Sunday, February 27, 2011


Bows in this game are a little strange. Crossbows look mostly like crossbows and guns look mostly like guns, but bows? Roughly 2 out of every 3 bows has a face as its central element. The "Cataclysm blue-quality bow" model, used for Amber Messenger amongst others, has sort of a random scarred dwarven/earthen face on it. My trusty old Bristleblitz Striker has Archimonde's face as its central visual design element (as well as a pretty wtf name). And now I've got this:

I guess his chin serves as a wrist guard?

But hey, finally I've got a 359 weapon, yaaay! Atramedes is a pretty fun encounter, and I was proud of a little raidleading moment I had in it. Our first attempt stayed alive pretty well but used too many gongs and we died to searing flames. Further attempts had peoples' sound getting high to the point where they fell over dead from unhealable amounts of damage, and one raider suggested we use more than one gong per ground phase.

I had a moment of resistance, because I was like "but what if we run out of gongs!??" But then I reminded myself of one of my own maxims: Fix The Problems You Have. And the problem we had was people dying to too much sound. So we used the raider's suggestion and killed him fairly cleanly on the final pull of the night. Hooray!

Pradzha looks a little strange right now because she's T11 from the waist down and pre-raid blues from the torso up. That'll sort itself out over time, although shoulders are going to have to wait until Nef is dead, and he's going to be the last thing we kill, so it'll be a bit. I'm confident we'll get it done before T12 hits, though, which will be pretty neat. We'll still be behind the top progression guilds on the server because we'll have little to no heroic gear, but we'll at least start at the same time as they do, whereas we started T11 about a month and a half behind everyone else.

I'm still coming to grips with the February 22nd hotfixes, so I haven't updated the MM guide yet. I'll try to have that done within a week or so, though. It's tough to get a feel for them, as you can't really just go test or practice things on the target dummies, since they all activate careful aim and we don't supply ourselves with the very important 10% haste buff. Still, it feels like maybe the suggested cycle of dumping focus with arcanes either doesn't have enough room to squeeze everything in between Chimeras or wastes a lot of focus. Let's hope I'm just doing it wrong!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What the February 18th hotfix means for hunters

  • Aimed Shot damage has been decreased to approximately 160% weapon damage (at level 80+), down from 200%.
  • Aspect of the Hawk now provides around an additional 2000 attack power at level 85.

I'm slightly bemused by the phrasing of "around an additional 2000 attack power". It's your game, guys. You don't know exactly how much AP you've added to hawk? But whichevs, it's fine.

Anyway, I think this change is certainly going to enforce some change in how we play our class. I'm not updating the guide yet, because not only are the hotfixes not yet live, but the mathy people haven't mathematically mathed out the math yet. They've taken the initial steps, though, and it looks like about an 8-9% nerf to Aimed Shot and a concomittant buff to everything else.

I think the best way to make an educated guess as to how this will change the way we play is to look at our own parses and compare damage numbers and then think about how the hotfix is going to affect those numbers. Unfortunately, the big question is "will we go back to regular use of Arcane Shot?", and for the most part we're not using AS any more and thus don't have useful damage numbers. However! I use AS on the poison bombs in the Omnitron encounter, so hooray! We can compare numbers!

Here are the values for my average, non-critical:

  • Arcane Shot - 7,367
  • Aimed Shot - 28,331

Ok, so there's our starting point. Two arcane shots with the old AotH will be about 15,000 damage: well below a single AiS in damage, which is why the 4.06 changes prompted us to remove it from our priority system, especially when you consider the fact that AiS crits cause a bleed for an additional 30% of the damage done.

If we lop 9% off of that AiS damage, that brings it down to 25,782. That's still well above the damage of two arcanes. Granted, with the buff to AotH, AS is going to be doing more damage, but is it going to be doing 5,000 more damage per arcane? Remembering that AS crits still don't cause the piercing shots bleed? I really just don't see it happening.

However! My average non-critical Chimera Shot was 21,589 on that same encounter, and CS crits do cause piercing shots, and I think this definitely could change our behavior. I think it may turn out to be worthwhile to use CS off cooldown, instead of holding on to it and trying to sneak in another AiS before using CS to refresh the SrS duration. This, in turn, makes MM DPS a little less fragile, since you're not struggling for the focus and haste to refresh SrS before it drops off.

So those are my thoughts! We'll see how everything turns out.

Edit: Zeherah has done some initial in-game testing as well as out of game simulation and the patch notes as posted don't make any sense to her, especially the change to AotH (especially with its vague wording). So again, any predictions made right now are very uncertain and more than a little at the mercy of a very mercurial Blizzard.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cataclysm PvE Huntering at 85: Marksmanship

Updated August 2, 2011!

