Getting Into Theorycrafting

January 15, 2014

The idea for this post came from a Twitter discussion between myself, Poneria (author of the Warlock column on WoW Insider), Dayani (author of Healiocentric), and Theck (author of Sacred Duty) about how someone should start theorycrafting. Something that was brought up is that noobie theorycrafters find it far too daunting of a hobby to get into. So I thought I’d share with you how I got started, and maybe you can take some inspiration from it.

In an Expansion Far Far Away….

Some (or most) of you may not actually know this, but I only started seriously “theorycrafting” at the tail end of Wrath. As you may or may not remember when the pre-Cataclysm patch hit, Swipe was doing basically no damage. It was actually causing some pretty significant problems for Bear tanks (including myself) that were still dallying around in ICC. I looked around the on the forums, and didn’t see anything that would explain why this had started happening. Since nobody else appeared to be doing anything, I took it upon myself to do some digging. Back then I didn’t do any sort of empirical evidence gathering – or turn out to be right even – I did dig deep enough to get a response from a Blizzard CM. That got me noticed by a couple people you might know. Reesi and Fasc.

I had gotten a taste of what it felt like to be recognized…..and to be honest I liked it. I wanted to pursue it a bit further. So naturally the first step was to learn more about combat mechanics. I had a bit of an understanding based on the years of experience already playing the game. I knew what the various stats did but I didn’t really study them in great detail. So I took the next step.


I took Fasc’s spreadsheet (at the time) and started playing with it. I learned what each of the stats did, how they interacted, coefficients, ratios, the list goes on. This knowledge helped me find defects in the spreadsheet and help Fasc fix them. Not only that, but once I understood how Armor worked, I moved on to what would be my first serious bit of theorycrafting.

Back in Catactlysm beta Astrylian had started a thread on EJ for basic storage and updating of Guardian information. During Cataclysm beta it quickly became evident that this information was not being kept up-to-date. I found that abilities were not doing the amount of damage they should’ve been doing, at least according to the listed AP coefficients. Since Astrylian was no longer updating his post, I decided that I might as well start doing tests myself. This lead to what is now known as the DPS/TPS Spreadsheet which you can find in the menu above. Not only that, but it would also lead to determining what the ideal DPS rotation was for Bears in both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. Tangedyn and Yawning would go on to use this information in Mew, and most recently Pawkets has been using it to keep SimC updated.

None of that would’ve happened if I didn’t first take the time to learn WoW’s combat system, and how it affected my class. Pretty much all of that information is available somewhere on the internet nowadays for your particular class and spec. A quick Google search is usually all you need to get started.

It’s All About Accuracy

One of the things that will make or break a serious attempt at theorycrafting is accuracy. I’ve previously mentioned that my first attempt wasn’t even remotely accurate, primarily because there was no practical way to gather the data to make a diagnosis. For most of you out there, this is not the case. There aren’t any ambiguous mysteries left in this game, and any that are introduced are swiftly clarified by Blizzard themselves. Therefore it comes down to making sure that the data you’re presenting is actually accurate. The two methods that I use the most to ensure accuracy are In-Game Experimentation and Peer Review.

In-game experimentation is actually relatively simple, and usually involves things like target dummies. For example the method of verifying the AP ratio on a physical attack reduced by Armor:

  1. Strip all gear and buffs.
  2. Use the ability on one of the respawning target dummies in a starting area (I used Stormwind). These dummies have 0 armor – verified by testing for a difference in damage between a dummy affected by Weakened Armor and one that wasn’t).
  3. Add various levels of gear and repest (2).
  4. Compile the results and determine the slope. This is your AP modifier.
  5. Check the slope by calculating the damage value from AP at various levels of gear. If all have the same base damage, you have the correct slope and your damage equation.

Of course, when you’re presenting your information it’s a general rule that you will include your data and your methods so that they can be replicated by others. That way they’ll know you’re right.

