Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shango, God of the Storm

   One of my favorite skins has always been the plain 'ol tiger skin: it's a vibrant orange pelt with a pale underside and black stripes.  There's nothing fantasy about this appearance--it's very true-to-life, and very beautiful (to me, at least!).  However, up until Cataclysm hit, it was only available on the old-world cat models, which I despise--they've got stranged pinched-in faces, and I just can't get along with that!

The basic "cat" model.

   So one of my biggest wishes, as a hunter, has always been for a Saber cat with that gorgeous tiger skin.

   Until the Shattering came, there were a great many pets that we didn't have access to--they gathered dust in the data files, viewable by ModelViewer and not much else.  All that changed when the world (of Warcraft) was torn asunder; a great many pets emerged from the woodwork--or changed color.  

Just look at that "pelt!"  (Lo-res image)
   Shango (whose name is that of an African diety of lightning and thunder) was one of those pets.  He's a level 76 quest mob (not a rare!) in Sholazar Basin.  He patrols the outer edges of the jungle there, where brave players under the orders of the evil king Nesingwary must track Shango down and slay him.

...And those eyes!
   Previously, Shango was a spotted Saber cat--which in itself was new to Wrath of the Lich King, and which the Dreadsabers still use.  With The Shattering, Shango suddenly became unique: the gorgeous tiger saber!

   I love the vibrant, realistic colors on this skin, and I love the huge muscular saber-toothed model, and with them combined I think he just comes out gorgeous.  The pattern his colors take are also very well-done, in my opinion, with natural sort of fur-texture etching--he's just really nice to look at!

Shango in the Molten Front.  He almost looks made of fire!
   Once you get him, the living experience is also great.  He's LARGE at your side, feeling like a big proper presence, but is at the same time low to the ground, thus not interfering with your targetting.  He's got beautiful movement and idle animations; if you don't like his *YAWN* noise, though, you might be turned off somewhat (this sound is a loud yawn and then jowl-shaking, sounding somewhat slobbery, and is shared by many cats).

Oh, and he's big!

   As a Cat, he has the strongest damage buff a solo hunter can get, plus he's Ferocity--meaning that for doing your dailies, he's very useful.  You don't need an excuse to break him out of the stable!  He's also, on the practical side, somewhat harder to lose track of in a fight than other, more dull-colored kitties; his very vibrant orange ensures you'll always know where exactly he is at a glance.

...And hungry!
   Overall, I have to say this is currently one of my favorite pets in-game.  Mine, which I've named Ochre, has been in my stables since the day he became available to us lucky hunters--and he's not going anywhere any time soon.

"Ochre" in his natural habitat of Awesomeland.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vicarious Hunting

   Part of the reason that the WoW hunter pet community is so active, I think, is that we hunters loooove the thrill of the hunt.  Matching a hunter with various pets, going to long and elaborate lengths for difficult tames--it's all so much fun.  Yet, we only have one hunter--at least those of us who haven't rolled multiple hunter alts--and only twenty-five stable slots to play with (although some may rotate!).

   This means that when we read about other hunters looking for their perfect pets or going to crazy lengths to tame pets, we really enjoy the tale. And--for me, at least--when a guildmate or friend decides they want something really bizarre for their hunter alt, I get quite a kick out of lending a hand!

   My guildmate, an indecisive fellow (let's call him Jim) who is constantly swapping between classes, recently rolled a hunter alt.  Then he deleted it.  But when he remade it again, he decided he wanted something special for his first tame.

   Bored and not doing much, I tailed around behind him as a Sandstone Drake, offering him a lift to and from quest hubs.  When he hit level 10, off we went to Teldrassil.  We picked up a couple flight paths en route for his future levelling, and then went off across the sea for his kitty.

Demons can ride dragons, too!  ...Sort of.
   It took a good five or ten minutes to fly there, and when we did get there, it took a bit of scouting to find the cat.  My orcish friend then had some issues with his UI, and instead of taming, he engaged in a staring contest with the patrolling saber.  Eventually he managed to sort his UI, and the tame commenced!

   This is a neat pet, and not one you often see with Horde hunters--or hunters at all, for that matter.  He's one of the ones added in with the Shattering--being previously unavailable.  His skin's a bit low-res, but he's pretty striking... although a big orc with mutton-chops and a mohawk seems a bit strange next to a white cat!

   For me, helping other hunters tame their rares is very nearly as fulfilling as finally finding a hard-to-get pet myself.  Assisting with a camp, teaching a hunter about the Molten Front challenge tames, or flying a lowbie somewhere bizarre--these things are right up my alley, and I'm sure that many other hunters feel the same way! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pet Pathing Bug: Update

While we can only hope for a fix for the pet pathing issues during the overnight patch, I can say that at least a friendly neighborhood GM has replied to my forum post on the topic.

My question described the issue, and then asked:

I'm both reporting this as a bug and also asking if the devs are, as far as blues know, aware of it; also, was this an intended change?

The GM's reply:

Well, both actually. Our developers have been tweaking pet pathing in recent weeks to try to improve it in certain terrain. So, its current state is indeed intended, but our developers know that it is not in a great place right now and have re-entered it as a bug and will continue to work on it until they are happy with the way the mechanic functions.

It sounds like--on the first read-through, anyway--they tried to fix some bizarre pathing issues and screwed up, completely borking the way pet pathing works.  It's also possible, though, that they were trying to make pet pathing more user-unfriendly, as a way to make the class more challenging, and they went too far.  I am 90% sure that it's the former, and I certainly hope that I'm right.  Perhaps when the servers come up we will see!

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Random Pet Challenge:" Ashtail

   So, once upon a time ages ago, I created a thread on the Petopia forums.  The name--and theme--was the "Random Pet Challenge."  The idea basically involved me using a Random Number Generator website to assign interested people pets to tame.  The players would then tame the pets and review them.  I had a number of suggested "review criteria" they could cover, so that potential users of the same pets could get an idea of the pros and cons of any given pet.  It turned out to be extremely popular, running to a couple dozen pages pretty fast, and becoming quite overwhelming!  Other players picked up the idea once I stopped, and now the Random Pet Challenge is in its third incarnation.  Sometimes I myself go back and request one--out of boredom, or curiosity.  Today, my assigned pet was Ashtail, the rare blue-gray fox from Loch Modan.
Dancing delicately between Vrykul ankles.
The Tame

   Ashtail's a uniquely colored rare Fox placed in Loch Modan.  He's a Ferocity pet (being a Fox, though most would expect them to be Cunning!), Neutral, and is on a 30-90 minute respawn timer.  The fox family ability, Tail Spin, reduces the ranged/melee attack speed of enemies within 10 yards for 20 seconds.  In addition, he gets Trick, a cute little move that lets him dance for a few seconds!   When I first went to pick him up (I flew over from Twilight Highlands as a Horde), he actually wasn't spawned.  I did a double-check on Wowhead for his timer & spawnpoint, parked myself, entered him into NPC-Scan and waited.  About a half hour later, he spawned.

   When he's "wild," he's apparently a rogue--he'll use Shadowstep and Evasion on you while fighting.  Well, cunning devil!  Oh wait, I mean Ferocity.  I named him Smoke due to his color, and off we went.

Model & Animations

   The first thing I did was take him for a run around Orgrimmar and have a look at his idle animations, and at his Trick.  Blizzard still hasn't changed Trick in that the fox will carry on using it even when the player is moving, so you can have a fox out now racing at 100%+ speed along the ground on its two back legs!
Foxes are party animals!
   The animations are smooth, but the run looks somewhat awkward--the back bends in two different places depending on whether he's gathering up or flexing.  It's a bit hard to catch in a screenshot, but maybe this will give an idea.  (Notice also the way his front leg thins down oddly far when running.)

