Your big beautiful beefy bulwark of badass.

Archive for October, 2010

Random acts of Friday

I don’t know if this is going to become a regular feature of Achtung Panzercow or not–is anything ever regular around here?–but hey, it’s Friday, and I’m feeling random.  So here’s a grab bag of stuff.

- I ran ICC 25N last night with Linedan in our “third tank” position.  Basically, it’s the utility infielder job, where sometimes I tank and sometimes I DPS.  I think I swapped specs six times in three hours, going Prot for Marrowgar, Deathwhisper + trash, Putricide, and Team Edward Sparkle Disco Party and Blood Wing trash, and Fury for everything else.  (We cleared everything but Sindragosa and Arthas.)  It’s kind of a crappy job, because being the third tank on fights like Marrowgar and Putricide is pretty boring.  You stand there, you do lousy DPS.  And the constant spec-switching makes it hard to get into a good rhythm.  But, since we rotate our four tanks around week to week, everybody gets to do it.

- Last night was my first raid trying out Fury in 4.0.  It’s…interesting.  My damage was up from 3.x, not as far up as the casters of course (warlock sustaining 18k for the first half of ICC…wtf?) but still up about 15%.  The rotation’s changed a bit, with Whirlwind’s damage nerf removing it from common use in favor of Raging Blow on single targets, I guess.  The numbers I saw flying across the screen were impressively big, with lots of five-digit crits bouncing around, but the overall damage wasn’t reflecting that.  I’m guessing that’s because I no longer have Deep Wounds ticking constantly, and the change to Bloodsurge (only firing off Bloodthirst hits and not Heroic Strike hits) means a lot fewer free Slams.  Still, I managed to crack 10k DPS on Saurfang and 12k on Festergut.  Frighteningly, 12k DPS was only good for tenth place on Festergut.

- Further on Fury…the damage feels “lumpy,” for lack of a better word.  It comes in bursts, like when Raging Blow and Heroic Strike come off cooldown at the same time, or when I get a lucky streak of Bloodsurge procs.  There aren’t a whole lot of dead spots, and in general it feels a bit more active than the 3.x “Bloodthirst, Whirlwind, oh look, let’s spam Heroic Strike/Cleave and pray I get a Bloodsurge proc before I fall asleep” setup.  However, I was surprised to find that my rotation wasn’t always cooldown-limited, but rage-limited.  I rarely had rage issues as Fury in 3.x.  There were a fair number of points last night where everything on my bar was either dark or on cooldown, and the waits to rebuild rage were agonizing.  Just like with Prot, overuse of Heroic Strike or Cleave for Fury left me in a bad spot quite a bit.  Finding the balance of when to HS and when not to HS is going to take me some time.

- One more thing on Fury…Execute spam is back with a vengeance.  The tooltip seemed to indicate that it would only do about 4000 damage.  I was dropping regular hits in the 13-17k range, with crits as high as 34,000.  On Blood Queen Lana’thel, when I got bitten late in the fight, I hit a lucky streak and was able to land six Execute crits in a row for between 55,000 and 65,000 damage each.   I AM A LARGE FURRY VAMPIRIC GOD.

- I am in the process of doing some adjustments on Linedan and I need help from the Prot community.  When in his normal tank gear, which is mostly ilevel 264ish, he runs about 50k health, 22% dodge and parry, 30% block (no mastery yet), 4.5% hit, and 12 expertise.  I’ve decided I need to boost his hit and expertise back up toward the caps in this brave new world of lower tank threat and higher DPS.  I actually reforged him out of about 1.2% of dodge this morning to get him to a bit over 6% hit and 15 expertise, and am seriously considering replacing the Mongoose enchant on his tank weapon with Accuracy (+25 hit, +25 crit).  Right now, he’s gemmed straight +30 stamina except for other stuff to get his meta activated.  If anyone wants to take a look at his Armory (link over to the right in the sidebar) and toss out an opinion on where I can close the gaps to 8% hit and 23 expertise, it’d be appreciated.

- Speaking of tanking, we got some fairly significant shield-related changes announced yesterday.  MMO Champion has the blue posts on Shield Block changes reposted here, and Zellviren over at The Dead Good Tanking Guide has an explanation of why the reduction of the Shield Block bonus block chance from +100% to +25% really isn’t that big a nerf.  (Zellviren’s excellent link courtesy of Rhidach at Righteous Defense.)  In addition, the latest beta build 13221 has significantly increased the base damage on Shield Slam–as in, a 125% increase, about 1100 points before attack power’s added in.  But, the catch is that Shield Slam damage now scales less with attack power.  So my guess is that our normal Shield Slams will hit harder, which is good, because they’ve been behind Revenge for a while in beta now.  But once we get our Vengeance on and are wandering around with five-digit attack power and Shield Block activated (with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions), we probably won’t see those massive wood-inducing crits anymore.  Good-bye, 46k Shield Slam crits.  I’ll always remember our crazy nights together.

- Have a few other great blog posts from this past week, around the WoWosphere:

  • Vosskah at Sword and Board talks about his first impressions of 4.0.1 tanking.
  • Kadomi at Tank Like a Girl is putting together a list of warrior blogs for all specs, not just Prot.  DPS warriors in particular seem very underserved in the WoWosphere, so if you know of a good warrior blog, send it her way.
  • Amber at I Like Bubbles has cat macros.  What else do you need?
  • The saga of Gerald continues at Righteous Orbs.
  • Finally, the community is losing two outstanding bloggers.  Laranya at Root and Branch has decided to pack it in after a short but spectacular run; thank you, Laranya, and keep hanging out on Twitter, we miss you!
  • And one of the best warrior tank resources, Tanking Tips, is closing its doors.  Veneretio has been bringing the theory for a long time now, and his departure is going to leave a big void.  Vene, as one of the tanks who have been immeasurably helped by your hard work, thank you, and we’ll really miss your insight.

- And, in closing, I can announce that yours truly, the Panzercow, has completed his first attempt at podcasting!  I will be doing a segment on Prot warriors on the WoWPhiles Podcast that should be out this weekend.  Keep an eye out for it, and you too can hear that, in fact, I sound absolutely nothing like a Tauren.  (Plus, Liala from Disciplinary Action is on there too!)


The Department of (no more) Defense

To me, one of the best tanking changes that’s come along with Cataclysm and patch 4.0.1 is the complete removal of the Defense stat from WoW.  At first, when I heard about it, I was a little annoyed, because I thought it was going to upset the whole apple cart in terms of how I geared.  Then when I heard about the trees, I was a little annoyed that I’d have to blow two of my precious first 31 points in the Prot tree in order to be uncrittable.

I was, as usual, completely wrong.

The removal of Defense from the game opens up a veritable world of possibilities for us as tanks.  Think about it.  By putting two talent points in Bastion of Defense, we’re accomplishing the same thing as stacking 689 (I think) Defense rating, or 140 Defense points, on our gear at level 80.  And honestly, you’d almost certainly take Bastion of Defense anyway because of the 10%/20% Enrage chance on a successful block, dodge, or parry.  So it’s all gain, no real loss.  We can equip anything and we’re still uncrittable.

