Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Slow Means - Or Why You Should Take Heal Off Your Bar

Correction: Once again foiled by bad information on the net. While I think the essential point of my post is still completely valid, the casting time of Healing wave is indeed 2.5 seconds with the proper spec, not 2.

As Cataclysm was approaching, the developers talked about how they wanted to change the way healing worked. They said they wanted to "slow it down." What exactly it means to slow things down, however, might not have met the expectations of everyone.

Healing in the Wrath environment could certainly not be accused of being slow. Commonly people talked about how healing was all about twitch reflexes. You twitch wrong, someone dies. You twitch right, everyone is back at full health and everything is fine.

I wondered as Cataclysm approached how slowing things down could keep things challenging. After all, successful Wrath-era healers were used to making a life-or-death decision every second. If we only have a make a life-or-death decision every two seconds, how could that be anything but easier? It turns out that slower did not mean exactly what I expected. In the sense that nearly every GCD was life or death things were very fast in wrath. In the sense, however, of the amount of damage your raid took compared to the amount of healing you were capable of doing, things were actually incredible slow.

In Wrath healing, druids and paladins would often have overheal in the 60%-70% range, or even a little higher. Discipline priests had fairly low overheal, at 30%, but when you looked closely, because shields could not overheal, their actual overheal on spells that healed people could get just as high or sometimes even higher than paladins and druids. If you are overhealing 70% and no one is dying, that means you are outputting three and a third times as much healing as is needed. In a 10-player raid, that means that one healer is able to output enough healing to keep the entire raid alive. The reason you brought more than one healer was a question of distribution, not of throughput.

In a Cataclysm raid overhealing 70% would be next to impossible. You would pretty much have to go out of your way to target people at full health with your heals to achieve a number like that. Distribution of heals is no longer reason you bring three healers to a fight, you bring three healers because you need that many to actually heal the amount of incoming damage.

This was easiest to see in early experiences healing heroics. When the entire group had just reached item level 3291 healing through boss damage could be very difficult. The boss could actually output more damage per second than some healers could heal. The reason it was possible to win was that the damage coming from the boss only exceeded the ability to heal by a small amount. If the fight lasts three minutes, and your group has around 550,000 health between then you can actually win if the boss does 3000 more dps than your healer can heal.

This is a new kind of calculation, one that we would never have done in Wrath of the Lich King. This is what it means to "slow down" healing. Instead of needing to land a heal every second to make sure the boss doesn't two-shot the tank, you need to maximize the amount of healing you can get over a long stretch in the hopes that it will be enough total healing to give the dps time to win the fight.

Many of us, when we heard that they were going to make mana matter, rightly reasoned that if the total amount of damage that will be done before the fight ends is close to or slightly exceeds the maximum amount of healing that your healer can do over that period of time then your healer cannot afford to use low efficiency heals. The flip side of this – which is entirely necessary for the new healing model but which I didn’t see coming – is that if the total amount of incoming damage per second is close to or slightly exceeds the maximum amount of healing that your healer can do per second, then your healer cannot afford to use low throughput heal.

A lot of priests have taken the wrong path here. For a shaman, the real question was how to do enough healing over the length of the fight, and Healing Wave was an important part of the answer. But let’s take a look at Healing Wave. Its casting time is only 2 as opposed to 2.5 for Heal, but its scaling is similar to Heal and while its base healing is lower it is higher on a per second basis. Tidal Waves hastes it by 30% twice every six seconds. It can trigger Earthliving Weapon. Ancestral Awakening matches Divine Aegis in the extra critical department and Nature’s Blessing probably slightly exceeds Grace in a heroic dungeon. If you are having trouble keeping up with incoming damage than Deep Healing increases its effect by around 1.25% per point of mastery while the discipline priest mastery likely increases Heal by around 0.1% per point. The tank also has Earth Shield. All together, Healing Wave is slightly more powerful than Heal, and has an average cast time of around 1.7 seconds to Heals’ 2.2 seconds.

For a discipline priest, the question was never how can I do enough healing over the course of the fight, it was always how can I do enough healing to keep up with the incoming damage on a per-second basis. With 15% extra intellect, Hymn of Hope, Rapture and Shadowfiend, discipline priests have enough mana to get through the fight, what they need is enough throughput to get through any given 10 second period.

So the solution is to just not cast Heal. If you are trying to heal damage to a single target, cast Greater Heal. If you are looking to fill time casting something because you don’t think you can afford to waste it, cast Prayer of Healing - you can think of it as a single-target heal with benefits rather than a group heal if you need to. If everyone is near full use Renew. If none of these is a good option then just don’t do anything at all. This may sound like a strange suggestion given that I’ve been talking about not having enough throughput to keep up, but casting Heal can be worse than nothing. Given that Greater Heal has about 2.8 times the throughput of Heal and an at-par mana efficiency Prayer of Healing has around 2.9 times the throughput of Heal, starting a heal now instead of waiting one to one and a half seconds to cast a better spell is a loss of throughput.

Strangely enough I don’t even think this is a complaint. For Heal to be a bad spell for discipline priests – and I think a questionable one for holy priests – is not that bad a place for the game to be. Priests actually have a lot more spells than the other healing classes, and expecting them to use them all is a little unrealistic. We should be much more concerned about the relative weakness of Power Word: Shield for discipline and Renew for Holy than about Heal which I feel completely comfortable leaving in my spellbook to be pulled out for Chimaeron.

1. And many of the members of your group may have faked their way to item level 329. This is especially easy for most tanks since, as plate wearers, they can easily buy a whole bunch of gear that is absolutely useless to them from faction vendors. Cloth with spirit counts towards a prot warrior's item level.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mind Sear

A recent blue post indicated that Shadow Priest AoE feels too low. I was pretty sure that Mind Sear was not strong enough, but I hadn't taken the time to really look into it.

We downed Maloriak on Monday, and for those unfamiliar with this fight, it involves an AoE phase where you need to burn down some high health adds with a +100% damage taken debuff before the debuff expires. Naturally, I turn towards them and hit Mind Sear.

My damage to the adds was very bad, around 12% of the damage done to them compared t0 16.7% for the shaman and 18.7% for the hunter.1 Mind Sear ticks did around 13% less damage than earthquake ticks and, of course, hit all but one add instead of all.

But part of my low Mind Sear damage was most certainly bad play and incorrect gearing. Right now I have only one gear set, and I think of myself as healer rather than as a dps. As a consequence, almost everything I have has spirit on it or is reforged to spirit. I also reforge away as much haste as possible to get more crit and mastery - for single target and AoE healing respectively - since mana is still a larger consideration than throughput. This is not the ideal configuration for shadow dps, but, combined with play mistakes, it is especially bad for AoE.

Shadow Priest mastery is shadow orbs, a complex way of adding a percentage to virtually all damage we do. We have an 18% chance to get an orb every time we deal damage with Shadow Word: Pain or Mind Flay. Upon casting Mind Blast or Mind Spike the orbs are consumed, causing the spell to deal 1.25% more damage per point of mastery per orb and leaving behind a 15 second buff - Empowered Shadow - that gives 1.25% more damage per point of mastery (but not per orb) for all periodic effects.

With my relatively high mastery rating, Empowered Shadow is a 17% buff to periodic damage, including Mind Flay and Mind Sear. Unfortunately, I had Empowered Shadow up very little of the time when I was AoEing. What I should have been doing - and what I will do next time - is ensure that the last thing I do just before the add burn-down starts is Mind Blast the boss to refresh Empowered Shadow so I'll have it the whole time.

Having 100% uptime on Empowered Shadow during Mind Sear phases would have increased my Mind Sear damage by something like 14-15%. That would still leave me at the bottom of the AoE damage meters, but much less solidly at the bottom. It would also have made our AoE phases a little bit less tight.

Obviously Mind Sear is just not doing enough damage, but balancing it is actually really tricky. Given that there is no way to generate that buff while you are actively AoEing the question of where to balance Mind Sear compared to other AoEs is very tricky. If the switch from boss to adds is predictable and you have a 15 second or smaller burn phase to get rid of them then good play will give good uptime. If the adds come out an unpredictable times then uptime will be lower. If the burn phase is 20 seconds then uptime will be lower. If the burn phase is 10 seconds than good play becomes less important to getting good uptime and the predictability is less of a factor. Increase gear a couple of tiers and the difference between the buffed and unbuffed versions of Mind Sear are going to get larger and larger.

I think that right now Empowered Shadow might be a little too mind-bending just by itself, though improvements to my UI should do a lot to fix that. Despite the fact that it is complex compared to other masteries, it is probably not badly balanced, so I expect it will likely stay. Now that I know the developers think Mind Sear has some problems, I'll be really interested to see how they rebalance it given the complexity of the interaction with Empowered Shadow. Ideally I think the answer is to find some way to let Shadow Priests trigger or refresh the Empowered Shadow buff while AoEing, and changing Empowered Shadow to simply not affect Mind Sear is another, slightly less palatable option. Of course ignoring this problem is another option, since it can hardly be seen as the most pressing issue in the game, but as mastery levels increase, if this interaction is ignored it may be increasingly the case that Shadow Priests are either perpetually good or perpetually bad AoEers, or that their performance in AoE varies tremendously based on some very esoteric elements of the fight.

1. The mage did 22% with Arcane Explosion spam, but there is no reason to compare yourself to the high outlier when you are the low outlier.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Giving Atonement a Chance

First of all, I'd like to draw attention to the following blue post about bug hotfixes:

The range of the heal on Atonement has been increased to 15 yards. It has been verified to be working correctly for the priest and party/raid members.

It is nice that not only did the fix the Atonement bug, but they actually checked that it was fixed.  I don't think I've seen a post like this before, but I'm glad to know that they are actually checking to see if they fix the priest bugs that they say they are fixing.  If I recall correctly, and it is obvious that I don't, when Surge of Light first came out they indicated that they fixed it in approximately one thousand consecutive patches without ever changing anything about it1. It was one or two patches of claiming to have fixed early Rapture bugs before they were finally resolved.

The changes to Atonement go beyond that, however. Atonement is now affected by healing bonuses. This means that Atonement will always heal for 6% more than the Smite thanks to "double dipping" on Twin Disciplines. It also means Atonement can benefit from Archangel and Grace. I'm not quite sure whether these all stack and whether they stack additively or multiplicatively yet, but I do know that I have had heals well over 20k on occasion, which seems like a lot for a cheap 2 second cast spell.

This significantly increased throughput and mana efficiency added up to making Atonement viable. I gave it a test run in heroics before raiding with it last night and I was happy with it in both cases, though it seemed more useful in heroics than in raids. The main advantage of this build at the moment is that you don't have to give up much to get it.

