Thursday, November 27, 2014

4.16. Remember, Remember

DoD defeats Yogg-Saron in the absence of all four
keepers, earning "Alone in the Darkness (25 Player)",

October 31

One month remained before the launch of Cataclysm, and the guild was hungry for that which lay just out of reach. Achievements remained incomplete, and a calculated movement quickly grew among the ranks to solve for x. I had the good fortune of being looped in on many of these invites, and ramped up my availability to meet the needs of the guild. We kicked things off in haste on Hallowe'en night, returning to Ulduar after nearly a year of uninterrupted raiding in Icecrown. The mission: face the Old God once again, sans assistance from the four Keepers. 

It was grueling, even with our ICC-quality gear to offset the difficulty. We had a 20% handicap across the board: we took more damage, pushed out less damage, maintained less health, moved slower...and the 40% less healing taken was the cherry on top. Whatever safety net previously existed was now absent. There was no protective gaze to give us a free life. There was no restorative sanity wells available to keep us from madness. And the brutality of the third phase showed us the true face of the Immortal Guardians: they would not die. It was a race against time to wring every last drop of DPS into Yogg's many mouths, while an encroaching army of Immortal Guardians threatened to dog-pile us into oblivion.

Tentacles surrounded us, grabbing players and slamming them into the floor, and Mangetsu joked, "This reminds me of an anime I watched last night."

We spent an hour and twenty minutes in the darkness, attempting to defeat Yogg-Saron without Fraya, Thorim, Hodir or Mimiron. His thousand gaping maws screamed out in agony as we delivered a final blow, and the golden achievement flashed up "Alone in the Darkness (25 Player)". Our reward was a guaranteed drop of the coveted Mimiron's Head mount. Per DoD's rule, everyone present was allowed to roll on the mount, and Sixfold walked away the winner. We would repeat this kill one more time before Cataclysm, and the second Mimiron's Head went to Mangetsu.

Mature, Falnerashe (and others) execute a clear of 10-Man
Naxx without a single death, earning "The Undying",

November 9

A month had passed since first reaching out to Falnerashe. I kept interactions to a minimum, trying not to come on too strong, trying not to overwhelm. I pinged at random, just to check up, to see how things were, what was going on, if she had any plans for the day. She, too, was attempting to wrap up outstanding achievements, and I took the opportunity to offer help where I could. I never counted on having Falnerashe rejoin DoD, but she was a star healer, so I would have been a fool not to try. When I finally made the pitch, it was as transparent a pane of glass:

Whatever problems you have in DoD, whether they be raid or people related, I will take care of them. At any time, you can shoot me a concern privately -- it doesn't matter how trivial it may seem. Even if all you need to do is rant about stupid people...rant to me. I give you my word: you won't be ignored again. The days of rewarding bad players in this guild are long behind us.

She said she would consider the offer. In the meantime, I walked a fine line between proactivity and harassment. On the 9th of November, we assembled a group to attempt to wrap up an arch-nemesis: The Undying, requiring us to clear an entire 10-Man Naxxramas without any player in the raid eating shit. The Immortal, long since blown, was a write-off by this point, but both Fal and I wanted The Undying...even if the Plagued Proto-Drake was no longer on the table.

Fal brought a few of her friends; I corralled a few from DoD. We 7-manned our way through with a perfectly logical explanation. With less people come less opportunities to die. Slow and steady wins the race, and with care, the seven of us cleared the instance and drew a line through the achievement.

Two days later, Falnerashe accepted a re-invite to Descendants of Draenor.

Mature, Falnerashe, Zedman (and others) defeat Mimiron
without anyone dying, completing "Champion of Ulduar",

November 13

Zedman, now an official member of Descendants of Draenor (and still a full-blooded achievement whore), led his own charge to color in those unfulfilled golden bars. He cracked the whip on a Saturday afternoon, looping us in on a clear through Ulduar, attempting to wrap "Champion of Ulduar" -- the Ulduar equivalent of The Undying. Again, the focus was on not dying, but this time, the design was a little more digestible: each boss was handled individually and could be knocked out in chunks, rather than executing the entire achievement over a single lock. As it stood, nearly all of us needed only Mimiron, the boss most famous for blowing players away at random.

