Thursday, August 28, 2008

[Druid] The 3.0 patch - cat build edition

As promised...uh...two days ago, tomorrow has arrived! And it is full of catty goodness. Let's get to the good stuff, and figure out what the TBC raiding people should want to spec to if they're going to maximize cat dps at level 70.

Some notes here, before we go: as of today, we have found out that powershifting will be no more. So keep that in mind when looking at the build. We also know that Omen of Clarity will be buffed quite a bit in its proc rate. And...we'll be getting some other goodies. But bah, why speculate? Why wait? Let's go to the cat!

This has got to be one of the oddest builds I've ever done. So...I expect a lot of questioning this time around :)

Balance (0 points)


Feral Combat (50 points)

5/5 Ferocity
5/5 Feral Aggression
1/2 Feral Swiftness
1/1 Faerie Fire (Feral)
3/3 Sharpened Claws
2/2 Shredding Attacks
3/3 Predatory Strikes
2/2 Primal Fury
2/2 Primal Precision
1/1 Feral Charge
5/5 Heart of the Wild
3/3 Survival of the Fittest
1/1 Leader of the Pack
2/2 Improved Leader of the Pack
3/3 King of the Jungle
5/5 Predatory Instincts
1/1 Mangle
5/5 Rend and Tear

Restoration (11 points)

5/5 Furor
5/5 Naturalist
1/1 Omen of Clarity

I'm not going to go into every single talent here, but just go over some of the choices that seem odd.

The first odd choice is going with both ferocity and feral aggression. The fact is that for raiding, thick hide and feral instinct do absolutely nothing for a cat. Feral aggression, while not particularly great, is better for cat dps with the new ferocious bite mechanics. Even if you use ferocious bite once in a fight, this will be better for your dps. But I'm not happy with it, and I'd never do a build with this on the off-chance I'd be tanking anything.

The second odd choice is to not go for Natural Shapeshifter/master shapeshifter in the resto tree. Natural Shapeshifter is not at all useful now that powershifting is out of the equation, so we're left with spending 5 talent points to get 4% crit. That's not worth the talent points, so we skip it. At 80, of course, it would get taken.

Feral Swiftness, while awesome, is not required for dps either. I'd miss this a ton, but for raiding it's not required. If you have another druid in your raid that can put up Faerie Fire you can skip the point there and go put it back into swiftness.

Primal Precision is only good for the dodge component for DPS, but even so it's 2 points for 2.5% fewer dodges, which is pretty good on the DPS/talent point ratio. The refunding of finishing moves is gravy.

Savage Fury is worth about 1.5% more overall DPS at max rank. This is based on the percentage of mangle damage from various WWS. That's .75% DPS/talent point. It's not as good as other talents for DPS/talent point ratio, so again it gets skipped. It'd be brought back at 80.

Improved LotP is going to be a raidwide buff, so chances are that this is one of the reasons a raid will bring a feral. Does nothing for your dps, but should help your raid's survivability a bit.

King of the Jungle is going to be one of the ways powershifting's utility is replaced. Absolutely a requirement for any serious cat dps. 60 energy every 30 seconds will be on par with the 2-piece tier 4 bonus.

Infected Wounds also does nothing for cat dps.
Improved Mangle is worth about 2% more overall DPS at max rank - this is based on the value of the 2 piece T6 bonus, which is also worth about 2% more overall DPS. That's about .66% dps per talent point, which just isn't that good. This may not make the cut at level 80; it's still lower per point than master shapeshifter.

Rend and Tear barely makes the cut. Assuming that you're only hitting bleeding targets with shred (which is a fair assumption given the standard rip->mangle->shred to 4/5cp cycle) we're talking roughly a 4% increase in total damage done, which makes this .80% DPS/talent point. That's pretty close to natural shapeshifter/master shapeshifter, so it's more a matter of preference. I picked it because once again - if you ferocious bite at all, this will pay off a bit.

Personally, I'd never choose this build because it's not useful enough in the general sense. You could not reasonably tank a boss with this unless it was massively outgeared; too little armor, dodge and threat gains. But for cat, it's about as strong as I think it can be at level 70.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

[Druid] The 2.5 patch - bear/generalist talent build edition

Yes, yes, the sky is falling, the black goat has been seen as far afield as Luton, we're all gonna die.

I am, of course, talking about the content push that will have ferals getting their new talents, skills and horrible itemization coming in the 'upcoming weeks' while TBC is the big kahuna. We don't know what build we'll be getting, we don't know what talents or skills will be changing, and we have no clue what will be done for itemization.

So let's everyone panic a bit.

Okay, better?

