30 June 2008

Priest news from WWI 08

Wow insider has exploded with news and commentary from the Blizzard Entertainment 2008 Worldwide Invitational, which took place this weekend in Paris. This is Blizzard's annual convention, where they talk about ideas and development for WoW (among other things...)

The big news for face melters is confirmation of shadow's new 51-point talent, dispersion, which reduces incoming damage by 90% and regenerates 6% health and mana per second over a period of time.

The intention of this spell is clearly to give shadow priests a little more survivability in pvp. If that's your bag, you're probably very excited. It may yet prove handy in pve too, but I need more information first. Can I cast while dispersed? Can I cast it while incapacitated? Does it remove debuffs? In short, is this our ice block?

Alex Ziebart's analysis of the three new talents is very astute. While the end talents for holy and discipline promise to strengthen priests in their chosen roles (healing or pvp), dispersion doesn't really fit with the shadow's primary purpose: damage. If I have to choose between this or divine spirit, which is going to boost my dps more?

Is Blizzard creating a second pvp tree for priests in shadow? Ziebart reports a question to the priest panel regarding end-game scaling of shadow priests in which the developers said shadow priests are just fine; they are to receive arena tools instead. When the forums were inviting class feedback, pvp viability was a big issue so I have no doubt this is good news for many shadow priests. But where does it leave end game raiders? With an incoming nerf to vampiric touch, will shadow priests be worth a raid slot in Northrend?

We're not going to get an answer to that question until well into beta, and even then things might change. So I'm not going to waste any more time on speculation. Plus, I really ought to be doing some work about now...

27 June 2008

Fast targetting on Illhoof

OK, so tell me if I'm preeching to the choir here, but I had a revalation on Illhoof this week: a targetting macro.

You know the fight? At any one time, the dps needs to focus on three different targets. Firstly, Illhoof's pet Kil'rek. Once he's dead, you can focus fire on Illhoof himself. Kil'rek respawns repeatedly so you have to switch back and forth. Every so often, one of the party is shackled by demon chains and you have to drop everything to burn these down quick. Unless it's a mage that can ice block out of it. (Can rogues use cloak of shadows?)

Switching targets quickly is critical in this fight. But this is one time your trusty tab button just isn't going to cut it, because throughout the fight Illhoof summons imps. Dozens of imps. You'll probably have one dps on them full time, but even then they will spawn en mass until it's hard to even see Illhoof, let alone taget him. You need a macro.

I had a nice one that used modifiers, so you could hit it with shift to target Illhoof, ctrl for Kil'rek etc. I was pleased as punch and I published it in this entry. Then Larry Shatzer, Jr. posted an alternative in a comment, which you can read below, and I had to come back and update it. The following macro puts mine to shame and makes me wish I did more research for my posts. But aren't blogs fabulous? I now have the number one chariot of targeting macros, and here it is:

/target Demon Chains
/stopmacro [nodead, harm]
/target Kil'rek
/stopmacro [nodead, harm]
/target Terestian Illhoof

What this does is target what you need to kill. Every time. Mash it for the whole fight and you will always have the right target. I'm still in awe. Thank you Larry.

One other word of advice for shadow priests out there — bring lots of pots and use them liberally. With the constant change of focus and the need for burst damage, this is a very mana intensive fight. It's tricky knowing when to use your shadowfiend but on balance I'd say you won't have time to use it twice, so my advice is to pot early, pot often and save the fiend until Illhoof is at about 30%. I'll be writing more on the shadowfiend later, when I get my thoughts in order.

24 June 2008

Rage is not just for warriors

I want to buy some hearts of darkness. Yes, actually, I do know where they drop. That's why I'm spamming trade for them. What I don't know is why you bothered to whisper me to tell me. What are you, simple?


Me, imba!? How sweet of you to say, but don't be silly. No really, stop flattering me! I'm not that good really. I made most of these rags myself you know, and I've had a lot of help from guild mates with... what was that? No, I can't spare any gold I'm afraid... and I've only learnt to play this well after... no, no silver either but... wait, where are you going? I haven't told you about my blog!

