Sunday, March 30, 2008

Deeper Talent Trees and Specialization

Vasc of Crushridge writes:
It recently dawned upon me that the reason for the extinction of the hybrid are the extensions of the talent trees. In vanilla wow we had 51 talent points to spend, our trees went up to a 31 point talent. This means that we could "Spec" to anything and still have 20 points to put in another tree. This was a ratio of 31:20 or about 1.5:1. In BC we have 61 talent points and trees that go to 41, this means our ratio is now 41:20 or 2:1. In Wrath this will be even worse with 51 talent points and a ratio of 2.5:1 for anyone who wanted a 51 point talent.

So in vanilla, specing as a hybrid was perfectly viable, however in BC in order to be effective we must become an arch type, in Wrath this will become even more pronounced with people putting an even greater percentage of their talent points into one tree. One fix for this would be to not extend the trees at all, this would increase the number of points we could have in our "off-tree" and allow people to play as hybrids once again.

I think that Vasc is basically correct in a lot of respects, though deeper talent trees are not the sole reason for the extinction of hybrids. Time costs, increasing number of stats, and gear specialization play large factors as well.

As well, 31/30 specs would be pretty powerful, so Blizzard had to make the new top talents even more powerful. I shudder to think how crazy the 51-point talents will have to be in order to prevent people from going 41/30.

I too would prefer that Blizzard keep talent trees at 41 points. Maybe change, clean up, and add new talents lower down. I think it would also allow for a greater variety of builds. Right now I find that there's basically 1 build for each tree, and there was a lot more build variety in WoW 1.0.

I doubt Blizzard will do this though. Too many people would be upset if there weren't any crazy 51-point talents.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Karazhan Fatigue and the Zul'Aman Timer

There's been a lot of whining about badge loot from the raiding community lately, especially in light of the badge rewards coming in Patch 2.4. I don't really want to get dragged into a discussion of the larger issue of badge rewards, but I'd like to focus on one element that is has not really been discussed so far. In my opinion, a large part of the impulse behind the complaints comes from Karazhan fatigue.

Karazhan was the first raiding instance of TBC. It's the one we've been doing the longest. It's a good instance, but still, veni, vidi, vici. It's way past time to let Karazhan go. Yet it is the single best source of Badges of Justice in the game. One evening nets you about 22 Badges. And so we run Kara on our mains for Badges, we run Kara on our alts for Badges, and so a lot of us are pretty sick of running Karazhan.

Zul'Aman had potential as a replacement for Karazhan, but ZA is on a three-day timer. This means that the rewards from ZA are balanced around being about to do the instance twice in one week. ZA nets you 13 Badges for one evening of work. This means that you should always hit Karazhan for Badges first, and ZA is your second choice.

I've stated my opposition to short timers before, but that was mostly on scheduling concerns. But the distribution of loot is also a concern.

A newer, harder instance should be more attractive to players than the older instance. If you can clear ZA, you should choose to clear ZA over Karazhan. No 25-man chooses to farm Serpentshrine Cavern over the Black Temple.

Imagine if ZA was on a 7-day timer, and the loot was balanced appropriately. Now one evening would net you 26 badges. You'd get 2 higher quality epics per boss. And there would be a chance at a couple of Bear Mounts. If you could do ZA, you would choose to do it over Karazhan. It's harder, but it's also strictly better in terms of rewards.

The higher end raiders would most likely drop Karazhan completely, and move on to fresher content. Smaller guilds would have greater incentive to master ZA. In my opinion, putting a 3-day timer on ZA was a mistake. It has caused us to linger for too long in Karazhan, and the resulting Karazhan fatigue is an toxic element in the state of endgame.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Retribution Spec Thoughts

I've respecced Coriel to Retribution and have been farming ogres in Nagrand for Kurenai and Consortium reputation. Retribution is hilarious, and so much fun. I walk up to an ogre, and it falls over dead. Never gets old.

