Thursday, October 28, 2010

Percentage Changes

There was a patch to the beta today where they adjusted the strength of a variety of spells, mostly modifying only the base value, not the scaling. I'm not exactly going to complain about that. After all, they understand quite well that base values and scaling are two very different things and what it means to adjust them.

On the other hand, some the specific wording of their notes was a little weird:

Divine Light base healing has been increased by 30%. From 8538-9512 to 11100-12366

This is actually an improvement from how it used to be. They used to just list the percentage damage and not the damage numbers.

The thing is, that a percentage change in base healing or damage of an ability conveys basically no information. If a base amount increases 20%, that could mean anything from a 0% to an 20% increase in the actual output of the spell.

I'm not as much worried about the information I get, because I can go look things up if I don't know all the facts. What I'm more worried about is what this says about how they think about these things. When paladins aren't healing enough, do they think to themselves, "We'd better increase their base healing numbers by 30%"? Given they increased the base of the other direct heals by 30% that certainly appears to be exactly what they think. But I really don't understand how this train of thought works.

Each paladin healing spell gets a different proportion of its healing from the base amount compared to the spell coefficient, so they increased the power of some of these spells relative to one another. They also changed the relative value of critical strike, haste and mastery rating relative to intellect.

Obviously the concern was they wanted paladins to do more healing without increasing their scaling with spell power. This makes sense in a way, given that apparently paladins didn't heal for enough despite the fact that at a glance it looks like they have the highest scaling with intellect on direct heals. It just strikes me as very odd that they would choose a certain percentage and increase all the base amounts by that much. It looks a lot like a stab in the dark rather than the results of an actual analysis of how much more healing paladins should be doing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Alright, so this isn't at the top of anyone's list of bugs to fix, but my blog is called "What's Wrong with WoW" and this is something that's wrong with WoW. It's also rather amusing.

What happens when a Death Knight gets Lucifron's Curse? In part, exactly what you'd expect. Your ability cost double runes or runic power. And then a few things you wouldn't expect. For one, you don't generate runic power anymore. I've tried to think out the logic on this and my best guess is that when it tries to give you runic power it notices it's giving you 20 and then things that that means the ability costs 20 so it makes it cost 20 more, subtracting 20 from the 20 you were supposed to get and giving you zero. Just speculation, but it makes some sense.

More sense than the next bit anyway: If all your non-blood runes are death runes, and you use an ability that uses both your blood runes, your death runes immediately refresh. Then, after you use them the first time, instead of refilling two at a time as they should, all four refill at the same time. The result is that you get to alternate two death strikes per Heart Strike. This behaviour is just plan bizarre, and doesn't seem to have any reason behind it.

On to paladins. What happens when you use an ability that costs holy power? Well, it uses two of your three holy power, presumably because with costs doubled it can't use three. It tries to use one, uses two, then can't use another one. But the ability you use hits as though three holy power were used. Apparently when you use a holy power ability, it checks how much holy power you have first to see how powerful the ability should be, then it spends the holy power - apparently one at a time. How much you spend doesn't matter, how much you had matters.

I should really bring a balance druid down to Lucifron and see if something crazy happens with eclipse.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shadow Word: Death

I should complain more about non-priest issues, but with all these changes it's hard to take my focus on things that affect Sthenno directly.

Shadow Word: Death was doing too much damage, and too much damage to the priests casting it, as I mentioned in a recent post. They decided to divide the damage it was doing by four and multiply the damage on low health targets by three to solve this problem.

I wonder if they considered amounts other than 75% to reduce the damage by. There are, after all, lots of numbers between 0 and 75%. They could have, for example, reduced the damage by 20%, or 25%, or even 40%, rather than reducing it so low that the damage per execute time is lower than Mind Flay.

If the damage of a spell, when cast on targets above 25% health, is so terribly low that it's always a dps loss to cast it, then why not only make it castable on targets below 25% health? There are lots of other spells that have that restriction, and it seems to work fine for them. Making it good sub 25% and castable but terrible at 25.01% might not be the best way to handle the spell.

But of course we may end up having to cast it above 25% anyway. Since a talent makes taking damage from it restore 10% of our total mana, it's kind of like Life Tap. It differs from Life Tap in a couple of key ways, of course. For example, has the upside that it does a little bit of damage but the downside that you can't use it between fights or during downtime when there is nothing to shoot. Another difference from Life Tap is that the damage you do to yourself can be prevented to cancel the effect, so if a Discipline priest gets so much as a critical Renew tick then our Life Tap fails. It also has a 12 second cooldown to make sure we can't spend too much of our time doing extremely low damage to the enemies. The cooldown goes away when the enemy is under 25% - that is, there is no cooldown when the spell actually does a ton of damage.

