Thursday, July 26, 2012

1.20. The Longest 1% Ever

Naxxramas Loading Screen
Copyright © Activision/Blizzard

The Balancing Act

Her lair was a prison of webbing. In all directions lay stretched the delicate weavings of a spider large enough to put any arachnaphobe into the fetal position. She sat perched at the far end of this spherical cocoon, twiddling her eight black legs. Evil beads for eyes glared at us while a mandible expanded and contracted, as if licking unseen lips. Her yellow-and-red abdomen dwarfed the raid. And when we made our first pull of Maexxna, she filled our computer speakers with a nightmarish clacking sound, as if two undead claws were being dragged down a chalkboard of despair and anguish. Every time Maexxna uttered these terrifying sounds, I felt my composure slipping away. It was so horrific a sound, in fact, she continued to haunt me well into The Burning Crusade. Spiders sharing Maexxna's model became tamable by Hunters, and I would lose my shit in battlegrounds when the Kill Command was given. That sound made me jump out of my chair and spaz out on my keyboard and mouse in a last-ditch effort to save my pathetic self. Only two other video games had ever made me jump throughout my life: Rescue on Fractalus!, and DOOM.

There was a reason her image graced the Naxxramas loading screen; Maexxna embodied raw, unadulterated fear. This was a good thing™. If Naxxramas was truly the ultimate raid for Vanilla, everyone should have been losing their shit.

Her rules of engagement were a delicate balancing act of nerves, discipline and timing. The main tank would hold Maexxna in the center of her lair, while the raid grouped tightly behind. We were then subjected to an intricate web of mechanics she'd rotate through on forty-second intervals, staggered among each other. One such mechanic caused Maexxna to randomly choose three people and toss them backwards toward the far wall of her nest, encasing them in a cocoon. While incapacitated these players would suffocate; their lives were in the hands of the ranged DPS. It was up to our casters to break them out as quickly as possible. Another mechanic produced a swarm of spiders that would coalesce onto the raid. Off-Tanks would have to do everything in their power to hold AoE aggro on these spiders, so as to not let them attack and kill our healers. Maexxna's venomous mandible also injected a necrotic poison into players, suppressing healing by 90% -- this had to be cleansed immediately. If the Main Tank was the target, unattended poison would guarantee a wipe. We repeated the handling of these mechanics until Maexxna's health dropped to 30%, at which point she would Enrage. While all her mechanics continued to stretch us thin, it became a non-stop burn until either she...or we...ended up dead.

There was just one small twist amid all these mechanics, a monkey-wrench which instilled fear into the hearts of every healer to ever play the game...

...Maexxna would incapacitate the entire raid for a full eight seconds.

Every. Single. Player. 


During Web Spray, nobody would have any control over their character -- every one of the forty players in the raid would be completely immobilized. And while Maexxna was free to continue to tear the flesh away from our Main Tank, we could only watch helplessly as their health dropped to frighteningly low levels. Healers of today may look back on this encounter and think, "What's the big deal? Load the MT up with HoTs before Web Wrap and you're good to go."

In Vanilla, you could only have one unique HoT on a target. Even if you had five priests and five druids, your main tank could only have one Renew, one Regrowth, and one Rejuvination on them at any given moment.

Ater was our most well-geared tank at the end of Vanilla. Fully buffed at the pull, he had 10,047 hit points. Maexxna was striking him for between 2500 and 3500 hp per blow, white damage. HoTs ticked for about 300 hp. If Ater was topped off and lead into the Web Spray with a Shield Block, he'd be in a good shape with a couple of HoTs. But if not, and Maexxna happened to deliver a crushing blow, his health would be nearly empty by the end of the eight seconds. To combat this nerve-wracking mechanic, the healers and I set up a Nature's Swiftness rotation. One by one, the Druids and Shamans would cycle through an instantly cast giant heal at the end of the eight seconds, shooting Ater's health back up and preventing the raid from having a heart-attack. Nature's Swiftness was on a 3-minute cooldown, so a rotation was necessary to keep an emergency heal flowing in.

But while Healers were dealt the worst hand of the roles thanks to Web Wrap, the other roles were similarly impacted. A web-sprayed ranged DPS meant the possibility of players suffocating to death on the walls of Maexxna's nest. Ranged, therefore, absolutely had to make breaking people out of cocoons their number one priority. A web-sprayed off-tank had a pretty tough time collecting up swarms of spiders scurrying across the raid, so the spider swarm had to also take priority over Maexxna herself.

Things fell apart at the 30% mark. After working to perfect our timings with web spray, poison shock, and the never-ending swarm of spiders, we naturally lost a good number of players to web wrap. DPS was slow to move from Maexxna to the targets on the wall, and they would run out of air before we could break them out of their silken prisons. As it had been with Princess Huhuran, Maexxna's game was attrition; keep whittling the raid away piece by piece, so that when the enrage burn phase came at 30%, we wouldn't have the manpower to keep both Ater and the rest of the raid alive. Ater would die, and the remaining tanks would scramble to pick up, but not having the buffs or the gear that Ater possessed, they would be ripped apart as she systematically fed on every last remaining member the raid.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Maexxna,

Winning the Attrition Game

Our goal for each attempt was to keep just one additional player alive as we approached the 30% mark. As we refined our pulls, communication on her phases improved, warnings on the next mechanic were consistent. Our own internal timers began to adjust to Maexxna's, and healers were more prepared to proactively protect players before the spray froze us into position. Web-wrapped targets were broken out faster, and with players being topped off more consistently, those suffocating had more room to breathe before they met their maker behind a mask of webbing.

When the 30% mark hit, Ater granted us one last reprieve: Shield Wall, the last great bastion of defense for a Warrior in Vanilla. He could only use it once per attempt, so he saved it for the first Web Wrap post 30%. It would save his life, but systematically ensure his death by the second, as we watched his health spike from 10k down to 2k...and then nothing. His death marked the burn like a starter pistol. Did we have the manpower alive to tear through her remaining health while she feasted on the aggro list like a menu? Annihilation called out Warriors frantically to burn their Shield Walls as she turned to them, and the gong of RDX rang like a death knell. Ater, dead. Annihilation, dead. Darange, dead. Her taste in our raid team diversified as she found her rhythm, eating one player per second. Another Rogue. Another Druid. Another Shaman. Another Lock.

Having succumbed to the lack of air in my own cocoon, I watched helplessly as her health dropped into the single digits. Amid the chaos of her feasting, RDX showed that we were only down 4 DPS. She continued to one-shot players, eating Siax next--the only DPS Warrior in our raid, joining DoD after his own hardcore raiding guild had collapsed in Naxx. Only two Warriors remained alive: Demus and Kurst, while Zyr and Volitar poured Greater Heals into them.

Dalans yelled out her health "3% go....2% go..."

Kadrok continued to chant "Burn Her!!" to the remaining raiders.

Her health dropped to 1%.


It all seemed surreal. This was our second weekend on Maexxna. Two full months of work in Naxxramas. A year of raiding. Of assimilating guilds, meeting new people, building up a roster. I had gone from a player barely able to make it through Sunken Temple to this...a raiding guild. A 40-Man raiding guild. A Naxxramas-raiding guild. Forty strangers, all working together, virtually. Coordinating. Watching timers, boss alerts, churning out Pyroblasts and Shadow Bolts. We gained players and lost them. Decisions had gone well and gone horribly. And I'd met people that would profoundly affect my decision making in the years to come. What challenges would be next on my plate? Would I be able to handle them?

And it was in that moment that seemed to stretch out for all eternity, a bizarre realization set in. was my birthday.

I'd been so hyper-focused on the guild, on WoW, on our success, on the threat of 2.0 stripping away any further progress we could make in Naxx...that I had forgotten my own birthday.


I glanced up at the screen, The arachnid flipped over in a curled, twitching ball in the center of her nest. 

It was over.

Descendants of Draenor managed to clear The Arachnid Quarter a full month before the release of 2.0. It was our final greatest triumph of Vanilla, and a testament to the resilience of a guild with a year-late start in PvE. We'd grown from a handful of Counter-Strike LAN buddies into a 40-man raiding machine, one of the few Horde guilds on the Deathwing-US server to claim this level of progress. And while most of my success at the helm seemed based off of sheer dumb luck, I nevertheless carried on, trying new things, listening to the folks whom I felt would offer us the greatest chance of success. I vowed to learn from every mistake I made, every bad judgement call that was my doing. Above all, I left Vanilla with a real sense of accomplishment -- that Descendants of Draenor could continue to be a raiding machine with much greater dedication and focus.

But perhaps not to such a degree that I would forget my own birthday.


Gnomey said...

Just curious - why do you refer to Naxx as the 'penultimate' raid? That would mean it is second to last. AQ would be the penultimate vanilla raid, Naxx40 would be the ultimate.

Shawn Holmes said...


Great catch! I've commenced with the beatings on my editor(s).

Unknown said...

I just wanted to drop into the comments section to let you know that this blog is fantastic. I raided in a guild on Azjol-Nerub EU named 'PR'. I joined it as a very young mage and over our progression, which it seems almost identically mirrored yours, i worked my way through the ranks to guild officer. This work is helping me remember those times, which i still remember as some of the happiest gaming-specifc memories i have.

I also feel i should commend your writing. You have managed to make something that is essentially a personal diary , into a hair-standing-on-end thriller.

Thanks and well done!

Saidus - Gnome Mage
PR(RIP) - Azjol-Nerub, EU

Ryan Carter said...

This blog has been absolutely awesome so far! I started WoW back in 2007 and so I was not privy to vanilla raiding, but you have painted quite the vivid picture and made me nostalgic for a time to which I was not present! Your way of writing - the personal, emphatic way - is really quite engaging and I thoroughly enjoy it.

As a former GM, officer, and nobody of many guilds, I can't wait to see what The Burning Crusade has in store for Descendants of Draenor. (and yes that did rhyme)

Vynlarion, Moon Guard (RP)
(dun dun dunnnnn RP)