Thursday, 29 April 2010

Ghoul School

ghoul [guːl]
1. a malevolent spirit or ghost
2. a person interested in morbid or disgusting things
3. a person who robs graves
4. (Myth & Legend / Non-European Myth & Legend) (in Muslim legend) an evil demon thought to eat human bodies, either stolen corpses or children
[from Arabic ghūl, from ghāla he seized]

But, I'm obviously more interested in the Death Knight versions of these guys. All WoW players will have encountered ghouls in one form or another, usually they're the type that do their best to eat your brains as soon as they notice you, but no need to fear! Ghouls can be our friends.

Ghouls, simply put are temporary, or in some cases permanent Death Knight pets and are summoned via a number of spells. I will attempt to categorise each ghoul species as best I can:

The Temp-Ghoul (necrovates familiaris): Summoned via Raise Dead, this is basically an uncontrolled minion that will do a bit of extra damage - short attention span and tend to go to pieces after one minute.

The Perma-Ghoul (necrovates superioris): Again summoned by Raise Dead, but Unholy Death Knights will have specced into Master of Ghouls, resulting in a far stronger, more resilient ghoul with far less attention span issues. This ghoul acts like a hunter's pet, with all the commands and settings that go with it.

The Army-Ghoul (necrovates vulgaris): A far more sociable ghoul, these chaps like to hang out with seven of their best mates and cause absolute chaos and mayhem wherever they go. They are summoned with Army of the Dead, cause trouble, get bored and disappear after 40 seconds. Those 40 seconds will feel like an eternity, though.

The Clueless-Ghoul (necrovates larisasis): This species differs from all of the others in that it was once a fellow raid member that forgot to move out of the fire. Raise Ally allows a Death Knight to give this raid member a chance to redeem themselves for the next 5 minutes and put some DPS on the boss.

In theory...

Larisa over at the Pink Pigtail Inn has confessed to not being as comfortable playing a ghoul as she is a gnome. Who can blame her? The world must seem a very strange place when suddenly you're the height of a normal person... vertigo must start to kick in, I guess...

But, in all seriousness, she isn't alone and it's quite understandable. One minute you're alive and doing what you do best, the next you're lying on the floor wondering what happened and a few seconds later you've become the superior lifeform with a completely different spell-bar... much like a vehicle for all intents and purposes. It's oddly reminiscent of phase 3 of Malygos, where all of a sudden you're given a whole new set of spells and no time at all to work out what you're supposed to do.

Faced with this, on the rare occasion that Raise Ally is used, the result is quite often a stationary ghoul who doesn't do much to say the least. Because of this, not many DKs are going to bother with it at all -  which is a shame because whilst the ghoul is not going to be anywhere near as useful as a Druid's battle-rez, any extra DPS is better than nothing and it gives the player something to contribute to the raid.

One of things that I'm always conscious of is, "who am I trying to raise?" Melee DPS are prime candidates, because they're unlikely to get a battle-rez and are used to the melee carnage. Next candidates are your ranged DPS and as for healers... I don't tend to Raise them. If a healer is down, they need a Druid to battle-rez them, otherwise they can't do their job and the extra little bit of DPS that they may or may not contribute isn't really worth it. Anyway, if a healer goes down, just wait a few seconds - I'm sure you'll end up with a few more suitable corpses on the ground soon.

So, I'm going to run through some of the impediments to Raise Ally being used effectively both from the Death Knight's perspective and his victim's.

Reasons That the Death Knight Doesn't Cast Raise Ally:

1) They don't know that they have the spell: 

Sorry... can't help with that.

2) They don't know that someone has died:

I have Healbot running on every character that I play, no matter what. If I'm in a group and someone dies, then I know about it.

3) They can't find the body in the middle of all the chaos:

Again, not a problem with Healbot - I see a box go dark, then I click on it and Raise Ally gets cast on that character.

4) Don't have time to spend a global cooldown on a daft spell.

I'm aware that sometimes you have 0.5 seconds to get those diseases refreshed or the rotation will fall apart badly, but you do get the occasional gap due to rune cooldowns, fight movement or whatever. If you have DPS tunnel vision, you'll miss these opportunities to do something rather clever. One advantage of tanking on a Death Knight is that you get the odd second to assess the raid situation to correct or tidy things up.

5) Target Not in Range.

That one's a bit trickier. If you're a DK, you're going to be close and personal with the boss, half the time your dead target is a squishie on the back row. Sometimes that 30 yard range isn't going to cut it; best bet is to wait until some boss movement or a phase change happens - it's very rare to have static Patchwerk fights these days, so hopefully an opportunity will present itself.

