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Marksmanship

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.


Survival’s Silent Comeback

It probably says something when six of the top ten Alliance hunters on my realm is raiding as Survival over Marksmanship. Here is how the rankings look as of this morning.

WoW Heroes is a quick way to check realm rankings because it can quickly parse guild rosters according to specific classes, so all I needed to do was update the hunter rosters of the Alliance guilds that have entered Dragon Soul on Eredar by cross-checking with WoW Progress.

Incidentally, I am ranked 22nd as of this posting as Survival. The first Beast Mastery hunter appears in 26th place. This is a marked difference compared to just a few months ago when as many as nine out of ten were Marksmanship.

RaidBots is reporting as of this morning that in the top 100 normal 25-man combat log parses, Survival median DPS is dead even with Marksmanship at just over 35,000. Although 25-man raiding is where groundbreaking progression is usually made, one should not ignore 10-man raiding data. RaidBots reports that in the top 100 normal 10-man combat log parses, Survival median DPS exceeds Marksmanship by over 1,000 — at 30,000 to 28,800. Beast Mastery median DPS rounds out the normal 25-man data at 30,600 and 27,300 at normal 10-man.

But reading numbers don’t really mean anything. What conclusion can we draw from this?

The most important factor for a certain class/specialization combination to appear on these DPS aggregators is raid representation. If there are more people playing these specific combinations in the top 100 parses, the more accurate the sample will be and the higher that combination will place on the DPS rankings. RaidBots tells us just how accurate the sample representation is for these combinations.

At normal 25-man, Marksmanship appears in 1,068 samples; Survival appears in 986 samples; and Beast Mastery in 854 samples.

At normal 10-man, Marksmanship appears in 1,095 samples; Survival appears in 1,064 samples; and Beast Mastery in 881 samples.

Upon brief inspection of the ratio of samples for the respective raid compositions, one can estimate that Survival hunters are more likely to raid in 10-man rather than 25-man, even if only slightly. The increased representation of Survival hunters in 10-man raiding means they are also receiving more upgrades, pushing Survival median DPS higher and allowing it to exceed over Marksmanship.

Of course, there are still more people raiding as Marksmanship as can be seen from the sample sizes I previously mentioned. Why is Marksmanship median DPS not higher then?

The answer is because more top hunters are raiding as Survival over Marksmanship. For example, the Eredar realm ranking I initially posted in the beginning of this entry may not represent the entirety of the situation, and Marksmanship could still represent 60 percent of the population. But if the cream of the crop and those on the groundbreaking edge of progression are using Survival, its median DPS will skew toward a higher value.

Marksmanship may still exceed Survival DPS in theory according to ideal simulations, but live data show otherwise because of players’ behavior.


The Bombardment Mess

On Tuesday, Blizzard reverted one change that had snuck into patch 4.3 without much notice from the hunter community.

Reverted a bug fix that caused Bombardment to be consumed by the next Multi-Shot. Fixing this bug proved to be a significant dps loss, so Bombardment once again lasts for its full 6 second duration regardless of the number of Multi-Shot casts. The tooltip will be updated in a future patch to reflect that this change is intended.

Why did this happen? Last Thursday, some time after the official patch, Blizzard snuck this addition onto the patch notes.

Bombardment now only affects the next Multi-shot cast.

If you don’t remember, Bombardment is a fourth-tier Marksmanship talent that reduces the focus cost of the next Multi-Shot by 50 percent when you critically hit with Multi-Shot. It sounds pretty straightforward right? Well, not quite.

Judging by the wording on the initial change in the 4.3 patch notes, the developers had not foreseen the current usage of Bombardment, where Marksmanship hunters would blow all their focus with sequential Multi-Shots, regenerate it with Steady Shot, and then repeat the process.

If one were to logically read the tooltip for Bombardment, it would be assumed that every Multi-Shot has a chance to proc the Bombardment effect. This meant that if it were to proc consecutively, one could fit in four Multi-Shots before depleting all 100 focus.

Multi-Shot (original, 40 focus)
Multi-Shot (Bombardment proc, 20 focus)
Multi-Shot (Bombardment proc, 20 focus)
Multi-Shot (Bombardment proc, 20 focus)

Apparently this was not Blizzard’s intention. They did not intend on allowing the reduced-focus Multi-Shot to proc Bombardment, meaning one could only fit in three Multi-Shots at maximum.

