Monday, February 22, 2010

The Enhancement Experience: Priority QQ

Since Vortex only has three mail users and two Agility-based DPS, I find myself collecting a fair bit of Enhancement gear that mostly just collects dust in my bags. I’ve always been a bit enamoured with the flavour of Enhancement (which is included a bit in the way I write Rul’s character), so I decided to take the opportunity of a relatively free weekend to re-spec and smash some things in the face.

I can say without question that Enhancement (in its current incarnation) is one of the most frustrating and overwhelming DPS specs I have ever experienced in my time playing WoW.

Now as a full disclaimer, I’m not completely unfamiliar with Enhancement. I leveled 1-60 as 2H Enhancement, and 60-70 in the new revamped dual-wield version of the spec (I was also “that shaman” who ran around with a 2H on Molten Core trash when I was bored). With the merging of healing and spell damage into spell power in Wrath of the Lich King, I found that my Tier 6 Resto pieces served as more than passable Elemental gear, so I leveled 70-80 by shooting lightning bolts and have stuck with it as my primary off-spec throughout the current expansion for similar reasons.

Based on my previous experience with the spec, I will definitely agree that Enhancement Shamans could have used a few more buttons to press to make their rotation more interesting (it used to pretty much just be Stormstrike, Earth Shock and praying for Windfury procs). But somewhere along the line between TBC and WotLK, Blizzard decided that a “few more abilities” was roughly equivalent to “every single spell in your spellbook”.

For reference, this is the current spell priority that Enhancement Shamans use for maximum damage on a single-target boss:

1. Cast Lightning Shield if it is not currently on you.
2. Cast Feral Spirit if the ability is off cooldown.
3. Cast Shamanistic Rage if the ability is off cooldown.
4. Cast Stormstrike if the debuff is not up on the target.
5. Cast a Lightning Bolt if you have 5 stacks of Maelstrom Weapon.
6. Cast your Fire Elemental if it is off cooldown.
7. Refresh Magma Totem if it has expired.
8. Cast Flame Shock if the debuff is not up on the target.
9. Cast Earth Shock.
10. Cast Stormstrike.
11. Cast Lava Lash.
12. Cast Fire Nova.
13. Refresh Magma Totem if there are 2 seconds or less left.
14. Refresh Lightning Shield if there are 2 orbs or less.
15. Refresh totems.

So that’s 1 self-buff, 2 cooldowns (not including racials, items or Bloodlust), 5 abilities with 8 second cooldowns or shorter (including Maelstrom Weapon), and two 18 second DoTs (Magma Totem is effectively a DoT on single target) that all need to be managed at once. That’s on top of the increased situational awareness required of melee DPS. Needless to say, even using the recommended ShockAndAwe add-on to help track the priority queue, I was completely overwhelmed by the requirements of the spec.

Now, rather than just quit and forget I even bothered re-speccing at all, I figured I’d try to highlight what I found so frustrating and suggest some possible solutions.

First, there are way too many short cooldown abilities. Stormstrike and Earth Shock have always been the core abilities of the spec and work well together, and Maelstrom is a really cool ability that also has some synergy with Stormstrike and requires you to pay attention to more than just your cooldown timers. Even casting Flame Shock makes sense to a degree (and the proposed change to the spell in 3.3.3 will make this even more appealing to cast as Enhancement). Lava Lash, on the other hand, is completely unnecessary and provides no purpose other than being another spell in an already long priority queue. It has no synergy with any other ability and the only remotely interesting aspect of the ability is that it ignores armour. I really don’t see why the damage from this ability couldn’t be folded into other existing spells like Earth Shock or Stormstrike and just remove it completely.

The other main problem with so many short cooldowns is that there tends to be very little downtime and a large number of priority conflicts. The downtime issue is an important one, especially as melee, that greatly affects situational awareness. Most classes in the game have points in their rotations where they either don’t have the resources to perform any new abilities (runes, rage or energy classes primarily) or they have a “filler” spell that they cast between abilities with cooldowns (most casters, although also combo-point classes to a degree). This downtime is important since it allows for cognitive processes to be used on other aspects of the fight, such as paying closer attention to the environment. The only notable exceptions to classes that do not follow either of the two above situations are Retribution Paladins and Enhancement Shamans. The major difference between the two specs though is the length of the cooldowns on their abilities. Where Paladins’ major DPS abilities all have cooldowns of 8 seconds or more (excluding Crusader Strike), Shamans’ abilities all have cooldowns of 8 seconds or less. The former results in periods of time where all abilities are on cooldown, but the latter results in very few times when a button isn’t being pressed.

The other major issue with so many short cooldown abilities is that it increases the number of priority conflicts that occur. This results in constantly making split second decisions on the best possible spell to cast (or using ShockAndAwe, making split second reactions to the spell it suggests). This wouldn’t be so bad if mistakes weren’t punished so severely. With the current Enhancement shaman priority, the disparity between abilities at the top of the queue and at the bottom is significant. Missing or delaying a Maelstrom cast results in a massive drop in DPS, as does accidentally casting an Earth Shock instead of a Flame Shock. While I will admit that more familiarity with the spec would help to minimize these types of mistakes and I believe these types of decisions are important to help separate players of differing skill levels, making these types of important decisions constantly over an entire 5 minute fight is just incredibly stressful and very frustrating when screwed up.

