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!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Triumph of the Dual-Tank

So a while back, I posted up my intentions for Dual-Specs. My actual point distributions have changed a little bit since then, but I've kept the same general structure.

Present Protection Threat-Spec:

Present Protection Mitigation-Spec:

The magic for these is largely in the glyphs. With the threat spec, I'm dishing out Cleaves onto masses of trash, and the Devastate glyph really helps for building quick burst potential (Emalon adds, anyone?). Meanwhile, having 2min cooldowns on both Shield Wall and Last Stand is amazing - I'm able to be under some form of additional protection for virtually all of a boss's effective attack time.

At present, I'm hot-swapping between the two specs at least once a day, up to about 10 times during a single raid night. Razorscale Trash? Threat spec. MT for Ignis? Mitigation spec. Kologarn OT? Threat Spec. Caster & Runemaster tank for the Assembly of Iron? Mitigation spec. I swap, and swap, and swap again....

The most laborious part of this spec-swapping is swapping gear with it. Especially with the upgrades in Ulduar (I've had a very fortunate week), I keep needing to reassess which pieces I can swap in and out without risking crit-vulnerability, insufficient hit/expertise, or insufficient dodge/parry (after all, even my mitigation spec has to be able to push out some numbers to keep up with the DPS).

That being said, the increased flexibility in my gear has really been one of the best parts of the whole 3.1 experience. Having a defense trinket on hand means I can run with a couple of DPS Plate pieces on, and full Tank Plate gear presently removes my need for a defense trinket - the subsequent stamina benefit, even with my crappy engineering trinket, is substantial. It's hard to manage all the gear, and certainly takes some time to sort through, but I think the benefits have already paid for themselves: enough mitigation (in Frost Resist gear) to solo-tank Hodir, and enough threat to hold Freya's adds (aside from the detonators) while kiting them. I have all of the tools for this flexibility at my disposal as necessary.

Now, do I miss having the potential to be a Fury Warrior? Not really. Titan's Grip is a fun talent, and looks badass, but I just hate pulling from the loot pool to get that part of my set up to par. Perhaps I'm putting a bit more strain on available tanking pieces, but enough of my pieces serve in both sets that I don't think it's nearly as substantial as needing to construct a whole secondary set. I don't want to get rofl'ed at for wearing my threat-tank cloak in my Fury spec because I have no alternatives on hand. Moreover, facerolling on a Fury Warrior is not what I signed up for: tanking is my prerogative.

More to come on the raiding experience at the end of the raid week, but I'll say this for now:
  • It's a great feeling to see everyone in the guild in Ulduar during raid time. Every single member, making full raids.
  • It's a great feeling to start a raid on time, if not early, every raid night. Every single member understands and respects the time the other raiders are putting in to make progression work.
  • It's a great feeling to clear more in a single night of raiding than I was able to do in two or three raid nights in the past. It's amazing what effective communication and actively listening to instructions can do to overcome learning curves.
  • It's a great feeling to push my tanking to the limit, pressing to clear brand-new content for which there are no hand-holding guides available. Needing to improvise and spring every trick I have to get the job done is exhilarating, and the subsequent success is truly rewarding.
So yeah, it doesn't suck entirely. It's actually kinda tremendous. Now I just need to keep up and make sure I earn my spot to continue raiding.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wall of Real Life crits you for...

Has it really been that long since I've written anything on here? That's pretty deplorable, to be honest. Anyways, here's the highlights of my activity since "Rycharde the Undying" happened - let's try to catch up:

The last few weeks of 3.0: Nothing too exciting here. OS+1 on 25s, OS+1 on 10s, and oh-so-close to OS+2 on 10s (dropped both drakes with boss @ 70% on our best attempt). EoE25 also joined the pile. There were a few other cute achievements along the way, but no new titles, and no OS+3 attempts to even let us think about having a pretty proto-drake.

Patch 3.1, week 1: FLV25 == Loot Train, end of story. Everything after that has thus far faceplanted. Not a bad thing, honestly, because it means there's an actual challenge in this game now with the added bonus of a Loot Train to open the doors. After the run that demoralized / terrified many of my fellow raiders, we worked up enough to take on Uld10. Razor and XT-002 joined FLV10 in the pile of dead things.

Patch 3.1, week 2: More FLV25 demolish, and even less work on other content in the instance. The DPS raiders were not coming close to the necessary DPS to bring Razor out of the air before the enrage. XT's reinstated trash then denied us with 20min on our raid clock, so we called the run. Back in 10's, we got all three bosses down again (in 2 hours, much better than the ~8hrs last week), and spent an hour banging heads against Ignis. 2% was our standing record, and I sure wish now that I had been hitting the boss more while OTing the other constructs. We would've had him, but time was against us again; we only got the one night that week.

Tanking News: Dual-specs are the best thing ever. I love having a full mitigation spec and a full threat spec available at the drop of a hat. I can mitigation-spec to take 3 of XT-002's punches in sequence before I need a heal, and I can hop to threat-spec to produce 2.5k DPS on Razorscale. I've also been reading up on the power of the new, Unrelenting Assault build. I'm not terribly excited about it, as I don't want to lose the AoE potential of my current Threat spec (my mitigation spec just isn't quite as impressive). However, if the time comes when my Mitigation spec is outdated (Ulduar on Farm), then I may well choose to "update" my current threat spec to my mitigation spec, and employ UA as my new, single-target threat spec. This is a ways off, though - I'm more concerned with actually dropping a boss at the moment.

Tanking difficulty in general has taken a serious leap forwards. XT-002 excluded, all of the opening bosses require substantial movement, awareness, and responsiveness from the tanks - especially the Off-Tanks. I'm really excited about this, honestly. I almost feel lazy when I just stand still and spam buttons on bosses (Maex, Patch, Loatheb, Gluth, KT, Sarth, etc.). At least when MTing XT-002, I have to spam sunders onto the heart to amplify the incoming DPS - the old health pool and enrage timer were far harder to handle.

