Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Harping on a horse corpse and beating spilled milk

Well, we got Thorim down and got Mimiron to phase 4 a few times before our MT had to leave to take an online final exam that he forgot was due in an hour (just like me when I was in college!) One of the dangers of running such a small group.

Speaking of small raids...

...(here we go again)...

...(Run, while there's still time! Save yourself!)...

...here are some posts I just ran across over on the blog of a fellow hardcore 10-man raider, the Egotistical Priest.

Vonya's take

Hannelor's take

So, if a 50-page thread on the forums of people agreeing with me on the 10-man vs 25-man issue weren't enough, here's a few more smart people.

I especially like Hannelor's response to the "solution" that 10-mans should just be made easier:

"I hate this idea. I want to shove it in a closet and set it on fire."

Here, here!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ulduar: Strategy Over Brute Force

9 bosses down in Ulduar, with hopefully a few more tonight (Thorim and Mimiron).

I gotta say, aside from the early bugs, the instance has been top-notch. I still think they should have gotten the thing out the door faster, but at least it was worth the wait. The art direction, especially for the environments and XT, Kologarn, and Mimiron, has just blown me away. Even if the fights aren't tuned perfectly, the encounter designs are strong.

The first week we went in, I had my doubts about the tuning. We expected to mow over the first part of the instance, since we were walking in in mostly Naxx-25 gear thanks to our"boredom pugs". Some of the bosses (coughIgniscough) were very challenging. Still, we got 7 bosses down the first week, so obviously it wasn't that hard. We just started wondering how a guild of regular joes in Naxx 10 gear was supposed to do these encounters on easy mode.

This week we found out how. A number of the harder/more unfair (Razorscale and Ignis RNG) aspects were nerfed. We killed 6 of the 7 previous bosses in one night, mostly one-shots. It turns out we were slowed down more by our insistence on going in blind than we were by the fight mechanics themselves. Once you learn a strategy and do it right, the tuning seems more reasonable.

Also, the tuning has less impact than it might have otherwise because the design of the fights is so strong. Even if they leave problems in the game for months (DKs in arenas) and years (where is that promised totem interface again?), in some ways the designers learn from experience. Granted I haven't seen Sunwell, but Ulduar seems to be the pinnacle or raid design thus far.

What I like is that the fights are about learning and execution. They are hard to overpower with gear because they require correct application of power more than they require brute force. You have to know which target to hit or heal, and exactly when that heal needs to go off.

For example, I was offtanking Freya, and after the 2nd attempt where we struggled with the 3-mob add wave, I started to wonder how we would ever win this fight. Refining our strategy and practicing targets got us a kill 2 attempts later. I was amazed. What mattered wasn't how high our dps could get. It was whether we switched to killing the trees fast enough, whether we focused our dps on the right add at the right time, and whether we could be smart about positioning under the mushrooms.

The same thing for Iron Council. We would never wipe because of a lack of dps or healing or tanking. We would wipe because the healers didn't time a heal or dispel around Fusion Punch, or too many people stood in a green rune, or we hadn't worked out a good interrupt rotation for Dwarfy McLightning.

This is probably why pro guilds like Ensidia are clearing the hard modes even though they supposedly should need better gear for it: those people are the best and most experiences at figuring out and coordinating precise application of their force, and they devote tons of time to practicing it. Through perfect execution, they can overcome the gear disadvantage. And even with good gear, scrubs simply aren't going to be able to take these bosses down.

So Bravo, Blizz. I am loving this instance, and can't wait to see the whole thing and get down to the hard modes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Loot: Incentives vs. Rewards

Here we go again. 10-man vs. 25-man raiding deathmatch, GO!

If you want to know the details of what I'm about to go off about, read this thorough and intelligent article by Allison Robert with which I disagree violently. Though I think she's wrong, I appreciate that her article was very respectful to the other camp and written in a thoughtful and intelligent manner that strove for objectivity. She made it possible for me to understand and empathize with the other side, and is the strongest presenter of these arguments I have seen. Of course, usually these arguments are accompanied by "lol 10manz r 4 nubcakez roflmayo". :)

To summarize: Allison argues that 25-mans are more difficult to organize, and therefore if they offer the same loot as a 10-man, players will rationally choose to run 10-mans exclusively, killing 25-man raiding. She considers an incentive necessary to make 25-man raiding desireable. On that point, I don't think she's wrong. My quarrel is with the details, and mainly the degree.


First, I want to get the "difficulty argument" out of the way so we can focus on talking about loot. Some believe 10-mans are harder, some believe 25-mans are harder. For the sake of this discussion, let's declare a temporary truce and assume the two instances are of similar difficulty.

The main disconnect I have with Allison's article is a perspective on loot as an incentive vs. a reward. Allison argues that Blizzard should use loot to incentivize desired behaviors, so that players, acting in their own rational self-interest (as I agree they tend to try to do) will want to choose the behavior Blizzard finds desireable. Being an incentive has always been a part of how loot works.

However, the other function of loot is as a reward for performance. I say performance rather than time because we are talking about raiding loot, and no amount of time invested in a raid boss is going to get you a reward unless you can perform at at least the minimal level necessary to actually down the boss and loot it.

Loot only makes sense as a reward when the reward is commensurate with the challenge and required investment of the task. More challenging bosses and instances should give stronger rewards. If they don't, then the reward aspect of loot breaks down. And it's all relative: every use of your time in game will be compared to others.

To use a simple example: let's say I have two quests that are mutually exclusive. One offers 10g for doing 2000 dps on a dummy for a minute. The other one offers 500g for doing 2500 dps on a dummy for a minute.

Yes, the second one is harder. But the rewards are so out of whack that suddenly, I don't feel very rewarded for doing the 2000 dps one. The designer would have succeeded in making everyone want to do the latter, but they could also achieve incentive by offering, say 20g instead of 500g. Going too far throws the reward structure out of balance.


If we look at loot as a reward, and claim (as Allison agrees) that the main challenge of 25-mans over 10-mans is organizational, then the only rational conclusion is that if there is better loot, it should only go to the raid leaders, who are handling all of the organization. It should not be available to the 20 other people in the raid who had no hand in organizing.

So right there, by having a full tier higher loot available to the entire 25-man raid, we are simultaneously:

1) perverting the idea of rewards, and
2) failing at the stated goal of incentivizing

in two ways at once, by both giving something for nothing and by giving the same reward to the Organizers as we give to the Organized. If the Organizer is the only one doing extra work, but the entire raid reaps the loot, then it fails as both a reward and an incentive.

Consider the current difference in rewards between 10- and 25-mans. The following are only available in 25-man raids:

1) Loot is a full tier higher, and even more for weapons. That's a 13 iLevel difference for armor and a 19 iLevel difference for weapons.
2) Access to a Legendary (and the accompanying fun questline)
3) Patterns for high-end BoE gear
4) Crafting materials for that gear (Runic Orbs)

So yes, they've got the incentive aspect covered. There are lots of reasons to run 25-mans even if they are harder to organize. But they've overshot on the reward aspect. As you can see, there is a massive difference in rewards between the raid sizes, even though the main added challenge is simply organizational.

Yes, I'm aware that 25-mans are tuned for gear a tier higher, but that's incidental because they are supposed to be two different tracks. We are going on the assumption that actually playing through Uld 25 in Naxx 25 gear is about as difficult as playing through Uld 10 in Naxx 10 gear. If we change the rewards, we can change the tuning at the same time to balance it.


We were told that 10-man raiding was meant to be a viable alternative path. Right now it's a ghetto for "casual losers", due to the reward structure. The devs have stated that they want both paths to be viable, but they have created such a massive incentive difference and reward disparity that's NOT commensurate with difficulty, that they thoroughly undermine their own ability to create two comparable tracks, making 25-man the only "real" option.

Ghostcrawler has argued that the devs aren't sure there is demand for 10-man hard modes. They don't seem to think that there are enough serious 10-man raiding groups to justify focusing on supporting that content. It's scary how willfully blind that stance makes them sound. GC talks about how incentives are necessary or 25-man raiding will "die", and then completely ignores that very point when considering 10-man raiding:

Of course few serious raiders are interested in the raid with crappy rewards!

It's by your own design, GC! Incentivize it, and they will come!


As stated by Ghostcrawler and acknowledges by Allison, equalizing loot between the raid sizes would necessitate shared raid lockouts (meaning you can't run Uld 10 the same week as Uld 25, etc.). The current implementation and this new one each have their own pros and cons. Allison makes a strong argument that shared lockouts would be bad, most compellingly because they reduce the number of options. She says that players won't feel as free to help fill out pugs or friend's raids, for instance, and she's right.