Multi-Shot (original, 40 focus)
Multi-Shot (Bombardment proc, 20 focus)
Multi-Shot (original reset, 40 focus)

Upon initial inspection, one would think this reduces DPS. Well, it did, so the change was reverted.

But the confusion doesn’t end there. Why mention a six-second duration? There was no indication whatsoever that Bombardment has such a duration. Although I don’t have a definite answer since I have been unable to test this, I have one speculation.

Under extreme haste conditions, one may be able to fit in as many as five Multi-Shots in a row because by the time you consume 100 focus for the initial four shots, you will have regained another 20 while under haste. Bombardment procs when Multi-Shot hits its targets, which is typically at the end of the first global cooldown. Spamming four more Multi-Shots that are all affected by Bombardment uses four 1.5-second global cooldowns, which total up to six seconds. This is the maximum duration of Bombardment because you would have to regain focus again after it is depleted by using Steady Shot.

Bombardment remains one of the least studied abilities of Marksmanship hunters, and there isn’t much data available on it at the moment. However, I don’t think this will be the last time we see its effect come into discussion because the ability will also feature as a Marksmanship passive ability in Mists of Pandaria as well.


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.


Patch 4.2: Small Changes, Big Impact

Here we are, 9 weeks after the last content update. Patch 4.2 is rolling out on the live realms as we speak. For hunters, our changes are actually limited compared to several other classes. Sometimes I’m surprised that every major patch, the mechanics of other classes seem to change so much that I can never keep up with the latest play style. For hunters however, we usually get a few changes, yet these changes make such a big impact in the way we play.

(Hey, at the very least, hunter challenges have returned, for pet taming that is. This brings back the spirit of classic World of Warcraft when hunters would go on an epic quest across the world to assemble powerful weapons. Petopia has the latest.)

Let’s give some examples.

Crowd Control

Many crowd control abilities no longer cause creatures to attack players when they are cast. The creature will not attack the player when the crowd control wears off, and nearby creatures will not become hostile to the player either. However, if a visible player gets too close to the target creature, the creature will remember and attack the player when the crowd control effect wears off. The intent is to make it easier for dungeon groups to manage crowd control assignments and pulling packs of hostile NPCs. The abilities affected by this change are: [...] Wyvern Sting (will still cause hostility when it begins to deal damage), Freezing Trap [...].

Misdirecting to a tank prior to trap-pulling has become second nature for quite some time, to the point that I’ve become very efficient with it. Even with the simple removal of aggro, old habits die hard. It’s likely that I will find myself continue to misdirect to the tank prior to placing a trap. After all, not all our traps are for crowd control. I find myself using Explosive Trap lately for speedier runs through the Troll heroic dungeons.

Pet Behavior

The Aggressive pet stance has been removed and replaced with the Assist stance. This stance will cause the player’s pet to attack the player’s target. The pet will not change targets unless the master attacks a new target for a few seconds.

The Defensive pet stance will now only cause the player’s pet to attack enemies which attack the pet or the master.

Stances remain confusing. The change may seem simple, but this will initially cause some confusion among inexperienced hunters. I imagine during the first few hours of the patch going live, every hunter will have to get used to these new stances. The old descriptions sounded much clearer.

Numbers, numbers, numbers

Careful Aim now grants additional critical strike chance against targets over 90% health, up from 80% health.

Black Arrow damage done has been increased by roughly 40%.

On the surface, these are merely numerical changes, yet they make all the difference. Careful Aim, which has been the sole reason the current Marksmanship shot rotation is designed the way it is, gets a significant beating. On the other hand, a simple numerical change to Black Arrow makes it more powerful. Hopefully,  it will also bring Survival back near the top of the charts.

Multi-shot damage has been reduced. It now deals 120% weapon damage at level 80 or higher, down from 137%.

Multi Shot, however, will probably go down in history as the ability with a series of indecisive changes that seemed like a trial-and-error work-in-progress. Hunter area damage has not been consistent at all in this expansion.

Patch 4.2 Roundup

And since tier 11 content has not been kind to me with regards to a ranged weapon, it’s time for me to stop being bitter and move on to the [Extreme-Impact Hole Puncher].


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.


