An Ex-Gnome Tank's World

How to tank, Part One – Positioning

August 25th, 2009 Posted in Class Discussion, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

In the course of running my many, many heroics on my druid, I’ve noticed something. Many of the people who sign up to tank the run can hold aggro fine. But beyond that, there’s a whole bunch of finesse missing from their game. Tanking just isn’t about holding aggro, though of course that’s a big part of it. There are huge amounts more that you can do to improve your group’s chances of beating an encounter. Inspired by a cookbook I recently rediscovered, I think that it’s time to cover the basics that I’ve never really seen discussed anywhere.

One of the first, and most important, is positioning. The most important rule to follow here, I think, is:

Always face whatever you’re fighting away from the group.

group arrangement

There are far and away huge numbers of abilities which can be used by both bosses and trash mobs which only attack the front of the enemy. Examples include:

  • Cleaves
  • Fire breaths
  • AoE attacks (such as Dark Smash)

By facing the boss away from where the group starts, you also gain two extra advantages – firstly, they don’t need to move before engaging, and two, melee dps can position themselves faster, contributing to group dps. In addition, they’re unlikely to be parried, gaining you that extra bit of survivability.

This doesn’t just apply to bosses, though – in fact it can be useful on trash just as much, if not more so. By facing a trash pack away from the group, you can immediately see when one turns around and starts aiming for someone other than you. In addition, because you’ll usually have cleared up to where you’re currently standing, the only place patrols are going to come from places you sqaurely between them and the rest of the group. A quick AoE threat effect, whether it be swipe, thunder clap, consecrate, or whatever, will pick them up before anyone else has a chance to get eaten.

As tank, there’s another important point about positioning – keep out of the AoE. it sounds simple, but time and again I’ve seen tanks stand in the AoE oblivious to the fact that they’re getting the melee dps killed slowly (or not so slowly). Always keep an eye out, and move away. This especially applies to delayed-action effects, such as landmines, which will kill dps if they don’t notice it’s been laid. It’s a guarantee that they won’t, too, if the mine’s in the middle of a whole bunch of other things they’re still trying to kill.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Certain bosses in Ulduar require that the entire raid stand in fromt of the boss, for example. Some other bosses need as many people as possible in the AoE because its damage is divided between everyone it hits. On the whole, though, keeping whatever you’re fighting facing away from the vast majority of everyone else is a habit that everyone should be in.

Next time (whenever that is), I’ll try to talk a little about target prioritisation.

You can never go back

August 22nd, 2009 Posted in Cataclysm | No Comments »

If you read the below post on the futility of refresing the Onyxia raid, you might be surprised to learn that, having read the MMO-Champion spoilers a couple of weeks back, I was looking forward to the announcement of the next expansion, and more than that, hoping that it was true.

So, armed with a load of beers,  various in and out-of-game chat channels, my guild, and the Blizzcon stream, I spent Friday night watching Cataclysm unfold. And I wasn’t disappointed. Of course, the proof will be when we actually come to play it in the future, but… Wow. I’m all about the storytelling, and that’s quite some story, and I was to find out what happens next.

More interesting, of course, are the incoming changes. No more Defense rating? Interesting. How the itemisation on our (current) gear will change to reflect that is anybody’s guess. Split between dodge, parry and block? The not-unexcpected change to block making it a real mitigation stat is very welcome, too.

But the real meat of the announcement – the sundering! The world will change in ways that we don’t yet understand, left in a state that will take quite some getting used to. More importantly, though, the content that we’ve levelled up on so far will be all but gone.  We’ve had hints of this before – the return of King Wrynn, the blood elves and draenei appearing in the world – but this is bigger than all of them.

It’s somewhat disappointing that much of what we’ve seen before is going to change. From what I’ve seen, Astranaar will be gone. Southshore will be gone. Orgrimmar will change completely, as will all the capital cities. I’ve heard it said by some that they’re disappointed, that they’ll never be able to play through the same content they did when they were first levelling up. This is true, but it’s also flawed.

