The Other Side: Defending Positional Requirements

Here’s a couple of interesting snippets from the comments of my latest blog.

“Up until I read this post, I was willing to let Blizz get away with ‘wait and see’” – Mechaninja

“I was going to go all devil’s advocate on you and make the old ‘retain the integrity of the class’ argument but” – OneRogue

While flattered that my opinions are being heard and my arguments are convincing, I can’t help but find it somewhat disturbing that my clearly one-sided post seems to have gone unchallenged.  It’s the devs’ job to make good decisions, which at the very least means their actions have merit.  While I represented the anti-positional requirements stance and was quite harsh on those who disagreed with my premise, the fact that Blizzard is currently keeping Backstab positional requirements means quite a lot.  So, what exactly is the other side, and why is it so compelling?  Clearly, answering a question this big requires somebody with both a deep understanding of the playerbase, and vast experience with Subtlety:

 

Me, Haileaus!  This, is Hopefully not Copywrite Infringement Against the Colbert Report for Making a Cheap Knockoff of Formidable Opponent!

 

FormidableOpponent

Thank you for coming Haileaus.

No problem, anything to prevent the rogue community from becoming an echo chamber.

Let’s get to the crux of the issue.  The other day I made it pretty clear why people who disagree with my views on Backstab are wrong, and now you come in, the prominent blogger that you are, and say that it is in fact I who is wrong?  I thought we were on the same side!

If by us being on the same side you mean we both want what’s best for the Subtlety spec and the rogue class as a whole, then we are on the same side.  But yes, you are wrong about Backstab.

Explain.

Please, I was about to until you interrupted me.

Sorry, do go on.

Look, the fact is between your two blogs that addressed positional requirements you’ve done a very good job at explaining the issue as seen from above.  That is, that from the perspective of the heroic progression raider, Subtlety’s viability is far too dependent on a single situational factor – time spent behind targets - which must necessarily affect it significantly more than the other specs in order to be noticeable.

So I win then!  Thank you for join -

Not so fast.  The problem with your argument is that it only holds true for an extremely small subset of the playerbase.  While concerns about spec choice with regards to Subtlety are valid for the elite, the vast majority of players are not heroic raiders.  Even in Mists of Pandaria the experts on the rogue class including you have held that all three specs are perfectly viable.  So yes, while there may be issues with balancing out the maximum potential of the three rogue specs, very few are actually testing those limits.  Moreover, even for sub-heroic progression, the difference between the specs is close enough that what limits progression is not spec but skill.

In an ideal world, I would agree with you.  It is true that I and others far smarter and more influential agree that all specs are viable for normal raiding, however the typical player does not base their decisions off of what folks like us say.  In this game it is much more common for people to look at the best of the best and copy what they do.  This means that while meaningful difference may indeed be limited to the higher level, the discrepancies it produces trickle down to all levels.  Remember Dragon Soul?  While Subtlety was still rarely played there was a huge spike in its popularity due to high level raiders taking up the spec for heroics, since the combination of Subtlety and Combat was so potent for so many fights.  Was Assassination unviable for the typical raider?  No!  However nevertheless a large number of players felt compelled to drop their Assassination spec because the best of the best were using Combat and Subtlety.

You’re correct in that I exaggerated how limited the effect of positional requirements on raiders is, however your scope is still far too small.  Let me tell you a story which will hopefully bring some perspective.  It is a story of three rogues – perhaps you know them.  The first rogue was a noob who was leveling back in Vanilla WoW.  Let’s call him Jimmy.  Jimmy had no idea what his DPS was, or what the optimal rotation was, or that rogues could equip swords.  He was so bad in fact that he would use whatever piece of gear provided the most armor/DPS, even if it had intellect and spirit on it.  There was one thing that Jimmy knew though:  He was a rogue.  When Jimmy looked through the talent trees his reaction was to wonder why people would pick anything other than Subtlety.  Clearly, people who picked Combat or Assassination were not true rogues.  What did Jimmy look up?  The combos on the WoW community site, of which to this day the only one that he can remember is the one describing how you can use Gouge to get behind the target for a Backstab.  There wasn’t any question what combo point generator Jimmy should be using, since it was obvious:  As a rogue, he should be using Backstab.  Tell me, Haileaus, what do you think Jimmy’s reaction would be if Blizzard removed Backstab’s positional requirement?

…Bad.  But he’d realize it was the right decision when he hit max level and tried to start raiding.

Maybe.  But then, there are a lot of Jimmies out there, and I doubt all of them are going to turn into competitive raiders.  Rogue number two, who we’ll call Jimmy.  Jimmy just hit level 85 and was ready to start raiding.  He had been playing Assassination through Wrath because Subtlety was terrible and he felt a rogue who wielded anything but daggers was no rogue at all.  Now though, armed with the latest theorycrafting and a whole lot of stubbornness, he was ready to raid as Subtlety.  He found a group who needed a rogue and was willing to let him play Subtlety as long as it didn’t prevent him from pulling his weight, and then proceeded to show that not only could he pull his weight, but he could pull everyone else’s too – that is, everyone besides the warlock.  People would often tell him that Subtlety wasn’t a viable spec, and that he should instead go Combat or Assassination.  His response was always the same:  “You’re wrong.  Subtlety is viable, because I make it viable.”  Cocky though he may have been he was still one of the best rogues on the server.  Jimmy had read some people’s claims that positional requirements were holding the spec back, and he was just as dismissive to them as you were to people like him in your last post.  You see, the reasons Jimmy played Subtlety were the exact reasons why few others did.  Not only could he boast that he beat hunters who were better geared than him with an “unviable” spec, but he loved the challenges Subtlety offered, be them rotational, positional, or social.  When you say that positional requirements should be removed, what you really mean is that Subtlety should no longer be the underdog spec.  But have you considered Jimmy and those like him for whom much of the point of Subtlety is being an underdog?

