Mathfall, or Alame re-learns Trigonometry

Today we’re going to talk about my favorite spell, Starfall.  It should be your favorite too, because this spell is incredible.  Starfall is the big driving factor as to why Balance Druids perform so exceptionally well in Highmaul.  Long story short; every fight in Highmaul except Butcher (unless you’re padding!) provides some period where Starfall is amazing.  You’ll be thrilled to know that Blackrock Foundry launches tomorrow and also has lots of fights that make Starfall great.

The math of starfall in 6.1.

There are a couple changes currently slated for 6.1.  These changes increase the spellpower scaling of Starfire, Wrath, and Starfall.  Once I got over my initial shock of Balance being buffed (as I and many others were expecting nerfs), I re-ran the math on Starfall versus Starsurge to see if I could justify even more Starfall usage.

It should be noted that all the following math is using numbers from 6.1.  These are neither final nor are they live.

To start with we’re going to evaluate starfall vs starsurge while ignoring mastery.  Mastery is tricky to calculate and apply as it is a dynamic value, so we’re going to keep it real simple and just look at base damages.  What we’re interested in is the damage dealt by each usage of a Starsurge charge at a given number of targets.  For using Starsurge, it’s the damage of Starsurge itself plus the damage of the empowerment buffs.

As you can see, Starsurge with either starfire (SF) or wrath (W) slightly outperforms Starfall at one target, and Starfall outperforms Starsurge heavily whenever there is 2 targets or more.  You’ll also notice that the lines corresponding to Wrath (W) and Starfire (SF) are virtually indistinguishable.  This is because the scaling adjustments for 6.1 brings them much closer in strength, so 2 empowered Starfires no longer do significantly more damage than 3 empowered Wraths.

Next we’re going to isolate Starfall’s 6.1 damage increase from Mastery.  This is where I had to re-learn trig, to properly establish a function for the dynamic Mastery that I could use to scale up the damage.  It took longer than I would care to admit.

The graph only looks at one target, in Lunar eclipse.  Solar obviously doesn’t give any mastery benefit to Starfall so there’s no scaling to account for.  40% mastery is a level you can expect around 680 ilevel.  100% mastery is only shown to display the scaling, as it’s much easier to see the two inflection points on the graph.

Putting it all together! So now that we’ve established the dynamic mastery benefit we can bring back our numbers from the first stage, combine them all together and see what the end product looks like.  I’ve scaled up the Starsurge damage for ~60 energy, and the empowered Starfire/Wrath casts for an average of ~95 energy which is slightly better than what you will usually fit in your rotation.

Look at that sweet, sweet mastery benefit.  Whenever someone asks you what a Moonkin’s best stat is you should show them this graph because it really speaks for itself.  In addition to Starfall being better than Starsurge in both eclipses (which is contrary to today’s common knowledge) the mastery makes Starfall almost on-par at 1 target and significantly better at 2 targets while in Lunar after the 6.1 changes.

So my original goal of wanting to Starfall more is achieved.  While previously I had been using Starfall at 2+ targets in Lunar and 3+ targets in Solar, once 6.1 hits I will be able to Starfall at 2+ targets in both eclipses.

Starfall is love, Starfall is life.

You can find me on Twitter at @Starfeathers.  If you’d like me to cover a certain topic tweet at me and I’ll see what I can do.

Why do druids hate the merging of travel form?

When the developers decided to merge all of the druids’ travel form buttons into a single button, this theoretically made sense. If you are in water, the most efficient form is swimming in your aquatic form. In places you can fly, the most efficient form is flight form. In place where you aren’t in water and you can’t fly, stag form becomes the only usable form. So, the concept of merging them all into one button (where the game chooses the most efficient form for you) seemed like a great idea.

So, why do people so adamantly oppose the merging of these seemingly redundant forms? Why is this something so terrible there are four posts on the Beta forums, even after Blizzard thought they addressed all our concerns? Why are druid shapeshift forms a problem rivaled only by arms warriors for the contest of most class complaints?  To answer this question, we need to talk about what shapeshifting means to druids.

What shapeshift forms mean to druids

For some context, shapeshifting is one of the key things that druids do. Many people chose the druid class because they like shapeshifting. In fact, our forms are so popular that 8 of our 13 minor glyphs in the Warlords of Draneor build are tied directly to our forms.

