27 January 2009

Evaluating Druid Gear - weights for Moonkin and Trees

I wrote up an earlier post on ranking resto and balance gear. I want to talk about the tools I use to rank gear, and also the specific numbers I use for those rankings.

Ranking tools

Easy: Wowhead and Lootrank
The easiest ranking tool is Wowhead. In fact, it's built in. I wrote a whole post on ranking items in Wowhead. Here for example is the list of leather helms ranked by Resto value. I do not agree with the default Wowhead rankings -- they vastly overvalue MP5 and Spirit relative to the other stats. (More on the values in a moment.) But you can edit in your own values — click on Show Details and then enter the values you'd rather use.

The alternative is to use Lootrank. It's similar to Wowhead, but gives you somewhat better filtering options, and the capability to save your weights. I use a combination of both tools.

Detailed: Spreadsheet
The most detailed way to rank gear is with a spreadsheet. You can put items into it and do the math based on your weights to rank the various items. Here's a sample from my spreadsheet, showing the ranks I put on helms:

The spreadsheet is great because you can cut out extraneous items, only listing what you want to see. But it's a lot of work; you'll end up copying data from Wowhead. I do it anyway because I can print out a copy and keep it next to my computer. It's especially great for tracking what BoH items I want to buy, or what Heroic to run for any needed upgrades.

In-game: Pawn
The best way to evaluate gear in-game is the Pawn addon. It will show your relative values directly in item tooltips. This is hugely valuable when gear drops. You can look at what you have and what dropped, compare the two numbers, and get a quick gauge of whether something is an upgrade or not. I definitely recommend using a bit of sense with this too; for example, if the upgrade is minimal, it's probably not worth the expense of adding new enchants and gems. Still, Pawn definitely makes your gear choices easier.

Ranking weights

OK, so those are the tools you use. What are the weights you should use?

I wrote a whole post about this early in WotLK, which took a very rough look at gear evaluation. I've been using that basic approach, but with more refined values.

Resto (Tree) stat weights
For resto I'm still using the weights I ninja'd from this EJ post. I rounded those a bit, and did some adjusting for the gem values, giving me the following:
Resto weights:
MP5: 10.0
Spellpower: 9.4
Intellect: 5.8
Spirit: 5.1
Haste: 2.9
Crit: 2.0
Socket-Red: 180.0
Socket-Yel: 130.0
Socket-Blue: 110.0
Socket-Meta: 320.0
Pawn string:
( Pawn: v1: "Resto PvE": Intellect=5.8, RedSocket=180.0, CritRating=2.0, ColorlessSocket=180.0, MetaSocket=320.0, HasteRating=2.9, BlueSocket=110.0, YellowSocket=130.0, SpellPower=9.4, Spirit=5.1, Mp5=10 )

Balance (Moonkin) stat weights:
I did a bit more research here — mostly because I didn't like the Moonkin values I saw in the EJ thread.

With all specs your weights should really change as your gear changes. That's even more important with a stat like Hit: it's very important until you reach the cap, but after that it's not very valuable. So for Balance I took my values from Rawr. (I would have done the same thing for Resto, but Rawr doesn't give you stat values in its Tree model. Shame, that.)

These values should be good at low to moderate gear levels, but as you get maxxed out your values will change. In particular, you'll weight Hit much less once you reach the cap.
Balance weights:
Spellpower: 12.1
Hit: 11.3
MP5: 10.0
Crit: 6.3
Haste: 5.7
Intellect: 3.8
Spirit: 1.5
Socket-Red: 230.0
Socket-Yel: 140.0
Socket-Blue: 140.0
Socket-Meta: 360.0
Pawn string:
( Pawn: v1: "Balance PvE": Intellect=3.8, RedSocket=230.0, CritRating=6.3, ColorlessSocket=230.0, MetaSocket=360.0, HasteRating=5.7, BlueSocket=140.0, YellowSocket=140.0, SpellPower=12.1, Spirit=1.5, Mp5=10, HitRating=11.3 )

Those numbers should get you started. Use them in Wowhead or Lootrank, in your spreadsheets, or in Pawn. And don't be afraid to change them — if you're going OOM a lot, rank Spirit and MP5 higher, for example.

Still to do: create values for PvP. I have no numbers, but I can provide hints for what I'd look at. PvP weights will add value for Resilience, Armor, and Stamina, but you'll need to decide the weights for survivability vs. damage. And it also adds value for stats like Spell Penetration, and will probably lean towards more bursty stats like Crit.

26 January 2009

How to PUG a raid

If it's not obvious by now, I'll be clear: this blog is not written by or for elite WoW players. If you're in a guild that has two Naxx teams or Malygos on farm, I'm sure this stuff is old hat to you.

