Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flawless Victory

Last night, I was present for yet another death of Normal-Difficulty Kel'Thuzad. However, as the Lich Lord faded into a little black dot, a magical thing happened:

"You have earned the title, 'Rycharde the Undying'"

In three-and-a-half hours, Nine other players and I made a Horde-side first accomplishment on the Antonidas server. We went end to end through Normal Naxxramas without a single death - neither on trash nor on a boss did a single player die (we know that trash doesn't count, but it turns out that we're purists). This was our first planned attempt at "The Undying" achievement.

So, we one-shot perhaps the hardest achievement in Normal Naxxramas, and of that I'm extremely proud. This particular achievement means so much to me because of the uniform difficulty it imposes to all of the raiders. That is, every single player within this run had to survive every fight in the instance on the first try. We made no replacements when we reached Kel'Thuzad.

I don't know how to better express the magnitude of skill that this achievement requires of every one of the raiders. To survive every single fight requires a great deal of attention for the entire run. No mistakes and no slips could occur: not one made a mistake.

This touches back to that raid responsiveness post I made. Our achievement here didn't come from having excessively powerful gear: not one of us is fully geared from Heroic Naxx, and I for one had swapped gear to maximize threat generation, rather than survivability. We didn't make the Quick Werk achievement. No, the achievement was not made possible because of the ilvl of our gear (Our gear is good, to be sure, but that simply supplied a larger buffer for us. We never dipped into that buffer). The achievement came from superior gameplay performance from the players involved.

Perhaps the best example of responsiveness came during the KT encounter. At about 30%, our offtank was Frost Blasted while tanking both of the adds. Only one healer was in range of him at the time, and our Ventrilo channel started freaking out. I kept a play-by-play up over them, and just as our OT dropped to 20% health, he was back to full health. WHat happened? Our Ret Pally snapped a Lay on Hands onto the OT. Now, do you have the responsiveness to target your off-tank and use a tanksaving ability in three seconds, within your DPS rotation, without a raid warning as a prompt? I'm confident that every raider involved in our achievement could do this, and those kinds of performances are what truly make me proud of our achievement.

The Roster, for those of you who are curious:
Rycharde (Comitatus), Protection Warrior - Tank
Awäke (VIP), Retribution Paladin - DPS
Cretlucid (Comitatus), Protection Paladin - Tank
Caboosé (VIP), Discipline Priest - Healer
(Comitatus), Restoration Shaman - Healer
(VIP), Restoration Shaman - Healer
Brangane (Comitatus), Fire/Arcane Mage - DPS
Telulu (VIP), Balance Druid - DPS
Victimize (Comitatus), Demo/Destro Warlock - DPS
Kelgor (Comitatus), Survival Hunter - DPS

You'll note that this was a two-guild effort (6 Comitatus members, 4 VIP members). Awäke and I each lead much of the 25-man content that our guilds are presently running. We planned this run for several reasons:

First, we wanted to expose our players to each other. Running with guildies is a good thing. Running only with guildies can become dangerous: there's too much risk of becoming a single, exclusive clique. Players risk losing touch with and even ignoring other players that are very good, simply because they are in another guild. Awäke and I don't want to have that happen, at least not for our own gaming experiences. We won't let guild boundaries restrict who we ask to work with us.

Second, we were getting quite burnt by the admittedly amatuer attempts of our guilds to work Heroic Raids. There's nothing wrong with the systems that our guilds are using, but the process of learning to work with 24 other players simultaneously is a very trying task. We're new to these process, so it's guaranteed to be painful and slow. Taking some time out to work on 10-man content in an independent venue allowed for a calmer, more relaxing experience that we spliced in between our guild's scheduled runs.

Third, we were looking for a viable challenge. Having cleared all 10-man content well over two months ago, achievements are just about the only source of challenge. We considered trying to 8-man content, but that means we must leave another two people out - a less desirable option when compared to just keeping everyone alive. "The Undying" achievement was a fun challenge; it took a lot of attention and readiness to improvise, yet allowed us to have a good time chatting and planning over Ventrilo.

