29 April 2008

Zul'Aman mon!

I finally made it to Zul'Aman last night. All in all, it's a beautiful instance and a surprising relief to be in the open air after all those gloomy corridors in Karazhan. The bird song and frog chorus are a particularly nice touch. You know, the sounds in WoW don't usually make headlines but I'm often moved by some music or environmental effects as I potter around. There's a post in there somewhere. But I digress.

So we headed straight to the first boss, Nalorakk. The trash were enduring enough to give me a good run at them, and my dps was much better thank Kara. There's nothing worse than a mob that drops before you've even dotted it properly. I'm pushing about 600 dps at the moment, with just over 1000 spell damage. That's another tangent. I'm really unfocused today.

The last wave of trash before the boss was tough. It consists of two mounted bears and two shaman types. The bears both need tanking separately and hit hard enough to require dedicated healing. The dps were assigned to burn the shaman down first. Even with three superb healers in decent gear, the bears got lucky twice and downed a tank. We got them on the third attempt.

After that the boss himself seemed tame. It requires skill from the two tanks, who need to stay top of the threat table and juggle him as he switches forms, and it needs some good healers to keep the tanks alive. It's the ideal fight for a shadow priest, who can just stand there and mash buttons. That's just as well, because it's a reasonably long fight and mana-intensive for the healers. I blew my shadowfiend and two pots and still went out of mana at 1%. But he went down first time, much to the surprise of everyone I think. That's a first for our guild.

We called it a day after that, with homework to read up on the second boss. It's a mobility fight so not one I'm looking forward to, but it does dangle the delicious amani punisher as a possible reward.

Something to aspire to

I've updated my blog roll to reflect my reading habits. These are the elites of WoW blogging, the bloggers I want to be when I grow up. The latest additions are:

Big Bear Butt blogger — inspired tanking advice and game insights from a feral druid

Blessing of Kings — a great blog about the paladin class; informative and thought-provoking

Mania's Arcania — the genius behind petopia, a titan among bloggers (if you play a hunter)

World of Matticus — one of WoW Insider's newest columnists, Matticus writes brilliantly about holy priesting and raid healing

28 April 2008

Five reasons why PVP is bad for your raiding career

World of Warcraft is really two games. You can chose to explore and interact with the rich, hypnotic landscape that we inhabit, undertaking intrepid quests and enlisting comrades to defeat monstrous foes for the good of a common cause. Or you can beat up other players.

Sure, you can do both. I'm on a PVE server, so the thuggish stuff is optional. Occasional scraps break out between players, but for the most part end-game PVP is confined to battlegrounds and arenas. My World of Warcraft, at least, is two games.
Many players walk the line, exploring both aspects of the game. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. But the PVP reward system misleads many into thinking PVP is a route into endgame PVE content. This is a Bad Thing.

I've come to the conclusion that this blurring of the boundaries between the two games, while hardly damaging to either, certainly slows down progress in PVE content and helps to perpetuate some of the key frustrations that players express with WoW overall. And I can think of five reasons.

1. Gear
Not surprisingly, obtaining those purple epic goodies is what drives most players at 70. And a good chunk of them are under the impression that the battleground is the best place to start. Why? I think it's a combination of reasons. Firstly, BG epics are heavy in stats and look very tempting. You can enter a BG at any time and don't need to worry about forming a group and finding annoying things like tanks and healers. And there is a common myth that you can't run heroics or start Kara without a full epic kit, which scares people off early on. I think there is also a sense that, for players who intend eventually to tank or heal, you can put off the respec and collect a tanking/healing kit while still in dps mode. These are Bad Things. You don't need epics to run heroics and you are doing yourself no favours in the long run by putting off that respec. But by perpetuating these misconceptions you are contributing to a general shortage of tanks and healers available for PVE encounters, thus driving more people into the battlegrounds instead. And contrary to popular opinion, PVP epics are generally not the best gear choices for PVE. They lack expertise, spell hit, mana regen, defence — all the things that you will need in abundance for boss fights.

2. Ability
Undoubtedly, the PVP game takes skill to excel in. But it is a very different discipline to instances and raids. When you do eventually step foot into a heroic it's going to take you time to adapt. I suspect it is this transition that has helped earn hunters their (largely undeserved) reputation as the CC-breaking, trap-fumbling idiots of the dungeon. There are examples of it in every class — good players who forget where they are or else who aren't familiar enough with the encounter to act properly. You might even conceivably find someone who, kitted out in glorious PVP epics, walks into a heroic without having stepped foot in the instance on normal mode. There is no substitute for experience: if you want to run instances, go run instances.