But I write this blog for the rest of us.

For example, take my guild's raiding experience. We have been able to set up multiple Naxx runs for the past 3 weeks or so, and that's been fun. But we also need to pick up other players, as we usually have 8 that can go into the raid. Usually we need another healer and a DPS, though for some fights we can do fine with just two healers.

We've had a range of PUG players in our raids. Sometimes we'll get a geared, experienced player — maybe someone who's running 25-man raids every week but has an off night to help out in 10-mans. That's wonderful and really helps with learning. The other extreme is to bring in someone new to raids entirely, or at least new to the fights you're taking on. And even someone who's been in Naxx before may not have fought (or fought successfully) the bosses you're tackling on a given night.

It's very common to see this. Reading the official forums, it's easy to believe that Naxx is 'too easy' and 'no challenge'. And yet I see numerous players and guilds who aren't able to get deep into it. For us, we have downed 9/15 bosses max, and felt pretty good about that. I don't doubt that many experienced guilds have an easy time. But there's no need to feel noobish just because you're struggling with Maxxena or whatever. If you have the right attitude, and enjoy challenges, you're having more fun than the uber leet crowd.

So, if you're a average joe or jane like us, maybe you want to try some raiding, but don't know how to get started. Obviously you can (and should!) read up on the fights and know what to expect. But how do you set things up so that you have a good chance for success? Here are a few ideas I've found that will help out.

Tips for starting a PUG raid

1. Start with a core group. If you can, begin with a nucleus of players who you know and get along with. This might be the 5 or so players that you run instances with, or the handful in your guild that want to try things out. Things are easier when you know what to expect from even half of your raid.

2. Tackle something that's realistic. This is affected by how good your gear is, how skilled your players are, and how organized your group is. A good place to start is the Archavon raid in Wintergrasp. If you have zero raid experience, try tagging along for this a few times; it's usually PUGged right after a Wintergrasp battle (if your side wins, of course). If you have no trouble organizing Archavon, your next step would be either Naxxramas or Sartharion in Obsidian Sanctum. They're both targeted for about the same levels of gear. The advantage of OS is that it's three mini-bosses and one boss; the disadvantage is that the boss fight is a little bit complicated, and if you don't figure him out, you get no loot. There are Naxx fights that are more complicated, but the first few bosses are relatively simple.

3. Make learning the goal. Loot is good, and it's worth striving for. But depending on who you're running with, it's very possible that you'll struggle with parts of the raid. If you start with an attitude that loot means everything, that can quickly lead to disappointment, whining, and arguments. Instead, you should focus on understanding the fights you're tackling. If (like us) you're adding new players to an existing core, make sure you understand what they know — and try to teach your newer players. On the other hand, if a more experienced player joins your raid, be willing to learn from what they have seen.

4. Keep the tone light but focused. Don't sweat things if you're struggling, or if someone gets something wrong. That's part of the learning. Be polite. And, if someone is making things unpleasant for everyone else, don't be afraid to have them leave the raid (but be polite about that too).

Remember, the whole point of playing this game is to have fun. Yeah, it can be intense, but that doesn't make it OK to be a jerk.

5. Try to learn every time. If you wipe, try to understand why. It may well be a mistake by someone. Don't punish it but learn from it. If your strategy is really complex, it can take a long time for everyone to learn it. And don't be afraid to own up if you make a mistake; that helps everyone. (And raid leaders can make mistakes too, by failing to explain things.)

6. Understand your raid lockouts. This is a real pain sometimes, but you have to know about it. Basically, you are (usually) saved to a raid instance after your group has downed a boss, but you can be saved before that too. Once you're saved to an instance, you can't group up with a different group and try things again. Some notes about this:
  • All current Northrend raids reset every Tuesday morning (for US players). So if you ran a raid on Thursday, you're saved to that raid until the following Tuesday.
  • Normal and Heroic raids are saved separately. So if you ran normal 10-man Naxx, you're saved to it, but you're not saved for 25-man Heroic Naxx.
  • Check your saved raids. This is done in two ways. The nicer way to do it is to use your in-game calendar. You'll have to turn on the "show raid resets" option, but then it will show upcoming raid resets. You can also accomplish this through the Raid interface. Open the Social window (O) and click on the Raids tab. Then click on the Raid Information button at the top of the window. It will tell you what raids you're currently saved to.

    Be ready to explain this to any PUG candidates you're bringing on too. It's surprising how many players won't remember what raids they've run this week.

