Merging Raids: Step One

Merging Raids: Step One

So, you’ve got a core team of raiders. People whom you know are dedicated to the same goal that you are, whatever that may be. Despite your best efforts, you’re constantly short a few. You find yourself stretching to find good raiders. In your virtual travels, you come across another team that seems to be experiencing the same dilemma. Is it the Twilight Zone? Are you looking at your own team looking back at you? No. You’ve simply found a common problem amongst raiding teams: coming up a little bit short. A five-letter word starts materializing in your head. You try to fight it, but you start to give it more and more consideration: Merge.

That’s where I’m at. Well, where we’re at. My goal is to walk through the different phases of merging two struggling raid teams. Obviously you’re going to run into some of, if not all, of the following issues:

  • Deciding if merging is right for you.
  • Arranging & discussing the merge.
  • The first raid night.
  • Possible shifts in gameplan (or should I say, “raidplan”)
  • Potential headaches.

Is it the right choice?

As I’ve mentioned before, I decided to craft a 10-man raiding team with some of my closest friends. We all got together and decided that this is what we wanted to do.  We’re part of a slightly larger guild that likes to do whatever anyone feels like throwing together. However, it’s always been this core crew of us that always wanted to progress through raids. Let me introduce you to the crew:

- Arcas, 80 Arcane Mage – Jayme, a good friend of mine that I met while working at a piano bar in downtown Chicago. Similar mindsets, a blast to hang out with, etc. I’ve come to call him one of my closest friends.

- Naryamas, 80 Prot Warrior – Sam, a good friend that we’ve been playing with since we were all level 40s early on in the Burning Crusade expansion. He’s always dedicated to helping out, and is always the first to be open to suggestion. **Solely a tank**

- Discotheque, 80 Resto Druid – Scotty, another good friend since the same time we met Sam. Former Art teacher, now a Graphic Designer in Texas. Engaged to his girlfriend. Jayme and I will be flying down to Texas for the wedding. **Solely a healer**

- Kevorkian, 80 Death Knight – Aaron, some kind of genius when it comes to Nuclear Physics. Yet, when he came to Chicago to visit Jayme and me, we definitely made sure he’d lose some brain cells to some drinking around town. Awesome guy, can play the “bad cop” really well. **Can Tank or DPS**

- Dralo, 80 Paladin – Dave, this is the guy you’d want on your side in a fight. Not only vocally, but physically as well.  Former Army Ranger and holder of random wisdom. Regardless of the actual cause of a wipe, “it’s Dralo’s fault.” **Can be Holy, Retribution, or Prot**

- Jalla, 80 Arcane Mage - Pat is our newest acquisition. A cool guy from Boston, he grabbed a PuG slot one night, and now we can’t get rid of him! Only kidding. He’s become an awesome raider and team member to have around.

-Thespean, 80 Shaman – Me, David. I’m the “politician.” I just want to make sure everyone’s happy. =) **Can be Enhancement or Resto**

That’s who I would consider to be the “core” of this team. We have other members in the guild, but these people are the ones that seem to be the A-Team. I struggle because I know it’s borderline elitist to think of the guild that way, but it’s true. Here’s why:

The Core vs. The Friends

The Core consists of the people that usually show up on time when they click “Accept” on the invite. If they know they’re going to be late, they make someone aware. They’re usually always prepped with gems/enchants for any gear they may pick up that night. They have flasks and their own food at the ready, especially if it’s a Well Fed buff that you can’t gain from Fish Feast (Haste, etc.).  They study the fights beforehand and hold enough wherewithal to know what their classes bring to the fights. This is always key on progression nights.

The Friends are people that, unfortunately, say they want to progress, but they don’t put the level of effort forward that the Core does. Simply put, they show up late (if at all), aren’t prepared for fights, take random unannounced AFK breaks, and need constant re-explanations. It’s not that they’re bad people by any means, but the Core just doesn’t feel that the Friends are on the same level as we are. That’s tough, because we like playing with the Friends a lot. They tire of progression fights easily, which makes forward motion tough to maintain.

Raid in the Mirror

As hard as we’ve worked, we always find ourselves just shy of a full raid. Even though we may reach ten people, one is usually a frequent fill-in or is a Friend that’s not too reliable.  I’ve had friends like Derevka and Avalonna from Talesofapriest.com bring alts over to come help. Lodur has offered his help as well, but once Cataclysm hits, each of them goes back to their respective raiding crew to do the new content. Recruitment on Nazjatar is slim at best. I’ve had great response from people that are interested in raiding with us, but it’s a lot to ask for someone to completely transfer to a new server, especially to a guild that’s not at the breaking edge of content. We’re not World First, we’re not Server First, we just don’t desire to be on the cutting edge. We want to be on our own cutting edge. In general (there are always exceptions), people tend to transfer servers for much more hardcore-style progression. Since that’s not us, our recruiting is harder.

We found another guild on Nazjatar that’s having similar issues. Almost point for point, they struggle with similar problems. Although they have a bigger guild than we do, they just don’t feel they have the roster for the kind of raid they want to do. With Nazjatar recruiting being very slim, they also hit a similar wall.

The Deciding Factor

We had one raid night that just wasn’t pretty. I had to call people to get them online (after they clicked “Accepted”). We started about 30 minutes late. After a good raid the night before, there was just no focus, and the Core noticed it. We were having to explain and re-explain assignments. People had to leave early, but we couldn’t get the group focused to make the best of the time we had. People randomly left because friends wanted to hang out (I’m all for friends, but stick with a committment you made). One of our AFKs ended up being gone for about 20 minutes. Our warlock said she would be 15 minutes late, but she didn’t show up until over 90 minutes later.  In just over an hour of raid time, we got one boss down, and that’s it. Once the raid got called, we were ready to bring up the merge to the other raid team.  Those of the Core that were online all agreed. Putting aside our nights and not having similar dedication from other members just wasn’t fun for us.

