Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gear and Planning Frustrations

One of the big advantages of playing a tank class is that you tend to get first pick of gear, often over everyone else. It's a perk I've enjoyed greatly in the prior tiers. Because of that, and along with a dose of good luck the last few tiers, I have tended to be the kind of player who prattles on incessantly and selfishly about missing that one or another upgrade, when all the rest of my gear is already perfect and everyone is still fishing for drops.

However, that streak ended this tier. Boss drops and coin rolls have been abysmal, and I'm floundering in the high 540s, after upgrading all my gear, despite having killed normal mode bosses in SoO 55 fucking times and rolling all my coins every week. The other raid members are well into their mid to high 550s and I'm floundering like some pathetic, beached fish flopping desperate and sucking empty gills for gear.

I know gear will come, and having a second plate tank and a plate DPS also slows the rate of gear acquisition, but right now, it's frustrating when I find myself biting it while tanking wave after wave of Garrosh adds and just not being able to stand up as well as I should. The rest of the raid is geared and I'm not, and in my role, that's limiting the raid group a bit.

Wah. Wah. Wah. I'm done QQing now.

A more serious thing that's frustrating is the raid-composition we're running with. It's a bit hodge-podge, with no less than 4 Paladins, up to 2 Priest, and maybe a Warlock. And then we have 2 rogues, 2 hunters, and a shaman. Can you guess what token hasn't dropped but maybe 3 times all tier long? We also wind up missing a raid-buff frequently, and while normal modes don't really require all buffs at all times, if we're pushing to progress in Heroics, it's something I would consider for comp very closely.

And that's another thing, we often spend so much time actually building comp before every boss rather than raiding, we easily miss out on at least one if not two extra boss kills a night. To be fair, we did have a pretty decent clear on Tuesday with 11 normal mode bosses down in 3 hours,  but that could have been much better. We started about 15 minutes late, ran about 15 minutes late, and also spend another half hour or so in downtime between bosses as the officers hem'd and haw'd about who to bring and who to sit. A roster of 12 or 13 is starting to feel a bit overfull, especially when the roster isn't particularly diverse in terms of token-distribution.

But. I don't really blame the officers here, either. The guild is in a situation where attendance isn't as good, we frequently have DPS missing raid or showing up half-way through, and due to the nature of raiding and loot in the group, there are no possible repercussions that you can dole out. And you really don't want to shrink the roster, and potentially wind up with not enough people to raid (there have been nights with only 10 people online), so what do you do? It's not an easy situation.

When I was running Turtles, one of the ways we were able to really improve attendance was by implementing a Suicide Kings system, where absent members didn't rise through the ranks, people Suicided above them. That was a real motivation to be at raid, if you wanted loot. But I don't know, I'm also feeling like we squander a lot of time, we killed 11 bosses in 3 hours and then took 2 hours to clean up Siegecrafter and Paragons. Part of that was starting a half-hour late.

Maybe it's my age, but if I'm putting out 9 hours out of my really busy week, I really want a well-organized, well-oiled machine in a raid. Very little down-time, a single, organized break half-way though and very quick swaps for comp (ideally, from preplanned and posted rosters).

I just don't know what the problem is. It's a combination of things without an easy solution, and I'm just frustrated. Bah.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Change Roles?

I think I might be done with tanking after 4 full expansions of doing nothing but that.

It's a weird feeling to say it out loud, and I've said it before, but honestly, I think I might be done with it for good. The question remains whether I'll stick with my class or swap over to a different one, but still, as things stand now for me, I'm done with the role of tanking as my main spec after Pandaria (since it's pretty late for me to change roles at this point.)

The reasoning behind it pretty much split evenly between a fewfactors.

  1. I'm just bored with tanking, because honestly this is the second tier in a row where tanking is dumb and easy and with no real challenges or interesting mechanics to manage
  2. Tanking is such a core mechanic to the game that like healing, once you take on that role, it becomes very difficult to do anything else but be stuck in the role
  3. It is nearly impossible to find a tanking slot if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are looking for a new group, as most raid leaders will cut off their own fingers than have to recruit a new tank
  4. I'm honestly looking for a role that's more interesting and fun and dynamic than tanking
  5. Playing a DPS role also lets me be more flexible about my time. If a tank doesn't show up, raid doesn't happen. If a DPS doesn't show up, raid goes on

I thought about switching to Heals full-time but that's just not going to happen. Healing is something I enjoy occasionally, but it's never a thing that I love to do full time. And I also know it's very easy for me to fall into old roles too easily so I might wind up playing a class that's a pure DPS rather than a hybrid, simply to keep me on the straight and narrow, as it were.

My warlock has long been a dark-sheep favorite for me, often competing for my attention and even now she's my second-highest geared alt (which isn't saying much, but still.) But I'm a lover of melee overall, and would really love to play Retribution full-time, if not go dual-wield Frost (probably my favorite melee spec.) Choices!

I think it'll be good for me. Keep me playing the game longer, while switching to a more flexible role. Now, I just need to do something about pushing numbers and playing in a more competitive category...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Siege of Orgrimmar - More Tanking Tips (bosses 4 - 7)

The difficulty in Siege is bothering me a bit. I don't know if it's just dumb plain easier than I was expecting, or if the abilities being used at least in normal mode are scaled so that they can be powered through by out-healing or out-DPSing them by a team with sufficient gear from the previous Heroic tier. The team is certainly well geared, probably averaging out to the high 530s, which isn't that exceptional considering most heroic guilds are averaging in the mid 540s, but it's certainly a hell of a lot more gear than most normal-mode guilds. Anyway, we'll see how it goes in the second half of the raid...

After a (relatively) quick and painless kill of the Sha of Pride, we got a bit stuck on Galakras and wound up spending all of our second night on him, struggling to work out how exactly to transition into phase 2. We came back on the third night, and struggled again for a bit, but after dropping a healer, realized how quickly adds died and that made the transition quite easy. We wound up killing it fairly quickly at that point, I think. With barely an hour left in raid, we walked up to the rather intimidating Iron Juggernaut and after a quick wipe, wound up hitting enrage on the second pull with about 1% left on the boss. Unsure if we just got lucky, we tried again and killed him in a couple of more pulls.

With about forty minutes remaining we walked into Orgrimmar itself and began clearing out a ton of trash. The courtyard is about as crowded as you might imagine a player-populated Orgrimmar might be on a moderately populated server - probably a bit overboard, but at least it was simple trash and went down quickly. I was expecting to spend a considerable amount of time on Dark Shaman, but our first attempt got them to 50% and the second (or third?) one got the kill. I was fairly stunned at that point.

Now, I'm all for taking credit when it's due, and I think our team is quite strong, but this seems ridiculous. To kill the 6th and 7th boss in a raid instance this quickly feels.... weak. Throne of Thunder had Jin'rokh, Primordious and Twins, who were just as silly,  but they were three bosses out of a set of twelve and the others all demanded a fair amount of work. Perhaps these two along with the first two are the "gimmies" of this tier, leaving 10 bosses to work on, which I suppose is okay, but two bosses, back to back, that die quickly, to fairly sloppy play, feels... I guess weak is the best word for it.

