24 March 2010

Trinkets yes, pretty trinkets!

Most gear is pretty straightforward to select: pick whatever has the highest stamina, agility and hit / exp depending on your needs. Trinkets are a different matter however, since they almost always have just two wildly different effects (one passive stat and one proc or clicky) you can form many combinations with the two trinket slots.

I will post a list of viable tank trinkets (mostly from recent raids) and how I feel about them. Although I will try to provide some extra numbers and analysis when possible, the matter of trinket selection remains highly subjective and depends greatly on the circumstances: Your gear, the composition of your raid and the boss you're facing. Note that everything is written from the point of view of a Druid, but most of it also applies to the other tank classes.

A short note on armor and stamina as contributors to EH
You'll find that alot of trinkets feature armor and/or stamina and both stats contribute to your "Effective Health", which is the amount of damage (before mitigation) you can take in a worst-case scenario without dying. Why this measure of Effective Health is inadequate, the reader is referred to an earlier blog-post I made.

However, assuming the naive definition of Effective Health, one can calculate the contribution of 1 point of armor versus that of 1 point of stamina. This is fairly straightforward:
R(a) = a / (a + 467.5 * l - 22167.5)
R(a) is the damage reduction from armor expressed as a fraction of 1, a is your armor-value and l is the level of the attacker (83 for bosses). We then find that:
EH(a,h) = h / (1 - R(a))
Or: Your effective health (EH) as a function of armor (a) and health (h) is your health divided by one minus your damage reduction from armor.

You can differentiate this function to a and h and find the respective contributions to EH from 1 point of armor and 1 point of health. Then you just have to work out how much health you gain from 1 point of stamina (answer: 16.35 for a Feral Druid with BoKings) and you get the final numbers. For the further discussion, I will use 66K HP and 35K armor as numbers. The scaling factors are not massively different if you change these base numbers a bit. None of the Druid talents and abilities change the armor on trinkets. The Austere Earthsiege Diamond (meta gem) does, but it adds only 2%, which doesn't really affect the balance between armor and stamina.

1 point of armor = 3.97 "EH" (4.05 with meta gem)
1 point of stamina = 50.76 "EH"
1 point of stamina = 12.79 points of armor (12.54 with meta gem)

Again, I'd like to emphasize that this analysis overrates the value of stamina in almost all fights. Additionally, the added benefit of armor in that it reduces the mana-drain on healers is completely ignored.

The trinkets
Darkmoon Card: Greatness (DMF cards, BoE) - [Passive: 90 agi] [Proc: Dealing damage, 35% chance, +300 agi for 15 sec, 45 sec ICD] - Despite being low-level, this one deserves an honorable mention. Agility isn't the best stat, but it beats dodge-rating thanks to the contributions to armor and crit as well as the scaling with BoKings. With an uptime between 25% and 30%, the proc is pretty good. It doubles as DPS-trinket, making it an excellent purchase for a new Feral Druid.

The Black Heart (ToC5 normal) - [Passive: 126 sta] [Proc: Hit by melee attack, 25% chance, +7056 armor for 10 seconds, 45 sec ICD] - The Black Heart is surprisingly good for its item-level. The proc is rather strong, but can't be relied on of course. It's also very easy to get, as ToC5 normal can be farmed repeatedly making it a very good starter option, but one that you can safely stick with for a while if your luck with trinkets is bad.

Eltrigg's Oath / Fervor of the Frostborn (ToC10) - [Passive: 114 (H: 126) dodge] [Click: +1265 (H: 1422) armor every time an attack hits you, stacks to 5, entire effect lasts 20 sec, 2 min CD] - This trinket is one of least interesting. Avoidance is weak and WotLK and due to the ramp-up-time, the clicky-effect isn't "there when you need it", like a clicky-effect should. The Darkmoon Card: Greatness beats this one in almost every way.

Ick's Rotting Thumb (PoS heroic) - [Passive: 113 dodge] [Click: +4104 HP, 15 sec, 3 min CD] - Just like the ToC10 trinket, this one is pretty weak. It's only saving grace is the clicky-effect, which is not bad.

