Thrill of the Spreadsheet: Survival AoE and Cleave

After noticing a bit of confusion on when to spam multi-shot and when to use other abilities, I wanted to take a moment to look a bit more in detail at Survival's shot priority in various AoE and Cleave Situations.

The Scope of the Project

For the following examples, I'm using some logs I found of a Heroic geared raider, with no mythic, but two "normal" gear pieces.  This should not represent any sort of best-in-slot gear set, but instead a solid, attainable set that the average raiding hunter might have at this point in the tier.

With that in mind, our goal then is to come up with an easily demonstrable metric for measuring ability damage in various AoE or Cleave situations.  My first thought was to use Damage per Cast Time per Focus per Target.  However, that is not only a mouthful, but it also runs us into problems with an ability like Barrage (and is the only ability I'm looking at with a cast time over the GCD), which does not scale linearly with additional targets, and with abilities like Explosive Trap, which doesn't cost any focus.  For this reason, we may need to look separately at different target sizes to determine ideal shot priorities.

The Data:


AbilityTick/HitCritAvg./castFocus Cast TimeDam/CTDam/Focus
Serpent Sting5028.810173.77604.4
Multishot (st)2079.54074.22981.44012981.474.53
MS+SS (st)7108.314247.910585.840110585.8264.64
MS+SS (2t)14216.628495.821171.640121171.6529.29
MS+SS (3t)21324.942743.731757.440131757.4793.935
MS+SS (4t)28433.256991.642343.240142343.21058.58
MS+SS (5t)35541.571239.552929.040152929.01323.22
MS+SS (6t)42649.885487.463514.840163514.81587.87
MS+SS (7t)49758.199735.374100.640174100.61852.51
MS+SS (8t)56866.4113983.284686.440184686.42117.16
MS+SS (14t)99516.2199470.6148201.2401148201.23705.03

Explosive Trap

AbilityTick/HitCritAvg./castFocus Cast TimeDam/CTDam/Focus
Explsoive Trap (st)867.01755.815753.00115753.0n/a
Explsoive Trap (2t)17343511.6315060131506.0n/a
Explsoive Trap (3t)26015267.4472590147259.0n/a
Explsoive Trap (4t)34687023.2630120163012.0n/a


AbilityTick/HitCritAvg./castFocus Cast TimeDam/CTDam/Foc
Barrage (st)2687.55610.147971.4602.8316951.0799.5
Barrage (2t)4031.38415.271957.1602.8325426.61199.3
Barrage (3t)5375.011220.295942.9602.8333902.11599.0
Barrage (4t)6718.814025.3119928.6602.8342377.61998.8
Barrage (5t)8062.516830.3143914.3602.8350853.12398.6
Barrage (6t)9406.319635.4167900.0602.8359328.62798.3
Barrage (7t)10750.022440.4191885.7602.8367804.13198.1
Barrage (8t)12093.825245.5215871.4602.8376279.73597.9

Arcane Shot

AbilityTick/HitCritAvg./castFocus Cast TimeDam/CTDam/Focus
Arcane Shot9481.819146.115306.230115306.2510.2
Arcane+SS tick14510.629319.822910.630122910.6763.7
Arcane+SS Full34625.870014.653328.230153328.21777.6

Other Single Target Abilities

AbilityTick/HitCritAvg./castFocus Cast TimeDam/CTDam/Focus
Black Arrow5246.510692.770666.735170666.72019.0
Explosive Shot3812.67806.122736.715122736.71515.8
A Murder of Crows4599.69469.8109200.0301109200.03640.0


Multi-Shot Vs. Single Target Abilities

Multi-Shot vs A Murder of Crows The first thing that pops out at me, looking through my spreadsheets, is that I'm still continuously amazed at how awesome a Murder of Crows is.  Not until 14 targets (which, by the way, is why I included that weird line) does Multi-Shot become more efficient than Crows.  That you can take advantage of aMoC's CD reset ability in most multi-target raid situations, it remains an incredibly important ability, regardless of how many targets you have.

