Tag Archives: Wrath

Where Did All The Warlocks Go in Cataclysm?

This is the first post in The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm series.

Where have all the warlocks gone?

I heard this question more and more often as Cataclysm progressed. Raid leaders struggled to recruit them. Players didn’t see them in LFD, or later, in LFR. Battleground appearances became increasingly rare. Leveling warlocks became an elusive beast for me to find on my own leveling tanks and healers.

It’s not like warlocks were hugely popular in Wrath of the Lich King, but I didn’t recall quite so many people asking me questions like this one. Some of the major kills of that expansion featured warlocks prominently – remember Stars doing Yogg-0 and all those Drain Soul beams? – but Cataclysm had those kinds of moments, too. I remember several Demonology warlocks in the world first Heroic Rag video. DPS was never so lackluster that it couldn’t keep up. Warlocks weren’t getting benched for playing warlocks … they just became scarce.

At the same time, I went through my own problems playing my warlock main, Cynwise. At first I thought it was due to my dissatisfaction with the PvP endgame at the end of Season 9, but as the months ticked by and I made no effort to pick up a warlock, any warlock, I found myself wondering if it was really the endgame I didn’t enjoy in Cataclysm – or warlocks. I had become one of the missing warlocks, and I didn’t even really know why.

Was it me? Was it the class? I felt very uncomfortable extrapolating my own experience out to warlocks in general. The specific incident that knocked me off my warlock main was too personal, too isolated. It didn’t really have anything to do with warlocks at all – it had much more to do with the gear transition in endgame PvP, a lack of interest in raiding, and a desire to see more of the lower brackets.

Maybe it was just perception that there were fewer warlocks out there. Just because I’ve fallen out of love with a class doesn’t mean that the class is broken, right? People change. I changed. I learned to love healing and tanking, for crying out loud! What kind of a warlock likes to tank things that aren’t the floor?

The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

I stopped playing a warlock when 4.2 was released. She went from my main to a neglected tailoring alt over the course of Cataclysm.

But the months ticked by, fewer people talked to me about the hexenfreude of playing a warlock, and more asked me what was wrong with the class. I had to wonder:

Was I the only one?

THE POPULARITY CONTEST

Are warlocks less popular now than they used to be? That’s the question we must start with – is the decline one of perception only, or is it based in fact?

Comparing WoW census figures from the end of Wrath (patch 3.3.5) and what is presumably the last patch of Cataclysm (4.3.2) indicate that the answer to this is definitively yes.

Warlocks are less popular now than they were at the end of Wrath.

This data is taken from two sources: Armory Data Mining (fortunately, not updated since 3.3.5) and World of Wargraphs. (Here’s the spreadsheet if you want to follow along.) Without knowing the methodology between these two censuses it’s difficult to assign a high certainty between comparing between different data sources, but these numbers appear to be consistent across other census sites. Let’s go with them as being at least relatively accurate.

  • Three classes experienced significant declines in their playerbase: Paladins, Death Knights, and Warlocks. All three of these had substantial changes to their mechanics in Cataclysm.
  • Two classes had statistically significant increases: Mages and Hunters. Hunters received substantial changes to their mechanics in Cataclysm; this is somewhat counter evidence to the opinion that the change to Focus from Mana was bad for the class.
  • Three classes had small gains in popularity: Shamans, Druids, and Warriors.
  • Two classes stayed about the same: Priests and Rogues.

There are several key points I’d like to raise from this data set.

Paladins and Death Knights suffered a larger decline in popularity than Warlocks (2.1% and 1.9% respectively), but because their relative popularity (#1 and #2 in Wrath) was so much higher, the loss was less noticeable.

The Wrath numbers for Death Knights and Paladins may have also been inflated by the Legendary Effect, where more players were playing classes with a current tier legendary (Shadowmourne) available for them. What’s interesting is that we don’t see a corresponding rise in warlocks competing for their legendary, which is only one raiding teir past current (and still exceptionally good), while we do see a corresponding rise in the popularity of Rogues with their legendary in this tier.

Class popularity concentrated in a few classes in Wrath, with the outliers (Paladins, DKs) skewing high. There’s a nice little clump of 6 classes between 7.5% and 9.1%, Warriors are pretty close to even at 10.1%, and then there are the popular classes (Druid, DK, Paladin.) There isn’t an absence of Warlocks, Rogues, Hunters and Shaman in this distribution – rather, there’s a lot of people playing Paladins! Players notice that there was an abundance of a certain class, not an absence.

In Cataclysm, the popular classes became less popular and – overall – classes were more evenly distributed. There’s a nice clump of 4 classes at 10-11%, a clump of 2 at 9.3% and the popular classes (Paladins and Druids) at 12-13%. There’s less of a range between those 8 classes than in the previous model.

But notice that the outliers shifted from the high to the low end. Rogues are, relatively speaking, less popular compared to Hunters and Shamans than they used to be, even if their popularity hasn’t changed. Warlocks are even worse off – not only did they decline in popularity overall, they’ve declined relative to the standard set by other classes. No longer do you notice that there are Paladins everywhere; you notice the absence of Warlocks.

The salient feature of Wrath’s class popularity distribution was the abundance of Paladins and Death Knights; the salient feature of Cataclysm’s class distribution is the dearth of Warlocks.

It’s interesting that this is both a decline in fact and in perception.

UNDERPOWERED, OVERPOWERED, OUT OF POWER

So why are Warlocks in decline? Are they particularly bad at a particular area of the game? Is this a problem of balance, or power? Is this a case where warlocks are just plain underpowered? Are people making rational choices in raiding by shunning warlocks? Are they just bad in PvP? While I hadn’t heard of any of these problems, perhaps there was a rational reason to choose another class.

I first looked at DPS in heroic raids. While heroic raids don’t represent the entire universe of PvE, they’re a good place to start when looking at DPS. I took a quick look at Raidbot’s DPSbot and 25m H encounters:

Huh. Nothing in the last two months, really. Warlocks are solidly middle of the pack performers in hard mode raiding. Unlike some classes, their three specs are pretty well balanced between each other.

Maybe we need to look further back. Let’s expand our view for the last year.

Okay, now we’ve got a lot more data, with more diversity in the data set, so we can see trends over the expansion.

  • In 4.1, Affliction is one of the top DPS specs, sharing the lead with Shadow Priests and Arcane Mages. Balance Druids, MM Hunters, and Arms Warriors are also very strong. Demo and Destro are in the second tier of DPS.
  • In 4.2, Affliction is no longer top of the DPS, but still competitive. Demonology remains mid-tier, while Destruction drops like a rock to the bottom of the charts.
  • In 4.3, Affliction, Demonology, and Destruction are all mid-tier DPS performers. If you zoom in to various displays of the data on the linked site, Affliction is still the top Warlock performer, while Destruction has improved substantially.

So the picture that emerges of Warlock DPS is … it’s fine. I know that’s a judgement call, but realistically, it hasn’t been bad, and it’s even been pretty good at times. It hasn’t been so awesome that it’s an outlier (like Fire Mages an Shadow Priests), but at the same time, it hasn’t really struggled. It’s a solid performer.

What’s interesting is that all three specs have had a pretty good run of it in Cataclysm – more so than any other pure DPS class. Mages have tended to have one superior spec in PvE at any given time, either Arcane or Fire. Hunters have had wildly erratic performance in PvE, with Survival either great or terrible, but Marskmanship and Beast Mastery lagging behind. Rogues have also been forced into Combat or Assassination, mostly Combat. Except for a period in 4.2 with Destruction falling way behind, all three Warlock specs were viable for Cataclysm raiding.

That’s pretty remarkable, isn’t it? You’d think that having viable choices for your PvE spec would be a benefit, wouldn’t it?

Nothing in the DPS rankings says that the class needed to be buffed dramatically. While there are some superior choices at specific times, there were few classes that were consistently better. Shadow Priests, maybe? Mages weren’t until they got the Fire buffs of 4.3.

So maybe there’s something more going on here than just straight DPS problems. Let’s go back to popularity and see if that sheds any light on how warlocks have done in raids.

One of the great things about the World of Wargraphs site is that it allows you to drill down to a specific environment, and compare how a class/spec combo does there, versus its overall popularity. This is important, because it allows you to avoid bias. If you looked at population distribution and said: 15% of everyone who killed 8 HM bosses was a Druid, therefore druids are overpowered in HM PVE content, you’d be making an erroneous statement. You have to compare this to the overall population – if 30% of all players played Druids, but only 15% killed HM bosses, Druids might be underpowered. Or Druids might have a disadvantage in PvE. Or there might be another class which is simply better than Druids at their tasks.

Let’s take a real example of this. Here’s the current distribution of classes of all characters who have killed at 4+ heroic raid bosses this tier.

Class Distribution in Heroic Raids, 4.3.3 (From World of Wargraphs)

Looking at only this data, you might conclude that Paladins, Priests, and Druids are better at heroic raiding, and Death Knights, Hunters, and Warlocks are worse at it. But this would be incorrect. You might have more Priests raiding than Shaman simply because there are more Priests playing the game, not because Priests have some natural advantages in raids.

When we take the data and mash it up against the global popularity percentages, we get numbers like this:

Class Popularity in 4.3.3 - 4+ Heroic Bosses Killed

4.3.3 Class Distribution - 4+ Heroic Bosses Killed

This allows us to see which classes tend to be brought to heroic raids a bit more than average (those with green Popularity Deltas) versus those who are not (those with red scores). Priests and Hunters make up about the same amount of the player base, but one gets brought to the heroic raids more often (Priests).

The remarkable thing about Warlocks? They appear to be properly represented in heroic raids. They’re appealing enough to bring at the same rate as the general lock population. No advantages, but no real disadvantages, either.

The hybrid nature of some classes might throw these numbers off, though. We’re not really being fair to hybrids by lumping them all together – you might have a great healing spec but an awful DPS spec, which would balance things out.

Okay! Let’s look at it by spec, then.

4.3.3 Class/Spec Distribution - 4+ Heroic Bosses Killed

This chart not only shows which specs are currently raiding hard modes successfully, but which ones are disproportionately good (or bad) at it. Survival Hunters make up only 3.1% of the WoW population, yet account for 7.5% of successful hard mode raiders. I think it’s safe to say that Survival is a good raiding spec. A Beast Mastery hunter, on the other hand, is scarce in hard mode raiding (only 0.3%), yet is 2.7% of the total population.

In this case, the results we see here match the results we saw looking at DPS. That’s good! This shows that for Hunters, at least, if you want to do Heroic Raids, you go for the one that produces the best DPS – which, right now, is Survival. I like it when data matches up like this, and we see it in other specs and classes, too. Fire Mage? Overrepresented. Frost Mage? Under.

