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

Archive for the ‘Raiding’ Category

The Greatest Night

There have undoubtedly been rocky parts during Business Time’s transition to “casual” guild from “reasonably hardcore.” It felt really smooth back in Dragon Soul because we already had the entire place on farm, so it was no problem to reduce to one night a week and smoke through it. Then it wasn’t a problem to take a break altogether. When Mists launched, it was the first true test of our new reduced schedule (two days a week, two hours per raid for a total of four hours). We’d never tackled new content this way before. To me it was a raid tier of fits and starts. We progressed easily through the first four bosses in MSV and then slammed to a halt on Elegon for a lot longer than any of us would like. When we finally downed Elegon, we killed Will the same night. Moving into Heart of Fear, we hit another wall in the form of the second cyclone boss and we spent a good amount of time on him as well. Throughout this all, roster changes and recruitment were dogging us and making it hard to have a steady pace. When we finally got Tay’ak down, it didn’t take very long to kill Garalon or the council style fight and then we encountered our ultimate nemesis – Amber Shaper Un’sok.

I could tell you how I feel about this encounter design, but I don’t want to sour my mood. Basically, Un’sok is my least favourite fight EVER, in any expansion and any tier. We wiped to him more than any other boss in T14. But he did die, like all the others. Unfortunately he died at a time when it was starting to look like we wouldn’t have time to finish the tier. Patch predictions were for March, and we hadn’t even touched Terrace. It seems that two hour raids were taking their toll. I know there were many nights when it felt as if just a few more pulls would’ve made the difference between a kill and no kill.

We killed Empress Shek’zeer very easily (14 pulls total, I believe), and launched into Terrace with a vengeance. Everyone knew that we had to clear it fast if we wanted a chance to actually finish the raid tier as well as earn ourselves a feat of strength. I’m not sure if it was the urgency of knowing we had a deadline, but everyone really showed me what they could do. We one-shot Protectors and killed Tsulong the same night, cleared Lei Shi and spent some time on Sha of Fear during our second to last raid. Everyone knew that yesterday’s raid was our last chance to finish “on-time.”

The raid started out in the best possible way for me. We were all hanging around the summoning stone getting everyone there when our monk, Zhem, told me: “Millya, check your mail please.” Mystified, I checked my mail and there was a letter from him with a wrapped gift. It’s my birthday on Sunday and I am turning 30, but I wasn’t expecting a gift! The accompanying letter said it wasn’t just a birthday present, but also a token of appreciation for everything I do for the guild. I opened it up, and this is what was inside:

!!!

!!!

It’s a Jeweled Onyx Panther. My own VOLTRON. To say that I was flabbergasted is the most extreme of understatements. Honestly, I teared up a little bit. It seems that Business Time had been planning this for weeks, since the start of February. They helped gather the materials to make all four panthers using a communal spreadsheet and they made this for me. Oh man, I am tearing up again. I am overwhelmed and humbled. It honestly means so much to me, and not just because “ooh shiny mount” but because the mount itself is indicative to me of the power a raid group has. Not just to kill internet pixels, but to support each other and to be friends over long distances and different lives. We are all greater than the sum of our parts, just like Voltron and the Onyx Panther. We’re always better together. I can’t say anything more about this than thank you, thank you, thank you. Even when we’ve moved on and the servers are dark, you’ll always have a friend in me. You all are the true gift.

I promised them all a sappy blog post, which is something of a forte of mine. But honestly, the night just got better from that point on, this was only the BEGINNING of the raid after all! Because we went in and read Sha the riot act; it was only our second night seeing him and we all felt the pressure to perform and make this a cleared tier. We did it!

And Itanya set Ullariend on fire.

And Itanya set Ullariend on fire.

This was pretty much the best conclusion any of us could have imagined to the tier. I couldn’t stop grinning all night. I’m so proud of these guys (and lady). We are set to go into the next tier with a clean slate, if you will, and no obligations to this content. We will go back and get kills for some people who unfortunately missed them, but we’ll have a solid footing for the new stuff, too. Incidentally, we are still looking for a hunter to finish off our roster. We’re sitting at thirteen at the moment but we’d prefer fourteen. Even when our numbers dipped we didn’t cancel any raids in the past tier, but we’d like to continue in that direction.

You would think I’d be satisfied with a night like that. An amazing gift from my guild, a Sha of Fear kill just in time for patch day… but no, there was more yet to come! After the raid I realized that I wasn’t VP capped. After doing a heroic, I was still 95 points short. So Pargath, Zierlyn and I headed into LFR for the 90 VP. We chose Vault of Mysteries because that’s the only thing that Pargath hadn’t done. We waited a little while in the queue but it eventually came up, as they do. Spirit Kings was fairly uneventful and I thought the raid was going to be generally fine, until we got to Elegon.

It has been pointed out to me that waiting until Monday night before a patch to do my last LFR guarantees there will be shenanigans. I hadn’t considered this exactly, but it was only a minute or so on Elegon when we realized we’d be in trouble. Neither of the tanks was bothering to tank the adds that spawn and they ran around freely trying to kill people. We were able to get four spark “cycles,” but as soon as the floor disappeared, so did a number of our raid. (I want to say five, off the top of my head, including a tank). But okay, no matter, we could still do this. Until after the second add phase when our OTHER tank plummeted to his untimely death. We were heading into Elegon’s last phase, with no tank. You might think at this point we were guaranteed a wipe. I say: NEVER SAY DIE.

I hit Time Warp as we pulled and started DPSing Elegon as if my life depended on it (which it did). I thought that at least I could do enough damage to him and possibly keep him busy long enough with Mirror Images, Cauterize, etc. before my inevitable death. We might manage to kill him yet. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I never died. Cauterize didn’t even proc! Sure, my health was crazy spiky, but the incredible healers in LFR (most prominently, a paladin) kept me alive. I TANKED ELEGON.

Hilarity ensued (you’ll have to click to read the raid chat from right after we killed him).

I TANKED THAT

I TANKED THAT

I was pretty proud of myself, haha, but really it’s the healers who deserve the props (and you’ll note that I said that, too).

elegon02

elegon03

LFR was suitably happy about the whole thing. Maybe I should just retire now on that note, the highlight of my illustrious mage career. Forget Krosh Firehand, I tank star dragons. I think it’s only fitting that I happened to be wearing the title Dragonslayer Millya at the time.

So that’s it – an account of the greatest night I’ve had in WoW in a long time. Possibly the greatest night I’ve had in awhile, period. I am really excited for the T15 content now. I hope there are no repeats of the Un’sok debacle. But mostly I know you can tackle anything with a group of friends, or barring that, exceptional healing strangers who can keep your berobed body from going splat!

Learning to say: “No, thank you.”

One of the toughest things for me (that I always struggle with) is not specific to WoW, although it applies to it here. It’s something that’s always proven difficult, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it rears its head again now. My problem is this – I overestimate the time I have. I underestimate how long it’ll take me to get things done. I overextend myself and commit to too many things.

I’m sure this isn’t a unique problem. It’s not even that I am that busy a person or anything, but my tendency to say “yes” to everything leads to me making myself frantic. In a Warcraft context, this is an issue exacerbated by the easy access to friends on other servers and in other raid groups. It leads me to say things like, “Hey, I can gear up my goblin alt so I can do Horde stuff with xyz!” and then “Hey, they are running a T11 heroic group on these days, I could go and help them…”

It seems to stem from both a desire to help (everyone) and a wish to experience things. Immediately after BT scaled back our raiding, I couldn’t believe the free time I had. Voss and I spent several leisurely evenings in succession – walking the dog, cooking new meals, hanging out on the couch reading, talking, and watching a movie. It felt decadent to have so much time to deal with day-to-day things like laundry, housework, and recreation not spent in front of a computer. Formerly, with 2-3 raid nights a week (usually three) Voss would get home at 4:30, I’d probably start cooking supper at 4:00 to have it ready by 5:00, sometimes 5:30 if I miscalculated, we’d eat and squeeze in a 20 minute dog walk in time to login for the raid at 6:30. Raids don’t actually start until 7:00, but there are things that need doing beforehand to get ready. Check the forums – has anyone cancelled at the last minute? If so, is there a standby? Are we all clear on what we’ll be attempting? Have we prepared the strats? The raid itself goes until 10:00, at which time we log off, get ready for bed and try to be there by 10:30. All too often we wouldn’t, because we wanted to talk and spend some time together, so we’d go to sleep too late, get too little sleep, be tired, and then come home and do it all over again.

