Showing posts with label guides. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guides. Show all posts

Thursday, April 5, 2012

MMO Gameplay: Some Assembly Required

Note: updated April 11, 2012. I know I said I wasn't going to update this, but I used WoWHead links for the pop-up tooltips and the stuff on there was missing/incorrect about some pretty basic stuff.

There is a tendency amongst players of mediocre abilities and inflated egos to say things like "just go read Elitist Jerks," as if this advice alone suffices to bring a new player up to speed on the intricacies of playing their character in a raid environment. Unfortunately, the problems with this statement are legion. To begin with, the World of Warcraft isn't going to last forever. I'm increasingly excited about Guild Wars 2 for example, and in the past I've tried out EVE online, Warhammer Online, and Champions Online. The forums on Elitist Jerks were obviously not helpful for any of them.

Even after we limit our discussion to WoW, though, the EJ forums aren't necessarily going to be of much help. Did you want to play a BM hunter in Wrath or Cataclysm, or an MM hunter in BC? Sorry, EJ's got nothing for you. Threads weren't even posted. Or if they were posted, they fell into disrepair and neglect. Or perhaps there was lively, vital discussion going on in the thread proper, but the first post never got updated. If you're new to the class or the game, are you likely to learn anything useful combing through page after page of tendentious argument broken up with annoying ads? It seems unlikely.

And let's not forget that the EJ forums are run by an actual guild, the Elitist Jerks of Mal'ganis! They've been around far longer than most guilds survive. What happens if and when they break up? Will they outlive WoW, and if not, where do you go after that? What if they just get sick of paying for hosting?

Finally, even if the forum exists, and there is a thread for your spec, and it's not abandoned, and the first post is regularly updated, and the writing is intelligible: are you really likely to perform well in a dynamic environment if you're simply parroting information you've read elsewhere? What if it's wrong? I mean, sometimes it's going to be! No one's omniscient, we all make mistakes, and opinions evolve and change over time.

I certainly support doing external research, but it's not enough. We all need to be able to do our own evaluation and thinking to some extent. That's what this post is about, and we'll take it in steps.

Step One: determine your core purpose.


As a hunter in the World of Warcraft, our core purpose is doing a lot of damage per second. A holy priest's core purpose is keeping everyone alive by healing the damage they take. A blood death knight's core purpose is surviving the boss's attacks to protect the raid. And so on.

These are not the sum and totality of anyone's responsibilities! These games would be super boring if they were. This is the central skeleton upon which everything else is built. You may have to kite adds, or apply CC, or interrupt a certain effect, or any of a number of other things. The core reason you're there, though, is to take the boss's health from 100% to 0% as fast as possible. If you're doing that part poorly, you're failing in your role in the raid, regardless of how well you do everything else.

Step Two: identify your resources.

These can vary quite a bit. There are the obvious ones of course: focus, mana, rage, energy. In other games you might encounter things like action points or other concepts. These tend to be sort of the main "bar" or pool of points that you spend by using abilities.

There are a variety of twists on this main resource though, such as runes for death knights or holy power for paladins. Secondary and tertiary resources that interact with the primary resource as well as ability use. WoW hunters of course don't have any secondary resources, just focus.

Even for us, however, I think it's useful to think of one final resource: time. I mean this both in the sense of the passing of seconds as well as the global cooldown. The global cooldown - often called the GCD - is a very common restraint in MMOs (and RPGs more broadly) to keep everyone from just pushing all their buttons at the same time all the time: since everything can't happen simultaneously, you have to choose what you're going to do with each global. This means that I think it's easiest to think of GCDs in terms of being a resource that you have a smooth, constant income of.

Knowing what your resources are is important to keep you from wasting them. Focus maxes out at 100 points, and if even one second passes with you sitting at 100 focus, you've wasted the 4-5 focus you would have received in that second. If a warrior sits at 100 rage and then lands another melee swing, the rage they would have received for doing so is wasted. If a paladin has three holy power stored up and then uses holy shock, they've just wasted a point of holy power. If a second passes by and you don't use an ability, you've wasted that global cooldown.

Know what your resources are. Know what constraints they have, how you accrue them, and how you spend them.

Step Three: narrow it down.

Will the pandatimes bring BM back into ascendancy!?
The typo is Blizzard's. Hah!
This step can be easier or more difficult depending on your class (or profession or specialization or whatever) and on the game you're playing. You're pretty much just trying to simplify your problem by concentrating on the smallest number of possibilities. So instead of trying to understand the hunter class in WoW by looking at all three specializations at the same time, you look at just one.

Obviously this decision is already made for someone playing a warrior that wants to tank - they're going to pick protection. Likewise, a druid that wants to heal is going to be looking at restoration. But what about a priest that wants to heal, or one of the two remaining DPS-only classes in the game?

Well to be honest, there's nothing wrong with being arbitrary with this step. Pick the one you like and roll with it. It's a new expansion! No one knows what the "top" specialization is yet.

I'm going to be using the Beast Mastery specialization as my example for this article, mostly because outside of about a 10-minute trial on a target dummy at the start of the expansion, I didn't touch it at all for the duration of Cataclysm. I'm going to be as clueless as anyone else going through this!

Step Four: identify your abilities.

I don't mean this in some sort of arcane "to defeat your enemy you must know yourself" fashion! I mean it in the extra-straightforward sense of knowing what buttons you can press. We're concentrating on the core purpose we identified in Step One, so we're just going to look through everything for abilities that do damage. As time wears on, the abilities are going to change from what I've got linked. This is a feature! We'll be able to see how things change, and how that affects and changes the conclusions we reach.

Base abilities:
Arcane Shot
Steady Shot / Cobra Shot
Kill Command
Serpent Sting
Kill Shot

And that's it when it comes to base abilities every BM hunter will have that directly do damage. There's a lot of other stuff - of course! - but in terms of non-talented buttons you can push to make hurting happen, that's all of 'em. This is the skeleton we'll build our gameplay around, so let's start by sort of looking at each of these guys in turn.

Arcane Shot (ArcS): Instant (push the button and it happens, no cast time) - this means that use of this ability will be limited by available focus and available GCDs. Costs 25 focus - that's a quarter of the bar. Does damage.

Steady Shot (SS): 2 second cast time. Generates 9 focus. This ability is not limited by anything. However,  2 seconds is a long time to not be doing anything else, and if you're on full focus casting this will be a waste of time. It's interesting to note that the only thing making ArcS a higher-value attack than SS is the cast time: if SS were instant-cast, it would be more damage to just spam it. Since it does take 2 seconds, however, the goal is going to be to use this one as little as possible.

Cobra Shot (CoS): 2 second cast time. Generates 9 focus. All the same considerations apply to CoS as do to SS, with the added wrinkle that CoS extends the duration of any previously-applied Serpent Sting.

