Thursday, August 27, 2009


Hi there, nonexistent readers. Sadly, real life is going to keep me mostly offline for the next week or two. Not sure when exactly I'll be able to resume posting, which is too bad: I had some ideas for a post (with pictures!) about my ideas for how to do the twins encounter in ToC, as well as a couple amendments to my previous thoughts about gearing in 3.2. Ah well! I'll be back before too long.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

UI customization

Very few raiders keep the default UI, and I'm not one of them. It does a good job at providing new players with most of the information they'll need for leveling and even instances, but tends to fall apart once the player reaches endgame. It doesn't make the information you need readily available, while it displays a lot of extraneous information in ways that obscure the visual field. There are a lot of mods out there, though, and simply going to curse and trying to build a UI from scratch without any familiarity with the possibilities is an intimiating prospect. So I'm going to post a picture of my UI in a raid so you can see what decisions I've made and why, and what mods I used to get the results I wanted.
First, here's a sized-down version of the screenshot:
And here's a list of the mods in the screenshot:
  1. SLDT
  2. Tipsy
  3. Satrina Buff Frames
  4. SexyMap
  5. Scrolling Combat Text + Scrolling Combat Text Damage
  6. Pitbull4
  7. Watcher
  8. Quartz
  9. Chatter
  10. Bartender4 + ButtonFacade
  11. DoTimer
  12. Omen
  13. Grid
Now I'll go down the list and explain briefly why I chose each mod and what it does for me, starting with:
1. SLDT stands for "Simple Light Data Text", and is the most compact way I've found to easily and intuitively track a couple things. It's highly configurable and has many more modules available than I actually use, like bag space and FPS monitors. It displays more information upon mousing over one of its elements, such as the "Guild: 33" text. When you mouse over that text, a simple, scrollable list of everyone online in your guild appears, along with their rank, location, etc. You can click on a name to whisper that person or alt-click to invite them to a group. Mousing over durability displays a dropdown of the percentage durability left on each item slot. So easy!
2. Tipsy is a tiny, intuitive mod to move your tooltip around your screen. With all the other moving around of things that the other mods did, I needed to move my tooltips to keep them from obscuring other things.
3. Satrina Buff Frames, or SBF, is an easy way to configure display of buffs and debuffs. As you can see, I've configured my buffs to be smaller and and half-transparent, because that's good enough to check them before the pull, but keeps them from getting too distracting as they multiply and overwrite each other during an attempt. Debuffs, on the other hand, are big and bright, so the second I get something like Mark of the Faceless I know to disengage away, get out of the fire, etc.
4. SexyMap lets you resize your map, move it around, control which buttons display on it and when, anchor it or hide it, or make it sexier with cool glowing blue borders (not pictured).
5. Scrolling Combat Text (SCT) in combination with SCTD lets you define which sorts of events (heals received, heals cast, debuffs or buffs gained, reactive abilities activated) go to which of three "frames". I have Frame 1 display most of the stuff that happens (heals received, energy gains, damage taken, buffs gained) displayed to the left, in an upward scrolling curved hud configuration. I also use reduced opacity to keep it from being too much in the way - I mostly glance over at it to see if I'm, for example, getting mana gains from Judgement of Wisdom. Damage out goes to the right, and debuff gains scroll a message right under my feet in a larger font and at full opacity (again, great for things like Mark of the Faceless).
6. Pitbull4 is an example of what are termed "raid frames". Once more, I've elected to disable most of the mod's functionality. I choose to display my healthbar, my pet's healthbar, my target, and my target-of-target. I also have the focus frame enabled, and it appears above Grid to the right side of my screen when I have a focus target set.
7. Watcher is an ability timer. As abilities come off of cooldown they scroll from the right to the left, then stack up in order of highest priority first. When I took the screenshot, both aimed and arcane shot were off of cooldown. Aimed is displayed in front of arcane because it's a higher priority. This mod is great for two reasons. The most obvious is that it saves my eyes from staring at the teensy-tiny buttons on my action bars. The second, less obvious one, relates to steady shot's cast time. Steady shot does less damage than anything else I could do and, under raid buffs, it frequently has a cast time about the length of the global cooldown. So if casting a steady shot will delay a much more valuable arcane or chimera shot, I'll just wait the half a second or second and fire the other shot.
8. Quartz is, mostly, a castbar and swing timer mod. Sadly, I didn't choose the time of my screenshot ideally, or you'd be able to see the very large, obvious castbar displayed when my target is casting something. Very, very many bosses in the game cast or channel something as a warning that they're about to use one of their abilities requiring a specific reaction (Brundir's overload, Mimiron's laser barrage, Yogg's lunatic gaze), so I've made it very easy to see and respond to those abilities. I have a second, smaller castbar above that one for myself. Attached my castbar's location are my debuffs on the boss. This is more important for Survival hunters than it is for Marksman hunters, but it's still good to have an easy place to check to make sure serpent sting is on the boss. You don't see hunter's mark there because the other hunter in the raid has improved hunter's mark, so we both do more damage if I don't overwrite his.
