Goodwill to all PUGs

Happy Christmas, blogoverse!

Hey, even as a non-believer I can get behind the notion of a season of goodwill and peace to all men. I just wanted to share a couple of positive stories to wind up for the holidays on an upnote.

Firstly, massive props to the tank in my random group who nailed every single pull in Old Kingdom perfectly yesterday. It may feel old fashioned in these days of ‘charge in and AE everything’ but the Old Kingdom instance was notorious for the tricky trash pulls when we all were in blue and green gear. I find it somehow soothing to watch a tank manage all the pulls so neatly, it reminds me of what I enjoyed most about tanking instances. And somehow it doesn’t surprise me that he was a warrior — if there is a warrior ethos for tanking, it’s to do with finesse rather than barging in and hitting random AE abilities. That just comes from the huge toolset that protection warriors are given, whereas if all you have is an AE hammer (aka swipe), everything will look like a nail. When you see it done well, warrior tanking is the WoW equivalent of poetry in motion.

Heartwarming story two was the guy who was asking around for a blacksmith in Dalaran. So I asked him what he needed, and it turned out that he wanted to give his girlfriend some epic plate armour as part of a christmas present. We looked at her armoury together (she plays a retribution paladin — go girl!) and picked out a nice upgrade that he could afford. I even sold him some titansteel cheaply because I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

Hint: All women love epic plate, especially if it has cool spikes on it.

And lastly if you haven’t seen it yet, and particularly if you are a fan of Glee or Beyonce, check out this brilliant WoW filk, Ninja Raiders. I’ve been humming it all day. QQ QQ QQ.

The Way of the Shield

2615Stikfas-Paladin-in-Hell

There’s something about shields. It is not only a piece of armour that marks you out as a defensive fighter but also one that is traditionally decorated to identify the user. Is it any wonder that shield using fighters in games feel attached to their shields? More than that, even though offensive fighters and gladiators in real life did use shields, in MMOs the shield has become associated with tanks.

It is the armour piece that says ‘I’m here to protect other characters’, and ‘this is not my PvP spec’. It’s strange how bound up your online identity can be with one item. Often players like to show off their weapons (sic), and compare the glows, the stats, the size. And you’ll find the tanks in a corner eyeing up each other’s shields instead. Even in a game like WoW which has tanking druids and death knights, there’s always a sneaking feeling that you can’t be a real tank without a shield.

Shields have always been decorative as well as useful, even when the decoration was mainly to mark you out as friend or foe on the battlefield. Graphics guys have really come home for us with shields, even in games that don’t massively feature glowing, speaking, skull-laden equipment. On Spinks, I love that my shield is big and solid and unsubtle. No one could mistake it for anything other than a tank’s shield. And somehow it isn’t as aggressively butch as a glowy weapon. But still, my character feels badass when she picks up a shield. She’s not just getting ready for a bit of light self defence before running off and screaming, she’s a defensive warrior, gearing for action. When a badass monster turns up, she’s going to grit her teeth, find solid footing and stand her ground. She’s the first person into a fight and the last (wo)man out.

I imagine the shield being heavy and unwieldy enough that if any other type of character was to pick it up and heft the weight, they’d wonder at how it could be used in battle and look at our tanks with grudging respect because they shoulder the weight daily.

So, I love shields. I love blocking attacks, I love hitting people in the face with a shield slam,  and I wanted to show off a few of the cooler ones I have come across during my time in WoW.

shield 1

shield 2

shield 3

Draconian Deflector and Red Dragonscale Protector, from UBRS and BWL respectively.

shield 4

Bulwark of Azzinoth, also known as the fridge door.

shield 5

Hero’s Surrender (Naxx).

Why people love their warriors

The official forums aren’t just a tangled mass of (spoiler-free) sniping. Sometimes they throw up the odd gem. And this week, on the tanking forum, someone started a thread asking people why they loved their warriors. Warriors are still the most popular class in WoW by a large margin.

Here’s a few snippets, sorted into categories. The most interesting thing to me is that no one has mentioned the mechanics — not a single person said that they liked the rage mechanic. I bet hunters and warlocks would have mentioned their pets, death knights would have mentioned runes, rogues would have mentioned the energy ticks and finishers, shamans would have mentioned the totems, etc. But nope, mechanics are not part of the warrior appeal.

People who love specific warrior skills

Dual wielding TWO TWO handed weapons.

Disarming ret paladins, hunters, death knights and rogues at key moments

chargin in with a giant wep and smashin someone in the face :D

Charge…. there is no better skill in the game.

