Archive for November, 2008


Item Levels

As I ran through the first couple of zones in Northrend, I did not get a single item that was an upgrade. Something bothered me through all of the drops and quest rewards. One of my add-ons shows the Item Level (iLvL) of every piece of gear. For almost every piece of gear, the Item Level of the drop was higher than what I was wearing, yet the stats were inferior.

iLvL (or Item Level) is the way that the strength of an item is gauged. The higher the iLvL, the higher the “budget” of points that is used to assign to attributes, damage, specials, etc… The formulas for iLvL are quite complicated, and are only known through reverse-engineering from in-game numbers, since Blizzard has not released their actual calculations.

But is it “working as intended?”

I offer these two items for comparison. One item is from the Burning Crusade, the other from Wrath of the Lich King. Neither has any special abilities, so it is easy to compare them.



Mysterious Shell – obtained at level 70, requires reputation with the Violet Eye. Item Level 120.



Frostbite Bullets, available for purchase in Northrend at level 75. Item Level 154.

As you can see these items are exactly the same with the exception of the required level, and the fact that one is of Epic quality while the other is not. Despite that, the item level of the WotLK bullets are significantly higher than the epic BC bullets.

What has happened here?

The answer: the Item Level equations have changed in each expansion.

If you look at the WoWWiki page on Item Level, you can see that there are different equations for pre-BC, BC, and WotLK. Why would that happen? Presumably the item level numbers did not scale well as each expansion upped the power range in a non-linear way. The jump from pre-BC to BC gear was notably sudden and steep, for example.

Pre-BC, the Tier 3 armor was the best in the game, and it had an Item Level in the 86-92 range. In BC, Sunwell gear went up to item level 164. Yet I think we would all agree that Sunwell gear was more than twice as powerful than Tier 3 gear. Thus, the equations needed tweaking. The same happened in te release of Wrath. That tweaking makes Item Level comparisons between expansions inaccurate.

Conclusion… it seems to be working as intended, but it makes it useless when comparing pre-WotLK gear to new gear in the expansion. If you have an add-on that shows iLvL, don’t bother using it to make gear decisions until you are comparing WotLK gear to other WotLK gear.



Big Bear Butt made a post about how he uses trinkets. I do something similar to that on my shadow priest to maximize their use.

On my tankadin and rogue, though, I find that trinkets are a little more situational. On the tank, you certainly want to have those defense trinkets available when a healer dies, or when you are tanking more than one mob.

On my rogue, I like to have my trinkets available when I need burst damage. Prince Malchezzar is a good example – if I used my trinkets in Phase 1 they might not be available when we want to burn him down in Phase 2.

So rather than using a whenever-they-are-up macro, I use a visual cue as a reminder, I have my two trinkets on their own toolbar very near the center of the screen.

The two trinket slots on your character sheet are slots #13 and 14. That’s important to know, because when you write your macros if you refer to them as 13 and 14 then the macros will use whatever trinket you have equipped in those slots. That was you don’t have to change your macro every time you switch trinkets.

First, I make two macros – Trinket1 and Trinket2. The Trinket1 macro says only this

#show 13
#showtooltip 13
/use 13

And the Trinket2 macros says

#show 14
#showtooltip 14
/use 14

I use Dominos for my bars. I create a bar that has only two spots. I move it so that it is just off the center of the screen. The two macros are moved into that bar. I hotkey them with Dominos to easily accessible keyboard buttons.


They show a picture of whatever trinket I have equipped in slots 13 and 14.

The add-on OmniCC puts a nice timer right on the button so that it is easy to see when they are available. They make a little “flash” when they become ready, so it’s eye-catching. By placing it near the middle of my field of view, I can easily tell when each trinket is available and use them as needed.


Thanksgiving Parade Rickrolled!

I know that most of the people reading WoW blogs today are probably playing the game rather than watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But I just about fell out of my chair when the parade got Rickrolled.

If you didn’t see it, in the middle of a performance by a float of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Rick Astley walked out of the float and started singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Not only was his appearance hilarious, but the way he appeared to interrupt the performance was perfect.

I’m sure someone will post videos on the web soon.

Edit: Thanks for pointing this out Elton


Should I feel Obligated to Level Faster?

Background… if you don’t know from previous posts, I am the GM of a casual raiding guild.  That title carries with it certain responsibilities as far as conduct and relations with the officers and members.  But does it carry any responsibility as far as play style?

I am taking my time leveling.  I am questing with my wife, so I can only make significant XP progress when we are both online.  That slows me down, but it keeps the game fun for us.  I will probably hit level 74 tonight.

