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Beast Mastery

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.


Observations of Hunter Spells in Mists of Pandaria

There’s something about having an official talent calculator available for us to play with to prepare for a new expansion that makes people want to try out potential builds for Mists of Pandaria. While talents are the meat of this new content, looking at hunter spells is also important because this is a dramatic change of the old game philosophy where you learn your abilities from your talent tree when you are building it.

  • The first thing you will and should notice are the passive weapon skills. The tooltip on this passive trait has been reworded from the current version in Cataclysm. Instead of saying that hunters can use certain melee weapons, the new version states that “hunters perform best” using ranged weapons. Additionally, they will be able to equip axes, daggers, fist weapons, polearms, staves, and swords. This clears up any and all misconception about the removal of the ranged weapon slot. What will actually happen is that all classes will see their third weapon slot (currently used for ranged weapons, relics, librams, idols, etc.) removed. Specifically for hunters, our ranged weapons will become two-handed weapons much like the way we use staves and polearms today.
  • Something we usually take for granted at level 85 is Mail Specialization. This is currently acquired at level 50, a ten-level gap between the time you are able to train wearing mail armor and the time you acquire this passive trait. That means if you are able to obtain a full mail armor set prior to level 50, you receive no benefit from it. In Mists of Pandaria, this armor specialization is automatically given to you at level one. Oddly enough, you still cannot wear mail armor until level 40.
  • Another curious implementation is the Focused Aim passive trait, which reduces pushback while casting Steady Shot or Cobra Shot by 70 percent, given at level one. Why reduce something if you don’t get a chance to experience the non-reduced deficit in the beginning?

Now let’s look at the class-specific spells.

  • Noticeably absent from the Beast Mastery spellbook is the Ferocious Inspiration raid buff. There has been no indication as to where this has gone, especially when Trueshot Aura and Hunting Party remain available to Marksmanship and Survival hunters.
  • It’s nice to see situational talents like Concussive Barrage from Marksmansip and Entrapment from Survival make it into their respective spellbooks.
  • Another noticeable change is that Careful Aim will be now an exclusively Marksmanship hunter trait and thus no longer provides any benefit for Cobra Shot.
  • For Marksmanship hunters specifically, it appears Improved Steady Shot will disappear for good, allowing for a less rigid shot rotation than the one we are currently forced to employ.

Do you have any favorite spells that missed the cut? Unfortunately, we still won’t be getting Eyes of the Beast back. Next week will be a special presentation as we explore the new talent tree tier-by-tier from every day from Monday to Saturday.


Hunter “Balance” Reaches Tipping Point in 4.3

As reported by MMO-Champion, a new test build is being deployed on the PTR today. While they call it “a very minor build with almost no changes”, it isn’t very minor at all for hunters.

  • Beast Mastery: Focus Fire now lasts 20 sec, up from 15 sec.
  • Survival: T.N.T. now has a 10/20% chance to proc, up from 6/12%.

This is an interesting buff on top of what the two trees are already getting because a developer mentioned this a few days ago, with my emphasis:

Our internal 4.3 testing for hunters shows Marksman, Survival, and Beast Mastery very close. This doesn’t always play out in encounters, because players often develop different strategies when encounters go live (than they did during PTR testing).

As with any vague blue post, this does not give any indication as to which talent tree is actually on top. However, the changes being deployed today might indicate that they think Survival and Beast Mastery performance can still go up a bit.

Assuming Patch 4.3 will be the last major patch before Mists of Pandaria, we can therefore observe the overall changes that have happened with hunter talent trees during Cataclysm:

  1. Beast Mastery has always been getting buffed, but gradually.
  2. Marksmanship received the strongest one-time buff and was nerfed slightly later on.
  3. Survival received the strongest one-time nerf and is being restored near its original state.

If you monitor the talent tree changes that occur in 4.0.6, 4.2.0, and 4.3.0, Beast Mastery’s passive mastery will now be twice as powerful as it was during release of Cataclysm. For Survival hunters, the early reduction in Black Arrow damage has since been negated, and Explosive Shot will return near its original state with this new patch.

Now pay attention to the second sentence of that blue post. The takeaway message of that part of the blue post is that the “balance” they are currently seeing may not be replicated when Dragon Soul goes live next month. Therefore, the changes being deployed in the realms today may be the buffer for that “just in case” scenario.

It is likely that with this change, we’ll be seeing some fights where one talent tree will perform better over the other two, and one of the other two trees will perform better on a different fight, and so on. This is true “balance”, where the talent trees’ strengths are played out according to different encounters, not that all three specializations perform equally for every individual encounter.

So why is this the tipping point? Because DPS can never be truly balanced. Instead, it hovers around a state where DPS will favor one specialization at a given point of time and then gravitate toward another at a different point of time. Call it a sine wave if you’re familiar with mathematics, and the “balance” is what you would call convergence. If this is what the developers have in mind, it is what we will finally see after next month’s patch.

(I put the word “balance” in quotes because, although people like to see that word thrown around, it’s a very vague concept that has no actual meaning. Talent tree balance is a subjective thing and can be seen differently depending on the person assessing this imaginary state of affairs.)


