May 11, 2009

10 clutch healing and tanking abilities

I read a post last week on the Orly Factor. It was about communicating with healers. Now if you visit the blog, the first thing you'll discover is that it's a Warrior tanking blog!

But Matt! Why on earth are you reading a tanking blog? Have you forsaken us?

No, I have not. I've always been first and foremost a healer. However, this does not mean I do not pay attention to tanks. The relationship between tank and healer is a harmonious one. A tank places their lives in the arms of their healers. Healers have to pray to Elune (or whichever deity you happen to follow) that their tanks are exceptional at pissing off mobs.

Two way communication between tank and healer is a must. If not cultivated or exercised properly, your team will face difficulties down the road.

There is one particular topic I want to zero in on.

The Art of Saving
Desperate times call for desperate measures. How many 1% wipes have you experienced? How many times do you play back the last 10 seconds of a wipe wondering if there was anything you could have done differently? Or worse: Knowing that there was something that you could have done differently.

Then it hits you.

Your save abilities. If only you hadn't overlapped them. If only you had alerted your tanks. They might have lived for 20 seconds instead of 10. Second guessing ourselves is something we do everyday. There's no point in avoiding it or telling yourself to stop. Because second guessing allows us to become better the next time we come across the same situation again.

Let's break down the tools available by healers and by tanks.

Paladin saves

Divine Sacrifice –> Divine Shield

Is your entire raid about to experience a ton of pain? Don't forget about this as it reduces incoming damage to all players near the Paladin. Make sure Divine Shield is activated or else that Paladin won't be able to hold the line. Be sure all of your Paladins are aware of this! This isn't limited to just Holy Paladins either. Retribution Paladins should keep this in the back of their mind.

Protection Paladins will want to think twice and make sure they're not tanking anything before hitting this combination.

Ulduar applications: Deconstructor's Tympanic Tantrum, Mimiron's phase 2

Priest saves

Guardian Spirit

No introduction here. One of the signature spells of the Holy Priest, it's able to completely prevent a killing blow on any player. In addition, the player with Guardian Spirit receives extra healing while the angel wings are still active. Glyphed versions of Guardian Spirit drop the cooldown of it down to 1 minute (unless the life saving proc activates in which case it cannot be used again for 3 minutes).

Pain Suppression

The Discipline Priest's response to Guardian Spirit is Pain Suppression. With Aspiration, the cool down time drops below 3 minutes.

Note that there is a fundamental difference between Guardian Spirit and Pain Suppression. Guardian Spirit increases healing and absorbs a killing blow for the player in exchange for the buff falling off. Pain Suppression reduces damage taken by 40%.

Let me put it in a way that makes even more sense. Mimiron phase 2 has an ability where he launches rockets. If these rockets connect with any player, they will deal a million damage (literally). So if the rocket lands on a player with Guardian Spirit, that player will survive as GS sacrificed itself. If the rocket lands on a player with Pain Suppression, that player will die. 40% off of one million damage is still enough to one shot players.

Ulduar Applications: Fights where tanks are expected to get 1 or 2 shot. Mimiron phase 1 Plasma blasts, Thorim's Unbalancing Strike.

Divine Hymn

The ultimate panic button available to any Priest. Is your raid on the verge of collapsing? Activate Divine Hymn and it will go into full auto-heal mode. It targets players with the lowest health first removing them from the red danger zone. Ability is available to Shadow Priests but they have to switch out. Make sure they're aware of it and when to use it.

Ulduar Aplications: Ignis Flame Jets, Deconstructor's Tympanic Tantrum, a really unfortunate Sonic Screech from Auriaya, Iron Council's Death Runes

Tank saves

Now let's talk about our tanks!

Warrior saves

Last Stand

When activated, this ability temporarily grants you 30% of your maximum health for 20 sec. After the effect expires, the health is lost. The glyphed version of this reduces the cooldown by 1 minute (bringing it down to 2 minutes). I will let the Warrior tanks debate the merit of using this glyph compared to other options they may have.

Shield Wall

Warriors come with a built in Pain Suppression. The glyphed version lowers the cooldown but at the cost to the damage reduced.