And so the conversation began, which I’ll cover in the next post…

Have you dealt with a possible merger? What other issues have you had that pushed you towards or away from the decision?

Shadowmourne: What do you do with Vanity?

Shadowmourne: What do you do with Vanity?

shadowmourne

We completed out first Shadowmourne tonight. Fifty (the guy who we gave it to) literally leapt out of his chair and did a lap around his front lawn screaming. Everyone gathered up in front of Darion and watched the 30 seconds or so of RP. Then we took the first step of starting work on the second Shadowmourne with another shard.

And I fear the most difficult decision will come soon when we take down Arthas this week.

Reins of the Crimson Deathcharger
Muradin’s Favor
Jaina’s Locket
Tabard of the Lightbringer
Sylvanas’ Music Box

Several of these items will come from the Unsealed Chest when it is looted. There are two ways we can approach this:

Reward it

Randomly distribute them to our veteran players as a reward and as thanks for getting the group this far. These guys (and girls) have earned it. Everyone that’s contributed to our progression past or present helped make it possible.

Sell it

There is another option. It would be to sell some of these items and place the funds into the bank. On Ner’Zhul, it is not uncommon for the mount to go in excess of 100k. The trinkets will probably fetch 40k-50k gold if not higher. A couple hundred thousand here, a couple hundred thousand there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.

What would the money be used for?

It would essentially bootstrap this guild into Cataclysm.

1: Professions leveling – Dedicated augments or crafters can utilize some of the gold to power their professions to maximum level so we can gain access to the gear and the enchants or gems quicker. Every item we craft means 1 less item we have to depend on RNG for when we begin raiding operations.

2: Consumables – We wouldn’t have to worry about flasks or consumables for a long time. We can simply purchase the necessary herbs and pump out our own without having to rely on donations of time or money as much.

3: Repairs – On progression nights, we can toggle this on to help cushion the blow of repairs. I’ve seen what a single night of repairs will cost the guild and I had to shut it off because we couldn’t sustain those kinds of costs.

Our current reserves are fair. We have a little over 70k gold from donations and selling of BoEs and other items in the books. No matter what happens, I anticipate there will be some disgruntling. Not everyone’s going to be happy and I’m going to have to prepare for the worse case scenario no matter what decision I make.

I may offer it to guildies first and give them a first crack at purchasing before opening it to the general public.

I had to field several concerns expressed by players on how this gold could help our guild in the present? I told them straight up that it wouldn’t be used immediately. It would be placed in our vaults until the expansion arrives. I’ve stated my commitment for Cataclysm. This guild, this blog and myself aren’t going anywhere.

Of course, things might change. I might meet some incredibly hot young woman at school or something.

But let’s get real.

Assuming you were in my position, what would you do?

The Beta Experience So Far

*Some light Cataclysm spoilers are in the post*

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the beta recently in between raids. A lot of peole ask me “Why? Don’t want you want to enjoy the experience when its all polished and stuff?” Yes and no. I plan to rocket my Priest to 85. That’s a directive I’ve issued to the guild. We’ll begin raiding operations the moment we have the man power to do so. For the most part, everyone’s bought into that idea. I’m taking the time right now in the beta to explore the world and try out different quests and really take in the sights. For me, the game has always started at the end. The levels in between were just a means to it. But with so many changes I noticed when flying around, I’m going to have to level at least 1 alt to see what’s been happening to the world.

Andorhal a three way between Scourge, Undead, and Alliance forces? Hogger in Stockades? Alliance offensive in Southern Barrens? What’s going on here!?

I want to talk about beta testing for a moment.

I think there are different categories of beta testers. Some like to sit in a city, and cast spells over and over to make sure it functionally works.  Others prefer to fly around all over the landscape and note any rocks that don’t seem to fit or waterfalls that disappear into open air. Players like me prefer to actually do stuff in a practical environment where all these skills can be applied. And others like to wipe repeatedly to test out new boss mechanics. Each person has their own specialty and preference. So if you have access to beta, don’t waste it please. There are a large number of people I know that want to get in and want to help prepare the game for launch. Play the game and send in some feedback. It kills me when I find out about people with beta access who only log in once or twice, complain about its incompleteness, then never go back in again.

If anyone has a spare key, I know a certain Priest from wow.com who would love to test numbers while standing in a capital city.

Chakra

I had a few people inquire as to my thoughts regarding on Chakra.

In a word, I like it.

I hope this iteration of it makes it through until release. If you’re not quite sure about it yet, I encourage you to check out Derevka’s post and his video:

Conceptually I understand it. For me right now, the difficulty lies in executing. I’ve been working on getting into 5 mans and attempting to try different specs and cast sequences. More thought on Cataclysm healing will come later though. I’m going to record a few videos myself healing in the beta and provide commentary while doing so.

It’s a definite unique addition to our class and I hope to master it and share the details with you (to at least help ease the transition process).

If you’re curious about the new Holy Word: Chastise and how it interacts with Chakra, I shot a brief video of my own here:

State of healing

Heal, the spell, needs to work. I feel like I’m doing this handicapped.

Still not sold on the whole DPS and heal mechanic. I have enough mental bandwidth to do one or the other really well, but not both. The game needs to slow down a lot before that can happen. This is coming from a guy who’s played his share of RTS’s and FPS’s and has been able to “read” the play and make the appropriate responses to the situations at hand.

The typical situation I’m encountering in a 5 man goes something like this:

Group has taken half damage.
Tank is continually taking damage.
Matt’s mana is less than 30% and will be empty within the next 20 or so seconds at the rate of consumption.
Do I DPS and utilize those mana returning talents? Or do I drop the quick or group wide heals to bring everyone else back to full and sink my mana even further?

