Thursday, February 25, 2010

They Say Clothes Make the Man...

And if so, I am the best paladin in the world.

When you look this good, you don't care that you only have 21k armor and 484 defense. You feel like you could tank the Lich King on heroic.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Nature of Raiding in Wrath: Gear Resets

When patch 3.2 was released, it included one line that created a maelstrom of rage and frustration from a lot of people.

All instances aside from Trial of the Crusader and Trial of the Grand Crusader
will now drop conquest badges.
And the waves of QQ were unleashed. Combined with the daily dungeon quest now awarding two emblems of triumph, and full sets of baseline T9 available with those triumph badges the perception of welfare loot came straight to the forefront of the community consciousness. This was repeated with the release of patch 3.3, when all instances, save ICC, now drop triumph badges. The reality of the situation was that people could now gain raid quality gear without actually having to raid.

The assumption that people came to was that noobs were facerolling their way through heroics, and walking out with full T9/T10 a week later, while we raiders labored for weeks to get our loot from our kills. But the reality of the situation was this. In order to get full baseline T9 in patch 3.2 from heroics, one had to run the daily dungeon every day for 105 days, or over 4 months. In that time frame, a basic raider who simply ran ToC 10 for a full clear each week would earn 255 badges. Throw in ToC 25, and the ToGCs, and a raider in a good guild was pretty much drowning in emblems, not to mention the actual drops from the instance. But people didn't see that, all they saw was Blizzard giving out signature raid gear in 5 man instances. They didn't see what the idea truly was, a gear reset.

The first gear reset players saw was at the start of BC. This was a gear reset at it's most literal. People traded in epics for greens, and the greens were better. In Burning Crusade, blizzard implemented the Badge system to allow for normalized loot distribution, correcting a significant issue with the vanilla loot model. They toyed with it a bit by releasing BT level badge gear with patch 2.4. The gear was high quality, however, it was only a few select pieces. Nevertheless, it had people dragging their asses through Karazahn for its 22 badges, just to patch the last few holes in their BT or even Sunwell gear sets.

The release of Wrath saw another hard gear reset, and the advent of a new badge system. This one was tiered, with Emblems of Heroism dropping in 5 and 10 mans, and Emblems of Valor dropping in 25 mans. This was well and good, and worked well with the then current content. Then Ulduar was released, and with it, another tier of badges, Emblems of Conquest. Now there were three tiers of badges, and people asked the question of just how far was blizzard going to go with the badge system. Patches 3.2 and 3.3 saw the release of emblems of triumph and frost, respectively, and solidified Blizzard's stance on the matter.

Heroic content will remain one tier behind raid level content. People can obtain a complete set of gear equivalent to the previous tier's ten man level through grinding heroics. The only exception is a weapon, and those can be found in the current tier's new 5 man. The Ulduar 5 man Halls of Lightning dropped the only naxx 10 equivalent 2H axe. The ToC 5 man, Trial of the Champion, dropped an uld 10 equivalent 2H axe. The ICC 5 man instance, Pit of Saron, dropped a ToC 10 equivalent 2H axe. So, by grinding heroics, and running the current teir 5 mans religiously, a player could become raid capable for the current tier without actually needing to go through the trouble of raiding previous content.

This is actually a godsend for raiding guilds. Turnover is a fact of life for raiding guilds. Every time a raider leaves, they take their character, and their gear with them, and the odds of finding an equivalently geared player in previous expansions was just about nil. Back in Vanilla, losing a couple of raiders could completely shatter a guild in AQ40, because the pool of raiders available with the requisite gear level to actually compete in AQ40 was non existent. So, instead of the guild wasting time running defunct instances to grind up gear for the new recruit, a player who is serious about entering the raiding business can work for his gear on his own. This will both show his commitment to putting in the work needed to compete, but it also spares the guild a massive time suck.