7. Use a standard method to communicate. Voice chat works best when you're explaining things; you can use in-game voice chat or Ventrilo. You don't need everyone to have a microphone, but if they can listen in that will help.

If voice isn't an option, be prepared to type a good bit!

8. Build up a regular group. Not everyone can run your raid every week. But as your regular group gets bigger, things will get much easier. If someone runs with you and you got along well with them, try to invite them back the next time.

OK, those are my tips. Hopefully those will get you started. The raids are fun, and more accessible than they've ever been. Give them a try!

20 January 2009

Our long patchless nightmare is over

All 3.0.8 posts

It's official: 3.0.8 is going to drop today. OK, semi-official. For whatever reason, Europe always announces maintenance and patches before the US. (UPDATE: it's now official, announced via the log-in screen.)

As I said yesterday, this patch is a bit unusual, in that there aren't any headline additions, but there are a huge list of minor tweaks that will add up to significant changes. I encourage you to check out the MMO-Champion 3.0.8 roundup for details, as they include a lot more than the official patch notes.

There is one significant caster druid change that I forgot to mention yesterday:

Shield Wall, Barkskin, Guardian Spirit, and Divine Protection are now off the Global Cooldown.
This is designed to aid tanks — our bear brethren will be able to pop Barkskin without stopping their threat cycle. However, it's a nice little buff for caster druids, especially when soloing.

The best time to use Barkskin when soloing is to aggro a herd of mobs, pop Barkskin, and start a Hurricane.Prior to today, that Barkskin would start the GCD, so you'd have to wait up to 1.5 seconds to start your Hurricane. That's significant because of their relative durations: Barkskin is 12s while Hurricane is 10s. So until now, you would essentially get off one Hurricane under Barkskin, but after the change you'll have a couple extra seconds to work with, allowing you to at least start a second Hurricane. I believe that will help; today it takes me a bit more than 2 Hurricanes to kill most level 80 mobs. So those two extra ticks will most likely save me a good bit of casting.

The other changes I'll point out is to cooking. We're getting a recipe for Fish Feast which will be a great group buff. From what I've read, the PTR recipe only requires 1 Northern Spice (not the 4 listed here), which makes the mats for this very reasonable.

The other recipe to watch for is Kungaloosh. It's available to you from an NPC in the Dalaran sewers, if you've completed The Taste Test quest in Sholazar Basin. The great thing about Kungaloosh is that the cost in mats is around half the cost for Honeymint Tea.

I'll update later today if any other significant changes show up. Until then, here's wishing for a short maintenance window and quick updates to all your addons!

19 January 2009

The caster druid 3.0.8 wrap-up

All 3.0.8 Posts

Is patch 3.0.8 going to hit tomorrow? I asked my Magic 8 Ball, and it said "Most Likely". Last Thursday, Blizzard poster Zarhym said he'd wager it's imminent. The patch has been up on the PTR for something like a month now, so it does feel like it's getting close. I'd give it about a 70% chance.

Anyone in Naxxramas has dealt with painful lag at times, and there are 3.0.8 fixes to deal with that. Hopefully it will help. There are also fixes in the works for Wintergrasp. When it's under attack, it causes lag throughout Northrend, which is both incredibly annoying and horribly funny. I can speak from experience that the lag in a pitched courtyard battle is insanely bad, as in a personal FPS of something like 0.5 to 0.2. Hopefully that gets fixed as well.

There have been a few more tidbits in the latest builds. One is a nerf for Moonkin, most significant for PvP:

- Celestial Focus (Balance) no longer includes Starfall.
Translation: you'll no longer get a random stun-chance on Starfall hits. Blizzard poster Ghostcrawler has stated that their goal is to remove random-proc stuns. Basically, it's OK to decide to stun someone and use an ability to do it, but it's not OK to randomly stun someone as a natural result of something else you're doing. That's why mace spec stuns for Rogues are gone, for example. Thus, we'll probably see an eventual wholesale replacement for Celesital Focus as it stands.

But that won't happen in 3.0.8. For full details, start with the patch notes. I have also written a few posts on 3.0.8. But the biggest caster druid changes are:
  • 6 second cooldown on Wild Growth.
  • Wild Growth now affects Nourish (as other HoTs do).
  • Moonglow now affects Nourish (3/6/9% reduction in mana cost)
  • The Genesis talent now affects Tranquility and Hurricane.
  • Starfall now cancels if you shapeshift into an animal form.
  • Abolish Poison can be cast in Moonkin form.
  • Set bonuses for the Deadly Gladiator's Refuge, Dreamwalker Regalia, and Valorous Dreamwalker Regalia sets are changed.
  • [Idol of the Emerald Queen] is getting a bug fix (which is a nerf).