For me, the latter will always take priority. I am watching mana a lot closer than usual. I can’t help but think that if Heal were to hit for the appropriate amount, I’d have a different read. I’m still falling back to Flash Heal or Greater Heal as my answers to the time vs efficiency deal.

I can’t say I’ve ever chosen to use my DPS options. Ever. My job in the game right now is to heal. Its what I chose. I like having the option to chip in on DPS once in a while if I can afford to, but I should not have to rely on DPSing in order to carry out my role as a healer.

In Defense of the New Tree of Life

In Defense of the New Tree of Life

When Blizzard first announced the changes they were making to Tree of Life in the upcoming expansion, the Druid community experienced its own mini-Cataclysm. The main gripe seems to be more about the loss of another “true” Druid form, than it is about the mechanics of the talent. The reasoning behind the Dev’s decision  is that being one of the maybe two capstone abilities for Resto Druids, Tree of Life was pretty boring. Yes, it gave you a new form, but the benefits of the talent in its Wrath iteration read like a list of lower tier talents. Assuming the math supports the Blue’s statements, the reduced mana and increased healing it offers only bring us in line with other healing classes. Not really the huge benefit you expect from a must have talent.

The new version of Tree of Life as it is in the beta, including the recent announcement that the snare is probably being removed, provides quite a few situational uses for Resto Druids, and makes the talent far more useful and class defining than before. First, lets take a look at what the new talent brings to the table:

Tree of Life:

Shapeshift into the Tree of Life, increasing healing done by 15% and increasing your armor by 120% but reducing your movement speed by 50%. In addition, some of your spells are temporarly enhanced while shapeshifted. Lasts 45 sec. 5 minute cooldown. Enhanced spells: Lifebloom, Wild Growth, Regrowth, Entangling Roots, Thorns, Wrath.

Enhanced Spells:

Wild Growth: affects 2 more targets
Regrowth: instant cast
Lifebloom: 2 applications of Lifebloom
Entangling Roots: instant cast and increase damage by 200%
Wrath: cast time reduced by 50% damage increase by 30%
Thorns: not yet implemented

The first change may not be apparent in the tooltip. The 15% increase to healing should be a larger boost than what you are currently seeing in Wrath, due to the fact that Druid healing power is being brought closer in line with the other classes without Tree of Life figured in. Because it is now a cooldown, the healing bonus can have more impact than if it was a passive bonus like the current live version. But the most obvious, and interesting, change is the enhanced spells. Not only do some our healing spells benefit from this, but some Balance spells as well.

Where I think that the new version really shines is how many different uses I can see for it. It truly went from a set it and forget it toggle, to a spell that can give you different advantages depending on when and how you use it. I really see it adding

Playing Catchup

The most obvious way I see Tree of Life being used, is as a way to catch up when massive damage or some other raid situation causes you to fall behind in healing. The ability  to heal extra Wild Growth Targets, complete a 3 stack of Lifebloom much faster, and cast Regrowth instantly, all combine for a very powerful boost to your healing when damage gets out of control. This also seems to apply to both raid and tank healing, assuming Druids are healing in Cataclysm the way the devs have been describing.

Healing On The Move

Druids are already known for being good healers on the move, but this makes us even better. By using this cooldown in high movement situations, you will add Regrowth to your instant cast arsenal, while also increasing the effectiveness of Lifebloom, and hitting more targets with Wild Growth. While the design of Cataclysm raids will determine how often you will use Tree of Life in this manner, I am sure there will be plenty of times that you are the only healer capable of truly healing on the move. This should be a good way to make up for other classes deficiencies in this area.

Damage Boost When You’re Not Healing

One of the design trends for healers in Cataclysm seems to be dealing damage when your not healing. So the bump to a few of our damaging abilities is in interesting touch. Now I am not saying this is an effective use of your cooldown in most raid situations. However, in times in which you outgear content, or in 5 man dungeons where it is not necessary to have the increased healing every boss, this can give us a nice DPS bump. I see this as more of a fun way to use the cooldown, but who knows what Blizz has in mind for the new raids.

Arenas/Battlegrounds

Arguably there is no area of the game better suited for situational abilities than Arenas and Battlegrounds. Where this talent truly benefits you in PVP is with its flexibility. Especially with the removal of the snare component taking away the one drawback that would keep you from using it in PVP. Lots of team members taking damage in a 5v5? Pop it and go to town with your raid healing spells. Someone being focused fired? Use it for the extra boost that can often be the difference between winning and losing. Got that last opponent on the ropes and want to help finish them off? This is a perfect time to cast Tree of Life and spam your enhanced Wrath.

In the end the beauty of the new Tree of Life is all its nuances and flexibility. Find the right time and way to use it will be a challenge at first, but in the long run you will gain far more benefit form it than the current design. As far as the loss of a true Druid form goes: Is it really worth it to lose a great spell, just because we don’t want to heal in our ugly caster forms? I hope the answer for most players is no.

Epiphanize is the co-host of the Raid Warning Podcast and is currently leveling a Druid in the Cataclysm beta as well as playing one as his main.

Current Legendaries Don’t Count?

I’m wearing a sad face.

The guild rewards you guys are seeing in game are not hooked up yet. Guild rewards have 3 requirements that must be be met before you can use them. First and foremost, they must be unlocked via a guild achievement. Let’s just say, that for example, you need to complete the new guild achievement "We are Legendary" in order to unlock the Dark Phoenix. That achievement requires the guild to gain access to all 6 legendary weapons currently available in the game. (note that all guild achievements start on Cataclysm launch, so anything you have now will not matter, it must be done with your guild after launch)

Source

It appears my Val’anyr will not count towards that guild achievement. I wonder if it’s because of a technical implementation or what? I understand that players come and go. I’m aware that guilds will rise and fall. Is that alone a valid reason to punish the guilds who are still around who have legitimately worked hard on current content (when its relevant) to earn those weapons?

