The "Right" Build vs Playing Better

Over on Blizzard Watch, a friend of the Hunting Party Podcast and founder of AskMrRobot, Vee "Zoopercat", wrote about an interesting phenomenon she's been observing. This has been happening forever, as far as I can tell. If you don't want to click the link and read it all yourself, she made a little poll that went like this:

not hunter talents, who cares
Hunter talents?  wait, these are for support classes
As you can see, people's responses where drastically different if she said "according to sims, X talent does slightly better or slightly worse depending on the situations, than when she said "Top guides all pick Y talent" or "top players all use Y talent".

Of course, this isn't a super thorough experiment, but informally, it gives a pretty great insight into the mindset of WoW players.  I'm actually a bit surprised that even at the worst, only 51% of people said it isn't acceptable to keep using the talent.

Anyhow, the point of the article, I think, was to say we shouldn't discourage customization. Instead of talking about that, however, I want to talk about something that continually bugs me on hunter forums all over the internet.

The Best Pet for the DPS

I like to keep an eye on the battle.net hunter forums fairly often, and I occasionally browse the hunter forums at Elitist Jerks and MMO-Champion, I don't post very often, but occasionally I'll see a hunter who has posted his logs, and is looking for help, and I'll jump in with whatever I can discern from the logs.

Something that continues to happen is most people will respond with "you should be using [this talent]", or worse "You should be using [trinket/weapon/whatever]".  In the case of the latter, perhaps it has happened at some point in time where someone had tons of extra gear they'd just been passing on because they didn't know which to wear. However, in the vast majority of cases, if someone is wearing a bad trinket, it's because it's the only one they have.

In the former case, "You should be using talent X": I have not once, in years and years of hanging out on those forums, seen someone who was otherwise playing perfectly, and just needed to change a talent to do as well as everyone else. Yes, using the optimal talents is going to give you the highest potential for dps, but if doing more dps is your goal, 99% of the time, it just comes down to playing better: increasing your your APM; managing focus better so you can use more signature abilities; switching targets efficiently; minimizing down-time; stacking CDs; etc...

The Case for Changing Talents

There are times when I think people should change talents. The thing is, some talents are just easier than others.  Let's take the last Hunter Talent tier as an example.  We've got Exotic Munitions, which is almost completely passive; Focusing Shot, which is completely active and includes a movement restriction; and Lone Wolf, which is technically passive, but has a hidden active component, in that you lose your pet damage, which had been passive damage (I wrote about the skill cap of Lone Wolf here, back in the WoD beta), and your damage is now 91.7% based on performing  your rotation correctly (the other 8.3% comes from autoshots).

If we take a typical, heroic geared MM hunter with an average upgraded Legendary Ring (things get too extreme once we get into fully upgraded mythic gear with a fully upgraded ring), and run some sims on a patchwerk style fight,  between the 3 talents, I get results like this:

Exotic Munitions w/ Powershot 78,572 DPS
Focusing Shot w/ Barrage 88,850 DPS
Lone Wolf w/ Powershot 87,236 DPS

You may look at that, see Focusing Shot doing the most dps, and choose that. Focusing Shot, for a patchwerk style fight tends to be easier than Lone Wolf/Exotic Munitions for most players, because you don't have to plan ahead your focus management as much. This, in turn, allows you to fairly easily keep Chim Shot on CD, and does not punish you as much if you spam too many Aimed Shots and run out of focus (as it only takes you about 2.5 seconds to nearly refill your focus bar).  However, as movement components are added in to fights, Focusing Shot becomes more and more difficult to use well, as if you're out of focus but can't stand still for a few seconds, your dps goes down to basically 0, until you can stop and build focus again.

In HFC, often that means Lone Wolf is significantly better, as, for most hunters, managing focus is easier than managing movement (which sometimes isn't even possible, if your raid leader assigns you a lot of special hunter tasks).

An Extreme Example of Talent Choices

There's one talent I listed above that is sim'ing about 12% worse than the other two talents: Exotic Munitions. EM has been the lowest dps option for that tier all expansion, being relegated to PvP only or hunter jokes. However, there are occasions when it might be the better choice for a hunter. For the sake of this argument, I'll just compare it to Lone Wolf, as that is by far the most recommended talent from this tier.  