Oddly, perhaps because he shares the coyote model and animations, the fox also howls while idle--although he makes no sound:

He also has a noticeable overbite, which hard to "unsee" once you've noticed it.  Lastly, his ears move ludicrously far when he does his sniffing-the-ground idle animation--they actually cover his face!

   As for his model and appearance, he's looking good!  His colors are a soft blue-gray, very pretty to look at and shading into a dark navy blue and then black on the legs.  His tail has a pale tip, and his underbelly and throat, along with his face, has pale gray-white markings.  His eyes actually glow, a very bright and pale aqua blue.  His model and skin are both advanced Cataclysm tech, so they're very smooth and pretty to look at.

   One odd thing that I noticed, though, is that from the front he always looks either startled or completely blank--his eyes are really widely spaced, and very round.

   He makes no idle sounds; his in-combat noises are quiet, but I personally find them somewhat irritating.  Mind you that's a personal thing; many people might find them endearing!

   His overall size is pleasant; he's about the same size as a coyote-model wolf pet, perhaps a bit smaller.  He is large enough to feel like a solid presence at your side without becoming overly large or obtrusive, or detrimental to targetting.


   This pet seems pretty useless in PvP.  Maybe it's just me, but I'd think non-BM hunters would want a root and likely a Cunning or even Tenacity pet, and that BM would want something with a damage boost or more adaptable utility.  The AoE debuff is okay in huge groups, like Tol Barad, but it doesn't affect casters and doesn't buff you at all.

   In group PvE, tanks will cover the fox's debuff.  In solo PvE, though, this guy's pretty nifty--his AoE debuff will both help him keep aggro on multiple mobs and will allow him to take a bit less damage from physically-attacking enemies.  If you like the look of a fox and want somewhere to use it, I'd think that questing and grinding is his place to shine!

   All in all, this is a fun pet to play with, and overall he's pretty to look at.  For me, though, some of the animation quirks put me off, and his relative uselessness probably means I won't keep him around (a Spirit Beast's damage buff + aggro generated by Spirit Mend, along with the utility of Spirit Mend itself, leaves little competition for me!).  He's fun, though, and he's pretty, and I'm guessing a great many folks really love this guy to death!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pet Pathing / AI Issues

   One thing I've always loved about my pets, particularly as a BM hunter, is that they seemed to have pretty good "intelligence."  You could pop a pet onto Defensive, and it'd do things like switch to a healer if one began to heal (having an aggro table, I assume), or in solo PvE, swap target repeatedly to make sure nothing switched to you.  You could put a pet on Aggressive, and if it "sensed" a rogue stealthing too close, it would turn and stare in that direction, alerting you to his presence--or downright attack them and break them out of stealth if they became visible to the pet.  However, if your pet was set to Defensive and you commanded it to Follow, it would drop target and obey.

   In addition to that, a pet would path intelligently--they would use the same type of routes that a player would.  So if you sent your pet after something standing at the bottom of a tower, the pet would run down through the tower and attack; if you sent pet on something in the next room, the pet would go to the nearest doorway and run in.

   Since this last patch, I've been learning the hard way, pet AI is pretty broken.  A pet no longer knows how to go down a tower or around a wall, and will instead simply stand motionless, staring at the target--and will not obey commands most of the time, leaving a BM PvPer like myself completely alone.

   To add to these new issues, the design intent for the new stances has also become a bit more clearer, and it's not a pretty picture.  Whereas the old Defensive stance had the pet attacking anything you attacked, or which attacked you, the new one ONLY attacks mobs or players which attack you first.  This is completely useless, and I honestly can't ever imagine a situation where you'd want to be hit before sending your pet.  The Assist stance is also quite buggy, overwriting manual commands--so if you try to send your pet to a new target, but have a DoT on your old or if another player is hitting you, the pet will ignore your command and go to the player which is DoTted or hitting you instead.  You literally cannot control it.

   I could set it to Passive, and use only manual commands, but there's a few things for which I value the old Defensive stance--for example, the pet streaking off into the bushes in WSG and alerting me that there's a healer behind that tree stump forty yards away healing my target.

   As a BM hunter, these are pretty crippling changes.  To fix them, I suggest the following:

* Remove Defensive stance entirely or repeal the changes; add back the old Aggressive stance.
* Change Assist stance so that manual commands overwrite stance behavior until the command has been executed.
* Return pet pathing AI to the previous state; there was nothing wrong with it, and now it's broken.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kindness & Cruelty

   So, one of the big topics right now in the pet community is basically help versus harm during the camping and taming of all of the new Molten Front / Hyjal pets.  Tales abound of people getting mobs stolen or killed mid-tame, or being harassed, griefed or camped by other players--whether that be killing, emote-spamming, or deliberately tripping NPC Scan repeatedly.

   The taunting of pets mid-tame was so bad that Blizzard actually hotfixed them, making it so they are immune to Taunt and Distracting Shot.

   I personally had a couple interesting experiences, but they were happily on the other side of that coin.

   I myself found a night elf hunter roaming about in Widow's Clutch, and led her to (and helped her tame) Solix.  I've talked to her since, and she seems quite nice!

Who says Night Elves and Orcs can't get along?
   While taming Kirix, I found another hunter up there who'd died--but he told me to go ahead and tame Kirix, and despite my dying twice in the attempts, he sat by and let me try again and again.  He was there mainly for Skarr, I think, but regardless, he could have easily taken Kirix for himself.

   Best of all, though, was Deth'tilac's tame.  The kite was intense as hell, taking somewhere between five and ten minutes of disengaging through her while she used Deth Strike on my pets, then reviving them while she was stuck in Entrapment and sending pet once more.  That wasn't the stressful bit, though.

Kiting Deth'tilac, with friendly bystanders!
   No less than seven other players were standing there, milling about (and this before she was immune to taunts).  ALL of them were Alliance players, and yet, I tamed her in the end.  The majority of them simply watched, despite two being hunters who could have attempted to steal the tame.  One warrior got himself killed by her twice--but whether he was trying to help or harm I will never know, as he didn't answer me later on in whispers.  The other players, though--some despite urging from friends to "KILL IT"--kindly allowed me to carry on without trouble!  That's at least six people who allowed a member of the opposite faction to take something--slowly--that they could have taken for themselves or killed.


   My point is that there are good people out there as well as bad.  People that will help you and cheer you on, or alert you to spawns, or avoid using their rares near the spawnpoints so they won't trigger fellow hunters' NPC Scans.  These people will tell you about spawn timers, give you a heads' up if they've seen a lot of competition in a specific place, and most of them will happily exchange war stories while you wait.  I've even heard about hunters basically standing in line, politely taking turns to attempt to tame a particular rare!

   So if you're getting down, or you're afraid of going into this--remember, there are nice people out there too!

Friday, July 1, 2011


   So, the waves of hunters streaming into the Molten Front are beginning to trickle out with their chosen pets.  One of the more common pets we're going to be seeing a lot of, at least for awhile, are the lovely fire spiders.

   While there's plenty of common ones, there are a few that are only available as rares--and only in the super hard-to-tame format.  Placed as a challenge to the skilled, as well as a preventative measure against random killings, these spiders are definitely a prize for the rare-hunters among us.

  We're still learning a few new things about them, too.  Hunters had initially believed, for example, that the only green tameable fire spider was Kirix, a vicious rare elite.  A few enterprising folks, though, found another source for this pet: a strange pack of randomly patrolling, tiny spiders with ~7k hp apiece. 

