March 11, 2009

Wintergrasp timer on Patch 3.1 PTR

Here's a bit of news that some players might enjoy -- tipster Falrinn noted that Wintergrasp now has a global Wintergrasp timer that lets players know when the next battle for the zone is slated to occur. This should eliminate quite a bit of clutter on the trade channels where players usually ask, "when is the next WG?" The timer is accessible through the world map, where the countdown updates live in increments of five seconds. On live servers, the only way to find out when the next battle occurs is to talk to your respective Wintergrasp Battle-Mages or using AddOns which all still need data from the zone.

It was, to say the least, rather inconvenient. The change also comes with a few minor changes, such as the wall icons on the maps -- they look flimsier. Blizzard also saw fit to change the icon for Essence of Wintergrasp again, making it look more like a tower instead of a trophy on a pedestal. The timer feature is a welcome one, although in the PTR it currently doesn't work when not in Northrend. The only thing that would be better than that would be a web-accessible timer that tells you when the next game is on your server...

Arena Season 6: Rise of the Furious Gladiator Set

Kalgan hopped on over to the forums to make a significant post that previews what can happen in Arena Season 6, the tiers of gear available, and what will happen to the Vault of Archavon. One of my fears going into the next Arena Season was that Archavon the Stone Watcher would lose his relevance, as he drops significantly lower tier gear a full season behind the current one. This would have greatly devalued control of Wintergrasp.

However, Kalgan reveals that a new boss in another wing of the Vault of Archavon will drop the Furious Gladiator pieces. He makes no mention of past season's gear, and says that the new boss' loot table will be structured slightly differently drom Archavon's. This could mean that the 10-man version can drop the Honor-bought non-set pieces rather than a lower tier of Arena gear and notes that the boss will not drop the chest piece. In the same post, he pegs the chest piece at a 1750 rating requirement, which should probably indicate that the boss will not drop items with a higher requirement (head, shoulder, weapon, etc.). This is an important announcement that ensures the relevance of Wintergrasp. The boss is also expected to drop Tier 8 pieces, making it equally appealing to PvE players.

One important change to the beginning of Season 6 will be that new teams and personal ratings are likely to start below the previous median of 1500, which will result in players climbing the ladder rather than dropping through it. This is a significant change to the system and should provide a more fulfilling experience for all manner of Arena play. He also details proposed costs for all the current Arena items as well as proposed ratings for the new WoW Furious Gladiator gear.

Hateful Gloves
Hateful Legs
Hateful Chest
Hateful Helm
Hateful Shoulders
Hateful Ring
Hateful Trinket (there isn't technically a Hateful Gladiator trinket, but Kalgan is referring to the Medallions of the Alliance and the Horde)

Deadly Bracer
Deadly Belt
Deadly Boots
Deadly Neck
Deadly Ring
Deadly Cape
Deadly Trinket (the Battlemaster trinkets)

Honor costs for the Hateful Gladiator set items are expected to match the current season's Savage Gladiator gear, while the non-set Deadly Gladiator pieces are expected to match Hateful Gladiator non-set items. Those aforementioned items will either be retired at the beginning of Season 6 or lowered in cost. I'm inclined to think they will be retired.

1400+: Furious Bracer
1450+: Furious Belt
1500+: Furious Boots
1550+: Furious Neck
1650+: Furious Ring
1800+: Furious Trinket (higher version of Medallions, likely higher Resilience)
1900+: Furious Cape

The Honor costs for the Furious Gladiator non-set pieces are expected to match the current Deadly Gladiator non-set pieces. Kalgan also indicates that these will drop off the new boss in the Vault of Archavon.

1300+: Deadly Relics/Idols/Librams/Totems
1350+: Deadly Gloves
1400+: Deadly Legs
1450+: Deadly Chest
1500+: Deadly Helm
1550+: Deadly Shoulders

Kalgan says that the Deadly Gladiator set pieces will not be as easily accessible as the current Hateful Gladiator items are with Emblems of Conquest, the new tier of raid emblems which will drop from Ulduar. Currently, all pieces of the Hateful Gladiator items are available through Emblems of Valor. It's quite possible that ratings requirements will still be required to purchase the items, only using a different currency.

1600+: Furious Gloves
1700+: Furious Legs
1750+: Furious Chest
1850+: Furious Helm
1950+: Furious Wands/Relics/etc
2000+: Furious Weapon
2100+: Furious Shoulders
2300+: Furious Tabard

Note that the lowest minimum requirement of any type is at 1300, which indicates that teams and players are likely to start Season 6 at a lower rating than past seasons, perhaps 1200 or lower. The spread between the Furious Gladiator set pieces is also very large compared to Season 5's Deadly Gladiator items. There is a massive spread in ratings between the lowest required ratings and highest required ratings, which is indicative of how the new Arena system and Blizzard's philosophy of putting players in their proper brackets. Kalgan importantly puts a disclaimer to everything, however, and mentions that all this information is subject to change. Still, it's a great insight into the process.

Curiously, the highest rating requirement belongs to the WoW Furious Gladiator tabard. It is purely cosmetic but, as Kalgan says, "awesome-looking". At 2300, it is at a higher rating than any Arena item before it, even more difficult to obtain than the 2200 shoulders from Season 4. The changes are likely to come with Patch 3.1 or shortly thereafter, as these items are the PvP equivalent of Ulduar gear. When asked about when Blizzard will stop at the increasingly angry naming convention of Arena gear, Kalgan replies that they plan to stop right before "Foo Jackin' Gladiator". Amen to that.