This schedule left little time for just relaxing. It made us take something that was supposed to be fun and turned it into a chore. Sure, I enjoyed the actual raiding, but too much was being sacrificed to make it happen. We didn’t have a non-gaming spouse who would prepare supper or take care of outside of game things for us. It was just us. I had a conversation once with the late, much missed Roksi of Production Company. She described the pre-raid chaos she and her husband went through with racing home, getting everything ready and logging in with food still in their mouths (or at their desks!) She wondered if Voss and I experienced the same thing, and I commiserated. We knew where the other was coming from, but of course it’s a choice you make – up until it doesn’t feel like a choice any more. The time commitment that amount of raiding demanded was like a slow squeeze. I didn’t realize how I’d shaped my life around it until I’d been doing it quite literally for years. We always said “Real life is more important than WoW,” but they were just empty words. My family knew I wouldn’t see them on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday most likely because if we both took the night off the roster would be wrecked. Our bench was theoretically deep enough to handle it but that didn’t always work out. We felt like frogs in a pot with the water was being incrementally and gradually heated – we’d reached a boiling point and never even knew it. If we did happen to do something on a Mon, Wed or Fri I couldn’t stop Voss from checking the forums (and the Mumble status) to make sure “everything was okay.”

We had started to resent the pull the game had on us. It had nothing to do with the guild, who are fabulous people we enjoy spending time with, and everything to do with the unconscious choices we’d make each week. Every time we put off plans because they fell on a raid day, we weren’t putting life first. Every hour I’d spend scouring the forums looking for recruits to shore up a dwindling roster was time I wasn’t spending on something else. Now that I have a bit of distance and it’s been a few months, I recognize how deeply unhappy I was with the situation, and how much better things are for me now. I’m slowly asserting order in our life and environment. I don’t have any more laundry that’s been allowed to pile up. I’ve cooked some (if I may say so myself) amazing meals since January. I love cooking and didn’t realize how little I had done of it because it was usually easier to just order in or eat something fast. We’ve both lost some weight and are much happier and more relaxed. I think it makes us more fun to be around anyway at the raids where we ARE doing stuff.

How does this tie into saying no? Well, first and foremost, we had to reduce our raiding, which wasn’t easy but was absolutely the right thing to do. The problem for me came when it had been a few weeks past that major change. The same free time I’d luxuriated in started to look so open. So full of…possibilities! Awesome guildies like Fsob organized old-content MMLA runs (Mogging Mounts Legendary Achievement). I always love to see old content! Folks spent some evenings in BGs. Hey, I like to BG with my guildies! I decided to start running a Firelands group on Saturdays. (By the way, we’re still looking for a few DPS for this week’s run, we’re trying it on 25! Check out the thread and sign up if you are interested, especially if you’re a hunter because we need your survivalfulness). After a little while, it was possible for Friday to be an MMLA run, Saturday to be a Firelands run, and then Monday to be the guild raid. It was too much. Actually, it was exactly the same number of nights that had made us feel too committed to raiding in the first place! I had to regretfully stop attending each and every MMLA run, because I realized that for me, FL and MMLA were often mutually exclusive. I felt guilty about it, because I like running old content and I like Fsob and I didn’t want his raid to lack for people. But I just can’t have that much scheduled WoW time any more. It’ll be nice when we are done in Firelands so that it’s a non-issue.

As far as other commitments go, it’s so tempting when you see other people who need someone for whatever it might be – a single raid, a series of raids – at least for me, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Raiding is fun. It’s nice to be able to help your friends! But it’s also important for me to look at the bigger picture from the opposite perspective – if I spend x amount of time doing THIS, what will I not have time to do? It’s never an easy question, and can make you feel like a colossal jerk when you know that you could help but seem as if you’re choosing not to. I am fortunate to have some amazing folks willing to help me each week in Firelands, and I’m aware that I’m accruing some sizable debts because of it, which I hope I can someday repay. For now, though, I’m just trying to remember that the time I SEEM to have doesn’t actually exist, being already filled with a number of obligations already. I have to remind myself I can’t join every raid or every five-man that contains people I genuinely like and want to help. I have to pick and choose and sometimes be a bit precious about what I’m willing to spend time doing. I owe it first to myself and Voss to not get grouchy because I didn’t set limits on the amount of energy I had to commit to this. It’s a delicate balance, but I keep reminding myself of a therapist’s advice: You have to take care of yourself before you take care of others. You know, the whole airplane oxygen mask thing. You’re no use to anybody if you’re just gasping there.

I want to hear about how YOU all maintain this balance! Are you juggling everything with perfect poise? Do you feel a bit rushed sometimes, or guilty when you can’t help out your friends? Do you somehow manage to ‘do it all’? Are you tired of hearing me write about how happy I am to be raiding on a reduced schedule? I made the joke about a month later that I didn’t have anything to write on my blog because every post would have just been “I LOVE RAIDING ONE DAY A WEEK, PART I,” “RAIDING ONE DAY A WEEK IS AWESOME, PII…” We killed H Ultrax the other day, too, which puts us at 2/8 heroic at an execeedingly leisurely pace, but then we killed Ultra the first night we even tried it. It’s nice to kill heroic bosses while not caring when we did it, or stressing out about wiping for hours if we don’t actually feel like doing it. It works for us. What’s working for you? Or what isn’t? I’m feeling chatty today, so feel free to let loose if you just need an ear. Have some tea.

How To Get Into That Heroic Raiding Guild You’ve Always Wanted

This was the first time I ever saw Algalon's room. I have taken so many screenshots of it, it may be my favourite place in the game, period.

On Friday night, I joined a few guildies in a pug 25M run that was meant to be an ICC 25 run but turned into an Ulduar 25 run. (It’s a long story that’s boring, trust me, and not really essential to the rest of this post). So we’re in Ulduar 25, ripping it up, despite tremendous amounts of general confusion. I don’t usually join these kinds of runs simply because my tolerance for pug shenanigans on a grand scale is fairly low and I’m wont to rage, but I’ve been feeling the achivement bug lately. For reasons that will become clear in a few lines, when I DO join these types of runs I don’t usually talk in Vent/Mumble. I just join, do my thing, and type in raid chat.

Because our raid leader was getting progressively distressed about the fact that someone had opened Algalon’s door, I felt compelled to speak up briefly in Mumble just to say, “The timer doesn’t start until you actually engage him for the first time, so we’re fine.” No problem, right? Well, I was reminded about why I don’t usually talk when immediately one of the rogues said in /say:

“OMG! WAS THAT A GIRL? :O :O”

Those of us in BT had fun mocking him in guild chat (“I hear those do exist in the wild,”) but of course I couldn’t resist and so I replied in say, “OMG WHERE!?”

So he whispers to me (because I’m the only one who deigned to reply to him) and says, “Was that you???”

I sit for thirty seconds or so, pondering possible answers. I could lie (just to get rid of him) and say that it wasn’t. I could say that it was and potentially risk whatever that will unleash. The important thing to me is – I honestly don’t care what he says or does, and I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t make a big deal of “being a woman” playing video games. I know so many bloggers, folks on the Twitter community, etc. that are amazing female gamers and it’s not even an issue to me. There are tons of us, aren’t there? But I suppose in some scenarios we’re still a bit rare, yet I won’t go out of my way to emphasize my womanliness, because just as it doesn’t matter whether the person at the other keyboard is a man or a woman, why would they care that I am?

Except sometimes they do. I reply to the rogue with a simple, “Yep.”

He came back with something I didn’t expect.

“I don’t mean to imply that girls can’t raid,” he says, “But how did you get into a heroic raiding guild?”

Whew. It’s a good thing he didn’t mean to imply that girls can’t raid or anything, because the way those two statements were linked I might have gotten the wrong idea there! Anyway, the implication to me, is pretty clear. How did you (a woman) get into such a guild (when everyone knows women can’t raid) when I (possessed of appropriate chromosomes and sex organs) have been unable to find and join such a guild?

Any number of snarky answers went through my head, but I decided to just keep it simple (and blow his mind at the same time).

“How did I get in?” I wrote back. “It’s my guild.”

“:O :O” (that’s the visual representation of someone’s mind being blown, swiftly followed by mine exploding in return as he wrote…) “Do you have any room?!”

Go ahead and guess my answer! (A polite “No,” actually. I try to keep it polite. Most of the time).

You might think I started this entry so I could write about sexism, stereotyping, and ill-mannered pugs, but truthfully I didn’t. I’m not upset about what the guy said, it’s just eyerolling (and I thought you’d find it funny). I’d actually like to write about what he said in a completely serious way. How did I get into a heroic raiding guild? Or on a related manner, how can anyone get into a heroic raiding guild if that’s their goal?

Voss and I actually started out on the Moon Guard server, because when we first started playing I was especially interested in the roleplaying aspect of the game. I’d taken part in text-based roleplaying previously, and the two of us had actually met on a roleplaying, private-run Shard of Ultima Online. I was interested. We played on MG for about a year and a half, and I still have really fond memories of that time. Our experience is in no way meant to illustrate RP servers in general, but towards the end of our time there we were having trouble with raiding. (That is to say, I’m not saying that folks on RP servers can’t or don’t raid, because obviously they do). But for us, we were stymied by schedules and timezones. Many of the raiders in the group we’d organized were in the UK, and could only raid on Saturday afternoons/evenings. One day a week was not a lot of raiding, and it was hard to always commit our Saturday to this. I’m sure it was tough for them too.

