Statement of intent

So PTR has now been up for the past week or two, and along with that, the plethora of changes to various classes on the beta has had me reconsidering my intent for Shadowlands…

The numerous changes over the past few months have me now leaning away from tanking. Not that anything has changed with tanking per-se, but the changes being made to Hunters has me very nearly making the final decision to stick with Hunter for the 2nd expansion in a row:

  • Undead Pets
  • Elegon can be tamed, along with all other Cloud Serpents
  • Camels, Horses, Mammoths are all new pet families
  • Stable size increased to 200 pets!
  • Artifact transmogs no longer spec-restricted – use the MM artifact bows as BM (major for me)!
  • MM being a viable spec, meaning no more issues with pets on some fights 😀
  • Return of Tranq Shot, Eyes of the Beast, Scare Beast
  • Arcane Shot and Steady Shot baseline

Some downers about Hunter in Shadowlands:

  • Revive Pet cast time increased from 2 to 4 seconds
  • Hunters Mark baseline for all specs

The biggest pain here is the change in the cast time of Revive Pet. It was originally set at an eye-watering SIX seconds, but I think that was Blizzard doing their usual. Have a target value they want to change an ability to, exaggerate that change in anticipation of push back from the player-base, then reduce it to the actually desired value.

Being without damage for 2 seconds at the moment is painful, but acceptable IMO. Whatever whoever is responsible for these changes was thinking by increasing the revival of our pets to six seconds is beyond me (the same change was made to Warlock pets too).

This is a particularly painful change for Beast Mastery Hunters (and Survival as well I guess, but that’s largely still a dead spec atm), as over 60% of a BM Hunter’s damage comes directly from their pet.

With the fact that Hunters have to micro-manage their pets positioning on some fights on a constant basis, or again lose a ton of damage?

Add on top of that a damage downtime of four seconds every time a tank screws up a taunt, and our pets get clobbered? Or, taking Phase 1 of Mythic Carapace as another example where I was on outside tentacle duty with no tank and adds consistently aggro’d onto and killed my pet, leading to a necessary revival?

Imagine the outcry if, randomly, a Fire Mage’s damage was reduced by 60% until they spent 4 full seconds channelling a non-damage spell just to get their DPS up and running again?

It would be a shitshow, obviously.

Mitigating difficulties

Of course a Lone Wolf MM Hunter will have none of these concerns, which is why MM is looking very appealing at the moment for Shadowlands.

There’s also the fact that MM’s damage, at least initially on the Beta and in the first raid tier, is looking to be slightly better than BM? That’s a big positive for playing the spec. Also add in the lack of Azerite traits or Essences or Corruptions not preventing you from switching whenever desired? Ooh boy, finally we can properly multi-spec without having to spend exorbitant amounts of gold or carry around multiple full sets of gear!

And yes, I am someone whose Azerite reforging costs hit the thousands of gold mark at one point in BFA because I’d had to switch specs often without the requisite full set of Azerite alternate gear as a back up.

I’ve been playing a lot of MM Hunter on live recently, with my Undead Hunter, Deadbow, maining the spec. Largely as Lone Wolf, but with a bear on hand to tank should something look a bit meaty (anything over 2m health atm on live and I get the bear out).

I’ve been enjoying it a lot, and the prospect of having the option to change spec is a rediscovered joy after two expansions where seriously playing two different specs on one character was a source of pain and needless gating.

Hunter overall in
Shadowlands (so far)

As I write this the 9.0 PTR is just shy of 2 weeks old. With PTR pre-patch lead times usually around the 5-7 week range, we’re now sitting about a month out from pre-patch going live, and with it all of the class, levelling and miscellaneous changes brought in with Shadowlands.

The two niggles I mentioned beforehand aside (Revive Pet time increase and the fact that Hunters’ Mark is baseline and micro-managing that now mandatory), Hunter in Shadowlands is looking pretty decent.

I’m hoping that some of the other quibbles with rotation (both MM and BM have slight issues with their rotations atm on PTR/Beta – see below) get “fixed” with max-level and Covenant-related borrowed power.

But with that being said, the other changes, especially the new Character Customisation options have me very excited for Shadowlands 😀

Rotation issues: BM

BM has a few issues with the current iteration of their abilities on Beta. Steady shot returns, but unlike MM it does not generate focus for BM.