Now that we've gotten that out of our system, let's talk about what build we're going to spec to. Keep in mind - this is a spec for Burning Crusade. This isn't the lvl 80 spec or even what you'll be leveling with come Wrath. This is trying to answer the question of what you should be raiding with when the patch comes out for Burning Crusade content. (thanks, Felkan - I totally left this out)

The big thing to note is that with only (hah) 61 points, there is no way to get both Omen of Clarity and Berserk in the same build. Omen of Clarity is being changed to be far, far better in Wrath/3.0 (it will proc only on white attacks but it will proc all the time), giving cats a huge dps boost. Berserk is a huge dps boost but only for 15 seconds every 5 minutes.

The important thing is this: If you want to tank, you'll take berserk. If you want to DPS, you'll take Omen of Clarity.

I've not fully made up my mind on that, to be honest. Bears have been getting by without berserk for a while now, and it's been okay. But omen of clarity doesn't do that much for tanking, and berserk is just a silly good ability for tanking. It's worth it for tanking Archi alone. It's worth it for tanking flames, given how much damage and threat you can put out. And it would be good to get it into your available buttons so you're more used to it. Plus it's damn fun. Omen of Clarity is kinda boring, but being able to mangle three targets while getting tons of rage and doing massive damage AND not taking as much damage? Ooh, fun times.

Of course, it is likely that ferals are going to get a major revamp to the talent trees coming up soon. Who knows what the talents are going to be like? This could easily be out of date tomorrow.

That doesn't stop me from rampant speculation. :)

With all that being said, I think I'll be going with the 51/10 build. The goal of this one is to have a good selection of tanking talents while being able to do good (if not the best) damage as a cat. Just so you don't have to swap back and forth, here's what it looks like, text wise:

Balance (0 points)


Feral Combat (51 points)

5/5 Ferocity
3/3 Feral Instinct
3/3 Thick Hide
2/2 Feral Swiftness
1/1 Faerie Fire (Feral)
3/3 Sharpened Claws
2/2 Shredding Attacks
3/3 Predatory Strikes
2/2 Primal Fury
2/2 Primal Precision
2/2 Savage Fury
1/1 Feral Charge
5/5 Heart of the Wild
3/3 Survival of the Fittest
1/1 Leader of the Pack
2/2 Improved Leader of the Pack
3/3 King of the Jungle
3/3 Infected Wounds
1/1 Mangle
3/3 Improved Mangle
1/1 Berserk

Restoration (10 points)

5/5 Furor
5/5 Naturalist

More importantly, here's what's been skipped:

Feral Aggression
Brutal Impact
Primal Tenacity
Nurturing Instinct
Predatory Instincts
Rend and Tear
Omen of Clarity
Natural Shapeshifter
Master Shapeshifter

Let's go over each talent and see why it was picked.

First off, the easy ones - the ones that didn't change (or their base ability didn't change:
Thick Hide
Feral Swiftness
Sharpened Claws ( a prereq for primal precision)
Feral Faerie Fire
Primal Fury
Heart of the Wild
Leader of the Pack and Improved Leader of the Pack

All of those are mostly straightforward for tanking and are pretty much a requirement for tanking. You might quibble with faerie fire, but I use this so often personally that it might as well be a requirement.

Now, the things that are changed or that have competition (and thus were not taken):
Feral Aggression, even with the buffs to ferocious bite, is still not particularly good. Demo roar still is not as good as demo shout, and ferocious bite isn't good even with full buffs like rend and tear. Skip it.

Brutal Impact is nice to have but does nothing for most encounters save M'uru adds. Skip.

Feral Instinct isn't the best talent, though it's very good and exceptional for keeping multiple mobs tanked. This combined with 4pT6 will make swipe by far the best threat talent to spam. I think with this alone it'll be better than lacerate is.

shredding attacks could be cut in favor of all sorts of other abilities. It's unclear whether cat dps would be so horribly nerfed by the lack of OoC that it wouldn't be worth it to even try. I'm assuming that some cat DPS would like to be done. They do offer some wiggle room though, so think about this when you're doing your bear's spec.

Predatory Strikes got even better, increasing the AP of your weapon by 20%. And of course it's a prereq for Heart of the Wild.

Primal Precision is the biggest improvement to threat that a bear can take for two points. This is expertise skill, not rating, which means these two points reduce parries by 2.5% and dodges by 2.5% - or, essentially, increasing your total threat by 5% while helping out with mitigation. If you have a ton of expertise on gear this might want to be cut, but I don't see how you'd get it.

Savage Fury doesn't help claw and rake anymore. Instead, it helps both flavors of mangle and maul. A huge threat boost for the two points.

