Thursday, January 24, 2013

2.29. Raiding With The Enemy

"Lady Vashj"
Artwork by Jianing Hu

Lady Vashj

Now that DoD's raiding expectations were public and ready to be consumed by the varying personalities in the roster, I felt slightly less anxious about the dark shadow hovering over the team. 5/6 in SSC, the final big, bad gal remained: Lady Vashj, a serpentine Naga with coils of snakes for hair and a penchant for ending the career of many a casual raiding guild. Vashj boasted one of the most complex set of mechanics we had to work through in WoW -- which made it that much more important that our members were intimately clear on what we expected of them. The Lady would require patience, practice, and a significant amount of communication in order to pull off a kill. Thus, work began immediately as we lifted the great seaweed-laden bridge out of the cavern, water gushing out the sides and back down into the murky depths.

Lady Vashj was divided into three distinct phases. Phase one was a non-factor: tank-and-spank her at the center of her podium-style room, paying attention to her Entangle, as roots would sprout up from the ground and lock several players (including the tank) in place, dotting the targets with ticking nature damage in the process. Mitigating this was simple: A Blessing of Freedom rotation was set up by the various paladins, freeing the tank to resume control of holding Vashj in place. The only other concern was Static Charge, placed randomly on a player. As the debuff persisted, AoE damage would eat away at the host and anyone around him as well. Afflicted players had to run to safety, far from the raid, reducing the ambient damage healers dealt with. This phase lasted until Vashj's health dropped to 70%, and was so trivial that the raid had mastered it within several pulls.

Phase two is where the complexity arose. Lady Vashj returned to the center of her podium, activating an impenetrable shield that rendered our attacks useless. The shield was powered by four generators encircling her, and it was our job to destroy them in order to finish her off. How this was accomplished made Magtheridon's Lair look like Magmadar in comparison. The cavern's water level had risen to the base of the steps surrounding the Lady's podium. From this water henceforth emerged Eeementals, moving slowly up the steps, responding to their master's beck and call. If any water elemental were to reach Vashj, they would dissolve and transfer their power to her, granting both strength and size. Letting too many through would guarantee that she would one-shot the tank...

...if we made it far enough to release her from that protective barrier.

Tainted Core to: %t !!!

While the raid spread out around the circumference of the podium, they watched for elementals, killing them before they reached their master. Raiders had to keep an eye out for a specific elemental:: corrupted and green, much like Hydross when pulled from his purifying beams. These tainted elementals were pivotal to the destruction of her shield; killing them produced a Tainted Core, an object we needed to loot and use to disable each generator. The trick was that by looting a Tainted Core, a player became affixed to the floor, unable to move. By being at the base of the steps, this positioning guaranteed they were completely out of range. Therefore, the raid team had to coordinate a series of Tainted Core tosses, in which the crucial object was handed from player-to-player, up the steps, eventually making its way to someone near the generator...blowing it up and getting us a step closer to phase three.

Tainted Core tossing was a complex task even by description. Performing the tactic itself was a nightmare of coordination -- of yelling in vent and of spammed macros announcing who was getting the core, who was tossing it, where it was going to. And this didn't speak to any of the other obstacles continually throwing a wrench into the mix: the coilfang elites that needed to be picked up, tanked and killed, the coilfang striders that needed to be kited and killed by ranged DPS. Anything caught in melee range of a strider would instantly be feared across the room, and elites hacked away at players if not picked up quickly. Phase two was the stuff of nightmares; cube clicking seemed tame by comparison.

Blain had a plan, but it wasn't coming together quite like he had hoped. DPS was falling behind on elites and we'd often have two up instead of one. Choosing who would kite the coilfang striders was still up in the air. Who was the best suited for the task? An elemental shaman? A frost mage? Maybe neither, perhaps a hunter brought the right kit for the task. On our first weekend of work on Lady Vashj, much of our time went into trial-and-error on many of these variables. As always, I deferred to Blain's expertise in matters of raid strategy, keeping the faith that he would soon have it nailed down with whatever modifications were necessary for Descendants of Draenor to make the boss killable. But with such a finely tuned encounter, and a series of players still struggling to come out of their shell and fully exemplify our new expectations, the margin of error was still too small, and Blain began looking at other options to validate his theories.


A few nights after our first weekend of work, my priest officer Neps sent me a whisper, "Do you have a few minutes to help with something?"

"What's going on?"

"Blain's helping Depraved with a Vashj kill. He says they have a few spots open. Can you come??"

I paused a moment to contemplate. Depraved had made a name for themselves during Vanilla as the number one progressed Horde guild on our server. It was Depraved's guild leader, a warlock named Phayder, that boasted the title of Scarab Lord, gained by banging the gong on Deathwing-US many years before and opening the gates of Ahn'Qiraj. Depraved had blown us away in Vanilla, as there was no viable way a non-hardcore raiding guild could compete; we certainly looked like children tripping over their feet in comparison. But by The Burning Crusade, Depraved was beginning to lose market share to Bru and Pretty Pink Pwnies, so their days of keeping a glorious stranglehold on our server's Horde progression were behind them. And perhaps they didn't care.

PPP was a constant thorn-in-my-side in terms of stealing away my best raiders, so any act of faith a competing guild chose to toss our way would be a least at initial glance. To even consider for a moment that a hardcore raiding guild would ever give us the time of day to share a strategy was unheard of, let alone being extended an invitation to participate, to watch first-hand, and to learn how to "do things right".

But as I typed a response to Neps, doubt lingered in the back of my mind. If hardcore raiding guilds didn't really give a damn about others...about us...why the sudden interest in allowing us to participate? Why come to us to fill a few extra spots? Why not Admonished Prophets or Thunder Billies or any number of other guilds on the server that hung below PPP? A sense of paranoia washed over, catapulting me back into Vanilla as I struggled to assimilate guilds, ever teetering on the edge of complete and total collapse.

Was Depraved going to quietly vet my best players and lure them away?

The question remained: do I join Blain and the others in seeing how to fix our mistakes and risk players being poached? Or do I demand that Blain and crew stand down from Depraved's self-serving "gesture", while continuing to burn weeks of trial-and-error wipes on Vashj as a result?

It was time to roll the dice.

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