In addition, the aesthetics of druid forms are so important to the druid class that my most popular guide on this blog is NOT either the leveling guide, or the healing guide. The charts I made mapping the bear/cat hair colors to worgen and troll forms rival my actual real guides for viewer counts. In fact, I’m actually embarrassed that I didn’t invest more time into making them “pretty” when I originally threw them together – two expansions later, they still draw the most consistent blog hits via google searches. In fact, in the last month, the two color charts for worgen and troll druids have had more than double the number of page views as my healing guide. Our shapeshift graphics are so important that we will need to make new mappings once the race changes are complete so that we have up to date color mappings between our hair and our forms.

We (druids) like to party

We interrupt this post to give you random druid parties across Azeroth:

Actually, wait, there’s more druid parties, and stag stacking!

In fact, I could actually post dozens of pictures I’ve taken at various druid parties over the many years I have been playing the game, but I think people would believe me when I say that partying in your forms, even a form that might not be the most efficient form, is probably one of the biggest features of the druid class. Sometimes, druids just want to have fun. This fun factor, however, is one of the hardest things to explain to people who aren’t druids. Why would people actually care about being able to swim in stag form when aquatic form is objectively more efficient? The answer really is just that druids sometimes prefer aesthetics over efficiency, and like having control over their forms. While everything else in the game, and the problem of “button bloat” was all about increasing efficiency, when it comes to our forms, flexibility and fun is what we care about the most. My balance druid on live actually glyphed for tree form just to have access to all the shapeshift forms on one character. It’s not rational, it’s just pure fun.

Forgetting the past?

Lets also not forget what happened when they tried to take away the original grumpy tree form and turn it into a big beefy cooldown tree. That’s why it got added back as a cosmetic glyph – because druids really liked having that button on their button bar and the ability to use an outdated form (even after they complained that it was ugly and needed a graphical update in the first place). Even the generic cheetah form couldn’t go away completely, and had to stick around as a PVP glyph. Druids really don’t like having their forms taken away, and the happiest you can make druids is to introduce new colors or form variety.

A possible glyph solution?

While the developers still didn’t quite understand our fascination with our forms, they changed glyph of the stag to have the following effect: Your ground form is the rideable stag that can carry a party member. Then, your flight form becomes a new button, seperated from the other shapeshift form. However, this has one very fatal flaw for all your friends. When you have someone on your stag’s back and you go into the water, you still shift into aquatic form, leaving your friends behind in the water to drown. So, at the very least, this glyph needs to be changed to have all three forms back on their own buttons so you can’t risk drowning your friends on accident by having them fall off your back when you go into a puddle that is too deep.

In addition, earlier I said that 8 of our 12 minor glyphs are all cosmetic. To be able to take this glyph, you can’t take the cheetah glyph, or the Travel glyph (that increases your mount speed). You also can’t take the cheetah glyph with the speed boost travel glyph either (likely a purposeful PVP nerf).

In the words of the almighty Alamo, “DURIDS IS 4 haf FUN TIME WIT FRENS”

Do we need a change at all?

For people that wanted the functionality of combining all our travel forms to one button, it was always possible to find a macro for shapeshifting. Thus, it’s not necessarily apparent that taking away druid form buttons actually helped with reducing button bloat in any significant way. The main thing that the change did was it took away choice and control, and that seems to be something druids care about more than efficiency or our number of buttons. I’m happy to have one more button for some cosmetic form I’ll never fight in. Thus, while this idea seems neat (and works better now that many of the bigger bugs are fixed), it’s still insanely unpopular. This remains unpopular even after they glyphed it to split off flight form from the rideable stag.

Is this change something we could learn to accept and live with? Maybe. In some of the questing, auto-shifting from travel to aquatic form seemed to be kinda helpful. However, it’s still a problem of whether druids prefer the efficiency of auto-shifting to the control of having separate buttons. I’m not sure that merging the forms is a change for the better, or if it’s just a change for the sake of change. In the end, this may be a problem where druids just want to have fun.

Is the class always greener on the other side?

In my many years of playing World of Warcraft, I have spent a considerable amount of time as part of the theorycrafting community, especially related to druid class design. However, I turned my attention to the mage class for the first time in Mists of Pandaria and put my druid into hybernation from serious raiding (though I still do play my druid from time to time). In switching to a mage as my raiding main, I thought I would finally have the wonderful damage superiority that “pure” classes promised from their much greener hill on the other side of the hybrid vs. pure divide.

