Friday, December 24, 2010

Cataclysm PvE Huntering at 85: Survival

Updated February 20, 2012!

Survival and Marksmanship are, at the time of this update, both very competitive DPS specs. Your choice of which spec to play should really depend on your own preferences as well as the needs of your raid. If your raid lacks some source of the 10% AP buff (20% for melee), then you should probably be playing Marksmanship. If your raid could use the 10% haste buff - or even a version of it that's more reliable than a shaman's totem - you should probably be playing Survival. Heck, if you don't have any other source of the 3% damage done buff (Communion from ret paladins or Arcane Tactics from arcane mages) you should be playing Beast Mastery! If none of these buffs are a consideration, then play whichever you like. With that established, let's move into...

The Basics!

The raison d'ĂȘtre of our class is to do a lot of damage per second. If you're intimidated or confused by focus, please take a quick second and read my earlier post "the Tao of Focus." We convert focus in our focus bar into damage on the boss by using a variety of abilities, some of which consume focus and some of which generate focus. We want to wobble back and forth between surfeit and starvation, never quite bumping into either extreme.

We'll take a quick look at the spec to start with, so please click here: 3/7/31

There's sadly not a whole lot of wiggle room in this spec. It provides very strong single-target damage, as well as some of the best AoE burst damage in the game, and for the most part, shifting any of the talent points around will make those two statements less true. It feels weird taking Hunter Vs. Wild - believe me, I know how weird it feels taking a stamina talent - but there aren't great alternatives. The only other option is Survival Tactics, which was actually what I had for a long time for the reduction on the Disengage cooldown. I eventually realized that I was never waiting for DE to come off cooldown, even as MM, and the extra health from the stam talent was going to be more helpful for heroic-mode progression. The only other thing to note is that you only really need 1/2 Serpent Spread. This is because most of the damage from it comes from the initial application of the stings, all of which benefit from 2/2 Improved Serpent Sting as if they were full-length stings. The duration increase isn't bad or anything, but you'll be reapplying it with another multi-shot before it wears off anyway.

Like most DPS classes and specs these days, survival hunter damage makes use of a priority system. There are a couple other things to keep in mind, but for the most part, here are your priorities ranked from most to least important:
  1. Explosive Shot
  2. Kill Shot
  3. Black Arrow
  4. Serpent Sting
  5. Arcane Shot
  6. Cobra Shot
If explosive shot is available, use it. If not, use kill shot. If not that, then black arrow. And so on!

This means that as you start a boss fight, you're going to fire explosive, then black arrow, then serpent sting. This is where the first common objection to the priority happens: many players ask if serpent sting shouldn't be the first ability used, due to the 10% damage bonus from Noxious Stings. In fact, that behavior is how I started out the expansion, but as people have been simulating and testing, it's turned out that it's more important to get those two very high-damage abilities on cooldown as soon as possible.

Keeping explosive shot on cooldown is the most important thing you can do throughout the course of the fight, which is why we have to be careful with priorities five and six. Explosive shot has a six second cooldown, and one second of that is used by the GCD, leaving us with five seconds. A hunter with an average amount of haste (anything over 760 haste rating) can fit three cobra shots into those five seconds.

Furthermore, black arrow and explosive trap share a (talent-reduced) cooldown of 24 seconds, or the span of time represented by four explosive shot cooldowns. You are losing DPS if these abilities come off of cooldown and you don't have the focus available to use them immediately - this is what we mean when we talk about "focus starvation".

So the interaction between cobra shot and arcane shot requires that you know what you're going to do be doing in the upcoming six seconds or so. In general, you're going to use arcane shot to get rid of 22 focus that would otherwise cause you to cap out on focus. The times this is most likely to happen are when you get a lucky string of procs from Thrill of the Hunt or when you're under the effects of a haste spell such as rapid fire or bloodlust. The times when use of arcane shot is likely to be a mistake are when you've got explosive shot and you'll need to use black arrow instead of explosive trap in the immediate future: remember that black arrow consumes 35 focus and explosive shot consumes 44 focus, for a grand total of 79: that's most of your bar. And their cooldowns do line up, so you're very likely to have them both coming up at the same time. You need to plan ahead and be ready for that to happen.

If you're doing all of this, then you're going to be doing very respectable DPS, but every so often you're going to get a little pistols-and-explosion animation above your head accompanied by an explosion icon. It's time to handle

Lock and Load Procs!

Lock and Load's proc and the reaction to it is extremely important to Survival hunter DPS. Explosive shot is our most important damaging ability, so getting a bunch of free ones with no cooldown is an immediate, obvious boost to our damage. However, responding to it properly isn't really intuitive and is much more complicated than it was in Wrath, so it's going to take some explaining to see how it works.

First we'll have to understand how the Explosive Shot DoT works. It's a 3 second DoT that ticks 3 times: immediately, then again a second later, then a final time a second after that. It also uses the same DoT-clipping mechanics that caster DoTs do, even though it is not affected by haste, unlike caster DoTs. This means that if you re-apply the DoT just before the last tick, you do not lose that damage. If you re-apply the DoT just before the second tick, however, you will lose the third tick's damage. Finally, the reason you won't lose the last tick's damage if you re-apply in between the second and third ticks is that it rolls that final tick's damage into the new DoT, giving it a longer duration.

Ok.

What this means is that you could theoretically just mash your ExS button twice as soon as LnL procs and never lose damage on the first two ExS at least, but testing has shown that it is occasionally possible to re-apply the DoT before the second tick has happened. This means that if you're moving towards the boss when you fire the second ExS, you need to at least wait a half second (or a little less) in between the first and second ExS. This also means that the duration of your second ExS will be longer because it's picking up the third tick of your first ExS. So even if you have the focus to mash your ExS button three times, this would be a damage loss because you'd be clipping the final two ticks of your second ExS.

