August 31, 2010

Blood Sport: Become a 5v5 master (tips and tricks)

Default to damage

Oh, Wrath of the Lich King, how we had such great hopes. Damage is almost always the most successful strategy. Defaulting to damage is something I have to explain often, especially when I start playing with new teammates who are trying to push for their first gladiator title.

Players who have high technical skill (for instance, being able to Spell Reflect an escaping druid's Nature's Grasp) often try to win games by doing things more "skilled" than the enemy. They'll preach for seemingly endless hours about how often they Counterspelled their opponent's Incinerates, yet they still lost the match. Sometimes, the opportunity cost it takes to interrupt one of your spells to interrupt an opponent is better spent by doing damage, especially if an enemy is low on health. Why bother Counterspelling an enemy damage spell when you can get a kill? [EDIT: I removed confusing language concerning interrupts and global cooldowns.]

These same players look down on opposing compositions for being "faceroll" or "noob comp" because they win games by just pumping damage into the enemy. There's a reason why "bad players" can get to high ratings by using certain compositions -- damage is the premier strategy.

The danger of cool things

I'm not going to sit here and type out how awesome I am because I've never fallen into the "cool things are cool" trap. I'll freely admit that I still struggle with doing damage rather than cool stuff -- especially on my warlock.

When we were going for No. 1 in 5v5 a few seasons ago, I was doing almost everything except slinging fire at enemies. I would have every enemy DPS locked down with Curse of Tongues or Curse of Weakness -- except for our kill target, of course. I would CoT, Fear, Spell Lock, Shadowfury and Death Coil opposing healers until they were blue in the face.

What I should have been doing, however, was just casting a simple Curse of the Elements > Immolate > Chaos Bolt > Searing Pain > Conflagrate rotation into our kill target every chance I got. My teammates mentioned how little damage I was doing against high-rated teams (teams where I thought complex strategies were more effective), compared to the enormous amount of damage I was putting out against low-rated teams. I made the transition and we fared much, much better against the Top Ten teams on our battlegroup.

Pay less attention to addons

Many people think great arena players need to be paying attention to many, many things at once. Some people think great arena players need to always know when trinkets are available, or they somehow keep track of each enemy cooldown.

That's not the case. At all.

Top arena players understand what's going on in the game at the largest level possible. Understanding the big picture slows down the game and allows you to think inside other player's roles. It gives you insight as to when you should burn a cooldown or when you should beware an enemy is about to use a cooldown on you.

I don't use Afflicted 3 or any similar mods to track enemy cooldowns -- they waste precious screen space, and you generally shouldn't need mods like this if you take the time to understand the big picture. Plus, using mods like Afflicted desensitizes you to the natural ons and offs of cooldowns.

When a paladin casts Divine Shield, I can generally tell (within +/- 0.5 seconds) when his bubble is coming down, even though I have no way to tell exactly when it's going to dissipate (or be Mass Dispelled). On my shaman and priest, (Purge, Dispel Magic) I have enemy buffs (on my target and focus) enabled. On everyone else, I don't even bother and turn buffs off. I don't need to see if someone has a Sacred Shield or Mark of the Wild on them; it will make no difference to what I'm doing.

This isn't because I'm magical. I don't have some telepathic superpower. I don't have a sixth sense. What I do have, however, is enough arena experience to understand the game at large and look at the bare nubbins of important arena functions. It sounds more complex than it is ... (More on this next week.)

Figuring out and adapting to your teammates' playstyles

You get better at figuring out and adapting to your teammates' playstyles the more you play with different individuals. Everyone who has tried arena has met that guy on trade who wanted to play a few games -- and it just sucked. He was doing everything you didn't expect, and he was expecting you to do everything you didn't. Your playstyles were completely different, and you failed game after game.

Likewise, if you've been playing long enough, you've probably met a player or two who has meshed exceptionally well with you. Perhaps you're not rank 1 quality yet, but you've done better with them than you ever expected previously. You probably had similar ideas about how arenas should go, and your victories reaffirmed that.