Multi-Shot vs. Arcane Shot: For most hunters, the first point you'll be using Multi-shot is replacing Arcane Shot.   Obviously, in single target Arcane is well ahead of MS in damage dealt.  This also holds true for 2 targets: arcane is still powerful enough that on a fight like Twin Ogrons from Highmaul, you'll be better off using two Arcane Shots (one on each Ogron) to keep your Serpent Sting DoT up, instead of applying with SS with Multi-Shot.  There may be some situations where you won't have time to use 2 GCDs on Arcane Shots, in which case, keeping up SS with Multi-Shot is still better than using 2 Arcanes, but delaying Black Arrow or Explosive Shot.

Once we get to 3 targets or more, Multi-shot starts to pull way ahead of Arcane, so we'll always use MS over AS when we can be sure it will hit 3 or more targets.   It's important (well, sort of) to remember that both Arcane and Multi-shot multistrikes are currently re-applying the Serpent Sting DoT.  So right now, there's no reason to take that into consideration as possibly changing the relative values between the two.

Multi-Shot vs. Explosive Shot: With the relatively low cost of Explosive Shots, and the relatively high damage, we won't start replacing Explosive Shot with Multi-Shots until we get up to 6 or more targets (even at 6 targets, it's basically a draw, whether to use one or the other).  This can be counter-intuitive to some hunters, because at 3 or more targets, Multi-shot does more damage than a single cast of Explosive Shot.  However, at only 15 focus, using Explosive Shots will result in more net DPS, because you won't have to spend as much time casting Focusing Shot or Cobra Shots (if you don't have a Thrill of the Hunt proc, you'll have to cast at least one focus regen shot after every 2 Multi-Shots).

There's also the matter of our free Explosive Shots during Lock and Load procs, which leads us to our next ability: "vs. Black Arrow".

Multi-Shot vs. Black Arrow: Even in Multitarget situations, Black Arrow continues to be a crucial part of Survival Hunter DPS.  If we, for a moment, set aside the effect of Lock and Load, Black Arrow on it's own comes in with a fairly high 2019 Damage per Focus.  This keeps Black Arrow as a higher priority ability than Multi-Shot all the way up until 8 targets or more.

When you add in the extra value of a guaranteed 2 free Explosive Shots from each BA, we have an even higher priority ability, which we'll want to keep up as much as possible in all raid situations.  It's worth mentioning, I suppose, that it's also a DPS gain to continue using your Lock and Load procs as soon as possible, in all actual raid encounters we have.   While there is a theoretical point where Multi-Shot would be doing enough additional damage that it might overtake the free ES in value, it won't happen in any raids we have this tier.

Multi-Shot vs. AoE Abilities:

SV Hunters essentially have 3 AoE abilities: Multi-Shot, Barrage (or to a lesser extent, Glaives) and Explosive Trap.  This is actually much simpler than determining comparisons with single target abilities, because for any number of targets, both Barrage and Explosive Trap will do more damage, and have a more efficient Damage/CT/Focus than Multi-Shot.  Because both Barrage and ET have cooldowns, this makes an easy decision for Shot Priorities.

Multi-Shot vs. Explosive Trap: Until this point, we've been primarily comparing abilities to the damage done by Multi-Shot with one, instant tick of Serpent Sting.  This might seem a little odd, but hear me out. If we compare the total damage done by Multi-Shot with the total damage done by Explosive Trap, then Multi-Shot will always come out ahead; however, I because Multi-Shot is spammable, while Explosive Trap has a cooldown, it's going to be more important to only compare the full damage of Explosive Trap with the instant damage of Multi-Shot.  Perhaps there would be some cases where Serpent Sting will get off a second tick (three seconds later) before you cast another Multi-Shot, but it's very unlikely that it will tick for the full 15 second duration.

With that in mind, Multi-Shot moves up our AoE priority list.  As we already discussed here on the Thrill of the Wild a couple weeks back, we should be using Explosive Trap on CD, even in single target situations, so keeping it going in multi-target situations is pretty obvious.  Given that it has no focus cost, it's a very welcome part of the rotation.