After playing Ret for a little bit, I'm coming to agree with the idea of only putting 1 point in Improved Judgement. This reduces Judgement to a 9 second cooldown (or 6 Global Cooldowns), which synchronizes well with the Crusader Strike cooldown (6 seconds or 4 GCDs). You essentially end up with the following DPS Cycle:

It's a very similar concept to the Fury Warrior practice of only putting 1 point in Improved Whirlwind and ending up with the same 6/4 GCD cycle with Whirlwind/Bloodthirst.

(As an aside, it's often easier to talk about DPS in terms of Global Cooldowns, rather than using seconds, and mentally converting.)

If you want to macro this for button mashing purposes, it is:
/castsequence Judgement, Seal of Command, Crusader Strike, Crusader Strike, Judgement, Seal of Command, Crusader Strike

Just remember that you need to lead off with an initial Seal.

In any case, I was also looking at Retribution builds, and I'm thinking about how to distribute the last few points. The base build is 5/8/44 with four points left over. At this point, there are three choices, as I see it: Blessing of Kings, 5/5 Improved Blessing of Might, or Pursuit of Justice.

Kings obviously ensures that your raid has Kings. Improved Might gives extra AP to your DPS. However, you don't have Improved Wisdom to go along with it, so I'm not sure how likely it is a raid will put you on Might/Wisdom duty. Pursuit of Justice makes you move significantly faster, and that always helps. Less time moving is more time doing damage, and less time taking damage from the fire.

So a question to the Retribution paladins out there: which of these three options do you prefer?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Leotheras, Randomness, and Resists

Leotheras the Blind in Serpentshrine Cavern is almost a perfect fight. Leo alternates between human and demon form, staying in each form for about a minute. As a human, he dual-wields and occasionally whirlwinds around the room, spinning towards random people. Leotheras wipes threat after the whirlwind and when he changes form.

In demon form, Leotheras casts an AoE Chaos Blast targeted on the person tanking him. Most guilds use a warlock in Fire Resist gear to tank him in this stage. Leotheras also summons Inner Demons for up to five members in the raid. You are the only person who can kill your Inner Demon, and if you fail to kill your Inner Demon in 30 seconds, you are Mind-Controlled for the rest of the fight.

This fight is--with one huge exception--a great deal of fun. Threat is wiped often, so DPS has a very stop and start aspect to it. It reminds me of the children's game Red Light, Green Light. As well, killing your Inner Demon is a thrill, especially for a healer. It's great fun to wear a bit of DPS gear, and be able to drop everything, and go medieval on some demon.

The big exception is Chaos Blast.

First, a bit of background on resists. There are two types of resists in WoW: partial resists; and binary resists. If a spell is pure damage, it is subject to partial resists. Basically, with partial resists your resistance works like armor, and prevents some of the damage on every cast. If you have 75% resistance (365 Resist) 75% of the damage from each cast is prevented.

However, if a spell has a non-damage component (like a Frostbolt's slowing effect), it is subject to binary resists. Here, resistance works more like Dodge, and you have a chance of either avoiding the attack completely, or taking full damage. If you have 75% resistance (365 Resist) you take no damage 75% of the time, and full damage 25% of the time.

Chaos Blast has a non-damage component, and thus is subject to binary resists. Specifically, each time you are hit with a Chaos Blast, you get a debuff which increases the amount of Fire damage you take.

So what happens is that the warlock takes no damage when she resists a Chaos Blast, but takes full damage when she fails to resist. Therefore damage is very spiky, and the spikes get larger and larger as debuffs accumulate. The big problem is that late in demon phase, if the warlock tank misses two resists in a row, she can take over 15K damage in slightly over 2s.

This is extremely hard to heal, especially as the warlock is taking zero damage 75% of the time. Cast-cancelling heals helps, but it's very common for the warlock to die. Guilds usually soulstone the warlock, and have druids ready to battle res.

By my calculations, during a demon phase there's about a 15% chance the warlock will take a double blast when she has 6 debuffs already on her. That's pretty much a guaranteed dead warlock for guilds at that level of content. That means across the entire fight, there's a 56% chance the warlock will be killed at least once during a demon phase.

