It looks like we're going to be seeing patch 5.2 land within the next couple of weeks, and now thanks to some datamining we have an idea of all the hawt new gear we're going to be seeing in patch 5.2.
Included in this gear is our new tier 15 set: Saurok Stalker's, which is a spiky looking set with a helm that bears a suspicious resemblence to a lizard is eating our heads. Fun Saurok Stalker's set activity: get to just the right depth in water and can make it look like a crocodile head floating on the surface. Then jump out and kill something.
As long as there have been hunters, there have been hunter taming challenges. These are the pets that combine the irresistible draw of being difficult to get your mitts on, combined with a unique look that other hunters don't have. Nowadays hunters really pursue these taming challenges for the look of the pet, but once upon a time there were mechanical benefits of some of the rare pets as well. Back in vanilla I spent weeks wandering the reported path of Broken Tooth in search of this 1.0 attack speed lion (this was before Zul Gu'rub and the 1.0 bats, and of course before normalization of pet attack speeds and before the 2 pushback limit to casting).
When I'm talking about taming challenges today I'm talking about pets that have a mechanical challenge or trick to the taming process, or pets that are rare spawns with unique models. There are of course scores of rare spawn pets that look identical to common pets, and even a lot of rare spawns that have a slightly different coloration but otherwise are identical to common pets (and you can see a list of these at Petopia).
While it might be hard to wait for a King Krush spawn, for example, it's not something that fills vast numbers of hunters with the need to get that pet. Spirit beasts on the other hand ... spirit beasts are like a plague of uncontrollable desire that spreads burning through the pet collecting loins of the hunter population, so I have to include them.
If you aren't the kind of hunter that is really into pet collecting, today's column is not for you. If, however, you are the other kind, then here is a list of all of the hunter pet taming challenges currently in the game.
Patch 5.2 has been marinating on the PTR for long enough now that we have a fair idea of what all the hunter changes will be, as well as last week's revelation of new spirit beasts! So it's time (or past time) that we dig into it and see how the changes are going to affect the greatest class in WoW.
This patch is hitting at a time when the hunter class is doing pretty well. Nothing's ever perfect of course, but our raid DPS is pretty good, we can PvP better than we have in years and we can even launch our full-strength hail of death on the move for as long as we damn well please. And best of all we're not overpowered so we don't have to fear imminent nerfs. It's a pretty good time to be a hunter.
Nevertheless, we have some mechanical tweaks to our abilities in addition to the new taming challenges of the porcupine spirit beasts, so let's take a look at it.
Another year of hunting is beginning, and that means it's time to dig into the vaults of December 2011, when Cataclysm was about to wind down, a time of aspect dancing and the horrible anachronism of minimum range. That's right, it's time to dust off my 2012 hunter predictions and see how I did. It's also time to make new predictions for the state of hunters going forward in 2013 and take some guesses at what's going to happen with the class as Mists of Pandaria progresses and Blizzcon returns.
Of course last year was a pretty challenging year to make predictions, since we knew a new expansion was coming and while we had a couple of tantalizing hints, we had virtually no idea what hunter changes we would have. The expansion news flew fast and furious all spring and summer, bringing with it change after change; hunter joy and discussion as we got almost everything we asked for, followed by the inevitable buffs and nerfs of the expansion process.
After getting off to a bit of a slow start, hunter DPS is now rocking away as we start 2013 looking forward to patch 5.2. But before we look forward, let's take a look back and grade Frostheim's presentience to determine if what I predict has any bearing on reality...
Scattered Shots is brought to you by Grandpappy Frostheim, who spends his evenings in an Ironforge tavern telling young hunters how much harder things were in his day, when they had to kite mobs uphill, both ways ... back when men were men, and women were men too, and pets were next to useless -- but they were also men. You can ask him questions on Google+.
There is a small vocal group of WoW players who feel that Burning Crusade was the pinnacle of the WoW experience, an unparallelled beauty of game design, and that life has gotten progressively worse ever since. Those players are starting to piss me off.
The reason they like BC so much is the same reason most players like an expansion more than all the rest: because that's when they started playing. Vanilla players like to talk about how hard yet awesome life was in our day and Wrath newbies (who, appallingly, are old timers themselves now) like to talk about how the game has only gone downhill since their time.
