. You should do several full circles, or to camp one spot on his patrol route. He will phase in and out every 20 seconds or so, and continue on his linear path at a "walking" pace--you can stay with him if he phases by setting your Abyssal Seahorse onto the mount floor, toggling Walk and following his route as well (NPCScan Overlay marks it on your Zone Map). This pet is the smallest of the Spirit Beasts, meaning he's unlikely to be targetted in PvP but easier to lose track of in a fight.
Karoma This blue Ghost Wolf is an old model brought back due to popular demand; the original ghostly wolf was removed from the game after it was found to be tameable, and disappointed hunters (like myself!) were happy to hear of its return in the form of the more fitting Spirit Beast. She is found in a variety of spawnpoints in the Twilight Highlands--and these are (mostly) fairly out-of-the-way, meaning she's generally safe from the rather heavy player traffic of the region. Like the cat Spirit Beasts, her sounds are unique; they are old-world wolf sounds but ghostly and echoing. Karoma is the only Spirit Beast who is Hostile, showing as a red dot rather than yellow on the minimap when using Track Beasts.
Magria, Ankha and Ban'thalos These three Spirit Beasts will be released with patch 4.2 and the Firelands content. All three will be found in Mount Hyjal. Ban'thalos is a ghostly green owl, and flies quite high in the sky, necessitating a slowfall-aggro or a tame from a high point. Magria and Ankha are blue and white versions of Gondria, respectively--ghostly, glowing saber cats. Their attack power in the wild scales with how much armor you have; in order to complete a successful tame, you'll need to strip off every single piece of armor you wear. It's possible that the mechanics for all three of these pets are meant to make them less likely to be killed by random players, and thus easier for hunters to find and tame.
How do I use my Spirit Beast? Well, if you've got your Spirit Beast, the first thing you need to do is properly spec it. Go for pure damage, although if your pet has troubles maintaining high Focus in PvP, you can switch Wild Hunt for either Stamina talents or for Lionhearted, depending on your preference. Once your pet's properly specced, you will want to decide whether to leave Spirit Walk (Prowl, i.e. Stealth) on or off. I prefer mine off, as I find that the speed reduction is crippling when my pet's going in for the attack. It is, however, a matter of preference. Toggle it on or off in your Spellbook--if it bugs out and refuses to clear, you may find that you need to send your new pet into combat once before Spirit Walk will come off.
You also have to decide which four abilities you want to put on your Pet Bar for best control. I personally suggest putting Growl and Cower on the pet's bars, along with either Spirit Mend, if you're leaving that toggled onto Autocast, and Heart of the Phoenix. This last ability, if you've talented it, can bring your pet back to life every 15 minutes if it dies--and you yourself have to press it, meaning you'll want it available on the pet's bars.
Growl and Cower you may find yourself wanting to use manually, toggling Growl on and off in various situations and using Cower early on if your pet starts to take heavy damage. Lastly, you need to decide whether to leave Spirit Mend on autocast. In PvE you often can just leave it on and forget about it, but in PvP, you'll either want to take it off autocast and use it manually, or macro it and leave it on autocast anyway. I admit to doing the latter: if I'm stunned or otherwise occupied, the pet's AI can react much more quickly than I can in using the ability. In any case, I try to use Spirit Mend on every cooldown in PvP anyway (assuming a friendly target's taking damage), meaning the autocast will rarely be used. Again, though, this is a matter of preference.
I recommend against talenting Lick Your Wounds in any situation. There's a long-standing bug where when a player dismounts (usually into combat), the pet's HP takes several full seconds to scale to the player's stats, leaving the pet at ~6k hp, rather than ~100k. This means that as it adjusts, the pet uses Lick Your Wounds, as it "thinks" it's low on health. What this means practically is that you may find yourself dismounting into a fight, sending your pet and then finding that your pet is sitting 20 yards back channeling its cooldown while at full HP, leaving you scrambling to survive. In my experience, the talent does more harm than good due to this bug.
Once your pet is specced and you're in combat, the main thing to remember is to use Spirit Mend properly. Check out the macro I use for Spirit Mend (as well as seeing the amount that it heals!). If you are taking any kind of damage, I recommend using Spirit Mend on every cooldown*--the cooldown isn't long, and the heal is good. Otherwise, use the Spirit Beast like any other pet! Except, of course, to marvel now and then at just how awesome they are.
* Except be aware of mages who might steal it.