26 February 2009

A little ray of sunshine on a chilly night

For PvE, I think the changes will help their scaling in the long run. I suggested in another thread that we might need to make their Shadow spells crit at 200% in order for the Shadowform change to actually be a buff. But we are fully committed to having the dots crit. The game just works better that way.

Good old ghostcrawler, he knows just what to say to lift our spirits. Although, actually, now that I think about it, he's a little vague, and doesn't actually promise anything, and... oh well, it gives me hope :)

This means war

I was deadly serious yesterday. It's time to take the mind flay fight to Blizzard.

We're going to need a name for our campaign, and a mission statement (I've always wanted one of them), a logo, and maybe some badges and shit. And at some point, we'll have to get with the actual campaigning. I feel like Bob Geldoff.

On with the show. Erm, what first? The name. We need a name. Mothers for Mind Flay? Priests Against Short Spells? (PASS?) Urgh no. We need something snappy, something zingy, something a little suggestive and riske. That's it. Drum roll please.... Misery is proud to present... Stretch! The campaign for a fuller flay!

Our mission statement:

We believe shadow priests have the right to outrange environmental damage and approach positioning in raids on the same terms as other ranged classes and not have to glyph for it. That's why we want a baseline 30-yard range on mind flay. It's time to Stretch! the spell. We will work to educate the WoW community about the deficiencies of mind flay, generate ideas and debate about how it can be fixed in a fair manner, and campaign to ensure that Blizzard brings about these changes to the benefit of all shadow priests.

Next up, I'll be playing around with some logo ideas, crafting some blog links, and I may even have to venture onto the forums. That's a scary thought. The things I do for my class...

Feedback? Ideas? It's time to Stretch! our minds! (You see what I did there?)

25 February 2009

The great glyph famine: a call to arms

That rumbling noise you hear is my indignation rising to boiling point. Look away now if you hate to see a grown man collapse in a raging, impotent tantrum.

So with warnings duly noted, let's cut to the nub. I'm back on glyphs again.

Did you see the list of glyphs that came with the patch notes? Huge list of new and changing glyphs for most classes. We've got a shorter cooldown for fear ward, a shorter cooldown for fade, a two-second increase to psychic scream and a 50% increase to mind control.

Enough with the cheering already, these are not good. These are silly, insulting, novelty glyphs. If glyphs were hats, these would be the ones with fake boobs on the peak or piled high with plastic fruit. These are the glyphs you would wake up wearing after your stag do. They are the Norbit of glyphs.

The notes also list a glyph of dispersion, but the effect is described as removing snares — which the spell itself was given in the very same patch notes. So this only goes to show how little faith you should taken in early test builds. But what the hell, it fills a paragraph.

The only interesting glyph to die-hard raiding shadow priests is this:

Glyph of mind sear — increases the radius of effect on mind sear by 5 yards.
Finally, a glyph we can take seriously. But not for long mind you, because of the ridiculous mind flay issue. With the need to glyph for extra range, we are effectively gimped to two slots, and the mind sear glyph just isn't good enough to nab one.

Now I have no doubt it is possible to get through raids without the glyph of mind flay. But the only real alternative to date has been the glyph of shadow word: death, which provides a very small dps boost in return for a great deal of inconvenience. There are many things in Naxx you need to out-range and many things to target at a distance, and having the key spells in your rotation require different positioning is at best a headache for you, and at worst a headache for your healers. If you can live without it I applaud you, but that would be missing the point.

Mind flay should be 30 yards baseline. It should not require a glyph. That Blizzard chooses to avoid this problem by throwing a glyph at it is insulting and frustrating.

So this is my Captain Picard moment. The line must be drawn here! I will battle and rail and grumble and spit and make a general nuisance of myself until Blizzard finally recognises the insanity of this situation and gives us a standard range.

Even if that means removing the snare because, let's face it, this is not why we use mind flay. What if, with a baseline 30 yard range, the glyph of mind flay reduced the target's movement speed but also reduced the spell's range? There, you see! A little creative thinking and I've already fixed the damn glyph!

Wake up! Deal with this now please before my blood pressure requires medication.

