We don’t alter classes lightly, and every change comes only after a great deal of player feedback, developer thought, and careful analysis. We also know that while class changes can help keep things fresh, they can also mean that there’s a need to re-learn things about your character that you thought you already knew. We want to make this process clearer, more understandable, and easier to adapt to as we move into patch 5.2, so I’ll be working with World of Warcraft Lead Systems Designer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street to write a short blog series that will provide an overview of the important changes coming to each class.
Many of the 5.2 patch notes fall into two main categories: balance tuning and talent adjustments. Unless we called out a specific reason otherwise, you can assume that the various +10% or -10% adjustments you’ll see in the patch notes were made to keep all of the specs where we want them in 5.2. In some cases these are changes to reflect the different environment in 5.2 with new gear and set bonuses. In other cases, we are correcting issues we found in patch 5.1.
In terms of talent adjustments, while we’re still happy overall with the Mists of Pandaria talent overhaul, we do recognize that there were some talents that weren’t tuned as well as they could be or just weren’t attractive. That’s not to say that all talents should be all things to all players all the time; some talents are situationally quite attractive, and we’re happy with those. On the other hand, others just never see much use and we would rather provide players real options for each talent tier.
Note: The purpose of these blogs is mostly to provide an overview of the design intentions behind our 5.2 changes, rather than to detail the thought process behind every individual note. You can refer to the patch notes for specific changes and numbers.
Part 1 - Death Knight, Druid, and Hunter
We had three main goals:
- Make some less attractive talents more compelling.
- Improve quality of life for Unholy Death Knights.
- Give a small PvP buff.
To address some issues with less attractive talents, you’ll see buffs to Death Siphon (more damage dealt) and Conversion (less Runic Power over time).
Unholy’s quality of life changes were mostly to solve the problem of “orphaned” runes. A Death Knight would, for example, Blood Boil twice and then Scourge Strike, leaving two Frost Runes, which weren’t sufficient to use Festering Strike. Now Icy Touch activates Reaping, which will allow those Frost Runes to convert to Death Runes. We also made Plague Strike apply Frost Fever to reduce the need to use Icy Touches. We also made Summon Gargoyle no longer cost Runic Power and changed the damage done to both Shadow and Nature to synergize better with Unholy’s Mastery, Dreadblade.
While we think Death Knights are in a good place in PvP overall, we did agree with the feedback that Strangulate has a very long cooldown for what it does, so we lowered its cooldown and also lowered Asphyxiate to match. Finally, it is worth pointing out that the tier 14 2-piece ended up being overbudget to the extent that we were concerned DKs would keep using it in the 5.2 raid. We nerfed the set bonus and buffed Death Knights to compensate. Blood is in a good place overall, but we did buff Blood Parasite dramatically, because it was just undertuned.
We wanted to:
- Make some unattractive talents more compelling.
- Slightly reduce Feral’s effectiveness in PvP.
- Improve Restoration slightly in PvP and PvE.
- Give a bump to non-Restoration Druid healing in PvP.
We addressed Feral in PvP by adding a cooldown to Cyclone. Now Feral won’t gain such frequent use of free Cyclones through Predatory Swiftness, but can still benefit from the proc for heals. We initially tried a few different mechanics to prevent Cat Form from stacking speed benefits to a ridiculous level, but that left Druids feeling like they were being penalized for taking the Feline Swiftness talent (which many of them didn’t take, even in PvP). We ended up with Feline Swiftness not stacking with the PvP set bonus. We’re keeping a close eye on Feral’s damage output in PvP, but we didn’t make any changes for 5.2.
Restoration’s buffs include an across-the-board buff to healing, as well as mana savings on Rejuvenation. We think that some of Restoration’s performance issues were actually caused by Discipline Priests being so dominant (since absorb shields are better at “sniping” heals than even Heal over Time effects), but we still wanted to make sure that Druids were competitive healers, so we increased their healing by 10% through the Naturalist Passive. Rejuvenation is an iconic Restoration spell. While we don’t want druids to do nothing but spam Rejuv, we don’t feel like it was getting enough use overall. We redesigned Wild Mushroom to benefit from the overhealing that can occur with Heal over Time spells. Now, the new mushrooms allow a Druid to “bank” overhealing, and then unleash it when the Mushrooms bloom.
Balance and Feral should also see a boost to PvP healing effectiveness because we’re allowing 25% of PvP Power’s benefit to increase their healing output (versus 50% for Restoration druids).
