Author Archives: Cynwise

About Cynwise

Warlock from Northshire. I write about the battlegrounds of Azeroth, warlockery, auction house tomfoolery, and assorted other Warcraft topics on my various blogs. I love the smell of seaforium in the morning.

Deployment

I have not been playing Warcraft for about 4 weeks now due to a RSI. Playing WoW leaves my thumb and fingers numb and my hand in agony, and I’ve needed a lot of ice and painkillers to make it through each workday. I have no opinion of the 5.3 changes because I haven’t played anything in 5.3.

Health comes first. I’ve cancelled my sub and it will probably be a few months, at least, before I even think about returning. It’ll be good to take a break, but I’ll miss the folks I play with while I’m out. But not playing gives me time to think, and tap out stories with my left hand, and remember other things I want to do.

Anyhow, here. Have a story of Cynwise’s departure heading into 5.4.


Cynwise - Deployment

DEPLOYMENT

Visper rested her head on her hand, her elbow propped up on the table. It was late evening in the Waypoint Cartographer’s Union Guild House and there was paperwork to be completed. Karanina and her staff took care of most of it from the office in Pandaria, but there were things that still required branch office approval.

Branch office. Visper shook her head and smiled faintly. I’m running a branch office of a guild instead of a platoon of Death Knights. What happened to me? What happened to us?

A soft knock at her office door made her straighten up. “Come in,” she said firmly. Cynwise entered quietly and quickly took a seat in one of the leather-backed chairs in front of the large desk.

“You’ve seen the reports out of the Vale?” Cynwise asked without preamble.

“Yes. Some kind of a dig led by that madman,” replied the draenei. “If it isn’t one thing it’s another with Garrosh.”

“It is one thing after another with Garrosh, though I don’t think he’s actually crazy. This excavation, specifically, is unusual.” Cynwise turned her head to look at the large, exquisitely detailed map of Pandaria on the wall. The guild master of the mapmaker’s union got the best of the best for a reason. Small colored dots were affixed to the map throughout the continent. The blue ones with white borders were Waypoint expeditionary teams, surveying the new countryside and sending back information to continually update the maps which were Waypoint’s reason for existing. Various orange dots scattered the regions, marking places of past conflict. Yellow denoted treasure troves; white, points or persons of interest. And red dots marked the location of Horde forces.

There were a lot of red dots on the map now.

Visper had worked with Cynwise long enough to wait out the silence, her glowing blue eyes flicking back and forth between the map and the warlock. After a minute of looking at the map and thinking, Cynwise turned back to Visper.

“He moved the 3rd Darkspear Battalion?” she asked.

Visper nodded. “From today’s dispatches.”

“Huh. Okay. He’s practically inviting the Alliance to storm the beaches at Krasarang. That’s likely a diversion or a trap.”

“The Reliquary is stranded out there, with little more than a contingent of goblins supporting from Domination Point – but, if they’ve abandoned the Krasarang digs for strip-mining the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, then…” Visper trailed off.

“Then, the real action is at that dig. Militarily and politically he’s risking a lot by strip-mining land that’s sacred to the Pandarens. I know the Warchief doesn’t care much about the Sunwalkers, but the Shrine is too good a fortification to simply throw away – no matter how much Dezco has irritated him.”

Visper nodded, her glowing blue eyes focused on the human woman. “I agree. But why is it unusual? There’s something there that that madman wants. And what he wants, he gets, no matter what it costs him,” she pauses, eyes widening, “Especially if he can spend the blood of the non-Orcs to get it.”

Cynwise quirked her mouth wryly. “Noticed that, did you?”

Visper smiled a little. “Yes. It looks like the 3rd is going to be reinforcing the dig site, which means they’ll likely start having more skirmishes with the Sentinels.”

“So much for quietly exploring a new continent full of wonder.”

“Indeed,” said Visper, as she got a funny look in her eye.

 


 

“Visper, this is foolish!” yelled Cynwise, slamming the door shut.

“I’ve made my decision, and that’s final!” the former Death Knight of Arthas yelled back, slamming a sheaf of papers on the desk as she stalked behind it. Visper didn’t even bother yanking her chair out, she just leaned on the desk with one arm and pointed at Cynwise with the other. “You can see it too, this is the way it has to be!”

The much smaller human woman didn’t shrink back from that accusatory finger. “The hell it is! You founded this guild with one purpose – mapping knowledge – and now you want to throw it away for war. Wars are not just won with the flesh and sinew of troops, they are won with the mind, with intelligence and knowledge! They are won by knowing what your enemy will do before he can do it! They are won by planning, and preparing, and planning some more. That’s what this guild is about! Winning through superior intelligence!” Cynwise’s eyes flashed dangerously.

Visper responded angrily. “That’s what this guild is about? You have the nerve to tell me what this guild is about?” The draenei’s voice got quieter, colder. “Do you remember who founded this guild, warlock?” She spit the last word out like an epithet. “You are a mercenary brought in to help guard and train. This guild is what I say it is, and we operate where and how I say we operate. My decisions are made for the good of all. Is that clear?”

Cynwise stood there, lips drawn, blood pounding through her veins. The office outside was suspiciously quiet, the normal chatter of the clerks and cartographers stilled by the fight between the two women.

“Yes, sir,” she said, finally.

“Are the new members trained? Are they ready for deployment in the field?” Visper asked, her eyes furious but her voice cold and forceful.

“They are, sir,” replied Cynwise, her voice deflated. “To the best of my ability, they are ready for deployment.”

“Then that is all. Get them ready to ship out.”

Cynwise stood there for a moment. She looked at the map, at the red and blue dots. At the black and blue dots which marked the places that cartographers had given their lives for these precious maps.

“No, sir. I cannot do that,” she said.

Visper blinked, once, twice. Cynwise knew that the Death Knight was weighing her options, that her rage was tempered by cold analysis of winning a fight with a veteran warlock. Visper’s fist clenched slightly, almost reflexively, and her eyes narrowed. The entire office was silent.

“What did you say?”

“I will not lead this deployment,” Cynwise said. “I cannot condone this course of action. I have seen enough war to know when resources are spent unwisely. And if I cannot convince you to change your mind with my words,” she said, drawing a small knife from her belt, “perhaps I can change them with my actions.”

Visper stood behind her desk, angry but not threatened, as the warlock smoothly reached up to her left shoulder with the knife. Cynwise deftly cut the Waypoint insignia patch off of her overshirt, slicing the threads with practiced ease. She sheathed the knife and tossed the Compass Rose onto the desk.

It landed there, atop a stack of the latest dispatches from Kalimdor. Visper looked down at it, at the blue and gold patch resting on rough maps of the Barrens. Then she looked up at the disobedient warlock.

“Get out,” she said flatly. “You’re dismissed.”

Cynwise’s expression didn’t change.

“No, Visper,” she said. “I resign.”

And with that, she did a smart about face to exit the Chief Mapmaker’s office.

The sounds of clerks scrambling to get back to their desks could be clearly heard as the warlock opened the door to leave.

 


 

The spring air brought a welcome warmth through the open office window. Visper breathed in deeply. The turbulence of the last few months seemed to fade away with the scent of flowering trees and gardens that made Stormwind’s broad avenues such a pleasure to walk.

Maybe I can get a walk in today, she thought, turning back to her desk. A small frown appeared on her face as she eyed the dispatches Velaa had neatly placed on the center of her desk. Maybe before I vanquish this latest enemy. She turned back to look out the window and sighed.

A soft knock at the door brought her out of her reverie. “Just drop them on my desk, Velaa,” Visper said, “unless there’s something really urgent I need to see.” Visper knew the ultra-efficient Velaa thought nothing of discretely scanning the dispatches to ensure that the most important ones were on the top of the stack. It was something Kara had taught her.

“This will only take a moment, Visper,” said a familiar voice that was not Velaa’s.

Visper turned around. Standing in the doorway was Cynwise. The warlock was in the full dress uniform of the Alliance High Command, a sight which made Visper involuntarily stiffen at attention. There were a fair number of medals on display. Cynwise’s mouth quirked to one side.

“At ease, Lieutenant, you’re not on active duty,” said the human to the draenei, smiling.

“Sorry, Colonel. Old habits …” Visper said, relaxing. She didn’t quite smile back in return. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

“Maps, mostly,” said the dark-haired warlock. “I need the best maps I can get now.”

“Well, you’re in the right place for that, at least,” said Visper. “What’s with the uniform?”

Cynwise smiled. “I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

“Oh, I’m sure you could have if you really wanted to,” said Visper. “Thought you might have held out for a promotion or something, though.”

“I didn’t want a promotion, Visper,” said Cynwise. “While plenty of Generals end up in the field, they’re not supposed to be there, they’re supposed to be behind a desk. I don’t want that, not yet. Colonel is more than fine with me, it’s as high as I can go without losing a field command.”

“Hm,” said Visper, nodding along.