Not that you would have skipped Feral charge anyway, but it also has a cat version.

Nurturing Instinct got nerfed anyway, but you simply don't have the points to get it any more. Too bad; I liked having it when healing on Bloodboil and Illidan.

Survival of the Fittest was also a must-have, but now it removes any need for any resilience or defense on gear. This alone is going to boost feral druid tanking by quite a bit, given all the itemization that can be otherwise freed up.

Primal Tenacity was always mediocre, but now that it only reduces duration instead of giving a flat resist it's much worse. And we don't have the points to spare.

King of the Jungle is essential for cat energy (and makes Tiger's Fury awesome!) but will also add a nice threat boost when enraged, helping out early on fights for snap aggro. Not essential, but nice for both cat and bear. And I wanted to play with it some.

Predatory Instincts was...tough to cut. 10% crit damage is a big deal for cats or bears, and the aoe avoidance was nice if erratic. The problem is that it's simply not as good as Naturalist. I could see a reasonable argument to take this instead of shredding attacks and King of the Jungle, and clearly this would be better for bears than shredding attacks/KotJ is. But again - trying to make a build that will allow good tanking and good dpsing.

Infected Wounds is another iffy one. I am assuming it will work on all bosses the same way thunderclap does. (This isn't currently the case on the beta servers, but I can hope, right? Thanks anon) If that's not the case, this can be skipped entirely. Otherwise it's very useful and helps out quite a bit when a warrior can't tclap for you for whatever reason.

Improved Mangle is another big boost for bear threat, effectively increasing mangle threat by 33%. It will take the place of a swipe/lacerate in the cycle, though, so it's not perfect, but it will definitely be a threat boost. The cat mangle cost reduction will help a lot with farming and somewhat on damage. This might not be as good as predatory strikes; I need to work the math out on that a bit more.

Rend and Tear is simply not enough of a boost to anything. The ferocious bite bonus is great for farming but not useful enough for raiding. The maul boost, even assuming 80% of your damage was in mauls, is not as good as predatory strikes or naturalist. Same goes for shreds.

Berserk is just too fun, and is that ohshit button that bears have been asking for for years. It isn't essential - and if you do want to do max dps as a cat, this isn't for you. (I'll be doing that build tomorrow). But for tanking? Oh yes, please.

Furor is mostly for cat regen; powershifting is ridiculously powerful in wotlk because of it. Any serious cat dps must have this. The tanking aspect isn't so special, but that's okay.

Naturalist is one of the better threat talents a bear has. Pity it's in the resto tree. It's good for cat and bear. It's not a pure 10% threat boost, but it's pretty close, and it does help with cat quite a bit.

For a pure bear build with no interest in going cat, I would go with something like this. Which I don't think is all that interesting, but some folks would want it. More overall threat, a bit more non-dependable mitigation. But no versatility.

Check back tomorrow for the cat build. Weird.

Monday, August 25, 2008

[General] Behold! The great avenging shield bear!

Thanks to my wonderful wife, ThinkTank has a new look! And I can say with some certainty that this is, by far, the best blog that has a winged bear with a bulwark.

That would be one more Bulwark than our entire guild has, btw. Stupid Illidan.

I'm really behind on comments but will be catching up soon. Thanks to everyone who has come by so far and checked it out!

Friday, August 22, 2008

[Offtopic]Engineering hotness

Sure, Warriors got all the love in patch 8820, what with the whole Titan's Grip rocking, fury warriors getting a better MS than Arms, and stealing vengeance from Paladins. But that's not what's awesome.

What's awesome is the new recipes for engineering. I've always had a soft spot for engineering. It satisfies the random geek in me, making cool shit that has absolutely no quantitative value but rocks. Being able to turn invisible, fall safely, res people randomly, go way faster or shoot yourself in the air was awesome. Having a flying mount that was pure win was great. The goggles and stam trinket were the real reason to take it, of course, but it had so much more flavor than every other profession. It's a shame that it really had nothing for feral druids; I would have taken it right away, otherwise. But let's go to the awesomeness:

First off we have the awesomely named "MOLL-E":

Use: Create a portable mailbox for 5 min (1 day cooldown)

Damn, that's awesome. This was one of those things that they've tried to put in the game for a long time. Hopefully this time it'll make it.

Then we get to the "engineering as bag space maker" options.

Engineering: Bladed Pickaxe
"Used as a mining pick or skinning knife"

Engineering: Hammer Pick
"Used as a mining pick or blacksmith hammer"

These can be used by anyone, so I expect them to sell fairly well and be good for leveling up.