All in all, caster druids won't be majorly buffed or nerfed. The Wild Growth and Starfall changes are definite nerfs, and may change your playstyle significantly. However the subtle talent changes to Moonglow, Wild Growth, and Genesis will balance that out.

The big changes are really for feral druids, including serious changes to both armor calculations and feral attack power on items. I haven't found a great overview source, but this ThinkTank article is a good start. Suffice to say that you'll change how you rate gear for both DPS and tanking.

All in all, it will be an interesting patch, with a huge number of small changes, affecting just about every aspect of the game. Will it drop tomorrow? We'll see!

16 January 2009

Druid healing on Loatheb

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I'm working on a "Druid Healing Rotation" omnibus, but it's going to take a few days.

Our guild had another successful night last night. This is our first week with multiple runs into Naxxramas. Our first night saw us close out the Spider wing and kill Noth, all of which we'd done before. Last night was new territory for us, as we got three guild firsts: Heigan, Loatheb, and Razuvious.

As a healer, Loatheb is the most interesting boss — by design. (Doubt me? "Loatheb" is an anagram for "Healbot"!) Loatheb casts a wicked debuff called Necrotic Aura. He casts it every 20 seconds, and it prevents all healing for 17 seconds. All healing! That means no spells, no potions, no bandages, no Improved Leader of the Pack... nothing. For 17 seconds, your health bar goes only to the left.

What makes this really interesting for healers is that you can cast heals — they just don't do anything outside the 3-second window. That leads to some very tactical healing to get the most healing into the shortest time. You have to be very aware of the mechanics of your spells. Cast times, GCD, HoT durations, and HoT ticks are all very important. All this will vary, mostly based on your talents, glyphs, and the Haste you have on your gear.

Healing this encounter is all about timing the window. I recommend (again) that you install Deadly Boss Mods. It will track the Necrotic Aura and give you a timer for when the healing window will open. Watch that, and you can time your spells closely.

But what spells should you cast? The key is what I call the Bloom Window.

Let's start at the beginning of a Necrotic Aura cycle. This is your down time. For the first 7-10 seconds of the aura, you don't have much to do. Cast a Regrowth, or two if you're really sweating. It's the only HoT that will last long enough to tick during the healing window. You will probably also use this HoT for Swiftmend fodder in a bit.

Now we come up on the Bloom Window. The goal here is to get Lifebloom to expire and "bloom" during the healing window. So you will cast three Lifeblooms on different targets during the Bloom Window. Those 3 casts will realistically take between 2.5 and 3 seconds*, so you'll get 3 Lifeblooms to Bloom during the healing window.

So when is this 3-second Bloom Window? This depends on the duration of your Lifebloom, which starts at 7 seconds, but extends 2 seconds if you take a point in Nature's Splendor, and 1 second if you use the Glyph of Lifebloom.So here's your window:

Baseline         -7s to -4s
Glyph -8s to -5s
Talent -9s to -6s
Glyph + Talent -10s to -7s
So cast your three Lifeblooms on three different targets during the Lifebloom window. This will do a good chunk of your healing overall.

Now you'll have a few seconds before the healing window. Your best use of the time is to cast more Lifeblooms on different targets. (Remember, you want those earlier LBs to expire at just the right time, so don't stack on them.) With these Lifeblooms, you'll use the 3 ticks during the healing window to provide some extra health. With these Lifeblooms, since you don't care when they expire, you can either cast them on different targets or stack them on the tank or another toon in danger.

Now we're coming to the healing window. The main thing you're shooting for is a Healing Touch to land just as the window opens. HT cast time starts at 3 sec, goes to 2.5 seconds with 5/5 in Naturalist, and will be further cut by Haste on your gear. Having it land a hair late is OK, while a hair early is no help. So err on the side of starting a bit late.

Follow your HT with an instant Wild Growth. That will get you two ticks of WG during the window, on 5 players. Since there's a range factor, keep in mind whether you're hitting the melee/tank zone or the caster zone. But either way, get that WG in there!

Now you have, realistically, one cast left. Your best bet is probably a Swiftmend on one of the Regrowths you left ticking from the start of the cycle. You could also use a Nourish here, but Swiftmend will probably be your better bet.

Alternatively, you could use your Nature's Swiftness plus Healing Touch, but you'll only get one of those every 3 minutes.

If you have GotEM and a lot of haste, you might have just enough time to get a Regrowth off. It's your biggest heal option here, but you'll need a lot of haste and a lot of luck to fit it in. Today you might cast another Wild Growth, but with patch 3.0.8 it will see a cooldown that will prevent this. Better get used to living with that now.