“Is that enough small talk? I want to make sure I’m doing this right. We could talk about the weather next if you like?” asked Cynwise.

Visper finally smiled at that. “Yes, I think that’s enough chatter. What maps did you need?”

“I need maps of the areas around every Horde capital city and encampment with more than ten thousand residents,” Cynwise said. “Plus general maps of Kalimdor, Pandaria, the southern coast of Northrend, Lordaeron and Gilneas, and anything you have around Quel’thalas.”

Visper blinked. “That’s a tall order, Colonel. And an expensive one.”

Cynwise nodded in agreement. “I know it is, you can upgrade me to the full Atlas package if you like. I need the best you can provide me today for some meetings at the Keep this afternoon, and then we can get the rest sorted out when we see what we’re missing.”

Visper quickly thought through what was in the shop downstairs. “We have Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms in stock, but the detailed maps of the Barrens and Mulgore might need to be updated. Pandaria, we’ve only got the tourist-quality ones, but there’s a military grade one in the war room in the Keep. I delivered it last week.”

“Okay. That will do for now,” Cynwise said. “I can pay Velaa for it all below.”

Visper raised an eyebrow. “You could have done the entire order through Velaa, warlock,” she said. “You’re not here just for maps. Why are you really here?”

Cynwise looked a little guilty at that question. She sighed and responded, “I came to apologize.”

“What?” Visper was honestly surprised.

“I came to apologize,” Cynwise continued. “I shouldn’t have challenged your authority in front of your people. That was wrong of me and I’m sorry. You paid me to do a job, and I did it, and it’s not my business what you do with your organization.”

Visper looked at the human with her glowing blue eyes. “Interesting. You’re not sorry you quit, though?”

Cynwise smiled. “No. I disagreed with you then, and I still disagree with you. I absolutely think your people serve the Alliance better by making maps, not dying on the front lines. But I should have handled my objections better. All I can say is that I’m sorry.” She offered her right hand to the taller draenei.

Visper eyed the outstretched hand for a moment, and then shook it. “You let yourself care about a bunch of cartographers you were hired to keep safe, warlock,” she said. “No crime in that. Apology accepted.”

“Now let’s go get you some maps for whatever war you’re planning, Colonel.”


Cynwise - Visper - Stormwind Keep War Room - Deployment


Cynwise - Visper - Stormwind Keep War Room - Deployment Chat


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Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Fiction

Class Distribution Data for Patch 5.3

5.3 Census - Class Popularity at Endgame Graph

World of Warcraft’s Patch 5.3 was released on May 21st, 2013, so as with previous patches I’ve taken a snapshot of population data to provide historical analysis of class popularity trends. The methodology is unchanged from my 5.2 population analysis, so the same caveats and cautions apply here. The patch dates serve as handy labels for each snapshot, but it’s important to remember that they effectively mark the beginning of a period, not the end. The 5.2 snapshot represents data at the beginning of 5.2 – or the end of 5.1.

Like previous versions, I’ve constructed a separate spreadsheet for this patch’s data. There is one new sheet looking at the realmpop population data (instead of just popularity data) which is finally giving us a view into how players are leveling through Mists of Pandaria.

INTEREXPANSION VERSUS INTRAEXPANSION DATA

5.3 Census - Class Popularity at Engame Chart

The data on the first tab is relative class popularity over time at the endgame of an expansion. There are 11 classes available in Mists, so median popularity sits at 9.09% (down from 10% from Wrath). That 9% isn’t so much a target as it is a line to keep in mind – just because Mages are currently ranked #7 with 9.15% doesn’t mean they’re unpopular – but neither are they wildly popular, either.

I think it’s important to note with this graph that it’s mixing apples and oranges a bit. The Wrath and Cataclysm data is from late in those respective expansions, when people had had time to level alts in addition to mains. Starting with the third snapshot (Mists Pre-Release) the environment shifts to those characters who received priority in leveling. Nearly a year out we’re starting to see player stables fill out a bit more, until eventually it will be an apples to apples comparison.

This intraexpansion data is interesting because I think it shows in very broad strokes a picture of which classes got leveled first, and which got leveled later. My hunch is that changes in popularity percentages here, now, are more likely to be from players leveling secondary characters/alts than from new players joining or huge flaws within a class. There are no doubt exceptions and rerolls – the Warrior spike in the 5.1 snapshot was almost definitely due to PvP dominance – but I think we are seeing more alt activity than before.

CONSUMING MISTS CONTENT

5.3 Census - Total Pop, 86-90 Pop, 90 Pop

Above is the 5.3 snapshot for all levels, 86-90, and 90.

Quick comparison to the equivalent one for 5.2:

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.29.14 AM

Monks have continued to take a little more of the overall pie, but the overall numbers are fairly steady. Rogues have improved a bit at level 90.

The popularity data is well and interesting, but I think there’s a more interesting way to look at the question of how players are engaging Pandaria – using population figures instead of popularity figures.

5.3 Census - Realmpop Population Increase over time

These population figures come from Realmpop, and are just the class totals for the US and EU regions added together. I’ve talked with Erorus a bit about how he gets his population sample and it reaches pretty deep. The important thing is that the methodology hasn’t changed over the course of the expansion, so by looking at the sample set of 17 million toons we can extrapolate out to general class trends. (I’d like it better if the data wasn’t missing Korea and China, but we have to work with what we have.)

Keep in mind this isn’t the total population of the game for these regions, but rather a consistent subset we can use for analysis.

I’ve been adding these population figures in since 5.1 – they’re in the hidden columns on the 5.3/5.2/5.1 base tabs – but I wanted to sit on them for a bit until we had enough data points to look at trends. So this is new, and it’s pretty neat! It’s on tab 3 in the spreadsheet.

The data is laid out in three blocks – all population, 86-89, and 90 – each showing population growth  by class across the expansion.

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.53.48 PM

For All Levels, we can see a few interesting things about class growth and stagnancy. Over a period of time where subs have dropped by ~1.6 million subscribers, character populations have remained stable in the US/EU. Monks continue to be created, and I expect we’ll see them level off somewhere in the 2 million range by the beginning of the next expansion. Warlocks, Warriors, and Hunters have all seen some growth over the course of the expansion, while the rest of the classes are mostly stagnant.

Rogues are the only class to have a drop in figures between patches (5.2 to 5.3) and I’m not sure why.

Let’s move on to the Mists levels.

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 11.06.26 PM

About twice as many characters are out of Cataclysm and into Mists of Pandaria right now than at the start of 5.1. Okay, it’s a little less than twice for almost everyone but Monks – 1.74x Paladins, 1.98x Warlocks, 2.56x Monks – but the population of characters in Mists content has basically doubled in 6 months.

Since the general population didn’t double, a lot of this movement has to be attributed to existing characters moving up from pre-Mists levels into Mists. How about at level 90, the endgame?

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 11.12.05 PM

This is probably my favorite bit of data to look at. There are two components – the population increase over time, like we did before, and the percent of a class which is level 90. The first block is very similar to what we saw before at 86-90, though most classes have more than doubled their number of 90s in the sample. Druids are the furthest behind at 1.94x, everyone else has a factor of 2.1x or greater. There’s something going on there, but I’m not sure what. I think we need more data points, and someone who can evaluate how each class does in current content, to look at that – definitely not me.

The second block is amazing, though. I love it. It’s the number of 90s versus the total population of a class over time. With one exception, classes started out in a fairly predictable spread and have coalesced into one of two packs, either at 16-17% or 18-19%.  Monks started out amazingly strong – people who rolled Monks at the very beginning were motivated to get them to the endgame – but have come in line with Paladins, Death Knights, Priests, Shamans and Druids in the top pack. Mages, Hunters, and Warlocks are in a second pack a percent or two behind, which might be a result of their pure DPS roles? More incentive to level a hybrid alt, perhaps?

Warriors are stuck back with the pure DPS for reasons that I can only attribute to their being perceived as poor tanks in current Mists content. I’m speculating there, but I think it’s notable that they’re behaving like all the other hybrids.

And then there are Rogues.

At all levels, there are more Rogues than Monks, Warlocks or Shaman. There are almost as many Rogues as there are Priests! But Rogues are not making it to level 90. The 5.14% in 5.1 could be assumed to be the Rogue mains with a job to do, but even with a healthy influx of level 90s after that, they are not playing in the endgame. That 12.42% outlier result is amazing. It’s terrible, but it’s amazing.

Some of this might be due to Rogue populations swelling in late Cataclysm for the legendary daggers. A large number of leveling PvP rogues might also account for it? I’m sure that the Rogue community will have much greater insight than I over it.

But right now, Warriors are behind the other hybrids by a little, and Rogues are behind the other pure DPS classes by a lot.

ENDGAME ACTIVITIES

5.3 Census - Total Pop vs Level 90 Pop

The last bit of data I want to talk about is the PvE/PvP representation data from World of Wargraphs. The basic idea behind this is that if a class is more or less represented in high-end play in one sphere or another compared to their general population trends, they may be over- or under-powered for that activity.

