Archive for November, 2009

Stamina over all?

30/11/2009

As you can see in this thread, the great “stamina over everything” debate has yet to be put to bed in any meaningful fashion.

I’m not necessarily linking this to continue a debate, but more as a mark of posterity to a topic that I’ve contributed to heavily.

The language is often colourful, but many valid points are made and it’s worth keeping an eye on it.

Enjoy.

Advertisements

Obligatory head-banging

23/11/2009

The hurdle. The barrier. The road block. The bulwark.

We know it by many names.

Most of us know it as the brick wall.

It’s the encounter that, for some reason, seems nigh-on impossible to complete and sees large amounts of time, gold and raid morale go up in smoke. You can’t pinpoint what’s going wrong. You can’t see what needs to change. You can’t tell who’s getting things right and who’s getting things wrong. You can’t tell whether to go at it fresh on another night, or plough on. You can’t pick people up no matter what you say.

You just. Can’t. Do it.

I know for a fact that everyone reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about, because we’ve all been there. Every guild on every server has come across the brick wall that has demoralized their raid to the point of just wanting to chuck it and move on to something else. It’s also true that there is no single encounter that causes the problem universally; every raid is different. For whatever reason, something just won’t click with your raid on a specific boss and you start to believe that the slow insertion of a knitting needle into your tear duct would be slightly more enjoyable. What makes it worse is that some loud mouth will undoubtedly tell you:

“Heh, that boss is ezmode”.

No.

For you, and your raid, it isn’t. Just like the encounter that the aforementioned loud mouth found rough, you and your chums made immediate sense of and put to bed in short order. But now I’d like to come to the crunch of this particular rambling, and that would be the point; if everyone has their brick wall bosses, and everyone knows how frustrating they are, why bother writing about them?

Because there is something to be learned from this.

I’m writing this hot on the heels of our forays into the Trial of the Grand Crusader last night. We took out the Northrend Beasts without too much trouble on a prior evening, only to hit Lord Jaraxxus and have it happen; we just couldn’t down him. I think we ploughed about eleven or twelve attempts into it, didn’t manage to beat the encounter, then called it. Last night, we went back in and almost got him down on the first try only to wipe at 5% after having a full raid alive at 7%. Damn, that hurt. We then proceeded to go at it, hammer and tong, for upwards of twelve times before finally seeing everything come together and Jaraxxus bite the dust. With hands excitably shaking and my ears ringing with boundless quips of delight from the raid, I leant back and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Here lies lesson one:

Know when to call it.

With a raid that’s generally pretty successful, it can be downright ridiculous how little effort your raiders are willing to put in. After as little as four wipes, you can start to see malcontent or complaints that better gear is required or people “aren’t in the mood”. I say nay. Raid encounters are meant to be difficult. They’re meant to test you. If everything went down within three wipes, where would the sense of achievement be? The fact is, certain encounters require you to practice, practice, practice until you master all of the nuances and deal with them successfully.

However, there is a breaking point.

As a raid leader who doesn’t mind putting a whole night into one encounter, I can often push a bit too hard. But it’s vital that you recognise when morale is so low, that all you’re doing by staying in a raid is wasting time, gold and good will. At that stage, all you’re doing is forcing people who’ve already given up to do something they don’t want to do and that is never a good situation to be in.

The key is to find the breaking point of a raid, judge what the concensus considers progress, and make a call based on that line. Yes, that extra push can often be the way ahead; but don’t flog a raid that gave up five wipes ago, because you won’t make them want to come back again.

So, moving on; what was the problem with Jaraxxus, anyway?

Well, as with most brick walls, I’d imagine it was both everything and nothing. Sometimes it was missing an interrupt. Sometimes it was Incinerate Flesh. Sometimes it was Legion Flames. Sometimes it was Mistress Kiss. Sometimes it was bad targeting. Sometimes it was threat issues on the adds. The fact is, no one thing was the problem – it was just everything. And when there’s a lot of mechanics that everyone has to keep track of, it seems easy for someone to forget something important.

So, the lesson here is just to expand attention spans?

Well, no.

