Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Clean Kill

By now all the information people need to be able to kill Sartharion with 3 adds is out in the open, but what you don't see a lot of are the stories of how these kills have been achieved, and I think it might be interesting for people venturing into the encounter to read how such kills have happened without forcing them to read a bunch of spoilers. This then, is our story(more or less).

Let me begin by saying that there are some things which are likely to hold you back from progressing past a particular point in this encounter, and knowledge of them beforehand is a lot easier than trying to pick up what they do from looking at a WWS. Now as our christmas break was fast approaching, we gathered a motley crew and headed over for one last attempt at the 25man+3 kill. We had 3/4 of the primary tanks, missing our warrior maintank and guildleader. Most of the group was the same core as had been wiping on the encounter for many long hours as we'd worked to overcome the various initial challenges of the encounter. Our first pull promised good things, as only some failures at around the time Shadron went down cost us a wipe. The hard part was clearly within our reach, after that it was simply transitioning into the less frantic Vesperon kill and the ultimate kill of Sartharion. One or two more wipes ensued, memory fails me, but then also Vesperon yielded. Nothing to do but keep the MT up and dps the dragon down then. Except when you go all out for stamina, you inadvertently end up sacrificing a good bit of mitigation and avoidance, and at this point Sarth was hitting like a truck.

Now, obviously we could have swapped in another tank to take the dragon the last leg of the journey. We could have, but we felt confident that the Elu could take the beating. In truth I don't know why, but for some reason the unthinkable happened, and furry Elu went down. Panic, wipe imminent. Luckily we had two tanks(me and Leipis, our paladin) quite idle at this point. Now you might think we'd have a plan in place, who takes the dragon if the MT dies at this point. Well, not quite. So we both scurried off to pick up the evil before all our raid had wiped. After a somewhat hilarious bit of taunting back and forth, I let Leipis have him and ran off to battleres some dead. Now it's worth mentioning our normal raid-comp includes a lot of druids, two boomkins, a tree and 1-2 ferals. That's a lot of battlereses, so we got most of the raid back up. And then it happens again, Leipis went down due to a cock-up with some cooldown I believe. Luckily I was still in bear and twatting around some fireballs that were trying to set my fine fur on fire, so I ran off and picked up the dragon. No more tank deaths at this point, and as we hit 10% I popped my berserking and mangle away happily. Dragon down, all's well. In the end I wonder if it didn't just get tired of trying to figure out who it was supposed to kill. But hey, a kill's a kill, sure we could have probably gotten a cleaner kill on the next attempt, but I'm ok with a messy kill. Next time will be better, and hopefully after next reset we'll be able to confidently declare this farm content.

What to learn from this? Don't stop until it's over. You might not get a clean kill, but atleast you learn something from it, and you might just down it after all.


I recently found a similar post on the subject by the Trouble/Kyth from Fusion, although be aware that their account does contain a lot of spoilers. But if you're ok with spoilers, they also made a video which explains what goes into the encounter. By the time said video came to our attention we'd allready figured out what we needed for our kill, but it should help avoid much drama for those who come after.


It seems to me that expertise is the least discussed tanking stat for druids. Not only that, but it's often simply dismissed as a DPS or threat-stat. My approach to tanking differs quite a bit on this.

As I started researching my future as a feral druid, it became obvious that armour was the key to druid tanking. Mitigation is the most reliable way of reducing the damage you take, it smoothens your damage profile and makes sure your healers don't hate you(something that has always been at the back of my mind having my self been a healer for most of TBC). Beyond a smooth damage profile, it seemed stamina was the best scaling stat, indeed nothing increases TTL quite as much as stamina. But inflating your healthpool is only good as long as your healers are overhealing, and even then you best be aware that you do not do so at the cost of higher spikes of damage. At the end of T7 raiding I've settled into the groove of about 40k health(raid buffed), opting not to stack stamina from gems, gear nor enchants. Quite simply, what I get naturally has been enough, and I still see gearing for other things as being more beneficial to my tanking overall.

