Farewell Mists of Pandaria, Hello Iron Horde!

A Paladin in her Glory.

With the 6.0 patch a day away it seems appropriate to reminisce about what I have enjoyed and disliked about Mists of Pandaria.

The good

  • Launch was pretty smooth, I had an enjoyable week off work, levelling my paladin to 90 on the first day and getting stuck into 5 mans the following day
  • The Halfhill farm was fun, its quests were interesting, and the ability to farm pretty much all the main trade resources was insanely profitable (if tedious to do on all your alts every day)
  • Learning to tank, incredibly stressful at times, but ultimately rewarding to become the go to person in guild to solo tank raid content. I still have a lot to learn in terms of being proactive about fight direction (still too much attention taken up just in ability use) and in communication with the raid group (being vocal about taunts for example)
  • Professions seemed reasonable, JC and enchanting continued to dominate the Auction House, but crafters had reasonable access to new patterns with each new tier, Scribe was underwhelming after the first tier and Engineering was its traditional gold sink. I made over a million gold, and then proceeded to give most of it away.
  • Flex raiding, a late introduction, this has become my preferred casual play with alts and mains, its provided a social guild experience, and means we can completely avoid LFR
  • Throne of Thunder, I found the zone to be fun, but the lack of resource nodes meant I stopped going there once I had hit exalted reputation, it was an interesting insight into how much fun being a miner is for my main toon
  • Timeless Isle, I think my main complaint here, is that the island felt too small to me, and some parts of the island were simply too dangerous for solo play. It was hilarious watching the Alliance kill each other when PvP flagged. Weekly quests certainly worked better for me than dailies, make some progress, get bored, go do other stuff and come back later.

The bad

  • PvP was awful, chain CC and zero health in a few GCDs, I did the bare minimum required for the legendary quest line, and never went back. I used to enjoy battleground PvP in TBC, but the proliferation of “kill the healer first” addons has changed the game experience to be a negative one for me. On the plus side, we didn’t lose an entire zone to world PvP, or have a raid boss gated behind PvP victory requirements.
  • Daily burn out at launch, there were too many factions, and you needed revered reputation with just about all of them to access raiding gear, I shudder to think of the agonies that some people went through grinding this out on multiple toons.
  • Failing to heal, I struggled to heal at raiding level with my Paladin, and I couldn’t find guidance from my traditional sources (many older advice blogs simply died off or deliberately stopped covering Holy Paladins)
  • Failing to DPS, like healing, I simply couldn’t put out the DPS required to be competitive in a raid, the gap between any DPS character I tried to play and the better players in my raid group was simply too big to warrant me investing time
  • LFR, simply too much of an unpleasant environment, filled with trolls, for me to put effort into gearing alts or mains through it
  • Black Market Auction House, after the first week, when I picked up a gear upgrade, I never saw anything else worth buying again.
  • BOAs not dropping off Garrosh, I have only had the tanking sword drop (twice) when what I really wanted was the shield.

The ugly

  • Burn out … I stopped raiding for several months, because I simply could not cope with the mechanics in Heart of Fear. The raiding environment as a whole is one almost unrecognisable from Vanilla/TBC raids, the Dungeon Journal is incredibly intimidating with the sheer number of mechanics to master in each fight, the amount of blue/purple death crap on the screen, against dark blue/grey backgrounds, the shrieking and wailing of addon alerts…
  • the legendary quest line was something you couldn’t not do as a raider, and it had large choke points that were not fun to work through, for me the PvP requirement was what killed any enthusiasm for trying to get this item on alts
  • the fate of Garrosh, after all the build-up, after 150+ wipes learning the fight, to have him taken prisoner and escape was a major let down
  • Watching raiders quit the guild due to lack of progression, which accelerated as the introduction of mythic raiding drew closer. The officers were in the position of either (a) not raiding at all or (b) accepting below par performance. While we put a lot of work into standards and expectations going into the expansion, we simply didn’t live up to them.
  • Going in to the next expansion without enough players to form a 10 man raid team. With a November release date, many people in guild will not be in a position to raid until January. While we have a pool of casual players who can be carried through normal mode difficulty, we have lost half of the heavy lifters in our guild.
  • Server population faction balance continues to worsen with every expansion.

