Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

Beast mastery hunters suffered on the DPS charts for the majority of Wrath of the Lich King. By just about any measure, hunters were giving up a lot of DPS by playing the BM spec -- around 20% behind the leading hunter spec at best, one of the worst three specs in the game in Wrath. That's a heck of a lot of DPS loss for a raid leader to swallow.

This is not the case any longer. Take heed, raid leaders: BM is a viable hunter raiding spec!

I get a lot of emails from poor BM hunters whose raid leaders tell them that their beloved spec does far too little DPS to raid, without even giving the BM hunter a chance to prove them wrong. A lot of this is leftover knowledge from Wrath, when hunters took a huge DPS hit by speccing BM. I imagine this comes from raid leaders' sporting bell-bottoms and giant, poofy '80s hair, because these people are woefully out of date.

Join me after the cut as we take a look at the numbers and see where BM's DPS stands and why we can't trust the top 100 parses in this case. (Hint: It's math that tells us not to trust it.)

Female Dwarf's numbers

First let's take a look at how the hunter specs are performing in the Female Dwarf theoretical model. While no model is a perfectly accurate reflection of any given fight (boss mechanics, randomness, and player skill screw that up), they do give us an excellent qualitative guide to the relative performance of the hunter specs.

For this quick test, I'm going to assume something pretty close to a best-in-slot Firelands normal-mode gear set, including Arathar, the Eye of Flame as our ranged weapon. Here is the theoretical damage output of each spec (using an Aimed Shot hardcast rotation for MM):
  • Beast Mastery 30,208
  • Marksmanship 33,373
  • Survival 30,202
We can see that MM is indeed still holding its DPS lead. However, keep in mind this is in an ideal MM scenario, with the highest DPS ranged available to our tier, hardcasting Aimed Shots, and never skipping or interrupting one due to having to move. And still, the difference is less than 10%.

But now compare BM and SV: Their theoretical single-target DPS is nearly identical. Let me say that again: BM and SV in the same Firelands gear do about the same damage. If you've got a problem with BM, you'd better have a problem with SV, too.

The numbers in practice

In practice, BM continues to lag behind on the top raiding parses, but is that because BM's DPS is bad or because raid leaders of leading guilds won't let their hunters raid as BM? And how far behind is BM? This is where we look at the data that argues against BM.

Here are some numbers from Raidbots (always looking at median DPS):

For all parses from 10-man normal:
  • BM is 7.6% behind MM.
  • BM is 6.4% behind SV.
  • BM has 2,452 samples in the dataset, compared to 21,362 for SV and 46,655 for MM.
For all parses from 25-man normal:
  • BM is 8.6% behind MM.
  • BM is 2% ahead of SV.
  • BM has 1,287 samples, compared to 11,257 for SV and 45,540 for MM.
Of course, when we look at just the top 100 parses, the picture is very different. For 10-man normal, BM is a whopping 29.4% behind MM, and in 25-man, BM is 29.6% behind MM.

But here's the very important thing about these numbers: They are not statistically relevant. The problem with this is that the BM representation in raids is so incredibly low (less than 1%) that the data being pulled from World of Logs can't be trusted. It's kind of like flipping a coin twice and having it come up heads both times, so you declare that your testing shows that coins always come up heads. You haven't done enough testing to verify that claim, and BM hasn't done enough raiding WoW-wide in for the logs to be a viable representation of their ability.

This is, in fact, the reason that Raidbots automatically hides BM data and flags it with an exclamation point, warning that "the values may not be statistically reliable."

BM needs to be buffed

I've been singing this song since a few months into Wrath -- for years, in other words -- but BM needs a DPS buff. Gone are the days of the one-button BM rotation macro. BM now has an engaging rotation involving a goodly amount of cooldown management. It may not be to your liking, but at least it's not the mage rotation. There's no excuse for holding their DPS back.

Looking at theoretical numbers makes it clear that BM's DPS output is a bit on the low end, and they need some love to bring them back up to par. Part of this is due to the recent pet focus bug fix in patch 4.2; it used to be that hunter pets had their focus restored to full every time the hunter's stats changed, causing pets in raids to be nearly always above 50% focus, which in turn let them do a lot more damage with Wild Hunt. When the bug got fixed, all hunters saw a DPS loss, and BM more than the rest.

Note that Female Dwarf never modeled the bug, so the numbers both before and after the fix reflect the current fixed pet focus.

To me, what is far more telling than DPS models and my own testing showing BM lagging a bit behind is that it has less than a 1% representation in raids. That above all should shout that BM needs a buff.

Can BM raid?

Yes, BM is a perfectly viable and competitive raiding spec. It needs a buff, but it's just not that far behind. If you're okay with SV, you should be okay with BM.

There isn't any statistically viable log data, but the data from testing and from Female Dwarf supports the theory that BM's single-target DPS is about on par with survival's and a bit worse than MM's, on average. Both BM and SV are a chunk worse than MM in the MM dream scenario. BM has excellent burst AOE but overall has worse AOE than SV. On the other hand, BM has better burst DPS for burn phases, something SV sorely lacks.

While we still have MM maintaining its DPS lead (note: not growing it, just maintaining, despite the higher ilevel), both BM and SV are viable and competitive raiding specs. If you're shooting for world-first kills, you probably mostly want MM hunters for most fights. But if you're okay with SV, then you should be okay with BM too.

So quit telling BM hunters that they can't raid. Tell your raid leaders that it's Cataclysm now, not Wrath anymore. BM can both raid and top the charts.

It's also worth noting in closing that I have no dog in this fight. I will happily play whatever spec brings me the highest DPS, and right now, that is not BM. I'm not interested in emotions or preferences, just the numbers, and the numbers say that BM just isn't that far behind. A couple of years ago, I wrote a column here about how horrible BM's DPS was, that raiding as BM was akin to raiding without pants or gems. (It really was that bad.) This is no longer the case; now the DPS loss of raiding as BM is more akin to sneezing violently and borking your rotation for a few seconds.

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.