MM scaling theory
The ranged DPS that hunters get from our weapons brings a massive contribution to our overall DPS -- more, in fact, than any other stat. One ranged DPS is much better than even 1 agility. But MM hunters get more benefit still from their ranged weapon DPS than other specs because of the way MM's shots work.
Most hunter spec-specific special shots are not helped by ranged weapon DPS (most importantly, Explosive Shot and Kill Command). They have a ranged attack power coefficient but no contribution from the base DPS of our ranged weapons.
Marksman, on the other hand, does use its ranged DPS for its spec-specific shots, Chimera Shot and Aimed Shot. That's two powerhouses that are benefiting both from ranged attack power and ranged weapon DPS. But MM has more than that; the specialization Artisan Quiver boosts the damage of their Auto-Shot, which of course is based on their ranged DPS. Furthermore, the MM mastery Wild Quiver allows them to launch free Auto-Shots, which again benefit from ranged DPS.
The logic that you'll hear echoed all over hunter scaling discussions is that this huge boost that MM gets from ranged DPS -- far more than any other hunter spec -- causes them to scale far better than the other specs, who don't have all those extra shots benefiting from ranged DPS. Thus, as we get better and better gear through higher and higher tiers and get ranged weapons with more and more DPS, MM hunters' damage will increase more than any other spec's damage. So while SV's DPS might jump 10% from tier to tier, MM's would go up 15% or even more.
And this is rough, because MM is already on top of the damage output ... and they're just going to widen that gap.
Why the theory smells stinky
Right off the bat, the MM scaling theory smells a bit off. While all the logic is absolutely true and MM undeniably benefits from ranged DPS more than the other specs ... that's still only one stat. WoW has a lot of moving parts, remember, and we can't look at just one of them in a vacuum. This doesn't mean that the MM scaling theory is wrong -- but talking about only ranged DPS isn't very convincing. In fact, it leaves most of the variables out of the equation.
After all, SV hunters have the Into the Wilderness specialization that boosts agility by a whopping 10%. That's a very substantial benefit to a huge stat that affects every single shot. Certainly SV scales better with agility than any other spec, doesn't it? Then the SV mastery Essence of the Viper combos with that agility boost by boosting that boosted damage yet further for all magic-damaging attacks. So why don't we think SV has a scaling problem?
And of course, BM has its own benefits that scale differently from different stats. And these are just broad overviews -- the specs also have all different talents, and all of those talents affect scaling of the spec's damage output differently. SV's Toxicology and BM's Killing Streak give them more benefit from crit rating, for example. And these scaling differences for all stats are peppered throughout all three trees.
To actually predict scaling issues, you would need an incredibly sophisticated mathematical model of hunter DPS that took not just gear but literally every talent, glyph and pet optimization, raid buffs -- all of it -- into account. Fortunately, thanks to Zeherah, we have that. So let's take a look.
Hunter scaling in Cataclysm
For this test, I've plugged in something close to a best-in-slot gear list to Female Dwarf, with typical BM, MM, and SV raid specs with appropriate optimization for each spec. I checked gear at tier 11 normal, tier 11 heroic, tier 12 normal, and tier 12 heroic gear levels. This gives us four distinct, real-world gear levels that are each very substantial improvements upon the last.
If theory holds correct, then we should see MM's DPS growing at a consistently faster rate than any other spec. Let's take a look at the percentage of change we're seeing in each spec as they progress in gear.
Not quite what we'd expect under the MM scaling theory, is it?
We certainly see here different specs scaling at different rates from tier to tier -- but nothing consistent. Going from T11 normal to heroic was a nice jump for MM (and perhaps the source of the initial scaling speculation), but then SV scaled faster going to T12 and just about the same going to T12 heroic. BM appears to be a bit behind, on average, though the difference is neither huge nor that great.
The difference in DPS scaling between specs, however, is much smaller than the DPS loss or gain from the various balancing tweaks Blizzard makes in patches. After all, we're looking at a few percentage points here. And I'm pretty certain we'll see some more minor tweaks as patch 4.3 is tested.
I can't speak to how hunter scaling compares to other classes, largely because most classes don't have the awesome modeling tools available to hunters but also because I don't pay much attention to the support classes. But within the hunter class, the scaling of the different hunter specs is pretty darned close and about what you'd expect to see: Sometimes one spec does a bit better, sometimes another one does.
At best, what we can say is that BM needs not just a little DPS buff, but also a wee scaling buff. Not a big one, but something to gain it just a percent or two. Perhaps boost the BM mastery so it's not as clearly behind the other secondary stats?
But as for MM drastically outscaling the other hunter specs? Myth busted.
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