Take a look at all of the encounters that stopped you progressing for any reasonable amount of time. Every raid/guild will be different, but for us we had problems with Kel’Thuzad, Sartharion with drakes, Hodir, Yogg-Saron and, latterly, Lord Jaraxxus (heroic). The erudite will have noticed that each of these encounters has got one major thing in common:

DPS players cannot rely on healers for survival.

The other common denominators here include target switching, almost continual movement and environmental awareness. However, the over-arching fact is that no matter how good your healers or tanks are, DPS players can be killed in these encounters if they do not take care of themselves. So, as you can see, here is the second lesson.

Look for the common ground in encounters where you have trouble.

There will always be a recurring theme in fights where your raid typically struggles. For us, it’s always when DPS players actually shoulder some responsibility for their own survival.* With that fact established, you can look at ways to either alter your strategy to limit that responsibility as much as possible, or try to help them deal with said pressures in a more reliable way and live to tell the tale.

So, here endeth the lesson and I shall summarise:

Know the breaking point of your raid.

Try to find the common mechanic that links the encounters your raid finds difficult – there will be at least one.

By trying to be objective and making informed judgement calls, you can limit the impact the brick wall encounters have on the morale of your raiders.

Do that, and you can welcome further progress a lot more quickly.

[* I should note that I am not saying “the DPS in my raid are inattenvite rubes”; being brutally honest, I think the blame lies at the feet of the Blizzard encounter development team. This expansion has seen a huge shift in the demands placed on a raid group, with the vast majority of fights absolving DPS players of any responsibility and placing the weight of success squarely on the shoulders of tanks and (particularly) healers. As a result of this, DPS players have chosen to concentrate on the one thing that really matters as far as they’re concerned; their contribution to Recount. This has been endemic throughout Wrath of the Lich King and your humble author truly hopes that there is something of a change to this status quo when Icecrown hits. Success in any given boss encounter should be dependent on the contribution of an entire raid, and not just tanks and healers. Here’s hoping.]

Warriors still weaker than paladins – why?

20/11/2009

3.3 is (relatively) just around the corner, so the world’s tanks are about to hit Icecrown Citadel and storm the halls of the malevolent Lich King to dish out calculated, retributive justice to the betrayer of a crown, a nation and an entire race.

Okay, that was dramatic.

But we have a right to look forward to the final content patch of this expansion with excitement. New content. New gear. New systems. New opportunites to immerse ourselves in some of the greatest Azerothian lore. New talents, abilities or specs to play with. Except, no.

Where the hell are the warrior changes for 3.3?

In a world where warriors are currently the games weakest tank, and generally have been for the entire expansion, I was really hoping that the class would see some attention to level them out for Icecrown. Instead, all we see is a lowering in level for an ability (Victory Rush) that is rarely ever used, if at all.

Naturally, I’m not the only one bringing this up and Ghostcrawler himself has spent a large amount of time dealing with it on the boards, particulary on this thread. The argument, basically, is that the numbers don’t add up to buffing warriors, despite the facts, so no changes are incoming.

This is bad development. The developers can clearly see where warriors fall behind, yet don’t want to do anything to address it because most tanks are still warriors. An absolute myriad of reasons have been provided for this fact, yet that’s just too bad; warriors are still tanking content just fine, so the fact that they’re technically worse just doesn’t matter. On Kilrogg, the two top raiding guilds are Barbarians (25 man) and Saoirse (10 man), with both of these guilds now running with paladins as their main tanks when, prior to Wrath of the Lich King, they didn’t. Now, I’m not saying that every guild in the world is doing that; clearly, they’re not. They’ve had tried and trusted warriors for a long, long time and are not going to go with the current Flavour of the Month. But is it just coincidence that the top performers on my server now use paladins?

Probably not. And not including my contribution to this thread on the WoW-Europe forums, I’m going to point out exactly why there is currently so much resentment toward paladins at time of writing. I’m sticking with paladins, purely because they’re the closest to warriors in terms of gearing and performance and currently the game’s most numerous tank (though not, necessarily, in the higher-end raid guilds).

All we really need to look at are the talent specializations. For the purposes of this comparison, I’ll stick with the relevant protection trees and the options.

Paladins receive 15% more strength (Divine Strength).
Paladins receive 16% more healing (Divinity and Improved Devotion Aura).
Paladins receive 602 more armour (Improved Devotion Aura, not including higher base armour because of Devotion Aura itself).
Paladins receive 1% less damage reduction, but 20% additional reduction when below 35% health (Improved Righteous Fury, Shield of the Templar and Ardent Defender).
Paladins receive 6% more critical strike rating (Combat Expertise).
Paladins receive the same melee damage increase for two less talent points (One-Handed Weapon Specialization).
Paladins receive 8% more stamina (Sacred Duty and Combat Expertise).
Paladins receive 25% more block rating, with a 10% chance of a further 30% (Holy Shield and Redoubt).

Now, not considering that certain things offset this list (such as Shield Block or the higher base health of a warrior), it’s pretty obvious to anyone who looks at the talent trees that paladins are in a far better position than warriors are when tanking. In addition to this, the parses don’t lie; warriors take more damage, deal less damage and generate less threat on both single and multiple pulls. We can also look at the cooldown options of the classes and, again, see warriors considerably worse off than paladins in both cases. The comparison between Shield Wall and Divine Protection is particularly galling; despite spending two talent points (that effect nothing else) and a major glyph, warriors somehow end up with an inferior cooldown. And, please, don’t start me on raid buffs.

If you’re a warrior tank, you’re quite entitled to be wondering “wtf?”

Now, I can understand Ghostcrawler’s point to a certain extent; buffing the most popular tank seems like a self-defeating notion. But it’s alarmingly clear that class performance isn’t the main deciding factor in choosing guild tanks (as if it ever would be), so their current policy is doing absolutely nothing, other than penalizing warriors for being the most numerous choice and, as a result, penalizing their guilds.

It’s crazy.

Of course, that brings up the question as to why warriors remain the most popular if they’re the weakest. This could be for any number of reasons, or perhaps none of them. Perhaps they’re the most fun. Perhaps the “defender’s lore” resonates. Perhaps it’s the fact all races (bar one) can roll warrior. Perhaps it’s because only one race can roll druid, and one race can roll paladin. Perhaps it’s the fact that both paladins and druids have more raid spec options. Perhaps it’s the vanilla legacy. Perhaps guilds simply trust their old tanks who are warriors. All of these reasons are perfectly possible, and all of them valid. They’re reasonable.

What’s not reasonable is keeping a class demonstrably weaker than another because it’s more popular.

Yet, that is exactly what’s going on.

Fix it, developers. Whether you like it or not, it is your job to balance the game properly.

[N.B: To the death knights out there, I feel your pain. However, I’m not in a position to reliably comment on your class due to a general lack of knowledge about it. Suffice it to say, I would agree with any death knight who believes they’re falling behind; it certainly seems as though you are.]

Warrior: the metal-bound juggernaut

16/11/2009

We tanks are currently living in a world of effective health. Come Icecrown Citadel, the general view is that stamina stacking is going to be an even more important part of gearing up, due to the inclusion of Chill of the Throne and the 20% hammering our avoidance is going to take as a result. Irrespective of whether I agree with that assessment or not (I don’t), it’s worth having a look at the real implication as opposed to the simple one and how, as a warrior tank, we should approach it. Basically, the notion is that tanks are going to be hit more often, but for slightly less damage than they have been; depending on the scaling of gear and the appropriate content, of course. So, logically speaking, stacking stamina is the best way to make sure we’re surviving for decent periods of time when we’re not avoiding. This sounds great on paper, but it’s not exactly big news – warriors have generally been the worst tanks for taking damage throughout this expansion, so a certain amount of cushion has been required throughout. But the cushion is called effective health and not just health. There is another facet to effective health that seems, to me, to be continually overlooked.

Armour.

Warriors have access to plate, the heaviest armour type in the game. Our shields have a pile of it stapled on, we can enchant for it, we can gear for it and we can find loads of gear with armour where you wouldn’t normally expect to find it. Armour is effective health – it’s the X to the stamina Y. The question, I suspect, is how good armour actually is for a warrior tank when compared to other stats that you may look for on your gear. And as anyone who looks at my profile will be able to see, I’m pretty aggressive when it comes to stacking armour. I’ll tell you why.

Armour lessens the amount of damage you take per hit. No, really; I’m not kidding. If you look at your character sheet and hover over your armour value, you’ll see just how much physical damage you’re lessening with the armour you’re wearing. When you consider that the vast majority of damage you take in this game is physical, the correlation is fairly obvious. Those with more stamina have a higher health pool, but will take a bigger hit. Those with more armour have less of that health pool, but take less of the hit. What’s the difference? Feel free to ask your healer who they like healing more. Back during The Burning Crusade, healers weren’t often fond of the “mana-sponge” tank that constantly needed topping off.

The second and most important part of armour, however, is the added benefit of DPS. Just as paladins were previously getting more spellpower from stacking stamina, warriors get more damage from armour through the talent Armored to the Teeth. Only an idiot would underestimate just how big this passive increase to their DPS is and ignore it purely for stamina. In my case, I’m currently running with 27599 armour on my gear. Purely from the aforementioned talent, I’m picking up an additional 766 attack power (rounded down) unbuffed. In anyone’s book, that’s a pretty substantial damage buff to be picking up from gearing for the other side of the effective health coin.

I’m probably labouring the point. Suffice it to say that armour, for a warrior, is an extremely good stat to be picking up. Not only does it provide constant mitigation, you can grab an awful lot of threat from it when you take the points, as everyone should, in Armored to the Teeth. I appreciate that armour is no defence against large or prolonged magical damage, but these mechanics are typically dealt with by using cooldown rotations and should not be a hindrance to going for armour when you get the chance.

Get more armour. Go on. You’ll love it.

Supporting Rage and Heroic Strike

13/11/2009

My apologies for the lack of updates recently, I’ve been busy with other bits and pieces; namely, the WoW-Europe warrior forums.

To that end, here’s a piece I’ve just put up for the community regarding the current iteration of rage and Heroic Strike. It’s written with Cataclysm in mind, but is still a bit of a revision of how this expansion has seen two of our core mechanics play out.

Feel free to respond to it there, or here.

Recount Retardation

05/11/2009

Recount lies.

No, I’m serious; it really does.

And if I was to say to you what I think is largely responsible for the current abundance of DPS players that simply cannot wait for a tank to even pull off one GCD, I’d say Recount is right up there.

Before going any further, I’d like to say that I have Recount as part of my UI because, as a raid leader, I often need to know who’s doing what. But presentation of the information is HUGELY different to what that informatin actually implies; therefore, the capability to properly analyse what is on Recount is absolutely fundamental before you even consider linking it in party chat. I wish people understood that.

Let’s be honest.

How many people have seen a DPS player link their Recount continuously throughout an instance? I guarantee most of you have come across it. How many people have been in a group when a person (typically the same one over and over) continously asks what his DPS is? Again, I guarantee everyone is familiar with it. It’s unlucky, but a sad fact that people now look at what they’re doing from a purely numerical point of view and consider it synonymous with high performance. I only wish there were a way to make it clear to people that Recount statistics, without context, are TOTALLY AND UTTERLY MEANINGLESS.

Let me tell you a story.

I recall, a while back, playing my priest on a 10 man pick up raid of the Obsidian Sanctum. My spec was Discipline and the other two healers were a restoration shaman and a holy paladin. After a generally uneventful trash clear (including Vesperon, Tenebron and Shadron), it was decided that I would raid heal while topping off the add-tank, and let the paladin do the job of healing up the main tank. Needless to say, Sartharion went down without incident and I was fortunate enough to win the T7 glove token when it dropped. Up pops the raid death knight with the immortal statement:

“lol nubs always roll good”.

He then linked the healing meter from the fight, showing me clearly in last place behind both the shaman and paladin on heals done. Naturally, this was succeeded by the obligatory “lol/rofl/lmao” stream of condemnation that typically accompanies such jibes. Awesome. I was with a raid that had absolutely no idea of context, nor any inclination to understand it. Naturally, I went on to explain that the paladin had used Holy Light for over 95% of spells cast with an overhealing percentage beyond 85%, while the shaman had spammed Chain Heal to the tune of 79% and managed to run at over 60% overheals. In comparison, I had managed to use Renew, Prayer of Mending, Flash Heal and Power Word: Shield while managing to run at a mere 16% overhealing; I didn’t use Penance once. Not withstanding the fact my mana and cast efficiency were considerably better than my counterparts, there is no way of telling how much damage I prevented by using shields. All this was with the backdrop of not a single death (despite people being caught in fires) and the only player who went under 70% of his health was the main tank.

This is a sobering story and should amply illustrate why Recount figures, though fun, should be taken with a grain of salt unless presented under the right context. That is why I intend to set up a raid rule that nobody is to link, or request a link from, Recount throughout a raid evening.

Throughout the course of an encounter, there are too many variables that skew the results and give false numbers that either inflate or deflate an accurate view on performance. It also never helps to link DPS meters during a raid when there will always be people doing less damage, who may simply think that they are not contributing as much to the raid and lose even more heart as a result. And when you’re moving nicely, with bosses going down, why bother about how much more damage than your team mates you are doing? You couldn’t do so much damage if your tank wasn’t geared for more threat. And your tank couldn’t gear for more threat if he didn’t have a strong healer. Raiding is a team relay, with all members interdependent on each other and working for the long haul. The burst out of the blocks is meaningless when it doesn’t contribute to the whole picture.

Let your raid leader worry about the meters.

It’s their job.

The Idiot’s Guide to Talents

05/11/2009

I can’t help myself; I look at the spec of every single warrior I ever group with outside the guild. Whether they’re a tank or a DPS player, I feel the need to inspect the choices they’ve made because, hopefully, it’ll tell me what type of performance I can expect. Similar to Veneretio’s blog on the same topic, a spec is something that is solely dependent upon level, with gold and loot luck playing absolutely no part in it whatsoever. There really is no excuse for a bad spec but, often, someone using something different is not always wrong – have a look at why they may have made the choices they have and whether or not their reasoning is up to scratch. That said, warriors will generally be using the same tanking specs for either threat or survivability with points spent elsewhere depending on preference. These preferences are where you’ll find out what style your warrior likes or, possibly, what type of content his guild is raiding.

In any event, the viable “preference” talents are listed below. I’m not including the talents that will always be taken in a generally standardized spec.

Improved Heroic Strike
Iron Will
Cruelty
Shield Specialization
Improved Spell Reflection
Improved Disciplines
Focused Rage

1. Improved Heroic Strike and Iron Will seem to be interchangeable when going for Deep Wounds. I would argue, however, that the former is better in almost all cases, because if you’re going for Deep Wounds then you’re not building an endurance spec, you’re going for threat. This fact makes Improved Heroic Strike technically better.

2. Cruelty is for more threat, plain and simple. I question the real value of taking them based on my own testing, but more crit should (statistically) provide more threat for you.

3. Shield Specialization is usually considered in comparison with Cruelty, and depends on what you want; more mitigation or more threat. However, the addition of rage on avoidance to this talent means that more and more tanks are taking the full five points in it because more rage also means more threat.

4. Improved Spell Reflection is usually only considered when building a survivability spec, but usually for the extra chance for damage spells to miss as opposed to reflecting more spells from team mates. Again, you’re not going to see this in any other spec.

5. Formerly, Improved Disciplines was only to be seen in the survival specs but has now found a place in some balanced ones, too. It will always be married with the appropriate glyph for Shield Wall, but it’s in the “preference” list because it will rarely find its way into threat specs where points can be better spent elsewhere.

6. Lastly, Focused Rage is something of an enigma. Rage is good. Always having some is awesome. But the fact is, depending on content and other talent points, rage may well be in plentiful supply. With rage coming in on avoidance, as well as later content hitting harder, you can often find there is no need for this talent, especially if you’ve picked up Improved Heroic Strike to limit where most of your rage is going out. However, with higher levels of avoidance, you can end up dodging four heavy strikes in a row that see you with no rage and where Focused Rage would help. This is potentially the biggest judgement call out of all the talents in this list, but judgement should be reserved regardless of what someone has chosen.

Now, let’s move onto talents that you should never pick up, for any reason. Luckily, most are obvious and you are extremely unlikely to ever see tanks with these. Alas, though, it does still happen.

1. Tactical Mastery = All of your necessary talents are now available in defensive stance, while Bloodthirst and Mortal Strike are not part of your tanking repertoire. Three points wasted.
2. Improved Bloodrage = Your normal Bloodrage is more than enough since 3.2. Two points wasted.
3. Improved Disarm = Disarm is too situational, despite the talent looking nice on paper. Two points wasted.
4. Puncture = Worse than Focused Rage in every conceivable way. Three points wasted.
5. Safeguard = The damage bosses are currently doing, any non-tank is likely to be killed when struck regardless of how much damage you soak up. Two points wasted.

So, that’s it. Whether you’re running an endurance spec, a threat spec or one that’s balanced (yes, there are options for all three), there are things you will see, things you might see and things you should never see. You now know the reasons why should you have to politely whisper and explain to someone where they should be putting their points.

And for those interested, this is the spec I’m currently running.

Let me wipe your tiers… Some considerations on armour sets

03/11/2009

You know, it’s amazing how many times my guild mates and I get involved in discussions about gear; particularly class sets and how good, bad or indifferent they are. I would imagine most guilds with a few chatty people have discussed the same issue at length, but perhaps my guild is also fairly common when lampooning the sets as poorly itemized and not very compelling. Either they don’t like the bonuses, they don’t like the stats or they just don’t like the look of the armour (placed in order of importance). Overall, however, I get the feeling there is a general misunderstanding of what Blizzard are trying to do with armour sets and why they itemize them the way that they do.

Personally, I really like the class armour sets and have been very happy with what Wrath of the Lich King has served up so far. Therefore, I’m starting from a position of positivity on them. Those who tend not to like them, however, seem to be forgetting one major point:

It’s a set and, therefore, should be treated as such.

The set is designed to compliment itself, not just for the actual bonuses, but also for the range of stats that you’ll find on the set as a whole. What that means is, that the set should not be compared statistically piece-by-piece, but as a group of pieces with a range of stats that you should want. Let’s look at the protection warrior tier 9 (iLevel 232) as an example:

Head: Defence rating, dodge, block value.
Shoulders: Defence rating, dodge, expertise.
Chest: Defence rating, dodge, parry.
Gloves: Defence rating, dodge, parry.
Legs: Defence rating, hit rating, block value.

So, what we actually have is defence rating (obviously), dodge and parry for avoidance, expertise and hit rating for threat, and block value for both. In short, every stat a balanced protection warrior could possibly want is present on the set. Ignoring the argument based around encounter mechanics and current values of certain stats for the moment, everything you would expect to see on a tank’s gear is there, with the exception of block rating. So, why not block rating? Well, you have to look at the 4-piece bonus to figure that out.

Decreases the cooldown on your Shield Block ability by 10 sec.

In short, you have a higher uptime of Shield Block from the set, meaning you’ll mitigate a lot more damage if you’re wearing it and actually using the talent consistently.

Ultimately, this is how we should be viewing the armour sets; as grouped baselines of gear that the rest of your slots should be built around, and not in lieu of. This is so that you can use the set regardless of whether you’re actually gearing for threat or for endurance and, of course, depending on what you’re going to be tanking.

Now, obviously, I’ve concentrated on the Protection warrior; but the same is true of all classes and specs. People are looking to upgrade a particular slot, looking at the set option and saying, “I can’t use that, I’ll lose to much [desired stat]”. They are not appreciating that if the set was worn as a whole, said stat would certainly be present and free up other options elsewhere in your gear.

Lastly, I can pretty much guarantee that set bonuses on all sets will see use. Whether it’s something you’ll get a lot out of is potentially up to how you choose to play, but I’d be very shocked if a set bonus popped up that was of absolutely no use to anyone, whatsoever. Therefore, on top of your balanced set of gear, you’re getting two (generally) passive bonuses to abilities that your spec uses, free of charge.

In short, like everything, picking up gear sets is a choice; just don’t be fooled into thinking the sets are bad on account of that one piece not having the exact stat you want.

Grab the full picture before making your judgement.