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Scattered Shots: Five secrets for not being a terrible hunter

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.

I've been spending some time leveling an alt lately, and because I despise questing and most of the solo game, I've been leveling entirely through the dungeon finder. One of the truly startling results of this (other than how disturbingly fast leveling is these days) is getting a fresh look at how people behave in these dungeon finder groups. In a word, they behave badly.

More disturbing however is that the worst offenders seem to be the hunters. You can imagine my mortification when, after years of defending the hunter name as unfairly sullied by farmers and pre-DKs, I see group after group where the hunter is pulling aggro, setting his pet on aggressive and pulling everything, and then yelling at the tank and healer on those rare occasions when he doesn't just Feign Death and watch us all die to his shenanigans. It got to the point where I dreaded seeing a hunter join the party.

I like to think these are growing pains of hunters just learning the ropes -- hunters that are in fact ret pally alts, I secretly hope -- and that by the time they reach 80, they'll have figured out some of the basics of how the game works. But I think we all know that we have our bad eggs at the level cap as well. So today we're going to cover five basic rules of how not to be a terrible hunter in groups. Following these rules won't make you great, but they'll keep you from being called a huntard. I'm going to be a bit more stern than usual here, because this is the hunter good name we're talking about, but be assured that it comes from a place of love. Tough love, to be sure, but love nonetheless.

Feign Death: the huntard's tool of death and destruction right here on this very planet.

As the song says, every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. Feign Death is a tool that the terrible hunter grips with both hands and uses as a bludgeoning weapon to shatter the tank's kneecap. Not yet satisfied, he then spits in the tank's face and goes to work on the other kneecap.

No tool in the hunter arsenal is more misused than FD, nor contributes as much to hunters becoming bad players. FD allows bad hunters to violate the laws of natural selection, removes the negative reinforcement and thus keeps them from learning those hard lessons. Where another class might do something stupid and die from it (and hopefully learn better), the hunter does something stupid, FDs out of the death and somehow seems to think, "That was awesome -- look at everyone else struggle and die! I'm going to do that again and again!"

Hunters should be required to take a test and get a license before being given the FD button. Here are the Three Laws of FD and Aggro:

  1. A hunter must not pull aggro or, through inaction, allow aggro to be pulled. One of the problems with FD is that the way we use it when soloing -- when learning to play our hunter -- is different than how we need to use it in groups. Most hunters think of FD as a way to drop aggro. Get that thought out of your head! FD is a way to drop threat. You should use it before you ever pull aggro, to keep from pulling aggro. If you pull aggro from the tank and then FD, you could very well be dooming your healer. Here is a good summation of how hunter threat and aggro works.

    Just to be extra clear here: if you pull aggro off the tank, you have failed as a DPSer. I don't care if the tank is bad; if you're pulling aggro, then you're bad, too. A tank's ability to generate threat is limited by several things, from his gear to his rage/mana/runic gumdrops to the limits of his IQ. But you always have the ability to do less threat. After all, you can just stop shooting.
  2. A hunter must obey the wishes of the tank, except where such orders conflict with the First Law. The dirty truth is that the tank is the boss of the 5-man. He knows (or should know) how much he can tank, what he'll be attacking first and what he can hold aggro on. If he marks something with a skull, you single-target that. If he tells you not to attack for 5 seconds, you sit there and don't attack for 5 seconds. If you want to pull and pet tank yourself, that's fine too, but then don't join a group. Do your job, and let the tank do his.
  3. A hunter must protect his own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. If all goes bad and you screw up and pull aggro (which happens eventually to all of us), you can go ahead and FD out of it if and only if doing so will return aggro to the tank and as long as the tank hasn't told you not to. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that a FD will always return the mob to the tank -- FD is an easy way to kill healers, and that's on you, too. I can't stress this enough: if you pull aggro, it's your fault. If you then FD and get the healer killed, that's your fault. If the group then wipes, that wipe is your fault.

    Take responsibility for your actions and stop blaming the tank. I don't care how much the tanks sucks; We are hunters. We have more ability to save the group from bad players than any other class, but we also have more ability to doom the group by being bad players. With great power comes great responsibility, as well as uncommon good looks.
Don't kite the tank.

If you get aggro, the first thing you need to do is immediately run to the tank. We seem to all have some survival instinct wired into our brains that screams, "OMG it's attacking me. Ruuuuun!"

When you get aggro, a good tank will try to get it back as soon as he has a chance (which may not be right that instant). Even a bad tank is likely to get aggro back accidentally just through their AoE threat stuff. But neither of them can get aggro if you're running away and kiting the mob away from them.

All DPSers make this mistake, but none so much as the hunter. There is no sadder sight than a hunter running away from a mob and the tank desperately chasing after, praying for taunt to come off cooldown. Then while the hunter flees kiting both the mob and the tank, the tank loses aggro on the other mobs and the healer gets aggro from spamming heals on the silly hunter.

If you get aggro, run to the tank, let him get it back. Pop Deterrence if you're worried about your health.