3. Talents
Are you dabbling in the arena with threat reduction? Have you maxed out your spell hit? Did you skip over that instant fear? Then you, sir, are an idiot. Most classes demand alternative specs for PVP and PVE. Sure, you can play both games in the same spec, but you're going to suffer for it. You even have to pay to change your talents, which must surely tell you something — even if the cost of those respecs has not kept up with the game (a respec before the Burning Crusade was a much bigger deal). It's not economic to constantly swing between the two games, nor is it practical without tailoring your talents.

4. Time
We all have a finite amount of time on the game; we have to work, study, socialise, eat, sleep whatever. We need to make that time count. Splitting your focus between two games will only push your goals further out of reach. Players have left my guild in the past because we weren't progressing fast enough for them, or because they could never find people to help them with quests or instances when they wanted — players who themselves were usually in a battleground when you wanted their help. It's counterproductive to spend so much time on one game when your main goals are in another, and doing so only reinforces the paradox.

5. Experience
Not in the sense of knowledge but the encounter. The PVP game is a greatly diminished experience of the World of Warcraft. How does PVP fit in with the lore of the game? How does it help progress the story line? I'm not saying there is anything inherently diminished about playing PVP, but if all you want is a psychotic frag fest why are you playing WoW? Even Blizzard will admit that PVP was tacked on and is not an intrinsic part of the game. I've clearly gone further and said it's not the same game at all.

I'm not the only person to question the compatibility of PVE and PVP content in World of Warcraft, but perhaps I am in the minority when I say I don't think they belong together at all. A pure PVE game would, I think, go a long way to addressing the problems that guilds and pick-up groups alike have forming groups and running instances. And if they won't go so far as to split the games entirely, they at least need to do more to differentiate gear to avoid the pointless waste of time people spend farming honour — perhaps by giving PVP rewards values and effects that only work inside battlegrounds and arenas. If your PVP rewards didn't work in the 'real' world, would you still be grinding honour? Or if the PVP game broke away, would you go with it?

22 April 2008

Anatomy of a Prince

Prince Malchezaar is the big demon thing stomping up and down the ramparts at the top of Karazhan. I met him for the first time last night. It was hate at first sight.

I'm not exactly breaking new ground here so you probably know the fight. If not, go and read about it here and come back.

This is not a friendly fight for shadow priests and it took me a few goes to get to grips with the mechanics. To get close enough to mind flay you have to stand in range of the shadow nova — not normally a big issue but it's enough to kill you if you have been enfeebled. So I had to run in and out of range fairly frequently, which completely threw off my rhythm. I should be grateful I'm not a rogue, but I couldn't help feeling envious of the other casters who just stood by the door happily nuking away.

I killed myself early on in the first two attempts by running into the aoe when enfeebled. Meanwhile everyone else in the group — world-weary old hands of this fight — were proffering useless advice in raid chat, like 'avoid the shadow novas when enfeebled'. Really? That hadn't occurred to me, thank you.

The problem here, as in most situations, is not knowing what to do — it's applying it to your actions. With ambiguous BigWigs alerts going off all over the place and all the elements of the fight completely new to you it can be fairly overwhelming to a first-timer.

Misinformation doesn't help either. There was some debate about the radius of the shadow nova — opinions ranged from 30-40 yards. Now I know it's 24 (thank you wowwiki) I can use the range on my mind flay as a fairly accurate gauge and only move a few paces either way. The timing of the shadow nova was in some doubt too. To be safe, I ran out of range before enfeeble struck, and only moved back into range when it expired but if it only goes off four seconds after enfeeble I can stay in casting range and only move if I get the debuff.

All this adds up to the fact that I was off my game last night, which is never a good feeling. And some nasty business over loot left a bitter taste in my mouth. Against all expectations, the Nathrezim Mindblade dropped. I clapped my hands in glee and whooped and prayed to the gods of entitlement to nudge it in my direction. But a lock rolled higher and whipped it away. Nothing wrong with that you might think, except he already had a gladiator's spellblade. A bit of crit and +4 damage? Meh. Compare that to my current weapon and you can see while I feel more than a little aggrieved. Is luck the best way to decide these things, or should need be the primary factor? You can guess what I think. I'm down 82 spell damage and you can guarantee it will never drop for me again. Tell me I'm wrong...

21 April 2008

A shadow priest raiding spec

So you made it as far as level 70 and have won yourself a spot in a Karazhan raid. Or maybe you're starting to run heroics and want to max your dps. Some talents are absolutely essential; others are liability. Here's one way to navigate the minefield.