I've played with holy paladins who cast Hammer of Justice once every 10 arena games. Other holy paladins use it on cooldown. Some druids love Cycloning enemy healers; some don't do it at all. Some Cyclone enemy DPS when they're at 10 percent health so they don't get receive heals. Then they charge up Starfire to help aid in killing blows with the DPS at 10 percent. Everyone has a different playstyle.

Having a different playstyle isn't wrong. Restoration druids usually find they fare better either with melee or spellcasters because of their playstyle -- offensive Cyclones on healers are much more important to a spell-burst team than they are to a team that focuses on melee; that's just the way arena works.

August 29, 2010

How to play the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game

Do you know how to play the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game? If not, then you are one of many online gamers I've heard of who help make the trading card game a hot property but have not discovered that those cards you are packing up and burying in your apartment or house are actually a lot of fun to play with. For those of you who haven't taken a look at the trading card game at all, I'd highly recommend it.

This Breakfast Topic has been brought to you by Seed.
I have been playing card games since 2003, and the WoW TCG is no exception. I spent over a year writing about the game, as well as playing and working at some of its biggest events (with a short break in 2008 to finish school). It was because of WoW TCG that I ended up getting into the WoW MMO in the first place!

The WoW Trading Card Game has been around since fall 2006 and has continued on through a transition from one company (Upper Deck Entertainment) to another (Cryptozoic). Organized play has had its ups and downs, but the game is starting to get more popular and attendance is once again picking up at events everywhere. However, a recent addition to the weekly tournament at my local comic book store mentioned that he knows plenty of people who buy the cards but never learn how to play.

Why is that?

Learning the basics

Learning the WoW TCG is not difficult. It takes some time, but figuring out what the cards do, especially if you have played the online game, can be simple. People who have played trading card games in the past, especially Magic: The Gathering, will pick up the game quickly.

The basic gameplay for the WoW TCG is as follows: You take on the role of a hero card. This hero comes from a specific faction, Alliance or Horde, and is one of the 10 classes in the game. Your hero also dictates what you can and can't have in your deck of 60 cards. If your hero is an Alliance mage, then you can't have Horde allies or or shaman abilities in your deck. Your deck contains the various abilities that your hero can use, many of which are based on actual class abilities in the online game. Your deck can also contain equipment, which lets your hero gear up to attack and defend, as well as allies, which are characters based on the classes and factions from the online game that support your hero and can attack or defend your hero and other allies. In a standard game, you will pit your hero against the opponent and their hero. The player who takes out the opposing hero first is the winner!

Knowing the basics of the game is one thing, but getting hands-on experience in the rules of the game is another thing entirely. Cryptozoic Entertainment, the company that currently works on the WoW TCG, released the class starter decks in early July, featuring decks (one for the Alliance and one for the Horde) of the nine original classes from the online game. These new decks are great learning tools and come with the instructions you will need to learn the basics, plus some hard-to-get rares from the first sets of the game.

One of the best trading card game engines

But why should you play? Aside from the fact that the game is fun and one of the best trading card game engines to be released since Magic: The Gathering, in my opinion, playing the WoW TCG at major conventions such as BlizzCon and PAX can be a very rewarding experience. There are always a lot of public events that players can participate in, with the prizes commonly being rare loot cards.

My favorite events at these conventions are the loot card or Ipod drafts, where players participate in a booster draft with the latest expansions; the winner of these 8-man tournaments gets the big prize! Last year, at an event in Las Vegas, they were giving away Spectral Kitten loot, but often, an Ipod Nano will be the big prize for these short and quick tournaments.

