April 4, 2009

Death Knight Manga to be released December 2009

Via Blizzplanet, we have news of yet another Warcraft graphic novel coming to us from Tokyopop in December 2009. This time, the story will focus on Thassarian, a Human Death Knight NPC in World of Warcraft.

If you've played a Death Knight or an Alliance character in Northrend, chances are you know of Thassarian. He first shows up in game as a thrall of the Lich King, but even as he assists in the slaughter of the Scarlet Crusade, he shows a noble spirit that even the Lich King's control can't completely suppress.

He shows up again in the Borean Tundra, where his quest line uncovers both some insight behind his new existence and his past and involves epic battles against the Scourge to prevent them from completing a plan to completely dismantle the Alliance offensive. Not only is said quest line one of the few Alliance quests in the Tundra that is actually not boring, but it also provides some of the best early quest rewards for a new level 70. Finally, he shows up again in Icecrown, assisting the Alliance in sabotaging the Scourge.

The storyline of the manga is unknown, and with December 2009 as a target release date, I have to wonder if we'll get an Icecrown-centric storyline, since we may very well be on patch 3.3 or 3.4 by then. Of course, we may also get the story of Thassarian's downfall and resurrection, which in itself could be pretty juicy, as we'll get more insight into the origin of PC Death Knights and maybe even the political and military state of the Alliance before the return of King Wrynn. We'll find out for sure in December 2009.

More emergent builds on the 3.1 PTR

The builds and changes and tweaks seem to be coming faster and more furious, but at the same time seem to have settled down to changing things in a very final and deliberate way, if that makes sense. Whether we're a week or a month from 3.1 going live though, things are likely to change a little bit.

Still, my gut tells me that most of the major tree shifts and mechanics changes are probably out there, and it's just a matter of tweaking numbers. So it may be a good chance to take a look at what newish builds are getting some buzz in the Death Knight community for being the new hotness in 3.1. In specific, let's look at a Blood Build that reacts to some of the latest changes for that tree, and a stacked Unholy build.


Blood has seen a few major changes since we last talked about it. Specifically, people have been getting antsy about a few Dancing Rune Weapon changes, namely that it only does 50% damage and that it takes more Runic Power to keep active. In addition, the permaghoul has now been placed a few tiers deeper in the Unholy Tree, making it impossible to grab for a 51-point Frost or Blood build. Now honestly, I'm not too concerned about the latter issue. Fact is, since they moved Night of the Dead up to tier 4, it's really an overall buff. After all, a permaghoul won't do you much good if he gets destroyed by a stiff breeze. The AE avoidance of Night of the Dead should make up for the loss and then some.

That said, these two factors have created the perfect excuse for a few people to try to come up with a build that keeps the permaghoul and drops the now supposedly underpowered Dancing Rune Weapon. 44/0/27 is the most promising result of that experimentation. It's nice in that it keeps most of the heart of Blood intact, with most of the major hard hitting physical talents. It skips some of the health recovery talents, but you won't really need those as much for group PvE. In addition, it also grabs a lot of the iconic stuff from the Unholy tree, both Unholy Blight and the perma-ghoul, and plays to Blood's strengths with talents such as Necrosis and Morbidity.

Preliminary reports from the PTR suggest it's at least competitive with full Unholy and Frost 2-hand DPS builds, although I haven't seen enough data to be completely sure. Still, on paper, it looks like it should work. The biggest issue with this build has to do with the fact that Death Strike has been nerfed again. Now that it's back to 60% weapon damage, there may be some argument for returning to 13 Frost for Annihilation, especially now that Black Ice buffs Shadow Damage again.

Overall, I'm almost hopeful that this build proves viable regardless. The combination of some of the best parts of Blood and Unholy looks amazing on paper, but the question remains as to whether it will stand up to extended testing.

Honestly, I expect Death Strike and Dancing Rune Weapon to be bumped back up in damage a bit, if the numbers reported by some Death Knights that put 51 Blood back to 300 DPS below other specs are true. We have a few more builds to go before the patch, I'd guess, and I think Blizzard will balance it. Still while you're considering your 51/2/18 or 51/0/20 builds, this one might end up deserving a second glance, if only for the fun of it.


Speaking of Black Ice, the fact that it buffs Shadow Damage has inspired some Unholy Death Knights to test out a 0/10/61 DPS build. It would, in theory, seem a little iffy to stack so many talent points in one tree, but it works. The new shadow damage enabled Black Ice is just one more tool in this build to push shadow damage to ludicrous levels, since Unholy does plenty of it between Scourge Strike and Unholy Blight and so on.

This build is nice in that you get almost all the cool toys of Unholy without sacrificing DPS. Improved Unholy Presence, Desecration, Wandering Plague, they're all there. Plus, Frost is finally in a position where it doesn't feel like a complete waste to spec into as a secondary tree. Runic Power Mastery and Black Ice are both incredibly useful for an Unholy DPSer who does lots of shadow damage and chugs down runic power like a frat bro on spring break in cancun chugging down cheap beer.

There is some thought that this build could eventually fall behind on scaling. Since it doesn't take Bladed Armor, which provides extra attack power which works for physical damage as well as shadow and frost damage, it's possible that as we get into more powerful gear, the damage boost from bladed armor will overtake the shadow damage boost from Black Ice. The other concern with this build is that it does miss out on Dark Convinction, which means a few fewer Wandering Plague procs. However, it's worth noting that the only real reason Unholy Death Knights need critical strike is said Wandering Plague, and when you're AEing stuff down, you'll get so many individual chances for Wandering Plague to proc that that 5% proc chance difference will slip into almost nothing.

That said, A good solid 18/2/51 build will probably still be a completely viable build in 3.1, so we'll probably see a bit of both, depending on how the final DPS totals shake out.

Closing Thoughts

As I said, We still probably have a build or two to go before 3.1 is final. I get the feeling things are about where they'll be skill and talent wise, and all that remains is a few tweaks in damage totals. We'll probably see either a buff to Death Strike and Dancing Rune Weapon or a slight nerf to Gargoyle in order to bring Blood, Frost, and Unholy all in line with each other in the DPS department. Between that and dual specs, it should be fun to see how everything shakes down when the patch goes live. We'll be working on keeping up with it here at Lichborne.

