Thursday, January 29, 2015

4.25. Twenty-Five Morsels on the Menu

"The Triumph of Evil",
Artwork by Keisinger

Damage Control

I wanted to be mad, but my schedule didn't allow for it. I would've been perfectly happy wallowing in pent up frustration at Bheer's bombshell, falling back into old ways, holding grudges and punching keyboards in frustration. Circumstances, however, dictated that I focus my rage into solving the problem. So behind a false grin of clenched teeth, I moved to assess what damage the roster took as a result of being in the blast radius.

At first glance, practically nothing changed; the situation was only slightly different from when he left me high-and-dry midway through Tournament of Champions. Bheer was but one enhancement shaman out of the 25-Man roster. His then replacement, Hellspectral, was now a full-time frost death knight of the core raid team: former Elite, and fiercely dedicated to progression, his improved icy talons / 10% weapon speed bonus was a permanent fixture. Thanks to the rework of hunters, every raid buff in the game could be brought via a pet -- this comprised the contingency plan. Realistically, all we missed was the warm body. The safety net provided by a "reliable" long-term vet was gone, and anybody I chose to put in that spot would be a wild card. It wasn't uncommon to raid with 24 players for the next few weeks.

There was more at play that simply Bheer's absence from the roster. In their announcement, Bheer made it clear that he was to join Drecca's 10-Man team, which also meant Drecca was forsaking 25 as well. True, he offered himself as a back-up, but you can't plan around "maybes". I had to assume he would never be available, and rebuild the roster to that end. Anything less would put progression in jeopardy.

It sucked.

It sucked because Drecca had been such an incredible asset to the 25 when he joined DoD. Few raiders could slip into an intact team so seamlessly, taking up responsibilities and demonstrating skills one would expect of a long-term, committed raider. The chances of it happening again were slim-to-none.

I immediately ramped up recruitment in search of long-term tanks. Soot was one possibility; Falnerashe's "hubby" Teras was another, by way of his paladin alt Horateus. I pushed both to gear up and sign up. But before recruiting any more tanks, I had to have a heart-to-heart with Insayno.


"The situation has, shall we say, had a bit of a wrench thrown in to it."

"Oh yeah?" Insayno answered me over vent. I could hear the rapid clicking of keys in the background ...a telltale indication of PvP.

"Without the tanks, we have no progression. That should be pretty self-explanatory."


"In any other circumstance, I'd have back-ups. And I am working on that. But I'm speaking to you about this right now because of its importance. I want to make sure you understand how this affects the raid team and the guild."


I downshifted. "Are you enjoying the tanking stuff so far?"

"Yeah, it's pretty solid right now. I like it. Still jealous of the prot warror's AoE stun, but it's still workable." He spoke of Shockwave, an ability I didn't pay much attention ability I would soon come to despise. I continued.

"I'd appreciate it if you could continue in this capacity, for as long as humanly possible. Right now, you and I are all that the 25-Man team has for 100% reliable tanks. All the rest are wild cards."

"Yeah, my schedule is wide-open right now, so I'm happy to help. For as long as it takes."

"Thank you. I'll do everything I can to solidify new long-term tanks for our spots. Maybe we can get a little deeps in now and again, eh?"

Insayno's tone became official, "Sounds like a plan, Hanzo. I shall sign up for all raids until I hear otherwise." The faint sound effect of Icy Touch landing on his target could be heard before his mic shut off.

Fight the good fight, Insayno. Don’t let me down.

The 25-Man progression team spots a
familiar friend waiting for them,
Blackwing Descent

Healer Heart Attack

Week two put us face to face with a new foe. By the end of the first night, Magmaw, Omnotron Defense, Maloriak and Atramedes were all eating dirt, a huge improvement from the previous weekend. This freed us to dedicate Sunday entirely to Chimaeron, a hydra that would push the healers to their very limits.