9. Chatter just lets me resize and reconfigure my chatbox. Nothing too exciting!
10. Bartender 4 is a highly configurable actionbar/menu bar mod. It lets you resize, move, and change the configuration of your action bars, as well as hide and display them. I have my pet bar hidden, my mini-menu hidden but available on mouseover in the lower left corner of my screen, and my main action bars scaled down so they don't take up quite so much room. I also use Button Facade to reskin my buttons to make them a little prettier. This mod is especially nice because it works with Satrina Buff Frames too!
11. DoTimer, as the name implies, is mostly designed to watch your dots. It also, however, can watch your cooldowns, which is what I use it for. You can move it around, resize the bars, change the style of the bars, and configure the abilities that appear in a couple different ways. You can either have it display everything and then selectively block abilities, or you can set it up like I have, with a "whitelist." That means I list specifically the abilities that I want to know about. This mod helps me make sure I get the maximum use out of my cooldowns.
12. Omen threatmeter is an essential for any and every raiding tank or DPSer. Use omen or pull off the tank, die, and wipe the raid.
13. Grid is another, different raid frames addon. More popular with healers than with DPS, I still find it invaluable. From a convenience standpoint, it's excellent for summoning the raid to the instance, and you can also keep an eye on it to get an idea of the raid's average health. Further, as hunters, we can use it to do things like easily Misdirect to the tanks mid-battle or use master's call on a healer rooted in fire.
As you've probably gotten a sense of from my descriptions, my primary goal with my UI is for it to display the information I need in an accessible way without cluttering my screen or making it hard to see when I'm standing in fire. That's why I've made several elements semi-transparent and shifted a lot of the remaining elements to the borders of the screen, leaving the middle as wide-open as possible. Your goals and priorities for your UI may be different, but hopefully this post has given you some starting points so you can build something that works for you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Focus, please!

I promise I'll get around to posting about faction champions eventually, but the Blizzcon class panel yesterday had some pretty huge news for hunters. Copied and pasted straight from MMO-champion (with typos fixed):
  • Hunter's mana is GONE!!!
  • Hunters now use focus, no longer care about intellect or mana regen.
  • Focus regenerates contunously, Steady shot improves the rate of getting focus back.
  • Rogue energy comes back at a 10/sec rate, Hunter focus comes back at 6/sec (12/sec with steady shot)
  • A shot costs 30 to 60 focus.
  • Hunters will have fewer cooldowns on abilities
  • Ammos will become an item, not a consumable.
Just to be up-front about it, I think this is fantastic news. I dislike mana as a mechanic for pretty much every class out there. I played Warhammer online for a brief stint and spent my time there as a healer. Every class in the game uses action points instead of mana, and it's a way more enjoyable mechanic for pretty much everyone involved.
Consider how hunters raided in Burning Crusade, for example. To begin with, we wore a lot of rogue leather because it just had way more agility, crit, hit, and AP than most of the mail in the game. We used Elixirs of Major Agility and Elixirs of Major Mageblood for buffs and then chained Fel Mana Potions every cooldown. The amount of farming necessary was just awful, but more importantly, it just wasn't a fun mechanic. We aren't healers and can never make a choice between throughput and longevity - we just do as much damage as we can as fast as we can and hope that our consumables keep us out of aspect of the viper. That's it.
The problems have been reduced today, but on fights with a lot of target switching, or in a 10-man that's missing a ret paladin to judge wisdom, we're back in the same boat. Mana usage is never a choice or a strategy for us; the most we can do is viper sting someone other than the primary DPS target. So if there's no JoW on whatever it is we're hitting, and if the single mana pot per fight doesn't suffice to keep us going, then we're out of luck and have to cut our damage in half to regen some mana. There's no choice or skill involved, and that makes it a bad mechanic.
Accordingly, I'm thrilled with the focus announcement. It's looking the current plan is for steady shot to give you a focus-regeneration buff, something that's unique as far as I know. I think it will also open the doors for skilled hunters that can really track and plan their damaging ability priorities to outshine their compatriots.
Ammo becoming an item rather than a consumable is a satisfying change as well. I imagine they'll function something like totems or librams, and I also imagine that they'll be bringing back quiver graphics with this change. I liked rolling the quiver haste bonus into the class itself, but I didn't like losing how cool my troll huntress looked with her dual mojos on her hips, her striker in her hand, and her quiver across her back. And let's not kid ourselves: a lot of the appeal of playing an MMO is seeing your character's look change and evolve with the effort you put into her.