The Wrath weapons had quests related to it. It would seem easy to simply do a check to see if that player had the quest complete. Otherwise, an inventory check might be needed for older weapons like War Glaives or Thoridal.

Getting Val’anyr took us about 6 months from start to finish. We’re very close to finishing our first Shadowmourne (7 shards away). Knowing that we have to go back and redo or reclear most of the older instances for it even though we already have some of them just so that it counts seems odd to me.

Or maybe there will be 6 new legendary weapons added in Cataclysm.

Or perhaps We Are Legendary won’t end up being an actual guild achievement, but more of a Feat of Strength.

Your thoughts?

Midnight Monday Musings: the Summer Edition

Clock just turned 12 AM out here in the west coast. Finished a roller coaster of an ICC 25 run. We were short 1 DPS tonight and opted to nail ToGC. We were subsequently rewarded with a Solace and a Death’s Verdict. The two back to back Vortexes on the 4th and 5th special abilities really did a number on 4 of the 5 groups in the raid. But we managed to squeak through in the end.

The blog

First, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for continuing to come and read what’s on the blog after three years.

Yeah, it’s been that long. Many of the people I knew as bloggers have moved on from the game or from blogging entirely. There is a high turnover when it comes to WoW bloggers unfortunately. I wish I had the energy and the time to actively go out to the newer ones and say hi, and welcome.

You can bet I’ll continue to blog from here onward. I may be slow at updating at the moment, but someone has to help contribute to the all the Cataclysm stuff in the future. I’m also working on a bunch of behind the scenes stuff. You’ll see it when its all ready.

The raid

Tonight’s raid felt like a slight setback for me. We were putting in a lot of hours into Sindragosa hard mode on 25. Most of the time on Thursday was spent getting an understanding of the different phases and making minor adjustments to positions. It appeared that we would have been able to continually get her into phase 3. It just seemed like we had a regression night. Ice Blocks were broken too early. Inability to hide behind tombs and getting destroyed by bombs. Players weren’t properly getting rid of Unchained Magic before getting pulled in. Ran phase 3 tombs to the wrong side or not fast enough. It seemed a little more chaotic and uncontrolled. I had to do everything in my power to try to keep the team settled and calm. I don’t get mad at the players, but I do get frustrated at the situations.

The senior staff have been utilizing spreadsheets to keep a careful eye on cause of wipes. An encounter like this greatly magnifies what players can do and what players can’t do. We note what happened, which players involved, and how many times. It’s our hope we can notice and trends or patterns and take necessary steps to address it, even if it means replacing players.

To be fair, we’ve only invested 4 hours so far. We’ll see how it goes. Telling players to take a seat never comes easy for me and I suspect it never will.

The wipes were offset by one of the most hilarious moments in the guild though. On Lich King, we’re on the final phase and we’re going back and forth from one side of the platform to the other. All of a sudden I hear a frantic call on vent:

“Taunt! TAUNT! I FELL OFF THE LEDGE!”

Yeah.

Our tank who was on Lich King backed right up over the ledge and fell off. Luckily our off tank was quick on the ball and grabbed him before he could cause any other damage. He died moments later.

But once we hit that 10%, everyone started laughing and choking. The good thing is that I’ll probably never get made fun of for fat fingering Mana Burn on Instructor Razuvious instead of Mind Control (and yeah, I cost us that Immortal run :\).

The guild and me

I’ve re-learned an incredibly valuable lesson over the past few months. Not everyone is going to fit into every guild. I did a particular strong job of making our loot system known to potential players and turning people away who didn’t quite fit what I was looking for. But it wasn’t until the departure of two players did I begin to question myself and my abilities. I spent a good week having a heart to heart talk with as many raiders and players in the guild as possible. My questions all involved:

  • Why are you here?
  • Are you happy here?
  • Do you have any issues with the way me or my officers are running things?
  • What do you plan to do in Cataclysm? Explore free agency or stay? Everyone’s contract ends when the expansion is out and is up for renewal.

The answers were resoundingly positive.

When I realized that the 25+ group of raiders had no issues, were committed, and were happy being here, I ultimately concluded that there wasn’t a major problem at all. In fact, it was simply a culture clash and a significant difference of opinion. After that, the choice was made to let them go. I figured they wouldn’t be happy here and that’s the last thing I want.

Since then, I’ve started undergoing chemistry checks with new players who get into the guild. Week 1 is to see how they mesh with everyone in the guild. The trial period isn’t just for us to see if we like them, but it’s also there to see if they like us. I’ve been a bit a bit more aggressive when it comes to cuts after week 1. If I get numerous complaints from other raiders, I’ll generally cut them. It’s not a good idea to have a person in the guild where no one gets along with them.

That’s just a complete personality clash and it would lead to problems later on down the road. I’ve had to deal with this multiple times, and those players ended up leaving on their own anyway. It isn’t just chemistry that we look at, but skill checks are also conducted to see what their up times and DPS output is like on a regular basis in a raid environment. If they have difficulty with Defile or Frost Bombs or any of that fun stuff, they generally don’t make it past week 2.

And then there’s the “difficult” player.

They’re the ones who just can’t seem to let things go or continue to make life difficult. They question your loot policies and offer strong suggestions even after agreeing to them in the first place. Or perhaps they offer the raid leader and half the raid personal tips on increasing DPS and better performance the first time they’ve ever been to an encounter. Normally, I welcome advice and feedback like the next guy. But I make it known that it should be done on our forums, not during the raid when we’re 3 seconds away from a pull.

It’s always been my personal belief that a new player should never offer unsolicited advice in the first few weeks of their time in the guild. Only until after they get accustomed to their surroundings should they start volunteering any knowledge. At least, not unless its a really good idea that would virtually guarantee a kill on a boss.

