Monthly Archives: December 2010

Horde Battle Standards Are Just Plain Better

Battle Standards are wonderful things. You plant a flag and give your team a buff – perhaps it’s increased damage, or increased health – but the various battle standards are excellent investments for all PvPers. Proper placement of a flag can give a stealth buff to your team that can (and will) turn the tide of battle.

The Alliance Battle Standard, and its counterpart, the Horde Battle Standard, are usable in any normal battleground and give people on your side a 15% increase to their health. The Alterac Valley-only Stormpike and Frostwolf Battle Standards give a 15% increase to damage, as do the Tol Barad-only Baradin’s Wardens and Hellscream’s Reach Standards. The flags stick around for 2 minutes or until destroyed, and while they have a long cooldown (10 minutes for the Alliance/Horde flags, 15 for the BG-specific ones) you should pop them at least once every fight.

Except… well, look at the Alliance and Horde standards again. Look at their cooldowns closely.

That’s right. The Horde Battle Standard has a cooldown of 2 minutes, and a duration of 2 minutes, while the Alliance Battle Standard still has a 10 minute CD. This is a bug that’s been reported on the forums, but no fix has been implemented yet.

So, even though I play mostly Alliance, I’m going to pass on a tip to every Horde PvPer out there: put your Horde Battle Standard into your regular rotation. Use it EVERY COOLDOWN. Macro it if you have to. Even if you “waste” it because there’s another Standard out, you’re just still the range of the buff. If you don’t have a Horde Battle Standard yet, WTF is wrong with you? Go get one now, it’s like 500 Honor Points! That’s less than 30 seconds attacking Tol Barad!

As for my fellow Alliance players… well, you’re screwed until this is fixed. Sorry. Kill these things as fast as you can. They’re 1-shots for endgame characters, but you have to target them manually like totems. It’s a pain, but what can you do? Faction change?

(Kidding! Kidding!)

Many special thanks to Bee over at High Latency Life for pointing this out!

Update 1/20/2011: Looks like this will be fixed in 4.0.6. From the PTR notes:

The cooldown on the Horde Battle Standard has been adjusted to 10 minutes to be consistent with the Alliance version.

This should help bring balance to the Force.

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Calculating DoT & HoT Haste Sweet Spots

One of the biggest challenges with the new way DoTs (and HoTs) work in Cataclysm is knowing when you’re at enough Haste to make it worth your while to add more and get extra ticks on your spells, or when it would be better to switch over to a different stat like Mastery or Crit. This is further complicated because each spell has a different breakpoint or plateau due to their duration and intervals, so you can’t just say there’s a set Haste level for your class – it all depends on what you’re casting.

The formula for computing the number of ticks is relatively straightforward:

Round ( Base Spell Duration / ( Base Tick Time / (1 + Haste %)))

In other words, take the base tick time, modify it with haste, then see if the base duration would round it up to an additional tick.

Straightforward doesn’t always mean simple, though. In order to make decisions about how much Haste to stack, you’ll want to look at all of your DoTs and see where the sweet spot is for you.

Recognizing that some people are more comfortable with math than others, I went ahead and built a spreadsheet so that you could see how your spells would work with Haste. Cyn’s DoT/HoT Haste Calculator:

  • Lets you configure four spells with different durations and tick times.
  • Gives you a place to enter your current Haste percentage and see its effect on each spell and the GCD.
  • Lets you see how much Haste rating you will need to reach specific Haste percentages at level 70, 80, and 85.
  • Provides a table of Haste values from 0%-50% with related values for each.

To use it, download the file and open it with the spreadsheet program of your choice. If you don’t have one, I recommend the free OpenOffice suite. Change the DoT1-4 values to match the values for the spells of your choice, then put your current Haste value in the big yellow cell that says YOUR HASTE % HERE. The values should fill in.

Here’s what it looks like, if you don’t want to fire up Excel or OO:

I debated putting in a duration calculator, but it cluttered things up too much for a 1.0 release. I’d appreciate any feedback you might have on this spreadsheet. Corrections, comments, whatever, let me know!

(And for the Warlocks out there, I’m sure you see that the default DoTs are: Immo/UA, Corruption, BoD, BoA. Just as it should be.)

Update 12/31/10: I’ve updated the spreadsheet to version 1.1 to include Hamlet’s breakpoint math, below. (Thanks, Hamlet!) There is a new section that shows you where the first 4 ticks are added to your DoT/HoT, as well as the next Haste value you will need to reach to gain an additional tick.

Update 1/2/11: Updated to version 1.11. Fixed a bug in the table, thanks Hylix!

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From Warcraft to Outlook: The Razer Naga as a Productivity Tool

I received the Razer Naga gaming mouse over the holidays, and it’s a sweet mouse. With 12 buttons on the thumb rest and 5 on the top, there’s a lot of ways that you can use your Naga in WoW to help improve your play.

