Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So your hunter's finally 80, part 3

(Previously: Part 1, Part 2)
Alright, we've made it post three in a series of four! The next and last post will cover things like enchantments, gem choices and strategies, and miscellaneous tips - but first:
Marksmanship Hunter PvE Primer!
Marksmanship as a raiding spec emerged early in 3.1 due to a variety of factors. The first was that Survival took a couple nerfs to the face, so the theorycrafters started looking around for alternatives. What some of them noticed was that armor penetration had been buffed and Marks hunters did a lot of physical damage. Not only that, but the base weapon damage of items dropped in Ulduar were buffed in a patch to account for the lack of new ammo to match the new raid tier, and Marks abilities make better use of that weapon damage than do Survival abilities. Before too long, the spec that emerged was this: 7/57/7. Following is a quick rundown of some of the key talents and why they're important.
  • The talents in the Beast Mastery tree are pretty self explanatory, free haste and a free 2% extra damage.
  • The Survival talents are similar, a free 5% damage and free crit on two of the spec's more frequently used shots.
  • Improved Arcane shot and Rapid Killing are the first talents from the Marks tree that are different from talents that Survival or even BM hunters would pick up. Improved Arcane Shot makes Arcane Shot(AS) an important part of your damage, and Rapid Killing synergizes well with the Readiness talent, further down the tree.
  • Improved Stings is taken because it makes your Chimera Shots (CS), another extremely important part of your damage, hit harder.
  • Readiness is an important ability that, combined with Rapid Killing, allows Marks hunters to use Rapid Fire four times in many boss fights.
  • Barrage and Improved Barrage are both required, maxed talents. Not only do they give AiS a nice boost on their own, they also drive up your damage from:
  • Piercing Shots. This initially unprepossessing talent will actually end up being more and more important to your damage as your gear improves. By the time your armor penetration rating is climbing past 600, damage from this talent should have moved up to third on your list of damaging abilities, passed in importance only by Chimera Shot and Auto Shot.
  • Trueshot Aura is one of those talents that sort of depends. Some hunters that raid exclusively in a 25-person raid will choose not to take it because someone else is covering the buff. If you're a brand new 80 and you're running a lot of heroics, however, you should definitely take it. And even if you're, say, a raider switching classes to hunter and there's a Blood DK or Enhancement Shaman providing their equivalent buffs, I would suggest you take the talent. TSA is guaranteed 100% uptime, while Abomination's Might and Unleashed Rage both have downtime. Your fellow hunters and the melee DPS will thank you.
  • Improved Steady Shot is the tree's best "flex" talent. What I mean by this is that if you need points for another talent that's not budgeted for in the spec I linked to, take those points from ISS. Are you raiding a lot of 10-mans and feel like you could use the mana from Rapid Recuperation? Take them from ISS. Hit-starved and want to knock a couple percent off your cap with Focused Aim? ISS is where to get them.
  • Chimera Shot is, of course, the tree's primary non-automatic damaging ability. We'll cover that below.
You'll remember the "damage priority" concept from the previous post on Survival hunters. The Marksmanship priority is actually easier to manage than the Survival priority, and by the way, that's one of the reasons I find Ghostcrawler's comments about how Beast Mastery is "easier" than the other two trees a little odd. But then, down that road lies only finicky and annoying pedantic argument, so instead we'll move on with the guide. The Marksmanship damage priorities look like this:
As you can see, only one of those abilities is a DOT, and it's the easiest to manage DOT of all of them. That's pretty much the entirety of why the Marksmanship priority is easier to manage than Survival. Some may be curious about why SrS is so much further up the priority here than it is for its sister tree, and the answer is in Chimera Shot. Most of CS's damage is derived from the SrS DOT (which is part of why so many hunters swapped to Marksmanship for Ulduar, the hunter tier 8 two-piece bonus is a direct buff to CS), and a CS fired at a target that doesn't have SrS applied to it is a waste of a GCD and the CS cooldown.
The Aimed/Multi choice is the same as it was for Survival. If a Multi will hit several targets, as in phase 4 of the Mimiron encounter, you should use it. If you're doing single-target damage, Aimed is the right answer.
That's pretty much it, with the exception of one quirk: cooldown management. Now, by "cooldown," I don't mean the Chimera Shot or AiS cooldowns, but the big cooldowns. Things like Rapid Fire, Call of the Wild, AP-on-use trinkets like the Wrathstone, and how those all interact with Readiness.
To start with, I would recommend making a macro that just blew everything all at once. I'd also say you should figure out what mod works best for you to track your cooldowns, because getting the most out of them is way more important for a Marksmanship hunter than it is for Survival. In an ideal boss fight, you would be able to do something like this:
  1. Use your "blow everything" macro within the first fifteen seconds of the encounter, ideally after you've fired your first Chimera, Aimed, and Arcane shots, then immediately use Readiness.
  2. Once your first Rapid Fire has worn off, immediately use it again. Your goal here is to get everything on cooldown as soon as possible.
  3. In three minutes, use your macro and then immediately use Readiness again.
  4. Once your second Rapid Fire has worn off, use it again, for a total of four Rapid Fires over the course of an average-length boss fight.
The idea here should be pretty apparent. You're trying to get the most value possible out of the first Readiness (cutting three shot cooldowns short) and maximizing your chance to get another two Rapid Fires later in the boss fight. The obvious danger is that dumping all your cooldowns so early makes it very easy to pull off the tank, so don't be shy with that early Feign Death. The earlier you get everything on cooldown, the earlier it can all come off of cooldown and let you use it again. This is especially important because a Marksmanship hunter's top damaging ability is Auto Shot, the only thing we've got that receives almost unlimited benefit from haste.
The only real wrinkle in this scheme is the existence of Bloodlust. The only thing better than stacking a bunch of AP effects on top of Rapid Fire is stacking the same effects on top of Rapid Fire and a 'lust. Sadly, the timing of the Bloodlust is outside of your control, and in most cases, it's not going to be worth losing two entire Rapid Fires for the sake of having one really, really good 'lust. However, if the Bloodlust is called sometime in the middle, and you've got, for example, an AP trinket but nothing else available, by all means! Use the trinket with the Bloodlust! Just don't delay your very first Rapid Fire/Readiness sequence while you're waiting for it to be called.
Marksmanship pet and gem/enchantment considerations are identical to those for Survival, so scroll down a post if you skipped that part last week. Well, identical with one exception, and that exception has created enough confusion everywhere to warrant its own little section. So!
Armor Penetration and the Marksmanship Hunter!
Shortly after the release of Patch 3.1, some bright theorycrafter noticed a few things:
  1. There was a lot of armor penetration rating on the mail that dropped in Ulduar
  2. Hunter ranged weapon damage had gone way, way up to make up for the loss of higher damage ammunition
  3. Marksmanship hunters did a lot more physical damage than Survival hunters and,
  4. Their damaging abilities incorporated base weapon damage while Explosive Shot incorporated only Ranged AP
  5. Finally, the 10-man hard mode version of the Thorim encounter had a chance to drop a trinket called the Mjolnir Runestone
The conclusion that this person reached was that, with enough Ulduar gear, you could drop some agility gems for armor penetration gems such that the Runestone's proc would bring you to 100% armor penetration. With this level of gear you could drop Arcane Shot from your priority and use the three talent points thus saved on something else, like Improved Hunter's Mark. The theory was borne out, with top Marks hunters posting numbers like 8-9,000 DPS on stand-still fights like Ignis.
Suddenly there was mass confusion. Hunters at all gear levels and specs had heard that somewhere, the hunters in the top progression guilds in the world were gemming exclusively for armor penetration and began to wonder if they should too. When was the tipping point? Should they respec? Did they need a better weapon, or something more? So on and so forth, and to this day, it's not extremely well understood. To make things worse, they nerfed armor penetration rating by 12% in patch 3.2, so all of the already-posted numbers were no longer valid. So here's what you need to know:
  1. You need 1380 armor penetration rating total to reach 100% penetration. This includes gear, trinket procs, gems, enchantments, buff foods, and elixirs.
  2. This means that if you've got a Runestone, you would want your armor penetration rating before the trinket's proc to total 714.
  3. If you don't have a Runestone, you'll be better off gemming straight agility until you reach a very high armor penetration rating from gear. I would suggest the ability to reach a threshold of 80%, or 1103 rating. Which is to say that the earliest I would even try switching to armor penetration gems is if I reached the point where rating gained from gear, gems, enchants, buff food, and elixir totaled 1103 rating.
  4. Once you reach the point where you're within reach of 90% or more armor penetration, you should absolutely respec and regem.
And that's it, really. It's not actually too confusing, it's just that it's a little harder to find the exact numbers than it is to find the numbers for, say, hit rating. Speaking of, however, hit rating will be one of the subjects I cover in part 4 of this series. I'm going to go over enchantments, sockets, metagem requirements and hitcap, and everything else that goes in to maximizing your performance in a raid. I'll also share a couple tips in the form of macros and UI tweaks that have been really helpful for me, and that will wrap up the series. I know, I know: I'm ignoring the poor Beast Mastery hunters. I'm sorry! I just haven't raided as BM since the Burning Crusade and I'm just not up to date on them. Still, maybe researching and posting about them can be a project for the future!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So your hunter's finally 80, part 2

(Previously: Part 1)
So with the first post in this series in-hand, you've started working on the list of pre-raid gear you're trying to acquire. You're ready to run heroics - and lots of them! - but you're unsure of your spec, rotation, and pet choice. Maybe you've heard that Survival is a good tree to spec into as a new 80, but what talents should you take? Which glyphs? What should you do when Lock and Load procs? All these answers and more below, in the
Survival Hunter PvE Primer!
To begin with, I'll expand a little bit on the notion that "Survival is a good tree to start with." This is true in one way and untrue in another. It's true because a SV hunter's primary damaging ability, Explosive Shot (or ExS), doesn't factor base weapon or ammo damage into its damage-done equation. This means that it's not as limited by weapon as Marksmanship hunters are; a SV hunter's damage output scales more evenly with their gear considered as a whole. It's untrue because the SV rotation is actually a little more complex and it has an ability proc to deal with. When Lock and Load (LnL) procs, you have to react to that proc correctly before resuming your rotation. And the word "rotation" isn't even really accurate any more, merely convenient! Hunters, like most DPS classes these days, operate by assigning priorities to various abilities and always using the highest-priority available ability.
More on that in a bit, though. First, the spec. For a new hunter just starting out and running a lot of heroics, I would recommend this spec: 0/15/56. Here's what you're getting with that spec:
  • 5/5 Improved Tracking is a free 5% damage that all hunter specs should be taking.
  • Trap Mastery and Survival Instincts are the only 2nd-tier talents that actually do more damage: the only thing that matters for a PvE hunter.
  • Resourcefulness is required because it decreases the cooldown of Black Arrow (BA). BA not only gives you temporary free 6% damage, it's where you get your LnL procs, and those are an extremely important part of your damage. I think the reason you'll occasionally see hunters without this talent maxed out is because they didn't read the last sentence in the tooltip.
  • Lightning Reflexes and Expose Weakness are defining talents for the tree. Survival hunters have truly insane amounts of agility, and a quarter of that agility turns into free AP. 2/3 Expose Weakness is, however, sufficient: even a hunter in poor gear will see something like 80% buff uptime with two points in this talent, and the remaining point is better spent elsewhere.
  • Noxious Stings is another talent new and inexperienced hunters skip. The reality is that few other talents in any tree (or for any class) have returns as high as Noxious Stings'. A few moments reflection is good enough to see this. If you're pulling 2k DPS on a boss without Noxious Stings, you would be pulling 2060 with it. 3 points in improved aspect of the hawk, for example, will never get you 60 DPS, and Noxious Stings just gets better the better your gear is.
  • 3/3 Thrill of the Hunt (TotH) and 2/3 Hunting Party (HP) are mostly good for hunters running a lot of five-man dungeons. A good tank/healer team that chain pull the instance (getting it done faster) can also run their DPS out of mana pretty quickly, so the efficiency from TotH and the replenishment from HP are good for everyone. Once you're regularly raiding 25-mans, you'll shift those points to other talents, but this is the best place for them for now.
  • The talents from the Marks tree are required for every hunter spec, with the possible exceptions of Go for the Throat (GftT) and Aimed Shot (AiS). Beast Mastery hunters can choose to regenerate pet focus by other means and so may skip GftT. Aimed Shot is a matter of preference. I prefer to have an instant-cast healing debuff as part of my rotation. Many hunters, however, prefer to put that point into Improved Aspect of the Hawk (IAotH), and that's perfectly valid.
  • The glyphs are fairly standard. Glyphing Serpent Sting (SrS) means you waste fewer GCDs re-applying SrS for the Noxious Stings benefit, allowing you to spend those GCDs on abilities that actually do appreciable damage. The ExS simply provides more crit for your most damaging ability. The Kill Shot (KS) glyph isn't ideal for 5-mans, but there aren't any really suitable replacements. Minor glyphs are matters of convenience and, in my opinion, the feign, pack, and mend pet glyphs provide the most of it.
Whew, ok! So that's spec and glyphs. Now what? Oh right, that thing about assigning priorities or whatever. Ok. Here's the thing: "rotations" have pretty much disappeared from WoW since the vanilla/BC days. No one just memorizes a sequence of abilities and uses them in exactly the same order for the entire length of a boss fight. How it works these days is that you figure out which abilities do the most damage, and then use your abilities in that order. The priorities for a SV hunter look like this:
  1. Kill Shot
  2. Explosive Shot
  3. Black Arrow
  4. Aimed Shot/Multi Shot
  5. Serpent Sting
  6. Steady Shot
What this means is that if, for example, KS had no CD and no restriction on its use, you would just mash your KS button the entire time, because that would do the most damage. KS has both a cooldown and restrictions, though, so if you can't Kill Shot, you use ExS. If you can't ExS and BA is off of cooldown, then you put BA on the boss, and so on all the way down the line. There are a few things that are possibly confusing about this priority, so I'll address each of these in turn.
The first thing that trips up a lot of hunters is that ExS comes before BA. "If I used BA first," the new hunter says, "won't my ExS do 6% more damage and wouldn't that be better?" The answer is that yes, that particular ExS would do 6% more damage but you're delaying the firing of that ExS by 1.5s (the length of the GCD) in order to do so. Over the course of an entire boss fight, you're going to lose several Explosive Shots if you try to set them up with a black arrow. Think of it this way: ExS has a 6 second CD and BA lasts for 15 seconds. Either way, you're getting in at least one ExS with an extra 6% damage. If you use BA before ExS, you're electing to get 6% more damage on a single ExS use instead of firing more total Explosive Shots. Firing another ExS will always do more damage than 6% of one.
The second possible point of confusion is the Aimed vs. Multi Shot entry. Aimed and Multi Shot share a cooldown, so this line is basically saying "if you've specced into AiS, use it now. If not, use Multi". The only caveat here is that if you're clearing trash or fighting a boss with adds or multiple components (think Grand Magus Telestra), then a Multi that will hit multiple targets will do more damage than an AiS. Against a single target, AiS will always do more damage, especially if you've been able to stand still long enough to get the Sniper Training buff.
The third and last thing to note is Serpent Sting. All this line means is that, if SrS has fallen off the boss, now is the time to re-apply it. Much like BA vs. ExS, the extra 3% damage is worth speccing for, and it's more important than another Steady Shot, but anything else is more worthwhile, because those things have cooldowns and SrS/Steady Shot do not.
A mod like Watcher (discussed in a previous post) and some time on a training dummy can help get used to the priority system. You'll find after a while that it's really not too difficult to maintain, except for one little problem: Lock and Load.
The thing that makes this proc interesting is that ExS is actually a 3-second DOT (Damage Over Time effect). The GCD is only 1.5s, which means that if you just mash your ExS button three times when you get an LnL proc, you'll overwrite the last tick of the DOT when the new ExS lands, meaning an overall loss of damage. A lot of hunters realize this and try to compensate by putting things like an instant-cast AiS in between Explosive Shots. The problem with this is that hunter shots have a travel time - they actually travel through the air before they land on the target and apply their effect.
The upshot is that you only need to wait half a second, a full second less than the global cooldown. That is to say, the correct way to deal with an LnL proc (where "correct" means "the way that does the most damage") is this:
ExS > wait half second > ExS > wait a half second > ExS
All of this, of course, sort of neglects one of the defining elements of the hunter class: the pet. Sadly, there's not a whole lot of choice between pets for raiding hunters right now. Most hunters you see in Dalaran will have a wolf at their side, and pretty much the sole reason for that is Furious Howl. In (if I remember correctly) patch 3.1, they changed things such that the AP gain from the wolf's howl stacks with other AP effects such as Blessing of Might. The free 320 AP from the wolf overrides all other pet abilities in most cases, although certain raids will have certain exceptions. For most hunters, though, your best bet is going to be a wolf. I would recommend speccing your pet like this. There is of course more to pet management in a raid, especially during bosses with lots of targeted AoE, but that's a subject for another post.
This almost brings this post to a close. The last things to consider are gems and enchantments. I'll address this in more detail in part 4 of this guide series, but your guiding principle is agility. By far your most numerous gem should be the Delicate Cardinal Ruby, to the point of ignoring socket bonuses. Very, very few socket bonuses will be worth as much damage as the 10 agility you would be losing if you used a purple or orange gem to get them. When choosing between enchants, if an agility option is available, you should take it.
That just about covers it! Don't sweat the little stuff too much - your damage will improve quickly at this stage, both with gear and with improvement in managing our abilities. Raiding guilds will appreciate the effort and research you've put into your class, and any competent mid-level raid guild would rather have a recruit with a gear deficit rather than a skill deficit. Have fun!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So your hunter's finally 80, part 1

Alright, welcome to the first in a series of guides for new hunters! I thought it appropriate to start with a gear list, since that's often the most overwhelming part of a new (or especially a first!) 80. The list is arranged by item slot and within each slot items are ranked by quality, so that the best item for that slot is listed first. There are a number of items that require emblems or farming the heroic Trial of the Champion instance, so don't ignore the items further down the list! You can pick those up to improve your performance while farming emblems for the other stuff, or before you feel like your DPS is ready for the higher damage requirements of ToC. A hunter with a healthy mix of the items on this list would certainly be capable of between 4K to 5.5K DPS (depending on boss and raid composition) and could apply to many active raiding guilds with a clear conscience. And that is, after all, the goal of this gear guide: to help you gear your new hunter to a point where you can get started with raiding. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!

Conqueror's Scourgestalker Headpiece (Emblem purchase)
Truesight Ice Blinders (Engineer-only crafted)
Plunderer's Helmet (H-UK)

Broach of the Wailing Night (Emblem purchase)
Ancient Pendant of Arathor (H-ToC)
Titanium Impact Choker (Crafted)
Necklace of the Arcane Spheres (H-VH)
Necklace of the Chrono Lord (H-CS)
The Severed Noose of Westwind (Icecrown quest reward)

Hammerhead Sharksin Cloak (Emblem purchase)
Ice Striker's Cloak (Crafted)
Cloak of the Gushing Wound (H-VH)
Ice Striker's Cloak (Crafted)
Embrace of Sorrow (HoL)

Pauldrons of Concealed Loathing (H-ToC)
Spaulders of the Abomination (H-CoS)
Spaulders of Lost Secrets (HoL quest reward)

Conqueror's Scourgestalker Tunic (Emblem purchase)
Polished Regimental Hauberk (Argent rep)
Linked Armor of the Spheres (HoS)
Aviary Guardsman's Hauberk (BoE)
Assault Hauberk (Coldarra quest reward)

Slime Stream Bands (BoE)
Bracers of the Smothering Inferno (BoE)
Armguard of the Tower Archer (Emblem purchase)
Eaglebane Bracers (Crafted)

Gloves of the Dark Exile (H-ToC)
Rusted-Link Spiked Gauntlets (BoE)
Grips of the Beast God (H-Gun'drak)
Tear-Linked Gauntlets (UP)