Underdogs are by definition smaller than the group in question, so I’d argue that his views hold less weight.  That being said, I can tell you from experience that eventually he’ll tire of the constant pressure to respec.  Maybe he’ll be fine for a while, but as content gets harder he’s going to be asked to put out more, and the first thing that he’ll be asked to do is respec.  What’s he going to do, say no and leave the guild?  Maybe, but if he ever wants to push himself then caving will be inevitable, and all those other things he likes about Subtlety will be moot points.

I dunno, Jimmy is pretty stubborn.  Regardless, its time to move on to rogue number three, Jimmy.  Jimmy has been playing a rogue since Vanilla, and has been dedicated to the Subtlety spec the whole time.  Jimmy’s been through it all.  In Vanilla, he blindly stumbled around thinking he was awesome even though his gear was laughable and he had no idea what he was doing with the talents he was so proud of.  In Burning Crusade, he stepped into his first raids, and because people told him that Subtlety was unviable he changed specs to Combat.  In Wrath, he became more invested in the community, and played Assassination in PvE because it was the closest spec to the still unviable Subtlety.  Still, even though most rogues were using Assassination for PvP, Jimmy stubbornly stuck to Subtlety.  In Cata, Jimmy finally came into his own.  He had the confidence to play Subtlety regardless of what others said and even made a Subtlety PvE guide on the official forums, which led to them becoming a part of a wonderful community.  In Mists of Pandaria, Jimmy developed his interest in helping the rogue community by revamping his guide, starting feedback threads for each major patch to help get a feel for what the community wants, and even at the suggestion of a friend starting a blog.  Of course, Jimmy was familiar with the increasing number of people who have asked that positional requirements be removed.  As is his nature, Jimmy pondered the effect that these requirements have and came to the very same conclusion you did.  The thing is though, he pondered the effects positional requirements have on raiders, PvPers, and the game as a whole, and then based his opinion on those.  Never did Jimmy consider what he as an individual wanted.  Can you tell me, Haileaus, if Jimmy was being perfectly selfish in his consideration of positional requirements, would he still support their removal?

Of course not.  Honestly, I doubt even Jimmy knows the answer to that, since his opinion is so biased by what he believes to be best for the game.  Still though, its fair to say that if Jimmy is a competitive raider, then he will want to be able to raid as Subtlety on every encounter.

Exactly.  The thing is, nobody – not even Blizzard – knows what every player wants.  At the end of the day, all we can do is guess.  While the high-end raiders and those who follow them generally consider positional requirements to be problematic, there are far more people who don’t fit into those two categories.  Moreover, because in this day and age people are expected to do research before raiding seriously, online forums are likely to have an inherent bias towards them.  Sure, it could be that the majority of the players either agree with those raiders or don’t care, but then it could also be that most people who play a rogue do so because they like the immersion that Backstab offers, and removing positional requirements, though perhaps making the rogue class stronger, would hurt them.

Then nobody can be sure what’s the best course of action?

Nope, and that’s the beauty of it.  As strongly as we feel about something, and no matter how valid our arguments are, there’s always another side with its own strong feelings and potentially equally or even more valid arguments.

Huh, you’ve got a point.

And you sir, are a formidable opponent.

Backstab Positional Requirements: But seriously.

Ok, looks like its time for me to write another post about Backstab’s positional requirements.  If you aren’t familiar with the arguments against positional requirements, I suggest you study up, since I will be assuming you are.  (By the way, the one that I wrote was one of my very first blog posts, as evidenced by it being posted before I made this blog.)

 

First off, I want to reiterate my response to those who think the solution to positional requirements is to make them “soft”.  That is, to change Backstab from being unable to be used from the front, to merely providing a damage “bonus” when used from behind.  During a conversation about this on Twitter Copperbolt brought up an interesting point on this matter.  For context, the “proposal” softening the requirements.

Image

Ok so, this brings up a really interesting question:  “Can differences in damage output based on position be a bonus?”  As usual, I’m going to be presumptuous (hey, what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t be?) and attempt to answer this question in a way that I’m sure will convince every one of my readers if they weren’t already.

Generally speaking when we ask a question about whether or not something is a bonus, there are two ways of looking at it.  The first is psychologically, and answers the question, “Do most people think that having X is a bonus rather than X being the norm and not having X being a penalty?”  The second is mathematically, and answers the question “Will the fact that X exists result in an increase in effectiveness (in this case PvE DPS/viability)?”

Usually these answers coincide.  That is, something typically feels like a bonus if and only if it actually is a bonus.  Unfortunately, right now it seems the two are in disagreement.  That is, while we can’t be certain what Psychology will determine, many folks appear to be saying that positional dependencies can feel like a bonus, while Mathematics clearly states that positional dependencies are strictly bad for a spec.

We now take a break from our irregularly-scheduled blog to kill a hunter.

WoWScrnShot_040814_161053

And we’re back!

 

The Arguments

Hmm, where was I?  Oh yes!  So before the break I pointed out the strange disparity between Psychology and Math, where one says positional abilities can be a perk and the other saying they are anything but.  Now I should say right off the bat that as with most things, we actually have no idea whether or not most people agree with what I’m calling Psychology.  That said, at the very least there is a large subset of the playerbase that for the moment does agree, and this warrants discussion.  Before I leave this paragraph, I should make one thing clear:  What I said in my last article about being able to Backstab being the norm which makes positional requirements actively feel bad will hold as long there are positions relative to the boss for which it is impossible to Backstab.  Not many people disagree with me here, and the ones that do do so on the bases of flavor and tradition, which while potentially tasty and a good song respectively, do not hold water as arguments.  So, to be clear, when I say positional requirements, I actually mean positional bonus/perk/modifications.

As a math-minded person, I really want to do some sort of proof for why both sides have merit.  Unfortunately, despite how hard it tries, Psychology isn’t a science, and as such I can do no such thing.  That said, the sheer amount of QQ on the forums regarding the removal of positional requirements should be proof enough that Psychology is right in that some people think that positional requirements can be rejiggered to look and feel like bonuses.