Loot cards can be given out at some events to random participants, so you don't have to be one of the best to get a shot at loot such as the Spectral Tiger or the Blazing Hippogryph! In fact, the fine folks at Cryptozoic will give away loot cards like they are nothing at their big events. Don't believe me? Just ask Rosalei Castaneda about this. At Gen Con, one of the biggest gaming conventions in the United States and home to the 2010 WoW TCG World Championship, she didn't win any big tournaments but still walked away with a fistful of awesome loot cards! You can read about what she won and how she won them by checking out Cryptozoic's coverage of the World Championships.

Not only is the WoW TCG fun, but it can be one of the cheapest ways for you to get some of the hottest vanity items in the online game. It's a nice break from the MMO world, giving you a chance to hang out with friends outside of the Ventrilo server. I hope to see you some day at one of the big events!

Shadow Priests: The four best things about Cataclysm

In between the fevered dreams, cough syrup benders and The Golden Girls marathons associated with my most recent cold this week, I resolved to pen the greatest Spiritual Guidance article of all time. After all, Hemingway's genius came from the bottom of a bottle. Perhaps then it would stand to reason that the true genius of Fox Van Allen would come from the bottom of a bottle of CVS Nighttime Cold and Flu.

Alas, that was not to be the case. In my hastily written Twitter screed, "The best things about Cata for spriets (sic)," I praised Blizzard for the way it made quests smell in Hyjal. The third best thing about Cataclysm was, "wait hold on no no no wait." Cold medication is serious business, kids. That's why they keep the good stuff behind the counter.

Thankfully, the cold has finally lifted (mostly). Thinking with a more sober mind, I've come to the realization that the idea of a "favorite things" list is a decent one (sup, Oprah?); it's just that my execution was a bit off earlier in the week. After the break: My real picks for the "best" changes to shadow priests (so far) in Cataclysm and a chance for you to chime in on your favorites as well.

Inner Will

While it's not technically a shadow priest talent, Inner Will is something that every shadow priest should be excited about. Not necessarily for situations where you're in battle, but for every single moment you spend outside of it.

A huge chunk of our time in World of Warcraft is spent meandering around the big cities -- buying reagents, traveling between the auction house and the mailbox, picking up trade goods and hunting down Wild Mustard. The idea that less of my time will be wasted doing the least fun thing known to man in game -- traveling -- is a blessing worthy of inclusion here.

Shadowy Apparition

Let's be honest: No list of favorite shadow priest changes in Cataclysm would be complete without a hat tip to Shadowy Apparition (also known as ghostly aspects of our shadowy hatepower). It's absolutely overloaded with "cool factor."

There are a few minor issues holding me back from proclaiming this to be the best thing about Cataclysm, at least for now. Shadowy Apparition seems to be something of a technical nightmare for Blizzard to implement. Each new beta build comes with a fix or change to the ability, but it still remains pretty bugged. The apparitions tend to chase down the wrong target, and they still hit for the wrong amount of damage (at least, I think they still do -- it's awfully hard to tell with the damage numbers turned off). That's forgivable, though. The concept behind Shadowy Apparition is sound, even if it isn't correctly implemented yet.

A few weeks ago, the talent underwent a pretty major artisitic change. The old "floating skull" Shadowy Apparition is gone; instead, the ability now procs clones of yourself (as Blizzard had originally intended). It looked a bit glitchy the first time I saw it in action on the battlefield, but when I played around with training dummies, the animation seemed to go much more smoothly. I can't help but wish my ghostly aspects of shadowy hatepower were in Shadowform, but that's a minor concern.

The more pressing concern is the tax these extra shadow priests could have on your graphics card. I play on a fairly modern desktop, but I have plenty of friends who play on more dated machines and laptops. If you're the type of player who prefers 10-man raiding to 25-man raiding simply because the former gives you better frame rates and performance, then Shadowy Apparition could severely bog down your computer on a movement-heavy fight, even if you're only running a 5-man instance. Seriously, the proc rate on these things is just that generous. We could fill a whole raid with these things.

There's still plenty of work for Blizzard to do with the talent, but what I've seen so far in the beta is promising.