Let's say we have a hunter who is only performing their rotation 50% optimally (if you've been in LFR farming Valor over the last few weeks, you've likely seen there are a lot of players out there who are only doing about 50% of what their dps might sim at).  What I mean by 50% optimally is they're casting Chim Shot about half as often as they should be, they have a lot of down time between abilities, they're capping focus at various points, Sniper training has a 40-50% up-time, etc.  

If they're in the gear I used for the simulations above, with Lone Wolf, they'll still get all the damage from Auto-shot, about 7241 dps, but only 50% of the rest of their dps, 39,998 dps,  giving them a total of 47,239 dps.  

If, on the other hand, they take Exotic Munitions, all they have to do to get the benefit from that is keep their autoshot going, and keep their pet on assist, so they'll passively have 16,702 dps, plus half of the rest of their simmed dps (30,935 dps), giving them a total of 47,637 dps, slightly higher than the Lone Wolf choice.  

Putting it in Perspective

So for this imaginary player that's playing 50% optimally, if they didn't want to improve their rotation or focus management at all,  they would do slightly better by choosing a sub-optimal but passive Talent. That's why I don't ever think it's a good idea, when someone comes to you asking for help, to tell them to use talent X, or talent Y.  That may be the best talent for the best players, but if you don't know how good/efficient the player asking for help is, you have no way of knowing which talent they should switch to for more dps. (I should note here, that EM is perhaps the most extreme example hunters have.  No other talent sims 12% below the other talents in its tier.)  

If instead, you gave them help with improving their rotation, their focus management, their movement management, etc., they'll have a much, much greater chance of improving, and likely start seeing higher dps almost immediately.


  1. Excellent post.

    May I add my DPS (I'll try to be short) 2 cents, but no so much about talents but just "in general".

    I recently answered a mail asking about DPS and how what I stated I was doing was so much higher than their numbers in similar item level. They thought they were doing something wrong even though it seemed like they were not.

    I told them something along these lines. Suggesting absolutely no rotation advice and no talent choice advice.

    Sometimes DPS can be deceiving. Even damage done which is a better guide can be deceiving.

    1) Item level tells gear level, it does not take into account trinkets and tier sets and weapon item level all of which can be huge, beyond huge this expansion. So consider, do you have the 4 piece set, are you using good trinkets, that could be the difference.

    2) Randomized gear can also throw a monkey wrench into comparing numbers like that. I have 4 gem slot with 4 75 critical strike gems in a spec that stat is a huge factor in, which increases my DPS but does not increase my item level. How many do you have?

    3) Next you need to really look at fight lengths. I gave an example from three recent fights I did, all the same boss, all with very different results. I was the same player in the same gear, but my numbers were extremely different in the three kills. One was very very short because the group had exceptional DPS and I finished with extremely over powering numbers. One was with an average group and I had my normal average numbers. And the last was with a very sub par group and I did, in a word, dreadful. I told them, look at fight length. If I say I did 81K on a fight and you said you are only doing 50K, maybe I was killing it in 2 minutes and your fight dragged on for 6 minutes, which can easily drop your DPS because you spend less time in the burst phase.

    4) Group make up can play a part. Do you have no melee and are concentrating on interrupts? Do you have no ranged and seem to be the target of every single ability under the sun that the boss does? All these can have an impact on your DPS.

    5) Special assignments. I normally rank in the 95-99% of my gear level which is decent but if you look at me on the first fight of HFC you will see I am rarely over 70%. The reason for that is I let everyone else hog all the AoE and pad the numbers and I work strictly single target saving my focus to quick burns and cooldowns for when a single target needs to go down fast. My numbers might seem lower, percentage wise, but I am playing a vital part to the group effort. Just as the person that is thinning the pack for me with AoE so I can kill shot everything under the sun.

    6) Raid difficulty. Difficulty level can very well play a huge part. If my "heroic" group goes into a "normal" my numbers seem absolutely crazy. But with that same group doing heroic I never touch those numbers. I did not suddenly get bad or worse, the fight just has more mechanics, maybe more down time, or as mentioned above, take considerably longer to end.

    I could go on, but do not read "just" numbers into the DPS someone ever says, a lot more plays into it than just doing your rotation right.

