Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why your pet is murdering critters

At least once or twice a day, someone posts a thread to the official hunter forums that says something like "every time I fight something, once it's dead my fox/bear runs around and kills all the nearby critters. Why is this?"
There's a lot of speculation in every thread. My favorite guess has been "you know how mobs will sometimes run over and kill a critter in the world, to look like they're hunting? That little bit of code is somehow still active in your pet." While this is creative and fun to imagine ("aw, my pet is hunting!"), this is not what's happening.
Bears have Demoralizing Roar and foxes have Tailspin. Both of these abilities create an AoE, non-damaging debuff that puts them in combat with everything nearby but doesn't do any damage. This means that any critters in the vicinty are getting this debuff without dying, so that as soon as your main target is dead, your bear or fox goes "but I'm still in combat with these critters! Better kill 'em!"
Also, if you've killed one of the Cataclysm rare spawn beasts, you may have noticed that they drop an interesting vendor gray. I hope your 25 gold is forever tainted by your guilt, murderer!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

After the Yuletide

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas day, if it's a thing for you! We had a pretty good one 'round these parts. Nice and snowy outside, little kids excited about all their presents, and I had a copy of the Arthas book in my stocking. I've never actually read any of the WoW licensed fiction before, but I've heard good things about Christie Golden's books in the universe, so I was excited to take a peek.
It took me about 4-ish hours to get through, so it was pretty light. That's of course one of the usual pleasures of licensed fiction, it's very like having a couple puff pastries as opposed to the thick, textured richness of cheesecake or more challenging literature. It was generally pretty enjoyable, although having played so much of the game my mental imagery was somewhat damaged by seeing a lot of the action taking the form of the in-game models. Sylvanas' banshee self is a bit less intimidating when you're seeing the sort of cartoony banshee models and animations instead of whatever your imagination can come up with. That's certainly not the fault of the author, however.
The end of the book felt a bit deadliney, I think. The time around the acquisition of Frostmourne especially just didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. Faceless rafts of non-characters appear from nowhere, serve their purpose, and are killed. Muradin's actions seem decidedly out of character. Time and distance dilate and contract in ways that frankly break the suspension of disbelief. But again, I feel that it's likely that these issues grow out of substantial deadline pressure, and the majority of the book progresses pleasantly enough.
And anyway, the real fun of license fiction like this, especially for an MMO, is exploring a different angle of the places we've seen in-game. I've been inside Frostmourne cavern with my character, so seeing the scene she set there was fun. I also never played Warcraft III, so getting a solid sense of its backstory was handy as well. On the other hand, it gave me some pause when considering the future of the game. I mean, the interaction between the Scourge and the Burning Legion and the races of Azeroth is foundational to so much of the game as it was first released. Now that Arthas is dead, do the Forsaken see any advantage to belonging to the Horde? Shouldn't the Horde be more than a little bit suspicious of the Forsaken? I mean I know that Garrosh is suspicious of Sylvanas, but shouldn't there be like Horde weapons inspectors touring Undercity?
Furthermore, why are the Blood Elves still interested in being in the Horde? They joined in their fury following Arthas' destruction of the Sunwell, defecting from the Alliance. I can understand the Alliance not being interested in their re-integration into the Alliance, but the elves have grievances with the Orcs nearly as severe as their grievances with the Scourge. Speaking of which, really, are the elves ever going to sincerely be friends with the Forsaken? I just don't see it happening.
None of these thoughts are new, of course. All of this has been said many times before. Even so, I hadn't really realized before now how big a deal Arthas' death was. Opposition to the Scourge was pretty much The Big Reason for the political organization of WoW at the time of its release. I'll be pretty disappointed if they don't do anything to address that.

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.


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.


