31 March 2009

Merlot stands up, waves, sits down again

In the immortal words of Halle Berry, this moment is so much bigger than me...

Thanks to that super generous soul feardotwin, I've been tagged with this award meme thing — which, after a little googling, I realised wasn't a new and terrifying computer virus at all but a postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. So that clears that up.

Seriously, how does one get from an evolutionary theory by Richard Dawkins to all your base are belong to us?

Hack through the postulated phenomena and you discover some much deserved applause for my long and industrious attempts to convince the WoW community I know what I'm talking about. Thank you fear, it's a badge I shall wear with pride.

There's a catch. I've got to do a bunch of stuff.* I never was much of a joiner. You know that guy that sits with a face like a smacked arse and rolls his eyes whenever a Mexican wave comes round? That's me (that time at the Cher concert was a one-off). And I'm apparently the last blog in the known universe to be tagged (much like with football at school). But I'm gonna list seven of my favourite reads anyway, on the principle that if Tom Hanks could win a second shameless Oscar, these guys certainly can. Go go, take a bow!

I'm also supposed to list ten honest things about myself. Ten! Seriously, I'm not even that honest with myself. I shall admit only to a Cher fetish, a champagne chin and an absolute mania for the books of GW Dahlquist. Truly, they are amazing.

  • When accepting this auspicious award, you must write a post bragging about it, including the name of the misguided soul who thinks you deserve such acclaim, and link back to the said person so everyone knows she/he is real.
  • Choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have seven friends. Show the seven random victims’ names and links and leave a harassing comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog. Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon.
  • List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. Then pass it on!

26 March 2009

Improved shadow word: pain tosh

I know I grumbled about this talent in my last post, but on second thoughts I think it deserves a whiny post all of its own.

For two talent points you get to boost the spell's damage by a whopping six per cent.

Shadow word: pain accounts for about 15 per cent of my damage on bosses, which puts the value of each 'improving' talent point at less than half a percentage point increase to overall dps. I remember reading one WoW Insider columnist say he considered one per cent per point to be a benchmark for worthwhile talents. It ticks nearly 1k less than vampiric touch, and with the introduction of improved devouring plague it will even be doing less damage than that.

Could this be the worst "improved" talent of all time?

I'm seriously thinking of taking my points out of this. Someone talk me out of it.

25 March 2009

Fighting the flab

Today I am grumpy. While on holiday last week I put on several boozy pounds around the midriff, morphing my once-cute love handles into distinctly muffin-toppy lumps. Who knew martinis would do that?

It's a case of life imitating art if patch 3.1 is anything to go by, in which shadow is undergoing the same tragic bloat.

In real terms, the test realm tree has actually shrunk by two points, but it has swapped a five-point talent (blackout) that nobody should raid with, for a three point talent (improved devouring plague) that everybody should take. If this makes it to live, it will mean a net gain of three talent points that we just don't have.

Now I'm not going to make too much of this, a shadow raiding build isn't a tricky thing, and we already drop points into talents that, in the general scheme of things, could be considered optional. All this means is we will be able to pick up fewer of these optional talents than before. My dilemma is which ones should we drop?

I'm starting from the assumption that this core build includes all the key talents for raiding — which only leaves three points to play with between the remaining options:

Shadow affinity (3 points) — some of you have already argued on this blog that you don't need the increased threat reduction from this talent. I personally would be very nervous to run without it, particularly on aoe trash. But that's your three spare points gone already.

Veiled shadows (2 points) — the lower cooldown on shadowfiend will give you at least two shots per boss but they're wasted points if you don't use it. I don't know how long the fights will be in Ulduar, but I'm loathe to take this talent unless I absolutely have to.

Improved vampiric embrace (2 points) — alas, vampiric embrace, I knew you so well. Changes to this spell in the Wrath expansion very nearly killed it; this extra squeeze on talent points is the final nail. In fights with regular, raid-wide damage, it's actually quite useful, but it will be very hard for anyone to justify these points now and without the improvement vampiric embrace is virtually worthless. Might as well take it off your hot bar.

Improved shadow form (2 points) — another one of those talents that you don't need until... erm... you need it. You don't often need pushback protection in current raids, but we know raid damage is only going to get worse. Possibly another one of those talents you should only take if you absolutely have to.

Admittedly, some of the talents I've classified as 'mandatory' in the core build could themselves be targets for shaving.

Talents that provide mana efficiency, such as meditation and focused mind, are worthless if you have the mana to last the fight without them. But would we? As raid fights get harder, and mana regeneration is squeezed, I'm not sure we would.