We're well into Cataclysm now, and Marksmanship has once again risen to the top of the heap of hunter specs. Nothing lasts forever in WoW, but right now there are a lot of people scrambling for insight on how to play the spec, so it seems like a good time for my layman's version of things. If you're unfamiliar with the basic concept of the Marksmanship tree, it's very much a physical damage-oriented spec. It concentrates a lot of its damage in the physical damage attacks Steady Shot and Aimed Shot, whose crits (along with Chimera Shot) apply a rolling bleed via the Piercing Shots talent for which this blog was named. It gives up Wyvern Sting in favor of an interrupt and also gains the invaluable cooldown Readiness, meaning you can have any of your abilities available at the touch of a button. So if you're ready, let's get into

The Basics!

I'll start with just quickly mentioning a couple previous posts of mine, "the Tao of Focus" and "the Mental Checkllist". The first is a quick explanation of the most basic way to think about our resource system, while the second links to and talks about a video guide to the fundamentals of good competitive Starcraft 2 play. I think the things Day9 talks about are as applicable to good WoW as they are to Blizzard's flagship RTS title. Further, keep in mind when you read my guides that I'm trying to simplify the theorycraft out there to make it immediately useful to people who don't have the time or inclination to try to unravel the variety of information sources on the net. Unfortunately, in any simplification process you're inevitably going to lose some information, so I encourage everyone to take a look at the EJ Marksmanship thread, which is where I'm getting most of my information.

After that comes the spec - or rather, the specs:
Default single-target spec: 7/31/3
Default AoE/kiting spec: 3/31/7
Alternate AoE/kiting spec: 7/31/3

I'll start with a couple notes that are pertinent to all of these specs. All of them assume that you do not have the 4pc T11 bonus. This is a guide for players that are new to raiding as hunters, most of whom at this point will be stepping into Firelands with a combination of 359-365 gear from JP, craftables, and Molten Front questing. These specs all assume that you're gearing to have at least 12.97% haste. You get 3% from pathing and the rest from gear and racial bonuses, if any. You'll have to do some experimenting to find out how much haste is right for you, as 12.97% only works if you're a flawless robot installed in the same room as the realm server - the rest of us have to account for error and network latency. I personally hover between 13.5% and 14% haste.

The single-target spec takes Silencing Shot and does not take True Shot Aura. These are my default recommendations because many to most hunters new to raiding will be in 10-person guilds where having another interrupt is often valuable. This is even more true for the hunters that are doing mostly heroics: being able to cover for the terrible melee that don't know to put their interrupts on the bars can make running many heroics go much smoother. I skip TSA because most raids have at least one paladin, and Blessing of Might covers the 10% AP buff while providing mp5 for your healers. It's just a better buff. If, however, your raid has no other source of the buff, you should of course take it.

My single-target spec also puts a point into Rapid Killing. This is because for many encounters with adds, it's highly possible that you'll get killing blows when you're helping to AoE the adds down, and the 50 free focus (from Rapid Recuperation) is always worth the talent point that, really, has nowhere else to go. The final orphan point in Termination also has nowhere else to go, other than perhaps Concussive Barrage - but if you want that effect, you should be using one of the two AoE specs anyway.

I would call the first of my two AoE/kiting specs "conservative". This is the spec for when you're the primary kiter and you want to be absolutely, completely, 100% sure that an unlimited number of adds won't be going anywhere without your say-so. And even if you gave them the say-so, they'd be dead anyway. This is the spec I use to kill spiderlings on Beth'tilac, and it's wonderful. The daze from Concussive Barrage is sufficient on its own to cover almost every wave of spiderlings, but whenever I'm even the slightest bit nervous about them, I can freeze them in place for up to 8 seconds straight by using frost trap and snake trap. MM's AoE with multi-shot is very strong, and I'm guaranteed killing blows on every wave of spiderlings, meaning I tend to finish off a wave with 100 focus. Then I can spend that focus helping with spinners and drones.

The third and final spec sacrifices the assured safety of entrapment in favor of doing better single-target DPS. This is the spec for you if you've got enough help with whatever group of adds that you're never worried that any of them will slip out from under your thumb.

If you want a detailed examination of every possible talent, I again encourage you to read the thread on EJ, but right here I'm just going to go over the talents that I think could be points of contention. Hopefully the points in the BM tree and the SV tree are fairly straightforward - they're the best DPS increasing talent points available outside of the MM tree. Within that MM tree, though, are a couple talents I want to briefly chat about.

