Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Warlock Basics: Damage and Crowd Control

I'm going to divy Warlockry up into three posts: The basics (damage and crowd control), the situational (pets and curses), and development (talents and equipment). We are a sophisticated class, after all, and there is so much to manage.

You say you like to torture your enemies to death with the slow dissolution of their bodies and summon demons with the crystalized remains of their pathetic souls? Excellent, then the way of the warlock may be for you.

Warlocks excel at two major tasks: first eliminating opponents with a little mana and a fair amount of patience and second keeping enemies occupied while you do it.

Most of the warlock finest damage spells do damage over time (DoT). Curse of Agony (more on curses later), Corruption and Immolate are the basics. The channeled drain life and drain soul spells, as well as the channeled Area of Effect (AoE) Rain of fire and Hellfire all mete out pain over time. Even seed of corruption turns [an] opponent[s] into [a] ticking timebomb[s] (beware the angry mobs!) with a DoT wick. Affliction, which specializes in DoTs adds two to the mix: siphon life, a fire-and-forget trickle of health from your victim(s) to you, and unstable affliction, which makes anyone foolish enough to dispel your DoTs very sad.

One consequence of this DoT mania is that warlocks take their time, even with cakewalk mobs. It takes time to load enemies up with our best DoTs, and the other DPS may given our victims a merciful end before a warlock has really even started playing with them. On the other hand, warlocks who keep their DoTs up on a long lasting opponent and live to tell the tale will rank high on the damage meters.

Warlocks have four crowd control options and can use three of them simultaneously: Fear is first. It sends just about any non-boss enemy running all over the place. It's one of the best crowd controls in the game. You can chain it, you can hit them with dots without losing the fear and a couple of points in a first tier affliction talent make it hard to resist. So you can kill them without them ever getting close to you. On the downside, in crowded environments, it easily has the potential to assemble all your opponents to come eat you together. The brief terror attached to death coil and the brief AoE horror of howl of terror are similar. But they have short durations with long cool downs. The short duration reduces the linking risk, but the long cool downs limit the crowd control value.

The second is banish. It holds a single demon or elemental in stasis. It cannot do anything, nothing can be done to it, and it stays still. It also cannot be broken early and has to break before it can be recast. DoTs lose time, but do no damage, and cannot be reapplied until banish expires.

The third and fourth relate to demons. A warlock's succubus can seduce humanoids. This spell takes 1.5 seconds to cast, and requires the succubus's undivided attention to maintain (humanoids are so fickle). When it does break, whether early or not, it takes another 1.5 seconds of target freedom to recast. Unlike polymorph, it doesn't heal the target, and it cannot be recast before it expires. But it can be broken by damage to the target, or any interruption to the succubus. Additionally, since it is the succubus casting, not the warlock, I don't believe it gains the penetration and spell hit of the warlock.

The fourth is to enlave a demon. The enslaved demon won't be as effective or as loyal as one you summon yourself. But it takes an enemy and makes a (feisty) pet. Unfortunately, your normal pet will head off for other parts when you do this, meaning no simultaneous seduction and enslavement. This is crowd control of last resort.

Now, your victims are seduced, banished, enslaved, playing pattycake with your demon, or running screaming with their hair on fire as their bodies unravel. You can knit, pick flowers, plan your next meal, compose poetry, or just relax. We warlocks are a leisurely class. But if you are in a hurry, you can accelerate the process. Shadow bolts are slow casting, but do pack a punch. They are the main non-DoT damage tool of the warlock. Other tools include shadowburn (requires a soul shard, short cooldown), death coil (long cool down), soulfire (long cast time, requires a soul shard), searing pain (distracts victims from your pet or tank), and incinerate (better with immolate up, but still not amazing from what I've seen).

Destruction warlocks also get conflagrate, which consumes an immolate in a burst of damage (best to cast just when the victim thinks it's almost over) and shadowfury, a quickcasting, short cool down AoE damage and stun. Fun to use on casters and I'm told it's great for detonating Seed of Corruption.

Ah, Seed of Corruption, that reminds of our Area of Effect (AoE) spells. Whenever faced with a great many victims there's no way to strike fear into them more quickly than AoEs. Rain of Fire allows you to select an area in which any hapless victims will be subject balls of fire dropping from above while you concentrate. Lovely, but not always sufficient. Hellfire channels something more deadly, but also dangerous to you. You see, you burn along with your targets, and the fire originates from you. Don't worry though, your party members are safe. Then comes my personal favorite, seed of corruption. This puts a DoT on your victim, and when they are damaged up to a certain level, they explode with shadowy goodness, sharing it with everyone around them, and keeping none for themselves. Sadly, one must choose between this and the usual corruption, but it is a small price to pay. The damage can be truly impressive and will often make you quite popular (with the victims).

So that summarizes the basic tools in a Warlock's toolbox. Next up, the situational tools: pets and curses. Tune in later for more silly exposition on warlocks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Perpetual Lowbie

Hi. My name is Josh, and I'm an altoholic. (You all echo "Hi, Josh!". . . gosh, thanks for the support.)

I have been playing World of Warcraft since July 6, 2006. That's about a year and a third, for those who don't want to count. Guess how many level 70 characters I have. I'll give you a hint. It's a number that's shaped like an egg and rhymes with hero. Yes, 0. None, zip, zilch. I don't even have a single character over the level of the 60. In fact, my highest level character is a mere 41! Zoiks!

