I want to talk a bit about our level 100 talents, but not in the way you might expect. This post isn’t going to be full of numbers, nor is it going to be a comparison of how the talents perform in a raid setting. In fact, there’s very little quantitative analysis of the talents in it at all. What I want to talk about is how the talents feel on a purely qualitative level.
Obviously that makes much of this post opinion, rather than fact. So keep that in mind – none of this is based on numbers, it’s all based on how I feel about the talents, and most of these opinions were formed well before I started running simulations to figure out how well they perform. You’ll get the performance posts soon enough, once I have time to write those up.
Holy Shield is my favorite of the talents, but I’ll admit that I may be unreasonably biased just because of the name. During MoP beta, I campaigned for Shield of the Righteous to be renamed Holy Shield, because Holy Shield is just more iconic. In fact, I’d still love to see the names swapped. I’d love Holy Shield to be our active mitigation and Shield of the Righteous be the talent.
Regardless though, there’s a lot to like about this talent. It plays into the “block tank” theme that our kit was ostensibly based around before we lost that niche to warriors and Shield Block. It seems like Warlords is trying to bring a little bit of that back. We have the Improved Block Draenor perk that brings our block value up to 40%, and both of our tier set bonuses center around blocking as well. The two-piece gives us Faith Barricade, increasing our block chance by 50% after casting Avenger’s Shield, and the four-piece gives us a chance to proc Defender of the Light every time we block, boosting our block value by 50%.
Not only do we block more often with the talent, but we get the unique ability to block spell damage, which is pretty cool. If that doesn’t sound cool to you, consider that with a little mastery-stacking we can reach block cap while Faith Barricade is active, because the buff’s effect isn’t subject to diminishing returns. So if we save Avenger’s Shield for that large incoming magical attack, we can guarantee 40% mitigation of that attack through blocking. And if we’re lucky and Defender of the Light is active, we’ll mitigate 90% of it.
The damage return is just fun for nostalgic reasons. It brings back a bit of the BC- and Wrath-era “round up all the things” strategy that some of us miss. The damage isn’t shabby either, at 50% of your attack power. In an AoE situation, this talent should really shine. The downside is that it obviously doesn’t provide any damage output when you’re not tanking, but if the coefficient is tuned properly that can still be tweaked to balance it with the other two talents.
So if you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty positive on Holy Shield. Unfortunately, I’m not as positive on our other options.
Seraphim is an interesting idea. 50% of the time (15 second duration, 30 second cooldown) you become a giant ball of bad-ass with inflated stats. Seems fun, especially since it comes with a pretty animation. Seems like a great choice for fights with tank swaps, since you can pool up holy power to prepare for the taunt and get higher effective uptime out of the talent.
What really bothers me about this talent, though, is the holy power cost. Five holy power is steep. One of the things that Blizzard finally learned after Cataclysm was that a resource system is sort of meaningless if all you do is build up to the cap and then dump. That’s why we got Boundless Conviction in Mists – to turn holy power into a real resource that we could pool and spend, and make meaningful decisions about how and when we do either.
And yet… despite learning that 3-HP ability costs in a 3-HP world were limiting and frustrating, here we have a 5-HP ability in a 5-HP world. Apparently the lesson wasn’t taken to heart. I’d much, much rather have a 3-HP version of Seraphim that gave us 800 of each stat for 15 seconds or 1000 of each stat for 12 seconds than the current version. That 5-HP cost is just going to feel awkward when we’re used to spending only 3 at a time.
With a 5-HP cost, we’re almost guaranteeing that we won’t be using Shield of the Righteous in the ~5-6 seconds before Seraphim comes off of cooldown. Otherwise we’ll be delaying Seraphim and getting less bang for the buck out of our talent choice. Divine Purpose procs might help with that, and we could perhaps assume that our last SotR will cover the first part of that period. And of course, maybe that period is while we’re off-tanking if we’re talking about a tank swap scenario. But for regular old steady-state “take it in the face all day erry day” tanking, this is opening us up to a potentially-dangerous spike window. And turning into an invincible angel isn’t very effective if you’re dead before you get to cast it.
