Monday, February 25, 2008

What does the Life Tap nerf mean?

What an eventful weekend! My casual guild is blazing through Kara, achieving guild-first kills of Illhoof and Aran, as well as a one-shot of Netherspite. Only Nightbane* remains. Considering that we’ve only been raiding for a short time, and are usually drunk, that's quite impressive.

Though I went home on Friday without any new…news, sometime this weekend Blizz pushed out a new version of 2.4 on the PTR. There was a slight buff to enhancement shaman: Shamanistic Rage, which reduces incoming damage by 30% for 30 seconds, was made undispellable. This is nice, and something that the community has been pleading/threatening for for a long time, but it’s not enough.

But hardly anyone noticed that anyway. The REAL news this weekend was the drastic nerf to the warlock ability Life Tap, which allows them to exchange health for mana. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for PvP nerfs to Warlocks (they are fine in PvE). But that desire for nerfs revolves around the (&$*@ing) fear mechanic. I see nothing wrong with them having near-infinite mana, since a) the mana comes at a reasonable cost, and b) rogues and warriors don’t run out of “mana”, either.

But they didn’t just nerf Life Tap. They changed it so drastically that it completely breaks the core tenets of the class.

Read more!

As it stood before the nerf, Life Tap would subtract a certain numerical value of health (based on spell rank and the warlock’s spell damage), and return that same numerical value of mana back. For instance, at level 70, a warlock might Life Tap and lose 900 hp, but gain 900 mana. So, for a warlock, health is essentially of near-equal value to MP for the purpose of casting spells. I stuck the math in a footnote at the bottom of this post, after the break.

So, all warlock set pieces have included more stamina than other cloth damage classes. Cloth drops with a lot of stamina are often considered “warlock loot”.

That would all change with the nerf. Instead of converting 1 health point into 1 mana point, the new version converts a percentage of total health into the same percentage of total mana. What does this mean?

Let’s say today’s average warlock has about 9k hp, and about 6k mana (remember, she’s been favoring stamina on all of the gear she’s been busting her butt to earn). She Life Taps. The percentage doesn’t matter, but one number that’s been thrown around is 15%. The Life Tap subtracts 1350 HP (15% of the 9k health pool), but only gives back 900 MP (15% of the 6k mana pool).

Ouch. So it’s a nerf. But what makes it an earth-shaking transformation of the entire gearing philosophy?

Adding stamina actually becomes DETRIMENTAL to the warlock’s mana pool. Instead, they want to stack, stack, stack intellect.

On first glance, maybe this isn’t all that obvious. Maybe your first thought was the fallacy that “well, having more health overall means you still have more left after the Life Tap, even if the Life Tap took more away.” While this is technically “true”, it neglects to consider how healing works. In a raid or group, warlocks can expect small heals to regain the health lost to lifetap, effectively converting healing to mana. They can also heal themselves using various life-sucking abilities or healthstones/bandages/potions. The value of these heals does not change based on how much stamina or intellect you have. Let’s look at an example:

Warlock A: 10k HP, 6k MP
Warlock B: 6k HP, 10k MP

Lock A Life Taps, pays 1500 HP for 900 MP.

Lock B Life Taps, pays 900 HP for 1500 MP.

To pay for the life tap, Lock A may have to Drain Life twice, or get a larger heal that would cost the healer more time and mana. Meanwhile, Lock B would only have to Drain Life once, or get a small Flash Heal or Renew, to pay for the Life Tap.

And not only does Lock B require only a little more than half as much healing, but Lock B also received nearly twice as much mana! The healing to mana conversion rate is vastly better.

So you can see that in any setting where the warlock does not need the HP to survive damage (most raids and PvE situations), the warlock is now better off the less stamina and more intellect she has. It is a complete flip-flop of the class mechanics.

Obviously, PvP warlocks will still stack mass stamina: for them, this change represents a simple, if severe, nerf. But in PvE, it means that every single warlock will have to retool their talents and gear in a way that is counter to everything they’ve been doing up until now (in some cases for nearly 3 years now). This also means that stamina-heavy warlock PvP gear will become useless in PvE, and vice versa.

It’s a mistake. The warlock forums are, fittingly, in a massive uproar. I believe that Blizzard will recognize the problem, and I would put money on this change never, ever going live. I don’t believe that it is at all an exaggeration to say that many warlock players will abandon their characters or quit the game altogether if this change stays in. I wouldn’t blame them.

I never thought that I would be writing a post in opposition to a nerf to warlocks. It's a crazy world.

*Am I the only one who constantly gets the names of Nightbane and Netherspite mixed up? Who in their right mind would put two dragons in the same instance and give them nearly identical names? %&$# that guy.

MATH ALERT: 1 point of intellect costs the same in an item’s stat budget as 1.5 points of stamina, and 1 point of stamina gives 10 HP while 1 point of intellect gives 15 MP, the two stats are, at base, of equal value on gear to warlocks. Add in the that stamina gives the added benefit of survivability and that many warlocks take talents that increase their health by up to 18%, and that pets gain health based on the health of their masters, and you suddenly have a recipe for a caster class that actually favors stamina somewhat over intellect. The disparity grows when you consider that most warlock spells cannot crit (extra crit is the side benefit of intellect).

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