So then what am I left with? Most people would assume I then stack agility for high amounts of dodge, but as a former healer I never much liked the damage profiles of avoidance-tanks. Instead I've picked quite a few pieces of gear for expertise instead of agility and stamina. It's the stat I value the highest, and the reason is simple. As agility is both a threat and dps stat(ap and crit) and a avoidance(dodge) and slight mitigation(armour) stat, so is expertise a powerful offensive as well as defensive stat. Just as the golden rule for DPS is that if you don't land attacks, you lose more damage than if you stack a bit more AP or crit, so you lose more threat from getting parried than you would gain from the bit more AP and crit, especially with frontloaded threat abilities such as swipe now is. This means for good threat, stacking hit and expertise is key. But whilst hit only reduces incoming damage based on applications of infected wounds(if you've opted to take the talent, as I have), expertise reduces parry chance, and this in my opinion is the second best source of mitigation for a druid tank. Put simply, each parry has been shown to increase on average the speed at which the next attack comes in by 40%. That's nasty. That's spiky. That's potentially deadly and at the very least, it increases incoming damage by a truckload. This is all counter to my philosophy of having a stable and smooth damage profile. I'm currently sitting at 11.75% reduction to parry chance, and I'm intent on switching out a few gems to take it up to 12% or more. Early druid gear had the luxury of having a lot of expertise available, and the base 10 expertise we can get from talents helps us greatly. And there's nothing I love more than hearing my healers remark on how little damage I take and how steady it is over time. Simply put, do your healers a favour, don't forget to stack some expertise as well.


Furry scaling - The future of druids

This seemed like a natural follow-up to the first article, or rather expansion on it.

Ferals get a lot for free. It's great. We're crit immune and sporting tons of mitigations and some dodge and parry reduction out of the box. Life's good, and blizzard is piling on the sweetness with the upcoming changes to armour, providing even more scaling before you even start gearing up. Sure we're getting hit by a small nerf to current top end armour(although how small it actually is is debatable), but we can live with it. And besides, we'll make up for it with the next iLvl gear. So why am I concerned about the future viability of my furry friend?

Put simply, the problem is the 3.0.8 changes are going to help us hit the armour cap faster in the long run. Armour scales ridiculously well with harder hitting mobs. We might even max out armour during T8. We're almost certain to max out expertise in T8. And we're already knocking on the point where dodge starts to feel the effects of diminishing returns. Sounds good, right? But what's left for us to scale with then? Stamina? With Blizzards stated goal to avert the endless mana of late TBC, the upcoming JoW nerf for high int classes and nerfs to aoe-healing, we're likely to see healers blowing more mana on raidhealing, and having less mana to work with. This won't be a problem for current top end guilds, as we already outgear the content by a country mile(and is unlikely to be felt hard in general on the T7 level). What it does mean, is that going into the next level of content, healers are probably going to start to feel the constraints of mana-shortages. Stacking stamina in such an environment will get you many angry remarks about that stupid manasponge of a bear-tank. But that's all we really have left to scale with. And this scares me. Because by the end of T8 this means other tanks will be on level with us, but they still have ways to improve themselves. We won't.

You might argue that armour scales not simply as you get more of it, but it scales as the hits get bigger. This may be our saving grace until Blizzard gets around to figuring out how they really want us to work. But having played underdog classes in the past, waiting for Blizzard to get around to fixing a fundamental flaw really does not fill me with confidence. We need a comprehensive re-think akin to that which paladins received in the beta. The problem is Blizzard already gave us a fundamental reworking, and we're getting another, almost as important one, in 3.0.8. And yet neither of these addresses the problems looming over the horizon.

There is hope, but past experiences makes me weary. While I don't expect to find any gear tailored for my tanking needs in T8, there is the chance that if Blizzard does decide not to give us proper leather tanking gear they might instead feel we have to gain more from offensive stats into defense. If so, we're set for a reverse-paladin style mechanic, not gaining offensive powers from defensive stats but perhaps scaling our healability from crit or AP. If our healability is allowed to scale, it opens up an endless scaling in terms of stamina when coupled with good DPS-stats. The risk might be that stamina becomes simply too powerful or that druids can become a lot easier to heal, allowing a raid to bring more DPS and less healers if they stack druid tanks with high healability and mitigation. There are many pitfalls and if something is done, it's quite likely to have to result in nerfs to our base talents. Will Blizzard accept nerfing most druids to maintain the highest geared druids as viable tanks in late T8 and going into T9? This remains to be seen.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

RE:Bears are OP - An introduction to an opinion

This post, and in fact this blog, is a response to Kalon's recent post's (original and follow-up) about the current state of bear tanking. Well, not quite. As I've been reading Kalon's posts and as I've been experiencing the new content in WotLK as a newly rolled bear tank in a top-end guild, I've felt a growing urge to voice my opinions on what I see, read and perceive. The forum that I've chosen for this particular discourse is to be this blog. And now, the introduction that I've promised.

