Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thorim(25), Mimiron(10), and Vezax(10) too!

Sometimes, A little bit of yelling is really all it takes. Knowing that someone else on the team is committed to making a particular attempt work can really encourage other raid members to give everything they can. The accomplishments of this past week came through in large part, I believe, because of effective yelling.

Yelling to show dedication is nothing new. Nearly every martial art emphasizes the use of a "Ki'ai," a short shout, with the execution of a strike. Yelling does a lot: it tenses many muscles in the chest and core, giving extra strength to the strike; it can offset opponents, given the loud and sudden nature of yelling; it connects a physical motion with the brain in a second manner, giving new commitment to the action. If you aren't willing to shout about an attack you're making, then you probably aren't committed enough to the attack.

Now, I wasn't calling for Ki'ais or anything during any of our attempts this week. But the method of keeping people committed through vocal communication really helps - I'm sure that's one of the main reasons Ventrilo is so universal in raiding guilds. Keeping people on pace with Thorim, Mimiron, and Vezax all hinged greatly on quick communication; typing out messages just wouldn't keep people informed fast enough (not to mention cutting into the already-limited attention to not-standing-in-fire issues).

Mimiron10 went down on Saturday. The fight was actually surprisingly easy once saves in Phase 1 were handled. Not having a priest cost us a sizeable chunk of my health pool, but the healers managed to spam hard enough with saves running to never lose me. Phase 2 on 10s is remarkably easy when you realize there's no benefit to stacking (no damage split). Everyone can just fan out around the boss and keep only one person in LoS of the guns at a time - easy to heal. Run forward to avoid rockets, then back up and repeat. Phase 3 was cake: spell reflect Tanking was easy, and I taunted bombs as well; my OT went Bear-Form and played with assault bots. Phase 4 was pretty epic and somewhat disorganized, but not terribly difficult to heal through.

On our first attempt that reached past Phase 1, we kind of lost our heads in Phase 4. We got him the second time around. Even with a single DPS up to help me, we were able to break off the head and then Cleave+Shockwave down the other two components in a few seconds. All in all, six attempts brought us to 11/14 in Ulduar10. We threw some attempts on Vezax10, but we were a combination of unfocused and tired by the time we understood the mechanics of his fight. I think some of us were also still distracted by all of the pretty windows in the hallway. I may just go meander down that corridor for hours someday.

Thorim25 is a nightmare with insufficient Melee DPS. Last week, we threw 16 people in the arena, 7 caster DPS and 2 melee DPS among them, and got destroyed every time. This week, we finally had 5 melee DPS and 2 hunters in the Arena: I didn't even have to try hard while tanking that. The ludicrous amount of latent AoE that melee DPS throw out demolished the Commoners in a way that seven AoEing casters combined could not manage - too much of a penalty from the slowing debuff. Thorim himself was fairly simple once people started paying attention to spreading out and not-standing-in-lightning-fields. I managed to get killed three times during our kill, twice by CLightning (Nerf CLightning on melee plzkthxbai), and once by a bad Unbalancing Strike combination. A third battle rez may have hit me in there, but I didn't dare take it until Thorim finally shouted "I Yield." Sif's Promise was more than an ample reward for the agony that he put me through - one of the greatest Threat-Tank pieces I've yet seen, and no melee DPS wanted it.

Vezax10 was revisited on Monday and went down quickly. We had a couple of new people we needed to train, one of whom didn't quite grasp the threat sacrifices I had to make to help out our easily-OOM healers as much as I could (100% uptime on Demo Shout kinda kills me sometimes...). Once he learned that I cannot taunt Vezax (the hard way), we had an easy time with him. That fight is one of the most stressful fights inside Ulduar, though not because it's particularly hard. The simple necessity to keep up on interrupts every 11 seconds, to have a cooldown or kite path ready every minute, to stay in range of healers at all times, to spread for MotF and collapse into Shadow Crash pools, and to manage mitigation effects and full threat on Vezax the entire fight was draining on all of us. After a few attempts, our rogue was ready to trade jobs with anyone in the room; I'm grateful we dropped Vezax before we gave him CTS from tensing over the Kick button for so long.