New 5-man dungeon plotlines

So the rumors of a new 5-man dungeon to come sometime before Icecrown, maybe in 3.2 or 3.3, continue to persist. Assuming they're true, I wonder: What would you like to see? I have a few ideas of my own.

How about a Grimtotem dungeon? Let's unmask Magatha once and for all as a Scourge agent. Some quest lines point to the possibility, and it's an excuse to implement a nice Great Masquerade type quest line complete with confrontation in Thunder Bluff. It's topical to Wrath, and it shakes Tauren lore up a bit. It's a perfect idea all around, as far as I'm concerned.

If that idea doesn't tickle your fancy, I have a few more after the break.

Another idea is to create a third Azjol-Nerub dungeon. Let's face it. For a sprawling subterranean empire, Azjol-Nerub feels sort of small, thousand mile drop aside. I'd like to see another section of Azjol-Nerub opened up into a BRD style dungeon. It'd be a nice experiment in bringing back longer dungeons, and it could be a proper large spider city that does justice to all the talk about the ancient kingdom of the spider people.

Finally, I'd sort of like to see another Vykrul dungeon. No reason other than I think they are awesome, and I want more back story. Plus I wanna meet some of the "good" Vykrul who didn't go for Ymiron's blood thirst and evil. Maybe even some of the ones who protected their poor sickly mutant kids. It'd be sort of like meeting Adam and Eve for us Human PCs. There's got to be more awesome Viking giant back story. Don't let it end with Ymiron's unceremonious death!

What about you? If there's a new 5-man or even a new secret raid dungeon coming, what settings and story lines would you like to see explored?

BlizzCast episode 8 released

The 8th episode of BlizzCast, the Blizzard Podcast, rolled out just a short while ago. If the only Blizzard game you're interested in is WoW, you'll probably be disappointed this time around, there's not much World of Warcraft discussion. The information is very, very heavily slanted toward Starcraft II and Diablo III.

The podcast kicks off with their usual Q&A portion. The World of Warcraft questions, answered by Tom Chilton, were aimed at Wintergrasp and the vehicle system (specifically the lack of aerial combat). That's the full extent of the WoW content here. That's all, folks. If WoW is all you care about, that's the end. For those of you that are Blizzard fans in general? Jay Wilson (Diablo III Game Director) and Dustin Browser (Starcraft II Lead Designer) cover the Q&A for their respective games.

The remainder of the podcast is a Diablo III interview with a pair of the game's developers, Julian Love (Lead Technical Artist) and Mike Nicholson (Senior Artist). If you intend to play Diablo III, it's worth a listen. It gives some insight into the developmental process of the game, and that's probably the most interesting part of these podcasts.

WoW Ulduar maps aplenty

Haven't loaded up the PTR and gone to check out Ulduar for yourself yet? The good news is you've got lots of ways to see it online -- in map form. Reader Evan B sent us the version in the picture to the right (click it for the full version, and it's big) -- he cut and pasted together the in-game map screenshots to make up a to-scale version of what the instance looks like. Our friend Stompalina also has a version, cut together from what looks like the minimap ingame, so you can get a little clearer idea of what the textures look like in each section of the instance.

And StratFu sent us an interactive map of the Titan city, with hover-over tooltips on each boss and click-through information for what we'll face inside. Strategies are still being fleshed out completely (and remember, this is the PTR, so everything is subject to change). But if you're looking for as much info as possible on what's waiting for you inside the brand new raid of Ulduar in patch 3.1, there's lots of places for you to find it.

Engineering in WoW 3.1

In case you missed the memo, the short list of changes to the WoW Engineering profession that have been posted for patch 3.1 are all you are going to get come patch day, like it or not. Bornakk confirmed that Blizzard feels that the "perks work out" compared to what other professions offer, and that they "have no changes planned at this time."

The relevant forum thread has grown to over 1300 replies and more than 50,000 views, suggesting that while Blizz might be satisfied, much of the Engineering community is not.

In fact, many are threatening to drop the profession and take up Jewelcrafting, which is something I hear about a lot. Of course, if your profession is really, honestly inferior to all others, then why is everyone trading up to the same one?

Pass through the break for a list of the upcoming changes, the major gripes, and a comparison of Engineering to other professions in order to put this all into perspective.

Upcoming changes in patch 3.1:

I hope you like Gnomeregan, because you'll be able to farm it for the schematics for Lil' Smoky and the Pet Bombling, which will be a vast improvement over the previous method. Reticulated Armor Webbing will add armor to plate gloves. Springy Arcanoweave enchant will turn your cloak into a parachute cloak and grant 18 spell power. Flexweave Underlay will also grant 15 agility. Nitro Boosts now grant 16 critical strike rating in addition to the speed boost. Activating the boost while holding a PvP flag will cause you to drop it, similar to how a Paladin bubble does.
Major arguments about Engineering viability:

1) Gnomish and Goblin specializations are too similar. In addition, switching specialties carries a ridiculous penalty.

While this may be true, it is actually true of every profession that has specializations. Blacksmithing specialties were primarily useful in BC, while Leatherworking specialties arguably were never any good.

Alchemy specialization is still viable, and Tailoring cloth specialization helps one produce a bit of extra fancy cloth, but neither of these specs are gear-oriented.

Of course, now that the two specializations are not particularly important, there is no reason for the harsh penalty applied to changing it. Whereas other professions merely lose the special recipes, Engineers lose their entire profession, and have to start from scratch.

2) Ulduar, for all of its machines and vehicles, really should connect with Engineers.

I'm not sure that I can argue this one down. On the one hand, it would be insane to give Engineers some sort of leg up in this raid encounter, especially since Blizzard is trying to stay away from causing players to feel forced into any particular profession.

On the other hand, there are enough Engineers that granting them some special skills might be viewed as akin to something like Replenishment, where the developers could assume most raids will probably have at least one Engineer there to assist with repairs or grant some sort of buff to the group.