Warlocks are a pretty small sample size, but we still see some parallels between the DPS scores and popularity. Each spec is equally represented, 2%-2.6%. Interestingly, Destruction is the most popular spec, and both it and Demonology are slightly more popular than their global populations. Affliction is less so. These don’t quite match the DPS figures that we saw earlier, but this might be because the current tier requires more burst, which both Destro and Demo deliver better than Affliction. The perception is that Destro was buffed and Affliction is weak right now. We find statements like the following boilerplate from the Elitist Jerks warlock guides:

With the release of Patch 4.3 the warlock class sees a number of changes, in particular the Destruction spec, along with a few changes to the Demonology spec. Following these changes we see that all 3 specs are quite close, and all have something to bring to the table. For single target DPS, the following should be true at all gear levels:

Demonology > Destruction >= Affliction

While Demonology does pull ahead in single target DPS by ~2k DPS, this is only in close to perfect conditions where there is minimal to no movement and the player is able to stand in melee range. This means that in most situations Destruction and Affliction will perform better than Demonology.

On multi-target fights with strictly 2 DPS targets Affliction and Destruction should be quite even. However once any additional targets are introduced Affliction will perform considerably better than Destruction. Heavy AoE fights are where Demonology really begins to shine, followed respectably by Affliction and then Destruction behind by a considerable margin.

As confusing as they are, I think these observations are pretty accurate. All three specs are quite close, and knowing their strengths and weaknesses is important when deciding which spec to play on which fight.

This leads to an interesting observation about specs. When there’s a clearly superior DPS spec for a class in raiding (e.g. Survival, Fire) players will flock to it. When two or three specs are raid viable, other considerations factor into the decision making process and muddy the water. We should not assume that having three viable raiding specs is better than only having one; Warlocks might have choices, but that isn’t drawing people to raid with the class more than, say, Survival Hunters or Shadow Priests. It may be more flexible, but it isn’t necessarily more appealing.

For Warlocks, there isn’t an easy choice of spec in raiding right now. Should you go Demo/Destro on Spine for burst, or stay Affliction? Do you have the gear to switch between Destro and Demo? Will you be multidotting, or just handling a few adds? Which spec is the player more skilled at playing?

Aside from having more spec choices than any other DPS class, there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with Warlocks in PvE raids.

Warlocks aren’t underpowered in heroic raids, but neither are they overpowered.

THE GREAT MYSTERY OF PVP AND RLS SYNERGY

If Warlocks are doing okay in PvE, perhaps poor performance in PvP is driving players away from the class.

I dunno. It could happen!

I toss this theory out because if you’ve leveled a Warlock lately in PvP, you know that battlegrounds can be tough on you. You have to have exceptionally good gear to succeed, and even then you’ll probably die a lot. I don’t think this theory holds at the endgame – warlocks have traditionally been pretty potent in PvP – but we should test it out.

The following graph presents all classes in all rated PvP environments  - Arenas, Rated Battlegrounds – with a rating of 2200+.

This is the first population chart where Warlocks are not on the bottom. Not only are they not at the bottom, Warlocks are disproportionately well represented in highly ranked PvP.

Class Distribution in 4.3.3 PvP (Season 11) - 2200+ Rating

There are classes which do better at rated PvP play than others, and Warlocks are on that list. If you look through the current 3v3 comp ratings, Warlocks are part of the dominant comp (RLS, Rogue Lock Shaman), and integral parts of most of the other comps.

3v3 Comp Popularity in Season 11 - 2200+ Ratings

The structure of 3v3 is usually straightforward: healer, controller, burst. Affliction Warlocks have the right tools to apply constant pressure on the healer, they’re hard to kill, they have great CC, and they can put out a lot of damage. What they can’t do is burst, which is why pairing them with a Rogue works so well. And Shaman healing works really well with Affliction PvP – Spirit Link totem is one of the keys to this synergy.

The PvP data on World of Wargraphs tells this story in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t matter what Arena size it is, there are a disproportionate number of ranked Warlocks in it.

  • 5v5 they are practically essential (Affliction is top spec, 12.7% of all players).
  • 3v3 they are dominant (#4, 8.5%).
  • 2v2 they’re respectable (#7, 6.1%).
  • Even rated battlegrounds, which I thought might have some falloff, sees 10.2% of all players as Warlocks – just behind Rogues.

That pretty much means every rated BG team is going to have a warlock – if they can find one.

The data tells a story about a class which is exceptionally good at ranked PvP, especially when working with several other players. They might be weak on their own, but they are very potent in a group. They are a damage support class, providing pressure everywhere. Other classes keep them alive or burn down the opponents; Afflocks provide the control and damage needed to create those openings.

Rogues are in a similar position; great PvP abilities, great PvE output, relatively low numbers. Both classes have received legendaries in Cataclysm, though Warlocks shared theirs with other caster DPS. Rogues are currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts in Dragon Soul, with their legendaries providing both class interest and top DPS for a class which has deserved some love for some time.

Hunters are in the opposite position. Terrible in ranked PvP, a single PvE spec doing well in raids after struggling for much of the expansion, and a completely reworked resource system. But Hunter popularity is up, and Warlock popularity continue to slip.

There isn’t anything wrong with the Warlock numbers.  That’s what’s so frustrating about this problem. The class isn’t out of balance, it’s not pulling in low DPS, and it’s doing really well in PvP.

So why the hell are people not playing warlocks anymore?

WHEN YOU HAVE ELIMINATED THE IMPOSSIBLE

The preceding sections tried to establish facts of the case:

  • Are Warlocks in decline? Yes.
  • Do they have DPS issues in raids? No, they even have some advantages over other pure DPS classes. DPS looks okay.
  • Are there problems in rated PvP? No. They’re part of the most dominant comp this season. Locks are consistently represented with high rankings.

The two most obvious reasons players would not choose Warlocks at the endgame – that they have performance issues in PvE, PvP, or both – are just not there. Especially when we look at the expansion as the whole, the data simply doesn’t support the idea that Locks can’t hack it. They can. They can shine.

They just aren’t.

So we must look elsewhere for answers.

My first theory about the data we’ve looked at is that it is very focused on level 85 play – and the upper tier of endgame play at that – which is why it fails to explain the lack of Warlocks. Heroic raiding and 2200+ PvP are not the activities of the majority of the player base, but they are activities which receive a lot of scrutiny from both players and developers. This upper tier endgame bias allows us to focus on the potential maximums of each spec, as well as see how a class is performing in demanding conditions, but it doesn’t represent everyone at 85, let alone everyone in the game.

PvP is not balanced around any level other than 85, and arguably it is only balanced for rated PvP play at level 85. Several detrimental changes were made to regular battlegrounds during the course of Cataclysm to solve problems that only existed in rated play. Changes were made to classes based upon their performance in Arenas, not regular battlegrounds. The emphasis of Cataclysm was getting players into Rated Battlegrounds, which meant that they were the (flawed) yardstick by which all PvP was measured.

PvE is a different beast, but the fundamental assumption is that balance still happens at 85. I think that the different buff and nerf cycles experienced in Cataclysm support this. I can’t say that they’re not looking at performances in 5-man content or daily content, but we don’t see a lot of changes aimed at fixing balance in those activities. Raids are where the logs are. Raids drive the nerfs and buffs.

So this theory surmises that the problem with Warlocks is not visible in the endgame data because the data is looking at the wrong activities. It’s looking at the endgame. Perhaps there’s something wrong with the class at endgame – people rolled warlocks, but end up not playing them at the endgame.

There could be a few things going on here.

  1. Warlocks attempt to raid/PvP at endgame, but stop for some reason other than their performance. Possible reasons include class mechanics, better buffs from other classes, easier to gear other classes through raid content/5-mans.
  2. Warlocks get to 85, don’t attempt to raid at all, but enjoy other endgame content.
  3. Warlocks get to 85, but are not played in the endgame at all, and the player rerolls or quits.
  4. Warlocks never get to 85, and therefore never get to endgame content.

The population popularity comparison is about the only data that we have to go on for the first point, but it’s telling that Warlocks are fairly represented in heroic raids compared to the general population (6.7%). If you want to raid, you can, and you can do well. If you are a serious raider leveling to 85, you’re about as likely to raid on a Warlock as a different class.

Casual raiders, of course, might have a different story. Warlocks might do well if executed perfectly, but if their rotation has less margin for error, then there could be a problem between the upper tier or raiders and the masses at 85. So we can’t rule the first possibility out just yet.

The second possibility is that people level their locks to 85 and choose to not raid on them, but do other things. Hunters and DKs appear to be in this situation – they are underrepresented in their raid popularity compared to their overall population. Warlocks, as break even, don’t seem to be here.

Three and four are different but would look the same to most of the data we have, just because the data appears to measure active 85s. We need to look at different data – in this case, realm population data across all levels, not just endgame data.

We have to find out if people are even bothering to level warlocks.

RISING THROUGH THE LEVELS

I was talking about this post with Narci from Flavor Text, and she was kind enough (thanks, Narci!) to cull the following data on class populations in different level ranges from Warcraft Realms:

Class population percentages, by leveling bracket, in 4.3.3

Let’s look at these graphed out, too.

Active Character Level Distribution by Class in 4.3.3

The Warlock line is there below everyone else. It doesn’t start there, but once it crosses the Shaman line around level 20 it never really recovers.

The introduction of Death Knights at 55 causes a population depression in all the other classes because, without warning, over a quarter of the player base is playing a DK at level 55-60. So we should ignore that anomaly, throw out the 50-69 data, and keep it in mind for the the 70-80 data. It skews comparisons for all the other classes, too, because there are only 9 classes represented at 1-10, and 10 at 85. Mages might be 11% at 1 and 11% at 85, but that’s actually an increase in popularity because of the larger number of classes at 85.

Look at Paladins! They start off behind a lot of other classes, but the loyalty shown at 85 is remarkable! There’s a 2% gain of total population share between 84 and 85, which means that people level them to 85 and play them there. Paladins like playing at the endgame. It looks like Druids – and Shaman – do this as well.

Hunters are almost the complete opposite – heavily loaded at the low levels, with a constant decline all the way up. Hunters are excellent leveling toons, and are extremely strong at low level PvP. As they get older they get more complex and less dominant, driving people to put down the class for a while.

It’s really amazing how popular Hunters are at the character selection screen. I wonder if this is because of the new races available to them? Does adding a class to a popular race increase its popularity? It’s something we have to consider when talking about class changes – Hunters got Humans and Forsaken, Warlocks got Dwarves and Trolls.

I like Dwarves, but very few people actually play them.

There are 3228 Dwarf Warlocks and 3867 Troll Warlocks on US and Euro servers versus 34,366 Human and 10,783 Forsaken Hunters (data from Warcraft Realms again).  Even if those numbers aren’t absolutely correct, they’re relatively correct. Hunters benefited more from their new races than Warlocks.

Unlike most classes, Warlocks decline as they level. There’s a slight decline from 80-84 to 85, which might represent people leveling to endgame and then dropping the character, but it’s not huge. They decline a bit (3%) through the leveling process, but that’s nothing like what happens to Rogues (5%). I think you have a stronger case for saying people have started a lot of Rogues but not gotten them to endgame than you do with Warlocks – 3% could be just noise in the system from the DK bump, plus, there’s the Rogue Legendary Carrot – but there is still something going on there. The trajectory is never one of growth, unlike Paladins.