Engineering: Gnomish Army Knife

Use: Overload the knife's battery to attempt to shock a dead player back to life. Cannot be used in combat(30 minute cooldown)
"Includes Gyromatic Micro-Adjuster, Arclight Spanner, Flint and Tinder, Blacksmithing Hammer, Mining Pick and a Skinning Knife"

Holy crap! That's every single engineering gadget you need, every blacksmithing item you need and every mining & skinning item you need + a way to resurrect someone sometimes? All in one bag slot? Damn, that's stupid awesome.

Engineering: Mana Injector Kit
Use: Converts 20 Runic Mana Potions into compact injectors

There's a similar one for healing pots too. A reusable way to make injectors is a really huge boon and a good way to save overall. It's also such a nice convenience. Really good idea here.

Engineering: Gnomish X-Ray Specs
Equip: Allows you to see player without clothing and armor

I admit, I loled.

Engineering: Sonic Booster
Binds when Equipped
+81 stamina
Requires Engineering (390)
Equip: The noise mades from melee combat sometimes cause Sonic Awareness, increasing your attack power by 430 for 10 sec. This effect can only occur once every minute

Engineering: Noise Machine
Binds when equipped
Requires Engineering (390)
Equip: increases spell power by 63
Equip: Melee attacks against you have a chance to invoke a sonic shield, absorbing 1100 damage. This effect can only occur once a minute.

The bad-ass trinkets continue - except this time they're BoE. They do require engineering to use though, but have no level requirement and only have 390 engineering. Similarly:

Engineering: Armored Titanium Goggles
Binds when equipped
1760 armor
+34 strength
+87 stamina
meta socket
yellow socket
Socket bonus: +6 expertise rating
Requires Level 72
Requires Engineering (400)
Equip: Increases defense rating by 50
Equip: Increases your expertise rating by 42

Guh. And they're not even the epic version. This is just going to be the starting head you can go and make at 72. There are other rare versions of various armors out there that don't appear to be done yet, but I suspect they're going to be inline with these.

The epic gun is pretty amazing too, though I'm still a bit bitter about prot warriors getting something like this while paladins/druids/Death knights get their lame relic slot. And this one is BoP. Interesting.

Engineering: Nestingway 4000
Binds when picked up
181-337 damage
speed 2.00
+42 stamina
blue socket
Socket bonus: +6 stamina
Requires Level 80
Equip: Improves hit rating by 18
Equip: Increases defense rating by 21

It would be awesome if engineering could make relics, idols and librams. But that might be asking for too much.

All in all, they're doing really well with engineering conceptually - making cloaks and belts into cloak and belt enchants, adding more usefulness for every profession, making things everyone will actually want. It's all good stuff. I've not seen the super sexy items that BS has so far, but BS needed a lot of love. Engineering will hopefully get their love soon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

[Druid] Addendum to Azgalor sucking

Here's the first anonymous report on Azgalor, where I took only 360k.

And here's the more recent one.

Can you figure out what the problem is? Thanks to EJ, I did. And I feel pretty dumb after hearing it.

As pointed out, I took 21% more hits in the worse one but the fight only lasted 6% longer. Or a total of 19 hits. However, the big thing was that the boss was parried 28 more times by people other than me in that fight compared to only 9 more times in the other. (he was thunderclapped 3 times as well, which also helped, but not so much that it would account for 19 more swings). That 19 extra parries is more than enough to get that many more hits in.

Which I really should have picked up on, since I argued for how awesome expertise is on mitigation in one of my very first posts. Heck, I even had graphs and stuff!


So to sum up: 19 more parries effectively meant 110k more damage over the course of the fight. Yeah, expertise is awesome for mitigation.

So what can I do to fix that? Possibly not a ton. I think I may swap the badge of tenacity for a shard of contempt; that should reduce the number of parries that I produce from 45 to around 35, hopefully. The armor loss will hurt but will hopefully be dealt with via buffs and lucky ancestral fortitude/inspiration procs; without the badge I'll be sitting at roughly 34.8k armor. Repositioning so that the NPCs don't get stupid will be the most important thing to do.

And this is why I like tanking some times - because while you can't always easily see what you did right and wrong, the information is often there. It's just something you have to think about a bit more.

[General] What makes tanking fun?

Ranty goodness ahead. Be warned.

Raiding can be damn satisfying, but a lot of the times it's frustrating as all hell. For me, that's especially true when I screw up. Causing the raid to wipe happens, and if you're not willing to accept you will do that, raiding as a tank is probably not for you. Nevertheless, I hate it every time I do it.