Kill Command (KC): Instant with a six second cooldown. Costs 37 focus. The hard limit on this ability will be the cooldown, while the focus cost is a softer limit. This is going to be where the lion's (or raptor's or hyena's or sporebat's) share of our damage is coming from. We want to push this button as soon as it's available, every single time, and that means making sure we have 37 focus available every six seconds.

Serpent Sting (SrS): Instant, no cooldown, costs 25 focus. Does its damage over the course of 15 seconds. This means that if you cast this again before it wears off, you've wasted some amount of that 25 focus you spent on it. This ability is limited by its own duration.

Multi-Shot (MS): Instant. This is an Area of Effect (AoE) ability that costs more focus than Kill Command and does not have a cooldown. This means that you pretty much just go out and test - see how much damage your KC does, then see how much MS does to a single target. Figure out how many things you have to hit with it before MS does more damage than a KC. At a guess, having never used MS in Pandaria, this is probably three or more targets.

Kill Shot (KS): Instant. Costs no focus. Has a 10 second cooldown. Can only be used on targets under 20% health.

So from this we can work out some basics. You're going to want to keep Kill Command on cooldown. That's 37 focus every 6 seconds. One second of those 6 will be used up by the GCD, leaving 5 seconds.

Steady Shot / Cobra Shot without haste take 2 seconds to cast, which means you can neatly fit in at most two in between KCs. That's 18 focus. The last I checked, focus also regenerates passively at a rate of around 4 points per second. So over 5 seconds you'll get another 20 points, for a total of 38.

This means that you're definitely always going to have enough focus for another KC just from casting two SS between KCs. And you should be starting the encounter with a little over 100 focus, so you've got some wiggle room to work with. This all means that as we're looking at the skeleton of BM ability use, we're going to see a priority something like this:

  1. Kill Command
  2. Kill Shot
  3. Arcane Shot/Serpent Sting
  4. Cobra Shot
That third priority is because some of the time we're going to have spare focus, enabling us to use that last second in the 6-second KC cooldown to do something like apply a SrS or fire an ArcS. Not all of the time! Because those two things are 25 focus each, so if we used one every single KC cooldown, we'd starve ourselves of focus. But every few we'll definitely be able to sneak one or the other in, depending on which one actually does more damage (it may well be that either SrS or ArcS isn't particularly worth casting for BM, this is the sort of stuff that just takes testing).

I've decided on CoS over SS as our focus-generating shot because I just can't see any reason not to. As far as I can tell, CoS simply does more damage than SS and it extends the duration of SrS, making it an easy decision to apply that dot at the beginning of an encounter.

And that's our skeleton!

Step Five: flesh it out.

In the final step, we look at everything else the spec has going on, look at talents, and think about cooldowns. This is the part where a lot of people tend to get a little bit intimidated, but I would say this is really the fun part! This is where you've got the most wiggle room and you can play with the various talents and glyphs and decide which options work well for you.

To begin with, we'll add in the relevant hunter/BM abilities that don't directly do damage, but have an affect on damage:

Focus Fire
Bestial Wrath
Cobra Strikes
The Beast Within
Rapid Fire
Kindred Spirits


Frenzy is just a passive addition to damage that builds up over time. When it stacks up fully, you can consume it with Focus Fire and get a big haste boost. There's no cooldown on it! So you can just start out by using it as often as it's available.

Interestingly, this creates probably our first sort of counter-intuitive interaction with some of our other abilities here. Bestial Wrath gives your pet a percentage damage boost, and the thing with percentage damage boosts is that you want to stack those with other damage boosts as much as possible, because then the percentage is multiplying a bigger number. It's also a sort of intermediate cooldown: it's not a six-second thing like KC, so it's not going to be part of your regular priority. On the other hand, it's only a minute, so you're going to be using it several times in the course of a boss encounter.

This in turn means that you're going to want to have a sort of regular plan for how you'll generally use it. If Bestial Wrath were just out there on its own, you'd never want to use Focus Fire and Wrath at the same time, because you'd want to multiply your pet's Frenzy damage with the percentage bonus you get from Wrath, and Focus Fire consumes those Frenzy stacks.

The Beast Within, however, gives you a percentage damage bonus whenever you give your pet Wrath. So that makes you want to stack Focus Fire with Bestial Wrath, so you're getting that Focus Fire haste at the same time you're getting your percentage bonus from Beast Within.

Here's how I'd solve this conflict:

  1. Even BM hunters are doing the majority of the hunter/pet total damage, so in general you'll want to err on the side of improving your own damage.
  2. This means you'll generally plan on stacking Focus Fire with Bestial Wrath.
  3. However, you'll start the fight with both Rapid Fire and Bestial Wrath available, of course. So for that first beginning portion, I would wait until Focus Fire became available. This means your pet has a full stack of Frenzy.
  4. Then I'd use Rapid Fire and Bestial Wrath at the same time. This gives your pet the full benefit of Frenzy + Bestial Wrath while giving you a huge haste buff to pair with Beast Within.
  5. While Rapid Fire is on cooldown, I'd stack Focus Fire with Bestial Wrath. Your pet's damage won't be as high as it could be, but your own damage will benefit from it.
The final effects - Cobra Strikes, Kindred Spirits, and Invigoration - can all be considered together. Cobra Strikes reward you for using ArcS, which costs precious focus. Kindred Spirits gives you a bigger bank of focus to work with, and Invigoration gives you bonus focus you can spend on Arcane Shots! Pretty neat! Given all of that, I would question if Serpent Sting is worth using at all!

Regardless of the eventual answer to that question, however, we can really see the shape of Beast Mastery DPS coming together. The last step is to figure out our talents and glyphs, and the beauty of those is that they're designed to be interesting choices that don't necessarily have a wrong answer. This is where you can experiment, run a dungeon with one configuration, and then change things around and run another.

Just from reading the tooltips, here's an idea of the talents I'd probably try out first.