Now its Math’s turn.  The thing about math, is that you can prove things with math.  Moreover, while it is often the case that what Math shows doesn’t correspond to anything in the real-or-otherwise world, when it teams up with History, things get pretty convincing.  So, let’s do some things with numbers and variables.  To those who are not mathematically inclined, I will try very hard to make this clear, and I’m sorry in advance for when I fail.

Let’s say that between DPS, raid utility, and all that other stuff that you want when raiding, Blizzard wants each melee DPS to have on average 100 worth (from now on, W) with skill and gear all being equal.  That is to say, if you take Jimmy the Assassination rogue while they raid Siege of Orgrimmar, they will have ideally had 100W.  Maybe Jimmy was overall less useful on Dark Shaman because they were dodging fire a ton so for that fight they had only 95W, but then perhaps on Immersius Jimmy’s ability to slow/stun the blobs made them extra useful and they had 105W for that fight, so the two averaged out.  This is fine.  Certain specs should do better on certain fights then others.  That said, if the difference between two specs is large enough, people will switch specs, as was often the case when Combat had a super OP cleave.

So, great.  So far we’ve established what everyone already knows:  Even if on average all specs are similar, a spec that does extraordinarily good/bad on specific encounters encourages people to spec to/from that specialization respectively.  Obviously, since you read my last post on positional requirements, you know that this is the case with subtlety, where it is either OP or UP on certain fights depending on how well it is balanced.  Neither of these situations are good, since History has shown that they discourage spec choice.

“Wait, so what’s the deal with the W business?”  You might well ask.  You see, since every spec is balanced around having 100W no matter what, the concept of differences in the damage/utility of an ability being either good or bad quickly becomes absurd.  I mean, sure, say you make Backstab do 100000% extra damage from behind, or proc Feint, or have a chance to proc Find Weakness.  Great, Subtlety rogues still have to have 100W, which means that no matter what as long as there is a difference between attacking from the front vs. the back beyond parry (which affects all melee equally and therefore can be ignored), Subtlety rogues will either be handicapped when fighting from the front, or over powered when fighting from behind.  Again, we consult History, which tells us that at the end of the day, being OP is worse than being UP, which means that while an average worth of 100 is ideal, Subtlety will have to settle for less.

 

Who Wins?

Math.  It’s not even close.  At the end of the day, positional requirements hurt a spec.  Maybe they are so small that you don’t notice the damage, but at that point positional requirements are meaningless anyway, except by those who read assholes like me who say that positional requirements hurt a spec and criticize you for playing it.  Whether this difference comes in the form of damage or utility doesn’t matter, because the fact is a difference is a difference and either it is noticeable - and therefore a problem – or it is not, in which case it is at best irrelevant.

I know it sucks to be told that your opinion is wrong, but if you think that positional requirements can do anything but hurt the classes that have them, you are wrong.  It either hurts the people who want to play the spec by being under powered, or people who prefer one of the other two specs by being over powered.  I don’t care if the difference is going to be small.  I don’t care if the carnival of ineptitude that is Subtlety rogues trying to solo is going to be addressed through other means.  What I want is for people like me who want to play Subtlety on every encounter to be able to do so without hurting our raids, and for people who don’t want to play Subtlety on a given fight without hurting their raid to be able to do that too.  If this was any other game, the answer might be different.  But this is Warcraft.  This is the game where people say stuff like this about a theorycrafter over a year after he left, and the rest of the community nods, because its true and because they remember.  This is the game where people have spent hours of their life creating complex models and simulators in order to maximize their effectiveness, and for whom the question “Why?” doesn’t even justify a response. We rogues are numbers-obsessed to a fault, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s true that everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but if you’re opinion is that there can be a meaningful distinction between attacking from the front and attacking from behind in a raid setting without being destructive, then you are flat wrong.

Warlords Alpha: First Impressions

Whelp, the Warlords of Draenor Alpha patch notes have been released, and I’ve somehow managed to read them and catch up on my tweets, meaning it’s time to write about them!  Last night I skimmed over them and noted the topics that I’d like to discuss in depth, then proceeded to post it mostly as a commitment device.  While I do plan on writing about those in greater detail, I’d like to make a post in which I address the whole picture – or at least all of the pieces that make up that picture.  Thankfully, I have a blog, so I will do just that.

Before I start, I should probably say a few things.  First, for better or for worse, what I write here are very early impressions.  While I will make my opinions about changes clear, the probability that my opinion is wrong will be higher than average.  Second, I’m going to be using Rfeann’s summary of the changes as a template for the organization of this post, because I like it and it is what I’m relying on for all of the notes anyway.  Alright, time’s up, let’s do this!

 

