Healing Theory: Spirit–Past, Present, and Future

All posts in this series can be found here.  Good background for this post can be found in this entry.

Many of the big questions about the new healing gameplay in Warlords center around mana management.  While that will probably be a complex topic throughout the expansion, one place we can start is by looking at exactly what’s changed regarding Spirit, regen, and the amount of mana you have to spend.  I’ve been discussing recently how we have a temporary period of even more mana abundance than we had in 5.0, but that this not reflect Warlords healing at all.  Here I’ll explore that in more detail as well as other questions about mana in Warlords.

Overview of Changes

To start with the facts–this how the basic parameters are changing:

Mana Changes

A few other relevant points:

  • Spirit from will now only be available on certain slots (ring/neck/cloak/trinket).  This affects how much you expect to have, which is discussed below.
  • Many significant sources of mana went away or will go away: most importantly, the meta gem and Innervate and similar spells.

Finally, spell costs as a % of base mana often went down.  Not in every case, especially for spells that got design changes which increased costs (Chain Heal).  AoE spells also tended to relatively increase.  But many typical spells that were not changed, such as RejuvenationRenew, and Regrowth cost around 2/3 of what they did before (as a % of base mana).  I’m not going to explore this point in too much detail, because it would require making some kind of complicated Consumer Price Index for spell costs.  But keep it in mind when comparing 5.0 numbers to 6.0 numbers.

Even if I did some elaborate normalization of spell costs, that wouldn’t mean much.  Damage comes in in different amounts now, and you use your spells in different quantities.  Basically, we can’t compute a precise watershed amount of mana or regen that will make 6.0 healing feel exactly the same as 5.0 healing, since too many other things changed.  We’ll look at the comparison as well as we can though.

We do have to adjust for deflation somehow though, since 1 mana means something very different in each of the 3 time periods in the above chart.  For the most part I’m simply going to use total mana pool size as the reference.  That is, since it’s gone from 300,000 to 160,000, assume that 1 mana now is equivalent to roughly 300/160 = 1.875 pre-squish mana.  The point above about changing spell costs is mostly to say that this is likely an underestimate of the difference.

Total Mana Availability

Let’s revisit the discussion from the first half of this post, where we computed how much total mana there was to spend in a 6-minute encounter.  There we used a character with a somewhat typical 12,000 Spirit in 5.0.  For 6.0 we’ll use a character with Spirit in the standard 4 slots (2 rings, neck, cloak), and 1 passive Spirit trinket (so you could of course have more or less than this based on trinket choice).

Things are a little different at L90 since we’re still in MoP.  My character, immediately after the squish, now has 481 Spirit.  That’s with Spirit in the standard 4 slots, plus a few leftover gems and an Amp trinket.  That’s probably pretty typical, so we’ll use that.  It also turns out it’s about the same as what you’d get from 4 Spirit items + 1 passive Spirit trinket at ilvl 580, so the comparison to L100 is still good.

At L90 post-squish, my mana in a 6-minute encounter, again in thousands of mana, is:

  • 37 (starting mana)
  • 107 (base regen (1480 MP5) over 6m)
  • 71 (6 minutes of Spirit regen, at 481 Spirit)
  • 23 (meta gem, evaluated @ 3 Rejuvs (2097 mana) per proc)
  • 6 (potion)
  • Total: 244

What about at L100–let’s say at ilvl 615, corresponding to Normal dungeons and Proving Grounds.  Looking at the relevant items, I’ll have roughly 54 from each of my 4 non-armor slots, and 138 from one trinket, for a total of 354 from gear.  With 784 base Spirit as a Tauren, that’s 1138 Spirit.  So now we’re looking at:

  • 160 (starting mana)
  • 230 (base regen (3200 MP5) over 6m)
  • 169 (6 minutes of Spirit regen, at 1138 Spirit)
  • 34 (potion)
  • Total: 593

In order to add these new numbers to the previous chart, we have to scale them to account for changes in mana pool size, as discussed above.  Here I’ve scaled them all to correspond to a mana pool size of 160,000:

Mana Bars 6.0

Looking at this, we can see a number of things.

First, remember that despite the disclaimers about comparing Mists to Warlords, the comparison of L90 6.0 to WoD is a perfect apples-to-apples comparison.  You’re using the new spell costs in both cases, and scaling to mana pool size exactly accounts for the changes in spell costs as you go to level 100.  So this is a clear way of seeing how L90 6.0 is not like level 100 Warlords healing (in particular, you can clearly see the effect of the temporary doubling of base regen, the red part of the bar).  Your gross mana availability is nearly double what it would be if it accurately reflected the level 100 experience.  This is the most important factor driving the sheer weirdness of healing between now and the launch of Warlords.

If you want to think about how things have changed since 5.0, this is a good start.  Even ignoring changes in spell costs, you have more mana than you did two weeks ago.  The subjective play experience right now is that you have much more mana than you did two weeks ago.  In late Mists you could throw heals rather freely, but now you can throw expensive filler heals completely at will, and your mana doesn’t even sink much.  This supports the notion that, in the aggregate, spell costs have come down.  Your total mana is only slightly higher in real terms, but in practice you’re far more flush with mana.  This strongly suggests that if we did construct a Consumer Price Index of spell costs and take it into account, the two leftmost bars in the above graph would be compressed further down.

Spirit Increases in Warlords

A major concern many healers have is whether increases in stats from gear, which tend to increase by a huge amount over the course of the expansion, will result in an overly large amount of regen a few tiers from now.  The Mists post I’ve been linking concluded that increase in Mists was more due to the meta gem and other factors than it was to straight Spirit increases.  This suggests that, even if no changes were made from Mists, the situation would be largely under control unless some ill-advised item were added in Warlords that gave healers huge amounts of mana.

It turns out that, even beyond that, other changes in Warlords are further damping the impact of Spirit increases.  Spirit from gear is an even smaller part of the overall mana picture than it was in Mists.  The chart above pools all “Spirit” together, but remember that of the 1138 Spirit at ilvl 615, 784 was the passive Spirit from being a level 100 Tauren.  Only 354 of it was from gear and will increase with ilvl.  That 354 Spirit accounts for only 52,500 mana over 6 minutes.  This is less than 10% of the total mana we had available at that ilvl (593,000).  The entire remainder of your mana supply will be constant.

Spirit from Gear (purple) will increase with ilvl. All other sources will remain constant.

However, the fact remains that stats, including Spirit, increase exponentially with ilvl (at the rate of 15% every 15 ilvls, or doubling every 74.4 ilvls).  And with exponential growth in the picture, we definitely cannot be satisfied with the mere fact that regen looks safe right now; we need to project the future increases in more detail.

I started doing that when I made the bar graph above, and included a column for Warlords at ilvl 695 (corresponding to Mythic gear at the end of the first raid tier).  Consulting Wowhead again, at that point we expect to have 115 Spirit on a non-armor item, and 291 from a trinket.  This results in 751 Spirit from gear, just over twice what we’ll have at ilvl 615 (as expected after an increase of 80 ilvls).  Total mana supply will have gone from 593,000 to 655,000, as was shown in the graph.  So far, nothing concerning.

Extrapolating forward, with the constant sources of mana staying constant and the gear term increasing exponentially, we have something that looks like this:

x-axis is ilvl. y-axis is thousands of mana available in a 6-minute period.  Red line is constant term only, blue line is constant + gear.

The exponential growth is pronounced, but the very small starting size of the gear term means that it doesn’t start to get out of hand until around ilvl 800, hopefully higher than we’ll ever see.  Between 600 and around 750, the growth is small next to the constant term.

Without getting too deep into speculating on Warlords, let’s remember that ilvls in Mists increased by 63 from the end of the first tier (509 from H Terrace/Heart, ignoring Elite Protectors) to the end of the third and final tier (572 from H WF Siege), ignoring upgrades.  There should be a reasonable hope of going from 695 in M Furnace to something that’s not too far above 750.  If that hope isn’t borne out and items get stronger than is currently foreseeable, then we will very rapidly have to revisit this discussion.  To match the end of Mists in squish-adjusted terms (the 1.01M mana shown in the bar graph), we’d need to reach ilvl 846, so we’re probably safe in that sense.  However, again, if you were to adjust for reduced spell costs, that number will get smaller.  For example, if you guess that spells only cost 80% of what they used to, so you only need to reach 806,000 mana to have something similar to the Mists feel, that will happen at ilvl 783 (hopefully, still out of reach).

One final interesting aside, which I’m going to leave open for now, is whether the very small impact of the “gear Spirit” term will make Spirit less attractive at low ilvls.  It’s not clear that it will (all other stats follow a similar growth pattern as well), but it’s worth trying to look into further.  A related question would be whether Spirit should have diminishing returns so that it grows linearly rather than exponentially with ilvl (this would be accomplished by having regen be O(log(Spirit))).  That seems like a much more stable growth pattern–in fact, if Spirit worked that way, they would probably not have had to squish it down so hard at the start to keep it under control for the whole expansion.  That might make it difficult to balance against other stats, however.

Conclusion

The most immediate thing you should take away from all this is cementing the notion that the current month of healing is a complete oddity, now with more numbers to help explain it.  Keeping our sights set on level 100 though, this is a fuller explication of what I surmised in the “mana economy” post from Mists, namely, that Spirit growth would not be nearly as pronounced in Warlords.  Absent new items on the order of the Mists meta gem, or unanticipated ilvl increases, we should see only a modest increase in mana supply over the course of the expansion.

Healing Theory: Spirit–Past, Present, and Future

All posts in this series can be found here.  Good background for this post can be found in this entry.

Many of the big questions about the new healing gameplay in Warlords center around mana management.  While that will probably be a complex topic throughout the expansion, one place we can start is by looking at exactly what’s changed regarding Spirit, regen, and the amount of mana you have to spend.  I’ve been discussing recently how we have a temporary period of even more mana abundance than we had in 5.0, but that this not reflect Warlords healing at all.  Here I’ll explore that in more detail as well as other questions about mana in Warlords.

Overview of Changes

To start with the facts–this how the basic parameters are changing:

Mana Changes

A few other relevant points:

  • Spirit from will now only be available on certain slots (ring/neck/cloak/trinket).  This affects how much you expect to have, which is discussed below.
  • Many significant sources of mana went away or will go away: most importantly, the meta gem and Innervate and similar spells.

Finally, spell costs as a % of base mana often went down.  Not in every case, especially for spells that got design changes which increased costs (Chain Heal).  AoE spells also tended to relatively increase.  But many typical spells that were not changed, such as RejuvenationRenew, and Regrowth cost around 2/3 of what they did before (as a % of base mana).  I’m not going to explore this point in too much detail, because it would require making some kind of complicated Consumer Price Index for spell costs.  But keep it in mind when comparing 5.0 numbers to 6.0 numbers.

Even if I did some elaborate normalization of spell costs, that wouldn’t mean much.  Damage comes in in different amounts now, and you use your spells in different quantities.  Basically, we can’t compute a precise watershed amount of mana or regen that will make 6.0 healing feel exactly the same as 5.0 healing, since too many other things changed.  We’ll look at the comparison as well as we can though.

We do have to adjust for deflation somehow though, since 1 mana means something very different in each of the 3 time periods in the above chart.  For the most part I’m simply going to use total mana pool size as the reference.  That is, since it’s gone from 300,000 to 160,000, assume that 1 mana now is equivalent to roughly 300/160 = 1.875 pre-squish mana.  The point above about changing spell costs is mostly to say that this is likely an underestimate of the difference.

Total Mana Availability

Let’s revisit the discussion from the first half of this post, where we computed how much total mana there was to spend in a 6-minute encounter.  There we used a character with a somewhat typical 12,000 Spirit in 5.0.  For 6.0 we’ll use a character with Spirit in the standard 4 slots (2 rings, neck, cloak), and 1 passive Spirit trinket (so you could of course have more or less than this based on trinket choice).

Things are a little different at L90 since we’re still in MoP.  My character, immediately after the squish, now has 481 Spirit.  That’s with Spirit in the standard 4 slots, plus a few leftover gems and an Amp trinket.  That’s probably pretty typical, so we’ll use that.  It also turns out it’s about the same as what you’d get from 4 Spirit items + 1 passive Spirit trinket at ilvl 580, so the comparison to L100 is still good.

At L90 post-squish, my mana in a 6-minute encounter, again in thousands of mana, is:

  • 37 (starting mana)
  • 107 (base regen (1480 MP5) over 6m)
  • 71 (6 minutes of Spirit regen, at 481 Spirit)
  • 23 (meta gem, evaluated @ 3 Rejuvs (2097 mana) per proc)
  • 6 (potion)
  • Total: 244

What about at L100–let’s say at ilvl 615, corresponding to Normal dungeons and Proving Grounds.  Looking at the relevant items, I’ll have roughly 54 from each of my 4 non-armor slots, and 138 from one trinket, for a total of 354 from gear.  With 784 base Spirit as a Tauren, that’s 1138 Spirit.  So now we’re looking at:

  • 160 (starting mana)
  • 230 (base regen (3200 MP5) over 6m)
  • 169 (6 minutes of Spirit regen, at 1138 Spirit)
  • 34 (potion)
  • Total: 593

In order to add these new numbers to the previous chart, we have to scale them to account for changes in mana pool size, as discussed above.  Here I’ve scaled them all to correspond to a mana pool size of 160,000:

Mana Bars 6.0

Looking at this, we can see a number of things.

First, remember that despite the disclaimers about comparing Mists to Warlords, the comparison of L90 6.0 to WoD is a perfect apples-to-apples comparison.  You’re using the new spell costs in both cases, and scaling to mana pool size exactly accounts for the changes in spell costs as you go to level 100.  So this is a clear way of seeing how L90 6.0 is not like level 100 Warlords healing (in particular, you can clearly see the effect of the temporary doubling of base regen, the red part of the bar).  Your gross mana availability is nearly double what it would be if it accurately reflected the level 100 experience.  This is the most important factor driving the sheer weirdness of healing between now and the launch of Warlords.

If you want to think about how things have changed since 5.0, this is a good start.  Even ignoring changes in spell costs, you have more mana than you did two weeks ago.  The subjective play experience right now is that you have much more mana than you did two weeks ago.  In late Mists you could throw heals rather freely, but now you can throw expensive filler heals completely at will, and your mana doesn’t even sink much.  This supports the notion that, in the aggregate, spell costs have come down.  Your total mana is only slightly higher in real terms, but in practice you’re far more flush with mana.  This strongly suggests that if we did construct a Consumer Price Index of spell costs and take it into account, the two leftmost bars in the above graph would be compressed further down.

Spirit Increases in Warlords

A major concern many healers have is whether increases in stats from gear, which tend to increase by a huge amount over the course of the expansion, will result in an overly large amount of regen a few tiers from now.  The Mists post I’ve been linking concluded that increase in Mists was more due to the meta gem and other factors than it was to straight Spirit increases.  This suggests that, even if no changes were made from Mists, the situation would be largely under control unless some ill-advised item were added in Warlords that gave healers huge amounts of mana.

