Thursday, January 14, 2016

4.56. Practice Makes Purrfect

"Managers Fall"
Artwork by 花狐貂


[To: Dichotomy] How you holding up?

Our healing officer, Fred, was playing his shaman on this, the third week into Firelands. His shaman was appearing more frequently, thanks to Deathonwings' continually changing schedule. One week he'd be camping, the next, work would step in the way. It didn't seem like Wings fluctuated as much during Wrath, but it was possible that our healthy bench during Wrath kept his absences from the forefront of my memory.

Regardless, Fred rolled with the punches, flipping between shaman and paladin as needed -- which was good, because I suspected a trend. Recruitment wasn't looking promising. We continued for weeks without so much as a single ping for more information about the guild. It wasn't entirely clear to me if and how much this weighed on Fred, so I erred on the side of checking in, whispering him as we ran back for our next attempt. It was a way for me to check in, gauge his frame of mind. Let him know he wasn't alone out there.

[From: Dichotomy] Blain loooooooooooves twelve stacks

[To: Dichotomy] He should marry them

[From: Dichotomy] lol

Fred wasn't the only one flipping classes to meet the needs of the raid. Blain was now on his warrior, Xane, as one of our two main tanks, and Sarge, who'd been supplying us with Retribution melee damage since Icecrown, had now taken a liking to healing, bringing his restoration druid Arbour to more of our progression raids.

Beyond a full class swap, some players continued to respec as needed, sometimes between boss kills. This was now pretty commonplace. Wings set that trend back in Wrath, but today, folks like Vexx and Physica were switching from heals to damage (or vice versa) regularly. Even I was giving serious consideration to pulling Kerulak out of retirement, just to ensure our healing bases were covered.

[To: Dichotomy] 12 stacks is nothing. You got this. Cooldown rotations ftw.

[From: Dichotomy] Wings doesn't seem to think Spirit Totem works like we think it does.

[To: Dichotomy] Wings isn't in charge. You are.

Respeccing was especially relevant that Blain was pushing hard, minus the gear. We were working with new healers, like Charcassone the holy paladin, but at the same time, players were switching between mains and partially geared alts, doubling the amount of effort necessary to stay ahead of the game.

Ironic, considering Blizzard's claim that distinct 10/25 locks in Wrath had us raiding until we were burning out. Instead of running one raid twice, in different sizes, we were now running a raid twice...on different characters.

[From: Dichotomy] Seems like we're making the same mistakes tho.

[To: Dichotomy] You know EJ’s first Onyxia kill? Just another night of practice.

[From: Dichotomy] Yeah?

[To: Dichotomy] True story. They’d been working on it for weeks. Just practicing all the phases. Polishing.

[From: Dichotomy] That’s really all it is.

Amatsu surveys the arena, as the 25-Man prepares to
 begin work on Majordomo Fandral Staghelm,

Majodomo Fandral Staghelm

The raid extension from the previous week, very necessary for the Alysrazor practice, was reset in favor of collecting a few upgrades while re-acclimating to our Tier 12 challenges. The roster did not disappoint. The night before, Shannox, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Baleroc and our fiery bird friend all met their match in the allotted four hours. Sunday, this very day, was free and clear for the next challenge.

As the 25-Man progression team watched, a bridge formed across the gaping chasm. First, it glowed white like a hot poker, before slowly cooling, its mass thickening as it settled, turning to solidified rock. Its' surface was covered with blackened, charred tiles -- the same molten chips composing many of our smelted enemies.

As we ran across the bridge, I tilted the camera up to take in the massive flame-like arches. Beyond the bridge lay a royal red carpet, painting the way to a large circular arena. The red carpet carried on past this, up a series of steps, where it then disappeared behind walls. It was near where we lost sight of the continuing carpeted path that we saw a lone Night Elf barring our way.

I use the term "Night Elf" loosely. Very little of his Kaldorei ancestry remained. Purple flesh tones were replaced with crimson. His formerly green hair was now blood red. And eyes that once glowed with a soft moonwell blue were now on fire.