For me, the memories of early WoW include that first epic journey from Darnassus all the way to Stormwind as my rogue was told to report to SI7. Walking from Elwynn forest into Westfall, Sentinel Hill appearing in the distance. The elite orc ambushers on the road above Lakeshire. Even when you repeat the content with new characters, it isn’t the same. Some epic moments from the early days are already gone forever – Bolvar’s confrontation with Onyxia, played out in the Stormwind Throne Room, has had its time, and is now only a distant memory.

So, however much the world has stayed the same over the last few years, some things will always change. The content may be gone, but seeing it for a second time is never as exciting or enthralling as the first.

You can never go back.

Namthe’s catalogue of fail, Druziraa’s catalogue of success

August 19th, 2009 Posted in General, Healing, Rants | 2 Comments »

In pugging, there seem to be two different archetypes of group – really good, and really bad. In my quest over the past few days to isolate the still-elusive Black Heart on Namthe, and to find lots of gear upgrades for Druziraa.

On Namthe, as mentioned before, I’ve had:

  • Many, many players with sub-1k DPS output
  • Healers who couldn’t keep me up and blamed it on me
  • People who didn’t see a problem that the tank was doing more damage than anyone else

On Dru, I’ve had:

  • Countless heroic, and pugged, runs where *nobody died at all*
  • A fast, relaxed and effortless Naxx-10 pug (that regrettably I had to leave early)
  • An Obsidian Sanctum pug that went equally smoothly (and got me a title)
  • invitations to several raids on the back of healing a heroic 5-man

Funny how things turn out, every pug I heal seems to be fantastic, and every pug I tank turns to pain. Given my tanking gear is likely to be at the top end of pug tanks (Some I’ve healed in the last week have had less than 25k HP), and my healing gear is at best average, I do wonder why this is. I do know that I’m not about to declare healing my calling in raids – tanking’s still my main love – but I do wonder about why things always seem to go so much better when healing compared to tanking.

She’s Back?

August 14th, 2009 Posted in Dungeons, General | No Comments »

So Onyxia is to return. The entire WoW community appears to be split between those who are excited at the prospect of battling a foe they haven’t been able to fight on even terms for so long, and those that want the old raids left well alone, there at level 60. Me, I don’t fit into either of those camps.

Having started my WoW career in 2006, about six months before the Burning Crusade’s release, I never got to see much of vanilla raiding – Zul’Gurub a couple of times, maybe the odd Molten Core pug. On the other hand, I did acquire a full set of Tier 0 gear from the 5-man dungeons (which tells you how much I ran those).  In those days I played a rogue, not the warrior that’s so defined me now. Most of the raids I’ve since seen, with the exception of Blackwing Lair, and one thing sticks out compared to the more modern encounters.

Vanilla raids were rubbish.

The only encounters I’ve seen which were at all difficult (and I’m not talking about steamrollering things 20 levels later here) were the Twin Emperors and C’thun. Tactics were at best necessarily simple to cope with the fact that you needed 40 people to all do the right thing. Even the 20-man raids were the same- there was a little more complexity, but not much (and it was usually of the nuke adds / nuke boss again variety).

Vanilla Raids were ugly

Take a walk into Molten Core, just to the entrance, and look at the trash. There’s lots of packs, and they’re almost all identical. Or, walk into Zul’Aman and screengrab a few of the bosses. Now compare them with bosses in Zul’Gurub. The difference is huge – it’s as if it were a different game!

The same ugliness was what greeted us in the first raid of Lich King – Naxxramas had the same treatment that Onyxia is going to get. The same ugly sprites greeted us as we entered the first wing. The same overly simple tactics that were a challenge with 40 men suddenly seemed so much easier with 10 or 25.

This is why, when Onyxia sticks her flame-wrapped head around the door, I won’t be excited. Of course, I’ll run the raids, but given the makeover Naxx had, I don’t expect anything more than a few million more hitpoints and a tendency to hit slightly harder than a pillow. So while Ony will be back, nastier than ever, and I’m sure there’ll be lots of players clamouring for a chance to beat her again (or for the first time), I fully expect disappointment. Some things should stay in the past. Onyxia, I’m afraid to say, along with all the other pre-TBC raids, is one of those.