Chimaeron's gimmick was Finkle Einhorn and his "Bile-o-Tron", a silly bot that wandered the room, dousing players with a protective spray. The mixture prevented anyone above 10k HP from dying -- instead, those covered in the gunk were reduced to a solitary hit-point when Chimaeron struck. This unnerving style of damage forced the healers to rethink their traditional strategy of keeping the raid topped off; any heals above 10k translated into overheals, and was a fast track to an empty mana pool.

The raid had to maintain precise positioning during the fight. Caustic Slime would hit four people at random, bouncing to other players that were too close. Those afflicted would suffer damage handicaps along with their health spiking to 1 HP. A randomly positioned raid increased the healing stress, spiking more players down to 1 HP, and crippled our ability to make the enrage timer. Chimaeron was a solid gear check with benefits.

Massacre was the worst. In a single blast, the hydra reduced the entire raid to 1 HP, the extreme amount of damage even enough to throw the Bile-o-Tron offline. Lacking the protective cover of Finkle's Mixture, all players were susceptible to instant death...10k or otherwise. Our saving grace was the hydra's heads feuding with one another. We collapsed into a group and the healers blanketed the raid with as many AoE heals as possible, all the while poison bombs of Caustic Slime pummeling the raid in the process. Any heal helped at this point; players were even burning bandages on themselves, a tactic not seen since as far back as Naj'entus.

Massacre didn't always knock the Bile-o-Tron offline, however, so every single player had to be alert and ready to move into a clump if necessary. Gone were the days of an encounter following an explicit pattern of A, then B...A, then B...A, then B. Any PvP troll who trashed PvE as a mindless endeavor of learning a pattern and following it would've been eaten alive by Chimaeron. Many were.

A race to the finish kicked off when Chimaeron neared 20% -- again, a trigger not entirely set in stone. The entire raid receiving a debuff reducing our healing received by 99%. At this point, healers shut down completely, joining the DPS in a race to burn him down before he ate every living thing in the room. Not only did it involve blowing every cooldown that remained, but it forced us to start calling out the "next victim". Chimaeron used our threat meter as menu. One by one, top players in threat would retreat to the furthest corner of the room, delaying Chimaeron's feast, gaining the raid precious seconds of DPS. A kill would most certainly not be clean...if we could pull it off.

Mature glances at Al'akir from a safe distance,
Throne of the Four Winds

Juggling 101

Much of the encounter rested on the healers. Self-discipline and calm nerves were essential to keeping the raid alive. Blain and Jungard worked out very specific positions for people to stand, but resuming those positions after a Feud collapse often put people in the wrong spots. As for surviving Double Attack, the traditional Main Tank/Off-Tank setup had to be tweaked.

The first tank began by allowing Break to stack; consider this player the MT. By the second stack, healers certainly felt the strain. Between the 2nd and 3rd stack of Break is when Double Attack could really mess a tank up...and this is when the second tank, our OT for the purposes of this description, would taunt. It was in that split second that the OT would eat the Double Attack, saving the MT from being one-shot. Seconds later, the MT would take Chimaeron back and prepare for the third break.

At three stacks, the MT and OT switched roles.

Now, the OT, which had just eaten a Double Attack moments earlier, was now stacking Break, allowing the former MT a chance to let their stacks drop...hoping and praying that a Double Attack didn't come in before their stacks dropped. If one did (and it happened here and there), the OT would hopefully have cooldowns from the healing crew to keep him alive. Since I preferred avoidance tanking, I played the OT.

For the most part, the challenge came in the transition to phase three. The difference between the two tanks surviving an extra few seconds at the start of the 20%, vs. dying instantly was huge. Every second counted during the final 20% burn. Panic ensued, top melee often got over zealous, stayed in too long, lost track of their place in threat, and were eaten alive. The amount of 3%, 2%, and 1% wipes were painful. Chimaeron plowed through morale like a jackhammer.

But we persevered.

