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Last week we seized upon a passing comment made by World of Warcraft Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler to examine how to improve the BM hunter tree. There was a great deal of consensus about several elements, including ditching Intimidation as the bonus ability and replacing it with Bestial Wrath or Beast Mastery, stealing some talents from the MM tree and ditching some from the BM tree. There was also a wealth of other suggestions from the hunter community; far too many to list here.

Today we move on from BM into what I think will likely be a far more contentious discussion, since MM hunters are just a more contentious lot in general. MM has had a pretty good run recently as the unmatched top DPS spec by far for the latter half of Wrath, then holding onto its position, albeit with a vastly smaller lead, in Cataclysm so far. However, upcoming nerfs in patch 4.2 promise to close the MM gap.

Join me after the cut for a discussion of the marksmanship talent tree. If Ghostcrawler was reading this, what would you suggest be changed?

What we're talking about

I just want to point out at the outset that we are not looking at DPS balance issues here, which are a separate thing.

What we're interested in are the talent trees themselves; how they feel and function. I also think that specializations and masteries are fair game, and of course we want to pay attention to the interaction of the talent tree and the "feel" of the MM hunter and rotation.

The MM talent tree

For reference, here is the MM talent tree as it stands now. (You can play with it in detail on Wowhead). I've tossed on here some of the talents that we typically take for a raiding build (though there is variability there), but in discussing potential talent changes, we have to take PVP into account just as much (and I am very much a random BG very casual PVPer).

MM specializations

MM hunters get the following special bonuses just for choosing the MM tree:
Right off the bat, we're in a nicer place than the BM hunters. Aimed Shot is a strong part of the MM rotation -- hardcasting Aimed Shot is our ideal focus dump when we're confident that we won't have to move, and for the low level hunter, it's a nice opener when questing.

Our specialization and mastery are both useful and help secure the feel of the tree as the spec that focuses on actually shooting things and dealing ranged physical damage. Personally, I'm fine with all of these as they stand.

Talent changes

Once we get to the talent trees themselves we can pretty quickly find things that could be changed around. Like the BM tree, we have some extra talent points to spend in our tree, but unlike BM these choices are actually choices -- and we have actual DPS options for all of them. Unfortunately, some of the choices get really confusing.

The more I think about talents, the more I appreciate how difficult balancing the top tier of each tree is. When you consider it from the perspective of another tree looking to spread their excess points, there's almost always an obvious right choice. I almost wonder if the right idea wouldn't be to make sure that no first-tier talents boosted DPS at all. Then you have to spend those points on a non-DPS option, at which point you suddenly have a choice.

Once you get down to the second tier you can then have significantly more awesome abilities, because the cost to get there is much higher -- you would have to have spent 5 points on fun, quality of life, or survivability talents before you can take them.

I think that's an idea worth considering, but for the time being I'm going to set it aside and look at what I'd tweak with the talent trees as they are.

GftT and Sic' Em: Right at the top, we have to wonder a little bit why these are in the MM tree. Don't get me wrong, MM hunters love our pets too and we're happy to grab these talents to buff our DPS, but they feel like they belong to the BM hunters.

Efficiency: Personally, I think Efficiency a pretty dull talent -- and it's something all specs end up having to take (BM has to take it just to get their pet talents on the second tier of the MM tree). A multi-level talent offering a passive bonus that is considered required for all specs sounds to me like the kind of thing that we want to get rid of. I say replace Efficiency with something else, or possibly change the talent into something more interesting -- like lowering the cost of one shot significantly, or making Steady Shot regen more focus -- or heck, how about giving us our range extension talent back? That should have belonged to MM anyway.

Then we come to the fourth tier of the MM talent tree, which is the place where I have the most issues with talents. This tier is just plain odd.

Resistance is Futile: While the Resistance is Futile talent can certainly give us some nice benefit, and it's great in PvP, it just doesn't feel like a MM talent. The MM rotation is sufficiently challenging without trying to toss Kill Command into the mix. I'm fine with the idea that KC is available to MM and SV to use in PvP and if we ever have another fight where we're out of LoS of the boss, but I really don't think it should be something we regularly use in boss fights -- but with Resistance is Futile, it is. In any fight where the boss is apt to move a decent amount, either on it's own or through regular tank repositioning (so most bosses at some point), this becomes a valid DPS talent choice, and really screws with the MM rotation in the process. Give it to BM, I say.

Termination: Termination looks pretty attractive on the surface, but in practice it can be difficult to actually make use of the additional focus because of how incredibly rigid the MM rotation is. Because it's only available at the very end of the fight, we're already using Kill Shots and free Kill Shots from our glyph (making us already more focus positive at the end of the fight) in our rotation, and we still want to hit our Chimera Shot every cooldown, and we have to maintain our Improved Steady Shot buff with pairs of Steady Shots. It just doesn't leave much space for an extra shot to use the extra focus. This talent would be far better if it just didn't only apply during the last 25% of a boss fight. Either move it to something that's available earlier, or change it from increasing focus regen to just flat increasing damage during that period (or increasing damage of certain shots -- comboing with Kill Shot could make sense).

What do you think?

So these are my thoughts on tweaking the MM talent tree. The main things I'd want to focus on would be fixing up the messy talents in the fourth tier, and moving all those pet-centric talents over to BM where they are a better thematic fit.

But how about you guys? If Ghostcrawler were reading this article, what would you want to tell him about the MM talent tree?

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter through optimizing for heroics, pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, then on to choosing the right spec for the right job and how to "aspect dance" to maximize your DPS, we've got you covered.

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.