What I found, however, was just simply another class with the same problems, related to a lack of movement DPS, talent issues, outdated mechanics, and ability bloat. In my many years of being envious of the mage class, I quickly found that everything wasn’t all that I thought it would be. While I am still raiding on my mage, and haven’t dedicated much time to the druid this expansion, broadening my expertise to understanding the mechanics of two classes gave me a much better sense of perspective about the fact that every class in WOW has design limitations that can make it difficult or frustrating to live with on a day-to-day basis.

While I needed the change in perspective, and I don’t regret my class switch, I have overall been more selective in terms of what minor problems I’ve come to live with, versus understanding what major problems I think should still be addressed (such as healing mushroom’s development in early MOP for resto druids, and the continuing problem of the mage level 90 talents).

As we start to ramp up for another round of beta testing and feedback, I think it is still important to remember that a side-effect of theorycrafting and class balance is that other classes likely have just as many serious problems in this type of game. In addition, while classes all have strengths, and the game as a whole is substantially better than it used to be, it turns out that the class we play isn’t the only one that is potentially in need of fixing.

With that said, I really do look forward to picking apart both mage and druid weaknesses as we ramp up into the next expansion over the next many months. Just remember – that other classes don’t necessarily have things all that much better at the end of the day. The game balance as a whole, however, is still much better than it used to be in the dark days of Vanilla and Burning Crusade.

Fewer buttons? Yes, please!

Post on optimum number of buttons in a rotation & review some classes.

With news of the stat squish, reducing our insane number inflation back down to something more reasonable, there is another area of reduction that needs attention. This area is in the inflation of the number of abilities each class has access to and uses on a regular basis. As Lore pointed out on the forums, it could be easy to remove buttons people never use, but the bigger problem is in the number of buttons people DO use.

While some people are worried that reducing the number of buttons will increase homogenization, I actually think it would do the opposite. Due to 10-man raiding for high-end content, we have increased the number of buttons so that 10-man raiders wouldn’t be missing any necessary tools to defeat the encounter. You had to defeat the hardest content in the game with only 2 healers present (meaning that every healer had to bring every tool, or they would risk getting benched). In thinking about the “ability squish”, the nature of Mythic 20-man raiding means that you can require one of each  of the 11 classes to be present for optimal raiding, and can balance the game around the idea that you would have around 5 healers likely to be present in the raid. While requiring a “frost mage” or “resto druid” specifically could be problematic, abilities available to all classes allow for more unique flavor if an ability is taken away from some of the classes that had to bring the abilities just for the 10-man content. To get more unique flavor, while having fewer overall buttons, it may be time to remove some places of redundancy.

How should ability bloat be managed? By removing unused abilities and reducing the number of redundant abilities (if two buttons do basically the same thing, one should just be removed and the other potentially improved to compensate if needed). Below are some examples of potential areas by which redundancy and unused abilities can be identified for potential removal/consolidation. While I use specific examples from druids and mages (the classes I am familiar with),