At the very least, there should be some new schematics, an Engie-only quest line, a special trainer, or something else that is just for you guys.

3) The profession is good for PvP, but useless in PvE.

As many of the commenters on the forums pointed out, there is more to the game than PvP. I would also like to point out that there is more to the game than raiding.

I don't think that any one profession gives us quality goods for RP, PvP, PvE, questing, leveling, achievement or reputation grinding, etc. Alchemy provides us with dungeon/raiding consumables. Leatherworking, Blacksmithing and Tailoring give you gear that you can use right up until you start to raid, and no further, and their PvP gear is generally inferior to what you could get by simply spending a weekend in the BGs.

This doesn't mean that you don't have any PvE benefits, as you offer repairs and vendors, and even mailboxes, which are extremely helpful. With Ulduar on the horizon, it will be even more important, given the size and length of the encounter, and the fact that we're about to enter a phase of wiping and learning.

You do have some enchants, such as haste to gloves, that really are quite viable for several class-spec combos in PvE encounters.

4) Pets, goggles and other gadgets haven't been updated to be relevant to level 80s.

The devs have always been slow on this point, and it is definitely something that needs to be done.

5) There are plenty of things that could be added or updated that wouldn't exactly be putting Engineers ahead of anyone else. What about new transporters, flares or seaforium?

I completely agree with this.

6) We want better PvE epics and item enhancements.

At the moment, no profession can create epic gear that is actually worth making, at least not if you can get into Naxx, a raid encounter that is currently easily PuGable.

As for item enhancements, adding a method for attaching some of an Engineer's many gadgets onto existing gear was a long time coming. Still, it would be nice if they had one or two unique enchants, aside from the diminished bonuses that have been applied to many of the existing ones.

Since the belt buckle was given to Blacksmiths instead, Tailors can enchant their own cloaks (although my Tailor has no use for any of them) and offer thread for pants, and Leatherworkers have armor, bracer and leg kits, it would be logical at some point in the future to give Engineers something as well.

The main problem may actually be that your existing enhancements overwrite traditional enchants and other item enhancements. While this might work out for PvP, having +18 spell power to a cloak isn't as competitive as some of the other available enchants, although again, a few of the enhancements are actually superior to other enchants for that slot.

Because some of your enhancements are quite viable for PvE, and ideal for PvP, I don't see this as a make-or-break point, especially since the enchants offered by other professions are, for the most part, available to you as well.

Notable points
Despite the show of discontent on the forums, many Engineers are actually quite satisfied with what their profession has to offer, and indeed, are looking forward to a couple of the 3.1 changes. This group includes several of the Engineers on staff here at WoW Insider, and I tend to agree. While I believe that every profession currently has holes and items in need of updating, when put into perspective, Engineering is quite comparable.

It may be that Jewelcrafting is the single best method of making money through a profession in the game, but that would indicate an imbalance as a whole, rather than a direct comment on the state of Engineering.

How do you feel about all of this?

Chef's Hat introduced in patch 3.1

One hundred Dalaran Cooking Awards. One hundred. That's how many Cooking Awards it takes to purchase the statless vanity item being implemented in patch 3.1: The Chef's Hat.

I would be excited if it didn't mean I would need to do a few rotating dailies every single day for the next few months, and I would be excited if the hat didn't completely remove my character's hair texture and make her bald like those Winter Hats did. Unfortunately, it does both of those things and thus looks really, really stupid.

I wish they would float these sorts of hats over/around the head, not clamp the hats to the scalp. I would quite like wearing this Chef's Hat if it was larger and went over the hair texture, rather than removing the hair texture and clamping right around the top of the head. Some of this stuff just looks awful on female models. Sure, a chef should keep their hair under their hat, but I don't know many that keep themselves shaved bald for it.

Oh, and there's an achievement for getting this thing. Have fun with that - The Chef's Hat.

Sinister Calling buffed in 3.1

A bug where Glyph of Backstab interacted with Dirty Deeds to cause the glyph to benefit attacks other than Backstab was, apparently, recently fixed. However, there was concern that this bug fix would hurt Subtlety DPS too hard, so the Sub talent Sinister Calling is being buffed to compensate - full Sinister Calling will now award a 10% damage bonus to Backstab and Hemorrhage, instead of 5%. This buff will go live with patch 3.1.

Rogues are in a place in PvE that I don't recall them ever being in before Wrath: all three trees have viable raid specs. Most rogues seem to be Mut right now, but Combat is still holding its own, and I'm told that HaT specs are quite strong depending on the particular group and fight. It seems like the glyph bug wouldn't really have been affecting PvE much, given that raid mobs aren't often stunned or incapacitated, so this change acts as a straight buff for raiding HaTters. In PvP, on the other hand, this should keep Sub from getting stomped on too hard. Buffs are always so nice to write about - I like bringing good news to you guys.

WoW 25-man gear should not be better than 10-man gear

10-man ilvl 25-man
Naxx 200
KT, EoE 213 Naxx
Ulduar 219
Ulduar hard 226 Ulduar, KT/EoE
232 Ulduar weapons
239 Ulduar hard
Once upon a time, the only raiding in WoW was 40-man raiding, and we did it uphill, both ways, and flasks went away when you died. And we liked it. Later on in Classic WoW, some 20-man raids were introduced in the form of Zul'gurub and Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj, and they were generally seen as successful.

So successful, in fact, that when Burning Crusade came along, there were no more 40-man raids - only 10 and 25. At the beginning, the only 10-man was BC's entry-level raid, Karazhan. Everything else, from the small T4 raids (Gruul, Magtheridon) on up through T6, was exclusively 25-man. Notably, Gruul and Mags returned the same quality of rewards as KZ. Eventually a second 10-man raid (Zul'Aman) was introduced, with roughly a T5 level of difficulty, and of rewards.

Blizzard noticed that people really liked these 10-man raids. And so it came to pass that in the current expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, every raid instance is available in both 10- and 25-man versions. However, in a departure from all previous tradition, the 10- and 25-man instances at the same tier (which is to say, T7, at the moment) reward different levels of gear: Naxx-10 gives you ilvl 200 epics, whereas Naxx-25 rewards you with ilvl 213.