This is a fairly pragmatic build. While it includes the defining talents of any shadow priest build, it might elicit a few grumbles from elitists over my placement of peripheral talents. I make no apology for this. If I have to choose between two talents that do nothing to improve my raid performance, I'm going to choose the one that make my life easier every time. Wouldn't you do the same?

Disciple (14 points)

5/5 wand specialisation
There was a time in Karazhan when I had potted, blown my shadowfiend and still found myself out of mana with Moroes on 3%. This is the only time I have ever had to use a wand in an instance and shows you how much use this talent is for a raid build. But I still love it. The alternative is unbreakable will, which reduces your resistance to fear, stun and silence effects by 15%. It's not like those effects are rife either, and there are a few instances where actually resisting a fear will get you killed. Ultimately, this choice comes down to how you spend your time outside of instances. I use my wand a lot while grinding and like the extra kick.

2/2 improved power word: fortitude
It's nice to have this talent, especially if you find yourself in the unlikely position of being the only priest in a group. Most shadow priests take this talent.

3/3 improved power word: shield
This is one of those lacklustre talents that elitist priests will grumble about. They are right that it's useless but wrong if they thing the alternatives are any better. The best alternative would be unbreakable will, where 3 points will get you a 9% increased resistance to stuns, silence and fear. Silent resolve will reduce the threat of your holy and discipline spells, but you don't cast any. Martyrdom provides a buff that prevents spell pushback after you take a critical hit, but in heroics and raids one crit will probably kill you outright. I like a bubble when I'm grinding so I choose this talent over the others. If you find yourself off-healing a lot silent resolve would be better.

1/1 inner focus
A free spell every three minutes. Macro it to shadow word: pain and forget it.

3/3 meditation
30% mana regeneration while casting. You'll never be out of the 5-second rule in combat and your gear has little if no mp5 on it, so this is the best you can hope for. Given the naturally low spirit of shadow priests, I've often wondered if I would notice not having this talent. Maybe one day I'll give it a go.

Shadow (47 points)

5/5 spirit tap
Don't let the elitists bully you out of this. Spirit tap may not proc reliably in instances, but it does a lot more for you than the alternative, blackout. Warriors and druids don't like stunned mobs and bosses are immune anyway.

3/3 shadow affinity
Reduces the threat from your shadow spells by 25%. Do not step foot in an instance without this talent. With vampiric touch and vampiric embrace you are a threat machine, and shadow affinity enables you to do 25% more damage without pulling agro.

2/2 improve shadow word: pain
Two free ticks? Yes please!

5/5 shadow focus
Reduces your target's chance to resist your spells by 10%, effectively reducing your target spell hit from 202 to 76. As your gear improves and spell hit rises, you can take points out of this talent for use elsewhere.

2/2 improved psychic scream
1/1 silence
Another talent that will earn guffaws from the experts. Silence, and its prerequisite talent improved psychic scream, are pretty shoddy and the experts will generally put the points into improved mind blast and shadow power instead. I wouldn't blame you if you followed their lead but I've found silence useful in heroics for moving caster trash out of patrol range and interrupting heals.

3/5 improved mind blast
Reduces the cooldown on your mind blast, giving you almost the right time to get two mind flays off in-between. It's a bit of a lame talent but it comes in handy when you need some burst damage.

2/2 shadow reach
Nice for the ordinarily short mind flay and essential if you are to have any hope of outranging some aoe effects.

4/5 shadow weaving
With an 80% chance of applying the shadow weaving debuff, you should have no problems getting and keeping a full stack on bosses.

1/1 vampiric embrace
This is a key talent and nice for smoothing out some of the rough edges of aoe healing, particularly for paladins and shaman. Don't forget though, the healing from this spell generates the same threat as any other, which is the main reason why we don't want the improved version of this spell.

3/3 focused mind
Cheaper mind blasts and mind flays.

5/5 darkness
Flat 10% increase to shadow spell damage.

1/1 shadow form
Shimmery purple goodness. Nuff said.

5/5 misery
Your target takes an additional 5% spell damage. This debuff affects magical damage from all sources. Your raid will thank you for this.

3/5 shadow power
Improves the critical strike chance of your mind blast and shadow word: death spells by 9%. You should have a naturally low spell crit so these points are a useful increase to your dps. But you don't rely on crits for damage, and your crits only do 50% extra damage anyway (other casts have talents to improve the bonus; you don't). It's easy to see why a purist build would max this talent out, but I can't quite bring myself to give silence up.