I think that particular objection is alleviated by the large number of separate instances available, which will only increase with time. If you are saved to Ulduar 25, you can still go to Naxx 10, OS 25, VoA 10, and EoE 25 that week. You still have 4 other raid lockouts. Not to mention that most people who play enough to actually want to raid the same place twice a week would probably have an alt at 80 capable of filling that slot anyway. Sure, we lose some options, but the harm here seems pretty darn minimal.

In the case of raid lockouts, we have to look at which is worse: a slight constriction on available raids per character, or a breakdown of the raid loot reward system. I think the pros of shared lockouts heavily outweigh the cons.


Right now, we have a situation where 25-mans are over-incentivized, wreaking havoc on the Reward Balance and "killing" serious 10-man raiding in the same way that it's feared that loot equalization would kill 25-man raiding.

The solution? Don't put the best loot out of reach for 10-man groups, just make it take more time and accomplishment to earn. For example, instead of having the Legendary pieces ONLY drop in 25-man, have them drop at a much, much lower rate in 10-man.

That way, the incentive for 25-man is that you get geared up much faster and a bit more easily. The only way to get the first Frostmourne on the server is to do 25-mans. The fastest route to profit off of patterns and Runic Orbs is 25-mans. The fastest way to get geared is 25-mans.

If the challenge is organizing more people, then reward them with more loot to give out. Don't reward them with exclusive access to legendaries, patterns, crafting mats, and an entire tier of gear above what is available in 10-mans. Right now, Blizzard has overshot and offered too much incentive to do 25-mans.

I believe we can have this compromise and meet in the middle: make the best ilevel gear, as well as the perks (legendaries, patterns, etc), available in some way to 10-mans, while still making the organizational headaches of 25-mans pay off, and keep people interested. With my plan, 25-man raids get all the best stuff faster and first, even though they don't have exclusive access to it. Isn't that enough incentive? I think so. If you don't, then take an honest look at it and ask yourself: are 25-mans worth saving at all if they require such a large incentive that it warps the entire reward structure?

[edit: I want to clarify that final point a little. I'm not arguing that 25-mans aren't worth saving - I wholeheartedly believe they are. I'm arguing that they don't require so much incentive to get people to do them. I was mainly trying to point out that the 25-man-first crowd defeats themselves when they argue that 25-man raiding will die without this big an incentive. If you require an entire tier of gear plus perks to justify the activity, do you yourself think it is worth doing at all? If you support 25-mans, then you should be in support of reducing the reward disparity because you know that you will still do 25-mans even if they only give you a relatively small advantage.]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ulduar Second and Third Impressions

Sorry, no pics today because I'm in a hurry.

Wednesday's raid on Ulduar was a blast, with FL and Razorscale downed completely blind before we had to call it.

We returned on Friday night, and decided we would turn left and face Ignis the Furnace Master before proceeding.

Big mistake.

First of all, the trash leading up to him is brutal. We figured out that the Molten Collosi (a cute nod to Molten Core!) would stop destroying our tanks with their flamethrowers and pyroblast if we split them up. Then, we waited for their jumping lava debuff to hit a mage or paladin, who would bubble or ice block to stop the debuff. On the revenants, we spread out and ran away when they sent tornadoes after us. We still lost people occassionally, but it was definitely doable. Blizz has sinced hotfixed the tornadoes to move more slowly.

This was our first experience with real trash in Ulduar, and I gotta say that even though they don't require any CC, none of them are "group em up and aoe em down" like in Naxx. All of the trash pretty much amount to different mini-games: puzzles for the raid to figure out on the way to the boss. They are also quite sparse, which I love. Each pull is complex and requires a unique strategy, but you never have to do so many pulls that the minigames become tedious. Bravo Blizz!

So we reached Ignis and read off his abilities. It sounded simple enough: bring the adds into the fire until they get 20 stacks, then bring them into the water to shatter them (cool reference to how real-life forging works). At first we tried having the offtank stand in the fire with the add, which both pissed our healers off and wiped us. We worked out good places to position the boss, and started stunning and rooting the adds to relieve damage from the offtank. None of this seemed to matter. No matter how well we executed, we died with him around 65%. After an hour or so of solid wipes, we gave in and looked up a strat. There are no detailed strategies available for him that we could find, but every indication was that we were doing everything right already! We kept trying, but gave up after another hour of suddenly dying at 65%.

[By the way: the next day I looked into it, and it turns out that the stacking buff that increases his damage by 15% each stack is supposed to be removed when you kill the adds. It wasn't being removed. No wonder we always died at the same point: that was when his damage had multiplied to the point of being unhealable! We'll try again next week, since that problem has supposedly been hotfixed as well.]

We moved on to XT002 Deconstructor. We tried to go into this blind too. We wiped immediately on the first pull due to laughter upon hearing his voice (I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's hilarious). This boss has a short and unforgiving enrage timer, and does a ton of raid damage. We worked out that we should leave the "pummeler" adds alive on the offtank and just focus dps on the boss. I ended up offtanking, so I would do just enough AoE to hold the pummelers, then focus my dps on the boss to help with the enrage timer. After about an hour of this, we looked up a strat, and discovered that we were supposed to attack the heart when it was exposed (which we were avoiding on purpose so as not to activiate the hard mode), since it took much more damage than his body did.

The entire raid went "Ooooooooh..." in unison. Two pulls later, he was down. He dropped some stupid leather crap. Douche.

Continuing our 6-hour raiding marathon, we pushed on into the Atrium, finally entering Ulduar proper. We actually used CC on the first trash pull, which made it trivial. Then we faced a pair of golems who could flamethrower a tank to ash in an instant. We eventually managed to heal through it if the tanks used cooldowns. I later stumbled upon the idea of line-of-sighting the flamethrowers, which is a strategy I much prefered to the one where I get burnt to a crisp.

A few trash pulls later, and were facing an empty ledge. We approached and a &()*$ing gigantic torso, head, and pair building-sized arms emerged from beyond the ledge. Kologarn's bearded, stone face glared at us from above. You have never seen any NPC this large in WoW. It is pretty epic.

Reading his abilities, we spread the raid out and focused DPS on the arms first, since killing them did equal damage to the boss. We didn't last too long doing this, and decided the left arm's damage was trivial and not worth the hassle of having to kill an extra set of adds. Instead, we focused down the right arm, then the adds, then aimed for the boss. This worked much better, and we got him to around 20% before calling the raid due to it being way past our bedtimes.


Returning on Sunday, we recleared trash and made a beeline for Kologarn, since he was clearly easier than Ignis, whom we suspected was still bugged. Stronger execution and smarter raid-spreading brought him down in two attempts! I got a nice tanking neck, and our resto shaman got boots.

Oh, and you use his fallen body as a bridge to get to the next area. Awesome. I made sure to stomp on his crotch a few times for good measure.

We decided to ignore the Iron Council for now and go for Auriyia. She patrols a circular area just past Kologarn, similarly to the way the first boss of HoL works. We cleared out the two trash packs on the edges (the solution to this mini-puzzle is to tank them very far apart, and kill the spark every time it tries to travel between them). We had discussed it after dropping Kologarn, and considering that the upcoming bosses were going to be more complicated (and we had wasted a lot of time on XT and other bosses because we didn't know things that we were never going to figure out without a guide or hours of work), we decided to stop taking the bosses blind, and instead use strategies and face the next few bosses to see how it went. It was a raging success, and I anticipate we will keep using guides on bosses and just concentrate on learning the fights and increasing our execution to prepare for hard modes. Raiding blind was fun, but also got frustrating when the fights got more complicated. We're getting tons of discovery-fun from learning the trash on our own, so we'll mix it with some execution/accomplishment-fun by facing the bosses with strategies in hand. It was a cool experiment, but for us it proved unteneble. We either lack the patience, skill, or both to face this entire instance blind.

Anyway, the most complex aspect of the Auriyia fight is the pull of her and the two panthers that are linked to her. She's the High King Maulgar of Wrath. Initial attempts to Misdirect proved unsuccessful. Eventually, we really hit a sweet spot by having me drop Death and Decay in their path (paladin OT couldn't make it that night), then hiding around a corner and waiting for them to approach. Just before they reached us, I hit one of my tanking cooldowns, and as they turned the corner, the main tank taunted Auriayia off me and I nailed the panthers with a Howling Blast and then spread some aoe threat on them while the dps unloaded and killed the panthers one at a time. Leaving them in the raid proved to be the best strategy, to avoid a pounce. I won't bore you too much with further description of the strategy, but briefly: we fought her along the outer wall (starting near the stairs) and then would run out of void zones to the next available place that broke line of sight to avoid further pounces.

