Where Are We Heading Tonight?

30 09 2009

This is a question I see with growing frequency in guild chat or raid chat as the group fills up. This is because, as a guild, we are in a strange place with regard to progression. We’re not quite ready for ToC-25 hard modes, but doing Ulduar hard modes can seem a bit silly. They’re definitely harder than ToC-25 normal mode, but with (mostly) inferior loot.

This makes the term “progression” a bit loopy. There’s no doubt that Algalon is significantly more difficult than Northrend Beasts on normal mode, but Algalon’s loot is a few item levels lower. If you look back at previous expansions, raiding progression was a bit more linear. In pre-BC, you started off with a mix of Onyxia and Molten Core. When you could reliably kill Ragnaros, you’d probably move on to a mix of ZG (which was harder than MC) and Blackwing Lair. Then you’d start playing around with AQ20 and AQ40. Then, if you were awesome, you’d head into Naxxramas (when it was actually hard).

A mishmash of progression

A mishmash of progression

In BC there were significantly more raids but again a fairly linear progression. You started with a mix of Karazhan and Gruul’s Lair, moving up to Magtheridon and then upgrading to the next “tier” of gear when you were ready. In Wrath, you can get Ulduar level gear from heroics. You can get ToC-25 level gear from an instance that is easily pugged (Vault). Malygos, Sartharionx3 and Kel’Thuzad drop loot that is comparable (and in some cases superior, as with the Signet of Manifested Pain and Pennant Cloak) to Ulduar gear.

Onyxia muddies the water even more. Another puggable instance that drops ilvl 245 gear! It’s crazy! Is it better, though? Hard modes have certainly made progression a fuzzier line than before. While I do certainly enjoy attempting (and later succeeding at, hopefully) the Ulduar-25 hardmodes, it feels off to be doing them after completing the normal mode of ToC. Invariably, progression is measured by the kind of loot you can get from an instance. So Ulduar is behind ToC in these terms. The major change we have seen in the last few patches of WotLK is that difficulty no longer necessarily scales with ilvl.

I recall talking to my GM about the subject (or at least something closely related) and he lamented the lack of a middleground. Something between ToC hardmode and ToC normal (which is simply too easy and a bit boring) for guilds that fall between casual and hardcore. What could this be, though? Perhaps if hard modes could be calibrated multiple ways with different loot, as with Sartharion, there would be more for middle-of-the-road guilds to do. This is my major frustration with having “hard” and “normal” modes. Where’s the middleground?

The basis for creating it is there. Have Freya with two trees alive drop, say, ilvl 236 loot (between 226 and 239, which is the ilvl of Ulduar hard mode gear). This would require tweaking of certain hard modes, such as Mimiron, where you have everything built into the press of the button. For other fights, such as the previously mentioned Freya encounter and Hodir, calibrating loot drops to have normal, medium and hard drops wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It would also follow Blizzard’s trend of giving its players options.

Be casual, be hardcore, be casualcore. Play as much as you want. Just hope that Blizzard notices you and gives you something appropriate to your skill level to do.

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Onyxia and the Raiding Doldrums

16 09 2009

Ulduar has been out basically forever. Trial of the Crusader and its heroic modes are…well, not really the most exciting raids ever. I still think that a tournament was one of the worst ideas for a raid, regardless of the lore reasons. A whole raid in one room is simply not as interesting as a place like Ulduar was when it first came out.

As well, the normal modes of most ToC fights are basically jokes. Compared to Ulduar, where fights like Mimiron and Yogg-Saron actually required some solid playing to down. So how does this tie into Onyxia? 3.2.2 – I think – should be skipped. I know it’s mostly for the 5th anniversary of WoW, but I can’t help feeling like it’s only going to make Icecrown feel further away.

Some raiders I know are sort of in autopilot these days and I can’t blame them. Ulduar after months and months is pretty boring and ToC isn’t much better. Icecrown is supposed to be the saving grace of an expansion that’s had its fair share of rocky moments, but we have to get through 3.2.2 first. Personally, I couldn’t give two shits about Onyxia coming back. Some are excited, but remember how many people liked Naxx after a few months?

