Monday, March 14, 2011

Season 10 PvP Sets Released

Season 10 Male Death Knight Set
Okay, so I'm a bit late to this party, since the announcement of the new PvP sets was made on MMO Champion just over a week ago, but here it is anyways for your viewing pleasure.  The male (above) and female (below) previews of the Season 10 sets.  It looks like a similar gating system to last time - in that we've got the blue-ish set which will presumably be available for honour points, the red-ish set which will be purchased via conquest points, and finally the purple-ish set which will have the same stats as the red, but only be available after 2200 raking, essentially denoting the fact that its wearer is a badass. 

Female Season 10 Set
Do I like the new sets?  Absolutely, they're completely fantastic.  I am a little concerned that the colour difference is much more noticeable this time, so that if you're running around in half conquest half honour gear, you're at a serious risk of looking like a bit of a clown.  I've had this problem with the current Season 9 gear, as well.  I suppose that's just incentive for me to get into the Conquest gear as fast as I can, though!

Season 10 Delayed
Along with the shiny new PvP sets came an announcement by Zarhym over at the US Official forums, that Season 10 will not be coming with Patch 4.1.  To quote the blue post:

"The conversion from Valor to Justice Points, as well as the release of the next Arena season, won't happen until the release of 4.2."
 In other words, if you're in full Conquest gear, or close to it, and just working on getting 2200 for the weapon (once it is released) and the shiny new gear, you may as well go for it.  Don't worry about stockpiling points before the next major patch, because 4.1 will see us in the same gear we're in now.  Although it will open up some new PvE content, it's probable that 4.1 will be similar to 4.0.6., in that the only real change it brings for PvP is balance changes to classes.

What does this mean for us?
Not much, really.  It's basically still business as usual.  Keep grinding ranking in Rated BGs, keep working on those PvP titles, keep running arenas for Conquest points, etc. etc.  You certainly shouldn't stop playing because you don't get any shiny gear with the next patch.  Just keep doing what you're doing, and rejoice in the fact that we don't have to start over grinding our new PvP sets for another full patch.

Besides, I think it's safe to say that gear that badass is absolutely worth waiting for.

Anyways, this concludes my massive catch-up weekend of posts.  We now return to your regularly-scheduled programming.

Practice safe Death!


On Teamwork

Back in Season 8, there was a distinct division between the Hardcore and the Casual PvPers. The Hardcore spent most of their time in arenas, as the only way to get into the best gear possible was to save up arena points and hit 2200 rating. Of course, at the very end of the season all the Wrathful gear became available for honour points (excluding the 2200 weapons which had to have been earned during the season), but for the duration of competitive PvP, arenas were where it was at.

The Battlegrounds, while certainly played by Hardcore and Casual PvPers alike, were a place of casual, for fun, play. Sure, you earned honour with them, and you could use that to buy epic gems and make a bit of profit, but once you'd gotten all your honour gear, BGs became sort of useless. The lessons they had to offer were learnt only during the very rare premade and even then it was always against PuGs, thus a distinct lack of challenge.

Arenas and PvP
Arenas still offer the best rewards in the PvP world in Season 9, but with one key difference. You can run Rated BGs for the same rewards. Running Rated BGs also gives you access to the old PvP titles, which have been brought back for Rated BGs. Running arenas all the way up to 2200 rating will net you the best weapons, once they come out, but they won't do much more than that, since rating below 2200 doesn't get you anything, except 1500 which gives you extra Conquest Points every week.

But outside of material rewards of arena play, what do they teach the PvPer? Lots about how to take down an opponent 1v1, and how to win in small-scale PvP. But they don't really teach one of the most valuable lessons of large-scale PvP. Teamwork.

Rated Battlegrounds, and Teamwork
Now before all the arena junkies out there gut me, don't get me wrong. Coordinating with your arena partner, or partners, takes teamwork. I am absolutely not belittling that fact. But it doesn't teach the kind of teamwork I'm talking about here, and that's the kind that, to borrow from the other metagame, you learn by raiding.