Reasons That the Victim Doesn't Do Anything When They're Raised:

1) They Don't Know What to do.

As soon as Raise Ally is cast, the target is informed that their soul has been transferred into a ghoul - don't worry all you RPing Paladins and Priests, we haven't messed with your body - it's still on the ground where you thoughtlessly left it.

One important thing to realise when you're running around a leaping like a mad thing, is that you are still dead, your body is still on the floor, Healbot still shows an empty box and, most importantly you can still be rezzed. That body that I keep mentioning? Your Druid can still battle-rez it. You will still get your normal "Accept Resurrection?" window popping up. Raise Ally is not going to mess things up if the Raid Leader decrees you worthy of a proper resurrection mid-fight.

Your primary actionbar is replaced with the one seen in the screenshot below:

You now have a self-replenishing energy bar (100 energy points) and the following abilities at your disposal:

1] Claw - 40 energy. Causes damage and builds one Frenzy Point.
2] Thrash - 35 energy. Causes damage based on the number of Frenzy Points you have to a maximum of 5.
3] Gnaw - 30 energy. Causes damage and stuns the target for 3 seconds.
4] Leap - 10 energy. Leap behind the targeted enemy. 5-30 yard range.
5] Huddle - 10 energy. Channeled. Go into a defensive crouch and take 50% less damage whilst active.
6] Explode - 10 energy. Time to be a suicide bomber! Explode causing damage equal to to 25% of your maximum health in a 5 yard radius.

So, let me get this straight: You attack from behind, have an energy bar, build combo points, use a finisher, stun targets and blow yourself up? You're basically a rogue.

A suicide bomber rogue.

You are, in fact Ahmed the Dead Rogue...



2) They're AFK.

Yeah... well... if I spent as much time being dead as some players do, then I'd get bored and make coffee, too.

3) Melee is a Scary Place!

This obviously not an issue for Fury Warriors, who revel in the carnage that ensues when you're standing on the hotspot; for the the folks on the back row who like their personal space, just take a deep breath and relax. All you need to do is stand behind your target and press 1-1-1-1-1-2, repeat as long as is required. Mages should have a natural aptitude for this...

One thing that can be done to make the victim's ghoul time a little more productive is to send a whisper to the target when Raise Ally is cast. A simple set of instructions could be:

"Ghoul Control Instructions: Select target, press 4. Spam 1-1-1-1-1-2. When low on health, press 6. Have fun!"

If you're using something like Healbot, it's very simple to add that to your spell cast, just via the Healbot interface. If you prefer to do it manually, a macro may be called for:

(Edit: Blueberrytotem politely pointed out that the original macro was a bit of a dog's dinner - this one is far simpler)

/cast Raise Ally
w %t"Ghoul Control Instructions: Select target, press 4. Spam 1-1-1-1-1-2. When low on health, press 6. Have fun!" 

This advice is not going to result in players running around as ghouls in every fight, but hopefully it will give the odd player a chance to feel like they contributed to a raid. It's fun, it helps the raid and I always giggle when I see a ghoul running around and think "I made that!"

In summary: the most important thing to remember whilst playing a ghoul?

Neeeed more brainnnnssssssss...

Monday, 26 April 2010

How to be the Best Tank Ever*

This tanking business can be a bit hectic at times. I've said before that it requires assimilating and processing a lot of information at once, prioritising this and getting round to doing something about it in the correct order in approximately 0.5 seconds.

My poor little brain can't cope with this. I like to use the occasional addon to take the strain and there's none better than Tidy Plates.

What Tidy Plates does is replace the standard Blizzard nameplates that appear above each target; I have heard that not everyone who plays WoW has even the standard nameplates set to show. I can't imagine how anyone can play without them, although that would go a long way to explaining why a lot of people seem to be completely incapable of seeing or applying DPS/threat to slimes/oozes/gas clouds/overcharged Tempest Minions. Without the nameplates, you either have to randomly click on an indistinct mob, tab-target or set up some inane targeting macro. With nameplates activated, you see the plate, you click on it, you go to work.

As I've said, Tidy Plates replaces the default plates with something more appropriate to your tastes, several different skins have been developed, but the one that I'm most interested in is Threat Plates .

Ever been tanking a pack of mobs and not have a clue if any of them is about to take off after that DPS (90% of the time it's a hunter) because they wouldn't know a "/assist" macro if it smacked them in their squishy face? Skada is only going to show you how much of a threat lead you have on your current target, not the other six that you're trying to hang onto. Now, fair enough, normally if a DPS pulls, I'll let them eat it...  but sometimes I'm in a benevolent mood and I'll save them occasionally.