More on Aimed Shot

Aimed Shot: Ability - Marksmanship TalentAs theorycrafters and curious players begin to look more into Aimed Shot over the last few days, there have been several points of information that came out.

  • There is a 0.5-second hidden cast time to Aimed Shot. We never noticed this before because we didn’t use it much. Prior to patch, the tooltip says 3.5-second cast, haste unaccounted. Today, it reads 2.9-second cast, haste unaccounted. It seems to be working as intended, however, as the patch notes says the base cast time was reduced.
  • Aimed Shot resets the Auto Shot timer. Contrary to what some may believe, this never changed since the days Steady Shot clipped Auto Shot. This actually makes stacking haste a more popular option for Marksmanship now to avoid losing Auto Shot DPS.
  • Keep your glyphs in mind. If you are using the new rotation with Aimed Shot, don’t forget to change your Arcane Shot glyph to Aimed Shot. Additionally, because haste is now attractive, [Glyph of Rapid Fire] seems to have a slight edge over [Glyph of Chimera Shot].
  • Additionally, there is unconfirmed speculation that the known Aimed Shot formula involving ranged attack power has changed.

Bloggers have also made several more analysis on the new Aimed Shot:

  • Drotara at Less QQ, More PewPew has a more in-depth analysis on how boss armor can mitigate Aimed Shot’s physical damage, regardless of how awesome it is, and he reminds us that hunter abilities right now are very buggy.
  • Gavendo at Rapid Fire points out several flaws in hard casting Aimed Shot, also regardless of how awesome it is.
  • Frostheim at Warcraft Hunters Union highlights some points to consider when using Aimed Shot.
  • Megapull at Emerald Sanctuary made some preliminary observations comparing the new Marksmanship and the new Beast Mastery.

I know Elitist Jerks walls of text may seem a bit unwieldy, but the Marksmanship thread has some valuable information if you can navigate through the calculations.

On an unrelated note, my Armory links are updated on the sidebar with custom class icons. The links were lost in the midst of our redesign before winter.


The Return of Aimed Shot

Once the hallmark of the Marksmanship shot rotation in the pre-expansion era, Aimed Shot makes a grand return in Cataclysm with the new patch thanks to this change:

  • Aimed Shot weapon damage has been increased to 200%, up from 150%. In addition, the base cast time has been reduced to 2.4 seconds, down from 3.

Blizzard has done a fine job in giving the ability a grand return as the signature shot of Marksmanship hunters. What this update has done is replace all uses of Arcane Shot in the Marksmanship rotation with Aimed Shot. Hard casting the ability now creates a very viable rotation since implementing the 0.6-second reduction of its cast time.

Assuming 10,000 ranged attack power and 1,500 average ranged weapon damage, this is the base damage of Aimed Shot in its current state:

(2*1,500)+[(10,000*0.724)+776]=11,016

Aimed Shot in this new patch replaces the dual firing of Arcane Shot in the Marksmanship shot rotation. The current base damage of two Arcane Shots is:

2*\{1,500+[(10,000*0.0483)+289]\}=4,544

Though you can see that Aimed Shot can easily outshine two Arcane Shots, you might wonder why it was not used before. The reason is the long cast time. Now that the cast time has been reduced, it marginally spends the same amount of time as firing two global cooldowns with the instant Arcane Shots. The new shot rotation priority for 4.0.6, therefore, is:

Serpent Sting » [ Kill Shot » Chimera Shot » 2 Steady Shots » Aimed Shot ]

Of course, if Master Marksman triggers, always fire that extra Aimed Shot.

Finally, with this change in shot priority, Marksmanship hunters will especially benefit from the Careful Aim (Rank 2) talent because both Steady Shot and Aimed Shot are affected by it. This talent provides a significant critical strike boost to your shots. When fighting a boss, simply fire 2 Steady Shots and an Aimed Shot as your rotation for the first 20% of the fight. There is no need, however, to do this with normal and trash mobs because 20% often goes by quickly.

As an example, this is the result of my recent fight against Lord Godfrey in Heroic Shadowfang Keep, where I pulled 17,000 DPS:

Recount Detail Window - Lord Godfrey


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.


The Improved Improved Hunter’s Mark

Continuing with our series of research topics on talents that were redesigned with Wrath of the Lich King, today we talk about Improved Hunter’s Mark.