Overall, I'm thrilled to have a new difficulty level. Once again, being good at my class may actually be a distinguishing feature (assuming I'm any good these days... time to learn all over again). No more faceroll tanking makes me happy.

Off-raid content: I finally made the decision to change guilds, as I search for a more dedicated raiding team in this game. For those keeping track, I was a member of Comitatus, and have now switched to Dis Pater. I've gobbled up the new content, read every post on the website's forums, and started staring curiously at the DKP system that everyone talks about so much. Apparently, it's the qualifier for whether or not you're a hardcore raiding guild. I doubt that true, but earning a "currency" for attending and participating seems to be pretty awesome to me.

Looking Ahead: I'm excited to get back into updating this blog. I'll try to keep information coming about tanking experiences, both in and out of Ulduar. I'm also looking into connecting the Warrior Tanking Compendium to this blog. I'm still working out the details, but I'd love to have that link on the sidebar.

I'm also excited to get into Ulduar with a set of dedicated raiders. Moreover, I'm excited to have fun while raiding again. These first two weeks have been hard. This wasn't because the content is hard, but because my fellow raiders didn't want a challenge. Wiping on new and exciting bosses just doesn't entice them as it entices me. Raiding certainly isn't enticing when the lower performers are substantially below the minimums for the raid. I want this content to be hard, but I want to know that my fellow raiders are on the level, too, ready to learn and practice and reap the rewards of a real challenge (easy raiding leads me to do boring Undying runs, and no one wants that). Hopefully, this will be the case in Dis Pater.

Ulduar Week 3, here I come!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flawless Victory

Last night, I was present for yet another death of Normal-Difficulty Kel'Thuzad. However, as the Lich Lord faded into a little black dot, a magical thing happened:

"You have earned the title, 'Rycharde the Undying'"

In three-and-a-half hours, Nine other players and I made a Horde-side first accomplishment on the Antonidas server. We went end to end through Normal Naxxramas without a single death - neither on trash nor on a boss did a single player die (we know that trash doesn't count, but it turns out that we're purists). This was our first planned attempt at "The Undying" achievement.

So, we one-shot perhaps the hardest achievement in Normal Naxxramas, and of that I'm extremely proud. This particular achievement means so much to me because of the uniform difficulty it imposes to all of the raiders. That is, every single player within this run had to survive every fight in the instance on the first try. We made no replacements when we reached Kel'Thuzad.

I don't know how to better express the magnitude of skill that this achievement requires of every one of the raiders. To survive every single fight requires a great deal of attention for the entire run. No mistakes and no slips could occur: not one made a mistake.

This touches back to that raid responsiveness post I made. Our achievement here didn't come from having excessively powerful gear: not one of us is fully geared from Heroic Naxx, and I for one had swapped gear to maximize threat generation, rather than survivability. We didn't make the Quick Werk achievement. No, the achievement was not made possible because of the ilvl of our gear (Our gear is good, to be sure, but that simply supplied a larger buffer for us. We never dipped into that buffer). The achievement came from superior gameplay performance from the players involved.

Perhaps the best example of responsiveness came during the KT encounter. At about 30%, our offtank was Frost Blasted while tanking both of the adds. Only one healer was in range of him at the time, and our Ventrilo channel started freaking out. I kept a play-by-play up over them, and just as our OT dropped to 20% health, he was back to full health. WHat happened? Our Ret Pally snapped a Lay on Hands onto the OT. Now, do you have the responsiveness to target your off-tank and use a tanksaving ability in three seconds, within your DPS rotation, without a raid warning as a prompt? I'm confident that every raider involved in our achievement could do this, and those kinds of performances are what truly make me proud of our achievement.

The Roster, for those of you who are curious:
Rycharde (Comitatus), Protection Warrior - Tank
Awäke (VIP), Retribution Paladin - DPS
Cretlucid (Comitatus), Protection Paladin - Tank
Caboosé (VIP), Discipline Priest - Healer
(Comitatus), Restoration Shaman - Healer
(VIP), Restoration Shaman - Healer
Brangane (Comitatus), Fire/Arcane Mage - DPS
Telulu (VIP), Balance Druid - DPS
Victimize (Comitatus), Demo/Destro Warlock - DPS
Kelgor (Comitatus), Survival Hunter - DPS

You'll note that this was a two-guild effort (6 Comitatus members, 4 VIP members). Awäke and I each lead much of the 25-man content that our guilds are presently running. We planned this run for several reasons:

First, we wanted to expose our players to each other. Running with guildies is a good thing. Running only with guildies can become dangerous: there's too much risk of becoming a single, exclusive clique. Players risk losing touch with and even ignoring other players that are very good, simply because they are in another guild. Awäke and I don't want to have that happen, at least not for our own gaming experiences. We won't let guild boundaries restrict who we ask to work with us.

Second, we were getting quite burnt by the admittedly amatuer attempts of our guilds to work Heroic Raids. There's nothing wrong with the systems that our guilds are using, but the process of learning to work with 24 other players simultaneously is a very trying task. We're new to these process, so it's guaranteed to be painful and slow. Taking some time out to work on 10-man content in an independent venue allowed for a calmer, more relaxing experience that we spliced in between our guild's scheduled runs.

Third, we were looking for a viable challenge. Having cleared all 10-man content well over two months ago, achievements are just about the only source of challenge. We considered trying to 8-man content, but that means we must leave another two people out - a less desirable option when compared to just keeping everyone alive. "The Undying" achievement was a fun challenge; it took a lot of attention and readiness to improvise, yet allowed us to have a good time chatting and planning over Ventrilo.

So sure, we may get some flak for not doing a single-guild run. But those of us who ran the fights had a good time, and now have an amazing title to commemorate the achievement. I feel great about how the run went, and I look forward to working with those players again, and so should we all. There are several other players who I would love to bring in to our runs, as well (again, the limitation of people fitting in the raid is a bit painful). Then there's "Of The Twilight," "You Don't Have an Eternity," and all of the "Less is More" achievements. Now that we know we can survive anything, we should be able to accomplish all of the achievements.

Finally, to my raidmates: as of 3/18/2009, we are the first 10 Horde players on Antonidas with "The Undying" achievement. Congratulations; You Win Forever.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dual Spec 2/2: Capitalizing on Mitigation

It's a tough path, trying to extract every last ounce of mitigation from the Warrior talents. However, the coming Glyph of Shield Wall gives some hope to the Improved Disciplines talent. Then there's the lack of need for Puncture, and the increasing power of Disarm. Top it off with the power of Improved Demoralizing Shout, and the talenting plan changes drastically.
Tentative Protection Spec (5 / 1o / 56)
Glyphed With:
Glyph of Shield Wall - Crucial for Shield Wall chaining
Glyph of Blocking - Dual threat and mitigation buffer
Glyph of Revenge - Nice compensation for loss of Imp HS and Puncture
Shield Wall: For a talentless & unglyphed Warrior, Shield Wall has a 5 minute Cooldown and reduces incoming damage by 60% for 12s. With talents, the cooldown can be brought down to 4 minutes - not at all an exciting change. I have a very hard time visualizing an encounter that has exactly two big burst-damage events that are tighter than 5 minutes, but more spaced than 4 minutes. If used in rotation with many external cooldowns (Guardian Spirit, Divine Guardian, etc.), I can imagine some arguable benefit for the cooldown shift, but the benefit seems highly specialized.

With the advent of Glyph of Shield Wall, a talentless & glyphed Warrior will have a Shield Wall with a 2 minute cooldown, but reduces incoming damage by only 40% for 12s. With talents, the cooldown now drops to only 1 minute. Thus, a Warrior can conceivably spend 20% of his time under the protection of Shield Wall. When Shield Wall is talented, the uptime of Shield Wall quadruples because of the glyph, and the damage reduction is reduced only by a third. I can easily imagine bosses with relatively frequent bursts of damage that, if mitigated by just 40%, will then become easily healable. With those same external cooldowns, as well as the occasional Last Stand and Shield Block + Trinkets, the tank can sit under some form of enhanced protection for a very long time. When it comes to Progression, stringing these mitigators may be crucial - it's comforting to know that Warriors will be able to do their part to keep the chain running.

Consequences: With SW on a 60-second cooldown, it will need to be in rotation far more often than I currently have it. It will likely not be a tanksaver anymore, and will need to be activated more premptively; LS will need to go up with it to ensure an actual healing buffer. It will certainly be a learning curve to incorporate this mitigator, but the payoffs will be substantial for progression tanking.

Disarm: Blizzard took an interesting approach to tanking with the release of WotLK: Every boss is tauntable, and every armed boss can be disarmed. These mechanics may not hold for T8 raid bosses and beyond, so this is a design I'll employ only so long as armed raid bosses can be disarmed. Improved Disarm reduces the cooldown on Disarm by a third, and increases the damage dealt to a disarmed target by 10%. That's a raidwide damage increase of 2.5% on any armed boss, if Imp Disarm is kept on cooldown constantly. In addition, disarmed PvE mobs dealt roughly 60% less physical damage in TBC. If we get half of that mitigation now, an armed boss who focuses on physical attacks will hit for only ~70% of his damage when disarmed. In turn, Disarm becomes another cooldown against armed bosses. This talent is absolutely useless against unarmed bosses (dragons, spiders, huge cosntructs, etc.), but it may well be the last needed mitigator in rotation against an armed raid boss.

Consequences: I'm still in the naive BC mindset of not being able to disarm most armed raid bosses. This is another ability that I'll need to learn to string into my rotation in order to keep mitigation up. This ability will likely trump even the newly glyphed Shield Wall in a mitigation rotation, if only because it amplifies raidwide damage in addition to keeping incoming damage to a minimum.

Improved Demoralizing Shout: This one Used to be a pretty standard element in my builds. The introduction AttT makes me less inclined to think of the Fury Tree as a source of mitigation, but the talent is still there. It'd be nice to depend on a DPS Warrior to pick this up, but I can't depend on that with the current raid setup in my guild. Thus, I'll pick it up myself.

Consequences: Easy money, here. I keep DS up on any target that scares me at all (i.e., bosses not on easy farm). This is simply a straight, if small, benefit to mitigation over the entirety of any phyical-damage fight.

The Losses - Charge, Puncture. and Gag Order: I always considered the one point in Charge to be a bit of a throwaway talent. I certainly enjoy opening a bossfight with enough rage for a Shield Slam, but the now-free Bloodrage makes this easy without the extra talents: just Bloodrage, then charge. The talent is thus mediocre at best. Puncture, meanwhile, is a bit of a disappointment. Devastate used to be the crux of a threat rotation, and now I find that I have to avtually watch to keep the Sunder debuff up and running. Puncture, then, seems to only really help in the solo field: saving rage on that nice, spammable ability to allow for more Heroic Strike spamming - not a talent I'll actually miss against a raid boss.

Gag Order is a bit of a hit to threat. Bosses cannot be silenced, of course, but the loss of 10% of my Shield Slam damage is a direct cut into my threat generation. If I find that IDS only needs 2/5, two of those saved points are going right into Gag Order. Then again, Shield Slam's threat has a large constant coefficient, independent of the damage dealt. I may find my threat to be dropping somewhat more than I strictly would like with the loss of Gag Order, but I'm trying to convince myself that my skill in maintaining a strong threat rotation will keep my TPS high enough for my raid, while maximizing my mitigation to save my healers from breaking their hands on their keyboards.