I think if I had to break apart this data, I’d summarize it as follows:

  • Hunters and Death Knights are initially very attractive at character creation and for early leveling, but are normally represented at endgame. Death Knights are probably skewed because of farming/banking toons.
  • Rolling a Rogue is extremely popular right now, likely due to the Legendary Effect, but leveling them to endgame is a challenge.
  • Warriors and Warlocks are somewhat more popular at character creation than at endgame. There may be leveling problems with these classes.
  • Priests, Shaman, Mages, and Druids all increase their popularity  from 1 to 85. The relatively consistent numbers (or slight increases) are subject to the DK effect, making 11% at 85 mean more than 11% at level 10.
  • Paladins dramatically increase in popularity at endgame. They may not be the easiest class to level to 85, but once there, people play them.

Warlocks aren’t a popular choice at creation. I think it’s safe to say that – they’re not Hunters or Death Knights or Druids. But they are also not complete pariahs – people are choosing Warlocks at about the same rate as Priests and Shaman.

I had a theory that one of the reasons Rogues and Warlocks aren’t popular classes is because they’re the “bad guys” of the character creation screen. Both classes have evil flavor and feel to them – Warlocks perhaps even moreso than Rogues. Warlocks aren’t paragons of virtue, defenders of nature, or even very heroic – at best they’re ruthlessly efficient, at worst they’re evil incarnate.

But the data doesn’t really support that. People do choose to try out Warlocks, just not a lot of them – and even fewer make it all the way to the 85 with them.

Update: There is a followup post to the data in this section, Leveling Data on Warlocks is Worse than I Thought, based on Jason’s comment on this post. I was wrong about some of the data this preceeding section – I was overly optimistic and conservative in my interpretation of the leveling data on Warlocks, and should have been more open about how bad the situation is. Looking at the data in a different way revealed a different situation.

Thanks to Jason for his comment and guidance in building this data model.

THAT WHICH REMAINS, NO MATTER HOW IMPROBABLE

Where have the Warlocks gone?

I started this post with some ideas in my head about what caused the decline between Wrath and Cataclysm, and why Warlocks are just not getting played. The problems with the class’s unpopularity in Wrath were only exacerbated by Cataclysm. 

Fewer players are playing Warlocks. People who are noticing that there aren’t as many Warlocks in game are absolutely correct. It’s not that there is something wrong with their performance at the endgame – both PvE and PvP performance is adequate at the high end – but something is driving players away.

Leveling data suggests that the character concept is not the problem. People are rolling them, albeit not as many as other classes. Something happens between rolling the character and getting them into endgame content which causes the class to fall into disfavor. It may be questing, it may be dungeons, it may be battlegrounds. It may be class mechanics.

But something happens.

Here’s the conclusion I was hoping to avoid: people simply don’t like playing warlocks. It’s not that they don’t try them; they do.

Players simply stop playing them.

Some of them, no doubt, give up on Warcraft entirely. There’s plenty of evidence that that has happened. But it’s also likely that they look at other classes and switch. It’s likely that players are migrating to the classes which they find to be the most fun.

And they aren’t finding Warlocks fun enough to stick with them.

Next week, I’ll dig into why this is happening to Warlocks, and what Blizzard is doing to address the problem.

127 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

Getting Exalted with Northrend Factions through PvP

One of the interesting effects of having an unified Honor Point/Justice Point currency in Warcraft is that it becomes possible to get unrelated rewards to the activity you did to earn the points themselves. You can PvP for PvE rewards, and vice versa. Things that you never considered when the currencies were separate are now possible; you might just have to look for ways to make it happen.

Like, reaching Exalted with five different Northrend factions while leveling, without doing any of their quests. You may never even come in contact with them!

Currently, Honor and Justice points can be exchanged for a 3:2 ratio at the Honor Trade Good Vendors and Justice Trade Goods Vendors in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. You can trade 375 Honor Points  for 250 Justice Points at the Honor vendor, and vice versa at the Justice vendor. This allows you to fund either PvE or PvP purchases with your preferred activity.

Honor Points are rewarded starting at level 10, while Justice Points don’t show up as a reward until around level 70. Generally speaking, Honor Points are easier to get than Justice Points while leveling. (At level 70, you can get 100-200 Honor Points from a single battleground, while a Northrend Dungeon awards 12 Justice Points. And that’s only for the first 7 you do each week.)

Because the award rate of Justice Points while leveling is so low, it’s much faster to play Battlegrounds for Honor Points and convert them to Justice Points for use. If you’re leveling to 85 to join in the endgame fun quickly, you can build up a large store of Justice Points and be ready to get 3 epic pieces of Justice gear as soon as you ding through smart conversion – and this is a good thing.

Now, an unrelated fact: late in Wrath, you could purchase Commendation Badges for five of the neutral factions with rep rewards with Emblems of Triumph. These Commendation Badges were introduced to help gear up alts, and they were a godsend for getting shoulder and helm enchants.

These commendations are:

Each one of these grants 520 reputation for the appropriate faction, up from the original 250. Humans get 10% more, so 572 for Diplomacy. (Pilgrim’s Bounty has a buff which can give you an additional 10%. Yes, it stacks with Diplomacy.)

When these Commendations were available for Emblems of Triumph, they were only available by running Northrend dungeons. But since the Emblem system was removed and replaced with Justice Points, these are now cheap.

How cheap? Each Commendation is 16 Justice Points or – thanks to the conversion – 24 Honor Points.

That’s dirt cheap.

Neutral to Exalted for any faction is 42,000 reputation points:

  • Neutral to Friendly: 3,000
  • Friendly to Honored: 6,000
  • Honored to Revered: 12,000
  • Revered to Exalted: 21,000

Since each Commendation rewards 520, you’ll need 81 of ‘em, which will in turn cost you 1296 Justice Points.  Or, 1944 Honor Points.

That’s less than a PvP mount costs!

Keep in mind that this can be done at any level; level 19 achievement twinks have used this method to get toons who can’t even have a mount Exalted with the Knights of the Ebon Blade et al.. All it takes is Honor Points.

I know that this isn’t something that everyone will want to do. But it’s an interesting example of the things that can happen when you unify a currency system. It’s not unbalancing, and it can add a lot of flavor to your character. Heroic Death Knights can be exalted the Ebon Blade well before reaching level 85; same for Mages with the Kirin Tor.

And, most importantly, keep your eyes open for other items you might be able to get now through PvP.

Northrend Commendations can be purchased from Arcanist Miluria and Magistrix Vesara in Dalaran.

12 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Homecoming

This is not why I wanted to come home.

I rode slowly down the familiar road through Elwynn Forest, my horse’s hooves making soft clops in the packed dirt. My older brother Cynwulf drove the wagon beside me, his normal good humor subdued, as the mule-drawn wagon made its slow way down the dappled forest lane. Though he’s ridden this route as many times as I have, this is the first time he’s had to make the trip to Northshire to tell the parents of a fallen soldier that their child is dead.

Not me; I have done this before. I did it for him, when he fell fighting the Scourge. I have done it for many others, but none hurt so much as his. Or like this.

That Cynwulf was returned to me and my family was a mixed miracle; twisted, broken by his tormenters, a pale, dark shadow of the hero of the Alliance he was before. Yet he came back. My brother came back to us, changed and hurt, this Death Knight of Arthas. But he came back.

There shall be no such return for my sister Cyneburgh.

***

“Lieutenant Oakwalker!” I yelled, running  as best I could behind our hastily erected barricades. Arrows continued to whistle overhead, slithering through the air to thud into the wooden boards and debris. “We’ve got to move those wounded now!”

The tall kaldorei woman I was addressing looked up at my approach and grimly nodded. She turned to issue a short command to her Sentinels in their melodic Darnassian, and then turned back to face me as her troops prepared to move their wounded.

“How goes it on the other side, Colonel?” she asked.

“Not well. The Horde mages are concentrating their fire over there and we’re taking a beating. Whizzlespark’s almost done. We’re just buying time now,” I replied.

“Good,” the night elf said, suddenly breaking into a suddenly vicious grin. “I admit, the inventions of the gnomes are strange to me, but in this case? I am looking forward to seeing them in action against our enemies.”

“If it works,” I replied, looking out across the arid, broken terrain of the northern Barrens. The rain of arrows was slowing, our attackers still firing from behind broken rocks. There was movement; they were getting ready to shift their assault. “Move as soon as you can, Lieutenant. I’ll meet you back at the rendezvous point.”

She saluted, placing her fist over her heart. I returned it with a quick Stormwind-style salute to the brow. “Dismissed,” I said, and she moved to her task, back straight and movements fluid. I tried not to think of how tired I must look in front of the troops as I started back down the line.

***

“Cyn, wake up, lass. Time to move again,” whispered the gruff dwarf, shaking my right shoulder gently. Right meant it was safe. Okay. Time to move again. The cold of Icecrown seeped into your bones as you slept, but I needed the brief rest. We all did, but only a few of us could rest at a time as we dodged patrols and moved our way through the heart of Arthas’ citadel, the center of his power in Northrend.

“Thanks, Dolar,” I whispered back, as I took his outstretched hand and let him help me to my feet. The chill was pervasive; every joint ached, every muscle was stiff. I summoned Chojub back from his native plane; the imp appeared in moments, cackling and laughing.

Of course he was laughing. He was still warm.

Damned imp.

I straightened up, slipped my hood back over my head, and took up my position on the flank as the group of adventurers began moving out. I struggled to not notice the ragged formation, the non-military positioning; I couldn’t help it.

Here, rank didn’t matter, though. These people would never march in a parade ground, would never need the kind of precision movements those drills taught. No, this was a unit of individuals, of people with different abilities, skills, and motivations. I was but one of many, all with different stories of what brought them here to this place, this time, this frozen hell. Revenge, justice, defending the innocent, or just for the glory of it all – we walked through the bone-chilling cold with one common purpose, one single goal.

We were there to kill Arthas.

***

Cynwulf and I continued our quiet ride through the beautiful autumn leaves of Elywnn. Small farms nestled in clearings amidst the great, flaming oaks and maples, the simple, pastoral lifestyle that both my brother and I were raised in.

It seemed strange to me that, in a world filled with demons, and undead, and entire races dedicated to wiping out my own, that such a place could not just exist, but thrive. That there could be peace anywhere in this world made me wonder if there was hope after all.

I sighed. Cynwulf, coming out of his own thoughts, looked over at me.

“You can never really come back again, can you?” he said, looking intently at me with his strange, glowing eyes.

“No,” I said, sharply. “The things we see change us too much.”

“Is it the things we see, or the things we do, ‘wise?” he asked quietly.

I pretended not to hear him.

***

I moved as quickly as I could behind our lines, ducking arrows, dodging the occasional frostbolt that sizzled against my shields, moving back to the makeshift command post near the center of the line. The sound of rifles filled the air. “Sergeant Ironshot!” I yelled to a grizzled dwarf firing a rifle around a large rock. “Sergeant Ironshot!” I yelled again.

