Thrill of the Spreadsheet: Opening with Serpent Sting

Serpent Sting Animation, Warcraft Hunters

Last week I went through some of the pros and cons of opening with Glaive Toss, and I had mentioned that I would cover some other alternatives as well, including Serpent Sting Openers.   However, at the time it didn't occur to me that I pretty much covered all of the math/spreadsheet part of this a while back when talking about DoT snapshotting, which is a big part of the discussion of opening with serpent sting.  Still, the mechanics might look a little different when thinking about it in regards to an opening shot, so I'll still go ahead and work through some of the pros and cons.

Nuts and Bolts
To start us off,  let's look at the formula for Serpent Sting, each tick will be:

(16200 + .8*RAP)/5

For SV hunters, Improved Serpent Sting will give that a bit of a boost, making it look like:

1.X*(24300 + 1.2*RAP)/5

For SV hunters we'll have to add in a Mastery Multiplier, which is the 1.X in the formula, as well as the Improved Serpent Sting 150% damage increase.  For BM, we'll occasionally add in a BW multiplier, but that doesn't necessarily need to be reflected in our formula

The actual in game damage done per tick end up looking like the below chart for an SV spec'ed hunter, assuming a base RAP of 93920, which should be pretty average for a normal SoO geared hunter with full buffs:

AP Tick Crit
93920 31117 62235
AoC 141972 46424 92849
Haromm's 147232 47930 95859
Both 189670 120149
You'll notice I didn't include a non-crit tick for while both trinkets are procs, and that's because with both, you should be getting close enough to the crit cap that you won't ever get anything but crits.  If you're curious, however, just divide the crit damage by 2.   

For BM, the ticks will look more like:

AP Tick Crit
93920 18267 36534
AoC 141972 25956 51911
Haromm's 147232 26797 53594
Both 189670 67174

Of course you're less likely to be using Haromm's if you're BM, but the Ticking Ebon Detonator doesn't make for elegant spreadsheets.   

Why not use SS:
The argument, then, for not using Serpent Sting as your opening shot, is if you wait until procs are up, you get a much more powerful shot.   The issue with this line of thinking, as I see it, is in how long we can go without refreshing Serpent Sting using a Cobra Shot.

Considerations for Survival: 
For Survival Hunters,  we have a much more powerful Serpent Sting, which means the extra Attack Power from our trinket procs multiplies to do even more damage.   However,  especially in single target fights where most SV hunters will use a Murder of Crows,  you're going to be refreshing Serpent Sting pretty quickly anyway.   

The only occasion where you wouldn't need to use Cobra Shot early on, is if right after your aMoC, you got a long string of LnL procs.  In that situation you'll need to cast a serpent sting to reapply.   In this case, that opening SS will have only had a chance to tick once or twice.  Without any trinket procs,  two ticks of Serpent Sting plus the initial damage from Improved Serpent Sting (15% the damage of all 5 ticks) do less damage than a single arcane shot (which for me does about 93k damage).   So, compared to using an arcane as our opening shot, we've come out just a little bit behind in DPS.  Or, comparing it to a Glaive Toss, we'll need 3 ticks plus the initial damage to break even.

WoW Hunter Serpent Sting card
Considerations for Beast Mastery:
For BM Hunters, we have a unique mechanic which is going to greatly affect the need refresh SS, which is the Bestial Wrath focus cost reduction.   In general, we should be starting BW with plenty of focus to continuously spam Kill Commands, Arcanes and Glaives without ever having to build up focus with cobra shot.  And since we should be lining up our BW with our trinket procs, that means we'll need to cast a SS for snapshotting purposes during BW, with the AoC proc up, and toward the high end of the TED trinket proc.   So then we get to the same issue we had for SV,  if we're going to be reapplying it 10 seconds or so into the fight,  why bother with it to open, when we'll only get 2 or 3 ticks out of it.   For BM those first 2 or 3 ticks matter even less, since BM hunters don't get the initial damage from ISS, and because their RAP multiplier is lower to begin with.

Pros and Cons:

In Favor:

  • Set it and forget it.   If you're having trouble with your rotation, simply using SS at the start and then never having to worry about it again can simplify things.  Similarly, if you meant to apply it while your procs were up but forget and then don't notice for a while, you'll have lost a significant amount of basically free DPS.   
  • It's inexpensive, at only 15 focus, putting you at 90 or 110 focus by the time your next GCD is ready.
  • It builds threat very slowly, if you're not Misdirecting to your tank for some reason, you don't have to worry about it pulling to you.


  • It's only makes up a lot of damage when you compare many ticks with one other instant shot.   So if you need to reapply it shortly after the fight starts, you could have gotten more damage out of a different shot.
  • It's travels at 40 yards/sec and begins autoshot, so you can only precast slightly.
  • It builds threat very slowly, so if you are Misdirecting to your tank, it's not going to be any help.   
  • It doesn't look as awesome as 2 spinning glaives flying across the room before anyone else has attacked.

That about covers the two most popular openers.  Next week, I'm going to try to break down some of the top parses in the world to see if we can get a little more insight into what's helping those hunters get an edge on the competition. 

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