Hunter hysteria

OK, attention hunters and raid/group leaders: Let’s all just take a breath.

We are finishing up the first full week of Highmaul, the stats are filtering in, and there is a a clear pattern emerging with hunter specs — basically Marksman Lone Wolf is way outperforming the other hunter specs. These results are amplified with recent simcraft results that show the same trend, and there is anecdotal evidence that some players are overreacting just a smidge. Bendak related a story of being derided by a pug group leader for not playing MM-LW, and posted a blog basically saying the way to stop this trend is for BM and SV hunters to rock the instance DPS meters. Then today The Godmother at alt:ernative chat posted a thoughtful piece basically saying hey this is a game of numbers and if MM-LW is higher numbers then you should be using that combo in raids. I already gave my thoughts on the matter a couple of days ago, but of course that was a couple of days ago and I might be ever so slightly amending them.

Both of these well-respected community hunters presented cogent reasoning for their opinions, and each of them gave me more food for thought. But let’s be honest here — they are both elite hunters, no matter how much they might protest to the contrary. And a check of the most recent WoWProgress DPS charts shows that the top 500 world-class hunters are all MM spec, I had to get to something like number 517 to find a non-MM hunter on the list.

So what about the rest of us — the rank and file hunters who keep trying to improve but who generally remain smack dab in the middle of the Bell curve? What are we to think of this, and more importantly should we be changing specs and talents?

No short or easy answers here, but there are maybe a couple of things that might help make the decision well-reasoned if not necessarily perfect or final.

1.  Remember that the simcraft rankings are for stand-still-and-shoot single target setups, for fights that go approximately 7-8 minutes. This is where MM-LW excels. Add in some significant movement and AoE, and the spec gaps get way smaller.

2.  Similarly, the first couple of bosses in Highmaul are mainly simcraft-type fights, not a whole lot of movement or AoE required. (As I have only done the first two, I can’t speak to the rest of the bosses.) So early “actual” logs are likely to reflect this natural bias for MM-LW.

3.  Hunters are very useful in a raid team, and not always for their DPS alone. Hunters routinely are selected to do the odd jobs, and any raid leader worth their salt will see that often the reason a hunter is not topping the charts is because they are jumping onto conveyor belts, keeping adds cc’ed, running across the room to kill that Engineer, being Chain Hurled into the arena to kill mobs, etc. Add some of these utility jobs to the tasks for a MM-LW hunter and watch the DPS numbers for hunter specs converge.

4.  The fact that the top world hunters are all MM spec is not that significant in the big picture. At the start of Mists they were all Beast Mastery. Once the simcraft charts come out and top hunters see everyone else going to the purported top spec, they all jump on the bandwagon. So the best hunters in the game end up using the spec, and naturally they are going to turn in impressive numbers from it — they are just very good. Hell, they could probably out-DPS me just using auto-shot. Who is to say some of them would not turn in equally impressive numbers from another spec? But we can’t know the answer to that at the beginning of an expansion because everyone flocks to “The” spec du jour. So do top players play that spec because it is the best, or is it the best because the top players are the ones generating the numbers for it?

5. While not belittling high DPS numbers, I would also like to point out that — at least presently — most healers are struggling with mana issues and new play styles brought on by pretty massive changes to the whole healing game. And certainly cranking out high DPS tends to shorten a fight and thus help healers. But damage dealer self-heals also help healers, and a spec such as Beast Mastery with a spirit pet can really add up in terms of making life easier for them.

6.  Remember that the comparatively huge numbers being hit by MM are being achieved by elite hunters. Even the “I’ll show you!” numbers Bendak talks about generating with SV or BM will pretty much be very top of the possibilities for those specs. In other words, all these numbers are achieved by playing more or less flawlessly in any given situation. This takes practice, skill, talent, and abnormally fast reflexes in my opinion. That’s not me. I’m betting it’s not you either. So even if I were to change specs it is doubtful I would see the dramatic number changes the charts predict.

7. Chances are good that the large disparities in hunter specs will eventually become less and less. Overall, Blizz can’t have the relatively huge DPS gap among the classes and specs it does now, they will have to do some balancing to lessen that gap between the top-DPSing specs and the bottom ones. The devs have already made some comments to that effect. And although I am not sure why, I am optimistic that the gaps will in fact shrink in the next few weeks.

8. Last, I will go back to my basic point of view, which is that we all have our own play style. Some hunters take to MM-LW like a duck to water, others just can’t deal with it. You tend to be good at what you love to do.

So I would say, if you are a BM or SV hunter and are interested in MM either with or without Lone Wolf, give it a try. You might like it, and you might actually do noticeably better DPS. If so, yay for you. If not, or if you are not even interested in trying it because you would never consider changing specs from your beloved *fill in the blank spec*, don’t obsess about it. Concentrate on improving your skills, and if you are a raider concentrate on being extremely useful in all utility roles and improving general skills like raid awareness.

As for me, in spite of what I said before, I probably will work a tad more on my MM off spec, maybe even crossing over now and then to the Dark Side of LW. Just to have it available in the few fights I expect it to be useful in. To be honest, I would like LW a bit better as SV I think, but the current total lack of any realistic burst DPS for SV precludes me from trying that for a while.

Pretty sure, though, that I’ll never like it. Then again, never say never.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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