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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tier Six Talent Revamp

There has not been much Druid news coming out of the beta recently, and I was starting to assume that meant druids were done. That wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing either. On paper I like the over all design of the moonkin play style. However, there are some areas that I thought could use improvement. The most notable example of area needing improvement was tier six talents (lack of moonkin glyphs is a very close second).

While I had given up on the possibility of changing the tier six talents, others had not and Blizzard listened. So the good news is we get kick ass new talents and Lissanna can awake from her depression and stop cutting her self with an icky mage. Here are my more detailed thoughts.

Disentanglement — no longer a talent. Shapeshifting for all druids just breaks roots.
I completely agree with Lissanna’s assessment here. Disentanglement was a boring talent in a boring tier. Breaking roots by Shapeshifting has been baseline for druids as long as I’ve played this game and that should never have changed. Losing the heal that Disentanglement provided sucks a tiny bit, but we druids have so many other self healing options that it isn’t a big deal at all.

Dream of Cenarius:
Dream of Cenarius — increases damage spells by 70% (up from 30%)..
From a PvE Moonkin perspective, Dream of Cenarius is probably the new blah talent of the tier, and when we look at the two other options below you will see that it really suffers by comparison. It has two issues.

First, no one is going to take a healing buff over a DPS buff. That is one of the primary reasons for redesigning the talent system again. So we can completely ignore that part of the talent for now. Second, any time I can cast Nourish or Healing Touch, I can cast a nuke. The only exception is when there isn’t a valid target, and that doesn’t happen that often during fights.

Finally, there has been some speculation on EJ that we could use a short heal like Regrowth to buff a long nuke like Starfire, or use a heal to buff a strong spell like FoN, Starsurge, or Starfall. As has already been pointed out on EJ, Regrowth is now a resto only spell so that idea won’t work, but it may be beneficial to use to buff our stronger spells. That said, I don’t have high hopes for that possibility. It would likely be a tiny improvement that required a heavy handed use of mechanics to achieve. The other options are easier and likely stronger. I expect most PvE players will ignore this one, but it could be huge in PvP.

Heart of the Wild:
Heart of the Wild — now also grants 6% passive Agility and Intellect.
While writing this post, I was tweeting about the changes with Lissanna, Hamlet, Murmurs, and others, and I was surprised that several of them were still quite negative on Heart of the Wild after this change, but I can see their point. Adding a 6% passive intellect bonus to HotW is a bit like redoing the kitchen in a house with a bad foundation. Sure, it’s nicer and more useful but none of the fundamental problems have been addressed.

As I and many other people have said before, expecting players to change roles temporarily is going to be problematic for quite a few reasons that I won’t get into again. However, this change is good because if for nothing else it give us a useful talent and it give Blizzard and opportunity to show that their base design of Heart of the Wild is useful.

Nature’s Vigil:
Nature’s Vigil — Increases all damage and healing done by 30% for 30 sec, with a 3 min cooldown. While active, all healing spells also damage a nearby target for 50% of healing done, and all damage spells and abilities also heal a nearby friendly target for 50% of the damage done.
To be honest, this sounds pretty amazing. I don’t have a whole lot of criticism for this new ability. A 30% DPS buff over 30 seconds is pretty strong and the healing it generates sounds great as well. I really have only two minor concerns.

The first concern is that the two aspects of this spell address competing goals. To maximize the DPS potential of this ability you will have to cast it on cooldown and use the healing component at times when it may not be useful. To maximize the utility of the healing component you may not be able to cast it on cooldown and limit its DPS potential. However, this is a reasonable choice and one that makes playing the game interesting.

The second set of concerns, are really just unanswered questions about the healing mechanic that will probably be answered once it gets on the beta server. For example, how does it choose who to heal? Is it a target of target type of situation or is it a smart heal that picks the lowest person in range. Also, what is the range of the heal? If I’m DPSing Goriona on the Blackhorn encounter does no one get healed because no one can get in melee range?

Over All Impression:

Over all these are big improvements to the tier. As several people have pointed out there are still several issues with the talents that we can criticize. However, no one can deny that these changes move the tier from being a boring after thought to providing a more interesting choice with a significant impact.

If all this went live my guess is that Nature’s Vigil would win out as the most common choice. In terms of pure DPS math it likely ties or wins when compared to the straight 6% Int boost provided by HotW. In terms of utility, it also likely wins since Heart of the Wild is a very situational and Nature’s Vigil doesn’t require a moonkin to stop DPSing.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Graylo is Legendary

I've been working on my legendary for six months with four different guilds, and the day that I get one is finally here. After playing this game for +5 years I doubted that I would get one since I have had so many guild issues this expansion. Needless to say I'm quite excited and can't wait to get into my next DS run.

Of course, there are many people I need to thank for helping me getting it. First and foremost, I need to thank all of my guildies at Resurgence. After having such a tough year guild wise, it's nice to finally find a good home to raid with. I should also thank two of my previous (and now defunct) guilds Equilibrium and Adrenaline for helping me get the some of the embers.

Finally, special thanks are owed to Skunkworks on Balnazzar. They allowed me to go on several of their runs to pick up the cinders. They are a great guild and recruiting a moonkin. If your looking for a guild, give them a shot. If Resurgence wasn't such a great guild I would be applying their myself.