WoW Blood of Gladiators Loot Card

WoW Blood of Gladiators Loot Card Previews is ready here for you!!

WoW Blood of Gladiators will be unveiled to the world on March 7-8 when packs are unwrapped at the Sneak Preview. We've unveiled the new Arena cards, new keywords, and there are still more exciting secrets waiting to be spoiled, but there's one thing that everyone wants to know: What are the Loot cards? So without further adieu¡­

Sandbox Tiger

We know times are tight right now. Two years ago, you may have been able to roll around town with your own Spectral Tiger, but not anymore. But don't you worry, because we have the budget solution to those of you feeling a case of Spectral Tiger envy. The Consumable loot card, Sandbox Tiger, will give you a stack of 50 Sandbox Tigers, which can be used to put down a Spectral Tiger that everyone can take a ride on.

The Sandbox Tiger is a stationary vehicle that everyone can try out. You can get on and off of the Tiger using the same UI as other vehicles in Wrath of the Lich King. Just remember to take turns like you used to when you were a kid!

Center of Attention

Tired of going unnoticed on raid night? Have a purple in every slot besides the Shirt? Can't think of what else you can do to get attention? Done, done, and done. The Uncommon WoW Blood of Gladiators Loot card will bestow you with the game's first Epic Purple Shirt.

That's right, it's epic and purple. It also comes with an on-use effect that will cause you to flex and show off your awesome outfit, with the added effect of a couple sparkles just to prove a point. Bling. Bling.

Foam Sword Rack

Want a break from the serious business of going after the Lich King and surviving run-ins with the Blue Dragonflight? Want something a little more hectic, but a little less tied to consequences? We give you the Foam Sword Rack, the Rare Loot Card in the Blood of Gladiators expansion.

Set up the Foam Sword Rack anywhere you want. Anyone can join the battle by clicking on the rack to grab a foam sword of a random color. Take shots at each other and try to knock each other down or make their foam sword explode! If your sword explodes, all you need to do is click on the rack and grab another to stay in the fight! The rack stays around for 3 minutes of non-stop action.

WoW Blood of Gladiators hits stores on March 24 around the world, but the first chance you'll have to get your hands on one of these awesome new Loot cards will be at the Blood of Gladiators Sneak Preview events on March 7 to 8!

For players who have access to the Public Test Realm for the World of Warcraft MMO, we'd like you all to try out these great new items using these codes:

Sandbox Tiger: 1111

Epic Purple Shirt: 2222

Foam Sword Rack: 3333

To redeem these codes, simply go to Landro Longshot in Booty Bay. There is no limit on the number of times you can redeem these codes, so have fun!

So much is the WoW Blood of Gladiators Loot Card Previews for you.

March 10, 2009

Raid Rx: On the fly healing

Assignment-less healing. It often has unpredictable results. Sometimes your raid group will be lucky and emerge unscathed. I'm a control freak. I like to have a plan A, a plan B and even a plan for when things go wrong.

I've joined my share of pickup groups in the past few months. I usually play on my alt Shaman. I'm more of the Shatner type that hurls bolts of lightning. I've experienced mixed success. On bosses like Archavon, Anub'Rekhan and Sartharion with no drakes active, I notice not a whole lot of organized healing is done. Either that or it was organized behind the scenes via whispers.

To be fair, those types encounters can be done with little organization before hand. I know the first time I went into Naxx and Obsidian Sanctum wearing half blues, a smattering of crafted epics and the odd green or two. Having the healing set up in advance helped out a lot and reassured people. Sometimes it helps the raid morale some when they know the confidence emanating from healers who know who they're healing is there.

So today's topic: What do you do if the other raiders are scoffing at your suggestion to assign healing?

This is going to be one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't-situations. If you want to take the 25 seconds to assign healing, you'll be laughed at because "this fight" is so ridiculously easy it doesn't need coordination, right?

On the other hand, what if the tanks aren't up to par? What if the DPS is sucking? What if you hit the enrage timer? Obviously it isn't entirely the healers fault if the enraged timer is hit (unless the reason for that is because half the DPS is dead).

In which case, the last thing you might see is this:

"You have joined Looking For Group"
"You have been removed from the party"

In other words, you're damned if you want to set up healing and you're damned if you don't (especially if a wipe takes place).

The best thing you can do in this situation (or the least you can do) is announce to the raid who you are healing. That's it! If you're healing Joe Tankenstein, let the raid know. If you're going to heal the this groups 4 and 5 on Loatheb, let the raid know. This cues the rest of the healers on what isn't being taken care of and they can handle that accordingly.

At the very least, you have nothing to lose. If your target dies, the raid can isolate the problem. If someone else's healing target dies, your butt's covered because you were focusing on your job (I hope).

Is there a specific way for each class to heal on the fly? Yeah, each class has their own tools and mindset. For me as a Priest, I focus on one tank or two tanks and try to keep them both alive at the same time. I'll let the rest of the healers worry about the rest of the raid.

On the fly healing isn't something that can be taught. It's more of a discretionary thing where healers have to exercise their judgment. Being able to predict damage is a big plus. A clairvoyant healer is one that will get far in this game.

With that in mind, here's a list of current bosses in the game that you should set up healing for:

Patchwerk: This a pure healing and DPS fight. If the healers stick to who they're supposed to be on, this will be cake.

Four Horsemen: Since the raid is going to be split up, it makes sense to split up your healers accordingly as well.

