Thursday, March 5, 2015

4.29. Chasing Cho'gall

"Valiona and Theralion"
Artist Unknown

Double Dragon

Valiona and Theralion berated each other as we entered the room, petty children squabbling over which of them was the favored child.

"Oh, hey. Look at that. Two dragons. Been awhile since we've killed any of those." Sarge's wisecrack reeked with sarcasm.

There was no shortage of internet dragons to slay in Cataclysm: Slabhide in the Stonecore, Altairus in the Vortex Pinnacle, Nef, Ony, and Atramedes in Blackwing Descent, and now these two incorrigible brats. By the expansion's end, four more dragons would make themselves known; two would escape our wrath. Of those two, one lay hidden beneath us, far away from prying eyes, yet close enough to maintain a watchful eye over her babies. Mommy Dearest.

Theralion took flight while Valiona remained on the ground in the initial moments of the encounter, the first mechanic kicking in almost immediately. Hellspectral was hit with Blackout.

"Group on tail," Blain called out.

The only way to mitigate its impact was to have additional players soak the explosion. Healers with lightning-fast reflexes were no good to us if they had itchy trigger fingers; dispelling Blackout before allowing a moment to collapse at Valiona's tail guaranteed the death of the afflicted.

Physica snuffed Blackout from Hellspectral, a diluted blast barely registered amongst melee. Blain ordered everyone to spread back out. From above, Theralion pummeled the raid with Twilight Blast. A violet shower rained down near Goldenrod and Ignismortis. Keeping in close proximity only worsened things for the healers.

Valiona inhaled, and a frontal blast of shadow flame poured out of the drake's lungs for a solid five seconds. Blain directed the raid to seek cover, well out of the way of Devouring Flame. I watched as the goblins of the roster rocket-jumped to safety towards her tail.

After bouncing between Blackout and Devouring Flame twice, swirling spirals began to appear on the floor. Players began to spread out, dodging the impending Dazzling Destruction. Traipsing across a vortex would shift them into an alternate plane -- a blurred dimension filled with hypnotic lights...unstable bombs, ready to explode at a touch. Shifted players dashed for portal exits around the perimeter of the room, prepping for the dragons to exchange places.

With Valiona aloft, mechanics changed. She debuffed players at random with Twilight Meteorite, a six-second explosion which split its damage between players, akin to her brother's Blackout. Meanwhile, a freshly grounded Theralion turned to players at random, painting the ground with a violet disc of Fabulous Flames. Mangetsu was struck with Engulfing Magic, exponentially increasing the potency of his Unstable Affliction, but at a cost. Each tick on the dragons mirrored its effect as an explosion of AoE bursting out of the warlock, forcing Mang to exit raid cluster via his demonic gateway, lest he kill us with his own power.

As we re-approached the transition between dragons, a length-wise third of the room was covered in Valiona's flickering purple flame: Deep Breath. And, just like her brother's Dazzling Destruction, anyone touching this strip of fire would shift into the "twilight zone", immediately seeking an exit while avoiding the pulsing glow of shadow bombs. Blain called out the shift, and players haphazardly learned their compass positions.

The 25-Man progression team was in a constant state of movement. Collapsing, expanding, getting into the group, moving away from the group. Avoiding spirals of fire, dodging strips of fire. I never budged from my chair, yet was somehow exhausted by the time both dragons collapsed. The Vial of Stolen Memories dropped -- another step up I could have gained in dealing with Nefarian's unforgiving constructs. Instead, I passed. Our newest tank, Soot, won the bid. Better to spread the love, I reasoned, than to pour all the guild's hopes and dreams into a spazz.

Willy sneaks in a quick nap between pulls,
Bastion of Twlight


The raid trekked deeper into the Bastion of Twilight, down staircases and through long corridors, navigating dense packs of trash until eventually arriving at a large chamber lined with steps in its four corners. Upon these steps stood four individuals, barely exhibiting any semblance of mortal humanity they once clung to. They were all draped in the same, crudely patched robes. Each wore a belt adorned with the symbol of the Twilight Hammer cult: Cho'gall's unmistakable mace from which the cult took its name.  Their helmets resembled the squid-like merciless ones, flayed open, webbing between each tentacle spread wide, forming a protective shell.

The only difference between these four creatures appeared in what "skin" remained exposed: their arms and legs told the story of complete and total elemental assimilation. Feludius glowed eerily blue, water pouring out and downward, while cracks in Ignacious' skin burned red hot. A silver wind wrapped itself around Arion's mid-section, forever encircling his upper torso. Terrastra was muted by comparison. Hard-edged cracks of stone lined his appendages, speaking for an otherwise lack of flamboyancy shared by the others. They evolved beyond mere shamanistic control of the elements. They had become the very elements themselves.

This was the Ascendant Council. We spent the remainder of the raid locked in that sanctum, and wasted no time getting started.

Ignacious and Feludius attacked first, marking the beginning of phase one. We engaged as Arion and Terrastra watched in silence. Ignacious was tanked on the steps near his starting point. Jemb and Littlebear kept their distance from Feludius, issuing Kill Commands from afar, taking care to avoid Glaciate, a blast of AoE frost damage that diminished in intensity at range. Meanwhile, Ignacious bore the weight of DoD's melee -- Blain, Jungard, Bonechatters, Sarge, Hellspectral. They unleashed Hell, watching for the impending Aegis of Flame. Once Ignacious' shield went up, ranged switched, cooldowns popped, and the 25-Man team burned through it to interrupt Rising Flame -- pulsating flame bursting forth, scorching the room and all members therein.

It wasn't long before we grasped the gimmick: Ignacious and Feludius debuffed two players, one with Burning Blood, the other with Heart of Ice, respectively. To the afflicted, these debuffs were barely even noticeable, but when turned against the bosses themselves, the debuffs were the key to victory. The player with Burning Blood moved to the ranged group, enhancing the casters with fire damage. Feludius wasn't pleased. Likewise, the player with Heart of Ice rushed to join melee, applying frozen attacks en masse with every swing they took.

Ignacious leapt at the healers and smashing into the ground, then resumed his position following the impact, a long trail of flames left in his wake. In a rare moment for World of Warcraft, we actually chose to stand in the fire: they negated Feludius' waterlogged debuff, the result of a water bomb that could decrease a player's movement (at best), or leave them stranded in a block of ice if struck with Glaciate.

Phase two. Ignacious and Feludius took a back seat while Arion and Terrastra tagged in. Arion's constant teleportation rendered melee useless, so the casters turned their attention to him, leaving melee to focus on Terrastra. Throughout this phase, Gravity Wells and Call Winds would appear randomly in the room: zones of energy that granted buffs to anyone crossing them. Again, we used these two council members' abilities against one another: Call Winds levitated players, allowing us to avoid the full brunt of Terrastra's Quake. Conversely, the Gravity Well's "Grounded" buff granted us similar protection against Arion's Thundershock.

Arion also liked to choose three players at random, converting them into Lightning Rods. Rods were indicated by a tell-tale yellow arrow, as if to say "Pay attention, folks: this person is about to kill everyone in the raid". The Rods had to bolt from the group, moving as far away as possible, pressing up against a wall if necessary, to avoid Arion's Chain Lightning. It was a far more dangerous version of what a shaman hurled: Arion's chain lightning bounced to as many nearby players as it needed to. One poorly positioned Lightning Rod could instantly wipe the entire raid. Playing with blinders wasn't an option. Every member of the 25-Man raid had to be actively engaged, observing surroundings, noting constant changes in positioning, never ignoring their own buffs and debuffs.

Mature poses beside the 25-Man healing officer, Lexxii,
Bastion of Twilight

Elementium, My Dear

The ascendant council required self-discipline and communication. We couldn't just burn the bosses down independently. If either Ignacious or Feludius hit 25% health, phase two was immediately triggered, locking their health bars at whatever they happened to be. The same applied to Arion and Terrastra in phase two. The final, third phase of the encounter was where our skill (or lack thereof) would either benefit or handicap us.

At the start of phase three, the entire raid was locked into position, frozen for a moment. The twenty-five of us watched as the four council members slowly walked towards one another, dissipating into their corporeal elements, then reforming into a single Elementium Monstrosity. This final creature, an aggregate of all four ascendants, inherited their remaining health pools. Four council members, all at 25% health, would have been ideal. But mistakes could lead two council members to end their phase with more than 25%, compounding your problems in phase three -- it was simply more health to burn through, dragging the fight out longer, increasing the opportunity to wipe.

Chaos ensued. We spent the last two hours that Sunday, chiseling away at the multitude of raid mechanics. The first phase was textbook and out of our way in a matter of only a few pulls -- phase two was the nightmare. With the madness of Arion's teleportation and Terrastra's constant Eruption spiking players out of the ground, there was little time left to contemplate subtle visual differences between Gravity Well and Call Winds. The two spell effects were nearly identical at a glance, and as a result, players were caught Grounded just prior to Quake. Likewise, some accidentally levitated prior to Thundershock, and the mixed groans of surprise and disappointment in Vent were a constant reminder of the cost of such oversight.

What set of attempts would be complete without the occasional raid wipe, thanks to a Lightning Rod that happened to be moving through life in a permanent haze? Friendly fire ended more than one attempt due to some players being spaced out, but lingering adrenaline from Halfus and Twin Dragons was the fuel that kept the raid running back with unending enthusiasm. It wasn't Nef...but it was something.

The famous last pull of the evening brought all the moving parts together. Ignacious and Feludius converted at a solid 25% each. Few deaths were logged when Arion and Terrastra took the stage. The Elementium Monstrosity converged before us. Bloodlust filled our characters with rage, and the 25-Man team opened up with a barrage. Soot and I traded off, measuring a kite path, moving only as needed. Too fast would handicap melee, the shining star of the 25-Man progression team, but too slow would force Pools of Ice to grow unchecked beneath our feet. Seeds of Lava exploded out of the boss, showering the raid with fireworks. Players at random were encased in a bubble, levitating high above the sanctum, only to be crushed as the Monstrosity telekinetically slammed them to the ground. I breathed, watching for cooldowns, trying not to let the spazz break free.

Bolts of lightning chained across the group, striking more with each flare. The raid team began to collapse under the weight of the boss and the combined elemental forces that were raking across our backs. Casters collapsed. Healers crumbled. Melee began to fall like flies being swatted. We stuck to the plan, Soot and I burning through whatever survivability remained. With our last bits of dark energy, we pulled two armies of mindless, salivating ghouls from the ground, claws outstretched. They leapt toward the boss, gnashing at anything they considered flesh. And as the raid came down to its last remaining living players, the Elementium Monstrosity cried out in the impossibility of our power. His helmet fell to the ground; no other trace of the council remained.


The decision to shift to Bastion of Twilight on the weekend of Feb 13 proved to be the right one. We knocked out three new bosses, putting DoD at 8/12 for Tier 11 across all three raids. Thanks to Blizzard breaking out the starting raids into three separate instances, DoD gained flexibility in how it was able to overcome obstacles without stagnating in progression. I was grateful for that flexibility...until I came to loathe it.

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