Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Being Thwarted By the Lunar Festival

I'm a little annoyed with the Lunar Festival at the moment. You see, one of the elders is located in Gundrak, but he is a specific part of Gundrak, a part this is only accessible in heroic. I'm trying to get the To Honor One's Elders achievement as a part of my quest to complete What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been, and while I've run heroic Gundrak before, there is a slight complication to this.

You see, the character that I've been doing all the world event achievements on is not Hana, but Gillien, who is currently a level 76 paladin. (My druid has flight form and to be honest will never use another flying mount unless mandatory for a quest.) I really don't have a problem spreading my achievements across different characters and the achievements they go after tend to be different. Hana primarily goes for raid and dungeon achievements. Gillien does PvP and world events.

I was making good progress on my paladin with the hope that I would hit 77 early during the festival and thus be able to fly to all dungeons required, because initially all I had to go on was the list of which dungeons the elders were in. Level 77 would let me enter any normal dungeon in-game. But now it looks like I'll have to bust a move and try to hit 80 before the festival goes away.

I'm not the fastest leveler, especially not when I'm raiding four nights a week, and a fifth night is spoken for out of game, but now it looks like I have about 15 days to do 4 levels. It doesn't sound like much to some people. One of my guildies went from 77 to 80 on his warrior in probably a little less than a week (while still raiding on his main!), but I don't know if I'll be able to do it. I probably could, but it'll be close.

Thankfully my paladin already has epic flying so once I hit 77 leveling should go a lot faster.

But still, I have to get to 80 to set foot in heroic Gundrak, and that just galls me because most of the time I can cheese my way through. I even managed Bros. Before Ho Ho Hos at level 71.

One of the fun things about the world events is generally you don't have to be in an experienced guild or even max level and still be able to have a lot of fun. You still have to be high level, but not max. And if you're enterprising enough you can get away with a lot. (One year a scrub hunter of mine who was probably 20-30ish at the time managed to get the ZG coin for the Lunar Festival.) The Fire Festival boss, Ahune, was playable in normal Slave Pens as well as heroic. Pre-70s could still fight the Headless Horseman, and I was in both pugs and guild runs that took them.

While I'm reasonably certain I can convince a few guildies to run a newly 80 holy pally into heroic Gundrak for the elder, I hate having to ask for help like that. Everything else I would be comfortable pugging.

On the bright side though, I've been wanting to get my pally to 80 for PvP, so this is one way to get my butt in gear. If I can do a level every four days I'll hit 80 by the end of the festival (since I'm about a quarter of the way into 76 right now). I'm really hoping my leveling will speed up by as much as my guildies say it will once I have my flying mount.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Lunar New Year!

Though the festivities start a little early (much like the Western world parties the night before) the Lunar New Year actually begins January 26, 2009.

In WoW we're celebrating it with a festival that lasts three weeks during which we fight off a demon dog of lore, shoot fireworks, and pay our respects to the elders who give us lucky red envelopes.

As a Chinese American this is a holiday I have celebrated in the real world as well. (And the nice thing about the real world is that those lucky red envelopes come with money. They don't give you gold in WoW!) Though I was never told the story of Nian as a child (Omen in game), it pleases me to no end to have an in-game holiday that is culturally relevant to me.

There are just a couple things I wish Blizzard had included... and it's really just indulgence on my part. So perhaps as a wishlist for next year, I would like:

1) More varieties of Chinese food. There are so many kinds of beer available at Brewfest. Surely they could incorporate a few more pieces of cuisine for the Lunar Festival.

2) Dragon or lion dancing. Maybe they could have a costume like the Blizzcon murloc one where people can turn into a Chinese-style lion for a short period of time (since the dragon would have to be overly long).

While I do like visiting all the elders, I wish there had been more of an update for this year besides adding more elders in Northrend.

In the meantime, let's ring in the Year of the Ox. If you're a tauren you have no excuse for not doing well this year. ;) Happy New Year!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Facing Malygos

I don't really want to spend a lot of posts charting my guild's progress, but we had a few firsts this weekend, and they weren't the usual pew-pew, and I figure at least one of the fights is worth going over due the unusual demands on the raid.