That said, when we get to cast it, it will be nice. We get about 4% reduced damage intake from the versatility rating, about 6% dodge from the critical strike rating, 10% haste, 9% crit, 9% mastery, 15% multistrike, and a fair bit of mitigation and attack power from the bonus armor. And we’ll still get one or two SotRs off during that 15 seconds. It really does live up to its billing as a miniature (or not-so-miniature) cooldown. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s significantly stronger than Divine Protection, though probably not as good as Guardian of Ancient Kings.
However, it’s going to be very, very strange in the first tier of content while holy power income is still limited. You won’t, for example, want to take Eternal Flame and Seraphim together because they’ll be competing for resources, so Seraphim and Eternal Flame are almost mutually exclusive – they may as well be on the same tier of talents.
There’s also the question of “how many cooldowns is too many?” As part of the tank squish, Blizzard toned down cooldowns across the board. Yet we still have three baseline cooldowns (Divine Protection, Guardian of Ancient Kings, and Ardent Defender) and now two talented options (Holy Avenger and Seraphim). I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up chaining all of those to be nigh-invincible for minutes on end.
Last but not least, it also adds a button to an already busy spec. Many classes lots a lot of buttons this expansion, but not us. We’ve lost relatively few. I guess Seraphim can go where Avenging Wrath used to be on my key binds. But I’m a little disappointed that we’ve gained very little ground in the massive key bind disarmament process, and gaining a new tier of activated abilities isn’t helping with that.
So, overall Seraphim is interesting, and could be fun, but I’m a little worried about it feeling awkward and giving us a little too much cooldown coverage. I guess you could say I’m sort of neutral on this talent. Don’t hate it, don’t really love it either.
Empowered Seals is my least favorite talent from a design standpoint. In principle, I’m behind the idea of making seals more interesting. Right now, seals are set-it-and-forget-it buffs for protection. It’s not even worth swapping to Righteousness in AoE situations, because in most cases you need the self-healing from Insight to stay alive. And it’s not even worth the GCD to swap to Seal of Truth for single-target damage. But while I’d like to see seals be interesting, I’m not a fan of this implementation.
First of all, I really don’t like seal twisting. And this talent is advertised as the talent for people who like seal twisting. I’m sure there must be a few people out there who do like seal twisting, but I’m not one of them. Let me explain why.
Empowered Seals may as well be called “Holy Maintenance Buffs.” Having one maintenance buff in a spec is fine, in my opinion. As an example, I had no problem with Inquisition, even though many Retribution paladins complained. Maybe it was a bit annoying when the duration was only 30 seconds, but especially in 5.4 with a 1-minute duration, it was really hard to complain about Inquisition. Not that it stopped people from doing so, of course, which eventually led to it being pruned in Warlords.
When I discussed this with Meloree, he was quick to chide me for jumping on the “maintenance buffs suck” bandwagon. And he has a point. Buff maintenance has its strong points. In particular, it tends to be very good at differentiating players by skill. Even if you invoke a macro to take most of the thought out of it, you’re still choosing which GCDs to use to refresh those buffs, and that decision making process takes skill. And there are players who really like that play style – likely the same people who love seal twisting.
So I want to make it clear that my distaste for the talent isn’t because I hate all maintenance buffs. Having one or two maintenance buffs is perfectly reasonable, and in fact is even desirable. In Mists of Pandaria, we have two buffs that qualify as “maintenance,” or at least “actively managed” buffs: Shield of the Righteous and either Sacred Shield or Eternal Flame. And I feel like that game play has worked out rather well for us. It certainly hasn’t felt cumbersome to manage those two buffs.
However, juggling multiple maintenance buffs can quickly sap the fun out of a spec. Cataclysm-era subtlety rogue felt a lot like that, when I was fooling around on an alt in sub-par gear. While it was interesting to learn how to effectively keep Slice and Dice, Rupture, Hemorrhage, and Recuperate all up at the same time, it ended up feeling like I never really got to spend those combo points showing the boss the pointy end of my Eviscerate.
