Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

What. The. Hell.

August 10 hotfixes to hunters:

  • Cobra Commander’s Sneaky Snakes (Artifact trait) damage increased by 25%.
  • Thunderslash (Artifact trait) damage reduced by 50%.
  • Thunderslash (Artifact trait) deals 30% less damage with the Dire Frenzy talent.

There are BM hunters who have built their entire play style and gear setup around Thunderslash and its interactions, have gone to some lengths to incorporate this into their BM hunter play since 7.2 went live, have concentrated AP in this and supporting traits. Now this.

No warning.

Not even the common courtesy of an explanation.

Not even any official recognition that this is a major change. It was announced with the same fanfare as a grammar correction in a tooltip.

Silly me, I thought these kinds of wild adjustments is why there is a PTR. Has Blizz now decided the PTR is only for stress testing and raids, and live is where you try to correct all the horrid imbalances of ill-advised class restructuring?

And not for nothin’, but what about the pre-legion pronouncement from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that “BM hunters are in a pretty good place now”?

What about his promise to not make huge changes to classes and specs in Legion because of the increased cost to players with artifact weapon investments?

His word is clearly worthless.

Why does Blizz bend over backwards to write pages of explanations to rogues and monks and warlocks about why certain changes were made and about their overall plan for the class, but they stubbornly ignore and insult hunters with these kinds of major changes AND NOT A SINGLE EXPLANATORY COMMENT?

And lest you think this is an interim step that will be remedied in 7.2.5 with the planned class changes then, think again. Hunters are not on the list as needing any special attention in that patch. Why should they? Blizz can always just screw with them at will, can intentionally destroy a spec mid-expansion like they did with SV in WoD, can make play-altering changes in a minor hotfix — all without the inconvenient necessity of showing a bit of respect by actually dialoging with hunters.

I had begun to think Blizz was turning around from the lies and dirty tricks of WoD, was just beginning to restore some of the lost trust, was finally realizing that dialog with their customers pays off. I see I was wrong.

New play styles

A few days ago, at the suggestion of someone I respect, I decided to just bite the bullet and switch my main hunter to Marksman spec, even though I said I would never do it. It hasn’t been an easy transition so far, either mechanically or psychologically. And as if that weren’t trauma enough, last night I rolled a new brewmaster panda.

The hunter change has been more dramatic than I expected it to be. I mean that in both a good way and a bad way. I first tried it with a pet, taking Focusing Shot as my Tier 7 talent. My initial practices, unbuffed, at the target dummies yielded 3-4k improvement over my best Beastmastery efforts and a good 7-8k improvement over the sad Survival spec. And this was with me really not having a clue how to play MM.

Trying a few Apexis bonus areas was “interesting.” After weeks of mindlessly blasting through them as BM, I found I had to actually *gasp* be a little more careful as MM, since my pet has less power and I have more. Meant I had to actually key bind my MD-to-Pet macro and spam it, else I felt in danger of getting overwhelmed with my normal 15-20 mobs. Since MM has pretty puny AoE, I found myself relying more on things like my zone artillery strikes and some of the engineer-produced explosive gizmos. I also found I really missed the instant gratification of spamming Arcane Shot to dump focus.

In general, it was hard for me to start to wrap my brain around the idea of a hunter having to stand still a lot and wind up most shots. (As a minor aside, I was slightly annoyed that the tool tips refer to the wind up time for shots as “cast” time. Hunters are not/not casters. The fact that devs are content to use such language in tool tips indicates to me that they really do not understand the hunter class very well.) Not counting Kill Shot, our only real MM instant shot is the signature one, Chimaera Shot, and being it is a signature shot it has a 9-second cooldown. Both Aimed Shot and the focus-resto shot have a greater than 2-second shot wind up time. It feels tedious and slow.