I don't necessarily think that Marked for Death is likely to be a controversial talent, but I do think that some people might be confused about its use. We should have Hunter's Mark placed on the boss before we even pull, right? Right! We absolutely should - so why bother with MfD?

The answer is that this is a situational talent that shines on encounters with target-switching and/or a few, high-health adds, as well as trash. On trash I will generally only cast Hunter's Mark on the first kill mob, before the pull. Every mob after that is marked by MfD with an opening chimera shot. This is more than a convenience change, too - the saving of a non-damaging GCD in favor of a damaging GCD is in fact a damage gain on short-duration targets. Omnitron is a great example of this - you're better off applying MfD to the poison bomb slimes during this encounter than you are trying to swap HM around every two seconds.

Many people also read the tooltip on Termination and think "ah-hah! More DPS!" and max it out. Sadly, it's a much more lack-lustre talent than it initially appears to be. Basically, the spec already has a ton to do in the limited time in between Chimera Shot cooldowns, so the only thing you could really use that extra focus on is one additional Arcane Shot. But once the boss hits 20% health, you'll be replacing that Arcane Shot with a Kill Shot anyway! So the DPS gain from Termination is very minor and certainly not worth putting another point in over anything else. That point is basically only there so we can put 31 points into the MM tree and unlock the BM and SV trees.

Regarding glyphs, many people are looking askance at the Rapid Fire glyph because, in a raid buffed situation, un-glyphed Rapid Fire already brings our Steady/Cobra shots down to the 1-second cap imposed by the GCD, and that's true. Aimed Shot, however, hits extremely hard and crits most of the time during the Careful Aim phase, when I almost always use Rapid Fire. Aimed Shot, in turn, benefits from that extra haste, and the insane focus surfeit during RF means that you can and should cast frequent Aimed Shots.

I feel that it's important that everyone is aware of how the bleed from Piercing Shots works. It's very simple: when you get a crit on a relevant ability, it causes a bleed for an additional 30% of the damage done (or more, if the Trauma effect is active on the target). If the bleed lasts its full duration without any new critical strikes causing further bleeding, it falls off. If you do get a new application of the bleed, though, you do not lose damage! The game takes the remaining value of the old bleed and adds it to the new bleed when it refreshes the duration. So if you have a 1,000 damage SS, that causes a bleed for 300 damage. If half of that bleed ticks out before you get another 1,000 damage SS causing a new 300-damage bleed, the remaining duration of the old bleed (150 points of damage) will be added to the new bleed, for a total of 450 damage. In this way, ticks of the Piercing Shots bleed can get insanely huge during the Careful Aim phase, which is pretty awesome.

Finally, the glyph of Raptor Strike provides hunters with a personal damage-reduction cooldown that you can and should find opportunities to use. The Blackout and Engulfing Magic abilities in the Valiona and Theralion encounter are examples of nearly ideal such opportunities, as is Feud on Chimaeron and phase 2 on Nefarian.

That addresses talents and glyphs. On to

Doing Damage!

As you would expect, Marksmanship does its damage by cycling through a DPS priority for the entirety of the encounter. You'll find that, if you practice the following priority system on a target dummy, a sort of "cycle" will naturally emerge. Further, as you practice more, you will probably notice that you have two different cycles that pop up: one when you have a lot of focus, and a second that you use to regenerate focus used up by the first one. This phenomenon is dependent on gear and raid buffs however, so practice on a target dummy won't be completely accurate, especially because target dummies are always above 90%, making CA active. It's also unlikely that you'll have the 10% haste buff (from Windfury Totem, Improved Icy Talons, or Hunting Party). You mostly just need to feel comfortable with planning out your abilities 2-3 moves ahead and you'll see these patterns growing out of your behavior in raids. The priority itself is as follows, with the most important ability ranked first:

  1. Improved Steady Shot buff (gained by using Steady Shot twice in a row)
  2. Aimed Shot (under the effects of a haste cooldown such as Bloodlust or Rapid Fire OR as an instant-cast proc from the Master Marksman talent)
  3. Chimera Shot
  4. Serpent Sting (if target will live longer than 12 seconds)
  5. Kill Shot
  6. Arcane Shot

This priority list is deceptive in its brevity. The parentheticals help, and in fact the one for Serpent Sting says pretty much all that needs to be said about it. It's probably not worth using SrS on most trash mobs and many boss-encounter adds.