On Saturday my guild attempted (and killed) 10-man Malygos. We had been meaning to do this one for about a month now, but between the holidays, our transition to 25-mans, and scheduling issues on our remaining free days, it took us until this weekend. Part of the reason for the delay was that we intended to assemble a crack team for this fight rather than just anyone available.

Though we love all our guildies dearly, some people naturally pick things up faster than others, and we knew going in that Malygos wasn't going to be like any other fight. The purpose of our run was to get acquainted with the fight so we could bring that experience with us to the rest of the raid in 25-man, and for that we wanted minimal wipeage. I don't think any of us who went really considered walking away without downing Malygos as an option.

Everyone who went watched the videos, brought the best buff food (no Great Feasts), and was flasked. Everyone who went had also practiced with the daily quest Aces High!, which is essential to avoid being caught with your pants down in the third phase of Malygos.

It took us three tries to beat Malygos, and each wipe was in Phase 3. The importance of being able to ride the dragons in Aces High! cannot be underestimated. The quest giver even says, "My business here is to study the enemy and teach my precious pets the tactics that will be most effective when we face the master of the blues."

Now to the fight itself. We went with two healers because beating Malygos is a dps race. Our healers were a shaman and a paladin. This was not the ideal make-up for a reason I'll go into shortly, but both are exceptional healers so we knew that the raid would be in good hands for the majority of the fight.

Phase 1 is mostly tank and spank except for a couple things. Periodically a Power Spark is spawned and it must be killed before getting to Malygos or it will buff him. We had two death knights so they would take turns using Death Grip to bring it into range of the rest of the raid, who would be behind Malygos. Then if possible I would root it so it couldn't move while we killed it (though to be honest we tended to kill them so fast that I usually didn't pull it off in time).

Also in Phase 1, Malygos has a Vortex ability during which he throws the entire raid up in the air and deals a whopping 2000 damage (unresisted) a second for 10 seconds. During this time only instants can be cast, and this is where having a paladin and a shaman for healers looked like it could have been a liability.

In reality, not so much. We made sure everyone had at least 16k health unbuffed, and then with raid buffs everyone got near to 20k and Mark of the Wild provides some base level of magic resistence. Finally, during the vortex phase there isn't a whole lot a moonkin can do anyway after Malygos has been dotted, so I popped out to hot the people closest to dying. My spell power was over 1700 so I could hot for a fair bit and usually I would nail 4, maybe even 5, people before landing. Our enhance shaman and ret paladin also threw instants if they could. We never lost a single person to the vortex.

We would typically go through three vortexes before getting Malygos to 50%, at which point he would move into Phase 2. During this transition he hovers around for several seconds without doing anything and it's very important for all ranged dps to throw everything they got at him before he flies away. I try to make sure he has a fresh set of dots ticking on him just before he's completely out of range.

I can only imagine how fun Phase 2 is for melee, but for me, it's not quite as much.

During Phase 2 the raid is attacked by Nexus Lords (melee) and Scions of Eternity (ranged) which look a lot like blood elves riding around on floating discs. All of them drop discs when killed, and the melee can jump on the dropped discs to fly up and attack the Scions, who will otherwise never fall into melee range. The Scions can be attacked by ranged dps if they happen to be in range, but usually they're not, which would make phase 2 a little boring if not for the fact that those of us down below are still under threat of being killed by Malygos.

Malygos is still attacking from range during all this time, so the raid is taking damage, and in addition to that he has a Deep Breath attack that will hit for 5000 damage a second unless the raid is safe inside a purple anti-magic zone (which reduces, not negates, the damage). These purple anti-magic zones spawn in and begin to shrink, so the raid has to run from zone to zone as the largest one becomes progressively smaller and a new one emerges.

These zones can get tremendously small too! One of them we had everyone almost literally stacked on top of each other and my moonkin head was sticking out by the end, but we still lived. If you're in what was the largest zone at the time of the Deep Breath, you should be okay even if it gets horribly tiny by the end.