I had gotten used to Focusing Shot when I used it for my SV hunter, and I did not find the stand still requirement for it to be limiting. But when combined with the Sniper Training requirement, I feel very restricted. Mind you, I don’t know if MM actually is more restrictive, since Sniper Training is fairly generous in its movement allowance, but I know that I was conscious of the requirement and consequently felt as if my feet were nailed to the ground. Add in the lack of instant shots, and I felt like I was playing my destro lock, except without the decent AoE.

I did not feel like I was playing a hunter.

Still, my damage was noticeably improved. Even more so when I took Lone Wolf instead of Focusing Shot for my Tier 7 talent. But again, much of my hunter identity is tied up in my pet, and not having one felt just wrong somehow. But the damage increase is undeniable.

Bottom line is that I will undoubtedly feel more comfortable with MM as a spec the longer I play it, and the better I get the more damage I will do, but I doubt if it will ever feel “huntery” to me. I am pretty sure I will go back to SV or even BM as soon as Blizz decides to make either of those viable again.

Regarding my new panda, I had fun doing the initial leveling in the Panda starting area. I had forgotten what a fun story that is. It’s too bad you can’t go back there once you leave it, just like it’s too bad worgen can’t go back to Gilneas.

I decided to level a new melee class rather than respec one of my hybrids, because I think it will be easier to play if I grow with it as I level. I have tried switching my mistweaver to use its windwalker secondary, but I find it a tad overwhelming at level 100.

I don’t know if I am psychologically suited to tanking, but it has always seemed to me to be the most challenging group role, so I thought if I tried it in some low level instances as I level it might be a bit less intimidating than jumping in at level 90 or 100. Pretty sure I have been in some groups with tanks who have done just that, and it is not fun. Honestly, the thing I am most worried about is getting lost, as my sense of direction is really horrible! I have spent my game life following tanks, either as a deeps or as a healer, and I frequently get lost if we wipe and I have to run back. So I foresee a lot of study even at very low levels before I subject a group to my baby tank.

In the big picture, though, it’s good to challenge yourself, shake things up every once in a while. Even if neither of my new play styles pans out for me in the long run, it’s fun to try.




Closet cleaning time

Time again to clean out some of the drafts that have been hanging around in my writing closet for awhile.

Cool herbalism gloves. I’m not what you would call a super-informed WoW player. That is, I usually go through the game fairly unaware of many of the cool little quirks and Easter eggs and other fun things you can find. I didn’t know about Pepe until about 3 months into this expansion. Same with the glass of warm milk in the garrison barn, and tons of other examples. I like doing those fun things, but I am not exactly the go-to person in our guild for information on them. So a couple days ago, when I discovered Gorepetal’s Gentle Grasp, I said something in guild chat about sheesh I couldn’t believe I just found out about these things, doh! Imagine my surprise when none of the guildies on line at the time had ever heard of them either. They were pretty excited about them, so I gave instructions on how to get them, and several people stopped what they were doing at the time to dash off and get them.

For a brief moment I was in fact the go-to person for some little piece of the game! I got almost as much fun from that as I did from the gloves, probably because it is such a rare occurrence for me. By the way, if you haven’t got these gloves yet, check them out on Wowhead — instructions are there for finding them. If you are a herbalist or even if you are not but still make use of your garrison herb garden, they are terrific. For a non-herbalist in garrison they cut the gathering time down from 3 seconds to 1.5 seconds. For a herbalist they cut the time down to .5 seconds. They are the herb equivalent of the Peon’s Mining Pick, and they make your garrison drudgery a tad more bearable.

Some eye-opening perspective. Don’t ask me how I got to looking for this, but a few days ago I stumbled upon the web transcript of the Activision Blizzard Q1 2015 conference call on earnings. It is pretty dull stuff, and I don’t really recommend reading it unless you are having trouble falling asleep, but I read it (I have no life, it is sad) and was struck by one thing:

World of Warcraft is very small potatoes in the Activision Blizzard corporate picture, not much more than a couple of pixels in their digital Big Picture.