• Remove buttons that are not used by your specialization: While healers still need to be able to do damage to things, and damage dealers still need healing/survivability tools, there is really no reason for a frost mage to have fire mage spells, or vice-versa. We could actually reduce homogenization by taking away more of the unnecessary and potentially redundant off-spec abilities from the main spec of a class. For druids, while having the ability to use moonfire in feral forms could be interesting (with the new level 100 talent), that is likely just going to increase the ability bloat without being a useful or necessary tool in the first place. Removing more unnecessary buttons in terms of reducing off-spec buttons would actually help to keep button bloat from getting out of control, and this is especially true for pure-DPS classes where these tools increase redundancy and confusion without increasing effectiveness or fun. Now that we have gotten used to the idea of split tool sets, the hard decisions of splitting more tools and increasing the unique set of abilities available to each specialization within a class absolutely needs to be done.
• Combine mechanics that are redundant with other mechanics – There are some things that actually should be “homogenized” in terms of having two things that function the same having different names and category labels for no real good reason. An example of how this has worked well in the past is putting multiple cleanse mechanics into one dispel button (instead of one button for removing poisons and another for curses). Another example in the current expansion, Soothe is still not consolidated with other dispel mechanics. In terms of what soothe does, it seems to dispel some (but not all!) enrage effects (what’s an enrage again?). In the end, enrage is really just another name for a type of “buff that increases your damage”, and there are also lots of other different classifications of “buff that increases your damage” and so it should share the same classifications and rules of game-play as other mechanics as other buffs that increase your damage. I’d suggest removing spells like Soothe and instead changing current enrage effects to either be dispelled by other class dispels or balanced around not being dispelled. Make all boss enrages either not dispelled or magic effects. The dispels for enrage effects are an under-utilized feature in PVE (I can count on one hand the number of raid encounters where soothe was useful in the last 9 years of the game), and an obtuse and confusing mechanic in PVP. The “enrage” warrior damage increase ability and mechanics could still be called enrage in terms of the name (the way that Eclipse is the name of a moonkin buff that increases damage), but “enrage” effects that are dispelled in PVE (or even in PVP) by things like Soothe could be changed to a different classification of spell mechanics – such as magic, or just not be able to be dispelled at all. At this point, I’m not sure that Soothe even removes warrior enrage in the first place (because enrage mechanics in terms of whether dispels work or not are so poorly defined that druids can’t actually agree on what soothe does at all). Removing things like “enrage” as a spell category with its own set of dispel mechanics could allow for consolidating buttons by eliminating the need for Soothe. While warriors need a buff that increases their damage, it doesn’t have to be its own special “enrage” magic type that is set apart from other mechanics that function exactly the same (that is really just a damage buff mechanic by another name). In fact, not being able to dispel enrage-type mechanics at all would make it easier to balance what enrage mechanics do in PVP and PVE alike. There is no reason for druids to have one button that specifically dispels enrages from enemy targets and another button that cleanses magic, poison, and curses from friendly targets. Just like combining the button that dispelled different debuff categories from friendly players, Soothe is a button that doesn’t need to clog up druid bars.
• Put the breaks on healing button wars – Now that we can balance around 20-man mythic, healers need fewer buttons that are tailored around two types of healing rotations: a set of buttons for single-target and a set of buttons for AOE healing. There is no need for three single-target direct heals that are both redundant with the other healing spells, but also are the exact same for each healing class (the original “triad” model). Instead, each class should have the single-target heals that makes the most sense and are the least redundant with their class-specific tools. For druids, removing Nourish is an obvious candidate. In terms of AOE heals, the emphasis should be on making sure that all classes have an AOE healing toolset, but that the number of actual buttons they use for AOE healing doesn’t balloon out of hand (especially since raiders are likely to use both single-target and AOE heals in raids). In some places, redundancy should be reduced to increase the unique feeling of classes, even if that means we have to give up some tools we’re used to having (but with an emphasis on removing buttons we hardly ever actually use, or contribute very little to our overall healing). If a healing spell only contributes to 5% (or less) of your total healing being done across an entire expansion, is that spell still important to have access to? The number of buttons that healers are using inside and outside of raids should be examined and should be reduced. The emphasis should be placed on reducing redundancy in healing toolkits – and undoing some of the damage caused by the 10 vs 25-man healing split.
• Reduce redundancy and increase uniqueness of single-target damage rotations: Bring damage rotation buttons back under control. Reduce number of damage cooldown abilities for each class (especially redundant things that people could macro together if they were on the same cooldown). For example, do we have too much damage from all classes coming from DOT/bleed effects? How many simultaneous DOTs/Debuffs does each class need? Are there places (similar to removing insect swarm for moonkin) where removing abilities could make the rotation feel better? While there is a core set of roles that have to be filled by a rotation, there can be complexity without the need to constantly watch 10 different timers in some cases. At this point, we have mistaken overloading memory and attention capacities as the primary criteria by which we evaluate “interesting” damage rotations. A rotation with 4 buttons could potentially be even more fun and interesting than something with 20 buttons – in this case, more is really not always better.