Tier 14

  • Most liked boss: Elegon, after mastering the elevator boss this was an excellent fight for tank swaps and picking up adds.
  • Most disliked boss: Garralon, crap everywhere on the ground and a fight that was hard to see and hard to control. Heart of Fear as a whole was my most disliked raid instance of the entire expansion. My guild found it weird that it was the gate to Terrace of Endless Springs, when all the fights in TOES were easier than most of those in HOF.

Tier 15

  • Most liked boss: Jin-Rokh, one of the few fights my guild did on HM during this tier, I have often liked fights where the raid group has to split into two teams for part of the fight.
  • Most disliked boss: hard choice between Durumu and Dark Animus, with Dark Animus winning due to the sheer confusion and brutality of its opening sequence.

Tier 16

  • Most liked boss: Paragons, I liked the Klaxxi and this is a fight were I managed to solo tank the last third of the fight with most of the raid group dead on our first progression kill, so a good memory.
  • Most disliked boss: Garrosh, this fight was harder on normal mode for my guild than HM Spine of Deathwing was in Cataclysm.

Looking to the future

I am excited for the Warlords of Dreanor expansion. I am happy that there are no new classes or races, as I have long passed the point of diminishing returns from alts. It has been eight years, but I still love playing my Paladin. My list of things I am most looking forward to include:

  • more options for flexible raiding, while my guild has lost the option to do the hardest raiding content in the game, we are gaining more flexibility for raid group size and cross-server recruitment for all the other content types
  • the new approach to world zones, and the player housing garrisons, will give me the freedom to choose the content I want to engage in each night after work
  • Asharan, a world PvP zone incorporating cross-server population balancing is one where I won’t feel like a constant victim of Alliance numerical superiority
  • lots of small quality of life improvements (bag space, simpler gearing, being able to avoid accidental PvP flagging)
  • Ability pruning – I would love to take a task bar or two off my raid frames, especially after enjoying the 5-6 action limit in TESO. While I am losing some iconic abilities, I accept its good for the game, as you cannot keep adding to the ability list with every new expansion.

This time around I am only taking two days leave for the launch, but that gives me a four day weekend. The big decision facing me is this – do I just concentrate on playing one character as well as possible, or do I play all my current max level characters again for the economic synergy that will arise from having multiple Garrisons?

I will miss having a million HP on my tank. Yes, it was a bit silly, but it was a nice reaching the top of the mountain benchmark.

Some thoughts on the competition

No one else has been able to launch a subscription based AAA theme park MMO and maintain anything close to WoW’s player base. I am not sure anyone can while WoW continues to be what it is, as the major growth has been in free-to-play games and games focusing on smaller teams with a PvP focus. Blizzard’s cancellation of Titan is interesting, while done because the ideas didn’t pan out for fun, I don’t think they could actually expand the market with a second MMO without cannibalising the WoW player base. MMOs expand to fill available time and I have struggled to play more than one at a time with any degree of skill.

I now think that the 200+ hour levelling game, which must be completed prior to accessing the end game, is a trap for new MMOs.  I simply lose interest in the levelling game, fail to engage in social groups (it is difficult to find a group of adults from the same time zone as me), and then cancel my subscription after a few months. When a game is launched with significant errors (e.g. social chat does not work, or its impossible to log in for a month) it is hard to sustain interest even that long. The shift to arena format games like LOL and WOT is interesting, but ultimately for me they just don’t have the social aspect that WoW has given to my life.

How I quit raiding and learned to enjoy playing World of Warcraft again

On my mother’s deathbed I promised her that I would learn to drive, buy my own house, and be happy.

