Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Nature of Raiding in Wrath: Limited Attempts


Earlier I wrote a post about one of the fundamental changes that occured in Wrath of the Lich King. I spoke about how the Easy Mode/Hard Mode dichotomy in raiding was a good, if misunderstood, thing, because it promoted both choice, and accessability. Both of which are good for the game, even if the forum goers don't think so. However, today I'm going to talk about another change that Blizzard made, one which I feel was not a good idea.

Limited attempts was not something Blizzard really looked at prior to Wrath of the Lich King. One could argue that 45 minute Baron runs and Amani War Bear runs were precursors to the concept, but in both cases the entirety of the instance is available, and the only thing you lose out on is an upgraded loot table. The first instance of lost content occured in the 5 man heroic, the Culling of Stratholme, which was initially seen as a spiritual succesor to the 45 minute Baron run. The primary difference being that if you didn't beat the timer, the optional boss despawned, and could not be attempted that lock out. Due to the one day lock out, and relative ease of the requirements, pretty much everyone overlooked the ramifications of having content that would despawn of it's own accord.

The next patch brought Ulduar, and with it, Algalon the Observer. A boss which, while unforgiving, is not really all that difficult. Touted as "The Raid Destroyer", what made killing Algalon such a rarity, was that a raid only had one hour to work on him per lock out, before he despawned in a blaze of glory. And trust me, Algalon's spawn/despawn is one of the more impressive ones out there. Algalon came with a sexy title, a realm first spam, and the best loot in the game. He was also killed two weeks after he was unlocked. Which means he was killed less than two hours after he was unlocked. The true difficulty in downing Algalon, aside from getting past Firefighter, was getting one hour of continuous and quick pull time. No ninja afks, no poorly timed disconnects, or any other of the oddball things that delay the usual raid could be accepted, because any time spent waiting for your healer to reconnect was time that could never be regained. This became the cause of a lot of frustration with some otherwise well liked members of guilds.

But one boss which was explicitly cited as the "Omega WEAPON" of WoW was one thing. Blizzard took it a step further the next patch, by placing limited attempts upon the entirety of ToGC. 50 attempts to get through all of the hard mode version of the instance. If you used those up, you were condemned to the darkness of facerolling easy mode for the rest of the week. This created an almost fundamental shift in the mindset of many progression guilds. With each accidental DC or lag spike potentially burning up one of those precious attempts in vain, some guild took drastic steps. Many changed their raid times to off peak hours, benched players with questionable internet connections, and in the most extreme case, Ensidia actually transferred servers to a lower population server to avoid excessive server lag.

That was merely the Hard Mode bosses though. However, with Icecrown Citadel, Blizzard has extended this concept even into the Easy Mode version of the instance. The version that's supposed to be easily accessible to the common player is now demanded that players be able to adapt to the patterns of certain bosses within 5 attempts, or go home for the week.

The problem comes with the subversion of the gains made through the implementation of the Easy Mode/Hard Mode Dichotomy. While those changes engendered choice and accessibility, the restrictions of limited attempts remove them. A guild that might decide to put it's nose to the grindstone to down Proffessor Putricide might find itself sitting out quickly after losing attempts to poor connections, server instability, or even a bugged encounter. Their resolve to put in the effort to down the boss has been stripped away from them because Blizzard has decided to place limitations on just how much effort one is able to put into their raiding. When your raid once faced the choice to put in one more attempt, or throw in the towel, that choice will already be made for you, which is never good for the game.

Blizzard has slowly backslid towards the old BC model of raiding, in a rather perverse model. Instead of tuning the fights to the intended difficulty, they're simply going to wait for raiders to get enough extra attempts and buffs to down the fights in their "Self-Basting" raid instance, which, to me at least, smacks of lazy design strategy. Ulduar has proven to be, thus far, the zenith of raid design. Hopefully, Blizzard can get back to the ideals that made that instance so great.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The posting will resume shortly after the holidays have concluded.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gearing with Badges in Icecrown

A lot of people have been taking a hard look at how their going to utilize their badges for upgrades. Some have decided to go straight for the tier gear, others love those offspec pieces, still other are considering buying primordial saronite for crafted gear.

I, personally, am of the philosophy that you build your gear set plans around the fights you are going to be fighting, not the fights you have on farm. Avoidance, and things like 4 piece T10 will be magical for Gunship Battle and Deathbringer, but until I decide to go for the meta achievements, those fights are on farm, and I don't mind making my healers and DPSers work a little harder if it means having an inside track on the future fights.

I've toyed around on the PTR, and have seen what lies ahead. Festergut is going to be akin to Anub'arak phase 3 or Sapphiron, heavy physical damage with a constant magic DoT with periods of burst damage. Rotface is somewhat akin to Grobbulus, only the nature damage going out to the kiting tank is much more severe, and the potential for heavy nature damage with middling physical damage on the Rotface tank. Professor Putricide has more nature damage going everywhere, including to the tank.

In the Crimson Halls, the Blood Prince Council is throwing around heavy shadow and fire damage. Blood-Queen Lana'thael stacks bleeds on the tank, has a raid wide shadow damage aura that increases as the fight goes on.

The Frostwing halls has a lot of AoE fire damage from adds on Valithria Dreamwalker, and Sindragosa is Sapphiron 2.0, with even more frost damage.

There are no Gormak/Patchwerk/Ignis style fights where the tank gets punched in the face with little magic damage. The relative value of avoidance in terms of damage reduction is going to plummet, which means that we need to adapt to that.

So, let's look at what our options are to prepare ourselves for these encounters with our Emblems of Frost.

I've already made my first emblem purchase, taking the Corroded Skeleton Key to replace my brewfest trinket. I've had terrible luck on tanking trinkets. I've never seen the Royal Seal of King Llane drop, never seen the General's Heart, never seen Satrina's Impeding Scarab, and only saw the Furnace Stone drop once and lost it. You know what's dropped at least six times? Fervor of the Frostborn, which is terrible. I can live with the Heart of Iron and the Skeleton Key, however.

Beyond that, my philosophy is to take the most effective upgrades first, and when dealing with items of equal superiority, I take the cheaper one first. There are high stam, high armor pieces available at the chest, gloves, belt, and cloak slots. The other options are the 251 tier pieces. One of the things that needs to be taken into account is, as Wrathy pointed out, that some of the EH pieces have little defense on them. We've all seen the vid of Ciderhelm getting one shot crit by XT-002, so we all know what's at stake with the defense cap.

I currently 831 defense rating from my gear. That's not terrible, as defense does yield more avoidance, but due to diminishing returns, those itemization points could be better spent elsewhere. What this means is that I've got 168 defense rating between me and the cap.

My next step will be to replace my Pride of the Eredar with the Sentinel's Winter Cloak for 50 badges. I lose 2 defense rating in the change, but gain 571 armor and 10 stamina. The additional yellow socket allows me some flexibility, possibly grabbing more defense if needed to make up for losses elsewhere, or otherwise becoming another 30 stam.

After that, some options branch open. I'm currently planning on taking the Gauntlets of the Kraken to replace my T9.45 gloves. This transition will actually be a net gain of 10 defense rating, along with 763 armor and 18 stamina, with an extra gem slot.

Next on the agenda will be swapping in the Verdigris Chain Belt in the place of the Girdle of the Nether Champion. In the process, I will gain another 14 defense rating, 752 armor, 18 stamina, and an extra socket.

Then I plan on buying the Cataclysmic Chestguard to replace my T9.45 chest, netting me 37 more defense rating, 1,344 armor, 27 stamina, and another socket.

During the transition this far, I'll have gained 59 defense rating, 3,430 armor, 73 stamina, and 4 gem sockets. This comes at the cost of about 6% avoidance.

This is where the road becomes somewhat hazy. These purchases will require 265 badges. Assuming that new wings get released at a two week clip after the holidays, and that Legacy can clear all bosses each week, we're projecting about six weeks into the future. Now, I have two roads left to explore with my badges, crafted gear, and tier gear. Seeing as I already have 264 off set pieces for my head and shoulder slots, the 251 tier doesn't really interest me. I won't be investing in T10 until I win a mark of sanctification to jump to the 264 tier.

The crafted gear, however, is ilevel 264, and extremely well itemized. However, it costs 8 Primordial Saronite per piece. At 23 badges for a single PS, these become extremely expensive, either through gold on the AH, or through badges. Hopefully once I've reached this point, the AH price will have come down to something more reasonable.

Taking the Boots of Kingly Upheaval over the Dawnbreaker Greaves will be costly in several ways. In exchange for gaining, 18 stamina, 115 armor, 1.1% avoidance, and an extra socket, I'll be sacrificing 53 defense rating. Just changing my boots alone wipes out nearly the entirety of the defense gains from all the previous badge purchases.

However, the pants are the real prize for me. Equipping the Pillars of Might in the place of my T9.45 pants gains me 27 stamina, 1,336 armor, 2.25% avoidance, an extra gem socket, and the right not to look like the Belle of the Ball. But it comes at a 90 defense rating hit.

So getting the crafted gear will offset about half of the avoidance loss of the badge gear, while converting my excess defense rating to armor, stamina, and sockets. This ends up leaving me with a lean 747 defense.

Finally, the T10 comes into play. I have two slots currently occupied by dropped 264 gear. Taking up the T10 helm will net me 1% more avoidance and 4 more stamina, at the cost of 23 defense rating. The T10 shoulders will net me the 2pc bonus, and a little more base stam, at the cost of a gem slot. I'm not too sure about this upgrade, I'm leaning more towards keeping my current shoulders.