The entire seal twisting concept is all about swapping seals every 8-10 seconds. By definition, it’s adding up to 3 more maintenance buffs we have to watch and maintain. And those are added to the two maintenance buffs we already have. If you consider that we might be spending up to 3 GCDs every ~20 seconds to cycle seals, and another one on Sacred Shield (I’m cheating here a bit, because I know it’s simming ahead of EF) every 30 seconds, you’re looking at spending 18%-30% of your GCDs on maintaining buffs.
That just seems excessive to me. Compare that to MoP Retribution, which lost Inquisition in part because it felt like too much of an annoyance to maintain. It only spent 1 GCD every 60 seconds, which is a paltry 2.5% of your GCDs at most, and that was considered too much. How do you think Rets will respond to using even 10% of their GCDs to keep two of those buffs up? How much worse will it feel for a starter prot in low haste gear using almost one third of their GCDs to maintain buffs?
Even if seals were off-GCD (and thus didn’t interfere with the rotation), I think I would dislike it, because you’d still be juggling five different maintenance buffs, which is a little more than I think is fun. Ultimately, I think that sort of gameplay ends up in one of two places. It either turns into a game of watching buffs rather than playing your character, or you get an addon or macro to remove the thought from the process. Neither of which are ideal for making a spec feel fun to play.
To add to that, we now have one of the more complex rotations in the game. Many specs lost spells and saw their rotation simplified. We lost only periphery spells; none of our core rotation spells were removed. And our rotation (including off-GCD AM) already involved more buttons than many DPS specs do:
Hammer of the Righteous
Hammer of Wrath
Execution Sentence or Lights Hammer or Holy Prism
Sacred Shield (possibly)
Shield of the Righteous
Word of Glory or Eternal Flame
Empowered Seals adds three more spells to that list. Even if you already had keybinds for them, we’re approaching “John F@#!ing Madden” territory. And that’s all assuming you’re not doing anything to contribute to raid utility. The developers have said they like leaving a few empty GCDs so players can make use of those utility spells. With Empowered Seals, you can kiss those empty GCDs good-bye.
To me, the whole idea just sort of feels awkward and not very fun, which is the same opinion I had of seal twisting in Wrath. Several people have pointed out that you can use a castsequence macro to do the seal cycling with one button, though that’s a gripe unto itself. When the best thing you can say about a talent is, “well, it’s not so bad when you create a macro to do most of the thinking for you,” I think you need to critically re-evaluate whether that talent is a good design.
There’s another problem with Empowered Seals: maintaining balance between the talents. Even without numbers, we can make a philosophical argument for why this will inevitably be a problem. Empowered Seals is situated in a tier with a passive option (Holy Shield). Let’s ignore Seraphim for now. By default, Empowered Seals has to be tuned to be noticeably better than Holy Shield. Why?
If the difference in steady-state performance between Empowered Seals and Holy Shield s tiny, why would you bother taking the active option? It would be both more reliable and easier to just take the equivalent passive option in that case. At least with Seraphim, you’re comparing an always-on Holy Shield to something that has an on/off cycle, and there can be pros and cons for each. But the buffs from Empowered Seals are essentially “always-on” buffs that cost 3 GCDs every 20 seconds, so you’re comparing two static effects, one of which takes more effort.
Likewise, if it takes an enormous amount of concentration to pull off Empowered Seals for a small gain, then why would you bother? At that point, it’s just shelved as a bad talent because it’s ineffective and few will bother to take it. We have historical precedence for this sort of thing – if you have a few hours (days?), go read Cynwise’s excellent set of articles on The Decline and Fall of Warlocks, particularly the third post in the series, which examines the same topic through a different lens. A class, spec, or talent that requires a a large amount more effort or involves a lot more complexity to achieve similar results tends to get marginalized and ignored.
So by design, for it to not be a “bad” talent, it has to provide some noticeable advantage over Holy Shield. And that’s really the issue, because that effort/performance breakpoint is different for each player. For a player going into Mythic progression as soon as it opens, that sort of complexity is something we generally just deal with, because we have the skill to perform the rotation even if we don’t like it. It really only becomes a choice for players that aren’t concerned about min/maxing their performance or don’t have the skill to pull it off.