“What is it, lassie?!” he yelled back, reloading his carbine, not bothering to look at me. “Imma little busy right now!”

“Barley, it’s almost time, be ready,” I yelled over the sound of his carabiners’ fire, hurrying past.

“Ready? Ready??” the old dwarf yelled. “Ironforge dwarves were born ready, lassie! You hear that, men? Time to stop running!” There were a few ragged cheers from the dwarven line, but most were busy with the task at hand. Fire, reload. Fire, reload.

It had been a long two days for all of us. What had been a brilliant strike into the heart of Horde territory had turned into a rout; while we had destroyed the infrastructure of the Warsong Lumber Mill, it had come at the cost of substantially weakening Ashenvale’s defenses. Two thirds of my battalion was gone, and an entire company of the Sentinels had been wiped out.

This was not going to look good on my report.

I checked in with the healers next; Anchorite Taluuna was nominally in charge of that group, though she had no military command experience, the draenei kept a cool head in a crisis that inspired confidence in her fellow healers. They had already begun getting the wounded ready to move out, while taking their positions for our desperate run for it. Nearby was Whizzlespark talking to her few remaining engineers, discussing their work.

“Chief,” I said as I approached, “you ready?”

“Yes, Colonel,” the gnome said in her high-pitched voice. Her green hair was dirty and streaked with grease, but that was actually pretty normal for her. “Torque and I were having a discussion on the finer matters of the use of seaforium in non-shaped charges, but yes, we’re ready.” She cast a meaningful glance over at the white-haired Torque, daring him to say anything.

“Indeed,” he said, “I concur with Ms. Whizzlespark’s observation. While we may not have reached the optimum concentration of the primer to allow for…”

“We’re ready, sir!” said Whizzlespark loudly, glaring at her compatriot. The third member of this odd little group, a junior engineer named Henry Sprocketfuzz, just smiled broadly, gave me two thumbs up, and said, “yep yep, good to go!”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll go tell Frederick and Cyneburgh that they’re up.” I looked at the diminutive trio one last time before hurrying away; so much counted on them doing their jobs right. Not only the lives of the hundred or so people still under my command, but the future of the Alliance in the region was now resting on these gnomes’ abilities to work under pressure.

I squared my shoulders and headed off to see my sister and her lover.

***

“No no no noNONONO!” I screamed, sprinting towards the healer core. The pack of giests had moved around our warriors and paladins and were headed straight for the most vulnerable members of our group. The strange, leaping gait of the geists quickened as they closed in on their targets. Syrissa, one of our Draenei priestesses, looked up at my yell. Her eyes grew wide as she saw the incoming danger.

“Shit, I’m not going to make it,” I said, realizing that if the healers went down, it didn’t matter if I lived or died.

I didn’t care if I lived or died, not anymore. But we were going to finish the job first. Dolar and Catarith heard my yell and had started moving, but they weren’t going to make it in time.

“Right, then,” I said, and ignited my Goblin-engineered nitro boosts. They roared to life and sent me speeding right at the pack of leaping, slavering giests. As I closed in on them, I cast Shadowflame, breathing a cone of fel flame into their midst. I slammed into the pack, bouncing, twisting through the mass of undead bodies, trying to keep myself aimed away from the healers. The geist’s claws clutched at me, grasping, hungering.

I crashed through the pack, a trail of burning goblin rocket fuel and fel fire in my wake, twisting, turning, almost free -

Oh, crap.

One of the geists grabbed my ankle, just as I was about through. The burning boots continued their inexorable thrust forward, freeing me from the monster’s grasp, but my balance was gone. I tumbled to the ground, skittering across the cold stone floor.  The fire in my boots went out as I slid to a stop.

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the giest pack turned as one to get me. The fel fire wreathed their bodies, slowing their movements – but they were moving away from the healers. People were moving now. I just had to hold the pack’s attention.

“Come and get me, you undead fuckers,” I snarled, rising to my feet as they charged. Fire danced around my hands as I tried not to think of what my fate would be if I fell to their gaping maws.

And then Cat and Dolar were there, sword and mace chopping through the undead, forcing the pack to address the threat in their midst. Others of our band joined in, charging the pack’s flank.

Good, I thought to myself. Now it’s time to make the undead burn.

Chojub, back at my side again, cackled. He knew what that look in my eyes meant.

***

“Do you remember that time Cyneburgh got stuck up on the roof of the Blacksmith?” Cynwulf asked, laughing. “Funniest sight I ever saw, all those boys trying to get her down.”

I smiled a little, in spite of myself. It was a funny memory. ‘Bur had a way of attracting attention wherever she went. Not only was she smart and adventurous, she was pretty and attractive, she knew it, and she used her beauty to her advantage.

It was the one thing I hated most about my younger sister.

We were at the outskirts of Goldshire, but we were not going to stop. The mules were in good shape, having been fed and watered a short while ago. Our horses were similarly fine, unconcerned with the easy pace and nice weather.

I looked over at my brother again. Cynwulf had changed for the better since I’d thrown him in the Dalaran fountain and packed him off to Waylan. He had cut his hair, his beard was neatly trimmed, he’d bathed recently – not something I think I’d ever seen him do, even before Arthas turned him. His armor was polished, his surcoat looked brand new.

I mean, I hate to say it, but I was just hoping Waylan could keep him from being a public nuisance and drunkard. To have this easy-going, urbane gentleman, instead of a fierce, drunk fighter for a brother… It was going to take some adjustment.

“I hope Mom is okay,” he said, suddenly worried. “Dad said she’d been ill this autumn.”

“She’ll be as okay as she can be,” I replied. “There’s no easy way to do this.”

“You seem to be pretty calm,” ‘wulf said.

“I’ve done this before, brother,” I said. “It doesn’t get any easier, but at least you know what to expect.” I kept my face impassive as he looked at me.

“All right,” he said, giving the reins a flick as we turned onto the road to Northshire.  “Let’s get a move on, then.”

***

I found Lieutenant Cyneburgh of the Silver Hand and Commander Frederick of the Ebon Blade readying their troops for the upcoming battle. Saddles were being checked, girths were being tightened, and nervous horses calmed in preparation for the upcoming fight. The assorted knights, paladins, and death knights watched my approach with interest.

“Commander,” I said, saluting again. “Lieutenant.” Both of them stood at attention and returned my salute as I continued. “It’s time to move out. The Chief’s got everything ready; now it’s up to you.”

Frederick smiled, his glowing blue eyes staring directly at me. “Excellent, Colonel. We will not let you down.”

“Good. Don’t forget, let the Lieutenant and her paladins charge the first wave, then come in from the flanks to hit the healers. Buy us time, but don’t get caught too far out from us. Short, small charges will serve us better in this terrain than driving all the way into Orgrimmar.” Cyneburgh raised her eyebrow at me, a familiar response, but she said nothing.

“Understood, Colonel,” said the tall Death Knight. “You can rely on our… discretion.”  His hollow voice had the echoes of a laugh. I smiled in spite of myself.

“Lieutenant, any questions?” I asked.

“No, sir,” my sister replied professionally. Her eyes danced mischievously, though her facial expression was all business.

“Good. Let’s get to work,” I said, pitching my voice a bit louder for the troops. “Let’s give these bastards the fight they were looking for. Onward to the Ramparts!”

There were some ragged cheers from the troops, but like the dwarves, they were muted. They were tired, and this push would not be easy. I saluted my officers, turned, and moved back towards the center of the line. Behind me, I heard my sister’s clear voice rising above the fray, exhorting her troops.

And they responded, enthusiastically.

My sister, the paladin. She always was the popular one.

***

The leader of the Argent Crusade, Tirion Fordring, stood frozen in a block of ice. The Lich King, Arthas Menethil himself, looked over our assembled group. Here he was, our quarry. But he was hardly trapped.

“You shall be the greatest champions the Scourge has ever known,” he intoned in his hollow voice. A chill ran down my spine as it sank in: this was a trap, just like the Mor’shan Ramparts were. We were to be turned, like poor Fordragon hanging, still burning, above the Frozen Throne.

“Not if we have anything to say about it!” yelled Dolar, which was our signal to move. I moved to my normal position on the right flank, with a moonkin, death knight, mage and shaman beside me. The five of us went to work, trusting that the group on the other side was doing the same. I felt the familiar surge of power as fire erupted from my hands, speeding towards the horrors the Lich King was summoning.

Down they went. Arthas summoned more as he continued his own attacks on our knights. We shifted fire from him, to the horrors, to the shades of darkness, and back again. Tree-druids waved their branches, priests and shamans shot beams of pure energy, and paladins invoked the power of all that was good and holy in this world to heal us of the crushing, bruising blows raining down on us.

And then Arthas looked up, pointed the sword Frostmourne at me, and said, “come to me, Cynwise.”

There was a blinding flash of light, searing pain wracked my entire being; and then my soul obeyed, rushing joyously from my body to the runeblade.

***

Cynwulf turned off the main Northshire road that led to the Abbey and drove the mules up a tidy lane, up to the farmstead he and I knew so well. My horse walked at an easy pace beside him. Each sign, each fencepost had become increasingly familiar as we approached our family’s little piece of land, nestled in the hills that surrounded Northshire proper. This land was quiet, and peaceful, and beautiful.

We made the final turn, and there was the familiar gardens, and house, and barn. I looked over at ‘wulf, but his strange glowing eyes gave away nothing.

Cyneburgh was home.

Our youngest sister, Cynwyn, was waiting to meet us outside. Studious, serious, and smart, ‘wyn  had just been accepted into the Mage Academy. I was sure that she would find the lessons more to her liking than I did.

But for now, her eyes were red, having obviously been crying. Cynwulf stopped the cart and smiled a sad smile at her.

“I’ll go get our parents,” she said, not bothering to say hello. “They got your letter this morning.” She looked up at the cart, shuddered slightly, then turned and jogged off towards the farmhouse. ‘Wulf clucked at the mules and shook the reins, getting them moving again, heading into the dooryard.

Cynwyn disappeared into the house. I could hear some words being exchanged when suddenly the door banged open as my father came charging out of the house.

“You!” he yelled, pointing at me. “YOU! Get out of my sight, you filthy traitor!  I don’t even want to look at you!” My eyes went wide with surprise at this as he closed the distance with surprising speed. My father Cynferth was a strong warrior in his day, and he was furious.

“Father,” I began, then realized that was the wrong tactic. “Don’t you call me that!” he yelled. My mother had appeared in the doorway, too, and she was calling for her husband to calm down. My father was yelling at me, cursing at me, and coming far to close for my comfort.

“Master Sergeant Cynferth!” I barked out, in my best parade ground voice. “I am here to fulfill my duty to the King of Stormwind. Whatever charges you wish to bring against me can wait until I have completed my task.” He stopped, a few feet from my horse.

“No,” he said, intense and quiet. “‘Wulf can do it. Your rank means nothing here. You need to leave, now.”