In this strange interregnum before the world falls apart, where we’re dealing with classes balanced for level 85 stuck at level 80, where we overgear 95% of the content, this removal of Defense is having something of an odd effect on one of our common tanky pastimes…the random heroic.  Yeah, I know, running random PUGs is about as much fun as a prostate exam (or a pap smear for you ladies) these days, but there’s still reasons that we have to do it–snagging Justice Points for offset upgrades, or heirlooms for your alts, or gearing up guildies.

Now if you’ve tanked some heroics the past two weeks, you know that your AOE threat is down a bit, or maybe more than a bit depending on your class.  At the same time, the badge to Justice Point conversion has let some people drastically upgrade their gear, as their stockpile of Triumph badges let them buy some more Tier 10.  Add in the huge DPS increases that some classes got (yes, mages, you can stop cackling gleefully now), and the fact that people still cannot grasp the concept of “wait two seconds to let the tank get agro,” and I’ll bet you’ve been having a moderately frustrating time running your heroics.

Well, ol’ Uncle Panzercow is here to give you a tip:

Run them in your DPS gear.  Or your PvP gear.

You do have DPS gear, right?  I imagine that most tanks do have a DPS offspec.  Many of you have probably accumulated some PvP gear, maybe even the high-quality arena stuff.  Some, I know, do have dual prot or other tanking specs, or no offspec at all, and if you do, that’s OK, but you still might want to rummage around for some DPS gear here and there.  Here’s why.

If you are badge-geared in T9 or T10-level tank stuff, you overgear the hell out of every single heroic out there–yes, even Halls of Will You Idiots Line-of-Sight the Goddamn Phantom Mage, Please.  You’ve got so much avoidance stacked, you’re starved for rage because you aren’t getting hit.  Your crit%’s in the single digits and you’re rocking far north of 40,000 health, maybe more than 50,000.  Healers fall asleep because you never get in trouble.  Thing is, though, with the 4.0 threat changes, now you’re probably having a lot more trouble keeping agro on trash packs when the DPS decide to go “DUUUURP BIG NUKE” right at the start of the fight.  No rage, no threat, and here comes the spew in /party of “zomg wtf ur bad tnak.”

Now suppose you have a near-equivalent set of DPS gear–again, T9ish or higher.  Try an experiment.  Stay in Prot spec and Defensive Stance, but put the DPS gear on with your tank weapon and shield.  Now look at your stats.  You do still have some dodge and parry percentages, I’ll guess they’re in the high single digits.  Your block percentage hasn’t changed much, it’s 30% plus whatever mastery you’ve reforged onto either set of gear.  Your AP is probably up (remember, no Armored to the Teeth anymore), your crit% is way up, and your health isn’t down nearly as far as you thought.  Most DPS plate still stacks a big chunk of stamina on it, and you still get that +15% to your stamina from mastery.  If you have PvP gear?  Same thing, with even more stamina.

Voila.  You’re basically in tank gear a tier or two below your “real” tank gear…except your DPS is going to skyrocket.

I’ll use a real-world example with Linedan.  He’s fully geared in sanctified T10, ilevel 251 and 264 tank items.  In a random heroic, that gives him, eh, 23% dodge and parry each, 55,000 health buffed out, 27k armor, 2.6% base crit, 3600 attack power.  If I swap over to his Fury set, but stay in Prot spec/Defensive Stance, use his Scourgebourne Waraxe as a weapon, and keep his shield equipped?  9% dodge, 13% parry, about 22k armor.  But…try 35% crit, 4400 attack power, and still well over 40,000 health.

I have tanked a couple of heroics using the hybrid DPS gear/Prot spec setup and let me tell you, it’s been brilliantly effective.  The acid test was in Forge of Souls last night.  We had a death nugget, a boomkin, and a rogue for DPS.  The rogue liked to sneak forward and had an odd knack for picking the wrong target to attack.  And we all know that  boomkins can be serious threat monsters now.  Also, don’t forget that FoS is one of the trickier instances for pulling and gathering due to the wide spacing of the trash groups between the entrance and Bronjahm.

It turned out to be probably the smoothest and fastest FoS run that I’ve ever tanked…and I didn’t do anything differently from how I ran it in 3.3.  Except in my Fury gear, I was generating insane threat.  Enough to keep a slightly trigger-happy rogue, a critchicken, and a T10-geared DK alive with only a few taunts here and there.  Blood and Thunder was very effective, and I was getting enough rage from incoming hits that I could use Cleave and Thunder Clap reasonably often to hold threat over the healgro.  I ended up pumping out an astonishing 3600 dps for the run, just behind the DK’s 3800 and just ahead of the rogue and boomkin.  That’s not half bad for a warrior tank in an heroic.

Now, was I getting hit more?  Yep.  Did that make the healer (a priest) work harder?  Well, technically, yes, but when’s the last time you saw a healer have to work at all to keep a T10-geared tank up in a heroic?  The priest never went below 70% mana, and I rarely went below 70% health.  In fact, it was a good thing that I was getting hit more.  Remember Vengeance?  I take more damage, I get more attack power, I deliver more damage, which means more threat, which means the DPS can go harder?  It’s the great Circle of Pain, as Elton John might sing.

Now, DPS gear is viable for tanking any content that you outgear, certainly not for progression stuff.  I don’t think I’d try taking on Arthas in my T10 Fury gear, and I probably wouldn’t even use it in Trial of the Oh God It’s The Same Round Room Again Kill Me Now, but weekly raids in Naxx or Ulduar or Eye of Eternity?  Heroics?  Yep.  I’d do it in a heartbeat…after clearing it with the healer(s) and the raidleaders.  You will get hit more, and you’ll need to be careful of encounters that toss out a lot of damage–for example, I put the real tank gear back on for Devourer of Souls in FoS, simply because Phantom Blast hits very hard, and I wanted a little cushion in case I missed a Spell Reflect or interrupt and something went sideways with the healing.  But for trash?  DPS gear, kids.  It works.

In fact, come Cataclysm, I think it may work better for us to level as Prot in our DPS or PvP gear.  I didn’t try it much on the beta but I probably should’ve.  We would still get the benefit of Prot’s survivability, with higher DPS.  It’s definitely something to think about.


Now everybody is on the run…

…’cause Beltar’s got a gun.  (Sorry, Aerosmith fans.)

Beltar, my poor somewhat-neglected dwarf marksman hunter, like guns.  A lot.  No surprise there, right…after all, he is a dwarf, and he’s been single-spec marksman since day one.  But he’s also not so set in his ways that he’d turn down an upgrade.  So on one of his rare forays into Icecrown Citadel in a 10-man a few months ago, when a Njorndar Bone Bow dropped to replace his beloved rifle from the Big Round Room, The Diplomat, he took it–albeit reluctantly.