At this point, I really just want to see Icecrown. Enough of raids that only tangentially involve Arthas or are easy/boring. What’s keeping me playing isn’t the current content but what’s on the horizon: Cataclysm and Icecrown.





Sometimes The Pen Is Mightier

3 09 2009

Tristan, over at The Elitists’ Podcast, wrote something I found interesting (source):

Algalon is not a fight you bang against until he dies. That fight is fought… on combat logs, and in discussion threads on guild forums.

I haven’t fought Algalon yet, but after thinking about this, I realised that there are two kinds of fights, execution-based fights and planning-based ones. To explain the difference, I’ll compare a few encounters.

Execution

An example of an execution-based fight is Heigan, in Naxx. It’s execution-based because the mechanics of the fight basically force a certain strategy. When there’s bad stuff coming out of 3/4 the floor and a spellcasting debuff around the boss, it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to stack your ranged away from the boss and stand on the safe part of the floor. So the fight comes down to your raid being able to stay alive during the dance and cleanse some stuff. That’s the entire fight.

Aside from bugs that allowed you to hide in one corner of the room and avoid the bad green stuff completely, Heigan doesn’t really require any kind of planning as long as the raid is aware of the mechanics. A lot of Naxx is like this, perhaps to its detriment. Look at fights like Patchwerk, Grobbulus, Gluth, Thaddius, etc. Every Naxx pug I’ve done has used the same strategies for all of these encounters, which I’m taking to mean that there isn’t a large element of planning to them.

Planning

Tristan used the example of Algalon, but since I haven’t been there yet I’m going to use Anub’arak. The execution element of Anub’arak is fairly simple (execution here meaning avoiding getting hit by spikes, using permafrost to the advantage of the raid and killing the adds in a timely manner). During an attempt on this boss last night, we were executing everything well. Unfortunately, the boss enraged before we could get into the Locust Swarm phase. What this meant was that our strategy was flawed.

Since we didn’t always tank the adds close to the boss, we lost a lot of damage on the boss and the adds from cleave damage, both from ranged and melee. So the fix is to change our strategy to maximize damage on the boss while also getting the adds down quickly. So the planning element of a fight comes, in this case, when the execution aspect of a fight is not so rigid as to predetermine strategy.

Another example of a planning fight is Vezax. The execution aspect of this fight includes avoiding Shadow Crash, interrupting Searing Flame and properly using Saronite Vapors to regenerate mana (on normal mode, anyways). But unlike Heigan, you can’t just explain to your raid “avoid crashes, DPS the boss and interrupt” in order to succeed. You have to create a strategy to maximize the uptime of Shadow Crash DPS time and get the best placement on the Crashes. I doubt that every Ulduar pug uses the same Vezax strategy, unlike Naxx.

New direction?

If you compare the encounters in Naxx to ones in Ulduar, you may notice that Ulduar bosses, especially the later ones, are more planning-based than execution-based. Even relatively straightforward fights like Kologarn have some leeway in strategy. You can choose to only DPS the Right Arm when it grips someone in order to minimize Rubble, or you can kill the Right Arm and Left Arm whenever they are up. While not all Ulduar fights are planning-based (Razorscale is pretty clearly execution-based) on the whole they are more malleable when it comes to strategy.

Sometimes the optional choices in fights, such as kill orders, are linked to achievements, as with the Assembly of Iron. Other times they are simply decisions that need to be made, such as with Freya’s summoned elementals. Before going into the fight, you need to decide which elemental to DPS first and what % to stop at, when to switch, etc.

Encounters in the Trial of the Crusader are something of a mixed bag. Faction Champions is a strange combination of execution and planning because the “execution” aspect changes based on what your strategy is. Jaraxxus, on the other hand, is more execution-based. With Ulduar it seemed Blizzard was placing more weight on the planning side, but now I’m not so sure.





That’s Bloody Hard!

