Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Buffs > Nerfs: Why no one’s Griping about the ICC Raid Buffs

When my guild sets foot into Icecrown Citadel tonight we will find that Varian Wrynn, impatient with our progress against the forces of the Lich King, will have increased his assistance to us by another 5%. The Strength of Wrynn will now grant us 20% increased health, 20% increased damage, and 20% increased heals. I expect my World of Logs ranking for Marrowgar-10, initially 14th, will drop even more as more Holy Paladins blast out ever-larger heals.

On the face of it, a buff to a player’s DPS is pretty much the same as an equivalent nerf to a boss’s health points. When Blizzard dropped the pre-Wrath patch on October 15, 2008, they were roundly blasted by the community for cutting all existing raid boss’s health and damage by 30% (never mind that the nerf was needed since those bosses were designed to square off against players with talents, spells and special abilities that were changed or gone entirely). Many players on the forums to this day define themselves as having killed this boss or cleared that raid ‘pre-nerf’ as opposed to ‘post-nerf’, and I can think of at least one guild leader on my realm who was roundly ridiculed on the forums and in trade chat for getting his Kael kill a week after 3.0.2 dropped (I was actually there for it). Even today you’ll see people establish their raiding credentials by proudly proclaiming that they got Firefighter ‘when it mattered’ (i.e., pre-nerf).

Interestingly enough, this sort of posturing and positioning does not extend to Icecrown Citadel, at least not on my server. The day the first 5% buff went live, a thread popped up on our realm: ‘Icecrown raid buff today – will you use it?’ The overwhelming response? ‘Hell, yes!’ The most tempered response from one guild was ‘If everyone else uses it, we will, too.’ By and large there was no complaining about it, no grousing about Blizzard trivializing content or making it so that everyone could get the epics that only the cream of the crop should have. This is in quite the contrast to the response to many boss and raid nerfs of the past, or increases in Badge/Emblem drop rates for that matter. My own guild only briefly considered the question when I threw it out there, and voted overwhelmingly to run with it. (And here’s a caveat: We were 6/12 when the first 5% went in, having killed Rotface for the first time the night before; it took us another 2 months and an additional 10% buff to get our next two bosses. /shame)

What is the reason for this relative silence on the matter? For my realm I suspect at least part of it is because, at the time of the first buff, no guild had killed Arthas on 25, and only 4 had succeeded in 10’s. Since most hardcore raiders view 25’s as the Gold Standard, no one had the ultimate bragging rights, no one could talk shit about anyone else. As the number of guilds clearing the instance rose with each successive buff, there was no slagging in either the official progression thread or in trade chat, likely because everyone needed at least some buff to get the kill in the first place. For once people seemed to follow the maxim about glass houses and stone throwing.

Second, and maybe more importantly, is that this was a buff to players, and not a nerf to the encounters. The people that it mainly helped were the people who were skirting the edge. Consider Festergut-10 for example. Ignoring the dps contributions of tanks (which is considerable with 9 stacks of Gastric Bloat) and healers (which is pretty insignificant, for the most part) the six dps (assuming a 2-2-6 composition) have to average 5229 dps to kill him at the enrage timer. The original 5% buff would give groups that were stuck and averaging 5000 dps just a little bit of a boost, perhaps enough to get the kill, provided that they did everything right. A raid team that is either far under geared, or far under skilled and was doing 4500 dps would still not be able to kill him, as that 5% buff would only up their dps to 4752 – not enough. Even at 15%, players eking out 4500 dps without the buff wouldn’t be able to push it up enough to get a kill, though the new 20% should allow them to. The 5-10-15 buffs were enough to help push some folks over the bar, but if those groups were barely killing Festergut with the buff, they would likely not be able to kill Putricide or the other end bosses, at least not until they farmed some more gear or figured out how to do 5K dps unbuffed.

