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The First Ten Seconds: Introduction

The title of this series is “The First Ten Seconds.”  It’s not relationship advice for meeting that certain someone across a crowded room…unless you’re trying to beckon that certain someone over so you can kill her and loot 91 silver off her corpse.  No, it’s based on a maxim about tanking that I just made up a while back, and it goes like this:

As go the first ten seconds, so goes the entire fight.

It’s a little saying that I’d completely forgotten during the later part of Wrath of the Lich King, especially when doing heroics.  WotLK heroics had turned into a complete joke in high-end raid gear, of course, and all of us were just bull-rushing our way through them like our asses were on fire, in the pursuit of the Holy Badgers of Whatever.  Then Cataclysm hit, and suddenly, heroics became, well, heroic again.  They were, as those of us with brains figured they’d be, damned hard.  Crowd control, the fine art of hexing and sheeping and banishing and shackling, went from useless to mandatory in the span of a few weeks.  And with even more difficult heroics on the horizon–the new Zul’whatever heroics in 4.1 will require a minimum item level of 346 just to get past the bouncers at the door–crowd control won’t be neglected anytime soon.

And with the rediscovery of crowd control came the rediscovery of the art of pulling and control.  In late Wrath, control was easy:  charge into the center of a bunch of mobs and push every AoE button you’ve got, then watch as the DPS pulls them off you anyway, but that was OK because the mobs all died in four seconds.  Now in Cataclysm, if you, as the tank, lose the handle on a trash pull, you’re probably going to wipe.  We’ve all had to rediscover the timing and interplay between the tank and the crowd controllers and the healers and the rest of the DPS.

So that’s what this series is going to be about…the first ten seconds of a pull, mostly as it pertains to trash.  It’s going to be about that period of time from the moment the first button is pushed to start a fight, until the mob(s) are settled in on the tank and the fight really “starts.”  In most trash pulls, this (in my experience) takes about ten seconds.  If you, as a group, execute these ten seconds properly, you’ll probably have a boring and uneventful trash pull.  If you don’t, even if you don’t wipe, you’ll probably end up with a bunch of trouble, raw tempers, and frustration.  (And in my case, a tank screaming obscenities at the screen and a wife rolling her eyes listening to me.  “GET BACK HERE YOU LITTLE FUCK GODDAMMIT I’VE GOT NO RAGE LET ME GET AGRO YOU STUPID BASTARDS STOP NUKING FFFFFFFF…”)

Preparation is Key

The next post in the series is going to concentrate on pulling.  Pulling in the latter stages of Wrath, as mentioned before, largely didn’t exist.  You, as the tank, just ran or charged in and spammed whatever you could knowing that it didn’t matter a bit–the DPS was going to go apeshit anyway and even the healer would just spam Smite or Moonfire or Chain Lightning or whatever.

But any tank who survived the sheer hell of heroics in The Burning Crusade knows how important pulling is.  Remember the gladiator hallway in Shattered Halls?  Groups of six mobs down the middle with wanderers in between and a few static singles as filler.  Move too far to one side and you’d pick up a group of five adds.  Don’t get them back far enough, and you’d get the wandering Houndmasters and their dogs, or the guys working out on the target dummies.  At least one, usually two of the group mobs were hunters, ranged and largely immobile.  Given all that, how do you pull it?

Cataclysm heroics aren’t quite that bad, but they’re a step back toward that level of difficulty from the overgeared facerolls of late Wrath.  You will, until we’re all running around in tier 13 or whatever, need crowd control and intelligent pulling to get through them.  Maybe some of you cutting-edge raiders are at the point where you can start to brute-force these things, but those of us down here with our average ilevel in the 330s or 340s (OK, Linedan’s is 351 right now) can’t.

So there you are, the tank, standing at the entrance of your favorite dungeon, ready for another exciting round of Will Anything Drop That I Can Actually Use.  You’ve got buffs, you’ve got food, you’ve got adult beverages (in RL), and you’re staring at the first trash pack.  And four pairs of virtual eyes are boring into your back, waiting for you to get the ball rolling.  The temptation is strong to just put the hammer down and gogogo.

Not so fast.