12 07 2009

Recently I’ve been doing two major things in WoW: 10-man hard modes and trying out Blood DPS in raids. While the DPS itself is not significantly higher or lower than Frost for most fights, some of Blood’s unique mechanics help out a lot for hard modes, especially ones like Mimiron, Thorim, and Freya, where you will likely take significant amounts of incidental damage throughout the fight. (Frost is better for Hodir due to the many crits produced by Rime, Killing Machine, and Subversion.)

So first I want to outline what Blood has that the other specs don’t have (or have less of):

1. Self-healing. All classes have Death Strike but since it’s in Blood’s main rotation, you not only gain more health from it but also lose less DPS from choosing to cast it over something else (like Obliterate or Scourge Strike).

2. Diseaseless damage. Before you get all up in arms about me and say that diseaseless Blood is dead, the only disease-dependant attack in Blood’s rotation is Heart Strike. What this means for hard modes is that, when you need to quickly mow down a low HP target, like Freya’s roots, Thorim’s Evokers, frozen people in Hodir and various adds in Mimiron, you don’t always need to set up diseases to do decent damage. Frost without Frost Fever up does very little damage (losing 15% from Tundra Stalker and another 20% from Glacier Rot) and Unholy loses 10% from Rage of Rivendare as well as the additional scaling from diseases on Scourge Strike.

If you set Blood up correctly or get lucky, i.e. if you have lots of RP or simply enough RP to maximize Death Strike damage with the glyph, you can hit things like Freya’s roots without wasting a valuable GCD on PS/IT to set up your damage. This might seem minor, but it really helps out a lot when time is limited (Mages die very quickly to roots!).

3. Burst damage. Combining DRW + Hysteria gives you a very potent burst rotation, and you also get DRW every 1.5 minutes. Unholy only really has Gargoyle (on a 3min CD) and Frost only has UA, which unfortunately combines a defensive and offensive cooldown, meaning you may use it for one purpose and later need it for the other. (Blood gets a choice between Vampiric Blood, Mark of Blood and Rune Tap as well, which helps out with its survival.) Burst is very helpful for hard modes are either DPS races (Hodir) or have short phases that require burst damage (XT) (Freya’s various adds).

4. Heart strike hearts you. The mechanics of Heart Strike are very nice (well, not for Hodir or Thorim much), mainly for Freya and Mimiron. On Freya, the 3-elemental phase (in 10-man anyways) often leaves you well away from the Snaplasher but close to the other two elementals. What this means is that you will be HSing both at once, and no other spec can really hit two targets for 5-6k consistently (Howling Blast has a cooldown, UB does damage over a longer period of time, Death and Decay takes time and lots of runes). On Mimiron, you get to smack two sections for lots of damage.

Hard mode is hard

MyKnw

I’ve done this fight as Frost. It wasn’t incredibly easier with Blood than Frost, but I definitely noticed the perks I’ve outlined here. One other minor benefit that Blood gets is 6% more stamina from Veteran of the Third War, which isn’t a big deal but it’s definitely a perk to have 30k+ HP in DPS gear. The best thing Blood has going for it in hard modes is that you can keep yourself alive very well.

For additional survival, you could spec into Night of the Dead for the ability to Death Pact more often, since you only lose 2 points in BCB to take it. This is useful for Freya, where damage is spiky but not continous, so you’re likely to have time to get the two GCDs necessary to summon and pact the ghoul. Unfortunately it’s less useful for more bursty fights like Mimiron, where damage happens at every turn.

So if you’re working on hard modes, and aren’t already Blood, give it a try.





Some News, Some Thoughts

30 06 2009

Option to change factions in the works (source)

Some may herald this as the downfall of WoW (as with so many other things, like the mount changes) but to me it’s another way for a) Blizzard to make money, since the transfer will probably cost 25$ and b) to make the playing experience more customisable and fun. It also basically doubles any given guild’s recruiting pool. Not only can you recruit horde from your own server, but it gives you far more transfer options. Maybe you’ll be able to combine server/faction switches, for ease of guild swaps. Wild speculation aside, this change falls in line with other things we never thought we’d see like PvE to PvP transfers and dual specs. I look forward to more changes along these lines.

