WoW Archivist: A Glyphmas story

Scrolls of glyphs

WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

Professions in Warlords of Draenor feel completely different than at any other era in WoW. Creating powerful items is no longer a matter of farming, luck, or gold. Instead, we have to produce their key ingredients via garrison work orders. Leveling crafting professions is no longer about creating a bunch of useless items that we instantly vendor or disenchant, and reaching max level is now a slow burn instead of a quick grind. This is the first expansion where I haven't hit max level on all my professions within the first week or two.

The profession that has changed the most is the most recent: Wrath of the Lich King's inscription, added in 2008. Even the interface changed: the glyph window was originally part of the spellbook UI, not the talent pane. Because of those changes, for a few very special weeks, inscription transformed the financial futures of countless WoW players. I was one of them. We called it Glyphmas, and it was magical.

Prime time

In the first version of inscription, glyphs came in two forms: minor and major. Both slots had a bit of an identity problem. Minor glyphs provided cosmetic options and utility -- and often warred with each other for the three available slots. Major glyphs provided raw power increases, tradeoff-based customization, and highly efficient utility. Players weren't able to make many decisions about major glyph slots, since a straight-up output bonus to key spells and abilities outclassed just about anything else for most situations.

For Cataclysm, Blizzard decided to add a new type of glyph: prime glyphs. Ghostcrawler posted Blizzard's vision for the new glyph system:

Prime glyphs aren't going to be exciting in a "change up your rotation" style. We want primes to be unambiguous dps (etc.) increases so we figured they might as well be easy to understand rather than something so convoluted that everyone would just go to a fansite to see which 3 to pick.

The majors are more interesting, because they are either not dps increases at all, or dps increases in ways that are tricky to math out. We think players will debate and geek out more about which majors to use, and with the new glyph design, swapping them out once in awhile isn't very painful.

Minors are basically convenience or fun.

Prime glyphs, then, were all about power. Like earning talent points, unlocking a new prime glyph slot represented a raw increase in healing, survivability, resource management, or DPS. Characters now had nine total slots, one for each type of glyph.

As Ghostcrawler intended, prime glyphs were not subtle. Glyph of Steady Shot added 10% damage. Glyph of Earth Shield provided 20% more healing. Glyph of Seal of Truth provided 10 expertise with the seal active. Glyph of Mage Armor generated 20% more mana.

Your character simply could not function anywhere near optimum capacity without the proper prime glyphs for your spec. They were as mandatory at endgame as equipping an item in every slot on your character pane. And their introduction just happened to coincide with another major change for inscription that produced the most perfect seller's market that WoW has ever seen.

Prime glyphs in the UI

Consumed by hate

Glyphs have always been a very tough market to enter. There are so many different glyphs, made with so many different inks, milled from so many different herbs, that the profession basically requires addons if you want to turn a profit from it. This was especially true during Wrath of the Lich King when glyphs were consumable.

Back then, if you overwrote a glyph, that glyph was gone forever. It no longer existed for your character. The only way to get it back was to obtain a new glyph item and use it like you would a potion. As soon as you clicked on the glyph panel, the item disappeared from your inventory and activated the glyph. If you wanted to swap back and forth between two glyphs (or more), you needed to keep stacks of those glyph items in your bags.

This system ensured that every player would always need more glyphs, just like every player always needs more enchantments or more gems. The profession would never be "dead."

Scribes enjoyed it because it meant they sold a lot of glyphs. Because they were consumable, glyphs required only one ink to make. You could produce a large inventory and sell a large inventory, if you were savvy and patient enough to keep everything organized.

Most non-scribes, however, hated Wrath's glyph system. They ranked it somewhere between inconvenient and utterly obnoxious. They didn't want to carry around dozens of glyphs and constantly buy new ones. In particular, switching from a PvE glyph set to a PvP glyph set was very painful because the two sides of the game often required entirely different glyphs.

Inscription shop in Dalaran

The price of permanence

For Cataclysm, Blizzard announced that glyphs would become permanent. Glyphs could be "learned," and then your character would always have access to them. A single stack of consumable items would be required to switch glyphs, instead of carrying around stacks of every individual glyph you might need.

Many scribes raged on the forums that Blizzard was "killing" inscription. Once players had their glyphs, they believed, glyphs wouldn't sell. Some panicked. There was a hysteria that the glyph market would completely collapse. Scribes sold off entire inventories, causing rock-bottom prices -- not to mention a period of self-fulfilling prophecy. It looked like glyphs might be all but worthless after Cataclysm's launch.

The smart scribes waited. They bought up huge volumes of others' glyphs for peanuts. They farmed and bought up herbs at every level. They made every glyph they could, and saved ink for the new glyphs that the Cataclysm pre-patch would introduce.

I never had a scribe character prior to the announcement that glyphs would go permanent. It just seemed like such a hassle. You made a few gold per transaction but it took hundreds of transactions to make substantial money. Aside from grinding out the cash for epic ground and flying speed, I had never made a concerted effort to make gold in WoW. I struggled to pay for things I needed for raiding.

Like others, however, I saw what was coming. This, I thought to myself, could be my one big chance at financial indepedence in Azeroth.

