For the Horde!

30 September 2009 § 2 Comments

Tsark090930 - Horde Wolf small
I’m not gonna turn this into a blog about my raiding group more than it has to be, but some news just need to be shared. Tonight, we went in ToGC aiming to get Tribute to Mad Skills (45 attempts left) – and we ended up with a Tribute to Insanity (all 50 attempts left). To top it all off, the raid decided to give the Horde Wolf to me (well, after I pointed out that I was 2 mounts away from the achievement, but that’s just minor prodding, right? Right?). So in conclusion:
1. ToC still sucks, even when you complete all the hard modes in 3 weeks total
2. My group, on the other hand, rocks
3. Algalon needs to stop playing hard to get and just fall dead.

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On the folly of gearing for A while aiming for B

28 September 2009 § 1 Comment

December 2008: the 10 people I want to raid with are all finally 80, so we can start doing Naxxramas. Turns out that we have two priest healers in the group, so I offer to go Disc and try it out, to give us some more variety. I try it out, I love it, we realize that it does synergise well with Holy, and so I stick with it. My next step was obviously to look around for sources of theorycrafting. After a bit of research (I think I made my sources clear in the last post), I came out with my own personal take on stat weights, with Intellect being clearly the stat to choose.

In the following 6 months, I tweaked a few things, mostly increasing the importance I accorded to spirit after reading a very nice post by Zusterke over at World of Snarkcraft. I also kept adjusting the relative weight of haste and crit, to get the perfect balance between the two.

By the time we got to Trial of the Grand Crusader, I was pretty happy with my stats and my gear. Then, a random remark by a friend made me realise something: when was the last time I used a mana potion? Even worse, when was the last time I used my Shadowfiend, or even my Hymn of Hope? Sometimes I did use the latter, but if I had to be honest, it was more to give a little bit of mana to my raidmates than for a real need for it myself.

Could I have *gasp* too much mana regen?

I think you’d have to have been a healer in Molten Core back in 2005 to appreciate the absurdity of that statement. Back then, we had healing rotation, crappy regen talent, no mp5 on gear except very select pieces (hello Mindtap Talisman!), so mana was a HUGE concern. That experience probably imprinted me more than I realised, and I’ve always geared more towards longevity rather than burst. This predilection served me well throughout BC, which had monstrously long fights (10 mins Illidari Council…), and where the healing style was spamming Circle of Healing, which was hardly the most mana efficient spell.

The problem is, the game has changed – a lot. It’s even changed since the launch of Wrath, arguably more than in any other “normal” (i.e. non-expansion) other time before. And I was still sticking to ingrained habits learned in 2005 as a priest wearing the Devout set.

What a noob.

Just around the same time I was having my doubts, I happened to read this post by Paolo, over at Penance Priest – and realised he was absolutely right. By focusing too much on regen, I had gimped myself and reduced my effectiveness, while essentially gaining nothing because I was not really in need of any more longevity. So, now, I’m ignoring Intellect and Spirit, focusing mostly on Spellpower and Crit. Haste is something that I will consider nice to have, but not gear for specifically. I’m also on the verge of changing my metagem, from an  Insightful Earthsiege Diamond to a Revitalizing Skyflare or Beaming Earthsiege (the only thing stopping me is that both of those also have a regen effect which I don’t like – mp5 and more mana).

Have I seen some results? Well, I can certainly tell you that I’m using my Shadowfiend more, but I don’t necessarily have more mana issues than that. On paper, my mana pool hasn’t gone down that much, and my crit has gone from 20 to 30%. It’s difficult to say whether there is a change in healing effectiveness though. As we all know, comparing healing performance is something that you cannot really do. It feels better, and I certainly see more divine aegis going around – so I guess that will have to do for now. Until Blizzard changes the game again, that is…

Where’s the healing?