Juggernaut's Vitality / Satrina's Impeding Scarab (ToC25) - [Passive: 192 (H: 216) sta] [Click: +4610 (H: +5186) HP, 15 sec, 3 min CD] - The normal mode version is pretty much the baseline trinket for tanks these days. ToC25 can be pugged quite effectively and this trinket shouldn't be that hard to get. At ilvl 245 it's unmatched and you won't find upgrades until you go to higher item levels. The heroic version is even more desirable, but hard to get now that most guilds ignore ToGC in favor of ICC.

Glyph of Idomitability (50 EoT) - [Passive: 1792 armor] [Click: +512 dodge, 20 sec, 2 min CD] - The armor corresponds to 143 stamina in the naive EH model (so in reality it's more!), which makes it rather strong. Unfortunately, the clicky-effect is pretty weak: When you use a clicky, you usually do it because you're at risk of dying and you want something solid to save you. And dodge just doesn't cut it there. It's easy to get though and I think it beats all lower-level trinkets.

Unidentifiable Organ (ICC10) - [Passive: 1890 armor] [Proc: Hit by melee attack, 60% chance, +24 stamina for 10 seconds, stacks to 10] - The armor corresponds to 151 stamina in the naive EH model (so in reality it's more!). The proc is quite controversial and its value greatly depends on what you're fighting. Some people claim the trinket is crap, since the stamina proc is so random, but they forget that the main benefit of the trinket is the armor and the proc is just icing on the cake. Overall, it's just another random proc trinket, but it's one of the better random procs. You'll have some stacks up most of the time. Obviously it's best suited for fights where you get hit alot. Consequently, it's not very useful outside ICC, where you avoid 20% more and bosses attack less often.

Corpse Tongue Coin (ICC25) - [Passive: 152 (H: 172) dodge] [Proc: Melee hit that takes you below 35%, +5712 (H: 6426) armor for 10 sec, 30 sec ICD] - The idea of a proc that's there when you need it the most is quite good. Unfortunately, its execution leaves much to be desired. Using the numbers I mentioned earlier (66K HP, 35K armor) and assuming the hit that procs the trinket lands you at just below 35%, the armor proc will let you take 2555 more damage before dying (assuming no healing). In reality, the hit that procs the trinket might land you anywhere between 0% and 35% reducing the effectiveness of the proc. Furthermore, magical burst does nothing unless it's directly followed by a melee swing (that doesn't outright kill you). The passive dodge on top of the weakish proc makes this trinket not worth getting.

Corroded Skeleton Key (60 EoF) - [Passive: 228 stamina] [Click: 6400 damage absorbed, lasts 10 sec, 2 min CD] - The de-facto successor of JV / SIS from ToC25. The clicky can be seen as a very beefy healthpot and can be nicely combined with a pot and a healthstone for a big HP boost in emergencies. This one should be high on your shopping list unless you already have two good ilvl 258+ trinkets.

Sindragosa's Flawless Fang (ICC25) - [Passive: 228 (H: 258) stamina] [Click: +239 (H: 268) resists for 10 sec, 1 min CD] - The clicky of this trinket is very situational: It's excellent for bosses that have large magical bursts (Ironically, Sindragosa, the boss that drops it, is a prime example), but it's rather weak if the magic component of the damage only comes from minor AoE effects. The stamina makes it a good competitor for the CSK though.

So what would I use?
Right now, I use CSK and normal mode Organ for most of my tanking. I value the Organ over normal-JV (not had much luck with heroic-JV), but I swap Organ out for JV on fights with alot of magic burst: Primarily Sindragosa. I've passed on the Corpse Tongue Coin a couple of times, it's simply not worth it. I also have the heroic Eltrigg's Oath in my bags, but it's only collecting dust.

Ideally, I would probably use the heroic Organ with heroic Sindragosa's Flawless Fang. However, sticking to normal mode loot, my preferred combo would be Organ + CSK which I use now for regular fights. On fights with alot of magic, I'd like to use SFF + CSK.

For a starting tank, I would strong recommend The Black Heart, it's easy to farm and can last you a long time. In addition, pick up the Glyph of Indomitability. You can replace The Black Heart by the CSK if you have enough EoF (and nothing else you'd rather buy with them). In the meantime, keep running ToC25 for JV / SIS.