Charge/Intercept. I love the instant mobility. It is the biggest reason why I can’t play any other class past lvl 40 or so.

the Shield Slam animation and sound effect is what sold it for me.

Shields are the coolest looking pieces of gear in the game (imo) and we get to smash them in the enemy’s face!

nothing says awesome quite like reflecting a 6k fire shock crit

Deep wounds. Hit something hard once and it will die, sooner or later.

People who love the role of tanking and/or leading the charge in PvP

I like how people tend to follow you around like puppy dogs. Its weird, its also hilarious. In bg’s people ( especially alliance ) are pussies and to afraid to be the first in, they see a warrior 35 or higher in the 30′s bracket for example they follow you around even if all you do is fight in the road.

This is true, people do tend to follow you in battlegrounds when you run off in some random direction. It’s like Dirk Gently‘s habit of following random cars because they looked as though they knew where they were going.

Having healers seek you out to follow in bg’s

Tanking is the single biggest ego feeding experience in this game. You feel like the RPG hero with a squad of NPCs at your back

i love charging into a group in BGs knowing i am gonna die most likely but not giving a crap because chances are i am taking down a couple with me before that happens.

People who like the look

We warriors look badass in plate.

Coolest looking class in the game, plus very fun

I look BA in my gear.

(Bloody awesome? Or did he mean he looks BAD in his gear?)

onyxiahat

I don’t personally feel that the Onyxia hat makes Spinks look awesome, except in the sense of forsaken-with-an-axe-through-her-head. But I guess they can’t all be winners.

People who love the warrior vibe

Playing a prot warrior allows me to live out my fantasy of being a spartan.

I’ve never  had a fantasy of being a spartan.

I love the face-smashingness.
I’ve played a warlock, shaman, druid, rogue, and warrior, and warrior always felt the most “true” to me… like they got the warrior “vibe” down.

I liked the mythos of the warrior to begin with.This is the 1st character I ever created.

Raw power. No magic crap, no casting, just raw power.

Warriors don’t call upon %@**, we strap on our armor, pick up our swords, shields, and axes, and then proceed to put our foot dead in the ass of our enemies.

Lowest THAC0
Highest hit dice
and 18/00 ftw

Sir, you won the thread (don’t tell him that the THAC0 mechanics have been changed and higher is now better!)

Checking out the Warrior Q&A

I’m a big fan of Blizzard’s recent series of class Q&A (question and answer) articles. I like that the devs are willing to come out and chat about the design of each class, mechanics, unique aspects, and design issues that they’d like to highlight more in future. I’m finding the articles very interesting, even when I’d probably already guessed most of it.

I don’t really expect to be surprised by anything in a Q&A about a class I’ve been playing for awhile. Hopefully by that point I should have figured out what the unique parts are and what’s most fun about it — but it’s nice to see that those things are there by design (or at least that they’re well understood).

I know it shouldn’t surprise me when the bboards erupt with pent up aggression in the wake of each Q&A, complaining that they didn’t say enough, talked about the wrong things, or failed to give a detailed point by point prediction of all the buffs that are due to that class in the next year or so. I just think they’re missing the point. I guess people are just so desperate to engage with the developers (and talk about their character from a me-first point of view) that they aren’t that interested in the wider picture. I had a friend who went to GenCon once with a T-Shirt that said ‘Don’t tell me about your character’ … but I digress.

Anyway, onto the Warrior Q&A. Most of this won’t be surprising to anyone who knows the class. A lot of basic warrior issues are because the design goals the class was first created with became outmoded by either later design decisions or other classes.

It’s fine to have a class with one tanking talent tree, but how can you compare with death knights or druids (who can switch very fluidly from tanking to dps)? And paladins share many of the warrior issues, but because they were designed as a utility class first they bring a ton of extra utility and buffs. So we’re all roughly equivalent tanks (at least that’s the intention) but all the other tanks just …. do more as well.

Warriors are, however, still considered by the player base to be one of the most fun classes in the game. Any time you look at a bboard thread asking which is the most fun tank, a lot of people will still point to the warrior. And I know I find mine to be one of the most fun melee classes I’ve played in any game.

And in the Q&A, they discuss why the class is fun and what makes it unique. Lots of situational abilities, being able to switch stances as necessary, and rage (which is not actually unique but counts as warrior-specific because druids only have it to mimic warriors … ok then.)

I change my stances like I change my shoes

See, I’ve had this pair of Doc Martins that I’ve worn with jeans for the last year or so. Then there’s this one favourite pair of sandals that come out in the Summertime, as well as the obligatory espadrilles, and cute ankle boots in the Winter. Plus smart shoes in various colours when I’m dressed up for the evening. And so on.

