Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 11, 2010
The new 80

My mage in World of Warcraft reached level 80 this weekend, and that turned out to be far more fun and excitement than I had anticipated. Traditionally the level cap means your character development is slowing down; instead of gaining xp and levels and gear, you gain nothing but gear any more. But in its current incarnation, the level cap at 80 in World of Warcraft is where the game starts handing out epics like candy. And in spite of rationally knowing that this is all just purple pixels, the dopamine rush in our brains just feels good at the time.

At level 78 last week my mage had found that he could tailor for himself a complete set of 8 pieces of Frostsavage cloth armor, each one better than anything he had found in repeated random dungeon runs. When I dinged level 80 I was still wearing that complete set, which is iLevel 187. But I had already tailored for myself a Merlin's Robe, iLevel 245, plus Ebonweave Gloves, iLevel 200. And I already had 30 Emblems of Triumph. So I put on those, and went doing my first heroics.

Now in my 70's in Dungeon Finder pickup groups for normal dungeons I quite often ended up on top of the damage meter. Heroics were a shock because suddenly I was at the bottom of that meter. But then most of the dungeons I ran at level 80 were with guild groups. Nowadays doing random dungeons with the Dungeon Finder is one of the major guild activities outside raid times, with heroics groups constantly forming, doing one or several runs until somebody has to leave, and then reforming with different people. Everybody seems to have several level 80 characters, logging on whatever role is needed, and forming a group just takes a few minutes. And this being a very nice guild, everybody understands that not every freshly minted level 80 alt is directly able to do 4k dps. Not that you'd need 4k dps for random heroics.

So I ran several heroics, up to and including ToC, and also ran ToC and FoS on normal, with those dungeons already dropping epics on normal mode. So quickly I had a first random bunch of iLevel 200+ epics, and was up to over 50 Emblem of Triumph. So I bought the T9 hat, and then went shopping. I bought some boe epics for the slots were I was still undergeared, put epic gems in all available slots, and also bought enchantments. Being tailor / inscriber helped for the shoulder and pants enchantment, while I could get a head enchantment via one of my other level 80s who was already exalted with the Kirin Tor, the "Augments" now being bind on account. For the rest I bought scrolls from the auction house. I was already loaded up with fish feasts and flasks, so at the end of the day my damage output was starting to get acceptable. As it was the mage who had made tons of gold with inscription previously, I thought the character deserved to splurge on the best stuff money could buy. (And I still got 50k gold left on that server, 20k on the other server with my paladin)

Now the next two things to do are getting more selective in chosing gear, and reviewing my talent build. Both of which aren't as easy as it sounds. If you check various theorycrafting sites for the best gear and build, you will find that "best" there is usually defined as "best for raiding". But raiding isn't really what my mage is going to do, for two reasons: My guild is doing Icecrown Citadel rather than Naxxramas / Ulduar, and I don't really want to get back into heavy raiding anyway. I'm having a lot of fun in heroics right now, and that is what I'll stick to at least until I wear full T9 gear. Even if they would take me (they might), I'll not join a raid to one of the more advanced raid dungeons as a leech.

But it turns out that gearing and speccing for heroics is a different kettle of fish than gearing and speccing for raids. In gear the problem is the hit cap. As a mage you generally want to be at the hit cap, that is have a 0% chance of your spells to miss. But the miss chance for a heroics boss and for a raid boss differs by a large amount, and thus the hit rating you need differs by several hundred points. Thus my current hit rating of over 300 is "too low" for raiding, but already "too high" for heroics. As long as I stick to heroics, going for the classic 446 spell hit cap would be a complete waste. And even for raids I don't need the complete 446, because various other bonuses from both myself and the presence of certain other classes and races in the raid.

For the talent build for heroics I'll have to experiment a bit. Here there are two issues: AoE and mana breaks. Quite often a random pickup group, and sometimes even guild groups, are very much in a hurry to complete the random heroic. The goal is to get through the dungeon in the fastest time possible, and rather run two dungeons in half the time each than taking a lot of time to run just one. But in heroics a significant amount of time is spent on trash, not just on bosses. Thus a mage talent build which deals a lot of AoE damage speeds heroics up, while for a raid you'd obviously rather go for a build which deals the maximum damage on a single boss target. The other requirement for a talent build for heroics is that it minimizes downtime for mana breaks between fights. My current frost build is mana conservative as long as I just use frostbolts on single targets, but when I start blasting away blizzards to AoE trash mob groups my dps goes up and my mana goes down. Sitting down to refill mana after the fight often means that the group is already in the next fight before my mana is back to full.

As I never specced arcane on that mage, I'll have to look into arcane builds as dual spec alternative to frost builds (and I'll have to review my frost build, which is optimized for solo PvE, not heroics). I know there are arcane AoE spells, and the single target damage of arcane is higher than that of frost, but I also hear that arcane uses up a lot of mana, which might become problematic in heroics groups not willing to wait for the mage to regain his mana between fights. It is no good if your dps is awesome, but you're only participating in half of the fights, spending the other half on your ass waiting for the blue bar to refill. Already with the frost build I tend to place higher on the "dps" meter than on the "damage" meter when I AoE.