So here's the summary:
-17s   Rest and recover mana
-15s Regrowth (for ticks)
-10s* 3 Lifeblooms, different targets, as fast as possible
-7s* A couple more Lifeblooms (on more new targets) depending on how much time you have left.
-2.5s Begin casting Healing Touch
0s HT lands. Cast Wild Growth.
1.3s Begin casting Swiftmend, Nourish, NS+HT, or alternatives
*Depending on where your Bloom Window lands, based on the Natural Perfection talent and the Glyph of Regrowth.
This fight will really test your healing smarts, rather than your sheer HPS. It's a true challenge — enjoy it!

*If you have so much Haste gear that your GCD is 1 second, I'm sure you are so well geared that you don't need my advice!

12 January 2009

Introduction to Obsidian Sanctum

We did three raids this weekend. Friday we ventured into Obsidian Sanctum again. Saturday we built a PuG for 25-man Archavon, and then kept a few for 10-man, though that one didn't complete before the Wintergrasp battle started. Sunday we put together a 10-man Naxx group and cleared the Spider wing again.

We've had a lot of luck clearing Obsidian Sanctum. It's not a terribly long raid, with three mini-bosses, some trash, and the black dragon Sartharion. The encounters are more complex than Archavon but less complex than Naxxramas. So this is a good entry-level raid. The neat thing about Obsidian Sanctum is that you can choose to add to the difficulty by not clearing all the mini-bosses first. More on the details in a moment.

The Info

Getting There

Appropriately for a dragon boss, this raid is found near Wyrmrest Temple. That will be your flight point and staging area. The temple has repairs, food, water, and reagents, so you can stock up mid-raid fairly easily.

The entrance to the instance is found in an area called the Chamber of Aspects. It's the basement of the temple. To get there, use your flying mount and move south out of the ground floor. There's a major rift that leads underneath the temple; descend into that and turn north to enter the Chamber of Aspects.

When you die, you'll start at the graveyard on the main floor of the temple. Just turn south and jump off the edge of the temple (in ghost form, of course). You'll fall into the rift and run right in.

There are a few instance portals here, but only the Obsidian Sanctum is active. It's the southernmost portal.

10-Man Raid Composition

Two tanks are needed. Your offtank will probably have the harder job, as he has to collect adds that spawn at random locations. For healers, this may be the first raid you'll do with only two, but take a third if you're just starting.

Melee DPS will be disadvantaged on Sartharion due to the lava waves, so if you're choosing, take ranged DPS first. However, melee can be just fine; they'll just have to be more aware than usual about their surroundings. It's good to have at least one AoE class to help deal with the adds.

Fire resist gear can be a bit helpful, particularly for the tanks. Just don't stack too much at the expense of your other stats.

Consult Be Imba! to see whether your stats are up to par. The raid is about on the same level as Naxx.

Instance Layout

When you portal in, don't move too far, as there are trash mobs fairly close. However, it's safe enough to buff up right by the portal. You start on the south side of the instance. In the center of the instance, you'll see Sartharion, on a rectangular island surrounded by lava. The three drake minibosses are on hills to the west, north, and east of Sartharion.

The handful of trash groups are scattered between the minibosses. There are also patrols with two huge dragonkin; time your pulls so that you only get the patrols when you're ready. The trash mobs don't have to be CC'd, but you'll want your two tanks to split them up if possible.

Watch for the lava rivers as you move around, they can damage you (though it's not really significant. You can mount up, though there's usually no point until all the trash is cleared.

Fight Mechanics

The mini-bosses aren't too tough to beat. They're dragons, with the typical breath weapon and tail lash, so the tank should turn them away from the raid. The trick to the fights come when the mini-bosses spawn a portal. All raid members, except the main tank and one healer should head through the portal to defeat the add before it emerges. When you enter the portal, you will phase out and see the add. They're fairly easy to burn down; when its dead you will be back with the mini-boss. You can also use the portal to escape — most useful if the main healer having a hard time healing the tank.

On the second mini-boss, Tenebron, we've never found it necessary to go into the portal. Just wait for the eggs inside to hatch and burn down the adds.

