One down, two to go!

15 February 2011 § Leave a comment

In what surprised me as a fairly quick kill, Cho’gal died last Monday. Ridiculously, he died on the first pull of the night, after we had spent about 3 hours on him on Friday. I may do an impressions post on the fight, which was nice but utterly crazy.

We poked Al’Akir the rest of the night, and got him to 37%, so I think we basically got him, aside from some tweaking to improve uptime of feedback (and, you know, get to P3 before the healers just give up in frustration). We have not even started on Nefarian (aside from a couple of pulls at the end of the night just out of curiosity), but I’m still pretty happy with our progress. Heroics are close, and they seem to be pretty hard (albeit Halfus seems to go down more often than the girls at Berlusconi’s parties, after the patch) – but I’m kinda looking forward to them. So far, though, I have thoroughly enjoyed the fights in this tier of raiding, so let’s hope that continues!

Woe is Disc!

2 February 2011 § 5 Comments

I have lots of stuff I want to talk about – plenty of things that have struck me as worth a comment or a discussion while I was levelling in Cataclysm. I think the most pressing matter, however, is a discussion of the state of Discipline. I switched to Discipline originally at the start of Wrath, as we were starting out in Naxx, because the other healer in the raid was himself a Holy Priest and we thought having some variety would have been a good idea. It was love at first sight: I loved the mechanics of it, I loved the versatility, and I also liked the flexibility in terms of soloing and PvPing (remember, this is all pre-dual spec, albeit by only a few months). I remained Disc throughout Wrath, through our OP moment in Ulduar (before the Penance nerf) and through our slightly darker situation in ICC. However, I am now seriously thinking about going Holy, because most of the raids turn into bouts of frustration and despair. Note that this is not about ego – in our raid I have not been top healer for many fights, and in fact I think I have most often been in second place (regardless of whether we were two- or three-healing an encounter). Now, however, I find myself with about half the effective healing of our top healer on almost every fight, so I am starting to feel like deadweight for the rest of the raid. Why is this happening? And what can I or we do about it?

Atonement, once again – and basic healing strategy

There was a lot of debate in the last days of the Cata beta, as well as during the 4.0.1 time, about the role of Atonement. The question was whether Atonement was supposed to be a mana replenishment tactic, a healing boost tactic, a viable healing strategy, a dps entertainment during those boring heroics, or just a very good coffee machine. OK, I made the last one up (although, hmmmm, coffee machine), but you get the idea: lots of possibilities, not a lot of data to understand, and the little data we had changed on a weekly basis with the various patches. So, I think it may be time to put a few ideas to rest.

Atonement is NOT a way to regain mana. Casting 5 smites will cost around 12,234 mana (depending on how the game rounds fractional costs), and return you 5% of your total mana. Unless your total mana is in the region of 244,672, you are actually getting LESS mana back than what you are spending (if your mana is around the 240k mark…. I don’t know what to say). This is not to say that we will not get there: Wrath mana pools more than doubled from start of raiding to end of the expansion, so it’s possible that the same will happen this time around. But, for now, I think we’re stuck with the fact that we will gain about 50% of the mana we spend on building Evangelism stacks. There goes the mana idea.

Atonement still has a fairly low healing throughput. It has received some hot fixes to make it better: it is now affected by most healing modifiers (Archangel, notably, but also talents like Divinity), but 7k-9k normal hits, and 10-15k crits are still not very much for a 1.3 sec heal (especially given our very low crit rate this early in the expansion). Of course, it is still relatively cheap (Archangel may not return mana, but it sure makes Atonement healing very cheap, effectively halving the cost), and the fact it is a smart heal makes it very useful on situations of low diffused damage. Also, keep in mind that Atonement depends on your Smite damage: so any special situation linked to the encounter that modifies this damage could make the corresponding heal a waste (on Siamat, if you’re smiting the boss before the adds are down) or pretty juicy (in Deadmines’ ragezones).