Kel'Thuzad: Healers on the main tank, and healers for OTs 2 and 3 (if you have 3). Dedicated healers for the melee players if they get cubed wouldn't be a bad idea.

Malygos: Phases 1 and 2 aren't so bad. But if you can get away with dropping healing drakes down to around 3 or 4, it'll noticeable boost your DPS at this time. That's assuming your healers want to DPS.

Sartharion with any Drakes up: Sartharion is an encounter that requires an exceptional level of healing coordination especially when you're working on tank saves. 1 on the MT, 1 on each OT, and possibly 1 on your frenzy dispelling Rogue.

I would've included a list for Ulduar. I still don't have as much information as I'd like but I've watched a lot of the European fights and participated in the ones for North America as well. Definitely want to set up healing for that the first time in.

WoW Fishing dailies and other goodies in patch 3.1

The latest build on the Patch 3.1 PTR has introduced a lot of Fishing love to Northrend. The first Fishing-related addition that I noticed personally is the brand new set of daily quests in Dalaran, similar to what we had in Outland. When I bopped around trying to find out what random items you could get as quest rewards this time around, I discovered there's a lot more fishing love than just some quests!

El's Extreme Anglin' is always the place to go for Fishing information, and you can bet your patoot that I ended up there in my search. Not only are there new quests, but there's a whole bunch of fun new items to accompany them. Pets, new fishing poles, new lures, new just-for-fun items. Pretty much everything that people love about Fishing in WoW has been cranked up a notch. Artisan fishermen will find that Nat Pagle has a fishing pole for them, too.

There have been some achievement changes, and some changes to make fishing a little easier on the eyes and ears. It's really a lot more than I expected for a secondary profession, though I suppose it makes sense given the fanatical nature of the people who actually partake in Fishing. We love this kind of stuff!

If you're interested in an early glimpse at the new daily quests, check out our little gallery below. If you want more details on what else is coming our way in Patch 3.1, El's Anglin' has all you need and more.

Legends for free until March 17th

March 17th marks the release of Volume 3 of the Warcraft: Legends manga series, and Tokyopop is offering a pretty slick deal to build some hype around it. As of March 6th, Tokyopop has started putting the entire series thus far online to read for free, one chapter per day This will last through the 17th when the last chapter of Volume 2 is posted. They will not be putting new chapters up on the weekend, so despite the fact that we were a bit slow to notice this campaign of theirs (sorry!), you haven't missed anything yet. The first chapter is still the only chapter currently available, and another will be going up sometime tomorrow.

If you're not familiar with this series, Warcraft: Legends is a series that brings multiple stories from many different authors and artists. It's not one solid story arc like The Sunwell Trilogy (for example), but a number of different stories about the denizens of Azeroth. Each chapter in a volume is a different story, though some of the stories span multiple volumes. Some of them are epic tales that tie into the more famous Azerothian figures (Lich King/Scourge, Richard Knaak's characters), and some of them are just about random Azerothian adventurers getting their adventurin' on. If you don't like one of the stories, odds are that you'll like one of the others.

This is a really, really good opportunity to decide whether you like the style of the series or not. Before this thing is through, you'll be able to read all of the current Warcraft: Legends material. My only complaint is that it's a little hard to read the small text on the reader Tokyopop is using for these. I find myself squinting a lot just to read the dialogue even when I switch it over to full screen. Still, they're letting us view it all for free. I'm not going to complain too much about that.

Arcnova the Flawless Victor

Arcnova, the Flawless Victor, was recommended as an interview a few weeks ago. It took us a bit to catch up with each other, life being busy as it tends to be. Arcnova was recommended not only because he's friendly, and intelligent, but because he represents the Mage class proudly as a successful Flawless Victor. While the Mage class is certainly represented more highly in Season 5 than it has been in the past, his accomplishments aren't what most might call "easy mode."

Check out what Arcnova had to say behind the cut. His insights are not limited to simply the Mage class, and he's got a bit to say about the upcoming patch.

WoW Insider: It's recently been said that mages are the only casters with sufficient defense against melee. What's your thoughts on a Mage's ability to withstand melee opponents?

Arcnova: A frost mage in particular has a lot of ways of getting away from melee opponents relatively easy using Frost Nova, Shattered Barrier, Freeze and repeat with Coldsnap. But improper use of cooldowns could cost you the match. If you're Arcane or Fire spec, you really have switch your play style around because you just don't have those items, except Frost Nova, at your disposal. So melee could be a bit of pain to handle.

WoW Insider: What's your opening strategy? What do you like to do as soon as the gate opens?

Arcnova: It's usually my rogue teammate Pepperidge trying to get a Sap on one of the opponents before we get started with the opener. Right before the gate opens, I usually go invisible to close the gap. Then as a friend once said to me "It's go time".

WoW Insider: One of the claims about Arena balance is that it will get better as Resilience improves. Have you seen any of that happening? Or do you think that your survivability is reliant on your class choice?

Arcnova: Resilience is always a touchy subject because some classes have to sacrifice either mana regen, healing stats, or dps just to make sure they can try to stay alive. With some classes, it seems to be working, like with priests. On the other hand, I think shamans and druids are having a harder time.

WoW Insider: How do you work out target designation? (Does someone call it out, or is everyone on their own to figure it out?)

Arcnova: I ran RMP with Grrthepriest and Pepperidge in 3v3. I usually call out the primary target and secondary to do fast switching if our CC chain doesn't go as planned.

WoW Insider: What do you think about the new hidden personal rating? Does it seem to make the game better or worse to you? Do you consider the hidden rating an unfair penalty to experienced players?

