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Archive for August, 2009

It took me quite a while to decide what to write about next, but having settled into raiding with my new guild and downed all the Crusader bosses I figured this would be a good time to take a look at what has changed since 3.2 and my impressions of the new raid so far, in much the same vein as my last post on 3.2. Yes, Cataclysm has been announced, but all I’d really be writing about if I covered that would be stuff you’ve probably already read about! Suffice to say I’m really looking forward to the expansion and excited to see how stuff like guild levelling and the Mastery system plays out.

So, without further ado;

Flash Heal

But why?

But why?

Why? Good question.

About a week after 3.2 hit, the Glyph of Flash Heal made its glorious return to my talent pane. I’ve replaced Glyph of PoH with something that I once told you “just wasn’t worth it”. This means that something must have drastically changed – because let’s face it, the PoH glyph was pretty insane back in the day.

The key in this glyph puzzle is the 3.2 nerf to Penance. Back in 3.1 with Penance on a ~6 second cooldown, (6.4 if you’re a pedant like me,) tank healing wasn’t really much of a problem. We could throw a Penance on the tank every 5 or 6 GCDs, and provided we kept Shield/Renew/PoM up whenever possible, keeping that tank alive was an absolute breeze. In 10-mans, we could solo tank-heal no problem. In 25-mans, we could support the other tank healer and have plenty of time to shield the raid, safe in the knowledge that a tank death in-between Penance cooldowns was very unlikely.

But then Blizzard increased the cooldown by one precious GCD. Suddenly tank deaths in-between Penances became a possibility – especially considering Coliseum bosses are hitting harder. What fills the gap between Penances if the tank is in danger of dying? Yep, you guessed it. Flash Heal.

Flash Heal has suddenly rocketed up my healing charts and thanks to the Replenishment nerf, it was increasingly correlating with me running on fumes at the end of hardmodes. Fights like XT and Steelbreaker became battles to do as little overhealing as possible in an attempt to conserve mana. Despite hitting ~26k mana raid buffed with the +int elixir and getting in two Shadowfiends per fight, (along with the odd lucky Alchemist’s Potion double-mana proc,) I was really struggling at the end of those fights. Enter Glyph of Flash Heal, and now I’m just that bit more comfortable.

Trial of the Crusader – Impressions So Far

He's the new Heigan!

He's the new Heigan!

First things first – yes, I hate the artificial gate system too. Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word, but it seems counterintuitive to release one boss per week when the ones you put in are so, so easy. Many guilds are already getting the normal-mode achievements (things like Upper Back Pain and Three-Sixty Pain Spike) just because they “feel like having a go” and proceed to one-shot them. It remains to be seen how difficult the hard-mode bosses are, but I’d imagine they’ll just be the same mechanics with slightly increased damage. Doubtless having said that, Blizzard will prove me wrong – but given the current difficulty and the time we’ve had to practice on them, I still imagine it will be a race for server firsts rather than “the best guilds” getting them.

Anyway, as for what the raid is actually like – it’s really fun! I’m enjoying it, despite the system of progress. Many of the encounters – things like Jaraxxus, Faction Champs and the Val’kyr – strike me as the sort of fights that simply require good organisation rather than good gear to beat. Faction Champions is just about my favourite of the four fights so far, and take note here DPriests, it’s a fight that we absolutely destroy. Blizzard have to tune the fight so that the AI will set up spikes on players, but it can’t be crazy enough to give the healers no time to react. This means that you’ll see when people start to die, all you have to do is shield them – which essentially lowers the reaction time required by the other healers. With the lack of cooldown on shields and the lack of an aggro table for the fight, they’re super-spammable and make the encounter a lot easier.

Jaraxxus comes a close second in that there’s a lot of movement required and I always have to react to something – the style of the fight led me to describe it to someone as “Shade of Aran with adds”. That might not seem too accurate at first glance, but just cast your mind back to Zelda games (if you’ve ever played any). The boss did some kind of special attack, you reacted in a set way. It’s very black-and-white gameplay, as opposed to fights like the Faction Champs or the Jormungar where your strategy needs to be fluent, for want of a better word (we found that Ventrilo was a massive help for those fights). With Jaraxxus;

a) Someone gets a debuff, they run to the wall.

b) Someone gets a different debuff, healers heal them.

c) He casts a fireball, someone interrupts.

etc.

See what I’m getting at? There’s no room for different reactions, it’s just cut-and-dry. I almost enjoy it more that way.

