Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

I once wrote about how I think that playing alts can actually make you a better player. I still believe that to be true. If you’ve played a class, you’ll often better understand the cooldowns and abilities available. This helps with leading raids and organizing rosters. In PvP, it helps you understand how to counter another class because you know what to expect. I am a staunch advocate of alts! I love getting inside another class and seeing what makes it tick – or in the case of my paladin, making a list of spells with various iterations of Hand, Blessing, and Divine to try to keep any of them straight.

There’s just one possible pitfall, and I’m afraid it blindsided me. I think it’s a fairly common scenario. If you’re a raider, your raiding main is decked out in great gear. You take your main to raids, but other than raids, they don’t “need” anything. So… If you’re like me, you play an alt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and of course, it all depends. There’s no right or wrong way to play a game, there’s only deciding what’s right for you. But if you are a progression raider looking to maximize your play, I’m going to suggest something radical: playing too many alts might be hurting you, as it was me.

On the surface, there wasn’t a problem. I mean, I wasn’t routinely at the bottom of the meters in raids. I think my performance was solid. I continued to enjoy raiding as a mage. I was just playing Vidyala, my paladin, constantly outside of raids. She was the one who needed Valor Points to upgrade her gear! She was the one who needed gear. I get a bit obsessed with upgrading gear, because it’s such a tangible improvement. I’ve geared alts to the teeth only to completely abandon them once they no longer “needed” anything, having hardly used the gear at all. I just like the completeness of it. It also happens that I enjoy healing, and I enjoy five-mans, and so I didn’t see any detriment to this alting – except when I started to take a hard look at my own performance. With the kind of gear I have, I felt I should be performing better. I’d grown complacent. I wasn’t pushing myself to excel and find ways to maximize my damage output, due in large part to the fact that I wasn’t playing Millya as much as I could be.

I decided that I wasn’t satisfied with the state of my DPS or my play. I wrote a whiny blog post (and deleted it, unpublished). I asked myself, “Do you want to put energy into complaining that your numbers aren’t where you’d like them to be, or do you want to put that energy into figuring out how to improve your numbers?” I checked up on mage resources to make sure that my theorycraft was current. I asked our guild’s other mage, Fsob, to look at my World of Logs. He is both my respected colleague and a wizard (har) when it comes to reading WoL. He gave me some valuable feedback that I used to plan my improvement, but the grunt work would have to come from me. I needed to play Millya as much as possible. One of my problems was not casting enough. Especially when a fight is new, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and movement and not nuke as often as you should. To improve this, I was going to have to really focus on it.

I resolved that when I wanted to run a pug, I’d do it as a mage (thirty minute wait be damned). When I ran a BG, I’d do it as a mage. I ran dailies constantly. Tol Barad fears my name. The Argent Tournament is tired of seeing me. I was all mage, all the time – and I got results. Really and truly. Partly through a combination of research and practice, I improved my damage on heroic Valiona and Theralion by 1000 in just one week. I nearly doubled my number of “main nuke” casts, while keeping Scorch casts at the same amount. If you’d asked me before, I would have answered that I was “always casting” on the first V&T fight I looked at. But to see such a marked improvement in such a short time the following week floored me. I hadn’t received any significant gear upgrades in that time. I was just playing better.

"Thanks for killing my worthless minions!"

What Alts Can Do For You

(Doesn’t) Stand In Bad
If your goal is to maximize your raiding performance, in some ways alts can help you with that. Some things are completely universal – situational awareness, for example. High survivability is something I’ve always prided myself on, and that tends to be true no matter what I’m playing. As a healer, I can usually dance out of something oozey and painful very quickly. As a tank, I can neatly sidestep something coming my way. I believe situational awareness is a skill that can be learned, or at least honed – and you can practice that no matter what you’re playing.

You know the big spider forest in Tol Barad, and how those spiders will spit a big puddle of green goo at you? Did you know that you can usually start to move before the goo hits the ground so that it never hurts you? Half of situational awareness is anticipation. The same thing is true of the dark oozes that play a huge part in the heroic version of Maloriak (and it used to be the case for Trial of the Crusader and countless other raids). You can see the ooze flying at you and actually move before it hits the ground. Forget about getting out of bad – how about never getting in it? Of course, this isn’t possible for everything. There are some things that will hit you no matter what you do, and you really do have to move out of them. That’s something you can practice no matter what you’re playing!