Before Christmas I started adding up the hours required to achieve all the things I wanted to do in 2013.  It became obvious that my weekly World of Warcraft rotation was taking way too much time.  A rough tabulation of activities:

  • Mobile app AH play for 5-10 minutes each workday morning
  • On getting home, relist expired auctions and use daily cooldowns for Alchemy, Enchanting, Inscription, and Tailoring
  • Make buckles, BOE blue weapons and other plate gear/shields for AH sale
  • Sigh in frustration as no one buys my raw gems, cut gems, or metagems
  • Run through the Tillers farm on three-four alts, with Tillers quests on whichever toon just hit 90
  • Run a scenario for VP, run a 5 man if the tank bag appears
  • Bang out the required dailies on my raiding main, getting some mining in en route
  • Hit the AH again
  • Start running LFR for the week, continue running LFR, keep running LFR until I hit VP cap
  • Two three hour sessions of raiding, plus half hour+ of raid prep
  • Hit the AH again
  • Maybe … spend a couple of hours at the weekend levelling an alt
  • Maybe … heal a random Battleground
  • Maybe … do a xmog run of old content with guildies.

So World of Warcraft was easily eating three hours a night of my time, plus more in the weekends.  For what its worth I currently have 1.927 million gold, despite spending over 250,000 gold after the expansion launched.

I was feeling frustrated with guild progression in the current tier (6/6 MV, 3/6 HOF, nothing in TOES).  I was personally finding the fights difficult to execute, every boss was just more fucking mechanics layered on top of new fucking mechanics.  I read a blog where an experienced tank was cackling with glee over how hard and refreshing Vaults was to run.  I hated it.  Almost every damn fight, but especially the first one. I couldn’t believe that was an introductory fight in an introductory tier of raiding.  Watch energy build up, while kiting out of bad stuff, but not so far as to break the chains … hated it.  Will of the Emperor, I’m supposed to know which way to dodge based on how the boss is standing. This is a case where martial arts experience was useless, as I dodged into the blow every single fucking time.  In the end I just gave up, stood still and mitigated the damage as best I could.

Healing was less fun than it used to be. Holy Paladin healing is now based around free heals. The moment you start to use heals that cost mana, the mana bar collapses. I found that using my Guardian required me to keep 40-50% of my mana bar, or else it was a waste of time dropping the guardian because I would go OOM before the 4th or 5th heal went off.  This makes the healing rotation easy, but boring. Holy Shock on cooldown, Holy Light in between  then Word of Glory or Light of Dawn as a finisher.  Repeat, for 6+ minutes.  Through 5.0 and 5.1 I was decidedly behind the Monk and Priest healer on all the metrics that count.  While my raid position was in no danger, I no longer felt awesome as a healer … for progression kills with two healers, it felt like I was healing mainly because I was the worst tank available.

So one morning at work I decided to stop.  After work I still felt good about that call.  Posted to the guild forums. Went on a last raid.

The last thing I expected to happen when I stopped raiding was that I would actually really enjoy playing World of Warcraft again in short one hour bursts.  I no longer log in every day, but when I do I have a good time.  I run one LFR each week, and then play either my Fire Mage, Healer Monk, or Warrior Tank for an hour.  Its fun, and the moment it feels grindy, I stop and log out of the game. When I play the AH, I just do belt buckles, plus junk I found while questing.  One thing I foresee for 5.2, having a legendary metagem will further depress prices in a market saturated with sellers and few buyers.

One bonus of stopping raiding is more time for content creation.  So I am looking forward to more time spent on roleplaying games, boardgames, and the Grand Strategy game for Buckets of Dice.  Plus a few more blog posts here from time to time.

In World of Tanks news, I reached Tier X in the Soviet Tree with an IS-7, which immediately proved frustrating in play. After 50+ matches I’m on a 20% win rate.  Despite being a fast tank, the armour is pitiful and the reload time on the gun is agonizingly slow.  So I am back to concentrating on Soviet TDs, with both the SU-100M1 and SU-152 in play each evening. Of the two I find the SU-152 more fun, the higher mobility of the SU-100M1 does not influence play very often, but its weaker armour and gun does.  The SU-122-44 also gets a run each night, often resulting in a blitz in assault destroyer mode as the game enters endgame – damn its fun sneaking up behind a heavy and one shotting them in the engine.