Actually, saying that raids at the same tier reward different gear was slightly misleading of me. In actuality, the 10- and 25-man versions of raids in Wrath are tuned a tier (13 ilvls) apart. In the terminology of prior versions of WoW, if Naxx-10 is a T7 raid, we ought to call Naxx-25 T8. Ulduar-10 would then also be T8, and Uld-25 would be T9. We don't use names like this probably because the "tier" designation is related to tier sets that drop in raids, and the Naxx-25 T7.5 set is obviously more similar to the Naxx-10 T7.0 set than to the Uld-10 T8.0 set.

However, this is mostly a technicality. The take-away point is that in Wrath, the developers seem to have decided that 25-man raiding is better than 10-man raiding. It rewards better gear. And in Ulduar (which is of course the centerpiece of the upcoming 3.1 patch), this difference sharpens, since as far as I can tell there is no way to get the new legendary healer mace, Val'anyr, by doing 10-man raids.

The information thus far is that the Fragments of Val'anyr (of which you combine 30 to form the mace itself, reminiscent of Atiesh) drop mainly from hard-mode 25-man bosses, with a smaller chance to drop from non-hard-mode 25-man bosses. (Please correct me in the comments if you know this to be incorrect.) Which means if you're a healer in a 25-man raiding guild who's willing to put in some effort, you can probably get Val'anyr sooner or later. But if you're in a 10-man raiding guild, simply put, you're flat our of luck (unless you want to do a lot of pugs, I guess).

In my opinion, there is no justification for this. A common argument is that 25-mans are harder, and thus 25-man raiders "deserve" better gear. In my experience, this is absolutely false; the bits of 25-man Naxx that I've done I could practically have slept through, and 10-man Sarth with 3 drakes is generally accepted as the toughest fight in the game right now. This may be different in Ulduar (I haven't tried it on the PTR), but I doubt it - the more raiders you have, the more room for slack.

Another argument is that the 25-mans require more time investment. This is true to the extent that it's simply harder to wrangle 25 AFK-happy, incompatible-schedule-having raiders than 10 of them. But if that alone is enough to command better rewards, every guild leader who's ever held a guild meeting should get free epics. We should be rewarding skill, not suffering. This is related to the argument that 10-man raids are for "casuals", while 25-man raids are for "hardcore" players.

The third major argument in favor of the gear disparity between 10- and 25-mans, and a very telling one, is that if 10s had rewards equal to 25s, nobody would do the 25s. The only reason I can think of for this is that 25s are less fun to organize and/or to play that 10s. But should Blizzard really be using gear to incentivize players to do less fun content?

Note that I'm not advocating for free epics here. Reward should be proportional to effort. But reward should not necessarily be proportional to pain, which seems to be the idea behind the third argument.

I'll cut to the chase here: 25s are no harder than 10s, and not inherently better in any way that I can see. It's time to stop discriminating between the two. Let 10s and 25s reward the exact same quality of gear, and let the players' choice on which raid size to run be motivated by how many of their friends they want to play with, or the size of their guild, or what kind of a raiding environment they like, not the lure of better gear. And as an added bonus, you no longer have to itemize 10s and 25s separately if you don't want to.

If this leads to 25s being virtually abandoned, honestly, I see no problem with that. Let the most fun content win out. You don't see many people doing Heroic Oculus - should we make all drops in it 6 ilvls higher? To me, the answer is an obvious no. Instead, fix the content to make it more fun.

I don't, as it happens, think that changing 10s and 25s to drop the same gear would lead to an abandonment of 25s. There are lots of players out there who like the environment and the action of a 25-man raid, and there are lots of guilds built around that size of group. I seriously doubt everyone will suddenly start doing 10s just because their stats are no longer better than everyone else's.

Incidentally, this provides a solution to a concern about achievements that is currently under debate in the PTR forums. The realm-first achievements for Ulduar-10 were removed under concerns that 25-man guilds would pop into Uld-25 to get a few epics and then go back and clobber Uld-10, reaping the achievements. This is not behavior that Blizz wants to promote, so they pulled the Uld-10 realm firsts. If Uld-10 and Uld-25 rewarded the same gear, this would no longer be a possible strategy.

They are apparently planning to implement an achievement for defeating Algalon without having any gear of greater ilvl than Uld-10 hard modes (226), but we still don't get any realm-firsts in 10-man raiding, while the 25-man raiders do. Yeah, I'm whining a bit, but it is a disparity, and it does give the chance of a greater reward (a realm first) for easier content.

When I was hashing out this argument with the WoW Insider team, Alex and Rossi were very passionate that awarding the same gear from 10s that you do from 25s would kill 25-man raiding, despite the fact that many players prefer 25s. The reason for this would be that 25s take more time (which I'm not disagreeing with), and that players will optimize their play for greatest character advancement per time. In other words, if you can raid Uld-10 in 3 hours for gear of ilvl X, nobody is going to take the 4 hours to raid Uld-25 for gear of the same ilvl, no matter how much more they may prefer the 25-man-raiding environment.

This argument is reasonable, and Ghostcrawler appears to agree with it (or at least agree that the death of 25-man raiding would result from gear parity). However, I just don't buy it. I think that as long as the reward rate disparity isn't huge (as it is with current arenas, leading to their unpopularity), people will play what they want - if they like 25-man raiding, they'll do it. I don't think raiders aren't motivated by gear - they clearly are - but I also don't think they're solely motivated by gear. Other factors are at play.

For my 25-man-raiding constituency, I have make a pair of polls to test my hypothesis. These are obviously very unconclusive and unscientific, but I would appreciate your responses nonetheless. 10-man raiders or non-raiders, please refrain from voting; I'd like to keep these polls as representative as I can.

WoW 3.1 miscellany

Greetings, Druids. For a while now I've been adding to a list of questions I've had for the upcoming 3.1 patch. Some of these are questions I got from other players, some are questions that occurred to me while reading various versions of the 3.1 PTR patch notes, and others are mostly-illegible bits scribbled in the middle of testing Ulduar fights --

dasiewlerjewDIFEEIRKdfklsd? 3349FHDFHDIOJKfkdsfadioer. REIOWEL?

Must've written that one on Kologarn. I believe it is a super-secret, devilishly clever guide to the fight that brilliantly exploits group positioning to produce a clean, one-shot kill on the first attempt, but alas, we will never know. Such are the dangers posed by bad handwriting, people. Study your Palmer Method!

This evening, I will attempt to answer all of the following questions, or to point you in the direction of other bloggers who have. These deal with all three Druid specs, so let's get started!

How much out-of-5-second mp5 can I realistically expect to lose when 3.1 hits?

Short answer: A lot.

Long answer: A lot. You'll be losing about 300-400 mp5 out of the 5-second rule, and yes, you're going to be feeling it. My Resto set is by no means best-in-slot, but I can get through any 10-man or 25-man fight with the possible exception of Sapphiron without having serious mana issues. Point is, Blizzard means it when they say they want raids to get better about avoiding damage, and healers to get better about conserving mana. Between the Oo5sr nerf, the Lifebloom change, and the Nourish buffs, it also seems as if they're moving Druid healing in a more reactive and less proactive direction -- or, if that's not what's actually intended, that's the playstyle that these changes incentivize.

How much armor in bear form can I realistically expect to lose when 3.1 hits?

Short answer: A lot (see a pattern here?).

Long answer: We've technically already answered this one but I still get it frequently. I lost a little bit shy of 6,000 armor in the transition to the PTR. Due to diminshing returns on physical mitigation per point as you approach the armor cap, at higher gear levels you'll feel this less than you will if you're gearing up.

Is the new Eclipse worth taking?

If you're using Eclipse now, yes. It's an out-and-out damage boost to the Wrath component of the talent in its current form. If you're not using Eclipse for the reasons that people typically give for not taking it (i.e. too random, too inconsistent, and too difficult to keep track of), nothing about the talent's actual function, its proc-within-a-proc, has changed.

It has become more compelling as a damage talent, and the Starfire component will become increasingly valuable as: a). Moonkin crit rates improve, edging us closer to a guaranteed crit, and: b). Starfire is our best-scaling nuke anyway, so you're fast running out of reasons not to take Eclipse. Do yourself a favor and download SquawkAndAwe if you're not already using it; it'll make things a lot easier.

More on this in a little bit, because Eclipse reappears on the Balance tier set bonuses.

Owlkin Frenzy got changed, then changed back, then -- huh? What? Huh?

Yep, Owlkin Frenzy was initially changed so as not to proc from anything but melee damage, which rendered the talent all but worthless for PvE raiding. Luckily, it was changed back, so the Owlkin Frenzy on live is what you'll see in 3.1; I think it was Ghostcrawler who rationalized that if moonkin wanted to take damage deliberately in a Tier 8 raid to get the DPS bonus, they were free to do so provided the heal team could (or wanted to) keep them up.

I'm glad they didn't change it. There's enough random, completely unavoidable damage in raids today that you could have justified keeping Owlkin Frenzy the way it is just for that, and from what I've seen of Ulduar so far, you can expect more in that vein. Also I adore the outraged squawk that the proc produces.

Did anyone get the license plate on the truck that hit Lifebloom?

No kidding. Lifebloom is...well, Lifebloom is very sad right now. It is off in the corner by itself sucking its thumb, listening to Evanescence, and refusing to play with the other HoT's. More seriously, you can pretty much kiss rolling Lifebloom stacks on multiple tanks good-bye unless you're OK with the idea of going OOM within 2 minutes, which is a pretty huge nerf to the current Restoration playstyle in a raid. While healing the aforementioned Kologarn attempts, I tried rolling Lifebloom stacks on two tanks and was horrified to see fast I could blow through my mana bar.

Lifebloom's current cost on the PTR is a ghastly 929 mana (for reference, Regrowth costs 921 mana, Rejuvenation costs 572, Nourish costs 559, Wild Growth is 804, and Healing Touch is 1026. So out of the heals you're most likely to be using (unless you have all of the Healing Touch talents and are using that, glyphed or unglyphed, as a tank/flash heal), Lifebloom is now the most expensive in your arsenal if you never allow it to bloom.

What's up with the spaz-tastic Tree of Life form animation on the PTR while chain-casting?

Noticed that too, eh? Try chain-casting any direct-healing spell and you'll see that (at least on Tauren tree form) the tree seizes up halfway to its "Look at me! I finished casting!" animation and goes back to casting. Whether this is a bug or intended, I'm not sure, but it looks too weird to be intended.

So Thorns scales now?

Thorns damage is now getting additional scaling from the spellpower of the caster (as opposed to the spellpower of the person on whom it is cast). This has obvious PvP implications for Balance (and potentially so for Restoration, depending on which talents you take) and also means that ideally you'll want a Balance or Restoration Druid, and only a Balance or Restoration Druid, casting Thorns on your tanks in a raid.

I'm happy with the buff but confused somewhat by the execution. It's fairly irritating from my perspective as a bear tank as Thorns is a 10-minute buff when cast on others, and for 5-man work it's entirely possible that I will be dragging along my Balance or Restoration set in order to cast Thorns on myself before switching to whichever combination of Bear/Cat gear most suits the instance or individual boss fight. The Thorns change makes sense from a PvP perspective, but from a PvE one, I just don't get it. The spec with the most potential PvE benefit from it (Bear -- you should not be taking melee damage as a cat, moonkin, or tree in raids or 5-mans) won't get it at all unless we set aside yet another bag's worth of gear or depend on someone else to refresh it constantly.

How good are the Tier 8 bonuses?


2-piece: Increases the bonus granted by Eclipse for Starfire and Wrath by 15%.

4-piece: Each time your Insect Swarm deals damage, it has a chance to make your next Starfire cast within 10 seconds instant.

This is final confirmation, as if any were needed, that Blizzard is balancing around raiding moonkin using Eclipse. Graylo had a look at the tier set when the 2-piece bonus was only 6% and wasn't tremendously impressed at the time, but with the damage bonus buffed to 15%, at least you're not actively losing damage going between 4-piece Tier 7 and Tier 8 anymore.

Verdict? 2-piece is OK, especially if you're religious about managing your Eclipse procs. I don't know how good the 4-piece bonus is yet, and I'm prepared to see a torrent of complaints on the forums that it's competely worthless if your Starfire rotation has just procced an Eclipsed Wrath damage increase, or that it doesn't proc often enough, or what have you. So far I haven't seen any solid information from anyone on the PTR as to the likely proc rate (no surprise there, as I doubt anyone's running around in 4-piece Tier 8), so stay tuned.


2-piece: The periodic damage done by your Rake, Rip, and Lacerate abilities has a chance to cause you to enter a Clearcasting state.

4-piece: Increases the duration of Savage Roar and Survival Instincts by 8 seconds.

Amazing for cats. Garbage for bears. The cat DPS rotation (insofar as never letting any of several debuffs drop could be called a rotation) is very difficult, and an additional 8 seconds on Savage Roar plus the chance of a Clearcasting proc is huge.

For bears, both are underwhelming, especially once you've seen the Warrior 4-piece Tier 8 bonus. For raid tanking, you're generally not going to face a low-rage situation, and this is all the more true once you factor in the armor nerf and rage gain even while shielded. An additional 8 seconds on Survival Instincts falls pretty squarely into the category of "nice," but not exactly game-breaking. You'll be using Tier 8 for the stat bonuses over Tier 7 and certainly not for the set bonuses, although the transition should be relatively easy because Tier 7's set bonuses are also kind of meh.


2-piece: Increases the healing done by your Swiftmend spell by 10%.

4-piece: Your Rejuvenation spell also provides an instant heal for the target.

Both are very welcome, especially in conjunction with Glyph of Swiftmend and Glyph of Rejuvenation, as I assume the latter will apply to the instant heal as well. The Swiftmend bonus...well, that goes without saying. If you can pull it off without allowing the bonus to go to +overheal, this is a solid plus. But again, when it comes to 4-piece bonuses with procs, there's really not much information out there yet, so I don't know how much the 4-piece bonus heals for or its exact mechanics. I assume it applies an instant heal on the initial application of Rejuvenation, which may prompt you to reapply Rejuvenation on a tank earlier than you might have otherwise, or to use Rejuv even more than you already are as a raid heal.

What I find most interesting is something Ghostcrawler's previously noted concerning Blizzard's own data on Ulduar raids; they're seeing Rejuvenation continue to be the single greatest contribution to healing done by Restoration Druids, so this is quite a lovely bonus.

What profession changes are most likely to affect us?

Alchemy: As we already know, flasks are only going to last 1 hour (2 hours for Alchemists with Mixology) but be cheaper to create but be cheaper to create. You're less likely to have to "waste" a flask if your guild is 3/4 of the way through a raid night and decides to try more new content.

Jewelcrafting: Finally, finally, FINALLY we are getting an agility/stam cut, which was arguably the single best purple gem for bears in Burning Crusade but never made a reappearance as a Superior-quality cut in Wrath. For cat DPS, you're going to want to go back to agility and agility/hit gems for maximum DPS sets, as Savage Roar now increases your physical damage and doesn't bloat your attack power.

Enchanting: There's a fantastic new enchant for tanks called Blade Ward that, once procced, increases your parry rating by 200 and will cause 600 to 800 damage on your next successful parry. Better yet, it can stack up to 5 times and the effect lasts 10 seconds. This is amazing, and it's a great boost for both avoidance and threat generation. In related news, bears are still unable to parry.

How is Savage Defense working so far?

I've done my own testing but basically arrived at the same conclusions that Kalon of ThinkTank did. I tested it against mobs for dailies and then a random collection of elites I ran around pulling in Icecrown, but haven't yet had the chance to test it in a raid (for the few PTR fights I've done so far, I've gone as Resto).

It's a buff versus multiple low-level enemies that don't hit for squat, which dovetails pretty neatly into Blizzard's intent for it to function as a pseudo-version of block. Versus Icecrown elites you'll notice unshielded hits that do land will hit for more, but not memorably so; I finished with about the same amount of health as I did on live, give or take some RNG either way. Outside of a raid, you probably won't notice much of a difference, and I will hesitantly say that for the most part it will also be a buff to our survivability on heroic trash.

However, it's precisely the RNG that's the real issue here. The jury's still out on how this will help (or hinder) our status as potential main tanks on Ulduar content, because the shield can't be triggered by anything other than a crit.
Daveorn on the Elitist Jerks board makes the point more succinctly than I've seen it put elsewhere: "A weak blow (could theoretically) pose a serious threat to my survival by stealing the SD absorption before a large hit lands." I'm additionally concerned because sources of bear attack power are pretty thin on the ground, so the size of the Savage Defense "shield" may or may not scale all that terribly well. The only sources of strength for us in Wrath raids are non-set pieces that we share with (and are often better itemized for) plate tanks, and we're otherwise dependent on the raw AP that comes with our pieces. Ideally I'd like to see bear attack power scale with agility, but I don't know that we can expect that.

We're going to have to start using Nourish, aren't we?

That's a big 10-4, good buddy. And if you're one of the many Resto Druids who has eschewed Tier 7 in favor of better individual pieces elsewhere because our 4-piece bonus to Nourish was kind of worthless...it's less worthless in 3.1. Start pestering your raid for those Vanquisher token drops now if you haven't.

What do Ulduar bosses look like so far? Are these fights good for Druids? Bad for Druids?

Once I have a better sense of what's happening on the European PTR's, I'll have an article on this. At the moment, my sense of the actual fight mechanics there is unfortunately fuzzy at best.

Arena Season 5 to end as soon as April 14

Bornakk posted a tentative date for the announced end of Arena Season 5, indicating that the season can end "as early as April 14" or a week after. It should be noted that the first four Arena seasons had no breaks in between, with one season beginning immediately after the last ended. Arena seasons were only suspended upon the release of Patch 3.0 leading up to Wrath of the Lich King, with the first season of Level 80 Arena play beginning on December 16. This time around, however, Bornakk makes it clear that the next Arena season will not begin immediately but have at least a one week break before Season 6 begins.

This should also be taken as an indication of when Patch 3.1 will be released. Blizzard has stated that they plan to unleash Season 6 almost simultaneously with the new raid content, so if Season 5 ends within two or three weeks, it should be expected that Patch 3.1 is just around the corner. It might even come sooner rather than later, as Blizzard has noted that Season 5 would "end with or shortly after" Patch 3.1 goes live. All of the necessary files such as Season 6 items are contained in the patch, so this only makes sense.

Bornakk reminds all players who feel they will be eligible for end of season rewards, such as titles and the Deadly Gladiator's Frostwyrm, should refrain from transfering their characters to another realm until after Season 5 ends (or until rewards have been handed out to be safe). During the break between seasons, all ranked matches will be disabled and all Arena points and ratings will be wiped [EDIT: Arena points and ratings will continue to be available during the one week break to allow players to spend their points, but will be wiped when Season 6 begins.]. However, players will retain their matchmaking ratings and Honor points.

Encrypted Text: Upcoming Rogue gear in patch 3.1

With patch 3.1's steam winding down, I predict its release in the next three weeks. Our most recent change was a simple increase to Deadly Throw's velocity: hardly groundbreaking. We should begin finalizing new builds, and planning our gear upgrade paths.

Between the Argent Tournament, Ulduar, and new PvP gear, Rogues everywhere will be very busy collecting all of the new leather gear that we'll have access to. Read on to find out where to pick up the best upgrades, and how to prepare by stockpiling now. And to any Warriors looking for a wishlist: Sorry guys, leather is for Rogues (& our pictured feline friends)!

Argent Tournament:
Blizzard's first attempt at a true solo PvE environment is one of the bigger attractions of patch 3.1. We've compiled a guide to the Argent Tournament, based on the information available so far. Siha over at Banana Shoulders also has an excellent series covering the actual Tournament mechanics. While many of the details concerning the rewards are still unknown, we do have information on a few of the available items.

It's all ilvl 200 gear, which is equivalent to a Heroic Dungeon or Naxx10 gear. If you're already sporting a level 80 epic in the same slot, it's unlikely that these rewards will be very attractive. However, for those Rogues who are still working on building their level 80 set, these should be some easy items to acquire.

Displayed here at MMO-Champion, there appears to be two weapons of interested to Rogues: a slow mace and a slow dagger. These are comparable with The Fleshshaper and Crimson Steel, with these PvE items having better stats than the current AT rewards. There are also a pair of leather boots, complimented by a necklace and a new resilience trinket.

While I still prefer the Wintergrasp version of the trinket, the boots are actually very solid. It could be that I was still using level 75 blue boots even after weeks of raiding, and that they were my last blue piece before going all epic, but I really had a difficult time finding some good armor for my sneaky feet. I'd suggesting picking these up if you're still kicking around in your Rhino Hide Kneeboots.

Wintergrasp has had its rewards upped a notch, with a new belt, trinkets, and chest pieces available for Rogues. These are all ilvl 213, and as such are comparable with the Deadly Gladiator pieces available. If you compare the pieces, they are almost identical, except for a few switched stats (ArPen for crit, for example). These are very easy pieces to obtain, as they only require Wintergrasp Marks. I suggest saving Wintergrasp Marks now to purchase these new pieces if you don't have a Deadly Gladiator piece available. The PvP trinkets are particularly valuable to Rogues, as they will allow us to grab even more offensive stats in lieu of resilience on our 2nd trinket slot. Ghostcrawler says that players follow the loot... and he's absolutely right.

We've also seen the addition of Furious Gladiator gear, the next progression in PvP gear. It's a tier above the current Deadly Gear, and as such will be highly desired. You can save up Honor for it now, but remember that Arena points will be wiped come the patch. While it remains to be seen how the upcoming arena rating shakeup will affect the ease of acquiring this gear, there will still be a constantly tapped source: Emalon. Think of Emalon as Archavon's bigger brother, and with better loot. He'll be sharing a place with Archavon in Wintergrasp keep in 3.1, and will give you the ability to roll on some new PvP gear if your faction has control.

I've added a quick-reference list of the new items that are confirmed for patch 3.1, but I'm doubtful that this is the complete list. Ghostcrawler was quoted as saying that Ulduar would contain more items than all of the raiding instances in TBC combined, and this was AFTER the caster gear consolidation. How many items are missing will remain to be seen, but we still have a good idea of the types of gear we'll be seeing.

Ulduar10 gear should be comparable with Naxx25 gear, which will allow for players in smaller guilds compete with the Naxx25 geared players. Ulduar10H (my signal for "hard mode") will be comparable with Ulduar25! This is huge, as it allows a well-trained and organized group of 10 to collect the same level of gear as a beginning 25 person raid. My guild will be gunning for U10H as quickly as possible.

U25 will be a half-tier above Naxx25, with U25H providing the full tier upgrade over current content. I don't see U25H being completed be nearly as many guilds as there are downing KT25 every week, and so this should help to normalize the gear spectrum. With many guilds sporting U25 and a few sporting U10H, they will be on even footing for output. U25H will have the advantage, but will be reserved for the most talented of raiders.

MMO-Champion has a great collection of the new leather gear available, split up by normal and heroic difficulties. If you found this guild to ilvls confusing, check out the WotLK section of the ilvl WoWWiki. They've got a nice chart that should answer any questions you may have.

Emblem Gear:
While much of the emblem gear is unavailable, I want to explain how the new token and naming system works. The "Heroes" prefix refers to ilvl 200 gear, the "Valorous" prefix refers to ilvl 213-219 gear, and the "Conqueror's" prefix refers to ilvl 226+ gear. Emblems of Heroism will continue to buy ilvl 200 gear, so don't expect to find any upgrades here. However, there will be a new type of Valorous token introduced (some are calling them different colors, such as red and blue Valorous tokens) that will be used for ilvl 219 gear exclusively. Current Emblems of Valor will NOT allow you to purchase any of this new gear, and so saving up your EoVs is not a wise investment.

The new EoV2s (my name for them) will be usable for the new ilvl 219 gear, and the current EoVs will stick to ilvl 213 gear. While it's only a slight upgrade, my hopes are that the EoV2 gear occupies different slots than the current gear, allowing us to maximize our gearing speed without worrying about wasting any Emblems. Look for two pieces of T810 and T825 available on the vendors as well!

Tier 8, Terrorblade Battlegear:
Our new set, called Terrorblade Battlegear, is again available in two flavors: Valorous (ilvl 219) and Conqueror's (ilvl 226). The set bonuses, which are often the key difference that sways our gearing choice one way or another, have been a subject of controversy. The 2 piece bonus sounds fairly weak on paper, a 3.3% increase in our base energy regeneration when a target has Deadly Poison on them. This is less than half the value of a single point into Vitality!

However, this bonus will truly shine when consider that many of the bosses in Ulduar will have adds and other mobs participating in combat. This is not something that was very prevalent in Naxxramas. The ability to Fan of Knives and apply Deadly Poison to 5 mobs would then give us 5 energy every 3 seconds, which is closer to 15% increased energy regeneration. Consider if there were, I don't know, say 15 mobs in range. This would be 15e/3s, or a 50% increase in energy regeneration! Rogues will thrive in multi-mob environments, where before we were lame ducks without Blade Flurry available.

The 4 piece bonus is something that Feral Druids will receive as a talent, but beggars can't be choosers. The fact remains that this will be an awesome talent. With Rupture currently making up around 5% of a Rogue's raiding damage (this is true for most builds), this should increase its damage by a percent equal to your critical strike chance. So with 40% crit buffed, your Rupture damage will be increased by 40%. This is a serious boost to one of our more underused abilities.

A subject I brought up on EJ without any answers: does HAT proc off of these new Rupture crits? If so, Rupture could become a mainstay of the HAT Rogue's rotation, adding a steady stream of CP for only the one GCD it will take to apply it. This will allow HAT Rogues to generate significantly more CP by themselves, while also assisting them in reaching the ideal 5 CP / second goal in a raid environment. With one tick of Rupture every two seconds, and a 40-50% crit chance in a raid, a pile of HAT Rogues could be back to generating enough CP to top the PvE charts. I tried testing this on the PTR with Primal Gore but nobody was available.

Start saving up WG marks and honor for the upcoming gear, and watch a few videos of the U10 and U25 starter fights so that you'll know your role in these 3.1 dungeons. We've got a lot of new content to conquer, and having a plan ahead of time will put you ahead of all the other Rogues vying for your arena team and raiding spots.

Blizzard: New Dance Battle System

Blizzard never fails to exceed expectations on April Fool's Day -- in the EU, they reported on a brand new Pimp My Mount option (featuring tiger-mounted gatling guns), over on the forums, they RP'd the place up a bit, and now on the North American page, they've announced the game's newest feature: a Dance Battle system. They say that sometime soon in the game (that is, if this wasn't April 1st), players will be able to have dance-offs around the world, culminating in a huge dance tournament to take place in Kael'thas quarters in Tempest Keep. Wait, isn't that guy dead? Players will be able to form crews, which can then battle each other using player controlled dance moves and a vehicle-like interface.

Of course, none of it is true, which is an extra poke in the heart to fans who really are waiting for the new dance system. We doubt it'll have a battle component, but the interface and the rewards are pretty intriguing -- so close to what we're really hoping for, and yet so far. And yes Blizzard, nice Lonely Island joke hidden in there. It was, in fact, a horror film.

There's even a trailer for "Azeroth's Best Dance Crew (hosted by Acy Slater)," though we looked closely and didn't see any really new dance moves in there, either. But it's cute, and (maybe this is what Blizzard intended) only whets our appetite for the real new dances, supposedly still coming soon.

WoW: 511 characters per quest

One of the most interesting things we heard from Jeff Kaplan last week (besides that he agrees the Green Hills quest sucks; won't do that one again) was that quest designers are given only 511 characters (not words) to put their quest text in.

It's surprising to think that they've created all the backstory, throughout Azeroth, in just 511 characters at a time. But even Kaplan said the limit is a good thing: it means Blizzard has to show story to the player rather than tell it.

Still, doesn't seem easy to

Crap. Out of room -- that's 511 characters. Of course, they can fudge things a bit by having those "story quests" where characters can use multiple pages to build up their background, and the 511-character limit doesn't apply to all of the dialogue -- some of the later quests have pages and pages of dialogue as the quest goes on. But squeezing enough information to keep a player interested in just 511 characters is quite a feat.

Fan-made WoW Draenei Barbie

Reader Amanda S sent us this picture of a WoW Draenei Barbie (that is a Draenei, right? Not a Night Elf? Oh yeah -- check the hooves) she says she and a friend made when they were bored. It's not the most involved craft we've ever seen, but it looks pretty good and it's an interesting idea: make Warcraft characters out of existing dolls, rather than completely from scratch. GI Joe would probably be perfect for putting together a figure of the new King Wrynn.

But we do like the dress and the shoulders -- nice job. Whenever Blizzard figures out how to do player housing, we can put her in a dream house as well.

Got a WoW-related craft that you'd like to share? We'd love to see it -- send us a tip through the tipline and we'll check it out.

Equipment Manager will not be in 3.1

It looks like Noblegarden started a trend: the Equipment Manager, Blizzard's answer to Outfitter et al., is being delayed and will not be included as part of the upcoming wow patch 3.1. The cited reason is that "certain issues were encountered...that could not be resolved in time" to be included with the patch, and they would rather delay to "ensure that this feature meets our standard of quality." Does this mean the patch is coming pretty soon? One can only hope.

This is especially disappointing with dual spec coming as a major feature in the patch, and with Outfitter's author pulling the mod from distribution; people will be needing ways to switch sets quickly more than ever. Fortunately, Addon Spotlight has you covered - come on over and read all about some alternatives to Outfitter.