Proving Grounds - All Gold: A Personal Challenge. Part 1
With all raiding content for the expansion complete and the prospect for a free boosted (to level 90) character per account (I have two!), I have recently set out to complete the gold wave in proving grounds for all 34 specs in the game. A monumental task! For both Mists of Pandaria and Cataclysm I have managed to have a max level character of every class, and wasn't too far off from this at the end of Wrath of the Lich King. But for most of those I was only learning one spec per class and, let's be honest, I didn't necessarily know them very well just by leveling with them either. Several of them were dropped as soon as I reached max level and were never actually challenged in any way. By setting this goal I am dedicating myself not just to roughly triple the number of specs I have some familiarity with, but also to achieving an explicit, minimal level of proficiency with each of them.
I was initially inspired to do this after boosting a holy paladin - a spec I had never played before - to 90. I spent about 30-60 minutes setting up my UI and reading spells, and then flew through bronze and silver. Gold required more work - I picked up all the timeless gear I could (I had a huge stash), enchanted, gemmed, flasked, reforged and then practiced. I had to wipe a lot to pick up a bit of the nuances but I still finished gold in an afternoon. Previously I thought it would be nice to get gold on all of my frequently played alts, but now I had a new goal - get gold on all specs.
Fortunately I don't exactly have to pull myself up by my own bootstraps here. Most importantly, I have been playing this game for years with the vast majority of it at a competitive level, so I have a good foundation in abstract theory that will translate to any spec I play. This is especially true for DPS specs, but not entirely unique to them; regardless, I have several general healer and tricks that I know as well. I also have access to several guides that give me a quick overview of stat priorities, gems/enchants, talents, and rotations. Obviously these aren't tailored to a proving ground/challenge mode environment where you are scaled down to item level 463, but it's a great starting point. Blizzard's tooltips and class design are also in the best state they've ever been in, so it's easy to get a lot of clear information in game and either look up playstyle theory on an external source, or develop my own.
There is a fourth point that is so important it gets its own paragraph - developing a suitable UI. I had some fun a few months back customizing a UI for an enhancement shaman I had lying around on a dead server that I decided to level on a whim. For the most part, I do not like drastically different graphical set ups for each spec. Different timers and auras for sure, but the main components are in the same areas. But I took the opportunity with this enhancement shaman to tweak some areas that I thought could be displayed better. I had a list of "rotational" ability CDs (spells and attacks that had a 10s or less cooldown), one of which was actually dependent on a proc not a CD, that I needed to keep track of. Stormstrike, Earth/Flame Shock, Lava Lash, Maelstrom Weapon, Unleash Elements - and sometimes Fire Nova. All of these were tied to keybinds I thought were the most convenient, but they didn't necessarily appear together graphically on my action bar display. I spent a lot of time tweaking various WeakAura and Bartender ideas before eventually settling on a click-through bar that displays all of them in Bartender, with one blank button where I tossed in a WeakAura for Maelstrom Weapon. The entire bar was placed in a centralized location, between where I had moved my character and target frames. This gives me a prominent display of cooldown, proc, range information, and any other conditionals (like perhaps mana) that would be relevant. I did something similar for another bar which shows all of my long term CDs like Fire Elemental Totem and Spirit Wolves, placing that one underneath my character frame.
Most importantly, this general UI design has proven highly adaptable for each spec I have played. Again, each spec has some unique timers (I use NeedToKnow) and WeakAuras I want to set up, but these two specials bars are the workhorse. In some I don't actually use the middle bar because there just aren't any real rotational CDs - rogues and feral druids come to mind here - more on them in their own sections. For healers, I just drag the raid frame into a more prominent location so I can easily mouseover heal.
Spec-agnostic UI Concepts
- The character and target frames are displayed about 65% down the center axis. They mirror each other across the center axis, with some space between them.
- In the space between them, a special click-through bar (that is, this is for display only with no keybinds set to it) shows "rotational" CDs (~10s or less). This is near to my character, but not obscuring.
- Cast bar just below that
- Another click-through special bar for long CDs, both healing/damage throughput and utility, displayed just below the character frame
- Timers for any dots/hots/buffs/debuffs I need to track displayed just above the character frame
I have two main personal goals I want to accomplish with this project. For one, I just want to have fun playing a spec I don't normally play. I really have no interest in getting a full set of gear or doing organized group play for ALL of these specs - that would just be completely impractical. Normally I have my main raids (and tons of other activities) on my hunter, a "main alt" that I have a dedicated group for, and then a couple of other alts that I might do activities with on a more leisurely schedule. But I still like to dabble in other classes and specs - what can I do with them that does not require a large time investment? I could run LFR and 5-mans to get slightly better gear. Sometimes I do indeed do these, but a lot of it feels hollow - there is basically no challenge and gear acquisition generally does not keep up with new patches/xpacs invalidating it for the time I'm willing to allot to these characters. Flex is more promising these days, but still requires some group organization that is not negligible, and frankly isn't much more challenging than LFR. But proving grounds are perfect - doing gold means I am actually coming away with some understanding of the class, not just loot. And of course it is solo play, so completely on my own time - I can do it whenever I want without having to plan ahead (or letting people down).
The second goal is to develop a better idea of the "big picture" in WoW. I think most high end PvE players tend to have at least a basic understanding of every spec, at least to the point of their common raid-wide utility and buffs, strengths and weaknesses. High end PvP players probably know the details of these even better, at least in terms of their pvp relevance, since that is basically what they are learning while PvE players are learning to perform 40-50 compositions per expansion. I want to expand on my knowledge here. I want to know not just what each spell is but exactly how it's used and why. The hope is that it will give me a deeper understanding of the game as a whole, which I can use to better understand group strategies and to interpret my own class in that context.
I lied - there's a third goal. I want to do it to prove that I'm good enough to do it. Let's not pretend pride and status are not factors here, and being able to do this for every single spec would feel really cool. Perhaps the old Pandaren quote is relevant here: "May you find mastery in your passions."
If you take a look at my other WoW posts or see me in game, you can see I've been spending a lot of time in the proving grounds. Back in 5.4 beta I spent a lot of time working on endless on my hunter and writing a guide for wowhead. One of my biggest non-raid WoW goals was to get wave 30-endless on damage dealer, healer, and tank - which I did not too long ago after finally figuring out how to tank on my monk. It can be incredibly frustrating at times, but I keep finding myself coming back to the proving grounds on alts. It's been a lot of fun and I've become a better player at several specs.
By the time I decided to start this project I had already completed endless wave-30 on hunter, shaman (restoration), and monk (brewmaster). Since then I've also done it as a frost mage (not too bad) and an elemental shaman (really, really hard). It is definitely dependent on class/spec, but for the most part, wave-30 is in a completely separate class from gold. I might be able to do it for every spec, but we're talking about an exponential increase in hours spent - very far beyond the scope of this project. That said, gold is by no means a pushover accomplishment. In every case so far I've learned a lot about those specs - and specs I've previously done it on. What was challenging for one becomes trivial for another, but now I'm facing entirely new issues I never had to deal with before. The continuing parts of this series will be almost entirely spec-specific, but in many cases I will try to offer insight into what it indirectly taught me about other specs.