When 4.0 dropped, he had enough Justice Points saved up (thanks to a stack of over 240 Badges of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog) to immediately upgrade to four-piece T10 (one of them ilevel 264, the rest basic ilevel 251).  But obviously, there’s no guns available with badges.  The bow has done him well, but it just didn’t look right to see this old fart who’d been humping a gun of some sort around the Eastern Kingdoms forever throwing his shoulder out of joint to use a bow…not even a crossbow, a stinking elfy bow. As Beltar might say, “dammit, ain’t proper fer a dwarf t’be seen w’a stick an’ a string, ‘cept in emergencies, o’course.”

Well, I was chatting with Rilgon from Stabilized Effort Scope–a guy who lives, breathes, eats, pees, poops, and probably has carnal thoughts about marks huntering when he’s not having them about gnomes–on Twitter a couple days ago, and when I mentioned something about wanting to replace that bow with a gun but being very short on options due to Beltar not having access to any raids on Alliance-side Feathermoon, he suggested that I look at the Wrathful Gladiator’s Rifle.  This is the ilevel 264 version of the season 8 arena reward weapon.  During the arena season, it required an arena rating of 1800 to purchase.  I don’t do arenas, so I hadn’t paid PvP rewards any mind.  Rilgon said that the lower Wrathful items, the ilevel 264 versions, could now be bought with honor only, 2550 points to be precise…this despite the fact that when I checked, they still had a big red blurb on the tooltip that said “requires a personal or team arena rating of 1800.”

Thanks to a stupidly huge number of Stone Keeper’s Shards he’d built up, Beltar had something like 1700 honor saved up.  He needed 2550 for the gun.  And I said to myself five fateful words that I just know I should never say, but I always do it anyway…

“How hard can it be?”

The correct answer is “plenty,” when you’re on the Alliance side in the Cyclone battlegroup (where Horde tend to dominate most battlegrounds except Alterac Valley), and you’re an MM hunter with zero resilience in ilevel 245/251/264 PvE gear, and you have no damn idea how to PvP on a hunter because you’ve got maybe 400 lifetime HKs to start with, and you’ve never even been in Strand of the Ancients or Isle of Conquest.

There’s a word for people like me.  That word is “noob.”

I won my first-ever trip to Isle of Conquest by following my normal AV strategy–find the biggest group of friendlies I can, stay in the middle of them, and shoot stuff with a red tag.  Could be a healer, could be a warrior, could be a water elemental, could be a cat, could be a felguard–doesn’t matter.  Hit “tab” and open up like Rambo with an M60 (including the guttural yelling) on the first thing that I randomly target, that’s how I roll.  (Hey, I said I was bad at this.)  I then stand there and shoot until either it dies or its friends show up, I completely forget where Disengage and Deterrence and all my trap keys are, and I die.

It was, in a word, a painful two days.  With everybody stacking huge resilience, that bow might as well have been shooting Nerf arrows…while with my zero resilience, I was all but two-shotted by mages more than once.  (Seriously, frost mages, wtf.  15k and 11k simultaneous crits?  Daaaamn.)  I was in the first AV I’ve ever seen where the Horde actually out-zerged the Alliance.  Normally, if both sides bumrush to the opposite end of the map without stopping, the Alliance always wins.  Well, that doesn’t work when you get 15 people into Drek’s room, the tank pulls…and nobody heals him, either because there’s no healers there or the healers are all standing around looking at each other saying, “I thought you were going to do it.”  We spawn all the way back at the north end of the map, Horde kill Vandar, gee gee noob, here’s your consolation-prize 15 honor instead of 45 because you were afflicted with teh dumb.

And that chat.  Oh dear sweet zombie Arthas, battleground chat is so stupid it hurts. Especially in AV, when all the amateur Pattons and Rommels get into arguments first about strategy, then about parentage.  “ALL ON O RUSH RUSH RUSH” followed by “NO NEED D AT STONEHEARTH AND BALINDA” followed by “stfu noob, ur mom neds d lol”…do you guys on PvP servers have to put up with this level of dumbass constantly? If you do, my God, I feel for you and can’t believe you can stand it.

The only thing that saved me from giving up on the upgrade was a Feathermoon peculiarity–the Alliance own Lake Wintergrasp probably 95% of the time.  It’s really rather ridiculous.  There are a ton of very good Horde PvPers on Feathermoon, but they just don’t care much about Wintergrasp any more.  So as Alliance, it’s relatively easy to go into a WG, rip out a few quests, tear up the towers, sponge a bit of honor, retain the fort, sponge more honor, and come out with 100-125 quick and easy honor points for very little effort.

So after two days of frustration and idiocy, I finally cracked 2550 honor, and immediately ran to the vendor under Dalaran.  And lo and behold, tooltip be damned, Beltar could buy and equip his new Wrathful Gladiator’s Rifle.  The dwarf had a gun, and all was right with the world.

Now, all it needed was a name.  His old rifle from Karazhan had picked up the name “Black Death.”  So this charming little boomstick, with its huge stock and spikes sticking everywhere, needed a name too.  I thought for a few seconds, and then remembered how generally unpleasant getting it had been, how stupid the chat had been in all the battlegrounds, and how tactically moronic so many of the losing sides had been, and I had my answer.

Say hello…to the Durpinator.


With great Vengeance

“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers! And you will know my name is the Lord [pulls out his gun and aims it at Brett] when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”    –Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”

I’ve been a bit behind the curve on getting up to speed with the changes that hit us in patch 4.0.1–being out of town for five days just after the patch dropped will do that, since it meant I missed The Anvil’s first 25-man raid last Thursday.  But I was there for this week’s hoedown, and I was front and center in the main tank slot for Sindragosa and Arthas.  It was, in several ways, a very edumacashunal (as we said back in the sticks where I grew up) evening.

Really, tanking last night didn’t feel very different from when I tanked Sindy and Arthas in 3.3.  As a prot warrior, my priority system has changed very little; less Heroic Strike, one Rend at the start of a fight followed by a Thunder Clap to stick it on all mobs, and other than that, it’s the same old same old.  Sword and Board proc’d Shield Slams come first, then Shield Slam, then Revenge, with Devastate as the filler, Heroic Strike to bleed rage, and at least one Thunder Clap every 12-15 seconds to keep Rend and the slow up.  The biggest change to my years of muscle memory is that I now have to unlearn something that it took me two years to learn, which is Heroic Strike spam.  I never used to hit it enough.  Now I’m hitting it too much.  I actually found myself badly rage-starved early in the Lich King fight on two or three occasions, when I got an avoidance streak combined with overaggressive HS use.  Since Lin doesn’t have any points in Shield Specialization, he doesn’t get any rage back when he blocks.  If I’m careful with HS, no problem.  If I’m not, I can dig myself a momentary hole.

The biggest changes had to do with threat.  My main education last night was seeing how threat works in the 4.0 world, and what I need to do as the tank–and what the DPS needs to do–to make everything go smoothly.

