23 December 2008


If it's not obvious from this blog, I feel equally committed between healing and DPS. And that means I have to think about respeccing. A lot. I have a paladin friend from another guild, who runs instances. A lot. All. The. Time. I'm on his friends list, and he often pings me to see if I want to heal an instance. Lately, I've had to tell him that I'm DPS right now, so I can't help. Really though, I could just respec. It's not as bad as it used to be. Having more gold helps, and having Spellpower gear (instead of +heal vs. +damage) help.

One of the annoyances is the sheer clicking to respec. I'm now using the addon Talented to solve that. It can save talent specs and automatically apply them, which is great. I use a slightly different option: I'll bookmark specs from Wowhead. Talented can parse the Wowhead URL and apply that spec to your toon. You can confirm that it's right before having it do all the clicking to spec you out.

A side note: if you're going to do this, make sure to click the "Link to this build" link in Wowhead. That will "lock in" your spec and URLify it. It's also the way to post URLs to specs. Otherwise you will get a blank spec — or worse, a look at the spec you started with instead of the one you wanted.

That takes care of most of the hassle. You still have to alter your action bars, replacing buttons with the new spells you've learned — or maybe just more appropriate spells for your spec. The bigger hassle in WotLK is to deal with your glyphs. The DPS glyphs are no use for healing, so you'll have to switch. This is the biggest cost; if you switch your 3 major glyphs, that might cost you ~100g for each switch. It's also annoying, because you'll have to get to the AH to buy glyphs, and then find a Lexicon of Power to make the change.

So: today, it's possible, mildly expensive and annoying just to respec, and more seriously expensive and annoying to switch glyphs. The good news is that this is going to change at some point. Blizzard is working on a dual-spec capability. The idea is exactly like what I would want: you can swap between two predefined specs, with much less cost and hassle. The spec swaps should also swap glyphs and action bars, and won't require you to reapply your "lost" spells when you switch. And you should be able to do it pretty easily and cheaply. To quote from an official Ghostcrawler post about spec swapping:

Our thought at the moment is that swapping specs (going from A to B) will truly be free in towns and possibly during the prep phase of PvP. In an instance it may cost a nominal fee (think reagent level). We want you to be able to do it when you want to do it, but we also don't want to slow things down if everyone is constantly flipping spec from fight to fight. But if it's free in town, then obviously it can't be more of a burden out of town than just hearthing and being summoned back is or nobody will use the remote option.
Of course this is subject to change, but if it stays in this form, life will be good. My A and B specs will be Resto and Balance of course, and I'll be able to move back and forth without too much trouble. Of course, for the most part the gear is the same which helps. There are a couple of gear pieces that swap +hit for MP5 or whatever, but as a druid, carrying around lots of spare gear is standard already.

It doesn't solve anything. You'll still have to pay (and re-glyph) if (for instance) you want to switch your B spec from Balance to Feral, or if you want to adjust to get more PvP talents. (You could choose to have your A-B specs be PvE and PvP of course.) Some people feel this is an unreasonable burden, but they won't be happy without on-the-fly free respecs. That too me sounds like overkill... because soon you'd be expected to respec at any time. "Oh, this boss does a stun, so everyone drop DPS spec points and put them into your stun resist talent."

That way lies madness. The A-B spec swap is the right way to go. And I can't wait!

22 December 2008

3.0.8: Bits of News

Well the 3.0.8 patch didn't drop on Tuesday. If it's not tomorrow, I would bet it'll come on 30 Dec. A couple notes to my earlier 3.0.8 post:

Regarding the Starfall change: evidently, the tactic of concern was to pop Starfall and change into Travel form. You could bop around at speed and drop stars on quite a few enemies. I don't really think this was a big deal — the cheetah is pretty squishy — but I can see where it'd be painful in arena. Either way, I'm OK with the nerf here.

Regarding Polearms: Evidently the current best-in-show polearm is [Black Ice], which drops from Malygos in both Normal and Heroic. Still nothing for caster druids.

An update on Wild Growth: Official talk now is about a possible change that would allow Wild Growth to benefit Nourish as other HoTs do. That would be pretty cool. I keep wanting to like Nourish. It's a handy spell to have, and I think we'll find a good bit of use for it. But as Phaelia has shown, it isn't really advantageous either in efficiency (HPM) or sheer healing throughput (HPS). The WG/Nourish change would really benefit Nourish as a raid heal, especially from painful burst AoE damage. Here's hoping that it goes through.