   These spiders, called Cinderweb Broodlings, spawn in the Widow's Clutch--but don't mix them up with the completely identical spiders that spawn from the dead Hyjal Scout.  The latter, which spawn, mill about and then despawn 30 seconds or so later, are not tameable.  They also have a different NPC ID.  The completely identical spiders which can be tamed spawn randomly and race through the Widow's Clutch to the center before despawning.  Incidentally, if you want to search for the tameable ones yourself, their ID for NPC Scan is 53753.

  Wowhead and Petopia members are still trying to figure out exactly what triggers these spawns--sometimes a day or more goes by without a spawn, and sometimes they seem to swarm.  The current theories revolve around daily quests somehow being related.

   Oh, and one final note: as of today's hotfix, the Firelands & Molten Front tameables will be immune to Distracting Shot and Taunt, preventing hunters from losing their precious, hard-to-get pets mid-tame!  Yey!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Two More Changes

So the Firelands patch is now released, and the great honor farm--or Molten Front dailies, or Firelands raid attempts, depending on what you're into--are now underway.

I want to just touch on two more changes that came in with this patch--something on top of all those new pets we lucky hunters got.

First off, you've probably noticed that the Aggressive pet stance has been removed.  While this makes me somewhat sad--it means my pet can't pull rogues or druids from stealth anymore--it was quite situational and I guess I understand the reasoning.  What is the reasoning?  Well, they wanted to make room for a new stance, called "Assist."  What Assist does is make the pet attack whatever you attack, staying on any target you're focusing on.  Essentially, it removes the need for PvErs to macro /petattack into everything.

Before & After Kibler's Bits.
The second change is a cosmetic one, but it's definitely worth mentioning.  The old Kibler's Bits pet food (you can get the recipe by doing Outland cooking dailies) has been changed.  Instead of increasing your pet's happiness--which was removed as a statistic in 4.1--Kibler's Bits now make your pet a great deal larger for five minutes.  You'll also notice a blue glow drifting from your pet.  This is quite nice to use on, for example, the tiny Demon Dogs for laughs!

Be honest... Would you mess with this?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

4.2: Firelands

Image © Blizzard Entertainment.
   So, today marks the release of Patch 4.2.  This patch brings us a new PvP season, a new raid and set of tier gear, and a new daily quest hub with all new rewards.  It also brings us a plethora of new pets!  We're going to be getting very beautiful, eye-catching fire spiders, as well as three new spirit beasts, and a new rare cat and crab.  None of these pet skins have ever been tameable.

   Before I get too much into this, let me go back a bit.  Since the release of World of Warcraft, hunters wanting rare pets have had to compete with everything from griefers to loot-hunters to, more recently, people killing rare tameables for achievements.  Cataclysm brought with it the first "hunter only" mob: Ghostcrawler, a spirit beast located in an out-of-the-way corner of Abyssal Depths.  What made this guy special was his Raid Boss personality.  Not only is he not part of any achievement, but he also has the health pool of a raid boss and he hits like a truck--and hits harder the more people are there. 
One of the ten new pets added in patch 4.2.

   Elsewhere in Cataclysm, the other rare tameables are quite killable--but rather than loot, they drop the "Crystalline Tear of Loyalty," a gray-quality item with flavor text "The desire to serve as a loyal companion, coalesced into a single priceless crystal."  This "priceless" crystal doesn't sell for much, but instead is meant to deter people from killing rare beasts they find wandering Azeroth.  It's still not as effective as Ghostcrawler's strategy of simply being unkillable, though.

   So, with the release of the Firelands and the Molten Front questing area, we have a bunch of new pets released.  However, instead of being basically loot chests waiting to be opened, they've taken a page from the Spirit Crab's book and made themselves nigh-on unkillable.  In order for a hunter to successfully tame one of these new pets, they'll need to look up the strategy and come prepared.  Nobody stumbling across these mobs on accident will come away with any loot!

   First off are the three new Spirit Beasts.  These are accessible from the day of the patch, and consist of a spirit owl and two Gondria-style spirit cats, one white and one blue.  The "trick" to taming the owl is finding a place where one can tag him while he flies past: he has a very high-altitude patrol route.  The cats, on the other hand, have a far nastier trick: their attack power scales with your armor.  That means that if you have even one piece of gear on, these kitties WILL one-shot you.  Instead, you have to get completely nude before you make your tame!

   Once you're deeper into the dailies, you'll find a few more nice pets waiting.  There are five rare spiders with a multitude of trick tames; one requires you to sacrifice and revive a pet (or an easygoing friend) to it nine times before it can be tamed; another must be kited across a certain number of Ice Traps, etc.  These spiders are found throughout the new questing area, and come in fiery green (Kirix), orange (Solix), purple-blue (Deth'tilac), yellow (Anthriss) and red (Skitterflame).  If you want one of the new flame spiders without camping a rare, you can nab a common version of the red or yellow flame spiders in the area instead.
One of the ten new pets added in 4.2.

   Last but not least, we have two tameable rares added to somewhat remote rock outcroppings in the zone.  The first is a "gem crab" named Karkin, who has metallic or stone silver etching on a black base and a red-orange glow over the top.  The second is a new cat, one of the old "stone cats" of Ulduar.  This cat, named Skarr, is a black stone panther with glowing red eyes.  It's the same type of cat you control when doing the Oracles daily in Sholazar Basin--Soo-holu--or you can see the model lounging outside Bouldercrag's Refuge in the Storm Peaks.  Skarr is the first of his kind, however, to be tameable.

Well, there you have it--  Happy hunting, folks!

JS' Hunter Bar - Addon

Here's another addon I'd like to share.

This is an explanation of some of the features; this is also altered a bit for my own UI.

JS' Hunter Bar is an addon that provides a lot of hunter utility in a small package.  It's highly configurable, so even if there's things you don't like about it, you can remove or change them.

The addon is basically a moveable graphical display.  It shows timers and durations of short-term buffs and procs, along with a more visible focus bar, autoshot swing timer and spec-specific build-up display (for BM, this means it will track Frenzy stacks).  It also has moveable pop-up icons warning you when your opponent has something that should be purged with Tranquilizing Shot (ex. an Enrage on a warrior or boss), in addition to having a nice "trap duration" icon warning you of your triggered Freezing Trap's duration.  With this addon installed, there's also the option to cast Misdirection onto your raid/party members or pet simply by right-clicking their raid or party frame, as well as options to announce Misdirection (and failed Misdirection due to mounted target) to party or raid.

Last, but certainly not least, there's a popup in chat informing you (with spell links) of what exactly your Tranquilizing Shot has purged, and off whom.  You can configure this to announce to raid, chat, yourself in /whisper, or auto-chat depending on your group type.

It's got a lot of utility packed into a very small addon, and I strongly recommend it for all hunters!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Raid Checklist - Addon

   I mentioned yesterday an addon called RaidChecklist, by Anyia, and I want to share a bit more info about this.

   Any hunter who ever does any PvE should definitely have this addon.

   Essentially, what this addon does is allow you to view, at a glance, which buffs are covered or missing in a group. 

   RaidChecklist provides a list of every potential buff.  When you access the buff list, it will show you which buffs are covered or missing by coloring the buff names in green or gray.  When you mouse over the various buffs (and debuffs), a tooltip will pop up telling you what classes & specs can provide the buff--and, if it's currently covered, which player is providing it.

   Some of the buffs and debuffs have a flag icon beside them which can be clicked for even more information, detailing exactly what talents in the classes in question provide the player with the ability to use the buff.

Click to see a bigger image of this addon in action!