I kitted out an alt I no longer played with nothing but Packs of Endless Pockets in my character inventory and my bank. I leveled inscription to max, and I didn't sell a single glyph. I filled my endless pockets with every glyph I could learn, stacks and stacks of them.

Then I waited for the Glyphmas miracle.

Bags full of glyphs

How the scribes stole Glyphmas

Glyphmas began on October 12, 2010, when patch 4.0.1 went live. The patch did not include Cataclysm's brand new old world -- we had to wait five more weeks for that to arrive. In the meantime, players were still running Icecrown Citadel and relearning their specs after all the class changes. And anyone who wanted to raid, quest, or PvP post-patch was buying the new permanent glyphs. They had to. Prime glyphs were too important.

Glyphmas might never have happened if more players had looked ahead. The right time to buy all of your class glyphs was during the end of Wrath, when glyphs took only one ink to make rather than three and when glyph prices bottomed out. I'm sure many players saved their glyphs and learned them as soon as the patch went live. But many others did not.

If Blizzard hadn't taken their usual year between expansions, more people might have been playing the game then. More people would have been following information about the game and would have known about the glyph changes. But many people checked out of WoW for a long time in 2010 as the content gap yawned ever wider. When these players came back, they discovered that they needed glyphs.

Glyphmas also might never have happened if more players had hoarded glyphs. The market could have become flooded far in excess of demand. Perhaps that did happen on a few realms. But on my realm, and on most, demand obliterated supply. Within hours, the supply of all herbs ran out. The only people who could sell glyphs at that point were the players who had anticipated this turn of events or people with access to a character with herbalism.

To list my glyphs on the auction house, I used an addon called ZeroAuctions. You could set it up to list X of every glyph selling for at least X and to undercut by X. My glyphs sold within minutes.

Glyphmas had arrived.

Sold glyphs on the auction house

Glyphmas insanity

Sellers soon caught on that overcutting was actually better than undercutting. Some glyphs sold so fast, were so mandatory, and supply ran out so quickly that price was often irrelevant. Within hours, glyph prices jumped from a handful of gold to hundreds.

I plugged in prices I thought were increasingly insane, but players paid them. I watched over and over as my entire auction list turned into sold notices with that delicious countdown to cash, often within moments of listing them.

I couldn't keep glyphs in stock, even the most pointless. Players wanted to fill in their entire class's list of glyphs. In the Cataclysm beta, learning all of your glyphs awarded an achievement. Blizzard scrapped it because they didn't want players to feel compelled to buy every glyph. Players did it anyway.

My supplies dwindled. My endless pocket packs grew empty. I bought up every herb I saw listed, often for ridiculous prices. No matter how ridiculous the prices of herbs became, the prices of glyphs were more ridiculous still.

Before players realized that you could buy Vanishing Powder from vendors, even that sold for crazy prices.

Demand slowly began to taper off. Then patch 4.0.3 hit in November with all the revamped zones and brought more players back who needed glyphs. Prices jumped again. Then the expansion itself went live in early December and brought another round of players to the auction house for their permanent glyphs.

Prior to Glyphmas, the most gold I had ever had at one time was about 12,000. After Glyphmas, I was closing in on 150,000 gold. That was on a Horde-side AH on a low-to-medium population realm with mostly Alliance players. (Prior to Warlords, players could only sell to their own faction at the faction city auction houses.) I'm sure other players who took full advantage of Glyphmas on high-pop realms made millions. But I was thrilled with my new fortune.

It meant I would never have to worry about gold again. I can't buy every cosmetic item I want, even today, since I haven't been very aggressive at making gold since. The repair yak, for example, is still too rich for me. But I can prep for raiding with everything I need. And I can make occasional big moves on the AH that I never could have before, to keep my supply intact for the future -- like buying an Ethereal Soul-Trader that's listed low and relisting it for a few thousand more gold.

Crafted inscription staff

Glyphmas future

There's never quite been anything like this event in WoW's economy, before or since. All expansions, and sometimes individual patches, bring with them their own small version of Glyphmas when new glyphs are added to the game. But they are all pale shadows compared to the original.

Despite some scribes' "sky is falling" attitude after the initial announcement of permanent glyphs, inscription is still a highly profitable profession -- if you can stomach it. Every new alt needs glyphs. Every player trying a different spec for the first time needs glyphs. Few players want the hassle of managing glyph inventories or competing for so many different auctions. Even with addons, it's not simple. For the dedicated glyph seller, inscription is still a goldmine.

Inscription has evolved in each expansion. Blizzard did away with prime glyphs in Mists of Pandaria. Ghostcrawler explained that Blizzard didn't like how primes felt: "They were just a hoop to jump through -- something you might choose once for your character and never interact with again." Some key glyphs are now learned automatically as characters level. The profitable shoulder inscriptions went away too, in Warlords. On the other hand, Blizzard has expanded the set of craftable inscription items to staves, wands, off-hands, and even relics at one point. I'm sure Blizzard isn't done tinkering with inscription yet, but it's hard to imagine any overhaul creating a Glyphmas-level opportunity again.

After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.