Nevertheless, I’m still on the lookout for more players for the present and for the future. It’s going to be challenging to find someone that fits the mold of what I’m looking for, but I know they exist. I have them in the guild already. Heh, it’s funny looking back at all these predictions of having a fail guild that wouldn’t really get far or that would implode. I suppose that will happen after a heroic Lich King kill or Halion or something.

I’m working on a post at the moment revolving around men and raiding. There’s been lots of posts recently about the whole feminism thing and while I respect and understand it, I wanted to write about male raiders and how motivated, angry men can go out and kill bosses. It’ll be an interesting case study, I’m sure.

Without a safety net

Without a safety net

For as long as we play this game, no matter how much changes there are things that will always stay the same. Standing in fire is generally bad (there have been very few exceptions to this and the exception does not make the rule). Cleave and Whirlwind are not things you should stand next to. Don’t break the sheep, and my favorite, always blame the hunters. These are simple truths that we have come to accept as we’ve played the game.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the Cataclysm beta recently. I’ve leveled Lodur to the current level cap 3 times now (once as resto, once as elemental and finishing out the one as enhancement) and some of these simple truths are being expanded and brought back to the forefront. In Cataclysm, the developers have a goal to make healing harder and more involved. Our healing spells hit for slightly less than one would expect and mana is at a premium.

You see, previously healers have had an excess of mana either through large base mana pools, stacking MP/5 or getting high returns from intellect and talents. With mana flowing like water, healers have been able to compensate to a certain extent for players who “stand in the bad”. Now, it does not mean that no one died. There are still plenty of things that will kill a person flat out if they aren’t paying attention, but some feel that the game has become far more forgiving than it was in the days of Vanilla WoW.

By making healing harder in Cataclysm, they are doing something they moved away from inadvertently over the course of two expansion. They are placing the burden of living squarely on the entire group, and not just leaving it to the healer to be the sole life-line. I’m not saying healers shouldn’t be trying to heal, but rather just stating that the game is changing. Let’s break it down to the core components in play here as provided to us by the developers;

  • Mana is a concern for healers
  • Healers will be focusing more on triage
  • Fights will be longer
  • Situational awareness will be a factor again with a lot of avoidable damage
  • It will be less about brute force and more about survival and finesse

That is just the short list, since things are constantly changing in the beta.

Mana being a concern and the focus being more on triage is a big thing. Right now healing sort of devolves into whack-a-mole frantically trying to keep everyone up. Come cata however, healers will have to make judgment calls as to how to prioritize heals in order to conserve mana and maximize healing benefit to the group.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the Throne of Tides (one of the new 5 players dungeons in the next expansion) the very first boss has a spout / geyser like ability that she forms underneath her. The tank and melee need to move out of this before the ability triggers, or they take a lot of damage. Healing this, I had the tank and a rogue stay in the “void zone”. The tank and rogue both took a massive amount of damage. The rogue was JUST far enough away from the tank to be out of Chain Heal range so I had to decide to drop the nuke heal on the tank or the rogue. Needless to say I picked the tank. The rogue died immediately after my heal landed on the tank (1.7 second cast time for those interested). Had either the rogue or the tank moved out of the ability, neither would have died as I wouldn’t have had to decide who got healed and who did not. A little situational awareness would have gone a long way here.  The boss also spawns adds that need to be tanked and dealt with. One of the ranged wasn’t paying attention and wound up proximity aggro-ing two of the mobs and he was dead before I could even cast a single heal on him. We wiped it after that and tried again, but you can see how paying attention counts for a lot there.

This same fight, at about the 2 minute mark I noticed my mana reserves getting low. The damage throughout the fight was pretty steady, but people not paying attention caused me to burn a lot more heals than I would have liked. The fight in total lasted about 4 minutes or so, but in that 4 minutes I had burned a mana potion, my Mana Tide Totem and ended the fight with around 5% mana. It was a bit of an eye opener. I was forced to figure out which heal was appropriate for what damage in order to conserve as much mana as possible, and had to make decisions on when it was safe to let the tank take a couple extra hits before casting a heal. Spam healing to keep everyone at max just doesn’t work anymore.  Keep in mind this is a normal 5 man dungeon not heroic, and I entered this with ilvl264/277 ICC25 gear. It was refreshing and scary, but not at all impossible. Now this will likely change in the raiding end game, but I wonder how much. The encounters in normal dungeons are already shaping up to be more involved than being simple tank-and-spanks, and one can only hope that the learning curve for endgame will continue along that path rather than decline. After my first run though it got easier, and I ended with more mana, but that is in part because the groups did everything they could to avoid damage and make my job easier. That in turn made it easier to heal through the “oh shit” moments.

Now, what does this have to do with non healers? Well to get to the point of my post, my guild constantly reminds players to “help your healers out”. This means avoiding the bad (looking at you here defile!). We expect the healers to heal and do their jobs well, but we expect all the other players to help themselves stay alive. Use potions or health stones, move out of fire, run to your linked partners on Blood Queen, stay vigilant and react quickly. This is not an uncommon sentiment, but some people seem to think they can stand in the fire and squeeze out one more attack while the healer keeps them up. In Cataclysm if you aren’t paying attention and don’t react to the bad things happening around you, it is very likely you are going to die regardless of how skilled your healer is. With all this going on, it becomes more about surviving for as long as possible in a fight. After all you can’t DPS if you’re dead right? So this means when you see a Healing Rain or Lightwell going down, it will be your responsibility to get to it as much as it is the responsibility of the healer to make sure it is placed optimally. It means managing your threat to make sure you don’t gank and doing things to keep the damage you take at a minimal level even if it means stopping what you’re doing for a few moments to stay alive. You will need to do it. It really seems to be shaping up to have more individual accountability by virtue of taking away what I like to call the “Healer Safety-Net”.