1/1 vampiric touch
This is your reason for living. Stick it up, keep it up, and watch the mana flow. Don't worry if rogues and warriors don't get it; everyone else will scramble to have you in their group.

After all that, your spec should look like this.

As I mentioned before, there are a few controversial talents in here but nothing that is going to affect your performance significantly. Choosing shadow power over silence/improved psychic scream will give you a small increase in dps, but I think the utility of silence is worth the trade-off. Still, let me know if you disagree.

18 April 2008

A shadow priest levelling spec (41-70)

Edit: this post fell sadly out of date when the talent trees were reworked for Wrath of the Lich King. It's now of minor historical interest at most. I'm working on a new levelling guide but Please check our my rough guide to shadow talents in the meantime.

You pop shadowform for the first time. You hear that deliciously creepy hiss. You start to shimmer and descend into the churning shadows.

You have abandoned the Light. There is no turning back.

Your journey past level 40 is one of discipline and power. You will learn to channel your destructive energies with focus and efficiency. You are the angel of death: dispassionate and devastating.

This build assumes that you followed my spec up to level 40. If not, go respec now! Our aims remain the same — to level swiftly and efficiently. To this end, we need to put our talent points into two trees. We are going to focus firstly on increasing our damage output then return to the discipline tree for some talents to help improve our mana efficiency. So let's get started...

Levels 41-45: wand specialisation (discipline tree)
We made good use of these points before shadowform and we want to get them back as early as possible. Wanding is going to remain an important source of damage as you level to 70. Don't forget, shadowform affects shadow wand damage too so always try to pick up shadow wands.

Levels 46-50: shadow weaving
Five points in shadow weaving will ensure each shadow damage spell you land increases shadow damage taken by your target by 2%. This effect stacks up to five times, so can amount up to a 10% damage increase. In reality, you will rarely if ever get a full stack on a single target in solo play, so this isn't that useful as a levelling talent. But you need the five points to reach the next level of talents, and a damage increase of even 4-6% is not to be sniffed at.

Levels 51-55: misery
The inspiration for my blog, if only because darkness was already taken. This increases all spell damage taken by the target by 5%. Again, it's not going to break your solo play, but it stacks nicely with all your other damage multipliers. Plus, it's nice to have when running instances.

Level 56: vampiric touch
Another class-defining talent, this spell causes damage over time and returns mana to you and your party equivalent to 5% of shadow damage dealt to the target while the spell is active. We could have taken this sooner if we hadn't put five points into wand specialisation, but I think the wand damage is more important.

Levels 57-58: improved power word: fortitude (discipline)
This increases the effect of your stamina buffs by 30%. These next few talents in the discipline tree are fillers in a way — our ultimate goal is meditation. But as you head into Outland, the extra stamina is really quite useful.

Levels 59-61: improved power word: shield (discipline)
Increases the damage absorbed by your bubble by 15%. Again, a bit of a filler talent. You need to move to the next level and the alternative talents are even less useful to you.

Level 62: inner focus (discipline)
This buff gives you a free spell every three minutes, and increases that spell's critical strike chance by 25%. Shadow priests should only ever use this on shadow word: pain (undead may wish to use devouring plague instead), which is your biggest mana cost in any spell rotation. It's useful to bind it to the spell in a macro to ensure you get the full benefit. At level 70, it can amount to up to 15 mp5 if used in this way.

Levels 63-65: meditation (discipline)
This is the reason we have specced so deeply into discipline. Meditation enables 30% of your base mana regeneration to continue while casting. As you progress through Outland and collect spell damage gear, you will see your spirit slowly dwindle and this helps to balance the reduced gains from spirit tap. You may have worked out that this talent too will become less useful as your spirit falls, but that can't be helped. This is simply better than the alternative, which is no mana regeneration at all. For me, this talent currently equates to 46 mp5 but you should start off with considerably more.

Levels 66-67: focused mind
Now that we are done with discipline we can return to shadow. These two points will max out focused mind and ensure the lowest possible mana cost for your mind blast and mind flay spells.

Levels 68-70: shadow power
It's difficult to know what to do with these last three points. If you are planning on raiding at 70, you're going to have to respec anyway, which makes spending them at all seem rather arbitrary. If you find yourself running lots of instances in your later levels, then I'd recommend putting these last three points into shadow affinity, which will reduce your threat by 25%. But if your experience is anything like mine, you'll find it much quicker and more convenient to level through quests and grinding, in which case threat reduction is irrelevant. You could put them in improved mind blast to reduce the spell's cooldown, but it's not terribly good practice to spam mind blast anyway. So I've opted to put them into shadow power. Three points will increase the critical strike chance of mind blast and shadow word: death by 9%. That's a nice increase for three points, but you're not going to be using these spells a lot solo. It's a shame that a school with such iconic talents as vampiric embrace, shadow form, darkness and vampiric touch finishes so limply but I guess we can't have it all our own way.

So there you have it. Congratulations on reaching level 70. If you've followed my advice, your talents should look something like this.

This is a nice final build if you're going to continue questing and grinding solo. But if you are planning on running instances and gearing up for raiding, the next thing you should do is respec. This build already has the core talents of a raiding build, but we'll need to move a few points around to maximise our utility and damage. But that's for another post.

15 April 2008

A shadow priest levelling spec (1-40)

Edit: this post fell sadly out of date when the talent trees were reworked for Wrath of the Lich King. It's now of minor historical interest at most. I'm working on a new levelling guide but Please check our my rough guide to shadow talents in the meantime.

I'm a firm believer that all talents are equal — but like the book says, some talents are more equal than others.

This progressive build is my favourite way to get from level 10 to 40. It's designed around mana efficiency and minimal downtime. The ultimate goal is shadowform at level 40.

To get the most out of it, you need to get used to wanding down your mobs for the last 30-40% of their health. This should be sufficient to take you out of the five-second rule and ensure you get the full benefit from spirit tap. With the right balance of intellect, spirit and stamina, you'll be able to keep going indefinitely, making you the envy of mages everywhere and even putting hunters to their shame.

Levels 10-14: wand specialisation (discipline tree)
It may seen counterintuitive to start a shadow levelling build in discipline, but this talent is one of the gems of any solo priest build, adding an extra 25% to your wand damage. You will be wanding a lot on your way to 70 so make the most of it. Some guides will tell you to take spirit tap first then come back for this. That's fine too, but I find at low levels spirit regenerates fast enough on its own and prefer the dps increase up front.

Levels 15-19: spirit tap
Spirit tap does two things — when you land a killing blow on a mob, it doubles your normal mana regeneration for 15 seconds; it also enables 50% of your mana regeneration while casting (i.e. when you are within the five-second rule). So whether you are resting or tackling adds, you gain mana. This is the primary reason why you want to prioritise spirit gear as you level.

Levels 20-21: improved shadow word: pain
This increases the duration of shadow word: pain by six seconds. This means you get two additional ticks of damage from the spell, increasing its overall damage by 25%.

Levels 22-24: shadow focus
Each point in shadow focus reduced your target's chance to resist your spells by 2%. Fewer resists equals less time casting and greater mana efficiency. Three points is enough to ensure your spells have the maximum possible chance to land on mobs up to two levels higher than you, which makes questing and grinding a lot easier and ensures you get more experience per kill.

Levels 25-29: blackout
Blackout gives all your shadow damage spells a chance to stun your target. It's not a critical talent for levelling but it's very sweet when it goes off.

Levels 30-31: shadow reach
Increases the range of your offensive shadow spells by 20%. This is the reason why we have waited until now to take the next talent, mind flay.

Level 32: mind flay
Mind flay is a channelled spell that does damage over three seconds and reduces movement speed by 50%. It's a priest's most mana efficient spell. The channelled nature means it can be interrupted by damage, but the snare effect works beautifully with psychic scream, enabling you to keep a feared mob under control while doing damage. However, the range of the spell is so low that this method only really works with shadow reach.

Levels 33-34: improved psychic scream
This reduces the cooldown of psychic scream by four seconds. It's not an essential talent, but it makes continuous grinding using the fear/flay method that much easier. It's also a requirement for silence later on.

Level 35: vampiric embrace
A core talent of any shadow build, this debuff returns 15% of your shadow spell damage as health to you and your party. While playing solo, it reduces your reliance on the expensive power word: shield and helps to passively top up any splash damage as you go.

Levels 36-37: improved vampiric embrace
Increases the health returned by the spell to 25%. This talent really begins to shine at 40 with shadowform, when your incoming damage is reduced by 15%. You can pretty much take a beating one-on-one without loosing health.

Level 38: silence
This spell is on a fairly long cooldown, and as such is not a critical talent. However, it's your only spell interrupt at a distance and comes in very handy when fighting casters. The silence lasts long enough to pull the mob into fear range, giving you a second interrupt.