At What Level Did I Get That Ability Again?
Another thing that you can do if you love alts and don’t always want to be playing at end-game is to level an alt of the same class as your main. I know tons of people who have done this! Vosskah has something like four warriors. I have two level 85 mages, as does Fsob. I know that Kurn just finished leveling another paladin. Leveling your “own” class can give you insights into it. The game has probably changed since you leveled up for the first time. Even if you don’t level as the same spec, it can be a valuable experience (and still scratch that alt itch).

I’ve had folks laugh at me for having two mages at maximum level. It’s kind of a running gag for people who wonder why you’d ever want more than one character of the same class, but it’s actually more common than you might think. If you’re playing a class at 85, it’s probably because you enjoy it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the best players I know have “multiples.” They are so passionate about their class that it’s no chore to make a second one. I sometimes wish I could “unlevel” Millya just to do some quests again and revisit zones that I liked. That’s not possible, but leveling another mage alt might be the next best thing.

Playing alts (especially in pugs) definitely accustoms you to the controlled chaos of a raid. Or at least, it accustoms you to chaos!

What Alts Can’t Do For You

I’m Sure Iceblock Is Around Here Somewhere
My pugging has honed my emergency button reflexes. My instincts have me reaching for Hand of Sacrifice so quickly; it’s like lightning! Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me whatsoever when I’m in a raid, because I don’t raid as a paladin. You might have lightning reflexes that are completely useless if your muscle memory isn’t remembering the right thing. (I also happen to have a lightning-fast Iceblock reflex, but that’s neither here nor there). Experienced alters often mimic a “basic” keybind set-up between all of their characters. So if you’re playing a druid tank or a warrior tank, your taunt is the same button (no matter what it’s called). This can help ease the transition between different characters when you do play them. I think there’s no substitute for playing your own character, though.

In a raiding situation, you can’t look down at your buttons and try to remember where you keybound your emergency heal or health potion. Well, you can – but you might be dead first. The faster you can instinctively reach for your key abilities and cooldowns without even thinking about it, the better you’ll do. You also learn a rhythm for when things are available. It’s weird for me to play my second-string mage, Tazya, because she has less haste than Millya and she feels sluggish. I think the effective difference is only a fraction of a second, but it makes a big difference when I’m playing her.

Being attuned to the nuances of your own class takes time, and here’s the thing… the time we all have to spend on WoW is finite. We all have other obligations, families, lives outside of WoW (hopefully!) It can be a fun diversion to level an alt for awhile, but if you aren’t 100% satisfied with your performance and your main, that’s time that you don’t spend improving and learning it.

Practice Makes…Probably Not Perfect, But Closer

I feel that I need to add a huge, honking caveat here. I’m not saying that “You shouldn’t play alts,” or “Playing alts makes you a bad player.” No. All that I am saying, from my own, highly subjective and biased personal experience is that I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted to, and I think part of the reason was because I was playing too many alts. That’s a decision that only you can make for yourself. If I was in a guild where I could casually top the DPS meters in a raid, I’d probably never have worried about it. It’s only when I thought, “I could be doing better,” and started to seek out reasons why that I hit upon this conclusion.

I’m a big proponent of doing what makes you happy; in life, in WoW, wherever. If hitting the fifty character limit is something that’s fun for you, why not do it? Cynwise wrote a great post about making a low-level PvP character just for kicks. If you get tired of them and want to delete them, no harm, no foul! (I’ve been thinking of doing this…with a mage, naturally). For me, what’s fun is progression hardmode raiding. That is my passion, and it’s one that is shared by the people in my guild. If I’m not doing the best I can, then I’m not just hurting myself, I’m letting them down too.