Oh, you need a healer for heroic magister's terrace. How nice for you. Why are you telling me this? Am I supposed to infer from your illiterate statement that you expect me to fill the spot? Did you bother to ask me if I was free? Interested? Did you even ask if I was holy? Kindly take your pre-school grammar elsewhere, you moron.

I want a better weapon. I deserve a better weapon. AND I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO PVP TO GET ONE.

Hey, fury warrior — what's the bouncing for? Do you get extra rage? Broken keyboard? No? Huh. Then do you think you could stand still a sec? Well there's a pat coming. A patrol. You know, baddies. Stand still or you'll pull the... FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP MOVING.

Phew, this running-back-after-a-wipe-thing is hard work isn't it? And it always seems further when you're a ghost. I know, really boring. Almost makes me wish I was a night elf haha. Poor, ugly night elves. So this time, I think we should try focusing all dps on the adds to start with and... Hello? Oh, I thought you might have disconnected. For some silly reason my UI didn't register when you released. Stoopid buggy addon, I keep meaning to... You're just sitting there aren't you?

20 June 2008

My role play shame

My name is Merlot and I'm a role playing sympathiser.

The horror hit home while reading an article on wow insider about all the ways we inadvertently role play. To be honest, I've always been a bit suspicious of hardcore role play, as if it indicated something more sinister than a player's preference for a fantasy life. I thought role players had to have beards and live with their mum, and I thought they all had to invent stories about being orphaned by troggs or a mining accident.

I kinda liked killing things: that was as far as my thinking went. I certainly never set out to invent a back story or create any kind of personality for Merlot.

Then I got out my mana wyrmling (Impulse) and gave him a pet.

Maybe it's a side effect of long-term game play, or maybe it's a by-product of hitting 70, but I really have been role playing without knowing it.

Getting to the cap was the first time I took a proper look at my surroundings and started to appreciate the design of the game, the epic storylines, and all the politics and machinations that bubble beneath the surface. I was able to break out of the mindset that sees you blindly mowing down an extra five mobs for that last elusive drop, or else keeps you ploughing through the local fauna way past your bedtime just to reach the next level that night. I've started to read quests — not just the bit at the top that tells you what to do, but the stuff below it that tells you why. (Although frankly, some of them are deeply cryptic and need a good edit.)

Sure, I still have to kill things for gold, for rep, for crafting mats, sometimes just for a distraction. But then I'll group up and run through a heroic, taking a haughty sniff of the undead and flirting with the other blood elves. There is a balance. It's a very different game from when I first stepped through the dark portal.

I've been so busy looking forward to Wrath and preparing for that long push to 80, that I didn't really think what I might loose along the way. This time, I'm going to try not to burn through content just to hit 80. I'm going to take time to read my quests, understand what I'm being asked to do and why, and maybe make a few moral decisions along the way.

I've come to realise that role play isn't just about pretending you're an orphan dwarf with a interest in guns and a hatred of troggs. It's simply another facet of the game, another level of enjoyment that we all experience, just like the wow insider article says.

So there will be no more poking of fun at role players, even if they do all have beards and live with their mum. There's a little bit of that orphan dwarf in all of us, don't you think?

18 June 2008

Comic interlude

Am I the last person on earth to discover Dark Legacy Comics?

I laughed so much I nearly peed.

Some of my favourites here andhere.

16 June 2008

What's so epic about a fast ride?

Between my three level 70s, I can probably scrape together enough cash for one epic mount. I don't have the rep for any of the cool ones, so it would just be a swift wyvern, but in shadow even they look cool. So what's holding me back?

I'm just not sure it's worth it. Merlot has no gathering skills, and — as my lack of gold testifies — no discipline for gold grinding. I can barely bring myself to do a couple of dailies and go weeks without crafting cloth for lack of primals. Had I any patience for farming gold I would have bought the mount long ago. The only reason I have as much as I do is because I can't find anyone to sell me the hearts of darkness for my bracers of nimble thought. (Hint: if you're on Darkspear, call me!)

That much gold would be a waste on Merlot — unless, at some point in the future, the mount skill is going to increase even further. If I'm going to have to fork out an even more obscene amount of gold in Wrath, then maybe it's worth the pain right now.
Theoretically, it would be better spent on my shaman (herbalist) or hunter (miner and engineer) for the gathering benefits, but they're alts and I can't quite bring myself to bankrupt Merlot for them.

