Saturday, April 28, 2012

Glyph of Dark Binding

I don't know how I missed this. With this in place, the recent addition of several Discipline abilities to Shadow spec seems more likely to be intentional. There has been a bit of buzz around the blogs about Shadow perhaps becoming a true hybrid spec, preforming nontrivial amounts of healing while in a damage spec. I'm starting to agree; it does look like that's the goal.

This glyph in particular looks very powerful. Even on live, I frequently de-form to heal someone in our H DS runs, both on farm bosses and on progression. With how many globals I lose to casting Shadowform, this would actually replace Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain for me from a raw DPS standpoint, not to mention the increased uptime on Shadowform's damage reduction. Also, this looks obviously god-mode and/or mandatory in PvP.

Shadow already has a lot of passive mana income from Vampiric Touch ticks, and with the addition of a 25% meditation effect, and Rapture, we should have the mana longevity to chain-cast heals for quite a long time. We may even see people using Shadow as a primary healing spec on easier fights, or where damage output is more important than healing. I must say, it's an exciting time to be a Shadow priest. This must be what it was like for the warlocks when they thought Demonology was becoming a tank spec.

(For some more analysis on the addition of Discipline abilities to Shadow, see this post.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

H Spine of Deathwing - Defeated!

Beta updates:
  • Mass Dispel is now much cheaper, but has a 15 second cooldown (like all other dispels in the beta).
  • Void Shift is now baseline (level 87), and has a 6m cooldown. Now, much like Life Grip, all priests will have a new griefing tool. Or something functionally equivalent to Lay on Hands. Depends how responsible they are.
  • Related: Spectral Guise is now a talent in the survivability tier.
  • Many talents (mostly healing) have had their numbers tweaked. Yawn.
  • From Darkness, Comes Light - Now can accumulate two charges. Cool, fewer go to waste, and can accumulate them for burst.
  • Twist of Fate - Now lasts for 10sec after damaging/healing a low health target. This should make it appreciably better than it was, as before it was dramatically weaker than the other options on the same tier. Now on add fights it may be far superior.
  • Mindbender - New talent. It's another Shadowfiend with twice the mana return, but a longer cooldown.
  • Shadow got a bunch of Discipline abilities. Bug maybe? The list: Borrowed Time, Meditation (25%), Rapture, Spirit Shell. If this is not a mistake, then my thoughts are twofold. One: it's nice for Disc/Shadow priests so they don't need to heal like a holy priest if they need to heal in Shadow spec. Two: Healing is now much more appealing for a Shadow priest, as you'll likely be compensated for the time spent to cast a PW:S here and there in the form of haste and mana. It is possible that PW:S might become rotational, for the boost it offers to a DoT used immediately after, particularly with the tier-14 4-piece bonus. At first glance, PW:S seems to be DPS-neutral, which means it may as well be rotational for the survivability boost.
  • Glyph of Fade now grants 10% damage reduction. Cool. More survivability tools are always welcome.
  • We now have preliminary tier-14 set bonuses. 2 piece: +10% Mind Flay crit. Since we still have the MFcrit-to-Shadowfiend conversion, this will be a powerful mana boost. 4 piece: +3 sec DoT durations. Not overwhelmingly powerful for single-target, but sexy-awesome for multi-DoTing. I approve.

So, on Thursday, we rolled in and oneshot H Spine. I was surprised; when the fight ended abruptly, I thought we still had one plate to go; it felt just that easy. Needless to say, there was much rejoicing.

What we did differently

Our tendon burst DPS has been creeping steadily upwards the entire time we've been attempting H Spine, and feeling it was no longer necessary, several other DPS and I stopped trying to get cooldowns up before we detonated the Amalgamations, and simply focused on burning it as fast as possible. One of our tendon burn phases was perilously close to not meeting the DPS requirement because of this, but it made the fight dramatically shorter. The faster Amalgamation burn also caused the tendon phases to sync up nicely with the Fiery Grips so that we didn't need to kill the Corruption to reset the timer before entering tendon phase.

Our tanks adopted a different strategy for the 5th and 6th lifts; instead of attempting to kite the bloods, they stacked near the rest of the raid and dropped as much AoE as possible. The incidental AoE from procs and the tanks themselves killed 9 bloods almost precisely when the Amalgamation got low on HP. Also, this allowed them to more reliably establish aggro on new spawns, preventing them from meleeing random people.