Our first Arthas pull was a disaster.  One of our ret paladins ripped agro off me in less than ten seconds.  Then a warlock pulled off her, then a feral druid pulled off him…two people dead almost instantly.  And the DPS didn’t back off to let me get him back.  I admit I let out a growl that scared the cats and probably made my poor wife think I was turning into a worgen IRL.  I hate losing agro…I don’t generally get mad at the person who pulled unless they did some serious durp, I just generally chalk it up to me not being able to put out the threat.

After that, the raid leaders asked the DPS to wait before unloading, both to give me more solid threat time and to give the offtank more time to get more ghouls on him, for Necrotic Plague stacks.  I didn’t have any more significant threat issues after that, but I did notice something.  My snap agro at the beginning of a fight is definitely off from the world of 3.x.  My usual opening combo of Heroic Throw/Shield Slam just wasn’t sticking mobs to me like it used to.  Combine that with the huge DPS gains that certain classes (I’m looking at you, warlocks) have received in 4.0, and the old adage of “wait for the sunders” suddenly becomes more important than ever.  Opening with a big nuke is going to get your face eaten.

And the reason for this, I believe, is the Vengeance mechanic.  It’s a mastery that all tank class/spec combos–blood death nuggets, prot pallies, beardurids, and prot warriors–get in Cataclysm.  Put simply, whenever you take damage, 5% of that damage number is added to your attack power for 10 seconds, up to a total maximum of 10% of your maximum health.  So if Arthas smacks you upside the head for 20,000 damage, you get 1000 added to your attack power for 10 seconds.

When Vengeance first came out in the alpha, it looked pretty much like it does now.  And I was convinced at the time that it would never go live in that form, because the numbers shaped up to be ridiculous.  When tanking ICC, Linedan typically buffs out at over 72,000 health.  So merely by getting hit by Arthas a few times, he could pick up as much as 7200 attack power?  That would put him well over ten thousand AP.  No way that Blizzard would ever let a tank have that much AP, right?

Shows you how much I know.

My first indication of the effect that Vengeance was having was when I started seeing some big yellow numbers float up on my screen during Arthas phase 1.  I mean, big yellow numbers.  Five-digit big.  As a prot warrior, I rarely see five-digit yellow numbers on Lin, so out of curiosity, I opened up his character pane.

Attack power?  Wobbling between 12,000 and 12,500.  His base AP with buffs at pull time was roughly 4700.  Throw in a few other buffs in combat, and the difference would be around 7,000…indicating that he’d hit the ceiling on Vengeance.

You can imagine what a prot warrior with twelve thousand AP was doing.  18k Revenge crits.  15k normal Shield Slam hits without Shield Block up.  The night’s crowning glory was a Shield Blocked Shield Slam crit for precisely 41,564.  On one Arthas attempt where we never got out of phase 1 due to the OT dying, Lin did well over 8000 dps.  On the attempts where we got well into phase 2 before it all fell apart, he was still doing around 6000 dps.  That’s double what he was doing in 3.3.

And here’s the kicker…he needed it.  Because once the DPS got the clearance to put their foot to the floor, that six to eight thousand DPS was giving me the threat-per-second I needed to stay ahead.  Without it, there’s no way.  We had three warlocks each doing well north of 10,000 DPS consistently.  That’s a lot of threat to have to overcome.  At Lin’s normal 3000 DPS, I really don’t think he could have stayed ahead of them.  But at 6000, 7000, 8000 DPS?  He did.  If they gave me 10 to 15 seconds of light DPS at the beginning–not even no DPS, just taking it easy–then dropped the hammer, I could stay ahead of them easily.  If they went for it right from the start?  No chance I could hang on.

So it seems obvious to me after this experience that Blizzard is now balancing tank threat around the Vengeance mechanic.  On boss fights, they are expecting the tank to have a huge boost in attack power thanks to Vengeance, and be putting out damage that’s pretty insane compared to pre-4.0 levels.  DPS threat will be tuned around that.  If we take that as a given–and it’s not, it’s just my observation and opinion, but let’s just roll with it–it leads to a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, every tank class, even prot warriors, the previous “kings of snap agro,” now has a ramp-up time on their maximum threat.  Beforehand, if we had enough rage, we could just unload a couple of high-threat moves and get a solid hold on the target, or a DK could just inappropriately Icy Touch something and it would be stuck on him like glue.  No more.  If our threat in relation to the DPS’ is balanced around us having six or seven or eight thousand more attack power than we do at the start of a fight, where they don’t have the same restrictions, it means we will always need a period of time to take a few hits to the head and get good and pissed off before we’re putting out enough pain to let the DPS go nuts.  This is an important point for DPS to remember.  We massively overgear heroics now and can just durp our way through them (that’s my next rant, coming soon), but that stuff won’t even work in 80+ normals from what I’ve seen in the beta.

Second, tank-swap fights just got a little more interesting.  We saw this on Arthas last night when Haicu (my DK tank partner) and I would swap Arthas at Soul Reaver time.  It’s similar to the problems tanks deal with on Festergut and his damage-increasing Gastric Bloat.  The tank who has just taunted has not taken huge amounts of damage so he hasn’t had time to ramp up his Vengeance.  The tank who has just been taunted from, on the other hand, is probably maxed out on his attack power and hitting like a dump truck with no brakes, full of angry burning bears.  The “from” tank is going to have to watch himself for about 10 to 12 seconds after the swap and perhaps not go full-out, especially if he significantly outgears the other tank, or he may rip agro right back.

It’s very easy to dismiss Vengeance if all you do is normal questing or even random heroics.  Current non-raid content simply doesn’t hit hard enough for long enough to give you the most benefit from the mastery.  But when you get into a situation where you’re on a big boss, especially a raid boss, Vengeance comes into its own.

Now, does a 41k Shield Slam crit make up for not being at Blizzcon this weekend?  No.  But it does soothe the pain, just a little bit…


4.0.1: No, you are not going to die (much)

It’s D-Day, kids.  We’re getting patch 4.0.1 today (or tomorrow for you folks on EU servers), which means we’re getting most of the mechanical changes that come with Cataclysm.  This includes the new trees, new skills, new glyphs, reforging, the removal of armor penetration and Defense…in short, think of it as its own little Cataclysm of how we play the game.

Well, I’ve never been one to avoid rolling with the crowd on a momentous day like today.  I’m a good little lemming, so let’s throw some information and opinions out there on Prot warrioring in the new and (hopefully) wonderful world of 4.0.1…

First of all, let me give you two awesome resources as you start scrambling around.  First, as I linked previously, Naithin at Fun in Games has put together a fan-damn-tastic Prot warrior 4.0.1 guide that will give you everything you need to get started.  There’s really not all that much I can add except to give my own opinions on a few things, which is what I’ll be doing in this post.

Second, the lovely (and freshly Kingslayerish!) Kadomi over at Tank Like a Girl has a great list of 4.0.1 warrior (and other) resource links.  These will get you up to speed on setting up your spec, glyphs, and reforging.

Now with all that linked and at your fingertips, you probably don’t need me durping around giving my half-baked opinions on things.  But, I’m going to do it anyway, because (a) it’s my blog, and (b) I’m out of town for a week starting on Thursday and need a blog post up before I go.  Suck it.

What things you can expect to see when you first log in, other than an assload of LUA errors and “SERVER:  Restart in 5:00″?  Well, your health will go up a bit thanks to a flat +15% from Prot mastery, and your armor will go down a bit, especially if you’re rocking bonus armor pieces like Pillars of Might or the Cataclysmic Chestguard.  The changes are probably within about 10% in both cases.  Defense is gone, and unlamented if you ask me.  Defense gems will change into…uh…something else.  Defense rating on items will change into straight dodge and parry.  There is no more shield block value; successful blocks now block 30% of that hit’s damage, or 60% on a critical block.  Shield Slam damage now scales off attack power like everything else.  You will have a base 30% chance to block, given by your Prot mastery; the only way to raise it is by adding Mastery rating, which will require us to use Reforging to add it to our gear.  And your mastery will give you Vengeance, which takes 5% of damage that you suffer and adds it to your attack power for 10 seconds.  All tanks get this mastery; it’s designed to crank up our damage, and thus threat, while tanking.

The talent tree changes are, obviously, probably the biggest single change we face.  (Hey, at least they didn’t change us over from rage to focus.)  To do a quick recap:  Talent trees are now 31 points deep instead of 51.  At level 10 you must pick a tree, and you are locked into that tree and only that tree until you take the 31-point talent…at level 69.  Only then may you pick things from the other two trees.  Talent points now come one every two levels (one at 10, one at 11, and one every odd level thereafter).  This means that your level 80 warrior tank will have 36 talent points to spend, 31 of which have to go into the Prot tree.  The days of any sort of hybrid build are over.

Now looking at the two-month span between now and the release of Cataclysm, it’s obvious that you won’t be leveling if you’re already 80.  You probably won’t be doing much if any solo questing or grinding (again, if you’re 80), unless you’re doing something like going for Loremaster.  So by elimination, you need a build that’s focused on tanking.

This is my first shot at one.  It gives up some talents that would increase DPS–talents that I’d consider taking in a build where I was doing more simple running-around-and-killing-shit–and leans toward multiple-target threat, damage mitigation, and self-healing.  Looking through the Prot talents tier-by-tier:

Tier 1: Incite just doesn’t grab me real hard.  It looks like a bit of a damage (and threat) boost but I don’t know that we’re going to need it with Defensive Stance giving us +200% threat on everything we do.  Toughness, that’s a no-brainer, especially with “bonus armor” taking the nerf bat in a big way.  Blood and Thunder is actually a fairly effective AOE threat mechanic.  I still think the dear departed Damage Shield was better, but B&T has seemed, in the beta, to be reasonably effective at holding threat over top of healgro.  It won’t save the DPS if they focus the wrong target, but it’s not meant to.  The one disadvantage to B&T is, obviously, you can easily stick a Rend on a CC’d mob if your placement is poor.  So make sure you fight well away from sheeps and saps and such.

Tier 2: Lots and lots of points here.  3/3 Shield Mastery is a no-brainer, as is 2/2 Gag Order.  The jury is still very much out on Hold the Line; I’ve got it on Lin in the beta because his crit is basically non-existent, he’s stacked a bit of parry to help this proc, and the crit boost helps his damage while grinding.  I don’t know how much use it will be in dungeon and raid tanking, though.  As for Shield Specialization, it hasn’t proven to be a “must have” talent.  Rage has not been a huge issue for Linedan in the beta once I learned to back off constantly hitting Heroic Strike like I was tanking Arthas.  My opinion is this:  put 7 points in this tier.  Five of them go into Shield Mastery and Gag Order.  The other two can go either 0/3 Shield Spec and 2/2 Hold the Line for a bit of a damage boost, or 2/3 Shield Spec if you think you’re rage-starved.  For now, I’ll go with Hold the Line here until I get a better feel on rage.

Tier 3: Take it all.  Take ALL the talents.  Last Stand, duh.  Concussion Blow, duh.  Bastion of Defense, duh.  Warbringer, duh.  Fill this tier.

Tier 4: Again, I would take everything here.  2/2 Improved Revenge makes Revenge hit like a truck on fire driven by angry burning bears, plus lets it hit a second target–very important for multi-target tanking.  Devastate is a no-brainer, it’s our major spammable everything-else-is-on-cooldown attack.  Impending Victory doesn’t buy you much against non-elites, but it helps on bosses, and trust me, anything that will take a load off a healer right now is going to be appreciated.  Healers have a brutally tough job in 4.0.

Tier 5: I’m not completely sold on Thunderstruck.  It does synergize very nicely with Blood and Thunder, though, so I’d probably take both points in it if I took B&T.  Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, instead it gives you the refreshed taunt if the recipient gets hit and gives you a small bit of AP from the Vengeance mastery (you get 5% of 20% of the damage they took as attack power…hence, “small”).  The Taunt refresh is the main use of it now.  Heavy Repercussions doubles your Shield Slam damage whenever Shield Block is up.  I think it’s an inefficient use of points, but we’ve got to put them somewhere, and I think it’s just barely a better deal than Incite.  Granted, I have no numbers to back it up, just a gut feel and an inordinate love for giant Shield Slam crits.

Tier 6: Safeguard still doesn’t seem worth it to me.  Sword and Board is a no-brainer.

Tier 7: It’s OK.  I’ve got Shockwave.

That gives us precisely 31 points in Prot, with five points left to spend.  The last five points are spent on things that help take the load off our overworked healer brethren:  2/2 Field Dressing in Arms and 3/3 Blood Craze in Fury.

This 2/3/31 layout is probably going to be pretty cookie-cutter, but there is a tiny bit of flexibility there in the Prot tree.  If you don’t think you need as much AOE threat but need more raw damage output you can drop the points from Blood and Thunder and Thunderstruck to put them into Incite.  If you’re rage-starved, load up 3/3 Shield Specialization at the expense of Hold the Line.  The thing to remember is that you won’t be able to get any second-tier Arms or Fury talents until Cataclysm comes out, you won’t have the points…and even then, you’ll have to plan ahead.

Now, glyphing.  Glyphs come in three flavors now:  prime (things that increase your primary function, DPS, HPS, threat, etc.), major (useful and helpful things), and minor (“fun” or small semi-useful things).  Prime glyphing a Prot warrior is easy because there’s only three pertinent ones for you to pick:  Devastate, Revenge, and Shield Slam.  For major glyphs, you’ve got more choices…but one of your three must be the Glyph of Victory Rush.  It supercharges your heals from Victory Rush and Impending Victory, and again, in the 4.0 world, you’ve got to do everything you can to make your healer’s job easier.  There are several useful major glyphs to pick from, including Heroic Throw (puts a Sunder Armor stack on the target), Cleaving (Cleave hits 3 targets instead of 2), Resonating Power (-5 rage on Thunder Clap), Spell Reflection (-1 second cooldown on Spell Reflect), Shockwave (-3 second cooldown on Shockwave), or Sunder Armor (Sunder a second target).  You can make a case for any of them, so pick whatever you want.  (I’m so decisive, aren’t I?)  For your minor glyphs, a common suggestion seems to be to stack all three Shout glyphs (Battle, Commanding, and Demoralizing); but don’t ignore the Enduring Victory glyph, which increases the window for Victory Rush use from 20 to 25 seconds.

Your tanking rotation really doesn’t change very much.  You no longer frantically hammer Heroic Strike to get 100% uptime on it (mousewheels everywhere rejoice!); instead you hit it every three seconds if you’ve got rage. You will leave yourself massively rage-starved if you don’t back off that HS key and use it as the rage dump it’s intended to be instead of just mashing it every time it lights up.  I will also be curious to see what the damage relationship is between Revenge and Shield Slam.  In the beta, Revenge is consistently hitting harder than Shield Slam unless Shield Block is up with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions.  When tanking packs of trash, you’ll hit Rend once on one mob at the start of the fight, Thunder Clap to transfer it to everyone, and then make sure you Thunder Clap at least every fifteen seconds to keep Rend refreshed on all targets.


So You Want to Be(ta) a Prot Warrior: Bump and Grind

This week, Blizzard gave us a firm date for the Cataclysm to tear Azeroth asunder…December 7.  With all the new content coming at us in just two months–and with the mechanical changes to classes, talents, items, etc. possibly coming as early as next week–I’ve been putting a bit more time in on the beta servers lately.

As a result, Linedan on beta is now level 85.  (I’ve also been working a bit on Latisha…she’s 82, and I’ll chronicle her story in another update on The Latisha Experiment a bit later.)  Along the way there, I’ve picked up some information that will hopefully help anyone planning to level a Prot warrior from 80 to 85, as Prot, once Cataclysm drops for real.  (PLEASE NOTE:  I’m going to leave lore spoilers out of this post as much as I possibly can, but I will be talking about Cataclysm mechanics and zones in a general sense.  If you want to be totally surprised, stop now.)

First of all, remember that all of the changes to talent trees, class mechanics, and gear itemization will be coming with patch 4.0.1, which could happen as soon as October 12 (that’s next Tuesday as I write this).  I would highly recommend reading Naithin’s outstanding 4.0 Prot warrior guide over at Fun in Games to get a great summary of the changes that we’re going to face in the interregnum between Arthas falling and Deathwing rising.  It’s a good starting point for looking at the new zones and the level 80-85 grind.

Even Flow

The leveling flow through the new zones is pretty straightforward, and each zone is more linear than ever as to how quests are handled.  This is the basic flow you’ll see:

  • Mount Hyjal (80-82) or Vashj’ir (80-82)
  • Deepholm (82-83)
  • Uldum (83-84)
  • Twilight Highlands (84-85)

The reason that Mount Hyjal and Vashj’ir can cover two levels is not that they’re bigger than the other zones, although Vashj’ir is actually three separate maps and covers a lot of ground…uh, water.  No, it’s because of the experience required to level.  80 to 81 and 81 to 82 both require about 1.75 million xp, not too much more than the high 70s did in Northrend.  But when you hit level 82, that changes.  Each of the next three levels required somewhere around 6.5 million xp.  That’s not a typo.  Six point five million xp per level. That’s an intimidatingly large number, but it shouldn’t be.  There are a lot of quests in the 82-85 zones, and they give from 40,000 to 55,000 xp each on completion (except for simple stuff like breadcrumb or “go over here and talk to this person” quests, of course).  Mob-killing xp has been adjusted upward as well, to the point where Linedan was getting over 10,000 per kill (rested) against level 84s in Twilight Highlands.

Within each zone, the quests are organized in a pretty logical manner.  Breadcrumb quests into each of the new zones are easily available from “boards” all over Stormwind, or outside the new Grommash Hold (or, as I like to call it, “Garrosh’s Overcompensation For His Small Wee-wee”) in Orgrimmar.  Once you establish yourself in one of the new zones, portals will open up at Earthen Ring sites in Stormwind and Orgrimmar.  Also, all the zones except Deepholm can be flown into by your own flying mounts, and there are convenient flightmasters scattered around.

Spec Racer

As a Prot warrior, your abilities and rotation haven’t changed that much from Wrath of the Lich King. The changes are subtle, like Heroic Strike being an instant attack for 30 rage instead of an on-next-swing for 15; or the crit-boosting being removed from a lot of our talents (like Gag Order).  But the abilities, in general, do the same things and get used in the same order.  There really are two big changes:  the addition of Rend as a useful ability (paired with the Blood and Thunder talent), and Heroic Strike becoming less spammy and more situational.

This is the spec that Lin entered Hyjal with at level 80.  I went with 2/2 Blood and Thunder more out of curiosity than anything else.  2/2 Hold the Line’s in there because, in T10-level tank gear, his crit dropped at 80 to less than 2.5%, and with almost all of our crit-increasing talents changed, I figured he needed all the help he could get while questing.  His talent choices at each level were:

(I’m probably going to tweak the spec to ditch Incite completely and pick up 2/2 Thunderstruck.)

Grinding it Out

As Prot warriors, we had an extremely easy time of leveling in Northrend.  Yes, our single-target DPS was low.  Who cared?  We could charge into a camp and massacre it in seconds with a combination of Damage Shield, Cleave, Thunder Clap, and Shockwave, while shrugging off the feeble blows of our assailants.

Things aren’t quite as easy in Cataclysm.  The foremost reason for that isn’t the changes that were made to Prot spec.  It’s the mobs themselves.

A level 80 Northrend melee (non-casting) mob has precisely 12,600 health.  A level 80 Cataclysm melee mob has just over 30,000 health.  And it goes up radically from there.  Level 81, about 37,000.  Level 82, about 44,000.  Level 83, around 52,000.  Level 84, around 65,000.  The only level 85 mobs I’ve seen yet had 96,000 health each, but I’m not sure if those were special and if that’s normal for level 85 non-elites.

They’re not just tougher, they hit harder too.  By the time Linedan got to Uldum, the level 84 melee mobs there were hitting him for over 2000 base damage…and that’s with him having over 31,000 armor and a physical damage mitigation right at 60%.  Stuff in Cataclysm doesn’t tickle when it hits.

So when you combine all that health, high damage, and our traditional low DPS, it doesn’t bode well, right?  Well, it’s not so bad.  You’re still a spellcaster’s nightmare, you’ve got your stuns, and you’ve got two other powerful counters to keep you in the fight:  Blood Craze and Victory Rush.  Blood Craze, in my experience, is probably ticking about a third to a half of the time during any given fight.  That’s 1.5% of your max health at the time Blood Craze activated, every second, for five seconds.  Victory Rush, now usable in Defensive Stance, gives you a big heal–20% of your current max health–whether or not the attack actually lands.  And, both these abilities are boosted by Field Dressing from the Arms tree.  Plus, you can take points into Impending Victory to give yourself a “mini” Victory Rush (for 5% of your health) whenever a mob is below 20% health.  If you’re just out grinding, the talent’s usefulness is marginal, but keep an eye on it when you start raiding.  In a long fight, it could provide a useful amount of healing.

So our pull strategy really doesn’t change that much.  We need to pull (fairly) big and (fairly) fast.  Two or more mobs at a time is optimum for us.  By the time you beat down the first one, you’re probably wounded; hit Victory Rush, get 20% of your health back, and you’re good to go on the next one.  If you have to pull one at a time, you have to rush and find the next mob within 20 seconds before Victory Rush wears off.  And even if you can’t, don’t despair.  Out-of-combat health regen on the beta (as of build 13117) is insane.  Linedan is regaining well over 600 health per tick while standing up.  The new bandages also heal for useful amounts (around 20,000 to start with) so make sure you get your First Aid skill trained up pronto.

One thing you will have to watch for is rage starvation.  Our rage generation is generally good enough, due to the high incoming damage and the tuning they currently have in place.  If you take a few points into Shield Specialization, it gets better (especially if you can Spell Reflect something!).  But you must be careful about your Heroic Strike use.  HS is no longer spammable, and it costs 30 rage.  Chances are, you’re not going to be able to hit it every time it’s up, and keep up Devastate spam, Shield Slam/Revenge as available, and Rend/Thunder Clap if you’re using Blood and Thunder.  Be judicious in your use of Heroic Strike.  Cleave, you’ll probably have less trouble with; I never had much problem with rage when fighting 2+ mobs.

Top Gear

You’ll start replacing anything less than T10 gear almost immediately in Hyjal or Vashj’ir.  This new gear is the only way, other than Reforging, to get Mastery rating.  Our Mastery rating increases our block chance, and it is, in fact, the only way to increase our block chance, as there is no more separate block rating.  If you have T10 gear, it will probably hold you into Deepholm or even Uldum.  Currently at 85, Lin is still wearing his sanctified T10 helm and T10-level rings and trinkets, he’s replaced everything else in his Prot set.

One thing to think about…with Defense no longer being in the game, you can become uncrittable by placing 2 talent points in Bastion of Defense.  This frees you up to try Prot grinding with DPS armor.  I have yet to try this, but I should; in tank gear at level 85, Linedan’s crit rating is an appalling 0.75%, and he’s badly short on +hit and +expertise (both of which are still needed).  DPS armor still has a lot of stamina on it, and Mastery rating is Mastery rating regardless of what gear it comes on.  The upside of using DPS armor would be increased +hit/+crit/+expertise at the cost of a bit of health; the downside would be lower avoidance due to losing +dodge and +parry.  Does the increase in offensive stats balance the decrease in health and defensive stats?  It might be worth trying if your grinding feels too slow, but you don’t want to go to, or don’t have, a DPS offspec.  (FWIW, Linedan started at about 2000 DPS in Vashj’ir; he’s now doing about 2800 DPS in Twilight Highlands, and that number increases substantially fighting multiple mobs.)

Dungeoneering

Finally, I’ll briefly talk about instancing…briefly, because I’ve only done it once, on a normal Stonecore run along with my wife and three guys from the LFD tool.  After all, if you’re a dedicated tank, you’re going to want to instance a lot, right?

You may have heard a lot of doom and gloom about Prot warriors’ ability to tank in Cataclysm, and how it’s a fallback to the horrible days of The Burning Crusade, when paladins kicked our asses at tanking heroics.  Don’t panic.  It’s not quite that bad.  Yes, these are not Wrath of the Lich King dungeons.  They do require some amount of brains, strategy, and crowd control to succeed in.  But they aren’t quite as brutal as, say, heroic Shattered Halls.

Crowd control is back, and it’s necessary, but for normal instances, you don’t need a huge amount of it.  One competent trapping hunter or sheeping mage should be able to get the job done in most cases, provided the rest of your group doesn’t break it (this includes you).  On our Stonecore run, we were fortunate to have both a hunter and a warlock with glyphed Fear, which leaves mobs cowering in place instead of causing them to run.  Between that and his Banish, the ‘lock did a great job on CC.

Your tanking doesn’t change all that much.  The difference is largely in the incoming damage, which is a LOT higher (but so is your health).  Also, without Damage Shield to provide that little passive threat boost, this is where Blood and Thunder comes into its own.  It’s not much use just out questing, but in an instance, being able to place and keep a Rend on every mob you’re tanking helps your threat.  Just make sure you’re clear of any CC’d mob before doing this, otherwise the mages will hate you.

Your TAB key will get more of a workout on trash if your group can’t stick to a kill order.  (Kill order is VERY IMPORTANT now.  Seriously.  VERY VERY important.)  You will be shifting between mobs to drop Devastates and other damage.  Take Vigilance and use it–but remember, Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, it just reduces the damage on your chosen target and refreshes your Taunt.  Use your cooldowns like Shield Block or your emergency buttons (Last Stand/Shield Wall) to try and offload some work from your healer, because healers are really having to work much harder in 4.0.  Because of threat decay entering the equation, you can’t coast at all during a fight–you’ve got to keep pushing your threat as much as you can and stay on top of things.

On bosses, again, it is key to avoid as much avoidable stuff as possible.  Don’t stand in Bad(tm).  Use your cooldowns when something big and ugly is about to land.  Healers are stretched to their limits under these new mechanics, and anything that you can do to help keep yourself alive early in a fight may give them the mana to keep you alive at the end.

And it’s in instances, and presumably raids, where Vengeance really comes into its own.  Vengeance gives you 5% of your taken damage as attack power for 10 seconds, and it “rolls”–any number of damage that you take just stays as AP for 10 seconds and then it’s gone, so it wobbles up and down.  Once you see how much damage you’re taking in a Cataclysm instance, you’ll realize that you’re getting an absolutely insane amount of attack power from this mastery ability.  Linedan normally runs around 4500 AP now.  While tanking Stonecore, I opened his character sheet at one point and was shocked to see him–literally–OVER NINE THOOOOOUUUSAANNND attack power.  This directly translates to a big damage boost, and, therefore, a big threat boost. I didn’t think Vengeance was very useful when I first started leveling, but after doing just one instance, boy am I a believer now.


One More Dream (Linedan RP)

I talked in a post a while back about wanting to shake Linedan’s somewhat stony personality up a bit, and, honestly, what better time to do it than a world-shattering apocalypse, right?  This is the first part of some RP that I hope to develop over the next few weeks leading up to whatever happens with the Cataclysm.  It’s the story of a simple Tauren who’s been fighting on the front lines for five and a half long, hard, bloody years and has sacrificed everything to succeed there…his friends, his family, even his very heritage.  What happens when the battles are won and the burden becomes too much?