The first thing you should do, PUG or guild group or whatever, is decide who’s marking targets.  Somebody should always mark targets these days.  And when you decide who should mark targets, you also have to decide what each target means.  In a group that runs together a lot, that’s usually not an issue, everybody knows what each mark means.  But in a PuG especially, you can’t be sure.  A square may mean “mage sheeps it” to you, but to XxArthaslolxX from a PvP server, square may mean that he’s supposed to offtank it.  Never, ever, assume.  Get the definitions straight beforehand.  Somebody needs to, and if nobody steps up, you as the tank should be ready to do the marking and designation.  Put the symbols over the first trash group and say what they mean–“sheep square, trap moon, kill order is skull, X, moon, square.”  It’s not worth having a massive argument over, but it’s still something that should be laid out before the pull actually happens.

The other usual bone of contention in an unfamiliar group is–who actually pulls?  Normally, I always preferred to be the one to push the button to start the fight.  But the way things are working these days in Cataclysm, I now actually prefer to let the crowd controllers start the pull.  I’ll go into more detail in the pulling post, but my standard procedure, after we mark and decide who’s doing what, is to let the crowd controllers cast.  Their cast will aggro the group.  That exact moment is when I hit Heroic Throw on either the kill target, or an unallocated caster mob if we’re short on CC.  (That pulls that one particular mob to me, with a silence component to bring those inconvenient casters that much closer.)  It’s then on me as the tank to get the other uncontrolled mob or mobs on me before they eat the crowd controller.  It can be a tricky dance, but is more easily done with proper positioning.  All people doing ranged CC should stand pretty much together, and in a position where the tank can easily get to them.  (If they have to LOS pull, that needs to be taken into account.)

Again, I’ll talk about this more in the pulling post, but I’ll throw one other tidbit out there for my fellow warriors:  Charge is not necessarily your friend.  Charge Stun only hits one mob.  If there’s a second, it’ll keep on trucking for your squishies, and you’ll be playing catch-up.  And when I get to the post on initial control of the pull, we’ll see why playing catch-up is a recipe for disaster.  If you’re fast on your fingers, Heroic Leap can solve this problem.  I’m not, so often I tend to just run in.

The Gospel According to Marks

Before each pull, unless it’s obviously not needed, mark.  Use symbols consistently from group to group based on what you decided at the start of the run.  And your number one CC priority should be…(drumroll please)…hunter mobs. Casters can be silenced by ranged abilities from at least a few classes–Heroic Throw from me, Counterspell from a mage, Wind Shear from a shaman, etc.  When they’re silenced, they’ll run at their current agro target until they feel like casting again, which will usually get them in range of some sort of centered AoE or multi-target ability (Consecrate, Cleave, etc.).  But pure ranged hunter-class mobs are a stone bitch to position.  A death nugget can Death Grip them, which is hella handy if you’ve got a DK around or you’re a DK tank.  And of course you can LOS them if there’s a corner to run around.  But if you’re DK-less and in an open area with nothing to block sight, that hunter is just going to sit out there plinking somebody, and it’s probably not going to be the tank unless he goes and gets it.  And then we’re back to playing catch-up again.

So my priority list for CC is, in a nutshell:  hunter mobs, spellcaster mobs, and then everybody else.  There’s exceptions, of course, but in terms of keeping things simple, that’s how I like to see things marked.  Which priority you use inside those general categories (i.e., which spellcasting mobs get CC if you can’t get them all) is up to the particular group and instance.  There are even situations where you might want to pick a melee mob over a caster to CC–for example, if the caster is particularly squishy and you know you can (or need to due to mechanics) drop him fast.  This is where a knowledge of the instance is vitally important as a tank, so you can make intelligent choices about which mobs get a knock on the head or stuck into an ice cube, and which just get terminated with extreme prejudice immediately.

Next up:  The pull itself.  How do you get the mobs from points A, B, C, and D to point X?  We take a look at how to get a trash pack moving right where you want it…into the kill zone!


Coming Soon: The First Ten Seconds

So.  First off, let me apologize, yet again, for my slackness in updating this here fine upstanding blog.  There are a few reasons for this.

First–and I hate to admit it, but it’s true–I wrote most of my blog posts at work.  I know, I know, I shouldn’t be doing it, but come on, folks.  I know when you people read my blog, and here’s a hint–it’s between 9:00 and 5:00 in your appropriate time zone.  Otherwise my readership wouldn’t crash through the floor on Saturdays and Sundays.  Let he who is without slack cast the first Nerf dart and all that.  Well, a couple months ago, I was moved to a new cubicle that’s very much more out in the open than my old, isolated, rather private digs I had for almost three years.  Basically, I can’t keep the WordPress editor up all day and hammer posts into it by the thousands of words like I used to.  When I get home, I have a tendency to be pretty tired and more interested in playing games than writing about them.  So that has rather badly cramped my output.

Second, RL has been, as it has for the past few years, teabagging me like I’m a dead resto druid and it’s a rogue.  No need to go into the details (I’ve got a personal blog for stuff like that, and someday maybe I’ll update it again) but suffice to say that it’s taking a big chunk of my focus just to get through the days and weeks, without a lot left over to produce quality content.  And if I can’t at least attempt to produce quality content, I don’t produce content.  (Most of the time.)

And third, well, I just haven’t had that much to say about WoW.  Cataclysm is humming along.  4.0.6 has caused some of us to have to relearn some of our favorite classes (marks hunter wut wut).  Other people in the WoW blogosphere have been doing a fantastic job talking about things that I had formative ideas about.  It just feels like that for whatever reason, there hasn’t really been that much for me to say.  Like, say, “heroics are hard.”  Well, duh.  Of course they’re hard, they’re designed to be hard at this pre-raid level of gear a lot of us are rocking.  Give it six months and they won’t be (as) hard anymore.  The push to get Linedan to 85 and repped up with Dragonmaw and Therazane has, as I knew it would, caused me to back off a little bit and play less while I recharge to get my alts leveled, filling the slack with a bit of Star Trek Online, a bit of EVE Online, and a bit of various single-player games.

So, a quick update from Panzerville, and then I’ll get to why I’m actually posting this.  Linedan, the titular Panzercow, is back raiding again as one of the full-time tanks in a 10-man called “Doom and Blet,” expertly cat-herded by former Anvil Chief Cat Herder Dorritow and veteran Anvil raider and Seven Deadly Divas contributor Hammaryn.  So far, we’ve been poking at Blackwing Descent, and have dropped tne Omnomnomnomitron Defense System (I can haz tank lootz?) and Magmaw, the Giant Lava Penis, and have gotten Atremedes down to about 55%.  That, IMO, is not half bad after four weeks for a raid running only one night a week, 9:00-12:30 Eastern.

Beltar, my dwarf hunter, is my other character at 85 right now.  He hasn’t raided, in fact he hasn’t done any heroics yet (I hope to fix that soon).  This is largely because of my PUGaphobia, and the fact I’m still learning how to trap and CC.  Oh yeah, and re-learning his rotation because 4.0.6 took everything I’d learned about marks and stood it on its head.  (Aimed Shot useful again?  Seriously?  Getouttahere.)  All my other characters are at various places between level 82 and level, uh, 5.  I’ll get alts up someday, but I need to get over my burnout on the 80-85 Cata zones first.

Anyway.  The real reason I’m posting this is as self-motivation.  I’ve had an idea bouncing around my skullcage for a while, inspired by some heroics I’ve run on Lin, to do a small series on pulling and initial control of pulls.  It’s based on a very, very simple theory, to wit:  The first ten seconds of a fight is the most important part. If you can pull properly and control the fight for the first ten seconds, you are well on your way to victory and loot.  If you can’t, you’re well on your way to heartbreak, frustration, and getting kicked from PUGs.  And with the re-introduction of crowd control into instances with Cataclysm, pulling and grabbing initial control of pulls, especially trash packs, has gotten more complicated.  Who pulls, you or the CC?  Who decides kill order?  Who should you CC, who should you leave?  What do you use to pull?  Do you LOS?  Do you just charge in?  This is all stuff that, as a tank, you need to think about before pushing buttons.

So where’s the self-motivation?  I’ve told you about it now.  I have to write it.  Otherwise people on Twitter will hound me to no end about it.  Peer pressure is a wonderfully useful thing sometimes, isn’t it?

I can’t guarantee it’ll be done quickly, as I haven’t written any of it at all yet.  But watch this space, and hopefully in the next few days, I can get the first installment up.  In the meantime, peace out, kids.


Random Acts of Friday II

I swear I’ve got some good posts percolating.  Somewhere.  No, seriously.  Really.  But in the meantime, have another fun-size grab-bag of “oh shit I really should post something” desperation…

- Bad news, melee DPS and tanks:  Nerfs are on the horizon with the latest 4.0.3 PTR patch build 13245.  MMO Champion has the details…it looks like that passive self-healing took a hit across the board, but none were worse than the nerf to Blood Craze in the Fury tree.  Previously it would heal 2.5% of max health per talent point over 10 seconds (so 2.5/5/7.5%); with 2/2 Field Dressing, that netted out to 9.6% of maximum health restored over 10 seconds, on a 10% chance per hit taken.  Build 13245 slashes that healing to 1/2/3%.  I don’t know what the final number will be with maxed Field Dressing, but I think it’ll be somewhere just north of 4%.  Obviously that’s a significant cut, and it remains to be seen whether that will render Blood Craze a much less “mandatory” talent.  I’ve been of the opinion that it’s a no-brainer to take it just to lessen the strain on our healers, but so far, our healers haven’t been straining, even on ICC-level content.  That may change once we head into Cataclysm and see the instances there.  In the meantime, I’m giving serious thought to dropping Blood Craze at least temporarily and loading those points over into maxing Shield Specialization in the hope of solving some of the occasional rage issues Linedan and Latisha are both running into.

- The Anvil, our 25-man raid, folded up shop for the duration last night with a final run through the raid weekly (Malygos).  We’re now on hiatus and will be back in action for Cataclysm around January 13, 2011.  Our final scorecard:  Cleared Naxx, cleared Ulduar normal with a few hardmodes here and there, cleared Trial of the Wake Me Up When It’s Over, and never bothered with Trial of the Wake Me Up OH GOD MY FACE (the heroic version).  We completed normal 25-man ICC with our single hard-fought and emotional Arthas kill, and did get two heroic encounters in there done, Lootship and Rotface.  It’s not exactly a record that the Paragons or Ensidias of the world would find impressive, but it’s by far the best we’ve ever done for an expansion, and I wouldn’t trade the fun and hilarity we had for all the world-firsts in the, uh, world.  It was a hell of a ride, kids, and I’m glad I was along for it.

- That doesn’t mean I’m quite done with raiding, though.  I tank a 10-man that runs for three hours each Saturday afternoon, and with The Anvil shutting down temporarily, that means we’ll be going back into ICC for more heroic modes (we’re currently 7/12 HM) and a crack at those tasty proto-drakes.  Of course, that means heroic Putricide…and heroic Sindragosa…and what I know is going to be the bane of my existence, All You Can Eat.  Oh God.

- There was a minor kerfuffle in the WoWosphere over the past couple days when Frostheim, WoW Insider hunter columnist and main guy over at the Warcraft Hunter’s Union blog, posted a story about running heroic Old Kingdom and what happened therein.  (It’s too complicated to rehash here…go read Frostheim’s post and the rest of this will make sense.)  Most of his commenters backed him up on it, or at least thought it was funny (and honestly, I can see that).  Well, Amber at I Like Bubbles offers the counterpoint, in which she brings up the valid (and, IMO, accurate) point that when you’re a higher-visibility member of a community, you really shouldn’t go around acting like a penis.  Not that you ever should anyway, but you get the idea.

And, here’s a few random gems from the Interwebs:

Y’all have a good weekend, and remember, it’s all fun and games until Deathwing puts somebody’s eye out.


I’m ready for my close-up (I’m on the WoWPhiles Podcast!)

A couple of weeks ago, the guys at the WoWPhiles Podcast put the call out on Twitter asking for people to volunteer to be on their podcast talking about their favorite class and spec, providing advice for new players and stuff like that.  For reasons still as yet unknown to me, I volunteered.  Also for reasons still as yet unknown to me, they accepted.

So after a hurried install of Skype (which caused a few blown eardrums in my raid after it automagically jacked up my mic volume in Ventrilo, BTW) and some quick research, I hooked up with Jason from WoWPhiles and recorded a segment for Episode 47 of the show, which is now up for download or listening on their website.  The show also features Bliky from One Man Raid talking about survival hunters, and the lovely and talented Liala from Disciplinary Action talking about everybody’s favorite bubble vendors, disc priests.

I’m actually listening to my segment as I type this, and boy, you’d think I’d know this by now considering I’m 44 years old, but I didn’t quite realize my voice was that high-pitched.  My wife calls it a “tenor.”  To me, it sounds like Red Shirt Guy on helium.  More precisely, Red Shirt Guy on helium and meth, because I was so nervous, I was talking about a hundred miles an hour.  Oh, and Time Warner can lick my sweaty balls because our upload bandwidth is crappy enough that it cut me out a few times.  I have enough issues with sounding like a gnome IRL without also sounding like Max Headroom.

There’s some great information on the podcast.  It’s two hours and twenty-seven minutes of jam-packed WoW information, with a dash of Panzercow topping.  So go check it out!

 


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.


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…


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.


Checking up

What follows, Dear Reader, is a cautionary tale about staying on top of your game, proof that, yes, even Kingslayers can come off looking like that doofball from your Halls of Stone random PUG last week.  I don’t tell it just to be funny, though it is (in retrospect).  I tell it to make a point, which I’ll get to further on.

So.  Last week was The Anvil’s first post-Kingslaying raid sequence.  Thursday night was a run back into ICC, in which we did our first heroic modes (just Lootship and Rotface, but, hey, you have to start somewhere, right?).  On Friday night, real life dickpunched us again and left us with only about 20 people.  So our officers did what we’ve done so often on Friday nights this summer…stalled by doing the weekly in the hopes that competent raiders would hear our pleas, magically drop from the sky, let us fill our slots, and head on to ICC.  (They didn’t.)

The weekly was Razorscale.  Ho hum, right?  Lawl T8 content and all that.  So we ended up with a lot of people switching over to alts, and a raid that was about half mains (including Linedan as one of the two tanks) in mostly ilevel 264 items, and half alts of various gear levels, still mostly part-Triumph-geared at worst.  Not a group that you would expect to have trouble on Razorscale, considering the last time we had her on the weekly, she dropped like the housing market.

So we cruised through Flame Lootviathan, formed up on Razorscale’s platform, started the encounter…

…and it all went horribly wrong.

There were iron dwarves running loose everywhere.  The big Sentinel was whirlwinding its way through the raid slaughtering alts.  Gorebash, our longtime warrior MT, was doing fine, but for some reason, I couldn’t hold agro on anything to save my, or anyone else’s, life.  I had no clue what was going on until just before I finally died…and that’s when I saw my bar was totally wrong.

I was in Berserker Stance.  So I hit F6 and swapped myself over to Defensive Stance…and my bar was still wrong.  And then I died.

And that’s when I figured out what had happened.  I’d run a random on Linedan earlier in the evening.

As DPS.

And I’d never changed back to Prot spec from his Fury spec.

I’d switched to his Prot gear.  But I hadn’t gone in and switched his spec.  So he was running around, in his full T10 kit, trying to tank things while generating no threat and no rage, in the wrong stance.

I’ve done some dumb shit in my time in WoW.  I mean, really dumb shit.  Dumber than you’ve probably done, or at least will admit to like this.  But that right there–getting a raid half-full of Kingslayers to wipe on Razorscale, for God’s sake?  That’s top 5 all-time, kids.

Well, I fessed up immediately.  And actually, everyone was so shocked, we all (well, almost all) had a good laugh about it.  And of course we went right back in there and killed us a dargon, with no more fatalities, so we could get our badges and 26 gold and pretend that the whole embarassment never happened.

The whole mess got me thinking, though.  Earlier, on Flame Leviathan, I’d been confused.  I had my Prot gear on, but Lin’s health wasn’t adding up.  He normally has, in the gear he has as I write this, 45,687 health.  But while we were waiting to start FL, I noticed he had only a bit over 42,000 health.  I checked his ItemRack, because it bugs out sometimes, but nope, he had his Prot gear on.  Before I could check any further, we started FL, and off we went.  The health difference, obviously, was because he wasn’t in Prot spec and didn’t have his Vitality talent.

This is where another one of my geeky hobbies enters the picture…aviation.

I’m not a real pilot, but I’ve always wanted to be one.  I love airplanes and aviation.  There’s a reason my Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X installs, combined, are pushing 100 GB…way too many add-ons, planes, terrain, etc.  I’ve used MSFS to learn just a little bit about how commercial aviation works.

Everything in a commercial airliner is done “by the book.”  Pilots, in addition to all the pilot training they go through, have to learn a lot of aircraft-specific (and airline-specific) procedures.  And most all of it is codified in those wonderful things called “checklists.”  The checklists are there so all the flight crew on the same type of airplane at the same airline do things the same way (since pilots and copilots aren’t assigned as a unit).  There are checklists in an airliner for damn near everything. There are checklists for first accepting the plane at the start of a day, before engine start, engine start, after engine start, taxi, takeoff, climb, descent, approach, landing, after landing…and that’s just the normal ones.  Then there’s an emergency checklist for almost any possible situation you can imagine.  Strange indication on one of the engine instruments?  Checklist.  Engine failure?  Checklist.  Flight instruments go wonky?  Checklist.  Fire in the bathroom?  Checklist.  Pressurization goes kablooey?  Checklist.  Flight crew eats the fish?  Checklist.  You get the idea…there are literally hundreds of the damn things, in big books stored in the cockpit.

