Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

A plea to Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas

WARNING: Entering rant zone. Please drive carefully.

Okay. Today’s rant topic is one I have covered before, but last night it just hit a tipping point for me. To put it as delicately and politely as I can:

BLIZZ, YOU HAVE ROYALLY FUCKED UP GEAR IN LEGION!

What pushed me over the edge last night was getting two pieces of nice 930 level gear that in one case was a 20-level upgrade and in the other was a 35-level upgrade to what I had equipped. Except they were not, in fact “upgrades”, since I am unable to equip them. Doing so would require me to break up my delicately-balanced tier19/tier20 combo, the result of which — according to the supercomputers we now have to use to evaluate gear values — would be a net decrease of approximately 40k dps.

It gets worse. I actually have a beautiful 6-piece set of tier20 gear, which in theory would allow me to run a sought-after 2pc/4pc combo. Nope, can’t do it, since once again that would result in a significant damage loss over keeping my 895-level 2 pieces of tier19.

It gets even worse. I have some very nice, highly-valued BM legendaries all of which I have upgraded to 970. But for the most part I cannot use them because doing so would mean insufficient slots for my required 6 pieces of tier19/tier20 gear. The only one of value that I can use is the BM belt, only because — thank the Old Gods — there are no tier pieces for that slot. This means I am pretty much stuck with using legendary wrists, Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish, or Sephuz as my second piece. It turns out that Sephuz is the hands-down winner in terms of theoretical damage levels, KBW is a close second, and the wrists are quite a bit lower (plus I have never been lucky enough to snag the trinket that makes them really work, thus they are kind of “meh” for me). I tried Sephuz last night but found that the practical disruption to rotation necessary in order to maximize its procs was causing me to lose more dps than I could theoretically gain, so I switched to KBW and my damage immediately went up noticeably.

It gets still worse. Because of the huge role secondary stats play especially when they are intertwined with various talent builds and artifact relics, any new piece of gear must be evaluated not only for itself but for the pluses or minuses it brings to your current talent/relic setup. This means that you must consider changing your talents and relics in order to take advantage of a potential upgrade in gear.

For example, I run what Bendak calls a “Stomp” build for my BM hunter. This is a build that takes advantage of relatively high levels of crit — not normally a top stat for BM hunters, but it becomes significant if you are running the Stomp build. (I only happened to get a lot of crit because of the random nature of secondary stats, I did not set out to stack it on purpose.) But it is likely this build will be less powerful if I get a couple of pieces of gear with less crit, thus I need to evaluate them not only for the talents I am running, but for a possibly completely different talent build. In which case, other legendaries and/or tier combos might be significantly better.

It has gotten to the point where even the sophisticated simulations are of marginal value. I used to use a simple gear-evaluator (Pawn) addon based on optimal stat weights for your character. That is now useless, since it (by design) only compares gear for a single slot, not in combination with for example tier that gives bonuses. Thus, nearly every piece of gear in my bag is considered an upgrade, because of course a 930 cape is better by far than a 900 one. Except it is not, because the 900 one is part of a tier set.

Not only sim-based addons, but the simulation software itself is insufficient for most people in evaluating gear. This is because most people — even if they understand how to set up SimulationCraft on their own computers or plug in a set of gear and talents to one of the web sites — simply do not have enough time or expertise to methodically compare all the complex factors. Thus, the newest simulation helper is something called SimPermut, an addon that allows you to generate multiple combos of your gear and compare them. It also allows you to run talent and relic comparisons. What it does is generate a script that you can then use to run in Advanced mode on the website Raidbots.com. (If you want to get started, check out this IcyVeins tutorial — it is aimed at hunters but the technique can be used for any class.)

(Remember the days when you could just plant yourself in front of a target dummy and test out a couple variations of talents or gear? HAHAHAHA! We were so innocent then!)

See, here’s the thing:

WHY DO WE NEED A BANK OF HIGH POWERED COMPUTERS AND SOPHISTICATED VARIABLE SCRIPTS TO DECIDE IF A PIECE OF GEAR IS AN UPGRADE FOR US?

Come on, Blizz, pull your collective head out of your collective ass and look around! Really look at what you have done with gear in Legion and admit that this Rube Goldberg setup is just not sustainable. Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas is fond of lecturing us about what is and is not fun™ when it comes to gear, and one of his themes has been that when you get a new piece of gear you should be able to equip it immediately, not have to do that nasty reforging “math” or always have to have a gem or enchant for it. Well, guess what?

Getting a 30-level upgrade that makes your dps lower if you equip it is not fun™. Having to rearrange every piece of gear you are wearing just to accommodate a new piece is not fun™. Having to hang on to last-tier gear because Blizz fucked up the tier bonuses is not fun™. Having to run supercomputer simulations for every conceivable combination of gear/talents/relics is not fun™. 

Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, I implore you, fix this gear mess!

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

🙄🙄🙄

See you after the release of ToS.

For stat geeks

There is a lot on my plate in the real world today, so this will be an abbreviated post. But I want to give a plug to a hunter who provides an excellent service to the community. Delirium over at Thrill of the Wild does not post often, but when he does it is frequently to do a lot of math heavy lifting for the rest of us. His deep dives on hunter stats over the years have helped me a lot.

If you are a math whiz, you can follow his extensive spreadsheets and testing results, and use them to make calculations for your own hunter. But if you are “math challenged” like I am, you can skip over that part and just read his bottom lines, which are written in normal and useful language.

An ongoing project of his is to break out hunter stat conversions and ability formulas, for all hunter specs as well as for pets. It is updated with each new patch and relevant hotfix. His results are all based on extensive testing, not tooltips, so they may differ from some more popular sites. I encourage you, if you have the time, to check it out. It takes a bit of dedication to get into the charts, but you are well rewarded if you do so. I was especially interested in the ability formula tables, because they tell you which abilities are affected by the spec’s most important secondary stats such as mastery or haste. For example, if you are deciding which stats to enchant or gem for, or which talents will take advantage of your current stat build, these tables can help you.

The ascendancy of gear in Legion

Last night was our regular normal raid night, and it was a good session all the way around — we cleared normal Nighthold, did 3 early bosses in heroic so as to give us a head start Thursday for our heroic progression, and still quit 45 minutes early. Quite a few people got tier gear (not me, of course) and there was even one legendary drop, and in general we just had a pretty good time. But about halfway through, I had one of those sudden realizations, the kind you get when you know a certain situation exists but its full impact has not yet dawned on you:

Legion gear is a complete and total mess.

I have ranted a few times about various aspects of Legion gear, but last night it all came together like one giant poop snowball rolling down the hill at you faster and faster. What made it dawn on me is when I realized that I really can no longer tell if a piece of gear is an upgrade for me or not. This is not for lack of trying. Here are the steps I go through to try to determine whether or not a piece really is an upgrade:

  • Before raid, I run a series of sims (I use Beotorch, but there are other sites that will do this for you, or you can download something like SimulationCraft and run them yourself).
    • I take into account that I use a standard “AoE” talent build most of the time, but I also have a single-target talent build that I use for some bosses with no, or very few, adds. This means at least two sims need to be run, because the results are very different with different talent builds.
    • Then I need to pick a fight scenario. Because it is too complicated to pick more than one for each talent build, I usually pick a single boss stand-in-place one (Patchwerk, Ultraxion) for my single target build, and a single boss with quite a few adds and light movement for my AoE build.
  • Once the sims are done, I load them into Pawn (again, this is what I use, there are other similar addons out there). This in theory gives me a quick tooltip reading on any given piece of gear, whether it is an upgrade or not, and an estimate of how much of an upgrade it is.
  • When raid time comes around, the first thing I look for in a piece of gear that I have won or am being offered in trade from someone else who can’t use it, is the Pawn number in the tooltip.
  • In some cases, I will disregard Pawn and go with my gut — as for example if my current piece is level 870 and the new piece is 885, I will call it an upgrade even if Pawn does not. This, of course, assumes that the primary and secondary stats look decent, although for example in the case of necks there are no primary stats so you have to look at other things like bonus effects, gem slots, etc.

For several months, I used a BM Pawn build by Azortharion and linked in IcyVeins. It was a decent way to start, but the thing is, it is based on an assumed ilevel and an assumed baseline set of gear. If you don’t have this set, you will get skewed results — my experience was the higher ilevel I attained, the more skewed were my results.

The way that secondary stats interact in Legion, it is not always the case that the piece of gear with your preferred secondary stat is the best, since there are complex interactions among them, and the main factor really is the ratio of secondary stats, not just loading up on your “primary” secondary stat. (I am giving myself a headache here…) The bottom line is, your best upgrade gear varies according to the particular set of gear you have equipped, and it frequently has absolutely nothing to do with ilevel.  It doesn’t vary a lot If you get one new piece, but if that piece is enchantable and/or has a gem slot, it can change your stat ratio enough that you might want to rebalance things. And often we are talking about a few thousand additional damage points, not just a few hundred.

But here’s the thing: Even if Pawn or your gut tells you a piece of gear is an upgrade, it is still a crap shoot. All sims are based on a set of specific assumptions, and if those assumptions were flawed, then the outcome/recommendation will also be flawed. As to going on gut — on more than one occasion I have equipped what to my gut looks like a decent upgrade, only to unequip it and go back to my other piece when I realize it is not actually helping me.