After all the Nexus Lords and Scions of Eternity are dead Malygos will fly briefly back into range (dps him for all you've got!) and then shatter the floor, at which point all the raid will land on red dragons identical to those flown on Aces High! This is where having practiced the daily comes in real handy.

The primary difference between the daily and the actual fight is that generally one player will be focused on healing the raid and the rest will be dpsing. Otherwise, the controls are the same. (If necessary, two drakes could heal, but we went with one.) Also, there is less of a need for the dps drakes to hot themselves if the raid is good about sticking together for the AoE heal. I would hot myself if I could spare the energy/cooldowns, but I mostly focused on dps.

At the most basic level a dps drake should Flame Spike to five combo points and then Engulf in Flames while always keeping 25 energy available in the event Malygos uses Power Surge. The Power Surge will kill a drake if it's not at least partially mitigated, so if you see a warning that Malygos is focusing on you, be sure to use Flame Shield! You also need combo points up in order to use Flame Shield, but it's fortunately a three second cast, so if you're caught at a bad time, you should still be able to attack once or even twice and then toss up a shield to block a few seconds of it.

The trick to beating Malygos before the timer runs out is to always keep the Engulf in Flames debuff up, because each time you apply it, the debuff will stack. By the end you should have 20+ stacks up. Also, the number of combo points doesn't affect the damage of the debuff. They only affect the duration. So if you find yourself pretty handy with your energy management, you'll actually want to use Engulf in Flames with fewer combo points so you can stack more debuffs faster.

I generally found four combo points to be a good medium between getting more debuffs on Malygos and keeping a good buffer for emergency Flame Shields. Our mage turned out to be quite good at this though and did a three combo point rotation. For first-timers though, I'd suggest five points just because it's better safe than sorry. If that Engulf in Flames debuff falls off you'll have to start all over again and the raid can't afford that.

As a final note, my guild downed Kel'Thuzad in 25-man Naxx for the first time the following day, so our Malygos practice run could not have come at a better time. We took everyone to 25-man Malygos immediately afterwards with the idea that we'd just give him a shot or two so everyone could see what he's like.

Malygos will do a breath attack immediately after he lands in 25-man, which he didn't in 10, and this nuked most of the raid. This looks like it's going to be the stumbling block for our 25-man group since our second attempt ended only slightly better than the first, much our disappointment. We'd been hoping to get at least to Phase 3 so the people who hadn't done 10-man could understand how important Aces High! is to beating him, but that will have to wait for another night.

25-man Malygos is now the only raid boss we have left until we clear out all the available raid content.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

[Paladin] Lessons Learned While Healing Azjol-Nerub

I'm sure most holy paladins in Northrend have run this instance already. On heroic it's known as the bane of a holy paladin's existence due to the massive crunch to find a GCD to Cleanse a person, let alone the whole party, on the second boss fight. The only heroic more hated by pallies is possibly Halls of Lightning (but then a lot of people don't like that one). But on normal, well, it's not too bad.

AN is a short instance, and for me the defining moment of an AN run is always in the first boss fight. If the party can't survive the Watcher pulls leading up to the boss itself then the whole run is effectively over. I'd healed this one previously on my druid and knew to call out for help when cocooned, and also that as a healer I was likely to get swarmed by adds which may or may not get pulled off me. I also knew that by nature this fight was chaotic, but if there is any bright side to being a paladin healer in a regular 5-man, it's that you can take a few hits, or even be hit the entire fight, and still be able to heal through it without much complaint. Thank you plate armor and Concentration Aura.

So when we had our first casuality it wasn't entirely unexpected. Our tank gave a good effort considering he was 71 and a tad underlevel for the instance (generally not a good thing as the tank), but the rogue still managed to get himself killed somehow during the first Watcher pull and remained dead the entire boss fight. I would have tried to save him, but he died so fast that I was still casting the same heal from the time I saw his health drop to when he actually died. Given that kind of speed I can only imagine that he hit something he really shouldn't have. I felt a little bad, but not much.

If the healer dies, it's the tank's fault.
If the tank dies, it's the healer's fault.
If the dps dies, it's their own damn fault.

