Monday, July 25, 2011

Lunar Shower Symmetry

Sorry guys, I was on vacation the last week and didn't have anything prepared to post while I was gone. Plus my internet availability was horrible so I wasn't able to respond to the one bit of moonkin news that did happen. Anyway here is a bit of a catch up.

Lunar Shower Redux:

I'm sure everyone has seen this by now, but if you haven't:
Moonfire will now generate Lunar Energy when crossing from Solar to Lunar on the Eclipse bar. (src)
I know some of you have been a little surprised by the lack of talk regarding this hotfix. After all it is an issue that moonkin have been complaining about since the early days of the 4.2 PTR. I'm not all that surprised that the community has been relatively quite about this hotfix. I think almost every moonkin will be happy with this update. However, it doesn't do a whole lot to change how we value the talent.

In a strange way patch 4.2 showed us how poor a talent Lunar Shower has been all along. Prior to the latest patch we always picked it up because there was no reason not to. The other options we had were fairly poor, and it did provide a nice utility. Once Blizzard added a downside to picking up the talent, we had to reevaluate it's benefits and the truth became clear. The main thing people were using Lunar Shower for was to delay Eclipse transitions. Since that was being removed as a possibility in 4.2 then Lunar Shower didn't provide a whole lot of value.

For example, lets take a look at the Firelands bosses.

Shannox: On normal mode it's a multi-dot fight and therefore bad for Lunar Shower. On heroic mode it's a single target fight, which means LS isn't a liability, but Shannox doesn't necessarily have a ton of movement either. In short, it doesn't hurt to have it on heroic mode, but the benefit it provides isn't huge either.

Rhyolith: This is a multi-dot fight in heroic mode which makes LS a liability, but there is quite a bit of movement as well.

Beth'tilac: As a moonkin, I've been used primarily as add control. Therefore, I want to get in solar and stay in solar. I haven't attempted this fight in heroic mode yet, so I don't know if it changes, but I can't see LS being a big help here.

Alysrazor: Having one feather allows you to cast while moving, completely removing any benefit of having Lunar Shower.

Baleroc: It's a single target fight but there is no real movement involved. Lunar Shower isn't a liability, but it doesn't help either.

Staghelm: There is some movement, but there is also some multi-dotting. Once a gain there is no big reason to have Lunar Shower.

Ragnaros: This is a big fight with a lot of movement, but I'm not sold on using Lunar Shower for it. For a lot of the big Movement phases I'm putting down Mushrooms while I move because I either need their AoE damage, or I need their slows. There aren't a ton of multi-dotting options in the fight, but I also don't see a lot of time where I will be spamming Moonfire either.

When I look at these fights, I see several where LS is a liability, and a few where it shouldn't have any impact at all. In the other fights where it could have an impact there are other limiting factors, and when I've looked at log data, I just don't see that much potential for DPS gain. In short, even with symmetrical power generation, Lunar Shower doesn't provide a while lot of DPS potently or utility. So, while the change is welcome, it doesn't fix all of the talents problems.

Gear List and Stat Weights:

Several people have sent me emails talking about the gear lists and the weights I use to rank the items. First of all thanks for everyone then sent in a correction or addition. I knew about most of them, but some times it takes a while to get things changed. I apologize the for the delay and appreciate your patience. That said it should be completely up-to-date and with all the locations included as of now. If you do find a mistake please let me know.

I also got a couple of emails disagreeing with how I've ranked the items in the list. I won't address any of them specifically, but would like to make a general comment. Prior to Cataclysm the ranking was very straight forward, but reforging changed all that. Now there are a lot ways that all of the items on the list could be reforged to change the value and where they rank on the list. However, I have to pick one way and live with it. I don't have the technical know-how to create list that you could sort yourself, adjust the weights or apply your own reforging strategies. However, WoWhead has some good tools if you would like to play around with that sort of thing.

