Archive for May, 2011

Every so often you have to take stock of where you are and look for ways to push your game to the next level. Well… that is if you care. If you are happy with how your occasional heroics go, or are satisfied farming one or two raid bosses, then you can live complacently. But if you want progression you have to progress. If you want to progress to harder content then you have to progress your game.

Don’t be satisfied

I am not a min-maxer. Really I am not. I like to tweak things. I min-max more than the average player… but I don’t make my own spreadsheets. I avoid the math. I get enough of that at work. But I do pay enough attention to second guess guides, and do my own thinking. If I see a guide recommending Stamina stacking for a bear tank I laugh and go somewhere else. But I know I am not the best. I can always get better. I play a pretty good bear but… the other day I ran a ZH with a guildie and his bear did more damage than mine even though mine has better gear. Wake-up call time! I pulled up the meters and check some rotations and right away saw some things he was doing different. Different and better. We can always do better. As long as I was a bear comparing 10k dps to 6k dpsing prot warriors I was happy. But when a 11K+ bear comes by I get a wakeup call. Don’t get satisfied. Don’t get complacent.

Play smarter not harder

The funny thing about getting to the next level is that it does not always mean you have to be any faster or smarter WHILE you are playing. Don’t convince yourself that you have to have faster reflexes or quicker hands in order to improve your play. It is often not the case. Subtle differences in which abilities you use when can make a large difference. Even moving things around on your ability bar can help. Those things are small and don’t require you to hit keys any faster than you already do.

One thing I have been doing ‘wrong’ is stacking Lacerates too fast and hitting Pulverize too soon. I should be waiting until the buff is about to fall off. I keep it up all the time, so I am not doing it BADLY…. But I refresh it too soon so I can do BETTER. Because I do that I tend to prioritize getting my lacerate stacks up too much. I focus on that more than I focus on getting Mangle off every time it is ready. That is a dps loss and I need to do better. Because I am not a min-maxer I did not know that it was a mistake to do that. But because I challenge myself to improve my performance I went out and found the information I needed and am tweaking things. It is the little things like that that matter.

Read, Re-read and then read again

Don’t just read one guide, do a few things and then assume you have done all you can. Read another guide and then another. Wait a few days and read the first guide again. Tweak things and then re-read the second guide. Things are not always obvious. On the second or third look at something you might make a connection you did not see the first time. Many of the subtle things are in emphasis. On your first read you might think “Oh, they say that ability is important. Well that is nice. I use it a lot.” But the second or third time you check that guide you might see those words again and thing, “Oh they mean it is REALLY important, and is MORE important than this other ability that I usually hit first. Oops.” It might be that you already use two important skills all the time but you use one slightly more when you should been using it slightly less.

I just did a reread of Inconspicuous Bear’s bear 4.1 guide. It is good stuff and I had read it before but I got a little more out of it this time. That little tidbit about using pulverize and lacerate too much? Yeah that took more than one read of more than one guide to really click.

Another subtle change I need to make is reforging dodge. Now I am analytical. Plus I am stubborn. If I don’t see how someone reached their conclusion I am likely to doubt it. Dodge was one of those. When I did not know WHY forging crit to dodge made sense, I sort of dismissed the concept.  But then, after I read several things more than once it all clicked for me. You see, crit helps your Savage Defense… but only to a point. Once it is going off all the time then you can’t make it trigger any more often. So crit is not very useful after that. Also if you crit less but dodge more it trades off. Critting less might make your SD trigger less but when you dodge your SD lasts longer, so it does not have to trigger as often for the same amount of mitigation. Something similar goes for forging away expertise and hit. It does not matter (to mitigation) if you miss more. The only way hitting helps mitigation is if you crit AND if your Savage Defense is not already up. If SD is going off lots already then you might as well toss out the expertise and hit and get more dodge.

As long as I thought I understood something, I did not value the counter argument. Once I figured out why they suggested a change then it all made sense and I bought in. It turns out I am more stubborn than analytical :P

The thing is, when I THINK I understand what a guide is saying I might THINK I am doing that. But if I read again I might see that what they were getting at in the guide was subtly different. Then I find that what I am doing is close…. but no cigar.