The new expansion is looking pretty good so far, and the notes for other classes and about some of the gamewide changes to mechanics are making me quite optimistic. It looks like they're doing the "complete overhaul" thing that people keep asking they do to individual classes, except for everything. This may finally be the last expansion for the game, but it's looking like a good one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cataclysm official

I was going to post about the Faction Champions encounter today - and I still may - but for the moment, the official site for Cataclysm, the next big WoW expansion came out. It includes a cinematic trailer that's worth waching, although the voiceover guy hammed it up a little bit too much for my tastes.
The new race/class grid is interesting. As predicted by MMO champ, the undead hunter looks like it's going to happen. Everyone has their favorite and their least favorite of the new combinations, and undead hunter is definitely my least favorite. Hunters are all about life, connection with their pets, and the dynamism and finesse needed to use ranged weapons. I think the undead make fantastic warriors, with their immunity to pain and the brute strength of the zombie. They make great priests, both in that they're connected to the religion of their previous life as well as having passed beyond that initial life into a second one. They're great for mages and warlocks, with their grim determination to accumulate power. Hunters? I just don't see it.
The boyfriend actually made a great point about a couple of the new race/class combos when they were first getting bandied about as rumors: if Tauren are getting paladins, how is it that the undead aren't? Squish a warrior and a priest together and what do you get? A paladin.
My favorite race in the game remains the trolls, however, and it looks like we're finally getting troll druids. I'm totally excited about this change, and it makes a lot of sense to me. Trolls have always been jungle and forest dwellers whose religious traditions have revolved around a variety of natural and animal spirits. Along with the announced streamlining for 0-60 leveling, I'll definitely be rolling a troll druidess. I'm not sure how serious I'll be about her, but it'll be neat to have the option to play with her.
The other stuff looks interesting one way or another. I look forward to heroic Shadowfang Keep, seeing the inside of Uldum, flying over the sundered Barrens, so on and so forth. The Worgen look neat and I'll probably roll one to play around with. Not sure what class it will be - I've never played a warrior (or any class capable of tanking), so that seems like a possibility.
All in all, I'm surprised it even exists. I was fairly convinced that Wrath would be the last of the WoW expansions, especially with the Blizzard next-gen MMO in the works. I guess I'm just glad I don't live in Azeroth, I think the apocalypse has been happening there for the last 30 or 40 years.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Armor penetration rating <3 Sunders

Armor penetration rating on gear isn't the world's most intuitive system, and dimly-heard rumors of a "marks armor pen build" have been creating a lot of confusion that bubbles up pretty much daily on the WoW hunter forum.
To start with, armor penetration rating reduces target armor by a set percentage. The more armor pen rating on your gear, the higher that percentage, capped at 100% when you reach 1232 rating. It's important when considering this to factor in raid buffs like buff food and armor piercing elixirs, because it's possible for those buffs to make gemming for armor pen edge out, say, gemming for agility.
One of the places people get into trouble is when they take the above fact and consider it next to things like the warrior debuff Sunder Armor. Five stacks of sunders would mean 20% armor reduction, so it seems reasonable to think that if your raid is putting sunders or Expose Armor on the boss, then you would only need enough armor pen rating to equal 80% armor reduction.
As it happens, however, that's not how it works. What happens is that the game calculates the armor reduction from debuffs first, then applies your reduction from rating on your gear. That is: if a boss has 10,000 armor and five sunders up on it, then your armor penetration rating will be applied to 10,000 - 20%, or 8,000 armor. In a way, this reduces the value of your armor pen rating, because you're taking the same percentage of a smaller number. In terms of actual in-game DPS, though, sunders (and other similar debuffs on the boss) actually increase the value of your personal armor pen rating, because even though you're subtracting a smaller amount, you're also subtracting it from a smaller number. To continue with the example from above, imagine you had enough rating to equal 50% armor reduction. Without sunders, you're reducing that 10,000 armor on the boss to 5,000; with sunders, you're reducing 8,000 armor to 4,000.
The final mechanic to consider when you're thinking about armor penetration rating is diminishing returns. DR interacts with armor from a DPS perspective in a couple different ways. The first is that armor suffers from DR the more of it you add to a mob or player. The first point of armor mitigates more damage than the second, the second does more than the 10th, and so on. This in turn means that armor penetration rating is the only (or one of the very few) things that benefits from increased returns. The more armor you strip off of your target, the more the next point you take off benefits your damage. Second, as boss armor goes over 8,317, it applies diminishing returns to any armor reduction used against it. This makes armor reduction debuffs even more important, because it reduces the impact of those diminishing returns. Bosses in Wrath of the Lich King have 13083 armor, putting them well into that territory.
