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Scattered Shots: Secrets and myths of the world's best hunters

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. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

Over at the Hunting Party Podcast, we've had the opportunity to interview some of the best hunters in the world. Hunters in the top guilds, like Ensidia and Paragon, and the hunter with more top DPS benchmarks than any other, Kripparrian. One of the interesting things about talking to them, both on and off air, is all the traits they have in common: they're calm, logical and of course, uncommonly good looking.

The way they talk about the game and hunter optimization is very similar, too. When you start asking them about hunter advice or how to get the last ounce of awesomesauce out of your hunter, they all say pretty much the same things. And it's somewhat different advice than you'll get from the forums or Elitist Jerks. Personally, I suspect if anyone knows what really matters when it comes to downing bosses, it's these guys. But in talking with hunters in the community, I notice there's a lot of misunderstanding about what goes on in a top raid guilds -- pervasive myths about top raiding teams that don't seem to go away.

Join me after the cut as we reveal the secrets of the world's best PvE hunters and find out what really matters, and at the same time take a look behind some of the myths as well.

Myth: they have way better gear

This is both true and untrue. Certainly the best raiding guilds out there had way, way better gear than you or me when they downed Marrowgar. But here's the thing: they had way worse gear when they downed the Lich King than you or I will have.

Those top guilds, those top hunters, progress through new raid content insanely quickly, often the first week or two that it's released. They don't stall out on a boss for weeks (at least not until heroic modes), which means they don't have weeks and weeks of drops from all the bosses that came before to gear them up.

Most casual raids these days need nothing at all from the first three bosses in ICC, for example. The loot is going to off-specs and being DE'd. But those top raids already moved on to heroic modes before everyone in the raid got their drops from the bosses that came before.

Of course the progression gating of ICC allowed them a couple of weeks of farming before they were allowed to move on, giving them a bit more of a gear edge than in past raids. But then they also did it all without the raid buff, and a flat 5% buff is worth a surprisingly lot of gear. And let us not forget the lessons of skill vs. gear.

Secret: there's not always a right answer

One of the striking things about talking with some of the greatest raiding hunters is that they take optimization so much less seriously than those a few tiers below them.

Don't get me wrong; these guys min/max. Across the board, they run the MM spec, usually stacking armor penetration rating. They want to get the most DPS they can. They use the spreadsheets to see how their gear and talents affect their theoretical target dummy DPS. And for most optimization questions, there is a right answer -- but not to all. Unlike some of the spreadsheet fanatics out there, they will refuse to say there is a "right" build down to the last talent point. In fact, they generally say that those last few talent points in any build could go just fine in a few different places -- likewise, that last glyph slot.

There seems to be an interesting curve in how strictly people view character customization. Newer hunters are very apt to try different things, look for advice and generally are willing to listen to any logical discussion. But then there's a disturbing trend once they start to get good, when they start topping the meters and doing pretty good progression. They suddenly become fiercely fanatical about exactly the right way to do everything. If you don't take exactly these talents, you're a noob. If you don't use exactly these glyphs, these gems, you're an idiot.

It reminds me of the Zen saying, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few."

When you get to the far end of the skill curve to the best hunters, there are more possibilities once again. They are apt to say, "Eh, you could go Imp Steady Shot or Hunter's Mark, whichever. Glyph of Kill Shot, Glyph of the Hawk, they both have advantages and disadvantages."

Again, they optimize their character like no one else, and 95% of their talents, glyphs and gems will all look the same -- it'll be the combination that yields the best DPS. But they recognize more than anyone the way different boss mechanics affect these choices, and for some of them, there's isn't a right answer that's definitively better. But more on that in a bit.

Myth: they raid so much more than us casuals

One of the most pervasive myths about the top raiding guilds is that they raid so ridiculously more than we do. They raid five nights a week. They raid five hours a night or 8 hours a night. It is a full-time job.

A lot of good hardcore guilds do raid this much. But the very best guilds don't, because they don't need to. They don't hit brick walls the way our raids do, so they don't need as much time to get through bosses. Don't get me wrong; when new content is released, they go a little crazy. They skip school, they skip work. They go non-stop to get it down now, to get it down first, to get it all down in the first week.

But then they have it all cleared and on farm in a week or three. While you and I are still learning to target slimes or bite our teammates, they are down to raiding just a couple nights a week. And they clear all the content in that amount of time. The dirty secret to how they do this is simple: they're really, really good. Better than us. They do not make the same mistakes over and over. Can you say that for your raid?

Secret: boss-specific strategies are key

When asked what kind of advice they'd give hunters wanting to push their DPS to the next level, it's interesting that the best hunters out there don't talk about talents, or glyphs, or pets or any of that stuff. That is, after all, just the basics and it doesn't matter as much as most people think.

The best hunters out there almost always talk about boss-specific strategies. They say you have to really think about the individual mechanics of each boss fight and your toolbox of abilities, and see what fits best. Where should you be burning which cooldowns? Is there an opportunity to roll Serpent Stings on multiple targets? What positioning do you want to ensure the least movement? When you have to move, how will you move as efficiently as possible? Where will go you, where will you pause, where will you stop?

The feeling you get from talking to these top hunters is that talents and glyphs and gear and rotations are all basically a given. Anyone can spend a few hours online at the spreadsheets and nail those down to something close enough to optimal. The difference, the variable, is the boss fights themselves, how you approach them and how you optimize your strategies to them. It is there that you find the line between success and failure, the top of the meters and the bottom.

Secret: it ain't about the DPS

The content these guys do typically requires great DPS, but when you talk to hunters in number one guilds, they aren't really focused on DPS that much. Their position on the meters isn't a big concern to them. After all, it's about killing bosses, something that can easily get lost in all our hunter optimization discussions. Who cares what your DPS is if all you do is wipe? Stepping out of a void zone instantly rather than waiting for that Steady Shot to finish casting is more important than DPS to them -- because that's more likely to get the boss down.

On fights with special mechanics, these guys are happy to abandon their pure DPS role -- in fact some of them have said they prefer it. Whether it's shooting down orbs on Anub'arak or bouncing up orbs on the Blood Prince Council, they enjoy having a critical role in the fight. After all, there are tons of DPSers all contributing damage and every single class can do it. But every now and then, there's a fight where hunters really have a chance to shine.

Who cares if it gimps our DPS in the process? When the fate of the raid depends on some particular execution -- be it kiting or target-swapping and burning -- that fate can rest comfortably on hunter shoulders.

Listen for yourself

You can hear some of these world best hunters talk about raiding and their advice in their own words in the following Hunting Party Podcasts:

You want to be a hunter, eh? 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. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101 and even solo bosses with some extreme soloing.

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