It seems like a number of different people all thought of changes to this spell and all implemented them without thinking about how they actually interacted with one another.

If they want it to be an Execute, they should make it an Execute. If they want it to restore mana, they should make it restore mana. If they want Shadow Priests to do several thousand dps to themselves once the boss gets under 25% health then they should probably just go ahead and rethink what they want. Right now this spell has too many conditions and add-ons, and it needs to be sorted out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


When I was looking to make a tank to support my priest in taking down old raid content for reputation and rare mounts, my goal was to find the tank that could do the most damage while being basically invincible. Block tanking was extremely powerful for old content, but focusing gear on maximizing block rating meant doing less damage. A Death Knight could do lots of damage while healing herself for 15% of her health between 4 and 5 times every 20 seconds with Death Strike. That meant every point of stamina on the Death Knight was 0.3 healing per second, which meant that with a couple thousand stamina I wouldn't have to worry about much of anything being able to kill me.

Before Death Knights, bears were the masters of self healing with Improved Leader of the Pack giving them a mere 6% health at most every 6 seconds. A far cry from the 3% per second given by death strike.

I've been analyzing self-healing done by various tanks to figure out which class to level as my old content raiding partner for my priest, and I've come up with the following.

A Blood Death Knight gets 23.6% more stamina from talents and abilities. It would be 29.7% in a raiding situation, but for two-boxing they won't get the blessing of kings/mark of the wild buff. The Death Knight should get about 0.141 Death Strikes per second1. Against low level content they will heal for 10% of the Death Knight's maximum health plus a shield for half of that. In addition, from experimentation, each point of stamina gives approximately 0.032 extra health per second from blood worms. This totals to 0.294 health per second per stamina on gear.

A Warrior has self-healing in the form of Blood Craze and Enraged Regeneration. Warriors get 20.75% extra stamina without blessing of kings/mark of the wild. Blood Craze should have an uptime of around 29.5%2 and will heal for 1.91% of the warrior's health per second thanks to Field Dressing. That gives around 0.56% of health per second or 0.068 healing per stamina of gear. Every three minutes a warrior can activate Enraged Regeneration3 to regain 38.16% of total health. That translates to an additional 0.026 healing per stamina on gear for a total of 0.14 health per second per stamina on gear.

Bears get mark of the wild and have a total of 51.6% extra stamina from buffs and abilities. Frenzied Regeneration is very similar to Enraged Regeneration. Bears don't get Field Dressing, but they do get a huge amount more stamina, so it comes out to 0.0252 healing per second per stamina on gear. Assuming bears are using abilities on the GCD, they should get a Leader of the Pack trigger every 9.89 seconds4 for 8% maximum health. In total, bears heal for 0.147 per second per stamina on gear.

Lastly paladins. Paladins don't get any healing based on their total health or stamina, Ardent Defender excepted. Their self healing is instead based on strength. Word of Glory gets around 11.5% of attack power and 19.5% of spell power to its healing effect per holy power used. Since paladins will have 5% extra strength from Blessing of Kings and get 60% of their strength to spell power, this means Word of Glory has a coefficient of around 36% on strength on gear per holy power. Talented this in increased by 79.8%. Since you generate one holy power every 3 seconds and retain it 30% of the time that you use Word of Glory, Word of Glory heals for 0.312 per second per strength on gear. If you choose to use Seal of Insight, that accounts for another 0.13 healing per second per strength on gear5 for a total of 0.442. Since strength is 1.5 times as expensive as stamina from an item point perspective, we'll divide this by 1.5 for comparison purposes and get 0.295.

Of course there are more factors to consider. A druids and warriors do not give up any damage to self-heal while paladins give up a lot of damage and death knights give up a little. For low level content the paladin's damage penalty from self-healing will likely be made up for by the fact that the self-healing is very controllable - that is, you'll only use it when you need it - and because a lower-level content paladin tank will be geared for damage rather than tanking because their self-healing relies on strength rather than stamina. Also, paladins are the only tank class that have base numbers attached to their self healing. With Protector of the Innocent, even a one point Word of Glory will have a base heal of around 7.5k, which even in top end gear should push paladin self-healing way above other classes.

In raiding content, a paladin tank will presumably not be able to heal themselves as much if they want to hold threat. Death Knights, however, give up very little to Death Strike as often as they can. Keeping up diseases will cost a death strike every 33 seconds, reducing Death knight self healing per stamina on gear to 0.238, but I doubt that it will be necessary to use the Blood Runes generated through Death Strikes for Heart Strikes in order to maintain aggro.