Conclusions: There are no flex points in my new mitigation build, so I won't be getting a lot of the glamour talents I could think about before. I also sacrifice a fair deal of threat generation: I'll be losing Imp Heroic Strike, Impale, and Deep Wounds, in addition to the talents above. But, then, that's why I have Dual Specs for tanking now: I can run full mitigation or full threat at the drop of a hat, depending on the upcoming encounter. Also, since talents here do not affect my crit immunity, I can safely put on mitigation gear while in threat-oriented talents (or vice versa) to perform a nice hybrid tank job. Versatility in tanking, what a new concept!

The Future: If there's a lot more of this AoE Stun mechanic, I may very well move points from IDS to Iron Will - 20% less stun time is 20% less time in which I'm a sitting duck. If I'm never stunned, then this talent's a waste, but if Maexxna's mechanic becomes a family favorite, it may well be worth considering.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dual-Spec 1/2: Threat Tank Build

So, I'm a bit of a mathematics nut. I go to an engineering college, and have taken all sorts of mathematics and computer-mathematics hybrid courses. Lately, my tanking routine is more or less on cruise control, so my posts here have been somewhat lacking in actual tanking-relevant content. To change that up some, I'll employ that mathyness to ensure that my two new, upcoming specs will be the best that they can be.

With the advent of 3.1.X, there's a lot of Dual-Spec speculation hopping around the forums. Many players feel that Tanks and Healers must have an alternate DPS spec to handle certain encounters (Moving from Maexxna, a single-tank boss, to Patchwerk, a three-tank boss, for example). More moderate raiders do not view this as a requirement, and I have to agree with them. After all, it's hard enough for all but the most hardcore raiding guilds to gear up everyone in a run in full i213/i226. If trying to add in a second spec for 10 of your 25 raiders, you're calling for another 10 sets of gear. This seems like a ludicrous requirement for entering new progression; Perhaps after all of the content is on farm status, this would be possible, but at that point there's no challenge left anyways - it simply becomes a means for speed optimizations, rather than a source of necessary fight-winning advantages.

There's more arguments for Dual-Spec being a matter of convenience, rather than necessity, and thus I feel justified in playing my tank as just a tank. What, then, do I do with my second spec slot? After a lot of thought and research, I've decided that the time has come for me to put aside the full-mitigation spec that I've been running for the entirety of WotLK. Enter Deep Wounds.
Tentative Threat Spec (15 / 5 / 51)
Glyphed With:
Glyph of Cleaving - Wonderful for any AoE tank job
Glyph of Heroic Strike - in 3.1.X, +5% crit chance on HS
Glyph of Blocking - More BV = More SS damage
To make a DW spec, 15 points need to go into the Arms tree. Shockwave is too powerful a tool to be left out of any Prot DPS rotation, so I feel that it must be included as well; thus, 51 points are needed in the Protection tree. This leaves 5 "flex points" that can be placed wherever necessary. How does one optimize their placement for a TPS spec? This is where that comment about mathyness comes in - I wanted to know exactly which talents would return the most net benefit. Namely, which returns more TPS per point, Armored to the Teeth or Cruelty?

There's a lot to take into account here:
  • Armored to the Teeth scales with Armor. I've assumed that the tank in question has 24,000 armor for my calculations here, which is about what a set of i213 gear will return. Armor trinkets and higher-armor gear will net a large return from this talent, if they can be fit in.
  • Deep Wounds "rolls," which is a new mechanic of 3.0.2. In essence, this means that multiple crits within the 6-second bleed timer will all be taken into account, so the damage of an old crit is not overwritten or clipped by the new crit - the remaining old bleed damage is instead added into the new bleed with an even distribution.
  • Deep Wounds necessitates Impale, which increases crit damage by 20%.
  • Weapon Speed and Weapon ilvl both influence the damage caused by Deep Wounds, as it is based off of normalized weapon damage.
  • Deep Wounds can occur because of any crit that the Warrior causes. This includes: Damage Shields, Thunderclap, Shockwave, Cleave, and all of our single-target abilities. Everything counts for it, and they all apply an equal amount of damage.
  • More things that I'm not remembering at the moment, for sure...
To start, let's look at the equations for basic Deep Wounds damage:
DWrank3 = (Normalized_Weapon_Damage * 0.48)
Normalized_Weapon_Damage = (Minimum_Weapon_Damage + Maximum_Weapon_Damage)/2 + (K * Attack_Power)/14
Where K is: 1.7 for Daggers; 2.4 for any other One-Handed Weapon.

Let's assume that we're using an i200 Epic Tanking weapon, because Last Laugh just hasn't dropped for us yet, and Broken Promise is just a little too slow for our liking. We can also assume that we're sitting at roughly 2,800 Attack_Power, for simplicity. Let's plug in:
Normalized_Weapon_Damage = (160 + 299)/2 + (2.4 * 2800)/14 = 229.5 + 480 = 709.5
DWrank3 = (709.5 * 0.48) = 340.56 damage over 6 seconds.
That's a fair baseline to use as the damage that our Deep Wounds will cause with each crit. Next, we need to figure out what the relative increases to that baseline are, both from AttT and Cruelty.

Starting with AttT, we gain 400/3 AP for each talent point we spend there. This accounts for:
NWD_bonus = (2.4 * 400/3)/14 = 22.8
DWrank3_bonus = (22.8 * 0.48) = 10.97 damage over 6 seconds.
That doesn't seem too substantial, but it is a non-trivial percentage increase. That is:
DWrank3_bonus / DWrank3 = 10.97/340.56 = 0.032
This is roughly a 3% increase in Deep Wounds damage per point of AttT, with the assumptions above. A stronger weapon, a stronger base attack power, and a lower armor value will DECREASE the percent benefit, while more armor value will INCREASE the benefit.

Meanwhile, Cruelty increases our chance to critically hit by 1%. This effectively increases our chance to DW a target by 1%. Since there is no chance for loss of damage for repeatedly applying DW, we get the whole benefit here.

But that's all: the benefit is a 1% increase in Deep Wounds damage per point of Cruelty. This does not scale with weapon, base attack power, or armor value. The 1% static critical hit benefit will always hold.

Now, that's the effects of AttT and Cruelty on DW, with a net ~2% leaning towards AttT over Cruelty. All that remains is the other half of the computation: how do these talents affect an Impale, no-DW spec?

Normalized Weapon Damage is used in every damage calculation that Warriors cause, with the exceptions of Shield Slam and Damage Shields. Critical Strikes influence every type of physical damage Warriors can deal, and Impale brings that critical strike damage up by 20%.

A direct comparison here is hard to make, because the damage generated by any one ability relative to your overall damage output changes based on the encounter. In general, somewhere between 20% and 30% of a Prot warrior's damage output comes in the form of Shield Slam, so the benefits of Attack Power apply to only about 75% of the attacks. Since one point of AttT augments the Normalized_Weapon_Damage by about 3% in the above calculations, it will increase the damage output of all these remaining abilities by roughly the same percentage. Thus, The overall damage output increases by
Bonus_Damage% = Normal_Damage + (NWD_Bonus/Normalized_Weapon_Damage) * %Attacks_Using_NWD
Bonus_Damage% = 1 + 22.8/709.5 * .75 = 1.0240
So, something slightly greater than a 2% average damage increase is gained from adding one point of AttT. Note: The benefits are damped in the presence of static damage coefficients (top-rank Thunderclap has a static damage coefficient of 300, for instance), so using a flat 2% average damage increase is probably a better estimate.

For Cruelty, we add a 1% chance for any ability to deal 220% damage. This equates to:
Bonus_Damage% = Normal_Damage * (1 - Crit_Chance) + Crit_Chance * Crit_Damage
Bonus_Damage% = 1 * 0.99 + 0.01 * 2.20 = 1.012
Which is a linear system, meaning that each 1% of critical hit chance increases overall damage output by 1.2%, independent of other stats.

Thus, we observe that, point for point, AttT returns More Average Damage than Cruelty on paper, independent of Deep Wounds. The difference is only about .8% in T7 equivalents, and will diminish as more attack power in the form of strength appears on tanking gear. However, more damage is more damage. .8% of 2000 DPS is still 16 DPS, which is nearly 33 TPS.

Conclusion: Until I can accrue something on the order of 6,000 Attack Power, the benefits of Armored to the Teeth will outstrip Cruelty on a 1 to 1 basis in terms of Both Deep Wounds and non-bleed damage dealt. Thus, I know that spending 3/3 in AttT and the last 2/5 into Cruelty, rather than spending 5/5 in Cruelty, will return more for my overall TPS. Of course, I'd like to take 3/3 and 5/5, but that would cost either DW or Shockwave & Damage Shields - not things I'll give up lightly for a maximal-TPS spec.

With this spec, I'll be maximizing the damage I can output while still being reasonably protected. I'll line up glyphs to augment the damage of the spec as best I can. Any Expertise, Hit, or BV-heavy gear can be saved for this spec, but the beauty is that I don't need to build an entirely new set of gear! I just need to make sure that any option slots I acquire for this threat-oriented spec provide the extra accuracy I want without jeopardizing my crit immunity. I can therefore guarantee a viable OT spec that will also help to speed up Heroics, trash, and farm-status runs; maximal mitigation really isn't necessary in any of these situations. Why, then, should I not push out that extra DPS?

Next: The tuning of my maximal mitigation spec for Progression Tanking...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

WoWholism: What is it?

A thread recently came up on my guild's forum regarding the wonders of life outside of WoW. One of our members recently opted to take an extended hiatus from the game, and is clearly having a great time with his experiences. Some of his comments did prick some nerves within the guild's community, though: just because we play this game doesn't preclude our ability to lead real lives, does it?

The issue manifests itself in countless ways. The worst-case scenario that jumps to mind was a report from Taegu, South Korea on August 31, 2005. The report speaks of a man who died after playing Wow for 50 consecutive hours in a 24-hour internet bar. At the end of the session, he reportedly fell from his chair and was never to rise again. I haven't heard another report of this nature, but I think that one report is enough.

Similar binge cases can drastic, if non-lethal consequences. More than one student here has deferred his graduation or lost his graduate funding on account of unchecked gaming. The quality must invariably hold across the country, and thus the rumors and whispers of "World of Warcrack," "WoWholsim," and "WoWaholics" persist. Blizzard undoubtedly takes some flak for this creation, but even more likely is the stigma that can land on those of us who play with some sense of moderation.

On Blizzard's side: the geniuses there have created a truly amazing game. I'm sure they never expected their game to have quite the scope that it does now. Yet scope it has, and they've done a great deal to tailor the game to help players moderate their playing. The shift from repeatable quests to daily-repeatable quests, the imposition of weekly Raid resets, and daily Heroic Dungeon resets all help to limit the amount of straight progression a character can make in a day. It can be frustrating when you really want to farm up that one upgrade, but the trade-off is a somewhat subtle, yet invaluable benefit: this game isn't about binging, and should never be forced for an excessive duration. "Be sure to take everything in moderation, even World of Warcraft!" says one of the loading tips - they do have player time commitments in mind when they design new content.

