The real Q&A

Despite my snarkiness in my last post, I thought the Q&A yesterday was relatively informative. There was surprisingly quite a lot of what I think of as “real” information as opposed to the kind of blather that is nothing more than an infomercial. If you have an hour with nothing else to do, check out the video yourself either directly on Twitch or via MMO-C here. With that, let me get started on my observations.

PTR is now live. The first announcement was a bit of great news — the PTR is now live for Patch 8.0. That is, now anyone can go up on the PTR and experience the pre-expansion patch, which as usual will contain everything new in BfA (stat squish, new profession system, War Mode, class changes, pre-expansion event scenario, etc.) except for the new zones and content-specific quests. I did not get a chance to check out the PTR yesterday after the Q&A, so I don’t have any firsthand information on it yet, but if you have specific questions I recommend you step in and give it a spin.

When 8.0 does go live (I am guessing in about a month), there will be a few things that have to be adjustment for you. For example, the tier and legendary bonuses will still work, but not the artifact actives. So if you are, say, a BM hunter, and have gotten used to working Titan’s Thunder into your rotation, that will be gone. Same with all the active artifact spells such as Sheilun’s Gift for mistweaver monks and the totally awesome New Moon for balance druids. (Seriously, what is cooler than dropping a moon on the head of your enemy?) Some of these have gone baseline for a few specs, but generally they are compensated for in other, mostly passive, ways.

Flying in BfA. Look for the BfA Pathfinder requirements to be pretty much the same as they were for Legion. Translation: No chance of getting flying until probably sometime around March 2019 at the earliest. Blizz will again gate the requirements behind faction rep, doing a certain number of world quests, and exploration of every nook and cranny of all the new zones, as well as withhold the final Pathfinder parts until a certain patch (8.2??).

Recall that Blizz started the whole Pathfinder mechanism back in WoD, when they were forced to back off their disastrous announcement that there would henceforward never be flying in any new zones. There was such a backlash over that, that they had to hurriedly come up with some way to put off WoD flying while they scrambled to make the zones flyable. So they invented the Pathfinder quest line, along with gates designed to ensure no one would get the ability before Blizz wanted them to.

I don’t actually mind the Pathfinder questlines, by the way, but my point here is that if you are leveling a new character that is not part of an account where one character has already unlocked flying, you must still do the Pathfinder quests for every zone they exist in. That means, in theory, that 5 years from now you will still have to unlock all the rep, exploration, and so forth in Draenor, in Broken Isles, in Battle for Azeroth, and in all expansions up to whichever one is current if you want to be able to fly in those zones.

Thus, an interesting question in the Q&A was, will Blizz stop requiring Pathfinder for older expansion zones such as WoD? Ion, as is his wont, punted on the answer, giving his usual not-at-this-time-but-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-soon™-we-might-start-to-think-about-it. Just my opinion, but I suspect by the expansion after BfA we will start to see Pathfinder going away in the earlier zones like WoD and Legion.

There was, however, a good bit of dissembling going on with Ion’s answer. He bleated on and on about not wanting to “devalue the effort” of completing Pathfinder in every expansion, and that “Draenor was designed for ground-based leveling so you don;t need flying to level there”. Well, yeah. But come on Ion, why not admit that the real answer is that for some reason you have decided that leveling should take a lot longer than it used to (do I smell MAU metrics here?), and allowing flying in a shorter time would not serve that goal.

Class Balance. Bottom line is, what you see on the PTR is largely what you will get for your class and spec. There are very few large changes planned at this point. Blizz is aware of some problems but will address them either by numbers tweaks between now and August 14 or leave those changes for 8.1.

After listening to Ion on this, I remain concerned that Blizz is rather deliberately making winner and loser classes, especially when it comes to raid and group utility. They keep blathering on about how they want each class to “feel special”, yet only a few classes are “special” enough to always be sought out for groups. That is, only a few classes have truly unique utilities — such as battle rez or innervate — and many other classes either have nothing or some lesser version of the sought-after utilities. When this trend is combined with Ion’s fixation on the idea that some classes should be sought after for certain fights (bring the class not the player), it does not bode well for the also-ran classes. Unfortunately for me, I think hunters are one of those. Ion can say all he wants about fitting your strategy to your team, but the reality is that, once there has been a “school solution” to certain fights, it will be well-nigh impossible for classes who are not part of that solution to find pugs willing to take them.

What this means, I think, is choose your main class and spec with care for BfA. If you love playing a certain one and don’t care that it may not be one of the favored ones, go for it. On the other hand, if high numbers, lively play style, and being able to easily get into groups are important factors for you, then spend some time figuring out which classes/specs will do that for you in BfA — it may not end up being your current main.

