When should you change your raid strategy?

I have been reading numerous posts lately about how to pick a strategy for an upcoming boss fight and even more discussion about how to go about tailoring a strategy to your particular group. While I have read many good suggestions and valuable tips, I still think I disagree with the the basic premise of “choosing which strategy is best for your group.” The portion related to tailoring your approach based on your specific group is good, but the vast majority of the time, boss fights have one basic strategy that they were intended to be completed with.  Everything else is a modification of the basic strategy. Each decision to make additional modifications should be for a specific and, more importantly, *intentional* reason.

Here are the basic reasons for modifying a boss strategy. Whether it be during the research stage, during an actual raid, or after a full night of raiding, once you get some logs, a little perspective will help with the decision making process.

Wait! I can think of examples of multiple strategies used for bosses!

No, I actually put a fair amount of consideration into that statement.  For the most part, all WoW raid bosses have one basic approach/strategy that everyone used to defeat them.  That being said, almost every group that originally “progressed” through the boss fight made certain modifications to this basic strategy in order to adopt it to the particulars of their own group and situation. Generally though, each boss encounter has a single strategy/approach that is dictated by the mechanics of the encounter. Far too often I see people confusing two different modifications to the one basic strategy as somehow being completely separate from each other.  Understanding where something comes from is an essential step in the road to gaining mastery over it.

For example: in the Yogg Saron fight, the basic strategy required to complete the encounter is to kill sarah by blowing up adds next to her, then you send people through the portals to damage the brain, finally you kill Yogg himself all while dealing with the various adds/abilities/”bad stuff.” Whether you tank the adds in phase1 in the center of the room next to Sarah, or tank them by the door and then kite them into the center is a difference in tactics, the strategy is the same. Who you send into the portals during phase 2 is a question of assignments, the fact of the matter is though, in order to get to phase3, you send some people into the portals and they have to damage the brain to push through the phase while everyone else does stuff to stay alive.  In phase 3 you can tank the adds over here, over there, all grouped up or separated out, the individual assignments and tactics used will vary from group to group and depend on a number of factors but the basic strategy used to complete the fight is always going to be the same.

Reasons for modifying your strategy

You overgear or “out-awesome” one or more of the basic mechanics of the fight.

I’m not going to spend much time on this one although I think it is the most prevalent reason for differences in strategies being discussed. 10 man Sartharion 3D is a great example of this as is Yogg+0. Both are highly technical fights with what were some very unforgivable mechanics when they were “current content.” With access to greater gear and higher performance numbers from your average raider, it became possible to ignore the majority of these encounters core mechanics and opened up access to “new strategies” (and again, I am arguing that it is the same basic strategy to kill the boss, you are just choosing to ignore/skip a portion of it)  It is important to be aware however if you have chosen to ignore one of the basic mechanics of the encounter.  This can often be especially important when you get to the point of switching the encounter to hard mode or try and work on one of the raid achievements.  If you have only learned how to do the fight using some kind of short cut or something that ignores a basic mechanic, then forcing yourselves to relearn the fight is often times a tough sell for the raid leader and a frustrating experience for your raiders.  My advice is to learn to do it “right” the first time through.

You are missing some sort of raid utility buff/skill integral to the fight.

A lot of fights require something to be purged, dispelled, stunned, interrupted, etc… Especially when you are doing 10man raiding, it isn’t impossible that you will find yourself without one of these things while standing in front of a boss who “requires” that skill. Thankfully Blizzard is aware of this possibility and usually provide some method to address the issue.  For one, they have spread around all of the basic raid utility skills so that the likelihood of finding yourself in this position has gotten MUCH less likely.  In the past, they have usually toned down the adverse effects of the ability in case you don’t have the ability to purge/interrupt/cleanse each one.

One example of this for us in ICC were the occasions we found ourselves in front of Saurfang with 3 melee and no hunter to distracting shot kite one of the adds.  We have done this fight with just about every composition of range and melee possible at this point, and our raiders have pulled all of them off without any more struggle than we were having at the time with “optimal” setups.  Another example is when we were progressing through Naxx 25 and reached Instructor Razuvious without any priests in the raid, sorting out how to do that was an adventure all in itself.

The plan isn’t working

You outlined the plan on the guild forums ahead of time, you gave a brief synopsis over vent before you started, why isn’t the boss dead yet? Being able to accurately articulate the answer to “why isn’t this working” is a critical step that a surprising number of people get wrong in my experience. Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to figure out the answer to this question:

How many times have you attempted the fight already this raid using this plan? If the answer is less than ~15-20, then unless you either clearly misunderstood some mechanic during your research, you probably need to collect more data.  Unless you feel that everyone in the raid is executing the plan exactly the way they were asked, keep trying.