We gave Yogg10 herself a few visits, but breaking off her initial bubble without spawning hordes of creatures will take some more practice. The landslide quality of Phase 1 is nerve wracking, but I'm excited to get more attempts in on her. And, perhaps, we'll be making visits to her on 25's soon too.

I won't be getting chances to visit any of these people for a while, though. I'm presently on vacation on the West Coast, and I'll be here for the next two raid weeks. I'm sad to miss out on the work, and I already know that pieces I've been dreaming of have gone to other tanks on our roster, but I'll live. I was able to tank through all of the content so far without them, after all; I should be able to keep going until they happen to drop again. I just hope that there's still some fun left for me to have when I get back home. After all, I'm not done playing in Ulduar yet - I still have a whole lot of yelling to do at Sara's face.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Tanking of Ulduar

Okay, it's time for some tanking reflections. I've been doing a lot of tanking lately - hours upon hours of tanking - and Ulduar is distinctly different from Naxx/Heroics tanking. I'll go over some specific encounters to hopefully cover two bases at once:
First, I'd like to have some tanking reference for other tanks in regards to these fights, as well as for my own personal log. Knowing how I handled the normal-mode version of an encounter may help in formulating hard-mode and future encounter solutions.

Second, I'd like to demonstrate just how well Blizzard has stepped up the tanking experience. The days of "stand and tank" or "tank and swap" have been relegated to trash pulls at best; the boss encounters dive into some exciting new mechanics.

Now, an initial sampling: I'll touch on Razorscale, Iron Council, Freya, Hodir, and Thorim below. Mimiron, Vezax, and Yogg I have yet to properly engage, so I don't feel I have adequate experience with them yet; expect more on these soon!

Razorscale: Everyone loves to call AoE tanking irrelevant for a true MT. The new Unrelenting Assault build for Warriors sacrifices nearly all the available Warrior AoE talents, and this encounter is one of the primary reasons I believe that such a spec will fail. From a tank's perspective, this encounter is solely concerned with controlling a horde of dwarves. This task is enormously difficult to handle at first, especially when dealing with multiple tanks trying to share a bunch of adds all spawning on top of each other: one tank invariably picks up most of the adds, and this is a dangerous state (so much incoming melee + an unlucky fireball = dead tank, not to mention the rage/mana starvation of the other tanks so they can't pick up if the one tank dies or loses a mob). At the same time, all of the gaps have to be covered to protect the healers from getting gibbed by anything other than bad boss RNG.

At the end of the day, this fight requires some immense AoE tanking across all of your tanks, and they must be comfortable with sharing the tanking burden. Tanking Razorscale himself requires some clever kiting mechanics while maintaining strong threat, but the difficulty here is far less - it's just an elaborate version of "stay out of the fire," with some tank-swapping coming up along the way.

Iron Council (Assembly of Iron, for the nitpickers): So much for Gag Order being a useless talent. After tanking this encounter on 10s and 25s, I'm extremely glad I ditched Improved Disarm for Gag Order in both of my specs. The reasoning for this? OTing Phase 2 of the easy-mode approach to this fight (Stormbreaker -> Runemaster -> Stormcaller Brundir).

Phase 1 OTing is simple enough, because Shield Bash will easily shut the mob up if he happens to be standing in a Rune of Power. Cycling stuns for the down-time means that good reactions leave Brundir entirely incapacitated for Phase 1.

When Phase 2 hits, I usually have a rogue assist interrupts because Lightning Whirl and Chain Lightning are not in the same spell school (can someone explain that for me?). This usually works fine. However, on two separate occasions we have had a Rune of Death spawn directly underneath us. The result? The rogue and I are forced to run for the walls, leaving Brundir 15 yards from us, happily spamming his spells of death on the entire raid. The solution? Serve up one (Gag) Order of Heroic Throw. The three-second silence easily drags Brundir out of the Rune of Death, however sad he may be, and interrupts can proceed as normal. I enjoyed this moment of success a bit too much, I suspect, but it was still pretty amazing in my opinion.

