Tag Archives: Mists

Queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the Same Time

Unexpected – but welcome – addition in 5.0.4 is that you can now queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the same time.

DPS players, rejoice!

UPDATE: Oh, hey! You can queue for everything ALL AT ONCE!


Aw yeah. I’m going to sit around Dalaran and WAIT in several lines AT ONCE.


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

On Worse is Better

I’ve mentioned before that JWZ was one of my blogging heroes; but one of the most dramatic influences he had on me was introducing me to Richard Gabriel’s essay, The Rise of “Worse is Better”. Even though it’s about Lisp and Scheme versus Unix and C++, it’s an excellent, thought-provoking read which looks at why certain computer languages work and thrive, and why others fail. You should read it.

How many of you still use Scheme after college? I know I haven’t touched it or MATLAB since COMP 101, but I’ve sure used Python, Java, and C/C++ in my career as a professional programmer. Is Scheme still useful? Yes. It is widespread? Not outside of academia.

The core idea of the Worse-is-Better philosophy is that simple implementations which achieve most of the desired functionality are superior to complex implementations which achieve the whole thing. UNIX is really a collection of small programs which do certain things adequately, assembled and refined over the years until it’s a rock-solid operating system. But it’s not the stability which makes it so ubiquitous – it’s how it can run on almost anything. Microsoft figured this out with the NT to XP transition, and the success of XP – and relative failure of Vista – should be object lessons

Warcraft, in many ways, is an adherent to the Worse-Is-Better philosophy. The cartoonish graphics and relatively low pixel counts have allowed Warcraft to spread, like a virus, on computers which would not normally be considered gaming machines. The graphics degrade well because the style is simple and doesn’t require high resolution to convey the desired image. More processing power adds better effects but isn’t a requirement to play.

Simplicity is good for adoption. At any time, half of the computers out there are below the median, and if you are spending marketing dollars to get people to try your game you don’t want their machine to be an impediment. Games that don’t support certain operating systems or have high graphics requirements automatically start off at a disadvantage because they limit their customer base. This is a tradeoff from a development standpoint – you can’t port your game to every operating system, you can’t support everything, but you have to support enough to be profitable. I probably would have tried SW:TOR if it had a Mac client, but it didn’t, and I didn’t feel like buying a Windows 7 license and running Boot Camp to try it out. Bioware made a conscious decision to not support Macs to keep their development costs low, which eliminated me as a potential customer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff! It happens all the time. You have to focus your efforts to ship a product.

But that development decision had implications down the road.

Yesterday’s WoW patch (5.0.4) brought with it the new graphical requirements for Mists of Pandaria. It was a bit of a surprise to me, since my laptop – which had run the Beta fine – was suddenly unable to run Warcraft. I wrote about how it affects me personally on tumblr, but I don’t want to dwell on it. It’s done, I can’t use the laptop, my playtime is reduced until I upgrade it (which isn’t happening soon). Other people have it worse than I do – their only computer can’t play their favorite game, and I feel really bad for them.

I think it’s more interesting to consider the bind Warcraft’s longevity has put Blizzard’s developers into. Every year that WoW continues is another year where technology gets better. If we follow Moore’s Law, computers today are 16 times more powerful than when WoW launched, and the game competition being developed now can take advantage of that increase. Warcraft is competing against games that can count on a computer having an order of magnitude more resources than when it was first designed.

In many ways, that’s Warcraft’s strength, because it’s a social game, and mass adoption is key to continued success. I’ve said before that Warcraft is really a video game bolted on top of a social network. But that strength is also a weakness as the game ages, because WoW competes in the market with those other games. It has to adapt, which means that events like yesterday happen. Customers log in and discover that they’re suddenly unable to play because their computer is no longer good enough. All the marketing costs to acquire that customer, all the support and development costs to keep that customer, are lost if they choose not to upgrade their computer.

Consider that cost for a minute. Blizzard incurs a cost to acquire a customer (marketing dollars, core game development, retail packaging and distribution) and an operational cost (customer support, continued development, server hosting and operational upgrades, corporate expenses). The customer has an initial startup cost (buying the game) and an operational cost (subscription fees). This is all pretty straightforward in the short term.

In the long term, however, both sides incur costs to support the game. Blizzard has to spend development resources to maintain old operating system versions, old hardware models. Customers have to invest in hardware to be able to continue playing the game. (The initial investment in buying a computer which can play the game is often overlooked, because it’s the very first part of market selection – “does this person have a computer?” – and is a fundamental assumption.) Increasing the minimum requirement for the game brings this specific assumption into question – does the player still have a computer which can play the game – and also increases the cost for the player. Instead of $15 a month, now the player needs to look at it and say, should I spend $1-2k on a new computer so I can continue to play WoW?

If we assume a 36 month lifetime of a given computer upgrade, it’s $27.78-$55.56 additional a month for the customer. So at a minimum, purchasing a $1k computer to continue playing Warcraft is effectively the same as spending $45 a month on on sub.

Warcraft (or any software package which forces one) gets an unfair part of the blame in this decision to upgrade. There are usually other reasons to upgrade a computer which factor in to the decision (faster CPUs, more hard drive space, more memory) – but psychologically, the triggering event is the one which we focus upon. If I want to play Warcraft on a laptop, I need to get a new laptop. That’s the decision some people are faced with today. They aren’t saying, my web browsing is kinda slow or running a lot of applications (they probably are). They’re looking at Blizzard and Warcraft and going, is this worth an additional $30-60 a month? Do I have the cash to do this? Oh god Christmas is coming up and I was going to get Mists and now I can’t play Warcraft holy fuck what am I going to do I wanted PANDAS.

But computers are sixteen times more powerful than they were when Warcraft launched. That’s amazing!

This is a really interesting aspect of the game industry, and the MMO industry, which I don’t think gets enough attention. How do you have a subscription model where, over the long term, your customers will churn due to equipment requirements? What happens when your product is still going strong almost a decade later? How do you get the broadest adoption?

Worse-is-better is the answer.

Warcraft has taken a lot of heat for its cartoonish graphics, its low-polygon models, its antiquated engine. But that art style, that engine, has had good survival characteristics in the marketplace. I think other game developers and game enthusiasts alike should take note of it – long term success requires broad adoption over a variety of platforms. Your product needs to be easy to port, easy to adapt. Making a hugely complex jewel of a game which can only run on 5% of the computers out there is not going to be as profitable as making a Facebook game.

