A Druid’s Response to the Upcoming Change in Mana Regeneration

A Druid’s Response to the Upcoming Change in Mana Regeneration

tree

It has been a hard week to be a druid, dear friends. Not only did restoration druids miss out on any significant buffs in the most recently announced draft of class changes, but we’ve also been faced with an upcoming nerf to mana regeneration that stands to affect us more than any other class. As such, druid bloggers have taken notice; both Phaelia and Keeva have their own takes on the 3.1 changes. In this article I am going to take a look at the specifics of the changes to mana regeneration and speculate on possible ways to play around them. In case you missed the big blue letters, I’ll quote the substance of the change to mana regeneration below:

Regeneration while not casting (outside of the “five second rule”) will be decreased. We think that (1) the ability to cast heal over time spells and then sit back and (2) benefitting from a clearcasting proc that also gets you out of the five second rule both provide too much mana regeneration, even over short time periods.
To make this change, we are reducing mana regeneration granted by Spirit across the board. However we are also boosting the effects of talents such as Meditation that increase regeneration while casting. The net result should be that your regeneration while casting will stay about the same, but your not-casting regeneration will be reduced. This change will have little impact on dps casters, since they are basically always casting.
The specific talents and abilities being boosted are: Arcane Meditation, Improved Spirit Tap, Intensity, Mage Armor, Meditation, Pyromaniac and Spirit Tap. Yes this makes these “mandatory” talents even more mandatory, if such a thing is possible.

Since paladins rely less on Spirit as a mana-regeneration stat, we have to address them in other ways. We don’t want to change Illumination or Replenishment. However, we are going to increase the healing penalty on Divine Plea from 20% to 50%. Divine Plea was originally intended to help Protection and Retribution paladins stay full on mana. It should be a decision for Holy paladins, not something that is automatically used every cooldown.
In addition, we are also changing the way Spiritual Attunement works. In situations with a large amount of outgoing raid damage, as well as in PvP, this passive ability was responsible for more mana regeneration than we would like. We want to keep the necessary benefit it grants to tanking Protection paladins, while making it less powerful for Holy paladins in PvP or raid encounters with a lot of group damage.

We are also taking a close look at clearcasting procs themselves. One likely outcome is to change them to an Innervate-like surge of mana so that the net benefit is the same, but healers won’t shift to out-of-casting regeneration so often.

We balance around the assumption that even 10-player groups have someone offering Replenishment. To make this even easier on players we are likely to offer this ability to additional classes, as well as make sure that existing sources of Replenishment are more equitable.

These changes are ultimately being done to bring the different healing classes more in line with each other as well as to give the encounter team more leeway when designing encounters, who can balance with these new mana regeneration numbers in mind. In a world with infinite healer mana, the only way to challenge healers is with increasingly insane amount of raid damage, so that global cooldowns become the limiting factor since mana fails to be. An example is the Eredar Twins in late Sunwell. We weren’t necessarily happy with that model, and this change hopefully allows us to move towards giving healing a more deliberate and thoughtful pace rather than frenetic spam.

So, What Does All This Mean?

For those of you who may be puzzled by Blizzard’s language, I will sum up by saying that our mana regeration, which is admittedly too high at the moment, is going to be reduced by a number of combinatory factors, including both an across-the-board nerf to Spirit and tweaks to individual spells and abilities. This is the worst kind of nerf to receive, because it will be pretty difficult to tell how each of these points affects the others without extensive testing. Here’s hoping that enough people get on the PTR to avoid major bug fixes or crippled classes. I know that I’m planning to do some PTR raiding myself to test this out. Some posters on the WoW forums and on PlusHeal are predicting that nothing will change for them, or that they won’t “feel” the changes–that’s wishful thinking, or keeping one’s head in the sand. We’re going to notice. In terms of magnitude, my guess is that this one outpaces even the great nerf to Lifebloom in patch 3.0. And we’re going to notice out of combat. Questing as a healer is about to become very, very expensive as we’ll have to sit to drink much more than formerly. As many forum posters suggested, they’re going to need to put in some bigger, faster waters.

Why So Severe?

Bornakk’s post offers some justification for the changes. He says, “When mana regeneration is trivial then certain parts of the game break down – classes that offer Replenishment are devalued, stats that offer mana regeneration are devalued, and spells that are efficient are neglected in preference to spells with high throughput.” I am sympathetic to this point. I see druids stacking Spirit over Mp5, because it’s been widely believed throughout Wrath that Mp5 is too expensive a stat in terms of item budget. I’ll also note that there’s comparatively little of it available, at least compared to the ubiquitous Spirit. More and more healers are stacking Intellect as well. There’s every reason to believe that this practice will continue, and in fact become more common. I’ve also seen many raiders glyphing Healing Touch, preferring a very fast, but not very efficient spell over the slower Nourish, which when supported by 4pc T7 becomes our most efficient tank heal. And guess what? They’ve been beating me on the meters. Evaluating spells by HPM has become a practice for theorycrafters and not players. So yes, I agree that some changes are in order. I just don’t like the direction they’ve taken.

Why Should Druids Worry?

More so even than priests, the healing druid’s fate is tied to that of Spirit. I remember when the initial changes to Spirit were put in place for 2.3. Before that time, one resto druid in each raiding guild would stack Spirit in order to sit in the tank group and give a passive buff to tanks. Like all other buff-givers in BC (ahem, shadow priests), a Spirit-stacking druid traded some of her individual power for the buff. A Spirit-stacker had to sacrifice healing throughput (+heal) and efficiency (Mp5) as a tradeoff for a high amount of Spirit. It’s hard to tell without testing it out myself on the PTR, which I certainly intend to do, but my guess is that we’re about to return to pre-2.3 regen values for Spirit–or else come very close to that number. Druids have a number of abilities and talents that depend on Spirit, most notably Innervate, Living Spirit, and Improved Tree of Life. I would also argue that Intensity is greatly dependent on Spirit. As a consequence, druid gear weights Spirit very heavily. Up until now, it has been projected that at high levels of gear, a player should strive to keep their Spirit to Intellect ratio at 1.1 to 1. This has been very easy for resto druids–in fact, we’ve risked having too much Spirit–just through picking up our tier pieces and emblem items. It is not going to be easy for us to de-emphasize Spirit. We’re going to get stuck with a certain amount of it.

If Spirit is Junk, What Can We Do?

At a certain point, we are limited by the gear available to us. Because one of our cherished techniques–rolling HoTs and then pausing to regen–is about to go the way of the dodo, we’re not going to have a lot that we can actively do during a fight to counter the nerf. The overall advice is going to be “heal less.” There’s no two ways around it–we’re not going to be able to maintain current levels of throughput or coverage in the raid. I can already run myself out of mana, and I’m usually doing so to try to be competitive on the meters. I have a good sense of how long inside the FSR spam casting can last, and even with my current mana regen, it’s only a very few minutes, possibly 6-8, but not 10. In terms of technique, we are going to be swapping glyphed Healing Touch for Nourish. We are also going to be keeping to tighter healing assignments. As S13 put it last night, “Tank healers will stay on tanks and just that.” Sniping heals will no longer be common practice, as we won’t be able to afford it. As for Innervate, which isn’t on the list for a buff and stands to be very greatly affected by the change, I’m expecting that it will still do at least a little something for us–half a mana bar maybe, as it might if you were now in greens with little to no spirit. We’ll probably be glyphing it and using it on ourselves only.