It turns out that, even beyond that, other changes in Warlords are further damping the impact of Spirit increases.  Spirit from gear is an even smaller part of the overall mana picture than it was in Mists.  The chart above pools all “Spirit” together, but remember that of the 1138 Spirit at ilvl 615, 784 was the passive Spirit from being a level 100 Tauren.  Only 354 of it was from gear and will increase with ilvl.  That 354 Spirit accounts for only 52,500 mana over 6 minutes.  This is less than 10% of the total mana we had available at that ilvl (593,000).  The entire remainder of your mana supply will be constant.

Spirit from Gear (purple) will increase with ilvl. All other sources will remain constant.

However, the fact remains that stats, including Spirit, increase exponentially with ilvl (at the rate of 15% every 15 ilvls, or doubling every 74.4 ilvls).  And with exponential growth in the picture, we definitely cannot be satisfied with the mere fact that regen looks safe right now; we need to project the future increases in more detail.

I started doing that when I made the bar graph above, and included a column for Warlords at ilvl 695 (corresponding to Mythic gear at the end of the first raid tier).  Consulting Wowhead again, at that point we expect to have 115 Spirit on a non-armor item, and 291 from a trinket.  This results in 751 Spirit from gear, just over twice what we’ll have at ilvl 615 (as expected after an increase of 80 ilvls).  Total mana supply will have gone from 593,000 to 655,000, as was shown in the graph.  So far, nothing concerning.

Extrapolating forward, with the constant sources of mana staying constant and the gear term increasing exponentially, we have something that looks like this:

x-axis is ilvl. y-axis is thousands of mana available in a 6-minute period.  Red line is constant term only, blue line is constant + gear.

The exponential growth is pronounced, but the very small starting size of the gear term means that it doesn’t start to get out of hand until around ilvl 800, hopefully higher than we’ll ever see.  Between 600 and around 750, the growth is small next to the constant term.

Without getting too deep into speculating on Warlords, let’s remember that ilvls in Mists increased by 63 from the end of the first tier (509 from H Terrace/Heart, ignoring Elite Protectors) to the end of the third and final tier (572 from H WF Siege), ignoring upgrades.  There should be a reasonable hope of going from 695 in M Furnace to something that’s not too far above 750.  If that hope isn’t borne out and items get stronger than is currently foreseeable, then we will very rapidly have to revisit this discussion.  To match the end of Mists in squish-adjusted terms (the 1.01M mana shown in the bar graph), we’d need to reach ilvl 846, so we’re probably safe in that sense.  However, again, if you were to adjust for reduced spell costs, that number will get smaller.  For example, if you guess that spells only cost 80% of what they used to, so you only need to reach 806,000 mana to have something similar to the Mists feel, that will happen at ilvl 783 (hopefully, still out of reach).

One final interesting aside, which I’m going to leave open for now, is whether the very small impact of the “gear Spirit” term will make Spirit less attractive at low ilvls.  It’s not clear that it will (all other stats follow a similar growth pattern as well), but it’s worth trying to look into further.  A related question would be whether Spirit should have diminishing returns so that it grows linearly rather than exponentially with ilvl (this would be accomplished by having regen be O(log(Spirit))).  That seems like a much more stable growth pattern–in fact, if Spirit worked that way, they would probably not have had to squish it down so hard at the start to keep it under control for the whole expansion.  That might make it difficult to balance against other stats, however.

Conclusion

The most immediate thing you should take away from all this is cementing the notion that the current month of healing is a complete oddity, now with more numbers to help explain it.  Keeping our sights set on level 100 though, this is a fuller explication of what I surmised in the “mana economy” post from Mists, namely, that Spirit growth would not be nearly as pronounced in Warlords.  Absent new items on the order of the Mists meta gem, or unanticipated ilvl increases, we should see only a modest increase in mana supply over the course of the expansion.

Healing Theory, Part 10: Single-Target Rotations

All posts in this series can be found here.

As promised at the end of my last post on Warlords heals, the next step would be to analyze more complex rotations involving multiple spells. This post will go into single-target healing rotations for each class, building on the overview of individual spells I did previously. Single-target rotations are only one slice of the healing picture, but one of the more readily quantifiable ones, making them a good place to start. Also, the need to directly heal tanks is expected to be a much bigger part of Warlords than it was in Mists.

On Modeling Healing Rotations

One difficulty in expressing numerical results of combined healing spells, especially cross-class, is that healers don’t use “rotations” in the same way DPS do. They’re constantly reacting to the demands of the encounter and modulating output based on that. A model of a pure max-output rotation akin to DPS is slightly informative, but rather limited because that’s an unusual mode of casting. Since you spend nearly all your time somewhere in the middle of the sliding scale of mana usage vs. healing output, it’s hard to nail down exactly what numbers to measure or model. We can choose cases to model that are informative, but it takes more thought to motivate the decision of what those are. The assumptions also have to be made clear so people understand what the numbers represent.

The usual way I approach this is anticipated by earlier posts in this series, and should also be familiar to anyone who used my TreeCalcs sheet in Wrath/Cata/Mists (for this post, I actually put the heal chart from the prior post into the WrathCalcs/TreeCalcs shell). I assume a certain subset of spells are used whenever possible: on cooldown, whenever a HoT expires, or whenever procs/resources allow. All available cast time that’s left over is for “filler” or no-cooldown/spammable spells. In the case of the single-target model, the filler time is divided between a) the cheap direct heal, b) the expensive direct heal, and c) casting nothing. This flexibility in how to allocate the filler time is needed for two important purposes:

  • One class filling all time with its cheap heal (for example) may not be parallel to another class filling with its cheap heal. The first class might do less healing but also use less mana in that comparison, but then equal the other class in both healing and mana consumption if it mixed in the expensive heal some. Every class has a different mana vs. healing profile, and being able to adjust spell usage allows more sensible comparisons.
  • It provides a basis for evaluating mana. As discussed extensively in the post on mana, mana usage affects your use of non-cooldown heals much more than it affects your use of cooldown-bearing heals. In a more concrete framework like a rotation model, you can evaluate exactly what mana lets you do by varying the spell usage correspondingly. The conceptual chart in the final section of that post, describing healing done as a function of mana, will be revisited in this post.

This is of course idealized, as is unavoidable when theorycrafting healing, but it’s useful in a lot of ways. In particular, while in various low-healing situations you might use spells more in isolation and not nonstop like in a rotation model, we already have HPCT and HPM info on individual spells. Those can be looked up anytime on the spell chart form the last post. Models of rotations let us find out more about what happens when cooldowns and cast time become a limiting factor in how much healing you can do.

I’ve not yet modeled every talent and glyph combination for every class, but I’ve tried to include the ones that were especially relevant to the current analysis.

Spreadsheet Updates

Download the current version I used for this post here.

As before, this post can be read on its own, or with the sheet open to look at things in more detail. The spreadsheet has had a lot of additions since last time, to both add a rotation model and to provide a lot of analysis of the effects of spells and talents. It’s had some user-friendliness updates but also is a lot more complicated. I’m going to refrain from giving a full tutorial now—I’m going to be continually building more into it and if I ever get it ready for totally public use I’ll do so then. For now, most of what’s going on is evident from playing with the “Main” tab, where you can set up a character and see the output of the current rotation. The actual workings of the rotations are a bit opaque for now, but they generally work as discussed for each class below.

One of the handy parts of the sheet is that, next to every talent and stat, it shows how much HPS and MP5 they’re adding to the current rotation.

I’ve also replaced the abstract framework using raw spellpower coefficients with one using more traditional stats. HPS and HPM work as you’d expect. Throughout this post, I assume 4000 spellpower from gear, 1000 Spirit, and 600 of each other secondary stat. This is a generous amount of Spirit (more than you’ll have in low gear), but I expect gearing in Warlords to heavily favor it where possible, and it may well be a popular food/flask as well. The only impact of Spirit in the discussion is factoring into the “net MP5 usage” described for each rotation—essentially setting what the zero point is. For reference, spending 5000 net MP5 will drain a full mana bar in 160 seconds; spending 2000 MP5 will do so in 400 seconds.

Druid (and some further explanation of the methods)

With all filler time on Healing Touch, this rotation clocks in at 44.7k HPS while burning 4353 MP5 (net mana drain including regen). This is actually a slightly more aggressive approach than it looks. Druid burns a lot of mana on its rotational spells due to Rejuv and Swiftmend, and does a significant amount of baseline healing (Swiftmend is actually a poor addition to the rotation on its own, but it enables SotF). So we’re going to use less filler heals to compensate. If we cut to 50% filler time on HT (and the rest unused), we’re at 34.9k HPS for only 1610 MP5.

Rather than typing out more individual cases, we can plot the whole variation on a graph:

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 12.51.41 AM

The leftmost part is where we slide from spending 0% of our open time on HT up to 100%. Then after the kink, we start replacing HT with RG. Because HT is a very good spell, the efficiency of added mana is strong earlier on while we have time to add in more HT, but then drops quite a bit when we need even more healing and the only way to get it is to replace them with RG.

(I will not show this individual graph for each class; I used this one to illustrate the concept. However, at the end of the post is a combined one showing all healers, so if you want to refer to that as you look through the classes, it might help put the numbers you read in perspective.)

Note that we have built the graph from the end of part 6 in a concrete case with actual numbers. Neat! The only important difference is that the current graph is measuring net mana consumption including Spirit regen, so “0 mana usage” here refers to what you can do while holding steady on mana, not to what you can do without spending mana at all. It’s only a visual difference, with the y-axis being further to the right in this case. I took Spirit regen into account here to help relate these numbers to your mana usage in practice, and to better account for talents that affect regen.

Back to Druids. You’ll see when we get to other classes that these numbers are good. Most classes can build a reasonable rotation of around 30k HPS with little net mana use, but getting up to 45k HPS without resorting to excessive mana use is beyond every other healer besides Monk. While it’s true that Druid is strong, there are a few important components to note here:

  • Living Seed. Around 12% of the healing in the all-HT rotation is from Living Seed. Whether you get full value from this depends on how well the Seed is utilized when spamming HT nonstop on a tank.
  • 2 talents, Germination and especially SotF, are very strong in this context. In a very efficient rotation, they can add over 20% output by increasing Rejuv healing so much.

Any way to look at it, Druid is very strong on a single target. Being able to reach 25k HPS without spending any mana on direct heals, due to the strength of Lifebloom and Rejuv and the talents that boost Rejuv, gives it a very high baseline.

Disc

The first issue with Disc single-target is, as hinted in the previous post, its relative helplessness without Clarity of Will. Filling with Heal can get to a decent mana-neutral rotation for 22.5k HPS, but mixing in Flash Heal increases the mana burn rate rapidly for a modest gain, topping out at a maximum of 30.7k HPS for a full burn of about 8900 MP5 (switching to Surge of Light for this purpose).

There’s actually very little Disc can do to improve on pure CoW spam (35k HPS), and those improvements come in terms of efficiency. Technically adding PWS is a small throughput increase if you account for Borrowed Time into a 2.5s cast, but at half the efficiency of CoW it’s not attractive to add in (the prior post discussed some problems with the costing of instants). Penance, inversely, is a small throughput loss compared to CoW, but very cheap, so it’s some free mana savings. Mixing in Holy Fire and Smite (some weak casts) to allow Archangel is also an HPS wash that saves significant mana. It saves even more mana by allowing full value from the PW:Solace talent.

So we can actually build a very efficient rotation, but it tops out at 32.8k HPS (spending only 1264 MP5). This is actually similar to what Druid could do for a similar low mana cost. This is fine so far, but the Druid can extend much higher, while Disc spells just don’t have the single-target throughput needed to provide that option. Due to the mana return from Solace and the efficiency of Penance, Disc can even do reasonable healing at zero net mana use (at the 1000 Spirit used for this post), reaching about 26.5k HPS.

Holy

At an efficient mix between the two filler options, this rotation produces 35k HPS for 3196 MP5. That’s a pretty nice place to be, though not as efficient as the Druid for similar healing. Surge of Light is very strong in a context with heavy Heal and Flash Heal use.

There’s not too much to say about this one. There’s no one overly strong spell, but Serendipity and Surge of Light together allow for good mana savings while mixing in nontrivial amounts of Flash Heal. This lets throughput reach pretty standard levels without high mana use.

I’ve left out Saving Grace, even though it can improve the average rotation, since I’m not sure that’s a realistic usage model. The talent’s a little odd right now because the stacking debuff encourages you to use it very rigidly, casting 3-4 times and then letting the debuff fall off (you never want to restack the debuff anytime other than immediately after the previous SG). I’m not sure this is the desired outcome for the talent. I’ve similarly left off the Level 90 talents, which can technically be slight throughput increases on a single-target, since they’re inefficient for this purpose and are usually used for other things.

Paladin

Because the EF direct heal is comparatively stronger than before, and there’s Empowered Beacon of Light, it’s better to recast on the tank every time you have 3HP than to blanket around the raid (for this purpose). One EF rolling on yourself adds a very small amount overall. Sacred Shield is almost as good on a single target, and both talents have a lot more value when you consider multiple targets, so this will be an interesting comparison in group healing models. Selfless Healer is generally useless to Holy in its current form.

I added Stay of Execution even though I’m not usually including things with medium or long cooldowns, since it’s a talent whose explicit purpose is single-target.

Another class with some difficulty keeping up. Like Disc, Paladin can do a solid amount (25k HPS) for free, in this case because it has some very cheap spells (and Glyph of Illumination, which now is almost always a net benefit). But similarly, Flash of Light can’t push you higher with any decent efficiency. Much of the strength here is the Paladin’s baseline cheap Holy Power generation from Holy Shock and Holy Light, and cashing that out into Word of Glory on the tank. Upgrading the Holy Lights to Flash of Lights at significant cost is not a huge gain, since you spend a lot of extra mana but aren’t getting much more Holy Power. Even going up to 6000 MP5 spent or higher will only get to around 30k HPS.

Unlike Disc, Paladin is not quite as bad as it looks here, because by focusing on one target we ignore the benefit of Beacon (other than through the perk). In real situations, nonstop Beacon flow from all your group healing will cut into the needed healing on the tank, making the lower throughput more acceptable when you do heal them directly. But if you’re behind on one target and need to pour heals into them aggressively, it will be harder.

One caveat is that this does not account for cooldowns, and Avenging Wrath is a far stronger single-target throughput cooldown than anyone else has. If situations where heavy burst throughput is required only occasionally, a Paladin can actually cover them quite easily. This might ameliorate the disadvantage of having trouble maintaining heavy throughput on a single target. Not to mention there is also Lay on Hands for serious problems, which is a much bigger deal than it used to be, now that HP bars are so large relative to heal size.

Shaman

Shaman is a little tricker than most to set up in a “pure single-target” model, because on only one target, you have no reason to Riptide more than once every 18 seconds, or to Chain Heal ever. This means that your filler heals don’t all have Tidal Waves, whereas in most realistic situations you’ll at least be using enough Riptide to have Tidal Waves whenever you cast on the tank. I experimented a bit with including Riptides on off-targets in the model (most reasonable way to do this seemed to be counting their healing done and mana cost to both be 0), just to produce Tidal Waves. This is mostly a wash in the end so I didn’t include it.

