Thursday, October 25, 2012

10 vs 25: The Korean Test

In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the news from Korea.
We received several feedbacks regarding raid instance lockouts and 10/25 rewards, and we appreciate your opinions and deep interests. We thought that Korean players wish to enjoy the most hardcore contents more flexibly and according to their play styles. Therefore, from the upcoming patch we decided to change the raid instance lockout rules for all KR servers. Raids, as usual, will be reset every 7 days following maintainance checks. However, after 5.1 patch 10 man and 25 man raids will have seperate lockouts.

From now on, players could play raid instances, such as Mogu-Shan Vaults, in both 10 man and 25 man difficulty. Normal and Heroic difficulty raid of same instance will share same lockout as usual. Furthermore, the loots of 25 man raids has been buffed, and will offer higher iLV compared to same 10 man instance. For example, Terrace of the Endless Spring in 25 man difficulty will drop loots with iLV of 504, wile 10 man will drop 496.

We wish that players will further enjoy the contents and gain satisfactory rewards, and decided to offer the system that suits most well with the KR players. -- From MMO Champion. Translation by 
Here is the TL:DR version.
  • 10s and 25s will be separate lockouts in Korea. Meaning that one took can run both a 10man raid and a 25man raid every week
  • The 25man loot is being buffed to a slightly higher ilevel then 10man loot.
Let me get three things out of the way before I talk about this more.
  1. At this point this is only happening in Korea, and there is no indication that it will eventually come to US or EU servers. Some of you probably remember that the Korean servers had two lookouts per week for Firelands and Dragon Soul during Cataclysm, and that change never came to the other game regions. So this could be a way to test the change in a relatively small region before exposing it to the wider population, or it could just be an adaptation for marketing purposes. I'm going to assume for this post that it's a test.
  2. We know VERY little information about this change. As far as I know Blizzard hasn't said anything about what is intended or how this will affect other systems.
  3. There is NOTHING Blizzard can do that will make everyone happy. Just looking at the MMO Champion thread there are a lot of people that like the change a lot. There are others that are threatening to quit the game over it. In short some people will love this. Others will hate it. Just keep it civil.
This Seems a Little Strange

It's not surprising that Blizzard might be testing a new way to differentiate 10 and 25 man raiding. Over the past couple of months many of the big wigs at Blizzard have said that they aren't pleased with how 25man raiding has declined since WotLK. I also don't think it would surprise anyone to know that I personally wouldn't mind if the system reverted back to WotLK standard for all regions. However, given what we know I do find this change a little strange.

Though I personally didn't have a big problem with it, I do agree that there were some problems with the WotLK model that Blizzard needs to address one way or the other. For example, 10 man strict raiders were not recognized appropriately in WotLK. With that in mind, I can't recall any instance where Blizzard revert a large change back to an early version. Usually they try and create a new system that address all of the issues. For example, look at the Moonkin rotation during the MoP Beta. When many people complained that the Moonkin rotation was to boring and simple they added Fae Empowerment. When Fae Empowerment didn't work out they didn't revert back to the old rotation. They came up with a new one.

That's why this is a little strange. Given the little information we have, this Korean format sounds like a reversion to the old WotLK format. While I wouldn't have a problem with that personally, I have never thought that was a realistic possibility and still don't. If history is any guide Blizzard would at least try to address the WotLK issues, and that is why I think there is more to this change then we currently know.

How this Might Work

Interestingly, there is a way for 10mans to receive inferior gear from bosses, but still have gear that is equal to 25mans in the long run. For the record, this idea came to me while I was reading through the MMO Champion thread, but I can't find the post that caused it. As a result I don't know if this idea is a moment of inspiration or plagiarism on my part. Either way I think it's an interesting idea.

As you may remember, Blizzard planned to revamp the Valor system in MoP. Instead of allowing players to buy gear with Valor points, players would be allowed to upgrade their gear with Valor points. Obviously this change didn't make it into the release patch, but Blizzard does plan to included in patch 5.1 before the next tier.

What if the 25man gear was already upgraded when it dropped but couldn't be upgraded again with Valor points?

I can see pluses and minuses to this idea, but I must admit that it sounds like a great idea to me.

  • Differentiates the 10 and 25 man formats without completely delegitimizing the 10 man raiding.
  • Lessens the burden of Valor farming on 25man raiders and raid leaders, making the format more attractive.
  • Encourages pugging for people that want an extra shot at loot.

  • It will probably make it harder for 10man raiders to gear up, and be a bit of a disadvantage in the overall progression race.
  • The 25 man raiders will need some way to spend their valor points, if they don't need it to upgrade their gear.

As I said before, Overall I like this idea and would like to see it implemented in the US realms. Let me know what you think.

Monday, September 24, 2012

5.0.5 Gear Guide is Up, Sort Of

I've gotten most of the gear guide done, but I'm not sure I will be able to finish it before leveling starts tonight. So, instead of delaying it I've posted a fairly rough version. I think the valuations are 95% right, though there are probably a couple of issues. As always if you see a problem or something doesn't look right please let me know.

I will try and get the list done before raiding starts next week but it probably won't be until Thursday or Friday since I will be leveling myself.

Also, this list is based off of WoWhead, and it isn't always accurate for new expansions like this. Some of these items may not exist or might have the wrong data. To be completely honest there are a couple of items that look fishy.

I hope this help and thanks for understanding about its incomplete nature.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Look at 10 vs 25

The 10 vs 25 debate is nothing new to me or this blog. I've been talking about it for years and have gotten called names for having my opinions. When Blizzard announced that 10s and 25s would be equal in Cataclysm, I like many bloggers and players predicted that it would destabilize the 25man format and raiding as a whole even before the expansion was released. I've used numbers to show that the number of people participating in 25mans has dropped dramatically with each new content patch since 10s and 25s were made equal.

So when Ghostcrawler says that he doesn't like the current situation with 25s and that "Entropy will cause 25s to break down into 10s without strong counter force," all I have to say is we told you so.

I still think that the addition of 10man raids in WotLK was based upon false assumptions about what made Karazhan and Zul'Aman popular in TBC. I still think that the unequal design of WotLK could have worked if Blizzard had given more appropriate rewards to 10man raiders and limited access to both formats. Instead of trying to fix the problems they created, they tried create a new systems and end up creating new and bigger problems.

Yea, I'm little bitter, but you can't unring a bell. As much as I and many other people would love for Blizzard to revert some of the changes they made in WotLK and in Cata, I don't thing any of us are deluded enough to thing Blizzard would ever do that.

The question is how do we move forward? Are 25mans worth saving? If so, why? And finally, how do you save 25mans?

Why are 25s Worth Saving:

It shouldn't come as a surprise to any of my regular readers that I think 25s are worth saving. However, I will  admit that I sometimes have a hard time articulating why. Let me try again.

Epicness: To be completely honest I don't find this to be a very strong argument. Though I have read all of the books I don't consider myself a lore nerd, and have considered WoW more of a puzzle game then a story that I'm playing through. That said, WoW is a very story driven game.

We are the solders on the front lines in a battle for the universe, and have had to fight forces of unimaginable strength. With that in mind it seems a little strange to me that 10 adventure's can band together and save Azeroth from demons, old gods, and elemental lords. If that's the case why wouldn't the faction leaders just form a raid team to take care of it?

I realize that this is just a game and you can't apply logic in a lot of these situations. I also realize that some of this is explained by having Thrall use the Dragon Soul or having Cenarius and the Archdruids help with Rag. Plus, 25 is just as arbitrary a number as 10 in this respect, but raids were designed to be the place where players get into the big fights and take down the big bosses. Therefore, I think you should need a big group to conquer these foes and 10 people just isn't a big group.

This is an MMO, not an RPG: When the Cross-Realm Zones were introduced with patch 5.0.4 quite a few players complained because they didn't like the increased competition. Blizzard responded by basically saying "tough, this is a multi-player game." I completely agree with that response. Blizzard should emphasize the Mulit-player part of MMO, but they should also emphasize the Massively part which they have done nothing but undermine since the first expansion.

There are plenty of game styles out there were you can get together with a small group of friends to fight bosses and complete challenge, but where else can you join 24 other people in the fight to the evils of a fictional world? I'm not a video game expert by any stretch of the imagination, but MMOs are the only place I know of where this is possible and it's one of the aspects that made MMOs so awesome in the first place. Without it, MMO's are just another RPG.

There is Demand for 25mans: I can't say this with scientific certainty, but there is a lot of demand for 25man raiding out there. Over the past two years I've been in a lot of guilds and talked to a lot of people. I have heard a lot of 10man raiders say they would prefer a 25man raid, but can't find one that fits their schedule or that is on their server. On the flip-side I have yet to hear a single 25man raider say they would prefer 10s, and have only heard of one new 25man guild

The problem is supply, not demand. People will take the path of least resistance everything else being equal. As a result players who prefer 25s stay with their guild now that it's 10s because it's easier not to move or they can't find a 25 guild that fits their needs. There are guild leaders who let there guild turn into a 10man guild because it's a lot easier to form a 10man team out of your remaining 20 then finding 5 new players.

The Free Market Solution:

If you know anything about free market economics then you know that you fix a supply problem by increasing the rewards for the supply. This is why Alaskan Crab fishermen get paid so much. We as a society really want the crab, but only few people are capable of supplying it and willing to accept the risks. Therefore they charge a lot of money for the crab and we pay it.

This is the big problem with 25mans currently. They require a lot of extra work to maintain because your roster is 3 times as big, but the only reward for leading a 25man raid is your own personal preference and a miniscule amount of extra gear. The question is how can Blizzard increase the rewards of 25man raiding without gutting 10man raiding and reintroducing some of the old problems.

How Not to Save 25mans:
I think it's clear that Blizzard really under estimated how significant of an advantage 10s have over 25s. To counter that advantage 25s need an incentive that is just as significant, but can't be so strong "that all the 10s players stampede back to 25s."

Gear is a Poor Motivator: This isn't to say that Blizzard can't motivate players with gear. They do it all the time. However, there are only two ways gear can motivate players and I don't think either is very good at balancing the additional logistical challenges of 25man raiding.
  • Quality: This is the first way gear can motivate a player and it is extremely powerful. It is one of the key ways Blizzard has motivated players since the beginning of the game, but when they split 10s and 25s in WotLK it proved too strong. Players who were motivated by gear ran 25s and forced 10s into an inferior role.
  • Quantity: The issue with Quantity is that it is too weak of a motivator. Sure, the players will get their gear a little sooner, but what happens after they get it? You can't equip helmets, so after you get the items you want Quantity is unimportant. This is how Blizzard tried to reward 25s in Cata, but it obviously didn't work that well. They are doubling down on it in MoP, but I expect it will work just as well.
Separate Achievements has Problems: A common suggestion from this past week is that there should be separate realm first 10s and 25s. While Ghostcrawler seemed to be interested in the idea, I have a couple of issues with it.

The first problem I see is that it's too weak to fix the problem on its own. Realm firsts are only important if they are an actual achievement. If there's only one guild competing to be the first on the server, as is the case on many servers, then it's not really much of an achievement. It would also be diminished if it happens significantly after the 10man feat was achieved. Finally, it offers absolutely no incentive for the guild that comes in second, which is unfortunate because realm firsts are determined by time spent just as much as they are determined by skill.

The second problem is how do you prevent a 25man guild from getting the 10man achievement? Obviously, you can make the two achievements mutually exclusive and that would prevent the guild that got the 25man realm first from getting the 10man version. However, how do you prevent the #2 25man guild from getting the 10man achievement?

This isn't to say that I think there shouldn't be separate achieves for 10s and 25s. In fact I think 10s and 25s should be rewarded separately, and the fact that they weren't was the biggest problem with the system in WotLK in my opinion. However, creating a system that rewards them separately and fairly is going to be quite difficult now that 10s and 25s are treated equally.

How to Save 25mans:

It's right to point out that the "logistical" or "organizational" burden largely falls on the leaders and that the most effective incentives would be focused on them. If this were up to the free market the best raid leaders would find a way to get compensated with free gametime or something, but there are too many opportunities for abuse if Blizzard tried to reward guild leaders directly. So Blizzard needs to find indirect ways to reward them.

Give Players/Leaders a Tangible Reason to Prefer 25s: As I said before, people will generally take the path of least resistance. If a guild is faced with the choice of recruiting 5 new people and stay in 25s or downsize to 10s, it's pretty clear that downsizing is the easier option if everything else is fairly equal. Therefore making players/leaders give up something by converting to a 10man gives them an incentive to stick it out and preserve the format.

This would work for a couple of reasons. First, if the raid leader likes the reward they have more reason to recruit rather then give into the easier path. Second, if the players like the reward they are more likely to help the leaders recruit, relieving some of the burden on the leaders. Third, if players like the reward, then they are less likely to accept the downsizing and will be more willing to change guilds to gain the reward. As a result, there is a larger pull for 25s to recruit from which should make it easier.

At this point I wouldn't be surprised if there are a couple of 10man raiders who are fuming mad and asking why 25man raiders deserve perks that wouldn't be granted to 10mans. To be completely honest, I don't think that argument is without merit. I don't think that the average 25man raider does something more then the average 10man raider that makes him more worthy of perks. However, this entire post is based on the assumption that 25s are worth saving. You don't have to agree.

Give them Free Consumables: One of the best ways to motivate people is to give them stuff. In this case the trick is to give them something strong enough to cause them to make an effort to raid 25s, but not so strong that people feel like they have to raid 25s. In my opinion free consumables could come close to striking that balance.

What if when you walked into a 25man raid there was a guy standing there handing out flasks and food that could only be used in 25man raids. From the officers stand point this is a win because they no longer have to worry about Cauldrons and Feasts. They also don't have to deal with the questions about when they are going to be dropped or with waiting for everyone to arrive before dropping them. From, the players stand point this makes 25s slightly more attractive because they then know that they won't have to farm mats or buy them off the AH. Granted many guides do supply these things so there was little worry in the first place, but I do think it makes 25s more attractive for the player if only a little.


Yes, I believe that it is in Blizzards best interest and in the best interests of the game to save 25man raiding. If you disagree that's fine and I can understand why you may reject what I'm suggesting in that case. However, there are a lot of people that don't want 25s to die, and some of them are important people at Blizzard.

So if 25s are to be saved then Blizzard needs to take some bold steps. The first is to recognize and accept that the 10 and 25 man formats are inherently unequal and can't be treated as if they are equal if they want both formats to survive. The second step is to reward players, leaders, and builds in a way that tries to counter that inequity. I know 10man players won't like that but it is what is required if 25s are to survive. If Blizzard isn't willing to do that to save them, then they might as well go ahead and kill them now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The New Raiding Guide Is Up!

I've updated my Raiding guide to reflect the changes made in Mists of Pandaria. There is a link above your you can use this link. I haven't updated the gear guide yet, but hope to make it available soon. Please keep a couple of things in mind while you use it.
  1. My primary focus in the game is as a PvE Raider and my guide has the same focus. What I say in the guide may not apply if your primary focus is PvP, leveling or Challenge Modes.
  2. There are exceptions to everything. I try to make as few assumptions as possible in this guide, but I'm sure it is full of them anyway. While you can adapt your play to your situation, I cannot adapt this guide for every possible situation or exception.
  3. Finally, this guide is based upon the theorycrafting communities best efforts from Beta using the tools we've had available. However, things can change when you have millions of new eyes looking at the new data with the release of a new expansion. Don't be surprised if the conventional wisdom changes over the next two months to reflect new information. I will try and keep this guide updated with new information but I suggest that you also keep an eye on Elitist Jerks and other fan sites for new information.
Finally, I am completely open to corrections or suggestions if you have them. Please feel free give them in the comments below or send them directly to my e-mail. That said, please give as much detail as you can in your comments. Just saying "Your rotation is wrong" doesn't help anyone.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Level 85, Patch 5.0.4 Survival Guide

The Pre-Expansion patch arrives tomorrow with a lot of changes to adapt to quickly. Granted, this is traditionally a pretty lazy time for raiding and Min/Maxing your toon might not be 100% necessary. That said it is a good time to get a feel for some of the new mechanics and figure out your UI before it does matter in a months time.

When reading the information below, I would like you to keep a couple things in mind.

First, this is a level 85 guide based on the information I have available at the time it this was posted. A lot of this is likely to be relevant to level 90 raiding as well, but there are some differences and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of design changes between now and Sept 25th as well.

Second, I've been doing a lot of analysis using Simulation Craft over the past couple of weeks. Without it significant portions of this post would not be possible, because maintaining my own excel based simulator was a pain in the butt. So I want to thank Starfox and everyone involved with Simulation Craft for maintaining such a great tool.

Important Changes To Remember
The DoT Revamp: Insect Swarm is out, but Sunfire becomes it's own button. Basically, we lost a DoT to put a slightly different one in it's place, but that's not the only change. The duration of Moonkin DoTs are also significantly shorter now at 14 seconds instead of 18, and the DoTs no longer proc Nature's Grace. Nature's Grace now occurs when you enter Eclipse.

Specialized Eclipses: The two Eclipse buffs have never really been equal, but for the first time they are now designed to be different. Lunar Eclipse now favors single target DPS with Starfire being a bit stronger then Wrath and the ability to cast Starfall as soon as you enter Lunar. Solar Eclipse favors AoE DPS as it always has but with a new design. Hurricane is a bit stronger then Astral Storm and Wild Mushroom is still buffed by Solar even though it should no longer be a regular AoE tool.

New Cooldowns: Moonkins will have the potential to have multiple cooldowns in MoP. The only standard cooldown is Celestial Alignment and it does requite some skill to use it correctly, since it consumes all energy when used. The other cooldowns are from talents or other spells which I will tlak about later.
Astral Communion: This is a major quality of life improvement for Moonkin and the critters of Azeroth. With the release of 5.0.4 you can set up your Eclipse prior to the pull of the boss, and if there is downtime in a fight you can skip the phase that you are out of Eclipse. For PvPers with the set bonus can cast AC while moving.

Higher Eclipse Uptime: Euphoria is no longer a random proc but a constant benefit that always doubles energy generation out side of Eclipse. This significantly increases Eclipse uptime

Talent and Glyph Changes

Tier 4 Talents: This is the DPS or Output tier of the talent tree and honestly it's the only significant choice a moonkin has to make before level 90 and Tier 6. I've run a lot of tests on these talents using Simulation Craft and have gotten fairly consistent results about which is the best. Here is the current ranking:
Incarnation > Force of Nature > Soul of the Forest

In every test I ran at level 85 Incarnation beat the other two choices by a significant margin. If you read Elitist Jerks you may have seen some comments that suggested SotF is best at some gear levels, but those tests were done at level 90 and I wasn't able to find any situation where that is the case at level 85. That said, I do think Soul of the Forest is probably best for leveling with quests.

The Other Talents Tiers: Most of the choices in the other talent tiers are fairly situational and not all that significant to be completely honest. I expect to use this build as a general rule, but what you choose depends on the situation and personal preference.

Another Glyph Revamp: I'm not sure if Glyphs can go through an expansion without getting revamped. In MoP the Prime Glyphs have been eliminated and with them most of the reasons why a Moonkin should care about glyphs at all. I honestly don't think I'm being overly dramatic in my assessment either. Any moonkin could pick their glyphs at random and it wouldn't significantly hurt them. However, there are five that I think are a bit better for raid PvE then other choices available.

I am picking Glyph of Rebirth, Glyph of the Moonbeast, and Glyph of Stampede. I'm sure that GoR will still be requited my many raid leaders since it reduces the risk that a battle rez is waisted, and there is really no reason for a Moonkin not to pick it up. GotM is great if you frequently heal yourself or pop Tranquility for the raid. GoS is nice because it gives me an those near me an extra speed buff without having to shift forms.

The other possibilities are Glyph of Stampeding Roar and Glyph of Innervate. Both could be useful in the right situation, but I think the others I've chosen are more universally useful. As far as Minor glyphs go, they don't matter at all. Pick which ever one makes you happiest.

New Rotations

Please keep in mind that I am speaking generally with regard to the rotations below. There are exceptions to all of them depending on the situation, but I am not going to go through all of the exceptions.

Starting Rotation: The main thing you are trying to do with your starting rotation is maximize your buffs and cooldowns.
  • Use Astral Communion until you are one Wrath away from Lunar Eclipse.
  • After the pull cast Starfall and then Wrath. This uses your Starfall cooldown and immediately resets it by entering Lunar Eclipse.
  • After entering Eclipse cast Incarnation, followed by Moonfire and Sunfire to get both DoTs on the target.
  • At this point you want to start casting towards Solar Eclipse. Cast Starsurge on cooldown and fill the rotation with Starfire. Also make sure to recast Starfall when it falls off, and before you leave Eclipse.
  • Once you leave Eclipse Cast Celestial Alignment and recast Moonfire no matter how much remains to apply both Moonfire and Sunfire
  • Again cast Starsurge on cooldown and fill the rotation with Starfire. Also make sure to recast Starfall when it falls off. It's also a good idea to cast a Moonfire at the end if both DoTs don't have much time left.

With this rotation you are casting three Starfire's fairly quickly, getting two Nature's Grace Buffs and a whole lot of buffed nukes and DoTs.
Single Target Rotation: After the Starting rotation, the single target Moonkin rotation is fairly close to what you are used too, but with less guess work. Here are the main things you want to remember.
  • The buffed DoT should always be recast when you enter Eclipse no matter how much is remaining on the current uneclipsed DoT. For example, if you have 6 seconds left on MF and you enter Lunar Eclipse recast MF on the target.
  • In my testing I found very little benefit to clipping a DoT at the end of Eclipse. My Simulation Craft tests did indicate that you could improve your DPS by 0.20% by clipping a DoT with 3 or 4 seconds left at the end of Eclipse, but that benefit is so small and risky that it's not really worth it.
Recast DoTs when they fall off, however I would recommend that you delay the casting the DoT if you are one nuke away from entering the Eclipse relevent to the DoT's school. Simulation Craft didn't show that doing this made a significant difference but I have a feeling that has more to do with the gear level I tested then anything else.
  • Cast Starsurge and Starfall on cooldown and fill with Starfire and Wrath depending on the direction.
  • Incarnation should always be used at the start of an Eclipse and then cast normally until you leave that Eclipse. Then Celestial Alignment should be cast followed by Moonfire. Then cast Starsurge and Starfire until the end of CA ending with a Wrath or Moonfire depending on what you have time for. Incarnation and Celestial Alignment should aways be used in this way to maximize their benefit.

  • AoE Rotation: The Moonkin AoE spells are changing in two big ways in MoP.
    First Hurricane now has a Lunar version called Astral Storm and both have been buffed compared to what we saw in Cata. Astral Storm is a little bit weaker then Hurricane, but is buffed by Lunar Eclipse. This means that you want to be in Solar for AoE if possible, but AoEing in Lunar Eclipse is a lot better then it was if you get stuck.

    Second, Wild Mushroom is much easier to use, but was nerfed quite a bit. Wild Mushrooms should only be used for AoE if they can be placed ahead of time. Otherwise they don't keep up with the improved Hurricane. Also, it is important to remember that they are still buffed by Solar Eclipse despite there being some talk of them not being buffed by either version.

    Movement Rotation: Movement DPS hasn't really improved for Moonkin in MoP but it is a little different then what we have on live currently. Lunar Shower still has problems, but it no longer generates energy in MoP. Therefore you can spam MF or SnF while moving, but be careful which one you spam because you don't want to overate and eclipsed DoT with the uneclipsed version. Wild Mushroom is also still available for movement DPS and as said before is now easier to use.
    Stat Changes

    Hit Cap Change: For casters the base chance to miss a Skull level boss is being reduced from 17% to 15% in patch 5.0.4. This means the hit cap is shrinking from 1743 to 1535.
    Crit > Haste = Mastery: The stat equation is getting flipped in MoP. It's clear that Crit Rating should be the best secondary stat for most players at level 85.

    How players will value Haste and Mastery is not clear at all, and really depends on the individual. Some of my tests slightly favored Haste. In other's Mastery was a little bit better. How you value these stats depends on what gear you have an you have reforged it. I had to run 3 or 4 simulations to figure out what was the best set up for reforges. If you are looking to maximize your gear you will have to do the same.

    Other Changes

    Balance Power Tracker: This is the addon I used to track Eclipse in Cata and there is a new version for MoP. You can find it here.

    Fewer Heals: Many of the healing spells Moonkin are used to having are no longer standard for druids. If you have self healing macro please realize that you only have Rejuv and Healing Touch after the patch.
    No More Stat Sticks: The Ranged weapon socket is being removed from the game which means no more relics for druids.

    Things You Won't see

    Tier 6 Talents: These talents require level 90 and obviously won't matter until MoP is released and we level up. Therefore there is no point in talking about Dream of Cenarius vs Nature's Vigil in this post.

    Symbiosis: The Symbiosis spell is gained at level 87 and not available at this point. That said, I think it's a big disappointment for PvE.

    Fae Empowerment: This was a failed experiment that was scrapped a little over a month ago. If you are Moonkin three is no reason to cast Faerie Fire unless your raid needs the debuff.

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Nerfs and Random Stuff I Missed

    The end is near and it's time for me to stop being slack and write another blog post. At this point in development the big changes have been made, but there are a lot of little things to talk about. Plus, as I prepare for the release I am discovering some things that I've missed. Lets take a look.

    Nerf, Nerf, Slight Buff:

    Over the last three beta builds we've seen a lot of balancing changes. Most of them nerfs, and to some this looks like the sky is falling, but really it's not. Please think back to June 25 when Ghostcrawler said:
    Please note that these changes are straight DPS buffs, and we don’t think Moonkin need a buff right now, so we need to reduce overall damage (probably across the board) so that overall DPS stays the same. These nerfs may take a few builds, because we need to evaluate if these rotation changes are worth doing. However, don't be surprised when you see them (source)

    Yes, that quote is from a month and a half ago and the straight DPS buffs GC was talking about was Fae Empowerment which no longer exists. However, just because they got rid of Fae Empowerment doesn't mean the nerfs weren't coming after all. When they got rid of FE they didn't revert back to the old design. They changed Euphoria so that Eclipse has a much higher uptime. They made Sunfire a separate DoT with a separate button to push. And they buffed the heck out of both Moonfire and Sunfire to make Moonkin a more DoT centric spec.

    In short, those were a lot of buffs and Moonkin became a bit overpowered on the beta, and the modeling was showing that. In my opinion the best modeling available right now is coming from Simulation Craft and prior to these nerfs there were models having Moonkin Doing 141k DPS with Dream of Cenarius and 126k without it. Those are very high numbers and put Moonkin well ahead of the other classes. Moonkin needed a nerf, but the question now is if Blizzard has gone to far.

    I usually put a lot of trust in the numbers produced by Simulation Craft, and that is why I'm worried that Blizzard has been a little heavy with the nerfs. Here is a link to the Simulation Craft results. You may see something different then what I'm saying, because they do get updated, but at the time of this posting Moonkin DPS in this ranking is well behind most of the DPS classes. Moonkin are doing around 100k DPS with most of the other DPS specs doing between 115k and 125k.

    While these results are a bit distressing it is important to not panic and view them with the proper perspective. First its important to remember that Simulation Craft is not perfect. I have a lot of respect for the Simulation Craft developers, but with the amount of changes coming through it's not unreasonable to assume that there are some bugs in the system that skew the data. Blizzard does have it's own internal models, which they claim disagree with the Simulation Craft numbers.

    At this point it's impossible to tell which model is right, but the models are really the starting point rather then the end. Models are built on assumptions. They can end up being very wrong if those assumptions prove to be incorrect, and players have been very good in the past about proving those assumptions wrong. Take the Solar Cleave rotation as an example. It wasn't anticipated by Blizzard and made all of the balancing done before the expansion useless because players didn't play in the way that Blizzard had expected.

    This is the reason why it's best to balance the game around actual game data when possible. And remember Blizzard isn't shy about making changes quickly with hotfixes if one class turns out to be way overpowered or another proves to be significantly behind. Right before Cataclysm Moonkin were extremely over powered due to the DoTS and we were nerfed within a week. If the proves to be an issue this time, I trust that Blizzard will make the necessary adjustments.

    Dream of Cenarius: How Did I Miss This?

    • Dream of Cenarius Nourish, Healing Touch, and Regrowth increase the damage done by your next 2 Moonfire or Sunfire casts by 100% (build 15961)
    • In Build 15972, the damage increase to Moonfire and Sunfire is being reduced to 50%.
    I am embarrassed to admit that the change to Dream of Cenarius happened without me even noticing it. That said, I'm glad it's getting nerfed. My only question now is if it's enough.

    The 100% version of Dream of Cenarius was extremely powerful. The Simulations done by Starfox with Simulation Craft showed that it was by far the best talent option in the Tier 6 talents. However, from a moonkin perspective it is a bad design and created a situation where players would use the talent in a way that was not intended by Blizzard.

    Please remember that Tier 6 is not intended to be a DPS tier. The DPS tier is tier 4. Tier 6 is and has always been the "Hybrid" tier where Blizzard is trying to get players out of their specialized roles that we have barricaded ourselves in for the past 8 years. We could argue whether the Hybrid concept is a good idea or not. Many people including myself have argued that it's not a good idea, but the fact of the matter is Blizzard is committed to it and we have to deal with it whether we like the concept or not. So the question becomes, what should a Hybrid talent look like for players?

    Ideally, a Hybrid talent is one that allows you to perform an alternate role at a reasonable strength for a limited amount of time. From a Moonkin perspective all three Tier 6 talents fit this idea of a Hybrid pretty well. Heart of the Wild is a activated buff that buffs a Moonkin's healing and tanking ability temporarily. Dream of Cenarius ideally allows a Moonkin to use a buffed heal or a resto to use an improved DoT. Nature's Vigil caused your primary role to perform the secondary role in a limited sense temporarily.

    The problem with Hybrid talents, is that why would anyone ever rely on one. If you know your going to need extra healing at one point in the fight you bring an extra healer, not moonkin who can pop HotW or NV. If a Moonkin can rely on the healers to heal him up a majority of the time why would he pick up Dream of Cenarius. My point is that the need for a Hybrid talent is rare and unpredictable and as a result these talents would be useless 90% if they relied on their Hybrid ability alone to make them interesting. This is why Blizzard added the DPS aspects to the talents, to what I must admit are varying degrees of success. Nature's Vigil is the true winner in this regard, since it allows a Moonkin to heal by DPSing and Resto to DPS by healing. Adding 6% Intellect to HotW isn't an elegant way to make it useful, but it does get the job done. Dream of Cenarius is where the real mistake was made.

    The 100% version of Dream of Cenarius wasn't a mistake because it was weak or wasn't useful. In fact the problem was that it was too useful and minimized Hybrid aspect of the talent. As I said above, ideally a hybrid talent should buff the secondary role temporarily, but Dream of Cenarius did the opposite. It created a situation where your secondary role buffed the primary role so that players would cast heals even if they weren't need purely to get more DPS. On top of that it turned Tier 3 into a DPS choice as well because Nature's Swiftness then became mandatory to maximize Moonkin DPS.

    In short, I think the Dream of Cenarius nerf is a good thing.

    The New Gem Design:

    You may remember that I made a series of "MoP Wish List" posts, and in one of them I talked about changes I would like to see made to the Gem system. Though that post got a lot of positive response from readers, but I didn't see any official changes until recently when I as making the first gear list for MoP.

    In the past Primary stats like Intellect and Secondary stats like Haste have been treated as equals when it comes to gem itemization. The Brillant Queen's Garnet gave 50 Int and the Quick Lightstone gave 50 Haste. In MoP, that appears to be changing with the Brilliant Pandarian Garnet providing 120 Int but the Quick Sunstone providing 240 Haste.

    When I first saw this I was excited, because I thought it might change the way we consume gems, but it doesn't. All it does is shift the focus away from the Red Gem to the Yellow gem for most classes. It may make Blue and Green gems slightly more valuable as well, but I would have prefered to see a more radical change.

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    Balance Rotation: Take 3

    The end is near, and that's not a big surprise. People have been guessing that it would be a late summer early fall release for months. With the expansions cinematic being released on August 16th and the new novel Tides of War coming out on August 28th, it wasn't hard to guess that the expansion things were almost done. Then Blizzard made it official by announcing the release date of Sept 25th.

    In years past, I would have taken this as a sign that almost everything was done. The rotation was the rotation and it was up to us to make the best of the tools we have been given. However, that is not the case this time with Blizzard making significant changes to the rotation just two months before MoP's release. It's hard to say how much time we have to influence these the design at this point but lets take a look.

    Fae Empowerment: We Barely Knew You

    The first big change is that Fae Empowerment has been removed and rightfully so. Fae Empowerment was a failure on almost all fronts. At first, it provided little or no DPS boost even when used perfectly and lowered DPS when used incorrectly. Blizzard did fix the DPS problem by increasing the duration on the buffs, increasing the buffs, and adding Astral Empowerment, but that wasn't the ability's only problem.

    The original goal was to spice the moonkin rotation up a little bit by making it more dynamic and adding a little more choice. Unfortunately Fae Empowerment did neither. Instead of making the rotation more dynamic it added another predictable button to an already very predictable rotation. In the end, FE became a very complicated ability with three different buffs that didn't add anything significant to the rotation.

    Given how close we are to the release of Mists, I think it is important to give Blizzard some credit for scrapping this change and trying something new. It would have been easy for Blizzard to move forward with Fae Empowerment despite it's problems, and force us to deal with it. No matter how the new changes turn out, we have to give Blizzard some credit for trying something new this late in the game.

    The Big Changes:

    MMO Champion has datamined most of the changes and you can find them here on their web site,  but there are three main changes that I want to focus on.

    • Moonfire and Sunfire are now two different buttons. Plus, both spells have been buffed and the duration of both spells has been increased to 18 seconds.
    • Critical Strikes from the nukes will now extend the duration of one or both DoTs by 2 seconds depending on the school of the nuke and DoT. Nukes no longer refresh the DoT for the full duration during Eclipse.
    • Euphoria doubles the amount of Eclipse energy generated outside of Eclipse.

    There are a lot of other little changes as well but these are the main three that will significantly change how a Moonkin is played in MoP. Don't be at all surprised if we see more balancing changes to other spells and probably the Mastery bonus as well. As a result, it's hard to say definitively how this will affect the rotation since we don't know what the final numbers on all of these spells will be, but there are really only two ways it can go: DoT Clipping and No DoT Clipping.

    No DoT Clipping: If the moonkin rotation returns to the traditional strategy of letting the DoTs run out before you cast them again, this could be a pretty interesting rotation mechanically. The core of the rotation would be the nukes generating and consuming Eclipse energy, but the DoT casts would vary because we can't predict how often DoTs would be extended. Not only that, since Starfire only extends Moonfire and Wrath only extends Sunfire, then the two DoTs will quickly fall out of sync and would make tracking the DoTs more challenging.

    In theory this sounds great because it would create a fairly dynamic rotation that I think most players would enjoy. However, I'm not sure this play style would generate the best DPS give what we've seen in Cataclysm.

    DoT Clipping: What we've learned from Cataclysm is that Clipping a DoT is sometimes the best option if it causes toe spell to receive a significant buff that it wouldn't have otherwise. This is why it is often a good idea to recast Sunfire and Insect Swarm as we leave Solar Eclipse even if they have just 5 or 6 seconds left. Having the Eclipsed DoT up for an additional 12 seconds over the normal version could be worth the GCD it costs to cast, and that could be a big problem for the "fun" of this rotation. It would also completely undermine the benefit of having Crits extend the DoTs.

    The problem is that Eclipse could act like a timer and determine when it is best to recast DoT rather then the duration of the DoTs themselves. For example, if Sunfire has just 5 seconds left as you leave Solar Eclipse Clipping the last couple of ticks off the spell is likely a good idea if the Eclipse buff is strong enough. What if you are entering Lunar Eclipse but you already have a normal Moonfire on the target with 10 seconds left? If you clip the moonfire then you are cutting off more then half of the DoT. If you don't clip, then your Starfire Crits would be extending an inferior version of the DoT.

    I don't know the answers to these questions, but if Clipping is frequently the best option in MoP, then the rotation will be very static and boring rather then the dynamic rotation I illustrated in the No DoT Clipping strategy.

    How to Avoid Clipping:

    The primary cause of the clipping problem is the strength of Eclipse. If the Eclipse buff is too strong then the DoTs hit like a wet noodle without it. Therefore, we clip some DoTs to maintain the stronger version on the target. If Eclipse was weaker, the difference between a normal DoT and an Eclipsed DoT would be smaller. As a result Clipping would be less desirable because the benefit to clipping would be smaller as well.

    My toon Graylow on the live servers currently gets more then a 50% buff from Eclipse, which I think most would agree is a very significant buff. That is why it often makes a lot of sense to clip in Cata. In the current Beta version of MoP Eclipse is is even more significant. Not only has the base buff been increased, but the per point increase has been buffed and a new raid buff was added that gives every raid member 5 points of mastery. If I copied Graylow over to the Beta servers today, Eclipse would buff his spells by 76% with full raid buffs.

    Blizzard knows that the MoP Eclipse numbers are too high and I know that they plan on nerfing Eclipse at some point in the future. The changes to Euphoria alone made a nerf to Eclipse necessary since it significantly increases the uptime of Eclipse as a whole. However, I would argue that a more significant nerf is necessary then one that would be based solely upon the increased uptime of Eclipse. In fact, I think that the Eclipse buff needs to be weaker then what we currently see on Live. The base buff needs to be less then the current base of 16%. Total Eclipse should provide fewer then 8 points of Mastery when it is trained at level 80. And the Mastery per point increase should be less then the current 2.0%.

    I don't know what those numbers should be. It's actually more complicated then it sounds, because you have to adjust it in such a way that doesn't destroy the value of the Mastery Stat. However, if Blizzard wants to avoid widespread clipping in MoP then they need to nerf mastery more then they are probalby planning./

    Other Thoughts:

    A Movement DPS Improvement: I'm not sure if this is an intended outcome of the change or a happy accident but this actually helps a Moonkins movement DPS a little. As you guys know, Lunar Shower and spamming Moonfire was intended to be the primary source of movement DPS for moonkin in Cata. Unfortunately, there are several problems with that strategy and it didn't work out as in tended. One of the big problems is that spamming an uneclipsed Moonfire would overwrite an Eclipsed version of Sunfire or Moonfire.

    Changing Moonfire and Sunfire to be two separate buttons eliminates that problem. With a little heads up play a player can realize that he Sunfire on the target is buffed with Eclipse and therefore they should spam Moonfire if they have to move and not worry about overwriting the Eclipsed spell. Granted this isn't that big of an improvement because Lunar Shower still has other problems like ramp up time, but it does help a little.

    Is Crit the Stat of the Future? Crit has been the least favorable DPS stat for most of my WoW career. There was a brief period in WotLK were it was better then Haste, but that was the exception rather then the rule. However, Blizzard has made three changes that should make Crit Rating a much more desirable stat in MoP.

    1. No Crit from Int: In case you didn't know (and I assume some of you don't) Intellect no longer increases you a players Critical Strike chance in MoP. While I know some of you will bemoan the loss, but this is actually good for the value of crit since Crit Rating has very high diminishing returns. This will lower a players base crit chance and as a result increase the overall value of Crit Rating.

    2. Shooting Stars based on Crit: Having Shooting Stars procs based off of DoT crits rather then DoT ticks increases the value Crit rating for obvious reasons. Having two DoTs again actually makes this impact more significant now because more DoTs means more Crits. That said, I don't expect this impact to be huge since Shooting Stars has only a 30% chance to proc on the crits.

    3. Nuke Crits Extending DoTs: Again, if Nuke Crits extend the duration of the DoTs then that obviously improves the value of Crit rating. That said, this impact will be significantly diminished if Clipping happens frequently in MoP.

    I don't know where crit will fall in the stat hierarchy in MoP, but I won't be surprised at all of Crit becomes more valuable then Mastery on a point for point basis. My guess is that Crit will end up falling between Haste and Mastery as the second best Secondary DPS stat. I will have to do some testing on this later.

    The Lunar and Solar Similarities: In Cataclysm Lunar and Solar are quite different, and Solar ended up being the better buff because of the number of spells it affected. In MoP Blizzard has made several changes to correct that. Hurricane now has a arcane version called Astral Storm. Insect Swarm was eliminated balancing out the DoTs, and now that Moonfire and Sunfire are two separate buttons it is difficult not to notice how similar Lunar and Solar have become.

    I know that number wise Lunar favors single target DPS and Solar favors multi target DPS, but in terms of structure there are really only two difference left. The first is that each has a unique spell that they buff. Lunar has Starfall and Solar has Wild Mushroom, but all of the other Druid DPS spells have version for both types of Eclipse or are buffed by both types of Eclpse.

    The other difference is the cast time of Wrath and Starfire and as a result the amount of energy each of them generates. While they still have different cast times, that difference has been shrinking. After talents Wrath had a cast tome 1.5 seconds and Starfire was 3.0 seconds prior to Cataclysm. In Cataclysm the difference is much smaller. Wrath now has a base cast time of 2.0 seconds and Starfire's base cast time was lowered to 2.7 seconds. Wrath's cast time was increased to avoid creating a haste cap, and Starfire's cast time was lowered to make the Eclipse energy math work out better.

    I agree with both of those changes, but two spells that used to be 1.5 seconds apart are now just 0.7 seconds apart. I now wonder why there is any difference at all. Is there any situation in PvE or PvP where Wrath has an advantage for being 0.7 seconds faster? Why not just increase Wrath's cast time and energy generation to match Starfire. This would make the Eclipse energy math much easier since all spells would then generate 20 energy.

    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.

    Thursday, May 24, 2012

    Astral Communion and Wild Mushrooms

    If this wasn't a WoW blog that title might make you think that this post is about a weird new hippie religion, but if you've been paying attention to the Beta and Blue Posts lately you know that these are the two most recent topics of conversation regarding Balance druids.It's nice to have lot of attention being focused on Moonkin again, though it could have happened a slightly better time for me (I'm going on vacation next week and will be AFK). I've already posted about the possible return of Insect Swarm and Ghostcrawlers comments about managing Eclipse. So, in this post I will focus on the new ability Astral Communion and the role of Wild Mushrooms.

    Astral Communion:
    Astral Communion - Commune with the sun and moon, gaining 20 Lunar or Solar energy every 1 sec for 5 sec. Generates the power type most beneficial to you. 5 sec cast (Channeled).
    Those of you that follow me on Twitter know that my gut reaction to Astral Communion was not good. I envisioned that it would dominate the moonkin rotation unless it had some limitation like a cooldown or that it could only be used out of combat. My logic was pretty simple. Why would you cast spells for 15 seconds when you could channel Astral Communion for 5? After thinking about it with a little more perspective I realize that my judgement might have been a little hasty. Now I see some potential in the ability, but there are some pitfalls Blizzard has to be sure to avoid.

    Having a way to get close to eclipse (without killing critters) before you start an encounter will be nice. It will require some timing because getting one cast preferable to starting in eclipse, but that shouldn't be two hard to manage. It's also nice that it would provide us with something to do in down time and give us a way to get to Eclipse quickly if critical phase of the fight is a about to start. My guess is that these are the intended types of uses for this ability, but I fear the unintended consequences.

    My main concern is that Astral Communion could become a part of the core rotation, and I think that is something everyone (including Blizzard) wants to avoid. To do that, any ability that allows us to manage Eclipse needs to come with a trade-off as i said on Monday. Astral Communion does have a trade-off in that you can't do any damage for the 5 seconds while you are channeling Astral Communion. The question is if it's enough.

    After hearing about the new ability I tried to validate my concern with an extremely simple model. It had just one nuke cast every two seconds and generated 20 energy with each cast. The first timeline had a total of 60 casts (30 with eclipse, 30 without). The second timeline had 40 eclipsed casts and 8 AC channels. The first timeline out performed the second timeline even when the Eclipsed casts did double the damage of the normal casts. This "test" was in no way definitive or scientific. It not only didn't use real spells or real numbers, but it also excluded DoTs and Nature's Grace.

    My test did allay my concerns somewhat. Using Astral Communion every time you leave Eclipse doesn't appear to be an obvious DPS improvement that I thought it would be at first. That said, I wouldn't be at all surprised if a clever player found a way to turn it into a DPS increase and that has to be avoided. At this point I'm cautiously optimistic, but it needs a lot of testing.

    Wild Mushrooms:
    Mushrooms don't benefit from Eclipse and really it's targeted more at something you set up before targets arrive. You then use Hurricane once they're there. That's the intent, anyway, and if it's not there yet, then we'll get it there
    Lets get one thing straight up front. Blizzard never designed Wild Mushrooms to be used for AoE. If you want to think back to the early days of the Cataclysm Beta, you will remember that Wild Mushroom started with a 15 yard radius and did so much damage that they were better then every other spell we had, especially when they could hit multiple targets. Blizzard reacted by both nerfing the damage and by reducing the radius to just 6 yard. When players complained, Blizzard made their intent clear by stating that they expected players to place mushrooms at spawn points or along their path (if I remember correctly). Wild Mushroom's damage was eventually buffed, but the blast radius has remained 6 yards ever since.

    Obviously this wasn't enough because Wild Mushroom has been the primary source of moonkin AoE in Cataclysm along with multi-dotting. However, Blizzard has taken steps to correct this in the MoP beta. The first and most obvious change is the introduction of Astral Storm (an arcane copy of hurricane, think MF/SF). They've also buffed the spell coefficients for Hurricane and nerfed the coefficients for Wild Mushroom. However, as Murmur's pointed out on the forums and as I've said in the past, as long as Wild Mushroom is affected by only Solar Eclipse then Moonkin AoE would still center around the Solar Buff.

    With this in mind, Ghostcrawler's comment is really just the final nail in the coffin for Wild Mushrooms utility as AoE, and I support this change. I like many players have not been a fan of the WM/Multi-DoT AoE rotation and will be happy to see it gone for good. Wild Mushroom may need some tweaks to make it viable as the the trap it's intended to be if it is no longer buffed by Eclipse. For example, the damage may need to go up a little bit, and I would love to see the radius increased to provide a higher margin of error. To be honest, I'm surprised it has taken them this long to make this change. Blizzard has known for months that the current form of Wild Mushroom would still cause players to favor Solar Eclipse.


    Astral Communion: Cautiously Optimistic

    Uneclipsed Wild Mushroom: A good change.

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    Insect Swarm and Managing Eclipse

    In case you haven't seen it, Ghostcrawler came back to the forums this weekend with a few more thoughts on the state of Insect Swarm and the moonkin rotation. He did mention Insect Swarm very briefly, but a majority of his comments focused on the potential for managing Eclipse and how that has affected the Moonkin rotation. Once again, there aren't a whole lot of details at this point, but here is my take on these comments.

    Insect Swarm Again:

    In Ghostcrawlers second comment he was a little wishy washy (at least compared to his first post). Here is what he said exactly:
    If we add Insect Swarm back, it would not be just to have another dot to manage, but to give players some way to interact with solar or lunar power more. There are other ways to do that too, so it may not ultimately be Insect Swarm. The rotation is close to where we want it, but it needs just a little more to play with.
    Lets start from the back first. I completely agree that the current MoP rotation is pretty solid. Most of the major issues with the Cata Rotation have been corrected. Personally I'm perfectly fine with where the MoP rotation stands, but I can see the point that some people are making that it's a bit boring and repetitive after you trigger Eclipse and get the DoT up. So, I'm not opposed to adding something that makes the rotation a little more dynamic, but I would encourage restraint in adding anything so that things don't swing to far in the other direction.

    Adding another spell like Insect Swarm, could be the solution for making the rotation more dynamic. The question is what would the new spell look like. The previous MoP version of Insect Swarm doesn't make any sense in this regard because it wouldn't add any complexity to the rotation. Therefore, I'm going to ignore that possibility for now.

    Ghostcrawler's comments also seem to dismiss the possibility of Insect Swarm returning as a DoT, but I wonder if that might be taking the comment a little to literally. One of the big problems with moonkin DoTs in Cata is that Moonfire and Insect Swarm are too similar in that they have the same duration. This means that they are usually cast in tandem and therefore it doesn't make much sense to have them as separate spells. What Ghostcrawler might have been saying is that it doesn't make sense to have another DoT exactly like Moonfire. Insect Swarm could be coming back as a DoT, but something significantly different then Moonfire that would add something new to the rotation.

    There is one suggestion for an Insect Swarm DoT that I think has some merit. What if Insect Swarm was added back as a DoT unaffected by Eclipse? The idea behind it is that it would be a button moonkin would hit every 12 seconds or so regardless of where you are in the Eclipse transition, and would give players more to do then spam nukes after Moonfire is up.

    While this should make the rotation more dynamic, I do have some concerns about how this would affect balancing. First of all Insect Swarm would have to be stronger then your average nuke (with and without Eclipse) to make it worthwhile in a patchwerk rotation. Second, it would scale differently then our other spells since it would be unaffected by Eclipse and Mastery. This could cause concerns over the course of the expansion and might become too weak to cast by the end as it has in the past. Third, it would weaken Mastery as a stat for moonkin and could make gearing for moonkin difficult because Haste might be the only significantly attractive secondary stat.

    However, All that I've said about Insect Swarm in this post could be a waste of breath if Ghostcrawler actually did mean that Insect Swarm was not coming back as a DoT. One thing is very clear to me though. At this point, nothing is set in stone. Don't be surprised if what we end up with in a month or two seems completely different then what has been talked about in the past few days.

    The Problem with Managing Eclipse:

    The rest of Ghostcrawler's comment about managing Eclipse has me a little concerned. After saying he wanted to "give players some way to interact with solar or lunar power more" in the comment above, he went on to say:
    At the 5000 foot view, the point of the Eclipse mechanic to begin with was to cast X spells for a time, then switch to Y spells with the Druid having some control over when or why that occurred. We don't think killing critters to get the bar moving or gaming it so that you stayed at one side of the bar forever really delivered on the vision for Eclipse. However, those tactics did give players some control -- a way to game things so that more clever players could extract a bit more performance out of the mechanic.
    We are concerned that we are too far to the other extreme now, where the game UI tells you whether to use your solar buttons or lunar buttons and you really aren't making any strategic decisions. We want to introduce some relatively simple, elegant mechanic to give you more control over how much lunar or solar power you have. Maybe that's Insect Swarm. Maybe it's something else. Try it out over the next few builds, keeping in mind that it may take a bit before we have something we are satisfied with.

    I'm not opposed to having a way to manage Eclipse, but I think providing such an ability is a risky option that could quickly get out of control. The problem is that Eclipse is so strong that it dominates how much damage a moonkin deliver. Anything you can do that would increase Eclipse uptime and usage is probably a good idea, and that is how the moonkin rotation got to the strange situation we are in today in Cata.

    As GC said in his comment we killed critters to get as close to eclipse as possible at the start of a fight. We came up with interesting strategies like Solar Cleave to stay in one Eclipse and pump out a tone of damage. We did the calculations and simulations to determine when it was a good time to clip the DoTs so that they had a higher uptime while buffed by Eclipse. GC's comments show that they didn't intend the first two to happen, and I seriously doubt they intended us to be clipping DoTs either. This just goes to show that any control we gain could end up dominating our rotation if it has a significant impact on Eclipse uptime and usage.

    This actually has me rethinking my position on Celestial Alignment. I like many players thought of Celestial Alignment as an on demand Eclipse at first, but that's not correct. Because it adds to Eclipse uptime, the goal is actually to cast it as close to on cooldown as possible. The only thing holding it's usage back is that it consumes all eclipse energy when used so that you want to use it as close to zero energy as possible. Of course there are times when delaying it's usage will make sense, but the reality is that will be the exception rather then the rule.

    This realization lead me to another question. How do you give players a way to manage Eclipse without it increasing Eclipse usage and therefore dominating the rotation. Then I had an epiphany.

    Managing Eclipse Needs a Trade-off:

    Since players will do everything they can to maximize Eclipse usage, any ability that allows players to manage Eclipse has to come with a trade-off and be close to DPS neutral on a Patchwerk type encounter. Otherwise, it will just become a part of the standard rotation and provide no real control.

    In general, I'm not a big fan of Armchair Development from players, because it is very easy for us to fall in love with a suggestion, without fully understanding the realities and technical limitations of the suggestion. That side I'm going to make a couple of suggestions that I think are nice examples of ways to manage Eclipse with a trade-off.

    Eclipse Storage - Have Eclipse continue to proc at 100 energy, but allow players to continue to generate energy up to 150 or 200 by casting the "wrong" nuke.

    My basic thought is that if you aren't ready to use Eclipse yet or if you need to slow your DPS, Eclipse storage would allow you to cast the "wrong" nuke without reducing your Eclipse usage since every time you cast an uneclipsed Starfire, you would get an eclipsed Wrath later (I know that isn't exactly true, but close enough at this point.)

    I like this idea for a couple reasons. First, it's pretty close to being DPS neutral and probably a little DPS negative if used frequently. Your basically gaining an Eclipsed Nuke for each Uneclipsed Nuke you use. Second, it's not advantageous to use this ability excessively because it limits the uptime of Nature's Grace, Starfall, and possibly DoTs. To me, it sounds like an elegant solution to me because it provides a utility without the ability for it to be abused. Third, I also think this idea could work as a standard ability that moonkin always have or as a cooldown that players only used when they needed it.

    My main concern with this suggestion is that it could make energy generation too complicated. The current system is nice in that it will only go one direction. Having spells be able to move the eclipse bar backwards all of the time is not necessarily something I want, because casting the wrong spell while eclipse is down would be very punishing.

    Eclipse Fast Forward - Allows the player to immediately proc the next Eclipse, but cut Eclipse energy generation outside of Eclipse in half for one minute or until Eclipse is procced again.

    The idea is that if you need to be in Eclipse right now you can hit this button and get there immidiately. It wouldn't increase Eclipse uptime, because reaching the next Eclipse will take longer due to generating Eclipse energy outside of eclipse at a much slower rate. As a result this ability should also be DPS neutral on Patchwerk if not a little DPS negative. It could also limit the uptimes of other abilities depending on when it was used.

    My primary concern with an ability like this is that it might be too brainy and not very intuitive for newer players to understand. Since it would kind of behave like a cooldown, I'm sure there are quite a few people who would start to use it on cooldown as much as possible. Since there is potential for this ability to negatively impact DPS it could end up being a trap. Therefore, I have a feeling this type of ability isn't all that attractive to Blizzard.

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Insect Swarm and the Interesting Rotation

    The early days of a World of Warcraft Beta is a dreamer's paradise. Players have the sense that everything that is wrong with there class can get fixed, and they scream their desires from the highest mountain tops. One of the more consistent and vocal groups are the players saying their rotation is to boring and want something more interesting. The Mists of Pandaria beta has followed this pattern completely. Early on some players were calling for "more interesting" usages of Insect Swarm and for an improved moonkin form that changed our abilities much like Tree of Life and Metamorphosis do.

    To be entirely honest, these discussions annoy me. Most of the time they are overly simplified and overly optimistic diatribes about what is possible, but generally lack any creativity or analysis of what the real impact of their idea would be. I had thought about making a post on this a couple of months ago when the beta was newer and some players were in a frenzy about wanting an interesting rotation. Unfortunately, time got way from me and by the time I was ready to write it, the conversation had died down. Then Ghostcrawler brought the conversation roaring back by saying:

    We are in fact experimenting with adding Insect Swarm back to the rotation.

    Insect Swarm: The Possibilities

    Ghostcrawler didn't provide any details on what they are thinking, but a couple of the options are obvious.

    1. The MoP Buff: The newest version of Insect Swarm was a single target spell that did no damage on it's own, but buffed all of the Balance DPS spells. The player reaction to this version was mostly negative, since it significantly diminished moonkin multi-target DPS and created additional ramp up time for target switches. Ultimately this idea was quietly scrapped and never made it into the beta.

    2. The DoT: In Cataclysm, Insect Swarm finally became a strong spell that remained significant for an entire expansion, but that improvement caused new issues. First, since it's currently only buffed by solar eclipse it contributed to the Soul Cleave issues that we have experienced through out Cataclysm. Reintroducing IS as a solar only spell would undermine the effort Blizzard has made to balance the eclipse transition in MoP. The other issue that I've had with IS is that it is too similar to Moonfire. Since the two spells have the same duration they are currently cast in tandem. To make matters worse, if they try to fix the solar cleave issues by buffing IS with lunar they make it even more similar to Moonfire. At some point, they might as well just have to turn them into one spell that you have to hit twice.

    All that said, neither of these possibilities are very likely. Blizzard cut these designs for a reason, so it's unlikely that they would bring either of them back without some significant modifications. My guess is that IS will remain a DoT, but it will be interesting to see how they modify it so that Solar Cleave doesn't become an issue but still differentiate it from Moonfire.

    Do Moonkin Need an Additional Button?

    While the design of Insect Swarm is important, the bigger question in my mind is do moonkin even need another button to push? I know there are a lot of you out there that immediately answer yes, but I'm not convinced. To be fair, I've never been a big fan of complex rotations. I think if you look though my blog history you could find a post from TBC where I defended the MF, SFx4 rotation even though it is clearly very boring by most standards. That said, I do think the critics of the current MoP rotation are being a little harsh.

    The standard complaint is that most of the MoP rotation happens around the eclipse transition and then you spam Wrath or Starfire until you get to the next eclipse. There is some truth to that, but I think it over simplifies the situation. First of all, many people seem to forget about Starsurge and Shooting Stars when discussing the MoP rotation. Starsurge is an additional button to push and Shooting Stars makes it unpredictable. The other thing to remember is that some of the nuance of our Cata DoT casting strategy is still there in MoP. While we won't be refreshing MF when we leave eclipse there is a question of if we want to refresh it before we enter a new eclipse. What I'm trying to say is that while the MoP rotation is simplier then the Cata rotation, it's not entirely brainless.

    I'm also concerned that many of the critics are basing their dissatisfaction on incomplete information. Testing a rotation against quest mobs, target dummies and even in 5-mans doesn't provide the whole picture since Raids are the primary source of challenging content were a rotation is truly tested. We don't have a complete idea of what the rotation will look like when used in competitive content. For example, if you think back to the Cataclysm beta you might remember that that there were some people saying that the Cataclysm rotation was boring because it would two predictable and formulaic. Little did they know it would be one most complicated and convoluted rotations ever seen in the game.

    None of this is to say that the MoP rotation can't be improved. I completely agree that after you trigger eclipse and cast whatever DoTs and cooldowns you need to cast, casting 10 to 15 nukes in a row doesn't sound like an awesome experience. However, I would much prefer a rotation that is a little two simple to something complex and subjective like the current Cataclysm rotation.

    Should Rotations be a Source of Fun?

    I do find it a little odd that some people treat the rotation as one of their primary sources of fun in this game. I see how having a more interesting rotation could make the game more fun in the short term, but I don't see how it can last. As a raider the rotation is something we we use 3 or 4 nights a week for several hours each night for close to 2 years. We use the rotation so frequently for so long that I don't see how any rotation can stay interesting over the long term.

    I'm not suggesting that we should be fine with just any mind numbing, one button rotation, but I do think the critics of the MoP rotation are expecting a little much from a rotation. In my opinion the primary source of enjoyment could come from the raiding content. The fun should come from figuring out how to put out maximum DPS while not dying in a fire or how to modify the rotation to take a particular situation into account.