Secondly, stop making AoE abilities worth casting on single targets! This problem bleeds into the Elemental part of the class as well, especially in 25-mans where they may be free to drop DPS totems. There is absolutely no reason why Magma Totem should provide more single-target DPS than Searing Totem. None whatsoever. It really makes little to no sense in its current implementation. Searing Totem either needs to gain more spell power from the caster or fire more often (perhaps inheriting haste from the caster). Alternatively, if Blizzard is dead set on making Searing Totem effectively useless in PvE, then Magma Totem needs a longer duration than 20 seconds. Fire Nova is a fantastic ability, but I can’t help but feel somewhat annoyed that it is still considered a button worth pressing on a single target. Outside of having it share a cooldown with another ability, I’m not really sure how to fix that issue though.

Out of curiosity, I decided to test out a rotation that left out Lava Lash, Magma Totem and Fire Nova and found that it was much more manageable and enjoyable. It was still a bit hectic with all of the short cooldowns, but overall it felt a lot more in line with other DPS specs, particularly Retribution Paladins. Unfortunately, this rotation resulted in a predictably significant drop in DPS.

As it is, I’m unfortunately going to have to put the Enhancement gear back into the bank for the time being. Due to the ability for a lot of my Resto gear to function as passable (if sub-par) Elemental gear, it’s unlikely that I would have ever made the full switch to Enhancement as a primary off-spec anyway. But, that said, I was still disappointed to have such a rough time with an aspect of the class that I always remembered so fondly. Ah well.

Has anyone else had any similar or more positive experience with Enhancement as an off-spec? It definitely seems to be the more rare option among Resto Shamans, likely due to gear crossover in Elemental.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Highlight: Hand of Salv

I want to give a shout-out to a fellow guildie, Attackattack, who has also started his own Ret Paladin blog, Hand of Salv. Definitely worth checking out for some more 10-man strict oriented opinions.

He's also the new guy in Vortex, so feel free to haze him! :D

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tips & Tricks: Frostwing Halls

Since Kae does such a fantastic job of writing (and illustrating) all of Vortex’s boss strategies, I figure there isn’t much sense in totally re-inventing the wheel. Instead I decided that I’d take the opportunity to write up a bit of a complementary guide and get into the nitty, gritty details of doing the fights as a Restoration Shaman. The idea is to not only share my own experiences in order to possibly help new shamans healing the fights, but to also hear other player’s suggestions to help myself improve. I plan to do these posts for Lich King and the heroic modes, but if the demand is high enough, I can also go back and do them for some of the older Normal version fights as well.

Valithria Dreamwalker

Kae hasn’t yet put up Vortex’s official strategy for this fight yet, so I’ll share it from my own point of view.

A handsome, young orc stands triumphantly Captain Morgan style on an unopened box of treasure, cloak billowing in the wind behind him. Females of all species are hanging off him, swooning over his sexy, rippling, green biceps. Scattered before them are thousands of undead corpses, ripped and torn asunder by the blades of the orc’s comrades (pictured offscreen). If you listen closely, you can hear the wind whispering softly in your ear: “Rul.”

As a Resto Shaman, this is probably one of the fights in the game where you can’t help but feel a bit like a superhuman god of healing. It’s not uncommon to crack over 80000 Effective Healing per Second at specific points in the fight, and I generally find I do a good 2/3 of the total healing to Valithria on most successful attempts.

Now before you think I’m just stroking my own ego, I want to point out that this is almost entirely due to class mechanics. Specifically, the high throughput possible on this fight is caused by the interaction that Ancestral Awakening has with the stacking Emerald Vigor buffs from the portal realm. Normally, when Healing Waves, Lesser Healing Waves or Riptides crit, Ancestral Awakening (AA) will heal the friendly target with the lowest percentage health for 30% of the heal. With the healing buff, not only are AA procs calculated from the already larger initial heal, but they are then again multiplied by the buff themselves before they land.

For example: say Healing Wave normally crits for 20000. The AA proc will be for 30% of that: 6000.

With 10 stacks of the buff, Healing Wave will be critting for 40000. Rather than heal for 12000 as expected, AA will instead heal for 24000.

With high enough stacks of the buff, it is actually possible to have AA procs heal for more than the initial Healing Wave crit itself!

For this reason alone, shamans should be healing the boss almost exclusively. If you’re not currently, I highly recommend that you and your raid leader discuss swapping up the healing assignments. There are very few other classes who can match our throughput on Valithria in this fight.

For this fight you’re going to want to focus on maximum single-target throughput. That means stacking your crit/haste gear and using Healing Wave as your primary heal. Riptides should be used generously to proc both Tidal Waves and your two-piece Tier 10 bonus should you have it.