Because Explosive Trap has a 12 second CD, which will be increased to 20 seconds come 6.1, it's worth thinking about some alternatives to using it on CD.  Against a raid boss, you'll rarely have situations where you have lots of targets, all the time.  Instead, you'll most often have "add phases", or just specific adds coming into the fight sporadically.  When using Explosive Trap then, if there will be more adds coming into the fight within the CD of Explosive Trap, it will be worth saving it to use on extra adds. On a fight like Twin Ogrons, you'll have to decide between using Explosive Trap on CD, or if you can time it to always hit both of the Ogrons.  If your raid is good at keeping them stacked, you may be able to use explosive trap on both, on CD, but without good tanks, or even during the part of the fight where one has to be pulled away, you'll still have higher DPS even if you only use explosive trap half as often (every 18 seconds), but get its dot on both Ogron.

Multi-Shot vs Barrage: I'd like to start off here with our conclusion, then get to the why later. Barrage is always going to do more damage than using the same cast time (2.89 seconds for the gear set used in the above examples) for Multi-Shots.  The only time when Multi-Shot (or anything) will be of higher priority, is when Thrill of the Hunt is proc'ed, but is about to run out of time.

This next part has nothing to do with huntering, really, but I wanted to include it because I think math is fun.  Feel free to scroll down to the next italics note to skip this part:
The interesting comparison between Barrage and Multi-Shot can be displayed in the following formula.  For N number of targets, where x is the single target damage done by Multi-Shot, and y is the single target damage done by Barrage:

N*x will be the total damage done by Multi-Shot, and 
y+(N-1)*(y/2) will be the total damage done by Barrage.

Our goal then, is to determine if there is ever a positive integer N, where:

N*x  > y+(N-1)*(y/2)

There are several ways to think about this, but it seems to make the most sense if we just look at it intuitively. For each integer N increases, the left side increases by one x (that is to say, for N=1, we have x, for N=2, we have 2x, or x+x, for N=3, we have x+x+x, etc).  For the right side of the equation, as N increases, we gain an additional half y (again, for N=1 we have just y, for N=2, we have y+y/2, for N=3 we get y+y/2+y/2, etc).  So, for "N*x" to ever be greater than "y+(N-1)*(y/2)", x must be greater than y/2, otherwise it will never "catch up" as N increases.  

And now let's get back to Barrage and Huntering stuff:
What this means is so long as the single target D/CT/F of Barrage is more than twice the single target damage of Multi-Shot, then Multi-Shot will never, regardless of the number of targets, provide more DPS than Barrage.

Survival AoE Priorities

The point of all this, of course, is to come up with a Priority system that we can change on the fly depending on the number of adds in any fight.  What I'd like to do here is start with both extremes, and then lay out where the changes happen.  

Single Target Priority:14+ Target priority:
Arcane to apply SSMulti-Shot to apply SS
Black ArrowBarrage
Explosive ShotExplosive Trap
A Murder of CrowsMulti-Shot
Explosive Trap
Arcane Shot
Glaive Toss
Focusing Shot

In between those two, we have several more subtle changes.  This should all be mentioned above, but just to clarify: at two targets, we're still using Arcane Shot to apply Serpent Sting on both targets.  At 3 targets, Barrage overtakes Explosive Shot (when LnL isn't proc'ed) in our priority, but ES remains more important than Multi-Shot.  At 4 targets, Barrage and Explosive Trap overtake Black Arrow. At 6 targets, Multi-Shot overtakes Explosive Shot (non-LnL), so we drop it from our rotation. And finally, at 9 targets, Multi-Shot overtakes Black Arrow.  

2 Targets3 Targets4-5 Targets6-8 Targets9-13 Targets
Arcane to apply SSMulti-Shot for SSMulti-Shot for SSMulti-Shot for SSMulti-Shot for SS
Black ArrowBlack ArrowBarrageBarrageBarrage
Explosive ShotExp. Shot (LnL)Explosive TrapExplosive TrapExplosive Trap
A Murder of CrowsA Murder of CrowsBlack ArrowBlack ArrowA Murder of Crows
BarrageBarrageExp. Shot (LnL)Exp. Shot (LnL)Multi-Shot
Explosive Trap Explosive ShotA Murder of CrowsA Murder of CrowsFocusing Shot
Arcane ShotExplosive Trap Explosive ShotMulti-Shot
Focusing ShotMulti-ShotMulti-ShotFocusing Shot
Focusing ShotFocusing Shot

That is, of course, a lot of fairly subtle priorities to remember.  The most important part, is that when you have around 4 targets, Barrage and Explosive trap go way up in value.  Other than that, all you've got to really think about is when Multi-Shot overcomes specific abilities, which can, perhaps, be more elegantly shown here:

Replace with Multi-shot # of Targets
A Murder of Crows14 or more
Black Arrow9 or more
Explosive Shot6 or more
Arcane Shot3 or more

Other Considerations

There are, of course, exceptions to everything.  You may be in a situation where you have a lot of adds that die quickly, in that case, you of course wouldn't be casting A Murder of Crows, and you may not even have time to bother putting up SS DoTs on them all with Multi-Shot, but instead hit Barrage, then go back to your normal rotation.  A good example of this was in Siege of Orgrimmar, against the Sha, when he would spawn lots of little adds.  You didn't even need to switch your targets, often, but just use barrage, and they'd all be dead in just a few seconds.

These little variations in the number of adds are what really makes SV AoE interesting.  In real fights, you'll rarely be able to simply look at a chart and do what it says.  It's the transition between single target and multi-target, that is really the art of huntering.  If you really want to maximize your DPS, it means knowing when different adds will be entering the fight, and whether or not you have time to use an ability before they come out, or if you need to save it for a more opportune moment. Though hopefully there is enough information above to make those decisions a bit easier.

For those using the Thrill of the Hunt talent, I have a new post up now which will go over the changes to our AoE rotation when TotH is proc'ed, which can be found here.


  1. Awesome post, love the math. First time you quote the formula for barrage must be a typo. It says y+N*(y-1) but should be y+(N-1)*(y/2) which is what you use in the rest of the math section.

    1. Good catch, thanks! I'm pretty excited someone read that portion!

  2. So how long do you think it'll be good for? 6.1 looks to be changing pretty much all of this =/

    1. I'll try to get it updated when 6.1 drops. I've already got the updates put into my spreadsheets, but I can't get onto the ptr to test it (not sure what's going on there). Seems like a lot of those changes are still fairly tentative, though.

      On that note, we'll be updating all the guides over at the Warcraft Hunters Union also, those should all be ready before 6.1, some on this site may bit a bit slower...

  3. First of all congratulations for the guide, I love it. But I have a question.
    Does the proc Thrill of the Hunt does not affect AoE priorities and cleave?
    I think if the lower the focus cost of multishot thanks to the talent, the effectiveness of the skill increases. But I do not know enough to adjust priorities.

    Sorry for my English, but I am using the google translator. It took a long time to understand the article, but worth every minute spent.

    1. Gracias. Disculpen, mi español es limitado.

      "Thrill of the Hunt" afecta ciertamente la prioridad de "Multi-Shot". Y más aún, las "Scales of Doom" proc va a afectar a la prioridad. Estoy trabajando en una parte 2 de este para incluir esos procs, y un par de otras cosas.

      ¿Cómo se dice "Procs" o "buffs" en español?

    2. En español usamos muchos términos en inglés, como "proc", "buff", "nerf", "op", "congratz", "gz", incluso "stats", "haste", crit",... No tienen una traducción porque se utilizan así.

      ¡Tu español es mucho mejor que mi inglés! ¿O también has usado el traductor?

      I am eager to read part two. Again congratz for your work, and I hope continue this for a long time.

    3. Yo uso un traductor: mi guildmate, que es de México City. Si hay algo es correcto, es porque él me dijo. :-P

    4. Hey, I doubt anyone is looking at these now, but just in case you get notifications for these comments, I'm going to start having all of my articles translated into spanish. They'll be found at -- Emoción de lo Salvaje: Un blog de estrategias teóricas para cazadores en World of Warcraft.


      We're still working on getting the site/subdomain up and running, and don't have any articles translated yet, but they should be coming soon.

  4. This site is an oasis for hunters. Thans for your time and effort Del irium!