All of us old timers have one thing in common: we look at our glory days of exploring WoW for the very first time through rose-tinted glasses, remembering all the great stuff and glossing over just how bad the bad stuff was. But these BC lovers have crossed the line into being just plain daft, and trying to claim the exact opposite of how things really were.
There will always be some hunters who disagree with anything (believe it or not I recently read a hunter who thinks removing minimum range made the game no longer playable) but most hunters these days agree that we hunters have too damn many buttons. And it's not just us: in a recent tweet Ghostcrawler said so too:
We don't think hunters need a massive revamp (beyond range and ammo changes they already have). They do have too many buttons.
Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot that can be done in the middle of an expansion -- frankly what needs to happen is a bunch of these abilities just need to go. But remove anything (even minimum range) and you'll hear complaints, not to mention making hunters learn new rotations mid-expansion is bad design move. But I think there are some things that can be done to mitigate the situation.
But first lets get into why too many buttons is a bad thing, because there are actually two important reasons.
Patch 5.1 landed on Tuesday and while there were no ground shaking changes that force every hunter to change everything about their playstyle, we definitely felt some nice quality of life improvements and some important DPS buffs and burst nerfs. It was a quiet kind of awesome, but still pretty awesome.
Blizzard is definitely handling these changes with very delicate taps of the turning fork. Very gentle buffs, very gentle nerfs, moving different areas of hunter play just a little bit in one direction or another. Certainly part of this lines up with Blizzard's assertion that "More players quit because of constant class changes than quit because of balance concerns." But a good chunk of it is probably also that hunters weren't in a very bad place, and small changes might be enough to get us where we want to be (as well as changes to certain other classes whose crazy DPS is fueled by their burning underpants).
So lets take a closer look at the changes we got and what the impact of those change is looking like.
Throughout Cataclysm I spent a lot of time explaining to hunters that the pet paradigm had changed and there was no longer one right answer to "What is the best pet?" Instead of being able to answer cat, or wolf, or whatever the pet of the moment was, the answer was: it depends.
Well, with the changes to hunter pets in Mists of Pandaria the answer is now that it depends even more.
The best pet to bring to your raid or heroic is going to change based on your group composition -- and in fact can even change based on the skill of your team members. Let's first take a look at which pets bring which raid buffs, then get down to how to select your pet.
But fair warning in advance: choosing the right pet isn't a matter of following a flowchart or plugging in an addon. You have to use your brain (in your head).
In every expansion there is inevitably one spec that is the red-headed stepchild of DPS and a host of hunters fond of the spec crying into their ale at the unfairness of it all. Right now MM is that spec, and MM-lovers everywhere are sloppy drunk on their own sadness.
Actually, if you look back far enough there was often only one raid viable spec, rather than one bad one. In the memory of Grandpappy Frostheim, it goes something like this:
Vanilla: MM is the only raid viable spec.
BC: BM is the only raid viable spec.
Wrath: BM Briefly on top, then nerfed to the stone age. SV briefly on top, then MM for most of the expansion. After the nerf BM never recovered and held DPS 20% behind the leader.
Cataclysm: SV briefly awesome and overpowered, then over-nerfed. MM on top with SV just behind and BM in third. BM wasn't so far behind, but was significantly so. The three specs were closer in DPS potential than any time in history.
Nowadays we have BM back in the lead with MM in last place. And if you look at the logs, MM DPS looks horrible. However, recent comments from Blizzard confirm what hunter DPS simulations show us: MM's dps is in theory very close to BM's.
So what the heck is wrong that we have MM so amazingly low in the logs -- almost always in very last place against every other DPS spec in the game?
We've already discussed the hunter pre-raid gear, so now it's time to start talking epics! Which hunter drops are the absolute best for your DPS? Which are worth a pass? And which four set pieces should you collect?
Here we're going to look at all the loots that drop from raid bosses, including world bosses. I'm also going to include the epics that can be purchased with valor points -- though these are slightly lower ilvl items and never make the top of the lists, sometimes they're only slightly worse than the top tier loot. For the sake of simplicity we'll be looking at the normal difficulty version of gear.
