Tag Archives: Cataclysm

How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm

Cynwise, mounted on the Headless Horseman's Mount, stands in front of one of the Ironforge Training dummies.

Look out, Cynwise! The Training Dummy is sneaking up on you!

As part of the massive mechanics revamp that came in patch 4.0.1, substantial changes have been made to the way damage over time spells are handled in Warcraft.  The way you thought about DoTs in Wrath is now wrong; it’s time to start thinking of them the Cataclysm way.

Let’s take a look at the bread and butter DoT of Affliction: Corruption.

Setting aside abilities that refresh DoTs for a moment, in Wrath, the right way to refresh a DoT was to let it tick the last tick, then immediately refresh it, like so.

This gave you 12 ticks for 2 GCDs of work.  Warlocks need to evaluate the DPCT (Damage Per Cast Time) of a spell, and in this case we see that those 2 GCDs gives us the full value of each Corruption spell (6 ticks) in the most amount of time.

What you wanted to avoid, at all costs, was clipping the DoT.  Clipping your DoTs meant refreshing it before the last tick, like so:

Clipping the DoT overwrites the first cast entirely, so the final tick of the first one is cancelled out by the delay preceeding the first tick.  In the time it took you to cast two Corruption spells, you got 11 ticks instead of 12.  The DPCT of each Corruption has been lowered by 8% just because the DoT was clipped. That’s a huge DPS loss.

I like to think of it as a single unit, the pause first and then the tick.  Casting the DoT starts with the pause, ignoring the previous spell.

This has been changed for the better in Cataclysm.

If you cast in between the penultimate and final ticks, your first Corruption spell gets its last tick in, and then the duration is extended beyond that as you’d expect.  You don’t want to let it fall off, because then you’re introducing the lag we used to have, and you have about a 2 second window between ticks to refresh Corruption.

Why after the penultimate tick?  Why not refresh it all the time?

Well, let’s see what happens then.

This example shows refreshing the DoT after the third tick.  The fourth tick still happens – it doesn’t get clipped – but the duration doesn’t stack up to a full 36 seconds.  You get 10 ticks for 2 GCDs of work, or a 17% DPCT loss for doing this early.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should NEVER do this. In a real fight, your instant casts should be refreshed whenever you’re moving, especially now that they don’t clip a tick in the middle of the rotation.  If you’re moving, you should be casting your Curse, Bane, Corruption, and then Life Tap to keep up your mana. Never stop casting!

But standing still, yeah.  Wait until the second to last tick, then refresh the DoT.

THE ONE DOT YOU STILL DON’T CLIP

The new refresh mechanics are fantastic, but there’s still one DoT you let fall off.  Can you guess what it is?

That’s right: Bane of Agony.  Take a look at its ticks:

Bane of Agony hits REALLY HARD at the end. (Not quite to scale.)

Bane of Agony has quick (2 second) ticks that ramp up over the course of the DoT: 4 weak, 4 middle, 4 strong.  This makes it ideal for use while pet tanking, as the aggro starts off very slow and ramps up with the damage.

But it also means that if you refresh the DoT before the final tick, you’ll overwrite a strong tick with a weak one.

This is somewhat counterintuitive, given how Corruption works above.  You’d think that you’d get your strong tick off, and then 4 weak ticks.  But no, you get 5 weak ticks.  Strip off your gear and hit a training dummy, you’ll see it in the logs.  Everything goes smoothly, you get 24 ticks total, but during the refresh you’ll get 5 weak ticks.

So. Let your Bane of Agony fall off, and refresh it once it does.  Everything else? Hit before the last tick.

THE EFFECTS OF HASTE & HASTE PLATEAUS

Haste has changed so that it tries to fit more ticks in to a static spell duration, instead of reducing the duration with the same number of ticks.  Each cast can give you more ticks of a spell than before.  In Wrath, Haste could make an 18 second/6 tick Corruption spell a 13.5 second/6 tick spell, giving you a DPS increase without actually changing the DPCT of the DoT.

In Cataclysm, Haste adds more ticks into the existing duration, which maintains the same DPS, but increases the DPCT of each DoT.  Let’s look at the two models.

Haste reduces the amount of time between ticks equally in both models, so the ticks are coming at the same frequency.  Assuming spell damage has not been altered, then the DPS is exactly the same between each model.

What’s different is the DPCT of the DoT goes up dramatically in the Cataclysm model.  Over a boss fight, you will spend less time refreshing the DoT if it adds ticks within the existing duration instead of shortening the duration.  In a 5 minute fight, you’d spend 23 GCDs casting Corruption in Wrath, but only 17 GCDs in Cataclysm, for the exact same DPS.  That’s a 35% increase in DPCT.

This means you have gained 6 GCDs to cast other spells during that fight, just by changing the way Haste is calculated.  That’s pretty cool!

However, this new mechanic has created some interesting problems when stacking Haste.

See, the game now has to decide when it’s going to add another tick.  There’s a specific amount of Haste which will give you a new tick, and when you hit that level of Haste, your DPS goes up by a large amount. But Haste only really benefits your DoTs when it gets you over the threshold. This rounding off leads to a phenomenon called the Haste Plateau.

Here’s the difference between 24% Haste and 25% Haste:

A very small amount of Haste in the first scenario would add a big DPS boost.  Haste in the second situation doesn’t help very much (until you get near adding a 9th tick, of course.)

This is different from the Wrath method of simply compressing the DoT down – Haste scaled linearly with that model, with the more Haste added, the faster each DoT burned.  In the Cataclysm model, Haste scales in a quantum fashion – you hit a threshold where the game rounds off, you get another tick.  Then you plateau out until you reach the next threshold.

Here’s a graph, definitely not to scale, about how the different models worked.

This graph shouldn’t be taken as a DPS comparison between the two systems – it’s just a way to show the different kinds of scaling going on here.  (Besides, DPS should be static between the two models.)  But the idea is straightforward: there are Haste values where your DoT DPCT will take a big jump.

Now, you’re probably asking, what are those Haste values?  When do I need to start looking to prioritize Haste over Mastery or Spellpower?

Well, for a Destruction Warlock using Immolate in a raid environment, Elitist Jerks has the Haste Plateau values as: 157, 781, 1406, 2030.  My own testing shows that I don’t gain an extra Immolate tick until around 10% Haste, which I think was around 500 Haste.  Not having raid buffs is probably the reason for the discrepancy in our two tests, so I’ll just put both out there and encourage you to hit the dummies with your own gear.  Swap pieces in and out, reforge them, and then count the ticks on the dummy.

The most important thing to take away from this is that while Haste is, in general, very good for Warlocks (and other DoT-based caster classes), there are times that Haste will be better for you than others.  Also, different spells will scale differently with different amounts of Haste due to duration and intervals between ticks.  Bane of Doom (4 ticks every 60 seconds) scales poorly, while Bane of Agony (12 ticks every 24 seconds) scales really, really well.  Immolate, Unstable Affliction (5 ticks over 15 seconds) and Corruption (6 ticks every 18 seconds) are all on the same 3-second scale.

There's a lot of math in this part, so Cynwise is going to reenact some of her favorite parts of The Return of the Jedi for you. You're welcome.

AUTOMATIC REFRESHES AND HASTE

All of the above is important theory for warlocks to know, but in practice, Affliction Warlocks never worry about refreshing Corruption manually.  They keep it going with the Everlasting Affliction talent, which gives Haunt, Drain Life, and Drain Soul the ability to refresh it for them.  This DoT-refreshing ability simplifies the Affliction priority list considerably, because all you have to worry about is keeping Haunt on the target, as it will take care of Corruption.

But, Affliction still needs to keep Unstable Affliction and Bane of Agony rolling on a target, and those now have two different methods they’ll need to consider.

Demonology has joined Affliction in the DoT-refreshing camp, as the new talent Cremation refreshes Immolate when Hand of Gul’dan is cast.  This is cool, and helps reduce the complexity in an already complicated priority list.  But the Cataclysm Haste model can do wonky things to this refresh.

Take a look at the 24% Haste example up above.  See the dangling blue line at the end of it?  That’s a good conceptual representation of what’s going on – you’ve got almost, but not quite, enough Haste to make it to that last tick.  And the duration between the ticks is still really close.

But the DoT ends on the last tick.  So while it’s convenient to say that Haste doesn’t reduce the duration of DoTs in the Cataclysm model, it’s not entirely accurate.  But only Demonology warlocks refreshing Immolate with Hand of Gul’dan actually do need to worry about it right now.  Pay attention, Demo locks!

