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Survival

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.


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.


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.


Bringing Christmas Cheer to Dungeons

Today’s entry is brought to you by the 2010 Blog Azeroth Secret Santa. For my participation entry in the exchange, please check the contribution at Cold’s Gold Factory.

Hello! It’s Jaedia from Jaedia’s Menagerie, perhaps you remember me as The Lazy Sniper from my Hunter days. Either way, I have decided to stick with the Hunter theme for my secret santa post for 35 Yards Out.

Now, while I don’t play my Hunter any more as my main, I have gone ahead and done a little bit of Hunter based reading to get up to speed when I level her.. most of it was looking at the new pets on Petopia, I won’t lie, but I did read a little about the Survival spec and rotation as well, and I have been doing a few heroics alongside Hunters and have noticed what it would be nice to see more of. So I’m going to give a few tips on how to keep the holiday cheer running in your dungeon groups—because nobody wants to wipe at Christmas!

The first thing valuable thing to note here is trapping. You will need to use your traps for CC now. At 48, you get Trap Launcher – use it! It’s just like Freezing Arrow, which was a ranged Freezing Trap back in Wrath which was never really used, except you can use this move it for any trap. Aim it so that it lands just in front of the mob you want to trap. Don’t forget as well you can use Camouflage for extra safety if you need to get close, and Disengage if you need to get away fast, just watch where you’re aiming when you use it. Freezing Trap will be used for most CC, it’s particularly good because it can be used on any enemy target, especially if you’re given a mark to use it on, though don’t always expect to be given one when it might come in useful, sometimes it’s best just to do it and hope nobody is stupid enough to break it. Frost Trap is great too if there are a lot of mobs that it might be useful to slow.

A very important aspect of the Hunter class is pet management – knowing when to pull your pet out, send it in, heal it up, and which abilities need to be turned off and on. Make sure your pet is set up right. You can have them set to defensive but if they start going awol and pulling things at random, put it on passive and macro /petattack to your main moves. Also, turn off growl if you don’t want to anger your tank. Seriously. I recommend you have a /petfollow macro on your hotbars somewhere so that you can easily pull your pet out of the bad.

You will also have a move called Misdirect. Use this on your tank whenever it’s off cooldown, especially for boss pulls. If they are offended by your use of a threat boost for them, get a new tank, they are stupid. Any threat boost is brilliant, no matter how good a tank they might be. It was the same in Wrath, even more so now that tanks struggle more with threat generation.

If all else fails – Feign Death.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Fox with a Santa hat


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.


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