Bringing out the worst in people

August 9th, 2009 Posted in Dungeons, Rants | 1 Comment »

The patch has hit. There’s lots to do and see, including the Amazing Bugtastic Ulduar and the new raid instance, which I’ve not yet seen, and the Trial of the Champion, which I’ve seen altogether rather too much of, in search of The Black Heart (and no, it hasn’t dropped yet). But, more than that, I hate the instance, and I’ve hated it since even before the first time I cleared it on Heroic.

Let’s be clear here, I have had many, many good results from pugging 5-mans, in every instance and on both my level 80 characters. Trial of the Champion, however, may as well be called the Trial of the eejit. I’ve had many decent runs of the place, both normal and heroic, but there’s been a few terribad ones too – mostly through DPS players  doing sub-800 DPS, as well as one where the healer, a holy paladin, was far too undergeared. I’ll let the paladin off, though, because after the run, I had a conversation with him about his gear choices – he knew he needed to improve, and wanted to do so.

What took the biscuit, though, was my first trip there on Heroic mode . I’d briefly read up on each boss, but I’ve always stood by the fact that reading up is no substitute for experience, and in general, I’m right. Once I’ve seen a boss, I understand it. Before, I jut have hints of what’s going to happen.

The jousting wasn’t too painful. After countless runs, I still hate it though – there’s just too much going on in the transition to foot battle, especially if the bosses are spread out. It seems like dumb luck as to whether anyone else will get killed before I can round them up successfully, but they’re not too bad once you’ve established themselves.

Then we came to Argent Confessor Paletress. After the DPS went all-out before I had a chance to grab aggro from the Memory of Van Cleef, and dying. Then we wiped, allegedly because “Namthe’s taking 10k melee hits”. Uh, what? Recount didn’t agree, and I said as much. After a second wipe much the same as the first (DPS dying to the damage reflection), our first healer left, and our retri paladin went holy, grabbing another DPS from somewhere. That just about got us through.

And then came the Black Knight. On top of his Frost Fever and Blood Plague, the healer couldn’t keep up, trying to heal through rather than cleanse the diesases. I was also told that I was obviously doing something wrong. I can’t see what that was (and having run it sucessfully since, both as healer and tank, I still can’t.)

The rest of the group, trusting their healer more than me, booted me. To be more precise, they all broke group and reformed, because I was the leader. What they hadn’t reckoned on was:

  1. I was utterly, utterly incensed by the abuse directed at me for allegedly repeatedly wiping the raid
  2. I was part of the original instance group, and still in the instance

Hell, if I was going to have a wasted instance ID because of asshattery, so were they. While I sat in the instance, they couldn’t enter for more than 59 seconds at a time. They asked for me to leave. I declined. Repeatedly and always politely. I told them that the instance ID was as much mine as theirs, and given that they had elected to leave the group, would they please go away?

The standoff lasted an hour or so before I decided I’d rather do something rather more productive. But hey, if you’re going to piss me off, set me back 80G in repair bills and then just dump me, I’m more than happy to return the favour.

On Raid Leaders

July 31st, 2009 Posted in General, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Matticus is searching to recruit a new raid leader for his guild. I can’t help but wonder however if his search is doomed to failure. I’ve written in the past about what makes both a good raider as well as leader of raids, but in doing so I missed out on the most important aspect of what makes a raidleader, and that is chemistry.

A raidleader needs to have the trust of his raiding team. Without that, it is very difficult to understand his decisions, to agree when a wipe is called. Look at it from another way – while you or I might have trialled in a raid in the past, the only person whose opinion really mattered was the leader. Did you do your job well and not put anyone’s nose out of joint while doing it? Trial a new raidleader and you’ll have twenty-four others you need to get on your side, or they won’t listen when you need them to.

