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?

Hunter “balance” — part deux

Well.

After the expected nerfs to MM hunters and the inexplicable-though-slight nerf to BM hunters on December 3, Blizz added in a couple of enhancements to BM and SV hunters with the December 15 round of hotfixes. This is welcome news, and seems to bear out my optimism that eventually hunter specs will get properly balanced, although the process is likely to be pretty painful.

So before I go further, thanks to Blizz for continuing to work on fixing the horrible hunter mistakes that they allowed to go live in this expansion. Today’s buff to BM’s Improved Focus Fire makes me kind of excited to raid tonight on both of my BM hunters, just to see if there is a noticeable difference. And even though I gave up on SV at the beginning of WoD, increasing Serpent Sting damage by 60% might make me reconsider the spec for AoE-heavy fights. (“Might” I said. Still concerned about SV’s lack of burst capability.)

By the way, as a side note, I did spend some time working with MM/Lone Wolf on one of my hunters. Switched to that spec and talent, rearranged a couple of glyphs, spent a some time on the target dummies. Then I ran a couple of heroics using the spec. Of course, this does not make me even close to an expert on it, but I just could not make it work for me. I did do significantly higher DPS in the rare instances where I could stand still and hammer away, but any time there was normal movement required, my DPS was terrible. Clearly much of this is due to my unfamiliarity with the movement patterns MM must adopt. But not all of it, I think. At least in the couple of heroics I ran, many boss mechanics seemed to require more constant movement than can reasonably be sustained for MM. I just was not comfortable with it, and I don’t see myself becoming so.

And as a side note to my side note: WTF??? Target dummies can now kill you???? Why? What lunatic reasoning drove this change? You go to a target dummy to work out rotations in a controlled environment, not to get killed BY AN INANIMATE DUMMY! (Not to mention the embarrassment factor.) This just has to be another brilliant innovation from the Screw With The Players Department at Blizz. After I almost died while testing out my MM rotation, I did a little research, and I think what was happening was that my Chimaera Shot cleave effect was hitting the tanking dummy, and it is in fact the tanking dummy that does the damage. So, OK, Blizz, I am going to give you, free of charge, a high-tech solution to this, something my consulting clients would have to pay a lot of money for: MOVE THE DAMN TANKING DUMMY!

Alright, on to the point of this particular post, and I assure you I do have one. There was a recent tweet from a Blizz dev in response to a hunter asking about the initial December 3 nerf to BM. (Remember, this was before the Dec 15 changes.) I quote it here from the Blue Posts of MMO Champion, just so you know I am not making it up (not that you can make this stuff up):

Why on earth would you nerf BM when it was already terrible? Or is it an oversight that it got collateral nerfed by MM?
.That Kill Shot change has an extremely trivial (<1%) impact on Beast Mastery. With MM nerfed, BM should get some play now. (Celestalon)
Problem is BM was already low.
.It’s difficult to say anything conclusive (UP or not) about a spec that only 1-3% of hunters play in raids. (Celestalon)

So this is a good news – bad news thing, right? On the one hand, it’s good that Blizz deigned to explain the reasoning behind one of their most bizarre recent changes. On the other hand, the reasoning is, well, most charitably described as “obscure”. It’s like when you are potty training your toddler, working constantly to get her to understand the purpose and use of that room with all the porcelain, then one day you take her along to the hardware store, look away for a moment, then gasp when you see she has made a beeline for the plumbing department and is following your instructions exactly. Of course you can’t punish her for it, or even make her feel bad, the best you can do is pay for the damage and slink out, but still ….

So Blizz, I congratulate you on trying to explain yourselves, but ummm we need to have a discussion on the finer points of modern plumbing systems logic and reasoning. Really, the reason you nerfed BM was because MM needed nerfing, so now that you nerfed both of them elite hunters should start flocking back to BM???? *head slap*

Again — free of charge — a suggestion for a better answer: “Collateral. Making add’l changes soon to BM and SV to make them more viable as raid specs.” See, truthful and logical, acknowledges the current situation, even fits into a tweet. How hard is that?