My origins as a gamer are far back, I got a C-64 when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, followed by a Sega Master System and my first PC. I began playing MMO's at the start of the decade with the browser based kind, most notably Planetarion, Unitywars and Planetia. I was rather known both as a player, forum goer, moderator(planetia) and ultimately staffer(planetarion and planetia) under the nickname of Sun_Tzu. I'm also a long time fan of Blizzard games having played Warcraft 1-3 as well as Starcraft. I was hugely looking forward to WoW until it became clear it would be a fully online game(I was hoping for a game in the style of Heroes of Might and Magic series). I felt it silly to play online PvE when I had my massive PvP browser based games to play. However, a fair few of my friends did begin playing, eventually ending up being the backbone of the highly successful guild Massive. Right about now you'd expect me to say I later joined them in that guild. I did get the offer, but by the time I started playing wow(out of boredom one christmas holiday right before TBC launch), most of my friends had quit and Massive was in the process of being reformed into what is know known as Legacy.

TBC for me was a learning period. I thought I knew what I wanted, but as I leveled up characters I tended to top out at lvl40, after which I got bored and started a new. I finally settled on a priest, and joined my cousin in a alt-guild for a larger guild on Tarren Mill, EU Horde. I was a holy raiding priest, I'd quickly decided that WoW PvP was not for me, and that what I liked was the teamwork involved in raiding. After some time as a priest, my friend and former member of Massive(Damocran, Warrior DPS/Tank back then) told me he'd rerolled to Eonar, EU, Alliance and was playing as a Holy Paladin(Nalien) for then EU top100 guild The Logical Cube. I myself rolled a Resto Shaman on the server with the intention of eventually in WotLK applying to join him in TLC. In the mean time, I joined a casual raiding guild which showed some promise, and got to see most of the content bar SWP as a resto shammy. By the end of TBC, Nalien had migrated to join a Finnish guild on another server, I was applying for TLC and pondering my future in WotLK. At this point another old friend told me he was assembling a guild of mostly Finnish players on Twisting Nether, EU, Horde. It was to be known as Chapter 3.

Now I'd never tanked before, and I knew I distinctly disliked DPS, but what Chapter 3 needed at the time was feral druids, with the expectation of them becoming tanks, so that was what I rolled. I hit 70 the day before WotLK, and was 80 a week later. About two weeks later we'd cleared all 10 and 25man raids. At the time of writing we've downed Sartharion with 3 adds up being third on server to accomplish this on 25man, and are working on the same for 10man(the absence of many of our best players over the holidays means we've not gotten around to complete this yet).

So much for my background, I realize that was no short read, and I hope you are still with me. Don't worry, now begins the actual response to Kalon's post(s).

Kalon writes that at his gear level, he feels quite OP for raid tanking. I'll agree with him, druids get a lot of things from talents, crit immunity being the most notable. Add a few good armour drops and you have an insanely effective early tank. My view however is that of those who are getting very close to the best possible current gear. I'm missing a armor cloak and staff, but otherwise I dare say few bears have the level of gear both I and my furry friend Elumarom have. We both peak at around 36k armor, 40k health and around 45% dodge raidbuffed(from memory). We both get to about 50k HP in our sarth MT gear. We're massive. Survivability is not a problem. But how do we compare to the other tanks at a similar level of gearing? I'd say we're slightly better at taking big hits, a good bit worse at taking small hits. This makes sense, it's to be expected because of how armour and block work. We're heavy on armour, and our higher percentage mitigation scales better on bigger hits. Block is static, which mean's it's better fit for negating small hits. In terms of aggro on a single target, we're about the same as the rest. Many people mistake patchwerk to be a decent gauge of this, but due to the extra threat from taking hatefuls we're easily surpassing other tanks on this because of how well we deal with large hits.