Anyway. Last time I covered the first 3 bosses, and now it's tips time for the next 4.

Sha of Pride
This is fairly easy for tanks.

You'll be swapping with your co-tank on a very tight timer, so you need to be extremely alert to the Wounded Pride debuff. Do not let the boss melee your co-tank when that debuff is up, and never taunt while your debuff is ticking. Other than that, we handled one of the two prisons along with a healer who cheated in our direction, and picked up the small adds from casts of Reflection.

Leave the Manifestation of Pride to the DPS - we actually tanked in the opposite direction of the room from him, so that the DPS could take turns soaking the Pride rather than have it splash us all the time.

Lastly, as your Pride grows, watch out for casts of Swelling Pride, step AWAY from puddles below 50 Pride, step INTO your puddle after 50 pride, stand AWAY from people after 75 Pride, and at 100.... well, kill the boss before the next cast of Swelling Pride or you'll be permanently MC'd.

This one isn't too terribly hard. Same Heroism/Bloodlust for when the boss hits 30% and rip into him before he turns your entire raid.

Galakras
You'll either be the tower tank or the add tank. If your Healers overgear the instance, 2 healing it makes the fight a lot more manageable. 3 healing it leads to extra adds hanging about a bit longer, but it's not that big a deal.

Add tanking is fairly simple, keep Shaman interrupted and stunned as much as possible, kill banners, and for gods sake, watch Fracture that the Bonecrushers will cast on the Faction leaders. If the leaders die, the fight will reset. Stuns are great for interrupting them, then taunt them back, or have an Elemental Shaman or a Druid stand behind them and push them away. That's probably the hardest part of tanking the adds.

Tower tanking is also fairly simple, run in, agro the adds at the bottom, run up the stairs, don't fall down, engage the mini-boss at top, don't get knocked off. I found turning off unit frames and turning off floating combat text for this fight helped considerably, as the area is small, the graphic is confusing, and doesn't display the area affected, and your line of sight is interrupted by flying drakes. Once the mini boss dies, drag any adds up to the archers and cleave everything down. Do that twice and you're ready to transition.

Ideally, you want to transition without any adds. Shaman will heal the boss and Bonecrushers will still try to kill the Faction leaders, and if they die, you will still wipe.

We wound up lining up in a row, everyone stacked behind the boss, person with the Flames of Galakras ran to the back of the pile to allow the orb to be soaked, and people moved in and out to manage their own stacks. We tank-swapped at about 5 stacks, and then whenever the debuff dropped after that point. Make judicious use of raid-wide CDs, Warlock cookies, personal CDs and so forth as Pulsing Flames will start to hurt quite a bit about half-way through.

Iron Juggernaut
Position the boss close-ish to a wall so you don't get tossed too far during Siege Mode, have the raid spread out between the boss and the wall, and we held the boss parallel to the wall, to keep range on the tanks. We swapped at 3 stacks, making sure the first swap came just before Crawler mines came out.

The most important job for tanks on this fight is to dodge shit in the ground, swap for stacks of Flame Jet and soak as many Crawler Mines as possible. I found that I could easily soak 2 each time, and if they weren't too spread out, I could soak all 3. Since the damage is physical you can mitigate quite a bit. If you time it right, you can have Shield of the Righteous up for the first, heal up and take the 2nd one with a Glyph'd Divine Protection. If you need to take a 3rd naked, it shouldn't kill you with ~800k health. With a 30 second DP you should have it up every time your turn to soak comes up.

You can also Bubble-soak all 3 during Siege mode quite easily and take no damage at all as everyone is being tossed about, though watch out for the oil puddles. Honestly, that's all there is to this fight.

Taunt as stacks reset, use a cool-down for the third cast of Flame Jets (it starts to hurt quite a bit around there), have a plan to soak mines, collect loot.

Kor'kron Dark Shaman
I don't know how much I can say about this fight. I'll just outline our plan going in:

- Each tank picks up one Boss and one wolf
- Kill the wolves quickly without putting any damage on the bosses
- Swap Bosses every time stacks of Froststorm Strike every time they reset
- The tank not currently soaking Froststorm Strikes should  pick up adds spawned from Foul Gyser from range (they do a huge amount of pulsing damage around them and do further damage in the spawning area) and then kite them while ranged DPS burn them down
- Move away from.... pretty much everything else

We started near the barrier by the Bank, kited back towards the gates, then moved up towards the Drag. That's it.

--

New week tonight - hopefully we can put these seven on farm and move into the second half of Siege. Other than the wonky difficulty, I'm enjoying the tier quite a bit. I only wish I was under a Blue banner instead of Red.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Siege of Orgrimmar - First Impression & Tanking Tips (bosses 1 - 3)

First night into the raid wasn't as productive as I'd hoped, but it was still a very good evening and nothing to cough over.

The first three bosses went down in Normal mode with a little over two hours of actual work - we had some trash wipes to overpulls, and some connection issues, and stopped a bit early for Flex - and then we took another hour to clear through all 4 bosses available in Flex.

There's not much more to say about Immerseous other than that it's the loot-pinyata of this tier. After looking over the journal, I was worried about the Fallen Protectors - it looks extremely complex with 8 NPCs all using different abilities, and I thought, similar to Horridon, it might become a huge stumbling block for Normal mode and more casual guilds. In execution, it was ridiculously simple, we 2-shot it rather easily with three healers and no issues over enrage.

After an absurdly long train of Sha-trash through the Dark Heart of Pandaria scenario space, we came up to Amalgam of Corruption (aka Norushen) and that was the first encounter that required a few eipes and planning and positioning but even that only took two attempts after we swapped in a third healer, though the kill was razor-thin, as the killing blow landed at the same second as the insta-wipe Enrage. But that's more of an optimization issue. Fun times.

Anyway, here are some quick tanking tips:

Immerseous

You cannot take a  Corrosive Blast with the debuff. Just don't do it. Flank him and leave about a 45 degrees gap between you and the other tank. Don't stand in puddles, kill adds, and then collect loot

Fallen Protectors

Leave Sun Tenderheart alone, she's untankable, one tank should hold Rook Stonetoe next to her for the initial burn to get some good cleave action going, while the other tank kites He around the outer perimeter to drop off poison puddles. The only thing that the Rook tank needs to worry about is positioning so that no one else is hit by Vengeful Strike. The He tank should be careful to avoid Gouge by turning away from the boss or use a CD if you did get hit.

Pro-tip: Glyphed Divine Protection with a 30-second CD thanks to the new Unbreakable Spirit is awesome for both He and Rook. Especially since you can use it while stunned.

Desperate Measures: Rook spawns three adds that should be tanked, keep avoiding Defiled Ground and don't run into Inferno Strike or you'll bring the ground debuff with you. Interrupt Embodied Gloom if you can, and this is a very easy phase. You can't do much to help with He's Measures, but you can provide Hands of Protection and Hands of Sacrifice if the person with the mark needs help. Lastly, Sun's Measures require you to be inside a small dome to avoid taking the raid-wide AoE. You can soak it with chains of CDs but there's no need - position yourself right at the edge with Rook facing you out of the sphere, and no one else will get hit by his frontal cones.

