Patch 5.4 – Flexible Raiding Feature Announced

Possible implementation of FLEX raiding with Crabby.

Last night, Blizzard dropped a big unannounced Patch 5.4 feature preview onto their blog – “flex” raiding. This raiding would be a new, fourth difficulty somewhere between LFR and normal-mode that would have it’s own ilvl. It is primarily to help those raiders that wish to do a level of content with pick-up groups as well as friends and family in a more casual, social environment. It would work with both friend groups and cross-realm lists, making it very inclusive for those of us who like to pull in people for raids from every corner of the globe. The premise of this works off the idea of scaling – similar to how rares and elites have been working since Patch 5.1. The minimum a group can have is 10 but will add health (and presumably damage) depending on how many people you have, up to 25 players. What also makes this convenient is that loot works exactly the same as LFR – it is awarded individually, based on loot specialization. This means, as promised, that there is no reason to not bring anyone you so choose, so long as you have a balanced role makeup. The devs seem adamant that they want this feature to be for everyone – no minimum ilvl requirement, and that every player should be able to come, rather than a specific class.

Blizzard making a move towards an inclusive social feature such as this is a big deal, especially to someone like me who only ever does raiding these days in a casual environment. My guild’s raid team is a very bare-bones 10-player raid that very frequently pulls in cross-realm players and cancels raids when we can’t scrape together 10 people for behind-the-curve content. The idea of being able to raid with anyone on current content and bringing a variable number of folks gives us way more freedom in terms of both difficulty of content (like raid meta achievements, which the blog said will be doable on Flex difficulty) and flexibility of raid filling. Giving the WoW audience even more reasons to pick and choose their raid experience as they see fit is always a move in the right direction.

Are there some drawbacks here? Absolutely. There’s the ilvl bloat we’re experiencing right now – we’re two content tiers in and we have many orders of ilvl gear that a potential casual player is looking at. Adding yet another swath of gear in between LFR and normal is only going to muddy this further. Will it give players more choices or is it going to just make attempting to figure out upgrade paths even more of a nightmare? There’s also the concern of this pulling even more skilled or socially-connected players away from the potential LFR pool. While random grouping methods have proliferated, I still feel that the subset of players that this is catering to might make them flee from the LFR queues. Lastly, the fact that all three have separate lockouts means there’s going to be some complaining of feeling like you “need” to do all three in order to obtain the best gear as fast as you can, especially if your guild is stuck behind a gear check.

Overall, though, I can’t help but seeing this as a future positive. My guild is even talking about this replacing LFR nights for us – we go in a big group of guildies and friends from other realms on a set night to help us get LFR gear for normal-mode raiding. If we get our own gear and perhaps tackle slightly harder content with only people we choose, this seems like an obvious choice. It cuts out the drawbacks from LFR and gives us more control over our raid experience, socially. We can invite cross-realm friends, do alt raids easier, and not have to cancel raid nights as much. I don’t think flex raiding is going to replace normal raid content for us, even though we only raid four hours a week. Are there guilds that could use this as a replacement for both LFR and normal modes? Absolutely. The idea that you can make that kind of choice now as a smaller, more casual or social guild is great!

I would even speculate that this tool might give rise to the pick-up raid group again on realms that might have lost out due to smaller, less experienced populations (so any place that wasn’t Mal’ganis, basically) – groups could form via Trade Chat again, and there’d be no loot disputes and would still only need a modicum of skill to participate, as well as the variable size making things a lot easier.  People that have long complained about how LFR/LFG destroyed server communities might see a breath of life to local raiding again. Basically, I’m tentatively optimistic about this as I feel that this is one of the few features that’ve announced in Mists of Pandaria that caters directly to the kinds of things I like to do in-game for precisely the people I want to do it with.

The question that remains in my mind is this – was this the big feature that Ghostcrawler had been teasing at for so long? Is it one of many things that Patch 5.4 promises? I’m excited if this is just the start of a laundry list of things that might improve our quality of (raiding) life in WoW in the future.

As for you guys, are you hyped about this possible addition? Does it affect you at all? Let me know in the comments.



