Thursday, January 28, 2010

Life at Entry Level

I ran into a couple of interesting blog posts from the past few days: Blessing of Kings and Greedy Goblin. The topic? Boosting, socials, and dynamics inside the LFD.

I will be the first to admit, I've had my share of facepalms at people in pugs who were beyond incompetent. Sure, they were logged in and standing there, but were they ignoring the error message saying they were facing the wrong way? Is that how a DK can really manage to (only) do 800 dps? We've all had them.

Gevlon, however, isn't really railing against these superbads, he's railing against underperformers in general. With his ungeared project, he's showing what can be done in blues (and showing just how many people he can out perform). I think it's great and refreshing to remind us all that gear isn't everything, but expecting everyone to play up to his standard can only lead to heartache. In fact, when pugging, my advice is to just have really low expectations so you are more likely to be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't fail horribly.

So, now I'm a raiding paladin healer ridiculous amounts of mana and healing capability. I do my random every day to collect my frost badges just like any good raider should do. When I queue, I'm not looking for a challenge, I'm looking to do a repetitive group activity in decent time and collect the badges. I don't look at recount (I don't even run it anymore), because it just doesn't matter unless it's H HoR (which I'll know half-way through the first trash wave if we have enough DPS to do the rest). In a five man group, regardless of gear, there's almost always going to be a couple of strong players doing the bulk of the work while two or three are just there for the ride.

It's just like real life, kinda. I think of all the stupid bullshit projects I've had to do in high school, in college, and at work. Any time a group is formed, there's going to be varying degrees of enthusiasm/participation/effort. There's the one or two guys (we might have already called them brown-nosers) trying to push it ahead, keep it moving, and getting frustrated that the other members honestly don't care and are just following them around. Maybe the followers are stupid, maybe they just don't care, or maybe they realize that in the long run it doesn't make much difference either way. It might seem logical that if all five remained focused, they could do the project in record time - maybe that two hour session that's required to get it done could be done in an hour if everything went right. I don't think the "casual" in this situation sees it that way - they see the project assigned to take two hours and just resign themselves to giving two hours of their time, even if they know it's not going to be a very productive two hours.

I come to the LFD with the same attitude - so long as there are two or three of us willing to keep pushing forward, our heroic will progress and succeed. Sure, it would go faster if all five us of were focused, but unlike my real life example, heroics can't go much faster than they already do, even if two DPS are very low. I don't notice the difference between a DPS doing 3k and 5k DPS in a five man - anything more than 3k isn't noticeable in the time it takes for stuff to die. The amount of DPS required collectively in a heroic is easily achieved by a couple of players.

I don't get bent out of shape by players doing low DPS. I agree, doing less than 2k is "wtf r u doin r u afk lolz", but, I'm not going to grow any gray hairs over a warlock pulling 1.2k (I totally thought he was a mage till he summoned a demon after the second boss!). I am not going to get him kicked, because it's simply not worth the effort when the heroic could easily be three-manned. So maybe he isn't pushing his buttons as fast and hard (or even in the right order, or the right buttons) as the other guys. We'll still get the badges. Am I guilty for carrying the guy? Eh. That didn't stop me from putting more effort into my school projects than some of my peers, I doubt it's ever stopped anyone who really wanted to succeed. I wanted the project completed badly enough to keep my mouth shut and reach my goals. It's a part of the team dynamic, which is integral to MMO's, that there are going to be more involved players and players who are along for the ride. At it's healthiest, an MMO will always have all players at all level of content and performance, with various reasons they play the game.

I think that in Cataclysm we will see more of the same. The Heroics might be tuned to be harder for longer, but anytime five people are grouped, there are going to be five different ideas of acceptable contributions to group play. Content can't be tuned to challenge all five people at once without being being inaccessible to the majority. With the way Blizzard has set up their badge and tiered gear, heroics are always going to be a conglomerate of new players, raiders doing their daily, and alts grinding out the badges for gear or gems.

Once in a while I play with a very good friend of mine and pseudo-fresh-80 druid. We met in game more than a year ago but our friendship has grown and gravitated almost entirely outside of WoW. She's a casual, I'm a raider. We raided Naxx long long ago when she had the occasional Friday night off, but as time and tiers progressed we ran out of meaningful ways to play together that weren't either trivial for me or hard for her to contribute. Even trying to do a heroic could be difficult - I'd already be saved for the daily, she had already done this and this, and could we even find a tank willing to go here?, etc. etc. The LFD has been great for me to play with her - we queue together, the LFD chooses our instance for us, I get my frost badges, or, I can bring an alt that still needs badges. With the new LFD system, I'm getting and giving just as much out of the run as she is, so it's better playing for both of us.

I'm sure a goblin would pitch a fit about her DPS, but I don't care. She's performing exactly as a casual - limited playtime, little to no spec/rotation research, and "unacceptably low" DPS from a raiding standpoint. A long time ago, I accepted that she and I are different - I'm a bit OCD about my performance, and I spend a lot of time researching, seeing what others are doing, etc. etc. She signs on to enjoy a couple hours before she works a double, and she can jump in LFD because her DPS is "good enough." Some people see this is a sign of a problem, but I think this is really working as intended. Long gone are the "old days" of the MMORPG where you were cutting edge or you were nothing. Blizzard has made the game accessible - and fun - for players with limited playtime, and that's what makes it popular. It means more entry level content, and more entry level performance. The game designers have even devised ways to keep the hardcore players invested with available time sinks (raids/hardmodes/crafting/gathering raid supplies/dailies), while giving casual players stuff to do when they only have an hour to kill before RL calls.

I could compare the levels of play available in WoW to the levels of learning available in education. Consider the projects (and students) in a Math 101 type course. I would expect, in a five person group assigned randomly, that there would be one or two people who are math-savvy, this is easy for them, and the rest being there because Math 101 is required for their degree or certificate. The project is likely doable and easy for everyone, but you'll have that girl who "can't do math", won't try, and someone will do it for her and finish the project. After all, the project is for a Math 101 class. It's entry level and is designed to be accessible for all students.