Re-learning Your Hunter for 4.3

At the end of last week, Blizzard decided to post an explanation of what class changes they are making for balancing. Here’s what they had to say about hunters:

We provided a modest DPS buff for Beast Mastery and Survival hunters to help them catch up with the Marksman spec. As I mentioned above, we wouldn’t consider it a success if we made every Marks hunter respec to Survival, so our intent is to get close without going over. BM also suffers from a lack of AE damage, so we increased the damage of two of their AE pets.

While Marksmanship will retain its crown in the upcoming patch, the other two talent trees will get a nice boost to balance out the hunter class a bit more. I know I’ve been an advocate of Marksmanship for a long time, but this would be a great opportunity for those who want to try learning the other trees. This is your last chance before hunter mechanics completely change for Mists of Pandaria.

I started using Survival as a full-time talent tree of choice at the end of 4.1, and it’s been a great alternative after playing Marksmanship for so long. It may have even made me a better hunter because I’ve been able to push myself a bit harder to make up for the loss of DPS from not using Marksmanship as a primary specialization. I can still hold my own quite well against the other Marksmanship hunters in and out of my guild.

While some people choose to use Marksmanship to further their guilds’ progression, keep in mind that it’s also your character to play. If you think you can improve your own gameplay by using another talent tree, I don’t see why your raid leader should object to it. It’s as if you are undergoing a self-study to make yourself a better hunter, and nothing is better for your DPS than trying to push new limits.

One example I can provide is Survival’s Lock and Load proc. I’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt to throw an Ice Trap every now and then to manually trigger Lock and Load during key phases of both trash and boss fights. The two free Explosive/Arcane Shots also teach you how to effectively weave them into your rotation to maximize the damage over time. Playing with other talent trees will let you experience skills you may not use as much as a Marksmanship hunter. I still hope to be able to properly learn Beast Mastery at some point before the next expansion.

If your progression isn’t being stifled, don’t be afraid to try something new because it may give you a new perspective on how to play your hunter.


Do These Talents Belong in the Wrong Tree?

Thanks to WoW Insider‘s recent breakfast topic looking back on the talent tree reboot, some players are now revisiting their new talent trees with further scrutiny. Hunter talent trees probably received some of the most effective tree redesigns in Cataclysm. However, a few talents still stand out as odd balls in their current locations.

In the Beast Mastery tree, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera is still regarded by many as a puzzling talent which does not fit the nature of the tree. Comparatively, Marksmanship hunters wonder why Resistance is Futile is so deep in their talent tree. And while Survival has the most logical talent structure of the three trees, sometimes I wonder why Sniper Training is where it is.

Because these three talents are located so far deep into their respective trees, they are inaccessible to from other specializations because of the 31-talent specialization lockout that was implemented in Cataclysm.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera

When fully talented, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera (Rank 2) provides the following benefit:

Whenever you are hit by a melee attack, the cooldown of your Disengage is instantly reduced by 4 sec. Whenever you are hit by a ranged attack or spell, the cooldown of your Deterrence is instantly reduced by 8 sec. These effects have a 2 sec cooldown.

What the developers thought: When Beast Mastery hunters are hit by a melee attack, their pets will need time to grab the attention of the attacker from the hunter, so let’s provide some protection for them!

What the reality is: When Beast Mastery hunters are hit by a melee attack, they can probably just as effectively Feign Death and cast Bestial Wrath.

What makes it wrong: Although Disengage and Deterrence have their PvE functions, this Beast Mastery talent mostly screams “Survival!” to me because the original roots of the Survival tree revolved around boosting the capabilities of our close combat spells. This talent is not only useful to Beast Mastery hunters; it is useful to everyone. If it were in a lower Survival tier, the talent would be more accessible to all hunters, especially for those who would like more utility for PvP or any other occasion.

Resistance is Futile

When fully talented, Resistance is Futile (Rank 2) provides the following benefit:

When your marked target attempts to run, flee or move, you have a 8% chance to cause your next Kill Command on the marked target within 8 sec to refund the focus cost.

What the developers thought: When Marksmanship hunters’ marked target attempts to run, flee or move, let’s give them the chance to kill it faster with more abilities!

What the reality is: When Marksmanship hunters’ marked target attempts to run, flee or move, they can easily switch into Aspect of the Fox and gain the same benefit from chasing it.

What makes it wrong: It is currently uneconomical to use Kill Command in a Marksmanship hunter rotation. Because this talent revolves around Kill Command, it loudly screams “Beast Mastery!” In reality, this talent is also very useful in PvE situations because its benefit should be attainable whenever a tank move a boss or a trash mob is being kited, for example. If this talent were moved to a lower tier in the Beast Mastery tree, it would probably see more use from Beast Mastery and Survival hunters.

Sniper Training

When fully talented, Sniper Training (Rank 3) provides the following benefit:

Increases the critical strike chance of your Kill Shot ability by 15%, and after remaining stationary for 6 sec, your Steady Shot and Cobra Shot deal 6% more damage for 15 sec.

What the developers thought: After Survival hunters remain stationary for 6 seconds, they should be able to kill things faster because they’re always on the move!

What the reality is: Hunters are always on the move, especially Survival hunters.

