Monday, October 18, 2010

[Paladin] Gut Feeling About Healing in a Post-4.0 World

Cavaet: I have not raid healed since the patch. I have only done heroics. However, I did spend an fair amount of discussion with my guild's holy paladin over his performance in our heroic ICC 10 raid last Saturday, so I think I have a decent handle on what the fuss is about.

And fuss there is. Ghostcrawler wrote a humongous post on the subject yesterday.

After our first post-4.0.1 raid in ICC, our holy paladin posted on our guild forums about his issues with healing that night, most particularly in regards to Heroic Lich King. He was concerned that due to the change in how paladins work, that he might not be able to perform at the level he used to pre-patch. Typically he would beacon one tank, heal the other, and possibly help the raid if GCDs allowed or the situation demanded (disc priest grabbed by valkyr).

Now he's no longer sure that's possible, and he thinks we may have to three-heal H LK. With the improved dps post-patch, we might still be all right.

So, I did some thinking about paladin healing; after healing heroics on Gillien, listening to my guildie's woes and analyzing World of Logs with him, and reading Ghostcrawler's mega-post.

My feeling is that paladins are heading in the right direction. It may be bumpy now, but I like having more spells, more decision making. I was never a big fan of the firehose approach to paladin healing. My crowning moment was solo-healing half the Moroes fight in Karazhan after our priest died, and that was back in TBC. It was a big mess of triage and figuring who could live for a few seconds more and who needed a heal now.

There wasn't really that kind of decision-making in WotLK. Beacon tank. Heal someone else. Make sure the heals keep flowing in even if no one else needs it. It was a little wonky at first, when the beacon didn't transfer overheals at the start of WotLK, but after overheals counted there was even less thought involved.

Running through heroics after 4.0.1 I found I had to change my keybindings. Flash of Light and Holy Shock swapped places, since Holy Shock would be my go-to heal and FoL my emergency quick heal. Holy Shock was now stronger and cheaper than Holy Light, with the bonus of being instant! Building up Holy Power for Word of Glory wasn't a problem, and Word of Glory was another instant heal more or less on par with Holy Shock. If I couldn't use either, then I would consider a Holy Light; Divine Light if the tank needed it. My biggest problem is that I need to set up a good Power Auras for Holy Power so I can better keep track of it.

Divine Light felt a little sluggish, but for heroics it usually wasn't necessary. Flash of Light I barely used and mana troubles were non-existent. After a few heroics I felt confident that I should be able to play my paladin in a normal ICC just fine. The only thing I was not certain about was longevity, since nothing in a heroic lasted long enough to test me, so I wasn't sure how much spirit I would need on my gear.

However, I haven't raided progression content on Gillien in months, and my guild's holy paladin had quite the maddening experience in heroic ICC.

The problem arises from what was expected of him, what he was previously capable of, and what he can do now.

The 4.0.1 paladin is no longer a firehose.

  • Divine Light is more or less the same as the old Holy Light in terms of output, but it's slower.

  • Beacon of Light only transfers half the heal.

  • Holy Light has a low mana cost, but does a low amount of healing, and takes about a second longer to cast.

  • Flash of Light, while quicker, does about 80% the healing of Divine Light at the same cost (still not quite the old Holy Light)

Due to the 50% reduction in Beacon of Light, it's no longer possible to beacon one tank, heal the other, and expect them both to stay up. He actually has to heal both tanks. While that doesn't sound horrific on paper, it is costing him GCDs he didn't have to worry about before, and in our raid he's also the person who cleanses the Necrotic Plague. (We used to have a dps do it, but we found our transitions worked better if he could concentrate on dps-ing so the shambling horrors are up a shorter period of time.)

Our paladin's job is harder, and I don't mean to trivialize his concerns, but I don't think holy paladins are necessarily in as bad a spot as he thinks, or that the people on the forums think.

It might just be a need to rethink strategies.

For instance, on Saturday he ran with a spec without Enlightened Judgements and he was having trouble maintaining his 9% haste buff with the limited range, so when we go back tonight, he's going back to that so he can judge from afar.

He can't heal like he used to, constantly powering through heals that will hit both tanks, but he isn't supposed to heal like that anymore. It might be a case of relearning how to heal, redividing the duties between him and our disc priest, or maybe bringing a third healer. With the post-patch boost in dps we probably can spare that now.

When I looked at our World of Logs report, only one of the four H LK wipes we had on Saturday was due to premature tank death. None were due to the plague not getting dispelled in time. It might have been hard, but considering he was still learning his new spec, he did fine. The plague was getting dispelled, and with one exception it wasn't tank death that caused the undoing of the raid. He was performing just about the same as he was pre-patch.

Naturally, this is just a top level view of our attempts. It doesn't encompass how he's needed to change his play style and how his percentage of heals vs. the other healers on World of Logs has actually gone down. But on the surface he can still perform the job he was assigned to do. It's just harder/different.

Paladins might not be what they were, but that doesn't mean they're broken. I like where we're going. I like the idea of not being a spammer. I like triage. Holy Power's a little quirky, but I'll figure it out.

I'm not going to miss the pug raids where holy paladins fight over who gets to heal the tanks. I'm not going to miss being told that when they were looking for a healer they really meant a priest/druid/shaman who can raid heal. I'm not going to miss the VoAs where I was told to raid heal because they already had three other holy paladins and someone had to do it (which I didn't mind much, though I still beaconed one of the tanks because it was only prudent to do so).

I'm sure there will be people who quit their holy paladins for another class/spec. It's not going where they want it to go. And that's fine. But maybe it won't be that bad either.

A coworker who's also a casual raider, thought about dumping his holy paladin after he heard about the patch 4.0.1 changes. He thought about switching to his level 70-something priest. But he tried the paladin changes and ultimately decided they weren't as bad as he thought. He'd keep him.

Maybe I have too much faith in Blizzard, but I think we just need a little more time for the dust to settle and get used to things. Of course it will be hard for those working on the toughest content, those who will feel every little change and are fighting bosses with razor precision and precious little margin for error. Paladins are different now.

Ghostcrawler said:

We haven't seen too much evidence yet that paladins are much poorer tank healers than other classes, though I understand many of you feel that to be the case. (It also doens't help that the popular logging programs and websites aren't showing Holy mastery yet.) If we do decide Holy can't competitively tank heal any longer, then we will buff them.

Blizzard's watching. If it's really bad they'll fix it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

[Druid] 4.0.1 Live Moonkin Impression

First things first. I have much love for Skywall Horde, and for the fantastic server shut down party we held in the Alliance inn in Dalaran. I also have love for the Alliance moonkin who joined us in all the dancing and merriment. It just goes to show that you can't be an angry person and play a moonkin. There's too much goodwill to be found among those who would play something as silly as a magic-using owlbear.

So, I got into WoW late last night after the long patch install process finished. My first stop was the auction house, to pick up any glyphs I could not obtain yesterday. But no luck. Everyone was gouging. Fortunately the guild bank was well loaded and I got almost everything I needed there. I just need a Glyph of Wrath now and I'll be in business.

For level 80 raiding I selected a 31/0/5 spec. As with all Cataclysm specs, it's more notable what I didn't take since the majority of talents will be found in any given build.

In Tier 2 I skipped 3 points in Moonglow. Though 85 druids are having mana problems in the Beta (problems that might soon be addressed), that's not likely to be relevant to level 80 raiding, especially to those in full ICC gear. I've yet to test this myself since my guild does not raid until Saturday, but the scuttlebutt on Elitist Jerks is that it will not be.

This frees up 3 points that I put into Gale Winds and Solar Beam. These three points? Completely optional. I could also have put them into Owlkin Frenzy instead, except that relies on me getting hit, which I hopefully will not be. Owlkin Frenzy will be helpful while leveling, but I'm not there yet. The ability to have my own interrupt (still good in ICC, especially as a 10m raider) is useful, and the extra AoE is just gravy for clearing out the trash.

The last talent I skipped over is Fungal Growth reason being that there's only one fight where I really wanted a snare, that being Heroic Saurfang, and without Wild Mushroom until level 85, this talent is too uncontrollable. We can have a general idea of where our treants are going to die, but we can't make them die exactly where and when we want. And we can only use them once every three minutes, which makes the usefulness of this talent spotty at best.

Everything else in the balance tree is pretty solid, though it should be mentioned that Sunfire is not working correctly and is not affected by haste in the same manner that Moonfire is. However, moonkin will take it anyway to get to Lunar Shower, which will help with a lot of our movement issues. This is likely a bug that will be addressed in a future patch.

As far as the resto tree goes, without the ability to access Master Shapeshifter (we can only put 5 points in resto) our only real choices are Blessing of the Grove and Heart of the Wild, but they are both dps increases and worth taking over skipped talents in the balance tree.

After having specced myself, I figured the best thing to do to get used to my new moonage was to join a heroic, and while I did queue for one, I saw an ad in Trade for the raid weekly, which was Noth. I decided I'd get some action faster joining the raid weekly than sitting in queue, so I whispered the raid leader and off I went.

The biggest change to moonkin in anticipation of Cataclysm is no doubt the change to Eclipse. It's now a core mechanic of our spec and a part of a young owlbear from the moment they hit level 10, even before they can transform into a boomer proper.

We now have a little Eclipse bar underneath our health and mana bars, which is half purple on one side with a moon on the end, and half orange on the other with a little sun. Upon logging in, there is a little diamond in the middle, the neutral starting position.

The way the bar works is simple. Keep doing nature damage and the diamond moves towards the moon. Keep doing arcane damage and the diamond moves towards the sun. When you hit either end of the bar, you get an Eclipse and do more damage for the appropriate element. Hit the moon and you do more arcane damage. Hit the sun and you do more nature damage.

But as you cast more arcane or nature damage you move the bar back in the other direction and thus the eclipse eventually wears off.

So the way the bar works is simple, but in practice there are things that could be improved. The biggest issue is that the bar is a tiny little thing underneath the mana bar, which doesn't help its visibility at all.

The UI does try to compensate for this. When in a lunar eclipse the Starfire and Moonfire buttons will be highlighted to give you an idea of which buttons to press, but when your field of vision is largely in the middle of the screen, who's going to be looking at a tiny bar in the upper left-hand corner? I don't click buttons either. I'm a keybinder so I'm not looking at whether or not my action bars are highlighted when I'm going through my rotations.

This would be fixable with add-ons, but unfortunately Squawk and Awe, the most popular Eclipse add-on, isn't fully updated for 4.0.1 yet. Andriele has a test version on the EJ forums that adds Starsurge, Sunfire, Lunar Shower, and the new Nature's Grace, but it doesn't do any power tracking. So in the meantime, I will probably try getting the test version running as my dot/cooldown timer and pick up Eclipse Bar Plus for the Eclipse bar. EBP allows the Eclipse bar to be moved out from under the player frame and enlarged so it can more easily be seen. It also allows for power increases to be displayed as numbers or percentages.

Considering how important Eclipse is for moonkin, it's a little surprising that some element of the sun and moon effect were not integrated with the new Power Auras-style alert that splash around the screen when certain abilities proc. I kept seeing these green floral patterns appear on either side of me and there's nothing incredibly obvious to say what they are. It wasn't until I looked at the tiny little buffs in the upper right corner that I realized they were letting me know that Nature's Grace was ready.

Power Auras works because the player personally sets up the icons so even if it's something as odd as a skull or a fist, they know what it represents to them. Green plants on either side doesn't tell me anything. They have no meaning. Well, they do now, but only after I kept staring at my buffs to see what the proc was. For a novice player who doesn't read patch notes or know about the Power Auras mod I can only imagine their confusion.

Oddly enough, while Nature's Grace is covered by the new auras, Eclipse is not, and I managed to hit an Eclipse numerous times without realizing that I had because there is no obvious alert for it and I do not look at my action bars or my character portrait when dps-ing.

I didn't have any add-ons installed when I did the raid weekly, but I believe my dps was reasonably good, because I was the only player to regularly pull Noth off the tank and I did it twice. I did feel very bad for the tank though, as he or she was no doubt trying to get used to class changes just as much as I was, and without Omen I wasn't sure how quickly I was riding up on threat.

Once I get mods set up to better track Eclipse, dots, and the new Starsurge spell (since I don't look at my action bars I don't see it come up off cooldown), I think I should be back in business, and it'll just be a matter of lining up in front of the target dummies and doing a few practice rounds to get the muscle memory set up.

I did change my keybindings a little, moving Typhoon to the tilda key so I could add Starsurge to the 1 button so it could sit next to Wrath (2) and Starfire (3), thus lining up all three nukes in a row, but otherwise my bindings are almost exactly the same. I should be reasonably comfortable by Saturday.

I'll just have to hope that everyone else adapts as easily.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blog Azeroth: What's in a Name?

I don't normally participate in Blog Azeroth shared topic suggestions, but I realized that I'd never touched on this.

Character names are very special to me. I will never reroll a character on another server with the same name because it just doesn't work that way. The name is not an all purpose alter ego for me. Though I go by Hana in WoW circles, it's only because Hana is my main. For all other internet purposes I use something else.

In June of 2005 I was given a trial run of WoW and knew that I wanted to be a tauren. I picked the druid class and needed a name. I thought about it for a bit and selected Hana, a delightfully concise name with a druid-appropriate meaning. It was immediately accepted without complaint (ah, back in the day when good names were still readily available) and she entered the World of Warcraft.

Hana is Japanese for "flower" and it is pronounced "ha-na" not "han-na" as I often correct people. To my endless amusement, it's also Japanese for "nose" when the inflection is slightly different. Being tauren with a sizeable snout I can't help but chuckle. It's perfect for her.

Gillien's name is a longer story.

I can't create a character without a concept. I don't "I want to play an arms warrior" and then just start one up and go. Each character has their own personality, their own individual mission in life that affects what they do, what quests they take, and so on. If I don't get into their personality I stop playing them.

So I wanted to play a paladin, but couldn't start one until I had a good idea of who he or she would be.

Then, I was rereading an old story of mine which had a particularly machiavellian character named Gillian. The original Gillian was a politician, and willing to do whatever it took to secure his seat of power... so that when the time for disaster came, he would have the ability to do what it took to make sure humanity survived. The original Gillian made his share of enemies and doomed a lot of people, but humanity did survive, and largely because of his duplicity. After their survival was assured, Gillien resigned from his position, no longer trusted by his constituents and his career destroyed. He had been a heartless bastard in many ways, but he'd done everything for the right reasons and ultimately his act was a selfless one.

I realized that I had my blood elf paladin.

Unfortunately though, the name "Gillian" was taken by an orc on Skywall. I think it was a rogue or a hunter. Initially I was disappointed, but then I realized the pronunciation shouldn't change if I just slipped a letter over and made it Gillien.

Thus, Gillien with an "e" entered the world.

Gillien originally hewed closely to the concept that he was the original Gillian if he had been born a blood elf in WoW, but as time wore on he became his own person, the hard edges smoothed and he became more introspective. Much of this was because of my entries into the Blizzard Glboal Writing Contest, but it really started with the conclusion of the Sunwell event, which made the blood elf paladins, who had previously thought they were being all uppity about stealing the Light, realize that they hadn't fallen as far from the Light as they thought.

I don't consider Gillian and Gillien to be the same person anymore. They would have common ground should they ever meet each other, but they would behave differently under similar circumstances.

My final 80's name is a result of what happens when there isn't time to pick a name.

Darkker was created to join a group of coworkers on another server. They told me to reroll Hana on Dark Iron. I said no. Hana was a different druid. The one on Dark Iron would have to be a new one. And since Dark Iron was a PvP server, this was going to be a vicious druid that hated the Alliance (and with good reason considering how much she eventually got ganked). This one was going to be darker.


So I named her Darkker.

Yes, I decided to toss in an extra "k" in there just to change the spelling a little. I'm not terribly proud of it, but Darkker rather suits her name.

I know some people like to have theme names, or start/end all their character names with the same few letters so they're instantly recognizable, but I have to individualize all my characters or it just doesn't work. Even though they're both druids, Hana and Darkker are different people to me and I can't imagine ever going kitty or PvPing on Hana just as moonkin is an impossibility for Darkker.

What's in a name? Quite a lot. It's not just a name. It's an identity.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Revival of PvP Guilds in Cata?

I didn't raid in vanilla WoW, but I did PvP... a lot. My now neglected hunter alt was Exalted with the Warsong Outriders and Revered with the Defilers before the PvP system changed over with the advent of Burning Cursade. During TBC I joined a well regarded twink guild and enjoyed some 19s with my shaman and warrior. Some of my most memorable moments were team-oriented WSG matches against a tough opposing team where we really had to work together to crack them.

I missed that in WotLK.

That's not to say I didn't PvP at all. I had a blast in 59s on my feral druid until the ability to level in BGs kicked in. Then it was either level or stop playing (since static 59s didn't exist anymore), so I leveled.

I also did arena and earned my Challenger title on my paladin. I did have fun, don't get me wrong, but there's something visceral about battlegrounds that I liked; the team effort.

On my druid and hunter I really got a kick out of being able to call out the direction of flag runners, the number of incoming targets, the knowledge that it wasn't just how well I could push buttons, but how well my teammates and I could strategize that made a difference.

I remember hunkering down in the upstairs of the Alliance WSG base with three PvP guildies back when there was no timer and there was no flag debuff, and discussing how we were going to crack their turtle. Our team was half pug, but our puggers were doing a wonderful job of holding the fort, allowing the pre-made portion of us to focus on getting the enemy flag.

Our warrior was deemed the best decoy. He could survive a good beating. Our rogue would be the real flagrunner. On my hunter, I was on support duty with Wing Clip and Concussion Shot to slow pursuit.

The plan set, our warrior dropped into the flag room, grabbed the flag, and somehow, almost by sheer force of will, managed to run just outside of the flag room (graveyard side) before dying. He didn't get far, but it was far enough that he lured almost all the Alliance out to chase him.

The rest of us jumped down.

Bing! The flag was returned.

Our rogue grabbed it and ran down the tunnel, with the rest of us following.

The rest of the match I don't remember. I know we won. That may have been our last flag. But the strongest memory, the one that stuck, was cracking the turtle. We had died multiple times trying to get inside the base. We'd grouped up and tried a charge. We tried the decoy strat a couple of times before we got the one that worked. All told it was probably our fifth or sixth attempt that succeeded.

But when we broke free, it was glorious.

PvP as a guild focus largely died in TBC, especially with the introduction of arenas. Battlegrounds were for farming honor. Arenas were for earning gear.

I still played BGs, but not as much as I had before. In patch 3.2, Blizzard restricted games from starting unless they had a full group of people, and to compensate it was no longer possible to queue for three BGs and just wait to see which popped first.

As a result queue times shot up and I can barely stand to wait in them anymore. I can't remember the last time I was in a battleground, and I liked them! There's no such thing as a quick match before heading to bed anymore. When I need honor I just cash in some Stone Shards because I pick up more than enough of those from doing daily heroics.

I'm hoping that Cataclysm will see a revival in PvP guilds, especially now that we'll have rated battlegrounds and guild achievements that will require a significant number of guildies to participate in a match. If I can manage to find the time in between raid nights, I'd love to move my feral druid into a PvP guild and do some good old flag running again. She still has some achievements to get.