At the same time, the boss’s abilities have stayed the same – in other words, they are hitting just as hard and fast as ever, and using all of their special abilities in the same manner. What has changed is they are hitting players that have been buffed by a little bit in health. Consider Festergut again. On a recent fight at 3 inhales our tank took the following damage:

[21:37:25.167] Festergut hits Tanky 15097 (B: 3078)
[21:37:26.086] Festergut Gastric Bloat Tanky Absorb (8275)
[21:37:26.086] Tanky afflicted by Gastric Bloat (3) from Festergut
[21:37:27.179] Festergut hits Tanky 16712 (A: 2044)
[21:37:28.114] YoursTruly Holy Light Tanky +15815
[21:37:28.114] Festergut hits Tanky 16381
[21:37:28.940] Retadin Divine Storm Tanky +1124
[21:37:29.113] Festergut hits Tanky 17803

Without the 15% health buff, Tanky stood at 48,592 health; with the buff 51,168. The first three hits did a total of 48,190 damage. Tanky would have been hanging by a thread without that key heal (and the block and absorbs), but it would have taken the exact same number of hits, with or without the buff, to kill him. Sometimes the buff will make a difference, sometimes it won’t, but the difference between life and death is small. Up to this point, the raid buff to health may save a life for one more hit or one more tick of the DoT, but it hasn’t allowed most groups to sail through the content.

Ultimately I believe that’s why the raid buff has been largely shrugged off by the masses: Because it hasn’t to this point trivialized the content. You still have to execute, in some cases to perfection, to beat the raid encounters. Even with 15% extra health you have to kill the Bone Spikes, stay out of Death and Decay, kite the Gas Cloud and avoid the Malleable Goo. You have to heal through the Mark of the Fallen Champions and pass on the Vampire Bite, and kill the Suppressors. The buffs have given us just a little bit of a boost; given us just a hair more time to live and get out of the fire, but they haven’t just picked us up and carried us through, and that’s a good thing. I expect as the buffs increase there will come a point where you really will be able to ignore some of these effects, and then we’ll hear some complaining. Hopefully I will have earned my Kingslayer title before that day comes, or before Blizzard decides that they really DO need to increase the cooldown on Gastric Bloat, or change Putricide so that he only casts one Unstable Experiment per phase – you know, when they nerf it for real. THAT’S when you’ll see the real complaints.


  1. There's a part of me that hopes and wishes that they won't nerf the ICC instances, if only because by the time I'm ready to raid, Cata will be impending and that's when it'll be most likely to happen.

    On the other hand, with the ways that they're changing things (ESPECIALLY healing, from the looks of it), no one would be able to take the bosses anymore - just like with the BC raids being nerfed because they were meant to be played with certain talents and abilities.

    I can't say I LIKE the idea of it getting nerfed, but I also like this buff, giving that last little push so that a few good (but JUST shy of able to clear) guilds and players can proudly announce, post-nerf, that they got Kingslayer "when it mattered". Because it IS something to be proud of, even if I don't think that giving people a hard time for getting kills post-nerf is cool.

  2. I do expect that ICC will get nerfed for exactly the reasons you state. Mana is going to matter again and there are plenty of fights where I spend the bulk of my time spamming Holy Light desperately, because bosses are hitting like Festergut, 20K every second or so. From everything I read about Cataclysm I will not be able to do that. We'll see.

    The buff is a nice way to do this, I think. At some point it will make many encounters trivial for some groups, but not all. Even with a 20% buff, we still couldn't take down Putricide last night (interestingly enough, we had a <2% wipe on him a couple of weeks ago and I'm sure if we had that extra 5% we would have won the day), as we had a new Bumble tank who had a lot of trouble with the slime puddles, and we were a little clumsyon dealing with oozes.

  3. I have no problem with the buff on normal mode, and I genuinely think it's a good thing that it enables more people to see this amazing content that might otherwise have been unavailable to them. I don't like having it on heroic mode though: I think the fights should have tuned on heroic mode to be doable, *just*, without the buff and with superb play. It shouldn't be easy :)

    I disagree with you that 'the buffs have given us just a little bit of a boost; given us just a hair more time to live and get out of the fire, but they haven’t just picked us up and carried us through'. My 10 man group started working on heroic modes before the 5% buff, and we struggled a lot with some of them; the buffs have made a significant difference to how easy these fights are, beyond the difference our improved gear and experience give, and it just seems a shame to see how easy they've become.

    I really like the fact that raid content is now available to a far wider audience. Before TBC I was a casual player that could never dream of seeing raids, and I think it's fantastic that if I was in that position now I would be able to. Even with the buff normal mode still requires a reasonable standard of play and team work, and people should be proud of their achievements there. But as a more hard core raider now, I want to defeat the hard mode content as I originally encountered through increased personal and team performance and not because it's been made easier for me.