  • Exhilaration because I never really seem to need more distance on Disengage, but a big heal every time I use it? Yes please!
  • Silencing Shot. Since I'm primarily a PvE player, the reality that I see in raids is that "having another interrupt" is generally more valuable than an in-combat CC of short or medium duration. Those are really better suited for PvP in my opinion.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera - despite its silly name - synergizes with Exhilaration and gives us a huge cooldown reduction on Deterrence. Having access to immunity and/or 30% damage reduction twice as often is just insanely good. The combination of this talent and the first will make recovery from mistakes very easy, and that's a huge part of those imperfect first kills.
  • Thrill of the Hunt was one of the more difficult choices for me. I was really, really tempted by Readiness. BM hunter cooldowns are already very short duration, though, and in the end my intuition is that TotH will synergize better with Cobra Strikes.
  • Black Ice. Hunters are frequently called upon to kite groups of little adds around, and I think that this talent will be amazing for that task. Solo-kiting all 3 adds on the last guy in heroic Blackrock Caverns and getting the achievement would have been trivial with this talent, whereas it took me a few tries to get it in early Cataclysm.
  • Powershot has the advantage of lining up nicely with the Bestial Wrath cooldown, which means you should also pretty much always be able to take advantage of the haste from Focus Fire to help reduce that 3 second cast. It's kind of boring! But it just fits in so nicely with the BM cooldowns.
You can see how I'm building all of this up in layers. I started with assembling the DPS skeleton, added on the other abilities in a manner that made intuitive sense to me, and finally picked talents that would complement the choices I'd already made. When you write it all up later it might seem complex and arcane, but it's really not! Each individual step was a small one, following naturally from the previous step and leading naturally into the next one. I'll leave the choosing of glyphs as an exercise for the reader!

It took me a lot longer to write all of this out than it did to see the patterns in the first place.

Of course a lot of this stuff is going to change, and even if it doesn't, some of the stuff I've written here will be wrong guesses! You don't have to - and you're not going to - get everything right on the first pass. You're going to be spending much of the expansion making mostly-small tweaks and adjustments in reaction to patch changes and testing and actual raid performance.

Finally, while the example I chose was a BM hunter from World of Warcraft, you could absolutely use this framework for any class or spec or role in WoW or other games. At the end of the day, the important part is just the thinking, the having of reasons for the choices you make. As long as you're not picking stuff wildly at random you are, to be quite honest, doing better than most of the people playing.

And that's not to make fun of those folks! It's just that they're not playing the game for the same reasons. They don't find the same things fun. If part of the fun for you is stepping up to content that's challenging for your group of friends and bringing it down, then I think this process will serve you well.

As I keep harping about though, I definitely don't know everything! I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on how they make their decisions, what talents they think they'll be using, and what fun new buttons to push they're looking forward to pushing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hunter Log Evaluation

Log evaluation is probably one of the least-practiced branches of WoW nerdery. This is a shame, because it's a really powerful tool both for individual improvement, fixing problems that are stopping progression, and figuring out if that new applicant to your guild is going to be a help or a hindrance. It's also not actually that difficult! World of Logs has some really great summaries and analysis screens that make it easy to find what you're looking for, so long as you know what what is.

We'll start by taking a look at my most recent Ultraxion parse. I won't link to the report itself because it's going to get deleted in a month or so, but I'll have screenshots of the relevant stuff. One thing I won't screenshot, though, is the one screen that everyone always checks out: the summary of damage done, with its pretty bars and its ranking. There are two things that this screen is good for: making fun of your healers for their low DPS, and getting a very rough sense of how you're doing as long as you already know what decent damage output for that encounter looks like. Seeing that you're doing the most damage in your guild really does not mean anything, for a whole variety of reasons.

The trick with log evaluation is to find objective measures of performance. Or at least as close to objective as we can get.

So what's the most important thing for pretty much every spec of hunter? Keeping their signature ability on cooldown. Chimera Shot for Marks, Explosive Shot for Survival, and Kill Command for Beast hunters. This is handy because it's a truly objective measure of an incredibly important part of how hunters DPS. It's also pretty easy, if laborious, to check. The first step is to go to the log browser within WoL:

It's going to have a default query already in there. Go ahead and remove that, then click "Add Query" and fill it out like this:
Click for full size.
Once you've added your query, click "Run." You'll get a list like this:

Next is the annoying, laborious part. You can do this however you want, but for me it's easiest to copy the whole thing into notepad. Then you go down the list and find out how long it took in between signature shots. I'm still playing MM until 4.3.2, so for me that's Chimera Shot. I also have CS glyphed, which means it has a 9 second cooldown. Accounting for latency and similar factors, I'd be pretty happy to have about 9.2 seconds in between my CS casts. The interval between the first two CS is 9.3 seconds (57.882 - 48.559), not bad! The one after that is longer (11.5 seconds), but if you add a second query to see Hour of Twilight casts, you'd see this:

I think it's reasonable to cut someone a little slack for missing the CS cooldown when they're not-dying to encounter mechanics. And then between the 3rd and 4th CS casts, we once again see 9.3 seconds. This isn't the 9.2 seconds I would ideally like to see, but especially as a casual raider I can feel pretty happy with it. Then you just go down the list and see how the signature ability timing looks. You can even divide the total number of seconds by the number of times the ability was used to get an average. Heck, you could even throw out some of the intervals for things like "dealing with Hour" if you want!

Keep in mind that what you're evaluating here is not overall skill with or knowledge of the class. You're just looking at the most basic DPS fundamental. This is the platform upon which the house of good gameplay is built. In order to make further evaluation, you'll have to know some things about the class and about the various specs. For example, you need to know that Deterrence can be used to ignore Hour of Twilight, so you'll want to run a third query, for spell casts of Deterrence and to see when Deterrence fades.

What you're checking for here is to see that not only does the hunter use it, they don't just let it go for the full five seconds of its duration. Ultraxion begins to cast Hour at 7.3 seconds. It's a 5 second cast, so it will have finished casting at around 12 seconds. Deterrence fades at 13 seconds, only 3 seconds after I cast it. So that means I popped it, then canceled it right after Hour hit. These are all good signs. These are the sorts of things you're looking for in your own huntering, and in the logs of any hunter applicants you're evaluating.

You can also see why I like using Ultraxion for this level of log analysis. It's a very basic encounter, with a couple "push a button or die" mechanics, no weird DPS gimmicks, and no role requirements like you'd see with a hunter tasked with kiting Rageface on heroic Shannox. Just good, fundamental class knowledge stuff.

Now, could I have planned out my focus income around that Hour better and put CS on cooldown faster? Sure! But in the case of my guild, a casually-raiding team, that's not something I'd really consider a negative in an applicant. It may be something I work on for myself, but I'm not going to be demanding flawless perfection from applicants to my guild, right? We have some objective measures of skill available to us with World of Logs, but we have to be rational in how we think about them.

Another thing we want to take a look at is the uptime for various buffs. If you go to the damage done summary and then click on someone's name, you'll get this screen:

Click for full size.
If you click on the "Buffs Gained" tab, you'll get a long list of buffs and debuffs. Evaluation here does require some class knowledge. To begin with, for all specs, you want to find the line that says "Tol'vir Agility" and you want to make sure the person has just under 50 seconds of time with that buff on them. The potion lasts for 25 seconds, so if you see 47-49 seconds of the buff, that means your applicant is properly pre-potting and then remembering to use a second potion later on.