On the plus side, I was heartened to hear that Blizz understands they went too far with spec identity in Legion, and they want to return to overall class identity. Whether they will achieve this goal or not remains to be seen.

War mode. This new world PvP system is part of patch 8.0. The basics are that there will be no more PvP or PvE servers, there will only be Normal and RP ones. On all servers, you can toggle PvP mode on while in your faction capital city. When you do so, you will be transferred to a shard where everyone has also toggled PvP mode, thus making your location a PvP sever. The difference between RP and PvE servers is that currently RP servers do not involuntarily transfer players to other shards (except in extreme overload situations), so as to keep group integrity better for RP purposes. In 8.0, if you toggle War Mode on an RP server, you will stay on your own shard from your RP server. If you join a group, the group will join your shard, you will not be involuntarily transferred to a different one.

I was pleased to hear Ion explain a bit more about the perks awarded for doing War Mode in patch 8.0. Basically, players in War Mode will earn slightly more gold from world quests, and if they are leveling they will get fast xp than in PvE mode. Ion commented that the reason for this is that PvP players often get forcibly diverted from questing, and the extra gold and xp is a way to compensate for that. Ion said the team is paying a lot of attention to balancing this — they want to make sure PvP is not unduly punishing players who choose it, while at the same time they absolutely do not want the bonuses to be so lucrative as to make PvE players feel pushed into PvP.

Mythic Raiding. Who cares, really. BfA will implement some world ranking system that should result in cross-realm mythic raiding being unlocked sooner. Whoopee. 🙄

Mythic+ Dungeons. For me, another who-cares item. Players will not be able to switch out gear in BfA M+ dungeons, what they start with is what they will use for each. But the interesting takeaway for me from this whole M+ Q&A discussion is the sheer number of changes and “anti-exploit” measures being put into place in BfA for M+. This only means that these are going to be a major esports venue for WoW as we go forward, since nearly all the changes are targeted towards high-end min-maxxers.

Catch-up AP in BfA. There will be one, just as there was one for AP in Legion. Interestingly, in BfA Blizz is reversing the approach. In Legion, the amount of AP required to buy more artifact upgrades increased exponentially, and the catch-up mechanism was that you could earn geometrically-increasing amounts in order to get that AP. In BfA, you will earn Azerite at a constant rate, but the cost of the gear traits will go down periodically. Both systems work for catch-up, but the BfA method means we will not be faced with ridiculously high numbers for traits (over a trillion AP for some people with high artifact levels.)

Anyway, that was it for the Q&A. (There was some more PvP stuff but I pretty much tuned that out.) I think in general it was a decent hour. One of the most positive big takeaways for me is that I am beginning to believe Blizz is sensitive to the grindiness and tedium many of us disliked in Legion, and they do seem to be taking some steps to make that less of an issue.

And with that long, wordy post, let the weekend begin. See you on the other side.

Alpha beta soup

The development of Battle for Azeroth has moved into the next phase. Late yesterday Blizz announced the closing of the alpha servers and a new start with beta. Accompanying this announcement was a new round of invites, presumably rather large in scope and permitting many of the actual customer base for the game to try out BfA.

(No, I haven’t checked yet to see if I got an invite, but since I think there were roughly a gazillion sent out, I suppose there is a chance. If I did, and if it goes like the schedule for Legion, we can expect the PTR very soon. 🤨)

Today’s post is just a couple of observations about what has become Blizz’s standard testing cycle for new expansions.

The alpha —> beta phases are new starting with Legion. Sort of. That is, in the run up to Legion, Blizz called its customer test phase “alpha” but was coy about saying what exactly that meant. In previous expansions there was only a beta and a PTR — at least those were the two phases Blizz publicly acknowledged. When we saw the term “alpha” for Legion, many assumed it was because development was at a cruder stage than usual for allowing some of the public to see it. This made sense, because WoD had been such a disaster that it seemed Blizz would do anything to refocus their customers on Legion. As far as I can recall, Blizz never did put out anything they called “beta” — they went directly from several months of alpha to the PTR. Still, there were a few discernible phases in the Legion alpha — it started with the usual favored few, then gradually — close to the end — was expanded to include representatives of the hoi polloi.

This time, the BfA alpha started out the same, but apparently Blizz is now comfortable with actually calling the early tests “alpha” and the ones where they let in some of the Great Unwashed “beta”.