Raiding requires a pile of coordination. Your RL has to be able to keep 9 other, or 24 other players on track for several hours while you down bosses and battle mechanics. Rated BGs require a similar amount of focus. You have to keep 10 players together, and keep them so together that they co-ordinate better than the other team. It becomes much less a game of gear (although gear does matter, to a certain extent), and one of pure skill.

In a Rated BG, if you don't have tactics, you don't have a strategy, and you don't have micro and macro-management skills you lose. Plain and simple. Because you aren't playing a herd of unorganized PuGs. You aren't fighting a pre-programmed boss. You're playing very real, very smart, human opponents. They've got an organized team, that uses teamwork. You need to have one that has more.

A Shift in the Spectrum
The point I'm trying to get at here, is that the whole landscape of PvP has changed forever. With arenas now, in some ways, a side game played to get Conquest points for gear, Rated Battlegrounds have become the site of hard-core competition. Players are judged on their RBG rating, and the 3k+ players who have already topped the ladders are mini celebrities.

PvP is no longer about your ability to burn down that stupid disc priest and rogue and mage buddies. It's about complex coordination between teams. It's about more than just having the fastest reflexes. It's about strategy and teamwork.

With all that said, it's more important than ever before to work together effectively with your team when you run Rated BGs. If you're your guild's RL in RBGs, then set up some training runs, get your guild used to focus firing, to coordinating crowd control, and working as a team. The season is still relatively young, and Rated BGs are something brand new to the WoW metagame.

In a couple seasons, incredible Battleground coordination will be par for the course. While everything is still being tried and tested, in other words right now, is your best chance to get really good at Rated BGs. And really, you've only got two choices, catch up and learn some serious teamwork fast, or get left in the dust.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Death Knights Don't Heal

I guess I would be amiss as a DK blogger to not talk about the change to our class that has driven a surprising portion of the community into an uproar. In patch 4.1, one of our least-used spells “Raise Ally” has been re-designed as a battle-rez. To quote the latest patch notes:

Raise Ally has been redesigned to be a battle resurrection, analogous to Rebirth. It is instant cast, but costs 50 Runic Power to use, and has a 10-minute cooldown. It shares the same global battle resurrection cap with Rebirth and Soulstone.”

This little change to the way we can use ghouls certainly did not go unnoticed throughout the community. Moodyloner over at Death Grip My Heart wrote a post about DK utility wherein she said: 

I just can’t get my head around gaining the ability to bring others back to life.”

And across the WoW DK community, be it in or out of game, there have been comments on the change to the class basically amounting to the fact that Death Knights are a class focused on dealing damage, spreading disease and being basically the polar opposite of healers for all intents and purposes. The concept of giving us a battle rez, seems just wrong.

The keyword is “Death”
I disagree with these sentiments wholeheartedly. Death Knights are all about Death, sure, and healing is definitely wrong for us (I'm not counting self-heals here, I mean full-out raid healing etc.). BUT, this change doesn't make us healers. It makes us ressurectors (no – it's not a word. Go with it).

Death Knights will have the ability to quickly bring back a dead player as a ghoul. Is this a big deal? No. In fact – I think this is how the ability should always have worked. Resurrecting a player as a ghoul gimps a lot of their utility in raids, and makes them much less useful than they were alive, so the move still acts as a last-ditch effort, and the other standard b-rezes are definitely superior.

But what's wrong with grabbing a little bit of extra dps out of a corpse once the druid has popped rebirth? We're masters of Death. Reanimating someone as a ghoul doesn't seem to be all that big a stretch to me.

PvP Usefulness?
In keeping with the theme of this blog... does the change really even impact PvP at all? Not really. I could see a few very niche situations where it might be worthwhile to make a dead ally a ghoul instead of having them wait to rez. For instance, in a BG like AB or BfG, you could bring back a corpse as a ghoul to give yourself that teeny extra bit of dps to hold the flag while you wait for re-enforcements.

