Scattered Shots: Can Beast Mastery raid?

Brian Wood
B. Wood|02.11.10

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Scattered Shots: Can Beast Mastery raid?

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week Frostheim uses logic and science mixed with a few mugs of Dwarven Stout to look deep into the Hunter class.

Beast Mastery is the beloved hunter spec with the strongest and most protective of followers. While a BM hunter was a rare thing to find back in vanilla, BM saw a terrific boost throughout Burning Crusade and the beginning of Wrath of the Lich King. For years BM enjoyed the incredibly rare status of being an excellent spec -- if not the best spec -- for soloing, leveling, pvp, and raiding.

Then starting in early Wrath, the BM hunters cowered beneath the shadow of the nerf bat. But even after getting repeatedly beaten like a red-headed gnome, squashed into a wee pet-shaped crater, you still don't have to look far to find a BM hunter defending their viability in raids.

Today we're going to take a hard look at the BM spec. We're going to dismiss the rhetoric of the PUG masses who say "If yer BM yer a noob" and take a look at exactly where BM really is in raid viability. Join me after the cut as we take a look at the numbers and the philosophy behind the BM raider.

No Dog in the Fight

First of all, I have no dog in this fight. I am a DPS whore and I will happily change to whatever spec will give me the most DPS in raids. It doesn't matter to me how much I like a spec -- I like DPS more. I raided as MM in vanilla, BM in BC and the beginning of Wrath, SV after the big nerfs, and finally back to MM again now that it's back on top.

I don't care which spec is on top or on bottom. I'm nothing if not rational on the DPS front, with no favorites or biases, except when it comes to bows. And that's only because I'm not a sissy hippie who spends my time molerstering small woodland creatures. But enough about elves, we're talking about BM here.

The Historical Perspective

As Grandpappy Frostheim has taught us, historically we hunters only had one viable raiding spec. This isn't unusual in pure DPS classes either. In point of fact, it's pretty remarkable that we have two viable raiding specs now in MM and SV. In fact I'm pretty sure that no pure DPS class has three viable raiding specs.

So let's right now throw out the argument of "I should be able to raid in whatever spec I want." If demanding reasonable results from Blizzard had any effect at all the gnomish slaughter would have commenced with elves caught in the crossfire, the draenei would be lobbed back into space, humans converted to horde and the lot of them tossed in the the molten depths of Blackrock Spire, and we'd all be living in a beauteous dwarven utopia.

Instead we live in the real world where we make the best of things the way they are. We're not talking about how they should be or how we wish they were in this article, so let's take a look at how things are for BM right now.

Advantages of the BM Hunter

BM hunters certainly have several advantages to their spec.
  • Easy to Play: BM is unquestionably the easiest spec to play, with the simplest rotation by far. While it's certainly true that it's more difficult to play well, the same can be said for every spec. SV has the most complex and reactionary rotation and is more difficult still to play well. MM depends the most on proper cooldown timing, planning and stacking, and excellent movement management, and again is more difficult still to play well. So yes, comparatively, BM is downright easy, which gives it a strong advantage for players new to the class or the game.
  • Kinder on Movement: All hunter specs want to manage their movement as well as possible, ensuring that they don't clip auto-shots or Steady Shots. That said, BM is the most forgiving of sloppy movement. BM hunters have the strongest DoT in the game -- their pet. Even if they're running around like a gnome with its head chopped off, their pet is still on the target, shrugging off AOE damage and loyally DPSing away. Furthermore, BM hunters have a base 10% movement speed increase via Kindred Spirits, which can be very useful in navigating complex boss fights swiftly.
  • Latency Friendlier: The combination of their simple, non-reactionary shot rotation and heavy percentage of pet damage makes BM a much friendlier spec for hunters with extremely high latencies.The latency will still hurt you, but far less than the other specs.
  • Some Boss Fights Like Them: Some boss fights prefer BM hunters, or more specifically, their pets. In particular the Yogg-Saron hardmodes prefer BM because of their ability to have their pet munching away on the tentacular spectacular himself while the hunter must avert his gaze. In other fights Bestial Wrath can be useful for breaking out of mind control or other CC effects.
As you can see, most of the BM advantage can be summed up by saying, "They're easier for new players." Make no mistake, BM has layers, it has subtlety and finesse. It's not just send in your pet, hit Bestial Wrath at every chance and mash Steady Shot (at least, not any more). But if I was grading on an overall complexity scale of 1 - 10 I'd put MM at 8, SV at 6, and BM at 3. (If you're interested, kitty feral druids get 10, and BM in BC gets 1).

However, even though they're useful mostly to newer players, these are still very real advantages of a spec.

BM on the DPS Meters

Just about every week I'll get an email from a BM hunter to let me know that BM can indeed do equal or better DPS than MM or SV hunters. This will commonly be accompanied by a DPS meter, frequently of a heroic. This is what we call anecdotal evidence, and unless it exists in massive and controlled quantities, anecdotal evidence is pretty much worthless in coming to a reasoned, scientific conclusion.

