Monday, November 30, 2009

Of Loot and RNGs

Welcome back!  I hope everyone had a fun holiday weekend!

The world is funny, sometimes in what it gives you.  No matter what the odds of something happening are, that slim chance sometimes wins out.  You love it or hate it (or sometimes just have to laugh!) depending on which way the long odds went... and I had an example of this last week that I thought was so ironic I could do nothing but laugh.

If you read about our loot rules last week and thought about it a bit, you may have realized that it's rather difficult in *most* of our 25-man raids to get gear that you have to roll for as an off-spec roll, because there will usually be at least one main spec in the raid that can use it and thus will get to roll first.  This makes it a little rough on those of us that raid in our non-main spec, but it's really probably for the best this way.

That's neither really here nor there.  Since I don't normally get a chance to bear up in our 25-man guild raids (because we have 3-4 designated progression tanks ahead of me), I usually end up rolling on healing gear, which has been mysteriously slim of late, and I don't usually get to roll on tanking loot.

Last week, due to illness, I had a chance to tank on our Ony/Vault/ToC run.  I was ecstatic at the chance to run my main spec in our guild raids as well as having the opportunity to roll on tanking gear as my main spec.

I was disappointed, then, when the only real tanking upgrade that dropped was a sideways one for me - a chest item with identical main stats and gem slots, and a few shifted secondary stats as the one I'm already wearing.  (I passed on rolling for that, since we had folks that could get much more use out of it.)  I had to laugh, though, because two pieces of leather casting gear (that I would have really expected to be snapped up by one of the casting druids on the raid) fell to off-spec rolls, and for a change of pace my rolls were decent enough to win.

Why is it that the RNG decides to ship me healing gear on the one night I'd really like to see tanking gear drop?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Ice Friday

Being Black Friday today, I'm not going to be anywhere near a computer long enough to write a proper post, so I'll just point you over to Icedragon at Druid main and her great post about some techniques useful to bears.

My only comment to her:  SWIPE! :)

I know, I know, bad pun in the title, but I can't help myself.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I'd like everyone to have a fun, happy, and safe holiday!

Don't eat too much!

*Note: Eating too much on Thanksgiving is not the same as eating too much on any other day of the year.  On Turkey Day, it is defined as eating so much that you can't keep it down.  Any amount less than that is ok.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Raiding and Loot Rules

I was wondering if any of the two readers I have would care to share their guild's loot rules for raiding?

My guild has tried a few things, but being the way we are we've always decided to stick with generally simple rules, adding one now and again to further the best interests of progression, fun, or fairness.  While I personally think we have too many rules (and we're considering adding another one!), I do think our system works pretty well, is not too complicated, and is mostly fair to all involved.

Here's our rules:

1.  Rolls are called for main specs first, then off spec.
   1a.  Your main spec is the role you are performing on this particular raid.  If you wish to roll on a different spec, clear it with the raid leader first.
   1b.  If you have already won an item from either of the two main general categories we set out (see #2 below) as a main spec item, you roll as if it were an off spec item.

2.  There are 3 categories of items we separate:  tier pieces/trophies, normal gear, and random stuff.  Random stuff, for example, is Onyxia's Enlarged Onyxia Hide Backpack - everyone can roll on random stuff provided it's something they can use (i.e. they don't already have Onyxia's backpack.)  For the other two categories, winning an item in one category does not preclude you from rolling on an item in the other as main spec.

3.  We are working on progression and feel that appropriately geared tanks are essential to success.  In addition to anyone performing the tank role on the raid, our designated progression tanks get first pick of tank loot.

4. On caster items, +hit gear goes to DPS casters first, and +critical strike gear goes to healing casters first.

We have no other rules beyond that.  The one we are considering is giving first pick rights to different melee classes based on which stats benefits them more, especially on accessories such as rings and trinkets that multiple classes can use - i.e. agility rings go to rogues before warriors.  That is a complicated one, especially for specs such as my main, where it's not agility vs. strength that is looked for, but, in logical terms, (agi OR str) AND stam.

We decided against using tools such as DKP because our guild does not want to completely discourage PUGs or guildmates that don't have very much time to raid from coming - if they don't have time to come 2 nights a week, that's ok, they'll still have their shots at gearing up.

We're a pretty mature group in general, almost always willing to help each other out, and that helps - we have regulars that will step out to let folks that don't get a chance to go every week have a turn, and folks that are willing to pass on items that are small upgrades for themselves to let others get much bigger upgrades.

So... is this kinda normal, or are we way out in left field?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Suspension of Belief - Real Life

So I'm back from my trip and despite getting to play WoW all week last week I don't have much of anything interesting ready to talk about, so I get to tell you a little bit more about my life.

*Gasp!* Yes, I have a *real* life, day job and all.  I know, I know, calm down, it's not the end of the world.

My wife and I were married in February of this year and are expecting our first child next March.  We're extremely happy and can't wait to get on with the business of parenting.  I'm sure we'll do enough complaining when the time comes, but it's a wondrous event for us and something we both wanted.  She's not a gamer, which makes WoW one of the few things we don't share, but don't let that get in the way, she's a great person.  I couldn't ask for a better woman to be with, as each of us makes the other better.  Or so I like to tell myself! ;)  You'll probably hear more about her as this site goes on, but for now that's just a little about her.

What I wanted to talk (read: rant) about a little more today is my truck.  More specifically, I made a bad pun in the title because I'm going to talk about my recent issues with repairing my truck's ball joints and sway bar linkages.  If you really just want to hear about WoW, come back tomorrow or the day after, as I'll have something for you then...  However, if you are curious about some of the stupidity that happens in my little world, read on.

A few months ago my truck started making noise behind the driver's side front tire when I turned the wheel, especially when I was stopped or moving slow, and before the truck had warmed up.  Those of you who know a lot more about cars than I do (or were paying attention just a minute ago) can probably already tell where the issue was, but me being only a semi-handyman asked a good friend of mine who could probably rebuild an entire car from spare parts, to take a look and see what he thought it was.

So, a month or so ago at our weekly dinner/hangout/play Magic at Skyline Chili, he and I went out and take a look behind that wheel.  He grabbed a flashlight, I turned the wheel all the way to the left and hopped out to see what there is to see.

The first thing I noticed was a rusted bolt with no head and a loose plastic sleeve sticking up into midair, about two inches from a bar with an empty hole on the end.

My friend, looking for the source of the noise, had ignored this already, but when I asked him about it he said that, yep, that's a broken sway bar linkage that needs to be replaced, but not likely the source of the noise.  He had me go back and turn the wheel back and forth a few times.  Sure enough, there's grinding and complaining from my wheel assembly.

Turned out that the factory lower ball joint on this 135,000+ mile truck had started to go bad - the boot had been torn up, and being factory issue, when the grease leaked out there wasn't a grease joint to add more back in.  The upper ball joint, just as old as the lower, probably needed to be replaced too, although it wasn't making any noise yet.  So my friend tells me that if I'm going to replace the lower ball joint and the sway bar linkage, I might as well go ahead and replace the upper ball joint too, since it'll need it eventually and it'll save on labor whether we do it ourselves or have a shop go after it... and then he says that being a suspension part, you don't just replace one side, so we're going to replace 4 ball joints and 2 sway bar linkages.

The next day I rolled over to the tire/service station near my house and discussed with them the need to replace the aforementioned joints and linkages, and was informed that the cost would be roughtly $800-$1000 for the entire job.  I thanked them and went to the nearby auto parts store to buy parts.  I spent $279 (ok ~$330 after you include the alignment when done, but still - major savings.)

The Saturday before my trip, my friend rolled over, bringing jack stands, a *good* jack, and his toolbox, which contains a larger selection of tools than mine, and we set to work disassembling the area around the front wheels of my truck.

I'll shorten this part of the story for everyone's sanity.  It was a long, hard day of work.  He and I were both grease, sweat, and blood up to our elbows.  We'd had to take a hacksaw to get one of the sway bar linkages off and a sledgehammer to dislodge the lower ball joints.  The press I had rented for us didn't quite fit right and required jury-rigging (read: more sledgehammer) to properly seat the ball joints.  We did it, though, and it was a job well done.

I can see some of you asking where the stupidity is, in this story.  It's coming.

That all went down Saturday afternoon, and after replacing these joints, I needed to take my truck to a service station to get it aligned before going on my trip on Monday.  I called around to a few places and found one that was open on Sunday, and dropped it off before my wife and I went north to see my family for my sister's birthday.

We got a call later that afternoon from the service station.  I was told that the ball joints were the wrong ones.  They said that when they got the truck up on the rack and the suspension sagged, the joints slipped.  The guy talked to me about how he could look at the database for the place I bought the joints and see they were the wrong ones.  They would be happy to replace them for me, at a cost of $100 parts and $100 labor for each joint - $400 to replace two parts I had paid $60 total for to begin with.

Incredulous, I made other arrangements for travel on my trip and told them I'd pick my truck up in the morning before I left.

A week later, after I got home, I rolled over to the service station I had stopped at originally, the one close to my house, and asked for a front end alignment.  Two hours later my truck was fine, all realigned, and I picked it up.  Sure enough, there was no problem with the ball joints.  My truck is running smoother than it has in a long, long time.