Arcnova: The hidden personal rating has its ups and downs. Team hopping is really a down and up because in previous seasons you could power level a team to 2100+ and really not have any challenge doing so. You could have fun with friends who may not play competitively in Arena.

As it is now, you can get to 2100+ faster starting from 1500 but you will be only facing teams that are high rated because of your hidden rating. It could disuade some teams from trying to fix their record and just roll with what they have.

Then again, everyone likes having a great record to end the season with. Unfair? Doubtful, its just trying to bring a challenge to the experienced players so they won't dull themselves out.

WoW Insider: Did you play in previous seasons? What do you see the differences in the new season being?

Arcnova: I started arena at the end of season 1 or beginning of season 2 and got Gladiator in season 2. The differences? If you want to count DKs being in the mixup, there you go right there. (Haha) But, seriously, a lot of high damage in arena overall. It makes it seem like there is less strategy and finesse, and more "Kill that target in the next few seconds and the game is won."

WoW Insider: What's the key for your composition's strategy? Are there multiple tactics you can use?

Arcnova: In 3v3, the Sap is pretty important because it sets up the CC chain, but not everything goes our way. In that case, I try to conserve Deep Freeze as part of our CC because it can force a trinket. Running RMP, the CC chain is important to be able to get a kill on a target. Not to mention, good target switching.

WoW Insider: What are you trying to improve?

Arcnova: I think my coordination is pretty solid but there is always room for improvement.

WoW Insider: A lot has been made of healers not having a strong role in Season 5. What do you think about that commentary?

Arcnova: I think that comment is pretty lopsided because there are barely any teams that don't have a Paladin somewhere in the mix. I've seen lot of two healer teams running with a Hunter, Warrior, or DK.

Hunters and Death Knights are the most commonly used with two healers in this season, as opposed to a Warrior. The only thing I don't see is a two healer team not running with a Paladin. It's usually Pally and (insert other healing class here).

WoW Insider: What are you hoping to see improved in 3.1? We've seen some changes, obviously, but there's more to come.

Arcnova: 3.1 is a big deal right now since they are revamping some classes to probably shift the brackets. In my class in particular, I'd like to see Blizzard tune something for people to go Fire and change it up instead of going Frost.

Hell, even any elemental build would be nice, but the problem there is that Improved Counterspell is too good to miss. Rogues still need some help, Cloak of Shadows physical reduction is good but I'm not sure it will be enough to actually survive. Warlocks still need some help against melee. That's all I can think of right now.

PTR loot and hymns that will never be seen in game

Have you checked out some of the drops from the PTR yet? There's a great staff from Iron Council that I'm definitely eyeing. I know a lot of spellcasters favour main hands and off hands. I always had a soft spot for staves (because of their looks). But most staves just could not compete with their main hand and off hand counterparts. Rapture will be an upgrade I'll be eyeing. There's also the Ironmender which is an offhand complement for Priests. I haven't seen any spellpower main hands yet but I'm sure there will be some popping up soon enough.

From the armor side of things, the Robes of the Umbral Brute smells largely of Discipline Priest fashion. This is an item that drops off of Kologarn which I had the pleasure of trying out. Tailors have access to a boots recipe called Savior's Slippers. It's a BoE pair of boots that requires 20 Moonshroud and 6 Runed Orb. I'm taking a stab in the dark in thinking that the Orbs will drop inside Ulduar. They would be similar crafting reagents to what Nether Vortexes were back during Burning Crusade for Tempest Keep and Serpentshrine Cavern. Holy Priests looking for a new pair of gloves and shoulders may like the Handwraps of Plentiful Recovery and Mantle of the Unknowing (Kologarn 25 and General Vezax).

For accessories, there's a neck piece that you can upgrade into called the Unblinking Eye (drops from Iron Council 25). That'll be heavily favoured by Holy Priests. In the ring section, there's the Radiant Seal (also from Iron Council 25) which has haste and MP5 with no Spirit at all.

But what about the badge gear? The new Emblems of Conquest offer another route for Priests looking to augment their characters further. Check out the Sash of Potent Incantations for 23 emblems if you're looking to upgrade that. For those that may wish to break out of their tier sets, give Legwraps of the Master Conjurer a try. It will only set you back a cool 32 emblems. Healing Priests may wish to stay away from the Touch of the Occult since it seems to increase damage only (Shadow Priests by contrast will love it).

There's a couple of emblem necks that will appeal to all Priests:

Evoker's Charm: Haste and Spirit Frozen Tear of Elune: Crit and MP5 The necks require 16 emblems each. The Charm looks catered towards Holy Priests whereas the Frozen Tear is of more value to Discipline Priests.

Val'anyr's secondary ability has been leaked. I wrote about it briefly before but my current stance is that it appears to favor Paladins and Disc Priests.

Val'anyr Hammer of Ancient Kings - Equip Effect -- Your healing spells have a chance to cause Blessing of Ancient Kings for 15 seconds allowing your heals to shield the target absorbing damage equal to 15% of the amount healed.

Ghostcrawler mentioned that the dev team is still working on hymns for the future. Last year on April first, they introduced the "bard" class. Seems like Priests are taking a slight deviation towards being a singing class. I've never thought of my class as a singer. But hey, anything can happen! I can see Hymns being a new subset of skills for Priests that are accessible by every spec. It wouldn't be anything more than specialized spells or buffs. So with that in mind, here's a list of Hymns I'd like to see introduced for Priests that will never ever happen.