You can read a little more about armor and armor penetration here and here (this post is pretty much re-wording the information found at those links), but hopefully this helped explain a couple of game mechanics that aren't really intuitive.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How to make gear decisions

One of the most common questions on the WoW hunter forum is "I have items X and Y and I can't choose between them, which should I use?" Answering these questions for yourself isn't too difficult, and in my opinion is part of the fun of being a raider (yes, I'm a nerd), so I thought I'd step through it here. Maybe if a couple people read this, they'll have a little more fun looking through the upgrades for their own hunters. I'll use a real question from the forum's front page today for my example, since it's a pretty good one: Marrowstrike vs. Twisted Visage.
To start with, here are the two items in Wowhead's comparison tool. Right at the very top of the list you'll see that TV is an item level 232 item, while Marrowstrike is stuck at 219. At the very least, this means that if they had the exact same stats, TV would be the better item, since it would just have more of everything.
Unfortunately for the confused hunter out there, they're not itemized identically at all: TV has 70 hit and no sockets, while Marrow has no hit, 60 armor penetration, and a yellow socket with a 4 agility bonus. And this is where most people are going to run into trouble. They're going to start thinking about what gem they would put in that socket, if they'll have the bonus or not, how much does the reduction in crit from TV to Marrow cost them, and how much the gain in armor penetration is worth. Most of the time, doing all that may feel like the right thing to do, but it's just creating more of a problem for yourself than you need it to be.
Remember: more item levels on TV means that it just innately has more possible damage per second contained in its frame than Marrow, which means you only need to decide if you can make use of the majority of those item levels. So what you really need to ask yourself is this:
"With my curent gear, would TV put me way over the hitcap of 263 hit rating?"
If the answer is yes, then you're better off with Marrowstrike.
If the answer is no, then you're better off with TV.
Obviously this example isn't universal - sometimes you're comparing items with identical item levels - but the principle is going to remain the same. Reduce the complexity of the question you're answering and the question becomes much easier to answer. Most of the time, gear comparison between two pieces can be narrowed down to a single stat, or between comparing equivalent values of two different stats.
Take a look, for instance, at Hellion Glaive vs. Twin's Pact. The two weapons are very nearly identical, but the staff has 90 haste rating and the polearm has 90 critical strike rating. Everything a hunter can do can crit for more damage, but only auto shot and steady shot can benefit at all from haste. Therefore, you should always prefer critical strike rating to haste rating if at all possible.
"But wait!" the astute reader may say, "what if I put your two questions together? What if I've got two items where one has haste and a higher item level, but the other has crit and a lower item level?"
Your question brings me to the last comparison of the day: Twin's Pact vs. Lotrafen, Spear of the Damned.
This one is near and dear to my heart, as I'm currently carting around a Lotrafen and it seems quite possible that I could see the staff drop before Anub drops his polearm for me. Assuming a feral doesn't want the staff (I'll come back to the melee vs. ranged thing at the end of this), then it seems like a tough comparison. Really, though, we're just looking at another instance of that first comparison. The extra item levels on the staff really show: before you even count the socket, it has more agility, more armor pen, more stam, and more AP. More of everything just on its own, and it'll be even better once there's a socket in it. Sure crit rating is better than haste rating, but even there the staff has three more than the spear. A marksmanship hunter especially gets a lot of his or her damage from auto shot and steady shot: two things that benefit from haste. Considered along with the superiority of the staff in every other way, you would be doing your raid a disservice if you gave yourself loot tunnel vision and let the staff go to waste.
I almost did that once myself: when TV dropped the second time and our feral already had it, I didn't send a bid to the master looter because I really, really wanted Lotrafen. But the reality was that TV was a much better item than the Relentless Edge I had been using, and it would have been foolish to let the staff get melted. The ML rightly charged me a single point and looted the staff to me.
You'll notice, though, that in the case of both staves I mentioned feral druids. This caveat includes all the melee classes, really, it's just that ferals are the only ones that can use staves. There's this important stat on melee weapons that a lot of hunters seem to ignore, and that's the damage the weapon actually does when you hit something with it. Remember how, in the previous examples, the better item was the one with the fewest wasted item levels? Ok.
A hunter wastes every single item level spent on melee weapon damage.
You are hurting your own raid if you take a melee weapon away from a melee class if the weapon's actual DPS is an upgrade over the one they're carrying. Conversely, they're hurting the raid if they take a ranged weapon from you if it does more damage than your current one. The only time you should take a melee weapon over a melee class is if they already have a weapon with equivalent damage. The first time Lotrafen dropped for my guild, the feral and I both rolled for it because we were both DKP capped and we were both using Twisted Visage. The weapon was a very similar upgrade for both of us. If he'd been using a 212 DPS weapon, I would have passed to him without hesitation (in fact, the bid I sent to the master looter was actually "20 points, pass to melee").
So there you have it. If you can't decide if something is an upgrade or not, look for how you can simplify the question and remember: always consider the good of the raid first.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Modern hunter leveling

While summoning people to the raid last night, a guildie asked me if I do requests.