It seems to be not even the main part of Blizzard, certainly not as a significant feature in their long term future planning. The corporate outlook is that WoW will account for less than half of Blizzard’s earnings this year. Thus, the 3 million subscription drop was barely mentioned during the call, especially since Activision Blizzard overall exceeded their Q1 earnings expectations by quite a bit, and in spite of the sub loss even WoW’s Q1 earnings increased due to price raises for subscriptions in some parts of the world. (Token sales were not included, as they began in Q2.)

When it came time for Michael Morhaime’s report, he had this to say about WoW:

1.  WoD proved that players who have been away from the game will come back for an expansion with “the right content.”

2.  The drop in WoW subs was expected and was completely normal after the first few moths of a new expansion.

3.  Patch 6.2 “will add a ton of new content that will appeal to players across a range of play styles.”

4.  Tokens.

Overall, he dispensed with WoW pretty quickly, then went on to spend most of his time talking about Hearthstone, Diablo III in China, Starcraft II Legacy of the Void, and Heroes of the Storm. He was particularly enthusiastic over the whole eSports potential.

What I took away from all this is that WoW is rapidly diminishing in importance for both Blizzard and for Activision Blizzard as a whole. They see their future in multi-platform games (especially tablets and phones), spectator “sports” and the huge endorsements derived therefrom, and games that will engage players not just at launch but throughout the year. WoW does not really fit into any of these strategies.

Those of us who play the game and love it have a very skewed picture of its importance, a bug’s-eye view of the Activision Blizzard world. This game is just not a big factor for its corporate owners.

Hunterness. I keep thinking about this, and I keep having no decent answers, so here’s just a thought dump. My question is, what are the essential elements that define the hunter class? What are the things that if they were removed would cause me to no longer think my hunter occupied a unique class niche? Some things I have thought of in the past include:

  • Hunter’s Mark
  • Pets (real pets, not foo-foo “battle” pets and not the pseudo-pets that frost mages and locks have)
  • Ranged damage that is physical rather than cast
  • Bows and guns
  • Focus as the power mechanism
  • Traps
  • Extreme mobility

Obviously, some of these things no longer apply, or only partially apply. I still really miss Hunter’s Mark, a casualty caused by PvP constant whining about it. But I found it useful in a lot of situations. One of my guildies mentioned the other day that he misses it, too, even though he is not a hunter, because he used to use it as a target marker in fights where there was a lot of target switching. He thought, well if the hunter is targeting that, it must be the one I should be targeting, too. (Maybe misplaced trust, but kind of nice to hear all the same.)

Pets have become much more homogenized, such that pet selection now depends only on what raid buff you need to supply and what  your preferred “look” is. Not to mention it is possible now to play a hunter without a pet. I don’t, because I still think of a pet as integral to hunters no matter what the DPS trade-off is, but I understand why other hunters might like this style.

I love that we are physical damage dealers — kind of “ranged melee”! It means whenever you have a boss that you have to stop casting because of some mechanism, hunters pretty much get to keep blasting away.

Use of bows and guns used to not be unique for hunters, a couple other classes could use them, so that is a relatively new development. But I have come to think of this uniqueness as important to hunters.

I like focus as a power mechanism, but hunters used to have mana. I did not mind mana, but focus seems much easier to manage and plan for now — I like that your shot selection is what determines your focus store, not some external potion.

Traps are not really unique, in that other classes can put down visual damage or slowing mechanisms, they just don’t call them traps. I liked it when we had a real choice for traps. I kind of miss the old snake trap — towards the end it really was useless, but there was something very satisfying about the visual when you were unleashing everything you could on a boss. “Take that, Buttbrain, oh and while I’m at it have a big ol’ bucket o’ snakes!”

Like I said, I have no answer to my question, but I think it centers around mobility. To me, you are just not a hunter if you can’t keep up a steady stream of damage while jumping and running around like a crazy bug. That is why I get nervous every time there is a spate of whines about it being “no fair” that hunters can keep up damage on the move but casters can’t.  I especially get nervous when PvP-ers crank up their whining about it, because, well, Hunter’s Mark. I also get nervous whenever Blizz introduces any kind of stand-still mechanism to hunter rotations, because I think it could be a slippery slope to making hunters just physical-damage-dealing mages.