But, all in all this is a change to the raiding universe. It doesn't grossly impact my life when it comes to melting face and taking names. But it is certainly a very interesting change.

I think I've more or less made my point already. The ability to resurrect someone as a ghoul does not contradict our class foundations. It's a completely natural evolution of the ability. After all, we can already reach into the ground and conveniently find a skeleton to make into a ghoulish minion anywhere in the world with Raise Dead, and Army of the Dead pulls out even more. Unholy DKs can summon a GARGOYLE, and I don't see people complaining that we brought the gargoyle to life for 30 seconds so it goes against the class' design.

Making your dead buddy a ghoul is a completely reasonable thing, and let's be fair, it's all kinds of awesome to boot. Even if it doesn't last all that long, who could resist the ability to make their GM their minion for a little while? It seems like a blast to me.
So. Death Knights of the world. Do not despair. Blizzard is not taking away the basis of your class. You're not going to be called upon to heal that stupid rogue who's standing in the fire again. You will not have to anti-kill the main tank while you dps. But if the stupid rogue dies for the thousandth time, why not put his body to good use?

After all – he's not a whole lot of use dead.

That's it for today folks, count on the rest of my catching up tomorrow morning, then a return to your regular programming.

Practice safe Death!


Friday, March 11, 2011

4.0.6. 2h Unholy Spec Update

With the latest patch, my previous 2h UH spec is out of date, so I thought I'd take a moment and update it for 4.0.6. There aren't a huge amount of changes, but there's enough that it's probably worth going over here. The main changes, however, aren't to the spec but to the way we play UH. I'll try to go over some changes in mentality as well as updating the spec in general for PvP.

The Spec
So, first and foremost, the spec can be found here. It's almost identical to the previous, however, as you can see, two points have been taken out of Improve Unholy Presence and put into Death's Advance. DA is a new talent found in 4.0.6 which prevents UH DKs from being significantly slowed while both their Unholy runs are up.

It's absolutely worth speccing into however, unfortunately, in order to keep all the utility in the frost tree that we basically need for self-heals and a free Mind Freeze (both bread and butter in PvP), a dps talent had to go out of the UH tree. I took IUP because I felt it was probably the smallest decrease to dps, however I could be off – I'm not much of a theory-crafter, so if someone out there can runs the numbers and finds that it is not, I'm happy to update the spec once again.

Glyphs remain the same as in my previous post, however they should now include Glyph of Dark Succor, a new glyph implemented in the latest patch, which makes Death Strike (only when used out of blood presence, this isn't a buff to Blood DKs, sadly) heal a minimum of 15% of your health when used.

This means that on top of Lichborne/Death Coil self-healing, and Death's Pact (in a pinch – losing your ghoul can hurt UH a lot), we can now use DS to heal ourselves quite a bit. While this is a reduction to dps numbers when used in place of SS, it keeps you alive, which is a major plus in my book.

A New Unholy
That's it for changes to the previous spec. Now let me try to explain how these affect our play-style. First, you should realize that UH was nerfed big time in the last patch, so if you haven't already noted this yourself, you're going to be doing much smaller numbers than you would have in 4.0.3. This doesn't necessarily mean you should play differently, but it means you should be aware that you won't be able to faceroll what might have once been an easy class for you to kill.

The biggest change to our play, though, comes with Death's Advance. This keeps us at 100% speed, even when we should normally be slowed (although this is a 15% drop from the 115% we get in UH Presence) when both our UH pairs are up. So what does this mean for us? It means that when we need to book it out of somewhere, popping ERW can save your skin. The free refresh of all your runes will mean that as long as you don't use an UH rune, you'll run at normal speed.