Earth Shield is also tricky to model. I chose a somewhat arbitrary refresh time (18 seconds) and assumed 100% uptime. It turns out that the per-cast HPCT and HPM for the Earth Shield cast itself are reasonably close to neutral for the whole rotation (specifically, pretty similar to Healing Wave), so things don’t change much if you have to refresh more or less often. And it’s a big healing increase simply to have it on there. If it gets eaten rapidly, the constant GCDs to refresh could be awkward, but the numbers come out pretty even in any case. If gets eaten so fast that you can’t reasonably keep it up, you’ll lose some output.

Finally, I didn’t include Healing Rain. It can add a a little throughput on a single target due to the Perk, but is quite expensive for this. I also don’t want to dash Shamans’ hopes for Warlords quite yet, so I’m maintaining the possibility that there can be situations where you don’t cast Healing Rain.

With all that explanation, Shaman come out average or slightly below. A Healing Wave-only filler rotation (except for Unleashed Fury, which is always used on HS) nets 29.2k HPS for 2847 MP5. It is worth pointing out that, similar to the Paladin case, you’ll mix in some non-tank healing in the real world, and some of that will come essentially free (because, as mentioned above, Riptides on other targets cancel out their own time and mana cost through Tidal Waves, leaving the tank healing unchanged). So only counting healing on one target ignores some amount of potential output. Moreover, the Healing Rains and Healing Stream Totems that the Shaman is using in any group situation (not included here), will contribute to tank throughput a little as well.

Like Druid and Paladin, mixing in the expensive heal comes at a steep cost, because the basic heal is reasonably good and the expensive heal is only a marginal improvement. Shaman can output near 40,000 HPS with a heavy mana burn but still won’t reach Druid and Monk levels.

Monk

The most unusual single-target rotation. The backbone of the huge efficiency of the Monk setup is nonstop Soothing Mist, which continues even while using more expensive filler heals. Note that this model benefits from one very favorable assumption, which is that your Statue is also Soothing the tank. It quite reasonable that this will often be the case when healing on a single target matters, but it is not controllable. Because so much of the strength of this rotation comes from using Soothing as often as possible, removing the Statue bonus would lose on the order of 20% of the healing. One other generous assumption here is that mastery spheres from the single-target heals are fully counted. That wasn’t worth trying to dig into further since it only accounts for 3-4% of the healing (single-target heals don’t produce as many spheres as AoE heals).

Finally, it’s rather hard to account for the GCDs used restarting Soothing Mist, since you have to do so every time you interrupt to cast certain spells, and you get an inconsistent amount of Soothing time per GCD used. I actually ignored this problem for now (as well as the GCDs used on Mana Tea), meaning that if you crank filler usage up to 100%, you get a nonphysical rotation that uses too many GCDs. This is fine, since Surging is such an expensive filler that 100% use isn’t a very important case anyway. Monk (with the assumptions mentioned above) surpasses the other healers in throughput even at much lower filler usage.

Monk starts out at a strong baseline. Even with no Surging Mist use, Monk can manage 29.7k HPS and remain mana-neutral or slightly positive. This is with nonstop Soothing Mist (stopping only to cast Expel Harm and Chi Wave), and Enveloping Mist only using the Chi from Expel Harm and Chi Brew.

Adding in Surging Mist adds healing quickly and not too inefficiently, due to the powerful Enveloping Mists they enable you to cast more of. Enveloping Mist has great value when you’re already Soothing most of the time, which in this model there’s no reason not to be. It will become a little less effective in real-world situations where you have to stop Soothing to cast other things more often, but only marginally. By adding Surgings, Monk can pass 50k HPS, higher than anyone besides a Regrowth-using Druid, at a mana cost that that’s not at all outlandish, 6882 MP5.

So Monk is clearly very strong. It’s hard to say exactly how strong, because they are benefiting from some helpful assumptions (most importantly that the Statue is always assisting you). The message is still clear that Soothing and Enveloping are two of the best tank heals, a fact which will remain even when you have to spend some of your time healing other targets. And even when the Statue is healing someone else, or the tank’s not getting mastery spheres, they are still providing value by doing effective healing on other targets. Monks exemplify a theme in these single-target rotations that applies to almost all classes: leaning as much you can on your efficient baseline heals (e.g. using them often even when the tank’s almost full) will go a long way towards overall efficiency in the long run.

Synthesis

To start with, here is a graph summarizing the HPS/MP5 numbers for all the rotations discussed above.

HT10 Graph

I put this at the end because it’s best looked at with a full understanding of what it means for each class: what spells/talents are included, and what assumptions are needed for a single-target model that work for or against the class. The relative position of the classes is generally anticipated by the comments above, but this helps to see it all at once. To restate the most notable patterns:

  • Druid and Monk can push higher HPS than anyone else, in both cases at reasonable cost. This has to do with HoTs primarily.
  • Paladin struggles to do much on a single target; they really need to be using Beacon to get value out of their heals. Even that won’t be a massive increase (especially since Holy Light and Flash of Light are cast on the Beacon anyway).
  • Disc can get to reasonable point somewhat efficiently through CoW spam, but has almost no other relevant options.
  • Holy seems like a very solid example of what a class should look like. There’s an efficient and mana-neutral option that gets you pretty far using Heal alone, and mixing in Flash Heal provides meaningful added returns for the extra mana. Note how the slope of the right half of the Holy line is steeper than Druid, Paladin, and Shaman, showing that Holy gets better value for added mana spent.
  • Shaman is weaker than Holy but stronger than Paladin (although not quite as efficient), subject to the difficulty of modeling Tidal Waves. Of the two healers in the middle, I like Holy’s mana vs. HPS tradeoff slightly better (in terms of good choices for gameplay).

Finally, note that the classes performing best (Druid and Monk) are there largely because of a more Mists-like rotation, with high baseline HPS and then more optional filler heals. The classes with no or almost no strong rotational heals to build on (Disc) are the ones languishing.

All of the above should suggest some spell tweaks to help with class balance. For this post I’ve spent a lot of time (and words) simply doing the analysis of 6 classes, so I don’t have detailed tuning proposals, but I think the things you’d focus on most are:

  • Possibly too strong: Soothing Mist, Enveloping Mist, Healing Touch, Soul of the Forest, Surge of Light
  • Possibly too weak: Penance, Power Word: Shield, Holy Fire, Flash Heal, Flash of Light

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a lot to discuss even on a seemingly narrow part of the healing world—only healing one target. Starting here was good, because the mana dynamics are complex, and we’ll need the robust framework to go into the even more openended world of analyzing multi-target healing. I’m looking forward to it, and hope this has been an informative look at the healing classes of Warlords so far.

Theorycraft 101: The Statistics of WoW Spells

I’ve been doing a lot of in-game testing of spells lately, as a part of making spreadsheets and other projects. In particular, with the new beta, I’m more inclined to vet the info for any spell I look at by measuring in-game, rather than simply putting the coefficient from wod.wowhead into a spreadsheet, because:

  • The designers are changing spells a lot, and tooltips are out of date much more often than on live.
  • The passives, talents, and Draenor Perks aren’t all familiar, and you have make sure you know what all needs to be multiplied in between the coefficient in the data and the final damage amount.
  • There are frequent bugs on beta, and actually testing means you can help catch/report them.

There are a lot of various techniques and tricks you get used to for doing this stuff quickly, but I wanted to dash off a quick post on one that both saves work and is mathematically interesting.  It looks like Theck is starting a series on general concepts of theorycrafting, and while I don’t expect to do anything that elaborate, I do want to write down ideas that are familiar to me but might be helpful to people who are just getting into it.

Background

The focus of this post is how to measure a spell damage value in-game, but I should give at least an outline of what to do with that information once you get it.

Take your measured value and divide by your spellpower or attackpower, and you have your coefficient (including any modifiers). If it matches the Wowhead data, or the Wowhead data plus the modifers you know about (20% from a Draenor Perk is common), then everything checks out and you’re done. Otherwise, you’re looking at a modifier you don’t know about, a bug, an incorrect tooltip, or something else.

2 brief points just in case they help people:

  • Some passives don’t show up in the spellbook any longer (typically, ones that do nothing but give passive bonuses), but they usually show up in the “Specialization” tab on Wowhead (a submenu under “Spells”).
  • Checking the tooltip in-game can help track down discrepancies (unless it turns out to be a case where it’s entirely wrong). Since the Wowhead data is itself from tooltips, if you know all the modifiers that should be included, they should always match. If the game tooltip is what you expect after taking bonuses into account, but your observed damage/heals are different, then the client tooltip data is wrong and you can’t rely on it. If the game tooltip differs what you’d expect based on the Wowhead tooltip, the game one factoring in a bonus that you don’t know about.

Weapon-based attacks are a little more complicated, but I won’t run through that all here.

Spell Ranges

For spells with constant damage/healing (such as HoTs and DoTs), taking the in-game measurement is easy; you only have to look at one tick. Also, many non-DoT spells have constant damage/healing right now, since they no longer have base values like they used to (it’s just coefficient*spellpower, both constants). It looks like there’s a system for artificially re-inserting variance like there used to be, but it’s not done or not used everywhere yet.

But how do you measure the average damage/healing when it’s not constant? The average is what you want, because 1) when you need to compute a spellpower coefficient, that’s what you want to start from, and 2) when you’re actually making a model, you typically only care about average damage values.  The instinct is to take a large data set with a lot of casts, and take the mean.

An Abnormal Distribution

Why is that the instinct? Probably because it would be correct in nearly any real-world context. If you’re scientifically-trained, or have done statistics in basically any other context, it’s probably second nature to process a large set of measurements by taking their mean (and possibly standard deviation) and going from there. It may never even have occurred to you to do anything else.

However, the reason we do that rests on an assumption–one that’s so universal in the real world that it’s rarely worth thinking about: the assumption that measurements of uncertain phenomena are normally distributed. The “normal distribution” is a specific statistical distribution that earned that name because of its ubiquity. What makes the normal distribution special is the Central Limit Theorem, which states that when you combine a large number of identical probability distributions, a normal distribution results (I’ll defer to the wikipedia article for a less abbreviated summary of how that works).

normal_distribution_500x263

WoW spells, however, do not follow a normal distribution. Nor are they (like many real-world measurements) an aggregate of microscopic phenomena that, regardless of the behavior of each individual molecule, aggregates to a normal distribution due to the Central Limit Theorem. They follow a predictable, known, artificial distribution: a perfectly uniform spread between the min and max values.

Random_Uniform_Distribution

What this means is that when playing the role of the scientist, looking at data and trying to figure out what the underlying behavior is, we have a huge advantage. We know the exact form of the phenomenon we’re observing, and all we’re missing is two numbers: the min and the max. Get those, and we know the complete underlying distribution with full precision.

The Upshot

Which brings to the thesis of this post. When you attack a target dummy 10 or even 100 times, there are only two trials you need to record: the min and the max observed values. The rest is quite irrelevant (which is logical: if you’ve seen a hit for 100 and a hit for 120, then a hit for 119 adds literally zero information to what you know about the spell*). In both cases, the mean value of the spell that you should put in your spreadsheet is 110.

It’s interesting to think about why this is different if you measuring something in a real-world scientific experiment. There, if you’d measured 100 and then 120, your best estimate of the true mean value would be 110. And then when you measured 119 on the next trial, your updated estimate would be the mean of 100, 120, and 119, which is 113. If those were the only three trials you did (bad procedure, I know), your best information going forward would be that the true value is 113.

So the difference is quite material. In the WoW setting, taking that extra step of averaging in the 119 data point is not only unnecessary work (possibly substantially so, depending on how much data you’re taking), but it’s also incorrect.

*Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, maybe it at least allows a secondary inference of how close to the true min and max you’ve gotten so far. For example if you get 100, 120, and a whole bunch of 118-119’s, that’s not evidence that the 120 is less likely to be maximal. That’s your intuition for normal distributions talking.

Conclusion

There are two potential audiences for this post. The first are people who already did this intuitively when measuring WoW spells. I was in this category for while before thinking about the statistic rationale. For them, I hope it was interesting to stop and focus on this odd method of taking data that feels like a shortcut (glancing through numbers for the min and max and ignoring the rest). Specifically, how it’s a product of the way that games generate random events and how it differs from the way that nature generally does The other are people who are making WoW spreadsheets and can hopefully save some time and effort with this explanation.

In any event, I’m glad all the talk about theorycraft on beta prompted me to write this down. I do want to be better about writing down things I think about when working on WoW projects, especially when the topic has a little math intrigue. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Healing Theory, Part 9: First In-Depth Look at Warlords Heals

All posts in this series can be found here.

I’ve been waiting since alpha started to sink my teeth into the numbers of six new healing toolkits. Rather, I’ve been doing so for a while, but trying to get the information to the point where I can write about it in an organized way. I’ve been assembling a large spreadsheet of 6.0 heals since even before alpha started (since we had spell data). It’s mostly for my own purposes, to have a good reference for the properties of all the spells. I’ll post it here for people who want the full detailed background, while using the post to discuss various interesting points. The goal for this, and ensuing posts, is to work both for people who don’t peruse the actual sheet and just read the post (so I copy various numbers and such into the post), and also for people who want to look further into the sheet after I use a post to highlight some interesting points.

This is the sheet (download).

HT sheet image

It’s more utilitarian than user-friendly; as I said, it’s mostly an easy place for me to store/compare numbers (it’s not a character setup tool). The main focus for each heal is to compute an index for their HPM and HPCT (healing per unit cast time). In some cases, for non-spammable heals, HPCD (healing per cooldown time) is used to measure how much healing is added if the spell is used as often as possible. Some notes:

  • All of these are in unusual units, which is fine since they’re only meant to be compared against each other. For people who want details, HPCT and HPCD are in units of (spellpower coefficient)/seconds, and HPM is in units of (spellpower coefficient)/(% base mana cost).
  • All heals use the haste, crit, mastery, and multistrike values from the top of the sheet (Multistrike affects all spells equally so is not that interesting, except that Holy Priest heals get 25% more benefit).
  • Mastery is also in unusual units. “0.2” means, the amount of mastery stat that’s equivalent to 20% crit, or what was once called “20 points of mastery.”
  • The main computation in each row is to combine a spell’s spellpower coefficient from wod.wowhead.com with haste/crit/mastery/MS, any class passives or other auras, and any Draenor perks or other bonuses, to compute an overall effective spellpower coefficient.
  • I make assumptions as needed about talents, glyphs, and other variables. Usually the guideline is, a spell’s row in the sheet represents whatever case I was most interested in when thinking about how it would be used in practice.
  • Similarly, sometimes a spell has multiple entries if I want to see e.g. both glyphed and unglyphed, or if I want to see a combination of spells in a single row.
  • Blanket disclaimer: the beta build is changing often, changes aren’t always documented, some spells’ behaviors don’t match their tooltip data, and so on. I got some help from Dayani of Healiocentric, and we vetted all of the rows against in-game behavior in beta builds 18505 or 18522 (often with the techniques described here), and are continually updating them.

On to some of the interesting patterns.