   So in practice, you go into a dungeon or raid with your PvE pet set--let's say, a 5% crit pet (Devilsaur/Wolf), an Agi/Str pet (Cat/Spirit Beast), a Bloodlust/Heroism pet (Core Hound) and an ArP pet (Raptor).  You can then pop open Raid Checklist using the (moveable) icon it places on your screen.  RaidChecklist will tell you what buffs are missing; let's say a warrior is providing both the cat and wolf buffs, and you have a mage for Time Warp (BL/Hero).  Then you know you can bust out your Raptor pet to provide the strong Armor Penetration debuff to your raids' targets.  The addon will even tell you which hunter pets can provide each buff, so if you're in a raid missing a particular buff, you could go grab the pet in question before it starts!

   It makes being useful to your raid very simple and easy, and far less time-consuming then trying to sort the buffs "by eye."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Spirit Beasts

...are amazing!  Most hunters--BM in particular--will know all about this special type of pet, but those who are new to the spec, or to the Hunter class in general, may find some useful information here.

What is a Spirit Beast?
   Any time you come up against a good BM hunter in PvP, they're likely using one of a small handful of pet types.  The most common, and arguably the most versatile (not to mention powerful), is the Spirit Beast.  This is a hard-to-get pet, as they exist only as unique rare-spawn mobs, often spawning only once every 6-12 hours and being both camped for by hunters and stumbled across by levellers.  They are Ferocity, and they are Exotic--meaning only higher-level Beast Mastery hunters can tame and control them.  They are usually ghostly or spectral in appearance, fitting with the "spirit" theme.


What does a Spirit Beast do?
   The Spirit Beast, like all Exotic pets, has two family abilities--plus a bonus.  The first is the most powerful single damage buff that a pet can give the hunter, Roar of Courage.  This (which is identical to the Cat family's buff) boosts the Agility and the Strength of the hunter, his or her pet and the entire party or raid, with a 100 yard range.  This means that your raid, arena team or nearby battleground members get the pet's buff.  The Spirit Beast's second family ability is Spirit Mend, a powerful instant-cast heal that heals for a medium initial amount, followed by several smaller Heal Over Time ticks.  This can be left on autocast (and the pet AI will use it intelligently on any nearby party--NOT raid--members, including itself, who drop below 50% hp), or can be taken off autocast and used directly, or macroed.  With the BM talent Longevity, this heal is on a 28-second cooldown, and the HoT ticks for 10 seconds, meaning you can have it running for about a third of the time in combat.  Lastly, like the Cat family, the Spirit Beast can Prowl (in the Spirit Beast, "Spirit Walk"), stealthing the pet and slowing its movement speed.

In addition to the Spirit Beast-specific abilities, Spirit Beasts gain the added benefits of the Ferocity family's strong damage-boosting talents.  Culling the Herd and Call of the Wild will boost both the hunter's and the pet's damage, while Spider's Bite, Spiked Collar, Shark Attack and potentially Wild Hunt (if specced) will make the pet a very intimidating source of damage.

A Spirit Beast, like any BM hunter's pet, accounts for a large % of damage, as well as providing heavy hits of its own.

When should I use a Spirit Beast?   In PvE you'll always want to cover a buff which is missing for your raid, which means there's no pro or con as such in using any individual Ferocity pet.  This means that the Spirit Beast is a nice replacement for a BM hunter's Cat, as it provides the same buff along with a heal.  So if your group or raid is missing the Agility/Strength buff, this is a good pet choice.

In PvP, a BM hunter is well-known for heavy damage.  Yes, we can be hard to kill, but when your cooldowns are up and that hunter pops Bestial Wrath, you know you're in for some serious pain.  The Spirit Beast capitalizes on this, bringing to the table all of the Ferocity damage buffs and most powerful damage-buffing Family skill of any pet.  In addition to this, the heal is surprisingly powerful; a Spirit Beast can keep you going when the going gets tough.  It's not just the amount of the heal which is strong--it doesn't usually display particularly high numbers.  Rather, the heal is universal--many pet abilities are situational, great in some cases and useless in others.  Spirit Mend, though, is always useful--even when going toe to toe with a healer, since otherwise, that healer might actually be able to wear you down.  Against casters, melee, ranged, whatever--Spirit Mend is strong. 

The point is, a Spirit Beast will almost always be a Beast Mastery hunter's strongest choice for PvP.

When should I not use a Spirit Beast?  Obviously, in PvE, if the Roar of Courage buff (again, Agility + Strength) buff is already covered, it's best for you and the group if you provide another buff instead.  The RaidChecklist addon (which deserves its own post at some point) is a wonderful tool to see which buffs are missing from your party or raid.  Good pets to have along in PvE to ensure buffs are covered include the Raptor for ArP, Wolf or Devilsaur for 5% crit, and Core Hound for Bloodlust/Time Warp/Heroism (Insanity), among many other options.

In PvP, there are a few situations where you may prefer another pet.  Because your pet is Ferocity, users of Spirit Beasts will be missing out on Cunning and Tenacity talents--but as BM, you really should be capitalizing on your pet as a damage source over any other benefit.  That said, if you're low on resilience or fighting a melee that's proving tough, there are a number of other options to choose from.  The best other choices, I find, are the Silithid, the Chimaera and the Bird of Prey.  The Silithid has a +Stamina buff and a ranged root; the Chimaera has a (situational) AoE and a ranged snare with nearly permanent up-time.  Lastly, the Bird of Prey--the only non-Exotic I'm listing here--has a disarm, which can cripple both melee opponents and enemy hunters when used intelligently.

Now, I mention these pets because they are all good PvP pets, and they're Cunning.  I mention Cunning because if you are a hunter with low Resilience, perhaps still gearing up, Roar of Sacrifice can cover for you.  This talent, which Spirit Beasts (being Ferocity) can't access, makes you immune to Critical Strikes for a full twelve seconds.  You can use this while stunned, meaning that when that warrior finally lands you in an unescapable Throwdown or a rogue locks you into a full Shadow Dance, you can really ruin their day--and with Longevity, it's on only a 42-second cooldown.  The pet will take 20% of the damage you take during this time, though--not transferred, just shared--so remember to Mend Pet when it's over if Mend wasn't already ticking.

So as you can see, there may be some PvP situations where you might prefer a Cunning pet, preferably with PvP utility, to cover your back, rather than going for all-out damage.  The Cunning talents are something the Spirit Beast lacks--but it's not a negative point so much as a trade-off, and again, you just need to know when to use which pet.


Where Can I Get a Spirit Beast?
  Well, my main recommendation is to check out Petopia's Spirit Beast page here.  This will list the Spirit Beasts, and link to their Wowhead pages for more information.

Some of them are easier to get than others.  By "easy" I mean you can turn up and often find them spawned.  Others are in zones with high player traffic or are camped for their looks by other hunters, and the competition can be tough.

Some general hunting tips:

* Download and use the addons NPCScan and NPCScan Overlay.  These will alert you when a Spirit Beast is nearby, taking the human error factor out of your search.  It will also make targetting the Spirit Beast easy, as well as placing a Raid Target icon over its head to help you find it.  If you haven't used addons before, be aware that they're perfectly allowed and safe in World of Warcraft.

* Hunt very late at night or early in the morning.  Afternoons and evenings, especially on the weekends, are the worst times to search for these pets--mainly because of the player traffic/competition.  Most of the pets are killable, and some of the old Wrath of the Lich King ones are even part of an achievement; in addition, the silver dragon around their portraits entice many leveling or ore- or herb-grinding players who stumble across them into killing them.  As a result, obtaining a Spirit Beast can be a frustrating trial.

* If you don't care which Spirit Beast you want, go check the spawnpoints for every single one.  Chances are at least one will be spawned and available.