As another bonus, if you Chains of Ice the person you are running away from, you'll generally be able to escape more or less unscathed, since they'll be stuck in your slow. It's worth noting here that you won't be immune to stuns and fears, however AMS and IBF will both make you immune to stuns (IBF) and fears (AMS) if you're trying to escape a class capable of those forms of CC.

Dark Succor makes a change to the rotation as well, where if you are low on health, or cognisant of the fact that you will be soon, you can use DS in place of SS in your rotation to top yourself up on HP before returning to your full dps cycle. This works well when you have your Abomination or Gargoyle (or both!) up as they can make up for some of the dps lost to heal yourself.

There are no earth-shattering changes to UH, besides the fact that we've been nerfed quite a bit. But it's worth taking note of them, since taking advantage of them can definitely give you a major advantage.

That's it for me! Practice safe Death!


A New Strand of the Ancients... again

I think it's relatively safe to say that in recent times in the World of Warcraft, no BG has gone through quite as many changes as Strand of the Ancients. With Cataclysm, the Battleground was completely redone, but it turned into something of a ridiculous zerg-fest, forcing Blizzard to rework the BG again, into its current incarnation today.

With all the confusion surrounding Strand, I figured now would be a good time to give everyone a quick primer in the ins and the outs of the BG, as well as some solid tactics for keeping on top, and pulling wins out of the fastest battleground.

The Basics
For those of you who aren't already Strand veterans, let me give you a brief introduction. You'll start off randomly put on one of two boats, heading towards shore. This is the time to buff up, as the game starts as soon as you land.

Once you land you'll be on a beach, facing either a green gate or a blue one, with two demolishers at your disposal. The goal is to break down those gates, get to the red, and purple ones behind them and then finally break through a final yellow gate to get into a courtyard and breach a room called “The Relic Chamber.” Once you do that, you'll win the offensive round.

However, there is also a defensive round, (which could actually happen first, it's just RNG), where you play the side holding the demolishers off. This is pretty simple, CC the demos and the bad guys, shoot down the demos, and keep the bad guys from getting into your relic chamber. The team who has offence first sets a time, and the second group to play offense has to beat it. If they do, they win, if they don't, they lose.

Simple enough, right? Now – how do you win?

Offensive Strategies
First of all, it should be noted that in the new patch the demolishers no longer have an extra two seats for ranged dps to park themselves in. The only person who can be in the vehicle is the demolisher. With that in mind, it's more important to have solid CC on the ground than ever before.

The name of the game on both sides of Strand is Crowd Control, and the secret to winning is to successfully CC the defending team enough that your demolishers can get ahead of them. Once the demos break away they opposition will be stuck playing a hopeless game of catch up, and the win will be yours.

There are two main tactics to pulling this off. The first is stacking demolishers. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. The demolishers now move extremely fast, and doors are pretty weak so if you get four (or sometimes, even more) stacked on a door, it'll go down extremely fast. Then you can sprint ahead to the next one, and so on and so forth.
Well-stacked demos lead to an easy win.

The best way to win Strand is to have demos stack on either blue or green, break down that gate, grab the GY behind it, break down the next one, CC the crap out of the other team, get ahead when you get to yellow, and sit back and relax and you faceroll the courtyard to win.

The trick here is both effective CC, and the other main tactic on offence in Strand. Dispelling. You NEED a paladin, or another class capable of purging crowd control from the demolishers because if they get slowed regularly, the other team can and WILL catch up with them, and they'll get burst down.

You need to have a paladin on your team riding ahead with your demolishers on strict dispel duty. Have him mount up, catch up to your demos and STAY WITH THEM. If you can successfully keep the demos at full speed, or close to it, they'll outpace the other team and you will almost always pull a win.

Defensive Strategies
Winning on defence is a little more tricky. Offence is much easier now due to the huge speed of the demolishers. The best way to stop a demo now is with a frost mage, as they can freeze them in place, and keep them rooted pretty well. You'll want to get a frost mage (even in PuGs, most groups have one) on the gate the other team rushes and have him on root duty. If he can hold them long enough it'll give you time to burst the demos down.

