Monthly Archives: July 2011

Choosing Which PvP Gear to Get First, Warlock Edition

I received an email today from a regular correspondent commenting on my recent CFN post on vanity and gear choice. He has been having a running argument with some DK friends about what slot was more important to upgrade first – shoulders or trinket.

The trinkets, my correspondent correctly points out, have a very high Resilience/Conquest Point ratio, and the on-use effect is very potent for burst kills. The shoulders have a lower R/CP ratio, and their secondary stat is Expertise – not something that Frost and Unholy DKs often go for. But invariably, the shoulders got chosen over the trinkets because they looked cooler. They’re the flashy upgrade, not necessarily the smart one.

But here’s the thing – how much do secondary stats matter? Is choosing the flashy upgrade a really bad move? Once you get past the primary stats and Resilience, how much are these secondary stats influencing decisions? I’ve maintained in my gearing guides that you should pick gear with your spec’s preferred secondary stat first, but is that always the case?

MODEL WHAT YOU KNOW

I turned to Ask Mr. Robot for help on DKs, but his stat weights confused me – sometimes Expertise was very good, other times it was very bad, and I couldn’t tell you why. There are nuances to each and every spec, and I realize I don’t know enough about DKs to really answer my correspondent’s question.

But I do know warlocks. And I know warlocks in PvP. So I built my model around warlocks, instead, with the hope that people who know more about other classes can adapt it to suit.

My approach is relatively simple:

  • Gear can be evaluated by assigning weights to each primary and secondary statistic and totaling their values. This number is a quantitative representation of the relative value of the piece of gear for each spec.
  • This gear value can then be compared to the cost of the gear, allowing you to determine how effective your purchase will be.
  • By comparing the value/conquest point ratios between gear, you can determine which piece will be the best value.

Obviously, this method evaluates the full value of the gear, not the incremental upgrade value. You could easily modify it to suit a specific upgrade query by using the difference of the Conquest gear and your current gear instead of the full value of the gear. But for a starting model I think it’s okay to evaluate the full gear.

I took the stat weightings from Ask Mr. Robot because they were 1) easy to find and 2) relatively neutral. (Just keepin’ it real, yo.) I normalized them down to 0-1, and then added Resilience at 1.00, to reflect that I think it is as important as Intellect for PvP. I think it’s fair for all classes to do this – Resilience should be as important as your primary stat, not more, not less.

Once I had the stat weights in place, I then filled in all of the gear with values from the Ruthless Gladiator’s Felweave set. I left Hit in there, because it’s important, but I did skip Spell Penetration because there are several ways you can reach the Spell Pen cap, many of which can depend on your profession. Spell Power also presents a little bit of a tricky stat to weigh, but since weapons and trinkets use SP not Int I kept it in there and used the stats from the robot.

Here’s the spreadsheet if you’d like to follow along.

Applying the weights to the values on the gear, I came up with a normalized value for each spec (rows 23-26). This number doesn’t represent anything in game, really – it’s a relative measure of gear that only makes sense in context of the rest of the gear available.

I tossed in the Conquest Point cost for each item (line 21), which then lets us look at each piece in terms of purchase value it has – how much bang for the buck we get for spending Conquest Points. This is the value we really want to use to compare gear, because it’s obvious to see that some items have more oomph to them than others – that’s why they cost more. No, we want to compare based on what we get for our hard-earned CP.

My first pass through, I thought that I could stop here – getting a number for each item should be sufficient, right?

Well, not quite.

You’ll note that the weapons (MH/OH), trinkets, and pieces with Hit are better values than the set pieces. I think this has to do as much with the set bonuses not being included in each item’s budget, as with the set pieces costing substantially more points. These items also tend to have more sockets, which further diminishes the item’s onboard statistics. They should probably be higher than they are.

I initially ignored enchants, gems, and set bonuses because when you upgrade from PvP set to PvP set, they are static, while the rest of the gear changes around them. That’s the correct way to capture the upgrade model – ignore stats that don’t change or are not important (like Stamina) and only evaluate based on differences.

But this model only evaluates the gear, without reference to what we’re upgrading from. Even a character new to PvP is upgrading from something; they’re not coming into PvP stark naked.