Hymn of Terror: You recite a Hymn really off key sending up to 3 nearby enemies into opposite directions of you.

Hymn of Serenity: You recite a Hymn that causes 6 nearby targets to fall asleep (friends or enemies). They are invulnerable for 3 seconds and cannot take any actions or move.

Hymn of Kings: You recite a Hymn that increases stats of friendly targets by 10% within 80 yards. This effect wears off after 15 minutes. Does not stack with Kings.

Hymn of Power: You recite a Holy Hymn that sends a destructive shockwave directly in front of the Priest deal 800-950 damage. The force of this Hymn is enough to knock players to the ground.

Hymn of Recall: You recite a Hymn that brings memories of home. Returns you to your home location. Speak to an Innkeepers in a different place to change your home location. (1 hour cooldown)

Hymn of Protection: You recite a Hymn that reduces all incoming damage to you and your party by 45% for 10 seconds or until the Priest takes damage.

What hymns would you like to see added to the game for the Priest class? What do you think of the spellpower gear that's currently available (and what will you be gunning for)?

Dual Wielding and Tanking on the 3.1 PTR

We had a new build hit the PTR this week, and with a week gone by, now's a good time to take a deep, focused look at the changes and see how they're shaking down. They're mostly pretty solid nerfs, and a lot of Death Knights aren't too happy about them. Still, beyond people concern about the fact that they are nerfs, the question remains: Were they merited, and where do they leave us? Let's discuss.


To start with the tanking nerfs, all of our major talented cooldowns were increased from 1 minute to 2 minutes. To add (some say) insult to injury, we also got a few more general nerfs in the form of Blade Barrier becoming a straight damage reduction (Which is in turn a nerf to Spell Deflection and Bone Shield, which stays up longer if an attack is parried instead of removing a bone) and Frost Presence losing some base magic damage reduction. Finally, Lichborne lost its 25% miss chance

To understand why Blizzard did this, you should probably start with this PTR thread from before this round of nerfs. In this thread, various tank classes and specs went up against the test Patchwerk at the entrance to Ulduar and recorded their survival time with various healer setups. As you'll notice, Death Knights simply lasted the longest, in most cases by multiple minutes.

Now, I wouldn't say that this thread was the only factor in Death Knights getting nerfed. I have no doubt that Blizzard ran their own internal tests that came across similar findings, and while you can always say player skill or a certain talent setup or gear level plays into it, looking at the whole picture, it's difficult to deny that our cooldowns aren't amazing. I know that when I am in trouble in a 5 man, as a basic Unholy tank build, I can hit my defensive cooldowns, switch to Death Strikes for my Frost/Unholy rune attack, and live through almost anything as long as my healer is doing something other than standing around picking his nose.

The trouble with this is obvious to start, but one other thing that was happening is that with multiple amazing powerful cooldowns, Death Knights could chain cooldowns and remain relatively invincible for long stretches of time. Hit Bone Shield. Bone Shield down? Use Icebound Fortitude? Once Icebound Fortitude fades, use Lichborne. With enough avoidance, Bone Shield will be up long enough for Icebound Fortitude and Lichborne to fill the gap until it comes back again. It's a bit harder to cover the gaps left when Unbreakable Armor and Vampiric Blood are on cooldown, but you can still have at least one ability up and running most of the time.

In part, this was sort of our expected way of tanking. We'd sort of assumed our niche was avoidance and cooldown tanking. The fact that Frost Presence was actually sort of weak on its own helped this along. Blizzard has already sort of tried to nudge us to be less cooldown dependent. All three talented cooldown tanking abilities have seen nerfs before now, with a nudge to Frost Presence to compensate.

It may be that Blizzard was at one point hoping to keep us on that interesting little cooldown dependent path, but it just became obvious that Death Knights were getting a bit too powerful. In addition, it brings up the problem of what happens if you miss a single cooldown and wipe.

Overall, we probably haven't lost too much of our raw cooldown power. Some say Unbreakable Armor still needs some work, and it probably depends on how well that new mechanic actually decreases physical damage. But Bone Shield and Vampiric Blood remain basically unchanged, and we should still be able to use our cooldowns to good effect when they're actually needed. Plus, now that Lichborne is mostly a PvP talent (Especially for Undead and Human tanks), Blood and Unholy tanks can feel like they don't absolutely need to waste so many points in the Frost tree.

Hopefully, we'll see more solid tank testing numbers soon, but I doubt the sky is falling for PvE Tanks.

Dual Wielding

Good news for some Death Knights, as it looks like dual wielding may be on the path to relevance again with the denerfs of Necrosis and Blood-Caked Blade. Howling Blast got a denerf too, damage-wise, but its still at 51 talent points and on a 10 second cooldown.

The bright side on this is that it opens the door for other possible Dual Wield builds. A 51 point Unholy Build that takes advantage of a fully buffed Ghoul and a Gargoyle is a distinct possibility, and in fact seems to put out some decent DPS according to various testers.

Of course, most dual wielders are probably used to Frost, at least mechanics and rotation wise, and luckily, Frost DPS still seems viable for dual wielders. 51 frost/20 Unholy is actually very viable in preliminary DPS tests, if not slightly superior to the above Unholy build.

I'm still not completely sure if 2handers and dual wielding can be balanced on the same class, and if one or the other has to go, I'd honestly prefer it to be dual wielding. However, Blizzard may finally be on the path to keeping the two in line with each other. We'll see how things change as the PTR Progresses, but at the least, I'd expect the Necrosis and Blood Caked Blade buffs to stay. Dual Wield balance probably hinges around them.