Guns are also viable on defence again as they have been buffed significantly. If you get both guns on a gate pounding on the demos attacking they will actually go down, so it's definitely worth it to make use of the guns again.

The secret to winning on defence is to break the initial zerg of demolishers. If you pull a solid offence, you'll make it to the relic chamber with your first batch of demolishers. As a result, if you kill the first group of demos on defence (though it's better if you can stop two waves) the opposition will generally fall behind enough that even if they regroup quickly – they won't have time to get to your relic.

A good way to make sure you're effectively burning the demos down is to have the group leader use raid icons on them. Then call out in BG chat (or vent if we're talking Rated BGs or a premade) “Kill skull, kill cross, kill star,” etc. It's important to ONLY hit the actual players on the other team when all the demolishers are down. If there are demos up on a gate, you should be hitting those, and NOT the players, just CC them until the demos go down. A lot of people get caught up in HK farming and fall behind the wave of demos, which is a sure formula for a failed defensive.

Overall, Strand has changed a lot since its incarnation in the earlier days of Wrath. But I think it's easy to like the changes. It's now the fastest BG, win or lose, which makes it great for farming honour, especially on its holiday weekend. Strand is also a very interesting BG, as unlike focusing on objectives (the flag, territory control etc.) and killing players to do it, Strand focuses almost entirely on non-player goals. Kill demos, kill gates, etc.

The only thing you really want to do is crowd control the opposing players, except when you've got nothing else to do on defence. It makes Strand unique, as it's probably the only BG so focused on NOT killing players. Does that make it good or bad?

That's up to you.

Until next time, practice safe Death!


Playing Catch-Up

So, I did say that the only thing that was likely to prevent me from posting regularly here was RL issues, and I had a mountain of them last week, thus the radio silence from me.  HOWEVER!  Do not despair, I'm going to get myself all caught up on posts ASAP.  That's going to mean a mountain of blogging activity over the weekend, and then the resumption of my normal schedule with my Tuesday post next week. 

I apologize for the inconsistency, but I just don't like the idea of being "behind" with my posts, so I'm getting caught up.  In other words, you'll be getting at least one, if not two posts a day for the next 2-3 days while I inundate the world with the posts I missed.  So, enjoy a little bit of Onike overdose, and happy reading!

Practice safe Death!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maintenance Day Musings - What are Death Knights?

The first of many of my Tuesday editorials is here, and I'm starting the habit of this blogging schedule, plan, theory, thing, with a look back at my roots.

Recently, on a random, somewhat nostalgic whim, and hopped over to a random server where I had parked some cute level 1-6 alts, and rolled a Death Knight. This was born largely out of a desire to see the starting zone again. Back in Wrath, when everyone and their uncle was rolling a Death Knight, there was a good reason for it. The starting zone. At the time, it was the best questing zone in the game (don't try and tell me Northrend was better – it wasn't. At least not in my opinion).

Although a lot of time has gone by, and Cataclysm has been released (with it, all-new starting zones, which are all excellent as well), this zone still stands up. I'll always have a special place in my heart for that starting zone, the place where everything began. I fondly remember when I finally got my druid to 55. I immediately ran up and started a Death Knight (Theloral, my current main). And I was transported to a sort of immersion I'd never really experienced in WoW before – especially having never played anything past Old World (remember, my druid had only just hit 55).

A hero, that's what you once were.” Those words started me off on one of the coolest quest chains in the history of WoW, or certainly in the time I've been playing (basically since late BC – early Wrath). It was epic, engaging, and one hell of a good time. Playing through as a slave to the Lich King, eventually breaking free... it was everything I'd hoped for the from the zone, and then some. And that zone is, really, what initially hooked me on the class.

