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Scattered Shots: Hunting heroics and PUGs

Brian Wood

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.

We all know how painful PUGs can be. The DPSer doing less damage than you could do naked; the retadins and mages that open up immediately and pull aggro on everything; the tanks that still degroup the instant you land in Oculus or can't hold aggro on anything and ignore the mob eating the healer's face off; and of course the foolish healers that don't prioritize healing your pet above all else.

We talk a lot about optimizing our hunters for raids, and we're going to continue to do so. However a lot of hunters don't have raid access and are taking advantage of the new Dungeon Finder to run heroics until their feet are bloody and their gun barrels melt. So today we're going to take some time to talk about the facets of doing good heroic DPS, and about being a good heroic group member in general.

So join me after the cut as we take a look at how your shot rotations change in heroics, examine mana conservation, and generally discuss how to be a good group member.

Understanding Your Job

Let's start by being very clear, and a bit preachy, about your job in a heroic: you need to help your tank maintain aggro, keep your pet under control, protect your healer, and do good, quality DPS without pulling aggro yourself.

We all like to do lots of damage and top the damage meters. We're a pure DPS class after all. We are death dealers and blowing things apart is what we do. But the goal of the heroic is to finish as quickly as possible without wiping. With decent gear the best ways to do the absolute highest damage involve pulling aggro constantly, pissing off the tanks, putting strain on the healer, risking wipes, and generally being the worst kind of PUG member. Don't be that person. It's not a raid and it's not difficult, but it's still a team effort.

Note that in all cases, if you pull aggro it is your fault. It is never the tank's fault, no matter how incompetent they are. It is our job as DPSers to monitor our threat and adjust accordingly.

Furthermore keep in mind that while many of us are grinding the heroics to get our two Emblems of Frost each day, there are people in blues and greens who are there for the gear and the Emblems of Triumph. Don't be angry with people who are poorly geared or just learning the fights. These heroics were designed for them after all, and they're doing exactly what they should be doing to get geared up.

The Heroic Shot Rotation

All of the hunter shot rotations you read about are designed specifically for raid boss fights -- and moreso the kind of fight where you sit in place for a long time and just shoot and shoot and shoot. Life is very different in heroics, especially these days where most of the group outgears the instances by massive amounts. Fifteen seconds is suddenly a long life expectancy for a mob, and it's not uncommon for them to drop much faster. I've had mobs drop dead just at the sight of my group approaching.

This means that the heroic hunter needs to be aware of what he or she is facing and adjust shot priorities on the fly accordingly. There isn't a single shot rotation that's going to be right -- the best priority system will change depending on not just the dungeon, but how well your group is doing. Here's some basic shot priority tips:
  • Misdirection: you should MD to your tank on every pull that you can. With the change to the way MD cooldown works, that will usually mean every other pull. Use Volley with your MD to get threat from all the mobs to your tank. On pulls where MD is not available, go a bit slower with your DPS.
  • Hunter's Mark: put it up on your first target of a trash pack while you're running in, and certainly on bosses. Generally though it's not going to be worth it to put Hunter's Mark on any other trash. You won't get the extra AP for long enough to make up for the loss of a global cooldown.
  • Serpent Sting: I prefer to lead off with Serpent Sting on the first mob of a trash pack that I'm not AOEing mostly to give the tank a bit more time to establish aggro. But in general it's not worth it to Serpent Sting mobs, even with the tier 9 set bonus. They die within a few ticks, and you could have done more damage using that GCD for any other shot. That said on the beefy mobs it can be worthwhile, or if your PUGs DPS is very low.
  • Volley: this is going to be your most used and most damaging shot in heroics. Use volley any time there are three or more mobs. One of the nice advantages of Volley is that since it does less damage per target, you're actually less likely to pull aggro from a good tank than if you single target shoot.
  • Explosive Trap: you're better off using Volley. This is not a part of your standard rotation and is used only in special circumstances.
  • Multi-Shot: don't forget to use Multi-Shot whenever there is more than one target up, unless you're already volleying. In most cases you'll want to Multi-Shot two targets and Volley three or more targets. Multi-Shotting three targets can also be just fine.
  • Pet: honestly, I'm going to go ahead and risk the wrath of most of the world and suggest you just keep your pet on defensive for heroic runs. With the fast-paced environment it's easiest to just let your pet take care of itself. As long as you're shooting the right thing this shouldn't cause you any problems. Also be sure the new Cower is on your cast bar. If you see your pet taking lots of damage Cower can usually keep it alive without having to waste a GCD on Mend Pet.
A good way to boost your damage meter numbers a bit is to keep track of the mobs' health when volleying. Once the last couple mobs are about to go down, fire off a Kill Shot rather than finishing the Volley. It will inflate your meter numbers a bit, but realize that it's not actually helping the group anymore than a couple auto shots would -- it's just making you look better.

Also, keep an eye on your healer. Both bad tanks and bad DPS can cause mobs to be on the loose (it is not always the tank's fault). Regardless, if you see a mob loose fire a Freezing Arrow at your healer's feet. I like to do this even if the loose mob isn't on the healer yet, just to be safe. Your healer will love you for it, even though she probably doesn't deserve it given how little she heals your pet.

Mana Management

With the pace of heroic runs these days, running out of mana can be a problem, and it's easy to end up spending far too much time in Aspect of the Viper. Keep an eye out for mobs with a mana bar and preemptively use Viper Sting on them. Don't wait until you're low on mana, but do this throughout the instance and it's possible you'll never have to dip into Aspect of the Viper. Also be aware that some mobs with mana bars are immune to your Viper Sting. Mechanicals are particularly annoying this way.

Hunter Spec Breakdown

Every hunter spec can perform admirably in heroics, regardless of gear level. Here are a couple of notes specific to each spec:
  • Marksman: MM is very strong in heroics with the increased damage from Volley and Multi-Shot. If you are an armor penetration hunter build, keep in mind that your ArP is going to be less useful in heroics than in raids. In general you cannot expect to have ArP debuffs on your targets. Arcane Shot should be back in your rotation for heroic runs.
  • Survival: Black Arrow targets should be chosen carefully. You want this on targets that are going to stay alive for a while to maximize the chance of getting Lock & Load. In fact, you probably want to apply Black Arrow to a target that you aren't DSPing when it comes to mob packs. Heroics also offer SV hunters a great opportunity to use their traps to force Lock & Load procs. Just remember that Explosive Shot, especially combined with Lock & Load, is a lot of burst damage. Make sure your tank has a strong threat lead on a target before you unload. If you pull aggro from your Lock & Load, it's your fault, not the tank's.
  • Beast Mastery: don't forget to use your Bestial Wrath at every opportunity unless the mobs are about to be dead. Don't just save this for bosses. Also, with the great amount of AOE involed in heroics, you may well be better off bringing a Bear as your pet for the multi-target advantages of Swipe and Thunderstomp. Just spec your pet all in damage increasing talents rather than the typical defensive tenacity talents. Be aware that Thunderstomp causes a good amount of threat, but honestly if that's enough to pull mobs off the tank, you have tank issues and probably want them on your pet instead of you. That said, a Wolf is probably still your best pet choice.
Of Meters and Metrics

Heroics are a horrible metric for your DPS. Your DPS will vary depending on what heroic you get, what classes you're with, and how well they perform. Generally the better the DPS of the group, the lower your individual DPS will be. Expect your DPS to vary wildly, even between runs of the same instance.

However, we are a pure DPS class and we're expected to hold up our end of the team. It is certainly possible to be doing too little DPS. In an attempt to set a baseline for the minimum DPS a hunter should ever do in a heroic I did two highly amusing tests*. First I ran UP heroic completely naked except for my gun and ammo. Then I went out and bought a set of green gear, level 76-80. I used no enchants, no gems, no scope, and no talents or glyphs. I ran UP heroic again. I think it's safe to say no hunter should be doing DPS as low as I was in either of those runs.
  • Naked Frostheim UP Heroic: 1,100 DPS overall. I spend about half my time in viper and was really, really squishy.
  • Green No Talent Frostheim UP Heroic: 1,000 DPS overall. Didn't go into viper nearly as much (hardly at all) and still did worse than naked. Talents are indeed more important than your gear.
As a ballpark, your overall heroic DPS should not be below 2,000 DPS, even if you're in all blues. Once you get good gear, say ilvl 232 or so, you should expect to generally do over 5,000 DPS without alienating your group by pulling aggro constantly. And if there's one thing that naked science has taught us, it's to pay attention to your talents. They are more important than your gear!

*No PUGs were harmed while conducting these tests. Very understanding guildmates who are used to my antics kindly helped out.

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 Fix Your DPS, Choosing the Right Spec, Gear Selection, Macros and Pet Selection, Pet Specs and Management.

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