Basic Direct Heals

Each class’s pair of single-target direct heals is meant to be a bigger part of gameplay in 6.0.  First is the “efficient” heal. Here’s how they look with the balanced stat array used in the sheet:

When you look only at basic, efficient, single target spam, Druid has the nicest spell (although its advantage is mostly due to Living Seed), and Disc and Paladin have the weakest. These numbers are of course out of any context of the remainder of a class’s toolkit which may affect tank healing, but they’re a starting point. The “fast” heals are worth adding before going further:

  • Regrowth (glyphed): 46 HPM, 8.51 HPCT (unglyphed RG is slightly better per-cast, but can’t be spammed effectively).
  • Regrowth (glyphed) without counting Living Seed: 31 HPM, 5.67 HPCT
  • Flash Heal (Holy): 49 HPM, 6.86 HPCT (Assumes every 3rd cast is a Heal due to Serendipity)
  • Flash Heal (Disc): 34 HPM, 6.32 HPCT. But Disc has a better spammable tank heal:
  • Clarity of Will: 80 HPM, 6.79 HPCT
  • 3xFlash of Light + Word of Glory: 37 HPM, 5.12 HPCT (HPM goes up to 46 if you replace one of the FoLs with a Holy Shock).
  • Healing Surge: 44 HPM, 7.60 HPCT (with Tidal Waves)
  • 3xSurging Mist + Enveloping Mist: 85 HPM, 10.14 HPCT (While Soothing)

As before, comparisons aren’t exactly apples-to-apples, since different classes use these spells in different ways and have other tools that supplement them (some discussed more below). But the basic numbers are helpful to look at. Glyphed Regrowth holds its own in the most optimistic assumption that Living Seed is always fully utilized, but is very inefficient otherwise.

Disc has a lot of difficulty healing a tank efficiently except for the Clarity of Will talent, which is currently very effective. Worth noting that while most classes have other tools such as HoTs that will supplement the heals shown here, Disc has nothing that adds HPS to a single target when worked in (Power Word: Shield and Penance are both lower HPCT than Flash Heal or CoW spam). PWS can add slight net HPCT if you Borrowed Time into a 2.5s spell, but is very inefficient.

The winner in this category is Monk, who can spit out solid healing in 4 GCDs with 3 Surgings and an Enveloping (the HPM value does take into account the later recoupment of Mana Tea). It’s not quite that simple, since you made need a GCD to set up by starting a Soothing on the target, and around half the heal is in the form of a HoT that you cast last so the heal’s somewhat spread out (but you may well have Chi coming in). But in the Warlords world, efficiency and the total output of a cast is more important than small shifts in heal timing. The HPCT is slightly misleading since it includes 30% of 6 seconds’ worth of Soothing Mist, which requires staying on the target for longer than the 4-5 GCDs to cast all this (for reference, it’s at a solid 8.57 HPCT without that).

Paladin is the trickiest case for looking at spam heals without any context. Talents will typically add a constant HoT on the tank from either Eternal Flame or Sacred Shield. If you assume those have 100% uptime, the value of Holy Power in a tank healing context is the value of the Word of Glory. An interesting fact that can be verified in the sheet, which is a change from 5.0, is that 50% of the total healing from an EF (i.e. an EF transferred from Beacon) is less than the full upfront healing from the Word of Glory portion only. The HoT is less than half the total value of an EF now, and in addition, a direct cast on tank benefits from mastery and gets 10% from Empowered Beacon of Light. So if your sole goal is to the heal the tank, it is better to cast each WoG directly on them than to blanket EFs around the raid. So a reasonable way to look at a tank-spam filler heal is to check the 3HL-WoG and 3FoL-WoG units, as I did above, and they both come in somewhat unimpressive on the HPCT front. They will gain a lot of efficiency in real raiding situations, when Beacon can be leveraged probably (which it can’t in these examples), but their ability to pull a tank’s HP up rapidly is limited.

AoE Heals

AoE heals are a little bit simpler to look at, because they can often be evaluated as standalone casts. Their use does depend on the number of available targets and in some cases the positioning, but the best case is reasonably clear due to their target limits. A few of the most important high-throughput options that each affect 5 or 6 targets:

The obvious standout here is Wild Growth. In a recent beta patch (18297) its healing and mana cost were increased by factor of around 4, making it the most AoE healing from one cast by far (except for some less rotational spells like Light’s Hammer). Its mana cost is pretty typical for the healing done, but being able to do that much from one cast is still an advantage. It is a particular advantage for Druids who leverage powerful buffs that affect “one cast”, Clearcasting and Soul of the Forest (the Swiftmend-WG combo, with SotF, is 132 HPM and 41.8 HPCT). One way or another, Wild Growth should likely come down from its current position, if only because it’s too asymmetrical. That said, a larger than average heal is reasonable since the spell is limited both in being a HoT and having a cooldown (unlike most others here). The only other similar one, Healing Rain, also has a high heal per cast to show for it. When heavy AoE heals are in order, other classes can cast multiple spells consecutively if needed, but Wild Growth and Healing Rain will only be cast once.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Prayer of Healing, which is quite mediocre even after having its heal and mana cost recently doubled. Prayer of Healing is a spell I’d always hoped to see redesigned due to its anachronistic group-based mechanic, but so far the only nod to that is Holy Priests’ ability to replace it with Clarity of Purpose for a position-based AoE heal. Nevertheless, Prayer, while spammable, rates poorly on the efficiency scale and has little to show for it. Holy Priests still fare quite well because of Circle of Healing always being the first cast before you start having to spend on PoH. Furthermore, Holy has Binding Heal which is far more mana-friendly than it ever was, allowing a BH-BH-PoH combo that adds a lot of efficiency (up to 86 HPM and 11.58 HPCT with Glyph of Binding Heal).

Disc currently languishes in AoE healing with its efficiency option being Holy Nova (clocking in at 55 HPM and 3.51 HPCT).  However, I suspect that it was oversight for Holy Nova to not have its healing doubled when PoH and CoH did in the last build. At 110 and 7.02 on a no-cooldown heal, it will be a solid option whenever the positioning requirements allow. Disc will lack a good higher-throughput cast. The overall strength of PoH is likely fine when Archangel is used well, but the mana cost might need some help.

Monks come in just slightly behind on burst AoE throughput, with Uplift itself accomplishing up to 9.48 HPCT when used on 8 targets, and that’s ignoring where you get the Chi from. Fortunately, Spinning Crane Kick is a reasonably efficient spammable AoE heal and Chi generator, allowing ongoing AoE similar to casting PoH. But the numbers are below average, and the flexibility is poor with the uncontrolled nature of Uplift. Thunder Focus Tea will help slightly but it still rather inflexible in how it adds healing.

Miscellaneous Heals

The above was far from every important heal, but a sampling of reasonably comparable heals from the various classes. What I want to do for the rest of this first post is survey the chart for anything that’s interesting or stands out.

Lifebloom‘s bloom is currently 6 times what the spell data lists. 3 times is expected since they recently condensed what used to be 3 LB casts into one cast. I’m not sure what the other 2 is, and at any rate, the bloom might be need to be smaller than thrice the previous bloom. It’s currently quite a lot of healing for one GCD and no cost, albeit with a delay. I’m not too concerned about the apparently huge HPM numbers–high HPM can be a little misleading on spells that are limited in use, such as cooldowns or Lifebloom’s target restriction (if that’s not apparent, recall that some spells are free but not overpowered). However, the particular case of glyphed Lifebloom is 2.091 HPCD for no appreciable mana cost. (I haven’t discussed HPCD much but it means that using it on cooldown is equivalent to someone doing 2.091 HPS nonstop on average). This is far higher than 0.873 ticking HPS of the HoT ticking on its own; adding that 1.2 rotational tank HPS is probably not the intended use of Glyph of Blooming.

One point covering a few spells is that instant casts lose some of their value in the Warlords world. Compared to a 1.5s cast, an instant shifts the timing of the heal by a GCD (the beginning of a GCD vs. the start) but doesn’t change the HPCT. This only matters when the target dies during the GCD, which is more of a frequent concern in Mists than Warlords. Otherwise, there is little reason to spend extra mana or burden a spell with a cooldown to make that heal happen 1.5 seconds sooner. Movement is a possibility, but unlike DPS you don’t have to do something while moving; there’s much less compulsion spend mana on an inefficient spell. Swiftmend (41 HPM, 7.92 HPCT) and Power Word: Shield (43 HPM, 5.66), both come in about even with inefficient spammable heal options. This is a little odd for spells bearing cooldowns. It may be an attempt to shift away from having as many “rotational” heals, but their use is somewhat limited if they exist mainly to produce gameplay from the excitement of saving someone from near death.

Earth Shield‘s current behavior is that there’s no ICD on the use of charges, so it gets consumed quickly. This means that maintaining 100% uptime eats a lot of GCDs, and the spell’s stats as a cast in its own right (45 HPM, 5.01 HPCT) matter more than they used to. It’s a weak spell for the healing it does, so its only value is the 20% heal buff. This is good as always, but now that it falls off easily, it may well not be worth spending a GCD on recasting during busy moments.

Unleashed Fury combines with Healing Surge to make a huge tank heal (especially given HS’s 40% crit buff from Tidal Waves). UF’s 95% buff to one cast amounts to a free direct heal for no extra time, with only a 15 second cooldown. This can jump a tank’s HP upwards quickly when needed, or simply act as free rotational HPS.

Chain Heal is very weak (52 HPM, 3.72 HPCT with Riptide and Perk). I could have mentioned that in the AoE section, but I think it should to come up. There might be some concern about a spammable smart heal after the smart heal reductions in Warlords, but right now it’s not attractive to cast over even single-target heals. High Tide helps, but still leaves it as a mediocre Uplift–not what you want from a L100 talent (92 HPM, 6.56 HPCT on a Riptide target + 5 others).

I haven’t touched on damage-heals much. Smite is very weak (23 HPM, 1.41 HPCT), with its use having shifting almost entirely into building Evangelism stacks rather than doing healing of its own. This is good gameplay on its face–use Smite during lulls to set up Archangel, but don’t cast it when you actually need healing. The numbers on Archangel use will be better evaluated in the context of full rotational analysis later, but it’s a little concerning to have to cast 5 such inefficient spells to get it (even Holy Fire is 64 HPM, 2.55 HPCT). While I prefer this Archangel-oriented setup for the Atonement spells, because it’s a nice way to keep the mechanic while making the smart healing unimportant, we have to check that it’s not a trap with current numbers.

The one healing rotation that hasn’t been mentioned so far is the Crane Stance Mistweaver. Simply put, it does not do much healing right now. It’s not totally firm what the expectation is for this stance since it’s new, but in the past they’ve gone for around 50% healing and 50% DPS output from a meleeing Monk. The cheap filler rotation, JabTiger Palm is 29 HPM, 0.71 HPCT with all of Crane Stance’s buffs ramped up. Autoattacks add around 0.61 HPS to this, and free Surging Mists every 5 combos adds around that much again. So you can view Crane managing around 2 HPCT with the filler spells, which is approaching half of a normal healer’s “weak” filler heal. Even though this isn’t a full rotation analysis, a quick look at the HPCT of Crane’s bigger heal (1.51 for Rising Sun Kick) shows it’s not going to improve that average. Blackout Kick manages 3.08 HPCT for an AoE heal, well under half of Uplift for the same Chi. Exacerbating this is that Spinning Crane Kick now does very little healing (2.01 HPCT) and Crackling Jade Lightning is extremely expensive, so getting Chi in Crane punishes you heavily in terms of mana. This may in the end be worse than the very low healing output, since it’s a resource loss that stays with you when you shift back into Serpent Stance. It’s possible that regardless of throughput, the efficiency of melee heals can’t be that terrible or else using them will be too much of a tradeoff against even your normal healing ability.

Conclusion

This was my first effort at synthesizing the large amount of information in the sheet into broad comparisons across the healing classes. I plan to keep going with it, in particular to start adding more rotations to move beyond looking at single spells at a time. You can see some of that happening already in this post, but most of the work so far has merely gone into the spell table. I did not realize when I started how it would be (thanks again to Dayani for providing another set of eyes on nearly the entire thing by this point). But it’s gotten me to where I wanted to start for Warlords analysis, with the time put in up front to organize all this spell information in a way that facilitates future analysis. This is the first output from that process, but I’m looking forward to adding more as beta continues.

Behavior of DoTs and Haste in Warlords of Draenor

Among the various bits of mechanical info that’s been revealed about Warlords is the fact DoTs and HoTs will no longer have “haste breakpoints” and will no longer “snapshot” your stats at cast time. Celestalon has mentioned this a few times on twitter and frequently responded to questions about it. Since a lot of people seem to have questions on how the math of this breakpoint-less system will work, I want to to explain some of the behavior that will result from this. First, a brief history of this whole problem.

Current System: Haste Breakpoints and Rounding

Before Cataclysm, haste generally did not affect the rate of DoT ticks. There were a few exceptions, such as the Glyph of Rapid Rejuvenation that caused the tick rate of Rejuvenation to be affected by haste. But this did so by shortening the total duration of the HoT and keeping the number of ticks constant, so it didn’t have to address the big question of DoTs and haste: what do to with the fractional ticks that appear when you do this?

When Cataclysm introduced a general mechanic whereby DoT ticks would be accelerated by haste, it handled this problem by changing the duration of the DoT, rounding it to the nearest integer number of ticks.

To work an example: say a DoT has a 12-second duration and a tick period of 3 seconds. Unhasted, when you cast the DoT, a 12-second debuff appears on the target, and the 4th tick will occur exactly as the debuff expires. If you add 25% haste, the tick period will decrease to 2.4 seconds (3/1.25). Since 5 ticks at 2.4 seconds is exactly 12, you will still get a 12-second debuff when you cast the DoT, and now it will be the 5th tick that occurs as the debuff expires. But what if you only had 20% haste? Now the tick period is 2.5 seconds (3/1.2). Since there is no system in place for handling partial ticks, the game can either give you:

  • A 4-tick DoT that lasts 10 seconds, or
  • A 5-tick DoT that lasts 12.5 seconds.

In fact, you get the latter. The game rounds to the closest whole number of ticks, and since in this example, the 5-tick option is closer to the default duration of 12, that’s what you get.

Finally, if you had 12.5% haste, the tick rate would be 2.667. So a 4-tick DoT would be 10.67 seconds, and a 5-tick DoT would be 13.33 seconds. These are equidistant from 12, and this is the oft-discussed “breakpoint.” At any higher amount of haste, you get 5 ticks, and at any lower amount, you get 4.

DoThaste1

A few important results of this:

  • The damage done with a single cast jumps up at the breakpoint, as you probably already understand. But hopefully this clarified why the breakpoint has to exist in the current system.
  • The DoT duration went all over the place: it started at 12, then went down under 11, then up over 13, then back to 12. In fact, it follows a sawtooth pattern, as shown in the graph below.
  • The tick period decreases steadily and smoothly. This does mean that if you continuously maintain a DoT, the DPS it does increases smoothly. However, the frequency with which you have to spend a GCD refreshing the DoT depends on its duration, and that behaves erratically, as discussed.
DoThaste2

A related issue is what happens when you refresh a DoT while it’s ticking. Pre-Catalysm, you would start a fully new DoT and lose the remaining portion of the previous. Starting in Cataclysm, you get the next tick of the old DoT, and then the full duration of the new DoT. So the window to refresh a DoT with zero loss of uptime is the final tick period of each DoT. Warlocks, due to Pandemic, have a much longer window–half the length of a DoT.