He was of a new class of druids, those whose traitorous intentions caused these deformities, twisting inescapably from the fire enclothing them. These Druids of the Flame needed a leader, and the great firelord needed a new second-in-command. Before us, he stood. The Archdruid of the Flame. Six years after laying waste to Majordomo Executus, Descendants of Draenor was about to take on his successor, Majordomo Fandral Staghelm.

Staghelm's two phases were bound by a gimmick: positioning determined the active phase. Collapse into a tight group, and Fandral shifted into a enormous scorpion that struck with such severity that splitting the damage amongst the raid was a non-negotiable. Spread far apart, however, and Fandral shifted into a fiery feline engulfed in flames. He'd leap across the raid in firekitty form, and both the launch and landing resulted in gifts from the Majordomo. A copy of himself remained at the launch position, a Spirit of the Flame that had to be dispatched. And at the destination, a ring of pulsing flames, forcing all that were near to scatter.

The longer Fandral stayed in each form, the harder and faster he'd hit. So, yes, it was true that we had control over the phases. But to a limit. Eventually, the Archdruid would force our hand. The question was, as it would be for any raid: how much could we withstand?

Blain had set that expectation pretty clear, from the get go.

"Amatsu, go ahead and respec into damage for this."

Blain's directive caught a few of the raid off-guard with this directive -- our newest pally tank, included.

"Ok, um...any particular reason why? Am I..."

"'re good," Blain stopped him from announcing any shortcomings, "we're just going to one-tank this."

[To: Xane] When'd you decide this?

[From: Xane] Just now

The 25-Man progression team poses in front
of the fallen Majordomo Staghelm,

The Night Elf Who Mistook Himself For a Troll

The giant charred scorpion smashed into Blain.

"I....uh...yep. Getting hard to keep you up."

"Quiet. We're going for twelve."

Fandral trolled the raid in both phases. Scorpion forced us into a tight position, so to mess with that, he debuffed a handful of us with a living-bomb style curse. But not everyone's timer started at the same countdown. If yours was 20 seconds, congratulations...because it was a very real possibility that mine was 5 seconds.

Look at your debuff. No, seriously...look at it. Now. Look up at it. Register in your mind how much time you have. And leave only when you must.

Every player had their personal responsibility tested. They had to leave the group when only seconds remained. Any sooner would risk joining other players that were leaving at correct intervals. And if too many leave the tight group, spreading too far out across the arena...

...whoops. Firekitty phase.

Fandral trolled us during the firekitty phase, too. Five fiery orbs spawned along the outer edges of the group. These would stack a DoT on the nearest target, meaning certain members would have to rotate through, sharing Fandral's love. But rotating players through orbs also required discipline, because the very nature of tagging in/out of groups ran the risk of grouping back up...

...which would take us right back into Scorpion phase.

Every shift from scorpion to firekitty (or back), Majordomo Staghelm gained more strength via Fury, a stacking 8% additional damage buff. But, leave him in one state, and his energy regeneration increased, a stacking boost called Adrenaline. He'd hit faster, and faster, and faster. Eventually, we'd be overwhelmed.

"That's 10."

"Spirit Link down. Lexxi's got Barrier on the next one."

Fred's spirit totem hit the ground, further spreading the already distributed damage to all within the totem's grasp.

"Barrier ready."

Eleven stacks of Adrenaline was already pushing it. Guides of the day were directing raiders to break off at eight stacks, though ten was a more likely number to shoot for...if you ran a group of finely tuned raiders.

Blain wasn't having any of that amateur hour stuff. He pushed the 25-Man as far as they could go, which meant pushing beyond 10, and beyond even 11 stacks of Adrenaline. And when that wasn't enough...he dropped us to one tank: himself.

The healers had no choice but to rethink their strategy. So, Fred kept them rotating through their biggest cooldowns for the ninth, tenth...and hopefully...eleventh stacks, while we prepared to break and shift at twelve. It was a normal mode, but the healers treated it like a heroic.

"Tighten up a bit and eat these hits, please."

"Get ready for 11 stacks."

"Barrier is out."

A great glowing shell of protective holy magic emerged, surrounding the raid.

"Ok, get ready. 12th incoming."

Muscles in my fingers tensed, quivering. Readying for the burst. Blain's health bar flashed like an EKG meter through a patient's cardiac arrest.

"Hold. Hold….aaaaaand…...go. Spread, spread, spread. Watch for orbs."

Our opponent took the form of a Night Elf, mocking the raid as he froze us in position for a brief moment. Then, he morphed into a ball of flaming whiskers and claws. Around the outer edges of the map spawned five miniature meteors, firing molten beams out towards various players. Within seconds, the flaming cat leapt across the entire room, targeting a mage.

"On Goldy. Go!"

The raid's hustle was palpable. We flayed open the carbon copy of Staghelm, then raced back to the source, burning through as much health as possible before the next leap.

"I need a partner over here."

"Who is 'me'? Use your name!"

The DoT stacked on Littlebear. He needed to tag out.

"LB needs a partner. North east."

Speaking in third person, the raid's resident brony spoke up, "Mangetsu to the rescue!"

"Keep it clear, folks. Collapse after seven...coming up."

Fandral leapt faster now, pulsing circles of fire left in his wake.

"That's seven. Move, get in. Get in now."

The raid collapsed into the center of the circular red carpet, a clue left by the designers. We followed their lead, noting the pattern of Fandral's pulsating pools of flame now dotting the carpet's circumference.

"Get in tighter, this one's it."

The 25-Man continued to pour more and more damage into the Archdruid, now back into scorpion form.

"Watch your bombs. Keep cool."

Aktauren raced out of the group. A few moments later, Physica raced out in the opposite direction. Fandral's health bar dwindled down to 3%, then 2%, then 1%....and then, nothing remained.

An enthusiastic cheer filled Vent. Virtual high fives intermixed with insults directed at the defeated Night Elf ended yet another successful night of raiding.

"Thank you for staying a little over tonight." I glanced at the clock. 7:06 pm. Another famous last pull for history books.

"And thank you, Blain, for one man tanking this bitch!"

[To: Xane] Always the show-off

[From: Xane] I prefer 'Tyrant' :)


Littlebear said...

How do you remember this stuff?

<3 LB

Shawn Holmes said...


A guild leader never forgets.

...also, I'm a mutant.

Waerloza said...

First time caller, long time listener here.

Firelands was an odd raid zone in that three of the seven bosses could be one-tanked, Baleroc, Alysrazor, and Domo. Paladins laughed at Baleroc and after a little gear gathering, my co-tank decided flying and DPSing Aly was more fun than wrangling the hatchlings.

I do not remember Firelands fondly at all. Only seven bosses, a very monotonous color palate, and the loot luck doubled back into only seven bosses, an entire tier of loot on those clowns, have fun getting the drops you want/need.

We fairly consistently were able to field a 25man group at the start of Cata, and we did for like the first two weeks of Firelands, but then the attrition began and it became two 10man teams then just one 10man team with a small bench. Releasing a raid in the middle of summer did not help. Note that we are not a server-first guild by any stretch, just a group of real-life friends that started in WoW in 2004 and met some more great people along the way, but we always prided ourselves on defeating content before it was nerfed.

Looking forward to the finish of this amazing memoir.

Linc, Malygos-US

Littlebear said...

Are you sure you remembered that right?

I'm Canadian. I'm pretty sure I apologized once or twice in that exchange.

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for the comment! On the topic of the palette, I expressed this to the guild back in our forums -- this part has been extremely difficult to write. You can only describe "fire" so many ways.

You can see that, by this point, we're feeling the attrition you mention, as more of the core team is forced to switch to their own alts in order to balance out the raid, rather than rotate in a bench (that doesn't exist).

"Bring the player, not the class" smothered deeper, more complex issues that Blizzard either failed to recognize or chose to ignore. Hopefully my long time readers are starting to understand why I couldn't summarize this entire blog in a single forum post.

It's just not that simple.