Last night I was fire tank on Illidan, and caused a wipe by getting too far from the other flame and causing an enrage. I know why I did it. I even know that I was pushing my luck on it. And it didn't happen again. I still hate that our first attempt was done because I failed to do my part. Yeah, we did great later that night, but it still bugs me when I personally let everyone down.

Then I almost died on Azgalor and honestly probably should have; at one point I had 37 health. That's insanely lucky. That means in the last 4 tries we've had on him, I've wiped twice and barely avoided a third time. This is a boss that is not at all hard and is tailor-made for druid tanking (no crushes, no magic attacks). Yet I'm sucking on it.

And I don't entirely know why.

After Azgalor I got to DPS for the first time on Archimonde, which meant I could see the WWS from the paladin tank. And...again, I don't see anything special here. The paladin tank takes more damage both in general and in max hits, sometimes by quite a big margin. The fight took less time for him, and that helps survivability a lot, but I just...I don't know. I don't see why it's so different. Quantitatively it doesn't look like it should be that different, yet our raid performance with others as tanks is better.

The prior raid I tanked Mother, where we wiped over and over. And every time it was because I died. Before this we regularly were killing her on the first or second try, so...argh. I can't even see what I'm doing wrong, other than taking tons of damage from spells. It may not be the best thing for a druid to tank. But I should still be better at it.

So I'm starting to really question me as a tank. I do this occasionally, especially when I do poorly. The fact of the matter is that we don't need a druid tank right now, and we only really need one for Brutallus and possibly M'uru. The DPS side despite my best attempts still isn't competitive, especially without other good buffs.

But damnit, I still have fun with it. I like tanking 5-mans. I have a blast tanking Magisters' terrace most of the time, assuming the DPS isn't idiotic. I love tanking ZA as a feral, where being able to switch from tank to DPS depending on the boss and trash is a huge bonus, where I can take a saber lash from Halazzi without another tank actually being around and expect that I'll live. I love the rush of tanking the flames of azzinoth and hoping the laser doesn't hit my side so the DPS can finish him off that much faster, and one of my favorite memories was tanking my flame, watching the other flame die and picking up their flame as well, delaying our wipe until later in the phases.

There is an absolute rush when you know you're in control. When you have that boss by the short and curlies and you know that no one is going to catch you on threat and your healers are bored enough that they start casting DoTs. When you pull off that amazing save that would have otherwise wiped the raid. When you blow your trinkets, pot, healthstone, do the idiotic frenzied regeneration and are praying that your dodge saves you that one time. When you plan it so that you don't have to stop tanking Bloodboil because your 90% dodge rate will make the debuff fall off. These things are exhilarating and awesome.

For me, a lot of the fun is knowing that I did well on my assigned task. Whatever it might be. And it's especially great knowing that I was a big part of us succeeding. It's not so much about the control or being the boss; a lot of times that drags me down. But doing good and knowing that because you did good, things went well and folks are happy? That's the big one for me.

Those moments aren't happening as much for me in raiding any more. I think a lot of that is dealing with people that don't care or aren't doing so well or are just unpleasant to deal with, but honestly that's been the case all along and it doesn't matter. It's the sinking feeling that I'm bringing the raid down, that I'm the reason we're not progressing as quickly or as well as others would like. And I'm not sure how to get that fun back.

Tonight we're going to hopefully look at Kalecgos for the first time. Kal is a fight that doesn't favor druids at all - lots and lots of spelldamage, plenty of places where having ohshit buttons would be very helpful. I may be sitting for it after dealing with the amazingly annoying trash. It looks like a really interesting fight from a mechanic perspective - lots of communication and organization is needed, lots of awareness. I hope I get to go.

And I hope I don't fuck up too much. Like I did here, where I got blown up in Solarian's room and was stuck in the ceiling for 10 minutes. Oops.

So tell me - what do you like about tanking? Why do you do it? What gets you down?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

[Druid] Niches?

I've mentioned several times in the past what a druid is good at, tanking wise, and what they're not. In TBC druids absolutely have a niche as the best tank for certain fights, and the worst in others. This is as it should be, I believe; every tank should be able to tank anything, but be best for tanking certain things and worst for tanking others. Druids aren't there in TBC (stupid lack of shield) but they're pretty close.

And their primary niche is to be able to take more physical damage than anyone. Especially from slow, hard-hitting mobs like Gruul. This ended up not being the case as we moved into T6, mostly because druids were armor-capped so early - but they still were great at it. being given to the warriors:

We still would like all 4 tanks to have their own niche, and unless we change something down the road, the design is still for the warrior to be the best tank for single bosses that hit hard for physical damage (which to be honest, has tended to be most of them so far).