The current tier's emblems drop two a day from a daily quest. This is deliberate. This is not so that casual non raiders can obtain cutting edge raid gear. No, those emblems are there to inflate the pool of capable players running heroics. This is particularly important with regards to the new LFG tool, where being paired up randomly has the potential to put together some really poorly geared groups. But by enticing progression raiders to queue up for a heroic a day, then it becomes simple to each group has at least on well geared player, be it a tank who simply doesn't take damage in heroics, a healer who can heal someone to full with a single flash heal, or a DPSer who evaporates mobs at a disturbing rate. This ensures a relatively stable flow of badges to the people who need them.

This system works. I now have two level capped alts with less than 10 days played on either of them, yet both of them can, and have stepped into ICC 10 runs for my guildies when needed, and made a respectable showing. This was unthinkable in Vanilla, and a huge amount of effort in BC, but in Wrath, every level capped toon is now capable of being a competent raider. It makes recruiting easier, and as bleeding edge guilds have shown, it helps cut around the mistakes Blizzard made in implementing limited attempts on content. It also allows guilds the freedom to focus on the instance that they want to run, rather than having to farm old content on guild time. This was an incredibly smart move on Blizzard's part.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Leading Icecrown Citadel: Deathbringer Saurfang

Well, WoL considers Gunship Battle as an extended trash pull that drops an unusually high percentage of purples. I'm inclined to agree. Hard mode might be different, but as it stands, Gunship, while extremely awesome, is also ridiculously easy. So I'm going to jump ahead to Deathbringer Saurfang, who typically becomes the first roadblock emerging guilds face.

Deathbringer Saurfang is the 4th, and final boss of the Lower Spire of Icecrown Citadel.

The Fight: Deathbringer Saurfang is a single phase fight with an exponential soft enrage, and a hard enrage to prevent cheesing. Saurfang begins the encounter by attempting to bore you with RP. It's cool the first few times, but after a while, it winds up like CoS, and just disrupts the timing of your pre pull preparations. Keep this in mind, combat begins 4 seconds after he deathgrips the NPCs into the air, that's the best marker to start pre hotting, pre consecrating, or popping any other buff that requires you to be in combat for maximum effect. It is also worth noting that ALL damage in this fight is physical, so amplify magic is only helpful.

Saurfang will use several abilities. He will cast Boiling Blood on a random member of the raid (3 in 25), this will act as a DoT, doing damage every three seconds for 24 seconds. He will cast Blood Nova, which will do a burst of damage on a random player, and all players within 12 yards. This will not be cast on melee as long as there are 4 (7) people outside of melee range. He will cast Rune of Blood on the tanks, causing them to take more damage, and heal Saurfang every time they take are hit by him. He will also summon 2 (5) Blood Beasts every 40 seconds. These Blood Beasts will need to be killed.

What governs this encounter is Blood Power. Every time Saurfang deals damage to a player using one of those abilities, he gains Blood Power. For each point of blood power he gains, he becomes 1% larger, and deals 1% more damage. When he reaches 100 blood power, he uses it all to cast Mark of the Fallen Champion on a random member of the raid. What this mark does is essentially transfer all the damage the tank takes to the marked raider. Taking damage from the mark will cause Saurfang to gain more Blood Power. Also, if a player with Mark of the Fallen Champion dies, he heals Saurfang for 5% of his health.

Tank Saurfang on the pedestal where he comes out. Swap tanks whenever Rune of Blood is cast. 2 tanks are sufficient for both 10 and 25. Keep all non kiting ranged DPS in with the melee to maximize available space for both the kiting of blood beasts and to prevent splashes from blood novas. Make sure that both melee and tanks refrain from casting any heavy AoEs when the blood beasts spawn, waiting until they are out of range.

Have a plan for each mark that comes out. The amount of damage that the mark victim takes is the same as the tank, so you need to have an equivalent level healing plan set up. A designated holy paladin beacon, or a designated healer.

At 30%, Saurfang will Frenzy. This will last until the end of the fight, and will increase his attack speed by 30%. Saurfang has a base attack speed of 1 second, which makes an attack speed debuff mandatory for this fight.