19 March 2010

Growl and hit confusion

Growl (and the taunts of the other tank classes) is a funny ability. It being classed as a spell has resulted in a lot of confusion about what you need to hit-cap it. The +8% glyph doesn't decrease the confusion. So time to shed some light on the matter.

A little bit of history
Most of the taunt-hit-confusion arises from the various changes that have been applied in this area over time. Growl (and the other taunts) are classed as spells. Before WotLK, there were 2 types of hit-rating: spell-hit-rating and "regular" hit-rating. The regular version applied to physical attacks: melee attacks and hunter shots. Spells and physical attacks had a different cap: back then it was 17% for spells and 9% for physical attacks against raid bosses. Growl was affected by spell-hit-rating and you'd need 16% spell-hit to cap Growl (back then you always had a minimum of 1% chance to miss with spells).

In patch 2.3, Growl was changed to be affected by regular hit rating. However, the rest of the mechanics didn't change: You still needed 16% hit to cap it (keeping the 1% minimum miss chance). The only change was that instead of spell-hit-rating, it was now regular hit-rating that did the trick. This was useful, of course, since regular hit-rating was found on tank gear, where spell-hit-rating was not.

With patch 3.0 and WotLK, both flavours of hit-rating were merged into a single stat we now know and love as hit-rating. However, Growl remained a spell with all its properties. And even though both spells and physical attacks use the same hit-rating now, you need more hit-rating for 1% physical hit than you need for 1% spell hit.

So how is it now?
To never miss a Growl, you need 17% hit. You need 26.23 hit-rating for 1% hit with spells. You can glyph for 8% (210 rating), get a Draenei aura for 1% (26 rating) and get a Shadow Priest or Moonkin to debuff the boss for 3% (79 rating). So that leads to the following numbers:

Glyph/BuffsRating needed for taunt-hit-cap
Glyph + Moonkin/SPriest157
Glyph + Moonkin/SPriest + Draenei131

The thing you can control yourself is the glyph, you can (and should!) swap this one in for any fight where a successful taunt is required. With the glyph, you need less hit-rating than you would need for the regular melee cap of 263. In a 25man raid where a Moonkin or Shadow Priest is pretty much garantueed, you can quite easily hit-cap on Growl already.

Due to the Growls spell-character, you don't need to be at the regular melee hit-cap to never miss a taunt. With the glyph, a lower value suffices. I would like for Blizzard to fix these oddities in Cataclysm, they seem to want to make stats easier to figure out and this is one area where some shrouds of mystery can be lifted.

Effective Health - The holy grail of tanking?

Go to any tank-related forum and open a thread on gear-choices and the first thing you'll notice is that everyone always talks about Effective Health (or EH). It's great, it makes you live longer, be the star of the raid, get epics and possibly create world peace. However, the concept as it is used by 99% of the posters on these forums is wrong. They assume circumstances that simply do not happen in actual raids.

What is EH?
EH is a measure for the amount of damage you take before you die in a worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario being: You don't avoid any hits, you don't get healing, you don't get shields and you don't use any cooldowns.

This means that there are 2 main contributions to effective health: HP and garantueed damage reduction. HP is straightforward, get 10% more of it and you'll live 10% longer when there's no healing. By garantueed damage reduction, people generally mean armor. It reduces the physical damage you take and since this is the majority of the damage, having more of it will make you live longer.

Health comes from stamina. Each point of stamina gives you 10 HP. However, various talents and buffs increase the stamina you get from gear. A Feral Druid gets 25% more stamina from being in Dire Bear Form, 10% from Heart of the Wild, 6% from Survival of the Fittest, 2% from Imp. Mark of the Wild and finally 10% from Blessing of Kings. Since these bonuses stack multiplicatively, the Druid ends up with 16.35 HP from 1 point of stamina on gear. Plate tanks have less of these talents, so they gain less from 1 point of stamina, but their gear tends to have more stamina, so it evens out somewhat.

For armor, the following formula holds for L83 opponents (which means: raid-bosses):
DR = Armor / (Armor + 16635)
Fill in 30000 and you get DR = 0.643, so a 64.3% damage reduction from armor.