The Not-So Humble Beginnings
Back in the day, when DKs were first released, there was a huge uproar in the community. The introduction of a “Hero Class” had totally unbalanced the game. A massive stream of newly created Death Knights flooded the realms, basking in complete, and utterly overpowered facerolling. New DKs didn't have to be “good” at the their class. They had to know how to mash buttons, and how to pwn. The result was that the class got an extremely bad reputation.

The Hero Class didn't mean veteran players were taking in the rewards of all their toils. It didn't mean the best players from BC had converted (though presumably, plenty did). It meant that anyone with the time to level to 55 (yours truly included) could hop into the game, and be almost indestructible.

Blizzard quickly learnt the lesson that WoW's first Hero Class had been, to put it gently – a mistake. It wasn't fair to set one class apart from the others, in terms of in-game power, and making Death Knights stronger than everybody else, was just plain dumb. Soon, DKs were nerfed into the ground (it was sad, but it needed to be done), and those early pioneers of the class were left playing just a normal class, like everyone else. In fact, since that initial wave of being completely OP, Death Knights as a whole have been on the lower end of the spectrum.

Even when I finally hit 80, during the end of Ulduar, I frequently got told by players “Wow, you play a DK. They're OP. You're a noob.” It was a ridiculous statement because, by that point certainly, DKs really weren't OP anymore. I would generally gently point to the paladins sitting in a corner, cackling madly while they facerolled everything and everyone, but that's really a story for another time.

Without our status as a “Hero Class” (the name remained yes, but for all intents and purpose, DKs became just a normal class), many players wondered back their old mains, and the DK populations diminished. They became just as common as any other class, and the die-hard DKs that stuck around may have felt a little bit confused, as to the identity of their class.

Class Identity
Since the dawn of fantasy gaming, there have always been certain understood principles. The big warrior guy in heavy armour protects the little gnome wizard shooting fireballs at the baddies from behind his back. The cleric/priest/whatever heals the big, armoured guy, and keeps everyone alive. Behind the baddie, there's also probably a rogue knifing him in the back, and maybe a couple other general groups of character standing around hitting the bad guy as well. It's a standard concept, and it's always worked in the past. The priest heals, the warrior tanks, the rogue knifes people in the back.

Having an idea of what your class is is extremely important to a game like WoW. Players want to feel unique. They want to be able to do something really cool, that no one else can do, and to stand proudly back and say “Yeah, bitch, I just dropped a totem on your ass. Cause I'm a shaman. Suck it.” They want to be able to turn into bears, cats, and demented sea lions and then rub in the faces of the other lowly non-druids who are always stuck looking the same. They want to be able to stand in the middle of the line of fire of some giant's fist, and take because they're warriors. You get the picture.

Necromancer type classes have been common in fantasy RPGs since the beginning, and most people were thrilled to see them coming to WoW. But after the initial nerf bat hit the class, many players questioned what exactly they were supposed to be doing. What exactly was the point of Death Knights.

The Point
Death Knights might not be the most overpowered class in the game, anymore. We might just be average schmucks off the street, but despite the lack of pure power, DKs are still unique. Sure, popping army of the dead won't wipe a raid of the opposite faction's players. And yeah, maybe the sky doesn't rupture every time we swing our axes.

But, we're still the only class in the game who can reanimate players. We're still the only class in the game who get to bust out ghouls. We're still the only glass in the game to get to use swirling bones as shields. Nobody else can pull a hunter across the map to themselves, then pin him to the ground with some ice, and proceed to beat his face in. And, last time I checked, no one else can summon an undead army just for kicks.

Death Knights are tanks. We're melee dps. We're PvPers, and we're badass. Can lots of other classes say that? Yes, and especially so in a world where class homogenization is becoming more and more part of the game. But no one else can say it the same way we can.

We're Death Knights. We control zombies, and we smash face. We take hits, and wear a lot of skulls as fashion statements. And can mister tree-hugging druid over there say the same thing?

I don't think so.