Talisman of the Master Tracker

A significant change for at least 2 of the 3 hunters specs will come after killing tier 18's final boss. The Talisman of the Master Tracker is a trinket dropping from Archimonde, which will make small to moderate changes in our rotations, depending on what difficulty Archimonde you kill.

Beast Mastery: Bestial Wrath now lasts an additional 30 sec on your pet, and it increases your pet's damage.

BM hunters won't see much in the way of rotational changes due to this trinket. With Bestial Wrath's pet damage being increased for 40 seconds of up-time, there's not even much need to plan out CDs to overlap, as almost everything will. This (along with the BM 4 piece set bonus) will continue to increase the value of Mastery and Haste, as both will work multiplicatively with this bonus (at least slightly more than Crit, MS or Versa).

I haven't seen many simulations done for BM considering trinkets yet, but it would seem this would be ideal for both Single Target and AoE (and should help particularly with sustained AoE). Though we'll have to wait and see how the trinkets are tuned before knowing if the Talisman makes it onto the BiS list.

Marksmanship: Your Shots deal increased damage per yard between you and the target.

This definitely fits with MM's image as the "turret" spec.  Of course, on training dummies this trinket feels ideal, though it will take a lot of consideration of the particular mechanics of any fight before we know whether or not the trinket is worth using.

Considering how low mastery is in our stat priority, we're not going to see a lot of chances to make this is a particularly large buff.  In the gear I was wearing to test on the PTR, I had a range of 47 yards, which would have given me about a 15% damage buff with the mythic version of this trinket. That is definitely not insignificant, but there's rarely a chance to just stand still at max distance.  Mostly because you need to do mechanics, but also because tanks rarely keep bosses perfectly still, and if the boss takes a step or two away while you're in the middle of a cast, you'll be losing out on more than 15% of your damage.

One side effect of this trinket is, because it does not increase pet damage, it's looking as though, if you get the trinket before you get your 4 set, it will pull Lone Wolf up to be our top level 100 talent, especially as the Lone Wolf +30% damage buff and trinket damage buff seem to work multiplicatively.

Another side effect of the Talisman, is it takes Barrage out of our possible talents.  As barrage continues to not work with Sniper Training's added range (you'll be able to cast it from over 40 yards, but it won't do any damage), you'll most likely want to use Power Shot, which feels pretty good with the current state of Marksmanship.

Survival: Arcane Shots and Multi-Shots have a chance to reset the cooldown of Black Arrow.

While playing Survival is not really an option at current tuning levels (it still has not received any attention since the huge Serpent Sting nerf that was announced around the time of the first PTR patch notes), I did have a lot of fun trying to get the most out of this trinket.

When playing on counsel-type fights, the Talisman has great synergy with our 2 piece set bonus. What I liked to do, was cast a single Multi-Shot (as Multi-Shot has been nerfed to the ground, there's pretty much no reason to ever spam Multi-shot in 6.2; since there will be no extra serpent sting ticks, they won't have the added benefit of the Black Decay buff, where Arcane Shot will) to apply serpent sting to all targets, then choose a target to start with, and you'll do 10-15 seconds of your rotation on that target, starting with Black Arrow.  After Black Arrow is cast, you have 15 seconds of Black Decay, which increases all of your elemental damage, so you'll want to stick to the target with black arrow on them, fire off your Explosive Shots and Arcanes Shots (hopefully a Lock and Load proc or two), until one of your Arcane Shots resets the CD on Black Arrow again, at which point you'll switch to the next target, cast Black Arrow (which again, applies Black Decay), and cast your single target abilities on there again.  You can complete this rotation on all of your targets, just making sure to: A. reapply serpent sting to all targets every 15 seconds; B. cast your single target abilities on whichever target has Black Decay; C. switch targets to re-cast Black Arrow as often as possible.  This may cause problems if you have a particular target you're trying to priorities, at which point you'll simply want to make sure you always keep Black Arrow running on that target, and do as much during the Black Decay portion as possible.

The benefits of the Talisman are much murkier in Single Target fights, or fights with short bursts of adds.  While, again, there's little chance you'd want to play that SV in these situations, if you are a die-hard SV fan, there may be some small things you can do to gain a little bit of extra DPS (assuming you don't have a different trinket you can equip instead).  The trick to optimizing DPS with single target is similar to Multi-target, in that it has to do with taking advantage of your 2 piece set bonus.  The first thing you can do (and this applies with or without the Talisman) is use up as much of your focus as possible while Black Decay is active.  You can then cast four or 5 cobra shots in the time in between black decays. The second, is there will be times where it's beneficial to re-apply Black Arrow before the previous Black Arrow is finished ticking; namely, right before your 3 Explosive Shots if LnL procs late.  This works out because the most you risk cutting off is 1 or 2 ticks, and the extra damage on your Explosive Shots should easily make up for that.

