Friday, February 27, 2015

Rebuttal to and Discussion of Blizzard Watch's Enhancement Breakdown

I was super excited to see a Blizzard Watch class column for Enhancement Shaman. I don't think our spec had a class column on WoWInsider at all (it was pretty well only Resto with the occasional Elemental post tossed in). Said first column was all about, "What's Wrong With Enhancement?". And then I was sad.

Make no mistake, Enhancement has some issues. I just mostly disagree with the author on what said issues are. In short, his grievances:

  • Good at AoE (and therefore bad at Single Target)
  • Lack of meaningful cooldowns
  • Too many rotational buttons

Good at AoE (and therefore bad at Single Target)

Data suggests we're actually close to the middle of the pack for single target DPS. We're a teensy bit low, but we're not far enough below to make a difference unless you're a world-first Mythic guild:

Warcraft Logs, as of February 27th, 2015. Mythic, Gruul, 50th percentile

As you can see by the chart, even at the Mythic level for as close to a patchwerk fight as we can get this tier, Enhancement is in the middle of the pack. Nearly exactly in the middle if you toss out the outliers (Frost Mage and BM/MM Hunters). Heroic and Normal look even better for Enhancement. It's not until you start getting into the top 25% of Mythic players that Enhance truly starts falling behind.

That being said, our AoE is still a little out of control, due to how it scales up with more targets. Two targets, two Flame Shocks, two Fire Novas on one target each equals two Fire Nova hits. Six targets, six Flame Shocks, six Fire Novas on five targets each equals thirty Fire Nova hits. Exponential scaling due to number of hits. If they were to make it linear somehow instead, they could bring our AoE inline with other classes.

The question is, do we want that? According to a recent interview, specs can have niches, that's okay. It seems currently our niche is AoE. And it's not actually coming at the expense of our single target damage to any great degree if the current data is any implication.

Lack of Meaningful Cooldowns

In the article, the author seems to be using "meaningful" as a proxy for "directly influences my personal damage", and therefore having a higher skill cap. To be fair, he has a point that the Fire Elemental and Feral Spirit are effectively fire and forget. Other than lining them up with Hero/Lust, potentially Elemental Mastery, or making sure you use them when they'll have the best encounter uptime, there isn't much else to them. Not really any different from Mirror Images or Shadowfiend, either. Granted, we have two such cooldowns. But they do pack a wallop: Primal Fire Elemental makes up a good 10% of our total DPS, and Spirit Wolves another 10%.

As to other meaningful cooldowns, we have Ascendance, and potentially Elemental Mastery, which the author ignores both. Ascendence isn't a huge DPS boost, unless you're stuck at range in which case you're suddenly doing far more damage than you were previously. If you have a fight where you're going to be at range for a significant period, it might be useful to hold on to it. However, it's still probably better lining it up with Hero/Lust or Elemental Mastery.

Echo of the Elements versus Elemental Mastery is an interesting question. The haste gain from EM is amazing, especially if you want to get an extra cast or two of Windstrike with Ascendance, or can pair it with Liquid Magma. Echo, on the other hand, makes all your smaller cooldowns a lot more interesting.

So I disagree that our cooldowns aren't meaningful, or at least, I disagree with his definition of meaningful. If you ignore the cooldowns, your DPS will suffer greatly. However, I do agree that the fire and forget nature of the Elementals and Spirit Wolves doesn't really encourage much interplay with the rest of our toolkit, aside from cooldown stacking, and that means you may as well use them on cooldown. But this isn't unique to Enhancement; there aren't many cooldowns in WoW in general that are worth holding on to very long as a DPS.

A different issue I have with our cooldowns is how much of our damage is tied to the Fire Elemental as a totem. This is fine, mostly, for PvE, but in PvP? Totem stomp, and boom, all that DPS, gone. Annoying.

Too Many Rotational Buttons

This one is a bit more subjective. The author starts in this section by saying, "Instead of having meaningful cooldowns to use when we really need to burn something to the ground," which I've shown as incorrect in the previous section--our cooldowns do plenty of damage, Enhancement can still burst with the best of them.

However, his mention of making each individual ability worth more in our rotation is potentially bang on. Blizzard pruned the damage dealing aspects of Unleash Elements, but kept it in our rotation to give us self-buffs. It's still an important part of our rotation, though, because it interacts with Flame Shock and Fire Nova, and with Unleashed Fury makes Lightning Bolt hit a lot harder. Yeah, you're basically going to use Unleash Elements on cooldown, but it becomes interesting depending on if you're doing an AoE rotation versus a single target, or if you're spec'd into Unleashed Fury or Elemental Blast. The ability itself sets you up for interesting decisions down the road.

But we still have a lot of disparate sources of damage. I feel like we could lose Frost Shock from our rotation and not miss it much, and as we get higher values of haste, we're effectively pushing Frost Shock out of our rotation regardless.