Here's my friend, Mr. Reanimated Crusader, seen from afar. Small nameplate, white border... he's no threat to anyone, just minding his own business.

Let's see what happens when we give him a bit of a poke, shall we?

Okay, I don't think that he liked that...

The small bar shows that I have aggro on him, the green outline is showing that I've got him targeted. I know that the red hit box appears as default on my main target, but it's on the ground and I can never see it when there's a pack of mobs surrounding me. I've got it set up so that if my target is casting something, I get a cast bar too; if it's all yellow I can interrupt it, if it's stripey like the one above there's no sense wasting my time and I'll just have to suck it up.

Mr. Reanimated Crusader decides to bring one of his mates along to the party...

I've not targeted him and I don't have aggro on him. Result? Big, spiky nameplate. This serves two purposes: Firstly, it's totally unsubtle and lets you know that you might want to do something about it, secondly it's easier to mouseover and click the larger plate so you can put some threat on it. There is an inbetween plate that gives you a little hint that you might be about to lose aggro, slightly larger so you can pre-empt problems and generally look totally awesome.

The first time that I used this was in a Culling of Stratholme run and it made the job so easy that it almost seemed like cheating. It doesn't do all the work for you though, if there's another tank in the raid, you are going to be seeing big spiky plates all over the place - you're still going to have to check them out and look at the threat table to see if the other tank has them or if it's that hunter playing silly buggers again...

Threat plates can also be set to work in reverse if you're DPS, big and spiky means that you've pulled the target and you might want to stop attacking it and Feign Death or something. Small plate means that you can do what you do best - just keep an eye on the threat level, okay?

Oh yeah: 4418. Apparently the Addon That Shall Not Be Named thinks that I can do ToC10 now.

*Exclusions apply. Rachkalos Defense Industries accepts no liability should the information presented not result in the reader becoming "The Best Tank Ever". Exclusions include, but are not restricted to: Failure so setup and use addon correctly, lag, hardware performance issues, mouse turning, incompetence and/or being a gnome.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Meet the Alt...

This is the alt.

He's a Warrior.

His personal interests are: hitting things, getting hit by things and yelling a lot.

His zodiac sign is Scorpio.

Okay, so why the alt? Why another tank?

First of all, this is the first character that I ever rolled in WoW... I figured that since all Warriors have to do is hit things, they should be pretty simple to play, right? A few months of playing him and not having a clue as to what I was doing relegated him to a year in the Honor Hold tavern, in the meantime I rolled a Ret Paladin...

These days I've had a while to experience Death Knight tanking, almost geared up as much as I can do given my current raid progression, so I need something else to do; why not take some time to see how one of the other guys tanks stuff? I kind of know what I'm doing in 5-mans and raids, all I need to do is get my head around a different playstyle and grab some gear!

One thing that everyone will have noticed is that there is a desperate shortage of tanks in the game and I'm trying to figure out why. If you're a DPS and you sign up for a random dungeon in the Dungeon Finder, I hear that you can end up waiting 15-20 minutes for a group - I wouldn't know... if I had to wait 15-20 seconds for a group, I'd be thinking that my computer had crashed. In reality, I'm normally waiting 2-3 seconds for a group. This kind of tells me that there aren't many tanks running randoms these days and why would they? Any established tank just chain-ran random heroics as soon as Patch 3.3 launched, geared up and now only run the one random a day for their Emblems of Frost. These days, it seems like you're far more likely to run into a useless tank and/or a DPS that has decided to equip a shield and pretend to be a tank in order to jump the long queue times.

So, why don't more people roll tanks? It seems like the chance to queue jump and attain massive quantities of gear in such a short time would be incentive enough... apparently not. I think that one problem is that it's fine for running randoms and PuGs, but if you're in a guild, there's only enough space for a limited number of tanks to raid. This isn't a problem if your guild is insistent on rotating tanks in and out, but a lot of the time it's far easier to take your established tanks along because (hopefully!) they'll get the job done - in this type of guild you may never get into the raids, so why bother?

The other reason is that tanking is seen as being a hard thing to do. Not necessarily true - it just requires a different mindset and focus from DPSing. As the Great Tank Philosopher Hafrot once said:

"The difference between being a DPS and a tank is like the difference between being a parent and having a son or a daughter. If you have a son, you only have to worry about one dick in town. If you have a daughter, you have to worry about every dick in town."

Wise words, indeed...