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.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In full compliance with Cataclysm blogging regulations

I have a number of things I want to write posts about right now. I would like to update the pre-raid gear list with more information about haste, mastery, crit, and reforging and possibly change the items again. I would also like to write a post about survival's damaging and crowd control abilities and how to use them. I need to write some recruitment posts for my guild and then spam them all over the internet. But first, it would seem I have been slack in the attention I've paid to the very clear Cataclysm blogging guidelines and regulations.
It states quite explicitly in Section 1, Paragraph 17, Section 12, Sub-section b32:
All bloggers are hereby required to write, implement, render in comic format, or in machinima music video format, at least one (1) post bewailing their experience in one of the new heroics and questioning aloud their basic worth and dignity as a human being due to their failures in said heroic.
So yes, as you can see, quite straightforward and I suspect I've waited rather too long to make the post. The licensing board is probably already looking askance at me.
Anyway. The boyfriend was wondering last night if I might like to go on a heroic with his holy paladin. I of course said yes and we queued up for Blackrock Caverns, whose final boss drops a bow I would like very much. The trash went relatively swimmingly, although the first boss did kill me, so a quick tip is in order for him: on heroic difficulty, do not disengage out of skullcracker. Just run out. This was true of defile on the Lich King as well: it seems like a good idea, but for the purposes of certain abilities, the game does not update your position from a disengage until after you've landed. So I fell over dead well outside the range of his AoE, hooray.
Still, stuff like that doesn't dent my self esteem too much. I just note it for the future and move on. We kept clearing and I kept up an illusion of being relatively competent. Which, by the way, is one of the things Lyria and I say to one another when we're pugging the rest of the group through the RDF: "well at least we'll have a good healer and one competent DPS." I also like to tell stories about the hunter that rolled on the strength cloak against my little warrior. I am, for the most part, really confident about my abilities and skill at this game in opposition to the frothing hordes who are often quite bad.
In fact, allow me to back up in time for a bit. My favorite example of individual ability in this game is the BC raid encounter Archimonde. He was the last boss in the Battle for Mount Hyjal, and (like Yogg), he destroyed guilds. The mechanics of the fight were such that if any one person died - and it was pretty easy to die - the raid almost certainly wiped. It was also true that all of the things that killed you were avoidable. You just had to plan ahead for the fears, kite the doomfires correctly, and use the slowfall item when he threw you up in the air.
I have no idea how many times my guild at the time wiped on that guy, but I caused maybe one of them. Myself and Lyria were one of maybe five or six people out of twenty-five that essentially never screwed up. Had the entire raid been composed of usses, we'd've killed the bastard after like 3 wipes and gone "hm, I don't see what the big fuss is."
Back to heroic Blackrock Caverns. The second boss in the instance is Corla, and her mechanic is very very simple and very very easy. She has, on heroic, three little guys on the platform with her, and they get zapped with beams. The beams stack a buff. If the buff reaches 100, they turn into large, very hard-hitting mobs with big health pools. So a player has to stand in front of the beam and block it, but if the player lets the buff stack to 100, she or he gets turned into such an add.
Stand in the beam to about 85, step out, let the buff fall off. Step back in. Kill boss, collect loots. That's it.
First attempt I let the buff stack to 100 and wiped the party. Second attempt I stood out too long and wiped the party. My boyfriend avoided death somehow and rezzed me, but the enhancement shaman dropped the group in disgust. Someone put us back in the queue for a replacement DPS. I accepted the resurrection and stood up with my camera exactly facing the boss platform with the role check dialogue up. I clicked accept, then went to right-click the screen to change my facing, clicked on one of the cultists on the platform, and shot it with an arrow. My boyfriend and the (quite good!) DK he'd already rezzed were killed.
There are times when I think my choice of hobby is strange, because at the time I felt literally nauseous and even writing about it summons some of that back. You know, how would one relate that as a story to friends or aquaintances? "Oh what was I doing last night? Just chilling at home, doing this thing that my boyfriend and I do together for fun. Did I have fun? Good heavens no! It made me feel like shit!"
I've been reading a lot of posts about how healing the new heroics has made people cry, so you'd think it would help that least I'm not alone in getting a touch of miserable from one. But most of those posts have been written by healers, who actually are facing a much more challenging game right now. Their heals are smaller, more expensive, and are being thrown at much larger health pools. I think a lot of the emotional stress they're facing in the new game is from sort of a sense of futility and diminished power: it does not feel powerful and cool to spend 2.5 seconds casting The Big Heal to nudge the target's healthbar .01mm upwards.
In contrast, I failed at a very easy, very simple mechanic. One I've done just fine on normal and one I've certainly done just fine with on Netherspite in Karazhan. The very simplicity of it denies one very much ability to try to make yourself feel better, even. I ended up just staring at the screen and hoping I'd suffered a stroke fifteen minutes ago and would soon collapse: at least then I'd have an excuse!
No such luck.
I still don't have one, but I do think I have the second cousin of one. I think that I pretty much just panicked. I remember watching how fast the debuff stacked up and starting to freak out. Then I looked at Corla's health bar and how slowly it was going down and freaked out more ("how long will I have to do this!?"). Then standing out of the beam and waiting for it to fall off, knowing that every second the wipe looms closer, well: I'm pretty sure my veinous system was just packed with spiky crystalline nodules of adrenaline.
This would all be well and good if I had to run away from a lion, but what I needed instead was the sort of collected calm that I experienced during Archimonde attempts. I needed my eyes to be making circuits of the screen, checking the debuff then checking watcher then checking omen then back to the debuff. I needed fingers that weren't shaking, and most of all I needed to not have the sense of impending doom and attendant panic.
I still need the bow from the last guy in there - and Corla herself drops an alright trinket - so I'm going to be going back tonight and, god dammit, I will be calm.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pre-raid gear post is going to need another update before too long