There’s a somewhat unique balancing act here that Blizzard has to walk. They are tied to old technology that has good survival characteristics, yet have to compete against new tech that can be shinier, faster, fancier. Much like UNIX, I don’t think that a competitor who follows Blizzard’s model is going to usurp them. MMO game clients which overly rely upon the customer’s hardware will keep running into adoption problems. Thin clients with broad platform support are much more of a threat than a traditional MMO because they can be adopted quickly. Put most of the graphical processing up in the cloud and watch the same game get ported to consoles, PCs, smart TVs, smartphones, microwaves, in-car entertainment centers – who knows where they will end up next?

I know I don’t. Not really, not yet.

But I do know that the game industry needs to start thinking more about the lessons Common Lisp taught more than 30 years ago, because asking your customers to purchase new hardware to continue your revenue stream is a tough sell.


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Play Now, Not Then

This too shall pass.

I think about that proverb a lot.

I remember how much pressure I felt two years ago to see everything in WoW before Cataclysm changed it all. It was this palpable weight on my mind, this knowledge that it was all going away.

I had been playing just long enough to have seen enough to know how much else there was to see, but not long enough to have seen it yet. It was my first expansion transition, but also one where the changes to the game outweighed any changes I might have expected to my characters. I knew that there were changes coming to how I would play, but I didn’t really pay them much mind. I had two goals – Ambassador and Kingslayer – and getting those two titles on two very different characters helped me put Wrath to bed and get mentally ready for Cataclysm.

Those titles don’t mean very much anymore. Their value has passed, as the changes in the game made them easier to get. But I remember those accomplishments fondly, and I value them still. I’m glad that I did them then, and didn’t wait for Cataclysm.

Over the past few months I have quietly set aside my twinks and reclaimed my warlock main, Cynwise. There’s a certain natural flow to playing her that I don’t have on any other character, even after almost a year of disuse.  I’m not near Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to master her yet, but I’m working on it. I find myself enjoying PvP on her again – something I hadn’t expected – and that I no longer bemoan her professions or her gear or how Rogues love to gank her.

We just play. It’s uneasy at times; I find I miss healing any BG that lacks a healer, and I tend to tank old raids without a viable tank spec. But by and large, we just play. I’m slowly working on Battlemaster and Justicar, but they’re more an excuse to PvP than goals for Cataclysm.

I realized, though, that there’s a fundamental difference between where I was at the end of Wrath, and where I am now at the end of Cataclysm. Pre-Cataclysm, I wanted to see the game before it went away, and it didn’t matter who I saw it on. Pre-Mists of Pandaria, I want to enjoy playing a Warlock as they are now, flawed yet challenging, before they go away.

This class that I love – it’s going to change in Mists. It’s going to change a lot. I can look ahead and go, I think that I will like the new Warlocks – but I don’t know. I thought I would love Cataclysm, but I didn’t. I don’t think I really even liked it very much, as a whole. There were parts I loved – many of the revamped leveling zones – and there were things I enjoyed well enough – but the sum total wasn’t what I anticipated two years ago.

So I look at the changes to Warlocks with very guarded optimism. I know leveling will be better, but beyond that – I think they’ll work out okay, but I really don’t know. I think I’ll have fun with the specs, but I don’t know which ones will click with me, which ones will work in PvP, which ones will be fun to quest with. I don’t know.

I do know that the specs I enjoy now are going away in a few months. There is a countdown timer running on them. Time is running out for me to play the way I’ve learned over the past few years.

I don’t know if what’s coming will be better or worse. I hope it’s better, but I don’t know. I’m afraid it will be worse, but I don’t know.

I know it will be different, and this too shall pass.

So I’m playing Warlock now, because I enjoy it now.

Changes will come soon enough. They always do.

It’s ironic that I spent so much time in Cataclysm trying to freeze things in place, trying to deny that change should happen, was happening. I built over a dozen twinks – characters locked in various XP brackets – this expansion, each working on different Best In Slot lists, frozen in time. My surprise main character for 4.2 and much of 4.3 was my level 70 Druid Cynli, who is about as geared as I can make her for her primary role.

Cynli was one of many attempts by me to thumb my nose at Heraclitus. All things are change, that ancient greek philosopher maintained, and yet I tried to step into the same river over and over again. I was upset that Cynwise had changed beneath me, that not only had the foundations of the world been torn asunder, but my vehicle for experiencing them had, too.

Was it too much change for me to deal with? Honesty compels me to admit that it might have been.

The Mists Beta is full of all sorts of scenes like the one above. Classes change dramatically without warning. Abilities work, or don’t work, or kinda work, or have interesting bugs that might not really be what was intended – or maybe they might! It’s hard to say.

But as time marches on, and class design starts to solidify and Blizzard developers start making balance passes with the new mechanics, it hits me more and more – I don’t really know what this game will be like in the future. I don’t know what my favored class will really be like.

It’s not going to be like it was in Burning Crusade, or Wrath. There’s no going back.

But there’s also no skipping ahead – no hurrying up the expansion so I can get to leveling my baby Horde Warlock, no trying out the Glyph of Demon Hunting as an off tank in retro raids, no cool new glyphs or simplified rotations or wondering what Haunt is really for.

There’s just the Warlocks of now, the Warlock class I know how to play.

Yes. I know that this, too, shall pass.

So I’ll enjoy it while I can, and take the changes as they come.


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria

This is the seventh, and final, post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

The first few weeks of the beta release of Mists of Pandaria was filled with all sorts of amazing news about changes to Warlocks. Every class received some changes, but it really seemed like Warlocks were getting a complete overhaul. Demo and Destro got new resource systems, Affliction’s Soul Shards were revamped. New demon models were added alongside the old stalwarts. Spells were simplified or redesigned, cruft was removed. Many spells were limited to specific specs.

Then came unexpected news: Demonology as a tanking tree. Green fire through a quest. Massive changes to the class were coming. The Cataclysm Warlock was going away, and in its place was going to be a something … very different. Even as things changed and the dual bombshells of Demon Form Tanking and Green Fire were retracted, the reports from the beta showed a class getting completely gutted and rebuilt.