The focus of being a DPS is a very individual thing, getting rotations right in order to maximise your damage output; as a tank you're keeping an eye out for what you're doing, what the monsters are doing, what the floor is trying to do to you as well as what everyone else is doing. If you're not particularly good at DPS, all that tends to happen is that number on Recount isn't as big as the other people's -  fail to tank properly, everyone dies and you get to hear about your lack of tanking skill in no uncertain terms!

So, just to see how long it takes to get a tank raid-worthy, I'm embarking on a little project...

A couple of weeks ago, the Warrior was level 70. Some heirlooms, some questing and the odd random normal dungeon sees him ding 80 a couple of days ago.

Some more dungeon running and a bit of help with a couple of craftable items sees him with a Gearscore of 4049 - that's 36 hours after hitting 80.

Yes, I installed Gearscore... I don't feel good about it, I don't know what the numbers mean and it's getting disabled whenever I don't need it. Unfortunately, it's going to be the easiest way to track my alt's gear accruing progress.

Let's see how long it takes to get a tank ICC10 ready, shall we?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Epic Purple Axe of... erm... Epicness

Yeah, that one...

That there is a genuine, 100% authentic Ramaladni's Blade of Culling and it's mine, all mine.

My... Preciousssss...

This is quite an unusual reaction to a bunch of purple pixels for me, I don't think that there's ever been an in-game item that I've actually looked forward to and wanted to drop off a particular boss before. I'm not one of those people who fill raid chat with the "I hope that Arthas' Giant Epeen drops this time," never have done it - never will. I'm completely aware that unless you've totally messed up your current gearing and are horribly under hit-cap or something, no single item is going to make any noticeable difference to your gameplay. Of course it all adds up, but really, it's down to the player pure and simple - if you're doing 3.5k DPS in ICC, that wand that some other mage is carrying is not going to bring you up to up to 7-8k DPS.

No amount of gear will.  It's not your gear's fault, it's yours.

So, I don't much care for Gearscore, don't approve of loot whores and can't abide loot drama. So why on earth was I so keen to get, what is, in all fairness, just another weapon with a few bigger numbers? Basically, it's because it is the first weapon that seems to be itemised with my class and spec in mind.

Put your hand down Mr. Arms Warrior, please. Those Blue Gem Sockets are for Stamina gems and you know it. Hush.

The first character that I started tanking with was my Death Knight. The first spec that I tried this in, was Blood. The spec that I use for tanking currently, is Blood. The spec that all Death Knights will be using until the end of WoW, is Blood. Because of the way that DKs work, they are not going to be carrying traditional tanking weapons - they can quite happily grab a big old two-handed DPS weapon and go to town, the Runeforging that DKs use makes just about any weapon viable.

But basically, you're just making do with another classes' hand-me-downs, which is why I've gone through several two-handed DPS weapons as well as a couple of hunter weapons (shudder).

If that isn't enough to make you want to crawl back into your shallow, unmarked grave, I don't know what is...

A couple of weeks ago, this thing drops of Saurfang. Whether it was down to luck, guildies being charitable or people not knowing what to do with it, I finally get it. Probably blew my EPGP priority to pieces getting it, but this thing is going to last me for ages, more importantly, I finally feel like a genuine, indestructible undead threat generating machine.

Of course, if anyone has a spare Shadowmourne lying around, you know where to send it...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Talking Tank: Reloaded

One of several WoW related podcasts that I listen to is Rawrcast. The hosts, Stompalina and Hafrot - spectacularly amusing in their own right - end up covering a multitude of topics, but raiding and guild leadership are always in there somewhere...

Several months ago, they put together a special edition of the show, entitled "Talking Tank".  Haf was joined by a panel of knowledgeable tanks from the WoW community to explain some of the whys and hows of tanking.

This podcast was the reason that I started tanking.  The research began, the gear was accrued and Rachkalos took his first bewildered steps into Utgarde Keep with his shiny new tank gear and four patient guild members behind him.  It's definitely worth a listen to by everyone that tanks, is thinking of tanking or would simply like to know what goes through the head of your favourite meat-shield (as well as Saurfang's Axe, I mean...).

Recently, the Rawrcast crew got together to record a second special episode on tanking - "Talking Tank: Reloaded". It has just been edited and made available for download; it's getting listened to on the way to work, tomorrow!

The thing that grabbed my attention was the panelist line-up: Haf is joined by Veneretio of, as well as Lore and Satorri of fame. Satorri basically wrote the book on Death Knight tanking, which is essential reading so I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

This is one of the few times that I've actually looked forward to driving to work!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Why Does Everybody Keep Picking On Me?

Well, not me, per se... but Death Knights in general.

Why, when the raid is being assembled, do you look at that box of 25 squares as they fill up with different colours, wondering what colour is coming up next, in eager anticipation of the next person joining the raid?

"Okay, ten more to go... 

*bamf* (Orange)... What? Another druid? What are they? Flavour of the month now?

*bamf* (Pink)... Hmmm... fourth paladin in the group... maybe that means that I can get Blessing of Kings and Blessing of Might... Better not hold my breath too long, though...  Wait a minute!  I don't see any Pr-

*bamf* (White)... Phew!  Was getting worried there - I like my stamina buff, I do.

*bamf* (Red)... Awww... man..."

So, I use Healbot on every character I play; it gives me an idea as to what's going on in the middle of a fight: who has aggro, who's DCed, who's got the horrible debuff, who's dead...  Anyway, I love that addon and it's set up to show me the class colours in each character's cell; as you can see from above I'm not really a fan of seeing red boxes in the raid - with the odd exception of known and trusted Death Knight players.

Now and again I wonder "Oh my god... do people think the same way when they see me popping up in a raid?"

In a way, this oddly mirrors the final quest in the Death Knight starting chain (you know, the one where you have the citizens of Stormwind/Orgrimmar yelling at/spitting on/throwing stuff at you) -  we're still looked down on by other classes.  I have to admit, that one of the reasons that I play a Death Knight is because of this and it's one of the things that drives me to not be rubbish; challenging preconceptions and all that...

I'm aware that when Wrath launched, everyone and his sister rolled a Death Knight. Thrown into the big, wide world at level 58, having had three whole levels to get to grips with all of your overpowered abilities before tearing around Hellfire Peninsula is not exactly going to endear you to people that have spent a lot of time and effort leveling the traditional way and find themselves overshadowed by these Johnny-come-latelys.  Is it a surprise that people weren't impressed by players who were ripping the place apart, despite not having a clue as to what they were doing?

Players that didn't have the skill to play other classes flocked to the Death Knight class, abandoning their old favourite, the Hunter... so renowned for this move, the moniker "Huntard" crossed the class divide and spawned the "Deathtard".

None of this bothered me or was noticed by me at the time; I started playing WoW shortly after Wrath launched, I knew nothing of Deathtards or Huntards - I was still grinding boars in Elwynn Forest on my first ever character - a warrior.  Many months, nerfs, a dwindling DK population, more XP bonus granting heirloom items and allowing flying mounts at level 60 with patch 3.2 convinced me to level a Death Knight.

The end game raiding world of Wrath is not overrun by those legions of Deathtards, I'm surprised if there are are more than two or three in an ICC25 run (including me), I rarely, rarely see one when I'm running random heroics - are the groups balanced so that you don't get more than one of each class, or something?  At the end of the day, Death Knights have become just another class, no better or worse than the others.  I assume that people have got bored of playing something that they originally hoped was going to be overpowered and realised that they would have to put as much effort into getting results as any other class. No longer do I need to groan when I see one in a group, right?

Well, that's what I thought, anyway...

My original warrior, who has spent the past year in the tavern in Honor Hold, drinking himself into oblivion, has decided to sort his act out.  He's been to Alcoholics Anonymous, got some heirlooms, got a shave and a haircut, got his Epic Flying and is trying to become a responsible member of the community by tanking stuff.

It's an interesting and fun experience to tank on a different class, running the 5-man normal level dungeons at the appropriate levels is great fun, knowing the instances and the pulls inside-out means that you can concentrate on holding aggro and not dying.

Then, every so often, you get a Death Knight DPS in your 5-man.  I can cope with being in odd gear or oddly specced.  Heck, I can even put up with them wailing away at a target that I've hardly sneezed on (almost...).  But when you're pulling aggro because you're in Frost Presence instead of Blood Presence, I really have to take a deep, calming breath before I offer up any words of advice to them.

Yep, make no mistake, the Deathtard is alive and well - this is why I don't like Death Knights...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Death Knight Cataclysm Changes

Okay, so the Lich king is dead, people are looking ahead to Cataclysm and never more so since Blizzard has released its proposed class changes.  The Death Knight ones went up a few days ago, I've had a few days to think about them and since everyone and their best mate with a WoW blog is going to be talking about class changes I figured that I might as well get in on the act.

It's going to be quite interesting to write about the changes as they've been portrayed as of this date... I'll be able to look back at this in six or so months time and see what eventually becomes of the portrayed changes.