Second, I agree that the high value of hit over inflates items with spirit and hit rating on it, and it skews the list in a way I don't like. However, I don't think Hit Capping is such a no brainer that I can just ignore it from the ranking as of yet.

Molten Front Vendors:

Several people have asked which Molten Front vendors they should unlock first once they get enough Marks of the World Tree. To be honest this isn't a big concern for me since the rewards they provide shouldn't really matter for Progression raiders, but I realize that some of my readers are alts and very casual raiders.

Which one you unlock first really depends on what you need.

Damek Bloombeard - Additional Armaments - Has the best overall item in the Fireplume Girdle, but he has only one item.

Ayla Shadowstorm - Filling the Moonwell - Has three items a moonkin can use, but that doesn't mean that you want to use any or all of them. The Relic can be replaced with Valor Points. There are plenty of ways to get good trinkets, and you only need an off hand if you are using a one handed weapon.

Varlan Highbough - Calling the Ancients - Has only a Crit/Mastery ring, and is likely the last vendor you would want to activate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is the Firelands to Easy?

If you take a quick look at you will see that 18 guilds went 6/7 in the first week that Hard Modes were available. Predictablely this has some players saying that Firelands is too easy, and we already have a blue response to this claim.

I am endlessly intrigued to find players judging the difficulty of the encounters and how long lived the content is by how pro players, some of the most skilled and focused players in the world, engage the content. It's a little like judging the difficulty of juggling eight chainsaws by what the best jugglers in the world can accomplish. Sure, it might be easy for them, but when was the last time you tried it?

The content wasn't designed to be 'quick'. It was designed to be epic, engaging, challenging and fun. It can accomplish those goals without being punishing.(src)
Call me a homer if you want, but I agree with Blizzard's take on this situation. I find it difficult to judge an entire tier on the progression of a few elite guilds. Here are my reasons why.

Elite Players vs. The Rest of Us:

Let me ask you this. What if a new golf course was opened in your area and as a promotion they had Tiger Woods come and play an early round to generate publicity. Would you say that the course was too easy if Tiger Woods hit 15 under par in that round? If the course was designed to be a championship level course then probably, but if it's intended to service the local population then maybe not.

If the WoW endgame was intended to test the most elite players then I would agree that Firelands is too easy, but that isn't the case. The raid encounters are designed with a broader population in mind.

The funnier part of this argument in my opinion is that as far as I know, the members of Paragon and the other 17 guilds that are 6/7 aren't the ones making this argument as of yet. If they want to say that Firelands is too easy, just as Ensidia did after Tier 7 content WotLK, then they may have a point since they've seen most of the content. However, many of the players I see complaining aren't even close to the 6/7 standard. I always think it's funny when players complain that they are bored or that content is to easy, when they haven't completed the content that is available to them. It's little like when my children tell me they don't like a food when they haven't even tasted it yet.

How Did They Get to 6/7 HM?

It’s also important to ask is how those guilds got to 6/7 in one week. We should remember that the Elite Guilds like Paragon approach new content much differently than a vast majority of guilds do.

PTR Experience: First and foremost, the Elite Guilds were on the PTR when most of the guilds are not. Tuesday July 5th wasn't the first time those guilds had seen these fights. So the first question is did they really get 6/7 after just one week of trying or do you have to consider the time they spent on the PTR. It's true that the PTR versions of these fights are not exactly the same as the Live versions, but the basic mechanics are the same. Adjusting to these modifications shouldn't be as difficult as learning the fight from scratch like a majority of guilds. I think it's very telling that the one fight that wasn't tested on the PTR is the only fight that wasn't killed last week.