Well, anyway, I'm quite happy that I reached level 80, and still planning to have a lot of fun with that character. In parallel I'm planning to go back to my paladin, who took a break in the mid-60's when his rest xp ran out, but is back to full rest xp now. Having discovered how much fun reaching the level cap is nowadays, I'm quite motivated to get the pally all the way up to level 80, even if the original plan was mainly to play him through old Azeroth before the Cataclysm hits it.
just go arcane, you will need much less hit for it (soft cap of 187 considering a shadow priest/boomkin and a draenei in your group ) and the damage is superior.

Even though I love frost in pvp, for pve it seems boring to say the least.
I have pondered over this problem for quite a while now: Everyone treats written words on ElitistJerks basically as if they were equal to those carved into certain biblical stone slabs. But if you aren't wearing really bleeding edge raidgear and are only interested in beating raidbosses than their advice isn't always all that correct. EJ simply doesn't calculate for 5-mans or something as low as Ulduar25-gear anymore and to my knowledge there is no decent centralized place for good guides tailored for lower equipment levels or 5-mans. That means unlike raiders we have to use our heads and try out things for ourselves if we want to play good, a process I went through on my mage some month ago.

The larger need for mana with an arcane-specc is true, but I'd still advocate for it. I am usually blessed with a tank who learned his chainpulling through speedruns in MC and ZG so I'm quite under pressure if I want my mana full when the next pull happens. I counter that problem by what I call "agressive drinking". Whenever a boss dies you have several seconds in which everyone will have a look into the corpse if there is something to loot for them. To use that time best my cursor already hovers over the water-button when the fight is not even over yet. As soon as possible I sit down. After everyone is done looting there is a high chance that I don't have to bother anymore because there is nothing left in the corpse. In addition you are a bit faster than everyone else because of blink. You can use that to slip in quick "powersips" of water whenever your mana is not completely full. Finally, fights nowadays don't last long so you shouldn't need evocation in fight. Which means you can use it on cooldown whenever your mana is running low and you don't have the time to sit down.

Some reasons why you shouldn't use any other specc:
Frost has about the same AOE-performance as arcane, better mana-ratio but a very horrible single-target damage compared to arcane. But if you really want to try that one do me a favor and get yourself some water-elemental-glyph. This glyph is relatively new and I never saw a frost-mage use it yet. But if I remember correctly the only time when a frostmage comes even close to doing adequate damage is when his water elemetal is out, so I suspect that glyph could help a lot.
Stay away from fire. For fire to become decent you need at least 30% critchance while not gemming for crit and being hit-capped. What you get then is a specc that is still inferior to arcane in terms of single-target-DPS and would be the best AOE-specc if your living bombs would go off - but most of the time they won't because everything dies before.
But if you really want to try that one do me a favor and get yourself some water-elemental-glyph. This glyph is relatively new and I never saw a frost-mage use it yet. But if I remember correctly the only time when a frostmage comes even close to doing adequate damage is when his water elemetal is out, so I suspect that glyph could help a lot.

I'm using that glyph since the day it was introduced in patch 3.3, as I'm an inscriber (with every single glyph recipe in the game) and was more aware of new glyphs being added. Thus my mage is basically a pet class nowadays, one thing I would miss in arcane.
It's raining epics indeed, and I'm loving it too.
Four evenings of playing and I replaced nearly all of my (PVP) gear (character Vilehand, Ravenholdt realm). :)
I haven't been able to grab any decent weapons though. Black Knight's Rondel dropped once, but OFCOURSE some *beep* Hunter took it.
If it's raining epics, won't you have everything you need from heroics in no time and thus having no reason to do heroics anymore?

Small downtime is one of the reasons I like my Deathknight. She can have the same AOE DPS for half an hour without having to stop. To a lesser extent this also goes for my warlock. Out of mana? Lifetap!
Posts like this, full of jargon and technical detail, make me wonder how WOW has become the mass-market success that it is.

After a decade of playing MMOs, I find all this unbelievably off-putting. Nearly eight months after subscribing to WoW my highest level character is still only 70 and I find it quite hard to imagine him ever reaching 80th. More to the point, virtually everything I read from every source about what it is like when your character IS 80th makes me more and more certain it would be hateful.

I'm not surprised that there are enough people who enjoy this kind of thing to make for a moderately successful online game. What absolutely amazes me is that there are apparently millions of them to make it the most successful in its field.

We don't see this kind of attention to nitpicking, mind-numbing statistical detail in any other form of mass-market popular entertainment (the only exception I can think of being a cople of American sports, which are also largely mystifying to the rest of the world).
I think the main idea is that since most heroics can be zerged, aoe'd down, that you should just go for the raid hit cap. That extra wasted hit won't hurt you in a heroic as factors such as knowing your rotation, having the right spec/glyph/gear/enchants, ect, will help you alot more. However in raids, every little bit helps, and even a 1 percent increase in dps can be important.
If it's raining epics, won't you have everything you need from heroics in no time and thus having no reason to do heroics anymore?