If the trend continues into raids, healers simply will not be able to compensate for bad decisions or poor situational awareness. They wont be able to heal through all the damage being done. Instead it will take coordination of the entire group, people paying attention to their environment and an understanding that the game has become dangerous again. We’ve gone from killing boars to resurrecting gods. The stakes have been raised and we will all have to adapt.

So remember to help your healers out, because it looks like that safety net is going away.

Behind the Scenes: Loot Council

Behind the Scenes: Loot Council

This might end up being one of the longest and most in depth posts you’ll ever read here about the loot council system. I tweeted a couple of weeks ago asking if people would be interested in an example of what happens to go on behind the scenes when loot is being decided. A resounding number said yes!

Took me about 7+ hours to conceptualize, write, and edit this one. Thanks to my guys for their help and suggestions.

What is loot council?

It is basically a group of players who decide which items go to which player when they drop in a raid. And before you say anything, yes it is entirely prone to favoritism. And yes, it is possible for it to be corrupt. Keep in mind though, the effectiveness of loot council is entirely dependant on your loot council. If they are nothing more than sniveling, selfish players who award loot only to themselves, then yes that is a problem. But if your loot council has progression first and foremost in mind, then it’ll work out in the end.

It’s not about being fair

A lot of players make the case that it isn’t fair.

You’re absolutely right.

Loot council is not designed to be fair.

In fact, it is far and away the worst system when it comes to fairness. Fairness is going to very by player and by situation. If a really awesome trinket drops, does it go to the new player who’s still using that 219 trinket who just joined the guild? Or does it go to the veteran who wants to replace his 264 trinket with a slightly upgraded version? Strong cases could easily be made for both. You could argue that that the new player would benefit the most from it as its the biggest upgrade for him (and consequently, overall raid DPS would increase). On the other hand, it could be used as a reward for the veteran for his consistent attendance and performance and that he deserves it (and has a higher chance of it sticking around in the guild as opposed to someone taking it and leaving).

When I pick out my council, I give them free reign on names and selections. They can only pick from the players who have listed themselves. They don’t have to give reasons for their judgments. Ultimately though, the one criteria I instill upon them is to do what’s best for the guild. If it means awarding a freshly minted player who just joined the guild with a trinket, that’s okay. If it means handing it off to a veteran, that’s okay too.

Every case is unique. We don’t operate on precedent because we can’t afford to “handcuff” ourselves in that manner.

Who is on it?

I try to maintain a fairly balanced class composition on the LC. It looks something like:

  1. Healer
  2. Tank
  3. Melee DPS
  4. Ranged DPS
  5. Other (Usually another ranged DPS, but it varies)

For me, the two criteria it takes to sit on it are both:

a) Basic knowledge of other classes and what’s desirable stats for them
b) Actually wanting to be on it

A surprising number of players I’ve approached over the 2 years have said they were hesitant to sit on it because they weren’t sure if they wanted that pressure or that power. I don’t want a player that screams “PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME”, I try to go after players who are willing to do it but are fine if they don’t.

If there’s some sort of bias detected, that council member is restricted from voting. For example, if someone’s fiancé or girlfriend or brother is up for an item, that council member would not be allowed to say anything. They can provide advice or notes, but that’s it. When that happens, an officer steps in temporarily and takes their spot. The same thing happens if it’s an item that a loot council member wants: They’re not allowed to vote (unless they pass). We try to minimize the obvious biases as best as possible.

Confused? Not every loot council member is an officer, that’s why an officer can periodically make a decision to fill in.

Loot council usually rotates after a month to several months depending on a number of things (Where we’re at in progression, boredom, “freshness” factor, etc).

Members have a say too!

In 80% of the loot decisions, we don’t actually have to come to a ruling. Back when we formed, Syd and I added a slight twist allowing our members to decide if something truly is an upgrade for them or not. Check out my macro:

LOOT OPTIONS
Int = You want and is a main spec upgrade
Pass = You want it, but can afford to wait or will not be using right away
Off = Off spec item
Say nothing = No interest in item

Yes, it’s tiered. Saying Interested signifies immediate desire and that it’s usable. Saying pass means you want it, but you won’t be able to use it until you get another piece of gear (like hit rating adjustments) or its a relatively minor upgrade (going from a 251 level item to a 264).

Anyway, I’ll give you a few of the loot scenarios and some of the decisions that I made. Keep in mind, there’s 5 of us. When someone says they want something though, we’ll ask them to link the current item that they wish to replace.

Give you an example:

[Coldwraith Links] has dropped.

Loot Master: 5
DPS warrior: Int [Vengeful Noose]
Loot Master: 4
Death Knight 1: Int [Coldwraith Links]
Death Knight 2: Int [Coldwraith Links]
Loot Master: 3
Loot Master: 2
Death Knight 3: pass
Loot Master: 1
Ret Pally: pass
Loot Master: -

Right off the bat, we’ll strike Death Knight 3 and our Ret Pally off the list. They both want it, but for whatever reason, they’re willing to wait or not able to use it (or are just being generous because maybe they’ve gotten a bit of upgrades that week). This case is one of the tougher ones we’ve had to deal with because all 3 partys’ could make a strong case for themselves.

But it’s easy in that since any of them could use it, the whole guild would benefit anyway regardless of who got it. I’m thinking big picture at this point. If memory serves, I think we gave it to Death Knight 2 because Death Knight 1 had gotten something earlier that night or that week. Honestly, it was a coin toss between the Death Knight and the Warrior.

Let’s do a tier example.

