Thursday, April 30, 2009

6/14/51, 2/18/51, 0/15/56, Oh My!

Hunter talent specs have been changing wildly since Wrath came out. After the first few months of absolute dominance by Beast Mastery, we were handed massive Survival buffs (and BM nerfs) in 3.0.8, which effectively forced raiding Hunters to go Survival, and led to the dominance of a single spec: 6/14/51.

To the lay person, that spec may not make much sense. Six points in Beast Mastery? One point in Focused Fire? What, one might ask, makes that point worth sacrificing MM talents for? The answer is less than obvious. Let's take a look at the description of Focused Fire.

Focused Fire
All damage caused by you is increased by 1/2% while your pet is active and the critical strike chance of your pet's special abilities is increased by 10/20% while Kill Command is active.

1% extra damage is nice, but the crucial thing here is the last part of that description - "...and the critical strike chance of your pet's special abilities is increased by 10/20% while Kill Command is active."

Remember pre-3.0.8, when every raiding Hunter had a Cat or Scorpid? After 3.0.8, many savvy Hunters switched to Raptors, thanks to the Raptor's newly powerful ability, Savage Rend.

Savage Rend
5 yd range
25 Focus
Slashes the enemy with the raptor's talons for X damage, and causes the target to bleed for Y damage every 5 sec for 15 sec. Successful critical strikes with this ability temporarily boost the raptor's attack power.

Not only can Savage Rend crit, increasing the damage of the ability, when it does crit, the Raptor's attack power goes up. But it's on a one-minute cooldown... Just like Kill Command.

Aha. Synergy revealed. 10% extra crit on Kill Command equals 10% extra crit on Savage Rend equals 10% extra chance for your Raptor's Attack Power to jump up temporarily. And that was enough of a difference, combined with the small boost from Improved Aspect of the Hawk, to put 6/14/51 in the lead from 3.0.8 all the way to 3.1.

The problem with 6/14/51 was that, well, you needed a Raptor! And I am much too lazy to level a Raptor with which to raid - my stabled Raptor is only 78 to this day. So, thanks to laziness and the fact that we were never in any danger whatsoever of missing enrage timers, I ran 2/18/51 from 3.0.8 to 3.1. Improved Stings and Glyph of the Hawk together kept me within about 1% of the theoretical ceiling of 6/14/51; more than close enough.

But all of that is old news. 3.1 is out, we're in Ulduar, and Hunter specs have changed once again.

Many Hunters tried to stick with 6/14/51, but there's a new sheriff in town... And they call him The Wolf.

Before 3.1, Furious Howl didn't stack with Battle Shout or Blessing of Might. No self-respecting raid group would be missing both of those buffs, and so Wolves lacked any real usefulness.

Now, though, Furious Howl is something different entirely. It no longer applies to the entire raid, but it does stack with BoM and Battle Shout.

And thus was The Wolf made king of the raiding Hunter pets.

No Savage Rend means that Focused Fire is lackluster again, and the stupendous amount of Haste most Hunters now have on their gear makes Improved Aspect of the Hawk less and less attractive.

Several 3.1 specs suggest themselves - I personally chose a 0/15/56 spec.

Zero points in BM
The soft Haste cap for Hunters, the number at which Steady Shot falls below 1.5 seconds, is 390 Haste. I currently have precisely 390 Haste; in a raid environment Improved Aspect of the Hawk never affects anything but Auto Shot, which constitutes a relatively small percentage of my damage.

Fifteen points in MM
Lethal Shots, Mortal Shots, and Careful Aim are effectively mandatory talents for raiding Hunters. I also picked up 1/2 Go for the Throat to pour focus into my pet, and Aimed Shot to increase the number of on-the-run shots I have available, and because it's a significantly superior shot versus Multi-Shot, which would otherwise fill the same spot in my rotation.

And 56 points in Surv
Many of the points in Survival are self-explanatory. Improved Tracking provides 5% damage nearly all the time, Survival Instincts provides 4% crit on your most important shots. These choices ought to be obvious.

There are some new choices in Survival, however. No longer do Survival Hunters get to (have to?) spec into Hawk Eye to get to Tier 3 talents - the new Trap Mastery increases the damage done by Black Arrow by 30%. Considering that Black Arrow does a ton of damage, this is absolutely a worthwhile talent.

Later in the tree, we have Resourcefulness, which reduces the cooldown of your traps and Black Arrow by 6 seconds. Would I like to have Black Arrow up 6 seconds sooner? Why yes, I would! 3/3 Resourcefulness.

At this point in the tree, Tier 7, some real choices come up. First we must decide how many points to put into Expose Weakness - do we go 3/3 to give our crits a 100% chance to apply the effect, drop to 2/3 since we elite Hunters are all critting about 50% of the time (and much more often with Explosive Shot!) or be daring and drop all the way to 1/3? For me, near-100% uptime is achieved with 2/3 points in the talent, so I've stuck with 2 for the moment. 1/3 is definitely a possibility for the future.

After deciding on Expose Weakness, I chose Wyvern Sting for two reasons. One, to get to Noxious Stings for 3% bonus to all damage when Serpent Sting is up. Two, to get Wyvern Sting! Wyvern Sting is no joke anymore - it sleeps an enemy target for 30 seconds - that's real CC! Would it be worth taking if there was a better DPS talent? Perhaps not. But since it's there, and gives us Noxious Stings, we might as well be happy to have it.

In Tier 9, we have Sniper Training and Black Arrow. Both of these talents bring us new and interesting mechanics - Sniper Training is the only ability in the game that requires the player to stand still long enough to gain a buff. Is that problematic? Sometimes. But trust me when I say you should be happy for Sniper Training. It buffs your most important shots by 6% on all but the most mobile fights, and the buff is surprisingly easy to maintain. When you acquire the buff, it's a 15-second buff. This means that if you begin to move at the beginning of the buff, you have 8 seconds of totally free movement with no danger of losing the buff.

Black Arrow, the brand-new attempt by Blizzard to balance PvP and PvE DPS (yes, Blizz, we're on to you) boosts your damage dealt to the target to which it is applied by 6% for the duration. When you stack Black Arrow with Noxious Stings, Improved Tracking, and Sniper Training, your special shots will be striking the target with added damage of 6%, 3%, 5%, and 6% - over 121% damage.

So are we taking Black Arrow? Yes, yes we are indeed.

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