General Changes

  • Combo points will now stack on the rogue:  It’s hard to get past my initial reaction, which is “ugh.”  The fact is, having combo points on enemies never bothered me, and I’ve always considered managing them a skill check.  This change isn’t as much of a buff, but rather a fundamental change to rogue gameplay.  Elaborating on the ramifications of this change in this paragraph would not do justice, so I’ll leave it to a future post.
  • Assassination and Combat becoming (more or less) weapon agnostic:  There seems to be some conflicting reports, but it appears that Assassination will be able to wield swords and fist weapons for a moderate DPS loss, and Combat will be able to wield a dagger in the main-hand for a similar or smaller loss.  The stated intent is that it will allow folks to switch specs easier or play a preferred spec even if they haven’t yet gotten a good weapon for it.  Seems reasonable, as long as it is still distinctly better for Assassination to dual-wield daggers and Combat to use a slow weapon in its main hand.
  • No more Dismantle, Mind-Numbing Poison, or Paralytic Poison:  From what I can tell these are the only control abilities that rogues are losing.  Two (Dismantle, Mind-Numbing) are being removed along with all other mechanics of that type.  The last is a talent that applies a random stun, which in the context of all stuns sharing a DR, is terrible which basically means losing it doesn’t count.  If this is all we can expect to lose in the great CC disarmament, then I imagine rogues will be in a pretty good place relative to other classes.  Of course, this is how it should be:  Control has always been one of the biggest selling point of the rogue class.  Generally speaking, as a rogue if people don’t hate you, then you are probably doing it wrong.  This means we should either have borderline-OP burst, or borderline-OP control.  Since burst isn’t gonna happen in this day and age, then control it is.
  • No more Disarm Trap:  The fact that this change is in the ability/bar bloat section confuses me since Disarm Trap no longer requires you to push a button, and if the issue is too much clutter in the spellbook, then that is more a problem with the spellbook layout than its size.  Considering the prominence of traps in recent WoW memory, I can only assume that this change is made for PvP reasons (Confirmed!).  As much as I love an excuse to rant about the treachery of hunters and how the only way this would be acceptable is if they removed traps altogether, my objections to this change are almost entirely PvE oriented, because it shows that the developers are taking a step in what I believe to be exactly the wrong direction.  I’ll elaborate in a later post.
  • No more Expose Armor:  Great!  Now I can’t be pressured into using it for my raid!
  • No more Shadow Blades:  Ya know, I’ve kinda started to like this ability since I stopped thinking about its usage.  Of course, it’s more trouble than its worth and the fact that the trouble of thinking about when to use it outweighted the fun of using it is exactly why removing it is the right choice.
  • Tricks of the Trade now only for threat:  I’m pretty thrilled about this.  The only question I have about it is whether or not this iteration of it deserves its own button.  Of course, this means there is no risk of increasing a hunter’s DPS when you pull mobs on them, so perhaps this is the best of both worlds.
  • Being visible during Subterfuge:  Ok, that’s fair.
  • Automatically learning glyphs:  This change makes sense in the context of the super fast pace leveling of modern WoW where stopping in a major city for powerups seems to be discouraged.  While personally I like the idea of a slower leveling experience, given what it is this is a good idea.
  • Crimson Tempest bleed stacking and across-the-board AoE buff:  It seems that Blizzard decided that our AoE is too weak, so along with there being no damage lost due to clipping the duration of Crimson Tempest, each spec is getting a whole slew of AoE buffs (mostly via perks).  While we don’t yet know how potent this increase will be, it seems reasonable that our AoE will at the very least be competitive in any situation provided you chose the right spec, and that they will be close enough that even the “wrong” spec will still do solidly.  I’m pretty down with this, since the perk of being a pure should be the ability to have very few fights that you are actively bad on.  We’ll see how this pans out though.
  • [perk] Increased healing on Recuperate:  A bit strange, seeing as recuperate is mostly used as a leveling ability, but…sure?  Personally I think a better idea for a Recuperate perk would be to make it more suitable for max level by, say, compressing its healing or making it apply deadly poison to hunter pets when attacked by one.

Assassination Changes

  • Seal Fate can be procced by Fan of Knives:  Sure, I’ll take it.  I like that they are using an existing mechanic to buff AoE while making the combo point generation more in-line with what Assassination rogues have during their normal rotation.
  • [perk] Slice and Dice now passive:  This is good, I like that it is only for Assassination too.  Slice and Dice fits for Combat since the spec is more focused on APM and upkeep to increase APM (both passive and active) fits the theme.  For Sub, it fits the theme of upkeep and MORE FINISHERS!!1!, which also justifies its staying part of the Sub rotation.
  • [perk] Vendetta is now also Cold Blood (100% crit on next ability after using it):  That’s real sweet Bliz, now what are you going to do to make Vendetta more compelling than a tissue?  The reason Cold Blood was fun was because of the instant gratification you got out of knowing that you were about to see a massive crit, not its damage.  Effectively macroing a fun ability to a boring one doesn’t change the fact that Assassination’s biggest DPS cooldown is still really boring for the vast majority of its duration, plus almost entirely lacking in the strategic use department.
  • [perk] Venomous-er Wounds:  This should make Assassination a bit faster without substantially increasing its scaling, which will hopefully mean it won’t be as boring in the first tier as it has been in the past.  Probably not enough, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.
  • [perk] Extra poisonous Fan of Knives:  Another AoE buff that fits the theme of the spec.  Sounds good.
  • [perk] Crimson Tempest now gives the (MoP) Envenom debuff:  Same as above.
  • [perk] More active damage when the Envenom debuff is up:  Good call, this will make skill more of a factor.  Of course, it doesn’t actually change what the optimal play is so technically the skill cap won’t change, just the impact of being skilled.
  • [perk] Dispatch and Envenom debuff buffed:  Yeah, sure fine cool?

 

Combat Changes

  • Revealing Strike changed to Somewhat Less Sinister Strike A good change for all the reasons given in Fiery’s article that I just linked.  This is also pretty cool in light of the Bandit’s Guile perk that extends its duration at max insight.
  • Combat now longer has DoTs:  Interesting!  I like it!  I suppose this isn’t really much of a change since the only bleed Combat uses is Deadly Poison, which is passive anyway, but the fact that it will not even have access to them solidifies it as the most physical of rogue DPS specs.  This might hold it back a bit in PvP though, since DoTs are useful for getting past armor as well as breaking a rogue out of stealth.
  • Combat AoE changes (see perks for details):  Having FoK and CT as part of the Combat AoE rotation is…interesting.  We’ll see at what number of targets those will be used, but I’d imagine the multitarget rotation would be either use Blade Flurry and act as usual, or use FoK and CT.  Maybe there will be a point where we use CT but not FoK, but hopefully not.  It looks to me like this is to give Combat a viable AoE option when Blade Flurry starts to lose out.
  • [perk] Bandit’s Guile now lasts longer at max insight:  Cool, I like it, see first combat note.
  • [perk] Deadly Poison is now Instant Poison, and Crimson Tempest now only deals initial damage (same total though):  See second combat note.
  • [perk] You can now spam more during Adrenaline Rush:  Uh…thanks?  How about instead making it so that you don’t *need* to spam as much during AR.  I’d much rather the GCD stay at 1 second and for AR to give less energy regen either on a shorter cooldown or over a longer duration.  Or, just make it bump your energy up to 100 and make everything free!
  • [perk] Fan of Knives is now cheaper:  Good way to increase AoE while sticking to Combat’s theme of DO MOAR STUFF!!1!
  • [perk] Your offhand autoattacks always hit:  Sure.
  • [perk] Sinister Strike and Eviscerate deal more damage:  Ok cool.