Seriously. I'm excited about Paralysis.

When I play World of Warcraft, I try my best to be a team player. And really, when you're taking on 5-man, 10-man or 25-man content as a shadow priest, that's supposed to be your primary focus -- working as part of a team. DPS players tend to fade into the crowd as the least important aspect of any raid encounter, so anything I can do to add some more value to the team, I do. When I play my elemental shaman, I use Wind Shear every chance I get. On my shadow priest, putting two points into Improved Vampiric Embrace was an easy call.

That talent is going extinct in Cataclysm, and I've been keeping an eye out for a new talent or ability that might take its place. For a time, I figured that ability could be one we already have, Silence. But we're pretty deep into beta already, and developers are still keeping it gated behind a two-point investment in Improved Psychic Scream.

I won't give up hope that we'll someday be able to use Silence in PvE as well as PvP, but just this month, Cataclysm gifted shadow priests with an ability that I'm quite intrigued by: Paralysis. The downsides are obvious -- it's a stun snare that puts you at the total mercy of the random number generator. It's not really an interrupt, like that beautiful Silence talent Blizzard insists on us never being able to take. And of course, we have no idea how effective this will be on non-player characters -- Blizzard has a habit of making bosses totally immune to stuff like this.

But here's the upside: It's a new concept and a new ability that doesn't require me to give up a mapped keyboard key to use. As I play Cataclysm more and more, I'm starting to get button fatigue by the sheer number of choices I have. Between Mind Spike, Dark Archangel and a rekindled interest in Shadow Word: Death, managing the new abilities along with the old standards seems clunkier than ever. I can see Paralysis bringing a nice benefit to my time soloing and to my 5-man groups, and the idea that I don't even need to waste a global cooldown to use it just feels like icing on an already sweetened cake.

An understanding of how shadow priests work

Back in Ulduar and Trial of the Crusader, hybrid classes were poor, abused step children. Elemental shaman had to deal with gear loaded with useless MP5. Shadow priests had gear loaded with sub-optimal spirit. Why was that?

Um ... well, you see, cause resto needs MP5, you know, and ... uh ... and holy, holy and disc are two ... uh ... spirit ... um ...

OK, so I'm not really sure what Blizzard was thinking back in ye olden days of World of Warcraft 3.2. But you can't take a look at the way shadow priests are being designed for Cataclysm without getting a sense that shadow priests -- and in fact, most hybrids -- are finally getting an appropriate level of commonsense design. Shadow priests are the kings of the damage over time spell. It only makes sense that haste should be a powerful stat for us, right?

When Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague became haste-affected spells in Patch 3.3.0, the wall started to crumble. In 4.0, Shadow Word: Pain gets affected by haste, too. The piece that I truly appreciate, though, is the continuity of thought in the design process. Blizzard gave us something to benefit from haste, while simultaneously reworking our talent tree to highlight the stat. If you'll recall, a few weeks ago, Shadowform was changed from a 5 percent crit buff to a 5 percent haste buff. And just this past week, we saw the developers retool Darkness. What was once a static increase to shadow damage is now a 1/2/3 percent increase to spell haste.

That may not seem like a big deal to the casual observer, but this kind of coherent thinking was largely absent from the design of shadow priests throughout Wrath. It's refreshingly welcome to see it turn up in Cataclysm.

No one cares what you think, Fox

That's what my mom used to tell me, anyway. Good ol' mom.

Seriously, though, now that you know what I think about what's coming for shadow priests in Cataclysm, I'd like to hear everyone else's impressions on the beta so far. What's your favorite part about shadow priesting 4.0? Are you loving Dark Archangel? Do those silly little shadow orbs excite you way more than they excite me? Maybe you're just so darn excited about tauren priests that you can't think about anything else.

Now's your chance to sound off. As for me, I'm going to go finish off that bottle of cough medicine and watch some TV until next Wednesday. I hear Match Game's on.