And while you're at it, please stop with the joke glyphs and give us something decent for that third slot. Where is our glyph of mind blast? Where is our glyph of shadow word: pain (I mean the real glyph, you know, one that actually affects the spell...)? What about vampiric touch, devouring plague, even vampiric embrace?

I want choices and I want variety and I want them in 3.1. So consider the gauntlet duly dropped. And I beg and plead of all my readers to champion this noble cause in your own indomitable ways. Go forth and harangue till we get what we want. (Isn't that how it works?) Then I can stop qqing and start writing interesting posts about all our wonderful glyph options. And I won't have to worry about my blood pressure any more.

24 February 2009

Devouring plague: now with added bite

Last night brought our first glimpse of the 3.1 patch notes via the downloaded patch files. Thanks to the ever-awesome mmo champion as usual.

This is the patch, remember, that promises to improve shadow performance in pvp, and there are a couple of things in here that might help (a buff to dispersion, for example) but probably won't transform shadow's fortunes. There are some interesting changes for raiding priests too, which we'll go over below. As usual, this is only a test build — we will see more changes over the coming weeks, and much of this is likely to evolve during the test phase.

So in brief:
  • Shadowfiend will scale with its master's spell damage and stamina, and will return more mana
  • Blackout has been removed (sad face); darkness has been moved to fill the tier one space
  • Dispersion now clears snares and movement-impairing effects, and makes you immune to them for its duration
  • Shadowform no longer boosts periodic damage by your crit percentage; instead, dots can crit (no, really)
  • Silence increased to 30 yards
  • Vampiric embrace duration increased (in pve) to five minutes, cooldown removed
  • New talent: improved devouring plague; increased period damage by 15% at max rank and deals 15% of total period damage instantly

Guess which bit everybody is zomging about? Yep, dots can crit. But don't get too excited just yet, this may yet sting us. At best, assuming crits will benefit from shadow power, this will result simply in dots doing, on paper, precisely the same damage they do now with the percentage boost (but in real life, being subject to the tribulations of the RNG). The benefit comes not in the damage of the dots themselves but in potential synergies with things that proc off crits. But anything that procs off dot crits would become a near-perma buff even with a modest crit rating, so you can assume a few things, such as improved spirit tap, won't count. And if dots are not covered by shadow power, it will actually mean a nerf. So, over all, while this is a very flashy change, I'm not sure it will mean much for our raid performance beyond, perhaps, keeping glyph of shadow active for longer. Wait and see, I guess.

The improved devouring plague talent interests me much more. It shamelessly nicks a mechanic from the shaman spell book (thank you flameshock and riptide) to give us an instant, direct damage component to a spell that already ticks for a decent amount. By my clumsy calculations, it's going to hit for about the same as a shadow word: death. The question is, where are we going to find an extra three points?

Alex Ziebart, in his Wow Insider column, suggests we'll be waving sayonara to meditation, and that's one possibility. But I don't know that my mana regen could hold up to it. Maybe fully raid buffed in Naxx, but what about 10-man Ulduar? I fear that some of the optional talents in shadow, like improved vampiric embrace, may be better candidates.

Which is a shame, because with the remove of ve's cooldown, suddenly shadow looks invulnerable for aoe grinding. Slap it on three or four mobs while they charge at you and mind sear with a shit-eating grin on your face.

Anything excite you about the patch notes?

20 February 2009

The gloves of shame

In a glorious reversal of fortune from my usual raids, last night saw me come top in dps and bottom in deaths. Hooraah for me, and nothing but love and best wishes to the elemental shaman and warlock who undoubtedly account for the visible improvement in my performance. Who was it said you didn't need to stack raids anymore? Bunkum.

We cleared construct and arachnid before calling it a night. Thaddius — I made the jump first time, by the way, another first! — spat out the leg tokens for yours truly, and I skipped off merrily to the vendor with a song in my heart.

And there I was reminded rudely of my earlier stupidity in picking the healing gloves. I'd quite blocked that memory out, but now it's unavoidable. The evidence is right there on my character sheet, where the yummy 10% discount on mind blast remains stubbornly greyed out.

I have resolved to plead my case to a GM, just as soon as I can get hold of one. I waited three hours last night with an open ticket, and got nowhere. Are they that slow on your server too? Wish me luck.

