Marksman was the original hunter raiding spec back in vanilla. After falling out of the top spot in BC and early Wrath, MM is back with a vengeance. MM is topping meters, punting gnomes, and kicking so much ass MM hunters have to use addons to take names of all the ass they can't get to just now, but will get around to kicking at their convenience.
The MM spec comes with the most versatile toolbox, the most controllable DPS cooldowns, two optimal raid specs, and the strongest AOE of the hunter specs. However, MM is also one of the trickiest hunter specs, relying more than other specs on proper use of cooldowns and good movement management.
Join me after the cut as we go through the nuts and bolts of the MM hunter spec and how you too can learn to punt gnomes and top meters.
The Two MM Specs
There are actually two different optimal MM specs, depending on your gear. The first and more common is the standard agility-based MM build. The second is the armor penetration MM build, which comes into play at higher levels of ArP rating. The two builds are very similar, with slight differences in some key areas.
This guide is going to focus on the agility MM spec, which is the entry point for all hunters looking at MM. We'll get into the ArP MM spec and when to consider making the switch on Monday with Marksman 102.
A typical agility MM talent build looks something like this: Agility MM Talent Build.
- Chimera Shot: This defining shot of the MM hunter is available at the bottom of the tree. Not only is it an extremely hard-hitting shot, but it automatically refreshes Serpent Sting, and procs Piercing Shots when it crits.
- Piercing Shots: This is an absolutely key talent for MM hunters. Any Chimera Shot, Aimed Shot, or Steady Shot crit procs a bleed for 30% of the crit damage. The way Piercing Shots actually functions is a tad complicated, but the simple version is that it does exactly what it says -- every crit from those shots bleeds for an additional 30% of its damage. They don't overwrite each other, but they also don't refresh and stack indefinitely. They just do an extra 30% damage to your steady, chimera, and aimed crits. That is huge.
- Trueshot Aura: Here we have the MM spec raid buff, 10% attack power for the whole raid. This buff is also provided by other classes, and if you are absolutely confidant that your raid is always going to have it no matter what, then you may want to consider skipping this talent. After all, if someone else is bringing it, it does nothing for you. My personal preference is to always, always take any raid buff that your spec provides. Take it to do your part, and to provide insurance against that other character dying mid-fight.
- Barrage & Improved Barrage: These talents boost the damage and crit of your Aimed Shot, which also boost the damage of your Piercing Shots. In addition, they strengthen your Volley. Volley isn't important for raids, but it is the vast majority of your damage done in heroics, and for a non-raiding hunter, these talents could be the key to radically boosting your heroic DPS.
- Marked for Death: Another huge talent down at the end of the MM tree, this talent highlights one of the weaknesses of the MM tree. We really, really want to have Hunter's Mark on our target to maximize our damage. The boost to the critical damage bonus of our main shots is what let's us get those pretty 14k chimera crits and up to 30k Kill Shot crits. This is on top of the flat 5% DPS boost the talent is giving us for having a Hunter's Mark up. But DPSing a target without any Hunter's Mark on it could easily be a 1,000 DPS loss for the MM hunter.
- Readiness: This incredibly versatile talent refreshes all hunter cooldowns. In raids this is typically used to reset Rapid Fire, but in emergency situations it can give you extra traps, Misdirection, Feign Death, Deterrence, and Kill Shots. While this is an incredibly powerful tool, remember that it's only beneficial if you use it.
- Improved Concussive Shot: Pretty much a garbage talent for us that doesn't do anything for our DPS.
- Improved Hunter's Mark: For MM this is a dump talent, the place that we put talent points when we have nowhere else to toss them. Where other talents give us percentage increases to our DPS, this one gives a flat RAP bonus (since our Hunter's Mark is flat AP boost that doesn't scale). While taking this talent is generally a personal DPS loss, it can be worth it if you have several hunters in your raid. You'll generally want one hunter to take the hit and take 3/3 Imp Hunter's Mark and the Glyph of Hunter's Mark for a net gain to the team.
- Efficiency: This talent sounds nice -- reducing the mana cost of our shots -- but in the end Efficiency is just not very efficient. The amount of mana savings just isn't worth the DPS loss of dumping points here. Plus, once you get decently geared and have raid buffs, you won't be having any mana problems anyway (or if you're a heroic hunter, your Viper Sting is a better way to keep that mana up).
- Concussive Barrage: Another talent that doesn't do anything for our DPS.
Like most spec, the MM shot rotation is a priority-based rotation, where you want to hit the highest priority shot that's available. However unlike BM or SV, your Serpent Sting only needs to be applied to the target once, and thereafter will be refreshed with Chimera Shot. If you're coming to MM from another spec, you will love this to death.
- Apply Hunter's Mark and Serpent Sting (once only)
- Silencing Shot*
- Chimera Shot
- Aimed Shot
- Arcane Shot
- Steady Shot
/cast Silencing Shot
/cast Steady Shot
The second line is just to get rid of annoying error text when your Silencing Shot is on cooldown. Obviously for PvP you'll want to control your Silencing Shots manually, and you may want to for some heroics as well (though I don't -- I just use it for the extra damage). And of course for AOE situations you'll just use Volley.
Rapid Fire / Readiness
Rapid Fire is one of the keys to sustained MM DPS. In most raid fights, you should get at least 4 Rapid Fires (and for heroic bosses, you can usually get 2). The key is to use Readiness shortly after using Rapid Fire. With the Rapid Killing talent your Rapid Fire is on a 3 minute cooldown, and so is Readiness. By using Rapid Fire early, followed by Readiness, they should both be available again at about the same time.
The mechanics of a boss fight will often dictate when is the best time to use Rapid Fire. However, in general you want to try to time Rapid Fire with other cooldowns (Furious Howl, trinkets, Call of the Wild) to get a multiplicative advantage. Usually you'll want to use Rapid Fire at the very beginning of a fight (when your trinkets will proc). I'll often start a fight with Serpent Sting > Rapid Fire > Chimera Shot > Aimed Shot > Readiness > Chimera Shot > Aimed Shot > etc.
If your fight is going to last near 5 minutes, you probably want to save your second Rapid Fire for the next time your trinket procs (assuming Death's Verdict or Greatness, which proc about every 45 seconds). If the fight is going to be under 4 minutes, you may want to use your second Rapid Fire as soon as the first one wears off to ensure that you'll get another two.
Poor Rapid Fire / Readiness management is one of the most common reasons for MM DPS loss, second only to poor movement management.