Then there’s the Beasts encounter. This is relatively fun (and kindly asking your tanks to swap at 3 debuffs instead of 5 makes it a hell of a lot easier) and strikes me as “the new Heigan” – see picture. Icehowl is the third phase of the encounter, after you’ve downed the Magnataur and the two Jormungar. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m saying this… let’s face it, Heigan is a unique fight! Two things make me say this – the first is that Icehowl can, up to a point, be killed with as many or as few people alive as possible. The first week of 3.2, my old guild’s first Icehowl kill was with 5 people alive at the start and 4 at the end.

The second point is that in theory, Icehowl’s big gimmick is just as avoidable as the eruptions in Heigan’s dance phase… but people still die to it. Provided you’ve got a Hunter in your group and the tank positions himself correctly, someone dying shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not going to lie, I’ve died to it once! But that was lag on the stun debuff wearing off, so it doesn’t count. 🙂

Finally, the Twin Val’kyr. An interesting concept for a fight, but sadly far, far too easy provided your raid has the DPS to break their heal shields and people are quick to react to the floating orbs. I hadn’t popped a single mana cooldown and I was still at half mana when the fight finished! We almost got the 10-man achievement, but a couple of our DPS were offspec and not pushing as much as the guys in our guild’s other raid group, who got the 3-minute kill without a problem on their first attempt. Frankly, I think that if there was no shared health pool, they had to die within X seconds of each other then the fight and there was a strict 3-minute enrage (on hardmode) then it would become much more interesting, but still fairly easy.

EDIT: This was written before the Val’kyr were fixed. The healing in this fight is now what I’d call “stressful”. 🙂

The Truth About the Penance Nerf

Something struck me the other day when I was thinking about this post and how I was using Flash Heal more. I imagined myself sat in the Blizzard design offices, balancing Penance. Why would I nerf it? Sure, it was pretty overpowered, but it was the only way we could heal tanks effectively. And that’s just the thing, folks. They nerfed Penance to make sure we were staying in the role they designed us for – a mix of healing on the tank and raid support. Think of that extra GCD as a choice – if the tank needs healing, we can use it to heal him. If he doesn’t, we can throw out another shield.

But gone are the days when we can just main-tank heal in 25-mans. I was put on our Steelbreaker tank the other day and let me tell you, it’s no longer easy to solo tank-heal or be the main MT healer. I got switched to our OT and could suddenly shield the raid a whole lot more – and we instantly made it to phase 3 as opposed to wiping on phase 2. Let’s look at Penance and FH;

Penance: Heals an MT faster than they take damage (net increase on their health)

Flash Heal: Heals an MT slightly slower than they take damage (net decrease on their health)

Imagine, for the purposes of this exercise, the MT is taking a constant stream of damage instead of 20k chunks. We pop Penance, the tank goes back to full health. As the main MT healer, we have a choice here. We can either pause to shield the raid and then have to spam-heal the MT to keep him alive, (thereby completely killing our mana bar and risking a tank death,) or keep Flash Healing the tank to make it much smoother for the MT and not shield the raid. We can only do one or the other now. Remember 3.1, when we could use Penance on every cooldown and be able to throw out some shields on the raid? We weren’t a good raid healer, and now we’re just a slightly worse Holy Paladin as a tank healer.

So there it is, the truth about the Penance nerf. It may have been to make DPriests a little less scary in PvP, but in PvE it was to reinforce where we should be in raids. Ladies and gents, the day I get told by my RL “just do whatever you want” I will be a happy man.

— Roble

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Last night, I took part in a curious raid.

It was the first experience of raiding with my shiny new guild Absolute on Kazzak, and I’ll start by saying that it was a blast. Very relaxed atmosphere and largely sensible raiding added up to a fun evening’s 10-mannage of Ulduar. We jogged through a few hardmodes, but had nowhere near an optimal setup for… well, for anything! We didn’t even have Replenishment. This made it both fun and kind of frustrating at the same time – it added a completely unnecessary challenge, (which is great fun if you know it’s coming,) but on the other hand I was going out of mana three quarters of the way through many fights. You don’t realise how important something is until it’s gone, right?

Anyway, I digress. Not having Replenishment on three-healer fights (one Priest respecced Shadow for Hodir) was a big issue, but what hindered us more early on was that we had two Discipline Priests. Our setup for XT and IC was two DPriests and one drunk, Scottish-sounding Holy Paladin. It reminded me of how I had said I was going to do a post on this, so I promptly got my ideas together and started writing!

So, Big Question – why don’t Discipline Priests “stack” well in a raid? Let’s take a quick look at all our buffs, and what impact a second DPriest has on them.

Renewed Hope: 3% damage reduction on the entire raid when we shield (so that’s basically all the time). A second stack of this would be lovely, right? Unfortunately they don’t overlap – a second DPriest shielding won’t give you an extra 3% reduction, it’ll just restart the buff’s duration. Because we’re throwing shields out for raid support, there’s almost no downtime on this – I even preshield most tanks now, so there’s not even any downtime on the pull. Benefit of bringing another DPriest? None whatsoever.