And the Rest

Despite the cooldown removal, Ghoul Frenzy still feels like it needs some tweaking, for the same reasons I've mentioned before. That extra Unholy rune continues to sit there messing up Unholy rotations pretty hardcore. In theory, you could save it for a Death Rune, but even then, that leaves you with one spare Death Rune with no real use.

In the end, I'll sign off with my usual notes of caution. We're a new class. We'll be going through some growing pains more than any other right now for sure. 3.1 was always going to be a pretty major patch for us, at least for anyone with a bit of foresight or understanding of how MMOs work. And it is still a PTR. Things can, and will change. Again, if you're concerned about these nerfs, I'll give my usual recommendation. Find solid numbers to support yourself. Go on the test server and do some tank runs and post recount and WWS numbers. Get involved and prove your concerns, to yourself and to others. This is your chance to help shape the next stage of Death Knight evolution. Go out there and grab it.

Educating myself on fel / emberstorm

I'd like to begin a new project for Blood Pact, which should prove both entertaining to play with, and interesting to write about, if this week is any indication. In an attempt to expand my perspective on the Warlock class -- thus expanding the perspective of this column -- I will test out a variety of different 'cookie cutter' specs, and detail my experiences playing with them. I've ever-so-inventively dubbed this project 'Operation: Respec.'

These won't be perfect tests of course. My contract with WoW Insider doesn't allow me to bill them my expenses, in or out of game. So any money spent on these tests will come straight out of my own digital pocket. I say this not to complain, but rather to explain why I won't be buying new gems, enchants, and gear for every test. Fortunately the stat requirements of the different Warlock specs are relatively similar. Mostly it's just crit rating and haste rating that get switched around, and for those I can at least switch between Spellstone and Firestone, as well as by using different statfood. Glyphs, unfortunately for my bankroll, have become rather essential to different play styles, so I will of course be switching between those within reason.

This week I tried out the much vaunted Fel / Emberstorm spec. I chose this one to start with primarily because it's the largest deviation from the norm for me. I've never been a fan of the demonology tree, and even less a fan of the felguard himself. In fact, I actually have spent some time as demonology since 3.0.2, but I purposely avoided getting the felguard. (I think it was 0 / 50 / 21 or something like that.)

Below is a breakdown of the relevant stats I had, after respecing F/E.

Health: 15846 (Improved by Statfood)
Mana: 16630
Spell Power: 2129
Spell Haste: 337 (10.28%) (Improved by Spellstone and by Statfood)
Spell Crit: 27.82%
Hit: Capped for destruction spells, but not for affliction spells.

For glyphs, the only one that seemed particularly important for the spec to work was Glyph of Felguard. My other two glyphs were Glyph of Immolate and Glyph of Curse of Agony, holdovers from my normal affliction build. Since these were the glyphs used by a Fel / Emberstorm lock who claimed to be able to get up to 5k DPS on Patchwerk, I figured it was as good a test set as any.

The tactic of this spec is to open up with some shadow dots so that Molten Core will proc. Most of the damage comes from sending your felguard in, and pounding your target with Immolate and Incinerate. Simple, and effective. Generally speaking, my rotation was to start with Curse of Agony and Corruption, which would cause my Felguard (on defensive) to charge in at the enemy, then I'd keep Immolate up while pounding the mob with Incinerate. I would occasionally stop to refresh Curse of Agony or Corruption, but the purpose of these dots isn't so much to do damage, as it is to proc Molten Core, so you don't need to watch them like a hawk the way you do when you're playing as affliction.

My preparations complete, I grabbed my buddies Mr Paladin tank, Ms Druid healer, Mr Death Knight DPS, and Mrs Hunter. The five of us then headed off to do some heroics. The Death Knight was particularly helpful, because he and I have been playfully competing in DPS for the last few weeks, so he provided a benchmark for me. We only had a few hours, but in that time we managed to clear Halls of Stone, Halls of Lightning, Utgarde Keep, and Utgarde Pinnacle. A decent sample group of instances, and enough variety in the encounters that I think I was able to get a pretty decent reading for the play style.

My first major impression was that this spec performs much better in live combat than it does against training dummies. I attribute this largely to the fact that the felguard's cleave ability actually had more than one target to deal damage to, bringing him up to about 700-800 DPS. There's no denying that this spec far outperforms affliction on trash mobs. Using the tactics listed above I was able to do several hundred more damage per second than I could usually pull off during a trash pull--and it was a great deal easier to do as well. Doing a respectable amount of trash DPS as affliction often feels like the most difficult thing about playing the spec.

Right around the time I got to some of the larger pulls in Halls of Lightning, however, I noticed that simply spamming Rain of Fire outperformed the single-target tactics that I had been using previously. In fact, I actually did manage to break the five-thousand DPS mark on a trash pull of about four mobs simply by spamming my Rain of Fire button over and over. After that I stuck to Rain of Fire on trash pulls for the rest of the night. After awhile I got to wondering if perhaps there was an even better spec, optimized for Rain of Fire spam. I filed that thought away for another time.

However, as affliction Warlocks are fond of repeating over and over again: trash DPS doesn't matter. So what this, or any, spec really comes down to is how it performs on bosses. Here again I was surprised by how well it did manage to perform, but I would be lying if I said it measured up to the damage I do as affliction. Which isn't to say that it performed badly, not at all. In fact I would say that I never strayed further than a few hundred DPS away from my usual fare. And there were certainly fights where Fel / Emberstorm really shined. The Tribunal of Ages event in Halls of Stone is obviously a nightmare as affliction, and Fel / Emberstorm handled it with ease. It also did remarkably well on all the bosses in Utgarde Keep, which tend to die too fast for an affliction lock to really get into a good rotation. Same deal with the second 'boss' in Utgarde Pinnacle.