If you have 60K HP and 65% damage reduction from armor (30894 armor), your EH is 171429. This means that a mob has to do 171429 damage before armor-reduction to kill you. Adding 1 stamina gives you 16.35 HP and this translates into an increase of your EH by 46.71. On the other hand, adding 10 points of armor increases your damage reduction by 0.00736%, which changes your EH to 171465, an increase of 36. So at these stats, 1 point of stamina gives you more EH than 10 points of armor (note that 1 point of armor is equal to 6.7 points of armor in terms of itemization-budget).

With just the built-in Windows (or in my case: Linux) calculator, you can redo these numbers for your particular situation.

So where does it go wrong?
The above calculation makes sense in the absence of any form of healing, shielding or cooldown-usage. And since the goal of EH maximalization is to gear for the worst possible case, this sounds reasonable right? Well, no. Sure, no healing at all is the worst possible case, but in any realistic raiding environment, there will be heals landing on you all the time, even if the main tank healers are focused elsewhere.

In my raid, there's always at least one Resto Druid who has a whole array of HoTs on me. There generally are HoTs from Priests or Shamans ticking and there's often some form of shielding as well: Sacred Shield from Paladins, Power Word: Shield from Priests, but most of all my own Savage Defense shield which is up for the vast majority of the attacks that land. Since bosses don't one-shot you, but instead need several swings to kill you, the HoTs plus any incoming splash or direct heals will heal you. And direct heals will land, since my healers know that a tank needs healing and will be casting their heals. And I don't know of any 25man encounter that takes all healers out of the game for a little whle at the same time.

Suppose a boss takes 5 seconds to deliver a series of burst attacks that could kill me. In this time-frame it's not unlikely to have 20K worth of heals and absorbs in total. Going back to the numbers-example I mentioned above, this means that my "effective" health would be 80K, not 60K, since in the no-healing scenario, I would have the same survivability with 80K HP as I would in the scenario where I have 60K HP and 20K healing/absorbs coming in. At 80K effective HP, the EH benefit you get from 10 points or armor increases from 36 to 47.88. That's a massive difference.

If you weigh in the costs of both stats in terms of itemization budget, stamina still wins out, but the gap is alot smaller now. And these are just some randomly picked example values. In most boss-fights where tank-death is an issue, you can generally identify the moments that are the most dangerous and use your cooldowns during these moments. Take Festergut for example, once he hits 3 stacks of Inhale Blight, he starts to hit like a truck. During the largest part of this phase, I have Survival Instincts active, this increases my HP by 30% (even more for people who glyphed it) and thereby gives the EH-contribution of armor a massive boost.

On the other hand, bosses that use magical damage as their main tank-killer don't care all that much about armor. On Sindragosa, that Frost Breath when you're at high stacks of Mystic Buffet will play a much bigger role in your death than the melee swing that follows it. In these cases, your EH is purely determined by your stamina (and to some extent your frost resistance).

EH is seen as the holy grail and a straightforward way of calculating the value of stamina compared to that of armor exists and is used regularly. However, which factors actually contribute to your EH depend greatly on the encounter. The naive EH formula assumes a 100% physical damage encounter, which is not always the case. And even in fights where all the (dangerous, bursty) damage is affected by armor, the fact that you're never in the "worst-case-scenario" assumed by the naive EH-computation means that your actual EH is not so easy to express as a number. On top of that, using cooldowns during the dangerous phases again shifts the balanace of stats compared to the non-cooldown phases.

So take EH arguments with a grain of salt: They're often based on some sort of idealized environment that will never occur in the actual game. Think about the encounter when you select your gear and only play the numbers game once you factor in the specifics of the boss and how you plan on reacting to them.

18 March 2010

Soloing Molten Core as Feral Druid

With Cataclysm the entire old world is going to be remade. So it's not unlikely that old raid instances like Molten Core will be remade or removed. So right now is the perfect time to return to that infamous hole in the ground, either to farm rep or, more ambitious, farm for Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros. Various classes/specs can solo Molten Core these days and Feral Druids are no exception. With 2 players, more or less any combination of classes and specs can handle the place.