 

Subtlety

  • Positional requirements are removed.  Ish:  Good.  Ish.  The fact that Backstab is now usable anywhere besides a 90-degree cone in front of the enemy is…well you know what I’m going to be writing a blog post on this anyway but let’s just say I’m not sure what they are doing with Subtlety generators and that somewhat bothers me.  Still, at least we can Ambush whenever!
  • [perk] Honor Among Thieves now can proc off of white crits:  This (along with Ambush no longer having a positional requirement) is a big buff for people who want to solo as Subtlety.  Yay.
  • [perk] Vanish cooldown reduced by 30 seconds, and Shadow Dance duration increased by 2:  Hrm, both of these will significantly increase Find Weakness uptime, which I’m pretty dubious about.  Find Weakness is a great mechanic, but I am of the opinion that there’s a certain sweet-spot where you can apply it relatively frequently, but the damage increase from it is very significant.  Starting out with nearly 50% uptime before readiness gives me serious doubts.
  • [perk] Eviscerate is now a bit cheaper:  Sure, cool, I like having a higher chance to get that extra Eviscerate into my Find Weakness window.
  • [perk] Fan of Knives now generates a combo point for each enemy it hits:  …Buh?  So considering how terrible Sub AoE is right now, this might actually even things out.  Alternatively, raids will stick a bunch of mobs near the boss so that their Subtlety rogue can use Fan of Knives as their main combo point generator, because holy cow is that a buff to single target DPS!
  • [perk] Backstab, Ambush, and Hemorrhage deal more damage:  Because Subtlety is what I do, I’d love to look into this.  That said, we have no reason to assume that the damage distribution pre-perk is similar to what it is now, so as with the other flat buffs I can only say “ok cool.”
  • [perk] Premeditation is now passively bound to Ambush and Garrote with no cooldown, but does not work during Dance:  While no math has been done on this, the loss of control over Premeditation plus the fact that we can only use it during normal stealth makes me feel like this is more a nerf then a perk.  Of course, Premeditation in its current form probably doesn’t deserve its own button, so I see where this change is coming from.  In my opinion if the devs want to make Premeditation some form of passive, they should just do it, perks be damned.  Of course, if this affect also works during Subterfuge, then that talent will be even more required.  Oh well, there’s bound to be a right answer for our t1 talents.

 

That’s all I got for now, please tell me if I forgot anything!

 

EDIT:  Added thoughts on Enhanced Premeditation.  Whoops!

Notes on the Warlords Alpha Notes: Aka, Stuff to Complain About

This is my list of things I want to address regarding the Warlords patch notes.  I was considering not posting these, but since this is a lot of stuff and I’m not sure when or if I’ll get to all of it, then here ya go.

 

  • The removal of Disarm Trap and its ramifications for our status as special snowflakes in PvE.  (Side note:  What about Glyph of Swirly Ball?!)
  • Find Weakness uptime for Subtlety rogues.  Starting already beyond the sweet-spot?
  • CP on rogue:  C’mon guys, really?  CP on target is a unique weakness!  Weakness are required and the unique variety is the best variety!
  • Tricks of the Trade:  The right direction, but is it worth it?  Perhaps give it a targetless option to negate threat.
  • +20% damage to X perks:  Cool for about a day, then its how it is.  Maybe kinda boring in comparison, but I suppose all are like that.
  • Revisiting Positional Requirements:  But seriously.
  • Enhanced Premeditation:  Because having choice in what talents to take is for losers.  (Also, Empowered FoK)

Rogue Ability Bloat: An Overview

In this post I will talk about what ability bloat is, why its an issue, and various ways of addressing it.  In a later post, I will go through the rogue spellbook and list the specific changes I would make if I were in charge of prepping rogues for Warlords.  Ya know, if I get around to it.

 

What is Ability Bloat and is it really that big of an issue?

Prior to every expansion rogues have looked forward to Blizzard giving us cool new abilities that will allow us to murder hunters with greater speed and efficiency, and every expansion Blizzard has done their best to oblige us.  Unfortunately, as fast as the rogue toolkit has grown, the amount of places we have to put abilities remains constant.  More importantly, our hands stubbornly refuse to grow new fingers.  This leads to an issue of not having enough space or keybinds for all of our abilities.  Ability bloat is what we call the problem of having more abilities than players can handle.  During Mists Blizzard has stated that ability bloat is a concern, and that they plan on cutting down the number of buttons we have in Warlords.  Of course, you shouldn’t just take Blizzard’s word that something is an issue.  Instead, take mine!

The best way to explain the scope of the problem is to describe the worst case, which unfortunately means I have to talk about something I don’t know — high level PvP.  The following is a list of the various abilities a serious Subtlety rogue will want to have easy access to.  The number in parentheses after the name is how much space the ability could take.  This assumes bars are being set up for 3v3 arena with a rogue/DPS/healer comp.  For example, Redirect (5) would mean that a competitive PvPer will typically want five separate ways to use Redirect – Redirect to current target, Redirect to Arena Enemy 1/2/3, and Redirect to Focus.  It’s worth noting that (x) refers to potential size.  Macros and modifiers significantly cut down on actual bar spaces.  Oops, one more thing:  I’m going to pretend that rogues only have one stance, so something that is typically in the Stealth bar, the Shadow Dance bar, and the Neither bar will just count as one.