Peer review is the act of asking someone to look over your work. For the information I compiled on trinkets in ToT, I asked Theck and Hamlet to look over it to make sure I had done it right. Since they were the ones that did the original proofs (one of them even at my request – remember Talisman of Bloodlust?), it made sense to ask them for a little help. It’s worth pointing out that asking someone in private – in game or a DM over Twitter – is much different than doing it publicly. Most theorycrafters are actually quite nice, and are very willing to help out when asked. However when you do ask for peer review, don’t harass the person you’re asking. We’re typically a very busy bunch. Here’s a general overview of the projects I have going on right now:

  • Writing Blog Posts for TiB
  • Hosting, Scheduling, and Recording TWP
  • Moderating and Responding to TiB Forums
  • Checking in on the Official, MMOC, Icy-Veins, and EJ Forums
  • Running a Heroic 10m Raid Team
  • Creating Video Guides
  • Streaming

And that’s just the WoW related stuff. We’re very busy people. Nice, but busy. We’re happy to help, but if you ask us you can’t harass us to get it done for you. If you don’t hear anything in a week or so, it’s fine to just check in and see how things are going. But if you nag us daily or something else equally ridiculous, you will swiftly become ignored.

Remember if you want anyone to take you seriously – be it your audience or someone reviewing your work – you must be professional.

Hello Bears!

As Arielle posted over at, the Guardian Roundtable is upon us again!! Full post below:

Since it’s almost beta season, that means it’s time again for another session of our Roundtable series. Our 2nd group this time around is going to be Guardians! Who will be here?

  • Arielle – Host and Moderator
  • Buraan – Writer for The Inconspicuous Bear. GM and Tank for Divergent-EU. Finished West #52 10m, and is now re-progressing in 25m.
  • Ahanss – Tank PG Top Scorer, Soloer Extraordinaire, and tank for Eighty Six.
  • Kartog – Tank for Seriously Casual and TiB Forumite.
  • Fatsteak – Tank for Defenestrate. Finished West #68 / US #18 25m.

As before we will talk about the current state of Guardian Druids, what the panelists would like to see changed, talents, glyphs, and tactics. As always we’ll close with an open Q&A session with questions submitted by the community.

I’d also like to mention that I’ll keep my interjection to a minimum this time around, since everyone already knows what I think. You’re really just listening to hear what others have to think too :)

Do you have a question you’d like to have the panelists discuss on the show? Post it in the comments.

I didn’t mean to leave it until I had four, that’s just the way it worked out.

If your character could time travel, where would they go?

When she was born. While Arielle made peace long ago with the fact that she’s an orphan, she would still like to know who her parents were.

Is your character superstitious?

In the biggest possible way I can say this, No. Arielle is a creature of logic and rolls her eyes at superstition. If something hasn’t been proven to be true, she doesn’t behave as if it is.

What might your character’s ideal romantic partner be?

Not even Arielle knows the answer to this. She has no desire for children, and has no time for romantic nonsense. She spends far too much time fighting evil and learning from Ursoc to be concerned about such things.

Describe your character’s hands. Are they small, long, calloused, smooth, stubby?

Her hands resemble those of most Night Elf warriors. Long and slender, but with a strength that belies their appearance.

I think I prefer doing these a couple days at a time. More fun that way.

Does your character have any irrational fears?

No. She has very rational fears of losing her friends, but nothing that would be defined as “irrational”.

What would your character’s CUTIE MARK be?

I legitimately had no idea what the heck this was before today. I guess probably a paw print.

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the sorts of changes that I’d like to see happen to Guardians in Warlords of Draenor. Most of this was admittedly triggered by Theck’s Post on his blog. While I will never be as witty as Theck – which admittedly would be pretty much impossible – but I can be sort of blunt and endearing in my own way. Of course a thread got started on this topic before I had a chance to get my real thoughts out there, but what the hey. It’s my site (not really) and I’ll do what I want.

Basically this is going to be a thought vomit post. I have no real structure planned, more just covering topics as they appear in my brain. In any case, let’s get started!

Mastery and Damage Smoothing

Damage smoothing is one of those odd properties that’s never really been a problem in 10H, but has consistently been a problem in 25H until Siege of Orgrimmar. Guardians have always been the tank that scales the least as content increases, since we have no percentage based damage reduction beyond armor. We have really strong base mitigation, but preform poorly against encounters that either ignore it, or have some sort of mechanic that drastically increases incoming damage throughout the encounter. Solving this problem is approached from several directions:

  • Consolidation to 1 raid size (Mythic 20man).
  • New Mastery.
  • Adjustments to Tooth and Claw.

The first change is obviously already happening. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that we’re getting a new Mastery in Warlords. But what could this Mastery look like? First we should look at some of the requirements for a tank Mastery specifically:

  • Plays into active mitigation abilities.
  • Scales with content.
  • Physical damage reduction only.
  • Functions as a “damage smoothing” mechanic.
  • Guaranteed damage reduction.

The current +armor Mastery meets 4 of those requirements, but fails the “active mitigation” test. So how would we fix it? Having it affect Savage Defense and/or Frenzied Regen doesn’t meet all of those requirements so it would have to be something new. Well what about Tooth and Claw? What if some incarnation of it became our Mastery? Consider the following:

  • Tooth and Claw no longer triggers from outgoing melee attacks.
  • Tooth and Claw now procs when you take non-AoE physical damage.
  • When active, Tooth and Claw reduces the Rage cost of Maul to 0, and resets the CD on Maul. Lasts 15 seconds and expires when Maul is next used.
  • When Tooth and Claw is applied to a target it reduces single-target physical damage dealt by the target by Y% for X (probably 3) seconds, increased by Mastery.

Something like this solves multiple problems with one – admittedly large – stone. Obviously there are a number of possible permutations for a new Mastery, but this is just something that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while.

For what it’s worth Mastery will also have to increase our damage output in the new “Tanks are 75% of a DPS” paradigm. Easy way to do that? Make it increase bleed damage just like Feral. Done.

Rage Generation

There are a few items that fall under this umbrella. The first thing I want to discuss is how the overwhelming majority – more than 75% – of our RPS comes passively from autoattacks. That isn’t fun to me. Something like the Warrior model where you press buttons to generate Rage makes more sense. Pressing Mangle is exciting because you know when you’re going to get Rage. Unless you have an autoattack timer you’re really just buttclenching until more Rage shows up. So if we were to remove Rage generation from autoattacks, where would it go?

We also have these other pretty iconic Guardian bleeds – Lacerate and Thrash. Lacerate stacks to 3, for no real reason anymore other than damage. What if there was a more important benefit? What if it increased Rage generation somehow? What if bleed ticks generated Rage? While also being sort of passive, it also requires action on the part of the player rather than just making sure you have a target, that it’s in front of you, and within range.

This means that Thrash would likely need to go back to its original 6 second duration for Guardians, which is fine really. You already use it that often in AoE anyway, and it would make the single target rotation more interesting. An alternative is to bring back Pulverize in some form, although that may be drifting too far into the realm of “maintenancey buff” that players generally don’t like.

The second item that’s primarily Rage generation related is the purpose of Enrage. It just doesn’t feel important beyond the first raid tier of an expansion. Sure you use it sometimes but a fixed value Rage ability isn’t very fun. What if it instead increased Rage generation for a period of time? Basically I’m talking about changing it into the 4t15 set bonus, maybe even a direct replacement. It would make sense to take it off the GCD at that point – I mean heck it should be off the GCD already anyway.

Global Cooldown

Probably the change that I want the most is a normalization of the GCD to 1 second for all tanks. A 1.5s GCD as a tank is an eternity, and I’m always jealous of Protection Paladins and Brewmaster Monks and their short GCD. Having played Feral and a high-haste caster in the past, it just feels much more fluid to me. This would have a secondary effect of making Rage generation more granular, which would be great improvement to the very “blocky” implementation we have now especially at really high Crit levels.

Of course if we go down to a 1 second GCD, it goes without saying that the cooldowns on Lacerate, Maul, and Swipe would need to be removed.

Vengeance and Cat Form

This is kind of a braindead change, but since Vengenace will no longer grant Attack Power, there’s no reason to have it be cleared when you shift into Cat Form. This makes Displacer Beast substantially more attractive as a Guardian, not to mention things like Dash and HotW Cat DPS.


Dear god. Please, please, please, please, please fix Force of Nature. It’s a simple 2-step change:

  1. Make them scale off of weapon damage and attack power.
  2. Make them re-taunt their current target when they lose aggro instead of YOUR DAMN CURRENT TARGET. This has caused me no end in frustration.

Boom. Done. Force of Nature fixed.

What do you think? Anything in particular you want to see changed? Definitely check out the thread linked above for more detailed discussion.