We had a perfect storm of good RNG luck. I got such a good string of crits once, that I did 1.4M during a single tendon phase- not counting Shadowfiend damage. Likewise, despite making no attempt to get my Shadowfiend, and despite having about half the usual time between plates, he came up for 5 of the 6 plates. Other DPS report similar uncanny levels of luck. Also, the Blood Corruption: Earth was remarkably kind to us, dropping two stacks on both tanks right off the bat, and coating the majority of the raid before the end of the fight.

So was it just RNG then?

While the RNG probably helped immensely, the fact is that the healers finished the encounter with about 60% mana each, and unused healing and mana cooldowns. RNG simply doesn't account for that. Clearly the strategy changes were enough, and the favor of the RNG gods was just icing on the cake.

We spent considerable time on H Madness that night as well. I can see why very few guilds are 7/8H; Madness does seem much easier than H Spine. On about our 5th attempt, we made it to the final phase, and wiped only because we'd never seen it before. The fight is brutal on healing, but as a DPS, it's only marginally harder than normal mode, and this coming from someone who's having to use Dispersion to soak a 1.08M damage Impale meant for the tank. If we get it down before then, I'll write up a detailed account of our strategy for next week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Preparing for the new Expansion

Blizzard: Pandaren to their customers.
So, I image there are a few of you out there that have never played when a new expansion hit. Even for those of us who have, there are still things to recall from last time and prepare for this time. If you're interested in racing to realm or world firsts, you'll need a very different approach than if you're taking it all at a more mellow pace.

Things to Remember

All current gear is going to be worthless by level 90. This does not mean getting gear now won't help you later, just that it won't be worth as much as if there wasn't an expansion looming. What gearing up alts to Raid Finder levels will do is speed up your leveling, and allow you to queue for leveling dungeons right away. When Cataclysm hit, chain-dungeons were much faster XP than questing, simply due to the sheer number of people who were competing for your spawns. Around level 82-83, the crowds thinned out, making questing more effecting than chain-dungeoning. Mists of Pandaria may be different, but I doubt it. Launch day crowds will likely be as thick as ever.

There will be a lot of new alts around in the weeks and months following launch. There's a new race and a new class, and many people will make one of both. This means that leveling good like bags, glyphs, profession skill-up mats, heirloom item enchants, and maybe twink gear will all see a surge in demand. Monks use leather, so expect demand for leather BoEs to remain high after launch longer than other armor types.

Dungeons and raids will be hard again, (like they are every expansion.)  Almost nobody is going to know the strategies for your leveling dungeons, and when you get to max, still nobody is going to know the strategies for your heroic dungeons. That said, if you get to cap early enough, you'll probably find yourself in excellent groups. I recall pugging into multiple 4/5 Bane of the Fallen King and the Light of Dawn groups. Expect to run into a lot of Saviours of Azeroth in pugs if you get to max in the first couple days. Despite this, dungeons will be hard because absolutely no one will over-gear them. From there, the dungeons will get worse before they get better. Just as the elite are figuring out the fight mechanics, the flood of slower levelers will show up. As you move out of dungeons and into raids, expect normal mode to be a bit of a wake-up call; it won't be nerfed by 15% like it is now, and you won't have all or most of the gear from it.

Current trade mats will change to moderate prices. Very expensive items, like Essence of Destruction, Maelstrom Crystals, Rare gems and Epic gems will likely fall in price dramatically, and stay down permanently. Very cheap items that will be used to level professions through the 450-525 range will likely raise very high in value a few weeks after MoP launches - when the Monks and pandas all get to level 80 or so. After that, those items will probably settle out higher than they are now, but not by a lot. Items I expect to rise include common Cata ores, low-level inks, Cata leather, common Cata herbs, and volatiles. You may be able to turn a profit buying these cheaply now and selling them later.

Things to Prepare

If you're planning to race for a first level 90 (or your guild leadership scheduled a raid for Tuesday night >.>), remember that you won't be the only one rushing to cap. People will have planned out well in advance which quests and dungeons to do or skip on the way to 90. If you don't hop on the beta and do the same, you'll be at a disadvantage. Aside from planning your route, you should prepare your character so you won't be slowed down. Cleaning out your bags and bank now will save you time later when your time is more precious. You could also consider stocking up on flasks and buff food if you're really serious about it. On PvP servers, you can hire bodyguards to gank enemy players competing for your quest targets, and protect you from griefers.

If you're not racing to cap, there are two different things you could do to make your launch experience more pleasant. A lot of what I put in the "things to remember" section were about the massive crowds of players on the first couple days. On of the biggest things you can do to make your leveling experience more pleasant is to either get ahead of the crowd or wait a couple weeks to level to 90 and roll a panda or Monk alt instead. While I expect there to be a ton of panda alts by the end of the first week, on the first day on the other hand, I expect the newbie zones to be much emptier than the level 85-86 leveling zone. If you're not rushing to max, I strongly recommend not trying to level through the crowd of players though; it's downright unpleasant. I would however go check it out. It's quite a sight seeing swarms of players rolling across the zone like locusts, devouring all the mobs in their way.

The other philosophy I can offer to more casual players is this: now is a prime time to become filthy rich. Hardcore raiders will pay an arm and a leg for MoP enchants, food, flasks and BoE crafted gear. Hardcore traders will pay an arm and a leg for trade skill-up mats. If you can provide either of those to them, you stand to make an absurd amount of money. Consider learning two of Skinning/Mining/Herbalism on the character you'll level to 90 first. If you already have a lot of gold, you might take an interest in getting one of your crafting professions up quickly. The mats may be pricey, but if you can be the first person on your server to sell a particular gem cut, or enchant, or flask, then expect the hardcore raiders to be lining up to give you their money.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Heroic Spine of Deathwing

I've decided to stop dedicating entire posts to beta updates. It seems futile. The changes are just too frequent. I may do another full beta post in a month or two when things have settled out. For now, I'll just comment on beta changes at the start of another post like I'm doing now. All priests (not merely healing specs) got a new spell called Feathers from Heaven. It's placed like Lightwell, allies can walk through it to gain a burst of speed identical to the one from Body and Soul. Also, Shadow's spirit-to-hit conversion is back, and Vampiric Touch restores 15% max mana over its duration. This means we'll not have mana issues when multi-DoTing for a change.

I have been fighting this for entirely too long.
So, the guild has been stuck on H Spine of Deathwing for a few weeks now. The last remaining hurdle for us to overcome is surviving the third plate, as the bloods are spawning so quickly that they can neither be safely tanked, nor destroyed. This post is going to be a combination of tricks I've learned to help shadow priests, as well as a request for advice if anyone knows what I can improve.

Tendon Burst

I already wrote a post over at on this topic, but that was intended for regular Spine. On Heroic, the damage requirement is far more strict. On 10man, with the current 15% nerf, each DPS requires 900k damage over the 18sec vulnerability window (assuming standard 2/3/5 raid comp). While quite doable, it does demand that Shadowfiend, Archangel, and Bottled Wishes be used on every tendon. While the 90sec cooldown on the latter two is available without any additional effort, Shadowfiend requires some gymnastics to activate in time.

Activating Shadowfiend basically means spamming Mind Flay to the exclusion of all else until it's time for tendon burst, and hoping it's enough. I'd say this gives me about a 19/20 chance to have Shadowfiend by the time I need it. If I were missing even a single crit buff (5% on raid, 5% on target, 3% from Focus Magic) I'd have unacceptably high odds of it failing to come up. If my haste wasn't already reforged as low as it could go, I would reforge some of it into crit to try and smooth out my Shadowfiend uptime. Note that while crit is superior to haste for the actual burst phase, it's still inferior to mastery.

Preforming the burst itself is quite simple. Summon shadowfiend, during the GCD activate Archangel and Bottled Wishes, MSp x3, MB, MSp until MB comes up again, MB, MSp until time runs out, DP instant cast at the final moment. If it's the second burn on that particular tendon, try to replace MSp casts after Shadowfiend has expired with SW:D. Obviously, if you don't yet have your 4-piece, you're simply incapable of meeting the demand.

Handling Fiery Grip

By all accounts, shadow priests are ideal to handle the grip. On normal, it was a no-brainer to assign us to grip duty. On Heroic, this can jeopardize Shadowfiend uptime. Consider telling your guild to make someone else do it. Seriously. Especially if you can't get Focus Magic. That said, despite this, I've been on grip duty on all of our attempts. Because the Corruption probably should be made to die right before the tendon burst phase (so as to prevent a grip during it), you may want to assign two people to breaking grips, both so they break faster, but also because some "overkill" damage is desirable to get its health low. We have myself and an arcane mage on grip duty.

Sealing the Deal

We've made it to the 5th plate a handful of times, and made it past that once. The trouble is, it seems that our healers can't handle the sheer flood of Bloods that spawn with 5 stacks of Degradation (which both lowers the raid's HP and increases the spawn rate of the Blood.) So we've got two strategies that we're planning to try to get us over the final hump.

The simpler of the two, we use Heroism on the first tendon burn, use burst potions, long duration cooldowns, and have the tanks and healers assist on DPS. ...except we' can't do it. We tried a few times and got it to about 7%. A little bit more gear, a little bit better class stacking (warlocks, for example, seem non-viable, and yet, we're using one,) or another 5% nerf and we could do this. That would mean that the most stacks of degradation we would ever face would be four.

The other, more realistic plan we have right now, we collect two Amalgamations for the 5th and 6th plate. We get both to low health. Detonate one, burn. Detonate the other, burn. Hope we don't wipe while burning. Heroism should compensate for the fact that no one will have time to get cooldowns back in between. Unfortunately, we've never survived long enough to try this since we thought of it.

Those Fucking Debuffs

As I just mentioned, we haven't made it past the 5th plate since I came up with the two-amalgamation idea. Why? Those fucking debuffs. Guild leadership thought it was a good idea to rotate out a stellar tank and healer for some alt tanks and healers. And Blood of Deathwing keeps detonating. So on top of our common fuck-ups regarding add aggro, or rolls, or damage control, or damage output, or- well, you get the idea, we now also have about a 50% chance to wipe via instant death because the new healer can't dispel.

Since it's not stated clearly anywhere:

Approximately 10 sec after each Corruption is killed, a random raid member receives Blood Corruption: Death, a 16 second debuff, which, if it expires, wipes the raid instantly. When dispelled (it's magic) it hops to a random raid member, keeping the same remaining duration, and it has a chance (seems about 40%) to mutate into Blood Corruption: Earth, which applies 1 stack of permanent 20% damage reduction at 8 sec remaining, and when it expires. Dispelling that (also magic) makes it hop to another raid member, but it can't turn back into Blood Corruption: Death (the Dungeon Journal is a liar; it claims that it can.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mastering Mind Spike

(Note: this post is not about Mastery.)

In Cataclysm, we got a new DPS spell, called Mind Spike. By design, it lets us deal passable damage without ramp-up or the need for the target to survive particularly long. Also, due to it dealing shadowfrost damage, it can harm shadow-immune mobs (are there even any left?) and be cast after something interrupts our shadow spells. For both of these reasons, the spell has seen excellent use in PvP. Unfortunately, all-too-often, we see novice shadow priests using it in PvE when it's really not applicable. In this post, I'll give some guidelines on Mind Spike usage in PvE.

Generally, you should rarely need Mind Spike. If you find yourself using it more than a handful of times in any PvE setting, you're probably doing it wrong. If you're in the habit of using it, (be it from PvP, or from solo questing) break that habit. Stopped using it? Good. Now I'll tell you when it actually is appropriate.

  1. Fighting a single low-HP foe. If your group pulls just one, or maybe just two foes, and you know the fight's going to be over very quickly, then MS/MB is appropriate. If there's more than that, Mind Sear is probably a better idea.
  2. A priority burn target joins a fight in progress, and will die very quickly. Some examples: the Malignant Troggs in the General Umbriss fight (Grim Batol), or the Twilight Sappers in the Warmaster Blackhorn encounter (Dragon Soul). If it will survive 15sec or more, then you should apply DoTs.
  3. You need a quick burst of damage for a specific mechanic. For example, interrupting the Fiery Grip during the Spine of Deathwing encounter (Dragon Soul), or damaging the Twilight Soulblade trash mobs when they're using Blade Barrier (Bastion of Twilight). These cases are quite rare, much more so than the other two.
  4. You want to remove your DoT effects from a target. For example, if the Hideous Amalgamation's HP is falling too low during the Spine of Deathwing encounter (Dragon Soul).
  5. You have the 4-piece tier-13 shadow set bonus and your Shadowfiend is active. In which case, see this article for more information.
So why do we cast Mind Spike in PvP? This, I believe, falls under reason number 3 (or 5, if you're crazy enough to show up in raid gear >.>). We use Mind Spike in PvP, because our opponents are capable of healing, dispelling our DoTs, and disrupting our attacks. Using Mind Spike allows us to quickly unload onto a low-HP target that the enemy healers may not be prepared to defend, possibly allowing us to finish them off before the healer can react, and it also insures us against having our DoTs dispelled.