• Reduce redundancy and increase clarity of intended AOE damage rotations: With my frost mage, when multiple targets are available, I have too many possible tools that I could use to deal with those targets, leading to more confusion than fun. If there was a more clearly defined AOE strategy (rather than 10 different possible damage spells that do damage to more than 1 target), frost mages might have an easier time dealing with AOE damage. You need a spreadsheet to tell you the maximum efficiency of the damage use between: DOT/bomb (the 3 possible bomb talents you can choose before the fight), Ice Lance cleave to spread mastery damage (likely used during a DOT-cleave strategy), frost nova (Does AOE damage and freezes them in place, on a cooldown), cone of cold (does damage and slows them, on a cooldown), Blizzard (is channeled, with a slow), frozen orb (on a 1 min cooldown), arcane explosion (stand in melee and spam the instant button), and flame strike (a cast time spell to place a damage circle on the ground that ticks over time). These 10 total abilities are all incredibly redundant and you can’t use all three at the same time. Instead, the muddiness and confusion of the AOE tools means that a DOT/bomb + cleave strategy almost always ends up working out the best, with not actually using the tools we should use for AOE. In a raiding situation, I’m only likely to use 3 to 4 of these 10 possible buttons (but, all 10 buttons take up space on my bars!). So, having all of these abilities in their overlap of roles is actually more harmful than good. What is the point, for example, of a frost mage having flame strike, blizzard, and arcane explosion? Instead of three super redundant abilities, if we just had 1 of these that was clearly defined in an AOE rotation, we could actually be better balanced in our AOE damage and have a more unique feeling AOE rotation between each mage specialization. So, if Blizzard was uniquely available to frost (and frost didn’t have either arcane blast or flame strike), and was designed to fit more intuitively within the frost mage PVE rotation (potentially channeled for a shorter period of time and worked with the frost mastery or the 8 other abilities I listed above), that could allow for frost’s AOE rotation to feel more unique vs. fire or arcane (and frost mages would still have 8 total DOT/AOE/cleave abilities even if they lost two of the 10!).
• Reduce redundancy in damage/healing/tanking cooldowns: While moonkin needed one additional damage increasing cooldown (or some way to control Eclipse better) to allow for controlling their damage output, in MOP, they were actually given up to 4 new buttons for managing damage output (up to two thru talents and two given baseline), which contributed to some redundancy and bloat in the toolset. This largely just brought moonkin in line with the cooldown wars that other classes had been participating in for a long time (because when everyone else has tons of cooldowns, moonkin needed them, too). As a frost mage, I have 4 cooldown buttons I hit to increase my damage: frozen orb, mirror images, alter time, & icy veins. Alter time is actually an ability I could live without ever using as a DPS increasing talent. While it was originally designed to add some fun utility, due to this spell’s interaction with buffs that increase our damage, this is used only as a DPS increase in raiding situations (with a huge drawback of randomly placing you in fire puddles of death). I could live without time warp and be perfectly happy with the four other abilities that increase my burst damage potential. Most frost mages actually just use mirror images, alter time, and icy veins all at the same time, so while mages would complain at the idea of losing any of them, the area of cooldown management is still an area for most classes where there is a huge amount of redundancy in the cooldown buffs we use. In general, the buffs that should be removed are ones that provide either the least amount of unique flavor, or provide the most drawbacks (in the case of alter time sometimes killing me in fires or removing heroism from me when someone else casts it at an inconvenient time) where the buff is also a huge trap that inexperienced players will have problems with.
• Make more PVP tools not be useable in PVE (and vice versa), with better UI marking/labeling and tools for management that reduce the number of things we put on our bars: The PVP vs PVE ability wars actually end up with over-complicated PVP and PVE situations. Things like excluding long cooldowns from PVP was one area of allowing for separation in toolsets. In addition, sometimes bosses are immune to PVP mechanics. However, there are not clear markings on the abilities themselves that designate PVP vs PVE settings on the tools, and as such, we tend to clutter up our bars with both sets of tools, even when the tool on your bar isn’t going to work in the content you are currently in.  In addition, with some outdoor bosses making outdoor-only tools magically become available, or some bosses that happen to NOT be immune to the PVP mechanic tool, this “set of abilities I can’t use here, but I might use somewhere, at some point” turns into ability bloat on our bars. Even with mods that help us manage our bars, the pvp vs pve toolset becomes confusing and contributes to bar bloat. Inconsistency amongst where tools may or may not be useful leads to people throwing anything from their spell book into a bar somewhere that they can reach in the 1% chance it might be useful at some point.

While I have put in some specific examples above, this is not a complete list of what tools might be removed (especially when some abilities are contingent on other class’ abilities). However, there is still a great deal of redundancy and unnecessary confusion built into the current toolsets for each class that could be fixed to improve the unique fun and feeling of each class.