23 September 2009 § 3 Comments

Two things started to bug me today:

  1. It’s been a week since I last posted on the blog – that won’t really meet my project of posting frequently (though I guess one week is ok – there’s some great blogs around that I follow where posts happen a lot LESS than once a week)
  2. The blog is titled The Mediocre Priest – and yet, not one of my posts has been about healing so far.

That got me thinking. I play several alts, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Tsark, my priest, is my main. Also, I love healing – so much so that I now have a paladin, druid and shaman, all 80, all with a healing spec. And yet, I haven’t felt the need or urge to blog about healing – I seem to focus mostly on issues of raid leading, and on issues of raid instance design. I believe I can find two reasons of my lack of healing talk.

The first one is – I *am* a mediocre priest. This requires some explanation. I’ve played Tsark for four years and a half now, and he’s the first character I got to 60. He leveled up as shadow, but of course, at the end game, I was healing (I even healed MC shadow-specced, for a while, before moving to the tri-spec that was all the rage back when the top talent in Holy was Holy Nova and the top talent in Disc was Divine Spirit). The moniker of mediocre priest comes from a joke by the leader of the guild I was in while levelling up, who advertised our group as “mediocre priest and superb tank looking for 3 dps” – it stuck since then, and I revel a bit in it. Mostly, I like it because it prevents me from taking up airs: I know I’m not the best healer I can be, nor the best player I can be (as my raid group noticed today, with me dying to Val’kyr blobbies…). So, while I know I have experience in priest healing, I also know that there’s lots about priest healing I don’t realise. Case in point: the MT of my raid recently pointed out to me that Holy Nova isn’t AoE-capped. While he does play a priest, I found it slightly shameful that he knew something I didn’t – admittedly something not necessarily linked to healing, but still. While I think this “knowing I don’t know” attitude is good in general, it also makes me unsure about taking definite stands about healing issues.

This leads me to the second issue – my knowledge on priest healing really comes from other sources on the internet. Elitist Jerks, Penance Priest, World of Snarkcraft, Plus Heal, Matticus’ work both on his site and on wow.com… These should really be the bread and butter of most priests out there, and I don’t have the time or patience to do serious number crunching to come up with alternative theories about the most effective stats, or the most useful piece of gear. So I would feel like a fraud just recycling their ideas in here, and my research background really prevents me from publishing unoriginal research (and plagiarised blogs).

All that said, I think I’ll need to come up with some healing posts. Or change the name of the blog. But see? That’s just it: I like the name of the blog too much, so I just have to come up with some healing posts.

You’ve been warned…

Learning and whining – the two faces of wiping

15 September 2009 § 2 Comments

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been leveling a druid to 80. He was the last alt I had got to 70 before Wrath hit, and after about a level as Feral, I decided I didn’t like that, and switched over to Balance. Fast forward to 76, when I made the big step of buying dual spec, and went Resto. Then yesterday, at 78, I see a call in a chat channel for a healer for Trial of the Champion. Given the quality of loot in there, I decided to go. Turns out the tank, an 80 warrior, was not very experienced (his first time in there) nor very well geared (26k health with Mark of the Wild). And of course, my Resto experience is quite limited, having healed only two instance runs formerly.

So we wiped. A lot. About 4-5 times on the Champions, once on Paletress, 3 times on the Black Knight. And at first, I thought it was my fault for not keeping up the tank, or the tank’s fault for not grabbing the mage (who proceeded to annihilate me), or use his cooldowns, etc. Then I started asking more questions: “Was Grounding Totem down?”; “Can we interrupt the mage?”; “Please Purge the Renews”; “Any chance we can Frost Trap the Ghoul?”; “Was Cleansing Totem down?”

In all cases, I pointed out stuff that hadn’t been happening before, and that did improve our next attempts. The tank had a fantastic attitude, trying to figure out what went wrong and to improve the next attempt. I was figuring out what to do with all my HoTs, and learning how to handle situations of tank at 50% health, with 3 HoTs on him, Swiftmend and NS on cooldown…

One of the group members started complaining about the tank to me in whispers – he and I had known each other for a long time, so I think he assumed he would find a sympathetic ear. He was complaining that he was “tired of training tanks, that they should know what to do”. In other words, he was blaming the tank for all the wipes, and whining about it. That’s when I started asking about the various things DPS could have done to improve the situation, and had not – and whispered back to him I was tired of training the DPS.

This however made me think. Aside from my snarky comment, I actually wasn’t frustrated. Sure, I would have preferred one-shotting everything and completing the instance in 15 mins, but all in all, I thought it was ok. It’s not that I enjoyed the wiping, but I enjoyed learning more about druid healing, from using Nature’s Grasp, to Barkskin, to Dash, to all the more normal healing spells – and the wiping was a mild side effect to it. Instances are easy when we go with our ultra-geared alts, but I think they’re also a LOT of fun to do when we’re pushing the envelope of our abilities, when we not only have to do max dps, but also interrupt, cleanse, off-heal, off-tank, kite, etc. These are all playing skills that will become useful in other contexts, when we will be faced with difficult encounters, like raids. I think too often we blame other people, instead of thinking about what WE could have done to help. If the tank is undergeared, reducing incoming damage through interrupts is even more important. If the healer has 13k health, we need to kill the ghouls quickly, and make sure they are not on him. In other words, people need to adapt, and learn how to use ALL their abilities, and not just the three in the max-dps rotation.

Whining and learning are really the two possible answers to wiping – neither changes what happened before, but learning tries to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to always learn from my wipes, and never get frustrated. But it’s good to rationalize why some wipes with some groups are so frustrating, while other times I can wipe with no end in sight, and still feel like I’ve accomplished something.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the raid, today…

14 September 2009 § Leave a comment

Or – The joys of raid leading.

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t think of myself as a raid leader anymore. In fact, one of the reason I stopped even doing 25-man raiding is precisely because I have this weird personality where I hate seeing bad leadership, and at the same time I get tired doing it myself. Leaving aside any comments about my sanity or congruity, when we formed our 10-man I made it clear to everyone (I think) that I wasn’t the raid leader, that I wanted all of us to take equal responsibility in (and equal commitment to) the raid’s success.

In general, this has worked very well. In fact, I’ve completely abdicated any responsibility about raid strategy to the main tank, and we had a fantastic mage dps (who sadly left us recently) who was great at calling out various things during the fights – from Mimiron frost bombs to Hodir’s freezes to Vezax’ crashes… This is great, because it means during a fight I’m free to focus on healing and moving out of the void zone du jour (something I seriously still need to work on, as my raid-mates can attest).

However, I still think of myself as raid leader for most of the stuff that happens before and after the raid. Finding replacements, organizing consumables, selling BoEs – that’s stuff I do with pleasure, and I think I am actually fairly good at it. I have been playing on Feathermoon Horde since March 2005, and on average I have a fairly good, friendly personality, so I tend to have an extensive social network on the server. I’m also obsessive compulsive about some things, so I organise and reorganise guild banks trying to make them more user-friendly, I collect trade goods, I max all my trade skills and then hunt for rare recipes all over the place. You get the picture: a regular Monica personality.

Problem is, our raid has recently been experiencing a lot of turnover. Since May, we lost:

  1. A ret paladin, who was our replenishment (server transfer to be with his brother)
  2. A tank (/ragequit because he felt we were not listening to him enough)
  3. A healer/dps (couldn’t handle the pressure)
  4. A mage, the one mentioned above (time constraints/loot complaints/pressure complaints)
  5. The tank we had found to replace our original one (Hello Ezma – but we knew she was only available throughout the summer, and she may be back)
  6. A Dps warrior (went on holiday, never came back…)
  7. The healer/dps we brought in to replace the one from # 3 (school duties)
  8. A healer (got banned for botting – don’t get me started on this one)
  9. A survival hunter, who was the replacement replenishment for #1 (personality clashes with the whole raid)