Eviscerate (1)
Stealth (1)
Ambush (1)
Evasion (1)
Hemorrhage (1)
Sap (5)
Slice and Dice (1)
Recuperate (1)
Kick (5)
Gouge (5)
Sprint (1)
Cheap Shot (5)
Premeditation (1)
Vanish (1)
Blind (5)
Backstab (1)
Kidney Shot (5)
Feint (1)
Rupture (1)
Garrote (5)
Dismantle (5)
Cloak of Shadows (1)
Fan of Knives (1)
Preparation (1)
Shadow Walk (1)
Shiv (5)
Shroud of Concealment (1)
Tricks of the Trade (1)
Shadow Dance (1)
Redirect (5)
Smoke Bomb (1)
Shadow Blades (1)
Tier 30 Talent (?) (0-1)
Tier 60 Talent (SS) (7)
Tier 90 Talent (MfD) (5)
Focus Arena 1/2/3 (3)
Target Arena 1/2/3 (3)
CC Break Trinket/Racial (1)
On-Use Trinket/Tinker (1)
Total:  92-93
Number of Rogue Abilities: 35-36 

Except I forgot that PvPers often have mouse-over options too.  Again, I doubt most serious PvPers do not actually have this many bindings due to coalescing things (ex: alt -> target = focus, etc).  That said the fact that it is reasonable to want to perform 90 unique actions tells me that the number of abilities has gotten out of hand.  For the rest of the post, I’m going to assume you are convinced.

What are the main contributors?

Since bar bloat is a more pressing issue in PvP, it makes sense to begin discussion of the main contributors there while at the same time being mindful of ramifications for solo play and group PvE.

Probably the main contributor to PvP bloat is target options.  The extreme here is Shadowstep, which you want to be able to quickly use on any enemy or ally in addition to your primary target, focus, and other miscellaneous entities (totems especially, this is where mouseover comes in).  Unfortunately, I don’t see that much can be done to address this without causing excessive frustration for PvPers since keybind options for targeting  arena enemies/allies and focus with spells already exist.

At this point cutting down on ability bloat translates directly to reducing the number of unique abilities rogues have access to.  Since addressing bloat primarily from a PvP angle seems appropriate and PvPers use almost the entire rogue toolkit, it makes sense to just consider everything.  That said since this is a general post about the issue, rather than delving into the rogue toolkit I’ll be talking about general categories.

Cooldowns:  This category is somewhat difficult to define, so I won’t.  That said a “Cooldown” is not simply an ability with a cooldown, but rather one that feels like one.  In other words, I’m not talking about Gouge.  Often it is almost always optimal to stack Cooldowns, like how Shadow Blades simply gets macrod together with Adrenaline Rush for PvE Combat rogues (not PvP though).  This is stupid, since you might as well just have one Cooldown.  Other times a Cooldown is almost always used in one situation.  An example of this is Premeditation,  which in PvE is always used as soon as no Combo Points will be wasted.  While it is by no means clear what to do with this type of Cooldown, such usage suggests that there may be room for improvement.  The extension of this category is Cooldowns that are almost always best used as soon as they are ready, such as Tricks of the Trade, and well, you probably already know how I feel about that one.  While Cooldowns that tend to only show up in macros and ones that have uncompelling usage are not necessarily bad, those are factors that need to be considered when determining whether or not an ability is more trouble than its worth.

Crowd Control:  Now we’re talking about Gouge.  One of Blizzard’s goals for Warlords is cutting down on crowd control.  While I personally don’t think rogues will be getting hit as hard as other classes since it is one of our niches and much of our CC has been around as long as we have, it would be naive to think we won’t be losing some.  As such, something we should consider is what abilities we are OK with losing.  We already know that Paralytic Poison and Dismantle (along with all disarms) are going away.  Considering we have no idea what the CC landscape will be for other classes, its impossible to have any idea with regards to the amount of CC we can expect to lose.  That said, it may be worthwhile to consider what you are most/least attached to, and how powerful you think rogues should be compared to other classes.  This is one place where I consider providing specific feedback to Blizzard especially important since this is a super subjective subject.

Rotational Abilities:  This one is very spec dependant and also very subjective, but it is reasonable to assume that our rotations will change.  Do you want Assassination to need to keep up Slice and Dice?  What about Combat?  Subtlety?  Should something replace Backstab for Subtlety or could it perhaps just have one out of stealth generator?  Keep in mind that this is not about making every spec one that you want to play.  As someone who is passionate about Subtlety, I feel free to talk about the spec, why I like it, and what I would have different about it.  However, as someone who has wanted nothing to do with Assassination since Wrath, it wouldn’t be fair for me to promote changes to the spec that would change its nature so much as to alienate its base.  Of course, saying why you don’t like/play a spec is always valid and useful feedback.

Around now you might be thinking, “Hail, you said ‘main’ in the section heading and then listed off pretty much every category of ability.  What’s the deal?”  If in fact you were thinking that, then I’m glad you mentally asked!  While most of our abilities fall into these categories and it is true that I said nothing should be immune to scrutiny, there are certain abilities whose existence is easy to justify in this context.  Pick Lock is a prime example of this type of ability, as since it is never actually used in combat it need not take up a keybind.  Another example would be poisons, since if you are doing your job correctly you will almost never have a reason to apply them in combat, and so again it need not take up space.

Solutions

Even if you are convinced that bar bloat is a problem and you have a list of abilities that for whatever reason you would be OK with not taking up space on your action bar, what to do with those abilities is by no means clear.  In this section I will outline ways of dealing with abilities that don’t make the cut.  It’s important to remember that even if you hate an ability and don’t see how anyone could like it, someone out there does and would be very sad to see it go.

Removal:  The simplest solution is to simply remove the ability in question from the game.  Crude but effective, this is the developmental equivalent of ripping off a bandaid.  Blizzard appears to be doing this for Paralytic Poison and Dismantle, which makes sense when you consider that limiting the number of CC in the game is a goal.  In general the gap in functionality that removing an ability leaves is a consequence that cannot be ignored.