Why the difference? I think there is a clue contained in a blue post quoted in MMO-C here. Basically, Blizz now permits the pros (big Twitchers, world-first guilds, top 1% on various servers, etc.) to have actual input on important development such as class and spec tuning and profession paths, while reps of the other 99% get to have input on things like travel glitches and wardrobe malfunctions.

Okay, that was maybe a bit snarky, but the blue post I cited pretty much announced that no one participating in the beta should harbor any illusions that they are going to actually shape any of the important stuff. That has already been done by the big kids. Just log on if you got an invite, and help Blizz find all their bugs and stress their servers a bit. Oh, and maybe rave about the marvelous new Island Expeditions which are of course awesome. Because another reason to send out a ton of beta invites is to help generate enthusiasm for BfA. Maybe we will get some explanation of the test phases in tomorrow’s happy chat with Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas.

HAHAHAHA! I crack myself up! More likely it will be an extended infomercial for the expansion.

To be fair, even during the alpha it was apparent that not a lot of class changes were going to be forthcoming. There were a few in response to alpha tester comments, but for a significant number of classes what we saw is what we will get. Blizz had already designed the winner and loser classes/specs for the expansion, and they would not be swayed by such details as actual comparison numbers and professional opinions about the feel of the spec.

Some of the only important stuff we might see tweaked in the beta, I suspect, is the interaction between class mechanics and quests/instances/raids. That is, if Blizz has failed to take the new class changes into account for their group encounter and quest designs (almost certainly the case), they might tweak some of the encounters to make them more compatible. Maybe. And of course, Blizz will happily accept actual bugs that beta testers find.

But if you got a beta invite and expect Blizz to listen to — much less take action on — your frustration with, for example, all the new actions now subject to the global cooldown, forget it. If you are lucky, there will have been a dev that actually plays and understands your chosen class and spec, and thus you will have an engaging play style in BfA and will routinely appear near the top of the charts (if that is something important to you). But if changes were made by a numbers geek who has no clue about the very soul of your chosen class/spec and who frankly could care less, prepare for a couple of years of frustration.

Hmm. I seem cranky today. Maybe I should go check my email.

Dusting off alts

Last night I pulled out my poor neglected mistweaver monk and ran through a couple wings of Antorus the Burning Throne with her. It was pretty grim, but thankfully even really nasty LFR groups seldom pay any attention whatsoever to healers, so I have found it is easier to be very bad on a healer than on a damage dealer or certainly a tank.

Usually within the first half of an expansion I level all my alts. (I don’t have tons of them, only 8 not counting my main or my banker.) I was a little slower doing this in Legion than in previous expansions, mainly because the overhead was so high for my main. But I managed to level all my alts except my demon hunter, which to be honest I am thinking of deleting. (Not a big fan of the DH play style.) After an alt is leveled, I try to gear them up a bit and develop their professions, but then they pretty much sit on the bench until much later in the expansion. Also, I tend to ignore my melee classes longer because I am basically a ranged player at heart. (This is my main objection to monks — I like the mistweaver healing style, but I dislike having to maintain the melee windwalker spec for soloing.)

So in Legion, besides my main hunter, I leveled: another hunter, two mages, a warlock, a rogue, a monk, and a druid. Seven “working alts” total. My “main alt” this expansion is my druid, though I only play resto and balance on her. I’ve never felt the need to have one of every class, although I know a lot of players use that philosophy with alts. I do, though, have at least one of every profession except blacksmithing (because I don’t have any plate wearers, I suppose). In Legion, most of my professions have all the baseline recipes, but they have not progressed to level 3 on all of them. Still, I am pretty self-sufficient for gems, enchants, runes, raid food, etc. (*shhhhhhhh*, don’t tell Ion!) And earlier in Legion, when crafted gear was still relevant, I was able to outfit my cloth, leather, and mail wearers decently.

At any rate, last night I summoned my monk off the bench and put her in the game. Over the years I have developed a definite process for doing this. It invariably goes something like this:

  • Check gear/profession/questline status of alt. Make note of glaring gaps and set those as short term goals. For example, I noted my monk had not done anything beyond the initial Argus quest line. Also her gear level was sitting right at around 900, which I consider to be the minimum, so I will work on increasing it. And of her 3 legendaries, only one was level 1000, so 2 needed to be upgraded.
  • Determine which spec will be main and which will be off for the alt. In Legion, of course, sometimes this requires running through the artifact quest line for a spec you did not level as.
  • Head to Icy Veins or Wowhead for some book learning on the main spec’s crucial stats and baseline rotations. Both these sources often have a section that gives just the “Dummy” versions of recommended rotations, sort of a quick start guide. The main things I try to understand/relearn at this point are the spell dependencies and interrelationships, along with a lifeline rotation I can hang onto until I get more familiar with the spec.
  • Set up my action bars with the spec’s spells.

