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.
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.
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.
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:
- Beast Mastery has always been getting buffed, but gradually.
- Marksmanship received the strongest one-time buff and was nerfed slightly later on.
- 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.)
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.