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
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
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
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:
- Improved Steady Shot buff (gained by using Steady Shot twice in a row)
- 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)
- Chimera Shot
- Serpent Sting (if target will live longer than 12 seconds)
- Kill Shot
- 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.