If I take all of these upgrades, I'll gain 4,881 armor, 122 stamina, and six gem sockets. This will come at the expense of about 2% avoidance, which the armor gain will more than offset. After assembling that set, I'll probably grab the rest of the T10 to build an avoidance heavy set for some of the achievements, and possibly gunship/deathbringer heroic.

My general plans are subject to change, if I get lucky with a drop, or a hotfix comes down on some of these items, but I think that the overall design of this gear set will carry me through the later bosses of easy mode in style, and give me a good footing to work with when hard mode begins to demand more specialized gear sets.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Year in Review

This was something I found at Taha's blog. Seemed like a little introspection would be good right now.

What did you do in the World of Warcraft in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Pretty much everything. I started playing WoW in October of 08. So, let's see here...


Hit 80.
Got an alt to 80.
Started Raiding.
Led a raid.
OTed a raid.
MTed a raid.
DPSed a raid.
Earned a title.
Joined a raiding guild.
Led a raiding guild.
Got epic flying.
Got a 310 mount.
Got my professions to max level.

Those are just the notable ones.

What was your favorite new place that you visited?

Ulduar was amazing. Best instance Blizzard ever made. From the first encounter to the last, Ulduar was never boring. Often frustrating, but never boring.

What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

I'd like to get Legacy firmly entrenched as a respectable guild on Destromath.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Leading my ten man crew to Starcaller titles and Rusted Proto Drakes.

What was your biggest failure?

Not convincing some of my friends to stick with us.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Patch 3.2 making Paladins an acceptable choice for a progression main tank. I got sick of watching the DKs and Druids get all the glory.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

I wish I had pushed the 25 man group harder, earlier. Not getting 3D down in 3.0, No hard modes and no yogg in 3.1, and only breaking into ToGC 25 in the last two weeks of 3.2 kind of smacks of wasted potential.

What was your favorite WoW blog or podcast?

I've really got 4 blogs that I really enjoy reading equally. Righteous Defense, Pwnwear.com, Avenging Wrathy, and Altadin. I read many others, but those four are kind of the backbone of my blogroll.

Tell us a valuable WoW lesson you learned in 2009

Jump in. Figure out what your goal is, and then make it happen. If you want to raid, then RAID. If you want to be the best player on the field in any given AV, then start queueing. If you wait for the stars to align just right, then you'll miss out.

Rage and Grace

Well, raiding comprises a lot of ups and downs. Doubly so if you're a raid leader. The past week has had a lot of them.

I missed out on the guild's first run into ICC 25. They one shotted Lord Marrowgar, but then proceeded to spend nearly 2 hours wiping to Lady Deathwhisper. Mainly due to trouble getting the adds under control in phase one. Which would have been my job, had I been there. Which made me feel pretty miserable. Making me feel even worse was that my latency dropped down to a manageable 800ms immediately afterwards. Touche, Murphy.

Once my connection had stabilized, I gathered up my ten man, and rolled into ToGC10. There, our superhuman Disc/Holy priest suddenly contracted my connection issues. Ever see a Resto Shaman try to solo heal Heroic Jaraxxus? It's not pretty. So the priest stepped out, and I grabbed one of our other priests, who, while being a skilled and effective healer, had never done ToGC 10 before. ToGC is still tuned tight enough that you can carry a DPSer, but not a tank or Healer, especially since we two heal the whole thing, save faction champs. So there was basically a training wipe for each fight as the new priest adjusted to the unhealthy demands we placed on the old priest. We still picked up Mad Skill for the new priest, who adapted as quickly as I could ask him to, however, it was a little disappointing not to get insanity.

We had a lull until our monday raid, which would polish off ICC 25, during which, my mic broke. Have you ever tried to coordinate first attempts on a new boss without a microphone? Not fun. With all the spam from people's addons and DBM in particular, raid warnings just don't have the same attention grabbing qualities as the giant voice roaring into your ear.

To make matters worse, for some reason, my combat log stopped working. That meant that all my addons which depended on the combat log gave me nothing. Nothing on parrot, half of DBM didn't work, and most frustrating, recount didn't work. I use recount for analysis purposes. I can quickly find out who has been targeting the proper targets, who got hit by the wrong attacks, and most importantly, why someone died. I had none of that. I was essentially flying blind, relying on my officers for information. It was quite disconcerting.

All of this leads up to the raid on Monday. We walk in, and smoothly one shot the gunship battle. It was even more epic on 25 man than it was on ten man. I took the role of the jump tank this time, and spent the fight crossing blades with THE High Overlord Saurfang. A privilege I have not had, save the one time my guild blew up Warsong Hold for the sole purpose of killing Garrosh Hellscream. Jet packs are fun. I mean really fun. Despite being an extremely easy encounter, this is probably one of my favorites in the game. I also picked up a sexy pair of tanking shoulders. They do however, make me look like one of those oddball warrior tanks. Hopefully I can pick up a nice set of tier 10 shoulders soon, seeing as the pally T10 looks pretty good this tier.

Which brings us to the younger Saurfang. Deathbringer got a little crazy. It took us five tries to get him down. And even then, the rate of accumulation of blood power was unacceptable. I'm not exactly sure of what exactly was going wrong because all my tools for analysis depend on the combat log, but do know at one point I panned my camera around and saw our demo lock tanking two blood beasts in illidan-form. /facepalm. Angry Dammer boiled to the surface, but angry raid warnings don't really carry the satisfaction of being able to actually talk to someone. I think they got the message though, as the next attempt, we dropped Deathbringer, and collected purples. Double vanquisher dropped, and we moved on.

One of my goals, now that the guild has begun properly raiding 25 mans, is to clean up the old progression objectives that we failed to down when the content was current. So we started with Sartharion with three drakes. OS3D was a fight that we attempted many times in T7, and it kicked our ass. It didn't help that our tanking corps at the time consisted of three prot paladins, who were utterly gimped prior to patch 3.2, but well, we just weren't that good back then. This time, we came in a rolled it. It was satisfying. The group walked off with new titles, and I walked off with a new flying mount that I won't use, despite the amount of DKP I dropped on it. It's very pretty, but my rusted proto drake flies circles around it. I'm planning on the Ulduar Hard Modes next. Maybe not Firefighter, that was hellish on 10 man.

Next up was Tuesday's ten man night. With my combat log repaired, we dove into Icecrown, and aside from still puzzling out the traps on the pre marrowgar trash, we were textbook in there. Every boss was smoothly one shot. Deathbringer Saurfang didn't get a single Mark out. It was beautiful. I picked up a mace from Marrowgar that I'll probably only use in a farm set, and even then, that's assuming that I don't get a 245 DPS weapon out of ToGC 10 by then. Crusader's Glory just has way too much survivability tied into it for me to surrender it for some more hit and DPS.

Right before the Deathbringer pull, we were inspired by our fellow alliance raiders. Crisis, the top alliance guild spammed the server with their realm first Tribute to Insanity 25 man. Congratulations guys. Sorry Wrathy, I'm sure you'll get Insanity this week too.

We then proceeded to ToGC 10, where the exact opposite happened. Things got sloppy. Ranged DPS got murdered on beasts by standing in the path of the kited worm. DPS didn't switch to the last volcano on Jaraxxus, leading to a kill with only 4 members of the raid left standing. Control was almost non existant on Faction Champions. I wound up having to replace the DK assigned to kite the warrior in order to get them down. That was a bit of a wake up call, and the group rallied to one shot twins and Anub to salvage Mad Skill. I got a trophy that bought me a nice new chest piece for my ret set.

The ups and downs of raiding were ever present. Combined with whatever electromagnetic field of fail I've been projecting lately, it made raiding quite the game of chutes and ladders. But that's part of what makes things so much fun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Brief Aside

You can expect a raging, ranting, raiding post tomorrow, but tonight, I'd just like to cover a topic that's been kind of bothering me for the past week.

Other servers of the Rampage battlegroup, know this: Destromath Alliance rolls need on Frozen Orbs. We do so because all characters who have 450 professions get equal utility out of them. We do so because it's easier than fighting over who actually gets that extra half ounce of use out of them. We do so because it prevents drama. We will not stop. Eventually you will adapt. Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Patch 3.3: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Well, we're now in the age of 3.3, and the launch wasn't as buggy as the patches I've mentioned previously. There was the usual 3 hours of being unable to connect to the server, and there's the matter of the floor of the airship at the end of the Halls of Reflection frying people's connections, and the return of "Additional Instances Cannot Be Launched", and the flaws in the new LFG... well, it wasn't perfect, but it really wasn't THAT bad. All of my addons held up, contrary to the predictions of the Yogscast boys.

The new five mans are actually very well put together, and quite fun. I ran it with some guild members, and we cleared all of them, sharded almost everything, and picked up a couple of achievements. Then we got DCed at the end, and a few of us, myself included got locked into a loading screen for the better part of an hour. Thankfully, I was prepared for such an occurrence, and had purchased Dragon Age Origins.

After a few hours, we managed to haul ourselves online, and bludgeon our way into Icecrown for my exploratory 10 man run. I thoroughly enoyed exploring the new content. The fights were more difficult than ToC, but not as difficult as ToGC, and it was no where near as buggy as Ulduar's release. Alas, I did not get the opportunity to crash the Skybreaker into some poor horde guild's ToC run.