Gear and Gems

In terms of gearing and gemming, we can actually mitigate how much this nerf will hurt us. Despite the laments of many healers, Replenishment seems to be here to stay. The most persuasive argument I’ve seen for preferring this new regen mechanic to the traditional Spirit-based regen is its predictability. It’s admittedly much tidier than giving all dps casters their own native regen mechanics like healers have. To take advantage of Replenishment, we need Intellect and Intellect alone. I don’t expect healers to suddenly be able to roll on gear earmarked for DPS casters, so we will have to be creative to get around our gearing. I expect that, like Innervate, the Spirit World Glass and the Majestic Dragon Figurine will continue to have some use for regen, but the best trinkets in the new order will become, respectively, Je’Tze’s Bell and the Darkmoon Card: Greatness, Intellect version. Malygos’s heretofore lackluster Living Ice Crystals will also be worth equipping. We’ll also be putting yellow intellect gems in our gear where possible. The smartest thing to do would be to buy them now, when they might be selling low, and replace our Spirit and Spellpower gems later. As for a meta gem, we have two choices: Insightful Earthsiege Diamond and Ember Skyflare Diamond. I think the former will be more useful, but it really depends on the levels of Intellect a player is able to attain. As far as enchants go, in some cases we’re stuck with Spirit. There’s not an Intellect or Spellpower option for everything. However, I fully expect to use the Spellpower weapon enchant and Tuskarr’s Vitality for extra speed on my boots. If Spirit is giving a poor return, let’s make the tree go faster. That’s always good for hard content anyway.

Are There Good Effects to the Nerf?

I can think of one consequence of the nerf that will, in the end, favor healers. I know it seems that healing–and healing difficulty–is being made the balance point of encounters in 3.1. However, I am going to forward the radical idea that the difficulty that raiding healers currently experience will not change at all. Over time, guilds tend to take less and less healers to the same encounters. Our sphere of responsibility gets larger as the guild gets “better.” Encounters go faster with more dps, and guilds typically sit out more dps than healers on progression content. These dps want in for the farm content, and the overall load on the healers in the raid becomes greater. In fact, even in an era of enrage timers, one of the best ways to guarantee an easier time at a new encounter is to take one healer more than the most hardcore strategies suggest. I can feel the difference between 5 healer Naxx and 7 healer Naxx, both of which Conquest has done based on the players who happened to show up. I’m predicting that Ulduar is going to feel like the 5-healer Naxx–except that there will be 7-8 healers sharing this load. This change will allow a few new healers to get raid spots. Of course, the shaman (predictably) comes out looking the rosiest after the nerfs–and yes, I’m a little jealous. I’m sure that resto shamans will have many opportunities to join top-notch raiding outfits. Many guilds of all types will be looking to add a new healer to their rosters, and guilds like ours, who are actually carrying extra healers, will be able to dip into their bench. Each one of us can only do so much. We will continue, as now, to do our utmost, and no more can be asked at that point. I expect the standard number of healers for Ulduar encounters to vary between 7 and 9, as it did for most guilds in Black Temple. If Dual Specs come in, there may even be some 10 healer encounters in the future.

A Word of Encouragement

Dear friends, we have all faced the nerf bat before this moment. This current danger to our mana regeneration is in truth no greater evil than the changes to Lifebloom, which we all suffered and survived, though our tanks have taken more spike damage ever since. Some day, we will look back and remember this mana regeneration nerf, as even now we look back on the nerf to Lifebloom. Let us continue on, then, healing faithfully in raids as we always have before.

Best in Slot for Resto Druid

Best in Slot for Resto Druid

pinwheel1

Note:This article is now out-of-date. It does not take into account new items from 3.1 or the 3.1 changes to mana regen or Restoration druid abilities. (edited 3/8/09)

I see the question of what items are actually best-in-slot for one class or another come up time and again on forums and blogs alike. These lists can come in pretty handy. Of course, at the current difficulty of content, you don’t really need your best-in-slot, but without something to strive for, where would we be?

I have worked to keep this list mostly leather, but where there’s a cloth contender I’ve tried to mention it as well. My criteria of judgment are purely the relative stats of the item. The item level serves me as a guide, but is never a consideration in its own right.

Head

Valorous Dreamwalker Headpiece, from Kel’Thuzad 25

This helm, featuring both Spirit and Mp5, is most certainly the best piece in our tier set–it’s a shame, though, that there are other good headpieces as well.

Hood of Rationality, from Malygos 25

If your loot rules allow you to pick up some cloth, here’s a piece to consider.

Headpiece of Reconciliation, from Sartharion 25, 2 Drakes

This should be our best-in-slot, but right now it isn’t. It’s a level 226 item, but the stats don’t match expectations. It could be corrected in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.

Neck

Necklace of the Glittering Chamber, from Malygos 10

Shoulder

Spaulders of Catatonia, from Malygos 25

These shoulders have the best stats, but be careful. If Nourish is in your rotation at all, you will want to keep your 4 pc bonus. If not, have at it with the non-set pieces.

Valorous Dreamwalker Spaulders, from Loatheb 25

This item is well-balanced and very useful for filling out the set bonus. However, it’s clearly inferior to the Spaulders of Catatonia.

Cloak

Cape of the Unworthy Wizard, from Kel’Thuzad 25

There’s no argument here. This cloak is far out ahead of its competitors, a must-have if you can get it.

Chest

Valorous Dreamwalker Robe, from 4 Horsemen 25

I’m a big advocate of wearing leather while I can, and this item is quite good. I also like my set bonuses, even though I don’t get much out of the boost to Nourish.

Blanketing Robes of Snow, from Malygos 25

If your guild gets enough of these to outfit the priests, by all means, add this to your set.

Bracers

Unsullied Cuffs, from Sartharion 2D

These may be cloth, but they are my runaway favorite, much better than our leather options.

Bands of the Great Tree, From Emblems of Valor

These bracers are probably the best in leather, but they are not significantly different from the more easily accessible Swarm Bindings, from Anub’Rekan 25. I wouldn’t spend the emblems for them myself.

Hands

Valorous Dreamwalker Handguards, Sartharion 25

There’s no contest here. This is a nice, balanced item that will help you get your bonuses.

Waist

Unravelling Strands of Sanity, from Malygos 25

I was very lucky to pick up this little beauty on our second Malygos kill. There’s no doubt about it–this belt is by far the best.

Legs

Valorous Dreamwalker Leggings, from Thaddius 25

Once again, the tier piece isn’t strictly ideal in terms of stats, but that has more to do with it being introductory gear than with it being the “wrong” piece to wear. I use these quite happily.

Leggings of Mortal Arrogance from Kel’Thuzad 25.

I like the stat allocation pretty well on these leggings. They’re better for priests than druids, though, and you should by all means let your clothies–maybe even dps–have them first.

Feet

Rainey’s Chewed Boots

Get these boots with your Emblems of Valor and never worry about it again. They are the runaway winner in this category.

Fingers

Lost Jewel, Naxx 25 shared loot

The Spirit makes this item a good bet. I’m personally going for Spirit on both rings, but your budget may vary.

Band of Channeled Magic, Emblems of Valor

This item gets points for spirit and accessibility. A must-have.

Arguably, the real best in slot is the Loop of the Kirin Tor, but I’m never going to have 8,000g for a marginal upgrade.

Trinkets

Je’Tze’s Bell, BoE world drop

I love everything about this item except its price. I saw one last night on Ner’zhul that had bid up to 5,000. I don’t have that much total gold across all my toons. Here’s hoping I get lucky with a trash drop.

Forethought Talisman, Naxx 25 shared loot.

This one packs a huge spellpower punch, and the proc, while lackluster, will give me an extra 3,000 or so effective heals per fight.

As for other trinkets–the Spirit-World Glass is something I really want to pick up for myself just in case changes are made to mana regen. I like the idea of the Illustration of the Dragon Soul and the Majestic Dragon Figurine, though there’s probably a bit of a learning curve to keeping the effect up as much as possible.