Hunters overall are in a good place in PvE and PvP. We wanted to:
- Make unattractive talents more compelling. (Notice a theme?)
- Improve Marksmanship’s viability.
In terms of talents, we felt like Silencing Shot was too powerful so we increased its cooldown slightly, while removing the Focus costs of the competing talents: Binding Shot and Wyvern Sting. We also recognized the community’s frustrations with using Powershot so we rebuilt it so it would reliably hit even moving targets.
We reduced the cast time of Aimed Shot partially as a quality of life change for Marksmanship, and partially to buff the spec’s damage output. We also increased Chimera Shot’s self-healing to give Marksmanship Hunters a small distinct niche compared to Survival and Beast Mastery.
Nearly every Hunter felt like they had to take the Glyph of Marked for Death, so we made the glyph’s effects baseline, removed the glyph, and replaced it with the new Glyph of Liberation that provides a moderate heal when Disengage is used.
Part 2 - Mage, Paladin, and Priest
We set out to accomplish a few goals with Mages:
- Despite various adjustments along the way, Frost Mages are still too powerful in PvP and not quite competitive in PvE.
- Our changes to Arcane in patch 5.1 overshot the mark and also needed some changes.
- While we wanted to make some less attractive talents more attractive, we also weren’t satisfied with the Mage talent tree.
We had two problems we wanted to solve with Arcane. The first was that Scorch was never intended to be rotational for Arcane to avoid having to dump stacks of Arcane Charges. Arcane is intended to build up charges but then dump them when the mana drain gets too high, but Scorch allowed Arcane Mages to avoid that cycle, which inflated their damage as a consequence. However, we also wanted to tweak a previous change where we increased Arcane Charges up to a max stack of 6. Dumping a stack of 6 is painful because it takes a long time to build it back up again, so in 5.2 we are lowering the stack size to 4.
Scorch was a big design problem for us for other reasons. It feels really good to have something to cast while moving, even if it’s a DPS loss overall. Many mages were taking Scorch for reasons beyond the Arcane Charge stacking issue above. At the same time, the talent tree also suffered a problem where Blazing Speed couldn’t compete with Temporal Shield or Ice Barrier. We had hoped to position Blazing Speed as a defensive ability, but really it’s a mobility talent, and we think it makes more sense alongside Presence of Mind and Ice Floes, which also offer mobility in one way or another. Instead of replacing Blazing Speed with Scorch, we just gave Scorch to Fire mages, which also helps differentiate the specs a bit more. Instead, now Mages have a new talent, Flameglow, which is a passive defensive option that absorbs some damage from each hit, and fits in thematically alongside Temporal Shield and Ice Barrier.
Paladins are pretty solid overall. Still, we had a few issues to address:
- We wanted to make less attractive talents more attractive.
- Holy was too dominant in PvP.
- Retribution wasn’t performing as well in PvP.
Protection received few changes; we like how they are doing overall. One small change was to make Grand Crusader benefit from dodges and parries as well, so that Paladins would benefit more from stats that were going to appear on their tanking gear anyway.
Priests received several changes to address a few problems:
- We wanted to make less attractive talents more attractive.
- Discipline performed too well in PvE, but under-performed in PvP.
- Shadow was too good in PvP, but solid in PvE, so we didn’t want the nerfs to spill over much.
Discipline required more work. In raiding particularly, Discipline priests were using an effective but boring “rotation” of casting almost nothing but Prayer of Healing (with a guaranteed Divine Aegis) while using Spirit Shell on cooldown. Doing so allowed them to prevent more damage than anyone else was capable of healing. Our first change was to make Spirit Shell no longer benefit from mastery. When Spirit Shell absorbs for 50% more than it would have healed for, it just becomes a button to use on cooldown, while we’d rather it was used as a situational ability that’s triggered when absorbs make the most sense. We also wanted to see Discipline using spells other than Prayer of Healing.
