Monthly Archives: April 2011

Children’s Week 2011 and the School of Hard Knocks

It’s unfortunate that Noblegarden and Children’s Week are so close together. The combination of two holidays back-to-back, and the pressure people may put on themselves to complete them (or complete them multiple times on alts) adds to the general stress of everyone’s least favorite holiday achievement, The School of Hard Knocks.

The School of Hard Knocks is many people’s stumbling block in accomplishing the meta achievement, What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been, and while the reward from that achievement doesn’t quite have the luster it once did – 310% flying can be bought for 5000 gold now, after all – it’s still a big accomplishment.

If you are going to attempt the School of Hard Knocks this year, let me point you back to my School of Hard Knocks guide from last year, complete with maps, videos, and as much advice as I could cram into a blog post.

The achievement hasn’t changed this year – you still have to perform some battleground tasks that many other people will be trying for. The one place I would recommend you bring friends to help out would be Eye of the Storm; that is a highly competitive environment, with some people actively griefing members of their own faction. And by griefing, I mean actively preventing you from returning flags, not just taking the flag and holding on to it, or running it back themselves. Report those people.

If you are a PvPer and a battleground enthusiast, I leave it up to you to consider if you’re going to take the next week off from BGs, or instead go tear up the newbies. I’ll remind you of both my modest and vicious proposals from last year, and while Southshore/Tarren Mill might not be the best place for Alliance to stage an attack these days. I’m sure you can be creative and just invade Undercity instead.

And don’t forget! If you’re in full Vicious Gladiator gear, go get an orphan!

Because nothing is more fun than having someone think you’re an easy kill, and then turning the tables on them.

16 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Battleground Changes in 4.1

Patch 4.1 is going to bring some substantial changes to battlegrounds. The patch notes are up in a relatively final format, so I finally feel comfortable talking about them.
Let’s take a look.

HONOR GAINS DOUBLED

The rate at which Honor Points are earned has been doubled.

Thank goodness for this change. When the new system debuted at in 4.0.1, we assumed that the reason Honor was so hard to grind was because we weren’t at 85. Once we hit 85, it became clear that no, it just took a lot of time to get gear.

Then Tol Barad happened, and … well… let’s just say that if you got gear during that week, your grind was short, and if not, it was long. It felt about as tough as the grind in mid-Wrath, before Blizzard adjusted it to take as much time as gearing up for Heroics.

This will be good for PvPers gearing up. It may have unintended side effects when combined with the new Justice Point conversions, however. We’ll have to see how it works.

Speaking of conversions…

PvP AND PvE POINT CONVERSIONS

Conquest Points are now purchasable from the Valor Quartermasters at 250 Conquest Points per 250 Valor Points.

Honor Points are now purchasable from the Justice Trade Goods vendors at 250 Honor Points per 375 Justice Points.

Justice Points are now purchasable from the Honor Trade Goods vendors at 250 Justice Points per 375 Honor Points.

I’ve written about this change at some length before. Good? Bad? Tough to say until we see how the Honor and Justice gains pan out; my guess is that regular Battlegrounds will be a great way to get DPS into Justice Gear.

FOCUSED/BRUTAL ASSAULT

This change is aimed at Flag Carriers in WSG and Twin Peaks, and is going to make their jobs more difficult with the aim of shortening games.

After 3 minutes of both teams having the flag, both flag carriers will get Focused Assault, which increases damage taken by 10%.

Every minute afterward, an additional stack will be applied to increase damage taken by an additional 10%.

After 7 minutes, Brutal Assault will be applied in place of Focused Assault. In additional to the damage debuff, this debuff also caps the player’s movement speed at 100%. The damage taken debuff works the same and will add 10% to the debuff up to a maximum of 100% damage taken.

My take on this is that it is directed entirely at rated battleground matches, in an attempt to make the matches move faster. A good FC/2-healer team can keep themselves alive for some time, which prolongs the match. Most of the changes we’ll see to battlegrounds have this theme – make it easier to attack, harder to defend. This will have interesting implications in all brackets.

It also is a direct blow to Druid FCs, as their speed in Travel Form helps them be superior flag carriers compared to other classes. Damage Avoidance will now be key, so expect to see Blood DKs and Prot Warriors as FCs even more often.

10 v 10 ARATHI BASIN

Arathi Basin is now available as a 10v10-player rated Battleground.

While this is going to be weird, it’s necessary to add some variety to rated play. Right now there are two CTF maps and one Resource map; this adds in a second Resource map.  With the loss of the 15s, there needs to be more variety in Rated Battlegrounds, and this helps quickly add AB back into play.

FASTER FLAG CAPS IN AB/BfG

Flags should now cap in 7 seconds, down from 8.

This is another rated change. By taking a second off of the cap timer, bases should flip a little more often, which would invoke new graveyard conditions and resurrection vectors, making for a more dynamic game.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: BATTLE FOR GILNEAS

Players who die at a control point that they own will now be teleported to the next closest graveyard, instead of the one at which they died.

If a player’s team owns the Mine and Waterworks, and dies at Waterworks, they will be teleported to the Mine.

If an Alliance player’s team only owns Lighthouse, and dies at Lighthouse, they will respawn at their base.

If a Horde player’s team owns Waterworks and Mine, and dies at Lighthouse, they will respawn at Waterworks.

The simple summary is: you will always be sent away from the base you die at, no matter if you control it.

This is a substantial change to make this battleground more dynamic, designed to make node defense more difficult by sending the defenders away from the node (just like the attackers), allowing a larger attacking force to actually overwhelm a node, instead of having the resurrection wave of the defenders keep them up.

Look at the example they used above:

This is a departure from the Arathi Basin paradigm, where you resurrect near the node you are defending. Attackers will still need to fight at the flag, but defenders will need to coordinate reinforcements between nodes. Instead of stationary teams, you’ll have to constantly replenish each base’s forces.

In some ways, this is an anti-healer change. Stationing a dedicated healer at each node in the current design allows a defending force to keep the base. This change will send the healer away from the base, allowing the attackers more time to kill the defending DPS. Right now killing a healer only gives them a window of about 15-45 seconds to burn as many people down as they can, and that’s not much of a window.

I have a few questions about how the resurrection vectors will work in certain cases (what if Alliance controls Mine but not LH or WW, for instance? Do they go back to the spawn point?) but will have to see how this shakes out.

Keep in mind non-rated play will be affected, just like rated matches, so coordination of team strength in a PuG will be key to success.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: TWIN PEAKS

More changes to the graveyards and resurrection vectors, courtesy of rated battlegrounds:

Players will now only spawn at their base graveyard when they die in the enemy base.

Defending players will respawn at the middle graveyard.

Midfield players will respawn at the middle graveyard.

Attacking players will respawn at their base graveyard.

This is an interesting change.

First, it’s interesting because it reminds me that I still haven’t finished my guide to Twin Peaks, but I’m seriously lacking the motivation to do WSG 2.0 when WSG 1.0 is still so interesting!

Also, it’s interesting because it’s very deliberately making it harder to defend your base and the FC. No longer do defenders go back to the base graveyard, instead they move up to midfield. Balancing that change, however, is a huge penalty to attackers – getting sent entirely across the map, instead of rezzing at midfield.

Here’s a quick and dirty diagram of how it will work:

There are two problems these changes are trying to solve.

  1. Defenders, and by defenders I mean defending healers, currently can get back into the base, and back to the FC, very quickly. This change will make it easier to take down the FC.
  2. Sending attackers back to midfield was an insufficient penalty, allowing a team that focused heavily on offense to weight the field towards the enemy base, causing a turtle. (Defenders would rez by base, offense maintains pressure to keep them there.) This change makes the field more dynamic.

Frankly, this is going to mean more fights in midfield, which given some of the TP turtles I’ve seen, might not be a bad thing. This fits in very strongly with the anti-defense theme we’re seeing in this patch, which might make rated battlegrounds more exciting – but it also might be like introducing nets to football.

One item of note – I don’t see anything about fixes to the Leap of Faith exploit some people have reported in Twin Peaks. (Priest dies, rezzes, pulls FC up to GY, FC can’t be killed.) Hopefully that will be addressed in this patch, too.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: WARSONG GULCH

This is the graveyard change that will have the greatest impact on players, as WSG is available at level 10, while Twin Peaks and Battle For Gilneas only open up at 85.