Sartharion himself is an interesting fight. You can read the WoWWiki guide and watch the video for details. The basic facts however are these:
  • The tank needs to grab Sartharion and turn him right-angle to the raid, so that he faces east-west.
  • Sartharion does a flame breath, so you need to keep everyone but the tank away from his head. He also does a tail whip; it doesn't hit for much but it does a 2-sec stun. That will be important because of the....
  • Lava waves. These form on either the west or east side of the island and move across. Raid members need to dodge the waves by finding gaps in them. These walls will do a big chunk of damage to anyone caught, so you need to avoid them.
  • Fire elemental adds will enter the fight; the offtank needs to pick them up. It's good to have DPS work to burn the adds down. If the adds are hit by the lava walls, they will enrage and do 400% damage, so you need to drag them to the gap too.
The key is the lava waves, and the gaps in them. The waves can form on either the east or west sides. The gaps are determined by which side the wave forms on, so the east-side gaps are always the same (and likewise for the west side). So if you know where the wave is forming, you know where to run.

X Drakes Up

As I mentioned earlier, you can try to kill Sartharion without killing all the mini bosses first. This will grant you an achievement, but it will also get you more loot. The problem is that each drake will grant extra abilities to Sartharion, so the fight gets a lot harder. I wouldn't recommend this for your first try, but as you get more comfortable with the fight, you can leave more drakes alive before attempting the boss.


The mini-bosses don't drop gear, but they do drop Emblems of Heroism. Make sure to loot them!

Sartharion drops loot like usual, of course, including the T7 glove tokens. He also drops the [Satchel of Spoils]. Every raid member should roll on this item. It will contain 5 [Emblem of Heroism] and a good amount of gold (~40g). The emblems are of course soulbound. You could in theory just share the gold, but we have left it with the winner of the bag.

Don't confuse the Satchel with the [Dragon Hide Bag]. That's a 22-slot bag that he also drops. Of course all raid members should roll on that as well (though you can only have one).

In the 10-man raid, "one drake up" will get you an extra iLvl 200 epic. "Two drakes up" also gets you an extra iLvl 213 epic, while "Three drakes up" adds the [Reins of the Black Drake].

It's a good raid to try out with your guild — simpler than Naxxramas but not as easy as Archavon. Give it a shot and have fun!

08 January 2009

3.0.8 updates from 7 January

Previous 3.0.8 posts:

No sooner do I post some news, then we see more arrive later that day! 3.0.8 is shaping up to be a fairly significant patch — no new content or huge changes, but a whole host of minor changes that add up to a lot.

Let's see, where to start? How about level 16? You'll now be able to train Aquatic Form from the trainers, rather than running the quest line. I get why they're doing this; the quest line takes a good bit of time due to a lot of travel. Still, it's a bit sad; the druid form quests really add to the flavor of the class. It's unclear whether the quest line will still be available or not.

For more substantive issues, the first thing to note is that it's now confirmed that Nourish will now benefit if a Wild Growth HoT is present on the target. This will increase Nourish's viability as a raid healing tool.

A bigger buff for Nourish is that it will now be affected by the second-tier Balance talent Moonglow, reducing its mana cost by 3/6/9%. Moonglow is a common talent to take in Resto builds, if you build up to Nature's Grace and Nature's Splendor. So this will be an instant buff to Nourish for many Resto druids. I'm starting to find a lot of use for Nourish, and these buffs will pump it up even more. Now, if we could just get a Nourish glyph...!

In items, the set bonus for the Deadly Gladiator's Refuge has changed. The old benefit was a .2 second cast time reduction on Regrowth; the new benefit is to reduce the cooldown on Swiftmend by 2 seconds. The Deadly Gladiator gear all requires high arena ratings (though they'll be reduced by 100 with the patch); you'll need an 1750 rating to get even one piece, and a minimum of 1950 to get the four-piece bonus. I'm more likely to become a GM than to get a 2000+ arena rating, but I wish you luck!

The two-piece bonus on the Tier 7 Heroes' Dreamwalker Regalia (10-man) and Valorous Dreamwalker Regalia (25-man) are changing. The old bonus reduced your Rejuvenation cost by 5%, but that's changed to reducing the mana cost of Lifebloom instead. Rejuv fans will see this as a nerf, but Lifebloom is such a staple that this should be a buff for most of us.

Here's a bug fix that's a bit of a stealth nerf:
[Idol of the Emerald Queen]: This idol was providing greater healing than implied by its tooltip. It has been reduced to correct value.
Ouch! If you read the comments on the [Idol of Lush Moss], people have tested it and found that it provides only a small benefit over the Idol of the Emerald Queen. The assumption was that the Lush Moss idol was bugged, but it turns out we've had an overpowered idol ever since regular Slabs.

There are a lot of profession changes piling up. I've focused mostly on Leatherworking, but if you chose something else, take a look and see what's new. For example, miners will find that it only takes one whack to extract all the ore from a node. Also, the passive benefit Toughness will now affect your stamina rather than directly adding health. That will be a big help if you have buffs that leverage stamina, like Blessing of Kings.