So sure, we may get some flak for not doing a single-guild run. But those of us who ran the fights had a good time, and now have an amazing title to commemorate the achievement. I feel great about how the run went, and I look forward to working with those players again, and so should we all. There are several other players who I would love to bring in to our runs, as well (again, the limitation of people fitting in the raid is a bit painful). Then there's "Of The Twilight," "You Don't Have an Eternity," and all of the "Less is More" achievements. Now that we know we can survive anything, we should be able to accomplish all of the achievements.

Finally, to my raidmates: as of 3/18/2009, we are the first 10 Horde players on Antonidas with "The Undying" achievement. Congratulations; You Win Forever.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dual Spec 2/2: Capitalizing on Mitigation

It's a tough path, trying to extract every last ounce of mitigation from the Warrior talents. However, the coming Glyph of Shield Wall gives some hope to the Improved Disciplines talent. Then there's the lack of need for Puncture, and the increasing power of Disarm. Top it off with the power of Improved Demoralizing Shout, and the talenting plan changes drastically.
Tentative Protection Spec (5 / 1o / 56)
Glyphed With:
Glyph of Shield Wall - Crucial for Shield Wall chaining
Glyph of Blocking - Dual threat and mitigation buffer
Glyph of Revenge - Nice compensation for loss of Imp HS and Puncture
Shield Wall: For a talentless & unglyphed Warrior, Shield Wall has a 5 minute Cooldown and reduces incoming damage by 60% for 12s. With talents, the cooldown can be brought down to 4 minutes - not at all an exciting change. I have a very hard time visualizing an encounter that has exactly two big burst-damage events that are tighter than 5 minutes, but more spaced than 4 minutes. If used in rotation with many external cooldowns (Guardian Spirit, Divine Guardian, etc.), I can imagine some arguable benefit for the cooldown shift, but the benefit seems highly specialized.

With the advent of Glyph of Shield Wall, a talentless & glyphed Warrior will have a Shield Wall with a 2 minute cooldown, but reduces incoming damage by only 40% for 12s. With talents, the cooldown now drops to only 1 minute. Thus, a Warrior can conceivably spend 20% of his time under the protection of Shield Wall. When Shield Wall is talented, the uptime of Shield Wall quadruples because of the glyph, and the damage reduction is reduced only by a third. I can easily imagine bosses with relatively frequent bursts of damage that, if mitigated by just 40%, will then become easily healable. With those same external cooldowns, as well as the occasional Last Stand and Shield Block + Trinkets, the tank can sit under some form of enhanced protection for a very long time. When it comes to Progression, stringing these mitigators may be crucial - it's comforting to know that Warriors will be able to do their part to keep the chain running.

Consequences: With SW on a 60-second cooldown, it will need to be in rotation far more often than I currently have it. It will likely not be a tanksaver anymore, and will need to be activated more premptively; LS will need to go up with it to ensure an actual healing buffer. It will certainly be a learning curve to incorporate this mitigator, but the payoffs will be substantial for progression tanking.

Disarm: Blizzard took an interesting approach to tanking with the release of WotLK: Every boss is tauntable, and every armed boss can be disarmed. These mechanics may not hold for T8 raid bosses and beyond, so this is a design I'll employ only so long as armed raid bosses can be disarmed. Improved Disarm reduces the cooldown on Disarm by a third, and increases the damage dealt to a disarmed target by 10%. That's a raidwide damage increase of 2.5% on any armed boss, if Imp Disarm is kept on cooldown constantly. In addition, disarmed PvE mobs dealt roughly 60% less physical damage in TBC. If we get half of that mitigation now, an armed boss who focuses on physical attacks will hit for only ~70% of his damage when disarmed. In turn, Disarm becomes another cooldown against armed bosses. This talent is absolutely useless against unarmed bosses (dragons, spiders, huge cosntructs, etc.), but it may well be the last needed mitigator in rotation against an armed raid boss.