It's a very good mantra for 5-mans. It doesn't necessarily apply to raids, but for 5-mans, especially normal 5-mans, it's particularly apt. Except that the rest of the fight didn't go smoothly either. I even lost the tank to an unlucky interrupt, which by that mantra meant it was my fault, but we held out long enough that he was able to run back from the graveyard, back into the instance, and help us in the final moments of the boss.

It was after that fight that I realized I hadn't been using Beacon of Light when I should have been. While I can't say for certain it would have saved the tank's life, it would have made the fight easier as a whole. I already knew I was a pretty good mana battery. I couldn't imagine running dry for any reason, so I applied a new rule for myself: Always make sure Beacon is up during a fight. Even if it doesn't seem necessary, make sure it's up as a proactive measure rather than a reactive one. Goodness knows I'm busy enough during a hectic fight without having to remember to put Beacon up when I need it the most and I certainly could spare the mana.

And this was especially good to have in practice for the second boss. Hydranox is annoying first for the gauntlet run (it not uncommon for the tank to miss an add), and second for the party damage for when we're fighting the boss himself. The boss puts a poison dot on the entire party that hurts them and heals him, and in addition to that he spawns acid clouds that do heavy damage over time when people stand in them (and people will). In heroic the poison dot is generally the cause of any teeth grinding by the paladin, who is largely stuck with single target heals with cast times and at the same time has to find the global cooldowns to Cleanse the party. Fortunately for this normal run we had a shaman with a poison cleansing totem so I could focus sololy on healing.

It was also about this time in the run that I started the habit of mashing Divine Plea every cooldown, as practice for things to come. It's a 20% hit to healing done, but unless it's do-or-die time the amount lost is barely noticeable. I was never in danger of running out of mana, but this kept me topped up almost the entire run and allowed me a bigger comfort zone when I felt I needed to spam Holy Lights to keep the party up. No drinking is no downtime.

The last boss fight was not particularly remarkable from a healing standpoint other than as a healer I was bound to get beetle adds on me, but again, being in plate and with Concentration Aura in a normal instance they were just annoying more than anything dangerous. It helped that the tank designated a particular part of the room as where he would tank the adds, so if I knew where to run if I got any on me. Just as a side note though... those adds don't go away when the boss dies, so it's really nice if the tank or dps are observant enough pull them off the healer, because it's a little annoying watching everyone standing around looting when I'm still being attacked.

My take home observations for future instances:

1) Always keep up Beacon of Light.

2) Use Divine Plea every cooldown unless the hit to healing is going to be make or break.

3) Don't be afraid to spam Holy Lights if needed. Mana shouldn't be an issue.

I suppose these observations are mostly common sense items, some of which I've read elsewhere, but it helps to have actually come to these same conclusions myself and put them in practice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

[Druid] The Surplus Limb

Last night, Oporotheca returned to 25-man raiding from the holiday season, and for the first time we down Heroic Patchwerk. He dropped a number of items, but of most importance to me was this:

[Surplus Limb]

This is most likely the strongest +hit off-hand in the game for moonkin, and to my incredible surprise, none of the four mages in the raid wanted it. It was all mine!

So let's take a look at why this limb that looks like the arm of a Forsaken is good for us, and also why the mages possibly passed on it.

Most casters new to Naxx end up with the [Flameheart Spell Scapel] and [Ward of the Violet Citadel] for a main hand/off-hand combination. The Ward of the Violet Citadel is so strong that there's really nothing else worth taking in 10-man Naxx if you're a dps caster unless you end up hit capped via other pieces gear and no longer need the hit on Ward, and the Flameheart is solid.

I got the [Sulfur Stave] really early in our 10-man progression, so early I didn't have the rep for the [Flameheart Spell Scapel] yet, and the Flameheart/Ward combo was not significantly better for me than the Sulfur Stave according to Rawr, so the Ward became the last emblem item I was interested in. As time passed I decided that I would only buy the Ward if I got an epic main hand to go with it. Otherwise the minor dps increase wouldn't be worth the cost of 25 emblems. Besides, I reasoned, the [Surplus Limb] might drop once we got to Heroic Patchwerk and that would provide a bigger dps increase.

