Are paladins popular enough yet?

I’m always fascinated when Zardoz publishes one of his regular Armoury Datamining updates – this is about as accurate a census as anyone outside Blizzard can hope to compile. It’s based on current armoury data, from which he can assemble tables of most popular classes, specs, races, and even most popular items of gear.

It’s a terrifically underused resource, but if you believe in the wisdom of crowds and want to know which are the most popular builds (for example) or which race has the most even gender split (blood elf, possibly because no-one can  tell the difference?), there’s a lot of current information to be had there.

So from Zardoz’ site, here’s the current state of the level 80 WoW population as of 21st Jan. There are ten classes, so a totally even split would give 10% of the population playing each one.

There is no information here about which characters are mains as opposed to alts, but that’s not such a big distinction as it once was.

% of level 80 characters Class
15.4 Paladin
13.8 Death Knight
11.4 Druid
9.9 Priest
9.8 Warrior
8.8 Mage
8.4 Shaman
8.2 Hunter
7.4 Rogue
7.4 Warlock

So, a few things that jump out.

  • Four out of the five most popular classes are (or can be) tanks
  • Three out of the four most popular classes are (or can be) healers
  • Four out of the five least popular classes can only dps.
  • The most popular class is over twice as popular as the least popular class.
  • The least popular class/spec combination is Subtlety specced Rogues which make up a mere 0.5% of the level 80 population.
  • Female Dwarf Rogue is still the way to go if you want to stand out, they are the least popular class/race/gender combination.

Zardoz also tabulates the most popular talent trees and specs for each class. So what role are those hybrids playing? It’s difficult for me to interpret Death Knight data since any talent tree could be a tank, so laying those aside.

Paladins: The majority are retribution, but both holy and protection are also popular secs. Paladins are relatively easy to play and have three strong trees at the moment, all of which are highly played. To put this in perspective, there are more people playing the second most popular paladin tree (Protection) than are playing the most popular druid tree (Resto).

Druid: The majority are resto, although feral isn’t far behind. I can’t tell how many of those feral druids are tanks, except to assume that it won’t be 100% of them. Balance lags behind – perhaps there are just plenty of options for people who want to play healer hybrids and not everyone wants to look like a fat owlbear while doing it.

Priest: Shadow beats out Holy for popularity by 0.4%, Discipline lags behind. So the majority of  priests are healers but a lot of people like the dps tree also. I think Blizzard has done a decent job on priest class design – fun dps, fun heals, and can use similar gear for both. I suspect that this is why they’re the more popular of the non tanking classes.

Warrior: Protection has always been the most popular Warrior spec and that’s still true. Arms and Fury are close in terms of popularity, I think well geared raiders are shifting back to Fury at the moment, but Arms is viable and still the preferred PvP build. Although Warriors are a less popular class than the other tanking classes, there are probably still more warrior tanks than druids or death knights. Clearly Paladins are by far the most popular tanking class at the moment, though.

Shaman: It has always been strange to me to see Shaman lagging behind priests and druids in the tables. They’re all healer/caster hybrids who can use similar gear for both roles. Shamans (like druids) also have the option for a melee dps spec, which is usually popular with players. Maybe people just don’t like totems, or shamans aren’t viewed as interesting to play?

So what has changed?

Here’s an older set of data from July 2009 (just after patch 3.1). Main changes are:

  1. Paladins overtake Death Knights. This is a large leap, so lots of people have levelled Paladin alts since then.
  2. Priests overtook Warriors. Not such a big percentage change, but they’ve clearly been popular alts too.
  3. Shaman overtook Hunters. Again, people looking to the hybrid classes as popular alts.

Solving the Tanking Problem?

One thing is very clear. The tanking problem isn’t that the classes are not being played, it’s that either the barriers to tanking are too high, people are enjoying the other specs more, or people just don’t want to do it.

