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

Posts tagged ‘what’s my main again?’

How Playing My Alt Was Hurting My Raiding

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!

Character Hierarchy: Who’s the boss?

I’m always interested in discussions about which character people consider their ‘main.’ I know people who have two mains, one they raid with and one that is their achievement/collector. Is your main your oldest character? The one you love the most? If you’re an RPer, perhaps it’s the character whose story you are most invested in. Changing mains can lead to mixed feelings and even a confusion of identity. I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s true! My friend Rades has been playing his death knight character primarily since he was unhappy with the hunter changes, but his identity in the WoW community is still pretty strongly a burly green hunter. After all, his blog is called Orcish Army Knife.

Millya's (and my!) first raid ever. I love this screenshot; I can feel the tension I felt at the time being told "Go stand here," while we waited to pull - and to me Millya looks as if she feels the same way. (p.s. Spellfire set and PvP staff, so retro).

I remembered being flat-out shocked when Wrath came out that people would change “mains” at this time. This was naivete on my part, to the tune of, “But you are a priest, how could you level your druid first?” Plenty of people I know switched characters at the beginning of Wrath (from a bear to a paladin! from a priest to a druid! from a hunter to a death knight!) I had to reconcile myself to the fact that people won’t stay the characters you expect them to stay. The death knight was especially rough because we had to wait for him to catch up to us at max level. The new expansion was a valuable experience, though, because when Cataclysm was coming out I knew to expect it and I started the conversation in-guild really early: Who are you going to want to be playing in Cataclysm? Several people seized on that opportunity, and of course now I understand at least partly why. If you are dissatisfied with your class or just want something new, nothing levels the playing field like the gear reset at a new expansion.

I’m continually surprised by how even when you think your main is clearly defined, other characters can sneak up in the rankings and even dethrone the long-time king or queen. Unexpectedly during Wrath, I dropped all of my max-level characters to play Shaedra – a character who was level forty when I was raiding Naxxramas turned out to be the healer I brought into Ulduar. I really fell in love with being a druid, and the character herself (as I was still on an RP server at the time) was a ridiculous amount of fun to play. Her personality was outrageous and she made people laugh, and I think that was a large part of why she became my “main.”

I took many screenshots of Shae because she was fun to photograph. She's posing here with what was actually a feral staff from Ulduar but it looked so neat I used it for screenshots.

As a confirmed altoholic, I have to admit that there’s always a certain shuffle going on with my characters. I had to play a healer because of raid group requirements, and I found that at the time I preferred to be a druid. I’ve since done this several more times. I remember one of my RLs famously remarking, “You can bring anything you want! But, can you bring a healer?” (Sorry, Saif!) It’s not that I didn’t enjoy healing, but at the time I had an awesome partner. It was fun to rock through Naxx with my druid buddy, two-healing everything. We were a great team.

My later experiences with Shae in Ulduar didn’t really match up with that. No one else in our group wanted to/was in a position to heal, so every week we’d be pugging again. There was the priest who asked whether I was a guy or a girl on Vent (okay, I know I don’t have a high-pitched voice, but I think I still SOUND like a woman), there were healers who would DC, there were healers who clearly had no idea what the heck they were doing. In one week’s run, I did sixty percent of the healing, the other healer did twenty (twenty!) and the rest of it came from other sources. On the one hand, it’s kind of fun to feel superhuman. On the other, I’d finish each raid with a crazy tension headache and started bursting into tears for no reason. This is when we realized that we were not succeeding at running a raid group, and I was burned out on being a healer.

My poor Holy priest, she is the epitome of "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." I have since race-changed her to be a draenei and she really doesn't have a story of her own.

So, I was happy to begin raiding as a mage again when I server transferred and moved to Business Time! They needed a mage. I had kept Millya’s gear at around T9 level because I can’t bear to let my beloved characters languish. BT didn’t really need a warrior but they accepted Voss grudgingly on my good merit (and conjured cakes). The truth is, I played a healer because a healer was needed, but I’m not sure any character was ever my true “main.” They are powerful second-string characters and sometimes I play them, but for me, there’s only really one true main.

Millya's triumphant return to Ulduar hard-modes - i was absolutely floored by some of the scenery in later Ulduar. Please ignore the fact that she is wearing pants, something that would never, ever happen if she had a say in it.

My screenshots folder tells the tale. As I rummaged through looking for good shots of all my characters, I saw the amount of documenting I had done for my behooved spellslinger. There are shots of her in every raid instance, dinging level 70, level 80 – learning how to polymorph people into pigs and wearing the worst Burning Crusade fashion choices. In a way, she’s my least exciting roleplay character because she is me. My other characters are often fun because I deliberately try to make them different – an outspoken booze hound/hedonist, a determined inventor, etc. She’s a bookish intellectual with a temper – not really my most creative decision given my personality. This doesn’t mean I never get confused about the main/alt issue. As recently as this week I’ve thought about playing one of my healing characters because it’s what the raid group needs. This time, fortunately, I faced up to the reality that even if I did it “for the good of the group” I would always miss her. If mages had a healing spec (a la Rift) I would not hesitate! I would chloromance the heck out of my raid group. But that’s not an option.

My feelings towards individual characters is a shifting thing. I haven’t been as excited about Shae since she is no longer a happy tree healer. It’s sad, but true. She’s languishing at level 83. Vidyala became such a favourite that I seriously considered playing her in Cataclysm, but she never quite made it. She is the queen of pugs and possibly an eventual alt run, but she isn’t my main.

Vid-on-ice. Or is that in ice? Anyway, you all know the fight. I guess my pathetic magic had betrayed me.

She is my top pick for when we’re branching out into alt-territory, though! This tier of raiding doesn’t seem very pug-friendly so I’m not sure how much raiding she’ll do, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have time to maintain two “complete” characters. Besides, if I weren’t running LFD pugs, how would I get crazy pug stories to write blog posts about?

Fireballing M.A.G.E.

I knew that when I felt a rush of relief at not having to switch characters to fill a healing slot that it was the RIGHT decision. I don’t want to not be a mage! I don’t know if it’s the class so much as Millya herself. If I could change her class and keep my mounts, titles, and achievements, I might consider changing her to a priest. Barring that, I don’t see it happening. Incidentally, I’ve heard that they are introducing the option to rearrange your characters on the character screen and I am so happy about this. It’s actually okay because Millya is at the top – I deleted my 58 Death Knight just so that she would be at the top. I don’t know why, I am OCD about some things. Now I will be able to put seldom-played alts at the bottom and arrange my other characters in the true pecking order.

How about you? Do you have one main forever? Did you find yourself switching when you least expected it? And why does your main hold the title?

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