New Wintergrasp gear, the emblem change and the “ease of getting gear” dilemma

MMO-Champion recently reported new items being added to Wintergrasp (see the new items here), stuff that is either ilvl 232 or 226. While I’m not surprised at this (it happened with 3.1 as well) there has been a significant lack of whining on my radar about this addition compared to the conquest emblems dropping everywhere. First, the two changes are connected. If you have a choice between running Wintergrasp, BGs and fail-arenas for points and getting ilvl 213-226 gear and running heroics to get ilvl 200 gear, well, which one would you choose to gear up to raid the fastest? My guess is PvP.

The change that makes all heroics and entry-level raids drop Emblems of Conquest is intended (I believe) to make sure people still run that content. It’s never Blizzard’s intention to have old content completely abandoned, especially for fresh 80s, so a change was necessary to incentivize people into doing that content.

The change to the emblem system also has the effect of making t8.5 and ilvl 226 gear available from running heroics. Some are bothered by this, feeling like it’s a kind of undeserved handout. Personally, I have everything I want from Emblems of Conquest on my main (and have for a while, so much so that I bought Emblems of Heroism with them) so this change affects my DK very little if at all. I believe the situation to be similar for all other guilds who are progressing well into Ulduar. In the next patch, when this change occurs, these raiders will be doing the Crusaders’ Coliseum rather than raiding Ulduar anyways, and Emblems of Triumph will be the ones we want, not Conquest. So basically my alts get gear faster and easier, which is a plus in my books.

Raid lockout extension

Cool. Probably not necessary in the next patch (the new raid instance has what, 5 bosses?) but again it’s nice to have control over stuff like this, especially for guilds like mine who only raid 9 hours of 25-man a week.

Common token for all tier pieces

Sweet. AWESOME. I love this change. If you haven’t looked at the stats for the DK t9, I’ll tell you that the one piece with ArPen on it is the legs. All the other pieces are decently optimized, with one piece that has haste (unfortunately) and the rest a mix of crit, expertise and hit. Streamlining the way loot works in this manner also plays into Blizzard’s idea that picking your upgrades should be a thinking process, which means they don’t want us assuming that every single new item that drops is an upgrade. While this change is great, it’s a bit lackluster compared to the state of loot overall.

Things like relics and mail with spellpower are very class-specific. If you either are that class, or your raid has none of that class, it can be quite frustrating. I think it would be best to put niche-items like tanking guns into professions like Engineering and Blacksmithing or into the emblem loot system.  This (or a similar change) would mean less wasted loot overall as well as fewer rotting badges.





Why I Love Melee

17 06 2009
Cooler than a staff any day.

Cooler than a staff any day.

Recently, I’ve been playing on my Mage alt, who is Frostfire specced for raiding (Frost for PvP). It has driven home why I play a Death Knight DPS rather than a Mage or any other caster class as my main. Mages are great fun in PvP – they get to use a giant arsenal of snares, slows, stuns and various other things to deal with an opponent. Unfortunately, in PvE you end up spamming Frostfire Bolt/Arcane Blast/Fireball/Frostbolt and waiting on procs.

As a DK, I’m pressing a button every second (due to playing in Unholy Presence). This means in a 5 minute fight, I’ll push ~300 buttons, give or take a few due to running around/no runes or RP to use/using abilities without a cooldown. I also have to watch procs (Killing Machine) and use cooldowns (Unbreakable Armor), but for the most part I’m spamming abilities in no defined order (a mix of Obliterate, Icy Touch, Howling Blast and Frost Strike).

In addition to the difference in mechanics, playing melee has a distinctly different feel to it, as well as playing very differently in certain fights. In Ulduar, there are a good deal of melee-friendly fights: Ignis, Vezax, Mimiron (phases 2 and 4), XT… etc. These are fights where ranged are often forced to run around, unable to cast, waving their hands around like chickens with their heads cut off (okay, maybe not so much that last thing) while melee stay in and hit the boss a lot.