I mentioned earlier that the game has a way to determine when you get another tick on your DoT.  It takes the time between ticks – reduced by Haste – and divides the total duration of the DoT by that number.  It then rounds off the result to figure out how many ticks you’ll have.

In other words:

  • Take the time between each tick – for Immolate, it’s 3 seconds.
  • Apply Haste to it by dividing it by 1 + the Haste percentage.  For 9% Haste, it would be (3/1.09).  10% Haste would be (3/1.1).
  • Divide the total duration of the DoT by the hasted tick speed to find out how many ticks the DoT will have.  Immolate is 15 seconds, so 10% Haste would be 15/(3/1.1) = 5.5 ticks.  9% Haste is 15/(3/1.09) = 5.45 ticks.
  • Round that number to the nearest integer, so 10% rounds to 6 ticks, while 9% rounds to 5.

So while you get 5 ticks at 9% Haste, and 6 ticks at 10% Haste, keep one important fact in mind: the tick speed is not rounded off.  The spell ends when the last tick ticks.

DoT duration equals tick speed times number of ticks.  So the following Haste values give you the following values:

  • At 9% Haste, each Immolate tick will take 2.7523 seconds.  You’ll get 5 ticks, for a duration of 13.76 seconds.
  • At 10% Haste, each tick is 2.7273 seconds long.  You get 6 ticks, for a duration of 16.3636 seconds.
  • At 15% Haste, ticks are 2.6087 seconds, you get 6 of them, and Immo lasts 15.65 seconds.
  • At 20% Haste, ticks are 2.5 seconds long, you get 6 of them, and Immo is exactly 15 seconds long again.
  • At 29% Haste, ticks are 2.32 seconds each, you have 6 of them, and Immo is 13.95 seconds long.
  • At 30% Haste, ticks are 2.3077 seconds long.  This is the breakpoint for 7 ticks on Immo, and the DoT is 16.15 seconds long.

While this has interesting implications for Destruction (who should strive for 10% Haste no matter what), it is even more interesting implications for Demo.

Consider: Hand of Gul’dan is on a 12 second cooldown, with a 2 second cast time, before Haste.  That’s 14 seconds between each refresh of a spell that, unhasted, has a 15 second duration.  Okay, no problem, right?

Only, Haste can both shorten or lengthen the duration of Immolate, depending on the specific value.  It never goes outside a certain range (13.64-16.36 seconds), but the lower end of that range drops below the CD and hasted cast time of Hand of Gul’dan.

Take 9% Haste again.  9% Haste brings HoG’s cast time down to (2/1.09) = 1.8349.  With a 12 second CD, that means HoG can be cast once every 13.8349 seconds.  Awesome!

Except you’re refreshing a spell that has a Hasted duration of 13.76 seconds.  Oops.

There isn’t really a great solution for this, aside from Demonology locks knowing where their Haste is and making sure that they can effectively refresh Immolate.  The area between 7-9.5% Haste seems to be the really dangerous area; the next such place where this happens is around 29% haste, and the HoG cast time is only 1.55 seconds then.  So it’s not a big deal then, just at low Haste levels.

I don’t think the Cataclysm Haste mechanic is broken because of this issue.  I think, if any technical solution is really needed, dropping the CD of HoG to 10 seconds through a Glyph would suffice.

This is just one of those places where the math gets really interesting, and where a little bit of Haste stacking can go a long way towards improving your DPS.

Did you have any idea DoTs could be so fascinating?

A FINAL WORD FOR HUNTERS (AND ROGUES AND FERAL DRUIDS AND…)

A final note about this article.  While I’m writing this for Warlocks, these new rules should apply across the board to all magic DoTs.  If you’re a caster  with DoTs – Mage, Shadow Priest, Boomkin, Elemental Shaman, Warlock, and maybe even Death Knights, though I’m not positive – these rules should now apply to you.  If you’re a class with physical damage DoTs, I’m 99% sure that Haste doesn’t affect your tick speed.  You can also still clip your DoTs (if they don’t automatically refresh).  The reasons behind it aren’t really clear to me, but I’ve been assured that this is how it works.

Basically, if your Haste is tied into your energy regeneration, you’re probably not getting any benefit to your DoTs from Haste.  And that sucks.

Because this new way of handling DoTs?  Sure, it requires some math to understand.  But the changes are awesome.

I hope all DoTs start working like this soon.

Questions?  Corrections?  Leave ‘em in the comments.

Update (January 11th, 2011): Somehow, I forgot to mention that I put together a calculator for Haste Sweet Spots. If you want to toy around with your own values, give it a try!

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

A Pre-Cataclysm Warlock Guide

In case you were worried, Warlocks are going to be awesome in Cataclysm.

No, really.  While the changes 4.0.1 introduced might have everyone off-balance right now, and let’s face it, things are really screwy in terms of balance – the changes to Warlocks haven’t altered the fundamental awesomeness of the class.

The end of Wrath left Warlocks in a good, balanced state.  My primary concern with the changes was: is this going to make us unbalanced again?  And more importantly, will this fundamentally change the enjoyment we have in certain playstyles?

4.0.1 introduced a lot of changes, but it didn’t fundamentally change the way you play a warlock.  Yes, there is some increased complexity in some areas and rotations.  Yes, there is a lot of simplicity in other areas.

But overall, now is a great time to either roll a new warlock, or play your favorite one.

Let’s look at the changes.

MECHANICS

The Warlock’s Den has a great compilation of the changes in 4.0.1, but it’s all the changes.  If you’re just diving into the new patch, the changes can seem overwhelming.

The biggest news is that Soul Shards are completely revamped.  Gone is your old Soul Shard bag; in its place are three shards that you can use to empower certain spells through the new spell, Soulburn. This spell empowers other spells to either make them faster, hit harder, or give different effects.  Another new spell, Soul Harvest, regenerates both Soul Shards and your health.  Using Soul Shards creatively in combat is one of the new great challenges of playing warlocks.  It’s actually quite fun watching the bars light up when you burn a shard now!

As far as gear and stats go, you can Reforge your existing gear at a Highborne trainer near the Enchanting trainer in major cities.  Reforging allows you to swap one stat on gear, like Spirit, for another stat that isn’t on that gear, like Hit.  It costs 10g a pop and only works on ilvl 200+ gear.

You should consider reforging your gear for three reasons.  The first is that you need to get up to 17% hit to get raid bosses – not 13-14%, like before.  Why? Because all of the Hit-enhancing talents other people brought to you in raids are gone. If you’re still raiding, you’re going to need that Hit.

The second reason is that Spirit is officially useless to Warlocks again.  Life Tap’s spell and glyph have both changed, and Fel Armor has been modified, so that Spirit does nothing for you.  Reforge it or swap it out.

The third reason is a new stat: Mastery.  Mastery increases your damage according to your spec, and you can only get it via Reforging in 4.0.1. The value of Mastery depends on both your spec, your Hit, and your Haste, but in general it is a desirable stat.

Stats have been completely redone.  Intellect now gives you Spellpower, and Spellpower has been removed from most items in the game.  Intellect is now a desirable stat. How desirable?  Well, current thinking is that:

  • Leveling: Hit (until cap, 4%) > Int >  Haste > Spellpower > Stamina > Crit
  • Affliction raiding at 80: Hit (to cap, 17%) > Int >> Haste > Spellpower >> Mastery >> Crit
  • Demonology raiding at 80: Hit (to cap), Haste > Int >> Mastery = Spellpower > Crit
  • Destruction raiding at 80: Hit (to cap) >> Int >> Mastery = Haste = Spellpower >>> Crit

So take a look at your gear and consider stacking that Intellect.

Another major change is that DoTs now refresh duration instead of clipping them.  One of the major annoyances of DoTs was that you would drop your DPS if you cut them off before the final tick of damage, so you needed to let it fall off and immediately refresh.  Now, you can refresh them and just extend their duration without overwriting the last tick.  The best time to refresh a DoT is just after the second-to-last tick – this gives you the biggest time extension without reducing the overall number of DoTs. The only exception to this is Bane of Agony, which hits harder on the final ticks.

This is kinda an important change, so I’m planning a followup post to cover just how DoTs work in the new system.

You’ll notice that it’s not Curse of Agony anymore; some Curses (Agony, Doom) have been retitled Banes. Banes and Curses can both be applied to a target.  This gives you both a Bane (which causes damage) and a Curse (which applies an effect) that can be stacked onto a target, no longer forcing you to chose between damaging an opponent or cursing them.  The new names take some getting used to, but eventually they’ll stop squeaking every time we say them.