It only took about 45 minutes of trying to down her, and she was basically done as soon as we got the pull perfect. She dropped some nice tanking pants and a caster robe with no spirit (!!). As an added bonus, a bug actually landed in our favor for once: we all got the "Crazy Cat Lady" achievement, which requires you to leave the first 2 panthers alive for the entire fight, even though we killed them. We think they respawned back on their path during the fight.

With her down, we backtracked to take on the Iron Council.

The Council consists of 3 bosses together: an iron giant, an iron vykrul, and an iron dwarf. For the normal kill, you go after them in height order, from largest to smallest. We had the warrior main tank keep the two smaller guys off away from the raid, while I pulled the giant back to us.

The giant has a move with a wind-up castbar called "Fusion Punch". Apparently, it fuses my health bar with the number zero. Now excuse me while I go find where my face landed...

Focused healing allowed me to stay alive through the Falcon-I mean, Fusion Punches, and hitting my cooldowns helped as well. We gave it about an hour of attempts, improving every time, with our best one killing the first two guys before we wiped. Sadly, we then had to call the raid due to tank disconnect (a theme for us in Ulduar). When we died, it was usually due to the main tank or his healer being unable to escape the dwarf's giant aoe in time, or someone not moving out of the giant green void zones in time. I'm confident we will down these guys next week. The fight was very complicated and hard, but fair: when we died, I felt like it was because we made a mistake, not because of RNG or a bug or poor tuning.

I'm really looking forward to blowing through all of this in the first and second raid night next week and trying some new bosses, most likely Hodir and Freya are next on our hit list. Also, first shot at tier gear! Hurrah!

The tuning in this place is tight. It's challenging for us (in a good way, for the most part) even in a lot of 25-man gear. Honestly, I think the first half is a bit too difficult for a group in only 10-man gear. It's doable, but it's less a "step up" from Naxx 10 and more a haunted, gaping precipice covered in jagged rocks and angry bees.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ulduar First Impressions

To preface: it took Blizzard too long to get this new content out the door. Just because I'm about to gush about how much fun I had, that does not let them off the hook for running a skeleton crew on their cash cow (Mixed Metaphors, I choose you!) and only releasing an update every 6 months. They need to step up the development speed pronto (or a real competitor needs to come out).

Now, please proceed to the gushing in an orderly fashion.

We giddily formed up the following raid make-up:

Prot Warrior
Prot Paladin
Unholy DPS DK (me)
Survival Hunter
Fire Mage
Fire Mage
Affliction Warlock
Resto Shaman
Resto Druid
Holy Paladin

It was a very nice mix of buffs, and pretty decently stacked for magic dps (damage and haste buffs from the the shaman, mana regen from the hunter and shaman, +crit debuff from the warlock, +spell debuff damage from me, BoK) and a nice mix of healing types.

We went in mostly blind. The only information we looked up was a list of the boss abilities, to avoid wasting attempts just to find out what the hell was hitting us and read the ability tooltips. As it turned out, this was not much different from going in completely blind.


The instance portal drops you in a large outdoors-looking area with some NPCs under the command of Brann Bronzebeard of the Explorer's League offering you a variety of salvaged vehicles to ride out of their protective bubble and into the heavily-guarded front yard of the Titan Stronghold. When I say heavily-guarded, I mean there are literally hundreds of iron dwarves, metallic giants, freaking gigantic mechanical spiders, and incredibly annoying gyrocopters between you Ulduar's entrance.

In the 10-man version, there are six available vehicles: 2 bikes, 2 siege engines, and 2 demolishers (catapults). Everything has 2 seats: pilot and passenger, but the bike passenger can't do anything. Each seat has it's own set of independent controls, and the pilots work in tandem with their passengers. For instance, the demolisher pilot aims and fires the catapult, but the passenger decides what ammo to load into the catapult: whether that involves using a hook to gather Pyrite ammunition for extra-strong volleys, loading regular rounds, or even loading themselves (!!!) into the catapult to be launched. In the case of the siege engine, the pilot can only steer and ram things, while the passenger sees to the engine's defenses using a gunner turret and a short-term force field. Awesomely, the bikes can do a cone of damage with their horn, or drop oil slicks to slow enemies. These slicks can then be lit on fire with demolisher attacks.

So I hopped in a chopper, and the rest of the group filled out the other vehicles, with 2 in each siege engine and demolisher, and one other person on the remaining bike.

At first, confusion ruled. No one had any idea what they were doing. Eventually, someone figured out entirely by accident that we could light the oil slicks on fire. Another person noticed that enemy reinforcements were streaming from small beacon towers around the battlefield, and we set about the grim business of destroying them. Someone noticed that the enemy appeared to be shipping volatile pyrite via easily-shot-down helicoptor robots, expanding our arsenal. I discovered repair pads that allowed us to continue the fight. As the chaos began to subside, we focused our attacks on 4 large towers across the map, clearing them out before facing Flame Leviathon. We discovered that each vehicle had a main role: the siege engines had high HP, the demolishers moved slowly but did massive ranged damage, and the bikes were extremely fast, with unlimited speed boosts (provided they weren't also using energy to attack). The bikes were perfect for ferrying people from place to place, and proved invaluable when another vehicle was destroyed. In those cases, if we acted quickly the riders could hop on our bike and be driven to safety (and healed with one of our bike's abilities). If you lose a vehicle, it's not the end of the world: they eventually respawn back at the entrance, so if you lived you can just have a chopper ferry you back there at super speed, and if you died you can just corpse run back in.

And that makes this trash an inconsequential joke. Granted, it was hilariously fun, and didn't grate in the way phase 3 Maly does. We all had a blast with it, but I can imagine finding it pretty tedious a few months from now.

And so, having finally gotten the hang of our vehicles, we approach the gate to the next area, and A FUCKING TANK BUSTS THROUGH THE FUCKING WALL. It was on.

Flame Leviathon

click to embiggen

From what we can tell, Flame Leviathon focuses on the vehicle closest to him, and starts single-mindedly chasing it (hint: it should be a siege engine). After about 20 seconds, you'll see an emote that he's about to switch targets, then he'll begin chasing something else. We had already noted that the siege engines had an ability to interrupt enemy casting, and we also noticed that his flamethrower that was melting our faces had a cast bar. It looked like the strategy was supposed to be: have the targeted siege engine run away, while the other engine chases behind, interrupting the flamethrower. When you get the "5 seconds to target switch" message, the other engine starts running.

FL keeps stacking a buff that increases his movement speed, so it became harder and harder to outrun him. It helps to drop oil slicks in his path (and light them up for MASSIVE DAMAGE!!). We also discovered that the bike horn seemed to have quite a long range, so we could use it to attack him without getting into the damage aura FL sometimes put up around himself.

You know the boss is a pushover when he jumps you by surprise AND you went in blind, and you still get him to about 15% on your first attempt. I couldn't believe how low his HP was. He was still beating us up, granted, because we had to figure it out as we went along. Towards the end of that attempt, with just one demolisher left, the passenger decided to commit suicide by hopping in to catapult and getting launched at FL. As it turns out, this landed them on top of him uninjured, and able to target two turrets on his back.


So we came back prepared, and opened by launching both passengers onto FL to take out the turrets. When they did so, he would Overload, stunning him for a while and increasing damage taken by 50%. We just timed it so he was sitting on a flaming oil slick when it happened, and then bombarded him. The fight became truly trivial.

So FL is the new Loot Reaver of Wrath, a pinata of gear that is better than stuff from Naxx 25 (pre-KT at least). Even better, he's the first boss of the instance and is fought on vehicles who's damage is not effected by gear (only HP). The kicker: he drops weapons and trinkets. The two most sought-after and difficult types of items to get, and this loot pinata drops them exclusively. In our case, he dropped two trinkets. I replaced my badge trinket with a Pyrite Infuser and no one wanted the the MP5 trinket.


click to embiggen

With FL down, Brann's forces take over the area (go go phasing!) and install teleporters that make it mush easier to get from the entrance to the next area. Kudos to Blizzard on this idea (and for making the trash after this so sparse). Riding through the gate that FL Kool-Aid-Manned down leads to an intersection with 3 paths: left to Ignis's forge, forward to a giant clockwork robot, and right to an empty stone balcony with some dwarves setting up harpoon launchers. We started debating which way to go, then noticed a big dragon flying over the empty balcony. Realizing this is a fantasy game, we took it as our obligation to slay that dragon.