So lately, if you’re looking for me, it’s a pretty sure bet I’m flinging fireballs at trolls, or freezing Horde to the ground in a BG, or running around a grim island off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms stealing fish from villagers. I’ve been digging through WoL to figure out ways to increase my DPS, and usually when I’m in-game I’m practicing. Diversions like learning PvE Frost as my raid off-spec have kept me occupied. Far from being bored, I keep finding out things I hadn’t thought of before. Besides, playing a mage is never a chore! It’s my favourite WoW thing to do. It’s been nice to see tangible results, too. I’m sure I will always have plenty of room for improvement.

What do you think? Are you a one-character sort of person, or do you wish Blizzard would increase the ten-character per server limit? Has playing an alt helped you improve your main character’s play in an unexpected way? Zinn over at Jinxed Thoughts wrote some great tips for dedicated alters while I was still working on this draft, and the irony wasn’t lost on me! I’ll admit, I still have and love playing a bunch of different alts, I just intend to temper my playtime with equal dedication to my main!

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Comments on: "How Playing My Alt Was Hurting My Raiding" (40)

  1. This is really apt timing. My guild’s recently started trying heroic mode raids, but I’m worried about the number of alts tagging along for farm raids. Sure it means that the content lasts longer as people play on different characters, but it always seems to be more of a struggle than it should be. I’m playing an alt myself (a priest), but I’m still working hard on my raiding main!

    And don’t worry about having two endgame mages – I’m in the same position :)

    • Mage fist bump! ;) I think that having alts in raids is a whole other kettle of fish. I’ve seen it in other guilds and it’s a slippery slope – someone’s main is geared out, so there’s no “reason” to bring that character to the raid, so suddenly people who DID bring their mains are expected to carry that person along. It’s not fun to be the one still playing your main, and most times it’s not fair either. Unless the raid can’t happen without this alt (i.e. “We are short healers,” or the tank had to cancel) there’s seldom a compelling reason to allow alts in raid. Especially because it’s a rare person who can play their alts with equal facility as they play their main! We set up dedicated “alt raids” at the end of last summer to give those that wanted to a chance to play as a different character. I enjoyed them! And it kept all the alts out of our raids. ;)

      • doublemage fistbump! 2 85 mages, and a 3rd at 43 (alliance side).

        I also feel like my second mage is sluggish (what do you MEAN i can’t have the 4 piece bonus without raiding??) but i do a LOT of damage on her for what her gear is like. i really enjoy using her to sub into another raid when i’m already locked on my main.

        i’ve mentioned this a few times, but re-leveling your main class feels a lot like putting together a puzzle very, very slowly :D

        another nice thing about relevling your main class NOW if you first leveled years ago is how much it changed. the new spec/glyph system was very different (or non existent) back then and bringing yourself up to speed step by step can help you find more of the true intentions behind changes. also learning what things you depend on (no invis until 78 WAT D: ) while leveling up can be pretty eye opening, and how to get around those crutches can help in a raid if your Get Out Of Jail Free card of choice is on CD.

  2. If the anecdotal evidence helps you, I’ve noticed the same thing. I had so much fun playing tiny goblins back around the beginning of the year that Aro’s gear (and rep grinds, oh the horror) got really far behind and I’m only just now starting to catch up. But but but but goblins!

    One of those tiny goblins? Another 85 priest. You aren’t the only crazy repeater around here. :)

    • Haha. Well, like I said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing – and you can also discover if you’ve stuck with one character for a really long time – that you might love another character more! Nobody was more surprised than I was that I loved paladin healing as much as I did, I never guessed that I would, and now Vid is the only alt I have at 85 on my main server. One main, one alt, everyone else is between 80 and 84.

      Also, goblins are great, this is an indisputable fact.

  3. I have far too many alts, and I think the constant re-learning of specs and classes has made me a little more apathetic to number-chasing on my main. Maybe I should pick just one alt and focus on that? haha

    • Maybe! Only you know for sure. If you’re happy with where your numbers are, then don’t worry about it! I think part of my problem comes from having another really exceptional mage in the raid. I’m always trying to catch up to him, haha.