If you've got your mount, would you say it was worth the pain? Or were you rich enough not to notice?

12 June 2008


Two things every priest should have by the time they hit auchindoun: a shackle macro and the addon ubershackle.

Auchenai crypts and sethekk halls are the first instances in Outland with undead, which is why I picked auchindoun as a starting point. If you are still levelling through Azeroth and plan on running scholomance or stratholme, they could come in handy much sooner. Either way, it's time to elbow that mage out of the way and show them all some real crowd control. None of those fancy shape-shifting tricks, this is all about power.

Shackle Undead is an awesome ability. It roots an undead mob and prevents them from acting for up to 50 seconds at max rank. Other classes can crowd control undead too (paladins can fear, hunters can trap) but a shackle is the safest and most reliable form.

The hardest part of crowd control is ensuring the target stays locked down as long as required, and the biggest danger is that it breaks early or breaks and goes unnoticed. So we're going to tackle these issues with out neat new tools. The right macro will make the job of shackling much easier, while ubershackle will keep an eye on the shackled mob leaving you to focus on dps.

First, the macro. This is the one I use:
#show Shackle Undead
/clearfocus [modifier:shift]
/clearfocus [target=focus,dead]
/clearfocus [target=focus,noexists]
/focus [target=focus,noexists]
/cast [target=focus] Shackle Undead
/p **** shackling %f ****

This is a basic focus macro that you'll find all over the internet. It will set your current target as your focus, shackle them, and announce to your party which mob you are shackling. You can then switch targets to dps. If you click this macro again it will reapply the shackle to the original target without you having to change your current target.

Once your focused target is dead, you can start again on a new mob and it will automatically reset your focus — at the start of a new pull, for example. If you want to shackle a different mob before your focus is dead, you hold down shift to reset your focus.

The beauty of this macro, and others like it, is that you don't have to tab target or click mobs every time you have to reshackle. If you've ever been in a tight spot with four or five mobs flying around you will know how slow and awkward that process can be. The shackle simply becomes another spell in your dps rotation.

But wait — how do I know when to reshackle, I hear you ask. A very astute and timely question.

If you use a dot timer, your shackle should show up. So you can watch it count down. But that won't tell you if the shackle breaks early. You could position yourself so you can see your shackled target, but that's not always easy and it will take your attention from dps. The answer is ubershackle.

This really simple addon by ferdydurke does two things: it flashes up countdown messages at 20 seconds, 10 seconds and 5 seconds from the end of the shackle, and it shows an alert and plays a sound when the shackle breaks. It will do this whether the shackle expires or breaks early. It works by following your focus, so it's only any good if you use it in combination with a macro.

So with ubershackle you should always know the status of your shackled mob, and with the macro it becomes a trivial task to keep them locked down.

A priest who can shackle well is an absolute godsend in these instances, and even more so in karazhan. Mages and rogues will sniff indignantly as you breeze past them to the front of the pack, your mystical chains at the ready.

With the scourge plague in Northrend, and a few tricks like these up our sleeves, I fully predict priests will become the number one chariot at crowd control in Wrath.

11 June 2008

Are murlocs misunderstood?

Once upon a time, as a young night elf druid, I set off to explore the darkshore coastline. The first humanoids I encountered were strange, greenish creatures loitering around the washed-up shell of a giant dead turtle. They looked scruffy and bored, like teenagers. I ambled up to one and gave it a sniff. It let out an ungodly scream and charged me. From out of nowhere, a second psychotic urchin careened toward me on its bandy legs, wailing and frothing at the mouth. I fought off the first attacker bravely, but it fled in panic and came stampeding back with reinforcements. There was an outcry of gurgling, like a dozen vampires gargling blood, before the colour faded and I found myself face to face with the spirit healer. I had discovered murlocs.

The murderous little bastards encroach all over Azeroth at various levels to prove themselves the most diabolical of all WoW's villains. The combination of wide, arcing patrols, close clustering, and a propensity to run at relatively high health is deadly. No wonder they are so frequently despised.

It therefore came as a great surprise to me several levels (and characters) later when I was asked by the shattered sun offensive to set them free of naga enslavement (via the quest, disrupt the greengill coast). What? Were they insane? Release murlocs into the wild?