Level 39: focused mind
As we're on a mana efficiency drive, where better to put a point than in a talent that reduces the mana cost of some of your spells? To be honest, it's a filler, but one point reduces the mana cost of mind flay, mind blast and mind control by 5%.

Level 40: darkness, shadowform
Shadowform requires 30 points in the shadow tree, so level 40 is the earliest we can pick it up. Unfortunately, five of our required points are currently languishing in the discipline tree so we'll need to respec.

Pick up the same talents described above and put your spare five points into darkness, which increases your shadow damage by 10%. Your final point goes into shadowform, and your build should look like this.

Congratulations, you have just increased your shadow dps by a whopping 15% with just one point. This increase also applies to shadow wand damage, so from now on it's worth trying to pick up only shadow damage wands.

The trade-off with shadowform is an inability to cast holy spells (essentially, just your heals, smite and holy fire), but with the damage multipliers on shadow spells from talents, you should never even consider holy damage again.

Unlearning your talents costs gold, and at level 40 you are probably saving up for your mount. If you don't have the money, it's not essential to respec. Simply put your next five points into darkness and pick up shadowform at 45.

So there you are: your first 40 or so levels as a shadow priest. This build won't top the damage metres but it is an incredibly efficient, effective build that will enable you to quest and grind swiftly and either heal or dps in groups as required. Next time, we'll take a look at later levels on the grind to 70.

10 April 2008

Weapons for shadow priests

Weapons are not as abundant for shadow priests as armor is.

Firstly, we are limited by our weapons proficiencies of one-handed maces, daggers and staves. And actually, when you talk about raiding, you can pretty much rule out staves too. You will find nice stats on staves, but the combination of one-hand
weapon and off-hand will usually provide more spell damage.

So we have only maces and daggers to play with. In 5-man instances, even in heroic mode (with the exception of magister's terrace, which we'll get on to in a minute), the best you can hope for is a 120-ish spell damage dagger. Nothing to be sniffed at, but a very poor option over all. I currently sport the starlight dagger. This is my biggest single opportunity for raising my spell damage and must be my priority, even over and above replacing my lowly uncommon trinket.

But that's easier said than done. Before patch 2.4, someone in my position had four realistic options:

  • eternium runed blade — a crafted weapon with expensive materials and underwhelming stats; if you know a blacksmith with a pattern it's worth a modest investment, but don't bust the bank on it
  • pvp daggers/maces — the battleground weapons are good, the arena weapons are better; this is one time I have no defence against pvp — if you do it, go get your weapon already
  • gavel of unearthed secrets — this is a nice weapon and one of the few dps caster maces out there, but it requires exalted reputation with lower city; if you can stomach the rep grind this is a nice weapon to have going in to Karazhan, but you're just as likely to get this next weapon sooner
  • nathrezim mindblade — at 203 spell damage, this is a very nice weapon, but you have to kill Prince to get it; not something you can pick up easily when you ding 70

So you see, unless you PVP, there were no easy options for a good weapon until patch 2.4. Now we have some more options, since the patch introduced weapon badge rewards and a new 5-man instance.

First the instance. The first boss of magister's terrace, Selin Fireheart, drops this dagger on heroic: jaded crystal dagger. A very nice upgrade to anything you can get in the other heroics and it's probably easier to get hold of than the eternium runed blade, the gavel of unearthed secrets or a pvp dagger. So we have made progress.

But it gets considerably better. The last boss, Kael'thas himself, drops the cudgel of consecration. This is on par with the mindblade, but to get this far in heroic magister's is a difficult process and the prospect of repeated runs brings me out in hives. Each to his own.

Now the badge reward. It's not a welfare epic in the true sense of the word, but it is something even the most casual of players can work towards. Introducing the ungodly scryer's blade of focus...

These weapons are intended to be comparable to tier 6 loot, which explains why the only things you'll find of similar juciness drop in 25-man raids. The price is an epic 150 badges of justice, which may sound like a lot until you start to think how many badges you would get on your grind to lower city exalted or from all those kara runs waiting for the mindblade to drop.

I'm not sure how long it will take me to collect so many badges, or if it will be worth it in the long run. After all, it's not like I'm running tier 6 content, and I am in desperate need of other, less costly badge loot. But as I said before, it's the biggest single improvement I could make to my character, and I have many more options for armor than weapons. I am on 39 badges at the moment. We'll see how long I hold out...

9 April 2008

Election fever

Inspired by the monumental pomposity and gratuitous voter pandering of both the US presidential and London mayoral candidates, I've jumped on the bandwagon and am holding my own little election courtesty of the nifty Polldaddy.