  4. […] Vidyala has a great post fresh off the Manalicious press about how playing alts could do bad things to your playing ability. That’s a big statement given the perceived wisdom in character-centric games is that the more characters you play the better your overall knowledge of the game, but Vidyala’s got a good argument here. […]

  5. Are you a one-character sort of person, or do you wish Blizzard would increase the ten-character per server limit?
    – I’m definitely an alt-o-holic. I’ve had to put all my Horde toons on one server and my Alliance toons on another. I want to play (or at least try to play) every race and class in the game… can’t do that on one server. :(

    Has playing an alt helped you improve your main character’s play in an unexpected way?
    – Yes, after being a tank or DPS for years… one day for some random reason I decided to try healing and loved it! The unexpected bonus was seeing a dungeon run through the healers eyes and realizing all the things I had done as a tank that probably drove other healers crazy; not that I was rude or anything, it’s just that I am much more mindful now when I play my tank. The change of perspective was a good one.

  6. Great post! I completely agree. Playing an alt has many benefits, like teaching you other class/role mechanics and improving reflexes that maybe don’t get exercised much on your main. But playing your main is like a professional athlete/musician/etc. doing their daily exercises and routines – it’s practice. And even the best of us need to practice regularly to maintain high levels of performance and to keep their skills sharp.

    With the bit about the Tol Barad spiders, I think you’ve touched on something very important – constantly honing and improving your game even during mundane / unremarkable scenarios. Sure, you can just faceroll through a dozen spider kills without any real focus. Or you could practice using unorthodox methods, using non-optimal spells, kiting them, etc.

    For example,when in Heroics on my Death Knight I will often drop back out of melee range on pulls where there is heavy melee AoE damage, and do the fight from ranged. I joke that this is me “being a mage”. Now I do this to make it easier on the healer, sure, but I also do it to experiment and find out how much DPS I can sustain from afar, and what the most Runic Power-efficient method is of doing this, if I’ll pull threat by adding Death & Decay into the mix, etc.

    Another example? As a melee DPS, I am often moving and DPSing at the same time, such as when circling Atramedes when he chases me with fire. I think it’s a HUGE waste to just run around him autoattacking when you could be DPSing at near-maximum efficiency the whole time, something that can be tricky since you need to still be facing him to use specials. I do this by essentially “jump shotting” him, jumping and turning to face him each GCD, and using my specials in mid-air. This is ABSOLUTELY a skill that I practice while doing dailies or on Heroic bosses, running around and jump-Obliterating while maintaining speed. It’s awkward, requires close range and fairly precise timing, which is why I feel practicing it constantly is key.

  7. Hmm…. Sunwalker. I need to start a Sunwalker. Any RP servers you have in mind? ;-)

  8. I just thought of another direct example of how practice can directly lead to concrete gain!

    In Tol Barad (the real zone), there is a daily quest “The Leftovers” where you go kill opposite-faction NPCs, nothing special, just a standard “kill X enemies” quest. It absolutely does not require any special behavior.

    However, the area where you find these mobs have large standing pillars, and whenever I do this quest I always practice pillar LOS kiting – “pillar humping” – for use in PVP. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. But repetition makes the maneuver smoother and more natural.

    And it has direct benefits! I once attacked Warden’s Vigil and went up against a Feral Druid and Mage, and through constantly pillar-LOS-ing the Mage and kiting the Druid, took them both out as they attempted to chase and trap me.

  9. Your experience definitely sounds consistent with my own in this regard. Even if I don’t play alts at all (hey, it happens sometimes!), my “edge” falls away even if I just don’t sign on for a few days at a time. It’s the same experience I’ve had with respect to practicing musical instruments—if I don’t do it all the time, the details start to slip. They’re easy to recover, but you have to actually do that. :)

    As you say, it doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be bad or anything. And apart from providing an excuse for not playing your main, I think you’re right that playing alts doesn’t cause the problem. Still, if you are raiding hard-mode progression, it’s really important that everything be as tight as possible. Even though I’m not raiding, I can feel the difference when I play in heroics, or in PvP (actually, it really shows up in PvP, where a mis-timed cooldown can make the difference between capturing the flag and losing the game).