Freya: Again with the adds. I guess my job for this fight is considered OT, but the adds are just so much more exciting to deal with than Freya herself. The Conservator is admittedly boring, so long as DPS waits for me to get under a mushroom.

The Lashers are fun, as Shockwave will stun all of them in their tracks if they're correctly stacked. I don't know that the stun is long enough to let DPS kill them without people being in range, but at least the removal of some melee damage eases the healing by a bit. This portion of the fight really revolves around precision stun/nova timing to kill them without killing the raid, or else single-target sniping through the adds once they're weak.

Thereafter, bring on the trio of adds. I'm still working on a reasonable way to handle all three on 25's, but in the meanwhile a DK spamming CoI allows for good survival against the Snaplasher during this period. I, meanwhile, spend my time stunning the hell out of the Water Elemental to keep it from running away, and then Shield Bashing in the face of the Stormlasher's Storm Bolts. Never have I been so grateful for Cleave, slapping threat onto both of these targets indiscriminately as I swap back and forth between them.

Once the adds are cleaned up, all that remains for me is some Devastate-spam to make Freya more vulnerable, and then chaining my pitiful Berserker Stance DPS on her back.

Hodir: I thought tanking this fight on 10man was fun. Compared to tanking this fight on 25man, the 10man version is boring and dull - 25man Hodir is an absolute blast. Here I am, rolling my mitigation spec and frost resist gear to all but guarantee that this is my weakest set for threat generation. I didn't want to risk more threat gear or the threat spec, as straining healers in this encounter is a bad idea.

Meanwhile, every one of the DPS is sitting on huge amounts of DPS-boosting buffs. The result: Our top boomkin rocking 7.5k average DPS on Hodir's face, with most of the rest of the raid easily hitting 5k to 6k DPS.

Even with Vigilance up on a warlock and Intervene on constant cooldown, I was breaking my face against the keyboard to keep up. Concussion Blow, Shockwave, Shield Slam, Revenge, and even Heroic Throw were all on constant cooldown. Devastate was squeezed in wherever it could fit; I eventually ditched TC and DS from the rotation entirely - I couldn't afford to lose a single threat-oriented GCD. The boss's bursty damage made me curse as I was forced to give up a few Heroic Strikes to keep from missing another Shield Slam.

Admittedly, I gave the buffs no mind, and they may have helped my performance. Nevertheless, I never lost to the Boomkin in threat (I'm still kicking myself over losing a mage in the opening moments, but Taunt has frustrating mechanics when the boss isn't targeting anyone).

So why do I enjoy this encounter? What on Earth is appealing about breaking my fingers trying to maintain a superior threat rotation in mitigation gear while moving, jumping, and intervening as often as I can? Simply put, it's the challenge. If I miss a single GCD or side-step, I risk the life of a DPS or myself. There isn't another boss fight in the game where I've felt the same kind of accomplishment for knowing what I'm doing with my tank. I was given all of these tanking tools when my class was made, and this encounter gives me a real chance to put every one of them to use. No gimmicks made simple by an intervene (Overload), and no mechanics to make the tank's life remain easy when the DPS are boosted (Loatheb, Thaddius).

People said they had trouble holding threat on Malygos; I never had a problem with him, even with portalling Warlocks. Now there's Hodir, and good God does he give me a workout. Getting into Hard Mode on this one is going to necessitate my threat gear and spec, I fear; I apologize in advance to the hell I'll likely put healers through when we get there.

Thorim: Moar adds! Moar! The arena is a chaotic swirl of death, and the hallway is almost boring by comparison. If it weren't for the hellish pain that the Arena was going through, there'd be no reason to rush the hallway at all. This is thankfully a fairly front-loaded fight, unlike Malygos. If the arena can survive long enough for the hallway to beat down two minibosses, then Thorim himself is relatively simple: spread out to avoid spreading Chain Lightning, and stay out of the glowing blue sparks on the floor. Tanks can taunt back and forth easily enough for Unbalancing Strikes, and it's just a weak sort of DPS race to drop Thorim before he drops the tanks (or DPS with his Chain Lightning).

I find this to be yet another fight centered around controlling and decimating adds. Do I hear a theme of adds in raid boss encounters? I thought I was good at controlling adds packs - encounters like this teach me that I still have work to do.

Other: Ignis, Deconstructor, Kologarn, and Auriaya are all fun tank encounters, too, though dramatically simpler. The Keepers are really the pinnacle of tanking challenges (Mimiron will likely join this list when we're through with him). Vezax appears to be more of a simple tank fight, if you choose to rotate cooldowns on the tank; the stress here is on the healers. Thereafter, there's Yogg, Hard Modes, and Algalon.

Ulduar does indeed push forward some of the best content tanks have gotten to experience in a long, long time. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm enjoying every minute that I spend tanking in Ulduar, from the wipes to the one-shots.

Filling the Off-Nights

Original Authored Date: 5/5/09
Source of Delay: Pre-Finals Overload

It doesn't take long to learn that 4 nights of serious raiding each week is really sufficient to meet the needs of even a hardcore raider. Especially with three of those nights in a row, the subsequent lull on the off-days is palpable. I generally find myself online during these lulls anyways, as my workload permits, but finding the energy to even run old farm instances (OS, Naxx) is hard.

I don't know exactly how to feel about this. On the one hand, I'm loving every minute I'm in Ulduar. Even when we're wiping from stupid mistakes, the group chemistry and general willingness to try again, to try something new, and to fix what is broken is motivating and inspiring and, most of all, fun. In some sense, the four-hour raid nights seem to pass too quickly; there's rarely a sense of dragging our heels through the content.

On the other hand, Ulduar is all we have regularly scheduled. I adore the new challenges, but part of me wishes I didn't have to give up all of the existing content for it. I don't know why I enjoy going back: the content is trivially easy, and the gear upgrades are minimal at best. But that lower difficulty has innate advantages: we can be lazier when we're in Naxx, and we can go for random achievements for fun.

Maybe it's simple. Maybe it just boils down to: I need to do these Ulduar raids, so they are less appealing, while content I don't need to do suddenly becomes more appealing by virtue of not being mandatory. I don't believe this to be true; I signed up for hardcore raiding content because I wanted to keep the pace, and I still do want to take on these new challenges.

Is it simpler still? Do I just want to be able to do everything every week? I think it'd be hilarious to have every single raid on lockout for my tank and my off-characters. The time requirement there is enormous, however, even with a full schedule set ahead of time: I don't think I'll be finding that many free hours until I'm out of school and unemployed. Nevertheless, I've found that the irrationality of a goal rarely mitigates the desire for that goal; more often than not, it makes that goal even more desirable.

Ultimately, I think I am finding myself with just enough time to squeeze in one more good raid night, but not enough camraderie available during that time to pull off a solid run. I guess this isn't such a bad thing - I just need to be okay with not running a raid at that time. Maybe someday raid times will change to spread out more, but I certainly recognize the need of a solid chunk of time each night, as well as nights with no obligation (I do need some nights off myself, if only to farm up more mats and repair funds).

I guess I'll need a bit more time to adjust to the new timing scheme. If I truly delve into these raid nights and take the off-nights completely off the game, I may find that I enjoy this new system even more than I thought I would. Now I don't have to miss raids to see DanceTroupe's "In the Spotlight"!

5/16/09 Update: My guild has reached the point at which we can run Ulduar25 regularly. Off-nights are now able to be Ulduar10's, which appeal to just about everyone (definite gear upgrades, decent challenge and involvement) and do not require a full raiding roster to log on. Naxx25 just doesn't seem possible if we don't give it a scheduled night, and why would we? There's more fun to be had in Ulduar!