Consequences: I'm still in the naive BC mindset of not being able to disarm most armed raid bosses. This is another ability that I'll need to learn to string into my rotation in order to keep mitigation up. This ability will likely trump even the newly glyphed Shield Wall in a mitigation rotation, if only because it amplifies raidwide damage in addition to keeping incoming damage to a minimum.

Improved Demoralizing Shout: This one Used to be a pretty standard element in my builds. The introduction AttT makes me less inclined to think of the Fury Tree as a source of mitigation, but the talent is still there. It'd be nice to depend on a DPS Warrior to pick this up, but I can't depend on that with the current raid setup in my guild. Thus, I'll pick it up myself.

Consequences: Easy money, here. I keep DS up on any target that scares me at all (i.e., bosses not on easy farm). This is simply a straight, if small, benefit to mitigation over the entirety of any phyical-damage fight.

The Losses - Charge, Puncture. and Gag Order: I always considered the one point in Charge to be a bit of a throwaway talent. I certainly enjoy opening a bossfight with enough rage for a Shield Slam, but the now-free Bloodrage makes this easy without the extra talents: just Bloodrage, then charge. The talent is thus mediocre at best. Puncture, meanwhile, is a bit of a disappointment. Devastate used to be the crux of a threat rotation, and now I find that I have to avtually watch to keep the Sunder debuff up and running. Puncture, then, seems to only really help in the solo field: saving rage on that nice, spammable ability to allow for more Heroic Strike spamming - not a talent I'll actually miss against a raid boss.

Gag Order is a bit of a hit to threat. Bosses cannot be silenced, of course, but the loss of 10% of my Shield Slam damage is a direct cut into my threat generation. If I find that IDS only needs 2/5, two of those saved points are going right into Gag Order. Then again, Shield Slam's threat has a large constant coefficient, independent of the damage dealt. I may find my threat to be dropping somewhat more than I strictly would like with the loss of Gag Order, but I'm trying to convince myself that my skill in maintaining a strong threat rotation will keep my TPS high enough for my raid, while maximizing my mitigation to save my healers from breaking their hands on their keyboards.

Conclusions: There are no flex points in my new mitigation build, so I won't be getting a lot of the glamour talents I could think about before. I also sacrifice a fair deal of threat generation: I'll be losing Imp Heroic Strike, Impale, and Deep Wounds, in addition to the talents above. But, then, that's why I have Dual Specs for tanking now: I can run full mitigation or full threat at the drop of a hat, depending on the upcoming encounter. Also, since talents here do not affect my crit immunity, I can safely put on mitigation gear while in threat-oriented talents (or vice versa) to perform a nice hybrid tank job. Versatility in tanking, what a new concept!

The Future: If there's a lot more of this AoE Stun mechanic, I may very well move points from IDS to Iron Will - 20% less stun time is 20% less time in which I'm a sitting duck. If I'm never stunned, then this talent's a waste, but if Maexxna's mechanic becomes a family favorite, it may well be worth considering.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dual-Spec 1/2: Threat Tank Build

So, I'm a bit of a mathematics nut. I go to an engineering college, and have taken all sorts of mathematics and computer-mathematics hybrid courses. Lately, my tanking routine is more or less on cruise control, so my posts here have been somewhat lacking in actual tanking-relevant content. To change that up some, I'll employ that mathyness to ensure that my two new, upcoming specs will be the best that they can be.

With the advent of 3.1.X, there's a lot of Dual-Spec speculation hopping around the forums. Many players feel that Tanks and Healers must have an alternate DPS spec to handle certain encounters (Moving from Maexxna, a single-tank boss, to Patchwerk, a three-tank boss, for example). More moderate raiders do not view this as a requirement, and I have to agree with them. After all, it's hard enough for all but the most hardcore raiding guilds to gear up everyone in a run in full i213/i226. If trying to add in a second spec for 10 of your 25 raiders, you're calling for another 10 sets of gear. This seems like a ludicrous requirement for entering new progression; Perhaps after all of the content is on farm status, this would be possible, but at that point there's no challenge left anyways - it simply becomes a means for speed optimizations, rather than a source of necessary fight-winning advantages.