"What?" I asked.
"For your blog, do you do requests?"
"Oh!" I said, "Sure!"
She asked me to write about non-BM hunter leveling for, if I remember correctly, "non-stupid people".
Man, it's so nice when topics just sort of appear out of thin air. Thanks Jove!
To start with, I have to say that leveling a hunter as SV or MM is going to be a lot like leveling one BM: easy. Wait. I mean, that's true, it's a really great leveling class, but not what I was thinking. The thing is, all the different specs are going to be looking for the same stats on their gear, and the talent trees don't even really start to differentiate themselves until about level 40, when they each start to be able to get into some defining abilities (Trueshot Aura, for example). Not only that, but the way you're spending your talent points while leveling is fundamentally different from the way you're spending them as an end-game raider. For a raiding hunter, if a talent point doesn't make you do more damage, it's worthless. While you're leveling though, you're primarily looking for quality of life talents.
That's why BM is so popular: it has things like Improved Mend, Improved Revive, Pathfinding, and Spirit Bond. A cheaper hot for my tank that cleanses debuffs? Faster resurrection if she dies? Just plain old being faster? Free passive healing? Yes please!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up and take a look at the hunter basics and then see where those take us.
First off, the biggest thing you should be looking for on your shiny new hunter is agility. It gives you AP and crit at the same time, and even some dodge and armor for the inevitable times when leveling when something is going to be hitting you. Heirloom items will help a lot with this, but even if you can't get those because this is your first WoW character or you don't have the emblems or shards on your main, you can do perfectly well by checking the auction house regularly. If this is your only character, pick up a gathering profession or two and finance your gear that way. Every couple levels, when you head back to a capital to see a trainer, check the auction house for stuff in about a 6-level spread around your current level. You're looking for items of the Monkey, of the Falcon, of Agility and later, of the Bandit. Try not to let any particular slot go more than 6 or 7 levels out of date. This will help a lot, and you don't have to bother with it any more often than you have to go train new skills anyway.
A lot of new hunters post on the official class forum asking what pet they should use for leveling. Answers are various, but the two main camps are ferocity ("does more damage!") and tenacity ("tanks better!"). I'm a member of the tiny minority that agitates for people to choose the pet they think looks coolest.
I'm serious! If you think Mazzranache is the cutest thing ever, then break out the birdy snacks and make friends. The reality is that it honestly doesn't matter too much which pet you use, especially at the lower levels. Before you start getting into that 40+ range, a lot of what you're going to do is auto shot. In fact, here's a handy soloing macro:
/cast hunter's mark
/cast auto shot
If you occasionally want to use serpent sting or arcane shot, that's fine, but using them on every mob will mostly just drain your mana.
If you're indifferent to pet appearance and just want one to make things easier, then by all means, go with a tenacity pet and get Thunderstomp as soon as possible. The number one killer of leveling hunters is when you accidentally get a bunch of mobs and, if your pet doesn't have an AoE threat ability, mend pet ends up pulling them with heal aggro and getting you killed. Thunderstomp can make the difference when that happens.
That mostly concludes the general hunter leveling advice, so on to talent tree specifics. Of the two trees other than BM, I'd go with marks over survival to start with. The lower-level talents in the marksmanship tree are so fundamental to hunter damage that every raiding spec since BC has taken 15-20 points in the marks tree. The low-level talents in the survival tree, on the other hand, are mostly about PvP utility and survivability. The thing about leveling as a non-BM hunter is that you're a lot less worried about your pet's ability to tank things because you plan on killing them a lot faster, and marks helps you do that from the very start.
Your first five points can go into Lethal Shots. Crit is hugely powerful at low levels, and you can easily find yourself killing on-level mobs in 2-3 auto shots.
Your next three can go into Improved Hunter's Mark, making it cost-free and twice as effective.
Then go back a tier and get 2/2 Improved Concussive Shot, making kiting easier.
5/5 Mortal Shots makes those occasional arcane shots count, 5/5 Efficiency keeps you from having to drink, and on down the line.
If I were leveling a hunter as marks, my talent spec would look like this at level 40: 0/31/0. You may notice I haven't picked up Careful Aim yet, even though it looks like a great talent. In fact, it is a great talent, and is absolutely required of any raiding hunter spec. Hunters wear leather until level 40, though, so there's just not going to be a whole lot of intellect on their gear. Even after 40, in fact, your gear is just not going to have a whole lot of intellect on it. I would recommend holding off on those talent points until you've got a few drops from, say, some Outlands dungeons.
The next big talent you're going to want - and this is huge for solo leveling - is Rapid Recuperation. Since you're going to be frequently killing things that grant experience, you'll have the rapid recup mana regen buff happening pretty much constantly. Between this and efficiency, you shouldn't have to drink very often at all. You can get this talent filled out once you hit 46. By the time you hit 60, your talent tree should probably look something like this. It's skipping a lot of those upper tier marks talents because most of them interact with steady shot in some way, and your instant-cast, talented arcane shot is going to fulfill most of your mob-killing needs.