Remember back in the WoD pre-patch (6.0.2), when they completely reworked secondary stats and got rid of reforging? Here is what the official patch notes (expanded) said about that:

The original intent behind Reforging was to offer a way for players to customize their gear, but in practice it offered little in the way of true choice. Players attempting to optimize every piece of gear were well advised to look up how they were supposed to reforge an item in an online guide or tool that had already determined the optimal choice. It added yet another step to the list of things that must be done to a new item before it was ready to be equipped, reducing the joy of getting an upgrade into a chore.

If an upgrade drops, we want you to be able to equip it with a minimum of fuss. It is for those reasons that we’re removing Reforging from the game.
The Reforging system and associated NPCs have been removed from the game.

HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Blizz, you crack me up. At the time I did not appreciate what a great joke you were playing on us, but now that I see it, I have to say it was well done! You definitely got me on that one! Yeah, reforging was too complicated, so instead you gave us this Byzantine maze of obfuscated simulation math, probabilities, and contorted stats. Good one!

In fact, the whole Legion gear picture resembles a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with your piece of upgrade gear somewhere in the middle of all that clutter and confusion. In addition to the guess-if-it-is-an-upgrade factor, we have:

  • The mess with crafted and order hall gear that I talked about yesterday.
  • Artifact weapons making a single piece of gear central to most end game play — not only as far as chasing AP, but as being inextricably intertwined with spec power, spells, and play style.
  • The big mess with legendaries — everything from drop rate, to “good ones” versus “trash ones’,  to the fact that their lack often hinders effective spec changing within a class. (Another good joke from Blizz — yeah, you can freely change to any spec in your class, nor more restrictions! Except, of course, artifact weapon grinding, different gear sets because of stats, and “required” legendaries…)
  • Secondary stats. Honestly, no actual non-professional player can understand their complex interactions sufficiently to make any kind of reasonable judgment about a piece of gear’s utility to them.
  • RNG. Once again, the people on the good end of the probability curve make out like bandits, while the chronically unlucky are left to muddle along. This affects not only tier gear and weapon upgrades (relics), but also legendaries and possibly even more importantly secondary stats. I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Ion Hazzikostas, RNG is NOT fun! Speaking as someone always on the butt end of the curve, I can tell you not only is it not fun, it is soul-crushingly depressing.

Gear in Legion seems more important than I can remember, and I think it has reached a point where player skill, while still a factor, is much less a factor than in the past. This growing centrality of gear in Legion, combined with the pruning of raid buffs and utilities for all but a couple of classes, points to a sea change in Blizz’s philosophy, one that puts us far along the road to “Bring the class, not the player.”

I think when I look back on Legion, I will see gear as one of the biggest failures of the expansion, right up there alongside the betrayal of the hunter class. Methods for Legion gear enhancements and accumulation — like the current hunter play style — have become part of the game that I play in spite of, not because of.

I wish I were as good as the sims say I should be

Fia-SC-8-25-2013
Been dabbling a bit with SimulationCraft. I didn’t really mess with it long enough to get any real deep insights, but below are some random observations. I used these options:
—  Fia’s SV talent/glyph/gear spec
—  Patchwerk style fight (stand in one spot and hammer the boss)
—  100% active time (yeah, right — I am usually lucky to break 90%)
—  All CDs and shots as they are available
—  576 second fight
  • Figuring out how many total seconds are spent per shot, plus how much damage each shot does, the best “bank for the buck” shots are (in descending order of awesomeness)

The least bang for buck comes from Auto Shot, and next worst is Cobra Shot. My take on what this means is, focus control is critical to maxing dps — every time I insert an unneeded Cobra Shot because I am over-compensating on focus, I am wasting dps.

  • In this standing 9.6 minute fight, I should ideally be firing off:
Over 100 each Cobra Shots and Explosive Shots
14 Dire Beast
87 Arcane Shots

Explosive Shot should account for 20% of my dps. In comparing some of the World of Logs entries for a recent one of our guild raid fights similar to a Patchwerk style, I see that I do actually come pretty close to this 20% number, but my total number of shots is nowhere near “ideal”, even pro-rating for differences in time.

I am not/not a methods player by any stretch of the imagination. But I think once in awhile these kinds of simulators can help me to think about how I can become better.

My main takeaways from this little exercise are:

  • I have to get better at minimizing my shot down time. More active time = more shots fired = more dps
  • I need to do a better job managing my focus. I am pretty good about dumping it with Arcane Shot above 75, pretty good about building it below 20 if Black Arrow or Crows is about to come off cooldown, but in the middle I am sloppy about it.  (Use the WalMart logistics model: “just in time” focus!)

Back to the practice dummies.  And come on, Proving Grounds!