Shields: The defining spell of the Discipline tree, every one of us will be rolling these on raid members, left right and centre. Bringing another DPriest means more shield coverage on the raid, right? The answer is “yes, up to a point”. The key here is the Weakened Soul debuff, which pays no regard whatsoever to which Priest shielded the player it’s applied to! If you shield a guy, he gets the debuff and nobody else can shield him until it wears off.

The obvious problem this presents is on tanks. We shield them every 15 seconds anyway, because that’s what we do – so there’s going to be some overlap on the tank shielding. For 25-mans, raid shielding is a little more flexible because different DPriests can take different sections of the raid, leading to really incredible absorption capability. That only works for predictable AoE damage, though – single target stuff like Light Bombs, Gravity Bombs and Razorscale Fireballs don’t benefit at all from having a second DPriest around, because only one of you gets to shield that guy!

As for 10-mans, the advantage is even less. In many AoE damage situations, I’m shielding a large portion of the raid so long as I can stay off the tanks for a while, and there won’t be much left for the other guy to chew on.

So, benefit of taking a second DPriest? Negligible.

Rapture: See above. With the lack of a second shield, Rapture also has similarly diminished effects on both tanks and raid members. There’s no additional rage or RP generation on the tanks, but it’s worth mentioning that you can “aim” the Rapture proc on two low mana raid members instead of one.

Grace: As far as I know, Grace stacks independently for each Priest, which means that two stacks of Grace can be active on one target. You won’t benefit from the other Priest’s stack, but it will allow both Priests to put Grace on the tank. But wait – isn’t this exactly what would happen normally? There’s no extra benefit from bringing the second DPriest, Grace is just an innate talent that increases our throughput. So while Grace isn’t harmed by bringing the second DPriest, it doesn’t benefit.

Divine Aegis: Not affected by the second DPriest. If the DA procs were to add to each other’s “stack”, then you might in some exceptional situations hit the 10k single-target stack cap, but each Priest’s aegis stacks separately so I don’t believe it makes any difference. As this is effectively just a straight throughput increase, having another DPriest doesn’t really get any benefit from this.

Just look down that list – many Discipline buffs and quirks have their effects reduced or negated by a second DPriest in the raid! This is why Discipline is often seen as a “niche” role, and you’ll find that the majority of upper-level raid leaders are very reluctant to take two of us to the same raid. Frankly, I don’t blame them.

But on the off chance that your guild has more than one of our kind, in what kind of situations would taking more than one be good? Where can you wangle your way into a raid with a fellow DPriest? Basically, any 25-man fight where there’s a lot of predictable AoE damage going around – when the healing isn’t required on the tanks, the overlapping shields aren’t as much of an issue and you can coordinate which groups to shield with your fellow Discipline club member. 🙂

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WARNING: There are many numbers in this post!

You may have noticed that I didn’t make a 3.2 “preview” thread, for the simple reason that I knew whatever I said would probably be wrong. It’s easy to look at changes on a piece of paper and say “that’s a nerf” but it’s often tough to know how it plays out until you get some playtime with the finished product. Having never transferred a character to the PTR before, I decided not to change that this time around and just waited until the patch went live before giving my initial impressions. I’ll be covering three topics today – the direct changes to Priests that affect Discipline players, the mana regen changes and the new 5-man dungeon. I’m not going to be covering the new raid yet, as I haven’t had a chance to try it! So, without further ado;

Priest Changes

The changes that affected Discipline in 3.2 were few and far between. While other classes like Death Knights got a veritable myriad of tweaks, Priests only really got two big changes. Our Shield Glyph causing Divine Aegis is nice, but ultimately that’s just a fairly small throughput increase. Nice, but not game-changing. The two really big changes were the addition of 2 seconds to our Penance cooldown and the reduction of our Prayer of Healing “spell coefficient”. I’d put both of these into the Small Nerf category – but how much do they affect gameplay?

Penance Cooldown: Cooldown increased from 10 to 12 seconds. Thanks to talents and glyphs, this a 1.6 second increase (percentages and stuff always screw things over) which effectively gives us an extra general-cooldown in between Penances. In reality? It’s not that big a change. I ran Ulduar 10 last night and got through a few hardmodes – keeping the tank up was never a problem. If he needed some more healing, I’d throw in an extra Flash Heal. If he didn’t, I’d throw out an extra Shield. It might take a little while to get used to, but it’s not a horrendous nerf!

Prayer of Healing Coefficient: “Coefficient” often conjures up nightmarish images of algebra lessons back at school. So I’ll break it down for you.

The “spellpower coefficient” of a healing or damage spell is the percentage of your spellpower that spell gains in damage/healing done. For example, say there’s a spell that does 500 base healing and has a 50% spellpower coefficient. With 2000 spellpower, that spell heals for 1500 (500 base + 50% of 2000) – with 3000, it heals for 2000. Now the change to Prayer of Healing reduced the spellpower coefficient from roughly 80% to roughly 50% (exact numbers 80.7 to 52.6) per target.

In 3.1, every time you used PoH, it would do the base healing + 80.7% of your spellpower in healing on each target, which made it quite overpowered – especially when hasted by Borrowed Time or Serendipity. In 3.2, it does base healing + 52.6%. So for a 2k spellpower geared Priest specced the same as me, you’ll see a reduction on each target of about 560 healing per target. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s pretty damn big. Considering that it also affects our PoH glyph, it’s even worse. The one saving grace is that as Discipline Priests, this isn’t quite as big a change as it is for our Holy counterparts, who I imagine are sobbing into their Sunny Ds.

So how does this affect our playstyle? Not a whole lot, I’ll be honest. It just places more importance on shielding properly. All in all, while the changes are clearly an overall nerf, it’s nothing we can’t deal with.

Mana Regen

A curious thing happened to mp5 in this patch. You may have noticed that all your pieces of gear on them with mp5 have had that stat buffed by roughly a quarter. Not Spirit. Oh no, that would be imbalanced because Holy priests would get an extra X spellpower which would completely negate the PoH nerf. This completely solidifies Spirit’s place as the worst regen stat. It’s now absolutely “incredibad”, as the Lonely Island would say. But with the nerf to replenishment, has mp5 become the better regen stat?

Let’s take a look at a 20k mana Blood Elf DPriest, which is what I’m running (and is by far the best PvE healing Priest race, by the way!).

One Intellect: Gives 16.5 mana (Blessing of Kings included) – 0.04125 mp5 from Arcane Torrent, 0.165 mp5 from Replenishment, 0.0345 mp5 from Hymn of Hope (including the mana increase and extra Replenishment gains during it,)  and 0.1375 mp5 from Shadowfiend, 0.066 mp5 if you’re in a group with a Resto Shaman and a marginal increase from spirit-based regen. This totals roughly 0.44 mp5 = 1 point of intellect. In reality? We can add slightly more to this, as this assumes you pop every cooldown as soon as it comes off cooldown, whereas we actually get an “extra” usage due to the fact that they’re off cooldown at the start of the fight. We’re probably looking at one point of mp5 is equal to something like 1.5 points of intellect.

EDIT: Thanks to Niefe for pointing out there’s a +15% intellect from talents, boosting it to roughly 0.5 mp5 for one point of Intellect. I also forgot Rapture and several other small pieces of the puzzle. If you’d like a much more accurate analysis, Zusterke does some excellent number-crunching in the comments section.

So it’s a toss up, but more importantly the +intellect bonus on gems is, I believe, still superior to +mp5 for DPriests. It’s pretty close, but I’d wager intellect is still better.

As for how mana regen actually works out during fights? I’ve hardly noticed a difference. For all Blizzard’s attempts to nerf regen on healers, I’m now sitting at 500 mp5 base before we even consider intellect/cooldown regen. I can breeze through hardmodes with 24-25k mana raid-buffed (so much so that I’ve forgone +int potions for now to go pure SP flask). If you’re going out of mana, you’re really just undergeared for the instance you’re in!

The New 5-Man: Impressions

It's a bit dull...

It's a bit dull...

Don’t get me wrong from that picture – if you haven’t gone and done the new 5-man, try it! It’s a boatload of fun, especially the joust bit at the start. The thing is, it’s just not Ulduar. The scenery’s pretty dull, which is a stark contrast to the luxurious decor of the big 3.1 addition. All in all, it kind of feels like this is a filler patch for 3.3, that Blizzard are concentrating most of their efforts on a big Black-Temple-style finale (although the speed at which these patches are coming out suggests to me that there’ll be a 3.4 as well).

The difficulty of the 5-man is pretty comparable to most other heroics. It’s certainly not a Magister’s Terrace equivalent, and stuff like kiting the Ghouls around in the last fight is really optional provided you’ve got a decent geared healer who stays on his toes. I just advance shielded everyone, threw out PoM/PoH and didn’t experience any problems at all with wipes and the like on bosses (although we did wipe once in the heroic version when we experienced some problems with the trash MCing our tank). Fun, worth it and some good iLvl gear if you have a couple of pieces that need replacing – but not one of Blizzard’s best instances.

Next on the drawing board are articles on UI and why two DPriests in one guild causes problems – let me know if you’ve got any preferences!

— Roble

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