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Scattered Shots: Marksman hunter 101

Every Monday and Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Each week, Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

The marksman spec has had a tumultuous history, starting off the game in vanilla as the raiding spec, back when our specs were split into a raid spec, a solo spec, and a PvP spec. Then MM fell into obscurity for the entirety of The Burning Crusade and the first part of Wrath, before exponential stat scaling launched it back on top for the latter end of Wrath of the Lich King.

Cataclysm is starting with SV clearly on top of the DPS charts and without the non-linear armor pen scaling stat to let it gain ground. However, with specializations and mastery in the game (along with promises of using those to tune and tweak DPS), MM devotees can hope for quick adjustments to bring their spec back in line with SV.

Where BM hunters claim that the pet is what defines a hunter, the MM hunter takes the stance that it's our ranged weapon the defines us. The MM hunter is the ranged physical DPS class, and damned if they don't look good doing it! Join me after the cut for the breakdown of optimal MM hunter talents, rotation, glyphs, gems, and stat weights for raiding.

MM talent spec

The MM talent spec gets a little bit interesting, since as it turns out going down the BM tree to grab Frenzy is a surprisingly significant DPS boost -- much larger than playing around in the SV tree. Remember: you don't have to be a BM hunter to care about your pet. All hunters care about their pets and maximizing their pet DPS -- even if you're MM, your pet is still contributing thousands of DPS to the fight, and that's not something to ignore. The power of our pets is also what makes Bestial Discipline a better talent than the lackluster One with Nature.

I strongly recommend taking Silencing Shot for your MM hunter build. MM hunters can interrupt, Silencing Shot costs no focus, and it's not on the global cooldown -- and there's no reason not to help your raid with interrupts. I avoided Rapid Killing, since you very rarely get any benefit at all from this talent. We make our talents with boss fights in mind, and we aren't killing a lot of things in the middle of a boss fight. Even if there are adds, the talent only counts if they grant experience (some boss adds don't) and if you get the killing blow -- and with all the other DPS in the raid blowing them away, the odds of your getting the killing blow are poor.

Instead, I tossed the extra point needed to get down the tree into Resistance is Futile, which procs surprisingly often as long as the boss is moving (and tanks reposition many bosses pretty often during fights). It's more likely to net you DPS, at any rate, than Rapid Killing.

MM glyphs

As always, our prime glyphs are our DPS options. We have a lot of nice utility and quality of life options in the major and minor glyph categories, but nothing that's a straight DPS boost. As a result, your major and minor glyph options are a matter of choice, based on your playstyle. For example, if you use your Silencing Shot to interrupt often, the Glyph of Silencing Shot becomes phenomenal. On the other hand, if you just leave the interrupts to other classes that are better at it, that glyph is suddenly useless.

As a result, the only glyphs I can definitively recommend are the prime glyphs.

Prime glyphs
The Glyph of Chimera Shot is a larger and more consistent DPS gain than the Glyph of Kill Shot -- but only if you use it! The 1-second cooldown reduction is a small thing, and if you aren't actually consistently hitting your Chimera Shot a second earlier, then the glyph is doing nothing at all for you. My recommendation is to test out your rotation at the target dummy for a bit, then try the glyph and re-test. Does it make your rotation much easier and smoother? Are you really getting that Chimera Shot off a second earlier? If so, then this is the glyph for you. If not, it's the Glyph of Kill Shot.

Major and minor glyphs

Choose whichever major and minor glyphs suit your playstyle the best. These are primarily utility-based glyphs, not DPS-increasing ones, and what glyph is best depends on how you play.

MM rotation

Marksman enjoys the most complicated rotation of all the hunter specs. Rather than just hitting shots in a priority order, the MM rotation is all about constantly making on-the-spot decisions. Like all hunter rotations in Cataclysm, this is a priority-based rotation and for the most part, you want to hit whatever shot is available highest on the priority list; however, this priority can change mid-rotation, because of the complexities of the Improved Steady Shot buff.

You will always want to start by putting up Hunter's Mark and be in Aspect of the Hawk, then get Serpent Sting up on your target at the beginning of the fight. Thereafter, your standard priority looks like this:
Chimera is your signature shot and your hardest-hitting shot. It refreshes your Serpent Sting and takes priority even above Kill Shot (since it does more damage than Kill Shot). As you're executing your rotation, you want to always make sure that you have enough focus saved up by the time Chimera Shot is off cooldown to hit it instantly. You will only use Aimed Shot when it procs as a free instant shot from Master Marksman; there is never any reason to use the standard Aimed Shot, sadly. Finally, Arcane Shot is your focus dump that you fire off whenever you have excess focus that you don't need for Chimera Shot -- this will be pretty often.