As a Mage, I feel a little bit helpless when I’m running around. I can try to time my running with being able to re-cast Living Bomb and using up a Hot Streak proc, but since I often don’t control when I have to move, I’m stuck with Fire Blast. As a DK, I can  Icy Touch, Howling Blast and Death Coil if I’m forced out of melee range. Often, running out of stuff as a melee class doesn’t mean running out of melee range.Take Hodir, for example. Snow Drifts often drop close to the boss, which means you can be safe from Flash Freeze and still be hitting the boss at the same time.

The biggest difference between melee and ranged playstyles is the cast time, especially for channeled spells. Having played a Mage, I now understand why they seem to die so inexplicably often. If you’re .2s away from casting a Frostfire Bolt, you don’t want to move. You want to sit there and finish casting, damnit. DKs can pretty much GTFO whenever they please. Yeah, your diseases might fall off, but resetting your rotation isn’t a big problem (especially for the Frost rotation that I use, which casts plenty of Icy Touches anyways).

A thank you to all those who made being a melee possible:

Blizzard

Bosses’ fat, squishy asses

Giant swords

My guild for recruiting a DPS DK





What? My Feet Are On Fire?

10 06 2009

Sometimes, you’re in the zone, DPSing away, firing off each rune as it refreshes, critting left and right, and then WHAM you die from exploding plants/exploding hot iron golems/void zones/fire/ice/green goop/lightning. This is never fun. Lissanna over at Restokin has written up a great post about how healers can avoid “tunnel vision” (focusing on one element of a fight, such as DPS, and ignoring all other dangerous things/misc. assignments), and suggested it as a Blog Azeroth Shared Topic. Interestingly enough, Death Knights can suffer a similar fate to healers, namely becoming focused solely on bars (rune refresh bars rather than the raid’s health bars).

Most DKs I know use some kind of rune mod, whether it be MagicRunes (my mod of choice) or another one. As a result, we can get trapped in looking at the rune timers rather than what’s lighting your feet on fire.

My UI

As you can see in the screenshot of my UI, I try to put all the pertinent information near where my character hangs out on the screen. My rune display is also fairly transparent, so it doesn’t block much of the screen. My raid frames (Grid) go over there on the left, where the little red box is. My disease timers (Classtimers) hang out under the rune bars, and DBM timers go on the right of my character. I have Omen in the bottom right because I rarely need to check my threat (the exception is Hodir). My scrolling combat text (Mik’s Scrolling Battle Text) has all messages (debuffs, buffs, etc.) shoot off to the left or right so it doesn’t block the view of my character, which is the most important thing on your screen in a raid.

I have my action bars scaled down a lot and right at the bottom of the screen because I really don’t need to look at them very often. Everything I need to use in combat is bound to various keys (the only spells not bound are things like Path of Frost) and my combat text lets me know when my abilities come off their cooldowns. To get back on topic, I’ve set up my UI so I don’t have to look far from the middle to get pertinent information. And on the occasion where I do need to check my raid frames, or my focus frame (which goes right above the raid frame) I have a lot of things in that area so I don’t have to dart my eyes around the screen frantically searching for bits of information.

So a few tips:

  • Gather all related information together in one area (for me this means right to the left of my character I can see my disease timers, buff timers [for stuff like KM, Freezing Fog and trinket procs] and rune timers)
  • Make sure no mod will hide your character from view (you need to always know where you are in an encounter, especially for fights like Thorim and Sarth, where wrong footing can make you go splat)
  • Try your best not to get too absorbed in your rune timers; always listen to Vent (if you use it), pay attention to DBM and other messages from the boss
  • Play with your UI options until it feels right – if you think you need more information, it’s likely you can set your mods up to give you that (I recently set oRA to notify me of tank deaths). If you need less, scale it down (an example from my UI: I set my MSBT (Mik’s Scrolling Battle Text) to only notify me of hits/heals taken over a certain threshold; for healing, it’s 4000, for damage, it’s around 2k. This helps keep my screen clutter free, especially if I get a Lifebloom or two going on me.

Edit: Here’s a picture of my UI in combat. I really need to set my macro up to ignore errors so I don’t see “ABILITY IS NOT READY YET” flashing all the time.

Razorscale, killing trash.

Razorscale, killing trash.