Your first major glyph at 15 should absolutely be Glyph of Hunter's Mark, since the AP bonus stacks additively with the bonus from your improved hunter's mark talent points. Your next major glyph should be Glyph of Mending, since it goes a long way towards giving marks some of that quality of life you're missing from the BM tree.
At 60, you've got a couple choices. You can stick with the marks tree, at which point I'd start branching out into the other two trees to pick up some of their goodies, things like Hawk Eye and Improved Aspect of the Hawk, always remembering that you're less worried about your pet tanking things and more about killing them before they reach you.
Alternatively, at 60 you could respec to survival and pick up Explosive Shot. I took a long break from WoW starting at the end of BC and ending about a month before 3.1 came out. When I came back I specced into survival and went from 70 to 80 in a pretty short time span. Explosive shot is a truly excellent leveling ability and has the added benefit of being a little less gear dependant than the things marks hunters use. Once you've got ExS, you could probably change your old attack macro to:
/cast hunter's mark
/cast explosive shot
and be just as well served. I would still probably glyph hunter's mark and mend pet, but I could see replacing either of those with the glyph for explosive shot.
Sometime shortly after 60, you should definitely pick up those points in careful aim, regardless of which tree most of your points are in. Even if you do have a tenacity pet, be careful around densely packed mobs: without the ability to heal ourselves or deal meaningful melee damage, hunters are extremely vulnerable to large packs. Feel free to experiment with talent points while you're leveling. Read the tooltips and, if something seems like it would be neat, useful, or fun - try it out! You can always respec, and you're leveling anyway. Quality of life and fun are always going to be more important while leveling than the optimum theorycrafted DPS.
If you can afford heirloom items, I would at least consider getting the heirloom bow before anything else. The delay on getting the experience bonus from the shoulders and chest will be made up for when a single white-damage crit kills an on-level mob for you.
Ok! Now head on out there and roll a hunter, y'all. There's never been a better time to level one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The first two ToC encounters

I've been through Northrend Beasts and Jaraxxus on both 10 and 25 normal difficulty now. They're both fairly trivial on 10, as far as mechanics to learn go, especially from a hunter's perspective. The difficulty does ramp up some on 25, but not hugely so.
Northrend Beasts is split into three phases, one for each beast. The first is Gormok the Impaler, and the big thing a hunter will want for him is a macro with the following line:
/target snobold
No really, /target snobold. I know right? Who knew we'd ever need to do that in an actual raid? Then all you do is watch for snobolds to jump off of Gormok's back and on to a raidmember, target them, and go to town. I've tried having my pet attack the snobolds but he never seems interested. I'm not sure if that's a bug or intended, but it doesn't matter too much: ranged shouldn't have a problem popping the snobolds, and your pet is still chewing on Gormok, so at least he's doing damage (unlike the XT heart phase since patch 3.2).
The second phase is a couple big worms. While fighting these guys, remember to stay spread out 10 yards from other raid members, keeping the paralytic spray from hitting more than one or two raid members is important. If you do get targeted with the spray, find the person with burning bile and clear it off before you get stunned. Ideally, there will be a designated spot away from everyone else for people with paralytic poison and burning bile to meet and fall in love, but it's not always practical (sometimes bile hits a tank, for example). Also, keep in mind that while the paralytic poison slows you to an RP-walk, disengage works at full speed, so take advantage of that.
There's a little target-swapping too. I think probably the most common strategy is going to be "DPS the one that's rooted in the ground". Which one that is changes every few seconds when they both burrow under ground for a bit. When they pop back up, the stationary one will still be partially in the ground, while the one that needs to be kited around will have its tail visible. The goal is to kill them fairly close to each other so you're not stuck with several paralyzed people and no burning bile to dispel them with.
The last guy is Icehowl, a Really Big Yeti. He's... really easy. All the cooldowns you blew on Gormok should be back up by the time he comes out; hold on to them. DPS him like normal, and drop to viper if you have to. He's periodically going to throw everyone to the edge of the coliseum and stun them, then face towards a person. If you're in the arc that he's facing, run the shortest distance out of that arc the second the stun wears off. He'll then charge that direction and, unless someone was too slow, he'll be stunned when he hits the wall. This is when you blow your cooldowns, since he's taking increased damage during this time. This is also why you vipered up a mana bar before the stun, so you've got all the mana you need right now.
Beasts is a pretty long encounter with a lot of target switching, meaning a lot of time with no judgement of wisdom. Mana does become a problem, but it's pretty manageable.