* Choose to either camp a pet consistently or periodically search for them all.  Camping a single pet for an hour or two a day isn't likely to yield results quickly, as the "time alive" window for any individual rare is rather low.  Rather, pick a pet and prepare to camp until it spawns, or check all of the pets' spawnpoints once or twice per day on the offchance that they're up--this last method is generally the best if you aren't cut out for long, boring periods of sitting staring at trees or snow.

Loque-Nahak   This Spirit Beast is a large cream-colored leopard with glowing blue-green fire coming from his jaws and eyes, and darker brown, swirling spots marking his coat.   His in-combat roars and growls are very loud and recognizable even after taming.  He's one of the more striking and well-known WoW beasts, and there is both a lot of love and hate for his unique (and anatomically bizarre) model.  He's found in Sholazar Basin (Northrend), mainly around the outer edges of the zone, and can be difficult to get due to high player traffic in this region.

Gondria    This is a spectral (translucent) glowing violet-colored Saber Cat, with green-blue eyes that can be seen through the cat's body.  She spawns in a variety of places in the snowier regions of Zul Drak (Northrend).  She is sometimes somewhat easier to find than Loque-Nahak, but not by much; leveling traffic in this region (along with Hunter competition) is still noticeable.


Skoll    The first non-feline Spirit Beast, Skoll is a Northrend Worg with a solid and very vivid bright blue coat streaked with animated lightning.  His lightning coat emits a constant low-volume sound reminiscent of electricity, like a bad power line humming and sparking, which may irritate some players.  He's found in a handful of small spawnpoints in the Storm Peaks (Northrend).  Many players still hunt the rare mount-dropping mob of the region, the Time-Lost Proto Drake, and often stumble across (and kill) Skoll in their search, although he's usually at less risk than either Loque or Gondria.

Arcturis   Arcturis is a pale blue and very ghostly glowing spectral bear pet.  This is one of the "easier" to camp pets, as he only has a single spawnpoint.  This, however, can make the competition far more fierce: several hunters might wind up sitting in the same spawnpoint, competing for the tame and even killing the pet when their "foe" is making the tame first (tsk, tsk, people!).  He spawns in a patch of forest near the river to the west of the Alliance camp Amberpine Lodge in Grizzly Hills (Northrend).  If you want to camp by turning on NPCScan and then sitting out of window while waiting for a spawn at 3 am, this may be your best bet.

Ghostcrawler   Named after the (in)famous WoW developer, this pet--a translucent glowing blue crab--is one of the best to grab on a whim.  He's in a very out-of-the-way corner of the Abyssal Depths of Vashj'ir, and is also unkillable by anyone who might happen to stumble across him--your only competition will usually be other hunters.  That said, *finding* him can be a bit more challenging.  He phases in and out while patrolling a very large area, meaning you can cover all of his range and not see him despite him being there.  You should do several full circles, or to camp one spot on his patrol route.  He will phase in and out every 20 seconds or so, and continue on his linear path at a "walking" pace--you can stay with him if he phases by setting your Abyssal Seahorse onto the mount floor, toggling Walk and following his route as well (NPCScan Overlay marks it on your Zone Map).  This pet is the smallest of the Spirit Beasts, meaning he's unlikely to be targetted in PvP but easier to lose track of in a fight.

Karoma     This blue Ghost Wolf is an old model brought back due to popular demand; the original ghostly wolf was removed from the game after it was found to be tameable, and disappointed hunters (like myself!) were happy to hear of its return in the form of the more fitting Spirit Beast.  She is found in a variety of spawnpoints in the Twilight Highlands--and these are (mostly) fairly out-of-the-way, meaning she's generally safe from the rather heavy player traffic of the region.  Like the cat Spirit Beasts, her sounds are unique; they are old-world wolf sounds but ghostly and echoing.  Karoma is the only Spirit Beast who is Hostile, showing as a red dot rather than yellow on the minimap when using Track Beasts.


Magria, Ankha and Ban'thalos   These three Spirit Beasts will be released with patch 4.2 and the Firelands content.  All three will be found in Mount Hyjal.  Ban'thalos is a ghostly green owl, and flies quite high in the sky, necessitating a slowfall-aggro or a tame from a high point.  Magria and Ankha are blue and white versions of Gondria, respectively--ghostly, glowing saber cats.  Their attack power in the wild scales with how much armor you have; in order to complete a successful tame, you'll need to strip off every single piece of armor you wear.  It's possible that the mechanics for all three of these pets are meant to make them less likely to be killed by random players, and thus easier for hunters to find and tame.

How do I use my Spirit Beast?  Well, if you've got your Spirit Beast, the first thing you need to do is properly spec it.  Go for pure damage, although if your pet has troubles maintaining high Focus in PvP, you can switch Wild Hunt for either Stamina talents or for Lionhearted, depending on your preference.  Once your pet's properly specced, you will want to decide whether to leave Spirit Walk (Prowl, i.e. Stealth) on or off.  I prefer mine off, as I find that the speed reduction is crippling when my pet's going in for the attack.  It is, however, a matter of preference.  Toggle it on or off in your Spellbook--if it bugs out and refuses to clear, you may find that you need to send your new pet into combat once before Spirit Walk will come off.

You also have to decide which four abilities you want to put on your Pet Bar for best control.  I personally suggest putting Growl and Cower on the pet's bars, along with either Spirit Mend, if you're leaving that toggled onto Autocast, and Heart of the Phoenix.  This last ability, if you've talented it, can bring your pet back to life every 15 minutes if it dies--and you yourself have to press it, meaning you'll want it available on the pet's bars.

Growl and Cower you may find yourself wanting to use manually, toggling Growl on and off in various situations and using Cower early on if your pet starts to take heavy damage.  Lastly, you need to decide whether to leave Spirit Mend on autocast.  In PvE you often can just leave it on and forget about it, but in PvP, you'll either want to take it off autocast and use it manually, or macro it and leave it on autocast anyway.  I admit to doing the latter: if I'm stunned or otherwise occupied, the pet's AI can react much more quickly than I can in using the ability.  In any case, I try to use Spirit Mend on every cooldown in PvP anyway (assuming a friendly target's taking damage), meaning the autocast will rarely be used.  Again, though, this is a matter of preference.

I recommend against talenting Lick Your Wounds in any situation.  There's a long-standing bug where when a player dismounts (usually into combat), the pet's HP takes several full seconds to scale to the player's stats, leaving the pet at ~6k hp, rather than ~100k.  This means that as it adjusts, the pet uses Lick Your Wounds, as it "thinks" it's low on health.  What this means practically is that you may find yourself dismounting into a fight, sending your pet and then finding that your pet is sitting 20 yards back channeling its cooldown while at full HP, leaving you scrambling to survive.  In my experience, the talent does more harm than good due to this bug.

Once your pet is specced and you're in combat, the main thing to remember is to use Spirit Mend properly.  Check out the macro I use for Spirit Mend (as well as seeing the amount that it heals!).  If you are taking any kind of damage, I recommend using Spirit Mend on every cooldown*--the cooldown isn't long, and the heal is good.  Otherwise, use the Spirit Beast like any other pet!  Except, of course, to marvel now and then at just how awesome they are.

* Except be aware of mages who might steal it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On the Topic of PvP...

So I talked a bit in my last post about PvP as a Beast Master.  I've been PvPing on my hunter since WotLK, and I consider myself a pretty competent PvPer.  I've picked up some tricks along the way: things I wish I'd known when I started, things I'd like to share.  I'm not talking keybinding, spec & glyphs etc, but rather things I've picked up along the way that might help hunters who are new to PvP--and maybe even old hats will glean a tidbit from it.  Bear in mind that some of these--notably number one--are BM-specific.