I’m in the position of knowing enough about two equally-progressed guilds on our server. Their raidleaders are polar opposites – one never raises his voice, almost never swears. The other is a barrelful of expletives, ready to vent on Vent at the slightest irregularity. Remember, these are equally progressed guilds, but swapping raidleaders would be a disaster, because of the management style each set of raid members expects. It might be an insurmountable barrier.

I’ll leave you with an anecdote from my raidleading days back in Karazhan. We were undergeared and had managed a double pull, which our two priests had managed to get under control with on-the-ball shackling.

Then our (on the lower edge of competent) holy paladin dropped a consecrate under the shackles, making things ten times harder. The next thing heard on teamspeak was my bellow of:

“Which f***ing idiotic paladin did that?”

I’d never sworn at a raid member before, and I never needed to again. Sometimes an unexpected curve ball from a raidleader can do good. That can only work if the raid already has a well defined set of expectations of its leader.

Achieving the Impossible

July 26th, 2009 Posted in Bosses, General | No Comments »

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
- Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Not so long ago, in fact, only last week, I said that Sartharion with three drakes up was still almost impossible for a prot warrior to main tank. Funny how these things work out.

Pretty much exactly the same as last week, we downed Yogg early in the evening and again had the qaundary of what to do for the rest of the night. Once again being without Feral tank or DK, I was unceremoniously plonked down in front of the dragon, a Gnomish sacrifice. This time, though, we had a Plan, deserving of the capital P. It was  Plan that required careful communication between myself and the healers, but not much else. If you too want to main tank Sartharion as a warrior, here’s what you will need:

  • Two Priests – one  Discipline, one Holy
  • One Paladin (spec doesn’t really matter, but don’t use your paladin offtank for this)

Tanking is much the same as with two, one or no drakes still up.  There is only one pain point through the entire encounter, and it’s at the moment that the second drake lands. At this point, if you’re lucky, the first drake will be dead. If not, it’s still achievable but you’ll need to be even more on the ball. At this point you need to call whenever there’s an incoming firebreath, for the appropriate cooldown to be used:

  • Guardian Spirit
  • Shield Wall
  • Pain Suppression / Last Stand
  • Hand of Sacrifice

By the time four breaths have come and gone, the second drake should also be dead, and you can (more or less) stroll to victory. Surprisingly the Tier 8 set bonus doesn’t help so much as you might expect, because the breaths come so often and unpredictably. Cooldown spec is, I think, more of a hindrance than a help here (by the time things are back off cooldown you’re a lot safer anyway).

So the moral of the story is – nothing’s impossible. It just takes careful application of your abilities, most especially the ability to communicate. Hav faith in your abilities and the rest will follow.

If you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliway’s, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
- Douglas Adams

Be careful what you wish for

July 21st, 2009 Posted in Dungeons, Healing | 4 Comments »

As has been the custom for a while now, I’ve beeen spending the occasional hour on my druid healing heroics, doing the odd 10-man Naxx and so on. I noticed something, though – once I got above about 1500 spell power, things got drastically easier, to the point at which I never have to drink through the entire instance, and the tank never comes within even a slight chance of dying.

On top of that, there’s what’s going on when tanking. We’ve been working on Yogg-Saron for a couple of weeks in 25-man, and on Sunday he went down, on only the third attempt. I don’t particularly rate the Yogg fight – all it takes is being organised, and once we’d organised ourselves properly, it just fell into place. Unlike other first kills, the third phase just felt like it was a dull grind. Again, the content just feels easier than perhaps I had a right to expect it to be.

So, with most of a raid night left, we headed to see Sartharion, and attempt three drakes. Unfortunately our regular Feral tank is on holiday (and we have no DK tank), so I ended up taking him. Even with 4 pieces of 25-man Tier 8 and cooldown spec, he was still breathing fire at times for more hit points than I had. So, difficult, but impossibly so. Not what I was after, and we went down to Sarth +2, which was predictably easy.

Enter last night – for the first time I took Druziraa into a 25-man raid, and was instantly shocked. Most of the raid lighting up with poisons to cleanse, curses to remove, and that’s not even counting the far-increased complexity of keeping hots up on multiple tanks at once. There’s the challenge that I’m looking for – and because I was somewhat undergeared, it was even more of a struggle to keep up with the other healers. After the cockiness that was accompanying my 5-man runs, this was something else entirely, something to put me in my place and say “You ain’t all that…. yet.”

It’s good to be brought back down to earth sometimes.

Bring In The Trash

July 14th, 2009 Posted in General | 1 Comment »

One of the things coming out of the PTR for patch 3.2 is that the Argent Coliseum has no trash.

So? I hear you say. Trash rarely drops anything useful, and it’s there to slow us down.

Quite, I respond. It’s there to slow you down. This isn’t a bad thing, and it’s got nothing to do with how long it takes for you to clear all the bosses in an instance. Instead, the trash adds just enough delay to the instance. The delay is important.  The amount of trash present is also important, in that there has to be not too much and not too little.

I’ll go further than that. I’ll say that ideally each boss should be prefaced by 10-15 minutes of trash. Not so much that it takes you ages to clear, not so little  that it takes no time at all to get through.

The reason for it is this – Bosses are a time for concentration. Trash (which while being possibly lethal) is not in the same way. Sure, everyone needs to pay attention on the trash just as the boss, but by and large the trash is much easier than the boss, especially when it’s been learned, allowing a short space of time in which to recharge ready for full concentration on the boss.

Add to this respawn timers. Naturally there’s a short break between each attempt, but that’s too filled with analysis of what went wrong before, changes in strategy. By the time the ready check is made most players will be lucky if they’ve had thirty seconds of break. By adding a respawn timer (90 minutes may be the ideal, 2 hours is the most common) there’s an enforced break from the boss to allow raiders to recharge and return to the boss with a fresher mind.

Without the trash, I can see attempts on harder bosses within the Coliseum getting worse as the raid goes on, that tiny break provided by trash missing, leading to lack of concentration.

DKP? Say, Why?

July 10th, 2009 Posted in General, Rants | No Comments »

Matticus recently mentioned on twitter:

Guild sites should show: Where they’re at in progression, raid times, loot system, and an app link somewhere visible.

Sounds mostly sensible enough

  • How far you’re progressed? Definitely makes sense for a prospective applicant to know if they’re horrendously undergeared for your content.
  • Raid Times? Yep, makes no sense to apply to a guild if you’re never going to match their raiding schedule
  • Application link? Make it easy to apply, of course. If you don’t you’ll lose out on applicants who can’t find your application form.

But the other one? Loot system? I completely fail to see why that should ever be something that needs advertising. In my experience, there are two types of applicant. There are those who are interested in raiding for its own sake, seeing the gear obtained as a means to an end (seeing more content, beating more difficult encounters). And then there are the people who want to get the gear so they can stand around in Dalaran and /flex at lesser-geared passers-by.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of loot systems before. There are some good, some bad, they’re all capable of being gamed in different ways (and if you meet someone who says their system is perfect, they’re a liar). But when someone asks the question “What DKP system do you use?”, in my experience what they really mean is one of two questions:

“How soon can I get to looking hardcore in Dalaran?”


“How long will I have to put up with this crummy guild before I’m geared enough to find a better one?”

Players in well-progressed raiding guilds are almost inevitably there to experience the journey, not the destination. By asking the DKP question up-front, a prospective member is showing that they are thinking of their reward in terms of the pixels they can decorate their character with, rather than the satisfaction of having beaten a tough encounter.

If you’re interested in progression for progression’s sake then so long as it’s fair (and let’s be honest here any progression-oriented guild has to have a fair loot system or they’ll implode into a black hole of drama) it shouldn’t matter exactly what that system is. Almost all the players who would want to join your guild should be there for the teamwork, not the high-ilevel purples.

Progress should be its own reward. So long as the loot is distributed afterward in such a way as to make further progress as easy as possible (however you choose to define that), it shouldn’t matter too much how it is distributed.