My main focus whenever I think about what could happen to the class is "don't panic!".  All the changes do is to give a feel for the direction that DKs are heading in, they do nothing to define DPS output, threat generation or survivability.  We know nothing about the numbers involved.  Just because Icy Touch currently does x amount of damage with a threat multiplier of y whilst in Frost Presence, that doesn't mean that those numbers are going to correlate to what we're going to see when we're big, grown up level 85s.

Are Death Knights going to be broken?  No.  Are they going to be perfectly balanced when Cataclysm drops? No.  Is everyone going to be happy?  No.  Are the game designers going to do their best to keep Death Knighting fun and flashy?  I'm pretty sure that they will manage that!

I'm just going to cover the new abilities today - there's an awful lot of things that could be said about about the whole preview and if I attempted to do it in one go then I'd end up glossing over a lot of stuff or have a massive post that takes days to write...

First up is...

Outbreak (level 81): Outbreak infects the target with both Frost Fever and Blood Plague at no rune cost. This ability allows death knights to apply diseases quickly when they are switching targets or when their diseases have been dispelled.

This is going to have no rune/runic power cost and a 60 second cooldown.  Ranged attack?  Melee?  Don't know.

This is going to have a number of uses, but due to that one minute cooldown it won't relegate all our other disease applying abilities to the bin.  If we want Frost Fever on a target, we use Icy Touch, Chains of Ice or glyphed Howling Blast.  To get Blood Plague onto a target, it's Plague Strike or nothing.  Glyph of  Disease on our Pestilence lets us refresh our diseases at the cost of one Blood Rune.  Hopefully these are going to stick around (with the exception of that Chains of Ice thing... not always what you want!)

Outbreak, will have a few uses: First off, getting your diseases onto your target in half the time in PvP.  I suck at PvP and know nothing about it so I won't comment any further.  Secondly, as a DPS it means that I can get stuck right into my F-U pair attacks without losing one because I have to get the diseases up - also saves me a global cooldown.  The other use will be as an "Oh Crap!" button when tanking or DPSing because if I've got distracted and let the diseases fall off, I have to start over and fix things.  If I need some fast Death Strike healing at that point, then I'm sorted!

Necrotic Strike (level 83): Necrotic Strike is a new attack that deals weapon damage and applies a debuff that absorbs an amount of healing based on the damage done. For context, imagine that the death knight can choose between doing 8,000 damage outright with a certain ability, or dealing 6,000 damage and absorbing 4,000 points in incoming heals with Necrotic Strike -- the burst is smaller, but a larger overall amount of healing would be required to bring the target back to full health. 

Yeah... okay... I guess.  It's Mortal Strike for Death Knights pretty much...  PvPers will probably like it but It's rarely going to come into use in PvE.  There's the occasional encounter where a boss heals itself, but the numbers that we're looking at here; boss HP and healing vs. the healing absorption amount will mean that it's squarely aimed at the PvP brigade.  Good on 'em!  Make sure that you use it on every gnome that you see, please.

Dark Simulacrum (level 85): The death knight strikes a target, applying a debuff that allows the death knight to copy the opponent's next spell cast and unleash it. Unlike Spell Reflection, Dark Simulacrum does not cancel the incoming spell. In general, if you can't reflect an ability, you won't be able to copy it either. 

This could be interesting depending on a couple of things:  First of all, how many spells are subject to Spell Reflection?  Secondly, when the debuff is on a target do we copy the spell no matter who it's cast at?  These questions are going to determine whether it's yet another PvP ability, a PvP and a PvE tanking ability or something that we can all use... time will tell...

Maybe I'll have a look at the Rune system changes soon...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Blood Bomb!


I didn't see that one coming.

Let's cut to the chase. The (proposed) Death Knight changes in Cataclysm are getting announced tomorrow, but one change was considered to be so big and would threaten to overwhelm all the rest of the changes in a nuclear fireball of a flame-war, that is was released a couple of days early to get people to simmer down a bit and focus on other things as well.

So, what is this change?

Blood is going to be the Death Knight tanking spec in Cataclysm.

I was rather surprised by this, not because people haven't thought that a particular spec could become a tanking spec - they have on many occasions; the reason that I was surprised was that every time that it got mentioned, people would loudly proclaim that Blizzard would never do it and the whole point of the Death Knight class was that Blood, Frost and Unholy were designed to be viable as both DPS and tanking specs.

Here's how tanking specs have worked in Wrath so far: first of all you set up your "unholy trinity" of 5/5/5 (or preferably 5/8/5 if you had any sense), this was absolutely mandatory - no arguments allowed, you don't have these talents and you're not allowed to outside to play with your friends...