Other than that, not a whole lot to report. Had a fun weekend, with runs into regular Halls of Lightning and Culling of Stratholme, and heroic Nexus (good) and Violet Hold (not so good). In Heroic VH we got stuck on the first boss, who was Xevozz for us. With three spheres we'll really have to work out our strategy for DPSing on the move. After three or four wipes — including once when we didn't realize a player was AFK — we gave up on it and ran Nexus instead. The good news is that Nexus appears to be very doable on Heroic. We did struggle with Keristrasza, probably because our DPS was moving/jumping too much, gimping DPS more than required.

Next up for me: complete the Merrymaker achievements, including runs into Ahn'kahet for the hat for Tis the Season, and run battlegrounds With a Little Helper from My Friends. Curious to see how annoying that will be — it kinda sucks to be a druid that can't shapeshift. Probably the best option will be to heal like crazy on defense in AV or something similar.

16 December 2008

Patch 3.0.8 for Resto and Balance Druids

Today's long maintenance window may indicate the arrival of patch 3.0.8 (which happens to follow 3.0.4). That's very quick, as the PTR only went up a week ago. But I would bet that Blizzard is eager to start Arena season 5 before Christmas, for players who have time off from school or work. So we'll likely see the new stuff today.

So what's happening? The 3.0.8 patch notes from yesterday show a lot of changes. There's some general fun stuff — Tauren on raptors! — but for the most part the general changes are bug fixes. One in particular that we've encountered:

The Wintergrasp Aura should now properly update in all instances, transferring the buff when the zone control changes.
We saw this in Utgarde Pinnacle the other night. My computer locked up and I had to reboot halfway through the instance. When I returned, I could no longer loot the [Stone Keeper's Shard], though the rest of the group could. Best guess is that Wintergrasp fell to the Horde while we were in the instance, but the other players didn't get the message. So that will suck a little bit when you lose Wintergrasp, but will help when you seize it.

There are a few other minor changes like that in 3.0.8, and of course the rewards for Arena Season 5 are part of it too. But I mostly wanted to look at Druid changes, and specifically changes that affect Balance and Resto druids. The Feral changes are big, though, so if you're a bear or kitty, check them out. In short: armor calculations are a lot different, and the weapon-damage relationship is completely different. No more Feral Attack Power! There's a good first look from Big Bear Butt Blog as a start. It appears that this will be a minor nerf, but the challenge right now is more about understanding the effects of the change more than overcoming it. Ferals have some thinkin' to do!

So what about the rest of us? Here's the changes that will affect Resto and Balance druids:

Wild Growth now has a 6 second cooldown. This is the big one. You can get an in-depth look from Phaelia (with only a couple of tears shed). Wild Growth has been an amazing spell; it will be 90% as amazing after the change. For starters, this doesn't even really matter if you're running 5-man instances. Wild Growth hits 5 toons and HoTs for 7 seconds, so there's no benefit to casting it twice. It's a bit bigger nerf for 10-man instances and pretty substantial for 25-mans. But even there, the "smart heal" effect plus the HoT aspect means that spamming WG was subject to diminishing returns. So I suspect that Druids will move along just fine.

Genesis: Now works with Tranquility and Hurricane. This makes Genesis more attractive for Boomkin, basically buffing Hurricane damage by 5%. The Resto effect on Tranquility is probably less exciting — Tranquility already heals for a lot — but Genesis is already attractive for Resto anyway.

Remove Curse and Abolish Poison can now be used in Moonkin form. I'm a bit confused, because Remove Curse was already available in Moonkin form. My hope is that they really mean that Remove Curse can be used in Tree form. That current limitation is a bit annoying to Resto, and it would be nice to see it gone. But it's great that Abolish Poison is now available for Moonkin; it's a good solid utility we can provide to the group. Boomkin, help out your healers: remove curses and poisons! EDIT: I forgot that had changed for Trees. Obviously I was leveling as Balance when I posted!

Starfall: Instead of canceling shapeshifting, now cancels on shapeshifting into an animal form. (The "instead" clause here refers to a previous PTR build, and not current live behavior.) OK, now you can't cast Starfall, shift into Bear form, and blast your enemies with arcane bolts while you're armored. So don't do that. This must be targeted at Arena tactics that I'm not familiar with. If you're deep enough into Balance to get Starfall, you'll almost always have Moonkin form, which has a pretty good armor bonus too. Maybe the risk was Starfall + Cat form + Stealth? Or Sprint? Either way, it's gone now.