Jaraxxus is a step up in difficulty from Beasts, but it's certainly not on the order of learning Mimiron or Yogg pre-nerf, or even the pre-nerf Auriaya pull (christ that was a bitch). Jaraxxus' fel fireballs need to be interrupted or they're going to kill a few people, but melee should be able to manage that. He also regularly puts a 10-stack of a buff on himself, one that I can't find on wowhead or mmo-champion, but it needs to be purged off quickly. Ideal for this job is an enhance shaman or two, and if you don't have them then a mage. Hunters can purge it, but the 8 second cooldown on tranq shot makes us bad candidates for the job, since it needs to get stripped off fast, before he one-shots someone with his lightning. The lightning is chain lightning, so everyone should keep a 15-yard separation from each other. Easy on 10, but still doable on 25.
He periodically summons two kinds of mobs: Mistresses of Pain and infernals. The infernals have an annoying blink ability and are in general a bitch to pick up, so help out your friendly off tank (or tanks) with a misdirect and enjoy the glyphed cooldown reduction on killshot. The Mistresses do a couple things that truly suck for the healers, but luckily we don't have to worry about them. I think we can maybe help them out with one, though. Spinning Pain Spike is one of those abilities that does just a little bit more than 100% of your health in damage, so something like a disc priest's bubble is necessary to keep it from killing people. However! I think that maybe we can FD when she jumps over to us and short-circuit the ability. I'm not 100% sure, as I've only had the chance to test it once, but if I'm right and it works, it's a nice way to take a little pressure off of the healers for this fight.
Oh, last, he'll occasionally put a debuff on you that makes you spawn a little pool of green fire every three seconds. Stutter-run to the outside ring of the coliseum if you get it so you don't leave a bunch of fire in the middle of the raid.
That's all I've got for now, we'll see what the Faction Champions look like next week.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A little more about 3.2 gear

I realized that I missed a neckpiece yesterday, undoubtedly due to the fact that MMO-champ has it and wowhead does not: the Charge of the Eredar. This little guy is in the same unenviable position as the cloak from Northrend Beasts, it's entirely lacking in armor pen. Compared to Broach of the Wailing Night it would net me:
+13 agility
+7 stam
+17 AP
+18 crit rating
-46 armor pen
+44 haste
So overall, clearly a DPS gain, but one that's going to remain my lowest priority. Axiom uses a loot list system to distribute its loot, and there are only so many spaces available to list items. I'd rather spend those precious spots on things like the new crossbow and things itemized with crit/armor pen.
That said, for anyone saddened by the cloak situation yesterday, there is hope: Sylvanas' Cunning drops from the heroic tribute chest. That means it's amongst the handful of items most difficult to acquire from this content patch, but the hunters wearing one are going to be pulling somewhere in the 9-10k DPS range for Icecrown, I'm sure. And hey, having something to look forward to is never bad.
All of the armor penetration on this gear had me making a prediction yesterday that we're going to see the disappearance of survival as a high-end raiding spec by the time Icecrown is released. I made this prediction on a message board, and one person pointed out that the 3.2 change to survival's Lock and Load mechanic were actually a pretty substantial buff. If you're unaware of what those were, they added an internal cooldown to the talent and increased the proc chance. This meant no more strings of 2 and 3 back to back procs, which was a little sad - it was pretty fun firing 6 explosive shots in a row when that happened. On the other hand, you're nearly guaranteed a proc out of every Black Arrow duration, and that's an overall increase to damage.
Still, I don't see survival keeping up. I haven't simulated it or done any math or anything, so I could very easily be wrong. Nonetheless, survival just doesn't scale with the new gear as well as marks. For one, Explosive Shot doesn't care about weapon damage, so those new crossbows firing Mack trucks instead of arrows aren't doing much for SV. For two, marks makes use of all the stats on gear much more efficiently than survival. Both specs are in love with all that delicious agility and crit on the new stuff, but survival is semi-indifferent to the haste and armor pen. Most of its damage comes from ExS, an instant-cast, non-physical attack. Most of a marks hunter's damage comes from autoshot and steadyshot, both of which benefit from both haste and armor pen. Not only that, but marks hunters have been hitting 8k DPS with top-shelf Ulduar gear, and that's with an armor pen proc. When they've got that much armor pen just passively, I just don't see survival matching it without some other sort of buff.
Of course, there's always BM. It was still top dog when Wrath came out, and there's at least one blue post saying that they think they nerfed it too hard with 3.08. It's possible the iconic big red pets will make a return at some point.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hunter gear for 3.2

It's been almost exactly a week since WoW patch 3.2, Call of the Crusade, was released, and I've finally gotten around to putting together my semi-definitive loot list for the new raid instance. I've been sticking to normal mode loot so far, although much to my chagrin I've had to include a ring from the 10-man. Luckily it's from the second boss in there, but I was still hoping to avoid having to raid different lockouts on off-nights. Three days a week is the max I want to raid, really, but I get so bothered when I know there's a really good piece in that other lockout and I could have it if I just went to the off-night raids.