We read off the boss abilities beforehand: a flame breath that stacked a debuff on the tank, a fireball that left blue spots of Bad Shit to Not Stand In, and a wing buffet that knocked everyone back. We assumed it would work like Gluth with a tank switch-off whent he debuff stacked, and we'd just avoid the blue flame and tank n spank.

Oh, how wrong we were.

Talking to a dwarf begins the encounter, causing giant drills to burst up out of the ground, depositing angry iron dwarves before us. The friendly NPC's engaged them, announcing they would need their felled bodies to repair the harpoon guns. Our tanks began pulling the adds, but things got messy as they got overwhelmed, and our disarray put some of us out of range of the healers. Razorscale remained in the air, pelting us with fire damage and dropping fire zones. After 2 or 3 waves of adds, we saw a message that the harpoon gun was ready. A healer clicked it, shooting a chain up at the dragon and locking her into place above us. After a few more waves, another harpoon was ready. This one worked with the first one to pull the dragon down onto the ground, right into the middle of our party.

Our tanks tried to grab her and turn her away from the raid, but no matter how hard they tried, she would not budge. We used this opportunity to unload on her. After about 20 seconds, she took a deep breath, and we figured out why she wouldn't turn. She was killing the harpoon guns with her fire breath so she could blast off again.

Little light bulbs started going off in our heads.

After we wiped, we formulated a new strategy. Break the raid up into two groups, each focused on one side of the adds, and the third healer in the middle helping both groups. This got us through the add segments much better. When she landed, everyone got to her sides to avoid the breath, and DPS unloaded hard on her while the tanks held the remaining adds. This seemed to be working great, and we got through 3 cycles of this. The only problem was, she only took abotu 15% of her health in damage each landing. At this rate, it would take around 7 full cycles to kill her. It didn't seem right: should the fight really go on that long?

She landed again, and we pounded her some more, dropping her below 50%. We prepared for her to lift off again. Then, one of our healers shouts "HOLY SHIT!!" in vent. Right about then, we all notice a message saying that Razorscale won't be lifting off again. She suddenly had an aggro table, and her jaws went right for our soft, chewy healers.

Ah! So we repeatedly bring her down until we can get her below 50%, then we tank her for the rest of the fight! Easy-peasy! There were a few more kinks to work out such as keeping her moving while tanking her (she likes to leave fire zones under herself, a la grobbulus) and switch off tanks after a few breaths (her breaths "fuse armor", and after 5 stacks your tank will be locked in place, unable to move or act because his plate armor is now a prison). Once we figured it out, the fight wasn't all that difficult. It only took us a few extra attempts because some of our DPS were getting one-shotted unexpectedly, dying before the healers could react. It turns out that if they got randomly targeted by her fireball at the same time as something else, it would do too much damage and kill them instantly, with no way to avoid it or react. Seemed kind of cheap. The mages ended up spamming Fire Ward on themselves, and we just kind of hoped it didn't happen to a healer or the warlock.

The next day, we read that Blizz considered that a bug, and had hotfixed the boss so her fireballs did less damage. Hah.

She dropped a pair of leather melee boots (no rogue now that I've switched, so they went to the druid's offset) and a caster trinket that went to a mage. What's with all these trinkets off the early bosses? Aren't they traditionally the hardest items to get from raids?

Could it be that Blizzard is learning?

Anyway, with Razorscale down, we called the raid for the night.


It was really, really fun. I love having a new instance, with new art, new boss mechanics, and tons of novelty and pretty stuff to enjoy. So far, it seems like they've gone above and beyond what I've seen before (granted, I never saw Sunwell) in boss and instance design. I can't wait to see more of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

OMG 3.1!!!! Emelon Down (and switching mains)

ZOMG 3.1 came out last night! And though server maintenance seemed interminable (every hour we got a new announcement saying they would make an announcement in an hour), the patch was surprisingly stable and low on bugs compared to past patches, especially ones of this magnitude.

My guild is full of realists, so instead of dashing straight into Ulduar, we had reserved this evening for everyone to get their addons squared away, set up their dual specs, and explore the new non-raid content. As it turned out, the patch was so stable that we were ready to raid at one point, so we threw together a quick raid on the Vault of Archavon and the new boss therein, Emelon the Storm Watcher.

But before I get to that, I have some ...news. I'm not sure yet if it's bad or good for you, but I'm pretty happy about it.

I'm switching mains.

Up until now, I've considered myself a proud member of the Rogue community, trying to encourage other rogues to enjoy the class and be proud as well, despite that fact that rogue numbers declined this xpac faster than any other class. However, a confluence of factors compelled me to switch mains. I have a level 80 DK, and I'd really been enjoying playing her lately, more than my rogue. I liked getting back into tanking a bit (as my offspec, when needed), and having that flexibility was such a boon, especially when my guild only has 2 other toons capable of tanking, so if one of them doesn't show we usually have to call a raid or bring alts. Dual spec makes this even better (and didn't help my rogue help the raid).

My 10-man raid is also caster-heavy, so I figured the unholy buff would be better than the rogue buff for our group overall. Though my rogue was in almost full Best in Slot, my DK also has excellent gear and was able to be competitive with my rogue (at least before he got buffed in 3.1) on DPS. The bottom line was, I was having more fun and getting more variety out of my DK (and I gotta say, womping things with a 2-hander was a factor), and it was a win/win for my guild. We didn't even have a DK main until now, which kind of made Malygos more of a bitch than he really had to be.

I also had another major reason to be disappointed with my rogue. Rogues offer the absolute least raid utility of any class. Period, end of story. Rogues bring the fewest buffs to the raid.

Consider this: Rogues are now the ONLY class that can't either offer tanking, healing, or replenishment if needed. They are also the ONLY class besides hunters who do not have an innate ability to buff a raid regardless of spec (Mark of the Wild, Battle Shout, Imp HP buff, etc.), and hunters have the advantage of being one of the more convenient replenishment sources (90% of raiding hunters are specced for it because it's their strongest DPS spec), a stronger misdirect, kiting ability, can bring more buffs from their pets, AND have buffs within their specs that are at least as good as whatever rogues can get. And let's not even get started on Battle Rez or Bloodlust for raid utility.

This isn't a big deal in 25 man raids, since it's pretty easy to get all of the major buffs covered. But in 10-man raids, it's inexcusable. You need to stack buffs, and every player needs to be buffing everyone else.

Before, I brought 4% physical damage to a raid with only 2-3 physical DPS, and a weak misdirect. I couldn't reliably use Tricks to buff someone else's dps because there was usually no one else in melee range with me, and Tricks wouldn't reach the mages or hunter, not to mention threat issues. Now I bring Horn of Winter AND 12% magic damage to a raid with 3-4 magic dps, AND tanking capability. It's no contest.

Rogues need to provide another buff. Preferably at base without it needing to be talented into. I'd recommend they make the 4% physical damage innate to poisons, and replace it in the Combat tree with something else like the bleed debuff (currently the purview of feral druids and arms warriors).

But anyway, yeah, now I play a DK instead of a rogue mainly. The rogue isn't gone, I just won't be playing him as much anymore, nor paying as much attention to min/maxing him.


And so it was that my Unholy DPS DK took on Emelon the Storm Watcher in a 10-man raid with my guild. We went in totally blind: not even a hint of strategy or research. It was thrilling: the fear and anticipation of not knowing what was going to happen, and trying to be prepared and alert to react. It was a blast! I definitely enjoyed the Tobold style of fun last night. :)


There's a new branch off to the right of the central, circular room as you approach Archavon. Turn down that branch, and you face a short hallway with just 2 trash mobs. They look like bluer, glowing-er versions of the stone trash you are used to fighting. They appear to be lightning revenants. When they get low on health, they start to quickly stack a buff on themselves that increases their damage heavily. You need to burn them fast right at the end, so they don't go around one-shotting your raid.

After clearing the trash, you face Emalon himself, which looks just like Archavon as far as I could tell. His room looks a bit smaller (thought that could just be my imagination). He's surrounded by 4 adds. Though they look like the lightning trash you just killed, they have different names and much lower HP pools.

As we stood there buffing up and planning, we went with a classic strategy: AoE down the adds, then kill the boss. Simple. Time-tested.


He spawns new adds periodically throughout the fight, and by the time we could kill even one of the originals, a new one had appeared at full health to take it's place. Around this time, one of them started to grow, gaining stacks of the buff to his damage. We kept AoEing. Then suddenly everyone was dead! A quick check of our combat logs revealed that the lightning add had zapped us all, so we decided to just focus on DPSing the boss down and ignoring the adds, and seeing how that went. The trash before the boss had triggered the buff based on HP, so as long as we didn't hit the adds too hard, we were safe, right?