Your Infernal and Doomguard no longer displace your summoned demon, allowing you to use them as a massive DPS boost on a 10 minute cooldown. Use them every chance you can – Infernal for AoE, Doomguard for direct target.  They no longer require reagents or help in summoning.  This is a very cool change, and get used to seeing them all the time.

Soul Shatter now works. It’s now a 90% threat reduction, which is good, because aggro in the pre-Cataclysm world is a harsh mistress. Soulshatter actually working makes my head hurt to think about.  Also, your Spellstones and Firestones are gone.  Sorry about that.

So, yes. There are a lot of changes to mechanics.  But tackle them one at a time, and you’ll do fine.

LEVELING A WARLOCK

All of the advice that people had on the best spec to level a Warlock with in Wrath?  Worthless.  Throw out any guide that isn’t updated for 4.0.1, because the leveling experience is completely different.

At level 10, you get to choose your specialization: Affliction, Demonology, Destruction.  Each one of them introduces a cornerstone spell immediately at level 10, allowing you to start playing that style early on, instead of waiting for those key spells in the 40s and 50s.

This change makes each spec immediately viable for leveling.

If you’re having trouble deciding which way you want to go:

  • Affliction is the route for the slow, steady, unstoppable kills.  You gain an extra DoT spell, Unstable Affliction, which combined with your improved Corruption and Bane of Agony will be enough to kill most any mob you come across.  Drain tanking is alive and well!  You’ll want to use many of your demons with Affliction, depending on situation and playstyle.
  • Demonology is if you like having something else take the damage for you.  You get a Felguard at level 10, and he is a brute.  Use him for most pulls, switch to the Voidwalker for pulls that require AoE tanking.
  • Destruction is for those who like the quick, bursty kills.  You get Conflagrate, a instant-cast explosion, which combined with Searing Pain and Incinerate will let you kill most mobs before they ever reach you.  You’ll probably favor the Imp, but your other demons will be situationally useful.

The simplified talent trees actually make leveling advice quite easy.  Take talents that make the spells you use hit harder, cast faster, or heal you.  If your using your demon for a lot of your DPS, buff it instead.

If you don’t have a Warlock, or have one you haven’t played in a while, consider rolling one.  They are huge amounts of fun at the low levels.  They’re an absolute blast.

If you’ve already leveled one, though, the next section might interest you a bit more.

RAIDING AT LEVEL 80

Raiding at level 80, when the trees are designed for an endgame at 85, is a little strange.  But there’s still loot to be gotten and achievements to achieve, so people are figuring out how to raid at 80.

Below are some pages I’ve found extremely helpful in navigating the waters with this new raiding environment.  Especially helpful is the first link, at Elitist Jerks.  If you go no where else for raiding advice, go there.

General PVE:

Affliction:

Demonology:

Destruction

I would love to find some more articles to help with raiding, but we’re well past the expiration date of the current content, and new content – with new abilities – is going to be coming up very soon.  There will be a lot more focus on raiding articles when Cataclysm drops and folks start leveling up to 85.

PVP AT LEVEL 80

PvP is totally unbalanced right now, and I wouldn’t hold out much hope that it’s going to get radically better before Cataclysm strikes.  That means that casters are going to remain overpowered, Resilience values are going to go up and down as the developers try to introduce some kind of sanity to the battlegrounds, and you’ll get to experiment a lot with your ‘locks.

I don’t have any great links to share with you for PvP.  High-end PvP doesn’t tend to invite the kind of analysis that raiding does, and while there are some builds that are popular right now, folks are figuring out new and creative ways to kill each other and nothing’s set in stone.

As far as the specs:

  • Demonology seems to have made an incredible comeback in the battlegrounds.  The Felguard’s new abilities at level 80 are awesome, hitting very hard with a number of stuns and interrupts that can’t be beat. I am seeing a lot of Demo locks out there right now.
  • Destruction is having an excellent time out there, as well.  High burst damage is ruling the day, and the Imp has made an unlikely appearance on the battlefield as the Destro pet of choice.
  • The reports of Affliction’s death in PvP are wildly exaggerated.  While some of the Drain Tanking talents have been nerfed, Soul Swap and Empowered Seed are making up for it.  Sending an Empowered Seed of Corruption out into a surging mass of defenders in Wintergrasp means you are going to see a LOT of numbers come rolling through your combat text meters.  Petwise, the Succy is a little more useful than the Felhunter right now, but both have their place.

Much of this will change in the next six weeks.

But in the meanwhile, there’s a lot of fun to be had with your warlock.  (Or warlocks, if you’re crazy like I am.)

Now go out there and be awesome!

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

Pre-Cataclysm Honor Grinding

With the changes to Honor Points and new Arena gear becoming available to unranked characters in 4.0.1, the timeless question of how to most efficiently grind Honor has come up, once again.

It’s been a while since we’ve had to address this question – the Random Battleground Finder pretty resoundingly ended that debate earlier – but there are now several new options with the new currency.  And until Ihra returns from his break to do a complete HPM (honor per minute) analysis, you’ll have to settle for my math.

So let’s take a look.

HONOR THROUGH PVP

PvP remains the best way to grind Honor Points.  You get HP by killing opponents, by capturing objectives, by defending flags (!), by winning matches.  Winning battlegrounds thoroughly is preferable to winning them quickly and skipping objectives.

Daily Random Battlegrounds remain the best way to gain honor at level 80. The first win of the day gives you an extra 90 Honor Points.  Subsequent wins give you 40 extra Honor Points.  Even if you don’t win, you’ll still get an extra 15 Honor, so running randoms gives you a consistent boost that you should not skip.  If you win 50% of the time, with 15 minutes a match, you’ll be getting an extra 250 Honor Points over the first two hours.  Call To Arms events in specific battlegrounds give the same benefits (that do not stack), so if there is a BG that you really enjoy running having a CTA weekend, run that instead.

My experience so far has been about 75 Honor Points per BG.  I’m actually losing more than I’m winning right now, but my queues are instant, so it’s working out to a decent grind.  I’ll collect more data and update this post with it.

Wintergrasp Battles give a decent amount of Honor Points by themselves; I received 40 Honor Points in a recent victory where all towers went down before time expired. This could vary widely due to your HK count and how the battle progresses; it actually doesn’t compare that favorably to regular battlegrounds, let alone random battlegrounds, but there are reasons you should do Wintergrasp anyways.  (More on that below.)

World PvP also gives Honor Points.  Unless you’re participating in mass World PvP, I don’t think you’re going to gain a tremendous amount of HP this way, but you do gain rewards this way.  If there’s active World PvP on your server, engage away!

HONOR THROUGH QUESTING

Some quests award Honor Points.  This isn’t a new concept – Wintergrasp quests have done this for a while – but since all PvP rewards have been standardized to a single scale, there are now more ways to gain Honor Points outside of the battlegrounds.

Wintergrasp Quests are still a viable Honor Point boost.  Each weekly quest rewards 16 Honor Points, and there are six of them (Victory, Kill 10 Enemy, Destroy a Tower, Destroy 3 Siege, Defend 3 Siege, Gather 10 Things), so there’s a potential of 96 Honor Points from these quests each week.  These quests may be bugged on your server so that they reset both on Tuesday & Sunday, so you may be able to do them twice.  (I’ve given up tracking them and just check back every few days.)

What’s new is that Venture Bay PvP Quests award Honor Points instead of the almost-useless Venture Coins.  There’s XP for you while leveling, gold at endgame, and a little bit of Honor for a few minutes of work each day.  The quests don’t reward as much as Wintergrasp – 3 HP each – but since they can be done every day, you could get 126 Honor Points each week from these quests.  There are six quests scattered around the bay, including the Blackriver Skirmish quest up the river.

One quest, Seeking Solvent, is a repeatable quest and could be done without flagging for PvP.  This quest involved stealing Element 115 from the ship in the harbor, and returning – slowly – to the quest giver.  This quest could yield up to 260 Honor Points an hour, though I never got quite that high personally.  (I was distracted, and still got about 120.)  This was a great way to get honor if your queues were long or you had desire to really PvP.

Unfortunately, when I went back today to check on this quest, it appears to be broken – probably deliberately.  You can’t start the quest anymore, and even getting a new Refurbished Shredder Key doesn’t help.  (I now have 2.)  I have a ticket open and will let y’all know if the GMs tell me anything substantial.

The Blue Sky Logging Camp PvP quests, interestingly, do not give Honor Points.  They just give gold and experience.  So skip them if you’re grinding honor.

HONOR THROUGH PVE DUNGEONS

What’s that you say?  Has Cyn finally gone daft?

No, I have not, or not any more than I was before.  Dungeons now give Honor Points. Specifically, Northrend dungeons when the Wintergrasp buff is active.  If your faction controls Wintergrasp, you get ~6 Honor Points per Heroic boss or Raid boss killed, in addition to the Justice Points you’re already getting.  I got 25 HP in a H-HOL run this morning, which I assume means there’s some decimal carryover from each earning and we’re just seeing the integer result.  (4 bosses x 6 HP per boss = 24, at least in my funny math world.  But I definitely got 25 from the run.)

Before, you could get certain kinds of gear through Heroics – Wintergrasp gear.  These are great offset pieces, they were relatively cheap, and differently itemized for your class and spec.  With the standardization of currency, you can now buy set pieces, Wrathful offhand pieces, whatever you like with these Honor Points.

For people who are already grinding Justice Points, this is very good news.

GEARING STRATEGY

Your strategy really depends upon your goals.

  • If you are just upgrading your PvP gear, run random battlegrounds, do the WG quests, and then run more battlegrounds.  By focusing on PvP you generate the highest amounts of Honor Points.  If your queue times are bad, fill in with the Venture Bay quests and some world PvP, but try to PvP all the time.
  • If you are gearing a new character for PvE and PvP, run Heroics and Wintergrasp. Make it your mission to hold Wintergrasp as much as possible, because the most efficient way to completely gear a toon is through dungeons. While it’s not as efficient for getting PvP gear, it gives you the most total points per minute.  Also, once you have maxed out your Justice Points, you can use those to purchase lower-grade set pieces (Relentless, Furious) to help fill in the holes in your PvP set.

What’s interesting is that once again, control of Wintergrasp is absolutely key.   If you’ve forgotten how WG works, you can revisit my Introduction to Wintergrasp for a quick refresher.  The side that holds Wintergrasp will, in general, be gearing up for PvP faster than the side that does not.  So don’t be afraid to recruit in Dalaran for each battle – it will pay you, and your side, dividends.

(On Durotan, a predominately Alliance server, the Horde has gone from winning 1/4-1/3 of the time, to 1/2, and most of the time it’s in prime-time hours.  They are taking it seriously even though they are outnumbered.  You can too.)

If you don’t care about PvP, well, you should still help out in Wintergrasp.  Why? Because some of the best weapons and shields available to players are available at a pittance of 70 Honor right now.  270 shields that make Protection Warriors and Paladins weep for joy – 70 honor.  264 guns that dwarf nearly every other gun in ICC? 2550 honor.  264 wands with wicked, wicked stats?  230 honor.

As an individual, your best strategy is to run random battlegrounds.  As a faction, your best bet is to control Wintergrasp and run randoms.

Got it?  Good.

Time to get to work.  Cataclysm is coming.

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Battleground PvP Gear in 4.0.1

Looking good in the starting areas is important, people!

Patch 4.0.1 is here; the patch that starts wrapping up Wrath of the Lich King, and gets us ready for Cataclysm.  This patch brings some major changes to the abilities and talents of every class, the combat statistics on gear, and how gear is purchased.  The next two months will be filled with adapting to those changes before Cataclysm is released.  We are in for some interesting times!

The class changes are going to take some time to get our collective heads around.  Personally, I enjoy periods of experimentation, where players creatively tinker with new possibilities and challenge previous assumptions.  (From the perspective of my own main class, Warlocks using Imps in PvP seems like a terrible idea, but it’s working fantastically.)   The stat changes, too, will require some time and experimentation to understand.  Gear at all levels will change, and what was once Best-In-Slot for leveling PvPers may not be anymore.  There’s lots of work to be done there.

RESILIENCE

The biggest change to PvP gear is that Resilience will no longer reduce your chance to be Critically Hit; it just reduces damage taken from other players.  This makes Crit-heavy builds even more viable, so you may want to experiment with swapping out Haste gear for Crit gear if you’re overloaded.

ENDGAME GEAR

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 6 months since the last substantial change to endgame PvP gear.

The currency changes I noted in Preparing for Rated Battlgrounds are now in effect, which has some great implications for battleground players.  Only Honor Points are available, and since higher tier Conquest Points will only become available when Cataclysm launches, all gear that’s available in Wrath is now available for purchase through Honor Points.

Unfortunately, the top level gear still requires ratings, so you can’t get a full Wrathful set from running normal battlegrounds.  You can, however, get Relentless gear without a rating, so this still represents a step up.  I’m a little disappointed that the Wrathful set still requires a rating (since the Arena season is over), but not entirely surprised.

Update: Wrathful gear, up to rating level 2000, can now be purchased without an Arena rating. My previous information is now out of date, and you can get nearly an entire Wrathful kit, sans the shoulders, some weapons, and the tabard. I’ve updated the list below to reflect this change.

Here’s what the full PvP kit will cost you in the new system.

  • Head: Wrathful  - 1650 Honor Points
  • Neck: Wrathful – 725 Honor Points
  • Shoulder: Relentless/Titan-Forged – 695 Honor Points
  • Back: Wrathful  - 725 Honor Points
  • Chest: Wrathful – 1650 Honor Points
  • Wrist: Wrathful – 600 Honor Points
  • Hands: Wrathful  - 1040 Honor Points
  • Waist: Wrathful – 945 Honor Points
  • Legs: Wrathful – 1650 Honor Points
  • Feet: Wrathful – 945 Honor Points
  • 1st Ring: Wrathful – 725 Honor Points
  • 2nd Ring: Relentless  - 485 Honor Points
  • Trinket: Medallion of the Alliance/Horde  - 945 Honor Points
  • Trinket: Battlemaster – 725 Honor Points
  • Main-hand: None (still requires rating)
  • Off-hand: Possibly Wrathful 70-260+ Honor Points
  • Ranged: Possibly Wrathful – 260+ Honor Points

This entire kit will cost at least 14,025 Honor Points. If you’ve been working on your PvP set for some time, you’re only going to need to update a few items, so it should be pretty easy to bring yourself up to speed.

(I would also recommend that you not get the second PvP ring, and instead get the Ashen Verdict ring instead.)

PVP MOUNTS, ACCESSORIES, AND GEMS

There have been a few changes to the PvP vendors; pre-cut gems are gone, for one – but by in large all the gear you used to be able to get is still available for Honor Points.

Mounts are now 2000 Honor Points.  Depending on how much currency mount collectors carried over, this may be easier to get now than before in terms of time to acquire, but in general PvP mounts are as easy (or as difficult) to get as before.

Other accessories you might be interested in are below.

  • Battle Standard: 2550 Honor Points
  • Level 70 PvP Trinket: 140 Honor Points
  • Epic Gems: 165 Honor Points.

In general, the currency conversion is really the only thing that’s changed with PvP accessories.

 

The PvP Jewelcrafter is still in the game, so you can still PvP For Profit.  The rumors of his demise were much exaggerated.

Though, seriously – there are plenty of other ways to make money in Warcraft. Trust me.

LOW-LEVEL PVP GEAR

One of the pleasant side effects of the 3.3.3 removal of Marks of Honor was how accessible low-level PvP gear became.  At level 18, 28, 38, and 48, you can visit the Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin vendors and get awesome leveling gear for a pittance in terms of honor gained.  The prices are a little different now, and we’ll have to see how the costs scale with Honor Points gained in the leveling battlegrounds, but you should be able to get gear with the same minimum effort.

Those vendors are:

The AV gear continues to be good for the early 50s, but is quickly replaced by Outlands gear at 58.

The stat changes have some serious implications for lowbie twinks, which I’ll be covering in more detail over at Green Tinted Goggles when I have a chance to absorb all the changes.

PVP HEIRLOOM GEAR

The currency changes obviously affect how you purchase Heirloom Gear; Emblems and Stone Keeper’s Shards are out, Justice and Honor Points are in.  Champion’s Seals are still a viable currency from the Argent Tournament for the PvE gear, but the Stone Keeper’s Shards are gone as the way to get PvP heirlooms in Wintergrasp.

Interestingly, the costs of Heirlooms have been scaled up to account for the rate at which points should be earned at level 85, not at 80, so they are more expensive now than they were in 3.3.5.  So if you’re looking for PvE Heirlooms, the Champion’s Seals are probably your best bet right now.  For PvP Heirlooms, here’s what you’re looking at.