Amalgam of Corruption (aka Norushen) 

Survive the tanking challenge, tank swap the boss on high stacks of debuff, pick up the big adds, help kill/interrupt/stun small adds when you're not tanking, soak 4 puddles of Residual Corruption each, and dodge the cutter. That's honestly all there is to it. The amount of AoE damage going out is very high, but three healers eased that part of the fight considerably, along with liberal use of Devotion Aura and other raid-wide CDs for casts of Icy Fear sub-40% or so depending on how many CDs you have (Devo, Tranq, HTT, Spirit Link, etc.)


Tanking Challenge: This one is pretty damned simple, once you realize you don't have to kill the add, you just need to survive for one minute. Shield of the Righteous (and I imagine, other Active Mitigation abilities) will diminish most of the physical damage you take. He uses four abilities more or less on cool-down. Most dangerous to least, and what you do:

1. Titanic Smash - 2 second cast spell, can't interrupt. Frontal cone attack. Run through him or strafe well to the side. It hits for 1 million damage (before armor, absorbs, etc.) You can (barely) survive it with ~800k health, but there's no reason to get hit.

2. Hurl Corruption - 2 second cast spell, you need to interrupt it, the cooldown is a second or so longer than your interrupt cooldown so you can get every single one. Make sure you're in range if you're strafing too far for Titanic Smash. If you have it on CD for some reason, Avenger's Shield will do the trick. It hits for ~700k Shadow damage and is painful. Watch the timer and don't get hit.

3. Piercing Corruption - 1 second cast spell, can't interrupt. Physical attack that hits for 600k, Shield of the Righteous makes it very trivial.

4. Burst of Corruption - 2 second cast spell, can't interrupt. 300k health shadow damage AoE. Heal it with WoG/EF or soak it with SS, it's not a problem.

Also, keep using your defensive abilities, it's more important that you survive. No need to save them for later.

One minute of that and you're done.

--

Sadly, no loot for me so far, but I've only used one coin, as the second and third bosses aren't offering great items for upgrades. But I did finish off my Legendary cloak, and that's pretty awesome. However, it doesn't feel awesome. More of that in a later post, I'm sure.

Anyway, I'm not going to comment about Flex as we it was very late, and we burned through it rather messily with 15 people with eyes drooping. You'll be fine.

Tonight, I'm hoping we make it at least past Galakas - though I secretly hold out hope for killing Iron Juggernaut. Enter the gates of Orgrimmar will be very satisfying.

Good luck. everybody!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Blame Kare

Oh, hello, again!

It's been a while. Two or so months, now? I had a lazy summer, but I still managed to complete and publish a small anthology of stories with some friends, and that was a very gratifying process, we're going to continue and do a much bigger book in the spring. You can read about it here on my writing (and general interest) blog (where I will probably be writing more often, if you're especially hungry to read my stuff.)



Unable to help myself, I tipped my toes back into raiding as well, with some friends, or tried to, but it didn't work out very well. My dear, long-suffering friend Thistleberry and I were aching to do some heroic raiding and when our old group of friends splintered (it never really jelled in the first place), we decided to shop around. Finding space for a Protection Paladin and a Discipline Priest isn't easy, let me tell you.

But we lucked out and Nephilim of Hyjal was rebuilding their team and we happened to fit into their gap. Two weeks of rather intense catching-up to heroic-raiding later, we find ourselves ready to enter Orgrimmar with a new team.

I don't know how motivated I was to start writing again, until I found out last night that one of the new healers who joined about the same time we did was none other than Kare of Ysera's Daughter, and after a few whispers about blogging and bloggers (yes, we might have talked about you) mid-pull, I found the itch for the old Warcraft blogging community returning.

Raiding with Ophelie back at the start of the expansion was a lot of fun, and I liked that feeling of reading her posts and seeing the raid through her eyes, getting her impressions and chatting in vent (which we didn't get to do as much as I'd have liked!) And while I was raiding with Aliena, it was again, really fun to be part of her videos and contributing to the community in some way. It's a fun feedback loop, to raid with other members of the Warcraft creative community at large that motivates one to enter the fray again.

Thus, the title, blame Kare for motivating me to write again.

Tonight, we'll be going into the massive, the daunting, Siege of Orgrimmar for the first time, and while I'm quite excited to wreck Garrosh's house, I'm sorely disappointed that I won't get to do it under a blue banner, because Nephilim is a Horde guild. Alas, my beloved Lion of Stormwind won't be cresting my armor as we cleave through rows of Orcs but I suppose I have my warlock and flex raiding over on Proudmoore Alliance, and that will give me a chance to plunge my sword into that narcissistic bastard's throat.

Symbolically, of course.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Modes of Raiding

I think normal-mode guilds cannot afford to be casual anymore given the difficulty level of current tiers. Flex raiding coming in 5.4 has the potential to improve this frustration, particularly for casual guilds but it also has the potential to dramatically shrink the recruitment pool for normal-mode guilds.

This is not to say that casual players shouldn't be raiding, or any of that elitist nonsense. Of course everyone has a right to raid, as much as they have a right to access any level of content in the game. And I'm alway glad when more people get to play the way they want.

However - I feel that more and more, the content is being driven to a smaller and smaller subset of people. This sort of targeting is great, as the content is now more focused to the right audience but it comes at a pretty steep cost.

Back in the day

Let's look back at Vanilla/TBC content, when raids were linear, fights were balanced around class composition and finding attuned characters made recruiting a living hell for guilds. Wrath eased this by removing attunements, allowing for guilds to raid with 10 people, normalizing abilities and fights to "bring the player not the character" and providing a very quick catch-up mechanism though badge (now valor) gear. This worked well, but tiers were forgettable and grew old rather quickly as the new tier of badge gear invalidated the old raids immediately.

Cataclysm took this to an extreme where nobody even ran older raids once the next tier launched, and as Tier 12 and 13 both has fewer bosses than Tier 11, the whole thing was terribly lopsided. Cataclysm might been the worst raiding in WoW history. The difficulty curve for Tier 11 was very high, and while Tier 12 and 13 was normalized (re: nerfed by 20% a month in) a bit, it still felt too much for casual guilds to progress through. LFR provided the answer there, by allowing completely casual people to raid and see content.

Mists combines a lot of these ideas - there is still no attunement, valor gear is a bit more difficult to get but is less effective than current tier raiding, and there is no immediate "catch up" mechanism. Guilds that progressed first have an advantage but it's not overwhelming - players and guilds have to work pretty hard to catch up and LFR feels like it's a thing on the side, another gearing avenue, and normal/heroic raids remain the benchmarking of raiding. I'm quite happy here. It feels like a good medium level of compromise between the various aspects of raiding.

Movin' on up!

One of the things I liked about LFR as compared to normal mode is that LFR introduced and inspired people to do normal raids. When I moved back to Moon Guard, I've met a few people through PUGs who have started raiding for the first time after they grew bored of LFR and they're good players. I think LFR was intended to inspire people to move up the difficulty ladder and I'm certain that these people will slowly train and become very good raiders in their own time.