Honestly, I won't even pretend to understand the lore here. Naga and murlocs have always been the same side of the evil-fish-monster coin to me. But possibly there's a bit more too it than that. Something to do with the Maelstrom? Who knows. But if they have been enslaved by mutated elves, might that explain their slight ambivalence toward unannounced company? Could it be that I had misjudged murlocs for all this time?

Well, we are about to find out. Wrath will introduce a murloc faction and we will finally get to interact with them at a level beyond mere combat. I dare say it will involve slaying some other faction of murloc, so there will be something for everyone in this relationship.

Which leads nicely to the latest misery poll — where do you stand on the murloc issue? Are you running scared or jumping with joy? Murlocs: good or bad? Go! Vote now!

10 June 2008

Weapons updated

I've added two new items to the weapons for shadow priests post:

Both of these drop in heroic magister's terrace, which explains why I haven't come across them in person but doesn't excuse the horrendous oversight. Nice, aren't they?

The mace drops of Kael'thas himself. Given how much trouble it is to get to him, I'd be weary of pinning my hopes too hard on it dropping. In an instance where you're dead weight if you can't crowd control, I doubt I'll be seeing him any time soon.

But the dagger drops off the far more accessibly Selin Fireheart. The competition will be a little stronger, and the reward is a little paler, but it wouldn't be too much trouble to put this boss, the first in Magister's, on farm just for the weapon.


Ok, so am I the only one who can't see the Twitter feed, right? It looks like the font is white on a white background. If you know how to fix it, please put me out of my misery (pardon the pun...)

6 June 2008

Spell rotation? What spell rotation?

Let's say you are a fire mage in Shadow Labs. Your party has arrived at Murmor, the leader has explained the fight and you have been assigned a pillar. You give your tank a few moments to gain agro and open up. You cast five scorches followed by a stream of fireballs. Every 30 seconds you scorch again. You may have to pause to avoid a sonic boom or slow down to temper your threat. But essentially you just carry on. The worst that could happen is the scorch debuff drops off and you have to start again. Life is blissfully uncomplicated.

Not so for the shadow priest. Shadow priests have to juggle an irritatingly complex range of spell durations, casting times and cooldowns in order to maximise our damage output. A resist, some lag or the need to move simply slow a mage down; they make a shadow priest want to scream.

In a typical fight opening, it will take you 4.5 seconds to apply your dots and debuffs — 1.5 seconds for vampiric embrace (global cooldown), 1.5 seconds for vampiric touch and 1.5 seconds for shadow word: pain.

Now you have to decide what spells to cast while they take their course. Your key priority is to ensure maximum uptime of your dots without overlap, so the duration of those spells will determine your next move. Vampiric touch lasts 15 seconds; shadow word: pain, if talented (and it should be), lasts 24. You need to start casting vampiric touch 1.5 seconds before it is due to expire, which gives you 12 seconds to play with.

The easiest thing to do in that time is cast four mind flays, which last 3 seconds each. Then you can reapply vampiric touch at exactly the right moment. You then have time for another three mind flays before having to reapply shadow word: pain. Back to mind flay ad nauseum. This is a very mana efficient spell rotation and will serve you well in long fights where threat is an issue or dps is not.

It sounds simple enough, right? But even juggling just these three spells is problematic. The number of mind flays you can cast in-between reapplying dots varies every time and sometimes they don't fit in the gap at all. It gets harder when you want to weave mind blast and shadow word: death into the mix too.

Your spell rotation becomes a matter of determining the length of time to your next dot application, factoring cooldowns and avoiding dot voids and overlaps. From this point forward you will need the mathematical powers of a savant.

Smart readers out there will already have spotted other sabats in my spell casting cogs. Lag can play havoc with efficient spellcasting, as can certain debuffs, the need to move frequently during a fight, or a pause to reduce threat.

So shadow priests have very little in the way of spell rotations. This is what keeps face melting so interesting, and what makes it a bit more varied and spontaneous than other magical dps. But it's also one reason why some shadow priests may be performing below their potential (me for starters).

The good news is Blizzard appears to be aware of our pain and looking at a few options for the expansion. In the meantime, all we can go on is priorities, a concept which the dwarf priest established so beautifully in a post a few months ago. If you really want to know which spell to cast, take a look at his flowchart.