As with Restoration Druids, we don’t want Disc to be casting nothing but Power Word: Shield, but we do want Power Word: Shield to be a major button in their arsenal, which wasn’t the case in 5.1. To accomplish this, we reduced the cost of Power Word: Shield and now allow it to crit, but we also redesigned Divine Aegis so that Prayer of Heal spamming would no longer be the right answer for every situation. Divine Aegis now requires a critical on Prayer of Healing to activate, but when it procs it applies a bubble instead of doubling the heal (essentially Discipline’s crits are 100% heal and 100% bubble instead of a 200% heal). We also changed their mastery to affect both heals and absorption so that their mastery wasn’t only beneficial after a crit. In addition, we buffed Penance, which is an iconic spell for Discipline and a fun one to use. To address Discipline’s PvP issues, in addition to these changes (of which the Power Word: Shield and Penance buffs will have the greatest effect), we redesigned their set bonus to make Flash Heal cheaper, and made a few spells un-dispellable. That’s normally a last resort for us, but we felt it was appropriate in this case.
Holy Priests received few modifications, though they will benefit from some of the talent changes. We think Holy is in a good place in PvE relative to other healers but was just so overshadowed by Discipline that they weren’t as common. That may change as the specs fill different niches.
Part 3 - Rogue, Shaman, and Warlock
We had a lot of work to do on the Rogue talent tree, probably the most of any class.
- Rogues, historically a PvP mainstay, felt underpowered and weren’t well-represented in high-end PvP. We wanted to change that.
- In PvE, we wanted to tone down the cleave capabilities of Combat so it didn’t feel like a mandatory spec for some fights.
- We wanted to give Rogues a little more PvE utility instead of feeling quite so selfish.
Similarly, while Anticipation proved very popular in the level 90 tier, Versatility did not, and in fact, Anticipation felt like it provided the benefits of Versatility, only better. We retired Versatility and added a new talent, Marked for Death, which will mark a target and instantly generate 5 combo points on that target. When the target dies, the cooldown will reset.
In addition to giving Rogues Preparation baseline, we also wanted to increase Rogue burst in PvP. That may sound backwards given that we are often trying to reduce the burst of classes in PvP, but we think Rogues had the opposite problem, where their large component of passive damage from white attacks and poisons coupled with the low damage per hit of using a pair of small weapons meant that Rogues had significant issues closing the deal and taking an enemy down during a burst window. Our solution here was to allow Rogues to store up more energy in PvP through a new set bonus. This means a Rogue will have to work for their burst, but it will be there if they plan for it.
Blade Flurry has been an iconic spell for Combat for some time, and while we initially discussed just giving it to all Rogues, we thought Combat lost too much under that design. Ultimately, we like that Combat is good at cleaving. The problem was it was so good that it felt mandatory for many Rogues to switch to Combat for some fights. Ideally, a Rogue who prefers Assassination or Subtlety should be able to stick with that spec, knowing they might fall a little behind on cleave situations, but can make up for it in other situations. We changed the way that Blade Flurry works, so that it will strike more targets for less damage. Combat will still be the best choice for AoE fights, but not so much so that it will be at an overwhelming advantage. We’ll be increasing Combat single-target damage via an increase to Vitality to compensate. Overall, we hope that most players will feel comfortable sticking with the spec they are most comfortable playing without feeling compelled to swap between fights. Subtlety will see increased single-target damage via an increase to the effects of Sanguinary Vein.
PvE utility is very subjective. Some players equate it with a raid-wide damage reduction cooldown, while for others, the utility has to be something unique that nobody else can provide. We add that caveat just because we don’t think the community will ever agree on who brings “enough” or “the best” utility. The change we made for Rogues was simple: Smoke Bomb now provides damage reduction, so in a similar fashion to abilities like Rallying Cry, a Rogue can help survive against, oh say, just for example, the damage a huge freakin’ dinosaur can dish out.
We had a few goals with Shaman:
- As with the other classes, we wanted to make unattractive talents more appealing. Shaman had a similar problem to Druids, where certain choices were perceived as good for e.g. Elemental but not Restoration.
- We wanted to buff Elemental dispel vulnerability and overall survivability in PvP.
- We wanted to give Enhancement a very slight boost for PvP.
- We also wanted to improve Elemental’s target switching and multi-target damage in PvE.
- We adjusted some Glyphs, some because they were too good, others because they felt mandatory.
For PvP, we gave Shamanistic Rage to Elementals to provide a defensive cooldown they could use when focused. We also changed the interaction between Flame Shock and Lava Burst. Lava Burst still does more damage when Flame Shock is present, but it will now do more damage than it did previously, even when Flame Shock isn’t on the target. Therefore, if Flame Shock is dispelled, Elemental does less damage but doesn’t feel completely crippled.
