Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Restoration talents to live without

In Wrath, I took every restoration talent that looked useful and only then looked around in other trees. In Cataclysm, the outside trees are too good to do that. Mana is tight right now, and there are more mana-saving talents outside of restoration than you can take even if you go down to a minimum of 31 points in restoration. Which talents are conceivable to give up if you want to spec this way? Here are my ideas.

Nature's Swiftness. The heal is no longer a life saver, and damage is not as spiky as it used to be. I notice a lot of restoration druids still take this one, but perhaps this is just inertia from Wrath. In Cataclysm, Nature's Swiftness isn't that great.

Nature's Bounty. This talent has two effects. First, it improves regrowth. That's nice, but I find I only cast regrowth nowadays during emergencies and during Clearcast procs. I do okay without it. Second, it gives you a speedy nourish if you have at least three rejuvenates rolling. This makes the talent more tempting, but again, you don't need it on most fights if you plan ahead. The main exception I can think of is Chimaeron, but on that fight I'm finding mana usage manageable even when using regrowth instead of nourish. Note that on this fight, twitch heals are required, but they aren't required all that frequently.

Blessing of the Grove. How can one pass up straight healing? It's a matter of comparison. Each point in this talent adds 2% to rejuvenat's healing, and I find that rejuvenate is around a fourth to a third of total healing. Being generous, each point in this talent yields 0.7% more healing. It's below the rule of thumb that when a talent point only makes the player's spells do that much better, it should have about a 1% improvement. I currently have 1/2 points in Blessing of the grove.

Swift Rejuvenation. If you are good at predicting damage, then this talent isn't very important. If damage isn't spiky, this talent isn't very important. Nonetheless, I have found it too useful to live without. I run a fair number of 5-mans in addition to raids, and people are always playing slack in 5-mans and standing in fire and so on. Further, even in raids, I find my damage prediction isn't perfect. I currently take this talent, but it looks survivable without if you have better damage prediction and raid-mates who are good at avoiding needless damage.

Gift of the Earthmother. The main benefit here is the instant rejuvenate tick, though the lifebloom blooms are a nice touch. I haven't tried running without this talent, but it is three points that several druids are living without. I just find that the instant rejuvenate tick is helpful for making a dpser a little more stable before the hots roll in.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Working stiffs

Murloc Parliament raises an issue that is close to my heart:
And when I’m working 40 hour weeks, it’s effortless to keep up the level of concentration and step out of the bad. When I’m working 60 hour weeks, I start doing stupid shit in the first HOUR of raiding.[...] Heroics? Haha. It’s such a mental strain to stay totally absorbed and focused for raiding, I dare not waste that focus-energy on doing heroics.

I'm a working stiff, though not quite to THAT degree. Nonetheless, I play Warcraft rather differently than a lot of college students that spend all their time playing video games. I play an hour here and there in the evenings, and I raid two nights a week for a strictly scheduled three-hour raid.

One thing that helps is, indeed, to have a break every hour or two. The Straw Hat Pirates always raid for exactly three hours, and they have a five minute break right in the middle of it. There are any number of reasons it is good to stand up, check on things around your home, refresh your drink, clear your head, and generally spend a few minutes not staring at a computer. I would imagine this is more important for those of us with many demands in our lives, because we have more things to check up on.

Another aspect of this difference is that those of us who play relatively little will have significantly less developed characters in the World. Our mains will have fewer emblems (excuse me, "points"), we'll have much less gold, our off-specs are so so, and our alts are nearly non-existent. For the most part this doesn't make a big difference. I figure that mains are the most important thing, and that a lot of the other people's time gets soaked up by alts.

Further, there are sharply diminishing returns once you've gotten all the level-346 gear and all the reputation rewards you can. Earning victory-point gear means running a LOT of random heroics, buying crafted gear means farming up a LOT of gold. The bad news is that at my level of time in the game, there's no way for me to do this kind of grind. The good news, though, is that it doesn't help that much. If you spend two weeks earning up gold to buy a crafted item, you've still only upgraded one level-346 piece to one level-359 piece. It's certainly helpful, but you don't really need it for normal-mode raids.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why are tankers not around?

Jinked Thoughts says because it is hard. It's a great article about the social side of tanking in pugs. Yes, in pugs -- where else are you going to learn?
I've heard plenty of people who've tried to tank, complain about how difficult it is. Actually I don't think I've ever heard someone say "wow, this was fun!" the first time they do it. One could really wonder why people keep at it at all. It's difficult not only skillwise, but because you ultimately are fighting not only the mobs, but against your own group as well.

In addition to the social issue, there are real technical challenges. For example:
  • Tanks have to understand the dungeon mechanics so that they can mark targets and choose pulls. In theory someone else can do it, and I've even seen a few groups where it went that way, but most of the time everyone stands around waiting for the tank to decide what to do. As a result, tanks have to understand all the patrolling groups and all of the enemy mob abilities, and what mobs are linked to each other. The other players just come along for the ride.
  • During a fight, tanks have to be aware of more things than the other players. In addition to things all player have to watch, like which abilities are on cooldown and where the fires are that need avoiding, they have to know where all the mobs are, whether a CC has broken, whether a new add has wandered into the fight, whether the healer has aggro, how threat is looking on all the mobs, and what level the tank's own health bar is at.
  • Tanks take care of more issues than other players. In addition to maintaining their threat rotation, they have to taunt mobs, trigger defensive cooldowns, keep an eye on ranged mobs, play line-of-sight games, switch targets to mobs where threat is decaying, and position and reposition mobs.
  • Tank death is less forgiving than other players dying. If a healer dies halfway through, many encounters can be survived by a tank blowing all their cooldowns. If a dps dies, it really doesn't matter. If the tank dies, though, the monster had better be very close to dead or it's a wipe.

I like tanking, but it was a lot to think about the first few times I tried. For anyone wanting to try it, be sure to try easier content first. One way to do that is to start a new character and level by tanking dungeons. Blizzard has balanced low-level dungeons to be rather forgiving, probably because they assume that the players in them might be playing their first toon. Another way to make a dungeon easy-mode is to switch roles with a max-level toon, but to first gear them up before doing so. Use excess justice points to get some tank gear, and then jump into some normal, non-random dungeons.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More tranquillity, and an incoming damage-reduction ability

It looks like in 4.1, tranquility will be on a three-minute cooldown for restoration druids. Compared to the current eight-minute cooldown, this means it can be cast twice in a typical boss fight instead of once.

This strikes me as a gigantic buff for restoration druids. Now that tranquillity works raid-wide in Cataclysm, it's an emergency heal that can stabilise an entire raid. Ponder that a moment: a single healer, casting a single spell, can restore an achy almost-dead raid to being highly viable. As a bonus, the healing is a hot, so once your cast falls off you have several seconds to get regular hots up before the tranquillity hots fall off.

It's an amazing spell. Some effects can be trivialised if you have a druid available to cast tranquillity during it. If the effect happens twice, and you have two druids, then your raid doesn't have to be that smart to handle it. More frequently right now, tranquillity is an oh-dear button, if some players get out of range, or a healer gets silenced in some way, you can use tranquillity to get the raid over the hump.

Now that it will be on a three-minute cooldown, we can more frequently make plans to use it instead of saving it for emergencies. We can, for example, alternate shifting to tree form and casting tranquillity to have a big cooldown every minute and a half.

It sounds like we have another large buff, coming, too. I missed it earlier, but apparently the Blizzard designers want all healers to have a damage-reduction cooldown available.

Personally, I hope they don't make it a separate spell. I feel pretty good about how restoration druids work in Cataclysm, and I don't get excited at all by the idea of homogenizing the healing classes. To the extent Blizzard wants to work on druids' abilities to protect against incoming damage, I'd rather they focussed on our HOTs than on adding yet another ability on a cooldown.

A simple approach they could use is to let us cast barkskin on other players. Barkskin isn't as huge of a damage reduction as other healers get, but it's not shabby. Perhaps ours could have a shorter cooldown to compensate.

