Once a week in World of Warcraft you can go and hit a frustrating loot pinata: the Vault of Archavon (VoA). This raid instance started with one boss when Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) launched, and with each content patch an additional boss was added, for a current total of four bosses. When added each boss has a chance to drop some player versus player (pvp) or player versus environment (pve) gear. Which is fine if you want both pve and pvp gear, but a bit frustrating when you only want one type of gear.
VoA can only be accessed if your faction (Horde or Alliance) controls the Lake Wintergrasp zone. This is a world pvp zone, where you always run the risk of being ganked. So quite a few people give the zone a wide berth for that reason. Control is determined in a pvp battle that takes place every 2 and a bit hours. Initially when WotLK launched, there was no cap on the player numbers allowed in Lake Wintergrasp. So on servers where one faction had a population advantage, they controlled access to VoA a lot. It was quite possible for a casual player on the outnumbered side to go for weeks without seeing their faction in control. Which is frustrating for the individual player, and for guilds that are unable to schedule a guild run. In two years I think I have been on 3-4 guild runs of VoA.
So VoA is a raid instance you often end up pugging (taking part in a pick up group). Because of the time pressure, there is an incentive to form a group quickly, and Raid Leaders will often take pretty much any selection of virtual pixels that can get the job done. If a group wipes a couple of times, it will always collapse, as no one wants to be locked to the failure, or to waste valuable time in a narrow window of opportunity. Another aspect of the time pressure is that players often have “many alts to feed”. They want a quick, clean run, so they can log off and take an alternate character into a second VoA run. This is fine early in the expansion when there is only one pinata in the zone, but when there are 3-4 you find the raid group collapsing after the first 1-2 pinatas are down. Not that the older loot is all that useful, but the gold and badges (now justice/valor points) are still useful.
In Cataclysm, there will be a new World PvP zone, Tol Barad. Mentally I think of this as “Lol Bad” in the same way as I think of “Lake Failgrasp”. Even with balancing, my faction has a pretty horrible record for world PvP, in just under two years the Alliance has successfully defended Lake Wintergrasp over 2,000 times, while the Horde has defended less than 20 times. The number of successful attacks is about equal. Maybe things will be different this time…
In Cataclysm you will no longer be able to run both a 10 man version and a 25 man version of the pinata instance (in the same week anyway). So its going to be interesting to see which size of raid is the preferred one. This is where “the class run” comes in. There are ten classes in World of Warcraft: Warrior, Paladin, Death Knight, Druid, Rogue, Hunter, Mage, Warlock, Shaman and Priest. Much of the pve and pvp lot that drops from the pinatas is class specific, so the Highlander theme (“there can be only one”) is very attractive: if loot with your class name drops, its yours.
In WotLk there was always a strong incentive to run 25 man VoA in preference to 10 man VoA: the pinata in VoA dropepd superior loot. In Cataclysm, the loot will be of the same value, but 25 man raids will drop more. The suggested ratio is 6 loot items for 25 players and 2 loot items for 10 man groups. So you should still prefer to run a 25 man if you can right?
Some classes are pure spec (Mages, Rogues, Hunters, Warlocks), other classes are hybrids (Paladin, Death Knight, Warrior, Druid, Priest), Shammy). Players of hybrid classes want more than one set of gear, itemised for each role they can play. Combine the pvp and pve versions together and some classes look for anywhere up to 5-6 different sets of gear. In pugs, the most common form of loot distribution is an open 1-100 roll, with main spec beating offspecs. The main spec is usually the aspect of the holy trinity (Tank, Heals, Damage) you are fulfilling for that particular raid. You can get lucky, your offspec loot drops and no one else wants it, but most of the time you will only get a roll for main spec items.
In a highlander run though, you get all the offspec gear that drops. So hybrid classes have a strong incentive to join such runs, but pure classes are probably slightly better off joining 25 man runs. The difficulty then, comes in forming the highlander run. This is because you will almost certainly need two tanks, and two to three healers. Once a hybdrid class occupies one of these slots, that class is unable to fill the other slot. For example, if you have a paladin tank and a druid tank, you cannot recruit paladin or druid healers/damage dealers. This constraint makes the highlander run harder to form, and this is a problem given the time constraint for forming the group and doing the run. Once your group combination is such that only one type of class can tank or heal for you, it can be a long wait before soemone with the right class-spec comes along.
For the pure DPS characters, while the 25 man run may be attractive, you have little influence over how the raid is formed. If you play a mage, and the raid leader invites five more mages to join the run, then the presence of six mages in a 25 man group signfiicantly reduces your chances of getting loot. Most players will tolerate a total of four matching characters, but some players will just drop from the raid group the moment the fourth joins. Three characters is usually fine. Of course, if you are the only one of your class in a 25 man group, you are onto a good thing and should not leave! As a passing observation, many of the Raid Leaders recruiting for 25 man runs manage to not find anybody of their own class who wants to hit the pinata, no prizes for figuring out why that might be the case.
Anyhow, despite the frustration, I’ll still do puggery for a chance at the loot pinata. But I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Highlander runs I think.