The graveyards outside both bases have been lowered in elevation and are no longer on the same plane as the main flag room entrances to either respective base.

When this change was originally announced, there was uproar because of the context in which it was presented – as an anti-camping change. It’s not. If anything, it will make graveyard camping easier, not harder.

No, this is purely a change for rated battleground play, and it’s the first change where rated play is going to dramatically impact non-rated play, including leveling characters. Let’s take a look.

This is how the Warsong Gulch graveyard currently operates.

The GY is on the same level as the main structure, which allows for numerous vectors when characters resurrect. They can rush to the flag room to assist with defense (about 15 seconds), they can assist with graveyard defense (immediate), they can go to the balcony (about 18 seconds), or they can leap down to midfield.

The proposed changes moves the GY down onto its own level, like so:

This change eliminates a number of options from the GY, most notably going directly back to the flag room. Resurrecting characters will be unable to get back into the base without going down to midfield and then running around to the tunnel or ramp entrances.

I hate to say it, but this change is really targeted at healers in rated battlegrounds. Rated BGs should have 2-3 healers, and with the current layout, healers are only out of a FR defense for about 30-45 seconds. This change is to open the window of opportunity for the attackers to take down the FC once the healers are gone.

As for ganking? Well, this change actually makes it easier to camp the enemy graveyard, especially with multiple healers:

Place your ranged up top, your melee down below, and your healers out of range of the GY. Once in position, your healers are essentially untouchable, and your DPS can grind the opposing team until they give up. Contrast that with the current layout, where you can directly engage your attackers if they are on the same level, or retreat out of range of ranged attackers firing through the hill below you.

Don’t believe the hype. This change is not about graveyard camping.

This is the first change made for Rated PvP where I think it’s going to have a negative effect upon the non-rated battlegrounds, especially leveling battlegrounds. It takes away the strategic depth of the Graveyard and limits player choices to essentially two routes – back up the tunnel, or out into midfield on offense. The lowest, non-mounted brackets will find this a real challenge to get back to the flag room, which can often mean the difference between a cap and no cap when everyone runs at the same speed (except Druids and Shamans.)

I’m not saying this change shouldn’t be made; I don’t play enough rated battlegrounds to know if they’re too defensive right now or not.

But this is going to have impacts on lowbie PvP that might – and I stress might – make WSG a lot less fun to play. We’ll have to see.

RESILIENCE SCALING CHANGES

Resilience scaling has been modified for linear returns, as opposed to increasing returns. Under the new formula, going from 30 resilience to 40 resilience gives players the same increase to survivability as going from 0 to 10. Resilience now scales in the same way armor and magic resistances do. A player with 32.5% damage reduction from resilience in 4.0.6 should see their damage reduction unchanged in 4.1. Those with less than 32.5% will gain slightly. Those with more will lose some damage reduction, increasingly so as their resilience climbs.

I’ve posted on this before, as well – the stat will change so that the effect of the stat becomes linear, instead of the stat. Oh, just go read the post. :-)

Overall this is a positive change. This will improve the survivability of people with lower Resilience ratings. That first piece of PvP gear should feel like it matters. Improving survivability early on while gearing will be a very good thing.

The higher levels of Resilience will be less effective, though, but again – that’s probably a good thing. Too much Resilience can go to your head.

UNDOCUMENTED ENCHANTMENT CHANGES

These aren’t from the patch release notes, but rather a compilation of changes discovered on the PTR at TwinkInfo. To sum up:

  • BC enchants which require an item level of 35 will now also require a character level of 25. (This removes the +15 Resilience, +6 Stats and +150 Health enchants from the 10-24 brackets.)
  • Several items, like the Haliscan Jacket, have had their item levels lowered, so they can’t take BC enchants anymore.
  • Wrath enchants will now require a minimum level of 50. This impacts the 49 bracket significantly.
  • Netherweave bandages and higher will have level requirements.
  • MP5 enchants have been converted into Spirit enchants.
  • HP5 enchants have been converted into Stamina enchants.

Most of these changes will actually make it a little easier to make a new twink, removing the effectiveness of some of the grandfathered items. While I’m a little disappointed I can’t bust out my Inferno Robe with +150 Health on Cynderblock anymore, I’ll get over it.

(Thanks to Psynister for the tip on this one.)

OTHER CHANGES

There are a host of achievement changes in 4.1, mostly tuning and bugfixes. PvP trinkets and Every Man For Himself will get a new spell effect, Escape Artist is no longer sharing a cooldown.

But the changes above are substantial enough. The smaller battlegrounds are starting to feel the effects of rated play, and we may see more changes coming to other old favorites soon because of it. This is new territory for battlegrounds, which means it’s a little scary and exciting all mixed together.

Let’s see how it all works out.

21 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Arena Grand Master

The best twink trinket for low levels is the Arena Grand Master. More than any other item, the AGM marks a character as a serious twink, having put in the days, weeks, or even months to get an absurdly powerful trinket for low-level PvP. Anyone can get the Inherited Insignia of the Alliance. Only twinks consider getting the AGM.

In order to complete it, you need to loot 12 (that’s twelve) Arena Master trinkets from the Arena Treasure Chest dropped by Short John Mithril in the Gurubashi Arena in The Cape of Stranglethorn. Every three hours, this crazy goblin comes and drops a chest of loot on the floor of the arena.

So you have 8 chances each day to try to win the Arena Master trinket. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, well, pretty bad.

The first part of the bad news is that the Gurubashi Arena floor is a free-for-all area. As soon as you step foot down there anyone can, and will, attack you. This means competition between twinks can be quite fierce.

The second is that there are two achievements based on getting the Arena Grand Master, so endgame characters will be trying for it, too.

The combination of these two issues makes getting the Arena Grand Master a challenge if you don’t have a guild who can help you out. (And even if you do have a guild like that, it’s still a challenge.)

But overcoming challenges is what playing a twink is all about.

I learned a lot during my quest to get the Arena Grand Master.

  • Park your toon in the Arena, preferably by Short John Mithril. This way you don’t have to corpse-run your way back into the Arena every time you want to check.
  • Check every three hours you’re available. If level 85 characters are there, you can try to strike a deal with them – or ninja the trinket. Log out if you know it’s hopeless.
  • Even if you’re late, check to see if the chest is still there. I would often forget and check in at five or ten past the hour, and discover no one had taken the chest yet. Once, I logged in 45 minutes late and still got it!
  • Be friendly. You’ll get to know a lot of the twink players and guilds on your server when farming the AGM, and often they’ll help you out after their current project is over. You’ll also get a chance to see how they act. Smart twink guilds don’t let their players act like jerks in the Arena, because it’s prime recruiting grounds for new twinks.
  • You can ninja the trinket away from higher level characters. Wait until they are in combat with another player and see if you can get over to the chest without them stopping you. Another favorite tactic is to let yourself be killed, then resurrect right on top of the chest.
  • The Arena Master trinket is Bind on Pickup, so you have to accept the binding to loot it. Be ready for this. Have your mouse in the right spot to click “Yes,” and spam that click. Don’t be caught unprepared – autoloot should be on, and you should click that button.
  • Pick your times wisely. I found I had great success logging in right as I was logging in for work – 9AM on weekday mornings – and then again at lunchtime or mid-afternoon. Others swear by the 3 and 6 AM slots, but my sleep schedule doesn’t allow me to do those. By contrast, Friday at 9PM would be a madhouse in the Arena, and was best served by bringing lots of guildies.
I remember my very first Arena Master, and how impressed I was that I finally got something out of that chest! Then the sinking feeling hit – I was going to have to do it many, many times.

Eventually, though, you get the 12 Arena Master trinkets and can turn them in to the crazy goblin for an exceptional piece of work – 120 extra health, and a bubble that absorbs 2000 damage. It’s pretty awesome.

But then your work is only partly done, because you’ll probably want a second one. If you’re Human, you definitely the second one, and even if you’re not, you still probably still want it for when your PvP trinket is on CD. And for walking around your home city, because an extra 240 health is really cool at level 19.

Getting the AGM seems hard at first, but it’s relatively easy once you get started. It’s a big task, and it requires commitment, but it’s not difficult per se. It just requires dedication and persistence.

If you haven’t tried for the Arena Grand Master before, I recommend you try it. It’s an interesting, unique experience in WoW, and one worth having.

