Sunday, November 6, 2011

DPS Decision Making

The current tier of equipment has added a lot of fluidity to hunter DPS. This has created potential fun for the class at the same time that it's created potential stress. The stakes have been raised, because instead of T11 where our ability use was more of a static rotation, we're now facing many more choices. If we make the right choices, we can do a lot more damage. If we make the wrong ones, we can really crater it. I certainly feel like I could be doing better with my current gear on many encounters, but I also feel much more engaged with my DPS during those encounters.

For these reasons, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at how I'd approach one of the situations where "what do I do next?" becomes a fairly difficult question to answer in the middle of a boss fight. Here are the conditions of the situation:

  • You're currently playing the style of MM hunter that hardcasts Aimed Shot and glyphs Chimera Shot
  • Your Steady Shot cast time, including the ISS buff and windfury, is 1.3 seconds
  • Your Aimed Shot cast time, including the ISS buff and windfury, is 1.9 seconds
  • You've got a free, instant Aimed Shot available from the Master Marksman talent
  • You've also got a free shot available from your T12 4-piece bonus. This free shot could be Chimera, Arcane, or Aimed Shot
  • Chimera Shot is coming off of cooldown in 3 seconds
  • Your ISS buff will expire in 3.3 seconds
  • Your focus is at 75
You see what I mean about having to make stressful decisions? If you can imagine what this situation would look like in your UI, you can instantly tell that there's bucketloads of potential damage here. The problem is that "emptying the buckets" is a little puzzle, and if you empty them in the wrong order you don't get to empty all of them. You want all the buckets! And you don't have any time to decide, because tenths of a second matter.

So what do we do?

Well, one appealing option would be to use the instant AiS, then hardcast another, then fire Chimera Shot. It's easy to see why. The 1 second from the instant plus the 1.9 seconds from the hardcast puts us at 2.9 seconds: almost perfectly in line for the Chimera Shot cooldown. This is further appealing because it doesn't really seem like it wastes focus, right? You use up your two free things, and then you're probably closing in 100 focus right as you hit that CS button, bringing you back down to 60. It entirely avoids the icky, unpleasant feeling of seeing your focus bar sit at 100 and imagining little motes of focus drifting off into the ether, never to damage a boss. Do they go to focus point limbo, drifting for an unfulfilled eternity, yearning for they know not what? Or maybe they'll haunt your focus bar, raging at their wasted lives and harnessing that rage to mess with your UI?

All I'm saying is that capping out on focus is disconcerting, and none of us like to do it. The thought of bringing a UI poltergeist into being is upsetting. At the same time, I think that not capping out on focus is the wrong choice in this situation.

This is because of what happens immediately after we fire that Chimera Shot in the above scenario. There were only 3.3 seconds left on that ISS buff when we started. Two seconds for the instants plus 1.9 seconds for the AiS is a total of 3.9 seconds. This means that the ISS buff is going to fall off after the CS and there's nothing we can do about it at this point. This in turn means that we have to watch the painfully slow 1.5s castbar of an unhasted Steady Shot twice in a row.  Then we've used up three seconds of our glyphed CS cooldown where we usually only use up 2.6 seconds, a disruption that compounds the DPS loss already inherent in losing the ISS buff.

The right answer, then, is to grit our teeth and cast a pair of Steady Shots first. I know, it sucks to waste all that focus. It sucks to sit there and wait four tenths of a second for CS to come off of cooldown before we can use it. But once we get past that point, we're in good shape. Take a look at what happens if we maintain our ISS buff first:

  1. Chimera Shot is free because of the T12 set bonus. The GCD uses up a second of the glyphed CS cooldown, so there's 8 seconds of it remaining.
  2. We can use our instant AiS immediately after. 7 seconds of CS cooldown remaining.
  3. We now stand at 6 seconds on our ISS buff and 100 focus, so we go ahead and hardcast an Aimed Shot. 5.1 seconds of CS cooldown remaining.
  4. This leaves us with 4 seconds on our ISS buff and 50 focus, so we can hardcast another Aimed Shot. 3.2 seconds of CS cooldown remaining.
  5. Now we have 2 seconds on our ISS buff and focus in the single digits.
  6. We cast a pair of steady shots. They're 1.3 seconds a piece, which means that the ISS buff will wear off for a little bit in the middle of casting that steady shot but the second steady shot will still be hasted. We now have probably around 30 focus and CS has 0.6 seconds of cooldown remaining.
  7. We cast a third steady shot. This means that we won't fire our glyphed CS until 0.7 seconds after it becomes available, but that's still 0.3 seconds sooner than we'd've fired an unglyphed one.
The average or standard MM DPS cycle will have 5 Steady Shots and either two Arcane Shots or 1 hardcast AiS used during the CS cooldown. We just used three Aimed Shots and three steady shots instead. That is a crazy huge-big-large increase in damage. It's also way more than we possibly could have gotten out of the "use the procs first" strategy and its attendant loss of the ISS buff for many seconds. In fact, that strategy will probably have to end up resorting to a single Arcane Shot or something similar, since it will probably be too focus-starved to actually use both Aimed Shot and Chimera Shot.

So then you may be thinking that you can't possibly be instantly extrapolating what's going to happen over the next 12 seconds down to tenths of a second, and that's true! I don't think anyone can.

However, we can do a couple things. The first of these is practice. Right when I first picked up my T12 four-piece bonus, I made very many mistakes with it. Sad times! But once you've made the "use up your procs" mistake a few times, you get the feel for how grindingly crap it is to have to cast two unhasted steady shots and see how much less you do in that DPS cycle. This alone will enforce better decision making in the future.

The second is to remember that our DPS priorities didn't change because we got new gear. Keeping our ISS buff up on ourselves is still our top priority. "Not capping out on focus" is not a DPS priority, it's a principle or a guideline. It's something to keep in mind. It does not override the need to keep up the ISS buff.

Perhaps the pithy summary of this advice is "practice your priorities!", but I have a hard time alliterating like that without wanting to have myself summarily shot.

Mostly I hope that this helps resolve some of those panicky "what do I do!?" moments in a boss fight, either in a raid or in a heroic. And of course, even if you do make the wrong decision: oh well! It happens! It happens to me, it happens to you, it happens to players in world-first guilds. Don't stress out about it, and be secure in the knowledge that mistakes made today are mistakes you don't make next week.

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