    My suggestion was to look for logs that have people in similar gear with similar fight lengths to judge how they are doing compared to others. Not to compare yourself to someone saying, Hey I did xxxK on so and so. Because they might have been really over gearing it or maybe just had the blessing of elune and had procs like crazy, or maybe every piece of gear they have comes with a +75 gem in it. You just can't tell without knowing the whole picture.

    Damn, sorry I went on so long, should have just made a post about it. lol And it went more than a little off topic with what you were talking about. Sorry.

    1. I'm not totally sure I'm remembering this correctly, but I think it's from AMR logs, that they have a feature that will recommend a parse to compare your log it (maybe if I can get Vee to read this, she'll correct me). I believe what it does is looks for someone with a similar ilvl, in a similarly progressed group, similar kill time, etc, but who did better than you, and gives you a comparison of the two parses. I haven't really played with AMR logs too much, but I think that's a great feature.

      I have a similar reaction as you to HFA. On several fights recently, I've been intentionally looking for things I could do other than high DPS to help get kills. Just as a way of being really intentional with not fighting for the top slot on skada, but trying to be the best raider I can. It gets hard, especially if you're used to being on the top of the meters, and people start taunting you for being third or fourth. But still, I think it's good for me. And I think it's good for the raid as a whole. I'm hoping we can get people to be overly-competitive about doing mechanics right, taking the least avoidable damage, etc.

      Speaking of, i'm still really enjoying Kihra's Weighted DPS feature over at Warcraftlogs. I particularly like that I can make it even more extreme with custom weights. That way you can have one metric for your multi-dotters and heavy cleavers, and a totally separate metric for your single target specialists like MM. Both jobs are important, there's really no reason to compare them directly with something like overall DPS, though.

    2. Wow. While I certainly knew that DPS could vary significantly depending on the fight and your assigned duties in it, I never stopped to catalog all the various factors. Thanks for both the post and this terrific comment.

      One off the wall question : so how do you answer when someone asks you what your usual DPS is? I got that question a couple times in the past few weeks, when I was considering switching guilds to a more active raiding one. I really never know how to answer that. I have zero tier gear, and as MM I have done over 150k when burst/initial/AoE/ procs/buffs all converge, but clearly that is not what I do in an extended fight. Is there an accepted way to answer that question in a non-puffery way?

    3. When I get people asking me that, I usually give them a range. So I'll do about x-y on single target low movement fight, I'll do about a-b on a multi add fight like Assault, etc. I can focus on putting out numbers if that's my assignment, or I can focus on mechanical issues (like branded from Imperator).

      I think the person is just trying to gauge what contribution you can offer to the team, and it is often easier to say, "whats your dps?" instead of actually having a conversation good raid leaders will have. By responding in this way, I am communicating awareness of the variance, responsibilities, and showing a more complete picture of my skillset to the person.

      That's just my take.

    4. @Fiannor

      Never answer with a burst number, it is inflated by default. If I am being asked over all I'll say something like 70K-90K over all because on most fights my numbers will be in that range in a good group. Some fights like killrog if I am on a visions team I have broken 140K and even 180K, but that is specific and one fight, so fights like that do not count in my mind. Best bet it take iron reaver and high council, two somewhat good fights for hunters, and use those as your high number and low number + or - 10K. Not perfect, but a good quick way to give a round about. Fights vary too much to say "I do 80K" and you end up on 80K in every fight, just not going to happen.

  2. This post got me thinking about a nagging concern I have had all Warlords long. Something changed from Mists to Warlords with talents. I can't exactly put my finger on a specific issue to voice these concerns and perhaps the change has more diffuse reasons.

    I hardly ever switch my talents anymore; I used to switch my talents constantly in Mists. During Mists of Pandaria I regularly switched talents, often between back to back bosses and multiple talents. For the 14 boss Siege of Ogrimmar I count roughly 32-45 talent switches (depending on various roles in encounters) and in Throne of Thunder 28-35 talent switches. In warlords, that has drastically dropped. Blackrock Foundry I changed talents about 15-20 times for a full clear; whereas in Hellfire I change talents about 10-20 times depending on roles.