Sovereign's Belt (H-UP)
Vereesa's Silver Chain Belt (Emblem purchase)
Cord of Swirling Winds (H-HoS)
Giant Ring Belt (Sons of Hodir rep)
Belt of Tasseled Lanterns (BoE)

Leggings of the Tireless Sentry (Emblem purchase)
Leggings of the Stone Halls (H-HoS)
Hollowed Mandible Legplates (H-AN)
Leather-Braced Chain Legguards (HoL)

Boots of Living Scale (Crafted with runed orbs purchased with emblems)
Pack-Ice Striders (Emblem purchase)
Dragon Slayer's Sabatons (H-Nexus)

Surge Needle Ring (BoE)
Ring of Invincibility (Emblem purchase)
Titanium Impact Band (Crafted)
Bjarngrim Family Signet (HoL)
Mobius Band (H-VH)
Signet of Bridenbrad (Icecrown quest reward)
Jagged Ice Band (Storm Peaks quest reward)

Mirror of Truth (Emblem purchase)
Banner of Victory (ToC)
Sphere of Red Dragon's Blood (H-Nexus)
Figurine - Emerald Boar (decent trinket JCs can make themselves)
Mighty Alchemist's Stone (similar, but for alchemists)
Chuchu's Tiny Box of Horrors (Icecrown quest reward)

Melee Weapons:
Marrowstrike (H-ToC)
Staff of Trickery (H-VH)
Fang of Truth (Wyrmrest rep)
Ymiron's Blade (UP)
Whale-Stick Harpoon (Kalu'ak rep)
Icier Barbed Spear (100% More Chilling)

True-aim Long Rifle (H-ToC)
Drake-Mounted Crossbow (H-UK)
Sen'jin Beakblade Longrifle (Argent Tourney)
Titanium Compound Bow (H-OK)

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Twins and others

First, an administrative note: I'm going to be moving on the 7th, and following that, it may take a while before I can play again. I'd like to keep posting, so I'm going to set a once-weekly post schedule for myself. It should be easy to come up with one thing per week to write about even while not playing, starting with a series of guildes for the newly 80 hunter. I'll be on the road this coming Tuesday, though, so I'm going to make the first post now, especially as I've been wanting to make it for a bit now.
I'm actually going to write up a quick guide for the Twin Val'kyr instead of Faction Champions, not least because there's not much to say about the champions fight. DPS the primary kill target, keep an eye on healers and use freezing trap to take pressure off them, use deterrence/FD/disengage to keep yourself alive. That's it.
The twins are actually a really fun fight, though, and I like the design enough that I even made a crude picture:
  1. The black and white circles are the dark/light portals, respectively.
  2. The triangles are the two Val'kyr.
  3. Red diamonds are melee DPS.
  4. Blue circles are ranged DPS and healers.
The tanks are, of course, on the opposite side of their targets from the DPS. How it works is your entire raid starts as either one color or the other, it doesn't matter which. Let's say you decide to DPS the dark one first. You'll pick up light essence as soon as the portals spawn, then go down to stand in your position within clicking range of the dark portal. This is so that the second you need to swap portal colors - either to break a shield or avoid a vortex - you can do so instantly.
Every time you swap colors, keep that color until you're forced to change. The twins share a health pool, so there's no advantage to switching targets any more often than you have to. Further, every time you swap colors, you need to run (or disengage!) over to the color that's now your opposite and stand on it. In other words always stand on a portal that's the opposite of your current color. Knowing when to switch is really easy - the game itself tells you in no uncertain terms.
Stacking tightly on each other is important if you want to maximize your DPS. The light/dark orbs that swarm the coliseum regularly give you a buff if you run into one of the same color, but the buff is granted to anyone within a short radius of the orb "splashing". That means that if everyone is stacked up, everyone builds stacks of the buff faster and gets more time spent under the empowered light and empowered darkness buffs. This also means that everyone has to be sharp about avoiding orbs of the opposite color, but they're really not that hard to avoid.
This isn't a particularly difficult encounter, but it is quite a bit of fun, I think. Seeing those nice big numbers is always exciting.