Pacification:  This solution is for buffs or abilities with over time effects that are worthwhile in their own right but that you don’t want on your action bar.  The leveling perk that Blizzard showed at Blizzcon that makes Slice and Dice a passive for Assassination rogues is a good example of pacification in action.  While this does not leave a gap in functionality, it can have other unintended consequences….

Combination:  Don’t like having to macro Shadow Blades to Adrenaline Rush but like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?  Why not just combine the two abilities!  But seriously, often if a Cooldown is used extremely predictably, two or more abilities are consistently used at the same time, or you want to keep an interesting mechanic but not have it take up space, then combining abilities can make a lot of sense.  What’s that?  You want an example?  Uh…lemme get back to you on that one.*

Talentization:  Some abilities people are just split on.  Some like it and would hate to lose it, while others think it is more trouble than its worth.  In situations like these the solution may be simply to just let players choose whether or not they want it for themselves by making it a talent.  Blizzard did this in the beginning of Mists with Combat Readiness, which I like because sometimes I don’t want to bother finding it space, while other times I think its worth the annoyance on account of its niftiness.

*Ah yes, Old-No-Really-Old Blade Flurry and Adrenaline Rush were combined at the end of Wrath so that instead of one Cooldown that temporarily increased energy regen and one that temporarily gave haste and cleave, we got one Cooldown that gave energy regen and haste.  Blizzard then decided that Combat having cleave was cool and gave us a completely OP cleave.  They then called it Blade Flurry and kept the icon.

Anticipation and the Rogue Raider

Alright, fine.

I’ve been wanting to right about Anticipation for a while and having quite a bit of trouble actually doing so.  The thing is, Anticipation is so much more than a talent.  Chances are, if you raided in MoP, the majority of the time you were not using Anticipation you were cursing your memory.  Almost every rogue PvE guide suggests you take the talent.  Maybe it will mention Marked for Death, but usually as a highly situational option.  Right about now you might be thinking, “Yes Hail, we already know that Anticipation has been the best talent all expansion, what’s your point?”  The thing is, that’s not exactly…true.  Sure nobody can deny how amazing Anticipation is, and for me personally it has consistently been my favorite talent, but, we guide writers may have been a bit dishonest.  The thing is, well, check out what happens if we let ShadowCraft do the talking:

AnticipationMfDComparison2

As you can see Shadowcraft puts the difference between Anticipation and Marked for Death at about 1% for Sub and Combat and 5% for Assassination.  In fact, it actually says Anticipation is a dps increase for Subtlety.  Of course, one of the major functions of Anticipation is to reduce human error which ShadowCraft doesn’t try to factor in, but the fact remains that with the exception of Assassination Marked for Death is actually quite competitive even on a purely single target encounter.  So, why is it that everyone is so dismissive of literally every other talent in the tier, even though Marked for Death is actually a pretty cool and compelling ability?

 

Because Anticipation Offers Perfection, and We Are Rogues.

Think about it.  Easily the most famous PvE rogue was Aldriana, a player who one day looked at the leading rogue DPS spreadsheet and says “Ya know what, I think I can do better.  So I will.”  And he did!  He then started ShadowCraft which has been maintained by dozens of rogues over the years in an effort to better answer the simple question, “How do I play to perfection?”  Our community is so focused on squeezing out every bit of DPS that the person we choose to idolize is a theorycrafter.  Is this normal???  Maybe other classes do too, but I’d imagine other classes’ legends are, ya know, actual public figures like bloggers or guide writers.  Eh, who knows, but I’m sure at the very least that hunters aren’t nearly so sophisticated.

But I digress; back to Anticipation.  I claim that the reason rogues like Anticipation so much as to neglect a legitimate DPS choice taps into this very nature.  For years rogues have been bred to feel discomfort at the mere thought of capping energy or wasting Combo Points.  With the exception of Assassination against enemies above 35% health and Subtlety during Shadow Dance the pre-MoP rogue could use every finisher at 5 Combo Points without overflowing.  Then Mists came with its Shadow Blades and its Revealing Strike changes and its new fangled pandas and suddenly this expectation of almost never needing to waste Combo Points while always using finishers at 5 Combo Points went out the window – at least for a bit.  Dissonance abounds, and for a moment overwhelming terror consumes all who enter a  level 87-89 dungeon as they try to execute their rotations optimally without having any idea how do deal with generating an extra 1-2 Combo Points per hit.  And then, they hit 90, and  as they read their new talents one of them whispers, “It’s ok, I’ve got your Combo Points.  I’ll keep them safe, and I’ll keep you safe.  Shhh, no, its ok the other talents are worse*.”

With that we could finally achieve our greatest fantasy:  Using only 5 Combo Point finishers, we could execute a PvE rotation with 0 overflow.  We noticed other benefits too.  No longer did Subtlety rogues have to fret about what they would refresh first when Slice and Dice and Rupture were both fading at the same time, they could simply pool Combo Points and refresh them both!  What’s more, Anticipation gave us yet another thing to optimize.  By being able to pool Combo Points we were suddenly able to shift when we use our finishers in such a way as to use more of them during high-damage portions of the fight, like during Vendetta.  I kinda doubt Blizzard realized they were doing this, but when they made Anticipation, they created a talent that speaks so strongly to the PvE rogue identity that fundamental assumptions about what it means to own that identity have changed.  Thing is, in order for the quintessential rogue to have 0 waste and time their 5-point finishers like a boss, they must have the talent “Anticipation.”  Of course, the quintessential rogue also takes whatever talent they need to in order to achieve maximum DPS, which means they must be prepared to forsake rotational perfection for Marked for Death.  And with that,

 

We Have a Problem

The fact is an ability that offers perfection to rogues simply cannot be compared to abilities, even ones as interesting and potent as Marked for Death.  I mean sure, if we were hunters or some other class that doesn’t think twice about the efficiency and elegance of a rotation then it might be fair to have Anticipation in our talent tree, but not rogues.  Thankfully, Anticipation has been incredibly strong in its own right the entire expansion, but I claim that regardless of any buffs to our other talents or mechanics of upcoming encounters, the talent rogues will want to take will be Anticipation.