After that, you zoom up your tree of choice depending on how you want your tank to work:  High survival with self healing, larger HP pool and excellent cooldowns for Blood, snap AoE aggro and more avoidance for Frost or crazy AoE disease threat and a pet ghoul for Unholy.  You chop and change between your survival and threat generation abilities as well as picking up the odd useful ability from low down in another tree.  The thing that I've liked about Death Knight tanking is the design flexibility, there's no cookie-cutter tanking spec - you pick and choose to match your needs and preferences.

After four years of gameplay, Blizzard tried to introduce a class with a flexible talent tree.  After two years of tweaks, buffs and nerfs, they've thrown in the towel.

There are two obvious reasons for this that I can see:

 The first being the constant nightmare of a balancing act that the designers have obviously had in trying to make everything viable, resulting in drastic changes since the class launch which are then inflicted on the players.  I've heard that coping with these changes has been described as "a challenge".  The end result as of patch 3.3.3 is that if you want to tank end-game content, you go Blood, if you want to blast though 5-man heroics, you go Frost, if you want to have small children stare at you and throw stuff at you, you go Unholy...

The second obvious reason is going to be the Mastery stat that is coming along in Cataclysm.  With Mastery basically making you better at what you do (depending on your main tree specialisation), how do you get it to differentiate between having to do two things at once?  With a pure DPS tree, it's easy - Mastery just makes you better at killing things, a pure tanking tree lets you survive and generate threat better... how on earth do you get Mastery to work with this system?

The answer has finally been revealed:  You can't.

So, whilst we've lost some flexibility and customisation, hopefully we'll have some stability with Blood being the tanking tree, Frost being the Dual-Wield and Runic Power tree and Unholy being the disease and pet tree.

Not that it affects me... I'm a Blood tank and a Dual-Wield DPS Frost offspec anyway...  Unlife continues as normal...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Putting The Right Raid Buffs Together

Bunny ears... Easter eggs... Orc females...


Sooo... raid buffs, eh?

We all love them, they make those big numbers that we see flash across the screen even bigger than before and it means that we can get smacked around and pulverised a bit more before we're outside the instance, chatting to the Spirit Healer... again...

The big question is, do we need them?  If so, which ones do we need?  Are there any that we can cope without?

This is an attempt to list the raid buffs that are pretty essential to raiding, I'm not planning on covering every single buff; there are a lot of them out there!  This list should go some way to making sure that we can get the job done.

Do We Need Raid Buffs?

Not all of the time, no.  It all depends on the gear that the raid party has, compared to the level of the instance.  If you're running through Naxxramas wearing Tier 10 gear, then missing buffs isn't going to make much of a difference... unless you go and do something really stupid...  An Icecrown Citadel run with a raid team wearing Tier 9 gear is seriously going to want to do whatever it can to maximise its raid buffs, however.

At the moment, raids such as Trial of the Grand Crusader push our guild to the limits of our raiding capability; there's very little margin for error in tactics, excecution, gear or buffs for us.  Even with the best team that we can muster, one slip up we could just about get away with, any more than that and it's time to call a wipe.  In cases such as that, we want everything that we can get.

Which Buffs Do We Need?

For some time now, Blizzard's game designers have apparently been working with a policy that has become known as "Bring the Player - Not the Class."  Now, this is a source for seemingly endless arguements both for and against this design policy, one of the benefits is that raid makeup does not need to be precisely engineered as has been required in the past.  You can possibly get away with taking that Retribution Paladin (or whatever) for the last slot, whereas previously you would have reserved it for that Boomkin that you desperately needed for its Moonkin Aura.  That 5% crit bonus?  The Elemental Shaman that you've got is providing that with Elemental Oath.

A lot of buffs don't stack on WoW, that previously mentioned 5% crit buff is a 5% crit buff whether you brought your Crit Chicken or your Elemental Shammy with you or even if you brought both of them.  So why waste a raid slot on redundant buffs and miss out on a different class's buffs?  As I said earlier, it all depends on how much you need to maximise your buffs to get the job done.

Here's the list... take a deep breath and take it all in...

Armor Debuff (Major):  Acid Spit (exotic Hunter pet), Expose Armor, Sunder Armor

Armor Debuff (Minor):  Faerie Fire, Sting (Hunter pet), Curse of Recklessness

Melee Haste Buff:  Improved Icy Talons, Windfury Totem

Melee Critical Strike Buff:  Leader of the Pack, Rampage

Attack Power Buff (Flat Add):  Battle Shout, Blessing of Might

Attack Power Buff (Scaling):  Abomination's Might, Trueshot Aura, Unleashed Rage

Bleed Damage Increase Debuff:  Mangle, Trauma

Spell Haste Buff:  Wrath of Air Totem

Spell Critical Strike Buff:  Moonkin Aura, Elemental Oath

Spell Critical Strike Buff (individual): Focus Magic,

Spell Critical Strike Chance Debuff:  Improved Scorch, Winter's Chill

Increased Spell Damage Taken Debuff:  Ebon Plaguebringer, Earth and Moon, Curse of the Elements

Increased Spell Power Buff:   Flametongue Totem, Totem of Wrath, Demonic Pact

Increased Spell Hit Chance Taken Debuff:  Improved Faerie Fire, Misery

Percentage Haste Increase (All Types):  Swift Retribution

Percentage Damage Increase:  Ferocious Inspiration, Sanctified Retribution

Critical Strike Chance Taken Debuff (All types):  Heart of the CrusaderTotem of Wrath

Melee Attack Speed Slow Debuff : Improved Icy TouchInfected Wounds, Judgements of the JustImproved Thunderclap

Melee Hit Chance Reduction Debuff:  Insect Swarm, Scorpid Sting

Healing Debuff:  Wound Poison, Aimed Shot, Mortal Strike, Furious Attacks

Attack Power Debuff:  Demoralizing Roar, Curse of Weakness, Improved Demoralizing Shout

Stat Multiplier Buff:  Blessing of Kings

Stat Add Buff:  Mark of the Wild

Agility and Strength Buff:  Strength of Earth Totem, Horn of Winter

Stamina Buff:  Power Word: Fortitude

Health Buff:  Commanding Shout, Blood Pact

Intellect Buff:  Arcane Intellect, Fel Intelligence

Spirit Buff:  Divine Spirit, Fel Intelligence

Damage Reduction Percentage Buff:  Blessing of Sanctuary

Percentage Increase Healing Received Buff:  Tree of Life, Improved Devotion Aura

Cast Speed Slow:  Curse of Tongues, Slow,

Quite a list, eh?

The important thing to note is the no-stacking rule; you only get the benefit of the most powerful buff in each category, so if you've got a warrior providing Battle Shout, don't go hassling your one and only paladin for Blessing of Might and calling them a noob because they gave you Blessing of Kings instead - you'll just make yourself look silly...

On the other hand, if you have enough paladins to go around, why not have one slap Blessing of Might on the people that need it and let that warrior focus on doing what he does best instead of being distracted by having to keep battle shout up all of the time - it works both ways.

The other thing that you will hopefully notice is that a lot of the time, the numbers under each category are the same.  Funny that, eh?  If you look at the "Melee Attack Speed Slow Debuff" category, you'll see that they all slow the target's melee attack speed by 20%.  If you look a little closer, you will see that the classes/specs that are capable of applying this debuff are all four (or six, if you want to be picky) tank specs.  

Are There Any Buffs That We Can Do Without?


Now, your high-end-world-first-type raiding guild will be on the ball and have maximised every single buff that they use.  That's what they do.  No point in wasting talent points in the "improved" version of the buff that you provide, if someone else can provide an equally good buff.  Go back to the trainer and re-spec into something more useful, please...

For us mere mortals this isn't necessary, but a nice balance of buffs would go a long way towards efficient raiding.  Sure, you can put a raid together comprised of nothing other than Druids or Paladins, but it wouldn't be terribly efficient.

And can you imagine being in that all Pally raid and not getting all four blessings?  Because you know that's going to happen... (get Pally Power will you, guys?)

As an aside, three of the buffs listed above are only provided by one class: Priest for Power Word: Fortitude, Paladin for Blessing of Kings and Druid for Mark of the Wild.  Because of this you can get hold of slightly lower powered versions of them from Scrolls or Drums, so there's no excuse not to have them.

I have to admit though, every time I get Caffeine-Free Diet Blessing of Kings from the drums, I pull a sad face for a couple of seconds.


There's a lot going on in the world of raid buffs and it's an bit of a nightmare for raid leaders to set up a group that has a good chance of clearing content.  If you're a Druid/Warrior/whatever and a raid leader doesn't pick you for a raid, don't go getting upset.  Sure, you have every right to be disappointed - that's the appropriate reaction to have, but the decision may have been made simply because you're a Druid/Warrior/Whatever and there are already enough of them in the raid.

The other thing to consider is checking that the spec you've chosen is one that will provide bonuses to the entire raid, sometimes at the cost of personal bonuses.  Raiding is teamwork and most of the time, picking up a talent that will give the raid a 2% bonus to something is far more beneficial than picking up a talent giving a 5% bonus to something that will affect you and you alone.

Bottom line: Raid smart!