So I’d expect to see Blizzard making tanking (even) easier, and exploring ways in Cataclysm to let tanks use melee dps gear (we know they are talking about this). People are evidently flocking to their paladins so that design has to be seen as a success.

But I do wonder how far ahead one class will be allowed to get in popularity. My guess is that paladins are a lock-in for the rest of Wrath and that Blizzard will be aiming to make other classes more appealing when they revise them for Cataclysm – we know that’s going to be a substantial amount of work.

Having said that, does it really matter if one class happens to be the most popular? Maybe people just like their knights in shining armour more than their demon-summoning warlocks?

On warriors, and nerf/ buff cycles

I wonder sometimes if players enjoy the idea of a cycle  of nerfs and buffs. Where if a class is overpowered at one point, it is guaranteed to be underpowered again when the wheel turns. And the underpowered classes will be buffed up to be the next flavour of the month. It’s like a wheel of fate. Everyone gets what they deserve. The last will be first and the first will be last.

Except that it’s stupid.

Ideally in game we want to get to an equilibrium where everyone is roughly equal for whatever that means. So that people can just play whatever they prefer and if it is below par in some respect, trust that it’ll be brought back into line, without feeling that they deserve to be overpowered as some kind of reward for having been underpowered in the past.

Who cares about tank dps anyway?

The Blizzard developers continue to experiment with giving players a heads’ up about future changes before the specific changes are announced. I think this is partly to allow people to get through their grieving cycle and also to stop players jumping on the bandwagon of overpowered classes too quickly – if Blizzard say immediately, “We think this is wrong and it’s being fixed next patch,” then it probably won’t seem worth the effort.

Changes coming down the line soonish are a buff to warlock damage, and a nerf to protection warriors damage because the spec has been performing too well in PvP. Naturally, since the majority of tanking warriors are PvE focussed, this raised an uproar. In PvE the spec isn’t remotely overpowered, if anything it is slightly behind the other tanks in terms of threat generation, effective health, how easy they are to heal, and so on; so a nerf was never going to be a popular move.

If a spec IS overpowered in PvP then they do need to act quickly, because top end PvP players are notorious for how quickly they’ll switch to the flavour of the month.

And no one really wants to pick a tank because of their damage. They want to pick them because they’re tough, hard to kill, good at keeping threat, and doing whatever other tanky things the raid requires. For a tank, damage is part of their utility, it’s a small buff to raid damage that you get as a bonus when you slot them in.

So I think the warlock buff will be way way more significant to future raid performance than any protection warrior nerf. But it’s still harsh to be in a spot where you think, “Actually, the best thing the raid could do to make this encounter easier would be to bench me and get one of the bears or paladins to tank.” Even worse if they could just grab a lesser geared alt or offspec paladin and still find things easier.

It just doesn’t make you feel good about the game.

The long distinguished roll of pick up group disasters

This post marks the end of a long week of posts about WoW and particularly about the new random dungeon finder that came in with patch 3.3. What can I say? It’s been a jolt in the arm for an aging game. It’s been a reminder that the instanced content was always WoW’s strongest selling point. And it’s reminded a lot of people who thought they disliked grouping that what they mostly disliked was all the associated hassle in getting the group together.

The most brilliant thing about the dungeon finder from Blizzard’s point of view is that no one else running current gen games can copy it. In order to work, a tool like this needs a massive user base. For example, I woke up at 2am this morning and tried to get a group on my death knight out of morbid curiousity. 10 minutes later *BAM* smooth as silk Forge of Souls Heroic run. Now think about how many players you need active in order for there to be a 50% chance for any single person to only have to wait 10 mins to get a group at two in the morning.

My new Death Knight who conveniently hit 80 the day before the patch is also looking rather sleek in her new gear, thanks to some lucky drops.

In any case, we’ve all been running a lot more instances, and getting to grip with a lot more PUGs. I feel as though I’ve been in a permanent sugar rush when logged on. And it’s also not all perfect – what’s more, even those of us who are usually paragons of perfection occasionally make (say it in whispers) minor mistakes.

Here’s a list of some of the dumb things I have done this week:

  1. Ran a whole instance with my Death Knight in the wrong presence. I didn’t realise until right at the end when the tank asked why I kept getting aggro.
  2. While manoeuvring a mob in Forge of Souls, I fell off the platform.
  3. Told a death knight that it was fine for him to use Army of Souls on Loken, following which we immediately wiped.
  4. While trying an experimental short cut in The Nexus, I fell off the platform (incidentally, EVERYONE who has ever run Nexus has fallen off that platform at some point but it don’t half make you feel like a noob when it isn’t your first run.)
  5. Let far too many people die while healing on my druid because of being a bit out of practice.

By the way, every single one of those runs was actually successful (except for the Loken one because my friends logged on and I left the group). The only one that even caused a wipe was when I fell off Forge of Souls, because I was tanking at the time.

The oddest complaint I have had from another player was that I killed the bosses in the Nexus in the ‘wrong order.’ I told him I hadn’t received that memo.

I’m not the only person who has been cataloguing personal PUG failures (aka “I was THAT guy.”)

The clash of server cultures

Oh, East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet…

–Rudyard Kipling

One of the interesting pieces of fallout from the new cross-server dungeon tool in patch 3.3 in WoW is that players can now easily mix with people from different servers. And wouldn’t you know it, some of them do things very differently indeed.

In groups I’ve seen, we’re gradually moving towards to more multi-server-cultural understanding, but it isn’t always an easy journey.

So, do you need or greed on Frozen Orbs? (We’re moving towards everyone rolling need, but it is a server specific custom. On mine for example, we usually roll greed on all BoE drops. On other servers, it’s more normal to roll need. Once everyone stops accusing each other of being ninjas, I think we’ll shift to all rolling need.)

Do you say Hi when you join a group and Bye or Thanks when the instance is finished? (My server is polite and we usually expect this, if only to show that everyone is ready to start. Others seem to run silently. I think the trend is towards the Hi/Bye because it is a convenient way for people to show that they are awake and speak English. And whilst Gevlon would hate it, I suspect people are less likely to boot someone who seems friendly but is sub-par than someone who hasn’t said a word and underperforms.)

Do people on your server normally ask if it is OK for them to roll need on offspec gear before they do it? (They do on mine because we’re all so polite, but actually it drives me nuts to have to keep saying ‘yes, just roll need if you need it’. I know on other servers people assume that it’s fine to roll need on any upgrades, and I think that’s how we will trend. After all, with instances so easily available it isn’t the end of the world if you have to run a few to get ‘your’ drop.)

The server custom which boggled my mind the most was the death knight who swore to me that it was completely normal on his server for people to deliberately pull extra patrols from halfway across the room “just in case the tank hadn’t seen them.” I did my bit for cultural understanding by telling him that if he did that again while I was tanking, he’d be out and that he was lucky the healer wasn’t making him pay repair costs.

Have you seen any interesting server culture clashes in your 3.3 dungeon adventures?

Random LFG in WoW: Day 2

In which badges are traded in for epics and a hapless stranger is relentlessly mocked

Anyone else finding these random heroics quite addictive? They’re very ‘just one more’ish and I’m still finding the whole setup to be successful beyond my imaginings.

Is it just that the horrible players people talk about haven’t found the tool yet? Only time will tell.

1. This one was an early morning instance, run on my new death knight. Drak’Theron Keep, an uneventful instance with a friendly group of early risers. After this instance finished, I realised that I had 30 emblems of triumph so ran off to upgrade my green shoulders to … err… Tier 9. I think that sums up how WoW has changed in this expansion. They are shiny! I even bought a rare gem for them.

2. The Old Kingdom. This instance marks the first time that my Death Knight actually topped the damage meters in an instance. Baby’s first pwnage? Clearly those epic shoulders were dazzling the others into standing around and gaping instead of actually nuking stuff. Another smooth run until we got to the extra optional boss at the end where the healer had one of those healer-psycho moments and managed to pull all the mushroom guys and the boss at the same time. I don’t actually know how. Group disbanded after the wipe (I think no one could be bothered to run back in and regroup just for one badge.)

3. Utgarde Keep. I suspect the LFG tool is actively trying to cycle me around the different instances, I haven’t had a single one repeated yet. Another perfectly fine group which is a shame because it would be way more fun to write about a dysfunctional one. Upgraded my green leggings for the nice purple ones that dropped off the last boss. Sadly the LFG tool still doesn’t think I’m well enough geared to let me queue for ToC or the new heroics, which is a shame because they’re the most likely source for a weapon upgrade.

4. Grabbed my partner and queued for an instance on Spinks. We pulled Drak’theron again, and the rest of the group had already killed two bosses and was waiting by the third. I have noticed that people really don’t mind being brought into a part-completed instance with the new tool, probably because they’ll get their completion badges more quickly. Noticed that one of the other guys was called Pornostar (or something similar) so we mocked him relentlessly about his name, in the sure knowledge that we wouldn’t get kicked. But who calls their character Pornostar? Really, people, you manage to name your dogs and cats, your cars, your partner’s naughty bits and even your kids so I know you understand what names are all about. So why when it comes to naming a character do you just type the first thing that comes into your head? Non-RP servers are weird. I have noticed that I am much more likely to boss people around or poke fun at them when I am on my tankette, I must be more careful to use my power for good.

I am increasingly curious as to how long the positive experiences will last. Guildies report that lower level instances are more active also, so it may be that players now have a much better chance to practice group skills while levelling. Is it still going to be like this a couple of months from now?

Patch 3.3: How to spend your badges of triumph

Now that patch 3.3 is live on the WoW servers, all heroic instances reward badges of triumph. If you use the random LFG tool, you will get two extra badges for each heroic you complete.

And as you will also notice, there are vendors in the game for not only the triumph badges but also all the previous tiers of badge given out in Wrath. Since you can also swap your badges of triumph for any of these other badges on a 1:1 basis, badges of conquest, valour, heroism, and triumph are now equal. But the gear which you can buy with them is not.

Not only that, but different vendors charge different amounts of badges for items that fill similar slots. So how to get the best use of those badges? Is it really worth spending 60 badges on Tier 7 (heroism) shoulders when you could have yourself a set of shiny T9 shoulders for half the price? (That’s a rhetorical question by the way – with tier gear, the tier level reflects the item level of the gear. Or in other words, Tier 9 is better than Tier 7.)

The amount of badges charged for an item now bears little resemblance to how powerful it is. Sometimes you want to go all out for the best in slot items, and others you just want to replace something green with a nice shiny epic that people won’t laugh at. So to help out, I’m listing how much the different vendors charge for different pieces.

Generally speaking, triumph gear is better than conquest gear, which is better than valor gear, which is better than heroism gear.  But this isn’t a universal truth, some specs or classes work better with lower tier trinkets for example. You’ll want to use this in conjunction with one of the gear guides below to figure out what’s the best value to get from your badges.

Note: The tier 9 (triumph badge) shoulders and gloves are a fantastic bargain at only 30 badges each. In fact, all of T9 is particularly good value – the vendors are located at the entrance to the Argent Coliseum.