But what I don’t do is change my shoes several times a minute. Unless I’m in a shoe shop trying on some new footwear.

The purpose of stances is for warriors to have to make decisions in combat. How badly do I want to Intercept now? Should I pay the cost of Spell Reflect? Ideally, we want warriors to switch stances in combat — not every few seconds, but a few times over the course of a battle. Now we realize it’s going to be harder to enforce this in raid fights unless you have a battle with a lot of movement or other unusual circumstances.

This did surprise me because Blizzard have made changes in Wrath that actually make it easier to stay in one stance for the whole time. I no longer have to switch stances to break fear or use charge, for example. Protection Warriors basically live in Defensive Stance these days, even for soloing. So I had thought they were moving away from this idea.

I can only assume that he’s mostly talking about PvP here. I don’t disagree in principle, it is fun to be switching stances as needed and to be able to show off your stance dancing skills. I like situational abilities too, being able to react to what is happening around me makes me feel more engaged with the game world. It’s the main reason I don’t much enjoy playing dps — too much sitting there and just hitting your rotation, not enough responding to the rest of the fight.

It would be a lot more fun if each stance had different attack animations though. That’s the one thing I was most sad about when I first started to use them. I’d played MUDs which had a stance mechanic and always tried to imagine my character standing and moving differently. That’s what a stance means, right?

We like macros (obviously, or we wouldn’t have them in the game), but we like for them to simplify chains of things that you have to do often without making decisions in between point A and B.

I freaking hate macros. I particularly don’t want to feel forced to write macros to play my class as well as another class that doesn’t need them. Pointless chains of button pressing are pointless.

And this is the big problem with using stances to lock off abilities. An arms warrior can only interrupt by either equipping a shield and hitting shield bash, or switching to berserk stance and hitting pummel. Compare that to a death knight or rogue who has ONE BUTTON to use for an interrupt and can use it whenever they want. What exactly is the point of adding redundant chains of button pressing there? If the ability was unique, then fine (like the fear breaking). If not, it’s just going to make you think ‘why am I having to press these pointless buttons, oh wait I’ll write some macros and then I won’t have to do that any more’ — in which case, why force people to write the macros at all?

So I think stance switching to access abilities is cool, but there has to be more to it. If it’s just a case of macroing ‘stance switch – use ability – switch stance back again’ then is there really a point?

Repurposing the Arms and Fury Trees

We also need to make some decisions about the difference between Arms and Fury. Traditionally, Arms was the PvP tree and Fury was the PvE tree. We understand some players prefer that model, but we don’t like the way it cuts off such a big chunk of the class from players who might not have much interest in the PvP or PvE parts of the game. However, we would like to reinforce a little more the kits of Arms and Fury. Everyone (I hope) gets the difference between Frost and Fire mages. Arms is supposed to be about weapons and martial training and feel “soldierly.” Fury is supposed to be about screaming barbarians in woad.

I think this one is a lost cause.

Sure, we all get the difference between Frost and Fire mages. Frost mages use frost spells and it’s the most popular PvP tree. Fire mages use fire spells and it’s a PvE tree. That actually sounds quite similar to Arms and Fury at the moment (Fury uses dual wield and is a PvE tree, Arms uses one two-hander and is the most popular PvP tree).

Still, the class is stuck with two dps talent trees and the devs would like to give them more identity. I can’t help feeling that this involves fixing something that isn’t really broken. Having said that, if they want to cut loose and find ways to make arms and fury more fun and focussed, I’ll happily try them out.

So how is the damage looking

Warrior damage should look like that of Feral druids, Enhancement shamans, Retribution paladins, and death knights. If their damage isn’t at that level, then it’s possible our numbers need some tweaking. However don’t always assume that you can’t possibly improve your gear or your button mashing either. =)

People should really stop whining about this (yes our dps warriors are way behind the ferals and death knights at the moment), he actually said that if the damage isn’t at that level then there will be some tweaking.

But there is another issue here and it’s connected with the gear, and the rage mechanic. Rage is a closed loop, you get more rage when you do more damage. So as gear level increases, warriors also get more resources to hammer out higher dps rotations. You end up with a highly gear dependent class, so if devs take their dps checks from the hardmode guilds, it doesn’t necessarily apply for people who aren’t at that end of the gear curve.

Warriors need to become less gear dependent. It’s the one major design issue with the class. Yes, it’s fun to see how your performance increases with gear but the class can never be balanced as long as the hardcore guys are overpowered and the new 80s are underpowered. All they can really do is make it easier to get the gear — which would be massively easier if Blizzard would relent and put more weapons on the badge vendors.

