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Scattered Shots: Optimizing your hunter for heroics

Brian Wood

Every Monday and Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Each week, Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

has been out for nearly a week now. Hordes of hunters have proven their valor by uncovering the Twilight Cult's plot, rebuilding the World Pillar, and fetching a drunken dwarf his pants. A hero's work is never done. While many hunters are still proceeding steadily through the levels, a lot of them are now pushing their way into heroics.

No more for us mindlessly AoEing our way through trash and bursting down bosses with no thought to strategy -- now it's time to pay attention to fight mechanics and dust off those rusty trapping skills. Our diligence will be rewarded with shiny blues that will help us hold our own in raids and loads of reputation via our tabards. But like my Grandpappy Frostheim used to say, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing at the top of the damage meters!"

Join me after the cut as we talk about optimizing your hunter for heroics, how to spec, how to glyph, and how to look good while you do it.

Heroic spec

As always, I need to stress that you can absolutely run heroics effectively in any hunter spec. Every spec can CC, every spec has AoE boosts, and every spec can do perfectly adequate single-target DPS. If your group doesn't include a shaman or mage, running BM with a corehound for the Ancient Hysteria buff could be a bit of an advantage on harder-burn bosses. But for the most part, if you want to optimize your heroic running, you want to spec survival.

SV offers the best AoE DPS -- best by leaps and bounds. On top of that, it also currently has the highest single-target DPS. Add to this the fact that SV hunters don't have to wait for their pets to reach targets, like BM hunters, and don't have a complex, decision-laden rotation that can fall apart, like MM hunters, and SV is the clear spec of choice for heroics in Cataclysm. The spec also doesn't suffer from the slower ramp-up of BM and MM, making it perfect for the fast pace of heroic farming.

The SV heroic talent build

The heroic talent build for SV is almost identical to its raid build, by the way. We are going to get great usage out of our Serpent Spread and Improved Serpent Sting talent combination. As we flow out of the SV tree, we're going to go a bit down the MM tree rather than the much lower-DPS talents at the top of the BM tree.


Our prime glyphs are where our DPS comes from, and that's all we'll focus on here. Feel free to take whatever major and minor glyphs feel right to you for your playstyle. Fortunately, our glyph choice as SV is pretty clear-cut:
Pet choice

As always, you're going to want to choose the pet that brings the pet buff that helps your group the most. In general, you're going to want to bring pets that provide buffs rather than debuffs, so cat/spirit beast and wolf/devilsaur are the big ones. That said, for the first few weeks of Cataclysm, before people start gearing up and learning the fights, heroics are going to be fairly challenging for most groups.

With the fights lasting longer, looking at pets the bring debuffs could be good as well. Keep in mind the 8 percent spell damage taken debuff provided by the wind serpent does boost all of our magical damage -- and for SV hunters, that's almost every shot!

Standard rotation

The standard SV single-target rotation is a priority-based rotation. You want to use whatever shot is highest on the priority list and available, while at the same time saving up focus to fire Explosive Shot and Black Arrow as they become available. You want to be in Aspect of the Hawk and start the fight by applying Hunter's Mark (Don't forget this! It's 1,772 attack power!) and Serpent Sting.
You will very rarely be able to use Arcane Shot, by the way. Also, with the Careful Aim talent, it's actually better to drop Arcane Shot entirely for the first 20 percent of boss health; however, this will rarely be an issue since you'll be building up your focus after dumping it to near zero with your opening Explosive, Serpent Sting, and Black Arrow.

AoE rotation

In most heroic fights, you'll be using AoE -- just make sure that your Multi-Shot is not going to hit any CCed targets! Breaking CC is one of the signs of a bad hunter, and any CC you or your pet breaks is entirely your fault. When in doubt, don't use Multi-Shot at all. Better safe than wiped.

You'll want to start your AoE fights with a Misdirection to the tank, launching an Explosive Trap, then firing a pair of Multi-Shots at the mobs. You'll then alternate between Cobra Shot to build up focus and Multi-Shot to DPS until there are too few mobs to make Multi-Shot worth it.

One of the commonest mistakes I see hunters make in 5-mans is using Multi-Shot when it's not actually worth it. While this problem is more prevalent in MM and BM, SV hunters can suffer from it too. When to use Multi-Shot is a tad more complicated for SV, since we need to look not just at the Multi-Shot and Serpent Spread damage but also estimate how many ticks of Serpent Sting those mobs will get. Just understand that most of the time, you're firing Multi-Shot at the expense of an Explosive Shot -- the largest damaging hunter shot.

Here are the rules of thumb:
  • If there are four or more mobs, you want to spam Multi-Shot as often as you can.
  • If there are three mobs, you want to use Multi-Shot once to apply Serpent Sting to them, then return to your single-target rotation.
  • If there are two mobs, it can sometimes be worth applying Multi-Shot only once, as long as the secondary mob will stay alive for at least 9 seconds. After that, though (once you're rolling your main target's Serpent Sting with Cobra Shot), it's no longer worth using it. In other words, the reason it's advantageous is because you're also saving the 25 focus you'd normally spend to apply Serpent Sting to your primary target in the first place.
  • Explosive Trap if there are at least three mobs.
Be a good player

Now that you have the tools to sear through heroics, leaving a wake of fiery death behind you not unlike Deathwing himself, let me take a moment to caution you to use this power wisely. Don't let the power of destruction twist you from your righteous path -- you are meant to be a radiant beacon of death, not a radiant beacon of asshattery.

Here are your priorities:
  • Protect the healer.
  • Follow fight mechanics.
  • Don't break CC.
  • Don't pull aggro.
  • Trap what you're told to by the group leader.
  • Avoid any avoidable damage.
  • Attack the correct target.
  • DPS.
We are a pure DPS class, and our DPS is important -- very important! But everything higher on this list is more important. The only time pulling aggro is acceptable is when protecting the healer (mob is eating your healer's face, you pull it off and start kiting it to the tank) or when the fight mechanics call for it (usually kiting). Note that even if you FD after you pull aggro, you've already failed by pulling aggro. Just because you FD doesn't mean the mob will go back to the tank -- it may well go for your healer!

As hunters, we're evaluated mostly on our ability to DPS well. As group members, however, we're evaluated on all of the above. A great hunter will follow all of these rules and still top the meters -- we have everything we need to do that. A good hunter will follow all of these rules but be in the middle of the pack on the meters. A bad hunter will break these rules and maybe top the meters -- but still be a bad hunter.

I earnestly implore you to take this list seriously. In addition to letting us do some amazing things, the vast hunter toolbox can also let us get away with some very shoddy playing. As a class, hunters have a bit of a bad name, primarily for regularly violating every thing on this list.

Please, try to show off the amazing capabilities of our class in a good light. In fact, let's go into some detail on a couple of these items.

The lost art of trapping

For years, hunter traps have gone unused, an interesting novelty in our spellbook, but it wasn't always that way. Now in Cataclysm, you will be asked to trap mobs, to trap them efficiently and often. For those of you who are too young to remember the art of trapping, here are some basics:

You have two ways to trap a target for CC: You can use the Trap Launcher to throw a Freezing Trap at the feet of a mob, or you can place a Freezing Trap at your feet and pull the mob into it. There are times and places for both of these techniques.

Usually, your tank will mark which target she wants you to CC (the blue square is the proper icon for hunter trapping, by the way). If you can, you want to use the Trap Launcher technique. Be sure that you group understands that you need to initiate the pull. Too often, tanks will tell you to trap something, then start the pull and your mob is running all over the place. You have to launch your trap at a specific point on the ground, and then it takes a second before it "arms" and will actually trap the mob.

Likewise, if there are multiple CC targets and your mage sheeps one before you launch your trap, now it's chaos again. So just let your tank know that you need to trap first and all should be good.

If a pull does happen before you can trap, that's OK, you can still recover and trap your mob. Now you just switch to your backup technique: Drop the trap at your feet, then pull the mob into the trap. The best way to do this is to use Distracting Shot to force the mob to head toward you, and make sure you're standing a few feet behind the trap so it doesn't get a free shot in on you before it freezes. This is, by the way, the way we used to trap everything back in the day.

Note that this technique only works for melee mobs; casters are apt to stand in place casting spells at you. But that's OK, because if they're standing in place, we can just trap launch to them.

Finally, be aware that your trap can be resisted. Unlike mages, we don't have the option to immediately re-trap; that mob is now without CC until our 30-second cooldown is up.

Also be aware that there appears to be a bug currently in which if you re-trap an already frozen target, it sometimes actually breaks it out of the current trap, and then the new trap goes away. We haven't yet pinpointed exactly what situations cause this, but it does appear to clearly be a bug. So don't trap something that's already trapped.

Threat management

It should go without saying -- but my experience in randoms suggests it does not -- that threat management is vital and is your responsibility. It is not the tank's job to have more threat than you; it's your job to have less threat than the tank. Use your Misdirection, use your FD before you pull aggro so that you don't pull in the first place, and use common sense -- which at times means slowing your DPS to match the threat generation of the tank.

Don't get me wrong, you'll screw up at times -- we all do. I had a hunter friend once who was fond of saying that if you pull aggro, you're a bad hunter, but if you never pull aggro, then you aren't pushing your DPS enough. It takes experience to find that line and mistakes to gain that experience. Just understand that when you do pull off the tank, it is a screw-up, and it's your fault.

SV in heroics has more to worry about on this front than other specs, with its crazy AoE abilities. It's entirely possible to MD to the tank, launch a couple of Multi-Shots, and then as soon as MD falls off, all the mobs turn to attack you. You FD, drop aggro, but a few seconds later, they all attack you again even though you didn't attack them at all. This is not a failure of FD (which can be resisted, by the way) -- remember that all those mobs now have Serpent Sting ticking on them every 3 seconds. If your tank is not capable of generating that amount of AoE threat, you may have to hold off on the AoE.

Even for single-target fights, you probably don't want to open full up if you don't have MD available. My rule of thumb is this: If MD is available, I lead with Explosive Shot, Serpent Sting, Black Arrow. If MD is down I lead with Black Arrow, Serpent Sting, and then Explosive Shot. This builds your threat much more slowly.

As always, do not attack any target until after the tank has attacked it. Not before, not at the same time -- after. And don't MD pull for the tank unless he asks for it.

So go learn the strats for the heroic boss fights, make sure your gear is up to the task, and prepare to burn everything to the ground in a hazy mess of fire and shadow and poison.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter in Cataclysm. From leveling your hunter to optimizing for heroics to gearing up with pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, we've got you covered.

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