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Scattered Shots: Moar heroics for hunters

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.

We're going to take a break today from the spec 101 articles to talk a bit more about what everyone is doing right now: heroics. I know that SV 101 was next and that it's the top spec at the moment, and we will get to it. But if you can't wait, the SV raid spec is darned similar to the SV heroic spec. But I'm guessing most of you are like me and can use the break from those.

I've already gone over everything you need to know about optimizing for heroics, but my email box is still flooded daily with heroic-related questions. Most of these are things I've already covered, but a good number of them are not. How much DPS should you be doing? Why is your character auto-targeting and shooting random mob packs? When will Dawn Moore be made a tamable hunter pet?

Join me after the cut as we dig through the most common hunter questions I'm seeing. We'll drill home the point on things that all hunters should already know and shed some light on the more pressing conundrums of the class.

What is the best DPS pet?

I have to tell you, I sometimes feel as if half my waking hours are spent answering this question. I wrote about it during the beta and I wrote about it after the beta, both here and at the Warcraft Hunters Union. And yet the question still comes up, again and again, like some overeager druid nipping at your heels and offering you heals and will you please be their bestest friend? The answer has not changed, to either question.

The best DPS pet is the cunning or ferocity pet that offers the best raid buff to your group. There is no one pet that is best. There is no ranking or order from best to worst. It depends on your group composition -- not just what buffs others are providing, but how everyone benefits from the possible buffs. If you have a physical DPS-heavy group, physical buffs are better. Magic-heavy groups prefer magic buffs. Maybe your group uses no bleeds, maybe everyone has bleeds -- it all depends on the group composition.

If you're looking selfishly at only what helps you the most, then ... well, then I'd say the answer is still whatever helps the group the most. After all, you're rewarded for your group's succeeding, not for being 50 DPS higher on the meters. But the strenth/agility buff provided by the cat and spirit beast helps hunter DPS the most.

I know I've said all this before, but I'm telling you, I get several emails a day about it. It comes up all the time over at the Hunting Party Podcast. I log in to the game and get tells from someone who made a level 1 character on my server just to ask me in game what the best DPS pet is. I wish I were exaggerating here, but I'm not.

I think maybe the problem is that the answer isn't simple and definitive. We're so used to having one pet be the best for years and years. The answer has always been easy and definitive, and some hunters are having trouble wrapping their brains around the idea that the answer depends on the group.

This is my last go at the explanation. From now on when I get asked what the best DPS pet is, my answer is simply going to be: sporebat.

How much DPS should I be doing?

This is a thorny question that comes up a lot, and the answer is complicated. I'm going to do a lot of hedging and qualifying, and then I'm going to man up and give some straight answers. So bear with me a moment here.

There are a lot of factors that go into your DPS, and heroics are a horrible DPS benchmark, because your DPS will change so much from run to run. Your DPS will vary depending not just on your skill and gear, but also on what heroic you're doing, whether you're counting bosses or trash, your group composition (what buffs you have), whether or not you had Ancient Hysteria, how lucky or unlucky you were on the run, and even how fast your group killed the bosss. So even the DPS of the rest of your group impacts your DPS.

I have heard a lot of hunters reporting what their heroic DPS is, and the variance is huge. We have hunters struggling to cross 5k, and other hunter gloriously reporting 25k DPS in their awesome, top-secret BM spec. This brings us to another distinction -- how you report your DPS also matters.

Are we talking about the average boss DPS over several heroics (the right way)? Are we talking about one awesome tank-and-spank boss fight with Ancient Hysteria and glorious RNG? Overall DPS including the trash? Are you talking about one trash pull with 50 non-elite mobs?

I've seen a couple of hunters reporting 25k numbers in heroics with their ilvl 329 gear. They achieve this in one of two ways: either by counting some crazy, brief AoE encounter, or by lying. I've done 50k DPS on the trash before the last boss of Stonecore, after all, but that's a meaningless number. I don't think anyone just starting heroics is doing more DPS than the best raiders.

So a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Exactly what buffs you have makes a huge difference. We saw in Wrath that going up one full raid tier in gear -- Naxx gear to Ulduar gear -- contributed on average only about 25% to your DPS. Meanwhile, raid buffs contributed 50%.
  • Better gear helps your DPS, but people consistently over-weight gear. Your buffs matter more, and your skill matters more still. The difference between a hunter at ilvl 330 and ilvl 340 gear is minimal.
  • RNG (randomness) plays a larger role than most people give it credit for, especially in heroics. Heroic RNG in DPS can easily be 10-15% -- that means you can do the exact same heroic with the exact same group with the same gear and your DPS could easily be 10-15% different. That's over 1,000 DPS difference from randomness alone. And if your group composition or which heroic you're running changed, expect the difference to be larger.
Okay, with all that said and understood, here are some general benchmark guidelines for your heroic running:

A hunter with around ilvl 329 gear and without enchants should probably be averaging around 8-10k DPS on boss fights. On fights with crazy amounts of movement, you may dip down into the 7k range, and on mostly standstill fights or fights with Ancient Hysteria, you'll climb up to 11k or even 12k DPS.

Note that these numbers should be attainable regardless of group buffs; however, if your group has many of the most beneficial hunter buffs, you can go considerably higher. Then as your gear improves and it starts becoming worthwhile to enchant and reforge everything into a more optimal state, you'll start seeing your DPS climb. Once you're consistently over 12k on average on boss fights, you're probably ready for raiding.

As a final note, I feel the need to stress that DPS is not the most important metric of a good DPSer -- there's a lot more going on. If you're going to be meter-obsessed, make sure you reference your position on the damage taken meter along with the damage done meter.

Why do I keep automatically targeting and shooting random mobs?

This is a common question, and it's due to a change that happened in the pre-Cataclysm patch. Here's what's going on:

If you press an attack button when you have no one targeted, the game will automatically target the nearest mob for you. It's helpful that way. If you're still in combat, your auto-shot will continue to fire at your new target. This comes into play in dungeons when you're slamming buttons and the mob you're attacking dies, but you hit one of those buttons a fraction of a second after it dies. Bam! You pull a nearby group and the tank cusses you out. Oh, and yes, it's still your fault when this happens.

There used to be an interface option to turn off this behavior, but that option was removed with the patch. However, we can mitigate the dangers of this somewhat.

There is still an option that will automatically turn off your auto-shot when you switch targets. You can find this option by clicking on the game menu and choosing Interface > Combat. Then just check the checkbox labeled "Stop Auto Attack."

Now your auto-shot will not fire when you acquire a new target in this way. Alas, this is not a total solution. When you press a button after your mob died, you'll still auto-target a new mob, and if you happened to mash that button twice in a row, that second button press will fire off that shot (and turn your auto-shot back on).

So until they give us that interface option back, you'll still need to be careful about button-mashing as mobs get low on health and get used to manually stopping your attack. (I often quickly press both mouse buttons to move the instant a mob dies if I'm button mashing at the time, to buy me a half second to clear my target.)

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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