Where the view is always better.

Hunters at the End of Cataclysm

Patch 5.0.4 information is everywhere, and it’s nearly impossible to include everything, so I will point you to Battle.net and MMO-Champion for a top-down view.

We have a month between patch 5.0.4 and Mists of Pandaria to analyze the effects of the new changes. I have never been an expert in analyzing things forward, so I will analyze what has already happened. How has Cataclysm been for hunters?

RaidBots began collecting combat log data since the last days of patch 4.0.6. Unfortunately, we don’t have much perspective from the early days of Cataclysm, but this will suffice.

From the data it collected, it is clear that Marksmanship dominated the combat logs for the majority of Cataclysm. It is also not a surprise for us now that Survival has been the dominant build on the raiding scene since Dragon Soul opened. What is surprising to me is how wide the DPS gap has become over the patches.

Balance is an abstract concept, but other patterns can point us to reasons why it is so hard to achieve. In an true environment of balanced talent builds, any hunter is free to choose his or her own build without impairing the ability to play the game. But what if that game is raiding? Then clearly a DPS gap indicates that the talent builds are in no way balanced. Moreover, a widening gap over a period of changes indicates that all attempts to balance the field have failed.

Patch 4.2 was seen as the nail on the coffin for Beast Mastery. It made the build’s viability in raiding worse, and Beast Masters began thinking they have really been neglected. Their nominal DPS did not reach the patch 4.1 peak until it had passed the middle of 4.2. Marksmen and Survivalists continued their steady upward climb.

I spoke about Survival’s silent comeback in patch 4.3 some time ago. It is obvious now that the comeback is not so silent. Survivalists came back with such a vengeance that the maximum hunter DPS was pushed higher until it reached a plateau of about 53,000. This is a 47 percent increase over the peak DPS in patch 4.2. No one would have foreseen in December.

Marksmen, on the other hand, suffered terribly. Their numbers dwindled, and hunters began switching their talent builds to Survival in droves. In the end, their final nominal DPS was only slightly higher than the patch 4.1 peak.

The surprise here is Beast Mastery. I had seen a small yet persistent group of Beast Mastery hunters continue with their talent build. They have continued against the odds and eventually overcame Marksmanship hunters in nominal DPS. The question, then, is what kept Beast Masters interested in their build that the Marksmen did not have in theirs?

Back in November, I pointed to a blue post on the official forums which should have indicated that the three talent builds are balanced. The story of the past nine months, however, have indicated otherwise. Assuming that Blizzard was correct, what changed the mathematics?

The answer should be player behavior. For reasons which I have yet to see articulated, hunters shunned the two talent builds which are not the top to a greater degree in patch 4.3. The fact that nominal DPS continued to rise steadily through patch 4.2 meant the ratio of players for each talent build and the rate at which they gained new gear remained constant. This status quo was thrown away when patch 4.3 arrived, and I have yet to rationalize how and why this happened.

We can assume that Blizzard already has this data because it constantly monitors players’ progress in the game. They may already have the answer to this puzzle, and if they do, I hope they will attempt to prevent this from repeating in Mists of Pandaria.

3 responses

  1. Generally the dps gap seen in logs is disproportionate from what the actual gap is. When one spec is ahead, the majority of the top raiders (the best geared and best skilled, in general) tend to only play the top spec, even if it’s only ahead by 1%.

    Over time word spreads and more and more hunters switch to what is “known” as the top spec, which usually widens the gap.

    I do think the 4.3 gap is interesting — my best guess here is that the developers were busy working on MoP and as long as hunters had a viable spec, they weren’t as worried with fine tuning.

    28 August 2012 at 12:01

  2. Elanas

    Frostheim beat me to the magnifying effect. This is a crucial thing covered in statistical-methods courses for people doing scholarly work, and should be much more widely understood by people who’d like to do theorycrafting.

    As for Beast Mastery versus Marksmanship, I think – and I say this as a BM fan since vanilla, so I acknowledge my own bias – BM fans are usually off in our own little world. :) BM is generally less like either of the other specs in play than they are from each other. Not that Marksmanship lacks an identity in play, at all. But BM is loaded up with eccentric distinctive features, and those of us who like them spend our time trading info with each other, trying out things, and pushing far beyond the bounds of sense so that we can do whatever’s at hand the way we like it.

    The other thing I think may have hampered Marksmanship is a simple fact: Steady Shot feels long and draggy, when you’ve been spending a lot of time relying on Cobra Shot for focus regeneration.

    28 August 2012 at 15:57

  3. Seren

    I can also see a lot of people sticking with BM for the exotic pets. If you are in a ten man guild and don’t have a mage or shaman (which my guild didn’t for a very long time), then having a BM hunter for Hysteria is your next option.

    I have raided as BM through all of Cataclysm and while my DPS was lower than several SV hunters, I still surprised a lot of people with the amount of DPS I was pulling (Usually in the top 2 dps on DS Normal 10).

    29 August 2012 at 15:40

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