Wrong again. Around the same distance into the fight, we all suddenly died all at once.

But this time, we noticed that the supercharge seemed to be triggered by Emalon himself (he emoted when he did it), rather than by the HP of the add. We also noticed, from all the pain, that Emalon had a Loken-style lightning nova with a long cast time that you had to run away from him to avoid. This is a nice anti-M&S measure to the fight.

When we got back, we decided that we would dps the boss until he supercharged an add, then we would focus DPS down the charged add before he could kill us.

It was a close thing, with the adds reaching 9 charges more often than not. But we did it. On our third attempt, we defeated the new raid-wiping VoA boss after going in blind. It was an awesome experience.

I thought the fight was very well-designed, for a simple WG boss. It had a good reason for using both tanks and it put damage control in the player's hands: run out of the nova, and your healers have less to heal through. In a way, this makes the dps players "heal" themselves, which is great, and forces them to pay attention beyond spamming their rotation.

The best part of the design is that it required quick focus, coordination, and high dps to survive. All the dps had to switch to the add immediately, or wipe the raid, and they had to do enough dps fast enough to beat the stacks. It was a rare instance of placing responsibility on the dps, rather than putting it ALL on the shoulders of the tanks and healers while the dps got to goof off and spam their rotations.

I can't wait for tonight's Ulduar-10. We'll be going in semi-blind this time, with a bit of knowledge of the abilities of the early bosses, but not strategy spoilers. Wish us luck!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Some Talent Specs for Patch 3.1

In case the patch hits tomorrow (I'm still saying next week, but many think we'll be seeing extended maintenance tomorrow), here are my speccing plans. I won't really cover the other rogue specs, except to go over the change to needed weapon speeds due to the change of Wound and Instant poison's proc chances to a proc per minute model. This change essentially equalizes the number of poison procs you get based on your weapon speed, so fast weapons are no longer the end-all-be-all for poison damage. Big bravo to Blizzard for that one, as rogue weapon speed has been a major problem this entire expansion cycle.

I now recommend a slow mainhand for HaT (optimizes poison procs off Evis), and weapon speed no longer matters as much for Mutilate. Mutilate rogues should start using their highest dps weapons, feeling free to mainhand a 1.8 speed weapon. Slower mainhands also become very important for Combat rogues, increasing the rate of poison procs off Sinister Strike and Eviscerate. All rogues still want a fast offhand for Deadly Poison, which was buffed this patch and was NOT converted to ppm, so it begs for a fast weapon.

Combat Rogue


If you happen to have 2 swords or maces that are better than your fist/dagger combo, just move those 5 points around to the other specialization.


Glyph of Sinister Strike
Glyph of Slice and Dice
Glyph of Rupture

(Advanced tip: Adrenaline Rush glyph is OK if you find that you can get a very good rotation going without the SnD glyph. However, NEVER remove the SS or Rupture glyphs)


What did I just say? In the rotation notation (c wut i did thar?), s stands for Slice And Dice, r for Rupture, and e for Eviscerate. Env would stand for Envenom if I were using it. The number before the letter symbolizes how many combo points you want to have before using the ability. The reason there are X's before s and e is because they vary based on your gear. If you are in all blues, 5s/5r/5e is probably what you should aim for. As your gear gets better, start reducing the number of combo points you put into Slice and Dice, and see how low you can get it without letting SnD drop and still doing a 5r and 5e. You can also be very effective if you drop to a 4e instead, if it allows you to remove a combo point from your SnD. Rules of thumb: NEVER let SnD drop, and don't plan a rotation with less than 5 points per Rupture. Cut combo points from Evis or add them to SnD instead to make your cycle fit your gear level.

If you are going into Ulduar on Tuesday, then you can probably comfortably go with a 3s/5r/5e rotation, occasionally only doing 4e if you get unlucky with energy and combo point procs.

Dual weapon specs (for instance fist/sword) are dead. I recommend the above for Ulduar, though 18/51/2 (Xs/5r/Xenv rotation) and 7/51/13 (drop SnD glyph, 4s/5r rotation) are also viable. The former is a bit unstable without full Relentless Strikes, and the latter requires more time on your target to get the most from Rupture, which won't be ideal based on what I know about Ulduar fights. All of these specs will put out similar DPS if you get the rotation right.

Unholy DPS Death Knight:


After your gear improves, you may get better dps from 0/10/61 because Black Ice got buffed to also effect shadow damage. However, keep in mind that you lose the threat reduction from Subversion, so you better have a great tank, or your gonna find your face will be the one tanking. The floor.

Yes, you will be tempted to deviate from my spec and take Dark Conviction because that 5% extra crit looks pretty on your character sheet. However, since many of your abilities don't care about your crit, it turns out that the math shows DC to be inferior to the points spent in Unholy. It may look like a good talent (and it's not bad) but you'll be giving up DPS if you take it.

Use a 2-hander, as the latest patch nerfed dual-wielding hard.
Look at DPS first, then speed (slower is better because it increases your Strike damage by a small amount), then stats.


Glyph of Scourge Strike
Glyph of The Ghoul
Glyph of Dark Death (new!)

IT>PS>BS>BS>SS --rune dump [edit: I meant Runic Power dump, not rune dump]
SS>SS>SS --rune dump

Keep spamming SS (Scourge Strike) until your diseases drop. Hopefully, you get lucky on Glyph of SS procs and don't have to recast IT (Icy Touch) and PS (Plague Strike) very often. Generally, use Blood Runes for BS (Blood Strike). When Bone Shield needs a refresh or the Ghoul needs a heal from Ghoul Frenzy, I tend to Blood Tap one of the Blood runes and use that, because it hurts my rotation the least. For your rune dump, put up UB (Unholy Blight) if it has dropped, otherwise Death Coil.

Keep your Ghoul alive and resummon if he dies, and pop the Gargoyle in time with your trinkets and other temporary buffs, as he takes a "snapshot" of your stats when he is summoned, allowing him to benefit from your trinket buffs for his entire 30-second duration.


I'm pretty excited to try out these new specs on Live. Combat rogues were just plain buffed, while Unholy DKs still look very strong, and actually gained a bit of fun and an improved talent tree layout with more real, viable choices, in exchange for a few nerfs and the loss of the ability to come back from the dead as a ghoul and/or buff the entire raid group with run speed. I'm not sure if it's an overall buff or not, but it looks like an improvement to the design, so either way I'm pretty happy. Class balance seems to be going so well even as the design team seems to be getting 10- vs. 25-man raiding so wrong.

Self-Absorption: I'm Totally Flattered Edition

Like pretty much the entire WoW blogosphere, I've been contacted by RC of Grinding to Valhalla to be profiled on his site, and, as the post title suggests, I'm blushing. GoV is a blog/project that collects responses from WoW bloggers to RC's questionairre, and compiles them for your enjoyment. I interpret it as an exploration of the pysche of a WoW blogger. Much like a scientific survey, he gathers and organizes data (which doubles as entertainment!), and we can look at this accumulation to learn more about our world than we could when we could only see our own small corner of it. There are some very interesting common threads among those who choose to respond (whoda thunk bloggers would tend to be aspiring writers!?!), and just surfing the site and looking for connections has been entertaining. And if nothing else, you're bound to stumble upon a fun WoW blog that you never saw before.

Most blogs, like mine, tend to labor in obscurity, and I'm surprised by the gems I missed for so long when I finally stumble upon them. There has got to be a better solution for connecting the WoW blog audience with the WoW blogs themselves. Maybe some kind of search engine? The blog Azeroth community (and others) take a stab at this problem, but they are dependent on a lot of people all remaining interested, and there is little/no mechanism for separating the wheat from the chaff. For instance, my recent excursions (and the wowinsider daily blog feature) have brought me to Skeleton Jack, Death Knight Spree, and I heart bubbles, all of which have taken their rightful place in my bookmark list/rss reader.

You can read my interview here. I'll keep you posted as my responses to parts 2 and 3 are posted.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

10-man versus 25-man rewards: GC gets smacked around on the forums.

Poor Ghostcrawler. He's appointed himself (or been appointed? I don't know) the liaison between the playerbase (who one could liken to a very large pack of ravenous dogs) and the Blizzard developers. Which is basically like volunteering to get spat on, considering the normal caliber of debate on the WoW forums (though I've got to say, it has been improving in some of the more serious threads, like the one I'm going to talk about today, which is almost exlusively a reasoned debate amongst polite adults. What the hell?!?)

I went sooo totally crazy with parenthesis there! [raises hand] Parenthesis-five!

