A Comprehensive Guide to Focus

Today marks the first day of a new series here on Thrill of the Wild, by guest blogger/guide writer Eurugan.  Any of you who frequent the official forums will probably recognize Eurugan from his "wall of text" posts covering the intricacies of various hunter mechanics.  I approached Eurugan with the idea for this series of guides a couple weeks ago, and he graciously agreed.

It is important to note that these are not necessarily intended to be "beginner" guides for those just starting to play WoW (though they may appeal to an experienced WoW player, who is just beginning to play the hunter class), nor will these guides be for the expert level, elite hunters, but instead, these will be aimed at the average hunter who knows the basics of what they're doing, but wants to step up their game, and gain a more complete knowledge of the hunter class mechanics.  With that in mind, we won't be including any in-depth, game-changing theorycrafting for the expert level players, but instead, the goal of these guides will be to provide a comprehensive description of all of the mechanics regarding specific areas of game  play.  

We're also, as much as possible, going to refrain from giving directives in this information. There are already plenty of guides out there that will tell you "in this situation, do this.  And in this other situation, do this other thing." While often times those sorts of guides can be really helpful, you won't need this much information to follow those types of guides. While in some situations it may become clear that there is one correct way to do things, in general, we want to present enough information that with a little bit of thought, readers will be able to make competent decisions on their own.

From Eurugan:
I am Eurugan. Delirium has asked me to write a number of guides explaining many key mechanics to the hunter class in my usual manner, the first of them being about focus mechanics.  Following my standard train of thought, I'll explain the history of hunter mechanics, explain some of the relevant changes that have happened throughout the years, and explain how they work now.  Some mechanics have merged into other effects over the years, and while their elder names may be forgotten in our spell books, they remain useful for explanation purposes, and so will be used below.

Introduction to Focus

In the past years, hunter resources have changed and improved, to a considerable degree.  In Wrath of the Lich King and earlier, hunters ran on mana. Each spec had different talents in their respective talent trees that affected mana management, but to a large degree, hunters operated on a damage cycle. Hunters had a 2 phase cycle: full damage burst (with full CD usage) and the regeneration cycle.  The full damage cycle was preferred during any big burn phase, usually while during heroism or any large CD’s.  During this phase, we used aspect of the hawk which boosted our damage (relative to any other aspect we had, and we had many).  The regeneration cycle was identified by use of Aspect of the Viper, which reduced our damage by 50% (in addition to losing the AP boost from hawk), and caused any ranged attack we dealt to cost less mana and regenerate a decent chunk of mana with every hit. Depending on the fight, we could use a special poison, Viper Venom, to replenish our mana faster (or even avoid the viper phase entirely on some bosses), but did so at the expense of the damage from Serpent Sting.  All of our shots had a CD, and many of them shared CDs (Explosive Shot and Arcane Shot shared a 6 second CD, Aimed Shot was instant and shared a 6 sec CD with Multi-shot, which only hit 3 targets max, Kill Command (introduced in Wrath) was on a longer CD and buffed our pets next 3 basic attacks by a portion of our attack power). When instant shots were on CD, we wove steady shots between auto shots (as steady shot would interrupt the auto shot cycle).

With the emergence of Cataclysm, hunters saw many changes. While our play style remained similar, mana, Aspect of the Viper, Aspect of the Monkey and Aspect of the Dragon Hawk departed from our spell books. The biggest change, perhaps in this history of hunters, was that we gained focus, an energy like resource that used to be exclusive to hunter pets.