To make a long story short, we decided to move on and find a guild that could give us the kind of raiding we longed to see. We wanted to clear entire instances (at the time, we’d killed Hodir in Ulduar but couldn’t get any further without extending our lockout). We wanted to see what heroic modes were all about. We’d been raiding through Kara, ZA, and had cleared all of the Wrath content up until that point but not through Ulduar. ToC had been out for some time and we hadn’t set foot in it. I started browsing through the recruitment forums and I saw an ad for the guild Business Time. It was a ten-person guild (a requirement) that focused on strict ten, hard-mode progression. They were working on hardmode Ulduar (Firefighter!) They needed a mage. I should preface this by saying that I was raiding Ulduar as a resto druid and was fed up of healing. There wasn’t anyone in our raid group who was really interested in healing full-time, so every week we’d find a pug healer, with mixed results. Two-healing Ulduar was a challenge. Two-healing Ulduar with an unknown pug quantity was even more stressful. Without an actual healing “team” I felt very adrift and found raiding to be stressful. I was starting to have more migraines and regular headaches, and realized I’d gone through the better part of a bottle of Advil in a really short amount of time. This was the impetus that pushed us to consider finding another guild and transferring away from all we’d known up until that point. The schedule fit. The approach fit. The name was a Flight of the Conchords joke that cracked me up.

And Business Time needed a mage. I wanted to be a mage. I’d mostly raided in Wrath as a priest and then a druid because healers were always needed. So I applied to BT with my mage, and Voss applied as a fury warrior (because they didn’t need tanks).

I think, at present time, our app would have been a hard sell. Business Time was just getting into hard-modes, so they weren’t yet as stringent in their requirements. (The preceding link is actually an Officers’ Quarters column with a letter written by the former GL. I had read the letter at the time, and secretly wished I could be in a guild like that). I was under geared, and inexperienced with many of the fights they were working on. I was also really freaking out about leaving the server I had known for one and a half years, and moving to a completely unknown server type. But I really really wanted to be a mage again, and I really liked what I had seen of the guild. Heck, I’d read about the guild back in June and then completely forgot!

Business Time talks strategy before Anub'arak. I am too busy making faces and taking pictures in the smoke bombs.

Take full advantage of the point/emblem system to ensure that even if you aren’t raiding, your gear is the best it can possibly be.

Even though Millya hadn’t been my “main” raider, her gear was by no means bad. She had quite a bit of T9 stuff, if I remember correctly (it was purchasable with points from the vendor!) She also had such BoEs as I could find like a Darkmoon card, etc. I was definitely still undergeared compared to the majority of BT raiders, but that meant that once I started raiding it was easy to get gear because nobody needed it. The point wasn’t that you need the best gear to raid, it was that my character showed dedication. Before I applied, I went through my gear with a fine-tooth comb to put all the best gems and enchants on it that I possibly could. No stone was left unturned to ensure I was putting my best face forward. Your gear is the most immediate indicator of your commitment to your character and attention to detail. Don’t miss any enchants or enhancements! Go over and above what you think is “necessary,” because in most guilds the best is an expectation.

Don’t be afraid to leverage your personality.

Business Time took a chance when they recruited Voss and I. We were inexperienced, a bit undergeared, and had no logs to prove our chops. What we DID have was an application that I took great care in writing (and it was long). We each wrote separate portions of the application so they could get a sense of our personalities. And we really clicked in the interview. Despite some misgivings about class balance, only our grumbly shaman voted no to let us in (I like to bug him about this, the truth is I can’t blame him at all, though I’m glad nobody else agreed). They voted to let us in because they liked us. We promised we would research the fights and prove that we had what it took to succeed with a guild like theirs. They took a chance, but really it was fairly win/win on their side. If we hadn’t worked out, it’s our money on the line, and they could’ve just found some other folks. Personality and attitude is something that is magnified in such a small group – if you have exceptional players that are jerks, they’re never going to fit – unless your guild is predominantly a jerk atmosphere. Saying thank you, being friendly and engaged and being fun to talk to are huge points. I think this should go without saying, but don’t be late, either! We’ve had interviewees not even show up, which is pretty much an automatic disqualification unless you have a great, emergency-level reason like being attacked by a bear or a car breakdown.

Do the research to show you’re ready, especially if you’re facing fights you’ve never seen.

Voss likes to remind me that when we first joined BT, I had pages and pages of notes about every boss we were going to be facing. I watched the videos, I jotted quick notes on every salient point to make sure I’d know the mechanics. So it was that on our first night in BT, when I was pulled in to replace a DPS for hardmode Mimiron, I was ready. Sure, I was nervous, but like I said to Voss (cue Rocky music) “These bosses have no ‘normal’ mode. I am going to treat them as if this is just what they do.” And so I did, and it worked for me. Later when we went through and killed Mimiron on normal I was astonished at all the things he didn’t do. I was so used to his soul crushing hardmode version because I refused to even acknowledge that anything else existed.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as long as you’re still seeking answers on your own.

People always say “know your class” as if it’s that easy. What about players that genuinely want to do well but are pretty new? My best advice would be to read everything you can get your hands on. Read Elitist Jerks, read blogs written by people of your class, read threads on the official forums or MMO Champions. Read the class columns at WoW Insider. Talk to people who also play your class if things are unclear or you have further questions. You can’t help but improve in the face of that much information, and as you play more you will fine-tune what you need to know and do. There’s a wealth of available information and support out there for the taking. Take it! Be prepared to answer class specific questions such as “What would you do at xyz” time or “Why did you choose the spec you did?” (Hint: Don’t just say “It’s what EJ said to spec.”) Know why you are doing something and not just what to do. Players who can think on their own and contribute to strat in unorthodox ways are invaluable, and if you are a creative thinker that can really impress a prospective guild.

As proof of this, BT’s other mage was someone I met on Moonrunner who found OUR guild forums and registered there to talk about mages with me. He was in a more social guild at the time and struggling to make his guild care about hard modes. When that guild folded, it was a natural choice for me to talk to the theorycrafting mage who I knew would be a fabulous fit and had thus far only lacked the opportunity to do many hard modes, not the aptitude or the drive.

Be prepared for rejection.

If you’re trying to get into a heroic guild without ever having done heroic raiding before, you’re starting from a disadvantage. It’s not an insurmountable one, and the way recruitment is these days, it could possibly be no obstacle, but you may still be turned down. Don’t let it get you down. Guilds need the best fit for them just like you need the best guild, and if it’s not a good “match” it wouldn’t end well in any case. If you are really impressed with a guild but your application is rejected, you could also see about joining as a social member with intent to raid. Participation in alt runs and 5-mans with the members of the guild could make you an easy choice the next time they have a spot on the roster. Alternatively, seek out another guild. Maybe you were overreaching. I know I used to shake my head regularly over ads that said, “Must be 8/13 heroic or better,” when the player themselves hadn’t done any hard modes at all! Don’t set your expectations of a guild too high. There are many reasons why progression in a tier could be slower (and needing to recruit heavily is definitely one of them). If you join a guild that’s seeking to progress, you could find a great home in that 2/7 heroic guild rather than the 6/7. The distinction is pretty fine, and having you on the team could mean that next tier things progress even better!

I don't wear this title any more, but when we earned it ranks among my top three best WoW moments ever. It was such a struggle to get there, and yes, we did it in tens gear!

It should go without saying that my final advice to anyone seeking to get into heroic raiding is: Don’t whisper the GL and act astonished that she’s able to use her keyboard to kill heroic dragons, because if you do that, you can do all of the other things above and they won’t get you anywhere. Alternately, as a sub-tip to the above, you COULD also marry a mage and then join a guild that really needs a mage and will take you even though they didn’t want a warrior at all. Just ask Voss! We actually just passed our two year anniversary of being in Business Time (October 12th!) and it’s been awesome. I hope it goes without saying that the subtext of this article is tips to help you if you WANT to be in a heroic raiding guild. If you don’t, these tips could be applied to any guild, or applied to “getting into raiding” in general. I don’t think there’s anything in there that won’t serve you well no matter what your aspirations might be!

Feel free to add your own tips, experiences or questions in the comments! After all, this is just based on my story, yours may be completely different.

Mage Revival

I don’t know if anyone else’s guild works like this, but ours seems to go in phases of popularity. I swear, for awhile there all I saw when I logged in was druids. Or paladins, druids, and warriors, which actually gave rise to the phrase “warrior warrior,” later adapted into “mage mage.” Anyway, I think it starts when someone has a lot of fun playing a class. Other people see the fun happening and think, “Wow, look at the fun they are having! I’ve never tried that class/I haven’t played my character of that class in awhile,” and suddenly the guild roster is positively awash in blue mage names.