Have a look in the right-hand column. You can tell me what to write next. And in the time-honoured tradidion of politicians everywhere, I'll probably ignore you exercise my mandate to pursue topics that I think will be of most benefit to you, my loyal readers.

And if anyone knows how I get the stoopid thing to centre on my column, please let me know...

8 April 2008

When realms go down

Urgh, the message we all dread. What do you do when your server's down? Well, I'm lavishing a little love on my undernourished blog. I suppose I could be catching up on Stargate: Atlantis instead, or washing the pots. Do you have any strategies for whiling away the hours while Blizzard irons out the bugs?

Talent revamp

So ok, 'revamp' is too strong a word, but I got bored of my excess spell hit and moved a few points around. Here's how it stands at the moment.

As you can see, I'm still the standard 14/0/47 build.

Nothing has changed in discipline. If I could find a better use for my points, I would.

In shadow, I have taken one point out of shadow focus. When I did the maths, I worked out that I would need 8%, or 100.8 points, to reach the hit cap; I'm resting nicely at 105.

More controvertially, I've taken a point out of shadow weaving. My spells now only have an 80% chance of adding the debuff. On boss fights, I figure this is an acceptable risk — with the number of spells I cast, I should have no trouble maintaining the full 10% debuff. On trash, I'm counting on it not making a noticable difference.

So where have my points gone? Well, the honest answer is I'm not sure. I was so quick to wipe the slate clean that I forgot to check where they were to start with. I know, I'm an idiot.

Where I think they have ended up is in shadow power and improved mind blast, although for the life of me I thought I had four points in improved mind blast last time.

I probably shouldn't have kept silence for all the good it does me, but I like having it around. And really, where would I have put the point?

Meh, it's irrelevent now. Even that pathetic little shuffle took me three attempts and 60 gold to arrange, so I'm not about to start meddling again. That's what happens when you attempt a respec at 2 am.

What do you think? Should I have kept shadow weaving maxed out? Is silence a wasted point? Should I pack it all in and go holy? My life is in your hands...

2 April 2008

Making money

If you are an avid reader of WoW Insider then you will already know about this new blog — and if not, why not?

WoW Investor promises to boost your in-game finances with auction house and trade tips and suggestions. They say: "It should only take you about 10 minutes once or twice a day to make the necessary purchases and sales; and the only travel it involves is running between the auctioneers and your mailbox - easy right? and sure as hell beats mindless farming!"

Amen to that. I'm going to start by looking into their advice on spellthreads. I'm lucky enough to have both the scryer mystic spellthread and the aldor silver spellthread patterns by virtue of my reputational volte-face. I'm slowly scrabbling my way up to aldor exalted to get the golden spellthread too.

I wonder how universal their advice will prove to be. Auction house prices tend to fluctuate wildly by server, and there's a chance personal experience will not match the advice. Still, I appreciate any and all help I can get to boost my flagging funds and will be keeping a close eye on future tips.

1 April 2008

Heroic poets?

Methinks this must be an April fool, tra la la, la la...

Out of my comfort zone in magister's terrace

Down and out in magister's terrace

So I'd seen the reports and heard a few rumours from friends - magister's terrace, the new 5-man instance on the Isle of Quel'Danas, required a lot of strong cc. Meh, I thought, we were all in raid gear and it was a normal mode run. How hard could it be? To borrow a phrase, we were not prepared.

I went in with a warrior tank, a fury warrior, an affliction lock and a holy priest. All excellent players. We were short of cc so I ended up using mind control a fair bit. On the most part, it worked well. With maximum spell hit, and by keeping the mind controlled mob close to my body, I managed to maintain control for the spell's full duration a lot of the time. Where it started to go wrong was on later pulls with aoe mobs. The damage would break mind control and I went down like a sack of spuds.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When I wasn't using mind control, I was fearing. Before the first boss, there are two groups of five that you can pull out and fear away. That all went nicely and the first boss was a push over.

Echoes of murmor
Things got tricky ahead of the second boss. There is a large hall full of mana worms. To start with, you have to pull them back into a very tight corridor. They are non-elite but hit hard and come in packs of 8-10. It took us a while to figure out a strategy - basically, I stopped hitting things and started tossing heals into the group. It was slow but it worked.

Vexallus is an arcane void wraith who does pure arcane damage (even melee). He just stands there, like Murmor, so the tank can run in to start with and you can get on with burning him down. But he occasionally spawns energy adds that do hideous damage if not killed. They have very low hit points, but once you do kill them, you get a stackable dot and a 50% damage increase buff. So the trick here is to spread the adds out among the group so the dot doesn't get unmanageable. Close to death, Vexallus starts nasty arcane blasting that will kill you rapidly if you don't burn him down quick. We wiped once on this guy, and lost both warriors on the second successful attempt.