At this rate, there will be at least 15 players in my guild who will hit 80 before me.  We already have three at the level cap, and there will be a bunch more by this weekend.  I have no doubt that they will want to go try 10-man Naxx once they have a balanced group.

I have been on almost every raid my guild has done since we started raiding.  I am usually the top dps, although dps is a dime-a-dozen these days.

Because of all of these factors, I am feeling pressure to level faster.  I get the feeling that I am “supposed” to be there for our first Wrath raid, both as the GM and as one of our core raiders.

On top of that, some of the people who are close to level 80 are not the best players in the guild.  They just happen to have more play time that the rest of us.  I worry that they will be included in the early Naxx runs just because they are at the level cap, but in later runs they will be excluded in favor of better players.  That can cause bitterness and hard feelings.  In a more hardcore guild you can just tell people to deal with it, but in casual guilds we tend to care more about such issues.

Aside… it might look like I am just selfishly trying to make sure I am getting in on our raids.  Its not just me.  Our Raid Leader is currently at level 75, and our Main Tank and backup Raid Leader is at level 72.  Our top Holy Priest is level 72 also.  So a significant part of our core is slow to level.

One solution would be to make a guild decision to hold off on raiding until most of our core have reached the level cap.  Since our two raid leaders are not in the fast leveling group, that’s easy to justify.  We can tell the 80s to run heroics, or join Naxx PuGs if they want.  However, that would probably displease the group that reaches 80 quickly, and its also a recipe to lose guild members.  I don’t think that is a good option, but we will consider it.

The other, less confrontational option is to let them do their runs if they want, assuming that one of them is willing to step up and lead the raid.  That will keep them happy in the short term, but might lead to conflict later if they are not included in our sanctioned guild raids once the core group reaches the level cap.

In the end, this is going to lead to us making a formal raid sign-up process.  We’ve never needed one before, but its clear that we will now.  I’ll save that question for a later post.


Leveling instances

utgardeI have been thinking about the release of Wrath, and trying to put my finger on why it seems so different to me than the release of BC. I think I’ve finally hit on one part of it.

I remember when BC was released. One of my friends was a powerleveler – moving from 60 toward 70 very quickly. At one point when he was around level 65 or 66 I asked him about his experience so far. He went on and on about the Coilfang Reservoir instances, the amazing beauty of Zangarmarsh and Nagrand and how much he was looking forward to running all of the Auchindoun instances.

At that time, he never mentioned Karazhan, or Serpentshrine Caverns, or Gruul’s Lair even as a goal or something to look forward to.

Of course, that is just one anecdote, but that’s the way I recall Burning Crusade’s release. I remember it as excitement about leveling, and looking forward to all of the new instances. At the time, the idea of “instance hubs” was new – three instances plus a raid zone at Coilfang, four instances at Auchindoun, three and a raid zone at Tempest Keep. (Blackrock Mountain was something like that in original WoW, but not exactly.) So, in my remembrance, the instances were the “stars” of the BC release.

In Wrath, no one talks much about the instances. Everyone is focused on the level cap and Naxx. In fact, I’ve heard so little about the leveling instances, I had to go look them up just to write this post. I couldn’t name more than four off the top of my head.

Burning Crusade had…

  • Hellfire Ramparts
  • Blood Furnace
  • Slave Pens
  • Underbog
  • Mana Tombs
  • Auchenai Crypts
  • Sethekk Halls

all before reaching level 70. Then once you got to level 70, you had

  • Shadow Labyrinth
  • Shattered Halls
  • Mechanar
  • Botanica
  • Arcatraz

before you started raiding. That’s twelve 5-man instances you could run before you ever did a heroic or a ten-man raid. In BC, your progress through the game was almost measured by the instances you had done.

In comparison, Wrath has

  • Utgarde Keep
  • the Nexus
  • Azjol-Nerub
  • Ahn’kahet: the Old Kingdom
  • Drak’tharon Keep
  • Violet Hold
  • Gundrak
  • Halls of Stone

then when you hit 80 you get

  • CoT: the Culling of Stratholme
  • Utgarde Pinnacle
  • The Oculus
  • Halls of Lightning

That’s eight leveling instances for 5-man groups, and then another four for level 80 groups before you start heroics and raiding. Its the same number of instances, but not the same amount of attention.

Instances are part of the story, not a challenge of themselves

I suspect its because of Blizzard’s new approach toward making raiding accessible. In BC a lot of guilds went in with the knowledge that raids were a possibility somewhere in the future. Instances were the immediate challenge – tuned to be a good test when done at the appropriate level. Most importantly – instances were an expected part of your preparation for raiding.

I remember wiping repeatedly on the last boss in Ramparts when we didn’t have resist gear on our tank. I recall the last boss of Mana-Tombs being really tough the first few times in. I know we spent at least five hours in Shadow Labyrinth our first attempt in there.

In Wrath the instances seem almost like extended quests. They are designed to be fast – no five hour SL runs this time around. They are not terribly challenging, from the accounts I have heard.

In BC, Instances were preparation for raiding

For those who raided in BC, imagine if someone asked to raid with you, and then admitted that he had never run a single instance in Outland. You’d have questioned him and told him to go run some heroics to get gear.

In Wrath, the qualification to raid seems like it will be to have a functioning keyboard and a pulse. That’s not the requirement to be a good raider, but the barriers to raiding have largely been torn down. They have been removed so effectively that toons are powerleveling to 80 still wearing their level 70 gear and jumping right into successful Naxx runs. That would never have happened in BC. This process has completely devalued the instances. You don’t need them for gear, you don’t need them to “learn” to raid. What purpose do they serve, other than XP and sightseeing?

The gear jump was not steep, so you instance gear is not needed

In BC the initial gear reset made almost all pre-BC gear obsolete by level 62. That meant that you were forced to get new sets of gear every few levels. You ran Hellfire instances to get BC gear for the Coilfang runs. You ran Coilfang instances to get gear that would be good for Auchindoun instances. There were must-do quest lines that gave great upgrades.

This also led to instance grinding. Some of the boss drops were so good that players would run the dungeons over and over to get their drop.

In Wrath, Blizzard made the gear jump much, much smaller. For those who had tier-level gear from BC, you aren’t going to get many upgrades until level 75-ish. That removes a lot of the incentive to run instances. With no boss drops to look forward to, you can run them once just to see them and then move on. No instance grinds, either. Just sightseeing.

Right now I think that the majority of the player base is still in the level 72-74 range, and still running Utgarde Keep, Nexus, and Azjol-Nerub. Those are the instances I mainly see people asking about in the chat channels. I am hoping that later instances will be interesting enough to cause some “buzz” so there is a desire to run them.



This weekend was spent in Dragonblight.  I have really enjoyed this zone for a number of reasons.

Lore!  If you have followed WoW lore, or have read the novels, then this is a great zone for you.  You get to see and interact with many of the characters that you know.  the presence of dragon Aspects makes this zone feel not only exciting, but important.  When I went to the top floor of Wyrmrest Temple and met… well I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but as a lore nerd I was excited.

The quest lines are enjoyable.  They have a good mix of types of quests.  Combat on dragonback is particularly notable here, once you get the hang of it.  There are multiple quest hubs each with a few quests, rather than one spot with many.  You get to travel around the zone quite a bit.  I like the new types of mobs… magnataurs are neat and do not resemble a reskinned or slightly adjusted creature from old WoW.  The Tuskarr are well-made as well.  Except that one guy in Moa’ki Harbor who makes all the noise while he is cutting up fish.  My kids laugh every time I walk by him.

There are a fair number of group quests in this zone.  People are always asking in General chat for partners for the quests.  That’s a good thing, I think.  The General chat channel in Dragonblight is much more focused on the game,  In Borean Tundra it was a lot like… well, Barrens chat.  So far, my wife (resto druid) and I (rogue) have been able to 2-man all of the group quests.  Evasion ftw!

I like the look of Fordragon Hold.  The place looks like a wartime encampment – very spartan and with few people wandering around.  And you can stand on a ledge to look down on the conflicts in front of the Wrath Gate.  Very cool.  Wintergarde Keep has a similar feel to it.  I think Blizzard did a good job making this zone feel like a real war-torn area with current conflict underway.

On the (slightly) negative side, dragons are being made a little “ho-hum” by all of this attention.  It used to be that large dragons were extremely rare.  If you ran into one in Swamp of Sorrows, for example, or in the Blasted Lands, you knew it was something unusual and you made sure to keep your distance.  Here, we get to interact with them in so many ways that they lose some of their mystique.  We’ll need to find another type of mob that makes us stop and stare.  Maybe a massive Titan walking around…

So far I am halfway through level 73, and I still have all of the Wintergarde Keep and Moa’ki Harbor quests to do.  I will hit 74 before finishing this zone, and then I’ll be able to go to Dalaran.


