Friday, October 31, 2008

Holy PvP Testing

Last night, we spec'd Deep Holy (10/51/0) to give it some PvP testing, much as we did with the Deep Discipline test earlier. The goal for this test was to determine the viability, strengths and weaknesses of the Holy Spec, using a ~200 Resilience 900+ spellpower geared Priest. We anticipated that personal survivability and burst healing in a semi-random team situation (BG'ing with buddies) would be better when compared to a Deep Discipline spec. However, we foresaw that mana longevity would be a serious problem.

So, were we on the mark with our guesses?

Absolutely! We were on the mark with both the good aspects of the spec's anticipated performance and the not so great factors as well.

Disclaimer: much of this discussion is really only valid at this point of the game as we only have 61 talent points to muck about with, however, many of the points discussed about now will be entirely valid at level 80 as well.

So, what were the spec specifics? Well, the spec that was tested did not have Meditation, which severely limited my effective duration in combat. We expect this to be marginally resolved with WotLK with the extra talent points, however, we do have concerns as to gear itemization as mentioned in a previous article . We tried to fill in as many of the crit talents as possible, minimized the spirit talents and stacked crit over spirit, primarily through wearing Shadow PvE gear. Additionally, we skipped many of the AoE healing talents, but did take Circle of Healing, mainly because it is instant cast. Gear wise, we didn't expect to survive much longer than usual, with our ~200 resilience, but our spec supported it in that it wasn't tailored for longevity.

The 'shine' of the spec came with countering burst damage and when healing unmolested, big Flash Heals and Greater Heals came through to keep people alive. With a higher crit rate than a typical healing Priest, Surge of Light and Holy Concentration procs came at a respectable rate, granting free Flash Heals and hasted Greater Heals. I greatly recommend getting some kind of proc notification mod to inform you of either proc as they can greatly assist overcoming burst situations or staying out of the 5 second rule. The key thing to remember here is that while the emphasis, talent wise, is on casted heals, the typical instant mitigation abilities available to all Priests (Power Word: Shield, Prayer of Mending, Renew) are almost as strong as those of a Discipline spec. Therefore, the instants are still the 'go to' abilities before chaining casted heals.

While the improved casted heals are able to help mitigate burst, Guardian Spirit (calls upon a guardian spirit to watch over the friendly target. The spirit increases the healing received by the target by 40%, and also prevents the target from dying by sacrificing itself. This sacrifice terminates the effect but heals the target of 50% of their maximum health. Lasts 10 sec) turned out to be an amazingly strong talent, possibly better than Pain Suppression. In a Battleground world, focus fire from several opponents can essentially burn a target down very quickly. In such cases, Pain Suppression may not be enough to mitigate the incoming damage, and often, targets die with under the effects of Pain Suppression. This is where Guardian Spirit shines. While it is on its target, not only does it increase healing done to the target by 40%, but it also acts like a Cheat Death effect if the target dies, and let's be honest here.. how many people hate when their kill target gets saved by Cheat Death? Just as I thought... everybody.

(Note: If the opposing faction comes a rollin' into your city to kill your faction leader, try to time a Guardian Spirit right before they die. It can bring about some wonderful results.)

As an example of the talent synergy, last night, with Guardian Spirit on my target, I cast a 5400+ crit Flash Heal which proc'd Surge of Light and Holy Concentration. This, in turn, gave me 2 hasted Greater Heals and a free/instant Flash Heal. It's these types of crazy proc combinations that keep people alive to turn the tide. Unfortunately, a Bladestorming Warrior and a Ret Paladin proceeded to destroy me for stealing their kill... only to have my broken form turn into a Spirit of Redemption and continue to keep everyone topped off.

My Warlock buddy and I joked that with my undergeared status, my healing in Spirit of Redemption probably outweighed my regular healing and as funny as it might be, it may have seemed to be true. With 200 resilience and less than 9k unbuffed health, Blessed Resilience and Blessed Recovery really didn't help that much. Saving myself in this burst environment was all up to whether or not I prep'd myself with Shield/Mending/Renew and had my trinket up and had Psychic Scream off cooldown and possibly had Guardian Spirit off cooldown, as well.