I actually study this stuff as if there were going to be a quiz on it. I have a notebook with a section for every class/spec I play, and each section lists the stat order of importance, recommended enchants, important spell dependencies, and my basic rotation. This last is very detailed, listing my actual keybinds in order of execution. So it looks something like “1-1-2-2-4-shift1 on CD-6 when it procs”. Sometimes I also copy the rotation sequence to a large sticky and put it on my monitor.

Yeah, I know, I am a nerd. Quit rolling your eyes.

  • Determine the things I will need to keep track of or be reminded of,  check online for an appropriate set of WeakAuras, import them and tweak to fit my needs. If no good ones already exist, I take the time to create my own.
  • Spend some time (usually about a half hour) at the target dummies, developing some initial muscle memory for the baseline rotation(s). Adjust keybinds and/or WeakAuras as necessary.
  • Venture out into the end game world. In Legion that has meant running some world quests and invasions, completing some emissaries, and progressing a bit along content expansion quest lines such as Argus, or part of Broken Shore, or Suramar far enough to get the mask.
  • Take a deep breath and plunge into the current tier of LFR.
  • Continue working on goals set way back in the first step of the process.

In Mists and WoD, I would run each spec through the Proving Grounds, but I have not done that in Legion, as what I need early in my learning curve is practice, not frantic time tests. Usually by the time I have run a couple of LFRs and done several emissaries, I have a good idea of whether or not the alt will be viable for one of our guild alt raids. If I feel it is not ready, I will either take a couple more weeks or just consign it to the “LFR-only” category. (My rogue is like this.)

I do like Timewalkers for alts, because everyone is more or less equalized for gear and whatnot in those, and they yield decent rewards for an undergeared character. Also, if my guild happens to be running groups for the Mythic instance weekly, I will sometimes jump in on one of those with an alt. But I rarely look for Mythic pug groups (even regular Mythic) with an alt. I guess I think if even my main hunter is frequently denied entry to these groups, there is no way I want to put up with the hassle for an alt. Also, I almost never run an M+ on an alt.

Anyway, that’s my prep sequence for dusting off unused alts and getting them into the game. And now it is time to dust off a beer and start the weekend. See you on the other side.

Battle for Azeroth: Legion transmog?

Admin note: I will be taking next week off as a short spring break. I will return to this space on Monday, April 2.

Maybe it is just a reflection of the long dragged-out winter we are having, but most of the things I read about Battle for Azeroth seem depressing. (WARNING, RANT FOLLOWS) And of course reading about it is all I can do, because, no I do not have an Alpha invite, and I am getting to the point where I am suspecting many of them are not in fact random, that there is some sort of Santa good list and bad list as well — the good little children (streamers, friends of Blizz, bloggers who fall all over themselves to flatter Blizz, world-first mythic raiding guilds, etc.) always get early invites, and the bad children (me, for example) get flagged as not only no but hell no. Even if I were to come up on a random invite, the bad list kicks in and the invite would get pulled. There is a slim chance I may get an invite eventually, but if so it will likely be like the one I got for Legion: approximately one week before the PTR went live. Oh yeah, plenty of chances to influence changes at that point…

Yeah, OK, that is probably not the case, but it is difficult to not feel that way. (END OF RANT)

Anyway, back to my point, which is that there really is nothing I have read about BfA so far that comes close to generating excitement for me, other than the obvious fact that it is a new expansion and as such will at least give us different scenery that we have had for a couple of years.

Yes, there are some interesting aspects to it, I am not prejudging it to be lousy out of the box, but there is just nothing that makes me feel like doing one of those beautiful little whole-body grins you get from a six-year-old anticipating Christmas.

Battle for Azeroth seems to me to be nothing more than Legion with a different transmog. Some examples follow.

Instead of artifact weapons, we will have 3 pieces of artifact gear (okay, they call them something else, but artifacts they in fact are). Each piece has its own trait tree, and we will have to grind artifact power Azerite in order to unlock them and make them more powerful. Mark my words, the trait trees for this gear will expand throughout BfA, making any sort of end state virtually unattainable, the same as Legion artifacts, the never-ending carrot dangle revisited.

Professions change only insofar as now we will be allowed to pursue them by expansion group, eliminating the need to go back and do legacy crafting and gathering unless we just want to. This is a good move, but it in no way changes the Legion approach that will require end-game gearing to pursue profession quests in raids, heroic and mythic dungeons, and sheer RNG grinding. The terrible “levels within a level” recipe mechanic also remains.