Talisman of the Master Tracker

While these may not be the most powerful trinkets, they're certainly interesting, and for both MM and SV, should provide some compelling decisions to be made during fights.  I'm fairly dissapointed that the spec the majority of players will be playing (which is currently capable of significantly more DPS than the other two), BM, gets the least interesting effect. I don't like the idea of specs have large amounts of passive damage, and this trinket just adds to that passive damage.  Hopefully that means they'll tune the other trinkets to be more worthwhile, though.  

New Hunter Resource: Huntersoloing.com

Last November at Blizzcon, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing hunter soloer by the name of Shoot, one of the more fun and friendly faces at the bar of the Hilton loby. So I'm excited to see now that he's started a new website, dedicated to hunter soloing.

You can find Shoot's site at huntersoloing.com, which includes links to his twitch stream, youtube videos and his armory.

For other amazing hunter soloing feats, remember to check out Durendil, or Vittoriya.  If you know of any other cutting-edge hunter soloers, let me know in the comments so I can get links up in the hunter resources sections here and on the WHU.

Tier 18 Beast Mastery Set Bonuses: The Year of the Fel Boar

As of yesterday evening, in Patch 6.2 PTR build 20033, Blizzard has "fixed" some of the problems the tier set bonuses were having.  I have to say fixed a bit tongue and cheek because, for BM hunters, while our 4 piece bonus was fixed in the sense that it wasn't doing anything before, but now it is;  it's also broke in the sense that it's insanely overpowered.

Even though I fully expect the nerf-bat to hit these set bonuses in a pretty big way before 6.2 goes live, I thought I'd go over some of my results from testing this evening, just for fun.

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Arcane Shot and Multi-Shot increase the duration of your Focus Fire by 3 sec.

Blizzard continues their emphasis on Focus Fire mechanics in 6.2 with this set bonus.  Remember that Focus Fire, when used with 5 stacks of Frenzy includes a 40% Attack Power buff.  With this new mechanic, as soon as you get to 5 stacks of Frenzy the first time, you're basically guaranteed to have that 40% AP buff for the rest of the fight, unless you have just terrible RNG.  Given that you'll generally spam a lot of Arcane Shots during Bestial Wrath, it's not too hard to average one Arcane every 3 secs.

It becomes even easier to maintain with a little manipulation of talents.  As a slight disclaimer, I haven't tested BM in 6.2 with all of the Talents, and haven't really run any simulations yet; so I'm not trying to say these are the best talents to choose.  The easiest option we have is to take Thrill of the Hunt with Powershot.  The primary benefit of Thrill of the Hunt is not only can you keep Focus Fire up nearly 100% of the time, but you'll rarely, if ever have to refresh it.  In the parse shown above, I had 4 minutes and 28 seconds (out of a 5 minute, 34 second fight) with 5 stacks of frenzy on my pet. Over the course of the fight, the extra 20% attack speed for four and a half minutes means an extra 53 Pet Melees.  That's a 324,816 damage increase * (compared to not having Frenzy stacks) in the gear I was wearing in the above parse.  The primary benefit of Powershot in this situation, is with its low Focus cost, and high CD, it just doesn't get in the way of casting Arcanes, extending your FF and Frenzy up-times.  

*((334-268)/(2/1.107)+268/(1.107*1.2))-(334/(2/1.107))*10,948.5 = 324,815.72

There may be a way, with good focus management, to maintain the 100% up-time on Focus Fire, and still good up-time on Frenzy, while taking Steady Focus or Dire Beast.  However, it looks like it's going to be a bit less reliable, so if you have some bad RNG, you might lose a significant amount of Focus Fire, or simply have to refresh it too often, losing out on the Frenzy attack speed buff for your pet.  If, however, you were able to keep up both Steady Focus and FF, you'll certainly end up ahead, as you'll be seeing a lot more Wild Hunt procs from your pet, which will of course be even more beneficial with the extra AP from FF.  Dire Beast tends to be in the same position, where if you can use it, and keep Focus Fire up, you'll see even more damage out of your Dire Beast.  I don't yet have enough data to really guess at whether it will be worth the more difficult rotation for Steady Focus or Dire Beast, but I'd be surprised if some of the more skilled hunters don't find a way to get a lot of DPS out of those talents.  