Nature's Grace - Now also effects Revive. You know what I hate? When people use "effect" where they mean "affect". If Nature's Grace really effected Revive, it would mean Nature's Grace procced Revive. Now THAT would be a buff! Instead, you'll occasionally get a half-second shorter Revive. I predict now that you will see this happen exactly three times in the next year.

Polearms: Now trainable by Druids. I like this, just because Polearms are IMHO the best looking weapons. But there are only 111 polearms in the game, and none of them have any Spellpower. (Two have MP5, but the best of them is the [Ethereum Phase-Spear], a vendor green from Netherstorm. Our Feral cousins will be eager to roll on stuff like the [Wraith Spear] that drops in Naxx, but polearms will be strictly eye candy for casters.

And... that's it for the mana-eater Druids. One noticeable nerf, and a couple of utility buffs. We're not buffed like Arcane Mages... but we're not nerfed up like Hunters either. Should be fine! I'll update if anything new or surprising shows up.

15 December 2008

Utgarde Pinnacle

Alamein is now 80. /cheer! (Oh, and WTB a new /cheer emote for female Night Elves. Thx!) I had my first runs this weekend into Gundrak, the Oculus, and Utgarde Pinnacle. Oculus in particular is a shockingly innovative instance. But I think my current favorite instance is Utgarde Pinnacle, so I'll talk about that one today.

(Also: screenshots, yay!)

Utgarde Pinnacle (UP) is the second half to Utgarde. It's designed on Normal for level 80 players. It's not terribly hard, but it is noticeably more work than the mid-70 instances. As a level 80 instance, it will grant reputation; make sure to wear your favorite tabard to get rep for whatever faction you want. There are two quests for UP, and you'll pick them up from Brigg Smallshanks immediately after zoning into the instance; it's terribly convenient.

The trash is pretty simple. UP is populated by Vrykul and Scourge, with a few beasts also in the mix. We didn't see a major need for crowd control, though we did a good bit to stay in practice. The only thing I noted here is that the Ymirjar Berserkers were immune to roots, and probably to other CC forms too. The Dragonflayer Seers are healers, so burn them down quickly.

The bosses all have some complexity, and the fights require some level of attention from everyone. Here's the Need To Know:

Svala Sorrowgrave - Vrykul/Val'kyr

After clearing a bit of trash, you'll come into a room with Svala. As you enter, she's in dialog with our good friend Arthas, who converts her into a Val'kyr. The key to the fight is the Ritual of the Sword. Every 20 seconds she will rise out of combat and teleport one party member onto her altar. Three adds will spawn and channel to hold the victim in place, while a sword slowly descends over the victim. If the sword hits the victim, he dies, so the key is to kill the adds as quickly as possible. We just DPSed the adds down, but on Heroic it appears that you need to AoE them. (A tip: she keeps channeling the ritual after the adds are down, so ranged DPS can get some free shots in before she begins attacking again.) For us, she was easy, and a good warmup for the rest.

Gortok Palehoof - Magnataur

After some more trash, you'll come to a room with a clickable stasis controller. Five frozen mobs will line the hallway, with Gortok at the end. When party members click the controller, mobs are sequentially unfrozen. On Normal, you'll have to fight two before Gortok, while on Heroic you'll fight all four.

The good news is that they're all pretty much a tank 'n spank. The first four mobs include a (giant) worgen, rhino, furbolg, and jormungar. Each has its own special ability: the worgen hits hard and does a Mortal Strike; the rhino does a stomp and a charge; the furbolg does a chain lightning, and the jormungar does an AoE poison. After defeating 2 (Normal) or 4 (Heroic) of them, you'll face Gortok. He too is tank 'n spank. He does a frontal cone attack so the tank should face him away from the group; he also does an AoE shout that's apparently nasty on Heroic, reducing your max health by 1000. On Normal though we didn't do anything fancy, and just spanked him down without much trouble.

Skadi the Ruthless - Frost Vrykul

This is another cool event, and the most complicated fight of UP. He's also a tough boss, so you'll work for this one. You'll come to a long hallway with the giant Skadi and his proto-drake Grauf.