I've been doing more reading of forums as well as actually putting everything into Female Dwarf. The DPS I've been doing in dungeons has been based pretty much on reading tooltips doing what seemed intuitive, and this has certainly done pretty well so far. But there are some intriguing little twists to the focus-based hunter that I haven't really internalized yet. Haste in particular as a secondary stat varies widely in its value: it's one of those stats that plateaus for us now. By this I mean that there are certain values of haste which are very important, and everything in between is kind of underwhelming. This is because, at certain values, you will generate enough focus in between explosive shots to fire an extra arcane shot. If 100 haste rating and 300 haste rating both get you an extra arcane, then those values are very important and will net you a lot of DPS. 173 haste, however, doesn't get you much of anything.
This means I'm going to have to figure out which plateau I want my pre-raid gear to hit and how I want to hit it. On the positive side, however, this makes reforging a lot less intimidating. I've already been making use of reforging to make up for a scarcity of hit, and now I know that I can have specific haste targets to shoot for which is much nicer than staring at all my stuff and thinking "just because I can reforge, does that mean I should? If so, from what to what?"
I'm geared to the point where I can queue for heroics, which is exciting. I'm sure some groups will fall apart, but that's ok. I am afraid that I've blown all my luck on items from normal dungeons, though: I literally have not lost a roll yet.
The part of me that's inclined towards Super Hardcore Raiding sort of wants to drop alchemy for leatherworking, as the LW profession perk is just so much better than any of the other perks and my gathering alt is a worgen that would get a bonus to skinning. But then I think about leveling another profession from zero and just... no.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mini-post: the unexpected danger of cobra shot

Cobra shot has freed up a lot of focus in the survival damage priorities because we rarely if ever need to re-apply serpent sting in a single-target engagement these days. This in turn means that we can occasionally spam a few arcanes. For me, this happens most often right after I've used black arrow, because the only thing coming up that I'll need to spend focus on is explosive. Unfortunately, this means that a couple times now I've had lock and load proc while spamming arcanes and accidentally wasted it on them. I shall simply have to be more careful with arcanes while black arrow is on the boss.