Well, that's okay. Sure, warriors have been the best overall tanks for a while, right? More oh-shit buttons, better ability to deal with magic, fears, great threat, etc. But with DKs, they can't do the spellcasting thing as well, so they have to have something else. That's fair. But don't worry, the Blizzard devs know what they're going to be doing with druids, right?


I think the druid still needs a niche. I think "best tank when the boss can't crushing blow" and "best tank that can also dps" aren't great niches now, and perhaps weren't even before LK.

Great. So...paladins are the kings of AoE. DKs are the best at dealing with magic using mobs. Warriors are going to be the best at dealing with physical mobs. DKs are also going to be the best or close to the best at doing DPS while not tanking. What does that leave a druid? Offtanking is a possibility, but being the best at taking hurtful strikes is not a particularly fun job as a tank. Phase shifting is a possibility, but the amount of fights that have multiple phases that will also benefit from a druid tanking and then dpsing is going to be fairly low. Off-healing? Meh. Threat? Very unlikely given a bear's mechanics and itemization, especially since only one stat (agility) helps both threat and mitigation compared to strength and BV for the other classes. Avoidance is similarly being nerfed and the other tanks have similar amounts anyway.

What does that leave for druids? I don't actually mind losing the best physical mitigation crown to a warrior, but having something else would be good. What I think I'd like to see is a druid take the old warrior niche. Warriors were the best tank in general, able to do anything okay. They could deal with multiple mobs decently. They could deal with magic users well. They could deal with physical mobs well. They could deal with fear effects well. Some other classes did things better some of the time, but a warrior was good all-around with a real specialty towards magic users. Druids being able to do everything okay goes well with the theme of the class and the versatility that druids love. And it could help with progression in general, especially if you have multiple tank requirements of a certain flavor. Need two tanks that can deal with physical damage well? A warrior and a druid will work. Need two tanks that can deal with adds? A paladin and a druid could be great. Need a couple that can deal with magic users? Send in the DK and druid.

Now, all of this would require quite a bit of retooling. Druids would need magic mitigation. They'd need some kind of spell reflect or spell avoidance. More ohshit buttons that can work to stop fear effects. Less focus on threat. But it could be done.

On the flip side, it means that some guilds wouldn't want the generalist tank, because they could optimize and take the best choices all the time. It's a possibility, and it's one I don't really like. But it could happen. It's a better possibility than a druid not having any niche at all, though, and at least it's a direction to go.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

[Druid] What a feral wants from WotLK

I'm going to try really hard to not be bitter today about feral stuff in WotLK. Instead I'd like to talk about where I see ferals now and where I'd like to see them in the future.

Right now, feral druids are only an okay melee choice but a good tank choice. Their melee DPS is about 70-75% of an equivalently geared rogue given similar buffs, which isn't great but isn't the worst thing ever. Their group buff is very good for raid dps since it tends to already improve the highest dps classes (hunters and rogues), and they do not require an optimal party composition to achieve decent DPS. They also provide very useful generic druid buffs to a party that can make progression fights far easier. For tanking, there are only a few fights that mechanically a feral druid can't main tank, only a small amount where a feral is significantly disadvantaged, and a few where they are the best choice for tanking on progression. They have a niche as the best physical damage tanks in most situations and the best offtanks in most situations that require threat without being hit constantly. The unification of the two in one single spec, able to switch as necessary depending on the encounter's requirements, is also a huge strength and a huge source of the fun of a druid. I have spoken about that before, but it bears (hah) emphasis: a feral druid is both a cat and a bear. You should be able to do one or the other. That is a feral's biggest contribution to a raid: flexibility. Without that, a feral druid only has a few fights that they can tank the best and no fights where they can DPS the best.

It is the versatility that makes a druid a joy to play and makes them valuable to a raid.