At this point the naive – but still quite reasonable – reader might be thinking, “So what, you have a choice just pick Anticipation and take the DPS loss if it means that much to you,” but unfortunately, that reader forgets that we are rogues, and that means if a change will increase our effectiveness in a raid, then we have a duty to make that change.  Heck, Blizzard even had to nerf Blade Flurry because rogues complained that they had to carry around a Combat spec just to be OP on cleave fights.  So is what we choose for our t90 talent really a choice?  Often, the answer is no.

And with that, we are back at the problem of having this amazing, beautiful talent, that really just wants to curl up in a cocoon during Warlords’ beta and emerge in 6.0 as a beautiful butterfly that will fly away from the talent trees and flit around us, making us happy and efficient and our enemies sad and dead as our raid leader looks on in awe, our other melee look on in jealousy, and our hunter guildies look on in oh-so-sweet anger.  I don’t know about you, but I want to see more angry hunters, so let’s think about some -

 

Solutions

Just kidding,

 

I’m Not Done Yet!

There are a few more issues with Anticipation that I for the life of me cannot figure out how to elegantly put into this post, so I’m just making this super awkward section for them.  These basically boil down to Anticipation being slightly and annoyingly less than all I’ve cracked it up to be.

First, Anticipation only works for offensive finishing moves.  This notably excludes Slice and Dice, which means that if you want to refresh Slice and Dice and then immediately use a finisher, you’re just about out of luck.  Of course, this is pretty rare and can actually be used to one’s advantage as a way to counter the next annoyance, but still, it kinda just serves as a reminder that no matter how much we want to treat Anticipation charges as Combo Points, they aren’t.

Second, Anticipation only procs for attacks.  This notably excludes Premeditation, which means that Subtlety rogues either have to start out Stealth phases with three or fewer Combo Points, or they have to actually use it intelligently instead of just macroing it to Ambush.  You see the problem here?  While a lot of this is me wanting to get away with being lazy, this is another example of how Anticipation, a talent that really wants to be “you can now store up to 10 Combo Points,” just doesn’t quite get there.

Finally, there really needs to be a spot for it on the ui.  I know its implemented as a buff, but when you consider its importance it should be clear that asking players to search for it among all of our buffs every time they want to know how many Combo Points they have stored is unreasonable.  Thankfully this issue is solved with addons, but unlike the simple tracking addons we often use for Slice and Dice, we actually need something that can keep track of charges.

Whew.  Ok, this time for real:

 

Solutions

I have two:

  1. Make it baseline:  I know its boring and unoriginal, but if Anticipation is the only way of achieving rotational perfection, then it is unfair to have it in the talent trees competing with less viscerally appealing talents.  Even more unfair would be to take this perfection away from rogues who have been enjoying it for an entire expansion.  So, consider just making it baseline and replacing it with something cool – but probably less cool than Marked for Death.  Did I mention that I really like that talent and think that it is really cool?
  2. Give us passive perfection:  In other words, don’t make Anticipation baseline, but make some form of it baseline so that a good PvE rogue will never lose Combo Points while using all 5-point finishers.  The boring way to do this is by allowing us three passive charges of Anticipation, but that is stupid and would make Anticipation the talent pretty disappointing (being able to pool two extra just doesn’t get there).  Instead the best solution** is to allow Combo Points a sort of 2-second purgatory wherein if the rogue uses a finisher, recent over-flow will turn into Combo Points.  So basically, if I’m at 4 Combo Points and use Mutilate with Shadow Blades and crit, I’ll be at 5 Combo Points with 3 over-flow.  If I immediately use Envenom, I will be at 3 Combo Points, just as if I had Anticipation.  However, if I wait a second to regain energy before Envenoming, then my over-flow has been lost and I am stuck with nothing.

Personally, I’m alright with either solution, though I think I prefer the second one since it seems more in-line with the traditional rogue resource system while allowing it the flexibility needed to adapt to modern day levels of Combo Point generation.  That said, what are your thoughts?  Is Anticipation as much of a problem as I think it is?  Is it all its cracked up to be?  How would you like to see rogues deal with excess Combo Points in Warlords?

 

*Technically Shuriken Toss’s then lower energy cost made it potentially viable as a generator but it took theorycrafters a bit to figure that one out so this is actually pretty accurate.

**That I can think of.

Hail’s List of Worthwhile Warcraft Videos

I thought I’d make a list of some of my very favorite WoW videos.  It’ll be loosely categorized.  If there’s a video you think I should check out and perhaps add, feel free to mention it in a comment!

 

CraniusPresents (Plus some Legs)

Cranius definitely has my favorite wow videos.  Most are songs sung by him, many are humorous, and some are made in conjunction with Legs who does the visuals.

Big Blue Dress - Cranius (By the way, back then folks had about 4k HP.)

Highwayman – Cranius/Highwaymen (:P)

The Story – Legs/Cranius

Happy Place – Legs/Cranius

Don’t Make Me Get My Main – Legs/Cranius Required listening for anyone about to go out ganking.  I linked the Legs version that has bloopers at the end, if you don’t want those, watch the one on Cranius’ channel.

The Lament of Captain Placeholder

Darrowshire – Cranius/Tydup This one gives me chills.

 

 Oxhorn

Machinimist, musician/singer, and classy gent, you could say this person has it all.  Of course, you’d be wrong.

Inventing Swear Words Series –  Great series here, I’m linking a playlist to all of them but the best are the odd numbered ones.

Gnome Overboard

 

Misc

World of Warcraft – Frost Shock! - Crafting Worlds

Welcome to the Deadmines – See credits.  This video came out just before the Cata’s Deadmines revamp.

The Ballad of the Noob – Stone Falcon Productions

The Craft of War: BLIND – Percula  Copies of this video have been removed for legal reasons, in case this link doesn’t work.  It is simply phenomenal machinima.