Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tanking Isn't For Everyone

Several months ago I wrote a long post called "Raid Tanking Isn't for Everyone" that I ultimately didn't put up because I figured it would be too easy for guildies to identify the person I was talking about, but I had an experience last night (through the random Dungeon Finder of course) that reminded me of that older post and parts of it are still relevant.

I ended up joining a heroic OK that was already in progress. For some reason they'd lost a dps, and their tank DCed about a minute after I arrived. After it became apparent he wasn't coming back, we vote kicked him out and our replacement arrived.

He was sporting 25k health.

Obviously an entry level tank. Low enough to be concerning, but not impossible to work with, especially if he knew his stuff. People would just have to be careful.

He trucked over to join us and the first thing I noticed was he was wearing Shoulderguards of Enduring Order. Wait, he's sporting ilevel 245 shoulders and his health is only 25k?

I inspected at him, and besides the shoulders he had only a couple other epics, the CoS shield and a ring, but the only thing socketed was the epic shoulders (with an epic blue gem, so he did it properly). He left his blue helm, which had room for a meta, unsocketed. Not only that, but nothing was enchanted.

Here was someone who plainly wasn't going to bother enhancing anything until it was epic, and here he was to tank our heroic.

Most tanks I talk with or whose blogs I read are raid tanks, they take pride in their gear. To do anything less would be a disservice to the people who depend on them. They get a new drop and it's gemmed and enchanted before the next time you see them, if it's not done in the first five minutes after raid. (If the tank in question is a JC/enchanter it might even happen during the raid itself.) These tanks know they're the first line of defense and the maintenance of their gear is tied more strongly to their ability to do their job than any other role.

Though I wouldn't expect a pug tank who may never raid to have top of the line gems and enchants, when you're just starting out every little bit helps, gives your healer room to breathe. Our healer wasn't well geared either, being completely in blues. A few heavy borean stam kits are cheap compared to most enchants, and six of those would have given him another 1000 health. Green gems might not be fashionable, but they're also cheap.

Surely the thought that more health is better must register even with the newest tank, right? Those gems and kits could pay off in repair bills avoided while he gears himself (he once mentioned how much it cost him to repair). And he should have at least put a kit on his shoulders if he wasn't eligible for a Hodir enchant, since he cared enough to put an epic gem in it.

I kept my thoughts to myself. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I try to give people the benefit of a doubt. Sometimes they look undergeared, but they do their job just fine. The no enchants really bugged me though. It always does when I see a tank without them.

So we continue on our way to deactivate those orbs at the top of the web ramps on the way to the second boss. The tank ends up dying near the end of one the pulls and I pull an emergency bear form, growl, and barkskin to keep the mobs off the rest of the dps. The healer apologizes, saying he got spell locked, and rezzes the tank. I remember that being a problem back when heroics were still hard so this doesn't bother me too much. Both tank and healer are entry level 80s.

We beat the second boss without a problem, and then we entered the big room with all the cultists and their elemental pats.

We cleared the pat at the bottom of the stairs, and from there I usually see tanks grab a stationary cluster of four cultists to our right. What I don't see is the tanks hug the adjacent wall and start pulling the elemental groups.

This tank ignored the group of cultists and attacked the nearest stationary elemental group. This would have been okay if he'd actually pulled them back and up the steps, but we fought them more or less where they stood, which meant that the elemental pat came up behind us and attacked.

Had this been a raid geared tank and healer, it would have been survivable. But being who they were, they could not handle the additional adds. We wiped.

We came back and the tank attacked the same group again. I say attacked, not pulled, because there was no pulling away to fight in a safer area. So we got the adds again and died.

The tank asked, "Where'd they come from?"

The healer's response was partially bleeped out by my swear filter, but did mention that they were the same group of adds we'd just died to two minutes ago.

At this point the tank said he had to repair, so he ported out to repair (which was adventure in itself since he couldn't find an NPC near him to do it). While we waited for him to come back I decided I would start marking pulls for him.

When he did get back I told him to range pull the group of four cultists with the skull. If we cleared them that would give us the safety we needed to pull the elemental pat and then we could ignore the group that he was originally going for.

As I told him which group to pull he had shuffled over towards the elemental group (for the third time!) that we had yet to kill without aggroing adds. He asked why should he pull the marked group instead. And as he did the elementals aggroed on him just from his proximity. And then somehow, someone got knocked into that very group of four cultists, causing them to aggro, and I said "So that doesn't happen."

When we inevitably wiped the healer said the tank was the worst he'd ever seen and dropped group, followed immediately by the other two dps. The tank asked what did he do wrong. After all, he was holding aggro.

And I, feeling a bit sorry for him, since he genuinely seemed clueless, told him that there was more to being a tank to holding aggro. It was situational awareness, knowing how to pull the mobs, knowing which mobs to pull, avoiding unwanted adds, avoiding putting the party in a dangerous position.

But despite what I told him he insisted that he had pulled the right pack of mobs and was tanking them in the right spot, lol. (Yes, he did include lol's as he told me he was doing the right thing.)

I didn't know what else to tell him other than he asked for feedback and I gave it. I asked him, if he really did do everything right, then why did everyone leave?

It was blunt, but hopefully I gave him something to think about. I left on that note, because it was late and I should have been in bed already. I could have gotten on my high horse and said I'd tanked this before on both my raid-geared 80s, he was pulling wrong end of story. I could have asked him if he was blowing his tanking cooldowns. I could have said he was undergeared for what he was trying to do. One of my guildies suggested I should have asked him if he was defense capped (probably tough at his stage without enchants).

But there's only so much coaching a person feels up to at 1 am and I wanted to focus on why that specific pull resulted in a repeated wipe. He was undergeared, yeah, but we still could have made it if he played better.

The funny thing is… after one of the wipes, we'd lost a dps and so we had to re-queue. I made sure to queue as both tank and dps, in a vain hope he would have a dps off-spec so the dungeon finder would give me the tanking role and we might actually survive. But he only queued as tank, nothing else.

I realize there are some people who live for tanking, but oddly enough don't seem to have a clue how to do it. I've met them before. The subject of "Raid Tanking Isn't for Everyone" was one of them. That person ran every heroic under the sun, multiple times, wanted badly to raid tank, but had horrible situational awareness, didn't like to take advice on how to spec, and didn't like to read up on tanking strats. But man that person wanted to be a raid tank.

A lot of what makes a good tank comes from practice, so every tank is a nub at some point. One of my old guildies was a fabulous warrior who could tank Shattered Halls so well you'd think he was a paladin (back when only paladins were good AoE tanks), and he liked to tell me how bad he was when he first started.

But this 25k tank in OK must've had at least a few instances under his belt given his shoulders (45 emblems… probably at least eight or nine heroics) so he couldn't have been all that new to it.

I think it takes a certain type of person to be a good tank. A tank needs to be a good observer, because they need to know who and what's happening around them. A tank needs to be adaptable, because sometimes things don't go according to plan. A tank needs to be aware of their strengths and their weaknesses. A tank needs to realize the safety of the rest of the party resides first and foremost in him or herself. A tank needs to go that extra mile that others don't.

I'm not always a good tank, but I've run with tanks who are, and it's not always enough to just hold aggro.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Feral Druid Hits 80! Nub Kitty/Bear Coming to a Dungeon Near You!

Look out Shadowburn, you have a new 80 feral druid who's going to be jumping in all your Dungeon Finder queues looking for epics. I took a nice snapspot of Darkker in her newly minted level 80 cat gear. Unlike Hana and Gillien when they hit 80, she has nary a TBC epic on her. Everything she's wearing is pure WotLK gear.

The good news is, I made her dual spec into bear, so once she has a chance to do some more gearing that's one less dps Shadowburn will have to contend with and one more tank to take three of those dps on a romp through heroics. The bad news is she's newly 80 so while she likely has the gear to tank the older WotLK heroics (you don't need to break 40k health, or even 30k, to tank heroic Nexus), you're not going to see chain pulls from one end of the instance to the other and if you're a healer you might actually have to work a little.

She has 26k health and 30% dodge in bear form. I know tanks used to run with that, but it's been ages. I admit I'm a little shy about taking her out for a heroic spin as a bear. She might have the gear with a forgiving group, but I don't expect a Dungeon Finder pug to be anything resembling forgiving. It's far easier to go as dps and quest/do AH stuff while waiting for the queue. By the time she runs out of those sorts of things to do she'll have the gear she needs to be a proper chain-pulling, aggro-hogging tank for your average pugger.

And I did have five low level epics waiting for her too, thanks to leveling my leatherworking. I have both trollwoven pieces, the polar chest and boots (just for tanking), and the Ice Striker's Cloak. Avoidance isn't too hot with the polar set I know, but everyone's gotta start somewhere.

I plan to be kitty for any initial pug raiding though. I'm not taking Koralon punches like this, though I probably could squeak by as dps. Admittedly it's embarrassing seeing the achievements fly up for my fresh 80 since that just sends up a noob flag, but then there's a certain satisfaction that comes with getting that achievement and out-dpsing other people in the same run. I might be a nub 80, but I sure as heck do more than those slackers doing three digits dps.

After a few heroics I can safely say I pull about 1800-2000dps, depending on buffs and the types of boss fights. If the stars align and I get a Bloodlust on a single target boss fight I can break 2500, just barely. It feels horribly low, but it's just a gear issue, and in a way it gives me some perspective. I realize that I've forgotten how much dps a new 80 does in a 5-man.

I haven't been in this position for a while now, since Hana and Gillien were both 80 before Ulduar came out, and it's kind of fun looking at a world where nearly every 5-man holds promise of a potential upgrade. I'm even looking forward to rep farming. Darkker is my only 80 on this server so she has to earn her head and shoulder enchants the hard way since I can't mail anything to her.

My worst fear, that I would be Vote Kicked for being a nub, hasn't materialized at all. Though my feral has been on a couple heroics where people have complained about the dps, the complaints haven't been directed at her. In one of them, a hunter that was doing about the same dps as her dropped group while we were waiting for our afk healer. The party leader, one of those "raid tanks" sporting a spiffy title, said something to the affect of maybe we would get a real dps to replace him.

I thought that meant he would have taken a dislike to me as well, so I prepared myself to be derided throughout the remainder of the run, but oddly enough he was perfectly friendly to me. And I have to wonder, given the postings by other bloggers, if perhaps it wasn't that this guy didn't like the hunter's dps, but the dps the hunter was putting out for his gear. I was trying my best in blues and a trio of low level crafted epics, I wasn't going to break 3k in a 5-man with my gear, but the hunter was fully purple.

I'm also looking into feral add-ons. I tried Feral By Night briefly, but it's too fast-paced for me. By the time the suggested next move registers in my mind it's generally gone and I don't feel like I really understand the underlying priorities that are telling me which move to use. I'm not learning as I use it.

I probably could adjust it, but I found that what I really was looking for was something like Squawk and Awe, the moonkin debuff/proc timer bars; something that would tell me in a bar form when my buffs/debuffs were going to wear off so I could make the decisions myself (and thus learn). So I'm currently using Bad Kitty at the recommendation of one of my guildies, and it looks like this one's going to work.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

It's already Christmas to some of you out there! It's not quite time yet for those in California like me. Either way, have a very merry Christmas. And if you don't celebrate, I hope you at least have the day off work to rest and relax.

I'll catch up with you folks later!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

[Druid] Okay, Maybe I Will Try That Typhoon

I was reading Villainus's comment on my last post, where I described my annoyance with the Tankspot Typhoon strat, and while I do disagree with some of what he says, one thing struck me in particular. If you don't have a point to spare for Typhoon, you're wasting talent points somewhere.

At first I was annoyed because anecdotally speaking, I don't know any raiding moonkin on my server who use it and if one wants a greater sample size, the most common PvE moonkin spec does not include it (link generated by WoW Popular, formerly TalentChic). One has to go down to #5 on the list to find the first spec with Typhoon, which indicates that either a lot of moonkin are "doing it wrong" or it's really not as easy or necessary to spare a point as he suggests. Elitist Jerks does not consider Typhoon a must-have either, if you look through their moonkin article in their Theorycrafting Think Tank (recently updated for patch 3.3).

But, I run an unusual moonkin spec. You won't find it on WoW Popular at all. I suppose you could say I'm one of those "doing it wrong." I decided months ago that I didn't need my mana regen talents and dropped every single one of them. I even dropped the supposedly mandatory point in Moonglow and took a point in Genesis. I wasn't running out of mana. The dps increase from Genesis is marginal at best, but marginal is better than the zero, right?

If I could, I would take the point in Genesis and toss it in Typhoon, but I can't.

Villainus says that Typhoon is 2-3% of a high end moonkin's dps for any fight with at least two targets, which doesn't sound like much, but not bad for a one talent point investment. If I was to remove a point from my current spec for Typhoon it would be from Brambles, which is another marginal talent. This would decrease the damage done by my treants by 5% and my Thorns (I always thorn our tanks) by 25%.

My treants typically do around 30-31k damage. If I remove a point from Brambles they'll do 29-30k. If it's a long fight I'll cast treants twice. If it's a really long fight I'll cast it three times. That means at most I'll lose 3000 damage from my treants if I take out a point. That's not much at all. But what about Thorns? It's passive damage, but the boss isn't going to exactly stop hitting the tank, is it?

Our first 10-man Marrowgar kill, the boss took a whopping 74k from Thorns (not too shabby for a spell cast pre-fight). Taking out a point in Brambles would reduce that to 63k. Our first Marrowgar kill took seven minutes, so obviously the numbers generated by Thorns are better the longer the fight goes on, but we can look at Thorns as being roughly 10.5k damage for each minute of the fight; down 9k damage if I take out a point.

Let's get everything into similar time units. We'll go with three minutes since that's the time for Force of Nature to come off cooldown.

With 3/3 Brambles:
Force of Nature – 30-31k damage
Thorns – 31-32k damage

With 2/3 Brambles:
Force of Nature – 29-30k damage
Thorns – 27-28k damage

The damage lost for a three minute fight would be about 5k.

So for Typhoon to be worth it, it must do at least 5k in three minutes without disrupting the moonkin cast rotation (which would require more dps to be done by Typhoon to make up for the time the moonkin would normally be casting other spells).

I'm looking at it and suddenly it doesn't sound so bad at all. It's been a long time since I've been specced into Typhoon, but surely I could fit 5k damage over the course of three minutes when I'm running/shifting positions and I already have both my dots up.

Now, I still disagree that if a moonkin doesn't have Typhoon they are wasting points elsewhere, but for those who have the room, it looks like it's viable, and a better pick than a point in Brambles. Though, this does mean said moonkin will have to remember to cast Typhoon, because I'm not in the habit of it at all. And it does mean said moonkin will have to do a better job of pointing herself at the boss so the Typhoon actually hits him.

My guild's on a bit of a hiatus with the impending Christmas before us. We won't resume our regular raid schedule until January 4th (any other raid between now and then is purely optional and might consist of fun runs rather than honest raiding), so I can't say with any certainty when I'll get to try out a boss fight with Typhoon in my spec, but I think I'm going to give it a whirl and see how my World of Logs parse comes out.

I still won't be taking it for the knockback though, which was the reason for the eye-rolling in my last post. Now that I've read up on the 25-man strat I can see why that would be desirable since there are five blood beasts on Saurfang, but it's unnecessary for 10-man which only has two, and my guild only does 10-mans.

I'll also be glyphing [Glyph of Typhoon] to improve my ability to hit a target with it (wider radius) and use it when I can't cast anything else due to movement issues or to use as a cheap AoE. If it all works out, it should be a dps increase.

Of course when I show up with Typhoon now I'm going to have to explain that I don't have a knockback for it, but yes it really is Typhoon and seriously, I didn't decide to start PvPing on my moonkin.

(And amg I actually did a post with math in it!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

[Druid] I'm Not Specced for Typhoon, Quit Asking

Thank you, Tankspot, for making so many people suddenly think that all moonkin are packing this blue knockback spell and they've just been hiding it all this time. That's what happens when an optional raiding talent gets highlighted in everyone's favorite strat video series.

The fight in question is Deathbringer Saurfang. Two blood beasts periodically spawn and have to be dps-ed down as fast as possible while not being allowed to hit anyone, because if they hit someone they make Saurfang's blood counter go up, and when his blood counter hits 100 bad things happen.

There are a number of ways to keep the blood beasts away from people. Ranged dps can ping-pong threat between them. The beasts can be stunned or slowed by Frost Traps or Earthbind.

One of the methods specifically highlighted by Tankspot was Typhoon. Why Typhoon? It's a ranged spell that has a knockback effect, so the moonkin can use it to knock a blood beast away from its chosen target before it reaches it. It has a 20 second cooldown, which should be good enough for it to be used once a spawn.

Would I use it if I had it? Sure.

Would I spec specifically for this fight to get it? No.

Maybe if this was Arthas and we knew we'd have to be top of our game to beat him, I would. I did respec for our Twilight Zone attempts after all, back when that was the pinnacle of 25-man raiding. But Deathbringer Saurfang?

Now, no one's been asking me to spec for it. But last week we got to Saurfang for the first time and went over the strat and someone said, "Yeah, moonkin can use that blue knockback thingy of theirs." I explained that we have to spec into it and it's not really considered a raiding talent. He shouldn't expect a raiding moonkin to have it.

It was our first time meeting Saurfang. Explanation given. All good.

Second time meeting Saurfang. Different person. "Moonkin can use Typhoon to knock back the blood beasts."

Oh no you didn't. I now realize that I'm in all likelihood never going to get away from this. Even when pugs begin to regularly farm Saurfang there is always going to be that one guy who's thinking "That moonkin is being such a lazy ass and not using Typhoon!"

A couple nights ago a moonkin friend joined our guild run since the holidays had depleted us of a dps and he was also baffled by the Typhoon request, because we as raiding moonkin just don't spec for it. We could make room for it, sure. Our talent trees aren't that tight. But most don't bother.

So why don't raiding moonkin take it?

Typhoon is very situational in raids. It doesn't have a place in our rotations which rely on the core four spells of Insect Swarm, Moonfire, Wrath, and Starfire. It doesn't do enough single-target damage to be used every cooldown like our Force of Nature or Starfall spells. And while an AoE of a sort, it has a knockback effect which generally annoys tanks when used on trash and doesn't work on bosses. While it can be glyphed to remove the knockback, that defeats the purpose of why you would want it on Saurfang.

There are occasions where Typhoon can be useful; zombie chow on Gluth, blood beasts on Saurfang. When you don't want adds going someplace it's not bad to use it if you have it. But the problem is that it's situational. The vast majority of boss fights it's not necessary, so the moonkin interested in maximizing his or her boss dps generally will not take Typhoon when it is possible to take something else.

Some moonkin will take Typhoon for PvP, or for flavor because they feel they have a talent point to spare, but because it's not considered a core raiding talent, it shouldn't be assumed that all moonkin have it, which is why the Tankspot video is potentially irritating. Because it's Tankspot, it's held up as the default go-to strat, and it makes it look like moonkin should have Typhoon because after all Tankspot says they should use it.

So this is what I do to control adds on Deathbringer Saurfang.

Two beasts spawn. All ranged focus fire the add on the right. I Wrath the one on the left to get its attention and pull it away from the tanks, melee, and anyone else. Then I root it at the bottom of the steps.

Add is contained (and for far longer than a Typhoon would keep it at bay) and I pew-pew the one the right until it dies. Then everyone focus fires the add on the left and it dies. Repeat.

Who needs Typhoon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dungeon Finder Redux

So I happened to get sick over the weekend, leaving me bedridden for the better part of two days and then even afterwards, not quite up to par for going to work, but well enough for messing around with WoW for short stretches at a time to alleviate boredom before lying down for another stretch of bedrest. (You guys in that random heroic Nexus? Your healer was healing through the power of holy germs.)

Between the period before I got sick and my recovery period, I've now used the Dungeon Finder for at least a dozen instances. Despite the fact that Blizzard originally touted the Dungeon Finder as being so fast you won't have to worry about questing during the downtime, I haven't found that to be true. If anything, my original assessment with my warrior alt might have been generous.

The two battlegroups I spend the most time in are Reckoning (home of my 80s), and Shadowburn (home of my feral druid and warrior alts), just in case queues differ much depending on battlegroup. While my warrior alt found groups relatively quickly, even allowing for the 15 minute late night SM Armory queue, it hasn't been the case for Darkker, my feral druid, even though they're in the same battlegroup. Even though she's in Northrend, where one would think more groups would be running, she's had to wait just as long for her instances.

Darkker has had 15-minute waits even during the early evening and she's had to wait for every single one of the three instances she's run since the new system was put in. I usually ran around and got partway or completely through with a quest during the wait. Though granted, I did not queue as a tank. She's specced PvP kitty (holdover from her BG days) and I'd learned from the time that I tanked UK that kitty spec was not going to hold up long term for tanking in Northrend. Too squishy.

But she did get a Shadow Lab group just as easily and in the same amount of time as a her Old Kingdom group, even though it was a Burning Crusade instance. She was the only 73 in her group, but oddly enough everyone except for the one DK was over level 70. Apparently some people are still interested in Burning Crusade instances, and it's easier to get groups through the Dungeon Finder with them.

My druid main has only signed up for queues as a moonkin, largely because I'm fearful of randomly being assigned any of the three new 5-man instances. I hate tanking unfamiliar instances and I don't consider my two runs of FoS and PoS and one run of HoR to be enough to be able to tank with authority. My only chain run through the three was also disrupted by having a potential guild applicant come chat with me so my mind was definitely not on what was happening in the 5-man.

So the wait comes out to about 8-11 minutes as dps for a random heroic, in Reckoning in the evening hours. Still, it's not quite so bad, because I actually don't mind getting a daily or two done while waiting. (My guild pokes fun at the fact that I'm still not done with the Argent Tournament, and I would like to get around to finishing that sometime.)

As a healer, the queues are easy though. I can hop on my paladin Gillien and less than a minute later I'm off. If the tank looks decent, I just let him know to chain pull and not to worry about my mana.

(As a humorous aside, one pug had a tank called Swiftpally, who was one of the slowest pullers I'd ever seen. I just couldn't resolve his name with the pace the run was moving and how slow he would be to notice any adds. I ending up "tanking" a few of them just because he wasn't paying attention.)

Oddly enough though, queuing as a solo healer seems to be substantially faster than queuing as a healer and one dps. You think it'd be the same or faster, because one of the dps is already there and as a healer I'd be a cornerstone of the group, and yet when my hunter friend and I queued together we waited for several minutes for a tank and the rest of the dps to queue.

Yet when we queue as a group of four guildies we launch very quickly. I guess it might have something to do with the "shape" of the group. It's easy to fit a single player into a pre-existing group of four, but if a lot of people are queuing as duos, trios, or foursomes, it can be harder to fit them together, especially if they're trying to slot them with existing groups.

Or maybe I'm totally off-base. I don't know. It just seemed weird to me. Maybe that night there were a lot of tanks running with personal healers.

But the thing that seems most remarkable to me as a dps is that the wait isn't really that bad. If you already have something else to entertain you in the meantime, that group is going to pop. It'll just take a while and you won't have to sit in LFG hoping someone will notice you or spamming that you're available in Trade. Probably the worst that could happen is that you're in the middle of doing some tournament jousting and have to decide whether or not you want to finish the match, but even that isn't too bad.

I feel a little bad that both my druids have been running as dps only (ah, that hybrid guilt), especially because one has a tank spec, but it's been a nice change to pace to 5-man dps on my moonkin, and to finally dps on my feral. I feel like I never got an honest crack at kitty dps until the new Dungeon Finder came out and let me sign up as dps without any requests to go bear.

Kitty dps is known to be difficult, but I've been quite happy with my performance given that I have no mods set up for it. As a level 74-75 feral I'm pulling almost 1100 dps in my blues and greens, which doesn't strike me as too shabby, and I've been the top dps on the last two pugs I've gone on. The hardest part of being a cat is definitely the combination of debuff and energy management. I've heard it gets better as one's crit rate goes up, so combo point generation is smoother.

I'm considering making Darkker's second spec PvE cat since I'm having a lot of fun as a kitty and I have no aspirations of joining a raid guild with her (oh noes... greedy druid has no tank or heal spec?!), but bear might be good at some point if I want to do any pug raiding. I suppose I could always give up on the PvP spec since I haven't PvPed with her since she left the 50-59 bracket, but I'd like to start up again once she hits 80. We'll see how it goes.

Overall, my experience with the Dungeon Finder continues to be positive. The vast majority of groups are successful, and the only heroics that had any wiping were the new 5-mans which arguably everyone was learning. There was one warrior tank though that couldn't AoE tank to save his life and eventually dropped group because he said he couldn't handle it (we were doing the waves of adds before the first boss in HoR, and yes we were LOS-pulling), but the tank was easily replaced through the new Dungeon Finder and we were on our way again with less than a minute's wait.

Oh... and if you're in Northrend but not 80 yet, you can still earn Emblems of Triumph by using the random regular dungeon finder! Definitely an option for giving your alt an early start on his or her level 80 gear.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dungeon Finding for Alts

While the Dungeon Finder is a good replacement for Looking for Group at 80, most 80s care very little which instance they run as long as they get some emblems and it's not Oculus. Prior to 3.3 my choice in heroic was largely dependent on whichever heroic happened to be the daily, though it was nice to at least know which heroic it would be. If I was tired of that particular instance I might not go. But even so, being able to do your "daily" heroic with friends who have otherwise already done their dailies is nice, so you can still get your two Emblems of Frost if you show up late for the heroic parade that evening.

But I've rarely had an issue getting heroic groups even when it came to pugging. Both my 80s can tank and one is specced for healing as well, so if I was so inclined as to find a group it wasn't hard.

What has been hard at times is finding instances for my leveling alts. Getting a group generally means playing on the weekend when a lot of people are on during the day or just being around for the perfect storm on a weekday night where for some reason there are three, maybe four, other people interested in that particular instance.

I was most interested in the Dungeon Finder for my alts. So when I logged on last night, I decided I'd put the system through its paces with one of them, someone who'd previously had trouble finding a group. Initially I thought I might use my baby resto druid, who should naturally gravitate towards leveling through instances, but then I thought I should really use a problem alt, someone who I'd logged on and off multiple times hoping to find that right mix of people online that I might actually be able to do an instance.

Maybe I should have picked my much neglected Alliance warlock, but instead I thought of my troll warrior. I had once complained that I never got to dps anything with her because I was always tanking. I remembered I had last been trying to get into an SM Armory run with her and I had logged on several times for a period of a few minutes each hoping to see something before she completely leveled out of the Scarlet Monestary range. At level 37, she was getting a bit long in the tooth (tusk?) for the SM instances. A little more questing and she'd level out entirely.

So I logged on to my warrior and looked through her quest log to confirm that I hadn't done SM Armory, and then discovered that I was missing the quest Into the Scarlet Monestary. Had I actually finished all the SM instances and just forgot? No, my achievements still listed Whitemane, Morgraine, and Herod as having not been killed. I'd have to redo SM Library.

I grabbed the quest from the new NPC in Undercity (apparently even if you haven't done the Wrathgate event you will still get the new NPC instead of Varimathras) and then queued up for both SM Lib and SM Armory. I noticed that I was only flagged as dps initially, and after thinking about it for a few seconds I left the Dungeon Finder and changed my settings to allow me go as either a tank or a dps. I was a little curious. Just how likely would it make me a tank if I gave it the option?

Probably less than 10 seconds later, I didn't even have a chance to leave the UC throne room, the queue popped for SM Library and I was given the role of tank. Big surprise.

Everyone teleported in almost immediately. I barely had time to even register what classes my party had before we were underway. Nobody said anything. No "Hi," "Hello," or even a "Gimme a minute to buff." I just looked around, saw everyone was present, shrugged, and then started pulling.

Coming back to my warrior after having not played her for months was a bit difficult. The party was not very cooperative either. It was not uncommon for dps to be on two, even three, different targets, and one time the hunter even attacked enemies from a different room, causing us to get another three adds while I was tanking a different group. But the healer was pretty good, and gradually how to tank as a warrior was coming back to me. No one even died, even though I felt more like a TBC-style warrior tank than a WotLK one.

Seriously, by the second half of the instance it was Thunder Clap to get initial threat on a pack of mobs. Then sunder my first target, tab, sunder my second target, tab, sunder my third target. I'd weave in a Revenge when I could. But if I didn't do that Thunder Clap wasn't enough to keep someone from pulling, and my Taunt was on cooldown often enough as it was.

At the end of the SM Library run someone just dropped group and disappeared. No good-bye, no thanks for the run. Just gone. It used to be if you dropped group like that you were be teleported out in so many seconds and your hearth would be on cooldown. Did that still happen? How else would I leave? So I dropped group as well, just to see what happened, and I found myself back on my mount in the UC throne room.

Okay, that was quick, though a bit creepy with nobody talking, but what I really wanted to do was run as dps, because I'd never done that on my warrior. Tanking has proven itself a fast way to get a group, but dps-ing was that itch I hadn't been able to scratch. I wanted to actually use Berserker Stance for once.

It was past 11:30pm server, and being on the west coast, that meant most of the player base had already gone to bed. But surely across an entire battlegroup there would be at least five people interested in doing SM Armory? This would be a good test.

I unchecked the tank option and listed myself as only dps for SM Armory. Once of the nice features with the new Dungeon Finder is that you can see the progress of your group filling up by clicking on the icon by the mini-map. I could see there was a healer and a dps (me). Estimated wait time was 6 minutes.

Okay, definitely longer as a leveling dps during late night.

Time passed, the healer disappeared, but there was another dps and then a tank, then the tank disappeared and we got a third dps. I don't know whether the people were getting filtered into different groups because they'd signed up for multiple instances or because they got tired and left, but it was at that point that the estimated wait time had disappeared entirely. Bad sign.

I decided I'd go fly to Tanaris to pick up a cooking recipe since this alt hadn't taken advantage of the mass Thanksgiving cooking bonanza (though I did on three other alts) and if I didn't get into an instance by then I'd log.

Of course, as I took the blimp from UC to Org I heard the instance pop-up sound while I was on the loading screen between continents. I hopped off the blimp in a hurry and joined the group.

I think I'd been in queue for about 10-15 minutes before the instance had launched. It felt long, but only because I'd been watching the party add and subtract itself so much in between running around and doing AH stuff. It wouldn't have been too bad of a wait if I'd also been actively questing at the time, which I would have been if I hadn't been using the opportunity mostly as a test. But this does mean that if you're leveling, and you're not looking for a popular instance or you're playing late at night, that you might still be in for a bit of a wait.

The SM Armory group was a bit more fail, the ret pally wasn't a very considerate tank and we wiped once, but otherwise wasn't too bad. I even managed to snag the ever popular [Herod's Shoulder], which was a source of some rejoicing (this alt's on a server without an 80, so no BoA gear for her). I was also happy that I won it over the pally since I hadn't been very pleased with either his tanking ability or his ego.

This second pug didn't talk much either, other than the healer asking the paladin to wait for mana and the paladin linking dps meters to show himself on top. I suppose in that respect it was not so much different from any other pug. I still missed the old greetings and thanks for group at the end though.

One thing that's kinda nice for these pugs is the Luck of the Draw buff. I can't say it'll make or break anything, but it's little a pat on the back as if to say that the pug will be all right, here's a little sugar to help the medicine go down.

I do have to wonder though if people who can perform multiple roles will be less likely to do them with the new Dungeon Finder system. Ordinarily I'd offer to tank because waiting could be unbearable otherwise. I've been in leveling groups that get three or four people and just sit there. Last night I felt comfortable enforcing my selfishness in that I was going to dps and only dps. No doubt I could have gotten a group faster if I set myself up for tanking, but as dps it wasn't an unbearably long wait. I could have comfortably set myself up as dps and then quested while still being assured of getting a group before the end of my playing session. If I was playing during peak hours, would I have had to wait at all?

And given this knowledge, would this impact the population of would-be tanks and healers? In the past I've seen people say "Well, I could give it a shot." because the group has been sitting around for a half hour unable to find a tank. In a group with three feral druids one offered to heal so we wouldn't have to drop someone and look for a healer. I've been in 5-mans where we went without an official tank, just four dps and a reasonably alert healer. Again, I'm talking leveling instances.

Obviously at level 80 people are well entrenched in their roles and have to be reasonably specialized, but leveling is a time for experimentation, and it seems a pity that someone might not try healing or try tanking because there's no opportunity for them to be nudged into giving it a chance with the party understanding that they're giving it their first shot.

When I was leveling Hana in vanilla WoW I was fearful of being the only person with a heal spell in a 5-man. It was nice to be able to ask the shaman or the priest to be ready to toss out a few emergency heals just in case I got overwhelmed. It was a safety net I usually didn't need, but liked to have. Would I have signed up for instances as both heals and dps?

Probably, but I would have been more nervous about healing since it would have been expected that I shoulder all of the healing. After all, I signed up for it.

On the other hand, I really liked that I could join as dps. The Dungeon Finder is completely anonymous so the other party members have no idea just how long I've been sitting in queue as dps when I could have listed myself as a tank, and by the time we get going, we will have a tank so there's no reason for them to question me about my role in the group.

By the way… my warrior's dps is pretty crappy. I'm pretty sure I'm doing something wrong, but hey, at least I got to do it at all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

3.3 is Looming

So 3.3 is coming. If MMO-champion is to be believed, and he's generally pretty good about it, it could very well be tomorrow. The current build on the PTR is labeled Release Candidate after all. That's pretty soon. And as with any patch, I look at its imminent arrival with a bit of apprehension.

After all, I'm not done with 3.2 yet. I still haven't beaten Anub'arak on ToGC. My feral druid alt isn't 80 yet. (I blame Dragon Age for the latter. I seriously have much love for that game. If it wasn't for that fact I run a raid guild I probably would have been online far less these last few weeks.)

But there is much to look forward to. There's the new raid instance, the new 5-mans, and I'm really looking forward to the new looking for group interface. It's going to be fantastic for alts and normal versions of level 80 instances (which for me would be primarily for alts). Maybe I'll actually do a real Gnomer run. Or not. Every time I've gone to that instance the run ended horribly. I have so many leveling alts. I don't play them all that often but that's partially because of the way I play them.

I like running instances. So if I'm looking to run an instance and I'm concerned they'll level out of soon, what I do is I rarely play them. I'll log in once in a blue moon and checking looking for group. If there isn't a group starting then I'll log off and go to another alt or back on one of my 80s. The few minutes I'm in looking for group might only be however long it takes me to take care of my auctions. I have alts in perfect range for instances such as RFK, the various SM branches, and Sunken Temple. They just need groups.

Looking for Raid should be interesting as well. I rarely pug a raid on my druid main, but my paladin is very pug-tolerant (DI goes a long way towards saving repair bills) and if people actually use the interface it would be nice for any 25-man pick-ups or 10-man alt runs. Of all my leveling alts I think only my feral druid has a chance to make it to 80 before Cataclysm, but still… it could potentially be a handy tool seeing as she's on a separate server without a guild.

I'm not sure how to handle the weekly raid quests though. My guild raids two nights a week; we're very casual. So would the weekly raid quests be integrated into our farm night, or would we not bother and just leave those open to pugging? I'm thinking we should do them as a guild, but travel time and such could get annoying. We'll see how it goes.

In the meantime we have at least one more ToGC run tonight. Hopefully we can get down Faction Champs.