Raiding Schedule: It's also very important to consider the elite guilds raid schedule. Blood Legion was already 2/7 Hard Modes before I left work last Tuesday. The elite guilds take extraordinary measures to get World Firsts at the start of a new raiding tier. They take of work and raid very long hours to try and get to kills first. I guarantee you that all 18 of those guilds at 6/7 raided at least 30 or 4o hours last week, and I would be willing to bet that many of them raided more than 60 hours last week. At the same time, most "Hardcore" guilds raid less then 20 hours a week now. Since the elite guilds put in significantly more hours you can't really compare the progression of more normal guilds to the elite guild, because their first week of raiding was equivalent to three weeks of raiding for the other guilds

Exploiting Staghelm: Being at the bleeding edge of content means that you encounter bugs and such before anyone else. Most of the time this isn't a good thing, every so often a guild comes up with a strategy that Blizzard hasn't thought of that significantly reduces the fight's difficulty. And in Firelands we have that situation with Majordomo Staghelm.

In case you hadn't heard there is a new Strategy that basically turns Majordomo Staghelm in to Patchwerk. If you've done the fight you know that it's a big dance switching him between forms with lots of stacking and spreading out. The longer he says in one form the more damage he deals and the more you switch him the more damage he deals. So the basic strat is to keep him in one form as long as you can take it and then switch.

In the new strat, guilds have used a Beast Master Hunter to tank the boss in Scorpion form with his pet. The Scorpion form's Flame Scythe is considered AoE damage and therefore didn't hit the pet. Every one else stands behind the boss doing as much DPS as possible without pulling threat off the pet. This basically takes every single one of the bosses abilities off the table. You don't have Cat form, Human form, or Flame Scythe. Since the raid is stacked behind the boss and not taking damage they also get full stacks of Concentration without any difficulty and can do 100% more damage. Literally, the fight is all about not pulling threat at this point.

Obviously this is a VERY clever strategy, but it's also clearly an exploit (though I doubt anyone will get banned for it). I guarantee you Blizzard won't be happy that someone discovered a way to completely avoid all of the bosses abilities and turn the fight into a tank and spank. I guarantee you that in the next few days you will see a hotfix that allows pets to get hit by Flame Scythe or something to that effect. So it's important to remember that some of the guilds that got to 6/7 this week got there because they used a strategy that most likely won't be available to the rest of us this week.

What Haven't We Seen?

WoW is six and a half years old, and in that time Blizzard has created hundreds of raid bosses. If you consider 5-mans that number goes even higher. At this point it's got to be difficult for Blizzard to come up with new abilities and fight mechanics that we haven't seen before or can't immediately throw into a bucket on how to deal with it. We have addons like Deadly Boss Mods and Power Auras that help us to know when we are standing in something bad or if there is an ability coming up that we need to avoid. If a mob needs to be kited or interrupted we have our go-to classes and players who we know can handle the job.

This isn't to say that Blizzard can't or won't come up with new and unique mechanics that will throw us for a loop. However, we as a player base are more educated about fight mechanics than we ever were in the past. When Blizzard throws a new ability at us most of the time it fits one of the standard buckets that informs us on how to deal with it. As a result high progression raiders are able to adapt to these new abilities more quickly than people who have not played as long or raided as much.

More 4.2 First Impressions:

I wanted this to be longer and its own post last week, but due to work issues that ship sailed. Anyway here are some quick thoughts on the other bosses in Firelands.

Alysrazor: I've done both aspects of this fight. I've been in the air and on the ground. From the ground it's a fairly standard fight. From the air, it's something completely new. To be honest I've found managing an Eclipse rotation while in the air to be quite difficult. Moving and casting the normal rotation at the same time is strange enough, but having to focusing on where the next Ring of Fire is took some of my attention away from making sure I was casting the correct spell.

Overall, I think it's a good fight, and I find the air phase very challenging. My main complaint would be that the Rings of Fire are a little difficult to see given that the entire zone is pretty much orange and they blend in pretty well to the scenery. I would like Blizzard to make them a little more visible.

Baleroc: It's probably different from the point of view of a tank or healer, but as a DPS I found this tank to be very disappointing. There's absolutely nothing to it as a DPSer. If your soaking a crystal all you have to do is make sure you keep the rotation straight. Other then that all you have to so is make sure your not near one of the spawn points and to make sure your not spread out to much to make the soaker's job difficult. Very simple in my opinion, and the heroic version doesn't sound all that impressive either.

Majordomo Staghelm: I've said in the past that my favorite fight of all time is Shade of Aran in Karazhan, and the dance of the Staghelm encounter reminds me of the dance of the Aran encounter. I like having the stack phase and then the spread phase. I like having to manage Searing Seeds and the Burning Orbs. All in all I like this fight.

Ragnaros: I have to say that this is a classic final boss encounter. It has multiple phases that build on each other. Lots of abilities to deal with. I think it has a good balance of complexity and difficulty and is a good fight. I'm not at all disappointed that my guild cleared it in the first week (without any PTR testing experience). As a guild who went 13/13 in tier 11 I think we should be able to pick up the normal modes quickly.

Heroic Shannox: Heroic Shannox was a little disappointing for me. I expected us to get him quicker. We spent about two hours using the wrong strat because we thought it was more like the normal version. Once we figured that out the fight went more smoothly. In generally I think it's a good fight for moonkin because it doesn't require a ton of movement, and our high amounts of damage reduction allow us to eat the immolation traps.

Heroic Rhyolith: We didn't kill this boss this week, but I think I've gotten a good impression of the fight. The heroic version is more complicated than I expected it to be. It's another good fight for moonkin if you can multi-dot and uses your utility well. Fungal Growth and Typhoon are great for dealing with the Obsidians. Our main issue was figuring out the steering and I think we figured that out and the end of our attempts this week. Hopefully he will go down quickly this week.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Stars' "World First"

If you haven't seen it already, MMO-Champion is reporting that the Taiwanese guild Stars has gotten the world first kill on Heroic mode Shannox yesterday. This is quite surprising. Not because Stars isn't a good guild. They are a very good guild, proven by their world first Yogg +0 kill back in WotLK. This is surprising because Firelands heroic modes shouldn't be available until next week. Apparently Stars had their raid ID reset by having the raid team faction transferring after they killed Ragnaros on normal mode.

After reading the post I had a lot of thoughts right away, but after reading some of the comments on the post I felt the need to address the idiocy that followed.

World First (*):

I haven't seen any indications that they did anything to exploit the actual fight. So yes, by most definitions this is a world first, but that doesn't mean it's significant. Finishing first in a race when you are the only one running isn't all that impressive. I am sure that Heroic Shannox is a difficult fight, but I am also sure that we will see several heroic mode kills next week when many more guilds have access to them. At the very least this is a kill with an asterisk, and no one is saying "awe shucks, Stars beat us to that one."

I also question how much do early heroic kills really matter? I am by no means saying that the early heroic modes are easy, but no one is measuring the T11 progression race by who got the first kill on Halfus. In fact, I bet that a lot of you couldn't tell me who got the first Heroic Halfus kill without looking at WoW Progress or guessing one of the five obvious names and getting lucky. At the same time, I think that a lot more of you would be able to tell me who got the world first Sinestra kill without looking or guessing. The fact of the matter is that the progression race isn't measured by how you start, but by how you finish. So, even if this kill of Shannox wasn't controversial, it still probably wouldn't be all that important in the long run because this tier is going to be measure by who kills Ragnaros first.

However, while I don't think a lot of the elite guilds are all that upset about being beaten to a world first Shannox kill, I guarantee you that they are upset that Stars has gotten access to heroic gear a week earlier then everyone else. It's true that player skill is more important than gear in general, but at these elite levels of play the differences in skill are very small, so little advantages like having slightly better gear could have a significant impact on who gets that world first Ragnaros kill.

After considering all of this, I don't understand why Stars would change factions to get a new raid ID. The best case scenario is that Blizzard takes no action against them, and they get to keep the gear they gained as a result. However, the primary reward for winning the progression race is respect, but by winning the race this way they would ultimately lose the respect of their peers. Worst case scenario, is that Blizzard bans them for some period of time and takes away their gear and achievements. If this is the case then they are out the money they spent to transfer and possibly lose a raid week depending on how long the ban is for. To me it looks like they had very little to gain, but a lot to lose.

Exploit vs "Clever Use of Game Mechanics"

In my opinion, this will probably go down as an exploit. Some people are arguing that this isn't an exploit because Stars was just using the processes that Blizzard put in place. However, I have a hard time seeing how this would fall under the "Clever use of Game Mechanics" category.

It's important to note that "Clever use of Game Mechanics" doesn't mean that if it's possible it's allowed. There are a plenty of examples of players being banned for things that were possible. The most prominent example is Ensidia being banned for their World First kill of Normal Lich King, when they used Saronite Bombs to cause the platform to reform and trivialize phase 2 of the encounter. So, how is this different then Paragon stacking their raid with 13 feral druids to kill heroic Nafarian?

In my opinion, "Clever use of Game Mechanics" is best defined as using game, class, and encounter mechanics in an intended way, but producing unintended results. The Ensidia LK example violates this definition because the outer platforms were not intended to reform during that phase, and the Saronite bombs caused the encounter to behave in an unintended way.

The Paragon/Nefarian example is different, because all of the mechanics were used as intended. The Stolen Power buff is intended to increase the player’s damage output. Players are expected to use this increased damage to complete the encounter. Feral Druids are expected to use Rip as a part of their DPS rotation. Rip is intended to be a very efficient ability that does a lot of damage over an extended period of time, and the damage Rip did with the Stolen Power buff was mathematically and mechanically consistent with how Rip interacts with other buffs and debuffs. They used game mechanics as intended which when combined produced unintended results. What's interesting is that Stars did something very similar to this where their world first Yogg +0 kill by stacking Warlocks

Finally, while we can debate the line between exploit and "Clever use of Game Mechanics," history gives us a good example of how Blizzard will likely view Stars' actions. Back in ToC Ensidia, transferred servers mid lockout to reset their ID and get an additional 50 attempts. I don't think Ensidia got punished in that situation, but Blizzard did take steps to prevent it from happening again in the future. That sent a clear message to all guilds that Blizzard doesn't view this type of action acceptable. Don't be surprised if Blizzard reacts more harshly this time to discourage this activity from happening again in the future.

Crazy Theories and Rationalizations:

These are just suggestions that I wanted to address that didn't really fit somewhere above.

Greedy Blizzard: One of the crazier suggestions in the MMO thread is that Blizzard allowed this to happen because they are greedy and want the faction transfer fees. Lets do some quick math.

It costs 30 dollars to change factions and lets assume that Stars transferred 30 players and plan to change back to their original faction next week. That means it would cost Stars $1,800 to faction change their entire raid team twice. Now lets assume that the top 100 25man guilds would do the same thing to complete for world firsts, and that there are three major content patches a year. In this scenario Blizzard would earn an extra 540k dollars a year in revenue. On it's own that sounds like a lot, but lets think about it another way.

World of Warcraft has over 11 million accounts. Each of those accounts pay a monthly fee of at least 13 dollars. This means that over a year Blizzard has over 1.7 billion dollars in revenue a year in subscription fees alone. I know that every little bit counts, but do you think Blizzard is going to risk taking bad press and a negative player reaction for just 540k dollars? If you do, your crazy.

Time Zone Disadvantage: Another common response is that the US and European guilds have had a day or two advantage due to the servers they play on. Therefore this is just turnabout is fair play that the Taiwanese get an advantage for once.

It's very true that in the short term US guild definitely have an advantage in these early kills, but how does that justify breaking the rules? As I said above these short term milestones aren't all that significant. The really significant world firsts generally take at least a month to complete, and in that time frame that extra day or two isn't all that significant.

The time zone situation is what it is and has been this way for years. Claiming that this is just turnabout is fair play is a little like an embezzler claiming that what they were doing is ok because they've been underpaid for years. In the end this argument is just an attempt to rationalize their actions that were clearly against the spirit of the rules if not a blatant violation of the rules.