Weapon

Torch of Holy Fire, Kel’Thuzad 25

This one is a no-brainer, but good luck getting it. This is a very hot ticket item in almost every guild.

Off Hand

Matriarch’s Spawn, Maexxna.

Idol

Idol of Lush Moss, Emblems of Valor

There’s no real choice here. Lifebloom may be nerfed, but we still need it.

Set Bonuses

Make sure that you get your 2 pc T7.5 set bonus. You will continue to depend on your Lifebloom, particularly if you ever heal tanks. 4 pc T7 gives enough of a bonus to Nourish to make it your most efficient heal on a target who already has all your other hots, i.e., a tank. However, the 4 pc isn’t strictly necessary. You have plenty of mana regen for this level, and a less efficient Nourish won’t hurt at all. Efficiency will only be in play in a harder dungeon (Ulduar) or if the mana regen formula should be changed. If it’s only a factor in Ulduar, you probably won’t hang onto 4pc T7 for long anyway–you’ll be replacing it with T8.

Final Note: Introductory Gear

Remember, no matter how good your T7 gear is, we’re still in the first tier of Wrath content. If you look over the Resto druid items, there are many items with “wasted” stats like crit and haste. Don’t pull your leaves out over it. At this point, there are no real best in slots. Je’Tze’s Bell comes the closest, but even that may be replaced in Ulduar. I’m hoping that when we do start getting some T8 upgrades, the stats actually come closer to ideal.

Sartharion 3D Healing Assignments

Sartharion 3D Healing Assignments

sarth-dead

I realize that Matticus has done a nice job of keeping readers posted on Conquest’s progress through this fight, but I thought it might be nice for the community if I posted our specific, final draft healing assignments along with a narrative of how we got there. I know that when I was a new healing coordinator for Collateral Damage back in Tier 5 that I used to scour WoW blogs for their specific healing assignments on Vashj, Kael, and beyond. With that experience behind me, I don’t expect that readers will be able to use my precise assignments, but perhaps once I explain the process a bit, healing leaders will be able to identify techniques that will help their particular groups.

Before the First Attempt

The Sunday night before our first attempt at Sarth 3D, Mallet and I, along with Kimboslicé, our raid leader, and Archdrood and Brio, our main tanks, Crazymexican, our puller, and a few various and sundry raid members, went into our cleared Obsidian Sanctum instance to block out positioning. More than anything else, this step may have led to our early success. In the calm of a cleared instance, we were able to identify marks for each person to stand on. Mallet, who would be solo-healing Archdrood, was able to learn exactly where the head and feet of the dragon would be ahead of time, in a calm environment. I paced out where our drake tank healers, whelp tank healers, and add tank healers would stand. We imagined where the firewalls would come and planned what direction different players would run to avoid them. We strategized how to position the drakes to best protect both tank and raid.

The positioning I’m sharing with you now is our “final draft,” but if you block out your own positioning in a cleared OS, our work might give you something to start with.
sarth-diagram

In my diagram, bubbles represent eeeevil nasssty dragonses, and squares represent players. You’ll notice that I’ve used class colors to show which specific players we used for different tasks. If you need a recap, orange is for druid, brown for warrior, fuchsia for death knight, pink for paladin, white for priest, dark blue for shaman. This class distribution is by no means obligatory and will vary based on the players available in your guild.

The diagram might just tell you everything to know, but in my typically verbose fashion, I’m going to give you some notes anyway.

Main Tank Healing

This is the most difficult job available in this fight, so make sure you assign someone who excels both at throughput and at situational awareness. One of the biggest parts of the learning curve in this fight has to do with this healer’s positioning. He or she has to learn how to avoid the firewalls without going out of range of the main tank. Every bit of this player’s healing goes on the main tank, and he or she has to be able to keep him up entirely alone. Based on the changes to Twilight Torment (the main tank can no longer remove it himself), your main tank healer is going to be the first in a line of “saves” on the MT. In order to survive one of Shadron’s breaths, a non-DK tank must have outside help. These breaths can occur in rapid succession, and you must set up a rotation of “saves” so that your tank can survive multiple rounds. On our druid tank, we used a rotation of 1)Pain Suppression 2)Guardian Spirit 3)Barkskin + Survival Instincts and 4) Hand of Sacrifice + Priest Bubble. On our successful attempt, four abilities were enough. I suggest assigning a player who can perform save #1, which can be any of these techniques, to main tank heal. In practice, this player will probably end up being either a discipline or holy priest.

Drake Tank Healing

We used a team of two healers to take care of the two tanks assigned to Tenebron, Shadron, and Vesperon. We staggered our tanking such that each tank only had one drake at a time. I am H2, and I healed Briolante for Tenebron and Vesperon, helping out on Shadron’s tank in the few moments where Briolante’s first target was down and second had not yet landed. Both H2 and H4, the drake tank healers, will have to move around quite a bit to stay with their targets. H4 in my scheme is a pally healer, and his target, the Shadron tank, will be helping out with whelps and elemental adds for much of the fight. It is important for H4 to keep a watch on this person, as he absolutely has to live to tank his drake. It’s also worth noting that H2 and H4 will be completely out of range of the main tank for most of the fight–any extra healing they can spare goes on the raid.

Whelp Tank Healing

I assigned my strongest paladin to heal the death knight whelp tank. Krinan, the paladin, turns on righteous fury and draws some of the whelps to her through healing aggro. Note: she is specced in a particular way to let her survive this. Perhaps she’ll tell you all about it in a guest post. Krinan and Lloth, our death knight tank, work together to gather up the whelps and the elemental adds while others AoE them down. Usually H3, the whelps/adds healer, will need some help. The whelps and elementals are the most annoying part of the fight, and they can just eat dps and healers for breakfast. Whenever I can, I HoT up Lloth or the AoE’ers. Raid healers, and even drake tank healers when possible, should try to stay close to the adds tank so that any strays can be peeled off.

Raid Healing

This fight can get a little crazy, so I assign three very strong players to raid healing. The challenge increases when raid healers, like our holy priest for example, have to position themselves such that they can take a spot in the save rotation on the main tank during Twilight Torment. I’ve put Kaldora (H5) on the side closest to the main tank to show how a raid healer in the save rotation has to edge toward Sarth at the appropriate moment. Note that raid healing gets completely, entirely insane when Twilight Torment is up on the raid. In order to dampen the effects, we call out for paladins to bubble and help soak some of the damage that way. In order for the raid healing to work in this fight, the dps/healers/add team need to stay close together.

Into the Portal

When Shadron goes down, we send players into the portal to take care of the Guardian. Epiks, our resto shaman, follows dps into the portal and works his healing magic. If you have players taking portals, DON’T forget to assign a healer to go with them. Believe me, the result is not good.

Last Words

This fight recalls Vashj, Kael, and Illidan in the amount of teamwork that it demands. As a healer, you simply cannot ignore assignments and snipe heals. You cannot save other people’s targets. Yes, a drake tank healer might assist the raid healers with a Wild Growth or two, but everyone will always keep a watch on his or her primary target. You are not a hero. You are a small piece of the puzzle. As a healer, you perform the tiny set of tasks assigned to you and nothing more. There may be moments where you feel less effective, but you need to stay in your spot and watch your assignments. You must watch around you–there is no excuse for a healer to be trapped by firewall or void zone. Even though healing is very difficult in this fight, if you set it up like I did, it is also very regimented. Each of the individual tasks is manageable. Just pace your tiny portion of the stage and do not worry about what others are doing. Let them make their own mistakes as you learn. And then, when all is said and done, the healing meter will not tell the whole story on this fight–in this case, the encounter is hard enough at the current available gear level so that if you win, every healer in the team deserves the gold medal.

Blank Sartharion Map: This is a few screenshots of the cleared island that Sartharion is on which Matt stitched together. Feel free to use this for planning. You can overlay Syd’s diagram on top of this and you can get a better idea.

