We recently got an exciting tidbit of hunter news from Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) about potential chances in Cataclysm. You may have missed it, since it was buried in the warrior forums, of all places:
Why hello there, tasty one-second global cooldown of scrumtiousness! This is of course not definite, not a promise and just something they are considering. But considering it they are, and if you were to put on your Frostheim Goggles and look into the future, you too would predict that a one-second hunter GCD will indeed come to pass.
So what exactly might this (possible) change mean? Let's do some speculating after the cut.
The way it is now
Currently hunters have a 1.5-second global cooldown. Our GCD is not affected by haste at all; unlike casters, our haste does not reduce our GCD, and of course those dirty rogues and feral druids just get a 1-second GCD automatically. This puts us among a very small group who is stuck at a 1.5-second GCD: death knights, warriors and hunters.
There's nothing inherently wrong with a 1.5-second GCD. Our class is balanced around it, so while we have to wait a bit longer between shots, our shots then land for more damage. The only real downside, other than having to wait around for a while between doing things, is that haste isn't terribly useful to us.
Our Steady Shot is the only shot we have that has any appreciable cast time (technically Multi-Shot has a 0.5-second cast time). Steady Shot has a 2-second cast time, so once we have enough haste to reduce it to a 1.5-second cast time, we've pretty much finished one of the main benefits of haste (it will still make our auto-shots fire faster, of course). This is our haste soft cap. Of course, BM is automatically at the haste soft cap without a single point of haste rating from the Serpent's Swiftness talent.
The fact that we have basically only one shot with a cast time combined with a set-in-stone GCD is what makes haste such a crummy stat for hunters.
Haste gets better and better
Without question, haste is going to be a much more important stat for us in Cataclysm right out of the gate. Currently haste is that guy who gets too drunk at every party; you don't know who invited him and nobody wants him there, but you don't want to kick him out and make a scene. So he's there, and you're aware of him, but you don't really want to be associated with him in any way. In Cataclysm haste leaps up -- it is going to increase our rate of focus regeneration. Haste will suddenly be the life of the party, the gregarious fellow mixing drinks and pulling the wallflowers into the action. Add a 1-second GCD to the mix and now he's bringing his bevy of hot yet somehow approachable friends with him.
Everything we know about Cataclysm suggests that Steady Shot (or the new steady alternative, Cobra Shot) will still be the only shot with an appreciable cast time. They could change that and move Aimed Shot back to a 3-second cast time like it was back in the day. Who knows? But likely it's still just steady/cobra. But now instead of haste only bringing it down to 1.5 seconds and then no longer helping, you'll be able to push your steady/cobra cast time down to 1 second. It's worth noting that you can do that right now. You could get enough haste to give you a 1-second Steady Shot cast time, but you'd then have to wait another half-second for your GCD to finish before you could do anything else, so there's no benefit to lowering it.
As a result, this change will give us more options in customizing our shot rotations. Haste suddenly becomes a stat that can increase our DPS throughput significantly. The more we have, the faster we regen our focus -- thus, the more hard-hitting shots we can fire, the faster we shoot and the less time we clutter up our rotations with focus-regenning Steady Shots. So instead of taking 2 seconds to cast a Steady Shot or Cobra Shot in our rotation to regen some focus for more hard-hitting shots, we may only need 1 second devoted to the regen shot.
The other and more obvious effect of a 1-second GCD is that we will get to push buttons faster. Most of our shots are instant shots, and if we end up with good focus regen (as I think we will, eventually), we'll get to fire those instant shots more often than we do now.
The faster shooting won't be good for everyone. Personally, I love the idea. I want to push buttons faster. I'm tugging at the reins. I'm filled up with death-dealing, eager to get out. 1.5 seconds is a long time, and even 1 second still gives us a lot of time between shots to figure out what we need to be doing. But I'm sure for some the increased pace will be uncomfortable and feel a bit frantic.
The machine gun spec
One of the things that really gets me excited about the 1-second GCD is the idea of BM's being the machine-gun spec, firing off less damaging shots (as they always will, with the beefy pets of theirs) but at a crazy rate of fire. Serpent's Swiftness is a huge increase in rate of fire and Steady Shot (or Cobra Shot) cast time reduction; it likely will make BM the only spec that can reasonably reach the 1-second Cobra Shot cast time.
But in addition to that, BM's mastery bonus is going to be more haste. Yet more haste will mean yet more focus regen and faster still rate of fire on those auto-shots. Couple that with a speedy ranged weapon, and BM could see procs blossoming all over the place and enemies falling in a hail of bullets that blacks out the sun.
It's still early, it's still alpha, but Cataclysm just keeps looking better and better for us hunters. Ghostcrawler is all about the hunters, after all, and I can't wait to see what tidbits we learn next!
You want to be a hunter, eh? You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout and round it off some elf-bashing. The end result is massive DPS. Scattered Shots is the WoW.com column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101 and even solo bosses with some extreme soloing.