Anywhoodle, I'm not a GC hater. He's just a guy trying to do his job the best he can. He's generally quite nice, reasonable, and clearly very smart. But this time he and his team have made a bad decision (yeah, I said it!), and now he's stuck defending it to an increasingly angry mob. An angry mob who hasn't been fed (a new raid instance or any new content or the promised class balance changes or even new freaking dances!!) in a loooong time, and their collective belly rumbles for fresh meat at the smell of GC's drawn (metaphorical) blood.

The thread I'm talking about can be found here. C'mon, you knew I was going to get into this debate.

Don't be fooled by the initial post. This thread doesn't turn into a debate about whether 10 or 25 mans are harder than the other, despite appearances. That ship has already sailed with Naxx. What this thread is really about is the investment/reward equation between the two styles. Ghostcrawler makes a valiant attempt to defend the path Blizzard has already locked into (they aren't going to delay 3.1 another 2 months to retune everything), but I gotta say that it looks like he's getting battered in this debate. From my perspective, it looks like he's forced to defend a weaker position, and after all of the responses in that thread, he must realize now that they've made a mistake.

What is this weaker position? Here are the choice quotes:

"We have positioned our 25-player content as more difficult and therefore capable of generating better rewards. Managing a group of that size requires a little more effort and we figured if the rewards were the same, we'd steer pretty much everyone towards 10-player raiding. At this point we don't want to do that. "
"I understand your point on the 25 loot being of higher item level. However we explored this issue quite a bit and I still believe that some non-trivial number of players just prefer the larger raids. How can that be?
[lists some ways 25 man raids are more epic]
So for those reasons, and a few others, we think the smartest design is still just to let players decide if they prefer 10 player raiding or 25 player raiding. Some have a small group of friends and want to not have to put up with the weak links or undependables. They like the pressure it puts on every player to perform. Others have large, social guilds and like to assemble 25 players together. They may be more tolerant of being able to bring the 25th player along even if he isn't stellar. They may like all of the reasons I mentioned above. It's just a preference, just like Horde vs. Alliance is a preference. "

Is it just me, or did he just completely contradict himself there? One side of his mouth is saying "no one would do 25s if they had the same loot as 10s", while the other side is saying, at the same time, "many prefer 25s because they are more epic and will do them anyway". Which is it, GC? You seriously can't have it both ways on this one. There is no wriggling out. Maybe his left hand should tell the right what it's typing.

To illustrate, here are some of the key responses. Believe me, there are literally hundreds more in this vein, and I have yet to see a strong rebuttal to the thrust of these claims.

"So if this is true (i.e. a non-trivial number of players prefer 25-man) then why would giving out the same loot in 10-man as 25-man "kill 25-man"? If people like 25-man for the reasons you listed above, they'd do just fine. "


The conceptual basis you're describing is great - people should be choosing the path they actually want to play - but instituting a charity tier in 25s makes appropriate risk/reward tuning for 10s extremely hard to do. If you want to put anything nice in the 10-man path, you get the choice of making the encounter trivialized by 25-man gear or out of tune for 10-man gear."


"If you make it easy for 25-man gear, you can't put in a decent reward. Because it's easy. If you make it a challenge for 25-man gear, you can provide a cool/rare reward, but you're making the encounter too hard for the gear in the 10-man path - it's effectively additional 25-man content. "


"I really like this idea. Yes, 25 man raids recquire more organization, but why can't the reward simply be more of the same loot? Give a 25 man instance 3x or 3.5x the loot drops of a 10 man, but make it all the same loot.

Right now, I'm in a 10-man guild. We don't have the players for more. We're all RL friends. And I'm chafing. I know there is better loot out there, and that we could have that better loot easily, but it means breaking the core purpose of the guild: all RL friends. And the only reason it is 'better' is because someone decided the challenges involved with organizing 15 more people is worth an entire tier of loot. In the first tier, it's the differance between having Heroic gear and real Raid gear. "


"So by following this line of logic wouldn't it make sense to allow equal gear to drop in both sets of content since, as you have stated, people who prefer to raid in a 25 man setting would continue to do so for the reasons listed above and equality of gear would not be a detrimental factor.

I'm not a huge fan of the notion that the determining factor in whether or not I can access better loot is the number of people I can bribe to log in on any given night. "


"[difficulty of organizing 25 people is ]Often mentioned by raiding guilds for why they deserve better loot. But the flaw with it? It only applies to their officers, their key members, the ones who have to do the right thing. Much of the rest? Clockpunchers, who merely have to not do the wrong thing.

If anything, 25 man raids result in a greater amount of loot in the hands of less deserving individuals than the reverse. "


"So correct me if I'm wrong, but does this mean that the only reason for 25mans dropping way better gear is because it's harder to get 25 people together? because honestly, it's much harder to get 10 players that are capable of doing the encounters properly than it is to get a successful 25man going. a loss in dps for a 10man is much more significant than a loss of a dps in a 25man.

So really, the higher level loot is justified by the "difficulty" of getting 25 players together? "


And that Batman-style pounding of GC's concepts and contradictions was just the first 2 pages of the thread after he posted.

Poor guy.


I can't tell GC how to dig out of this hole immediately, because frankly it's too deep for this patch. But next patch is going to be a big opportunity to get this right.

It seems that if GC and his team want to keep raiding tiers the way they are, but the only reason 25s are a tier higher is because of organizational challenges, then the only way for him to be logically consistent (rather than hypocritical) is to only reward the raid leaders for the extra organizational challenges. So raid leadership gets gear a tier higher, while the other 21 people in the raid get gear a tier lower. At least that one isn't a self-contradiction.

Another suggestion thrown out there is: if the only reason loot is a tier higher is because of organizational difficulties, then why not give both instances the same loot, but make 10-mans slightly harder than 25-mans to compensate for the organizational challenges? This would work OK, but would probably be a nightmare to balance and actually implement.

From my perspective, the best solution is to have the same loot drop in both 10 and 25 man versions of the instance, but allow 25-man groups to gear up faster overall as compensation for the organizational difficulties. If 10-man bosses drop 2 items per kill, 25-man bosses should drop at least 6.

Problem solved. Everyone is happy. No one is getting anything handed to them that they don't earn, and no one is being left out as a second-class citizen just because of the size of raid they prefer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tobold and the "Fun" Fallacy

Let me start out by saying I love Tobold's blog. I've been reading it daily for years now. It's one of the things that inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I find his analysis to be intelligent and well-thought-out in general, even when I disagree with him.

But wow, do I disagree with what he posted today. And I don't think he's really thought his opinion out to it's ultimate conclusion.

In short (and I can't do it justice here, just go read it), he posits that reading raid strategies, watching raid videos, and learning about your class outside of game on sites like Elitist Jerks and reading guides on how to play: those things are not "fun". He cites Raph Koster's Theory of Fun to support his statement, noting that "the fun of playing a game comes from the learning experience you have while experimenting with the game." According to Tobold, people who do this outside research are "optimizing the fun out" of the game and "games aren't meant to be played this way" [emphasis mine]

I think Tobold is misapplying the concept from Koster's book, and more to the point has a bit of tunnel vision on this subject.

In essence: just because Tobold finds one style of play "fun" doesn't meant that other people aren't having "fun" by playing a different way, nor does it meant they are playing wrong (against the way things are "meant" to be played). Just because they come to a game with a wealth of outside knowledge does not mean that there is not more "fun learning" to be had from the game.

I'm guessing that Tobold has encountered some rude, arrogant people in his raiding experience lately, because he likens "expecting the rest of the raid to study up on how to play their character and watch raid videos" to "trying to avoid talking to other players". Every member of my guild comes prepared and yet one of our chief joys is all of the interaction we have with each other, talking to each other on vent and in-game chat. We just spend that time having fun and talking about advanced strategy and our personal lives (I'd argue these are much richer topics than basics on how to play your class or guesses on how to deal with basic bosses), rather than spending all of that time playing teacher to people who don't feel like looking things up for themselves. Tobold doesn't seem to realize that teaching other people the basics of how to play is work. And we don't log in so that we can do a job to benefit someone else who, again, isn't putting out the effort themselves. Believe it or not, we can interact with each other about things other than the basics that one can look up on EJ or stratfu. And for the record, myself and my guildies do often help each other improve our basic games, and we have members who have been tutored instead of being kicked.

In fact, those sites are simply tools. They can't make you good. You still have to execute the plans and the guides, and tailor them to your own situation. You still have to notice and avoid the void zones and lava waves, you still have to be able to control your aggro once you know how to do it, and you still have to adapt your rotation to different situations even after you've used the basic EJ class guide as a starting point. It's not like anyone expects anyone else to just mechanically copy a guide, and in fact rote repetition doesn't work. How can I read the same EJ guide as everyone else, and then do 1k more dps than them in similar gear? It must be because I'm mindlessly copying what I read, I guess?