    A very insightful article, thank you! :)

  10. 4 Warriors, 2 Shaman, 2 Priests. Highfive repeater buddy.

  11. Like.

    Two paladins. I made ny first one prot/holy, and when I started raiding I made a second one prot/ret to learn the ret spec.

    Right now they are on different servers and both are prot/ret/holy, fully geared (Action Bar Saver and ~100 gold per swap make tripple speccing a reality).

    I’ve found that playing te same class and spec with different races and gear choices makes a world of difference – my less geared prot has almost 20k less health than the other and about 3% less avoifance, but almost 10% more block.

    On the other hand, I tried raiding on each of those twice a week (they are on diff servers). This was a bad idea, especially given that both raids were in heroic progression – sometimes playing an alt of your favorite class can let you get carried away.

  12. I’m an alt-o-holic myself. I play all 10 of my alts. 9 Are for running my gold making business and 1 is a twink for fun battleground PvP. I just finished a 5 part series on creating Ideal Alts, which breaks down some specific alt roles and how to maximize your professions, race, and class in order to get the most out of your alt’s role.

    I too agree with the concept if you are a hardcore raider, you should focus on your main. I surely am not hardcore when it comes to raiding. I’m a hardcore gold maker. I do however have a hard time switching between so many characters, because I still play them all too. Hardest part is getting your rotations and abilities back up to snuff when switching amongst the various alt characters.

    As mentioned, having common types of attacks keybound on the same number keys across characters helps a lot.

    Great Article!

  13. I feel your pain…

    Although all my toons are healers, so regardless of the class, I am an absolute pro at healing and situational awareness!

  14. Alts are clearly evil and should only be used for profession slave labour. There’s something very satisfying about being a Troll Mage who has a Goblin Warlock as his personal enchanter, jewelcrafter and general mule.

    • Heheh I agree! :P
      I always thought it would be great to have some alts for extra professions and gold, but that’s about the only downside I had from not playing any.

      I have to disagree to the big alt ‘premise’ that it makes you a better player, because I never found that to be true in raiders who played lots of toons. If anything, the players that stood out in experience and performance were always people who had very strong main-attachments. I was a bit of a capacity in all the guilds I was in and co-lead, because I played my priest to excess, in both PVE and PVP (which funny enough, many people still shun although PVP gives you tons of exp as a player). Practice makes perfect and there’s no beating somebody who plays the same class for years and years in any given situation. so if at all, I’d say this about alts: good players are good players, with or without alts. alts can give you some insights for sure, but they won’t make a ‘bad’ player a good one. I remember one particularly weak tank we had in our guild for a while who drew all the wrong conclusions from playing his alts and would then go and try teach others how to play their main in raids lol.. -.-
      Alts are overrated.

  15. While I’m definitely an altholic (10 charas total, one of each class), the only one character I take to raids is my main, and most of all, the only one I heal with is her.
    I would never ever try to heal with any other class, because I’m too scared that I would end up confusing my buttons and screwing up. I mean, Holy priesting is complicated enough as it is! XD
    Well, not really; but my point still stands. I don’t ever dps either with my priest (except when I have to do dailies of course), because it’s important to me that when I “am” Darah, I heal and that’s it. I also have a pally tank, but aside from that my alts are all dpses, and I don’t care much about their gear, either.
    I just enjoy the process of leveling them up, gearing them just enough so that I can run a heroic with them if I feel like it, and roleplaying their lives andf adventures in the comfort of my own head. ;-)

  16. I’m generally a two-character-at-a-time player: I concentrate on getting a main as much gear as possible (though I’ve switched which character that was once, and might conceivably do it again sometime), and I level another to cap, and when I’ve finished that, go do another one. So my experiences aren’t quite like yours (I would *never* roll a second of the same class – the purpose is to learn how all the classes work; I’m up to an 80, an 84 and 3 85s so far, and I’ve already bought all the heirlooms for leveling a shaman), but there’s definitely some overlap. After not raiding for a couple weeks on my mage while leveling my cat, I definitely, for instance, tried to go into cat form at the start of the fight.

    I definitely try as much as possible to bind keys to the same function on as many characters as possible – my counterspell is the same as my kick, my main nukes are the same across characters with the same archetype, etc. When I started a spriest, I bound shadow form to the “go into cat” key, cause same concept. My emergency buttons are the *most* important to keep the same – sure, you don’t get an ice block as a rogue or a cat, but sprint is *sort* of the same… (I actually bound ice block to my sprint key; when I started the mage, my main was a rogue.)

    One of these days I’ll actually learn how to tank on my druid… I’ve been saying that for months now, though…

  17. I definitely agree with keeping similar abilities keybound to the same places. Pummel holds the same place that mindfreeze and skull bash hold for both my death knight and druid (when hes in feral), respectively. Since I don’t raid much right now I see the problem but I don’t really feel the need to fix it as much as someone in your position would. Though often times when I am on my paladin, my only other healer, I often have problems with using the wrong cooldown. I go to use tranquility on my paladin and end up Divine Shielding instead. =P

    Though from a pvp standpoint, having played almost every class allows me to anticipate much of what a player will do and be ready for it, something I wouldn’t have learned any other way. Many of the best pvper’s I know have a ton of alts, and usually they are the toughest classes for that persons main to counter.

  18. I have two max level resto shamans (one alliance, one horde) and a lowbie resto shaman I’m leveling through bgs. So another repeat offender here…

    BUT – I think I’m in an odd boat in other ways. I define my main and my raiding character separately (the shaman is my raider, the mage my main), and they both need love and work. Add that to being an altoholic and a multiple MMO junkie and… *headspins*

  19. Paranon said:

    Congratulations, you have convinced me to ditch my lowbie goblin mage and roll up a horde-side warlock instead. I hope you’re happy!

  20. One of each class; two rogues; all level 85. They’re all fun to play but the rogue is my true main class.

  21. […] Manalicious talks about how alt playing can hurt raid performance — and how to make alt leveling work for you. […]

  22. I love my alts, I have way too many. Currently I have my own bank guild that is over 1 bar into level one, with an ultimate goal of the L2 guild perk … *sigh*. I *did* vow to concentrate on my main more in Cata, but when the instances (esp the troll ones) take so long, it is a pain. I can log on to my Shammy, or my Priest and instaqueue for a speed run of older content, or I can do a few quick quests on my mage or any of the other toons and this works better with most of my playtime. But you’re right, I could improve I’m sure.

  23. […] time ago, and have had this post sitting as a draft for a couple months, when I saw Vidalya’s post about alts. So, thus begins my renewed inspiration to play a same-class […]

  24. […] over at Manalicious talks about the good points and bad points of playing alts while Zinn of Jinxed Thoughts has some awesome Pointers for the […]

  25. […] – How Playing My Alt Was Hurting My Raiding: Vid’s discussion on how to keep your head straight when you raid as one character but also […]

  26. […] to make me unhappy, truly. It’s just ironic that right after I was writing about how you should be playing your main, I realized that the fact I wasn’t playing mine might be trying to tell me something. I just […]

  27. […] at Manalicious has two interesting posts up about alts, mains, and which one you raid with. I think a lot of us with dedicated mains can identify with this […]

  28. […] the same wit and wisdom to the Mage-focused Manalicious blog, whether waxing introspective on the role alts play in a raider’s success or jovially sharing her personal reasons for playing. Smart, insightful, and self-deprecating, Vid […]

  29. […] Manalicious, How playing my alt was hurting my raiding […]

  30. […] (i.e. raid ready) you’re left with nothing for them to do.  Vidyala wrote about the problems with alting over the summer, and as I try to figure out how I’ll spend my WoW time for the remainder of […]

  31. […] This sounded familiar. Now, alting heavily has given me a fair chunk of transferable skillset, to the point where I can frustrate my fiancee by pulling 3k more DPS than her with her DK while trying to debug her priority. Running a spec I’ve never played.* Thing is, though, I dusted off my beloved ret pally last night for our alt raid, and… well… my DPS isn’t exactly where I’d like it to be. Or even in the same neighbourhood, really. It’s like, I’m over here |<– and I want to be like theeeeeeeeere –>| […]

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