But I’m not going to talk about Warcraft very much today. Mostly because I’m still wildly experimenting with how to best use it in game, but also because the Naga has a lot of applications outside of Warcraft which make it a really interesting input tool. The efficiencies you get while gaming translate directly to other computing tasks… like answering email.

Yes. Email. Outlook, Mail.app, even Lotus Notes – whatever you use, the Naga is here to help you out.

I spend a lot of my professional life dealing with email. I get a lot of it (200-300 emails a day) and have to triage it quickly. I follow a lot of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero principles, where you don’t try to manage your work life through your Inbox. Emails either prompt an action from you, or they do not, but whatever you do, don’t keep them hanging around as reminders.

(I really recommend his original video and some of his follow-up posts on 43 Folders. It can really change your relationship with your email. Yes, you have a relationship with it.)

So here’s how my email life is set up.

  1. The Inbox is for deleting. Once the email has been read and the task captured (and, hopefully, the response written on the spot), the email should be deleted. An empty inbox is the goal.
  2. I delete instead of filing for several reasons. Deleting is faster than filing in nearly every interface I’ve worked in – one button and done. I don’t even try to categorize emails, because I use global searches instead. It’s easier to search a single folder in Outlook 2007 than many folders. I don’t want to have to remember where I put something. Where is it? It’s in the Sent folder. Always.
  3. All of my email – inbound and outbound – is saved in my Sent folder. I do this through an Outlook rule that puts a copy of all inbound email into my Sent folder. My outbound mail gets saved there anyways, so everything is in one place.
  4. I do keep a few folders around for saving copies of emails that shouldn’t get archived. Two, actually – Reference and Good Job – but things go in there rarely so I don’t feel the need to automate them.

So the tasks that I need to automate with my Naga are relatively straightforward.

  1. Delete email with one click.
  2. Reply to email with one click.  Reply to All and Forward are special cases of this one.
  3. Copy, Paste.
  4. Close windows when I’m done with them.

But I don’t want to assign these features everywhere, just my email applications! I especially don’t want to bind keys that are used in Warcraft to Outlook!

The Naga handles this with ease. The key is in Razer’s application-specific profiles.  Each application can have a unique configuration on the Naga, which lets you assign specific keys for just that application.

Here’s the Mac version of the Profiles preference pane; the Windows version is functionally similar, but much more… green. I’ve set up two separate applications here, in addition to the default.

  • Remote Desktop is for when I am working on my Windows machine. I work from my Mac remotely into my WinXP machine, so the “application” that is running is RDC. If you’re running natively, select your mail program of choice here. (Entourage, Outlook, etc.).
  • Warcraft is for WoW, of course.  I made a separate profile so I could change keybinds without fear of modifying the default behavior.

You’ll notice that I have Auto-Switch on for these two profiles. This means that if I am working in one application and switch to an app with a different profile, the Naga will switch automatically. So when I’ve got RDC going with Outlook and I switch back to the OS X Finder or Safari, my keybinds revert.

Let’s look at those keybinds.

I had to experiment a bit with this, but the best way to pass keys through Remote Desktop is using macros. A macro is a series of keystrokes you record with the Razer software, like so:

See that Record button at the bottom? Press that, execute the keystrokes, and then press stop. You can modify the delay as desired.

I made the following simple macros:

  • Delete – Ctrl-D
  • Reply – Ctrl-R
  • Reply to All – Ctrl-Shift-R
  • Copy – Ctrl-C
  • Paste – Ctrl-V
  • Close Window – Ctrl-W

and assigned them to the thumb buttons on the Naga.

And let me tell you, the experience of using the Naga to control Outlook is great. Absolutely fantastic! I read an email and delete it without thinking about it. It sounds silly, but saving yourself from having to reach over and hit Function-Delete (which is how you do it in RDC), or even the delete key, is quite nice. I drive with one hand instead of two. Zip zip zip zip zip email’s done.

I’m experimenting with other ways to automate tasks in different applications using the Naga; post-processing photo workflow comes to mind, especially with a combination of Automator actions and keybinds. I’m really happy with it so far and am completely hooked.

Can’t wait to see what else I can automate with this strange, wonderful, black-and-blue mouse!

With 12 Keys of Automating Goodness to Choose From!

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A Price For Everything

Blizzard responded to the problems plaguing Tol Barad with an unexpected and interesting change:

Tol Barad: Winning as an attacker now rewards players with 1800 Honor Points, up from 180. Winning as a defender still rewards players with 180 Honor Points.

It’s interesting because while it doesn’t address any of the problems with the mechanics and rules of the battleground, it directly addresses the problem of motivation. Winning Tol Barad on offense is now the single highest Honor Point per minute activity in the game, bar none. Winning it on defense is as good as it was before, and losing it from either position still nets you nothing.