For Marks hunters, you'll be looking for a couple specific things. First, you should see the uptime percentage for "Improved Steady Shot" at 90% or better for most encounters, even for things like Yor'sahj. The first encounter I've run into that's really messed with my ISS uptime has been heroic Mor'chok, due to the combination of constant movement and having to move in to melee range to raptor strike for damage reduction. Low ISS uptime isn't necessarily automatically bad, but it's something you can ask someone about. "I noticed your ISS uptime on heroic Mor'chok is lower than it is anywhere else, why is that?"

The second thing you want to see is about a minute's worth of time spent under the effect of Rapid Fire. Marks' reduced RF cooldown plus the addition of Readiness means that an MM hunter should be able to get 4 RFs (or about a minute) into pretty much every encounter. SV and BM hunters should have a second use of Rapid Fire in any encounter that goes longer than about 5:30.

Is this hunter in a raid with a Holy priest that specs into Lightwell? Check the buffs gained for Lightwell Renew.

And that's my rough outline for the things you want to look for, whether you're evaluating yourself or someone else. Start by verifying the fundamentals, then add in checks for things like "are they pre-potting?" "are they clicking the lightwell?" "do they know what encounter mechanics they can negate with deterrence?" "are they using Disengage to move around the encounter space?"

And that's about it! This is a rough sketch, but it gives you a really solid starting point to do some of your own log evaluation. I think that the trick is to keep in mind that you want to look for specific things. Ability use timing, using Deterrence at the right time, etc. Don't just try to stare at a log for a whole night and holistically extract useful information. It won't work.

And for those of you for whom this is all old hat, what do you look for in a hunter's logs?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An actual post! Hunter UI Modification.

To give credit where it's due for the previous post: the idea was totally my boyfriend's. It made me laugh, though, so I had to embellish on it and make it into a blog post. Now, though, I should write a real post, or at least as close to a real post as anything I do. There seems to be more interest in interface modification than there is in slogging through uploaded combat parses - and now that I put it like that, I'm not really very surprised. I'm definitely going to do a post on hunter log evaluation, but it can wait a couple days.

Before I get into posting a UI screenshot and talking about configuration, however, I want to talk about how I think about my UI.

I see a number of people that post threads in forums that are along the lines of "I'm playing a hunter! What mods should I get?" and I really don't think this is a very helpful way to go about it. Not least because 30 different people will give you 30 different recommendations, and without any way to choose between them you're going to end up looking at blurry screenshots of mods and trying to figure out if you should get it or not.

I think everyone should ask themselves this question: "what are the problems with my UI that I want to fix?" It might even help to get out a piece of paper and write down your answers to that question. Without asking that question you're groping blindly, and you're just as likely to confuse yourself as you are to help yourself.

So before I post the big screenshot, here are my answers to that question:

  1. I need to have all my most important information near the middle of my screen, so I can easily see when I'm Standing In Bad.
  2. I need to be able to accurately and easily monitor a wide variety of different buffs, debuffs, and cooldowns.
  3. I need to be able to see adds instantly as well as switch targets quickly and accurately and I have to be able to misdirect to and use Master's Call on anyone in the raid in the middle of an encounter.
  4. All of the above have to be accomplished with as much visual economy as possible: cluttering up my screen with bars and timers and flashing buttons defeats the purpose by making it impossible to see that I'm Standing In Bad.
Those are my four goals. Every addon I have I picked and customized specifically to address one or more of them. Here's what my UI looks like shooting at a target dummy:
Click for full size.
I'll talk a little bit about each of the mods, in numerical order. I'm not really going to go into step-by-step configuration of individual mods, because they all for the most part have guides out there already. It's more important to think about the mods I use might or might not help you fix the problems with how you use your UI.

This pair of addons works together to clean up the game's default health plates and add features to them such as transparency, resizing, and additional visual effects that can be used to display threat information. Tanks, for example, can set the health plates for mobs targeting them to be smaller, more transparent and green while the plates for mobs targeting other people can be big and red with an attention-grabbing aura around them. As a hunter, I have the plates for mobs not targeting me a little smaller, transparent and green; mobs that targeting or could target me are big and red and so on. This makes tasks like picking a particular mob out of a whole pile of them much easier, while doing so with a minimum of distracting visual clutter.

I make fairly sparing use of Power Auras. It's a venerable old mod, widely used because it's so powerful. As is often the case though, all that customizability means it takes a little more effort to configure. I only do fairly basic things with it: you can see in the screenshot a small, somewhat transparent icon letting me know that I've got a haste proc from a trinket. I need to know this so I can adjust my expectation for things like "how many steady shots can I fit in before CS comes off cooldown?" I also use it to really scream at me when I've got Fading Light on Ultraxxion or I'm being targeted for Shrapnel on Madness.

I love this addon very, very, very much. Here's a closeup:
As you can see, the center of the mod is a focus bar. The tick mark is the amount of focus it would cost to use a Chimera shot, and the number is the amount of focus I have at that second. To the right is an animated indicator warning me that I don't have Hunter's Mark active on my target. Below that is an indicator so I know that I'm in Aspect of the Hawk.

Now, you can see that there are two Rapid Fire icons, one above the focus bar and one below. The one on top is because Rapid Fire is currently active on me, with 12 seconds remaining. The duration of the buff from Improved Steady Shot is displayed here in the same way, as is the cooldown of Chimera shot. As the cooldowns or durations tick down to 0, the icon moves from the right side of the bar to the left. So it's both an intuitive visual indicator of time left, as well as text indicating number of seconds.

I use the space under the focus bar to display my longer cooldowns, so the "3" there is white to indicate that it's referring to minutes rather than the yellow seconds of the icon on top. Once that cooldown is under a minute, it will display in seconds as well. This makes it super-easy to use make sure I use Rapid Fire again as soon as I possibly can.

Not pictured here are other things you can have Serenity monitor and display, such as notices that your current target has a buff that Tranquilizing shot can remove or the time left until Freezing Trap wears off of something you've got trapped.

This is a really great mod, and I would encourage all hunters to at least consider it.

4. Quartz
This is another classic mod that I've used since BC. Basically it lets you change the size, location, and appearance of any and all castbars (your own, your target's, target's target, focus, etc). It can also monitor things like the GCD, your autoshot/swing timer, debuffs and buffs on your target, and so on. If you're moving everything else in your UI around, like I am, you need to be able to move around your castbars.

I use Pitbull for much the same reasons that I use Quartz. Having my own healthbar stuck in the upper right-hand corner of my screen was resulting in my death occasionally, and anyway it was ugly! So I use this mod to make my healthbars prettier and move and resize them to fit my own desires. You can see I have my pet's healthbar visible but small, sitting atop my own. My target's target is displayed in a similar fashion, and everything is tucked in neat and clean in the bottom-center of my screen, so I don't have move my eyes very far off-center to scan them. I also use it to display large, easy-to-see icons of the buffs on my current target so I can easily watch things like the stacks of Warlord Zon'ozz's increased damage-done buff.

