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Scattered Shots: Hotfix hunter changes speculation

Brian Wood

Every Monday and Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. 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.

When patch 4.0.6 hit with its crazy undocumented buff to Aimed Shot (rather, buffed far, far more than was documented), we were pretty sure that Aimed Shot was going to see some kind of adjustment -- it was just too good, and it scales too well in the already high-scaling MM spec.

Well, we got our adjustment, but Blizzard wasn't content just to nerf Aimed Shot downward -- oh no. As long as it was tinkering with hunters anyway, it seemed appropriate to heap wads of awesomesauce across all specs at the same time. For those who missed the hotfixes, here's what's happening to hunters:

  • Aimed Shot damage has been decreased to approximately 160% weapon damage (at level 80+), down from 200%.
  • Aspect of the Hawk now provides around an additional 2000 attack power at level 85.

There's a lot to talk about here -- there are some pretty awesome implications to an additional 2,000 attack power while in Aspect of the Hawk. Join me after the cut as we get into the effects of all these changes -- what we know, what we don't know, and what we suspect.

The hunter hotfix is not live

The first thing to stress here is that the hunter end of the hotfix is not live. We were told that we could expect it after the holiday weekend, likely on Tuesday's server restart. This means that the only information we have is what's written in the hotfix notes, and that can at times be problematic.

Aimed Shot has a poor patch note history in Cataclysm. It has literally not once actually been what the patch notes say it is, dating back to the beta. In patch 4.0.6, we got our Aimed Shot buff -- but then in practice, it was buffed insane levels higher than the notes said. So what we're seeing in these hotfix notes is a rather modest nerf just to the base damage component; however, I would not be at all surprised to see the coefficient getting nerfed as well. It just makes sense, since part of the reason for the nerf is to lower the insane PvP burst capability.

What this means is it's very hard to predict accurately the effect this will have on the MM spec. We can speculate, but until we see it live in the game, we can't know for certain.

Aimed Shot and the MM hunter

Here, I'm going to enter the realm of speculation for a bit. This is what I think we're going to see as a result of this change. This is based on what I think is the intent of the change, combined with what we know of the history of Aimed Shot:

  • Aimed Shot's coefficient will be reduced as well -- otherwise the nerf just isn't significant, and while I think Aimed Shot will still be buffed over pre-4.0.6 levels (significantly so), I do think it needs more than just the slight tweak to base damage. More importantly, I think Blizzard thinks so, too.
  • MM hunters will still use Aimed Shot in their rotations while in Careful Aim range -- while the boss is over 80% health. Whether or not they will use Serpent Sting or Chimera Shot (currently they don't) depends on the weight of the nerf. (For those unaware, the reason for this is Aimed Shot gets +60% crit from Careful Aim, and those crits proc giant bleeds with Piercing Shots, making it so good currently we ignore every other focus-costing shot).
  • MM hunters will not use the cast version of Aimed Shot once they're outside of Careful Aim range. After the first 20% of boss health, they'll go back to just using Aimed Shot as the free proc from Master Marksman.
  • Aimed Shot will retain its 2.9-second cast time, not the 2.4-second cast time the tooltip is reporting. I suspect the tooltip is wrong -- before 4.0.6, the tooltip reported the cast time as 3 seconds, but it was really 3.5 seconds. If the cast time did go down to 2.4 seconds, then the damage would have to be nerfed much more to ensure that we still use our other shots.
Right now, it's impossible to say what the DPS effect of the change is going to be for MM, since we don't know for certain what the change is. If it's just what's listed in the hotfix notes, then MM's DPS will actually go up; however, I don't think that's the intent. I suspect the goal of the change is to do something to tweak the scaling issues, nerf the insane MM PvP burst, and tweak MM's single-target DPS downward a bit.

Target dummy note: I'd like to stress something about DPS testing that frustrates me a bit. Too often, hunters hop to the target dummies, do some brief testing as SV, then some more as MM, and report MM as crazily higher. Please keep in mind that these are not valid tests! The target dummies are always over 80% health; thus, you're always in Careful Aim range. For MM, that means that every Steady Shot and every Aimed Shot has an extra 60% crit chance -- and all those extra crits proc Piercing Shots bleeds. Likewise, SV gets Careful Aim to its Cobra Shot, but that's not nearly as much of a DPS boost as MM is getting. For a valid test, you have to take your logs and compensate for the Careful Aim and Piercing Shots by doing the math to calculate what they would really be if the first 20% only lasted about 20% of the fight.

Aspect of the Hawk

This change is massive -- ridiculously huge -- with broad-reaching implications. This is either giving our Aspect of the Hawk an additional 2,000 attack power (bringing it to 2,637 AP) or changing Aspect of the Hawk to provide 2,000 attack power (bringing it to 2,000 AP), depending on how you want to read the hotfix note. Personally I think it's pretty clearly worded as increasing our AotH AP by 2,000 -- and if that's not the implementation, then Blizzard worded the hotfix wrong.

Regardless of which it is, this is a huge buff to both BM and SV.

SV is likely to see something in the range of a 6-8% DPS increase from the attack power boost, which at high gear levels could be a 2k DPS increase! BM likes AP even more and could see a 7-9% AP boost. BM is already the stealthily competitive hunter spec, and this change absolutely has the potential to make BM the clear top single-target DPS spec, depending on what actually happens to MM.

Keep in mind, however, that BM still suffers from target switching fights, fights with an air phase, and AoE fights. So even if BM is the top single-target spec, that doesn't necessarily make it the top raiding spec. In fact, we might be seeing hunters in a nice place where the best spec depends on the fight mechanics -- SV is best for this one, BM best for that one, but if you have a strong preference, you can certainly play whichever you choose.

It'll be interesting to see where MM falls after the change. My hunch is that MM will be a bit low in practice compared to the other specs (still playable, just not the top). However, we also have to keep in mind that because of how much benefit MM gets from weapon damage with its shots, MM scales better than the other specs.

In fact, a lot of these changes smell to me like Blizzard looking a bit forward in progression. With SV's nerf to agility scaling, their damage scaling was hurt a bit, and they don't scale as well with gear. So this buff compensates somewhat for a higher gear level. Don't get me wrong, this doesn't fix scaling issues, but I suspect that as gear increases more tweaks will be made to continue to keep hunters competitive.

One with Nature

Another impact of this change is that the One with Nature talent suddenly became huge. Currently, the talent provides shockingly little actual DPS gain compared to any other options. With the giant buff to AotH, however, this talent suddenly becomes fantastic. It still doesn't scale, but with currently available gear, we're suddenly going to see MM and SV going after it -- dropping things like Bestial Discipline and Careful Aim.

One thing to keep in mind when evaluating this talent is that you will not always get the full benefit. It's only getting you that extra attack power when you're in Aspect of the Hawk, so when you have to switch to Aspect of the Fox for movement phases (which you still want to do, of course), those Cobra Shots and Steady Shots won't be affected by the extra AP boost.

Aspect Dancing

Another impact of this change is that aspect dancing will become more important than ever. With the current AotH, the AP boost is so small that in most fights, it's a net gain to just stay in AotF the whole time rather than AotH the whole time (of course, it's better to swap aspects as needed). But with AotH suddenly providing 2,000 more attack power, it will be very important to your DPS to be in AotH every time you possibly can.

I, for one, am very eager to see the actual implementation of these changes. Just from reading the notes, it looks like a giant box of awesome, addressed to hunters, with big pink hearts drawn all over the packaging.

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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