Things are a bit different in your 300 level classes and graduate work. The projects are designed to be harder, require a bit more work on everyone's part, and will be judged less forgivingly. Anyone who has made it to through several semesters of the entry level classes is specialized enough to care about the content at hand. If you want to sign up for Advanced Applied Trig, the excuse "I'm not good at math" isn't an option anymore. You either step up or you drop the class. This is where I put progression raiding - you either learn the fights and max your performance, or you have to drop.

In the same vein, Heroics are designed to be the entry level content for PVE. They are "easy", you just have to do it. Yes, there will be someone more interested in their cell phone than the boss, but this is life at entry level. I choose the people I raid with a lot more carefully. I have higher expectations for these people, as I'm electing to undertake larger, more time-intensive and costly endeavors with them. Raiders are the upperclassmen of WoW, so to speak, but we still have to do our 101's with all the people who are just sitting there soaking up credits. I used to get all worked up about the inequality but I just can't, anymore. We all got a passing grade on the project, or got our badges, life goes on. If I'm constantly being disappointed by performance I see at entry-level, then my expectations for entry level might just be too high.

The argument that carrying players at entry level (healing them through stupid, accepting low dps) will only hurt them at progression level never sat well with me either. Players who hunger to play at the highest level will do what they need to do to play at the highest level. There is no "teaching someone a lesson" at entry level - he or she will either want to learn (and will do so without my comments) or will refuse to learn. The rogue who complains that I should just heal through it will not be convinced that it's better for him to move than me to blow cooldowns on him. I am not concerned - he will not be invited to my raid-level content, but he's "good enough" to play at entry level.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Compromise and Balance

Last post I talked about switching my Holy/Ret dual spec to Holy/Prot and having the same talents for both specs with different glyphs. I wanted to update and talk about it. Last night I went into some five mans with my FoL gear/glyphs and bubblespec talents. I decided to give it a try without Glyph of Beacon of Light, because I couldn't say goodbye to Glyph of Holy Shock. I haven't raided with it yet but I had a lot of fun. I think Divine Guardian is really the fix to the GCD-lock pressure I was feeling. So there's my compromise - I switched my talents but not my glyphs.

After some reflection, I've decided I don't have two specialized specs like I thought I did. My main spec (stack Int, spam Holy Light) is extremely specialized, and it's my best gear. My off-spec gear isn't a full set - instead, it's several pieces of gear gemmed full-on for spellpower, filled out with the rest of new ICC gear that just can't compare to the 10 man/crafted gear I had for my offset. The end result is that I still have almost 30k mana self-buffed in my "spellpower set", while having more spellpower to give extra oomph to my FoL and Shock. I'm sure my Flashes don't Flash as hard as someone who's min-maxed and gemmed full spellpower, but it works for regular mode content and gives me two ways to play my paladin.

This is alluring to me because while I like being a specialized, single-focused min-maxer in my main spec, it's nice to have an off-spec that is balanced (well, more balanced). I have plenty of regen from gear/trinkets, and a nice mix of spellpower and Intellect. It makes "easy" stuff a bit more fun - nicer Holy Shocks for damage, heftier Judgements, and being able to forget about Divine Plea once in a while.

The other thing that I am happy about is the great Sacred Shield procs I got in Saurfang the other night using my new, more powerful Sacred Shield. Here's the log. I had been watching my amount absorbed by Sacred Shield for a while now, and while I used to have a low uptime on the buff, I've gotten much better about it and now I'm also focusing on trying to give my Shields the opportunity to proc (as well as get absorbed). In this log I absorbed almost 95k, which, while nothing compared to the raw healing that Holy Light is capable of, is a decent amount in a fight that's designed to encourage focus and consistency over max HPS.

In other news, with the changes we had to the raid roster and guild, we didn't get to any hard bosses this week because we just didn't have 25 people online. I really want to get in and learn Festergut and Rotface, but it looks like that's been pushed off for another week. Our guild has to recruit to cover these gaps. We need a tank and a couple of DPS (although more likely to happen will be one of our tanking-capable DPS will switch and we'll be recruiting DPS). I kinda wonder how that's going to go... This late in the expansion, there are players of all walks looking for guilds and things to do. I'm sure we will find people who want to raid, but will we find people who are able to jump in where we are at?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rethinking Holy/Ret

The other night at Saur, well, we had quite a few problems getting him down. It was mostly avoiding marks, but we were also getting marks too soon. I was assigned to heal Marks #1 & 2, so I am prepared to be healing for most of the fight. Somehow, though, we ended up with 5+ Marks before frenzy, so I got quite a few attempts at just practicing my role - healing 2 Marks all night long.

After attempt #3 I felt like Holy Light wasn't giving me as much joy as it usually does. It's a teensy bit too slow. Marks are both taking consistent, predictable, light damage... So it's really a good job for Flash of Light. I swapped over to my FoL (critspec) spec and gave it a try.

It actually works quite well, FoL could keep up just fine with most damage, and my gear now contains enough haste that an elemental shaman in the raid means I'm at a 1.0 second Flash of Light. It's a nice pace for Marks, and Glyph of Holy Shock allowed me a bit of freedom between Flashes on raid or tanks.

My biggest problem is once we have two Marks I'm assigned to heal, it's hard to manage extra buttons that don't actively heal - most specifically, Beacon of Light and Sacred Shield. As we gear up and our healers and DPS get a bit more health, these stop gaps in healing won't seem as terrifying. In the meantime, though, critspec isn't going to work for me - I find myself needing to refresh buffs more often than I'm used to in bubblespec, and those are precious GCD's wasted not healing. After being so reluctant to lose my critspec three months ago, I just can't live without Divine Guardian. Or Glyph of Beacon of Light.