Anyway, on to the items with thoughts to follow. Anywhere that says "Triumph T9" refers to the item level 245 tier pieces, purchased with a Trophy of the Crusade and a number of emblems of triumph.
Head: Triumph T9
Neck: I'll come back to this slot shortly
Shoulders: Pauldrons of the Devourer from Emblems of Triumph
Back: Cloak of the Untamed Predator from Northrend Beasts 25
Chest: Triumph T9
Wrist: Bracers of the Silent Massacre from Faction Champions 25
Hands: Triumph T9
Belt: Waistguard of Deathly Dominion from Anub'arak 25
Legs: Triumph T9
Feet: Greaves of Ruthless Judgment from the Twin Val'kyr 25
Ring1: Dexterous Brightstone Ring from the triumph emblem vendor
Ring2: Planestalker Band from Jaraxxus 10
Trinket1: Death's Choice from the Twin Val'kyr 25
Trinket2: Darkmoon Card: Greatness from the Darkmoon Faire
Melee weapon: Hellion Glaive from Anub'arak 25
Ranged: Death's Head Crossbow from Jaraxxus 25
Total hit: 260
Total armor penetration rating: 553
Total sockets, counting belt buckle: 12
First, that neck slot I said I'd come back to: sadly, no loot list I've seen has mentioned any neck pieces other than the Collar of Unending Torment from Northrend Beasts 10. Now, the new neck has a few more item levels than the Broach of the Wailing Night, but it's one of those pieces that's a little better in one stat, a little lower in another, and is just altogether unimpressive. For that reason, unless and until someone finds an item level 245 neck piece with agility in the game, the neck slot is absolutely the last one that I'm going to worry about upgrading. What I've got is roughly as good as anything else from the new instance, so I'll worry about other slots first.
The cloak is another troublesome spot. Haste has simply fallen behind as a stat for hunters since the 3.1 armor penetration buff, and honestly I would prefer to wear Drape of the Faceless General over the new crit/haste cloak. Unfortunately, I haven't been in a guild that's really been able to consistently raid off-night 10s, so the farthest hardmode I've advanced to was the Freya+3 fight. A Drape of the Faceless just isn't in the cards for me. Luckily, with so much of a marks hunter's damage coming from autoshot and steady shot, haste is a substantially better stat for us than it is for survival or BM hunters, so Untamed Predator is a perfectly decent cloak.
This will be the first tier ever where I plan on wearing all five pieces of it, and the reason is pretty simple: there's just not a whole lot of choice. If it were possible, I'd love to replace the tier haste/armor pen gloves with some offset crit/armor pen gloves, but there's nothing available. In fact, there's not a whole lot of choice for any slot. The only reasonable physcal DPS trinket is Death's Choice. If Mjolnir Runestone had ever dropped for me, I would pair it with that. As is, I'll be pairing it with the nearly identical Darkmoon Card: Greatness. If the two trinkets turn out to share an internal cooldown, I'll run the new normal 5-man for the armor pen trinket with an AP proc there. That's pretty much it for gearing decisions.
Total absence of an actual bow is a little sad too, but at least the crossbow drops from an early boss, so I'll (probably) have it sooner rather than later. The polearm is regrettably ugly, but there's simply no dual-wield alternative. The Blood Fury axe is itemized well, but two of those somehow have fewer stats on them than the spear.
The hit total is also quite awkward. It's 3 points off the cap, which means I could definitely see an occasional miss, but hit is such an expensive stat in terms of itemization points that I don't want to slot a yellow hit/agility gem and and waste 7 points of it. Either way, a single hit piece from either heroic raid will clear up the hit disparity.
On the upside, all that armor pen on un-gemmed gear is pretty fantastic. I'm a blacksmith, so I'll actually have a total of 14 sockets. A nightmare tear will go in one of those to activate my meta gem, which leaves the rest of those sockets for fractured cardinal rubies. That's an additional 260 armor pen. Elixirs of armor piercing plus the 50% bonus for being an alchemist will add another 67 rating and hearty rhino will add another 40. That's a grand total of 920 armor penetration rating, only 312 rating off of the cap of 1232. That means that even without runestone, it will be absolutely worth it to spec out of improved arcane and drop it from my rotation and go with pure physical damage.
Hm. Now that I think about it, dropping those points from improved arcane would free me up to possibly put some points into focused aim, and that would let me pick up Pauldrons of the Devourer, so at least there's a little gear wiggle room at the end of the tunnel.
That's all for now! Plans for future posts include guides on hunter mechanics for both marks and survival specs, new hunter gear guides, hunter guides for various boss fights, and all kinds of other ruminations on being a PvE hunter in a progression guild.