Is inner focus really worth the point? If you make the most of it, it's still only a few mp5. Would the mana return from veiled shadows be a better investment? Someone who can do maths tell me!

I'm also rather unimpressed by improved shadow word: pain — the spell has lost a lot of lustre in Wrath, and with the new devouring plague talent, three per cent per talent point is looking more and more like a very poor investment. In my last Naxx run, these two talent points combined accounted for less than one per cent of my overall damage. Can anyone say that's a bargain? I'm seriously considering dropping this talent in protest until Blizz does something to improve it. But I did say earlier that I'm feeling rather grumpy today, and may change my mind when I feel better.

What are the optional talents for you, and where will you be spending your points?

23 March 2009

Simple Maexxna for the simple minded

I know most of you will roll your eyes and sigh, but I've just discovered how I can make Maexxna much, much easier. Those little spider adds drive me mad running in every direction, like extras in a disaster film, but if I watch the timers carefully I can start casting mind sear just before they burst out and run straight into my blamonge of death. It's very satisfying when it works.

It has taken me a long, long time to realise this. I am not proud, I am a slow learner, but I offer this humble discovery to any similarly dim-witted shadow priests who may stumble across these simple words.

What I need is an addon that screams "cast this spell now" in big pink flashing letters - preferably with a three-second delay to give me time to stare blindly at my keyboard and blow a global cooldown on the wrong spell. (Four seconds if I need to change targets or move at the same time.)

Until some enterprising individual comes up with one, are there any other easy fixes I should know about?

12 March 2009

Two buffs good, one buff better!

Mana spring totem and blessing of wisdom will not stack in the next patch if changes announced by eyonix yesterday make it to live. Thanks to the Suicidal Zebra for sharing this gloomy news.

The amount of mana the two buffs provide will be standardised, and mana spring will be extended to affect the entire raid.

In situations where you have at least one player of each class (which, at least in my experience, is usual), I suspect the job of mana bot will go to the shaman, freeing up paladins to bless kings and might. The other water totems don't compare favourably, except in the odd case where frequent cleansing is needed.

But if you have a glut of either class it's really not going to matter how you handle it, so much redundancy do we now have in the system. You could probably drop totems and blessings at random and still end up with all bases covered.

Blizzard, you'll remember, is trying to challenge healers on their current near-inexhaustible supply of mana, but predictably this is going to hurt the mana-using dps more. These are the classes who already have limited in-combat mana regen, who can't afford to gear for spirit or mp5, and who rely more than healers on external buffs.

Once again, they are failing to tackle individual classes and builds on their own unique terms, choosing instead to swipe at the whole lot of us with near-communist equality. Meanwhile, this is a further prod — if ever one was needed — at those stubborn dps who refuse to spec into replenishment for the good of the raid, the selfish bastards. We are all in the shadow of Blizzard's egalitarian vision now, like some great looming statue of Lenin. It'll all end in tears, mark my words.

11 March 2009

Just call me Merlot

There was a time when I thought having only one name, like Cher, was terribly chic.

That was before I started playing WoW and was rather disappointed to learn that everybody had only one name (Cher wasn't available, either). Chic no longer.

But then titles came along and an elite few got to stick some extra words above their head. Oo look, he's a hand of someone (that's like a tool, apparently), and she's some kind of soldier.

I was singularly unexceptional in my failure to garner any of these accolades, but at least I wasn't alone.

Now though, thanks to achievements, there's a title for just about everything. You can't swing a mechanical toad without hitting half a dozen longwinded nameplates (Toadswinger sadly not yet among them).

And I still don't have one.

God forbid I should cave in and grab Jenkins, or one of the other common ones. That's now the fantasy equivalent of Smith. No, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it properly. How do you like the sound of Loremaster Merlot?

I've already got Northrend loremaster for the deathchill cloak (that I never crafted, what a con that was). And there are a few holes in Outland that I'll have to plug up. Apparently I didn't spend long in Blades Edge Mountains.

So that just leaves Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. How hard can that be?

Wait... how many quests? Surely that number is wrong? Did I do any quests before 60?

Loremaster is going to take a bit longer than I originally envisaged. In the meantime, you may call me Merlot. Just the one name, like Cher.

7 March 2009

Bigger crits confirmed

Bonus damage on dot crits was set in yesterday's test build at 100%, while dots were given extra chance to crit via talents:

Shadowform now gives the the periodic damage from your Shadow Word: Pain, Devouring Plague, and Vampiric Touch spells the ability to critically hit for 100% increased damage.
Mind Melt now also increases the periodic critical strike chance of your Vampiric Touch, Devouring Plague and Shadow Word: Pain spells by 3/6%.
It's good news for all of us who were concerned that the change to dot mechanics might have been a nerf, intended or otherwise, and it's a nice boost to mind meld, a talent that has always felt a bit underwhelming to me.

But — and you can think what you like of me for this — it now feels to me like Blizzard are tying themselves up in knots trying to work this out. Why add the 100% bonus compenent to shadow form? Why not just bundle it into shadow power? And what on earth is the reason for giving dots extra chance to crit from mind meld? Set it at 4% or 6% and be done with it please.

Honestly? I preferred the old mechanic. Far more elegant a solution. But I'll get used to it :)

6 March 2009

A quick post on glyph choices

Listed below are what I think are the relevant glyphs for each of the three caster hybrids — shadow priests, balance druids and elemental shaman. I've excluded mages and locks to avoid unfair comparisons — they naturally have a broader base of dps glyphs to start with. And I've picked only those glyphs that I believe belong to the relevant trees for brevity — i.e. excluding all the healing and melee glyphs. I may inadvertently have missed one out or let an odd one slip through, please forgive me.

The point of this exercise is to compare how well served each spec is by their glyph selection in raiding. It is a mixed bag for sure, with some rather bum and dubious glyphs all round, but my impression is that, on balance, shaman and druids come out on top. If, after seeing this, you think shadow priests have a fair choice, please do tell me why.

To my eyes, what is already a rather poor deal for shadow priests becomes even worse when you remove the glyph of mind flay. (Yes, I'm still banging that drum.)

My argument, of course, is that you should not need a glyph to secure an acceptable range for your primary raiding nuke. But while we have one, it very neatly serves to mask this veritable drought of acceptable glyphs. If you are starving and someone gives you a mouldy piece of bread, you may be grateful. That doesn't make it a good meal.

Perceptive readers will note how glyph of flame shock increases damage, not range. That's because, as soon as this baseline 20-yard range spell became important to elemental dps, developers found room for a talent to increase its range. Funny that.

The glyph selection for raiding shadow priests is in dire need of systematic review. We know some changes are coming with the next patch, but what has been announced so far is not enough.

Glpyhs are not the only area of concern to shadow priests, but getting them right is one essential part of ensuring shadow priests remain competitive in higher content. Please make it so, Blizzard.

Shadow priests
Glyph of Fade — Increases the duration and cooldown of your Fade spell by 50%.
Glyph of Psychic Scream — Increases the duration of your Psychic Scream by 1 sec.
Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain — Increases the damage done by your Mind Flay spell by 10% when your target is afflicted with Shadow Word: Pain.
Glyph of Mind Flay — Increases the range of your Mind Flay spell by 10 yards, but it only reduces the target's movement speed by 10%.
Glyph of Mind Control — Increases the duration of your Mind Control spell by 12 sec.
Glyph of Shadow — While in Shadowform, your spell critical strikes increase your spell power by 10% of your Spirit for 10 sec.
Glyph of Shadow Word: Death — Targets below 35% health take an additional 5% damage from your Shadow Word: Death spell.

Balance druids
Glyph of Entangling Roots — Increases the damage your Entangling Roots victims can take before the Entangling Roots automatically breaks by 20%
Glyph of Focus — Increases the damage done by Starfall by 20%, but decreases its radius by 50%.
Glyph of Hurricane — Your Hurricane ability now also slows the movement speed of its victims by 20%
Glyph of Insect Swarm — Increases the damage of your Insect Swarm ability by 30% but it no longer affects your victim's chance to hit
Glyph of Moonfire — Increases the periodic damage of your Moonfire ability by 75% but initial damage is decreased by 90%
Glyph of Starfall — Increases the duration of Starfall by 2 seconds
Glyph of Starfire — Your Starfire ability increases the duration of your Moonfire effect on the target by 3 seconds, up to a maximum of 9 additional seconds
Glyph of Wrath — Increases the chance you'll resist spell interruption when casting your Wrath spell by 50%

Elemental shaman
Glyph of Shocking — Reduces the global cooldown triggered by your Shock spells by 0.5 sec.
Glyph of Fire Nova Totem — Reduces the cooldown of your Fire Nova Totem by 3 seconds.
Glyph of Flame Shock — Increases the duration of your Flame Shock ability by 6 sec and it is not consumed by casting Lava Burst.
Glyph of Flametongue Weapon — Increases spell critical strike chance by 2% while Flametongue Weapon is active.
Glyph of Lightning Bolt — Increases the damage dealt by Lightning Bolt by 4%.
Glyph of Frost Shock — Increases the duration of your Frost Shock by 2 sec.
Glyph of Chain Lightning — Your Chain Lightning strikes 1 additional target.
Glyph of Elemental Mastery — Reduces the cooldown of your Elemental Mastery ability by 30 sec.
Glyph of Fire Elemental Totem — Reduces the cooldown of your Fire Elemental Totem by 10 min.
Glyph of Lava — Your Lava Burst spell gains an additional 10% of your spellpower.

5 March 2009

The net widens

They block all gaming sites and forums, they block every blog with its own domain, they block proxy servers, they have now even started blocking Google's cached content (my previous 'back door' to wowwiki and the like). It's like they own me. How am I supposed to keep a blog at work now?

Just about the only thing I have left is Google itself — my email, reader, and (inexplicably) Blogger. So I can keep writing about... nothing in particular. God even knows when that axe will fall. It will be a sad day for slackers independent journalists when they start blocking email :(

Clearly I'm not going to start blogging at home. That's playing time, that is.

Anybody got any ideas? I'm considering a netbook so I can blog on my (considerable) commute, I'm just not sure whether:

a) netbooks are a con and I should spend the very reasonable extra it would take to get a full spec laptop (from what I can see, laptops start at only £100 or so more than netbooks)

b) the hefty mobile broadband contracts are worth it - I'm looking at a monthly fee of £30 for 3 Gb and have no idea how much surfing I can do on that or even if the speed is acceptable

If you have any experience to share or advice to offer, please let me know.

3 March 2009

Construct: the alternative bosses

Blob is the gelatinous guardian of the construct wing. The jelly of doom lurks beneath a grate in the second chamber where it ambushes unsuspecting solo adventurers as they skip back from a wipe or a failed Pipe attempt (see third boss).

Hit points: couple of thousand

Special moves:
  • Wobble. Stackable debuff that causes deep despair in the affected raider. Each stack increases the likelihood of tears. Persists through death.
  • Tunnel vision: aura that prevents raiders from realising they should all wait at the beginning and run back together.
Strategy: because of the effect of tunnel vision, Blob is incredibly difficult to fight. You will keep running and dying, picking up additional stacks of wobble, and may develop the urge to quit the raid. Don't give up. If you ignore him and don't react, Blob will eventually bore of you and leave you alone. This usually happens somewhere between the fourth and seventh ambush. Wobble wears off once you pass the grate safely. It's ok to cry.

Slimes are the obsessive-compulsive spawn of Blob, driven by their neuroses to move endlessly in parallel lines across your only path to Pipe. This is a deceptively simply fight. Slimes are not capable of deviating from their tormented ritual, all you have to do is avoid them.

Hit points: n/a

Special moves:
  • Lag aura. Random instant cast aura of infinite range that freezes all internet traffic long enough to lure hapless raiders to certain doom.
  • Moron: curse of complacency that reduces intelligence by 110% and causes affected targets to bounce into the path of an oncoming slime.
Strategy: for this fight you need a paladin. They should bubble and run through all three lines of slime as quickly as possible. The raid should follow only when the paladin has cleared the third line, so she can resurrect everyone at the far side.

NB: Lag aura and moron may render this strategy ineffective.

Pipe lies in wait at the top of the ramp from Grobbulus. The most fiendish of all bosses, Pipe can lay waste even to skilled groups without leaving his inanimate form. This is an environmental fight — Pipe himself, along with the platform approaching him, contains at least 17 violations of the health and safety code, including missing railings and floor markings. These won't in themselves kill you, but any one of them can send you plummeting into Blob's lair below, forcing you to repeat the first two bosses. If you can traverse this gauntlet of dangers, you will prevail.

Hit points: n/a

Special moves:
  • Liquid hazard. Places random pools of slippery liquid on the ground without one of those yellow warning signs. Causes players to slip off Pipe into Blob's lair.
  • Freeze frame: reduces frame rate of affected raiders to 1 and increases the spill rate of liquid hazards.
Strategy: there are two ways to approach this fight. If your guild includes an engineer, you can construct a rudimentary hand rail and mark our liquid hazards with flares. But for many guilds, this method is too slow. The alternative is to set your movement speed to walk, turn off all distractions — Vent chatter is especially dangerous — and creep forward, one tiny step at a time, making lots of painful adjustments to your trajectory to compensate for freeze frame. If you have a warlock, make sure they drop a wardrobe of summoning on the platform before they start, so you can summon people back to avoid a second Slimes run.

Coming soon: the Thaddius mini-boss, Jump.

2 March 2009

Phase 1

So I've set out the aims and arguments of the mind flay campaign in a separate post. Now I'd really appreciate your feedback before I throw it to the forum lions. Please check I've got my facts right, and please tell me what you think of the arguments I put forward for changing the spell — and the ideas. I particularly want to know what you think if you PVP as a shadow priest, given that any increase in range will most likely come at the cost of the snare. How would you feel if you had to glyph for the snare? Are you happy with the spell as it is? Who here (go on, be honest) thinks it's fine as it is?

About Stretch!

Stretch! is the campaign for a baseline 30-yard range on the shadow priest spell mind 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.

About mind flay
Mind flay is a spell available to priests via a tier three talent in the shadow tree. It is a three-second channelled spell that deals shadow damage each second and reduces the target's movement speed by 50%. It has a baseline range of 20 yards.

Its range can be extended by 20% through the talent shadow reach in tier four, and by 10 yards through the glyph of mind flay.

The spell accounts for approximately a third of a raiding shadow priest's damage on boss fights.

Mind flay has the shortest baseline range of all channelled spells.

Mind flay shares, with frost shock, the shortest baseline range of all single target spells with a snare component.

Mind flay is the only spell with a baseline range of 20 yards that is not instant.

The issue
Mind flay is the only offensive spell in a shadow priest's repertoire with a baseline range of 20 yards. The others — shadow word: pain, mind blast, shadow word: death, vampiric touch, devouring plague, mind sear and vampiric embrace — all share a baseline range of 30 yards.

It is a shadow priest's most efficient and effective spell, accounting for the largest single portion of a shadow priest's damage against raid bosses. Without the glyph, it creates two distinct positioning issues for shadow priests:
  1. Environmental damage — it requires that shadow priests stand closer to targets than all other ranged classes, risking greater damage from boss aoe spells and centred environmental effects, or else causes shadow priests to constantly alter range at the loss of substantial dps
  2. Range to target — with a shorter range to target than any other ranged class, shadow priests must move further and face greater obstacles in reaching targets in fights with adds or substantial movement
The only option to a shadow priest who wishes the same level playing field as other ranged classes is to glyph for an extra 10 yards on the spell at a reduced snare. The snare, as we shall see, is irrelevant to raiding shadow priests, but the glyph slot is one that could, and should, be available for a more appropriate use.

The logic of 20 yards
Why is there this discrepancy in the range of a shadow priest's spells? The answer is the spell's snare component. To compensate in PVP for the spell's 50% movement reducing effect, the range is kept artificially short. It is a PVP-balancing effect.

But in PVE, for raiding shadow priests, the snare is irrelevant. Bosses are immune to the effect and in almost every situation where a snare would be useful other classes are equally or better equipped to provide one. The range is always better.

In recognising this issue, Blizzard provided a glyph which brings the spell up to a standard range while lowering the amount the target's movement speed is reduced by to 10%.

We believe to provide shadow priests with a level playing field against other ranged dps, the spell's baseline range must be brought up to standard to enable raiding shadow priests to compete from the same distance and with the same access to three potential glyphs. The snare component is a secondary consideration which we propose should be tackled in other ways.

The solution
Stretch! recognises that mind flay cannot be allowed both a significant snare and standard range without compensating in other areas. We also recognise that, while range is vital for raiding shadow priests, not all priests choose to raid, and many are more concerned with PVP performance. We propose an open dialogue between the WoW community and WoW developers to arrive at a suitable compromise.

To kick off the conversation, we suggest the following ideas:

  1. Make mind flay 30-yards baseline with zero or small snare. Change the glyph of mind flay to add or improve the snare at the cost of range. This effectively turns the current spell and glyph on their head, positioning the spell much more in line with PVE requirements while enabling PVP shadow priests to glyph for a snare if they so wish.
  2. Make mind flay 30-yards baseline with zero or small snare. Provide PVP functionality in other ways. While it's not the aim of this campaign to propose sweeping PVP changes, we know Blizzard is in the process of doing exactly that, and we feel this is an excellent opportunity to consider mind flay in that context.
  3. Make mind flay a baseline spell with zero or small snare and a 30-yard range. Provide an improved talent to give the spell added PVP functionality for shadow priests. This talent may or may not add a snare component, but the effect could be balanced within the framework of talent budgets. While some priests might feel that mind flay is a distinctly shadow spell and would regret its availability to holy and discipline priests, its inclusion in a priest's spell book would probably not prove game-breaking (mind sear is baseline too after all).
How to get involved
  • Write to Blizzard
  • Add your voice to forums
  • Blog about it. You can link to this post or write your own.
  • Tell your friends and guild mates
Please show your support for Stretch! with a comment below. If you spot any mistakes in this post, please let me know and I will endeavour to correct them as soon as possible. If you have any questions or would like more information, again, please feel free leave a comment or drop me a line in person.