18 February 2009

Death to haste

It's everywhere, it's like the god-damn wandering plague, you determine the existence of haste on an item simply by inspecting it, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, it will still be hasted, physicists now believe the mysterious dark matter that exists in space is actually haste.

It doesn't affect spell cooldowns and it doesn't affect dot durations. And of course our spell casting decisions are entirely determined by... spell cooldowns and dot durations.

It's fat, and pushy, and shoves crit off just about everything it touches. Crit boosts my dot power, crit boosts my spell power, crit gives me mana, crit is my friend. Haste sits on crit until it cries and runs away and hides. I miss crit.

Haste makes my head hurt. It does weird things to my spell rotation that I can't work out, and it all goes out of the window anyway when I get an upgrade or group up with a retadin or the shammy pops bloodlust and it totally screws up my spec because I need an extra point in improved mind blast that I just don't have.

Haste is what designers put on items when they are:
a) hungover
b) late leaving the office and want to get away
c) mages/hunters

I. Hate. Haste.

16 February 2009

The dead zone

I got my mage to 60 over the weekend and bid a joyous farewell to Azeroth.

Those last ten levels were truly awful. I think it was a combination of the tedium of zone-hopping — Felwood to Ungoro to Plaguelands to Winterspring to Silithus — and the utter dearth of gear.

I forgot how pointless quest rewards were back in classic. I don't think I equipped anything after Hinterlands. No crafted armor is worth wearing and the auction house is virtually empty of decent gear until 55 or so, when BC drops start appearing for outrageously inflated prices. You can find the odd bit of spellpower gear but generally at the cost of stamina and intellect. I suppose you could run instances to pick up some reasonable blues, but who does anymore? I went through the Dark Portal still wearing some 40-something armor and jewellery, and don't get me started on weapons. Basically, 50-60 was vile.

Which got me thinking. If you are melee, or a hunter, your primary stats contribute directly to your combat stats — strength and agility boost attack power and crit at the same time, in various combinations, depending on your class. So even in crappy boe greens, which is what we're talking about here, your damage is respectable. But, short of a very poor conversion of intellect to crit, casters depend entirely on combat stats for damage, stats that are very hard to come by before Outland.

Presumably it all balances out somehow. But it did make we wonder if melee classes have an easier time traversing this dead zone of gear than casters, and why casters don't get more of a baseline benefit from primary stats.

And if you're wondering why I waited till 60 to move to Outland, that's because it took me all of two levels to hit 300 mining. Thorium, how I hate thee.

10 February 2009

The tragedy of replenishment

Not so long ago, before the 3.1 mana regen bombshell dropped, ghostcrawler stuck his neck out and had this to say about replenishment:

We consider replenishment mandatory. What I mean by that is we assume that you have replenishment available to your raid.
And later:

...we don't want it to feel optional...
And finally:

...we assume you have replenishment just like we assume you have a tank.
Right now, replenishment is available via talents to shadow priests, retribution paladins and survival hunters. If you ask me, that makes it far too specialised for you to be able to rely on having it, at least in 10 man raids. Blizzard, it would seem, agrees, because in 3.1 replenishment will become available additionally to frost mages and destruction warlocks. It may not have passed you by that these are rather underwhelming talent trees right now, so we can assume this gift is intended to boost their appeal to raiders.

Blizzard is going to extraordinary lengths to ensure an abundance of replenishment because, by their own design, the buff is mandatory. After having gone to extraordinary lengths not-so-long ago to design a raid buff system that ensured no buffs were... mandatory.

They are designing encounters around the assumption that every mana-using class will have a near-constant mana regeneration effect on them — at exactly the same time they are changing how mana regeneration works because some classes and specs had simply no reason to manage mana at all.

At best, this is a lazy, over-simplified bandage on a far-more variable problem. Every mana-using class already has personal mana-management tools available to it. They work in different ways and are designed to fit with the lore and stylistic design of the individual classes. This is a system I can understand and support, because it ensures each class has control over their own resources and are able to manage them accordingly. If you start designing around external (raid-wide) factors you are essentially saying this is not enough. But of course we know, from the problem with healer mana, that it often is enough. So this is very clearly not a one-size-fits all issue, despite what Blizzard would have us believe.

