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.

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!

Digital dowloads – an update

2 November 2010 § 1 Comment

Apparently, my discovery happened at about the same time that lots of other people discovered the same blue post. To make matters worse, there was another blue post on the EU forums calling it a bug that would be fixed, adding to the confusion. Add to this the lack of information from news sites, and of course you had all sorts of panicky e-mail and posts.

Today, Bashiok clarified it all:

Prior to the December 7 launch of Cataclysm, all current World of Warcraft players will receive the Cataclysm intro cinematic as part of an upcoming patch. In addition, all other in-game cinematics (including previous ones such as the Wrathgate movie) will be available for download to players who have not previously installed them. These cinematics will be automatically downloaded in the background while you play the game, after other critical game data has been received. (Source)

So, everything solved? Definitely, on the Blizzard side: though it would be nice if blue posters were a bit more coordinated, I think Blizzard has reached the size (and geographical spread) where these errors of communication will happen, and the only thing to do is to post some more to clarify.

However, I want to spend a couple of lines on something else that rubbed me the wrong way in the whole deal, and that’s Boubouille’s patronising tone. He posted something on the matter yesterday, and then something more today to announce Bashiok’s clarification, and both times he used a tone that implied people worrying about this matter were little kids whining. I don’t want to belittle Boubouille’s contribution to the community, which are much larger than anything I could ever hope to achieve. I also understand that he probably received myriads of e-mails, and I have no doubt some of those were hysterical (of the “OMG GONNA QUIT NAO” kind). But his position as a news reporter for the whole community should have trained him that these panic waves happen – and I still find the tone unjustified.

Maybe I’m being over sensitive over this, even though I don’t think my post was particularly whiny (and I did not send MMO Champ any e-mail) – but the fact he repeats the tone twice is really serious, because it means it’s not so much a slip (which can happen, given the amount of news posts he needs to write), but an intended snub to a part of his readership.The ironic part is that if he had reported the original blue post about the cinematics missing in the Wrath digital download, much of the panic could well have evaporated there and then, or at least we could have got an update from Blizzard much earlier.

Digital downloads and cinematics

31 October 2010 § 1 Comment

Two days ago I went ahead and cancelled my Collector’s Edition order, and substituted it with a digital download from Blizzard. The Lil” Deathwing pet looks awesome, and I am a pet fanatic, but it’s hard to justify a doubling of the price to get a pet and a lot of stuff I really don’t care about. Also, CE would have to be shipped from the US (given that the CE sold in France would be for the EU servers instead) which would mean a delay in playing and a possible cost addition for the VAT I’d have to pay at the customs.

Then, last night we killed Lich King, and weirdly I got a “This cinematic is not available” message. So I went around the net to investigate it, and found this post. I had in fact got an error message two weeks ago, while launching the game, which caused me to reinstall everything from the digital download – and had not killed the LK since then or done the Wrathgate event, so last night was the first time I encountered the issue.

Now, I don’t particularly care about the Wrath cinematics, because I’ve seen them already. I am, however, slightly concerned about the Cataclysm ones, because there seems to be a lot of them, and they are nice. And yes, I can always check them on YouTube, but that’s really not the point, is it? There’s a reason why Blizzard weaves the cinematics into the game, as opposed to having a pop up window in the game appear with a YouTube link.

I also understand the problem: their download servers are probably working overtime, between the 8+GB download of 4.0, and the Cataclysm downloads, and people reinstalling the game left, right and centre. Because cinematics are so heavy, taking them out is probably helping to speed up the queues a fair bit. However, there are several issues with this implementation.

The first one, and the most important one, is that they “forgot” to specify that Cataclysm digital downloads would be cinematics-less. The post I linked to dates to 15 October, and the announcement of the digital download happened this week, so they clearly knew of the issue. Knowing beforehand would have let people make an informed choice about the purchase, as opposed to having us find out after the deal is done (and the credit card is debited). I am also kinda surprised that none of the major news sites covered this issue: no mention of this on either wowinsider or mmo-champion. (UPDATE: as I was writing this, I found a news site I didn’t know before who wrote something about the matter just yesterday).

Now, of course, we can always hope that Blizzard solves the issue before Cata is released: once the heavy load on their server is gone (4.0.1 is several times bigger than 4.0.3 or 4.0.3a, it seems), we could start streaming the cinematics. But the blue post seems very vague about possible solutions, and the feeling is clearly one of “not a priority at all”.

Ironically, I have the Wrath CDs, so I could get the cinematics from there (at least the Wrathgate one, which was in at release – I guess not the LK one which was patched later). But I don’t want to reinstall the whole game again, and I cannot find any quickfire way to just get the cinematics from the CDs.

I’ll try to get the word out to a few more bloggers (ones with wider readership than me), because I think this is an issue that affects a lot more people than just me – and even more with the digital download for Cataclysm coming. Let’s hope we can get some word from Blizzard about this – otherwise, get ready for some alt-tabbing….

25 Kingslayers

30 October 2010 § 2 Comments

The 25-man raid run by Dawn Vigil, my guild, managed to kill Lich King tonight, after a fairly remarkable progression. We extended once again, dispatched Sindy in 3-4 tries (last week she was pwning us), and then proceeded to go poke at the Lich King. Now, keep in mind that I am not sure we had ever got to P3 (I’m pretty sure *I* never got to P3 with the 25-man, but I know I missed a couple of progression nights), and the last we had seen LK was ages ago, as we focused on doing Heroics and getting a Shadowmourne done (we had a couple of Kingslayers from another raid who had kindly taken some of us along).

The raid proceeded to work incredibly well, to work out the MANY problems that were there at the start (from people not focusing on valkyrs to people not spreading out correctly, to defiles…) and steadily progressed to P3. With 30 mins of raid time to go, we got to P3 and 25%, and the following pull, the last pull of the night, everything came together and we managed to get through the whole fight. It wasn’t pretty, our tank died and got b-rezzed because of a failed Soul Harvest management (he may in fact have died twice – soulstone + b-rez – but I’m not sure, I may be mixing attempts up), but in the end, with about 10 people up, we wiped, rezzed, and pwned.

I know I normally just focus on 10-man achievements on this blog, but I want to recognise the effort of everyone in that raid: because of our relatively casual style, the “flexible raid lockouts” (please note the inverted commas of sarcasm) hit us fairly hard, as people were forced to choose whether their main and best characters were going to the 10 or 25-man version of ICC. So, 3 weeks ago we found ourselves with a third of a raid in 264s and 277s, and a third barely in 251s as some of the alts were not exactly the top geared ones. Mad props to Malicent, who since April has managed to lead this ragtag band, and to keep both the “hardcore progression” people and the “social/casual/farm content” people happy.

Personally, I know it took me a long time to stop trying to “backseat raid lead”: this is not my 25-man, and it will not always do what I would like to do. In the beginning, I think I tried to have the advantages of raid leadership (influence, deciding what to do, choosing strategies) without the hassle, and it just didn’t work. After a couple of tense moments with Malicent (which we fortunately solved through tells, posts and other relatively private channels), I’d like to think I’m a much more positive contributor to that raid now. I appreciate the fact that Mali took the the time to answer every time I wrote a /rant post, and I think in the end I’ve become a better raider for it.

Going forward, I think I’ll put my weight behind trying to keep the 25-man going in Cataclysm. My “hardcore fix” will always come from the 10-man: the team we have is likely to go further, and we can push towards hard modes, achievements and all the things that frustrate me to no end, but also get my adrenaline going. I believe however that a 25-man raid serves an important function in a guild as a glue that keeps the community going. Once Cata is released, there will be a flurry of activity as people level their mains and alts, gear up in dungeons, do quests and achievements and grinds. After a few months, though, all though will run dry, as it always does, and the main focus will be on raiding. People will log on during different times, because of time differences and schedule and life styles (and the fact we have people in Europe, Australia, and the US…). Without a 25-man to hold us together, I think we will go back to being effectively a group of smaller communities, and this will make us lose something. Beru posted a great collection of ideas about preparing your guild for Cataclysm, and while we are certainly nowhere close to Monolith’s size, I think her post started me thinking about what we can start doing now, so that Cataclysm doesn’t catch us unawares.

Never on Tuesday?

1 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Some data-mining turned up the fact that the new arena season will start on 14 December. Zarhym had previously said that the new season was going to start “approximately a week after the release of Cataclysm”, so everyone is now saying that Cataclysm will be released on 7 December.

I’d like to point out two things:

1. Zarhym said “approximately” one week.

2. While Burning Crusade was released on Tuesday (16 January 2007), Wrath was released on Thursday (13 November 2008), which suggests that there is nothing forcing Blizzard to release expansions during (or around) maintenance.

So, while I applaud the entrepreneurship of data mining the one piece of information and collating it to another, I would think that an estimate of “the week of 6 December” is likely to be more accurate than just “7 December”.

A stay of the execution

27 September 2010 § 1 Comment

MMO-Champion reports that the Cataclysm release date may be pushed back to the beginning of December – and I hope this means that they will wait a bit more to push 4.0 on live servers as well. I really want to get a Heroic LK kill before 4.0: I thought we had enough time, given we got to Heroic LK in May, but apparently I was not counting to our usual summer period of slump, as well as several scheduling and connection problems that have severely reduced our ability to work on that encounter. I don’t think we’re very far, but honestly I don’t think we will get it this coming week either.

If I had to guess, now I would think that 4.0 will go live on Tuesday 26th October – after Blizzcon, and about a month before Cata releases. This is however a wild guess, not based on any inside source or private information, so not very reliable :-).

In other news, the same post on MMO-Champ lists the rewards for Justice and Valor Points. The interesting thing is that Justice Points will be redeemed for blue rewards only (boo!) but the spellpower weapons only require lvl 83 – if this stays, it will be nice to have those weapons before getting to max level. Also, the JP rewards cover all set slots, plus main hand, offhand, wand, neck and waist, which is not bad at all. I also appreciated a lot the fact that VP cover rings and trinkets – and that the two rings and the two trinkets can both be used by Disc Priests without too much of a stretch. In short, gearing for Heroics shouldn’t be too hard.

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