With all of this in mind, we can see what our strategies are going to be for LnL procs.
  1. LnL procs with very low focus (very rare):
    When this happens, you'll want to use the breathing room of the free explosives to build up enough focus to immediately fire your third ExS. The way to do this is to fire
    explosive shot -> cobra shot -> explosive shot -> cobra shot -> explosive shot
  2. LnL procs with medium focus (common at middle-low gear levels):
    This is going to be a more common situation when LnL procs halfway into the ExTrap duration. You're not going to need to put down a new trap or reapply Black Arrow any time soon, and in fact it may even still be ticking on the boss. For whatever reason, it's looking like you're going to be scarily close to 100 focus if you simply weave in cobra shots as in the first example. In this instance, the correct response is to fire
    explosive shot -> cobra shot -> explosive shot -> explosive shot
    Since you're not rolling the DoT from the first to the second shot, the second shot's duration is not increased. That means you can just roll the final DoT tick from the second shot to the third shot instead, putting ExS back on cooldown as fast as possible.

  3. LnL procs with very high focus (common at higher gear levels):
    It might be the case that you can tell you're going to have at least 66 focus after you've used up your LnL charges. If this is true, then you do have to keep in mind you can't just insert a short wait in between your second and your third shots. The second shot may well have a longer duration due to rolling the DoT from the first shot, so waiting a full GCD is the best course of action. If you've got enough focus, why not throw an ArcS in there? It'll actually do some damage while it's using up the time necessary to keep from wasting ExS damage:
    explosive shot -> wait a half second -> explosive shot -> arcane shot -> explosive shot
If you're at really super-high focus going into an LnL proc and you're worried about capping and wasting focus from passive focus regen: you can just put the ArcS in between the first two ExS instead of the second two. On the other side of things, if you're going into the proc with enough focus to immediately fire your third ExS but you're going to come up short if you try to squeeze in an arcane, don't sweat it! Just wait for a full second. The primary goal of a Survival hunter is to keep Explosive Shot on cooldown. Other considerations are important, but secondary.

Remember how, way early on in this insanely long post, I talked briefly about utility and crowd control and then said I'd get back to them? The time has come.

Utility and Crowd Control!

Whew, ok! Almost there. In the world of modern raiding and instancing, we once more need to use our crowd control abilities. Fortunately, ours are some of the best in the game. Freezing trap works on almost everything that can be crowd controlled at all and, due to trap launcher, can be applied with extreme versatility. There are two basic ways you're going to be CCing something, though, so we'll start with those.

With the changes to how Crowd Control works implemented in patch 4.2, almost every single mob you trap will be a very simple affair. The mob will be standing there, oblivious to your presence some 30 to 40 yards away. You'll activate trap launcher and put a freezing trap under its feet, the trap will go off, and its friends will stand around as if nothing had happened until the tank pulls. You may need to use camouflage in order to get within range if there's some sort of issue with line of sight, but that's it.

However, you'll also encounter situations where you may need to trap something once you've already entered combat. The pull on the platform where Nalorakk awaits the party in Zul'Aman is an example of where you'll have to do this, and you also may need to do it to prevent a wipe if the party or raid facepulls a patrolling group of mobs.

You'll want to choose a melee mob mob for this, especially as survival, since you won't have an interrupt like Marksmanship hunters do. This is a skill I had to learn to clear heroic dungeons in BC, and I still in some ways prefer it because I control exactly where they're standing and where they get trapped. I can also communicate that information to the tank so she's not tanking right on top of the CC.

This is accomplished by choosing a location well away from the killing area (or possibly "The Slaughter Zone!!" if you have some way of applying reverb to your voice*) and making your way to it. Make sure the pull is marked up if possible (skull for primary target, cross for second, blue square for trap, star for sap/shackle, moon for sheep, diamond for banish/seduce/fear, triangle for hex/bind**) and have the tank pull by attacking the primary target. Then use distracting shot to yank your CC target towards you before anyone else has hit it or put any dots on it or anything. As your new friend is running over to say hi, drop a freezing trap and the mob will obediently trot into it. Do make sure to detarget your trap mob before it reaches the trap or auto-shot will break it and you'll be eating melee swings to the face. Once your guy is on ice, should the pull actually take long enough that you have to re-trap, you can do so however you wish.

Simple!

Wyvern Sting can also serve as CC, of course, but it's relatively limited. I generally prefer to save it for reactive CC. It's very nice to be able to knock out the mob that patted up to the party and started hacking away at the healer, just so long as you let the tank know there's a slept mob that will need to be tanked shortly, since CC can not be re-applied to wyvern sting targets.

If you must use wyvern sting as primary CC because your party's other DPS are a death knight and a fury warrior, then CC your sting target after you've trapped your trap target. And again, be sure to detarget the mob after you've launched the sting - otherwise you'll break your own CC with auto shot.

Anyway, that's it for now! Armed with the information in this post I think anyone can be a formidable asset to any dungeon group. There are of course things I haven't touched on here, such as kiting, and I will address those at some point. I'm also going to add pictures to this post somehow or other. I think we've got a pretty good start here, though!

* Other alternatives might be "the Killing Floor!!" or "the Charnel Perimiter!!" or "the Abattoir Area!!" The reader is encouraged to exercise his or her creativity here.

** These are the Sole Righteous and True Raid Marking Conventions and any deviation therefrom is vile and perverted heresy. I'm serious. If you're screwing with these we're going to show up outside your door with an entourage of extremely dangerous and humorless men. Your loved ones, friends, and neighbors will be suspect as well. The reader is expressly forbidden from exercising any creativity whatsoever here.

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