What makes it wrong: Survival hunters don’t use Steady Shot in their rotation. This makes a portion of Sniper Training’s benefit unfulfilled. An alternate location such as the lower tier of the Marksmanship tree (where the name would match the nature of the tree) would make this accessible to Beast Mastery and Survival hunters, fulfilling the benefit of both Steady Shot and Cobra Shot as well as providing an equal buff to all Kill Shots. Speculatively speaking, it is possible that if Sniper Training were in another tree, Into the Wilderness would not have to be nerfed.


Enumerating Hunter Auras

When Cataclysm streamlined the hunter talent trees, the signature talent of each tree was reintroduced as a passive raid buff. Beast Mastery hunters sport the very appealing Ferocious Inspiration, which actually has not changed much since Burning Crusade. Trueshot Aura, the signature aura of Marksmanship hunters, has actually been around just as long but has gone a number of transformative changes over time. Meanwhile, Hunting Party is the newest of the three buffs, having replaced the older Survival aura Expose Weakness.

Let’s take a closer look at all three and their history. We’ll also do a numerical comparison to see which aura has the biggest effect on a hunter’s damage.

Ferocious Inspiration

The Beast Mastery aura is perhaps the easiest to understand of the three buffs provided by hunters. Ferocious Inspiration provides an overall 3 percent increase in raid damage. It is perhaps the aura that can be most easily observed. For example, if there are two damage reports from the same encounter, one with the buff and the other without, the report including Ferocious Inspiration will see 3 percent increased damage by the entire raid.

One reason this aura is so appealing is because it affects melee and ranged damage dealers, as well as casters. It even extends to pets. Its limitless potential made it the best hunter buff in Burning Crusade, on top of an already strong Beast Mastery tree. This is also probably the reason the aura has not really changed in function since then.

Trueshot Aura

Trueshot Aura, which has been a previous subject of my research, was a complicated talent prior to Cataclysm. It went through an identity crisis when hunters began abandoning its use in Burning Crusade because it provided a flat attack power bonus. This meant that high-end hunters did not receive a scaling bonus whether they were raiding Karazhan or Sunwell Plateau. Moreover, it only affected one party, as opposed to the entire raid, so Marksmanship hunters were always grouped with physical damage dealers. When it was redesigned in Wrath of the Lich King to provide a 10 percent attack power bonus to the entire raid, it became a very powerful talent, regardless of the fact that it only affected physical damage dealers.

Because hunters continue to receive weapon and armor upgrades at level cap, their agility (and thus, attack power) continues to increase. Suddenly, the bonus provided by Trueshot Aura continues to increase as upgrades are obtained. It is also interesting to note that Trueshot Aura is one talent tier lower than the other hunter aura talents. This means you can obtain it at level 39, a full 10 levels earlier than the others.

Hunting Party

As the newest aura on the block, Hunting Party increases melee and ranged attack speed by 10 percent. This aura replaces Survival’s signature Expose Weakness talent that was the subject of much debate throughout Burning Crusade and Wrath. For example, take a trip down memory lane and read Mirshalak’s comparison of Trueshot Aura and Expose Weakness at the advent of 3.0.

But even with the change, Hunting Party possibly remains as the most complex aura for a hunter because haste mechanics is still difficult to calculate and translate to DPS. Even after reading Frostheim’s thoughts on haste design, you could still not understand how haste works. Perhaps it will be another topic for future research.

Numerical Comparison

The primary objective of this study is to understand the extent of each aura’s affect on a hunter’s overall damage, which could give an indication of how to pick the best buff and talent tree scenario for raid encounters. Our study began with importing my current gear and weapon setup into Zeherah’s Hunter DPS Analyzer. To avoid too many sample variations, we used the three talent trees recommended by Frostheim, the standard rotation already used by Zeherah’s analyzer, and a cat as the default pet.

The results are tabulated below. Italicized values are the DPS output for the hunter with his or her own aura that is included in the tree of choice. The other values in each column indicate the change in DPS as each of the two other auras (or both auras) is added to the default aura.

Ferocious Inspiration Trueshot Aura Hunting Party Cumulative
Beast Mastery 16,315.72 17,597.96 (+7.9%) 17,282.98 (+5.9%) 18,640.16 (+14.2%)
Marksmanship 16,856.83 (+3.0%) 16,365.85 17,325.27 (+5.9%) 17,845.03 (+9.0%)
Survival 16,598.39 (+3.0%) 17,359.02 (+7.7%) 16,114.95 17,879.79 (+11.0%)

First of all, this data is concrete proof that, in a perfect environment with 100 percent damage uptime by the hunter and pet, Beast Mastery is the middle ground of the three talent trees in terms of damage output when each tree is tested individually. This is reflected in the current 4.0.6 data from SimulationCraft. However, things take a turn when only hunter buffs are in effect.

We can derive from this data an equivalent comparison of the three aura buffs. Once again, it is obvious the Ferocious Inspiration provides a 3 percent damage increase. This data, however, converts Trueshot Aura’s 10 percent attack power buff into a 7.7–7.9 percent damage increase. Hunting Party’s buff is converted to a 5.9 percent damage increase. The resulting DPS from a cumulative of the three buffs is simple mathematics. Because Trueshot Aura and Hunting Party buffs have more multiplicative power, Beast Mastery benefits the most when all three buffs are stacked. Conversely, Marksmanship benefits the least from the small multiplicative value of Ferocious Inspiration and Hunting Party combined.

