Each of the three hunters specs has a signature shot. This is the damaging ability that the spec is known for, its main shot that's on a cooldown that hunters can't wait to hit. It's how other classes like warlocks and mages know what kind of hunter they're dealing with, because at the bottom of our letters, they'll see, "Love, Explosive f'ing Shot in your face!" For BM, it's Kill Command; for MM, it's Chimera Shot; and for SV, it's Explosive Shot.
Our signature shots recently got a nice little buff after lots of complaints that they weren't actually worth using -- and then another nice boost in the latest beta build. Despite this buff, there are still a lot of hunters refusing to use their signature abilities, preferring the admittedly easier route of just spamming Arcane Shot.
Join me after the cut as we take a closer look at the signature shots and a few things that go into determining whether they're worth firing. There's a bit more to it than most forum posters are considering.
DPS vs. DPF
Now that we have an actual resource mechanic that matters, we have to take into account the focus cost of our shots. Thus, a lot of hunters are paying close attention to the damage per focus (DPF) of their shots. The problem is this isn't the only thing we should look at. In fact, it's not even the most important thing. After all, in the end, it's the DPS that we're concerned about.
For example, let's say I pop over to the heroic target dummy and do some testing. I discover after a lot of controlled tests that my Arcane Shot hits for 4,000 damage on average, and my Chimera Shot hits for 5,000 damage on average. Sure, Chimera Shot hits for more, but it costs twice the focus! I could just shoot two Arcane Shots and get 8,000 damage for the same focus cost of Chimera Shot --- 3,000 damage more, right?
Ignoring for the moment the Serpent Sting-refreshing aspect of Chimera Shot, we have to consider how much time we spend doing that damage -- in other words, our DPS rather than just our DPF.
With the hunter global cooldown now at 1 second, it takes 2 seconds to cast two Arcane Shots but only 1 second to cast the Chimera Shot. So to really compare the damage, we have to factor in what we could do with that other second after we fire Chimera Shot. Probably, it's going to be a Steady Shot. With some decent haste and our Improved Steady Shot buff (which should always be active), our Steady Shot cast time is around 1.5 seconds. Thus, we have to compare our two Arcane Shots' worth of damage to Chimera Shot and 2/3 of a Steady Shot.
Once we have that, we then have to factor in the focus regen from that Steady Shot (since we're regenning more focus in the 2 seconds of Chimera + Steady than we are in the double-Arcane scenario) and then calculate any side benefits of the signature shot -- in this case, refreshing Serpent Sting.
My point here is that it's more complicated than just damage per focus. Let's take a look at the signature shots and see how they're doing right now.
Of all the signature shots, Explosive Shot is the most clearly beneficial. Depending on your stats, Explosive Shot is now clearly doing more damage than two Arcane Shots, and it does it in a single press of a button. This is a no-brainer. In fact, even if your three Explosive Shot ticks add up to a bit less damage than an Arcane Shot hit, Explosive Shot is still better because of that extra chunk of a Steady Shot we get into the same time frame.
Of all the hunter signature shots, I'm most happy with where Explosive Shot is right now. It's not just that it's worth using -- it's that it's so obviously worth using. You don't have to crunch numbers and show people the math to prove to them it's worth it, and in my opinion, that's how our signature shots should be.
Unlike Explosive Shot, Chimera Shot is a bit less obvious. We're really only seeing our Chimera Shot hit for maybe around 20 percent more damage than our Arcane Shot, despite that it costs twice as much focus (with the new beta build Chimera is doing more like 60 percent more). However, Chimera Shot does have a few other things going for it.
First and most obviously, Chimera Shot refreshes our Serpent Sting. This is something that would otherwise cost us 25 focus and another global cooldown. But in addition, Chimera can proc our Piercing Shots, which Arcane Shot cannot. This means that every Chimera Shot crit is essentially worth 30 percent more damage.
Of course, the flip side is that our Arcane Shot crits proc Sic 'Em, which Chimera does not.
Chimera Shot is absolutely worth using and is far better than just using Arcane Shot and manually applying Serpent Sting; with the latest tweaks, it's better than ever. Personally, I'd like to see it pushed even a bit further -- maybe compensate by lowering Steady Shot damage slightly -- so that it was blindingly obvious to every new hunter that yes, you should use your signature shot.
Of all the signature shots, Kill Command is probably the weakest when compared to Arcane Shot. Part of this, I think, is because Kill Command is not specific to BM but can be used by all specs. The result is that Kill Command itself can't be buffed too high, because then the other specs would want to use it instead of Arcane Shot as their focus dump.
But Kill Command does have several advantages beyond just the average damage it does. First of all, and very importantly, Kill Command is an attack made by your pet. This gives us LoS advantages, but frankly, we don't care about that much when we're talking about rotations (since rotations are used almost entirely in boss fights). The interesting effects of the attack coming from your pet is that it uses your pet's damage modifier and your pet's crit chance.
This means that during Bestial Wrath Kill Command will get the pet's 20 percent additional damage. This also means that Kill Command will crit more often than other shots. Our pets currently seem to scale at 100 percent of our crit rating; however, they don't seem to have the -1.5 percent base crit that level 85 hunters do. Furthermore, our ferocity pets have the Spider's Bite talent, giving them and our Kill Command an extra 9 percent crit chance.
On top of this, BM enjoys several talents to enhance Kill Command. Improved Kill Command pushes that crit chance further, up another 10 percent. Killing Streak boosts the damage and reduces the cost of Kill Command. This talent is fantastic with the over-the-top crit chances we enjoy in Wrath. On top of all this, we can also get the Glyph of Kill Command to drop the focus cost of the signature ability.
So once again, it's not as simple as saying Kill Command hits average X and Arcane Shot hits average Y. Here, we're looking at radically different crit chances, as well as other damage boosts.
But it's harder!
It is undeniably true that our hunter rotations are more difficult when using the signature shots than they are just spamming Arcane Shot. In fact, focus has increased the complexity of our rotations across the board; we now actually have to make decisions on the fly with our rotations, rather than just hitting our buttons in a predetermined order.
Personally, I'd argue that this is a good thing. To me, it makes shooting more interesting and more engaging, though certainly more difficult.
I know we have some hunters who yearn for the BC days of the one-button macro, back when we could just keybind our rotation to our mouse wheel and scroll our way to the top of the meters while watching Firefly reruns. Those days are gone and are not coming back. And honestly, who wants those days back? We're hunters; we're death-dealers, and we pay our dues. The more complex our class is to play, the more opportunity we have to shine like the radiant beacons of death we are meant to be.
Yeah it's easier to just spam Arcane Shot, but you know what's easier still? Just Auto-Shotting. Or not logging in. Or playing a pally.
Embrace the hunter, my friends. Yes it's going to be harder to play endgame in Cataclysm, but I assure you: With the right skills, the top of the meters will still be yours. And I'll be here to show you the easiest routes up there.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. Our Scattered Shots Resource Guide takes aim at everything from improving your heroic DPS, understanding the impact of skill vs. gear, and getting started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101.