  • Shoulders, 1H DPS Weapon: 2175 Honor Points
  • 1H Caster Weapon: 2725 Honor Points
  • 2H Weapon, Ranged Weapon: 3500 Honor Points
  • Heirloom PvP Trinket: 2725 Honor Points

The stats have also changed somewhat on this gear, just like all the other gear.  Depending on your class, this is either great or terrible.

Hopefully, the Heirloom Items Scale will be updated soon to reflect all the new stats!

LEARNING TO PLAY AGAIN

One of the biggest challenges of the next two months is understanding the changes to the classes and combat systems 4.0.1 has brought us.  The currency we use to buy gear is different, and the stats on it might be altered — but the gear itself isn’t new.  That’s okay – we have enough to learn without having to worry about new types of gear.

That will all come soon enough, when Cataclysm launches.

Special thanks to @quaunaut and @zombiegopher for helping me check prices tonight, since my patch is currently stuck on the baby murloc wav files. Thanks, guys!

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Embracing Constraints

There’s never enough. Time, people, money, focus, whatever it is – there’s never enough of it to go around.

If I had enough time, I am sure that I’d be Arena Battlemaster Loremaster Cynwise, the Light of Dawn, goldcapped several times over. More time would mean more opportunities to do those things necessary to reach the pinnacle of every aspect of the game.

But I don’t have unlimited time, and neither do you. We all have limits.

And limits are wonderful thing, because limits create focus.

When you can’t have everything, you have to choose those things that matter the most to you and discard the rest. If I want to do X, I can’t spend that time doing Y; so which one is more important to me?

Without constraints, you don’t have to make choices. Yet our choices make us who we are.

Work with what you have. Don’t reject your constraints: embrace them.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT

A little while ago I realized that time was running out on the World of Warcraft as I knew it. I mean, I’d known intellectually that major changes were coming, but I was pretty content to pass the time doing what I enjoyed. I’d pvp some nights, raid others, play the auction house others. (Okay, who am I kidding, I played the AH every chance I could.)

I was content.

But then the Beta came along, and more of my friends and acquaintances started playing in it. And the pre-expansion blues hit, when folks went back to school, the markets stabilized, but folks were on less, maybe leveling alts, maybe doing… things?

And then came the Fall of Zalzane/Operation: Gnomeregan, and now the 4.0.1 PTR, and something became very, very clear.

I had two, maybe three months tops, to do everything I want to do in Azeroth before it all goes away. No more delays, no more tomorrows. I’d get maybe a day or so warning – a week if I was lucky – before Cataclysm hit the live servers.

Here it is, the biggest constraint of all: the world you’re playing in is doomed. It’s like we’re players in a Greek tragedy, and the Chorus is telling us that our fate is coming to meet us.

On top of having to find time to play amidst real life, of finding people who are interested in doing the things you’re interested in too, comes an unalterable deadline: Soon this will all be gone.

It’s not the time to panic. Now is the time to get to work.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVES

In my first version of my Cataclysm Bucket list, I had a lot of goals that seemed big at the time. Go fishing in zones that are getting changed! Run old classic dungeons! Level a bunch of alts!  Ony Ony Ony!

You know what? I went to Azshara to fish, and the fishing there sucks. The beaches are hard to get to, there are grumpy turtles and Naga everywhere, and the pretty places are just acres of unfulfilled promise; scenery, like Crystalsong Forest, only more disappointing.

And Onyxia was fun to duo at 60, but she’s now a loot pinata at T10 gear.

In the year since I’d written that list, my priorities had changed. I couldn’t force myself to level alts that I knew I’d abandon; travelling to places I’d already been didn’t interest me at all. So what was I left with?

I wanted to experience the Horde from their perspective, before it all changes.

And I wanted to kill the Lich King.

Two different goals, but all doable in the time left to me.  The biggest problem would be motivation. I like doing content once, but going over the same thing bores me. It’s why I PvP so much: every battle is different, even if the maps are the same.

THE OTHER SIDE

I tried, and failed, to level alts on the Horde side of my server.  The best leveling area in the game, Eversong/Ghostlands, saw me get stuck before I finished any of the cool questlines, and I never went back to any of the other starting areas.  The highest I got was a level 17 mage, who I leveled the last few levels in Warsong Gulch, which kinda missed the point of it all.

This changed when I faction changed my level 19 warrior twink, Cynderblock, to pursue some best in slot gear.  I’m over there, grinding away some quests for a cool shield, when I realize — I could just go do all the starting areas. No pressure to level up a throwaway alt, no need to start out weak and gear up with the same crappy quest gear — just quest for the cool rewards and see what there is to see.

Then I thought… wait a minute, I could get all the reputation gains from the Horde quests, and then faction change back to Alliance and do the same… maybe I could get Ambassador?  Ambassador at level 19?  Is that even possible?

That crazy thought was exactly the motivation I needed.  I found out that I really did want to see all of the Horde areas, but I didn’t want to do it and never look back.  I wanted it to matter.  I needed to put constraints on my leveling to make it crazy, absurd, audacious.

Try for Ambassador at level 19?  Exalted with all 5 factions, without a mount?  SIGN ME UP.

Back at an old job we were asked to set BHAGs: big, hairy, audacious goals. These were goals to not just stretch yourself, but push yourself to do things you’d never rationally consider.

A BHAG was what I needed, a BHAG that embraced constraints.  Plenty of folks can, and do, level through the starting zones in a very short period of time.  I don’t enjoy leveling enough to do that to myself once, let alone five times.  But doing something on a character that you are going to keep, where you don’t know if you can succeed, and where there are some specific limits?

Yes.  By setting limits creativity flourishes.  And that’s what happened to me with the Level 19 Ambassador project.

Cynderblock has completed nearly 400 quests in every single Horde zone from 1-30.  Every quest that was available to a level 19 character and awarded reputation with one of the 5 main factions is complete.  The only exceptions were two of the rare beast quests in the Barrens (couldn’t find them) and the repeatable Chen’s Empty Keg quest in Ratchet.  I looked at that and said, let’s try this without that, and if we need it later we can come back for it.

I’ve started the faction change process again, this time to bring Cynderblock back to the Alliance as a Human — hopefully Diplomacy’s bonus will be enough to get her over the finish line.  If not, there are some daily quests during the Harvest Festival to try.  And if not.. we might be brewing beer in the Barrens.  Or we’ll wait for Cataclysm and do all the *new* quests.

All I needed to do was find the right constraints to get this one done.

THE COMING MONTHS

I still have a bit of work ahead of me on Cynderblock; I have to go visit all the Alliance starting areas, doing all the quests I’d skipped over the first time.  There are areas I know I skipped entirely (Loch Modan, Darkshore, Ashenvale) that are changing in Cataclysm, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

And there’s also the little matter of the Lich King.

I never expected to raid; when I first started playing, raiding seemed to be completely out of the question. I didn’t even run dungeons while leveling!

So I’m pretty happy that I found a guild who would take my PvP-educated self through heroics, and then 10-mans, and finally 25-mans.  It’s helped me grow immensely as a player, but there’s one thing missing.

After weeks and weeks and weeks in Icecrown… I still haven’t killed the Lich King.  Our guild has, but I haven’t.

I want Arthas down before Cataclysm.

And I will get him.

NARROW YOUR FOCUS

I’ve heard a variety of dates around Cataclysm’s release date: early to mid-November, late November, early December.  I don’t think anyone knows yet.

But I can look at the calendar and say, I have 6 weeks before the earliest feasible date, 2 months tops.  What are the most important things for me to get done?

Two titles: Ambassador and Kingslayer.  Everything else is a bonus.

Embrace the deadline.  Narrow your focus and make sure you get the things done you really want to get done.

Cataclysm will come soon enough.

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Looking Ahead to Cataclysm’s PvP Talents

Southshore slowly comes into view, much like Cataclysm’s talent builds.

I’m idly following along with Cataclysm news.  I’m not in the Beta.  I’d like to experience the story without knowing what’s going to happen.  And while I’m not actively avoiding Cataclysm news, I’m not actively seeking it out, either.  (Well, except for news on the BGs.  I’m actively looking for news on Twin Peaks et al..)

One thing I have seen, though, has been a big shift in the philosophy behind talents, particularly the split between PvP and PvE talents.  The trees are smaller (41 points at level 85, as opposed to 71 points at level 80), talents that just flatly increase damage have been (mostly) removed, and there’s an emphasis on ‘fun’ talents.

Ghostcrawler’s post on the matter, “A Few Words On Talent Tree Design,”  covers it better than I can.

