Tough Call: Turning Down Epics

On this week’s issue of Tough Call, we’re going to discuss an idea that may seem counter-intuitive to some readers, especially at this point in the expansion;

Not taking epics!

Crazy, I know, but hear me out.

To be clear, I don’t mean that you should refuse to take epics, or that your gear doesn’t need to be upgraded.  Anyone who knows me knows that if the loot is on my must-have list, I will absolutely put in for it at the appropriate time.

No, what I’m talking about today is gear that is not BiS.  Your side-grades, your “better than what I have”, or that loot that’s a higher iLvl but not the ultimate piece you want.

Whether you’re running a Loot Council, a points-based system, or even some kind of Rochambeau craziness, you should still take into account the overall benefit that the loot is bringing to your guild. And that includes comparing it to the value gained by not equipping it.

My usual theory when it came to loot in Wrath and BC was “the loot will drop again”.  Nowadays I’m changing my outlook to “is this THE best loot”.  This is because, right now, most guilds should find themselves in a new position where there just aren’t enough epics being DE’d in order to get the maelstrom crystals needed for the best enchants available.

I know right now everyone should be hungry to preform better, and it’s easy to say “well, I’m under-geared” or “I need that upgrade and I can heal/tank/dps through this tough phase”.  Trust me, I really want to get rid of this 333 crap trinket I’ve been saddled with for a few weeks now.  That does not, however, mean that I will seek to equip any available epic tossed my way like a hungry hungry hippo.

Edit: Passed on 2x Jar of Ancient Remedies and used my Valor points on the Core of Ripeness instead.  Int rocks the body that rocks the party.

Let’s use a recent example, the other night we were in Bastion of Twilight and the boss dropped some cloth DPS pants.  Of course our warlocks were wearing iLvl 346 blue pants, yet none of them put in for the shiny new epic.  Their reasoning?  They were all within a few points of getting their tier pants and realized that the maelstrom crystal from disenchanting the pants would be worth more to the guild than giving them epic pants that they’d only wear for a week before they got their 2-piece.  Now that we’ve gotten the needed mats for Power Torrent, those warlocks are doing considerably more DPS than they would be with a pant upgrade that they were able to replace anyways.

Similarly we’ve had melee DPS players pass on their side-grades or off-spec gear in order to get the maelstrom crystals.  I’m certain that when they weighed the stats, the 1000 AP proc on a Landslide enchant that those crystals could get them looked a lot better than the marginal/temporary increase gotten though a non-BiS upgrade.

Of course, the exception to this rule is players with enchanting.  Toss them the non-BiS gear and they’ll reap the benefits of the stat increase while getting ready for the real loot, and you’ll still get your crystals when they’re done.

Please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions for future topics in the comments below.  Additionally, if you happen to know the answer to 10-down on the NY Times Crossword, that one’s been bugging me all day.

When a Bonus is More than a Bonus

When a Bonus is More than a Bonus

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Thanks to MMO Champion and it’s data-ming ways, we now have access to a preliminary version of the Tier 8 set bonuses. It’s anyone’s guess whether these bonuses will actually go live. The bonuses for Resto druid appear to be excellent, though there’s one catch: the 4-piece bonus for Tier 8 is much too good.
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Here we have a classic example of a good set bonus and a “bad” set bonus. Lest you grow angry at me for complaining about buffs as well as nerfs, I’ll explain what I mean.

What makes a set bonus good?

The two-piece Tier 8 bonus, which gives a 10% boost to the throughput of Swiftmend, will be nice to have. Swiftmend is a spell almost every healing druid talents for, and it can be used by both raid healers and tank healers alike. The bonus doesn’t conflict with or double the Glyph of Swiftmend, which is a different and even stronger throughput increase which allows Swiftmend to be applied without consuming one of the druid’s HoTs (either Rejuvenation or Regrowth). Moreover, if I had one piece of advice for most Resto druids, it would be to use Swiftmend more. Many forget all about it because it’s a two-step spell–HoT setup plus instant top-off. I find that I perform much better if I use it whenever it’s up. Still, this bonus will never be overpowered, even in combination with the glyph, because Swiftmend continues to be on a cooldown. Druids will get this bonus and enjoy it, perhaps giggling to themselves over their WWS reports. However, it will be a set bonus that the druid can bear to leave behind for whatever Tier 9 gear has in store.

What makes a set bonus bad?