Finally, since the computation of a DoT’s duration must be made at the time of cast or refresh, it has to snapshot your haste at that time. There’s no way to update the tick period on the fly when the duration is precomputed to be a whole number of ticks and there’s no system for handling a partial tick.

The Warlords System: Smooth Scaling with Haste

So the two mains goals for a revision in Warlords were:

  • Eliminate haste breakpoints, because, especially with the removal of reforging, they cause a lot of gearing confusion, and
  • Eliminate DoT snapshotting, which was seen as introducing too much of a skill gap in some classes, and also imposing a UI requirement.

The one new piece of tech that makes both of these possible is, as you may have guessed, partial DoT ticks. What exactly is a “partial DoT tick”?

When a DoT expires, it will do a partial tick of damage based on how much time had elapsed since the previous full tick.

So if a DoT had been ticking every 2 seconds, and it ticks with 3 seconds remaining in the duration, it will give a full tick with 1 second remaining. Then, when the debuff expires, the DoT will see that 1 second (half of a tick period) has elapsed since the previous full tick, and will give a tick of half the usual strength.

And that’s actually all. Partial ticks are simply a way of reconciling the fact that the DoT itself doesn’t necessarily end at the exact moment a tick occurs. Once there’s a way for the DoT duration to end whenever it ends, rather than ensuring it happens on a tick, there’s complete flexibility to vary DoT tick timing as needed to accomplish the goals above. To focus on one important point, even though the partial tick only happens if the DoT falls off, this does still affect you if you continuously refresh a DoT, because the initial duration of the DoT no longer changes with your haste. The example below should make this clear.

One other point to discuss before examples is how refreshing will work. When the “final tick” of a DoT will usually be a partial tick of any length, the system of requiring a refresh in the final tick period doesn’t work as well anymore. What Blizzard has suggested is that they will give everyone a mechanic like Pandemic, although at some percentage lower than 50% (possibly 30%). So your window to refresh a DoT without any loss of uptime will be 30% of the duration, regardless of the tick interval.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 4.19.15 PM

Examples

Basic example: with our 12-second DoT with a 3-second tick period from above. At 0 haste or 25% haste, the behavior will be the same as above (putting aside changing haste or clipping), since you already had a whole number of ticks. But at 20% haste (2.5 second tick time), the new system will become clear. When you cast the DoT, a 12-second debuff will appear on the target, ticking every 2.5 seconds, as opposed to the 12.5-second debuff you’d get in the current system. The 4th tick will happen after 10 seconds, and there will be 2 seconds remaining. If you do not refresh, then after those two seconds, the DoT will expire, doing a partial tick that is 80% as strong as a regular tick (2/2.5 = 0.8).

Example with added ticks: Now you’re under the effect of Bloodlust and some other procs, and are up to 60% haste. The number of ticks you’d expect for one cast, from a default of 4 ticks, is 4*1.6 = 6.4 ticks. So you will get 6 full ticks, exactly as under the current system, but now there will be a new partial tick at 40% strength as the DoT expires. Under the new system, haste does still add full DoT ticks, but it doesn’t add them all at once at certain points. More haste will add increasing fractions of the next tick, until it’s created a whole new tick, and then start adding fractions of the subsequent tick.

Example with refresh: Back to the initial example with 20% haste, say you refresh anytime in the last 3.6 seconds of the initial DoT (30% of the 12-second duration). Then the DoT will be extended by 12 seconds, so it will be set to expire 24 seconds after the initial cast. The 4th tick will happen at 10 seconds after initial cast as before. But now no partial tick will happen at 12s (since the DoT is not expiring), and the 5th tick will happen right on schedule at 12.5s. Ticks will continue to happen at 15, 17.5, 20, and 22.5. Then when the DoT expires at 24s, 1.5s after the previous full tick, you will get a tick worth 60% of full value.

Note what has happened in total: you’ve cast the DoT 2 times and spent 2 GCDs. The DoT was on the target for 24.0 seconds (twice the default duration). You got 9.6 ticks’ worth of damage. This is exactly right, as you cast a DoT with a default 4 ticks, twice, with 20% haste. 4*2*1.2 = 9.6.

Example with changing haste: Same example as the previous, but after 15 seconds, your haste decreases from 20% to 11.1%, increasing your tick interval from 2.5 to 2.7 seconds. So after the tick at 15 seconds, ticks will occur at 17.7, 20.4, and 23.1. When the HoT expires at the 24-second mark, it will have been 0.9s since the last full tick, so the partial tick upon expiration will be 1/3 of full strength (0.9/2.7).

Example with continuous refresh: Now, in a 300-second fight, you cast the DoT at the start, and always refresh in the Pandemic window after that. Because every cast of the DoT adds 12 seconds of duration, after you cast 25 times, it will expire exactly as the fight ends.  With 20% haste, it will tick every 2.5 seconds that entire time, giving a total of 120 ticks by the end of the fight. This is exactly what you would expect: without haste, the 3-second DoT would have ticked 100 times in the fight, so with 20% haste, it ticked 120 times.

If you point out that that’s the same thing that would happen in the current system, 120 ticks over the course of the encounter in that example, you’d be right. However, in the current system, each application of the DoT adds 12.5 seconds of duration, so you’d only have cast it 24 times to cover a 300-second fight. That oddity will no longer be present in Warlords.

Conclusion

In an ideal world with no tech limitations, one could imagine DoTs that do damage perfectly continuously. Then, there would be no issue of a DoT ending between “ticks,” and the damage could smoothly increase with any stat as desired. The best summary of the Warlords system is that it mirrors this result, but it buckets the damage into ticks. If you think of each tick as including the damage that occurred since the previous one, that explains the partial tick perfectly. When the DoT expires between ticks, the leftover amount of damage that the DoT should do is gathered together and put into one final tick. In the end, the total amount of damage done always corresponds to the amount of time the DoT was active, and the “ticks” are simply a way of delivering the damage in periodic clumps.

The end result is that the system is coherent from all angles. A DoT cast always adds a fixed amount of duration, and a DoT always does an amount of damage corresponding to the time it was active. Haste will smoothly increase the amount of damage a DoT does while active. If you focus on these things rather than on the partial tick, the system is easiest to understand. The partial tick is simply a mechanism to make sure that the final bit of damage is done correctly, and in general you shouldn’t worry about it. The most prominent change from the current system is that the duration of a DoT doesn’t change with haste.

Healing Theory, Part 6: The Mana Economy

Previous posts in this series can be found here

Much of the focus on this series so far has been on Spirit and mana. Choices surrounding mana are some of the least obvious and most interesting character setup choices in WoW. They allow gear decisions to impact gameplay in a way that is somewhat unique. And, from our current perspective at the end of raiding in Mists, the story of how healing gameplay changed since launch is largely a story about mana. This is particularly interesting because I think, for reasons I discuss below, that the designers tried to avoid allowing healers to reach this point of having such ample mana at the end of Mists, after seeing it happen in Wrath and Catalysm.

This post continues the thoughts of earlier posts in the series, which focused on the difference between cooldown and non-cooldown heals and why that difference is important to an understanding of mana. Here I explore some of the theoretical foundation for that distinction and how it helps us make gear and play decisions.

The Balance Sheet: Mana Assets

One obstacle to understanding mana is that information about your total mana income and expenditures is obscure; in typical play, your only information is how full your bar is at a given moment. But since you spend many bars’ worth of mana in even a short encounter, this look is actually not too informative. For a better understanding of where your mana comes from and where it goes, we want to instead look at an accounting that considers an encounter as a whole.

Let’s work through a example on paper and see how it looks. What we’re looking for here isn’t a set of detailed output numbers, which would be better served by a full-blown spreadsheet like my TreeCalcs, but the overall picture and what it can teach us about the way we think about mana.

The first question is how much total mana I have to spend over the course of an encounter. That depends on many variables, but I’ll illustrate a typical hypothetical example for a 6-minute fight. I might have (values in thousands of mana):

Healer Pie

Since all of these returns are quite consistent, except for the small RNG fluctuations in the trinket and meta, I have a very good estimate of how much mana I might have to spend over the course of an encounter of this length. 1.9 million is just over 6 bars’ worth, which should indicate just how limited a view you get by thinking only about your one visible mana bar and how much of it has been spent. Aside: it might be interesting to think about an addon that shows this total at the start of the fight, and how much I’ve spent from it, as an alternative to the conventional mana display.

I left out for this purpose the Druid 2T16 set bonus and Clearcasting, which can only be applied to specific heals that aren’t often used otherwise (unlike the meta), and are more easily accounted for as free healing done rather than free mana. Similarly, the accounting might be a little more complex for certain refund mechanics like Rapture and Mana Tea, but as long as you treat them consistently as either added mana or as reduced costs, your results should be the same either way. To be specific, (jumping ahead for a moment), the curve of total healing done as a function of mana will ultimately look the same whether you think of some mechanics as taking mana and then giving it back, or as simply giving free casts. For purposes of a simple chart rather than a full class spreadsheet, I went with what I thought wouldn’t be misleading out of context.

In general, the picture would not change much for other classes. In fact, the entries other than Innervate and meta gem would not change at all. In place of Innervate, a Paladin would have 146k mana from 3 Divine Pleas, or a Priest 162k from 2 Shadowfiends at low haste (or 174k if one was aligned with Hymn). Shaman and Monk wouldn’t have any, as they only have mechanics that are easier to think of discounts rather than as mana income since they are based on number of spellcasts rather than time. And it turns out that the value of a meta proc is reasonably balanced across classes, loosely speaking, with many typical uses of a proc costing 20k or 30k mana: 2 Chain Heals, a Chain Heal and a Magma Totem, 2 Jabs with Muscle Memory return, a Holy Radiance, etc.

Variations

One key observation, to revisit a point I touched on in Part 2, is that Spirit is only 26% of this makeup (slightly more now that Innervate size depends on Spirit, which it didn’t before patch 5.4). In fact, the only changes that would be made to the accounting if I had 0 Spirit are that I’d lose the 487k mana from Spirit regen, and two Innervates would return 48k mana instead of 120k. The total would still be 1.33 million mana with 0 Spirit, 70% of what it was with 12,000 Spirit above.

One other number. Let’s say I’m back at ilvl 463 at the starts of Mists. The following things were different:

  • With around 5000 Spirit, I’d get only 203k mana from it over 6 minutes.
  • I had no legendary meta.
  • A standard-issue Int&mana trinket, Price of Progress, gave 30k mana in 6 minutes. (A ilvl 463 version of Horridon’s or Dysmorphic would have given closer to 42k mana at 12.5% haste. RPPM generally caused healer trinkets to get stronger).
  • Two Innervates still gave 120k mana, as it didn’t scale with Spirit then.
  • A Shaman with only 5000 Spirit would give me 36k mana with two Tides.
  • The new total is 1.17 million mana, 62% of what it was in the first example.
Mana Bar

Of the difference of 719k mana in this example, only 284k, 39%, is due to an increase in Spirit from 5000 to 12000. The difference would of course be even less if, like many people, you geared heavily towards Spirit early on and less so now. If you maintained similar gearing patterns, that increase from 5000 of a stat to 12000, a 140% increase, would correspond to a gain of 94 ilvls. The amount added from the meta (285k) is almost identical to the entire value of the added Spirit in this example (evaluated at 3 Rejuv casts proc, the meta is in fact worth 7000 Spirit).

So less than half of the mana difference between then and now is allocable to increased Spirit. In fact, you could wear 0 Spirit now (hypothetically–due to healer itemization you probably can’t wear 0 Spirit even if you want to) and have more mana than you did in the early part of the expansion, before the legendary meta.

The Balance Sheet: Mana Expenditures

What can I do with 1.9 million mana in 6 minutes? I’ll continue the example as a Druid, but it should not be too difficult to apply the reasoning to any class. My most important on-cooldown spell is Wild Growth. Let’s be generous and say I cast it every 8 seconds for the entire fight. In other words, I spend as much mana as possible on Wild Growth. 45 casts at 13740 per cast is 619k mana, just under 1/3 of my supply. Similarly a Swiftmend every 16 seconds would add another 115k spent. Lifebloom is very small; even if you manually refreshed it every 14 seconds (as opposed to using Clearcast Regrowth or 2T16 Healing Touch), it would be 91k mana. In reality it will be much less.

The most a Druid can possibly spend on the core rotational heals in 6 minutes is around 800k mana. The remainder is the discretionary budget for no-cooldown heals. That means that I have over a million mana to spend on Rejuvs (including the free ones from the meta), even with the occasional Bloom or other odd spell. 1.1 million mana is 126 Rejuvs, or about one every 3 seconds over the course of the fight.*

Thinking back to the comparison above about mana resources available at the beginning and end of the expansion, let’s see how that chart would look if it was colored to reflect the mana expenditures (instead of mana income) in this simplified model:

Mana Bar 2

You probably don’t play precisely like this. But if you imagine an encounter with relatively consistent healing needs, such that you rarely got for long stretches without casting Wild Growth, this is quite a serviceable picture of how should strive to play. In particular, of how your spell use should be affected by variations in your mana supply. The point illustrated by this graph is one that’s been a consistent theme of this series: extra mana affects how much you use your class’s best heal that has no cooldown (in this example, Rejuvenation). As Part 3 discussed in depth, when healing in a limited-mana environment, you want to solve problems with your efficient cooldown-bearing, rotational heals as much as possible. In other words, by trying to mimic the left bar in the above graph. The more you lean on the spammable (and lower-HPM) heal before you have the resources to support it, the more you cut into your ability to use your best heals as much as possible throughout the fight.

For your interest, here are some references on mana usage from other major rotational spells. To fit with this post, I’ll continue to express these as theoretical max mana (in thousands) spent on a spell in 6 minutes, rather than mean MP5:

*Druid-specific aside: so you simply can’t spam Rejuv nonstop for the entirety of an encounter. If you feel like you do, it’s because you’ve stopped noticing the intuitive pauses most of the time, that let you spam it fully during intense healing phases. It’s a class that requires casting nothing some percentage of the time (although that percentage is small at the gear levels we’re discussing here). Less experienced Druids often haven’t picked this up, and spam Rejuv too readily, resulting in the feeling that they have mana problems or need more Spirit.

The Mana Curve

The above description, that I called a simplified model of casting, differs from reality in two important ways. First, if the upkeep of your rotational heals is too large compared to your total available mana, it can be impractical or impossible to heal using those alone. Second, variation in healing needs during an encounter mean you sometimes need to stack filler heals onto cooldown heals in high-demand moments, regardless of ideal mana planning (notice how these two issues are related).

I’m going to draw the same picture I drew in the previous section, but in a different way. This one is purely conceptual–not to any scale.

Healer Diagram

There’s a lot going on here. If you had 0 net mana to spend, the only healing you could do is with your free heals (e.g EfflorescenceRecalled Healing Stream Totem, Chi Wave). The first points of mana you spend allow you to cast efficient, cooldown-based heals that all classes have. As you fill up on your capacity to cast those as many times as possible per encounter, you spend each marginal point of Spirit on less efficient heals, until you get to the one with no cooldown, which each added point of Spirit is spent on. This is the story I’ve been telling so far, and is reflected in the blue line.

The red line shows what’s more likely to happen in practice, and reflects the two points I just mentioned. Transitions from one phase to another are smoother, since you’re starting to mix in the less efficient heal as needed before fully capping out on use of the previous heal. In particular, at the cusp between the “cooldown” and the “no-cooldown” phase (around where the “curved in practice” arrow is pointing), your filler heals have to be mixed in to some extent in any healing scenario, and they will cut into core heal usage until you have more of a cushion of mana. This results in Spirit retaining some higher value even past the cusp, as you establish enough of a reserve to use the rotational heals to their full extent in practice. While Druids tended not to be too much affect by this early in Mists, Shaman were more so (see this comment from Vixsin and my reply on an earlier entry, anticipating this post). For reference, before the Healing Rain cost reduction mid-Mists, casting a Healing Rain (25860 mana) every 11.5 seconds for 6 minutes took 810k mana, and the Shaman’s mana supply would have been closer to 1 million rather than 1.1 million since they do not have Innervate.

The other important feature of the red line is that its growth falls off when you have a large amount of mana. The problem with continually adding filler heals by increasing in mana is that they only allow you to add healing in one way: more and more uniformly spread over time. At some point, you are already casting full-time during the demanding parts of an encounter, and more mana simply lets you add in casts at other times, which is not especially useful. This is what’s generally responsible for the class-wide turn away from Spirit among healers. As we got to the end of Mists (bearing in mind the large role the meta gem played here), we had the mana to cast at all the times we wanted to. There’s little reason for anyone to go out of the way for more.

In between these two extremes is a roughly linear range where more Spirit allows more useful casts of filler heals. This is primarily where my previous discussions were aimed, where Spirit gear is the most interesting, and where I believe healers are intended to be. The slope of the line in this region corresponds to the efficiency of your best no-cooldown heal, as described in Part 3.

Inflation in Mists

The story of mana in Mists is once again one of healers having more of it than is ideal by the end of an expansion. It’s not as drastic as it was in Wrath or Cataclysm, due to measures the designers took to prevent this. Base mana no longer increases with Intellect. Spirit regen no longer scales with the square root of Intellect (which used to cause it to scale with the 3/2 power of your stats). There is no longer powerful regen like Replenishment based on your max mana (and therefore scaled with Intellect). And the effects of these changes are clearly visible–our total available mana has increased by less than a factor of 2 from the beginning of the expansion to the end, whereas, for example, DPS has increased by far more than that. For raiders with the highest available gear, ilvl 580, total character stats are 297% of where there were at ilvl 463. So healer mana has been kept much more under control than in the past. If not for the singlehanded effect of the legendary meta, this discussion would probably be quite different.

When I first saw the legendary meta, I didn’t think straight away that it was overpowered. Because from a certain perspective, it’s not. The value of the DPS metas to DPS classes is similarly huge. The goal of these legendary rewards was to feel like they brought a transformative bump in character power. The problem with healers was pouring that sudden increase in character strength all into the mana balance. It counteracts all the work described above to make sure that the difference in mana between the beginning of the expansion and the end was not overwhelming. And even with the meta, the situation is not disastrous–mana is dancing around the boundary of being a nonfactor, but has not fallen completely into it. It’s just far enough that you generally don’t want to gear for more.

For some stats, it’s totally fine if they increase by a completely arbitrary amount between the beginning of the expansion and the end. Most importantly, attack power and spell power. These overall damage/healing multipliers could increase by 1000% if the designers wanted them to and it wouldn’t cause any mechanical problems. Haste is a more complicated since it affects the pace of gameplay, you can’t let it get out of control. Healer mana, more than any of these others, wants to stay in a tight range where you don’t have too much and don’t have too little. The importance, and generally low cost, of rotational heals provides an important foundation–it ensures that there is a well-established playstyle for each class even in low-mana setups. Beyond this, Spirit needs to be tuned so people can use filler heals in a small (but not too small) portion of free time at the beginning of the expansion and a large (but not too large) portion at the end.

Conclusion

I started discussing healing in Mists with arguments that people overvalued Spirit as the expansion started out. This was based primarily on the fact that you had a solid core rotation of cooldown-based spells even at minimum Spirit, and throughput stats leveraged those existing spells for added healing that you really needed as you were getting stated. Midway through Mists were the middle posts in this series, looking at the value of Spirit in the ideal range (for the purpose of interesting choices), where you could choose between more throughput on existing casts, or more casts of a filler heal. And now, while those discussions are little academic to most people due to the current state of healer gameplay, there is still a good opportunity to look at the big picture of how mana works, in anticipation of the next iteration of the game. As you can see, the framework in this post is consistent with all of the discussion so far.

This discussion, I think, will continue in full force in Warlords. While they’ve announced that Spirit will be on fewer pieces (to facilitate hybrid gearing), that won’t make the question go away. It will only eliminate the option of full Spirit stacking, and perhaps make it a little easier to limit the variation in mana between the beginning and end of the expansion. I don’t expect we will see something like the healer meta gem again. I look forward to seeing how the theory applies as soon as we have detailed info on the classes in Warlords.

Raid Awareness is a Learned and Practiced Skill

Italicized quotations throughout are from my old raid leader Sebudai, well-known for his efforts to teach his raiders to be better at playing WoW.

I’ve written many WoW guides over the past years, largely covering the details of min/maxing a particular class, but I always knew I was addressing a narrow slice of what makes a good raider. While there are reasons that players who know the nuances of perfectly optimizing their class’s output and ability use are prized, even they are no substitute for a raider who excels at the most important skill of all: not dying.

Volumes have been written on how to do good DPS, healing, or tanking. If you raid or want to raid at an intermediate or high level, I imagine you have long immersed yourself in that discourse already. There are many reasons why existing WoW guides, forums, and discussions are largely about optimizing those roles. They are the primary way players are measured by themselves and by raid groups. Large parts of them can often be solved with math, leading to simple and easily implemented results. But most important, I suspect, is a widespread impression that I hope to refute in this post: that your awareness and survivability in raids is a part of who you are as player and cannot be changed.

After outlining the basic premise that not making avoidable errors that kill you or other raid members is an area of play you should seek to improve, the bulk of this post is about specific things you can do or practice to accomplish that. Through the survey of techniques discussed—gearing your UI towards awareness, being more cognizant of your encounter routines, and constructive behavior post-wipe—what I most want to convey is a mindset. I couldn’t list out all the factors in the mental game of raiding even in much longer post than this. But if you adopt the ethos that every death is a puzzle to be solved, that somewhere in series of events leading to it is a decision you could have made better, you can train yourself to look for it.

You Are Your DPW: Deaths Per Week

“You guys keep dying in the shadow realm. I don’t die in the shadow realm. You just need to play better. That’s my current assessment of the strategy.”

The MVP of your raid group isn’t the person at the top of the DPS meter; it’s the person who hasn’t died by standing in fire in 3 months. Doing elite DPS is rare, but doing quite good DPS is somewhat common. A player who does quite good DPS and dies regularly to avoidable mechanics is nothing special. A player who does quite good DPS and dies very rarely to avoidable mechanics is the best prize a guild recruiter can find in their applicant pool. Because a raid full of those players, even if none of them are at the top of worldwide log rankings, is going to succeed at what matters. They’re going to win boss encounters.

Raiding at any level, it is a virtual certainty that the limiting factor on the speed at which you learn and defeat bosses is the rate of avoidable mistakes made by individual group members. No matter what other factors are present, multiple avoidable deaths (or sometimes even one) scuttle any attempt at a hard boss. With 10 to 25 people having to play for many consecutive minutes, and a win only being likely if virtually all of them make no death-causing errors on the same attempt, you can’t avoid the math of the situation. Even if you think your problem at a boss was “bad strategy”, realize how much this implicates your raiders’ error rates. Without mistakes, any strategy would take only one attempt to try and reject. Any wipe could be followed by a raid-level strategic improvement. Errors in play during the attempts are the reason a strategy persists for many attempts or even whole raid nights before enough evidence is gathered that something needs to be changed.

I won’t belabor this further except to state it as the premise of the remainder of this article: the most important way you can improve your skill as a raider and your contribution to your group is by reducing your rate of avoidable errors. With that said, the next important point in preparation for the meat of the post is that this error rate is not only important, but that you can improve it as a player.

Your Death Was Not An Accident, And It Was Probably Your Fault

“See how it was targeting me, and I moved, and then it didn’t hit me? It’s like magic.”

Raiding is fundamentally a challenge of mental organization. Your attention is a resource that’s every bit as real as your mana. Spending it on the wrong things causes you to make mistakes and potentially die.

When you stand in fire for 3 seconds and die, the problem is not that your reaction time is inhumanly bad (even if it were somewhat poorer than average, it would be well under half a second). A more correct identification of the problem is that you did not realize you were standing in it for at least (in this example) 2.5 seconds. Some possible causes or contributing factors might be:

  • Your visual scan of the screen has gaps of over 2-3 seconds where it doesn’t stop at the relevant part of your screen (here, your character’s feet).
  • Important features of your UI (for example, raid frames) are positioned such that the threat was not in your peripheral vision.
  • It was a boss ability that comes at a predictable time, and you let some other task take precedence over waiting/checking for it at that moment.
  • Your UI does not produce an alert whose attention-grabbing power is commensurate with the importance of the ability.
  • An irregularity earlier in the attempt resulted in your being in a different position from usual or doing different things from usual.
  • A event you typically use as a warning trigger (for example, a Vent call) didn’t occur.

Every one of these is correctible. If you attribute these deaths to random occurrences, a perceived innate limitation in your skills as a gamer, a fluke (an event with no predictive value), or the like, your progress as a raider faces an insurmountable barrier. The remainder of this post is about how to better address these causes of errors. The two primary methods discussed below are:

  1. Never being unaware of abilities or debuffs that are important enough to kill you, through proper setup of your UI before combat and visual scanning in combat, and
  2. Anticipating your response to boss abilities before they occur, through formation of encounter routines and revision of those routines after wipes.

UI is a Tool to Aim Your Attention

“You should have added ‘Corruption:Sickness’ to your UI. If you haven’t, I can’t prove it but you’re an asshole and we all hate you.”

If somebody pricked you with a needle every time the fire appeared under you, you’d notice it immediately 100% of the time. It would grab your attention over anything that you may have been looking at—it’s something that your brain is hard-wired to respond to instantly. Associating it with an event that needs to supersede all others for priority in your response (move out of it now or you die) is a perfect marriage of a threat with a corresponding alert. This is the principle you want to keep in mind when configuring your actual UI to recreate that result in a more practical, and less painful, manner.

UI is necessarily personal, but a good one is one where you’ve made your addons work for you by showing you what you need when you need it. Good UI is less about which addons you have and more about how you configure them. When looking to improve your UI, you want to look for the config option in the addon you already have that addresses some need you have. Pretty much the only wrong answer to “what’s the best addon for this task?” is “a popular one, with all the settings left at default.” If you haven’t decided or thought about what you need to see and when/where you need to see it, you won’t have a good UI.

One concrete example of UI that should be used by every raider is the presentation of debuffs that kill you rapidly unless you move. The UI implications of this are easy to describe because, as discussed, such an event always belongs at the same place in your mental priority: at the top. So the UI’s purpose is simple to understand. Always put this at the forefront. Unless you have an alert for such debuffs that cannot be missed regardless of where your eyes or your mind are, your UI is failing you in one of its simplest and most important functions.

I took screenshots of the moment I had a certain dangerous debuff (Sha Sear at the Protectors encounter) in both the default UI (for buffs/debuffs), and in my raid UI.

WoWScrnShot_012314_232342
WoWScrnShot_010314_010106

The top screenshot shows the default debuff icon near the bottom-left corner of the minimap. The bottom one is my raiding UI.

Not only do people in my raid never have to call out “Hamlet, you’re in the group with Sha Sear”, but this isn’t even hard to accomplish. Setting up this UI widget is a simple bit of preparation. A raider who fails to handle a debuff that can be solved in this way has chosen not to do it. In my view, they shouldn’t be viewed any better than someone who’s playing with no flasks. Worse, in fact, because their poor UI is probably far more likely to cause wipes than a minor DPS loss would be.

Visual Scanning

“I don’t care if you do 0 healing for the rest of this pull, just don’t die to slicers.”

A corollary to the UI discussion is that there’s a lot going on on your screen at any time. You can’t be looking at all of it at once; the best you can do is a sort of rotation that passes through all the important points of interest. Try to start being conscious of where your eyes are while you raid. You might go from your raid frames to your feet and back nonstop, not due to any alert or trigger, but simply as something you always do (it takes a fraction of a second).

At some encounters, not looking at your feet for 2 seconds at the wrong time can kill you. If follows that if your scan doesn’t cycle past them at 2 second intervals at the most, you’re leaving your survival to chance. Maintaining that tight of a visual scan takes very intense focus, but you can ameliorate the constant need for it with good UI alerts, discussed above, and a good encounter plan, discussed below. In contrast, you don’t need to divert your eyes to check your mana nearly that often (you probably have little need to know your mana status more often than every 30 seconds or so).

Once when my old guild asked what information I’d like to see on healer applicants, I told them I’d want to know the best score they could get at this flash game. I was only half joking. If you try it, it should illustrate the concepts of this section. Raiding is often made up of fundamentally easy tasks: reacting to something dangerous in a generous window like 2 or 3 seconds, using abilities in a familiar practiced rotation, using cooldowns at a planned time. The difficulty is in juggling all of it at once.

Note: I borrowed the term “visual scanning”, and the concept, from aircraft pilots, for whom it is a critical skill. Some studies have explored its relation to video games as well.

Keep Your Bossmods Under Control

“Don’t ever say ‘oh shit’ on Vent again. That helps nobody. Say it IRL and don’t push your Vent key.”

The other specific UI example I’ll go into is with regard to bossmods. It is very easy to have far more bossmod spam than you ever need (I surmise this is due to bossmod authors being inclined to show off the widgets they develop and having a strong bias towards turning things on by default that don’t need to be). Since UI is about drawing your attention to the things you most need to react to immediately, then having timers and alerts for everything a boss does causes an inevitable Boy Who Cried Wolf problem when you process the information on your screen. Without curating the alerts you need to have visible, there’s often a timer of some kind ticking down to 0 every few seconds. Realize the significance of this: you can’t know if it’s a timer you need to react to unless you read the small text on the timer bar, a task that absorbs a lot of attention, pulls your eyes away from everything else, and prevents reflexive responses from developing.

The problem is even worse when audio alerts are involved. Sound is a very powerful UI tool. Not only is human reaction time to an audio cue faster than to a visual cue, but it’s completely agnostic to where your eyes were. The catch is, to have a truly instantaneous reaction to the one thing at the fight that most needs it, you should only have one thing at each encounter that throws an audio alert. This is actually a completely practical way of recreating my hypothetical needle-poking feedback mechanism. If a loud chime means you have to move a few steps, and means only that, then after some time at an encounter you can start to do it without even having to think about it consciously. This is the best result. Multiple audio cues with different sounds can also work, but the reflex effect will be slightly less automatic. When every timer in an encounter comes with a bell or whistle, your bossmod is probably doing nothing more than giving you a headache.

My recommendation: the next time (or the first time) you do each fight, go into your bossmod config and turn all alerts off. All of them. After doing a couple attempts like that, turn on timers or alerts for abilities as it becomes specifically clear that you need each one. In particular, you should be able to articulate what you’re going to do based on that alert (“I want to press Barkskin two seconds before Swelling Pride“). Otherwise, think again about whether you need to turn it on.

Good Raiders Are Creatures Of Habit

“Engulfing Flame in 5 seconds, don’t die to this. . . . I specifically told you not to do that.”

UI alerts notwithstanding, the surest way to handle something that might kill you or wipe the raid is to be waiting for it. When you’re thinking of what’s coming next, and even what’s coming after that, not only are your odds of responding correctly very high, but the response will be executed calmly, leaving your attention free to continue thinking ahead. Your goal is to remain in that state continuously for an entire encounter, and much of the intense focus required in raiding at a very high level goes towards constantly updating that mental list of the upcoming events.

When I think back to the hardest fights I’ve done, I can essentially replay the encounter in my head, my own actions in particular. Heroic Lich King (middle phase): run in from the crumbling platform as transition phase ends, but stay to the left or right of the tank to not get hit by the add’s cone attack. Go to the clump spot for first Val’kyr (only actually clumping once add was dead). When the Valks grab 3 people, start running south and keep moving until Defile finishes casting. Circle around to second clump spot. Wait 10 yards away to see if Lich King casts Val’kyr or Defile first (the second one could go either way). If the yell for Val’kyr appears, move onto the raid marker; if not, move out and keep moving until Defile finishes casting. And so on. That encounter was brutal—if you beat it, you probably wiped 50 or 100 times to Defile alone—but once I had that routine, as long as I maintained it on a given attempt, I couldn’t fail it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 10.57.36 PM

If you’re not familiar with that fight, that’s okay, the point is what a routine for an encounter or a phase sounds like. It’s not merely that you know the response to each ability. It’s that you know what the order of events is. Most bosses use abilities on quite regular cooldowns, and you want to make the habit of noticing the rhythm. Sometimes it’s easy: Garrosh phase 2 always cycles DesecrationTouch of Y’ShaarjWhirling Corruption (but, notice how the 3rd Whirl is late enough to always come while you’re moving out of the 4th Desecration). Sha of Pride casts Reflection, then Banishment, then Imprison, then Manifestation, then Swelling Pride, repeating (as a bonus, Sha’s cycle is just over 60 seconds long, so you can close a Rift at the same point in the routine every time).

I sometimes fail any of the above mechanics, as does anybody. A common case is when an oddity earlier in the fight (say, tank having to move the boss to an unusual position) meant I had to improvise. That is unavoidable at times, and a good ability to think on your feet will of course be valuable. But the raider with no routine is in that situation every time. They’re doing something else like looking at DPS cooldowns, a bossmod alert goes off, and they think “Whoa, Iron Tomb (or Corrupted Brew, or Hurl Amber), guess I’d better move!” and look for somewhere to run to. If they even do notice it and dodge it, that is. You want to be person who’s thinking “I’m going to cast these next three spells, then it will be time to move for Tomb, and I’ll cast this instant while moving.” Or “After that spell I’m going to stare at the ground for 5 seconds until I spot the Amber targets, then go back to check on my DoTs.” When you put yourself in the latter category of player by having a plan, then most of the time handling a boss ability is not an issue of reaction whatsoever. It’s doing what you knew you would do, when you knew you would do it. And you’ll do better DPS to boot.

Postmortems

“Who just said ‘unavoidable’ on Vent? Who was it? I want to know who said that so I can back up and list the numerous ways that death was not ‘unavoidable’”

In the ideal case, upon a death or wipe you cause, you give not only an explanation of what caused it, but of what change could prevent it from happening. There’s not always a raid-level change to be discussed; sometimes it was truly an individual error (I was thinking about DPS and didn’t alert myself that the ability was coming), but even then the player should be asking internally what change should be made. Can you adjust your debuff or bossmod alerts (if so, ask for a resurrect and do it while people are running back)? Maybe your routine should consistently use that DPS cooldown either before or after that boss ability on every pull?

Admitting to being the cause of a wipe is laudable. People who won’t do so are likely outside the audience of this post, as they’re not primarily interested in improving the success of their group. But addressing people who do discuss when they’ve made a mistake, you have to make sure not to let yourself off the hook with responses that are useless. If I’m your raid leader and you missed an interrupt, don’t simply say it won’t happen again. Tell me why it’s unlikely to happen again. If you can do that, I won’t feel like we’re playing Russian Roulette with the raid every time your turn to interrupt comes up.

You’ve all heard an interrupter say: “I pushed the button, I don’t know what happened!” The statement may in fact be 100% true. But what you should focus on is that it accomplishes nothing at all. Train yourself to never say it. Same for “I think was lag” or “it must have been a glitch.” It’s possible you could get away with “lag” if you did it very rarely and only when it was the correct diagnosis, but people like that are so rare that it’s probably a bad habit to try. Don’t even get me started on “it showed up as interrupted on my screen.” Any raid leader worth his salt translates this in his head to “I almost pressed the button in time.” If you caused a wipe and you don’t have anything better to say than one of these confabulations, then accept that there’s nothing you can do this particular time to avoid being placed in the Russian Roulette category.

But if you’ve taken the principles of this post to heart, a failure will usually mean you have a meaningful productive comment to make while the raid runs back. Most of the time it’s as simple as having to make an individual adjustment to your routine. Even that’s valuable to describe as it shows the raid leader the wipe was worth something, and it helps other people in your class or role benefit. And sometimes there will be a raid-level change you can suggest to positioning or even something as simple as Vent calls. When you have any of these sorts of things to say during the runback, a good raid leader won’t even be angry about the wipe. Your job as a raider isn’t to never cause wipes—it’s impossible to learn a boss without wiping unless you’re doing trivial content. It’s to make every wipe you cause into one where the raid learns something.

Sometimes There is Fire

“When I ask what killed you, I’m not looking for you to say ‘Why, damage killed me, Sebudai! I died because I ran out of hit points.’”

If a raider of any level asked me how they could improve their play, I wouldn’t start by worrying about whether they use haste or crit. In truth, I’d much rather a newcomer to a raid team read this rather than any guide I’ve ever written about what talents to select for your class or what stat to reforge for. Most importantly, because knowing whether to use haste or crit is easy. When you start playing a class, you can learn that on the first day. But being a good raider who stays alive during encounters is hard. I’ve been trying to learn it for nine years. No matter how long you’ve been playing, what class or role you are, or what level you play at, you too can find room improve these skills for the benefit of you and your team.

Blizzcon WoW Announcement Responses

I’m finally getting around to writing down my initial reaction to the various things that were announced in WoW panels on Friday and Saturday at Blizzcon. I haven’t even caught up on everyone’s discussions since then due to travelling (…travelling and XCOM expansion being released), but it seems to good to get these down first anyway. Basically my first impressions of everything in no particular order. The biggest part will be on raid changes since those are most interesting for me (well, and there are no detailed class changes yet).

Raid Changes

Putting aside the name changes (which, aside from surely causing constant terminological confusion for the next many months, aren’t too significant), and putting aside LFR (because it’s not raiding), there are still 3 raid difficulties. But we’re going from [easy (Flex), medium (10 or 25), hard (10 or 25)] to [easy (Flex), medium (Flex), and hard (20)]. Many takeaways from that.

  • There’s no longer _any_ difficulty with two disjoint raid sizes. This is great. No more 10 vs. 25 issues. I don’t even want to rehash all the reasons that was a problem, except to the extent it comes up in the remaining points.
  • There is no more hard-mode content with fewer than 20 people. Some will see this as a dubious accomplishment, but I’ve been arguing to do away with 10H for years. It has a lot to do with the problems I discussed in the above blog post: primarily, a game with 11 classes and 34 character types can’t be balanced cleanly around 10-player teams when you’re considering the razor’s-edge tuning of Heroic raiding. “10H WoW raiding” was simply a less great game than “25H WoW raiding.” Slightly less great, but less great. I know there are some of you out there with exactly 9 friends. What I’d want most for you is a game where the systems were made from the ground up to dovetail with 10-player content, rather than a 25- or 40-player game that was pared down as well as could be managed.
  • Guilds can grow to 20 or 25. I think people will take some time to truly internalize this. We’re so used to saying “We’re a 10-person guild, how could we get to 25?” In Cataclysm and MoP, that was a valid question with no good answer. But now? The answer is that you invite people. You can! You’re so used to thinking that you can’t invite people (because there’s no “room” for them), but now you can. I know it sounds crazy, but you get from 10 to 20 by inviting people. You won’t be a 10-player guild in WoD, because there won’t be any such thing. You’ll be “a guild” and until/unless you’re raiding Mythics, you’re not pegged to any one size.
  • Flexible normal-level mode raid tuning. I’d been skeptical of this–not because I thought it would be bad, but simply because I thought (in fact, I’m still quite confident) it’s very hard to do. But they’re only releasing it if they think they’ve got it working, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. One key piece of the puzzle is a new tech feature they briefly mentioned: boss abilities that target N people will no longer stairstep at certain raid sizes, but will, at intermediate sizes, have a pro rata % chance to target 1 extra person each time. This is a crucial bit of tech that allows boss difficulty scaling to be smooth enough to fit within the expected precision for “normal” tuning rather than “easy” tuning.

One thing I still feel isn’t totally answered: why 20 instead of 25? This post very nicely answers the question “why 20 instead of 15 or some other smaller number.” But, to be frank, I didn’t consider 15-player as the only raid size to be a serious option to begin with. People always touted it as a solution to the 10/25 problem, but I never saw how it was a solution at all. 15 would have been tantamount to giving up on “big” raiding. I mention this only because 20 is still too close to 10 or 15 for complete comfort. Even for important goals like ensuring 1 of every class, 25 is a much more comfortable number. Specifically, it’s more than 2x the number of classes, which feels like an important threshold. When you have only 1 of some classes, attendance fluctuation will often give you 0.

I press on this point because the only rationale I have heard people guess so far is that it’s a sort of compromise. Something like, there was a debate between 10 and 25, and if one side flat-out “won,” people would be upset. Or more subtly, it’s the middle ground fallacy: when two sides are debating strongly, the right answer feels like it should be between them. Anyway, I hope that’s not the reason, since it’s a pretty poor one. I don’t know what it is though. I can think of a few other really minor advantages. 10% of the raid is tanks instead of 8%, slightly better for role composition. Hypothetically two 10p groups could merge (I think this is a rare case). There’s some advantage to having the flex size cap out at something higher than the hardmode size so you can bring the whole guild on farm runs. None of these, to me, outweigh the potentially added robustness of the 25-man raid size.

Overall, I think the changes are huge net positive. I said on 6/6/2013, the day Flex was announced: “[It] will probably take some thinking to lay out a good array of raid modes to cover the various kinds of players efficiently. Just to throw out brainstorms, I think the most lightweight extreme would be to have only 2 modes: flex and 25H.” I thought that was just an idealistic example to make a point, but man, they landed pretty close to it.

Just to address the most common complaint about the changes (“what will my guild do?”). If your guild is made of the right stuff–players who want to play together and have generally similar goals in WoW–it will be fine. I’m not worried at all about 25H groups, who are only affected insofar as their recruitment officers get a break at the turn of this expansion (for once). I do understand the plight of 10H guilds. It’s not fun to be the person to has to make changes for the good of the game as a whole. I think the portion who quit will be vastly outnumbered by the portion who find that 20M is no less fun than what they’re currently doing.

One Free Level 90

I know, you’re thinking, “this is the next most important announcement?” To me it is. We live in a different gaming world that we did in 2004 and people’s expectations have changed. In a lot of ways, as a gamer, I heavily resist that–I am perennially nonplussed by microtransactions in any form, for example (and I will be by the inevitable WoW ones that are already appearing in more microtransaction-oriented regions). But one I’m fine with is that newcomers to a game need a smoother experience getting pulled into fun content at the outset without doing a lot of work (WoW needs better onboarding, as the f2p marketing types might say). Some people, or most people in fact, like leveling more than I do, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that it’s the best part of WoW.

The only rationale that people seem to give for the requirement of doing all that leveling is that you learn to play the game and play your class in the process (“enjoyable quest content” is not a reason to require players to do it before doing other kinds of content). But any game that required people to go through 100 levels (or the equivalent number of hours) of tutorialization would be a failure. You shouldn’t look at WoW’s new-player experience any differently. Similarly, no game that’s the 6th in a series makes you play the first 5 before being even allowed to play, especially not a multiplayer game where you want to play the 6th with your friends.

At first I thought it was a little odd that new players will level their first character in only 10 levels, but if you want to play another, you’ll have to do 100 levels and it will feel horribly ponderous. But it actually makes a lot of sense. In this game, you’re supposed to hit max level and then decide what types of content you like (this was a specific focus of MoP). If some of the content you like is “leveling,” that’s the time to do it, and alts are the way for you to experience that content.

Garrisons

Short because we’re still short on details (they listed a lot of things, but it’s really hard to put it all together until beta). I think that cosmetically, these look like WoW’s take on player housing–in fact they may have described it that way at one point. But WoW always said it never had a use for “player housing” as most people think of it, and I’m not sure that’s changed. The biggest role I’m seeing for garrisons is “something that makes you log in the next day (that’s not daily quests!).” That’s not what most people think of as “player housing.” It’s a giant version of the Halfhill farm (which I think they also said at some point). It’s another way that WoW is staying with the times–ever notice how every f2p game (like Hearthstone) has a thing making you want to log in at fixed intervals (often 1 day)? But WoW is really staying ahead of the times in that way, because it’s moving on from “do this quest every day to get your carrot” (which is tremendously boring) to “here’s a minigame where you sent a guy on a mission and as soon as you get home from work tomorrow you’re going to log in to see how it turned out.” It sounds infinitely better.

There are traditional player-housing features as well like trophies to show off to your friends. To be honest though, I don’t see the novelty of going to my friends’ houses lasting very long. Even if the customization is as rich as something like Animal Crossing, where people can do truly creative things with the vast array of options (I kind of doubt that it will be), they’ll just tweet their screenshots or whatever. This is probably why WoW never had player housing. It’s the minigame aspect of the Garrison that makes it worth doing. The biggest watershed in quitting any game, in my experience, is the first time a few days go by where you didn’t play or think of it–that’s when you find you’re mentally quit before you even realized it. Dailies were a way of making sure that didn’t happen, but they were so awful to actually do that it probably cut into their retentive effect. Building an entire minigame to leave you with goals that will take place at certain times in the future is a much better effort and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.

Hit and Reforging

Plagiarizing myself again (lazier than typing). 4/26/2013:

“–Everyone has to hit 100% in PvE. Every single raider of a given class has their hit stat at exactly the same amount. The most telling part of this is that healing specs get 15% to hit. Literally the only effect of the hit stat on a piece of gear is to cause you to reforge to cancel it out.
–Reforging is not very interesting. You shuffle your worst secondary stat to your best. All it really does, other than manage the hit cap, is mute the difference between items with different secondary stats. That may have necessary when stats were less standardized, but now all it does is make gear choice less relevant. Also the little bit of free-from stat choice that it adds is completely redundant with the whole purpose of gems.

We have multiple systems now (the hit/miss attack roll and the hit stat, and the reforging system) whose sole purpose is ensuring that everyone hits everything 100% of the time. I want to argue that they’re all completely vestigial and should be gone next expansion. There are some obstacles, like the need to come up with a fourth DPS stat to replace it, but one thing at a time.”

So yeah, that happened. Unsurprisingly, I approve.

Tertiary Stats

Really neat, not an idea I’d ever even considered. To summarize:

  1. Primary stats are always present in fixed value on items of a given slot/ilvl. There’s no player choice associated with them, but they mediate scaling. The increase in primary stat as you get better gear drowns out most other terms that would cause scaling imbalances.
  2. Secondary stats affect your core min/maxy character ability, such as DPS or healing output. There’s player choice is figuring out which is best, but they tend to be a little one-dimensional (your spreadsheet tells you which to favor). They contribute to scaling and should be generally balanced. All items of a given slot/ilvl have comparable total secondary stats.
  3. Tertiary stats don’t affect DPS and the like (“cleave” does a bit, consider than an open point for now). They don’t affect scaling or balance–your raid leader won’t view you as behind because you have less lifesteal or runspeed than someone else. It’s okay for comparable items in the same tier to have different amounts of tertiary stats (I believe many or most items will have 0, in fact).

Viewed this way, the third stat category makes a lot of sense. When thinking about how to work in e.g. runspeed as a stat, I kept getting stuck on how to balance it against DPS. An interesting debate by the way–normally players always favor DPS (in fact the whole MoP talent redesign was driven by that notion)–but there’s clearly a tipping point (a player who doesn’t use a runspeed enchant on their boots is bad). Anyway, a new category of “optional” stats is great.

As an aside, gems are being changed to an analogue of Thunderforged. It’s an extra bump to non-tertiary stats that you might roll up occasionally. Basically now there are two ways instead of one that an item can be little better than average, a socket or being Forged. So they really like the Forged idea since they’re doubling it, and even the whole tertiary stat concept is a variant of it.

I’m mildly surprised they’re doing away with (traditional) gems as well as reforging. Much of the thrust of my issues with reforging was being redundant with gems (free stat choice). Getting rid one of one mode of free stat adjustment felt like an obvious change to me, but not both. Still, I can’t say picking gems was very interesting, so I have no reason to complain.

—–

Okay, have to stop typing for now, I hit on the big design issues we know about. I didn’t touch on L100 talents, but it mostly would have been “a bunch of neat ideas, too early to worry about min/maxing them anyway.” I think doing in-depth into the L100 talents so far will be a good avenue for launching into thoughts on class changes (which we otherwise haven’t seen). But right now, reading them doesn’t let me infer anything big about what they’re doing with classes in WoD.

Let me know your thoughts.

Theorycraft 101: 5.4 Trinkets

Blizzard’s pattern of trying to make more interesting raid trinkets in MoP has provided a lot of interesting theorycraft material. As in past Theorycraft 101 posts, the goal is here both to give theorycrafters some useful conclusions and equations to save them the trouble of reinventing them independently, and to give everyone some general information that helps them evaluate these new bonuses when selecting items.

Item Budgets

In general, the amount of any stats budgeted to a certain slot scales like:

V cdot Q^I
  • V is the budget value controlling how many stats that item slot gets compared to other slots.
  • Q is a constant equal to the 15th root of 1.15.
  • I is the item’s ilvl.

Often a more convenient way to think of this, especially when dealing with trinkets, is to use ilvl 463 as a baseline. The reason is that most trinket procs are coded into the spelldata with ilvl 463 values (which is the pre-raid baseline for MoP), and then scaled from there on any individual item based on its ilvl. The Int proc on Nazgrim’s Burnished Insignia, for example, is this this spell. So in general, since looking up the ilvl 463 value for any proc/bonus on Wowhead is easy, you can think of the value at higher ilvls as:

V_{463} cdot Q^{(I-463)}

or

V_{463} cdot 1.15^frac{I-463}{15}

This explains, for example, how the 5084 Int on the proc linked above becomes 11761 Int (i.e. 5084*1.15^6, with a slight deviation due to rounding) when applied to an item that’s ilvl 553 (90 ilvls above 463). Sites like Wowhead will correct for those minor rounding issues so they can exactly match in-game values, but we don’t have to worry about them here.

A lot could be said about item budgets, but I wanted to give the overview here so you have the context on what you should expect from a trinket at various ilvls. A handy factoid is the amount of a passive stat a trinket has at normal budgeting: it’s 847 at ilvl 463, or 1959 at ilvl 553. In other words, the most vanilla possible ilvl 553 raid trinket would have 1959 of a primary stat and 1959 of a secondary stat (or 1959*1.5=2939 in the case of Stamina). Real trinkets will replace one or the other (or both) of those with special bonuses, but that 1959 (or whatever it is at the ilvl you’re looking at) is the basis for comparison.

To work a brief example, see Purified Bindings (553). Note that 11761 Int is just about 1959*6, so the trinket is exactly on-budget if the proc is active 1/6 of the time. Since it has a 20 second duration, you’d expect it to proc every 120 seconds. The 115 second ICD is intended to produce this result and have the trinket match the budget that a passive Int trinket would have.

But you came here to talk about more interesting bonuses than stat procs, so without further ado:

Amplification

Amplifies your Critical Strike damage and healing, Haste, Mastery, and Spirit by X%.” (3.03% at ilvl 463, 7% at ilvl 553, 9% at ilvl 580).

At first blush, this increases the value of all your secondary stats by X%. So if you have 30,000 secondary stats on your character sheet and wore an ilvl 553 Amp trinket, it would be very similar to a trinket with 2100 passive secondary stats (placing it slightly above the par of 1959 in this example). Two quirks:

  • It amplifies Spirit but not hit rating, which is a slight asymmetry across caster classes that I think is an oversight.
  • It increases crit bonus rather than crit chance, which makes things slightly more complicated.

Crit bonus effects have some odd stacking properties. The easiest way to think of it is is that when you crit for 200%, there are two components: the 100% “normal damage” and then 100% “critical damage.” Other than the crit meta, which obeys an idiosyncratic rule* but is irrelevant in T16 due to legendary metas, crit bonus effects all apply multiplicatively to the “critical damage” portion only (including Amp, Skull Banner, and Elemental Fury).

Long story short, the crit bonus provided by Amp causes you to do X% more “critical damage” overall. This does in fact increase the value of your crit rating by X%. But crit chance comes from sources other than rating, and the value of that other crit is also increased by X%. So the easiest way to evaluate this bonus is to:

  1. look at your total raid-buffed crit chance,
  2. imagine that it all came from rating (in most cases, multiply the % by 600), and
  3. take X% of that rating.

Putting it all together, say the total of my haste, mastery, and Spirit were 20,000, and my raid-buffed crit were 35% (16.7% from 10,000 crit rating, and 18.3% from other sources) and I had a 553 Amp trinket (7%). I’d evaluate this part of the trinket as being worth 1,400 stats from haste/mastery/Spirit, and 35*600*7% = 1470 from crit, for a total of 2870, significantly above the expected budget of 1959 secondary stats.

Since the other half of the Amp trinket is, in all cases, a primary stat proc that is right on budget, it is looking like a very strong trinket numerically. It will be even more so for classes with very high effective crit chances due to class mechanics, such as Elemental Shaman. The only important caveat is that is that Prismatic Prison loses a little value for healers because having all of the Int delivered as a high-value high-ICD proc is poor for healing purposes.

*The crit meta increases the “critical damage” in such a way that the total damage will have increased by 3%, before other crit bonuses. Now that every class has a 100% base crit bonus, the crit meta essentially works by increasing it to 106%.

Multistrike

Your heals have a X% chance to trigger Multistrike, which causes instant additional healing to your target equal to 33% of the original healing done.” (6.05% at ilvl 463, 14% at ilvl 553, 18% at ilvl 580)

This is the simplest new bonus. Aside from issues like pets, it’s a straightforward X/3% increase to your damage or healing output. I want to emphasize that this is not an RPPM or ICD effect, simply a plain fixed % chance to occur on any damage/healing event.

The only issue is comparing, for example, 4.67% damage/healing (14%/3) to 1959 secondary stats. I’ll leave that up to individual class modelers, but if you note that 1959 secondaries is, for example, 3.26% crit, you can see that Multistrike is generally looking to be in a good position.

Cleave

Your heals have a X% chance to Cleave, dealing the same healing to up to 5 other nearby targets.“ (1.34% at ilvl 463, 3.11% at ilvl 553, 4% at ilvl 580)

Exactly the same as Multistrike, with the twist that output depends on the number of nearby targets other than your main target. The only important note is that it’s tuned so that, if it hits one added target, it’s 2/3 as strong as Multistrike. For example at ilvl 553, 3.11% is 2/3 the value of the 4.67% output you’d have gotten from Multistrike.

So this trinket is dead even with Multistrike when it hits, on average, 1.5 added targets. In situations where it can regularly hit 5 targets, it is far above budget, and in situations where you are attacking a lone target it is useless. The ramifications of this are obvious, but the rule of thumb that it surpasses a “normal” trinket at around 1.5 splash targets should help you decide when to use it. For 25-man raid healers, I suspect you are very often going to be healing targets who have more than 1.5 other people nearby, except at enforced spread fights.

Cooldown Reduction

Increases the cooldown recovery rate of six of your major abilities by X%.

(17% at ilvl 463, 39% at ilvl 553, 50% at ilvl 580, in each case reduced by half on the tank version)

There’s not too much to say about this in terms of item budgeting, since its benefits are based on the vagaries of each particular class rotation, and I imagine the tuning was done ad hoc. Consult your class’s spreadsheet expert. I just want to correct a common misconception about how the bonus works.

50% CDR does not mean you can use the ability twice as often. It’s exactly analogous to the way haste works, it reduces the cooldown to 1/1.5 = 67% of where it started. So in the end, you can use the ability 1.5 times as often over the course of a fight, not twice as often. Since X% CDR means you can use the effect X% more times in the long run, the benefit is generally linear as the budget increases, as it should be.

This chart lists the affected abilities for each class, in case you need. The trinket doesn’t exist for Int users in this tier.

Other Tanking Effects

I’m not going to say too much about Juggernaut’s Focusing Crystal and Rook’s Unlucky Talisman. They have unique effects that can’t be compared in an apples-to-apples way against 1959 primary or secondary stats. I simply want to note that their inherent % bonuses follow the usual item budget rules just like everything else discussed here. As you upgrade through ilvls, these effects will increase in same way that any stat allocation would (because, as discussed above, all trinket procs/effects are built into the ilvl scaling mechanism now).

This does raise an interesting issue I want to touch on, but a full analysis will be for another post. For a bonus like Juggernaut’s, which is based on a flat % of your overall damage output, there’s a question of whether the overall benefit the trinket gives is actually scaling quadratically with your stat growth. Scaling is inherently confusing and I do want to make a post about it overall, but the basic thrust is that normally as you go up in ilvl, each item has more stat points, and each stat point is worth more because your totals of other stats have increased. It’s left as an exercise to the reader how this logic applies to effects that are based on a % of your other stats such as Juggernaut’s and Amplification.

RPPM

I’ve reviewed the math of RPPM in two prior posts, but this is a good time to note the updates for 5.4.

Every 5.4 RPPM trinket is 0.92 RPPM with a 10-second ICD (except that Ticking Ebon Detonator is 1.00).

Also, for reasons described by Blizzard in this post, haste no longer increases the RPPM of most trinkets, with the only T16 exception being Dysmorphic Samophlange.

A 10-second ICD produces an interesting player-favorable quirk. Since the procs are all 10 seconds long, it prevents overlaps that waste uptime. But since RPPM chance “pools” for 10 seconds (as described in earlier posts), blocking out procs for a 10 second period actually does not impair your overall proc chance in any way. In this case you do get the best of both worlds–the same number of procs you’d have normally, but arranged so that there are no overlaps.

To be on-budget, these trinkets whose procs are all 6 times the value a passive stat trinket would need to have 1/6 uptime. With a 10 second proc duration, you’d think all you need is 1.00 RPPM on all trinkets to be on par. The only quirk to this is that the “bad luck protection” system adds about 13% to proc rates in reality (as discussed in the previous post). Blizzard, slightly generously, has started discounting RPPM rates by around 9% to account for this. This results in a proc rate of 0.92 on all trinkets. Except that for some reason on Ticking Ebon Detonator, the they reduced the proc value by 9% instead (1069 per stack at ilvl 553, instead of 1176).*

Given this information–0.92 RPPM, no haste, 10s duration and no overlaps, uptime for most T16 trinkets is much simpler than it used to be. It will always be simply 1.13*0.92*10/60, or 17.33%. In the case of Samophlange, multiply further by your haste factor to get your final uptime.

Long story short, all RPPM trinkets in 5.4 have an average value that’s very close to equivalent to the passive budget. Essentially always, it’s a proc with 6 times the stats a passive trinket would have and an uptime of around 1/6. The only important exception is Samophlange, which gets a haste multiplier on top of the usual budget.**

*Note that Detonator, Samophlange, and Talisman all have per-stack values that are 1/10 of what a “big” RPPM proc values at the same ilvl would be. However, the actual mean stack height over the course of the proc is 10.5, not 10. The same is true for Black Blood, which has a mean stack of 5.5. This amounts to a free 5% added value to the first three trinkets, and 10% on Black Blood.

**I just want to note since the question is posed so often: just as Samophlange is pegged pretty close to its correct budget + haste, the same was true for Horridon’s Last Gasp. Any nontrivial ilvl jump from Horridon’s to Samophlange is likely to be a clear upgrade.

RPPM on the Pull

Starting in 5.4, for purposes of the “bad luck protection” described in earlier RPPM posts, the moment a raid encounter starts, your RPPM procs all behave as though 120 seconds have passed since the last proc.

Given the formula at the end of this post, any trinket or other RPPM effect with a mean proc time of 45 seconds or less will be guaranteed proc on the pull. This corresponds to RPPM of 1.33 or higher (including haste if it applies). Procs that are close to that value will be very likely to proc within the first few seconds.

A 0.92 RPPM trinket will begin each fight with a significant bonus (just about double it’s usual proc rate). It will have a 31%* chance to proc on your first attack, and if that fails, roughly a 35% chance to proc within the first 10 seconds of combat.