I really don't know if one station saw something the other didn't, or if they were trying to pull a fast one to get some money out of me.  I have no idea if that is common practice or not.  I would think, though, that if you want return business you wouldn't tell somebody they need $400 worth of work, when they don't.  My friend suggested that it might be because we replaced the joints ourselves - that service stations will tend to tell you stuff is wrong because you did it yourself.  Personally, I wouldn't do that - if a person is smart enough and willing to put in the effort to do maintenance on their cars themselves, they're probably smart enough to tell when you're feeding them a line of b-s about something they did being wrong.

Oh well.  C'est la vie.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled program...

Monday, November 23, 2009


I'm back!

Short new post today...

I'd like to ask for folks to keep my guild leader and good friend Kevin in your thoughts, he's in the hospital with pneumonia, or perhaps the flu.


Friday, November 20, 2009

A Primer on Tree Healing (Part 3, Gear, Gems, and Enchants)

Here we go again.


Trees can use both leather and cloth armor, although if we do roll on the lower armor cloth pieces, we often annoy our slightly squishier friends.  I would recommend, if you want your priests, mages, and warlocks to LIKE you, that you pass on that and focus on the leather pieces.

Also, I know that some guilds, like mine, prioritize gear with hit rating on it for DPS casters, since healers do not need that statistic, and crit rating for healers, since it's more important for them than DPS.  Keep that in mind as well when rolling for gear.

In the interests of ranking stats, I've put an importance on each of them below.  But much like with tanking, in my humble opinion the selection of gear is all about finding the right balance.  Thankfully most selections are quite clear; one piece is a strict upgrade over another.  But what separates good players from great players in this department are those that can examine two pieces that are sideways upgrades of each other - lose in one area and gain in another - and make the choice that helps them the most.  As healers, we need to balance our mana regeneration with the power of our heals and the size of our mana pool, keeping in mind that the power of our heals will affect how much mana we need to be regenerating.

All that being said, trees should look for, in order: spell power, spirit, crit rating, and intellect.  If the gear doesn't have spirit, it might be ok if it has MP5 to make up the mana regen difference, but you need to take into account the spell power from spirit in addition to that.  If the spell power listed on two items is the same, but one has mp5 and no spirit, and the other has spirit but no MP5, take the one with spirit.

Spell power is not as important for trees as it is for other casters - but it is still the granddaddy of stats.  There's a wrinkle for us, though, since we get 15% of our spirit as spellpower in tree form.  Thus, when evaluating gear, remember that it's ok to lose a (very) small amount of spell power for a reasonable gain in spirit (quickest, easiest math is 3 points of spell power = 20 points of spirit).  Counting gems for spell power, spirit, or mp5 becomes tricky as there are a lot of options for gems.  More on that later.

Spirit helps our mana regen in addition to our spell power, and it the long fights of both Ulduar and ToC, that's greatly needed.  After spirit, it's important to look for crit rating and intellect.  We already get quite a bit of crit rating for various spells from our talents, but the closer we can push ourselves to 100% crit, the more healing we're going to be putting out and the more procs we'll get out of Living Seed and other abilities.

Intellect increases both our crit chance and our mana pool, and to a much lesser extent, our mana regneration.  Mana pool is important - the larger our mana pool, the longer we can cast continuously without needing mana help.  We should focus more on mana regeneration that mana pool size, because we need to have continuous production over the course of very long fights.  If you have enough mana regen that you can go the length of an innervate cooldown without completely running oom, then focus on increasing intellect.


Gems give you the flexibility you need to make up shortcomings from your gear selection, and while this is true for everybody, it is especially true for the tree.

I mentioned before that gear selection is all about balance for us - tanks generally stack as much stamina as they can, and most casters stack as much spell power as they can, but we need to be more careful if we want to be as good as we can be.  In my bear gear, I often recommended using the 2-color gems, but here I highly recommend using single-color gems matching the socket, to best match your needs, with one possible exception.

Red gems should always be spell power gems.  There really isn't anything else in red that helps us.

Blue gems should be spirit or mana per 5 seconds - the split needs to be determined by your individual casting habits and mana regeneration needs.  I split mine about half and half.

Yellow gem slots are the ones you might consider using 2-color gems for, to get a little more spell power, spirit, or MP5 out of them.  The yellow part, whether a single-color or 2-color gem, should either be critical strike rating or intellect, but I wouldn't place a particular importance on one over the other.

Also don't forget the Unique-Equipped Nightmare Tear for +10 all stats.

I'll talk about how the jewelcrafter only gems play into this a bit later.

There are quite a few meta gems that are available for consideration.  I'm currently using the Bracing Earthsiege Diamond for spell power and reduced threat.  The critical strike rating and mana gem Beaming Earthsiege Diamond probably isn't a bad choice, nor is spell power and intellect with Ember Skyflare Diamond.  Intellect and chance to restore mana on spell cast from Insightful Earthsiege is probably worth taking a look at although I don't think it will rank too terribly high.  MP5 and increased critical healing from Revitalizing Skyflare Diamond is probably first on the list of things I may test if I decide to change.  I'm not a big fan of the minor run speed increase but pair it with spell power in Tireless Skyflare Diamond and it might also be worth looking at.


Not so many comments this time around...
Head - Arcanum of Blissful Mending (Wyrmrest Accord)
Shoulders - Greater Inscription of the Crag (Sons of Hodir)
Chest - Powerful Stats or Greater Mana Restoration
Hands - Exceptional Spellpower
Legs - Brilliant Spellthread
Feet - Greater Spirit
Wrist - Fur Lining - Spellpower (for leatherworkers), Superior Spellpower or Major Spirit (for everybody else)
Back -Wisdom (+10 spirit)
Weapon - whichever spellpower enchant is the best for the weapon you're using


I still like Leatherworking and Jewelcrafting.  Although LW only grants you spellpower, it's a HUGE chunk, and JC allows you the flexibility to select the gem that balances out your abilities.  If you're fine on your spirit and mana regen, you can use your red slots to pump your spellpower, but if you're having issues, say, regenerating mana, you can drop the JC-only spellpower gem down to a normal purple one, and replace a blue MP5 with the more powerful JC-only.  In the bear posts, I was looking at what got me the maximum of something - here I'm looking at flexibility, and that's one of the biggest advantages of JC.

...and once again I'm done.

Still out of town, will be back on Monday, but I can't promise a reasonably decent post then.  I should have something by Tuesday.  As always, thanks for reading, and if you have a comments, flames, or suggestions feel free to let loose!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kaethir has issues (aka More Bear Followup)

I realized when finishing up the tree primer last week, that when I covered my bear enchants I managed to completely forget the weapon slot!

So, here, short and sweet, is the last piece of that discussion.

I have yet to see a good dagger or fist weapon and offhand setup for feral druids.  It may exist, however, and keep that in mind when selecting enchants, but my analysis is based on using two handed weapons (staves and polearms).

I have seen folks go different routes, with Blood Draining or Berserking, but really, in my mind there are only two options, and those are Mongoose and Major Agility.

I've seen somebody with way too much time on their hands do the math, and declare that given average time between procs of Mongoose, the overall benefit over the length of a fight will be better with Mongoose as opposed to Major Agility.  I've used both, I haven't seen a major difference in my survivability.  I'm currently running Mongoose, but if you don't trust it and would rather have a consistent bonus, go for the +35 agility.

Told you it was short and sweet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Raid Composition

The last piece of the tree primer isn't ready yet, so I'd like to throw some thoughts out there about raid composition, how you choose how many and of what type of player to bring.

In my experience it's been pretty standard in 10 man raids to have 2 tanks, 3 healers and 5 DPS.  For 25-man, the formula has been 2-3 tanks (depending on the raid), 6-7 healers (depending on the raid and the strength of the healers), and 15-17 DPS (depending on the number of tanks and healers).

I've run a couple of pugs lately (VoA and Ony) that have eschewed this "conventional" wisdom and run only 2 healers in a 10-man and 5 in a 25-man.  The 10-man was a VoA in which the raid leader brought me - an experienced but not exceptionally well geared druid healer - and a shaman who had never healed a 10-man raid before, along with tanks that didn't know the fights exceptionally well.

In that situation, I considered our 1 wipe (on Emalon) a success.  I was pushing out nearly 3k HPS and the shammy just a shade under 2.  We lost a player or three each boss, but the raid succeeded and most of the players lost were due to factors unrelated to having only 2 heals, such as tanks unfamiliar with the encounters, or DPS going too fast before tanks had aggro.

The Ony raid was unsuccessful, but a number of factors contributed - the advantage of having less heals SHOULD be that you have more DPS, but we still seemed to struggle at times with killing things fast enough.

I don't have any overriding thought on this more than I wanted to put the question out there - am I being overly careful in thinking we should have better than a 1 to 4 healer to everybody else ratio?  Does it depend on the strength of the healers, or the rest of the raid?  Is the world going to end if anybody answers these questions?  News at 11!

err... Something like that.  As always, thanks for coming, and comments are welcome!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Followup on the Bear Primer

It is unfortunate that we must sometimes admit we have made a mistake, but we do, and it is best that we then go back and try to correct these mistakes.

I stated unequivocably that, as a bear, you want to use the two-color gems to tack stamina on any non-blue gem.  While I still think that's not a bad plan, I intend to investigate a new (to me) idea, that I thought of after seeing another bear on my server take a different track.

He had used his 3 Jewelcrafter's gems for Solid Dragon's Eye, to get the maximum stamina from that profession.  His other gems, however, were almost completely stacked with the +20 agility Delicate Cardinal Ruby.  Keeping in mind that this was on a loot pinata raid (aka Vault of Archavon), still the healers had no trouble keeping him alive.  His character sheet dodge is over 30%.  While I don't advocate his plan (at least not yet,) I'm going to experiment with dropping my Shifting Dreadstones for Delicate Cardinal Ruby, at least at some point.  We'll see how it goes, and I suspect that come Icecrown and it's Chill of the Throne reduction to dodge, I may need to go back to Dreadstones, but for now I want to see what this kind of change does for me.

I would think that the best way to go about using something like this would be to aim for my HP to be roughly the same as non-bear high end tanks - ~45-48k buffed - and then stack as much agility as we can find.  It may even allow me to take one or two of my Solid Dragon's Eye +51 stamina gems down to Solid Majestic Zircon and use the jewelcrafter gems for +34 agility...

If I get a chance to really examine it, I'll let you know how my experiment goes.

I'm out of town this week and may have my regular update schedule broken up, but we'll see what happens.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Primer on Tree Healing (Part 2, The Spec and Glyphs)

Following the same path I treaded with my bear primer, I continue with discussions of leafy things.

The Spec

Here is a link to my spec, which I'll step through once again.  This time, instead of mentioning hybrid builds, I'll mention what's most useful for tank vs. raid healing, in addition to points that I'm thinking of moving into or out of, and why.

Much like with the Feral build, there are a few talents in another tree that are useful - but this time it's the Balance tree.  There really isn't anything you want in the Feral tree, so I'll skip that one, but you want to get at least 2 and possibly 3 tiers deep into the Balance tree, so we'll talk through that before digging into Restoration.

Level 1
Starlight Wrath, 0/5: Not even remotely helpful to a tree.
Genesis 5/5: Makes your HoTs (except the not-really-a-HoT Tranquility) better.  That's right, it improves half your healing spells by 5%.  That's pretty good for a 1st tier talent, and it's really your only option to get to the 2nd tier to boot.

Level 2
Moonglow, 3/3:  Reduces the mana cost of half your heals by 9%, including the important Nourish and Rejuvenation.  Worth it!
Nature's Majesty, 2/2:  Crit chance is fairly important for healers, and while Healing Touch is not a very go-to spell for us, Nourish is, and this gives us access to a couple of abilities we probably want in the next tier, not to mention that if you DO want to get to the next tier, you need five points in this one.
Improved Moonfire, 0/2:  You don't do damage.

Level 3
Brambles, 0/3: You don't do damage and the Barkskin ability is negligible in PvE.  You *might* consider taking this for a PvP spec but not here.
Nature's Grace, 0/3: For trees that cast mostly instant-cast HoTs, this isn't an exceptionally strong talent, but I see quite a few 14/0/57 builds that take this to be better at casting Nourish, Regrowth, and the occasional Healing Touch.  I'm considering moving 3 points around to take it, and the biggest reason I haven't yet is that I'm not entirely sure where I should take points away from to do it.
Nature's Splendor, 1/1:  I think 1 point here is worth it for the Rejuvenation and Regrowth boosts alone, and if you're tank healing and using Lifebloom, this really, really helps.
Nature's Reach, 0/2: You don't cast Balance spells, and you don't use FFF.

So much for the Balance tree.  I don't think it's as obvious a must-have as the Restoration tree talents were for a Feral druid, but it's still strong. Moving along, the Restoration tree!

Level 1
Improved Mark of the Wild, 2/2: If the 2% total attributes increase isn't enough, it makes your buffs better AND you need 5 points to get to tier 2, and you aren't getting them elsewhere.
Nature's Focus, 3/3:  Reducing pushback isn't the most super buff for the trees that like so much to cast instantly, but it does help all of our non-instant cast spells, and... well I hate to say this yet again but you need 5 points in the first tier.
Furor, 0/5: This is a Feral talent that happens to be in the Restoration tree.

Level 2
Naturalist, 0/5:  Unless you're one of those rare trees that is just determined to make Healing Touch your go-to spell, this isn't worth it, at all.  In my mind, it's 5 points on this or 5 points increasing all your healing by 4%.  I'll take the other.
Subtlety, 3/3:  This would be worth it for the threat reduction alone; healers really don't like grabbing aggro.  Making your effects harder to dispel makes this an all around strong talent.  Take it!
Natural Shapeshifter, 3/3:  If you aren't taking Naturalist, you get to put 2 points here, and if you're putting 2 points here, you need to put the 3rd in and get Master Shapeshifter out of the next tree and increase your total healing by 4%.  If might not be worth 5 points, really, to get just 4% bonus healing, but if you don't go for it you really have to let 2 points go to waste in the second tier.

Level 3
Intensity, 3/3:  You do a lot of instant casting, which makes this somewhat less cool, but it does help with mana regen (one of the most important things for a healer!), and gives you access to Nature's Swiftness, which you want.
Omen of Clarity, 1/1: To paraphrase my point from the bear post, random free stuff is good mmkay?
Master Shapeshifter, 2/2:  I've kind of already discussed the how and why of taking this, but 4% bonus healing is pretty good.

When I wrote this, I had forgotten that even with instant casts, as far as WoW is concerned you are casting for the next 5 seconds.  Intensity is way cooler than I thought.

Level 4
Tranquil Spirit, 0/5:  A good ability that we don't have enough points to justify taking, unless you're using Healing Touch a lot, and if you are you'd probably rather be using Nourish anyway, which this helps as well, but 5 talent points to reduce the cost of Nourish by 10% is not worth it.  The Tranquility reduction is not huge; as I said before it's an emergency button.  Perhaps if we free up enough points elsewhere, and are focusing on tank healing...
Improved Rejuvenation, 3/3:  Rejuvenation is a go-to spell, plus gives us access to Nature's Bounty.

Level 5
Nature's Swiftness, 1/1:  Part of our emergency suite - most often used to power out a Healing Touch at instant speed.
Gift of Nature, 5/5:  Increases all healing 10% and gives access to Swiftmend.  Strong!
Improved Tranquility, 2/2:  Honestly I should probably spend these points elsewhere.  The cooldown reduction is nice but it shouldn't be something we're relying on anyway.  The threat reduction is really why I took it, but that should be a tank's job to worry about more than ours.

Level 6
Empowered Touch, 2/2:  Excellent for tank healers.  Given the way I have healed I probably should not have this talent, but I'm bound and determined to make myself use Nourish more often.
Nature's Bounty, 5/5:  Much like Empowered Touch, given the way I have healed I should probably move these points, but increasing crit chance on Regrowth and Nourish by a massive 25% is huge, especially for tank healers.

Level 7
Living Spirit, 3/3:  Spirit is goooooood.  More on that with Improved Tree of Life later.
Swiftmend, 1/1:  Awesome for quick recoveries.  Not so cool without the glyph, but still a powerful option, instant heal.
Natural Perfection, 0/3:  I really don't know what to make of this ability.  Seems to me to be more PvP oriented.

Level 8
Empowered Rejuvenation, 5/5:  Bonus healing effects of HoTs increased 20%.  Nice.  Plus, access to Tree of Life form.  Required.
Living Seed, 3/3:  I really, really like random free heals, but if you're looking for points to squeeze out, it might be these 3.

Level 9
Revitalize, 3/3:  These 3 points might get moved elsewhere.  Although it (slightly) boosts everyone rejuvenation is ticking on, except for providing you with a little extra mana when cast on yourself, it really doesn't help you heal.
Tree of Life, 1/1:  In order to be a tree, you have to, well, be a tree!  Note that in tree form you generate an aura that increases healing done to all affected by 6%.  You just made all the healers in your raid better.
Improved Tree of Life, 3/3:  Ignore the armor contribution part.  We don't care (unless we're doing this for PvP!)  We really do care that we get to increase our spellpower by 15% of our spirit.  With upwards of 1000 spirit well-geared, we're getting 150+ free spellpower.  Nice.

Level 10
Improved Barkskin, 0/2:  I mostly view this as a PvP talent.  It can be useful but I think we'd rather spend our points elsewhere.
Gift of the Earthmother, 5/5:  There's been a lot of talk about how this is going to change come patch 3.3 (or maybe Cataclysm, I don't remember), but for now it lets us cast heals faster, and that's a good thing.

Level 11
Wild Growth, 1/1:  Most.  Awesome.  Group.  Heal.  Ever.  I can't say enough good things about Wild Growth.

The Glyphs

There's a lot of good glyphs out there available for a tree druid.  It's difficult to settle on what the best ones are, but I'll take you through my picks and why, and try to discuss the other options with clarity.

I would recommend Glyph of Wild Growth for any tree druid.  It's not as strong in 5-mans but it makes one of your best spells even better for raiding.  I'm not currently using it because it wasn't available when I selected glyphs and I haven't revisited them since.  I'm going to be picking this one up soon, though.

After that, we have a LOT of good options.  Glyph of Healing Touch is the only one I really wouldn't recommend having.

Swiftmend is strong, but not as much as it was - I'm probably going to keep this one when I go about changing my glyphs.  Not eating HoTs when you cast Swiftmend is pretty good.

Lifebloom is also very strong, but as I'm trying to shift away from being quite so focused on the multi-nerfed spell I'll probably pass.  It does give you more time in between rolling blooms and increases the healing output of the spell, but I'm wanting to shift my focus elsewhere.