We rolled through Lord Marrowgar after deciding to three heal it. We switched back to two healers for Lady Deathwhisper, and after two wipes sorting out the proper kill order for the adds, we knocked her down. We rolled around slaughtering horde and scourge before the gunship battle while we waited for our DCed feral druid to log back on. Then came the real fun on the boat. It was kind of late, and I was somewhat disoriented, and instead of grabbing a rocket shirt, I talked to the other NPC. Yeah, the one who starts the fight. Fortunately, everyone was on board, although not everyone had their shirts. Thus began a frantic scramble to figure out who was supposed to go where and do what, and explain to them their roles as the horde began to pour out onto our vessel. Forget pulling blind, salvaging blind surprise pulls are the most exciting thing in raiding. We had another surprise pull on Deathbringer Saurfang. We didn't see him, and we weren't sure what to do, so we talked to Muradin Bronzebeard, and out rolls Saurfang Junior. After Saurfang's disparaging racist comments, we found ourselves in combat, without a comprehensive plan, again. Unfortunately, this time, as I was barking out orders frantically in vent, my mic decided to stop working. The melee DPS didn't realize to stop AoE when the beasts spawned, and we wound up tanking the first two sets that came out. This provided Saurfang with a healthy Blood Power boost, and wound up wiping us. We returned again, with a working microphone, and a plan, and destroyed Saurfang in short order.

Lore ensued, with High Overlord Saurfang showing his paternal side, and reminding me of why he's one of, well... one horde NPCs who get any serious amount of respect from me from a lore perspective. Meanwhile, while Jaina cried about how great King Wyrnn is, we quietly stood the side.

"That's great, where's our epics?"

Then King Wrynn began to make battle plans, and dispatched peasants who promptly went and began building something.

"Are they building our purples?"

Alas, no, they did build a reagent vendor and repairman though, which was nice. We began to search frantically for our loot, until our healer lets out a holler on vent.

"I found it! It's over here!"

The Deathbringer's Cache is shoved in a corner, behind a pillar, and is painted gunmetal gray, just like the walls around it. GG Blizz.

Only one piece of tanking loot dropped, the mace from Lord Marrowgar, which I passed to the other tank, because I didn't think the loss of stam and armor made up for the gain in hit and DPS. Other than that, our feral druid made out like a bandit, and so did our holy/shadow priest.

All in all, I'm quite proud of how the ten man team acquitted themselves. It feels good to have built something that works.

However, here comes the pain. I logged on today, and stumbled through a random H Gundrak with 17k latency in order to pick up my two frost emblems. I was basically tanking the instance through memory and anticipation, with updates on where everything was standing every 15 seconds or so. It worked fine until the room after Sladran, where the warlock got too big for his britches, and decided to pull two packs for me. Normally, I pride myself on my ability to salvage DPS from their own stupidity, but watching this group crash and burn in slide show format was frustrating. So I let the trash kill everyone else before I AoEed it down, as I rezzed the rest of the party, I warned them to not pull for me. The rest of the instance was pretty much forgettable, if a little disjointed.

With my two frost emblems in hand, I logged off, and prayed that the latency issues would solve themselves by raid time. This was not the case. I logged on to a red bar in the 16k range. I started assembling the raid, and dashed towards the raid instance, hanging my last hopes that it would stabilize when I entered the raid instance. My latency did drop, all the way down to 13.7k ms. I'm used to handling things in the 600-800 ms, and I've muddled through raids with as high as 1.3k, but this was ten times worse than the worst I've ever handled. I can't raid with that level of lag. So I told the our utility player to log off his Hunter, and onto his Paladin, and gave him my spot in the raid. I handed raid lead off to one of my officers, and stepped out of the instance, out of WoW, and out of Vent.

As enjoyable as it was crushing ICC 10 with my handpicked crew on Tuesday, it was just as painful to miss out on my guild's first push into ICC 25. They're in there right now, hopefully dominating the scourge. Good luck, guys.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Cluttered UI

My UI is a bit of a mess.
As you can see, I've got quite the clutter going on. A lot of people who post about their UIs talk about how they wanted a clean UI, a functional UI, a UI worthy of posting about. I had none of those ideals in mind when I built my UI. It was put together, piece by piece, like some sort of Frankenstein's Monster. It evolved as my needs evolved. And now, like any end result of evolution, has many vestigial organs that I can certainly live without.

I used the default UI until I was almost level 80. I had no idea what addons were, or how useful they could be. As I took a more and more involved role in the endgame, I picked up addons here and there as issues arised, and never really took the time to do any pruning. So here's a list of what addons I use, what purpose they serve, and what drove me to take them.

Omen: Threat Meter was required to raid by my first guild, which exploded a week before I was ready to start raiding. But hey, at least I got Omen out of it!
DBM: Same as Omen.
Bartender4: Very quickly after hitting level 80 did I come to the realization that 10 abilities just wasn't going to cut it. Now I have over 40 available, and I use almost all of them.
Pallypower: I got sick of spending 20 minutes sorting out which pally was buffing what.
Recount: I couldn't figure out why Thaddius wasn't dying, I picked this up to find out who was only pulling 2k.
Sexymap: Wanted coordinates to track down a quest obective in Icecrown.
Icehud: Got sick of looking at the corner to check on health and mana, so I got it setup right by my character.
Parrot: Gives me a feel for the pacing of the fight, and net heals without having to sift through recount.
Pitbull: As I became more experienced as a raid leader, I realized that raid frames have their uses. I have mousover macros tied into all my hand spells and cleanse on pitbull. Plus it lets me track who's dead, who's dying, and who's dangerously oom.
Tanktotals: it's hidden above recount, but it gives me a mouseover log on some of my more important survival and mitigation numbers whenever I want to check them.

There's a lot of things that I plan on eventually cleaning up with my UI. But right now, it's functional, if ugly. I've got all the information I need to make informed decisions as a raid leader, and as a tank. In some cases three times over...

Alliance Pride

Everyone's favorite gnome, Larisa, recently posted about the lack of so called "Alliance Pride". I take extreme pride in my being part of the Alliance, because while we may have pompous, boisterous, and balding leaders, at least we aren't evil. And make no mistake about it, the Horde is seriously shady. When Blizzard describes one of your capital cities as a "Sprawling Bastion of Evil", well, that about sums it up.

You can tell the ideology of a society by the examples they venerate. 90% of everything the Horde builds is named after either Ogrim Doomhammer, or Grom Hellscream. Ogrim was a brutal dictator who enjoyed torturing refugees and wound up condemning nearly the entire orcish race to death through his poor decisions in the second war. And Grom, well, despite the rose colored glasses people seem to remember him through, to say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree is an understatement. Garrosh is following exactly in dear daddy's footsteps. And let's not forget about the places named after Kargath Bladefist. What are they gonna call their next territory? Gul'danistan?

Not to mention all the flaws in the Horde races themselves.
Orcs: Have been trying to ride their one good deed to a get out of jail free card for genocide and warmongering.
Trolls: I could go on for hours about all the screwed up things the trolls have done, except that the Horde didn't get any of those cool trolls from ZA or ZG. No, they got the Darkspear Trolls, who were nearly wiped out... by murlocs. Mrglrghlrghl!
Forsaken: Death to the Living! Need I say more?
Blood Elves: You drained the light out of Mu'ru, and nearly ushered in Kil'Jaeden himself to Azeroth... and to top it all off, you all act like Valley Girls addicted to Meth, yes, even the males.
Tauren: I don't really have any beef with the Beef. Don't really get what you're doing over there.
Goblins: Great, a whole race of Gevlons... just what we need...

Lorewise, the Horde has been one of the worst things to ever happen to Azeroth. They cut down forests simply for the sake of pissing off the Night Elves. They stab the alliance in the back whenever the Alliance attempts to fight a more dangerous foe. They develop the tools for genocide, with a history to match. The Alliance might not be perfect, they might have done some rash, or arrogant things, but they've never been involved in anything half as shady as the Horde has done in the past few years on Azeroth. I have little desire to spend my time in game collecting the skulls of innocent peasants.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Nature of Raiding in Wrath: Easy Mode

Well, I'm currently blogging from a freezing motel room as I fritter away the time between drill days. This means that there's no new news from the progression front, and I really don't need another drama post right now, so I'll talk about an issue that I've been planning on talking about for a while now. The nature of raiding in Wrath of the Lich King.

As a true Child of Wrath, I didn't experience the endgame of Vanilla, or BC, but I've done my homework on how it was brought down. In a way, this gives me a unique perspective on raiding in the age of Wrath. I'm going to start with the implementation of Normal/Hard modes of fights.

In Pre Wrath raiding, aside from a few examples, such as Hakkar, and most notably the Three Bugs in AQ40, there were no hard modes for bosses. You either killed the boss, or you got nothing. If you couldn't kill the boss, then your only recourse was to wait until Blizzard nerfed the boss down to the level where you could defeat it.

This changed with the widespread use of hard modes in Wrath. The hardcore raiding guilds that ran Sunwell had extremely difficult fights they could brag about dropping, and the casual raiders had the ability to see the content, without being confined to the Zul'Aman style kid's table raids.

However, Blizzard's gotten a lot of flak for this move. Flak which I think is due entirely to perception, rather than reality. People now complain that raid content is too easy. Yet the overwhelming majority of those people haven't actually defeated all of the hardest fights in the game. People now believe that because they can clear the instance on "Normal" mode, that there is nothing more for them to do. This is where the fallacy lies.

Consider for a moment, what the default setting of most encounters is? What happens if you walk into the Obsidian Sanctum, clear trash, and pull Sartharion? What happens if you talk to the Lore Keeper of Norgannon and proceed directly to the Flame Leviathan? What happens if you clear to Yogg and pull? The answers are, respectively, The Twilight Zone, Orbituary, and Alone in the Darkness. Those are the default settings of the encounter. That is normal mode. Less than 1% of guilds in the world have actually downed Alone in the Darkness on 25 man. How is that easy?