Things change

Patches can change things. You might read the patch notes and think you follow the change. “Oh hey, I will just use X ability more.” But miss something subtle. “No wait, that means to use Y more and then use X when Z procs.” If you don’t min max yourself you should at least read what those who do are saying about expansions. Read it before one comes out. And after…. And then weeks or months later read it again. The ‘current wisdom’ is always changing. Even if you are not on the cutting edge ‘generating’ that ‘wisdom’ you can be following, reading, understanding, and adapting to what others are figuring out.

It is not just patches!

Every time you swap a piece of gear your stats change. Over time those changes can add up a lot. What was a good idea before might not be now. Don’t wait for a big patch to look into it.

Break points matter

My wife Analogue recently did a bunch of reforging to haste. Because her gear levels are high enough now the reforging puts a breakpoint in range. A haste ‘break point’ is a point at which your hots tick one more time. Other stats have breakpoints too. A break point is where that stat interacts with an ability or a mechanic such that you really want to be at that point or a tiny bit higher. With Hots and haste being a few points low means you get the same number of ticks as always but once you pass that point you get another tick and that is it… you get little more out of haste until the next break point.

Small changes add up.

Little things add up. In the case of my wife reforging haste she gained 1.5k more heals per second. But even more than those numbers, she gained a critical margin of safety for healing Chimeron, a fight where fast targeted heals are critical. People that before died JUST before a hot tick saved them now are getting saved. The small change matters.

Anyone who has ever had a raid boss enrage at 1 or 2% health can tell you that even a TINY bit more dps can really add up over the length of a fight. On our Cho’Gall attempts Friday we were popping potions like crazy to beat the 4th add. With another raid on Monday a slight bit more dps meant they hit phase 2 more cleanly…. But their RDPS was lower so the adds were more of an issue. A small change in dps here or there can make a world of difference.

Don’t be satisfied! Do what it takes to get that extra dps (or healing or mitigation). One person doing 1 K more dps means the average raid’s damage just went up 1%. Over a 7 minute boss fight? It is almost a half a million hitpoints of damage.

There is always something… I have not listed all I need to work on. I need to use berserk more often and better. I need to use mangle a tiny bit more and pulverize a smidge less. I need to reforge a lot. I should probably check over my gems too. There is always more to do. We are SOO close to getting an end boss down. Time to push to the next level… again.

P.S. This darn wordpress keeps bugging and posting things I am not done writing…. grrr.

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Raid Goals and Milestones

I love being co-raid-leader with Reversion of our raid. I think the job is too big for one person to manage, honestly. I handle logistics and back end stuff; he gives fight strategies and leads Vent. Behind the scenes we spend a lot of time discussing the raid, our raiders, goals and priorities.

This weekend we extended our BOT lockout to work on Cho’Gall. Until he’s down, he is our progression boss. Friday night we brought in a brand new to the guild tank, a healer we haven’t run with in ages, and after two hours we had back to back attempts where we got below 25% and into phase two. After that we went and killed Magmaw/Omnom/Maloriak, to get a head start on Saturday.

Saturday we headed back with my preferred healing team (me, Kerick the paladin, Jhudora the shaman) and tried Cho’gall again. We’re getting really good at getting to phase 2. It’s going to take time to get through that and down Cho’Gall but I know we can do it. After we put in about 9 wipes on him we did our Four Winds kill  – I still enjoy that place even now that we have it completely on farm – and then to BWD to finish off there.

We one shot Atramedes. I believe that’s our third kill of him as a raid but it really feels like we’ve got that one on farm. We can handle a little sloppiness, we aren’t having issues with sound, people know what to do.

Then we went to my archnemesis Chimaeron. We discussed cooldown use and healing assignments and started. First attempt I did terribly. I managed to forget what group I was healing and I’d stacked the cooldowns wrong too. We died at the third Feud. We came back, I fixed my attitude and readjusted what cooldowns we use, and we killed that – creature.

I was actually surprised but this is the first time we’ve had my favorite heals team in there in a long time. Add in the new shaman cooldown, plus we had a paladin tank so we had a cooldown there too, and the fight just wasn’t bad. For the record, first Feud we used my Tranquility. Second Feud we used the Spirit Link totem. Third Feud we used Rev’s Tranq, my tree, and the pally cooldown.