Conqueror’s Mark of Sanctification

Holy Priest – Int (42 badges) – Has no tier piece
Shadow Priest – Int (33 badges) – Has 1 tier piece (Shoulders), 251
Prot Paladin (off tank) – Int (60 badges) – Has no tier piece
Warlock – Int (60 badges) – Has 1 tier piece (Legs), 251
Ret Pally – Int (55 badges) – Has 1 tier piece, (Shoulders) 264

Let’s travel back in time a few months where tier tokens were still relatively new and not many players had tier pieces equipped yet. When it came to tier, we looked at factors like the amount of Emblems they had. We also wanted to know if they already had the 251 level tier pieces. We also had a quick chat with the players to really figure out which set bonuses were okay and which set bonuses were jaw droppingly awesome. Our mindset with tier is that we knew it would be a constant drop rate. We wanted to try to spread it out as much as possible. It was up to the raiders themselves individually to do dailies or whatever they could to get as much Frost Emblems as they could. Over a span of several weeks, our accessibility to tier would increase anyway. It was our job to determine who got what tier first.

Keep in mind, at the time Saurfang was the only boss who dropped tier at the time.

The first thing we looked at was how quick the token could be spent and used. The Shadow Priest would have been able to upgrade their tier shoulders immediately. The Holy Priest would need another week or two to purchase the 251. The Prot Paladin would also benefit and has not bought any tier yet. The Ret Pally already received one from the week before, striking her from the list. It would’ve been a tough call between the Warlock and the Prot Paladin. For me personally, I would’ve awarded it to our Warlock. It gives him immediate access to a 264 piece and a 2 piece with the shoulders.

Conqueror would drop again and it would’ve been pretty easy to “map” out the next few drops anyway.

Phylactery for the Nameless Lich (heroic)

Loot Master: 5
Shadow Priest: Int Phylactery of the Nameless Lich
Loot Master: 4
Warlock: Int Muradin’s Spyglass
Mage: Int Eye of the Broodmother
Loot Master: 3
Loot Master: 2
Loot Master: 1
Shadow Priest: pass
Loot Master: -

Here’s some background information. Both the Warlock and the Mage joined the guild the same day. The Shadow Priest has been around for 9 months as a regular raider. Our Shadow Priest notices the trinkets the other two are using and realizes it would be a better upgrade for the other two and decides to withdraw his name from consideration. Seeing as the Mage and Warlock are new and that extensive notes have been taken so far on their performance. The Warlock has been performing extremely well with top 5 finishes on most boss fights. The Mage is about average to below average (10th-15th with massive fluctuations). Unfortunately, the Warlock was mind controlled on Blood Queen because his target had already been bitten. In terms of drops, the Warlock had received no items that night and the Mage received both a Vanquisher token and a neck upgrade (both immediately used).

It’s now down to the battle of the recruits.

This is one of those “investment” type calls. Who are we most likely to keep? Who is most likely to go? We don’t know. It’s difficult to gauge that especially on a day 1 (a little easier after week 1). Do we give it to the Warlock as a reward so far for his efforts (except for the blown bite)? Or do we give it to the Mage to escalate his gear further? We’re aware that his DPS isn’t as high as the rest and it would really bring it in line. But he already received two items that night.

Those were just some of the questions that ran through my head. Ultimately, the Phylactery would’ve been an upgrade for either of the two. And for me, I would’ve sided with the Warlock just for the sake of even distribution.

Heroic Solace of the Defeated

Holy Priest – Int – Heroic Althor’s Abacus, Glowing Twilight Scale
Disc Priest – Int – Talisman of Resurgence, Glowing Twilight Scale
Resto Shaman – Int – Heroic Althor’s Abacus, Purified Lunar Dust
Resto Druid – Int – Ephemeral Snowflake, Heroic Althor’s Abacus
Resto Druid 2 – Int – Ephemeral Snowflake, Talisman of Resurgence
Holy Paladin – Int – Sliver of Pure Ice, Althor’s Abacus

Let’s try some healing trinkets. They are one of the biggest headaches in the game due to the number of players that want them when they drop. For me, when a player gets two powerful trinkets, I cut them off for the rest of the expansion. Again, I want to minimize the number of wasted drops. No point for us giving a trinket to one person only for them to replace it the week after when another player also could have benefited from it.

Here’s the information:

The Holy Paladin is entering finals for law school. He’s already declared that he will not be able to show up for the next 3 weeks. The Resto Druid received his Abacus earlier that week.

Ugh, tough decisions. The Holy Priest is just being plain greedy, so he gets struck. He’s already using trinkets that will last him the length of the expansion (probably that Matt guy who wants it, greedy bastard). The Holy Paladin could also put it to good use, but it won’t be effective for the next 3 weeks. The Resto Druid already got something that week, he’s out. Resto Druid 2 missed out on 2 straight progression raids without letting anyone know. Now it’s down to the Disc Priest and the Resto Shaman.

Looking across the board and seeing how everyone (and their mother) seems to already have an Althor’s Abacus, I’d award it to the Resto Shaman. The Disc Priest could benefit from an Abacus or a Solace. The Resto Shaman could use the Solace and then be done for trinkets for the expansion. It’s a narrow decision, but it ultimately gets awarded to the Resto Shaman because the Disc Priest trinkets could be completed with any of the 2 above options.

Final thoughts

Generally, most items take seconds to resolve. The ones that take the longest end up being:

  • Weapons
  • Trinkets
  • Rings

Those take the longest because many classes have vested interest. Look at an item like the Ring of Rapid Ascent. It’s one of the top items by practically everyone (casters and healers).

Granted, we do make mistakes. For every 4 or so good loot decisions we make, there’s a bad one that bites us in the ass. A Glowing Twilight Scale was handed off to a Paladin because no other healers wanted it at the time. He left after 2 weeks. We passed a Deathbringer’s Will to a feral Druid who had been a long standing member of the guild before he departed to try his hand at a higher progression guild. Since the inception of the guild, we’ve had over 115 players contribute to the success of our raids and for various reasons, they have dropped out and retired (Getting married, moving, getting yelled at by SO for too much WoW time, school, work, etc).

I have never had a single player leave and cite the reason for their departure as “unfair loot system”. We have a strong recruiting process and players that (we think) are self-centered when it comes to drops don’t usually make it past week 1.

