Feeling a bit Spiteful

The Spiteful affix has officially reappeared to grace our Mythic+ keys this week, returning after a four week hiatus. The week the affix debuted, I formed some very strong opinions on its quality. However, I waited to finalize my stance. After all, four weeks ago, my knowledge of the dungeons, comfortability in my Shadowlands-era spec, and gear and character optimization was a lot weaker. The next time Spiteful appears, I would be prepared. This affix won’t get the best of me!

Spoiler alert, it did.

For those not as familiar with the Mythic+ system, every week features a rotation of affixes. There are a maximum of four affixes applied per week, with successive ones being added for each level of difficulty. The first affix is applied to any dungeon +2 and above; the second to any dungeon +4 and above; the third to any dungeon +7 and above; the final affix, which is the seasonal affix that is the same every week, is applied at +10. Affixes are meant to increase the difficulty of dungeons outside of simple damage scaling – they add a bonus challenge that change the way dungeons progress. Three new affixes were added in Shadowlands, Spiteful chief among them.

Most affixes require a quick but constant mindset shift in order to tackle. I generally categorize them in my mind in four main groups (this is by no means scientific, this is just my own thinking). There are mob death affixes that create challenges when trash mobs die (think Bursting or Bolstering). Then there are affixes that add environmental challenges which must be maneuvered around (think Sanguine and Storming). Next, there are the “challenge role” affix which add specific stresses to the healing or tanking position (think Necrotic or Grievous). Lastly, there are the additional spawn affixes that create new mobs to deal with (think Explosive and the recently removed Teeming). One affix can fit within multiple categories at once, but typically it does not fit into more than two.

Now let’s introduce Spiteful. According to the Blizzard tool tip, the Spiteful affixes causes “fiends [to] rise from the corpses of non-boss enemies and pursue random players.” These Spiteful Shades have about 100k baseline health (which scales with key level, of course). As soon as they spawn, they will bee-line to their fixated target and proceed to melee the player. Hard. It’s not unusual for a single melee from a Spiteful add to take off half a player’s health. Combine that with the general damage going out during mythic+s and we suddenly find ourselves with a highly deadly affix. Oh, and did I mention, their melee range is ENORMOUS?

Despite all these downsides, there are a few glimmers of good news. For one, Spiteful won’t ever fixate your tank (unless something is going horribly wrong with your pull). The shades also slowly die, losing 8% of their health every second they are alive. Lastly, they can be slowed, rooted, stunned, and crowd controlled in nearly every manner possible (but watch out, if you try something like a Paralyze or an Ice Trap, the spell will break immediately because the shade is technically always taking damage).

So how do you deal with the Spiteful affix? Well, if you’re ranged, you’re in luck! The Spiteful spawn right on top of the mob just killed, which means they will always be fairly far away from you. It’s a simple thing to throw a bit of CC and continue DPSing away without a care in the world. Nine times out of ten, the mob dies long before it ever gets to you. Pretty simple affix, huh?

What about if you’re melee? Well, as the Brokers always say, “death is the ultimate transaction.”

Grim humor aside, if you’re a melee, you immediately run. If you’re lucky, the mob is fixated on a different target and you can go back and DPS. However, if you’re not, you gotta keep kiting that add away until it gets CCed or it dies. And don’t forget, the melee range on that thing is huge, so you really gotta hoof it. If you’re lucky, depending on the size of the trash pack, there could even be two Spiteful Shades following you around, which means you don’t get to DPS for the rest of that pull! It’s wonderful.

This is bad enough but now I’d love to introduce you to my world this past week. You see, I play a Holy Paladin and, for a couple of expansions now, we’ve had a wonderful toolkit that incentivizes us to stand in the melee in order to heal. This expansion in particular, the meta for Holy Paladin really requires us to be in melee range using our Crusader’s Strikes on cool down in order to generate the Holy Power we need to then dump into our two big healing spells, Word of Glory and Light of Dawn. We rarely use our two casted heals on account of their long cast time and low throughput.

So this week, rather than healing, I’ve been running. The damage in a typical trash pull tends to start off bad with the tank needing a couple GCDs to establish their defensives, and then dips into the dangerous territory right at the end again as interrupts begin to run out and spells start getting off. I’m able to generate the holy power at the beginning of pulls but, by the end, I’m too busy running for my life to get off the heals I need. And this happens every single pull. Bubble can save me, but only once.

I try to refrain from making sweeping statements like this but, in this case, I feel this is justified. Spiteful sucks. It’s the worst affix by far, for a couple of huge reasons. First of all, as I have hinted at heavily, the affix is horribly skewed against melee. Melee spend much of the end of each fight running while ranged players chill out at max range. Sure, the mobs can be CCed, but the amount of attention and maneuvering that melee players are forced to do even when the Spiteful is well-handled is completely out of sync with what ranged players are having to do. I’ve been running keys on my Marksman Hunter this week that are nearly as high as the ones on my paladin (a difference of 1-3 key levels for the most part) and the difference is night and day.

Having affixes aimed only at the ranged or at the melee isn’t inherently a bad thing. After all, the other affix for this week is Volcanic, which take the form of small plumes of fire that must be dodged or the player takes damage and gets thrown a bit up into the air. This ability only spawns underneath players further away from the mobs, meaning it’s largely a ranged affix. However, the damage profiles between a Volcanic hit and a Spiteful hit are apples and oranges. Volcanoes tickle. Spiteful Shades truck. And what’s more, the Volcanic affix is mitigated by a simple side-step. The difference in difficulty between the ranged responsibilities and the melee ones has been pretty massive in Shadowlands thus far (Sludgefist says hi) and Spiteful is one of the most egregious examples.

Spiteful also sucks as an affix because it does too many things. Jumping back to those four categories for affixes I listed earlier, Spiteful can easily be said to fit into three of the categories. It both spawns on every mob death, requires environmental positional, and creates new mobs which must be dealt with. The affix is simply overwhelming. There isn’t another affix that adds that much management to the dungeon.

I’m not advocating for mythic+ dungeons to be stripped of their difficulties. If anything, running successively higher keys is one of my favorite challenges in the game currently! I enjoy the creativity, attention, and care that go into a successfully timed key. What I want to see, however, is a challenge that is balanced. When I have to work twice as hard as a ranged healer in order to keep my group alive because of one affix, that’s simply not fun. When most groups opt to run full ranged comps because of how bad the melee affixes are, that’s simply not fun. I understand when certain classes or specs are better able to handle some challenges but it starts to feel rotten when the disparity is this bad.

Despite this doom and gloom, I don’t think the situation is unsalvageable. I don’t like to give critique without workable solutions and, in this case, I think there are a number of potential fixes to make Spiteful fun for all without scrapping the affix entirely. Spiteful shades could only spawn off of some of the mobs, rather than every single of of them. The shade’s melee range could be reduced. The amount they melee for could be reduced. Their movement speed could be decreased. Their health could be reduced, or the amount they lose over time increased. Any one of these fixes, or even a combination of them would go a long way towards making the affix more manageable for melee players.

As I said earlier, I’ve been really enjoying keys this expansion. I generally love all the dungeons (even Plaguefall) and I can’t way to see how keys change and progress throughout the expansion. However, as it currently exists, the Spiteful affix needs some tuning before it is in line with the rest of the affixes and the key experience in general. The best affixes are ones which add interesting wrinkles depending on the dungeon but, so far, Spiteful has just added melee panic indiscriminately to every dungeon. Spiteful has left me a bit… spiteful!

Au revoir, Overflowing

Huge shout-out to Vall, who went out and got this screenshot for me

Ding dong, the witch is dead! And by witch I mean Overflowing affix for Mythic+ dungeons.  And by dead I mean being removed with patch 7.2.  Hooray!
For those who don’t know, Overflowing was the one healer specific affixes for Mythic+ dungeons.  Well, at least, it was supposed to be healer specific.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the affix, it ended up only really applying to certain types of healers.

The tooltip for Overflowing reads: “Healing in excess of a target’s maximum health is instead converted to a heal absorption effect”.  Jargon aside, that basically means that any overhealing done turns into this really awful shield that absorbs the next couple of heals.  And additionally, that really awful shield doesn’t just absorb the amount of heals that went over, it absorbs 300% of the amount of overhealing.  So let’s say you accidentally overheal your tank by 300,000.  Because of Overflowing, you now have to heal through an absorption effect of 900,000 health points before your healing abilities start actually healing the tank.

The solution seems quaintly simple: don’t overheal! And while the goal of all healers everywhere is to avoid as much overhealing as possible, because of the nature of some healers’ tool kits, that goal not always successful.  Especially if, say for example, the healer stacks crit as their main secondary stat.

Let’s take my Holy paladin for example.  The stat priorities for holy paladins place crit as our number one secondary, as has been the case for quite some time.  And consequently, I’ve been doing just that; right now, I’m sitting at about 38% Critical Strike Chance. However, holy paladins also can get extra crit from multiple other sources.  These range from the 20-45% crit increase during Avenging Wrath (our main healing throughput cooldown), an additional 50% crit chance increase for Holy Shock (our primary healing ability), and a few other specific ability crit increases in our artifact talents.  Long story short, holy paladins have a lot of crit.

This huge amount of crit makes a lot of sense for our healing style.  Holy paladins, in this expansion especially, are the masters of large single target heals.  We have one area of effect heal and no heals over time to speak of, but we can single target spam like a beastie.  However, because we are experts at big, single target heals, we often overheal by a large amount on that one single target.  Especially when combined with our crit, it is not untoured for me to crit heals of 2-3 million health.  And when I’m only trying to heal someone for 1-2 million, that extra chunk of healing all becomes overhealing.

Usually, this isn’t a huge deal.  But now, enter Overflowing.

Let’s take that same scenario where I’ve healed for 2 million but only needed to heal up 1.5 million.  I’ve just done 500,00 overhealing, which translates to a 1.5 million absorption shield.  Wonderful. I’ll need to heal through that shield in order to be able to start healing my target again but if they haven’t taken damage, I run the risk of criting again and creating yet another shield.  Not a great position to be in.  I either have to throw some small, lower crit chance heals on to try to get rid of the shield or just hope that, when they do take damage, it won’t immediately drop them to 10%. And seeing as how Mythic+ dungeons are considered the ‘raiding experience’ of five mans, the damage can get rather spiky.

Or, let’s say they are taking damage and now I need to get through that shield as fast as possible to heal them up.  But I can’t heal them up too quickly because I could break through the shield, crit and overheal, and have to begin the process all over again.  It’s a constant battle with RNG.

So to avoid creating that terrible shield, I won’t heal the tank until they drop below 70%.  I won’t even apply big healing abilities until they hit 50%.  And I’ll have to pray that the damage is smooth enough that they don’t drop from 60% to 5% in the space of a few seconds.

I do proclaim! that Overflowing is the worst affix ever!

It’s an incredibly nerve wracking experience.  And especially when you start getting up to the higher level of Mythic+s, it starts becoming untenable.  I have to keep a super close eye on health bars and shields and which heals I press, along with dealing with all the other mechanics of the fight.  I’m generally a pretty competent healer but this was getting to be unfun.

Now this affix wouldn’t be ‘the witch’ if it had applied equally to all healers.  The problem was, it didn’t.  Holy paladins and holy priests dreaded Overflowing with all their being.  Resto shaman and resto druids especially loved this affix like a dear friend.  Because for them, it was like the affix didn’t even exist.

I’ve talked to a few of my resto druid friends about this (mainly to complain about how awful Overflowing is for holy paladins) but their general experience with the affix was that they’d never had an issue with it.  Because the majority of a restoration druid’s overhealing comes from the little ticks of HoTs, the shields they were getting were tiny by comparison. And those little baby shields were really quickly healed through by the continuing HoT ticks.

Talk about unbalanced.  While some healers would be working their butts off to deal with the affix, others didn’t even notice if it existed or not.  As a result, certain healing classes stopped being brought to those higher level Mythic+s.  Even in my own guild, while I knew it had nothing to do with me as a person, I stopped being asked to run mythic dungeons because I just couldn’t keep up.  And there was no comparative affix that was difficult for those other healers.

Luckily for myself and the other holy paladins and priests of the world, Overflowing is set to be removed in the coming patch. In it’s place is an affix called Grievous, with a description that reads “While below 90% health, players are afflicted with Grievous Wound”.  Obviously, I’m going to reserve final judgement until I actually get to experience the affix firsthand (after all, I did think that Overflowing could be fun at first, what a naive fool I was then). But for now, my holy paladin is satisfied.  Avoiding overhealing is a fun exercise in theory, but in practice, it ended up being a lot more stressful and uncontrollable than I ever could have expected. Can’t wait for 7.2!