When you aggro Skadi, he'll take off on his drake and start a gantlet event. Waves of Vrykul will attack you in groups of 5 or so. You end the gantlet by killing Skadi's dragon, but to do that you'll need to use the harpoon guns at the end of the hall. And to do that, you'll need to pick up harpoons dropped by the Vrykul. You'll see these stuck in the ground after fights; they'll show the gear cursor when you hover over them.

So you'll fight your way down the corridor, picking up harpoons as you go along. It's probably best to have 1 or 2 DPS designated for harpoon duty. As you fight, Skadi will take periodic passes down the corridor; his drake will lay a band of frostfire on one side. Call it out and have everyone move to the other side. When someone has four harpoons, they can take down Grauf. The harpoon guns are at the end of the hallway. They show a gear cursor too, and will fire when you click on them (no need to mount them or anything). Skadi and Grauf will only occasionally be in range of the harpoons, so look for the raid warning ("Skadi is in range of the Harpoons") and fire off a few shots when he flies past. After four shots, Grauf will die, Skadi will land, and you're finally fighting the boss.

(Note: you'll keep any leftover harpoons if you die, which can either make the gantlet easier after a wipe, or can be a strategy for achievement fights on Heroic.)

The boss fight is a simple tank 'n spank but Skadi is tough. The end of the hall is a fairly confined space, and Skadi does a wicked whirlwind that you'll need to avoid. Our healer got caught up in it and died, though Spirit of Redemption and Rebirth saw us through. I'm afraid of what he'll be like on Heroic. Everyone, melee in particular, has to make sure to dodge the whirlwind at all costs.

So to sum up:
  • Aggro the boss and fight groups of Vrykul
  • Pick up harpoons dropped by the Vrykul
  • Dodge left or right to avoid the frostfire
  • When you have at least four harpoons, and when he's in range, use the harpoon guns to kill the drake
  • When he lands, tank down Skadi, but avoid his whirlwind
Keep those points in mind, and you'll get through the chaos.

King Ymiron - Vrykul

You'll come into the final room, where you'll see the king receiving tribute from the final trash pack. You can pull the trash (including the last two Berserkers) without aggroing the boss.

Ymiron has two notable abilities you'll have to deal with. The first is a spell he'll cast called Bane. It gives him an aura that will cause Shadow damage to the party if Ymiron takes direct damage. So when Bane is up, the party has to hold up on DPS. It has a cast time, so if you watch (and have cast bars turned on!) you can see it coming. The good news is that it can be dispelled or spellstolen.

Ymiron will periodically (we saw it twice) cast a group-wide stun. (I have read that you can trinket out of the stun. We didn't try it so I can't confirm, but you might want to equip your PvP trinket before the fight.) He'll then run to one of the nearby boats and channel the spirit of a Vrykul ancestor, which will grant him another special ability. They are as follows:
  • Front left boat: Summons an orb that does AoE shadow damage. Avoid the orb, and kite Ymiron away from it.
  • Front right boat: He will cast a Shadow damage AoE. Keep healer and ranged DPS back.
  • Back left boat: Summons four adds; AoE them down.
  • Back right boat: Casts a Spirit Strike stacking debuff.

For the most part, you'll just DPS through no matter what ability he gets. Just avoid the orb if it's up, and AoE the adds if they arrive. Ymiron hits pretty hard, and on Heroic this is gonna be tough. But on Normal we had no problem.

So, a good instance! I love the Utgarde aesthetics and music, maybe more than any instance since Deadmines. There's just enough trash to make things interesting. The boss fights all have their twists, but they're not insanely complex. UP was a lot of fun. But it's also pretty tough, and I think it's gonna be a bear on Heroic.

10 December 2008

Drak'Tharon Keep

Another instance we ran last weekend was Drak'Tharon Keep. (I need to start grabbing screencaps to illustrate these articles!) DK is a fort that's located between Grizzly Hills and Zul'Drak. It's pretty typical of the WotLK instances I've done so far: well-designed, fairly short, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Drak'Tharon is populated by Scourge, Drakkari trolls, raptors, and spiders. The trash fights aren't too complicated. One tip: you'll see Drakkari bat riders. If you just attack them, you'll fight the riders and their bats separately. But if you CC them first, you'll just fight the riders; the bats disappear. On Normal it wasn't worth the effort.