85 and a shiny thing

Well, Pradzha has made it to 85. She actually dinged on like the second or third turn-in for the new arena in Twilight Highlands. On the way to 85, she utterly cleared out Vashj'ir, Ul'dum, and Deepholm and just scratched the surface of the Highlands. She's going to have to do a little more questing there at some point, just to activate the portal from Stormwind and back, but that's not very time sensitive.
I've now tried one 85 normal pug on her, a random which went to Grim Batol. The tank got itself killed on a trash pull, so I offered to CC and mark. The first boss is pretty straightforward (think Icehowl), yet somehow I was the only person in the party to move out of his charge. He dropped non-heroic Skardyn's Grace and I won the roll, which is absolutely unheard of. I used my Darkmoon Card: Greatness literally throughout the entirety of Wrath and I used the Hourglass of the Unraveller throughout BC. I'm serious: Illidan had to face the unmitigated fury of that trinket's proc. The danger here is that I'll be working on Deathwing in a year's time and still using the trinket I got yesterday.
Anyway, the second boss in Grim Batol pats and the tank let it walk into him without especially noticing. Even then it needn't have been a wipe, but when the yellow messsage flashed across the screen saying "THE BOSS HAS EQUIPPED A REALLY BIG HEAVY WEAPON IT IS SO BIG IT MADE HIM WALK SLOWER," the tank didn't think to kite and was of course squashed to paste. Not even my frantically typing into party chat "kite the boss kite kite kite" seemed to help. Although why I'd think he'd notice that and not the 93-point font in startling yellow in the middle of his screen I'm not sure.
On the run back we explained things and - I'm serious here! - no one was rude. It was all very understanding, this is a new expansion, here's the mechanic in play, let's kill the boss, shake it off etc. This somehow prompted the tank to run in, pull that same second boss again, and then drop group in an attempt to wipe us.
Sometimes the behavior of my fellow primates is just a mystery to me.
I'm hoping to convince guildies to play in some heroics this week, as I think skill and teamwork will be more than sufficient to compensate for not being utterly dripping with 333 blooz. Pradzha, for example, can CC two things at a time and has been anywhere from two to five thousand DPS ahead of pugs on any given boss. Some guildies have been neck and neck with her, but for the most part I'm averaging 40% of party damage done. Which is why I'm thinking that a party of people similarly shifted off to the right side of the bell curve shouldn't have too much of an issue running heroics even before we're totally geared up from normals.
Finally, some of my favorite people from our Wrath raiding team have returned, so I am super psyched to resume raiding on February second.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How embarrassing!

Prompted by a comment on the previous post, I did the research I should have done before putting the effort into the list. It looks like haste/mastery is a better secondary stat pairing than crit/haste, so I'll be updating the previous post within a day or two with a new list and editing some of the text to reflect the research.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Welcome to 85: The Hunter Pre-raid Gear List and How to Make It

Updated December 18, 2011!

One of the lesser-known facts about this game is that it can make spreadsheets fun.

No I'm serious, making gear lists is one of my favorite parts of the game. And since "what gear should I wear?" is such a common question for every class, let's walk through how I go about making these lists. The first thing any DPS player has to do is figure out their hit cap. A quick stroll through the EJ Cataclysm hunter FAQ thread yielded the following two numbers:

  • General hit cap is 960 hit rating
  • Draenei hit cap is 840 hit rating

I annotate those numbers on my spreadsheet near the bottom, and then I'll use that same file throughout the expansion. Any time I forget what my hitcap is, I just open up my gear sheet and there it is. Then I format my spreadsheet with 5 columns: slot, item, hit, hastesockets, and source. Slot is where the item goes, item is the item's actual name, hit is how much hit it has, haste is the amount of haste rating on it, sockets is the number of gem sockets it has, and source is where it comes from: JP vendor, rep, or boss it drops from and instance or raid that the boss lives in.