Implications

This data has a scaling implication. Remember that as we gain upgrades at level cap, agility continues to increase as our primary statistic. As a result, attack power continues to increase. Regardless of how much our attack power increases, however, Ferocious Inspiration continues to provide additional 3 percent damage. This is a linear increase, compared to Trueshot Aura’s exponential increase. With better upgrades, it is likely that the additional 10 percent attack power will provide greater incremental DPS increases, increasing Trueshot Aura’s multiplicative power.

You will see the shift in damage ranking in raid groups with many hunters, such as the case in my weekly classic raids. Suddenly, Beast Mastery hunters start to rise to the top of the charts. In groups with multiple hunters, the issue of synergy will then appear, such as optimizing and maximizing buffs with different pets, etc. That is, however, a topic for another day.


Early Damage Trends in 4.0.6

A new week brings a new set of information and findings for all hunters. Last night, we discovered RaidBots, a versatile alternative to State of DPS in analyzing parses from the World of Logs. What’s the difference between the two?

State of DPS has the unique ability to search for individual players who are within the top 200 parse samples being collected. RaidBots, on the other hand, has a very useful tool that allows you to compare the performance of two different individuals in a boss fight, called Compare Bot. They have different methods of collecting the sample data, but both have ability to select data from different raiding formats: 10-man vs. 25 man, and normal vs. heroic.

Keep in mind that these samples represent the top 200 of each class/talent combination out of 12 million players of the game, so don’t immediately compare your own observations to this data unless you are in one of the top 1% of guilds in the world.

With patch 4.0.6 in full swing for almost a week, let’s take a look at how hunters have performed, courtesy of RaidBots. I specifically chose data from 10-man normal raid environments, which covers the past 14 days up to Sunday, February 13. Here are the results:

As a general rule, DPS will usually trend upward because people get better gear every day. Even taking that into account, you can see Survival hunters are still performing at the top, though their superiority has not improved or worsened. Marksmanship hunters, on the other hand, have seen a dramatic improvement in the raiding scene. Beast Mastery, while seeing modest gains, remains the lowest performer among the three.

We can speculate on these observations:

  • While Survival hunters did see a reduction in the damage output of many of their abilities, their shot rotation has very little ramp-up time, an advantage in fights with target switching. Most Survival shots are damage-over-time effects, which are easier to sustain even if you miss a few. With the fix in Serpent Spread‘s Serpent Sting, Survival AoE attacks remain strong.
  • Despite dramatic improvements in Marksmanship performance, they are likely to perform mediocre in fights which require switching targets. Currently, the use of heavy duty abilities such as Aimed Shot and Chimera Shot means that Marksmanship spends most of its time casting shots and waiting on cooldowns. In between these bursts of damage, we only have Serpent Sting.
  • With Beast Mastery, target switching may also be detrimental to DPS because pets, which contribute a significant percentage of Beast Mastery damage, need travel time. Unlike Marksmanship, Beast Mastery cannot fully maximize output until the pet has reached its appropriate target. These conditions, in addition to the lack of more burst damage, is likely to put Beast Mastery lower than the other two.

As a final note, anticipate future changes, especially with this note from the developers:

  • We are also looking at nerfing Aimed Shot, but compensating hunters through Aspect of the Hawk. (source)

It was expected, especially if I can one-shot level 81 Twilight Dragonkin in Mount Hyjal with my Aimed Shot critical hits.


A Hunter’s 4.0.6 Patch Day

In case you have not heard or figured out from the 8-hour downtime, patch 4.0.6 is being deployed on the live realms this morning. Along with it come some of the first major class changes Ghostcrawler had promised several weeks back. The official notes is quite lengthy to peruse and contains more information than what was already listed in the PTR notes.

Before we go into talent specifics, here are some of the general hunter highlights:

  • Hunters can now use Auto Shot when moving. This is quite a big change in the class mechanic of hunters. One of the “skill” that a hunter often picks up in the course of playing is stutter shooting, learning how to move without clipping Auto Shot. This change now means that hunters have a new skill they must learn: the “aspect dance” between Hawk and Fox.
  • The PvE hunter 4-piece set bonus has been redesigned. It now reduces the cast time of Steady Shot and Cobra Shot by .2 seconds. I assume this change was brought about by the balancing of the talent trees because the original tier 11 4-piece bonus might no longer provide equal bonuses due to some abilities being buffed and others being nerfed. I’m still not certain how (un)impressive this change is as I’ve yet to see a hunter sport the 4-piece bonus.
  • Pets now have 70% of the master’s armor, rather than a different value based on which type of pet they are. Because I am not an expert on pets, I will leave this to others to analyze, though I do find the change interesting. If it has any effect on pet tanking, for those who are interested, I’m sure Big Red Rhino will pick up the story.
  • New meta gems have been added: Agile Shadowspirit Diamond (Agility/3% critical damage), [etc]. These new recipes are unbound and can drop from any Cataclysm creature. The new meta gems have a requirement of 3 red gems equipped. This is quite possibly the new best meta gem for hunters. As far as I know, [Chaotic Shadowspirit Diamond] will have its gem requirement reverted to 3 red gems. The old [Thundering Skyflare Diamond] had been a popular alternative when Chaotic had its previous more blue than red gem requirement.
  • Aspect of the Wild, Aspect of the Hawk, and Aspect of the Fox can now be cast while mounted. This is quite possibly the best change for hunters with regards to mobility since the implementation of swimming ground mounts.
  • It was not confirmed through the PTR realms, but [Dragonkiller Tunic] is getting a gem socket. I’m not certain if [Corded Viper Belt] will as well.