Some general observations:

  • Monks: Very underrepresented in PvP. Brewmaster FCs seem to be the only decent spec?
  • Hunters: Underrepresented in PvE, dramatically underrepresented in PvP.
  • Priests: Mind-bogglingly good at high-end PvE and PvP.
  • Paladins: Really strong in PvE (I assume from both Prot and Holy right now).
  • Warriors: Have dropped from completely dominant in PvP to underrepresented in both PvP and PvE.
  • Shaman, Rogues, Warlocks – doing pretty well, all things considered!

There are detail tabs for each spec in the spreadsheet if you want to dive into this data a bit further.

I’m not sure what to say about Hunters, to be honest. They’re a hugely popular class – more Hunters overall than Paladins, and soon to be more level 90 Hunters too – but they don’t have the same popularity in high end PvE or PvP. Is it that Hunters are fine in high end play, but simply have a larger population of casual players? Or are the problems with the class such that Hunters face problems in high end play above and beyond other classes?

I think there’s evidence to support both theories, and they are not mutually exclusive.

THE PROBLEM CHILDREN

Warriors were the PvP darlings of 5.1 – no more. They are struggling in both PvP and PvE and it’s showing.

Monks, as the new class on the block, have done a great job catching up to the population numbers of the other classes. They may never be as popular as the big 4 (Pally, Druid, Hunter, DK) but they are likely going to carve out a niche for themselves. They are leveling well, and the only real area of concern seems to be their PvP viability. As someone who’s been leveling a Monk, I expect to see some much-needed cleanup to the class in the next expansion to make it a smoother, more coherent experience.

Hunters are the dominant class in World of Warcraft, yet they are underrepresented in high-end play. There are more Hunters than Paladins at all levels, and soon Paladins will be ever so slightly less popular than Hunters at level 90. The question of Hunter’s role in endgame play is an important one – are these population discrepancies indicating real problems in high-level rated play, or is it due to the overwhelming popularity of the class? Is it due to their pure DPS role versus the popularity of hybrids? There’s a serious discussion that needs to happen there.

Rogues are more popular than they seem but are struggling to make it to the endgame. Those Rogues who make it to the endgame can do well, but so few of them do compared to everyone else that there’s something abnormal with them. Rogues are less likely to experience Pandaria than any other class, and that is worth investigating.

Update June 5, 2013: Svelte Kumquat @ The Red Hatted Rogue has taken this data and is running with it for Rogues. He’s pulled some additional data from Realmpop about our sneaky friends.

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On Disastrous Stargate Pulls

Cynwise - Ulduar - Yogg Saron's Prison - Accidental Stargate Pull

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Five of us were in Ulduar, helping our guildmate and friend Rezznul finish up his Val’anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings. Val’anyr – dubbed the Science Mace, for reasons – is created by gathering up 30 fragments that drop from bosses in the instance. We usually get 2-3 fragments a week, so it’s about a 30-40 week grind.

So we run Ulduar a lot. That’s fine, it’s a chance to hang out and do stuff together, collect nerd points, get transmog gear, have fun. Ulduar is a beautiful raid, like Karazhan before it.

But it’s become kinda routine. Not boring – we change it up, bring different alts, try different specs out, I Demo tank a lot of the first bosses and trash packs, until we get to the ones where two tanks is redundant – but it’s routine. But last night’s pulls on Yogg-Saron were anything but routine, all because Cynwise has a new toy but hasn’t quite learned how to use it right.

After the BG scaling changes of 5.2 there wasn’t any advantage to staying at level 85 in the 85-89 bracket, so I’ve been slowly leveling Cynwise up to 89. This decision proved to be shortsighted, as it looks like the scaling changes are getting fixed in 5.3 – but I was already level 86 and lost 25% of my secondary stats. So I decided to stop at 87 so I could get some of the cool epic gear (engineering goggles, BoE pants, trinkets) and two new abilities, Demonic Gateway and Symbiosis: Rejuvenation. The Demonic Gateway creates Stargate-like portals with a wormhole in-between, allowing rapid transport across distances. It’s really neat, I’m looking forward to using it in PvP, and it’s a token prize for having given away about 33% of my secondary stats.

So we’re at the Prison of Yogg-Saron, final boss of the run. It’s been a usual run with small, unremarkable hijinks. A little slower because there are only 5 of us, but, whatever, we’ve gotten 3 shards for Rezz so it’s a pretty good night. I decide while the other folks are talking about who goes into the portals (I’m always on the portal team, so I wasn’t really paying attention) that I would set up my Stargates to allow us to do a really cool pull of Yoggy. Instead of running in, we’d teleport over to the boss. All of us at once, zip zip zip zip zip, incoming adventurers! It’ll be cool, right? I lay the gates as you see above – one just inside the door, one down by where Sara lurks to start the encounter.

Up the gates go! Charges start building. This is going to be SO COOL.

Two charges, three charges, four charges. Five. Okay, we’re ready to go. The other guys are still chatting about strats (this was the second pull, we’d wiped the first time because I went crazy, then Snacks went mad, then hilarity ensued) and I look over to raid chat. I shift myself, getting into a more comfortable position.

Oops.

See, I should mention that I’m playing on a laptop which is perched on my lap as I’m lying on a floor chair in my son’s room. It’s an old Macbook which has a wiiiide mouse bar below the trackpad at the bottom. Sometimes I click it accidentally while moving it around.

This happens to be one of those times. And my mouse was right over the Stargate.

So I shift to get more comfortable, and suddenly I’m flying straight at the boss. No warning to my friends or anything – just a completely random Warlock Fastball Special at the boss. What was supposed to be a cool thing has turned into a disaster.

There’s a little bit of role play at the start of the boss, so I have enough time to yell “RUN OUT” in /raid before hitting my rocket boots and Burning Rush to try to get out before the door closes. There’s a brief panic at the door (see: Warlock just ported herself at the boss) but everyone backs out as I come rocketing back to them. The doors are closing, closing, crap, I’m … going to make it. I shoot the gap of the closing doors into the antechamber and stop as they slam shut behind me. Inside the locked chamber, Sara continues her dialog as the Faceless Ones begin to spawn.

“I’m really sorry guys!” I type out. There’s some good natured ribbing amidst the chaos. Rezznul on his druid and Lech on his monk tank had gotten the farthest away, so they head back.

That’s when the first two Faceless Ones come through the locked door.

“You have GOT to be kidding me!” I yell, hitting Rain of Fire. Rezz and Lech turn and book, Hal on his hunter gets distance, Snack on his warlock joins me in setting fire to these adds. We start retreating as another wave comes through the door.

“Oh crap, I just got ported inside!” says Rezznul.

What? WHAT? Are you kidding me?

So now our healer is on the inside of Yogg-Saron’s chamber, the tank is trying to get distance to save us from the wipe, and two warlocks and a hunter are DPSing down waves of adds that they can’t stop.

My understanding is that Rezz did the natural druid thing at this point – he hotted himself up, went bear form, and proceeded to valiantly tank the waves of Faceless Ones. This worked for a time as Hal, Snack and I cleaned up the ones who had gotten through the door – but then Rezz died, and all those mobs came charging after us.

By this point we’re up to add 15 or so. Not satisfied with his druid snack, Yogg-Saron ports Lech into his prison. The DPS are hurting but had kept ourselves up with self-heals and Snack riding his Rejuvenation Symbiosis button, which has now vanished, but we handle the wave of about 10 or so. Lech tanks the adds which are spawning in the room.  Because I’ve got Rain of Fire and Immolate ticking on all these adds, I had plenty of Burning Embers. We don’t have a way to solve the problem of stopping the adds from spawning, but at least we’re not dead yet.

Suddenly, an unexpected achievement pops up – [They're Coming Out of the Walls (25 Player)] – and we all start laughing. I mean, I’ve been known to pull ungodly amounts of mobs, because OMFG I LOVE MOBS, but I’ve never gotten an achievement for my antics before. And they really WERE coming out of the walls! Most of us didn’t even know we should be trying for that achievement (it’s not part of the meta). Normally my raiding victories are pyrrhic, but last night they resulted in nerd points. YES.

Anyhow, Lech goes down somewhere around add 29 or 30, and a pack of 15 comes roaring through the door. (So hax, those doors.) Hal feigns death. I take most of the aggro while Snack wails on the pack, I die, they transfer their attention to Snack. Since I am more brave than smart, I have a Soulstone on me and use it to come back and try to … save Snack? I dunno. I rez, generate a bunch of embers, heal up, buy myself a few more Faceless One scalps, but let’s face it – there’s no victory to be had here. We’re all dead because I shifted my laptop and clicked a button at the wrong time.

So we’re lying on the ground, dead, laughing. What the hell just happened? Hal hops up, mass resurrects us, and I carefully put the Stargate down on each side of the door – JUST IN CASE. We down Yoggy on the next pull. No fragment but there’s always another week for that.