As an added requirement to have all your profession players at end game level (character and gear), there will once again be a BoP crafting mat. This seems at odds with Blizz’s promise to make crafted gear relevant for more of the expansion, but we will see. Generally speaking, for the first several months in an expansion, only your main is powerful enough to gather such mats in sufficient quantities to make relevant gear, so if you are one of the profession lottery winners with your main you are in good shape (think alchemists in Legion), otherwise (like for example leather makers in Legion) forget it.

Invasions are replaced by Islands and Warfronts. Oh, and Islands will feature AI-driven NPCs, basically a variation on current affixes in M+ dungeons.

Speaking of Mythic dungeons, there will be a doubling down on this esports-friendly activity, with things like affixes being forced on even lower level players doing, say, a M+2 mythic. There will be new “kiss/curse” affixes introduced for M+10 and above, and there is something called “keystone customization” in the works that smells suspiciously like something to make life easier for the M+ pros. Regular mythic dungeons, meanwhile, become relegated to the common pile that includes normal and heroic, but with the added annoyance of having to find a group on your own instead of becoming part of the automatic group finder system.

Mission table and followers will remain, for no reason I can see other than to serve as a justification for Blizz to keep the mobile app, and cause players to log in more often and thus buff up MAU metrics.

Hunter class changes — this is possibly the most depressing of all to me. Again, I only know what I read or watch (see rant above), but from my point of view, Blizz is making no real changes to the fundamental destruction of the hunter class they perpetrated in Legion.

What do I mean by this? Consider the defining factors for the hunter class prior to Legion: highly mobile ranged physical damage dealers with an integral pet. Now consider what happened to the class in Legion. Basically, these defining factors were broken up and reallocated piecemeal to hunter specs. SV lost the “ranged” aspect. MM lost the “pet” and the “highly mobile” aspects. Only BM retained all of the defining aspects, but at significant cost in terms of play style and raw damage numbers. And even for BM, the “highly mobile” and “ranged” aspects were only applied to the hunter, not to the pet, which incidentally constituted most of the BM hunter’s even mediocre damage numbers.

None of this changes significantly in BfA. The touted “rangification” of SV hunters is pretty hollow when you consider that the spec will still derive its most potent damage from its one remaining melee shot, Raptor Strike. I do not play MM and have not studied the proposed changes for it, but it seems like they will remain limited mobility. I have read a few opinions that other MM changes make the spec less interesting to play, although to be fair some others think there is some additional fun that might be added with the right selection of talents.

The worst insult, though, in my opinion, is to BM hunters. BfA will introduce a somewhat new pet damage/buff system that seems to take some of the worst pet changes from each of the past couple of expansions. And other than switching out a few utilities, that is pretty much the extent of what Blizz considers BM hunter changes. Oh, yes, plus Blizz will remove the BM artifact abilities — mainly Hati’s bond and Titan’s Thunder — and as far as I can tell will replace that damage power with nothing. This is unlike they are doing for some other classes, which will have certain artifact abilities baked in to the BfA baseline.

Though it is hard to tell which power nerfs are actual nerfs and which ones are merely part of the stat squish, some things do stand out as genuine nerfs. For example, the speed buff from Posthaste will be cut to less speed and less time, a curious decision for the one remaining highly mobile ranged spec in the game. Other changes, such as increased focus costs for some shots (while still refusing to incorporate a focus generator as baseline) are harder to evaluate without actually giving them a try.

But all in all, Blizz has done absolutely nothing — nothing — to change the bland BM play style, nor do they seem to have any intention whatsoever of doing so. Quite the contrary, they have almost come out and said they consider the spec to be an “entry level” spec, a phrase that almost shouts “not for serious players”, “for wittle kids who wike fluffy cute pets”… 😡

Yes. I am insulted. And I am not alone in this. I am not so naive as to think Blizz will suddenly back off of their revamp of SV as melee and MM as a turret, but for crying out loud, do they have to keep stomping BM into the ground just because we still retain the full essence of the hunter class? If they hate the spec so much, just delete it and have done with it, quit doing passive-aggressive nerfs that make it more and more undesirable to play.

A couple of months ago, when the first changes to SV and MM were announced, many observers counseled to just wait, because it was early and certainly there would also be some significant changes to BM forthcoming.