BM’s rotation however is more baked around Cobra Shot and the regular use of it. Not only as a source of damage, but with various abilities and talents relying on it being used. However the focus cost for Cobra has been increased from 35 focus as it is on live, to 45 focus. This is a painful increase in focus costs, which makes the use of Cobra Killer as a talent particularly tricky, as it will obviously lead to focus starvation a lot quicker than it currently does on Live.

Also the cool-down reduction for Kill Command whenever Cobra Shot is used will be neutered, given how much focus CS now costs. This will also lead to less usage of Kill Command overall, even outside of Bestial Wrath windows and without using the Killer Cobra talent.

At the moment it looks like we’ll be using more Arcane Shot than Cobra Shot as a filler, as Arcane does only 15% less damage than CS, but costs 66% of the focus used by Cobra (30 focus for Arcane vs 45 focus for Cobra).

This will however obviously have no interaction with reducing Kill Command’s cooldown, nor any interaction with the Killer Cobra talent, again neutering both benefits entirely.

If the KC cooldown reduction was baked into Arcane Shot, and Killer Cobra was amended to also use Arcane Shot, then a lot of the current rotational issues would be solved. Either that or just reduce the focus cost of Cobra back to 35 focus and the issues would go away entirely.

Rotation Issues: MM

At the moment on Beta/PTR MM is shaping up to be a fun spec again, after an expansion dominated completely by BM, both in terms of mobility and output.

Generally speaking a well-played MM Lone Wolf Hunter should be at the very least on a par with an equally skilled BM Hunter, as MM damage buffs should be built in to compensate for MM’s inability to cast its main nuke, Aimed Shot, on the move.

Overall though there are fewer issues with MM on Beta than with BM. Where BM’s issues will lead to focus starvation and lower damage overall, MM’s issues tend to be more related to having to ignore certain buffs during Trueshot windows.

At the moment the Precise Shots buff on Beta occurs after you’ve just cast an Aimed Shot. It’s a 15 second long 75% damage buff to Chimaera Shot, Arcane Shot or Multi-shot.

First things first, casting Arcane Shot or Multi-shot will consume the buff and that’s that.

However, Chimaera Shot also benefits from the damage buff, but crucially doesn’t consume the buff, leading to a degenerate situation where you can spam Chimaera Shot for the 15 seconds on 2 or more targets until your focus runs out, and be doing the same (or similar damage) to an Aimed Shot cast. On top of that, both hits from Chimaera can independently crit, leading to a large amount of damage potential after every Aimed Shot, more so than an average Aimed Shot.

Bear in mind that Chimaera is currently still a talent, and replaces Arcane Shot. But if this specific change goes live it will likely become a mandatory talent for every scenario.

On one target both Chimaera and Arcane cost the same amount of focus and do exactly the same amount of damage (I’m testing with a level 48 class trial as PTR copy isn’t functional and I still have no access to Beta with its level 60 specific endgame realm). Now when you introduce a 2nd target and Chimaera is going to do twice the damage.

The only other talent in that row that could potentially compete is Steady Focus, which gives 7% haste for 10 seconds after using Steady Shot twice in a row. But MM doesn’t look as though it’s going to be particularly starved for focus, especially given that it can generate on-demand focus (unlike BM) whenever required and still do damage on the move due to Steady Shot both being a focus generator and usable while moving.

So Chimaera looks as though it’ll be the go-to talent for that row, which will, in combination with the Precise Shots buff lead to building focus and spamming Chimaera on two or more targets.

Whether this is a planned and deliberate change or just an oversight by Blizzard I don’t know, but I guess we’ll see if it makes it to live…

All of that said, during Trueshot windows we’ll likely just have to completely ignore the Precise Shots buff entirely in order to fit in all of our other abilities:

  • Kill Shot
  • Hunters’ Mark
  • Soulforge Embers (legendary effect)
  • Explosive Shot (reworked so it’s now a target-led ability)
  • Double Tap
  • Volley (it’s also back again)
  • Avoid capping Aimed Shot charges

Closing thoughts

So both BM and MM do have some issues, but we’ll have to wait for the inevitable tuning passes which have yet to occur in order to make a final judgement call.

For the moment though I’m happy that despite the issues with both specs, Hunter is still looking fun and once again has more than one viable spec, especially given we can now freely switch specs without restriction!

With the other changes surrounding character customisation meaning that I may switch (for a while at least) to Void/High Elf it’s looking like I’ll enjoy Shadowlands a lot more than I did BfA.

But then again, that’s not exactly a high threshold to get over…