We already ruled out the possibility that Atonement was meant to be our coffee machine, and, I don’t know about you, but Heroics are still not exactly snoozefests that encourage me to Smite to have fun (and even if they were, I doubt we could ever get any noticeable dps from Smite, really). So, that leaves the healing boost from Archangel as our main reason to build up Evangelism: that 15% is actually a very nice increase, especially when you add to that the 24% of Grace (here’s a question that needs some verification: are they multiplicative? Or additive? I think Blizz made all bonuses like this additive a while back, but it would be nice to find out). This means that our healing should be to throw mending, then alternate Shields and Smite (to benefit from Borrowed Time), get to 5 stacks and then decide whether we want to keep that stack rolling, or get Archangel and boost our healing. When Archangel is up, switch to high throughput heals (Penance, GHeal, but also PoH or Divine Hymn), and remember to refresh PoM and even a Renew or two before Archangel expires. If you find yourself with Archangel up and not very much damage to heal, you can start building the next stack of Evangelism up – rinse and repeat. Notice that nowhere have I mentioned the use of Heal or FHeal. Heal should really not be on your bars: it is for people that don’t have Atonement, as it heals for about as much and doesn’t give you Evangelism (which really begs the question of our 2pc bonus for T11: why, Blizzard, why?). FHeal… I probably went from using too many FHeals (see below) to using too few of them. In theory, if someone is going to die in the next 1.3 secs, and Shield and Pain Supression are not an option (Weakened Soul and cooldown, respectively), then you should use FHeal, while crying about your mana disappearing down the drain. FHeal should, however, be a very small part of your overall healing, all things considered.

Mana, throughput and set-up time

As I was leveling and as soon as I got to 85, the biggest problem I had was mana management. Partly because I was still piecing things together, and probably used a fairly outmoded healing model, I found myself oom more often than not. This problem however went away as I got more comfortable with the healing routine I described above, but also because of another fact. Our mana replenishment comes from Rapture, Shadowfiend, and Hymn of Hope. ALL of those are based on your total mana – so as you gear up, and your maximum mana goes up, your mana replenishment will correspondingly go up, and it really felt it went up exponentially. I did gain about 20k mana in the gearing up process, so maybe it was just physiological – I think in fact all healers now gain mana depending on the size of their pool, so this may well be a common issue.

So the mana issue was just a matter of gearing, and it may well be common to all healers – it is worth noting that I am seeing it a lot less on my paladin, but the difference may also be that I know the fights better now, and so do (most of) the other people using LFG (or my guildies). However, attaining a decent mana situation only served to expose other, and possibly bigger issues.

The biggest gripe I have is a numbers issue. I am spamming my heart out, casting constantly, and my numbers are just way too low. I mentioned my “rotation” (as much as healers can have a rotation) just above, and as far as I can tell, this is the most sustainable rotation for healing Disc priests have at the moment. The problem is, I’m still healing about half of what our paladin or druid healers can do. And I know healing is not about numbers, that latency and reflexes may mean we’re sniping heals off each other, that Disc has never been a contender for the top spot on the metres. But half the healing? That sounds way too high as a gap.

I am not completely comfortable with the choice between mana efficiency and sustainability on one hand (which is basically using the spells we mentioned above) and throughput. Our “high throughput” rotation to me is spamming shield, penance and GHeal on one target – which is basically sure to get us oom very fast, and sadly, and this is my gripe, not really getting a lot of healing out – or at least not substantially higher than what we would get from our mana efficient use of Atonement. I admit that this may just be a matter of still adjusting to the new system (you know, I’m starting to get old, it’s difficult to change…), but it feels that the difference should be higher – and it would be, if we could use the Archangel buff for high throughput, but of course Archangel is not available on use when we want.

This brings me to the third and final concern – the set-up time for Archangel. Most healers have cooldowns that allow them to just heal burst damage: druids have tree form, paladins have Avenging Wrath, shamans… not sure about them, as we don’t use them much and I haven’t delved into them. Our comparable cooldown, Archangel, requires about 7 secs to prepare. Now, to balance that, the actual cooldown of the ability is MUCH shorter (18 secs with 30 secs cooldown, compared to 20 secs with 2 mins cooldown talented for Avenging Wrath, and 30 secs with 5 mins cooldown for Tree of Life), but the set-up really limits the usefulness of Archangel as an “oh shit” button – in fact, the Smite rotation is the first thing that goes out of the window when the shit hits the fan, in my playstyle. I don’t want to stress comparisons with other classes, because it’s unfair and most especially dangerous because we really don’t want all classes to have the same abilities. The message here is that Archangel seems to be stuck in the middle between a true “oh shit” button and a regular feature of Disc healing every 20 secs.

