As the Cataclysm beta continues, the different hunter specs are finally beginning to settle into place. There are still a lot of bugs, a lot of things not working or working oddly, and some talents that clearly need tweaking -- and of course, focus regen is being tuned weekly at this point -- but the overall PvE feel of each spec is becoming increasingly solid.
Today we're going to start by looking at the MM spec in Cataclysm, which seems to be the most polished spec at the moment. We are not forgetting SV or BM, which we'll hit up next week (though BM, as the most changed spec, is also the least finished, with big stuff not working right now). Join me after the cut for rotations, key abilities, how those talents really work and to bask in the awesomeness of the Cataclysm hunter.
This is still the beta, so while the feel for the specs seems to be solidifying, everything is still subject to change. The current level cap in the beta is level 83. We are not going to discuss what spec does more DPS, or how much DPS each spec does, because that stuff is not yet final.
We will also not be speculating on what the optimal talent build will be -- that too is still very premature. I fully expect the talents to continue to change and refine as the beta continues, so we aren't going to trouble ourselves with those details yet. Besides which, we can't truly compare numbers until we hit level 85.
Finally, we aren't talking about movement-based DPS, as that is still changing frequently. We don't yet know just where that will land. We're looking at the PvE rotation and feel of the class today, which seems fairly solid, not PvP or soloing, which are still changing a lot in the beta.
The basic rotation
As always, you are going to want to start out in Aspect of the Hawk and put up Hunter's Mark. You really want that Hunter's Mark up by the way -- it's currently supplying a whopping 1,500 attack power at level 83. At the beginning of the fight you will put up your Scorpid Venom and Serpent Sting, then your basic shot priority looks like this:
- Chimera Shot
- Kill Shot
- Instant Aimed Shot
- Arcane Shot
- Improved Steady Shot proc *
- Steady Shot
- (Silencing Shot macroed into your other shots)
It's also important to note that as long as you never cap out on focus during a fight and end the fight as low as possible, it doesn't really matter what level your focus is at during the fight. Thus you have a choice of generally using focus the instant it becomes available (keeping your focus as low as possible at all times) or leaving a focus cushion down on the low end. Again, it doesn't change your DPS over the course of the fight, assuming you aren't capping and are using the same rotations. Personally, I prefer to leave that padding of 25 focus or so at all times. That way if I need to move out of a void zone or to adjust my positioning, I know I'll always have an Arcane Shot ready to fire off as I'm moving.
You can see a video of this rotation in action Here.
It's worth noting that Scorpid Venom and Serpent Sting should only have to be applied once. Your Scorpid Venom has a 30-second duration, and it's refreshed to the full duration every time you fire a Steady Shot (or Cobra Shot). Your natural rotation will keep it up indefinitely -- even in a movement-heavy fight you shouldn't have a problem getting off at least one Steady Shot every 30 seconds. Note that Scopid Venom provides the major armor debuffs and does not stack with Sunder Armor.
Serpent Sting will of course be refreshed by your Chimera Shot and should also never fall off in the course of a normal fight. Serpent Sting functions a bit differently in Cataclysm than it does now in Wrath. First of all, Serpent Sting ticks can crit -- you don't need a set bonus for that (which, by the way, make the T9 set bonus useless in Cataclysm, because it doesn't change to something else at the moment). Serpent Sting has a shorter duration (looks like a base duration of 12 seconds at the moment -- but glyphs and tooltips are strange on this right now).
Serpent Sting behaves a bit differently when you refresh it with Chimera Shot or Cobra Shot. Any duration left on the sting when you refresh it -- up to 3 seconds' worth -- gets carried over to the refresh. Furthermore, the schedule of ticks does not change. Thus if your Serpent Sting was about to tick in 1 second when you refreshed it with Chimera Shot, it will still tick 1 second into the refreshed sting. This is so that you will still gain your haste benefits to your DoT and aren't punished for refreshing before the full duration is up.
Your top priority shot is Chimera Shot, and you should always make sure you have enough focus to launch it as soon as it's off cooldown. You have a much smaller window to fire Chimera Shot and catch your Serpent Sting for a refresh -- usually only about 2 seconds. It's plenty of room to get the shot off and finish casting something first, but you need to have the focus ready and waiting.
Chimera Shot no longer has a "Serpent Sting damage" portion to it, so it will do the same damage whether or not Serpent Sting is on your target. To compensate, its base damage has been increased. Refreshing Serpent Sting with Chimera Shot does not trigger the Improved Serpent Sting effect. Chimera Shot is a high-damaging shot that refreshes your Serpent Sting and triggers an effect based on what venom you have applied (but does not refresh the venom).