The solution, of course, is to apply the same analysis to the gear currently worn by a character, and then to compare the difference between the two. That difference represents the value of the upgrade, which can then be divided by the cost of the upgrade.

So the correct model is:

  • Assign a normalized value to each piece of gear based on stat weights for the spec and the amount of primary/secondary stats on the item. This includes both the current gear and the future gear.
  • Get the value of the upgrade by taking the difference between the future gear and the current gear.
  • Divide that upgrade value by the cost of the upgrade.
  • Compare that value between the different gear slots to determine the most efficient upgrade path.

Since there’s no way to be accurate to any given Warlock’s upgrade situation, I chose the Season 10 Honor gear with S9 weapons as my baseline in the spreadsheet (rows 39-62), and then compared the Conquest set to the Honor set.

See, it’s important to think about gear purchases this way – you’re not purchasing a new set of gloves with +300 Intellect for 1650 Conquest Points, you’re purchasing an upgrade of +37 Intellect from your current gloves for 1650 Conquest Points. The key is to evaluate on the cost of the relative upgrade, not just the cost of the new gear.

Here’s how it looks.

As a key:

  • Trinket 1 is the Ruthless Insignia of Dominance, which procs randomly.
  • Trinket 2 is the Ruthless Badge of Dominance, which is an on-use “pump” trinket.
  • The PvP Trinket is the faction Insignia.
  • Ring 1 is the Ruthless Band of Accuracy, which gives Hit.
  • Ring 2 is the Ruthless Band of Cruelty, which gives Crit.

When we change the model to evaluate based on upgrade value and not just purchase value, the set pieces – hands, legs, chest, helm, shoulders – are more attractive because we aren’t ignoring their sockets, socket bonuses, and set bonuses when comparing them to other items. We’re now comparing them to earlier versions of the same gear (which correctly nullifies the effects of those bonuses) and allows us to clearly prioritize upgrades.

I think it’s interesting to see how the upgrade lists differ between specs, all driven by the stat weights originally assigned. Items with Hit are preferable to those with Haste, and the relative value of Crit can play havoc with the lower areas of the ranking.

Since Intellect and Resilience are weighted the same, items with a high Resilience/CP ratio (like trinkets) place higher than you might expect. Take a look at the Intellect/CP and Resilience/CP of the Conquest items to see what I mean:

Since this is Warlock gear, Spellpower devalues the MH weapon’s Intellect budget, as well as the trinkets. And the Intellect / CP chart has a strong correlation to the number of sockets on a piece of gear.

But look at how much Resilience those trinkets give for their cost! If you’re trying to gear up for PvP and improve your survivability, trinkets are the way to go. The set pieces weigh in favorably too here, and that’s before the set bonus kicks in.

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS

Now, all these numbers are well and good, but PvP is not just about numbers – it’s about performance. Is the random proc of one trinket better than the on-use effect of another? If we’re to just evaluate it by the numbers, absolutely yes. One gives more value for the CP (and more DPS, incidentally) than the other.

But this is PvP. Affliction warlocks, for example, are not known for their burst, and having an on-demand trinket that can be used to burn down an opponent at the right time is critical.

I think it’s interesting to see how dependent all this is on the stat weights you choose at the beginning. If you were to go on a straight primary stat / Resilience evaluation, you wouldn’t see a lot of the subtle differences in the gear pieces. Small changes to your stat weights will have a big impact on the gear’s purchase values, so these lists should not be set in stone. They are absolutely dynamic and need to be adjusted to your specific situation – which you should do.

Generally speaking, the pieces high on these lists either have a lot of the primary stats warlocks want – Intellect, Spellpower, or Resilience – or they have the secondary stats – Spell Hit, Haste. When all other things are equal, choose the gear with the best secondary stat – but it’s interesting to see that all other things are not always equal.

It’s nice to see that my general rule of thumb holds – get the stuff that has your secondary stat first – but you should also look at the rest of the item’s budget and cost when choosing what to upgrade next, and use your head.

All those disclaimers aside: the MH/OH weapons are always excellent buys.

VANITY PURCHASES

Getting back to the original question: are players who upgrade their shoulders first doing so out of vanity, or out of logic? If the secondary stat on them isn’t the best one for your spec, how important is that?

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that the shoulders are not a good first buy for warlocks – you get a bigger boost of Resilience from the trinkets.

But there could be other reasons to get them which outweigh the numbers. Perhaps it is important for the player to show others that the character is progressing into the next season of gear. Perhaps the new shoulders are a bigger upgrade due to not having a complete set of last season’s gear. Perhaps the player just likes the look of them! That’s all okay.

It’s okay because eventually, with enough time and focus, you can get all the gear, and it won’t matter which order you got it in.

However, when you are sitting there at the vendor, wondering what to get next – don’t be so quick to upgrade only the visible pieces.

New shoulders are great and all that, but there are other pieces that probably have more bang for the buck.

Like, you know, gloves. :)

Happy shopping!

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Thursday Reading

Hey! You!  Yeah, you, down the street there.

Don’t hide from me, I won’t bite. Craggle Wobbletop, at your service! I sell toys! You like toys, don’t you?

Oh.

You want epic PvP gear? You can go to Old Town for that.

Oh, you want epic raiding gear? Oh. Old Town for that, too.

How about a Paper Zeppelin? They don’t give you repair bills.

No?

Oh.

How about some blog posts to read, then?

  • I could link to pretty much every post that Lara does over at Root and Branch, but I think you’ll enjoy A License to Print Money, which is about leveling entirely through PvP and the unexpected benefits (and drawbacks!) of that process.
  • Zinn has a great post about the virtue of patience and Paragon’s H-25 Rag kill. This, so many times this. Patience, perseverance – these are the way to success.
  • Icedragon rebuilds her UI for Cataclysm with some beautiful results. I love how she customizes each one for each character.
  • Fulguralis has a nice post up about Warlock Trinkets, a subject near and dear to many of your hearts. Also, he wrote a book! Check it out!
  • This is an older post, but Onike talks about Teamwork and the shift of PvP philosophy between Seasons 8 and 10.
  • Vidyala has a problem with achievements. Achievements are an interesting compulsion. I should write more about my own issues with them.
  • Anexxia has a bittersweet piece of short fiction up about her own stepping back from raiding, in A Sort of Homecoming in Brill.
  • Speaking of the undead, Rades’s undead DK has a problem with her plate mail bikini. I don’t like it because it doesn’t match, but Rades has some more to say about it than just that. :-)
  • Psynister takes on Trial Account Twink Professions with his usual depth and insight. (c.f. GTG’s article for an introduction to the concept).
  • Razz over at Planet of the Hats talks about Raiding Fatigue, which is hitting home for a lot of players right now. Spinks has a related, insightful post on Auction House burnout.
  • Zel has a very funny non-WoW piece up on Twigisms. For the WoW parents out there.
  • Syl talks about wiping expansions off the table, something I’ve been thinking about recently. I think there’s a larger discussion to be had here about the expansion model, the concept of endgame, and how we interact with “content.”
  • I rather enjoyed listening to Ophelie and Oestrus on the latest episode of the Double O podcast, with Vidyala and Vosskah. That podcast is picking up steam quickly.
  • In something that has become all too common, Beru considers walking away from Warcraft in The Straw. I have a lot of sympathy for Beru, as you’ll see in the comments.
  • On a sadder note, Alas takes a few pages from the Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck and is taking a break from blogging. I’ve enjoyed her WoW Pride and Prejudice posts for some time, and while I’m sad to see them stop, I’m glad to see people take control of their lives. This is a game, it should be fun.
  • And finally, my good friend Psynister talks about his challenges in staying motivated to play Warcraft in Three-Legged Stools. This is a tough time for players right now, and Psynister paints a great picture of his struggles with the game.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve started a blogging experiment on Posterous – Cynwise’s Field Notes – for shorter, more informal posts. To quote the introduction:

I take a lot of pride in the posts that go up on my main websites, but they tend to be big – really big – and I also try to keep them very topical. It’s a good thing to be topical and thorough, but for a while now I’ve wanted a more informal place to post, someplace without a lot of bells and whistles, with a little more room than Twitter but without the pressure of focus that both CBM and GTG have.

Like my field notes, this is very much an experiment. I’m at a strange place with Warcraft now, so I offer no guarantees about content or direction. I like Posterous (really neat interface!) but it’s no WordPress replacement. This is just a simple little site that takes my emails and turns them into posts.

I’m not moving, but I am definitely keeping CBM focused on PvP, warlockery, and other guides. I have no idea where I’m going with CFN, but … well, I hope you find some of the posts interesting.

Enjoy!

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On Vanity, Gear, and the Appearance of Competence

All things are vanity, says my favorite book of the bible, and toons are no different.

I spent some time tonight cleaning up my warrior – moving gear sets into the bank, getting new gear sets crafted, picking out just the right tabard to go with the new gear, getting enchants, packing stuff out of the bank to vendor; the usual stuff.

I realized that I want to twink her a little bit, which is why I’m putting effort into her now. It’s been 20 levels since my last pause, and I want to spend some time in both dungeons and PvP to catch up. This isn’t a permanent stop, I don’t think – I’m not going to repeatedly level Engineering to 450 for a chance at Synapse Springs, for instance – but I want to get my PvE and PvP setups straight, get my skills straightened out, and then move on.

I digress.

I spent a fair amount of time considering the appearance of my characters tonight, and why appearance matters. Not physical attractiveness, mind you – but how gear influences how I perceive the toon. If they look put together, I am inclined to think that they’re competent and good. If they don’t match, if their gear is a mishmash of different styles, I think less of them.

Now the interesting thing is that I think this is cyclical, not causal, and that while looking put-together helps me feel better about a toon, it’s probably a symptom of actual competence and care for the toon, not the cause of it. If I feel like I’m doing well with someone, I’ll take the time to keep them organized and neat. Action bars will be pruned, glyphs chosen, all specs fleshed out, professions maxed – and gear tidied up.

While this is generally a positive feedback loop, sometimes it turns ugly. When there’s no good looking gear available, I start avoiding them on the selection screen. I look at my DK in his collection of vaguely conquistadorian Cata greens and blues and go… That looks awful. You look awful. I’ll go play someone else.

The outfit doesn’t encourage me to play. I could go and fix it by leveling, but let’s face it – it’s all downhill once you leave Light’s Hope on a DK.

Actually, that’s an interesting point. Starter area clothes are usually attractive, if simple. Some are downright gorgeous! When you roll a new toon, you look good.

It’s only later when your outfit falls apart.

I’ve noticed this on Cynwise, too. I get disturbed when she doesn’t visually match. Upgrading from Bloodthirsty to Vicious last season was painful – I tried to make sure the visual disruption in gear was limited, and when it started (blue shoulders, green robe, how does it work?) I replaced the offending visual elements first.

I hate not looking neat and put together.

Cynderblock is an interesting case. She’s a hodgepodge of gear, but finding the right outfit to quest in (not her BiS gear) made it much more enjoyable. (She quests in a Brewfest Dress and Lucky Fishing Hat.)

This isn’t very deep – in fact, it’s about as shallow as you can get, judging a character by how their clothes look – but in looking at my toons, I think it’s important to acknowledge. It’s also important to realize you might just need a new look to revitalize interest in a toon.

I’m okay with how the Brutal gear looks on Ash now – the Darnassus Tabard pulled the outfit together.

But I really hope I get Cynwulf, my DK, to 85 so he can have some better clothing options. There’s just not a lot at 84 worth wearing. :(

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On Looking Like Myself

So last night my warrior dinged 70, and off I went to get my NEW SHINY PvP gear. Brual Gladiator gear, with actual Resilience, here I come.

Ashwalker_-_loli_goth_-_brutal_gear

Wait, I look like WHAT now? That’s like a loli goth bondage girl out to cause trouble. That’s like an extra from Enterprise. That’s like … what?

I’ve spent the last 10 levels looking like this a badass force in service of the Alliance:

Ashwalker_-_level_60_pvp_gear_-_middle_position

To something that is very, very different.

Setting aside my outrage (which is mostly for effect), there’s something dramatic that shifts when you modify a character’s gear substantially, especially when the gear … oh, I don’t know, matches? Coordinates? Looks decent?

There’s an argument to be made for piecemeal replacement of gear, that it conveys more of a sense of growth than wholesale replacement every 10 levels.

There’s another argument to be made that DEAR GOD OUTLAND CLOWN CLOTHES CLASH LET ME OUT thank goodness OH GOD NORTHREND CLOTHES ARE ALL BROWN GIVE ME COLOR AGAIN.

Ahem.

There’s another argument to be made that looking like a respectable, functioning member of society who can dress him or herself matters more than gradual evolution of a look over time.

(Surely, I’m not the only one who upgrades gear based on looks as well as stats?)

(Heirlooms are a problem, too. How the FRAK are you supposed to match leggings to those chestpieces consistently? And the BOOTS???)

Also, the new Armory. We have to talk.

Your export function is great. Look!

Ashwalker_-_armory_export_-_level_60_pvp_gear

However, the lack of posability is not so great.

Especially when your shield is larger than you are.

Ashwalker_-_armory_export_-_level_70_pvp_gear

Doesn’t that look … uncomfortable?

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On Fudging It

The game systems that we play tend to shape our thinking about other games, about how systems are constructed, etc. etc. etc.. I’m sure Thomas Khun would be proud of this analogy, if I could piece it together.

I used to design RPGs back in the day. Once you start looking at the underlying systems, they’re quite interesting to break down and analyze, but one of my all-time favorites is FUDGE. And not just because of the food reference.

FUDGE uses, essentially, fuzzy logic to go ahead and determine the outcome of actions. There’s a scale of relative adjectives that it uses to rate … well, just about everything, really, and I’m finding that I’m using it more and more to describe Warcraft.

So here you go:

  • Superb
  • Great
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Medicore
  • Poor
  • Terrible

You assign an adjective to a task or a skill. Let’s say your character is good with a pistol, which represents their average skill over time. You can make a Good shot more often than not.

Fudge uses funny dice – d6s with 2 +s, 2 -s, and 2 blank sides. You roll 4 (or 1 or 6 or 10 or whatever) and tally up the plusses and minuses when adding random chance into an action. You modify the quality of your action accordingly – if you have a net +1, your shot goes from Good to Great. If you get a net -3, it’s a Poor shot.

Anyhow.

FUDGE is a great RPG, hugely flexible, but the remarkable thing is that I find that I can describe most other game systems with it.

See, a lot of the mathematical exactness that game systems strive for can yield counterintuitive results. They can also bog players down in too many numbers or rules (Laws of the Night Revised edition, I’m looking at YOU) that take away from the RPG aspect of the game.

So when a game starts going cattywumpus – c.f. Warcraft characters at level 84 – I revert to the FUDGE scale to see what’s going on.

For example, the problem with leveling from 79-80 in Wrath, and then again at 83-84 inf Cataclysm, is that your Superb characters rapidly decline down the scale to Fair, or even Mediocre. Good toons go Poor. Fair toons are Terrible at 84. The scaling is brutal, and only the gear available at level 85 starts bringing characters back up to their former selves.

Going from “I kiled the Lich King!” to “I am having problem handling 4 Dragonmaw Orcs at a time” may be mathematically necessary to handle stat inflation, but it introduces cognitive dissonance and player dissatisfaction. It’s not that the 80-85 leveling is hard, but rather that our characters feel lessened by the experience.

I’m going to refer back to the Fudge Scale a lot, so now you know what I’m babbling about when I trot it out.

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Five Reasons Why Uldum is a bit of a Drag

  1. It’s really hard to take pygmies as a viable threat to an ancient, yet still functioning, civilization.
  2. No chance to present Harrison Jones an opportune Death Coil to thank him for calling Cynwise “a pretty young thing.”
  3. Level 83 Troll Druid tried to gank me in the Ramkahen courtyard. Really? REALLY? Guards there are SO lacking in a sense of humor.
  4. What, I don’t get experience for watching this cutscene?
  5. I3-5: Desert of Desolation was better. (But to be fair, pretty much any module Tracy Hickman wrote was exceptional.)

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