… We don’t consider “bloat” a bad word. Players typically say that when there are more talents than they can possibly get. That’s the whole idea. When you run out of interesting talents, then that’s when we think we have a problem.

Related, if we do our jobs right, you are going to run out of dps talents (or healing talents if you’re a healer, or mitigation talents if you’re a tank). We don’t want every talent to feel mandatory since you are prohibited from getting them all. We want you to have choices. …

…We don’t consider every talent that doesn’t directly lead to higher dps to be a “PvP talent.” Survivability is a big deal in Cataclysm. In that vein, talents that keep you alive (or help healers conserve mana) are indirectly dps talents. :) We aren’t designing PvP vs. PvE trees. Ultimately, we consider a talent specialization to be a stylistic choice. However, given the challenges of nailing both PvP and PvE balance, as a consolation prize it’s nice when at least there are no dead trees.  …

I’m a little wary about quoting just part of his post.  It’s good to read things in their context whenever possible, and this is no exception.

WARLOCK PVP TALENTS

I was intrigued by what Ghostcrawler said, so I headed over to Wowhead’s Cataclysm Talent Calculator and fiddled around with it, trying to see how I would build Cynwise’s talents through the Warlock trees.

The results are probably not surprising.

The trees are smaller, but the philosophy I articulated for warlock talents in Wrath remains the same: take a core of Demonology for survival, then dive into your chosen tree.  Focus on talents that give you control and survivability, and then pick up DPS talents.

There are some new things in there that look very interesting – Bane of Havok, Jinx, Soul Swap – but there are also a lot of things that are missing.  Some PvP staples, like the anti-pushback talents Fel Concentration and Intensity, are now defaults.  Range extension talents like Grim Reach and Destructive Reach are gone, which, if applied uniformly across all classes, don’t present a problem.

That last part is important, don’t skip it.  Removing talents from one class while leaving them in for a different class is unfair, and could easily be considered a nerf.  Removing that talent type from all classes, however, is just rebalancing the game.  Extended range talents were inconsistent at best — mage talents extended by a certain number of yards (6, if I remember correctly) while warlocks got a percent increase (10%).  You couldn’t afford to skip these talents in PvP because the other person would probably have them, leaving you at a disadvantage, leading to an arms race.

Ghostcrawler talks a bit about this:

Related, many trees lost a lot of true PvP talents, such as dispel resistance or mechanic duration reductions. These are the kind of talents I describe as “arms races,” where you need a counter to the ability someone else is using to try to counter you. We’d rather reel the whole thing in a little and make things like crowd control or dispels as powerful or as weak as they need to be baseline rather than assuming you have talents that make them less powerful.

I approve of this kind of change.  One of the joys of low-level PvP in Wrath is that there aren’t a lot of counters available to different abilities, so those abilities actually work.  As you level this changes into moves and countermoves and counter-countermoves, all trying to get something to stick.

Don’t get me wrong – some of these changes are going to suck.  Crowd control is going to become more powerful.  Dispels are going to become more necessary.  Things are going to be different.

But different doesn’t mean worse.

PVP VS PVE

One of the ideas that filtered through my Cataclysm news defenses was that there were no longer going to be PvP-only trees, that this was never a deliberate design decision and that any tree should be viable in nearly all situations. Personally, I like that goal and hope they get there, though balancing the different trees against each other in PvE is certainly a challenge I don’t think they’ll get correct out of the gate.

My hope is that the converse is true, that there will no longer be PvE-only trees.  I’d like to see more Demonology warlocks in battlegrounds.  I’d like to see more Fire mages and Arms warriors.  The fun talents that are getting added in to the trees could help with the viability of PvP specs within them… but only time will tell that.

One of the complaints that Ghostcrawler is addressing in his response is specific to PvE – namely, that in order to get to the more advanced talents in their spec, they have to take talents that would have been previously considered PvP talents, or talents that don’t directly contribute to the main specialization of the class.  DPS raiding builds are taking survival talents just to get to the next level of DPS talents, which is very much not the model used in Wrath.  The trees are big enough that you can — and probably should — spend every last talent point on maximizing your DPS.  Those few places where you don’t have any DPS options in your build (like level 3-4 of Deep Destro) forces you to take a talent that enhances survivability or control — felt like a waste.

But in Cataclysm, raiding builds will have survival talents.  There’s no way around that with the ways the trees are structured — you can pick up all the DPS talents without a problem, but you have to get some others along the way.  This feels weird to us now because it’s so antithetical to the current raiding mentality.

Consider the difference between PvP and PvE priorities here.  In PvP, you pick up survival talents, defensive talents, control talents — and then throughput talents.  A PvP Warlock goes and gets Improved Howl of Fury and skips Death’s Embrace.  The DPS talents are not an afterthought, but they’re also not a priority.  You don’t sacrifice everything else to get to them.   A Warlock should not give up Soul Link for PvP to pick up Improved Shadow Bolt, for instance.  But in raiding?  If you’re a Destruction Warlock who takes Soul Link instead of buffing your Imp’s damage, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

So while PvE’s talent builds will require a shift in thinking, not much has really changed in PvP.  A lot of talents are gone, but they’re either rolled into other abilities or no longer necessary, but the philosophy is basically the same.  The new abilities look fun, but they need to be tested in combat to see how well they’ll work.

Cataclysm won’t bring us some kind of nirvana where the same spec will perform well in both PvE and PvP.  You’ll still need to make choices to focus your talents in one direction or another, and those choices are going to be challenging ones for PvE builds.

But for PvP builds, the changes look like they’re all for the better.

Let’s see what they look like when Cataclysm launches.

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Preparing For Rated Battlegrounds

I confess, I was nervous when Rated Battlegrounds were announced as part of Cataclysm. The idea sounded all well and good, but the devil is in the details of implementation. How would ratings be assigned? How would losses be handled? What would this mean for the current setup? I had dozens of questions without any answers.

We have more answers now than we did then, and while there are still many, many unknowns, the shape of Rated Battlegrounds is starting to coalesce into something we can have a conversation about.

So what do we know so far?

RATED BATTLEGROUNDS ARE A RAID, NOT A RANDOM

The defining feature of rated battlegrounds is that they will require you to assemble a full team, like a raid. You don’t have to be in the same guild, but you will have to assemble your team before you head in. You can’t do this on your own.

In other words, rated BGs require a premade.

This shift mirrors the current PvE philosophy, where you can queue for dungeons and heroics solo, but raids require a group. The new reward system (which I’ll talk about later) reinforces this separation, giving the highest tier of points to raids, rated BGs, and arena, and a lower tier to heroics and regular BGs.

What does this mean for us?

  • Playing in rated BGs will require a network. We have to start expanding our friends list to include good PvPers who can fill out your team, much like finding good tanks and healers.
  • Don’t wait; start joining premades now. This is the best way to learn how to work together as a team, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and expand your network. Even partial premades will teach you a lot about working as a team.
  • Start making guild plans now. If there is interest, consider creating a guild BG Leader position to organize and lead PvP teams. Just like raid teams need a raid leader, rated BG teams will need organization and leadership.

BATTLEGROUND SIZE MATTERS

A corollary to treating rated BGs like raids is that the size of your team will dictate which battleground you fight in, not your preference or random chance. So if you have:

  • 10-man: Warsong Gulch, Twin Peaks
  • 15-man: Arathi Basin, Eye of the Storm, Strand of the Ancients
  • 25-man: Alterac Valley
  • 40-man (unrated): Isle of Conquest, Battle for Gilneas

Alterac Valley is currently a 40-man bg, but in Cataclysm it will become 25-man. I wondered about this when it was announced, but in the context of Rated BGs are Raids it makes sense. AV will become the 25-man raider’s battleground of choice. It’s a brilliant move by Blizzard – they needed a BG that 25 man teams could run, so why not take the most PvE-like one and make it available to them? This way both 10 and 25 man raiding teams can hit the bgs on off nights or after a raid. AV is going to remain a popular BG because of this change.

The biggest problem I see is that it appears not all rated battlegrounds are going to be available at all times.  I’ve seen conflicting posts about this.  Some say that they will have a featured battleground, much like the old Holiday Weekend BGs, that will offer extra points and help consolidate players into a single queue.  This would be ideal for constructing dedicated teams.  What would be less ideal is having only a single rated battleground queue available at one time and rotating between them, which would require some tough staffing decisions.

My hunch is that a core of 15 players is going to be the team size of choice for serious PvPers.  This gives you access to 5 of the 6 rated battlegrounds, with the flexibility of pugging for Alterac Valley.