That’s 9 people in less than 4 months – or more than a person every 2 raid lockouts. Also, that doesn’t include people going on holiday (myself included) and not being able to come for a raid or two because of RL commitments – which still requires that we find someone in the pool of people online at 2am.  The other raid members help out, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I still find most of the replacements. Now, let me add a couple of things about the raid, to make things harder:

  1. We raid at 2am server (we’re on a PST server, but we started out as mostly Oceania based players, so that was the best time – we now mostly have graveyard shift US players)
  2. We like doing hard modes: we’re currently working on Algalon and Anub’Arak Heroic. That means we cannot really take people with Naxx gear, so every time we replace someone, we spend a week or two throwing gear at the new guy/gal to get him/her in a position to actually contribute to the fights.
  3. We tend to be a very critical raid: because we like doing hard modes, we always try to improve, and we dissect our performance every time to know what went wrong. Although we do this with the best intentions in mind, I realise that this attitude sometimes comes across as finger-pointing. This means that, for someone who is not thick-skinned, our raid may turn into a fairly high-pressure environment – which, once again, may not be what people look for in a game.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. I put word out I was looking for a healer/dps, and I had three people apply – and they at least pass the “time zone” test. They still need to survive through a whole raid without bursting in tears, but it’s a start. I’m actually very hopeful about one of them, as he knows us relatively well, so on one hand he knows how we play, and on the other we know that he can perform satisfactorily. If we get two out of the three on-board, we’re back to having a full 10-man roster, which will be a relief. This time I may not stop there, though, and actually go ahead and build some redundancy into the system, so that the next time someone leaves, we don’t have to scramble for people. So, if you like to raid at 2am PST, have an 80 character, and want to see some hard modes, feel free to contact me – with faction and server transfers, you never know where the next recruit may come from!

The success of a raid instance (part II)

7 September 2009 § 1 Comment

The last post left my conclusions implicit, so let me spell them out here. I believe there are three reasons why players criticise Coliseum: it’s too easy, it lacks lore and background, and it feels a lot less epic than previous raid instances. I believe the first reason is a consequence of the gating decision, forcing the skilled players to confront the same encounters everyone has, with no option to start the hard modes. The second criticism is just unfounded: I may not like NPC chatter as a storytelling device, but the story is there. The third complaint is, imho, a lot more valid. Note however that many people enjoy Coliseum: no trash, good loot, some pretty fun fights (I love both the Faction Champions and the Ikaruga encounters), good loot, no trash… Did I mention there is no trash?

So let’s say that at the very least the reviews on this instance are fairly mixed. Does this mean Blizzard should consider Coliseum a failure? Well, this is a question we cannot answer: for all its improved communication with the players, we still don’t know much about Blizz’s evaluation of its instances. So here I’m just going to make some educated guesses.

The first possibility is that Blizzard just pushed its accessibility policy to the extreme. There is no doubt that Coliseum is more accessible than Ulduar. Also, empowering more people to play and participate in more aspects of the game has been the basis of WoW’s success, and a well-publicised deisgn goal of the raiding team for Wrath. So it is certainly plausible that Blizzard just wanted to enlarge the population of raiders. Indeed, I’m already hearing the local apocalyptic prophets who forecast that Icecrown Citadel will be “as easy as Ragefire Chasm” (quoted from Icecrown general chat, a few days ago). While this is certainly a possibillity, I think it may be too soon to dismiss the efforts of the raid design team, and accuse them of “selling out to the casuals”.

One other possibility is that Coliseum was simply meant to reduce the gear gap between harcore raiders and the general population. Though I don’t have numbers, I think a big part of the player population has raided Naxxramas/Obsidian Sanctum/Malygos. I suspect that a lot less has managed to go very far in Ulduar, let alone through the hard modes. Blizzard is well aware of the consequences of having gaping gear gaps within the player population: at the end of vanilla WoW, you had people in Naxx gear facing people in Stratholme gear in various Battlegrounds, and the sight was anything but pretty. Badge gear helped to close that gap in BC, and the recent overhaul of emblems went in the same direction. So, introducing a dungeon that drops ilvl 219 loot (same as Ulduar 10 normal), and a very easy, very accessible raid dungeon dropping ilvl 232 gear will certainly close the gap between the people sporting full Ulduar 25/Ulduar 10 Hard gear, and the rest of the world. I certainly managed to gear up my paladin, who dinged 80 at the end of June, now has 2 acceptable gear sets (Prot and Holy), which allow her to raid as much as she wants, in any of the instances (I would probably struggle in Trial of the Grand Crusader, but that’s still pretty impressive).

A third possibility is that game designers were otherwise occupied, and thus devoted less time to this raid instance than to other, previous attempts. Possible distractions could be Isle of Conquest (which is a really fun BG) or Icecrown Citadel (I hope…). This would certainly explain the sloppy item design: the same items, with the same name and same graphic, dropping in normal and heroic; tier sets looking the same regardless of the item levels, etc. It would also be compatible with the lack of any serious art for the actual dungeon itself – no new model, one room to design only…

So, which one is it? From a personal point of view, I hope it’s not the first one. While I cheered Blizzard on during the previous waves of increased accessibility (and indeed, I probably wouldn’t be playing this game if it was all that hard), I think Ulduar hit the sweet spot for me: normal modes being challenging enough but not too much; hard modes being quite challenging. It would disappoint me if it was just lack of attention – how did Blizzard think we wouldn’t notice? However, this would also be the easiest issue to deal with. If it was a matter of loot parity, then the emblem overhaul was a much better means to the same end, imho – if anything else, adding some more loot on to the emblem vendors, to fill in more gaps.

I doubt, however, that we will ever find out definitely why Blizzard released Coliseum, and whether they consider it a success or not – maybe in the future, looking back, some of the designers will make a comment about it. For now, I guess we’ll just slog through the Grand Crusader and start working towards our wolves.

The success of a (raid) instance (part I) – or, why do so many people not like Coliseum?

3 September 2009 § 1 Comment

We killed Anub’Arak today – after only 2 attempts, which has been more or less the average for the whole Trial of the Crusader instance. So, final boss down, time for some considerations on the raid instance as a whole. Most everyone I know is complaining about how easy it is – but I think the situation is more complicated than that. In fact, all these whining about it made me think a bit about what makes a raid instance a success – and most importantly, a success for whom. This is a bit of a big argument, so I’ll break it into multiple posts.

I think I can identify three main causes of complaint about Coliseum. Let me see if I can examine them one by one.

The first and most apparent is that it’s “too easy”. Many groups one-shot the bosses as they are added weekly, and so after about 10 mins of excitement about the new fight, there’s nothing else to do. This is, however, only partly true. My own raid has (as I said) one- or two-shot all the bosses, and we certainly are no Ensidia. However, I also went in on various alts with other groups, and I think the fights are actually not as easy as they look. I think part of it is the gear requirements on tanks and healers (much less so on dps): even on normal, bosses hit quite hard, and there’s often some unavoidable raid damage. The raid damage is key, though: a good group manages to reduce that to a minimum, by spreading out, healing the Incinerate Flesh, cc’ing/locking down properly the various champions, avoiding the wrong-colour orbs, etc. However, as soon as the group is not on top of its game, this raid damage seems to grow exponentially and become fairly tough to deal with. The skills required to minimise this damage are probably second nature to a raid working on Ulduar hard modes – but it probably is not to a group whose main raiding experience is Naxx. Even my group, on alts (decently geared, but not the toons we would normally raid with) failed miserably, mostly because many of us didn’t have the automatic response to emergency situations, and thus as soon as stuff didn’t go perfectly well, it snowballed quickly to its (and our) bitter end.