On multiple targets swipe, assuming it hits, is a quite decent aggro tool, especially post +50% threat fix. The problem is the nature of swipe, it's a relatively hard tool to use, and this becomes ever more pronounced as the situation becomes more and more hectic. In the current raid content, this doesn't really show, but heroics do definitively show up the relative weakness of druids. We all know the kind of AoE-fest heroics are atm, and for my guild that's been the case basically since we dinged 80. Most of our players came into WotLK with T6 gear and some had already cleared most of the 10man content by the time I dinged(I had an unfortunate absence of a few days right after release). Blizzards saying that threat would be a non-issue sure did not apply to me as I was franticly trying to learn the ropes of Druid tanking with dps who were expecting me to be able to perform equivalent to our Warrior and Paladin tanks. Even now, I still struggle to hold aggro against the top geared dps in my guild. That's just how it is, sometimes awkward pathing of a mob lands him behind me, sometimes a ranged mob runs off to cast or shoot, but at any rate it's not uncommon for swipe to loose contact on one or more mobs in the larger pulls. With highly geared DPS, that's not something I can afford to have happen. This situation is slightly better after the fix, but I still don't feel I'm on a level where I can compete with the other tanks in this respect.

The other major situation where this matters, is Sartharion. More specifically, if your guild chooses not to kill the eggs from Tenebron while doing Sartharion with multiple adds, you need a tank snapping them up as they spawn. This requires fast multi-target aggro. First times tried it with 2 adds(Tenebron and Vespiron), I was asked to do this job. I failed. Horribly. I've heard some druids have been able to do it, and my hats off to them, at this point it's not a feat I am willing to attempt nor feel confident I could manage. It might sound odd when I say our Paladin tank also doesn't like the job. Sure he could do it, but because consecration isn't snap aggro, he feels the whelps often get away before consecrate has a chance to glue them to him. We've resorted to using our Warrior tank for this, as his Thunder Clap is just so powerful for picking up the whelps fast and easy. From what I understand, DK's are also good for snapping these adds to them. The Paladin handles the fire adds and after Tenebron is down they both move to the fire adds and one(I'm not quite sure who actually) tanks the portal add(s). We've decided on using furry druids for MT'ing Sartharion, but this job has mostly gone to Elumarom as at the time we started working on the 3 adds(prior to that our Warrior had been tanking Sarth) he had slightly more HP than I did. I've effectively been tanking Tenebron/Shadron/Vespiron every time we've done Sarth with multiple(2 or 3) adds in 25man and I've been the MT for the 10man attempts on multiple adds.

I'm confident that any tank can do each of the jobs I've described in the encounter, although whelp tanking for druids is extremely difficult. On the other hand, Druids are well adapted to taking the bigger hits in the encounter, so I really don't think it's a wise decision to use the druid on the small adds. And personally, I find that the job I do(tanking the 3 dragon adds), is perhaps the innately hardest and therefore entertaining of the tanking jobs in the current content, although much of this is to do with the erratic behavior of these adds(they tend to fly about a bit as they want, so it takes a while to figure out where and how to tank them so you have the room you need to move about when they do decide they want to go chill behind your back for a bit). But it does bug me that there's something I feel I can't do in a reliable way. It's also clear that Druids and DK's have the easiest time tanking Sartharion with 3 adds up, Druids by simply stacking insane healthpools and relying on soaking the flamebreaths, DK's by using their multiple cooldowns and their anti-magic shield. Other tanks require more outside help, relying strongly on rotations of various damage reduction abilities from priests or hunter tenacity pets.

Our current tanking team is as follows:
Linus (Orc Warrior, Guild Leader, Maintank)
Yrtsí (Orc Warrior, secondary warrior tank)
Leipäkone (Belf Paladin)
Pienirinkula (Belf Paladin, second GL's alt and mainly a 10man tank)
Shamad (Tauren Druid, mostly off-tank)
Elumarom (Tauren Druid, mostly off-tank)
Sèvras (Troll DK, latest addition to the tank team)

The reason the druids mainly off-tank is because we're the best DPS in our tank-specs so it's easy to make us go DPS when only one tank is needed. I don't mind tanking adds, I mostly find it quite enjoyable as it's more engaging than MT'ing much of the current content. I'm not a big fan of DPS though, so I'm highly awaiting dual specs(I'm going to off-spec healing, already have a full iLvl200 gear for it).

Sorry this post became a bit awkwardly structured, as in effect it's two posts in one. I'll try to clean it up next time, hopefully I'll manage to rant about one thing at a time then.