Look, He Brought Friends!: There is one type of add in this encounter, the Blood Beasts. They spawn in the same locations each time. One left and one right in 10 man, and in a star shape in 25 man, with two left, two right, and one in the middle. The key to handling these adds is to minimize the chance of them actually hitting anyone. They are snareable, rootable, and stunnable. On ten man, I usually assign one ranged DPS with a slow to each beast. On 25 man, with the increased health pool, it becomes a little more complicated. I assign two ranged DPS each to the two spawns in the back, and one each to the ones in the middle and the two front spawns. I usually assign the most competent ranged DPS to the one in the middle, and assign a stun rotation to buy the other solo DPSers some time to nuke their beast.

Other viable, albeit more risky plans include having the OT taunt the beasts as they get far away to buy more time to kite them, or having the melee nuke them over the course of a hard stun, such as a paladin Hammer of Justice, or funneling them all into the middle where a ranged DPS class with a knockback can reset the kite.

Tanks: Two tanks are required for this fight, and at its most simple, is a stationary tanks swap fight. Blood beast management might make it a little more complicated, but it's not very difficult.
Establishing Dominance: Ensure that the melee start out a little bit farther back from the boss, to avoid one of those embarrassing insta gibs at the start of the fight. After relinquishing aggro to the other tank, it is important to ensure that you do not accidentally grab aggro back until it is time for you to taunt. When it is your turn to take aggro, do not be afraid to double clutch your taunts, because a missed taunt screws things up royally. For the ranged kiters, it is vital to know which spawn you're responsible for and be ready to hit it the moment it comes out to prevent them from aggroing onto a healer.

Gearing Philosophy: The majority of the tank's damage is mitigatable by armor and avoidance, so maximizing itemization is the best idea. Avoidance might also help mitigate damage to mark victims, however, there have been conflicting reports on this from log parses. As the damage is pretty low in this fight, this is also a decent fight to bring out your threat set to maximize your damage contribution.

Tank Death Scenario: There really isn't a whole lot of potential threats to the tank in this fight. The worst case scenario is that a tank gets marked, and is afflicted with the Rune of Blood during the frenzy, and the OT fails to taunt back. This is prevented through attentiveness, and being prepare to double up your taunts to ensure aggro. Warrior tanks might want to consider placing Vigilance on the other tank, to ensure that they have another taunt ready to go in the event that they miss.

The Raid: On all difficulties, the raid needs a plan for how to handle the blood beasts, with specific assignments handed out in advance. Keep in mind the minimum number of people needed at range, and try not to expose people to unnecessary risk. The number of healers you'll need depends heavily on the number of marks you expect to have to deal with. Baseline rule of thumb is one healer per mark on 25 man. On 10 man, you should probably try to two heal it.

Outrun or Outlast?: Outrun. Outrun this guy like Indiana Jones outruns a rolling boulder, because if it catches up to you, you'll be a smear on the floor. This fight is heavily backloaded in terms of damage. More marks means more blood power, which means even more marks, which means even more blood power. This fight will hit the fan in a hurry, typically between the 5th and 6th marks. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the raid to end this fight as quickly as possible. Run with as few healers as you can get away with, Legacy now runs this fight in 25 man with 3 healers, and got our initial kill with 5. Blow heroism as soon as the tank has aggro, in order to maximize uptime with other offensive cooldowns. If your DKS want to use army, have them pop army about 15 seconds before combat begins, so that the ghouls die before the first wave of blood beasts. Every second that you stretch this fight out makes it exponentially less likely for you to kill him.

Wipe Scenario: Wipes in this encounter start out due to little things, but once it's assured to be a wipe, the process is quick and harsh. Marks will come out very rapidly towards the end of the fight, and will quickly outstrip the raid's capacity to heal through them. Each mark that goes out with generate more blood power, and make the next one come out faster. In short order, people will start dying. A fight with everyone up, and five marks out with the boss at 15% will find itself, a minute later, with a half dozen more marks out, several players dead, and the boss back above 20% health. The only way to prevent this is to stay ahead of the soft enrage.

Shift Fire: It is imperative that the people assigned to handle blood beasts make their switches quickly and cleanly.

Heroism: Right off the bat to maximize damage output and shorten the fight as much as possible. Some people would council saving it for the frenzy, but if the frenzy is a game breaking issue, then you've got worse problems than when to use heroism. Sitting on hero and other offensive cooldowns just drags the fight out longer.

The Fire: In this fight, the fire is other people outside of melee range. Don't stand in the fire.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fail of the Lich King

Well, less than 24 hours after receiving the patch, Ensidia downed the Lich King on 25 man. Less than 8 hours after killing the Lich King, Ensidia was banned, stripped of their loot, titles, achievements, and most importantly, their Heroic Attunement. Chaos ensues. One of Ensidia's shadow priests, Muqq, posted a profanity laden ragequit blog post. Hilarity ensues.

The root of the problem stems from a mechanic in the Lich King encounter in which he blows the outer rim of the platform away, leaving you with a much smaller area to work with. This creates problems due to a spell he casts called Defile, which is an persistent AoE akin to the slime puddles on Professor Putricide. This AoE grows larger anytime it damages someone, and if one watches Blood Legion's 10 man kill vid, you can see that it can eat up a huge chunk of space. In addition to being awesome, the Lich King's removal of the rim forces dealing with the defile to become much more urgent. Furthermore, he occasionally spawns Valkyr that grab raid members, and throw them off the side of the platform if they are not killed quickly.

The manner in which this is accomplished is similar to how the coding manages the walls and towers in WG. They're constructs, immune to all but a single type of damage, siege damage. Siege damage is only provided by vehicle abilities, and certain explosive items. The Lich King triggers a toggle which shifts the construct's animation state, causing the floor to fall out. What made things interesting was that apparently, further siege damage caused the toggle to pop again, making the lost space magically reappear. Suddenly, defile becomes much less of a problem, and even more importantly, the valkyr now simply drop their victims onto the outer ring, eliminating the need to burn them down.

There was a similar issue in Ulduar where a few guilds managed to steamroll Yogg by dropping the Vehicles from the Flame Leviathan fight through the floor, and into Yogg's room. So, now the question becomes, where did the siege damage come from? There's one vehicle source of siege damage in ICC, the cannons in the gunship encounter. However, those are mounted on rails, and cannot be moved. The other method is from the engineering profession. Saronite Bombs deal siege damage, and can be thrown often during a fight by anyone with engineering over 410.

So there's how it happened, the next question is what exactly did Ensidia do take advantage of this exploit. Some people have claimed that the Armory shows that multiple members of the raid group powerleveled engineering in the gap between the ten man kill, and the 25 man. There's also the fact that their 10 man kill shot was very oddly cropped, with basically an eighth of the screen blacked out. They also claimed that it was not anything that affected any of the difficult portions of the fight. These kinda sent warning flags up.

Further damning the raid was the fact that Blizzard, in the email sent to muqq, specifically cited that they were bugging the encounter with intent to make the fight easier. Given the black out of the chat log, the refusal to give out a fraps, and the fact that Blizz can monitor anything said in the game client, it seems reasonable to believe that Ensidia slipped up and broadcast their knowledge within the client. Throw in their history of glitching cutting edge encounters, C'thun, Vashj, Eredar Twins, Hodir Hard, Mimiron Hard, among others, and Ensidia faces a tough road trying to ask for the benefit of the doubt.

Regardless of weather or not their glitching of the encounter was intentional, their behavior under scrutiny is very reminiscent of Exodus, the guild that exploited their way to a world first Alone in the Dark kill. With that fresh in the communities memory, including Ensidia's own push to damn Exodus for their crimes, it's very difficult not to apply the same standard to Ensida.

The effect that this will have in the long run will be minimal. If Blizz has their shit straight this time, the hardest fight will be the Lich King on heroic, which is the fight that everyone is fixated upon progression-wise. This is in contrast to Ulduar where everyone was staring at Algalon, only to realize that Alone in the Dark was exponentially more difficult. Assuming that Ensida regroups and drops the Lich King next week, they'll only be one week behind the 3 or so other guilds that have downed him so far. I would be shocked if guilds even managed to get past the gear check that Heroic Blood Queen will be the first week it's unlocked. Ensidia will have the chance to catch up.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Sordid History of Legacy: Intro to Raiding

3.1 dropped, and Legacy was ranked in the lower 40s by most ranking sites. We were capable of a fairly quick Naxx 25 clear, and could down Maly 25 and OS252D every week. Most of us were new to raiding, if not WoW in general, and we were eager to prove ourselves in the first major content patch of Wrath, The Secrets of Ulduar.

We were raiding on a Friday-Saturday schedule, so on patch day, we cobbled together two ten mans and charged into ulduar. We made very little progress, downing the Flame Leviathan with ease, and getting one, oh so painful pull on pre nerf ignis trash. We also discovered the greatest glitch ever. After much pain, we managed to claw our way through XT in the ten man, and on Friday awaited our triumphant introduction to the 25 man version.

On Friday, Legacy was introduced to what happens when you leave Naxx behind. We managed to three shot Flame Leviathan, and I got my crash course in loot drama. A fragment dropped, and we were not prepared. I had brought up the issue before to the GM, but we figured that it would be something that dropped off the later bosses, not the very first kill in there. We decided to give it to the GM, who was our primary healer at the time. This really pissed off one of our holy priests, who declared that her last goal in WoW was to get a legendary weapon, and we had taken that from her. Ragequit, gquit, and we never saw her again.

Oh well, in true Legacy form, we pugged another healer, and were faced with the choice of which boss we were going to tackle next. Still smarting from our run in with Ignis trash in ten man, we opted to try Razorscale. We managed to get into phase two after a couple tries, and found out what real bosses hit like. I got rocked, and our other, lesser geared tanks were getting straight up one shot. After pulling back, we decided to farm Naxx and Uld 10 for a few more weeks before making any more serious attempts at Uld 25. We kept Loot Leviathan on farm as basically another KT/Maly 226 farm boss.

The next week, the GM introduced me to two more players who would eventually play a key role in the development of Legacy. The first was a brash Warlock who somehow fell to us. Still not sure quite how that happened, he was pulling 5k DPS in mostly 219 gear, and eventually became an officer in the guild.

The second was a warrior tank. The GM, being one of those healing types, didn't have too good a grasp of tanks, so he asked me to take a look at this tank that he was trying to bring into the guild. I knew nothing about warrior tanks, but he was defense capped, had 30k health, and wasn't doing anything stupid like gemming for spirit.

According to the warrior, our first conversation went something like this...
Him: "Hi, I'm thinking about joining your guild!"
Me: "Sup?"
Him: "So, are you better than me?"
Me: "Well, I've never raided with you before, but... yes, yes I am."

I don't remember being that harsh, but I did kind of keep him at a arms length at times. Truth be told, I was still fairly new to raiding, and the only thing that I really knew was that I wanted to tank. I was far and away the best tank in the guild, but for some reason, the GM had started pushing me to build an offspec set, which I had been notorious for refusing to take any OS gear during T7. This combined with him suddenly bringing in a new, decently geared tank that he had previous experience raiding with left me feeling somewhat threatened. Fortunately, the warrior, who had been playing longer than I had, took things in stride, and found Legacy a comfortable enough place to bring his friends to. We found ourselves with a new rogue, resto druid, and DPS DK, who would all become core raiders for us. We've talked about them before on this blog.

We began to make some progress in Uld 10 a couple of weeks into the patch cycle, and the GM approached me with an idea. He thought it would help our 25 man progression if, instead of throwing together random half pugs for 10 mans, we put together a group, comprised of the best the guild had to offer, to push as far into Ulduar 10 as we could, picking up as much gear and experience as we could along the way. This was the beginning of Legacy's accent out of the pit of pug-dom.