The changes are pretty staggering.

I remember starting this series right around the time the beta came out and feeling a huge sense of urgency to get it done. I needed to get my findings online so people could see the reason for the attention. It’s not that Warlocks can’t DPS or PvP, it’s that the class is shedding players. It’s not that other classes don’t need help too, it’s that Warlocks were vanishing. More than a quarter of them quit. The trends were all going in the wrong direction.

But I also remember glancing at the changes and wondering: will these changes really fix the problems which caused the decline of the Warlock population, or are they just bandaids? New demon forms can get people excited, but if the demons weren’t the original problem then it’s wasted effort. Cosmetic changes can help sell a spec and class, but they can’t solve underlying mechanical issues. Cosmetic changes aren’t bad, at all! But there need to be major mechanical changes, too, or players won’t stick with the class.

I’m done with Cataclysm. Let’s move on to Mists.


Holy shit. Warlocks are going to be so much fun in the next expansion.

I can’t bring myself to level my baby Forsaken Warlock on the live servers anymore. Why? Because the leveling process is so much better on beta. If you are wondering if you should level a Warlock now or in Mists, wait for Mists. Gone are the awkward talents and abilities; in their place are simple, logical spells which fit the theme of the spec. Leveling Destro, for instance, I no longer shoot Shadow Bolts and dot on the run. Instead, I:

  1. Set people on fire.
  2. Explode people and stun them.
  3. Throw fire at people.
  4. Drop fire on groups of people.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s wonderful.

Simple for leveling? Yes, and that’s great for new players and new Warlocks alike. Affliction DoTs. Demo gets demon form early and gets to use it often. Destro slings fire at everything. By the mid-40s all the new resource systems are in place and you’re starting to learn the basics of how things work at endgame.

The class is very different at endgame. If you are going from 85 to 90, mentally start preparing to learn a new class. Affliction still feels familiar, but the changes have made it faster, more frantic at times. Demonology and Destruction are completely different; not only do they have new resource systems, they have jettisoned much of the shared Warlock abilities used in Cataclysm and are focused on the fantasy of the spec again.

The biggest problem, I think, will be the transition for current endgame Warlock players. I went in not knowing any of the new systems or having read any guides and was overwhelmed by how different things were. I had to start over from scratch to get used to the new way of doing things, nuking both my UI/keybinds and my preconceived notions of how the specs should work. The transition from Wrath to Cata was easier because it was just more stuff on top of stuff I already knew; Cata to Mists is new stuff. Jettisoning old concepts is hard but vital to the changeover.

I can already see that the developers recognize this is a problem by the appearance of clear, concise in-game directions on the Core Abilities tab. It’s relatively easy to put together a clear out-of-game guide, but a bit harder to teach people in-game. The Core Abilities tab wasn’t there when I started but it’s a really useful guide. The What Has Changed tab is another recent addition which I think will be helpful in-game advice for returning Warlocks.


I think the Core Abilities tab is a great addition to not only the Warlock class, but to every class in the game. Each spec gets a tab in the spell book summarizing their key abilities for use so that players understand the intended way to play, like this:

I love this tab. It provides a good overview of the endgame rotation of a spec. It lets you drag the abilities down to your action bars and go, okay, I’m playing Demo, here’s what I’m supposed to do: keep Corruption and HoG on the target, cast Soul Fire when MC procs, turn into a Demon when my Demonic Fury bar is full, otherwise cast Shadow Bolt. Got it.

It seems so logical in retrospect, but if there is a way a spec is supposed to be played, it makes sense that the game should teach it. This allows new and old players alike to pick up a class and get the basics quickly, while still allowing a lot of room for player growth. Mastery of the nuances of a class won’t be taught through the Core Abilities tab, that’s not what it’s there for. You won’t see things like “time your DoT refreshes with trinket procs with Demon Soul for max damage” or “use Fel Fire while moving” in these tabs, and that’s okay.

Core Abilities are the basics. Great addition. Love it.


You’ll notice that the number of spells on the Core Abilities tab is pretty low – the page supports six, which is a good number to try to get your head around when learning any spec.

One of the things I like best about the changes to Warlock in Mists is how the Core Abilities are not just the suggested abilities for the spec, they’re usually the only abilities. Competing abilities are just not available. Looking at Demo above, you might ask what happened to Immolate? It’s not available anymore to Demo! You can’t cast it, don’t even try!

This focus is created either by only granting abilities to certain specs, or transforming basic spells when the spec is chosen. Corruption turns into Immolate for Destro, so now there’s not a choice between the two, or a possibility that Corruption will enter the rotation. It can’t.

Locking many abilities to individual specs not only reduces player confusion, it eliminates the possibility of unintended crossover and the complexity that goes with it. The number of shared Core Abilities between specs is very low – Corruption is the only one, and it’s only shared between Affliction and Demonology. Everything else is different.

While this means we will likely see the three Warlock specs drift further apart in Mists, I think this is a very good thing for the flavor of each class and reducing overall class complexity.

The Destro Core Abilities (above) are a good illustration of how much more focused each class is on a few central, thematic abilities in Mists, and not presented with the dozens of choices you have in Cataclysm. I’m reminded of Bruce Lee’s quote on expertise:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

This was drilled into me when I was learning martial arts: most black belts only really use 5-10 moves, but they know how to use them in dozens of configurations and combinations, and adapt them to any situation or environment. I feel like that’s what we’re seeing here. The cruft is being cleared away, leaving us players to focus on using those abilities we have.


Spells which weren’t useful in Cataclysm have either been jettisoned or made useful in Mists.

Searing Pain is gone. This was mostly a PvP spell, but Fel Flame can replace it nicely.

Shadowflame is gone. I love this spell, but it was both awkward to use and very, very mage-like. It’s been rolled into Hand of Gul’dan now.

Fel Flame generates Burning Embers and Demonic Fury now, making it an easy choice for whenever a Warlock moves. You move, you cast Fel Flame for damage or Life Tap for mana, period.

Curse of Enfeeblement takes the place of Curse of Tongues and Curse of Weakness and is actually attractive now, especially while leveling!