There are some more nasty groups or four or five mobs on the path to the third boss. Some can be skipped, but some are unavoidable. At this stage, you start to see ethereals - the aoe mobs I spoke about earlier. They teleport all over the place and generally wreak havoc. At the same time, you have a succubus to deal with, seducing everything that moves, a magister dealing hideous frost and arcane damage, and numerous other mobs with knockbacks, stuns, interupts, spell locks, you name it. If you can pull them far enough back you can keep them feared. Otherwise, it's a race against time to get them down before they kill your healer.

Arena match
But we made it through with some difficulty and came face to face with the third boss, Priestess Delrissa. This is the encounter everyone is talking about, and one of the most innovative things Blizzard has done in a while. Essentially, it is a 5v5 arena match. Like Moroes in Karazhan, Delrissa will spawn with four friends chosen at random from a pool of 8. But unlike Moroes, there is no threat table. Tanking is irrelevant and, frankly, impossible. To win this fight you have to use every crowd control, spell and dirty trick in your arsenal.

To a group of dedicated pve players, this is anaethema. Every rule and tactic we knew from our pve experience went out the window. Just how do you face a group of five players who don't respond to threat? Who have more crowd control than you are used to? A team of arena players would have had no problems, I'm sure. But we wiped twice in a row because we had no strategy for even attempting the fight. In the end, we spammed fear and lucked out in the way the mobs targetted us. We banished a demon, stuck a felhound on a mage, feared and focused fire in a loose kill order - the priestess first (she heals), an arms warrior second (he hits hard), then it was free-for-all on the remaining mobs.

If you get past Delrissa, you are only one pull away from the final boss, Kael'thas himself. You walk into a corridor, turn a corner, and climb some steps you can even see him. There is just the matter of a six mob pull between you. There is a healer, two mobs with aoe, a magister, a mage guard and a succubus. Just how hard could it be in normal mode? Well, we were about to find out.

End game
Without reliable cc, there is no good way to approach this fight. Our mistake was to try and use any crowd control at all. We must have wiped ten times switching our kill order around but every way we cut it the healer pulled agro and went down hard. Mind control was a liability, as the aoe damage would break it wherever I stood. If it didn't, I couldn't drop it to backup heal. The difficulty of close-quarter fighting only added to our misery. After the second repair run of the night we almost didn't go back in but we gave it one more shot. And this time I healed. That's how we got through it - we banished the succubus, spam feared and had two healers.

This is in no way a reflection on our healer, who is outstanding. But I was one less person for him to worry about. And instead of having to heal himself, I could do it. With a few prayers of mending flying about and the odd lesser heal, we cracked it.

After that, Kael'thas was a bit of an anti-climax. The fight is a lot of fun, but it no longer seemed like a challenge. Basically, there are two phases to the fight. At first, it's a straight-forward tank and spank. During this phase, he summons a phoenix that does aoe damage and must be burnt down quickly. He turns into an egg when he dies, and the egg must be killed too or else he will respawn. The phoenix is on a timer - if you are quick, like we were, you will only get one; other groups may get two before the second phase. At this point, he channels gravity well and we all start flying through the chamber. You can still do ranged damage, but the priority is to stay away from the obs that chase you. They do nasty damage if they catch up. There is a short time where he drops gravity well and is exhausted. He does no damage during this period, and you do what you can to burn him down. You might get another gravity well. We had a second one before we killed him. Both the lock and myself died in the process. The shot above is post res :)

It was a relief to walk away from this one with all bosses down, but not a pleasure. For most of the run I was well out of my comfort zone, either channelling mind control or struggling to maintain some semblence of threat management on large pulls. I've run instanced with little cc before, but never one quite so unforgiving as magister's terrace. I am deeply uncomfortable with the way Blizzard clearly designed this instance to be dependent on the primary dps classes with their reliable methods of CC. There should be a sign outside saying hybrids like shammies, druids and shadow priests are not welcome. And even if there isn't as cc issue, I really don't think end bosses should be easier to kill than their trash. That's just not in the spirit of instances. Still, I am proud to say I was able to run it and clear it, despite the many wipes, and pleased to walk away with a runed crimson spinel as a reward for killing Kael'thas. I also received 'heroic countenance', which enables me to enter magister's terrace in heroic. Not that I will be rushing back any time soon.