1. Own a Spirit Beast.  Seems simple enough--but getting a Spirit Beast can be a pain.  The heal, though, is something you should macro and bind--with a modifier for Focus or arena-mates, if possible.  You don't need to use the Spirit Beast in every situation--although I often do--but it's definitely a must-have in many cases.  The heal is very powerful, and the damage buff is quite literally second-to-none (equal to that of the Cat).  In other circumstances, I also recommend the Chimaera and the Silithid, and more situationally the Bird of Prey--especially if you are low on Resilience.  Their ability to help you kite and to come to your aid with Roar of Sacrifice (which, like Spirit Mend and the Silithid and Bird special abilities, you should take off autocast and macro) is extremely helpful to your survival if your gear isn't quite up to scratch yet.  Once your gear is decent, though, a Spirit Beast's heals, family skill + damage-boosting talents will really help you blow **** up.
Note the duration of the fight, and the healing done--Shiver is my Spirit Beast.   This healing is all Spirit Mend.

I use the following macro, but be aware that you'll want to pick the Spirit Mend icon specifically rather than the ?, because otherwise it will show as a ? when the pet is away.

#showtooltip Spirit Mend
/cast [mod:shift, @focus] Spirit Mend; [nomod, @player] Spirit Mend

This casts Spirit Mend on me, or on my Focus when I hold Shift while hitting the keybind for it.  Incidentally, also do this for other pet abilities, be it Master's Call, Intervene, or Roar of Sacrifice.

2. Coordinate your CC and your burst.  It may be hard to hold back, but blowing all your cooldowns into that mage will go poorly if the mage turns into an ice cube.  Wait for the opponent to blow some defensive cooldowns--or if it's going to be a close fight, burst early to force defensive cooldowns, and then play defensively yourself until you can burst again; BM cooldowns are relatively short.  Hold back on burst in arena until your Freezing trap is ready (assuming the fight is longer than one BW), and control the teammate in advance--getting CC'd one second after blowing BW is not pleasant.  Also, try and save Intimidation for your burst--just as you pop BW, to prevent defensive cds, or use it to stop the enemy if they try and LoS during BW.

If for some reason you need to try and CC the dps and nuke the healer, use Intimidation just after you CC to delay the CC being cleansed.  Lastly--consider saving BW as a second trinket against CC-heavy teams who rely on CC + Burst coordination, especially if you have a partner who can put out pressure.  Just remember to use your trinket first, and then your BW, and then you can burst.  You can often get a healer out into the open if you and your teammate retreat across the arena; the DPS will follow, the healer will follow their DPS, and you can CC the dps and switch hard to pop everything into that healer.

3. Build up full focus before popping BW. 
Blowing your biggest cooldown and then needing to shoot off Cobra Shots, or blowing BW at half focus and finishing out of focus with your enemy at 10% and Kill Shot on cooldown--these are not pleasant circumstances.  Also, unlike in PvE, where you'll want to save Rapid Fire for recharging focus after a BW, you can pop Rapid Fire during BW if you're hell-bent on scoring a kill.

4. Keep Mend Pet up at all times.  I mean, ALL TIMES.  You should be specced for Imp. Mend Pet anyway, and this will clear CC on your pet as well as heal it (just beware of UA and VT being placed on your pet by saavy casters).  Hopefully as BM, you'll also have it glyphed.  Use Spirit Mend on every single cooldown on whoever is being hit--the heal is powerful, and the cooldown is short.  DO NOT send a pet out of LoS without Mend Pet on.  Also, keep Cower on the pet's bars, and use it early if the pet gets focused; don't be afraid to pull the pet back to let Mend top it up.  Don't be afraid to use Spirit Mend on the pet itself if it's getting focused, either!  Remember, too, that your pet's Growl can be used to taunt enemy pets who aren't set to Passive.  You can Growl Grounding Totem as well, simply by pressing Growl as soon as the totem drops, regardless of which enemy your pet is on (assuming it's in range). 

Also, one final note--remember that, if your pet is getting focused and is likely to die, you can DISMISS PET, and then (once you're far enough away that it won't get one-shot when resummoned) call it back out.  This isn't a good idea if there's tons of DoTs on it, since the pet will likely have only a few thousand HP for several seconds after being summoned and the DoTs may kill it before scaling adjusts its hp to full.  That said, if you have more than one of the same type of pet with you, you can simply dismiss the focused pet and call another.  TL;DR, your pet should NEVER die--it is half of you, and if it dies, you will die too.

5. You can Tranquilizing Shot without breaking CC.  Take advantage of this.  In a duel, for example, you can trap a mage or paladin and purge off every single buff--and you should.  It will either force an early bubble or trinket, or you'll strip off every single buff and be able to Tranq off Avenging Wrath or other nasty buffs & procs before they become problematic (having already removed trash buffs you'd normally have to peel off first).  Remember too that Tranquilizing Shot removes Enrage effects--so Tranq off a Warrior's enrage the second it appears.

6. Feign Death!  For those who don't know, this drops your enemy's target.  A brief Feign Death can give you several seconds of uninterrupted burst while your opponent struggles to retarget you.  This is especially useful just after an enemy triggers Snake Trap, or as an interrupt on an offensive cast.  These are both nasty tactics, and quite effective ones--and I sadly see very few people using FD in PvP videos.  If they've aggroed the snakes in your trap, they will have to manually click you or tab through ten or so snakes first (assuming they don't have a /targetlasttarget macro).  Using Feign Death versus a Warrior after you've Disengaged is also a good tactic--they will almost always charge your Disengage, and the Feign will often give you just enough time to outrange that--or to drop a trap.  Or, you can Feign after the charge, leaving the warrior hitting Tab while you regain range (this is also a good time to pre-emptively Master's Call).  Remember though that, in duels, party members will not lose their target on you if you Feign.

7. Use your pet to pressure.
  If you have to Deterrance, continue to use your pet to harry the enemy.  The same goes for if you need to LoS or bandage, or anything else.  You can also leave your pet on a healer while you hurt the DPS--you can Kill Command the healer for pressure and use Intimidation at will as an interrupt, and prevent the healer from drinking.

8. Disengage is awesome.  You can leap off a bridge or cliff and Disengage right back, and sometimes your enemy will leap after you.  Practice first--duel or trap a lowbie mob on a ledge and try it.  You can also use it to chase your enemies, and you should practice at this, too.  Disengaging after someone and Kill Shotting them while flying through the air is great, and even if you don't score a kill with it, it looks really impressive--and in the end, isn't that all that matters?  Remember, you can use it to cover ground any time you're in combat--so feel free to get into combat if you're somewhere where you want to move quickly without mounting.  Throw anything at a passing enemy or critter and spin-jump wherever you're wanting to go.  Oh, and you can get into combat on top of a cliff, and Disengage at the bottom to avoid fall damage, assuming it's not too far to lose combat--for example, you can shoot someone at Lumber Mill in AB, jump, and Disengage at the bottom.  Keep this in mind if you manage to get hit by a knockback on a ledge--or if you're quick enough, you can Disengage right back to the ledge.

9. If you're at low health and you come up against another hunter, sit on them.  No, seriously.  Run into melee range, Wing Clip and keep them close; Disengage after them if they use it.  Drop traps for Entrapment, Concussive if they do get range, and close the gap.  You can still kill them with your pet, and if they can't shoot you, they can't kill you.  This is mainly a tip for a BM hunter fighting against a non-BM, but if the enemy hunter is also Beast Mastery, try and taunt their pet with yours before putting your pet back onto the hunter, or CC the pet if you can.  With Kill Commands and good counter-kiting, you CAN kill them.  Remember, you have almost identical cooldowns--so if they Scatter Shot you to get range, Scatter Shot and run right back!  Fellow hunters rarely expect this, and often don't know how to counter it.  You can also use this tactic as a recovery period until your defensive CDs are ready again (mainly Feign Death and Spirit Mend).  Just remember, keep Mend on your pet to cleanse any CC the hunter may throw at it.  You can also use this tactic if your CC is on cooldown and you're wanting to nuke a different target, and the hunter is trying to focus you; if you're very good you can keep pressure on your secondary target while preventing the hunter's damage through counter-kiting, all at once.