And as you should have realised by now, you can't perform your function competently without a solid dot timer. Intuitively, I used dotimer. A cast bar mod will also come in handy — Quartz, part of the Ace framwork, incorporates timers and usefully shows me things like lag and adjusted cast times.

5 June 2008

Skullcrackers to Akil'Zon: ya got nuttin bruddah

The second boss of Zul'Aman, eagle lord Akil'Zon, fell to the unstoppable force of Skullcrackers last night — after a bit of a slow start...

It was our fourth or fifth attempt of the night. Most of us were new to the boss and getting used to the mechanics, so I think we're excused.

This is a fight in which the raid takes a lot of damage and the healers can be stretched very thin. Static charges, gusts of wind and swooping birds wreak havoc at random while electrical storms every minute can quickly kill anyone slow to react. Vampiric embrace can help — the bird attacks shouldn't be an issue for a shadow priest's group — but the damage is hard enough and constant enough to require some pretty nifty healing. Nobody can be allowed to fall below 50% health. I am constantly impressed by our healers.

We collapsed on the tank to get through the electrical storms, ensuring that we were all conveniently centred when the storms struck. It's a good method as it enables you to continue dps without threat issues. If there's a risk it's that a badly times static charge before or after the storm could wipe your group, so you have to be in quick and out quick.

My own performance over the night was patchy. I finished number two on the damage metres but my dot uptime was terrible and I'm sure a better player in my gear could have squeezed an extra 50 dps out of it. On trash it's not so bad because they go down so fast. For the mobs up to Nalorakk I was even managing a sustained 700+ dps. But once a fight goes on longer than, say, 30 seconds, I can easily tie myself up in knots over spell rotations. I have to get much better at watching my timers and much faster at plotting out my priority spells. I ought to write about spell rotations; us shadow priests really have it tough compared to other casters.

Anyhoo, the beaky troll dropped a healing necklace instead of the damn mace so my search for a decent weapon continues. But I am two badges closer to the blade of focus.

2 June 2008

The future of face melters

What would happen to shadow priests if vampiric touch was nerfed by 60%? At my level, and in my guild, probably not a lot. I'd struggle to last through some long fights and my potions bill would go up. But in later raids, and in more dedicated guilds, perhaps they'd loose their spot to a pure damage dealer because a face melter's dps potential currently plateaus early in end game progression: they become, as we know, mana batteries. Take that away and there's not much left.

But what if that same shadow priest scaled better, could put out more damage, could compete with the locks and the rogues and the mages? Would their spot be safe?

I've been chewing over the Wrath alpha talents and abilities, and this could be a distinct possibility. The changes hint at an attempt by developers to position shadow priests much more in line with the other dps spell casters — for better and worse.

A current shadow priest only looks at one stat, damage, while others casters have to juggle hit and crit and intellect and, increasingly, haste as well. I'm over-simplifying, but you get the gist. With 10% hit from talents alone, and a utility tied directly to our damage output, we have little else to think about.

If our hit talent were to be nerfed along with VT, we'd have a much bigger gap to make up to the spell cap. And if we were given a talent that increased our spell crits to 100%, we'd suddenly have to sit up and look at our crit rating wouldn't we?

These things would make the job of gearing your shadow priest a lot more interesting and perhaps make it easier for Blizzard to itemise for spell casters. For all intents and purposes, we would dress like a lock.

Now add to this a talent which improves spell damage by a percentage of your spirit and things get a whole lot more interesting. Locks are in line for a similar talent. Throw into the mix a reworked spirit tap that could proc repeatedly during a fight — not only boosting mana regeneration but spell damage as well. Does this mean spirit, which currently doesn't even feature on caster gear, is going to make a comeback? How will we compare the value of spirit to damage to hit to crit? Will we see shadow priests speccing for divine spirit in the expansion?

The immediate reaction to any nerf bat is horror — "why are you doing this to me? My class is broken! I'm rolling a lock" blah. But maybe, just maybe, you get something much better in return. Nothing about Wrath is decided, the shadow priest's future is not set in stone, but the snippets of information unearthed so far hint at an intriguing and lucrative new path for face melters in Northrend.