Paladin Saves

Divine Protection

Incoming damage reduced by 50%. The side effect? Paladins cannot use their Divine Shield or Hand of Protection on themselves for 2 minutes.

Druid Saves

Survival Instincts

This is similar to Last Stand for bears. In case they can bearly stay alive, a glyphed Survival Instincts adds an extra 15% to the already buff 30% that bears are getting.

Death Knight Saves

Icebound Fortitude

The Death Knight becomes immune to stuns and all damage taken is reduced by 20%. Additional damage is reduced based on the Defense rating of the Death Knight. This will last 12 seconds.

Anti Magic Shell

Death Knights absorb 75% of incoming damage spells (up to 50% of the Death Knight's maximum health). At the same time, no harmful magic effects can be placed. Damage absorbed helps contributes to the Death Knights runic power.

I'll forward you to Daniel Whitcomb's Lichborne for even more tips

When do we use what?

Preset cooldowns

Having pre-set cool downs in place means that your tanks and healers know exactly when to use which cooldown and when. The players are following a script. Each player has a role and they know when it's their turn to step it up.

Example: Mimiron phase 1. The tank will experience something in the neighborhood of 4 or 5 Plasma Blasts (30000 damage per second for 6 seconds). So here's the set play:

Plasma Burst 1: Holy Priest, Guardian Spirit on the Bear tank
Plasma Burst 2: Bear tank uses Survival Instincts. After this, a Warrior tank taunts.
Plasma Burst 3: Discipline Priest, Pain Suppression
Plasma Burst 4: Shield Wall
Plasma Burst 5: Last Stand

It's important that cooldown users start talking so that everyone is on the same page. It's embarrassing to have 2 cooldowns used at the same time because 2 different players thought it was their their turn to use it!

Discretionary cooldowns

If nothing has been predetermined, this is when players go into auto-cooldown mode. It's up to healers and tanks to use their discretion on when to use. Maybe tanks or the raid run into a rough patch. Discretionary cooldowns are usually used on progression encounters when fights are still new. We typically go in discretionary mode on fights with completely random events happening. The chaos of Freya, Hodir and Lady Vashj are such examples that come to mind.

Healers and tanks, do speak to each other and open up some lines of communication. Identify patterns in encounters you're in. Help each other out and suggest ideal times to use certain saves. This is a great habit to build no matter what type of guild you're in. Don't save cooldowns for that "moment" because you'll never recognize when that moment is until the wipe hits.

WoW Guide to the latest features

Before WoW Patch 3.1 hit the live servers, I wrote about the changes that would be coming for those of us with limited playtime. Now that we've had the patch and some fixes and more fixes and yet even more fixes, let's talk a bit about what actually happened and how best to take advantage of the features for casual players.

First of all, the Gear Manager did not make it into WoW Patch 3.1 or WoW 3.1.1. Hopefully when it does, it will allow for automatic equipment switching when changing forms/specs. With Outfitter being developed again and with other options available, there is no reason to include this feature until they get it right.

Cooking, Fishing, First Aid: The secondary professions no longer require the purchase of books to train. You can now go to the appropriate trainer and just pay to level up. Hot Spices and Soothing Spices are now obsolete. If you have some in your bags or bank, they have become grey and can be sold. Most of the recipes have been reduced to meat only, so apples are no longer needed for the Jungle and Strider Stews, for example. Overall, cooking, fishing and first aid got more convenient to level and there are better rewards.

Dual Specs: Dual Specs are implemented and everyone is doing it. Even if you don't raid, they are very convenient for those who both PvP and PvE or players who split their time between soloing and grouping. So, save up 1000 gold and if you are over level 40, try it out at your nearest class trainer. You'll also need two sets of glyphs to go along with your two specs, so make sure you have those covered as well. And check out your class column here at WoW Insider for advice as to how to dual spec your class.

Quest Tracking: The most useful and possibly most annoying thing about the improved Quest tracking features is that the item you need to use to complete a quest will be displayed and usable next to the quest on your main screen. It is very useful, when your quest is being actively tracked and if you have enough screen real estate. I find that the changes don't affect my questing very much and a program like Quest Helper still very much makes the leveling faster and more convenient.