Good luck.

1 Comment

Filed under Green Tinted Goggles

The Currency Conversions of Warcraft Patch 4.1

World of Warcraft patch 4.1 brings with it an interesting change: conversions between PvP and PvE currencies. From the latest PTR notes:

  • Honor is now purchasable from the Justice Commodities Vendor at 250 Honor per 375 Justice.
  • Justice is now purchasable from the Honor Commodities Vendor at 250 Justice per 375 Honor.
  • Conquest is now purchasable from the Valor vendor at 250 Conquest per 250 Valor.

You could summarize this as the lower tier has a bidirectional exchange rate of 3:2 between PvP and PvE, and the higher tier has a 1:1 exchange rate from PvE to PvP, with no corresponding exchange between PvP to PvE.

These proposed changes are quite interesting. These four currencies are some of the primary rewards for endgame player, and as the different currencies have become increasingly unified over the course of the game, changes in one area of the game can increasingly impact others. There are both good and bad things about having a more simplified currency system, one that allows people to switch between different spheres of the game without necessarily participating in them. The rewards continue to have meaning and power once they’ve served their primary purpose.

What’s even more interesting is what activities the currencies don’t reward, where the walls of separation are maintained, where there are holes in the logical, perfect system.

Let’s take a look.

DUDE, WHERE ARE MY MARKS OF HONOR?

Do you remember battleground Marks of Honor? Marks of Honor were tokens that were awarded for completing a battleground, with different types awarded by different battlegrounds. You needed these Marks to get leveling PvP gear, accessories, mounts, and endgame gear (from Wintergrasp, for instance.)

There were other types of PvP currencies, too: Honor Points (gotten from HKs and accomplishing battleground objectives) and Arena Points (from playing Arenas.) Marks, Honor Points, and Arena Points all existed in a chaotic soup which made gearing up an interesting exercise. Depending on what you wanted, you might need to run EotS a bunch of times, or the original three (WSG, AB, AV) over and over to get the prizes you wanted. Mount collectors will probably remember this as a bad thing.

Oh yes, and there was a direct conversion between Marks to Honor Points (remember Concerted Efforts / For Great Honor?), and a conversion between Honor and Gold, so just showing up to a battleground could be profitable – but only if you had a balanced set of Marks for your level. If you just played WSG or AV (*cough cough*), you were stuck with a lot of unusable Marks.

Marks served a good purpose – they kept people going back to different battlegrounds. Without Marks, entire factions would have deserted battlegrounds in certain brackets – Horde would have ditched Alterac Valley in favor of Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, Alliance would have ditched WSG/AB in favor of Alterac Valley – which would have led to hugely long queue times. Horde players would queue for AV in the Ruin battlegroup in the 51-60 bracket solely to get AV Marks – they had no chance of winning a 10v40 battle.

Marks kept the system running for a while. They weren’t great – they were pretty bad, in hindsight – but they provided incentive for people to show up for the fights, which was all they were supposed to do.

All Marks of Honor (except Wintergrasp) went away in 3.3.3, a change which coincided with the Random Battleground Finder. Blizzard introduced a tool which allowed people to queue for random battlegrounds, instead of specific ones. To avoid creating a conflict of interest with players, they removed the rewards which previously encouraged queuing for separate BGs and replaced them with the Daily Random Battleground quests we’re used to today.

It’s easy to forget how big of a change this was for PvP. We went from 10 kinds of currency to 4. Wintergrasp Marks still existed, as did Stone Keeper’s Shards for PvP Heirlooms, but suddenly it was either Honor Points or Arena Points, and that daily could get you great rewards if you didn’t do Arena.

In unifying the PvP currency, however, the differences in the average Honor Points between each battleground became a larger driver of player behavior. Alterac Valley had the highest Honor per Minute rates of any battleground, especially on it’s holiday weekends, so players flocked there to grind honor. Warsong Gulch had the lowest HPM, so it became the refuge of the randoms and the die-hard. Nothing sucked more than getting stuck in a hour-long WSG and losing. (There was no timer to end the match in the old days.) Players sought out the highest rewards, instead of spending their time grinding out each individual battleground for Marks, which meant the random feature was used a lot, and Alterac Valley, Strand of the Ancients, and Isle of Conquest got to see a lot of activity.

Marks were an artificial way to encourage players to play battlegrounds they didn’t like. It’s funny to put it that way now, but it’s really true. The balancing requirements of the Concerted Efforts repeatable quest (which converted 1 of each available Mark into Honor) kept people going back once all the mounts and gear were there, but it was a clunky system, designed to balance things out. Pushing people into a tool that randomly distributes their placement was a better idea, because all you had to do was reward people for using the random tool, and the unified currency works.

Except, of course, when those people have other ways to get the rewards they want.

THE PROBLEM OF LINKED CURRENCIES

The PvE Emblem currencies in Wrath were almost as confusing to new players as the PvP currencies. With a series of Emblems you could buy progressively more powerful gear. It works much like the Cataclysm setup, only the different tiers had different Emblems, which made it somewhat dizzying when you wanted to buy Heirlooms.

Points are better. Let me leave it at that.

There were two ways in which the PvE Emblems were linked to PvP.

  1. You could purchase PvP gear with Emblems directly
  2. You could convert Stone Keeper’s Shards/Wintergrasp Marks to Honor, which purchased PvP gear

The first method was in place to allow players who primarily raided or ran dungeons to do something with their Emblems once they had stopped being useful for PvE. You could assemble a good PvP set, not quite Arena quality, but certainly Battleground quality, with your PvE rewards. It allowed players to keep getting some rewards out of the Emblems, even if it wasn’t in the sphere that they originated from.

The second method was to let people who didn’t want Heirlooms to do something with those Stone Keeper’s Shards.

In theory, this was great.

The danger of a unified currency, however, is that it links seemingly unrelated activities, and that if one area is unbalanced, it will unbalance the other.

When Northrend Heroics became trivial to run, they became a better place to gear up for PvP than PvP itself. If a Heroic took 10 minutes, and a Battleground took 15-20, people start looking at those Heroic rewards really hard. I remember Ihra’s post when it came out, and my reaction was first of disbelief – then I looked at what I had, and what I could do, and he was absolutely right. I could burn through a Heroic in 10 minutes.

The majority of my PvP gear in the latter part of Wrath came not from battlegrounds, but from unused Emblems of Frost I got in ICC. It was easier than grinding it out or getting into Arenas!

But here’s the thing. You’re thinking, Cyn, that was all well and good, but that was at the end of an expansion, everything was out of whack, purpz were handed out by vendors in Dalaran like candy. That won’t happen again for a good long while! And it was just PvP gear, it didn’t affect Arena balance, it didn’t affect PvE balance! This is Cataclysm! Stuff is hard!

There’s nothing to worry about!

Oh, crap.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT OF TOL BARAD

For a week, Tol Barad was given an insane boost in rewards -1800 Honor Points per successful attack – which caused a domino effect of win-trading that crippled the spirit of the zone. This allowed people who participated to gear up their Bloodthirsty PvP gear quickly, and with little effort, given that 1800 Honor Points is normally 12-15 battlegrounds of work. After this week, it was fixed so that it awarded less honor on offense (360 per win, plus a daily quest for 200), balancing the rewards somewhat in favor of the attackers, but still rewarding a failed defense. The rewards are now 180 Honor Points for a win, 180 for a loss, and the daily quest for 200.

The Tol Barad example is a shocking one which helps illustrate the challenge of an unified currency – if you are to have an easy, cheap source of one kind of reward, and that reward can be converted into another kind of reward, you may devalue the activities leading up to that reward. One activity can be the butterfly which spawns a hurricane in another part of the game.

In Tol Barad’s case, the explosive increase in honor devalued all other PvP activities. There was no reason to run battlegrounds during that week, unless you were really bored. Tol Barad was better than the random BG finder, which was better than selecting specific BGs, which in turn was better than doing PvP quests.

Now, consider what would have happened if the currency conversion of 4.1 was in place when this happened –  players would get 1200 Justice Points for winning Tol Barad. That’s an offset piece or so.

