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Scattered Shots: Hunter mastery balance in Cataclysm beta

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week, Frostheim uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

With Cataclysm, all of our huntering skills finally progress to the next level. The apprentice surpasses the master, and we even get the new mastery ability and mastery stat on our gear to prove it. Mastery gives us a bonus that is unique to each spec, scales with our gear and provides a convenient knob for the designers to use to tweak our DPS as needed to help keep all specs in line with each other.

At least, that's the plan. Currently, our masteries, which haven't been touched since the re-implementation after the 31-point talent trees, range from nearly useless to "Holy bajeezus, Batman!" More alarmingly, if unchanged, there is a danger that they could represent scaling issues that would make it impossible to balance the hunter specs across raid tiers.

Join me after the cut for an analysis of the current state hunter masteries. If discussing the potential balance issues of in-development stuff is dull and pointless to you, give today's column a pass and hop back on Thursday for something different.

It ain't final, it's still the beta/PTR

As always, we're still in beta. Well, we're also in the PTR, which is considerably further along -- but the point is that we're still in development. The hunter class is like a newborn child; sure, it may look like a hideous, deformed, alien thing, but that doesn't mean it can't grow up into an uncommonly good-looking paragon of death.

Normally I don't spend a ton of time analyzing the DPS advantages of beta abilities, because they change every build or two. I figure we need to wait for them to settle down somewhat before really crunching the numbers. But with mastery, it's been a long time with no changes. Our masteries today are the same as they were first re-implemented over a month ago. Since they are starting to seem somewhat fixed and I still have concerns, it seemed worthwhile to take the time to run the tests and check the numbers.

Quick review

In case you've forgotten, here are the masteries for each spec:

The DPS advantages of mastery, by spec

I ran some tests at level 85 to measure how much mastery is contributing to our DPS. Because the specs aren't yet balanced (MM is way behind, DPS-wise), I'm looking at mastery as a percentage of DPS rather than raw numbers. I did the tests in poor gear and with premades with varying levels of gear, from 288 mastery rating up to 1,500 mastery rating.

Since this is on the beta, the last patch never got applied. That means that pet DPS went down, but Kill Command damage went way, way up. Essentially, this means that all specs will probably see an increase in the percentage of DPS that mastery contributes.

Here's what the numbers are now looking like with very little mastery on gear:
  • Beast mastery Mastery contributes around 13% of the total hunter + pet DPS.
  • Marksman Mastery contributes around 1.6% of the total hunter + pet DPS.
  • Survival Mastery contributes around 16% of the total hunter + pet DPS.
At the start we see that MM mastery is very low. This is particularly sad since MM is also by far the lowest DPS spec at the moment. But here's the thing: mastery doesn't scale evenly for each spec. SV is getting a bit more advantage from its mastery than BM, but what happens when we start stacking on the gear?

Here's what the number look like up around 1,500 mastery rating:
  • Beast mastery Mastery contributes around 19% of the total hunter + pet DPS.
  • Marksman Mastery contributes around 3.5% of the total hunter + pet DPS.
  • Survival Mastery contributes around 30% of the total hunter + pet DPS.
Yikes! Now that is a horse of a different color. And this is in blue gear -- specifically the kind of gear that means you're ready to start doing heroics. We can only imagine what happens once we start getting into the first tiers of raid gear.

Mastery DPS does not need to be the same

An important thing to note here is that the advantage of mastery does not need to be the same from spec to spec. It is perfectly fine if MM gets a 3 percent boost from its mastery and SV gets a 30 percent boost. All that matters is that the DPS of each spec is approximately balanced.

So perhaps MM gets little from the mastery stat, but the advantage of Piercing Shots or other talents gives it a big DPS edge that other specs don't get. The important thing is that DPS balances out in the end, and there are a lot of ways to adjust that.

Sure, it would kinda suck if your MM spec never wanted a piece of gear with mastery on it and your SV spec would never take anything else. Then you end up needing two different sets of gear just to play the two specs, making it far more likely that you'll get holed into just one or the other. I feel that way too, but we have to feel that way very, very quietly. If the hybrids heard us complaining about needing two gear sets, there would no end of lecturing.

The scaling problem

While it's fine if the mastery boost is different from spec to spec, it is not fine if the scaling is radically different from spec to spec. You can turn all the DPS knobs you want to, but if MM gets 20 percent more DPS from going up a tier of gear yet SV goes up 30 percent, then we have a problem.

Right now, it's looking like there's a problem with mastery scaling.

If we start at the baseline, then every point of mastery (around 179 mastery rating) is netting BM around a 1.33 percent DPS increase. SV sees around a 1.7 percent DPS increase, and MM sees a tiny 0.25 percent increase. Unless the other specs have a stat that scales comparatively better the mastery for SV, survival will pull ahead as gear levels increase.

Solutions

There are a lot of ways to solve the issue, and I don't doubt that Blizzard is considering many that I haven't even thought of. Certainly it looks like mastery is a bit too good for SV right now. The simplest solution to that would be to just reduce the percentage damage increase -- so instead of 2.5 percent increase to elemental damage, we make it 1.5 percent (or whatever seems appropriate). This is the great thing about the mastery system -- it's easy to tweak. Alternatively, you could limit the types of elemental damage the master affects (just fire and shadow, for example).

However, I do think that the MM mastery probably needs to be reworked entirely. While we could certainly increase the proc chance of its mastery -- or more likely, increase the damage of the proc -- I'm not convinced that's the best route to go.

Personally, I'd favor just giving MM an entirely new mastery. I like the idea of giving MM a flat percentage damage increase to physical damage. This is very fitting with the theme of MM and essentially gives us the armor penetration benefit, only without the wonky non-linear scaling that made armor penetration such a weird stat in Wrath. It also fits well with the hunter masteries in general and would scale well with them. (As a side note, my low-mastery hunter gets about 72 percent of hunter damage from physical shots, including Piercing Shots, and the SV hunter gets about 85 percent of hunter damage from magical shots).

But whatever the solution, I hope to see something change in the next several builds. Now that things are on the PTR, it feels more and more like we need to get the big changes out of the way so we can spend our time rooting out subtle bugs and tweaking things.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. Our Scattered Shots Resource Guide takes aim at everything from improving your heroic DPS, understanding the impact of skill vs. gear, and getting started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101.

Filed under: Hunter, (Hunter) Scattered Shots

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