So, would I recommend this spec? Absolutely. Especially if you're undergeared, give this spec a try. I don't think anyone without max resilience (and a couple of pocket healers) expects to tank multiple DPS in BG's these days, so giving yourself a few options that maximize your 'up' time is probably the best option at this point.

There are a few downsides to this spec and they are the aforementioned mana longevity issue, a much slower Mass Dispel and a reliance on random crits to possibly counter burst. In addition to all of that, there are very few 'tricks' that a Deep Holy Priest has up his sleeves. The lack of Power Infusion, Borrowed Time, and Improved Mana Burn turn Deep Holy into a dedicated healbot, which may or may not fit your playstyle.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disc PvP Testing

While there's nothing better than popping that Icon of the Silver Crescent and dotting a mounted opponent up in Alterac Valley with Devouring Plague, Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric touch to get that Sickly Gazelle Achievement (In Alterac Valley, kill an enemy in the Field of Strife before they dismount), for the undergeared (i.e. low resilience/hp a la PvE gear), Disc PvP healing can also serve up a decent helping of fun.

To give a frame of reference, I was running around in various Battlegrounds this weekend using a 51/10/0 spec on my ~1000 Spellpower, 178 (or sometimes less) resilience, 8k hp/mana baby raid face melter. Instead of melting faces, we were (literally) channeling the Light into our teammates and trying desperately to avoid getting gibbed. In some cases, we were forcibly shoving the Light into opponents with some pretty righteous fire. All in good fun, of course.

With the above spec, we primarily relied on the tried and true instant cast abilities to save lives: Prayer of Mending, Renew, and Power Word: Shield. However, a couple of new talents completely changed the old Disc PvP playstyle. The most amazing spell in our new repertoire is the 51 point Discipline talent Penance (16% base mana, 2 second channel, 30 yd range): Launches a volley of holy light at the target, causing 288 Holy damage to an enemy, or 1484 to 1676 healing to an ally every 1 sec for 2 sec. Now, at first glance, it doesn't sound so amazing. Drawbacks? Yep, right here: a) It's channeled so you have to stand in place, b) being channeled you could possibly get counterspelled and school locked, c) channeled means you have to face the target and d) there's a cooldown of 8 seconds with 2/2 Aspiration (Rank 2) Reduces the cooldown of your Inner Focus, Power Infusion, Pain Suppression and Penance spells by 20% which really is 6 seconds if Penance is fully cast.

But, enough about drawbacks, lets talk about the advantages of using Penance:

Firstly, it can be used as an offensive weapon. Need to apply some more damage to finish off the opponent? Penance them! Every other aspect below also applies to the offensive usage of this spell.

Secondly, Penance is cheap. For a mere ~460 or so mana, at 1000 spellpower, each of the 3 ticks heals for approximately 1500. That's around 4500 healing for less than cost of a Flash Heal (18% mana). This means that if you have to break the channeling after the second tick of Penance, you will still heal as much as a Flash Heal, for less mana, and for less time spent casting (first tick is at time zero, second tick is at 1 second).

Thirdly, the initial tick of Penance is instant. The moment you start channeling, that first tick shoots out and while the range is only 30 yards (most other heals have a max range of 40 yards), travel time isn't so bad. It's not as slow as Pyroblast and the twirly lights are pretty. With latency, its entirely possible to get off two ticks, break the channeling, and still avoid counterspell. Basically, it looks like a holy version of Arcane Barrage, which if you've participated in BGs lately, have probably been subjected to, ad nauseum.

Fourthly, all ticks can crit. This means that with some luck, you're looking at some pretty amazing burst healing.

Fifthly, it synergizes well with Grace (Rank 2): Your Flash Heal, Greater Heal, and Penance spells have a 100% chance to bless the target with Grace, reducing damage done to the target by 1% and increases all healing received from the Priest by 2%. This effect will stack up to 3 times. Effect lasts 8 sec. The 3 ticks of Penance count as 3 heals, applying (very quickly) a 3% damage reduction and a bonus 6% healing.