There are clearly two tiers of self-healing. Paladins and Death Knights occupy the upper tier while warriors and druids are on the lower tier. Of course in raids paladins probably can't self-heal as much and Death Knights don't have blocking or Savage Defense, so these things may even out in some ways.

But there are circumstances in raiding where this self-healing capacity may end up being dramatically overpowered. Most importantly, self-healing creates an extremely different dynamic in 10 and 25 player raids.

To look at self-healing in perspective, a Flash Heal has a healing coefficient of around 64.3%. For a Holy priest talents and specialization would increase this to 85%. With a 1.5 second cast time, this means Flash Heal heals for 0.625 per itemized point of intellect. Dividing by 1.5 to normalize with stamina, that's 0.458 accounting for criticals. And that's spamming Flash Heal, not using a sensible rotation. Using the atonement spreadsheet I already made to get an estimate of the benefit of one intellect on gear for a Discipline priest healing, it came out 0.388 per intellect on gear, or 0.259 when normalized with stamina.

If a tank is off-tanking an add that is supposed to be tanked rather than killed and uses a full self-healing rotation, then the difference between using a Death Knight versus a Warrior scales with stamina at about 60% of the rate that a healer scales with Intellect. Since healers get more of their base effect from spells than Death Knights do from base health and stamina, the difference would probably be in the 40%-50% of a healer actually healing. In 25 player, that would mean getting to bring 6.4 or 7.4 healers instead of 6 or 7; essentially a 6-7% bonus to your raid's healing. In 10 player it would instead be a 13% to 20% bonus to raid healing, since the number of healer shrinks but the number of tanks tanking the add stays the same. And this is assuming the Death Strikes always heal for 10% of the Death Knight's health. With the new rune system, the Death Strike can be timed to coincide with a fire breath or other similar attack. If the dragon breaths for 40% of the Death Knight's health - less scary than you think and plausible for an add - then a Death Strike after such a breath weapon would heal for at between 17.5% and 25% of the Death Knight's health, depending on whether other attacks landed near the same time. This could increase overall Death Knight healing per stamina on gear against dragon type bosses or other bosses that do a large hit every 12-ish seconds, to 0.392 even if only half the Death Strikes can come after breath weapons. Compared with warriors that scales as though there were a full extra healer in the raid.

I'm not convinced that Death Knights are the best tanks on account of their self healing. Without blocking they are going to take more damage, and normally they won't be able to realize their full self-healing abilities. But self-healing is a tricky thing to watch for in terms of tank balance. For certain fight mechanics, it can become extremely overpowered and make one kind of tank much, much better than the others. While I have lots of confidence in the play ability of my guild members, I doubt we would have ended up in the top 100 in the world for kills on a hard mode if Blood Death Knights had not been so overpowered on Vezax. If this particular feature of Death Knights does not make them overpowered all of the time, it almost certainly will some of the time, and I think guilds that have a Death Knight in their stable of tanks are going to have a noticeable advantage in working towards first kills over guilds that don't.

1. Thanks to Improved Blood Presence rune regeneration is increased by 20% which gives 0.12 Death Strikes per second from runes. With 30 runic power generated from rune based abilities every eight and a third seconds the Death Knight is generating 3.6 runic power per second. At one boss attack every 2 seconds and a 3.5 weapon speed the Death Knight would generate about 1.95 runic power per second from Scent of Blood. That gives one Death Coil every 7.1 seconds. 45% of Death Coils generate an extra rune and one extra Death Strike results from every 3 extra runes on average. That's one extra Death Strike per 48.1 seconds or 0.021 extra Death Strikes per second.

2. Since this is on taking damage rather than getting hit I use the more liberal estimate of one hit every 1.5 seconds. Blood Craze has a 10% chance to proc and lasts 5 seconds, so the chance to proc will be 1 - (1-10%) ^ FLOOR(5/1.5) * [1 - 10% * (5/1.5 - FLOOR(5/1.5))].

3. We simply ignore the need to be enraged since the warrior can just time enrage abilities properly.

4. Bear attack speed is 2.0. An extra attack every GCD means one attack every 1.167 seconds. Assuming a roughly 30% chance to crit that will give a proc every 3.89 seconds, plus the 6 second cooldown.

5. The coefficient on Seal of Insight is 15% for both attack power and spell power and it is increased by 6% twice for Divinity. It procs 15 times a minute, but this should be increased by around 13.3% from Reckoning based on an incoming attack every 2 seconds. It will probably be difficult to avoid having some haste, which will increase this further.

