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You know it’s going to be a bad night when…

…you’re Arms DPS on Hodir, you get a Storm Cloud buff, you reach for Bladestorm that you’ve bound to Shift-6…

…and you hit Mocking Blow that you’ve bound to Shift-5.

Just like you did last week.

Ulduar at 40% scale

So after a few days off to recharge the ol’ WoW batteries, I found myself in an interesting spot last night.  See, there’s this 10-man Ulduar raid, called “No Bads,” that is made up mostly of folks that run with The Anvil’s 25-man Ulduar.  I’ve run with No Bads once in the past as desperation oh-crap-we-need-a-warm-body-let’s-grab-Lin-nobody-else-is-on DPS, but earlier in the week, Haicu, the raidleader and DK offtank, approached me and asked me to offtank their Wednesday night run for the next two weeks while he’s out traveling on business.  Of course, to help friends out, I said yes.  (Oh, gee, tanking Ulduar, twist my arm.)

This left the raid in an interesting position, because it gave them what is no doubt a rarity nowadays:  a 10-man raid with two warrior tanks.  And, it was the first time I had tanked Ulduar in a 10-man as opposed to a 25.

Haicu has built his tank build specifically for AOE tanking as a death nugget, and he’s pretty scary good at it.  I like to joke that he’s a seven-foot-tall troll Roach Motel for trash, because mobs get stuck to him and they just do not frigging come off.  Now, this isn’t necessarily a rant about how a DK with good gear can tank their ass off while still doing well north of 2k dps, and then flop specs and do well north of double that on a boss fight where they aren’t tanking.  (That’s a rant for another time, trust me.)  But it did leave me wondering if I could fill his slot effectively.  I have no doubt of my ability to tank anything in the front three-quarters of Ulduar on Linedan; over half his gear now is Ulduar 25-man stuff or equivalent, and I’m a competent enough player to take advantage of it.  But let’s face it, we warriors can’t approach a paladin or death nugget at the fine art of AOE tanking.  With Haicu in the raid, the DPS could go ape with their Blizzards and Hurricanes and Volleys right off the bat on a pull and never be in any danger.  Not so with your friendly Panzercow.

Well, I’m pleased to say that overall, it went very well.  Flame Leviathan +2 towers, XT on hard mode, Kologarn, Auriaya, Hodir, Thorim, Freya, and Iron Council, all fairly clean, in less than three hours.  Yes, the DPS had to modify things a bit, and we were actually helped by the fact that we were a little short on AOE DPS (only one mage, no hunter).  We only had a few agro problems, mainly on Conservatory trash (stupid little flowers) and Hodir trash (stupid little worms).  I think I only got a few people killed, which is a distinct improvement over what I was fearing going in.

The interesting thing to me is how different the difficulty feels on some of the fights.  Auriaya felt like an absolute pushover on 10 compared to 25; still long and arduous and frenetic, and I still hate the Feral Defender, but we were never in serious danger.  Thorim, our current 25-man cockblock, was no sweat; the four of us assigned to the hallway gauntlet ripped it apart like nothing and the folks out in the arena had no worries.  (And now I know what not to do as I run to pick up Thorim and pull him down on the 25 this week…or as our poor priest yelled into Vent right as I got paralyzed, “NOT THE MIDDLE, LIN!  NOT THE MIDDLE!”)  The stuff in the hallway has something like one-fifth the health on 10s that it does on 25s so it just dissolves.

On the other hand, Freya felt harder on 10 than 25, probably due to having one fewer tank for the triple-spawn adds, or maybe it was just me having trouble with the big tree add.  (Hint:  If the tank doesn’t have the big tree under control under a mushroom, DON’T ATTACK IT.  And if you do, don’t run AWAY.)  Kologarn felt harder but that may have been because I was tanking rubble, which is a notable fear of mine after I repeatedly cocked it up in the 25 a couple months ago.  Then again, on 10-man, Kologarn never manages to put two stacks of his crushing debuff on the tank, so there’s no real need for tank-switching.  Iron Council has the same two tanks/three mobs dynamic that makes things a bit more interesting (for one of the tanks, anyway) but it’s really no harder.

Now maybe some of the stuff last night felt easier because most of us are already geared in ilevel 226+ stuff, and not rocking our Naxx gear anymore.  Maybe.  But it was surprising to me that something like Auriaya, which is still a knife-edge dance with disaster for us in 25s, felt more like Anub’rekhan in the 10.

No loot for the Panzercow, but bah, who cares.  I had fun.  I learned some useful stuff for this week’s 25-man.  And I got to work on my multiple-target agro, which I haven’t had to do in a while because we had such good AOE tanking with Haicu, there was no point.  It’s easy to get sloppy with a good backstop like that, so it’s good to occasionally remember that yes, multi-target tanking as a warrior takes work.

Oh, and Fusion Punch still hurts like a bastard, I don’t care how big or small your raid is.

Monday randoms

Hi folks.  I hope everybody had a good Fourth of July (or Canada Day, or just a normal) weekend.  Welcome back to your workweek!  (No, I’m not actually this chipper.  In fact, I’m dragging like crazy.  But I read somewhere that more people read your blog if you’re happy and upbeat, so I’m faking it.  Ssshhh.  Don’t tell anyone.)

A few random notes from the weekend…

– After 8 months or so of Wrath of the Lich King, Linedan finally has himself a title:  Linedan, the Argent Champion.  All it took for the final push was two deadside Stratholme clears, each one good for about 4000 rep with the Dawn once the 14-15 different Scourgestone turn-ins were done.  The Seal of the Dawn can finally get retired to the top shelf of Lin’s bank.  Now, 57 more quests in Kalimdor and around 260 more in Eastern Kingdoms, plus 20 or so (mostly group) quests in Icecrown, and he can get Loremaster.  I’m not pushing hard for that one, though, it’s more of a long-term I’ll-do-it-as-I-have-time thing.

– Moktor, my orc death knight, hit 80 on Sunday.  She is my fourth level 80, and I celebrated by taking her to a few heroics.  I think it’s an indication of just how crazy the death nugget class is in general that I can walk into heroic Gundrak, Drak’theron, and Stratholme in a mixture of mid-70s dungeon blues, quest reward greens/blues, and one kickass piece of gear (a Titansteel Destroyer Linedan made her)…with me having very little of a clue about how to work a rotation on multiple mobs…and still pulled 1500 dps for all three runs.  And I thought beastmastery hunter was faceroll easy.

– Friday night, I was just chillin’ like a villain on my dwarf Beltar when my guildleader Tarquin whispers me:  “So, I hear your raid fell through this week.”  (The Anvil had too many people out of town for the Fourth, so we took the week off and Linedan got a bit of a rest from offtanking.)  I answered “yep.”  So Tarq says, “want to come to Ulduar with us?”


Tarquin also runs Totally Raiding, Inc., a successful, in-character, roleplay 25-man multi-guild raid.  Want proof that you can mix roleplay and raiding?  Try a “RP raid” that’s 12/14 Ulduar, with only Yogg-Saron and Algalon to go.  And he was asking me–Beltar, in his oh-so-l33t Naxx-10 welfare epix–to head to a 25-man Ulduar not just to kill a few bosses, but to be there for TRI’s first serious pokes at The Yoggster.  I think my reply was something to the effect of “well, you know I’m undergeared liek woah, but if you’re crazy enough, HELL YEAH I’D LOVE TO GO.”

They were crazy enough, and I got to go.  So I got to see Vezax and Yoggy for the first time on my undergeared dwarf alt, not my raiding Tauren main.  Go figure.

Vezax is a fun fight to be a hunter on.  No mana regen?  No problem!  Just pop Aspect of the Viper.  OK, we’re only doing 60% damage, but that’s 60% more than the mages are doing while they’re standing around waiting for a Shadow Crash puddle to stand in.  Bang bang > pew pew, biatch.  The mechanics of the fight are interesting without being too nasty, but then again, I’d say that as a hunter because that’s a simple job–know when a Shadow Crash is incoming and get clear of it, know when to pop saronite bubbles, throw a Silencing Shot in on Vezax to help back up the interrupters on his wicked flame AOE, and otherwise, just lean on the trigger until one of you goes down.  I might have a different opinion of the fight once I see it on Linedan, either as tank or as offspec DPS.

And then, there’s the Yoggmeister.

That fight had to have been designed by a bunch of half-drunk Red-Bulled-up Blizzard developers who got together and decided, “OK, listen, we’ve got all these cool mechanics in Ulduar…let’s put all of them in one fight!  It’ll rock!”  And thus was created Yogg-Saron, god of death, insanity, and HOLYFUCKTENTACLES.

It looks so innocuous to start with.  There’s Sara the Vrykul, floating above the floor in Yoggy’s bachelor pad.  (Aside:  “Sara?”  “SARA?”  What the hell kind of Vrykul name is SARA?!?)  She is surrounded by orbiting clouds of pee, I guess because she’s been in there a really long time with no bathroom break.  Anyway, the pee clouds orbit like planets, in fixed orbits around her with a clear space in the middle where she is.  They cover maybe half the room or a little less.  It smells bad.

The trick is, if anybody touches a pee cloud, it summons a big Faceless Horror with 900k health, and he’s pretty pissed at having to clean up the Sara pee that you’ve gotten all over the floor because you bumped the cloud, you big oaf, so he starts beating people up and throwing 6k+ Shadow Bolt Volleys all over the room.  I think more of the things are summoned on a timer as well.  The only way to get to phase 2 of the fight is to kill the Faceless Horrors next to Sara 8 times; each one knocks 12.5% off her health, because they explode for a metric shitton of damage when they die, something like 20,000.

So the strategy TRI used was to have one of three tanks grab each add as they came out, and pull them to the pee-free spot near the door, where they would be beaten down to about 30%.  At that point, DPS switched to another target, and the tank would drag the wounded add–slaloming through the pee clouds so as not to summon more Faceless Janitors–over to Sarah.  There, a designated “center group” of 4 or 5 ranged DPS, including yours truly, would finish them off, all the time dodging both pee clouds and the lethal explosion when the add died.  It’s basically a “don’t stand in shit”–uh, “don’t stand in pee”–fight, except that the consequences for bad positioning are much worse than taking a little damage.  Too many adds will wipe the raid in very short order.

Assuming you blow 8 Faceless Janitors up next to her, phase 2 starts.  The pee clouds go away.  This is good.  The downside is that they’re replaced by tentacles.  LOTS of tentacles.  We’re talking a hentai fan’s wet dream here.  Yoggy pops up and starts taunting people while the tentacles go to work.  There are ones that grab people and crush them (think Kologarn’s right arm).  There are ones that cast nasty debuffs.  There are big ones with ridiculous health that crush people near them.  And they’re EVERYWHERE, man.

At some point during this madness, portals open into Yoggster’s brain.  People run into the portals and kill stuff and DPS his brain (the only way to damage him) and have to come out quickly or they’ll get mind-controlled, yadda yadda.  I didn’t get that far.  I was too busy shooting every tentacle I saw before it tried to do nasty, nasty things to me.

Our best attempt was 91% on phase 2.  Might not sound like much, but trust me, that was serious progress.  Phase 1 is much tougher than it sounds, because you need to put serious DPS on the adds but not too much or they’ll die away from Sara, which is wasted time.  Your tank and center DPS have to get the add on top of Sara and kill it, all the time dodging pee clouds, failure of which will wipe the raid under a swarm of Faceless Janitors.  (Although it’s fun to have a feral or rogue hit Dash/Sprint once you call a wipe and see how many he can spawn.  Our record was 27.)

So that was my weekend.  When I wasn’t WoWing, I was cleaning out a flooded dishwasher.  Judging by the smell, I think I’d rather have been dealing with more pee clouds.

I finally found a healer I like playing…

…trouble is, it’s not in World of Warcraft. >.>

I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical from WoW on non-raid nights (which partially explains the lack of content on the blog this week–that, and work’s ramping up into a very busy July).  My latest addiction is, surprisingly enough, Team Fortress 2.  I say “surprisingly” because I’ve never been big into shooters, especially multiplayer ones.  I’ve never been a big LAN-party ZOMGFRAGFEST kind of guy because, quite frankly, I suck at them.  A combination of poor reflexes, hypercompetitiveness, and a dislike of braggadocio in general has left me with a sour taste every time I’ve tried.  I dabbled in Planetside for a while but gave it up, and still keep my Battlefield Europe:  WWII Online account open mainly because of the very cool people I know there.  But stuff like Counterstrike, Team Fortress, BF1942, etc.?  That’s never really appealed to me.

Enter Team Fortress 2, which I got as part of the Orange Box a while back after buying it to get the two Half-Life 2 expansion episodes.  I went ahead and installed TF2 on a whim after some friends from Feathermoon started playing, and lo and behold…I liked it.  It’s just too humorous and cartoony to get all pissed off when I die.  The graphics are straight out of a 1940s-era Looney Tunes–I keep expecting Wile E. Coyote to step out from behind a mesa and frag me in the face with a rocket launcher.  The sound and voice acting is hilarious.  (Go out on Youtube and search for “TF2 meet the” to get an idea of how awesome it is.)  And the gameplay is fast, furious, and fun.  Yes, I do still suck.  But I don’t care nearly as much when I can jump on a Pyro and just suicidally charge stuff, firing my flamethrower and screaming through my voice-muffling gas mask like the bastard child of Kenny from South Park and Charlie Brown’s teacher from Peanuts.

One of the classes in TF2 is the Medic.  The Medic is a very proper Germanic fellow whose primary job–don’t be shocked, kids–is to heal the other classes.  Yeah, you get a dart gun that shoots syringes (not very far and not very accurately) and a bonesaw for melee.  But your primary toy is your firehose-like medigun.  Just put the crosshairs on a friendly close by and push the button, and glowy tendrils of goodness not only gradually heal them, but boost their health by 50% temporarily.  It even works around corners (to an extent).

What’s even better is that while you heal people, you build something called Ubercharge.  When your Ubercharge hits 100%, you can right-click your target, and you and he will both be completely immune from all damage for 10 seconds.  This is why Medics are so essential.  A well-timed Ubercharge of a good player can be a gamebreaker.  A couple of Ubercharged Heavies or Demomen can be the spearhead of smashing the other team’s defense and winning a round.  (There’s a second medigun you can unlock, called the “Kritzkrieg,” that instead of making the target invulnerable, makes all their attacks automatically do critical damage for 10 seconds.)  Oh, and if you’re healing somebody and he gets a kill?  You get the kill assist and rating points for it, a nice touch.

So basically, as a Medic in TF2, I heal people with glowy red or blue pewpews, and can shield them from all damage or make them vastly more powerful.  Yep.  The TF2 Medic is obviously a disc priest.

Look, I’m not even going to pretend that point-and-click healing in a fast-paced shooter like TF2 is anything like trying to keep 24 other people alive in WoW.  But I’ve never liked playing the healing support role in any game before, until this.  In trying to figure out why it suddenly appeals, I hit on two main reasons.

1.  The fact that I really am awful at all the other eight damage classes (except Pyro, which I’m merely bad at) means that I can do more for my team by picking up a medigun than a grenade launcher or a chaingun.  Which leads into…

2.  While there are TF2 servers that run arenas and deathmatches, the ones I play on use the more “goal-oriented” maps–stuff like grab and hold all the capture points, push the railroad cart into the enemy base, capture the briefcase and return it, etc.  I like team, goal-oriented gaming.  I’m not in it for individual achievement, because I know I’m not (yet?) skilled enough to gain it.  I want my team to win, be it defense or attack.  I’d rather get 2 kills and die 20 times but see us “push little cart” into the enemy base, than get 20 kills, die twice, but watch us lose.

This is the same way I approach raiding.  Yeah, I look at DPS charts on those times I DPS.  I was pleased to see that Linedan did 3750 dps as Arms last night on our first Hodir attempt, a personal best, and was #7 on the meter in total damage done for the fight.  But that means absolutely nothing, because he enraged at 3% and wiped us.  The goal is not to top the meters.  The goal is to kill the boss.  Meters are great for telling you how you’re doing and what you can improve upon.  But if you’re bragging about being top of the meter on a raid that can’t execute well enough to kill bosses in Naxx?  Totally worthless.

Vanity, for once, thy name is Linedan

I normally don’t care much about fashion on Linedan.  Some of my characters do care about how they look; I admit, somewhat grudgingly, that I picked one of my hunter Illithanis’ pets because it was red and most of her armor was matching red mail at the time.  But Lin?  Nah.  He’s a function-over-form kind of cow.  Besides, so much armor just looks strange on the weird proportions of the male Tauren–bracers disappear completely under the gloves, the legs are so small that pants are hard to even see much less admire, stuff like that.

So it is a rare moment indeed when I have a squee like this.  The Anvil did Flame Leviathan with one tower up for our first hard mode attempt in Ulduar last night.  (It really should be called “sorta kinda hard” mode…even with a tower up, Loot Leviathan still isn’t too bad.)  And he gave us a little something for our extra effort…the Anvil’s first ilevel 232 epic loot.

A Titanguard.

You can't see it, but there's a big stupid grin under that helmet.

You can't see it, but there's a big stupid grin under that helmet.


Forget that it’s an epic.  Forget that unlike my old Broken Promise, it actually looks like a fecking sword you use to stab people with instead of a railroad signal.  Forget that I’m enjoying actually tanking with a fast weapon (1.6) again instead of a slow Broken Promise (2.5).  Just look at it, man.  It’s bacon-wrapped badass.  It screams, “hi, I’m Linedan, and I’m going to gut you like a fish and then hit you in the face with my shield until you stop moving.”

I have not been this stupid giddy gleeful happy about an upgrade in a long time.  And it’s not even because it’s a good weapon.  It’s just because of how it looks.  Crikey, next thing you know, I’ll be taking Linedan to the barber shop.


(FYI, question for you cutting-edge tank types–what enchant should I put on this beast?  Right now I have a self-made Titanium Weapon Chain on it, which hit-caps me in my block gear and over-hit-caps me in my boss tank gear.  Is Blade Ward worth the ridiculous prices it commands, considering nobody in our raid can apparently do it yet (we’ve had lousy luck on drops)?  What about our old BC friend Mongoose?  You can see his Armory from the link at the top of the page if you’re curious.  Thank you!)

Gardening and snowblowing, Ulduar style

When The Anvil walked into Ulduar Friday night–with a full 25-man Friday complement for the first time in nearly a month–we’d already had what could be classified as a good weekend.  We’d shaken off the failkarma of a few weeks prior and downed Auriaya and the Iron Council for first-time kills on Thursday night.  Friday’s menu was a spicy appetizer of Crotch Pockets (Ignis), followed by a vegetarian main course (Freya) and some tasty ices for dessert (Hodir).

And we had extra incentive.  One of our raid officers, the gracious and charming Dorritow, told us that if we cleared Freya, Hodir, and Thorim, and got to Mimiron trash, she’d dye her hair purple.  Not in-game.  In real life.

Clearly, we had incentive.

A good primary tanking weapon for the Conservatory of Life.

A good primary tanking weapon for the Conservatory of Life.

Ignis fell, and so it was on to see Freya.  If Auriaya is Crazy Cat Lady, Freya is that woman who calls in to the local AM radio gardening show every Saturday morning and rambles on about her begonias before the host has to gently tell her that 7:45 am is too early to be spiking her Ensure with vodka, and then hangs up on her.  Her area is filled with different plant adds, all of whom are out to get revenge for every bite of salad you’ve ever eaten and every bouquet of roses you’ve ever given your significant other.  Basically, it’s PETA–Plants Eating Terrified Attackers.

Now many of us in the raid had never seen the Conservatory before, at all.  I sure hadn’t, in 10- or 25-man.  So you know how it goes on your first time into a place.  Wipe on the trash, steady things up, clear the trash, start grinding down the boss and do a little better each time until you hit your stop time or the boss dies.  Well, surprisingly, we cleared the trash with no wipes (though a few deaths), and set up for our first pull on Freya and her six exciting and dynamic waves of trash ™.

We dropped her.

Let me repeat…we kicked her ass the first time we ever saw her.

It was as close to a perfect performance as I have ever seen us give.  We never got behind on the waves of adds.  Each one died with a couple of seconds to go before the next one spawned in.  Once we got a hold of Freya, it was all over…we quite literally beat the Yoggy out of her in short order.  And everybody was standing at the end!

…for about one second.  That’s how long it took the little bombs that I couldn’t see to go off right next to me, hitting me for about 35k damage and leaving me in the Sprawl of Shame(tm) as the raid celebrated our awesome one-shot.  That is, if you’re keeping track at home, the third new boss kill of the lockout period, and the second which I was face down at the end of due to a lack of being observant.

We're calling this Hodir's Bane.  Obviously it's an epic.

We're calling this Hodir's Bane. We're going to put Berserking on it.

After Freya, it was time for Hodir.  Now we knew that Hodir wasn’t going to be as much of a pushover as his sister…uh, cousin…uh, common-law wife…?  was.  Despite the fact that pretty much all of us had conned his Sons into believing that we were generally cool and froody individuals who should get 20% discounts on their monopoly shoulder enchant prices, Hodir didn’t take it too well when we asked, “so, big guy, what’s in the box?”  Frozen pain ensued.

I lost count of how many times we wiped on the big blue bastard–five or six, maybe seven, I dunno.  This was raiding old-school, biyatch.  This was grinding and grinding and grinding some more, refining our strategy, tweaking assignments here and there, learning things the hard way that weren’t in the explanation–after all, you can read about a fight, and even see movies of it, but until you’re actually there, it just isn’t as good for learning, at least not for me.  Plus, I was in “roflcowpter” mode for this one (arms spec) since it’s a one-tank fight, so I had to shift gears and remember my “waiting for Godot” rotation that I hadn’t played in a few weeks.

But y’know what?  We eventually beat the Yoggy out of him, too.  Our fourth new kill of the weekend, and a great way to end an awesome lockout period.  Sadly, we didn’t have time to attempt Thorim, so Dorritow gets to keep her hair its natural color.  For now.  Doom comes for you, darlin’, and it comes with a bottle of purple hair dye.

Today I didn’t even have to use my AK…

I gotta say it was a good day.

We finally got ourselves back on track last night in The Anvil…two, count ’em, two new bosses tasted floor.

First, Auriaya the Crazy Cat Lady.  We’ve been working on her, when we had the people, for three weeks.  And it took us about that long to finally work out the logistics of the pull.  This fight is a lot like old High King Maulgar…it’s all about the complex pull.  Get the pull right, and you’re well on your way.  Get the pull wrong, and you’re kibble.  Literally.  Those four cats following her around in 25-man mode will kill a single tank with 40k health, through a Shield Wall, in one second if they aren’t split apart immediately.  (Don’t ask how I know this.  Just don’t.)

So we did it by having hunters and shamans lay down a veritable forest of traps and totems on the lower platform to one side of the stairway, at the end of her pathing.  (One of our tree druids also threw in an exploding bunny decoy for lulz.  Cats love it!)  Meanwhile, the rest of the party cowered stealthily hid themselves in ambush behind the wall to the right of the stairs.  When Auriaya saw the mess we left and stopped to angrily clean it up, two hunters targeted two of the cats and misdirected them onto we two offtanks, and we had to taunt the other two, while the MT grabbed Auriaya and pulled her off to one side.  The whole thing, of course, had to be executed without anybody getting in line of sight of the cats too early, otherwise it was nomnomnom time.

That part, we got, although a badly-timed fear killed me once (not good to have all the healers feared when I’m taking 16k damage per tick from Rip Flesh).  What kept kicking our asses was the Feral Defender.  Oh, Feral Defender, how I hate you.  Hate hate haaaaaate.  How in the name of Friskies do you fracking control this thing as an offtank?  They tasked me and the DK offtank with trying to hang onto it at first, and let the DPS focus on Auriaya.  That didn’t work.  I’ve never had a mob go immune to Taunt due to diminishing returns before, but damned if that cat didn’t do it.  Even with the trick of keeping Vigilance on the MT for faster Taunt refreshes, I couldn’t hang onto the dumbass thing for longer than a second.

After the first wipe, new plan:  We’d kill it and just deal with the big pile of voidpoo it leaves behind every time it dies and resses.  OK, good enough.  But it was still curbstomping its way through the DPS.  I just couldn’t handle it, which annoyed the piss out of me.

On our successful attempt, the other offtank, a DK, did most of the work on kitteh.  He was able to handle it much better than I did; whether through my own incompetence, the general overpoweredness of death nuggets, or a better suitability for that particular task, he did a better job of keeping it out of the DPS.  On its fourth incarnation, we just decided to leave it up because by that time, Auriaya was down to 30% anyway.  And then, with a bloodcurdling scream, she was dead and coughing up our lootses.

After that, we paid a visit to the Iron Council.  Generally it’s a pretty easy fight, which of course means I managed to find a way to cock it up at least once.  Our MT handled the big golem and his FALCON–uh, FUSION POOOOOONCH, I handled the vyrkul and his runes, and the DK played with the flying iron dwarf.  Two wipes ensued while the healers worked through the insane damage of Fusion Punch and we learned the fight in general.

On our third attempt, we were sailing along, having just dropped the golem, when I was a half-second slow in getting my guy out of a Blue Rune of Pwn.  31k to the side of the head, GOOD NIGHT CLEVELAND WE LOVE YOU YOU ROCK.  The ensuing conversation went like this:

Druid 1:  “My res is up, who should I get?”  (We had me and a rogue dead at this point.)

Raid officer:  “Shukir.” (the rogue)

Druid 2:  “Should I get Lin?”

Raid officer:  “No need.”


So I got to watch the rest of the fight, and the raid first kill of the Council, from the Sprawl of Shame.  Although I think I did win an Internets when I mentioned on Vent that when he’s flying around the room, the iron dwarf looks like some kind of bizarre electrified Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.  “Garfield, noooooo!”

I got some loot, namely Veranus’ Bane from Razorscale and Mimiron’s Inferno Couplings from Flame Leviathan.  That’s cool.  More importantly, though, the raid felt better than it had in weeks.  Even on the repeated Auriaya wipes, people kept a good attitude and made constructive suggestions, and sure enough, we had our “click” moment and got a first kill.  Iron Council, even with the first two wipes, never felt like it was in doubt before the night was over.

So tonight, we visit Captain Crotchpocket, and after that it’s on to Freya.  I’ll bring the Weed-B-Gon.

Of unicorns and other imaginary things

See that right there?  That, my friends, is the Commendation of Kael’thas.  Back during the last part of Burning Crusade, this little trinket was the shizzle if you were a tank that, like me, had no real hope of seeing Sunwell or even much of Black Temple.  +57 stamina?  Awesome.  And look at all that automatic emergency ass-saving dodge!  I literally can’t count how many times this thing kept me alive when things went pear-shaped.

I got that on my first run into heroic Magister’s Terrace, believe it or not.  (Yes, that’s it, drink the tasty Haterade, peeps.)  And it was my constant tanky companion through Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep.  It was awesome to be rocking one of these back then.

When you’re offtanking Ulduar 25-man?  Not.  So.  Freaking.  Much.

My wife knows that if she wants to hear me rant, all she’s got to do is mention the words “tank trinket” and then dive behind the sofa.  Trinkets for raid-geared plate tanks are hard as hell to find.  There’s the Seal of the Pantheon from Halls of Lightning, of course, which is generally considered to be a necessary “entry-level” trinket just because of the massive +65 defense rating (Lin’s still wearing one, because stacking +defense is actually quite effective).  But getting into Naxx, well, there isn’t much.  There’s the Repelling Charge from Thaddius on 10-man…assuming you’re in a 10-man that can get to Thaddius, which I wasn’t for quite a while, and that it drops, which I’ve only seen once in 4+ months.  There’s the Defender’s Code, which is more of a druid trinket with the static +850 armor and the on-demand hefty +dodge, but doesn’t have any +stamina.  The badge trinket, the Valor Medal of the First War…again, all +dodge, and no stamina.

Which is why, weeks into Ulduar 25, with every other piece of Linedan’s gear at ilevel 200 or higher, he was running around with a damned item level 115 level 70 trinket still firmly glued into his first trinket slot.  Because tank trinket upgrades, like unicorns, leprechauns, and politicians that actually want to cut government spending, don’t really exist.  They’re just imaginary figures.

Until last night.

I’d like to thank Captain Crotchpocket, aka Ignis the Furnace Master, for supplying me with this lovely little item, the Heart of Iron.  Yep, that’s right, kids, that’s not a misprint…one hundred and sixty-two points of tasty, tasty stamina.  1717 health off one trinket, and some emergency dodge thrown in. 

Linedan now has almost 32,000 unbuffed health, and with full 25-man raid buffs is up over 41,000, competitive with our other two raid tanks.  And y’know, it still doesn’t feel like enough on some fights.  I’m beginning to wonder if Ulduar is harkening back to the Burning Crusade days where if you were a warrior, there was only one gem you ever put in your gem slots unless you had to activate a meta–stamina uber alles.  It seems that Ulduar is all about BIG NUMBERS…even the trash routinely spanks a pimped-out tank for well into five digits per hit.

Lin’s now one belt away from the Epic achievement.

It felt good to see the Anvil get back out of the ditch and put the hammer down last night.  Loot Leviathan, Razorscale, Ignis, XT, and Kologarn all went down without too much fuss.  Now we’re working on Auriaya, the Crazy Cat Lady.  And all I have to say about that fight is, now I think I know what a yarn ball feels like.

I’m not a bad anymore…I think?

My wife runs Wednesday nights with a 10-man raid that’s made up of folks from our normal The Anvil 25-man Thursday/Friday raid.  The raid’s called “No Bads.”  I like to joke around with her that this means that I’m “a bad,” since I’m not running with “No Bads.”  Get it?  Yeah, it’s not that funny to her, either.

Last night about 8:45, as I’m messing around Alliance-side on my dwarf, she asks me, “you have any interest in 10-man Ulduar?”  I was shocked, as I’ve never been part of this raid before; their tank rotation is set and very reliable–our 25-man MT, Gorebash, and the raid organizer, Haicu the DK.  “What, Gore’s busy tonight?”, I asked, surprised.

“No,” she replied.  “Haicu says he needs you as DPS.”

Now, you’ve got to understand, yes, I do have a secondary DPS spec on Lin, 54/17/0 Arms.  But I’ve never been able to squeeze more than 2400 dps overall out of him in a 10-man Naxx.  Ever.  His best performance on Patchwerk, a good benchmark, was 3700 dps a couple weeks back; not bad for a part-time DPSer, but way under what all the other DPS in this well-geared, well-running 10-man can do.  His weapon was a Wraith Spear that I hadn’t had a chance to get enchanted.  He’s still rocking a couple of ilevel 187 crafted blues.  And I’m still learning my way around the spec.

Still, I’m friends with this crew, and they needed people.  So if they needed a bad No Bad, then a bad No Bad I would be.

It was a good run–Flame Leviathan, XT-002, Kologarn, Auriaya, all one-shots.  We had some trouble on Hodir but got him on the third try, then went back and cleared out the Iron Council, Razorscale, and Ignis and called the raid 30 minutes early.  I understand Haicu calling it early; we were doing very well, but out of our five DPS, I was a full 1300 below the fourth-ranked deeps on my Recount.  I scraped out about 2200 for the entire raid and barely beat Haicu as the offtank, in fact.  (By comparison, on my Recount, all four of the other DPS were between 3400 and 3800 for the entire night, trash included.)  Throw in two of us never having seen Freya before, and we gladly took our 8 kills and ran.  In fact, this was the first time I got to see the Iron Council, Auriaya, and Hodir, as our 25-man hasn’t killed Auriaya yet.  So I had fun, and nobody seemed to mind the fact that I was sadly lacking in the painbringing department.

And there were lootses, yes, precious, there were lootses.  For my tanky side, there were new pants:

Yep, Lin’s first piece of T8.  Despite the socket bonus being very nice, those gem slots will hold two +24 stamina blues, and with an armor kit, they’ll be a slight upgrade over the T7.5 pants he’s got now.  My biggest priority on him right now is stacking stamina, as he’s just over 30.2k unbuffed and running about 1000 health behind our other warrior tank.

And his DPS offspec picked up some new pieces of kit as well.  A good cloak upgrade that looks fantastic to boot:

And, finally, a bit of a weapon upgrade.  Granted, this is more of a hunter weapon than an Arms warrior weapon.  The speed’s too fast and the top end damage is a bit low, actually 12 points lower than the Wraith Spear I had, so a Death’s Bite or other very slow 200ish dps weapon might be a little better.  But, I think the higher DPS should still make it something of an upgrade over the Wraith Spear.  Plus, we’re on an RP server, and looks do count for something…and it looks good.  It’ll look better when I get Berserking on it tomorrow night.  Besides, I was at the bottom of the loot list anyway, and nobody else wanted it, so why not?  I can’t Mortal Strike people with an Abyss Crystal.

So thanks to Haicu for having me along and letting me see three fights I’d never seen before, and pick up some loot.  The only downside is, now I have Michael Jackson’s “Bad” stuck in my head.  And I’m mentally rewriting the lyrics into “I’m A Bad.”

Well, maybe it’ll give me something to do at work today when I’m not actually working.

When it all goes horribly wrong


Not long ago, I wrote a post on the Tao of the Click…”the Click” being that magical moment when, after working on a raid encounter for a while, suddenly everything “clicks” into place and you not just beat it, but beat it smoothly and convincingly.  It’s one of the best feelings you can have in raiding.

But as the ancient philosophers of the East have taught us, for every yin there is a yang.  If there is a Tao of the Click, then as Bhelgast over at Tales of the Aggronaut put it, there must be a Tao of the Clunk.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have one of those headache-inducing, wipe-filled disasters that leave you sitting in front of your keyboard shaking your head and wondering why you didn’t take up something less stressful like open-heart surgery or less painful like javelin catching.

We got ours out of the way last week.

The Anvil’s Thursday night foray into Ulduar started off well.  We had solid one-shots on Flame Leviathan, Razorscale, and Ignis.  Our kill of XT-002 wasn’t anything to write home about (anytime you’re battle-rezzing your MT, that’s not good) and would have been a pre-nerf wipe, but we hung in there, stayed with it, and ended up getting him with over half the raid dead due to a bad combination of a too-close gravity bomb and a tantrum.

And then there was Kologarn.  We’ve killed Kologarn twice before, so we set up for the fight figuring we’d get him in one or two tries, and move on to the challenge of Auriaya, aka Crazy Cat Lady.

We wiped eight times on Kologarn.  And on none of those fights did we even get him to 50% health.

One time, I had trouble hanging on to the rubble that spawns when his right arm dies (I was designated rubble tank, our warrior MT and DK tank traded off on Kologarn proper).  Sometimes, the tanks died fast.  Eyebeams were constantly tearing us up.  Healers were disconnecting.  The relative smoothness of the Razorscale and Ignis kills was replaced with missteps, mistakes, and wipes.  The banter on Ventrilo fell away, replaced by silence after each wipe.  The whole thing was probably best summed up by one of our officers after about the fifth or sixth wipe:  “OK, guys, talk to me.  We’ve done this before, we know we can do it, so what’s going wrong?

It wasn’t a situation where you could point at a person and say, “this person is causing issues.”  (Unlike, say, the week before, when my problems holding rubble caused a fair bit of difficulty before we finally got Kologarn down.  I did a lot better on it last week.)  The fail was spread far and wide, and it was feeding off itself.  Eventually, after eight wipes, we hit our hard stop time of midnight Eastern, and that was that.  We’d have to try again the next night, Friday.

Now Friday nights have not been kind to us recently.  Two weeks ago, the premiere of Star Trek cost us so many people that we could only field 19, and ended up trying to get the sub-21-man achievement in Naxx (and failing, due to problems on Gluth).  Last week, at start time, we only had 23 people.  But 23, we figured, was close enough to 25, and in we went.

We couldn’t get past the trash leading to Kologarn.

Let me repeat that, because reading it, even I don’t believe I had to type it:  We couldn’t get past the trash leading to Kologarn.

Now yes, Antechamber of Ulduar trash can be tricky.  They actually remind me a lot of those three bitchy six-pulls in the entrance hallway of Tempest Keep–not hard if you have good crowd control, but nightmarish if you don’t.  Thursday night, we were blessed with four mages in the group, so keeping the stuff crowd-controlled while we smacked it down two at a time was trivial.  Friday night, we still had two mages, a hunter, three tanks, enough druids to start a small zoo…yeah, you’d think, we got this.  Or not.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell what kept happening.  I tend to bear down and focus on my job instead of looking at Big Pictures, and my job was to grab what I was told to grab and go tank it in a corner so it wouldn’t eat squishy fase.  And I did.  And then I’d look up and my Grid was mostly covered in “DEAD.”

After the second wipe, things started getting snippy, just a bit, on Ventrilo.  The snippy quotient got much higher after the third wipe.  After the fourth wipe, I could just tell that things were about to go bad in a big way.  I could hear it in peoples’ voices as a bit of an argument started up.  One person actually just left the raid and the Vent channel.  And that was when mercifully, one of our Chief Cat Herders, the beloved Dorritow, came back over from the officer channel and sent us home for the evening.  It was a good call.  The atmosphere was getting so poisonous and tense that we weren’t going to be good for anything else but more wipes.

Now as I’ve stated before, The Anvil is no Ensidia.  We’re no server-first guild even on Feathermoon, which is firmly mid-pack in terms of raiding (not bad for an RP server, actually).  But we’re a solid raid with a core that’s been together since the days when Gehennas and Baron Geddon were progression content.  We just don’t crash and burn like we did last week…and yet we did.

It’s a sobering experience, and it’s also a reminder that killing a boss a few times doesn’t necessarily make it “farm” content.  (And also, that even “farm” content can occasionally reach out and trip you badly.)  It’s something of a call for each person in the raid to focus on what they’re assigned to do, stay aware of what’s going on around them, and know what to do in every possible situation, otherwise known as “don’t stand in shit.”

So here’s the discussion topic, dear readers.  Have you ever had this happen in your raid?  (If you answer “no,” by the way, I’m pretty sure you’re lying.)  I’m not just talking an “off night.”  I’m talking a night so bad, so chock full of caramel-covered fail, so utterly under your normal performance standards that it leaves you scratching your head as to how it could have possibly happened.  It’s not one or two people repeatedly making mistakes, though that may happen.  It’s a situation where everybody, or nearly everybody, is just not “on,” and it builds on itself until the whole raid’s performance falls apart like a Yugo.  How do you handle it, as a raidleader, as an officer, as just a grunt like me?  When do you keep trying and when do you just throw in the towel and send everybody home?  What do you do?  What can you do?

But hey.  Tomorrow night, we’re going to go back into Ulduar.  And this time, we’re going to pwn Kologarn in the face, boyyyyy and take his itamz.  Because we are resilient, and because we’re not going to let one bad week define who we are.  So we’ll walk right up to the “grumpy old troll who lives under the bridge” (a little Dora the Explorer reference for all you parents up in this heezy), do a /flex, and say:

“Ve are da Anvil, und ve are heah to fuck *clap* you up!

The Tao of the Click

I don’t know how anybody else’s raid works, but something I’ve noticed about The Anvil over the years is that we’re subject to an occasional phenomenon I call The Click.  It goes something like this: 

We’re beating ourselves bloody on a boss encounter, wiping repeatedly, making slow progress with the occasional backslide or silly wipe.  We reform and buff up for our third or fifth or eighth attempt of the night, maybe we make a few minor strategy tweaks, possibly we get a pep talk from an officer.  Nothing, outwardly, appears to distinguish this attempt from any of our other unsuccessful ones.

Then we pull, and something just…happens.

All the adds get picked up exactly when, where, and how they’re supposed to.  Nobody pulls agro, nobody stands in fire/poison/voidpoo (well, not much).  The DPS are hitting on all cylinders, the healing is perfect.  We’ve got 25 people executing their designated roles like we’ve seen this fight a hundred times before instead of just, say, ten.  And a few minutes later, we’ve got a dead boss at our feet, well before any enrage timers, with very few or no deaths in the process.

That’s The Click.  We try an encounter again and again with minimal progress, and then out of the blue, on one particular attempt, everything just clicks and we slap down the boss like he owes us money.  (Which, if you think about it, he does.)

And for today’s example of The Click, I submit, as Exhibit A (for asshole)…


…Ignis the Furnace Master.  Also known as “Captain Crotchpocket.”  (Picture courtesy of WoWWiki.)  Ignis is an optional boss in the front end of Ulduar, a friggin’ huge fire giant who’s wearing a giant wiggling pot of boiling slag in front of his package.  I can almost picture him standing in front of his furnace, humming a little Justin Timberlake…”one, cut a hole in the pot…two, put your junk in the pot…three, throw an elf in the pot…”

Anyhoo, Ignis is a “don’t stand in shit” fight with a twist.  Every so often he spawns a golem construct from the side of the room.  That construct has to be parked in the fire that Ignis leaves behind (I guess it’s spilled crotchslag), which eventually turns it “molten” and drops its agro.  The molten construct then has to be pulled over into a pool of water on either side of the room, turning it “brittle,” and leaving it vulnerable to being shattered by a strong attack.

Ignis was our stumbling block for two weeks.  When we went in there a week ago last Friday, we got, not to put too fine a point on it, owned.  Our best attempt out of six or seven was 55%.  This past Thursday was more of the same.  We tried a variety of different placements and kiting patterns, two tanks on the constructs, one tank on the constructs, but nothing seemed to work.  We were still just getting savaged, including one of our better wipes in recent memory–a 33-second, start-to-finish, wipe where he Scorched the entire raid before our tank could get him turned around.

We came in Friday night with a refined strategy for handling constructs and a revised pattern for our MT to move Ignis around, making it easier to get constructs molten while keeping the raid from standing in, y’know, fire.  Our DK offtank would use Chains of Ice to park the constructs in fire and, once they were molten, use his handy-dandy Death Grip to yoink them over to the pools where our mages would then dispatch them.  (It also didn’t hurt that they recently made the constructs go molten in half the time they did pre-nerf.  This one-tank technique may not have worked otherwise.)  Since my services were not needed to tank (*sniff*), I got to try out my Arms spec for the first time in a 25-man.

From the first five seconds of the first attempt, all the failures and foul-ups of the previous two nights disappeared.  It was perfect.  People didn’t stand in fire much, everybody who got thrown into the crotchpot got healed, our DK/mage team handled the constructs with apparent ease.  We were rolling.  After never getting him below about 50%, we dropped him on our first attempt of the night, with no deaths.  Everybody was still talking about it when we broke up a couple hours later.  That, my friends, is a prime example of The Click.  We went from flailing to fantastic in the space of six minutes.

The problem is, The Click is not controllable.  All you can do is know your role and perform it to the best of your ability, all the officers can do is work up coherent strategies and make sure people are assigned where they need to be.  You can do all that and still wipe nine times straight on a progression boss.  It just happens.  And yet, you can go into the tenth pull, do the exact same things the exact same way, and bang, you give the boss the pimp hand and look like you’re one of those world-first EU guilds doing it.

You can’t really summon The Click on demand, but you can give yourselves the best opportunity for it to happen.  Just be your best.  Be geared properly, have your enchants and gems and buff food and potions squared away, be attentive, know the fight and know exactly what you are expected to do by your raid.  Then just go out there and do your best, every time.  Execute the strategy to the best of your ability.  And if 10 or 25 people do that all at the same time, with a bit of luck sprinkled in…well, maybe The Click is a little more controllable than I thought.

It’s a young man’s game

In 1990, when I was 24 years old, I moved back to central Virginia, where I grew up, from the Washington, DC suburbs.  This brought me back into touch with a crew that I had done pen-and-paper gaming with whenever I was back home from college, or visiting from DC.  We always met and played at the same house, out in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere about four miles from civilization, down a quarter-mile of steep, rutted, bodywork-busting rock-and-dirt “driveway.”

Oddly enough, none of us ever drank much booze.  We loaded up on Diet Coke and Mountain Dew and tap water, on gigantic bowls of popcorn and gobs of fried rice and bags of Doritos and the occasional supermarket pizza as a “real meal.”  And we gamed.  God, did we game.  AD&D much of the time, with rotating DMs through a whole series of homebuilt adventures mixed in with some classics like the old Against the Giants modules–probably still my favorite packaged AD&D adventures of all time.  Sometimes, we’d shift over to FASA’s Mechwarrior.  Weekend after weekend, the floor was cleared off, the 30mm hex grid was laid down, miniatures were placed, dice flew, and the saga of the First Guardians Mercenary Mechwarrior Company unfolded in imaginary fire and steel.  I was the GM, most of the time.  And I always lost–not just because the players were supposed to win, but because I am, quite probably, the worst Battletech player of all fricking time.

We did this most Friday and some Saturday nights.  If we got done before 1 am, it was early.  2:00 was about average.  And several times, after some particularly epic adventure or tense roleplay, we’d stagger out into the damp morning air down by the James River, jittery with caffeine and reeking of cigarette smoke, and drive to our respective homes with the Saturday or Sunday morning sun to greet us.  I’d get home, stagger down to my apartment, throw my stinky clothes in the washer, and faceplant into my pillow.  And about six hours later, I’d wake up, cocked locked and ready to rock, feeling like a million bucks, ready to do it again.

That was a long time ago.

Now I’m 42.  I have a three-year-old daughter, and a job where they occasionally expect me to be coherent.  I 25-man raid two nights a week, 9:00 – 12:00 Eastern on Thursdays and 9:30 – 12:30 Eastern on Fridays, with occasional 10-mans about 8:30 – 12:30 on Saturdays.  Afterward, of course, there needs to be some time to chill and slow the brain down, so I’m rarely in bed before 1:00, sometimes as late as 1:30.  Minimal snack food, minimal caffeine (but some, I’m still an addict), just me and my wife at our computers and 23 friends on the other side of the screen.  I hit the sack, and I get up six hours later…

…and I feel like shit.  I’m sitting here right now thinking that I really should be doing some work, or at least finishing up an RP forum post I owe my Alliance guild, or working on next month’s budget, or reading Iron Council strats in case we finally get by Ignus tonight…and all I can do is sit here in a half-stupor and bang out this semi-rambling post about, well, sitting here in a half-stupor.

I have friends who seem to be able to get by on ridiculously small amounts of sleep–not just “get by,” but function fully.  I’m not one of them.  I have no idea why.

I very rarely wish I was 25 again.  I’m pretty comfortable with who I am and where I am, and try not to look back and second-guess things very often.  But this is one of those times.  I remember those days of being able to shrug off 11 solid hours of D&D in a smoke-filled living room like it was nothing…and wonder why 3 1/2 hours of a WoW raid kicks my ass so hard.

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?

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.

Don’t you, forget about meeee…


Consider, if you will…Malygos.  Aspect of the Blue Dragonflight.  Lord of Magic.  Along with the other four Aspects, the Titans placed them to guard and guide the development of the world of Azeroth.  Pretty heavy stuff.

What must this poor guy’s adolescence have been like?

I mean, c’mon.  Master of Magic.  That just screams “nerd.”  Can’t you see Malygos trying to sit at the lunch table with Neltharion, Alexstrasza, Nozdormu, and Ysera and getting totally blown off?  Obviously, Neltharion is the studmuffin bad-boy jock that all the girls love and their parents hate.  Alex?  The hot, popular cheerleader who’s a little spoiled but loves fluffy bunnies and generally has her heart in the right place…she’s also probably either fending off Neltharion or has already done it with him in the back of his Camaro a couple times.  Ysera’s the weird, dreamy chick who reads Kerouac and likes to wander in the fields and talk to trees.  Nozdormu is a total stoner who’s baked out of his mind most of the time.  And then there’s Malygos, with his 4.6 GPA and high-water pants and total lack of social skills, draco dorkus supremus, trying desperately to fit in.  And failing.  Oh, Ysera probably likes him well enough, and Alexstrasza has a little sympathy toward him when he epic fails the tail-swipe part of gym class.  But he’s still a complete outcast.

It’s like some utterly fucked-up version of The Breakfast Club, but with wings and scales.

So you know what happens to Scorned Geeks, right?  They grow up.  And get even smarter.  And invent things.  And get even more powerful.  And if they’re lucky, they build Secret Lairs and have Devious Plans to gain revenge on all those who wronged them.  Such is Malygos.

Unfortunately for Malygos and the revenge fantasies of nerd dragons everywhere, 25 of us from the Anvil wandered into the Eye of Eternity last night and gave Malygos the worst beatdown since Neltharion wedgied him in the hallway outside trig class.  Which is to say…

…with at least 10 people who’d never seen the fight before, we went in there and got him on our fifth try in our very first week.

Not that it was easy.  Even the Server Gods conspired against us, giving us a 25-minute late start because the instance lagged out and crashed just before we were ready to pull.  On the first attempt, the main tank died and I took over for a bit, but we wiped when he enraged just before phase 3.

The second attempt was even weirder.  We blew through phase 1 in pretty good time and got started on phase 2…and then I noticed he was still flying around clipped through the platform.  I made some comment on Vent like “What is he doing down here?”  The reply?  “Eating people.”  Yep.  Malygos was still alive, still attacking, and meleeing people to death…while being completely untargetable.  G frickin’ G, Blizz.  Nice one.

Attempts 3 (33%) and 4 (13%) were matters of working on sticking together during phase 3 and dying less.  The final piece of the puzzle was when a bunch of us decided to change our two-stack rotation of Engulf in Flames to a three-stack rotation (basically, “1112” instead of “112”).  It seemed to work.  He enraged, and he ganked about 15 of us, but dammit, we got him even if it was 12 14 seconds after the enrage timer.

We still had an hour left before our stop time.  So it was off to the Obsidian Sanctum to work on Sartharion +2 drakes again…one-shot, baby.  Not the prettiest ever, and I won’t go into my suckage on add-gathering too much, but we did it.  We even had time to fly up to Naxxramas and do a high-speed low-drag roflstomp on the Spider wing.  That just leaves us three wings + the top floor of Naxx tonight with three hours to do it, and then we’ll have reached a raid goal–clear all the 25-man non-PvP raid content in our two normal nights of raiding.  Malygos, Sartharion, and Naxx in six hours or less.  All that’s left for us now is the Big Kahuna…Sartharion +3 drakes.  We start that next week.

So yeah, it was a night made of awesome.  No loot for me, but pfft, I don’t care.  We killed Malygos on our first week, we’re finally in position to “win the game” with Sarth +3, and I got to write a blog post with a Breakfast Club reference.  It’s a good day, peeps.  A very good day.

Damn you, Cylons

We were down several people on the raid tonight because of the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. We did Sapphiron easy enough with 21 in the raid, and should have been able to do KT…but only having one guy handling all four bugs during the final phase (which he was doing a great job on) left us too vulnerable to him getting mind-controlled or iceblocked.  So guess who KT kept picking to mind-control or iceblock?

We got him on the fifth try after we drug three more people in to help.  Then Sarth +1 because after five KT fights, it’s all we had time for.  So Malygos gets a week reprieve before the Anvil comes to take his lunch money.

I can’t go, Coach

I love my raid.  Notice I didn’t say I love raiding…my interest in raiding, and WoW in general, waxes and wanes with time.  But even if I’m not playing WoW every night and indulging in other timesinks, I still love my raid.  We’ve had the same core of good people together for almost three years now, and honestly, it’s been really good to me from every standpoint I can see–it’s made me a better player, gotten me lots of phat virtual loot, let me see and experience things in the game that I never thought I would, and given me some awesome memories.

Because of all this, I’m loyal to them.  I want to be there for every raid that I can possibly make, real life permitting.  (We have a very strict “real life first” policy…missing raids due to RL scheduling interference is understood and expected.)  Admittedly, part of my pushing for 100% attendance is because I have that lovely little phenomenon known as Performance Issues…even after all this time, I can’t quite shut up that annoying little voice at the back of my head that says “if you aren’t there, they’ll figure out they do better without you and you’ll never get invited again…”  It’s BS, and rationally I know it’s wrong, but rationality is not always the Panzercow’s strong suit.

So at 8:00 Eastern last night, I faithfully answered the call for whispers, and was at Naxx well before 9:00 for first pull.  This, despite the fact that I felt like, to dredge up a term from my old Star Wars fan days, bantha poodoo.

See, sometimes I get headaches.  Nasty headaches.  Not the classic migraine where you get incredibly photosensitive and have to lie down in a dark and quiet room.  Just slowly building headaches that get worse and worse until nausea kicks in and sometimes I throw up.  I used to get them more when I was a kid, but I grew out of them; nowadays they’re exceedingly rare.  This was the first one in a couple of years or more.  I know that if I don’t nip these things in the bud and take some painkiller–just a couple of Advil work fine–early on, and I let them go, they get ugly.  Problem was, we had nothing in the house but some Tylenol PM, and I’m not taking sleepytime medicine before a raid.

So I figured I’d tough it out.  And at first I didn’t feel too bad, but I could tell I was definitely off.  The pain wasn’t intense, but it was enough that I was out of it, a tick slow here and there.  That all culminated 30 minutes into the raid where I got assigned to tank the frontside of Four Horsemen…and made a massive cock-up on a target handoff that wiped the raid.  (Protip:  If you’re tanking Rivendare and supposed to switch to Korthazz with the other tank, mis-targeting and taunting Rivendare again is counter-productive.)

Now I screw up a lot, more than I should.  I’m hard on my own performance.  But rarely do I epic fail so hard that I actually, demonstrably, wipe the snecking raid.  If my headache wasn’t bad before, it sure as hell got worse on that long quiet run back from the entrance.

The second time through 4H, I bore down, concentrated, and did my job right that time.  And indeed, we went on to have one of our better Naxx runs ever.  We cleared all four downstairs wings in 2 hours and 54 minutes, a first.  I tanked Loatheb, Gluth, and Anub’rekhan without difficulty, nobody died on Patchwerk, we even got a couple of achievements along the way.  I picked up a couple of nice pieces of loot, and in general the raid was steamrolling everything in our path.  It was a good raid night.

And I was miserable the whole way.  It was taking a massive effort to keep focused and do my job while railroad spikes pounded into my left temple and I wondered if that Quiznos sub I had for dinner was going to come back up and visit me.  I hung on by my thumbnails, and when we dropped Maexxna at three minutes to midnight, I was grabbing my emblem and hitting my hearthstone before her legs stopped twitching.  I didn’t do any of my usual post-raid ritual of repairing, selling, checking Recount and post-morteming things with my wife.  I landed in Dalaran, logged off, took two Tylenol PM, laid down in bed, and spent an unpleasant hour waiting for the acetaminophen and sleep aid to kick in.

Now, I don’t tell this story to show that I’m some kind of studmuffin.  I’m not.  Ask my wife, I’m a freaking miserable SOB when I get sick.  I tell it to illustrate a point–I probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.  As much as I love my raid and want to give 100% for it every time I’m there, I might’ve been more of a liability than an asset in the shape I was in.

And that’s the topic for discussion, Gentle Readers.  Most of us want to be there for our friends and raidmates, and we want to do our best even if we aren’t at our best.  At what point do you go to your raid officers and say, “Sorry, guys, I feel like crap tonight, you might be better off taking somebody else?”  To use the sports analogy, when do you bench yourself?  Pro athletes almost never do it…but for them, it’s a livelihood.  For us, it’s a diversion.  The rules are a little different.

Discuss among yourselves!

What do I call this thing?

The Lollipop of Death?  The Broken Railroad Signal of Doom?  The Most Real-World Impractical One-Handed Sword Design Ever Seen in WoW?  How about just…Broken Promise?  I got lucky and obtained this last night during the Anvil’s first one-night four-wing Naxx 25 clear, along with Heritage, a good tanking neck.  Tonight, it’s just Sapphy, KT, then on to Sartharion…and maybe Malygos after that.  Great.  Considering that I’ve never successfully completed Aces High, this should be suitably humiliating.  Let’s see, how’s that Blue Dragon Waltz go again?  1123 step, 1123 step, 1123 step?

Further actual content on raiding will be forthcoming later today.  Last night put a question in my head that I think will make an interesting point for discussion.

Keeping it in perspective

Tarsus over at Tanking for Dummies has a great post up about the achievement system and why it’s not always a good thing.  I don’t have a whole lot to add other than that, he nailed it:

I have made no mystery about how yawn worthy I think Achievements are.  I have even recommended that guilds (and the players that want to be part of them) need to build achievements into their charters and core concepts because they be downright divisive. This is a design issue.  Achievements should be an assessment of your skill as a player, but far too many of them depend on luck or persistence or both.  Raid achievements are particularly pithy and either represent more of a gear check, or a ping count.  Some of them outright require that you piss off your fellow raiders.  The new measure of dedication to your WoW buddies must be if you’re still friends after you’ve gotten your Proto-drake.

The thing that I think is perhaps most laughable about this situation is the pursuit of achievements can fly in the face of what, by more practical considerations, are actual achievements.  Did the raid get an upgrade in terms of gear?  Did you finish the raid quickly with minimal deaths?  Did you make efficient use of consumables?  Did you run every raid you could?  Including Archavon?  Did you find a new raider to add to your raid team?

Is your raid stronger today because of what you have done?

Ode to the offtank

Tarsus over at Tanking for Dummies has a great post about the offtank and why he’s important.  As somebody who’s been an offtank for, eh, 90%+ of my raiding career, it’s nice to see somebody appreciate what the other guys in plate and shield (or fur) are doing while the MT dances with Big Nasty.

Needz moar skullz, IMO

Every raid, sooner or later, is going to have One of Those Nights.  Ours was last night.  Our MT was sick and our usual pally OT was ret-spec to provide extra DPS, because our #1 DPS fury warrior was out of town for his birthday.  We were down a couple of other regulars and couldn’t find enough subs, so when it came time to see the Four Horsemen, Sapphiron, and KT, we had 23 or 24 people, with a couple of lineup changes as we went along.

It was one of those nights were we were just having weird stuff happen.  I know I was way off peak performance, with several silly deaths and some flub-ups here and there.  In the end, after several wipes, we persevered, and finished clearing Naxxramas.  Dessert was a ragged, but ultimately successful, one-shot of Sarth +1 with 22 people.

After we were done celebrating killing Kel’Thuzad, I walked over into what turned out to be KT’s bathroom.  Having a bright idea, I managed to pry one of the doors off his medicine cabinet and use it as a shield (see above).  Thus, I give you Linedan’s first ilevel 226 epic:

So yes, Linedan is a walking, talking, skull billboard.  And if you think that medicine cabinet door is scary, you should see what his toilet seat lid looked like.  DO NOT WANT.

Madness? This…is…DARGONS!

We got it on the fourth try.

That is easily the most insane fight I have ever seen in WoW.  It makes all the stuff I thought was crazy–Majordomo Executus, Vashj, even Kael’thas–look like it’s moving in slow motion.  Trying to gather little fire elementals and drag them out of the way before they get hit by lava walls and become big pissy fire elementals while also grabbing drakes and trying to stay alive while doing all of it…daaaaaaaamn.  And there’s still one more drake left to go.

I have got to get better at add-gathering.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I sucked out loud doing it tonight, even on our successful attempt.  Fortunately we had a kick-ass paladin and a hunter who was fast on the icerink traps.  Gotta work on it for next week.

After seeing heroic Sarth +2, heroic Sarth +3 has got to be…ugh.  I’m simultaneously amped about it and dreading it.

Not a bad night’s work

Despite a late start into Naxxramas tonight, everybody but the Horsemen are dead downstairs (thus continuing our odd pattern of dropping exactly one boss more each week on Thursdays, no more, no less).  So Friday gives the Anvil plenty of time to work on Sarth +2 after saying hi to Korthazz, Rivendare, Ziggy, and Blammo, and then going upstairs to give Sapphy and Kel’Thuzad some noogies.  And, we pulled off two things we’ve been after for a while, as seen above–Arachnophobia, and The Safety Dance.

The “Superior” achievement seems a bit odd, though.  It says “equip a superior item in every slot with a minimum item level of 187.”  Well, apparently that doesn’t mean that all my items have to have a minimum of 187.  I’m still carrying around a craptacular ilevel 174 blue in my ranged slot (Weighted Throwing Axe) because I’ve been slack about getting an Armor-Plated Combat Shotgun made.  And one of my trinkets is the most overinflated and still-useful ilevel 115 purple ever–the Commendation of Kael’thas from Magister’s Terrace.  (I actually have two BC purple trinkets…as part of my shield block set, I swap in Coren’s Lucky Coin from last year’s Brewfest.)

What put me over the top on the achievement was replacing the last of my crafted gear–Tempered Saronite Bracers–with the 60-Valor-badge tanking bracers, the Bracers of Dalaran’s Parapets.  I’ve had terrible luck even seeing tank bracers, much less getting them, so the badge bracers are perfect.  I also picked up two more pieces of DPS plate that nobody else wanted.  Slowly, I’m building at least part of an epic-level deeps set, with 3.1 dual specs in mind.  I don’t really know what I’m doing in terms of itemization, and I’m not bothering to get it enchanted right now, but I figure, hey, if the name’s purple and it’s got +strength, +stamina, and +pwn, and I’m at the bottom of the Suicide Kings list anyway, and nobody else wants it…why not?

I experimented with Grid as a raidframe tonight and it worked out well.  It’s small enough that I could block it out and ignore it when I needed to, and still glance over and keep track of peoples’ statuses on the few occasions I had to know them.  My new UI configuration still needs some tweaking, but it’s already showing improvements, and should show more when I break some old habits (like looking up for my target frames instead of looking down!).  Once I get it more presentable, there will no doubt be a long and involved post on the UI and the components thereof…maybe next weekend.

Warning, overload

Last week I wrote a post about one of the player-driven factors that I think makes for a great in-game tank–situational awareness.  In it, I wrote that good situational awareness is something that can’t be caught, but it can be learned.  You go, you tank, you die, you wipe, you hork things up, and you learn by sheer experience.  It can be painful, and expensive, and time-consuming, but speaking as somebody who learned by that method, it just works.

But I did come up with at least one way that you might be able to help improve your situational awareness…well, maybe not one “way,” but at least one concept to think about.  That concept is filtering the information that you have to process in order to build your SA.  (By the way, this concept holds true for anybody, regardless of your role.  Healers, DPS, doesn’t matter.  I’m just going to look at it from the view of a tank because that’s the role I play in-game most often.)

Here’s what I mean by that.  We know that if you’re a tank, you have a lot of things to worry about.  Health, agro, positioning, adds, timing, your own cooldowns, and so on.  But there are some things that you don’t need to know about.  For example, if I’m tanking Kel’Thuzad, I don’t really need to know that one of our druids just dropped a big heal on our hunter who just ate a frost volley.  That is not a piece of information I need to do my job.  So why should I include it in the stream of information I have to take in and process?

So for me, that means that when I’m on a raid, since I don’t have a healer, I don’t run raidframes.  Ever.  Quite frankly, there’s two health bars I care about 99.9% of the time…mine, and whatever’s eating my face.  Period.  (If I’m on my hunter, add a third–my pet.)  I have my normal five-man party healthbars up on the left, just because I’ve been too lazy to modify that frame.  But especially in 25-mans, I need the screen real estate that 25 health bars would take up.

Another example.  I’m addicted to Scrolling Combat Text.  It’s a kick-ass addon, still better than the built-in Blizzard combat text.  But SCT can absolutely bombard you with information.  Ever left heals turned on and run with a shadow priest and a paladin?  HOLY GREEN SPAM, BATMAN.  Now as a tank, I like knowing that I’m getting healed.  But generally, I don’t need to know the details.  Especially when I’m getting a heal or replenishment constantly–say, Blood Aura, or Judgement of Whatever Heals Me Every Time I Smack The Mob, or similar stuff.  So I’m going to turn those off.  I’ll keep track of my heals by looking at my health bar and watching for SCT “low health” visual and audio warnings.  It’s that much less stuff that I’ve got to look at and interpret.  Other folks use a HUD-style interface to do the same thing, giving them mob health and their health/mana/energy/RP at a glance without having to even look to the upper-left of the screen.

Basically, my advice would be this:  Take a little time about what you need to know to do your job.  Then group that information into categories–like, say, “got to have,” “nice to have,” “don’t need.”  Once you’ve done that, you can start looking at your interface, your window into WoW.  Think about configuring your UI to maximize the important information, and drop the things you don’t need.

Get rid of as much clutter as possible.  I personally like running with as much screen real estate wide-open as I can so I can see things.  (This, BTW, was why I always hated back-into-the-corner fights like Prince Malchezzar.  I really don’t want to spend four minutes trying to tank blind, relying on other people to tell me where to move, and seeing nothing but flashing lights, yellow numbers, and Eredar package.)  

Strip your UI down to the essentials, use what’s needed, drop what’s unneeded.  You probably don’t actually need to have Recount open during a fight unless you’re wanking off to your l33t d33ps…but you might want to have Omen open instead to make sure where you are on the Threat Parade.  Are all those flashing lights and patterns causing problems?  Turn your spell effects down.  Can’t hear Vent?  Ratchet your in-game sound down so you can.

Basically, use your UI as your first line of defense against information overload.  Filter out the extraneous garbage, and give your brain a little more bandwidth to handle the important stuff.  You’ll thank yourself when you walk out of a raid with a lot smaller headache than normal.