The Trickle-Down Effect of Gear

Ghostcrawler as Reagan.

Ghostcrawler as Reagan.

It wasn’t until I was having a Twitter conversation with Snack Road (isn’t that how a lot of my blog posts begin these days?) that I realized there’s shenanigans going on with gear progression. It was merely a joke about Republicans at the time, but the trickle-down theory seems to be in full effect in World of Warcraft, and has been going on for a while.

For those of you who weren’t very cognizant of the Reagan era in the United States, “trickle down” was two slightly different ideas about economics and marketing that could be summed up as “The wealth at the top will eventually benefit the bottom.” Economically speaking, making sure the wealthiest in our country were taken care of with tax breaks and benefits would eventually benefit the poorest of our country. As far as the marketing theory is concerned, it describes that many products will start out only available or affordable to the richest but eventually lower in price so that all can afford it. The backlash of this is that once the “lower classes” have consumed or popularized a product, it is no longer wanted by those in the elite.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I feel like more than ever, Mists of Pandaria was a step backwards when it came to an even level of gear acquisition. One the major problems of this expansion was requiring both reputation and Valor Points for obtaining the first pieces of gear that was available to you once hitting 90. In the past, VP gear was not coupled with any reputation. It was a means of gear acquisition that anyone putting the time could benefit from. It started in Burning Crusade with badge gear – it was arguably some of the best pieces you could get unless you were chasing progression endgame and a lot of times, it was the best slot-filler or catch-up mechanism you could have asked for. In Cataclysm, it was so finely tuned to the point that most people I knew except at the very top of the raid game made use of regularly. It wasn’t until LFR being put in that we started to see a decay of that system – given that LFR was put in at the very end of the expansion, the effect wasn’t as immediate. What LFR was doing was not making yet another stepping stone in terms of a gear path, it was creating a ceiling of sorts, contextually. VP gear was locked behind reputation and valor points, valor points were made harder to acquire and capped. Each LFR having successively higher i-level requirements meant that in order to do LFR, considered the final or penultimate level of raiding you’d achieve as a slightly more casual raider meant that you had to gear chase a lot harder than before. While things like the wider choice of reputations, world bosses  and crafting has made it slightly easier, it still feels like the people at the top are benefiting the most from doing what they want to do, while the rest of the curve gets progressively less choices in the matter. Raiders who have the benefit of doing content quickly while relevant have access to the best gear, therefore not needing LFR at all. VP gear from reputation isn’t as necessary once the initial gearing hump of the first tier’s worth of content is over. These raiders are supplied they gear they need by skill alone perhaps, or eventually the content they are chewing through and their success is framed in such a way that other people can’t degrade it by being slower or caught up in circumstances beyond their control (bad loot streaks, raid team falling apart). You see this in not just how loot is obtained but in things like the Cutting Edge achievements. I felt the achievements were a vanity addition that suited the purpose to make top-end raiders happy for their accomplishments, and that’s not a bad thing. However, Blizzard’s design when it comes to gear paths is pretty textbook trickle down theory in a lot of ways and I’m not sure why. 

LFR was supposed to be the great liberator of the masses, but I feel that it’s striated people wanting to make the jump from starting-out gearwise to anything above it. Is this to preserve the value of upper-level gear? In short, raiders that were normal or heroic progressed were seemingly disgruntled from having to share the same base gear pool outside of the content before LFR was introduced. The whole notion of people getting epics without having to set foot in a raid seemed terrible, except to the people who actually were going to make use of it. With the advent of LFR, the gear pool that was shared was largely obliterated, became more gated in Mists and now has forked fairly divergently – those wanting to obtain gear at the highest levels will have to participate completely in it. This isn’t even trickle-down, like before, where raiders were turning their nose up at badge/VP gear, but a fairly inventive shut-out for all but a few opportunities. In order to do LFR, you never need higher than LFR gear, if you want to do normals, you do not “need” higher than normal gear to do it, roughly speaking. This preserves the sanctity of those chasing higher levels of content, in both gear and accomplishment, while giving people that would ordinarily benefit from structures that “spilled over” for high-end raiders something else to acquire. And in a lot of ways, I can even feel myself going, “Well, if you want to do Z content, why do you need X gear?” It’s a very ingrained way of thinking about content striated by acquisition and elitism. So in this fashion, whenever Blizzard purposefully “outmodes” gear i-levels or content, it is satisfying the high-end by making it unwanted by them (giving them new, better!) and satisfies those down at the bottom by giving them what was once a popular commodity.

Of course, this analogy falls apart a little given some of the choices we have in the game now, a couple of content patches in. It is possible to get a 522 ilvl 2-set just via world bosses, or Shado-Pan Offensive rep gear from doing LFR. All that being said, there’s still fairly apparent places where the trickle down is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. The most notable of these is crafted gear. It used to be the most sought-after for many classes, but the rise and fall of difficulty in terms of obtaining it has been most curious. The first thrust of good craftable gear was some of the tailoring gear – sets that lasted from Karazhan to Black Temple if you played your cards right. The patterns were learnable fairly quickly but making the gear was lengthy and grindy. There weren’t caps on how many pieces of cloth you could make a day but the materials were fairly hard to farm, so it took awhile to gain them. By the end of that expansion, it was to the system of crafting materials AND patterns dropping in the appropriate raids. This system lasted all the way to the beginning of Cataclysm, but what Wrath had introduced was eventually making the material needed for making the recipes purchasable with a currency. Cataclysm made the materials and patterns easily obtainable via the crafting professions but capped the materials significantly. Still, this meant that all you needed to get really solid crafted gear was time or currency. The efficacy of this gear started slipping behind though as people rapidly outpaced the ilvls over the course of the expansion. Mists is where the trickling was really brought to bear – not only did you have the basic level of epic patterns locked behind reps, but more to the point, the highest level of craftables were only able to be made with materials obtained from disenchanting epic gear (with a small chance of dropping from bosses)  of current content. So, basically, if you want gear that is on par with the highest level raids, you have to basically wait for either your raid team (if you have one) or someone else’s raid team to have a piece of gear they can shard. If you’re not a part of an established raid team, in essence you’re looking for another raid team’s cast-offs in order to make yourself better gear. The argument is that if you’re not part of an established raid team that’s doing the content, then why do you need the crafted gear at all? For some people, it could easily be BIS for a time, other people it is simply more of the gear chase but with a lot more restricted paths or options. The only time people outside of the “system” really benefit from crafted gear though is when they are in a situation where their environment is already raining down epics – meaning the highest tier of raiders on their servers are past the gearing curve and are sharding everything or enough people have entered the current content to create somewhat of a competitive market. If that’s not the very pinnacle of this theory, then I don’t know what is.

Still, all of this raises a lot more questions than answers, and I know that I’m glossing over a lot of situations in order to make a point about the theory. Is Blizzard merely acting in accordance to what the audience wants, or is it a more strident hand in directing the gear path for all “levels” of players? Since they are the ones responsible for the structures we have to move through to obtain gear, I can presume that this was done purposefully. The “No Elevators To Everest” seems to belie a developer belief (especially since many of the older ones are returning the fold) that everyone has to really struggle to get what they want, and some people are going to hit a ceiling of skill or success just due to their position and no further. While the parlance has dropped out  some, the idea of “welfare” epics couldn’t be more true now with the advent of LFR, but gamifying this so that no one ever really needs it anymore is an interesting mesh of Reagan-era social policies and Skinner Box perfection. There’s always going to be a subset of people that need enough gear to see the lower-bar content, but not more than that. If someone wants gear beyond that point badly enough, they have to go through great lengths to get it in order to not upset the overflow from the top. The idea that the developers are really giving us so many choices to be powerful but keeping the real power fairly divided and unobtainable seems to be what’s really at play here. Do I mind it terribly, from a personal standpoint? In some ways, yes. I might be casual but the practises of a game company to enforce power progression along lines that have typically caused strife elsewhere doesn’t seem to be the smartest move in the long run. Treating your broadest base and separating it further and further from the middle does little to make anyone feel good, but I suppose Blizzard has worked in enough distractions that no great portion falls through the cracks. Still, this is all something to think about going ahead. Are there iterations down the road that will even further divide the haves from the have-nots? Will desired/vogue gear be overturned even faster? Who knows, but I have seen the problems thus far and I’m not sure I like the direction Blizzard is taking us.

The Azerothian dream is not that every person must be level with every other person. The Azerothian dream is that every person must be free to become whatever God Blizzard intends they should become.


For Snack Road’s thoughts on a similar topic of gearing, check his post!

It’s Time to Stop Time Warp Abuse

Apple Cider uses Time Warp outside of the Caverns of Time

Mages, have a seat over here. I need to talk to you about a subject of crucial importance. It is about your meddling with things better left in the hands of more experienced arcanists, or dare I even say it, shaman. The Powers-That-Be saw it fit to give us access to one of the highest forms of the arcane, the ability to bend time to our wills. And here I see so many hedge wizards and disgraceful magisters fiddling with it heedlessly. Didn’t we learn from the Bronze Dragonflight that time is very, very fragile thing? That it needs care and concern, wisdom and experience?

I am concerned with some of you in the mage community, particularly in Looking for Raid, who seem to not know a jot about when to pop Time Warp. Maybe some of you were never taught outside of the whole “PRESS THIS BUTTON MAKES DPS GO UP” thing, but we need to have a Serious Talk. Time Warp, like its sister spells Bloodlust/Heroism, are very powerful and need to be used responsibly. There’s nothing that raises my blood pressure faster than popping these spells at the wrong time, but mages need the sternest lecture, as most shaman at least have had a few years to get the hang of proper cooldown timing.

I’m looking at you, mage who used Time Warp on the last 15 percent of Mor’chok in LFR. I’m shaking my damn head.

How Do I Even USE This Thing?

Time Warp is a powerful raid-wide cooldown and has a severe debuff (shared with Bloodlust/Heroism) that keeps you from using it again for 10 whole minutes unless you die. It also has an internal cooldown of 5 minutes for use, so misusing it does have some consequences, especially if you hit it accidentally. The best way to keep yourself from using it when you do not mean to is to give it an accessible keybind that isn’t going to be smushed (or “fat-fingered”) if you are doing your normal mage business. I have it on one of my many mouse buttons, but set back from my normal keybinds so I don’t do just that.

Along with not using it at an incorrect moment due to user error, it’s also helpful to let people know that you used it as some people do not always pay attention to nor have notifications for when Time Warp goes out. There are mods that do automatic raid and party chat messages, but I am old school and just use a quirky macro to tell people when I use Time Warp. Be creative, you’re a mage! That’s what we’re supposed to be good at. Here’s what mine looks like:

#showtooltip Time Warp
/cast Time Warp

See? Now you can use Time Warp at the proper time and with maximum intent!

Since you seem to be so concerned with people who don’t use it at the right time, when should I actually hit Time Warp?

While I am a firm believer that the fight should really call for specific Time Warp or BL/Hero usage, there’s some general Rules of Thumb for “good” Time Warp casting.

  • Start of a fight – This is your basic, standard time to pop TW. Just make sure that it occurs after the mob has been pulled and your DPS is actually had time to start attacking and use cooldowns. This is usually your “heroic dungeon” flavor of Time Warp, where it shortens the fight.
  • Burn Phases – This is a specific kind of boss fight that demands that you do more DPS at a particular point rather than at the beginning or end of a fight (see: Zon’ozz, Hagara). Whether this is due to a mechanic that makes you do more DPS, takes away more of a boss’ health or is crucial to keeping your raid alive (periods of high group damage), this is something you should be aware of and not waste it beforehand. Note: Fights that have multiple burn phases should usually save heroism for later, rather than sooner.