As for the GT/PS/Barrage talent tier, Barrage is still a good choice for BM hunters, but it does take away a lot of focus and casting time from Arcane Shots.  It may end up having a similar rotational impact as SF/DB, in that if you can manage your focus well enough to keep up Steady Focus 100% of the time, while using Barrage, you'll be DPS ahead. But if you have some bad RNG, or use Barrage at the wrong time, and then can't refresh Steady Focus, you'll end up losing out on a lot of DPS.  

Another thing worth mentioning, is due to how most BM hunters manage Focus Fire during their opener (using it as soon as possible, if Stampede is up), we'll need to have a cancel aura macro. All you need is:
/cancelaura Focus Fire

Unfortunately, because of the refresh rate on auras, you won't be able to macro it to Focus Fire, as adding /cast Focus Fire underneath won't allow enough time for the server to recognize that the previous Focus Fire was canceled before checking to see if it can cast the new Focus Fire.  If you use it seperately, though, you can use your cancelaura macro during your previous ability's GCD, then cast your new Focus Fire during the new GCD, which will keep you from losing any time.

**Edit** Some of these mechanics have been changed since I wrote this article, as is the nature of the PTR.  If you're looking at this article from a future date (was published on the 20th of May, 2015) please look for updated information regarding the Fel Boar's mechanics.

If you look at the top Damage line in the image above,  that's the damage from my new Fel Boar. To be sure we're understanding each other, that's 17k dps over the course of a fight where I did about 60k dps total: almost 30% of my total damage. When I first opened my logs, well, it was unexpected to say the least.  

As I mentioned above, I'm expecting this will be nerfed before it goes live, but as of now, this makes keeping up the Fel Boar our number one priority.  Fortunately, keeping up the Fel Boar is the same thing as keeping up Focus Fire. Which means all that work we're going to do when we get our 2 piece set bonus, it's going to pay off double by the time we get our 4 piece.  The vast majority of BM hunters are already doing this on the pull, but now there will be no time when it isn't worth it to cast focus fire, if you have even 1 stack of frenzy.

After delving even deeper into the logs,  it turns out that your Fel Boar will do the exact same damage regardless of how many stacks of Frenzy you consume when casting Focus Fire. That is to say, it does not benefit from the Focus Fire AP buff.  It does, however, benefit from any other increases to your Agility or secondary stats.  

Fortunately, you'll only have to make that decision on the pull, as you should almost always have both Focus Fire up and 5 stacks of Frenzy.  On the pull, we'll continue to use Focus Fire as soon as possible, to consume that first stack of Frenzy, and get our Fel Boar out as quickly as we can.  Of course, as soon as you get to 5 Frenzy stacks again, you'll want to cancel the weaker Focus Fire and reapply to get the full benefit.  

Other than doing an obscene amount of damage, there's not much to say about the Fel Boar.  I like the idea of having more large pets on the boss, just to mess with Melee.  Other than that, I didn't really see it much, other than when it spawned (it spawns at your side, then charges toward the boss).  

The State of Beast Mastery in 6.2

Without some major nerfs, BM is currently head and shoulders above the other two hunter specs, in both Single Target and AoE.  Even if the 4 piece Fel Boar is nerfed a bit, BM will most likely stay the top single target spec, as it's a lot easier to perfect the rotation than MM, and comes with no movement penalties.  

If you haven't jumped ship from SV/MM yet in 6.1, if you want to raid in 6.2, you'll almost certainly be needing to head to BM (with, of course, the usual disclaimer about this is PTR and anything can change).  

Tier 18 Marksmanship Set Bonuses

Hunter tier 18 gear

Since the PTR seems to be down for the afternoon and I can't do any more testing, I figure it's time to start compiling data. Fortunately, while looking through some MM logs of mine, I started to notice a few interesting trends, and thought I'd add them in with some of my opinions on the tier 18 set bonuses.

2 Piece Set Bonus (Marksmanship): When you critically hit with Chimera Shot, you have a 40% chance to gain Rapid Fire for 4 sec.

This one caught me off guard a bit.  At first glance, it seems like a really cool ability.   I really like the idea of it, because it requires some planning and skill to take advantage of. I was imagining that so long as you were at fairly high focus before each Chim Shot, if you happened to proc one of these 4 second Rapid Fires, then you could just pound out a few Aimed Shots to take advantage of a little burst of Careful Aim.  If, on the other hand, you weren't conservative enough with your focus, you'd spend your extra Rapid Fire/Careful Aim time just casting Cobra Shots or Focusing Shots. That's something I really like to see in a set bonus: a skill requirement to really get the most damage out of it.