At this point we also saw many of our abilities be revamped. Volley, a hunter version of Blizzard or Rain of Fire, was removed; Multi-Shot lost its CD and became a full AoE; Arcane Shot lost its CD; Aimed Shot received a cast time and lost its CD; Kill Command’s CD was reduced to 6 seconds and became an instant attack; and Steady Shot went from being a “use when everything else is on CD” spell to being a “use when you need focus” spell. Cobra Shot was introduced later for SV and BM, A nature version of Steady Shot which also extended Serpent Sting's duration. Cobra and Steady Shot granted 7 focus per cast, with Steady Focus for MM increasing the focus generation of Steady Shot by 2 or 3 focus per cast.  Fervor was a BM only spell with a 2 min CD granting 50 focus instantly for you and your pet, and nothing else.  BW was changed from being a simple damage boost with a CC immunity to a CC break with a damage boost, as well as halving the focus cost of hunter spells for 10 seconds. Invigoration became a focus mechanic (where it used to give our pets bonus healing from mend pet and added a dispel mechanic), and Go For The Throat was added as a talent in the MM tree. 

For the most part, hunters were very focus starved throughout Cata.  We spent most of the fight casting Steady or Cobra Shot, and only got a rapid play style back in Dragon Soul when a Tier set bonus doubled the focus generation of Cobra and Steady Shot.

In MoP, Cobra and Steady Shot had their focus generation doubled, talent trees went away, Go for the Throat became a BM only mechanic, and SV received Viper Venom back as a passive, granting focus from Serpent sting ticks.  Dire Beast, TotH (which used to be a ranged Attack Speed Aura tied to Survival) and Fervor (which then had a 30 second CD and granted 50 focus instantly and 50 focus over 10 seconds to you and your pet) all became talents.  With Cobra and Steady Shot restoring 14 focus per cast baseline, hunters were no longer focus starved, and our other focus talents balanced us quite nicely.  

In Warlords of Draenor, hunter focus mechanics are remaining similar, but with some changes, which I will explain below.  

Basics of Focus

Focus is an energy mechanic.  This means it is constantly regenerating, has a static cap of 100 or 120 focus (depending on spec), and that it gets spent rather rapidly in large chunks.  Most of our spells spend anywhere from 25% to 50% of our focus reserve instantly, so we constantly have to replenish our resource.

Regardless of level or gear, focus will always regenerate a minimum amount of focus every second, this is called our base focus regeneration rate.  For the hunter, this base rate is 4 focus per second, for our pets, this rate is 5 focus per second.  Haste increases the rate of our focus regeneration rate; every 1% haste we get increases our focus regeneration rate by 1%.  

The more focus you generate, the more focus you can spend on damaging attacks.  In general, our "rotation" works like this: our abilities with CDs get priority (Kill command, Chimera Shot, Explosive Shot, Black Arrow, Glaive Toss, Barrage, A Murder of Crows), with our less damaging "filler" shots (Arcane Shot, Aimed Shot, and Multi-Shot) being cast when we have excess focus, and no CD abilities to use.  The more focus we generate, the more spare focus we have when the our signature abilities are on CD, the more filler shots (Arcane Shot, Aimed Shot) we can cast, and in AoE, the more Multi-Shots we can cast.

Pet focus

Our pets inherit a portion of our Stamina, Attack Power, Haste, and Crit.  If you are spec'ed Beast Mastery, pets also benefit from your Mastery stat.  Remember, our pets base focus regeneration rate is 5 focus per second, with hunter focus having a base regeneration rate of 4 per second.  As every 1% haste increases focus regeneration by 1%, our pets receive 1.25 times the bonus focus per second from every point of haste, compared to us.

In general, pets use focus for exactly one spell (we are ignoring Chimeras' and Worms' AoE mechanics because Beast Cleave outperforms it; spirit beasts’ Spirit Mend and the Tenacity spell Thunderstomp also spend focus, but the former only costs 5 focus and the latter is only used when you are having a pet try to hold aoe threat on adds).  This one spell is known as our pets' Basic Attack. Depending on family, your pet will have the spell "Bite", "Claw" or "Smack"; these three spells are mechanically identical, only varying thematically.  They all have a three second CD, cost 25 focus, and deal the exact same damage per cast.

Most classes that requires being in melee range to deal damage (like our pets do) suffer some from target swapping or high movement. While our pets' auto attacks (which get recorded as “melee” hits on damage meters) do see damage loss in these situations, our pets' basic attacks catch up much faster.  There is an old mechanic, Wild Hunt [Editor's Note: this is now officially called "Basic attack focus cost modifier" but that's lame, so we'll stick with calling it "Wild Hunt"]: when your pet has more than 50 focus, basic attacks deal double damage and cost double focus (making them cost 50 focus).  As a result, unless your pet is unable to attack something for such a long time that it is focus capped, our pets will never see much of a dps loss due to movement in regards to focus. All it will take is 3-6 seconds, and your pet will have burned off all the focus that built up during a target swap or movement phase.

Focus Talents and Abilities

Any hunter who has browsed through the spell book or through Wowhead's hunter page any time since Cata launched, knows about Steady Shot and Cobra Shot.  These two cast time spells can be cast while moving at all times, and each cast generates 14 focus for the hunter.  With WoD, the old steady focus has gone away, so Steady Shot always generates 14 focus per cast.    
One of the new lvl 100 talents, Focusing Shot, is a more powerful replacement of Cobra or Steady Shot.  Focusing Shot has a longer cast time than Steady/Cobra Shot and can not be cast while moving.  However, Focusing Shot deals nearly double the damage of Steady Shot, and restores 50 focus to the hunter with every cast.  Ultimately, the cast time of Focusing Shot is much less than the cast time of 3.57 cobra or Steady Shots (what it would take to get 50 focus), so it will allow us to cast more Arcane Shots or Multi-Shots, which is where it gets its damage boost.

LV 60 Talents

Our level 60 talent tier has 3 options for managing focus.  The first one, Dire Beast, is the most simple.  Dire Beast has a 30 second CD and summons a wild beast to fight for us for 15 seconds.  This dire beast will use no active attacks, only auto attacks (“melee hits” on recount), however, its auto attack damage and attack rate will be identical to the rate and damage of our active pet.  Every auto attack from the DB will generate 2 focus for the hunter, and the DB’s damage scales with BM mastery (it should be noted that Frenzy stacks, Spiked Collar, Rapid Fire and Focus Fire, do not affect the Dire Beast’s auto attack rate).

Steady Focus was once an MM passive that, when active, boosted ranged Attack Speed and the focus Steady Shot generated. In WoD, Steady Focus shares the old proc method (two back to back steady or Cobra Shot casts); however, the proc’ed effect is different.  Steady focus increases passive focus regeneration by 50% for 10 seconds following two consecutive Cobra Shot or Steady Shot casts, or one Focusing Shot. This causes the hunters base focus regeneration rate to increase to six focus per second, and the pet's base focus regeneration rate to increase to 7.5 focus per second.  And as usual, every 1% Haste will increase focus regeneration by 1%, but now of this new base focus regen rate.
Thrill of the Hunt is the last focus talent on the lvl 60 focus tier.  In MoP, when it was introduced as a focus talent, all damaging spells that cost focus had a 30% chance to proc TotH, making the next 3 Arcane Shots or Multi-Shots cost 20 less focus.  Early in MoP, this made Arcane Shots free; as of 5.4, it makes Arcane Shots cost 10 focus (still free during BW while TotH is up).  In WoD, the TotH proc still does a similar effect, only now it affects one more spell, Aimed Shot, reducing its focus cost by 20 focus, same number of casts affected per TotH proc.  The big difference in WoD is that TotH no longer has the same proc chance for every spell; it now has a different proc chance depending on focus spent.  For your convenience, here is the breakdown:

TotH now has a 6% chance to proc per 10 focus spent:
  • Arcane Shot will have a 18% chance to proc TotH, 6% during TotH, 9% during BW, 0% chance during BW and with TotH active
  • Glaive Toss will have a 9% chance to proc TotH, 4.5% chance during BW
  • Explosive Shot will have a 9% chance to proc TotH
  • Black Arrow will have a 21% chance
  • Multi-Shot will have a 24% chance, 12% during BW or TotH, and 12% during bombardment, and 0% chance during Bombardment & TotH.
  • Kill Command will have a 24% chance to proc TotH, 12% during BW.
  • Chimera Shot will have a 21% chance
  • Aimed Shot will have a 30% chance, 18% during TotH
  • Barrage will have a 36% chance, 18% during BW

Specialization Focus Mechanics

As you may know, each spec manages focus a bit differently. Some spec specific spells cost more focus than other specs', and some passives are different.  Here are the mechanics on a per spec basis.


Going into WoD, Marks has lost all of its old focus mechanics.  Steady focus became a talent that operates in a completely different manner, and Rapid Recuperation is gone.  Arcane Shot is also gone, having been replaced by Aimed Shot entirely, which led to Aimed Shot getting to benefit from TotH. For a leveling hunter, MM will seem extremely focus starved, even after level 60, and even through Pandaria content.  However, once you are in WoD territory, you will find MM is not so focus starved, assuming you get the Improved Aimed Shot perk.  This perk causes Aimed Shot critical strikes to refund 20 focus instantly.  Now, at a first glance, this perk is almost meaningless, but you have to take into account 2 other mechanics. One is Careful Aim, when your target is over 80% health the hunter's Crit chance is increased by 60% for Aimed Shot, Steady Shot, and Focusing Shot.  The other is Rapid Fire, a 2 min CD that increases ranged haste by 40% for 15 seconds, and also triggers the Careful Aim effect for its duration.  While Careful Aim is active, Aimed Shot’s critical strike chance approaches 100%, which in turn, means Aimed Shot’s net focus cost during Careful Aim is 30 focus.  Add in TotH, and Careful Aim makes Aimed Shot cost 10 focus when TotH is active but have the proc chance of a 30 focus cost shot.

MM also has the mechanic known as Bombardment. For 5 seconds following every Multi-Shot Crit, Multi-Shot costs 25 less focus and deals 60% more damage (this has a large effect on our AoE rotation, in that we need to, for the most part, keep this buff rolling in order to do much of any AoE damage).  This also can stack with TotH to make Multi-Shots free (which also means they have no chance of proc'ing TotH again).


For focus mechanics, Survival only gets one, and that doesn't actually regenerate focus like the other specs, but instead removes the focus cost sometimes. That mechanic is, of course, Lock and Load. Every Black Arrow tick has a 20% chance to proc Lock and Load, resetting the CD of Explosive Shot, and making the next two Explosive Shot casts cost no focus and trigger no CD. Historically, in Wrath, it also affected Arcane Shot (which shared a CD with Explosive Shot), and made the two Explosive Shot casts consume no AMO.  In Cata, even though Arcane Shot had no CD, it still got to consume the LNL charges (and get the focus reduction), as of MoP (or a patch late in Cata) only ES can consume LNL charges (or benefit from them).

As recently as MoP, the LnL mechanic had a 20% chance to proc on each Black Arrow tick, but LnL proc'ing had a 10 second internal cooldown, so it could never proc twice in a row.  As of Warlords of Draenor, the internal CD has been removed, and in addition, each Black Arrow cast is gauranteed to proc at least one LnL.  This means, at the very least, you will have two focus-free Explosive Shots every 24 seconds.

[Editor's Note: In early WoD Beta builds, the ability Viper Venom, which returned 3 focus per tick of Serpent Sting, was just baked into Serpent Sting.  However, as of Beta build 18522, that mechanic has been completely removed.]

Beast Mastery

Beast Mastery hunters have the most focus of all the specs, and this is due to having a plethora of Focus mechanics.

The first mechanic we’ll mention is Frenzy and Focus Fire. Frenzy: when your pet hits with its Basic Attack, it has a 40% chance to gain one stack of Frenzy, increasing attack speed by 4% for 30 seconds, stacking up to 5 times.  Focus Fire consumes all Frenzy stacks and grants 5% ranged haste per stack for 20 seconds and grants your pet 4 focus per stack consumed instantly. Higher ranged haste leads to more passive focus regeneration (for you and your pet), faster Auto Shot rates (but not pet auto attack rates), and faster cast times on Cobra Shot or Focusing Shot, which in turn, lead to more focus for the hunter.

The next mechanic, invigoration, has 2 effects in WoD. When I say invigoration, I am referring to the following.  Invigoration: when your pet hits with a basic attack, you have a 15% chance to instantly gain 20 focus. This is fairly straight forward, it is limited by how much focus your pet has, and if your pet has enough by the 3 second CD on pet basic attacks.

At level 100, BM pets have a 15% chance on basic attack cast to reset the CD of the basic attack and make the next one cost no focus. In relation, Invigoration's 15% chance on basic attack cast to give the hunter 20 focus can also add in that the BM perk can potentially increase the chance for invigoration to proc and give the hunter 20 focus (and increase the rate at which pets build frenzy stacks, RNG depending)

During the supposed “simplification” of the WoD Spellbooks, another mechanic was lumped in with Invigoration.  This used to be called “Go for the Throat” which is the name I’ll continue to use, for clarity: when you critically hit with your Auto Shot, your pet instantly gains 15 focus.  This mechanic is important: the higher your Crit rating, the more your Auto Shot Crits; and the more haste you have, the more your Auto Shot, the more chance your Auto Shot has to crit.  With Go for the Throat, we can bring up another mechanic again, Wild Hunt.  Even at WoD heroic dungeon gear levels, Go for the Throat combined with passive focus regeneration, allows BM hunter pets to benefit from the Wild Hunt effect frequently throughout the fight.  More haste, more Crit, more Wild Hunt uptime, the more often your pet’s basic attacks deal double damage and cost double focus (the former is more important, the latter, is possible thanks to Go for the Throat).  Also, Go for the Throat at end game causes your pet to be flooded with focus, regardless of whether it has enough for wild hunt or not, at end game (the final raid of WoD), your pet will be using its basic attack every 3 seconds, so you will have the best odds of getting 20 focus instantly from invigoration.

The final focus mechanic that BM has is Bestial Wrath (and The Beast Within).  During Bestial Wrath your pet gets 20% bonus damage, and you, as the hunter, gain The Beast Within buff, boosting your damage dealt by 10%.  BW and TBW last 10 seconds and have a 1 min CD. The other effect of TBW is that it reduces the focus cost of all hunter spells by 50% for BW’s duration, allowing you to cast all damage dealing abilities while the damage buff is applied, and not waste time casting Cobra Shot or Focusing Shot.  

Making Informed Decisions

In order to make an informed decision about talents, you have to consider focus costs of your spells (spec dependent), the focus costs of various talents (aMoC, Barrage and Glaive Toss), the talents that benefit from other focus mechanics (Blink Strikes benefiting from Wild hunt and Go for the Throat for example, as well as Beast Cleave benefiting from Blink Strikes buff to basic attack damage), and tier set bonuses (The 2pc Tier bonuses for BM and MM are affecting our focus mechanics significantly). You also have to consider the nature of the fight before you. Will it involve lots of AoE or Single target damage? Will it have a lot of movement or will you get to be a turret?

In single target, most of our damage dealing abilities have CDs, so we can often choose talents that yield less focus.  DB for example, will produce the least focus, but will increase the total Auto Attack damage from our pet by a factor of 50% over the course of the fight, assuming it gets used on CD.  AMoC costs 30 focus, but will have a 1 min CD, a 15 second duration, and is mostly a single target talent.

In AoE fights, on the other hand, you will end up burning a lot of focus on Multi-Shot and Barrage, should you chose that talent, so you may have more interest in TotH or Steady focus, and possibly Focusing Shot.

Another  consideration is when using TotH, you have to remember that all your focus benefits are RNG based, and that if most of your spells have a low focus cost (Multi-Shot during bombardment, most spells during BW, Arcane Shot and Multi-Shot while TotH is active), you won’t be proc’ing TotH as much.

This is a lot of information to consider in Warlords of Draenor, all pertaining to focus.  Hopefully this is enough to ensure well thought-out rotational decisions.

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