“No, I replied, firmly. “He cannot. I have a commission from the King to…”

“Section 16 point 25 of the Stormwind Officer’s Code states that the next-of-kin of a deceased officer may choose who attends and does not attend the funeral rites of an officer. An officer,” he added, looking pointedly at me, “which your sister most certainly was, unlike you, you … mercenary.”

“As her next-of-kin, I am asking you to leave.”

“Sir,” I said, trying to get some kind of handle on this conversation that was spinning out of control. “This is…”

“I don’t want to hear it!” my father yelled again, taking the last few steps to stand at my horse’s side. “YOU are the one who was in charge of that mission, your sister’s life was YOUR responsibility! I don’t care if you tell me that the battle was classified or not,” he thundered, “because I know what happened.” I reined my horse in tight. “I don’t care what you have to say. I want you to leave.”

He stopped, looked over at the wagon, and saw the plain pine box for seemingly the first time. “No matter what,” he said, quiet again, “family comes first.”

My father Cynferth turned back to face me. He looked old, tired, devastated. “Not the job, ‘wise. Family. There’s more to life than doing the job. And I’ve failed as your parent if you can’t see that.”

Now the anger began boiling up in me. “The job, as you so cavalierly dismiss it, was to defend you and your kind against the Horde. ‘Bur knew the risks, and took them willingly.”

He looked up at me, tears starting to well in his eyes. “I’m not debating this with you, Colonel. Please leave. You have discharged your duty. Now leave,” he said, turning his back to me. “This is not your family anymore.  I have but one daughter left.”

I looked up at my mother Eadwyn, shock in my eyes. She made a placating gesture, trying to tell me that father would get over it. Cynwulf looked at me too, but said nothing.

No, I shook my head. No. If that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it is.

I wheeled my horse around and spurred her flanks savagely. I galloped away from the farmstead as fast as I could, not looking back.

That place was no longer my home.

***

The Mor’shan Ramparts had fallen to Alliance assault four days ago, when we marched through with a much larger force. Now, the survivors of my battalion fought towards it, trying to escape the pincer of two Horde forces which threatened to envelop us. We needed to get to the safety of the Ashenvale woods before we were all dead. The final stretch of hills of the Barrens surrounded us, limiting our view.

“Is it still empty?” I asked.

“Yes, Colonel,” said Lt. Oakwalker. “The fortifications appear to be undisturbed. Even the corpses are still there.”

“Good,” I said. “Let’s gather up for one final push then.” I strode over the supply wagons.

“Chief!” I yelled, “those wagons have got to go! They’re slowing us down too much!”

“But sir,” Whizzlespark began, “the devices…”

“They’re slowing us down, you can always make more! Let’s go, soldier!” The Chief glared at me, then climbed down from the wagon and started unhitching the horses.

“Commander!” I barked out, turning towards my mounted troops. “Time for another charge! Give the healers time to evacuate the wounded and get back here, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Frederick called out. The Knights of the Ebon Blade worked surprisingly well with the paladins of the Silver Hand, keeping the Horde unfocused and scattered while we pulled back in stages. “Knights!” he commanded, wheeling his horse around and drawing his greatsword. “Glory to the Alliance!”

“Glory to the Alliance!” rang out the cry.

“Move out!” I ordered, and my troops began moving towards the ramparts, leaving the supply wagons behind.

My sister took the lead as the paladins formed up. “C’mon, lads!” she cried out, laughing. “Let’s show ‘em how it’s done!” She spurred her horse forward, and the knights moved forward as one towards the Horde forces, several hundred yards distant. The Horde responded with a roar, rushing forward to meet them. The armored Alliance horses thundered on a collision course with the Horde.

“Now, Chief.  Phase one,” I said to the small gnome by my side. She took out a horn with whirring gizmos, gears, and dials and pressed a small red button. A loud klaxon sounded, hugely loud, making everyone around the Chief jump, myself included.

The horses changed direction, turning away from the Horde infantry.

I was okay with the howls of frustration that little maneuver elicited. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Our cavalry thundered back to us, outdistancing the Horde forces. The Knights of the Ebon Blade were first through, passing the supply wagons to meet up with the main force. Cyneburgh held her paladins back, however, taunting the Horde to come closer, closer…

They were nearly to the supply wagons when disaster struck.

From the left came a large group of Darkspear berserkers, mounted on their raptors. From the right came a smaller group of Tauren, the huge Kodo beasts moving quicker than I ever expected they could.

The Horde cavalry crashed into the Knights of the Silver Hand. Many of the horses went down quickly, throwing the lucky riders and trapping the unlucky. Cyneburgh stayed on her horse through the initial attack, but a large Tauren shaman smashed her out of her saddle, causing her to tumble limply to the ground.

Commander Frederick wheeled his horse around. I heard Ironshot yelling something to his men, and Oakwalker cursing in her musical language.

“Oakwalker!” I ordered. “Half of your forces with Taluuna and the wounded, get them to Ashenvale on the double!” She nodded and hurried off to split her troops. “Frederick, Ironshot, set up a defensive line here. We’re far enough away from the wagons that it should still work. Chief, stand by.” Troops sprung into action as the battle raged on around the paladins.

“Colonel,” said Commander Frederick. “Shouldn’t we reinforce Cyneburgh?”

“She’s on the wrong side of the wagons,” I said, taking out my spyglass. I needed to see what was going on out there, the fighting was starting to raise too much dust from the arid Barrens soil. I couldn’t see much out there, but ultimately it didn’t matter. The fight was short, brutal, and ended quickly in favor of the Horde. The attackers had a brief conference, then mounted up and moved back a ways, waiting for their forces to join them.

I looked at the Tauren who knocked my sister off her horse. He looked familiar, but perhaps it was just that I’d seen him before in the infantry?

Lt. Oakwalker ran up to our impromptu command center. “The wounded are safely en route to Ashenvale,” she reported. “Along with a dozen archers and another six Sentinels… sadly, all we could spare.” I nodded in response.

“Colonel,” the Chief said, “you better come over here.” She motioned over to where she and Torque were gathered around Henry, who had produced a contraption that fit on his ears. It fanned out, giving him huge bat-like ears. “This Gyro-assisted Audio Booster is picking up human voices out there. There are survivors.”

“We must go rescue them!” insisted Commander Frederick.

“Not yet,” I said, holding up my hand. “We can’t get caught on the wrong side of the wagons. If we do, there’s nothing but some squirrels standing between this Horde army and Astranaar.”

“Aye, but lassie, we cannae just leave them there!” said Ironshot.

“No, we can’t,” I said.

“Something’s happening,” Henry said. We turned as one to look as several grey shapes moved around our fallen comrades. I raised my spyglass again.

“Forsaken Rogues,” I said.

“Oh no,” said Whizzlespark.  “Oh, no.”

A scream echoed across the battlefield, a scream that was cut short with a gurgle. “They’re killing our men,” said Frederick.  “We must go rescue them!”

“No,” I said.  “Not without a plan!”

“Plan!” he shouted incredulously. “We charge over there, me and my men grab them, and we get out!  That’s the damn plan!”

“Commander!” I shouted in return. “That is…”

Another scream, filled with terrible pain, filled the air again.  I knew that scream. That was my sister. The screams continued, horrible, agony-filled screams.

Henry snatched the contraption from his ears, his face pale. Sgt. Ironshot looked through his own spyglass, then turned green. “Oh no,” he said.  “Oh no, lassie.”

“The Forsaken are eating her. Alive.”

***

The light and pain subsided enough so I could see again. I was in a strange space, filled with diffuse white light, empty save for myself and a young man with blonde hair, about my own age. My armor was gone, replaced with a simple linen robe. The man wore a similar garment.

“Cynwise,” he said. “I’m so glad you came.”

“Where am I?” I asked.

“You are inside my sword.” The young man smiled. “I wanted to discuss things with you without the others… interfering.” I thought I could hear faint sounds of a battle, but there was no location, nothing to pinpoint.

“You… what?” I said. “You want to talk to me?”

“Yes. Come over to my side. You’ve tasted power, but nothing like what I can give you. It would be a shame to waste your potential.”

“Why should I trust someone who murders his own father?” I said, my anger starting to rise.

“Because you killed your sister for the same reason I slew my father,” said Arthas. “To protect my people.  We are not that different, you and I.”

***

“That’s it, I’m going,” said Frederick.

“You are NOT!” I said, “and that’s an order, Commander!”

“Tell it to the Alliance, I work for the Ebon Blade,” he snarled, turning toward his deathcharger.

“I said stand down!” I yelled as he started to mount. My sister screamed again, a long, ragged scream. We could all now hear the guttural laughter of the undead, taking delight in the living’s agony.

The Death Knight swung into his saddle. Other men shifted to follow.

That’s it. I snapped my fingers once and Helola, my succubus, emerged from her invisible state next to Frederick, and began beguiling him with her demonic charms. Her hips swayed, her breasts heaved, she blew him a kiss, and Frederick could not move. He was held fast in the demon’s spell.

“I will court-martial you and execute you for treason if you do not stand down, mister,” I said in a flat, menacing voice. “You will not get us all killed by rushing off to save someone who is already dead. Am I clear?”

Cyneburgh screamed again, this time weaker.  I couldn’t bear to turn around and see what was happening.  Frederick was motionless on his horse.

A bow twanged behind me, and my sister’s scream was cut mercifully short. There was a sharp exclamation from the Forsaken. I turned to see Lt. Oakwalker, bow in hand.

“We do not abandon our friends to the rogues,” she said.

***

“Cyn, WAKE UP!” yelled Fynralyl, slapping at my face. “Whatever he did to you, shake it off! We need you NOW!” I blinked at her, then heard the roaring of the vengeful spirits. Right. Arthas. Time to do the job. I struggled to my feet. Fyn ran back into the fight, axes swinging.

Tirion remained encased in his block of ice. Dolar stood in front of the Lich King, his holy shield absorbing the titanic blows as our motley assembly hammered away at him and his minions.

Now, Cynwise. The power will be all yours, the Lich King’s voice whispered in my head.

I looked back at where our healers stood, branches waving, totems present. It would be so easy to interrupt them, to send them reeling, to disrupt the battle.

No, I thought back at the presence in my head. You killed my brother, did you think I had forgotten? I whispered the words aloud as I began summoning fire and chaos to hurl at the Lich King.

His mocking laughter echoed in my skull as I flung fire at him. He was an excellent servant, but you would be mightier, exalted above all others. For you are not like him. You are a kinslayer, too.

I gritted my teeth and cast another spell, sending a bolt of chaotic energy at him.

Join me, kinslayer, he whispered again.

Beside me, Chojub cackled with delight and malice.

***

The tauren shaman who had knocked my sister off her horse looked sadly at the grisly scene. He sighed, then gestured forward, and the Horde troops surged forward again.

“Form up!” I yelled to my shocked troops. “Here they come!” I released Frederick from Helola’s spell. “Commander, I need your troops ready to cover our retreat, go!” He looked at me furiously, but nodded and rode back to his troops.

The rifles of the dwarves cracked as the Horde infantry closed the gap. The assembled orcs, trolls, and tauren were more than enough to overwhelm us.

The first ranks passed the supply wagons.

“Now, Chief,” I ordered. Whizzlespark pressed a button on a device she’d been holding.  Torque and Henry looked on, eyes bright to see if their invention worked.

Small panels flew open on the tops of the wagons, and nozzles emerged from the top, spraying gusts of a sparkling cloud of metallic confetti. Each wagon started rumbling and shaking as the silver dust floated over the Horde troops. The charge faltered as the soldiers tried to determine if this was a new attack, but the metallic flakes that made up this attack seemed to pose no threat.

One of the orcs laughed.

Whizzlespark pressed a second button.

The electrostatic dynamos roared to life inside the wagons, sending sparks flying out the backs of the wagons. The hum increased quickly, and then bolts of lighting shot out between the two wagons, arcing and connecting between the newly conductive bodies between.

The carnage was horrific. Troops were incinerated by the charges as the air became electrified with each gust of metal dust. The bolts of lighting leaped from soldier to soldier, cooking them in their armor, leaping from one metal-coated body to another.

Torque clapped his hands together and yelled, “it worked! It actually worked!” Henry Sprocketfuzz looked over at me, a big grin on his face, and said, “leet, totally leet.” The Chief continued to watch the electrified wagons with a worried look on her face. She checked a gauge on her device, then looked at me.

“They’re going to blow, Colonel,” she said.

“Okay,” I replied. “Time to move out,” I yelled to the troops. “Go! NOW!”

And then we all ran like hell for the safety of Ashenvale as the wagons sparked, smoked, and finally exploded behind us.

***

“Burn him like you’ve never burned him before!” yelled Dolar, swinging his hammer at Arthas again. Several of our team lay broken and twisted on the floor. We were weakening, but so was the Lich King.

I dismissed Chojub and summoned the biggest demon I could control, a Felguard named Skezelras. I then summoned another, even larger demon, a doomguard I nicknamed Ike. The fel energies coursed through me as fire and shadow magic flowed from me.

Arthas laughed in my head again as I cast the most powerful, dangerous spells I had ever learned.

You will serve me in the end, he whispered.

And with that, my control snapped. The fel energies I commanded recoiled on me, burning my flesh. I could feel the demonic nether filling my body as it began changing, growing, twisting into something non-human. Wings sprouted from my back as I metamorphosed into a snarling demon.

I had heard of warlocks who could do this on command, but I had never tried before. No sane warlock would willingly embrace demons like this, I had said, but it looks like I was a hypocrite in the end. Fire burst forth from me as I charged the Lich King.

Blow after blow rained down on Arthas. Finally, it was just him and us, and we were winning. We could see it.

You lose, I thought at him.

No, he thought back. You will serve me, willingly or not.

The Lich King raised his sword above his head, and a massive wave of cold spread out from him, knocking us backwards and to the ground. Another wave crashed on us, and then another.

You should have taken my offer, kinslayer.

I was so tired of fighting. The cold pounded into my very bones. I was numb to the pain, I could feel nothing but the intense cold of the Lich King’s hate.

I no longer cared if I lived or died. Too much had been lost. Too much had been taken from me.

No more.

I accept, Sire, I thought.

And then the darkness took me.

***

Sunlight streamed in the windows of Field Marshal Afrasiabi’s office, high in the Stormwind Command Center. The faint sounds of Old Town filtered in through the open windows, the cool breezes of autumn bringing the smells of the Harbor to my nose.

“I hope you can see my position,” Afrasiabi said, looking at me from behind his large oak desk. “The forces of Stormwind and the Alliance are in your debt, and we are grateful for the services you have provided.”

“I understand, sir,” I said, standing at attention.

“However, given the events at Mor’shan, it would be best for the troops if you were relieved of command and released from your contract, Colonel.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, knowing that my time as a soldier of the Alliance had come to an end.

His eyes narrowed. “You shouldn’t have used a demon on your own men,” he said. “No matter what else, there are some things you shouldn’t do. It was bad enough what happened to Lieutenant Cyneburgh, but…” his voice trailed off.

“The troops have no confidence in me,” I finished for him.

“Yes,” he said, nodding. “They are afraid of you, and I don’t blame them. You’ll do what it takes to get the job done, Colonel. I appreciate that. But there are some lines you don’t cross.”

I stood there, still at attention. Afrasiabi shuffled some papers on his desk. “The King has asked that the Lieutenant be given full honors and be escorted home to her family,” he said. “Your brother, who was honorably discharged, can be reactivated to accompany you.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, keeping my features impassive.

He put down the papers he’d been looking at, then looked directly at me. “I’ll be honest with you, Cynwise. I’ve known you a long time, and you’re great at what you do. But you’ve lost your perspective, and you’re on the grip of losing your humanity. You are no good to the Alliance in your current shape. Leaders lead by example, not just through intelligence and power.”

“Go home,” he said, finally letting some warmth in his voice. “Go home and remember what we’re fighting for.”

“If you insist, sir,” I said. Afrasiabi sighed, signed the paper he’d been holding, and stood up.

“Here are your discharge papers, Ambassador,” he said, handing me the signed document. “Your commission will be complete once you have taken your sister home. You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, saluting. He returned the salute solemnly. I turned to leave.

“Oh Cyn,” he said, as I opened the door. “If you’re looking for work, I hear there’s a crazy dwarf down at the Pig and Whistle looking for adventurers. Something about killing the Lich King?”

“I’m not that crazy, sir,” I replied, and closed the door behind me.

***

I do not know how long I floated in that darkness.

No pain, no loss, no attachment. No striving for power, no lust for money, no bitterness towards those whom I should love.

I found peace in death.

And then… and then.

“Arise, my champions!”

The voice rang out, clear as a bell, shattering the stillness. Light and sound came pouring in to fill the darkness. Cold, bitter cold, assailed my body.

I drew in a gasping, desperate breath.

I was back.

We were all back.

Our work was not yet done. We had been called back to finish the job.

The Lich King stood locked in combat with Highlord Fordring, but Frostmourne lay shattered on the icy floor. People were rising around me, hands picking up weapons and casting spells as we returned to the living.

You betray me so quickly, little one? asked the voice in my head.

I got a better offer, I whispered back, grinning viciously as I summoned Chojub back to my side.

***

The King was dead, and more than dead, and we stood, stunned, and watched Bolvar take the burden onto himself.

“Here ye go, lass,” said Dolar, handing me a pouch full of gold. “Pleasure having you on the team.”

“Thanks, Dolar,” I said, taking the money out of habit. A job is a job, even if it involves coming back from death.

“So what now for the great mercenary captain?” asked Fynralyl teasingly, as our mages began conjuring ports to various locations around Azeroth.

“I don’t know, Fyn,” I replied. “I think my time as a mercenary is done. My factor’s gotten me a place in the Park District of Stormwind, maybe I’ll go crash there for a while and take it easy. See what turns up.  You?”

“Back to the Exodar for me. There is so much rebuilding to do!” She waved goodbye and stepped through the portal.

“Yes, yes, there is is,” I said to myself. “For all of us.”

I stepped through the portal to Stormwind, leaving Icecrown behind for good.

18 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Fiction

The King Is Dead

12 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Battleground PvP Gear in 4.0.1

Looking good in the starting areas is important, people!

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

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

RESILIENCE

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

ENDGAME GEAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PVP MOUNTS, ACCESSORIES, AND GEMS

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

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

Other accessories you might be interested in are below.

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

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

 

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

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

LOW-LEVEL PVP GEAR

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

Those vendors are:

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

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

PVP HEIRLOOM GEAR

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

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

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

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

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

LEARNING TO PLAY AGAIN

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

That will all come soon enough, when Cataclysm launches.

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

6 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Battleground Gear in 3.3.3

I’ll be honest. Patch 3.3.3 is leaving me a little dizzy in the battlegrounds. The Battleground Finder is everything I hoped for and more. Getting rid of Marks of Honor has opened up the lower gear tiers to players of all levels without having to grind specific battlegrounds.

The biggest change is how much honor you get for PvP now. My GM put it really well: Honor is flowing like water in the battlegrounds. The honor boost to Honorable Kills has yielded a terrific boost to getting honor in every battleground. Blizzard stated that they wanted gearing up for PvP to be as easy as gearing up for PvE, and I think they’ve done that. You can outfit yourself in a full kit of T9 with a few days of random heroics, and now you can outfit yourself in a full kit of Furious Gladiator’s gear with a few days of random battlegrounds. This is a good thing.

ENDGAME GEAR

I don’t see any new gear since 3.3.2; there’s no new Arena season with this patch, so Wrathful is still the top tier of gear. The vendors are different: Alliance is the badass-looking Knight-Lieutenant T’Maire Sydes, and I assume the Horde got a new vendor, too. But the gear is all the same.

The PvP gear levels at level 80, and how you purchase them, are:

  • Wrathful Gladiator (ilvl 264-270): Arena Points + Arena Ranking
  • Relentless Gladiator (ilvl 251): Arena Points + Honor Points
  • Furious Gladiator (ilvl 232): Honor Points
  • Titan-Forged (ilvl 200-251): Wintergrasp Marks
  • PvP Enchants: Stone Keeper’s Shards or Honor Points

Offset Gladiator pieces are purchasable at a currency level or two higher than listed. Given how much honor is flowing right now, it’s worth changing the format and talking about the best PvP pieces you can get in each slot with only honor or Wintergrasp Marks.

  • Head: Furious (ilvl 232) – 54500 honor
  • Neck: Wrathful (ilvl 264) – 52200 honor
  • Shoulder: Titan-Forged (ilvl 251) – 40 Wintergrasp Marks
  • Back: Wrathful (ilvl 264) – 52200 honor
  • Chest: Furious (ilvl 232) – 54500 honor
  • Wrist: Wrathful (ilvl 264) – 43400 honor
  • Hands: Furious (ilvl 232) – 43300 honor
  • Waist: Relentless (ilvl 245) – 34100 honor
  • Legs: Furious (ilvl 232) – 34700 honor
  • Feet: Relentless (ilvl 245) – 34100 honor
  • 1st Ring: Wrathful (ilvl 264) – 52200 honor
  • 2nd Ring: Relentless (ilvl 245) – 26100 honor
  • Trinket: Medallion of the Alliance/Horde (ilvl 264) – 68200 honor
  • Trinket: Battlemaster (ilvl 245) – 34100 honor
  • Main-hand: None
  • Off-hand: None
  • Ranged: None

This entire kit will cost 583,600 honor and 40 Wintergrasp Marks. You’ll have to bring your own weapons. It’s a pity I haven’t been keeping track of the prices from patch to patch, because I suspect that the addition of Wrathful gear to the honor pool has made this the most expensive battleground kit ever.

However, with the recent buff to the amount of honor you get, it might also be the easiest kit to complete. So take it for what it’s worth.

MOUNTS

Mount collectors seem to be unanimously in favor of the change from Marks to honor for purchasing PvP mounts. And I can see why. The convenience of not having to run specific battlegrounds outweighs the honor math, and to be honest, all math before 3.3.3 likely needs to be thrown out, anyways.

PvP mounts now cost 50k honor. Based on a day or so of running battlegrounds with the new levels of honor, that’s about 2-3 hours of random battlegrounds. Before this patch, 50k honor was a significantly greater investment. With moderate PvP, I used to hit the honor cap about once a week or so, and now I expect to hit it every 2-3 days. So comparing prices before (60 Marks * 248 honor = 14880 honor) and after (50k honor) is faulty. Fortunately, there is a common currency.

Time, not Marks or Honor, is the real currency you are using to buy PvP mounts. Getting 60 Marks took a minimum of 21 and a maximum of 60 battles. At 15 minutes each, that’s a range of 5.25 hours to 15 hours. Let’s take a median of 8.812 hours for each PvP mount.

Now, mounts will probably cost about 2-3 hours each. Seems like a good deal to me.

Mount collectors have every reason to celebrate this patch.

LOWER LEVEL HONOR

Things get a little trickier discussing honor when we move away from the endgame, mostly because each bracket offers substantially different levels of honor rewards. Where the gear scales with bracket, this works out fine. If you get 200 honor per match, buying a sword for 600 honor is a fine value and you should definitely consider it.

Rewards from Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, and Alterac Valley all fit this criteria. You can get them from the following vendors:

Don’t dismiss these rewards as PvP-only. They’re not. They’re solid leveling and dungeon gear, and at many points they are the best in slot items you can get. Be willing to spend honor as you level to keep your gear current.

Rewards that are useful beyond a bracket, though, are probably more inaccessible now than they were before. If you get 200 honor per match, a 50k Mount is now 62.5 hours of PvP time instead of 8.812 hours.

But to be honest, I don’t know how much honor folks should expect to get while leveling through battlegrounds. The changes at level 80 have me so disoriented — I seriously got 5k honor from Warsong Gulch, which blows my mind — that I can’t even guess how hard it would be to get 50k honor at level 60, let alone 40. I’m not worried about the scaled rewards, but the mounts and battlefield standards? Yikes.

This patch will take some time to really fully understand.


43 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Battleground Gear in 3.3.2

So Arena Season 8 is here at last, which means new fashions have pushed last season’s dowdy looks to the closeout racks. It also means that the purchasing imbalance between PvE emblems and PvP currency that existed at the beginning of 3.3 has been resolved, and it’s now safe to PvP for your gear again.

Patch 3.3.2 has introduced two new sets of gear: Wrathful Gladiator gear for Arena and new Titan-Forged offset pieces at Wintergrasp. Just like earlier seasons, the new rated Arena gear means that older seasons are now available for cheaper currencies. Since Arena points are available from the Daily Battleground quest, battleground enthusiasts can get very good gear without stepping foot in an Arena. It will just take a long while.

Here’s the breakdown of what you can buy with each currency.

  • Wrathful Gladiator (ilvl 270): Arena Points + Arena Ranking
  • Relentless Gladiator (ilvl 251): Arena Points + Honor Points
  • Furious Gladiator (ilvl 232): Honor Points
  • Titan-Forged (ilvl 245): Wintergrasp Marks
  • PvP Enchants: Stone Keeper’s Shards or Honor Points

This model is consistent with the PvE vendor gear model, with three tiers of gear rewards and offset pieces available through reputation. And while we can argue about the relative difficulty of Battlegrounds vs. Arenas, it is in many ways the same argument as the difficulty between Heroics, 10-man and 25-man raids, and ultimately futile. No matter how much you like Battlegrounds, if you want the top gear you play Arena.

Let’s talk about that top gear for a minute. The Wrathful sets are the design culmination of several seasons of gear, each one building upon the elements of the one before. Looking them over, I like them a lot.  I like the design idea that these are the product of our faction’s craftsmen and not looted sets from various Northrend dungeons; there’s a sense of consistency and evolution absent from the PvE Tier gear.  Plus, the different seasons tend to match, unlike Tier gear.

The downside is that there isn’t that much variety between sets, unlike PvE. So if you’ve got a great look going (like Warlocks do) the look of Wrathful gear may be enough to pull you into Arenas. But if you don’t (sorry, Paladins), you’re stuck with the look you’ve got. It can be a problem.

Setting aside the look of each set, the Wrathful gear is a no-brainer upgrade from Relentless. Itemization remains the same between pieces, there’s just more of it.

The new ilevel 245 Titan-Forged gear is a welcome addition and is a good way to get high-quality gear without burning your other currencies. There are essentially three new pieces for any given spec:

These new pieces are not sold by the mammoth vendor, but instead by Champion Ros’slai or Marshal Magruder, who are so new they’re not even on Wowhead yet.  They’re right next to the mammoth vendor, like so:

So Wintergrasp returns as the best place to spend your time while grinding for gear. Do all the weekly quests for honor and shards, and win Wintergrasp for the Marks and access to VoA.

The progression of battleground gear then returns to the same form it was during 3.2, namely:

  • Levels 10-59: Old-world (Marks of Honor) PvP rewards
  • Levels 60-78: Level 60 and 70 (Marks of Honor) PvP sets
  • Levels 70-78: Guardian (Marks of Honor) PvP sets
  • Level 78: Blue (Crafted) PvP sets
  • Level 80: Furious (Honor) PvP sets and offsets
  • Level 80: Titan-Forged (Wintergrasp) PvP offsets
  • Level 80: Relentless (Honor + Arena) PvP sets
  • Level 80: Wrathful (Arena) PvP set

Keep in mind you can’t walk into the Arena in ilvl 187 crafted blue gear and expect to be competitive right away.  You will need to work your way through an honor grind to get yourself into Furious/Titan-Forged gear first.  The best way to do this is:

  1. Wintergrasp whenever possible.
  2. Do the Daily Battleground quest until you win.
  3. Alterac Valley, Strand of the Ancients, and Eye of the Storm for Honor Points.
  4. Round robin of the remaining battlegrounds for marks to convert into honor.

If a particular BG is having a Holiday weekend, give it a go.  The important part is to win quickly, as that keeps your Honor Per Minute very high.  (If you haven’t looked at Ihra’s number crunching on the HPM for holiday battlegrounds, you owe it to yourself to take a look.)

Once you have yourself into a good set of Furious/Titan-Forged gear, you’ve gone about as far as you can go in the Battlegrounds.  (Update: you can still get Relentless/Wrathful offset pieces, and should. Thanks for the tip, Devv!)  You may be able to afford a piece or two of Relentless with the Arena Points you’ve acquired from the daily quests, but you’re going to need an Arena rating to get the top-end gear.

Making the transition from Battlegrounds to Arena, however, is an entirely different post.

Happy shopping!

14 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Imperfect Isle

Alliance Keep on the Isle of Conquest

I tried Isle of Conquest again this weekend, and lost. Not a lot, because I know when it’s just not working and quit while I was ahead… but I didn’t win any of the battles. The Alliance would mostly rush Docks, but every time we would get outnumbered and eventually get overwhelmed. Once the Docks were gone it would take maybe 10 minutes before the Horde stormed the Keep and won the match.

It’s a pretty consistent story now on the Alliance side.

THE SNIPE SPOT

Cassandri at Hots & Dots has a short but sweet look at the Isle of Conquest, and why the Alliance has such a tough time winning it.

It comes down to the Snipe Spot described by Rubymelon in his great post, The Secret to Winning Isle of Conquest and also discussed in this comment on WoW Insider. The secret, such as it is, is that the Glaives have a longer range than the defensive cannons on the keep. Their longer range exploits the strong-side/weak-side asymmetry Ihra noticed while looking at win/loss data, where the Docks’ western placement puts them on the Alliance Keep’s weak side (and the Horde Keep’s strong side.)

So the strategy that results in a Horde win every single time is for them to rush the Docks, take the Glaives, knock down the Alliance Keep’s west wall with impunity, and then kill the boss. The corresponding strategy on the Alliance side is to take the Hangar, but it is a weaker strategy because the Horde Keep walls are not destroyed, nor is there a disparity in the offensive/defensive weapon ranges.

Don’t mistake this for QQ. Fighting a battle means exploiting every asymmetrical advantage you can, and I’m really quite impressed at the players who figured this out. I’m not asking for any changes. The map is laid out in a way that favors certain tactics from certain sides, and there’s no way around that. Alterac Valley is the same way. I don’t think normalizing the ranges between the glaives and cannons will fix this; this is a map problem, too.

It’s no excuse; the Alliance should be able to find a counterstrategy that works:  destroy the Glaives at all cost, for instance.  But I think the damage has already been done to this battleground.

GO HARD OR GO HOME

Let me switch to Alterac Valley for a little bit. The 50s bracket of AV in Ruin was (before the sweeping PvP changes of 3.2) completely Alliance dominated. The matches would start 40 Alliance : 10 Horde, and the Horde would get slaughtered on the rush to Drek. Half of the Alliance team would get Drek, the rest would push them into the cave, and the matches didn’t take very long.

The Horde didn’t lose because of a map imbalance, though the AV map does favor the Alliance. (The bridge at Dun Baldar is a great defensive structure that when properly manned cannot be bypassed; the path into Frostwolf Village is not at good because the line of sight is broken, limiting many player abilities.) They lost because they didn’t show up. No matter how good you are, you can’t win a battleground against 3-4 times your number.

But you have to dig deeper? Why didn’t the Horde show up in that bracket, while the Alliance turned out in droves?

Because once upon a time, when it was equal, the Horde lost more games than they won due to a map imbalance. So they did what any rational player would do: either afk in the cave for marks and get honor elsewhere, or play something else entirely. There’s no reason to fight a losing battle when you can fight a winning one elsewhere.

But a funny thing started happening late nights while I was playing AV. The Horde showed up. And they showed up big time, with level 60s who knew what they were doing, and even though the matches started out 20:40, they soon filled up. Premades or not, if you have 40 on 40, it’s a real battle.

Yes, the Horde won most of those matches. They came in and played smart, with a good mix of offense and defense. They capped and recapped and defended and fought at the flag and took down Van in no time flat. They slaughtered the unprepared Alliance forces.

It was glorious, even from the losing side.

Those were the matches that taught me how to play AV, not the facerolls. /bg chat may have been filled with cries of “OMG WE CAN’T LOSE” and other QQery, but enough of us fought through to figure out how to win in the face of an actual opponent. Some of the best AV matches I played were those late-night AVs where the Horde showed up. Losing 0-10 on resources is heartbreaking, but also a hell of a game. We won some. We lost some.

When I got to the 71-80 bracket, I found where all the Horde really were. They were up at the level cap fighting normal AVs, and winning some of them. Not all, but they weren’t fighting a population disparity right away. The lessons learned in the earlier brackets came in handy as the strategies were the same, just the 80s hit much, much harder.

This old war story has a point. The Isle of Conquest has a balance problem that will drive players either to it, or away from it, just like Alterac Valley. Battlegrounds PuGs are good randomizers, so all other things being equal, an advantage in one side will cause that side to win more often statistically than the other. A rational player will look at this and say either this is to my benefit or disadvantage, and participate accordingly. Now that there are so many battlegrounds to choose from, players will go to where they feel they can get the best reward for their playtime.

I worry that Alliance participation is going to plummet in the Isle of Conquest, just like Horde participation did in Alterac Valley. Perhaps it will happen even faster, or has already happened — I have no way of knowing. But I have a hunch people will act in their own self-interest and the Alliance will stop showing up.

Which is really too bad, because the example the Horde set in Alterac Valley is the right one Alliance players should draw from. Don’t give up hope. Find a better way to fight, and exploit advantages that you do have. If that means making a premade, or only letting 60 twinks into the battleground, so be it. Perhaps the advent of rated battlegrounds will give the Alliance the organization it needs to overcome the Snipe Spot strategy. Perhaps not; the advantage will not be asymmetric. I think a more traditional strategy is necessary: yield the Docks, but kill the Glaives at all costs while pursuing a Hangar seems to be a good start.

But I do know that the imbalance in the Isle of Conquest map is already affecting people’s decisions about where to spend their time. Time will tell if this will turn the Isle into an Alliance ghost town or not.

POSTMORTEM

After writing the original post above, I logged in to the Isle to get some screenshots. I had been there for no more than 20 seconds when the Alliance won.

Sure enough, the player count helped explain why: Alliance: 40, Horde: 35.

I then won 3 in a row.

Moral of the story: You have to show up to win.

3 Comments

Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Links

Gearing Up For Battlegrounds

Hall of Legends

If you are going to be spending a lot of time in the battlegrounds of Azeroth, you should dress for success and get some PvP gear. Even a few well-chosen pieces can improve your performance and survival – and they’re often good pieces to level with, too. But gearing up for PvP can be a complicated affair, particularly for the uninitiated.

That’s okay. I’m here to help you shop.

KNOW YOUR GEAR GOALS

In all likelihood, unless you are a Warlock I’m not going to be able to give you a specific shopping list of gear to go get. That’s okay; you should know the gear requirements of your class better than I do. But, much like battleground talents, there are some general guidelines for battleground gear that transcend class.

You should choose gear on a familiar set of three principles:

  1. Survival
  2. Control
  3. and Output.

Unlike levelling gear, which should at least have a nod towards efficiency, and raiding gear, which for everyone (except tanks) favors output over everything else, battleground gear has to keep you alive so you can do your job. You will sacrifice a lot of output as a tradeoff for survival. That’s okay; nobody looks at your DPS/HPS in a battleground. Just stay alive and do your job.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at Warlock stat priority between the three gear types.

  • Leveling gear: Hit (~4%) > Spellpower > Stamina > Intellect > Spirit/Haste/Crit
  • Raiding gear: Hit (17%) > Spellpower > Haste > Crit > Spirit
  • Battleground gear: Hit (6%) > Resilience > Stamina > Spell Penetration (75-120) > Spellpower > Haste > Crit

The leveling gear should give you enough hit so you don’t miss too many mobs, but not so much that you sacrifice stamina or spellpower for it. Intellect is present to increase your mana pool, but so is Stamina, because of Life Tap. I imagine that mages flip that priority and favor Intellect over Stamina, but nearly all casters can use “… Of the Eagle” gear. This gear will let you quest with litte to no downtime and have sufficient punch to deal with mobs you encounter on the way.

The most important stat to a raider, however, is Hit, specifically enough Hit to never miss an endgame boss. Once this Hitcap is reached, Hit is worthless and it’s time to do damage. Each build has different DPS coefficients for each stat, but spellpower always wins. Spirit is more important than either Stamina and Intellect because Fel Armor turns it into damage.

Obviously, this gear priority is designed to do one thing really well — bring down level 83 bosses quickly.

Battleground gear doesn’t bring the heat to a boss like raid gear. It has just enough Hit to get equal-level opponents (4%) with racial or class evasion abilities (+2%) factored in. But once that PvP hit cap is established, it focuses on reducing damage with Resilience, creating a large pool of hit points with Stamina, and then overcoming resistances with Spell Penetration. Only once Survival and Control are established is attention paid to increased damage and Output.

I’m going on at some length on the principles with this example because I don’t know what your specific needs will be. If you are looking for some casual battleground fun while leveling, specific numerical targets are irrelevant. Just pick up some pieces with Resilience and Stamina and go to work. If you’re a level 80 caster working on a complete PvP set, though, I can tell you to shoot for 800 Resilience, 158 Spell Hit, 75 Spell Pen, and 20k hit points before working on your spellpower.

If you need help figuring out what you gear goals are, there are two places that can help. First, visit the PvP vendors in-game and see what kind of gear they sell for your class. While not infallible, this at least can get you used to the stats Blizzard thinks are acceptable. Second is to look on the internet at sites like Arena Junkies to see what other PvPers are doing.

Do a little research and set your gear goals first; it will help make decisions easier later.

Wintergrasp Quartermaster

HOW TO BUY

I hear it in chat all the time — where do I get PvP gear? Gearing up for battlegrounds is somewhat different than gearing up for raids, but only in execution, not philosophy. You improve your gear through crafting, reputation grinding, and playing battlegrounds.

As of 3.2, the current acquisition path is:

  1. Old-world (Marks of Honor) PvP rewards
  2. Level 60 and 70 (Marks of Honor) PvP sets
  3. Guardian (Marks of Honor) PvP sets
  4. Blue (Crafted) PvP sets
  5. Hateful (Honor) PvP sets
  6. Deadly (Badges) PvP sets
  7. Titan-Forged (Wintergrasp) PvP set
  8. Ferocious (Arena) PvP set

As your character grows, you’ll want to focus on different pieces.

First, while leveling you’ll have the opportunity to purchase PvP pieces from vendors stationed outside the various Battlegrounds in Azeroth. These pieces are generally good, but like all pieces gathered in leveling, quickly outgrown. They cost Marks of Honor from the various battlegrounds, and some honor. The vendors are:

There are some good items you might consider getting. The Highlander’s Boots have a built-in speed enchant and can also take a riding speed enchant, making them great riding and town boots. But in general, if you are not twinking at one of these levels, these items should only be considered if you want to avoid the Auction House for some green upgrades.

At level 60, more pieces open up with the Rare and Epic level 60 sets. You should get these for the looks, not for the stats, because at level 58 you walked through the Dark Portal and picked up greens in Hellfire Peninsula that blow these pieces away. The Rare level 70 sets are also quickly outmoded by Northrend quest greens, and don’t even look as good.

However, if you look around the Hall of Champions (Alliance) or Hall of Legends (Horde), you will find Rachel Vaccar and Teena, purveyors of Season 4 Arena gear for level 70s, which will also cost you honor and Marks of Honor. Some of this gear is quite good. Casters should consider the Volanthius Shroud — good cloaks are hard to come by, and it’s a good one. Many of the trinkets are also exceptional for leveling.

At level 78, crafted PvP gear becomes available:

If you have the means, these are good upgrades to go for. Each one of these sets has a Stamina and Resilience bonus and can be crafted by the various crafting professions. They are sets for both PvE and PvP at level 78 through 80, and are a good starter set for PvP at level 80.

Once you get to level 80, you no longer have to worry about outgrowing your gear and can set your sights on assembling a full set. Honor Points are now your currency of choice, with one exception which we’ll get to later. If you’ve been doing a lot of Battlegrounds, now is the time to turn those Marks of Honor into Honor Points so you can go to town.

Your first goal is upgrading to last season’s Arena set, the Hateful/Deadly set. At first, you’ll want to get the Hateful gear (ilvl 200) to replace your main outfit and Deadly gear (ilvl 213) for rings, trinkets, bracers, neck, and boots. Pay attention to set bonuses and differences in item Equip abilities; often the gloves will have unique abilities and should be gotten first. If you are also running Heroics at this time, you now (as of 3.2) have the option of purchasing Deadly versions of your main gear for Emblems of Conquest. You should stop and think before going full Deadly, however.

While working on getting enough honor to buy your Hateful/Deadly set, you should also be playing as many Wintergrasp games as you can. The reason is because of the items available from the Wintergrasp Quartermasters: Titan-Forged gear. Titan-Forged gear is often the same item level as Deadly gear (213), but is itemized for Haste or Hit instead of Crit. It is also very easy to get, just requiring Wintergrasp Marks of Honor to get. And it’s the key to a well-rounded PvP set.

Remember that discussion about knowing what stats you need to be successful in battlegrounds? Titan-Forged gear helps you reach those stats. While you can go full Hateful/Deadly and get some pieces with Hit, they all favor Crit over Haste. This can be good for some builds, but not all. You need to know which stats serves your specific build best and build accordingly.

My recommendation is to start out with 4 pieces of Hateful and 1 Titan-Forged piece, adding more Titan-Forged pieces as you go. The trinkets are also an excellent way to gain resilience and should be purchased. This gives you the opportunity to experiment with your set bonuses while also getting some very good gear.

One last note about the Titan-Forged gear. With the release of the Argent Tournament (3.2), several new items were added to the Wintergrasp Quartermasters: ilvl 232 pants and ilvl 226 bracers and rings. These are equivalent to the current top-level Arena Furious Gladiator gear, and should be gotten first. They are great pieces to build your set around.

Finally, we consider Arena gear. The Furious Gladiator gear can only be purchased with Arena points, and with specific personal or team ratings. Success in the Arena is the only way to get PvP-oriented weapons, and they are outstanding ones.

If you are Arena-shy you will have to look elsewhere. Crafted weapons like the epic Titansteel weapons (I used the Titansteel Spellblade for some time) or Inscription off-handers are good choices. So are reputation rewards, like those available at the Argent Tournament quartermasters. PvE Heroics like the Trial of the Champion have fantastic drops, too. If you don’t like Arena don’t beat yourself up trying to get a good PvP weapon — just get a good PvE weapon and move on.

Once you have all this great gear, don’t forget that you have to enchant and gem it. Knowing your gear priorities will determine which specific ones you will get, but since Resilience is important to all classes I should point out the head enchants from Wintergrasp (the Arcanums of Dominance and Triumph, respectively) and the Greater Inscription of the Gladiator from your faction’s quartermaster as worthy enchants. This is the part that gets expensive; make friends with an enchanter and jewelcutter if you can.

LAST WORD: BE FLEXIBLE

I’ve had a full Hateful/Deadly set for a while now, and I think it’s important to not get too comfortable with your gear. Each patch has brought new items, new itemizations, and adjustments to the gear. Soon we will see Furious Gladiator’s gear start appearing at vendors for honor points instead of Arena points. Having clear gear goals and meeting them is more important than any single gear upgrade. Keep them in mind and you will not go wrong.

Now get shopping!

13 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual