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Scattered Shots: Marksman 102: the armor pen years

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.

There's a lot of things that separate hunters from the plate classes, and it's not just that we attack from a safe distance. Spreadsheet models also suggest that we hunters are smarter, more charismatic, and across the board we are an uncommonly good-looking lot.

Of course there's also the difference of the armor itself. Fortunately we have the opportunity to completely strip all of that armor away with the gear that's currently available in the endgame. With the right gear choices and the right gems hunters can reach the ArP hard cap, and with comes some truly impressive DPS -- in fact the very best DPS available to the hunter class.

However, going for ArP at the wrong time can easily lead to a DPS loss. Last week we discussed the standard agility MM build and today after the cut we're going to delve into the mysterious world of the ArP MM build, including when to switch specs, when to change your rotation, and when to start gemming ArP.

It's Not for Everyone

I want to stress right off the bat that an ArP route is not something that you can just choose to go with and respec and regem and see magnificent DPS. An ArP build has minimum gear requirements that need to be met, and without that gear pursuing a ArP build will cause you to lose DPS. I get a lot of emails from hunters who read about ArP on Elitist Jerks and promptly took their 120 ArP gear, switched their talents, switched their gems, and couldn't figure out what went wrong. Don't be that person.

The gear requirements for the various stages of the ArP build depend on several factors -- not just your ArP, but also your attack power, weapon damage, and crit rating (especially crit rating, since Piercing Shots plays so heavily into it). When we talk about what your ArP needs to be, the assumption is that you are not choosing gear just for its ArP rating -- that you're taking upgrades instead of big downgrades just to boost your ArP.

As a result we can reasonably guess what kind of crit and AP levels you have based on your ArP levels. Thus we tend to say "you need X ArP" when we really mean "you need X ArP, because then you probably also have around Y crit and Z AP." In general your ArP rating tends to be a good metric to track, and is the most influential stat for determining when to switch to ArP builds and gems.

Also when we talk about your "passive" ArP rating, we mean your static ArP from gear not counting any trinket procs.

Finally, ArP builds are pretty much for raiding hunters. If you're primarily just running heroics, all that ArP rating probably isn't going to help you a whole lot. After all, you'll spend the majority of your time spamming Volley, where ArP isn't going to help you at all, and you can't rely on having the various armor debuffs on your targets.

A Two Step Program

There are actually two separate steps on the dark path to ultimate armor pen power. The first is moving to the ArP build and rotation, which requires a relatively low passive ArP rating, and is now easily attainable with current gear levels. Most raiding MM hunters will want to use this build and rotation. The second step is abandoning the hunter's long-term love affair with agility and starting to gem for ArP. These two steps happen at very different passive ArP ratings.

A Brief ArP Review

One of the strange things about ArP rating is that the more you have, the better each point of it is. You're getting far more benefit from your last 100 points of ArP than you are from your first 100 points. Thus ArP on our gear becomes more and more valuable the more of it we have, which is why at some point we suddenly actually prefer it to agility. This causes our physical shots to scale exponentially with higher ArP rating.

The reason for this has to do with the way armor works -- you need more and more armor to get the same percent increase in damage reduction. The ins and outs of how armor (and thus ArP) works are a bit beyond our discussion here, but for those interested you can read about it at Hunter Armor Penetration Guide.

Another important concept in ArP is that different ArP effects apply separately. That means that first Sunder Armor is applied, then your ArP is applied. You don't get to say, "Sunder is 20% and I'm at 80%, thus I have 100% armor penetration." You don't. If a mob has 100 armor, then sunder will reduce that by 20% to 80 armor. You now need 100% ArP to reduce that to the theoretical zero (though technically you never remove all of their armor -- that's where that pesky "up to" comes in on your ArP tooltip).

The MM ArP Rotation

The first step on the path to the ArP dark side is to abandon Arcane Shot from your rotation. Arcane Shot has a larger attack power coefficent than Steady Shot (though Steady Shot uses weapon damage as well), and in theory will do more damage than Steady Shot for a long time; however, we have the Glyph of Steady Shot to boost Steady Shot's damage. With the glyph Steady Shot quickly overtakes arcane, were it not for that pesky armor that reduces our Steady Shot physical damage.

However, we don't actually need Steady Shot to do more damage than Arcane Shot before it becomes a better shot for us. Steady Shot crits also proc Piercing Shots for an additional 30% of the crit damage. Steady Shot can also proc our Improved Steady Shot damage bonus.

The end result is that while your Arcane Shot may hit harder than your Steady Shot, the Steady Shot may actually be contributing more damage overall. As always, the exact point when you want to drop Arcane Shot from your rotation depends on a number of factors, and the DPS of your ranged weapon is a significant factor here, but in general it's a good idea somewhere around 400 passive ArP rating.

One of the very nice side-effects of removing Arcane Shot from your rotation is that you will always have a spare instant shot available to fire off any time you need to move. Also note that we're assuming here that you have raid buffs and a raid debuffed target. This means that if you're shooting something that doesn't have a major armor debuff on it, such as adds on boss fights, you very likely want to use Arcane Shot for those targets.

The MM ArP Talent Build

The ArP talent build looks like this: MM ArP Talent Build

You'll notice that I put a point into Focused Aim on the default build here. This is because that ArP hunters will often be hit-starved and it's not uncommon to end up needing all three ranks of Focused Aim to remain at the hit cap in an ArP heavy build. If you don't need the hit, there isn't any really useful place for the spare talent point and Improved Hunter's Mark is a common dump place. However if you need more hit rating, you can take talent points out of Rapid Recuperation.

Otherwise the MM ArP talent build is very close to the agility talent build. We've abandoned our points in Improved Arcane Shot since we aren't using the shot in our rotation anymore, and have taken all ranks of Improved Steady Shot.

I want to stress here that you don't need to be going for the ArP hard cap or soft cap for this build to be a DPS gain for you. Once your passive ArP rating reaches around the 400 range, your stats are all probably at the point where you'll see a raid DPS boost by dropping Arcane Shot and taking this talent build (again, assuming that you have at least the major armor debuff in your raid).

Gemming ArP

The final step on your path to becoming an ArP Sith Lord is abandoning your agility gems entirely and gemming for ArP, ignoring socket bonuses and eating ArP buff food. There is only one reason you would ever want to gem for ArP, and that is if you get more damage from 20 ArP than you would get from 20 agility.

The best way to know when you've reached this magical crossover point is to use a spreadsheet to check your stat weights, but as a general rule you'll need to be somewhere around 800 passive ArP rating before you reach this crossover point.

Also note that it can be worthwhile to start gemming ArP before the crossover -- if the gemming will take you over and then some. So you're technically losing DPS on the first few ArP gems, but then you hit the crossover point and then start gaining ArP on the rest of the gems.

Soft Capping

Another ArP route is soft capping by using an ArP proc trinket to hit the ArP hard cap for the brief time that the trinket proc is up. If you're soft capping, the point at which ArP gemming becomes worthwhile is a bit more complicated. Again the best route is to use a spreadsheet to see how the trinket affects your stat weights.

Many hunters make the mistake of gemming ArP far, far too early to reach their soft cap. Remember, we only care about reaching the cap to increase our DPS. We're missing the whole point if we throw out a bunch of DPS to get there and make it a net loss. If 1 agility gets you more DPS than 1 ArP, then you should gem for agility.

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, get started with Beast Mastery 101, and even solo bosses with some Extreme Soloing.

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