Glyph of Regrowth is good, but I don't think it's worth it.  If you really like using Regrowth, consider it, but I think you'd rather have Glyph of Nourish.

I'm currently using Glyph of Rejuvenation, but I'm probably going to move away from it.  It's situationally amazing but I'm hoping that shifting my healing style a little bit will make it less useful.

Glyph of Rebirth is a reasonable option, especially if you're going after bosses that are a little hard for your group, as it makes less chance for a freshly resurrected friend to die to random damage.  I'm passing, though, as I'd rather try to keep people from dying in the first place.

Really, after Wild Growth, it will be a battle for my other 2 spots between Swiftmend, Glyph of Nourish, and Glyph of Innervate.  For the long, mana-intensive fights currently out there, Innervate means (when you cast it on yourself) you get ~18k mana instead of ~15k, which can be a lifesaver in dire situations.  Nourish is excellent for tank healers, as is the Lifebloom glyph - you won't often have more than 1 or at most 2 stacked HoTs on anything other than a tank, and you won't often Lifebloom non-tanks.  Making either of these spells better, though, is a very good thing.

I'm leaning at the moment toward Wild Growth, Swiftmend, and Nourish, but that could change.

Whew!  That's a lot.

One of the key things to remember is that the strength of a druid has always been versatility.  No matter what role you want to do - main tank, off-tank, melee dps, ranged dps, raid healing, tank healing - you can do it as a druid.  To be among the best at any of them you have to choose and focus on that one to the exclusion of (at least most of) the others.  If you're like me, you want to be good at more than one role in each of your two available specs - and if you want a PvP spec, you only get 1 spec for PvE.  While I'm trying to refocus my healing spec to be better at both raid and tank healing, I will probably never be as good at either as someone who focuses, because I have to give something up to get that flexibility.

I hope folks are finding this and the bear primer useful!  It'll pick up again in a few days with a post on gear, gems, enchants, and professions!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Look at Tier 10 Set Bonuses for Trees

Following up on the T10 set bonus for bears post, another short one to cover trees...

Thanks to the kind folks over at the Daily Druid for the current T10 set bonuses from the PTR...  For reference here are all of them:

Druid T10 Restoration

  • 2P Bonus – The healing granted by your Wild Growth spell reduces 0% less over time.
  • 4P Bonus (Rejuvenation) – Each time your Rejuvenation spell heals a target, it has a 2% chance to jump to a new target at full duration.
Druid T10 Balance
  • 2P Bonus – When you gain Clearcasting from your Omen of Clarity talent, you deal 10% additional Nature and Arcane damage for 6 sec.
  • 4P Bonus – Reduces the cooldown on your Eclipse talent by 6 seconds.
Druid T10 Feral
  • 2P Bonus – Your Swipe (Bear) and Lacerate abilities deal 20% additional damage and the cost of your Rip ability is reduced by 10 energy.
  • 4P Bonus – Your Enrage ability no longer decreases your armor and instead decreases all damage taken by 12%, and the periodic damage done by your Rake ability can now be a critical strike.
I really like the 2-piece bonus... I think.  I'll get to that.  If you've taken a look at the start of my primer on tree healing, you know I'm a big fan of Wild Growth.  One of its quirks - its actually more of an upside, in my opinion, than a downside - is that it applies a lot of its healing early, then tapers off over time.  If I'm reading this correctly, this bonus actually increases the healing done by Wild Growth by making it stay at its maximum healing amount.  That's a pretty solid upgrade to this already amazing spell.  If this is wrong - if it just evens out the healing done by Wild Growth - I think it actually weakens the spell, if not by much.  So, I like this bonus... I think.

I also like the 4-piece bonus, but I'm not really sure how great it will be.  Certainly, in 25-man raids it will have the greatest strength, as you'll be throwing more Rejuvenations out there.  With 6 ticks for a properly talented Rejuvenation, it will take roughly 8 full duration Rejuvs to get a jump, on average.  That's a lot of investment for a free Rejuvenation.  Then again, with all the healing that flies around in raids, maybe you'll get more than you realize, and I'm always a proponent of more random free healing.  If it's a smart jump - it jumps to people needing heals more, or only to people that don't already have Rejuv ticking on them - this gets better, but I don't have enough information yet to rule clearly on how powerful I think this is.  Free healing is always good, and shouldn't be overlooked.

Tune in soon for more on bears, trees, and everything Druidic!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Primer on Tree Healing (Part 1, Mechanics and Everybody Else)

It's time to start another primer, this one all about how to be a tree.  Not the kind of tree that stands around and looks pretty all day, though, I'm talking how to be the kind of tree that helps all the rest of your buddies kill things by keeping them alive.  Since I just finished a primer on bear tanking, you can probably guess that I'll use a similar structure to attack the complexities of being a tree druid.  I might cover it a little quicker, perhaps one post shorter, but the general idea is the same.

Or not, since I'm covering healing this time, instead of tanking.  Since there's a lot less interaction from other roles to healers, there's a lot less that really needs to be talked about, so we can condense a good chunk of the discussion.

The Mechanics

Much like how bear tanks are a little different than other tanks, tree healers are a little different than other healers.

I'll get to the part that most people talk about, but start with the other part.  I don't know much about shaman healers, but unlike priests and paladins, trees have no shields with which to absorb damage on their healing targets.  As a tree, this means that you have to use your instant-cast heals appropriately, and make sure they are off cooldown when you need them.

I said instant-cast heals, not HoTs.  Healing over Time spells are not for what I am talking about.

With rare exceptions due to set bonuses, glyphs, etc, none of the druid's instant-cast HoTs cause a heal when the HoT is placed on the target.  This means that your instant-cast heals are your only real way to try to pull out emergency healing, with the quick-cast Nourish a close second.

Speaking of HoTs, that's the second difference between druids and other healers.  We have 8 total healing spells, over half of which are pure HoTs or cause HoT effects.  We have only 1 spell that is always an instant heal, and unless we're using the associated glyph it costs us a HoT on the target to use it.  We have 1 way to turn any spell into an instant spell, but it's on a cooldown.  We have only 2 spells that can heal more than one target at once, but they're both range-limited and one is both channeled and has a long cooldown, which means in most situations it's reserved for emergency use only.

The other important thing to note about trees is that they generate the Tree of Life aura buff, which increases healing received on all targets in its range by 6%.  That's right, the first tree druid you add to a raid means every other healer in the raid just got 6% better.  It's really hard to judge just how effective healers are in comparison to each other because how do you account for something like this?  You can't.

So we come down to healing rotations.  Frankly, I've never focused on specific healing rotations, especially when healing raid-wide.  However, it's important to understand how different spells interact.

Even after it's been nerfed a couple of times, the spell you have to "manage" more than any other is Lifebloom.  This instant cast HoT has a short tick down in which it heals every second, then when it either falls off or is removed it "blooms" for a large single-hit heal and returns half of the mana cost to you (of 1, 2, or 3 casts depending on how many stacks are on the target.)  One of the nerfs it got was to nearly double the mana cost of it, which makes dropping 3 stacks on a target an expensive proposition.  It also means that maintaining (or, "rolling") 3 stacks on more than 1 target (which you used to be able to do on 2 tanks at the same time) nearly impossible.

So we have 3 basic schools of thought on how best to manage Lifebloom.  I've used each at different points depending on length of fight, tank healing needs, healing role I'm performing, and the angle of moon from the equator at 3:14 AM that day.  Which is to say at random.  Anyway, here they are.

Fast cast and roll... cast 3 stacks quickly and recast 1 stack before the bloom to keep the HoT portion rolling.  Costly from a mana perspective - three times the base cost to set up and one times every so often to maintain the stacks without getting the big bloom, but an excellent method during high-damage periods on tanks as it keeps our fastest HoT rolling, and we need it at max strength asap when these high-damage periods come.

"Slow roll"...  similar to the first method, but do not cast the 3 stacks immediately at the beginning.  My preferred method, when I can control my OCD and leave a tank without 3 stacks for a bit.  Gets the benefits needed for high-damage periods with a slower mana output at the start.

"Slow no-roll!"  Similar to the second method, but rather than continually rolling the 3rd stack in, let the stacks bloom after you get to 3 stacks on the target.  Reduces the mana load on the tree and gets the best healing-per-mana ratio, but requires even more attention to the lifebloom stacks and doesn't provide the best HPS.

Outside of Lifebloom, we have Rejuvenation, which is one of our go-to spells as it is instant-cast, heals for a reasonably large amount per mana, and lasts for a fairly long time.  The only downside is that there is no instant heal (at least not normally), and it only ticks every 3 seconds.  Our other long-running HoT is Regrowth, which applies a decent heal when cast and an 18-second HoT effect.  Our two group HoTs are Wild Growth (which I will bow down at the altar of in a moment) and Tranquility.  Tranquility is an emergency-use only type ability, but it is a very strong medium-length AOE HoT, although it has a long cooldown and is channeled.  I should note that technically Tranquility is not a HoT, it will not get any benefit from bonuses to "Healing Over Time" spells, but it might as well be one.

Wild Growth is the single most amazingly awesome healing spell I have ever seen.  The limited 15-yard range on the splash heal is the only thing that keeps it from complete brokenness.  It's pretty strong, it ticks quickly, it has a relatively short cooldown, it hits 5 (6 with the glyph) targets, and it's instant cast.  It's a smart heal - you get to pick 1 target, and the other 4 or 5 are chosen according to who needs the most healing in range of the spell, and that's raid-wide, not just party-wide.  When assigned to raid healing (and even when not) it's an awesome tool, especially when groups that have to be close together (hello, melee!) are going to be getting a fairly large chunk of damage.  It's almost always among the top 2-3 spells for the heals I generate, and on fights with a lot of raid-wide damage it's number 1.

Healing Touch is our long-cast big single-target heal.  I use it most often in 2 situations: first, in situations such as Lord Jaraxxus' Incinerate Flesh, where you need to fulfill a large healing requirement, and two, when I need big heals fast and Nature's Swiftness is up.  A lot of folks Macro NS and HT together so that they don't use HT without NS unless they absolutely have to.

Swiftmend is our instant cast heal.  Even glyphed, it requires a Regrowth or Rejuvenation stack on the target, and if not glyphed it eats that HoT off the target.  If it didn't have a cooldown it would be one of my most-used abilities.  As it is, it is an excellent spell for emergency situations, allowing you to pull a tank or dps out of danger quickly.

Nourish provides the tree with a fairly large medium length cast time direct heal.  Without the glyphs and talents to properly support it, it is a solid but not amazing spell.  Many trees that focus on tank healing glyph and spec to make this as powerful as possible, as it quickly becomes a very strong spell for its mana cost and casting time.

Move along, nothing (more) to see here...

How to Deal with a Tree

Anyway, since most dps and tanks don't have major interactions with healers during fights (it's almost all the other way around, healers acting on other raid members), this doesn't alter much with the way other raid roles work with healers.  For most folks, the healers are just there to keep us alive, and maybe sometimes we need to distract/kill something that's trying to eat them.  What I've laid out here is good information to know, but really doesn't affect much in your raiding.

For raid leaders, however, it's important to understand how healers do things so that you can make healing assignments with respect to each of your healer's strengths.  So what do you need to know?

Properly talented, glyphed, and geared, trees can be excellent at either major raid healing role, be they tank healing or raid healing.  Even if you assign them to the role that they are not properly set up for, they're still fairly powerful healers, but you won't be getting the most out of them.  Trees that have focused on lifebloom or nourish tend to be better at tank healing, and trees that put emphasis on rejuvenation and/or wild growth tend to make better raid healers.  More than any other class, though, I see trees as hybrid healers - they keep HoTs up on one tank and spread around Rejuvenations and Wild Growths on everybody else.  Still, though, you need to find out how your tree is set up and what they, as a healer, are comfortable doing.

You'll also need to be able to judge how well geared a tree druid is.  Spellpower and Spirit, followed by Intellect, Stamina, and Crit Rating, are our key stats.  We need a little less stat sheet spellpower than healers of other classes because our Spirit provides us with bonus spellpower, but we should be within a couple hundred points or so.  Trees that forfeit spirit for intellect are hurting themselves for long fights, although they have larger mana pools they won't be regenerating mana as quickly, and it costs them spellpower.  The rest should be mostly self-explanatory.

Thanks once again for reading, I hope you've found this useful.  Tune in soon for a look at the tree spec I run as well as a look at the T10 set bonuses from a tree perspective!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Look at Tier 10 Set Bonuses for Bears

Fairly short post today...

Thanks to the kind folks over at the Daily Druid for the current T10 set bonuses from the PTR...  For reference here are all of them:

Druid T10 Restoration
  • 2P Bonus – The healing granted by your Wild Growth spell reduces 0% less over time.
  • 4P Bonus (Rejuvenation) – Each time your Rejuvenation spell heals a target, it has a 2% chance to jump to a new target at full duration.
Druid T10 Balance
  • 2P Bonus – When you gain Clearcasting from your Omen of Clarity talent, you deal 10% additional Nature and Arcane damage for 6 sec.
  • 4P Bonus – Reduces the cooldown on your Eclipse talent by 6 seconds.
Druid T10 Feral
  • 2P Bonus – Your Swipe (Bear) and Lacerate abilities deal 20% additional damage and the cost of your Rip ability is reduced by 10 energy.
  • 4P Bonus – Your Enrage ability no longer decreases your armor and instead decreases all damage taken by 12%, and the periodic damage done by your Rake ability can now be a critical strike.
For now I'll just take a gander at the feral bonuses from a bear perspective.  Later I'll throw some thoughts out there on the Restoration set.

The 2-piece bonus seems pretty solid.  The damage bonus to Swipe should enable us to have an easier time maintaining AOE aggro.  Adding damage to Lacerate helps a little bit on single-target aggro.  We shouldn't have had problems already, but this will help ease any tensions if we have to stop our threat rotation (i.e. if someone pulls a secondary mob off us....)  All in all, I think it's a nice little 2-piece bonus, but nothing to write home about.

When I first saw the 4-piece bonus, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.  After some further thought, I'm not quite as stoked about it as I was, but I'm still excited.  The first half is rather innocuous - removing the armor penalty from Enrage just means we can use it without fear of overwhelming our healers.  But since we shouldn't be having rage issues anyway (unless our silly healers are shielding us too often), that's not really all that big a deal, in my eyes.  The second part, however, means that we'll use enrage pretty much as often as we can.  Free rage plus damage reduction... where can I sign up?

It makes Enrage useful in a number of ways that it couldn't dream about before.  If I get to the point that I have this bonus, Enrage will get added to the list of abilities macro'd into my emergency button.  Rather than being a rage generator with a drawback, it's an actively good ability with rage generation tacked on for free.  I already use Barkskin at semi-regular intervals during most fights.  While not quite as effective as Barkskin, the new and improved Enrage will give you a similar effect.  I will probably be using Enrage as often as possible during fights, and instead of stacking Barkskin on top of it, I will use Barkskin once the Enrage bonus has ended and it's on cooldown.

I like it, and I think it's a solid bonus to look at as an upgrade from the T9 sets.

Tune in soon for some thoughts on fandom by the WoW developers, and my primer for the OTHER role I play as a druid - tree!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Primer on Bear Tanking (Part 4: Gear, Gems, and Enchants)

With my previous three posts covering the rest of my primer, it's finally time to get down to the nitty gritty of selecting gear as a bear.  Since I don't intend to waste my time (and yours) with a long list of "Best in Slot" gear, I'll try to cover what I see as the important things to focus on, then swing through how to gem and enchant your gear to get the most out of it.

The Gear

The proverbial elephant in the room as far as stats bears look for on gear is, of course, stamina.  Due to the boosts bears get, they get more out of every point of stamina than any other class.  Being a tank, this is a good thing - tanks LOVE stamina.  The dangerous part, the hole that far too many people fall into, is that you can't focus on stamina to the abandonment of your other stats.  It doesn't matter if you have a million hit points if you can't mitigate or dodge any incoming attacks.

As such, always remember that if you can't do direct upgrades to stamina and other stats at the same time, it's ok to lose a small amount of stamina for a larger chunk of agility, for example.  These sideways upgrade leave you with a little lower ability to survive burst damage, but higher long-term survivability, as increased dodge, crit rating, and attack power mean you'll take less damage over the course of a long fight, which reduces the stress of healing you and the mana cost to your healers of keeping you alive.  Higher stamina does contribute to that as well (due to Improved Leader of the Pack), but less so than other stats.  This will really be important when I talk about gemming and enchanting.

Outside of stamina, of course, the most important two stats are armor and agility.  Armor is your best and primary source of damage mitigation.  Agility is your primary source of dodge and critical strike chance, and adds to your armor.  Thankfully items with higher armor are generally going to have higher stamina and agility, making *most* item choices in that respect easy.  So the short version of things to pay attention to is stamina, agility, and armor, in that order.

Keep in mind, of course, that you need to factor in the effect gems have.  An item with 100 stamina and a blue gem slot that is otherwise identical to an item with 120 stamina and no gem slot is better, because you put a solid majestic zircon in that item slot and boom! 130 stamina!

Secondary and tertiary stats you'll want to pay attention to are hit rating, dodge rating, crit rating, and expertise rating, in no particular order.  Hitting the hit cap is good as it removes your miss chance, and expertise removes the opponent's parry and dodge chances (although you're highly unlikely to hit the 400+ expertise rating to completely remove enemy dodge chance.)  Crit rating, as mentioned previously, is a mitigation stat for bears, and dodge helps out our one avoidance stat.

The Gems

Gemming goes hand-in-hand with gear selection, but there's a lot less choices to make.  Blue gems should (almost) always be solid majestic zircon (or solid dragon's eye, if you're a jewelcrafter).  Red gem slots should be filled with regal or shifting dreadstones (dodge/agility + stamina).  Yellow gem slots should be jagged or vivid eye of zul (crit rating/hit rating + stamina).  Notice that I've used purple and green gems to get stamina along with the other stats in non-blue gem slots.  Despite what I said earlier, stamina is still the most important thing out there.

As far as meta gems go... The only meta gem worth mentioning is the austere earthsiege diamond.  A bunch of stamina and 2% additional armor on top of our other armor bonuses is awesome.

What I see a lot of folks do (looking at armory profiles) is stack stamina to the exclusion of all else.  No matter what color gem slot, unless they need something else to satisfy the requirements of a meta gem, they have a solid majestic zircon there.  The really sad part, IMO, is that because these folks have a really high hp pool, they will get taken on a lot of raids in which their healers will struggle to keep them alive, because they've ignored their avoidance and mitigation needs.  The socket bonuses and gem bonuses to get those socket bonuses (in my case) boost my agility by 50+ points and my crit rating by 30+.  Do not ignore your other stats!

The Enchants

Enchants are almost impossible to cover without going slot-by-slot, so here goes.

The best head and shoulder enchants are all arcanums/inscriptions, purchasable from various quartermasters.  For head items, despite the +20 defense rating being mostly useless to us, the +37 stamina makes Arcanum of the Stalwart Protector our best option.  For shoulders, you have a choice between a Sons of Hodir Greater Inscription of the Pinnacle for dodge and defense rating, or my choice, the Greater Inscription of the Gladiator for the stamina.

For the chest slot, powerful stats for +10 all stats is probably the best choice, although you can use a Heavy Borean Armor kit for +18 stamina.

On the back side, there are a couple of options, but I believe the +22 to agility trumps the others.

For the feet and hands, the Heavy Borean Armor kit is not a bad choice, although there is a direct upgrade on the feet for 22 stamina.  I've seen several folks take the boot enchant that grants 15 stamina and a minor run speed increase, but I've never felt that's really worth it.  I believe there is an agility enchant for the hands that might be a small upgrade, but I'm still using the HBA kit.

For your legs, the leatherworking upgrade that grants +55 stamina and +22 agility is by far the best option available to you.  It's jormungar leg reinforcements for those of us that are leatherworkers, frosthide leg armor for everybody else.

On your wrists, the best enchant for non-leatherworkers is the +40 stamina one.  For leatherworkers who get Fur Lining - Stamina, we can get +102.

If you are an enchanter, you can enchant your rings, there (might) be a better shoulder inscription for inscriptionists, blacksmiths can add a couple extra sockets (and don't forget that everybody can buy an eternal belt buckle to add a socket to your belt).  But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, because I'm going to add a short discussion on...

The Professions

I originally chose skinning and leatherworking as my professions because hey, I wear leather and that way I can get mats for my leatherworking without spending money.  I've since become a leatherworker / jewelcrafter for reasons that I'll get to in a minute.

The gathering skills used to do just that - gather mats and nothing else.  Blizzard has since given them each their own unique benefits.  Skinning grants critical strike rating, Mining grants 60 stamina, and Herbalism gives you an instant self-HoT.

When looking for ways to improve my tanking abilities, I came to the subject of professions and decided that a) I wanted to have professions that were useful to me for both healing and tanking, and b) I wanted to get the most stamina that I could out of my professions.  As such, while critical strike rating is useful for healing and tanking, it doesn't get me any more stamina.  So I decided to get something that would help me across the board, while still getting me more stamina.  I came to the following conclusions regarding the stamina professions gain you.  I did not seriously investigate other professions, but it is my understanding that none of them provide you with as much as a 60 stamina bonus.

Mining: 60 stamina.
Enchanting: 60 stamina.  Both rings can be enchanted with +30 stamina.
Blacksmithing: 60 stamina.  Two additional sockets for solid majestic zircon.
Leatherworking: 62 stamina.  The only thing you get that cannot be achieved by anyone else is the +102 stamina wrist enchant.  The next best enchant is +40.
Jewelcrafting: 63 stamina.  Replace 3 of your +30 solid majestic zircon with +51 solid dragon's eye.

Since leatherworking and jewelcrafting also provided me with their maximum benefits for my healing and DPS gear sets, I settled on the two of them.

... and at long last, I'm done.  I'll review some T10 gear from the PTR soon, and maybe get into some real life commentary.  Maybe.  If I feel like it.

Hope everybody had a safe and fun weekend!

Friday, November 6, 2009

My love/hate with GearScore

This little rant of mine may share some similarities to Big Bear Butt's rants on hating damage meters.  The reasons for that are simple.  A lot of the idiots with regards to damage meters are idiots with regards to GearScore too, and for a lot of the same reasons.  I suppose it's a little better with GearScore, because you can usually tell the idiots before you get knee deep in a raid, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I love GearScore.  It gives me a bar on which I can judge my own gear and how well I'm doing.  It's definitely not perfect, but I don't think anything that simply evaluates your gear and chunks out a single score can be.  While it's not something to focus on, a little friendly competition with it is nice, and it's good to see, sometimes, how you are compared to your friends.

I hate GearScore.  A player is better measured by how well they play their class than how much item level 245 gear they've managed to sling together, whether they've gotten lucky by whacking the Vault loot pinata or taken the time and effort to put it together through ToC25.  Much like with damage meters, a player is not simply how high they can go.

I love GearScore.  For the folks that are really trying to push harder content, it can be used as an indicator of who simply is not ready to take it on.  You need to be careful with it though - if you're going to judge based on gearscore, you need to tell people in advance that you are trying harder content and require a certain level of gear to come along.  I'm personally of the opinion that even if folks don't have that level of gear, you should still let them try, but make sure they understand that their gear doesn't look like it will withstand the test, and if we have issues you'll be watching your damage meters and threat meters and healing meters and if the person with a little lower gear is not able to pull their weight, they'll be the first to look for replacement.

I've had that happen, quite recently, with a TotGC run I was invited to heal on.  I'm ok with that, I understand that harder content requires higher gear, the leader told me upfront that he thought I wouldn't be able to push out enough healing, and I told him that was ok, if he thought I wasn't there I would sit out.  He had me try anyway, we were a little behind on the healing for a couple of tries and I stepped out gracefully.  That's fine.

I hate GearScore.  Idiots try to use it as bar for entry into raids for 5-mans where there should be none (or it should be much lower).  Let me share a little story with you.

The other night I'm trolling around doing some dailies, and since I'm not running any guild raids this week I've set myself up in LFG for Ony and ToC 25, and ToC 10, and I'm occasionally announcing in channel that I'm looking for any Onyxia or ToC raid.  Although my feral spec doesn't fully support DPS (and therefore it's a bit low), my gear is high enough that I can fill any of the three roles on non-heroic versions of any kind for those two raids.  Someone whom I haven't yet realized is an idiot advertises that they are looking for healers and DPS (some ranged, some melee) for an Ony 25 run, and "gear will be checked".  Seeing as I already heal this raid every other week on my guild runs I happily volunteer to heal and promptly get invited to the raid.

And promptly removed from the raid group, before I've even had a chance to switch from my tanking set and spec to my healing stuff.

A little confused, I ask why and I'm told that my "gs is to low" and he's looking for "44 min gs," by which he means 4400.  Aside from grammatical errors that I try my best to ignore when gaming, there's so much wrong with these statments... well I was going to say I won't go into it but that's kinda the point of this part of my little rant.

a) Hey jerkface, I'm still in my tanking set which has 4600 gs.  You have no idea at this point how good my healing set is.
b) My healing set actually is at 4340 gs.  Even IF I'm going to set a gs requirement for a raid, I'll let that small of a deficit fly.
c) If you're going to set a gs requirement, make sure you're being reasonable.  My guild beats down 25 man Ony every week, and only about half of our raiders top 4400gs.

Despite my better instincts and the fact that I already know I'm dealing with an idiot, I'm limited on time and so I offer to fill a melee DPS slot and get to deal with more idiocy.  Oh well I troll for a bit longer and get picked up for an Ony 10 as a tank.

I love GearScore.  When running Ulduar (which I rarely get to do anymore,) it gives me a quick way to figure out who will get us the most health out of driving a vehicle.

I guess I should say, really, that much like damage meters, I love GearScore as a tool, and hate the idiots that use it improperly.  Both are ways for people to wave their electronic private parts around, but really do have solid uses for those of us who know what we're about.

Coming up, the grand finale of the bear primer!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Primer on Bear Tanking (Part 3, the Spec and Glyphs)

I previously went over how to play with a bear, and the mechanics of bear tanking. We'll follow this up with an in-depth look at the spec and glyphs, and then finish up with a look at bear gear.

The Spec

I'm going to present a bear-focused spec.  If you want a tanking/dps hybrid, you'll want to shift a few points around.  I'll try to mention which ones you might want to take for that, but keep in mind I'm doing this as a bear, not a cat/bear hybrid.

Here is the spec I am currently running.  It's probably not perfect, but given the nature of WoW I don't think any spec is particularly perfect.  I'll step through what I've taken, what I haven't taken, and what I might change to, one talent at a time.  The only talents in the Balance tree that might be of any use are too far down it to justify taking points in that tree, so I won't bother going through it.  I'll start with the Restoration tree and talk about what you want there, then dig through the entire feral tree.

You want to get to the 3rd level of the Restoration tree.  Omen of Clarity is pretty darned good.  Most places I've read and seen offer a couple of different looks, but almost every one includes that.  So here goes on the resto tree.

Level 1:
Improved Mark of the Wild, 2/2:  I used to skip this, because, hey I'm a bear I don't need to worry about being the person buffing the team, since my guild usually has at least one boomkin and tree along as well.  Then I realized that it increases all attributes by 2%.  I'll take a free extra 2% stamina, agility, and strength please, and thank you.
Nature's Focus, 0/3:  This should be obvious.  It is not even remotely useful to a feral druid.
Furor 3/5: You have to get to 5 points to get to the 2nd level.  Depending on exactly how you lay out your points, you could put 5/5 in this, though, if you wanted.  In my opinion, you aren't going to shapeshift mid-fight, however, and if you really, REALLY need that 10 rage to start a fight you can always shift a few times to get it before charging, not to mention enrage/barkskin.

Level 2:
Naturalist, 5/5: 10% damage in all forms is good mmkay?  This is arguably one of the best reasons to be in the resto tree as a bear.
Subtlety, 0/3: Not a feral druid talent.
Natural Shapeshifter, 0/3: In the 0/55/16 builds I sometimes see, this is taken so that you can get to Master Shapeshifter.  I'm considering moving a few points around to do that, but we'll talk about that in level 3.

Level 3:
Intensity, 0/3: The only reason to take this as a feral druid is if you are seriously always out of rage, even after an enrage... and if you're that badly out of rage, you're not doing it right.
Omen of Clarity, 1/1:  This is, in my humble opinion, the biggest reason to get this far down in the resto tree.  Randomly getting rage-free abilities is awesome, hands down.
Master Shapeshifter, 0/2: As I said above, some 0/55/16 builds take this.  I've always kind of thought it was more of a hybrid cat/bear ability, but I may shift some points out of the feral tree to take it.  5 talent points seems a lot to get 4% damage, but you have to decide if the points you are losing to get it is worth the 4% damage.

And that's it for the resto tree, as a bear.  You don't want to and cannot afford to spend more points in the resto tree, if you want to be a solid bear tank, at least, this bear thinks so.  On to the feral tree!

Level 1:
Ferocity, 5/5:  Maul costs 15 rage, and Swipe and Mangle each cost 20.  A 25 - 33% reduction in the rage costs of your most used abilities goes a long way to making you a viable tank.  Always take this.
Feral Aggression, 0/5: The bear side of this ability, increasing the attack power reduction of demoralizing roar, just doesn't do enough to make it useful.  Very occasionally, massive groups of adds would make this talent worthwhile, but otherwise the limited reduction of the base ability just doesn't make this talent worth it.

Level 2:
Feral Instinct, 3/3:  See Savage Fury.
Savage Fury, 2/2:  Both this and Feral Instinct increase damage output, which for a bear, means increased threat.  The first is important for AOE threat with Swipe, and the second for single-target threat.  I consider these must-haves.
Thick Hide, 3/3:  We need all the mitigation we can get our hands on.  10% to armor is a requirement to bear tank.

Level 3:
Feral Swiftness, 2/2:  Dodge is our only avoidance stat.  Required talent.
Survival Instincts, 1/1:  Perhaps the most important part of our "oh sh_t" buttons.  Required talent.
Sharpened Claws, 3/3:  Critical strike chance is very important for bears, providing rage and threat generation as well as mitigation, and this talent gives us access to a couple other talents we want.  Required talent.

Level 4:
Shredding Attacks, 2/2:  I may move these points elsewhere.  Reducing the rage cost of Lacerate seems pretty good for most Ulduar/ToC content, but reducing it by only 2 may not be worth the talent points.  I would recommend this talent as much more important for hybrid kitty builds.
Predatory Strikes, 3/3:  Increases your attack power (which is both a threat statistic and a mitigation statistic for a bear) by a reasonably significant amount, and gives access to Heart of the Wild, which will be required.
Primal Fury, 2/2:  Remember how I said critical strike is a rage generation stat?  This is why.
Primal Precision, 2/2:  10 expertise (not expertise rating) reduces total enemy avoidance by 5% if Wowwiki is to be believed.  I wasn't running with this before, but I believe this is worth it and took it with gusto in my last respec.

Level 5:
Brutal Impact, 0/2:  I go back and forth on whether this talent is worthwhile.  Bears only get 1 interrupt, and having it up more often is a good thing.  Then again, if you're having to rely on your bear for interrupts, you're probably hurting anyway.  I pass.
Feral Charge, 1/1:  Take this.  Getting into the middle of things very fast is a good thing for a bear.
Nuturing Instinct, 0/2:  You are not healing, and you are not a kitty.  Hybrid kitties don't even want this.  I doubt even pure kitties want this.

Level 6:
Natural Reaction, 3/3:  This is an important cog in our machine, both for avoidance and rage generation.  Take it.
Heart of the Wild, 5/5:  Bears get more stamina for a reason.  This helps us even more.  Must have.  Good for hybrids, too, as it increases attack power.
Survival of the Fittest, 3/3:  I'm not sure where this will be going forward, as Blizzard has stated they are removing defense rating and the point of this talent was to remove a druid tank's need to hit the defense cap.  But that's then.  For now, this is required and does remove the need for a bear to worry about defense rating.  Even without that, though, this talent is worth it since it increases all attributes (yay more stamina and agility!) as well as armor.

Level 7:
Leader of the Pack, 1/1:  A free 5% crit for the entire party or raid?  Yes, please.
Improved Leader of the Pack, 2/2:  This is part of the reason critical strike is a mitigation stat for bears.  The healing is minimal, but added up across the raid it can cause quite a bit of healing, and for us as bears it is yet another way in which we will slow down the hp loss during a fight.
Primal Tenacity, 0/3: This is more of a pvp talent than anything else.  Fear reduction is nice, but in most cases where you care, Berserk will get you through the fear that matters and it's gravy from there.

Level 8:
Protector of the Pack, 3/3:  More attack power, and one of the few ways we have to mitigate spell damage.  Too good to pass up.
Predatory Instincts, 0/3:  Purely a kitty talent.  Ignore at will.
Infected Wounds, 3/3:  These are 3 points that may get moved elsewhere.  I've seen arguments both ways on whether it's worthwhile or not.  The slowing effect is marginal, but I think the attack speed reduction is useful.

Level 9:
King of the Jungle, 0/3:  You should not be enraging in combat unless absolutely necessary, and you should not be shifting in and out of form in combat either.  This is a pretty good talent for hybrid builds, but not useful to a pure bear.
Mangle, 1/1:  Highly important ability for both kitties and bears.  A cog in our threat rotation wheel and does a solid amount of damage as well.
Improved Mangle, 3/3:  These are another three points that may get taken elsewhere.  I wouldn't consider it if I were going for a hybrid build, but as a bear it's not a required talent.  Whether or not you take it affects your optimum threat and damage rotations, but if you feel the points are better spent elsewhere it's not so much of a loss here.

Level 10:
Rend and Tear, 5/5:  Another important piece of threat generation, and damage (especially for hybrids).  Take all 5.
Primal Gore, 1/1:  Gives us another method to get critical strikes, and one that will continue to tick regardless of whether we're still attacking the target, at least until the Lacerate stack wears off.  It's more than worth 1 measly point.

Level 11:
Berserk, 1/1:  Not quite as important for bears as it is for kitties, but still important.  Blow it early on single-target mobs for increased threat and damage, or save it for 3-target threat to hold down aggro versus AOE.  Alternatively, in any situation, use it to protect yourself from, or break out of, fear.

The Glyphs

As a bear tank, there are 2 major glyphs that are very, very important to have.  They make your emergency buttons so much better - these are the Glyph of Survival Instincts, and the Glyph of Frenzied Regeneration.  I've heard some bears are dropping the SI glyph.  I don't think it's worth it, but I can understand why.  (If you need the emergency button that badly.... you're already in trouble).

The other three glyphs that can enter the conversation from the major glyph standpoint are Glyph of Maul, Glyph of Growl, and Glyph of Berserk.  Berserk is best suited for hybrid builds, as kitties get more use out of it.  Some folks prefer Growl for Ulduar, for situations where you rarely need the second Maul target and really absolutely need your Growl not to miss.  I personally prefer Maul as I don't have a lot of issues with Growl missing already.

From the minor glyph standpoint, the only glyph of real note is the Glyph of Challenging Roar, to decrease the cooldown on your mass taunt.  I fill in the last slots with glyphs I find randomly useful, specifically Glyph of Unburdened Rebirth and Glyph of Acquatic Form.  Glyph of Thorns should also be considered.

If you've stuck with me this far, stay tuned for part 4 where I'll cover gear, enchanting, and gemming, but first up I'll share some thoughts on GearScore and similar addons, and later I'll get to T10 set bonuses from the PTR.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monday night raid report

I run a guild-hosted raid every other Monday night, 10-man, with the help of a couple of my good friends.  We've experimented with a couple of different raid formats and I think we've finally settled on a 10-man version of our guild's 25-man Wednesday night raids.  Which is to say, for the moment, Onyxia and Trial of the Crusader, with the loot pinata that is Vault of Archavon if the situation arises properly.

Two weeks ago, we skipped Onyxia because I didn't put that as part of the calendar invite and a few of our folks were saved.  Monday night we did it right, although we struggled a bit.  Due to the size and nature of my guild, we bring along pretty much whoever we can get, no matter whether they're "properly geared" or not.  Last night we had quite a few alts or relatively new 80's along with us, and one wonderful pug healer.  One of our healers for most of the night was a druid alt of one of our rogues, as we are perpetually overabundant with DPS and tanks and perpetually short on healing.

As an aside, while as a competitive jerk I would rather we have 10 fully geared mains, I much prefer our guild structure, where folks who are a little behind or haven't had the time to dedicate to getting fully geared with Emblem gear get a chance to go, even if it means we wipe a time or three, and people CAN play their alts if they so desire.  It gives folks that only perform one role on the big guild runs or any other runs they do the chance to do something different.

Back to the raid.  We had only 2 ranged DPS, a mage that had never been to Onyxia before, and a warlock alt of one of our solid tanks/healers.  This makes phase 2 and its craziness all that much harder.  The OT for Ony was a DK.  We wiped once due to hardware (mouse driver) issues, and once or twice while some of our newer folks (new to level 80 or new role-wise) figured out the intricacies of the fight.  One more wipe due to a little bad luck, and then we finally beat her down.

We moved on to ToC and traded out a DPS for a tank, with the OT switching up to take the DPS spot.  We brought in a second bear for dual furry tanking.  I will admit I was a little nervous as the new bear had a lot less HP than I had expected, but we went with it.  After a wipe with Gormok, we got to the jormungar and wiped on them a couple of times.  Our alt healer then convinced one of our awesome priests to step in, and on the last attempt of the night we downed the Northrend beasts.

I'm a little out of it this morning, so just a short post and sadly nothing all that interesting to talk about.  My one reader will be disappointed, but hey I've got to break down those expectations some day.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Primer on Bear Tanking (Part 2, the Mechanics)

I previously went over how to play with a bear. The next logical step in this crazy little path I've laid out in my head is to cover how to play AS a bear. We'll divide it up to try to make it sane, and looking at the length of this it'll take more than one or two posts. I'll try to split it at spots that make sense.

The Mechanics

In order to understand why we'll make certain decisions in the spec and gear we choose, you need to understand the mechanics that make a bear, a bear.  I'll try to cycle through each of the major categories.  For tanks, this means, in no particular order, threat generation, damage mitigation, damage avoidance, and what to do in an emergency.

Step 1: Threat.

A tank's number one job is to hold aggro on the mobs that are going to try to do bad things to your party or raid.  As such, the number one thing a tank should be worried about (almost) all the time is threat.  How to maximize it in different situations is therefore very important.

Every class of tank generates threat a little differently.  Bears have a set of abilities for single-target threat, and couple to generate AOE threat.  I highly recommend marking targets as a bear, even when not needed, since your single-target threat generation is much stronger than your AOE threat generation, and if your DPS stays on YOUR target, it's much less likely that anything's going to get loose.  If your DPS complains that this means they can't max their DPS, tell your healer to let them die when they pull mobs off you.  What follows is how I work on generating threat, not necessarily the best method, but it works for me.

Once I have my first target (and more, if it's necessary) marked, I try to start my pulls with a feral faerie fire (FFF) on my main target.  It's ranged, it does a small amount of damage, and generates a reasonable amount of threat.  If I'm not corner-pulling, I follow that up with a charge to put myself either right on the single target, or right in the middle of a group.  If it's a group, SWIPE, if not, Maul and Mangle.  Once that's accomplished, I follow these simple rules to keep enough threat on target.

Maul is an "on-next-attack" ability and doesn't use the GCD.  Use it every single attack.
If FFF is off cooldown, use it.

If you are focusing on a single target:
If Mangle is off cooldown and you either have 5 stacks of Lacerate on your single target, or the Mangle debuff is about to fall off the single target, use it.
If Lacerate is off cooldown and either not at 5 stacks or the debuff is about to fall off, use it.
Even if you are focusing on a single target, if there are multiple mobs toss an occasional swipe out there to keep up the group aggro, especially if a DPS or two is going to AOE.

If your DPS crew is going to go nuts with AOE:
Swipe.  Much and often.  You don't have much other choice.

I try to find time to use Demoralizing Roar, especially against large groups of mobs.  The attack power reduction isn't huge, but every little bit helps.

You don't want to have to use your taunts, but when things go a little awry, don't forget that you can Growl or use Challenging Roar to try to reestablish your aggro.

I don't have the link handy, but some folks have gone into exquisite mathematical detail of the optimum rotations for threat generation depending on whether you have the Improved Mangle talent or not.  I prefer a more fluid approach such as this.

Also note that using Berserk and Mangle-spam is a very effective method against small groups, and should be used against single-target once the 5-stack of Lacerate is up and rolling, barring the need to save it to stop a fear-related wipe.

Tied in to threat generation as a bear is rage generation.  We need rage to use most of our threat-related abilities (FFF is cool, we don't need to be angry to light you up), and we need things swinging at us to generate rage.  We have talents that allow us to generate rage when we crit, and when we dodge.  Since we're not limited by our attack speed in dodging, AND we get rage for being hit anyway, it becomes very important for us to keep things mad at us instead of everybody else.  Just in case you didn't already have enough reasons to believe this is your number one job.*

Step 2: Damage Mitigation.

I'm going to group a couple of couple of different items in here that probably aren't technically damage mitigation, but given the nature of tanking they might as well be.

The first and biggest piece of damage mitigation is armor.  As druids, we can't wear plate or mail and we can't use a shield to block parts of incoming attacks.  So we have to rely on our leather armor affected by our dire bear form and talents to boost our armor to respectable levels.  Fully talented, we get a nearly 400% increase (I can't quote you the exact number off the top of my head, I believe it's 380%) to our stat sheet armor when we shift into bear form.  I sit around 6500 armor pre-bear form, and nearly 30k after the shift, currently.  We'll typically have the highest base armor of any similarly geared tank, but again, we have no shield to help further mitigate attacks.

We do have a faux shield, however.  The trained ability savage defense gives us a shield-like damage reduction based on our attack power any time we deal a critical strike.  This turns two stats that would otherwise only relate to threat generation for us (namely attack power and critical strike chance) into mitigation stats.  This makes it important for us to have every chance we can to crit, and makes talents such as Primal Gore key to our survivability.

We also get Improved Leader of the Pack, which further increases the importance of critical strike chance with a bear.  Bears already get more HP than anybody else, and thus we get a bigger boost than any other class.  While not directly mitigating damage, this acts much like Savage Defense, extending our survivability by giving us small boosts at periodic intervals.

Speaking of HP, you may have heard, bears get ridiculously large HP pools.  Stamina is very important to us, but once we have enough HP to survive burst damage (51k fully raid buffed is a good target at the moment) it becomes important to focus on the stats that provide other avenues to suvivability - agility, dodge, crit, etc.

Finally, we have Barkskin, which reduces damage taken by 20% for 12 seconds when used.  Depending on the fight, use this as often as possible to reduce load on your healers, or save it for emergencies if you think you have to.

Step 3: Damage avoidance.

There's not a whole lot to talk about here.  Dodge is the only avoidance stat bears get, and so we get more dodge per point of agility than anybody else.  Stack agility and/or dodge rating until you get to about 50% dodge, then feel free to use defense rating.  Agility provides ancillary benefits vs. dodge rating (higher crit chance, armor, kitty attack power), so that's the route I've gone, but either way works.

Step 4:  Emergency Situations

Bears don't have a whole lot of emergency options.  We have a mass taunt for losing aggro on a group, and we have SI + FR to save ourselves.  While it can be useful to use each of your various cooldowns individually, I have a macro built to use my entire arsenal at once, for when I need to buckle down, reduce load on healers, and save myself.  It performs all of these abilities at the same time, since none of them use the GCD: Barkskin, Survival Instincts, Frenzied Regeneration, Fel Healthstone, and Runic Healing Potion.  With the glyphs for SI and FR, this is a ridiculously powerful button for keeping me alive.  Fully raid buffed, I exceed 75k HP while SI is up.

Keep in mind that the multi-use Berserk is also an emergency button - when the emergency is fear.

*I think some folks would probably say that your number one job is staying alive.  That's job 1b.  You have healers whose sole purpose in life (or at least WoW) is to make sure you stay alive.  While you should be doing what you can to help them, it frees you up to worry about what's most important.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I'll go in-depth into the talent choices for a bear.  Also coming soon, Kae's monday night raid report.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some thoughts on healing assignments

For those out there who are raid leaders, how do you make healing assignments?  Do you base it purely on Recount's healing meter?  Do you base it on the class of the healer?  Do you factor in a healer's individual spec (for, say priests?) or do you bother yourself with asking the healer how his or her gear is arranged?

I would suppose that some combination therein is the best way to do it, but I'm curious how folks generally do it.  I haven't led enough raids myself to have a perfectly clear understanding of how difficult it is to bother with any of it, but I can tell you for a certainty that it can make a difference.

Most of my tree gear was patched together before the last couple rounds of lifebloom nerfs.  As such I have the lifebloom idol, and my spec is geared a bit towards lifebloom and rejuvenation rather than nourish and/or healing touch.  This means that I'm going to do much better with my healing output if I'm healing a tank.  With the nerfs, that's the only way lifebloom is really that incredibly useful.  I'm going to be switching to the rejuvenation idol (234 free spellpower seems nice mmkay?), but until then I'd much prefer to be healing a tank than general raid healing.

Druids make pretty darned good raid healers.  The only reason Wild Growth isn't completely unadulterated awesome is the 15 yd range limitation on the smart splash heal.  Rejuvenation runs fairly long, heals for a reasonably large amount, and is a low enough cost to be effective at healing a fairly large chunk of a raid.

But if the druid's focus is nourish or lifebloom, do you want to put them on raid-wide responsibility?

Sidhe Devil's Raid for the Cure

Big Bear Butt posted a link today about a cross-realm march supporting breast cancer research.

Our prayers go out to Julie, and good luck with the run!

Content coming later!