So, maybe, it’s not so much that it’s easy, but that it forces everyone to face the same level of difficulty. In other words, the solution of forcing everyone to complete the instance before attempting hard modes may have backfired. ALL guilds from the world top to the average guild had to go four weeks doing regular bosses they would one or two shot, creating a sense of frustration because stuff was too easy. Compare this with Ulduar, where four weeks in some guilds were on Yogg-Saron (like we were), some were working on the keepers and some more were already fighting through the hard modes – or on Algalon, in the case of the very top guilds. Compare also to the gating Blizzard used for Sunwell, where actually GETTING to kill one boss before the next one was released was a challenge. I think Blizzard tried to stretch the release of this content, to avoid a repeat of the cycle of 2 weeks of mad activity and 4 months (or more) of farming. The result, however, has been that the top raids are still frustrated, so I’m not sure they really achieved anything with this gating.

In a different camp, we have the lore freaks, lamenting the lack of background of the new instance – and this is the second major complaint I hear. In its defence, Blizzard actually did give us some background – through the chatter of the various NPCs around the Argent Tournament Grounds. We have King Varian and Jaina, Thrall and Garrosh arriving at the ground, and we also have a short speech by Tirion explaining why the Tournament. Frankly, it makes sense that you would not want to send a big army against an enemy who can raise dead, but instead find the top champions and send them as small squads – it makes less sense that you choose champions by jousting, but that’s another story. I personally don’t like the option of NPCs chatting in a major area to give story clues: to me, it feels interesting the first time, deadly boring (and spammy on my log) any time after that. NPC background chat is great to establish mood (witness the ongoing complaint the Horde has about the difference between Stormwind and Orgrimmar), but as a tool to further story, it feels too much like watching a diorama in a museum. That said, at least this time we DO have an explanation for an instance, and it’s in the game (unlike, say, Sartharion, where a flimsy explanation was in the books, and no tie-in was made to the rest of the game to this day).

This leaves me with the third type of complaints – that it just doesn’t feel epic enough. In vanilla WoW, we fought an Elemental Lord and his lieutenants; a scheming black dragon who had infiltrated, corrupted and influenced the whole Alliance; her brother, who was intent on creating a new dragonflight to dominate the world; an Old God and his bugs; and the main lieutenant of the Lich King. In Burning Crusade, we had an imprisoned Pit Lord; a Gronn (admittedly, why did we kill Gruul?); the two lieutenants of Illidan and their minions; Archimonde (although really, we only had reason to fight Rage Winterchill, and only to do it once to get the key to Black Temple); Illidan and his lieutenants; Kil’jaeden and various Burning Legion figures (including a captive dragon, another pit lord, a captured Naaru and two eredar). In Wrath so far, we had the main lieutenant of the Lich King (again ;-P); a crazy Dragon Aspect; a black dragon creating a new dragonflight (again…); an Old God and his corrupted Titan jailors – and the Titan messenger trying to sterilise the world. If you look at it that way, even with a couple of raid instances not very well explained, it’s difficult to be excited because we’re fighting not one, but TWO Jormungars. The other bosses are not better: an eredar lord summoned by mistake by the comic relief; two lieutenants of the Lich King we never heard about  before; and a Nerubian King who a) we have beaten before at lvl 73; b) just happened to be burrowing beneath the Coliseum (and kudos to Tirion for not thinking about that…. /facepalm material, that). Last week the point was painfully obvious to us, as we went from fighting Algalon (constellations do his bidding, he creates big bangs), to fighting… the beasts of Northrend. I understand that it’s difficult to give players more and newer epic fights that up the ante from the tier before. However, I can understand the players when for the first time they are let down in this progression.

I think this is long enough for one post (I’m starting to see why the main tank in my raid thinks I’m verbose) – in part II I’ll switch gears and try to divine Blizzard’s perspective on Coliseum.

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