I initially thought "oh I'll respec and switch points around" but then I'd have have two of the exact same spec. It's fun to say that I'm double bubble but why have the exact same talents two times? If I want Divine Sacrifice for both specs, the only thing would be different would be glyphs and gear. I already carry around the gear for my FoL set (and even some random junk that isn't for either), I could just dedicate some more space in my bags to glyphs.

I could free up my dual spec for something else, although I don't know what that something would be. I have a dusty set of 226 tanking gear, but I'm not interested in raid tanking. It's fine for heroics, but I don't need to grind heroics on my raiding main. I haven't been Ret since... pre-Wrath. Madammayhem went Protection and I went Holy when we were level 60 and we haven't looked back. It's late enough in the expansion that picking up a new set of gear feels like a waste of time. Knowing full well that we are going to do the same Holy/Prot duo-pull-everything-in-the-zone-and-turn-in-the-quests grinding to 85, I doubt I'll need Ret then.

I guess my paladin can just be a Holy Paladin. It's certainly enough to keep her busy. Having the exact same talent build twice isn't so odd, right? I really do love bubblespec!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Panthers Can Parry?

My baby druid decided to do some hunting in Stranglethorn Vale, and I never noticed it before... but panthers can parry. Sure, our tanks are all balanced around mitigation that makes sense (death knights can parry and dodge but not block because they have no shield, and druids can only dodge), but these lowbie panthers, tigers and raptors from classic have learned something we can't - to parry and block with their furry paws and reptilian talons.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do You Want To Date My Avatar

Felicia Day is delightful!

Paladins (and everyone): Present and Future

This is the Part II to the previous post about paladins in the past year and a half, and some expectations/wishes for Cataclysm Some of these I'm looking forward to, some I expect anyways, and some I would just really like.

1. The Talent Tree overhaul. Talents that give you +heals or +damage are supposedly out the door, and talents are going to focus more on giving new abilities or adding special effects to existing abilities. This. Is. Awesome.

My biggest complaint with the BC priest talent trees was the feeling of prohibition. I felt that the Holy and Disc trees were designed to keep you from getting too many cool talents at once instead of letting you have good synergy with the points you had.

Also in this new talent system, for each talent point you spend in a tree, you will get a passive buff to *some important stat for your class/role*. Which is why the change of getting rid of those filler talents is great - we're going to be getting a little bit of oomph each time we spend a talent point.

Another wish I have for this new talent tree overhaul is more choices. Of course I'm going to discus the Holy tree for paladins, since most of us agree that there is too much filler, too many "junk" points you have to get just to build up to Beacon of Light. Some talents (in all trees) are PVP oriented or PVE oriented. I would like more talents that can be awesome for both PVE and PVP. I would like more choices at the bottom - maybe instead of having one 51-pointer, have two... with the caveat that choosing one makes the other unavailable. Of course, these talents would have to be balanced closely or we will still have the same cookie-cutter builds we have now. If for instance, paladins had to choose between their Bacon and a really crappy 51-pointer, a paladin would be ridiculed for not having Beacon, so there's really no choice there without proper balance.

2. The spellpower/attack power overhaul. Much like +healing/+spelldamage disappeared in the transition from BC to Wrath, spellpower and attack power are disappearing and being replaced with Mastery. I am optimistic about this change. Instead of spellpower giving you more damage or healing, the stat Intellect will (I predict that critical strike rating will be unlinked from Intellect and either linked to another stat or just left to stand on its own to slow down gear progression throughout the expansion). It will allow for a lot more flexibility in gearing - blue comments have hinted that they want upgrades to be upgrades without needing a spreadsheet. I like the idea, so long as we still have some choices, and I think we will. However, I do believe that spellpower has not ever been a choice, not for me on any of my healers. Most of the gear available from a given tier has comparable amounts of spellpower, if not the same numbers. So for me to make a choice between two pieces of gear available from a badge vender, for example, a mail helm or a plate helm from Triumph badges. They have the exact same stamina/intellect/spellpower/gem slots/socket bonus/spellpower. The difference is that the plate has crit/mp5 and the mail has haste/mp5. My only "choice" was do I want haste or do I want critical strike rating? (I don't feel I have a choice, until I am haste capped I will "choose" haste). It doesn't matter that either of those helms have spellpower because almost all the ilevel 245 gear has the same amount. There's no choice to focus on spellpower (except via gems and enchants, which we should still be able to do if Mastery is worked into those professions). As a healer, my choices are really between haste, crit, and Mp5, and it's been that way throughout the entire expansion.

3. The spirit un-nerf. (Or, you will want spirit, we will make you want it). Many clothies and leather-wearers have had a love-hate relationship with Spirit through Wrath. In BC, it was a powerful regen stat, but Blizzard nerfed the amount of regen it gives outside of the 5 second rule because they didn't like what it did to boss fights with transitions and how much mana priests and druids could get back by not casting. GC has also gone as far as to say that he thinks not doing anything (getting outside of the 5 second rule) for that long to preserve resources isn't fun. It makes me think that we will be seeing more active mana regen talents. Did I mention yet that they are overhauling Paladin and Shaman healers to make them spirit-based as well? All healers will want spirit, and DPS will not (mages, warlocks, and boomkins will supposedly not be getting spirit or spirit-conversion talents). Paladins and Shamans will be getting a "meditation-like" talent. As much as I'm not for even more homogenization, I think it's a welcome change for what it will do to delineate what is healer gear and what is DPS gear. Also, now that our mail and plate wearing healers want spirit, Mp5 is going to disappear. I would like the five second rule will be replaced by an in-combat, out-of-combat system (provided they tweak out of combat so it's less buggy and allows me do out of combat things when the fight is over).

Also in the vein of what healers are doing during a fight, I would like to see more things to do other than just filling up green bars while working to keep my blue one from going down. The Priest Discipline tree has a couple of great examples - Pain Suppression and Power Infusion. A special Judgement effect that only holy paladins can give would be awesome. Wouldn't it be neat if a priest could channel for 5 seconds to give 10 seconds of damage reduction? (I suggest channeling because of PVP concerns). Would a shaman enjoy having a special ability (other than Heroism/Bloodlust), perhaps in the flavor of an extra totem with a special buff they could use once or twice a fight? I can't think of specific abilities I'd want my healers to have, and Blizzard would have to balance these carefully (I don't want to hear from a rogue that we wiped because my tree didn't give him an agility buff often enough during the fight). I would hate for the "stuff to do while we're not healing" evolve into one class being assigned to only heal and not buff because their buffs suck, while another class being told to "not heal and buff those dps moar". No matter the implementation, I want more stuff to do to support my raid other than my green numbers!

4. Reforging. How many times has caster gear with hit on it dropped and everyone passed because no one wants hit anymore? (Our DPS are capped, and our healers don't want it). In theory, this will happen less with the ability to go up to a crafter and switch one stat for another. The example I remember reading was that spirit and hit would be exchangeable. A cloth item with stamina/intellect and hit/crit could be changed into an item with stamina/intellect/spirit and crit. The idea is less gear sharded and more gear getting worn via reforging. If implemented well (and I believe Blizzard wants to do a good job), this could be great. I wonder if strength or agility will be able to be reforged into intellect or spirit, as well? This could solve what many view as the problem of spellpower plate - hundreds of pieces of gear designed for only one of thirty specs in the game. If a paladin could reforge a plate item from stamina/strength and crit/hit to have stamina/intellect/spirit and crit, the game designers spend less time creating items for thirty possible specs and more time designing items that more players could use (with a trip to the forge). There will be limitations, I'm sure: we will not be able to over-stack a stat and some stats will probably not be available for reforge (stamina comes to mind). Another idea I could see being implemented is another version of the token-drop system. Much like tier gear tokens dropped in Naxx and Ulduar, a helm token would drop and the awarded player would get the choice in what piece of head gear to turn it in for. Unlike tier gear, these wouldn't have to be limited to certain class types or even armor types. (Or, if they did do class or armor type limits, they could be a bit broader than tier gear is now, and the server could check to make sure there's the appropriate recipient in the raid before it drops the token). This wouldn't have to replace the way loot drops now, it could be used to enhance the way loot is done now.

5. Defense Cap. There have been no announcements (that I am aware of) that the defense cap is going away, but I think it will. Druids are a prime example of a tank that does not need to reach a specific number in defense to tank. In fact, I really like druid tanking and the way that itemization for druid gear works because there is no "tanking" leather. In the feral tree, there's a talent that makes them uncrittable, so they don't have to be "defense capped". I hope to see similar talents added for the other tanking classes, because the defense cap makes getting started as a tank gearing up artificially harder than other roles and takes switching around enchants and gems early on. I would like to see defense as a stat not to cap, but to add more mitigation, so that tanks will want it for the mitigation it offers, and like other stats, more would be better. EDIT: I found this post from MMO-champion. Not quite the removal of defense cap, but Blizzard definitely sees the need for more viable tanking specs in small-group content. Yay!

6. Hit Rating and Dispels. I don't mind that offensive dispels need hit rating for maximum effectiveness, but it's frustrating as a healer to miss a Cleanse on a tank. Steelbreaker comes to mind as the most taxing example, where your tank would die if you were resisted. I've heard players on the forum say "oh I never get dispel resists those things don't happen often enough to be worth talking about" but I don't believe that. In a raid setting (especially if you raid with trigger-happy dispelling priests like I do), I will dispel and then the effect disappears (because we had three people try to dispel it at once). In a five man (or a 10 man where I'm the only player who can dispel magic), I notice those resists quite a bit more. Most of the time it's not a raid-wipe... but it's also a tad frustrating that the best dispeller in the group is a hit-capped DPS who should not be focused on decursing, but doing damage to the boss. As much as I love the idea of everyone supporting everyone, I expect that Cataclysm will continue to have tight enrage timers, leaving the support role of decursing to the healers. I also half-expect talents in DPS trees to be reworked to get rid of a "cap" on how much hit is needed. Right now, any points beyond the hit cap are wasted points. On my balance druid this is painful - she had way too much hit too soon, but I can't get rid of it all without a severe overhaul in her gear (and competing with resto druids and all clothies for cloth and leather with no hit on it). I don't like how hit is necessary to gem and enchant for in the beginning of an expansion and becomes a stat that needs to be shed after the sheer amount available on gear (triumph badge trinket, I'm looking at you!). I expect changes, but I'm not sure what implementations we'll see.

7. More gated raiding. I imagine that the gating we see in Icecrown (and ToC) will continue to remain throughout each tier of raiding in Cataclysm. Blizzard has really made a focus to get more people doing the same content at the same time. I know a lot of people were upset that Naxx and Ulduar have become obsolete, but I really like that I don't have to do Naxx to get gear for my alts (we all farmed Naxx more than enough on our first characters, right?), I can queue in the Heroics and get up to speed and doing current content a whole lot quicker. It allows for the larger servers to have more pugs, because current content is more accessible. I also fully expect more normal/hard modes... where the normal modes are more or less pretty easy, and the hard modes are, you guessed it, hard. What I would like to see is slower progression of gearing throughout each tier in normal modes, while the gear available from hard modes is more powerful. I haven't been able to do a whole lot of hardmodes myself (nothing in Ulduar, and I'm 4/5 ToGC10), but I understand that the hardcore gamers want some toys all to themselves. I don't blame them, they earned it if they can kill Anub on 25 Heroic. I also expect that like Icecrown, the heroic modes will not be available right away, quite possibly until the instance has been cleared on normal mode.

My special wishlist for paladins includes an overhaul to Blessings (again). I really like the changes that Blizzard has made to Blessings from classic up until now, but I don't think the system is perfect yet. The biggest problem I have with Blessings is Might and Wisdom are far too situational depending on class and spec. When it takes an addon to coordinate four paladins to do different blessings to 10 different classes, I think that's a problem. (Sure, PallyPower isn't necessary but I groan when I pug with paladins who don't use it). I would love if Wisdom and Might disappeared, and were replaced with one blessing - possibly Mastery (and can we say goodbye to those Improved Blessing talents?). Also, I think Cataclysm is the perfect time to introduce one-click raid-wide Blessing buffs. Even if it takes implementing an extra spell, or an extra reagent (or both), I think the old blessing system just has to go. Too many times I've been the only paladin (or the only non-prot paladin, since they insist on using BoSanc on everyone), and I have to set up PP to track Greater Wisdom (for the resto and balance druids), and regular Might for the kitty. While it's not impossible, why can't I just buff once and give everyone what they want? Don't get me wrong - I don't want all our blessings to disappear, but rolling Wisdom and Might into a new Blessing would mean less pre-fight buffing and more time killing shit!

Another thing I would like for ALL classes is less mandatory glyphs and more flexibility. Right now, for so many classes, there are mandatory glyphs. Sometimes it's because the other glyphs just suck to much, and in other cases a glyph is too powerful to not have. Some glyphs do have flexibility and synergy (Seal of Wisdom for Holy Light build paladins and Seal of Light for Flash of Light build paladins is a great example), some are just fun or quality of life enhancers (minor glyphs like Thorns that increases duration when cast on yourself, or glyphs that relieve the need for reagents like Levitate), but some just plain suck (can anyone offer a viable use of Glyph of Possessed Strength?). And of course, what priest doesn't remember the debacle of Glyph of Penance? In 3.0, the glyph to reduce the cooldown of Penance by 2 seconds was introduced, and in 3.1, the Penance spell was given a longer cooldown because the glyph was just too powerful. Instead of giving priests the option to use the glyph, it became mandatory as the cooldown was unmanageable without the glyph. I would love if I had options to glyph and talent, instead of choosing the cookie-cutter build that is the only, the best, way, for PVE (and PVP too!).

I suppose this long and somewhat ranty post could be summarized: Wouldn't it be great if there are more ways to "win" with your spec and glyph choices than "fail"?. Oftentimes we judge other players based on these choices - and anyone who doesn't glyph the best way is obviously fail, because there's only one or two ways. I want more talent build choices, I want more glyph options, I want more stuff to do than spam heals!

Oh, and we also want tri-spec (or quad-spec)! In line with my request for multi-end tree talents, I would love to have a couple of Holy specs (right now my two specs are Holy/Prot and Holy/Ret, but the talents spent in Holy are very much the same... because I don't have options in the Holy tree). More specs please!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Fun" In Gearing

I remember back in 3.1 or 3.2ish, a lot of buzz was going about the WoW healing forums about paladins and how gemming intellect isn't "fun".

I was always a little confused about that (is gemming something else more fun?), even if I myself do enjoy watching my mana pool go up with each new socket. Several tiers ago, I didn't think there was really any fun in gemming or enchanting. You merely pick the best gem and forget about it. Same with enchanting - I've been using the same enchants on upgrades this expansion, and it's usually a no-brainer because if you're a caster, there is no choice many of your enchants (for cloaks there's really only haste, and for legs and gloves there's really only spellpower). My paladin has been ignoring socket bonuses all expansion long. I keep yellow gems on hand for those new upgrades since there's no surprise what I will want to socket when I get them. I don't think this is a bad thing, this is just life for my paladin who specializes in tank healing.

I ran ToC10 with my druid today. She's got some pretty nice gear, and she's getting more (if only I could make myself run a few more randoms every day...). I had a blast in ToC, even if the paladin healer was from a notoriously bad guild and I spent more time taking care of the tanks than he did. It's cool, I do prefer getting my badges and loot than wiping to prove someone is bad. Anyways, I recently got Merlin's Robe crafted, and today I got Enlightenment. Lots of gem sockets, hurray!

I have to say, I had fun gemming my new gear for my druid. It's because she has so many choices and druids enjoy the benefits of a balance of stats, more so than paladins. I happily match socket bonuses for her, and use hybrid gems to give her snippets of spellpower, haste, spirit, and whatever else I'm feeling up for. I feel there's less wrong ways to gem my druid, and that's fun to me. I intentionally don't stack on her, because I do on my paladin. I like the contrast of the two gearing styles, and I enjoy my paladin more now that I've raided on my priest and druid. Each has its weaknesses and it's strengths, and I appreciate those strengths more when I see I play the characters without them (I am so very glad my paladin can cleanse magic debuffs, even if she can't run in circles casting instants like a tree).

While I don't consider stacking Intellect "fun" in and of itself, it enables me to have a lot of fun in the raid because of how much more casting I can do, and how much further it puts me away from going OOM. Out of all of the things in this game, I can definitely say that no mana really does equate to no fun. If that what it takes to make stacking Intellect "fun", then it's mighty fun indeed!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Paladin: Past and Present

In a year and a half that I have been playing my paladin, I have seen a lot of changes to the class. I know that even before that, Blizzard has been progressing paladins with changes from expansion to expansion, and even from patch to patch. Before my paladin, I played a priest, but my first character was a shaman. Late in BC, Mayhem and I decided to level another set of characters together on a new server our roommate was playing on. I created my paladin to tank. Mayhem proudly proclaimed he was going to tank on his warrior, so I said I'd heal. (I had absolutely not idea what I was getting into. Really.)

I knew nothing about paladin healing. I was a priest at heart. We quested together from level 10, jumped into the Deadmines at 18, and I had a really tough time because Flash of Light isn't available until 20. But we did it. I specced Ret and we happily quested and dungeon-crawled our way through the classics and jumped into the Hellfire Peninsula and Ramps.

Then came Wrath.

At this point, I was still oblivious to things like patch notes, but my seals stopped working the way they used to. Just remember with me for a moment - Paladin Seals used to only last a few seconds. You had to buff yourself before running into combat with your Seal to be able to Judge. When you judged, your Seal disappeared and you had to rebuff it (I remember it being off the GCD at least). In 3.0, I believe, is when they changed Seals to last 2 minutes, on the GCD. Still kinda stupid and clunky, 2 minutes is such an awkward length for a buff, but Judgements did not "eat" the seal so it was still less repetitive buffing/casting and more playing. Net bonus, even if I would forget to refresh my Seal and have to fumble with it in combat. I thought I didn't like this new system at all, then they changed Seals to last 30 minutes and suddenly it made sense. Hallelujah!

Even judgements have been overhauled. Judgement of Light used to return health as determined by a blend of attack power and spell power, and number crunching showed that Ret Paladins were the best spec to use JoL in a raid environment. Then sometime in 3.X this got changed too, and now JoL ticks heal about the same no matter how the paladin is specced. That means I can judge light and it's not a gimpy version. My judgements aren't inferior. Huzzah!

I don't remember five minute blessings, but I know they existed before my time. Then Blessings gained some duration and we now have 10 minute Blessings and 30 minute Greater Blessings. Less buffing, more fighting, and no refreshing buffs in combat. Hurray!

All Blessings also got a major overhaul. I take for granted our Hand spells, but if you bubbled someone, they would lose their blessing. There used to be a lot more blessings, as well, some having durations, some having cooldowns. Blessing of Salvation used to be the most sought-after threat reduction buff. I remember as a priest not liking a five man group that didn't have a protadin because Blessing of Salv was just that awesome. I was a young healing paladin when they took it away from us and overhauled the Blessing/Hand system. I was angry about losing Salv. What I didn't find out until later was that all classes were getting threat overhauls, including Paladins who got a passive threat reduction to our heals. This brave new world without Salvation took away our cooldown blessings and turned them into their own line of spells. We stopped needing a threat-reduction buff and could start using our other Blessings. Yay flexibility!

Blizzard has also overhauled the buff system outside of just paladins. Blessing of Wisdom and Mana Spring Totem don't stack. Blessing of Might and Battle Shout don't stack. At first there was a lot of unhappiness about this for raid compositions but throughout this expansion, it's been a good thing. We can bring a paladin OR a shaman and get the Mp5 buff, especially if there's a DPS warrior to cover the attack power buff. There are still a few unique buffs, however, recently Blizzard added the drums for those times (especially in 10 man raiding) where a paladin, druid, or priest just could not be found. Instead of waiting around in town for our perfect group to align itself to the stars and point the way into ToC, we can grab a set of drums, another healer, and some DPS and just do the instance. w00t moar flexibility!

Our talent trees have gone massive amounts of change. I feel less experienced to talk about the changes to Ret and Prot, but I remember the days in BC of lolret. A friend of mine (on the horde side, where my priest is) played a paladin but could never find groups as Ret. It's a good thing he liked Prot after he switched, because ret was not considered a viable option.

Fast forward to today where Ret paladins are having no problems at all in the DPS race competition. They also provide Replenishment so as a healer, I love having a Ret in my group. Bring the player, not the class! Amazing!

The Holy tree has undergone massive changes, as well. For the past few patches, we've endured nerfs. Those nerfs were a lot harder to swallow when I was in Naxx gear and both paladins and priests nerfs seemed to be aimed at PVP... but were hurting my options in PVE. We lost Infusion of Light (I loved being able to crit with Holy Shock and get a super-fast Holy Light) and got a weaker version (they gave it back to us on T10... kinda). Illumination has gone from 100% mana refunded on crit, to 60%, to finally 30%, a shadow of what it once was. They gave us Aura Mastery, then nerfed Aura Mastery (from 10 seconds to 6). Blizzard said "we want paladins to want mp5", they buffed Mp5, and gave us Solace. Yay for overpowered mana regen trinkets!

The numbers of holy paladins has dwindled from the start of Wrath till now. There used to be a lot more in 3.0 and 3.1. "LFM healz Uld anything but pally pst". Sure, there's only room for one of us in a 10 (and honestly when my RL tries to bring 3 to a 25, I facepalm), but with so many paladins and enough raiding tanks, it happened more than I would like. When our mana regen was nerfed, hard, a lot of the more casual players found themselves unable to play the revised holy paladin and quit. Most of the holy paladins I played with at the start of the expansion are gone - they are ret, they are prot, or they rerolled. This is a good thing... most of the people who gave up after the Illumination nerf were players who did not want to heal in the first place. So now more of the holy paladins I'm playing with want to heal (not all of them, but more). Hurry for healers who want to heal!

There's (almost) a point to my reflections on Paladins. All in all, there have been some clunky and downright weird mechanics (to lots of classes, not just paladins), but as the game has progressed, so has Paladin design. The new seal/judgement system is awesome, the changes to blessings (and buffs overall in raiding) has made it easier to get in there and raid. Sure, the nerfs to Holy Paladins did suck, but good healers adapt. Blizzard is sensitive to viability and those nerfs were not to make it unplayable, but to accommodate for advanced gearing (can you imagine the old Illumination + all the haste and crit available to us on gear now? It really would be insane).

I am happy with Holy Paladins are right now. I know that a lot of people are not, and I see where those complaints are coming from. I wanted to think about where Paladins have come from, and where they are now. Coming soon is a part II - Paladins: Present and Future. It's still a ways away but Cataclysm is coming, which means more overhauls, a chance for Blizzard to fix some things they still aren't happy about, and to further enhance the things they are happy about. There are some wishlist-style things I want, some dramatic changes I expect, and some mechanics that I think will disappear (or just want to disappear).

Monday, January 4, 2010


My guild finally downed Lady D and the Airship this week! That left us with a special extra raid night just to get in and take some swings at Saur. I couldn't be happier. One thing my guild leader has done that I think really helped is he got everyone doing 10's this week before we went in to the 25. I think it made a huge difference for everyone else in the raid. Sure, a good 10 of us or so had gone in before it was a scheduled guild event and gotten our clear. But it's safe to say that we were the same 10 (or so) who were also on tankspot watching videos and looking for strats. When we went in as a 25, it showed that we just weren't ready, until now. Last week our guild put together three ICC10s. When we joined in the 25, we pared down the healers to a reasonable number (finally!), and were able to do it with quite a few less problems. We still don't have a DB strat we can use - on our first couple of attempts we wiped somewhere between 30-40% with ridiculous amounts of marks. By ridiculous, I mean 7. We still need to figure out how to get those beasts down without giving Saur 50+ marks each time. We were able to do it in later attempts, but we aren't there yet.

Beacon of Light

Beacon of Light is quite useful for Deathbringer for Marks. I decided to give it a try last night. Usually I beacon the lesser geared tank, but for Deathbringer, the most logical place to put Beacon is on a Marked target. The two tanks in this encounter do not ever take damage at the same time, and the damage the tanks are taking isn't actually overwhelming. The damage the new Mark is taking isn't "overwhelming" either, as long as the target is Beaconed.

After giving it some thought, the reason the Mark is hard to heal not because it deals "so much" damage. If you're a priest, a druid, or a shaman, you might disagree with me. However, as a Holy Light paladin, 10k damage to heal every 1.5-3 seconds on one target isn't huge for me because I heal tanks and that would be trivial damage on a tank.

However, our Mark isn't a tank, and that's where it gets complicated. Our Mark has a fraction of the HP of a tank, and has only one or two survivability cooldowns to help himself. Sure a mage can Iceblock to absorb some of the damage, but after it's over it's right back to where we started, which is a lot of damage on a squishy target, consistently through the rest of the fight. That's how Beacon starts to shine for this fight - I was able to keep a Marked target alive through most of the fight with absolutely no loss at what I do best - healing tanks.

My guild's recently appointed healing officer is trying his damnedest to get our healing team to start acting like a team. He's encouraging us in the healing channel, linking dispel meters and congratulating our priests, and trying to get us to communicate outside of the "paladins heal tanks, everyone else heal the raid". Even if he hasn't been as successful as he would have liked, I'm all for the idea and I'm responding to him. So before we do Saurfang I might send him a message and talk more about how I'd like to try our official strategy as both pallies beaconing the first couple of marks. And after further consideration, I see no reason why a second holy paladin couldn't be assigned to two marks - Beacon one, heal the other. Lots of constant, predictable, simultaneous damage on two targets? If this isn't a fight designed for holy paladins, what is?

Amplify Magic

Last night on Deathbringer, our RL assigned the mages to use Amplify Magic, as all the damage done is physical, so it will buff the healing received. If you remember the days before Pally Power was widely used, with everyone in the raid saying "need kings" "why do the priests have might?" "I want sanc" "I still need kings" "kings" "kings plz" "kings, noob!". Pally buffing can be a nightmare, especially when the people in your raid don't even realize that without a protection paladin, blessing of sanctuary just isn't going to happen. Please stop asking after I tell you this, your use of caps does not change the mechanics of my class.

Pally power made our lives so much easier, even if it's still a pain. My major pet peeve is when someone in the raid keeps screwing with it, even after it's set up so that everyone has what they need. Does it matter if you're doing Kings instead of Wisdom if the other holy paladin is also specced for Wisdom? You just wasted 10 of my reagents (and some of yours) because you wanted to change it around when everyone was already buffed.

Anyways, the real point of my storytelling here is that: Amplify Magic is a single-target spell and it lasts for 10 minutes. It doesn't get used often because it's only situationally useful, which means situations were it is useful become bogged down with five mages in the raid not being able to figure out how to buff 25 people.

The first time Amp Magic was called for, one of the mages called out which mage should take care of which group (five mages, five parties of five... how nice this works out). It should have been easy, except by the time we waited for Mage #3 and 4 to buff their parties, the quicker buffing Mages now only had five minutes on their Amp Magic, and somehow or another one mage had missed the boat entirely and was buffing Dampen Magic on the whole raid. The RL calls for everyone to click off their buffs and start all over again. It took us longer to buff up for this one spell than the spell lasts! Thank goodness this spell doesn't require reagents...

So the next time a mage in the guild says anything about slow buffing paladins, they'll get reminded that five mages can't cast one spell on a raid without it taking less than fifteen minutes. Don't worry, I'm not angry, I just think it's hilarious. "kings, noob!"

Friday, January 1, 2010

Coping with a Casual Computer

As much as we'd all like to have cutting-edge hardware and equipment for our favorite hobbies, often we have to make do with what we have. Right now I'm using a first-gen Macbook that will be celebrating it's fourth birthday soon. It's still running great, even if it sometimes has some problems with raiding. I have researched and spent a lot of time getting my UI/hardware to work as well as possible even on a "casual" computer. Here are the things I did to make those chaotic fights bearable, and even playable.

Be Honest About Addons

We're healers and we love addons, right? (I love addons - not just because I'm a healer but I like having a customized UI). There's lots of recommended goodies for us to do our jobs, but some of these can bog a computer down. It takes some self-honesty to pare down to just the ones you need - I ended up saying farewell to some addons that were nice for when I wasn't raiding, but hurt me too much when I was.

1. Goodbye, Recount. If phases with adds turn your computer into a 3 FPS mess until the adds disappear and 2 of your DPS are dead, then recount has got to go. I was sad to turn it off, but I'm lucky I still have access to those fights because Mayhem runs it. Damage meters can be helpful to assess performance and learn about what happened in a fight, but during large-scale fights it's information overload for a computer. If you still want log assessment, consider if your guild does a WoL or if you could get one of the officers to start posting your guild's WoL logs for you to peruse. Life in Group 5 just did a great post for analyzing WoL. Check out the memory footprint of your addons (mouseover the game menu icon, it will be on the tooltip), and keep an eye on addons that use more than a couple of megs usage. Consider purging anything that isn't raiding related for your raiding nights. Auctioneer should go on a bank alt, and you can re-enable Questhelper after the raid disbands.
Go back to your addons selection screen and take a long, hard look at what you find there. Do I really need this addon to raid?

2. Hello, Quartz. Quartz has been a must-have addon for me because of the latency timer. It's a lot easier to plan your casts with this addon and it doesn't have a large memory footprint.

3. Consolidate. Do you have three and four addons that all have overlapping functionality? The Beacon of Light Timer is a great addon, but do you need that if you're running Healbot which as it's own built-in countdown for that and Sacred Shield? Do you need Decursive if you're running Vuhdo? My small screen and low processing power mean I'm looking for the simplest way to show me information. I don't need it displayed twice so long as I'm looking for it in the right place right away. I have been using Pitbull4 (in my experience, the raid frames that bogged down my computer the least), but I've been contemplating if I need to use a raid frames mod at all since Healbot has been rock-solid for months, even through patches.

4. Macros. Macros don't take memory to use, while addons do because they are constantly running. If there are addons you could pare down and replace with macros and keybindings, consider it. I don't use any addons like this that I can think of, but I know I've seen them before. I don't need a mod that keeps track of my trinket cooldowns because I have my on-use trinkets macro'd to my mouseover healing. It may take some research but if you haven't learned how to use macros yet, I would recommend it. WoWWiki has a page dedicated to usefu macros to get a novice started.

The long and short of it is - run the least amount of addons you can manage, and experiment to find the best-performing UI that still delivers the information you need.

Take care of Hardware

There are lots of sites on the internet that can give you solid advice for keeping your computer in good shape. Macworld has a great page about maintenance (I am frequently guilty of going weeks without relaunching, so there's still more I can be doing for my equipment). Apple's website has also has their suggested maintenance.

For all the Windows users out there, there's even more resources for you. Fulltimewow did a post on squeezing the most out of WoW performance. The post is a bit older but the information is still solid. His Wow Forums performance link is broken, I found the 3.x version here. will have a maintenance page for most of their OS's for all of the nitty-gritty stuff you can do to keep your computer running smoothly outside of Wow.

The official WoW forums have lengthy posts for both Mac and Windows users. It's the best information I could offer to anyone. If you are serious about making sure your computer is up to par, it will take some time to get knowledgeable, and then start tweaking your settings. It's been worth it for me.

A Small Upgrade Can Be Big

Even if you can't get gaming quality hardware in your computer, check how much RAM your system is running. This is the one upgrade that can make a huge difference, especially for the price. WoW recommends 1 gig of RAM but when Wrath came out I started having performance problems when I was grouped or in a town just running the minimum spec. The guys at Best Buy will be happy to tell you that more RAM is always better (and that you should buy it, right now), however, your system will also have a cap on how much extra RAM can be shoved inside. For my older Macbook, the limit is two gigs. If you are running with only 1 gig of RAM, you will love how World of Warcraft will perform with 2 gigs, and RAM is quite affordable.

Check Settings

It's really no fun to turn all your settings down to the bare minimum, but for an older computer or even a computer that's not built for gaming, it might be necessary. I have just about everything turned to the absolute minimum, however, be aware that particle density and project textures will affect how you see the fire you're standing in. I keep my settings as low as I can manage while still having environmental awareness to move out of the fire. Running smooth all the time is very important to me, as a healer.

Be Pro In Game

I am not "pro", but I do emulate good players. If the encounter is new, head over to tankspot and watch the videos. Knowing the chaotic parts of a fight and being prepared can go a long way towards combatting low FPS. During a raid, your max FPS will be at max range, especially during an adds phase or if the boss has crazy animations. For fights where you have control over your movement, use it to your advantage and get away from the action. I am less likely to die from Lady D's DnD if 1. I know its coming, and 2. I'm not standing anywhere near anyone else (I actually have yet to die from DnD, but my computer does slow down when I'm in goo). While the argument can be made that's important for anyone regardless of computer spec, it's doubly important for those of us who know we're going to have a performance spike when goings get tough.

As a holy paladin, dealing with low FPS isn't too hard. Once I know the encounter, I can keep casting for the damage I expect my tanks to take, even if my UI isn't updating as fast as I'd like. It may translate into more overheal, but, uhm, we're holy paladins. Less than 50% overheal hasn't happened for me since I was progressing in heroics. That was a year ago! I also have to keep a close eye on my countdowns for Sacred Shield and Beacon - during a crazy part of the fight, the countdown might not even show on Healbot. If I know an add phase or spikey part of the fight is coming soon, I'll refresh those early instead of get stuck without them. When I play my druid or my priest, there are also things I can do to plan ahead for these performance spikes - bubbles last 30 seconds, and hots have predictable durations. It may not be the best, but it's the best I can do with the resources I have.

If you still just can't handle a 25-man environment, you can also try focusing on 10 mans. The low FPS I experience during 25's becomes easier to handle after I learn an encounter on 10, especially once I can find the best place for me to position. There still might be fights that are harder than others simply because of performance issues on an older computer (Ulduar comes to mind as the worst for me, so far). It takes a bit of honesty, especially if you feel you can't do your job just because you aren't blessed with the latest and greatest computer. However, you don't need the latest and greatest computer to be a competent healer. You just have to get your optimal UI going and make sure to use and take care of the resources you have.