Friday, June 29, 2012

Starsurge, Fae Empowerment, & Other Stuff

The class balance thread on the forums and the recent beta build are providing new goodies to talk about for moonkin. Blizzard apparently has heard the criticism that some people think the moonkin rotation is boring and is taking steps to add more variety. It's also important to note that these changes are intended to be DPS neutral in the long run and we should expect to see nerfs in other areas in the future as well.

Starsurge and Shooting Stars:
* Shooting Stars now has a 50% proc rate, up from 30%.
* Starsurge damage was increased by 30%.
From my PvE perspective I like these changes for several reasons. If you think back to the Cataclysm Beta, Starsurge has really become a shadow of it's former self. It was built to be this powerful spell that felt substantial, but it was nerfed for what most people thought were PvP reasons and then Wrath and Starfire were buffed to make for breaking Solar Cleave. As a result, Starsurge became this nuke with a cooldown that was slightly better then your standard spells. We hit the button because that was the best button to hit at the time but there was no excitement for having it line up correctly or having Shooting Stars proc at the right time. I don't know how this will affect PvP, and frankly I personally don't care. I'm just glad that Blizzard is trying to restore Starsurge as a significant spell.

The change to Shooting Stars is more interesting. It's hard to calculate the exact impact of this, but there are two things we can be sure of. First, it will boost the value of crit which I think we need. Crit has never been an exceptionally strong stat for Moonkin, but until Cataclysm it at least felt like it had a purpose because procced Eclipse and Nature's Grace. In cataclysm the only purpose Crit had was to get it off our stats as quickly as possible either through reforging or finding new gear. Hopefully this change will make crit a more significant stat that can compete with Haste and Mastery.

The second impact of this change is that it actually brings some variety to the moonkin rotation when transitioning between Eclipses. Blizzard has been talking about doing this for a couple of months and suggested things like reintroducing Insect Swarm, adding Astral Communion, and adding Fae Empowerment (more on that later), but all of these ideas were either not implemented or were kind of half baked with regards to changing the moonkin rotation. This is the first change that has a realistic chance of preventing the moonkin rotation from being a long string Starfire or Wrath casts and it's implemented so simply by just changing a proc rate. This is a clear example of how sometimes the simple solutions prove to be the best.
Fae Empowerment:
Fae Empowerment (New) - When you cast Faerie Fire, you gain Lunar Empowerment and Solar Empowerment. Lunar Empowerment Increases the damage of your next 3 Starfires within 18 sec by 20%. Solar Empowerment Increases the damage of your next 3 Wraths within 18 sec by 25%. Druid - Balance Spec.

My first impression of Fae Empowerment wasn't that good. It's an interesting idea, but it has several issues that prevent it from sitting right in my head.

My first concern is that it's too much of a trap. In the Blue Post, Ghostcrawler described Fae Empowerment this way: "Should you choose to ignore it, your DPS will likely be only a few percentage behind someone who uses it optimally." That sounds all well and good, but there is a third category of players that his comment does not address. What about the players who use Fae Empowerment sub optimally, and how does it impact there DPS?

To the inexperienced player, Fae Empowerment looks great on the surface, because casting Faerie Fire can buff 6 spells by 20%-25%. The problem is that Fae Empowerment is that it has a cost that isn't obvious to many players and could potentially reduce the players DPS rather then increasing it. That cost is the Global Cooldown, and it lowers the players DPS in a couple of ways. First, that is a second to 1.5 seconds where you aren't doing any damage since Faerie Fire has no damage of it's own in Moonkin Form. Second, it increases your eclipse transition by the GCD amount and as a result lowers your DoT and Nature's Grace uptimes. These two things may not sound like much, but they can easily drag total DPS down by one or two percent. That is a pretty big gap for a buff on a limited number of spells to make up.

Secondly, I'm very happy that they increased the duration from 15 seconds to 18 seconds. I made a post on Elitist Jerks about the timing needed to maximize Fae Empowerment and it was tight even at high gear levels. To optimize Fae Empowerment you need to cast three Wraths and three Starfires around an Eclipse transition while maintaining the rest of your rotation. That means along with the nukes you also need to cast Moonfire, Starsurge, and Starfall if you are transitioning into Lunar.

The Elitist Jerks post has some tables that detail how long it would take to cast all the things that need casting at various haste levels. Unfortunately my computer is not letting me create those tables in this post, but the summary is even at a high level of haste in a best case scenario getting all of the spells cast in 15 seconds was very tight. In a live situation with lag and other delays, I think it would be impossible. The increase to 18 seconds will make this easier of course, but I would prefer it was even a little longer then that.

Third, there is a fairly high risk of not using all 6 empowerment buffs. I need to test this on a more robust simulator like SimulationCraft, but in my homegrown simulator I was frequently hitting Eclipse early due to Starsurge casts and Euphoria procs and having to skip some of he empowerment buffs or slow down my the eclipse transition.

What is Fae Empowerment's Purpose?

Finally, I'm beginning to wonder if Fae Empowerment is really worth all of this effort. What is it's purpose? What is Blizzard trying to achieve?

The goal of Fae Empowerment seems to be two fold. The first stated by Ghostcrawler on the forums was that it is to give players more "micro level choices." The second is to address a frequent player complaint by breaking up the rotation a little and give the players another button to push. In my opinion it's not succeeding on either level. There is no real choice since the times you want to use FF and Fae Empowerment are very predictable. It also doesn't really add anything to the rotation since it is just one predictable button an eclipse cycle.

I'm sure that Fae Empowerment can be adjusted in such a way that it makes sense to use, and I'm sure that we will see more modifications soon. That said, I personally think that while the moonkin rotation may be a little boring, this version of Fae Empowerment isn't adding a whole lot and may actually be harming DPS.

Other Stuff:
Wild Mushroom: now damages all enemies within 8 yards, up from 6. Now allows 5 mushrooms, up from 3.

A small change, that doesn't appear to be entirely accurate. I tested it out in beta and the range has been increased to 8 yards which is great for us. However, at this point it still only allows us to place 3 mushrooms. In all honesty I would prefer that they increase WMs damage then increase the number of mushrooms we can put down. Having to spend time to put two more mushrooms down in what usually is the same place as the other three seems like a waste.

  • Item - Druid T14 Balance 2P Bonus - Your Starfall deals 20% additional damage.
  • Item - Druid T14 Balance 4P Bonus - Increases the duration of your Moonfire and Sunfire spells by 3 sec.
  • The T14 set bonus have actually been in the files since April, I just never got around to commenting on them in the past. The seem to be fairly standard stuff. It's hard to judge how strong they are at this point since the rotation in a bit of flux, but I'm sure they will be fine.

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    The Unofficial Ghostcrawler Q&A

    Ghostcrawler has hit the forums recently and is answering a ton of questions about class design and mechanics in an effort to get more feedback from the theorycrafting player bases. He hasn't said a whole lot about Moonkins. In fact, two of the things he said cancelled each other out, but there was one nugget that I found very interesting.

    Solar and Lunar are not Equal:

    Q: Actually, is the design intention to have both Eclipses with the same damage output for single targets and AoE?
    A: Actually, no. We’re currently intending for Lunar to be slightly better at single target damage and Solar to be AoE damage. When you have time between phases or situations where you can use Astral Communion to quickly switch sides, you should be able to further optimize performance by tailoring which Eclipse you line up with which boss phases. The difference should not be significant enough, however, that in a Patchwerk-style scenario, you are compelled to only DPS in one eclipse.

    This explains a lot. You may remember about a month ago beta build 15726 did some fairly strange things based upon the information we had up to that point. Hurricane and Starfire were buffed while Astral Storm and Wrath were nurfed. A lot of people wondered what the hell Blizzard was doing and I speculated that it was some sort of tool tip or data mining error, but now it makes sense.

    My first impression was pretty positive. A lot of players believe that the current MoP moonkin rotation is to simple and therefore boring. I don't agree with them 100%, but I can see their point. As it stands right now, when you enter eclipse you cast your dot and maybe starfall and then just cast nukes until you reach the next eclipse.

    This doesn't change the rotation, but having Solar favor AoE and Lunar favor single target adds a little thought and planning back into the rotation. The better players should be able to set themselves apart by being in the right eclipse and that should make them at least a little happy. Additionally under this system mistakes aren't punished as harshly as they currently are since you will still do decent AoE damage in Lunar and decent single target damage in solar.

    All that said, after a little more thought I do have a couple of concerns.

    Is the Difference Too Big:

    My first concern is about the size of the difference. As you may remember, Hurricane and Starfire were buffed by 10% in beta build 15726 while Astral Storm and Wrath were nurfed by 10%. This means that Hurricane and Starfire will be about 22% stronger then their counterparts and that fells a little to large for me. I would prefer to see a difference in the 10% - 15% range.

    Timing Eclipse Again:

    I have found timing Eclipse in Cataclysm to be extremely problematic, and in my opinion one of the best things about the new MoP rotation (prior to the specialized eclipses) was that timing Eclipse should have been a much smaller issue. While miss timing Eclipse in MoP won't completely destroy your DPS the way it does in Cataclysm, having specialized Eclipse buffs makes it a much more significant issue.

    I know a lot of you see this as a good thing because it theoretically allows skilled players differentiate themselves by using the right Eclipse at the right time. Unfortunately this ignores the fact that timing Eclipse isn't entirely within the players control. Of course there are the random elements of the game like Euphoria procs and random movement that can speed up or slow down the rotation, but those are just the obvious aspects of our lack of control. A less obvious issue is how your guild performs as a whole. For example, the better guilds with higher quality players will kill mobs faster and phase a boss faster with the opposite being true for less skilled guilds. Yet, the the time it takes for a player to transition from solar eclipse to solar eclipse is fairly consistent. So, a moonkin can perform at the same level for two different guilds, but get different results because of performance differences in the rest of the guild or with improved gear and buffs.

    A good example of this is Heroic Ragnaros. As we all know, being in Solar Eclipse is extremely important for phase two of heroic rag to DPS down the adds quickly. At the end of T12 raiding my Phase one DPS was timed just about perfectly. If I was a little short, when the boss phased I could push Solar Eclipse during the transition and would have it when I needed it. Everything was right with the world. However, as I started doing Heroic rag to farm mounts and get the legendary quest items during T13, my eclipse transitions stopped lining up with the bosses transitions and has reduced my overall DPS on the fight.

    Making this complaint and using heroic Rag as an example might not be entirely fair because I am using a level of gear that this fight was not designed for. However, I do see the same thing happening in Dragon Soul with the ever increasing damage buff that Bizzard provides so that everyone can get the kill. Zon'ozz is a good example of this, because I want to be in solar for the black phase to dot up the tentacles, but I've seen my timing change every time the buff is increased.

    Making the different Eclipse buffs specialized reintroduces the timing problem into the rotation in a significant way. Messing up the timing in MoP won't be as devastating to moonkin DPS as it is in Cataclysm, but I don't like any situation where my DPS could suffer due to things not entirely in my control.

    Another Look at Astral Communion:

    After that last section I know some of you are thinking "Hey, What about Astral Communion? Doesn't that fix the control issue?" To that, I say yes and no. Astral Communion is a great tool that helps in a pinch, but it is extremely limited because it is a channelled spell. For Astral Communion to be useful you have to be standing around doing nothing or being in Eclipse for the next phase has to be so important that it's worth the DPS Loss. How many situations fall into one of those two categories? How many times are you standing around in a boss fight with nothing to do? In my experience, there haven't been many of those times. Even during boss transitions there is usually a stack up point or something of that nature that I have to move towards eliminating the possibility of using Astral Communion.

    This leads me to the first change I would like to see made regarding Astral Communion. I would like to be able to cast Astral Communion while moving. Not only would this help you out during transitions when you need to get into a new position, but it also acts as an indirect movement DPS option that Moonkin currently don't have.

    My second issue is, what do you do when you need to do high single target DPS but you are already half way through the Lunar Eclipse bar? Astral communion isn't a good option because it will take you at least 21 seconds to get back to the top of Lunar Eclipse. Staying where you are at isn't great because you will be leaving Lunar Eclipse soon. There are other options as well, but none of them are all that good, because they require you to DPS in a less then optimal way.

    To address this, I think it would be neat to have a way to move the Eclipse bar backwards. I'm not exactly sure what would be a good way to do this. Having a single button that always moved you to the closes Eclipse wouldn't work, because if you were in Solar and wanted to be in Lunar, it would move you in the wrong direction, Having two buttons that moved the bar in one direction only, would work but it feels pretty confusing.