Demon Soul now has spec-specific iterations, decoupling it from the deployed demon and eliminating Demon Twisting.

Demons appear (and this is, of course, subject to change) to be chosen based on utility, not on spec association or DPS. Any given spec doesn’t have a specific demon that benefits it through talents or abilities, which I think is a great change.

Spells transform into new versions when Warlocks do things. Demon Form doesn’t give you new abilities, it changes the ones you have into new, related abilities. Curses become Auras. That’s clever. If you use Burning Embers to do AoE, your spells change to reflect that.

All of these things are pretty damn cool.


That said, there’s a set of other abilities that are shared across Warlock specs that are also needed – things like Life Tap, Demon Soul, Guardian Demons – that still need to be cast. There are also talents which are independent of spec.

The division of abilities into Core/Non-Core is great for playing multiple Warlock specs because it allows players another way to chunk up their abilities. I can look at my UI and go, Core (DPS) abilities go in one place, baseline Warlock abilities (defensive, movement, utility) go in another, and maintain a great deal of consistency in layout between specs.

Compare my Affliction and Demo setups in Beta:

This is Affliction, arguably the spec with the most buttons right now. You can see that most of the Core Abilities are grouped in the lower bars and the primary 1-10 keys, while utility spells are on keys around the QWES keys, like ADFGT.

This is Demo. The utility keys are almost identical between specs, withthe only variation being different talents or glyphs I’m testing out. The Core Ability section is different, but not overwhelmingly so – there’s still a relatively uniform layout there.

I’m amazed at how much space I have with my keybindings, to be honest. I know some people have been able to play Warlocks in Cataclysm without using all their keybinds, but I have had fully loaded binds from the start. I’m a bit in shock that I won’t need 60 binds and can use WASD without feeling like I’m sacrificing valuable keybinds space to do it!

The Talent system revamp is excellent. Instead of trying to shape your character by taking certain necessary abilities, you’re choosing utility and options instead of possibly making mistakes which affect your core abilities. What I like best about the Warlock talents is that you can often tailor the complexity of the spec based on your choices – often you are selecting between another button to push, replacing an existing button, or adding a passive ability to a button. This allows Warlock players to take 3 or 4 different damage absorption CDs if they like, or just have two.

I saw this with the Glyphs, as well. The Glyph of Demon Soul is fantastic, because it gives a passive bonus when DS is not on CD, effectively allowing players who don’t want to have a burst CD to ignore it – yet still get some benefit from it. The Glyph of Wild Imps is working like this too, only in reverse! It takes a passive and adds a button with CD, which is awesome!

The abilities are simpler, but I wouldn’t call them simple. Not by a longshot. The interactions with each new resource spec are still up in the air, but there is still a lot of mental juggling going on. Affliction feels much faster now with changes to Malefic Grasp and Haunt. Destro feels very rhythmic, where you build up to this absolutely massive discharge of damage (oh god, 6 Chaos Bolts on 2 targets with Havoc and Demon Soul, be still my beating heart) and then start over again. Demonology is in the strangest place right now, with a hybrid melee-caster rotation that’s unlike anything Warlocks have seen before. Meta form is no longer just a CD you use to increase your damage, instead it’s an entirely different way of playing.


Near the beginning of the beta there was a report that Warlocks would get a quest which would allow them to change the color of their fire to green.

There are times that I feel like I’m in the minority because I don’t really care one way or another about green fire for Warlocks. I mean, would it be cool? Sure? But I’d rather see mechanics fixed than spell graphics updated?

Well, that’s really a crumudgeon’s attitude, and it took me playing in the Mists Beta to realize it.

I chose the screenshots above deliberately because they show off some of the very cool new spell effects that are available for Warlocks. Chaos Bolt is now a HUGE green energy dragon with a swarm of smaller dragons launched at the target. Shadow Bolt can be made to swarm in a pack of three instead of a bolt, and it’s AWESOME. Soul Fire is huge, like, HUGE. Harvest Life is wild when you can get 3-6 targets in range. These spells are great.

I was leveling my baby Warlock when I realized how much happier I was that she was slinging sheets of fire instead of shadow bolts at her targets. This is how Destro is SUPPOSED to feel! I yelled more than once at the screen.

And that’s really what the new graphics are all about; fulfilling the fantasy of a spec. The abilities have to do it, the mechanics have to do it, but the graphics have to do it, too. And the new graphics are delivering on that fantasy. They are making each spec different from each other – you will not have to wonder for long what kind of Warlock you are facing. They’re also making the class visually distinct from other classes very early on – you won’t wonder if you’ve got a Fire Mage or a Destro Lock in your group anymore. You’ll know.

I know Blizzard came out and said that green fire wasn’t happening, but given the scope of graphical changes I’ve seen in the Beta – I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.


I have not seen a class community polarize faster than Warlocks did over the discovery of the Glyph of Demon Hunting, which allowed for Demon Form to work… well, to work like a tank. A real tank, not an off tank. Huge amounts of armor. Taunts. Melee attacks. Defensive cooldowns. All the basic abilities were there, they just had to be fleshed out.

Then there was lore that appeared, later – about how the Demonologists on the Council of Six Daggers went to the Demon Hunters of Outland to learn their secrets.  The reason for the name of the glyph became clear, at least.

But, after all that excitement, it was not to be.

Greg Street wrote:

Just to make our intent clear, the Glyph of Demon Hunting isn’t intended to turn Demonology warlocks into a tanking spec. You won’t be able to queue as a tank for Dungeon Finder for instance and won’t have the survivability or tools of say a Protection paladin.

Thus the dream of Warlock tanks ended.

If there was anything that indicated to me that Warlocks were really in trouble in Cataclysm, and that no idea was too wild to save them in Mists, it was this one. Tanking Warlocks represented the most outrageous thinking I’d seen yet on the class. Oh, sure, bloggers had talked about it before, but nothing had ever come out of Blizzard indicating it was a possibility. Taking a pure DPS spec and turning them into a hybrid? This is madness!

No, this is amazing.

Let’s assume for a moment that the intent really was to make Demo a tanking spec. Humor me.