Thankfully, this inflated reward situation is not the case anymore, though winning Tol Barad remains the highest Honor Per Minute activity you can do in the game (380 Honor Points for about 20 minutes of work). That’s still pretty good. And if you’re grinding Justice Points, it might be a pretty good strategy, too – 253 Justice Points for 20 minutes? That’s 12.7 JP/M, which seems pretty good to my eye. At previous, post-win trading values (560 Honor Points) it was 18.6 JP/M, which would be insanely good. But 12.7 is pretty darn good.

Compare this to the time it takes to run a heroic. Easy Heroics run what, 20-30 minutes with a good group? 210-280 Justice Points per dungeon run? 350 for the first one? That’s 11 JP/M, about two-thirds your TB earnings. So winning your first Tol Barad of the day is a slightly better way to get Justice Points than a good Heroic run.

What about if you are having a bad Heroic run, though? Say you’re pugging as a DPS, so those 350 Justice points take 45 minutes to get – and an additional 45 minutes in queue. That drops your JP/M down to 3.8. Even a loss at Tol Barad, with no quest reward, still gives you 3 JP/M!

What about daily battleground quests? I’ve had some really good nights in the BGs of late, where we get 400 Honor Points or so in the first hour. (It tapers off due to the inital pop of the daily quest.) That’s 4.4 JP/M for an hour of BGs where you win. Still better for DPS without guild support!

Now, 4.1 has some hope for better rewards – the new troll-themed Heroics are supposed to award double the Justice Points that the current instances do, as well as drop better loot. That would bring them well ahead of Tol Barad’s awards for winning on offense, which should keep players doing PvE for PvE rewards and PvP for PvP rewards. (That’s 373 Honor Points per Troll Heroic, to keep ourselves honest – a very good return, but only if you can do them quickly.)

But … Honor is going to be increased in battlegrounds across the board, too, which means all these calculations will probably be moot. Open combat areas like Tol Barad could see considerable increases. AV might reclaim its place as the king of honor farming. Those Troll instances might be hugely hard to complete. There’s a lot up in the air that we won’t know until 4.1 hits.

I expect that we will see some interesting things come out of this. If you are not in a position to get ready access to quick runs of a Heroic, Tol Barad may be an easier way to gear up on Justice gear than running dungeons. The key here is that you don’t have to succeed at Tol Barad to get rewarded for it, unlike a dungeon which you actually have to complete.

So I hope you know how to win Tol Barad, because its going to be a good place for both Honor and Justice Points.

WHY CONQUEST POINTS DON’T CONVERT

There’s a glaring omission in the conversion schema – Conquest to Valor. You can take Valor points and turn them into PvP epics, but not vice versa. I strongly, strongly support this omission.

Unlike Justice and Honor, which you can grind as long as you can sit in front of a keyboard (and even if you’re not there, thanks, afkers), there’s a weekly cap to both Valor and Conquest Points. You can store as many as you want, but once you’ve reached that cap for the week, you’re done. Can’t get any more, don’t even try until next Tuesday.

Because these caps are weekly caps, the key is time and relative difficulty. Players reach these two caps in very different ways, and that difference is why there should be no Conquest to Valor conversion.

  • Valor Points are capped at 1250 per week. To reach cap takes all raid bosses and a few heroic bosses, depending on if you run 10- or 25-man raids.
  • Conquest Points are capped at 1340 or more per week, depending on your PvP rating. The higher your rating, the higher your cap. Hitting the cap takes 5 Arena matches.

Now, consider those two caps in terms of time and effort to reach.

  • Valor Cap: complete ALL raids with 9 or 24 other people, then run a few heroics with 4 other people, against a set level of difficulty. Several nights of work.
  • Conquest Cap: Win 5 rated PvP matches against a variable level of difficulty that adjusts to your skill level. Get a friend and play 2v2s for 2-3 hours.

It’s easy to cap Conquest points, and hard to cap Valor points. I know experienced raiders who didn’t even realize there was a weekly cap until recently!

If there was a 1:1 transfer of Conquest points to Valor points, raiders would rightly look at the situation and say: I will raid, but I must do Rated PvP to make sure I hit my Valor Point cap for the week, every week, every raiding alt. It doesn’t require a raid team, it doesn’t require an entire night – compared to raiding, it’s trivial to get a few wins at any rating, no matter how bad.

(I mean, come on. I’m no Arena wizard and I manage to cap each week. The system is designed to match you up against people with equal gear and skill; once you find equilibrium with your rating, you’ll win about half the time.)

This would be a bad situation, for both PvP and PvE.

Why is the current conversion (Valor to Conquest) okay?

  • PvP gear is better for PvP than PvE gear. Resilience is scaling well this season – too well, some would argue – and combined with the lack of overpowered legendaries like Shadowmourne, makes raiding gear unattractive for PvP. (Keep in mind that the PvP weapons were held back to allow raiding to catch up.)
  • PvP gear can be used in PvE, but PvE gear lacks critical PvP stats. You can raid in PvP gear – it’s not optimal, but the gear has all the right stats. Swap out your Spell Pen cloak, reforge for Hit, and you still have a lot of your primary stat budget. PvE gear, however, cannot be turned into PvP gear, and if you don’t have any Resilience, you will die very fast in PvP.
  • Time is money. The Conquest Cap requires far less time to reach than the Valor Cap, so PvPers will not look at raiding as an quicker option for them to get top-tier PvP gear.
  • High PvP Ratings raise the cap. The better you perform in rated PvP, the higher your cap is raised. This encourages players to try for better ratings, as the gear will come faster.
  • PvPers need more many more points to gear up. Excepting BH, there is only one way to get the good PvP gear – points. This is in stark contrast to PvE, where much of your gear will come from boss drops, and a smaller percentage will come from crafted epics. The absolute best raid gear doesn’t cost points at all – it’s all boss tokens and heroic drops. You can put this another way: Raiders run out of things to buy faster than Gladiators because raiding generates gear.

This is really an argument based upon ease of acquisition, not about balancing between PvP and PvE equipment. The best PvP weapons (requiring 2200 rating) were held back weeks because raiding hadn’t progressed to the point where people would flood Arenas to get gear for PvE. Now, this can happen a lot anyways – people will always go and get the regular PvP weapons, because they’re just plain good gear, and relatively easy to get.  But if you’re raiding and spending your Valor Points on PvP weapons instead of on Tier gear?

You’re doing it wrong.

WHEN POINTS BECOME USELESS

This happens every patch, every season – there comes a point where you buy everything you need. Your gear gets to the point where Justice and Honor points just don’t matter anymore, because there are no upgrades available to you with them. Surprisingly, this happens with Valor and Conquest points, too – at some point you are like, okay, that’s it, nothing else left in the store, why should I bother?

Getting your character to this point always feels strange. I am there with Honor Points on Cynwise – which was a long grind, but that’s a different post – and there’s always a sudden emptiness of purpose, a void where before you knew what you had to do. For nights you log in and say “tonight, I grind Honor! I will not stop until my fingers bleed!”

And then you wake up and go, huh, I really don’t need any more Honor. Now what do I do?

Providing currency conversions helps players overcome this problem. It extends the useful life of the reward for an activity which we (hopefully) enjoyed, so that we can feel that it’s still worth doing, if perhaps with less urgency than before.

If you look at the chart at the head of this post, I tried to break down what you can buy with each kind of currency. There are some anomalies (you can still buy old Wrath-era level 80 PvP gear in Dalaran for Justice Points, if I’m not mistaken) but by and large things have become much simpler than in previous patches and expansions. What do you do, right now, if you don’t need points to gear your character anymore?

  • Buy heirlooms, but that’s for other characters we’re not playing now
  • Buy old sets for RP, but that’s not everyone’s thing
  • Buy accessories, mounts, and consumables, but eventually you have them all
  • Buy trade goods that aren’t worth very much

None of these are really an incentive to keep doing what you’re doing. Patch 4.1 is going to bring something new, something that’s been missing since Wrath:

  • Buy decent gear for the other part of the game you’ve been neglecting

which is, all problems aside, a pretty nice change.

Keeping rewards relevant is important. That’s why I like this change.

THE LURKING BUTTERFLIES OF 4.1

I hesitate to do any serious analysis of HPM and JPM at this point until 4.1 is live. Not only will the new troll dungeons will have different rewards (and difficulty levels), Honor is getting buffed across the board. These are both good changes – the Honor grind was especially long this time if you never held Tol Barad – but they are both potentially disruptive. It might be that at low gear levels, battlegrounds and Tol Barad give better return on Justice points than the corresponding heroics, due to the length of time it takes to get through a dungeon. And perhaps at higher gear levels, the troll instances become the fastest way to complete a set of PvE gear – and of getting the mid-level PvP gear, especially if you’re losing a lot.

