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Scattered Shots: Cataclysm beta info on BM and hunter pets

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.

On Thursday we talked about some of the biggest hunter news in the Cataclysm beta, from Aspect of the Fox to the new Chimer/ Widow Venom combo. But of course that was only the tip of the of the deadly hunter iceberg. Today we're going to focus on the news about our better halves, our lifelong companions and platonic life partners: our pets.

It would be inappropriate of us to claim the title of most-changed class in Cataclysm without some major changes to our pets, and that's just what we're getting. Some of this was expected from blue posts in the months after our class preview, some of it was promised to us years ago, and some of it is entirely unexpected and wonderful.

Across the board, however, I think you'll agree that it's good news for our pets in Cataclysm. Join me after the cut to learn all about it. Since no discussion of pets is complete without the true pet hunter, BM, we'll be taking a look at the BM talent changes and how they interact with the pet changes to make Cataclysm the most exciting time to be a BM hunter in the history of WoW.

A plethora of pets

First of all, we got confirmation on our increased pool of pets. Hunters will have a stable of "inactive" pets that holds up to 20 different pets. Then we'll also have five "active" pets that we can swap out like we can now with Call Stabled Pet.

Let's start by clearing up some wishful confusion that's been dribbling around on the internet: this does not mean that you will have five pets out at the same time. You'll still have only one pet at a time; however, you can swap that pet (when not in combat) for one of four other pets. These are your five "active" pets, and calling them active pets was probably a poor decision.

The 20 pets that you have in your stable will not be able to be swapped at a moment's notice while in the middle of your raid. You will actually have to go to a stable master to move them from stabled to active status. Thus, in Cataclysm, part of your raid prep is likely to be to fill your active slots with the pet assortment you think you may need given your raid composition.

Why would you need more than one pet to choose from? Well, let me tell you ...

In Soviet Cataclysm, not all pets are wolves

Let's start off with the good news -- nay, the great news -- that has maidens dancing naked in the fountains and dwarves and elves drinking together: Not every hunter will be using the exact same pet.

Blizzard is looking to be holding up its promise to bring variety back to hunter pets. The current plan is that every pet will do exactly the same amount of damage. They'll have the same base damage, their focus dump special attack (claw/bite/smack) will all do the same damage, and then they'll have a special ability that is not another attack. This will be things like stuns and slows for what we consider the PvP pets, and the raiding pets will be getting a unique buff that will duplicate a raid buff, mostly likely in a weaker form. Here's the exact blue quote:

Ghostcrawler -- Lead Systems Designer
We don't want "wolf or die" in Cataclysm (and before that it was cat). Each pet family will bring a unique raid buff, allowing hunters to be wildcards for when you are lacking something. The ease of swapping pets will facilitate this further.

An important thing to note here is this does not mean that you get to bring whatever pet you want (well, you can, but it won't necessarily be optimal for your raid). There will still be a "best" pet for your raid, depending on what raid buffs you're missing. But what is the best pet for your raid today might be different from your raid next week and will be different from what's best for my raid. Just like right now if you're missing the minor armor debuff, you want to bring a wasp pet for the Sting ability, in Cataclysm, you'll have a host of pets with different raid buffs/debuffs and you'll want to plug in whatever hole you're missing.

If you're in a full 25-man raid will all buffs present, then your pet selection becomes a matter of choosing whatever pet skin you think looks coolest, since there won't be any practical difference between them at that point (or you can choose a pet to back up a buff from a player who is unreliable at keeping it up). However, odds are very good that there will be far fewer 25-man raids come Cataclysm, with 10-mans providing identical rewards.

Based on past blue posts, we know that in general, the pet buffs will not be as good as the player buffs -- they'll be toned-down versions. Thus a raid will still prefer a good mix of classes (rather than all hunters), but hunters will be able to shore up whatever the most important buff gaps are with their wide pet selection.

Aw, who am I kidding? You and I and every raid leader out there know full well that the ideal raid has nothing but hunters in it, at least for the DPS roles. And maybe tanking too. I cannot lie to you guys, and we're just that awesome.

It looks as though BM is getting some extra sexiness put into their exotic pets too. While most pets have their focus dump attack and their special ability, exotic pets will have those plus an exotic ability. Right now it's not clear if that exotic ability will be a second attack or another utility ability.

Pet focus regeneration changes

The rate of focus regeneration is going way down in Cataclysm. Right now, a single talent point spent in Go for the Throat guarantees our pets infinite focus. I completely agree with Blizzard that having a resource mechanic that never runs out is just silly. In Cataclysm, our pets will actually be out of focus more often than not and using up what focus they have as soon as they get it.

This is being accomplished primarily by changing two hunter talents. The BM Bestial Discipline is currently a two-rank talent that increase our pets' rate of focus regeneration by 50%/100%. In Cataclysm, it will be a five-rank talent that will increase the rate of focus regeneration by 6%/12%/18%/24%/30% (and you'll really want all those ranks). The MM Go for the Throat, instead of granting our pet 25/50 focus on every one of our crits, will instead give our pets 3/6 focus on every auto-shot crit. So a huge step down.

While our pet's focus dump attack will still cost 25 focus to fire off, the pet's special abilities -- the slows and stuns and raid buffs -- will be cooldown-limited and cost no focus. Thus, our new lower focus regen rate will not harm our ability to get the good abilities off. It's unclear at this point how the exotic pet abilities will work.