So we’re making good progress but we have a lot of work to do to stay progression minded. For the next…. well, more than likely it’ll end up being all summer, we have people out. I’m working on that. The guild just invited a very cheerful new tank who I’m hoping to lock down as an alt for us since we can offer him a guaranteed slot for basically the next two months.

4.2 is on the horizon somewhere and Rev and I are talking about our goals. Our raid is not a heroic mode raid. We’d like to go back and do some heroics once we down end bosses but that’s just not quite where we are right now, or we’d be more than 9/12 regular right now. So when Firelands comes out we’re going to concentrate on getting new content down. We will finish all of the 4.0 bosses though.

See, as a raid I want us to put together the caster staff. I’ve talked to a few raid members who’ve agreed that Falahla, our Arcane mage, is the  choice for that staff. It represents to me a great goal for us as a raid. We have to clear the 4.0 content. Then we have to get 4.2 bosses on farm to get the shards. And at some point we will have to kill Ragnaros.  I have no idea yet what sort of timeline we can expect to try to live up to but if we do it before the NEXT content patch I’ll be happy.

I know a lot of raids are hurting right now. The summer slump hits us all hard. But with both short and long term goals in mind, it motivates me to get the work down to keep our raid running. We have 6-8 people who will attend unless they are physically unable to. That means even if we have to pug a blind walrus and a melee hunter, we will run our raids every week. It’s a very reassuring thing to know, as a raid leader, that unless you get really really unlucky you won’t have to replace more than two people any given night.

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Alas had a great post this week about setting up an addon for Suicide Kings loot. It got me thinking about our raid, and our loot system – or lack of one. See, I run as master looter but we don’t do dkp or any of that. We don’t even do Loot Council (I think Loot Council for 10 mans is silly anyway)

Officially our loot rules are “Need before greed, upgrades before side grades, main before offspec, don’t hog the loot”. That leaves a lot of wiggle room but so far it’s worked really well. I can’t tell you how many times two people have rolled on loot, only to have the winner say, “Hey, wait, your bracers are way worse than mine, give it to her instead.”

Or when the other husband and wife team were playing clothies and I’d get a drop, I’d just give it to Falahla anyway and let her take care of it.  I wonder if that’s why Ado levelled another hunter for us?

Have we had some drama? Sure, but the drama has come from two sources:

1. BOEs – when no one in the raid needs them, what to do? Someone always has an alt who wants them. Someone else has an auction spec that could use the cash. Lately I’ve taken to just having everyone roll and whoever wins can do as they like.

2. Alts. We have a fairly stable group of raiders but there are always roster changes. Log can’t make it? Ok bring Kalyon instead of Kerick and bring a different healer in. Now we’ve got a different plate wearer taking those drops, and maybe another int mail person who wants loot that would otherwise go to a raider’s offspec.

Here too the rule is simple: if you came in for us, you get to roll on loot. Again, this can cause drama, but all of our raiders are decent people, grown adults who understand that when it comes down to it we’re here to have fun.

But since I am loot master, I can if necessary be the petty dictator. Let’s say there’s that last point on my list – don’t hog the loot. People are going to have different thresholds of what that means. I keep a running track every night of who has gotten what. If, say, a healer has gotten two drops and a trinket  drops I’ll remind them of that and ask the other healers to roll first. This only applies to main spec! I’ll never punish someone for getting lucky with offspec rolls.

I could see needing a more formal system if we had less reasonable folks around, or there was any tendency to loot drama. In a ten man, though, the raid leader is able to know what her raiders need for drops and head off the drama before it comes. And my problem with most systems is it rewards the “regular” raiders at the expense of people you bring in to help one week. Those are people who are going out of their way to help you, and getting nothing but Valor points for it.

Honestly?  If people demanded a formal loot system, I’d suggest GDKP. Then at least if you don’t get loot you get gold.

I’d love to hear from other ten man raiders – do you use DKP varients, open rolls, loot council, or does it all vanish into the raid leader’s wife’s bags never to be seen again? <whistling>

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Someone asked for a story about our horde alts…

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Interest was  a bit nervous about queuing up for her first dungeon.  “What if the healer doesn’t like me? What if the dps don’t respect my threat?” she worried. “Everyone says death knights just faceroll. I don’t want to faceroll. I want to do a good job.”

She decided to seek out a friend of hers, as much as she had friends. She wasn’t one of Interest’s clients, but she’d heard of her a few times. Another death knight, but a Worgen. She didn’t have very clear memories of her time under Arthas’ command, but she really hadn’t remembered any worgen. But in the last few months she’d seen dozens just sort of pop up. It was kind of strange, actually.

“Hi Adverse,” she said when she found the other death knight, who was just lounging around Stormwind. Interest really didn’t like this town much. Everyone here was too tall and she still had memories of coming here to talk to the King after the battle at Light’s Hope. Even now she expected guards to throw rotten fruit.

Adverse was lounging in a tavern in the Dwarven District. “Hey Interest. What’s going on?”

“I’m embarking on a stretch of leveling,” Interest explained. “Going to queue for dungeons. I thought perhaps you’d like to come along? I’m tanking.”

Adverse set down her glass. She was in human form. It made her look less scary. “I might be interested,” she agreed. “Though at our level the dungeon finder is full of death knights.”

“Yes, but still, I know what I’m doing. I think.”

Adverse looked down at her and nodded. “Sure. It’s worth a try.”

Interest had to wait while Adverse got ready. She hadn’t been doing much adventuring either. The problem of underemployed Death Knights had been an article in the Azeroth Business Times just last month.  At the time Interest had just been glad she was a banker, instead of a layabout in a gutter like a lot of her fellow ex-minions of the Lich King seemed to be. Oh, there were the shining stars of the Death Knight lifestyle who had made it to level cap – twice – and tanked for elite raids. But for every one of those there were three more who were still wearing their starter gear, sitting around in Stormwind’s Trade District.

“Ok, I’m ready,” Adverse said, startling Interest out of her reverie. Interest closed her eyes, screwed up her courage, and queued as a tank.

Nothing happened. She opened her eyes slowly. Still in Stormwind. “What happened?” she asked. “I thought tank queues were fast?”

“Not at this level.” Adverse rolled her eyes. “Every dk fresh out of the Plaguelands thinks he can tank, and queues that way. It’s healers who get fast queues at 58.”

“Oh.” She felt a bit foolish. “I see.”

“Don’t worry, the queue doesn’t seem so bad. Have a drink. Calm down.” Adverse sat back at the bar, leaning her giant sword up next to her.

Interest couldn’t relax though. She paced up and down – and then suddenly the room dissolved and was replaced. She was standing on a rampart, a doorway behind her, a bridge in front of her, and an Orc moving toward her across the bridge.

“Don’t worry, he won’t pull yet,” Adverse said. Interest looked around. Who were her companions?

Well, there was Adverse. And a Night Elf… Death Knight. And another worgen… Death Knight. And one very, very lonely looking gnome priest.

“Oh dear,” Interest said. “This will be interesting.”

“Hurry up or they’ll pull for you,” Adverse warned.

“Gogogo,” said the Night Elf, bouncing on her toes.

“Ok, I’m going.” Interest pulled her sword off her back, took a deep breath, and charged.

The next few minutes were  a rush of blood and disease and death. She knew she wasn’t working her rotation in the most optimal fashion. She kept letting orcs get behind her to strike at her back. And her health bounced alarmingly. But she fought the other three DKs for aggro, kept mobs off the healer, and they left a pile of corpses in their wake.

They got upstairs and found a huge demon lurking. She’d never faced anything like this before! She charged in. The demon lord taunted her as she attacked, but she didn’t hesitate until he fell.

Whoosh! Something almost hit her in the face. She stepped back, puzzled.

“That’s just an achievement,” Adverse said. “Come on, you must have got them before.”

“Maybe,” she said. “It’s been a while. And why does it come up n ow? We still have a boss to kill, we haven’t finished this place.”

“Dunno. Guess they made a mistake.” Adverse shrugged. “Let’s go get that dragon guy.”

They chased over to the other platform. Interest killed the last two guards and that seemed to alert the guy flying around on the dragon. You had to give him credit for alertness, Interest mused. All the people she’d slaughtered, but he was finally taking notice.