But the big change for leatherworkers is another nerf:
The epic leg armor patches now require a [Frozen Orb] in addition to their other materials.
This means [Frosthide Leg Armor] and [Icescale Leg Armor] just got a lot more expensive to make.

My advice is to make as many of these as you can before 3.0.8 hits, but hold on to them; the AH price will probably rise. If you use them yourself, you might want to make a handful and hang on to them. They are also the easiest and cheapest way to level leatherworking from 430 to 440, so if you plan to do that, do it sooner rather than later!

Those are the biggest changes for caster druids in the latest batch. I'll post more as they arrive!

06 January 2009

More on 3.0.8 for caster Druids

I find myself talking more and more about "caster druids". I'm using that term as a blanket for both Balance and Resto druids. I play both specs, and they share lots of concerns, particularly since Spellpower was consolidated. The two trees are suited to switching back and forth, both due to gear and to play style. So when I (for instance) look at notes for a patch, I'm looking at things that will affect both Moonkin and Trees.

Contrary to my earlier thoughts, we haven't yet seen patch 3.0.8. It might happen today, but current thinking is that it won't. Still, changes are on the way, and we'll probably see them before the end of January at the latest.

I've heard a few more changes beyond what I've discussed before. The one that will hit me hardest is a nerf to the [Battlemap Hide Helm]. It's a drop from Heroic Utgarde Keep, and I've been wearing it since it dropped. I got it for Moonkin but it's darn good for Resto too. Too good! It's somehow well over budget and it's getting nerfed, losing 16 Intellect and 32 Crit rating. Ouch.

Not specific to casters, but Enchanting recipes are changing by quite a bit. The short story is that WotLK recipes will require less dust/essences than before and more shards. On the whole, this should make enchants easier, but it will definitely pump up the value of shards. (Hmm...)

We will now be able to spend those Wintergrasp marks on a wide range of gear. It's PvP gear, so you'll give up some other stats to gain resilience, but still the items will be rather nice. And Wintergrasp is a lot of fun anyway!

Two new Kirin Tor rings have been introduced; healers will be most interested in the [Loop of the Kirin Tor]. Moonkin will probably still prefer the [Signet of the Kirin Tor]. All you need is 8500g for an epic iLvl 200 ring. It doesn't get easier than that!

There are also two new Leatherworking patterns, most interesting to Moonkin. The [Windripper Boots] and [Windripper Leggings] are itemized nicely and will probably be the pre-raid gear of choice for our feathered death-dealers.

Skinning is getting a Moonkin buff too. The passive benefit, Master of Anatomy, will increase its benefit from 25 to 32 crit rating.

Finally, there are two new interesting Balance glyphs. The [Glyph of Focus] will reduce the diameter of your Starfall but increase its damage output, while the Glyph of Typhoon will remove the knockback of Typhoon and reduce its mana cost. Both spells will be more usable in instances as a result.

So that's what I've seen so far. Overall some decent stuff; Moonkin will be especially happy about the glyphs and leather patterns. We'll see if new notes come out tomorrow!

05 January 2009

Introduction to Naxxramas

Talon Guard had a busy and productive holiday season. The capstone however all happened after New Year's Day, as we've been able to do quite a bit of raiding. We took 5 TG members into a PUG for Archavon, which went so well that we stepped into Wyrmrest Temple and killed Sartharion in the Obsidian Sanctum. Both runs were successful, and we were able to down all bosses.

We also got our first taste of Naxxramas. Friday night we put together a run that included 6 TG members, our good friends Hazek and Humansheild, and two other pick-up players. After some group adjustment (including swapping a mage for a resto Shaman), we were able to clear the Spider wing in Naxx. We had so much fun that Hazek came back to Talon Guard. Welcome back!

Last night we took on our second venture to Naxx, this time trying out the Plague wing. We downed the first boss but had a hard time learning the Heigan Dance. We got better at it each time, but it got late before we completed it. We'll try again.

There are great guides for Naxxramas, starting with the WoWWiki Naxx page and the Tankspot videos. For boss fights, those are the two places to look first. Check the WoWWiki page and read up on the fights, and if the fight is more complex (cough Heigan cough) check out the Tankspot video. But here are a few basics to get you started.

Getting There

Naxxramas is located in eastern Dragonblight, close to the border with Grizzly Hills. Alliance will fly into Wintergarde Keep, while Horde will stage at Venomspite. Both towns offer a full range of vendors, including reagents and ammo.

You'll need a flying mount to get to Naxxramas. As you fly towards it (it's on your zone map), you'll see the giant floating necropolis. Fly underneath it. The entrance is on the bottom center of the ziggurat — the base of the pyramid. As you get close you will see fairly small balconies; just land there. There's a small staging room with a summoning stone; there's not much room in there, so on a busy raiding night things will be hectic.

A plea to my fellow players: Please. Just dismount. I know you think it's clever to mount your Mammoth in the middle of the room, but you're about the 10,000th person to think of it. Surely there are more creative ways to be annoying.

Instance Layout

There are four instance portals around the anteroom. It really doesn't matter which one you enter; they all go to the same place. Once inside, you'll find a relatively safe ring that leads to four hallways. These are the four wings (quarters) of Naxx:
  • NE: Spider Quarter
  • SE: Plague Quarter
  • SW: Military Quarter (aka Death Knight wing)
  • NW: Abomination Quarter (aka Construct wing)
Each wing has three bosses except the Abomination quarter, which has four. From what we've seen, there aren't too many trash pulls in any quarter, in keeping with WotLK-esque design. You should be able to do the wing in about the same time as a 5-man instance — if your group is up to the task.

When you kill the final boss of a wing, a portal-looking sign will light up in the central ring; when all four bosses are dead, a portal will open to allow you access to the final bosses, Sapphiron and Kel'Thuzad.

10-Man Raid Composition

Two tanks are needed. Entry-level raids should probably take three healers. Poison cleansing is important in many places, so you'll probably want either a druid or a shaman tasked with doing that, ideally a healer. For your remaining 5 players, bring a mix of melee and ranged DPS. We have not yet found crowd control to be important.

There are no attunement requirements for Naxx. I don't know if level 80 is required, but it's certainly recommended. If you can't quite handle Heroics yet, you're probably not ready for Naxxramas.

This Naxxramas Raid Minimums page provides a good guide for minimum gear requirements. You can also consult Be Imba! and see what it recommends for you. These aren't absolute guidelines. I was probably at the bottom or slightly below those requirements when we started, and never felt that my gear was holding me back.

Fight Mechanics

From what we've seen, the boss fights will generally be a bit more complicated than Heroic boss fights; you'll also have to coordinate twice as many players. So if you're not experienced, plan to spend some time learning the fights. There usually seems to be a twist or an important detail that you have to manage. For example, here are the three boss fights in the Spider wing:

Anub'Rekhan: The boss will send out a ray of spikes from himself to a player; any players in this line or nearby will be hit by the spikes too. So your players have to spread out. He also casts a Locust Swarm that will do a lot of damage; you have to decide whether to kite him to avoid it or just heal through it. You'll also get a lot of adds that the offtank must pick up.

Grand Widow Faerlina: She starts the fight with four "worshipper" adds. Your offtank will have to pick them up and tank them, but not kill them. Faerlina will periodically go into a Frenzy effect, increasing her damage and haste. That's bad... but killing a worshipper will dispell the Frenzy. So the raid has to kill a worshipper as soon as the Frenzy arrives. (Obviously all the DPS needs to kill the same worshipper.) You'll have to save the other worshippers for subsequent Frenzies. So, use raid icons and mark a kill order for the worshippers. The offtank will have to treat them with care; ideally they'll be at 15% health or so when it's time to kill them, but you definitely don't want them to die early!

Maexxna: This giant spider has the annoying habit of periodically cocooning one of your players. You need to DPS the cocoon down to free the player. She will periodically stun the entire raid and continue to do damage, so you can't let anyone get low on health. She also puts a poison on the tank that reduces healing received by 90%, so that must be cleansed ASAP.

So there's a lot to learn for each fight. Some (like Patchwerk) are a lot simpler, but most have lots of details to track. Be prepared to learn (and possibly wipe in the process). Even if you've read a lot about the fights, it can be tricky for everyone to know what to do at what point, either because they miss cues or because they forget what happens in Phase VI or whatever.

Deadly Boss Mods can help with that. It's an addon that tracks a lot of these special abilities and announces them. By default it will announce them to you, but you can set it to announce to the whole raid. Open up the GUI (type /dbm config), open the specific Naxxramas sections, and click the "Announce to Raid" checkbox for each boss. It's a huge help to know (for instance) that the next Frenzy will come in 15 seconds.

Of course your players still have to know what to do, and that's the learning aspect. But that's the fun part! If you go into a raid like this expecting it to be a loot piñata, and expect everything to go perfectly, you'll probably be disappointed. Stick to heroics! Raids like Naxxramas are most interesting when you're doing something different and challenging. And challenging means that you'll wipe. Accept the frustration, try to always learn from your mistakes, and keep a positive attitude, and you'll find that you're having a lot of fun.