During Burning Crusade, Improved Hunter’s Mark was placed in the same talent tier as Efficiency, and the pros and cons of using either one became a topic of discussion. However, the new expansion has changed the placement of Improved Hunter’s Mark into a lower tier talent and redesigned its function from scratch.

Did you ever notice that before Wrath was released, the last time we received an upgrade for Hunter’s Mark was at level 58? I had even missed this fact myself. Burning Crusade did not have a Hunter’s Mark (Rank 5). It came with Wrath. This is a shame because it could mean that the ability was highly underpowered in the first expansion. But would an extra rank of Hunter’s Mark during Burning Crusade have made the original Improved Hunter’s Mark any more attractive?

Causes 20/40/60/80/100% of your Hunter’s Mark ability’s base attack power to apply to melee attack power as well.

That was the description of the original talent. It was a five-point talent that was competing with Efficiency for utility. The mechanics of this incarnation of the talent was discussed in the link I provided earlier.
(more…)


Search Engines (and Swimming Mounts) Are Your Friend

How else would you be able to discover new World of Warcraft blogs and find the wealth of information available at your fingertips? Here’s a look at some of the latest searches that have led readers to our blog.

“35 yards out”

Why, yes. You have indeed found the right place.

“wow can i tame an exotic beast then space marksman”

I believe you meant spec Marksmanship. As far as I know, yes, but you will not be able to take that exotic beast out of the stable once you have spec’d out of the 51-point Beast Mastery talent. Perhaps you would like to consider this if you are a Marksmanship hunter who has his or her sights on Loque’nahak.

“trueshot aura or ferocious inspiration”

Even in Wrath, this choice is sometimes still a matter of raid composition and need. Trueshot Aura has been promoted to a raid-wide and scaling buff, but it still does not stack. Ferocious Inspiration, on the other hand, is still a stacking buff, so you can have as many Beast Mastery hunters as you’d like providing damage bonus. On the other hand, having more than one Marksmanship hunter in your raid does not add any significant contribution to the overall raid. If you are prepared to provide your raid with the benefit of Trueshot Aura, don’t hesitate from doing so. You may find that you like the Marksmanship tree as well.

“hunter dragonhawk viper macro”

Such a macro is actually very simple. For example, you can use this one-line macro:

/cast [button:2] Aspect of the Viper; Aspect of the Dragonhawk

Right-click on a mouse will provide you with Viper, and left-click provides Dragonhawk. There are, of course, other variations of this macro.

“improved hunter’s mark 3/3 level 80″

It appears you have read into my mind, dear reader. A research post is in the works and will be released sometime next week on this topic. Like my previous research into Aspect of the Dragonhawk and Trueshot Aura, this one promises insight into the new mechanics of Improved Hunter’s Mark. Be patient, and you will soon find the fruit of your search.

“marksmanship hunter glyphs”

My personal choices would be Glyph of Arcane Shot, Glyph of Hunter’s Mark, and Glyph of Steady Shot for major glyphs. The only minor glyphs that have some value are Glyph of Mend Pet, Glyph of Feigh Death, and Glyph of Revive Pet. In truth, most of the minor glyphs are quite lackluster, but these three provide survivability.

“can 5 level 80 do serpentshrine cavern”

I don’t know, but you’re certainly welcome to try be the first ones. Let me know when you do, so I can break the story.

“very first chuck norris joke”

I was baffled at how this search could end up here. It turns out this exact phrase was uttered by Euripedes in a comment to my post about memories (though in a slightly different context). I’m not sure how I should respond to this find.

I also found something I must have missed that was announced at BlizzCon: swimming mounts in Patch 3.1.

You want to know why that is one of the most exciting changes, in my opinion, for hunters? You see, pets on defensive have a tendency to engage enemies you may have accidentally or unintentionally aggro’d while running on your mount. As you get away from water, you are now in combat and can’t simply mount up again without having to kill that which you have aggro’d (or run from it until your pet despawns or the mob disengages).

Forget 3.0.8 and its problems. I want to see 3.1 goodies!


20 Questions with Feanoro of Not Quite Immortal

In this special feature, we had the privilege of interviewing Feanoro of Not Quite Immortal, the top-ranked guild on US-Silver Hand. We first met Feanoro through his blog Trueshot Aura last July. He is an active raider and participated in realm-first kills of Wrath of the Lich King raid bosses as a Marksmanship hunter. We’ll let him tell the rest in his own words.

First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Feanoro, a Marksman raiding hunter on Silver Hand. I’ve been through all the raid content for classic and BC, and, barring any disasters, I should see all the content Wrath will offer us.

What brought you to World of Warcraft?

Originally, I came in on a guest pass from a friend on Silver Hand, Leonius. I’d completed plenty of other Blizzard titles before… all the Warcraft series, of course, Diablo 1 and 2, a little Starcraft… but I have to admit, I was concerned WoW would be following EverQuest‘s “grind or die” philosophy. In retrospect, I should’ve had a bit more faith in Blizzard, but it can’t be helped. I’m here now, and enjoying every minute.

What made you choose to play a Marksmanship hunter?

I chose a Hunter because I’ve found I prefer ranged combat, scouting, and pulling in fantasy games. I prefer Marksman spec because it brings a balance of high personal damage and utility, which is my preference.

I know your focus has primarily been PvE raiding. Do you find time to PvP?

Very occasionally, but by choice rather than time limitations. I’m not going to give a rendition of “Woe Is Me, A Hunter in PVP” but I do think we could use some work in that area. Also, unless going with friends or guild, I just don’t enjoy it that much. Personal preference, really.

What’s your take on the current state of Marksmanship hunters?

After the debacle of BC and hunter damage being based on working around mechanics no one will argue were broken, the class and MM in particular have gotten a nice shot in the arm. While you could push MM to do decently in BC, it was sadly impossible to equal BM numbers, due to Serpent’s Swiftness proving that linked Auto Shots and specials was a poor design. Right now, the trees are a bit uneven, despite Blizzard’s stated goal to encourage pure dps to spec for their preference, but the 3.0.8 patch will correct that a bit, I think. MM specifically will be requiring a bit more cooldown watching and timing, but I feel that MM has always been about a variety of shots and a more complex rotation.

If there is one thing about hunters you could change, what would it be?

What to change? The entire pet system, and subsequently the Beast Mastery tree. As it stands, a not insignificant amount of our damage is based on the assumption our pets are alive and attacking. As we all know, there are many times when it’s difficult to have our pets attacking (and in some cases, alive!) the entire fight, artificially limiting our dps. This is worst for BM, as many of their talents boost only the pet. Blizzard has made some baby steps towards correcting this with spells like Ferocity’s Bloodthirsty talent, but there’s much more to be done. I’d like to see pets remade to be a bit more like Death Knight pets, where being unable to use your pet isn’t quite so harshly penalized. Further, I’d like to see talents more modestly improve the pet but also the Hunter. This is not to say I think we should be able to go without our pets, only there’s plenty of room for improvement.

How long have you been with Not Quite Immortal? Do you hold any key positions?

I’ve been with NQI since early 2007, about when we started killing Gruul, and currently am honored to hold an officer’s position. Among other things, I work with our hunters and tanks to ensure smooth boss pulls and steady chain pulling on trash, as well as working with people to improve their dps.

Silver Hand is an RP server. Is a raiding guild any different in an RP server than in any other server?

Well, we don’t call raid directions in iambic pentameter if that’s what you mean. We don’t actively encourage or discourage RP among our members, and many at the very least have established personality traits for their mains. During raids, we joke about such, and turn it into a motivator on farm content or something to relieve any stress. For example, a running joke back in Sunwell that we used to keep up our pace was Feanoro despising Blood Elves and wanting to keep moving to slaughter more of them.

Describe a typical NQI raid night for us.

We joke and kid around on vent, but overall, NQI doesn’t screw around in raids. We keep up a steady, fast (but not rushed) pace, and pride ourselves on high dps, with friendly contests to push each other to improve.

Where is NQI now in raiding?

I’m pleased to say NQI has cleared all the current 10- and 25-man content, our latest kill being Sartharion with three drakes. It’s a good challenging encounter without being twitchy like say Eredar Twins, testing your ability to control a fight while not being a hard gear check.

You’ve mentioned to me that you entered Naxxramas when it still hovered in Eastern Plaguelands. How is it different now from the one you remember before Burning Crusade?