Another simple approach would be to increase the HOT portion of regrowth and increase the mana cost proportionally. Before a damage spike, we could add regrowth to the stack of pre-HOTs on the player.

A more fun approach would be to redesign living seed as our damage reduction. Right now, it's not something players consciously worry about, and its behavior is much like having an increased crit effect on our heals. One way they could make it work for damage reduction is to have the living seed grow first on the casting druid. Then, only when we cast regrowth on someone, does the living seed transfer to them and activate. Between damage spikes, the seed would grow and grow. When the spike finally comes, we'd toss on regrowth plus a sizeable living seed.

We'll see. I wouldn't be surprised if they simply add yet another spell to the mix, though I hope they can come up with something that keeps our spell count down.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Valuing proc-based throughput

There's an interesting discussion on the Elitist Jerks resto-druid forum on the question of how much value should be placed on proc-based throughput. This is highly relevant because the Mandala of Stirring Patterns is one of the best pre-raid trinkets available from the point of view of sustainable healing per second. However, a lot of its throughput comes from an int proc that only has 20% uptime.

Note I am writing here only about the throughput improvements. Everyone agrees that the regeneration benefits of a proc are at least as good as a static improvement that has the same average benefit. As long as you finish the fight with at least one mana left, you don't care whether your mana descends at a steady rate or that it goes up and down in spurts as your procs come and go.

To evaluate this question, one premise I assume is that we are talking about progression content. It is a separate question to consider content that is on farm, where your raid reliably beats it and you want to beat it more reliably and more quickly. For such content, it doesn't matter that much what you do, much like it doesn't matter how you level, so I find it much more interesting to talk about how to address progression content.

For progression fights, it's highly unrealistic that players will be at max health throughout the fight. What's more likely to happen is that players hover around 50-75%, and you race to get them above 75% before the next wave of incoming damage happens. The cycle is that health bars drop after big damage, they float slowly up as healers heal like mad, and then they go down again at the next wave of damage.

If your healing is sufficient for the content and for the skill of the raid members at dodging fire, then the peaks and valleys of health in the cycle will be about the same. When I see my guild lose in such raid encounters, it's due to either unhealably severe spike damage, or it's due to players standing in fire. The former I can't do anything about. For the latter, I theoretically can help with, but when I fail to do so, what I see is the health bars going down fairly gradually.

For the content I'm familiar with, which is about half the Cataclysm raid bosses, the length of the cycle of hurt is on the order of thirty seconds. For example, on Argolath, a meteor slash comes in around 10-15 seconds, but it hits a different half of the raid each time. Thus you have 20-30 seconds after a player is hit by one meteor slash to heal them back up for the next one. Furthermore, any one wave of hurt tends to take off something like 50% of everyone's health bars. It's pretty rough, but it's not like many Wrath fights where everyone would suddenly lose 75-90% of their health.

How does proc-based versus static throughput compare in this environment?

It seems to me they are actually pretty close. First of all no proc is going to be wasted. Since players aren't at full health in the steady state, there will always be plenty of healing to use the proc on. Second, if you don't get a proc at the ideal time, it should just mean that players hover at a lower health for a little while. You will be able to pick them up just fine when the proc eventually comes around.

This is a minority view on the thread I linked. The majority view is that it's better to have static int instead of an int proc even if the average int goes down by 10-20%. The main arguments are just what I addressed above: they argue that many of the procs will be wasted, and that the procs might not be there when you need healing the most. In short, the proc won't save lives. I just don't see it. Saving a life only requires an emergency heal of 10-20% of a player's health, and for healing on that magnitude it doesn't matter what your immediate throughput is. What's more important is whether you can push the raid back up high enough to survive the next spike, and for that procs are fine.

Perhaps things are different in heroic mode, and there is more a need for emergency, unpredictable heals. I wouldn't know. At the rate my guild is going, I'm not sure we'll be doing much heroic content before the next tier comes out.

As well, I'll certainly agree things are different in a lot of ways once you master a tier and have everything on farm. You'd rather avoid proc-based gear for on-farm content. Additionally, sustainable throughput is much less interesting, and in particular haste is a lot more valuable.