Saturday, May 16, 2009

Arena Priest 2's Update

Hello, 2k!

I've missed you so much.

3.1 PvP Lifebloom Change - Not So Bad?

Awhile ago, when the 3.1 Lifebloom changes were announced, I wrote this post which highlighted why the change was terrible, horrible, no good, very bad change to both PvE and PvP Resto Druids. While it is still technically a nerf, I feel that it's time to come clean, admit my mistake and explain why I actually like the change.

I'd even call it a buff.

Typical Druid PvE Player Base: "Gasp!"

For PvP, of course.

Typical Druid PvE Player Base: *collective sigh of relief*

If you don't PvP, feel free to keep picketing BlizzHQ on that dirty Lifebloom nerf while I extoll the virtues of this wonderful change.

To understand why the Lifebloom change was a buff, let's talk about Arena gameplay from a design perspective. In previous seasons, around Season 3 and 4, Blizzard started seeing the effects of Resilience, mana regen, and crowd control. These seasons were dominated by Druids and Priests being paired up with Warriors, Warlocks and Rogues and interestingly enough, survivability was at such a high point that matches often lasted an incredibly long time. Back then, my buddy and I played Warlock/Druid and some nights, after spending 90 minutes on 2 matches, we were both mentally and physically exhausted from what amounted to the WoW equivalent of chess. People complained, QQ'd, and whined about the over calculated-ness of Arena PvP.

Blizzard took notes and in Season 5, changed their design philosophy 180 degrees to the point that no matches took longer than a few minutes. This change was brought about through intense burst damage on the part of many DPS classes. Naturally, complaints came about again, albeit far faster this time and Blizz tweaked the offending classes. Arcane Mages, Survival Hunters, Ret Paladins, Destruction Warlocks and others got their burst DPS lowered over the course of several patches and hotfixes. I emphasized the word hotfix because it's quite impressive that Blizzard is now willing to make on the fly changes to improve the quality of life in the Arena instead of waiting for the next patch.

Where are we right now? Well, we're 3 weeks into Season 6 and burst damage, which still quite strong when executed by a coordinated pair, is, for the most part, (reasonably) healable with the help of cooldowns, peels and pillars. Granted, some class comps such as Rogue/Mage are still incredibly strong against certain healers, but that's just the way some class matchups happen to fall.

So, how does that impact Lifebloom? Well, when burst damage becomes (reasonably) healable, damage can be (reasonably) anticipated. When damage can be anticipated, one can roll a specific number of Lifeblooms to match the anticipated incoming damage. If the periodic healing is needed, the Druid can elect to keep the stack rolling. If burst healing is needed, just let the stack bloom. 14k crit blooms aren't unheard of and they go a LONG way against double DPS opponents in 2's. Interestingly, Nature's Splendor, a talent many PvP Druids take is both a benefit and a hindrance. On one hand, it increases the duration of Lifebloom, meaning it takes longer to bloom when you need it to, and on the other hand, it increases the duration of Insect Swarm, a huge DPS ability that many Resto Druids are glyphing for. However, the masses tend to agree that the positives outweigh the negatives and as survivability goes up throughout S6, the periodic healing of Lifebloom will increase in efficiency; thus spending 1 talent point on Nature's Splendor is justified.

While this aspect of the Lifebloom change is good, the Tree of Life change also helps the gameplay of Resto Druids. For those not in the know, ToL now grants the mana cost reduction to HoTs regardless if the Druid is in ToL form or not and the cost to shift into ToL is no longer crazy expensive. This opens up gameplay options for PvP Druids who essentially need to use Balance spells to either set up for a kill or keep someone alive. As such, casting Lifebloom in caster form is no longer prohibitively expensive.

As I look to the future of PvP Resto Druids, the upcoming drinking change (more mana/drink tick) and the Innervate buff will, in my opinion, put Druids back up on top.

Things are definitely looking up for the crafty shape shifters.

As an aside, I finally got tired of having most of my screen blocked by some weirdly proportioned Man Cow. Therefore, my Man Cow is now a Girl Cow.

My eyes are much happier.

Friday, May 15, 2009

3.1 Arena Changes and a Brief Update

Ahoy there, loyal readers! The lack of posting isn't because of a lack of time, nor disinterest, but in fact, it is the result of quite the opposite. I've been too busy playing WoW and enjoying RL because 3.1 has allowed me to take full advantage of the best of both worlds.

Would I care to explain why 3.1 has changed the status quo (of being a digital zombie)?

Sure thing!

With the advent of 3.1, Blizzard has completely changed the Arena rewards system. Now, starting at reasonable ratings, players can buy il232 Furious Gladiator gear with Arena points and/or Honor. In addition, Ulduar 25 equivalent il232 weapons available at a mere 1850 rating. These tier 1 Furious Gladiator weapons are not only slower than their PvE counterparts, but are itemized towards PvP, lacking many of the PvE characteristics of Hit, Expertise and Haste. This is a godsend for those PvPers who have previously spent countless hours raiding for weapons as previous seasons did not grant PvPers access to such high quality and PvP specific items.

Simply put, there is little incentive for many PvPers to grind Ulduar since Ulduar 25 drops are il226 while Furious PvP gear is of il232. For a pretty good list of reasons, check out Serennia's article on World of Ming, who talks about this very same topic.

What do I think about all these PvP gear changes?

I think the changes are phenomenal. It encourages players to remain active in PvP, it doesn't give ridiculous benefits to players who are in top PvE guilds, and provides a somewhat balanceable 'expected gear' notion to the table. This means that because the disincentive of wearing PvE gear, developers can expect that most players will wear Furious Gladiator gear, giving the developers a more consistent data set to aid in future class and ability balancing. As it is, Season6 is probably one of the most balanced seasons ever and we can only hope this trend continues.

On top of all of these changes, Blizzard has once again changed the arena rating system. The new system starts teams off a 0 rating instead of 1500, but grants ~47 points for a win with no points taken away for a loss until the team hits 1500 rating. For the casual players, this allows players to steadily improve as they learn about their team composition and develop some semblance of synergy/coherence prior to becoming eligible to lose points. Psychologically, I can see this as a benefit for casual players as they are encouraged to play more without fear of losing. Starting at 1500 and then losing 200 points in 10 games to get points for the week as a casual team is pretty demoralizing and it seems as though Blizzard agrees.

Time wise, the key point of this change is that many PvPers suddenly have an option when it comes to attending raids instead of being forced to raid for hours for a chance at a weapon drop. Like many other PvPers I've cleared my calendar of raids and have started PvPing full time. Naturally, it is far easier to coordinate 2-5 people being online through texting or IMing so that we can grab a few Arena matches here and there. The side benefit of all this is that, now, it's not so much of a big deal to go and get some RL stuff done during prime evening hours because your PvP buddies can get online either at a pre-arranged time or through a simple text message.

So, as of right now, my Priest is paired up with a buddy's Ret Paladin and we've grinded our way to the mid 1900's in 2's. I haven't started playing 3's yet with anyone, but hope to do that soon. Our 5's team is in the low 1800's and the amusing aspect of the 5v5 bracket is that there is a complete dichotomy of teams that we encounter. We either fight poorly geared and poorly skilled players for 2-3 points per win, or we fight Gladiator's for double digit losses. In fact, just last night, we went 19-0 for 2-3 points a win, and then lost 29 points to a Glad team in 3 losses.

My Druid is paired up with a buddy's Warlock and it's like Season 3 all over again, when we ground up to 2k and nabbed our Vengeful Gladiator's Shoulders. Unfortunately, the class comp is about all that has remained the same as the gameplay is incredibly different these days. We play far more aggressively and my Warlock buddy is far squishier. Any pet that he chooses to bring out is promptly 2 shotted and at times we've resorted to bringing out the Imp just so that it could phase and provide Soul Link without getting obliterated. I believe that the comp does have a strong future as the popularity of War/Druid is rising and Lock/Druid generally had equal to favorable matchups against War/Dru if the pet could be kept alive.

The only aspect of this new season that utterly sucks is having to re-grind for all of the Furious Gladiator offset pieces. 300k+ Honor will make any BG enthusiast want to gouge their eyes out.

... It may be time to pop my Asian Racial and grind ridiculous amounts of honor.