31 December 2009

Dear paladin tanks

Please use divine plea. Miraculously, you will never run out of mana, never have to skip consecration from your rotation, and never find yourself on the end of a Very Angry Discipline Priest.

If you don't use divine plea I can't shield you, probably won't get any mana back from shielding others, and will likely force you to stand around tediously inbetween pulls while I drink.

You should know I now consider this a litmus test for good paladin tanking. A paladin who uses divine plea is generally always in mana, rarely struggles on threat, and is the most awe inspiring force in wow. The ones who don't usually run out of range while I'm drinking and wipe the group. Call it a co-incidence if you will, I choose to see a pattern.

I'm sorry this is your burden alone. We can shield warriors, death knights and druids without a thought. It's not fair, but it's true.

Thank you very much for your co-operation.

30 December 2009

Merlot's new year resolutions

I thought it would be fun to make some new year resolutions, but the fun evaporated when I saw the list. Honestly, this game is a full-time job.

  1. Find a new guild. With my shitty gear, it'll have to be one that's either still farming ToC or willing to give me time to catch up. I only want to raid two or three times a week, I want to know in advance when those raids happen, and I don't want to be guilt-tripped into raiding every time I log in. I'll bring my healer with me (same gear conditions apply) but if I end up healing more than dps I'll throw a tantrum and start hiding on non-guild alts. If you're in a horde-side darkspear guild with an opening for a mediocre shadow priest and his shammy alt, drop me a whisper in game.
  2. Sort shitty gear out. I've been out of raiding for too long. I have triumph badges coming out of my ears but nothing to spend them on. This is a complete tangent, but I didn't look properly at tier 9 when it came out and now I'm thoroughly underwhelmed. All that hit and all those blue sockets make me sick. Those triumph badges are not helping at all. Blizzard seems under the impression that hit is an "interesting" stat. It's not. Gonna have to pug those Icecrown heroics till I get some decent non-hit gear. Carrying 1k dps death knights is not my idea of fun.
  3. Get loremaster. Only 800 or so quests to go. Easy, right? But it's so monotonous. So much time spent running or flying from one point to another. Those old world quest hubs do not compare well to their Northrend counterparts. That's time I could be farming badges or gearing alts instead. This one may have to wait till the expansion, when we will be able to fly across the new zones. I just hope Blizzard doesn't raise the target at the same time.
  4. Blog more. And get better at it. And make it look better. I'm not like all those 1k death knights out there — I at least understand my predicament and know how to tackle it. But it's not quite as simple as using the right spells in the right order for a change (note to death knights: you aren't supposed to use all your attacks). Improving my blog will take time and effort, and it will always sadly take third priority behind earning a living and playing the actual game I write about. But I spend an awful lot of my life doing pretty much nothing at all (commuting three hours a day for example) so there's plenty of room for improvement.
  5. Clean up my UI. This is one of those jobs, like spring cleaning or the annual report, that squats in my mind like Philip Larkin's work toad, soiling any feelings of contentedness and satisfaction that might arise in me. My UI is a complete mess and needs an overhaul. Fortexorcist was a great start and has vastly improved my dot and cooldown tracking, but it's just the beginning. I desperately need to reorganise my action bars, finish customising my grid and clique settings, and find a new frames addon (and set it up to my liking). And I need to find a way to easily manage addon profiles across alts and duel specs.
  6. Find obscenely rich, daft philanthropist with blind passion for slightly paunchy blonde brits to fund full-time massively multiplayer online roleplaying antics. About 30k should do it for starters. Investment returns negotiable.

Dragon Age: the Misery review

BioWare's latest fantasy masterpiece is an "epic tale of violence, lust, and betrayal" — much like my professional life, which chose to implode just as a free copy of the game landed on my doorstep. Luckily PS3 pro Nas stepped in to review the game for me while I did battle with the brain-sucking ogres of my office. It's late and it's off-topic, but it's here now in case you're looking for a new challenge in 2010.

Being a KOTR and Mass Effect addict I was delighted when BioWare were brining our a new RPG — Dragon Age Origin. Dragon Age has a great story, great battles and incredible scenery. You can immerse yourself in this fantasy world and lose countless days uncovering new quests and perfecting your character. You start from choosing from three base characters, warrior, mage and rogue and within each base you can then have a choice of two classes. You wander around this vast fantasy world interacting with all those that take your fancy and making decisions that affect the game. These decision can cause party members to leave or attack you, maybe even fall in love with you, but I haven’t achieved that yet!

No matter who you chose as your base character, you soon meet Duncan, a Grey Warden, and the Darkspawn. You battle through the game becoming a Grey Warden yourself and meet characters who have a depth and quality that you rarely find in games. The game manages to combine humour and suspense. The world really is your oyster, you decide how you turn out and how the game finishes, you decide how much you want to immerse yourself into this world but the dialogues that you chose to have or not have and the quests you chose to follow or not follow.

The development team have done a sterling job, it’s a beautiful looking game and if you are fan of BioWare RPG games, or any RPG game then buy it — just book a few days' annual leave first!
A quick google of the title reveals that Dragon Age comes with a mature rating for graphic and morbid violence, mature language, and sexual content. Sounds like a party. Learn more at dragonage.bioware.com.

14 December 2009

LFG and psychic warlocks

A warlock friend recently dinged 80 and we've been dipping in and out of the new LFG too to get geared up. (I am always the healer. If you ever want to dps, trust me, uncheck the heal box.)

So I'm having a poke around Skada afterwards and notice he's using unstable affliction and immolate. And I have a vague feeling from patch notes of yore that you can't do that any more. So I check wowwiki before opening my mouth and sure enough, these two dots now share a 'slot' — they overwrite each other.

Naturally, he was a little perturbed to receive this news — and from a priest, of all things. And after several expletives he asked, quite reasonably I thought: "how was I supposed to know this?"

And I have the same question for you, my erudite readers. If you don't trawl through patch notes with the ferocity of a tabloid proofreader, or have rolled your affliction warlock since the change was made, how exactly are you supposed to know about this? As far as I can see, there's nothing in the tooltip for either spell. Does Blizzard just assume you'll work it out, or have we overlooked the obvious?

12 December 2009

A trickier fix

Just in case a few other people were inclined to misinterpret the corruption fix, like me apparently, ghostcrawler waded into the forums to put us all straight (thanks as usual to mmo champion for the quotes):
We think Shadow Priest dps is in a good place without SW:P benefiting from haste based on the data we have seen so far.
There is no bug per se. On the PTR for a time Shadow Word: Pain, Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague all benefited from haste. We remove SW:Pain because the dps increase was too high, particularly given the ability to constantly refresh the spell with an inflated haste rating. Some players interpreted the inflated haste rating problem as the reason we removed SW:P, but I posted when we made that change that Shadow dps was just too high.
The OP was pointing out that since we fixed the haste problem for Corruption we could go back and fix SW:P pain too. But that point of view is based on the assumption that Shadow priests need that additional dps to be competitive. We don't think that is the case. Hence, we have no plans to change SW:P at this time.
For the record, I still think it makes more sense to allow sw:p to benefit from haste and scale back shadow dps in other areas where appropriate (my personal choice would be vampiric touch's coefficient). And, regardless of dps issues, I take slight offence at the speed with which the corruption glyph was 'fixed' when sw:p's refresh has been buggy for over a year. But that's just me.

11 December 2009

A tricky fix

From mmo champion's latest blue post report I spotted this bug fix:
Rolling curruptions no longer use the initial haste value indefinitely. This is really more of a bug fix than a nerf. The problem here was that players could inflate the initial cast of a corruption and have the spell tick for that damage indefiinitely as long as it was refreshed. This resulted in some "jaw dropping" damage. Technically this was a tricky one to fix but we wanted to keep the glyph of quick decay and were able to ultimately find a solution. When this fix goes live, the hasted corruption should correct itself to your current haste within a tick or two of the spell being refreshed.
Huh. Tell me again how difficult it is to fix the rolling refresh on shadow word: pain?

10 December 2009

Addon crises and epic instances

I think the to-do list definitely helped because the addon crisis, when it arrived, wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared.

DoTimer was up to its usual patch-day hijinks, plastering every single timer in existence on the screen. But instead of ignoring the problems and praying for a speedy update as I normally do, I bit the bullet and went shopping for something new. And boy, am I glad I did.

Based on recommendations on shadowpriest.com and various blogs, I installed fortexorcist. The interface is a little scary, but I quickly discovered that the addon is very simple and intuitive to customise — at least, to my level of detail.

By default, it places two bars on your screen — one for timers, and another for cooldowns. So far so DoTimer. But to customise anything you see, you just have to right click on it to open the interface; it even knows which section to open at. The options, which are many, often have useful tooltips, which are a huge help, and give you a lot of power when it comes to setting up your display. What this means in practice is it's very easy to stand in front of a target dummy casting spells and setting it up on the fly.

But it's the cooldowns display that really impressed me about fortexorcist. Instead of a huge list of yet more timers, it gives you a single timeline. The icons of your spells move along the timeline until they drop off in a flourish, indicating that the spell is ready again. You can scale this bar, have it run horizontal or verticle, and have the timers run to the left or right. It's a brilliant piece of design.

I've got my cooldowns running perpendicular to my timers, so I can easily track both in the same space (they run up the side of my timers list). This is a huge improvement on my DoTimer setup where I had cooldowns in a different part of the screen to avoid visual conflict with the timers. As one of my biggest failings is not casting mind blast enough, it will be interesting to see if this setup has a positive impact on my dps. If you promise not to faint in shock, I'll try and remember to take some screenshots tonight for use as illustrations!

The only downside I've noticed so far is a slight lag between casting a dot and seeing it on the timer list; DoTimer is completely instant.

After I'd sorted out my addons, I signed up for the new 5-mans as scheduled and trotted off to look for the entrance. I didn't know about the teleport thing. How cool is that? All that time and gold I've wasted flying to Nexus! Sadly I ended up healing, so can't tell you what's happened to my dps, but in the process of running them I managed to collect several items that pushed my haste up to around 600 with only a minimal loss of spellpower and crit. Must get to a dummy tonight to test it out.

I was a bit too focused on Grid to fully explore the new instances, but I was generally very impressed with the designs, the way they were held together by a fantastic storyline, and the way they climax in a truly epic final encounter. I never fully appreciated how intense Sylvanas was before last night. You couldn't go out with her, could you? It'd be exhausting.

But the highlight of the night? The funky porno-style music during the Bronjahm fight. Seriously, so good I nearly died humming along to it.

And I am loving the new daily dungeon quest — 10 badges for spanking Patch on 10 man? Yes please! Even better, according to today's hotfix, you can now upgrade emblems of triumph for emblems of frost. I'm not sure this is the right thing for the game, but it's certainly the right thing for me. Bring it on!

My next job is to replace ag_unitframes, a prospect that fills me with dread every time I consider it. I've heard good things about shadow unit frames but I don't think it's on Curse (I couldn't live without the Curse client). If you are all selfishly keeping the world's best unit frame addon to yourself, now is the time to take pity on me and break silence.

9 December 2009

To-do list

Wednesday, 9 December
  • Install patch.
  • Update addons.
  • Log in.
  • Stare at character selection screen swallowing back mounting panic.
  • Take deep breath, log in on priest.
  • Check talents, glyphs, gems; decide you are too poor to change them even if you wanted to.
  • Open LFG, stare with horror at alien interface.
  • Alt-tab to wow.com's handy guide.
  • Return to LFG with renewed confidence, list for new instance.
  • Fly aimlessly round Icecrown looking for new instance.
  • When UI freezes with six-figure lag, realise you have found new instance.
  • Run into instance, stare with wonder at shiny new interior.
  • Start casting spells.
  • Panic as ALL addons go MENTAL.
  • Perform like brain-dead gold farmer through most of instance.
  • Ninja all caster gear.
  • Leave quickly.
  • Alt-tab to Curse for the bad news on buggy addons.
  • Waste hours trawling forums to find fix is months away.
  • Realise with depressing clarity that all addons need replacing.
  • Log resolving to deal with it tomorrow.
  • Go to be early for 5.30am taxi to work (yes, 5.30am).
  • Wake up at 1.30am remembering you are guildless.
  • Resist urge to log back in to look for guild.
  • Dream fitfully about the insurmountable challenge of fixing addons AND finding guild before the entire world has killed Arthas and moved back to Kalimdor to take up farming and crafts.
  • Go to work. At 5.30am.
  • Resign. Find new job.
  • Start to-do list for Thursday, 10 December.

8 December 2009

3.3 survival guide (for the extremely ill-prepared)

  • Haste is the new black
  • Mind flay finally hits 30
  • Arthas is begging for it
The final major content patch of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion is here, opening Icecrown to raiders and setting the most intrepid among us on a collision cause with the Lich King himself.

For shadow priests, this could be the New Hope of patches. Through improvements to shadowform, vampiric touch and devouring plague will now benefit from haste, essentially increasing the speed at which the dots tick. And mind flay finally gets the base range that many of us have argued for some time it rightly deserves. A couple of glyphs have been altered to reflect the new world order.

The haste change will have a huge impact on how you evaluate gear, while the new glyphs will give you some more freedom in how you augment your spells, though the overall effect on your dps will probably be minimal.

Before I say more, here are the important bits from the patch notes.
  • Improved Devouring Plague: This spell now deals 10/20/30% of its total periodic effect instantly, up from 5/10/15%.
  • Mind Flay: The range of this ability has been increased to 30 yards, up from 20.
  • Shadowform: This talent also now causes Devouring Plague and Vampiric Touch to benefit from haste. Both the period length and the duration of these spells will be reduced by haste. In addition, the mana cost has been reduced from 32% to 13% of base mana.
  • Vampiric Embrace: This ability is now provides a 30-minute buff that cannot be dispelled, instead of a target debuff and only generates healing for single-target shadow damage spells.
  • Glyph of Mind Flay: This glyph now increases the damage done by Mind Flay by 10% when the target is afflicted with Shadow Word: Pain.
  • Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain: The periodic damage ticks of Shadow Word: Pain now restore 1% of the priest’s base mana with this glyph.
  • Glyph of Shadow: While in Shadowform, this glyph causes non-periodic spell critical strikes to increase spell power by 30%, up from 10%, of the priest’s total spirit for 10 seconds.
If talents have a budget, Blizzard has just officially blown it on shadowform. For just one frugal point, a priest can increase damage by 15 per cent, reduce incoming damage by 15 per cent, reduce threat by 30 per cent, enable their dots to crit — and now it will speed up two of their three dots through haste. It puts the crappy improved shadow word: pain to shame. (It hurt just to type that.)

This is the big one of the patch, the one you’ve probably been slipping off your seat in anticipation of for some weeks. There can be no doubt that this is going to increase shadow damage considerably. But there seems to be some lingering hesitation among more informed players than me over whether it will increase it enough. And clearly, it’s disappointing that Blizzard didn’t want to tackle shadow word: pain’s many bugs to allow it to scale properly alongside every other spell.

Plus, there’s a catch. With faster dots, not only will you have to adjust to a different rhythm, but you will be expending more mana and casting them more frequently. The glyph of shadow word: pain is intended, I think, to compensate, but more on glyphs below.

All of this means haste is much, much more attractive to shadow priests than before — which is a particular shame if, like me, you avoided haste and stacked crit instead. What a shitter. The excellent theorycrafters on shadowpriest.com suggest haste is now pretty much an even 1:1 with spellpower, although this may well change as they gain a better understanding of the mechanics and practicalities.

I really can’t compete with the brilliant folks on that site so I strongly urge you to visit this thread, take time to understand the arguments, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own gearing strategy.

Mind flay
What can I say about this except it’s been a helluva long time coming? Now that’s it’s actually happening, I’m surprised to see there is no catch whatsoever, no tradeoff for a ranged snare that once was considered too powerful to permit at a 30-yard range. The game has changed, I suppose, and I’m just glad to see Blizzard changing with it. All I can advise is to make the most of it. Without the need to glyph for an equitable range on our primary filler, we are free to select a third glyph that suits our personal needs (as slim as those pickings may be).

Vampiric embrace
Just a quick word on this change. As a self-buff, this ability has probably recovered its place on our toolbars. There’s no excuse not to always have ve ticking away now, regardless of the healing it provides. The fortunes of this spell have declined sharply in this expansion, but I have hope for a comeback in Cataclysm.

Hoorah for shadowform, spirit’s a little less crappy than it used to be. And good riddance to that ten-yard nonsense glyph.

With mind flay’s range extended, the glyph had to change. What do they do? They nick shadow word: pain’s glyph, something I argued all along was mislabelled anyway. So you’ll want to keep mind flay’s glyph after all.

Shadow word: pain’s glyph now restores 1 per cent of a priest’s base mana per tick of damage, which equates to approximately 64mp5. I’m not sure yet how much we will feel the mana drain of hasted dots — personally, with only 440 haste right now, I’m guessing not much to start with. But this might become a mandatory glyph for a well-geared shadow priest heading into Icecrown.

The alternatives are rather lacklustre. Dispersion might be tempting, reducing its cooldown by 45 seconds, but at only a two-minute cooldown already, I don’t see how you’ll need it. Plus, it seems counter-intuitive to pass over what amounts to a passive mana-regeneration glyph for one that requires six seconds of silence to work. No, if you really want to swap out shadow word: pain for now, shadow word: death is probably the best of them.

Some guy with a rasping cough will shortly be available for butt-kickings. And there are three new five-man instances collectively named the Halls of Reflection for grinding badges and some item level 232 gear, which for Merlot is mostly win. Look out particularly for the Nevermelting Ice Crystal, as well as the Shriveled Heart (which doesn't seem to be on wowhead atm). I will be boiling one puppy every hour until somebody hands them over to me.

And that’s all you’re going to get from me for now. Leave your questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to track down some answers. In the meantime, check out the full patch notes on mmo champion for a lot more, including a new interface that promises to put the fun back in pugging. (Puggifung?)

Best of luck with patching, and don’t forget to update all your addons!

Don't panic!

The patch is here, goddammit. Survival guide tomorrow. Promise.

2 December 2009

The big time

You know you've hit the big time when your company's firewall blocks your blog. I feel like a pornographer.

Thankfully Blogger is still fair game (for now at least) so I can keep the site ticking over.

Mmo champion is predicting that 3.3 will drop next week, which if true, is the worst piece of news I've had since I last tried to get in my favourite jeans. But I'll do my best to throw a snappy survival guide together before the blasted thing hits live. Let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like to see in there and I'll make sure to include a link to shadowpriest.com the relevant information.