|DoD defeats all ten Faction Champions at once,|
earning "Resilience Will Fix It (25 Player)",
Tournament of Champions
Sands Through the HourglassBlain wasted no time pushing Si Team toward achievement completion. He took hold of the 10-Man stagecoach with all the seriousness of his former 25-Man leading days that I remembered well. The last wintery month of 2009 saw our 10-Man's total obliteration of the first wing in ICC, a shower of achievements raining down in the process. Si Team's first official outing took place on the evening of Saturday, December 12th -- one day after the progression team's first exposure to Arthas' army. In that introductory run, we claimed victory over both "Boned (10 Player)" and "I've Gone and Made a Mess (10 Player)", but Blain wouldn't let up. The next two weeks were primarily spent alleviating the burden of "Full House (10 Player)", an annoyingly complicated kill in which the team artificially dragged the encounter out, spawning far more cultists than was necessary for a standard execution. Dispatching the cultists was easy...forcing an abundance of them to spawn while not being overwhelmed was a tad more vicious in difficulty. Still, Si Team had positioning and strategy polished by the 30th, knocking both it and "I'm on a Boat (10 Player)" out in the same evening.
Aside from the one signifying a full clear of the first wing, the 25-Man had not yet completed an ICC achievement.
Before you rush to condemn Omaric and Bretthew, however, allow me to add some context that may be absent from the story thus far. The dual 25-Man raid leaders had an entirely different mission to accomplish and were busy leading the flock to that end. As noted earlier, raiders who plowed through the Lower Spire were left with plenty of time on their hands, but this free time slowly trickled away as The Plagueworks' unlock date approached. Like a whiteboard from bizarro land, legacy boss names yet to be murdered still appeared in blood red. For Omaric and Bretthew, their immediate concern was to wipe the red away, and rewrite those names in black. Whatever held us up by this point -- gearing concerns, poor players over the holidays -- had to be put to rest.
Our tour of duty started on a cold evening in the middle of December, beginning with Faction Champions. Omaric and Bretthew led us through a granular, heavily micromanaged attack on the Alliance heroes. The goal was to have them all killed within 60 seconds of the first champion's death; the ten Alliance heroes would not make it easy for us. Not only were they randomly chosen from a pool of a possible fourteen, causing to us to adjust our strategy week-to-week, the fight unfolded as if we had dropped out of the sky and into an Arathi Basin blacksmith battle already in progress. Each enemy acted like a player would in PvP, they'd crowd-control, silence, fear, do everything they could to perplex the raid team. In order to pull this off, the raid team would have to demonstrate a bit of PvP savvy of their own -- street smarts that didn't often come naturally to players preferring PvE. Attempts to complete the achievement filled the majority of our evening, finally coming to a close at just three minutes shy of 10 o'clock. The Faction Champions lay at our feet on the floor of the coliseum, within the time dictated by the achievement. "Resilience Will Fix It (25 Player)" was off the whiteboard, the investment of time acting as a painful reminder that some of us needed to revisit Arenas.
The raid leaders weighed the differences in difficulty between what lay ahead in ToC against other outstanding red names. Their judgement was to shift gears once again. So, we returned to the snow-capped peaks cradling Ulduar. We hopped off our Ironbound Proto-Drakes to enter the ancient titan city, making our way deep behind enemy lines, through ancient twisting architecture, arriving at the sealed door marked by four elements. Omaric pressed his virtual hand up against the lock where four symbols were marked: a green leaf, red flame, white snowflake, and blue bolt of lighting. The locks beamed brightly upon activation and spiraled apart; the enormous doors slid open to reveal a massive chamber of stars. We approached via a long causeway, and the floor itself became glass as our insignificant selves collected near the circular platform. We were in the Celestial Planetarium, home to a timeless Titan guardian charged with observing the "Azeroth Experiment" in the absence of his creators.
This was Algalon the Observer, the solitary hard-mode only encounter in Ulduar.
|DoD defeats Algalon the Observer,|
earning "Observed (25 Player)",
Astral WalkersWhen not fielding the excitement of homeless people suffering heart attacks at my front door, I had the luxury of attending a 10-Man defeat of Algalon a few weeks earlier. Much to the delight of the raid leaders, a sizable chunk of the 25-Man progression team shared similar exposure. Ostensibly, this first hand experience would ease us into a flatter learning curve for the more significant 25-Man execution on deck. The gamble paid off. No mechanics significantly differed between 10 and 25. The only noticeable change was the most logical: everything hit harder, the go-to stratagem Blizzard employed when attempting to scale raid difficulty. In many cases, scaling damage while keeping all other mechanics intact was a viable solution, the effect of which produced a "lite" version in 10-Man mode, perfect for those guilds who chose to approach raiding with a less serious amount of dedication. On the flip side, being exposed to this simpler version gave 25-Man raiding guilds an edge in learning the more brutal implementation. Like add-ons, I saw the 10-Man versions as tools, and we would take advantage of every tool we could in order to maintain competitive 25-Man progression.
Algalon attempts were noticeably tighter. One might predict this behavior was a result of the looming timer hovering atop the raid's UI -- a permanent reminder burned into all eyes that every second was precious...and slipping away. With only one hour of attempts per week, attempts had to be efficient, recoveries quick. It was imperative that the mechanics of the encounter remained fresh in players' minds from week to week. The more new faces we took each week, the tougher the challenge grew as we revisited mechanics: dodging the cosmic smash, watching out for the living constellations, being aware of black holes and their tendency to appear underfoot. Indeed, December was focused heavily on ridding ourselves of Algalon, and after what seemed like an eternity, he fell on the fifth week of attempts, two days after Christmas morning. To us, Algalon seemed to stretch out the fabric of time, but for the Celestial Guardian himself, it was a mere four hours and eleven minutes in a room with Descendants of Draenor.
Algalon's defeat by the 25-Man progression team marked our official completion of Ulduar in its entirety. To this day, it remains one of (if not) the most remarkable experiences ever put in front of us. The addition of a final "hard mode only" boss provided an unmatched level of polish to Ulduar. It was a final, significant challenge to sate the hunger of progression-focused raiders, giving them one last chance to push themselves to new levels, ones they most likely never thought achievable. In the changing landscape that was raid content in World of Warcraft, where "hard modes" were optional, and standard clears were a mindless endeavor, bosses like Algalon sent a message back to the raiding community:
We know that not all raiders share the same dedication to tackling difficult content, and that shouldn't be a barrier to entry...
...but some of you are still out there. Let's see if you have what it takes.
|The 25-Man progression team poses after their defeat|
of Algalon the Observer,
|DoD keeps everyone from staying impaled over 8 seconds|
during Lord Marrowgar, earning "Boned (25 Player)",
CrammingA blue post confirmed our suspicions. The second wing of Icecrown Citadel, the Plagueworks, would unlock on January 5th, 2010. We'd spent December diverting all our efforts into ToC and Algalon; we had some catching up to do. The final weekend before the 5th saw the 25-Man progression team shifting into overdrive in an attempt to make up lost time. The first checkpoint was "Boned (25 Player)", an execution of Lord Marrowgar in which no member of the raid team remained impaled longer than eight seconds. Rogues and warlocks dominated this fight; burst damage exploded out of players like Riskers, Blain, Eacavissi and Mangetsu, essential to freeing impaled players. Sandwiched between their yellow and purple bars sat our lone boomkin Bulwinkul, bending the night sky to his whim as gestures painted in the air forced blasts of moonlight into Marrowgar's three heads. Meanwhile, I continued to focus my attention on improving DPS, noting that Hellspectral -- a fellow death knight whom had only just respecc'd to frost -- was quickly gaining on me. Without serious improvement on my end, he'd surpass me, a lathe continuing to shave off what little credibility I clung to as a means of justifying the first Shadowmourne.
|Five different cultists are on deck as Lady Deathwhisper falls,|
earning the 25-Man Progression team "Full House (25 Player)",
|The Alliance Gunship is blanketed in explosions|
as DoD earns "I'm on a Boat (25 Player)",
Omaric and Bretthew struggled to maintain control while handing the Lady off to one another. Her threat suppression mechanic increased Deathwhisper's likelihood of turning and swatting melee during this touchy transition. As we neared our completion of Full House, both Blain and Riskers had been dealt a fatal blow. Moments earlier, our warlock officer Eacavissi fell alongside Larada the hunter in a similar ghostly explosion. But the 25-Man team persevered. Lady Deathwhisper gasped her last breath surrounded by a myriad of cultists, and the golden bar flashed up on our screens indicating success.
|Twenty-five swarm scarabs are destroyed in under thirty|
seconds, earning DoD "The Traitor King (25 Player)",
Tournament of Champions
As the final grains of sand trickled through the glass, our plate was in much better shape. We'd taken a huge bite out of the achievements in ToC; Algalon had also been devoured. We took a deep breath of relief and prepared for our entry into The Plagueworks. After the rush of challenging encounters behind us, I thought Team Si's first venture into the second wing would be a breeze.
I thought wrong.