There's more arguments for Dual-Spec being a matter of convenience, rather than necessity, and thus I feel justified in playing my tank as just a tank. What, then, do I do with my second spec slot? After a lot of thought and research, I've decided that the time has come for me to put aside the full-mitigation spec that I've been running for the entirety of WotLK. Enter Deep Wounds.
Tentative Threat Spec (15 / 5 / 51)
Glyphed With:
Glyph of Cleaving - Wonderful for any AoE tank job
Glyph of Heroic Strike - in 3.1.X, +5% crit chance on HS
Glyph of Blocking - More BV = More SS damage
To make a DW spec, 15 points need to go into the Arms tree. Shockwave is too powerful a tool to be left out of any Prot DPS rotation, so I feel that it must be included as well; thus, 51 points are needed in the Protection tree. This leaves 5 "flex points" that can be placed wherever necessary. How does one optimize their placement for a TPS spec? This is where that comment about mathyness comes in - I wanted to know exactly which talents would return the most net benefit. Namely, which returns more TPS per point, Armored to the Teeth or Cruelty?

There's a lot to take into account here:
  • Armored to the Teeth scales with Armor. I've assumed that the tank in question has 24,000 armor for my calculations here, which is about what a set of i213 gear will return. Armor trinkets and higher-armor gear will net a large return from this talent, if they can be fit in.
  • Deep Wounds "rolls," which is a new mechanic of 3.0.2. In essence, this means that multiple crits within the 6-second bleed timer will all be taken into account, so the damage of an old crit is not overwritten or clipped by the new crit - the remaining old bleed damage is instead added into the new bleed with an even distribution.
  • Deep Wounds necessitates Impale, which increases crit damage by 20%.
  • Weapon Speed and Weapon ilvl both influence the damage caused by Deep Wounds, as it is based off of normalized weapon damage.
  • Deep Wounds can occur because of any crit that the Warrior causes. This includes: Damage Shields, Thunderclap, Shockwave, Cleave, and all of our single-target abilities. Everything counts for it, and they all apply an equal amount of damage.
  • More things that I'm not remembering at the moment, for sure...
To start, let's look at the equations for basic Deep Wounds damage:
DWrank3 = (Normalized_Weapon_Damage * 0.48)
Normalized_Weapon_Damage = (Minimum_Weapon_Damage + Maximum_Weapon_Damage)/2 + (K * Attack_Power)/14
Where K is: 1.7 for Daggers; 2.4 for any other One-Handed Weapon.

Let's assume that we're using an i200 Epic Tanking weapon, because Last Laugh just hasn't dropped for us yet, and Broken Promise is just a little too slow for our liking. We can also assume that we're sitting at roughly 2,800 Attack_Power, for simplicity. Let's plug in:
Normalized_Weapon_Damage = (160 + 299)/2 + (2.4 * 2800)/14 = 229.5 + 480 = 709.5
DWrank3 = (709.5 * 0.48) = 340.56 damage over 6 seconds.
That's a fair baseline to use as the damage that our Deep Wounds will cause with each crit. Next, we need to figure out what the relative increases to that baseline are, both from AttT and Cruelty.

Starting with AttT, we gain 400/3 AP for each talent point we spend there. This accounts for:
NWD_bonus = (2.4 * 400/3)/14 = 22.8
DWrank3_bonus = (22.8 * 0.48) = 10.97 damage over 6 seconds.
That doesn't seem too substantial, but it is a non-trivial percentage increase. That is:
DWrank3_bonus / DWrank3 = 10.97/340.56 = 0.032
This is roughly a 3% increase in Deep Wounds damage per point of AttT, with the assumptions above. A stronger weapon, a stronger base attack power, and a lower armor value will DECREASE the percent benefit, while more armor value will INCREASE the benefit.