This also allowed the design team to make sure fights weren't forgiving. Encounters like Horridon, Council, Durumu, Iron Qon, and Lei Shen were brutally hard in the first few weeks. I was playing with some amazing people, and we took 3 weeks to clear the  tier and that was after putting in 12 hours a week, every week rather than our usual 9.

Things Cost More on the Ladder

When people move into normal modes from LFR, particularly in a group that's progressing, the difficulty and gear check can be a huge roadblock. And Blizzard has explicitly stated that they expect you to work on your gear outside of normal mode raids - i.e., through LFR, though Valor purchases, through upgrades, crafted materials, heroic scenarios... there are a lot of avenues so each week, regardless of progression, each team grows stronger. iLevel is a very real consideration with these bosses as raw throughput is the line between enrage and kill sometimes.

So - in light of all this, when an LFR player who is used to more-or-less queue and raid and kill has to move into normal modes, there is this daily maintenance involved.

You have to do a bit of research, you need to stay current with your gear, you  better be hitting your weekly caps with charms and valor, and you better be practicing your class. If you aren't, it's going to be difficult for the team to progress.

That's all there is to it. I don't begrudge it, I enjoy this increased level of responsibility and I like that there is a "you must be this tall to raid" barrier and it generally only takes me a small amount of time in game to accomplish this. But it does mean that if your team isn't willing to do the work, you will have a hard time playing the game.

But Wait! There's More!

So what am I going on about? Flex raids. I know why they are coming, I support the developers in their goals of making content accessible, and I appreciate just how hard it is to raid with twelve people on your roster.

But the nature of it such that I fear it will stem that upward transition. People will go from LFR to flex rather than normal, simply because of the lower level of commitment required. Flex is designed to handle a wide variety of play-styles, particularly the casual style, and it won't require as much from raiders as normal modes by definition.

My main concern with this, is that flex-raids will cause the already shrinking pool of raiders to contract even more. As you can gain achievements in flex, it further strips away a reason to step up to normal mode. 

Fear is the Mind Killer

Naturally, it's a silly thing to worry about, and if people are happy doing flex-raids, so be it. And I know that greater diversity and choice is a better thing for the game in the long run, and if the commitment required to raid normal modes is so high that it infringes on people's ability to raid and enjoy the game - then so be it, let them move on.

And there is always the possibility that flex raiders will grow out of the difficulty level. If people progress from LFR to normal mode, then there's hope that people will do the same from flex. There is another rung on the ladder and the glass ceiling is really just a time commitment.

The whole thing really has put me in two minds. One part of me is very glad and happy to see more flexibility in raiding for people, as human resources are the most complicated part of raiding. But another part of me is worried that this will make recruitment even more difficult than it already is.

Here's hoping I'm wrong.

Can you tell I'm tearing my hair out trying to find people to raid?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

This thing on?

Oh, hello.

It's been a while, eh? Two months is the longest break I've taken from this blog in a long, long time.

What have I done in the time away? Nothing much, really. I worked on some home projects, I've gotten together with my collaborator and we're working seriously on our first real game development project, I've managed to cobble an outline together for my novel that I'm very excited about. I've even rejoined my old dungeons and dragons group that players just about every week on Thursday nights and that is a great way to kick up my heels and hang out with friends I haven't seen because of my raid commitments for a long time. Hanging out with my son also takes up a lot of time, and I'm really enjoying the summer, going to the playground with him, hiking in the parks or taking him to the various zoos, gardens and museums in New York.

And.... I've managed to continue puttering about WoW without joining another hardcore raiding guild. I'm kind of glad on the one hand and kind of missing it a lot on another. It's a weird thing to game in an old and familiar if very casual way.

I transferred back to the Alliance side on my old server and my old friends and I started raiding a couple of nights, quite casually, and it's very slow going compared to what the rest of the expansion has been like.... but it's not without its charm.

For one, playing with old, familiar faces is great. I love hearing Thistle and Washburne and Kaelie and Sticky and Issacc on vent. They're all awesome and it feels like home to be raiding with them again. We've also met a couple of new friends who're quite awesome to raid with, very funny and nice and good players to boot. For another, I'm enjoying returning to a leading role that I've missed in my last two guilds - true, tanks always have some level of authority but I'm enjoying running raids again.

The not so good is the difference in playstyle between hardcore raiders and the more casual raiding that we're doing now. It's not that the players are better or worse, it's just different. There's a difference in attitude, there's a difference in the approach to problems, in the approach to wipes - I have a great appreciation for what hardcore raiding taught me, which was the value of quick recoveries and repeated attempts to learn rhythm and fix problems.

More than any of that, though, is the value of wiping. I had well over a hundred wipes on Heroic Amber Shaper when we killed it. Nobody was frustrated by those attempts, even when those wipes were coming 7 or 8 minutes into a fight near the end, as we were experimenting with ways of minimizing phase 3.

In a more casual environment, a dozen wipes feels like too much and I wonder if I'm not just pushing too hard and maybe I should just lay back on the throttle a bit.

Anyway, I'm really only playing 2 nights a week and not having a steady raid team certainly hurts. We typically wind up picking up at least PUGs every week it looks like, and that isn't helping matters any.

But. All that aside,  I'm enjoying the game. I don't have any delusions of chasing a US top 200 ranking or anything anymore, but with 2 nights a week, I'm looking to get together a group that clears through normal modes and hanging out with friends.

Of course, if we should find that our skill and gear level improves, I would not say no to pushing a bit harder on the accelerator and start pulling heroic bosses now and again. But not at the cost of the new stuff I've added into my life.

Someone has to get that gear, after all. 5.4 looks to only be a couple of months away....

If you want to raid with us Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 9pm to 12am CST, I'm looking for a tank and healer and maybe some ranged DPS. ;-)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

And then, a break in the storm....

I haven't raided in about 3 weeks.

After killing Lei-Shen (one of the all-time great fights in Warcraft history - seriously amazing), I lost my flex-time at work and couldn't raid anymore with my guild. Finding myself in a position of having to go through the applications, interviews, introductions, and assimilation, process again just proved too much.

Maybe my heart just wasn't in it as much, which makes the decision easier. Honestly, my heart broke when Tidal broke up and never really mended. From Ulduar-onward I only ever raided with people I felt like were my actual real-life friends. People whose phone-numbers were in my cell, and people I met in real-life and knew on a first-name basis. It took years to build some of those relationships, but the Occasional Excellence/Tidal people were just so genial, warm, and welcoming that the months of courtship took weeks.

That's an impossible standard to hold any guild up to. Methodical is an amazing group of people, some of the best raiders I've ever known, and yet I never felt like a part of the team. No fault of theirs, they're very warm people as any, but I think my heartbreak kept me from committing.

And finding myself having to find another group... I just couldn't do it again.

Playing this game and not raiding would be like living real life without listening to my favorite music again - an impossible task. I've decided to uninstall WoW from my computer for the time being, and replace it with real-life raiding.

