Thursday, December 8, 2011

MoP: Celestial Alignment and other Talents

There is a new Mists of Pandaria talent calculator up with some fun stuff to discuss. Many of the changes are Mana cost changes and error corrections. For example, Moonkin Aura grants 5% haste again instead of crit. Nature's Grace is back up to 15% instead of the 1% listed before, but nobody is interested in this small stuff. On to the good stuff.

New Ability: Celestial Alignment
Celestial Alignment: Grants you the simultaneous damage benefit of both your Lunar Eclipse and Solar Eclipse, increasing damage done by your Nature and Arcane spells by 25%. Activating this ability consumes all Lunar and Solar Energy and prevents gaining more during its duration. Lasts 15 sec.

Having an additional DPS cooldown will be very nice, but I would like to learn a little bit more about the ability before I get all giddy. The way the tooltip reads I've had a couple of thoughts about how this could work, but some of them seem a little strange.

My first question is how does the buff work? Does it just proc the existing Lunar and Solar Eclipse buffs or does it proc a new buff that gives our nature and arcane spells and additional all 25%? Having the buff use the existing Lunar and Solar buffs would be bad because it would make it easy to waste the buff by using it during eclipse. I think this option is unlikely, because it would be a clear trap for players, and Blizzard has said they don't want to create traps. It makes much more sense that the buff would stack with what ever other buffs we have at the moment including Lunar and Solar Eclipse.

My second question is how does the ability consume our Eclipse energy? Does it move you to neutral once you proc the ability or does it consume the energy at the end of the buff. If it consumes the energy at the start of the buff it's probably that it would shift you out of Eclipse, since we loose the Eclipse buff when we reach zero energy. This would create another trap where it is bad to use the cooldown at the wrong time.
Even if it consumed your Eclipse energy at the end of the buff, I'm not sure how I feel about the consuming mechanic in general. Since the buff both consumes your energy and prevents you from generating more energy. There are points within the eclipse cycle where it would be better to use Celestial Alignment then others. For example, it could be best to use the cooldown at the end of Eclipse so that you can extend the existing buff and have the spell consume as little energy as possible. This would ultimately give the better players a bit of a skill advantage that I know a lot of you would support, but I'm not as sure that would be a good thing.

Incarnation Change:
Balance: Chosen of Elune - Improved Moonkin Form that also halves Lunar and Solar Power generation while in an Eclipse, and doubles it while not in an Eclipse.
It's hard to know how significant this change is given how little we know about DPS in MoP. However, I do think this change is interesting given the creation of the Celestial Alignment cooldown discussed above. First, the two abilities clearly shouldn't be used together. Since, Celestial Alignment prevents you from generating energy, clearly a buff that changes how you generate energy would be a bad thing. This again creates a potential trap since one buff could possibly negate another in a way that is not obvious to more casual players.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mists of Pandaria Calculator Changes

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday I checked out of the World of Warcraft for few days and didn't see that Blizzard added a Mists of Pandaria talent calculator with an updated list of ability changes until Monday. So I'm behind the curve, but I'm going to hope that my response is better late then never.

There was a lot of interesting stuff in the Mists of Pandaria information I want to talk about, but there is also some stuff in there that at this point I don't think is all that important (and I think Blizzard would agree). Since we are in a very early stage of development, I am more worried about the structure of the changes then the actual details. For example, changes to spell mechanics like Insect Swarm being turned into a pure debuff is interesting, but the fact that Moonkin form grants a 20% damage increase in MoP instead of the 10% we have on live is uninteresting for me.

The structure is important be cause it defines how our spec will play. The structure determines if it's too easy, too hard, and if it's fun. The details while important in the long run, don't matter a whole lot if the structure isn't right, and there will be plenty of time to address those issues when we know more about the structure and how all of our abilities will interact.

Insect Swarm:

Insect Swarm: The enemy target is swarmed with insects, increasing all damage taken from your Wrath, Starfire, and Starsurge spells by 30%. Limit 1 target.

I have absolutely no problems with losing a DoT as long as the end result is a design with balanced and competitive DPS. However, I don't what Blizzard's goal is for this change, and I worry that it will turn out to be pointless or annoying for the player.

The big question for me is what's the duration of the new Insect Swarm? I can see this going a couple of ways.

Short Duration: If the new Insect Swarm has a short duration of 18 seconds, this is really just a nerfed version of the current DoT, and changes the moonkin rotation in a bad way. With a short duration, the new Insect Swarm doesn't reduce the complexity of the moonkin rotation at all and is an actual nerf to damage since won't benefit moonkin DPS at all while moving and has a single target limit. In short, a short duration is bad and annoying.

Long Duration: If the new Insect Swarm has a long duration or a mechanic that extends it automatically with a glyph of something, then what's the point of having the spell at all? Why not just buff Wrath, Starfire, and Starsurge by 30% and get rid of the spell completely? Since all moonkin nukes are single target abilities, the fact that IS is limited to a single target is meaning less. All it does is limit how quickly moonkin can start DPSing a new target since we will have to put IS on the target before we can start nuking. In short, I find this model of IS to be pointless.

New IS means One DoT?:

Not everyone is as carefree about the possibility of losing Insect Swarm as I am, and some players were worried. When a Grayfox (no relation) expressed concern about moonkin having only one DoT on the forums, Blizzard responded with:

I just wanted to drop into this thread and let you guys know that we currently plan for Moonkins to have two DoTs: Moonfire and Sunfire will be able to stack (both applied at the same time).

Now that's really interesting.

I'm assuming that Moonfire and Sunfire will still be a single button in MoP. As in we push one button to cast both spells, but which spell is cast depends on if you are in Solar Eclipse or not, but Moonfire and Sunfire wont overwrite each other anymore. If that is the case I love this change. And I think it helps moonkin in a couple of ways.

First, it lessens some of the impact of losing for Insect Swarm as a DoT. Traditionally DoTs have done more then just damage. We have had trinkets, set bonuses, and abilities that proc or stack based on how many and when ticks hit their targets and losing those IS ticks could affect how we value those gear choices and abilities. Assuming MF and SnF are a single button, this change won't make up for all the lost ticks from losing IS, but it will help.

The second big benefit is that I think it makes the rotation more obvious, and could really help make Glyph of Starfire more useful.
One of the current issues with Eclipse is that it forces to make some choices on the fly, which can lead to small errors that add up to significant DPS loss. For example, if you are about to transition out of Eclipse should you refresh your Moonfire DoT even it has 8 seconds left? Not refreshing the DoT can lead to lost uptime or having your DoT not buffed by Eclipse. However, refreshing the DoT unnecessarily means you lose damage because you could have spent that time casting another damaging spell like Starfire.

I think this change will reduce that confusion because it should become obvious that you should only cast MF/SnF while eclipse is up and even if it results in a lower uptime. Also, clipping should never be necessary with the Glyph of Starfire, because you an easily transition from one eclipse to the other in 27 seconds.

One final comment, if my original assumption that Moonfire and Sunfire would remain a single button is incorrect, then this is a horrible change. In that case, they are just replacing IS with SnF, which makes no sense and just increases the rotations complexity.

Symbiosis: The Three Paths

Symbiosis: Creates a symbiotic link which grants the Druid one ability belonging to the target's class, varying by the Druid's specialization. In exchange grants the target one Druid ability based on their class and combat role. Lasts one hour and persists through death.

There is obviously a whole lot of information we don't know about this spell yet, but I am very intrigued by the spell so far. It sounds really cool, but after thinking about it I'm not sure how it would work and could be a balancing nightmare for Blizzard. I'm not predicting failure, but the headache on this one could be so large that Symbiosis goes the way of the Dance Studio and it all depends on the path Blizzard takes with it. At the moment I see three paths.

Utility / Long Cooldown: I like the idea of trading Utility spells and long cooldowns between classes. For example, if Blizzard went the pure utility route if a moonkin linked with a Death Knight, the DK could gain Cyclone while the moonkin gained Death Grip, which could be a big help if your raid is lacking a particular ability needed to complete an encounter. The problem with that approach is that not all utility spells are significant that often, and by extension Symbiosis may be insignificant in most fights because it's not really necessary to trade abilities.

Long Cooldowns on the other hand would be significant in a lot of fights, but also might be overpowered. From a DPS perspective it could really work by trading Starfall for Elemental Mastery with a Shaman, but from a healing or tanking perspective it could be an issue. For example, lets say if a resto druid cast Symbiosis on a Holy Pally that the druid gains Aura Mastery and the pally gains Tranquility. Additional cooldowns could make some fights trivial, unless Blizzard really increased the incoming damage, which could lead to class stacking which isn't a good thing.

I think this is the most likely path but it could have some balancing issues.

Core Ability: My original thought was that Symbiosis would trade core abilities between players. For example, if a moonkin linked with another DPS we would both gain a new DPS spell, like the moonkin would get Corruption and the Warlock would get Moonfire if the link was with a Warlock. Obviously in that vision if the druid linked with a healer they would gain a healing spell and so on.

This sounded really cool at first, but the more thought about it this path didn't seem all that realistic. The basic problem is that those core spells are designed with a specific class in mind and the other buffs and abilities that the class has. For example, Starfire is a solid spell for a moonkin, but if you gave to a Warlock it would be weak without Eclipse. Ultimately I think this would be a balancing nightmare. The other issue I have with this path is that it could add significant complexity to our rotation. I don't want to have to work a new spell into my rotation and I really don't like the possibility of having that spell change depending on what class I link to if the fight requires it. In the end, I don't think this path is likely.

Passive Buff: We don't really think about passive buffs as "abilities," but it is possible that Symbiosis won't trade any active abilities. For example, by linking with a tank a moonkin might gain 5% damage reduction, or gain 5% Crit by linking with a Mage. This is probably the easiest path, because it shouldn't be difficult to balance, would provide an obvious benefit, and wouldn't change either class’s rotation. However, it's boring and would easily be math out. There would never be a discussion about which class or player to link with because we would just put it on the class that helps us the most much like players already do with Focus Magic and Dark Intent.

Final Thought: I think Symbiosis has a lot of potential but there are some pitfalls as well. It will be interesting to hear more details about it.


Starfall: Triggering Lunar Eclipse resets the cooldown of this spell.

I absolutely love this change. I recently had some discussions about where Starfall fit in our rotation and if we should cast it on cooldown or wait for Lunar Eclipse. In the end it was obvious to me that it's a problem without a good answer currently. Casting Starfall without Lunar Eclipse is a significant DPS loss, and not casting Starfall on cooldown can be a significant DPS loss. Sure there are ways to line Lunar Eclipse up with the Starfall cooldown using Glyph of Starsurge, but the benefit of GoSS is limited in Single garget encounters.

This change effectively ends those conversations and I love it. It's another situation where blizzard is taking the ambiguity out of the situation and making the rotation more obvious. In short, it turns Starfall back into a "cast on cooldown" spell.

Nature's Grace:

Eclipse: When triggered, both Lunar and Solar Eclipse also grant 15% haste for 15 seconds.

At first I thought they might have gotten rid of Nature's Grace, but turns out that they just baked it into Eclipse and improved it. Having the NG effect proc when Eclipse is triggered makes a lot of sense for several reasons.

First, having the buff proc based on a DoT cast doesn't make a lot of sense when the class has only one DoT (if my assumption above is correct). It would seem almost cruel to have the spell that benefits most form the haste buff not to be affected by it because it has to proc it. Second, since the cooldown on the current Nature's Grace is reset when Eclipse is triggered, the effect is procced shortly after you enter Eclipse already most of the time. Having Eclipse proc Nature's Grace is just taking out the middleman, and it prevents the possibility of overlapping Nature's Grace procs which is possible in the current system.

The Trend to Simplify

Many these changes don't seem that big when you look at them on their own, but when I look at them as a whole I see a very welcome trend. In my opinion, the moonkin rotation during cataclysm has been filled with ambiguity and on the fly choices that has lead to an overly complex rotation for an average player like me. We have questions like: Do I clip my DoT to maximize dot Damage or can I just power through to the next eclipse? Should I cast Starfall on cooldown or wait for Eclipse? How can I maximize the benefit of Nature's Grace?

A lot of these changes are very welcome in my opinion because they remove a lot of the ambiguity from our rotation. Starfall will be cast on cooldown most of the time because the cooldown will be reset when the spell is most significant most of the time. Assuming Moonfire and Sunfire are single button and the Glyph of Starfire doesn't change significantly means that we will only cast the DoTs once during Eclipse and shouldn't have to worry about clipping or overwriting an existing DoT.

If it is Blizzards goal to simplify the moonkin rotation a small amount, I fully support and appreciate their goal.