However, while all of the above remains true, the ability happens so seldom that it's not going to make enough of an impact on your DPS to really even bother thinking about it.  Were I to have thought about the wording a bit more carefully, it might have noticed this before testing, but as it was I was appalled to see how few proc'ed when I was going over my logs, and didn't until then think about the consequence of the the two independent events.

To clarify, you have a 40% chance to proc Rapid Fire for 4 seconds, but only every time your Chim Shot crits.  If you are at the crit soft cap, 53% (which is not possible to reach in current gear, but may be possible as we get mythic tier 18 gear), that means you only have a 20% chance of proc'ing the 2p each time you cast a Chim Shot.  Furthermore, as Chim Shot has a 9 second CD, that means even if you play your rotation perfect, hitting Chim Shot exactly every 9 seconds, you'll only see, on average, a little over five seconds of Rapid Fire per minute (not including your normal Rapid Fire).

To convert that to DPS terms, that will average out to 3 extra Aimed Shots (without the 4 piece set bonus) with guaranteed crits.  Since half of those Aimed Shots would have crit anyway, we're talking about an extra 45-60k damage per minute, That's 750-1000  dps, or about a percent and a half of extra damage (assuming you manage your focus and perform your rotation perfectly).

For those under the crit soft cap, the 2 piece bonus will become even less valuable.  At 37.5% crit or less, you start averaging less than one proc per minute, and of course, your Rapid Fire / Careful Aim may suffer as well, as you won't have guaranteed Aimed Shot crits.

However, the lackluster 2 piece set bonus leads way to an incredibly fun 4 piece set bonus:

4 Piece Set Bonus (Marksmanship): The cast time of your Aimed Shot is reduced by 100% (Aimed Shot becomes instant).

I can't get over how much I love this set bonus. The trouble with Marksmanship's rotation since 6.0 has been that it feels like you're playing a caster class.  Lots of sitting around, waiting for casts to finish.  Well, not anymore.  Even though in my head, I realize that this bonus basically just gives MM a really powerful Arcane Shot, having played with the long casts of Aimed Shots for a while now, it feels really fun to fire off instant Aimed Shots. 

It's still fairly unclear whether Lone Wolf or Focusing Shot will be the preferable talent with this ability, though I found playing with Focusing Shot much easier (and therefor did better dps).  Thrill of the Hunt, however, is clearly going to be king. 

Though some of this may change before patch 6.2 goes live, as it is now, while Thrill is proc'ed and you're during Rapid Fire, Aimed Shot becomes even way more efficient of an ability than Chim Shot
surpassing Chim Shot in our Priority (at least in single target fights).  During Rapid Fire without Thrill, or vice versa, things stay a bit more calm, but Aimed Shot still remains a very efficient ability. 

An added benefit to this bonus is it nearly doubles the value of the 2 piece set bonus.  Where as before we could only squeeze 3 Aimed Shots into the extra Rapid Fire time, we'll now be able to get at least 5 Aimed Shots during that time.

Marksmanship in 6.2

I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of theorycrafting with this set bonus in the coming months, and perhaps we'll even see some changes to it, as blizzard refines and tunes things, but for now, MM is looking like it will be the clear choice for single any single target fights, or fights where our priority target is more important than cleaving.  

The best part, for me at least, is not only does MM look like it's going to do some fairly solid numbers, but also I was having fun playing it.  Perhaps some of that will wear off as the joy of all instant Aimed Shots fades, but for now, this is easily my favorite set bonus of the tier, and I'm really looking forward to playing some Marks in 6.2.  

Tranq Shot Changes

The latest ptr patch notes for 6.2 included a change to Tranq Shot, which was somewhat expected, given the huge change they recently made to it in the live game.

Tranquilizing Shot has switched functionality with Glyph of Tranquilizing Shot. Tranquilizing Shot no longer costs Focus but has a 10-second cooldown.

Glyph of Tranquilizing Shot has switched functionality with Tranquilizing Shot. Glyph of Tranquilizing Shot causes Tranquilizing Shot to cost 40 Focus instead of a 10-second cooldown.