These rules will cover your butt 90 percent of the time, especially in a casual setting. If you are playing at a higher level than just heroics or LFR, a rule that supersedes all of these is:

  • When Your Raid Leader Tells You To – ignoring the person who best knows the concerns of all roles involved (tanks, DPS and healers) in a fight will land you on the bench or possibly only conjuring food for your raid’s shaman if you’re not careful.

I do stress though, that educating yourself about a fight as well as a particular group’s strategy does way more good than any guide I could give you. However, I feel it is every mage’s best interests to know the reasons behind why people tell you to do things.

Note:  This post previously indicated also possibly using TW/BL/Hero during “execute” range at the end of the boss fight but see here as to why this is not actually mathematically advantageous.

Gosh, I Get It, Time Warp At the Right Time, Yadda Yadda, Why Do You Care So Much?

Great Power Comes With Great Responsibility!

But seriously, Time Warp is an intensely beneficial spell that benefits everyone in the group, not just you. Being selfish, careless, using it willy-nilly or with little regard for what’s going on  will earn you scorn, or even impede progress on a fight. I know that most people don’t care about LFR in terms of “doing things the right way” but it should be treated less like “anything goes” and more like a good place to refine your basic skills and have fun. Part of this, as a mage, means giving Time Warp to the group when it is sorely needed. It makes the rest of us look bad if you have no idea when you should be casting it. If I catch you mages goofing off with Time Warp, I will yell at you, make no mistake about that. See that I don’t have to.

I’ve got my Eye on you.

You Can Take the Gnome Out of the Raid

Tarecgosa roaring in front of Wyrmrest Temple.

But you can’t always take the raid out of the gnome.

While I’ve been meaning to write a keybinding guide/exploration, or perhaps a post on any number of topics, the holidays and wrapping up the last couple weeks of my job have been slaughtering my motivation to blog. However, one thought has really stuck in my craw enough to make me write a blog post.

Last night, my little social guild grouped up and did their weekly LFR run together. This is a lot of fun for us; we sit on Mumble and crack jokes on bad players, talk about other stuff and sometimes even alcohol is involved. It is a great way for us to see raid content together but the stress of people feeling terrible or unused to raid mechanics is gone. I consider it preparing people gear-wise and knowledge-wise for an eventual 10man. We cleared through both segments of Dragon Soul fairly handily. On Ultraxion, I won the chest tier piece. I was shocked! I have been running LFR for quite a number of weeks now and aside from my guildmate giving me the Insignia of the Corrupted Mind last night, this was the first piece of gear I had won fair and square. I was so excited!

Except then a druid piped up that I was wearing a 391 tier chest from Firelands. I was, wasn’t I? The tier pieces from LFR are 384. I immediately felt stupid. Did I forget that LFR gear isn’t necessarily* better than the 391s I was dripping in? Or the legendary staff I have strapped to my back? I probably looked like an overentitled jerkbag just then. As much as I’d love 2 or 4-set tier bonus for the delicious haste, is it really better mathematically than the 391 Tier 12 I’m currently wearing? What struck me immediately after that thought was this one:

Does it even matter?

I always made this argument when I saw people in various communities who only ran heroics complaining that they didn’t have access to raid gear. If you didn’t do raids, why would you need that level of gear. I find myself in this position now. While everyone has access to raid gear now via LFR (which is awesome), the fact of the matter is that I am no longer raiding but outgear the LFR in most ways, and find myself without even so much as a casual 10-man now. Do I really need to be doing LFR at all?  This is a question I wrestle with now. I’ve been part of the gear grind for so long, that long eternal lock-step of BETTER, BETTER, BETTER, BEST-IN-SLOT that now I have no idea what to do with myself. I’m not pushing content even on normal and theoretically I don’t need the gear out of LFR to do heroics. While running LFR is nice for capping valor points or updating certain slots, I sorta wonder (for the first time since 4.3) dropped what I really am going to do with myself. It’s been nice to have free time but I feel suddenly devoid of things to do on my main. I’ve been leveling a tank alt in my free time as well as my second mage, but this is the first time I feel like I’ve “finished” a character.

So for as much as I have “quit” raiding, some part of me still hasn’t. I think last night was a bit of a wake-up call.