10. Don't be afraid to trap + bandage
.  Obviously, wait until any DoTs are off you before doing this, and preferably force the enemy to trinket in advance.  That said, you can try to force a trink (or bubble or block) early by trapping + bandaging even if you don't really need the heal.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why I Play Beast Mastery

Why Beast Mastery?

   As long as I've played my hunter, I've played Beast Mastery.  Why?

   It isn't because of the numbers, or the abilities--although I've learned that regardless of numerical disadvantage, a knowledgeable and determined player can top charts or get titles regardless of spec. 

   I rolled Beast Mastery because I liked the idea of it.  The theme of being one with an animal partner is the reason I rolled a hunter in the first place, and BM really emphasizes that.  Some players might choose the hunter class because they like the idea of stalking the wilds or sniping from a distance, but for me the idea of rushing into battle with a massive wolf by my side was too appealing to pass up.  My other favorite classes have been shaman and druid, for similar reasons: a druid can shapeshift into beasts, and a shaman can take on the form of a ghost wolf to travel more quickly.  And while World of Warcraft depicts these in very graphically simplistic form, the idea is there, and it's the idea that I love.  I have two BM specs now: one for PvE, and one for PvP.  They're quite different, but they're both BM.

How is Beast Mastery different?
   Well, the playstyle is entirely different in PvP, for one thing.  Your focus is on pulling together a cluster of specific conditions, then unleashing huge burst damage.  It revolves around positioning, micromanagement and keeping your pet alive and in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time.  Your pet is an extention of your own character, and the extra control is a must.  Anyone who claims that Beast Mastery is a simple spec has never played it to its full potential!  I've come to love BM just as much for the challenge of getting the most out of an underused spec as for the theme of it.

In PvE   I started raiding as BM back in WotLK.  I found that once I'd gotten the spec, glyphs and pet choice (and talents!) just right, and completely mastered the rotation, I could outperform even the top raiders in every guild on my server's faction, single-target or not.  Running ICC, I don't think I was ever outdone by another hunter--at least not consistently.  My green devilsaur, Valak, and my gray worg Grim were my main raiding pets during this time, and I remember the competition (for BM hunters, anyway) between Devilsaurs and Wolves being very fierce.  Part of the reason for my success, too, was probably my Orcish race--Command is nothing to sniff at for a BM hunter!

   Anyway, the point is: raiding as BM in WotLK was difficult.  You couldn't waltz in and do your part--you had to really crunch numbers, bring everything you could to the table and push to be the best.  BUT, if you did put in the effort, you COULD succeed.

   Nowadays things are easier.  The mockery toward BM hunters still actually exists, I've found, in some unenlightened circles, but in truth BM now competes for top hunter PvE spec.  The main difference between BM and the other specs in PvE is that your DPS (and threat) are split.  You give less initial threat through Misdirection, and have to watch your threat far less while nuking.  You can put your pet on one target and yourself on another, giving decent DPS to both.  Heavy movement fights are somewhat easier on your numbers if you need to swap aspect, as the pet will stay on-target and continue with steady damage.  On the other hand, a fight where you need to keep your pet on passive, change targets often or recall your pet to avoid damage will result in a much heavier DPS loss.  If you're doing a lot of AoE, your numbers will be lower than a Survival hunter's--but if it's AoE now and then, and your BW is off cooldown, your AoE will be insane, as you can simply spam Multishots until everything is dead.

   We also now have a lot more cooldowns to manage than before.  We have Fervor to worry about, along with lining Kill Commands up with BW, trinket/racials and preferably Call of the Wild.  Building up focus before a BW burst, properly timing Rapid Fire, even knowing when to pop Distracting Shot + Deterrance and then feign in an absolute emergency (and how, so you don't wipe a group or raid with positioning)--these are all key to becoming a good BM hunter.  Granted, not all of these are BM-specific--but they're all important.

On the PvP front, the differences get more pronounced.  As MM, you have a lot of control and a lot of damage--but it's more glass cannon-esque.  You have Readiness for two Deterrances, sure, and Chimera Shot.  You also have double silences, and that is an extremely good advantage against any caster, but healers in particular.  BM has a much tougher time, in my experience, taking down healers--but on the flip side, I've never died to one, either.  Spirit Bond and a Spirit Beast's heals are pretty much all you need to be a force to be reckoned with, and the steady heavy damage from a geared BM hunter is rather scary to many healers (I've been on the receiving end, too!), especially when paired with a good melee dps.  A Kill Command can finish off someone who's dipped out of your LoS to heal, and Kill Command and the pet damage in general makes pillar-humpers far less of an issue (although the issue is certainly still there).  The pet of a CC'd BM hunter will still put out a decent amount of pressure as well.

   BM, though, needs to be extremely judicious about cooldown usage, and has to learn to be good at timing CC with burst.  As BM you also need to know when and how to play defensively, kiting and using cooldowns to turn the fight around rather than going for pure damage.  I think that preventing the enemy from hurting you--through CC's, stuns, kiting and the use of defensive cooldowns--is probably the biggest key to successful BM--and, really, overall hunter--PvP.

   BM suffers from a couple weaknesses, of course.  We lack the control of the other specs, for one thing, despite having the extra stun and periodic burst.  Our sustained damage is lower than that of MM.  If our pet is CC'd, we don't just lose Master's Call and the pet's talented or family abilities--we lose half our damage and a stun to boot, as well as any procs from the pet's abilities.  That said, if we ourselves are CC'd, the pet is still out there putting out good damage--and preventing the healer from drinking (assuming the healer isn't abusing sit bugs, although a good Kill Command crit will make them think twice about doing this).  Another weakness is fighting Death Knights--a good Death Knight will use Death Strike on your pet, meaning that you either need to out-damage his healing, or failing that, pull your pet back and kite and kill the Death Knight without a pet at all.  Both are quite doable, but it's not a cakewalk by any means, assuming the DK is any good.

   I think the biggest weakness, though, for a BM hunter is...

   The bridge in Blade's Edge Mountains.  If you're attempting to kill someone there, you can forget it; if your pet chases them up there, they can simply jump down and have a good few seconds with only half of your damage on them, and no chance to stun them.  By the time the pet catches up with them, they're back on the bridge jumping off again!  You'd better hope it's not just you versus them at that point, or the fight quickly becomes an exercise in massive frustration, regardless of kiting & traps.

   Screw you, BEM Bridge.  Screw you.

   But yes--there's my take on BM, why I play it and where I think its strengths and weaknesses lay.  I find it an impressively fun spec, and quite a fun class overall--but it isn't an easy spec to play to its full potential.

P.S. I had relevant screenshots, but posting pictures of Recount numbers seemed a bit much, so enjoy the random pet + hunter screens instead ;D

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Torment," the Demon Dog

   I considered starting this blog with a post on why I play a BM hunter, or perhaps an overall review on the BM go-to pet, the Spirit Beast.  But I've recently become infatuated with a spur-of-the-moment tame I made, and I decided I want to share this first--in the spirit of the rambling thoughts that blogging tends to promote.

   The pet in question is a red demon dog.  At first glance, it doesn't look like a hunter pet--and indeed, up until the release of WoW's latest expansion, these little beasts weren't classified as Beasts at all, but rather as Demons.  With the implementation of the Dog family, though, these fellows--and their brethren, ranging from ghostly white to solid blue etched with glowing runes--became tameable Beasts.