For those unfamiliar, just a few weeks ago, Tranq Shot was changed in the live game to cost a fairly ridiculous 50 focus.  This change came in response to complaints about Beast Mastery PvP.  I had a chance to talk about it with multi-gladiator, Dillypoo just the other day.  This was his explanation (before the 6.2 change was announced):

Basically for BM hunters tranq shot was problematic due to the fact that outside of your burst with BM Crows and Barrage (with 5 stacks focus fire) you don't really have much to do in terms of keeping up pressure.  Since your sustained [damage] is in your pet mostly, spamming tranq shots is more efficient than your entire rotation. Outside of that with bestial wrath up it lowered the cost of tranq by half, so 10 focus tranqs were extremely powerful. Fighting a resto druid healer BM hunters could just crows and BW and spam tranq and the druid could not heal through the damage in any way whatsoever, due to their hots being removed so rapidly.  
However this was a BM specific issue, as the other specs still needed to keep up their rotations in pvp: Marksman needed to focus Aimed Shot spam to keep Rapid Fire's cd short for their 4piece, and Survival has an extremely focus demanding rotation, so tranq spam only happened as BM. The only other class that really has a better time spamming purge in PvP is enhance shamans (whose purge didn't get changed) due to the fact that they don't really do damage either, and are mainly just utility bots with off-healing, shears, and groundings, as well as being very tanky, leaving their purge spams as their form of effective damage. Since almost every healer gets effected by magic buff removal (monks enveloping, priest shields, druid hots, Hpal Bops/sac as well as pally freedom), they just end up being annoying by spamming that one button with no cost. 
I saw a lot of hunter rejoicing when they saw the original 6.2 patchnotes, as they included some PvP only changes, in the form of Barrage only doing 80% its normal damage against players, and a Murder of Crows also only doing 80% it's normal damage against players.  Many thought we had finally seen the day come when PvE would no longer be nerfed because they couldn't balance PvP. It seems now, we were all a bit too quick to proclaim victory, as this is not just a PvP change affecting PvE, but an ability which was only powerful for a single spec being nerfed for all of the specs, in both PvP and PvE.

Reasonable Nerfs

I have no intention of writing about this without saying that BM hunters don't need nerfs.  I think in both PvE and PvP they're tuned a little bit too high.  In PvE, it's simply a damage out-put issue.  In PvP, it all seems to stem from Adaptation making pet damage a much, much higher percentage of our overall damage.  Unfortunately, the newest iteration of Tranq Shot does little to address either of these issues.

The biggest obstacle in balancing this ability (when thinking about the ability in a vacuum, so to speak), is that during BM's largest cooldown, focus costs are cut in half.  So a reasonable person might think that would be the place to start changing the ability. From the conversation I had with Dilly:
Realistically their change was gone about the wrong way for hunters. It would have been more realistic to make tranq shot no longer effected by BW's focus reduction, and made tranq cost maybe 25-30 focus for BM only. But the way they went about the change really only hurt the other specs more than BM.
 The new change has the same effect, in that if you put on the glyph, and use it during Bestial Wrath, you'll be able to shoot off 5 or 6 Tranq Shots with no problem.  Still, that wouldn't even be a useful tactic if the vast majority of BM's damage weren't coming passively from pets.  If Arcane Shot were worth using, we'd see hunters using it instead of tranq shot.

I'm going to reiterate that in bold, for dramatic effect:

This problem cannot be solved by changes to Tranq Shot. It will only be solved by removing passive damage and adding enough active damage that we'd rather use that than Tranq Shot in most situations.

Since it doesn't seem like we're going to see the root issue resolved any time soon, I thought I might offer up some alternative ideas for Tranq Shot:
  1. The simplest solution was offered by Dilly above: "Tranquilizing Shot is no longer effected by Bestial Wrath's focus reduction".  In PvE, you'll almost never see a BM hunter using Tranq Shot during BW anyway, so I can't imagine any complaints there, and in PvP, it will provide the nerf they were looking for.
  2. As I mentioned above, PvE hunters were ecstatic to learn that there would be separate PvP and PvE spell information, to tune the two types of gameplay on their own.  Since we already know the technology exists, why not use it here?  "When Tranquilizing Shot is used against player characters, it triggers a 10 second cool down."  This has the pleasant effect of not nerfing hunters in challenge modes, or on the occasion that we can help our raid by using Tranq Shot.  
  3. "Tranquilizing Shot no longer removes Heal over Time effects".  If the RP function of a Tranq Shot is to calm down your target, then it could only work against empowering type magic effects with no problem, which seems to be more in line with the original intent of the ability.  
Anyhow, there are plenty of options, which I'm sure anyone reading this could think of.  Truth be told, I'm not outraged by tonight's announced change.  That is, I'm more annoyed that they're addressing the wrong problem, than with the solution they came up with.