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Archive for April, 2009

This ain’t your mama’s raid anymore, son

I’m glad I read this before I started writing my own thoughts on the same subject, because Elleiras over at Fel Fire just saved me a whole lot of typing:  The problem with Ulduar is Naxxramas.

So, no, the problem isn’t Ulduar itself.

The problem is that Naxxramas was so easy by comparison to the raids that preceded it that we actually forgot what it was like to progress through new content.  Once upon a tier, we congratulated ourselves when it “only” took a week or two of raiding to defeat a new boss.  Now, we feel like we’ve failed if it takes more than two or three attempts, let alone nights.

I was thinking about this last week as I made my first foray into Ulduar-25 (our raid’s second week).  The Anvil had killed Flame Leviathan the week before but nothing else, mainly due to the instability of the server.  So on Thursday we headed in, one-shotted Flame Leviathan, then after several wipes got Razorscale, then ran out of time before we could get XT-002, though we got the little (ok, big) brat to 3%.  Friday night, we dropped XT-002, then slammed our hands in the car door known as Ignis for about two hours before admitting defeat (best attempt, 55%).  So right now, we’ve done three bosses and are still working out what we need to do for Mister Crotchpocket.

I could tell people were getting snippy and stressed both nights.  Ventrilo on Friday night was awesome because our main tank was wasted at the start of the run–he tanks better drunk, seriously.  But after a few wipes on XT-002, and then never getting Ignis below about 55%, the good humor was gone and things were quiet and a bit tense.

How soon we forget, huh?  I remember wiping on Vashj for six weeks before we finally got her, and it may have been more than that, come to think of it, but that’s all I was there for.  We tried Kael’thas for over two months and never did get him before 3.0 dropped and turned that fight from nightmare to easymode.  Just mention the words “Leotheras the Blind” around me and I’m liable to turn around and deck you, that’s how much I despised wiping on that fight again and again and again.  And please note, The Anvil is not a “fail raid”; we’re no server first on anything, but considering that we raid just two nights a week for three hours a night, we do well.  When we come, we come correct, dawg.

The fact is, folks, yes, Ulduar is a gigantic difficulty leap up from Naxxramas.  Flame Leviathan isn’t very hard on “easy” mode, but from there, it gets much more difficult quickly–and I haven’t even seen the bosses in the second and third “wings” yet.  But you know what?  It’s not harder than Burning Crusade content.  It just isn’t.  None of the first four fights in Ulduar even begin to approach the sheer bloody chaos of Lady Vashj or Kael’thas, much less the massive gear checks of Sunwell.  Hell, M’uru literally broke some of the best raiding guilds on Feathermoon.

What Ulduar is, is a Monday after a long weekend of Naxxramas.  It’s a 4:30 am wakeup call.  It’s a splash of ice water to the face.  It’s a reminder that no, it’s not really normal for a 25-man pickup raid to be able to clear an instance in four hours, or a 10-man starter raid to get seven bosses in their very first night.  It is a clarion call that successful raiding requires coordination, effort, and patience.  It’s your indication that playtime is over, school is in session, and that now it’s time to start taking a hard look at your raid preparation.  What gear do I need, for both my primary spec and dual spec if any?  Are my enchants and gems what they need to be for my role(s)?  Can I get a hold of the correct potions, food, and other buffs?  Am I doing what my raid officers ask, reading up on strats if they want me to, paying attention during the fights?  Do I know what I’m supposed to do for this boss?  And of course, the most important question:  Am I standing in shit?

What Ulduar isn’t is some new frontier of ZOMGHARD.  Maybe the “hard modes” are brutal, we haven’t gotten there yet.  But the next time you start to get frustrated wiping in there, and watching your repair bills mount, remember back to Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep and Mount Hyjal and Black Temple, and Sunwell Plateau if you were fortunate enough to go.  There were no “hard” and “easy” modes in those raids.  You slammed your head against the wall in any of those instances for weeks at a time, with some exceptions, and just accepted it.

But boy, did your head feel good when that wall finally crumbled, right?

So you want to be a prot warrior: Levels 41-50

18746458(You might want to wear a little more armor than this, no matter how studly you think you are.)

Hokai.  I think I’ve given you, my faithful little tanky padawans, suitable time to get caught up to level 40 and ready to push forward through your next 10 levels of Prot warrior l33tness.  By the time you get to level 50, you will (if you’re not just getting blendered) have gained a decent amount of tanking experience in instances, have long replaced all your mail armor with plate, and in general will really be beginning to unlock the power inherent in the post-Lich King Protection tree.

We’ve had some spec divergence in the last couple of SYWTBAPW posts, so in the interest of my own sanity, I’m going to use this 0/0/31 Prot spec as a baseline to work with today.  Yours may be slightly different, depending on if you took Improved Disarm earlier on or tried something else, and that’s OK.  There isn’t that much flexibility in the cookie-cutter 15/5/51 spec we’re heading toward, but there’s a little.  But I’ll use this one spec as a baseline.  OK, off we go!

Levels 41-42:  3/3 Focused Rage.  We’ll go ahead and finish out Focused Rage so all our offensive abilities now cost 3 less rage.  It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it adds up fast.

Levels 43-44:  2/2 Improved Defensive Stance.  This is another subtle little talent that is totally passive, but a big help.  Not only does it cut your spell damage taken by 6%, whenever you block, parry, or dodge an attack, you pick up an Enrage effect that boosts your damage by 10% for 12 seconds.  At later levels in particular, with good gear, the Enrage effect is almost constant.

Level 45:  1/1 Vigilance.  I’m assuming that you are doing a bit of tanking and not just questing or getting blendered through your 40s.  If you are tanking or running with a friend quite a bit, then it’s time to go ahead and get Vigilance.  If you are mostly grinding solo, then you won’t see any immediate help from this ability.  When you put it on a party member, it reduces their damage taken by 3%; more importantly, it does two things that help your tanking.  It takes 10% of their threat away from them and transfers it to you, and also, if they do somehow manage to get hit, your Taunt cooldown is instantly refreshed.  If you have DPS in your party that is pushing you on threat, put this on them; you’ll bogart some of their threat to help you stay ahead, and if they do still manage to get agro, your Taunt will instantly be available to save them.  Y’know, unless you want to see them die, which is occasionally very tempting.

Levels 46-48:  3/3 Vitality.  +6% strength, +6% stamina, and 6 free expertise.  Yum yum.

Level 49:  5/5 Toughness.  We’re finally filling this out to get maximum armor value from our items.

Level 50:  1/1 Devastate.  You can now remove Sunder Armor from your bars, because this replaces it.  Think of it as Sunder with benefits; it Sunders, and it does half your normal weapon damage, plus an extra amount for each stack of the Sunder effect on the target.  It’s not as important as it used to be pre-3.0 when it was our best spammable, always-there threat move; with the changes to the class, and its relatively inefficient rage-to-damage ratio, it’s now pretty much the “if nothing else is off cooldown” move.  But, you do still keep using it.  The armor reduction helps you and your melee friends, and in a few levels, this skill becomes even more important because of its synergy with Sword and Board.

We’ve now got a build that looks like this, 0/0/41.  There’s some wiggle room in there, for example, taking two points out of Toughness and moving it into Improved Disarm, or possibly swapping the point in Vigilance for, say, another point of Shield Specialization or one in Puncture.  If you’re doing much tanking, though, I’d take Vigilance instead.  It’s pretty handy.

Believe it or not, between levels 41 and 50, you only get one new skill.  It’s at level 50, and it’s called Recklessness.  This is a Berserker Stance-only skill on a 5-minute cooldown; when hit, your next three special attacks within 12 seconds have +100% to crit (basically, guaranteed if they don’t miss), but you take +20% damage for that time period.  You won’t use it all that much, but on those (rare) occasions where you’re DPSing and not getting hit, it can give you a nice boost, especially near the end of a fight where you’d be getting into spamming Executes.

At level 50 you also get a second minor glyph.  There really aren’t all that many good warrior minor glyphs; I tend to prefer the Glyph of Battle because you’ll still be using Battle Shout a lot unless you have a paladin for a Siamese twin, the Glyph of Thunder Clap to give you two yards extra range on those, or the Glyph of Bloodrage so your Bloodrage ability gives you 20 free rage a minute without damaging your health.

Your tanking rotation doesn’t change much from level 40, when you got Shield Slam.  You just slot Devastate in there in place of Sunder Armor, and you’re good to go.  You should see a decent damage bump when you do get Devastate at level 50, but other than that, you’re fairly steady through your 40s.

Tanking in the 40s can be a pain.  In my clanky opinion, there’s only one non-terrible instance for that level range, and that’s Zul’farrak.  Zul’farrak has some fun fights, and will keep a level-appropriate group on its toes in terms of crowd control and pulling (it’s a good instance for learning things like line-of-sight pulling and how not to get multiple groups).  Uldaman is at the low end of the 40s, and it’s confusing and has way too much outside-the-instance non-elite trash to slog through.  Mauradon is a giant festering piece of suck; a few strange people like it, but to me it’s just too big, too convoluted, and ugly, not to mention it’s in one of the ugliest zones in the game, Desolace.  At the high end of the 40s is Sunken Temple, although I wouldn’t go in there until the low 50s.  Again, Sunken Temple shows a lot of things wrong with “vanilla WoW” instance design, namely being very large, hard to find your way around in, and absolutely jam-packed with trash.  IMO, however, it’s a distinct improvement over Mauradon–at least Sunken Temple looks cool to wander around lost in.

Next up, we’ll talk about levels 51 through 60, and the last 10 points you’ll spend in the Prot tree–the tasty, creamy, luscious dessert after the hearty meat-and-potatoes dinner of the last 40 levels.

Random thoughts on Ulduar

Last night was my first trip into the Titan Disneyworld known as Ulduar, and I came away with some random thoughts…

  • Flame Leviathan is the kind of vehicle fight that may get me over hating vehicle fights.  There’s enough going on there to keep it interesting, although honestly, I dislike the slow turning speed and lack of strafing ability of the Blizzard vehicle interface (yes, I keyboard-turn sometimes, shut up).  But that was more than compensated for by getting to fling my wife out of a catapult onto the Leviathan’s back.  What’s not cool about that?
  • Based on the two non-vehicle fights we saw–Razorscale and XT-002–there’s certainly going to be more importance placed on the offtank there than in Naxxramas.  Speaking as, basically, the low-ranking tank in my raid (meaning I do offtanking most of the time if I get to tank at all), this is a Good Thing Indeed.  Razorscale had both of us OTs working very hard gathering the Iron Dwarf adds in so they could be AOE’d down.  Perma-tanking Pummelers on XT-002 is fun…although trying to tank three of them when a Tantrum hits and Shield Wall is on cooldown doesn’t work so well.  I don’t think I’ll be using that Arms spec and turning into the Roflcowpter for quite a while yet.
  • Bosses in there hit redonkulously hard.  I tanked Razorscale for about ten seconds on our successful attempt after the MT went down, and ate a hit for thirty-three fargin’ thousand damage before I died.  XT-002 clocked me for over 23,000 and I don’t think he was enraged yet when he did it.  At least on the early bosses, it appears Blizzard has gone to the “slow but hard” philosophy instead of what they did on, say, Patchwerk, who doesn’t hit all that hard but rains blows down very very fast.
  • XT-002 skeeves me out a little.  Maybe it’s because I actually have a three-year-old and I get to listen to real tantrums on a regular basis.  Or maybe it’s because I see him doing his deep kneebends and toe touches and I think “holy shit, it’s Sportacus” and start having traumatic Lazytown flashbacks.  (I truly despise that show.)
  • Basically, Ulduar is a wake-up call.  This ain’t your mama’s raid instance.  It’s back to the days of Blackwing Lair, of slowly grinding through one boss at a time, maybe one new boss a week, wiping on fights again and again to hone your execution to a razor’s edge of near-perfection.  It’s back to the days where a first kill on any boss, even the second one in the zone (Razorscale) meant something and was worth forming up and taking a screenshot.

By the way, our scorecard from last night?  Flame Leviathan was one-shotted easily…and then we had to blow fifteen minutes running out of the instance because it bugged out and stuck us all in combat until everybody zoned out.  Razorscale took several attempts, the last one ending with the dragon enraged and keeling over with just three of us left standing…the disc priest and two resto druids.  (Birchslap!)  We weren’t quite able to get XT-002 down before we ran out of time, though our last attempt got him to 3%.  We’ll own him tonight, and then it’s on to Ignis.  And we may do Malygos and take another poke at Sarth +3.

Random linkitude

Because I’m still grinding on, y’know, actual content…have some links to other people’s good stuff.

  • Tarsus, Linedan’s brother from another mother, waxes rhapsodic over at Tanking for Dummies on why we prot warriors love our shields so much.  Hell, we knew how good they were even before Gerald Butler and 299 other Spartans in jockstraps and funny helmets showed us that phalanx > Persians.
  • Veneretio at Tanking Tips takes a look at the weirdest warrior spec I’ve ever seen…the 37/2/32 Unrelenting Assault arms/prot hybrid.  Don’t get this spec anywhere near trash, but on raid bosses, it can deliver brutal DPS while still remaining viable for tanking.  It’s very highly specialized, but maybe useful as a dual spec?
  • Ratshag at Need More Ragejust because he’s flubberglubbin’ Ratshag, dammit.

Could it be…

The rumor mill seems to be going full blast that either tomorrow or next Tuesday will be The Day, the day that 3.1 drops, bringing us dual-specs, Ulduar, a whole rash of class changes, and of course, days and days of broken addons and borked servers.  Are you ready?  Are you looking forward to it?  Unlike Illidan, ARE YOU PREPARED?

In a way I’m looking forward to it, and in a way I’m not.  Our raid group has taken down everything except Sarth +3, so the new content of Ulduar is welcome.  On the other hand, I’ve got a huntardress that I’m trying to get geared up to the point where she could actually be a viable sub on the nights they don’t need a tank or need ranged DPS worse…and if Naxx runs dry up, she’s screwed.  Plus, vehicle fights, ugh.  I hate vehicle fights with a vengeance.  If I kill a big boss, I want to do it as whatever character I’m on at the time, not “dude driving a (drake|demolisher|golf cart of doom).”  I’m still looking forward to dual specs for Linedan, although my fervor for it has cooled somewhat since I tried out Arms and realized just how terrible my deeps was, even in half epic gear.  And of course, being the total addon ho that I am, I’m really not looking forward to having to replace almost everything and being crippled for a few days until Curse and WoW Interface get back up off the floor, quit being slashdotted, and let me download new versions.

So what are you looking forward to, or dreading, with patch 3.1 and the new content?

I’m still here, honest

Apologies for the lack of posts lately, peeps…things on this side of the 22″ LCD portal to Azeroth have been wobbling between crazy and insane.  I will mount a furious comeback and drown you in theorycrafting and snark shortly, worry not.