This is terrible design for a raid fight. And quite frankly, it ruins what is pretty close to a perfect--and above all, fun--fight. This fight would be so much better if Chaos Blasts used partial resists instead of binary resists. I'm not really sure how the debuff would be applied, but I'm sure that a solution could be found.

In general, binary resists are a bad idea for damage-dealing spells. They make fights way too swingy. It would be much better if the damage component was separate from the debuff component. The damage component should always be handled by partial resists, and extra debuff components can be handled with binary resists (because a partial debuff often doesn't make sense, you either get the debuff or you don't).

Crossroads, Part II

I left my guild last night.

Don't really want to say much about it, except that the Guild Relations forum is right: If you are asking if you should leave your guild, the answer is always Yes. I ignored that advice, given to so many other posters, thinking that my situation was different. That was a mistake.

I'm not really sure what to do now. I could apply to another raiding guild. I could respec to Retribution and farm for my epic flying mount. I could wait for 2.4 and just do all the solo content. I could level an alt.

Ah well, maybe I'll use the free time to get caught up with posting.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lich King Faction Speculation

Blizzard recently put up a page on the zone Dragonblight coming in Wrath of the Lich King. One sentence intrigued me, and so I'm going to indulge in some total speculation.
The one-time Scarlet Crusade, now the Scarlet Onslaught, has arrived as well in the hopes of claiming victory in their ongoing campaign against the Lich King and his minions.

What's interesting here is that Blizzard has renamed the Scarlet Crusade. Now why would they do that?

The immediate answer that jumps to mind is that Blizzard wants to separate out the reputation associated with each faction. This is similar to what was done with the Cenarion Circle and Cenarion Expedition. If the Scarlet Onslaught was the same faction as the Crusade, and you could get honored or exalted reputation with the Onslaught, that might screw up content in the old world.

If you couldn't get reputation with the Onslaught, there's really no reason to make them a different faction. As pure enemies, using the Scarlet Crusade would be better, as there is history between the players and the Crusade.

So I believe this points to the Scarlet Onslaught being a faction that you can gain reputation with. Which makes further sense as it is a faction opposed to the Lich King. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.

But a lot of us are not going to be happy working with the Scarlet Onslaught. They've been the bad guys for so long that getting to revered or exalted just feels wrong, especially for us paladins.

So how to reconcile these two positions? Let's take a huge leap of logic, and state that the Onslaught makes the most sense as a faction you choose to join, like the Aldor or Scryer factions in Burning Crusade. And if the Onslaught are one choice, there must be a faction which is another choice.

There is one organization which would be the perfect foil to the Scarlet Onslaught: The Order of the Silver Hand, reforged by Tirion Fordring.

Two similar orders, both aimed at destroying the Lich King, but opposed to each other. It fits the Aldor/Scryer mold, as well as the content around the previous Naxxramas, where the Scarlet Crusade, Argent Dawn, and Brotherhood of Light worked together.

There are other possibilities, of course: a splinter faction from the Argent Dawn or Brotherhood of Light. But I like the Order of Silver Hand best.

So my predictions are:
  1. The Scarlet Onslaught will be a faction that you can choose to join in Wrath of the Lich King.
  2. The opposing faction will be the Order of the Silver Hand.
  3. 90% of all paladins will join the Silver Hand.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Counting on Probability

Ninjasuperspy, in a comment to the post about Spell Crit and Mp5, posted:
I've always viewed Crit vs. MP5 as the difference between Avoidence versus Mitigation for tanking. Sure, crit will refund mana in big chunks just like parry or dodge will avoid 100% of an attack. However you cannot count on it. MP5 like Stamina or Armor is always on, dependable regen.

This is not quite right. The Avoidance versus Mitigation debate has had the side-effect of promoting some incorrect beliefs about probability. The reality is that:

You cannot count on probability in the short term.
You can count on probability in the long term.

The reason you can count on the long term is something called the Law of Large Numbers. It's the same principle that casinos and insurance rely on. The key here is determining what is long term, and what is short term.