There is some evidence that Fury may overtake Arms dps once you get really good weapons. Dual-wield yet again shows its propensity to scale very well.

Firstly the really good weapons need to drop in the first place. Then you need to fight off all the other two handed users to get two of the dratted things. And if you want them for offspec … it isn’t going to happen. But feel free to keep telling us how great life might be in that mirror universe.

(I would love to know what proportion of fury warriors might ever get good enough gear for this to apply to them.)

Still, the game is what it is. Hopefully the next generation of games will have figured out a way to do non gear dependent progression in a happier way.

Raid Update: When the going gets tough …

It’s summer. The weather is hot. Exams are finished. And this means one thing: people are wanting to take things easy and cut back on raiding.

And even in a tight-knit raid group, unless you regularly had several people signing up as reserves for your raid, you don’t have to lose many regulars before you can feel the pinch.

So even though the raids we have run have been going reasonably well, we’re sometimes struggling for signups on raids. We don’t always have the luxury of going with the ‘A Team’ (this means that sometimes we need people to come as off-specs or bring alts). And it’s affected both progression and morale. Or rather, it’s in times like these that you see who isn’t interested in signing for the wipe nights. Or in my case, who’d like to come but can’t make the schedule.

Morale can be a downwards spiral if you aren’t careful. All we can really do is press on, keep trying to recruit, and keep things moving as much as possible.

Last week I cancelled a 10 man for the first time because of raid balance – I’m not saying that 3 warlocks, 3 shamans, 3 paladins and a warrior couldn’t beat the keepers with at least two of them having to come as off-spec … ok, actually I am saying that I didn’t fancy our chances.

Note: We’d previously cleared out all the bosses up to and including Auriaya so it wasn’t a failed week, just I’d hoped to press on for more tries on Mimiron. Which is actually the only keeper we haven’t yet killed in 10 man. Maybe next week. It’s always a hard decision as to whether to cancel a raid or press on.

We still have a lot of the instance left but it’s hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for Tarsus who’s finding that some fights just are easier if you go with the optimal class balance (death knight tank, in this case). I say this cheerfully, but we don’t have a DK tank so if we get that far, we’re stuffed.

Raid Composition Issues

Death Knights making bosses easier isn’t the only composition issue in Ulduar. We’re finding that some fights are notably harder without a priest and since my main healers for 10 man are a paladin and a shaman – it affects morale.

We won’t stop trying but I don’t know that I want to have to do everything on extra hard-mode just because my friends don’t play the right classes.

I’m beginning to feel Syp’s reroller anxiety again. Did I make a mistake in not rerolling a Death Knight? Will they get nerfed into the ground? Will paladins be the next overpowered tank (this is my personal guess actually — as soon as they get an extra cooldown and block is fixed)?

There’s no way I will plan to gear up another tank now that Spinks is geared up and I like playing her but I sometimes wish Blizzard would just make us all identical – it would be better than this frustration. Is it bad to wish that you could be the best occasionally?

Ulduar Update: Beam up the rare pattern, captain!

I was struck this week by Veneretio’s post on tankingtips.com praising warriors as off-tanks in Ulduar.

I enjoy playing my character in the new raid instance. There are plenty of fights that showcase her strengths – I get to zip around picking up adds,  put on interrupt duty, kite stuff around in interesting patterns, run a tanking gauntlet, share a taunt rotation with the other tanks, and that’s just the fights I have seen so far.

If I were to write down a list of activities that make for fun raid tanking encounters, Ulduar would hit a lot of them stone cold. And not only that, I also don’t spend my time in raids fretting that another class would do the job better, it’s honestly something I haven’t even thought about since the last patch.

One of the reasons I am still loving Warcraft is because my character is such a blast to play. Love the game or hate it, their class design is generally excellent.

Although I do often off-tank, it amuses me that I always end up main tank on Ignis. I think the other tanks have a blindspot for him, they settled awfully quickly into ‘let Spinks tank the boss’ on that one. Come to think of it, they were never very fond of tanking Grobbulus either. Maybe I’m the only one who likes the boss kiting fights.

This week saw us consolidate a lot of past work. We knocked out five bosses on the Wednesday night, which involved no more than one wipe on any of them. While farm raids are less exciting than progression, it is a good sign of solid progression to get the early parts of the raid under control. We’re also running on a lighter rota than normal because the students are into exam time for another week or so and are sensibly skipping raids to revise. On Thursday they got Auriaya down and put in some solid attempts on Freya. General feeling was that she’d get killed next week.

Rare Patterns

We also now have a couple of blacksmithing patterns including the Indestructible Plate Girdle. In fact, I now have that recipe which is probably the first time ever I’ve been in possession of a rare crafting recipe. Our raid decided to prioritise tanks on crafted gear so I’m also second in line to get more runed orbs to make one!

Meanwhile I’m pondering how to profit from this knowledge. We have a crafting exchange arranged with other raid guilds so that we’ll make items free for each other to widen the range of available items, so no luck there.

I think the main options are either:

  • Buy the materials and sell the completed pieces at a profit. Runed orbs are not plentiful enough yet to make this viable. I wonder how much people really would spend for a best in slot tanking belt. I suspect the ones who would be more likely to pay high are the ones I’ll be making it free for from the other raid guilds. But later on when runed orbs get cheaper this will probably work.
  • Charge a high crafting cost.
  • Charge a modest crafting cost and sell the mats myself on the AH (i.e.. make the profit from selling the materials and use the recipe to create the demand). So that involve lots of titansteel, which is a time-limited resource.

The latter seems most appealing. But in the meanwhile, how on earth to decide how much to charge to people who are just looking to have the item crafted? I may have a temporary monopoly.

Incidentally, I take all this as a sign that the rare recipes are starting to get more widely distributed. Expect the price of titansteel and other materials to go through the roof shortly, as we find out who failed to stock up in advance.

10 Man

In the ten man team, we had a long raid last weekend. I came along to the evening portion. They’d already knocked out Freya for a first kill and we had some good learning time on Thorim. We all felt that it was a useful opportunity to learn the fights for 25 man.

Fighting Thorim requires you to set up a bridge team (to stay in the arena) and an away team (to fight their way up the gauntlet). If you had to use a teleporter to get to the gauntlet, the metaphor would be perfect. But in the absence of that, we just made lots of jokes about Thorim setting his phasers to kill whenever he nuked us due to wipes in the arena.

The gauntlet in 10 man is a bit of a joke. It’s easier than Utgarde Pinnacle. There really aren’t any special tricks to share other than kill the healer first (duh) and keep an eye on the minibosses. They had more trouble in the arena and although we tried swapping people around between the two teams, it wasn’t really working.

So, need more work on that. Maybe we’ll get another raid in before reset if people are keen.

When to use shield wall?

There’s a great sketch in “Yes Prime Minister,” where Sir Humphrey (a high level civil servant) is trying to persuade the Prime Minister out of wanting nuclear weapons.

I can’t find the script, but Sir Humphrey gives the PM a series of slowly escalating situations and after each one he asks, “Do you press the button?” and the PM shakes his head. Eventually the hypothetical Russian Armies (this was an old series) are destroying London and knocking on the door of Number 10 and it’s pretty clear that the Prime Minister would never press that button.

You can play this game with Shield Wall too (for non-WoWers, it’s an ability which severely reduces all incoming damage for 12s, and it’s on a 5 min cooldown):

  • You can see the boss in the room. Do you press the button?
  • One of your healers just got a high score on Bejewelled. Do you press the button?
  • You just pulled an extra mob. Do you press the button?
  • You haven’t used Shield Wall in the last 30 minutes. Do you press the button?
  • The boss enrages. Do you press the button?
  • The off tank just stood in a void zone and died. Do you press the button?
  • You’re down to 1k health and zomg you’re going to die. Do you press the button?

Lots of MMOs have similar types of ability. They’re powerful, but balanced by making you really think about when to use them to best effect. And although a bunch of dps who blow all their cooldowns at the same time can produce incredible spikes of damage, it’s the tanking and healing cooldowns that are most likely to prevent a wipe.

Tanking is a Joint Effort

There are two sides to tanking: holding threat, and not dying. Good luck on the not dying part without a healer at your back. Tanking is a team effort between the tank and whoever else is helping them to not die. As a tank, your main responsibility is to pick up the mobs, hold threat, and move them as required, whilst not doing anything that would make you more likely to die. The healers will do the rest.

So a tanking or healing cooldown is to help keep you alive. In other words, Shield Wall is there to make life easier for your healers. When you’re thinking about when to use it, you should be looking out for situations that would normally cause a lot of extra healing stress, or when the healers (for whatever reason) need you to buy them just a few more seconds of time to get the heals out.

Shield Wall can help smooth these moments out. It absolutely can help turn a wipe into a kill. And sometimes it will make no difference, you would have died anyway. If you have 2k health and a boss normally hits for 20k on plate, Shield Wall alone will not save you. That doesn’t mean it can’t help – you can always hit other cooldowns too to get some additional emergency health, and the rest of the group might have other ways to assist. But sometimes it’s just not going to make the difference.

Cooldowns and Communication

Matticus has a great post on WoWInsider discussing the different types of healing and tanking cooldowns in WoW, and the importance of communicating with the other players when you use one (i.e. so that they know to save theirs for later.)

Sometimes in the heat of the situation, that’s quite difficult to do. If things are going pear shaped, usually you react first and then announce to everyone what you’ve done.

If you really want the raid to know every time you use Shield Wall, you can macro in some comment like /ra Shield Wall used!! to your hotkey. Or use an addon like castyeller that can be set up with custom announcements on different abilities. It won’t be as effective as shouting over voice chat but has the advantage of happening automatically.

Anyway, there’s three different types of situation where you may want to use Shield Wall. (Four if you include when you press it by mistake). With some of them you’ll have more time to communicate than others.

Usually though, in an emergency we prefer to have the tank use their cooldowns first since they’ll probably be the first to notice when a boss does anything unexpected (due to staring at it). Healers may need a few extra seconds for their UI to update before they can react. That’s not universal, some healers are really good at watching the fight, but as a tank you have no excuse for not being the first to know.

1. Predictable in advance

You know in advance that there will be brief but heavy healing stress and Shield Wall can help (in extreme cases like Sarth+3, the fight requires timed uses of cooldowns or you won’t make it).

This could be some badass boss ability. It could be that there’s a period of extremely heavy but predictable damage (e.g. an enrage). It might even be that the pull is particularly tricky. Or there’s a period which is very threat sensitive (i.e. so if you take less damage then your healers are less likely to pull healing aggro).

In any case you can discuss it in advance and work out some kind of cooldown use order. If you do this,  watch out for people being unexpectedly taken out of action and report this pretty smartly. A healer who’s died in a flame wave can’t use a cooldown … unless someone else uses an emergency battle res to get them back up.

Don’t forget that you can use Shield Wall when you pull if the pull is the most stressful part of the fight.

Try to think through fights where you have died before due to spike damage. Was any of that damage predictable? Ask your healers for their suggestions also. If there are, Shield Wall will soften the blow.

2/ Unpredictable, but you saw it coming and had time to think

The fight is not going as planned. You have to change tactics on the fly. You can see that you are imminently about to take a lot of extra damage and you know the healers probably weren’t expecting it. Use Shield Wall.

Examples:

  • Unexpected change in tanking orders – maybe one of the other tanks died and you’re picking up their assignment on the fly.
  • One of the healers died or is out of action. You can buy some time to help the healers adjust.
  • The boss is almost dead! But there are no healers up. Can you survive for just a few seconds longer to get the kill?
  • It’s a progression fight. What’s that void zone doing? Wait, is that add meant to be there? (i.e. you don’t know the fight well, but you can see some heavy damage coming.)

This is where Shield Wall truly shines and a lot of tanks are so busy fire fighting that they don’t think to use it.

If you have more time to discuss the situation (maybe you have some time in hand before the next bout of heavy damage) then it may be that someone else will offer to use their cooldown first.

I was thinking of this the other night when we had a main tank disconnect while fighting XT-002. I was only tanking one add at the time  and I saw the boss turn to the raid, so I charged in, hit Shield Wall, taunted it back and yelled on teamspeak that I was taking him. The other off tank spotted what I was doing, grabbed my add, and took it off somewhere (I may have mentioned before how awesome she is).  We killed him. It may well be that the healers noticed immediately – they’re pretty good – but the initial healing assignments wouldn’t have had me on the boss, so why not make their lives a bit easier when you can? Tanking is a joint effort, after all.

Point is, it can all happen very quickly. By the time most people had noticed the boss was loose, it was already under control again.

3/ Emergency

Usually signified by your rapidly dipping health bar catching your eye, accompanied by thought process along the lines of, “Argh, I am dying!!!”.

You don’t have a lot of time to think. You may not even know exactly what happened. All you know is that if things look to be going south and your cooldowns are still up, and there’s a chance of saving the fight, you might as well blow them. This is reasonable with a 5 min cooldown. Back when it was on a 30 min timer, you might have been keener to save it.

Maybe the Shield Wall will help. Maybe all the other cooldowns that people are probably dropping on you will help too. The key with emergencies is that since you don’t really know what happened, you’re just pressing buttons blindly and hoping for the best. Maybe it’ll be that day.

Would you choose the same class again today?

I was writing last week about recent tweaks to warriors in the PTR that were going to result in Fury scaling better with Strength than Attack Power, and hence favouring plate over leather.

Bo@Vampiric Embrace riffs off this with a thoughtful look at why he’s not fond of dps warriors in raids and prefers them to tank.  Or in his words:

DPS is OK for Ret Pallies and Death Knights, the other two plate wearers, but I have a problem with DPS Warriors.

From an objective point of view, he notes that given three plate wearing classes/ specs who do similar dps but one needs more healing and brings less buffs, why would you want to bring the latter.

I don’t want to diss him (or encourage anyone else to do that) since I like to see people examining their own opinions to figure out where they came from. And also he’s right, although dps warriors have been posting very high numbers recently – but they’ll come into line next patch.

And as an aside, Death Knights, Druids, and Paladins are actually  stronger tanks at the moment than warriors also, at least in terms of threat, dps, buffs, and survivability.

A thread on the WoW US boards even asks whether Warriors should always get MT priority, on the grounds that they’re more useless than the other tanks when not main tanking. And several respondants say, quite reasonably, that if one tank is less flexible in one area and the others are all equally good, maybe it’s better to just not take them at all.

So my question is: If you were starting again, knowing what you know now about class roles and balance, would you pick the same class again today? Would you recommend it to anyone else?

I would.

I have played a few classes and liked them, but my warrior was my first and always my favourite. I really like the more involved playstyle and find her fun to play. She is perfectly well able to tank or dps any encounter in the game (apart from the really gimmicky ones like sarth+3, and people have done that with a warrior tank).

No one knows what future patches hold or how class balance will change in future. But whether or not a class is fun to play is a fairly core mechanic. Also, every class (aside from hunters in LOTRO) has their gripes and problems.

And the other reason I’d stick with Spinks?

CHAAAARGE!!

(I apologise for this being a quickie. I am that person who forgot to move their clocks forwards yesterday. )

Is the T8 warrior set bonus too good?

OK, latest news out of patch 3.1 is that the Tier 8 set bonuses have been added to the latest test patch. Everything on the test realm is still subject to change, but I did double-take when I saw the warrior tanking bonuses.

  • Protection 2Piece Bonus — Increases the critical strike chance of your Devastate ability by 10%.
  • Protection 4Piece Bonus — Shield Block also grants you 20% reduction to magical damage taken.

The 2 piece bonus here is OK but not stunning. We do use Devastate as part of a regular tanking rotation, but only enough to keep up the associated debuff. It simply doesn’t do enough damage or threat compared to other tanking abilities to make it worthwhile otherwise.

Or in other words, the warrior tanking skill use is based on priority. The basics of it are: On every GCD you check which of your abilities is ‘up’ and use the one that generates the most threat. That ability will never be Devastate. But you’ll weave it in to keep the debuff active.

Adding 10% extra crit to Devastate is unlikely to boost it past Heroic Strike in terms of threat. Therefore it’s a minor boost to non-core threat ability. Nice enough to have, but not a patch on the T7 2 piece bonus which is 10% extra damage on one of our most used tanking abilities (shield slam).

But the 4 piece bonus here is a doozy. Shield Block is an ability that is on a 1 minute cooldown. So what warriors are being offered here is an extra anti-magic cooldown on a shortish timer, and reducing spell damage by 20% could be awesome in a fight featuring heavy magic damage, especially if it happens on regular intervals that are … ooh … spaced out by about a minute.

Much as I’d love the extra anti-magic cooldown, I hope fervently that this set bonus does not go live.  And I want to talk some more about why I feel that way.

What’s the point of a set bonus?

Lots of MMOs have different sets of armour that your character can collect. Part of the appeal is that the armour sets match and (can) look good. They can be easily identified by sight and can be good for bragging rights. Part is that they often have good stats. Part is because they appeal to people’s natural collecting instincts. And part of the appeal is the set bonus.

Set bonuses (bonii?) are used in different ways. In games like LOTRO or WAR, high level raids are set up in such a way that you explicitly need the set bonus from previous raids/PvP to fight the next boss, there is no point even stepping inside the instance if you don’t have it.

Blizzard is actually less hardcore that this. They take the same approach that they did with Diablo. Set bonuses can include extra stats or tweaks to abilities, and they often give a perk to the wearer that they could not get in any other way. So the tiered armour sets in WoW are nice to have but not actually compulsary. There are non tier pieces available from the same raids and players will usually mix and match them.

Part of the gearing game is to weigh up the different alternatives, decide how much you want the set bonus, and come to some kind of compromise based on what you ideally want and what actually drops. To make this more interesting, tier armour often is not the best in slot — it used to be back in Vanilla WoW but that changed in TBC. Some pieces are usually better than others, but if you choose to wear the whole set you are probably giving up some useful stats that you could have had from nontier gear.

Making the tier bonuses attractive is a way to give players interesting gearing choices. Do I want the badass looking matching set, or do I want to take a more utilitarian approach? Is the set bonus good enough to outweigh the loss of stats from non-tier items?

Can a set bonus be too good?

You know that a set bonus is too good when people feel that they have to keep using it in future tiers.

A tier set is only intended to last people for the duration of that tier of raid content. There may be some occasional pieces that remain best in slot for an entire expansion (legendary items are likely candidates)  but in a gear-based game, a large part of the motivation to raid is to get upgrades.

You can usually spot these kind of bonuses because they either add some particularly useful new ability to the spec or because they are percentage based and thus will scale well. It’ll be tough, for example, to give up the 10% extra damage to Shield Slam UNLESS warriors get enough extra threat in patch 3.1 that it’s no longer an issue. As it happens, we’re currently in line to get 5% extra damage across the board which will help out.

The Tier 8 4-piece bonus is something very different.

No mere tweaks are going to give warriors a new anti-magic ability like that to replace the set bonus. Collecting the tier set will be the only way to get it. And if Blizzard intend to keep putting up new encounters which have heavy magic damage, having that set bonus available will make a big difference to protection warriors and the raids for which they tank.

If it stays this way, I’ll be tempted to press my raid leaders to give protection warrior priority on tier gear (admittedly, this actually means Spinks-priority but you get the general point). I don’t want to have to be in that position.

If Blizzard wants protection warriors to have better cooldowns to use on heavy magic fights, they should darn well get in there and tweak our talents or glyphs to do it. If it’s there at all, it should be available to all warrior tanks at the start of Ulduar; an instance which, from PTR reports is — yes — full of fights which are based around magic damage.

I’m all for making tier gear appealing (note to designers: looking like a goat doesn’t really do it for me) and it’s fun to have something cool to collect from raids. But don’t force us on this one. If we should have a new ability then give it to us by all means, but that’s not what set bonuses should be for.

What do you want from patch 3.1?

I haven’t written much about the upcoming class changes in WoW because it’s a moving target. Lots of changes have been mentioned. Some have been added to the test realm and then removed again, and other things have been tried which weren’t expected.

One thing we can see is that there’s some fairly hefty class balancing in the works here. It’s not a few minor changes. One goal of the dev team is to rebalance the various tanks so that they’re all roughly competitive for all the new content. So with that in mind, druids and death knights are lined up for nerfs.

Intriguingly, I don’t have a link for the quote but it was implied that Sarth+3 was never meant to be easier with a druid or death knight tanking. How could they not realise that the huge health pool and/ or crazy cooldowns on the main tank would make that fight easier?

But aside from that, there are two different types of nerf:

  1. tweaking some numbers (a bit less damage, a bit less avoidance, a bit more health, etc)
  2. changes in the way the spec plays (different rotations, new abilities, etc)

Nerfs are always bad because they imply that the designers made a mistake, but sometimes its unavoidable. And changing the way a spec plays is all very well, but what if there comes a point where it just doesn’t feel like the class the player loved any more?

That’s the danger of it.

I feel bad for my friends who play DKs who loved the interactive way the cooldowns and the avoidance gear played into the tanking. It’s not that the cooldowns are going away, I’m sure they will be fine, but being effectively told that your cool effective class was a design error is hard to take. They’ll be more like warriors in future, I think. Just instead of a shield they have loads of extra armour from auras. It’s not really the “Hey y’all, look at this! I can tank with a 2-hander” that a lot of people were looking forwards to.

This is not to say that DK tanks weren’t overpowered. They took the warrior niche of having the best ‘oh shit’ abilities and magnified it to the extreme. And it was partly those defensive cooldowns that had made warriors the preferred progression tanks in the past.

I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m actively hampering my raid in progression content just by being there. So yay for nerfs, I guess.

But at the end of the day, I’ll judge 3.1 for (prot) warriors based on whether we get:

  • dual specs
  • more damage/ threat
  • rage on dodge/parry so my threat doesn’t suffer when I get better gear
  • Not having to spam heroic strike on every cooldown to keep competitive threat

The first two are definitely in the works. For the rest, I guess we’ll wait and see.

Any special changes you’d like to see for your class right now?