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Scattered Shots: Beast mastery 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.

We've now covered what the MM Cataclysm rotation and the SV Cataclysm rotation are looking like in the beta, so it's time for BM. Ghostcrawler, lead systems designer, recently identified SV as the least-polished spec in the beta currently. While that may be true, it is also true that BM is the least functional spec at the moment.

While BM has come a long way in the beta, it still has not-yet-implemented talents and not-yet-functional talents. But the main problem with BM is that the pet design pass hasn't been done yet. BM relies on its pets far more than any other spec, and until we know how the pet design will play out, we are left with big questions in our rotation.

Join me after the cut as we take a look at exactly where BM is right now, why our pets are more important than ever, why big red pet is better than ever, and why we can't say for certain just what the final BM rotation will look like.

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 that 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.

Your pet: Not done yet

The pet design pass has not yet been done; however, we were recently told that this is in the works. This has far-reaching effects for BM hunters, because the pet design pass is not just about the new special abilities our pets will get, but about pet scaling. Several time in the first half of Wrath, we were told that pet scaling was going to be changed so that pets inherited all of our stats in some proportion (rather than just stam, armor and attack power). Finally, we were told this was being held off until Cataclysm.

The stat that interests me the most right now is crit. How much of our crit will our pets get? Currently in beta, our pets have an abysmally low crit chance, and since our Kill Command attack -- the signature "shot" of the BM hunter -- is based on our pet's crit chance, it's very important to know just what that crit chance is likely to be. In fact, right now this is the determining factor in whether we'll use Kill Command at all.

Arcane Shot vs. Kill Command

The Improved Kill Command talent effectively removes the cooldown of Kill Command. This means that the BM hunter is left with two shots with no cooldown -- Arcane Shot and Kill Command. In general, we're just going to determine which one gives us the best damage per focus, and that will be the only shot we use.

Right now, Kill Command is doing way, way more damage than Arcane Shot; however, it's based on our pet's crit chance. As of a couple beta builds ago, my pet was hanging out at around 12 percent crit chance. After the most recent build, it's around 5 percent. The effect of this is that it's actually not worth using Kill Command right now. Not only is the damage per focus lower given that it rarely ever crits, but we also lose out on a lot of damage from the Sic 'Em and Cobra Strikes talents.

I suspect that once the pet design pass is done, this problem will be corrected. My hunch is that our pets will have a lower crit chance than we'll have, but it will not be absurdly lower, so that Kill Command will still be worth using.

Why Kill Command is amazingly awesome

Assuming that the crummy crit chance can be taken care of, Kill Command is stunningly, amazingly awesome. It has a range of 100 yards (though of course your pet must be on the target). It ignores your line of sight -- as long as your pet is there, it can attack. It hits hard.

Best of all, the attack comes from your pet, not from you. This is what brings up our crit chance issue, but this also has many fantastic implications. The threat caused by Kill Command goes to your pet, not to you. For soloing, single-target aggro should never again be a problem. When raiding, your pet may very well end up with more threat than you yourself have -- and if not, your personal threat will undeniably be far, far lower than any other hunter spec, with so much of your threat coming from your pet.

And finally ... since Kill Command comes from your pet, it is awesome during Bestial Wrath. Instead of getting the 10 percent damage bonus that you get during Bestial Wrath, it gains the 50 percent damage bonus that your pet gets. At level 83, on the target dummy, my pet is easily getting 15k Kill Command crits while in Bestial Wrath.

Bestial Wrath: Now with 3x the awesome killing power

Bestial Wrath was always great, but what was the least important part of it in Wrath is suddenly the most important in Cataclysm: It reduces the focus cost of your shots by 50 percent. We didn't care much about the mana reduction in our unlimited mana raid environments, but 50 percent focus is far, far better.

20-focus Kill Commands. 9-focus Arcane Shots. This is awesome stuff. It also changes the way that we want to use Bestial Wrath. Rather than just hitting it the second it's off cooldown, we want to prepare for it a bit. The focus reduction doesn't help us a whole lot if we have no focus at all when we hit it. In fact, we want to fill up our focus bar before Bestial Wrath becomes available to make sure we have max focus to dump.

This is also another place where the Kindred Spirits talent comes in useful (once it's working, anyway). We can fill our focus bars to 110 focus prior to launching into our big red pet flurry of death, spamming Kill Command like crazy, then hitting Fervor to get focus back to keep spamming Kill Command -- each one of those Kill Commands doing 50 percent more damage.

Because Kill Command is off the global cooldown (but has a separate 1-second global cooldown of its own), it may end up being preferable to alternate between Kill Command and Arcane Shot, so that you are triggering two specials every second while under Bestial Wrath.

The only tricky thing about Bestial Wrath now is it can be easy to forget to toss a single Cobra Shot in there to keep Serpent Sting refreshed.

Focus Fire: Yawn

Focus Fire is our little 30-second cooldown ability that converts our pet's Frenzy stacks into haste for ourselves -- up to 15 percent haste. My pet has no problems building up to five stacks of Frenzy in just 5 seconds or so. Thus Focus Fire is pretty much just a 30-second cooldown ability that you'll want to use every time it's up.

The only possible exception is that, depending on how damage washes out at level 85, we may not want to use Focus Fire just before a Bestial Wrath. It may end up better to leave our pets with their 30 percent attack speed increase going into their 10 seconds of 50 percent boosted damage (currently on beta Frenzy gives our pets 6 percent attack speed per stack, up to five stacks).

Ultimately, this ability is a bit of a disappointment, since there's no actual decision-making involved in using it. I'm sure everyone will just have a Power Aura set up for it and hit the button whenever it's available -- but whether it's up or not won't actually change our behavior.

The rotation: Disappointingly dull
  • Kill Command
  • Cobra Shot
I had a lot of hope and excitement for the new BM rotation. I had dreams that it would finally involve a greater amount of complexity or forethought, but sadly, it's currently looking like it's a two-button rotation. Whereas now in Wrath, the raiding BM hunter pretty much just spams Steady Shot until Aimed Shot is available (and possibly Arcane Shot if they have lower gear levels) and reapplies Serpent Sting when it falls off, in Cataclysm, it's looking like we'll just spam Cobra Shot until there's enough focus for a Kill Command. Just the two buttons, and really no thought involved. We don't even have to reapply Serpent Sting.

BM does have the addition of pushing Focus Fire every 30 seconds and pausing the Kill Commands to save up focus a bit before Bestial Wrath (which is far more exciting now), but it just doesn't seem like nearly enough. It's especially rough compared to the SV and MM rotations, both of which grew in complexity -- a lot, in the case of MM. If the specs end up with rotations similar to what they are now and are balanced for DPS (as Blizzard wants them to be), I can't see any reason to ever play anything other than BM. It's so much simpler and takes so much less concentration; it is currently the EZ-mode spec.

However, I hold out hope that Blizzard will refine the BM spec. Give BM hunters a new shot -- something with some interaction rather than just "mash it on cooldown" -- and maybe add some interaction or thought into the Focus Fire talent, so it's not just another cooldown to hit every time it's available.

I desperately want BM to be a competitive spec again, but I also want to earn my badass DPS, not just make a one-button macro like we had in BC, bound to my mouse wheel so that I topped meters while just sitting there scrolling my mouse wheel and pushing big red pet every now and then.

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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