The first priority will be the one most likely to trip you up in a raid encounter, especially one with a lot of movement. The necessity of keeping the ISS buff up on yourself as close as possible to 100% of the time is part of why MM DPS can sometimes feel "fragile" to me: an overly chaotic encounter can make it very difficult to find space to string two Steady Shots together, resulting in the buff falling off. This is why you absolutely need to be comfortable with a bind you can hit easily to swap to Aspect of the Fox when you need to move. If you don't use Fox, not only will your ISS buff fall off, but you'll also be focus-starved when Chimera shot comes off of cooldown, costing you hundreds of DPS. In order to raid as an MM hunter, you must be able to switch fluidlyly back and forth between AotF and AotH.

I personally discourage macroing Aspect of the Hawk to your instant-cast abilities for PvE raiding. If you were to do so, the macros look like this:

#showtooltip Chimera Shot
/cast !Aspect of the Hawk
/cast Chimera Shot

The exclamation mark in front of Aspect of the Hawk is the important part, because without it, this macro would cancel AotH if it was already turned on. The problem with using these macros is that they still activate the aspect-swap cooldown that all aspects share. This means that, although you will never forget to switch back to hawk and sit in fox for most of an encounter, you'll also find that the ability to change aspects will be on cooldown right when you need to use it. For this reason, I strongly advise that you work out a system of binds that's comfortable for you and allows you to switch between aspects at-will.

Aimed Shot should be used to dump focus in the middle of the CS cooldown when under the effects of a dynamic haste buff, even if you don't have the free, instant AiS from the Master Marksman talent. This is known as "hardcasting," so if you've seen someone refer to hardcasting Aimed Shot, that's what they mean. This applies especially inside the Careful Aim window, when you should only be using Steady and Aimed Shots: only start using Chimera Shot and apply your Serpent Sting below 90% boss health.

I would also suggest using your Rapid Fire/Readiness/Tol'vir potion/Call of the Wild/any on-use trinkets during this window every time, with the caveat that if your guild is Bloodlusting right at the start, you shouldn't stack an RF on top of that. The other benefit to doing this is that in a progression raid encounter, this almost guarantees that you'll get at least a second use of RF/Readiness, possibly even three in a very long encounter. Also you can do things like spike to 40,000+ DPS right when the tanks are struggling to generate initial threat and debuff the boss, and giving tanks heart attacks is always fun.

Outside of haste effects, Arcane Shot will be your focus dump. I typically use them in pairs to burn enough focus to keep from capping out on it before CS becomes available again. I will also sometimes replace one of these arcane shots with the instant AiS from the MMM talent, although it would be preferable to replace a Steady Shot. We'll talk about what that means in a little bit, here.

During the execute phase, assuming you have enough haste for a standard 5-Steady Shot, 2-Arcane Shot DPS cycle, you can replace one of the steadies with a Kill Shot.

And really, that's it for doing damage. Keep your priorities in mind and plan out what you're going to be doing. Serenity is the best currently-updated addon I've found for this purpose, and I recommend it without reservation. Assuming everything is going swimmingly, a typical sequence of ability use for someone in item level 346+ gear  with at least 12.97% haste and the 10% haste raid buff is going to look like this:

CS -> SS -> SS -> AS -> AS -> SS -> SS -> SS -> CS

Again, your ability use won't necessarily always or even usually correspond to this. This is just a general mold of what should emerge from our priority system. If you step through that sequence imagining the duration of the ISS buff and thinking about how much focus you're likely to have, you'll see how this happens. Each pair of steadies refreshes the ISS buff as well as builds the focus necessary for the following Arcanes. The CS cooldown will finish up around the time that the second SS pair is done.

So, we've gone through the spec and glyphs and addressed the foundations of Marksmanship DPS. That leaves only

CC and Utility!

To begin with I'll refer you to the end of my previously written guide to Survival. Everything written about the use of freezing trap for that spec applies to this spec. Of course, Marksmanship obviously doesn't have Wyvern Sting, but it does have silencing shot. On trash, interrupt pretty much everything you can: there's no reason not to. Silencing shot costs no focus, nets you 10 focus if you successfully interrupt, and is not on the GCD. On a raid boss, make sure you're working in concert with other interrupters in your group.

On Maloriak, for example, we split up interrupting duties extensively. Myself and the enhancement shaman concentrate on always interrupting his lightning storm ability as close to instantly as possible, our rogue covers interruption of his release of aberrations, and the tank serves as a backup interrupt for green vial phases. Many raid bosses have abilities which can and do wipe the raid if interrupted improperly, so make sure you're using it correctly.