At what point in the fight did the group diverge from “the plan?” Was it a milestone you failed to meet?  Unless everything went exactly as it was supposed to and your dps are putting out the same numbers they always do, you probably just need to let everyone work out their own kinks with some more practice.  Depending on the type of milestone involved, possibly consider things like switching between 2 and 3 healers.

Are people dying? Every raid leader should have some sort of death tracking addon installed so you can easily review what caused people to die and what happened to them in the ~15 seconds prior to death.

  • Tank death: did they use their defensive cooldowns appropriately? Were they where they were supposed to be? How much healing did they receive during their last ~10 seconds alive? If the healing received looks low, all appropriate cooldowns were used, and they were not out of healing range for some reason, it might be a “healing issue.”

If the healers weren’t healing the tanks, then what were they doing?

Were they all moving or unable to heal for some reason, maybe the positioning needs to be changed.

Were they healing someone else/themselves? Then those people need to get better at avoiding damage and your healers need to either have better healing assignments or different healing priorities.  This is one of the biggest mistakes I see raid leaders make in blaming the healers for people dying when in reality it is the healers being forced into a no-win decision in to try and compensate for other people’s mistakes. Find out why they weren’t keeping the tank alive.

  • Healer death: were they standing somewhere they weren’t supposed to be? Did someone fail to taunt/CC an add that killed the healer?  …there shouldn’t really be any other reason for the healer to have ever died.  Keeping themselves alive, followed closely by keeping the tank/their assignment alive is every healers only real responsibility in most fights.
  • DPS death: Were they standing where they weren’t supposed to be?  Did they pull aggro on something they weren’t supposed to?  If they weren’t killed via a one-shot, how much healing did they receive before they died?

If you can’t figure out why your plan is failing and the boss isn’t dying, then your biggest problem isn’t with the plan you are using. Thankfully there are a wealth of resources available to you as a raid leader and a truly amazing number of members in the various raid leading communities that are just waiting to help you figure it all out. All you have to do to find help is be able to do is follow two simple steps:

  1. Generate a combat log during your raid and upload it to one of the available *free* services that will parse the information into a useful format.  My personal preference is World of Logs.
  2. Ask someone for help.  Everyone starts out as a newbie at some point, none of us are born with the ability to play wow or lead raiders.  Some of us still remember what it was like starting out and we are more than happy to offer help.  Being able to provide a log of the your raid attempting the encounter in question will allow FAAARRR more useful feedback then trying to communicate all of the details through any other method.

Have you ever had a boss kill which came from a simple, yet overlooked strategy modification?

Why Slacking Helps You Raid

Why Slacking Helps You Raid

I confess. My raiders and I have been bashing our heads against a brick wall for a couple of weeks. Our heads have been filled by the red mist ‘o wrath. We’d got the first wing of Icecrown Citadel on farm but our next focus, Rotface, ‘brokseded’ us time and again.

The brick wall suddenly came down on Sunday night. We had an experimental snipe at the Princes and then marched into the Plagueworks to slaughter Festergut and have a positive pop at Rotface. So what happened to stop us seeing red?

Change.

What change has that effect, I hear you cry? Did we change players? Did we somehow plunder a trove of 277 gear? Did we hardwire exact playing requirements into our members while they slept? Not at all. We merely tweaked one of our raiding practices: breaks.

I’ve always said they’re important in raids – it gives your raiders a chance to breathe. Sunday night taught us that organised breaks are even better.

Really regular breaks. We announced to our band of brigands at the start of the evening that we’d be calling a three minute break every 30 minutes, and that we’d like them to be sure to wait until then for quick AFKs for drinks and the like.

Wow, every 30 minutes? Those are a lot of breaks, I hear you cry. It’s a wonder we got anything done, right? Wrong.

Give yourselves regular chances to slack – that is, relax – and you’ll come back after the break more focused than had you pushed on and sat for an hour, two hours, wiping. Your head won’t be full of red mists so there’ll be room for useful things like remembering to move out of slime spray.

Movin’ n’ shaking. Several of my guild play in the same room on raid nights. Usually during a break we stare at the computer screens and brainstorm tactics in increasingly stressed tones.

Instead we decided to test out a terrifying concept during breaks: moving away from the computers and out of the room. We strongly recommended to our raiders that they do the same. We found that the simple change in space and environment again helped us to feel fresh and focused when the break was over. Even just moving about and stretching helped relax some tension. If you have time and inclination to fit in a few actual exercises, you’ll feel all the more responsive in the raid.

Time, gentlemen. After each break we announced the time of the next one. Sounds simple, but I think this was the key to the whole break renovation. Raiders need their creature comforts, right? And if they don’t know when a break’s coming then they’ll slide off after wipe 20 and get the drink they desperately need or the smoke to relieve stress. Meanwhile the rest of the group grumbles while waiting for them to return from their unannounced break.