Certainly if you pull aggro on something almost dead, you can just fire off those last two shots to finish it off before it reaches you. But if it's not something that's about to die, then stop attacking it! The tank needs to get more threat than you (110% of your threat -- and if you pulled aggro you already have a 30% lead on the tank) to take the mob back, and if you keep attacking you just make his job harder. DPS something else. Better yet, switch targets before you pull aggro in the first place.

Misdirection does not mean you can or should pull anything, ever.

Misdirection is another powerful tool that can lure hunters to the dark side. Once hunters get access to Misdirection, it suddenly becomes very easy to get frustrated with the slow pace of a tank and decide to MD to the tank and pull on our own pace (thus violating the Second Law).

I have to admit to even doing this myself on rare occasions, though never without warning. My MD pulls usually go like this:
Frost: You know if you don't pull these guys soon, they're going to aggro on us.

Tank: Huh? They just attack?

Frost: Yeah, there's a timer.

Tank: Really? I didn't know that.

Frost: Hurry up, they're about to engage. /cast Misdirection

Tank: Okay! (Pulls)
While this was great fun to do and actually got the tank to pull himself the first few times (he finally decided to wait and see them aggro for himself, and then I MDed them to him and the gig was up), it is not something that I should have done. Certainly some tanks are slow, but sometimes they are slow for a reason. Maybe they're new to tanking; maybe they're waiting on the healer to get mana or a DPSer to catch up to the group. Maybe the healer asked the tank to go slow. Maybe the tank accidentally unplugged her mouse and is under the desk plugging it back in when you decide to stealth pull.

If you want the tank to go faster, feel free to politely ask for faster pulls, but then be ready to politely accept whatever the answer is. Ultimately you should focus on doing your job, and let the tank handle hers.

A small addition to this rule that should go without saying, but alas seems not to: never ever ever attack anything before the tank has, unless explicitly asked to by the tank.

Your pet is not the tank.

Hunter pets are mighty things. With the right pet, the right pet talents, the right hunter talents and the right hunter gear, our pets can easily tank any dungeon, normal or heroic. If you gather a group together under the premise that you'll be pet-tanking, then you get to lay down the rules and fume endlessly at the people who break those rules.

However, if you sign up for a dungeon finder group, then you are not that tank. Your pet is not the tank. So do your job, and let the tank do hers.

This means keep your pet on passive or defensive (yes, defensive is just fine these days), and keep it under control. Don't let your pet just attack anything -- be sure it's on mobs that the tank is actively tanking (and not that caster out of melee). In general, having Growl turned on will just infuriate your tank. Nothing shames a tank like having a pet generate more aggro than they can.

This is also the rule with the most exceptions.

Among our hunterly duties is protecting the healers, and pets can be a great tool for accomplishing that. Sometimes the tank has that caster mob that for whatever reason he hasn't gathered into melee yet, and it aggros the healer. You should either trap it or set your pet to tank it. Likewise, if any mob charges the healer. There are cases where a pet's doing some quick off-tanking can save the day.

In all honesty, I personally don't think Growl should be such a big deal, except that all tanks hate it so much it's just polite to leave it off. If a tank really can't generate more threat than your pet, there's a problem there. But still, it's the tank's job to tank, not ours, and if they're out-threated by our pets, that just means that we may be spending that instance auto-shotting in Aspect of the Viper.

Posting damage meters means you have abnormally small man parts.

I always heard lots of complaints from lots of people about damage meter spam in PUGs. The mage starts attacking before the tank reaches the target, all heck breaks loose, the healer almost dies, the mage AoEs rather than single-targetting the dangerous mob. After this horrible pull, the mage proudly displays the damage meter as if he actually did something good.

I heard these horror stories but never experienced them myself. Only on very rare occasions did I ever see someone post a damage meter in party chat, and then only when someone asked for one. However, on my baby healer alt, I see it all the time. "OMG look at my Gnomeregan leet DPS!" When watching other people play, I saw it in their groups too. I finally realized the reason I never saw it is that I am just about always at the top of the damage meters, and usually by a large margin.

Here's the thing: people don't post meters for informational purposes; they do it to brag. They do it because they are insecure about their man parts and are trying to compensate with the size of their Recount bar. (If you pay attention it's just about always the menfolk doing this, or boyfolk.)

Don't get me wrong; I fully support running a damage meter. You should want to do as much DPS as you possibly can without pulling aggro. You should be constantly pushing yourself to be better, to do better, and DPS is one of the ways to measure that. But don't spam it in party chat. Walk softly and carry a big stick, as it were.

Here are the only three reasons to post Recount to party chat:

  1. You have abnormally small man parts, are ashamed of its tiny size and girth and are trying to compensate with a large damage meter.
  2. Someone asks for a damage meter result. While you could easily send it to them in a whisper, you have small man parts, are ashamed of its tiny size and girth and are trying to compensate with a large damage meter and someone just gave you a great excuse.
  3. You are impressed and in awe of someone else's digital man part equivalent and want to spread the word about their impressive size.

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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