The main thing I get out of EJ is that someone else better at math than me did all the math for me. When I sit at the talent select window, I submit it's more fun to make the decision "I want to take the talent that gives me the most return in my single-target dps over my aoe" or something like that, and less fun to sit there doing the math to figure out which talent is mathematically better than another all on my own. Then I use that as a starting point to freestyle and improvise my own decisions in new situations, and to enjoy optimizing in bread and butter situations: making my execution better.

Because for me, the main fun of this game is excelling. I don't mean just "beating bosses". I mean being the best at my job that I possibly can. At getting my rotation tighter or my threat higher every single attempt. Getting hit by fewer lava waves every attempt. Pushing myself to the limit of what I can do, and not just on my own in my insular world, but doing the best I can as part of a team. Optimizing how we work together, and getting our communication to its most efficient and effective point. This is fun and social at the same time, even though we look up boss videos and EJ guides! Tobold doesn't seem to think that's possible, because his way to have fun, his type of learning (the basics) is the only type of fun learning their is in the game. The type of learning we do either doesn't exist in Tobold's head, or I guess isn't "fun" for some reason.

Raid videos are a slightly different story. We plan to go into Ulduar cold, but that doesn't mean we think going in there having already researched the strategies is morally reprehensible. We just all agreed that that is what we would all find more fun. If the people Tobold plays with don't find the same things fun as he does, THEN WHY IS HE PLAYING WITH THEM? In my opinion, he should find some other people who like going in without strategies, and raid with those people instead of complaining about how unfair it is that everyone else doesn't want to play the game exactly the way he wants to.

In the end, WoW is not a terribly deep game. If the "fun" for you is figuring out the basic class and boss strategies by trial-and-error, it might take you a long time to attempt everything, but you actually gain very little in the end, because there frankly isn't that much substance there to begin with. If that's what the game is for you, you might as well quit as soon as you know your class well enough to beat every boss once, even if it's just barely. However, the game has unprecedented breadth, and that means there is room for everyone to play the way they want to. The fun for me is challenging myself to beat the boss faster and better, and there is room for both of us, just probably not in the same raid group. :)

There's also the matter of information disparity and the conflict inherent in that. Your guild is asking for trouble if every new member must use trial-and-error to figure out everything for themselves. That means that no matter how good you get, you'd always have to drag people who don't even have a basic clue. And you'd have to pay your repair bills for the wipes incurred while they try to figure out the boss.

In fact, how is such a system sustainable? Once your first group of raiders learns a boss, are they allowed to give the strategy to others in the guild? Or does every new member have to figure it out themselves? If you give them the strat, then guess what? All you are doing is shifting the burden of explaining the fight to the raid leader. When the player could just as easily go learn it themselves rather than burdening someone else, or making 24 others wait for him or her. It doesn't make sense to me.

Being willing to read EJ and watch videos on your own also has the benefit of proving to the raid group that you are willing to put in effort yourself instead of being dragged as a leech. You are taking responsibility for yourself instead of insisting that the more experienced raiders carry the burden for you. And you are showing respect for the fact that 24 other people are taking some of their few leisure gaming hours to do this activity with you. Don't waste their time. Just leave the guild and find a guild that has the same standards you do.


Tobold also seems confused about what people mean when they say "WoW is too easy", since he sees that statement as a paradox to the claim that players "need to study hard to succeed," which he sees as implied whenever a raid leader demands EJ research or encounter videos. I don't think it is necessarily implied. I also would replace "succeed" with "excel", which are two very different things. By "succeed", Tobold seems to mean "down the boss at all, no matter how sloppy" (making that assumption is the only way I can see the paradox he sees)

When I say WoW is "easy", I mean the bosses are easy to beat, and it is too easy to get the absolute best gear (i.e. when you see someone in Best-in-Slot gear, it's equally likely that they are a terribad leaching scrub as it is that they are an elite expert player). But optimizing my own play and my teamwork with my guild is not "easy" - it's the primary fun challenge in the game for me. Making the bosses harder would simply add another layer of challenge on there for me beyond what I have already, and I would like to have that.


Tobold is such a reasoned and thoughtful individual that I would ascribe an oversight like this to something getting in the way of his intellect. In my experience, when a smart person says something that ignores certain aspects of the issue, it's because they have an emotional investment in reaching a certain conclusion, and are trying to shoehorn a rational argument into supporting the thesis they have already decided on. God knows I've been there.

It sounds like Tobold resents (probably rightfully) when people tell him and his friends they aren't performing well enough, and he personally doesn't enjoy reading strats ahead of time or having to learn about his class outside the game. He doesn't like that these things have become the social norm in his social ingroup. Other people are forcing the bar to be raised to a place he doesn't want to go; it's a lot like trying to compete for the home-run record without using steroids: everyone else is using them, so now you have to use them to keep up even if you don't want to. This example isn't perfect, because steroids break the agreed-upon rules of the game, and WoW strategy videos don't. But you get what I'm going for: being forced by those around you to escalate to places you don't want to go.

It reminds me of Sirlin's ideas about how in competitive gaming, winners play the actual game by its actual rules, and scrubs are limited by their own made-up rules about what is "fair" and what is "cheap". They try to reshape the game into what is most fun for them, and you simply can't do that in a multiplayer game, as much as you might insist that other people play the way you think is fun. Tobold isn't a scrub, because this isn't a competitive game. He just has a completely valid alternative preference for what is "fun" to him. But the part of the analogy that holds is that people who limit themselves to their own made-up rules don't get to experience the higher-level fun of the "true" game. Expert chess players or Street Fighters or Starcraft players are playing the game on a different level than the guy who picked up the box at Wal-Mart an hour ago. But that guy is going to reach that higher-level, "actual" game much more quickly by reading a strategy guide and then practicing with the added knowledge than he is by playing thousands of games to try to work out what units to make. Again, this analogy isn't perfect, but I'm not an analogyologist, so give me a break.

What I'm trying to get across here is that Tobold and I are choosing to play a different game. We each have our own set of made-up structures based around what we find fun. I think we both have equally valid opinions. I don't think either of us should be acting like we have moral superiority for which one we choose. I don't think my game is "higher-level" (despite my strained analogy above), nor that Tobold is a "scrub". He just enjoys different things than I do, and that's fine.

Basically, he seems to be mistaking his own feeling-based opinion for a Categorical Imperative. He doesn't find the pre-research fun, he prefers the social aspects of raids, and for him the game is figuring out the boss and figuring out the class on your own, through experimenting and group discussion. I don't see anything wrong with this, it's just not the way I enjoy playing. But more power to him to enjoy this himself. I just find it . . . inconsistent when he condemns others ("this is really a poor attitude") for finding fun in a different way than him, as though they are perpetrating some ethical failing. This is not an issue of ethics, or Right and Wrong. In the case of "what do you find fun", there is no "poor attitude" and "good attitude". Just because Tobold thinks this is the right way to have fun doesn't make other ways to have fun morally inferior, and I think in his intellect, he realizes this.

I'd like to close by pointing out something good from Tobold: I think he makes an excellent point in the comments section when he says,

"I think a good raid leader and the officers of a guild should discuss with players that don't perform well, and give them individual pointers on how to improve performance, based on Recount stats, not just "go and read up somewhere and come back when you do 3K dps". I think a raid should spend some time discussing strategy before a new boss fight, should spend some time discussing what exactly went wrong after a wipe, and should discuss how to do better, not just send people to some boss strategy site or to YouTube."

I still think you are awesome even though I disagree with you Tobold, keep up the great work on your blog!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Death Knights in 3.1: Frost Tanking Guide

Death Knights are simultaneously simple and complicated.

Though these new kids in town have been subject to more changes in the past few months than probably all other classes combined, the experience the dev team brought to class design really showed in this first foray into creating a totally new class since WoW launched all those years ago.

Though sometimes frustrating or broken, the rune and disease system is clever for forcing the player to use a wide variety of abilities instead of simply spamming the strongest one, and for allowing flexibility in resource use without handing the player unlimited resources of every type. The class also does a lot of other things right, despite it's flaws.

But this isn't an essay on the design triumphs of the Death Knight, at least not today. Today, it's about passing on all the factiods I've gleaned from poring over EJ and other websites and doing hands-on research about two specific DK specs, how they work, and how they will change in 3.1.