See? The mind starts to boggle when you think about this too much. There are a lot of possibilities when currency conversion becomes a reality and all of these activities get linked.

The upside of this change is that players will be able to do more stuff with the points they’ve accumulated. Right now I’m siting on a pile of Justice Points with nothing to do with them.

The downside is that there are hurricane-spawning butterflies lurking everywhere, ready to disrupt the balance of one side or the other. The old, confusing systems were not friendly, but they provided barriers between activities so that imbalances in one area didn’t affect the other.

We’ll have to see how it all shakes out.

24 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Disposable Heroes: How To Make Reusable Level 10 PvP Toons

It has never been easier to have a blast with low level PvP in Warcraft than it is right now. Gone are the days where getting a character ready for WSG meant hours of grinding, farming, and doing impossible things just to compete with the level 19 twinks.

Not only is it easier to prepare a character for the fast paced, high burst world of level 10 Warsong Gulch, you can do so without committing to a character. You can literally try out characters and reuse all their gear if you decide you don’t like them. Not enjoying the Rogue’s playstyle? Delete them. Finding the Warlock isn’t your thing? Delete. Discover you should have been playing Priest all this time? Level them up, transfer their starter gear from a Mage. Worried about learning PvP at level 85? Give it a try at level 10, instead, and work on understanding how it all works – in a totally OP character.

Not every character has to be a digital representation of ourselves, a testament to our accomplishments in game. Sometimes we want a disposable hero, someone who can pwn faces for a while and then be deleted without regret when they aren’t any fun anymore.

Two significant changes happened to make this possible.

  • The battleground brackets were split in two, separating the level 10-14 players from the level 15-19s. This means the gear disparity is lower between the top and bottom of the bracket, while combat ratings actually favor the low end of the level range (you get more bang for your buck at level 10 than 14.)
  • More heirloom items have become available, making it easier to outfit a character with almost every slot with a blue-quality item at level 10 – when no corresponding blue items actually exist.

The same heirloom gear sets you are getting to level your alts can be repurposed into gear for low level PvP. Combine those heirlooms with Hand-Me-Downs – white, non-binding items usable by level 1s and given the best enchants you can get – and you can build a character who provides a great escape from the drudgery of the endgame.

Let’s look at how you do this.

A little Resilience goes a long way at level 10. (And yes, that's 307 AP, 50% Crit.)

RECIPE FOR A DISPOSABLE HERO

You’ll need:

  • Appropriate heirlooms for your class. That means: chest, shoulders, weapon(s), trinkets (PvP + haste, Int for casters), cloak, helm. If you can’t get heirlooms, hand-me-downs can be subbed in.
  • Enchanted level 1 white gear for the following slots: wrists, gloves, boots.
  • There aren’t really any good pant enchants, so pick up a pair of crafted green pants at level 10.
  • Useful rings are cheap and available at level 10 for casters and level 12 for everyone else. Optional.
  • You can wear a white belt and necklace if you want to. Optional.
  • 4 Traveler’s Backpacks. They’re the size of Netherweave bags, but they don’t bind on pickup.
  • A stack or three of Rumsey Rum Black Label, for +15 stamina. Drink up!

The pants and rings are the only pieces you can’t reuse from this setup, but considering their low cost, they’re easy enough to throw away.

You can learn professions if you want, especially if you think you might level this character eventually. Engineering can also give you helms if your guild isn’t level 20 yet. But they’re not needed. And if you have a surplus of cloth, you can level your First Aid to 225 and use Heavy Runecloth bandages. But again, that’s optional.

You’ll notice that this gear list really corresponds to how you’d outfit any alt of a given class, if you’re starting off and want to breeze through the first 25 levels or so. And what’s surprising is how little gear is really required!

Let’s break down the gear into class/role type.

Cloth-wearing casters (Mages, Priests, Warlocks) should go for:

Nearly every other caster class can make use of these items, so you’ve pretty much covered every Intellect-based spec here. (Holy pallys are an exception for the staves.) Wand users can pick up a quest reward for additional stats (but don’t use the wand, you don’t need it.)

Agility classes (Rogue, Druid, Shaman, Hunter) should try:

You can, of course, get the corresponding mail heirlooms for Shaman and Hunter, but they’re really not necessary. The additional armor is fine, but is hardly necessary. If you have them, great, use them! If you don’t, shoot for the leather pieces first. They’re more globally useful.

You have a lot of choices for weapons at this level, and while there are some pros and cons for each class and spec, you are really after the enchants, not the weapons themselves. If you can dual wield, do so and get +30 Agility (and +60 Attack Power) from the enchants. If you can’t, the Grand Staff of Jordan is an excellent choice even if you gain no benefit from spellpower. It has Hit, high Stamina and Resilience to help with survivability in PvP, the white DPS is equivalent to other 2H heirloom weapons, and it’s better than a 1H weapon with the +15 Agility enchant! If you can use spells, it’s an additional bonus for when you have to pull off a clutch heal or nuke. It’s more flexible than the Repurposed Lava Dredger; which can only be used by Druids and Shaman out of these classes, and lacks the versatility of the GSJ.

Yes. I’m telling you that the Grand Staff of Jordan is a hunter weapon.

Strength-based classes (Warriors, Paladins) should go for:

Holy pallys are odd ducks. You can do all sorts of crazy things with their weapons, like taking a Repurposed Lava Dredger (which has Haste) and adding an Iron Counterweight (which has an insane +20 Haste) and grab the Haste glove enchants (+10 Haste) to make really fast Holy Light casts. Or you could rock the Reforged Truesilver Champion with either a caster enchant or Crusader. But overall, you’ll find that the Devout Aurastone Hammer with any of the caster enchants (+22 Intellect, +29/+30 Spellpower) will see a lot of use if you play healers. Priests, Druids, Shamans, and Paladins can all use this mace, and while Shammys and Pallys will find it more useful at low levels (it can be paired with a level 1 enchanted shield), Priests and Druids will get by, even with their limited offhand selections at low levels.

Level 10 Mage with 1500 HKs, an Alliance Battle Standard and Knight's Colors? Sure!

THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

You can approach disposable heroes in two ways:

  • I’m going to keep them level 10 as long as I can, if they level, meh
  • I’ll level as I go, and reroll when I hit 15

Either way works.

The first way is pretty easy to accomplish – XP is only gained in WSG when your team captures a flag. So don’t be there when this happens. Make a macro with a single line:

/afk

and keep tabs on your FC at all times. AFK out before the flag caps, wait 15 minutes (go do dailies or something), and return to let off some more steam later.

This method lets you stay with someone for a long, long time. I got over 1000 HKs on my level 10 mage without really trying, just by AFKing out.

But – to be quite honest – afking out can be kinda boring.

I mean, you never get to win, to really dominate the battleground, to make it so that the other team just hates you. They hate you for about 3 minutes and then you’re gone. And that’s not that fun.

So the other option is just to level up normally through BG experience, and when you hit 15 (or 19, or 25, or whatever), just delete the character and reroll.

You heard me. Delete the toon and start over again at level 10. I wager you can get to level 10 in 45 minutes or less, just by killing everything in sight with your uber gear. Very little of it is soulbound – not even the bags! – so just delete and start over. Try a different race, a different class. Or do the exact same one if you were having fun.

These are disposable heroes, after all!

No commitment, casual PvP where you get to pwn face and blow off steam. If you don’t know how to PvP, this is a great way to start.

Plus – you’ll learn to love Warsong Gulch. No, really!

Give it a try.

40 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

The Lost Puppy and the Girl Everyone Hates: Choosing the Right Demon for your Warlock in 4.0.6

Demons are one of the defining features of the Warlock class. They are not your warlock’s friends.  They are not her companions. They are tools, instruments of your character’s will, to be used and discarded when no longer needed.

And most of all, they are not to be trusted.

But as a player, you will come to trust in your warlock’s demons. Knowing which demon to use, and how to use them effectively, is the mark of a good warlock. Each demon brings with it a different set of abilities, bonuses, and damage that interact with both your spec and your own personal playstyle. Knowing which demon is right for the task at hand is often challenging, but is essential to success in both PvP and PvE.

KNOW YOUR TOOLBOX

You have 5 demons and 2 demon guardians you’ll use at various points in your career as a warlock.

  • Imp: An obnoxious little guy, the Imp’s primary attack is ranged (Firebolt). Abilities include a defensive dispel (Singe Magic), a passive Stamina buff (Blood Pact), and an escape mechanism (Flee). The first demon warlocks learn, Imps are primarily favored by Destruction warlocks in PvE encounters.
  • Voidwalker: Sometimes called a Blueberry or VW, the Voidwalker is the warlock’s tank, dealing damage through melee attacks with high threat (Torment). As a tank, the Voidwalker has a viable taunt (Suffering), a high health pool, and decent armor. He also can surround the warlock in a shield (Sacrifice) and can increase stealth detection while healing outside of combat (Consume Shadows), making him an ideal defensive demon. Great for leveling warlocks.
  • Succubus: Beguiling, seductive, sure to get the wrong kind of attention in Goldshire, the Succubus combines high melee DPS (Lash of Pain) with two great control abilities – a channeled fear you can use when your warlock is incapacitated or busy (Seduction), and a knockback (Whiplash) for interrupting, repositioning, and knocking people off cliffs. She can attack out of nowhere (Lesser Invisibility), and has, arguably, the most irritating pet noises in the game. Great for PvP and general DPS.
  • Felhunter: The demon puppy, the Felhunter is the ultimate anti-caster demon, combining good melee DPS (Shadow Bite) with an offensive Dispel (Devour Magic) and combined Silence/spell lockout (Spell Lock). These abilities are on long cooldowns, but can be combined with other crowd control to really shut down enemy spellcasters. Felpups also bring a passive Mana buff (Fel Intelligence) to the raid, and have traditionally been favored by Affliction warlocks due to talents (now removed) in that tree which buffed his damage. (n.b. Shadow Bite scales for all DoTs, not just affliction.)
  • Felguard: The Felguard, a giant, axe-wielding demon, is only available to Demonology warlocks. If the Voidwalker is the warlock’s Protection Warrior, the Felguard is the Arms warrior, with a devastating cleave attack (Legion Strike), ranged stun (Axe Toss), charge (Pursuit), and nasty whirlwind attack (Felstorm). This adds up into a brutal demon capable of DPSing, tanking, and providing crowd control, and is the signature demon of the Demonologist.

Every single one of these demons provides damage mitigation to the warlock via Soul Link, which should be up at all times.

The demon guardians are a bit different from your demon minions – they are both on a 10 minute CD, no longer displace your normal minion, and are situationally useful. They don’t have individual names, but they are both 1) really big and 2) really cool.

  • Doomguard: The Doomguard has a single ranged attack (Doom Bolt), which it will cast on whichever target you’ve Baned (Doom, Agony, Havoc). Lasts for 45 seconds, theoretically the guardian you’d want to use in a single target situation. Unfortunately, his damage is low right now, but in 4.1 this should be corrected.
  • Infernal: The Infernal is summoned from a fel meteor that crashes into your enemies, stunning them for 2 seconds and then unleashing a large monster made of flaming rock who deals AoE damage to everyone around it. Like the Doomguard, the Infernal will be drawn towards Baned targets, though mostly he runs around and spreads chaos. Awesome for PvP, especially battlegrounds, and currently best for single-target DPS in PvE, too.

Want the short version?

  • Imp: Shoots fireballs, gives stamina buff, defensive dispel on 6-second CD. Destro PvE, some PvP utility.
  • Voidwalker: Blueberry tank, taunt, shield on 30-second CD, anti-stealth. Leveling, soloing, anti-melee and flag defense in PvP.
  • Succubus: Additional CC, knockback on 25-second CD. Generically great for PvP, situationally good for PvE.
  • Felhunter: Anti-caster, offensive dispel on 15-second CD, spell lockout on 24-second CD, damage scales with number of DoTs. Traditionally an Affliction PvE pet, great for PvP when facing casters.
  • Felguard: Demonology only, hits like a truck, ranged stun on 30-second CD, whirlwind attack. Useful in both PvE and PvP.
  • Doomguard: 10-minute CD, shoots shadowbolts, use on single targets after 4.1 buffs his damage.
  • Infernal: 10-minute CD, immolation aura, 2-second stun on deployment, use all the time until 4.1, AoE/PvP thereafter.

That’s it. Five demon minions – four, if you’re not Demonology – and two guardians. That’s what you have to work with.

Now let’s look at when to use them.

THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE RIGHT JOB

What’s better, a screwdriver, a hammer, or a wrench?

Well, it all depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re having a discussion about the relative merits of tools, you have to put the discussion in the context of a task, or the discussion is meaningless. In the words of engineers everywhere, you gotta pick the right tool for the job. And demons are your tools.

In many ways, PvE endgame raiding is the easiest context to analyze. As a damage dealer, warlocks are trying to output as much damage as possible. Damage trumps survivability and utility in nearly all cases. In 25-man raids, you can be sure that there’s both a Mage (for the Mana buff) and a Warrior or Priest (for the Stamina buff). In 10-mans, your composition might not include one of these classes, but 10-man raiding often needs to compromise on buffs, or supplement them with Runescrolls if they’re deemed essential buffs.

So, for endgame raiding, pet selection comes down to which one offers the highest DPS for your spec, period, full stop. And that comes down to a per-spec simulation, which is highly dependent upon both the talents and glyphs chosen.

Right now, that means:

These are from the latest (4.0.6) threads on Elitist Jerks (Aff, Demo, Destro). In all cases, you should use macros to force-cast your demon’s basic attack.

In 5-man Cataclysm dungeons, the same philosophy should hold true, but there is an argument to be made for increased need of crowd control, which the Succubus still provides. So there’s no real conflict between DPS and utility in these situations for Affliction and Demonology, and Destruction still gets more benefit out of the Imp to warrant staying with the little guy.

What about PvE, but not at the endgame? This is where the situation becomes less clear. How do you play? What do you play? Are you leveling cautiously, rarely taking any damage or pulling aggro? Voidwalker or Felguard are the demons for you. Do you drain tank and pull recklessly? Voidwalker, Felhunter, and Succubus are all viable demons. Are you playing Destro and nuking everything down before it matters? Keep the Imp out, switch to the VW if you need the shield.

There isn’t really a “right” answer for leveling. Unlike dungeons or heroics, DPS is not the only measure of success in a fight. Survivability, sustainability, utility – all factor into demon selection when leveling.

PvP uses different measures for choosing demons. DPS is, at best, a secondary consideration to the utility each demon brings. Good PvPers will often leave their pets on Passive, attacking specific targets only when necessary, saving their special abilities for when they’re needed, not risking the loss of a demon in return for extra damage.

In general:

  • Voidwalker is for node defense (to sniff out stealthers) and anti-melee. Sacrifice’s shield takes the bite out of a stunlock. VWs can also taunt hunter pets away from healers.
  • Succubus is for crowd control, seduce nuking, DPS, and interrupts. (Also: Lumber Mill.) The ability to CC while your warlock is doing something else – either casting or incapacitated – is key to understanding the succy’s utility.
  • Felhunter is for shutting down enemy casters. You probably can’t kill a Holy Pally as Affliction without smart use of Spell Lock.
  • Imp is for Destruction, with defensive dispels thrown in. Improved Imp procs don’t happen like they do in PvE, but they can provide nice burst. Singe Magic should be used every CD, either on yourself or your healer(s).
  • Felguard is for Demonology, with a combination of cleaves, burst DPS, and stuns, he can be a potent adversary in both Arenas and Battlegrounds.

In PvP, you absolutely need to switch demons to suit your current situation. I cannot stress this point highly enough. You must switch demons to counter your opponents. Every warlock has Soul Burn to allow instant summons in combat; use it. Do not be predictable. Facing a caster? Open with the Succubus, seduce them while DoTting them up, then switch to the Felhunter and lock them down. Getting savaged by a rogue or DK? Switch to the VW, pop a shield, then run away.

You want to know what I don’t want to face as a caster? Surprise Spell Locks!

#showtooltip Summon Felhunter
/use Soulburn
/castsequence reset=1 Summon Felhunter, Spell Lock, Soul Link, Demon Soul

This kind of macro works for all the demons – bring them out instantly, trigger their special ability, then Soul Link them for your own sake. Seduction? Sacrifice? Axe Toss? Singe Magic? All of them are available, almost instantly, on a 30-second CD.

In PvP, the job changes constantly. Sometimes, you’re trying to take out a healer. Sometimes, you’re trying to pull a rogue off of your healer. Sometimes, you’re able to nuke from a distance. Know your tools so you can select the right demon for the job.

Adaptability is key.

SEDUCE-NUKING AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF DEMON DESIGN

I was running some regular battlegrounds with my guildmates last weekend, helping to gear them up with Bloodthirsty gear, when we ran into a Forsaken Destro warlock with a succubus.

“God damn, I hate that succubus!”
“I know, that seduction shit comes out of nowhere!”
“They are the worst demons, period!”

“Except for yours, Cyn. We like yours. Really.”

I cackled at that exchange. Not just because they were lying to me – they totally were, they hate Helola when I duel them – but because it captures the frustration of facing someone who is using a Succubus to seduce-nuke you to death.

Seduce-nuking is a tried and true strategy for Destruction warlocks that was first popularized by the legendary Drakedog in Vanilla WoW. The basic idea is to hold your target immobile with Seduction while lining up a burst combo that they can’t avoid, then repeating until the Fear DR kicks in, at which point you run away until the DR wears off. It goes something like this.

  • Warlock casts CoEl, Succubus comes out of Invisibility and starts channeling Seduction.
  • Warlock casts a long cast nuke, like Chaos Bolt or Soul Fire, while target is immobilized.
  • Nuke leaves Warlock en route to Seduced target. Warlock casts Immolate during travel time.
  • Immediately after Immolate finishes, Warlock casts Shadowfury on the target.
  • Chaos Bolt, Immolate, and Shadowfury all hit at the same time. Target is no longer Seduced, but is stunned.
  • Warlock casts Conflag and Incinerates during Shadowfury stun.
  • During the third Backdraft-enhanced Incinerate, Succubus starts Seducing again, timed to hit after the Incinerate.
  • DoTs get applied while waiting for CDs (Chaos Bolt, Conflagrate, etc.) to reset. Target is Feared as necessary.

There are plenty of different variations on this strategy, and while Destro does seduce-nuking very well, Demo and Affliction can do it too. It’s a devastatingly effective tactic when you learn how to do it.

(Practical challenge for the warlock readers out there: practice getting three spells – Chaos Bolt, Immolate, and Shadowfury – to land at the same time. It will improve your burst immensely. Once you have this down, add in CC.)

Seduce-nuking is not an obvious tactic. You don’t sit there and think, hey, a CC spell that breaks on any damage, I can use that to nuke people to death! It goes against the cardinal rule: Never follow Fear with a nuke, wtf is wrong with you? But once you get it, you see how useful having a separate CC is. It allows you to CC while you are casting other spells.

The key to understanding and using Demon abilities is that, even when they duplicate your own abilities, they are separate from your warlock. They are available when you are not. Sacrifice is a great anti-stunlock spell because you can trigger it while incapacitated, not just because it’s a shield that absorbs damage. Having a shield you can’t use doesn’t help you one bit. Seduction and Whiplash are effective defense mechanisms because they will save you from a lockdown.

I bring up seduce-nuking and the general dislike of the Succubus, in part, because of Tyler Caraway’s recent post on WoW Insider where he asks Do warlock pets need to be redesigned?, which is worth a read – even if I don’t agree with a lot of his assumptions about warlock demons. It’s worth a read because it presents a very common way warlock players look at their demons, and posits that because the Succubus doesn’t have a purpose, a role to fill, she should be removed.

The way in which demons function now, in 4.0.6., is at variance with the ways a lot of warlock players feel that demons should work, because it’s not elegant. It doesn’t fit into a neat, classical model, where each demon neatly fills a role:

  • Leveling: Voidwalker
  • Affliction: Felhunter
  • Demonology: Felguard
  • Destruction: Imp
  • PvP: Succubus
  • AoE CD: Infernal
  • Single-target CD: Doomguard

I mean, that’s a pretty simple model, right? It’s something that is easy to understand and communicate to players. It provides a single niche for each demon, and a role for every one of them. It also provides each tree with an iconic demon, which appeals to the flavor of the class, the feeling of them.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like this model. I do like it. I like to think of the Felhunter as the Affliction demon, the Felguard as the Demonology demon, the Imp as the Destruction one. Back in 3.1. I was Affliction, but I ran with the Doomguard/Succubus in PvE because that DPS was so much better than the Felhunter, and it felt… weird.

For PvP, at least, I cannot say there should be ever a single pet for that niche. I ran with the VW in Wintergrasp because Seduction was always getting broken (too much damage flying around). I ran with the Felpup for ages in normal battlegrounds just to have the pre-nerf Devour Magic constantly eating magic effects off of me. I ran with the Succy as Destro in 10- and 15-man BGs, and only brought out the Imp when I wanted to raid.

Grouping all of PvP into a single activity is sloppy thinking.

While the idea one demon for each role is a nice one, it fails to take into account the complexities of each PvP situation, of appropriateness. Use the right tool for the right job. If you’re Affliction and you need extra CC, run the Succubus. If you need a tank and a bubble shield, run the VW. If you’re Demo and you need to lock down a caster, run with the Felpup instead of the Felguard.

For PvE, however, perhaps it makes sense as a design direction. Each spec could have its own demon, which is then buffed by talents within that tree.

The problem with this philosophy is that the choice of demon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, regardless of the utility of each pet – you run with whatever gives you the highest DPS, no matter what, and the talents are in place to achieve that result, so that’s the one you use.

Regardless of talents, glyphs, or other modifiers, regardless of whether the baseline DPS is normalized across demons or not, if the DPS of demons varies, raiders will choose the one that offers the best DPS. PvP selection will remain based on utility (as long as DPS is relatively equal, remember, a lot of times demons are on Passive), but PvE will always, always, recommend one as the best DPS option for each spec. Why can I say that? Because that’s how optimization works. Its goal is simple: find the best option.

The problem that I see happening is that players become unhappy when the results of the DPS analysis don’t match their expectations of what the correct pet should be. Perhaps it’s the model up above, perhaps it’s a different one. But when the player’s expectations don’t match the actual modeled behavior, something fascinating happens – warlock players get emotional about their demons.

Consider a different way of talking about this whole discussion. We have 5 mutually exclusive stances we warlocks can choose from, each capable of inflicting a single damage over time effect on a single target. The damage of that DoT varies according to some interactions with your spec and glyphs, so they’re not equal in the end (though they’re roughly equal before modifications). Each stance also opens up several subordinate abilities, but they are generally not DPS-affecting. The stances are called: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon.

Let’s be honest. You don’t care which stance you adopt. You take the one that gives you the highest DPS as a default, and switch stances as necessary to make use of subordinate abilities. If all of the DoTs inflicted the same damage, you’ll take the one with the abilities you want, and switch as necessary.

If you remove all the skins, all the imagery, all the attachment and history to these demons, you’re left with this: DoTs that can move and grant extra abilities.

Blizzard deliberately doesn’t refer to pets and demons like this. From a game design standpoint, they are moving DoTs – but they know that appearance and identity of NPCs is important. Players are not playing a neutral mathematical game of cold logic, they are playing a game where they want to forget themselves for a while and kill internet dragons.

The conflict that we’re seeing now is not just about maximizing DPS, or balancing DPS and utility. No, this is something deeper.

This is about a dog, and a girl.

THE LOST PUPPY AND THE GIRL EVERYONE HATES

The Felhunter was the king of the PvP demons in Wrath of the Lich King. Devour Magic was both an offensive and defensive dispel, giving a Warlock incredible flexibility in combat. It was on a 6-second CD, so it wasn’t quite as good as a healer’s dispel, but it was an excellent ability. Your felpup would eat and eat and eat buffs off your target, and then you could turn around and eat that critical spell off yourself or your healer that prevented a devastating combo.

And he still had Spell Lock and great DPS on top of all this. Everyone hated the Felhunter in battlegrounds. He was a rage magnet and was sure to get killed, because people knew he was going to be huge amounts of trouble until he was dead.

God damn, I loved my felpup in Wrath.

The Succubus, on the other hand, was a bit weaker in Wrath. She lacked the knockback which makes her so much fun to run with now, and instead had a melee debuff – Soothing Kiss – which reduced melee attack speed by 10%, in addition to reducing threat. She was positioned as a DPS demon – good for leveling if you didn’t want the VW, good for running dungeons because she was low-threat and had additional CC to help on tricky pulls. She was fragile in PvP and died a lot. There were some talents you could take in the Demo tree which would make her Seduce effectively instant-cast, but really only Destro PvP warlocks used her, and even then, she was more useful in Arenas and small combat than larger battlegrounds.

Because you had to talent her to make her truly useful in PvP, using the Succubus was a deliberate choice you had to make while setting up your spec, so you saw a lot of Destro locks running with her – the Imp was useless in PvP – while Affliction warlocks swarmed to the Felhunter. That’s okay, people gravitate to what works well.

If one demon is clearly superior to the others for one spec in both PvP and PvE, it becomes identified with that spec. And that’s what happened – Demonology had the Felguard, Affliction had the Felpup.

Destruction, though… Destruction got to switch between the Imp and the Succy/Felhunter, with the Voidwalker tossed in once Sacrifice didn’t actually kill the demon. The Imp is strongly identified with Destro in most people’s minds, but that’s because it became the strongest PvE spec in 3.2, and Imps swarmed all over ToC and Ulduar.

And then came Cataclysm.

Cataclysm was not kind to the Felhunter. First, Devour Magic became solely an offensive dispel, and the defensive component was moved to the Imp. Good for the Imp! He could actually be brought into PvP and not run away in terror! But very bad for the Felpup.

Then, he lost the talents in the Affliction tree which made him desirable in the first place. Other trees gained DoTs, which meant he could fit in well as a general pet, but Affliction lost its special hold on him. And his glyph was changed from a DPS increase to a healing glyph.

As the last insult, the cooldown on the nerfed Devour Magic was more than doubled in the last patch. Holy fuck, way to neuter the poor guy!

So, in two patches, the Felhunter:

  1. Lost his defensive dispel
  2. Lost his Affliction talents
  3. Lost his glyph to increase damage
  4. Had his offensive dispel cut in half (due to increased CD)

(Oh yeah; the change to the Devour Magic CD halved the effectiveness of his glyph, too.)

During the same period of time, the Succubus got a makeover. She lost Soothing Kiss (which only die-hard PvPers actually used) and gained Whiplash, which is an awesome tool for PvP. No one expects the warlock to knock them off the lumber mill! Drop a circle near the edge, park the succy by the flag, and wait for the rogue to gank you. If you get knocked off, teleport back and do it to them instead. It is awesome.

And while she lost her specific talents in Demonology, she got a brand new glyph with a dramatic DPS increase, causing everyone to stand up and take a look at her again. This was a DPS demon, after all, with an extra CC to boot! Both her PvE and PvP viability took off.

But… she’s still not the best demon for Destruction warlocks to use, because the Imp got buffed, too. The people who likely worked with her during Wrath didn’t need her anymore, while warlocks who were quite comfortable with their Felhunters and Felguards suddenly were realizing that they could get better DPS if they switched to this … evil personification of sex.

And there lies the rub.

If we were talking about switching between Alpha and Epsilon, this wouldn’t be a problem. Epsilon this month, Gamma the next month, whatever, it’s all greek to me, just keep my DoTs rollin’.

But we’re talking about a beloved dog who’s fallen on hard times, whom people have genuine affection for, who symbolized a spec.

And we’re talking about that dog getting replaced by a hypersexualized stranger, a demon who is almost … embarrassing to watch. Yes, that’s the point, I know that. She is supposed to be over the top. She is supposed to be an evil personification of sex. That’s all well and good.

What I think people are reacting to is that the Succubus is the single most obnoxious combat pet in the entire World of Warcraft. Oh god, the noises! The grunting, the moaning, the constant ass-slapping and whip cracking! And it’s not just during raids, when our fellow players have to put up with it and it’s vaguely amusing for the first 30 minutes. No, it’s constant when you play a warlock. Hours of these antics. Days.

You know, even good porn gets boring after a few hours.

Don’t get me wrong; her character model is also irritating. It looks terrible set against the newer textures of the later expansions, which detracts mightily from even the idea that she’s supposed to be seductive. But then she opens her mouth, slaps her ass, the noises start again, and a low-polygon model is the least of my concerns.

I can pinpoint the moment I made peace with my Succubus – it’s when I found the “Turn Pet Sounds Off” setting.

This is the girl that everyone hates. Even those of us who love her hate her. She came in and kicked out both down-on-his-luck demon puppy and a big lug of a demon from their respective jobs. She’s loud, she’s brash, she’s obnoxious, she isn’t wearing much in the way of clothing, and she doesn’t care.

(Actually, when it’s put that way, she sounds like the perfect warlock minion.)

I honestly don’t know why the succubus is so hated. I really don’t. Yes, she’s obnoxious. Yes, she’s poorly drawn. I think it’s something deeper, a combination of both difficult mechanics to master  (seduce-nuking is not intuitive), awkward placement in the leveling process, and a sense that she’s not the right representation for a given spec.

Or, maybe she’s too aggressively sexual, and that just plain makes people uncomfortable.

I’d like to think that’s not it. I really do.

But ask yourself this; if Blizzard introduced a new demon – say a half-dragon, or one of those demon engineers from Outland, or, shit, I don’t know, a sparkly unicorn-Ragnaros hybrid with legs – and made it really good at both PvP and PvE, would we be having the same discussion?

Is this really about utility and DPS?

Or is it about a lost dog that people miss, and a girl that everyone hates?

The gender issues in this discussion are both really interesting and, to be honest, somewhat disturbing.

I’ll leave it at that.

CHOOSE YOUR DEMON WISELY

Do demons need to fill roles? That’s what this really comes down to, doesn’t it? Does it matter what role a specific demon fills? Why does it matter?

I started off Cataclysm firmly in a traditionalist camp; each spec should have a signature demon that has synergy with that tree’s abilities for endgame play, with the voidwalker being primarily useful for early leveling, and the succubus getting used for crowd control and PvP. It’s a nice, easy to learn model, one that makes sense to new players and could – perhaps – make this crazy class easier, and therefore more appealing, to play.

But now, I’m not so sure. I swap demons in and out of fights every night. I open with one, interrupt with another, finish with a third. I’m not tied to any one demon. Perhaps it’s the Soul Burn mechanic which has changed my playstyle, which in turn changed my perspective. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not doing a lot of PvE anymore, where your pets are more static. I don’t recall switching demons mid-fight in ICC, ever. But the mechanics were different, and it wasn’t practical. Now it is.

For PvP, choosing your demon is about utility and making your tools work for you. Yes, the Felhunter has been nerfed a lot, but the old dog has a lot of fight left in him, and he’s the demon I want when I need to take down a healer. If he works for you, use him. If the succy works for you, use her. Voidwalker? Use him, he’s actually decent in PvP now. Heck, even the Imp has utility!

If you don’t know which one is best for you, try them all. Look at each one of their special abilities and figure out how you can use it. Every ability has a use in PvP, you just have to find it.

(Yes, even Flee has a use.)

Experiment with macros to keybind these abilities. You can embed them in your normal spells, or create context-specific macros like the following:

/cast [pet: felhunter] Devour Magic; [pet: Succubus] Seduction; [pet: Voidwalker] Sacrifice; [pet:Imp,@player] Singe Magic; Curse of the Elements

Or for their alternate abilities,

/cast [pet: felhunter] Spell Lock; [pet: Succubus] Whiplash; [pet: Voidwalker] Consume Shadows; [pet: Imp] Flee; Curse of the Elements

… and see how they work. This isn’t rocket science. This is finding creative and clever ways to use abilities you might not know you had.

For PvE, I think a question remains – do you go with what gives the highest theoretical DPS, the most utility, or a compromise between the two positions? Should Blizzard redesign demons to make your choice a cosmetic one, one based upon the buffs and abilities the demons grant? Should they slot them into a defined role-based system, so that each spec runs with one demon and one demon only?

Or do they change things up periodically with each patch, making “which demon should I run with now?” a valid question? Is it interesting that the Succubus is top DPS demon for two specs? Is it different? Is it making players try things that they haven’t tried before?

Our class is constantly changing, for good and for ill.

I think it makes sense that our demons change with us.

17 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery