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Scattered Shots: Survival rotation in Cataclysm

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.

Last week, we covered what the new PvE rotation is looking like for MM hunters in Cataclysm, and today we're going to move along to the SV PvE rotation. Currently in Wrath, the MM rotation is more fixed and requires some careful forethought and planning. In Cataclysm, it is more so. In Wrath, the SV rotation is more reactionary, and in Cataclysm, it is that and more so.

Despite the frantic gyrations from being focus-starved to actually having too much focus, the SV rotation is probably the least-changed hunter spec rotation in Cataclysm. We use Cobra Shot instead of Steady Shot, we don't have to worry about reapplying Serpent Sting and instead we get to actually use Arcane Shot from time to time. Join me after the cut and we'll take a look.

Standard disclaimers

This is still the beta, so while the feel for the specs seems to be solidifying, everything is still subject to change. The current level cap in the beta is level 83. We are not going to discuss what spec does more DPS, or how much DPS each spec does, because that stuff is not yet final.

We will also not be speculating on what the optimal talent build will be -- that too is still very premature. I fully expect the talents to continue to change and refine as the beta continues, so we aren't going to trouble ourselves with those details yet. Besides which, we can't truly compare numbers until we hit level 85.

Finally, we aren't talking about movement-based DPS, as that is still changing frequently. We don't yet know just where that will land. We're looking at the PvE rotation and feel of the class today, which seems fairly solid, not PvP or soloing, which are still changing a lot in the beta.

The basic rotation

As always, you are going to want to start out in Aspect of the Hawk and put up Hunter's Mark. You really want that Hunter's Mark up by the way -- it's currently supplying a whopping 1,500 attack power at level 83. At the beginning of the fight, you will put up your Scorpid Venom and Serpent Sting. Then your basic shot priority looks like this:
As a focus-based rotation, the priority here isn't the set-in-stone priority that it is currently with our mana-based rotations. We need to store up focus to make sure that we always have enough available to fire off our Explosive Shot when it comes off of cooldown.

The biggest wrench in the SV rotation is the Thrill of the Hunt talent. This talents works much the say way as it does now, only instead of refunding 40 percent of the mana cost of specific shots, it refunds 40 percent of the focus cost when those shots crit. This is a much, much bigger deal now that we're on a focus system -- after all, refunding 40 percent of your Explosive Shot's focus cost is nearly 20 percent of your resource bar!

The effect of this is that SV's focus gyrates wildly depending on how often Thrill of the Hunt is proccing. If you get an unlucky chain of no crits, you can feel focus-starved (though still with enough focus to get your Explosive Shots fired). If you get lucky chains of crits, you can actually start to feel pressured with too much focus, desperately trying to bleed it off before it caps out. This is particularly likely to happen during Lock & Load procs, as we'll be discussing in a bit. But first, the top of the rotation.

Black Arrow

I've put Black Arrow at the top of the priority list only because at lower crit rates (which you'll be experiencing), you can easily be in a situation in which you don't have enough focus to fire both Black Arrow and Explosive Shot. If you prioritize Explosive Shot, you can easily go long stretches of time (20 seconds or more) with Black Arrow available, but without the focus to fire it because you're dumping all of your focus into Explosive Shot. Black Arrow is important enough to delay that Explosive Shot by a Cobra Shot or two.

Black Arrow remains a DoT that can proc Lock & Load. In Cataclysm, Black Arrow ticks can also crit, just like the new Serpent Sting.

Explosive Shot

The same awesome shot that it is now. As the signature shot of SV, you want to fire this off every chance you get, unless doing so would prevent you from using Black Arrow.

Currently Explosive Shot is a tad weak, and technically Arcane Shot is doing more damage per focus than Explosive Shot; however, as the signature shot of the spec, I'm sure that it will be tweaked to make Explosive Shot more desirable in our standard rotations.

Arcane Shot

Arcane Shot is no longer tied to Explosive Shot -- they do not share a cooldown. Arcane Shot is used as a focus dump to bleed of excess focus and get the DPS increase. How often you'll use Arcane Shot heavily depends on your crit chance. The more crit you have, the more focus you'll be regaining through Thrill of the Hunt, and the more focus you'll need to bleed off with Arcane Shot.

At very high crit levels, I've found that I need to use about one Arcane Shot for every one to two Explosive Shots. At very low crit levels (your crit chance plummets as you level), I rarely used Arcane Shot at all in a standard boss rotation.

Cobra Shot

Starting when it becomes available at level 81, SV will use Cobra Shot instead of Steady Shot. We assume that Cobra Shot will benefit from the SV elemental damage bonus mastery (not implemented currently) and Cobra Shot will extend the duration of your Serpent Sting. With Cobra Shot as your focus-generating shot, you won't every have to reapply Serpent Sting, which is good, because you have better uses for your focus.

Lock & Load more complicated than ever

Lock & Load works just as it always has, but changes to the hunter class have complicated this proc somewhat. The first issue is that the shots it procs are free. This is a much bigger deal in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath, when we used mana. However, those free Explosive Shots can still proc Thrill of the Hunt, inflating our focus pool. It is very easy to get capped out on focus during Lock & Load procs. Since Lock & Load gives you two free Explosive Shots or Arcane Shots, you can't just weave in Arcane Shots to bleed off that extra focus -- because that Arcane Shot will be free and will count as one of our Lock & Load shots.

Enter Kill Command.

With no other way to make use of that focus, SV will actually want to use Kill Command during Lock & Load procs when you are in danger of capping on focus. Since Black Arrow is inevitably on cooldown (since that's what you used to get the proc), your only other option would be to reapply Serpent Sting for the minor Improved Serpent Sting damage.

One of the other changes that affects Lock & Load is that we now have a 1-second global cooldown, rather than the Wrath 1.5-second GCD. With the 1.5-second GCD, we usually wanted to just wait between Explosive Shots on our Lock & Loads, because we were really only waiting that last half-second. Now with a full second of usable time, it may be possible that we'll want to weave shots between Explosive Shots. With Kill Command off the GCD, the only option is our Cobra Shot. Whether or not that will end up being a DPS advantage, we'll have to wait until we see how all the damage balances out at level 85 when things are more solidified. It's possible that it will only be worth it at certain haste levels or possible that it won't be worth it at all.

The end result is that what you need to do during Lock & Load procs depends on your current focus situation. There isn't just one answer to use every time it procs.

General feel of the rotation

In Cataclysm, SV retains the reactionary feel that the spec has in Wrath but with a bit more forethought involved due to the focus system. You are mostly reacting to the long cooldowns (Black Arrow) and Lock & Load procs, spending the rest of your time saving up focus for Explosive Shot and bleeding off the excess with Arcane Shot.

It's certainly nice to no longer have to worry about reapplying Serpent Sting, though the fact that we don't have to reapply it makes the Improved Serpent Sting talent pretty useless. I'm hoping that talent changes to something more practical.

I suspect that people who enjoy SV now will enjoy it even more in Cataclysm -- assuming, of course, that they aren't thrown off by the focus system. I enjoy the focus mechanic, the notion of planning a few seconds ahead for what you'll need to do, rather than just playing whack-a-mole with your cooldowns in order; however, it's certainly true that focus makes the SV rotation more complex than it is now.

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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