Before yesterday, I had not realized how badly performing the Marksmanship and Beast Mastery trees had been performing, until I discovered State of DPS, which is a sampling of raid performance according to each class talent tree from World of Logs. In my discussion with fellow hunters from the blogosphere and my own testing on the PTR, it seems that the three talent trees are converging quite well in terms of DPS. Bliky of One Man Raid observed that his testing indicated a spread of 1000 DPS among the three trees, which is quite impressive in my opinion. Let’s examine some of the changes that made this possible:

  • Animal Handler now provides a passive 25% bonus to attack power, up from 15%. In addition to the increase in Kill Command damage, this change proves to be the major factor in increasing the Beast Mastery hunter’s DPS. These two changes essentially buff both the hunter and the pet at the same time, enabling them up to match the other two talent trees in terms of viability.
  • Chimera Shot’s overall damage has been increased by roughly 50%. This is a very huge increase numerically, and considering how important this ability is to Marksmanship hunters, it very much improves their DPS output, making them once again the top hunter talent tree by just slightly.
  • Black Arrow and Explosive Shot damage has been reduced by 15%. Many Survival hunters are actually upset by this change because Explosive Shot, as a signature shot for their talent tree, is getting to much of a damage reduction. Unfortunately, on top of the reduction in the passive agility mastery, this brings Survival once again to the bottom among the three trees for the time being.

This patch, however, is not simply about buffing or nerfing a specific tree. In fact, there are changes that have mixed effects for multiple talent trees. In particular, there are two important ability changes:

  • Arcane Shot damage has been increased by 15%. While Arcane Shot has been a strong component to the Beast Mastery and Marksmanship shot rotations for a long time, it is a new optional addition for Survival hunters. It is not unthinkable to speculate that Arcane Shot could help Survival hunters mitigate some of their DPS loss. Arcane Shot has exactly half the focus of Explosive Shot. By testing different ratios of Arcane/Explosive, Survival DPS could possibly improve, especially if [Glyph of Arcane Shot] becomes a more economical choice over [Glyph of Explosive Shot] in 4.0.6. Of course, this will require intensive testing and is subject to debate whether Arcane or Explosive will be the better choice now when Lock and Load is enabled.
  • Kill Shot’s attack power scaling has been increased by 50%.This is a general buff to all trees, especially with Beast Mastery getting an increase in its attack power bonus. This ability is glyphed for all three trees and is a top shot priority at the end of all fights. While this ability cannot be tested on the PTR targeting dummies, it is likely that Marksmanship hunters will pull ahead because of the additional buff from Trueshot Aura. When Kill Shot’s buff is added to the Termination (Rank 2) talent, it makes the final 20% of a boss fight even more critical for Marksmanship hunters.

Contrary to patch 3.0.8, this isn’t really a disaster for hunters. In fact, patch 4.0.6 probably has more goodies for hunters in general rather than nerfs. We are likely to remain near the top, if not at the top, of DPS charts. I am looking forward to how the hunter class will develop from here. I hope you are too.


Hunter Preliminary Assessments

In conjunction with this morning’s realm downtime, it appears Blizzard may be putting on the first touches to balancing the talent trees within individual classes. Let’s see some of Ghostcrawler’s comments regarding where hunters are currently.

  1. We’re happy with damage overall. [...] Still, we see Survival hunters [...] on top of a lot of single target fights. [...] Marksman, and Beastmaster damage is too low.
  2. On fights where there is a lot of area damage, [...] possibly Survival hunters are [...] too high.
  3. We’ll make a pass to make stats that aren’t attractive (but are supposed to be) more attractive. [...] We are considering making some physical attacks such as [...] Steady Shot [...] scale with haste.
  4. As part of the Marks and Beastmaster buffs, we’re buffing Aimed Shot, Kill Shot, Chimera Shot, and Kill Command.

It’s great that Blizzard developers are following the statistics of Survival Superiority (awesome alliteration, yes?) among the talents. They are adapting more quickly to new patterns in Cataclysm than they were in Burning Crusade and Wrath. This is even more encouraging with the fact that they are actually monitoring the data internally rather than conducting reactionary changes based on players’ complaints. The second note is actually a curious one because Blizzard seems unsure about the level of Survival area damage considering the word “possibly”, which indicates it may or may not change.