Let’s consider the benefits:

  • Turns the class into a hybrid, resolving issues with the Simplicity Tax and Bring the Player, Not the Class model. This also invites players to try Warlocks who might otherwise be hesitant to roll a pure DPS character due to the needs of their raid composition.
  • Increases the number of potential tanks in the game. This both helps the general tank shortage, as well as offset the main quality of life disadvantage of a pure DPS – queue times for PvE dungeons and raids – by letting them jump in as a tank.
  • It is new and unusual, which can be quite a draw for players looking for something different. It also gives long-term Warlock players an opportunity to experience a different role in the game without rerolling.
  • Sets up the possibility of a fourth spec for other classes. Demo tanks would be an experiment in making one spec fill multiple roles (DPS/Tanking), much like Feral Druids did. If both roles are successful, spinning off a separate 4th spec becomes a logical extension of the tanking experiment, which opens up possibilities for other classes extending their specs.
  • Fits the theme and fantasy of the spec. Instead of transforming into a demon to make your spells hit harder, you turn into one to rip and tear into your enemies, using demonic magic to augment your physical prowess to be the equivalent of a giant dire bear or warrior in armor.

There are some challenges to overcome with this idea, though.

  • Automatic role determination by spec. Splitting apart Feral into two specs allows Blizzard to code LFD/LFR to only allow characters who have learned a tanking spec to queue as a tank. If this restriction comes to pass, Demo either needs to become a full-time tank spec or have the tank spec be split off from the DPS spec entirely.
  • Automatic quest reward determination by spec. If quest rewards are going to be chosen by your current spec, should Demo get DPS or tanking gear?
  • Attachment of Demo DPS players to their spec. Given the massive changes made to Demo in Mists, it doesn’t really resemble the Demo DPS spec we’ve enjoyed since Wrath, but current Demo players may not want to give up their DPS play style of choice. There is a related argument that Warlock players don’t want to be a hybrid and be pressured into tanking.
  • Balance with other classes. Demo tanks brings the number of tank classes up to 6, which can be a challenge for balancing under the Bring the Player model. There are also PvP concerns to consider, though to be frank those concerns exist with the glyphed version anyways.
  • Tank Cloth itemization. Honestly, I think this is the biggest obstacle for Warlock tanks. How will they gear for avoidance? A conversion of Intellect, Haste, Crit, Mastery into Dodge, Parry, or Expertise might be possible, but how will that work? New gear would be an easier answer, but adding in an entire new class of Tanking Cloth gear is a monumental undertaking, and fraught with the same perils as Intellect Plate.

The problem of making a cloth-wearing tank viable is an interesting one. Do you follow a Bear/Guardian model and convert Intellect into Dodge? Well, that probably needs to be coded, and only for Warlock tanks (since Agility gives Dodge already as a default).

What about health pools, do you make it so their damaging attacks suck life out of the bosses and give them a large effective health pool (but then how do they survive the big hits?) What about Parry, Expertise, melee Hit – how do you make it work, exactly, when there’s no available gear with tanking stats?

There’s also a question of theme. Demonology, as it stands today in Cataclysm, provides both the conjuror and  metamorph archetypes in one package. In some ways those concepts are at odds with each other – a conjuror summons other beings to do their dirty work for them, while a metamorph transforms to do the job themselves. Tanking stresses the latter philosophy, of internalizing the demons and becoming them, more than the former, which is more of a ranged DPS idea. Spinning off the transformation of Demonology into a separate tanking tree would allow both themes to flourish, but if only one can be chosen – I’d rather have some flexibility in my theme.

The Glyph of Demon Hunting is an interesting experiment. Because it’s a Glyph you can’t enable it in the middle of a fight, but perhaps it could be changed into an ability which allows Demo to activate tank mode for 5 minutes? That at least makes it an attractive option for tank death or tank swap fights. As it stands now, the best use will be for soloing or – as gear gets better – tanking 5-mans with a friendly guild group who likes pushing the limits.

That’s pretty cool, but I know that if there was more time in the development cycle this could be even cooler.

I would not count Warlock tanks out of the picture just yet. If not now, look for them in the expansion after Mists.


I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireGibbon assembled a wealth of material around the collapse of Roman governance in Western Europe in the third through sixth centuries, but he used it to formulate a monocausal theory – that the Roman Empire’s fall was inevitable because of the influence of Christianity. This theory overlooks much in pursuit of forwarding an Enlightenment viewpoint of the Medieval period and Christianity as bad, and the Greco-Roman classical tradition as good.

As a historian, I have always preferred the works of J. B. Bury, who did not dispute the evidence Gibbon presented, but rather interpreted them differently. Bury posits that Rome’s fall was not inevitable, but rather the result of a series of incidents which lead to a catastrophe. Internal political pressures, external migratory pressures on the Germanic tribes, inflation, increased taxes to deal with the Sassanid Empire’s threat, a series of terrible decisions by Imperial and Provincial leaders alike – all these contributed to the calamity of the fourth and fifth centuries. I recommend reading Gibbon so you’ve read him, but I recommend Bury if you want to see the vast scope of problems in Late Antiquity, and how monocausal theories need to take them all into account.

To quote Bury:

The gradual collapse of the Roman power … was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.

It’s my hope that this series has been more like Bury than Gibbon. While there has been a central theme to this work –  inelegant complexity without reward led to the decline of Warlock populations in Cataclysm – it is my firm belief that it was a series of design decisions and balance changes during the expansion which contributed to the decline of this class. Attributing it to any one specific change misses the big picture. Our personal reasons and agendas need to take a back seat to the data.

The Warlock class declined in Cataclysm. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the Mists of Pandaria Beta, it is too early to write its epitaph, but its recovery is by no means a certain thing. It is transforming into something very different what came before, and it is my sincere hope that it flourishes and thrives in its new incarnation.

Let’s see what the future holds for this great class.


I honestly thought this would be a two-post series at the beginning. More than thirty thousand words later, I realize that I had a lot more to say about Warlocks than I thought I did, so, first and foremost, thanks to the hundreds of people who commented and shared your thoughts and opinions in comments, forums and emails, for promoting this work in the Warlock community. Thank you.

I’d like to thank Xelnath for his for his insights and convincing me to give the Mists beta a try. It’s been a delight discussing this work with you, and I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve next.