6,7. Grid/Clique
I first picked up using this pair of cooldowns as I was learning to heal on my priest, and I've found that they lend themselves to things like answering the question "is everyone in the raid alive?" and "where's the healer so I can use Master's Call on him?" These are also highly customizable mods, and if you decide to use them make sure you do so with a clear goal in mind. I wanted extremely clean, compact raid frames that I could tuck in a corner and use for very specific purposes; I didn't want a massive set of healthbars covering half my screen and covered in vibrating, pulsating icons.

Continuing the theme of many of my other mods, BT4 allowed me to resize, move, rearrange, and change the appearance and transparency of my various action bars and menu buttons. My mini-menu and pet bar have been made tiny and tucked under the chat box so they don't obscure anything. I've got an action bar hidden along the left-hand side of my screen where I've got bindings for a few macros for pet control and aspect swapping as well as placing traps (it becomes visible if I mouse over it). My regular action bars are still visible, but are much smaller, reducing visual clutter.

Other considerations/not pictured.
You can't see it but I used a tiny little addon called Tipsy to move my tooltips to the upper left-hand corner of my screen, so they wouldn't get in the way of my raid frames. I have Omen and Recount installed, but Omen is hidden unless I'm in a party/raid and Recount is hidden unless I specifically bring it up to look at something (during raid time, this is usually the "Deaths" page).

You can see that I've set up a few custom chat tabs and made the background of the chat window transparent. The tabs are so that I can restrict the chat I can see to just party, raid and guild, and the transparency is so that it doesn't get in the way.

Anyway, altogether I hope you can see how I've chosen my addons to fix my UI problems. Maybe some of these would be the right ones for you and maybe they wouldn't! There's no way for anyone else to know what addons are best for you.

That said, I am always curious about how other people play! So if you have any favorites that I've missed, please do drop me a note, tweet it, or leave a comment!

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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Using your pet's abilities

I recently got an email with some great questions about the use of our pets' abilities. The sender has been playing the class for a couple years and has done a lot of their own research, but found that it seems like there are some things you're assumed to just know. In reality of course, there's no reason anyone would just know the answers to these things! In point of fact, I never really found any guides that answered these questions either, so the answers I have are all "this is what works for me." I'm not claiming that the way I do things is the best way or the only way, merely that it's a way.

That established, here are the actual questions as I understand them:
  1. Should pet abilities be on autocast or should the player choose when to use them?
  2. Is there any way to make the pet bar bigger, allowing you to fit more pet abilities onto it?
  3. If the answer to number 2 is "no," then is it possible to macro pet abilities?
  4. If the answer to number 3 is "yes," are they cast abilities, use abilities, or something else?
I think these are great questions, especially because pet control is so important to the class. If you're ever in a group with another hunter, watch their pet during trash pulls: does it run all the way back to their side in between mobs, or are they manually moving it to the next target right before the previous one dies?

I don't think that the latter is necessarily a bad hunter or anything! I just think it's more likely that that person doesn't think of their pet as an important part of their damage and hasn't developed the habits that make pet-control during boss encounters second nature.

Our pets' abilities are another aspect of pet control, and I think it's a great sign if you're asking yourself questions like those above and trying to find answers for them. To be good at something isn't to say "I know all the answers," it is instead to say "how could I be better?"

Ok! Having made a pretentious, melodramatic big deal out of things, I should probably answer the questions as best I can.

Number 1. The answer is "it depends." Growl should of course be turned off. Your pet's spammable attack, things like Claw, should be left on autocast. Call of the Wild and Roar of Recovery should be used manually and, more specifically, they should be stacked with either Rapid Fire or Bloodlust. I'll come back to that in a second. I leave Dash on autocast. They automatically use it whenever they have to get farther than a certain minimum distance, and with the short cooldown it's often available at good times. Any DPS you may lose from your pet using the focus on dash is more than made up for by increased time on target.

If your raid group is having you pet-tank adds (as happened a lot with Nefarian), then the usual recommendation is to leave Shell Shield and the similar scarab ability on autocast. The threshhold that pets seem to have for their Shell Shield use seems to work quite well. If your raid ever determines that they want access to abilities like Roar of Sacrifice for a specific encounter, then you'll definitely want to turn autocast off and use them deliberately there. The bat's stun is another example of this: some raids had their hunters bring bats for Ragnaros so they'd have another stun to use on Sons of Flame.

The reason I say that you pretty much must stack Call of the Wild or Roar of Recovery with Rapid Fire or Bloodlust is because RF and BL are cooldowns that multiply other effects. CotW and RoR could read more simply as "you do higher damage for a little while," so attacking more often with that higher damage is the best use of it. And don't underestimate RoR, either! If your raid needs Curse of Elements, you should absolutely use one of the two cunning pets that supply it. RoR allows you to fit a whole extra Aimed Shot in during the Careful Aim window, which is huge. My aimed shots have a 100% crit chance during CA, land for over 70,000 damage, and roll the Piercing Shots bleed, whose ticks get monstrously large by the end of the CA window.

Number 2. There's actually no way to change the size of the pet bar, even with mods, so far as I know. This means that yes, you'll probably be using macros.

Number 3. Yep!

Number 4. In general, abilities work through /cast commands in macros, while things like telling your pet to attack something or changing her stance work through their own specific commands. For the first example, let's look at how I use Call of the Wild in a macro:
/cast Rapid Fire
/use Potion of the Tol'vir
/cast Call of the Wild
Make sure to spam that button a few times to make sure everything activates. If you have an on-use trinket such as the Ancient Petrified Seed, put that in there as well. The /cast command will work for any activated pet ability. So if you're doing the bat pet for Ragnaros thing, you could make a macro that had "/cast Sonic Blast" and that macro would make your pet use his stun on whatever you've got targeted.

It's possibly worth noting that this opens up possibilities for doing cool things with pet control, especially with mouseover targeting. So you could make a macro that looked like this:

/cast [target=mouseover] Sonic Blast
Then, during Ragnaros, you could be targeting and DPSing one Son when you see that another is getting dangerously close to the hammer. Even if you're in the middle of casting an Aimed Shot, you could leave your current Son targeted, hover your mouse cursor over the worrisome one, and push the button for that macro. Your bat would swoop over, stun it, and then swoop back to your current target.

I mostly manage my pet's position through the use of macros telling her to attack, come to my side, be passive, or assist. Ever since the Burning Crusade I've developed super-strong muscle memory of hitting control-1 to tell my pet to attack, so I chose to bind my other commands to control-2 and control-3. I have these macros on a hidden action bar on the left-hand side of my screen that also houses trap launcher, my traps, and my aspect switching macro. Well, sort of! Control-1 is the default pet attack button, so I didn't change that, but I did make macros for the other things.

The first macro brings my pet to my side, and is used to make sure she doesn't get killed by things that target a specific spots. Mimiron's rockets in Ulduar for example, or Rag's hammer impact for lava wave, that kind of thing. The other thing it's good for is getting your pet in range for use of Master's Call. Whenever there's a dispellable immobilization or snare debuff in an encounter, you should use Master's Call. Let your healers know that you are not a priority for dispels and that they can and should conserve their mana unless you ask for help.

The macro looks like this:
That macro is 100% guaranteed to make your pet break off from whatever she's doing and come running back to you. Mine is titled "come". If you want to macro having your pet attack so you can bind it somewhere else, by the way, the command is simply "/petattack".

Finally I have control-3 bound to put her back on the assist setting. It's worth noting that you don't necessarily have to have her on assist. I use it for some fights and don't use it for others. If I'm going to be switching targets frequently but I want my pet to attack only one target, then I leave her on passive and just tell her to attack the correct target at the beginning. That said, here's my macro to put my pet on assist:
The /petfollow command is there because sometimes I'll hit control-3 after having directed my pet to stand in a specific spot. Petfollow does not make your pet come to your side, it simply tells her to follow you around if she's not doing anything else. Sending her a /petpassive command will always make her come back to you, even if she's already set to passive. Without that /petfollow in there, you could end up with her standing in some random spot, probably wagging her tail with a goofy look on her face.

That's most of what leaps to mind for me! Which tips have I missed? Also, I keep making these kind of long posts without really intending to. Blogger has an option to cut these into an intro and a body, hiding the body unless someone clicks to see it. Would anyone prefer that I start doing that?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The MOST IMPORTANT raid consumable

All raiders are responsible for their consumables. Even if you're in a guild like mine (or just in my guild!), where we supply 100% of your consumables, it's your responsibility to ask for them. Scandalously, however, if you were to poll the world's WoW raiding population and asked them what the single most important raiding consumable is, you'd be lucky to get a single correct answer. It's time to address that failing.

The most important raid consumable is your coffee.

Frankly, I am almost beyond disappointed that this even needed to be said. This is really basic stuff, guys. I don't think it's that big of a deal if you have trouble with haste rating, or even if you're doing things like gemming pure crit rating to get a socket bonus (although really, don't do that). But I mean, not getting your coffee right? Inexcusable. So, since a guide on the subject is clearly sorely needed, I've taken it upon myself to write one.

The good news here is that this particular guide is spec-independent. And class-independent. And game-independent. It is also independent of gaming. Just remember that even though it can be used outside of raid time, it is absolutely necessary during raid time.

When I was in the fencing club in college - don't worry, this relates back to the post, I promise - our coach was a really neat guy. Let's call him Mike. Mike had worked in a fair number of occupations, but they tended towards the sales side of things. This made sense, as Mike was this really friendly, chatty, and personable guy. One of the sorts of things he'd sold had been audiovisual electronics. Stereos, TVs, that sort of stuff. He always said that one of the things that drove him up the damn walls was when some over-monied idiot would come in with a budget of five thousand dollars for a home stereo system and spend forty-three hundred on the receiver, two hundred on scam cables, and five hundred on speakers. This bothered him so much because the most important part of your stereo system is the part that makes the sound. If you're getting a fancy home theater setup, spend the majority of your money on the speakers and the TV, ok?

This happens a lot in coffee. Like, almost always. Someone will decide they like coffee and want to enjoy it in the privacy of their home. Wonderful! Me too. So they'll spend $500 on a drip coffee maker with its own built-in water filtration, digital water temperature setting, a carafe rated for atmospheric re-entry, wifi connectivity, and cool blue LEDs. Into this contraption they will dump hazelnut-flavored coffee they got from the grocery store pre-ground. Or maybe, and this is in some ways worse, they'll actually get pretty decent bean and then grind it with a seven-dollar blade grinder.

No. No! Bad. Bad. Do not do.

On the left is nothing too special. That's a very basic conical burr grinder from Capresso. You can get it for around seventy to a hundred dollars, and it'll give you a pretty darn even grind. Sure, a thousand-dollar commercial unit from Ditting would be better, but this little grinder is totally sufficient for your typical raider. The coffee is, as you can see, from Dogwood Coffee Roasters. They're local to me and they print the roast date on the bag, so you can make sure you're not getting stale coffee.

Actually, I should back up a bit here. When you taste coffee, it should not be bitter. It should be rich and flavorful and complex and mouth-filling and warm and fortifying but it should not be bitter. It would take a while to go into all the whys and wherefores of this, so I'll try to reduce it to a couple simple statements. The first is that most of the wonderful flavors in coffee come from very volatile compounds. "Volatile" means they react strongly with just about anything, including air, which is why an air-tight storage container is important. Even with that, however, if your bean was roasted a long time ago, the flavor will have sublimated right out of it.

Secondly, bitter coffee is burned, over-extracted coffee. If the hot water has sat in the grounds too long, chemical reactions happen that produce some truly unpleasant flavors. Further, the definition of "too long" changes with how finely you grind the coffee. The finer the grind, the less time it takes to over-extract and convert a brilliant light roast into bitter muck. This is why it's so important to grind at home and have an even grind from a burr grinder. Blade grinders leave your bean ground into a gradient of particles, from too large shading all the way down to too small, regardless of how you're brewing. Good bean and a good grinder: these are the most important elements of good coffee.

This is my preferred method of brewing: french press. You may have noticed that that's a Frieling stainless-steel presspot, and you may think it's a little too expensive. You may point out that it retails for around ninety dollars, the price for three perfectly serviceable Bodum presspots. And you'd be absolutely correct! I know this because I bought and broke three such glass presspots before I decided to get this one. So if you can use the glass ones without shattering them every other month, then by all means: go glass. If you're an irredeemable clutz like me, though, you'll save money in the end by getting a nice stainless one.

If I were really hardcore, I'd have a scale so I always brewed with exactly the same ratio of bean to water. But we're casual raiders here at Piercing Shots, so we use the "2 tablespoons of unground bean per eight ounces of water" rule, and it's worked pretty well so far. Here's how it goes:

  1. Bring water to a boil
  2. Coarsely grind appropriate quantity of beans
  3. Place grounds in presspot
  4. Pour just a few ounces of water on them and wait for the bubbling and fizzing to subside*
  5. Fill to top, like so:

Set a timer for four minutes. When it beeps, dongs, or buzzes, come back and scoop the "cake" of grounds off the top with a large spoon, then press it. Finally, pour yourself a mug of brain-nutriment before resuming your assault upon the Firelord's throne (or whatever):

*This is called the "bloom". You only really need to worry about it with bean that was roasted 2-5 days ago. It has something to do with carbon dioxide, I guess? If you skip this step with really freshly roasted bean, you'll end up with the bloom taking up too much room with froth, not having enough water, and thus over-extracting.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cataclysm PvE Huntering at 85: Haste Plateaus

Well, we all knew this post was coming. Haste has become the Armor Penetration of Cataclysm hunters, in that it's pretty much a mystery to a lot of people. The EJ thread has tables with focus costs and abbreviations for things like "left GCDs" and "used GCDs" and it's different for different specs, different tier set bonuses, and so on. Further, even for those hunters that go to FemaleDwarf or use SimCraft, it remains confusing. A hunter can run her gear through FD and see that the site is saying haste is worth a lot of DPS for her. So then she runs a new sim having reforged everything to haste and suddenly haste isn't worth very much. What in the world is going on when this happens?

Well, what's happening is that she's running into these haste "plateaus". Basically, the value of haste is increasing rapidly as she gets closer to something big such as "being able to use another Steady Shot in between every single Chimera Shot". Once she's got that extra Steady Shot wedged in the middle of those Chimeras, however, she's suddenly thousands of haste rating away from being able to squeeze yet another in, so haste's value drops precipitately. This also holds true for Survival hunters who could, for example, theoretically reach a point where they could fire 4 cobra shots in between every Explosive shot without pushing that Explosive back.

Between the tables, racials, haste rating, different specs, and conflicting sources, it can be difficult to tell what you should be gearing for, so the goal of this post is (as always) to make it easy. I think the best way to do that is to start by addressing the answers that are pretty much always good answers.

Good Answer #1: Marksmanship and the Five Steady Shot Cycle

Marksmanship is the top raiding spec as of the writing of this post, and it turns out that there's a simple rule for haste that will yield good results for Marksmanship hunters of any gear level, working on any content. Here it is:

Get at least 13.5% character-sheet haste with a spec that includes 3/3 Pathing and doesn't glyph Chimera Shot.

That's it. For real. Open up your character sheet, expand out the stats, and hover your mouse over the "haste" section under ranged. This automatically includes buffs, talents, racials, and gear, so make sure you're not picking up random extra haste from a party member or anything.

If you're curious, the theorycrafted minimum is 12.97%, but that would be with perfect play and 0 latency, two things I certainly don't have. You might need a little bit more or a little bit less - the way to test is to go to a target dummy partied with someone that supplies the 10% haste buff. You should be able to maintain the following cycle indefinitely:

Chimera Shot -> Steady Shot x2 -> Arcane Shot x2 -> Steady Shot x3 -> Chimera Shot

When MMM gives you a free, instant Aimed Shot, you can place it either immediately after the Chimera Shot or immediately after the Arcane Shot pair, and then remove one steady shot from the trio at the end of the cycle. If you find that you're consistently pushing back your Chimera shot, get a little more haste. For reference, my latency is usually between 40 and 70 ms, and I stick with 13.5% to 14% character-sheet haste.

This is about as forgiving and flexible as MM DPS gets, and isn't excessively punished by movement or target switches. It's easily altered to account for procs such as the instant Aimed Shot and the Tier 12 4-piece bonus proccing. It does very competitive damage, and depending on encounter, gear, raid buffs, and debuffs on the boss anyone can use this style of play to achieve results in the 20-30k single-target DPS range.

Good Answer #2: Survival and the Three Cobra Shot per Explosive Shot Cycle

Just as Marksmanship DPS is constrained by the twin requirements of the Chimera Shot cooldown and the duration of the Improved Steady Shot buff, Survival is constrained by the Explosive Shot cooldown. At current gear levels, there's exactly one reachable haste plateau for Survival hunters:

Get at least 20% character-sheet haste with a spec that includes 3/3 Pathing.

The theoretical minimum haste rating for this is 757, but again, I'd recommend going a little over. You want to be able to do this:

Explosive Shot -> Cobra Shot x3 -> Explosive Shot

ad infinitum.

Good Answer #3: These Aren't the Only Answers

There's actually a fair amount of flexibility with regards to haste and haste plateaus. There's at least one fairly progressed hunter who has over 15% haste from rating alone, glyphs Chimera Shot, and hardcasts Aimed Shot. This playstyle works for him and his guild. And when T11 was more current, there was a different haste plateau for the 4-piece bonus that used the Chimera Shot glyph. There are also highly progressed hunters that glyph Chimera Shot instead of Rapid Fire with T12, still use Arcane Shot, and aim for yet another haste plateau.

But what is relevant for the players on the bleeding edge of progression is not necessarily relevant for the average hunter. You could absolutely do worse than follow the advice above. These are very popular playstyles, and they're popular with good reason. Maybe you'll get bitten by the theorycraft bug and decide to do your own tables and spreadsheets of DPS cycles and leave these behind - that's fine! Hooray! But until then you can raid and do great damage with either of these very simple guidelines.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Beth'tilac video uploaded!

Hooray! The upload last night went through ok, and there it is! It's.... a little strange, because not only did it end up getting put in a letterbox to make it 4:3, but it also added horizontal black bars that serve no purpose, making me frownie. I think this might have something to do with the fact that I recorded it at half-size just to save space and to make sure my computer could handle the recording. It might also be because I'm using Windows7 Movie Maker. Ugh. Still, I think you can actually see what I'm doing, which buttons I'm pushing, and when I target various things, so I think most of the useful information made it. Well, at least you can if you watch it on Youtube at 1080, this little embedded postage stamp not so much. Any comments are welcome!

Monday, May 30, 2011

MM guide updated and some other stuff

Alright, the MM guide is updated as well now. It was actually closer to accurate than the Survival guide is, but there's more interest in MM right now because it's the top single-target spec. I also took the first look in a long time at the Marks thread on the EJ forums, which was interesting. The T12 4-piece bonus is resulting in some interesting discussion as everyone tries to figure out how to actually make that bonus result in an increase in DPS for the spec. As far as I can tell there's no super-firm answer yet, but unraveling the thread maintainer's language is always a challenge. It's not super-relevant yet anyway, so I'm not too worried about providing any sort of accurate about it just yet.

I hope everyone has had a delightful long weekend!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gear list post updated

I have fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally gotten around to updating my pre-raid gear list post, including items from patch 4.1. I should really go through and update the Survival and Marksmanship guides as well, but updating and editing previously written things is probably the most boring part of the enterprise for me. I'll get around to it eventually! I just don't really have any idea when.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cataclysm Huntering at 85: Gems, Enchantments, and Reforging

Updated December 18, 2011!

I have, in the past, called item enhancement my favorite mini-game in WoW, and this is still something that holds true for me. I think the satisfaction is similar to the satisfaction from a well-played game of Bejeweled, or maybe a crossword puzzle. You need to know what points you want various stats at and arrange your gems, enchants and so on to achieve the maximum benefit from your available configuration of stuff. Sometimes you just get lucky of course: I got two upgrades on the same night once and equipping both of them put me exactly at hit cap. Exactly. Situations like this are rare, though, and you're usually going to have to shuffle around some combination of reforging and enchants to get your gear where you want it.

The sort of basis of item enhancement is stat weighting. This sounds like a scary term, but it really isn't. All this means is that, when you're considering your gear, you give some stats more weight in your consideration than you give others. This is pretty intuitive at its most basic: as a physical DPS class, we're giving spirit no weight at all because we don't want any. Conversely, we give agility a lot of weight because we want a lot of it. The difficulty comes when we're comparing things like crit vs. mastery vs. haste.

Unfortunately, there's no always true for everyone all the time stat weighting. Depending on the gear you already have, what stat is best for you might change, sometimes pretty drastically. This can lead to misunderstandings when people do things like look at the armories of hunters in world-first guilds and then try to emulate those hunters' reforging even though they're raiding in a totally different environment.

There are tools to help us decide on our own stat weighting, with FemaleDwarf being amongst the most popular. Even this isn't as easy as some would like though - you have to be careful to enter your raid's buffs and debuffs as well as making sure the shot priority and settings match the way you play. If you're using a playstyle where you use Aimed Shot as your focus dump and never cast Arcane Shot and run a FD sim without changing the settings to reflect that, then just click the "best raid buffs" button even though your raid is missing the 10% haste buff, your stat weightings are going to be incorrect.

Now that I've made all of my caveats, though, I'll make an admission: for the most part, I don't do any of this stuff. There's a sort of default stat weighting that will generally be mostly true for most hunters, and I pretty frequently just go with that. Here it is:
Agility > Hit Rating to cap > Critical Strike Rating > Haste Rating > Mastery Rating
Again, this may not actually be your ideal stat weighting, but honestly? If you use these as your stat priorities, you'll generally be doing OK. Hit cap is, of course, 960 rating for most and 841 rating for Draenei. In general, I'd prefer to be a few points under the hit cap than be a few points over. This is because there is a finite amount of stats on your gear and hit rating over the cap is doing zero damage and is thus entirely wasted. Missing 1-5 autoshots out of 10,000 is preferable to getting no benefit from some of your gear.

This stat weighting will also be reflected in the sort of gear you choose. I strive to get all my hit from pieces that have both crit and hit, and my hitless pieces I prefer to be crit/haste. Further, I try to not have any piece of gear without any crit whatsoever, which results in most of my mastery pieces being crit/mastery. That means that when I'm reforging off my least-valued stat, mastery, the only thing I can reforge it into is haste. Some people see all of the haste I'm reforging for and think that I'm "stacking haste," and this just isn't so. I have far more critical strike rating than I do haste rating. It's just that haste is the best thing to reforge to on the pieces I'm reforging.

Gems and Gem Sockets!

Gemming is actually pretty simple these days. Agility is far and away our best stat, which is in line with it being considered a primary stat by Blizzard. Further, the requirement to activate our metagem is "socket at least 3 red gems". Therefore, we're free to socket straight agility gems, and as a general rule this is what you'll want to do, ignoring most of your socket bonuses.

Consider, however, the Wentletrap Vest. This piece has two sockets, one red socket and one blue socket, with an attached 20 agility bonus. If you were to socket two 40 agility gems in it, you would be gaining a total of 80 agility from gems. If you were to socket one 40 agility gem in the red socket and one 20 agility/20 hit gem in the blue socket though, you would have 60 agility from gems, 20 hit from gems, and another 20 agility from the socket bonus. That's a total of 80 agility and 20 hit, which is just more stats than you get from the two red gems.

What if the Wentletrap had a yellow or a blue socket instead of that red socket, though? Well, then to match the bonus you'd need another hybrid gem, bringing your total agility down to 60. People have done pretty extensive math on this and, for all specs, the extra crit and/or hit you gain from those hybrid gems doesn't outweigh the 20 lost agility. Your rule of thumb, then, is to only gem for socket bonuses which reward you with 20 or more agility per non-red socket. Here are the actual gems you'll want to use:

Agile Shadowspirit Diamond if you can afford it,

Item Enchantments!

Finally we get to the enchantments. There's not a whole lot of choice involved here, and all of the choice that is involved is budget-based. A lot of the top-shelf enchantments cost maelstrom crystals, and for most of us those are still out of reach. We probably won't be using all the best enchants until sometime in T12. I'm still going to list them here, though, because eventually there won't be an economic justification for using anything else.

Cadillac enchant: Peerless Stats
Hyundai enchant:  Mighty Stats
Cadillac enchant: Greater Critical Strike
Hyundai enchant: Major Agility
Cadillac enchant: Agility note: this should be the first enchant you spend crystals on
Hyundai enchant: Critical Strike
Cadillac enchant: Greater Mastery
Hyundai enchant: Major Agility
Cadillac enchant: Assassin's Step
Hyundai enchant: Earthen Vitality
Melee Weapon: Mighty Agility
Ranged Weapon:
Cadillac enchant: Flintlocke's Woodchucker does not chuck wood
Hyundai enchant: Gnomish X-Ray Scope

I'll just finish up with a couple quick notes on these. You may have noticed that a few Wrath enchants snuck in there, and that's fine. Maybe at some point they'll add a better glove enchant to the game, maybe not, but until then we're best off just adding the 20 agility. I also noted that the agility to bracers enchant should be the first thing you use your maelstrom crystals on, and I think this will be true for most of us. Replacing an enchant of 0 agility with one for 50 agility is just such a huge upgrade that it's hard to justify doing anything else first. Especially since the cloak and chest enchants are such minor upgrades from their budget versions, I'd let those slide until you and everyone in your guild had all the best melee weapon enchants, bracer enchants, etc. Like, I'd only really get those once you reached a point where there's a stack and a half of crystals sitting in the guild bank with no one using them, you know?

I haven't addressed profession perks in this post, and unless someone specifically asks about one I don't really plan to. Your professions are your professions, and taking advantage of your perks will generally result in a bonus of 80 agility one way or another. Other than that, I would pretty much expect any given person to know their profession bonuses pretty well, so it's up to you to make the best use of those.

Finally: please please just do the dailies and put on the tabards until you have the good head/shoulder enchants. It really really really doesn't take that long to finish those rep grinds, and using the crappy versions or the last-expansion versions is pretty much disrespectful to everyone else in your raid.

So that's it! It's taken me a couple months to actually write this thing, but hopefully it helps clear up any lingering doubts you had about gearing your hunter. Have fun!

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.