Tanking heavy-hitting bosses is inherently short-term. For some bosses, as few as three or four hits in a row will kill the tank. When the number of events is that low, you cannot count on probability to keep you alive, and probabilistic or Avoidance stats like dodge rating are less useful than stamina or armor.

However, if it takes a larger number of hits to kill you, probability becomes more and more reliable. For example, I tank the murloc adds on Tidewalker. Each add doesn't hit very hard, but there are many of them. It would probably take 10-15 full hits to kill me. In this situation, Avoidance stats are actually very useful.

For mana regeneration on healing crits, you are considering a large number of spells over a 10 minute fight or so. That's upwards of 100 spells cast, which is definitely a long term issue. So you can count on Illumination to return a reasonable amount of mana.

On the other hand, because it only takes one or two spells to heal the tank up to full again, you cannot count on spell crit to increase the power of your heals. Yes, over the course of the entire fight your average heal will be higher, but relying on the next heal to crit is a bad idea.

See the difference? Mana regen over an entire fight is a long term issue, but returning a tank to full health after a big hit is a short term issue. Spell crit helps with the first part, but should not be counted on for the second part.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More on Warlocks and Weaknesses

Some of the comments to the previous post on Why People Hate Warlocks are getting way too specific.

People don't usually have emotional reactions to classes based on highly specific setups in PvE or PvP. They react to classes on a more general level. Take a step back, and look at the warlock from a higher vantage point.

Imagine a new Warcraft player making her first character. She asks you to tell you what the strengths and weaknesses of each class are. Are you going to tell her that warlocks can be melee-assist-trained down in Season 3 Arena? I rather doubt that.

If a new player asked me about paladins, I would say that a paladin's strengths were that they were hard to kill, could heal, and had great buffs. Their weaknesses are lower damage and almost zero ranged options.

What can you honestly say for warlocks? The only downside I can come up with that warlocks are fairly complex to play.* And while that's a downside for a new player, it is not a weakness for the class as a whole.

Again, I'm not saying that warlocks are too strong. Just that they lack obvious weaknesses, and that provokes an emotional response from the other classes who do have weaknesses.

*As an aside, that's one of the reasons I don't really like warlocks for high end PvE. All that marvelous complexity gets shafted in favour of spamming Shadow Bolts.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Ask Coriel: Spell Crit versus MP5

George writes:
I am a holy Paladin whose guild is progressing through SSC and The Eye. I have always strongly valued MP5 but I am starting to see that my recent and upcoming gear upgrades (T5) are itemized to include a lot more +spell crit rating and less MP5 than the gear that got me to this point. Would you care to share your thoughts and experiences on how valuable +spell crit rating is at my stage of the game and beyond?

Spell crit and mp5 basically do the same thing: make your spells cheaper. A paladin is usually always casting, so is always getting the benefit of spell crit. Mp5 has the added benefit of working all the time, and spell crit makes your spells slightly more powerful (on average).

Now which is better is a complex question. It depends a lot on the mix of spells you cast. The more expensive the spell, the more mana spell crit will return. I'm finding that as I move up in content, I'm casting more and more Holy Light(Rank 7). It us less efficient, but I need the extra healing. So the extra spell crit on the gear helps support that playstyle.

However, mp5 still helps, especially on fights where you aren't constantly casting. So in the end, you have to maintain a balance of +healing, mp5, and spell crit. My general philosophy is upgrade whenever possible, just go with what stats you get, and if you think you are getting too low in one stat, use gems to boost that stat up a bit. I use green +heal/+int (mana + spell crit) or purple +heal/+mp5 gems usually.

Also, when you start looking at spell haste gear, spell crit will work better with spell haste than mp5 will. This is because spell crit's effect depends on the number of spells you cast, while mp5 depends on straight time. With spell haste you cast more spells in a given time, so the amount of mana returned by spell crit increases, but the amount of mana returned by mp5 stays constant. So if you're planning on picking up any spell haste Badge, ZA, or crafted gear, I would start leaning towards spell crit more heavily.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Why People Hate Warlocks

V’Ming Chew at WoWInsider has a post up asking Why People Hate Warlocks. In the post, he identifies four possible reasons:
  1. PvP Dominance?
  2. Easy Mode?
  3. Warlocks don't provide goodies?
  4. Warlocks are evil?