“You have faced many challenges!” he roared, circling on his dragon. “Pity they were all in vain!”

She ignored his words and waited until he was off his dragon, then charged him as he raced toward her party. He roared in anger, and she roared back, chopping at his knees. He seemed to be at a distinct disadvantage in striking back; her small size made her a hard target to hit. Meanwhile the other DKs gathered around and hammered on him. With a groan, he dropped to the ground.

And now his dragon landed. She turned to face the new threat, and the dragon breathed fire at her. It hurt. A lot. Being small was no protection against dragonflames! She felt like she was roasting inside her beautiful heirloom plate.

Behind her she could hear the healer frantically chanting. At her side, Adverse  swung her own blade ferociously. Interest managed to turn the dragon away from their healer and desperately popped a cooldown.

Then, suddenly the dragon collapsed. She stepped back, dropped her sword, and took a deep breath of clean air.

“Nice job,” Adverse said. “Oh, darn, he didn’t drop anything good. Well maybe the Satchel of Annoying Goods will be ….” she grimaced. “Intellect plate. Again. Do I look like a paladin?”

Interest gazed up at her tall friend, clad in the same golden heirlooms that she herself wore. Maybe just a bit,” she said cautiously “Only from the waist up though. You look like a Death Knight to me.”

Adverse grumbled something she didn’t quite catch. “I’m off for a pint,” the Worgen announced, and disappeared.

Interest looked again at the body of her fallen foes, and grinned. This is more fun than I thought.

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Tree of Life. Before Cataclysm, it was the Resto druid’s hallmark. Now it’s a super cooldown, the equivalent of the Hulk smashing out of his wimpy body to smash something. Even more so if you’re not running with the Glyph of No Thanks Pedotree. Lasts 25/31 seconds depending on talents.

Tranquility. With patch 4.1, Tranquility got a big boost for Resto druids. Instead of being a button you forget about, or hit accidentally and then curse, it should be a part of our toolbox that comes out every fight. Like Tree of Life, we want to time it to get the most use out of it. Lasts 8 seconds.

Right now these are our big cooldowns as Resto druids. There’s a lot of discussion over whether these are enough, since they aren’t particularly tank healing oriented or obvious life savers.  Personally I really like them. I enjoy feeling like a Resto druid isn’t just interchangeable with a Holy Priest or Resto Shaman.

To get the most out of our cooldowns, we need to time them right. With the reduced cooldown on Tranquility we can use either of them twice in a raid fight, at least once in any instance boss fight. The cooldowns are short enough we can use them on trash without worry that they’ll be down when we need them. So when is best to use them?

First, any time you want to hit Tranquility, toss out Wild Growth first. The HOT will trigger our mastery and get more healing out of the spell.

Hit Tranquility when three or more party or raid members are hurt, or time it to go off with a big boss ability that’s going to do lots of AOE damage.

For Tree of Life, throw it in one of two situations: First, to straight up boost your heals. Second, if you’re running low on mana, pop TOL and throw Lifebloom around. When you get Clearcasting procs, toss out an instant cast Regrowth. Don’t waste your time with cast-time spells in this mode, or Rejuv, but do throw out WG as it’s stronger than it used to be.

I’m not a theorycrafter, I don’t do heroic raid fights and we’ve yet to down end bosses so take my advice for what it is, but here’s when I find myself getting best use out of both cooldowns:

Magmaw –  Use Tranquility after a Molten Tantrum to get people up. Works beautifully if you’re using the all-stack-in-melee strat, still works if you’re kiting but you have to time it. Use TOL if you’re kiting worms or something else that requires movement. Remember if you’re in TOL and the head’s down and you don’t need to heal/regen mana, throw Wrath. It’s mana free in TOL and you might as well help out.

Omnotron – Use Tranquility when Magmatron does Flame Jets. Use TOL during Poison Protocol, especially if you’re being chased.

Maloriak – use Tranquility either during the red phase when the flame goes off, or during the green phase. We usually have more damage in red. Use TOL whenever you like but make sure it’s back up for P2. That phase can be movement intense and tanks can take spiky damage.

Atramedes – Time Tranquility for the ground phase at a point where you won’t have to avoid discs. Our raid stacks the ranged up in one spot so it’s great. TOL might be a good choice for air phase but honestly we don’t usually have much damage on that phase. Save it for spiky damage or if you get low on mana.

Chimaeron – coordinate with the other healers. You’re going to want to do both during Feud. I’d advise using Tranq the first time, TOL in combination with another healer’s cd the second time, and Tranq might be off cooldown the third Feud. Not really sure. If TOL’s back up in phase 2, pop it and use Wrath. You should be out of mana by then and you’re not healing anyway so go nuts with your tiny dps.

Throne of Four Winds – use TOL when you’re healing on the green/adds platform. Use Tranquility on the blue/ice platform during the aoe damage phase. If you’re on the wind platform, take a nap.

Halfus – pop TOL ten seconds after the pull. Keep people alive. When it fades, use Tranq after the Lifeblooms expire. That should get you past the damage intense part. You’ll have both back later so use them wisely.

V&T – use Tree on the second dragon. Tranquility can work for healing after a Blackout if another healer is dispelling and your timing is good.

Twilight Council – TOL in phase 1 at some point when you’re moving and there’s damage. Tranq in phase 2 after the raid gets hit by a big ability. Try to have both off cooldown for Phase 3. Blow Tranq first to get people nice and high, then use Tree to keep the fight going as long as possible.

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Useful post in the works. Stay tuned.

This weekend I did a little of everything. Friday we got our first shot at a troll dungeon and it was hard. I think some of the fights are going to need tuning. However I did like that for many of them you have to think, and use common sense. Positioning and movement are important – like in raiding. I particularly like the bear boss where you have to take turns getting charged. Not a melee friendly fight though.

Friday night was our raid and wonder of wonders we had an entire raid of regulars. Wow. We extended a lockout at BOT, took a couple tries and downed Council. We made a change the last attempt in how we kited the Monstrosity and it made a huge difference. I think it will end up being a farm boss before long.

Then we went to work on Cho’gall. It had been at least a month since we’d worked on him so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Our first attempt we got him to almost 50% and I was impressed. After a couple tries, I suggested Kerick and I two heal it. I wasn’t sure how that would go, but our dps was light and we were getting overwhelmed with adds.

It turned out to be very do-able. Yes, we had to be on our toes and yes, there were times when a tank died because we had to move right then, but I think it’s a good strategy.

Our best attempt got him to 27% – we’re going to be making the transition to phase 2 real soon. Or we would if I wasn’t losing a tank for three weeks. Sigh.

Saturday night, though, we were down a healer and two dps, so we took what we could from guild, re-shuffled a bit, and went to BWD. Magmaw took three tries, partly from a new healer, partly from low dps. Omnomtron we one shot. Can’t remember the last time we wiped on them. Went downstairs, one shot Maloriak, went to Atramedes and spent the next hour and a half there.

Meanwhile I’m eyeing the clock… see, my paladin still has two achievements to go on Noblegarden.  I screwed up and thought it ended Sunday, not Saturday, and she still has to find a tauren female, and then go do the bunny love thing. That part would be easy, but tauren females? Not so much.

About 10:30 we declared last pull of the night – and downed him. And my hat dropped. My leather int hat. The last piece Analogue needed for [Cataclysmically Epic]. I put it on long enough to get the achievement, dropped it in my bag to enchant up later, and logged over to Divergent.

Reversion and Kerick helped me hunt, and then Kerick found a tauren for me in Uldum! She summons me there, I hit the flowers, and the achievement was done. Then it was off to Goldshire for some bunny love, and I finished the holiday with almost an hour to spare.

Sunday we owed Repgrind some help so we went pvp’ing. Rev’s hunter, my druid, and her paladin were basically unkillable together. Honestly… at least for this week, a raid geared healer is unkillable anyway. They’d attack me, I’d heal myself, and Rev would kill them. We managed to get all the parts Kerick needed and most of those that our friend Bocat wanted but ran out of time to do the last piece with Bo. Let us know if you need more help later this week!

And then it was time to log off for some real life gaming – D&D session at our house. Whee!

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