This same change helped with Elemental’s target switching in PvE, since they didn’t have to wait for Flame Shock to come off cooldown every time they wanted to do something like burst down a new add. We also felt that Elemental never had a great chance to shine in 5.0 raiding. Their damage was on target for most fights, but other specs with whom they were tied would do great in some situations, such as multi-dot fights. We decided that “chains” are one of a Shaman’s core mechanics, so we wanted to make sure Chain Lightning delivered when the player was in a situation where they could use it. Chain Lightning damage no longer decreases when hitting subsequent targets, and actually increases when converted to Lava Beam.
We wanted to buff Enhancement for PvP in two ways. First, we increased the mana generation of Mental Quickness, since Enhancement suffered from mana problems when they didn’t have high uptime on the target, a common occurrence in PvP. We also lowered the cooldown on Spirit Walk to further increase their up time as well as giving them more frequent escape tools.
Finally, on the Glyph front, Purge is an extremely powerful tool in PvP, especially when Glyphed, so we added a 6 second cooldown on the ability if the Glyph is applied. It’s still powerful and useful, but less spammable. On the other hand, the Glyph of Flame Shock felt mandatory, so its effects have been made baseline.
Our main goals for Warlocks:
- As with all classes, we wanted to tweak talents to make underused talents more appealing.
- Fix Blood Fear.
- Put the pet back in Warlock.
- Roll mandatory-feeling Glyphs into the relevant specs.
In PvP we saw that Blood Fear, intended to be used defensively, was increasingly seeing use as an offensive ability. We also felt that it was a bit too effective. To adjust it some, as well as return it to its more defensive roots, the old talent has been removed, and its new replacement, Blood Horror, applies a buff to the Warlock that will fear enemies that strike her in melee.
Warlocks are meant to be a pet class, but a lot of locks were choosing Grimoire of Sacrifice. We understand that players have a tendency toward the most powerful and efficient play style, and that managing a pet takes a little effort. Pets are a big part of what it means to be a Warlock though, so while we don’t mind offering GoSac so that there’s some play style diversity, we wanted to de-emphasize petless play. Now sacrificing your fel friend, while still an option, won’t be quite as much of a damage bump as it was in the past. In addition, too many locks felt like they had to use the imp in PvE, especially in smaller groups, in order to benefit from Blood Pact. We just added the Stamina bonus to Dark Intent to let the player choose whether an imp or another demon made more sense depending on their preference and the situation.
Both Glyph of Embers and Glyph of Soul Shards really felt like they should be baseline, and had become essential to their respective specs. We made the original Glyph effects baseline, and added new Glyph effects that should be helpful, without feeling like they’re absolutely required. We also changed the Glyph of Unstable Affliction so players didn’t feel like they had to choose between the silence and the damage backlash.
Part 4 - Warrior and Monk
There were a few main goals to accomplish with Warriors:
- As with all the classes, we wanted to make the less popular talents more attractive.
- Despite a few nerfs, we felt that Arms was still too dominant in PvP and needed additional changes.
- Because we changed Taste for Blood for Arms, this meant we also had to tweak that spec’s PvE rotation a little. We took the opportunity to improve the values of Haste and Mastery for Arms.
- We wanted to remove Deadly Calm, because it was just adding to action bar bloat without adding much to gameplay.
Coming out of Cataclysm, we felt like we had reduced Warrior mobility too much in the name of balance, and in the process had removed what was always an iconic feature of the Warrior class. While we felt it necessary to adjust Warrior burst, survivability and control, we didn’t want to totally crush their mobility. To address burst, we re-designed Taste for Blood. Initially, we didn’t think that Taste for Blood would have significant PvP implications because it was so hard and unpredictable to build up stacks. Nevertheless, when it did happen, it felt like it couldn’t be countered. It was also so random that it wasn't the most compelling mechanic in the Arms PvE arsenal, so it didn’t feel like it was worth preserving. Instead, we redesigned Taste for Blood to no longer buff Heroic Strike. That alone was a useful burst damage adjustment, since Heroic Strike is off the global cooldown which allowed it to be stacked with other attacks, such as Overpower. We also removed Glyph of Death from Above damage buff to Heroic Leap, because it felt gratuitous; it’s still a good Glyph.
The second main PvP adjustment was to Warrior stun talents: Shockwave and Warbringer. The Warbringer stun now shares diminishing returns with non-proc stuns, but we attempted to compensate by giving it a snare as well. Meanwhile, Shockwave has a longer base cooldown, but will have a shorter cooldown if it hits multiple targets. We feel this rewards tactical and positional gameplay while still preserving an on-demand stun if it’s needed.
The third PvP nerf was to make it less attractive to sit in Defensive Stance all the time in PvP. Defensive Stance should be there when you’re getting trained, but its overly generous 25% damage reduction coupled with Arms not requiring Rage for so many attacks made Battle Stance un-competitive. We reduced the damage reduction for non-tanks and now ask Arms to use more Rage in their rotation to give Battle Stance a clearer role.
The change to Taste for Blood does have some PvE ramifications, but it also helps make the rotation less random overall. (Warriors who love unpredictable procs can try out Fury, which is intended to be more random.) We changed Sudden Death to activate from Mastery procs as well as auto attacks, and we improved the value of Haste for all warriors (though admittedly, this does not contribute to Protection’s active mitigation).
Finally, we concluded that Deadly Calm wasn’t providing compelling gameplay. Deadly Calm was an interesting button in Cataclysm, particularly when paired with set bonuses, but it didn’t mesh well with more active Rage management in Mists of Pandaria. Warriors already have a lot of damage cooldowns, and Deadly Calm was often macroed—even by skilled Warriors. Speaking of cooldowns, we also reduced both the effect and cooldown of Recklessness to give Warriors more frequent access to a damage cooldown while further reducing PvP burst.
It was time for Monks to get their first post-expansion revision. These were the goals:
- As with all the classes, we made adjustments to make under-used talents more compelling.
- Correct PvP under-tuning, particularly with Windwalkers.
- Bring Windwalkers up to par in both PvE and PvP.
- Offer Mistweavers a unique healer play style.
We altered the way the whole level 30 set of talents works. Rather than being limited by resources, they’ll now fit into rotations on a cooldown basis. Previously, Chi Wave, Zen Sphere, and Chi Burst were too situational or simply used as fillers when no other abilities were available. Now that they are free but limited by cooldown, Monks can use them frequently as part of their core rotations without having to worry about other attacks dropping from the rotation.
We felt like Windwalkers didn’t have a signature ability to differentiate them from the other Monk specs, nor did they have a good tool to use when a cleave would be optimal, so we gave them Storm, Earth, and Fire (based on the Pandaren ability from Warcraft III). We also changed the Windwalker Mastery from Combo Breaker to Bottled Fury, which increases the damage bonus provided by Tigereye Brew. This accomplishes the dual purpose of freeing up some global cooldowns (allowing Windwalkers to be more resource limited, and less GCD limited) and to provide some on-demand burst. The old Mastery, Combo Breaker, has become a passive ability granted early on in the leveling process. While we were concerned with burst damage at the beginning of the last season, we don’t want Windwalkers to have completely anemic burst either.
We didn’t want to recreate the balance problem we had when we introduced Death Knights during Wrath of the Lich King, but we ended up being too conservative. The result is that Monks haven’t been as well represented in PvP as we’d like. While we toned down the control of several other classes, we felt like we needed to give Monks some substantial buffs to make them more viable in PvP. To increase survivability, we added a new level 30 ability to Brewmasters and Windwalkers: Nimble Brew. Nimble Brew clears roots, stuns, and fear effects, reduces the duration of future such effects for a few seconds, and can be activated while stunned. We also created the powerful new Ring of Peace talent, and baked the old Deadly Reach talent it replaces directly into Paralysis.
Early on, we said that Mistweavers would have the option to be melee healers, dealing damage and healing their allies at the same time. We haven’t quite delivered on that, but in patch 5.2 we’re making an effort to allow “fist-weaving” to be a more viable play style. The actual healing provided by Fistweaving was okay, but Fistweaving damage was so low that it wasn’t worth it for Mistweavers to move to melee to try it out. With the 5.2 buffs, it should be. These changes prompted a few others to make sure that casting heals like a traditional healer and causing melee damage to heal were separate rotations, without allowing Monks to cherry pick the best moves from each, which caused balance problems in testing. The goal is for Fistweaving to be similar to Atonement healing for Discipline Priests. The Monk will sacrifice some DPS and healing compared to a dedicated healer or damage dealer, but it will be possible to contribute a good amount of each, which is sometimes quite valuable.
Brewmasters are seeing the fewest changes, and they’ve proven to be very capable tanks, though they do require a fair amount of skill to play. The level 30 talent changes will help spice up their rotation.