We could probably be rid of Lightning Shield at this point, too. It makes up such a small amount of our DPS that missing it means you're not missing much. Windfury and Flametongue are extremely tiny portions of our DPS as well. We'd be missing a lot of flavour without those, though, but it would make each individual ability button we press more impactful, which is a valid complaint.

However, that being said, I enjoy the complexity of my rotation as Enhancement. If I wanted a simpler rotation, I'd play Retribution (which is effectively just Enhancement with fewer buttons in terms of core rotation play style). I've played games like Guild Wars where you only have 5 primary buttons, and it's boring. Boring, boring, boring. So please don't take away my buttons (except Frost Shock, feel free to run off with that). But perhaps they weren't aggressive enough with pruning passive sources of damage.

We're in a Pretty Solid Place

This is the part where we agree. We're actually in a pretty damn solid place overall as a spec. Sure, we're a bit weak in PvP (nerfing our self-healing by removing the mana benefits of Maelstrom Weapon what? Glad they reverted that...), and we're lagging every so slightly in single target DPS currently, but frankly not enough for 99% of the WoW population to be concerned about. If you're not in Paragon or Method, frankly, you should take a skilled Enhancement player over asking them to switch to a different spec that they're unfamiliar with.

For some reason, the image of Enhancement being terrible at single target DPS has persisted for much longer than we've actually been terrible--because we were in an awful place at the beginning of the expansion, make no mistake. But we're smack dab in the middle now, where the developers are aiming to have every class.

Yes, there are definitely improvements to be made. Fire totems, still too many passive sources of damage cluttering up our total DPS and making our buttons presses a little less effective. But overall, we're in a good place. #WorldOfWarcraft, #Enhancement


  1. As I've been playing Enhancement for my Warlords raiding tenure I've developed a love-hate attitude towards some of its aspects. On the one hand, it's really fun on certain fights (like Thogar, Tectus) to have periods of TONS OF DAMAGE b/c of the Fire Nova scaling, but at the same time, I hate that b/c it does seem to be the justification for us losing dps on single target. Few things frustrate me more as a DPS than doing everything I possibly can to maximize my damage but feeling like I come up short no matter what....and I'm a goblin, I know short. Perhaps they could tone down Fire Nova a little (each hit beyond first does X% less damage down to 0?).

    As for Cooldowns, I agree with the spirit of the BlizzW post; our cooldowns feel almost sideways compared to some of the simple "Increases your damage by X for Y seconds" types that some classes do. Of the default ones, two of them have a utility effect (pretty good HP regen from wolves and range from Ascendant) that make them seem like they should be saved for certain situations, but they DO increase damage thus sitting on them hurts you overall. The Fire Elemental...while fun in practice, has the problem you identified with all Fire Totems, they're just sort of another thing to upkeep that you don't really interact with.

    On the rotation front, it does feel very involved. Maybe I'm lazy but I kind of like having brief moments of downtime. I don't get much of that w/ enhancement b/c usually in those moments I should be casting lightning bolt (except on the RARE occasions where I am not getting maelstorm charges but those are a blue-moon sort of deal). I also hate how Frost Shock feels tacked on to the rotation and doesn't feel very meaningful. On the other hand "Shocks" were always such a big part of the Shaman identity that taking them out feels wrong. Even if Frost did get removed, I suspect people would just replace it w/ Flame Shock (with added concern now of making sure you don't clip your ticks). Short version, I would love to see maybe one thing removed to give us an occasional moment to pause (and not feel like I am constantly wrestling GCDs).

    I apologize for my overuse of () in this comment, it's late. Also, sorry for mad rambling.

    1. "I hate that b/c it does seem to be the justification for us losing dps on single target."
      ~Except we're not losing single target DPS. We're comparable to everyone else. That's my point.

      As to getting a GCD back or two, sure, that's fine. We could also get that by increasing a couple of the cooldown timers on Stormstrike/Lava Lash, and making it worth less to hard-cast lightning bolt (reduce Enhance's base damage with LB, meaning you'll have to wait for a couple MW charges to make it worth casting, and perhaps increase the MW bonus to LB). Boom, more GCDs without removing abilities.

    2. I'd be fine with slightly longer cooldowns if they meant increased damage on the individual hit, sounds like a good idea.

      "I hate that b/c it does seem to be the justification for us losing dps on single target."
      ~Except we're not losing single target DPS. We're comparable to everyone else. That's my point.

      I should have phrased it better but I meant from a development standpoint. Yes our DPS is comparable right now (with some issues at Mythic as you pointed out), but having that "AoE damage" niche could end up a reason for Blizz to hold back on any other buffs or push up other classes. AoE superiority has historically been brought up as a reason not to buff single target.