    What could possibly account for this major falloff in using talents to adapt to specific encounters? Of course, I did the initial soul searching: have I just gotten lazier in my talent choices, accepting the minor % of dmg a talent switch would offer is lost? Hell no! I'm competitive by nature, and until recently hadn't been topping the meters (and considering I still regularly leave 10-35% of my potential in the twisting nether, I have a heck of a lot of improving to work on. And as a sidenote: you clearly show in this article that the simple talent tweaks don't account for that sizeable of loss, so yes I need manage my rotation better. /sidetrack over).

    Aaaaanyway, so I took a look at the encounters and worked through them in my head. I don't change talents as much in Warlords, because I am not seeing significant benefit from changing the talents. Somewhere along the way, the effectiveness of talent switching to more effectively perform my responsibilities has waned. Could it be the similarity of the fights, like adds adds adds...cough I mean Blackrock, and priority adds in Hellfire? Are the talents I am not inclined to switch off of, that much more powerful/effective than their other choices (Lone Wolf anyone....)? I don't believe it is a individual spec issue, as I played SV/MM in Highmaul, BM/BM/BM in Blackrock, and MM in Hellfire, and all of them saw reduced choice making.

    Thanks for making me think. Sure I have no answers, but at least I got a lot of questions layin about...

    1. I have noticed the same. I thought it was mostly because I am not doing mythic so it is not as important and I can be lazy, but I think it has more to do with there is less reason to switch now. Before it seemed one talent was clearly better than another in a specific situation where it seems now that is not the case. So part lazy, part not needed. But I don't really switch any longer either.

    2. hmm, yeah... I definitely don't switch as much as before. Part of that is, I think, that MM lends itself to doing only one job. That is, no matter what, it's not going to have amazing cleave/aoe. So why not just be a single target / priority add specialist.

      The only talents I regularly switch are LW and FS. And really I only use FS because of issues that are specific to my raid team. There's only one fight where I would use powershot over barrage, I guess.

      However, I don't think we have many talents that are within a half a percent of each other when sim'ed, like in the article I linked. Focusing Shot / Lone Wolf are fairly close in a patchwerk style fight. If you're using Focusing Shot, then Crows is only about .8-1% behind stampede. I haven't really tried, but maybe there are some fights where you could take advantage of crows for priority adds and it would be more beneficial. Especially if you can get a lot of them to line up with the ring. But if you need the movement freedom of LW, then the extra pet from stampede is just too OP (still like, 3 % gain, not obscene or anything, but a significant increase, and way less buttons to remember to push).

      So yeah, I don't know. If you find any interesting builds that work well, let me know.

  3. Zoopercat's article is amazing. It should be required reading for all raiders, or at least people who dole out raid spots. The reactions to he poll reminded me of the insanity at the beginning of WoD when hunbters were told they couldn't raid without being MM-Lone Wolf. For normal Highmaul..

    Anyway, glad the article is propting this conversation in the community. It's a good one.

    1. As I recall, and I could be wrong, hunters started this expansion well. In HM you could be anything you wanted. In BRF, the same, but people leaded toward MM or SV but BM could work just fine in the right hands. It was not until HFC do I ever recall anyone saying "you are doing it wrong" when someone was in survival spec. So in the three raids we only really ever had one completely dead spec.

    2. At the very beginning, MM was considered the "right" spec, I think. The SimC team hadn't noticed (or if they had, it wasn't reflected in the simulations) that Arcane Multistrikes were proc'ing full ticks of serpent sting, so most people didn't realize how strong SV could be. And then at the end of the first week of raiding (right before mythics were opened) they nerfed MM. With the nerf, I think everything was viable, with SV slightly higher if you had MS gear (which most people didn't).

      but yeah, it was decently balanced, not like right now. Rest in peace, SV; you were too good for this world. :-(

  4. JC, I posted a followup to the first article that showed the 'text responses' to the survey. I think you'll like it: http://blizzardwatch.com/2015/12/16/side-effects-cookie-cutter-builds/

    I loved the insights in this post (and the comments). I am revisiting it today while collecting other people's insights for part 3 of the article series.

  5. JC, I posted a followup to the first article that showed the 'text responses' to the survey. I think you'll like it: http://blizzardwatch.com/2015/12/16/side-effects-cookie-cutter-builds/

    I loved the insights in this post (and the comments). I am revisiting it today while collecting other people's insights for part 3 of the article series.