It takes a dedicated and unique organization to make this loot system work. Everyone needs to be onboard with it and absolutely must buy into the system. That’s the reason it works. It’s because players understand it isn’t always about loot.

In the event the council is evenly split or unable to come to a decision (say an item benefits 4 people on the council and they all want it), then any officers present will make the call. If it’s a 5 way split (which rarely happens), another officer is asked to make a pick so that it becomes a 2-1-1-1-1 decision. Lastly, for anything that cannot easily be decided, I invoke what’s called the Matt clause. It usually happens if there’s a number of loot council players or officers who are either absent or unable to vote. If that occurs, I make the decision regardless of whether I can vote or not. If I’m not present, that falls to the raid leader, then the main tank, and on down the chain of command until its resolved.

Remember, we have a raid to run and bosses to kill. We can’t spend all that time debating. Unless it’s a Deathbringer’s Will, it’ll drop again.

We’re not completely infallible. Just like referees, we make bad calls too. But hey, this system isn’t for everyone. But it definitely works for us (we took down heroic Putricide last week on 25 man, and that guy was a nut case).

While I suspect a number of you won’t agree (and will continue to disagree) with this system, I hope this post has at least shed some light on how a guild could do the job. I know of a guild where a Shaman immediately LC’s mail gear to himself for all 3 specs. It’s unfortunate that cases like that happen, but they do exist. I wanted to write this to illustrate that not every guild or loot council is corrupt (at least, not intentionally).

Leveling a Resto Druid in Cataclysm – Part I

Leveling a Resto Druid in Cataclysm – Part I

Epiphanize is the co-host of the Raid Warning Podcast and is currently leveling a Druid in the Cataclysm beta as well as playing one as his main.

With two new races to choose from as well as a new, improved leveling experience, there are going to be a lot of new Druids come Cataclysm. From revised abilities, to the new specialization system, starting a new Resto Druid is going to be far different than it is currently in Wrath. In this series, I am going to cover how things have changed leveling a Resto Druid, starting with level 10.

Specialization

The biggest change for low level players is the specialization system. At level 10, you will be asked to choose one of your 3 talent  trees. This is where you will place at least 31 of your talent points, as you can not unlock any other trees until you’ve spent 31 points in your specialization tree. Upon choosing this specialization, you will be granted an ability geared towards your spec, as well as two passive bonuses. As a Resto Druid your granted ability will be Swiftmend. Previously available at level 40,  Swiftmend will drastically change how you heal at lower levels. At level 10, it heals for 204 hit points, costs 14 mana, and has a 15 second cooldown.

Along with Swiftmend, you are also granted 2 passive abilities as a Resto Druid. The first is Meditation, which similar to its  predecessor Intensity, allows you to regen mana at 50% of your normal rate while casting. Your second passive ability is simply called Restoration Druid, and reduces the pushback suffered while casting Healing Touch, Regrowth, Tranquility, Rebirth, and  Nourish. This is similar to the old Tier 1 talent Nature’s Focus, but adds Rebirth to the mix. Even at level 10, I believe Blizzard  has succeeded in making you feel more like a Resto Druid than before Cataclysm. These two passive abilities cost 3 talent points each, with Meditation unable to be maxed out until level 22.

The Rest Of Your Toolbox

Along with these bonuses is your normal toolbox that includes Rejuvenation, Healing Touch, and Swiftmend. This gives you a well-rounded toolbox for a low level healer. 1 HoT, 1 big heal, and 1 emergency heal. I am pretty excited that Blizzard decided to teach low level druids the Swiftmend mechanic, as it is not available to the other healing classes. Overall, it looks like Blizzard is succeeding in simultaneously improving the leveling experience, while teaching Resto Druids how to use some of the more advanced abilities they will need when raiding. Even at this low level, you should start being able to get a good feel for tank healing in 5 mans, as well as have the added benefit of not running out of mana every pull while leveling thanks to Meditation.

In the next part of this series I will be taking a look at the next major leveling milestone, The Looking For Dungeon Tool, and how these changes affect Resto Druids healing low level dungeons.

Cataclysm: Spammable Body and Soul? Sure!

Cataclysm: Spammable Body and Soul? Sure!

bsspam

Discipline talents got slight revamps. There are two big things that jumped out at me when I logged in earlier in the evening.

  • Soul Warding moves to tier 2
  • Borrowed time returns

Moving Soul Warding up to tier 2 opens up some interesting speccing options as Discipline. Previously, it was thought that Archangel and Evangelism was required in order to advance deeper in the tree (to me, that didn’t make logical sense). Now it looks like Priests have two routes they can go when progressing. You can pick up Improved Inner Fire and Soul Warding to get past (and I predict that being the optimum raid spec) or you select the Archangel and Evangelism combination (useful for either leveling or powering through older raid content).

If Archangel and Evangelism were in the game right now, I’d dual spec into them for sure. Just being able to power through certain farm bosses in ICC or 5 mans gives us a little bit more of something to do. Think being in Icecrown gear and tackling ToC or Ulduar on normal.

Can’t Holy Priests get Soul Warding?

It certainly looks that way.

With Soul Warding at tier 2, Holy Priests will want to snag it at max level. And who wouldn’t? Being able to cast a massive amount of Body and Soul’d shields on assorted players? Multiple sprint buffs? Hell yeah!

But there’s a problem so don’t get too excited about the prospects. As Holy, you don’t get access to Rapture which offers some mana return when your shields get punctured. This means it will be an increasing drain on your mana so you’ll need to Body and Soul your targets wisely. Remember, we’re supposed to be using out mana intelligently in Cataclysm.

All I know is, between Life Grip and Body and Soul, there will be zero reason for anyone to die in a fire now.

Also, losing internet connection at 12 AM sucks when you have a post ready for immediate publishing. Sad panda.