Boss fights are amusing enough, and pretty simple for the most part. Here's the Need To Know for each of them.

Trollgore - Dire Troll

On Normal he is pretty much tank 'n spank. He's attacked by adds throughout the fight. He can do two things with them: eat them for a damage buff, and explode their corpses for an AoE. On Normal we ignored that and just burned him down. It's possible that on Heroic you'll need to clean up the adds before they reach him, but I'd start by just DPSing him and see how that goes.

Novos the Summoner - Lich

He starts out shielded and unattackable. He will summon adds which you have to deal with. One type of add that he will summon is a Crystal Handler. After you kill four Crystal Handlers, the shield goes down and you can attack the boss. DPS him down. He'll cast a Blizzard effect — run out of it. Pretty easy.

King Dred - Devilsaur

Pretty much tank 'n spank. Clear the other raptors before pulling him. He will periodically fear the party. He also pulls in adds. Healers: watch for his Grievous Bite. It's a significant bleed effect, and it won't go away until the tank is healed to full health. (This includes after the fight — make sure to top off the tank when you're done, or he'll die while rolling for loot!)

Prophet Tharon'ja - skeletal Wind Serpent

Half of this fight is a normal tank 'n spank. But Tharon'ja will periodically cast Decay Flesh. This will turn him into a full-flesh wind serpent... and turn the party into skeletons. You'll have a new action bar with four abilities:
  • 1: Skeletal Strike. This is your attack; use it as much as possible.
  • 2: Taunt. If one player is taking too much damage, taunt Tharon'ja away. On Heroic the best strategy might be rotating taunts, though you'll want to end up with Tharon'ja on the tank if possible.
  • 3: Bone Armor. Use it if you're the one with aggro.
  • 4: Touch of Life. This is a self-heal that also drains health from the boss.
So when you're a skeleton, everyone DPS on the boss with your Skeletal Strike. After doing a certain amount of damage, Tharon'ja reverts to skeletal form, the party returns to normal, and the fight goes on as usual.

One note: Hunter pets won't become skeletons. So a hunter helps with his fight a lot, as the pet will continue to DPS when the party becomes skeletal.

We didn't have too much trouble on Normal, with any of the bosses. Even Tharon'ja wasn't bad once you're ready for the skeleton form. I have a suspicion though that this is the kind of instance that will be a lot worse on Heroic &mdash much harder than it's mid-level Normal difficulty would suggest. We'll see!

09 December 2008

Ahn'kahet: The Old Kingdom

We did a couple instances over the weekend. The first was Ahn'kahet — impossible to spell and destined to be known as AK, I guess. It's definitely worth the visit, though it will take a bit more time than the early WotLK instances I've seen so far.

Ahn'kahet is found in western Dragonblight. It shares an entrance and meeting stone with Azjol-Nerub. It's another Nerubian Empire leftover, partially occupied by the Scourge and partly held by Twilight Cultists, who have also summoned some elementals. In other words, just about every type of CC is usable at one point or another in here.

The map is the longest I've seen yet in WotLK, and it's a bit more confusing; a couple times we found ourselves looking for the next hallway. At least one sequence requires you to deactivate two crystal orbs to free up a boss (Prince Taldaram). The complex map reminds me of Underbog a bit, with a winding multilevel path. As with Azjol-Nerub, you'll have some 'paths' that are really ramps made of web; they're easy to miss.

Ahn'kahet has four bosses on Normal. None of them are a serious challenge per se but they all have tricks or complications that you should know about. With a good plan, things will go smoothly. Here are the key facts to know about each guy:

Elder Nadox - Nerubian Vizer

The first boss, a giant spider-looking guy, has one key fact you need to know. He'll summon adds during the fight. Most of these are pretty unimportant, but you absolutely must keep track when he summons a Ahn'kahar Guardian. While these guys are up, Nadox and his summons are immune to damage.

You'll get a raid warning when a guardian is summoned; pay attention and burn it down. If you do, the fight will go quickly.

Prince Taldaram - Darkfallen

As I mentioned, you first need to release this guy before you can fight him. Look for two pillars, accessible via web ramps. Each pillar will have a small party of mobs and a crystal orb. Kill the mobs, click the orbs, release the boss.