I have to also give many thanks to my undercover editors, Catulla and Narci of Flavor Text, for their unflagging support in the face of a mountain of text regarding a class they didn’t play. Narci deserves special mention as the one who convinced me this needed to be a series, and then stayed with the idea by reviewing every single draft, even the ones I threw away. Thank you both for your ocular fortitude.

Finally, thank you for reading. This has been a long journey, and I’m humbled and thankful that you chose to go on it with me. Thanks!


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

Item Level Squishing in PvP

Ghostcrawler recently wrote an interesting blog post about the problem of item level inflation over the course of expansions. It’s a post that hit close to my heart, not only due tothe copious graphs, but also because it addresses some fairly significant problems in PvP – problems which, frankly, don’t exist in PvE.

Item levels have risen over the course of Warcraft’s development to convey a sense of increased power and character growth. Because the stats on the gear rose, damage rose – but so did the health pools of the monsters for that expansion. And, due to the diminishing effects of combat statistics, characters didn’t get any more effective as they leveled up, but instead became less effective as they entered a new expansion until they returned to their previous peak. This creates a strange illusion of getting more powerful in relation to older content, while actually becoming less effective in several key areas.

When you level from one expansion to another, each statistic becomes less effective in order to yield the same result. For example, when you level from 70 to 74, the same gear becomes about 25% less effective for certain key stats like Haste and Resilience. Even when you don’t move between expansions this is true – a level 10 character with 90% Haste will have 22% Haste at level 14 in the same gear – but between expansions it’s especially dramatic.

Expansions are the big culprit with power expansion in Warcraft, as each new expansion comes out with bigger stats, bigger damage and health pool numbers, and an increasingly huge disparity between the new and the old.

This chart from Ghostcrawler’s post helps show the stat inflation. It’s a good way to focus the discussion on the impending stat inflation which lies ahead in Mists of Pandaria if they don’t make any changes. If we carry forward his projections, the next line on the chart is going to go straight up and hit item level 600 in 5 short levels.

Put it another way – we could be looking at tanks with 500k… 750k… 1 million health… by the end of the next expansion. In PvP, we’re probably looking at around 400k to 500k health pools, and damage to match.

Let that sink in.

Ghostcrawler walks through two proposed solutions to this inflation:

  • Mega Damage: keep the scale the same, but represent the numbers with (effectively) scientific notation.
  • The Great Item Level Squish: adjust the game so item levels are flatter, except at the very end of the current expansion.

Both of these have some interesting pros and cons.

Mega Damage doesn’t change the underlying structure of the game, but rather presents it differently to players. Much like boss health is now represented by millions, the UI would be adjusted to present big numbers in a smarter fashion. This is relatively easier to implement, which means more developer resources spent on making new content (which is a good thing.) But it also fails to address the past and present issues introduced by item inflation, as well as ignoring the future computational issues when we’re dealing with really huge numbers for the smallest actions.

The Great Item Level Squish is a more involved solution; by reducing the item levels of gear through the leveling process, the entire game can then be retuned so that there’s a flat, streamlined progression through the game up until max level, when endgame gear inflates a bit, like so:

The Squish is a much more involved solution than Mega Damage, and the implications of it for PvP are really interesting. Really interesting.

Let’s take a look.


There are two serious challenges facing leveling PvP today brought about by expansion power inflation.I’m not just talking about low-level PvP, which has its own issues, but the entire curve of leveling PvP, going through from one bracket to another, starting at 10 and ending at 85.

  • First, the power inflation between expansions creates zones where it’s possible to gain the benefits of the next expansion without being in it – all the enchantments, profession perks, consumables, and early expac leveling gear can be gotten at levels lower than their target balance, which serves to destabilize the brackets leading up to an expansion.
  • Second, when a steep power inflation curve is compressed into a single bracket, it indicates a substantial gear disparity between the high and low ends of that bracket. The 80-84 bracket is a good example of this, with dramatically higher health pools at 84. We can presume, if nothing is changed, that the 85-89 bracket will suffer from a similar problem when Mists is released.

The first point has several elements to consider – gear, professions, enchants, consumables – but there are some common threads between each element.

It’s a fundamental axiom in twinking that the earlier you can get an item, the more overpowering it will be as you use it. This seems so obvious you might think it doesn’t bear repeating, but in the context of the Great Item Level Squish it deserves to be looked at critically.

Let’s look at a common example, a level 19 character who tries to get gear intended for a level 30 character.

  • Because the gear is intended for a higher level character, it has higher stats and therefore grants more of a benefit to the level 19 character than gear intended for that level. It’s simply a better sword, helm, belt, whatever it is, than what toons should get at that level. Let’s call this gear statistic improvement.
  • Because the combat rating system diminishes over time, lower level characters get more benefit from the same stats than higher level characters. This is counterintuitive, but the level 19 toon is more effective with the level 30 gear than a comparable level 30 character.

These two points are going to hold no matter where you are in an expansion or between expansions – the earlier you get good gear, the better it will be.

But the steeper the curve of the graph, the greater the inequality. The greater the difference between your level’s average item level and the higher level items you can acquire, the greater the advantage you can gain over your fellow players. And the places of the steepest curves and greatest inequality?

That’s right. In between expansions.

Each expansion introduces leveling gear a little before the endgame of the previous expansion, so at level 58 you can start wearing Outland gear, 68 Northrend gear, 78 Cataclysm gear. (I assume Pandaren gear will be available at 84, when it arrives.) This means that, in the x5-x9 brackets, the top of the bracket has two kinds of gear to choose from – the old and the new – and the new gear scale is usually significantly better than the old one, leaving characters at the bottom of the bracket at a significant disadvantage.

This isn’t really news; if you’ve played the 75-79 bracket lately, you’ve seen the devastating effects Cataclysm green gear has on bracket balance.

Let’s turn this idea around and put it another way: the shallower the slope of the graph, the less impact gear has upon your performance in PvP. Gear from 5-10 levels ahead will be a little bit better than what your average opponent will have, but not as much as it is now. Conversely, gear from 5-10 levels behind won’t be as much of a hinderance as it is now.

If gear becomes more equal in PvP, then class abilities, player skill, and teamwork rise in importance.

While this means twinks become less overpowering, it also means that leveling PvP becomes a bit less of a gear game, and a bit more of a battleground game, and I am very much in favor of that.