I love it. People talk about leveling specs on the forums, gear levels, pugs giving us a hard time about when to use Time Warp (seriously, what IS it with this? When I am in a pug I’m just happy if all my fellow group members generally know where their keyboard is and are pressing buttons. I don’t ever give people crap about when they are going to use something like Time Warp, I’m just happy they know where that key is located and opted to press it. These people who get all bent out of shape because I used TW at the start of Jin’do must spend their lives angry because their expectations are pretty high. P.S. You don’t usually get TW at all on that fight because I’ll use it on Zanzil but absentmindedly forgot. WAY TO GO, MAGE). Anyway, I digressed a bit there, because my original point was:

1) Mages are awesome

2) Mages are contagious.

I’ve now been raiding as a mage again for several weeks, an endeavour that has not been without its minor mishaps but by and large has been awesome. Last night we beat our Baleroc record by a whopping one second so I feel that I contributed positively to that. Groups being held back don’t beat records, do they now?! There has definitely been a learning curve as I realized that I know very little about what DPSers are doing in most of these fights after healing them for months. It’s a good thing I’m not giving the fight explanations.

“So, um, on this one you’ve got to… I’ll be – Look, I’ll level with you, all I do is take a feather. I know that’s very important. And then I chase Voss around in circles. I look at the fire and make sure not to get hit by it. But mostly I see this green bar. It looks pretty much the same as it does on the other fights. So why don’t you just – I’ll be over here. The green bar and I.”

No, I’m not slighting healers. It’s just that I had to re-learn my role for DPSing, while at the same time growing accustomed to a new spec. Initially, gear was definitely holding me back because I was unwilling to relinquish my T11 4-set until I was able to get 4-set T12. Well, last night I got it, and raided for the first time! It was awesome. I’m almost at the same gear level now with Millya as I was with Vid; actually better because I got both a weapon and an off-hand last night. Three piece heroic tier gear in the amount of time I’ve been raiding is a bit ridiculous. Vid had one piece of heroic tier! I’m actually glad she didn’t have more and that I kept passing on stuff in favour of the other healer (I knew I’d be DPSing for H Rag anyway) so that when I switched it hardly mattered or affected anyone else’s gear level at all. But yea, verily did the loot gods look down upon Millya and smile, beam and begin to throw mage gear in her general direction. I know that doesn’t necessarily matter, but it is pretty nice. I’ve been fortunate.

Another story from the mage front; actually it requires some backstory first: One of our former raiders invited a work friend of his to play WoW, and so he joined our guild a few months back. He was completely new to the game, I think he’d played LoTRO or something but had never played WoW before. I seriously love him. He will ask questions like “I’m dueling this guy and he disappeared, how do I kill a guy like that?” (Freaking rogues, right?) Or he’ll say, “Hey, this Argent Tournament thing is pretty fun! Have you guys ever tried this?” (Oh, if only he knew). There’s something pretty awesome about knowing a person as they experience this game for the first time. We’re all so embroiled in the nuances, or jaded by the long grinds and hours we’ve poured into it, that sometimes I think it’s easy to lose sight of that magic – these “worlds we inhabit together,” as Metzen put it.

This guildie is level 84. It’s taken him a good long while to get there, and there’s no “end” in sight soon because he got distracted doing Loremaster (first of Outland, now I think he’s going back to do Kalimdor/Eastern Kingdoms). He’s not in any rush to “finish.” He’s just enjoying the journey and seeing what the world has to offer. He’s also the only one who laughed when I got the “My Sack is Gigantique” achievement the other day, so I love him for that too. (Come on, I spent 1000 G on that joke!) Anyway, so that’s to introduce you to my guildie, that’s the back story. The actual story is that I logged in yesterday and was running a dungeon as Millya (needed to get the last VP for those tier gloves!)

He said, “What are you up to?” and I told him, “Killing some trolls, taking their stuff,” (he laughed, how can I not love this guy?) and then he said, “You know I didn’t know that was an alt of yours.”

“Oh no? Actually, she is my MAIN!” I replied with great glee.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “I thought you were different people when you were playing Vid and Millya.” (Pause) “I always thought Millya was friendlier.”

I laughed and said I was sorry if I’d been a jerk when playing Vid, and he said no, you were nice, just Millya was friendlier. He’d clued into the connection between my characters when I asked Voss to make Millya the guild leader again the other day (so annoying not being able to do guild leader things on the appropriate character). So he had gone to work to ask our mutual friend if I was the same person. I had a good laugh relating this story to Voss, who just shrugged.

“Playing Millya makes you happy, so you’re friendlier.”

I don’t want to harp on about this, but Shintar mentioned that I had been a bit negative about Millya before switching. I tried to think back and remember this and I couldn’t (I know I could read blog entries, but I didn’t). What’s interesting about keeping a blog like this is that it’s highly filtered information. You only know as much about me as I choose to tell you, and also, I only tell you what I believe to be true. In other words, it’s possible for me to hide things from myself, convince myself something is true, or try very hard to convince anyone reading that something is true. What’s funny is that I’d written about “how playing my alt was hurting my raiding” only a few short weeks before I switched, and I’d been playing Millya non-stop (and loving it, honestly). I tried to spin it around and say “Oh well, I guess I was playing my alt for a reason!” but I’m afraid I lied – mostly to me, but by extension, to you guys.

We had an interesting thread on our private guild forums the other day where we talked about /played time and tallied up our totals for all to see. I liked it because it was interesting to see how much people have played (and which characters), but also because the inevitable, “I don’t know how I should feel about this number,” came up and there was no shaming, only agreement that we enjoy this game and have enjoyed those hours, too. I don’t tally up the time I spend reading or doing other hobbies and I don’t feel any guilt about those – why should I? As with WoW. So what was interesting about my numbers was that they were completely skewed. I’ve played 141 days as a mage. My next closest character doesn’t even come close, clocking in at a mere 50 (my druid) and poor Vid way behind at only 39 days played. I have played more as a mage than my other characters combined! My next closest character is almost 1/3 the time. I think that’s eloquent in itself.

The truth is, when we needed another healer, I sincerely felt I could help in that regard. I didn’t dislike playing a mage at all. The other other truth is, though, that I have sometimes been frustrated as a mage because I always feel I’m not as good as our other Super Mage, and that everyone is always comparing me to him (to my detriment). It’s tough to be in the shadow of someone you truly respect and you know is an exceptional player. I think that I’m a pretty good player, but not like he is. So there’s that. At the time, we also had our ridiculously good warlock and I was having a hard time keeping up with the two of them. It stung. I guess it was an ego thing. And I’ll be completely honest with you – I wanted to avoid the issue of The Legendary.

Fortunately, Dramawrath didn’t really cause any in our guild. At the time, I felt like an argument could have been made for either myself or our awesome mage, (who is indisputably an amazing DPS and also does a lot for the guild). Our shaman is also stupendous and ended up being second-in-line by virtue of guild seniority and steadiness. I hope we’re able to make one for him, too. He’s almost done with the cinders portion of the chain. I think I am no slouch of a DPS and I also do a lot for the guild. But I think it meant more to our other mage. (And I know he’s going to read this and if he’s reading it I want him to know this has nothing to do with you and everything to do with me. I wanted you to have this, and I still do. You deserve it.) He said to me when we talked about it that he would rather not have it, if it was going to cause drama. I couldn’t agree more. I have the kind of personality that unfortunately can be avoidant. Especially as a leader I have to consciously push myself to confront issues sometimes when I’d rather pretend they don’t exist – or maybe, when I’d rather just duck out of the way altogether, as I did when I switched to my paladin for one very specific tier.

I will admit, privately on the internet in front of everyone, there’s a part of me that’s a bit sad about the Dragonwrath. Caster legendaries don’t come along all the time, it’s a pretty neat thing to have, etc. etc. I was watching at Blizzcon when they announced that they would do a legendary staff, and I cheered so loudly. I see other folks getting theirs or read about their progress on blogs and I feel a slight pang. But I don’t regret my decision because I think having me as a healing paladin did help us in this tier. Yes, I missed playing my mage, and I am happy to play her again. Perhaps sometime during the next expansion I’ll see if I can solo any of Firelands and get an outdated Dragonwrath. The more essential thing, to me, though, is not Dragonwrath itself, and I’d actually like to invite you to think about that for a moment.

There are many Dragonwraths. Yes, it’s an “orange” item, but every raid group is making one (or more). Some raid groups will have several. It’s not Dragonwrath that matters at all. That staff is a visual representation of the teamwork and devotion of ten to thirty people. They painstakingly gathered all of those cinders, those embers, those shards, to put that together. I’m deliberately leaving out the “and then gave it to you” part here. Because in a way, that almost doesn’t matter. It’s an achievement that everyone can be proud of. That team work, that drive, it’s humbling and awesome. Braving the challenges of the Firelands night after night, through tension and tedium, elation and success, that is what’s truly legendary. I’m proud of the guild for doing it (we’re about one week away from completing it) and I couldn’t think of a better wielder of that honour. I’m really glad he will have it, and I’m also really glad to be a mage again (although it’s not like playing a paladin was bad). After all, I’m friendlier, which is probably a good thing!

Revelations (That Are Not Actually About Cookies)

Just over a week ago now, Canadians were preparing for our version of stuffing ourselves silly and being thankful about it. Thanksgiving! (Yes, it’s the same holiday as in the U.S. pretty much, except ours is a little earlier). We’d acquired a turkey, friends were due to arrive, and as with any major holiday – I happily took a welcome excuse to do some baking. The centerpiece of my endeavour was to be pumpkin cupcakes. Voss, who doesn’t especially like pumpkin, asked if I could perhaps bake something else on the side for him. Some cookies, maybe? (Insert big pleading eyes here.) Chocolate chip cookies, maybe? It doesn’t usually take much to get me to do more baking, so of course I agreed.

And here I paused. For years now, I’ve been experimenting with lower fat baking. It’s possible to do and still have recipes taste good. My low-fat chocolate chip cookies are pretty decent – but they tend to be a bit harder, definitely “dippers.” You have to be so careful with the dough not to overmix it. I hesitated. Did I want to make the “healthy” recipe – or did I want to go back to my tried-and-true?

I haven’t made this recipe in years. It was faithfully copied from my Mom’s recipes when I first moved away from home a decade ago. I looked at that recipe, carefully written out. It has twice as much butter as the other recipe. I know they aren’t as “healthy” (if any cookies can be considered healthy). The thing is, butter serves a specific role in baking, just like all the other ingredients do. It helps with texture, establishing both moisture and crispness. It’s possible to make things with much less of it (I hardly use it at all in “regular” cooking) but in baking it’s a tough thing to do away with.

I made my Mom’s recipe. They weren’t as pretty to behold as their low-fat counterparts. I watched them cooling on the rack a bit uncertainly – they’d flattened out more than I’d expected. I wasn’t sure how they were going to be.

I took one bite of that first cookie and the taste of it exploded in my mouth. It tasted of a hundred happy moments mixing with my Mom, adding vanilla, adding eggs. It tasted of licking the beaters of the electric mixer (raw egg be damned! I came through childhood just fine). It tasted of the time that our old, long-departed cocker spaniel opened a container of cookies and helped himself (one by one, at his leisure!) It tasted of home. It just tasted right, and in that moment I didn’t care that the cookies had twice as much butter as the other kind. They were perfect.

I have to admit, I’d been having a tough time getting into the Thanksgiving mood. For awhile now, I’ve been labouring under an indecisive funk. I wrote all about how I felt playing retribution all the time. I’d even planned to write a “Thanksgiving” Warcraft post that never materialized because I just felt like I was going through the motions. The thing is, I have a lot to be thankful for (both in and out of game) but I wasn’t feeling up to expressing it. I’d begun playing my paladin at the start of this tier because I felt that it was how I could best help the guild. I felt that it was best for the guild. What I didn’t consider deeply enough was whether it was what would be best for me.

For years, I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies as a treat that are “better for me,” but they aren’t RIGHT. I’d rather eat them half as often but enjoy them twice as much. Or actually, what I’m trying to say – in an extremely roundabout and cookie-based way – is that last week, I took Millya into Firelands for the first time. (It’s appropriate if mage metaphors include baking, you know).

The first raid, I was really nervous and I definitely didn’t play my best. There’s an element of wanting to “prove I’ve still got it,” and focusing on that led to a few bonehead maneuvers. But it was okay. The second raid, I was feeling more comfortable, and I really let myself exult in the feeling. I love being a mage. I love everything about it. I love blink, I love firing spells off like a deadly turret, I love conjuring cakes for everyone and seeing my mirror images sprinting all over the place and even my stupid flame orb wandering off on its own to explode and attack, seemingly, nothing. I love my serious little goat woman and her wild hair and earnest horns. I love wearing a dress. I’m crazy about it. I always have been. I missed it when I was a priest, and a druid, and now a paladin. I missed it because it was the right thing for me to be and I never should have lost sight of that.

“You always preferred your mage,” a few guildies have told me gently. I’ve received more than one whisper from people saying they’re happy to see my mage again, and that it feels “good” to have me be a mage. It does feel damn good. I am still feeling pangs of guilt, as our discussions about two versus three healing came to an uneasy commitment, and I know that me leaving that team leaves us one healer down and bloats the DPS roster. If we need to, we’ll have to recruit another healer in the next tier. It is selfish of me – I’ve admitted I was wrong to switch characters. Not because I can’t do it. I think I was a pretty good paladin, and a pretty good healer. But it’s not what I love the most, not like my esteemed paladin friends – who live and die on paladin news and are really, some of the best folks I know. I was proud to be among them, and it has nothing to do with the class. I don’t want to attribute too much meaning to a video game, or a virtual persona, but there is a thin line between what you play and who you are.

I don’t want to have to write another entry like this in one tier, or two. No matter how much I think “I could help out” as a healer, I shouldn’t do it. When I stepped into that second raid, my eyes actually momentarily stung, I was so happy. The familiar sensation rolled over my finger tips as I spammed two like my life depended on it. This character is home. I regret the inconvenience it causes my guild and my guildies, but I need to be selfish about this. It was silly of me to think I could be as happy playing anything else. Every time I’ve switched has been to try and fill a niche or role we’re lacking, but I’m no good to anyone if I’m playing something but secretly and sadly miserable. Thursday’s raid was an absolute blast, and I don’t know if it’s because good moods are infectious or what but it felt like everyone had a better time. We have a secret paladin turned warlock going back to his paladin and I think he’s as happy as I am to trade his robes for plate. (He probably didn’t tear up about it because he’s far too stalwart for that, but I’ll bet he sang a song). I remember that this is the right thing to do every time I wonder what reputation grind I need to be working on (re-doing) now and then I remember, I don’t need to be re-doing any of them because I’ve already done them. This is my main we’re talking about. I’m baaaaack.

Oh, and P.S. – The cookies are going to be a rare and occasional treat, but when I make them, you better believe I’m going to make my Mom’s version.

P.P.S. – I used eight images in this blog post, but I probably had twice that many I could have used. More evidence.

The Hybrid’s Dilemma: Part II

Way back when, in the ICC days, I wrote about the troubles I faced as a hybrid player. At the time, I was playing a moonkin with a side of resto. You can read that post first if you like, I think a lot of it is still relevant to the problems that hybrids continue to face. It’s not entirely comprehensive, this is more of a personal viewpoint thing.

After my experiences as a hybrid moonkin, I swore that it wouldn’t happen again. When I switched to my mage, I was very “mage for life,” and I poured my efforts into her achievements and her mount and pet collecting. Unfortunately for me, even over nine thousand achievement points isn’t an effective deterrent when it comes to character switching (and it was a big reason why I knew I should never be a contender for something like a legendary weapon – I am too fickle). That is why, at this point in time, I find myself coming back to the same issue – only it’s as a paladin.

Tens and the Hybrid Dependency

It must be tough to design encounters effectively for a ten-person raid. Any raid has a set number of “required” tanks for an encounter, although it can be flexible. Some encounters can be tanked with one less tank or one more tank depending – For instance, we did Heroic Halfus with two tanks and three healers, but I’ve heard of guilds that preferred to do it with three tanks and two healers. It all comes down to what you have available to you. A raid team can only be made stronger by having flexible people willing to change roles when need be, but at what cost? At what point does asking players to switch roles become unreasonable, untenable, or even counter-productive?

The biggest obstacle to this is roster size. The majority of ten-person guilds are smaller (deliberately so). Some guilds will maintain multiple tens teams and perhaps a bigger bench, but by and large we don’t have the luxury of world first guilds that could just bring x number of available moonkins because their abilities trivialize an encounter. Sometimes we can have recourse to people’s alts, but for the most part we just make do with what we have.

The design of encounters in this tier has not been friendly for juggling the number of tanks and healers. As a friend of mine has complained, very often the second tank was expected to switch to DPS because a fight simply didn’t require another. Rhyolith is like this, as is Majordomo. An ongoing issue for us after the heroic nerfs was how many healers does a fight need? Historically, we’ve switched between three and two healers at different times and for different content. ICC was largely two healed up until the point where that wasn’t possible, and the roster was adjusted for three healing. We’ve stayed with the three healing model up to and through Firelands, when especially in later Firelands it becomes evident that three healers aren’t necessary or even possible for quite a few of the fights.

That leaves us with a problem – four active, main-spec healers on our roster and only two spots for healers on most nights (with the exception of Beth’tilac, and perhaps it will become more two healable for us but at the moment it’s more of a three healer thing). What this means is that on any given night, we either have a healer going off-spec DPS, or we bench a healer. I don’t think our healers signed up to raid for just one night a week. The other option is for a healer to switch roles entirely. All of these solutions hang on one question – what is the Dragon Soul going to be requiring in terms of healer and tank balance? We’re trying to plan our roster for the new tier of content but we aren’t sure what we should be aiming for.

The Unhappy Ret

We’re fortunate in that some of our players enjoy tanking and DPSing fairly equally. Our excellent druid is happy to boom it up with his laser beams for some fights, and our paladin tank plays ret without complaint. As a moonkin, I liked to heal (but I didn’t actually like to moonkin). Now I am a main spec healer, and I’ve been finding out that I don’t especially enjoy raiding as retribution. Actually, that’s an understatement. I’ve been doing it so much that I’m starting to loathe it. I’m not really great at it, so it’s stressful. I’ve chased heroic Rhyolith’s legs around for hours. Each week I’ve been Ret for Alysrazor – last week saw me dying to a fire sprinkler just before the fight ended. This week I didn’t die, but my DPS was the lowest by a great margin. When I’m DPSing as ret, I always have a niggling feeling in the back of my head that if I would step out for another (better) DPS, it would make fights easier, and I wouldn’t be holding the group back. I love DPSing. I don’t love ret DPSing. And as was my problem previously as a hybrid, I want to be the absolute best I can at what I’m doing. Off-speccing Ret and DPSing a fight doesn’t allow for that. The only solution would be to DPS even more as ret, which just pigeonholes me into a corner where last week I reached the breaking point and turned to Voss and said: I COULD get better at ret. But I really don’t WANT to.

I could practice art of warring until the cows come home, but ultimately it’s not why I’m playing a paladin. Now this is an entirely personal thing – nobody’s been “making” me play ret, but the fact is that we have all these nights with too many healers, and so somebody’s got to do it – or else healers sit to allow DPS to step in. I realized that I would rather sit than work on H Ragnaros as ret. It’s just that simple. I don’t learn the fight from a healing perspective as ret. I probably will hardly even see what’s going on in the fight itself, because I’m too busy hitting the buttons and hoping my Inquisition uptime is high enough and looking to see what’s procced and what hasn’t and what oh that’s fire it’s burning me ow.

I realize this probably sounds very “I’m taking my ball and going home,” and petulant, and I hope you’ll bear with me there (as I insist and reiterate that this isn’t a problem with my guild or anyone in it). I’ve come to the realization that doing most of the fights in a spec I don’t like instead of a spec I do like has been killing the fun for me. It’s not even, “Oh, I’m lukewarm about this,” I logged off last Wednesday and I was probably the closest I have ever been to saying: I am tired of raiding. It is the opposite of fun for me.

So nobody should have to play a spec or a class or a role they don’t like. I wouldn’t do that to someone else, why would I do it to myself? After taking the weekend while hardly logging into any of my main characters (and enjoying a lovely Thanksgiving, thank you) I realized that I had to make this known to both our other officers and my guild. They aren’t mind readers. It’s certainly not fair to them to stew quietly, getting frustrated with my position until one day I’ve just had enough and I don’t even want to raid any more.

The Hybrid Advantage

I still think that being a hybrid is awesome. Having them on a roster is even better! But you absolutely need to know that the people in the hybrid positions are willing and enjoy doing it. Some people are cut out to be hybrids in both aptitude and attitude. They genuinely have no spec preference. I guess, when it comes to my hybrid roles, I’m not really one of them. I’d rather be a holy paladin. But the way that encounters are designed, it leaves a great big question mark for ten person guilds in particular about each tier. Will their tanks be spending a lot of time DPSing? Will their healers be twiddling their thumbs, or will someone who is DPS need to swap to heals for a fight or two? We just don’t know, although the raid cooldown nature of the tank T13 bonuses seems to suggest that there will be a lot of damage going out. I will be happy to go into the next tier as either a healing paladin or a mage, but I don’t want to go as a ret paladin. Alts tend to slow raiding down so it’s not advantageous to swap from one alt to another depending on role needs. Our raid needs hybrids – the question is, who will they be? We never have been able to find an awesome moonkin; the biggest thing for us right now is that our roster is actually over-full. Only two of our healers are willing to DPS (out of four) and I know the others feel guilty about it. But really, why should they have to DPS? Is it a better model to just start sitting healers for a “real” DPS?

If I move to a DPS role it means fewer available DPS positions. We may be doing some more shuffling, with having someone else move to tank and our current tank move to DPS, which would open up a position for me to do that. Overall, though, it’s frustrating. Speaking as someone who loves playing a “pure” DPS, it’s unfortunate that we have nothing to recommend us but our DPS, when the smaller raid size is so favourable for hybrids. Our raid would probably be perfect if we had an ele/resto shaman, a boomkin/resto druid, and plate DPS that was willing and able to tank. We have a fabulous elemental shaman, and he just doesn’t like healing. I can’t blame him! I don’t like melee DPS. I can’t expect him to do something he doesn’t like and probably wouldn’t be good at, and therein lies the problem. Finding 10-15 people with the appropriate specs, personalities, skills and willingness to swap roles is an almost indescribable juggling act. We shouldn’t be unduly penalized for having two mages, or two paladin healers, or whatever. Except that we are. One of the big reasons I am thinking of switching is because two paladin healers for one ten man team is often not just less than ideal, it’s nearly impossible. Neither of us has the raid healing strength to fill that niche. The upcoming changes are working to address that, but it remains that our holy paladin would be better off healing with any of the other three types of healers by his side – not another holy paladin. That’s frustrating, and it’s disappointing to me personally because I love paladin healing.

That’s not really what this is about, though. What it comes down to is that it’s usually better to have a hybrid, but when you’re a hybrid that hates your other spec you aren’t much use as a hybrid, and then what do you do?

I hope you’ll forgive the somewhat ranty nature of the above post. I have put off writing about this because I didn’t want to be too much of a whiner (hence the radio silence for the past two weeks while I quietly seethed). I want to do the best thing for my raid team, but I also want to do the best thing for myself, because if I’m not having fun then my priorities are severely skewed.

Edited to add: Beru over at Falling Leaves and Wings wrote an excellent post this morning about this very problem, from a broader overview and 25s perspective. It behooves you (har) to go check it out!

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Nerfs

I tend to be a bit slower to comment publicly on news – especially contentious news. It’s not that I don’t have opinions. But especially when my reactions are strong ones, I usually want to sit on them for a bit, sift through why I am reacting so strongly, and only then can I express that reaction coherently.

When word of the upcoming T12 nerfs (to both normal and heroic modes) hit, I was spitting mad. I hit Twitter in a frenzy, posted on my guild forums, logged in to commiserate with my guildies. My nerd rage was at an all-time high. I thought it was unfair, I felt cheated – and didn’t understand why they would nerf content that is, to me, “mid-tier.”

Of course, I recognize that we’re missing some key pieces of info. We don’t know when T13 is coming out, how long it will be on the PTR and exactly when this tier will become obsolete. I was on vacation when T12 came out and so to me, it’s had a run from July to September. Two and a half months feels really short. I didn’t understand why they’d sweep the proverbial tier rug out from under our feet.

But do you want to know the real, naked and honest truth? I was upset because we were late, and I knew it, and I hated to admit it even to myself.

You’re seldom going to see a blog post where someone admits (especially a guild leader) that their progression just hasn’t been going the way they’d imagined. Granted, I don’t usually say much about my raid team anyhow; kill shots aren’t exciting for anyone but the people in them. When we achieve a particularly awesome kill I might write about and exult in it a bit (I was so proud when we downed Heroic Lich King, nothing could have prevented me from writing about that). This is the other side of that coin; the dirty, reluctant and secretive side. The uncertainty, the disappointment – yes, dare I say, even shame and guilt. I was the guild leader of a raiding guild that hadn’t killed a new boss in a month. That is the secret that I wouldn’t write about. It was eating away at me.

There are certain acknowledged risks that go along with pushing that big red button.

The Green-Eyed Monster

I could go into all the reasons (excuses) why BT was stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels, although it’s a timorous beast. Who can say exactly why a raid team may stall? It’s seldom any one reason. Was it the roster changes? Scheduling conflicts? Lack of interest? It’s almost impossible to pinpoint just one thing, and anyway, excuses are tedious and boring. But you start to doubt yourself, and you feel others’ doubt beginning to build, too. Please don’t mistake me. I am incredibly proud of my team and the people on it. The other reason I didn’t want to write this was because I never wanted to make them feel bad, or as if I had lost faith in them. Quite a few guildies read my blog. To write about how we’d been struggling felt like it would be a betrayal, and incredibly demoralizing. It could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your guild leader expresses doubt about you, wouldn’t you start to doubt yourself too?

Yet it’s been agonizing, and I know it’s been hard on all of us. It got to the point where I hated even opening Twitter, hated to hear about the successes of others, each new kill announcement feeling like it was aimed specifically at me, shouting, “We killed this and YOU DIDN’T.”

It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s even worse feeling like your own self-doubts and frustrations are making you act like the worst version of yourself. I’ve always been (or tried to be) the kind of person who is honestly happy for the successes of others. In order to do that, you need to come from a strong sense of self. You can’t let your confidence be shaken, nor start to feel like others’ successes are a reflection of you. They aren’t, unless you let them be.

But the fact is, we’d still only downed Heroic Shannox after a month of work on other heroic bosses. It eats away at a person, and it eats away at a guild, slowly eroding the confidence that lets you move on to other kills. The longer you’re there, the deeper you become mired.

When the nerfs were announced, I read “nerf” and what I heard was “failure.”

“These nerfs are for you, because you haven’t downed the content in the allotted time frame. You are the intended audience and you need them.” I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way. Whether you are working your way through normal or heroic mode raids, it’s hard not to feel as if nerfed content is a pronouncement on you. For me, I found myself wondering, what is a heroic raid guild that doesn’t kill heroic bosses? I had to think long and hard about this, and the answer I came up with is that it’s a heroic raiding guild that could, perhaps, at this time – benefit from some nerfs.

Whatever the reasons – and I don’t want to delve into them here, because our group is in the process of stabilizing once more – we’ve really struggled to move through this tier. We mowed over the normal modes for the most part and had great momentum going into heroics. It’s as if we were caught somewhere in the middle; quite strong for normals, but maybe not quite strong enough for all of the heroics. So, I was immediately angry, and then slowly started to drift towards acceptance. As I read some thoughts that other people had on the subject, I realized that I have to focus on what is important: the long-term strength and success of the team. We faltered somewhat in T11, not completing the heroic tier (something we’d not failed to do since Ulduar), and that was a blow to morale. We’d hoped to make a strong start in Firelands (and I think we did) but it’s tough to predict just what is going to happen – who is going to leave, who is going to be out of town, whatever. I’m not looking to point fingers at my people. The funny thing is, the guild has changed completely. It’s not the same guild it was even a year ago. Many of our long-term members stopped raiding, replaced by new people who – no matter how awesome – need time to click, and build a new team.

This whole process has helped me to realize some truths.

Sometimes it’s better to pick yourself up and build something for the future. So we weren’t on the bleeding edge of content for this tier. It’s a fact. But so what? Tons of guilds haven’t even made it this far – they’ve folded, collapsed, or exploded. We still have a full raid group. We’re still here. We’ve consistently cleared through Ragnaros for many weeks in a row, and our raid has been gearing up nicely as a result.

Success is all relative. A week ago, I was upset because we couldn’t move past 1/7 heroics. None of us joined this guild to only kill 1/7 heroics. The announcement of the nerfs and other changes we’ve been making really galvanized the team last night and we had a breakthrough of sorts – finally pushing through to kill Heroic Alysrazor. Nerfs or no nerfs, we’re going into next week with one more kill under our belts. That feels good, it feels like progress, which is why I play this game. Will I be puffed up and brag about our progress post-nerf? Probably not, because I will know that these kills will be much easier than kills made while the content was still at full-strength. But there’s a difference between not boasting and not being proud to complete things at all. These nerfs may be just what we need to continue pushing and have challenges to face leading up to T13 – and when T13 does come, we’ll have all the gear we can muster, and the experience of this tier, and we’ll be ready for it.

This time around, they nerfed the content when we were 28% of the way through heroics (or 42%, if Domo goes well this week). If next tier they pull the “to the ground, baby” move again, I’ll consider it a success if we are further through that tier than we were this one. Measurable, steady improvement is highly underrated. I’m still proud of my team and what we have accomplished, and what I know we will accomplish in the future. Besides that – we can’t be the only group that didn’t go extremely far. There has be a good reason for Blizzard to be nerfing the content before it’s truly through. Maybe guilds that only want to do normals couldn’t get as far in them as they would have liked. Maybe, with reduced raid schedules, not everyone is able to go through the whole thing. Obviously, Blizzard thinks so, and they’re taking this action as a result. It’s going to benefit my guild, and I’m okay with admitting that. It turns out that maybe – if you shed light on such a secret – it might not be so shameful after all.

Voss-isms

I’m sure our raid leader, Vosskah, could tell you that there are so many advantages to being bilingual. I can’t actually claim them, myself (while I do understand quite a bit of French, I wouldn’t call myself bilingual). You can live in different places, work in either language (or both) and also you have access to twice as much arts, culture, and history – in the original language!

It’s an advantage for Business Time that Voss is our raid leader, because 1) he’s great at it but also 2) he’s often inadvertently hilarious. Sometimes it’s a matter of a colloquialism he missed, our just a difference in translation, or a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment. Fortunately for us, he’s a great sport about it. I’m sure that more than half of our “in” jokes have sprung up from some Voss-related misunderstanding. Voss jokes are so much a cornerstone of BT that back when we were working on heroic Lich King one of our members made this video.

The jokes:

  • Voss has a hard time with the word “horrors.” It tends to come out more like just plain old “whore.” Shambling Horrors takes on an all new-meaning, I’m sure you can imagine.
  • Our warlock, Dirtface, had a penchant for summoning mole machines smack in the middle of the raid.
  • Our mage, Fsob, is seldom content to remain in his natural form, leading to some confusion about just who or where he is at any given time.
  • Our erstwhile paladin, Noodlestein, constructed an elaborate fish feast art installation during one of the interminable RP sessions.

Please note: the following video has coarse language and references to gnomes. Viewer discretion is advised.

As it happens, <Shambling Horrors> is now the name of our Horde-side sister guild. Poor Voss’ hapless hilarity doesn’t end there, though. Other things of note:

Our hunter nearly died when we were killing Marrowgar and Voss shouted, “OK, now get Kayla off!”

I had to explain why he might want to choose different phrasing the next time. Similarly, you never know when he might tell us all, “OK, now everyone come on the gnome!”

For some reason, from the first time we fought Shannox, Voss couldn’t help but call him “Shannon.” He wasn’t trying to be funny, the boss was just “Shannon” to him. (Below image credit goes to Searing Shammy).

This image came up in a Google image search for Shannox and I couldn't resist using it. It's from Searing Shammy, it is not my image!

“OK, here she comes!” he’d say. Naturally, this most unfeminine of bosses started a trend. You may be fighting Shannox and Ragnaros in the Firelands. BT is fighting Alice, Beth, Margeurite, and Barbara. Or, as Adgamorix said, “How about – Baleroc as a substitution for Baleroc? It’s catchy, has a good ring to it, and is easy to remember.” (It never caught on, though.)

I can’t even describe to you how hard I laughed the other night when Voss yelled into Mumble as we were fighting Ragnaros, “Alright guys, SPLITTING BOWEL!”

He insists that the difference between “blow” and “bowel” in this case is minimal (after all, if you were hit by Ragnaros’ Hammer you might suffer that effect) but I have to beg to differ. Splitting Bowel is so much more evocative! Given the well-documented prevalence of poop quests in the game, I wouldn’t put it past them to include it as a real boss ability.

I’m really resisting making a “wipe” joke here, I swear. We keep it classy!

Let’s just say that when it comes to having Voss as a raid leader, there’s seldom a dull moment – especially since he himself is so focused and serious. He is the perfect straight man to our admittedly sometimes adolescent humour. Although, he insisted that I had to add in his response to our teasing: “Mangez donc tous un char de marde!”

It means, “I think you are all so hilarious!” (Please note: This is not an actual translation. Don’t repeat this to a French-speaking person unless you want to pick a fight with them. If so, then by all means!)

We love you too, Voss.

What are your raid’s funny (or not so funny) “in” jokes? Is your raid leader, much like Voss, apt to be super serious, or are they cracking jokes along with you? One day we were joking that Voss just tunes us out (“He probably doesn’t even hear us!”) and about thirty seconds later he said, “Huh?” It’s probably the only way he can stay sane.

Update on Settling Into A New Role

I’ve been raiding as a paladin now for just over a month or a little bit longer. It’s been an interesting transition, further complicated by the fact that I feel obligated to re-do many achievements with Vid. I thought it’d be fun to provide a kind of update with how things have been going.

DPS: Now With 100% Rear Boss View

For the occasions when we’ve needed a healer to DPS, I’ve been gearing and working on my retribution spec. Thanks to some help from Antigen and our guild’s protection paladin, I even know what to do (more or less). The only thing I can say is that melee DPS is weird, yet oddly calming. I feel as if I have to frantically spam buttons quite a bit less than as a mage. Oh, I’d definitely be failing if I were just auto-attacking, and that’s not what I’m doing, but it is reassuring to know that my character is always hitting if I’m in range. (Thank you, startattack macros). I’m by no means the world’s greatest retribution paladin, but we still managed to kill bosses with me as a ret (I am the ret). It’s been awhile since I’ve had to go ret for a raid and my gear has improved so I imagine if I were to do it again I would be even better.

I got to hit Rhyolith’s feet and run around frantically! I also went up to attack Beth’tilac, which proved to be convenient because I later went up to heal the tank on Beth’tilac. I got to stand there and DPS Shannox, which kind of feels like cheating to me. Even Staghelm from a ret perspective was almost peaceful, but he was still progression then and so I have only healed for our subsequent kills. I think it’s safe to say that I never imagined I’d be melee DPSing in a raid, but it’s fine. 95% of the time I will be a healer; for that other five percent I’m happy to do whatever is necessary.

"What is this I don't even..."

Achievements

Continuing to work on Vid’s achievements has helped me to feel engaged with her, even when I’m not raiding. To me, Vid (as a character) has been something of a sleeper hit. I made her in 2009 for a lark, did the whole dungeon-leveling thing, wrote a blog about it, etc. I never imagined she’d shoulder her way to the front and wind up a main. I always assumed that if I healed full-time it would be as a druid. I was clearly wrong.

As far as achievements go, her pet collection is up over a hundred now, her mount collection is somewhere around fifty. There are a few pets she won’t be able to get for awhile (Midsummer, Love Is In The Air, etc.) but such is life! I finished the Higher Learning achievement with her as I was writing this post. Up next: continuing to kill poor TB foxes and camping the spawn point for Jadefang.

The biggest trouble I have is trying to catch up with achievements as if I’m on a time limit. I want to catch up yesterday and so sometimes my focus wanders as I try to do everything all at once. I finally, finally finished the last Molten Front “unlocking” and so now will do those dailies until Zen’Vorka’s cache sees fit to give up a pet. Meantime, I have to remember that nobody cares about my achievements except me, nobody cares except me (it’s my new mantra).

Blogging

I’ll admit, I did worry a bit that I might lose readers when I switched from raiding as a mage – and perhaps I did. The funny thing is, though, that very little of my content was mage-specific. I wrote the five-man guides (but never updated them for the Zul instances) and a gear guide, but other than that the things I write about are seldom class-specific. Now I’m in this odd limbo where I don’t feel I have anything to teach or say to paladins, nor do I have mage experience in Firelands. It’s tricky how your personal identity can get tied up into your class identity, so I’m trying not to worry about it overly. I’m just going to write about things that interest me, be they mage, paladin, or guild-related, and hope that they’ll be of interest to someone, somewhere.

Raiding

Make no mistake, switching from being a DPS (especially a pure) to a healer is a big adjustment. I heal five-person content a ton but hadn’t healed a raid in about a year. It says something about my guild’s trust in me that they were willing to let me dive in. Especially being somewhat undergeared for Firelands (I did the best I could, but was definitely behind the curve), healing FL was kind of like performing without a net. It’s been a rush, it’s been exhilarating, frustrating, and triumphant. It’s been humbling. I’m still constantly learning how to be a better paladin, but I’m happy with how it’s gone so far. With my usual zeal for gearing, I’ve managed to squeeze every last upgrade out of non-raid content and I can definitely feel the difference. Especially getting a new weapon and the two-piece T12 bonus have made me feel pretty unstoppable in heroics.

The biggest shift is a mental one, and it’s taken some time. I’ve had to teach my brain to recognize mild stress as ‘the norm’ and not freak out and just do its thing. It was funny when we went back one night to eight-man BoT for valor points. Remember, I didn’t do BoT as a healer, only as a DPS. So we’re on Ascendant Council and I lost range on my tank and my brain just kind of zoned out a bit. There was a part of it that thought, “Gosh, tank’s health sure is getting low.” A few seconds later, the other part of my brain screams, “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HEALING THAT TANK.” Ohhh right, that’s my thing!

I haven’t done this in current content, it’s just interesting to me how the encounters themselves (and the way I have learned them) are so intertwined with the role I was playing at the time. When it comes to Firelands, I’ve only healed (or melee DPSed them) and so I don’t suddenly forget that I’m healing; all of my knowledge is centered around healing patterns, incoming damage, and needed cooldowns.

Recruiting

It’s been a long time since we’ve had three trial members at once. It’s not something I like doing, really, because each new person takes awhile to integrate into a group. Because of our relatively small number, an influx is especially unsettling and runs the risk of unbalancing the group paradigm. Also, they may not get the kind of one-on-one attention and feedback that we like to give, but I think we’ve managed well enough in this regard. I still reflexively catch myself going to check out recruitment ads until I remember – oh right, I don’t have to do that right this instant! It’s nice. They have been doing well, and of course time is the most important factor here. Everyone will naturally ease up as they get to know each other, given some time.

“Those” Raid Nights and What To Do About Them

We’ve all been there. You show up ready to raid. You have read the strats for the progression fights. You’ve been talking about how to better execute fights that you’ve already downed. You have flasks, you have food. You have nine or twenty-four other people.

Or maybe you don’t even get to that point. Maybe someone’s internet is down and you can’t get ahold of John to step in. Someone disconnects as you pull the boss or someone has an addon problem or someone makes a mistake on something you’ve done a million times before. Whatever the reason, something is just off. You’re in for one of those nights.

I wish I had the magic recipe to prevent them. I don’t. Sometimes storms are hitting several areas. Tonight the storm was in our area – massive chunks of hail pounding on the roof so hard during Shannox that I had to turn my sound up just to hear the aural cues I am used to! Thankfully we didn’t disconnect, and no one had any technical difficulties. Regardless, for us it was one of those nights.

Call it a full moon, call it bad luck, call it a combination of factors – we’re still getting to know our new raiders, we had one more melee than we usually do, we made a mistake on assignments, we swapped healers to roles they weren’t used to, and tanks to roles that they weren’t used to. We started the raid night with high hopes for a certain number of bosses that we didn’t achieve. It’s the kind of night where you finish and can feel the collective sigh of relief and discouragement over voice chat. Everyone’s demoralized. Where do you go from there?

There are a few ways to handle it. You could cascade into a doubt spiral, second-guessing everything that happened and your role in it. You could lay blame, you could pout or gnash your teeth. Here’s what I do.

Recognize that it happens to everyone

No, really. You may feel like there is no other single raid group that has struggled as your group struggled on that night. Trust me on this – Vodka has nights like this. No one plays perfectly all of the time. I challenge you to show me a raid group that hasn’t had a crappy or an off night. (Okay, an off night for Vodka doesn’t mean the same thing as it does for other raids, but that’s not the point). We all have times where we feel like we didn’t play to our potential, that we could have done better, that we failed.

We’re human. It happens. So then what?

Take a break

Our group takes regular breaks anyway (once an hour for six minutes), so I always seize this opportunity. Some of the things I do during breaks include:

  • Rub the dog’s belly.
  • Run downstairs.
  • Give the dog a carrot.
  • Open the back door and take deep breaths of fresh air.
  • Yoga. (I’m serious.)
  • Make sure I have a big glass of cold water on my desk for the end of the break
  • I’m kind of a hippy like that, so I have essential oils (mint!) and I’ll put a dab on my wrists or neck or temples. Mint and citrus smells can help reduce stress and aid focus. Lavender is calming, unlike the Firelands, which is…well, on fire.

Sometimes you just need to get your body thinking about something else. I like to stretch my legs and move around during breaks if I can. Long periods of sitting combined with tension can lead to muscle cramps or aches. Focusing on something else even for a few minutes can help you to do better when you come back and sit down.

Switch it up

If you’ve been beating your head against a boss wall for hours and you aren’t seeing any progress, don’t be afraid to tackle something new. It may not result in a kill, but at least it’ll present new frustrations. If your faction has Tol Barad, go do a Baradin Hold run. Kill some more trash. Even switch instances if that’s an option and you have the time to do it.

Get some perspective

Was your night really all that bad? For our raid night, we didn’t kill all the bosses we would have liked, but the ones we did kill we killed pretty cleanly. I healed a different tank than I usually do on Shannox; our other tank healer got a chance to experience the damage patterns of the opposite tank as well. Beth’tilac went down very easily, and it was again a new tank doing the “upstairs” task. It could have been worse. We could have killed nothing. Or one less boss, or two less bosses. We got some valor points. Trash went very smoothly. I was mostly happy with P1 of Alysrazor as well. We’ve killed these bosses before. We will kill them again.

Above all else, no matter how many internet dragons did or didn’t die in any given night, I’m always happy to hang out with BT folks and have fun regardless. So I’m not going to dwell on the raid night. As far as I’m concerned, once it’s ‘in the bag,’ it’s over. There’s no sense beating ourselves up about it. That said, though, the next thing I want to do is:

Identify and learn from your mistakes

I already know what was going wrong with Rhyolith. We made some poor calls on assignments. The melee are going to have to put their heads together when it comes to driving duties. I did not do the best I could in my new role. So there’s a few lessons there, but most importantly I want to find out was going on with Baelroc. What was I doing wrong? Why was it so hard at first, and what can I do better for next time?

Depending on how you work, it might be a good idea to wait before you proceed with this step. If you go in still frustrated, tired or upset, you’re liable to just beat yourself up over things you can’t change.

Put that thing to bed

The single best thing you can do, I think, is just sleep on it. You’ll be able to process tomorrow what may seem hopelessly aggravating right now, because it’s still too close. Re-evaluate your performance and the overall raid performance the following day when you have a clear head and a rested perspective. Ask yourself, was it really that bad? Even if it was, it’s still over, and tomorrow is another raid day.

So how about you? What do you do when your group is having one of those nights? Don’t try to tell me you never do, either! I know you’re fibbing.

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