Monday, October 19, 2009

Maximizing Marksmanship

I was taking a look at the Marksmanship thread on EJ and saw someone recently suggesting that, even for a Marks hunter still gemming agility, it's pretty easy to reach the point where it's worthwhile to spec out of imp arcane and drop arcane shot from your rotation.  Further, it was suggested that glyphing for Aimed Shot and True Shot Aura and then moving Aimed Shot's priority above Chimera Shot would yield better damage.
The tests that one person posted looked interesting, so I wandered over to and plugged the changes in just to see what it looked like.  Surprisingly, at least according to a simulated model, it looked like the EJ poster was right.  I switched glyphs around a little bit, but it looked like the highest DPS option was to keep the Serpent Sting glyph and then use the other two glyph slots for the above glyphs.
If you're curious, the reasoning for the priority change goes something like this: if you glyph AiS, you're going to have that cooldown and CS's cooldown run into each other every so often.  CS is always going to do more damage than AiS but it also has a longer cooldown.  This means that when you push it back by the length of a GCD, you create room for more Aimed Shots.  Over the course of a boss fight, this means that you get more extra Aimed Shots than you cost yourself Chimera Shots.  The extra crit chance on Aimed Shot (10% is a ton) also means that the Piercing Shots debuff gets more uptime and more of that uptime comes from Aimed Shot crits instead of Steady Shot crits.  AiS hits harder than SS and that means dot ticks generated from it are bigger.
I also thought that it was a little odd that I would be dropping AS from my spec and rotation with under 500 armor penetration rating.  The usual reasoning behind that change is that, at a certain point of armor pen rating, a Steady Shot plus the bonus damage from the Piercing Shots dot will do more damage than AS, even though AS will always hit harder than SS on their own.  I wasn't aware that I had already reached that point, but I can't say that it was an unpleasant discovery.  Getting the talent points refunded from Imp AS meant that I could put those into Improved Hunter's Mark, which should be good for the raid as a whole.  Of course, simulated models are only so useful, and everything going on in an actual boss fight could negate whatever gains the model says you should see.  It's always going to come down to spending the gold to test out the changes on actual raid bosses and see if they pan out.
The results of the testing have been really encouraging so far.  To begin with, I should note that the bug with the TSA glyph isn't totally fixed.  They have fixed it so that another hunter with TSA on won't overwrite your own aura and break your glyph, but Unleashed Rage and Abominable Might both will.  Luckily, you can deal with this with a macro.  For example, here's my AiS macro:
/cancelaura unleashed rage
/cancelaura abominable might
/cast aimed shot
/cast silencing shot
As you can see, I've also got my silencing shot in there.  That's because silencing does some damage and doesn't activate the GCD, so as long as you've got it macroed to something you use frequently, you can make sure it's kept more or less on cooldown.  It's worth a few extra DPS.
It was really interesting to see how the glyph change altered my damage breakdown.  Northrend Beasts is a pretty solid "stand there and shoot the boss" benchmark fight, so looking at my numbers from it was a great way to verify that the changes I was hoping for actually happened.  The first thing I noticed is that Piercing Shots shifted from 5th-6th on my list of damaging abilities up to 3rd.  What this means is that dropping Arcane and buffing AiS meant I got a lot more uptime on that dot as well as increased the size of the dot ticks.  The next thing I checked was the critical strike rate on AiS to see if my TSA glyph was working as it should.  My baseline, auto shot critical strike rate was about 51%.  I have 3/3 Improved Barrage, which should bring the AiS crit rate up to 63% just on its own.  My actual AiS crit rate was 74.5%: pretty much exactly what you would expect if the glyph was working properly.
The other cool thing about this change is directly related to dropping Arcane Shot.  All of my arcane shots have been replaced by Steady Shots.  Now: on their own, they do less damage.  They increase piercing shots uptime, though, and more importantly for the glyph changes, firing more Steadies means getting more ISS procs.  The glyph of Aimed Shot and glyph of TSA combination then means that I'm channeling more of those ISS procs into Aimed Shots that themselves have a higher critical strike chance, making the Piercing Shot dot ticks even bigger.
The whole thing is an example of what's cool about playing a DPS class: getting to see your gear, spec, glyphs, and playstyle all work together intuitively for big yellow numbers.  Totally enjoyable.
I should mention that Glyph of the Hawk and Glyph of Hunter's Mark are both possible alternatives to the AiS glyph.  It's not quite as aesthetically satisfying, and the numbers seem very close, so I will very possibly keep the AiS glyph, but I do feel duty-bound to test it.  At a guess, it works in a more brute-force fashion by just pumping out more auto shots.  The lowly white damage attack remains the Marks hunter's top source of damage and is one of the few things that's very, very difficult to haste cap, so I could certainly see a straightforward buff to it being effective.  I'll keep testing and post my results here.
Next week's post will be a more in-depth look at configuration of the Watcher addon - complete with screenshots!

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