The answer is, it isn't. However, because of the a choice made by Blizzard to avoid alienating the casual raider, it is perceived as superfluous content. It is, after all, "Hard Mode", why bother with it if you can just do "Normal Mode?" But what if it wasn't Normal Mode and Hard Mode? What if they called Hard Mode normal mode, and Normal Mode was called easy mode? By clearing the content on easy mode, you were essentially a tourist to raiding, enjoying a watered down, safer version of what the Naxx40/Sunwell Raiders of the previous expansions were struggling through? Instead of thinking that Blizzard was nerfing the content, you would be made painfully aware of the fact that Blizzard nerfed nothing, they're simply carrying you. They're giving you the choice to nerf the encounter into oblivion yourself, rather than wait for Blizzard to do it.

People need to realize their place. A guild that can clear Ulduar on easy mode is not the same as a guild that cleared TK before 2.1. A guild that downed Yogg+1 is more like it. What this does, is that both guilds get to see the content that Blizzard put so much effort into creating, while one guild gets better loot. It grants the power of choice to the masses.

If you're one of those people who feel that raiding is too easy, and you're not currently 5/5 ToGC 25, rocking out on your Iron-Bound Proto Drake, then you should consider ignoring normal mode raiding altogether. Get kills on Heroic, or go home with nothing. That should bring you closer to the flavor of BC era raiding, if that's what you truly desire. Granted, the setup for Icecrown won't lend itself to this philosophy quite as well as Ulduar did, but it should still provide you and your guild with a challenge superior to simply farming easy mode content.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lord Jaraxxus

Hot on the heels of Monday's kill of the Heroic Beasts, we returned to ToGC 25 on Wednesday. We quickly mopped the beasts back up, after teaching the new group of ranged DPS the proper positioning for phase two. After the beasts went down, we moved onto Lord Jaraxxus. Lord Jaraxxus is a pushover on normal mode, however, it's a whole different story on heroic. While not as difficult as the beasts, the biggest thing that a raid must fight against Jaraxxus is their own perception that Jaraxxus is a wimp. Things that were of somewhat menial importance, such as legion flames, fel infernos, and incinerate flesh went from slight nuisances to raid destroyers.

We wiped a few times to people being careless with legion flames and not switching onto the portals quick enough. I wound up letting Angry Dammer surface a little bit. Not much, but enough to get their attention. With the raid's focus gathered, we began identifying problems and setting up a general strat for how we'd handle the fight. We focused on minimizing tank movement, to ensure a consistent portal spawn point. We then assigned our three raid healers to specific points of the star to ensure that the legion flame victims wouldn't run out of healer range. Then we made sure the DPS were pre staged to DPS down portals and volcanoes as quick as possible. We began to make progress, and it culminated on our tenth attempt, as we began to put all the pieces together.

The attempt was running very cleanly, we never got more than one Mistress or 3 Infernals before the spawn point was closed. Nether Power was getting dispelled briskly, and people were quick with Fel Infernos and Legion Flames. But with Jaraxxus at 23%, and the 3rd nether portal having just been closed, the proverbial shit hit the fan. The healer for the add tank got hit by a fel lightning, then immediately got lit up by the mistress' pile driver. At the same time, Jaraxxus buffed nether power, pulling the attention of the priests, who comprised two of the three raid healers. On top of this, the interrupters hadn't pushed back into range of Jaraxxus, allowing Jaraxxus to get a nether enhanced Fel Fireball off, whacking off about 85% of my health, and locking my healer onto me. All of this lead to the add tank going down, cutting the mistress free, and leaving no one to cover the infernals that would soon be sprouting into our raid.

As I taunted the mistress onto me, I made the call. Full burn on Jaraxxus. All DPS snapped onto Jaraxxus, and the cleave and AoE damage quickly reduced the Mistress to a distant memory. The volcano spawned, and began spewing infernals out as Jaraxxus was pushed deeper and deeper into execute range. Our boomkin shifted to bear, popped barkskin, and did his best to keep the infernals from running amok, as the healers went into overdrive to try and keep everyone up. Tick by tick, Jaraxxus' health inched towards our victory, and with cries of glee echoing through vent, he crumpled to the ground.

Those cries of happiness were replaced by gasps of horror. The last thing Jaraxxus did before his death was cast incinerate flesh on our shadow priest. The entire raid had completely come to a standstill once Jaraxxus was done, and that included our healers. The poor shadow priest erupts into a burning inferno, scorching the 19 members of the raid that managed to outlast the eredar lord. Oh, the humanity! When the napalm deathstorm boiled over, 12 of the 19 raiders got waxed. The 7 who survived had all popped cooldowns, ranging from my Divine Shield, to Iceblock, to Anti-Magic Shell. Not sure how the warlock managed to survive it... shady...

No sexy tanking loot has dropped in any of our ToGC 25 kills yet, and with Icecrown looming, our focus will be shifting elsewhere, but I'm still glad to prove that unlike previous tiers, we're capable of making an impact on the 25 man level.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

the Ghost of Patches Past

With 3.3 coming next week, presumably, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the massive failures of other recent patches. Here's the top three.

3: Patch 3.0.8: For those of you who don't remember, two words, Lake Winterfail. The patch that brought Death Knights to the unwashed masses also brought a glitch which caused the entire continent of Northrend to crash for 5 minutes whenever the Battle for Lake Wintergrasp ended. When Northrend came back up, the Wintergrasp began again, meaning that Northrend was only up for about 15-20 minutes at a time. Players earned an astonishing amount of marks, being able to do WG every 20 minutes, as opposed to every 2.5 hours. Epic marks, epic honor, epic annoyance.

2: Patch 3.1: My personal favorite post patch anecdote comes from the Secrets of Ulduar patch. The Tuesday that it came out, I was part of a ten man guild expedition into the titanic facility. I took the helm of a siege engine, steam rushed down the ramp, and fell through the world. As many have done since, it's a known bug. But here's where it got interesting. I landed. In Naxx. In Grobbulus' room, to be specific. In my siege engine. What really made it priceless was the fact that it wasn't some new Naxx instance made for me... oh no, it was a Naxx in progress by a horde guild, who were getting ready to pull Grob. My tank lands right next to Grob, and pulls him before the hordies were ready. Hilarity ensues. I was so flabbergasted, that I just sat there in my tank. Then I realized the potential this situation had. I drove over and electroshocked their Grob tank, one shot, one kill. Now, the initiation of PvP combat inside of an instance must have broke something in the code, because once the horde tank died, the entire instance despawned from underneath us. We fell into oblivion, repeatedly, taking durability damage each time. I lost my siege engine after the first fall, took a screenshot, and logged off for a while. I logged on a few hours later to find myself in ghost form in Crystalsong Forest, with my corpse apparently buried far underground. I had to eat a spirit rez, and a nearly 200g repair bill from the dura loss from falling so many times, and the rez damage.

1: Patch 3.0.2: As fun as nuking horde raids with siege engines, and stacking marks of WG to the ceiling were, in terms of unmitigated fail, patch 3.0.2 took the cake. Echoes of Doom brought the scourge invasion, and for about two days, the servers were so unstable the game was practically unplayable. Servers crashed when people earned an achievement, took a point in a 51 talent, logged on... Basically, for a few weeks, while they were backtracking all the bugfixes, WoW was closed on Tuesdays.

So, when you're complaining that the ICC portal leads to Naxx, and that in order to get into ICC, you have to use the Wailing Caverns portal, or whatever way Blizzard tries to screw up 3.3, remember this, it probably won't be worse than what we've already dealt with.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Aftermath

It's been 12 days since the exiles left. At first, I was baffled and angry. I wasn't sure why they left, and to be honest, they were a big reason why I kept Legacy going as long as it has. I actually cancelled the next payment on my subscription, deciding that either the next three weeks would bring something that would convince me to stay, or I'd dismantle Legacy and leave Azeroth. I faced a decision to on how to handle things. I could either slam the door shut behind them, or leave access to me open, and pray that I could find the answers to my questions. I talked to some of my friends for guidance, and got a mixed bag of responses, from chalking it up to John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, to possibly pointing out to a misunderstanding like when our neurotic former officer holy paladin convinced our Resto Druid to quit the guild. I drew up a post the next day, laying out the facts, and my thoughts, to give myself a little more clarity, and see if possibly some members of the blogging community had any ideas on how to best handle the situation.

After a little thought, I realized that salting the earth was easy, I could do it anytime I wanted, but it is also, unfortunately often permanent. So I decided to leave their alts in the guild, and not ban them from our vent. Some of them have popped in from time to time. A couple have seemingly spent more time on the alts in Legacy than on their horde toons. I've found at that they left to go play with some of their friends who had left Legacy and Faction Transferred when going to the dark side first became an option. The Death Knight left to go form a 3s team, which is now 2k rated. The Hunter left because she wanted to raid with the DK, and the other three just kinda followed the crowd. It's nice to have them around, but it still stings. My gut instinct tells me that they're still decent people, but my heart still reminds me of the manner of their departure. The loss of trust that was created by their leaving still colors every interaction I have with them.

Even with the answers I got, there's still some nagging questions that elude me. These are the hard questions, the things that don't fit, and the questions that I fear that if I ask, would destroy whatever goodwill I have left for these people. Why, if the Hunter wanted to raid with the Death Knight, are they in different guilds? Why, if the Shaman could barely make any raids with us, did he think transferring to a guild with pretty much the same raiding schedule, and an attendance requirement would work? How long ago did they put in their applications to those guilds, and continued to assure me that I could count on them for the push to Icecrown? I don't know if I really want to know the answers.

I threw recruiting open the moment they left, and a Fury Warrior who joined us a few months ago and worked his way onto my ten man squad began tapping his resources. He gathered several of his friends, a Warlock, Mage, Rogue, Feral Druid, Resto Shaman, and Unholy Death Knight, who were looking to get back into raiding after an extended break. They were mostly Ex-Get of Fenris members who got sick of raiding when the guild transitioned to Awaken. Heavily undergeared, but extremely skilled. We can get them gear, though, that's not an issue. The losses suffered have been quickly replenished.

Last night, something interesting happened. For the last patch, Legacy was pretty much a semi casual 25 man raiding guild with a hardcore ten man team. We'd made some attempts in ToGC 25, but people lacked focus, and couldn't handle wiping. To be honest, I still had it scheduled only because not at least making the effort would pretty much lay that sham right out in the open. But last nights raid was different, after 5 wipes, people weren't whining and weren't leaving. Each attempt made incremental progress. Finally, after 15 attempts, and two and a half hours of wiping, we had a dead yeti on our hands.

After the raid time elapsed, I rebuilt my ten man team, having 3 of the 5 exiles on my ten man team left me unsure of how successful we could be, but we breezed through ToGC 10, and after an oddball wipe due to a burrower getting stuck on an unused patch of frost in phase three, allowing him to shadow strike, my new feral druid found himself earning Call of the Grand Crusade, Tribute to Skill, and Tribute to Mad Skill all in the same night.

I still don't know what my plan is going to be with the Exiles, but I do know this, I still have work to do. This morning I sent Blizzard the next payment for my subscription.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How to go out with your dignity intact

One of my recent posts inspired a few replies from around the blogosphere, and I promised that I would put together a reply when I got my thoughts and feelings sorted out. My feelings on the situation still evade me, like some sort of greased pig on speed, but the logical part of my mind has sorted out some things that correspond directly with one of the replies.

Tengen posted a reply that was built around the the concept of the etiquette of leaving a guild. In my time as GM of Legacy, I've had a lot of people come and go. People of varying skill, personality, and tenure have left, and they've left via different means. We've had people leave after ninjaing anything they could get there hands on. We've had people leave spewing hate across gchat and forums. We've had people slip off in the middle of the night. We've had our fair share of people who joined up just to use our tag as an resume builder for the further progressed guild that they left for in less than a week. People have left for a variety of reasons, and I remember the majority of them. However, the people that left with the most goodwill from me had two things in common, communication and honesty.

The one player who probably made the best exit from Legacy, despite depriving us of his leadership, 6k DPS, and all of the tailoring patterns the guild had drop, was a warlock who had been an officer in the guild for about 4 months. He was part of my ten man squad. However, he had some friends in Awaken, the top PvE guild on the server, and decided to apply to them. He explained to me that he had put in an application, explained to me his motivations for his choice, and offered to leave the guild immediately if that was what I wanted. I let him stay in the guild, and raid with us until the disposition of his application became clear. He let me know when his application was approved, and left the guild graciously. He went on to earn a Death's Demise title when Awaken dropped Yogg+0, and still came back to hang out with us from time to time.

What can someone learn from that example is how to graciously make an exit. Be discreet, but not hidden. The fact that you're applying to other guilds isn't something that you want to broadcast to the guild at large until you're sure you've got somewhere to land. But at the same time, if you don't tell the guild leader, and they find out, then it just makes you look like a shady bastard trying to hedge your bets. So the key to this situation is communication with your leadership through the proper discreet channels. This might be through whispers, in game mail, e-mail, vent, the website, or any one of a number of ways to get in contact with your GM. Explain what you're doing, and why you're following this particular course of action. Then give the GM's response a fair listen, and work with him to decide what your future with these people will be.

You also need to be prepared for the consequences. Depending on your GM and your guild's current needs, you might find your raid spot given to someone else, or find yourself removed from the guild. But you're gonna lose those things anyways if your application goes through, and if it doesn't, but wind of it gets back to your current guild, you might find yourself out on the street without anywhere to go. But most GMs I've talked with tend to look more favorably upon honesty than negatively about desire to leave.

Now, all of this is still dependent upon the situation being you leaving one guild because you think the other guild would be a better situation. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to leave a guild because your situation has become untenable, then most of the rules still apply. Honesty and communication are still of paramount importance, but in this situation, where reaching the limbo between guilds would be an improvement over your current situation, then leaving is more important than where you're going. You still owe it to your leadership to inform them of why you're leaving. You can do this through an in game mail if they aren't online, or some other discreet method of communication. Once you've done that, then you can leave with your obligations discharged.

Through honest communication, you can avoid a lot of the bad blood that comes with leaving a guild, and possibly be the cause for major improvement within the guild that you left. Burning your bridges through either spite or negligence helps no one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Audacity of Armor

There's a few blog posts out there that I intend to reply to, but I'm going to hold off for the moment until I have a better handle on my thoughts and feelings on the matter in question. So in the interim, I'm gonna post this response to a new topic that cropped up on maintankadin, and has taken protadin bloggers by storm.

Theck, the bringer of numbers, posted another of his patented analysis threads based on armor, and in particular, inspired by the Glyph of Indomitability. Some readers will remember that I recommended the Glyph to newer tanks in my post on Chill of the Throne. However, I made a caveat.
However, the glyph is absolutely useless on fights where the majority of the
damage is magical in nature.
Wrathy, Rhidach, and Honors have all posted their thoughts on the meaning of Theck's analysis with regards to dogmatic protection paladin theory. This post has kind of turned the ideas behind the predominant effective health formulas on its ear.

However, the conclusions were something that I already had a good idea of, and I'm fairly certain that any of the more cerebral tanks in the game already had a pretty good idea of too. What Theck's analysis has done is empirically prove what we've known all along. That currently slavish dedication to a single ideal of effective health is the wrong way of going about things. Variations in encounter design and damage sources creates variables that the old 11 armor=1 stam effective health equation simply does not accurately map.

In order to determine the best gearing philosophy, it has to be done on an encounter by encounter basis. It also requires an understanding of the limitations of each form of survivability, and their impact on encounter mechanics. A tank has several forms of survivability.

Flat damage mitigation: This is typically involves talents and cooldowns. This is advantageous because it works on all forms of damage. However, it cannot mitigate damage in its entirety, you will be hit through this, and some fight mechanics, which are predicated upon you taking damage, will still remain dangerous regardless of how much flat damage mitigation you have.

Avoidance: Dodge, Parry, and Miss. Each has certain advantages with regards to itemization, however, with the exception of miss, none of these work on non physical attacks. The benefits of avoidance is that it occasionally provides 100% mitigation from melee attacks, which are often the biggest source of incoming damage on most fights. This means that any debuffs associated with melee hits won't land either. However, this suffers from a lack of predictability, leading to healer panic attacks, and straight up ineffectiveness against many different mechanics.

Expertise: Expertise is usually considered a threat stat, and it certainly is, however, against many mobs, it works almost as well as dodge in regards to reducing incoming damage. Once again, Theck brought the numbers. It's kinda like the anti-dodge. Whereas dodge makes the mob attack and not hit you, expertise simply makes the mob not swing at you. However, this has all the limitations of dodge, and another big one. Against certain mobs, Gormak the Impaler and Patchwerk being among the more famous, they don't parry haste at all. In those encounters, expertise does absolutely nothing to improve survivability.

Armor: Armor is flat damage reduction that only works against physical damage. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of flat DR, but also becomes absolutely useless in the face of magic damage.

Stamina: Stamina works by directly increasing a tank health pool. It works equally against magic and physical damage, does not suffer diminishing returns, and scales blessing of kings. It sounds like a delicious panacea, and in some regards, it is. However, it is a statistic that is subject to "magic numbers". The point of stam that lets you go from being two shot to three shot is so much more important than any point since the one that let you stop being one shot by the boss. What the majority of the points in between do is simply make for smaller overkill numbers. It does help with healer strain, but different itemization theory can sometimes be a smarter way to go when you find yourself in the wasteland between those magic numbers. However, while the situations where more stam is actually detrimental are very few and far between, they do exist. Fights with mechanics that scale off health can create a harder healing load. The most prominent example is Anub'Arak's leeching swarm.

Resistances: Resistances are a much more difficult thing to decide upon. If stacked, the right resistances can almost completely mitigate some of the hardest hitting magic abilities in the game. However, it does nothing against anything else. It's also on very specialized gear which asks you to make severe sacrifices in exchange for that resistance.

One finds the optimal balance of stats for an encounter by looking at the mechanics of the fight. You have to look for what kind of sources of damage there are, which ones can be avoided, which can be mitigated by armor, which will require cooldown coordination. One of the most important things to affect your gearing decision is the choke point of the fight, the point at which you are at your most vulnerable. For example, Gormak the Impaler is the choke point for tanks from an itemization standpoint. You need to ensure you can survive the impale DoT melee combo, and while phase two and phase three contain a good amount of magic damage, armor is still a strong choice for itemization due to the fact that Gormak is the biggest threat, and all the magic mitigation in the world doesn't save you when gormak punches you in the chops.

I suppose that someone with far more time and inclination than myself could analyze the parses of those encounters, and determine the choke points in the fights. Then they could theoretically refine that information into an effective health formula that takes into account all forms of survivability weighted by usefulness. The coefficients would change based on each encounter, and give us a valid mathematical setup for the gear set.

However, that's beyond something I feel like doing, so until then, all I can suggest is that instead of mindlessly adhering to the EH formula, do your own research on the encounter, and make educated decisions. Don't be the tank shunning avoidance for Deathbringer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tank Itemization Finally Comes Around.