Head:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor (Tier 9): 50 badges
  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor (non-set piece): 75 badges
  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor (Tier 8): 58 badges

Shoulders:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor (Tier 9): 30 badges
  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor: 45 badges
  • Emblem of Valor Vendor (Tier 7): 60 badges

Chest:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor (Tier 9): 50 badges
  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor (Tier 8): 58 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor (Tier 7): 80 badges

Legs:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor (Tier 9): 50 badges
  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor: 39 badges
  • Emblem of Valor Vendor (Tier 7): 75 badges

Hands:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor (Tier 9): 30 badges
  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor: 28 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism (Tier 7): 60 badges

Back/ Cloak:

  • Emblem of Valor Vendor: 25 badges

Wrist:

  • Emblem of Valor Vendor: 60 badges (bind on equip)

Belt:

  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor: 28 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: 40 badges

Boots:

  • Emblem of Valor Vendor: 40 badges

Trinket:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor: 50 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: 40 badges

Neck:

  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor: 19 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: 25 badges

Ring:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor: 35 badges
  • Emblem of Valor Vendor: 25 badges

Relic/ Totem/ etc:

  • Emblem of Triumph Vendor: 25 badges
  • Emblem of Conquest Vendor: 19 badges
  • Emblem of Valor Vendor: 25 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: 15 badges

Weapons etc:

  • Emblem of Triumph: throwing weapon/ wand 25 badges
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: various weapons and shields 15-50 badges. No tanking weapons, no 2 handers.

Other:

  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: heirloom bind on account items for your alts 40-65 badges (can also be bought with argent tournament tokens)
  • Emblem of Heroism Vendor: Epic gem (uncut) 10 badges

Finding the best upgrade for you

There are tools available to help you decide what the best upgrades are for your class and spec. The WoW armoury can also make suggestions to upgrades. You can also use the armoury to see what well geared friends on your server are using.

maxdps.com is handy because it includes green and blue quest items and drops, which is great if you are a new 80 and want to focus on getting your nose inside the door of heroics.

Kaliban’s Loot Lists includes tactics for all the various instance bosses that drop the loot he recommends for each class.

Rawr is a fantastic tool for tweaking the gear of the classes and specs that it supports. It does take a bit more effort to set up than the websites though.

Lots of good class blogs and websites also include gear guides and advice, googling should help to find them.

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Dealing with Shadowmourne

With the latest WoW patch comes a glimmer of a new legendary weapon.

Legendary weapons in WoW have a long and ever-changing history, but have always been some kind of badge of pride for hardcore raid groups. They have also always been reserved for the largest raid groups in the game (40 man only in vanilla, 25 man in TBC and Wrath).

In vanilla WoW, they initially required rare raid drops, raid dropped materials which didn’t have many other uses, and lots of farming. Later in the game, the Staff of Atiesh tweaked the formula, requiring the deaths of the toughest raid bosses in the game, and a lot of raid dropped materials.

In TBC, the legendary weapons were just rare drops from the end bosses of the hardest raid instances.  Raid guilds would still be required to farm the raids for awhile and get lucky, and would still have the challenge of deciding who should wield the weapon, but the notion of collecting lots of pieces was dropped.

In Wrath, collecting lots of bits from raid bosses is the new black. Val’anyr required rare drops from Ulduar bosses as well as some hard mode kills. And what we know of the latest Icecrown legendary weapon – a two handed axe (spoilers behind the link) – it will require not only collection of special drops from bosses, but also a large number of crafting material drops. Guilds will have to decide whether to prioritise crafting items for lots of players, or saving them for a legendary weapon or two.

I’ve come to think that legendary weapons are deliberately designed as social challenges in Warcraft. We don’t get many of this type of challenge in the game these days, because it goes against the principle of greater accessibility. Grabbing one of these weapons needs the dedication and cooperation of a 25 man raid guild that is capable of hard modes over a period of many weeks. It isn’t trivial.

It also requires the guild to determine who gets the weapon, and when, and how without causing so much drama that the raid splits up before the weapon is able to be forged. That’s the real challenge of legendaries, and that’s why they are unlikely to be given out in a 10 man raid. You couldn’t make the social side challenging enough with only ten people, most of whom wouldn’t be competing for the same weapon anyway.

So, if you are raiding Wrath in a 25 man group, have you decided yet how to deal with the new legendary? Will it be a guild breaker for you? Have you considered that it’s best in slot for Death Knight tanks as well as melee dps who wield two handers?