The big weaknesses that I see are:
  • A lack of itemization, especially in higher tiered content. The best overall tanking weapon is a trash drop from SSC. The best trinket is a random world drop. Most non-tiered armor drops are either more trash, crafted, or gained from pvp/arena. The 'tanking stats' like defense aren't optimal for bears, and no epic leather pieces exist in the game that have defense on them anyway. It's a big mess. For cats, their DPS doesn't scale well with the high-end stats like haste, and their base damage was not that great to begin with. Thus they do not scale as well with the rogue gear that is best for rogues, and the feral gear is loaded with stats that aren't relevant such as int or armor.
  • Poor scaling mechanics. Armor is the best stat to stack for a bear, but armor becomes cappable early in raiding. After that there simply isn't much to improve. As a result, bears peak in overall effectiveness in T5. Cats are similar in that the only stat they scale well with is crit, which has very large diminishing returns.
  • Lack of choices. Paladins suffer from this as well, but a bear's tanking rotation is set in stone: mangle, lacerate, maul. If you're well-geared and buffed, putting in swipes while maintaining the lacerate stack is an option, but this is still 4 buttons to manage at most, and all are spammable. There's very little else going on, and this rarely changes as you fight different bosses. There's almost no interactivity with the mobs you're facing. For a cat, there's a lot more interaction if you're doing it right thanks to powershifting, but it is still 4 buttons: rip, mangle, shred, shift.
For WotLK, I would like bears to remain the best physical tanks out there, especially against harder hitting mobs. Bears cannot mitigate magic damage, so let them do well against physical enemies. I would like that to remain throughout WotLK. This doesn't mean design fights where you are either armor-capped or you die horribly; those fights are gimmicks. I am talking about something like Gruul, where the hits are so hard that armor is simply best. Threat mechanics and rage generation are also reasonable things to stay as they are; it is good that bears produce more snap aggro and pre-loaded threat relative to a warrior but less than a paladin. I would like this niche to be ironed out further via talents; allow more rage generation when not being hit, allow more mitigation of physical damage regularly (example: barkskin in forms), allow more snap aggro.

For cats, I would like them to close the gap a bit on being a useful raid slot. Ideally I'd like to see them get more raidwide utility buffs. Leader of the Pack is a good buff, but it scales poorly with some classes, the healing is unreliable and fairly unremarkable, and the synergy with any other class is lacking. I don't want to actually see their DPS go up all that much; it seems okay where it is and that + awesome party buffs would be far too much.

Above all, I'd like to see that the unification of a feral druid remains. The versatility that embodies a druid, the fluidness of forms, the ability to use all of your skills as you need - this is what makes a druid a joy to play.

Still trying to be not bitter.

Blizzard has not finished the feral druid for WotLK, and as such we don't know what the end will give us. We have no idea what the itemization will look like, but chances are it will be rogue leather + some tier pieces/tanking rings/cloaks/amulets/trinkets. That could be okay; I remain skeptical that a mismash of random class gear, dps gear and tanking gear will be reasonably itemized for a druid, but it's possible. And if done right, it gives a lot more freedom in gearing up than previously.

As of now, tanks do not have any more options in terms of their rotation, really. Berserk is a great ohshit button for a tank, but it must be saved as that most of the time and is on a 5-minute cooldown. Mangle's cooldown is being reduced so that it can be spammed more, but that is all. For cats, the addition of savage roar has some potential, as does the improvement of Omen of Clarity, but there is still not a lot of interaction, the scaling for a cat is still not that good with rogue stats (the best stat for DPS scaling is strength, which appears on 0 pieces of leather currently), and the actual dps output looks to be not so great, still.

But what really bothers me is the following:

We're not entirely happy with the way the Feral ended up in BC. The idea was that you could be a decent tank and a decent melee dps class, so Ferals were something you wanted to bring if you weren't the kind of guild that swapped different people out for every boss. But I don't think "convenience factor" is ultimately a great value to bring to a raid.

I do think the Feral flexibility will still count for something, as will unique abilities like Innervate. But we'd like the Raid of the Future (tm) to be one where you need various roles filled, but have options for how to fill them. Ferals can fill tank roles or melee roles (or both!) and can also supply the X raid buff. It would be nice if every spec of every class could bring a version of some raid buff.
and (oops, thanks Brad)

If you want to do a little tanking and dps, you probably won't be as optimal at either, though you'll probably always be better at switching between the two than other classes. In order to be as good at tanking as the other classes, you might have to give up a few talents that maximize your dps, and vice versa. This is a good thing -- it lets you choose to actually be a main tank.

The stated goal of the dev team is to make ferals consciously choose between being a good tank and an okay dps or a good dps and an okay tank. For me, this is an easy choice: it will be a tank. It'll be a hard choice though, because while I tank a lot, and I'm good at it most of the time, I also like DPSing as a feral. I like the role I have right now. Reading other druid's experiences, I think they do as well. The versatility, not the specific abilities, are what make druids unlike any other class, and this feels like something of a desired nerf on Blizzard's part. I can't even clarify it further than that, and that's really frustrating. It could be only a 5% increase in maul damage vs. a 5% increase in shred damage, something minor, and it would still feel restrictive.

Blizzard believes that ferals want to choose. I think I'd rather be an okay tank who occasionally excels and an okay dps who doesn't embarrass themselves and provides raid utility than a tank all the time or a dps all the time. I'm surprised by this; when I rerolled a druid I did so because I wasn't sure what our guild would need most - a tank or a healer - but as I've played the druid I've found the flexibility is what brings me back to the joy of playing. No other class has that kind of flexibility.