This might be a weird game, but it can be a heck of a lot of fun, too.

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The Few Versus The Many

Cynli - Eye of the Storm - Fel Reaver Ruins Hordeside - Black Leather

I really enjoy battleground healing on my Druid, Cynli.

She spent most of Cataclysm as a level 70 twink, and while she was effectively my main in 4.2, I haven’t played her much of late. That’s okay. We can go through cycles with our toons, hopefully they’ll forgive us.

The changes to BG scaling in 5.2 made me return my attention to my wayward druid, unlock her, and set out leveling her though PvP with a vague goal of either 80 for Herald or 85-89 for even more Mists-level PvP fun. Picking her up again has been a genuine pleasure. She’s the only toon, and I mean this very seriously, she’s the only toon which I feel completely comfortable displaying the Battlemaster title on in BGs aside from Cynwise. On everyone else I’m keenly aware of my limitations as a player playing below my potential; with these two, I feel like yes, I am as good as this title proclaims me to be.

Druid PvP healing is fun, hugely mobile, more than a little overpowered in the 70s, and gives me a different perspective on the game. I do things I wouldn’t ever dream of doing on a DPS character with Cynli – take the flag and go over to a Horde-controlled base, just to taunt the 4-6 DPS there with their inability to take down a single healer – but ultimately there’s still a sense of fun that comes from playing a character that I’m good at playing. Even though I know that I have a lot of room for improvement, the convergence of competence, confidence and cool toys makes for a character I love to play.

We’ve come a long way from the Druid which I deleted twice out of frustration.

I have an alt of every class. I didn’t use to – I used to delete alts whenever they bored me – but I’ve tried to stick with ones that I find boring, give them great outfits, learn the basics, and then put them in a corner where they don’t bother me too much. When I want to dabble with leveling they’re there, waiting. I might not be Great with them, but I can be Fair to Good, and that’s almost always more than enough for PvE leveling content. It irks me when I can’t perform up to the level I’m accustomed to in PvP, though. It really irks me. I know it’s a matter of getting fluent with a class, of having the muscle memory down for what buttons to press when you want something to happen, and that fluency takes time. When I’ve switched PvP specs on Cynwise, I usually need 2-3 weeks to get back up to speed so I don’t feel like I’m flailing and letting everyone in the battlegroup down.  Weeks! The first few days are terrible, I hate it, it’s one reason I stopped switching specs in PvP so often (and why I’ve never really gotten good a Demo PvP) – I hate feeling like my primary avatar is incompetent, because my skills are lacking. Dismissing that feeling of incompetence on an alt is far easier than on a main. You have to focus to be good, and you can’t focus on mastering 11 classes at the same time.

Well, I can’t. Maybe you can.

Cynwise - Binan Village Fishing

THE COMPETENCE TRAP

This story is from a while ago, so my apologies if you’ve heard it before.

I had someone roll an alt and whisper me a pretty standard question – what class should they play for PvP?

I answered their question with a question in return: what do you like to play?

“I like playing all of them.”

“Okay, what class do you feel you’re good at playing?”

“All of them. I’m equally good with all of them.”

Now, because I’m polite, I didn’t respond with what I really thought at that moment. But if you say that you’re equally good with all classes, you’re saying that you’re equally bad with all of them. (The personnel manager in me also says that you lack self-awareness and don’t know your strengths and flaws, and to expect overinflated evaluations of your own performance. But I digress.) There are 11 classes with 34 specs in World of Warcraft now, and you’re going to find that some are better suited to you than others. Classes appeal because of the playstyle, the mechanics, the function and power of the class. Maybe it’s the fantasy of the class which appeals, or the role, or the character. Maybe it’s the outfits.

But soon, competence appeals. As you learn to play it, becoming good at playing it is its own reward. You become good with the class and spec, and then great with it, and then you log over to another alt and … aren’t.

So now the other class is at a natural disadvantage because of your own competence with another class. There have to be reasons for flailing around on an undergeared alt, struggling through the initial learning curve, gearing up, making things click in your head, that makes the effort worth overcoming the skill gap. Sometimes it’s because of social pressures – your raid needs an X to fill a different role, too much competition on certain rolls, missing buffs. Sometimes it’s because you just don’t like the old class anymore because you or it changed. Sometimes it’s just to see how other classes play.

I have 1 main and 11 alts, one of each class, and I do not play them all equally well.

The ones I play well make me want to play them more, and playing them more makes me play them better, which widens the gap.

Cynwise - Setting the Shrine on Fire

THE LEVEL OF PLAY TO WHICH WE ARE ACCUSTOMED

I have friends who have lots of alts, and I have friends who have a few alts, and friends who have no alts, and it all seems to work out pretty well for them. Some folks can hop on a new class and be brilliant in no time flat. (Rades is particularly good at this, by the way. Little known fact about him.) Others stick with the tried and true and add alts very slowly, carefully, keeping their rosters pruned like a well-tended garden. Some are like me, and it bugs them when they can’t be good on an alt. Others aren’t fazed at all and just soldier right on through, leveling them up and getting the job done until they are good with them.

(I admire those folks. Wish I could take a page from their book.)

I personally can only be really good – really really good – with one spec at a time. I should probably amend that to one spec per role at a time, because I’m able to compartmentalize things like “this is how you tank” and “this is how you heal” and “this is how you ranged DPS” pretty well since they’re different activities. But even with that amendment, there’s a level of play within a given role that I’m accustomed to. There’s a class, a spec, where I feel like yep, this is as good as I play. Sometimes that changes – I used to feel really confident tanking on my Death Knight, but that was as a Frost tank back in Wrath – but as the years go on, I get settled in and never seem to achieve the fluency with a new spec as I do with an old one.

(I think it’s also probably still fair to say that even between roles, there’s only one spec that I’m best at at a single time. I am not nearly as good of a tank as I am a ranged pvp dps.)

That idea of the level of play to which I am accustomed really strikes me when I’m playing PvP. I don’t like being bad at a class in a BG. I really don’t. I can play all of my alts relatively competently in a PvE environment – in 5 years I’ve learned how to quest on pretty much anybody with an attack button, how to tank an instance or heal the tank through an instance. (My struggles with leveling in PvE are far more attention and interest-related than skill.) But I queue up for a BG and weaknesses come out. Sometimes I get through it, figure out ways to make it work. I know how to play the BGs and can (usually) contribute.

But on some alts, I just … flounder. Knowing how to heal a 5-man doesn’t always translate into knowing how to heal a BG. Being able to DPS through a pack of mobs doesn’t mean that I can win a 1:1 against anyone but a really weak opponent.

Those alts depress me.

Other alts surprise me. Folks told me to keep going with my Resto Shaman, switch to Enhance for a while but that Resto didn’t really get going until the mid-60s. You know what? They were right. Much happier with my performance as a Resto Shaman at 70 than at 50. I’m not great with her in PvP, but I’m not floundering anymore. There were definite toolkit problems there that got fixed later on. It’s tough sometimes as a novice to really identify those times when it’s you, and your lack of skill, versus the spec not working right. When you’re an expert, sure, those problems are apparent. But learning? Maybe it’s me.

My Shaman and my Mage are illustrative examples. I rolled a shaman because I sucked at them and wanted to not suck anymore. After about 2 years of dinking about on her, I’m no longer terrible and wondering when I can delete her. I’m slowly climbing that competency curve. My mage, on the other hand, started off strong – PvP on a low level twinked out mage is a lot of fun – but has gotten progressively weaker as I’ve leveled her. Is that me? Is it the class? I assume they’re fine, or reasonably fine, at the higher levels – so why does she suck to play so much in the 50s-60s? Is this just something to get through?

It’s tough to look at an alt and just say, you know, I could probably quest on you, and maybe do some dungeons, but the content I can do competently at  your level is just painful.

I’d rather log on to someone I could be a rock star with.

Cynxi - Pandaren Rogue - SW - II

ALTERNATE WAYS TO LEVEL

My Rogue is level 85 now. I don’t play a Rogue well at all, but she’s level 85 through a lot of pet battles. My Death Knight went from 80-85 solely through mining. My Paladin, Mage and Shaman have more than their share of levels solely from cooking dailies. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, alts that I don’t feel all that great about playing. There are other ways to level aside from questing, dungeons, and battlegrounds, and I’ve tried out a lot of them.

I have really mixed feelings about using alternate ways to level. Part of me likes it, because I can skip over those parts of the content where I have trouble retaining any interest at all. Oh boy, time to get lost in Blackrock Mountain. Oh boy, Hellfire Ramparts with a fresh DK tank, yay. Oh boy, Utgarde Keep. Again. Doing pet battles or archeology or gathering at least lets me feel like I’m getting something out of the deal, be it a stash of gold from gathered materials or a leveled profession in addition to a leveled character.

