New Hunter Resource:

Last November at Blizzcon, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing hunter soloer by the name of Shoot, one of the more fun and friendly faces at the bar of the Hilton loby. So I'm excited to see now that he's started a new website, dedicated to hunter soloing.

You can find Shoot's site at, which includes links to his twitch stream, youtube videos and his armory.

For other amazing hunter soloing feats, remember to check out Durendil, or Vittoriya.  If you know of any other cutting-edge hunter soloers, let me know in the comments so I can get links up in the hunter resources sections here and on the WHU.

Tier 18 Beast Mastery Set Bonuses: The Year of the Fel Boar

As of yesterday evening, in Patch 6.2 PTR build 20033, Blizzard has "fixed" some of the problems the tier set bonuses were having.  I have to say fixed a bit tongue and cheek because, for BM hunters, while our 4 piece bonus was fixed in the sense that it wasn't doing anything before, but now it is;  it's also broke in the sense that it's insanely overpowered.

Even though I fully expect the nerf-bat to hit these set bonuses in a pretty big way before 6.2 goes live, I thought I'd go over some of my results from testing this evening, just for fun.

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Arcane Shot and Multi-Shot increase the duration of your Focus Fire by 3 sec.

Blizzard continues their emphasis on Focus Fire mechanics in 6.2 with this set bonus.  Remember that Focus Fire, when used with 5 stacks of Frenzy includes a 40% Attack Power buff.  With this new mechanic, as soon as you get to 5 stacks of Frenzy the first time, you're basically guaranteed to have that 40% AP buff for the rest of the fight, unless you have just terrible RNG.  Given that you'll generally spam a lot of Arcane Shots during Bestial Wrath, it's not too hard to average one Arcane every 3 secs.

It becomes even easier to maintain with a little manipulation of talents.  As a slight disclaimer, I haven't tested BM in 6.2 with all of the Talents, and haven't really run any simulations yet; so I'm not trying to say these are the best talents to choose.  The easiest option we have is to take Thrill of the Hunt with Powershot.  The primary benefit of Thrill of the Hunt is not only can you keep Focus Fire up nearly 100% of the time, but you'll rarely, if ever have to refresh it.  In the parse shown above, I had 4 minutes and 28 seconds (out of a 5 minute, 34 second fight) with 5 stacks of frenzy on my pet. Over the course of the fight, the extra 20% attack speed for four and a half minutes means an extra 53 Pet Melees.  That's a 324,816 damage increase * (compared to not having Frenzy stacks) in the gear I was wearing in the above parse.  The primary benefit of Powershot in this situation, is with its low Focus cost, and high CD, it just doesn't get in the way of casting Arcanes, extending your FF and Frenzy up-times.  

*((334-268)/(2/1.107)+268/(1.107*1.2))-(334/(2/1.107))*10,948.5 = 324,815.72

There may be a way, with good focus management, to maintain the 100% up-time on Focus Fire, and still good up-time on Frenzy, while taking Steady Focus or Dire Beast.  However, it looks like it's going to be a bit less reliable, so if you have some bad RNG, you might lose a significant amount of Focus Fire, or simply have to refresh it too often, losing out on the Frenzy attack speed buff for your pet.  If, however, you were able to keep up both Steady Focus and FF, you'll certainly end up ahead, as you'll be seeing a lot more Wild Hunt procs from your pet, which will of course be even more beneficial with the extra AP from FF.  Dire Beast tends to be in the same position, where if you can use it, and keep Focus Fire up, you'll see even more damage out of your Dire Beast.  I don't yet have enough data to really guess at whether it will be worth the more difficult rotation for Steady Focus or Dire Beast, but I'd be surprised if some of the more skilled hunters don't find a way to get a lot of DPS out of those talents.  

As for the GT/PS/Barrage talent tier, Barrage is still a good choice for BM hunters, but it does take away a lot of focus and casting time from Arcane Shots.  It may end up having a similar rotational impact as SF/DB, in that if you can manage your focus well enough to keep up Steady Focus 100% of the time, while using Barrage, you'll be DPS ahead. But if you have some bad RNG, or use Barrage at the wrong time, and then can't refresh Steady Focus, you'll end up losing out on a lot of DPS.  

Another thing worth mentioning, is due to how most BM hunters manage Focus Fire during their opener (using it as soon as possible, if Stampede is up), we'll need to have a cancel aura macro. All you need is:
/cancelaura Focus Fire

Unfortunately, because of the refresh rate on auras, you won't be able to macro it to Focus Fire, as adding /cast Focus Fire underneath won't allow enough time for the server to recognize that the previous Focus Fire was canceled before checking to see if it can cast the new Focus Fire.  If you use it seperately, though, you can use your cancelaura macro during your previous ability's GCD, then cast your new Focus Fire during the new GCD, which will keep you from losing any time.

If you look at the top Damage line in the image above,  that's the damage from my new Fel Boar. To be sure we're understanding each other, that's 17k dps over the course of a fight where I did about 60k dps total: almost 30% of my total damage. When I first opened my logs, well, it was unexpected to say the least.  

As I mentioned above, I'm expecting this will be nerfed before it goes live, but as of now, this makes keeping up the Fel Boar our number one priority.  Fortunately, keeping up the Fel Boar is the same thing as keeping up Focus Fire. Which means all that work we're going to do when we get our 2 piece set bonus, it's going to pay off double by the time we get our 4 piece.  The vast majority of BM hunters are already doing this on the pull, but now there will be no time when it isn't worth it to cast focus fire, if you have even 1 stack of frenzy.

After delving even deeper into the logs,  it turns out that your Fel Boar will do the exact same damage regardless of how many stacks of Frenzy you consume when casting Focus Fire. That is to say, it does not benefit from the Focus Fire AP buff.  It does, however, benefit from any other increases to your Agility or secondary stats.  

Fortunately, you'll only have to make that decision on the pull, as you should almost always have both Focus Fire up and 5 stacks of Frenzy.  On the pull, we'll continue to use Focus Fire as soon as possible, to consume that first stack of Frenzy, and get our Fel Boar out as quickly as we can.  Of course, as soon as you get to 5 Frenzy stacks again, you'll want to cancel the weaker Focus Fire and reapply to get the full benefit.  

Other than doing an obscene amount of damage, there's not much to say about the Fel Boar.  I like the idea of having more large pets on the boss, just to mess with Melee.  Other than that, I didn't really see it much, other than when it spawned (it spawns at your side, then charges toward the boss).  

The State of Beast Mastery in 6.2

Without some major nerfs, BM is currently head and shoulders above the other two hunter specs, in both Single Target and AoE.  Even if the 4 piece Fel Boar is nerfed a bit, BM will most likely stay the top single target spec, as it's a lot easier to perfect the rotation than MM, and comes with no movement penalties.  

If you haven't jumped ship from SV/MM yet in 6.1, if you want to raid in 6.2, you'll almost certainly be needing to head to BM (with, of course, the usual disclaimer about this is PTR and anything can change).  

Tier 18 Marksmanship Set Bonuses

Hunter tier 18 gear

Since the PTR seems to be down for the afternoon and I can't do any more testing, I figure it's time to start compiling data. Fortunately, while looking through some MM logs of mine, I started to notice a few interesting trends, and thought I'd add them in with some of my opinions on the tier 18 set bonuses.

2 Piece Set Bonus (Marksmanship): When you critically hit with Chimera Shot, you have a 40% chance to gain Rapid Fire for 4 sec.

This one caught me off guard a bit.  At first glance, it seems like a really cool ability.   I really like the idea of it, because it requires some planning and skill to take advantage of. I was imagining that so long as you were at fairly high focus before each Chim Shot, if you happened to proc one of these 4 second Rapid Fires, then you could just pound out a few Aimed Shots to take advantage of a little burst of Careful Aim.  If, on the other hand, you weren't conservative enough with your focus, you'd spend your extra Rapid Fire/Careful Aim time just casting Cobra Shots or Focusing Shots. That's something I really like to see in a set bonus: a skill requirement to really get the most damage out of it.

However, while all of the above remains true, the ability happens so seldom that it's not going to make enough of an impact on your DPS to really even bother thinking about it.  Were I to have thought about the wording a bit more carefully, it might have noticed this before testing, but as it was I was appalled to see how few proc'ed when I was going over my logs, and didn't until then think about the consequence of the the two independent events.

To clarify, you have a 40% chance to proc Rapid Fire for 4 seconds, but only every time your Chim Shot crits.  If you are at the crit soft cap, 53% (which is not possible to reach in current gear, but may be possible as we get mythic tier 18 gear), that means you only have a 20% chance of proc'ing the 2p each time you cast a Chim Shot.  Furthermore, as Chim Shot has a 9 second CD, that means even if you play your rotation perfect, hitting Chim Shot exactly every 9 seconds, you'll only see, on average, a little over five seconds of Rapid Fire per minute (not including your normal Rapid Fire).

To convert that to DPS terms, that will average out to 3 extra Aimed Shots (without the 4 piece set bonus) with guaranteed crits.  Since half of those Aimed Shots would have crit anyway, we're talking about an extra 45-60k damage per minute, That's 750-1000  dps, or about a percent and a half of extra damage (assuming you manage your focus and perform your rotation perfectly).

For those under the crit soft cap, the 2 piece bonus will become even less valuable.  At 37.5% crit or less, you start averaging less than one proc per minute, and of course, your Rapid Fire / Careful Aim may suffer as well, as you won't have guaranteed Aimed Shot crits.

However, the lackluster 2 piece set bonus leads way to an incredibly fun 4 piece set bonus:

4 Piece Set Bonus (Marksmanship): The cast time of your Aimed Shot is reduced by 100% (Aimed Shot becomes instant).

I can't get over how much I love this set bonus. The trouble with Marksmanship's rotation since 6.0 has been that it feels like you're playing a caster class.  Lots of sitting around, waiting for casts to finish.  Well, not anymore.  Even though in my head, I realize that this bonus basically just gives MM a really powerful Arcane Shot, having played with the long casts of Aimed Shots for a while now, it feels really fun to fire off instant Aimed Shots. 

It's still fairly unclear whether Lone Wolf or Focusing Shot will be the preferable talent with this ability, though I found playing with Focusing Shot much easier (and therefor did better dps).  Thrill of the Hunt, however, is clearly going to be king. 

Though some of this may change before patch 6.2 goes live, as it is now, while Thrill is proc'ed and you're during Rapid Fire, Aimed Shot becomes even way more efficient of an ability than Chim Shot
surpassing Chim Shot in our Priority (at least in single target fights).  During Rapid Fire without Thrill, or vice versa, things stay a bit more calm, but Aimed Shot still remains a very efficient ability. 

An added benefit to this bonus is it nearly doubles the value of the 2 piece set bonus.  Where as before we could only squeeze 3 Aimed Shots into the extra Rapid Fire time, we'll now be able to get at least 5 Aimed Shots during that time.

Marksmanship in 6.2

I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of theorycrafting with this set bonus in the coming months, and perhaps we'll even see some changes to it, as blizzard refines and tunes things, but for now, MM is looking like it will be the clear choice for single any single target fights, or fights where our priority target is more important than cleaving.  

The best part, for me at least, is not only does MM look like it's going to do some fairly solid numbers, but also I was having fun playing it.  Perhaps some of that will wear off as the joy of all instant Aimed Shots fades, but for now, this is easily my favorite set bonus of the tier, and I'm really looking forward to playing some Marks in 6.2.  

Tranq Shot Changes

The latest ptr patch notes for 6.2 included a change to Tranq Shot, which was somewhat expected, given the huge change they recently made to it in the live game.

Tranquilizing Shot has switched functionality with Glyph of Tranquilizing Shot. Tranquilizing Shot no longer costs Focus but has a 10-second cooldown.

Glyph of Tranquilizing Shot has switched functionality with Tranquilizing Shot. Glyph of Tranquilizing Shot causes Tranquilizing Shot to cost 40 Focus instead of a 10-second cooldown.

For those unfamiliar, just a few weeks ago, Tranq Shot was changed in the live game to cost a fairly ridiculous 50 focus.  This change came in response to complaints about Beast Mastery PvP.  I had a chance to talk about it with multi-gladiator, Dillypoo just the other day.  This was his explanation (before the 6.2 change was announced):

Basically for BM hunters tranq shot was problematic due to the fact that outside of your burst with BM Crows and Barrage (with 5 stacks focus fire) you don't really have much to do in terms of keeping up pressure.  Since your sustained [damage] is in your pet mostly, spamming tranq shots is more efficient than your entire rotation. Outside of that with bestial wrath up it lowered the cost of tranq by half, so 10 focus tranqs were extremely powerful. Fighting a resto druid healer BM hunters could just crows and BW and spam tranq and the druid could not heal through the damage in any way whatsoever, due to their hots being removed so rapidly.  
However this was a BM specific issue, as the other specs still needed to keep up their rotations in pvp: Marksman needed to focus Aimed Shot spam to keep Rapid Fire's cd short for their 4piece, and Survival has an extremely focus demanding rotation, so tranq spam only happened as BM. The only other class that really has a better time spamming purge in PvP is enhance shamans (whose purge didn't get changed) due to the fact that they don't really do damage either, and are mainly just utility bots with off-healing, shears, and groundings, as well as being very tanky, leaving their purge spams as their form of effective damage. Since almost every healer gets effected by magic buff removal (monks enveloping, priest shields, druid hots, Hpal Bops/sac as well as pally freedom), they just end up being annoying by spamming that one button with no cost. 
I saw a lot of hunter rejoicing when they saw the original 6.2 patchnotes, as they included some PvP only changes, in the form of Barrage only doing 80% its normal damage against players, and a Murder of Crows also only doing 80% it's normal damage against players.  Many thought we had finally seen the day come when PvE would no longer be nerfed because they couldn't balance PvP. It seems now, we were all a bit too quick to proclaim victory, as this is not just a PvP change affecting PvE, but an ability which was only powerful for a single spec being nerfed for all of the specs, in both PvP and PvE.

Reasonable Nerfs

I have no intention of writing about this without saying that BM hunters don't need nerfs.  I think in both PvE and PvP they're tuned a little bit too high.  In PvE, it's simply a damage out-put issue.  In PvP, it all seems to stem from Adaptation making pet damage a much, much higher percentage of our overall damage.  Unfortunately, the newest iteration of Tranq Shot does little to address either of these issues.

The biggest obstacle in balancing this ability (when thinking about the ability in a vacuum, so to speak), is that during BM's largest cooldown, focus costs are cut in half.  So a reasonable person might think that would be the place to start changing the ability. From the conversation I had with Dilly:
Realistically their change was gone about the wrong way for hunters. It would have been more realistic to make tranq shot no longer effected by BW's focus reduction, and made tranq cost maybe 25-30 focus for BM only. But the way they went about the change really only hurt the other specs more than BM.
 The new change has the same effect, in that if you put on the glyph, and use it during Bestial Wrath, you'll be able to shoot off 5 or 6 Tranq Shots with no problem.  Still, that wouldn't even be a useful tactic if the vast majority of BM's damage weren't coming passively from pets.  If Arcane Shot were worth using, we'd see hunters using it instead of tranq shot.

I'm going to reiterate that in bold, for dramatic effect:

This problem cannot be solved by changes to Tranq Shot. It will only be solved by removing passive damage and adding enough active damage that we'd rather use that than Tranq Shot in most situations.

Since it doesn't seem like we're going to see the root issue resolved any time soon, I thought I might offer up some alternative ideas for Tranq Shot:
  1. The simplest solution was offered by Dilly above: "Tranquilizing Shot is no longer effected by Bestial Wrath's focus reduction".  In PvE, you'll almost never see a BM hunter using Tranq Shot during BW anyway, so I can't imagine any complaints there, and in PvP, it will provide the nerf they were looking for.
  2. As I mentioned above, PvE hunters were ecstatic to learn that there would be separate PvP and PvE spell information, to tune the two types of gameplay on their own.  Since we already know the technology exists, why not use it here?  "When Tranquilizing Shot is used against player characters, it triggers a 10 second cool down."  This has the pleasant effect of not nerfing hunters in challenge modes, or on the occasion that we can help our raid by using Tranq Shot.  
  3. "Tranquilizing Shot no longer removes Heal over Time effects".  If the RP function of a Tranq Shot is to calm down your target, then it could only work against empowering type magic effects with no problem, which seems to be more in line with the original intent of the ability.  
Anyhow, there are plenty of options, which I'm sure anyone reading this could think of.  Truth be told, I'm not outraged by tonight's announced change.  That is, I'm more annoyed that they're addressing the wrong problem, than with the solution they came up with.  

6.2 Patch Notes Follow-up

It was pointed out to me, that my rant yesterday didn't include as much math as I normally would, so I thought I'd dig into the changes a bit deeper.  To do so, I'm going to use the same single target fight I looked at yesterday, since we've already done some of the work with it.

As was shown, we'd be looking at doing a total of 84 ticks of serpent sting under the new mechanic, as opposed to the 235 ticks on live.  But there are some other things that will curb that loss. Mainly, the mastery buff.

If I go through all of the shots that are affected by SV's mastery, I can fairly easily readjust how much damage would have been done with the increased mastery. (On a mostly separate topic, I often forget about how amazing the commutative and associative properties of multiplication are.  I mean, I'll even question whether they're still true or not, as though perhaps math has changed since the last spreadsheet I got.  Fortunately, they still work.  Thank the math gods).  The individual abilities would look like this:

Ability w/ 0 Mastery Old Mast New Mast
Serpent Sting 8295.7 10374.1 10768.95
Arcane Shot 13107.2 16391.2 17015.07
Black Arrow 8209.5 10266.3 10657.05
Explosive Shot 6164.4 7708.8 *6958.44

*Note that I also included the 15% nerf to Explosive Shot.

After looking at by how much each ability is affected, we can use the same percent to affect the totals, giving us a new total damage, and therefor a new DPS.  What we get for the log pictured above, is about a 3.8% increase in damage to Serpent Sting, Arcane Shot and Black Arrow, and a 10.8% nerf to Explosive Shot (the reason ES looks funny, is when blizzard says "15% less", they mean the damage done divided by 1.15, not the damage done multiplied by 1 minus .15).  It's worth mentioning, I suppose, that these numbers are particular to the individual hunter in these logs.  As many hunters will have different amounts of mastery, the increase in mastery's effectiveness will affect them differently.

The changes to total damage done by these abilities will then look like this:

Ability  Old  New
Serpent Sting 2440k 904k
Arcane Shot 1460k 1516k
Black Arrow 1030k 1069k
Explosive Shot 1710k 1544k

The total of 9.88 million damage has gone down to about 8.27 million, a total loss of 6,354 DPS, which is, for those not wanting to do the math in their heads, a 19.4% nerf overall.  

Of course, this doesn't mean we're getting a (almost) 20% nerf to our damage.  Our stat priorities will change, and our rotation will change, so that we can better utilize the new mechanics.  However, adjusting playstyle will no come anywhere close to making up for the huge nerf.  

As I mentioned yesterday, this is still very early in the testing process, hopefully Blizzard either didn't realize how huge the serpent sting change was, or even better, they have a plan for something even more awesome that they just haven't added yet, which will bring SV hunters back up to their rightful place as glorious Damage Dealers. 

6.2 and the Nerf Bat

Yesterday, we got our first look at datamining and PTR patchnotes for patch 6.2.  This included some fairly substantial changes for hunters, including the loss of Aspect of the Fox, and some minor tweaks for MM and BM (MM had Aimed Shot buffed, BM had its mastery buffed, as well as kill command).

Survival, on the other hand, saw some minor changes, and on huge nerf.  On the small adjustment side, we'll be seeing a nerf to explosive shot, with a buff to SV's Mastery.  Overall, that should end up being a buff to SV single target and multi-target DPS.  The other change, however, is much, much larger than it appears.

Serpent Sting no longer deals an initial "tick" of damage when the periodic effect is first applied.

That doesn't sound huge, but if you've been following the SV hunter mechanics this xpac, it's going to equate to a huge DPS nerf.

To explain why, it's important to understand why SV hunters are so madly in-love with the multistrike stat.  While yes, the actual multistrikes do more damage for us as it's our attunement stat, and we get a little bit more of the stat when it's on our gear.  However, those amount to a relatively small amount of DPS, compared to the primary purpose of Multistrike for SV hunters: when Arcane or Multishot multistrikes, it applies an additional tick of Serpent Sting damage.

Without an "initial tick" of serpent sting, the most ticks of serpent sting damage we'll ever be N*T/3 (where N is the number of targets, and T is the average time the targets are alive in seconds).  For an example, this is a friend of mine's combat log from heroic Gruul the other day.

As you see, he had 235 ticks of Serpent Sting, for a total of 2.44 million damage.  Had this same fight included the new 6.2 Serpent Sting mechanic, the most he could have done is the duration of the fight divided by 3 (that is, one tick every three seconds).  At four minutes and thirteen seconds, that would have been a maximum of 84 ticks of serpent sting (253/3), A little arithmetic tells us that he'd be missing out on 64.3% of that total Serpent Sting damage, so instead of doing 2.44 million damage, it would have only done 871K damage.

That's a loss of 6,197 dps total over the course of the fight.  In a fight where he had 39k dps, that's about a 16% nerf.  And, that's for a pure single target fight, where this nerf will affect us the least.

AoE Aftershocks

In AoE fights with fast spawning and dying adds, there will be little reason to even both with Mulstishot.  If adds will be alive for longer, it will still be worthwhile to multishot once, to see that everything has a serpent sting DoT on it, but after there, you won't be using multishot again for fifteen seconds, unless you're dealing with just insane numbers of adds.

Let's look back to my friend's log. I took his log from Operator Thogar run some basic arithmetic on, since that fight includes a good mix of AoE and Single Target.  For this fight, each of his Multi-Shots (which doesn't include the damage from serpent sting) averaged 2,567 damage per target (not including Crits or Multistrikes, which should effect both abilities similarly). His Arcane Shots, on the other hand, averaged 10,351 damage per hit (again, without crits or multistrikes).   That means, after applying your initial Multishot to apply Serpent Sting, you'll need to be facing more than four targets before there's any reason to use your AoE ability.  (It's worth noting here, that this isn't even including the additional damage we'll get from Arcane Shot due to the Mastery buff).

The moral of the story, is even Marksmanship will have stronger burst AoE than Survival in 6.2.

Make Sure Your Harness is Secure

Odd that just the day before this was all announced, we were on the Hunting Party Podcast, talking about how amazing it was that all three specs were so well balanced, and had such similar potential for DPS (at least in single target scenarios).  Should have known that would mean changes weren't far away.  I never would have guessed they were planning on buffing the already strongest spec we had, and nerfing our lowest performing spec.

As Bendak mentioned last night, it's time for another round on the hunter-balancing roller coaster.  I can't imagine that Blizzard would leave SV hunters so severely gimped, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for more patchnotes or PTR releases.   

I've heard several hunters mention that maybe blizzard didn't know that Survival's Multistrike was "double dipping".  If true, that would, for one, be pretty embarrassing, but would make the nerf more understandable, as they had announced before that they didn't want the mechanics working that way.  Still, even if it was a mistake/bug, it was the only thing keeping Survival competitive.

I'd assume we're about to find out they have more reasonable changes planned, or at least, I'm hopeful that that's the case.  Until then, I'm gonna go play some more Skyrim... :-)

Hunting Party Podcast Ep. 215

The hunting party podcast ran a bit short on hosts yesterday; so Alisaunder stepped up to help out, and RogerBrown of Method joined us.  I was a bit nervous to do the show without the folks who usually direct most of the conversation, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, and the three of us actually ended up continuing in skype for a few hours after the show was over, discussing some pretty random topics: typical things like writing hunter guides and beer choices, and less typical things like European geography and ancient Greek mythology.

Next show will be on the 26th of April, at 1pm Central.  Hopefully we'll have the entire crew back.