Meanwhile, Cruelty increases our chance to critically hit by 1%. This effectively increases our chance to DW a target by 1%. Since there is no chance for loss of damage for repeatedly applying DW, we get the whole benefit here.

But that's all: the benefit is a 1% increase in Deep Wounds damage per point of Cruelty. This does not scale with weapon, base attack power, or armor value. The 1% static critical hit benefit will always hold.

Now, that's the effects of AttT and Cruelty on DW, with a net ~2% leaning towards AttT over Cruelty. All that remains is the other half of the computation: how do these talents affect an Impale, no-DW spec?

Normalized Weapon Damage is used in every damage calculation that Warriors cause, with the exceptions of Shield Slam and Damage Shields. Critical Strikes influence every type of physical damage Warriors can deal, and Impale brings that critical strike damage up by 20%.

A direct comparison here is hard to make, because the damage generated by any one ability relative to your overall damage output changes based on the encounter. In general, somewhere between 20% and 30% of a Prot warrior's damage output comes in the form of Shield Slam, so the benefits of Attack Power apply to only about 75% of the attacks. Since one point of AttT augments the Normalized_Weapon_Damage by about 3% in the above calculations, it will increase the damage output of all these remaining abilities by roughly the same percentage. Thus, The overall damage output increases by
Bonus_Damage% = Normal_Damage + (NWD_Bonus/Normalized_Weapon_Damage) * %Attacks_Using_NWD
Bonus_Damage% = 1 + 22.8/709.5 * .75 = 1.0240
So, something slightly greater than a 2% average damage increase is gained from adding one point of AttT. Note: The benefits are damped in the presence of static damage coefficients (top-rank Thunderclap has a static damage coefficient of 300, for instance), so using a flat 2% average damage increase is probably a better estimate.

For Cruelty, we add a 1% chance for any ability to deal 220% damage. This equates to:
Bonus_Damage% = Normal_Damage * (1 - Crit_Chance) + Crit_Chance * Crit_Damage
Bonus_Damage% = 1 * 0.99 + 0.01 * 2.20 = 1.012
Which is a linear system, meaning that each 1% of critical hit chance increases overall damage output by 1.2%, independent of other stats.

Thus, we observe that, point for point, AttT returns More Average Damage than Cruelty on paper, independent of Deep Wounds. The difference is only about .8% in T7 equivalents, and will diminish as more attack power in the form of strength appears on tanking gear. However, more damage is more damage. .8% of 2000 DPS is still 16 DPS, which is nearly 33 TPS.

Conclusion: Until I can accrue something on the order of 6,000 Attack Power, the benefits of Armored to the Teeth will outstrip Cruelty on a 1 to 1 basis in terms of Both Deep Wounds and non-bleed damage dealt. Thus, I know that spending 3/3 in AttT and the last 2/5 into Cruelty, rather than spending 5/5 in Cruelty, will return more for my overall TPS. Of course, I'd like to take 3/3 and 5/5, but that would cost either DW or Shockwave & Damage Shields - not things I'll give up lightly for a maximal-TPS spec.

With this spec, I'll be maximizing the damage I can output while still being reasonably protected. I'll line up glyphs to augment the damage of the spec as best I can. Any Expertise, Hit, or BV-heavy gear can be saved for this spec, but the beauty is that I don't need to build an entirely new set of gear! I just need to make sure that any option slots I acquire for this threat-oriented spec provide the extra accuracy I want without jeopardizing my crit immunity. I can therefore guarantee a viable OT spec that will also help to speed up Heroics, trash, and farm-status runs; maximal mitigation really isn't necessary in any of these situations. Why, then, should I not push out that extra DPS?

Next: The tuning of my maximal mitigation spec for Progression Tanking...