That depends on your definition of "need". Basically the trick is that epics of different iLevel rain down at different speeds. Thus I'll be in iLevel 200 gear in no time, but will take a good while longer to get all the gear I can buy for Emblems of Triumph, and many months before I have all possible gear for Emblems of Frost.
@Bhagpuss: Actually most people don't pay all that much attention to mathematical details. I suspect a good part of populations ignores them completely and even most of the rest simply copies a template from someone else (ElitistJerks).
For most classes you can get by without paying much attention to details. Tobold could simply roll a dice to determine which talent-tree to specc in, he could simply ignore hit rating (he actually would have a hard time not getting roughly enough of it). And still his mage would do fine. Most players could get a far larger damage boost if they would just get their sequence of spells right and find out exactly how early they can start doing damage and when the optimal time to switch targets is, than they could ever get by pondering over things like their exact hit cap.

But some few players actually like crunching numbers and others already do all the big things right and want to tackle the small things too.

Well and a large chunk of people seem to think that they should blame faceless numbers for bad performance instead of themselves.

Long story short.. you can skip the number crunching and just go by logic and feeling, that works well enough to master 95% of the game. Just don't try it as a tank, for those guys defensecap and stuff is serious business.
Arcane is great. You can talent into 2 min evocates so even though you may use more mana, you can get it back faster than when you're frost.
Getting to 232 gear--at least for T9 sets is surprisingly fast. Maybe even stupidly fast. If you are just doing heroics you will get badges stupidly quickly. It was maybe 5 days of heroics, over the Christmas-New Year's period, that got me full T9, and enough badges since then to upgrade to 4/5 T9.33 (I should have enough Frost badges to get T10 legs this week) and get my first T9 DPS piece (legs).

150+ Badges of Triumph a week isn't an unreasonable pace--and that is only about 3 heroics a day.
Now, it's been a LONG time since I was a mage (pre-BC), but I remember Arcane being the mana regen spec.
FFB spec is actually great for 5-mans and gearing up. Lowered hit requirement (not as low as arcane, but still respectable), you can do good single-target damage and for AOE you can drop some LB-spam around and then do your normal blizzard thing that you're used to.
Arcane raiding mages 57/3/11 need 289 hit cap without the Dranei racial bonus. You can run 5 mans with the same spec and be at consistent 4-5K in T9 and less epics. You'll be 6-7K in raids.
It's quite amazing how fast you can get geared nowadays, it's like with gold, all you need to do is to bend over and pick it up. Which means everybody can walk around in full tier 9, which I think is a good thing.

Why? Because now I can finally call bullshit on people who blame their slackiness on their gear. If you still fail at killing bosses while wearing full ilvl 232/245 then the gear excuse isn't valid anymore, at least not in heroics and raids up to ToC25.

And I see you say "hat" instead of "helm" as well, gogo! ^^
I think I remember that the hit cap for heroic bosses is 6%. Can someone verify that for me?

At any rate, T10 gear is low on hit (for a warlock, anyway) and there are far better trinkets than the Triumph hit trinket. So I usually "dress down" for heroics so that I can use the trinkets and gear I like. That puts my hit rating down around 220, but I still don't miss.

Your points about builds and gear for heroics is spot on.
Here is a secret that most people don't know. The best AoE spec for mages... is Fire/ToTW. LB 3 targets, Flamestrike Rnk 9, Rnk 8, then blizzard.
Arcane takes a little time to master, but it will be your highest DPS spec for heroics or raiding.

If you take the cookiecutter Arcane build, you'll only need 289 hit rating to be self-sufficiently hit capped.

Learn the rotation, as Arcane is easy to DPS with, but not as easy to not run OOM with. Some classes' rotation requires quite a bit of managing (try an affliction warlock).

Arcane has a fairly simple rotation...with the player having to plan out their use of evocation, mana gems, and CDs. The DPS is there, but can you manage your mana? That's the fun part of playing the spec that I like.

It just depends on what you want to do. I play as Frost for PvP, as that spec if basically designed to be a PvP spec. I've tried FFB for raiding and found it lacking. For every new mage, I absolutely recommend Arcane. The DPS output is just too high to ignore.

Oh, and to increase your AoE damage as Arcane, alternate between Flamestrike and Blizzard. You're welcome.
You didn't mention consumables, and I suspect that consumables (and cooldown usage) is actually part of your problem. Particularly given that you have a frost spec, which is generally fairly mana efficient, I'm surprised that you're having mana problems in heroics. (You didn't mention your spec, but I'm guessing it's something like this 18/0/53 spec.)

You can use a mana gem every 2 minutes, and evocation every 4 minutes -- if you keep the two on cooldown, that would give you around 1800 + 15% mana every minute in regen (not counting spirit when you're out of combat for longer than 5 seconds).

You might be able to scrape a point or two into Meditation from Enduring Winter to get both replenishment and some in-combat spirit-based regen as well.
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