There’s no doubt about it, right now, the best hunter DPS in the game is done by marks hunters. Marksmanship is the end game raiding spec, if you have the gear.
There are presently two styles of marks hunters: agility and armor penetration.
ArP Marks Hunters
If you have the gear to make this work, you’ll be among the hunters doing the most DPS in the game. The damage you do will have shifted to be largely bleeds and physical damage, since while ArP increases your auto, steady, and aimed shot DPS (and crit size), it does nothing for your chimera shot and serpent sting.
The character I found this public parse for, Aerodynamic, currently has the highest hunter DPS parse for heroic 25 man festergut. He is, by definition, doing it right. He is just about hard capped on armor pen, and has managed to keep hit capped. [Edit: this was done with a bugged lich king weapon, so is not representative of actual in game mechanics. Also, and possibly because, Aerodynamic got way more tricks of the trade procs than most hunters get :P]
Unless you can hard cap armor penetration without sacrificing too much of everything else, you don’t have the gear to pull this off. The point where this becomes more DPS will depend on too many factors to give you a rule of thumb, but if you run your character through the DPS calculator, you will be able to see whether going for the armor pen hard cap is worth it.
Case in point: Darkbrew wrote an excellent article about trying this before you are ready.
That said, this type of build is the goal. When looking at potential upgrades, you should always focus on the ones that have armor penetration. Especially rare and valuable are ones with ArP and hit. Most ArP gear actually doesn’t have hit, however, and assuming you get as much of your gear as possible with armor pen on it, you’ll find yourself well under the hit cap. Luckily, Marks hunters have at least one point in their build they can use in focused aim, and another two points they can pull from some fairly low DPS talents (like rapid recuperation, improved steady shot, and trueshot aura).
You will see the most DPS from build like this (or one close to it), with the glyphs of serpent sting, steady shot, and kill shot. More on glyphing kill shot versus chimera shot later. The shot priority list is:
- Kill shot
- Chimera shot [Edit: unless you’re ArP hard capped and improved steady has procced. Thanks Lem!]
- Aimed shot
- Steady shot
You should open the fight with a serpent sting, and as soon as your 2t10 procs, reapply the sting and keep it refreshed with Chimera shot. If you are ever moving, can’t stop, and are out of instants, you should fire an arcane shot. Since silencing shot is off the global cooldown, you should either macro it to everything so it goes automatically, or you should keybind it and manually cast it when you need interrupts.
One last warning: switching to a target without a bleed and armor debuff will cost you more DPS than other hunters. Still, since you start off with so much more DPS than them, you can afford it ;)
Also, not being able to move without clipping auto-shots will seriously hamper your DPS. Learn to stutter step and plan your movement ahead of time so you can go while you have instant shots available.
Agility Marks Hunters
Agility marks is far more common, because you don’t need to have nearly as specific gear to make it work. For this build, keeping the 2t9 bonus is almost a requirement. That set bonus is just too powerful in the hands of a marks hunter who gems agility to be passed up in favor of the 4t10 bonus. The damage done by agility marks hunters is a little more evenly split between physical and magic damage.
At very low gear levels, starting off in MM, you will probably keep arcane shot in your rotation. Of course, generally, at this level of gear, survival will be more DPS.
If you’re dead set on running as marks, even when SV is more DPS, here’s the build you’ll want when you’re still firing arcane shots. As for glyphs, you will probably see the most DPS out of serpent, steady, and kill shot again.
Your shot priority list is:
- Kill shot
- Chimera shot
- Aimed shot
- Arcane shot
- Steady shot
Once you hit the point where the calculators tell you you can take arcane shot out of your rotation, it goes back to what you saw above for the ArP hunters. Your build, however, gets a little more complicated.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be running low on hit, you won’t want to take one of your arcane shot talent points and dump it into focused aim. You still need a point somewhere on the fifth tier or below in order to keep a valid build. Efficiency is usually a waste, unless you’re running without mana buffs. This leaves us with a choice: leaving a point in improved arcane shot, putting a point in hunter’s mark, or putting one into focused aim. If you’re hit capped, already benefiting from the hunter’s mark, and good enough at moving that you rarely fire arcane shots, you’re not going to like this choice.
My personal suggestion is that if you are an agility marks hunter, it’s probably best to volunteer to be the hunter’s mark wench. In a 25 man with a paladin judging wisdom and plenty of replenishment going around, you can easily spare 3 points for improving hunter’s mark by taking 2 from rapid recuperation. If you’re lucky enough to have a heavy hitting ArP hunter in the same group, they’ll thank you for this, as they really need these points for hit rating. No other type of hunter has 3 throwaway points. In fact, unless there’s already someone providing this buff, putting 3 points into hunters mark is a personal DPS increase. Here‘s what that build would look like.
Let’s talk about glyphs for a moment. All marks hunters should make their number one glyph the glyph of serpent sting. This is because the increased length of the sting increases the damage of the chimera shot serpent portion. Second on this list is the glyph of steady shot. You will fire a lot of these, and this damage boost is clearly the front-runner for your second major glyph.
The third glyph, however, you have a bit of choice. Kill shot is my preference, however you might see more DPS with the glyph of chimera shot, depending on your latency. The best way to know for sure whether you have the latency required is to go to a target dummy, put up viper, buy a few stacks of cheap ammo, and fire your rotation at the dummy for 10 minutes with and without chimera shot glyph. If you get the same number of chimera shots per minute on average, you should use the kill shot glyph instead. This is very likely going to be the case if your latency is over 100ms. Another factor will be your buffed steady shot cast time- if your unbuffed cast time is over 1.5 seconds, for testing purposes, see if you have any old haste gear in the bank that you could swap out.
The glyph of chimera shot will reduce your cooldown by one second, which should in theory remove a steady shot from your rotation. In practice, however, this doesn’t usually work out. Try it out before raiding with it.
I wrote this over two days, strung out with a visio headache (which is like an ice-cream headache, except it lasts longer). If I’m missing anything or you have any corrections, let me know in the comments.