Then I go to wowhead and navigate into the appropriate part of the database. Armor, for example, lives in database -> items -> armor -> mail -> chest (or hands or waist or whatever body part you're looking to gird). Non-mail items are under the broader "armor" menu, while the various weapons are, of course, in the "weapons" menu. Once I've chosen a category of item, I set up the following filters:

  • Wearable by: alliance, hunter
  • Agility > 0
  • Expertise <= 0
  • Resilience <= 0

Here's what these filters do, in the order that I've listed them:

  • "Wearable by alliance" means that I won't see anything that's Horde-only. I'm also not picking the "Wearable only by alliance" option because most items in the game can be worn by both.
  • "Wearable by hunter" just keeps the shaman tier gear out of the list
  • "Agility > 0" means "agility greater than 0," because frankly, armor without agility is useless to us.
  • "Expertise <= 0" means "expertise less than or equal to 0," which keeps all the non-tier shaman gear and rogue/feral druid jewelry and cloaks out of our list. Expertise, if you're wondering, is a stat that reduces the chance your melee attacks will be dodged or parried. Not so useful for a ranged class.
  • Setting resilience to zero just keeps the PvP gear out of the list.

There's only one real exception to these filters, and that's trinkets. For trinkets I pretty much look at everything that's out, since their equip effects and procs vary so widely. Setting those aside, however, once I've applied all my filters I click the "Level" column header, which sorts the list from highest item level to lowest item level. This means you're always looking at the most recent stuff. Then you just go down the column until you find an item you like and copy it into your spreadsheet, along with the relevant information (amount of hit, number of sockets, and where it comes from). I've also got my spreadsheet set up to calculate the sum of the numbers I've got in my "hit" column, so I always know how much hit rating I've got with my current list.

The release of the successive content patches in Cataclysm has made maintenance of this gear list increasingly complex. I think that now, with the release of patch 4.3 and the gear reset that accompanied it, I have to split this into four different sections. The first section will be all the gear that's easiest to obtain for a brand new 85 hunter, which at this point means farming heroics for thousands and thousands of justice points. Don't just blow off the 346 blues that drop while you're farming JP! If you're wearing 317 green bracers and Van'cleef drops her 346 blue bracers, roll need and put 'em on. I wouldn't suggest enchanting them since they'll be replaced with a 378 item in a week or two, but make use of what's there.

Your rule of thumb for drops should be: if it's mail (if applicable) and has more agility than what you've got and doesn't have expertise, equip it! Don't worry about crit vs. haste vs. mastery or reforging or whatever. If it has more agility, take it. If it has sockets, throw some green-quality gems in those. Then go back to farming heroics.

The second section will be a gear list of what stuff to look for once you've raised your item level to the point where the troll heroics (Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub) start popping. This should happen pretty quickly, because the 378 equipment you can buy with JP will elevate your average item level past 346 extremely quickly.

The third section is for when you become eligible for the Dragon Soul heroics. Once you reach this point, you should stop queueing for random Cataclysm heroics and start queueing just for the DS instances. These instances will fill in the holes left by your JP gear. This is the stuff you should be enchanting and putting blue-quality gems in.

The final section of the post will have considerations to keep in mind once you're eligible to queue in the Looking For Raid queue, but by the time you reach that point your gear will absolutely be sufficient to step up to a normal-modes raid guild and start contributing DPS in the high 20s to low 30s.

On to the lists!

Section 1 - available at item level 333

Head: Worgen Hunter's Helm, dropped by Lord Godfrey Shadowfang Keep (heroic)
Neck: Necklace of Smoke Signals, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
ShouldersBloodpetal Mantle, dropped by Ammunae in the Halls of Origination (heroic)
Back: Mantle of Doubt, quest reward from Elemental Bonds: The Vow
Chest: Flamewaker's Tunic, purchased for 2,200 Justice Points
Wrists: Bracers of Forked Lightning, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
Hands: Flamewaker's Gloves, purchased for 1,650 Justice Points
Waist: Hail-Strung Belt, dropped by Altairus in Vortex Pinnacle (heroic)
Legs: Flamewaker's Legguards, purchased for 2,200 Justice Points
Feet: Treads of Malorne, from exalted reputation with the Guardians of Hyjal
Ring 1: Matoclaw's Band, purchased for 88 gold from Zen'vorka in the Molten Front
Ring 2: Splintered Brimstone Seal, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
Trinket 1: Fluid Death, purchased for 1,650 Justice Points. Note: make this your first JP purchase!
Trinket 2Tia's Grace, dropped by Siamat in Lost City of the Tol'vir (heroic)
Melee Weapon: Seliza's Spear, from General Husam in Lost City of the Tol'vir (heroic)
Ranged Weapon: Amber Messenger, dropped by Obsidius in Blackrock Caverns (heroic)