Haste is still a funky statistic to play around with and uses a very difficult mathematical formula. It is not easy to simply buff or nerf it, as I’m sure it must be balanced with the effects of weapon speed and every other piece of gear containing a Haste statistic. Since the removal of Auto Shot clipping, it has become more and more vital to have at least Haste in your gear. If Steady Shot is buffed with haste, it will become more imperative that Improved Steady Shot and abilities such as Rapid Fire are in effect as much as possible. Will this shift the focus of statistics toward Haste and away from something else?

\mbox{Attack Speed} = \frac{\mbox{Weapon Speed}}{\displaystyle  \prod_{m} (1 + \mbox{Haste Percent}_m)} \times \frac{\displaystyle  1}{\displaystyle 1 + \frac{\sum_{n} \mbox{Haste Rating}_n}{3279}}

Haste formula for level 80

Finally, Aimed Shot is an interesting shot to buff because I still have not seen it being used that often, unless something changed in the time I was gone. The only time I’ve used this is when Master Marksman is in effect, and even that doesn’t happen very often nowadays.

These changes are actually somewhat encouraging for hunters as there is no indication that the Survival Superiority will be lowered. Instead, the other talent trees are being brought up to par. I guess I will save my recently obtained Ghostcrawler-lookalike [Strand Crawler] from my frustrations with the Blizzard nerf bat.


Change Is in the Air

While the United States is draped with a message of change and hope on this day, change also appears to be coming to the hunter community. Announcement of an extended maintenance has led many to believe that today is indeed the day for Patch 3.0.8.

In what has been called the “Great Hunter Nerf of 2008″, playing a hunter will no longer be the same should the patch hit the servers. Here are a few highlights of the most updated patch notes:

Steady Shot: Now gains 10% of attack power as damage instead of 20%.
Arcane Shot: Mana cost lowered to match the cost of Steady Shot.
Ferocious Inspiration: This talent now also increase the damage the Hunter does with Arcane Shot by 3/6/9%.

This sequence of changes is part of the core changes designed to balance the three talent trees a bit more. By reducing the damage bonus of Steady Shot, which is the core of a Beast Mastery rotation, it makes Arcane Shot slightly more attractive due to the reduced mana cost. Although it remains to be seen how much this will impact how shot rotations are designed, it certainly is something worth further studies.

Lock and Load: Now has a 30 second cooldown.

This is an interesting change. Because Lock and Load currently triggers from the periodic damage of Serpent Sting, Blizzard implemented the cooldown to make the talent conform more with the cooldown period of traps. (See Lienna’s thoughts of the periodic damage proc.) What I’m interested on finding out is if bonuses such as one from the Beast Lord Armor could (or should) reduce the cooldown on this talent as well. With this change, I see this talent more useful for long boss fights rather than for regular battles.

Rake: This hunter pet ability has had its damage adjusted to prevent unreasonable scaling with attack power.
Scorpid Poison: No longer stacks. The damage has been adjusted to prevent unreasonable scaling with attack power.

An unfortunate change for Marksmanship hunters, cats and scorpids were still considered two of the top pet choices after the entire pet skill system was redesigned. By adjusting the attack power scaling of these two pets, Marksmanship hunters no longer gain a great advantage from using them in fights. Somehow this change reminds me of Znodis’ old prognostication that “[s]ome new mechanic will cause one and only one pet ability to be overpowered”, except in this case it is two pet abilities.

All Silence spells now have diminishing returns. This includes: Arcane Torrent, Garrote silence effect, Improved Counterspell effect, Improved Kick effect, Silence, Gag Order, Silencing Shot, Spell Lock, and Strangulate.

Unfortunately, this change will make the ability a bit more lackluster than before. It will slowly lose appeal before finally deemed unnecessary in a Marksmanship talent build. When it comes to that day, it will be a sad and quiet end for the old 41-point talent.

Although the changes we see in the horizon may not be at all positive, we hunters have always adapted and excelled. It is what makes us that much better because we are under constant attack, yet we continue to shine despite everything that has been thrown at us. There is still hope for us yet.


Branching Off: Talents Outside Marksmanship

Let’s say that you’ve chosen your talents for the Marksmanship tree and you’ve gotten a good combination of talents. Assuming you’ve managed to get the bare bones of Marksmanship and used up only 51 or 52 talent points, where do you go next? Both of the other trees present good options.

The lists below determine your build progression: what talents are prioritized before moving on to the next. If you have used more than 51 or 52 talent points in Marksmanship, this will help you determine which outside talents should be prioritized in your full build. Any spare talent point you may have can be used at your discretion, though it should usually be put back in the Marksmanship tree.

Beast Mastery (16 or 18)

Going deep into Beast Mastery presents several options. Selecting this method presents two options for talents to aim for: Unleashed Fury and Improved Mend Pet. On top of Aspect Mastery, you are more likely to see your damage output increase if you perform well in pet management. An important note to remember though is that the incremental damage bonus of Unleashed Fury will be reduced by 1% each talent point in patch 3.0.8, so your pet will be doing 15% more instead of 20% damage as it does in 3.0.3.

If you find that you don’t want Improved Mend Pet, redistribute those points into the Marksmanship tree. This talent is useful when a raid boss inflicts an impairing debuff on your pet. You don’t want to bother healers and dispellers to cure your pet when other raid members are their primary focus.

  • 5/5 Improved Aspect of the Hawk
  • 2/2 Focused Fire
  • 2/2 Improved Revive Pet
  • 1/5 Endurance Training
  • 1/1 Aspect Mastery
  • 5/5 Unleashed Fury
  • (2/2 Improved Mend Pet)

Beast Mastery (11) / Survival (7)

This hybrid brings two important talents: Aspect Mastery and Survival Instincts. The attack power bonus (for Hawk and Dragonhawk) and reduced damage penalty (when using Viper) ensure that you are maximizing your personal damage output. Survival Instincts’ critical strike bonus is a tremendous boost in damage, and its reduced damage taken bonus can last you longer in healer-intensive raids. In truth, there is no room for negotiation in this hybrid. Any change in these talents will compromise your damage output.

For the Beasty Mastery side, take these talents:

  • 5/5 Improved Aspect of the Hawk
  • 2/2 Focused Fire
  • 2/2 Improved Revive Pet
  • 1/5 Endurance Training
  • 1/1 Aspect Mastery

For the Survival side, pick up:

  • 5/5 Improved Tracking
  • 2/2 Survival Instincts

Beast Mastery (7) / Survival (11)

The Survival-heavy variant of the hybrid is useful for those who enjoy PvP. However, that is not the only condition for this build. Scatter Shot is useful in surviving close calls where a hunter has a tendency to pull aggro off the tank or if there are loose mobs running around the raid. There are many instances where we can get immobilized by the raid boss or other mobs, but Surefooted can remedy that somewhat.

For the Beasty Mastery side, take these key talents:

  • 5/5 Improved Aspect of the Hawk
  • 2/2 Focused Fire

For the Survival side, pick up:

  • 5/5 Improved Tracking
  • 2/2 Survival Instincts
  • 3/3 Entrapment; or 3/3 Surefooted
  • 1/1 Scatter Shot

Survival (18 or 19)

The talent to aim for in this option is Lock and Load. Considering we have Serpent Sting up almost all the time, this talent is worth taking. If you are reluctant on using traps to trigger the effect, Frost Trap is always an option since you’re not dealing damage and don’t take the risk of messing up a fight. In this build, Scatter Shot itself is optional.

  • 5/5 Improved Tracking
  • 2/2 Survival Instincts
  • 3/3 Entrapment; or 3/3 Surefooted
  • (1/1 Scatter Shot)
  • 5/5 Survivalist
  • 3/3 Lock and Load

Analysis of A Nerf

Approximately 2 hours ago, the hunter community was caught off-guard by Ghostcrawler’s announcement that “[h]unters of all specs…are doing too much damage in PvE”.

What concerns me is not that a nerf actually came. If anything, I’m surprised that the nerf came this early on in the expansion. Could this be a sign that Blizzard was not ready to release Wrath after all? The developers are saying that they had “hoped other classes would be able to catch up [to hunters] in a way they have as yet been unable to do”. This statement essentially means that they had not extensively tested the class balancing in endgame content.

This announcement is among the many problems that have been plaguing Wrath. The nerf, on top of the fact that Trap Mastery was not tuned by launch, leaves all the hunter talent trees in shambles.

Even pets were not left alone in this mess. How many times have pets been tuned since Patch 3.0 was first released? With all the effort they put into pet balancing with talent trees and , they are still nerfing Rake and Scorpid Poison. This means the pets were not balanced in the first place.

Most of the changes have been made to affect Beast Mastery hunters the most, but with the changes not live and are still being developed in the Public Test Realm, there is no way to know if the developers will implement further changes to all talent trees. I only fear the morale of hunters after this.


How To Out-DPS Beast Masters

…for 15 seconds. (Sorry, I got you excited didn’t I? I know. I wish there were no conditionals.)

Activate [Bloodlust Brooch] (or any attack power trinket).

Activate Rapid Fire.

Go into a 3:2 Steady/Auto rotation.

I totally out-DPS’d everyone by a long shot last night at Archimonde before we wiped.

With high ranged attack power, you’re bound to generate fast, hard-hitting damage and generate a lot of threat. And if you get [Shattered Sun Pendant of Might] to proc its Aldor effect, more power to you!

Unfortunately, these two items have cooldown timers of different lengths. Otherwise we could go crazy with our DPS for 15 seconds every 2 minutes. But still, use this often. It can reduce your mana usage slightly to give it time to regenerate during those long fights.


BM Pets for Any Occasion

Boomstik here! I know it’s been a while since my last post and that I’m not doing a great job splitting writing responsibilities with Loronar (finally got my epic mount and exalted SSO!), but today I’ll write a post that I’m sure all of you hunters are experienced with (especially if you read a certain site, like you should). Pets!

This post is based largely off of a comment from one of Loronar’s posts. Also, Loronar wants to talk about MM pets, so I’ll try to let him do that.  Here, I’ll describe pets for BM hunters, given whatever situation.