Or as close as real-life gets to it anyway - I've re-joined a table-top RPG group that I had stopped playing with after my son was born. It's so nice to be back among old friends and in familiar surroundings, rolling dice and scribbling on character sheets with pencils. Well, not that I've started yet, but next week will be my first session back.

I've also begun to work on my writing career again, breaking out my old novel to re-work it for the marketplace and really giving it the old college try to sell it this time. I'm playing the Piano again and thinking about doing a bit of recording with my guitar and synths. I've begun to study a new mode of programming to get some mobile application building skills under my belt to shift careers in a year or two, and maybe move into video game programming.

In short, I've re-structured my life in the last few weeks to compensate for the loss of raiding. Yes, raiding took up enough time in my life that I sacrificed things as important to me as my writing, music and furthering my career. No, I don't regret it - raiding is the finest e-sport I've ever played, and if I had a team of friends and the time to play, I would dive back in it. But it's more than just the game itself. My character - my avatar in this world - has come to meat much to me.

My avatar's successes were my own. I took some meaning from their existence, and their glory in game was mine in some thin, yet material way. I took pride in their achievements, their accomplishments, their victories, their impeccable standing in gear and especially in my own ability as a player (if I might be so bold).

Innana - my main character, the paladin, has meant much to me. Her success in Azeroth has helped me see that success is possible in reality. The confidence in her role was both inspired in her faith (that I lack more-or-less completely as an agnostic), suicidal in its vulnerability and bold in the courage it required. I see her - and will see her - always as a human paladin, no matter her temporary race or allegiance,walking the canals of Stormwind, in simple white robes, unarmed. Her hands strangely empty for the want for a weapon and shield, her shoulders free from the grip of pauldrons. In the lack of the materials of her office, she found the peace she was fighting for.

That I never got to roleplay as much as I wanted to is my great regret. Her previous incarnation as Joachim cut very close to me in all his roleplay, and his death was written in the moment he was conceived in my mind, I think, but I didn't know it at the time. His arc was always morbid, fearful and corrupt. It consumed him in the end. But Innana was stronger than that, there was a vein of steel in her that kept back the corruption if not the melancholy of being no more than an instrument of something greater than herself, and I wish I had gotten to know her as well as I knew Joachim.

Anyway.

I've realized that if I want to spend hours and hours online, I want to do it with friends. And I want to do it in less time than I've devoted to raiding in the past. Now that nearly so many of my friends have left the game, I will also let it lay quietly. For a while. This is not an adieu, but it is, probably, a fairly lengthy break.

As for this blog? I don't know. There are so many half-written guides, incomplete posts that will likely never see the light of day...

But firstly, I want to thank those of you who have continued to read for months, or years, and those who have asked me about the lack of posts lately. Your readership has given sail to my writing over the last three years of writing block and it means a lot to me that I was able to write at last something during that period of drought.

Secondly, I love blogging. I don't intend to stop, and I don't really see the point of starting a new blog when this one already exists - maybe I can acquire it for my other "raiding" goals as it were, the new activities I mentioned above, but maybe I will start writing in a new blog just to keep this apart as a chronicle of my Warcraft experience, and return to it, if and when I return to the game. I don't know yet. I will make another post if I do start writing elsewhere, so those interested might follow.

I always thought my last days in Warcraft would be somewhat dramatic - I'd do  this or that, park my characters in thematically appropriate places, dressed for their civilian life, but I think I'm just going to leave them where they are. Mid-step in their military careers. Frozen in amber, as it were. Waiting for me to come back to them, one day, and to pick up where I left off.

Well. This has gone on long enough, and I know when I'm stalling.

Rest easy for now, my friends. Until we meet again... in this life or another.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Throne of Thunder: Week 1

I can't remember the last time a tier hit with this much content. New dailies to grind, trash to farm, and a massive raid to run in a huge complex.  It's enough to make a busy person swear off the game for some rest and relaxation! I was actually looking forward to time alone where I could just sit in a chair and read for a while and let my son play with his puzzles nearby, but alas, I had so much stuff to do in game.

Anyway - I managed to have some luck this week. For one, the egg I farmed up in the Isle of Giants dropped a mount - the Red Primal Raptor. I know it's very similar to the basic mounts but for a very recent ex-Alliance player, a Raptor mount is a freaking big deal. I also managed to get the 3 stones together for the special summoning quest (haven't done it yet, though) as well as a couple of Elite NPC items and a key to the Thunder King's Vault. So - not a bad haul for the first week.

Oh, the raid? Right, there was a raid too, wasn't there? We extended our raid week by one night to 12 hours. I know - hardcore! Right? Hardly... I wish we could've raided at least 20 hours this week, but c'est la vie.

Anyway, we used those hours quite productively, if not as productively as we'd hoped - 5 bosses down, and while they seemed fine for the most part, Magaera, the fifth boss, was very onerous to work through. Magaera seems a tad over-tuned and is perhaps meant as a gear-check gate-keeper boss, but it took a hard, punishing two nights of raid to get it down with nearly 30 attempts. All other bosses went down in 6 - 12 attempts at the most. We worked up to the sixth boss, but with minutes to go on raid time only had two pulls. Ji-Kun seems remarkably more manageable even with just some test attempts, so I'm confident next week will see us push further in, especially as we do have an extra night planned there as well.

One of our healers, Aliena, has been putting out some amazing guide videos, and they should be good for anyone who might need a bit of help with these bosses. It's so odd to see my name in Aliena's videos after studying her videos back in Wrath to learn how to kill the ICC bosses.

As for my impressions of the raid.... I don't know, I don't feel that gut-churning oomph yet. Nothing has grabbed me by the gut and wrenched my attention the way Icecrown or Karazhan did.

Not to say there isn't a lot of good here:
  • It's a massive, absolutely gorgeous raid. The environments are regal, evocative and richly detailed, the  pathways are a bit linear but disguised well so it doesn't feel like one long corridor, and after seeing only half of it, I feel it's on par with Black Temple, Ulduar or Icecrown Citadel in terms of the sheer space it occupies.
  • Further, I love the way the raid has different environments, the first 3 bosses are in the external courtyards of the castle occupied by the Zandalari forces. Then, we move into the underbelly, crawling through sewers and caverns, battling against the forgotten and lost and ignored creatures who happen to have mutated by accident in the vicinity of the Thunder King's power. Next will be the flesh-shaped experiments in discarded experimental labs and then finally the inner chambers of the palace itself. This staggered layering of the environments is just amazing for the architecture nerd in me.
  • The bosses are challenging and no walk-overs (except the first one, maybe). The troll bosses are linked thematically, I love seeing Gar'ajal back for the Council fight and the Horidon fight has some fun elements to it - I always love fights with streaming adds, it feels very much more like a fight than just fighting one big guy. Plus, Horidon is a huge dinosaur and a very intimidating presence. Tortos is just a speed kill, and while Magaera is over-tuned, it is actually a fight I can see myself enjoying once we get the gear to topple it more easily.
  • I like having a reputation grind back in a raid - it feels connected to the external world and there are Valor rewards associated with it, and that always takes me back to Karazhan and the rings and Arcane Resist trinkets that came from the Kirin Ton rep.
  • If I had one thing to complain about, it would be the sheer amount of trash. And the gimmicks build around some of these - the bridge in particular is egregious in its implementation of trash mechanics, not to mention the trash leading up to Ji-Kun - holy shit that trash is annoying to deal with.
And still... I don't feel a tug in my belly about this raid. Not yet. Maybe as we go deeper, I'll find something to hook me in.