Chimaeron flopped over, lifeless, at the top of the third hour, after pushing nearly sixteen attempts. Wherever possible, I opted to give the raid an early dismissal, especially in the wake of a great accomplishment, but Blain rode the momentum. One hour in Blain's mind was plenty of time to investigate our next challenges, so we took that final hour to examine both the Nefarian encounter and set foot into Throne of the Four Winds, an instance that housed Ragnaros' wind-fueled partner in crime: Al'akir.


My nerves wavered amid the state of the roster. On one computer monitor, Mature procc'd achievements for completing quests in all the zones. On the other monitor sat WoWLemmings, as I scoured for tanks, looking for a long term replacement for the Ater, a Dalans, a Drecca...anything. Page after page returned nothing. Nobody cared for the fine art of tanking.

Meanwhile, home life vied for control of my attention. I readily gave it. Jul continued to recover from her knee and neck surgeries, leaving me to run the show -- dinners, lunches, laundries, homework, school projects, bills. I saw it as a chance to make up for lost time, for those initial years that WoW usurped all my time, stole me away from my wife and kids. It was a chance to make amends, and I took it. But at the end of each day, I was spent. I had a new appreciation for single parents, and wasn't so quick to condemn my mother on some of her own decisions. It didn't excuse her choices, but it helped explain them.

I took consolation in work. For three years, it remained a reassuring monolith of stability in an otherwise haphazard existence. I was respected at the office, given authority there. It changed me. At the start, I was excited about technology but shrouded in self-doubt about my ability to produce anything of any value. By the end of this third year, I not only discovered a confidence I never knew existed, I was compelled to strive for quality and results...something I could take pride in. Just a little bit of effort was all it took, a little thoughtfulness, care and concern towards a helpful tool you put in someone else's hands, something they rely on to do their own job. I gave a shit about the people I worked for and with, and wanted those tools to reflect our commitment to quality and detail. The side-effect: I was quick to condemn those who didn't put in similar effort. To anyone claiming it "paid the bills" made me nauseous.

The months of December 2010 and January 2011 were particularly exciting at the office, as news of an impending buyout was spreading. Exciting, yes, but it also filled me with a sense of unease. A potentially stable, empowering job was now in a state of flux. I thrived on stability, and my experience with such mergers in the past left a lot to be desired. I remained optimistic, but prepared for the worst.

Good thing, too...


Anonymous said...

As always, eagerly anticipated each new post Shawn, thanks for never disappointing.
I am greatly disappointed with the closing down of WoW Insider this week, that and your blog are the two must go-to reads every week for me. Appreciate the work you put into it.

Keep on trucking!


kizmet said...

I remember meeting up and talking about all of this. Such a shame my dad's health was in a bad place and I couldn't come back and tank. I was also not really impressed with much of that expansion.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who reads WoW Insider, AOL shut the site down on Tuesday. However, from the ashes has arisen the new site
A bunch of the writers (including the editor in chief) have started up their own website, and have launched today.
Hopefully Shawn doesn't have an issue with me 'advertising' here, because WoW Insider's interview with Shawn brought me to 8YIA.


Unknown said...

Chimaeron was brilliant. All i played was a warrior tank. I couldn't play anything else. Just some dabbling in arms pvp.

Im a night elf. Our off, off tank was too.. also a warrior. Our regular off tank woukd bring his dps alt and we'd position ourselves (the tanks) at opposite corners of the room hitting phase 3. First tank, blow everything untill low on hp. Shadowmeld. Boss runs all the way across room. Second tanks does same thing. Then shadow meld. Boss moves to first dps threat target. After the first hit reduces him to 1hp, whichever tank is farther away pops out of shadowmeld and taunts, tank dies. Other tank pops out and taunts, boss runs all the way across room again. That tank dies, and then... finally the boss actually kill dps.

It was the first time a racial ability was ever the core of my strat for a boss kill. It was amazing.