Max DPS:

There are really only 3 pet families (unfortunately) that give the highest DPS. Cat, Raptor, and Ravager. All three can eat meat, with Raptors being the most picky (only meat). Pros and Cons of those 3? Well, Raptors arguably look coolest. Who didn’t want a dinosaur pet growing up? Unfortunately, it’s got the least amount of learnable skills. Cats can learn Prowl, which increases their initial attack against a mob. Quite handy when trying to build up aggro or just increasing overall damage. They also have the least punishment towards their HP. However, they have the lowest armor rating of the three, which isn’t a big deal for pure DPS, but not that handy when trying to momentarily hold aggro (eg, saving a squishy til the tank gets there). Lastly, there are the Ravagers. Personally, I use a green one. They learn Gore, which has a 50% chance to do double damage, potentially increasing their damage output over the other three. Cons? They have the least amount of HP and are kinda funky looking.

Some people use Windserpents since their Focus Dump, Lightning Breath, is Nature based and ignores physical defense. I don’t crit enough for my pet to get enough Focus and I’m not really at the point where LB outweighs Gore, but it’s an option for you!

PVP:

I don’t PVP. At all. I, personally, considered it a waste of time and ammo since I’d rather see Blizzard’s content then shoot at players. At least until I saw the S4 gear, whoo boy, that stuff is spicy. But, if I DID PVP, you’d bet I’d have a Scorpid for a pet. Sure, Birds, Owls, and Carrion Birds are big and bulky and interfere with targeting, but Scorpids have a stacking poison that must be Cleansed before your Viper Sting can be cleansed.

Tanking:

You may be wondering why there’s a tanking section, seeing as how our pets aren’t that great at tanking. Well, I would personally like to see pets being able to decently tank in Wrath as one of the Pet Talent Trees. In hopeful preparation, I’ll say that I like Boars, Bears, Bats, Owls, and Carrion Birds. Boars because of Gore and Charge (even though Charge was nerfed); these skills should help it get large initial aggro and hold onto it. Bears are good because of unpicky diet (Bread, Cheese, Fruit, Fish, Fungus, AND Meat? Don’t bring em to a buffet!) and because of the fairly high armor and HP values. Lastly, Bats, Owls, and Carrion Birds all have a pet version of Demo Shout! How cool is that? Works pretty well too! Did you see this video? Or this one? You can’t do those things anymore, but the Screech (Demo Shout) was probably crucial.

But in the end, your pet should kinda make a statement about you too. You’re going to be with it for a long time! And you’re supposed to lovingly name it! Plus you get 3 stable slots…which admittedly isn’t enough…even I want like 6 pets. So I recommend getting a DPS pet for raids, but look at Petopia and really find one you want hanging around with you. I did that and I love Bigwhitebar and Imaspikyroar. They love me back right guys?

*two angry growls*

….AAAAAaaaaanyway, what pets do y’all have and why?


Pet Hit: Woes of A Marksman

If you’ve ever noticed your combat log when you press that Kill Command button, you’d be frustrated to see that sometimes the spell goes to waste when it says

Vornskr’s Kill Command misses Coilfang Tempest.

Your pet’s hit is calculated the same way your hit is calculated.

v. Level 70 — 5.0% Chance to Miss
v. Level 71 — 5.5% Chance to Miss
v. Level 72 — 6.0% Chance to Miss
v. Level 73 — 9.0% Chance to Miss

So in a raid, your pet would miss nearly 9% of its attacks (see note in theorycrafting section about the meaning of percentage values). This is one of the contributing reasons as to why marksmanship hunters may have a lower overall DPS than a beast mastery hunter.

But why would that happen? You may remember that pet attack power is supposed to scale with the hunter’s ranged attack power. Given that marksmen on average have more ranged attack power, shouldn’t our pets be doing more base damage than beast master pets? What does a beast master have that marksmen don’t? The answer is Animal Handler. Ignore the mount speed increase. Animal Handler Rank 2 increases your pet’s hit by 4%, so against level 70 mobs, the chance of misses your pet will make decreases by 80%. Against raid bosses, your pet’s miss chances decrease by 44%.

That is not all. Say you’re a Night Elf or Dwarf marksmanship hunter, and there’s a Draenei hunter. Draenei hunters have a racial ability called Heroic Presence, increasing Hit by 1% to all party members, including your pet. Clearly, if both of you go against the same level 70 mob, your pet will miss 5% of its attacks, and the Draenei’s pet will not miss any (if they have Animal Handler specced in the tree).

Take that into a raid environment. Another method in which your pet’s hit can improve is through a balance druid’s talents in Improved Faerie Fire. Improved Faerie Fire Rank 3 will grant 3% hit to your pet if the druid is in your party.

Put yourself, the Draenei, and the druid in a party together. Your pet will gain the advantage of Heroic Presence and Improved Faerie Fire and have a reduced chance to miss of 5.0%. The Draenei hunter’s pet, on the other hand, has the advantage of Animal Handler on top of that. With this talent active, that pet will only have a chance to miss of 1.0%. The number of misses is one-fifth that of your pet’s. Talk about unfair.

So how can we try to remedy this? Remember that your pet’s attack power scales with your ranged attack power. Our only solution is to blow the beast master away with a greater ranged attack power. This is why we have Trueshot Aura. It sounds silly, but that is the balance that has been put into place. Our pets hit less for more each time, while beast master pets hit more often for less.

If Animal Handler were placed in the lower tiers of the beast mastery tree (requiring less than 25 points in the tree), we’d be overpowered.


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