I think it's important to look at this change as what it is: a change, not a nerf. Both hunters and our pets are being rebalanced from the ground up. Just because our pet no longer has infinite focus doesn't necessarily mean that it will be doing less damage than it is now -- we don't know yet how the base damage amounts have been adjusted.

Pets don't get buffed now, but won't be able to get buffed in Cataclysm

Hunter pets will no longer benefit from raid buffs. The concept here is tied to something we were promised so very long ago. Our pets will finally scale with all of our stats, not just some of them. So when we get more haste or more crit, so too does our pet get its portion of our haste and our crit. If pets got the raid buff as well, they'd be double-dipping and would scale disproportionately.

There are two upsides to this change. The first is that our pets will finally scale with all our stats! As we get better gear and get tougher, our pets will actually get proportionately tougher as well. The second is we will no longer be forced to debase ourselves and grovel before the support classes begging for buffs for our pets.

However, I do have a couple of concerns about this change. No doubt that pets scaling with all our stats is a good thing. In fact, pets' benefiting from raid buffs but not scaling well with our gear is part of what contributed to BM's being over-nerfed in the beginning of Wrath. BM hunters seemed far more overpowered than they were because our pets were so powerful at really low gear levels. But the more gear BM got, the less significant our pets became.

Pet scaling with our stats and not getting raid buffs solves this ... except I'm pretty sure they won't actually scale with every stat and buff. After all, any raid buff that gives us a percentage damage increase will not translate to our pets. That's not a stat. And our big, crazy new stat in Cataclysm, mastery, isn't one that our pets have. We can double or triple our mastery and our pet's damage output won't change one bit (well, except for BM, which gets pet damage as one of its mastery bonuses).

I am cautiously optimistic about this change. I think it's good in concept as long as there aren't too many buffs that our pets don't benefit from and as long as the mastery stat doesn't just end up throwing pet scaling off kilter, the way our non-transferring stats do now.

Awesome BM talent changes and rotation

Perhaps the most exciting changes to our pets are happening in the BM talent tree. There are a lot of changes here -- a lot of changes -- and on the surface many of them look like nerfs. But on closer examination, I think it's a very nice change for BM. I think Blizzard is finally giving BM what we've always said we wanted: to make our pets more important and give us more interaction with our pets.

The biggest pet DPS nerfs come from Kindred Spirits and Frenzy. Kindred Spirits is currently a flat 20% damage boost to our pets. In Cataclysm, it will change from five ranks to two ranks to increase you and your pet's maximum focus by up 5/10. Frenzy used to increase your pet's attack speed by up to 30% after it got a crit, but now will increase its attack speed by up to 5% after using a special attack (the focus dump attack). There is a strong implication, however, that the new Frenzy will be capable of stacking on itself. That makes it theoretically possible to get up to a 25% pet attack speed increase with five stacks of frenzy, and certainly the Frenzy effect will be proccing much more often the new way.

These two are certainly nerfs; however, I think this is really just redirecting a lot of the pet damage boosts away from talents and into the BM mastery bonus. The third-tier mastery bonus for BM is a flat percentage boost to pet damage. So that boost, that Kindred Spirits effect, is still in there but in a different place.

On the bright side BM is seeing talents that interact with their pets in interesting ways. The most exciting is the new version of the Focus Fire talent:
When you use Kill Command, you consume your pet's Frenzy stacks increasing your attack speed by [3%/6%] for each stack of Frenzy consumed. Lasts for 12 sec.
Kill Command is now a hunter ability that costs us 50 focus and causes our pets to instantly attack for a significantly damaging attack (the way it used to be, in fact). For MM and SV hunters, Kill Command is probably no longer going to be worth using due to that hefty cost, but Focus Fire makes it an exciting and essential part of the BM rotation. You'll want to use it when your pet has a good stack of Frenzy going to get yourself a nice boost to your own attack speed. If your pet has three stacks of Frenzy, you are looking at a 18% attack speed increase for yourself. This is on top of the 20% passive attack speed bonus that Serpent's Swiftness is already getting you and on top of the BM mastery bonus that increases your haste.

BM hunters don't use bows or guns or crossbows -- they use machine guns!

This definitely adds more complexity and interest into the BM shot rotation. Rather than just firing off whatever's available, you'll want to pay attention to the duration of your Focus Fire (I'm guessing the goal will be not to let it drop) and refresh it when your pet is up at max Frenzy stacks. Sometimes you'll want to use Kill Command right away, but sometimes you'll want to push it a bit longer until your pet has more stacks. That's decision-making! That is excellent and exciting!

Here Blizzard has also successfully tied our own DPS potential to our pet attacking. If our pet isn't attacking something (doesn't have to be our target, by the way), then we'll lose our own attack speed increase potential. But as BM, we counter the extra importance of our pet by the fact that -- as now -- our pet can attack with full damage even if we're busy running around non-stop.

Though, you know, in Cataclysm we can just pop into Aspect of the Fox when on the move so our lightning-fast auto-shots continue to fire away. It's good days for BM, Cataclysm is. And in the opinion of this dwarf, it's looking like BM finally done right.

And there's more to come

As always when we're talking about Cataclysm, this is still just the very beginning of the beta. This is not final and will almost certainly change and be tweaked several times. Furthermore, Blizzard has said that they haven't done their design pass on pets yet. So while we know the concept of how the pet special abilities will work, in the weeks and months ahead we can look forward to learning exactly what all the new special pet abilities are, not to mention these new exotic abilities.

It's a good time to be a hunter!

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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