Keep in mind - I can totally buy that this sort of change, this required choice to be a good tank or a good healer - will make a bear more effective as a tank or make a cat do more damage or be more useful in a raid. I'm not denying this at all. It has nothing to do with effectiveness of the class or getting a raid spot; it has to do with the sheer pleasure of playing a druid.

So I ask you all - what is your view of where a feral should go in WotLK? Should they be separated into Feral Cats and Feral Bears? How strong should the separation be? What would you like to see improved? I'm very curious whether my views of ferals - and my joy in playing them - matches up to others.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

[General] Blog pimpage

This is long overdue, and I apologize for that. This blog wouldn't exist without the great WoW blog community out there that inspires and challenges me every day, and I owe them all a huge deal. alphabetical order, here are the blogs I read and love.

Big Bear Butt is one of the most famous blogs out there. Not just about feral druids, about everything. John Patricelli is a great author not just for his subject matter but his ability to write entertaining articles that are a pleasure to read. This blog would not exist without his inspiration.

Blessing of Kings was a crucial part of my reading when I was a prot paladin and is a nice source of thoughtful insight into paladins of all stripes. Great ideas on where the class should head and where it is now, and the dichotomy of all the specs.

Chick GM is one of the best written blogs I've seen. The insight into what it takes to run a guild is unlike anything else out there. Plus it has Egbert.

Jacemora's is one of the newer blogs I've been reading, though that's entirely a fault of mine; this stuff is good. A good guide of how to do dps as feral along with guides, stories and a good read overall.

Of Teeth and Claws is the other big inspiration for this blog. Great theorycrafting about all things feral, good articles and opinions. We miss ya, Karthis. The blog is no longer being actively maintained, but it still has some of the best Kara and post-Kara guides for Bears and the archive is still very relevant.

Resto4Life is about all things druids, even if they don't want to admit it. Great style, fun reads, daily updates and just the joy of being a druid that shows through everywhere make this a great stop.

Secret Agent Cat won me over with the name alone, but the fun writing and stories kept me coming back. Another new addition to my blog roll, but one that you should read.

The Rambling Bear hasn't been updated as much as it used to be, but the theorycrafting and analysis is spot on and the opinions are well-argued, even if I don't always agree with him. :) Update more, man! Even if you're not wanting to be a bear.

Unbearably HoT has everything I like in a blog: good writing, tanking info from a top-end guild, great layouts, a good sense of humor and sexual innuendo. Can't believe I wasn't reading this ages ago. Congratulations on your engagement :)

Windfury is the blog of my GM and friend. A great guy who needs to write more, he does a nice job of summing up all things shaman.

I got into World of Matticus because of my wife, who is a priest. I stayed because of his great style, attention to class and raid leading information, and a really good focus on priestly info.

Thanks to all of you!

Friday, August 1, 2008

[Druid] Random Friday musings

A couple nights ago after the raid I had a random druid whisper me out of the blue and start asking me some questions about tanking. He wanted to know whether he was uncrittable and how he could tell, and what he should focus on for gems/enchants.

This is my kryptonite. I write a blog about stuff like this, for crying out loud. As anyone in my guild knows, I'll drop almost everything to talk shop about theorycrafting and math. So I talked with the guy for a good twenty minutes, extolling the virtues of resilience, telling him to gem for stamina, focus on getting armor, helping with his tanking rotation and pulling many mobs(he had tanked once - in MrT. Yikes!), what badge rewards to get first, etc. He knew quite a bit, but it was also really clear that there was a lot of misinformation around. He definitely has a good start, and wish him luck in his tanking endeavors.

One of the really shocking things about this was that he told me the last 3 druids he had talked to prior to this all said druids can't be uncrittable. Sigh. They were also apparently quite the dicks. I just...I don't know. I'm definitely a dick sometimes to people that ask me things out of the blue, but it's usually of the nature of people who don't know what they're talking about asserting that I am geared properly. My favorite was the group looking for a Kara tank who insisted that I have 490 defense. But when people are asking me questions about stuff, especially stuff I know about? Why not help 'em.

Anyway, it was a good end to a frustrating night of raiding. Archimonde, for some reason, seems to go down a lot better when I'm not tanking him, and I don't know why. It's especially frustrating since I don't have the WWS for the fights I'm not involved in. I'd like to figure out if it's anything I'm doing or if there's something inherent to the fight that's not working. I know that after I was taken out, we brought in an extra healer and had the prot pally switch from off-healing to tanking it, and I'm sure that helps, but at the same time...feels like I'm doing something wrong. We shouldn't be wiping 20 times on him any more.