We’ve all seen set bonuses that are lackluster or unusable. The Tier 6 4-pc Resto druid bonus to Healing Touch comes to mind as a particularly useless one. I passed on Tier 6 pants in favor of badge pants because this bonus simply wasn’t one. However, a bonus that goes in the other direction, becoming so good that it overshadows all other gear upgrades, is actually more harmful to the class and the game. Take, for example, the much-lamented 4pc Tier 5 mage bonus, which entirely changed the functioning of Arcane Blast, greatly upping its damage output at an increasing mana cost. I still /spit on this bonus. It caused the four raiding mages in my former guild to hold onto 4-pc Tier 5 until they were able to equip 4 pieces of Tier 6 at once. The consternation this caused them probably cost my guild several extra hours of loot debate. The mages also faced accusations of DKP hoarding as they waited to buy the early Tier 6 pieces. They had much more DKP than they could spend because of their need to hang onto T5. Moreover, the mages themselves didn’t always pay the increased mana cost. Instead, the druid healers Innervated them. We didn’t mind, exactly, because mana was plentiful for healers at that point, but I couldn’t Innervate all four of them, and I always felt bad when I didn’t have any juice left for a player who asked. However, the most pernicious aspect of the bonus had to do with play style. It pigeon-holed mages into an arcane spec and a set rotation, turning three trees into one for a tier and a half of content. I know one determined fire mage who switched to her warlock in Tier 5 because she didn’t like the arcane playstyle. In the end, the T5 bonus was judged to be too strong, nerfed, and finally taken away.

Ghostcrawler has actually said in the past that a tier bonus should be just that–a bonus. I wholeheartedly agree. However, the 4 pc T8 bonus isn’t going to just be a bonus–it’s going to radically change most druids’ rotations.

Rejuvenation has always been a good spell, but its limiting factor is that it doesn’t tick for 3 seconds after it is applied. In essence, that turns it into a HoT with a long cast. Rejuvenation is probably the druid’s most over-written spell. Thankfully it’s also our most efficient. With the bonus, I would get a tiny burst of healing–1997 in Syd’s current gear–when I cast the spell. That’s less than a Holy Shock, but it has a huge impact. With even a small initial heal, Rejuvenation would be “fixed.” It would go from being something that some druids don’t cast, preferring the faster-ticking Lifebloom and Wild Growth, into the raid healing spell. I think this is a very innovative and necessary addition to the spell; however, it doesn’t belong in a set bonus. This “fix” would get druids away from using Lifebloom for every situation, and that’s great. However, if this change is truly imagined as a “fix” to the spell, it needs to be made permanent through talents. Hell, I think it’s worth 5 of my talent points–or even the entire space in the tree occupied by Revitalize and Living Seed. This one little set bonus would give druids what they’ve always wanted–a tool to keep others from sniping their heals.

“Sniping,” for the uninitiated, is the practice of going outside one’s own healing assignment to heal someone else’s target, particularly a target that already has a ticking hot or a slower-casting incoming heal. Typically, players snipe with quick heals–Flash Heal, Flash of Light, Chain Heal, even Nourish or glyphed Healing Touch. As I’ve explained before, healers will never stop sniping–in any case, not until the default UI shows incoming heals and HoTs, mana is as scarce as roses in the Alaskan winter, and healing meters go extinct. Druids are incredibly vulnerable to heal-snipers as most of our healing takes a bit of setup before it starts to work. Ghostcrawler has said in the past that heal-sniping is a valid concern, but it’s not going to be fixed through nerfing mana. Other tools have to be used against it, and the new Rejuvenation is a perfect fit. Healers who play without any incoming heal data will be able to see that the target is covered and consequently will turn elsewhere, even (gasp!) back to their own assigned target.

The change to Rejuvenation needs to be either a talent or a glyph–and I would prefer talent, because then it would correspond to priests’ new talented Renew, which just got a similar front-ended burst. Renew has never been as good as Rejuvenation in the past, but with a small initial burst, it might just be better than Rejuv post-3.1.

In any case, if this tier bonus remains unaltered, druids will wear their Tier 8 until they have 4 pc of Tier 9–and maybe even beyond. This set bonus is more powerful than any one gear upgrade–and I would say, probably more powerful than four. It steps beyond what a bonus is supposed to do. At maximum, I’d say the set bonus for a previous tier should maybe give a player pause about equipping just two pieces of the new tier or item level, as it may be. Not all the best pieces are part of a set. However, when it gets to three upgrades over the stats on the old tier, players should be happy about making a change.

I’m concerned, Blizzard–very concerned. Thinking as both a raiding druids and a guild officer, I’d rather not wrestle with this particular angel, as good as that set bonus may seem when we’re sitting at the beginning, not the end, of Tier 8.

Tier 7 Bonuses: A Guide to What’s Hot and What’s Not

Tier 7 Bonuses: A Guide to What’s Hot and What’s Not

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Updates:: This is another classic example of me not fact checking my stuff. This post sat in my draft queue since early January. Other things came up and I set it aside for the time being. Patches 3.0.8 and 3.0.9 were released and I forgot that some changes were made. Resto Druids 2 piece, Feral Druid 2 piece notes have been changed. Stop’s opinions have been revised. I split the tanking and DPS feral druids accordingly instead of lumping them together. Added another Enhancement Shaman perspective. Sorry! :(

Tier pieces have a history of granting bonuses. Blizzard has an even more illustrious history of giving set bonuses that are really good and some that are really bad. I don’t know everything about every class. Yet, as a member of loot council, I should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the various set pieces. Like it or not, set bonuses do tend to have an impact on decisions. One of the Resto Shamans in my guild was the first to get the 4 piece (because Archavon was kind and dropped 2 Resto pieces).

To help you understand and decide on your set pieces, I’ve consulted my guild and several other prominent bloggers and players in the community. I don’t know as much as I would like about other classes and it wouldn’t be fair for me to make any assumptions (without asking others about it first).

This post will be broken down into 4 different roles: Tanking, melee DPS, ranged DPS, and healers.

Tanking

Warriors

2 piece: Increases the damage of your Shield Slam by 10%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Increases the duration of your Shield Wall by 3 seconds. Rating: Moderate

Several of the tanking Warriors I consulted weren’t impressed with the Warrior 4 piece. Prot Warrior blogger Veneretio only had this to say:

"It’s a great bonus if the 4 pieces fall into your lap, but the current non-set itemization is so strong that you’ll be hard pressed to even get the 2 piece. Basically, it’s go for the 7.5 gloves and another set piece (like shoulders or chest).”

Druid

2 piece: Your Rip lasts for an additional 4 seconds, and your Lacerate deals an additional 5% damage. Rating: Good (for both)

4 piece: Increases the duration of Barkskin by 3 seconds. Tiger’s Fury cooldown reduced by 3 seconds. Rating: Good for tanks

I had to consult Feral Druid Karthis about this one.

His thoughts on the 2 piece:

“While extra damage is always nice, Lacerate doesn’t form a crucial part of a bear tank’s output – Maul and Mangle generally outperform it (although Mangle is close).  Since threat is a non-issue in the existing content, this set bonus is even further trivialized.”

On the 4 piece:

“This unassuming-sounding set bonus is actually fairly significant.  Barkskin reduces damage taken by 20% and usually lasts for 12s.  It is a spell that every tank should be re-casting as soon as it is off cooldown.  Boosting the uptime to 15s only improves an already must-use skill, and further reduces the total incoming damage that must be healed through.”

Paladin

2 piece: Increases the damage dealt by your Hammer of the Righteous by 10%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Increases the duration of your Divine Shield and Divine Protection by 3 seconds. Rating: Moderate

HoR is good AoE threat. 4 piece is irrelevant to raiding. (Thanks Myze!)

From what I’ve been told, the 2 piece is good. The 4 piece appears to be just average. The situation seems to be similar to the Warrior 4 piece. Divine Protection is probably going to get used more often in the same was Shield Wall would be. Thanks Anna!

Death Knight

2 piece: Increases the critical strike chance of your Plague Strike by 10%. Rating: Moderate

4 piece: Increases the duration of your Icebound Fortitude by 3 seconds. Rating: Good

When Stop speaks, I listen:

2 piece: It’s still not fantastic… at all. Plague Strike is one of our lowest-hitting abilities, and improving its crit chance is not as useful as if they’d increased its crit damage. Basically, the 2-piece bonus is not worth going for.

4 piece: About the tanking gear 4-piece bonus: If you have to have a set bonus, this would be the one to go for. However, I don’t know if I’d pass up other gear just to get it, depending on your playstyle. Icebound Fortitude is basically Barkskin, and with some specs being squishier than others, some use it constantly while some use it like a moderately less effective Shield Wall. If you use IBF every time it’s up, go for this bonus. Otherwise, consider it a nice perk for getting this already-nicely-statted tank gear.

Melee DPS

Warriors

2 piece: Increases the damage of your Slam by 10%. Rating: Good.

4 piece: Your Bleed periodic effects have a chance to make your next ability cost 5 less rage. Rating: Moderate

Not that hot. Most DPS Warriors don’t have as much rage issues from what I’m told. But the Slam bonus is very nice.

Rogues

2 piece: Increases the damage dealt by your Rupture by 10%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Reduces the Energy cost of your Combo moves by 5%. Rating: Ugh

“The two-piece bonus seems pretty useful but I’m unconvinced about the four-piece.” Seri, Snarkcraft

“Just that the two piece is a huge bonus for rogues while the four piece is lackluster considering the amount of energy used to perform the combo moves.” – Cassio

Druids

2 piece: Your Rip lasts for an additional 4 seconds, and your Lacerate deals an additional 5% damage. Rating: Good

4 piece: Increases the duration of Barkskin by 3 seconds. Tiger’s Fury cooldown reduced by 3 seconds. Rating: Not great for DPS kitties

2 piece notes: “This is an important set bonus for a feral cat’s long term sanity.  Kitty DPS is stressful – there are four separate buffs/debuffs that need to be monitored.  By increasing the duration of Rip, a Druid is allowed more wiggle room to keep the other three (Rake, Mangle, Savage Roar) all active, which leads to consistently higher DPS.  “

4 piece notes: “It reduces the Tiger’s Fury cooldown by 3s. While TF is used every 30s, the top theorycrafters say that this new bonus is almost meaningless, clocking in at an extra 0.7% dps. There are much better gear choices that provide a bigger DPS boost than that.” (Karthis’ notes in the comments)

Shamans

2 piece: Your Lightning Shield damage is increased by 10%. Rating: Not so good.

4 piece: Your Flurry effect provides an additional 5% melee haste. Rating: Good

Not the greatest. Most Shamans don’t appear to pick up the Static Shock talent. Water shield is primarily used since they go through mana quickly. The 4 piece is decent as it results in overall faster hits.

On the other hand:

It is actually fairly good, static shock is a must take ability for an enh shammy. When I look at my WWS, lightning shield represents about 6% of my total damage output. Since I am at about 4k DPS right now that means my lightning shield is doing about 240 DPS.

Paladins

2 piece: Increases the damage dealt by your Divine Storm by 10%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Reduces the cooldown of your Judgment of Light, Judgment of Wisdom and Judgment of Justice by 1 second. Rating: Good

An overall net increase in DPS. Your Ret Paladins will love it. From what I’ve been told, Ret Paladins have this in their rotation anyway.

Death Knight

2 piece: Increases the critical strike chance of your Obliterate and Scourge Strike abilities by 5%. Rating: Good.

4 piece: Your Obliterate and Scourge Strike generate an additional 10 Runic Power when used. Rating: Moderate

DPS 2 piece: The only people who won’t benefit from this are dual-wielders. Every two-handed build in common usage uses either Obliterate or Scourge Strike, so for much the same reason as how Heigan’s sigil is great for pretty much every two-hander-using DK, this set piece bonus is fantastic for them. I’m still trying to get a set piece just for this bonus, in fact!

DPS 4 piece: I have no idea what they were thinking with this. I think they would’ve done better to try to rip off another class’s bonus, like, say, warriors? No DK should be having problems generating runic power, two-handed or dual-wield, period. Plus, again, this is useless for dual-wielders – both of the DPS plate set bonuses are geared exclusively towards two-handed weapon users. All that aside – I would never gear for this set bonus specifically.

– Stoppable force.

Ranged DPS

Priests

2 piece: The mana cost of your Mind Blast is reduced by 10%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Your Shadow Word: Death has an additional 10% chance to critically strike. Rating: Not so good

From my Shadow Priests:

The 2 piece is nice but is purely for mana efficiency on Mind Blast and doesn’t really matter much if you have stacked Spirit and Crit like most Shadow Priests do. The 4 piece isn’t worth it because with itemization there are many pieces that add more DPS than the 10% critical chance to Shadow Word: Death.

Druid

2 piece: Your Insect Swarm deals an additional 10% damage. Rating: Good

4 piece: Your Wrath and Starfire spells gain an additional 5% critical strike chance. Rating: Good

Boomkin ones are awesome all the way around. Insect swarm should always be up and 5% extra crit on our two major nukes is flat out gibbering insane. – Llanion, Moooonfire

Shaman

2 piece: Your Lightning Bolt costs 5% less mana. Rating: Moderate

4 piece: The bonus critical strike damage of your Lava Burst is increased by 10%. Rating: Good

I play an Elemental Shaman in my off nights and I absolutely love it. I don’t have a ton of mana problems in the beginning. Fights are short enough that I won’t be taxing my mana pool. The 4 piece set bonus is great for me. Flame Shock guarantees that my next Lava Burst will crit. This means Lava Burst will get an increase of 10% damage no matter what. Normally I’ll do around 8000 damage per Lava Burst. This shoots it up to a little under 9000. Fights like Thaddius or Malygos where your damage gets increased will have Shamans see an extremely noticeable amount (18000 with Sparks)!

Mages

2 piece: You gain 40% more mana when you use a mana gem. In addition, using a mana gem grants you 225 spell power for 15 sec. Rating: Moderate

4 piece: Your offensive spells gain an additional 5% increased critical strike bonus damage. Rating: Good

I consulted one of my Mages on this and he tells me that the 2 piece is nice for the extra mana boost. The 4 piece could potentially equal a 1%-2% overall DPS increase.

Hunters

2 piece: Your pet deals an additional 5% damage. Rating: Good

4 piece: Your ranged attack speed is increased by 20% while Aspect of the Viper is active. Rating: Good

2 piece bonus is nice for any spec, but it’s particularly good for MM or SV looking to close the gap in pet damage. The 4 piece bonus is kind of a nice boost to DPS while in regen mode, but nothing earth shattering, looks like. – Lassirra, The Hunters Mark

Warlocks

2 piece: Your Corruption and Immolate periodic effects have a chance to increase the next critical strike chance of your next Shadow Bolt or Incinerate by 10%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Casting Life Tap grants you an additional 300 spirit for 10 seconds. Rating: Good

“2 piece bonus is really good. 4 piece bonus is- OMG WHY DON’T I ALREADY HAVE THIS?”  – nibuca

Note: Nib immediately dashed off and could not be reached for further comment.

Healers

Priests

2 piece: Your Prayer of Mending will jump an additional time. Rating: Good

4 piece: The cost of your Greater Heal is reduced by 5%. Rating: No, not really

Personally, I’d say go consult your WWS on this. Try to get a feel for how often you use Greater Heal and see if you can justify it. I don’t use Greater Heal as often. When you think about it, 5% off of Greater Heal is about 50 mana or so. I don’t use this spell enough to warrant the free payback. But if you do, then it is something for you to consider. Otherwise, go for 2 sets then defer the rest to the other classes (like Warlocks or Paladins). Obviously if the 7.5’s drop and you have nothing else better in the slots (like heroic gear), go ahead and take a stab at it.

Shaman

2 piece: Your Water Shield is 10% stronger (each tick restores 10% more mana). Rating: Good

4 piece: Increases the healing done by your Chain Heal and Healing Wave by 5%. Rating: Good

Earthshatter set bonuses for Resto Shaman are awesome! Because they buff Water Shield as well as Chain Heal and Healing Wave, they manage to suit most of the various healing styles that Resto Shaman can perform (Anna, Too Many Annas)

Druid

2 piece: The cost of your Rejuvenation Lifebloom is reduced by 5%. Rating: Good

4 piece: Your Nourish heals an additional 5% for each of your heal over time effects present on the target. Rating: Good

2 piece is solid. Rejuvenation Lifebloom gets used frequently. With the 4 piece, Nourish becomes even stronger for Resto Druids. At least, this is what Syd tells me. Can’t go wrong here!

Paladin

2 piece: Your Holy Shock gains an additional 10% chance to critically strike. Rating: Good

4 piece: The cost of your Holy Light is reduced by 5%. Rating: Good

"Neither bonus is play-changing in the way that old set bonuses have been (4pcT5, anyone?) but both 2pc and 4pc bonuses are nice boosts to our mana-intensive spells." – Siha, Banana Shoulders

Hopefully this summary will help you in your loot decisions! For the DKP players, maybe it’ll even save you some points for other items instead!

Image courtesy of riyono