Taldaram himself isn't too tough of a fight. He'll spawn Flame Spheres, which do damage to nearby party members, but on Normal the damage isn't too bad. He also does a Vampiric Embrace on a party member, which is a bit annoying... but the right answer is to DPS his butt (which ends the Embrace), so no need to adjust. Avoid the Spheres and burn him down.

Jedoga Shadowseeker - Twilight Cultist

You'll eventually come to a room with Twilight Cultists and two stairways. Take either one (doesn't matter) and you'll see Jedoga floating amidst her initiates. When you kill off the last initiate, she descends and starts the fight. When she starts the fight, she'll summon more initiates, but they'll be inactive and untargetable at the start of the fight.

Mostly, the fight isn't too complicated. She does an AoE that you can avoid if you're watching. But there's an important event to watch for. A few times during the fight, Jedoga will ascend and become untargetable, calling for a volunteer. One of the surrounding initiates will step forward, walking towards her circle. Kill it quickly. If the volunteer reaches Jedoga, it will sacrifice itself. This adds its health to Jedoga, but more importantly gives her a +200% damage buff. That hurts, and even on normal a couple of these will likely lead to a wipe. So find and kill the volunteer!

Herald Volazj - Faceless One

This is a fun fight! He's not too bad on Normal; he hits a little hard but nothing that should trouble you. The key is the Insanity phase. You'll see this twice, when he hits 66% and 33% health. Everyone will phase out and see shadow-copies of the rest of your party. Kill 'em. They're not too bad — they're not full copies of your party, and don't have all abilities. Once you've killed them, you'll see your other (real) party members and their shadow-copies, so you can help kill them too. Do that quickly, and you should have no trouble with Volazj.

Any of these bosses can wipe you if you ignore the tricks, but if you know what's going on, they will be pretty easy. The scary part? There are Heroic achievements for killing the bosses... while basically ignoring the tricks. (See Respect Your Elders and Volunteer Work.) These will be pretty tough, but I guess that's what the achievements are for!

04 December 2008

Evaluating Druid Gear (Resto and Balance)

TLDR version: Being really casual about it, here's a quick-and-dirty way to judge the Resto gear you'll see as you're leveling or running normal instances:

1 Spell Power/MP5 ~ 2 Intellect/Spirit ~ 4 Haste/Crit
1 reg socket ~ 10-13 SP/MP5
1 meta socket ~ 25 SP/MP5
And this probably works well enough if you want to switch to Balance sometimes too — or for a Restokin doing both like yours truly.

OK. Now for the full post.

I've struggled with how to evaluate Druid gear in WotLK. I had a pretty good process worked out for BC, based on a lot of data I'd stolen learned from Resto4Life, the Wowhead rating scales, WoWWiki, and other places. But there hasn't been a solid consensus on stat weighting that I'd found yet for WotLK, so I've been guessing more than I'd like.

So here's my numbers. First, let me say, this is for evaluating leveling gear: stuff you find as quest rewards, normal instance drops, and maybe earlier crafted gear. So there's no need to be super precise about things. You will replace this stuff pretty quickly with Heroic drops, raid drops, badge gear, and/or PvP rewards. So don't sweat it too much: get some good rough comparisons for now, and we'll do some real analysis for the purples later on.

The first question for me is whether I'm grabbing something for Resto or Balance. I switch back and forth a lot, so I want good gear for both specs (and Restokin too). The change to Spellpower from +heal and+spell damage makes "both" a more attractive option. I'm most worried about Resto, so my plan is to take good Resto armor and swap out trinkets and maybe a weapon for my Balance set.

For Resto I did find a good Resto itemization thread on Elitist Jerks. In particular I think I'm going to work from Whïspur's post for now. Rounding off, he comes out with the following relative weights:
  • MP5: 100
  • Spell Power: 94
  • Intellect: 58
  • Spirit: 51
  • Haste: 29
  • Crit: 20
Like I said, I'm really interested in quick-and-dirty comparisons. So we can simplify the above even further. So a casual comparison could use something like this:
1 Spell Power/MP5 ~ 2 Intellect/Spirit ~ 4 Haste/Crit
I think that is probably a close enough SWAG until you really start looking at purples down the road.

Now this ignores armor, stamina, resilience, and other stats. That makes great sense for high-end raiding but for a more casual player the other stats grow in importance. For example, if you're PUGging a heroic, extra armor and stamina will help you get through fights where aggro is a bit dicey. But if we're talking quick-and-dirty, for me (as a more casual player) this basically means I'll stick to leather armor, and mostly only worry about stamina if everything else is nearly equal.