As they say, the plural of anecdote is not data.

The plain fact is that in almost every boss fight, BM hunters do in fact do far less DPS than other specs. Now we know that skill is more important than gear, and what we're seeing in these emails is a skilled BM hunter beating an unskilled MM hunter. That isn't a fair comparison.

We have two data sources to try to determine where specs exist in relative DPS with the same skill and gear. First we have the hunter spreadsheets, which are admittedly worse at comparing specs than they are at comparing gear. Then we have actual data from combat logs. So let's take a look and see what these two data points show us.

The spreadsheets show BM hunters to be about 20% behind MM hunters in terms of DPS on a single target boss fight. Because BM is so pet dependent with both weak and a limited variety of hunter shots, a single-target fight is actually the kindest to BM hunters.

Using WowMeterOnline we can easily see what kind of damage the top hunters in each spec are doing on actual boss fights. We'll go ahead and look at the top 20 DPS reports for each spec. This is giving us hunters that are very well geared (almost certainly better geared than you or me) and hunters that are extremely skilled with all the raid buffs and probably enjoying good fortune in their RNG. We'll take a look at a few bosses: Festergut as the primary DPS check that favors BM the most, Deathwhisper as an add-heavy fight, and Lord Marrowgar as the fight that the most hunters have seen.

Top 20 DPS for Each Spec
Marrowgar 7.0 - 9.5k 10.1 - 10.9k 11.6 - 12.5k
Deathwhisper 7.2 - 9.2k 10.2 - 11.2k 11.3 - 12.2k
Festergut 7.6 - 9.5k 10.4 - 11.3k 11.3 - 12.2k

An important thing to note here is we are looking at the top geared hunters out there. This means that the MM hunters are all pushing the armor pen cap. With a lot less armor pen, the gap between MM and SV lessens somewhat. However, what is undeniably true is that BM is not just last, but they're last by a significant margin -- by 20% - 30+%.

So regardless of the way you may want it to be, or think it should be, BM is pretty far behind. However, they can also post some surprisingly high numbers.

The Skill Factor

An argument for BM that I hear a lot is that people should play the spec that they are best at. The idea being that if someone is really good at BM but not so good at MM, that person could do more DPS as BM than MM. Playing to your strengths in other words.

It's a nice sounding argument, but I disagree with it, both as a hunter, and as a raid leader. In general I think that as a pure DPS class, we should figure out what gives our class the most DPS and then learn to play that way. We need to adjust to the strengths of the class, not expect the class to adjust to our strengths. After all, maybe you are incredibly skilled at melee, so much so that you can do surprising hunter melee DPS and totally suck at shooting from range. But we'd never accept a melee hunter trying to raid, because we know they could do so much more DPS by just learning to play the class at range.

This brings me into my overall philosophy about raiding BM.

Raiding as a Team Sport

We have to keep in mind that we're looking at BM in the overall context of raiding, and raiding is a team sport. It's about doing what's best for the team.

Without question a very good and very geared BM hunter can pull their weight in raids. The best BM hunters out there are pulling over 9k DPS on Festergut. They are not just pulling their own weight but they're able to carry lower DPSers as well. With good enough gear and enough skill, a BM hunter can pass any metric required of normal ICC.

However it is also without question that BM is also doing considerably less DPS than other specs, and they're doing less DPS by choice. As a pure DPS class our job is to put out as much DPS as possible while also following our role in the specific fight, and I do have a philosophical problem with choosing to do so much less DPS. I get that it's what they prefer to play, but in my mind it's a matter of what's best for the team. Raiding is a team sport. It's not just about carrying your minimum DPS mark, it's about doing everything you can to help the team.

Certainly it's okay to do a bit less damage than your maximum potential. Perhaps there's that upgrade you could buy for 20k gold, but instead you're going to wait for a drop. I think we can all agree that's fine, that decision to do maybe 0.5% less DPS than you could be doing. But let me ask you this: what if you had a raider -- we'll call him Bob -- who, for roleplaying reasons, only used green quality gems, refused to flask, to eat buff food, or to wear pants of any kind. That's just how Bob prefers to play, it's what he finds fun in the game. Is that acceptable for a raider?

Most raid leaders would never, ever, allow that kind of thing. Because even if in all his pantless glory Bob had enough DPS for Festergut, the raid could be made substantially easier if he just did everything he could to improve his DPS instead of choosing to do less than he could. Progression raiding is often about doing significantly more DPS than absolutely required to allow a cushion for mistakes.

Now understand that raiding as BM is a much larger DPS loss than what Bob is doing.

If you're okay with Bob on a progression raid, then you might be okay with BM. But as a raid leader, yes BM is viable, but I have to say I would not be okay with someone choosing to do up to 30% less DPS than they could.

You want to be a Hunter, eh? Well then you came to the right place. You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout, and round it off some elf bashing. The end result is massive dps. Scattered Shots is the column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a Hunter. Each week Scattered Shots will cover topics to help you improve your Heroic DPS, understand the impact of Skill vs. Gear, and get started with Beast Mastery 101.

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