In fact, with replenishment, Blizzard seems destined to repeat old mistakes. Shadow priest stacking in BC drove designers to pressure healers in ways other than longevity, because it was simply impossible to engineer them to run out of mana. They consequently changed vampiric touch to prevent that situation from continuing.

But with replenishment we see the same problem — sure, it's on a much smaller scale, and yes, it's spread across several classes instead of just one, but the design flaw is essentially identical: mana regeneration has become a non-issue to healers (again) because of the power and availability of group regeneration buffs (again).

They did the right think in tackling vampiric touch, even if I don't like the end result. But this time, they've missed the mark — the problem is not with healer regeneration, it is with the range and power of the raid-wide buffs they receive that boost their regeneration to such trivial levels. Why hurt base regeneration when external buffs remain so powerful? Why make sweeping changes to mana regeneration which you have to work around for other classes, when each class and talent tree needs to be considered individually?

Admittedly, this is not just a replenishment issue. Blessing of wisdom and mana spring are both powerful raid buffs in their own right. But these provide fixed mana returns, so do not scale so powerfully, nor, as far as we know, are they considered mandatory.

If Blizzard is serious about making raids accessible to all specs and all classes, and removing the need to stack certain combinations, they need to look again at replenishment, which is the true cause of this issue, not get distracted by the symptoms.

9 February 2009

My state-of-the-priest address: shadow

Holy? Check. Discipline? Check. Here it is, the third and final part of my not-so-eagerly anticipated series about the state of the priest class. I've clearly saved the best till last.

We've come a long way when you think about it. Shadow was a niche spec in Burning Crusade. There were plenty of us, for sure, but we were only there to keep the healers in mana. We were the sidekicks of raiding.

Now, it would seem, we have everything we asked for — competitive dps, better scaling, more variety in gearing... but it comes at a price.

From where I'm standing, our dps looks to be in pretty good shape. The functional design of shadow damage is leaps and bounds from BC. Our spells interact to boost each other through talents and glyphs, mind flay can crit and our crits now do double damage — our crit rating even benefits dots — and we now have one of the most powerful aoe spells in the game.

On single target boss fights, allowing for my crappy gear, I am doing reasonable damage; on trash, I'm a god. At one point yesterday in heroic naxx my recount read 6k dps.

That's not to say I don't find it lacking at all. A weakness of the class (which is amplified quite horrendously sometimes by my own poor reactions) is the speed at which we can switch gears. Shadow priests are the oil tankers of wow — slow to get moving and slow to turn but truck on quite nicely in one direction thankyouverymuch. We have no cooldowns to blow when the boss enrages, no talents or spells that do more damage at low hp (shadow word: death glyph doesn't count), no mana burn mode. We have but one speed.

This helps to illustrate what we traded away for our competitive damage — flavour, spice, personality. Vampiric touch is now our highest damage dot, but it's name is meaningless, a pathetic reminder of the former spell. Vampiric embrace is like a once-fierce guard dog, now castrated and lame. Replenishment is an abomination to shadow priests, a clumsy, common effect now wielded by paladins and... hunters? We are deeply shamed. (No offence guys!)

Shadow has lost some of what made it unique and fascinating to play. It's like watching Angel in his very best broody remorseful phases, especially post-Sunnydale when he'd put on a bit of weight and you just knew that even though he still had it, he was never as good as bad Angel, and never as much fun.

This isn't going to change. The driving forces behind today's class developments are functional and mechanical. The devs are so busy balancing numbers to keep players happy (a thankless, impossible task imo) I see very little time for ensuring classes feel rich and distinct. Roleplaying is all in your head, after all, so I hope you have a good imagination.

What we know is the devs are working on shadow pvp, which is where our fortunes have declined the most. Specifically, they had better do something with psychic horror before priests descend upon Blizz HQ with pitchforks and lanterns. And I have a hunch we may see some changes to the nature or position of improved psychic scream and silence. Just a hunch. I hesitate to suggest dispersion might get a facelift, as needed as it is. (Does anyone here use it as any more than a mana pot?) But it's always a possibility, especially if shadow priests are struggling as much as they claim in pvp, even with Blizzard's holy grail in their spell books. When the smoke has cleared, if we are lucky, raiding priests may find some peripheral buffs from the pvp changes.