Tarsus has a pretty good writeup on the datamined tanking gear coming in patch 3.3. What struck me about this particular tier of gear is how the itemization was done. I now know for a fact that I will be carrying at least two sets of tanking gear for Icecrown, possibly as many as 4. My bags cry out for mercy.

I will probably be building a heavy EH set to deal with fights like Rotface and Marrowgar, where large amounts of physical damage is the primary issue. This will be constructed out of badge and crafted gear. There's almost an entire plus armor set available. The chest, gloves, belt, and cloak from badges, and crafted pants. The chestpiece alone has more armor than any of the mages in my guild. Think about that, the mitigation you'll get from these pieces is the equivalent of having whole clothies strapped to you for protection. The gear, however, is not without its flaws. The high stam/high armor gear has almost no avoidance on it, and most of it is parry, which hits diminishing returns like Manny Pacquiao, hard and fast. It will be helpful on some fights, but in others, it will become a liability.

Then there's the T10 set. It's well balanced with regards to dodge and parry, and is possessed with a DR free boost to avoidance in the four piece set. This will be particularly powerful in the Deathbringer Saurfang encounter, where higher avoidance can allow the raid to avoid high amounts of damage late in the encounter when Marks begin to overwhelm the raid.

I'm also considering the usefulness of a Hodir style Frost Resist set for Sindragosa, however, I'm unsure of how much damage the tank will actually take from frost, as opposed to the melee. There's also the possibility of an Anub style block set for Lady Deathwhisper and Ogrim's Hammer, but the gap in the attack table due to Chill might make that untenable. Throw in a ret set of gear, and I have no bag space left... :(

All in all, my general progression set will probably be a combination of T10, along with Off set +armor pieces, along with dual stamina trinkets. But the diversity of the pieces allows us to customize our gear set for the encounters we struggle with, and this is a welcome change from previous tiers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving

Alright, enough with the touchy feely bullshit for now. Time to man up, shove my emotions back into that compartment that's slowly causing me liver damage, and talk about something that affects all of us.

The Turkinator. As you know, there's a new holiday around, and the most difficult achievement for the meta is to gain Turkey Triumph. You earn this by gaining 40 stacks of turkey tracker. How do you gain turkey tracker? By killing wild turkeys in Elwynn Forest of course!

Now the difficulty lies in the fact that you have to kill at least one turkey every 30 seconds, or turkey tracker falls off. Combine that with massive amounts of competition for said fowl, and you've got this holiday's "dammit" achievement.

There are several tricks that will aid you in your quest for a new pet and mount.

  • Eat Tracker Snacks. These allow you to track beasts on your minimap, and turkey's are beastly in this game. Unfortunately, so are every wolf, bear, and boar that covers the forest. Use this for guidance, but reliance.
  • Use instant cast ranged nukes. Hand of Reckoning is ridiculously overpowered here, as is icy touch. Low cooldown, low cost, instant cast spells allow you to kill turkeys with maximum efficiency.
  • Use your mount as soon as you leave combat. Use crusader aura, or unholy presence, or anything that make your mount move faster, because every second counts.
  • Most importantly, be one step ahead. By the time you kill a turkey, you should know where the next kill is, and be looking for the one after that.
If you follow these guidelines you should find yourself with a thick Austrian accent, and a new pet and title very soon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This One Hurt

We recently lost a group of five players to faction transfer. An enhance shaman, a resto druid, a rogue, an unholy DK, and a hunter. From a roster standpoint, it wasn't as bad of a loss as some previous players leaving was. The shaman's work schedule was so convoluted that he only made one 25 man raid per month. We've got DKs, Hunters, and Rogues falling out of every orifice, so to be honest, all their leaving does is open the door for someone else to step up, and should allow us to diversify our raiding comp. I've already got a mage to replace the hunter, and a feral druid to replace the rogue. I could probably force one of our other DPS DKs to go unholy for Ebon Plaguebringer, and use the freed roster spot to bring in an arms warrior for trauma. The resto druid is the biggest loss, as she was our only currently raiding resto druid. But hopefully the tree who's raiding spot she took will get his computer back from the shop soon, and would nullify that issue.

One of the reasons this particular loss hurt more than most was what these five did outside of raids. When I felt like running BGs to crush the horde, they were the first to jump in. When I wanted to run BWL so I could grab the elementium to finish the sceptre of the shifting sands quest line, they were the ones who followed me into Nefarian's Lair. When we downed Algalon and 1 light, they were the first players I boosted to get their drakes and titles. Several of them took the time to hunt me down on facebook which was something that only the other officers in the guild took the time to do.

If that weren't enough, their actions the last few days before their departure kind of rubbed salt in the wound. When I was talking to guild members about how we were going to handle the upcoming Icecrown raid, 3 of them assured me that they would be there for us. Less than 24 hours later they were gone. With a couple of them already accepted into endgame raiding guilds hordeside, Great Men in History and Crypt Friends, I know that that was something they had to have been planning in advance. I don't like being jerked around like that. 3 of them took ilevel 245 weapons from guild runs, less than 48 hours before they left. The rogue in particular, was frantically burning through his DKP during the last raid, and in hindsight, that looked pretty suspicious. One of them even had the gall to clean out everything his rank would allow him to take from the gbank.

I've dealt with some rough times in Azeroth. I've had two guilds collapse on me and leave me out on my own. Legacy very nearly did, until I decided to take the reigns. I've fought my way up from pugs that couldn't clear Noth in Naxx ten, all the way up to an Algalon kill and Tribute to Insanity. I've dealt with far more important raiders leaving than this group, but for some reason this one just cut deeper than the others. I feel taken advantage of.

Normally in a situation like this, I just kick the person, kick their alts, ban them from vent, and blacklist them from guild activities, and recruit their replacement. But this time, I'm kinda at a loss for what I should do. This isn't the neurotic holy paladin that we all knew would snap someday, it's not the mouthy warlock who's only tolerated because he pulls 5k DPS, or the mage who always seems like he'd rather be playing arenas. These were some of the closest people I had in Azeroth to friends. I trusted them, and this whole ordeal not only calls into question their actions, but it calls into question myself for having such trust in them.

I'm truly at a loss for how I should deal with this. Should I go scorched earth, and ruin any chance that the last week was a misunderstanding? Or should I leave them access, and possibly just let a frustrating wound fester?

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's in a Name?

Gravity, of Pwnwear, asked his readers what was the name of their characters, and why did they choose that name. I've only got two relevant characters, my Paladin, and my DK.

Dämmerung is my first character ever, and my main character. Prot spec since day one. His name is German, it means Twilight. I pulled the name from the fourth act of Richard Wagner's epic 15 hour opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, Götterdämmerung. One of the reasons I choose the name was the duality of it. In addition to twilight, Dämmerung is also the german word for dawn. The beginning and the end, just as the tank is the first one in the fight, and the last one to leave. That, and I kind of hear Ride of the Valkyries playing in my head whenever I pull. One of the fortuitous things about my choice of name and class is that most of the endgame titles suit it very well, Of the Nightfall, Starcaller, Argent Defender, Crusader, Argent Champion, Wrath is a good time to be a paladin with a name related to the night sky.

Czernobög started out as my token DK, because well, everyone has a token DK. He's evolved from a glorified bank alt, into an unstoppable blood spec killing machine, and a comical unholy tank for the occasional heroic on the side. The name is derived from a character in Neil Gaiman's novel, American Gods. In it, Czernobog was the Slavic deity of blood, darkness, and winter. Blood, Unholy, and Frost, the parallels seemed obvious. I threw in a gratuitous umlaut, as I do in most of my character names, in order to throw off the annoying gold spam and phishing whispers that plague my server.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why warlocks are a tanks worst nightmare.

Honors, over at Honor's Code has begun to notice a disturbing trend. The DPS are begining to catch up to him in threat. This is mostly because their itemization is more focused into the field of damage dealing, this means that as gear level increases, the DPS's damage output increases more rapidly than the tank's does. That's because we have more important things to focus on, like not getting one shotted by the angry crypt lord. The good news is that this means that your DPSers are doing more damage, the bad news is that this is only going to get worse.

Honors found that the two worst culprits are a destro lock and a hunter. The lock is the worse of the two, however, Honors is baffled because he knows the lock's a good player. Well,the reason why locks, and Destro locks in particular create aggro issues for tanks is oddball design on blizzard's part. Destro Locks have a talent called destructive reach. It decreases the threat of their destruction spells by 10%. This does not reduce their threat on their Aff or Demo spells. They can go into the affliction tree and get imp drain soul to get a 10% reduction in threat on their aff spells. This means that at any given time, a warlock's threat is being reduced by, at most, 10%.

Death Knights get a 25% reduction on all attacks from subterfuge.
Moonkins get a 25% reduction on all attacks from Nature's Reach.
Ferals get a 30% reduction just for being in cat form.
Mages get a 40% reduction on arcane spells from arcane subtlty, and a 10% reduction on fire spells from burning soul.
Ret Paladins get a 30% reduction on all attacks from Fanaticism.
Shadow priests get a 25% reduction on all shadow damage from shadow affinity.
Rogues get a 30% reduction on all attacks for being a rogue. Plus tricks.
Ele shamans get a 30% threat reduction on all spells from elemental precision.
Enhance Shamans get 30% reduction on all attacks from spirit weapons.
Warriors get a 20% reduction on all attacks when not in defensive stance, and fury warriors get an additional 10% from improved beserker stance.

The only class with less threat reduction than a lock is... a hunter. However, both classes come with tools to allow them to manage aggro. Hunter, with misdirection and feign death should never pull aggro. Warlocks have soul shatter. Their primary threat reduction ability is on a 3 minute cooldown. Their secondary threat reduction ability is death. Naturally, we don't want them to use the second one, so careful management of soulshatter is important. Along with that comes careful management of threat. Warlocks aren't like hunters, where they can just go, "Oh shit, feign death!" A warlock who pulls aggro is very quickly a dead warlock.

On some fights, such as hodir, the second half of Destructive Reach comes into play. If the boss is tauntable, a warlock might set up with the tank a plan where the warlock actually pulls aggro, the tank quickly taunts back, and the lock then shatters. That tank gets a threat boost, and the warlock gets breathing room. The other method is to methodically ride the tank's threat. I had a raiding warlock who was pro at this, and it freaked me out the first few times I raided with him. This takes advantage of the mechanics of threat. A warlock at range must hit 130% of the current aggro target's threat in order to pull. So while you see a lock blowing past you on omen, their threat meter shows them happily sitting at 85% of the threat needed to pull. Although on Hodir in particular, you get some hilarious moments where fight mechanics force the lock into melee range of the boss, where only 110% threat will pull, and the boss promptly kills them.

In the end, the key to working with a destro lock is communication. In order to maximize their DPS, they will likely be putting out more damage than you can put out in threat. Both of you need to know if there's a hand of salvation or soulshatter available. Both of you need to know if the boss is tauntable, and if the fight mechanics might force the lock into melee range. By being one step ahead of the boss, the lock can still put out killer DPS and not take an impale to the face.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The 8 words any paladin in tier 10 must know.

"It's not a dress, it's a war kilt,"

Honestly, even though judgement armor was the best looking tier of all time, I'm not a fan of the plate mail dress. However, there's another phrase we should all learn.

"At least it's not tier 5!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How Do You Tank?

Well, Elle, the warlock, turned shaman, turned tank-on-the-side, ran a healer survey that looked into the personal style and opinions of healers across the blogosphere. She then asked for someone to cook up a tanking version. Well, I don't know anything about healing, but I've been tanking since my first level, so I guess I'll kick one off.

What is the name, class, and spec of your primary tank?
I run with Dämmerung, a human protection paladin with a 0/53/18 spec.

What is your usual tanking environment?
I run 10 and 25 man raids, with an emphasis on 10 man progression, along with the occasional 5 man.

What is your favorite encounter to tank, and why?
Firefighter is a personal favorite from a tanking standpoint, although I know my healers hate it, because it presents a comprehensive tanking challenge. Phase one is a phase of personal mitigation through cooldown coordination, phase two is a phase of raid mitigation and maximum personal damage output, phase three is a phase of rapid add pickup and movement, and phase four is a complex kite. Firefighter is essentially two phases of main tanking, and two phases of off tanking, and due to the movement and spawning of the fires and frost bombs the movement of the fight is different each time. If you can solo tank firefighter, then you are capable, from a skill standpoint, of tanking any encounter in the game.

What is your least favorite encounter to tank, and why?
Probably Loatheb, it's fairly mundane, and there have been some attempts where I literally left myself auto attacking so I could go check the fridge about a minute into the fight. Patchwerk is a close second, but at least he has enough incoming damage to make for some interesting kills.

What do you think is the biggest strength of your class, and why?
Paladins are currently a very strong tanking class, and while Druids have better survivability, and Warriors have a more diverse toolkit, Paladins are untouchable when it comes to single target threat. This allows our raid's DPSers to go full bore, without even the need for a feign death or invis, and on the fights where they can get buffs to imbalance things, we can salv them ourselves to maintain the threat lead. Also, the lack of a spammy queue move like heroic strike mean that we're the only tanking class for whom carpal tunnel is not a valid concern.

What do you think is the biggest weakness of your class, and why?
Lack of an interrupt. I know that druids are in the same boat as us, but lacking anything that can interrupt on a semi regular basis is incredibly frustrating. Having to tote my personal pet enhance shaman around to any fights that require an interrupt when another tanking class could do it on their own is kinda embarrassing. I'm not saying that we should get the absurd amount of interrupts that the warriors from the Swiss Army get, but something that's off the GCD with like a 12-14 second cooldown would be a huge quality of life bonus.

In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel is the best tanking assignment for you?
Whatever's the toughest assignment for the encounter, with three caveats. Snap AoE aggro on more than 4 mobs is difficult for paladins, so whelp tanking on Sarth or Ony tends to end up being very... interesting. Two, is the aforementioned lack of an interrupt, so put me on Steelbreaker, not Stormcaller Brundir. And Three, that the other Prot Pally in my guild, who's better than me, isn't already doing the tough work. Other than that, I'll dig up adds, I'll kite snaplashers, kite worms, haul constructs, and any other role that might be less glamorous than letting Ignis punch me in the face, but is much more difficult.

What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with the most?
I feel that the amazing toolbox that a warrior has lends themselves well to complimenting a paladin. Being able to hit interrupts, fly across the battlefield, and control mobs efficiently makes them solid at cleaning up anything that escapes. Another paladin would be a close second due to the raid utility that they bring, bringing two different external cooldowns plus LoH.

What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with the least?
Well, I guess I would have to say a druid, because it seems like they don't exist on my server. Plus they don't bring a consistent interrupt, nor can many of their external cooldowns (rebirth, innervate, etc.), be used while actually tanking. Their survivability is enviable, but their utility is not.

What is your worst habit as a tank?
I tank on my laptop, with my touchpad... it's my secret shame.

What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while tanking?
People who aren't tanks pulling things. I pull when I'm ready, and if it's something that requires an oddball pull from a hunter or imp, I'll ask for it. Otherwise, you're just making my life harder.

Do you feel your class/spec is balanced with respect to the other tanking classes?
I feel that while the classes are missing some of the tools, for the most part, aside from DKs, all the tanking classes are currently in a good place. Death Knights got dismantled in patch 3.2, and need some serious work to fix. Some of those things are being addressed in patch 3.3, others, such as the lack of an AP debuff, still leave DKs kinda out in the cold.

What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a tank?
I use Recount to figure out why I died, and if there was something I could have done to prevent it. TankadinTPS to check my threat output. But really what I've found to be the best tool for self improvement as a tank is my own Catholic guilt. I make a point of knowing exactly how I want an encounter to go down. I make a note of every little error I make, be it something drastic, like accidentally diving into the chasm Kologarn stands in, or minor, like like accidentally facing a parry hasting mob into the melee for a second. Those errors eat at me, and drive me to never repeat them. And while it probably isn't that healthy, it has gotten me from on a trial account during Hallow's End 2008, to riding a Rusted Proto Drake with the Starcaller title before Hallow's End 2009, so I can't complain too much.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have with your tanking class?
Paladins are no longer the "Hyjal Trash Tank". Death Knights and Druids are actually surpassing our sustained AoE threat output, and Warriors are now much better on the actual pickup than we are. The days of "Stand in my consecrate and ye shall live!" are over. We've given that up for the ability to be legitimate main tanks, versatile enough to fulfill most any role required.

What do you think is the toughest thing for new players of your class to learn about tanking?
That there's more to being a paladin tank than simply tanking. You can learn and master the 969 rotation, you can have your positioning down perfectly, but because you are a paladin, there is yet more you can do. You should be able to: Throw Hand of Salvation on an overzealous DPSer, Hand of Freedom a player snared in the path of the bad stuff on the floor, LoH an OoM healer or freshly rezed player, Hand of Protection a healer who drew the ire of the whelps, and find the right spot in an encounter for the clutch divine sacrifice to make life easier for your raid and your healers. You need to be able to do all that, and STILL do everything all the other tanks are asked to do... except interrupt.

If someone were to evaluate your tanking ability via tools like fraps, recount, and World of Logs, what tendencies would they notice?
I'm extremely strong in terms of survivability and sustained threat. However, I tend to be very minimalist in my movements, which is nice for fights like Thorim where you're supposed to keep him still, but has occasionally gotten me yelled at by the melee DPSers who find Grobbulus' slime pools to be creeping a little close. This also leads to me being a little weak on the initial pickup, because I have a tendency to pick where I want to tank the mob, and get the mob there. Sometimes that becomes frustrating when I taunt a mob, and watch a Warlock conflag it before it gets within 10 yards of me. I do however multitask very well, and can use the full range of paladin abilities in my tanking style.

Stamina or Avoidance, and why?
If forced to choose, I'll take stamina, due to the encounter design in wrath, pretty much everything that threatens a tank is unavoidable. However, that's not to say that avoidance is useless, I'll take everything blizzard gives me.

Which tanking class do you understand the least?
Due to their scarcity, I have much less experience with bears than any other class.

What addons or macros do you currently use to aid you in tanking?
I use Icehud and Parrot to give me a good idea of what's going on with me and the mob I'm tanking, without having to look away from the floor from which all bad things arise. I use omen, not so much to track my own threat, but to track the other raiders so I know if someone might need a salve. I use pitbull to allow my shift click out the various hand and cleanse spells if need be. Recount for post fight analysis, and CLSaver because I always forget to start logging. I also use tanktotals for raid warnings when I use cooldowns. DBM is also a godsend. And to control this unwieldy mess of programs, along with my non raiding addons, I use Addon Control Panel.

Do you strive for a balance in tanking stats, or do you stack some higher than others, and why?
I tend to stack stamina, every gem I use has a stamina component to it, however, I strive to maximize my itemization, I'll hit my socket bonuses, unless it's something incredibly stupid, like spell pen. I throw Agil/Stam in red sockets, Def/Stam in Yellow sockets, and straight stam in blue sockets. When choosing enchants, I tend to stay away from the oddball proc enchants like Bladeward and Blood Draining, and select the enchants that give me the best itemization, like Accuracy.

And now comes the romp. I'm gonna pick a few of the tanking bloggers that I read with regularity and hopefully they'll pick this thing up too.
  • I'll start with Elle, as she was the one who came up with the idea.
  • Next up will be Honors, of Honor's Code.
  • And we have to have a warrior, so Tarsus, from Tanking For Dummies is a great choice to represent the original tank.
  • Ridach, at Righteous Defense was one of the first wow bloggers I started reading.
  • Because we need a Death Knight, I'd like the very analytical Gravity of Pwnwear to give it a shot.
  • And because we have entirely too few druids, and alliance tanks, the eponymous Big Bear Butt.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More LoH stupidity.

This just in on the PTR...

Lay on Hands: This ability now places Forbearance on the target
and cannot be used on a target with Forbearance.

*Sigh* I don't understand the thought process here. Honestly. Lay on Hands isn't even usable in Arenas, so this isn't a PvP nerf. It was a decent tool in the holy paladin's arsenal, however, it was of minimal use at best for protection specs. Now, however, it's a real problem for Holy Paladins healing Protection Paladins. Forebearance is a poorly thought out mechanic, and is useful a fix here as a gauze bandage soaked in anthrax.

Now, because someone else cast something on me, I can't use my shield wall. Holy Paladins, who had legitimate uses for a talented LoH to improve tank survivability on physical damage encounters are now barred from using it as such due to locking a paladin out of his tanking cooldowns. You don't see warriors unable to use Shield Wall for two minutes because someone put Pain Supression on them.

The obvious solution for this is to remove the forbearance requirement from Divine Protection. However, giving paladins a chainable damage reduction would imbalance PvP according to devs. If only they could tie the DR to some sort of tanking stat that no ret or holy paladin would carry, kinda like they did with Ardent Defender and Icebound Fortitude...

Listen up crabman, because I'm going to solve all your problems right here. Here's your new design for Divine Protection in 3.3.
Divine Protection: prevents damage scaling with defense rating to a maximum of 50% at 689 defense rating.
That's all you need. No more need to worry about it's strength in PvP, or how it can be chained with Avenging Wrath. Tanks can use their threat boost without worrying about their survivability, while Rets can use divine protection all they want and gain nothing for it. Holy Paladins can cast lay on hands on whoever they want without fear of gimping their own cooldowns.

Honestly, we're the only tanking class with a debuff associated with our primary cooldown. Who's bright idea was that?

The Chill of the Throne.

Well, a lot of bloggers have thrown in their two copper on the Chill of the Throne, the 20% nerf to dodge in the upcoming Icecrown Citadel raid instance. This has brought up concerns with tanking balance, due to the imbalanced distribution for avoidance between the tanking classes. So I decided to take a look at how this is going to affect each class.

Warriors: This will be a reduction in the amount of revenge procs they get, however, the existence of critical block means that if the bosses hit softer than the ones in Ulduar or ToC, then shield block will become a significant physical damage reduction cooldown.

Druids: Dodge is the only source of avoidance that druids have, however, because of their lower avoidance, they have been blessed with more stamina and armor than their fellow tanks. This causes the increase in damage intake to actually be lower than it is for the other tanking classes. This will also help reduce the overlap in Savage Defense usage, when combined with the increased crit and AP they will gain from the higher itemization.

Paladins: Paladins are getting hit pretty hard. The 20% dodge reduction makes it difficult for a paladin in a serious progression gear set to remain unhittable with just Holy Shield up. Normally, paladins were the ones with the most to gain from decreased boss melee damage, because they could count on block value as true mitigation. This is no longer the case. We will find ourselves relying on redoubt procs to fill out the last portion of the attack table. This also severely decreases the overall value of our T10 4 piece set bonus.

Death Knights: Death Knights will be hit the hardest by the changes. They lack any form of block, so they don't benefit from the decreased melee damage, as the decreased avoidance will cause them to take pretty much the same incoming DPS as they are now, it will just be less spiky. They also suffer from a threat nerf in the form of Rune Strike. Their threat will suffer more than a warrior's because rune strike is their primary threat tool, and they don't have block to proc it, so they'll lose a greater portion of their procs. They will, however, likely be the highest avoidance tank in ICC, due to their higher parry values.

What can healers expect? Not a significant amount of change in the healing style. Damage intake should remain reasonably close to the current model, however, the spikes will be less drastic. You'll still be spammy in your heals, but more often there will actually be a need for the healing, so the overhealing will drop significantly.

This effects overall stat weights. Decreased boss damage increases the value of stamina because it reduces the gap between the magic numbers that buy you another hit between heals. It also increases the value of block value, and by extension, strength for shield users, and agility for bears. Agility in particular jumps in value for druids, because it gives them more block rating, block value, and armor. Dodge and Parry become a little less valuable, because with lower overall avoidance, more avoidance becomes less valuable. However, the value of dodge versus parry remains the same. You should not be gemming for parry in icecrown, unless you've already got more than 1.88 times as much dodge rating.

One serious gemming consideration I'd suggest for any tanks out there right now is to replace any +dodge gems with +agility gems. The increased armor will make up for the loss in avoidance, with a healthy chunk of threat baked in. While bears benefit more, all tanks will benefit more from agility than dodge.

From an itemization standpoint, I don't think this has pushed us to the point where we should abandon all attempts at balance and throw solid majestic zircons in every slot. I do think, however, that dual stamina trinkets with on demand cooldowns should be the standard for the normal progression tanking gear set. A Scarab+Heart of Iron combo will serve you well. This has, oddly enough, made Fervor of the Frostborn slightly less useless. For undergeared tanks who want to attempt to push into Icecrown who don't have access to some of these trinkets, the Glyph of Indomitability is actually more powerful the lower your overall gear level is due to the inverse scaling of armor. For primarily physical damage encounters, the Glyph will yield more effective health than the Heart of Iron if you have less than 24k armor. However, the glyph is absolutely useless on fights where the majority of the damage is magical in nature.

All said, the key to the majority of these predictions is the assumption that Blizzard will tone down the melee damage of the bosses in Icecrown. The mechanics are the deciding factor. This makes all tanks even more vulnerable to special boss atacks that do not reset their swing timer, such as Impale or Fusion Punch. The risk of having an unavoided hit line up with those abilities in an unhealably short window has increased. This has been the major threat to tanks in most difficult encounters in recent memory. Sustained melee damage is only a threat to groups with undergeared tanks or healers, and this is going to punish them the most. Most of the guilds that are already preparing for Icecrown will have no trouble with the Chill, however, the guilds that are new to raiding will find themselves getting bounced out even faster than guilds in similar positions did in Ulduar.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Fundamentals of Tanking: Perception in Ulduar

In an earlier post, I listed some of the fundamentals of tanking. The first thing I listed was perception, your awareness of what's going on. This is especially vital in Ulduar. In this regard Deadly Boss Mods is a godsend. So much so that I have made it required for all raiders in my guild.

Ulduar is a true test of a tank's skill, in every position. There are fights that require a lot of movement, like Ignis. There are fights that test your ability to recover from disruption, such as Auriaya. There are fights that test your coordination with your healers, such as Mimiron and Vezax. There are fights that test your ability to quickly pick up and establish threat on multiple adds, such as Thorim and Razorscale. Nearly all of the fights have something that you shouldn't be standing in.

Your UI setup is one of the keys to aiding your perception in these encounters. Having a clean UI that allows full view of your surroundings is of paramount importance. Keep the chat log open, so that you can catch any DBM prompts that you might have missed. A conveniently placed threat meter, such as Omen, is also a necessity. Keep things that you deem important near your character, so you don't have to look away as much to get information you want. I personally use IceHUD to bring up my health, mana, and debuffs, and those of my target. I would recommend it to any aspiring tanks. The necessity of raid frames depends on the organizational skills of your raid leader. I always make sure that the healers are all in group one, and that tanks and any other needed personnel are in group five. I'm in group five, and pull group one out using the default raid frames. In every fight, you will want to know the disposition of the healers and the tanks at a minimum. There will be other people who you'll want to track in specific encounters, such as the harpoon chucker on razorscale, but the healers and tanks are non negotiable.

This brings me to what you actually do with this setup. In any fight there are two states. There is a dynamic state where you do not have control of the situation. This is usually during the pull, when adds spawn, and when a boss must be moved. Then there is a stable state, which is when you have established aggro, gotten in position, and all is good.

During a dynamic stage of a fight, you will need to focus away from your character. Locate the mob that you need to pickup or find the next spot you're moving to, those are your priorities. If a void zone, rune of death, AOE of general badness spawns under your character, it's no big deal because you're going to have moved out of it before it ticks. However, if one of those spawns where you're heading, if you don't see that, you'll run into it right as it ticks. Your goal in dynamic stages are to gain control of the situation as quickly as possible and return it to a stable state.

During a stable state you should be focusing on your character's feet. If you're starting at the amazingly detailed boss model that's about to stave your skull in, you are wrong. Keep your eyes on the floor, always on the floor. Besides, odds are you can only see their crotch anyways. Don't be the tank that eats a void zone because you were too busy trying to look up Kel'Thuzad's skirt. Ensure that your character is not standing in something you should not be. Keep an eye on the DBM prompts so that you can anticipate and plan for changes in the fight as they come up. Your goal in the stable state is to be ready to survive the transition into the next dynamic phase of the fight.

Tanking in Ulduar can be a lot easier than it seems, if only you know the right places to look.