By announcing break times, we’re allowing raiders to plan ahead. It means they don’t need to feel guilty about making the group wait on them. importantly it also gives them some control back over their own comfort. Our lock wants coffee? He knows the next break is in 10 minutes and can hang on until then.

Content breaks. I don’t mean a break in gameplay. I mean mix your encounters up to get the balance right between learning the fights and actually still having fun. You’re sick to the back teeth of bouncing on Festergut? Right, about time you take your raid to meet the Princes. Perhaps later on go to pay Rotface a visit.

You’re not being inefficient by not forcing yourselves to sit there and practice a fight: quite the opposite. Cut yourselves some slack if you’re working hard and not getting anywhere; you might find you slaughter the next encounter you head to and earn yourselves a morale boost. That’s efficiency.

 

These are small changes but could be useful to any raid group out there. You’re a 3 year-old guild running your A team? Or perhaps you’re running a PUG (breaks are not a PUG killer any more than giving your raid a little bit of trust, but such PUG raid myths is a topic for a future post). In my opinion these changes are crucial for any sort of raid group. Why? Let me explain what I think a well-run raid group is:

  • It’s a social activity. If someone in our group is not having fun for some reason we get uncomfortable and more stressed. Then Rotface smashes us more easily, morale plummets, stress goes up. Vicious circle. Having a break allows us to peel ourselves away from the stressful game environment and remember that it’s a social occasion, too.
  • It’s a team sport. Sure, we don’t leave the comfort of our computer desks and run up and down a pitch for several hours. We do work together using tactics, formations and roles to achieve a common aim. Sports benefit from breaks; think of the oft touted stories of football players eating oranges at halftime, or a weight-lifter taking breaks between sets so they can achieve their best for longer.
  • It’s a company. Wait, that sounds a little mercenary – try ‘organisation’. Either work. Like most companies, we expect our members to perform a certain job and they’re paid for successful tasks with emblems – and occasional epic perks. We invest time and effort to skill-up our members so that they can achieve goals, and improve all the time. We provide a safe (and because it’s a game, fun) environment for them to perform their tasks. All of these are good practices for a company, at least according to a particular book (see below) on company organisation. And like any good company in accordance with this book, we’re flexible enough to cut them a little slack to give them room to be their best.

A person will work better, be more focused, if they feel they are trusted and have some space to relax. Running around like a headless chicken or battering your head against one encounter is not healthy. The benefits extend to groups of people, too.

“The difference between the time it takes you to [achieve your next progression] at ‘all prudent speed’ and time it would take you ‘at breakneck speed’ is your slack. Slack is what helps you arrive quickly but with an unbroken neck.”

- Slack, T. Demarco, page 208 (and a book I thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to change their raiding style)

What do you think? Does this sound like a useful nugget for your raid setup? Have you been wanting to try something like this for a while and been worried that you’d not cover as much ground? Do you think I’m completely wrong and sticking on one encounter until you’ve got it is best? Or, possibly, do you think the wisdom of this vs. encounter battering is dependent on how many nights your group raids?

 

This is a post by Mimetir, a boomkin and restorman of a raid leader on The Venture Co. (EU). You can find my twitter feed here.

Blizzard Reads Kestrel’s Aerie (Priest Changes for 3.1)

I don’t have much time. I’m rushing a quick post before I head to school (Delivering a 10 minute presentation on Forensic sciences). I’ll publish a post later with my thoughts on it. I am absolutely creaming my pants right now. When I alerted Wyn, she was virtually speechless as well. In case you haven’t seen them, here they are on WoW Insider. I wanted to point your attention to something though. Last year, I had the opportunity to do an interview with Kestrel (of his self titled Aerie). In it, he asked me what I thought the 51 point talent would be.

 

kestrel-int

Turns out I was wrong. It would end up being Penance. But look at the recent blue posts for Priests!

blizz-pwbarrier

Well, well, well. Will you look at that! A talent named Power Word: Barrier that’s a shield effect! I’m predicting it’s going to be replacing the spot where Diving Spirit is. But Kestrel my man, this is proof that Blizzard reads your blog, eh?

Build Your Own Guild Part 10: Making Changes

Build Your Own Guild Part 10: Making Changes

New guilds tend to start out in an idealistic mode. Guild masters and officers alike make ambitious plans–possibly including world and server domination–and they put in the kind of policies that they believe will get them to their goal.

However, sometimes plans go awry. In my experience, guild rules fail for two primary reasons.

1. Rules Have Unforeseen Consequences.

Despite the officers’ and guild master’s good intentions, new policies sometimes have unintended effects. A clause that was meant to help and support potential members may end up alienating them. Collateral Damage has make several mistakes in policy over the past few months, and it was always with the best intentions. To offer one very recent example, at the outset of our planning sessions for Wrath, CD’s officers talked about putting in a Raider Status. At the current moment, we don’t have a guild rank that corresponds to raid eligibility. While we thought it might be a good thing for organizing purposes, as it would let both infrequent and regular players know clearly how often they might expect to raid, our members did not. Most players were vehemently against having any kind of rank associated with raiding, and so this policy never made it to live, if you will. The reason? The mere suggestion of a special designation for raiders felt divisive to our members. Ironically, the very players who would exceed the standard we put forth were the ones who argued most passionately against it. The label “raider” was unwelcome, and as such, we’ve jettisoned it entirely.

2. The Guild Identity Evolves.

Guilds are organic entities, and they do not remain static for long. Part of the reason for this has to do with personnel. In the virtual environment, turnover is high, and the identity of a virtual organization depends heavily on the personality of its members. In addition, the guild’s successes or failures can determine its direction. In Collateral Damage’s case, we progressed farther and more quickly than we thought we would, and as a result, we became a more hardcore guild than our original design envisioned. Gradual change can also alter power structures. Guilds that start with lofty goals and a strict hierarchy may find that, over time, they can loosen up. What starts out as a totalitarian state led by a benevolent philosopher-king may end as an association of friends and equals. It is my belief that healthy guilds shift towards this model over time as they develop trust among members. In the case of gradual institutional change, you may find that the initial policies you wrote may have very little correspondence to guild reality.

How Can I Change Things?

When something isn’t working, it tends to be pretty clear. You will hear little grumbles here and there. This is normal for a guild, as QQ is eternal, but pay attention when you start to hear the same thing from many different parties. When that happens, make a new item on your officer meeting agenda and do something about it. If a policy is bad, get rid of it as soon as you can. Sure, you’ll look inconsistent to your members, but in the end, no one wins a prize for persisting with a bad strategy. However, in order to set your organization up to be able to change with the times, or with your better judgment, certain structures have to be in place.

1. Give yourself an out.
Sometimes a guild’s charter seems graven in stone, when in fact it’s a functional document that should always be changing. Let your members observe a tradition of keeping the charter up to date. That way, if a big change needs to be made, they won’t say: “You can’t do that because it’s not in the charter.” Believe me, CD made the mistake of having a static charter and rule set. Members will read the charter like a Blue Post, and we all know what happens whenever Ghostcrawler appears to change his mind.

2. Have a Decision-Making Structure
Make sure that your guild rules set up a procedure for proposing and ratifying changes to policies. For some guilds, it may work best for the GM to have final decision-making power in all cases, but in others, a vote among the officers will guarantee better support for the decision. The worst thing you can do is poll your members and let them vote on guild policies. People tend to vote their fears. You’ve selected your officers (hopefully) because they’re capable of thinking through problems logically. Polls are useful for information-gathering, but leave the decision-making power in the hands of a few well-informed individuals.

3. Have a System for Reporting to the Members
Transparency is a good thing. I believe that the GMs and officers should be making the decisions, but I also believe that they should explain any major policy change to the members. Document the reasons for the change carefully. It’s very common for disgruntled guild members to accuse the GM of making arbitrary decisions. Don’t give them ammunition.

Sweeping Changes

The advice in this article should enable a new guild to make the small adjustments that are necessary to keep an active organization healthy. These kinds of changes are usually acceptable to all members with a little explanation. However, what happens if you want to radically change your guild’s identity? Is it possible, for example, to mold a casual guild into a hardcore raiding team?

Yes and no. In order to explain how a gradual shift might work, I am going to borrow the rather disgusting metaphor that my fellow CD officer, Bruug, used in our last officer meeting. Imagine that your guild is a cute little froggy, and you’d like to boil him up for dinner so you can snack on some delicious frog legs. If you drop Mr. Croaky into a pot full of boiling water, he’ll jump right back out. However, if you stick him in room-temperature water and turn up the heat a few degrees per minute, he’ll be perfectly happy to sit in his nice warm bath and cook.

Gross, huh? I’m not suggesting that you eat your guildmates. However, if you think that your guild has the potential to grow in a certain direction, take gradual steps to get there. Members tend to resist change. They like what’s comfortable and what works. Many people would say that you can’t take a casual guild and turn it into a hardcore one, and they’d be right in principle. Yet, CD has done that in practice, and without consciously trying (apparently we figured out how to poach a frog all on our own). If the will to be more competitive is already out there among your membership, you can help that along. Change will occur organically, but it will do so more surely and effectively if the hand of leadership gives it a nudge or two. Like a careful gardener, you can influence your guild to grow in certain directions. However subtle the changes, I do urge Guild Masters to be as transparent as possible about their vision for the guild. This is only fair to your members who, after all, did not sign their guild contracts in blood. Well, all except the warlocks anyway, and that was because their other pen ran out of ink.