Thinking I had enough data for this post, I gleefully speced back to good ol' DoT-heavy affliction, which I tend to cling to these days, knowing my beloved complexity will be gone once 3.1 arrives. The next day, though, I was in for a lovely surprise. A few people dropped out of my Saturday Naxx run, and replacements needed to be PuGed. It got down to needing only one ranged DPS, and since I like to have as many gear types represented as possible, I wasted a bunch of time looking for a Hunter.

Finding none, with our 3 o' clock raid time approaching quickly, I asked if anybody in the group knew a ranged DPS that could be relied upon. My best tree Druid piped up, and informed me that he'd run into a Warlock recently who might be interested in the job. Never one to back away from the opportunity to compare myself to another warlock, I asked for their name so I could armory them.

"Heyyy," thought I, "this Warlock's gear is remarkably similar to my own!"

"Heeyyyy!" I thought again, "His spec! It's Fel / Emberstorm!"

A jubilant grin spread across my face as I typed out the invitation. It was a golden opportunity, gentle readers, to get a direct comparison between the two specs, and I was eager to see the results. A few minutes talking with them confirmed that they understood the mechanics of their spec; using shadow spells to proc molten core, and hammering the foe with fire damage and the felguard (though they switched to sacrificing their imp on one or two bossfights.)

The group started with spider wing, and the F/E Warlock jumped to an early lead, using rain of fire to absolutely obliterate the trash pulls. On one pull I actually saw the F/E warlock achieve over nine thousand DPS. I'm not making bad references to internet memes here, I'm being serious. He did it by using rain of fire on a double pull right before the Grand Widow.

As impressive as the F/E Warlock's trash DPS was (leaving me grounded firmly in 5th place on every single pull) he really didn't seem to bring the heat during boss fights. This isn't to say his DPS output was bad -- because it certainly wasn't. In fact, that Warlock has already signed up to raid with me again next week, much to my delight. But I consistently found myself at least a few hundred DPS ahead of him after every single boss fight. (save Gothik the Harvester, where F/E's Rain of Fire is obviously superior to affliction's) To be fair, he missed the ledge when we started Thaddius, and he spent most of the Sapphiron fight dead, so neither of those really count.
So is this a condemnation of Fel / Emberstorm? Goodness no. The damage output of the F/E warlock was certainly far more than adequate for boss fights. No reasonable group could complain about how much DPS he was putting out. What's more, the relative simplicity and ease of the F/E play style means that it's considerably less frustrating to play than affliction can be at times -- and certainly far easier to pick up and play. Fel / Emberstorm will probably never be my primary spec, but the felguard seemed like a pretty cool guy, I might make this my secondary spec once dual specs come out, so I can visit him.

WoW Arena Season 5 is drawing near an end

We've been hearing an awful lot about Ulduar and patch 3.1 lately. As such, this announcement is really not a surprise. Vaneras and Bornakk posted on the forums today to warn us all that WoW Season 5 is drawing near an end. The current season should close at the same time 3.1 drops, or very shortly afterward. (I'd guess "very shortly afterward" means "the following Tuesday.") Your Arena points will reset with the season transition, though your Honor points will remain banked.

The announcement doesn't set a specific date. He just says "soon." Since we traditionally get at least two weeks' warning before an official season ends, that does mean that the patch probably won't drop for at least three. And since Noblegarden has been expanded on the PTR, then I expect the patch to hit and season to wrap up in the beginning of April.

We haven't heard details about season-end rewards yet. That's important because we don't demonstrably know whether those rewards are going to be based on personal rating, team rating, or even the Match-Making Rating. The details of season-end rewards tend to fluctuate a little, but the best Arena teams can probably expect a title. The very, very best can expect the Arena mount. However, we don't know if it'll be a Nether Drake or maybe even a Proto-Drake. We'll let you know as we find out more.

Noblegarden will apply to What a Long, Strange Trip

So remember last week, when we reported that, to the tune of relieved sighs from Violet Proto-drake seekers everywhere, the Noblegarden achievements wouldn't apply to the What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been meta-holiday achievement? Not so fast, says Bornakk. While the achievements didn't appear in the meta one on the PTR, they will eventually apply. If you want your Violet Proto-drake, you better start getting your egg-searching eyes ready.

Sacco actually posted about this in an update on Saturday, but it was overshadowed by the news about the Brewmaster achievement changes, and it's a pretty big deal: we thought we were getting a break on this one, but apparently not. Though it makes sense that all the holidays should be in there (and this explains, of course, why the holiday was extended to a full week), it still is kind of a bummer that we've suddenly got a whole other holiday to do.

But Violet Proto-drakes should be tough to get anyway, and we're sure that, as usual, Blizzard will end up removing any achievements that they figure are unfair (or at least that people whine about until Blizzard doesn't want to hear it any more). And there's one more thought to take away from this: considering that all of this Noblegarden talk is going along with the 3.1 PTR, does that mean we'll see Ulduar on the live realms by Easter?

Korean team H O N takes the trophy at ESL's Global Arena Tournament

The Electronic Sports League's Intel Extreme Masters Global tournament has ended, and Korean team H O N have come out on top. And according to World of Ming, they completely impressed every player at the tournament -- while they were one of four teams taking the Rogue/Mage/Priest combination to the upper brackets, they apparently played that comp in a way that just rolled on through any competitors (including having their mage, Orangemarmalade, apparently keeping a match alive even after his teammates dropped). Everyone's expecting the RMP domination by the time the next Arena season rolls around, but for now, RMP is where it's at in professional arenas.

Unfortunately for us Americans, the US teams didn't put on much of a showing -- they dropped out quick, and WoM reports that their behavior after the losses was less than classy. They apparently blamed a teammate for dropping out, and it doesn't help that, unlike the Korean teams who have played the same classes and characters for a long time, the Americans apparently came up with their teams and tactics only recently. Looks like they'll have to do a little reforming and rebuilding before this year's BlizzCon.

Congrats to all the teams who walked away with victories in the ESL's Arena tournament. Even from Ming's commentary, it sounds like it was an exciting few days for Arena players.

What WoW 3.1 means for casual players

As you are no doubt aware, content patch 3.1 is being tested on the PTR. There is the new dungeon of Ulduar, which really isn't going to affect most casual players for a while. And there is a long list of class changes that are ever evolving and that you can check our 3.1 Guide for the latest about your favorite class(es). Professions are getting some balancing, so keep an eye out for what's going on there as well. Players with limited playtime should also be aware of new features and functionality that will affect your daily play sessions, regardless of class or profession. Following is a list of what I think is most interesting for the casual player.

Hearthstone cooldown halved: The cooldown on your hearthstone will be reduced from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. I think this is particularly convenient for short play sessions or times when you have to end your playsession abruptly due to real life interruptions. Just hearth to an inn and exit the game, guaranteeing rest and relative safety. But it's also good for questing around hubs for longer playsessions.

Ground mounts will be able to swim: No more being dismounted when you hit deep water -- your ground mount will be able to carry you to shore. This is a nice little convenience for questing and just travel in general. Be aware, however, that flying mounts will still dismount you if you try to swim.

You will be able to queue for Battlegrounds from anywhere: Rather than going to major cities to queue for BGs, you will be able to queue from anywhere in the world and when the BG ends, you will return to where you were. This is really great for those of us who PvP and have limited playtime. Now we can much more easily fit both questing and Battlegrounds into our playsessions.

Dual Specs: The most highly anticipated feature for Patch 3.1 is the ability to toggle between two talent specs on the fly. While this should make things easier for raiders, I think that many casual players will find this new functionality very convenient as well. If you are level 40 or over and have the spare cash (a one time fee of 1000 gold at this writing), you can pay a trainer to give you a Primary and Secondary talent setup to choose from. I think this will be very useful for players who PvP so that you can have a questing spec as well as a Battleground spec. If you are able to do 5 man instances, this will also allow you to have a solo spec and a group spec. This will also allow you to have a tried and true spec and an experimental spec so that you can try out different specs in your secondary setup, while still keeping your known-good spec. Dual Specs will allow a flexibility that I will definitely be making use of... once I save up the cash for my favorite characters.

Built-in Talent Calculator: This is functionality that I think should have been implemented at launch. In 3.1, you will choose your talents and then accept them, rather than spending your talent points as you go. I can't tell you how many times I've clicked incorrectly and literally had to pay for my mistakes. Now you can fine tune your talent choices in game before being stuck with them until you respec. I thank you, Blizzard, and my virtual pocketbook thanks you.

New Quest functions: Now you can right click directly onto the quests you are tracking to do some quest management as opposed to having to go into the Quest Log to do everything. It's a nice little feature that makes the in-game quest tracker more convenient but doesn't replace Questhelper or any other addon like it.

Gear Manager: Last time, I talked about addons for casual players and I recommended Outfitter. Outfitter is a gear management addon which allows you to setup different gear sets to be used in different situations. It has the added functionality of automatically changing to sets when certain conditions arise. For example, it will change to your riding set when you get on your mount. Or, for druids, it will change to the appropriate set when you change form. The new WoW Gear Manager does not do any automatic wardrobe changes. You save gear sets to buttons that can be hotkeyed. The other function missing from the in-game Gear Manager is extra storage for gear. When this feature was first discussed at BlizzCon 2007, the developers bragged that they would be able to incorporate more bag space for your gear into the functionality of an in-game gear manager. Unfortunately, this has yet to be implemented. Overall, I see no reason to stop using either Outfitter or Itemrack once Patch 3.1 is released.

There are a lot of small changes like confirmation boxes on purchases over 150 gold and I am sure the patch will continue to evolve while it is being tested. Features are, of course, subject to change without notice. But as things stand right now, it looks like WoW will get more convenient for those of us with limited playtime.

Aotona tameable on the PTR

Aotona tameable on the PTR - Just a little tidbit (and possibly a bug) for Hunters on the PTR from our friend Mania. Aotona, a parrot-esque Bird of Prey rare in Sholazar Basin, is apparently tameable in the latest 3.1 build. It's not that big a deal -- apparently the bird is just a bird, with the usual skills of that family, but it makes a parrot sound instead of the other birds that you can tame right now (not to mention that it's got some striking coloration that's pretty cool and unique).

There is a chance this may be a bug -- we all know it's not the first time that something has appeared tameable on a PTR when it isn't on the live realms. And the parrot sounds could be placeholders or simply just an option that's not toggled the right way. But Hunters could have a new friend to make if Aotona keeps the tamable flag up until the patch drops.