While these reasons may contribute to the negative emotional responses to warlocks, I think they miss the mark. In my opinion the real reason warlocks are disliked is that:

Warlocks have no obvious weaknesses.

Class-based design requires classes to have specific weaknesses as well as strengths. That’s what allows classes to work together, to complement each other. In PvP, it’s what allows you to come up with a strategy to defeat the other class. Classes which have no weaknesses are just as broken as classes that have no strengths.

Let’s compare warlocks to the other DPS classes. Mages have several obvious weaknesses. They’re fragile. They rely heavily on mana and are very vulnerable when they run out. They have good crowd control, but Polymorph breaks on damage and even heals the target. Rogues are somewhat fragile and require melee range. Hunters require being at range. Getting into melee with a hunter is a good strategy.

So what are the warlock’s obvious weaknesses? They’re not fragile, you can’t run them out of mana, they’re good at range, they can Fear--or even Drain Tank--when people get too close. They can kill you slowly with DoTs, or they can blast you down with Shadowbolts.

I think that warlocks were originally designed to be a “control” class. Their weakness was they dealt damage slowly, but could control the fight until their opponent died. However, Shadowbolt allows a warlock to blast like a mage, while still retaining their original control. I think it’s telling that the major high end spec is 0/21/40 which spams Shadowbolts.

I think that Shadowbolt needs to be reigned in. I think that Blizzard should knock the coefficient down a few percent. Shadowbolt scales too well, and doesn’t really fit the whole “control” aspect of the warlock, negating their required weakness.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ask Coriel: Retribution and Spell Damage

Rudolphe of Echo Isles writes in:
Something that concerns me is the removal of spell damage on the PTR from paladin gear to give room for stats more geared towards melee damage, however this seems to be a Nerf to Judgement of Command at the same time. Do you think they are going to adjust the ability to scale with attack power or give us alliance paladins seal of blood to make up for the loss in spell damage? I personally have about 44 spell damage on my gear because it doesn't seem worth it to work towards spell damage when attack power, hit and crit will increase my dps more since most ret abilities are based off of that.

The removal of spell damage is a nerf to Judgement of Command, but is a buff to the Ret paladin overall. Basically, if you look at where your total damage comes from, it looks roughly like:

50% - White auto-attack damage - scales with AP
20% - Crusader Strike - scales with AP
20% - Seal of Command - scales with AP and Spell Damage
10% - Judgement of Command - scales with Spell Damage

There's a saying in computer science, "Optimize the common case." For the ret paladin, 90% of her damage scales with AP, but only 30% scales with Spell Damage. So warrior-like gear that concentrates on AP is much better than Spell Damage gear.

Now should JoC be changed? From a logical point of view it probably should change to scale with AP. But you don't make changes to an ability in a vacuum. Ret Paladins are in a pretty decent position overall--even with JoC not scaling--so I think Blizzard will leave it alone for now.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ask Coriel: 2.4 Spirit/Mana Regen Mechanics Changes

Syrien of Arathor writes:
I was wondering if you have any thoughts about the changes to spirit/mana regen in 2.4. and how/if this will impect holy paladins?

For those who don't know, in 2.4 the amount of mana regenerated by Spirit will scale with your Intellect. It's a general buff to mana regen for Spirit-using classes.

I don't think that the spirit change will directly affect paladins, as we don't stack Spirit. I have heard rumors of a paladin wearing Druid healing gear and using [Darkmoon Card: Blue Dragon] to take advantage of the increased regen. Personally, I think such an idea is unlikely to really be effective, but you never know.

(Honestly, I expect Blizzard to nerf [Darkmoon Card: Blue Dragon] at some point, as it is a trinket which scales with levels. It will be just as good at level 80 as it is at 70, and as it was at 60.)