One major difference is the overall tuning of the place. Naxx was the pinnacle of classic raiding, and, in many ways, Blizzard’s answer to raiders stacking every buff they could possibly find in that the place practically required all those buffs. Compared to other classic raids, Naxx was a huge step up in the amount of coordination and discipline a raid needed to succeed. However, most serious raid groups are now used to encounters at those levels, and Blizzard has thankfully greatly reformed the buff systems. Combined with very slight nerfs (Heigen’s poison splash doesn’t one-shot, tanks do not need to perfectly position themselves for phase one of Thaddius) and of course everyone’s previous familiarity with the fights, the new Naxx isn’t a pushover, but it’s certainly not difficult.

What has been the most memorable moment from playing World of Warcraft?

Well, although it’ll sound like bragging, the most memorable point has to be earning my Rhok’delar back in classic WoW. That event was incredible, and gave a real sense of accomplishment. Many of the old school hunters, myself included, wish Blizzard would revive the idea of class quests like that one.

Do you have any plans to go back to blogging? I’m sure some people would like to see the perspective of an experienced Marksmanship hunter on the cutting edge of raiding.

In all honesty, ceasing to blog was a combination of real life being busy and my being a tad lazy towards it. I do plan to start again, perhaps with small pieces, to get myself in the habit of semi-regular writing. One idea I’ve had is to talk about each of the current content’s bosses from the Hunter’s perspective, to avoid limiting myself just to theorycraft and mechanics discussion.

Favorite hunter ability?

As of Wrath, I definitely have to say Chimera Shot. I love the versatility it offers as well as the punch it packs, especially if Improved Steady Shot is up.

Is Hemet Nesingwary evil?

Evil, no. A bit crazy, but what Dwarf isn’t? I think the best word for him is “enthusiastic”.

Bow, gun, or crossbow?

Ideally a bow, since the gun sound slowly drives me insane.

Have you ever met Pike of Aspect of the Hare (Tawyn on Silver Hand)?

I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure, but I’d certainly welcome such a meeting.

Favorite quote?

“First know your class, second know your spec, third, see steps 1 and 2.”
—Howitzer of <Fusion> on Turalyon

Three tips for an aspiring raider?

First, know your class and spec inside out. Know as much as you can about each skill and talent, constantly experiment to learn new techniques.

Second, get to know your fellow raiders. Learn how they do things, learn how to work with them. Heroics are a great place to really get an idea of others’ capabilities, especially if you make a point of going with different groups.

Third, THINK. This is something no one can teach you. Don’t just grind along in the raid, following orders and waiting to be told what to do. Observe everything that’s going on, and you start to see “aha, Blizz is repeating the ol’ expanding poison/wall of fire/pie to the face trick” rather than “Boss A does Ability Q every X seconds”. When you can anticipate and react on the fly, you’ll be doing very well indeed.

Would you like to make any shoutouts?

Thanks of course to NQI’s awesome raiding team. It’s a pleasure to rip up all the challenges Blizzard tosses at us with all of you.

And it has been our pleasure speaking with you as well. Many thanks to Feanoro for this interview. Please stop by his blog if you have the time, take a look around, and say hello!


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.


Trueshot Aura, the Impact of Scaling, and Other Research

As you recall, Trueshot Aura is now a scaling buff that increases based on your personal attack power. This change, along with the raid wide application, has made the talent comparable to Ferocious Inspiration and Expose Weakness. Thank you to all who answered my call for attack power data. You will find my overview of Trueshot Aura below, along with an additional note on other research about the 3.0.8 Steady Shot nerf and the selection of Arcane Shot vs. Aimed Shot for rotation weaving.

Dilemma of the Old Trueshot Aura

When Trueshot Aura was introduced as a 31-point talent in pre-expansion World of Warcraft, the idea was quite appealing: a generic attack power buff to party members. However, as time passed and Burning Crusade was released, the talent slowly became obsolete compared to an increasingly complex combat rating system.

Aspect of the Hawk was trainable at level 10, and a new rank every ten levels beginning level 18 (except at level 60). A new rank of Trueshot Aura was trainable every ten levels beginning level 40. In the beginning, the attack power bonus gap between Aspect of the Hawk and Trueshot Aura seemed almost unchanged between 20 and 15. However, at level 70, the gap between Aspect of the Hawk (Rank 8) and Trueshot Aura (Rank 4) grew to 30 attack power. If this trend were to hold, I estimate Aspect of the Dragonhawk (Rank 2) and a hypothetical Trueshot Aura (Rank 5) would have a gap of 50 attack power.

