Thursday, January 21, 2016

4.57. Mortal Insects

Paragon's 10 vs 25 comparison analysis on Firelands

The Horse's Mouth

An IM window popped up on my desktop. It was from Jungard, "Are we resetting next week?"

"No reason not to. We're mowing through it."

At times, it felt like my perspective was skewed. What was easy and what wasn't? DoD buckled down and ripped Firelands apart, leading us to the final confrontation with Ragnaros on week four. I felt certain we'd have it the next raid weekend. But, where did we fit within the grand scheme of raiders? Had we disciplined ourselves to such a degree that we now approached the hardcore end of the spectrum? Perhaps the content was actually harder than we perceived it to be.

A frame of reference would've have been nice.

"Any objections to taking a core group of folks in tonight to try to wrap it up?"

Jungard wanted to take advantage of one of the 10/25 lock mechanics introduced in Cataclysm. A partially cleared 25-Man lock could be downsized to a 10-Man lock.

"I don't have a problem with it. If Blain and the others are good with it, go ahead. Just...y'know," I cautioned, "try to take people from the 25, eh?"

"Oh, I only plan on taking from the 25."

"Did you see the post that Paragon made?" I shot him the link.

"When'd they make this?"

"Late last night. Break down of the difficulty between 10 and 25."

"I thought there was no difference?"

"Your sarcasm isn't lost on me, Young-gard."

The European-based Paragon was a relatively new world first guild to the raiding scene. They made a name for themselves by being the first guild to down the Lich King in Heroic 25-Man, a major upset to those predicting older, more seasoned guilds like Vodka and Ensidia would maintain the house odds. And Ensidia would have, if it hadn't been for the "clever use of game mechanics".

In Cataclysm, Paragon beat Method to the full clear of Blackwing Descent, Bastion of Twilight, and Throne of the Four Winds. Now, they'd done it again. Paragon was the first guild to complete a full clear of Heroic: Firelands -- in the same amount of time it had taken us to almost clear Normal.

In short, there was no better guild than Paragon to provide an educated, thoughtful analysis on raid difficulty.

"Huh," Jungard commented aloud as he read through Paragon's article, "interesting...they say the first four bosses are pretty much the same. I'd have to agree with that."

"Keep reading."

"Baleroc...first noticeable difference. Oh, wow..." He was getting to the good part, "...huge gap in difficulty between 10 and 25 on Majordomo."

"They claim he's 8-mannable. That’s awful."

Jungard chuckled quietly, "I liked the comment about how the Sons of Flame are 'made of paper' in 10-Man."

"In the end, they basically say the 10-Man tuning has more room for error. You can pay less attention to your roster, make more mistakes, but still have the necessary DPS and Heals to power through."

"That's ironic, considering that's exactly what the 10-Man guilds claim is the reason why their version is more difficult."

Funny how we end up learning the most from people who have nothing to teach.

Artwork by UnidColor

Full Circle

Across the charred, rocky wastes, over the burning bridge, and through the circular carpeted courtyard, the 25-Man progression team made their way up the staircase and into the heart of Sulfuron Spire. Before us lay a narrow corridor, lined with fiery, rune-adorned columns. A sea of lava stretched out on either side of us, onward and down, past the retaining walls that eventually came to an end. A massive throne room was exposed beyond. The 'corridor' was nothing more than another bridge -- one thin platform keeping us from burning alive.

After defeating Lava Wielders that pummeled us with more fiery attacks, we moved out of the corridor and down across yet another bridge. This platform, while still decorated with the familiar fiery runes highlighting the internal decor, was even narrower, more precarious, and lacked a banister. Our safety was of little concern to the lord of this realm.

We inched our way across this bridge, dispatching miniature versions of Magmaw as they emerged from the molten depths on either side. The raiders cut the fireworms down, sending their carcasses flailing and spasming back down into the boiling magma.

Familiar eyes watched us the entire time. That same face, a jack-o-lantern pulled from the inferno of Hell, eyes empty and burning, a gaping jaw pulled wide into a devilish grin. The wall of living flame clutched a familiar weapon in his right hand, idling in a defensive animation, as if waiting to squash invading insects. And, as years before, his torso remained submerged, behind the low, dull rumbling sound of fiery tornadoes, intertwined and amplified by the acoustics of the expansive throne room. Those eyes watched us as we worked our way to him, the fires of a million volcanoes, seeking revenge.

Time (and several expansions of Blizzard expertise) granted Ragnaros greater fidelity. His blackened armor had more depth and majesty; the runes adorning its edges glowed brighter and were more distinguished. And his legendary mace -- perhaps the most recognizable weapon in World of Warcraft to both casuals and hardcores alike -- the titanic spiked hammer, now pulsated with a bright orange plasma which warped and distorted its edges. Sulfuras, the Extinguished Hand, burned with such colossal intensity that it felt as if a permanent imprint would be left in my monitor, like the shadowy screens of arcade machines long past their final play.

The moment was thick with nostalgia, and I paused to reflect. The exact moment DoD transformed from "just a group of WoW players" to an official raiding guild is perhaps a matter of contention. Former members might point to the first day we coordinated 40 players in unison, to begin pulling trash in Molten Core. Others might claim the death of Lucifron as an adequate measure of a guild's evolution. Still others might offer up our first kill of Onyxia, challenging the notion that the dragon's mechanics were far more complex than her strategy read on paper, and anyone claiming she was easy to kill hadn't even set foot in her lair.

For my money, the moment Ragnaros fell was always the defining moment. We overcame the odds of an entire instance, slowly working our way through each boss, while simultaneously grinding out the farming and crafting of fire resistance gear necessary to withstand each molten blow. I don't dismiss Onyxia as one of our first truly great challenges, but it was when Ragnaros fell that all lingering doubt washed away. Onyxia gave us the means to believe in ourselves and that we were capable of being a raiding guild. Ragnaros confirmed it.

I glanced around the room at the twenty-four players standing next to me in throne room, deep in the bowels of Sulfuron Spire, far away from our initial meeting, deep below Blackrock Mountain. I identified only one player from DoD's 40-man lineup from our kill in February of 2006.

It wasn't Turtleman, arguably the one of the longest running members of DoD - he hadn't been present for our first Ragnaros kill.

It wasn't Gunsmokeco or his brother Deathonwings; both had accrued years of tenure in DoD, but neither got to see Ragnaros' defeat by our hand.

You might guess Blain, but he would join us only a few months later, as we struggled to break ground in Blackwing Lair.

It was Klocker. The longest running player in the history of DoD, to that point. We each brought new classes to the table today; he, a paladin, and I, a death knight. But, we would always share a spiritual connection, a bond through our respective original mains - shamans. Side-by-side, our chain heals leapt across a mess of names -- names now nearly forgotten, blurred by time.

[To: Klockerr] Congratulations

[From: Klockerr] For?

[To: Klockerr] Being the last remaining member of DoD present for both kills of Ragnaros

[From: Klockerr] OMG

The 25-Man progression team prepares
for their first pull of Ragnaros,

Ragnaros II: Ow, That's #%$! Hot

Ragnaros was split into three phases, sandwiched between two transitions, not unlike his Molten Core incarnation. It began as a traditional tank-and-spank. Blain and Amatsu traded off punitive stacks of fire vulnerability which ate away at their resistance. As the roster pummeled the Elemental Lord of Fire, Ragnaros smashed Sulfuras down onto the platform, sending tri-directional waves of lava outward. Anyone caught in the waves would take massive damage and be thrust backwards toward the entryway.

New to his arsenal was the magma trap, tossed out to random players throughout phase one. These traps were visible on the platform; once armed, the 25-man raid was directed to stay clear of these traps...mostly. Left unchecked, the platform would soon grow overwhelmed with traps. So, we had to selectively trigger them, clearing only what was necessary to execute our strategy.

The traps, like Staghelm's phase switch, ultimately rested in our hands. We had to decide what was too much or too little, with thresholds varying widely across the casual-to-hardcore spectrum. Live dangerously: be more aggressive, bring min/maxxed dps and heals, and trust that your roster is extremely self-aware...and you might be able to leave the platform with many traps.


Or, opt for containment: take a more cautious approach, measure DPS, prioritize payer safety by clearing more traps from the platform and leave enough time to heal those who sacrifice themselves in the trap's explosion -- and the run the risk of a wipe as the fight drags on.

Phase one struck a balance that could appeal to both casuals and hardcores, but I suspect the ingenuity of this design went largely underappreciated.

At 70% health, Ragnaros took a final swing of Sulfuras, burying the head of the spiked mace into the platform and disappearing beneath the lava's surface. Across the entirety of the platform, his familiar Sons of Flame spawned, all slowly moving towards the mace. If any of the fire elementals reached Sulfuras, a supernova of flame would expand out from the massive weapon, striking (and in many cases, killing) all members of the raid.

Allowing a Son of Flame to break our defense, therefore, was not an option. Every stun, slow and snare we could apply had to be leveraged, and DPS had to be distributed evenly so that no one fire elemental gained an advantage. During set up, Blain and Jungard worked together to examine the raid, splitting groups up accordingly by fanning them out in a crescent shape around Sulfuras' intended point of impact.

"Phase two positions, just like we rehearsed. Keep the middle open."

I glanced up from my position to see a Boomkin, frozen in position, directly in the middle of the platform.

Blackangus' voice was clear in Ventrilo. "Yeah, uh...I think I'm disconnecting."

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