This post is on how to solo Molten Core with a Feral Druid. I first did this with T8 level gear and some bosses needed some thought. Now with mostly T10 level gear, alot of the tips that I'll mention are no longer needed. Gear has a big effect on how easy it is to solo the place, so keep that in mind when reading this. Your mileage may vary.

Gear & Setup
Melee damage from the trash and bosses is really low. The majority of the damage you'll take will be magical in nature. This means that armor and avoidance are fairly useless. Stamina and resistance are king. Resistance has a big effect on the damage you take and most of your healing (Imp LotP and Frenzied Regen) scale with your HP. The tanking rings from Onyxia are very nice. Additionally, a Lesser Flask of Resistance can be a big help and they're dirt cheap. I like to run with Drums of the Forgotten Kings as well, the +8% stats is useful to have and the drums are not that expensive to make. DPS stats on gear are always useful, but I prefer survivability in the form of HP and resistance over more DPS. Beat stuff with endurance.

To enter a raid instance, you need to be in a raid group. What I found most convenient is to log an alt, invite a guildie to a raid group, make the guildie raidleader, log my Druid, get invited and get leadership. The offline alt stays in the raid and the guildie can now leave without the raid disbanding. Finally, make sure you have plenty of bagspace, as there will be a lot of stuff to loot and the epics sell for anything between 1 and 10 gold each, so that's not too bad.

Imp. LotP will provide most of your healing. If you go low, use Survival Instincts and Frenzied Regeneration combined with any trinkets that increase your max health (such as Juggernauts Vitality) for maximum returns on Frenzied Regeneration. Use Barkskin and any other damage-reduction cooldowns whenever they're up and you're not at full HP. If you need to heal, pop Barkskin as you shift out, cast Regrowth and then spam Nourish. Innervate yourself before you shift back if you expect to have to heal again before your mana has replenished.

Lucifron is quite straightforward, the majority of the damage will come from his shadowbolts. You can ignore the adds, they will die when you Berserk and from Swipe and glyphed Maul. The curse that double the rage cost of your abilities can be annoying, but it's not a major issue. You can decurse yourself if you want, it'll make it go a bit faster, but it's not needed.

The main challenge in this boss lies in the trash before him. I opt to clear the two packs closest to him to ensure I don't get adds when I get feared. Make sure you see healthbars on the Corehound packs (press "V") and make sure they die at roughly the same time or they resurrect each other. Magmadar himself is not a problem. Make sure to move out of the fire and save Berserk to break a fear. Other than that it's just a long fight.

This boss used to give me the most problems. The reasons for that are first that he casts Shadowbolts and Rain of Fire almost continuously and rarely uses melee, bypassing your Savage Defense. Secondly, he applies a curse that reduces healing taken by 75%. The curse has cooldown, but he seems to not use it if someone is already affected. So when you decurse yourself, expect a new curse shortly after. Decurse once more and you should have a window to heal. Do this when you hit 30~40% HP, heal up with SI+FR. Repeat this with casterform-heals if you drop low before SI+FR is back up. In the meantime, run out of the Rain of Fire when you can. If you have any resistance buffs, now is the time to use them. The adds are of little consequence, ignore them and they'll die eventually from Berserk, Swipe and Maul.

Garr is very straightforward. Depending on your gear you either want to focus-fire down the adds or just start on Garr and let the adds die from Swipe and Maul damage. Although you'll resist most of the explosions from the adds, make sure to get your back to a wall so you don't get knocked into trashpacks you've skipped.

Baron Geddon
Geddon does only magical damage, so your armor is useless. The main dangers are his Hellfire, that increases in strength with time (Just run out of it) and the Living Bomb. The falling damage you take after Living Bomb explodes can be painful. Make sure you have rock above your head that you can bounce into to reduce the fall-distance. The tunnel before Geddon is a good spot, but you can also use the area just before the ledge overlooking Golemagg. Additionally, Feral Charging Geddon while in the air makes you take no falling damage.

If you need to heal in casterform, do it during the Hellfire, as Geddon isn't hitting you then. The mana drain debuff he casts doesn't do anything as long as you're in Feral form, but it will quickly drain your mana if you shift out. It lasts for 5 minutes, so it can be slightly annoying if you need to heal after the boss.

This boss is trivial. You will most likely outheal its damage with Imp. LotP and if not, SI+FR will certainly do the trick.