As always, it's worth stressing that the actual DPS difference of items of the same ilvl is very small -- though they certainly add up. And, as always, the actual value of stats changes not just with your spec but also with the rest of your gear. I'll be presenting all of the top gear choices, and then making my recommendations of which is the best, taking reforging options into account.
Mists of Pandaria has brought a lot of awesome stuff to hunters: minimum range finally dead and buried, the awesomeness that is Stampede, improved self-heals, better burst for all specs, and very clever new rare pet tracking challenges. It has also brought us so many flipping buttons to press when DPSing that we need a third hand to keep up with it all.
While the hunter changes in Mists have been overwhelmingly positive, they've also introduced new ways for hunters to make mistakes. And I'm not just talking about mistakes that affect the hunter -- like the tragedy of rolling an elf back when you didn't know any better -- I'm talking about mistakes that hurt your group.
There are also a lot of opportunities for the unwitting hunter to piss off the tank. That may be all good fun and games when you're running in a guild group, but when you're running Dungeon Finder you do not want to piss off the tank: she has all the power. You annoy her enough and she'll initiate a vote kick. No one else wants to be on the tank's bad side so they'll vote to boot your sorry ass. But not until the tank calls you names until you cry like a sissy little elf.
Greetings fellow hunters! So far in our quest to optimize our Mists of Pandaria DPS we've discussed the best pre-raid hunter gear and the best gems for your gear. Today we're going to go a step further and get into enchanting all that sparkly new gear.
The first question you have to ask yourself in the early weeks of an expansion is whether it's even worthwhile enchanting your gear. Certainly by the time you set foot in raids you want the best enchant on all your slots to ensure you're contributing as much as you possibly can to your raid's success, but there if frankly not much point in enchanting those non-heroic blues or gear you picked up while questing.
As a general rule of thumb, you only want to enchant gear from heroics (or equivalent gear of ilvl 463 or higher). You just don't need the extra edge of enchants to run 5-mans, especially when that gear is going to get replaced within a few runs. That said, if you've gotten unlucky on a slot or two and are preparing to walk into a raid with some lower level gear, then you should get it enchanted.
Now that most of you are at or almost at level 9o and working on putting together your pre-raid hunter gear, it's time to take a moment to discuss gemming for Mists of Pandaria. Like gear and enchants and talents, gemming is one of the areas where you can statically optimize your hunter's DPS.
While the benefit of choosing one gem over another might add up to an unnoticeably small DPS difference, once you add up the benefit of all your gems, and your gear, and every other tiny optimization opportunity, you suddenly have the difference between topping the charts or not; or the difference between downing a boss or not. Every little bit of optimization adds up into a big difference in DPS.
Mists brought us more than just upgraded versions of our gems: it also changed the itemization of gems to make some of our decisions more interesting.
The third significant step for all hunters in Mists of Pandaria is gearing up to become raid ready. (For those interested, the first step is race (and possibly faction) changing to dwarf, and the second is leveling up to 90). With that in mind here is a list of some of the top hunter gear to go after.
We're specifically only looking here at non-raid PvE gear that does not come from a raid or require raid mats. However, in Mists you are able to get valor points outside of raids, including by doing daily quests and some of the reputation gear requires valor points to purchase in addition to faction rep. Thus I am going to include some valor gear in this list. Odds are you won't have enough valor points pre-raiding to get all of these pieces. My recommendation is to run your heroics to get the best non-epic gear possible and then spend valor points to fill in the worst gear slots.
I'm also not including any gear that requires you to have a certain profession -- thus no engineering goggles even though they may be superior for engineers.
We're less than a week away from the launch of Mists of Pandaria, when overnight we'll have to start the short grind back up to the level cap, after which we'll replace all of our hard-earned purple gear with fresh greens and blues.
When it comes to leveling, hunters have it easy. You could go through and choose the worst possible optimization and still have an easy time of it. I should stress this at the outset: you don't need any special tricks to solo quest your way to level 90.
That said, by optimizing your hunter for leveling you can certainly make the trip to 90 a bit easier. What follows are my recommendations for preparing your hunter for optimal leveling.