But that was not the problem with the old Trueshot Aura. It was trainable every ten levels providing an increase in 25 attack power for each rank. If the old system were maintained, a hypothetical Trueshot Aura (Rank 5) would provide a 150-attack-power bonus at level 80. But Aspect of the Dragonhawk (Rank 2) provides a bonus of 300 attack power. Based on my previous paragraph, the hypothetical new level of Trueshot Aura provides 250 attack power. So which one should Trueshot Aura (Rank 5) provide? Additional 150 or 250 attack power?

Find out the answer and the current situation→


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.


Level 80 Outlook

It’s been one week since Wrath was released, and I have devised a plan for level 80. This 11/55/5 build is what I am currently aiming for. At level 73, I’ve currently finished building the Marksmanship branch of the tree.

11-55-5

Beast Mastery

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

Marksmanship

  • 5/5 Lethal Shots
  • 3/3 Careful Aim
  • 3/3 Improved Hunter’s Mark
  • 5/5 Mortal Shots
  • 2/2 Go for the Throat
  • 3/3 Improved Arcane Shot
    (Replace with 3/3 Focused Aim for raiding)
  • 1/1 Aimed Shot
  • 5/5 Efficiency
  • 1/1 Readiness
  • 3/3 Barrage
  • 5/5 Ranged Weapon Specialization
  • 1/1 Trueshot Aura
  • 3/3 Improved Barrage
  • 5/5 Master Marksman
  • 1/1 Silencing Shot
  • 3/3 Improved Steady Shot
  • 5/5 Marked for Death
  • 1/1 Chimera Shot

Survival

  • 5/5 Improved Tracking

What build are you looking at?


Barrage, New and Improved

Aimed Shot: Added to Barrage and Improved Barrage talent.

That’s the latest word on Patch 3.0.3.  This is interesting because if we pick up both talents (and we did), it may bring Aimed Shot to its pre-3.0.2 damage values. This is on top of the fact that Aimed Shot is now an instant-cast ability.

Lassirra briefly covered her idea on using [Glyph of Multi-Shot] (which I have picked up along with [Glyph of Hunter's Mark]) and [Glyph of Aimed Shot], primarily for PvP. However, I feel like Multi-Shot and Aimed Shot should no longer be looked at primarily as PvP abilities. I believe making abilities have PvE viability is one of the reasons there are so many changes across the board.

These changes are essentially throwing Aimed Shot into the family of heavy damage abilities. Of course, there is no way we can tell how each ability will scale at level 80 and if they would be worth looking into for shot rotations. I am currently under the impression that if both Barrage talents are picked up, both glyphs are worth picking up. This means as soon as our third major glyph slot opens up, we will be picking up the Aimed Shot glyph.

This new addition would improve the wide variety of damage-dealing abilities on top of the Serpent Sting/Chimera Shot combination. It would certainly help with leveling in Northrend.


The New Marksmanship Builds

If you are looking for Marksmanship hunter builds for 3.0.2 at level 70, I’ll redirect you to others who have done more research than me. To be honest, I have neither the patience nor the money to try out so many different variations to optimize my output. I look at what others do and improvise their builds to my liking.

If you’re a Marksmanship hunter blogger (or not), let me know if you have another spec you want up here.


Return of Trueshot Aura

In Wrath of the Lich King, the Marksmanship hunters will return with a bang.

We’ll change Silencing Shot to be a proper interrupt (PvE).

Trueshot Aura will now be raid wide.

The announcement was made in the Wrath of the Lich King beta forums yesterday. Both the 31-point and 41-point talents will no longer be sub-par to the other trees.

Trueshot Aura will most likely remain unstackable, but this provides the opportunity for the few Marksmanship hunters still running around to provide a raid-worthy buff. One Marksmanship hunter per raid? That’s good enough for me since I’m the only one in my guild running as a full marksman.

A lot of people had begun to shy away from Silencing Shot. I stand by my judgment. It is still a very useful shot, and not taking it removes one of the appeals of the tree. I’m not sure what is a “proper interrupt”, but I’ll take it as a good thing if they are fixing it.

In addition, the new talents Wild Quiver and Rapid Recuperation will change in the upcoming beta build. Now if only we had a beta account to try all these new shiny things out.


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