This is the spec that I tried out. Comparing this with my previous healing spec you can see I took the five points out of Inner Sanctum and Soul Warding which were both of questionable value to begin with. I also swapped Inspiration out for Surge of Light, because Smite procs Surge of Light, Atonement does not proc Inspiration, and Inspiration doesn't have a very good up time with current crit levels. This choice may be a mistake, but I haven't had time to do a good quantification of either talent so far.

How many Smites I actually use varies a great deal from fight to fight. So far it has been important to keep in mind that the Atonement spec is not an all-out Smite spec. Smite is one heal among many, and the rest of the toolbox needs to be there. In particular, for our Chimaeron attempts I was not using Smite at all because it didn't provide the sort of healing the fight needed. Smite may actually be very useful for that fight, but it will need some more experimentation to figure out how to approach healing overall. For Magmaw, on the other hand, Smite is great for healing the tank.

I picked this spec out as overpowered because of unusually high scaling, and I was waiting for it to come into its own in future tiers. The most recent changes have buffed it enough to make it good at the current tier, and presumably it will need to be dramatically merfed in future tiers.

1. I think the actual number was somewhere in the four to six range. Anyway, for months on end every time they patched anything they would say the talent was now working correctly despite the fact that they hadn't fixed a thing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


So I actually love archaeology. I really wanted to have some kind of profession that involved more than just clicking on something, and archaeology goes that for me. I think the items they added to the game for it are worthy of the time you put into getting them. It is not necessary for raiding but it provides you with cool or useful things.

I did have some constructive criticisms of archaeology, however. One of my first complaints was simply the predictability of dig sites - there were always three finds for three relic pieces each. They already fixed that one by putting in a random element, so I figure I'd better get on complaining before it is too late.

Another thing I'd like to see from Archaeology is some way of controlling what you are working towards.  Basically right now you are completely at the mercy of the random numbers.  If you want to work on a particular race's artifacts you can't choose to dig for them as opposed to digging for other things.  This is very disempowering.  If I am interested in the ancient history of the nerubians, why would I not be spending my time digging at their sites rather than at troll sites?  There are a number of ways this could be accomplished:

  • An ability on a medium cooldown (one hour is probably about right) that allows you to abandon a current dig site to spawn a new one
  • An ability on a long cooldown (seems like one day) that allows you to abandon one of your current research projects to get the new one
  • A way of trading in fragments from one race for fragments of another or of trading fragments with other players - I can understand if they don't want fragments to be a commodity on the AH, but there are ways to avoid that
  • An ability or daily quest that allows players to pick a particular site or even a particular zone they want to dig an either activate it immediately or increase the chance they will get it
Of course that list is not exhaustive, nor are the things on it mutually exclusive.

I don't suggest any of these things as ways of speeding up the process of getting meaningful archaeological finds.  Regardless of the amount of customization given the players, drop rates and frequencies of rares can be adjusted to give whatever progression rate the developers feel comfortable with.  I would very much, though, like to see a little bit more interactivity with archaeology - something that goes beyond the process of digging for things and puts a little bit of the process of deciding where to dig or what to make in the hands of the player.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sliver of Pure Ice

My item level is up to 348, but I am the first to admit that value is somewhat spurious. Item level takes the highest level item that you still possess that you have equipped in a slot at some point. As a result, you get credit towards both finger or trinket slots based on your highest level ring or trinket, even if you only have one of them and thus couldn't possibly use it in both slots.

In fact, my armory says that my item level is 348 but conveniently notes in brackets that I have item level 337 equipped. Why the big difference? It's Sliver of Pure Ice from Icecrown Citadel.1

It's not that I've been extremely unlucky with drops and have never acquired a trinket from a dungeon. But I've never acquired a better trinket from a dungeon.

Case in point: I have a Blood of Isiset in my inventory. It's 69 levels higher, so it seems like it should be clearly better.

Blood has a 105 second internal cooldown and a 10% proc chance. Right now I'm casting a spell about every 2.5 seconds, so it should average around 25 seconds to proc again, giving it an overall cooldown of 130 seconds. So it gives 1512 spirit 15.4% of the time. That's equivalent to 232.6 spirit all the time. Spirit provides 0.1225 mana per second with my current intellect, so this is about 28.57 mana per second overall. Intellect provides 0.0733 mana per second with my current levels of intellect and spirit, so the 152 intellect is worth 11.13 mana per second. The use ability on the Sliver is pretty easy to work out, 1830 every 120 seconds is 15.25 mana per second. Looks like blood wins on mana by 2.49 mana per second, the equivalent of about 20 spirit.

Blood provides 252 mastery instead of 152 intellect. I haven't parsed any of my logs yet to get a good casting pattern, but we can easily compare these things for two of my most frequently cast spells: Greater Heal and Prayer of Healing. For Greater Heal, Intellect is around 6.5 times as good as mastery for increasing throughput. Furthermore, Intellect is consistent and mastery is random as it is dependent on criticals. For Prayer of Healing, aegis triggers every time, so Intellect is only 2.9 times as good as mastery. In the best case scenario, then, the Sliver is around 75% better in terms of throughput. If we converted the throughput from Intellect into master for a direct comparison, the Sliver would be around 189 master rating better. Bear in mind that this is being extremely generous towards mastery rating by assuming that I cast virtually nothing but the spell where is shines the most.

I don't want to directly compare throughput to mana, but if you asked me whether I wanted 189 mastery rating or 20 spirit, I think the choice is fairly clear.

The developers recently mentioned that they know that "secondary stats" are worse than primary ones. So spirit, mastery, crit, and haste are worse than Intellect. I think they may be a bit delusional, however, about exactly how much worse they are. This is spec dependent - I think Blood would clearly win out over sliver for a Holy priest - but 69 items levels for a trinket itemized for the same spec should guarantee a stronger item. Instead, the most important thing to look for on a trinket is whether it gives a passive bonus to Intellect. Item level comes second.

1. It's also because I have my Runed Signet of the Kirin Tor equipped from a recent teleport to Dalaran.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tol Barad

I had my first experience of trying to attack Tol Barad last night and it was very frustrating. It seemed just about as impossible to win on offense as it seemed to lose on defense. Obviously the zone can change hands, but it feels like the defenders have far too great an advantage in the battle.

Although it ignores some of the complexity of the zone, the analysis to see why this is is prety simple. In order to win, the attackers need to have more people than the defenders do in one location while at the same time having at least as many people as the defenders do in the other two. Given that the number of people on each side is supposed to be equal, this is a pretty difficult task.

The graveyards help the attackers in a way - the distance is always larger for the defenders, but this is greatly overwhelmed by the fact that the defenders have a shorter distance to attack a *different* building than the one they died at. Since the attackers already have to manage a noticeably higher unit count in an equal battle in order to have a chance of winning, they cannot have lots of extra people at uncontested bases. Whenever the horde reinforces the base where a fight is happening, it means the attackers move more people to that base. This means that the defenders can simply go for one of the other bases after they die, knowing the attackers couldn't have kept it at full strength.

But what's more, the Eye of the Strom-like capturing mechanic makes it impossible to put up a valiant defense. If there are five of us and ten of them then it doesn't matter how well we play, we are going to lose the base. Even if five eventually manages to beat ten, the other team has still bought themselves a lot of time and made sure the attackers can't get to three bases in the mean time.

Something needs to chance in the zone. Either make the buildings click based like AB flags instead of EOtS buildings is in possibility. Another is to get the attackers a real advantage from taking the towers. Or maybe just give attackers a general buff, or make it so that attackers count for more than omet defendesr while taking a building. Any of these might work, but the zone right now is just not working well.

Edit: I just defended Tol Barad last night in a real battle for the first time. I've defended with 10-12 people before, but this time it was around 30. I explained the strategy to my teammates: If the horde sends a large force to take a node, don't reinforce it when you die, simply go and retake another node after rezzing. The horde never managed to control two bases, for more than half a minute. I felt they were playing better than us in battles, and generally winning with equal sized forces, but it was hopeless for them. We even had a few people mining and picking herbs instead of helping.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Train of Thought

Train of Thought is a very interesting talent, and fairly hard to evaluate. It's a talent that saves you mana, but only if you spend mana on an expensive spell. The question of how much mana it actually saves you is a difficult one to answer.

If you don't cast a good number of Greater Heals, Train of Thought is a very bad talent. Suppose you mostly use Heal as your single target heal, and use Greater Heal only when Inner Focus is making it free. Because Inner Focus must be available at the start of the cast, but it not used - triggering the cooldown - until the end of the cast, the real time between Greater Heals would be 45 seconds plus the casting time of Greater Heal. We'll use 2.28 seconds for the casting time of greater heal1.

So in this case Train of Thought would reduce the time between free Greater Heals from 47.28 seconds to 42.28 seconds. These free heals also benefit from +25% crit, so they are more powerful than typical Greater Heals. In order to figure out how much mana this saves us, we can't look at the cost of Greater Heal, because we wouldn't have been casting Greater Heal if it weren't free. Instead, we should look at how much mana we would have spent healing the same damage with our spammable spell of choice, Heal. In my current gear, a free Greater Heal is worth around 3.21 Heals of healing. Since heal costs 2118, that means we save 6799 mana per Inner Focus boosted Greater Heal. This is actually more than the cost of Greater Heal, thanks to the 25% crit bonus. If we save 6799 mana every 47.28 seconds, that gives us 143.8 mana per second. If instead we save 6799 mana every 42.28 second, that gives us 160.8 mana per second, only 17 mana per second for two talent points. Definitely very bad points.

The question is, what if we cast Greater Heal instead of Heal to heal the damage between free casts, reducing the time between free heals more. Things get a little more complicated in this case. We can figure out how many of our Greater Heals will actually be free to cast - and +25% critical strike chance - using the following:

In order to calculate the time between casts, we would need to know how much our average heal heals for, and how much damage we are trying to heal per second:

To get the average heal, we'd need to know the ratio of free heals, as well as the average amount a normal Greater Heal heals for (G) and the average amount an Inner Focus Greater Heal heals for (G'):

Fortunately, three equations is exactly the right number for three unknowns. The simple formula for the ratio of free Greater Heals is:

So, given a damage amount we can get the average free Greater Heal ratio and the time between casts, which allows use to easily calculate the amount of mana spent per second. The question is, is it cheaper to cast Greater Heals than Heals? If it is not, then Train of Thought saves us mana only when the damage exceeds the amount we can heal with Heal, and we should cast Heal as often as possible. If it is cheaper to heal the same damage with Greater Heal, then we should ignore Heal, even if the incoming damage is low.

There are two results from this simple analysis. The first is that it is cheaper to cast Heal, the second is that the amount of incoming damage you can actually heal with Heal is so low that Heal is basically never a viable option so it is a bit of a moot point.

Of course these results come because the model is too simple. In reality we have three spells - Power Word: Shield, Penance and Borrowed Time hasted Renew - that are all strictly better than Heal but that have real or effective cooldowns. We would never cast Heal if casting one of these were an option instead. In additional, while Power Word: Shield isn't strictly better than Greater Heal, it would have to be a very bizarre situation for us not to use it, and both Penance and the hasted Renew are better than Greater Heal in both efficiency and throughput.

So, what happens to the calculations when we cast Penance, Power Word: Shield, and hasted Renew on the "cooldown"?2 Fortunately we can use the same formula above for the ratio of free Greater Heals. What changes is that the damage we are trying to heal with them is much lower, and our mana expenditure depends not only on how many Heals or Greater Heals we cast, but also has a baseline set by the cost of our superior spells. When we factor this both of our conclusions from the simple case are reversed. While Heal becomes a viable option for some reasonable levels of incoming damage, Greater Heal becomes the more mana efficient way to heal at all levels of damage.

This may seem counter-intuitive at first, so I'll talk a little bit about how this happens. I can understand if your intuition tells you that if one thing is more mana efficient, then it should still be more mana efficient when used as a gap filler. The reason this doesn't end up being true is that Train of Thought is doing more work for us when we are casting other spells. While we still have the same number of real seconds between Greater Heal casts, many of those seconds are used up casting things we are going to cast regardless of what else is going on. At most we are going to fill around 30.86 of our 47.28 seconds with Heal or Greater Heal. The rest of the time we will be using more power heals with better efficiency. This allows us to increase the time between Greater Heals to Heal the same amount of damage. More time between heals means a higher ratio of free heals.

At around 8400 incoming dps - the highest incoming dps that Heal can take care of in my current gear - using Heal and the more efficient spells requires 1010 mana per second. At the same damage level, using Greater Heal instead requires only 900 mana per second. So Train of Thought is saving us 110 mana per second for two points, which is a lot more respectable than 17. Of course it's also important to consider that healing with Greater Heal instead of Heal saves us time, so we have more leeway to fit more heals in if we need them. While at this level of healing casting Heal means casting pretty much 100% of the time, using Greater Heal means only casting 70% of the time. Train of Thought is buying us a lot of time to move around and do other things, in addition to mana savings.

I haven't had Heal on my bar this entire expansion and this analysis just helps to reinforce that decision. While there would still be substantially more modelling to do to quantify the benefit of Train of Thought against the benefit of another talent, such as Divine Aegis, it is pretty safe to say that Train of Thought should be regarded as a "must have" talent rather than an optional one and that Greater Heal should be the staple spammable single target heal for Discipline priests.

1. I chose this number because it is the casting time of greater heal given that you have just enough haste rating to make sure your Renews get a fifth tick when hasted by Borrowed Time. Until throughput becomes more of an issue than mana, I will regard this as the "correct" amount of haste to have.

2. I'm assuming shielding a single target and casting one Renew per shield.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So Much Mana

They just hotfixed in a huge buff to priest mana. Rapture was increased from 2.5% of mana to 6% and holy concentration from 20% more spirit regen to 40%.

A discipline priest will get about 4 rapture ticks a minute. Over a five minute fight, at 3.5% additional maximum mana per tick, that means about 70% of their mana bar restored. In my current gear, that would be around 67k more mana to spend over the fight, or about 16.3% more mana to spend.

I'm not sure why this change was made at this point in the expansion. It could be that the developers were getting a lot of feedback from priests that suggested that they weren't powerful enough or that they were constantly running out of mana.

This is one of those times where my experience doesn't seem to line up with the experience other people are having. I've certainly run out of mana while healing as discipline, but if mana is supposed to be something then running out of mana has to be a possibility. I was able to heal heroics as soon as I hit the item level 329 requirement, even if my mana management strategy was occasionally to just hope for more crits. On our Argaloth kill I was the top healer.

I think what's really going on is that the majority of discipline priests, and the development team, are stuck in a Wrath of the Lich King style of healing. Though I still find myself doing it occasionally, I have almost entirely trained myself out of the reflex of throwing a Power Word: Shield on anyone who takes damage. I never use Flash Heal for any reason. I only cast Prayer of Mending when the damage distribution on the fight makes it sensible. I spend the majority of my time casting Greater Heal and Prayer of Healing. Basically, aside from Penance, there is extremely little overlap in how discipline priests should heal now and how they did heal before.

Most of the time buffs are accepted with open arms, but I'm a actually pretty skeptical of this one. If they want me to cast Power Word: Shield, then giving me more mana for my one cast every 15 seconds is not what they need to do. They need to either make Power Word: Shield large enough to warrant its cost and to provide a real life-saving benefit, or they need to make it cheap enough to justify throwing out regularly. This change reinforces the idea that you should cast Power Word: Shield on the tank every time Weakened Soul wears out and never cast it otherwise. Power Word: Shield without a Rapture proc is just as expensive and ineffective. Power Word: Shield with a rapture proc is now a significant net mana gain. It is a rotational ability that keeps your mana up, and more closely resembles Life Tap than Wrath of the Lich King Power Word: Shield. When a buff like this happens, it makes me worry about what upcoming nerf is going to compensate.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Preliminary Results

The results are in. We've killed Argoloth so I have some preliminary examples of real raid healing. Did I meet the developer expectation of 50% healing from shields?

The right answer is not even close. World of Logs shows me getting 10% of my healing from PW:S and 25% of it from Divine Aegis. Their Divine Aegis numbers seems a little sketchy, however, since if you add up all the critical heals and Prayer of Healing heals I did in the entire fight and take 37.5% of that - my current return on Aegis thanks to mastery - it doesn't reach the amount of aegis absorbs that World of Logs calculated. In fact, I applied only about 80% of the shields that they say I used, and I know I didn't use them all. It wasn't until halfway through the fight that I clued in to the correct healing strategy to avoid wasting Aegis.1

So my real healing from shields was around 31%. On that fight I can get 100% shield usage if I play correctly, so we can use that number as an accurate representation of the amount of shields I would put out on a fight.

The reason that this matters, as I've noted before, is that mastery rating is tuned according to the amount of shields that discipline priests do. Mastery rating increases shields, so how powerful it is is dependent on what fraction of your total healing comes from shields. However, another change that has been made since I last did analysis on this is that Prayer of Healing always triggers Divine Aegis. That means that mastery is significantly more powerful than it would have been while critical rating is significantly weaker.

If I had 179.28 more mastery rating, I would have increased by mastery bonus from 25.12% to 27.62%, thus increasing my shields by just about 2%. That would increase my total healing and shielding by about 0.6%.

179.28 crit rating would have increased by critical strike chance from 19.06% to 20.06%. That means that 1.24% of my non-critical spells would instead have been criticals. Since my non-Prayer of Healing heals totaled around 166.6k, that would mean critting with an additional 1399.5 worth of heals. My effective critical multiplier is 1.5 plus divine aegis. Aegis is 30% times plus the mastery bonus for 37.5%. This gives a total critical multiplier of 1.5 * 1.375 = 206.25%. That means I would get an additional 1399.5 * 106.25% healing by critting with those heals for 2186.

Now for my Prayers of Healing, I get the Divine Aegis on the base even if I don't crit. That means that I only rack up 50% * 1.375 extra healing on a crit, or 68.75% of the base spell. While I did overheal with Prayer of Healing, this is largely due to the fact that the rogue was standing behind rather than in front of the boss, and so prayer of healing hits on him were largely totally overheal. I did 546940 healing with non-critical Prayers of Healing. If 1.24% of those were crits and those crits added 68.75% more to the total healing done then that would contribute 4644 extra healing.

The total extra healing from a 1% gain in critical strike chance, then, would be 6830. With just over 2M healing for the total fight, this is an increase of 0.33%.

These calculations show Mastery as a far better stat than critical strike rating. Of course this is contingent upon casting a lot of Prayer of Healing. What would these numbers look like if instead of making Prayer of Healing always trigger Aegis, they had simply decided to give Discipline Priests a talent to increase its effect of Prayer of Healing?

The buff for Prayer of Healing is contingent upon not getting criticals. If you get a critical heal then the buff does nothing. Let's say I averaged my critical strike and mastery ratings to eliminate my current reforging bias. Then I would be critting 17% of the time and my mastery would be 12, giving me a 30% increase to shields. At that point, the buff to Aegis to always apply to prayer of healing would be boosting the effect of 83% of my Prayers of Healing by 39%. The overall buff to Prayer of Healing, then, would be about 32%. What if they had just put in a talent that increases the effect of Prayer of Healing by 32%?

Then my shields would be only 19% of my heals, so 1 Mastery would be a 0.36% increase in healing. 1% crit, in this case, would be a 0.56% increase in healing, nearly three times as much as Mastery.

It would seem that Discipline priests require two different gear sets. One that is geared towards critical strike rating for single target healing and one that is focused on mastery for AoE healing. For now I might try to even out the two stats since I don't know what raids will have in store for me yet. Ultimately, these quibbles probably make very little different since both critical strike rating and mastery are fairly weak. In the best case scenario, if all my new secondary stat points went to mastery, an entire tier of new gear would provide less than a 2% healing increase from these ratings.

1. Meteor slash happens every 17 seconds, and Divine Aegis has a 12 second duration. Since meteor slashes alternate between two groups, a group will take one only every 34 seconds. Thus, if you spam three or four Prayers of Healing on the group when the slash hits, the Aegis will wear off before the next slash. If you space your Prayers of Healing out over the 34 seconds then you have the full Aegis from all of the prayers roll through to the next slash. You just have to battle against those Wrath-tuned instincts that tell you that if anyone is below max health you need to spam until they aren't. This should mean that a discipline priest can take care of meteor slash damage by themselves.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gear Cubed

Cataclysm has succeeded in reintroducing mana as a resource for healers. How much mana your healer has is a major factor in whether or not your can win a fight. Because of this, dps paying attention to encounter mechanics has become important, because if they take more damage than they have to and the healer has to keep them alive, then the healer is more likely to run out of mana.

Our first few heroic runs were good demonstrations of this. I was drinking every two trash packs and our ability to beat the boss was very tied to my mana pool.

Three days later, I was never drinking and the idea of running out of mana on a boss was laughable unless we really, really blew it.

The difference was not that our dps got so much better at handling the encounters. My guild members are pretty competent, so when it became clear that we had to actually do things right we did things right. The difference is explained by how encounter survivability works.

In Wrath, healers didn't really think about mana and their heals were powerful enough to heal the tank to full very quickly, so tanks didn't worry about avoidance. All anyone worried about was whether the tank could live through a large burst. Survivability was pretty much all about the tank's health pool. Because of this, it scaled linearly with gear.

In cataclysm, the tank is not in danger of being bursted out because a heal can land unless they make a mistake with encounter mechanics. That means that avoidance is quite relevant since it decreases long term damage. Since it takes multiple heals to move a tank from low health to full health, the power of the heals is very relevant. Since it is plausible to run out of mana before the end of the fight, and more mana means the ability to cast more heals.

Instead of survivability scaling roughly with the stamina of a single character, it scales with avoidance * healing throughput * mana. In other words, it now goes up with gear cubed instead of linearly.

Adding 13 item levels was enough to turn heroics from a significant challenge into something pretty close to a cakewalk. Another tier of gear and heroics will probably be a daily chore to get Valor Points.

This is the formula that explains pre-Wrath gear check bosses. A gear check boss was one that was not that difficult provided that you had sufficient gear, but that became completely impossible below a certain gear level because your tank would simply die or your healers would run out of mana. Wrath had gear check bosses as well, but they were bosses that required a certain amount of dps gear to beat an enrage timer, not ones that relied on healer and tank gear.

These two types of gear checks are not mutually exclusive. Last night we downed our first Cataclysm raid boss and he had a tanking/healing gear check though the damage he did as well as a dps gear check by way of an enrage timer. Fights like this are extremely easy to overgear and trivialize. Of course it was a very simple fight, and the second boss we attempted seemed significantly less simple.

I hope that as we go forward with Cataclysm bosses we find fewer gear sensitive bosses and more skill sensitive bosses. So far I've seen an even split.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Cataclysm Spec

First of all, The Spec, and then, the complaints.

I've written a lot about Atonement and its ups and downs. But all the number crunching in the world doesn't change the fact that it will only heal you if you are within 8 yards of the target of the Smite. For most raid bosses, that would mean standing well inside of them. For the most part, Atonement will simply do nothing against raid bosses, so I am opting out of the Smite spec completely.

Given that I won't be taking the Smite spec, there is actually very little choice about what I *will* be taking. There are 42 points in the three and I need to select at least 31 of them. Since I am not taking the five points dedicated to Smite, I have to choose 31 out of 37. Reflective Shield essentially doesn't do anything, so I'll rule that out right away, leaving me with a choice of four talent points I don't want.

Many of the talents are simply not candidates for cutting, so I'll focus on the ones that I think I could choose to do without:

Improved Power Word: Shield - Power Word: Shield without a Rapture tick is an exorbitantly expensive and underpowered spell. It is considerably worse than Renew, Penance and Greater Heal for both throughput and efficiency. While it is almost 10% more mana efficient than a Flash Heal, it only about 65% of the throughput. I know as well as anyone that instant casts matter, and that shields are better than heals some of the time, but ideally I want to avoid casting this spell more than once every 14-15 seconds. A talent point for a 5% increase to a spell I cast less than 10% of the time is not a very exciting point.

Mental Agility - I don't actually cast a whole lot of instant spells. If I am casting Power Word: Shield, Renew and Prayer of Mending each once every 15 seconds then it's about 91 mana per second, which is likely a decent investment of talent points, but it's certainly not obviously something you must take.

Inner Sanctum - I think I will mostly be using Inner Fire, not Inner Will, so this would be a 2% spell damage reduction per point. I think this is probably very bad. If I have occasion to need to run faster for a fight and switch to Inner Will then this talent is probably pretty good.

Soul Warding - If I don't want to cast Power Word: Shield more than once every 14-15 seconds, then I probably don't need to cast it more than once every three seconds.

Power Infusion - I have never seen Power Infusion as a terribly useful healing cooldown. I see it more as an external dps cooldown for the raid's casters. For that it is a great talent point. Since I am a healer, I would consider dropping this point if I am not using it for healing.

Rapture - It should be offensive that I am even listing this talent, but, as I say, Power Word: Shield is a bad spell that you don't want to be casting. If you are using it, then Rapture is over 160 mana per second for three points, which seems like it's definitely a good use. But when if I didn't take it and didn't cast Power Word: Shield at all? Right now I'm a fairly convinced that this would make me worse off, but it's hard to be sure without a lot of analysis. Of course, I probably won't do that analysis for reasons I'll explain soon.

Borrowed Time - Going back to not casting shield very often, Borrowed Time might not be doing much. Hasting one spell by 14% every 15 seconds is an average of 1% haste for two talent points, which isn't spectacular. That's not really how Borrowed Time works, though. The 14% haste can be applied to multiple instants - where Penance counts as an instant here - and then to a spell with a cast time. Also, the 14% haste on a Renew is likely a 25% or 20% increase in the effect as well as a 14% reduction in the cast time. Some simple simulations are showing me that this is more than 1% haste per talent point. Still not great.

Strength of Soul - Reducing the Weakened Soul debuff duration seemed like a pretty good idea when Rapture had been reduced to a 6 second cooldown. At a 12 second cooldown, this talent is near useless even if you are casting Heal on the tank.

Train of Thought - It's far from obvious that this talent is a good one to take. How much mana it actually saves you depends on how often you cast Greater Heal. If you are using Inner Focus for Greater Heals on the cooldown then Inner Focus is worth 141 mana per second, which is a really good deal for one talent point. Train of Thought increases this to 159 mana per second, a gain of 18 mana per second, or 9 per talent point. If, however, you are casting three Greater Heals per 30 seconds, then this would increase the mana gain from greater heal to 211. So the two talent points were worth 35 mana per second each. If you are casting five Greater Heals every 20 seconds then the mana gain is 318 per second, and the Train of Thought talent points are worth 177 mana per second, or 88.5 each. The trick is, that they are only worth that additional mana if you were going to cast the Greater Heals anyway. Of course it does make casting those Greater Heals more attractive, so even if you substituting them only because of the talent it will still give some advantages.

Focused Will - 10% of my total health is presumably going to be more in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath. For example, I don't expect bosses with damage auras that tick every 2 seconds to do 10% of my total health. I do, however, expect this to trigger from occasional raidwide AoEs or from having a fire spawn under me. However, it only helps if another hit comes within 8 seconds. Ultimately I find it hard to believe this is going to be good for raiding.

So why did I make the decisions I made? As I indicated above, I think that Strength of Soul is probably going to do nothing useful at all. In fact, Weakened Soul might be a handy timer for me to know when to recast my shield, and reducing it may mean having to pay attention to more information without getting any benefit. There are several talents here that require analysis to figure out how good they are, but my intuition tells me Focused Will is the worst of them. It will depend on the structure of boss fights, and it might easily turn out to be a better investment than Inner Sanctum. For now, I'm going to have to go with my gut and I'll do the calculations when I actually have fight data.

I just trash talked a huge amount of talents and then elected not to pick ones that I thought would have no or virtually no effect on raiding. More importantly, I trash talked every talent that affect Power Word: Shield. Basically, I think Power Word: Shield is a terrible spell that only becomes castable because of Rapture. Assuming Rapture still interacts the same way it did in Wrath with large AoEs that hit the whole raid at once, Soul Warding will probably edge out Focused Will for utility. If they have fixed that bug then I'll probably switch those.

The real reason I take Rapture, Improved Power Word: Shield and Borrowed Time is that I simply can't avoid it. If Atonement isn't going to work on bosses, and I don't want Power Word: Shield talents, then there are only 24 talent points left in the tree. I have to pick something.

So why am I even discipline in the first place? First of all, it's because Penance, Divine Aegis and Grace are all insanely good and Holy just doesn't have anything with that kind of oomph. Secondly, it's because I feel like external tanking cooldowns are too useful to pass up, and Discipline gets two of them.

I'm not going to be writing for probably at least a week, maybe two. When I do come back I hope to have a little bit of data so I can answer a few of the following questions:
  • How much better off am I using Rapture and casting shields than I would be if I simply didn't cast shields at all? (Even though this point is moot because you can't avoid taking PW:S talents)
  • What is the real benefit of Train of Thought? Should you cast Greater Heals instead of Heals when you have it?
  • How good is Mental Agility?
  • How good is Focused Will?
  • How many of my spells are hasted by Borrowed Time and how often is it boosting a Renew?
  • How much damage is Inner Sanctum preventing?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Archangel Roller Coaster

It's been a pretty wild ride for Smite priests since the first look at the Cataclysm talent trees. The smite sub-spec has gone from a nice little bonus, to extremely overpowered, to probably better than using Heal, to totally unplayable and now I don't really know what to make of it.

The recently Archangel from returning 3% mana per stack of Evangelism to only 1% mana per stack of Evangelism. Since we are probably going to have a little over 100k mana, that a difference between 15k mana returned every 30 seconds and 5k mana returned every 30 seconds. Of course the difference is even more dramatic than that in a sense. Smite costs over 3.5k mana and a full Evangelism stack reduces that by 30%, of just over 1k mana. If you need to rebuild your stack then you need to cast one smite and full cost, one 94% cost, one at 88% cost, and so on until you get back to 70% cost. That means you are paying the cost of 30% + 24% + 18% + 12% + 6% of an extra smite, or 90% of a smite. That's around 3.2k mana. So in reality, using Archangel only nets you around 1.8k mana. It also costs you about half a smite worth of damage and healing. It also gives you a 15% healing bonus for 18 seconds, but then again it also costs you a GCD. On the balance it is a net increase in healing, but I'm not sure it's worth taking.

This, apparently, made the Smite spec unusable. The solution they came up with is as follows:

Smite's scaling coefficient has been increased. The damage of Smite is now very similar to Heal in value. This change has been made to ensure the Archangel Discipline sub-specialization remains viable.

There is a really glaring problem with this. Smite already had a far higher coefficient than Heal. If you make Smite hit for about as much as Heal in tier 1 raid gear, then by tier 4 heroic raid gear it is going to hit for quite a lot more than Heal. At that gear level, Smite has throughput much closer to Flash Heal than it does to Heal, and it has better mana efficiency than Heal. This is a very problematic place for it to be.

With the current numbers, tier 1 Smite priests are going to be a little sub-par and probably will have too many mana concerns, while for end-of-expansion content they will be very noticeably overpowered - providing around the same healing as another healer would by spamming their fast high-powered heal and doing about half the damage of a real dps character.

If mana was the problem for discipline priests, perhaps they should have addressed the problem by lowering the cost of Smite, rather than by increasing it's effect. The disparate coefficients of Smite and Heal were already heading for trouble. Pushing them further apart is going to be a bit of a catastrophe.