From one perspective, that makes it perfect for a talent. Since the skill threshold varies from player to player, making it a talent allows players to choose it based on whether they actually can pull it off or not. In practice though, it doesn’t work that way. We’ve seen it happen over and over again in WoW, and every time the “passive but weaker under ideal conditions” option was the one that everyone avoided. Even by players who really should have been taking it, because they couldn’t handle the complexity of the stronger option. The weaker option was perceived as only for “bad” players, and nobody wants to be bad! Furthermore, I really don’t want to see Holy Shield become the “bad players” option. It’s too iconic for that sort of fate.
They might be able to tune it so that the margin is “close enough” to make it a valid choice, but it’s unlikely for quite a few reasons. One, it’s a razor-thin margin they need to hit; two, the target will vary wildly with player skill; three, the target will drift with gear and content. It’s somewhat naive to believe that any set of three talents can be balanced perfectly just based on numbers. It’s far better if the tier gives three solid but slightly different options that shine in different situations.
For example, the choice between Divine Purpose, Holy Avenger, and Sanctified Wrath is pretty solid. Divine Purpose gave the highest average uptime on SotR and scaled best with gear, but wasn’t controllable. Holy Avenger gave lower uptime, but gave it to you in the form of an extra cooldown that you could control. Sanctified Wrath’s MoP incarnation was somewhat lacking – it would have been good if it was the high-DPS but middle-of-the-road option, but it ended up being an afterthought instead. It’s Warlords implementation looks pretty solid so far though – higher average Holy Power income and lots of extra damage through Holy Wrath. Each has a niche it can fill, and you may pick different ones for different encounters because each favors different encounter mechanics.
I think they *can* make the level-100 tier interesting in a similar fashion. But it will be interesting only if the three talents provide different strengths. For example, if they turned out something like this:
- Holy Shield – Passive, always-on, best average survivability, average damage
- Seraphim – Highest short-term survivability and burst damage (during buff), but slightly lower average survivability and damage (due to the fallow periods).
- Empowered Seals – Most flexible. Lets you swap from high single-target damage mode (SoT) to high AoE damage mode (SoR) to high-survival mode (SoI), but you can’t have all at once. Average performance (i.e. cycling SoI while tanking and SoT while off-tanking) should be close to the baseline set by Holy Shield.
You can see the idea here. Rather than picking the “winner” in that tier, you pick the talent that suits your purpose. Empowered Seals might be a 5% DPS increase with SoT up, but a ~5-10% sacrifice in survivability compared to Holy Shield. And vice versa if you’re running with SoI. Empowered Seals would give you the flexibility to adapt to the encounter rather than be stuck with the 30-second Seraphim cycle or the passive Holy Shield benefit.
But none of that works if Empowered Seals is effectively a passive effect that costs you 3 GCDs. If you have two passive choices, you pick the one that works best. If sims tell us that it’s worth spending those GCDs and losing Seal of Insight procs to keep up the buffs we get from Empowered Seals, then we take that over Holy Shield.
The way to make the talent interesting is to make our seals interesting, but I don’t think that seal twisting is the way to do it. Making seal twisting extremely powerful by making each seal grant a very powerful buff is putting lipstick on a pig – it’s covering what I feel is bad gameplay by just making the numbers big. I’d rather see Empowered Seals make seals in a substantial way that gives us interesting choices.
So rather than making Empowered Seals a rotational gimmick tied to Judgment, I’d rather see it actually empower our seals. Make SoT do more significant single-target damage. Make SoR do more significant AoE damage. Make Seal of Insight do more significant self-healing.
Better yet, make each of them into a mini cooldown. Maybe the talent gives you an “Empower Seals” spell that actually empowers whatever seal you have active to make it stronger. Using it doubles the effect of your seals for 20 seconds, with a 1 minute cooldown. Now, every minute you get to make an interesting decision.
Do I want single-target damage? Switch to Truth and pop Empower Seals for a burn phase. Do I want AoE damage for picking up and burning down some adds? Switch to Righteousness and pop Empower Seals for 20-seconds of AoE burst. Do I want more survivability? Use ES with SoI active and you have another mini cooldown. This fills a different niche than Seraphim in that you get to choose your benefit every minute, and to be balanced it would give you a bigger boost to that area than Seraphim does.
That’s interesting seal game play that actually involves making choices, rather than just mindlessly cycling through maintenance buffs.