On Lore, Culture, and Religion in Azeroth

On Lore, Culture, and Religion in Azeroth

fractal
Sometimes when I’m scrolling through MMO Champion’s Blue Tracker I find something that just astounds me. This particular post and blue response have absolutely nothing to do with WoW gameplay, but nonetheless, they weigh in on an issue of great interest to me–the level of detail used to evoke the universe of Warcraft.

Unfortunately, the issue of Warcraft culture is couched in incredibly bigoted and small-minded terms. Let’s take a look at the original player rant:

All races exept gnomes and orcs can be a priest, druid or paladin. Priests and paladins cherish and worship the divine and holy, whilst druids are in contact with the ancient spirits. This of course, is fine. Not all races can have all classes. The thing I reacted against, and so should you all; the lore clearly states the gnomes as the most intelligent of races. They have advanced the furthest in technology, and have a passive racial that gives them more intellect. So, being an atheist, and a slave of Satan gives you a greater mind, eh?

The fact that the “most intelligent” race in WoW does not have a religion is like a stab in the back for me. To me, Blizzards message is “Oh, but intelligent people don’t believe in God”. I am vastly offended by this, and would like to see a change in the lore, where human missionaries convert the gnomes into believing in the divine, thus making them able to create a priest or paladin.

Yes, I am aware that my main character is a gnome, but after finding this shocking discovery I will most certainly reroll. Those little blasphemers will no longer be a part of my life. Any christians out there will and should agree with me.

As a caveat, let me just say that I think the player’s actual complaint about the lack of a gnomish religion is utter crap. As an educated person, I advocate religious tolerance in all situations, for all people. And by “tolerance,” I mean not just “putting up with” many different religious traditions, but celebrating their difference and encouraging dialogue among them. Tolerance includes virtual worlds–whether or not the player is a participant in a particular religion should not affect his or her experience of gameplay, and I think Blizzard does a pretty good job of being religion-neutral. However, even a bigoted post can sometimes bring up an interesting issue.

Blizzard’s response, of course, was to lock the thread. However, in among the dribble and insults, there were some interesting ideas.

One gnome poster, responding to the question of whether gnomes have a religious faith, asked: “How do you know they don’t?”

How indeed. This would have been exactly my response (except that I have sometimes suspected that gnomes might be intended to have things in common with Jewish culture–diaspora, a reputation for intelligence, discrimination in the form of gnome jokes–but that’s a topic for another post). In his misguided way, this hostile poster who calls gnomes “atheist servants of Satan” is actually hinting at a real problem in the World of Warcraft.

The Lore

The issue here is that the way The Lore (capitals intended) is handled conflicts with the nature of gameplay in an MMO. Most of the information that is released to the players about The Lore, either through previous games, graphic novels, novelizations, and Major Lore Quest Chains focuses on the famous figures of Azeroth. It’s not hard to find out something about Arthas, Jaina, Sylvanas, Varian Wrynn, or Medivh. These folks are major players. However, the vast majority of quest content has players interacting with nobodies–level 17 farmers, craftsmen, clerics, and ne’er-do-wells. What I want to know is what the peoples of Azeroth do when they’re not busy being heroic. We get bits and pieces of the history of Azeroth on that small scale–the Darrowshire quests are a very good example of this. However, we really don’t get to learn a darn thing about how Draenai education works, why dwarves tend to go exploring, or what it would be like to go to a troll wedding.

I think someone knows all of this. In fact, I bet the developers have a Big Book of Azerothian Cultural History–well, probably a giant scrapbook or stack of file folders. They would have to if they cared about making coherent quest content–which they certainly do. However, I bet it’s a hodgepodge of information, written by many different people, and I also bet that it doesn’t cover everything.

Maybe gnomes cherish small household gods that are closely associated with the family, like the Roman Larës.

Maybe gnomes get their best ideas while they’re meditating on the nature of life–or mechanical parts–for half an hour a day.

Maybe the gnomes hide their religion from the Big People in order to head off discrimination.

I bet Blizzard knows this, or could use that Big Book to come up with a logical answer.

The Solution

People love the World of Warcraft, and I think they would eat it up if Blizzard released some of their unpublished material on Azerothian culture. What they should do is set up a website for such questions–perhaps a blog–and employ a professional writer to maintain it. And I might mention that if they’re ever hiring this job, I’m applying. I love fantasy and fantasy worlds. Warcraft makes for an interesting universe, but most of The Lore is deadly dull. It focuses on Great Deeds of the Past and tends to be communicated in a very monotonous tone in Blizzard’s official publications. Have you seen some of those sentences? Someone should start charging the writers a 15c fine for each subordinate clause in excess of three. I’d hazard a guess that they didn’t hire a professional fantasy writer to produce their paragraphs about Arthas. Do I think that I could do a better job? Heck yes. And the number one question I would ask myself is–what about the little people? No, not just gnomes. All of those Westfall farmers, Southshore fur traders, and Feathermoon scholars–what makes them tick? That to me is very interesting.

Reader Question: The Double Bind of Casual Raiding

Reader Question: The Double Bind of Casual Raiding

knot

Those of you who have kept track of my posts know that I love answering reader questions. This one was originally for Matticus, but I decided to take it on because it’s an issue that’s very close to my heart. Essentially, the question is the classic debate of the casual raider: do I stick it out with my guild, or do I move on? However, reader Adam is experiencing an interesting twist on the problem, as he’s a guild master who’s actively working to improve performance in his own guild. Let’s see the quandary in his words, shall we?

So, as a mixed minority I hate generalizing… but I seem to be having a problem in my guild concerning ::duhn duhn duhn:: DPS classes. Tank/Healers tend to enjoy their positions and willingly choose to do them. They read strategies, the seek out gear upgrades in their free time, they put effort into the game. As of late the DPS classes have been showing up expecting amazing loot without wanting to work for it.

Our guild is sizable enough to be running 25 mans every week, but the DPS classes aren’t pulling their weight. None of them will run Heroics to get their own gear, they expect as many drops as the people who have put effort in… none of them read boss strats so I’m forced to review every boss fight beforehand and we still wipe.

I KNOW things can be better because when our “best” do 10mans (just for the hell of it now, no one needs the gear) we can clear everything in one shot with 2 healers (myself and a Resto Druid). Hell, I’ve seen PUGs do better in 25mans than some of my guildmates.

The problem, then, is two-fold:

a) If I don’t let the sub-par DPS into the raids we won’t have enough for Naxx25. No matter how good the rest are you can’t clear it with 15 people. And in a lot of cases the bad DPSers actually hinder our performance (ie putting Grobbulus clouds in awful places, failing to make the jump on Thaddius and then rushing into the fray with an opposite charge, etc).

b) There are a lot of 2 or 3 friend groups within my guild. One is a good player, but he wanted his friends to come along too. They suck, and I can’t say no to them without the good player being hurt, etc. And when I say suck, I’m talking people in 50% Naxx10 or better epics doing 1,000 DPS. I’m not kidding. I did that at level 70 with my Priest in shadow and we currently have a few mages and warlocks consistently performing under the 1,500 mark with full raid buffs.

Recruiting isn’t helping much. I don’t get many people expressing interest in joining and the ones who do message me aren’t exactly cream of the crop. Am I screwed? Should I take my ten best players and start from scratch? Should those ten and I try to merge into another guild? I’ve led guilds since level 60 and I usually have a good idea how to proceed. Right now I’m at an absolute loss.

Such a thoughtful question deserves a somewhat lengthy answer. I’ll do my best to analyze what’s going on, and then I’ll make some suggestions for future actions. As you all might have guessed, there’s no easy fix for this one.