I encourage every hunter to make as much use of Disengage as they can - and Marks hunters especially get a sparklesprint when we do. It's like a little reward! Yay, you pressed the fun button, good job! Paragon's video of their first heroic Al'akir kill had a very cool moment about 50ish seconds in when their hunter was cornered by tornadoes, ice, and lightning and was blown off the platform by Wind Blast. Unperturbed, he simply used Disengage to hop right back on. Very cool stuff, and very fun.

You should definitely take a look at your raid and figure out which buffs it would be best for you to supply. I love Maahes, my Sambas-model lion, but my raid has both Battle Shout and the Strength of Earth totem. We don't have a feral or a main-spec fury warrior, so for most encounters I have my wolf out for Furious Howl. One of our tanks has Fury as her offspec, though, so for single tank encounters I bring out my hyena, who I've cleverly named "Trauma". I've also been in the occasional pug group without any ferals or warriors, and for those groups I bring out my raptor, whose also-clever name is "Sundersaurus". The point being you should know what buffs and debuffs your raid is missing or likely to miss and have a stable of pets that can fill those holes.

So there you have it! This isn't an exhaustive explication of everything about the spec, but it is broadly accurate. There's certainly enough here to get you practicing and doing effective damage in your parties and raids as a Marksmanship hunter.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Baba Yetu" wins a grammy!

Ok so this isn't related to WoW really, but I've always loved the Civilization games and the opening music for Civ IV really made my first launching of the game an amazing experience. Now that music has won a grammy for best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalists! Very cool. If you've never played Civ IV, here, have a listen to an excellent live performance of the piece:

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Thorium Brotherhood's alliance PvPers unexpectedly took control of Tol Barad yesterday afternoon, which is awfully amazing. Friday afternoon is a pretty highly populated time, and those are usually the times when Horde defends successfully. I wasn't there because I was off farming primal airs (and more on that later!), but I asked in guild if people had interest in killing Argoloth and lo, they did! It took a few minutes for everyone to finish doing they stuff they were doing, but we pretty quickly had a core of (I think) six people, so we pugged in some random DPS from trade and hopped over to stab the pit fiend until he died. Or shoot arrows at him, whatever.

I felt much more confident in my playing of Marks than I did for the raids last week where, although I wasn't terrible, I wasn't doing very well either. 4.06 changed the spec a lot in addition to making it viable, to the point where we're now glyphing and hard-casting aimed shot even when we don't have 5 stacks of the MMM buff. I'll go into more detail on the priority system when I write a guide for it, but it's pretty intuitive and satisfying, I think. Anyway, this was the first time I actually killed Argoloth, since we've never really had TB at a convenient time for me before. What did he decide to drop but hunter T11 pants, and me the only hunter in the raid.

But that's not all! You'll remember that I was farming airs beforehand, right? Well, one of the Scions of Al'akir was ever so obliging and decided to drop Design: Agile Shadowspirit Diamond for me. So I handed that to one of the guild's JCs along with some metas from the gbank and now all of our agility-using DPS raiders have the good meta. All I need to complete that is for the agility to bracers enchant to drop for me when I'm farming volatiles today (I've ever so slowly been making a couple hammers for my gathering alt to play with in PvP).

Finally! We also decided to do a heroic DM last night, since we still had some upgrades for various people in there, and what should poor Vanessa drop but a replacement for my last 333 item! Pretty exciting! VA is also 5/12 normal modes of T11 now, and our re-kills are getting more efficient every time (although our first kills tend to be pretty hilarious - that is the nature of first kills, though). It's pretty tough to clear a 12-boss tier in 2 nights per week, but we're making great progress. We may eventually have to start extending lockouts to get in enough time on the more difficult bosses, but I'm hoping we don't have to resort to that (and the attendant loss of VP) until we're working on heroics.

Edit: good god, things are moving quickly. Now they're thinking of nerfing Aimed Shot? What in the world. I suppose if they're compensating for it through AotH that's relatively ok, but I guess it's their intent for us to not hardcast Aimed? If so, why did they reduce the casting speed at all? Having hardcast AiS in the priority was really cool for me - I liked not having to bother with arcane and I especially liked when I'd get a 5th stack of MMM while an AiS was casting, so I'd get two of them within a global. Very satisfying.

I don't think anyone at Blizzard has any particular animosity or affection for a given class, such that they'd treat the class differently in balance discussions. But I wonder if maybe the game has gotten too complicated? Kurn's most recent post on the Light of Dawn nerf is another example of this. It seems like the nerf and buffbats are just being swung blindly, without much consideration of the context of changes they've made in the past or bugs that are currently affecting abilities. The game's various classes and specs are pretty much being treated as pinatas that they can smash open, spilling QQ all over the forums.

I dunno. I just don't see a point to nerfing Aimed Shot. Yes, well-geared hunters in BGs can blow 0-resilience people up in PvP, but... so what? Our PvE damage is not out of line, and equally-matched opponents in PvP do not fall apart against a hunter.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Mental Checklist

I've been trading a couple PMs with a friend discussing raiding and DPS and what have you. One of the questions she put to me was "any recommendations for keeping track of my dots and casting filler while not standing in the fire and watching my debuffs?"

Well then! That is sort of the rub, isn't it? This is the central challenge of raiding, or PvPing, or any of a number of other gaming settings: effectively monitoring and reacting to all the information that the game presents to you. Information which updates constantly, multiple times a second, and often requires an instant response of some sort or another. The response you provide, in turn, will often alter the information that the game presents to you, prompting another response, ad eternum or perhaps ad nausea, one or the other.

Gee, describing it like that doesn't make it seem very fun, does it? Just the endless processing of information. But then, that description works for DDR too, except for DDR isn't even interactive in the way that WoW is (hitting the arrows correctly or incorrectly does not change the arrows scrolling up from the bottom). I challenge anyone to say DDR isn't fun and keep a straight face. I don't think it can be done.

But then I was thinking about it a little more and I realized something intriguing: DDR isn't the only game that's pretty well described by this model. Another excellent example of this is yet another horse in the Blizzard stable: Starcraft II. And the thing about SC2 is that it has inherited the very rich competitive scene that arose out of SC1. One of the English-language luminaries of that scene is Day9.

I wasn't actively playing WoW when SC2 came out, so we traded in some seldom-played GBA and DS games and picked it up for a grand total of thirty cents. There was a time when I was playing it pretty intensely, going so far as to watch a lot of high-level match commentary and analysis. By far the most entertaining of this was (and is!) done by Day9. And actually, one of his early, classic videos is in my opinion of great use to us WoW players. Here it is:

I really encourage you to watch that whole thing. That may seem a little crazy, but I think it will actually probably be worth it for most WoW players. Besides, Day9 is actually entertaining (and cute!).

Now clearly, as WoW players, we can't check to make sure we're always making drones because we don't make any drones at all. We do, however, have a number of things that we have to calmly monitor, and I think the checklist can help with that. A sample for myself would be:
  1. Am I positioned correctly in the encounter space?
  2. Am I taking damage from something I can stop?
  3. Any debuffs on me? Can I remove them or otherwise do something about them?
  4. Do I have enough focus to use my damaging abilities?
  5. Do I have a proc to respond to?
  6. Back to number 1.
People with different classes, specs, and roles will all build different checklists of course, but I think that having one in the first place could be very helpful to very many people. We all have a few basic things that we need to keep track of, and having a checklist helps us keep calm while we do that, as well as avoid tunnel-vision on our action bars, healthbars, or whatever. It helps us keep our eyes constantly roving the screen and keeps the front of our brains uncluttered because once we've taken in a piece of information, we can calmly address it and move on to the next thing instead of trying to juggle thirty eight facts simultaneously.

So try it out! What does your checklist look like?

Anticipation and dread

I'm looking forward to 4.06, not least because I'm going to be swapping back to being Marksmanship mainspec, I think. The longer I have to see it, the more I dislike the cobra shot animation, and I like all the tools and toys that marks gets (hooray for the disengage sprint!). I'm also dreading it a little bit, though, because I'm going to have to learn to play marks at least decently in a very short period of time, since we raid again on Wednesday.

I've been doing a lot of reading on how to play the spec, most especially of Whitefyst's excellent guide on the EJ forums. Cataclysm marksmanship is unquestionably a more complicated spec to play than Survival, especially since the spec enforces a playstyle that splits the fight into three different phases, each of which require different priorities dependent upon your choices for haste cooldowns and glyphs. Of course you don't have to keep all the possible permutations in your brain during an actual encounter: you've already made your glyph, spec, and cooldown use choices by the time you pull the boss. It's still a little intimidating to look at all the possible "cycles" as he describes them and try to imagine myself going through them in the middle of an encounter (and the beginning and the end, yeesh).

Not only that, but one of the goals I've set for myself with this blog is "making it easier," and looking at Whitefyst's post I'm having a hard time imagining how to simplify it without making it less correct. That may be the tradeoff I have to make, though.

To look at it more positively, though, I've definitely found that there's a difference between how people work out the theory and how DPS actually happens in-game. Ability use during an encounter is much more organic than static cycles, and I've found that as I get more comfortable with how I'm playing a spec, my natural playstyle evolves into the correct priorities because those priorities are constrained by focus.

I'll explain that with the example of the Survival spec that's currently dominant. When I first started playing Survival, my ability use was kind of scattered and I often felt like I was playing catch-up with cooldowns. As I played more and more and got used to tracking boss and mob mechanics will continuing DPS, I found that, hey: I'm just naturally squeezing three cobras in between explosive shots. And, since that means that I'm in a focus-positive state over time, I regularly reach a point where I have enough focus to cast only two cobras, replace one with an arcane, and still have enough focus for the ExS as it comes off of cooldown. Neat!

So in part I'm banking on that happening with the Marksmanship playstyle. I'll get a sense for how frequently Chimera shot comes up, how often the ISS haste buff falls off, and just naturally find myself using arcanes to burn excess focus. Then all I'll need will be adjustments to account for Careful Aim and the execute phase and I'll be set. Hooray!

Hopping on the new bandwagon will also hopefully make me excited about writing a marks how-to post, because I would guess that there will be a lot of people that are excited about rediscovering the spec.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I'm doing more writing for WoW than I am for school

And more reseach, for that matter. I've written and sent off PMs to five raiders with sort of ideas about and responses to our first week of Cataclysm raiding relative to that person. Every single one, even the shorter ones, involve a lot of browser tabs open to guides about that class and spec, their armory, and our WoL logs from those two nights. I honestly can't believe I'm actually doing it, to the point of writing about doing it as a way of procrastinating from finishing it. Even my boyfriend has requested that I do one for him, which I'm a little flustered by: our conversations about the game are generally him holding forth on mechanics and me going "oh, I see," so I have no idea what I could say to him that he wouldn't already know. He's quite adamant that I do something for him, though, so I suppose I'm bound to try.

Wish me luck!

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'm totally going to be changing one of my glyphs

My lack of handy survival cooldowns has really been bothering me now that we're raiding again, so I've decided to glyph Raptor Strike. It will definitely replace my glyph of wyvern sting, as I can not actually think of a time in PvE when reduced Wyvern Sting cooldown would even have made a difference for me. I save Wyvern as an oh-shit-something's-going-to-hit-a-healer button, and reduced cooldown on that has just never been useful for me.

Magmaw and Halfus

Well, as you would expect from the first two bosses of the first raid tier of an expansion, the normal difficulty version of these guys is not too complicated. Well, sort of - the fact that how you do Halfus is going to change from week to week is interesting. And we actually wiped a few times on the two trash mobs before Magmaw, but I think a lot of that was people needing to get back into the raiding mindset. Cataclysm heroics are tougher than Wrath heroics were, but they still don't have too many trash mobs with a whirlwind that will gib melee like that.

But! Mostly I want to talk briefly about these first two bosses from a hunter perspective. Magmaw is, of course, the most interesting: as a ranged player with excellent snares, it's going to be our duty to deal with the stupid bugs. This was even more awful for our raid, since no one in our guild likes playing ranged DPS (although I've hopefully converted one person to playing his warlock eventually). We have four melee and me, which I'll talk about a little more in a second. The basics of huntering for Magmaw are pretty simple, though. The fight starts and the ranged and healers stack up in one spot so you know where flame pillar will be. Start DPS on magmaw, but don't use your black arrow cooldown on black arrow after the first one.

Instead, when that cooldown comes available for the first time, you want to place a frost trap and an explosive trap. That way, when flame pillar happens, you can just skip a few steps to the side and the bugs will set off both the flame and the frost traps and give you a free lock and load proc as a little perk. Multi shot will pick up aggro on the whole pack, then you just kite them in circles around the patch of frost and explosive trap. The best way to do this is to circle in an ellipse away from melee and towards the entrance to the platform. The first couple of attempts, for some reason I kited the parasites into the vicinity of melee and there's just no reason to take that risk.

Luckily, I've had a lot of practice kiting pve mobs recently for the Ascendant Descending achievement. I've now got it to the point where I can reliably solo-kite all three shadows and get the achievement for the party, which feels good. I feel like that achievement is one of the sort of hunter skill benchmark ones, since you have to use a pretty broad sample of your abilities and maintain pretty good awareness of where things are if you want to solo-kite and get it.

But getting back to Magmaw: hilariously, since I was the only ranged player, we had the two rogues helping me kill the bugs, since they could give me tricks of the trade and hopefully keep themselves from being targeted. That's honestly one of the parts of casual, 10-person raiding I find the most fun, though: making the boss work for you even though you don't have an ideal raid composition.

Halfus is a pretty boring fight for a hunter, to be honest. Kill whatever you're killing besides halfus, then kill halfus. Don't stand in fire. As the raid leader it did take me a depressing number of wipes to figure out that, if you've got the whelps and the time warden and the slate dragon, release the whelps and the time warden. I mean, really dude? You could see the raid damage happening. Why would you keep trying to do the slate dragon even after you saw that his stun on halfus was totally useless, insufficient to do so much as let the mortal strike stacks fall off of the tank. Derp.

We were very close on both V&T and Omnotron. V&T I think we've got down and just need a little more practice to get the raid accordioning correctly so we don't have people dying. Omnotron we've also mostly got figured out, with the exception of poison bombs. In the general chaos of that encounter they're not getting seen, snared, and killed correctly, which means we'll have to adjust raid positioning when Toxitron pops up. That should also make it easier for people to see and use the blue circles of awesome from Arcanotron.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Persistent social blindspots

I have this sort of instructive tale that I tell about myself that I find not only helps other people understand why I do some things I do but also helps to remind myself of my own tendencies. See, I was for a while in the U.S. Army. At one point, I was in front of my battalion Command Sergeant Major, standing at ease along with my company First Sergeant, my platoon Sergeant, and my squad leader. I wasn't actually in trouble, but any time you've got that much NCO leadership in one room talking about you as a junior enlisted Soldier, you're going to be on your best behavior.
It was at this point that my CSM asked me: "Specialist, are those new boots?"
In fact, they were not! But they looked new because I hadn't worn them much, and this in turn was true because of a string of reasoning going back to the mid-tour equipment replacement process used while deployed to a combat zone.
It will be evident to anyone in the world that none of the people in that room will have cared about the provenance of my damn boots, but my first instinct is to go "well Sergeant Major, the full and complete answer is as follows:" and then launch into a monologue. She of course cut me off, having only wanted to hear a yes or a no.
So I'm aware that I have this tendency towards pedantry. And sometimes it's the right answer! Sometimes it really does work to get everyone to stop, agree on what terms mean, agree on what the discussion is about, and move forward from there. Sometimes.
On the other hand, sometimes it is not. The guild's first raid is tonight, and I've got a raid calendar with signups that I can approve or leave on standby for the raid, depending on who's signed and what I think we'll need and how often X or Y person has been benched and so on. One of the people that I benched for this first raid was a long-time guildmember and officer (he's been around longer than me, for instance), and he was really mad about it.
He made an angry post about it, essentially accusing me of benching him for a bunch of really shitty reasons. I wrote a long response to him along the lines of "the possible reasons you gave don't make sense for all these reasons. Here's my reasoning behind how I filled every slot in the raid. Here's why you're sitting for this one night." Included in those reasons was my assessment of some relative skill levels in the guild. Skill is an imprecise term, but broadly accurate for the summary here.
This precipitated a gquit, which is a bummer.
My boyfriend later pointed out that it would have been superior to post a much shorter answer along the lines of: "I slotted the raid the way I did because I'm the raid leader and that's what I have to do. Being a long-time member and an officer does not guarantee anyone a raid spot. I will work to do everything I can do to rotate people in and out of the active raid fairly." Of course it would be ideal to always bring the same ten people every single week, but you can't really guarantee that happening.
Really, that's all that was needed. Maybe the guy still would have gquit, there's no way to know. That would definitely have been a preferable answer, though.
Even so, I think we'll be ok.
In other news, I got a super lucky tame of Sambas! And redesigned the blog because of it! So that's exciting. Sadly, it's also causing some weirdness with how the posts format. It used to be that every paragraph would automatically get a linebreak between them because of the div tags, but that doesn't seem to be true with this template, and I'm not sure how to address that. I should also really install a reader, not just for my own use but to get a sense of how my posts appear in others' readers.
I still haven't written the "hunter gems and enchants" post I need to write, sorry. Hell, I'm still not really capable of getting the optimal enchants for Pradzha - that would take somewhere between 6 and 12 maelstrom crystals, each of which go for  about 2k on my server, and I just can't afford that yet. Since we'll be raiding starting tonight we should be getting drops to melt for crystals soonish, so that'll help, but it'll still be another month or so before we're really getting our raiders properly enchanted I suspect. I have high hopes for tonight and tomorrow: I've just finished watching videos, reading articles, and taking notes. I actually feel fairly prepared for the initial encounters in both instances. It'll feel good to be back to raiding again.