From a software developer’s point of view, I totally get this change. Compared to fixing the code around capture mechanics or victory conditions, a quick change to the reward structure is easy to implement, test, and deploy. It doesn’t preclude further work on the code to address the fundamental problems with the mechanics of the battleground.

But messing around with player motivations is a tricky, tricky thing.

If you’re gearing up for PvP and I offer you a choice between grinding out a dozen battlegrounds for a piece of gear (random BG finder), or a single one with some conditions (Tol Barad), you’re going to go for the single one. Would you rather spend 4 hours getting that gear, or 20-30 minutes?

The rational answer is, of course, the latter. But – and here’s the kicker – it’s only a rational choice if you meet all the conditions. And the conditions now include which side you’re on, not just if you win or lose.

Consider how you can spend those 30 minutes:

  • You can attack Tol Barad and take it, hitting the jackpot and getting 1800+ Honor.
  • You can defend Tol Barad successfully and get 180 Honor.
  • You can run maybe 2 random battlegrounds. Let’s say you win one for 120 Honor and lose one for 40? So there’s 160 Honor.
  • You could fight and lose the battle for Tol Barad, gaining nothing.
  • You could go do something else and come back later.

If you zone in to Tol Barad on offense, the decision is dead simple: fight. Fight for all you’re worth!

But if you zone into Tol Barad on defense, you’re now facing an interesting choice. It’s because you aren’t considering just this battle, but the next one too.

  • If you stay and fight hard and win, you get 180 Honor this battle. You’ll also be able to get 180 Honor the next battle, too, if you hold it.
  • If you stay and fight, but lose, you get no Honor, but you get a chance to get 1800 Honor the next battle. But you wasted 20-30 minutes of your time now in doing so.
  • If you throw the fight, surrender Tol Barad quickly, you have a good chance to get 1800 Honor the next battle, while spending none of your time now. You can go run some random BGs in the meanwhile.

If you only look at this battle, staying to defend makes sense. If you look at your overall Honor gain, though, throwing the battle and surrendering on defense is the absolute best strategy. It’s an interesting twist in that it benefits both sides to pursue this tactic, allowing Tol Barad to change hands every single battle, giving everyone equal access to the zone. The rewards for winning when attacking are so unbelievably good that both sides can see the obvious advantage to this arrangement.

By motivating attackers to win, this fix has also motivated defenders to lose. Tol Barad should no longer be held by one faction exclusively, which is a good thing. A very good thing, even!

But it’s at the cost of the heart and soul of the zone: the battle itself. When a game is set up so that one team should throw it in order to maximize their returns, they will do so, and it will cease being a game. There’s no competition, no struggle, no motivation to win. It becomes a meaningless, empty, and brutal ritual.

I think we’ve just found the price at which a battleground can be bought.

UPDATES

January 4th, 2011: The attacking side now gets 360 Honor Points, down from 1800. From Zahrym’s post:

While the goal with that change was to provide more incentive for the attacking forces to claim victory, it ultimately led to an undermining of the spirit of competition in Tol Barad. We’ve just applied a hotfix which has lowered the attacking faction’s gain to 360 Honor Points for a victory. The defending faction will still earn 180 Honor Points for a victory.

This is about as good of a change as Tol Barad could hope for at this point. It still convinces people that there is some value in attacking, without giving people a reason to trade wins.

I don’t think this is the final state of Tol Barad. There are numerous problems with the structure of the battleground that keeps it from changing hands very often in a balanced environment. But those will take time to fix.

In the meanwhile, I’ll go back to ignoring this island a little while longer.

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Tol Barad and the Ghosts of Wintergrasp

Wintergrasp was one of the great success stories of Wrath – a PvP zone with epic battles between hundreds of opposing players. Hundreds. The Battle for Wintergrasp unified factions on servers like no event before or since. The call would go out in Dalaran that the battle was starting. “Please start a new raid, this one is full!” people would cry out in the prep rooms, and if you were smart, you used addons to create those raids. Every two and a half hours servers would come together to beat the crap out of each other on the frozen fields of Wintergrasp.

And it was glorious.

This is not to say Wintergrasp was not without its problems in the beginning – do you remember driving siege engines through the walls? – but it was an immediate success on a scale that Blizzard was not prepared to handle. Wintergrasp caused Northrend servers to crawl during good battles, and crash during the really big ones. The lag during larger battles never really went away, even when WG went to an instanced battleground.

Wintergrasp was an immediate success, and somewhat unexpectedly, it stayed successful for the entirety of Wrath of the Lich King. Tenacity and the self-righting mechanics allowed outnumbered factions to compete. The map is interesting and requires players to make choices about what to attack and what to defend. The southern towers required attackers to make choices about how much strength to commit to offense versus defending the towers, while giving the defenders a reason to leave the safety of the Keep. The Keep itself is large enough to prevent a concentrated buildup of defensive forces, requiring defenders to make positioning choices.

But most important of all, Wintergrasp gave players an incentive to participate.

There’s a fundamental difference between PvE and PvP encounters: motivation. A PvE encounter has to offer a reward for the players to make them want to do it. Justice Points, badges, gear, achievements – whatever it is – all these things are offered as incentives for players to engage in, and defeat, the PvE encounter. In PvP, however, you have to motivate both sides to play, winners and losers alike.

Think of it as having to pay raid bosses to show up to be loot pinatas. You can’t have PvP without the other players, and they have to have a reason to show up.

Wintergrasp did this extremely well. Not only did it reward victory extremely well – a zone-wide XP buff, Stone Keepers Shards for heirlooms, and tokens that let you get great gear – it rewarded failure, too. People wanted to win, but even if they lost, they still got both honor and tokens. Victory was rewarded well, but failure wasn’t a complete waste of time.

This brings us to Tol Barad, Cataclysm’s PvP centerpiece.

TOL BARAD

Tol Barad is, ultimately, a simple battleground. It’s smaller than Wintergrasp, with somewhat simpler objectives. Looking at it topologically:

The goal is simple. The attackers (who use the green graveyards) need to take and hold the three outer nodes (Warden’s Vigil, Slagworks, and Ironclad Garrison), while the defenders (who use the purple one in the center) need to prevent this. The 3 towers (Spires) can be destroyed to add time to the clock, but they’re not really important.

To capture one of the outer nodes, you need to have more players in that area. You don’t have to be winning, you just have to have more players around it. The more players you have, the faster the bar swings to your side.

Sounds simple, right?

There’s only one problem: Tol Barad is broken. Gevlon warned folks 10 days ago to stay away until it’s fixed. Mat McCurley over at WoW Insider has an excellent analysis of the six problems affecting Tol Barad, as well as solutions to fixing each one of them. Both of these posts are worth your time to read, especially Mat’s WI post.

Look at that map again. The defensive strategy is simple – send all of your forces along a purple line to the node where the attackers are weakest. The attackers, in turn, will have to keep circling around on the green lines, trying to outnumber the defenders at any one point. But the defenders will always be able to get to a new node first. The attackers have the tactical advantage at the node due to the nearby graveyard, but the defenders have the strategic advantage for the battle.

“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” a famous starship captain once said, and I don’t either. Attackers can win Tol Barad, in theory. It’s just really, really, really hard. It involves subterfuge, deceit, spying, and being as underhanded as you can manage, but you can do it.

But even though it’s possible, it’s just not worth it.

THE GHOSTS OF WINTERGRASP

I remember looking over the gear I could get from Tol Barad and wondering where all the PvP equipment was. I mean, for a place that you have to fight tooth and nail for, why would I want to even bother? Some daily quests? The incentives are all wrong. I would rather spend my time in battlegrounds grinding out Honor and Conquest points than fighting for Tol Barad.

I should not be ambivalent that the opposite faction controls Tol Barad all the time on my server. But I am. What is in it for me that I can’t get elsewhere?

Wintergrasp hit the rewards perfectly. Not only did you get access to a raid boss for winning, but you got heirlooms for the PvE crowd and good offset pieces for the PvPers. And the losers had a reason to participate – even if you lost, you edged closer to that gear, and eventually you’d win and be able to buy it.

Tol Barad, frankly, doesn’t offer me enough to make it worth the effort.

I was having a good night in the battlegrounds earlier this week, so on a lark, I queued up for Wintergrasp again, and joined into a 5v5 running battle across the entire zone. Wintergrasp doesn’t really work as a 5v5 Arena, but I saw a few familiar faces in there (mostly on the other side) and enjoyed securing workshops, building catapults (hey, it’s all we could afford), and trying to survive long enough to get some damage done on the walls. It was fun, but not very good. Small WGs favor the defenders, heavily.

But I knew that if we put enough people in, on both sides, it would have been a fair fight. You may not be able to do as much with only 5-10 people per side in Wintergrasp, but you certainly could take the keep with a little bit of work.

Not so for Tol Barad. The strategic problems are such that if you have 1 person, or 80, the results will be the same.

I love the idea of Tol Barad. I want to see it flourish, to thrive, to be the reason I log in at specific times each day. I want it to put Wintergrasp to shame, because Wintergrasp’s time is gone.

But for now, Tol Barad is just a pale ghost of Wintergrasp.

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A Guide To Twinking In Cataclysm

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TWINKING

In the World of Warcraft, twinking is the act of making your character as absolutely as good as they could be, usually by turning off experience gain, and usually at low levels.

Twinking has a storied and not entirely savory history within WoW. The name itself is taken from derogatory slang for young-looking, attractive homosexual men, as the characters in question were almost universally not playing at the endgame. Twinks used to exist almost entirely for PvP, existing to completely dominate lower-level battlegrounds when such BGs did not award experience. These twinks would slaughter lesser-geared and enchanted opponents, to the point where low-level PvP was not a good idea for leveling characters. This is why, even though this situation has not been in place for over a year, twinks remain hated by many long-term WoW players.

There were two dominant motivations in the twink community; one that was pursuing excellence at a given level, in a given arena, and the other which pursued dominance over other players at any cost. The former motivation was often cited, but the latter one was more often on display against non-twinks. I think that both motivations were present in most twinks who played before patch 3.2; I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed taking my level 59 Death Knight twink (which is almost an oxymoron) and totally stomping through a battleground after a hard day of work.

But things completely changed for twinks in Patch 3.2 with three related developments.

  • Battlegrounds would now award experience points for participation, effectively ending the ability for players to park a twink in a city and PvP without gaining any levels.
  • Characters could turn off and on their experience gain at will, making twinking vastly more accessible to players.
  • Characters who had their XP gain turned off would be placed into a separate battleground bracket from those who were gaining XP, guaranteeing that twinks would fight only twinks.

These changes had dramatic effects upon the battlegrounds, bringing many new players into the BGs as a viable alternate leveling route – Alterac Valley in the 50s was especially popular – but also made it possible to consider entirely different kinds of twinks, as well as changing the entire environment in which they lived in. Twinks, formerly spread out among the general population, found themselves forced to relocate to destination battlegroups to provide a sufficient concentration of players to “pop” a battleground.

For much of the twinking community, these changes were completely embraced. The battles that began to take shape were of characters in nearly equal gear, so that skill and tactics became paramount. No longer were battlegrounds about racking up HKs on unsuspecting leveling players; no, battles became longer, strategic matches between roughly equal forces – just what many twink players had maintained they wanted.

However, other twinks were not so satisfied with this state of affairs, and found that if they entered regular battlegrounds, but left before the first flag capture, they could engage in the darker side of twinking, completely dominating an unsuspecting leveling bracket and racking up HKs while bullying the other side into submission. A special kind of twink – an expansion twink, one limited by the account not having Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King on it, thrived in this situation, as they could run as much older content and battlegrounds as they desired without leveling and without turning off XP. Expansion twinks began to dominate the 51-60 Alterac Valley bracket in many battlegroups, outfitted with MC epics and BC enchants.

It would be nice to pretend that this didn’t happen, but it did.

There were other, smaller changes in the recent past: changes in gear and enchants, with minimum levels being applied to many enchants that previously lacked them. Mounts were lowered in level, making them accessible to all but the level 19 pvp bracket. Titles became available that were previously lacking. Faction changes allowed you to get the best in slot gear from both sides. The lack of XP gain allowed for twinks to become PvE specialists in addition to PvP players, letting people solo dungeons or run them repeatedly at-level for gear.

This is how it stood for much of Wrath of the Lich King.

CATACLYSMIC CHANGES

The Sundering (4.0.1) and Cataclysm (4.0.3) patches turned twinking upside down. Gear was completely reitemized at early levels to make for a better leveling experience. Gear that may have been substandard was now Best in Slot, and vice versa. Enchants were rearranged, sometimes dramatically. Some gear was changed, some moved up out of different brackets, others removed completely.

But there were three changes that overshadowed all the others.

The first was the introduction of the revised talent trees in 4.0.1, which gave class-defining abilities to characters at level 10 which were formerly reserved for much higher level characters. The changes in each class’s talents and abilities were extensive, but gaining this signature ability at level 10 was the most visible of the changes. These changes dramatically affected how classes played at various levels, and helped redefine roles in each battleground.

The second change was to the brackets themselves. Formerly, each bracket was from levels ending in 0 to 9, so 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, etc.. Patch 4.0.3 brought a massive change to this structure, splitting each bracket in two and redistributing the battlegrounds so players could experience more battlegrounds earlier on in the leveling process. The new brackets were 10-14, 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, etc., making entirely new brackets available for twinking. Arathi Basin joined Warsong Gulch at level 10, and Eye of the Storm became available before most characters had even glimpsed Outland, at level 35. Exciting stuff.

A third change was implemented not as part of a patch, but as part of the server infrastructure improvements in preparation for Cataclysm. This was merging all the PvP battlegroups into region-wide battlegroups. Players from all North American battlegroups were joined over the course of a few weeks into a single, large pool of players to pop battlegrounds, effectively ending the need for the destination battlegroups that patch 3.2 created. No longer do you need to roll on a foreign server to twink and get a queue – now you can do it on the same server as your main.

All of these were fantastic changes to leveling characters, and they open up a whole new set of possibilities for twinks, too. They combine to make Cataclysm the perfect time to start twinking if you’ve been considering it.

STARTING A TWINK

Twinking is a little bit of an odd activity in the World of Warcraft. It’s arbitrarily setting a limit on your character and then trying to excel within that limit. Doing so is a challenge, but a rewarding one – for at the end of it all, you will have a character which requires little maintenance or grinding, and which you can hop on at will for your chosen activity.

It is a lot of fun, when you get down to it.

First thing you’ll want to do is settle on what you want your character to be. My best suggestion here is to level a class and find a time when you had a huge amount of fun playing them, and then go and capture that. Try to figure out what kinds of things you want to do – PvP, run dungeons with friends, solo content, try for Loremaster – and start from there.

Next, you’ll need to pick your level. WoW is built to drive you to level, so each level you pick up will be translated into more abilities, more power, and more freedom. Some things to keep in mind here about picking levels:

  • If you are PvPing, you will likely want to stop at a level ending in 4 or 9 to maximize the gear and abilities available to you. The only exception, and this is an important one, is level 10.
  • Level 10 characters benefit from the generous ability translation and combat rating conversion that starts tapering off once you hit level 11. This benefit to levels 1-10 helps make starting any new character more fun, but also means that level 10 characters can (and do) take out level 19s. Yes, even twinked 19s. They also benefit from increased health and mana regeneration out of combat, so don’t let a level 10 get out of combat!
  • The x9 PvP brackets are generally established. You’ll be up against players who have had a lot of time to gear up, and often have several expansions worth of gear available to them. The x4 brackets are completely new, and are probably more friendly to newcomers.
  • Some brackets which were previously dead should come back to life. Expansion twinks will have a tougher time in the new bracket system, as level 64 Outland gear will outclass level 60 Vanilla gear. So the 59s might come back soon.
  • If you are considering PvE, look at the dungeons you’d like access to and plan your level accordingly. Level 20 gives you a lot of options and abilities that are denied to strict level 19 PvPers, like mounts.
  • Level 1 twinks are another option if you enjoy world PvP or want your banker to be a serious badass. A well-geared level 1 twink can take out a level 15-20 leveling character due to favorable game mechanics.

Once you’ve decided what environment you’re twinking for, you need to choose your class and race.

Generally speaking, lower levels favor Agility-based classes due to the exceptional Agility enchants you can put on level 1-34 gear. Intellect- and Strength-based classes do okay at the lower levels, but Agility has the best enchants, and enchants are vital to your success. After you get BC-era enchants and level 35+ gear, this levels out a bit and class balance becomes more even.

Consider what role you want to play in your chosen field – are you going to be a damage dealer in Warsong Gulch, or a flag carrier? Are you going to tank Wailing Caverns and Shadowfang Keep like a boss, or do you want to heal the worst PuG tank LFD throws at you with ease? Generally, what you want to do will determine your class more than anything else.

Then, consider the races available to you. Racial abilities do matter. If you are going to be a melee fighter, consider the racial benefits available to you. Look at the stats and see if you can get an edge with one race over another. Every race brings something good to the table; look them over carefully.

Once you’ve rolled your twink and gotten him or her to the desired level, you’ll want to visit an Experience Eliminator in either Stormwind or Orgrimmar to turn off your XP. It will cost 10 gold, but once it’s turned off, gearing up and skilling up become easy.

GEARING UP YOUR TWINK

Now comes the fun part.

Once your XP is turned off, you’re going to need gear, and you’re going to need professions. Sure, there are some essentials every twink needs.

But more important than someone on the internet providing you a gear list, you need to know how to build your own. Don’t blindly follow a gear list, no matter how detailed it is. Choosing the best gear for your twink means learning what is going to work best for you and your playstyle. Gear lists are the starting point, not the end.

I have 4  different gear sets for my warrior twink Cynderblock, with some variations on each. I have a tanking set, with variations for  trash pulls and boss fights. I have sets for Arms, Fury, and Protection PvP. I have a questing set for low level areas, and a questing set for high level areas where I need more Hit. I have an Agility set for high Dodge.

And I have a set for looking awesome around town. Oh! And an Intellect set for pretending to be a Mage. But they don’t count.

I bring up my gear obsession for a reason: you can’t consider something to be Best in Slot until you consider the situation in which it’s going to be used. And that’s what you have to learn to do when gearing up your twink.

I’m not going to provide gear lists. Not only am I not qualified for the vast majority of classes and levels, but Cataclysm has wiped out all previous lists.  No, instead, you need to learn how to make your own gear list, and go after it.

  • Learn how to use Wowhead’s search filters to limit items to those available to a specific level. Their stat weighting can be good, but don’t lean on them too heavily – you may miss some great gear that perhaps still gives Attack Power instead of Agility, for instance.
  • Find twink forums, like TwinkInfo.com and WoW-Twink.com, and use them for ideas and inspiration.
  • Look at items you find on other toons while questing with an eye towards your twink. Sometimes, you’ll discover an out of the way quest reward that you hadn’t considered.

I find the forums helpful because you learn things there that you might otherwise miss. Especially with all the new gear out there, they’re a nice shortcut to find out what people are really doing out there.

HAVE FUN WITH IT

Making a twink is a different sort of challenge than many of the others you’ll find in the World of Warcraft, but it can be really rewarding when it’s all done.

But once you’re done, don’t forget to go out and have fun out there. This is your character, your little work of art. Do what you want with it. Don’t let the haters tell you that you can’t.

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Battleground PvP Gear in Cataclysm Season 9

The Cataclysm brought with it many changes, including a new level cap and new battlegrounds. There have been some PvP gear changes too, some expected, others not.

ENDGAME: LEVEL 85

Yesterday marked the start of a new Arena season, and with it new gear becomes available.

Wait, hang on a second. That’s not right.

Yesterday marked the start of a new Rated PvP season, since it’s not just about Arenas anymore.  I talked a lot about these changes in Preparing for Rated Battlegrounds, but in case you missed it, there are to be three levels of gear available to level 85 characters at any given time:

  • Crafted gear
  • Honor gear
  • Conquest gear

The PvP vendors at the usual locations have been renamed to help you know what you’re getting and what kind of currency you’ll need – <Honor Quartermaster>, <Conquest Quartermaster>, and <Glorious Conquest Quartermaster>.  Gear at the Honor Quartermaster requires Honor Points to purchase, Conquest Quartermaster takes Conquest Points, and the Glorious Conquest Quartermaster…

Let’s talk about the Glorious Conquest Quartermasters for a minute.

One of the biggest shifts in the new gear model is that most PvP gear does not require PvP ratings to purchase. There is no longer a massive gear discrepancy between low and high rated players, as long as you can get the Conquest Points to purchase it, the top-tier gear is yours.

However, that removes one of the incentives players had to really excel in PvP – having better gear, having something to symbolize their accomplishment.  That’s where the Glorious Conquest Quartermasters come in.

See, if you have a 2200 rating or higher, you can exchange your regular Conquest armor for armor that looks a little different at the GCQ. It has the same stats, but requires a rating.

Weapons, however, are different. Players with high ratings can exchange their weapons and pay again to get upgraded versions with better stats. (Sometimes, much better stats.) So there’s still a reward for having a great rating, and it will make a difference in people’s gear – but it won’t be an overwhelming difference. If you’re getting the 2200 rating, you shouldn’t need a huge gear edge to take out someone with at 1500.

Keep in mind that weapons can only be purchased for Conquest Points, not Honor Points. You might come across some listed in Wowhead, but those are not available in-game.

The sets that are currently available are:

Since this is the start of an expansion, we’re not building upon a previous season’s gear in our kit. There’s been a complete and total stat revamp, and the gear curve between one tier and the other is very different.  Here’s a comparison of the 3 Cataclysm Warlock set pieces vs. the last two seasons of Wrath, and you can see how much stat inflation has taken place. Your Wrathful gear is not exactly useless… but it’s not very good at level 85, either.

The strategy I would adopt to gear up for BGs and rBGs is:

  1. Get the crafted pieces made as soon as you can.
  2. Supplement with good items gained from PvE.
  3. PvP in regular BGs to grind as much Honor Points as you can to get Bloodthirsty gear, focusing on offset pieces first.
  4. Participate in as many rated PvP matches as you can, up to the limit of Conquest Points you can gain this week.  Focus on gaining Vicious set pieces and weapons.
  5. Several weeks from now, when you’ve gotten your Conquest set, start replacing Bloodthirsty offset pieces with Vicious.
  6. Once you’ve upgraded your offset, upgrade your weapons to the Glorious versions.
  7. Skip upgrading the Conquest armor unless you have points to burn at the end of a season (and even then, just consider stockpiling them at the cap.)

Because there is a cap on the amount of Conquest points you can earn during any given week, you will see people’s gear improving at a similar rate over the upcoming weeks.

Itemization seems to be better on the crafted gear, with a good mix of values on each of the different primary and secondary stats. Cloth-wearers should especially take advantage of the options available in secondary stats (Mastery, Haste, Crit).

The costs have been standardized between currency types, which makes me very happy:

Slot Bloodthirsty
Honor Points
Vicious
Conquest Points
Head 2200 2200
Neck 1250 1250
Shoulder 1650 1650
Back 1250 1250
Chest 2200 2200
Wrist 1250 1250
Hands 1650 1650
Waist 1650 1650
Legs 2200 2200
Feet 1650 1650
Ring 1 1250 1250
Ring 2 1250 1250
Trinket 1 1650 1650
Trinket 2 1650 1650
2H Weapon/Ranged 3400
MH Weapon 2450
OH Weapon 950
Wand/Relic 700

The Bloodthirsty set is going to set you back 22,750 Honor Points. The Vicious set will set you back a bit more because of the weapon slots, around 26,850 – more if you’re a Warrior, Rogue, or Hunter.

I won’t sugar-coat this – you are going to have to rebuild your PvP kit from the ground up at level 85. But you’ve done it before, you can do it again. What’s working in your favor right now is that everyone is in the same position, so just keep at it and you’ll get geared in a few weeks.

TOL BARAD

There’s another source of gear that you should consider for your level 85 characters – Tol Barad. Much like Wintergrasp, Tol Barad victories award commendations, which in turn can be used to purchase gear from the Baradin’s Wardens or Hellscream’s Reach quartermasters.

Now, this isn’t PvP gear insofar as it’s got Resilience on it, but it’s a PvP zone and the rep rewards are pretty good. You’ll want to pick up the Battle Standard because… well, because you should have all the Battle Standards, really, I mean the regular one is only 550 Honor Points.

I don’t have a lot to say about Tol Barad yet. I haven’t fought in it, so I’ll reserve my opinion of it later. I will, however, point you to Gevlon’s take on Tol Barad, and will let you know what my own experience is once I get there.

LEVELING BRACKETS

Many of the previous seasons have been removed with the start of Season 9.

  • Level 80-84: Wrathful Gladiator’s gear is now your best bet, with most pieces being under 1000 Honor Points each. Good for the 80-84 bracket. There are some cheap Furious offset pieces available too, and the level 78 crafted blues are actually a really good cheap option here. Level 80 is also now the point when you can upgrade your PvP trinket to the 2-minute CD version, which you should ABSOLUTELY do.
  • Level 75-79: The Northrend crafted blue gear is your best bet at level 78. For the rest, you’re better off with PvE gear.
  • Level 70-74: Brutal Gladiator’s gear is really your only option. It will be good for the 70-74 bracket, but is outclassed by Northrend gear, and is not a good choice for the 75-79 bracket. Don’t spend a lot on it.
  • Levels 60-69: Outland gear is your best bet for these brackets. There are some respectable PvP epics from the old world BGs at level 60, but most of them will be replaced by level 65 quest greens.
  • < Level 60: Every level ending in 8, you should visit the WSG and AB quartermasters to get new PvP gear. The AB boots remain a terrific choice because of their built in speed enchant (add Mithril Spurs for more fast leveling goodness!) and many of the WSG pieces remain good choices for PvP and questing.
  • Level 10: Get the PvP trinket for 55 Honor Points as soon as you can. It’s cheap, and it WILL save your life.

THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH

So, the Jewelcrafting vendor appears to be gone. No more PvP for profit, time to make money the old fashioned way – loot it off the dead corpses of your enemies, or plunder it from the Auction House.

That’s okay. Right now you’re going to need all the Honor Points and Conquest Points you can get. 26k doesn’t grind itself overnight, after all!

UPDATES

December 28th: There have been several substantial changes to PvP gear in the last two weeks that bear note in this post.

  1. Due to a bug in the way in which MMR was calculated and Conquest points awarded, all 2200 rating weapons and gear now require level 86 to use. This restriction will be in place until January 25th. It doesn’t matter if you exploited the MMR bug or not; all high ilvl Conquest gear is no longer available for use (but it is purchasable.)
  2. Tol Barad has had a dramatic change to its reward structure, with attackers getting 10 times as much honor for a victory than defenders – a full 1800 Honor points. Tol Barad is worth doing, but only as an attacker. If you zone in on defense, it is probably worth throwing the game and coming back for the next match. (I can’t believe I am writing that, but there you have it.)

December 31st: The Tol Barad situation continues to worsen, with the scenario described in A Price For Everything becoming the norm on most servers. T-Bad is the absolute best way to get Bloodthirsty gear at this point, but it will likely come at the cost of win trading.

This is a thorny problem, and one which I hope Blizzard addresses soon.

January 3: The Tol Barad attacking Honor Points reward has been reduced to 360, making an offensive victory equal to two defensive victories. Best case would be to attack and win, then come back and defend.  T-Bad is still a good place to get honor if you win, but is no longer going to give you a piece of gear every victory. I believe that the “rush the bridge at the end of the battle” exploit has also been fixed, so we should be effectively back to where we were a little more than a week ago.

The other problems with the BG are still unresolved, sadly. But at least you won’t be win-trading for gear anymore.

Feburary 14: PvP enchants have been added into the game, and several major changes have been made to Tol Barad that make it worth your time to participate. Further changes are explored in my post on Battleground PvP Gear in Cataclysm Patch 4.0.6, including some changes to gearing strategies.

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