Note that because of the small window for refreshing Serpent Sting, Chimera Shot will even take priority above Kill Shot in your rotation. If, however, the boss is really close to death, then ignore the Serpent Sting and go for the Kill Shot.
The standard Aimed Shot has a 2.5-second cast time. While you are casting Aimed Shot, your auto-shot will not fire, and once the cast has finished, your auto-shot timer is reset. You effectively lose at least two auto-shots while casting Aimed Shot. I suspect that this is deliberate and is designed this way specifically to keep Aimed Shot out of our standard PvE rotations (though it'll still be used all the time when soloing and in PvP). At best, you'll use this as an opener at the start of the fight, assuming that you can start casting it before the tank pulls, to time its firing with the tank first attacking (assuming you are using Misdirection, of course).
However, the bigger application of Aimed Shot is the Master Marksman talent. At full ranks, every Steady Shot gives us a 60 percent chance to get the Master Marksman buff. This buff shows up on our buff bar and lasts 30 seconds. The buff can stack up to five times, and each stack refreshes the duration. Once it reaches five stacks, you get the buff "Fire!" that lasts for 7 seconds. You can now fire off an instant-cast Aimed Shot that costs no focus. This is totally awesome.
Aimed Shot hits like a truck -- its damage rivals Kill Shot, often critting for 20-28k damage. The instant version of Aimed Shot does not reset your auto-shot timer like the cast version does.
Arcane Shot is your focus dump. It does more damage than your Steady Shot, so any time your focus is getting too high, you fire off one or two Arcane Shots to bleed off that excess focus and boost up your DPS. Simple enough.
Improved Steady Shot
The Improved Steady Shot talent is an important part of MM DPS and is surprisingly involved to manage. When you fire two Steady Shots in a row, you get the 15 percent attack speed buff for 8 seconds. It counts the Steady Shots only when they hit the target; thus, if your Steady Shot misses, it doesn't count as a shot fired.
The complicated part of the buff is that you can only get the buff if you do not already have the buff up. If the buff is currently up, you can chain steadies together all day with no effect. Once it falls entirely off, you then have to cast two Steady Shots. If you cast one Steady Shot while the buff was up, that one doesn't count as one of the two.
I suspect this functionality is intentional. This way we cannot always have the 15 percent buff up. Even in a perfect world, we will always have that 3- to 4-second gap between buffs. This also means that if your buff has fallen off and you cast a Steady Shot, you do not want to interrupt it for anything except Chimera Shot. If you cast the first steady with the buff down and your instant Aimed Shot procs, you want to wait until you cast the second steady. Likewise you don't want to cast an Arcane Shot in between chained steadies.
This means that you have to pay more attention to the state of your focus. If your buff is about to fall off, you want to be sure that your focus is low enough (by firing off an Arcane Shot or two) that you won't cap out by casting two Steady Shots in a row.
Currently, you can get your 9 focus regen for firing Steady Shot or Cobra Shot, even in Aspect of the Fox. Technically, this means you'd probably want to be in Aspect of the Fox all of the time; however, I'm confident this is not behavior that Blizzard wants, and I'm pretty sure they will make standing still in fox and undesirable option one way or another.
Kill Command still seems to be primarily an ability that the MM hunter would only want to use when his or her target is out of LoS -- especially with the current implementation of the attack, where it's based off your pet's very low crit chance.
Cobra Shot does less damage than Steady Shot for a MM hunter. There is no real reason to use it at all, which is just fine.
Trueshot Aura currently doesn't actually show up on your buff bar; however, you still get the attack power boost for the talent. It appears that it is now a passive buff, not something that you will ever have to click on. Oddly, while you can't see the buff on your buff bar, it still shows up on your party members -- so we can presume that in a future beta build we'll see this buff back on our own buff bar.
General feel of the rotation
The new MM rotation is undeniably more complex than it currently is on live. Heck, if we had nothing but the conversion to focus, it would be more complex, since that's a resource mechanic that we actually have to pay attention to and store up for cooldowns. Add to that the small window for Chimera Shot, Aimed Shot procs and constantly juggling that Improved Steady Shot buff, and there's a heck of a lot more going on.
However, we are also now firing a better special shot to Steady Shot ratio than we are on live. In other words, we're pressing more buttons other than Steady Shot than we are now, which is more fun. Personally, I enjoy the added complexity and the fact that you always have to be planning several seconds in advance, thinking about the state of your imp steady buff and storing up that focus when Chimera Shot is near to being available. I also think this added complexity gives yet more room for skill to truly shine on the DPS meters.
However, for those who are not looking forward to a rotation requiring such constant forethought, there's always SV, which is more complex than in Wrath but still mostly reactionary. And for those who don't want such a complex rotation, we still have BM as a far simpler rotation. But that is for next week!
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.