Nope. This is exactly the Legion alpha being rerun. BM hunters will be totally ignored, despite significant and well-thought out comments in the alpha forum. Again. A starting bad place for them will be enshrined in the live version, possibly followed by a “concerned” CM in the forums asking for “feedback” on the surprising news that there are problems with the spec. Followed by an entire expansion of the spec mired not only in mediocrity for damage, but also in play style. Another entire expansion of grim, boring button mashing with little or no opportunity for player rotation choices, and certainly no possibility of fun in the form of “whee!” moments when procs coincide or when we can unleash a ton of burst damage.

And no one at Blizz gives a damn, because no one at Blizz loves hunters the way some of them love mages or DKs or almost any other spec.

I know there are plenty of hunters who will say BfA is making significant changes to the class, and of course they are welcome to that opinion. But I am sticking by my assessment that there will be no fundamental changes to the destruction inflicted on the class starting in Legion. If anything, Blizz is — once again — doubling down on it.

I am depressed at the prospect of BfA being a rerun of Legion, but I am positively disgusted by Blizz’s continuing disrespect for hunters.

It is time for a weekend to start. Where’s my beer?

Overcoming mage phobia

Those of you faithful readers that have followed this blog for a while now are probably aware of my love-hate relationship with the mage class. I rolled a mage as my second character years ago, mainly because I had a friend who swore it was the best class in the game. At the time he played what he called a frostfire mage, where he selected a complex set of fire and frost talents and touted it as the most powerful damage dealer that could be configured. I am not so sure about that, but I was sufficiently impressed to roll a mage when I decided one lonely hunter was not enough for me.

It was a disaster. For some reason I did not grasp the nuances of playing a caster, tried to power through everything the same way I did my hunter, and as a result died. A lot. As I am stubborn, I hung in there for a long time, though, and dutifully leveled her up every expansion, selecting whichever spec seemed best at the time, and of course cursing the class every step of the way.

Then finally late in WoD I deleted her. It is remotely possible alcohol played a role in the decision, but in a fit of pique I concluded I was never going to learn how to play the class, so why continue to torture myself. Stupid mages! DELETE CHARACTER.

Of course within a week I regretted the decision.

So I rolled a new one. I leveled her (a chubby little Panda mage) as fire, simply because I think fire mages have some of the best visuals in the game. To my surprise, the spec is quite mobile and I actually began to have fun with her. So when the allied races became available, in a fit of overconfidence, I decided to level a void elf arcane mage.

It has been a tough process, but I think something finally clicked for me over the weekend, because I started to feel not only confident in the play style, but also quite powerful. At level 110 and ilevel somewhere around 910, things began to come together. I no longer run out of mana after what seems like 4-5 casts, I can rather easily take on 3-4 mobs at a time, and I am no longer hesitant to engage mini-bosses in world quests by myself.

And it is fun. Who woulda thunk?

I am guessing a confluence of factors is at play here. Getting my gear to a respectable ilevel means more mastery, which in turn means better mana regeneration. This, along with more haste to slightly speed up casting times, has been a big quality of life improvement for me. It is still annoying, though, to have no reliable instant cast (if Presence of Mind is on cooldown) to preclude butthole horde from tag-stealing every mob in the area, or if other players are downing mobs faster than my shortest cast time.

In addition to gear helping, I am — finally, after all these years — learning to use the spec’s abilities instead of fighting them. I know that sounds basic, but I have had a real mind block on this. I am finding the Blink-Displacement-Blink combos to be pretty powerful, more so than a hunter’s Disengage in my opinion. And getting multiple Arcane Missiles procs in a row is super fun, there is just nothing in the BM hunter rotation to compare with that.

There is a lot — a lot — I still have to learn, of course. I really stink at any kind of AoE, and I am nowhere near close to being able to rapidly select the best talents for a given fight. (It does seem to me that this spec is annoyingly dependent on switching out talents in order to be effective in specific fights — possibly more so than most other classes and specs.) I have yet to do a successful Spellsteal (I think I will require an addon for that). I do not know how to use Rune of Power. And of course I am still a real novice at maintaining and using mana and arcane charges properly. But at least now I am interested in learning, which for me is a big step forward.

A mage will probably never become a main for me, and I expect LFR will be the extent of raid endeavors for this alt. But it is a nice diversion now that there is very little progression left for my main in this expansion. Not to mention, my void elf has some hawt transmogs!

All you great mages out there, stop rolling your eyes, this is a really big accomplishment for me! I think I can safely say I have finally conquered my mage phobia.

This is my happy mage dance.

Are target dummies obsolete?

I had a very laid-back weekend, game-wise. Friday night I ran our alt raid with my resto druid and managed to not embarrass myself too badly. I took Saturday off and did actual real world social things. Sunday I devoted a lot of hours to grinding away at leveling my void elf mage (still only level 68, it is a LOOONNNGGG grind). I also managed to squeeze in a half hour or so on my main, whaling away at target dummies.