   The Demon Dogs are one of two models you can currently find in the Dog family.  The other type is the large, heavily-built and droopy (and, I find, quite ugly in their design) mastiff.  These little guys, though, are entirely different.  Most players' first impression will be that they're quite small: even at maximum level, they'll barely come up to the knees of most races.  I'll get back to size in a moment, but first, the rest of the model. 

    Most of the old-world Demon Dogs (the non-glowing ones) are noticeably dated in their design.  Parts of them (like the models of many old-world pets) are pixelated, and the models have a low poly-count, leading to some odd twisting of the dogs' legs and jaws.  The newer Runed Demon Dogs (glowing green, red or blue, depending on the skin) are quite a bit more advanced skin-wise, though they're slapped onto the same old model.  

   That said, I still think they all look pretty good.  Their models aren't as "basic" as many others, and aside from the oddly-animated jaws, there isn't much to complain about.  Their anatomy is solid, their colors are generally appealing, and they have a determined, mischievous air about them that's hard to find anywhere else.  The red one in particular I find quite charming; his colors are very bright and solid, even flashy, and no part of him looks at all sloppy or dated when it comes to the actual colors and shading.  The darker points on his legs, beneath the mane and on his horns are a nice counterpoint to the blazing yellow mane.  This particular dog definitely looks the part of a "demon."

   The model's animations are cute, as well; during combat, the Demon Dog will swipe with his front paws as well as bite.  When idle, it now and then hops forward and back--you have to see this to understand how utterly adorable it really is.  The running and walking animations are smooth and realistically canine.  That said, the Demon Dog seems to lack any Swimming animation--unlike most canine WoW pets, it doesn't do the doggy paddle.  Instead, it uses the walking animation when underwater.  As most players don't spend a ton of time beneath the waves, though, this won't tend to be an issue!

   Back to the pet's size: this can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it; in PvE, they will never get in your way.  You might find them difficult to keep track of, on the other hand, but you can always tame one of the bright, glowing skins if that's your concern!  In PvP, they're quite unobtrusive, meaning they won't get in the way of your targetting and are less likely to be hit by an opponent.  Conversely, your opponent will find it quite easy to target you instead; compare this to, say, a Chimaera pet, or a Devilsaur, where the pet is so huge that it may take your enemy a moment to find you again after a Feign Death at close range, allowing for some uninterrupted burst.  The choice of size in a pet is based on your preference, so be aware that the Demon Dog is on the much smaller end of the scale.

   Now that I've mentioned PvE and PvP, perhaps it's time I went into a bit more detail.  See, the reason most people don't tend to see many of these pets around is that their family ability is a bit...  odd. 

   Lock Jaw is a four-second root--like that of a Spider, or a Silithid--but it's channeled, in the same way as a Crab's.  This means that if you're BM, you're losing a great deal of damage during the time the pet has to hold the channel--and the channel can be interuppted by an AoE fear or the like.  So why would you use a Dog over a Spider?  Well, the dog is Ferocity.  This means that you'll be losing a Spider's or a Silithid's Roar of Sacrifice/Recovery (as well as the Silithid's extra Stamina buff, Qiraji Fortitude) depending on whether you're Beast Mastery.  You'll be losing Intervene from Tenacity if you use a Dog over a Crab.  On the other hand, you gain Culling the Herd and Call of the Wild, both potent overall damage buffs.  You'll also get the added damage of a Ferocity pet along with the emergency instant pet-res, Heart of the Phoenix, depending on how you talent your pet.

   What this means for PvP is that non-BM specs get a good alternative for a high-damage, PvP-oriented pet.  BM is probably still better off sticking to an Exotic; Spirit Beasts still offer a higher damage output due to their Agi/Stamina buff (depending on if your arena partner or BG-mates already have it covered), and the Spirit Beast heal is still very impressive.  The channel is also an issue: Lock Jaw is channeled, as I've mentioned, meaning that your pet isn't doing anything else for those four seconds, be it an emergency Intimidation stun or keeping buffs up through Bite crits.  In any case, if you're in an arena team where survivability isn't a problem, where the major crit and/or agility/strength buffs are covered, and where an extra root might come in handy, or if for any other reason you want the damage-buffs of a Ferocity pet along with a root--or if you just want to experiment--the Dog might be for you.  Lock Jaw should be, of course, taken off autocast and used judiciously--to stop a target from LoSing you just long enough for the kill or for repositioning or launching a trap, for example.

   In PvE, the dog's special has extremely limited and situational usage.  In almost every case, another pet will do better.  If you're raiding, and every other buff (this includes the Agi/Str, 5% crit, Spell Damage debuff, all the way to the Raptor's ArP ability and the Fox/Tallstrider's AoE attack speed debuff) is covered, you could use a Dog without any loss to anyone.  That said, there may be specific fights where controlling certain adds with a root might be useful--but remember, a rooted mob will generally attack anything in melee range, be it your pet or a healer.  In addition, many Raid-type mobs will be immune to roots, anyway.  This means that you may do more harm than good by using Lock Jaw, or it might be completely ineffective, depending on how you use it.  This isn't to say that the Dog is a terrible pet, of course--but being aware of when and how different pet abilities come in handy is very important in choosing which pet is best for which situation.

   Regardless of where you want to use it, the Dog should be talented for pure damage--if you need PvP survivability, a Spider or Crab, or Silithid for BM, is probably a better choice for a rooting pet.  Take Serpent's Swiftness, Spiked Collar and Spider's Bite at least; if you want to PvP or if you're BM, make sure to pick up Bloodthirsty and potentially Heart of the Phoenix as well.  Call of the Wild (and Rabid if you're BM) are your bread-and-butter damage talents.  Pick up Shark Attack and Wild Hunt for PvE, or just Shark Attack for PvP if your pet has issues with maintaining Focus.  If you choose to talent both Charge and Dash, remember to keep them on your pet bar and toggle them; you don't want your pet to use both at once, which will blow all of its Focus and both cooldowns needlessly.  You can move points for PvP into Lionhearted, Great Resistance or Great Stamina, or Boar's Speed, if you're having trouble one way or another with your pet dying or staying on-target--but again, if you're losing a lot of damage anyway, you might want to consider a Spider for the added benefits of RoS/RoR.

  Now, I don't raid--and I haven't used a dog extensively in PvP, either.  If anyone has tips, tricks or info about the Dog and its family skill, please do leave a comment!  I'd love to know if there's any special uses that the Dog can be put to.  I do think it's a great little pet, and I'd love to have more of an excuse to break him out.
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   About this specific dog: this particular skin can be found only in two places, both of which are dungeons.  I tamed mine (which I've named Torment) in the level 70 10-man raid, Karazhan.  If you choose to get him from here, all you need to do is form a raid group, go into the instance and make a hard right into the spider-webbed area just inside.  Once you clear a good number of spiders, bats and Demon dogs, there will be a /yell alerting you to the spawning of one of three random "rare" bosses.  Rokad the Ravager is the red dog; all you'll need to do is proceed to the end of the Demon Dog area and tame him--assuming he spawns, and you have a one-in-three chance.  If the spider or bat boss spawn instead, you'll need to wait until the next Raid reset and try again.  This skin is only found in one other place, and that's Blackrock Depths--the Bloodhounds, Bloodhound Mastiffs and the boss Verek are all found scattered throughout this level ~50 dungeon.  The lowest level at which this skin becomes available to hunters is level 48.  Petopia's "Hound Skin: Red" page has the information on this skin; check out Petopia's page on Dogs for more info on the Dog family in WoW, including other tameable models and skins (such as white, blue and runed), and where to find them.