There's one other dark cloud on the horizon for shadow priests, and that's dual spec. We've heard a lot of speculation about this functionality in the past, and now it's in the patch notes for 3.1. Shadow priests already bring very little that is unique to a raid and would be the first choice to plug healing gaps if all it took was the click of a button. You might be happy to step in, you might even enjoy the change of pace. But if the wind changes, as the saying goes, you may find yourself stuck like that. I for one have already got the shivers.

All in all? I like the way shadow damage is shaping up, even though I miss the distinct feel the class had once upon a time. But give me some shiny new spells and cooldowns to play with and I'm sure I could get over that. I wish the best for those of you who pvp but... honestly?... I'm just not sure how possible it is to shoehorn two distinct builds into one talent tree without making both heroically overpowered. I think your problems are not over yet.

5 February 2009

My state-of-the-priest address: discipline

As much as I am excited by the glimpse of priestly changes on their way, I can't help feeling a little miffed that Blizzard had to splash in the middle of my blogging opus. But I shall type through the tears of my frustration and hope everything I write this time isn't swallowed in a mere nanosecond by a fanfare of dev announcements. Give me at least another day to finish this please.

So you may have seen part 1, the holy rundown. We had a glimpse in the latest patch notes, I think, of where Blizzard wants holy priests. Stronger aoe healing and a more interactive play style, so I wasn't far off. And they promise more to come.

For now, let's turn to part 2, discipline, and hope it's more in the tradition of Godfather sequals than Karate Kid.

Strength and discipline

Of all a priest's talent trees, discipline evolved most visibly during Wrath development, building on its traditional pvp and utility role and maturing into an equally viable raid heal tree. I'm really pleased I was forced into healing for a while, because I got to experience it first hand. And it is a fun, interactive way to heal, particularly on single targets. If I found aoe damage hard to manage, I put that down as much to my inexperience and mediocre abilities as to the tree's shortcomings; circle of healing was (and still is) a great spell, but it does not make the difference between life and death with a good player at the helm.

Discipline is enjoying something of a renaissance in pve healing. There definitely seem to be more of them around. I daresay some were veteran holy priests who fancied a change, but some undoubtedly are secret face melters sucked into healing by a guild shortage. As long as it works, right?

So where does discipline struggle? Well, from what I can see, there are concerns that discipline simply won't scale well at higher levels of progression. It's true that discipline talents do not benefit as much from spell power as holy, which could leave direct heals as well as divine aegis shields decidedly underwhelming. And discipline priests currently don't stack very well — to the point where you'd probably only want to take one into a raid. While you can probably heal anything with any combination of healers, it's not always optimal. We need as few reasons to pressure priests into unwanted respecs as possible, so even a partial solution to this issue would be welcome. We know the devs are aware of both of these concerns so we can only hope they come up with some ideas for 3.1.

There are problems too with measuring the effectiveness of discipline priests. Not so long ago blogs were burning up with discourse on the relative merits of healing metres. Whatever your view of them, they simply can't measure damage absorption. Something to do with WoW's combat log? Pass. But I'd like to see it fixed, if only to put discipline priests on an even footing whenever they find themselves on the cold end of a Recount report. Is this an "exciting" change? Probably not. We're probably not likely to see it anytime soon either. But I do think it's important enough to mention.

The recent notes didn't covered these concerns, but it was certainly a very happy day for discipline. A group shield, self-penance (a personal bugbear of mind while healing) and buffs to baseline aoe heals all bode very well for a long and prosperous raiding future for discipline. If power word: barrier proves as useful as it looks, I might even try it out myself on that awful Violet Hold fight. Revenge is a dish best served cold, apparently. Damn blue blob won't get the best of me.

Next up: the state of shadow, or why spamming mind sear really isn't the answer (no matter what Recount says).

Breaking: priest highlights for 3.1

Typical. I'm only one tree into my state-of-the-class musing and Blizz gets the jump on me with 3.1. Like everything in life, I thought I had more time. Oh well, I'm still going to post the rest of that series. But in the meantime, here's the breaking news on priests for 3.1. More love for discipline, and finally a baseline spirit buff. In my head I am dancing.

  • Divine Spirit – this spell is now a core ability available to all priests.
  • Discipline has access to a new talent, Power Word: Barrier. (Think of it as Power Word: Shield for your whole group).
  • Several area of effect (AOE) heal spells have been improved: Prayer of Healing can be cast on any groups in your raid party. Holy Nova’s mana cost has been reduced. Circle of Healing now heals for more.
  • Shadow priest PvP survivability has been improved: Shadow Form now reduces magic as well as physical damage. Dispersion now removes snares.
  • Penance – this spell can now be targeted on the priest.
  • Serendipity – this talent now reduces the cast time of Greater Heal and Prayer of Healing when Binding Heal or Flash Heal are cast.
  • We are also working to give Holy additional PvP utility.

Courtest of MMO Champion. What would I do without them?

4 February 2009

My state-of-the-priest address: holy

The paint isn't even dry on patch 3.0.8 and already we're looking at "exciting changes" for priests in the pipeline. (You saw that comment right?) And from the look of recent blue posts, we can expect news on 3.1 class changes any day now.

What exactly it is that constitutes "exciting" largely depends on your hopes and dreams for the class, but I'm going to be bold and say I don't care about the little things. What I want is vision. I want innovation.

We all have a view about what works and what doesn't. There are annoying talents and spells that nobody uses and bugs that won't go away and we rail impotently against them on a daily basis. We'll always have these in one form or another. Some will be fixed, some will be removed, others will spring up in their place.

Sometimes they drive me mad, but today I am feeling philosophical. Today, I am going to blithely skip over every frustrating foible I have ever encountered and talk about where our class is going.

And because there is a lot to say on the subject, even by my own verbose standards, I'm going to split it into three posts, starting with a potted look at holy.

This is all pure, uneducated speculation of course. I really have no more idea what the class needs than anyone else who plays it (arguably less!) But I'm going to go out on a limb because, well, it fills a post. And because I'm excited and want to write about it. Indulge me :)

If you play a priest, please let me know what you think. And if you don't, what do you think of holy priests? Does my view match yours? What are your hopes and predictions for patch 3.1? And if I can keep up a stream of questions for this long, do you think I have a future in talk radio?

Holy moly!

Holy priests are going through a bit of an identity crisis. The game's most versatile healer can perform any healing assignment thrown at it, but when you line priests up against the other classes, it's likely not to be first choice for any.

Or at least, that's the perception of some, who have taken this insecurity, together with the circle of healing nerf, as pronouncement that holy is no less than dead.

I can't tell the extent of these strong feelings. Holy priests seem as profuse on my server as ever — and as capable. But the class didn't get an awful lot of attention during Wrath development, and while some people saw that as a token of the priest's strength, others felt overlooked. With lots of shiny new toys in discipline, no doubt some holy priests have turned their backs on holy — perhaps for good.

The lack of a natural role for holy priests is a difficult issue to tackle. If you strengthen priests for one particular assignment, you would have to balance it in other areas, and nobody wants that. Not to mention that any rise in priest fortunes would undoubtedly be met with a corresponding decline for another class.

What we need, I think, is to boost the confidence of holy priests, and maybe give them a little more sparkle and polish to boot. Cue devs.

We know the devs are looking at a couple of things. They have talked about the concept of spell rotations for healers — not the dps-paradigm of 'press 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3' but a system which encourages you to line up spell sequences for added benefit. This already happens with discipline — power word: shield-penance-greater heal provides a massive burst of healing thanks to talents that deliver added haste and crit potential. Shaman too have a range of talents which boost the value of one spell when another is active on the target. We could see more of this for holy.

We also know that prayers are heading for a bit of a makeover. The only one that currently sees a great deal of use is prayer of mending. I hope to see more prayers, and changes to existing ones. One possible outcome for holy priests could be a range of prayers with greater utility that work themselves more easily into bread 'n' butter healing. (I'd also like to see a 'dark' prayer for shadow priests, who sometimes feel a little excommunicated despite their own strong, albeit alternative, faith.)

So broader group utility could help secure a priest's spot in a raid without the need to re-balance healing potential, while a better designed healing strategy could help priests feel like their class is distinct and valued.

Might it even be enough to tempt the AWOL Dralban back to WoW? We live in hope. Come back to us Dral!

More amateur divinations and ill-informed sweeping generalisations coming soon! Hooraah!