The Double Bind

What is this “double bind” I refer to, you might ask? The word refers to a situation in which a person receives conflicting and contradictory messages about how to behave, such that one behavior would negate the other. It’s similar to what’s referred to as a Catch-22, after the awesome Joseph Heller novel of the same name. Working mothers are often placed in a double bind; so are ethnic minorities, as they try to both stand out from and fit into majority culture. I’m going to put casual raiders right up there with these two put-upon social groups. A casual raiding guild typically tries to follow two conflicting sets of imperatives. I will note that Adam doesn’t refer to his guild as a casual-raiding organization. I mean no insult–I just inferred from the text of the question that the guild is, at present, casual-raiding. Perhaps Adam would like it to transition toward being more of a bona fide raiding guild, but I’ll address that prospect below.

Why is Casual Raiding So Hard?

Like the aforementioned working mothers, casual raiding guilds often try to do it all. They have two basic principles behind their organization, and those principles are mutually exclusive. Below, I’m going to try to generalize what most casual raiding guilds might say about themselves.

Principle #1: Our guild is about friendship and freedom. We value the relationships people have made with each other in-game and out. We try to keep friends and loved ones raiding together. We also let our members play as they like. They have the freedom to set their own schedule and play style.

Principle #2: Our guild is about successful raiding. Everyone has to play a certain way, and we can only do so at set times. Only people who meet certain benchmarks for performance can raid with us.

The very conditions required by raid content impinge on the freedom of the casual raider. In addition, friendships cause trouble, as in Adam’s case, when guild members understand friendship as a means to a raid invite. These two conflicting principles cause some members of casual raiding guilds to work a lot harder than their raiding guild fellows for less results. It takes a lot more hours to clear content with a less-than-committed group. One of my previous guilds, Random Acts, could best be described as a casual raiding type. During the summer we started Karazhan, we raided for maybe 12 hours a week, but the wipes were such that it took us three months to clear the instance. In addition, because of a need to accommodate people’s schedules, we did crazy things like make attempts on Moroes at 6 am. He owned us, by the way. Both times I changed guilds, I went further in the direction of a progression raiding guild, and each time the number of hours in game reduced for me.

Do One Thing, and Do It Well

In my mind, these are words to live by. This is simply, what works for me, and why I appreciate being a member of a guild that focuses on a specific goal. I have, however, been in a guild, Collateral Damage, that offered some benefits for their more casual members while being very successful at raiding. They actively worked to treat all of their players as equals (even down to taking Kara-geared folks on Black Temple runs). Incredibly, they managed to do this fairly successfully. I know first-hand, however, that the officers and players worked really hard for that, and also that, as a result of mixed messages from the leadership, drama was high. “We can have whatever we want,” was the guild mantra. It’s admirable, I think, to try to be all things to all people. The leadership of that guild is extremely altruistic. However, in the end, it was too much pressure and conflict for me. It’s worth noting, though, that CD always did and continues to do very well in raid content. They just put in a lot more time in other stuff–what I call “casual time” and “administrative time”–than raiding guilds typically do. My current organization, Conquest, which defines itself very strictly as a raiding guild, has its flaws, to be sure, but the one thing it does do is focus on raiding success as it’s only goal.

What to Do With Adam’s Guild?

Short of renaming his organization Catch-22 and just trying to laugh about it, there are a few things this guild leader can do to improve his situation. He has to decide what is most important to him personally. I am guessing that what Adam values most will be one of these things.

1. Progression
2. Friendship
3. Power

Solutions

#1 If progression is the most important, what’s needed is probably a change of guild. It seems like what Adam wants will be extremely difficult to achieve with the current group. He can try to take 10 friends with him and split off to form a new organization, but in my mind that is not the most certain way to better progression. Right now it’s a player’s market on guild recruitment. Almost all guilds are recruiting with Ulduar in mind, and players of all classes can pretty much pick and choose from the guilds at their skill level. It’s a great time to make a move. Sometimes you can do so with one or two friends, but mostly you have to go it alone if you make this choice.

#2 If friendship is most important, Adam should probably stay in the current guild and make the best of it. This means working one-on-one with low-performing dps and trying to encourage them into better behaviors. This means educating the guild about what raiding requires. I saw Collateral Damage take many players through this very education process, and in some cases casual players improved enough to become top-performing raiders. However, the success rate is not particularly high. Most players approach the game as they want to. What’s most important to Adam’s guildies might be things like the freedom to raid how and when they want to. Their personal goals might conflict with Adam’s, and there’s not much he can do about it. As I say repeatedly in my posts, we must all seek our bliss in this game. Sometimes you can turn a team of casuals into a team of raiders, but they have to want it. Even if Adam sits down with each underperforming dps and analyzes their gear choices, talents, and rotation, they still may not improve.

#3 If power is the most important, Adam actually has two choices. The idea is to remain guild master. Either he can work within the framework of the current guild, as in #2, or he can take his 10 best and form a new, smaller guild. I can see how it would feel very important to be in charge. Adam probably has a sense of responsibility for his guildies and wants to take care of them. A lot of guild masters are like this–and I used to be. However, I made myself miserable trying to fight every bad policy, as I saw it, in my previous guild. It didn’t win me any friends. In my current guild, I’m just an officer, not a GM. I speak my mind, but I can pick my battles now. I don’t have to fight them all. If Adam does split off from his current guild, he can expect a lot of work and drama incoming. The surprise factor will probably be that many of his coterie of good players will not want to move, even if they join with another similarly-progressed raiding guild. This always happens when guilds merge or reform. If you’re considering something like this, just be expecting to take a step back in progression for a few weeks as you recruit to fill the spaces in your team.

Either way you choose, Adam, you can’t have everything. My best advice is to think about it during this next raid week and really weigh the things you value against each other. Then, make the best choice that you can. It’s hard to get out of the double bind, but you will be happier if you have some clarity about what it is that you really want.

Alts and the Raider: An Officer’s Perspective

Alts and the Raider: An Officer’s Perspective

the_alt_parade

Who are all these unsavory characters, you might ask? Well, all WoW players–particularly raiders–have a closet full of skeletons, or, to be more specific, absolutely terrible alts. These just happen to be mine, and not a one of them is as good as my main. There are the few exceptional players who play their holy priest as well as their frost mage, but those are few and far between. For the most of us, we have one character to raid with, whose mechanics we know inside and out, and a motley crew of has-beens, might-have-beens, and never-will-bes to tool around with outside of raid time. Usually, alts are harmless, though my paladin’s mailbox macarenas HAVE been known to cause temporary insanity. However, especially when burnout or boredom threatens, alts start to look pretty attractive. I’ve just taken Isidora the Fail Warlock on a little tour of Borean Tundra. Sure, level 68 mages can kill me one-on-one because I can’t find my fear button. But I can pick Goldclover!

This post explores what happens when raiders get attached to their alts. The fascination can go far beyond leveling a convenient profession or two. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a guild starts spending a significant amount of time every week on farm content, at least one raider will want to bring in an alt.

Change is Good, Right?

From the perspective of the player, a change of main, or even a few trips to a dungeon on an alt, can help refresh interest in the game. On rare occasions, this can work out well for the guild as well. Sometimes a player is even more successful at raiding on a rerolled character than they were on their original main. I saw this happen in Collateral Damage with Allagash, a wonderful shaman who rerolled from priest in mid-T5 when she saw the potential of the shaman class. Those kinds of Cinderella stories can happen, but what I’m really interested in talking about are the rotten pumpkins that can result from an excessive love of alts.

Speaking Hypothetically

What if I were to decide tomorrow that Sydera has plenty of gear and experience, and that I’d like to start raiding on one of my alts? Maybe, since my guild has only one raiding shaman, I’ll powerlevel Zoraida (now at a stout level 7) and work my butt off to help my guild stack Chain Heal. Or, I’ll decide that even though I’ve become pretty decent at healing, it’s my destiny to hit things in the ankle with an axe. So, I’ll level my retribution paladin from 70 to 80 and add myself to an already bloated melee team. But I’m a good player, right, so my guild will work me in just to keep me. In either case, I’d ding 80 in little more than my underwear (yes, those are healing boots on the ret pally) and I’d want some runthroughs of heroics and Naxx 10 to get up to the minimum standard for raid gear. I’m sure, though, that the whole project would be engaging. Some players seek out just such a long slog so that they have enough in-game struggles to hold their interest. However, at the end of the line, when a new alt is at level 80 and in a basic raid kit, has it been worth the sacrifice?

Giving your Guild Leader a Giant Headache

Nothing causes Guild and Raid Leaders to lose more sleep than the prospect of changing the raid lineup. Anyone who makes a raid roster wants to be able to count on a consistent team, and alts ad chaos to the mixture. Most guilds don’t min/max every situation, so they will do what they can to keep a player they like, even if it means letting a healer come to raids on a ret paladin. However, that player has probably cost their guild a good bit of time and effort for a very uncertain return. Often, the end result is that the new main contributes less to the raid than the old one did.

Didn’t Ghostcrawler tell us to Take the Player, Not the Class?

syd-states-clearly-noYes, he sure did. However, when we’re talking about a rerolled character or an alt, there are a lot of reasons for guild leaders to say no. For example, let’s take Sydera. She’s been all the way through TBC and the current Wrath content, and somewhere along the way, her operator learned a thing or two about healing on a druid. When I take my warlock out for questing, I’m less quick to react than I am on Syd. It’s like playing a stranger. I might be able to learn another healer, but I don’t think I’d ever post great numbers as a raiding warlock. For high-end raiding, the absolute optimum scenario is for everyone to play one class of their choice and to build the team based on those choices. Changing things up mid-stream is uncomfortable both for the leadership and for other players.

But What if My Main is Already Geared?

In my mind, this is the worst reason to bring an alt to a raid, unless it’s a raid specifically designated for alts. In guilds with DKP lists, alts can sometimes bid on loot, often sharing a DKP pool with the main. Let’s imagine that a well-established guild has many long-time members with lots of DKP and a few new members with very little. One of these new members loses an item for their main spec to someone’s alt. How are they going to feel? And what will the effect on team morale be? This can be a hard lesson, because we all love our alts and get bored of farm content, but a guild has to think about the good of the whole. As painful as it might be, and as much as I’d like to go to Naxx someday on my alts, it’s best to keep alts out of raiding entirely. The exception, as I said, are raids designed to carry alts. If the guild is revisiting old content for giggles, then why not let everyone take their alts? But if the raid’s purpose is to gear up the players for the next level, you’re much better off with a full group of mains, even if some loot gets sharded as a consequence.

What if I Want to Switch Mains?

Sometimes a change in mains is the only thing that will make a player happy. In my mind, players should seek their bliss–but they should so so while being aware of other people’s needs. I can imagine two possible scenarios that allow a player to switch and keep his or her integrity intact.

1. The player who wants to switch is able to do so in a way that supports the guild.

If one of Conquest’s four resto druids really, truly wanted to switch to another healing class, and was willing to let that class be paladin or shaman, I would support them. Sure, I’d be skeptical until the alt in question reached 80, but I would be willing to do a little extra personal work to support the new character. However, once the person switched, I’d hold them to it. There would be no going back to the former main once the new main had an acceptable gear set. That essentially causes the guild to have to re-make its plans twice. I’ve been burned in the past by asking people to switch to an alt either temporarily or permanently in order to ensure better class balance for a raid. I’ll never do that again–and I’ll keep people from switching themselves to a character they don’t really like if at all possible. I’d only support a change of main if it was permanent and favorable for both the individual and the team.

2. The player switches mains and respectfully leaves for a guild that needs a player in that role.

One of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year is that sometimes you have to say goodbye to your guild–for the good of both that guild and the raider involved. I believe in everyone’s right to find happiness, and if that sense of in-game satisfaction is only available with a new class and role that your current raiding group doesn’t need, well, it makes sense to say good luck and goodbye. There are respectful ways to g-quit. It’s better, in fact, to quit if staying would mean that the guild has to radically change itself in order to accommodate you. My earlier example of healer-to-melee would probably require a wholesale shakeup of Conquest to accomplish. So, have a heart-to-heart with the Guild Master or Raid Leader. Find out if your new main will be able to contribute something useful to your raiding team. If not, give a notice of a couple weeks if you can and then start looking for a new home.

Would I Ever Switch Mains?

Probably not. I’m rather attached to Syd, and I’ve found something I’m good at. Alts are nice for dreaming. I like to imagine what it would be like to Chain Heal with Zoraida in a 10-man, though I’m not likely to get there. I might someday pug a Naxx 10, or go on an all-alt run of old content. That sort of thing is fun. However, when it comes to progression raiding, I might daydream sometimes about switching, but then my better angel kicks in and tells me to get back to lifeblooming. Another question entirely is whether I’d reroll if Matticus asked me to. Yes, I would, because if the guild leader asks, that means it’s best for the team–but he’s not likely to do that. After all, I’m an incredibly slow leveler, and the guild would have to wait a long long time for their new team member.

10 v. 25-Person Content Revisited

10 v. 25-Person Content Revisited

green-vortex

Well, darn. I figured out something last night that should have me eating my hat, or humble pie, or maybe a boiled crow, or else four-and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. One of my biggest predictions about Wrath of the Lich King turns out to have been dead wrong.
some-very-humble-pie

When I first heard about the 10 v. 25 raid size split in Wrath, I made a logical assumption. To be entirely fair, the conclusion I drew was well-supported by blue comments. I believed that since the rewards would be demonstrably better in 25-person content, as a consequence the difficulty level would also be higher. Either that, or the difficulty level would be exactly the same, the only reason for a reward difference being the Organization Boss that all larger guilds have to face every week.

However, last night I ran two “normal difficulty” raids that took my breath away: Sartharion with two drakes and Malygos. Without a stacked raid, our group–which took out Sartharion 25 with 2 drakes earlier this week after only an hour and a half of tries–just could not make any headway in the 10-man version. We had to settle for just one drake, and since we picked the baby dragon-spawner by accident, that was no cake walk either. And as for the rewards at the end? Nothing anyone wanted, since we had been doing so much Sartharion 25 and Naxx 25. We were pretty psyched to get the achievement, though.

As for Malygos, we took him down with two healers, and boy, was I sweating. Tank healing was tight, and raid healing was even dodgier. Meanwhile, my mana pool dipped to absolutely scary levels–which became an emergency when I made a mistake on one attempt and blew my innervate in the gap between phase 1 and phase 2. In my panic I hadn’t even been checking Mal’s health bar. Malygos is a fight I love on 25s, but I have to say that the 10-man was breathtaking. It’s exactly the kind of challenge I want–one that I know I can meet, or that gives me a chance to make improvements between attempts. It has me tempted to go back again. However, once again the rewards aren’t in proportion to the difficulty. I’d say the loot is about on par with Kel’Thuzad’s from Naxx 25–pretty darn good, but not nearly as nice as the stuff that comes out of the easier 25-person version of the same instance.

Has Blizzard Made A Big Mistake?

Clearly, I think they have, or I wouldn’t have written this post. Knowing what I know now, there’s no reason to separate Emblem loot by normal/heroic raid tier. I think I definitely earned an Emblem of Valor or two for that Malygos kill. I had heard before that Sartharion with 3 drakes was absolutely monstrous on 10s, and I thought that was just a freak thing. But based on my personal experience, I’ve come to think that the phenomenon is more widespread. Nothing in Naxx–either version–is all that difficult for my guild, but I do remember that Kel’Thuzad is harder on both healers and melee-heavy groups in the smaller size. Like it or not, I’ve come to the conclusion that raids who run 10-person content only deserve the same compensation as 25-person raiders.

What Can the Developers Do About It?

A lot of people in this game min/max, and it looks like right now, the biggest rewards for a person’s time and effort come out of 25-person content. This is a disappointment to me, because I want the game design to lead me–and my fellow raiders–to the hardest possible content. The game needs to lure us there with rewards and encourage us not to be lazy. I also want everyone to get fair compensation for what they do. I just feel bad about getting better gear for less work than a smaller guild might do. A 10-man guild who clears Sarth with 3 drakes has absolutely played better than I’m capable of right now–and they get a Heroes’ glove token, while I’m wearing a Valorous one? Ludicrous. Moreover, assuming that Ulduar-10 is harder than Ulduar-25, could that mean that a raid really needs i-level 213 gear to do it? The gear gap between 10-person raiders and 25-person raiders is pretty noticeable. As promised, it is very nearly a whole tier of difference. I think I had smaller upgrades, say, between T4 and T5 than I did between Heroes and Valorous.

For Ulduar and all future raids, I urge Blizzard to do one of two things.

1. Eliminate the i-level gap for 10 v. 25 person gear along with the Emblem difference. Put either equivalent or exactly the same items in each tier. The dichotomy was a nice idea, but the dungeon difficulty doesn’t actually support it. Clearly, I never favor lazy solutions, so I’d rather have totally unique sets in each dungeon size tailored towards the attributes that tend to be more important in that particular raid size. For small raids, survivability and mana regeneration/total mana might be key, whereas you might want higher damage output for the larger raids.

2. For the love of Pete, make the 25-person content different from the 10-person content. It’s not enough to adjust the health and damage values. Make the encounter feel different. Add lots of chaos for the 25s so it feels more on the difficulty level of the 10s. Give every one of those 25 raiders something to do, as in the Lady Vashj fight. I would even go so far as to give the bosses different mechanics–think about, say, the difference between Mechano-Lord Capacitator from Mechanar on Normal v. Heroic. Make the 25-person raiders earn their higher i-level sets.

Don’t Be Lazy

The solution to most of the problems I’ve seen in Wrath so far can be summarized with this adage. Wherever the developers have cut corners, things didn’t come out so well. No one’s complaining about the design of the leveling content or 5-person dungeons. That’s because they clearly show that Blizzard lavished time and attention on them. The same is, unfortunately, not true of the dual-tier raid system. I think it’s time to bring it in line.

The 6 Signs of Raiding Burnout

The 6 Signs of Raiding Burnout

We’re just a few weeks into a new expansion, so it feels a little strange to talk about burnout. However, Blizzard made a critical miscalculation when they worked on Wrath. They lavished most of their time and energy on quest and 5-person dungeon content–which is essentially single-view for many players. I know I certainly haven’t brought my alts through Northrend yet. However, they spent very little of their design energy on new raids. Naxxramas, which I never saw pre-Wrath, feels dated to me–it was already old the day I stepped in there. It’s something that was very cool for its time, and is fun even now, but just looks like Classic WoW. It’s like Eastern Plaguelands, part 2. For example, take a boss like Grobbulus. He looks like a butt with a face on it, or a face with a butt on it…or just a butt, with a gas mask. How can I help but be a little disappointed, especially when Blizzard is capable of creating a boss as beautiful as Malygos?

The fact that the new Naxx is tuned to be rather easy isn’t the biggest factor in how I feel about it. After all, I loved Karazhan–it was the unique mechanics and the enchanted-castle look of that place that kept me going back for more, not the difficulty level. The only two new raid instances, Obsidian Sanctum and the Eye of Eternity, are one-boss wonders. They’re cool and challenging, but there’s just not enough new bosses there to get the blood pumping.

I, for one, am very disappointed that Ulduar hasn’t hit yet. At the end of BC, I was on top of the world–Illidan and Archimonde fell for my guild right before the patch. Pre-Wrath, I got a little peek at Sunwell up to Felmyst. I had started to love raiding, and I wanted bigger challenges. . . like an entirely new instance full of beautiful, sad giants and lovely starscapes. I hope that’s Ulduar. If it had been me, I would have held Wrath entirely until at least one new full-length raid dungeon was ready.

Are you suffering from early burnout, dear reader? If one of the following six signs applies to you, you may want to see your nearest priest, who will probably prescribe a healthy diet of alt leveling and shameless achievement-chasing.

The 6 Signs of Early Burnout

1. The first time you ever saw one of the Naxxramas bosses, you said to yourself: “Not this guy again.” That, for me, was Heigan, who looks suspiciously like a lot of the trash mobs in Northrend. Hey! I think I killed that guy in Dragonblight. And Zul’Drak.

2. When your fellow raiders drop a train set, you wish that you could teleport them to Stranglethorn arena and kill them all. Choo choo? I hate you. Note to self: learn to PvP.

3. You’re tempted to send the Four Horseman a little note telling them how to better coordinate themselves for easier kills on overconfident adventurers. Note to the 4H: go for the healers, especially the druids. Wait no, scratch that . . .

4. When a boss dies, you run to get another beer–or in my case, Bailey’s–without bothering to see what he dropped. Purples, schmurples.

5. You and your friends have each incurred a repair bill of approximately 1589 gold this week because you’ve been trying for the Heroic dungeon achievements. After all, achievements are the real game, and all the leet players ride red proto drakes.

6. Tuesday is the high point of your week–not because it’s the start of the raid week, but because that’s the day your egg from the Oracles always hatches. I just got my baby Cobra–how did you do?

Spotlight: Loot Council, a New Upgrade Comparison Tool

Spotlight: Loot Council, a New Upgrade Comparison Tool

loot-council-banner

If you’ve ever been in the hot seat during a loot decision like I have, you already know that it’s important to assess the relative value of the upgrade for all interested players before you weigh in on who should be awarded the item. What if there were a tool that you could use to research upgrades for all your guild members and compare them to each other? That would be pretty cool, right?

My friend Bonkers of Vek’nilash has just developed such a tool. It’s name is–not surprisingly–Loot Council, and it will help any WoW player investigate the gear from a certain dungeon and decide when to pass, and when to bid for an item.

How to Use Loot Council

Once you get to http://loot-council.appspot.com/, you’ll find that you have a form to fill out. To get the most out of Bonkers’ fantastic creation, put in the names of two or more characters of the same class and spec in your guild, separated by commas. To test out the LC tool, I used the names of Conquest’s three resto druids. Then, select a ranking type (Wowhead is working best at the moment) and a dungeon. I put in Naxxramas Heroic. Some Naxxramas normal stuff may still show up–I think Bonkers is working on that.

What you will get is a list of all the items in Naxx that might be of interest to a resto druid and a summary of the comparative upgrade for each player. As with all generic rankings like Wowhead, it can’t tell how important spirit or intellect is to a particular player. However, I find Loot Council’s suggestions to be helpful, especially when I know that I personally want an item. What it helps me see is whether someone else on my team would benefit from getting it first.

Sample Entry

Here’s what you will see when you scroll down to the items that you’re interested in. Even though I’d like to have this item, it looks like a pass to Burningpaw is in order the first time it drops.
loot-council-example

Why Use the Loot Council Tool?

Either for Loot Council members deciding how to award prizes or for individuals deciding whether to pass on an item or spend dkp, the issue of fairness is very important. I always urge people to research their gear, and this tool lets you do that–and, at the same time, research your friends’ gear. Raiding isn’t just about loot–or, in any case, it shouldn’t be. It’s also about friendships, and sharing is one of the things that helps build those bonds. I think it’s no coincidence that the opening page of the Loot Council tool features Oliver and Otto, Bonkers’ two cats–or, I should say, two greedy little piggies who happen to look like cats, and who also happen to be best friends. Oh, if only WoW raiders could be like that. No matter how much we want the loot, we’ve got to learn to share our kibble.

A Druid’s Reaction to the Wild Growth / Circle of Healing Nerf

A Druid’s Reaction to the Wild Growth / Circle of Healing Nerf

wild-growth

Those of you who keep up with upcoming patch notes and blue posts on the official WoW forums have probably known for quite some time–ever since before Wrath’s release in fact–that both Wild Growth and Circle of Healing were living in the shadow of the nerf bat. A 6-second cooldown has been threatened for both spells since beta testing proved their strength.

Now that the nerf has gone to PTRs, a new wave of complaints has swept over most healing websites. If the comments on Matticus’s recent WoWInsider article are any indication, the nerf to AoE insta-heals draws a passionate response from almost all players, whether they belong to one of the affected classes or not. In fact, what surprises me about the whole discussion is the sheer number of vehement, “L2P nub, don’t spam AoE heals” type retorts. A lot of discipline priests, in particular, seem to feel vindicated by the nerf. On the other side are those that passionately argue against nerfs to any class. I sympathize with this point–such an adjustment to two classes makes us all weaker. When there are less available tools in the toolkit, the game becomes both more difficult and less fun to play.

That said, I find myself having very little personal reaction at this point. Perhaps that’s because I’ve known that Wild Growth spam isn’t a long-term tactic for months now? This is not to say that I’m in support of putting in a 6 second cooldown on Wild Growth and Circle of Healing, just that by now I’ve become accustomed to the idea.

From a certain perspective, this nerf seems necessary. The following series of musings is my attempt to take what I’ve observed through Naxx 10 and 25, Sartharion 10 and 25, and Malygos 25 and try to explain why, from the developers’ perspective, it’s druids’ and priests’ turn to cry.

The State of Healing in Wrath

1. Right now, the risk of dps death during raids is minimal. Healing is relatively strong overall, and three out of the four healing classes have capable raid-healing tools.

2. Right now, the risk of tank death during raids is minimal. Healers can keep up with incoming damage, and tank healers often have time to cast spells on other targets.

3. Most encounters are designed with at least some AoE damage. This kind of damage will always be at least a little challenging for healers because they have to deal with the Interface Boss in order to get heals on multiple targets. However, there is no new Gurtogg Bloodboil yet–AoE damage has not been taken to the kind of extremes we saw in BC.

4. Wrath encounters typically require less healers than BC bosses did. For most guilds, I would take the number that they ran with in BC and subtract one to get their perfect number of healers for a 25-person raid.

5. Smart heals like Chain Heal, Circle of Healing, and Wild Growth are really, really effective. It turns out that (surprise, surprise) a computer is better than a human being at calculating who needs a heal.

6. Mana management is less challenging than most bloggers–including me–thought it would be. It turns out that the level 80 epic gear does a pretty good job of getting people the regen they need, even though some of the old familiar tools (mana oil and chain-potting) are history.

The Behavior of Healers in the Wrath environment

Intelligent players respond to the conditions given them, and the top WoW players will always use a play style that the numbers support. Now, there may be individual differences and preferences, but given free choice, almost all players of the same class and spec will, at the top end of the ability spectrum, make the same decisions. Here’s how raiders are reacting to our current capabilities and to the demands of the current content.

1. Healers are using Wild Growth and Circle of Healing to the utmost. And why not? These two heals do, in fact, make the content much easier. If AoE damage is the challenge (and Blizzard seems determined that it should be), these two spells are the antidote of the moment.

2. Healing has become a competition between healers instead of a mad race to keep people alive. No one is going to die anyway–the content is too easy for that. The best healers are trying to sneak in effective heals against their fellows. Spells like Wild Growth, Circle of Healing, and even the high-HPS glyphed Healing Touch shine in an atmosphere of heavy competition.

3. Healers are not focusing on mana efficiency. When the content is easy and the team can kill a boss quickly, mana efficiency is less relevant. There are no prizes awarded for ending an encounter with 40% mana. The only prize available is for healing output. As such, many players end up healing too much too early and needing someone else’s innervate. This has happened to me a few times, and I’ve been trying to watch it.

4. Druids and priests are, in fact, leaving paladins and shamans behind on the meters. This has only one good effect–that shamans aren’t as necessary any more. I’ve recruited for two different guilds, and the hardest position to hire is that of alliance resto shaman. There just aren’t many out there.

What the Developers Hope the Nerf Will Accomplish

Here is where I really get speculative. The following is my best guess about exactly what kind of “fix” the new 6-second cooldown will be.

1. The nerf will retroactively add difficulty to encounters that guilds have already cleared. Some guilds may even find themselves unable to beat a “farm status” boss. As a result, guilds may stay in the current tier of content longer than they otherwise would. This is good for developers, because it stresses them less to release the next tier in a timely manner.

2. The healing meters will shake out a little differently. The conspiracy-loving part of my brain thinks that it’s “best” for Blizzard if people go back to complaining about resto shamans. After all, they’re far less numerous than priests and druids, at least on alliance side. While most guilds could fill their entire healing roster with priests and druids, I doubt anyone could fill theirs entirely with shamans. It’s a safer class to have at the top of the chart.

3. The management of another cooldown will add back some of the difficulty of playing a druid or priest. The developers want playing a healer to be difficult. If healing is difficult, a guild takes longer to go through a tier of content. For example, let’s take the healing druid. In the good old days of managing 7 second Lifebloom stacks on multiple targets, timing used to be everything. With stacking de-incentivized, I often have only one 9 second triple stack to manage, giving me a lot of freedom. I have a feeling though that now I will be casting Wild Growth every time it’s up. There will be a bit of a return to a fixed spell rotation. I hear many healers threatening to give up their AoE spells entirely, maybe even going as far to spec out of them. I tend to agree with Matticus in thinking that, paradoxically, Circle of Healing and Wild Growth will become more important. We’ll need to actively manage those cooldowns, and the effect of that adjustment period will be to slow progress down.

4. There might be room for an extra healer in a healing team. Circle of Healing and Wild Growth have been such workhorses that the old numbers for a healthy healing squad didn’t make sense any more. This might give a few out of work raid healers something to do. It’s not good for Blizzard if lots of players lose their raid spots.

Am I in Favor of the Nerf?

Personally, no I’m not. And yet, I’m not up in arms about it either. I realize that it hits druids less hard than priests, but I’m not worried about either class’s raid spots. Wild Growth and Circle of Healing are still good spells. Comparatively, I’d say that the Lifebloom nerf of a few months ago was much more devastating than this one.

The addition of a 6 sec cooldown to my best-designed spell is not a happy prospect, and it’s not the kind of thing that makes healing “more fun.” In fact, managing an extra cooldown, especially for druids, who are already managing Lifebloom and Swiftmend, is pretty much anti-fun. I’ve never believed developers’ claims that they want to make healing “more fun.” I don’t think that’s really in their advantage–to really make healing more fun would probably “trivialize” the content as well, forcing them to come out with more content patches on an accelerated timeline. What they might actually do is change our interface to be more “interactive”–and also a ton more difficult to use. I dread this prospect a lot more than any nerf to Wild Growth! Think about the new vehicle interfaces and imagine if you had to heal and target with that! What if all healing were like Malygos Phase 3 or the final boss of the Oculus? As it is, I think the developers recognize that healing, more so than tanking or dps, requires players to modify their interface. I hope they just leave us alone with that and let Grid do what their standard frames can or will not.