But I’m also reminded that I’m using those alternate means of leveling because I don’t like playing the character. If I choose to level with something that could be done on any character on that specific alt solely for the experience gain, I’ve fundamentally said that playing the other parts of WoW don’t appeal to me with that toon.

Oh, if I do them as part of the leveling process those alternate means of experience gain are great. Pet battle and gather while questing? Perfect XP boosts. Grinding out a bunch of mobs for professions? Hey, at least you’re in combat and learning how the class works. Leveling by mining and hunting rare mobs in Pandaria on my DK has been the opposite experience I had in Cataclysm because I have had to learn how to play her to do it. I don’t have to quest, I hunt Karasang rares for their BOE drops and sweet XP. The rares are all challenging encounters, but not impossible, so I’ve actually watched my DK fluency rise again while leveling. I even felt confident enough to take her into BGs last night! I felt the competency gap, I was squishy as all getout, but I didn’t feel like I was floundering and a failure.

But I don’t know any more about playing a Rogue than I did when she was 70 now, because she’s the product of pet battles. I leveled her for her crafting skills and that was really about it.

When I find myself leveling solely through alternate means, I should probably take a long look at that alt.

Cynwii - Gnome Monk Training

THE FEW VERSUS THE MANY

This post started out with me realizing how much I really enjoy playing my Druid. I might have a lot of alts, and a lot of healers even, but when push comes to shove I know who I want to be playing in a battleground.

There’s a dynamic tension within a computer game like Warcraft that just doesn’t exist in a traditional RPG between multiple characters. In a tabletop or live-action RPG you’re pretty much expected to play one character per session, and probably only 1-2 characters over the course of a campaign. I played V:MET for 12 years and only played 5 characters total. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by not playing a Nosferatu or Malkavian. When I played AD&D, I didn’t ever feel like I should play a Barbarian just to experience everything. If I wanted a Barbarian, I switched to one – but there was no need to have a Barbarian rolled up so I could have a crafter or fill another role. If I played a Ranger, I played a Ranger and worked within the limits of that class.

MMOs have concepts of roles and factions. There are in-game abilities which are restricted to certain classes. There are limits on professions which require multiple characters to learn. Even your social circles are limited – you can only be on one server and one guild and one faction at a time. You might still only play one character at a given moment, but you’re able to have a whole roster of characters to work around game-imposed limits. You don’t have to have additional characters, but if you want to bypass those limits an alt is the way to do it. Hybrids have an advantage here in that they can change roles in a single character, but it’s not a fix to profession, server, guild or faction restrictions. You also don’t really know how another class plays until you play it.

I have 11 alts, one of each class, and it kinda stresses me out. I’m trying to embrace having what – to me – is a lot of alts, because it seems like a good way to experience the whole game of Warcraft. But those classes I struggle on sit there on my screen, reminding me that there’s work to be done, a project which is not finished, and it’s not a fun project. There are times I want fewer projects, to just have the ones left which I really love. Then there are times I try to convince myself maybe just 4 characters would be enough, one for each role. Then it’s 5, because I need someone to play on the other faction with. Then it’s 8, because why not have the 4 armor types represented on each faction? And then once you have 8 you might as well have 11. But I don’t love playing all 11 of those alts. I like them well enough, but I don’t love them. I have them to cover my bases.

Do what you love. It’s hard for me to log in to a toon I don’t love playing when there are options which I do love playing.

And yet I do.

This game is weird.

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Children’s Week 2013 and the School of Hard Knocks

Cynxi - Halfhill - Rainstorm

 

Children’s Week 2013 has begun, and with it is everyone’s favorite holiday PvP achievement – The School of Hard Knocks. And by favorite I mean “slightly above a root canal,” since for the past 4 years there’s been more anguish over this one achievement than … well… okay, there was a lot of anguish over the Battlegrounds in the Legendary quests too.

But I guarantee you that SoHK is hated more.

Anyhow, what the past 4 years has shown me is that you can do this achievement. No matter how much you dread it because you don’t PvP – you can do it.

In 2010 I wrote and recorded my Guide to the School of Hard Knocks. It’s aged a bit, but is still accurate and I hope you find it helpful. It has maps and video walkthroughs for each step of the achievement (hah, early Cyn videos! oh god my UI, I am so sorry).

The key is still practice and perseverance – you can do this!

Good luck out there!

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On Rejoining the Leveling Brackets

Cynwise unlocks her experience gains in Stormwind Keep.

Cynwise unlocks her experience gains in Stormwind Keep.

I’ve had some time for the 5.2 battleground scaling changes to sink in, and it’s pretty clear that for a twink, the best place to be is at the top of a bracket. If you’re going to be level 89 when you zone in, you might as well have level 89 gear and abilities, right?

For low skew brackets this is really unfortunate. Before it was pretty clear that staying low was the right choice for both PvP and PvE – secondary stat scaling worked in your favor in all environments. Now twinks have to choose between awesomeness in PvP and PvE – for one you go high, the other goes low. You can’t be great at both anymore – it’s one or the other.

(The only exception is Arenas. Arenas are unaffected by the new scaling. So if you’re an Arena junkie, staying low is the way to go.)

I’m not an arena junkie. I locked XP because I like to unwind with battlegrounds but don’t like grinding out sets of gear. I’ve enjoyed being a Big Gun in PvE – bringing 200k DPS to ICC, regularly putting out 100k+ DPS at level 85, of beating the pants off of level 90 DPS in Dragon Soul – but the real reason I locked was to PvP.

So after a week or two of reflection, I unlocked Cynwise and started queueing up for the leveling brackets with my healer partner and guildmate Rezznul. If I was going to have to level to 89 to be BiS anyways, why not just do it in the BGs? Each level brings a little improvement, but when you’re in average ilvl 439 gear at level 85 it’s not like you’re hurting for that extra gear. It’s just icing on top.

Consider that for a minute – one effect of scaling has been to return xp-off twinks back into the leveling brackets. Superbly geared level 70, 80, 85 toons are leaving the xp-off brackets in droves and hitting up the greener pastures of leveling brackets. I outgear everyone. It’s ridiculous.

Oh. And I have a pocket healer.

I’m not going to gloss over it – I absolutely love it. We absolutely love it. Why shouldn’t we? It’s ridiculous. And now we can do it without the guilt of weakening ourselves by leveling.

When my only regret is leaving behind being a star on Retro Raid Night? That’s not really much of a regret.

I do find it interesting that the unlocked 85 bracket is such a more pleasant experience than the locked 85 bracket right now. Most of the Alliance xp-off twinks quit and leveled out after 5.2. The xp-off bracket shifted from a slight Alliance advantage to a dominant Horde one, as teams of Horde healers with competent DPS just ravaged the remaining blue teams with 1-2 twinks. The majority of the Alliance players now seem to be expansion twinks, those returning players who haven’t bought Mists of Pandaria and show up in terrible Cataclysm gear. Those players are on the Horde, too, but not as many.

It’s a great time to be a level 85 Horde twink. Seriously. I see some great play and coordinated efforts to protect healers. Alliance healers have vanished and twinks are few and far between. The matches have gone from relatively equal contests to hoping that you don’t get steamrolled. I have still won the occasional locked game as Alliance – but it’s a frustrating experience, without the teamwork and competence which made even the losses fulfilling experiences.

This is a strange time to be PvPing. I’m locking and unlocking with abandon. It’s not that I’ve given up on the locked brackets, it’s that I’m leveling at the same time.

I don’t think bringing twinks back into the leveling brackets was a deliberate effect. I honestly don’t think twinks commonly enter in to any design decisions in PvP, with the exception of getting them out of low-level PvP with their separate brackets in 3.2. Removing characters with exceptionally great gear steered by veteran PvPers from the leveling brackets was generally seen as a good thing. Having us return, giving us incentives to play in the leveling brackets … well, it remains to be seen if it’s a good thing.

I know I’m having fun. I don’t know if my opponents are – but I sure am.

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Cynderblock’s Guide to the 5.2 Twink Brackets

Cynderblock Rides a Sea Turtle

pssst… is she gone?

This is Sgt. Cynthia Block – you might remember me by my Charlie Company call sign, Cynderblock. You might not, that’s okay too. I don’t need the limelight like Ms. Cynwise does over there. She sure loves her spreadsheets, don’t she? A little too much, if you know what I mean. I don’t know about you, but I tuned out right when she started yammering about taking the delta of the whoosimawhatsit and comparing it to the sine of the somethingorother.

See, I’m a twink, and I know what I know and like what I like. Mostly I like a good pint of Rumsey Rum Dark Label, but after they changed it up here in 5.2 I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to find something new to drink. I don’t know how I feel about this, because while I’m partial to most things Redridge I sure did like that Rumsey Rum.

What Miss Fancy Pants Warlock conveniently forgot to tell you and me was the info you probably really wanted to know – what about my twink bracket??? Ever notice how officers get all lost in the theory but never come right down and say this is how you get it done?

Well, that’s why this here Sergeant is here to help you out. Here’s the lowdown on the twink brackets with this new scalin’ business.

10-14: Tens are fucked six ways to Sunday. It was bad enough that no one ever queued in the bracket without using that damn XP-on exploit, but now tens are done. Without secondary stats going through the roof they’ve got nothing. Time to go solo Deadmines.

15-19: Ah, Nineteens, my old stomping grounds. Y’all are fine. Most of you are wearing grandfathered gear anyways.

20-24: Oh boy, the 20/24 War. If you’re 20 F2P, you better get those heirlooms quicklike and then you’ll be okay – you’ll practically be on equal footing with them 24s. Otherwise 24s have all the advantages here.

25-29: Twenty-Nines are fine. Everyone leveled to 29 anyways. Games are Sunday nights.

30-34: Is this even a thing? No. Go level to 39, what are you doing here? These levels suck.

35-39: Thirty-Nines are fine. Games are Wed/Fri 8pm Eastern. Rock on, 39s.

40-44: The Forty-Fours sound like a bad musical act out of Westfall. This bracket isn’t a thing.

45-49: The Forty-Niners are fine.

50-54: This ain’t no twink bracket! This is where people go to play AV for 4 levels before dropping out when the Death Nuggets show up. GTFO and level up.

55-59: Cynwulf leveled out of this bracket, and so should you. If you’re in it, I assume you’re at 59 to try to keep up with the DKs. Or you are a damned DK, in which case I’m not jealous of Death Grip. At all. /grumbles

60-64: Logically I’d say you should just level up to 64, but who am I kidding? Sixties are hardcore vanilla raiders, there is no way in hell that they’d level up and miss out on Molten Core. Stay 60, stay proud of your vanilla heritage, screw the haters, wear your awesome gear with pride.

65-69: Now I know those Northshire girls like to make jokes about the Redshire Sixty-Niners, but you know what? They’re just jealous of our good looks and fine bridge-making skills. 69 or bust. (No laughing, Private.)

70-74: Resilience will drop a bit for the 70s, but not enough to end the healer’s reign of terror. I’d expect most 70s to stay at 70 for Arena, Funwell, and BC pride. If they wanna level up to 74 for the archy Axe, sure, go ahead. But that’s really the only gear that’s worth it, Wrath stuff is junk.

75-79: I cannot even begin to describe how fucked you are if you’re level 75. Seventy-Niners are even more godlike now with their Cata gear. If any folks are going to keep using the XP-on exploits, I expect them to migrate here. This is the most imbalanced bracket in the game.

80-84: Hey, remember when the Eighties only had to worry about the occasional 84 Frost DK? Hah, good times. Good times. Sorry, Eighties, you’re probably screwed. Stay 80 if you have Mists blues and want to wreck face in ICC/heroics, otherwise take a look at moving up a bit. Each class is going to be a bit different due to gear availability – the more Mists gear you can get, the better.

85-89: The secondary stat problems are the absolute worst in this bracket. Mists PvE gear is now hands down better than Cata PvP gear and you’re going to want a full set of blues. The scaling cliff is so bad in this bracket you might really want to just stay 85 for a bit. Since all the best gear is available by 87 I’d check that out for your class as well.

90: Who the fuck plays at 90? Seriously.

Someones’s coming. I gotta go, but don’t be a stranger.

And don’t believe everything that warlock tells you!

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Analysis of the Post-Hotfix 5.2 Battleground Scaling Changes

Cynwise, Twin Peaks FC

The hotfix applied on March 12th addressed the most obvious bugs present in the battleground scaling changes of patch 5.2.  More testing will be required, of course, but I think we can say that we’re looking at the final, intended version of the scaling.

Battlegrounds for characters under level 90 in 5.2 have been changed so that a character’s effective level is scaled up to the top of the bracket. A level 10 character becomes 14, a 37 becomes 39, a 69 stays 69. For characters who are not at the maximum level of a bracket, this has the following direct effects:

  • Health pools are increased and normalized.
  • Primary attributes are increased slightly.
  • Heirloom items scale to the new effective level.
  • Normal gear does not scale.

The goal of this change was to normalize Hit between characters at opposite ends of the bracket and help balance low-level PvP. This change takes steps in the right direction for both goals, but there are a lot of issues that undermine that forward progress.

Let’s take a look.

THE QUESTION OF HIT AND SECONDARY STATS

WoW uses a system where you gain combat values as you level, but their relative effectiveness declines. You need more of a given stat to remain at the same power. I covered this in my previous post On the Broken Battleground Scaling of 5.2 as well as in an earlier post, The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP, so I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the concepts covered there. The point which is relevant to analyzing the 5.2 scaling change is that if you stay in the same gear as you level, it will do less for you. For primary stats (Strength, Agility, Intellect – or Attack Power and Spell Power), they increase linearly but decline relative to the character’s environment. For secondary stats (Haste, Hit, Crit, Dodge, PvP Resilience, etc.) they decay directly as more rating is required to achieve 1% of a given stat.

So the first problem that is introduced is that characters at the bottom of the bracket have their secondary stats reduced upon entering the battleground. A item with +8 Hit gives 4% Spell Hit at level 20, but only 3.2% Spell Hit at level 24. When a level 20 character zones into Warsong Gulch, they will need to stack more Hit, Haste, Crit, etc. to be as effective as they were before. For secondary stats like Haste, Crit, Mastery Dodge, PvP Power and Resilience, this results in the character performing worse inside the battleground compared to outside of it. Casts are slower, regen is slower, Crit is lower.

Hit isn’t quite so cut and dry. Lower levels will need more Hit to achieve the same rating as before, but the amount of Hit required to cap is also lowered (from 10% to 5% for melee hit and 20% to 4% for spell hit) because everyone is now the same level. You will need more Hit at the lowest level to hit the at-level PvP Hit cap, but once you hit it it’s good against everyone in the bracket.

5.2 Scaling Analysis - Do Low Levels Need More to Hit High Levels?

The chart above is from a Hit Analysis spreadsheet to compare the hit ratings necessary at the tops and bottoms of each individual bracket. The values in red are those places where the lower end of the bracket needs more hit (a positive number) to hit cap against the top of the bracket under the new scaling system; green values are where they need less hit. (Less Hit is the goal, which is why it’s green.)

As you can see, there’s a uniformly positive impact on casters, and nearly all brackets have a positive impact for melee. That’s the good news. It looks weird and nonintuitive because your Hit definitely goes down, but it’s easier to cap your Hit against a level 79 now at 75 than it was before.

The problem is, do you want to cap your Hit against the top of the bracket? The scaling means that you’re slower, less keen, less able to defend yourself against attacks. If most of your opponents are also at the bottom of a bracket, you’re less effective against them than you were before. Take a look at the same chart, only this time comparing low levels hitting low levels:

5.2 Scaling Analysis - Do Low Levels Need more to Hit Low Levels?

Uniformly melee and casters are worse off trying to hit people of the same level if they’re in the bottom of a bracket. Why would the majority of people be in the bottom of a bracket?

I never thought you’d ask.

Cyn - Warblade and Vicious Pyrium Set - SW - procs

BRACKET SKEW AND GEAR AVAILABILITY

In the previous post I described brackets as either skewing high or low. Each bracket has a different combination of stat weighting, gear availability, and possible expansion overlap which gives one end or another unique strengths. High skew brackets are characterized by:

  • Better gear is available at the top end of the bracket than the bottom.
  • Rating decay is relatively flat across the bracket.

High skew brackets tend to avoid expansion breaks and are characteristic of most of the middle levels.

I’d consider the following high skew brackets: 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 65-69, 75-79.

The 20-24 bracket is a little bit of an odd duck amongst the high-skew brackets because of the preponderance of Starter Edition players. The population skews low, but the bracket itself favors high.

Low skew brackets are different. They usually are:

  • The best gear is available at the bottom of the bracket.
  • Rating decay hits sharply across the bracket. This can happen either at the beginning (after an expansion break) or across the entire bracket (due to expansion level compression).

Low skew brackets are usually situated near expansion breaks due to the stat scaling and gear combinations afforded by endgame development. (A good reference to understanding how this works is Ghostcrawler’s blog post The Great Item Squish (Or Not) Of Pandaria, where he illustrates how each expansion introduces item inflation at the endgame.)

The following brackets skew low: 10-14, 60-64, 70-74, 85-89.

The 80-84 bracket used to skew low, but the introduction of Mists gear is starting to make it skew high despite the dramatic combat rating dropoff at 83. There are still classes which excel at 80, depending on gear availability, but there are sweet spots for gear at 81, 82 and even 84 which twinks pursue.

All clear on bracket skew? Okay, good, because the second issue the new scaling model introduces is that it skews all brackets high, eliminating any benefits of being low level. It’s not just that it turns the low skew brackets high – it’s that it skews all of them higher.