Well, there are a couple more items in the draft closet, but I have gone on long enough for one post. I will save the other items for later.








Close encounter of the 6.2 kind

Last night I stuck a toe into the PTR waters to test them a bit. Didn’t last long, the pool turned out to be quite chilly, so I decided not to jump all the way in. Initial thoughts and impressions:

Garrison resources. Huge barrier, in fact it was the reason I got no further than the initial quest line that, once completed, allows you to build your shipyard. You need 6000 resources right off the bat. This is the price of admission, along with whatever gold it costs to buy the plans, build the place, etc. As I copied my main over, and as it had only 4000+ GR, I could go no further unless I embarked on a GR-gathering grind, which I am not going to do on a PTR. I get enough grinding on the live version, thank you very much. I believe there was a dev tweet explaining that the number of GR was a “placeholder” that would be changed, but unless and until that happens I won’t be returning to the land of 6.2.

Even if the GR problem is soon fixed to allow people to experience the PTR fully without grinding for a couple of weeks just to be able to play, it brings to the forefront one of the fundamental patch problems I mentioned previously. That is, it doubles down on the whole garrison-grind time sink people have grown to hate. I seriously doubt that I will bring any of my alts to Tanaan, as doing so requires a level 3 garrison just to get started, then adds even more garrison chore time once you actually gain admittance. Plus there is the significant cost of thousands of gold and GR. All to increase the load of an activity I hate.

(Incidentally, lots of bloggers have alluded to the time sink that garrisons are, but I thought this post over at Gwendlyn’s World of Warcraft perfectly captured what we have all been talking about.)

Class changes. I did not step foot into any instances, but I did get an initial feel for the SV hunter class changes as I worked my way through the introductory quest line. In a word: awful. (There are other words that better describe it, but I try to keep this blog PG-13.) The changes to Serpent Sting cascade down to affect our entire rotation and talent selection. Multishot of course is now only useful once when facing a group of adds. Arcane shot against a single target felt like I might as well be tossing Awesomefish at them for all the damage it did. And with these two shots gutted, Thrill of the Hunt and Focusing Shot were pretty well useless. Black Arrow still procs Lock and Load, thankfully, but of course Explosive Shot does not do as much damage, which deflates the value of LnL somewhat.

What I was left with for crowds was Explosive Trap and Barrage. Both of these are iffy when dealing with mobile mobs. Heck, Barrage can be downright dangerous if used imprudently. (Go ahead, raise your hand if you have been the cause of mega trash pulls in BRF because you were 2-3 pixels off in your positioning when using Barrage.) To have to rely on it as my main AoE shot just seems bad.

I admit some of my discomfort while trying to deal damage was due to my over abundance of the now-useless Multistrike and consequent scarcity of Mastery on my gear. Also, I had not yet developed a new rotation and talent set to deal with the changes. Fixing those things would undoubtedly help.

But honestly, I don’t think doing that will help eliminate the feeling I got that SV is about to become a bland, mediocre, soulless spec. No burst capability, no raid cooldown, average on single target damage, slightly below average on AoE, best hope is to dismiss your pet and go Lone Wolf, but really BM/MM are way better specs, sucks to be you if you love SV.

I still would like to know WHY I should be forced to learn a new rotation, replace most of my gear, or else change specs IN THE MIDDLE OF AN EXPANSION WHEN NOT ALL CLASSES WILL HAVE TO DO THE SAME? Everyone expects huge changes in new expansions, and sometimes the changes are pre-loaded in a patch just prior to a new xpac, but to do it to one or two classes mid-tier just seems capricious.

I get that Blizz totally screwed up Multistrike by failing to foresee its effect especially on SV hunters, but there really has to be a way to fix their mistake without punishing the players that have dutifully worked within the established framework to progress within their chosen spec. And honestly, it’s not like SV hunters are gods of destruction now. If we were zooming out of sight on the DPS charts I could see a reason for change, but we are not.

I will probably jump back into the PTR in a couple days, to see if there is a fix to Garrison Resources, and also to check out the profession changes. Meanwhile, we are supposed to have a beautiful weekend here, and I plan to make the most of it by doing lots of outside activities and not playing WoW. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Not QQ, just a plea for an explanation

Data mining exclusive: new SV hunter model

Data mining exclusive: new SV hunter model

Just exactly what is it about hunters — lately especially Survival hunters — that Blizz hates? By now most of you have read the “proposed” class changes for Patch 6.2. What we know is posted here, but let me quote the hunter part:

Aspect of the Fox has been removed.

Aimed Shot now deals 15% more damage.

Mastery: Essence of the Viper has increased in effectiveness by 19%.
Explosive Shot now deals 15% less damage.
Serpent Sting no longer deals an initial “tick” of damage when the periodic effect is first applied.

A Murder of Crows now deals only 80% of normal damage against player-controlled targets.
Barrage now deals only 80% of normal damage against player-controlled targets. Additionally, the ability no longer hits invisible or stealthed targets.

Where to start?

First, the disclaimer: as usual, Blizz keeps trying to maintain that none of this is settled, it could all change based on the PTR feedback. Horse hockey. We all know that it will not change in any meaningful way, no matter what the feedback is. Any “changes” will be on the order of “Explosive Shot now deals 14.99% less damage, and has a (.005 x AP)% chance to proc an extra .3 second duration for Black Arrow.”

So yes, I am sure there will be changes. I am also sure the changes will be meaningless.

Second comment: Aspect of the Fox removed? Really? Why? Please don’t tell me it was because a couple of guilds stacked hunters so as to get around the fact that casters can no longer cast and move. For any normal player (that is, 99.9% of us), Aspect is more of an individual spell anyway — mount on the move, etc. — but we do use it once in a while at specific times for specific raid bosses. It is a pain in the ass to coordinate, though, as you have to actually announce it when you throw it down, and it only lasts 6 seconds anyway.

This is like the removal of Hunter’s Mark. No reason to take it away, even if it is not used all that often. The point is, both of these tools are extremely handy in some situations. When you need them, you really need them.

(I smell PvP whining here. Blizz will never admit it, but their actions over the years point to them reacting almost without question to complaints from PvP players, and if it is at the expense of PvE, well so what.)

Third comment: Del irium over at Thrill of the Wild has done the math on the SV changes, and the bottom line is, this is a huge, huge nerf for SV hunters. Close to 20%. Again, Blizz, why? It’s not like SV hunters are ruling the charts these days, we are doing respectable damage but nothing to really shout about.

But remember that SV hunters have virtually zero surge capability against single targets. When the Raid Leader says “Pour it on, blow all your CDs!” our response is just to keep doing what we’ve been doing, because we have nothing to pour it on with. What SV hunters have going for us now is DoTs on crowds, and yes Serpent Sting as applied with Multishot is excellent. Throw down an Explosive Trap, get off a Multishot, unleash Barrage, drop some single target shots to proc TotH, and then do it all again, all while dancing around the big pool of adds — really, it’s about the most fun you can have as SV.

Clearly Blizz cannot allow this.

And, oh yes, now that SV hunters have spent months trying to build up their Multistrike because Mastery has been largely useless, Blizz suddenly decides to base a key SV number on Mastery?

My only explanation is that the fun-loving staff in the Screw With The Players Department came back after a short vacation, and are now all refreshed and madly cranking out their harebrained ideas.

Fourth comment, and the one that (finally) gets to my point: Blizz, please, I am begging you, give us an explanation for all this. Give us a nice, well-thought-out blueprint for what you envision for the hunter class, and how these apparent nerfs actually fit in with your vision. Give us some hope for where we will end up. Prove to us that there is indeed a plan and that you are not just making changes because some staffer read a forum post that said “Doodz, huntardz are OP.” Put on your Big Boy armor and stop treating your player base like idiots who could not possibly understand the complexities of class balance.