We knocked out achievements along the way: "With Open Arms (10 Player)", "Getting Cold in Here (10 Player)", and "Con-speed-atory (10 Player)"; at every boss, we attempted some kind of achievement for anyone present that required it. By the time we got to Mimiron, things were looking good. We managed to have the giant mech turn a rocket strike back upon his own minions for "Not -So-Friendly Fire (10 Player)"...

...and then he turned a rocket to me. Horse-blinded while in my role as a tank, I missed the targeting reticle and died instantly upon impact.

I could hear the disappointment in Zedman's voice; Fal was silent in vent.

"We are going to get it before Cata," I typed over to Fal in a whisper, "I promise you this."

One week and two days later, I kept my word to Falnerashe. We re-assembled, defeated Mimiron without a death, and earned the achievement and title.

Mature, Neps, Fred, and Hellspectral join a group of
Deathwingers to kill Archavon, Emalon and Koralon
at once, earning "Earth, Wind & Fire (25 Player)",
Lake Wintergrasp

Zedman was unrelenting. He pounced on any opportunity, day or night, to knock out an achievement, and was keenly aware of events transpiring on Deathwing-US...even if my attention was focused on the guild. Late into the evening on the 13th, the Horde reclaimed Wintergrasp, and Zedman took the reins in fielding a crew willing and able to attempt the ridiculous. When the invite arrived, I eyed the roster; there were a few familiar DoDers present -- Fred, Hellspectral and Neps. The rest were strangers.

[From: Zedmann]: Can I give them our Vent info?

[To: Zedmann]: Of course. DoD's policy on vent is open door. Share as needed...with discretion.

The group of random players slowly joined our vent, and Zedman meticulously described how we would pull all three watchers at once: Archavon, Emalon and Koralon, killing them within 60 seconds of each other. We made pull after pull after pull, each one closing the gap on the achievement. But as the Wintergrasp timer ticked away, Zedmann was unable to stay, his RL schedule intervening. We bid him a good night, stayed to defend Wintergrasp when the battle resumed, then reassembled to continue our attempts...

...and completed Zedman's achievement without Zedman. He would go on to earn "Earth Wind & Fire (25 Player)" six months later.

An all-star 10-Man crew of DoD defeats Heroic
Lich King, earning "Bane of the Fallen King",
Icecrown Citadel

November 16

On the 16th, I was honored to be looped in on an all-star 10-Man group intent on defeating Heroic Lich King.  I would tank alongside Drecca, while Neps, Fred, and Gunsmokeco manned the heals. Chosen to push out the maximum possible DPS were Hellspectral, Jungard, Ben (on Boomkin), Larada, and Mangetsu. Three paladins, two death knights, a priest, a shaman, a warrior, a druid, a hunter and a warlock: this was our line-up for Arthas, and our chance to claim any sort of Heroic Lich King kill, 10-Man or otherwise.

Our 25-Man's practice was still burned into our brains, so adapting to the 10-Man version required little adjustment. Phase one's major obstacle was the quick avoidance of shadow traps, which when stood on, would blast players off the platform, plummeting to a grisly death at the base of the citadel. Sending players out quickly to have dispelled Necrotic Plague jump to Shambling Horrors was automatic by this point. Months of practice and built-up muscle memory made this an easy order to digest.

The urgency to clean the platform of Val'kyr was no less real in heroic: they dropped players at 50% health (rather than at death) but had more health, and siphoned life until they were defeated. DPS had to burn every trick they could to maximize their killing strategy. Jungard exploited all opportunities to cleave, while Hellspectral levied massive Howling Blasts on the Val'kyr.

In phase three, the entire raid was pulled into Frostmourne. We zig-zagged our way through a path of Wicked Spirits, DPS desperately trying to apply their trade and prevent the spirits from exploding with crippling AoE damage. It was frantic, challenging, and chaotic; adrenalin pumped throughout each attempt.

There was no shortage of effort that day. After about a half-dozen attempts. Arthas finally met his match in heroic mode, and our small group earned "Bane of the Fallen King (10 Player)". It wasn't 25-Man, but it was still something to proud of....

...and yet, one achievement remained just out of reach.

The all-star team returns to Ulduar and defeats
Algalon utilizing only 226/232 gear, earning
"Herald of the Titans"

November 17

The all-star team returned to the field the next day. Zedman took the place of Ben, while Fred's healing spot was switched out for DPS via Omaric; the rest of the lineup remained unchanged. And on this day, the task at hand was perhaps the most challenging of all: defeat Algalon the Observer (automatically a heroic encounter), while only using gear acquired from Ulduar...or worse. There was no way to fudge this, no opportunity to take advantage of gear from higher tiers as we had with all bosses previous. Even the Lich King encounter could be made a hair easier by pulling gear from 25-Man Halion (ilvl 271), when ICC normally dropping ilvl 264 gear (for 10-Man groups). This achievement allowed no such padding.

Armor could not go above ilvl 226, and the highest allowed weapons were ilvl 232. We took off all our exceptional rewards, collected from ICC over the past year, replacing them with junk. This achievement was going to be about raw skill and discipline, nothing else. If there was ever a fight that proved Blain's long standing claim that "gear doesn't make a bad player good", this was that fight.

Algalon was just as brutal as the day we began practicing the encounter. Simple accidents meant instant wipes. Transitions for Big Bang had to be fluid, and healers had to be on their game to grant death-preventing saves on the tanks before they stepped through their portals. And the lingering one-hour timer produced little beads of sweat on my mouse hand.

Some raiders might argue that the freshly launched 4.0.1 patch, delivering new abilities and talents, might have made this a bit easier on us. For Death Knights, blood was now the only way to tank; fine for me, I had been tanking as blood for months. But the healing from Death Strike had been reduced significantly, justified by a new Blood Shield mechanic, allowing us to absorb damage along with our self-heals. But the potency of the Blood Shield came from Cataclysm's new stat, Mastery, which didn't start showing up on gear until 85. Whatever baseline Blood Shields I produced were quickly eaten by Algalon's brutally fast attacks.

There were other changes. Vengeance now scaled our tank damage as we bore the brunt of the boss. I gained access to Bone Shield, formerly exclusive to Unholy (as was Anti-Magic Shield, now a baseline ability). But, my dealing damage would not make or break this fight, Bone Shield charges were eaten just as fast as Blood Shields, and Anti-Magic Shell wasn't going to save me from a Big Bang...or Algalon's physical strikes. Whether the 4.0.1 changes were a boon or a curse to Death Knights still at 80, I perceived no added bonus. We were going to have to defeat Algalon the old fashioned way: with effort.

...and we made it so.

There were no benefits, no brute forces, no tricks or tactics to exploit, and no exceptional gear from the next tier to ease the pain. We defeated Algalon on the same terms that world first guilds used when racing one another to finish line, and I consider that a real achievement, even if it was only in 10-Man. I set Mature's title to "Herald of the Titans" that day, and haven't changed it since.


Fred said...

I remember being so pissed about Herald. I spent so much time farming gear for others to get the achievement and then to be sat out. Hells and I went rounds over that as it was him putting it together. Eventually, we kissed and made up but I I did not get it till much later. The Bane group was so much fun though. I still think back on that night.

Aaron Frede said...

Agree totally with the Herald Achievement, easily the one I am most proud of.

Fantastic blog by the way, always gives me something to look forward to on thursdayss