The other thing to look at is gem sockets Sockets are even more important now because WotLK gems are more powerful — about double the strength of BC gems. The BC Rare-quality +SP gem, [Teardrop Living Ruby] gives +9 SP. The WotLK equivalent, [Runed Scarlet Ruby], gives +19 SP. So what does that mean for evaluating gear?

First, decide if you're looking at early gear (say, available at level 70-75) or later gear that you'll start Heroics with. For early leveling gear, assume that you'll use green-quality gems at best. For the later gear, assume blue-quality gems.

The formula above is way stronger at valuing Spellpower than the formulas Blizzard uses for gems. For example the [Runed Scarlet Ruby] gives +19 SP, but the same-level [Luminous Monarch Topaz] is +9 SP and +8 Int, which in our formula is equivalent to about +13 SP. Because of this, for quick-and-dirty comparisons, I won't use the pure spellpower gems for judging a socket. Choosing the Luminous Monarch Topaz as a baseline gives me a weight like:
1 socket ~ 10 SP/MP5 (green gem/early leveling gear)
1 socket ~ 13 SP/MP5 (blue gem/late leveling gear)
1 meta socket ~ 25 SP/MP5
Now again, if you're looking at purple raiding gear, you'll want to judge by specific sockets, epic gems, whether the socket bonus is worthwhile, etc. But for now I think these numbers to judge whether I'll keep the gear or not.

These are all based on Resto numbers. But how will this work for Balance? I haven't found anyone yet who's theorycrafted out the same kind of comparison for Balance that Whïspur did for Resto. I think — for me! — the above comparison is close enough. A serious Moonkin will value crit, Int, and maybe haste a lot higher, and Spirit and MP5 a good bit lower. But for leveling gear, I think the above numbers are close enough.

I'll spend more time on the detailed numbers after I hit 80 and start raiding and running heroics.

03 December 2008

Violet Hold basics

Status update: I've been gone for the better part of two weeks, due to travel and holidays. Still, I've been able to get into the game a bit. Alamein dinged 76 last night. Mattoo is 80; Firegrin and Wyrmm are 79, and Eric's been playing up his Death Knight who's up to 76 too. So I have some catching up to do!

Last night we ran Violet Hold which was a blast. It's an instance found in Dalaran, like Stockades in Stormwind. The instance itself is a lot like Black Morass: you stay in place and face 18 waves of adds coming through portals. After waves 6, 12, and 18 you face a boss. The setup here is that the Blue Dragonflight is attempting to invade Dalaran through its prison. After facing 6 (and 12) waves of invaders, one of them will open a prison cell, forcing you to deal with a prisoner. The final boss is the blue dragonflight leader of the invasion, Cyanigosa.

We ran the instance twice. The first time included Eric's DK tank Abscess, Sedem healing (Disc priest), Firegrin (BM hunter), Wyrmm (Sub rogue), and my Alamein as Boomkin DPS (in a 35/0/31 Restokin spec). With this group, we wiped once while learning a boss fight (more in a sec) but finished the event on the second try. After that, we ran it again, subbing out Firegrin to bring in Mattoo as Feral DPS, and finished it on the first try.

The trash waves are mostly Dragonkin. We really didn't need CC, but we did it anyway, more for conserving the healer's mana than anything. Druid CC really shines here, since Hibernate works on Dragonkin and Entangling Roots works indoors. Between that and Wyrmm's Sap we were really able to pace the fights.

The key here is to have some space between the portal and the tank, so you can CC out of damage range. The portals spawn at several random locations, and most of them give you enough room; the toughest one spawns in the middle on the lower level. On Normal difficulty, we really had no problem even with zero CC, but I'm sure heroics are different. There are also 5 switches on the wall that you can activate (once) to put a big chunk of damage on any active mobs. We really didn't need these, only pulling them a couple times to see what would happen.

Some of the waves will spawn additional mobs, who tend to head straight for the healer; make sure to have someone watching for this. If uncontrolled, the mobs will eventually try to head for the door shield. If they damage it down to 0% you're defeated (again, similar to BM), but that was never an issue for us.

So the trash ain't bad. The tougher part for us were the first two prisoner bosses. The challenge is that they're a bit random. There are six mobs to choose from, and each has a different strategy, so you don't know who you're going to get. I had read up a bit in advance, but it was tough to know all the strats for all possible bosses.

You can get good info on them from both WoWWiki's VH pages and from Wowhead's VH data and comments. But two weeks into WotLK, the info is still a bit spare and I had to gather info from a few sources. Here's a quick and dirty guide to the six bosses you could face, from simplest to most complicated.

Moragg - Beholder

A straight tank-n-spank. Will put a stacking debuff on the tank that reduces armor (5% per application), also damages another group member with an eye beam attack. Does magic damage, but otherwise nothing complicated. On Normal he was a cakewalk. On Heroic he's probably a healer-intensive fight (high damage on 2 targets).

Lavanthor - Core Hound

Another tank-n-spank. He has a flame breath ability so the tank should face him away from the group. We didn't face him, but he shouldn't be tough.

Erekem - Arakkoa

Didn't face him either. He spawns with two adds, and the key here is to take Erekem down and just control the adds. If an add dies first, bad stuff happens (125% damage buff to the boss).

Xevozz - Ethereal

He spawns orbs that are Bad News. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but you need to a) keep him away from his orbs, and b) keep party members away from the orbs. But the orbs will teleport you to them. In Normal we were able to just burn him down while eating some of the orb damage; this hit us pretty hard but I popped Tranquility to get us through a rough patch. On Heroic this is gonna be a tough fight. Evidently the Orbs can be rooted, which will probably help a lot, but we didn't know that/do that.

Zuramat the Obliterator - Void Walker

This guy wiped us, but it's easy once you know the trick. He spawns adds that will AOE the party hard. The key is to watch for the Void Shift attack. Zuramat will cast Void Shift on one party member, and only that player can target and kill the adds. The key is to realize when you're Void Shifted and kill the adds quickly.

If you're not shifted, you'll see spheres casting the AOE; when you shift, you'll also see small voidy guys who are casting them. Kill them fast. (One Moonfire was enough to do it for me.) Everyone who's not Void Shifted should just DPS on the boss. The biggest challenge would be if the healer gets Void Shifted. You'll either need the tank to eat damage for a few seconds, or have a backup healer ready to switch from DPS. On Normal, with a good group you could probably just DPS the boss and eat the damage, but you'll need to be quick. On Heroic that's probably a wipe strategy.

Ichoron - Water Elemental ("Revenant" model)

This fight goes in phases:
  1. DPS on Ichoron (actually his shield).
  2. Ichoron blows up, knocks you back, and drops to the ground. Little water elementals spawn around the room and head for the boss. Kill them, they have about 4000 HP on Normal.
  3. When an elemental eventually reaches Ichoron, he pops back up with a new shield and starts fighting again. So you want to kill as many as possible before they reach him, or you're dealing with boss+adds at the same time. Subsequent elementals will heal him if they reach him.

    This repeats a few times until he hits 25% health, when it becomes a DPS race.
TLDR Version: Kill him, then kill the adds before they reach him. Repeat.

He wasn't bad on Normal, as long as you know the trick to the fight. I worry on Heroic that the adds will be tough to kill. Activating the wall switches can kill the adds, which many people recommend. This shouldn't be necessary on Normal, but may be key for Heroic.

So: those are your six possibilities. You'll face two of them each time. On our first attempt, we wiped on Zuramat after 12 trash waves, and we had to restart the whole event including the first boss. The two bosses were the same as our first try. The good news is that we got loot for each kill of boss #1.

The final boss, Cyanigosa, was easy by comparison. She's a typical dragon fight: tank faces her away from the party, melee needs to attack from the sides instead of the back to avoid her tail sweep. She does a blizzard AOE that you'll need to run out of. A few times during the fight, she'll teleport everyone on top of her. This is an aggro wipe. On Normal, she was darn easy. If everyone stays awake I don't think that Heroic should be tough (if you can get past the first two bosses, anyway). She was slightly anticlimactic after the more interesting fights that came before, but then again we've killed tons of dragons in Blades Edge so dragon fights are second nature now.

So: Two runs, one wipe, two successful completions. Abscess got a lot of plate loot, so he was pretty happy. We also got a mail belt and a druid staff (that I took for offspec). All in all, it was a lot of fun. It's a great instance and another example of Blizzard's design getting better and better.