4.2 looks Hot!

16 May

Let’s talk Firelands!

My time lately has been divided between raid leadership on the live realms and playtime on the PTR.  While the personal progression goals of our raid team are first in my mind, new content after so long a patch of nothing huge being added is more than welcome.

The Molten Front

New daily quests rarely get my going in a serious way, but the molten front doesn’t feel as grind-y as leveling fishing a day at a time.  The druids of Hyjal call upon the player to collect Marks of the World Tree by completing quests to repair the land and fightback the forces from the Firelands.

Some misconceptions: doing these quests isn’t a requirement to raid the Firelands.  Also, although the area makes huge use of various types of phasing, the quests can largely still be completed in a group (and some of them are a lot easier this way).  Finally, you do have to complete all the quests in Hyjal up to banishing Ragnaros to start these new quests, so go do that now!

As one moves from Hyjal into the Molten Front new daily quests are unlocked.  No one is completing 25 dailies and wishing they had a higher cap every day, but every day a new random group of quests becomes available.  For those not drawn in by fun new content along, there are also item level 365+ epics purchasable from vendors in the Molten Front.

The Firelands Raid

At this point in the testing cycle I’ve only had an opportunity to play against Beth’tilac (giant fire spider) and Lord Rhyolith.  Both fights felt creative, fun, and relatively straightforward for the first few bosses of a new instance.

And if you hate the colour orange, now is a bad time to be playing the game.

The raid feels large, additionally so because of the time spent mounted moving between encounter areas.  Comparisons to Ulduar are apt, and with a dps caster legendary here I expect we will be farming the Firelands for some time to come.  I hope to see some challenging trash packs, although somewhere between the heavy trash of Bastion of Twilight and the virtual trash-less-ness of Blackwing Descent.

The State of the Game

Many players are paying a lot of attention to the numbers Blizzard released during the Q2 press call stating Warcraft subscription numbers had dropped to pre-Cata levels.  These numbers come from 4.0.6 right before the 4.1 re-introduction of the Zuls.  According to the same press conference, they also expained this decline as reflective of how quickly players consumed content.

This means that blizzard’s statement of “X% of players haven’t completed the hard modes yet” might not be the guiding philosophy anymore.  I expect either easier hardmodes where players complete them before getting burnt out on the content (unlikely), more challenging regular modes with fresh ideas (seems to be the case in Firelands so far).  Its possible that blizzard will also react to this by pushing the next content patch soon after Firelands (much like they did for Ulduar’s follower).  I really hope the reactionaries don’t get their way and do this.

Despite the burnout, World of Warcraft is making more money than ever.  That fact talks, so I expect content patches will continue at the quality level we’ve come to expect.  Don’t be surprised if Firelands has harder regular modes than either BoT or BWD.

I’ll get back to you on that after I finish these dailies.

The “I” in Raid Team

27 Mar

Our guild has done well. Well, by the standards of The Underbog, amounts to 12/12 normal modes, a few arena teams over 2400, rated BGs that happen every week, and a player base free of homicidal tendencies (toward each other). It’s important to not forget what we do right.

But with a growing drive to seriously tackle Hardmodes (and the jump in challenge level) members—myself included—are looking at our raid team with a critical eye. What’s the answer when your team doesn’t make the dps check for a fight? Do you scroll down your World of Logs postings to see who’s at the bottom? The impulse to point a finger is a strong one.

There are a few important provisos.  Some classes do better on certain fights.  Players will have bad nights.  A specific encounter may required dramatically different play, higher AoE, even offhealing; forcing a player out of their role may lower dps.  Once you’re certain there is a consistent problem it is appropriate to talk to the player who isn’t pulling her weight.  But now that we’ve identified a problem player, what’s the right tactic?  It comes down to three choices: kick/bench the player, teach the player, or turn them into the kind of raider who teaches themselves.

Players like to suggest that kicking someone out is a simple choice.  In a pick-up-group or a random heroic it is simple.  A regular raid in a committed guild is a more complex environment.  Players need to feel a measure of security to play best for an extended period.  Teams familiar with each other’s play-style also do better.  Every time we trial a new player or change up our raid composition for a night I explain to my raid team that we can expect the pace to slow down as the new player adjusts to our team and style.  A healing team that plays well together knows when a druid HoT will take care of a low health player and when they’ll need to step in with a direct heal.  Kicking a member of an established raid core should always be a last recourse for a serious team.

Teaching the player to do better seems the logical first thing to try. If changing a few gems or using CDs in a different place would improve performance, why not make this suggestion?  Assuming the player is genuinely receptive and that one makes this approach diplomatically (a few major assumptions), this might be a great short-term solution.  The problem comes when advice becomes a handout.  If a player knows they have no danger of being kicked, they feel safe to explore their class and tactics fully.  Conversely, if a player knows they will never have to think about their class because someone will always hand the latest theorycrafting right to them, we have an issue.  A good raid team cannot thrive on the personal growth of one player alone, trickling down to the remaining 24.  The best members will bring a little something more.

I’ve posted before about what makes a good raider, but a raider who teaches themselves might require a little more clarification.  Learning to play well in World of Warcraft is a lot easier now than it has ever been.  Countless blogs, forums, sites, and programs are available to the motivated players.  Teaching yourself is a matter of setting aside the time.  I spoke with a player not long ago who said “all that learning and research stuff is good, but I just want to play the game.”  That’s not an uncommon philosophy.  Imagine, however, how much more enjoyable it is to play extremely well.  Is it not more thrilling to pull to the top of the dps charts?  This style of play, the interest in constantly growing better as a player, is a commitment.  It’s a few hours a week dedicated to becoming better at WoW.  At the advanced level, this is what folks at elitistjerks.com and shadowpriest.com are doing.  Programs like Simcraft and Rawr do help remove the RNG from Best in slot gear lists.   At even the most basic level, sites like AskMrRobot.com and WoWReforge.com can optimize reforging and gemming choices.

Now how do you convince a player to make active and regular use of these tools?  The first step is asking.  After that, you have to let them see the value.  I know a player who’s gone from “I don’t really like to read” to reading six blogs a day based only on how much it improved his personal performance.  Some players never get to this point.  Sadly, these players might not be a long term fit for your raid team if they continue to struggle.

A final note of caution:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

That’s Alexander Pope, and he brings up an excellent point.  Players who read a few blogs or forum posts can quickly become “experts.”  I have a priest healer friend who listened to every Circle of Healing podcast and promptly came back and told be priests should never cast Heal.  Obviously, this isn’t exactly what was said in the podcast.  Take everything with a grain of salt.  Be receptive to new ideas, but don’t dismiss anything.  Finally, don’t be a jerk just because you know a thing or two.

Getting to Raid: Best Practices for Raid Priority

30 Dec

In a guild like ours where raid priority will be competitive for 25s (and has been for 10s), its important to know how to act.  The officer team is constantly evaluating players, both on and off the field.  Some folks see this as intimidating, but its best viewed as exciting.  Here everyone has an opportunity to prove their value and maturity as a player every day.  Believe it or not, you can do more to secure or damage your chances at a raid spot while benched than while in a raid!

Why Does the Officer Team Take a Given Player?

This is a complicated question and with all complicated questions there are a variety of answers.  The one everyone knows is “because Player A is extremely good at their class/role.”  This is important, as the goal is to give the best players an opportunity to secure spots.

Some people think that officers will select a certain player because they’re more geared.  This is partly true, but less true than one might think.  According to aggregate logs, the gear difference from players running Ulduar and players entering ICC was roughly 15%.  By comparison, raid buffs contribute to a gain of as much as 50% more DPS when compared to soloing.  After a certain base level of gear, gear becomes a much less significant factor.

That said, those who’ve taken the effort to get geared outside of raids make life easier for everyone.  Coming in needing fewer upgrades, they’re less of a burden on the raid.  Players who make this effort will always be looked upon favorably.

Finally, the officer team might not know what a player can do.  If we haven’t seen someone in action, or want to give them a fair shot, its normal to bench another raider to make this a possibility. This does not mean you’ve been replaced.  If you want your guild to succeed, you should be excited for this opportunity to grow.

Why Does the Officer Team Bench a Particular Player?

Let’s cover the obvious ones first.  If you’re pulled from a raid because you kept dying, two things are true: first, it isn’t the healer’s fault; second, you need to review the encounter and reasons for your death and find out how to personally avoid them.  Being pulled out here is an opportunity for you to improve.

If you’re not taken to a raid it could also be because there were people in your role who fit the reasons listed above better.  This happens.  Take the opportunity to listen in on the raid, if you can.  Don’t fill the space with suggestions, but prove your dedication and availability.  This goes a long way.  Also, re-watch videos and re-read strategies.  In short, be ready to step up and impress!

Best Practices

Do not assume because you’re in a raid that you’re better than those benched.

Do not stew with feelings of resentment toward the officer team if you are not taken to a particular raid.  Talk to the officer in your role or your raid leader.  Do not get upset without clarifying the situation.

Do not bother an officer if you only want to complain.

Be critical of yourself.

Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.  If you’ve only watched the video once and are fuzzy on the details, watch another video.  Ask questions and listen to the answers.  Get a clear understanding of roles beyond your own.

Leadership and Raid Direction

17 Dec

I posted the sign up for our first 25 player raid over a month ago. I published a conservative date of January 11th. My hope was to be personally comfortable with my class, gear, and content knowledge by then.

We’re not on a big server, by any stretch of the imagination. Pugging raid content will be unimaginable for at least a few months. This means that my opportunities to explore content before that date are limited not only by work and busy winter hours, but also by the work and seasonal plans of guild members. This can be a challenge.

Additionally, guild members are aware of how well we’re doing compared to other players on the server. I’m feeling pressure to post a more ambitious schedule or coordinate some 10 player runs.

Here’s why that’s tricky:

First, ten player runs depend very heavily upon each player. During the season’s limited level of availability, having a main tank close shop one night amounts to a rescheduled raid.

Second, in a 25 player guild looking at progression content, running 10s leaves several folks waiting on the sidelines. Two 10s seems like an obvious solution, but a 25 requires 2.5 tanks (which can lead to some players falling into roles we’d have to later bench them for).

These sidelined folks can get frustrated, and rightfully so. When asked why I chose Bill over Tess (or whomever) my answers are inadequate and unfair. Usually I don’t have a good idea of how strong a player Tess is, or Bill and I ran a lot of heroics together so I know what he can handle.

This is the crux of it. We’re forced to make composition choices for progression that I’d rather make in an effort to evaluate. In the raiding I do manage over the next few weeks, I’d like to get more content on farm to use as a player testing ground.

Most hopeful raiders don’t even imagine the subtlety of these choices. I’m optimistic that our best raiders will carefully consider the reasons for being taken or benched before getting upset or excited.

Done leveling

8 Dec

Brief update here.

I hit 85 and turned off the computer.  It took me just over 26 hours.  I didn’t level in the best way (we instance ground with friends for the first good chunk of time) and I stopped for a few hours to grind out some professions and race change to goblin.  That said, 26 hours feels like a decent grind time.  Not the best out there, far from the worst.

Then I went for a run and slept.  Best sleep I’ve had in a while, I might add.  I made myself a real meal (not just salsa or peppermint gum) and drank a lot of water.  And had a shower.  Glorious, glorious showering.

What can I say about the grind?  The instances feel good.  The first few were easy with an ICC heroic geared group (and they should be).  The latter few we did required CC and attention, which was a welcome change.  For an all guild group in vent, doing these for the first time was fun and not painful.  I believe we only ever wiped when we got cocky.  I could see pugging these easily enough in a month.

The questing zones are especially well designed.  Goblins, Worgen, and new race/class combos feel like they’ve always been there (and to a degree, they have).  Uldum feels endless without it hindering your rate of questing.  Twilight Highlands looks beautiful and feels as epic as it should.  Garrosh is growing on me.

That’s all for now.  I have to get raid ready, which is going to be a whole other grind.

Cataclysm Plans: The Hard Push

6 Dec

We’re all thinking the same thing here.  We’re all refreshing countdown timers and counting the minutes.  In a matter of moments we’ll be leveling again.  For a number of us, this is the first serious leveling we’ve done in almost two years.

Leveling!

My ambition is to take a group of 277 ilvl geared raiders and lead them through chained dungeons.  This might not be the fastest XP / hour method, but its a surefire way to replace epics with blues and see firsthand the layout of the new heroics we’ll be running to get raid ready.  I’d also trust my team over myself any day.  We’re stronger as a group.  Aside from this, there are a few other motivating factors for this method:

  • We’re on a PvP server, and questing can be tricky
  • Getting ahead of the main leveling teams using instanced content could let us quest the last level in an underpopulated Twilight Highlands
  • Completing all the quests at a leisurely pace once we hit 85 let’s us enjoy them more and provides a windfall of gold (quests at max level reward gold in place of XP)
  • We can all keep each other talking and awake.

I’ll let everyone know how it works once I have some post-Cata down time.  I hope to report successes.

PvP Heroes!

I’d like to hit arena on launch week (launch of arena, not Cata launch.  This will be the following Tuesday).  These means a decent mix of honor gear and purchasable crafted items.  Blasting a solid team through to high ratings by killing players in greens is the plan.  At the very least I’ll learn something about how everything has changed in the new “mana matters” style of play.  On the table right now are Shatterplay, RPS, and Afflic/rDruid/sPriest.  Part of this is going to depend on the players willing to push as hard as I am for this.

I will admit I need to develop skills.  I’m not perfect, but i’m a lot stronger than last year.  I’ve done my homework.  If it takes 10000 hours to become an expert, I’m starting to count them down.

Guild Achievements

We have a core of players interested in pushing server first achievements.  This is exciting, but for the rest of the guild I’ve set a more tentative goal of 25 player raid readiness by January 11th.  Our entire officer team is on board with this, which is impressive given that many have children/classes/families/jobs, etc.

We also plan to implement guild achievement bounties.  This will look like a group (or single) player being rewarded for completing a task that either awards an achievement for the guild or takes us closer to one.  We should be able to afford to give players and extra incentive, especially after we unlock Cash Flow (guild level four).  I still have no clear idea how fast a guild levels.

A big item on this list for me is the new fish feast.  Unlocking the recipe currently requires the guild to fish up 10000 pools (not fish, pools).  I’m not certain on the best way to motivate this, but broken into 20 players fishing up 500 pools each makes this feel a lot more manageable.

Time will tell.  How’s everyone else’s push?

The Best of (Dark) Intentions

17 Nov

Dark Intent.  This is an ability you don’t care about for three reasons.

First, it’s a warlock ability.  As this is a priest blog, you usually come here for discussion of priest abilities (with a few notable exceptions).  Today is not a day I plan to consume theorycrafting anything other than my main character, so let’s get that out-of-the-way first.

Second, it does not exist in-game yet.  This is a beta ability, first available to warlocks at level 83.  As a beta ability it is subject to change.  We will be exploring the current (and so far stable) iteration of the spell.

Third, you might have already written this ability off as a Focus Magic clone, tradable between warlocks and irrelevant to your shadowy path of destruction.  Not so.

You care about this ability because despite being cast by warlocks, these dark intentions are for us. In terms that a warlock can understand, I’m going to give you the ammunition you’ll need to fight off all competitors and receive this buff.

How Does it Work?

Dark Intent is a 30 minute buff a warlock will cast on another player.  It does two things.  First, it gives both players a flat 3% haste.  This effect stacks multiple times with additional buffs.  Second, every time your linked friend crits with a periodic ability, you receive a flat 3% increase to periodic damage and healing.  This stacks up to 3 times.  Likewise, if you crit with any periodic ability, the warlock receives this stacking buff.  This effect does not stack with multiple Dark Intents, so it is unwise for warlocks to trade this buff.

Who is the Warlock going to Use this Ability on?

A smart warlock thinks about three things:

  • How can I increase my personal DPS?
  • How can I increase the overall power of the raid?
  • Can somebody make me a sandwich?

In terms of personal DPS, he’s wise to trade with a class that grants maximum uptime on the +% damage part of the buff.  This requires a high number of constant critical periodic effects.  Critical hit chance effects this, but it is not a complete picture.  Likewise I’ve seen analysis that looks at the number of periodic effects one class has active versus another class.  This is also an inaccurate method of assessment.

The metric for puzzling out uptime on the +% damage buff is periodic critical strikes per second. While harder to measure than flat crit rate, only a class with more than one periodic critical every 7 seconds is going to keep maximized uptime on Dark Intent.  Here shadow reigns king.

The second aspect of your warlock’s little “who should I give this too” puzzle is raid power.  The buff should be handed out to the class that makes the best use of it.  This means a class that appreciates haste and makes use (primarily) of Over-time effects such as Hots or Dots.  In the category or non-warlock damage classes, shadow priests are the only class with three DoTs and a periodic effect as a spam-able nuke.  This puts us high up enough on the list to not be completely ignored.

In Conclusion: Why Us?

With the highest number of periodic effects of any class–and an unrivaled rate of periodic critical strikes per second–shadow priests are a perfect choice for raid success and the personal DPS of your warlock friend.

If your warlock is a mouth-breathing lowlife who looks like the picture below in real life, consider forgoing all advice and just making him a sandwich.  In my professional experience, sandwiches buy you a lot of love.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.