So…

So, in Heroics, I often have the tank plunge dangerously low in the first 10 secs, as I build up to Archangel, and then I use the next 15 secs trying to scramble them back to a semblance of health. In raids, I feel like the 5th wheel of the healing team: I’m either stuck to background healing, or I’m running out of mana. I may be doing something wrong, and I know I can certainly improve on my healing skills. I am currently using Archangel as often as I can, but given mana is becoming less of a concern in normal situations, I could probably start keeping a 5-stack rolling, and use it as an emergency cooldown much more than as a routine part of the healing strategy. Also, I don’t want to overly stress the extent of the problem: writing this post over several days has also helped me to separate temporary frustration with a bad night from a more permanent, underlying problems.

The next patch is also buffing our numbers quite considerably: Grace will apply to multiple targets, Shields will cost 30% more but heal 200% more, and Penance will cost 7% more and heal 20% more. I am not sure. The Grace change in particular will be nice: at the most basic level, it means that Grace can stay on the tank, even if we throw a Penance or a GHeal on a secondary healing target (another tank, or a careless dps). It also becomes possible to get fancy and actively keep Grace up on multiple targets, though that sounds fairly difficult. The Shield change will be nice: although the cooldown change has made shield spamming impossible, having a shield whose basic absorption is 3x the current one will be invaluable, especially in the Archangel-building times which are our weakest spot. The real question is whether the change will affect just the basic value of the spell, or the spellpower scaling too (I would guess a mix of the two). I really really hope these changes will be enough: I still adore the spec, and we have a lot going for us (Power Word: Barrier is nothing short of amazing) – which makes the current state of affairs even more frustrating.

Our Finest Hour, Our Darkest Hour

15 November 2010 § 3 Comments

So, Heroic Lich King is dead – and it’s about time. We have been working on this encounter since May. In the meantime, we had to change one of our tanks multiple times, recruit a new dps, deal with holidays and business trips and frustration, and just as we got close to killing him, 4.0.1 dropped and changed just about everything. I have a strategy post that is almost ready – but that can wait: I am not sure how many people are still actually working on progression encounters, given we’re 3 raid lockouts away from Cataclysm (and Thanksgiving is bound to mess up raiding for most people). What I want to do today is to reflect on the frustrating 6 months, and see if I can take out some lessons which instead are going to still be useful in Cataclysm – about fighting on progression encounters, raiding with 10-man, strategising. Both Beru and Kae have used the death of LK heroic as an occasion to reflect on raiding more in general, and given I admire both ladies enormously for their blogging efforts, it is no surprise I am trying to do the same. Some of the stuff I’ll say will be a repeat of what they said, but I think enough of it is different to warrant a separate post.

The Finest Hour

So, let’s start with the good thing. HE’S DEAD! After plaguing our dreams and nightmares for all this time, the Lich King is dead: the reason we came to Northrend, the threat to the whole of Azeroth is no more. Outside of the lore excitement, the fight is so hard and so finely tuned that it is really a tribute to the skill of the group of people I raid with that we managed to get it down. The fact he’s the end boss of the whole expansion just adds a cherry to the cake: Tsark has now managed to complete the raid content of two expansions at level, although our completion of Burning Crusade is fully the merit of the big Sunwell nerf of Sep 08. In many ways, this time it is more satisfying, because I dare anyone to say that 4.0.1 made LK easier: while it did increase the dps of some classes and made some mechanics a lot easier to handle, other classes (and especially paladin healers and tanks, and in some ways Disc priests and Enh Shamans) got nerfed, which made OTHER mechanics a lot harder to deal with. The fact that we had to relearn the fight after 4.0.1 and for two weeks we could hardly get out of P1 says a lot to me about this.