Indirectly, it will make priests and druids stronger healers, and they won't need to pop mana potions as much. However, most raids prefer to take 3 paladins for the blessings. What I think we'll see is more guilds dropping from 3 Paladin healers to 1 Ret Paladin, 1-2 Holy Paladins, and 0-1 Prot Paladins. Retribution is in a really good place at the moment, and an AoE tank is pretty useful. But the raid doesn't really benefit from having a second Ret pally (or a second Prot paladin), so there will still be a need for Holy Paladins.

I don't think the number of paladins taken to raids will change, but I do think that this change will give us more freedom to take on different roles other than just healers. And quite frankly, that's a good thing in my opinion. 90% of us healing was unhealthy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ask Coriel: Enchanting Scrolls

Jordrah of Ravencrest writes:
I was wondering what your opinion on the Enchantment "scrolls" that Blizzard has put up on the Arena Tournament PTR. If these were implemented on the Live servers (as of now they are only available on the Arena Tournament PTR).

How do you think they would affect the AH economy as well as raiding and PvP? Would enchanters be pleased or angry about such a change? Should there only be certain enchantments available as scrolls: only low level enchantments as a way to get rid of low level mats there might be laying around; should high level enchants such as Mongoose and Executioner only be available through an actual enchanter and still require the interaction? Also, what about these scrolls be use ala Mithril Spurs and Counter-Weight style where you are free to craft them and sell them but it is a requirement to find a crafter to apply them to your gear?

Jeez that was a lot, but I still have more! Ha ha.

Another thing that the enchanting scrolls and the recent change to Primal Nethers and Vortexes made me think about was: what if enchanters were to get their own BoP reagent needed for certain high level enchants (Mongoose and Executioner-like enchants from WotLK). Let's call it a Primal Shard or Nether Crystal (I know kind of lame). I was thinking that instead of being a drop like Primal Nethers and Vortexes are, they would be available through disenchanting. Something like a 10% chance upon disenchanting Rare items and a 50% chance upon disenchanting Epic items. I figured a change such as this would allow enchanters to have something that lets them charge for enchants beyond just a tip (which can be woefully low from some people) yet a relatively high chance to get them from disenchanting would keep them at a level where they would be somewhat valuable yet not overpriced. Another way for them to be gained could also be another enchanting recipe that would turn several Void Crystals or Large Prismatic Shards into a Nether Crystal.

Before I answer the question, let me tell a story about selling enchants.

Back in pre-TBC days, Fiery was a very popular weapon enchant, and it required 4 Small Radiant Shards. One day, I was in Ironforge and an enchanter (we'll call him Tim), started hawking Fiery in Trade Chat.

Tim: Levelling up Enchanting. Will pay you 1 gold to enchant Fiery if you provide mats.

Amused, I checked the Auction House. Sure enough, all the Small Radiant Shards were up for double the normal buyout, all being sold by Tim.

I sent Tim a tell congratulating him on his scheme, and he confirmed that he had several sales that day, making a healthy profit.

Anyways, one of the big problems with Enchanting is that you can't enchant gear for your alts. Scrolls solve that problem nicely, and is one reason I don't expect scrolls to require an enchanter to use. So I don't think the mithril spurs model is a good idea.

The interaction on the economy will be interesting. I don't think enchanters need a BoP mat, because the supply of materials is controlled *entirely* by enchanters. It's like jewelcrafting, but even more extreme. It really depends on how many enchanters continue to sell materials versus the number of enchanters who switch to selling enchants.

Part of the problem is that is very hard to justify a crafting fee when the buyer provides the materials. So the harder it is for the buyer to get materials, the higher the premium the finished product can command. Theoretically, enchanting would be very lucrative if the enchanter provided materials, because the number of capable enchanters available at any one time is low, but in practice everyone buys the materials first, then finds an enchanter and tips them a gold or two.

So my predictions are, if enchanting moves to the scrolls:
  1. Supply of enchanting mats dries up. Enchanters will keep their mats and produce enchants for sale, much the same way that jewelcrafters keep raw gems and sell finished gems.
  2. Price of enchants increases.
  3. However, it will be much easier to find and purchase the enchant you want using the AH.

More convenience for everyone, but higher prices for everyone as well.