Sulfuron Harbringer
You're in for the long haul with this one. Sulfuron has 4 adds and they all heal each other. Alone you will not have enough DPS to burst down an add, so the only option is to outlast them until they run out of mana. Most of the damage will come from the spells cast by the adds. Just stay alive by cycling your damage reduction and healing cooldowns until they run out of mana. The adds die very quickly once that happens and Sulfuron himself does not pose a big threat.

Golemagg the Incinerator
Golemagg has 2 adds that can't die while the boss is still alive, but they don't hit very hard. Attacking Golemagg gives a chance to stack a fire DoT. Once you get high stacks, you should stop attacking Golemagg and wait for the DoT to fade.I like to hit one of the adds when doing this, to keep Savage Defense going. Use Barkskin at this stage, as the damage intake will be highest. At 10% Golemaggs damage output goes up considerably, so make sure you're high on HP and low on DoT stacks at this point.

Majordomo Executus
This fight is rather easy. There are 8 adds that need to die to beat the encounter. Even though 4 of them are called "Priest", they don't heal. Just take them out one at a time. When there's only one add up, it's healed to full and its damage increases, but this is hardly worth mentioning.

The final boss. His melee damage is rather low and you'll outheal most, if not all, of it with Imp. LotP. The main threat is the periodic knockback. If you get knocked back and end up out of melee range, Ragnaros will spam 6K damage Fireballs at you, which can eat through your healthbar rather quickly. To counter this, make sure you save at least 5 rage for Feral Charge and quickly spam Feral Charge when he does the knockback. This instantly brings you back in melee range. If you don't manage to charge back, make sure you get back to the boss as soon as possible. Once the boss submerges, just Swipe-spam the adds, they die very quickly.

Farming for Sulfuras
For Sulfuras you need the following items:

  • Eye of Sulfuras - This is the legendary drop from Ragnaros. It seems to have a 3~5% drop-chance so you'll just have to hope for the best.
  • Sulfuron Ingot x 8 - These drop with a 15~20% chance from Golemagg, but they're not BoP, so you can fetch them on the AH as well.
  • Blood of the Mountain x 10 - These drop from Molten Destroyers (~5%) and can be mined from Dark Iron Ore nodes (~1%). Your best bet is to farm the Molten Destroyers in the zone, get out, wait 30 minutes for the place to soft-reset and go again. The Bloods can be traded, so check the AH, since these are hard to farm.
  • Dark Iron Bar x 20 - These need 8 Dark Iron Ore per bar. The Dark Iron Ore is mostly found in Molten Core, though there are some nodes in the Searing Gorge as well. Your best bet is to get a miner in your cleared raid to grab the ore or to fetch it from the AH. The bars can only be created in Black Rock Depths.
  • The rest is all easy to get and you'll get automatically while farming MC for the other components.

Good luck!

And so it begins...

Have you ever considered writing up a detailed analysis of some WoW-related concept for posting on the official WoW forums, possibly even written a paragraph already, and then thought "Nah, why bother?" and just cancelled the idea? Well, I have. Several times. The problem with the WoW forums is that the signal-to-noise ratio is so low that even a well-written post with insightful and new ideas will quickly be buried by the nerf-cries, flamebaits and related waste of database-space.

So to keep my random thoughts, calculations and rantings in a place where it doesn't get submerged by uninteresting spam, I've decided to create an account here. I already have a couple of ideas that I would like to post about.

Since I play a raiding Bear-Druid, my posts will mostly be about tanking, Druids, raids and some general WoW things. I tank in a 3-day 25man raid guild. Our progress isn't world-first or even server-first material, but we get stuff down at a good pace. I've been playing feral since before it was cool, starting at around patch 1.8.

IRL I'm a 24yr old guy who is a graduated mathematician, currently doing a PhD in numerical mathematics / computational physics. As a consequence, I tend to not take other peoples theorycrafting results at face value, but like to run the numbers myself. Since I'm absolutely terrible at making a decent user interface for my simulation programs, I tend to just keep them for myself.

So, I hope that you, the reader, will enjoy my postings. Maybe learn something new or see something from a different point of view, providing some food for thought.