Now what's so special about this limb vs. the Ward?

When comparing the two, the Surplus Limb has the following:

+6 stamina
+4 intellect
-6 hit rating
+41 haste rating
-25 crit rating
+6 spell power

The difference between the stam and int, or even the hit and spell power, aren't that much. The real key is looking at the haste vs. crit.

When selecting gear the generally accepted desirability of stats is hit > spell power > haste > crit (according to the guys at Elitist Jerks). Hit and spell power are desirable for obvious reasons, but haste vs. crit is less obvious, especially for those of us who didn't raid Sunwell where haste really came into its own.

Crit provides mana back, extra damage, and all these good things, after all. Why go with haste?

Haste makes all that happen faster. A moonkin's goal should be to end each fight with her mana bar as close to empty as possible without actually going empty at any point in the fight. If mana is not an issue (and only if), haste becomes desireable.

Eventually, enough haste reaches a breaking point where we can cast one more spell during an Eclipse, or one more spell before we have to reposition ourselves during a boss fight. My Starfires are almost 2.5 second casts now, and 0.5 of that is coming from haste.

Also from an item budgeting standpoint, Blizzard gives us more oomph per point of haste than point of crit, so 40 haste will translate into more dps than 40 crit, enough that losing the 6 hit and 25 crit from the Ward is more than offset by the 41 haste and 6 spell power from the Surplus Limb.

Granted, anyone who already has [Ward of the Violet Citadel] is in a very good position, and the Surplus Limb should be passed to someone who needs it (this is likely why the mages in my guild passed), but if all the casters already have the Ward, this is still a reasonably good upgrade.

And for me, at this time, this is quite frankly the best off-hand I could have. I am quite the happy moonkin!

Monday, January 5, 2009

His Last Bit of Humanity

First of all, if you're concerned about spoilers and haven't done the quest chain leading up to Tirion's Gambit you may want to stop reading now.


/waits a little more

/checks watch

Okay! If you're still here, I assume you've already done the quest or don't care.

Arthas is perhaps a unique character in the Warcraft lore in that he's more or less uniquely respected by the fandom. Not everyone bought into Kael'thas's turn to evil. People make jokes about Illidan being emo. But Arthas?

While he still ends up in silly comics and one of my coworker's theories on why he sits on a frozen throne is that he has hemmorhoids, there's little disagreement when it comes to his status as big villain on the totem pole. He has the kind of reputation that you can't buy. He was a defining character in Warcraft III and one of the major forces that shaped Azeroth as we know it.

But Arthas is more than just a character from Warcraft III. He was also us, the hero of the human campaign. More than many other lore characters, we may feel we know him, because we played as him (even if we thought everything he did was completely screwed up).

I admit, when I saw this quest text, I thought it may have been a sign that Arthas could eventually be redeemed. But when I met with Tirion Fordring at the Cathedral of Shadows there was no saving Arthas's heart. Arthas taunts Tirion for believing he could be redeemed and Tirion himself destroys the heart, obviously coming to the same conclusion as Arthas, that there is no turning back from being the Lich King.

I was a little saddened at the end of it, because I'd seen that glimmer of hope, but as I thought over the quest chain that led me here, I came to realize something, that there had been some measure of good still within Arthas.

While running errands for Koltira Deathweaver, the player eventually encounters a ghostly little boy called Matthias Lehner, an anagram for Arthas Menethil (thank you Wowhead). Matthias repeatedly tells the player how futile it is to fight Arthas given all his power, his lack of humanity, and also says that he can only be seen by the player because he or she touched something of Arthas's.

As a part of the Lich King it would be natural that Matthias would try to demoralize the player, but when the player first finds Arthas's heart, this little boy helps him/her hide undetected. He also warns the player that next time Arthas won't leave the heart unguarded. And why do that if he was wholly a part of the Lich King?

We did see Arthas's last bit of humanity. Though he didn't use such words, it feels like he came to say good-bye.

And now we're going to avenge him.