All evidence to the contrary, I am basically an optimist, and I want to believe Blizz has good solid reasoning for what often seem to be random changes. Especially where it involves hunters. But so far from all their actions what I see is a bunch of ivory tower techno geeks who do not have a clue about the “feel” of hunter play.

Coming home

Over the past week or two, Blizzard has been working on class balancing, across specs in individual classes as well as across classes. I admit I have ridiculed one or two of their moves, but now I want to give credit where credit is due.

Hunter specs now stink less than they did.

There. I said it, and I only hope by doing so I have not jinxed any further balancing, because more is definitely needed.

At the end of Mists, as the beta info on hunters was coming out, I switched from my beloved Survival spec to Beast Mastery. I did so not out of any love for the spec but because SV was about to be gutted, and Marksman — well, as I have said many times before, if I wanted to play like a mage I would roll a mage.

I wouldn’t say I have a love-hate relationship with BM, it’s not nearly that strong, more of a kinda-like-kinda-don’t relationship. It has some very nice features, but I’ve never been really comfortable playing it. And truthfully, I’ve never been very good at it. I like some of the exotic pets you can tame, and I really like the healing boost from spirit beasts. In general, the additional pet damage BM enjoys (especially with the very powerful Tier 7 talent Adaptation) is a terrific DoT, but you lose much of that benefit in a fight with lots of target switching. Because pets are crucial to BM DPS, sometimes you have to stop your own shooting to heal your pet.

Overall, BM has some fairly intricate dependencies that you have to manage skillfully if you want to really play the spec well. For example, as I hinted at above, you have to be smart about target switching and even then you might have to use some cheats, such as throwing Master’s Call on a teammate just to get your pet into a particular target area very quickly.

All this is by way of introduction to a chat I had yesterday with an exceptional BM hunter in our guild. I was spending some quality time with a target dummy, trying to internalize the timing and sequencing of Bestial Wrath and Focus Fire, in light of the recent buff to FF. I was failing. I noticed he was logged on, and as he had previously offered to help me if I had any questions, I decided to take him up on it. I asked if he had a few minutes to chat, which he did, and we began a fairly technical discussion of the BW/FF thing. He gave me some pointers and told me how he adjusts for raid situations. I determined one of the things I needed was a good weakauras cooldown counter for BW.

So it was an instructive chat, and as always he was generous in imparting information, but the important part came at the end. He said he had had a good look at the recent hunter class changes, and he was of the opinion that the specs were now close enough that any of the three is viable for our raid team. (We are a social guild that does semi-casual raiding.)

You would think I might have figured this out myself, but for some reason I hadn’t. I think, as it was very difficult for me to give up SV, I had firmly categorized the spec as unplayable for the foreseeable future. Shame on me for being so shortsighted and close-minded. His comment caused me to realize “Ohhhhh, I could play SV again!”

With this epiphany, it took me all of about a minute to dash off to the hunter trainer, dump my MM off spec, and respec into SV. Then I spent about 30 minutes selecting talents and glyphs, keybinding, and polishing up some out of date weakauras. Off to the target dummies I went, singing my happy song.

It was awesome. It was fun. I actually giggled! Even being rusty and with no personal or raid buffs,  I was consistently doing at least 3k higher DPS than I had been doing as BM. I am convinced this was because I just really really like playing SV. It felt good. It felt like I had come home, finally, after a long journey to an unfriendly land.

So I think I’ll go back to playing SV, at least for awhile. There are still some drawbacks to it, some things I don’t like about it. Blizz really needs to give us some kind of burst capability, something beyond having to pick the suboptimal Stampede talent. Seriously, Blizz, would Western Civilization disintegrate if you gave Kill Shot back to SV hunters?

I’ll keep BM as an alternate spec, especially for some of the raid buffs and for the break it can give healers. And I’ll keep trying to improve my play at it. But at least for awhile, I am kicking off my shoes and enjoying being back where I belong.