While lowering the item levels of gear would help make leveling PvP a fairer, smoother experience, the real benefit comes when we apply the Squish to the real unbalancing elements of PvP – enchantments, profession perks, and consumables.

The above chart shows a rough availability of enchantments and profession perks by level, superimposed over Ghostcrawler’s item level chart. When you really start looking at when things become available, a surprising pattern emerges:

  • Vanilla enchants are available at level 1, but are geared for level 60.
  • Vanilla profession items are available starting at level 10 to grant items designed for level 30 or so.
  • Vanilla first aid can be learned at level 10 to use items geared for level 60.
  • BC enchants become usable in the late 20s and early 30s, but are intended for level 70.
  • BC profession perks are available at level 35, and fully realized at level 50, but balanced for level 70.
  • Wrath enchants are available around level 55, but are geared for level 80.
  • Wrath gems are available around 62-63, but are geared for level 80.
  • Wrath profession perks are available starting at 50 and fully realized by 65, scaled for level 80.
  • Cataclysm enchants and gems are available at level 78, but geared for 85.
  • Cataclysm profession perks are available starting at 65, fully realized by 75, and scaled for 85.

This mess is how twinking works – find the imbalance in the system and ride it for all it’s worth. It’s why you see Tazik’s Shockers and Synapse Springs in level 65 battlegrounds, why Green Tinted Goggles were so good in 10-19s, why Crusader and +25 Agility and +22 Intellect enchants are so overpowered at level 10-14.

The key to the problem lies in a steep item level curve.

Enchants, gems, and professions allow you to gain abilities and bonuses balanced for substantially higher levels – usually the endgame of the respective expansion. The flatter the item level curve, the less impact these abilities have on lower levels. The problem isn’t making them available at early levels – it’s a lot of fun pursuing these little advantages – but rather just how big some of the advantages are. Cataclysm-level damage in the middle of Burning Crusade? Enchants suitable for Molten Core and AQ-40 in level 10 Warsong Gulch? Mongoose at level 29?

This is only a problem if the item level curve is steep. If you bring down the level of each expansion’s endgame, and stop the power inflation between expansions, then abilities, enhancements and consumables geared for those parts of the game become less disruptive when brought down to lower levels. They still remain perks for smart leveling, but not overwhelming PvP advantages.

If you flatten the curve, these all become less disruptive to lower level PvP, and leveling PvP becomes more fair.


The Great Item Level Squish doesn’t affect the endgame that much in terms of gameplay, though it has profound psychological effects. Going from 150k health to 15k would feel… weird. Disruptive. Like something had been taken away, even though the gameplay remains the same. Having Shadow Bolt crit for 20k one expansion and 1200 the next is tough to swallow if you like the big numbers.

I’m a number chaser too: I like big crits and I cannot lie. (You other brothers can’t deny.) I enjoy setting a target DPS for a character and eventually getting it. I like hitting a target health pool on a twink. And I like those numbers to be BIG!

But I look at the Squish and go… this solves so many problems in leveling PvP, I’m pretty sure I could get over that quickly. After a few weeks, the new scale of things would seem natural. Instead of going up in Mists, I went down, but that’s okay, because everything else went down too. I’m still superpowered compared to most of Azeroth – just with smaller numbers.

I don’t like the Mega Damage concept. I’ve played with similar concepts before in RPGs, and they just don’t work well. Having two different damage systems complicates things and solves nothing – except for the psychological need to have numbers that make sense, while still remaining “big.”

If Blizzard is going to spend time working on solving this problem – and I really, really hope they do – I hope they go with the more comprehensive Great Item Level Squish and flatten the gear curve.

Squish that curve as flat as you can, and the leveling PvP brackets will thank you.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Blizzcon 2011: PvP Changes in Mists of Pandaria

In the course of Blizzcon 2011, Blizzard announced several changes to the PvP system, as well as planned additions to the Battleground and Arena system. It is worth noting that none of this is set in stone; Blizzcon announcements are more akin to ideas presented at a product planning meeting than actual release notes. I’ll try to keep the speculation to a minimum.


Three new battlegrounds and one new Arena map were announced as potential additions to the PvP system.

The following are the proposed BGs:

  • Stranglethorn Diamond Mines: “Payload” gameplay
  • Valley of Power: “Murderball” gameplay
  • Azshara Crater: DOTA-style gameplay

And a new Arena map:

  • The Tol’vir Proving Grounds will utilize the sweeping vistas of Uldum and the Tol’vir art style with a simple layout based on Nagrand Arena.

Some of the terms describing the battlegrounds might be unfamiliar to you – I know they were to me, because I’ve never played Warcraft III.

  • Payload games are generally when the teams are split into offense and defense, with a moving objective – the payload – that needs to be protected. Generally, there are multiple checkpoints that need to be captured, and the teams are competing to move the payload along to the final checkpoint. One team will protect the payload as long as they can, then the other.
  • Murderball games (and there are several kinds) involve trying to get a ball or flag over the key or goal line of the opposing team. In some variations it’s anything goes; in others there are rules about who “anything goes” applies to. It looks like this one will have a ball that you carry that scores points, but also does damage.
  • DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) is a popular custom scenario for Warcraft III, where players control powerful units (heroes) to destroy the Ancients in the middle of their opponent’s bases.

For screenshots from the presentation, let me direct you over to the Hunstman’s Lodge. They have some nice screenshots from the livestream.

I wouldn’t count on all of these making it in to the final release of Mists, or of making them in with their current forms, but it’s nice to see some really interesting new ideas out there. While I like that Twin Peaks and Battle For Gilneas are variations on two very good existing battlegrounds, it would be nice to see something new.

Of course, vehicle combat was new, but it didn’t make for more compelling games. I’m interested to see how the DOTA game, in particular, shapes up – will players control avatars that give roughly equal abilities, removing class and gear inequalities? Some people would love that (skill > balance!), others would hate it (I didn’t level a Demolisher 85 levels.)

We’ll have to wait and see.

As far as the new Arena map? It’s about time. Getting the Ring of Valor back during this expansion wasn’t exactly an improvement. There was a great lack of anything Cataclysm-themed in Arena. Getting a Cata map an expansion later isn’t great, but it’s a sign that Blizzard is showing some attention to Arenas again and could indicate a Pandaren-styled map later in the expansion.


From the Q&A:

You did not mention a world PvP zone for MoP, maybe that could be the World PvP area for MoP?
The war between the Horde and Alliance will really heat up in Pandaria every patch, so we are looking forward to integrating that.

Cataclysm had a certain amount of “the war heats up” feel to it in the Blizzcon previews too, but World PvP took a hit on most realms. The biggest success for World PvP wasn’t the zone designed for it – Tol Barad – but rather Firelands on a PvP server. That’s where the real PvP has been happening, not in the island of musical chairs.

So it’s interesting when Blizzard doesn’t announce a featured world PvP zone after two expansions with a PvP zone as the PvP centerpiece of the expansion.

I think it’s incorrect to say that the idea of a world PvP zone is a failure just because Mists doesn’t have one at this time.

What I do think this implies is that world PvP zones are expensive to create, and that Tol Barad consumed far more development resources than it saw playtime.

I have in the back of my head that there’s a KPI Blizzard uses to evaluate the success of a development effort – player time over development cost. The idea is that something that is cheap/easy to implement and draws medium interest is better than something that costs 50% of your development resources but draws in the same interest. The ratio of player participation to development effort would seem to be a key success metric in any subscription model-based business that wanted to optimize development priorities.

And that’s what I think happened here. Wintergrasp was ambitious and brought in the players, but incurred major costs down the road when it couldn’t scale. Tol Barad cost too much to build relative to the number of players playing it, so Blizzard is going to try something else.

The other problem I see about prioritizing World PvP zones like Wintergrasp and Tol Barad is that they are effectively throwaway code with a limited lifespan. Unlike regular BG development, where you develop a map which will see use through future expansions, World PvP zones have a lifespan limited to their expansion. Halaa is deserted. Wintergrasp is deserted. Tol Barad will become deserted.

All that development effort for naught.

I don’t blame Blizzard for axing the idea of a World PvP zone. Tol Barad cut short development on both Twin Peaks and Battle for Gilneas – dramatically on BfG, as they had to scrap their original plans for a battle within the city and reskin Arathi Basin to get something shipped in time for Cata’s launch. Having development resources focused on Battlegrounds and Arenas is actually a good thing.


  • Achievements will now become available at the Battle.net account level. Many achievements will be shared among characters, including those for raiding and maxing out professions.

If you’re working on Battlemaster, you might have cried a little bit upon hearing this. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tough achievements on alts, but not on my main.

There are a lot of questions to be answered about how this is going to work; if your total number of victories will count for Veteran achievements, if your meta-achievements will include the prerequisites on multiple characters.

But it’s a step in the right direction.


Big, major changes ahead for PvP gearing. Resilience will become a base statistic.

  • Devs like the way Resilience works in PvP, and how it gives a nice goal for players looking to progress/upgrade their gear in PvP
  • Resilience is a pretty huge barrier for people who want to start PvPing.
  • Resilience will become a base stat, and will increase a little every time you level.

I think it’s honestly easier to tell you what we don’t know about this change than what we do know right now.

Making Resilience a base statistic is a neat twist to the Valor and Vengeance system used by Rift – it allows the PvE and PvP systems to have effectively different damage systems regardless of the gear worn by players. That’s pretty neat! If damage gets out of control in PvP, they can either add more Resilience, or change how it scales so everyone takes a bit less.

The problem is that we don’t know how PvP gear will look in Mists. Will players still progress from about 25-30% damage reduction to 45-50% over the course of the expansion? What will the baseline reduction be with no PvP gear? Will there even be any more PvP gear?

I hesitate to even say that this is a good solution to the problems of low level PvP, because I don’t know how the scaling is going to work. Right now, Resilience has a flat application (10.74 points per % reduction) until level 35, when it starts to increase on a curve to hit a degree of normalcy at level 70. If this scale remains the same, then low level characters will start off with weak damage reduction that increases as they level. Unfortunately, burst damage is highest in the lower levels, and damage reduction is more necessary at 10-25 than it is at 50-80. So maybe they’ll start off with a good chunk of Resilience to help with lowbie PvP, or the scale will be changed…

… we just don’t know enough to say how it’s going to help certain areas of the game. It has the potential to be a good improvement to PvP at all levels, but we have to wait and see.

That said, I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a very good change, both for leveling PvP and endgame PvP.


Pandaren racial abilities are:

  • Racial – Epicurean – Increase the stat benefits from food by 100%
  • Racial – Gourmand – Cooking skill increased by 15.
  • Racial – Inner Peace – Your rested experience bonus lasts twice as long.
  • Racial – Bouncy – You take 50% less falling damage.
  • Racial – Quaking Palm – You touch a secret pressure point on an enemy target, putting it to sleep for 3 sec.

Okay, food, ok, more food, ok, XP, no biggie, bouncy, ok, nothing here to see for PvP…

… wait, was that a 3 second CC/interrupt I just saw?

… off the DR of many, many other CCs in the game?


(Keep an eye on this racial and consider it a viable option for many classes.)


Wears leather, tanks, heals, melee DPS, has cool moves… it looks great!

I saw earlier today in one of the panels (and I’ve lost the reference now, sorry) that Monk healers will have non-targeted heals and need to be in melee combat to heal. That’s potentially very useful in PvP, particularly Arena combat. We may see a lot of Monk comps in Season 12 based solely upon this mechanic.

I expect Monks will be very potent in the early stages of Mists PvP, and that you would not be amiss in trying one out. If the Death Knights were any indication, it will take an expansion to really get them balanced out.

If Pandas aren’t your thing, all races can be Monks except for Goblins and Worgen.


The situation for PvP is going to change a lot between now and the release of Mists of Pandaria. While many of the changes announced this weekend are exciting, there’s a lack of a single, defining PvP centerpiece for this expansion. Instead of Arenas (Burning Crusade), Wintergrasp (Wrath of the Lich King), or Rated Battlegrounds (Cataclysm), the focus is on an “increased conflict between the Alliance and the Horde.” We don’t know yet if that means World PvP is going to make a comeback.

We shall have to see what this diffused focus means for Warcraft PvP.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual