Thursday, May 17, 2012

1.10. Hammering Nails With Bare Hands

Descendants of Draenor defeats
Vaelastrasz the Corrupt,
Blackwing Lair

Voice of the Raid

When the corrupted red dragon slumped over dead, nobody in the guild had yet heard Blain speak.

After being informally inducted into the raiding roster by Ater, a relationship that had originally grown out of their shared Lineage II gaming sessions, Blain hadn't been talkative. The guild was known for blurting out crass jokes and nonsensical nerdy references in raid chat as we plowed through trash, but Blain chose to keep things close to the chest. Instead, his focus was on the raid and not so much on goofing off. The results spoke for themselves; in gear marginally better than a player would have minutes after dinging 60, he was wiping the floor with a good number of players in the raid. Some of these players would go on to claim he was cheating; that somehow, the add-on that we tracked damage with (Recount) was broken, and Blain had found a way to "fake" the values that displayed on our individual screens.

Denial, as they say, ain't just a river in Egypt.

We had managed a few attempts on Vaelastrasz before Blain set foot in our guild; they'd all ended poorly. The encounter was incredibly fun, taking advantage of a mechanic no-one had yet experienced: one-by-one, players would be cursed with the "Burning Adrenaline" debuff, giving them limitless mana, energy or rage, and cranking all their ability cooldowns to 0. Once transformed into this raiding machine, the player would have only a few seconds to crank out as much damage (or healing) as they could, before being forced to the back of the room, where the Burning Adrenaline debuff would overwhelm them, igniting them in a final explosion. Anyone near this living dynamite would be along for the ride to an early grave. Without preparatory research, we weren't equipped to manage the tank rotation needed to keep Vael still throughout the process, and he would turn randomly and blanket the raid with a crimson death.

Blain had only just re-written our raid strategy on Razorgore to deal with the undocumented totem aggro change in patch 1.10. His mastery at raid tactics and disinterest in listening to excuses had pushed us back into the Lair, wiping the floor with Razorgore using a legitimate strategy. It was through granular attention to detail that he gauged our viability on Vaelastrasz; if we were short by a thousand DPS, he'd know and would adjust accordingly. Vael was a tightly tuned boss, leaving only enough room to breathe without choking us. And Blain knew we were still very low on the raiding totem pole; most of us were decked out in Tier 1, with the occasional Tier 2 pieces from Onyxia, Ragnaros and Razorgore. Again, we were going to have to get through it legitimately, not by muscling our way through. So he dangled a carrot, and said if we could pound Vael into dirt, he'd speak in Vent.

Vaelastrasz the Corrupt took six weeks of exhaustive practice. We first laid eyes on him on March 14th, and in a moment of triumph on the evening of April 26th, 2006, with nearly all of the raid lying motionless on the floor, a young Mage by the name of Dandrak gained Burning Adrenaline. He unleashed all fiery hell from his finger tips in those last moments; his pyrotechnic acoustics layered amongst various raiders calling out, "Go Dandrak!", "Do it!!", "Kill him!!!". The great red dragon collapsed lifeless against the tiling. Cheers and screams filled our Vent server, our ears bleeding in this masochistic act of nerdism. When the yelling died down, my Shaman officer Kadrok reminded us of the promise, "And now, we must hear Blain speak!"

So on the sixth week, Blain spoke. And it was good.


Blain didn't reveal too much about his personal life, but I wagered a guess that he was located in the southern part of the US. His voice revealed remnants of a partially suppressed southern drawl, the way an accent tends to melt away as person spends time with people not from "these parts". I could relate; as a Canadian transplanted into America, my own pronunciations of words slipped away over time. But when tempers flared, I had a tendency to fall back on my instinctive tongue, rolling out "SORRY!" that was heavy on the SORE part. Likewise, when Blain got frustrated with folks in the raid, I'd catch him starting sentences with "Y'all".

"Y'all need to pay attention."

"I can't do this for y'all".

Then he'd calm down. Just like that, the accent would be gone.

"Do you need me to give you assist?"

I smiled. We lacked the ability to read each other's facial expressions in dealing with one another entirely over VoiP, so it was the little things like the presence or absence of an accent that helped me read my players.

What Blain did reveal in those conversations in the weeks to follow were his experiences from his previous Alliance guild, one in which he raided as a Warrior and cut a path through Blackwing Lair with similar machete-like fashion. I laughed at this revelation: Blain had de-throned all of my rogues on the first day raiding with us, and it wasn't even his primary class. When we chatted, I came to understand his convictions about raiding, and what it took to succeed. In his eyes, performance was about how well you leverage the tools available. Gear didn't matter nearly as much as players thought -- he proved that with the embarrassing weapons he held when he joined us in the Core. Success in raiding required a state of mind and a professional approach. A carpenter doesn't build a house by pounding nails into boards with his fists.

Descendants of Draenor defeats boss no. 3
Broodlord Lashlayer,
Blackwing Lair

Plowing Through the Lair

The day after Vaelastrasz was defeated, we one-shot Broodlord Lashlayer, having never made an attempt against him. It was a euphoric boost in morale after struggling with Razorgore and the six week ordeal of Vael. One-shotting anything in Blackwing Lair legitimized what we set out to accomplish -- hardcore progression on a casual schedule. We were now 3 / 8, and pressing forward. The three drakes were next: Firemaw, Ebonroc and Flamegor, and we were able to knock them out a week at a time. All three of them draped us in Shadow Flame, so our entire raid had to be equipped with Onyxia Scale Cloaks, preventing instant death. We would, on occasion, have a forgetful player who left their cloak in the bank -- or simply failed to put it on -- and we'd know instantly when their health-bar emptied out in a split second. It even happened to Ater a couple of times and the results were nothing short of hysterical.

Everyone makes mistakes. We did our best not to repeat them.

Firemaw required bizarre placement:

Placement for Firemaw, 4th boss of
Blackwing Lair

I stood with the healers at a sharply acute angle against a wall in the suppression room. My view only granted me a glimpse of the tank, which alternated between Ater and Annihilation. This was done to LoS or "keep out of Line-of-Sight" Firemaw's Flame Buffet attack. Flame Buffet would hit everyone in line-of-sight of Firemaw, knock them back, strike them with fire, and stack a debuff which increased the fire damage they took. Staying in and being healed through it was not an option. One by one, melee and ranged had to step in sight of Firemaw, attack, gain a few stacks of Flame Buffet, then fall back to safety and let them drop. Meanwhile, the healers had to handle keeping the Tanks alive, which was especially challenging during tank transition. Moments where neither tank were visible were about as comforting as knowing your pet had broken out of the backyard and escaped into traffic.

Firemaw took patience and practice, but we got him without needing a prescription for Xanax. Ebonroc didn't require nearly the same intricate positioning as his brother, but called for three tanks instead of two, alternating between taunts to prevent Shadow of Ebonroc from inadvertently healing the drake back up to full. Shadow Flame was still an issue, so everyone continued wearing their Onyxia Scale Cloaks, the upside being we would be saved from instant death, the downsize being we lost the stats of our progression gear. For me, it was a loss of a piddly 17 Stamina and 19 Intellect from my Hide of the Wild. Today, it would be barely noticeable. In Vanilla, I lost a solid five minutes of healing mana in an already 15-minute long fight.

Flamegor was the easiest of the three; his mechanics were similar to that of Firemaw, but he unleashed fiery novas onto the raid which kept us wrung almost completely dry of mana. His annoyance was a constant Enrage. Led by Kaleu, our resident beast-masters had to cycle through a dispel rotation -- one we hadn't leveraged since Hunters first acquired Tranquilizing Shot via a drop off Lucifron. It had only been called for on Magmadar, but the Hunters had Molten Core seared into their brain. Putting the rotation back into place was as easy as the flip of a switch.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Firemaw,
fourth boss and first of the drakes,
Blackwing Lair

Random Loot is Random

Our burst of efficiency had a drawback. By the time we were three quarters of the way through Blackwing Lair, we were still geared to a quality best described as "optimistically average". Working backwards, Flamegor had died once, Ebonroc twice, and Firemaw three times. Meanwhile, we had four kills of Broodlord and Vael; Razorgore perhaps twice that. At roughly three drops per boss, that equated to approximately 66 opportunities to upgrade, excluding our weekly clears of Molten Core and Onyxia's Lair. In a perfect world, those 70-ish upgrades would have covered a wide territory of players in the 40-Man team, but unlike a hardcore guild, we didn't take the same 40 people week-to-week. It was not uncommon to have a player reap tremendous rewards from our loot, then not return to the raid for several weeks. Re-training new players, exacerbated by their lack of upgraded gear was crippling, and drew our progress out. 

On top of all this: that handful of gear wasn't exactly a cauldron overflowing with purple power. The drakes were especially stingy with loot; they promised Tier 2 glove drops, but almost never delivered what we needed. In Vanilla, our set bonuses came at 3, 5, and 8 pieces. The most well-equipped folks (by this point) had Helm, Pants, Bracers, and Belt -- four pieces, one shy of the next bonus. Gloves or Boots would sate our hunger for more raid power, but the drakes refused to cater, and Broodlord liked to give us boots we already had. We took what they gave us, scurrying like rats in an alley as they dumped out the occasional scraps of nourishment; a Styleen's Impeding Scarab here, or a Rejuvinating Gem there. More often than not, though, it was garbage random off-pieces that the raid was unwilling to break their Tier 1 bonuses for.

And they knew what was coming, just around the corner: Tier 2 shoulders and chest. Staff of the Shadow FlameAshkandi. They weren't about to forfeit their place in line for a chance at a coveted weapon. They clung to their DKP and we dusted the side-grades. Constrained on gear and approaching the final two bosses of Blackwing Lair, I poured my faith into Blain's ideology. Gear is not what was going to get us over the hump that approached. We were going to have to be disciplined in our attack, leveraging every tool  available. They days of hammering nails with bare hands were over.

Chromaggus and Nefarian were going to need one hell of a hammer.


Dalans said...

Bitches were staff'd

Kizmet said...

"A more powerful spell is active"


Sludgey said...

Was turned on to this blog via reddit today. Slowing working my way up from the beginning. I was there. I was in a 40man guild and Razorgore broke us up. We just had too many casuals. I was the rogue leader and while I had a bit better gear than Blain, I too topped in DPS. Of course, I spec'd combat for raids and everyone else was spec'd for PVP with the old Assassination build (cold blood), which was awesome for destroying mages in PVP. Ambush > Gouge > CB Eviscerate would literally one shot a mage. But I digress, so much of your story rings true, I was an officer in my guild and we all went through the same struggles getting through MC back then. Just trying to get 40 folks online at a time was a struggle in itself.

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for reading! It's great to hear from vanilla folks who shared in our misery -- you know first hand how much of a logistical nightmare the 40m raids were.

...but when they could be pulled off, they were a rush that just can't be matched with the raiding of today.

Auz said...

Just a few edits (and one comment) here, otherwise enjoying the series so far.

preventing instead death (probably instant with regards to the
Onyxia Scale Cloak)

Also set bonuses were 3 5 and 8 at the time =)

I'd also argue that the lack of rush in current content comes from a familiarity of 8 years of raiding. Its harder to feel that rush when you already know a lot of what goes into an encounter and when you will beat it. But those moments also can still exist in certain encounters (IE Firelands Ragnaros had a similar effect to Ragnaros 1.0 for the guilds I was in at the time)

Shawn Holmes said...


Good catches, thanks for those edits!

I'd agree the "rush" still exists, but it is far and few between when compared to those moments we experienced back in the day.

It's obviously further diminished in LFR -- honestly, does it even exist there at all?

Auz said...

No problem! The only feeling I've ever had in LFR (I mostly avoid running it except very occasionally on alts) is relief that the raid went smoothly.

Anonymous said...

My response here is obviously quite dated to when you posted but your dates don't line up chronologically. On your previous introduction of Blain you indicated he started the second week of August 2006, 5 months after your first Razorgore kill/patch 1.10 (which would be absolutely true as patch 1.10 did in fact drop in March 2006). But here you mention you guys killed Vael, with Blain, in April 2006?

Shawn Holmes said...


I understand the confusion. Because of the series of events, I had to decide what made sense to reveal to the reader for narrative purposes. It made sense to outline Razorgore before Vael, as they're remembered by WoW players as #1 and #2 in BWL.

The events, chronologically, were:

1. We kill Razorgore.
2. Blain joins.
3. We kill Vael.
4. Patch 1.10 Hits - Our Razorgore strategy (totem kiting) is flushed down the toilet.
5. Blain re-works the strategy into the kill-all strat.

8YIA bundles those events like this:

1-8: #1, #4 (Razorgore w/o Blain)
1-9: #2, #5 (Razorgore w/ Blain)
1-10: #3. (Vael)

This may explain the weirdness of the dates.

Leo said...

Just stumbled on this today. Good times Ker!!! At first I thought the name looked familiar, eventually I found my old char in this marvel

Glad to see things are good for you and I will definitely read up some more when I get off work!!! Nonamejoe, one of your old resto druids here btw lol

Nostalgia from this is pretty amazing, not gonna lie.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response! I still don't follow your narrative arc as this is how it read to me;

1.) Guild struggles on, but kills Razorgore using the totem aggro strat
2.) A few weeks later, patch 1.10 nullifies totem aggro strat
3.) Guild spends 5 (!!!) months unable to consistently kill Razorgore "it was now the second week of August, 2006. Both Onyxia and Ragnaros were distant memories, and Patch 1.10 was a good five months in the rear-view mirror. And it had not been pleasant. In those five months, we'd failed to kill Razorgore consistently, remaining at an impasse in progression."
4.) Blain joins, under geared for an MC run, blows you guys away with his ability
5.) Reworks your Razorgore strat to traditional 4 corner control strat
6.) You kill Vael after 6 weeks of attempts (April 2006)
7.) In later entries, progress is well into AQ by August 2006 and to the point your stopping and moving to Naxx (difficulty of the last 4 bosses and so-so gear upgrades)

Look, I'm not hating here (I actually have been unable to stop reading as I myself was in a top 100 US guild from Vanilla thru WotLK when I quit playing). This has been such a pleasant run down memory lane. That said, I felt like you were artificially playing up the drama by referencing the struggle on Razorgore at 5 months of the inability to kill him. I say that because, as you know being a guild leader, being stuck progression wise on a boss for 5 months (happened to my guild on M'uru) is often a death sentence.

Shawn Holmes said...


On the contrary, I encourage folks to call out inaccuracies like this. My memory is good but not infallible, and I believe I'm going to have to side with you on this. As it turns out, I may have pulled the wrong date when cross-referencing this piece of DoD history:

He's clearly at 60 by April, followed by a gkick due to (most likely) friendly ribbing/shenanigans (common in the day), and then took a re-invite in Aug...which is coincidentally lining up with your discovery.

I've remembered this piece wrong, and will be updating shortly. +50 DKP.