Right now, I would say this looks like a very successful raid, it looks to be shaping up to be one hell of a tier, and I look forward to spending a few months in here, pulling apart Lei-Shen's secrets.

Monday, March 4, 2013

3 Years or "The Most Stressful Tier Ever"

Three. Years.

 There's not much I want to say or can say about writing this blog for three years. Sometimes I feel as if I should wring something out of all these thousands of words about a video-game that I've thrown onto the wall here. But - writing is its own reward, and I take more joy in writing than in anything else, even if the words are as banal as the ones that I've poured onto these pages. Over the years, this blog has gone through a number of phases.

When I started writing, it was like a journal - just stream of consciousness channeled into the ether with no consideration for who might or might nor read. Slowly, I became aware of a small audience - I've never been a popular blogger, not that I set out to be one, but still, once I knew people were reading, I wrote many tank-specific articles and raid-strategy guides back in Tier 11 and 12, even a bit into 13 but I've avoided that completely this time around. My writing has become more and more personal again.

Partly it is because the last half-year in Warcraft has been a very stressful one, and it has kept me very busy with actually gaming.  Tier 14 was long, and thick with content, and it will go down as one of the best, and one of the absolute worst, tier I've experienced in this game.

There is so much to love - from engaging mechanics and design of the actual fights, to the gorgeous architecture of the Vaults and Heart of Fear, the actual Tier was just a win in every way. The staggered release of the dungeons, and the slight difference in gear-levels all made it very worthwhile and I've had the time of my life when I've actually been raiding. Further, I've also played with some of the best players I've ever known in the game; progressed on Heroic bosses in both 25 and 10 player mode, nearly snatched the #1 ranking on WoL on a few fights, and pushed harder to complete the tier pre-nerf than I ever have before. After last night, I will be 13 Heroic bosses down, going into Tier 15. While Heroic Sha and Heroic Empress kills would have been nice, I'm certainly not bothered in the least with where I am.

I've also gotten to raid with some exceptional people - good players, yes, but also just really great people to hang out with over Mumble late into the night. Many of those voices have gone silent now, especially since I left Infinite Turtle Theory, Occasional Excellence and Tidal, but I remember them fondly and hope that I'll get to play with some of them again.

And I'm grateful to whatever string of luck landed me in my current guild - it's just chock full of awesome people, and I'm super glad that life after Tidal was worth living. I seriously didn't think I'd find a guild that matched the level of play and progression we had, with the maturity and understanding that I need as a parent with a job. Turns out playing with other married, working parents is the solution.

And, despite all the good I listed up there, here is a brief history, in graphical format, of why this was also the worst and most frustrating tier for me:
Now keep in mind, I helped found Infinite Turtle Theory in January, 2010. That's over 2.5 years of continuous raiding in the same guild with a majority of the same people. After being promoted to Raider rank in Methodical , if I don't have to look for a guild before I delete my account on some far-flung future date, it'll be too soon.

But three years. I've wondered if I have anything useful to say or if I'm just doomed to repeat myself over and over like some kind of Greek myth, unable to learn a lesson or forced to endure the same punishment for some sin I committed. My hands certainly aren't clean in the game - I've been guilty of hurting many people, intentionally or not, and I regret those events, and now I tread as carefully as I can, to try and avoid even disturbing the grass.

So is there anything left to say? I don't know. But I'll try.

At least one new trend has emerged - I manage to slip into Emo self-reflection faster than you can cue up a sad song on Spotify. And so, here I go, continuing to be Emo about all things Warcraft, dithering over my choices and looking backwards with a yearning for people and feelings that no longer exist in the game, yet hungry for what lies over the horizon, in the new Tier.

Ugh.

I feel like my blog name should probably have been, "Raiding While Emo." Too late, now. Too late by far.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Looking For A Guild Made Me Happy

I know my last post was super-mega-ultra emo and sad, but I'm honestly not that broken up about it. While I miss my guildies dearly, I know I'm in the vast minority of players to have been in not one but two fantastic raiding guilds full of mature, awesome progression oriented people that killed Heroic bosses in current content. That's a victory if I've ever heard of one. And the fact that I still talk to people from both guilds off-line is just icing on the cake. I play this game to make friends apparently.

In addition, the last two weeks have been really intense. First, I was nervous when my posts on the recruitment forums got no replies. Then I was overwhelmed with replies, and spoke with a lot of awesome people and began to eye offers as they came rolling in. Frankly, I was astonished at the response and felt obligated to reply and at least speak with everyone who contacted me because, well, it doesn't happen very often.

And because it's nice to play the part of being the courted one instead of courting all the time. :-)

After a few fantastic offers, I took up with Warfare of Frostwolf (Horde side) and transferred in to raid with them. If you're in the market for a guild, I would look there - they have some amazing leadership at the head, and the crowd is amazingly progression oriented with very efficient raids that waste no time. I spent two nights with these guys, progressing on Heroic Tsulong and it was a lot of fun, even if the fight is hectic as all Hell on 25 Heroic. Then, the third night was used to knock out no less than 6 heroic bosses between Terrace and Heart of Fear, including first time kills of both Amber-Shaper and Lei-Shi for me. That speed clear was one of the best runs I've been involved in - fast, efficient, and clean; even if I did cause a wipe or two.

Unfortunately, they raid 3 nights back to back but don't stop till 1:30am my time - which was kicking my ass by the end of the first week. I wrote a very long and polite letter explaining why I needed to keep looking but wound up explaining it all over BattleNet anyway, as we caught up in game before the GM had read the letter.

During this time, I'd been talking with a couple of people from Methodical over game chat as well as e-mail and Twitter, and when I realized Warfare wasn't working out for me, they were the next guild on my list. Another transfer of faction and server later, I wound up running in to do a couple of bosses last night in the tail-end of raiding week. What should've been a quick and easy clean-up kill on Heroic Elegon wound up taking about a half-hour because I was so nervous from first-date jitters that I kept wiping the group. They were very polite to not t just swap me out.

So, here I sit, waiting for Tuesday to see how this goes.

But - and here's the thing - if that was all, it would've been awesome enough, but instead, I also had a couple of folks contact me outside of the recruitment thing just to chat and talk about various ideas, being old and raiding, finding the right guild, all from reading my last post. This is the first time that has happened, that people searched me out to talk about something I'd written. Thanks to those of you who reached out, both in-game, or over-email; it meant a lot to me.

Anyway. Tomorrow is the start of a new  raid-week. My hopes of getting a second Feat of Strength are now all but vapor, since we have 2 weeks of raiding left to us, it seems, but so be it.

Tier 14 - you have been a bitch of an experience. Messy, needy, annoying, frustrating, tantalizing, teasing, infuriating and at times, downright cruel - but you know what? You're one of the top Tiers I've ever raided. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is it me?

For the third time in 6 months, I'm in a new guild.

After being in a guild with friends for three years, this is the most frustrating experience of my WoW career. I actually came close to thinking maybe I should just cancel my account and leave. At some point, you look at the circumstances around you and begin to wonder, is it me? Am I the one common element in these disasters, or am I just unlucky?

It might be egotistical to assume that one person has enough power to provoke such massive reactions among three disparate groups of people; but I'm coming at this from a far more depressive pattern of thought. Maybe I'm the one who creates problems, is a bad player, bossy during raids, needy for gear, arrogant, depressing, condescending, has a bad transmog, smells weird, picks my nose, eats worms - whatever - and that's why the guilds are collapsing around me. Now, objectively and intellectually, I know that's not the case. In also every circumstance (except when I first left my beloved Turtles), I know I had little if anything to do with the collapse.

Yet, I can't control how I feel about this. It's like being the guy who shows up to a party and then it breaks up right afterward - every weekend. Maybe the guy just has shitty timing, but man, it sucks to be that guy.

So, I flirted with the idea of just canceling my sub, and saying goodbye to this chapter of my life. But instead, I decided to give it another shot, interviewed with twenty or so guilds, shortened the list to about 3 offers and now I'm a Trial with one of them to see if I fit them (and if they fit me). 

I didn't have the heart to type "GQuit" again so I just paid the $55 and became a filthy Blood Elf on another server without the heartache. I also didn't realizing that it was PvP but I'm not as concerned about that part of it as I haven't been ganked (yet). I did wind up buying some PvP Honor gear, though.

The other thing I don't like about it, is that it's a Medium Population server while I prefer the busy bustling metropolis feel of High Population or Locked servers, but we'll see how it shakes out.  The guild I joined is 4 bosses ahead of me in Heroic progression and is a 25-mode raid, so that's another big adjustment. I spent last night talking with their lead tank to get an idea of how they do the various fights, and I hope I don't embarrass myself tonight.

At this point, I just want a quiet place to settle down long term and be content with my guild situation. I desperately miss my Turtles right now. I raided and played with my guild for years, but we've really drifted apart in terms of how we raid, and if I stop raiding - well, I might as well just stop playing this game.

So, once more unto the breach, however many times it takes.

Now, if you'll excuse me I need to put on some eyeliner, black lipstick, rip up some fishnets into torn gloves and smoke cloves in a graveyard while gazing sadly at the cloudy sky...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hardcore Raiding in MoP - Part 3

This is the third article in a series, you might want to start at the beginning.

In Part 1 we talked about the kind of time commitment hardcore raiding takes right now, and in Part 2 we talked about the kinds of decisions raiders need to make regarding their class, spec, race, and faction in order to maximize the odds of success. This stuff is certainly not rocket science, but I hope it gives an insight into just how much thought goes into the process.

But there are some things that I think are uniquely important to progression and competitive guilds, that most other guilds don't have to contend with.

Part 3: There's No Place Like Home

Server


Most guilds form on a particular server and much of the guild identity is associated with that server's identity - it's likely that most of the members met on the server, formed the guild or joined through a local recruiting effort and have been calling the server home for several months if not years. The familiarity is comfortable and most players have invested in alts with professions and resources that make it difficult to hop servers even if they wanted to.

Hardcore guilds face a significant issue with the server architecture - how do they recruit very well qualified raiders if their server is an undesirable back-water? If the guild is very well established with high world ranking, it's likely that people will transfer regardless of the server, but if the guild is new, or if it wants access to a broader set of raiders, or even if they want access to resources that a broader raiding community brings to the Auction House - they have to consider where they play very carefully.

Do you move to a high-population well-progressed server with several ranking guilds? There are benefits, certainly - you have more choice in recruiting locally, you (likely) have a vibrant AH with many raiding items and resources available and many buyers to grow the guild coffers, and you have competition to encourage you to keep pushing progression.

The con, of course is that the competition is a double-edged sword, and if your guild is struggling at any point, it's not difficult for your raiders to find another guild on the server and that's a constant threat to contend with. The server ranking on a very competitive server can also be misleading - on my server, we are ranked 10th overall and 6th in 10s mode with 9 heroic bosses down. But the server is ranked 5th overall in progression in the US, so on just about any other server, we would be ranked in the top 3 overall, and on over half the servers in the US, we'd be ranked first.

We chose to play on the highest ranked PvE realm in the US (Stormrage). My old server - Moon Guard - currently has one guild in heroic modes, and they are two bosses behind our progression. I was one of the people who lobbied hard for us to transfer to Stormrage because of the pros I listed above, but for me, the highest reason for transferring was the competition. I wanted a server with a very vibrant and competitive environment. I wanted to be looking over my shoulder constantly and making sure our ranking remains in the top-10.

The additional benefits are certainly helpful, the Auction House is miles and miles better than our last server, and we've had very good luck recruiting locally.

So - unlike most guilds, hardcore guilds have to make the decision about their server very carefully. They don't want to get the reputation of being ranking-snipers by switching to a quiet server, and they don't want to handicap or demoralize themselves by moving to a server where they have no chance of competing. The location of a guild tells you much about the culture therein, and what the members wants.

Order of Progression


Image from WoWPedia's Naxxramas article 

As seen above, Naxxramas presented an absolutely huge roster of bosses (15 in the one raid alone). 13 of them were available with no gating in 4 wings and the final 2 were gated behind them. The difficulty was even enough, that guilds could do the wings in any order. Many a nights were ruined when new guilds chose to start with Military wing and ran face-first into Instructor Rezuvious.

Anyway, this is a topic that has caused much passionate debate in most raiding guilds, whether hardcore or not. In a tier as broad as Tier 14, with so many choices in terms of places to go and in what order to kill bosses, it's not difficult to abandon raids or extend lock-outs, or skip around and choose one boss over another to kill.

Progression can go in two different directions for the majority of guilds. First, there's the idea of, well, progression! Kill the new boss, and move up the ladder. That's a fairly straightforward concept. But there is also the idea of farming - more loot makes things easier. Certainly, but no serious hardcore guild will spend time on farming loot when they have viable progression bosses that are not gear-gates (very strict DPS checks, for example).

So, for hardcore guilds, it's progression - but what boss do you tackle?

Hopefully, your decision is made bereft of loot concern. If you bring loot into it, then different people will have different bosses they want to get down in order to get the particular item that they're after - so what guides you? One is the established order of progression from guilds that are ahead of you.

For example, to generalize Heroic Tier 14 a bit, the order goes more or less like this for most guilds:

Stone Guard > Feng > Elegon > Gara'jal >
Blade Lord Ta'Vak > Spirit Kings > Wind Lord Mel'Jarak > Garalon >
Will of the Emperor > Lei-Shi ~ Imperial Vizir Zor'lok > Amber-Shaper >
Protectors of the Endless ~ Grand Empress Shek'zeer > Tsulong > Sha of Fear

In our case, we stuck with the order until Blade Lord, then we chose to go after Will right after killing that, then we picked Garalon, and then Wind Lord. Now we're after Amber-Shaper.

For us, the progression order was decided by the ranking weight. Heroic Will was given a lot more weight than the other bosses in the general progression order, so killing Heroic Will gave us a solid lead and breathing room on the ladder against guilds who were still working on that fight. It also gave us the confidence we needed by getting a boss down out of the progression order to get Heroic Garalon and Heroic Windlord down in more or less one night of work, each, getting us to 9/16 heroics.

Is it fair to attack bosses with different ranking weight to improve one's ranking? I think it is, as the rankings are not secret, but others might disagree.

This is by no means a simple conversation - even now, my guild is debating whether Lei-Shi might not be a more viable target than Amber-Shaper. Maybe there is no right answer, and this is a topic that will go around and around every tier as raiders debate what boss is more viable for progression. In a 10s mode guild, you also have to consider composition - on a given night, do you have enough people to do one boss more easily than another? Ideally you have all raiders showing up, but that's not always possible, of course, and I imagine often times the decision is made for you by circumstances.

Regardless, our raid-leaders made the decision and tonight, we will be fighting Heroic Amber-Shaper.

Next time, in the conclusion, I'll try to wrap up this process, and then (rather ambitiously), I'll try to arrive at some general thesis about what progression raiding feels like and why so many people are attracted to it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hardcore Raiding in MoP - Part 2

It's been a while since I posted, buying a house and moving ate my life last month. But I'm moved now! Anyway, on with the show.

Last time I talked about why I'm writing this series of articles. To recap, last week we talked about the kind of time investment heroic raiding takes, and for my guild right now, it's an average of 20 weeks in game per week just raiding and preparing for raids by farming up materials for food, Valor, flasks and potions.

That's a significant investment, but time is something we can afford to part with fairly easily - depending on our situation. Heroic hardcore raiding also comes with certain decisions that I don't think are made easily by more casual raiders - such as questions of faction, race and class.

Part 2: Tip the Scales - Race, Faction and Class

I have a fairly long history of race-changing and even an ill-advised bout of faction-changing, but all of those reasons were fairly casual - either I was tired of the model, or I did so for role-play or immersion reasons. That is to say, personal reasons that had no impact on my actual game. But as a raiding character, there are far more important things to consider.

Race

You might imagine that the aesthetics of your race is an important factor in considering what you play - but not so when racial bonuses come into play. I'll get into class-choice later, but each class (and spec) choice does have an ideal race that is most beneficial to play. In my case, as a Paladin, Alliance side, I've got 3 races - Humans, Dwarfs and Draenei - that I can choose from.

The big bonus as Draenei is the bonus 1% Hit. Gift of the Naaru and Shadow Resistance are pretty irrelevant due to how weak they are.

As a human, you get 3 bonus Expertise to using a sword or mace (useless if the best in slot weapon for a particular tier is an axe), in addition to a reputation bonus (good early in the expansion or patches with extensive grinds, useless afterward), and Every Man For Himself (encounter specific, but very powerful when it can be used like on Spirit Kings to break out of Rain of Arrows and very powerful in PvP.)

Dwarfs get that same bonus to Expertise (maces only) as humans, (useless otherwise), and a fair tanking cool-down in Stoneform on a 2 minute CD. The bonus to Archeology and 1% ranged expertise isn't useful for tanks, but might be a factor for Hunters.

As a tank, the Dwarf bonus is pretty damned appealing, except that I play a Paladin which gives me plenty of cool-downs already and I haven't found myself wanting, especially once you factor in external cool-downs. If there was a situation where you did want more cool-downs, here is a choice. Otherwise, the human is the default choice for efficiency simply with regards to how much Expertise it takes to hard-cap that stat. Unless the weapon in a given tier doesn't benefit from the bonus, at which point, Draenei might be best from a purely stat-based perspective and the Dwarf from a cool-down perspective.

Your decision on the race of your character should be based on these factors before anything else. Now, I'm certainly guilty of going after the more visually appealing race, and I play a human because it's a compromise between the hideous but practical Dwarf and the pretty but useless Draenei models.

Still, these aren't terrible by any measure, but what if the racial bonuses are just better if you play the other side?

Faction

Right now, the majority consensus seems to be that playing Horde is the way to go if you want to truly min-max to the hilt.

Certain Alliance racials do put up a good fight, as I listed a few above - but there are things on the Red Roster that make min-maxing as a Horde guild far easier and more efficient. Consider the following:
Given the fact that Horde racials include direct damage attacks, dps cooldowns and direct buffs to core survival stats - is it any wonder that just about every guild listed in the top rankings is Horde? And as a hardcore guild, it's a gut-wrenching decision to make if you stick with the Alliance. From a purely numbers perspective, these racials beat the Alliance hands-down - but at some point, the human element kicks in and for whatever reason, be it loyalty or friendship or a fondness for the faction - if you stay Blue, you are giving yourself a slight handicap in the rankings race.

Class

This is the most difficult one for me.

Characters - at the end of the day - are Classes, and Classes in turn, are sub-sets of buffs and abilities, and arranging a raid-team to ensure the proper distribution of abilities and buffs is one of the most vital parts of raid preparation.

It sounds bleak when put this way, doesn't it? Rather cold and technocratic, in a way.

But consider the reality - in Tier 13, I bemoaned the collapse of the paladin tank in heroic progression. Some fights made block-tanking just plain the wrong way of doing things. This was the first time I found myself in a situation where my class just plain couldn't do the heavy lifting necessary for progression. Thankfully we had a Death Knight tank in the guild who picked up the slack, but the point remains - had we been a Warrior/Paladin tanking team, we could have been stuck for a good long while on these bosses.

In order to mitigate these sorts of gating situations, the ideal way to progress is to play the most versatile classes possible and keep a roster of alts at hand to bring in in, should your class face severe nerfs during the course of the expansions, like the great Death Knight nerf of 2009 when Ulduar came out and Death Knights suddenly found themselves bereft of the Dual Wield/Pet/Gargoyle mega-spec.

That was a good day.

Anyway, right now the Paladin class is strong - viable for heroic progression, strong support abilities in the various hands if with a somewhat lackluster raid-wide cool-down. However, the class lacks a vital buff that other tanks bring to the raid - Attack Power. In 10s, this is especially painful and so, I've leveled up a Death Knight to cap and am now in the process of gearing her up as a stand-by in case we do run into the roadblocks of the past. Gearing up in Mists isn't quite as easy as it was in prior expansions, but with LFR and the expected nerfs to Tier 14 when Tier 15 is released, I don't imagine I'll have a hard time catching up.

And if you notice, once again, the decision is based purely on logistics - regardless of one's attachment to a particular class or character. So, having a well-geared alt of a completely different class is one of the best things a hard-core raider can do for their raid team. In the world top ranked guilds, people often maintain a small stable of characters to ensure each fight has the best composition possible, but the idea remains the same. Even relatively in low-ranked hardcore guilds, more people will have at least one or two well-geared alts to bring into raids, just in case.


Next time, we'll talk about where you play and we'll tackle a problem that generates healthy debate in my guild - order of progression.