Why is that, you ask? I'm glad you asked! Otherwise this post would have gone nowhere. The answer is multi-faceted, but I'll try to simplify it. First, I like to try new things. I have a number of characters, specifically 8:
  • Troll mage - very lowbie
  • Draenei priest - 12
  • Night Elf druid - 14
  • Human paladin - 20
  • Blood Elf hunter - 23
  • Undead warlock - 29
  • Tauren shaman - 35
  • Night Elf druid - 41
Except for the mage, which is just a bank alt, and the 14 druid, who has been abandoned, those are all "actively played" to some extent. Now I realize that you can't take two level 35s and say they're equal to a level 70, but I'm pretty confident that if I had played the same amount of time, but all on one character, that I'd have a level 70 by now.

But there are people with more alts and more combined levels than me that still manage to have a top level character. So another factor is that I'm a casual gamer in the strictest sense of the word. I play now and then, probably averaging only single digits of play time in a week. I work full time and go to grad school. In fact, at one point I went about 2 months hardly signing on to WoW at all. I really enjoy WoW, but I don't make a second career out of it.

The biggest factor really is the alt-itis though. Saying that I have so many alts because I like to try new things is overly simplistic; there are many reasons for having such a plethora of toons. But my alt-itis is still going strong. Just last week I created a new character, the level 12 priest (Sanctimonia). Somebody stop me!

Anyway, I wonder if there are other perpetual lowbies like me out there, and what their excuses are. And I very much hope to have at least one 70 (probably the druid) by the time the next expansion comes out and the level cap is raised again. I might need a bit of an ass-kickin'.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Warrior Tanking

Hi, I'm Merial, level 70 protection warrior. Want to learn to tank 5-mans as a warrior? Read on!

As a warrior tank, your primary threat generation tools are, in order of preference:

1. Shield Slam (if you have 31 pts in protection)
2. Revenge
3. Sunder Armor (or Devastate if you have 41 pts in protection)

Pop them whenever they're up, in that order. It takes a little practice to get a sense for how much threat each one generates relative to your healer, but to a first approximation, a single application of one of these abilities will keep a mob off your healer for 5-10 seconds and off an AoE DPS'er for about 2 seconds. Keeping threat on the primary DPS target requires you to be practically spamming these abilities.

Ways to generate AoE threat include Thunder Clap (breaks CC), Demo Shout (doesn't break CC), Bloodrage, and Cleave (only 2 targets). However, none of these abilities will generate a substantial amount of threat, so at some point you really need to start using your single-target abilities--or just leave the job to your favorite pally. Heroic Strike is useful as a high-threat rage dump, but it's not strictly necessary and can be ignored for now.

On each pull, I'd recommend starting with a Demo Shout and/or a Thunder Clap to get some initial aggro on all mobs. Then tab between all enemies and individually apply one of the three abilities above. You may lose the primary target to your DPS if there are a lot of enemies, but that's okay--just taunt it back, and you'll regain aggro *plus* all of the threat they've generated on that target.

On bosses, warrior tanks excel at mitigating damage. You still want to use your high-threat abilities to hold aggro on the boss, but you also want to pop Shield Block whenever it's available in order to reduce incoming damage. Also, make sure to keep Demo Shout and Thunder Clap on the boss at all times, for the same reason. Keep an eye on your health, and if it gets suspiciously low, pop one of your oh-shit buttons: Shield Wall, Last Stand (if you have it), or a healing potion.

When I originally posted this guide to our guild mailing list, fellow protection warrior Causality added the following thoughts:

Shield Slam is actually third on my list of things to do, far behind Revenge and Sunder Armor. Why? It technically causes the most threat, but it's also twice as expensive on a protection-based tank. You can slap on two Sunders with the same amount of threat, and do it incrementally (so you're not losing aggro in the time it takes you to build up the rage to shield slam... I'm assuming that either you have no rage starting out, like for an add, or you've spent your initial rage on Thunder Clap or Demo Shout).

Sometimes, if I'm worried about threat across multiple enemies, I'll intentionally leave one add without any sort of single-target rage, wait for casters to steal the aggro, then taunt. That's kind of like playing with fire, though. The advantage is that you haven't "wasted" any rage, as your threat is set to what the caster earned for his/herself. Thus you end up with more threat on all your targets than if you had been sundering every one. Buuuuut.... if you don't pull it off right, the caster takes it in the face. [I heartily endorse this technique. -M]

I'm also of the opinion that Improved Revenge is vastly underrated. It's a great damage-mitigation measure for trash mobs... I'm spamming Revenge as often as the cooldown allows (with Focused Rage, it costs a measly two points!), and having my primary target stunned roughly a third of the time means less work for the healbot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Partial Derivatives

I discovered something today which maybe everyone knows, but which I thought was very interesting. I had always implicitly assumed that for a given class, everything was linear; specifically, for melee dps, 1 point of attack power is worth x, and 1 percent of crit chance/hit chance is worth y. If this were true, it would be easy to evaluate gear changes once you knew the relevant coefficients to translate attributes into those base terms.

This is not true, however. The actual formula for dps from melee attacks is (dps)*(hit chance + crit chance), which to put it another way is (base dps + a*attack power)*(hit chance + crit chance). If you take partial derivatives:

1 point of attack power is worth crit chance + hit chance
1 percent of hit or crit chance is worth b+a*(attack power), where a and b are some constants

In particular, it pays to be well-balanced! When deciding between x amount of attack power and y hit/crit, the answer varies depending on your other gear. This is especially relevant for my paladin when considering strength (only affects the first factor) versus agil/hit/crit (only affects the second, not counting the minuscule change in armor from agil) -- the answer is not constant. And, finally, since your hit chance varies from opponent to opponent (immobile level 70 mob versus slippery level 72 boss), the coefficients are not even constant from battle to battle, raising the rather alarming possibility that the optimal solution for melee dps is to carry two sets of gear optimized for different opponents...

The equivalent for casters, of course, is spell damage versus spell hit/crit, which follows a similar equation for overall dps and thus exhibits the same phenomenon.

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