He had suffered the dreams for so long that he thought little of them anymore.

They didn’t always come every night.  Sometimes they would come for two, three, or four straight nights and then leave for just as many.  He had once gone over a week without one.  Most of the time there was only one a night, but not always; occasionally there were two.  There had never been three.  On the nights where a second one had caused him to wake up sweating, he either stayed awake until the dawn, or found a bottle of alcohol to send him into a dreamless “sleep.”

They followed the same pattern, all of them, but they were by no means identical.  Sometimes he was alone, sometimes with a few of his friends, sometimes with a small army.  Usually he was clad in his sturdiest armor with weapon and shield, geared for endurance and protection; but he had also had dreams where he was in his lighter armor, wielding two huge weapons, fighting in the berserk way that the troll spirit had taught him years ago.

The locations changed as well.  The steaming jungles of Zul’Gurub, the fiery pits of the Molten Core, the frozen halls of Icecrown Citadel, even the scrub-covered plains of the Barrens.  The antagonists changed, chosen seemingly at random from an endless list of those he’d faced in combat.  And the location and antagonist didn’t always match; once he remembered a dream of fighting the Soulflayer, Hakkar, in Winterspring of all places.  The dreams were totally accurate and vivid, drawn from memories that Linedan didn’t even know he retained.  The sounds of clashing metal and breaking bones, the stench of blood and the dying voiding their bowels, the sweat, the shadows, the glare, the screams…all of them were reproduced with perfect precision.

There were, really, only two constants in the dreams’ plots, and for years, they were rules that were never broken.  The first was that regardless of numbers or foes, Linedan and whoever he was allied with always lost.  They always ended up dead or dying on the battlefield; no mercy was ever given.  And the second was that, invariably, as the blow came down that would kill Linedan, he woke up, heart pounding, breath coming in gasps.

This night, Linedan found himself atop Icecrown Citadel, surrounded by his friends from The Anvil.  He was staring up at the Frozen Throne, the black figure of the Lich King seated upon it, but Tirion Fordring was nowhere to be found.

There was no warning, no talking.  Suddenly Arthas was right there in front of Linedan, and battle was joined.  It became a whirling blur of shouts and clanging metal, the howl of the frozen wind and the cries of descending val’kyr.  The Lich King was wounded again and again, but he fought on, and slowly, one by one, Linedan’s fellow adventurers began to collapse onto the icy stone.  The Lich King laughed, and raised Frostmourne for the downstroke that would finish the bleeding Linedan and end the dream…

…the sword slammed into Linedan’s shield and skittered down it with a tortured skree-ee-ee of metal on metal and a shower of sparks, before ringing against the stone.  Arthas stopped; it was quite possible to imagine him blinking in surprise behind the blue glow of his helmet.

Linedan swung his shield upward with all his might and slammed the edge into the Lich King’s side, then backhanded it up into Arthas’ chin.  With his other hand, he slashed forward with his great Scourge axe–how did that get there?  I normally use a mace–and felt the blade crunch through the thick saronite armor into the frozen, rotted flesh beneath.  He stepped aside as the Lich King fell to his knees in front of him, blood pouring from his chest through the rent in the armor.  Without a word, he raised the axe, and brought it down with a roar.  The Lich King’s head parted cleanly and rolled away as the body collapsed, coming to a stop a few paces away face-up.

Linedan blinked, staring dumbly at the severed head as the blue glow faded from the eyes.  I…I won?  That’s…never happened before…

He looked up.  No longer was he standing atop Icecrown.  Instead, he saw around him the rolling plains of Mulgore atop Red Cloud Mesa, the plains of his childhood.  But they weren’t as he remembered them.  They were scorched and blackened.  The grass was wilted, dying, even burning in a few spots.  Ravens croaked and vultures called.  Smoke hung in the air, and the scent of death hung thick.  In the distance, he saw the tent where he grew up.  Something compelled him to head for it.

All around him as he walked, there were bodies on the ground, hundreds of them.  He recognized them…the bodies of his friends.  Ghaar, his guildmaster.  Gorebash, Keltyr, and Haicu, his fellow fighters on the front lines.  Davien, Loremistress of Noxilite.  Mirandella, the priestess that had driven him to the edge of insanity.  Bricu, the human paladin whom he had nearly died trying to protect, along with Threnn, his lifemate.  Corspilla, the mage he had very nearly had to kill when she was possessed.  He recognized them all, and more…all those who he had ever fought beside, year after year.  They all lay dead around him.

As he reached the tent, the flap opened.  To his astonishment, his mother, Muatha, walked out of the tent and up to him.

“Mother,” Linedan gasped.  “I…”

“Linedan,” she interrupted him, solemnly.  “Last of the Granitehoof clan, until you forced me to make you of the Disowned.”

“I…forced?”, he sputtered, growing angry.  “Mother, I did not…”

She ignored him and began to pace.  “You have done well in the five turnings of seasons since you defied me, Linedan of the Disowned.  Many say you are a hero.  You have seen and done things that few ever have.  You have fought the greatest foes, and emerged victorious.”  She stopped in front of him and stared up, her eyes boring into his, her voice growing colder.  “But you are Disowned.  You are not Shu’halo.  You are as much a foreigner as those you associate with.”  She touched the armor he still wore.  “Was it worth it, you who was once my son?  Giving up your identity and your people, your birthright and your history?  Was the gold worth it?  Was the thrill of the fight, the killing, worth it?”

“What would you have had me do, Mother?”, he snapped.  “Ignore that my destiny lay out there?  Ignore my call to defend and protect the Horde, including the Tauren?  Ignore my duty to my friends?  If you would not have me, then this…”  He plucked at the black-and-silver symbol of the Noxilite Eye he wore on his tabard.  “…this is my clan.  These are my people.”

Mautha stood silently for a moment, then nodded her wizened head.  “I would expect nothing less from you, calf.  You always were too stubborn for your own good.”  She turned to face the corpse-littered field in front of her and raised her hands.  “Your people, you say.  Let us see what they think of your call and your duty.”  She threw her head back.  “Come to us, spirits!  Rise up, and give your thanks to he who is not my son!  RISE UP!!”

From the field in front of him, the corpses began to stir, to move, to stand.  They still bore the means of their death…bloody from wounds, or charred with fire, or disfigured by shadow.  They stood by their dozens, the lifeless, shambling bodies of those whom Linedan had known for years.  And as they came toward him, backing him against the tent, he heard his mother’s cackling laughter rising behind a crescendo of voices that spoke, over and over again, as one:

“Was it worth it?  Was it worth it?”

This time, Linedan did not wake up when the first blow fell.  He only woke up after feeling himself be torn apart while alive, unable to block out the chanting, and his mother’s laugh, with his own screams.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers