Friday, May 22, 2009

Dru/Lock to 1850 & What's Wrong With Locks

Last night, my Warlock buddy and I went on a win streak to get the rating for our T1 Furious Weapons. We would have gone 9-1 for the evening (stopped because of mental exhaustion due to a long work week) but suffered a couple of extra losses due to mistakes on my part: 1 DC and 1 silly pre-hot mishap. The one team we were far from beating was a well coordinated Priest/Rogue team. Try as we might, there was virtually nothing we could do vs Priest/Rogue on the Ring of Valor map.

The fight started out with the Rogue tunnel visioning my partner with double Wound Poison while the Priest spammed dispels on both of us. To keep my buddy up, I was forced to full HoT him, ensure that Abolish didn't fall off, and use Swiftmend every time it was up when Wound Poison was temporarily off. The Priest was chasing me the entire match, forcing me to waste mana by going into Bear Form to avoid Mana Burns and threatening me with Psychic Scream through superior positioning, which essentially shut down my casted spells. Lets face it, there's no where to run and no where to hide in Ring of Valor. Due to the low (and very dispellable) damage output my Warlock was doing with the Rogue making him a virtual a prison bitch, the Priest even found time to drink while letting me cast some cc's on the Rogue, only to have them either trinketed, Cloaked or Vanished.

It's entirely possible that we played that match up all wrong, but after playing Dru/Lock for 3 seasons, we've come to the conclusion that Priest/Rogue is as big of a counter comp as we'll ever get. After the laughter subsided (we're both good natured about impossible fights), we tried to think of a solution to that fight and ultimately decided that, unless we got good double fears off and/or cc chains on the Rogue first with the Priest second, and were able to force the Priest to heal instead of Dispel, we'd lose every single time.

Through our games up to 1850, I've come to the realization that Warlocks are inherently flawed with their class design that prevents them from being competitive in the hands of the average player.

I know that this isn't a Warlock blog, but here are my top issues with the class in PvP.
  • Too much emphasis on dispellable damage.
  • Overly reliant on pet for survivability
  • Movement buff is reliant on map obstacles to succeed in mitigation of damage.
Let's talk about each one, shall we?

Too much emphasis on dispellable damage.
Both Affliction and Destruction are relatively weaker against dispel heavy teams than their fellow caster counterparts. Aside from 2 instant DoTs, the Affliction Warlock must cast Haunt and Unstable Affliction to really pressure their opponents. Even if UA is up, a few rounds of dispels are all it takes to remove several GCD's worth of time spent on the Warlock's part and a few thousand potential damage. Theoretically, it is completely true that if a UA lock is let loose on an unsuspecting team that allows him to freely stack DoTs, the Warlock can do alot of damage, but let's be serious here, who allows a Warlock to roam free? UA burst damage? Unless you get back to back Nightfall procs, its a slow and arduous process. Searing Pain just doesn't cut it anymore.

Destruction Warlocks fare a little bit better when it comes to burst damage, but they are entirely dependant on Immolate not being insta-dispelled to provide their burst via Conflagarate. In the design of Conflag, Blizzard mentioned that the concept behind the ability was to essentially create an inverted Swiftmend, which relies on either a 2 second cast Regrowth (which can be applied from the safety of LOS) or the instant HoT of Rejuvenation. The unfortunate part of this corollary is such that while a Druid's Regrowth/Rejuv is often protected by 2 or more Lifeblooms, which essentially function as instantly applied dispel protection, Destruction Warlocks have no such protection other than an instant Corruption. Even if Regrowth or Rejuv is dispelled, Rejuv is instantly reapplied and Swiftmended. Unfortunately, Shadowflame's weaknesses of a) being a short range cone aoe and b) having a 10 second cooldown, limits the 'I need burst right now!' options. A Conflag'd Shadowflame also does less damage than a Conflag'd Immolate.

Overly reliant on pet for survivability
While Soul Link is an incredible concept, that of a shared health pool between the Warlock and the Demon pet, it becomes a liability if the pet does not scale with the Warlock's own personal survivability. Granted, the Felhunter (predominant PvP pet) is an amazing offensive and defensive support tool with Devour Magic and Spell Lock, it pales in comparison to both the Death Knight and Hunter pets when it comes to self survivability through Huddle or Lick Your Wounds. However, regardless of the pet's inherent survivability, neither the DK or Hunter are reliant on the pet for survival. Their survivability is inherent in their gear and their class abilities/Talents. For the DK/Hunter, the pet essentially becomes a bonus, not a requirement, as it allows the DK/Hunter to keep players in combat with no direct disadvantages if the pet was allowed to die.

Unfortunately, well played teams can focus down a Warlock's demon pet in seconds. In fact, common strategies are to ignore/sap the Warlock at the start of a match and train the pet. Often, a single cc on the healer, who is spamming heals to keep the pet up, is usually enough to get a pet kill and force the requisite Fel Domination. As we all know, a Warlock who's used Fel Dom is a Warlock that typically must play defensive and ensure the survival of his pet, lest his team is able create a window for him to summon another after the second pet is killed. Yes, Health Funnel is a good ability, but as a channeled ability, forces the Warlock to stop DPS to ensure his own survival; often moving into LOS of his opponents to get the channel.

Movement buff is reliant on map obstacles to succeed in mitigation of damage.
Unlike other casters, Warlocks have the only positional based movement ability: Demonic Teleport. Unfortunately, Demonic Teleport has a pretty short range and is currently bugged on Ring of Valor. Due to this short range, Warlocks essentially must play a positional game and often cannot overextend their position against certain classes/comps as an overextension (outranging Demonic Teleport means no escaping a Bladestorm) essentially means taking alot of unnecessary damage.

Possible Solution(s)
The inherent problem is that Warlocks, if given even a minor buff could explode in viability. Their gameplay, especially for Affliction Warlocks, is so wildly different from every other class that their damage potential could be through the roof if their tanking abilities improve drastically. With that in mind, here are a couple of possible ways to give Warlocks a little bit of a push:

1) Balance Out Armors: Demon Armor should be the go to Armor for PvP Warlocks and Fel Armor should be PvE based. Remove Spellhit from Talents and add it to Fel Armor, removing the 2% health/5 sec. Keep the Spelldamage from Spirit trait. Demon Armor should provide the current Voidwalker Sacrifice Ability to any pet that the Warlock chooses to use; putting a damage shield around the Warlock while doing a certain amount of damage to the pet. It may be prudent to remove the '30% increased Healing done to the Warlock' aspect of Demon Armor.

2) Pet Death Interactions: Build in a new talent that is linked to a PvP specific ability such as Demon Armor to dissuade pet killing. Something such as Improved Demon Armor would grant the Warlock additional Armor or damage mitigation for a certain number of seconds after their pet is killed. Conversely, build new talents that encourage the Warlock to sacrifice their pet for various effects such as an undispellable vulnerability to the Warlock's spells or cooldown resets or escape options.

3) Utilize Demonic Teleport: Give the Warlock more option with Demonic Teleport. Some ideas are possibly to give the Warlock the option, on a 1 minute cooldown, to sacrifice their Demonic Teleport Beacon for a few seconds of snare immunity and applying a cooldown to teleport beacon placement. Another idea could be to give the Warlock the option, on a reasonable cooldown, to sacrifice their Demonic Teleport Beacon for a new pet, while also applying a cooldown to the teleport beacon's placement.