Combat vs Mutilate now, not later


In an earlier post I said that my mutilate spec was preferred over combat daggers, and I tested that on practice dummies. However, instance runs do not involve fighting practice dummies.

A lot of theorycrafters have crunched numbers to show that Mutilate is a great spec (and it is), and that both Mutilate and Combat Daggers are very nearly equal in PvE dps. Those same number-wizards can recommend the ideal attack rotation. In my Mutilate build, the various dps calculators and spreadsheets told me that a 4+r/4+n rotation would be best (that is a 4 or 5 combo point rupture, and a 4 or 5 combo point envenom, with SnD always up).

Well, those calculations are done under fairly ideal conditions, when you can just stand there and go through your rotation without interruption, without changing targets, etc… Basically, a tank-and-spank boss fight.

Right now, the game is not being played under those conditions. In the early 70’s, AoE tanking is the norm. Trash mobs die in under 10 seconds. Bosses in instances are dying in two minutes. In those circumstances, everything changes. Rupture is not useful because it won’t have time to get through all of its ticks. Deadly Poison doesn’t have a chance to stack, which makes Envenom a less effective finisher, and reduces the usefulness of the Deadly Poison.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to crunch numbers myself. So I did what a good scientist does – an experiment. I ran Utgarde Keep twice. The first time I went in with my Mutilate raid spec. The second time I went through with a Combat Dagger spec. Here’s what I saw.

Mutilate run through Utgarde

We went in with a fairly well-geared pally tank. Since we outgeared the place, he just gathered up groups of 3-5 mobs and we dpsed them down without any CC. I used Deadly and Wound poisons on a pair of 1.5 speed daggers. Mutilate was my main attack, and I tried to use Envenom as my main finisher.

My damage output was good, but I felt that it should have been better. The reason for that is because I rarely got a chance to use more than one finisher on a trash mob before it died. When I had enough combo points for a finisher, often DP was only at a 2 stack. I found myself using Eviscerate as often as Envenom (not ideal) due to a lack of poison stacks.

I always made sure HfB was at a 3-stack before combat began, but since the mobs were dying so fast I could rarely afford the energy to refresh it during combat. In fact, energy was a very limiting factor. I was generating combo points much faster than I was accumulating energy, and that slowed me down.

My damage on the boss fights was fine. In those I was able to get somewhat of a real attack rotation going.

In the end, the pally tank did more overall damage than I did. That’s a bit embarrassing.

Combat run through Utgarde Keep

This time we had a druid tank, although we used the same gather-and-kill technique with very little CC. I went in with Wound/Wound poisons on my pair of 1.5 speed daggers. My main attack was Backstab and used Eviscerate as my main finisher for lack of a better one.

My damage output was much higher. I would alternate between Blade Flurry and Killing Spree for burst damage on group pulls. First pull, Blade Flurry. Next pull, Killing Spree. Repeat. Wound Poison procs were flying everywhere.

The Combat build is much much slower to generate combo points. I didn’t get up to 5 combo points on any single trash mobs, and only on the last of the three bosses. My finishers were not my source of burst damage. Instead, I relied on BF and KS to get big numbers.

On boss fights the burst damage from BF, KS, and Adrenaline Rush is through the roof – but only for a short time. Over a long boss fight like the ones we had pre-WotLK, the Mutilate build would have been superior. But here, when the bosses are dying in two minutes, its all about the burst.


This is purely anecdotal, and a lot of the differences in dps could have been due to me rather than any inherent differences in the performance of the specs. Perhaps when I have some time next week I’ll do a more in-depth analysis including combat log parses.

In light of this, though, I think that I’ll stick with Combat Daggers until the game gets a little harder and mobs and bosses start lasting a little longer. I am going to tweak my spec to get Imp. Eviscerate in there if I’m going to use that as a finisher over Envenom.


Classic WoW:
Dinaer - 11 Assassination Rogue
Cepheid - 13 Prot Warrior
Cartho - 11 Elemental Shaman

Retail WoW:
Dinaer - 120 Assassination Rogue (US - Sen'Jin)
Cartho - 120 Elemental Shaman (US - Quel-dorei)
Derence - 120 Prot/Ret Paladin (US - Sen'Jin)
Metius - 120 Shadow Priest (US - Sen'Jin)
Liebnitz - 120 Arcane Mage (US - Sen'Jin)
Darishin - 120 Resto/Balance Druid (US - Sen'Jin)
Fastad - 90 Subtlety Rogue (US - Sen'Jin)
November 2008
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