Compare a low skew bracket like 70-74 against a high skew bracket like 75-79. At level 70 you have access to Sunwell gear and Brutal PvP gear. At 71 you can have the same gear, but your secondary stats are 25% lower, and it goes downhill to 74. With one or two exceptions, the gear at 74 just isn’t any better than what you had at 70. With the new system, everyone PvPs at level 74 in level 70 gear, which means you can level and gain some abilities (and maybe those one or two pieces of gear) without any drawbacks. It’s not great – everyone is worse off than before – but it’s not terrible, either.

In a high-skew bracket like 75-79 the situation is much worse. Level 75 characters only have access to Wrath questing gear (about ilvl 154-160) – which is still about as good as the Sunwell/Brutal PvP epics you had in the previous bracket. Level 79 characters have access to Cataclysm greens (about ilvl 277-289). The gear disparity is magnified in this bracket: the low end (normally 75) is now 79 in level 75 gear, while the high end is unchanged!

Because high skew brackets have better gear at higher levels, lower level characters are further behind relatively under the new system. They’re locked out of the better gear (because of their level) and the gear they do have functions worse (because they’ve lost their scaling.) Low skew brackets are affected as well, but not to the extent that a high skew bracket is.

In this case, I think scaling has made brackets a little more unfriendly to the bottom. How unfriendly it has become depends very much on how skewed the bracket was before the change.

Generally, it’s now always optimal to level to the top of the bracket if possible.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 9.00.32 PM

A BIAS TOWARDS HEIRLOOMS

In my post The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP, I didn’t think that level disparity was the real source of inequality in low level PvP. Ability distribution, player experience, and wild variance in gear levels still seem to me to be a bigger issue than levels and hit. Heirloom gear is where the scaling change directly meets my own concerns about gear disparity, since I think enchanted heirlooms are practically essential PvP gear for leveling at this point.

Heirlooms have created a new strata of player in the battleground ecosystem, leveling twinks.  Sometimes called heirloom twinks, these players rightly gear as best they can for PvP with stamina-heavy heirlooms that give them solidly good gear in nearly every slot as they go. Leveling twinks are different from XP-off twinks because they are in the same bracket with players in quest whites and greens, yet have dramatically better gear than their opposition. XP-off twinks are shunted off into their own battlegrounds and (generally) play against similarly well-geared opponents. As XP-off twinks aren’t leveling, they will often go to great lengths to secure the best in slot gear – lengths that you might not even pursue on an endgame character – because they know it will be good for the life of that toon. Leveling twinks might lock XP and run some dungeons to fill in non-heirloom slots, but generally they have blue-quality gear and good enchants.

The third issue is that heirlooms have increased value and power under the new scaling system. Because they scale to the top of a bracket with a character, they don’t suffer any stat decay. They’re as good at 36 as they are at 39, at 55 as they are at 59. Heirloom items have the stats they are supposed to have at the top of a bracket even if the character is at the bottom. Normal gear doesn’t do this – if a belt gives you +8 Intellect at 40, it will give you +8 Intellect at 44. A heirloom that gives you +8 Intellect at 40 will give you +11 Intellect at 44.

This seems like a small issue, but I don’t really think it is. New players are already at a disadvantage if they try out PvP on their first character. People like me bring heirlooms and enchants and gems and consumables which are really really difficult to acquire until you have high-level assistance and knowledge of the game. Heirlooms contribute to the imbalance of low level PvP, and now they’re more imbalanced. Not a lot – quick testing showed me each piece was like 5-10% better in terms of raw stats – but better.

This change makes sense in the confines of scaling, but not in terms of achieving PvP balance.

Cynwii - Loch Modan Bush Disguise

AN AMUSING SIDE EFFECT

One thing I noticed while testing the new system amused me more than it should. If you level out of a bracket – ding 40 in the 35-39, for instance – instead of being one level above your opponents, you’re now five. All of the Hit balancing goes out the window because everyone needs 11-25% Hit to get you now. Your heirloom gear scales up, too, so while you’re not quite as good as you can be (unless you carried gear with you to equip later) you’re not that badly off. The slight advantage people used to get for dinging in a battleground has been replaced by a very large one, and honestly it’s kinda funny.

I opened a ticket because I saw a level 69 Druid running around my level 60-64 Eye of the Storm this week. This is how that happened. (Addon nameplates are reporting the incorrect level. The stock UI should display correctly.)

Cynxi - Pandaren Rogue - Melee at Rest -SW

INCREASED HEALTH AND THE GOOD PART OF THESE CHANGES

There are some things about this change which I don’t like. It skews brackets high, it rewards heirloom gear in low levels, it makes Hit a PITA to manage, it destroys secondary stats like PvP Resilience and PvP Power. It makes my characters feel different (read that as worse) inside a battleground than outside them, and that’s awkward. Don’t like it.

But there are some good things, too, things that any analysis needs to acknowledge.

Combat seems slower now. Burst is lessened in many higher brackets because secondary stats like Haste, Mastery, and Crit have been slaughtered at the same time health pools have been increased. This effect is very pronounced at the higher levels where health pools have shot up 100k or more. Here’s how my warlock looks:

5.2 Scaling Analysis - Cynwise 85 Lock

(This is from my post-hotfix 5.2 Battleground Scaling Data spreadsheet if you are following along with the math.)

Without trying to stack any Resilience, her effective health is up 110k – almost 40%! If damage goes down and effective health goes up, fights are slower and more strategic, you don’t get 1-shot by an Eviscerate crit or Chaos Bolt, and – perhaps most importantly – healers are more potent. (Your opinion of this depends on if you’re playing a healer or facing a healer premade.)

These scaling changes make battlegrounds more healer-friendly. That’s not a bad thing, and not something I expected.

The changes in lower levels are not quite as dramatic, but they’re still present. Here’s my heirloom-clad Mistweaver monk:

5.2 Scaling Analysis - Cynwii 39 Monk

I mention the heirlooms because they fight against stat decay while providing level 44 stats in the second example, but in general you see that there’s a solid improvement in health with only a moderate decrease in secondary stats. (Secondary stats from 35-60 decay at much slower rate than those from 85-90.)

It’s a small boost to survivability, but it certainly does change the feel of some brackets.

PASSING JUDGEMENT

Now that we’re past the buggy part of the implementation – and make no mistake, it was buggy – it’s tough to get past it and move on to adjusting to how the new scaling system works. Now that I’ve had a chance to sit back, do some math, and more importantly think about it – many, if not most of my objections below are qualitative and personal.

  • Hit scaling is non-intuitive if you play at the bottom of a low-skew bracket. Hitting 4% Hit at 85 was pretty easy, but hitting 20% wasn’t ever a goal of mine. If you miss some of the 89s in there, you miss them and move on.
  • DPS specs feel less bursty, and I was enjoying playing a bursty class. The survivability tradeoff doesn’t feel all that great. (Counterpoint: my healer partner absolutely adores the loss of burst and feels like a god.)
  • The hit to secondary stats devalues PvP Resilience and PvP Power. Once you hit level 70, Resilience becomes a Thing You Should Have, but now it’s hard to argue for it in the face of increased health pools.
  • I feel clunky. Casts are slower and hit much softer than they did before. I step out of a BG and it’s like I’ve got a supersized-ICC buff on me! I zone in and things slow down. I notice this more at 85 than at 40 or 60.
  • I don’t like how some of the brackets have skewed even higher than before.
  • Having to choose between awesomeness in PvE (by staying at the end of an expansion) and PvP (by leveling to the top of a bracket) isn’t any fun. I like having my cake and eating it too!

It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, and I understand why people are upset and confused by it. But it’s not as bad as my initial reactions, and it’s not going to break PvP and cause the Battlegrounds to be unplayable.

From an IT perspective, it looks like it was a reasonably simple development change with a lot of downstream impacts. While I’m pleasantly surprised that it does achieve the goal of making it easier for the low end of brackets to hit the high end of the brackets, the tradeoffs in secondary stat reduction, elevated heirloom importance, and skewing bracket imbalance doesn’t seem like a positive change overall.

That said, the increased health pools and reduced burst have made my pocket healer very happy. And keeping my healer happy is important too.

Jury is still out. Let’s see how this change works for a bit.

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New Battleground Scaling To Be Hotfixed

It’s great having Blizzard developers like Ghostcrawler on Twitter.  They’ll cut right to the chase.

As Ghostcrawler said, there should be a hotfix soon (maybe in tomorrow’s batch) to address some, if not all, of the scaling issues.

Nobody panic or level up, just hang tight and let’s see what it looks like after the hotfix.

(Also, yeah, that one goes in the Good Job folder. :D)

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On the Broken Battleground Scaling of 5.2

The 5.2 BG Scaling dramatically reduces secondary stats. Natural 85 on the left, scaled 85 on the right.

Effects of Battleground Scaling after 5.2 Normal is on the left, scaled is on the right.

The 5.2 patch notes contained the following intriguing note for battlegrounds:

Players in low-level Battlegrounds will have their effective level raised to the maximum level allowed in that Battleground bracket. Players’ base stats and spells are scaled accordingly, and are treated as the same level when determining hits, misses, and critical effect chance.

There wasn’t any more explanation about this change, but the general idea is to smooth out battleground brackets so that players at the bottom levels of a bracket can compete with those at the top. That’s a noble goal, I suppose, though the last time I wrote about the problems of fixing low level PvP I hadn’t really thought that level imbalance was the source of imbalance in leveling PvP. Player experience, gear decay, and class imbalance were far more pressing matters. But if we’re fixing levels, okay, we’re fixing levels.

The optimist in me interpreted the above patch note as follows:

  • Miss chance will be equalized across the bracket at a uniform 4%.
  • Because the hit/miss chance is now equal across levels, the chance of melee critical strikes on the Attack Table will also be uniform.
  • Base health will be scaled up to the top of the bracket.
  • Spell effects will be scaled up to the top of the bracket.

This presented the changes in the best light – it allowed characters to gear as best they could for the battlegrounds while minimizing the effects of disparate levels. A level 15 player wouldn’t need to stack 20% Hit to always hit level 19 opponents anymore, which seems to be the real purpose of this. Either gear would scale up to the new level using the amazing Challenge Mode technology released in Mists, or all stats from the gear would remain the same so the character wouldn’t experience any loss of potency. The change was to normalize hit and health.

What was actually implemented this week was much simpler, and far more disastrous:

  • Character levels are raised to the top of the bracket. Base stats and health increase accordingly.

This causes all kinds of problems, most notably placing lower level characters in a bracket at a serious disadvantage from those at the top level. Instead of solving the problem, it makes it far worse.

The issue is gear and scaling.

BATTLEGROUND BRACKETS, GEAR AND SCALING

As you level in Warcraft your gear gets less effective. Oh, the numbers stay the same – a +5 Intellect hat doesn’t start going down – but what that +5 does for you gets less and less. You need more and more stats on your gear as you level to remain at the same ability level. This combat rating decay is a fundamental part of encouraging players to level without causing actual ability imbalance. As you level up your character gets weaker and needs more and more numbers on their gear to keep up.

Gear is restricted by level to prevent characters from progressing too far and gaining too much power. Within the five level spread representing any given battleground bracket you’re going to see more quantitatively powerful gear at the higher levels. At certain levels you’ll see radical jumps in power due to expansion inflation – 58 for BC, 68 for Wrath, 77 for Cataclysm, 80-82 for Mists. This means that the gear available to players at the top of these brackets is substantially better than the gear available to the bottom.

These two factors combine to create an interesting see-saw between powerful gear and stat scaling. Generally the epics available from the end of an expansion will outweigh anything else in that bracket no matter what level a character is, so it’s best to stay at the bottom of those brackets to take advantage of improved stat scaling. If you’re in the 70-74 bracket – which contains Sunwell epics and Brutal Gladiator gear – you’re almost always better staying level 70 because you’ll have the best gear and the best combat ratings.

When you go up to the next bracket (75-79), though, things flip. The Cata gear available at level 79 is so much better (ilvl 277+) than the Wrath gear available at 75 (ilvl 155-179, tops) that the bottom part of the bracket gets destroyed. Heck, anyone gets destroyed if they aren’t in full Cata greens – they’re better than the best level 80 raid epics you could get in Wrath!

This cycle of low / high starts around 55-59 and lasts for 20 levels, up to 79. It gets muddied as the levels between expansions contract at level 80, where a level 80 in Wrathful gear used to be quite good against most classes at level 84 (with a few exceptions). Mists gear contaminated this bracket, though, adding superpowered ilvl 409+ gear. Now it’s a toss up between staying low and reaping the benefits of combat scaling or leveling up for better gear. Stats decline faster over 5 levels than they do over 10, and every level hurts.

The 85-89 bracket was dominated by mixing and matching Cata PvP gear and Mists blue gear, with most classes staying at 85 but a few advancing on to gain exceptionally good abilities. There’s some gear improvement at 87, but most every BiS item in the bracket can be equipped at 85. There’s nothing at 89 which beats what an 87 can wear, and not much of it beats what a 85 can equip.

In each one of these brackets the power skews low or high. If overpowered gear is available at the top of the bracket, then level becomes a major issue. If favorable stats and great gear is available at the bottom of the bracket, level isn’t an issue and the bracket is generally easier to level through.

Scaling changes on PvP gear. Normal is to the left, scaled is on the right.

Scaling changes on PvP gear. Normal is to the left, scaled is on the right.

HOW LEVEL EQUALIZATION FAILS

The change in 5.2 brings everyone’s effective level in a bracket up to the maximum while leaving gear intact, causing two different and distinct problems. These problems will be better or worse depending on the way the bracket skews.

First, lower level characters are locked out of the gear they need to compete on an even field. Raising effective levels does little to nothing to address the gear disparity between expacs. A level 75 character will still be clad in Wrath blues and greens (and possibly BC purples), facing off against level 79s in Cata greens. (Keep in mind that’s a 150 item level disparity.) In the high skew brackets (55-59, 65-69, 75-79 and now 80-84) this is a serious problem.

Second, lower level characters suffer increasingly dramatic penalties to their secondary stats in brackets where gear is mostly equalized. In the low-skew brackets (10-14, 20-24, 60-64, 70-74, 85-89), combat scaling favors the lower level characters and allows them to compete with the increased health, damage and abilities of the top of the bracket. Gear is relatively balanced across these brackets, so you avoid the first problem.

Equalizing only the level and not the gear means that the low level toons are now walking in with gear 5 levels below their opponents. If those 5 levels span an expansion gear break, they’re in trouble. If those 5 levels encompass a sharp decline in combat ratings, they’re really in trouble.

Let’s look at Hit as an example.

I thought the original idea behind this change was to make a smooth 4% Hit Cap for PvP, basically negating any advantage the top of a bracket holds over the bottom. Everyone needs just a little Hit and it’s all even.

Hit scales (down) with level. The higher level you are, the more Hit rating you need to get +1% Hit. But your gear doesn’t scale. You’re now level 84 wearing level 80 gear, itemized for level 80. That 4% Hit you had before you zoned into the BG? It’s now 1%. You’re going to need about 14% Hit on your gear to get to 4%. I don’t even want to think about how much Hit dual-wielding classes are going to need to be competitive.

If the goal was to equalize Miss/Hit across a bracket, this change absolutely failed to achieve its goal. It fails twofold:

  1. It doesn’t make it any easier to hit players of a higher level.
  2. It makes it harder to hit players of the same (low) level.

If this wasn’t the specific goal of the change, I fail to see how this helps equalize the top and bottom of a bracket.

I went ahead and pulled some data off of my Warlock last night and compiled it into a spreadsheet.

5.2 Battleground Scaling Changes

I lose 61% of Cynwise’s secondary stats – Hit, Crit, Haste, PvP Power – in exchange for ~35% increase in effective health. She goes from being agile and hard hitting to clunky and slow, just like everyone else in the battleground. Keep in mind that her gear is exceptionally good (item level 414-438) and she has an overabundance of Hit. She’s got more Hit than Cassius Clay.

This really changes the feel of each battleground, and not for the better.

At this point the only sane gearing strategy while leveling is to go for as much of your primary SP/AP attribute as possible and ignore secondary stats. Any nuances to gearing don’t matter

HEIRLOOMS AND BUGS

Up till now I’ve just been talking about how the scaling change affects low level characters in a bracket based on the design. There are two wrinkles to add to all of this – heirlooms and bugs.

Heirlooms scale according to your effective level. This means that a level 20 toon with heirlooms now has the stats of a level 24 with heirlooms, which is the only place where scaling seems to be working right!

The drawback is that this now means that heirlooms are more essential to leveling battlegrounds than ever before. Players in non-heirloom gear will be at a significant disadvantage to those who have them, and the more heirlooms the better.

The biggest gap in leveling battlegrounds is caused by experienced players with enchanted heirlooms. They are the new twinks of PvP. This change, as implemented, strengthens their superiority and makes it even harder for new players to compete. Without normal gear scaling the problems of low level PvP will now get worse, not better.

The second problem is that the scaling is really buggy right now. Players are reporting on the forums that no secondary stats from heirlooms are getting applied (at all). I was in my PvE set last night and missing every few casts (which absolutely should not happen). Players have reported that you are better off taking off all your gear and fighting naked rather than using the scaled gear. There are a lot of problems here and it doesn’t seem to be working as intended.

It’s my hope that the implementation can be straightened out or rolled back, as these changes have all negatively impacted PvP play in sub-90 battlegrounds. They don’t accomplish the putative goals and exacerbate existing problems in low level PvP.

—-

Update 2013-03-08: Ghostcrawler confirmed this is bugged and a hotfix is coming soon. Nobody panic, nobody level, someone tell my Arena Partner that he’s not going to remain godmode healer forever and then pass him some smelling salts.

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