Now, on the players: It's easy to get wrapped up in the game sometimes. Especially with the release of WotLK, there were droves of players suddenly clogging the login queues. I know that I spent more time than was strictly healthy getting myself ramped up into the new system. But even then, I managed to keep my studies intact. The game may occupy most of my free time, but my busy time is still there, active and engaging.

But moderation is really all on our shoulders. The game can quite easily absorb many hours more than we would like. But I guess that's my point: WoW is a game to me. I don't mean a mindgame, or some trivial game to be played in a flash window. WoW is a game, in the truest sense of the word: there are goals, there are strategies, and the perfect solution to many of the game's challenges have yet to be found. There's also a heavy element of teamwork involved in all endgame progression - I'd be out of a tank job if I worked alone all the time. So it's a co-operative game, not unlike a sport. More and more, I'm finding myself treating it as such.

Allow me a for-instance. During a week, I plan to participate in three nights of raiding. They line up roughly with when a sports team might have its three games that week. In between, I might slam a couple of heroics for some bonus emblems; These fill in as practices and skirmishes that a sports team would undoubtedly have each week. Whenever I'm running around completing dailies or filling out my cooking repertoire, I simply consider it my individual practice time for that sport.

And now you scoff, saying that playing a computer game can't possibly have the same benefits as a real, athletic sport. Perhaps not, but my gaming practices shouldn't be underestimated: I don't do the bare minimum. Ever. Progressing my sprite is a way in which I can progress my mind, too: performing on-the-fly mental math to do my own recounts, with factors for decursing and movement incorporated; watching, judging, and reacting to the state of at least half-a-dozen properties of a dynamic screen at all times; Writing and theorycrafting the mechanics of my class in order to optimize my performance under different, strenuous circumstances. There's a lot to this game, even if it doesn't require much physical strength or stamina.

So my mind's all set, and my body's going to mush? Of course not. As I said, WoW only fills in for my free time. I exercise regularly, be it in my Martial Arts classes, my Fencing classes, or in the weight room. I cook most all of my own meals, so I know that I'm treating my body right. There's many hours in the day - I see no reason to be limited to only WoW or real-life experiences. With four nights out of the week free, I can hang out with my friends and head out to catch a movie pretty freely. Unlike cake, Wow is not a lie: I work with a group of similarly-minded players who are human beings, living their lives, and working together on accomplishing goals as a team. Unlike cake, I can have the game and... well, eat my real-life food too: being a gamer does not exclude me from having real-world relationships, despite the present lack of any intimate ones.

My confidence in a lot of this tends to shake over time. It's not always easy to manage the time in and out-of-game. Especially with the pressure from friends in the game, it's harder to partition time cleanly, and subsequently very easy to slip into too long of gaming sessions. But then a friend of mine came by to visit today. I was in the middle of a raid, but almost instantly put the game on hold to check in with her. We chatted for a while as the raid finished up the current encounter, and she asked what game I was playing. I didn't even think to hesitate; I had no guilt in stating that I was playing WoW. She responded with a laugh, saying her boyfriend plays it, too; "a lot," she smirks. Apparently, she hears a lot about the game without ever having played.

Since the raid finished just after that encounter, we got back to covering the work she needed help with. That moment's still stuck in my head. Maybe it's the engineering mentality that gives her such a moderate view, but she's totally cool with her friends being gamers, even of the infamous "World of Warcrack." And I have to say, I like that quality - the game really shouldn't be a stigma. It's certainly not a traditional sport, but I feel that it comes under the same category: an activity ideally performed with a team, involving coordination, communication, and commitment from all players. As a tank, that need for synergy is especially resonant; Anything exciting in the game for me needs a full team.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure this coming Saturday night has a proper line-up of real-world excitement.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Raid Responsiveness

One of the biggest factors in WoW is responsiveness. No matter how much you plan and prepare for pulls or boss encounters, there's always some level of uncertainty influencing the game. Latency spikes aside, there's always the chance of an unlucky string of attacks, or of an additional pull that you couldn't see joining in the fray, or of a glitched frost block.

One example: I've run through the Culling of Stratholme many, many times, but I'll always remember the run in which Mal'Ganis improperly reset, subsequently becoming an unkillable beast that locked in endless combat with Arthas. My party watched the two combatants duke it out at 1 Health each for about 10 minutes, and then shrugged and walked out - we didn't really need the spare emblem, anyways.

On a more practical note, I always stress the importance of raid awareness to my groups on runs. This goes for simple things, like not standing in the charred earth, or getting out of void zones. It should also hold for more complex behaviors: if adds spawn and attack you, move to a tank to have it picked up; when fighting a boss with AoEs, ranged DPS should use a rangefinder to make sure that they're minimizing their exposure to that damage. In general, I see pretty good responses to these things.

Raid responsiveness, meanwhile, is where I'll be turning my attention. This is particularly applicable to tanks, and I know that I've practiced responsiveness heavily. Any option slots that can improve my mobility have been put to use for just this purpose - I'm not concerned with my survivability or threat generation in current content, but I can always improve on snapping to my healers to pull back a rogue add in an encounter.

But what, then, is the difference between awareness and responsiveness? Part of it lies in the activity of the verbs: To be aware of something is good, but to respond correctly to that which you've noticed is even better. More importantly, I'm thinking of responsiveness as applying to things which the raid leader may forget to mention, or which may not be scripted into the encounter.

For example: If you jump in to Noth without making a note of the imperative decurse requirement, how likely are the mages to notice curses landing on party members, and how will they respond? Or, if you engage Heigan as a Fury-Specced warrior and watch the MT and OT go down to latency during the dance, do you have your shield ready to swap-in so you can pick up tanking? Or, if you're in P3 of Malygos and you happen to slip away from the pack, do you know how to build a self-healing cover into your DPS rotation until you can find your way back to the team (or pop your speed booster to get back to them faster, without letting your Engulf in Flames stack drop)?

These "good habits" and natural responses do not come naturally to most players. Even raid-seasoned DPS will likely ignore the need to remove debuffs from allies in favor of shoving their own Recount meter just a little higher. For old content, this is probably a fine thing - your healers are likely looking for something to heal, anyways - but that should be the exception to the rule, rather than treating progression as the exception to all other runs.

I guess a lot of this boils down to a shift in priorities. Simply dealing damage or building threat on the main target is not always the top priorities of raid players; knowing when to switch - and how to switch efficiently - will make your runs smoother, even if they happen to take a little longer than you'd imagine. Chances are you'll actually save time, because saving the life of a 1.5k DPS player is far more valuable than ignoring him to get another 50 DPS on your meter on a boss encounter.

Whose responsibility is it, then, to be responsive? Do the Tanks and Healers alone cover these needs, while the DPS should just run their rotations? If that's the case, do we actively expect better players to take up the roles of Tanks and Healers? How do we then scale the requisites for taking on such classes? "If you want to tank or heal, prove that you can; if you want to DPS, welcome aboard"? In the end, is responsiveness really that taxing of a practice to employ in any class's playbook?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

T7 Content Dilemma

I guess the main issue on my mind these days is finding a proper motivation for taking on challenges in the content of WoW. Or, more accurately, finding a motivation which I can use to convince my guildmates to take on the challenges of WoW. From the combination of "casual raiding" causing poor scheduling structure and of the challenge/reward skew in current content, even Eye of Eternity runs are rare. Why struggle through the painful and costly wipes of Malygos or OS+1, when we can farm the regular OS and Archavon for nearly the same rewards?

Now, why do I desire challenges? More than simply wanting the challenge for my own tanking practice, but because I have a lingering hope that WotLK raiding will follow BC raiding: early content is easily farmed, while high-end content requires in-depth, dedicated practice and experience. For a player and a guild that had so little experience with this kind of challenge, I want to make the most of the challenges available in our current content, so the transition coming up isn't so drastic and frustrating. With all of the T7 content cleared, and with a relative inability to field a T7.5 team, my focus thus falls on finding a way to practice for T8; farming T7 isn't exactly exciting.

I really want to be involved in these harder encounters, and I have the personal motivation for attempting them. I had very little experience with BC raiding, as I hit 70 after 2.4 released. My biggest achievement before 3.0.2 released was clearing the entirety of Zul'Aman - the Dragonhawk boss was the single hardest hurtle that Comitatus has ever overcome. We spent weeks training at least two 10-man teams worth of players to avoid firebombs and dps down the dragonhawk adds at just the right pace. Clearing the rest of that raid took only another week, once we had nailed down the Dragonhawk; our celebrations were over beating the Dragonhawk, rather than Zul'jin. By fun coincidence, that first kill gave our Guild Leader the healing shield to fill out her Holy set - I thought it was fitting.

With the arrival of WotLK, raiding has really taken a nerf. I can attribute this to two main game changes: the weakening of healing effects and the translation of content to casual levels. First, the healing effects: with the removal of downranking, Holy Priest tank healing is thoroughly unpleasant; Guardian Spirit is a nice tank save, but is nothing compared to the power of GH1 chain-casting. The effects are far less dramatic on the other healing classes, but Resto Shaman certainly had something to gain from downranking as well. At the same time, mana regeneration for healing classes has changed, likewise being less powerful than it was in BC. With all of these healer weakenings, the new content in WoW must necessarily call for less healing from the healers.

At the same time, there's been a constant call for weakening of raid difficulty from many more casual raiding guilds. To see the end-game content in BC, you needed to practice a great deal to learn the encounters. All of the content after ZA also required a 25-man raiding team, which many casual guilds (mine included) cannot bring to bear on a regular basis. One of the best possible changes in WotLK has been the release of all raids in both 10- and 25-man versions. However, the content so far released has been a joke compared to the difficulty of even ZA's Dragonhawk Boss. No fight in Naxx10 took my guild more than 12 attempts to learn (Sapphiron was the hardest, simply because we hadn't built many Frost Resist sets by then). OS and Arch are so easy that they're pugged regularly.

I find that the only challenges now come from the Achievements that Blizzard has incorporated. When the content becomes trivial for a guild to clear, the only thing left to do is to aim for achievements. But achievements aren't easy, and they offer no reward aside from having them. I don't rightly know that anyone cares about what achievements you have, unless it gives you an awesome title. Many achievements also take non-ideal party make-ups, which may require swap-outs of guild members already in the run. I find the achievements to be poor motivator for taking on higher challenges. Even in OS, adding a drake adds a single piece of gear. The challenge of the encounter goes up considerably, and after a few wipes, casual members just get frustrated and decide to kill that drake and be done. People will also turn down Malygos in favor of slamming Arch; 2 Emblems is 2 Emblems, regardless of who you kill for them.

I assert that a reward is only as valuable as the challenge that must be overcome to acquire it - While Naxx10 turns out a lot of pretty gear, the only piece I have that gives me any real pride is my car door (the pieces from Heroics are also pretty great, as those encounters will always carry some challenge, simply because of the personnel limit). Malygos took three nights of continuous work, totalling roughly 8 hours of gametime. This is nothing compared to mastering the Dragonhawk, but it is at least something.

So, how much gold are players willing to pay for a few extra epeen points and a little pride, but no additional loot? Is the experience worth it, or should we just suffer through T8 when it hits, giving an abrupt challenge? Or will T8 be just as soft as T7? Remember that, with us all at 80 already, more soft content could be cleared in a couple of weeks. What happens to the raiding experience, then, when there's no challenge for top-end, "harder" raiders?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Original Post Date: 1/21/2009

So, now that I've gone through and written up a formal discussion on many generic tanking topics, I wanted to have a separate venue in which I could bring up other, more subtle aspects of the tanking environment at large in the World of Warcraft. These posts will, in general, be far less formal than the Compendium, so I won't be spending time getting the formatting to be all pretty. They should also be shorter, in theory, but I do have a tendency to go on tangents.

That said, these essays will attempt to cover some of my more obscure, yet note-worthy tanking experiences. They are meant to be an open forum of sorts, as well, and I encourage all tanking classes to weigh in (All of these posts, while coming from a Warrior Tank, are not specific to Warriors). The topics will vary pretty wildly over time, too, I imagine; hopefully there will be something useful hidden within these pages, or at least entertaining.

Now, for this first piece: I wanted to open these essays with a talk about some of the trickier boss encounters in WotLK, and solutions I've found for countering them. Rycharde has successfully tanked every encounter in the game for 5-man and 10-man content, so I believe I've seen the best and worst of the tanking environment. Also, while many encounters may be difficult in general, or difficult on your healers or DPS, I'm presently concerned only with the tanking-complex encounters.

Anub'Arak - Azjol-Nerub: This guy was a real challenge to get through in starting gear. I haven't had much trouble with him since my first two or three days clearing this instance, but those first days taught me a lot about how to handle him. His pounds are lethal to your melee DPS, and you can't afford to lose them here: get them clear every time. The little adds will need a brave caster to be handled optimally, or your healer will be spell-locked. Be sure to keep the boss roughly centered, so everyone can clear his pounds, and move up to the gate for each adds phase. The poison damage is substantial, so make sure that you and your DPS hot-swap to the venom spiders when they show, even if other things are still alive. You'll need to burn them quickly, and do everything you can to interrupt their poison volleys - the single-shots are less dire. You also need to remain mobile at all times: perform small side-steps to keep on your toes, as it were: those spikes will take a huge chunk out of even your health, so avoid it as best you can. The first two bosses of this instance are far easier, by comparison: don't be surprised if this one gives you some trouble. Useful party members: Shaman and Druid, both of which bring strong poison removal to the party.

Prince Taldaram - Ahn'Kahet: The Old Kingdom: A highly melee-unfriendly fight. His fire damage is substantial, so an aura or totem will certainly help to mitigate some of that damage. You and your melee DPS need to evade the orbs as best you can, however, so there is a substantial movement requisite: be ready to strafe out and jump-guard so you don't expose your back to the boss or move too slowly out. Every boss within this instance has some obnoxious trick to make your life miserable, but this is the one most dependant upon your leadership and positioning of the party: space them correctly, make sure they know where and how to run, and keep them updated as you kite the boss around the room. For me, the easiest strategy is to always bring the boss to the center, leave my ranged by the stairs, and run to the casters when the orbs appear. As soon as I reach the casters, I double back to reset the positioning. When the boss vanishes, I try to call everyone inwards as best I can, but if this fails, we just adjust the corner that the ranged use to somewhere else in the room.

Mage-Lord Urom - The Oculus: With enough frost resistance, this fight is cake. The frostbomb damage does next-to-nothing damage against 300 Frost Resistance, which you can get quite readily with the craftable gear. If you have this available, just tank the boss where he stands. Have your party stand behind a pillar, spread out as best they can to mitigate time bomb damage, and endure the frost bombs. I make my melee DPS sit this fight out if they don't have the FR gear for it: the slower fight is at least far safer. Now, if you don't yet have your FR gear set together, this fight becomes a substantial challenge. You need to be strafing for nearly the entire fight at the reduced speed, and your party needs to stay three steps ahead of you to stay out of the frost damage altogether. After seeing the hellish wipes this can lead to with any melee DPS (they all too often get stuck behind the tank and die from excessive frost damage), I think that tanking through the frost damage may be advisable even without frost resistance gear: the alternative is risky with anyone who hasn't performed the run multiple times before. For the arcane explosions, you would do well to get clear of the frost field, especially if you aren't wearing FR gear. The explosion hits for roughly 12000 damage, which may be healable, but clearing off the 30 stacks of frost goo is the real necessity here; get to clear ground first, get behind a pillar second.

Xevozz - The Violet Hold: Another mobility-key fight, the key to clearing this fight without stress is to establish your kite path with everyone in the raid. I always shove the entire raid up onto the left-side staircase at the beginning of the fight - LoS your ranged and healers to get them up if they won't listen - the kiting is imperative for everyone in this fight. The boss will summon in arcane orbs shortly into the fight, and if they reach the boss, he gains a substantial damage boost - he will easily two-shot most tanks while under this effect. Thus, you need to kite him away from the orbs. Watch the orbs approach, and as soon as the closer orb reaches the very bottom of the staircase, kite up and around the ring, moving left-to-right if you're looking into the room from the entrance. You'll need to move quickly, and always keep an eye on where the orbs are. They will likely slide up the gravelly path leading to Zuramat, but you should have plenty of clear path yet to go - all the way to the right-side staircase. The orbs will summon you after a while; when this happens, book it back to the starting point. The boss will come running for you, so keep him out of the orbs, or stay out of melee range until you see the buff wear off of him. Resetting the kite path is key here, as the orbs detonate shortly after the summon, and the boss will recast them at the same places. Running from right-to-left should also be a viable kite path, but I've too often seen a team get caught between the orbs, since the kiter doesn't outrun the orb that slithers up the gravel path; left-to-right kiting makes clearing the gravel path occur much earlier in the overall path, which should be a help.

There's more to come here, perhaps in a second post. Also, be sure to post up any other encounters you've found cute tricks for, or encounters that you haven't had any luck clearing successfully - I'll share what I can about the solutions I used.