Thursday, October 18, 2012

2.12. The Accidental Florist

"Crying Tree of Life"
Artwork by Okha (Oksana)


Kerulak was all I knew.

Since the game's launch in November of 2004, all of my end-game knowledge and expertise as a healer had been funneled through my Tauren Shaman. Like many players, I had a number of alts on my account, to break the monotony and see the world through a different pair of eyes. But my alts were low-level and I looked upon them as a hobby in-between polishing Kerulak's gear, assisting with attunement runs. My priority was first and foremost my shaman, Kerulak, so the prospect of putting him on the bench was unnerving and left me feeling a loss of control. My muscle-memory had long been cemented around totems, chain heal, and big single target greater healing waves. Earth Shield was still relatively new, having been added at the start of TBC, and was technically my only legitimate HoT (albeit one that lay dormant until reacting to damage). That is, if you don't count the pathetic heals-over-time that came from a Healing Stream Totem.

I feared the pain of breaking down that muscle and rebuilding it.

Part of the problem was that I was spaz. As far back as I can remember, I struggled with keeping my shit straight as it began to hit the proverbial fan. In emergencies, microseconds before death, I was at my absolute worst from a play perspective. I had a habit of freaking out and spamming a multitude of buttons as I scrambled for my life; in many cases they were the wrong abilities in the wrong order. In order to prevent myself from tripping over my own branches while playing on Breginna's character, it was important for me to keep shared functions in the same places. That muscle memory was all I had to rely on when adrenaline was pumping and I was about to flip out on the keyboard and mouse. I needed to ensure I was a contributor, not a detriment, by bringing this Druid to raids. Embrace the spaz.

My strategy in approaching the adjustment from Shaman to Druid was based around a single concept: Both are healers, so find whatever similarities you can, and map Druid abilities by function to the same keybindings you use with your Shaman. The starting point was the spell both the Shaman and the Druid shared: Nature's Swiftness, granting an instant cast to an otherwise long-casting spell. With Kerulak, the macro was mapped to Greater Healing Wave. This time, it would be Healing Touch. Kerulak could perform an emergency pool of mana regeneration through Mana Tide Totem, so I took my keybinding for it, and changed that to Innervate. Since Healing Touch had taken the place of Greater Healing Wave, I looked at my options. Chain Heal was more of a staple than Lesser Healing Wave in my eyes, and for the Druid, Rejuvenation seemed to follow suit. As a result, I chose to map Regrowth to Lesser Healing Wave, and made Rejuvenation my base spell. I reasoned that, since Earth Shield is what I'd use to protect a tank, I converted that mapping to Swiftmend -- with the expectation that I would have said tank loaded up with HoTs as the prerequisite.

As I wrapped up the changes, all that remained was Tranquility, taking the place (far more significantly, I might add) of Healing Stream Totem. Like an anal retentive chef, I dragged the metaphor even further, replacing Ghost Wolf with Travel Form and Revive with Ancestral Spirit. By this point, abilities were varying wildly, but it came down to function more than naming convention or even the difference between instant and non-instant cast. As for Ankh, a passive triggered upon death, the paradigm shifted the furthest in the form of a druid's Rebirth. This clutch ability was something the raid would rely on me for, so I needed the ability bound front-and-center. When the spazzing began, someone would need to come back from the dead while the raid remained in combat. I stuck to mapping functions in this manner in the hopes that re-learning healing from the ground up would be painless and quick.

Just like how Magtheridon intended to end our pathetic lives.

The Druid Talent Trees during The Burning Crusade

The Feels of Heals

Healing on Breginna's Druid was an entirely refreshing experience. I took advantage of the perpetual-motion machine that was everlasting attunement requests, and leapt in to help as much as possible. I was amazed at how much simpler it was to keep people alive. The freedom to heal while moving was a luxury that Druids took for granted. One can only know the pain of having to keep a Main Tank alive and stay out of the fire at the same time by playing a healer other than a Druid. It required extreme discipline to shuffle around as little as possible in order to maximize cast time, but all those restrictions went out the door with the Druid. With a Disney-like innocence etched into the bark that was the Tree Form's face, I pranced around 5-man heroics like The Arcatraz, The Steamvault, and Shattered Halls, waving my twig-like arms in the area, dolling out HoTs like they were candy, while bouquets of flowers and nature flourished behind me.

This was how the other side lived.

When it came time to return to Gruul's Lair for our weekly run, Ater and company had already been briefed on Breginna's story. The sudden loss of Kerulak from the raid turned the attention of a few raiders, and that was to be expected. I explained myself in Vent and waved to them all from my bird's eye view, gliding down out of the Blade's Edge sky and shifting into humanoid form at the entrance to the Gronn's cave. Yes, there was ribbing, and that was to be expected, but I took it in stride as this is what we did for one another in a family setting. Breginna may have still been new, but she was no less important than the players who had been with us since as far back as Blackwing Lair. We looked out for one another, and joked about each other's ability behind the wheel. We did this because if there was ever truly a legitimate concern about someone's incompetence, the jokes would be a little less playful, would sting a little more...have a little more bite.

They were certain to leave teeth marks.

Behind the wheel of Breginna, High King Maulgar was a bit less stressful, a little less chaotic. I got the hang of layering up Lifebloom to smooth out the otherwise jagged health bar that sat just below Ater's name on my screen. I was the only Resto Druid in the raid, so when I heard a call out for a battle rez, there was no need to debate or question who was being addressed. A button click later, the dead were back in biz, rushing toward the Ogre King with blades in hand. Gruul was equally less taxing. Moving out of the cave-ins was a cinch, as I shuffled the little wide-grinning Tree out of harms way, flinging its arms into the air for heals as I went. Other healers would run low on mana, call out for help, and without giving it a second thought, out came the mana-regenerating magic imbued within Innervate. When I took on the task, I wasn't sure if I would acclimate to the Druid as quickly as I had, but keeping my button functions the same pounded the learning curve into a flat pancake. The High King and Gruul were once again down, and I bid on items on Breginna's behalf, keeping her geared and growing in strength while she was away.

Hanzo plays Breginna during her absence for work,
Gruul's Lair

Magtheridon's Lair

April had come and gone, and with it, the task of digging into TBC’s raid content had finally commenced. But to say we were progressing would be a stretch. Three weeks of the High King and three weeks of Gruul landed us squarely at the beginning of May, and we still had not yet completed Tier 4. Yes, there were issues. Two pieces came from Karazhan, a 10-Man raid not officially on our roster. Two pieces came from Maulgar and Gruul combined, but with only three King kills and a single, solitary defeat of the Dragonkiller on our belts, Tier 4 equipped raiders were still a long way off. But as Blain had taught us, gear did not make a bad player good, so we repeated this mantra every time we slammed up against another wall.

This time, the wall was about to come down on us.

The remaining piece in Tier 4 would come from the pit lord Magtheridon, a pit lord shackled deep beneath the bowels of the Blood Furnace, where Illidan drained his blood as a means to fuel his army of Fel Orcs. If there was any shred of a doubt in the back of my mind that Blizzard misjudged the difficulty for their entry level raids, that doubt was excised from my brain once we set foot in the pit lord's lair. I was none too thrilled to dig into this fight. Word had spread among the raiding community about the sheer ridiculousness in difficulty the boss posed. A few short weeks after The Burning Crusade launched, I remember reading an article on WoW Insider about how Death and Taxes themselves said, not in so many words…
"Fuck that."
DnT leap-frogged past Magtheridon entirely, diving into Tier 5, uninterested in wasting any time dealing with the foolishly designed mechanics of a boss that desperately screamed out to be re-tuned. The High King and Gruul were tough and unforgiving, that was never in question. But they were doable with a raid comprised of team members that were sharp, took accountability for their own actions, positioning and performance. A pro-team could absolutely take out these pro-bosses.

But even professional teams make mistakes, yet still come home with the championship trophy; it's because the game might be complex and technical, there's room for error and recovery -- there's room to breathe.

On the twelfth night of Magtheridon attempts, I felt like I was drowning.

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