Here’s what this means to us.

  • If you are a raider, get familiar with WSG and AV now, and TP when Cata hits. Your guild may want to run these three as a warmup to a night’s raid, as an alt run, or as a regular event. Rated Battlegrounds will be an easy way to pick up gear and gems, help with guild leveling, and with the new currency system can contribute to PvE gear too.
  • PvP teams should try to size themselves to run 15-mans consistently. That gives you 5 bgs to rotate through on a regular basis, and puts AV within reach with server pugs. When a few folks are out the 10 mans are still available, and if you have 20 you can split into two 10s.
  • If you are practicing or learning BGs, get the basic achievements now. If people start asking for credentials to get into pugs, which I don’t like but am sure it’ll happen, you should at least have a Victory under your belt.  Veteran (100 wins) of a battleground will have a lot of weight, and Mastery of that battleground will make you a hot commodity.

We’ll have to see how the queues are really implemented before we can plan our teams out.  Having a flexible roster, rotating people in and out through the night, splitting teams, and getting good puggers will all be important skills of your guild’s battleground leader.

NO RATING PENALTIES FOR LOSING

We don’t know much yet about how ratings will be calculated, but we do know that losses will not lower your rating. This is a very good thing.

If you join a team that is struggling, it doesn’t lower your rating. You can try out different combinations, experiment with different strategies, and be a social networker without it affecting your score.

I’m really encouraged by this. By removing the penalty of failure, Blizzard makes it easier to bring casual PvPers into the game and makes losses more like a raid wipe. Imagine the opposite scenario: what if raid wipes caused loss of your raiding ability or standing, say by destroying gear?  Other games have incurred that sort of penalty, but we’ve thankfully moved on in WoW.

Speaking of gear…

GETTING PVP GEAR

The PvP gear grind in Cataclysm continues the trend we’ve seen in Wrath of consolidating tiers in both PvP and PvE , with PvE moving towards a point-based system.

In short:

  • Hero (PvE) and Honor (PvP) points will be the low tier, easier to get rewards from normal battlegrounds and dungeons.  There will be a cap on how many you can own, but no cap on how fast you can earn them.
  • Valor (PvE) and Conquest (PvP) points will be the high tier, harder to get rewards from raids, rated battlegrounds, and Arena.  There will be both a cap on how many you can own and how many you can earn in a period of time.
  • You will not be able to stockpile Valor and Conquest points between seasons/raid releases.  When a new tier of gear comes out, your high tier points will convert to lower tier points.

So far, these changes unify the two systems and honestly don’t introduce a lot of changes in how you gear for PvP.  Regular BGs will give you honor points to get started, and Rated BGs/Arena will give you top end gear.  A nice benefit is that you won’t lose your Arena, er, Conquest points when a new season comes out, but that they’ll convert to Honor points instead.  So you can go buy gems or something.

About that top end gear:

  • Personal ratings will no longer be required for top-tier PvP Armor.  (And thank goodness, since this was a huge barrier to participating in Arenas.)
  • PvP weapons will be divided into two tiers, equivalent to those gained by raiding on normal or Heroic difficulties.
  • Normal PvP weapons can be purchased with Conquest points and no minimum personal rating.
  • Heroic PvP weapons can be purchased with Conquest points and require a minimum personal rating.

Removing the personal rating requirements for PvP armor is huge.  HUGE.  This levels the playing field between players for both Rated and Arena play.  The rating requirements on armor in the current system created a self-perpetuating gap between those with it and those without; this removes that dichotomy nicely.  Keeping the rating requirements on 3 slots (instead of 12) means that the rating will reflect more on your skill than on you outgearing your opponents.

The caps discussed above are welcome changes to PvE, and already familiar to PvPers. We’re used to having the Honor Cap (and hitting it all the time).  Having to spend those Triumph badges means I’ll have to finally buckle down and either get those last few heirloom shoulders, a bevy of heirloom trinkets, or … what, Crusader Orbs?  (I assume I can turn them into cash somehow.)

The other cap, a cap over time on the Valor and Conquest points, are in place to limit the amount of upper tier gear you can get in any given week.  Ghostcrawler described it as making the system “less grindy,” which I think it does.  Once you’ve hit your cap for the week, you’re done.

No word yet on if PvP gear will be available in Tol Barad, the new PvP questing zone, like there was in Wintergrasp. Crafted PvP gear, however, should be quite good at the start of Cataclysm.

STATISTICS CHANGES

The stat changes in Cataclysm are huge.  Dizzying.  Some stats are going away, others are going to be used differently… here’s where we still don’t know enough to make good plans.

One thing we do know, though, is that there will be more Stamina on armor.  A LOT more.  Health pools are going to increase in relation to damage output, which is great news for battlegrounds.  Burst damage in PvP has been a problem throughout Wrath, and a slower pace will be a welcome change.

Interestingly, the place where I’ve seen this slower pace the most has been in the level 19 twink bracket, where health pools are also huge in comparison to the damage done.  If you want to get a feel for how Cataclysm battlegrounds are going to play, visit that bracket.

CROSS-BATTLEGROUP BATTLEGROUNDS

Battlegrounds, rated and unrated, are going to pull players and teams not just from your Battlegroup, but from all servers in your region.  This should even out the queues and give you someone to play pretty much all the time.  It should also erase faction imbalances within a battlegroup, which is freaking awesome all around.

My only concern is with latency, as this potentially adds another leg between you and your opponent (between your server and theirs.)  There are a lot of technical ways around that, though (moving both clients to a neutral server, peer to peer, etc.) so it remains to be seen if this has any impact on actual play.

And for twinks?  This makes freezing your experience viable again.  No more destination battlegroups!  If you want to try experience-capped brackets, but don’t want to change servers, now’s a good time to start making a twink.

BATTLEGROUND SCRIMMAGES

Blizzard calls it “war games mode,” but that makes me think of a nice game of chess, so I’ll call it scrimmage mode.  Scrimmage mode lets you challenge other teams to a battleground fight.  Faction doesn’t matter.

The experience and feedback you can get from this is invaluable.  Set up two 10-mans and run Warsong Gulch or Twin Peaks — and then compare notes.  Who did what well?  Who did what poorly?

Scrimmage mode — fine, WAR GAMES mode — is going to really be a powerful tool.

Even if it makes me want to play chess.

GUILD LEVELING

Guilds will progress in Cataclysm, gaining perks and… other… stuff?  as their players do stuff with the guild.  The details are kinda fuzzy, but one thing is clear — PvP will contribute to guild leveling, hopefully on equal footing with PvE.

If there was a case to be made for harnessing your guild’s latent PvP tendencies under a guild Battleground Leader, this would be it.  Do PvP with your guild, help the guild level.

Seems like a good thing to me!

(Now if only we knew more about what those levels actually do…)

CASUAL BATTLEGROUNDS ARE STAYING

The most welcome news to me is that causal, non-rated battlegrounds aren’t going anywhere.

I like being able to log in after a hard day of work and relax in the battlegrounds.  I don’t want to stress out about it, I just want to PvP to unwind.

And I still can.  Thank goodness.

CATACLYSM IS COMING

Right now, each week seems to bring us news on Cataclysm: new changes to classes, professions, game mechanics. A lot of it seems to be a tease, something to keep players interested as Wrath winds down.

But enough information has come out now that you can start taking steps, even simple steps, to get ready for Cataclysm’s inevitable release.  You can start thinking of battlegrounds as a group activity instead of a solitary one.  You can start networking with other PvPers in your guild an on your server.  You can start putting together premades, or even found a PvP guild.

Rated Battlegrounds are coming.  In a few short months, they’ll be here.  When they were first announced, I was nervous.  Now?

I can’t wait.  Bring ‘em on.

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Healers and Battleground Roles

If you can heal, you should be healing in a battleground. That is the rule. No matter how unfair it is to the players involved, no matter the other strengths of the class or player involved, if you can heal, you should.

Forget about the awesome PvP abilities of some of these hybrid classes. Who needs Enhancement Shamans powering a node’s defense, Retribution Paladins dominating front-line combat, or Shadow Priests destroying swaths of the enemy? Never mind that Feral Druids are some of the best flag runners and node cappers in the game!  If those players want us to win they should be healing!

Do you see how silly this attitude is?

This ridiculous strawman what happens when you take an observation – healers win battlegrounds – and turn it into a prescription – everyone who can heal, should. Carried to this extreme it becomes patently absurd.

Yet, even though it is absurd, you’ll hear well-meaning people say it. I’ve probably even said it once or twice.  But the scarcity of healers is no excuse for pigeonholing players into roles they either choose not to play, or frankly aren’t very good at.

The source of the problem lies in the lack of defined roles in a battleground. You don’t select Healer, Damage, or Crowd Control when queuing for a battleground – you just show up. Random chance governs your healing team, if you get one at all. So when you look around at the class compostion of your team, you see the potential healer pool. The actual team is far smaller.

Good healers win battlegrounds. That statement carries with it a terrible burden of responsibility that no player should be saddled with, especially because it is only part of the whole truth.  I propose a new axiom: Good players win battlegrounds. Players who know how to lead, players who know how to fight, players who know how to control the enemy, and yes – players who know how to heal.

Battleground raid roles are not as simple as PvE raid roles.  The Tank-Healer-Damage trinity simply doesn’t apply to PvP, and is instead replaced by situational roles for each battleground.  Within the smallest battleground, Warsong Gulch, I can think of a dozen roles in two different configurations.  Zone coverage would be broken down into Flagroom Defense, Midfield / Offensive Support, and then Offense / Flag Carriers, each subdivided into Control, Damage, and Healing.  Or you could abandon zones and go with task-based role assignment: Flag Carrier, FC Support, Midfield Control, EFC Hunters.

However, trying to communicate these kinds of complex role assignments to a random PuG before a battle is madness.  The reason Simple Battleground Strategies work is because they present a way for your team to work together quickly, easily, and independent of raid composition.  Unfortunately, that simple way of thinking bleeds into how we consider healers and healing-capable classes because there is no refinement within them to consider the other roles a hybrid class can play in the battleground.  Good hybrid players go and perform those roles within the structure of the simple strategies anyways, but it would be nice if we started seeing more refined roles that didn’t just go “Healer / Not Healer.”

I think that the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds in Cataclysm will have a dramatic impact of how we think about our strategies.  PuGs are still going to happen, but I really expect to see more battlefield organization through guilds and general PvP alliances.  The incentive to organize is going to be there, so people will be thinking deeper and longer about how their players should work together and the roles they fill. This is really exciting.  We could be on the cusp of a renaissance of battleground strategies as more players get involved.

We could also be on the verge of losing one of the great charms of battlegrounds, namely the casual, laid-back nature that appeals to many busy players now.  PuGs facing premades can be very frustrating for those on the disorganized side.  Sometimes, you don’t want something serious, you just want to go pwn some Horde or Alliance, and having to execute a complex strategy is not how you want to unwind.  My biggest fear with the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds is that the casual aspect of bgs will be lost.  I am holding judgement until we see more about the implementation, and see how that implementation changes people’s playstyle.  It has tremendous potential both for good and ill.

There’s an unfair expectation on hybrid classes to heal in battlegrounds right now.  My hope is that Rated Battlegrounds will bring about a greater recognition and respect for the other specs those hybrids bring to your team, and that those healers who are there are playing because they enjoy it, not out of some sense of obligation or guilt.

Only time will tell if that hope will bear fruit.

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The Christmas Truce

This game continues to surprise me.

I was playing Wintergrasp tonight, Christmas Eve, while waiting for my young son to fall asleep. The Horde was putting up great resistance down south, and I was outnumbered at Westspark, which meant I was dying.  A lot.  Two pallys and two rogues against a warlock and a death knight?  Yeah.  We lost Westspark, but we won the battle — while we were contesting the workshops, a catapult zerg managed to take down the walls and breach the inner keep.  I was flying off to collect some embers from the Cauldron of Flames when I got a whisper from a level 1 gnome, thanking me for a good game but lamenting that it was over so soon.

I admit, this took me by surprise.

It took me even more by surprise that I actually knew the Horde rogue in question, since she had killed me several times in that battle — and in earlier ones, too.  I don’t know all the Horde players on Durotan, but I know a few, and Rokasa was one of them.  We had a great conversation about PvP and Wintergrasp and how excited we both are to play goblins in Cataclysm, and after a few minutes she excused herself to go back to playing in Wintergrasp.

I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and British troops set aside their differences and celebrated Christmas together, an event which happened repeatedly throughout World War I.

I know why Blizzard set up the factions of Warcraft the way they did, and why inter-faction communication will likely never be possible.  Being able to talk to people means you can find common ground with them, and common ground between the Horde and Alliance isn’t in the best interests of the Warcraft game.

But it’s Christmas.  And where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It was really nice to have a conversation with an opponent and be reminded about how we’re all just people who enjoy playing this crazy game.  We may represent the Alliance or the Horde, but we’re all people.

So if you find yourself PvPing this Christmas Day, consider observing a Christmas Truce of your own.  Roll a level 1 alt and talk to the people you fight across the trenches, the ones you normally see with red over their heads.

You just might find you have more in common than you think.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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The Cataclysm Bucket List

This post will discuss details of the recently-announced WoW expansion. If you are avoiding spoilers, stop reading now.

This weekend, Blizzard announced details of the next World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm. From rated battlegrounds and the return of PvP rank titles, to major overhauls of gear itemization, to major reworking of Warlock class mechanics, there’s been a lot of great news to absorb and get excited about.

I may have some things to say about the battleground and Warlock changes later, once the dust has settled. But while most of the changes affect how we’ll play in the future, one change affects how we play now.

And that change is the Cataclysm itself.

The fundamental premise of the expansion is that the face of Azeroth is irrevocably altered by the return of Deathwing. All of the old zones are getting revamped and updated: some completely redesigned, others just getting reworked. Empty zones like Azshara will be populated, hated zones like Desolace will be given a makeover, and established zones like Elwynn Forest will get an update. Furthermore, the phasing engine deployed in Wrath that alters the landscape and opens up quest hubs will see a lot of use. So things are going to be very, very different in Azeroth and Kalimdor, which is going to be great! I am so glad that the Old World is going to get some attention.

But it also means that the current content has an expiration date. If you don’t experience it soon, you won’t experience it at all. The clock is ticking. Cataclysm may not be out for a year or more, but it will come. The old world’s days are numbered.

So a lot of my thought this weekend has dwelt on what things I would like to accomplish before the Azeroth I’ve come to know kicks the bucket. A Cataclysm Bucket List, if you will.

Here’s what I’ve got so far.

1. Tour all the zones that are going to radically change, taking pictures and fishing in each one. I love how each zone has a distinct feeling to it. That feeling stocks with you as you adventure through it, and I will miss many of these zones — the quiet beauty of Azshara, the pastoral hominess of Southshore, the purple docks of Auberdine. I already have the Explorer title, but a nostalgia fishing tour is in order.

2. Visit all the dungeons that are going to change. Onyxia’s Lair will be updated before the Cataclysm, so that’s on the list, but other classic dungeons like Shadowfang Keep are also going to get updated. Time to solo them while I can.

3. Go through all the different racial starting zones. I’ve played all of the classes to level 10, but not all of the races, and the starting areas are going to be updated. In Durotar’s case, the update could be quite substantial, so I should level out an Orc or Troll to see what it’s like. I assume that, aside from the opening cinematic, the two races share the same quests, much like the Dwarves and Gnomes do. If that’s the case I can just do Durotar once.

The only other race I haven’t played is the Forsaken, and while I’m not really looking forward to it, I should see what it’s like growing up undead.

4. See the old world (10-60) from the other faction’s perspective. This one is more daunting, because I am a slow, slow leveler. I have enough trouble leveling my Alliance alts, and they’re decked out in the finest heirloom gear I can get! Some of it is time; I really enjoy playing my main, so I spend a lot of my limited playtime playing her. But even on my main, leveling was a slow process for me. After months of play, my baby Druid is only level 41. So rolling Horde, and sticking with it to level 60, is going to be a real challenge.

There are several achievements I considered adding to this list but did not; Loremaster and Classic Dungeonmaster, for example, or completing my Dreadmist set. I’m already trying to do too much by even considering leveling a Horde alt past the starting zone. But I also have to be honest with myself — those things don’t matter as much to me. I don’t have the desire to seek out every last quest, or level one of every race and class to 80. None of us have unlimited playtime, and managing the time we do have playing this game is essential. We make choices every time we log in about what we are going to do next, be it raiding end-game content, collecting pets or mounts, leveling an alt, grinding a rep, or even just fishing. These choices define our game, and us.

While I’m sad to see the old world go, I’m glad I got to experience one side of it once all the way through, and will love to see the other side before the Cataclysm takes it away.

So . What’s on your list? Anything else I should consider?

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