There are a few notes that go with this list. The first few concern trinkets, as it's always notoriously hard to get the RNG to play nicely with you when it comes to them. My first choice for an alternative trinket would be Grace of the Herald from Corla in heroic Blackrock Caverns. Another alternative is Key to the Endless Chamber from Corborus in heroic Stonecore. Alchemists can make themselves a Quicksilver Alchemist Stone, which is really an excellent trinket.

The big limiting factor for your DPS with this starter gear is definitely going to be your weapon. Don't worry too much about it though: you'll be zooming through troll heroics in no time, and the 353 weapons that drop in those will be a nice boost. You can also keep your eye on the AH and see if anyone lists a Ranseur of Hatred or a Lava Bolt Crossbow for cheap, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Most of the people that would be pugging Firelands are going to be in doing the Dragon Soul heroics and LFR instead. And keep in mind that 378 weapons drop in those heroics, so you don't want to spend more than a few hundred gold on a 378 BoE.

Section 2 - available at item level 346

Head: Headdress of Sharpened Vision, dropped by Dakaara in Zul'Aman (heroic)
NeckNecklace of Smoke Signals, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
Shoulders: Pauldrons of Nalorakk, dropped by Nalorakk in Zul'Aman (heroic)
BackMantle of Doubt, quest reward from Elemental Bonds: The Vow
ChestFlamewaker's Tunic, purchased for 2,200 Justice Points
Wrists: Bracers of Forked Lightning, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
HandsFlamewaker's Gloves, purchased for 1,650 Justice Points
Waist: Waistband of Hexes, dropped by Hex Lord Malacrass in Zul'Aman (heroic)
LegsFlamewaker's Legguards, purchased for 2,200 Justice Points
Feet: Treads of Malorne, from exalted reputation with the Guardians of Hyjal
Ring 1: Matoclaw's Band, purchased for 88 gold from Zen'vorka in the Molten Front
Ring 2: Splintered Brimstone Seal, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
Trinket 1Tia's Grace, dropped by Siamat in Lost City of the Tol'vir (heroic)
Trinket 2: Fluid Death, purchased for 1,650 Justice Points
Melee Weapon: Jin'do's Verdict, dropped by Jin'do in Zul'Gurub (heroic)
Ranged Weapon: Mandokir's Tribute, dropped by Jin'do in Zul'Gurub (heroic)

Section 3 - available at item level 353

Head: Dawnslayer Helm, dropped by Asira Dawnslayer in Hour of Twilight (heroic)
NeckNecklace of Smoke Signals, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
Shoulders: Betrayer's Pauldrons, dropped by Archbishop Benedictus in Hour of Twilight (heroic)
BackCloak of the Banshee Queen, dropped by the Echo of Sylvanas in End Time (heroic)
ChestFlamewaker's Tunic, purchased for 2,200 Justice Points
Wrists: Bracers of Forked Lightning, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
HandsFlamewaker's Gloves, purchased for 1,650 Justice Points
Waist: Cinch of the World Shaman, quest reward from To Wyrmrest!
LegsFlamewaker's Legguards, purchased for 2,200 Justice Points
Feet: Dead End Boots, dropped by the random shrine bosses in End Time (heroic)
Ring 1: Mannoroth's Signet, dropped from the loot chest at the end of the Well of Eternity (heroic)
Ring 2: Splintered Brimstone Seal, purchased for 1,250 Justice Points
Trinket 1Arrow of Time, dropped by Murozond in End Time (heroic)
Trinket 2: Fluid Death, purchased for 1,650 Justice Points
Melee Weapon: Thornwood Staff, dropped from the loot chest at the end of the Well of Eternity (heroic)
Ranged Weapon: Dragonsmaw Blaster, dropped by Archbishop Benedictus in Hour of Twilight (heroic)

Section 4 - Looking for Raid, available at item level 372

This section isn't going to get a full list like above for a couple reasons.

The first is that if an item drops in LFR, has agility, is mail (if applicable), and doesn't have expertise, it is an upgrade from JP/instance equipment. Roll need on it.

The second is that by the time you've reached this point, you've done a lot of your own gearing. You've been picking up things I don't have listed, using them for a while, and then replacing them. You should definitely have confidence in your own gear decisions by now, congratulations!

I do have some recommendations to make with regards to LFR equipment though! In my opinion, the two trinkets you want from LFR are the Wrath of Unchaining from the Spine of Deathwing and the Starcatcher Compass from Warmaster Blackhorn. It's not that Vial of Shadows is bad or anything, just that the combination of the other two is better.

Should you happen to farm absolutely everything you could possibly desire from LFR, I would suggest the Sporebeard Gauntlets from Mor'chok as your offset piece.

Remember that you've been stockpiling VP from all this dungeoning and LFRing! Go ahead and shop around the VP vendor and start picking up some items there.

And that's it! Everything you need to gear yourself up to step into a progression raid. I've also written a Guide to Gems, Enchants, and Reforging so please check that out as well. Especially as you're applying to raiding guilds, having an armory that shows at a glance that you know what you're doing is a huge benefit.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiives

Last night we cleared Blackrock Caverns, Throne of the Tides, and Stonecore. It was totally fun! Especially since we didn't have to mess with randoms from the pool of RDF moon-people. Just five like-minded people having fun exploring the new instances.
Blackrock Caverns (possibly to be jargonized as "BRC" in the future?) was pretty straightforward, but almost every boss had something you had to take note of. You had to pop the chains the first ogre put on you, you had to play Netherspite beam-blocker with Corla, Steelbender had to get dunked in the fire, and Obsidius' friends had to get kited. Those guys actually were something of a problem for us, since we went in thinking they were CCable when in fact they were not. That meant that I had to try to start kiting them even though my super-easy kiting ability, frost trap, was on cooldown because a freezing trap had just been wasted on an immune target. Woops. We still killed him without a wipe, but it'll be a lot smoother next time. I'm not sure what heroic groups without a competent kiter are going to do, though.
Throne of the Tides ("TotT"?) was almost certainly my favorite in terms of visual design. The wobbly and gelatinous water-forcefield walls mobs were jumping in through were very cool, and the architectural aesthetic living somewhere between high elf and earthen was exactly perfect. The bosses here were pretty straightforward, too. I was honestly pretty surprised to see Lady Naz'jar: I was expecting her to at least be living in a raid somewhere, instead of dispatched in a five-person dungeon. I suppose we killed Loken in a dungeon, though, and he was just as prominent in the Storm Peaks questlines.
I was going to wowhead and reading the boss abilities before each boss we pulled, but that did not necessarily mean I understood things correctly. For example, I was thinking we'd have to interrupt Ms. Naz'jar's "waterspout" ability, so it was a surprise when she instead summoned in some adds. In retrospect I should have realized that spell probably meant adds, but enh! We did alright. The tank picked up the melee one, while our ranged pointed the chain-lightning casters away from the party (as well as had everyone spread out). I'm not sure if having the casters on non-tanks will work in heroic, but as I'm writing this it occurs to me that there's almost certainly no reason not to trap or sheep one of them.
We also screwed up on the mind control boss a little bit. I'm used to CCing raid members that get MCed, but it turns out you just have to damage them to 50% without killing them. I'm sure the last clause in that sentence is going to result in numerous wipes ("way to kill the healer, guys"), but other than that it's not too tough. Oh yeah, and the tank has to tank the octopus. Neptulon does not look quite as ridiculous as his name would imply, which is all I have to say about him.
Stonecore was the one instance where we did a lot of crowd controlling of trash, especially in the corridor leading up to Ozruk. I think it's a pretty hilarious commentary on Wrath that I had no idea that freezing trap lasts an entire minute now. Holy god! I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for traps to break and they just... never did. They are infinite now. Survival hunters are now insane monsters of crowd control. Wyvern sting sleeps a target for thirty seconds and freezing trap can keep a mob locked up infinitely without even the miniscule chance of damage taken that we lived with in BC. And we can purge the enrage off of things that enrage! Just absolutely nuts.
High Priestess Azil was our one wipe of the night. I think we were all surprised by the sheer volume of adds, and we just mis-managed them to the extent that my boyfriend's little holydin was cut down by religious fanatics. Isn't that how it always is? We ran back and changed the way we positioned the boss and the party and had a much easier time of it, as most of the fanatics ran right into the little black holes. Whee!
Tonight we'll start with Vortex Pinnacle, the only one of the initial dungeons we didn't run last night, then see which ones people want to repeat. You can definitely tell, running these low-level non-heroics, that there's going to be an accountin' once people are running heroics. All the sinners that have spent the past couple years just ignorin' everything the bosses been doin', they'll be all burnt up to ashes and scattered on the wind 'till they mend their sinful ways. Make sure you can count yourself amongst the righteous now and you won't have to share their torment with them.
Up next on the blog, probably later today: the Cataclysm pre-raid gear list! Every nerd has to have a spreadsheet for something, and for me it's my endlessly updated and tweaked gear wishlists.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another brief point, this time about raiding

I was helping my young nephew work on his spelling words tonight, and at one point I urged him to work on writing very slowly. This is because he's had a problem with spelling the word correctly for the Friday quiz yet still getting marked wrong because his writing is illegible. His lower-case "Hs" are often indistinguishable from his lower-case "Ns," for example. When he writes very slowly and deliberately, however, his letters are perfectly legible and his spelling test scores would go up if they always looked like that.
His response was "well, we also only have a little bit of time to write each word."
This seems like a reasonable objection on the face of it, but in reality he hasn't even once missed a word because he took too long writing it out. He has missed words to poor handwriting, so what I said to him was "ok, when you have that come up as a problem, then we'll work on writing faster."
Raiders are like my nephew more often than most of us would like to admit, so I would suggest this simple rule as a guiding principle for your own progression woes:
"Fix the problems you have."
I'm sure we've many of us suggested an alteration to our guild's current tactics working on a new boss and been met with objections like "but then we'll be taking too long and we might wipe on the enrage timer." The response to these objections is easy:
"Well, when we wipe to the enrage timer we'll address that issue. Right now we're wiping because of [whatever], so we're going to fix that first. Ok?"
Hypotheticals are important to consider, of course, but it's still got to come down to fixing whatever it is you're actually wiping on, right now.

One brief thought on lowbie tanking

So my little druid has been playing around as a bare in the lowbie dungeons. It's sometimes a little more frustrating and difficult than being a DPS in those dungeons, but the flipside to that particular coin is that DPSing lowbie dungeons is awfully boring. Especially in these days of heirlooms and practiced raiders leveling alts, you run into a fair amount of DPS that likes to do some of their own pulling. The first time this happened I was fairly incensed, but I've become fairly indifferent to it.
What it comes down to, for me, is that if someone else pulls it, I don't need to tank it. So I don't. If there's a DPS grabbing a mob of their own and kiting it around and killing it without:
  1. Taking so much healer attention that I die
  2. Face-pulling extra mobs
  3. Pulling and then leaving it alone so it winds up on the healer
Then it's all just as well, isn't it? They're keeping themselves entertained, I don't have to tank that one thing, and we're clearing the dungeon anyway.