Note: Edited to correct the 1.41 Death Strikes per second error Ziggyny pointed out in comments.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Those Who Did Not Learn From History

In Patch 3.2, Blizzard decided to remove Seal of Blood and Seal of the Martyr from the game. They decided that doing a lot of damage to yourself was not a good way to balance out doing a lot of damage to your opponent. In 3.1 they had already reduced the judgement damage and increased the seal damage to try to make the self-damage aspect of the seal less spiky. Paladins were knocking off a third of their life every eight seconds and it seemed pretty excessive and dangerous.

Strangely, though, the mechanic of damaging yourself to maximize your damage rotation has made a comeback in patch 4. By reintroducing Shadow Word: Death into the shadow priest rotation - that is, by making Shadow Word: Death hit like a truck - blizzard has put Shadow Priests in the position of giving themselves a good punch every 12 seconds. Given that Shadow Priest mana return is dependent on taking damage from Shadow Word: Death, there will be no escaping the self-damage.

Shadow Word: Death hits for somewhere in the mid- to high-six thousand range completely unbuffed. With raid buffs that could rise to somewhere in the neighborhood of 7500. A critical would be 15k. Shadow priests take 60% of this damage and immediate heal themselves for 25% of the damage dealt, so they effectively take 35% of this assuming they live to get the Vampiric Embrace tick. That comes out to around just over 15% of their health pool every 12 seconds. This is nowhere near former Retribution paladin self-damage levels, especially considering the constant, substantial self-healing that Shadow priests get.

The real problem is that when the enemy is below 25% health, the cooldown is removed from Shadow Word: Death and it does 30% more damage. Instead of 15% of their health pool every 12 seconds, it becomes 20% of their health pool every two or three seconds. That level of self-damage is completely astronomical, and not killing yourself becomes one of the major limiting factors for damage. If you get a big crit, you may have to worry about not getting that Vampiric Embrace tick because you are already dead.

Blizzard just nerfed Shadow Word: Death because Shadow priest damage was too high anyway, and Shadow priests were doing way too much damage to themselves on low health enemies. This change, however, reminds me a bit of the patch 3.1 paladin changes. After Wrath launched it took them quite a while to figure out that doing damage to yourself is not a good way to balance a dps class. Ultimately, I think they may have to learn this lesson again in Cataclysm.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Problem with Atonement

Recently I made a big post talking about how a Smite build compared to a Heal build for discipline priests. I tried it out last night and it turns out it doesn't work nearly as well as I'd hoped. This, of course, is mostly owing to the fact that on the live servers rather than healing a nearby friend for 100% of the damage that Smite deals, Atonement does nothing at all. I hope they figure out how to fix this one sooner than they fixed Surge of Light in Burning Crusade.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Patch 4.0.1 Testing - Druids and General Observations

Just in time before the PTR was taken down and the extended maintenance to implement the new patch started up, I finished my druid testing. I ran into some early problems because of the Thunder Bluff death bug1 and set aside the druid for a long time after getting some initial impressions. I felt like I could write a review but I felt like I owed it to the druid to try Feral after my bad experience with Balance, so yesterday I made a Night Elf and went to it.

Druid (Tauren and Night Elf)
Druids don't play quite as well as Mages or Warlocks at low level. Wrath is more like Smite than it is like Fireball for some reason. When you get moonfire it doesn't really do enough damage to be worth casting, though larger enemy health bars make it just barely worth it by around level 7. It usually ends up doing less damage than a Wrath would have, but with a shorter casting time, and since enemies don't have health that is evenly divisible by your Wrath damage it ends up being as good as another Wrath anyway. At level eight you get to learn six new abilities, and pay the same price to learn each as other classes pay to learn their one level 7 ability. The consequence of this is that you can't afford them. Of course it looks like you can only learn three, since Rake, Claw and Ferocious Bite all all grayed out given that you don't have Cat Form. But once you click to learn Cat Form they all appear, sorted in alphabetical order and your second Learn click learns Claw when you thought it was going to learn Entangling Roots. Could I have avoided this problem by slowing down a moment? Sure. Should first time players be deciding between whether to learn Rake or Ferocious Bite? Probably not.

At level eight Balance druid damage was just terrible. It took me around 4 starfires to kill things, so 14 seconds per kill. I don't know if I played another class that took more than 10 seconds to kill an enemy at level 8. Of course there is Thorns, which ticks for about as much damage as Starfire does, so you can use Moonfire to gather up enemies and then just Thorns them to death while healing yourself and kill things much more efficiently. At level 10 you get your eclipse meter and your Starsurge spell. Starsurge was hitting enemies for around 90% of their health on a fifteen second cooldown. Given that it took me nearly 15 seconds to kill an enemy without Starsurge, I'd just wait out the cooldown for each enemy before engaging this. It was pretty terrible.

Feral played much better. I was killing enemies with Rake + Claw + Bite, followed by waiting for a second Rake tick and a couple of auto-attacks. At level 10 I got Mangle and was very worried that it was going to heavily skew things. I really expected that it would completely obsolete both Rake and Bite, but much to my surprise Mangle only did about 50% more damage than Claw (for 10 less energy, of course). A two point Bite still exceeded a Mangle for damage. The rapid expansion of enemy health between level 10 and 12 meant that I still felt like I was fighting enemies rather than just hitting a button that defeated them. The absurd strength of Regrowth and Rejuv and the fact that I didn't use mana to kill things made me pretty much unstoppable, which, while convenient, isn't something I like in design. Plus there was the fact that even when Feral spec the most efficient way to kill enemies was surely Thorns, which was hitting for 69 at level 12, compared to a mid-40's Mangle.

Overall Grade: C (though I'd give it a D in a heartbeat if I hadn't gone back to play Feral)

Overall Impressions
Quite a few details of low level play have been screwed up inadvertently by the 4.0.1 changes. Most notably, there are quite a few monsters that use player spells on themselves at low level that have become significantly overpowered. Level 6 mobs with around 120 health have Rejuvenation spells that tick for 45. A level 11 mob had a Thorns that did 49. Having to stop attacking and wait for these spells to end is pretty annoying.

Some classes have pretty exciting talents to take at levels 10 and 11, but the excitement around those initial talent points is not going to be there for all classes. Many classes clearly had little thought put into the pre-level 10 experience.

The transition to dual-wielding is a very difficult one. As a Warrior I just happened to complete a quest with no two-handed weapon option shortly before level 10, then saw another quest with a one-handed weapon option. As a shaman when I picked Enhancement my bonus ability was Lava Lash, but I had to go to town and buy a white weapon for my off-hand to be able to dual-wield. This transition was very problematic. Perhaps, given there is no spec that actually supports them anymore, they should simply remove the ability of Shamans to wield two-handed weapons to smooth this out a bit.

Maybe I make too much of this because the first 9 levels are pretty easy anyway, but I do feel like depending on the class and starting area they choose, a new player could end up with very different starting experiences ranging from the polished feeling of a very evolved game to the choppy feeling of a new game that doesn't know what it wants you to do. We all know that a big problem for established MMORPGs is growing the player base when the "real" game is focusing on an end game that gets increasingly farther away for new players each expansion. After playing a Mage I thought the 4.0.1 redesign was a very dramatic step to make the game more friendly to new players while at the same time evolving the end-game experience. After playing the other classes, I'm no longer convinced that this redesign was a huge step forward for new players. It's a step forward for everyone for sure, but maybe not for new players in particular.

Of course, the starting areas themselves will be redesigned when Cataclysm actually launches, so there are more improvements coming. The revamped leveling experience is probably more dependent on those world changes than it is on the mechanical ones being introduced today.

1. You died when you zoned out of Thunder Bluff and your corpse appeared in the graveyard at Thunder Bluff so you couldn't corpse run back and resurrect outside the zone. I assume they've fixed this one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Patch 4.0.1 Testing - Death Knight and Shaman

Death Knight (Draenei, I think)
For a long time the Death Knight starting area was completely broken and couldn't be played. It wasn't so much that the starting area was broken as that Runeforging was broken. Since your second quest is to use Runeforging on your weapon, you can't continue on with other quests until you do, and until you've completed the initial quests you can't really do anything else, new Death Knights were completely unplayable.

While Death Knights are no longer literally unplayable, the experience of playing one has lost a lot. Starting with Frost Presence, which now increases your runic power generation, instead of the old Blood Presence that healed you, makes a noticeable difference in longevity when running from fight to fight. After a few quests you get your first talent point, and I decided to go frost. Much to my dismay, Frost Strike did about 70% of the damage of Death Coil, so I would be foolish to use it, and none of the first tier talents really made me better at all. I respec'd to Unholy, since obviously have a permanent ghoul would be better than the nothing Frost gave me, but it turned out that the difference between Scourge Strike and Blood Strike was smaller than the difference between Blood Strike and Icy Touch, which left me wishing that my death rune ability turned my frost runes into death runes instead of turning my blood runes into death runes.

I felt the Death Knight experience was actually quite a bit worse than it was before the patch. 10% more runic power is a very lame ability to give to new death knights that have never generated runic power at normal levels and who get pretty much zero utility out of it. Ability tooltips were full of bizarre formulas that didn't actually give you an idea of how good abilities were relative to one another.

Overall Grade: C

Shaman (Troll)
Shaman is actually a really neat class in the early levels. You start with Lightning Bolt, then you get Primal Strike which is a low level substitute for Storm Strike and then you pick up Earth Shock. Until you hit level 10 you really are a hybrid caster/melee, using spells at long range and then clubbing things that get near you. Unfortunately when I chose Elemental at level 10 it was a little disappointing. The specialization ability is Thunderstorm which does about three times the damage of Lightning Bolt but is on a 45 second cooldown. It's supposed to be a mana restoration ability, but every Shaman spell is so cheap that there is no need to get your mana back. I decided to swap to Enhancement to try it out, which meant buying a white fist weapon in Orgrimmar. I like enhancement a lot better but it was not without it's flaws. With an 8 second and a 10 second cooldown on your melee abilities, you really just use each one once per monster, which minimizes the decisions that you make. Unlike other healing classes I've played the first heal they give you is the cheap, efficient heal, which ended up costing about 16 mana when I was level 12. I had about 7 spells on my bar and their total mana cost if I could cast them all at once was less than a quarter of my mana. When I got into one particularly hairy situation I dropped a Searing Totem and chained heals on myself for a minute until two of the four mobs were dead. My heal was weak enough I couldn't even afford a GCD to refresh lightning shield but cheap enough that I could have gone on doing that for much longer than it took for them to die.

Overall Grade: B

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

3240 vs 2438

3240 is a whole lot of Haste Rating. It should be impossible to get until the second raiding tier and then only available if the heroic gear from that tier has enough pieces with haste rating to put one in every slot. In the third raid tier with heroic gear I expect 3240 should be doable, assuming you prioritize Haste. By the final tier of heroic gear it shouldn't be that hard at all.

2438 is a lot easier to hit. It will still be impossible in blues, and, I would think, even in first tier non-heroic raiding gear. But it will be possible pretty soon as you start to pick up heroic gear or get to the second tier of raiding in Cataclysm.

The significance of these numbers is this: 3240 is what a raid buffed discipline priest requires to hit 50% haste with Borrowed Time up. 2438 is what a raid buffed holy priest required to hit 25% haste (obviously borrowed time is not possible).

That means that those numbers are what a discipline priest needs to get 6 ticks from renew and what a holy priest needs to get 5.

With haste adding extra ticks to the end of HoTs rather than shortening their duration, Haste becomes one of the primary factors that determines how good your HoTs are. Of course Haste plays it's usual role of making their cast time faster, but it also boosts the total amount of they heal and by extension their mana efficiency.

Because of Borrowed Time, haste also completely distorts the relationship that the two healing priest specs have with the priest HoT.

In blues, it will be easy for Discipline Priests to get 5 ticks from their Renews. Borrowed Time virtually guarantees 25% haste in any reasonable gear. Holy priests, on the other hand, will have to settle for 4 ticks. Even though they will likely spend 4 talent points to prop up their Renew, it will ultimately be less powerful than the Discipline priest renew, since Borrowed Time is a more powerful Renew boosting talent than Improved Renew and Divine Touch combined. Somewhere around the second or third tier of raid gear, Holy priests will once again be the ones with the more powerful renews. But then in the final tier of raid gear there is a chance that Discipline priests will acquire a 6th tick (haste is by far the best rating for them anyway) making their Renew once again better than the holy priest.

Now the discipline priest Renew is only powerful under certain circumstances, and a Renew cast on the fly will be weaker than the holy priest. But the only real restriction is having to cast Shield first. Given the current power and cost of Shield, the fact that Shield never contributes to overheal and that it plays well with HoTs, this isn't much of a restriction at all; especially not when you consider that the Discipline priest will be able to cast 5 Borrowed Time Renews for every Shield. Obviously mana is going to be the limiting factor in the number of Renews that can be maintained, not the restriction of casting shields.

The power of Borrowed Time hasted renews is making me reconsider my build to see whether I can fit Improved Renew in there. Talent points are very tight, and I would have to give up something substantial to do it, but it's a real option. If I ever get to 50% haste with Borrowed Time then I will almost certainly take that talent, since that will push the mana efficiency of Renew above that of Penance.

At some point I think Blizzard may take a look at the bizarre math that comes from their decision to have haste add ticks to HoTs and DoTs and decide to reverse it. I would be willing to put down a considerable bet, however, that we won't see that happen until the next expansion at earliest.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Atonement is a real moving target right now, having changed substantially at least four times in the past couple of weeks. As a result I want to go a little easy on the state of the current numbers, which aren't all that bad anyway, and delve into the deeper problems with the entire mechanic.

Just like I always do when I want to know how good something is, I made myself a spreadsheet with a simulator for the casting rotation and ran it using a variety of different stats. One purpose was the figure out the relative strength of Smite vs. Heal healing. Another purpose was the see how stats compared for Smite vs. Heal healing, and whether some stats were significantly stronger for one than the other. I am comparing a stand and cast single target healing throughput. The difference between the two builds for AoE healing definitely gives a greater edge to smite, since other than the smart healing Atonement on the melee the two builds do the same thing.

I'm going to consider throughput and mana considerations completely separately. How and whether these can be meaningfully combined into a composite weighting for stats is something I think a lot about, but for these purposes, it's not terribly illuminating to attempt to combine them anyway.

I used the following two talent builds: Heal and Smite

Now you may think I'm crazy for giving up Soul Warding in favour of say Borrowed Time or Train of Thought, but I honestly don't care that much for Soul Warding and think it shouldn't be a talent at all, a topic I'll write about later. Obviously this could be changed if fights actually warrant Soul Warding.

So in a raw comparison, the Smite build does about 11% more throughput than the Heal build. Also, the Smite build has easily enough mana to carry on through a five minute fight chain casting; about 56k more mana than it needs, actually, meaning it can easily substitute some smites or AoE heals for Flash Heals if warranted. Heal on the other hand, has basically just the right amount of mana to scrape by on the maximum mana efficiency rotation, and any extra healing it does with Flash Heals or AoEs will have to come out of its Heal budget. Of course on a real encounter you would have moments where you were moving or waiting for the boss to change forms, so you would have some room for those things.

11% more throughput and an extra 11k mana per minute to spend seems to make the Smite build the clear winner. That's even ignoring the 4.3k dps the smite priest provides, which is presumably a noticeable fraction of an actual dpser (though less than half of one). Of course these things can simply be adjusted. The healing value of Atonement could be lowered and the cooldown of Archangel could be increased and it would fix the problem, right?

Turns out, not really. I don't think there are any values that you could set for the talents and spells involved that would make this build make sense. The problem is scaling.

Heal scales at about 3/7 of spell power for a 2.5 second cast while Smite scales at 5/7 of spell power for a 2 second cast. Smite, therefore, scales at about double heal. Even when you credit heal with Empowered Healing and Grace, Smite still scales about 60% better with spell power. With a full stack of Evangelism, which you have more often than you don't, smite is about double Heal again.

Why can't this be fixed by lowering Atonement to healing only 50% of Smite's damage rather than 100%? It's because the base amounts are so radically different. The base amount for Heal is about 4 times that of Smite. If you reduce Atonement by half then the Smite build falls way behind the Heal build for healing. About 89% of Smite's heal comes from the spell power. For Heal, just over half the heal comes from spell power. If you want to reduce the scaling by half for Smite then you have to reduce the total throughput by 45%.

The mana problem is probably considerably more troublesome. Archangel restores 15% of your maximum mana on a 30 second cooldown. That's a talented shadowfiend times three. Could we simply reduce the amount of mana that archangel gives back? Again, virtually no matter what you set the number at the scaling problems are enormous. Intellect is about 35% better at providing mana for the Smite build compared to the Heal build. To equalize the scaling for mana from Intellect we would need to drop Archangel to 4% mana return, but then the Smite build would be unplayable to begin with. Instead of a 56k surplus it would run a 58k deficit over 5 minutes. There really is no sweet spot. Set Archangel at 8% and the Smite build doesn't have enough mana to play now, but will surpass the Heal build in mana by the final tier.

As things stand I think you can make arguments in favour of either build. Atonement is inevitably going to have some range issues, though there may end up being fights where using the proper ranges can ensure it heals only the tank when you want it too, which would be a plus. Smart targeting better than non-smart targeting for all heals except for heals you want to consistently spam on the tank which is is probably a little worse for. Strength of Soul is actually a very good talent that you might miss in some situations, and while both builds can move a couple points to pick up Inspiration, the Smite build would have a much worse uptime on it since it is not triggered by Atonement. I think Smite is a little overpowered, but not drastically.

By the final tier of raiding content Smite will be drastically overpowered compared to Heal, and there won't really be a choice. But fixing this would mean making Smite unplayable until upper tiers.

Just for curiosity's sake, the stat scaling values have been pretty consistent with all my other thought experiments. Spirit is a little under half an int for mana for Smite or nearly two-thirds for Heal (spirit gives the same amount, but is weaker relative to Int when Int is better). For throughput compared to Intellect critical strike rating and mastery rating are both terrible. coming in at 35% and 24% respectively for Smite and 42% each for Heal. Haste is worth more than half an Int of throughput for both builds but ends up costing a decent fraction of a Int worth of mana. Haste actually came out very strong for the Heal build, probably because more Haste means more shields for that build. But since mana is more of a consideration for that build and the other stats are also relatively stronger I think it's a bit of a toss-up. For the Heal build I would tend to ignore which stats my gear has since they are all the same in terms of raw power, though I might tend towards Spirit if I find I'm running low on mana, obviously. For the Smite build I'd focus on Haste since nothing else is even worth looking at and it has a surplus of mana anyway.

I really love the fact that they are making Smite a build Unfortunately the crazy scaling discrepancies between healing and dps spells are going to make it a really wonky one. I also don't doubt that other healers are going to start complaining that priests get to do dps while healing and they don't. Personally I'm going to enjoy the ride while it lasts, though I have a suspicion that it might not even last until release. On the other hand, getting rid of evangelism/archangel/atonement would mean needing to put other points in the discipline tree, and I really don't think they are up to thinking more points up. I guess they could just lower the effectiveness of Power Word: Shield by 20% and put in a talent that increases its effectiveness by 25%. That's what half the discipline tree is anyway.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Patch 4.0.1 Testing - Priest and Hunter

Priest (Night Elf)
Low level priests have a problem. Every class starts with one ability in 4.0.1, and that ability is some way of killing monsters to get you through your first few quests. For priests, it is Smite. What's odd about starting with Smite is that Smite is not actually a viable attack spell for end game content. Every other class starts with an attack that is actually used by the dps spec of that class to kill monsters at maximum level1. That means they start with an attack that is tuned to be effective as an attack. Smite is not meant to be an attack spell for any dps class. This fact shouldn't really have any impact on how good smite is below level 10, but playing a priest it certainly feels like it does. The damage Smite does seems low and barely increases as you level up, despite increasing cast time. Furthermore it costs a lot of mana compared to low level attacks from other classes, and I ended up just standing around waiting for my mana to come back frequently. Because of super-accelerated low level mana regen this would only be for five or six seconds at a time, but standing around doing nothing at level three to wait for mana made for a much less smooth leveling experience. At level nine I finally got Mind Blast which did about three times as much damage as Smite, so killing things became much more bearable, and at level 10 I chose shadow and abandoned Smite completely in favour of Mind Flay. Getting Flash Heal at level 3 didn't make a lot of sense as a choice for a heal. It was quite expensive and healed me for more than double my maximum health. Shadow Word: Pain only ticked for 9 when I got it, while Smite was hitting for 24-ish, meaning it wasn't even worth casting. Priests have very little to do at low level, much of it is bad and costs too much mana.

Overall Grade: C

Hunter (Troll)
As you likely already know, Hunters begin the game with a pet, though they do not have a pet bar until level 10, so the pet is permanently on defensive mode and can't be given commands. They start with Arcane Shot which does a little more damage than an auto-shot and costs 25 focus, with no cooldown. I spent my first couple of levels spamming arcane shot and killing things in about 2 seconds, and picked up Steady Shot at level 3, which takes 2 seconds to cast and regenerates focus. At this point I moved to a Steady Shot followed by two Arcane Shots to kill monsters. Strangely enough on my way to level 10 pretty much all of the abilities I picked up with free to cast, so Arcane Shot was the only thing that actually used focus. That worked out fine, though, as I was using a variety of my buttons, choosing how often to Steady Shot vs. Arcane Shot actually meant gameplay could by optimized somewhat, and around level 6 things started living long enough that my pet actually was involved meaningfully in the fight. At level 10 I chose Marksmanship and got Aimed shot. It cost 50 focus, was a 2.7 second cast and did less damage than 2 arcane shots which cost 25 focus and are instant casts. Since this was terrible I saved up a bit of money and swapped to Survival. Explosive shot also cost 50 focus and also did less damage than 2 arcane shots. I'm actually not quite sure how Explosive Shot is going to work out in the end, since you regen 6 focus per second, it has a 6 second cooldown and costs 50. Even two steady shots in the mean time don't make up the focus to cast it every 6 seconds. It makes it seem like if it is balanced to be worth casting then it would be the only thing that costs focus that you cast. Despite the significant problems with the signature abilities of the talent specs, my hunter played really well. As someone who never really liked hunters, I managed to have a lot of fun. The change from mana to focus was a very good one.

Overall Grade: B (Would have been an A if Explosive Shot and Aimed Shot weren't such bombs)

1. Warriors instead get a temporary substitute for the attacks they will use that is perfectly serviceable at low levels.