The fight is definitely a testament to our skills as raiders – and I’m sorry if this sounds as gloating, but I am in honest awe of everyone in my raid group. It really felt that hard, and we all should be proud of what we accomplished. Jarbel, Wormwart, Shukir, Killetheth, Geeza, Tildie, Jahag, Strongbox, Lyshai and Loshanas – thank you for showing me how hard people can push their respective classes. Kill, if you’re reading this – our first thought when we killed Arthas was about you, and we swear we will get you the achievement before Dec 7, as soon as you’re back from your trip: we all know that we could not have done this without you, and are sorry you could not have been there. A special shoutout to Geeza, who agreed to come as a replacement, learned the fight (exceedingly fast) on his hunter, then was asked to switch to his even worse geared druid because we tried out three-healing it, only in the end to switch again to his hunter. The crossbow and the staff are your just reward for being an absolute champ about it all, Geeza J

The second, probably even more important factor that contributed to our kill was our perseverance. I mean, seriously? Six months of wiping on one encounter, and the last 3 weeks of extending and doing nothing but Lich King, and we still ALL showed up as much as real life allowed us. Many, MANY guilds and groups would have imploded, but we somehow kept plodding along. I am sure I was not the only one who sometimes dreaded raid time, and yet we managed to keep grumbling to a minimum, at least during raid time – that basically meant it all remained manageable, instead of exploding into whinefests of frustration (which, sometimes, could well have been justified). There is a famous aphorism that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – well, I think the same applies to raiding: 1% skill, 99% perspiration and just keeping at it.

Finally, I’d like to think that we’ve been helped by the way we encourage raiders to admit their mistakes, but then do not dwell on that, and move towards a more general “how can we make sure this does not happen again?”. I know that personally I get angrier when people try to find stupid excuses rather than admit to stupid mistakes – probably because I actually lead the “fail” charts, and we all know I am the slowest learner when it comes to those mechanics. Sometimes we probably slipped, but mostly, we managed to keep discussion on a constructive level, and this is something I always worked hard to build in the group, so I’m glad to see it working.

The Darkest Hour

Counterbalancing these three very positive traits of our raids, I think there’s two aspects that we need to become a lot better at.

The first one is flexibility. We had two big jumps up in our performance: the first one when we switched from three healers to two (and finally could consistently kill valkyrs in P2), and then this week, as we switched from soaking the Vile Spirits to killing them (and thus managed to survive P3 long enough to kill Arthas). Both times, the changes happened after weeks of butting our heads against the brick wall of our limits. We simply tried to work harder, instead of working smarter – and this is where our perseverance came back to bite us, because instead of looking for ways to get around the obstacles we just tried harder. Some of our raiders did suggest alternative strategies, but after a cursory consideration they were not adopted and fell by the wayside. This points to a difficult balance that we need to achieve: on one hand, we need to be able to say that no, a strategy really doesn’t sound promising; on the other, we need to be able to take a step back more and think out of the box. I probably am one of the people shooting down ideas as they are proposed – I think because I’m far too conscious of my limits I tend to think that if we fail in an attempt is simply because I have not tried hard enough (and by extension, the few times it’s clear it’s not my fault, because the raid has run into a hiccup that will not be present the following attempt). So, to improve this, here’s what I suggest:

  • Use the forums more. Changing strategies, and evaluating the merits of different strategies, is something I personally find very difficult to do in the heat of the moment. Offline, when I’m not frustrated because I just jumped into the latest Shadoxtrap, I can give alternative strategies a fairer examination. I know people work differently, and I know some of our members have hardly visited the forums, but I think it may help me think about strategies, so I may just post long monologues ;-P
  • Try not to dismiss ideas out of hand: it may sound weird now, but you never know when things will change enough that an idea you dismissed before becomes relevant. Case in point: we had briefly considered killing Vile Spirits when we were doing normal LK, but realised it was not working particularly well – fast forward to 6 months later, when, with patch 4.0.1, it is possible to do that on Heroic with one less ranged dps
  • If you suggest an idea, and it’s shot down, please insist a bit – maybe not during the same raid, but certainly once the raid is over, in whispers or in conversations. I admit my inability to think about strategies during raid time: I just am too inflexible for that. But I think I can be pretty open minded if people approach me outside of raids.

The second one is an issue of atmosphere. We have done relatively well, considering we have not had toxic members or serious disagreements in a very long time, but I know there is some tension simmering below the surface, and though I am trying to bring it in the open to resolve it, and change the behaviours which seem to be causing this tension, it is just not happening. So, I would like to ask all of our raiders to do two things:

  • Go easy on the sarcasm: we have an environment that is fairly open to criticism, but there are ways to criticise each other’s choices of talents/gems/gear/rotation without implying that the other person is an idiot or doesn’t know the class. Most of the times, these implications are not meant to be there, and just slip because of an attempt to be sarcastic and cutting: if you realise that something you said may be misinterpreted that way, just joke about it (“YES I DID MEAN THAT YOU ARE AN IDIOT ;-P” works wonders)
  • On the flip side of that, please let’s all give each other the benefit of the doubt: if we look for excuses to think the others don’t like us, it’s not going to take long to find them, regardless of whether they are meant or not. So, always take whatever is written in the best possible way, and if anything try to clear the air after a raid.

I know this second issue will look strange, and I don’t want to blow it out of proportion: so far, the tension is still kept at a manageable level. I just want to make sure we don’t let this blow into any full scale drama before we have a chance to fight Deathwing ;-P

Broader lessons

This started as a generic post about raid dynamics, and turned out to be a far more specific discussion of my own raid’s situation than I expected. I still think it may be valuable for other raids: too often we post screenshots where everyone is happy, and spend a lot of time thinking about strategies, but I’ll contend that the biggest killer of raids are not the game mechanics, but the interpersonal dynamics of the raid members. I think our raid can be considered pretty successful, and we certainly have a better rapport amongst ourselves than a lot of raids I’ve seen – but this is not, unfortunately, something that stays that way. Like any friendship, you need to keep working at it, which is exactly what I’m trying to do here J

We win

12 November 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s taken us way, WAY too long, but finally, here we are. I’m going to reflect a bit more on this, and post something soon with my reflections and thoughts (most of which should not surprise my fellow raiders, given we had about an hour to talk about these same thoughts after the kill).

 

I’m ready for my expansion, Mr DeMille

10 November 2010 § Leave a comment

I think I finally hit the end-of-expansion slump. I still have technically a lot of stuff to do, but I can hardly manage to find the motivation to do it.

The 10-man raid is still working towards our Heroic Lich King kill. We’re getting the LK down in the 30-20% range regularly, but have a lot of trouble dealing with our exit from the second Frostmourne: for that phase, Vile Spirits have already started to descend, and as we spread out for Defile, our OT needs to collect them all, and somehow, we either spread too much and thus the tank cannot grab them, or Defile nabs us. One of our rogues is now on a 2-week trip, so we got a hunter to replace him: though we did lose some dps, we’re not doing too badly on that front, but the fight is really a struggle, and the fact we’ve been on this for the past 6 months is not exactly helping.

Tsark still has a lot of achievements to work for, but they are just too grindy for me to bother. I probably will start working on a few of them, the ones that I think I have a shot at getting, but I have surprisingly little incentive. Still, there’s a couple from Heroics I still need, and a few scattered ones that I never bothered with and I probably could get. There’s no way I will ever do the fishing ones, though – way too much RNG involved in those. I don’t mind farming too much, but I cannot stand RNG.

Speaking of farming, I cannot farm the ZG mounts on my own, and all the other mounts will still be there when I get to 85 and have an easier time farming them. I did make a list of the pets and mounts I have (yay for sites that help you track these things J), and found out (with some surprise) I did miss a few easy-to-get ones, so I’m now farming ToC dailies to get a Darkspear Raptor (not sure how I missed that one…) and farming Gundrak Raptors to get a Hatchling. Thankfully, the ToC dailies are much more generours in terms of Champion’s Seals (17 per day, so not too bad), and I am farming the Gundrak Raptors with a skinner, so I am getting a lot of leather that I need to buy my last few recipes. I have no clue what’s going to happen with some of the vanilla pets come Cataclysm, though. Case in point: is the Tiny Crimson Whelpling still going to drop from any mobs in Cata? I think I’m going to go farm that one after…

Dawn Vigil is starting to prepare for Cataclysm – in a much better way than we ever did prepare for Wrath. We are likely to be running two 10-man raids and one 25-man, though of course we are still finalising things. We are still looking for a few good raiders, though, so feel free to drop me a line if you are interested in Feathermoon Horde raiding!

My Argent Dawn squad of alts is progressing. Tessarquia, my shaman, is now fairly decently geared (mostly T10, with the exception of trinkets and little else). Osric, the mage, is in 2T10 – I should farm some more Heroics with him, but I just cannot find the motivation. My priest, Theophora, is just starting out Outlands now. The hunter, Lykon, is lvl 43, while my druid, Selvania, is lvl 30-something – these two will probably wait until Cataclysm to get some proper time. It’s kinda fun to level the squad as a unit, though, switching from one to the other depending on who has the most rested xp available. Tessa has also completed the Storm Peaks quests, which just leaves me with Grizzly Hills to explore from the Alliance point of view to have a complete picture. Again, I’m quite happy I’ve managed to see the stories from the other side of the faction divide.

On the negative side, though, the Single Abstract Noun experiment has… not given the results I had hoped for. The guild hardly ever has more than 3-4 people online at any time, and more often than not I am alone in there. This may well be because of my strange play times, but I know of at least two people who left precisely because the guild is not active enough. I think the problem is that most SAN members have mains elsewhere, and with those mains they have friends and raid obligations and what not – and a guild of alts is never going to be very active, which means you’re going to get into a negative spiral of inactivity.

All in all, I think I am getting ready for Cataclysm, especially since the dungeon scene looks a bit more interesting than the Wrath one was. So Deathwing – bring it on!

See-sawing our way around

27 October 2010 § 2 Comments

After last week’s completely fail raid, I almost dreaded logging on Tsark anymore. Around this time in expansion, my game time on Tsark is basically spent raiding, and the last raid left such a sour taste in my mouth I wasn’t really ready to try the experience again. So no daily Heroic, no Vault, no PvP for Tsark this week: it’s been strictly Headless Horseman farming on several alts, and daily Heroics and daily quests on my Alliance toons (and some levelling, so my Alliance platoon is now starting to look almost acceptable :-)). Because of the flexible raid lockout (never has name been further from what it designates), of course I had to take someone else to the 25-man, so no Tsark there either – and because our shaman was unavailable on Friday, we did not go back for the rest of the week.

So, today, with a certain dread, we extended the lockout, zoned in, and went straight to the LK.

And it wasn’t as bad.

After three hours, we managed to get into P3 and to 37% health – which is not very far from what we were doing pre-patch. Of course, then we were getting to those percentages consistently, while today we barely managed to get consistently to P2. But it certainly beats our performance last week, by about a gazillion miles. Most importantly, the whole fight felt a lot more under control, which meant that the generalised feeling was that yes, with some work, we could get this done.

Some random observations:

1. I finally managed to get into the new Shield rhythm. I still get a lot of “Spell is not ready yet”, but partly because now I know about it, and partly because I pay more attention, I can handle that. Also, panicking a bit less and watching the general health a bit more, I managed to weave in wome Archangel work, too, mostly for the mana regen.

2. … which we really need, because not being able to proc multiple Rapture at each Infest means we run out of mana like nothing else. Most of our P2 attempts saw me chugging a potion and watching nervously my Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope cooldown. I may look at some of the Spirit trinkets, or at least undo some of my reforging to get some Spirit back.

3. I also ended up being the plague dispeller – the paladin tank was just too busy to be able to do it reliably. This cut into my Evangelism time, but I can still at least do the Infest shielding, which is the essential part.

4. Boomkins being awesome back up healers is a thing of the past, as their mana regen is so tightly linked to proccing Eclipses that they cannot really sustain anything else. Elemental shamans, instead, seem to have more mana than they could use, so Jahag switched to the back up healing position.

5. I suspect our P2 are a LOT shorter than they were – they certainly feel that way to me, which would make sense with the increased dps of most classes. That means less valkyrs, which is an all around good news of course (we used to get about 4-5 valkyrs, I think, and now we’re closer to 3-4).

So there you have it, things are looking a lot brighter than they were. Now, the problem of course is that we do not have any other raiding scheduled this week (our paladin tank is moving across the US, so he won’t have his stuff before next week), then we will have one good week, then one of our rogues is away for 3 weeks for work… So basically we either kill him next week or almost not at all, as by the end of November I doubt we will keep the focus to do this. The thought is slightly scary…

In other news, on Monday we finally got Earth, Wind & Fire – we had tried it a few times before halfheartedly, and this time we got it with 3-4 pulls, so it was nice (albeit it was anything but a clean kill). On the alt levelling front, my Alliance priest is now Holy and enjoying Chakra immensely. She’s also on her way to Outland (2 more levels), so she is almost ready to get to the Big Leagues. Alliance hunter has reached 40, and of course my mage is now gearing up seriously.

Most importantly, Tessarquia, my SAN shaman, has finally managed to get a shield, which means I can go back to being a shaman with a 1H and a shield, not a stupid staff. Seriously though, 35+ runs of Pit of Saron normal, and nothing to show for it: I sincerely hope itemisation is done a bit more carefully in Cataclysm.

Disc 4.0.1 – Raiding impressions

19 October 2010 § 5 Comments

A week has gone by, and while a fair few bugs still remain in the game, most of them have been solved by now. We lost one raid day due to our tanks having trouble downloading the patch, and the second one was cut short by rolling restarts (instance server first, then Feathermoon always means we are better off stopping the raid before the restarts, because the servers never come back in time). In all this, we managed to get most of ICC10 down, so it is time to share my impressions. Unfortunately, impressions are all that they are, because World of Logs, our site of choice for combat log analysis, is still a bit buggy (doesn’t show Power Word: Barrier at all; shows Atonement as two separate spells, one for hit and one for crits; doesn’t show pally shields; etc.).

So, in general, it is doable. Disc priests seem to have lost some throughput and flexibility, but mostly it is a matter of getting used to the new spells/new dynamics and I think we will get back into a good place. This, of course, should come as no surprise, given that our healing model really hasn’t changed that much (compared to a lot of the other healers, at least). We did wipe a couple of times because we just could not handle a spike in damage: mostly, I find that we can go along like normal, but our “oh shit” routines just don’t work anymore, so any small hiccups is likely to snowball into a wipe (Tamarind makes a similar observation over at Righteous Orbs, of course with a lot more wit)

Preparation

In the end, I went with a slightly different spec from the one I suggested here a while back, mostly because of comments back in the EJ Disc priest forum thread, pointing out that we will not use Heal at all until higher levels, and so Strength of Souls is a bit of a waste. On the other hand, Darkness gives a nice haste boost, which we now (horror!) need. The single point in Mental Agility is simply needed to get Power Word: Barrier – feel free to put it anywhere else in the tree instead (I should probably put it in Inner Sanctum, as less spell damage is a good thing). Although I ended up not Penancing very much, I will keep the points in Train of Thought, because a) I need to put them somewhere; b) I need to Penance more to stop any stupid minor spike to disrupt our existing teetering balance.

I did not regem, mostly because I wanted to have a better feel for how things were. I did not reforge either, partly because of the same reason, and partly because BobTurkey had warned that Mastery was not a particularly desirable stat. He has since expanded on that, explaining that it may be ok now in ICC with our other ratings being so inflated, so I may reforge some of my spirit into mastery now, to check it out (I need haste for my Smites, and crit for my delicious Aegis, so spirit seems the obvious reforging candidate). I have since reforged all the spirit I could into mastery, and will post next week about how that feels.

The only other thing I changed was to take Inner Focus out of my Divine Hymn macro, and instead put it in a Gheal one. This gives me the chance to note that in my earlier talent discussion I had completely missed the reduced cooldown (45s now). I am still not sure it makes it a useful talent at 85, but it’s certainly better than I thought.

I ended up with 38% crit and about 690 haste, which means I’m not soft capped, but not far either (my FHeal shows 1.08 cast time with Borrowed Time).

Archangels, Barriers, and the lot

Moving on to some more specific comments, Atonement will probably be the one mechanic that will require some adjustment, although at least it got fixed during one of the restarts we’ve had, and is now healing correctly for 100% damage.  Throughout all of Lower Spire, I was basically trying to have it up 100% of the time, so I was getting 5 Evangelism → Archangel, then shielding and mending and penancing. Of course, that’s because mana is still not a concern, so the only interesting part of Archangel is really the healing buff (and the cd reduction of Penance, through Train of Thought). I was probably smiting more than I should have, or rather, I wasn’t switching between job A and job B fast enough: I was smiting to full, Archangel, healing, smiting to full, etc. This means I was not using the cd reduction on Penance as much as I should have, which is a pity. This pattern also created two issues.

The first one is that I would get my 5 stacks of Evangelism up, while Archangel was still on cooldown. Arch has a 30 secs cooldown, and Evangelism lasts for 15, so it is not hard to see how that would happen. The problem of course is that I would then have to Smite again to refresh Evangelism – not a problem right now due to the mana abundant raiding environment, but if mana really becomes a serious issue afterwards, that’s a total waste of mana in our Archangel returns (well, not total waste, because you still get a heal, but yeah, not ideal either). A related issue is that I need to set up an alert in my UI to let me know how many stacks of Evangelism I have, and how long till they expire – I guess I will finally cave in and install Power Auras…

The second and bigger issue is that although Atonement is nice, the throughput is just not there, so we cannot use it during times of heavy damage. Case in point: Festergut, the early phase where the whole raid takes a ton of damage. We just did not seem to be able to keep up with the incoming damage – although the fact I got gassed didn’t exactly help either, but that never used to be much of an issue before. We ended up 3-healing, mostly because we didn’t feel like wiping multiple times, but I think it is possible to 2-heal this still, though it will require some much more careful throughput management. On a more general point, though, the issue is that Atonement will need to be carefully weaved during lull phases, possibly in preparation of bigger damage spikes happening (and Festergut is again a good example, because after the first inhale you can build up your atonement stacks, then keep them up during the second inhale with just a smite or two, and use Archangel to help deal with blight damage and the new spike).

The final consideration is that we will just need some basic experience with it to make Atonement work properly. My personal “d’oh!” moment was on Gunship, when I was smiting Riflemen happily and wondering why I wasn’t seeing Atonement heals (the answer of course is that NO-ONE was anywhere near the riflemen, so Atonement just didn’t find anyone to heal).

You know, as I’m writing this, I just realised one thing: does Archangel buff shields too, or just heals? I remember how shields needed to be included in the ICC buff with a hotfix, and I sincerely hope this is not the case with Archangel. I guess this is important enough to test, so I may grab a friendly fire mage and duel in Dalaran to test this.

Moving on to Power Word: Barrier, I have to admit it was a big disappointment. I cannot produce numbers, because, as I said, World of Logs is not recording any of it sadly. However, I was hard pressed to find a good use for it, partly because of the mechanics of ICC which heavily discourage clumping up, and partly because whenever I did put it down, the Barrier seemed to disappear very very quickly. I suspect it will just need a serious bump up in numbers, before it can become useful. Again, I’m happy to give it the benefit of the doubt, considering the needed adjustment, but so far, I have to say I am not impressed.

What did impress me, though, was Holy Nova. With 10 people in range I am getting hits for around 1k healing, more for people with abilities or talents increasing healing (e.g. our pally tank). With the fact that it’s instant, spammable with a very short GCD thanks to the glyph, I can see some fairly huge potential for it inside Frostmourne, during Heroic LK. The proof is in the pudding, of course, but I am actually excited about having a means to deal with that phase (together with mending, which becomes incredible in there).

Healing teams

I wanted to add one additional note about other healing classes. My healing partner throughout most of the instance was a holy paladin – and yes, it was much harder to keep up with healing with just the two of us healing, whereas we normally have no trouble. Again, I don’t want to say immediately that Holy paladins need a buff – it may simply be adjustment pains as we find our feet again. An interesting note is that we’re normally fairly close in healing outputs, and this was reproduced this time too – which would suggest my healing output has gone down too.

What was instead fairly amazing was how much more output a druid could generate. Our boomkin switched to resto to help us with Plague and Blood Wings. She admits she wasn’t really trying to maximise new rotations or anything, just plain Rejuv spamming, and she pulled ahead by 30% or more. Tildie is a very good healer in general, so it is not uncommon for her to be top healer in fights where the three of us are working together – but not by that much.

All this means may simply be that a basic druid rotation (OMGREJUVOMG!) is more effective than a basic priest one (OMGSHIELDOMG!) or paladin one (OMGFOLOMG!) – or that druids at 80 and in current gear levels and current raid content are more effective.

We will finish the instance tomorrow, and the real test will be to survive P1 of the LK: the increased dps should make the rest of the fight easier, but the spikes in P1 due to Shambling Horrors’ Frenzy kinda scare me a bit.

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