The last activity got me to thinking — with all the gear and talent complexities of Legion, and the inevitable proliferation of computerized simulations, do most players still even use target dummies? Anecdotally, I have noticed that there are almost never any other players using them when I am, and I remember when it was almost always pretty crowded, before Legion. I suppose for one thing we now have them in more places than we used to. We are not stuck with going to a capital city if we want to use them, we have our garrisons and class halls. (Although I am continually annoyed that there are none in Dalaran. If we are on such an emergency war footing for Legion, and if Dalaran is the center of the resistance, you would think there would be accommodations for troop training. Sheesh.)

When I first started using target dummies (early Wrath, I think), I would usually go to Ironforge, plunk myself in front of one, and blaze away at it. I don’t think I even knew exactly what I was trying to measure or test. Eventually I got a damage meter addon, and then I used it to have a damage number I could tout in whispered exchanges with someone looking to fill a raid.

Sometime along about the middle of Wrath, an excellent raider took pity on me and showed me how to get a whole lot more out of target dummies. Standing in one spot was useful for a couple things, he told me, but just because the target dummy was stationary did not mean I had to be. So I learned to strafe and jump disengage and move while using them, I switched targets, I called my pet off and sicc’ed him back on, I simulated stuns on myself, I would pick some hapless player next to me and aim a mid-fight Misdirection at him (it didn’t do anything, of course, but it was good practice for me). I varied my regular rotation with some of the then-abundant utility shots and even traps we hunters had, sometimes vaguely simulating a particular boss fight where I knew, for example, that a tranq shot was needed for an add or that I needed to keep my healer protected by traps.

I even spent hours perfecting the hunter turn-around jump shot, where you run away from the target, then rapidly turn around to face it again, simultaneously executing a disengage and a concussive shot and then face away from the target before hitting the ground to keep running. I am woefully out of practice on it now, but I was damn good at it for a while, thanks to hours with the target dummies. (The ones in Ironforge were never any good for this, I had to use the ones in Stormwind. Later, in Mists, the ones in the Shrine were ideal, as you had that entire long and broad front platform to use. Even now, neither the garrison nor the hunter class hall begin to approach the Shrine in terms of running space.)

I thought it was a terrific quality of life move when in WoD Blizz gave us healing and tank versions of target dummies. There are still some problems with them, of course. It would be nice, for example, if you could create a group with the friendly dummies you need to heal. Also, there are times when the game doesn’t really consider you to be in combat when you are engaged with target dummies, along with times when you can’t easily get out of combat with them. I have not often used the tanking target dummy, so I can’t speak to how well it allows tanks to practice.

I always had high hopes for proving grounds to be the equivalent of target dummies on steroids. Sadly, they did not really work out that way. The mini-scenario structure of them limits you in terms of working on a specific thing, and you are stuck with the scenario playing itself out, even if, for example, you are just working on openers. Where Blizz went wrong with proving grounds, I think, is that they made them into achievement-based competitions rather than leave them as a vehicle for simple practice.

My ideal of proving grounds would be that they would be more player-configurable. For example, you could select from a list of different types of fights — trash, Patchwerk boss, boss with adds, boss with movement, etc. Kind of like the various sim scenarios you can pick. Also, I think it would be useful if players could bring in other players to the proving grounds. So for example if two tanks need to practice something, they could both go in. Or if someone was having a problem with damage numbers, that person could go in with a mentor and practice better techniques while getting immediate feedback and advice.

We basically have three different levels of practice activities in WoW now — target dummies, proving grounds, and LFR. (Maybe four if you count battlegrounds.) Each of them has their own pluses and minuses. I don’t mean to denigrate LFR — I actually think the latest tiers have restored a little more of the challenge to it. But I often use it just for practice on alts, rather than for gear or other reasons. This is especially true of my healer alts where, for example, people stubbornly standing in fire are a pretty good simulation of a heal-heavy boss fight. If I know I will be a designated tank healer in an alt raid (not often with my resto druid, but still…), I may step into LFR and take it on myself to heal the tanks, watching closely to see where the big damage points are.

But back to target dummies. I still use them quite a bit, even on my main hunter. I use them to practice new rotations (for example if I switch from a BM zoo build to a dire frenzy build, or if I equip a legendary or trinket that changes my rotation), or to field-test a couple of competing simulation results. I also use them to test out addons from time to time, especially new Weakauras I want to use. Sometimes I just need to retrain muscle memory I have gotten lax on.