In the 10-man version of the fight, all the adds and portals only spawn at the front of the room, so you should be able to position yourself near Valithria’s head for the most part. Movement is pretty minimal during the fight; the only thing you really need to watch out for are the Columns of Frost that will knock you up into the air after a few seconds if you don’t avoid them (kind of like the ability in 5-man Anub’arak). You’ll also need to move to position yourself near a portal when she spawns them since they take a good few seconds before they become active. If possible, I recommend waiting until it’s time to cast Riptide again and cast it while you move in order to lose the least amount of time on target.

Once you enter the portals, your goal is to fly/swim through as many of the floating, green, gaseous orbs as you can. They are spawned at varying heights in a circle surrounding Valithria, so you might need to adjust your camera angle on occasion as the depth perception required while flying makes this part a little difficult. They can also be a bit finicky, so sometimes you’ll need to pause near them in order to make sure they “explode” and give you another stack of the debuff. Since we assign two healers into the portal, we each take one side of the ring. Try to collect all of the orbs starting at the front and make your way to the back. At that point, most of the ones on your side will be respawned and you should be able to get a few more on your way back to the front. I generally try to end the portal phase as close to the front as possible in order to lose the least amount of time getting back into position after the portal phase ends. You should aim for around 5-10 stacks of the debuff per portal phase.

The two dragon healers take the first three sets of portals. After exiting the third one, we immediately pop Bloodlust and Guardian Spirit (if available) and heal as much as we can. At this point, my haste is high enough that I usually forego using Riptide at all (other than during movement) and stick to straight Healing Wave spam. Keep healing this way until Bloodlust wears off, at which point you go back to a similar healing style as before. Note, your stacks will wear off at this point since you’ll end up skipping the fourth set of portals. You will start building them back up in the fifth set of portals. The fight should be ending some point around the sixth or seventh set of portals.

Due to the debuff providing significant amounts of regen, it’s unlikely you will have any mana issues throughout most of the fight. The only person who really will is the healer assigned to stay outside the entire time. As such, Mana Tide timing is a bit of a gametime call, but try to use it in order to assist that healer as much as possible. I generally drop it after the Bloodlust wears off since that’s when mana tends to be lowest.


For reference, Vortex’s strategy for the fight can be found here.

Healing in phase 1 is pretty straightforward. It mostly consists of relatively low AoE damage and single-tank healing. The only thing that you really need to watch out for is Unchained Magic and the Instability debuffs it causes. It is imperative that you have some way of knowing that the debuff is on you so that you don’t needlessly take extra damage. Since phase 1 damage is so manageable, I usually just hold off on healing the raid unless people are low on health. Keeping Riptide on the tank and healing after breaths is generally good enough. You should try to keep your Instability stacks to 7 or less, but I find that most of mine fall off around 3 or 4 if there aren’t any major damage spikes. I like to have my raid frames also show who else has stacks of Instability so that I can anticipate the incoming damage.

The only other thing to really watch for in phase 1 is the Icy Grip. I usually take that time to refresh Earth Shield on the tank and toss out a Riptide while running back out. Following Blistering Cold, the raid will usually be at their lowest health for the phase (particularly the melee/hunters who may have had some DoTs ticking on them), so you’ll want to top them off while being mindful to not allow your Instability debuffs from stacking too high if you have them at that point.

Going into the phase 2 transition, it is vitally important that you let any remaining Instability debuffs on you drop in case you are chosen as a Frost Tomb target as the explosion will still damage you while you are frozen and could potentially kill you. If you do not have Unchained Magic, your primary responsibility is getting any Frost Beacon targets (including yourself) to full health before it lands. It’s a good idea to add Frost Beacon to your raid frames for this purpose. Try to get Riptides on at least one of the targets as it will continue to tick while they are entombed. If you are not Frost Tombed, make sure you are out of line of sight of the incoming Frost Bombs and top anyone off who might still need it. I usually refresh Earth Shield on the main tank while I’m at it.

Phase 3 is mostly just a combination of the healing priorities of phases 1 and 2. You want to avoid stacking up Instability too high on yourself and you want to make sure that all Frost Beacon targets are topped off before they are entombed. In our strategy, we alternate tombs between her head and tail. Generally, you should be safe to only go behind the ones near her head in order to drop your stacks of Mystic Buffet. Doing so, if you position yourself carefully, you can actually lose line of sight to Sindragosa and drop the debuff, but still have line of sight to the tank and continue to heal. This positioning can be a bit finicky at times, so make sure that you always err on the side of dropping the debuff. By and large, if you can keep the tanks and Frost Beacon targets alive in this part of the fight, you have a solid chance of successfully completing the fight.

Hopefully you found these tips for Frostwing Halls helpful! I’d definitely like to hear your feedback and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions of your own.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fun with Valithria

I'm going to put up a more detailed post about the Frostwing Halls later this week, but I couldn't help but share this picture from last night's Valithria, um, "save". It has to be seen to be believed.

Yes, that is 70k HPS during Bloodlust (and Guardian Spirit).