When the time for a checklist comes around, or something hits the fan, the copilot grabs the Big Book of Checklists (or on the newest planes, pulls them up on screens), finds the right one, and starts reading it off.  Each item on a checklist is read, and the checklist says who is supposed to respond and what the result should be–and they don’t go on to the next one until the current one is done and checked.  So if the first item on the checklist says “disgronification switch – ON,” the copilot says “disgronification switch,” the pilot reaches up, turns it on, and says, “on.”  Then the copilot checks it.  Then they go to the next line.  And the next.  And so on.  There is no variation, and there is no exception.  By the book, step 1, step 2, through to step N.  Boring?  Well, maybe.  But if checklist items get skipped, and something important gets missed, people can and will die.  It’s serious business.

WoW, of course, is not that serious (for most people).  But thinking about it…what’s wrong with the idea of a little mental checklist before you start your raid or instance run or PvP?  No, you don’t need to put on a white shirt and tie and epaulettes and get your significant other to read the Pre-Raid Checklist to you after she does the safety briefing.  (“In the event of Serpentshrine Cavern, the Draenei female members of your raid can be used as a flotation device.”)  But what’s wrong with training yourself to make sure that everything’s squared away before first pull?

Let’s go back to Linedan and my unfortunate derp before Razorscale.  What might Lin’s little pre-pull checklist look like?  Here’s my quick stab at one:

  • Spec – verify that it’s correct for the role he’s assigned tonight (Prot for tank, Fury for DPS).  If not, change it.
  • Gear – verify that it’s correct for the same role.  If not, go into Itemrack and change it.
  • Stance – verify correct, Defensive for tank, Berserker for DPS.  Hit F6/F7 to change appropriately.
  • Flask – use as needed (before boss pulls).
  • Repair – 100% repair at the start of an instance.  At the least, nothing should be showing yellow.
  • Buffs – all necessary buffs on, including Feasts if we’ve got them.  If not, start bothering slacker paladins.
  • Encounter – understand what his role is in the encounter, strategy, what color poo not to stand in.

That whole sequence can be done in, what, maybe twenty to thirty seconds max?  Had I done that, I would’ve caught the problem in the very first second when I saw I was still in Fury spec, I would’ve swapped spec, we wouldn’t have wiped on Razorscale, and I wouldn’t have a blog post topic for today.

So basically, I do stupid shit for you, people.  All for you.


What a long, strange trip it’s been

Back before Wrath of the Lich King was released, the officers of The Anvil, the 25-man Horde raid on Feathermoon that I tank for, sat down and set one simple goal:  The Anvil 25-man would kill Arthas before the next expansion came out.  That was it.  Everything, all the other raid instances, all our activity as a raid, was pointed toward that goal.  Naxxramas, Ulduar, Trial of the Big Round Room…they were steppingstones toward Icecrown Citadel and our ultimate goal of doing something we’d never done before:  beating “the” boss of an expansion while that expansion was still current content, and making the Lich King our Bitch King.

Now this was a stretch for us.  Since the days of 40-man raiding, we’ve never been a cutting-edge progression raid…call us “hardcore casual” if you will.  In vanilla, we never cleared Blackwing Lair, much less Naxxramas 1.0; Nefarian only died after The Burning Crusade came out.  When we hit Outland, we stalled at the end of both Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep.  Vashj eventually went down after six or seven weeks, but we never really even got close to killing Kael’thas until patch 3.0 dropped, at which point the fight instantly turned from a near-impossible exercise to a stupidly easy no-death one-shot.  We managed to get 3/5 in Hyjal before 3.0 hit, but never visited Black Temple except for one visit post-patch, where we one-shotted the first seven bosses and couldn’t get past the Illidari Council.  Linedan’s still never seen or killed Illidan, Archimonde, or anything in Sunwell Plateau.

Four months ago we dropped Sindragosa for the first time and took the teleporter up to stand before our final goal.  That night, we began working on the fight.  And through the summer, we kept at it.  Again.  And again.  And again. I started likening progress on the Lich King fight to the Battle of the Somme…immense casualties for just a few yards, or in this case percent, gained.  We extended lockouts and threw ourselves at him for three straight hours some nights.  I counted fifteen wipes one night, that’s a 200 gold repair bill for me.  We tried several different strategies regarding Defiles and val’kyr handling, with varying degrees of success.  Time and again normal summer schedule issues ravaged our lists and left us frantically pulling in subs, or dropping back to clear lower ICC again, or even calling the raid entirely.

Last night, we faced down Arthas again.  We started off with two excellent attempts that moved efficiently through phase 2 and got into phase 3 with most of the raid still standing.  Our DPS was the highest I’d ever seen it, across the board.  Unfortunately, both times things fell apart fast and we died quickly in phase 3, not getting Arthas below about 35%.  Then we started backsliding into the pattern that’s dogged us the whole time…mistakes in phase 2, bad placement of Defiles, unlucky timing on the different cooldowns for valks vs. Defile, stuff like that.  After a few more of those, we took a break, came back, and went at it again.

It was the sixth, or seventh, or eighth attempt, I’d lost track at that point.  We started off same as the others–me on Arthas, our paladin tank Keltyr on the ghouls and horrors in phase 1.  Phase 1 was dispatched quickly and smoothly, likewise the 1-2 transition.  We hit phase 2, and the real fight began.

You know that feeling you get when you just know that everything is starting to fall into place?  We had that.  Defile placement wasn’t perfect, but it was workable.  Everyone adjusted, standing behind Arthas, all facing the same direction to keep the valks clustered together.  For once, the timers worked properly so that we weren’t all clustered up for valks and getting hit with Defile instead.  We shifted, we adjusted, we moved in and moved out, and we got to 45% with everybody still up.

Then at 43%, here came the valks.  And the shout went out from our Chief Cat Herder:  “Forget them, burn Arthas down!”  It was a crapshoot.  If we couldn’t get him to 40% while dodging the upcoming Defile, we’d lose two DPS and a healer.  Everybody ran for Defile, ran back in and laid into the Lich King while I drug him toward one edge…

..at the last possible second, he dropped to 40%, ran back to the center, and started the phase 2-3 transition.  The ledge reappeared, and all three of our raidmates landed on solid ice with just mere feet to spare.

The spirits came up and we laid into them like we never had before.  At the end of the transition, two were dead, one was at 30%, and the fourth was full up.  I had the weaker spirit on me, so I headed back in and said hi to Arthas again, and phase 3 began.

The next few minutes are still a blur in my sleep-deprived mind.  Phase 2 is barely-controlled chaos.  Phase 3 felt like it removed the “barely-controlled” part.  People were scattering everywhere to avoid Vile Spirits and Defile.  We were handling tanking differently in the 25 than we did when I got Arthas in my 10, and I had only the vaguest of ideas when to taunt Arthas and move him.  More than once I taunted Arthas and immediately got a Soul Reaper countdown, and only Keltyr’s fast action saved me.

Things were getting nuts.  We had a death or two.  The fight devolved into a screaming mass of taunting, moving, and keyspamming.  Calls of “I can’t reach the tanks!” followed by another healer saying “I’ve got ‘em.”  Vile Spirits exploding everywhere.  “Defile, move!”  “Spirits coming down!”  “Gore’s harvested!”  And all the while, I saw that big Threat Plate over Arthas’ head slowly count down numbers.  Twenty-three percent.  Twenty percent.  Eighteen percent.  Fifteen percent.  Holy shit, are we actually going to do this?

I taunted him back at about 13%.  I was getting ready to hit Vent and say “a million to go, guys, WE’VE GOT THIS”…and I died.  I got too damn far away from my healers trying to get Arthas clear of the Vile Spirits, and there I was, in the Sprawl of Shame, with the Lich King at 12% health.

“Shit, Lin’s down!”

“Want me to pick him up?”

About four of us (me included) said “No!” at the same time.  He was at 7.1 million health, under 12%, one tank up, don’t shift out to battle rez just burn his ass down.  One million more health to go, dear God please don’t let me dying fuck this up now go go GO GO GO DAMMIT GO…

His health on the plate ticked over to 9%.

I won’t spoil the fight for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, but let’s just say, if you get him to 10%, you’ve won, despite appearances.  There’s a pause for some in-game exposition that you get to watch.  When that started, there was a second of stunned silence, as if all 25 of us couldn’t believe we were seeing what we saw, and then Vent erupted with screams.  And just as quickly, was shushed…after all, many people there hadn’t had a chance to see the show before.

I didn’t say a word.  I was too busy sitting there, staring at the screen in slack-jawed shock, my hands shaking and tears forming in my eyes.  We had done it.  We killed the Lich King.

Two minutes later, the hoedown was over, and the fight entered the last 10%, aka Pinata Mode.  And then, it was truly over, cue the acheesement spam.  At 11:33 pm Eastern time, Thursday, September 16, 2010, Arthas Menethil, the Lich King, whatever you want to call him, lay dead at The Anvil’s feet, and we sat in silent shock and relief while Cutscene Happened.

We were Kingslayers.

We had won the game.

I spent the rest of the evening in an advanced state of shock.  It took my hands half an hour to stop shaking and I didn’t get to bed until well past 1:00.  The happy crew gradually dropped off Vent and out of WoW, off to bed.

While that happened, I sat and reflected, and got hit by an incredible wave of emotion that almost started me crying.  The realization of what we’d just done, and my small part in it, hit me.

A bit over four years ago, I first started running with The Anvil as a scrubstitute, a few months after the raid initially formed.  I had no business being in Molten Core given that my gear was mostly greens and I was a pretty shitty warrior, but in 40-mans, you could carry scrubs, and after weeks of not being selected to go, my wife Rashona and I finally wormed our way in.  Back then, our daughter Nublet was only an infant so Rashona and I basically had to alternate weeks to go on those Sunday afternoon MC runs…one of us raided while the other tended the baby.  We switched weeks, sometimes we even switched mid-run if the officers were OK with it.

I hung in there and kept getting invites despite the fact I really did suck.  My DPS was lousy, I couldn’t offtank rock elementals on Garr to save my ass (or anyone else’s), I wiped the raid running the wrong way on Geddon more than once.  Slowly, on the long grind through Molten Core to Ragnaros and then into Blackwing Lair, I got better.  Not good, but better.

The Burning Crusade came out.  By the time I made it to 70, I was behind most of the other Anvillains.  The Anvil had formed two 10-man Karazhan raids and didn’t have enough people for a third, leaving me and Rashonakitty screwed.  Fortunately a friend of ours was starting up her own Kara (called “Dissonant’s Softcore Raiders”) and the wife and I came on as the two tanks.  I went Prot, and never looked back.  We helped take that raid from wiping all night on Attumen all the way to one-night full clears and lots of Prince kills.  It was a fantastic experience.

When The Anvil went back to running 25-mans in Gruul’s Lair, I got in again despite the raid being overloaded on tanks.  And somehow, I guess through just sheer attrition and my own stubbornness, by the time our TBC raiding career ended, I was the permanent second offtank.

Wrath of the Lich King brought us death nuggets, and one of our warriors switched to DK (realm first 80 DK, in fact) and became astoundingly good at DK tanking–so good that he pushed me down to the #3 offtank, in an instance (Naxx 2.0) where few fights needed four tanks and dual specs hadn’t come in yet.  The raid officers kept me on, thank God, and we’ve carried four tanks all through Wrath (the original DK left and has been replaced by an even better DK), eventually going to a rotation system where we all take turns tanking and DPSing.

The Anvil took me in when I had no business raiding.  They let me back in after I took time to head to greener pastures in Karazhan.  They kept me on and rewarded my persistence with a permanent slot.  They kept me on again when better-geared, better-skilled tanks “took my jerb.”  They kicked my ass when I needed it and reassured me when I needed it.  They had faith in me when I had lost my own faith in my ability to play this game.  They gave me the room and opportunity to develop the confidence to turn, eventually, into a pretty decent warrior tank.  They are my friends, and I’ll do anything for them.

And last night, the scrubby hybrid-spec warrior in the mismatched level 55 greens…now transformed into the fully-sanctified-T10-wearing badass tank he never thought he could become…tanked the bloody Lich King. And won.

All of the problems that were spinning around me yesterday are still there this morning.  Our one working vehicle is still laid up at the mechanic and we don’t know how we’re going to pay to fix it.  One of our cats is still a bit sick in his tummy and stinking up the place.  We’re still broke.  The house is a mess.  I still have four projects at work in various stages of “oh shit.”  None of that has changed.

But for a few magical minutes last night, none of it existed.  There was nothing but a group of friends, accomplishing a task set in front of them, and culminating a journey that started four and a half years ago.  Winning the game.

For now, the world can bite my shiny metal ass.  I’m a Kingslayer, biatch.


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