Talent Calculator: The new built-in Talent Calculator did get implemented, but you have to activate it -- on every character. Go to the Game Menu, Interface, Display and then check the box that says Preview Talent Changes. Now, when you select your talents, you will need to accept them before they will apply. But this allows you to right click to remove any selections and make changes as needed before accepting them. I don't really find it intuitive that it is listed under Display, nor do I agree with having it default to off. But I'm happy it's there, now that I know where to find it. And since my druid was hit by the talents disappearing bug multiple times, I made good use of it.

Other little casual friendly changes did get made as promised, such as Hearthstone cooldown times getting reduced to 30 minutes (yay!) and ground mounts swimming through water instead of dismounting you (also yay!). Overall, the patches and instability and bugfixes did finally end up in a more casual friendly game for us.

Oh and Happy Mothers' Day to all of you gamer moms out there! I hope you get some extra uninterrupted playtime in today and get to see Star Trek as often as you want to. (Insert fangirl noise here)

Leveling through Outland (Levels 58-68)

With WoW 3.1 sort of leveling out for now, It's probably a good time to switch our views to leveling. It's a good a time as any to welcome any new Death Knights into the fold and give them a few tips for getting through that silly old Outland content and into Northrend.

Preparing to Launch

So the first thing a lot of new Death Knights might ask is, how do I spec? I'd say that you should level as 2-hand DPS (Dual wielding isn't very good at all as of patch 3.1, and even on a good patch, needs some high class gear). As to which tree you should go for, all three are really completely viable and likely to serve you well. If you'd like a more specific recommendation, I'd say go Blood if you prefer survivability, Unholy if you prefer to take down large amounts of things at once. Look at an Unholy build that looks something like this at 60, or a Blood that looks something like this at 60. In both cases, you can work from there until your build looks something like the cookie cutter specs posted in our patch 3.1 cookie cutter spec article.

If you've dual specced or are looking for a secondary tank build, check that patch 3.1 cookie cutter spec article as well. In essence, you can get through normal Outland and normal pre-80 Northrend dungeons as a tank by getting the 1st tier defensive talent in each tree, then working up to the major defensive talent in that tree: That is, Bone Shield, Vampiric Blood, or Unbreakable Armor. Now mind you, for Heroics or Raids, you are going to need to spec a little tighter, which is when you check the patch 3.1 cookie cutter article.

Now that you have your talent path decided, the next question is also pretty intuitive: How do I play? At it's most basic, Death Knight gameplay involves getting rid of your runes, then getting rid of the runic power that is generated by using the runes. A very basic rotation is something like this:

Cast Plague Strike and Icy Touch on your target. This will apply your diseases, which will add extra damage as well as strengthen your weapon strikes.

Use your Blood Runes. Use Pestilence if you have multiple targets who need diseases spread to them, Blood Boil if you have multiple targets who are already diseased, or Blood or Heart Strike if you only have one or two targets. Use your Frost/Unholy ability. Obliterate is the basic one you'll get, and the one Frost uses. Unholy will use Scourge Strike once they have the talents to use it, while Blood uses Death Strike. Of course, if you're low on health while soloing, you may want to use Death Strike regardless. By this time, you should have enough runic power to unleash one of your rune dumps. For Blood, that'll be Death Coil or Dancing Rune Weapon. For Unholy, that's Unholy Blight, Death Coil, or Gargoyle. For Frost, that's Frost Strike. Drain your runic power while you wait for your runes to refresh When your runes begin to refresh, repeat everything. Now this is a very basic rotation, and it will change depending on your glyphs and talents. For example, as an Unholy Death Knight, your Reaping talent will turn your blood runes to death runes when they refresh, meaning you'll just use your Scourge Strike twice on the next rotation. In addition, if you have the Glyph of Scourge Strike and it procs, you'll be able to use Scourge Strike three times, since you won't need to recast Plague Strike and Icy Touch. There's other emergency or tank-based abilities that may switch this up as well. But for basic straight up leveling, focusing on the bullet points above and working for there should get you through.

How much preparing should I do?

So to start a Death Knight, you need a character that's already at least level 55. This puts you in the position of being able to give your Death Knight a leg up relatively easily regardless of who you are. You can find a list of things to pre-gather here.

The big thing to pre-gather are those things that give you reputation and experience. If you have all the argent dawn turn-in items, and do a quick set of Cauldron runs in Western Plaguelands, you should find yourself at least 59 in almost no time. I'm a big fan of getting Unidentified Plant Parts out of the way too. They don't provide experience on their own, but you do have a chance for an experience giving drop, and the reputation boost at least helps out if you want to get The Exalted later.

But again, for a full list of what you might want to get ahead of time, check the list at this link. Also worth adding to that list are Heirloom items. Hierloom weapons cannot be runeforged, and therefore are less desirable than they might be, but you may want to consider grabbing Polished Spaulders of Valor or Strengthened Stockade Pauldrons to expedite your experience gain if you have enough of the proper currency lying around on your main.

Now, this said, if you want to start from scratch, either because your "main" is poor or you just don't feel like spending extra money, you can do that too. Death Knights start with a full set of 12-slot bags and get an epic mount from an early quest, which will really be all you need to get through Outland.

Outland Leveling

By the time you finish the Death Knight starting questline, you should easily be level 58, especially if you did a few extra turn-ins for Noth's Special Brew. This means that, even if you did no preparing, you can go straight to Hellfire Peninsula. We already have a roundup of some quest loot to watch out for at this link, but we'll give a quick run-through of the leveling process here.

Both sides will have essentially similar quests with similar rewards heading through Thrallmar and Honor Hold, then over to the other side of the zone between Falcon Watch and Temple of Telhamat. You'll be able to solo most things, though you will still probably want some help with Overlord or its Horde equivalent, as well as the giant-killing quests for the Cenarion Post. If you're collecting Unidentified Plant Parts, be sure to turn those in before you start on the Cenarion post quests.

By the time you clear Hellfire Peninsula, you should be at level 60 and have the basics of your build fleshed out. You'll have your "tree-defining" runic power dumps, strikes, and nukes. As you head into Zangarmarsh, take the time to get to know your specific rotation. Note how your tree converts Death Runes and use those Death Runes for your most devestating rune-using attack, be it Scourge Strike, Obliterate, or Heart Strike.

In Zangarmarsh, you'll have the Cenarion Outpost quests, and you'll find you can probably solo the 2-man quests, especially with the help of a flare. Moving on to the Horde and Alliance quest hubs, once again you'll find some decent overlap between the two, and not many item upgrades in sight. It's fine, your armor's pretty uber. Alliance will want to make sure they finish the quests at Orebor Harborage so they can quest in Nagrand later, of course.

After you clean out Zangarmarsh, you'll want to head down to Terrokar Forest. If you're lucky, you can grab the Bone Wastes for your side here and get a nice little experience gain buff. Be sure to hit the Lost Caravan in the Bone Wastes, the Sha'tar outpost in the Southeastern quarter of the Bone Wastes, the Cenarion Thicket, and your side's city. Again, you won't find any mind-blowing upgrades among the stuff here, but the experience should flow pretty quickly.

By the time you clear out here, you should hopefully be at least 65, which is a perfect time to head to Nagrand. Nagrand's another nice place for getting a bunch of quests bunched together. You'll find your major quest hubs at your side's village, at Nesingwary's Camp in the Northeast, and the Throne of Elements to the North.

What's a good idea here is to try to gather as many quests for a specific area as you can. For example, if you start in on the quest line that leads you to Lantresor, you can grab some quests that you can combine with other quests up at the Laughing Skull Ruins or Kil'Sorrow fortress easily. Also, there's one quest for Sunspring Village up at the Throne of Elements that you get from killing Air Elementals, which need to kill anyway for gasses for a certain goblin. Combine that with the small handful of Sunspring Village quests from your home village,

Once you're through with Nagrand, you should hopefully have a Honed Voidaxe or Halanni Claymore, and more importantly, level 68. Once you have wow level 68, even if it means leaving Nagrand half done, your best bet is to head straight to Northrend. Check out our Northrend starting zone gear guide, make your choice, and hop a boat. Once you set foot on the shore there, you should find it pretty simple to power through to 70, get a bunch of really awesome gear upgrades, and from there begin the push to 80 in earnest.