Unholy DPS:

I fell in love with the Unholy tree in beta, and played it almost exlusively up until a few weeks ago. It remains my favorite dps tree. I will delve into it's intricacies in an upcoming post. I had intended to write it up here, but the Frost tanking discussion ran on waaaaay too long and I needed to get back to my real job.

Frost Tanking:

But when trying to tank in today's aoe-now-ask-questions-later, fights-longer-than-10-seconds-are-for-losers environment, my love affair with Unholy became strained. With so much of my dps relegated to the ghoul and gargoyle, I found my TPS (threat per second) severely lacking as I tried to keep up with the dpsers I was raiding with. I loved Unholy Blight, but its slow and steady nature meant it took too long to build the aggro I needed (or to be more exact, the aggro my mage's tender, easily-bruised faces needed me to have). Sure, through perfect play I could keep up . . . unless there was another Unholy DK in the raid. Then, a bug would cause all but one of us to lose our third disease, thus severely reducing our damage (or in my case, threat). It was the last straw when I raided with 2 Unholy dps DKs, so I decided to try another tree (note: this bug is fixed in 3.1, though Unholy threat can still be a bit hampered in other ways).

I'm not a big fan of Blood as a tanking tree. I know and salute some who love that tree for tanking, but I grew up as a warrior tank in the TBC mold, where heals were coming steadily and your job was to still be alive when those heals landed. Avoidance was less important (since the heal was coming whether you dodged or not, so why waste their mana) and instead the focus was on HP (so you didn't die between heals) and armor (so the healers could slow down their steady stream of heals a bit). This is no longer so strictly true, with avoidance working very well for DKs (especially in tandem with Bone Shield and Rune Strike, our primary threat ability), and spammed heals no longer quite as necessary. I can see how Blood could work for some people. But for me, I would always rather focus on reducing my incoming damage and letting healers worry about filling my green bar. Whenever I think about switching to Blood, I start thinking about using Blood Tap at the wrong time and overwriting a healer's heal, wasting her mana. It's just not in me to use a tanking spec based on self-healing; increasing my own survivability is more my style.

So I settled on Frost. I found out later that it is actually the highest threat tanking spec, and will continue to be so (though by a smaller margin) in 3.1. All of your damage comes from you, with no perma-ghoul, gargoyle, or phantom sword. Talents will cause you to crit a lot more, and Howling Blast is exactly the snap-aggro aoe move you need for today's ridiculous aoe pulls. I tried it and finally managed to hold aggro and even keep up with the other tanks on single-targets. Plus, I was seeing a lot of big honkin' crits! The Frost tree gives a lot of crit from talents, which is nice because my base crit is somewhere around 6% in my tanking gear. I was sold.

Here's my spec pre-3.1: 11/50/10

Using Glyphs of Rune Strike, Icy Touch, and Obliterate. Some DKs prefer Glyph of Frost Strike in place of one of these, but I have tons of avoidance and found that I was using almost all of my Runic Power on Rune Strikes anyway. After 3.1, glyph choices will change a lot.

In the current Live environment, you can pretty safely skip Plague Strike and Blood Plague altogether. Most single-target pulls will start with Blood Tap to convert a Blood Rune to a Death Rune (though some prefer to save this for using Unbreakable Armor without disrupting your rotation). Then open with:

IT>Ob>Ob>BS -rune dump
Ob>Ob>Ob -rune dump

Then I fall into a rhythm of refreshing IT whenever Frost Fever drops, using Blood Runes for BS, and otherwise Obliterating. Every once in a while this will leave me with an extra rune. If it's a Death Rune, I'll use it for an extra IT. If an Unholy Rune, I'll usually just wait a few seconds til I can use it on an Oblit, eventually shaking an extra Death Rune free for an IT.

Depending on your gear level and buffs, HB on every cooldown might be better than Ob. Generally, a very high-end weapon and high Expertise will tend to favor Ob (since it's a melee strike), while weaker weapons and more hit rating will favor HB (since it's a spell that doesn't scale with weapon damage).

Generally on aoe pulls I'll drop Death & Decay, then IT>Pest, then wait for my runes to cooldown and HB as soon as I can


The talent trees will also get quite a re-arranging for the upcoming patch. Here is my post-3.1 Frost tanking spec, with glyphs, and an analysis that only applies to post-3.1:

Spec: 11/51/9


No self-respecting DK tank should miss the first 5 points in each tree: Blade Barrier, Toughness, and Anticipation. Blade Barrier is being nerfed in 3.1, but is still a powerful and mandatory tanking talent. I'd also highly recommend 3 more points in Frost for Improved Icy Touch. Many DKs only read the "added damage" part and don't think this is a tanking talent, but it also reduces the target's attack speed by another 6% (that's 6% more physical mitigation for 3 points! What a bargain!). The only reason to ever skip this is if you are an expert and KNOW, FOR SURE, that another expert in every one of your raids will be applying the same debuff to your targets (for instance, via a warrior's Thunderclap). If not, you want that mitigation. Otherwise, take it, no matter how much you want other talents.

From there, you have two choices in the Frost tree: either go down the "Improved Icy Talons" line if you know your raid will be relying on your for the Windfury buff, or pick up Killing Machine and one more talent point instead. Deathchill vs. Hungering Cold for that one free point is highly debated. I tend to go for HC because it applies the Frost Fever disease instantly to an enemy group, helping the damage of a Howling Blast alpha strike for quick threat.

For survivability, you want Frigid Dreadplate, Unbreakable Armor, and Improved Frost Presence (which is greatly changed in 3.1). 3.1 removes the avoidance bonus to Lichborne, so skip it. Guile of Gorefiend also lends some survivability by extending Icebound Fortitude, so pick that up. Acclimation may look tempting, but it's very nearly useless on most bosses considering how infrequently they tend to use magic attacks. The points are better spent elsewhere. After that, the choice is obvious about taking the other talents for threat and skipping the PvP and Dual Wield talents. You should be burning RP on Rune Strikes too fast for RP Mastery to be beneficial. I wish I could fit in the range increase on Icy Touch, but it's just too situational to give up the other threat talents. Annihilation (Oblit no longer removes diseases) and Blood of the North (death runes) are key to a strong rotation, while all the other talents I chose pumped the maximum threat.

Where to put your "floater" points in Blood and Unholy is again up to debate. Bladed Armor is the strongest threat choice in Blood for a Frost build, so you can't go wrong with 5 points there. If you have any remaining points to put in Blood, avoid the temptation of Dark Conviction and instead go for 2-Handed Mastery. Again, I chose Virulence in Unholy for the +hit. I wanted to put some points in Morbidity to make Death and Decay more viable, but with Howling Blast being more usable at the beginning of fights, D&D may fall out of favor with Frost, so it may be wiser to put those points in Two-handed Mastery and Bladed Armor once you try out 3.1. One point in epidemic allows for a smoother rotation that I prefer, but there are totally viable rotations that don't use it. I find that with a 20-second disease cycle I can fit in one more Obliterate before needing to Icy Touch again, in most cases.

Speaking of rotation, the new Frost is less reliant on Frost Fever and the value of Plague Strike and Blood Plague has been improved thanks to the change to strike scaling with diseases (strikes now go up by a percentage of your damage rather than a flat value per disease) and the addition of shadow damage to Black Ice. Now your rotation on single-targets should start off like:

PS>IT>Ob>BS>BS -runic dump (Frost Strikes if you have the RP)

Then repeat those moves in a priority order. If your diseases are up, hit Oblit if you can. Use Blood Strikes when you have diseases up and nothing but Blood Runes available. If your diseases have faded, re-apply PS and IT (PS first because IT does more damage to diseased targets). You should end up relying quite a bit on Oblit, which should give you a number of Rime procs you can use on free Howling Blasts whenever you have a free global cooldown.

Remember to either macro Rune Strike into all of your moves, or hit it whenever it lights up. Only Frost Strike if you are over 60 Runic Power. Othwerwise save it for RS.

There are also some viable rotations that apply diseases using the new glyphed Pestilence (glyph causes it to refresh diseases on your target) or glyphed HB (causes it to apply Frost Fever). I don't personally like them and don't think they will shake out to be as good as my more "traditional" rotation, so I don't recommend them.

On aoe pulls, your standard is going to be:
PS>IT>Pest>HB>BB (Blood Boil, buffed in 3.1)

If you need LOTS of aoe threat RIGHT NOW on a new pull, hit Hungering Cold then Howling Blast.


So that's what how to play a Frost Tanking spec, both now and post-3.1. My DK is on my mind lately, so expect more DK posts in the near-future. I'd like to discuss Unholy DPS, DK design, and general DK tanking tips.