Lastly, being a channeled spell, you can heal around objects if the subject of your healing moves out of your line of sight. This is akin to a Warlock's Drain Life, which, if you start the channeled spell when the target is in line of sight and they move out of your line of sight, the channeling will continue to function. This is very helpful as in BG's, there's a good chance that your teammates won't be mindful of line of sight healing issues. In addition, if you're are playing with a teammate that is communicating well with you, they can pop in and out of line of sight, so that you can protect yourself from counterspell while still casting large heals.

Ok, so Penance is great, what else? Well, check out the new 46 point talent: Borrowed Time (Rank 5, 5 point talent): Grants 25% spell haste for your next spell after casting Power Word: Shield, and increases the amount absorbed by your Power Word: Shield equal to 40% of your spell power. While the second part is easily quantified (1000 spellpower = 400 extra damage absorbed) and works well with Reflective Shield, the first part (spell haste) can bring about some pretty fun stuff. With this 25% spell haste and no other passive haste or other haste buffs, Flash Heal becomes a 1.125 second heal, Talented Greater Heal becomes a 1.875 second cast and Mind Control (*cackle*) becomes a 2.25 sec means of humiliation. The cool thing about the haste ability is that it can stack with Power Infusion. This next spell becomes 45% faster, or as they would say on Spaceballs: "They've gone to plaid!" Mind Control. check. 1.65 second cast. check. The important thing to realize with the Borrowed Time haste effect is that any spell, even instant, will consume the buff. So, when planning out healing rotations or combinations, be sure to avoid casting any instants right after a shield if you want the benefit of the haste effect.

As nice as the haste effect is, Borrowed Time and Penance both synergize well with yet another talent: Rapture (Rank 4): Causes you to gain up to 2% of your maximum mana each time you heal with Greater Heal, Flash Heal or Penance, or damage is absorbed by your Power Word: Shield or Divine Aegis. Increasing the amount healed or absorbed increases the mana gained. Any form of mana refund to bolster the efficiency of the Priest class is a phenomenal thing and this talent is a very nice complement to the efficiency of the above talents.

I definitely had a lot of fun with this spec and I urge people to give a whirl. Healing becomes quite effective with all of the new talents in the Discipline tree and with 5/5 Divine Fury, if you want to go offensive you can, with a Penance, Holy Fire, Mind Blast, Smite chain for some Light guided beat down.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pv... E? Undergeared Shadow Priest Raid Gear Concerns

First of all, big apologies to my 1 reader out there for not updating as much last week. Things just got... busy.

With that weight off of my shoulders, I'd like to talk a little about the Priest and what I've been doing with her (sounds dirty, but trust me it's not). We'll get to arena and BG's soon enough, but really, the meat of my past week's Priestly endeavors has been raiding. In this time period we have attended and saved ourselves to every raid in TBC except BT and Sunwell, where an extremely undergeared Priest, no matter how skillfully played, will have issues justifying her presence. We've gone from blues and greens to nearly all epics, a few blues (need the Scryer's Bloodgem for the hit rating) and one green (why are there no good offhand drops?!). We've gone from 600 spellpower to over 1000 spellpower and we still have less than 3 days of /played time at level 70.

Throughout all of the raids and heroics, the goal has been to find a decent PvE guild with some strong leadership and a mature atmosphere, because, as I've (and many others) seen before, a good fit guild can make playing the game that much more enjoyable, even to the point that, signing on to talk to friends and jump around in the major cities (I miss Ironforge square jumping), is something to look forward to. I've definitely found a few guilds on Kel'Thuzad I could cross off my list and a few to look into further. There were even a few where I found myself stepping into a leadership role in their raids, because of the inexperience of the leadership, no matter how good intentioned they were. Hopefully, we'll find ourselves a new home soon, because talking in a private chat channel is much less enjoyable than in /g chat... and typing /6 is a pain due to little Asian hands. I expect to have arthritis in a few years.

I digress. In the world of beginner Shadow Priest raiding, I've been taking as much epic gear as possible, going as far as crafting the entire Frozen Shadoweave set and getting some Bracers of Nimble Thought made for me. I've contemplated making the BT haste shoulders, but I haven't seen the pattern on the AH recently. Aside from all of the gear crafting, the confusing aspect to all of this raiding and PvE gearing is the synergy between the gear and the talents. See, with the changes to the Shadow tree and game mechanics, obtaining mana at 70 is a different task. Specifically, the restriction of one potion/fight and the change to Vampiric Touch providing the Replenishment buff instead of mana returned based on damage dealt, mana for the undergeared Shadow Priest is pretty dicey, especially if you're as undergeared as I am. Furthermore, the stats allocation on typical gear also doesn't help.

To preface the explanation, lets define the two means of passive mana regen other than Shadowfiend and Dispersion:

Meditation (rank 3): Allows 30% of your mana regeneration to continue while casting. (Discipline tree)

Improved Spirit Tap (rank 2): Your Mind Blast and Shadow Word: Death critical strikes increase your total Spirit by 10%. For the duration, your mana will regenerate at a 20% rate while casting. Lasts 8 sec (Shadow tree)

Notice: Both talents run off of Spirit to determine the amount of passive mana regen.

Obviously, before we go any further, I realize that with WotLK, spirit will be itemized better, but we're playing in the here and now, so it's a valid current issue.

Now, lets look at the issue. When analyzing non raid gear, each piece can generally be categorized based off of various characteristics: DPS and Healing. Traditional 'DPS' gear has Stamina, Intellect, Spellpower and Crit. This type of gear is supported through the various crit talents such as Improved Spirit Tap and the other +crit rating (Mind Melt) and +crit damage (Shadow Power) talents. With the change to dots now being able to crit, crit rating is definitely desired. Conversely, traditional 'Healer' gear has Stamina, Intellect, Spirit and Spellpower. Interestingly, this gear is also supported through Shadow talents such as Improved Spirit Tap and Twisted Faith (Increases your spell power by 10% of your total Spirit, and your damage done by your Mind Flay and Mind Blast is increased by 10% if your target is afflicted by your Shadow Word: Pain).

Big deal right? Well, yes, this is a pretty big deal to the beginning Shadow raider, because virtually no gear outside of raid gear has both spirit and crit and we need both. Here's why: When trying to overcome my mana issues, I could spec two ways: either 13/0/48 for Meditation or 5/0/56 to max out the damage talents. If I go with the first spec, I could gear for spirit and be fine on mana, enjoying a 30% regen rate, but my damage becomes gimped, especially concerning Mind Melt and Shadow Power as I am not able to max out both talents. In addition, 3/5 Twisted Faith means less damage overall on the two most spammable spells in my arsenal. With Pain and Suffering keeping Shadow Word: Pain up indefinitely, giving away extra guaranteed damage seems counter productive. With the second spec (how I usually spec for Raiding), I do gain Dispersion for mana regen (basically a second pot) but the reliance on crit is much more extreme. If I don't get crits on Mind Blast and Shadow Word: Death, I am completely reliant on cooldowns for longevity. But, if I do crit, I need enough spirit so that my regen is worthwhile!

So, what's the right way to gear/spec for the beginning raider? Well, if your group is competent and you're clearing farmable content, definitely go with the 5/0/56 spec and hope for Mind Blast/Death crits. There's a good chance your group is going to burn down the boss fast enough as it is, so your mana issues won't become apparent. If your group is just starting the raid scene and fights are taking much longer than they probably should, Meditation and Spirit gear may be much more beneficial, especially if you're multi tasking to cover your raid weaknesses (shielding, dispelling)

So, how did I do this week? Well, aside from at least 8 upgrades: Head, Neck, Chest, MH, Gloves, Pants, Boots, Trinket, we managed to break into the top 5 on a Hyjal boss. How? Well, as much as I'd like to preen about my undeniable skill, I'd actually have to give credit to all those 'raiders' who evidently love to stand in the fire.

Evidently, PvE is hard.