Regardless what the solution is, balancing out Warlocks is tricky because their class design is so capable of focusing on bringing down multiple targets at once. However, if Blizzard's design is to make the Warlock pet's survival mandatory for success, then at the very least give the Warlock some abilities that allow creativity with pet management.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Average Priest hits 2k in 2v2 - A Story and a Thought

For me, Season 5 was all about figuring out how to play the Priest and getting the macros/binds down as it was my first season piloting the class. Theoretically, I understood the class and the gameplay, but my execution of the class was beyond terrible. As I've been playing a Druid for the better part of a year and a half, I tried to play the Priest like a Druid and constantly found myself in hot water. The key misunderstanding was that I thought Priests needed to position defensively (aka Druid-esque) as opposed to positioning offensively. As such, I don't think I was able to maintain a 1700 rating as either DK/Priest or Warlock/Priest.

Season 6 gave Priests a little bit of a bump, but more than the increased efficiency to PW: Shield and a lower cooldown on a now self castable Penance, the biggest change to Priest viability was the overall lowering of burst damage and the nerfing of Paladins' mobile healing options. With those two big changes, Priests weren't getting gibbed in seconds any more while their partners would now be able to pressure opposing DPS.

With this extra time to live, average Priests have recently had the option to play offensive with Dispels, Mana Burns and added DPS, instead of frantically spamming heals in survival mode. This has resulted in Priest representation skyrocketing past their numbers in Season 5. I use the term 'average Priest' because top Priests with top teammates could always make time in Season 5 to play offensive while average Priests struggled to stay alive. Top coordination and gear can create openings for that Burn or Holy Fire.

Me? I'm an average Priest and the Season 6 changes have helped me in an overwhelming manner to overcome the feeling of 'OMG I'm gonna die!' and have given me options in my gameplay. My Ret Paladin buddy and I started our team at zero rating and for the first week, ground up to around 1500. In retrospect, this was a huge error in judgement as it only allotted us ~200 Arena Points for the first week. Even though we hit 1900 in the second week of play, the points gained didn't allow us to buy our Tier 1 Furious weapons until week 3. We'll have to remember this for Season 7. By week 4, we had hit 2k and did it in less than 150 games.

Overall, I believe Ret/Priest is quite a powerful composition. Double defensive dispels, chainable CC and ridiculous burst offers a pretty workable solution to many of the other comps on the way to 2k, but it wasn't until ~1900 that we had to play fast. Playing fast meant that it was necessary for my Pally buddy to Hand of Freedom/Dispel me instantly out of Kidney Shot or Hammer of Justice and necessary for me to instantly Dispel Fears, Sheeps, Divine Shield, Innervate, etc. Prior to 1900, we could play sloppily and the comp strengths would help us out of the various situations.

The need to play fast is due to the fact that teams at around 1900 start to play quickly as well. Opponents at this rating level generally know what they're doing and are often using every GCD to their advantage, trying to push for a little extra momentum that can force a defensive cooldown that can eventually lead to a kill. By playing quickly, you can either force the momentum in your favor, remove random factors, or force the opponents to waste their offensive cooldowns.

Here's a few examples: There were a few times where I didn't dispel the opposing Priest's Shadow Protection fast enough and that resulted in a random failed Psychic Scream and a loss. One or two Holy Paladins swapped auras to Shadow Protection Aura as I ran towards them, which led to resisted Fears. Warriors know how to intervene and reset fights and Druids start learning how to pre-hot, kite and Bear Form to avoid burns.

Throughout the grind to 2k, I started wondering how we could speed up our gameplay and one of the revelations I've come up with is this: DPS often expects healers to perform instantly: instant dispels, instant buffs, instant CC's, making sure Tremor Totem is down, Shock/Ground/Shock combos, Cyclones, prehots, etc. Often, the expectation is that the DPS shouldn't have to ask for these types of supporting actions; the healers should automatically be performing these actions. However, we healers should expect the same kind of support from our DPS. If I didn't have to ask for HoFreedom, Dispels, Intervenes, Fears, focus Pummels/Kicks/Mind Freezes, etc. our gameplay would be much, much faster.

Granted, certain defensive cooldowns should be coordinated, but is it unreasonable to ask our DPS to have the same level of global awareness as us?

I don't think so.