What about you, do you still use target dummies? Do you want to see Blizz improve them, or should they be just a holdover from earlier days of the game?

In a slump

Last night we ran through Heroic Antorus, clearing it in under 3 hours. It’s fair to say we now have it on farm, although I am not sure what anyone is really farming for any more. Before we finished Argus, the RL mentioned maybe if we had time we might take a run at Mythic Garothi. That, of course, was the signal for several people to immediately drop group and log off the minute we finished Argus. It is true we are not a mythic raiding guild, but we are certainly capable of finishing off a couple of the earlier bosses on that level every tier. I find it challenging and fun, because there really is no pressure to do any sort of heavy progression — we get as far as we can get, and when it gets too punishing we stop. Unfortunately, we do not have 19 other people who feel the same way, so even though we had 22 finish last night’s raid with an hour left in our usual raid time, at least 10 bailed immediately.

About the only thing I am still interested in getting from the raid are my final two tokens to finish upgrading my hunter Pantheon trinket. We have had only one legendary version drop from Argus, in what amounts to maybe 300 kills (20 people average, maybe total of 15 normal/heroic kills), and honestly I don’t see it as much of an improvement for me once I get mine to ilevel 1000. I am not even sure how useful the raid-wide proc is for us, as some people who have the specialized trinket for healing or dps or whatnot do not wear theirs during raid because their other trinkets sim higher for them. So I guess we could be getting more frequent procs if more people wore theirs, but that doesn’t happen.

Overall, I think the whole Pantheon trinket mechanism is poorly conceived. It seems like it was designed solely for high end raiding guilds, and even then the fact that there is zero control over the proc just blows. If a team really works to get their raiders the trinkets and upgrades, they should absolutely be able to control when to trigger the buff. Then again, possibly Blizz knew that this raid tier was going to be pretty mediocre, and doling out trinket upgrades was all they could think of to keep a few guilds going back.

My own performance in our raids seems to be regressing, and I am in kind of a funk about it. I don’t run a damage meter during actual raids, but I do look at my logs afterwards to see where I can improve. Everyone can have an off night, of course, but I have been having an off night now for about 3 weeks. My damage numbers (both totals and dps) are just not improving.

I am not so self-serving as to put it off on gear. I have a relatively high ilevel (around 962 equipped). I really cannot use that as an excuse. However, I am struggling with secondary stats — just cannot get seem to amass the crit I need for my zoo build. I have equipped the highest-crit items I have, and I gem and enchant for it, but it remains pretty pitiful. Meanwhile, my mastery soars to well over 100%, and I end up with what seems like far too much versatility. With so much mastery, I tried a Dire Frenzy build for a while, but there was little improvement that I could see, and it was a dead boring rotation, so I switched back.

The insanely high impact secondary stats have on each spec, combined with the randomness of their presence in gear, is in my opinion one of the worst things Blizz has foisted on us. (And don’t even get me started on gear specialized for a certain spec, such as tier gear, having large amounts of what is arguably the worst possible stat for that spec.) I almost hate getting new gear these days, because it is impossible to tell at a glance whether or not it will be an upgrade, or if it might become an upgrade with a different talent build or different legendaries or different sets of tier gear.

Still, I can’t chalk up my poor performance to gear. That is a cop out.

One thing, I think, is that BM hunters, with our mobility, do  well early in a new raid tier. But as the tier goes on, other damage dealers — melee, casters, and even MM hunters — learn the fights and learn where they can stand and when to move to optimize their performance. But other than mashing buttons more efficiently, BM hunters have nothing really to optimize, so even if we don’t actually get worse, everyone else is getting better.

It is true that excellent BM hunters can compete with the best damage dealers. We have one in our guild, and I am in awe of her amazing performance in nearly every fight. (Even so, she is rarely if ever the top damage dealer.) I, however, am only slightly above average even on my best days, and I think that average BM hunters fare rather badly in Legion. Worse than, say, average affliction warlocks or average almost any other class/spec.

(However, none of that is an excuse for doing things like accidentally disengaging off the Kin’garoth platform during a fight. Twice. Or for getting trapped in fire on the far side of the Aggramar platform. That was just inattention and stupidity last night, and I am embarrassed about it.)

Legion is the first expansion where I have not gotten better as the expansion went on. Better gear, higher proficiency with my rotation, more familiarity with the boss fights, more attention to mechanics — no matter how hard I work on those things, and I do work on them — I am losing ground. It is demoralizing.

So, yeah, I am in a definite slump. Whether it is strictly a personal one or one engineered by Blizz’s inability to scale and balance BM hunters, it just feels bad.