Then we get to the complicated part: Steady Shot. Steady Shot is your 2-second cast shot that regenerates 9 focus every time it lands. We use it to refill our focus pool; however, with the Improved Steady Shot talent, when we fire two Steady Shots in a row, it also procs our 15 percent haste buff (which increases our rate of fire, shortens our steady cast time, and increases our focus regen). We really want that buff active as close to 100 percent of the time as we can.

Note that Improved Steady Shot does not proc if you have any other shot hit in between your two Steady Shots -- you can, however, do non-shot actions in between, including Kill Command. Also Improved Steady Shot is based on shots hitting; missed shots do not count.

The result is that we want to construct our rotation as much as possible to fire our Steady Shots in pairs. If an Aimed Shot procs after firing a Steady Shot, we want to wait to fire it until we fire our second Steady Shot -- we do not want to break up those pairs for anything except Chimera Shot and in some cases Kill Shot (if the target is almost dead). This means that you want to spread out your focus expenditures a bit more; you don't want to fire two Arcane Shots and then four Steady Shots. Instead, you'd want to fire two steadies, an arcane, two more steadies, then another arcane. This is usually going to net you the best Improved Steady Shot uptime; however, there is no single hard-and-fast rule. You need to constantly evaluate your uptime and your ever-changing rotation to get the best use possible out of this buff.

Further rotation complications: The first 20 percent

MM has two talents that combine to bring a very interesting facet to just the first 20 percent of its rotation. The Careful Aim talents boosts the crit chance of Steady Shot by 60 percent while the boss is over 80 percent health. This then combines with Piercing Shots to make those Steady Shots incredibly effective. So effective, in fact, that during that first 20 percent, your average Steady Shot plus Piercing Shots is actually doing more damage than an Arcane Shot.

This means that while the boss is over 80 percent health, you want to remove Arcane Shot from your rotation. You'll be spamming tons of Steady Shots, even when you're completely full on focus; you'll just let the extra focus go to waste while you keep hitting Steady Shot. A side effect of this, by the way, is that your free Aimed Shot will proc a lot more often during that part of the fight.

Using cooldowns

MM has the Readiness talent to combine with Rapid Fire. As a MM hunter, you should get at least four Rapid Fires every boss fight. You want to be sure to use those first two Rapid Fires in the very beginning of the fight -- they give you more DPS at the beginning than any other time.

The reason for this is at the start of the fight, you're firing almost nothing but Steady Shots (Chimera when it's off cooldown, and Aimed Shot when it procs, of course). Rapid Fire has a huge impact on your Steady Shot cast time, making it lightning fast. So for that brief period when Steady Shot is actually contributing more damage than Arcane Shot, you want to be firing off as many Steady Shots as possible. If you have any on-use trinkets, you'll also want to pop them at the beginning, as well as other controllable buffs like Call of the Wild.

For your next two Rapid Fires, which become available a bit over 3 minutes into the fight, you should do your best to time them with other buffs (Heroism / Bloodlust, trinket procs, etc.), but more importantly, time them for a period of the fight in which you can stand still for the duration of the buff. Rapid Fire is still helpful while on the move, but you won't get nearly as much DPS out of it if you're running.

MM gems

Like all hunter specs, agility is your best stat -- even better than hit. Because of this, you do not want to gem for hit (except the Glinting Demonseye to satisfy your meta requirement). Instead, you'll want to reforge for hit and gem for agility as much as you can. Here's the breakdown:
Note that we were told that our meta requirement was reverting to the old requirement of one of each color, rather than more blues than reds. These recommendations are based on that promised change.

MM stat weights

Your stat weights will change not just with your spec, but also with every single change you make to your gear. Literally upgrading one piece of gear will change the exact value of the weights. I'm going to provide some general qualitative MM stat weights as a guideline to at least identify which stat is better, but the only way to get accurate weights for you is to use a tool like Zeherah's DPS Analyzer.

MM stat weights, from highest to lowest:
  • ranged DPS
  • agility
  • hit rating
  • crit rating
  • mastery rating
  • haste rating
It's important to note that just because haste is last doesn't make it a bad stat -- it's just not as good as the others. Haste still reduces our Steady Shot cast time, reduces our auto-shot timer, increases our focus regen by a miniscule amount, transfers to our pet, and gives a tiny boost to how often our Wild Quiver procs. In other words, it's still helping our DPS -- but our other stats are helping it more, on a point-for-point basis.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter in Cataclysm. From leveling your hunter to optimizing for heroics to gearing up with pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, we've got you covered.

Filed under: Hunter, (Hunter) Scattered Shots

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