At the lower tiers the main regular tanks I play with are the H35, which I play like a TD with the Sixth Sense skill, the Renault UE57, KV-1 and last of all, the KV-2 loaded with “electrum rounds” (gold rounds purchased with silver).  I did exceptionally well with the KV-2 in a Tier VI-VIII match last night, managing to get three kills on Tier VIII tanks with the 152mm Howitzer over medium ranges in Redridge by sneaking up through the village and pumping 700+ damage in through side armour or engine covers.  Two weeks back I took the Hetzer out for a rare spin, and drew Highway map and three artillery per side.  Myself and two medium tanks went to town, while seven enemy tanks went to town.  Things looked bad when my two medium escorts were destroyed.  Then three enemy tanks come around the corner one at a time, and I destroyed them one at a time.  I drove up to the corner, spotted an enemy TD around the corner.  I looked at the strategic map – the rest of my team was almost on the enemy flag, having swept the open field clear.  So I hooned around the corner, lost half my health, but was not tracked.  Turned, killed the TD, BOOM, reload, BOUNCE, target medium tank, BOOM, reload, BOUNCE, BOUNCE, target medium tank BOOM, reload, BOUNCE, target medium tank BOOM!  So I ended up with a seven run Reaper Award which was nice.

I am also mucking around in Skyrim again, restarting from the beginning and following the Imperial and Mage story lines.  Same principle as WoW, play in one hour bursts then do something else with my time.  Its pretty, but I miss the MMO aspect of MMO games, no matter how well down the RPG is.


LFM Again

So, Carpe Jugulum had nearly all of its new recruits bail on us.  This leaves us in a fragile position, as to sustain the raid group we need to recruit.  Thats actually pretty hard for us in World of Warcraft for a few reasons.  I saw a nice slide show on social mechanics in multiplayer games this week, which helps explain this. If you take a look at Slide 126, the rich get richer, i.e. new players connect to the most popular group.

Two obvious sources of recruits for us (1) existing players, and (2) new players. I’ll look at group one first.

The problem with existing players is that its quite expensive to switch servers or faction. Each transaction costs US$ 25. If you have a family of characters, you could spend as much as US$ 500 on swapping servers and factions to play with people. You could keep the transfer to one character, but the loss of access to the skills of the other characters makes you considerably poorer in game. Some people are also attaced to their faction, and simply cannot entertain the thought of betraying it.

Its not unreasonable to switch for a specific guild that can offer you something, but as CJ is a casual 2 night a week raiding guild, our progression is only 1/3 at the moment. That means there are many other guilds out there that can offer better virtual pixel rewards than we can, as well as direct entry into all of the challenging game content. We’ll get there, but in a couple of months, not a couple of weeks. Rerolling a character is possible, but you would be looking at 200+ hours to be raid ready.

The problem with new players is that WoW is a mature game. While there may be 12 million subscribers, its not like its getting a million new subscribers every month. One way I see this in game is that when I use the random dungeon group finder, nearly everyone in the group has heirloom items equipped – whch signals that they already have one or more level capped characters, and have the desire to twink up their alts. So there are not many new players, and naturally not many of them are New Zealanders. Compounding the kiwi shortage, is that our old server is classed as high population (to discourage new players) and is a US server, not an oceanic server. So the number of fresh New Zealand players on our server is pretty close to zero.

A structural change has also occurred with WoW. In classic WoW, even at low levels you had to group with other players in order to complete many quests. The revamped WoW no longer requires this. Levelling a character is very easy … its almost impossible to fail if you follow the readcrumb quests. Little is hidden from you, so there is no need to ask for even exploration help. The dungeon finder tool is cross-server, so you no longer form relationships with people outside your guild. You use the tool, group with some strangers, then wave goodbye knowing you’ll never see them again. At any rate, its now much harder to meet people in-game, which is not all that great for a social MMO game. It works okay for the established player base, but a new MMO would need to use different tools, like the public questing in RIFT.

So while natural recruitment is hard, it sometimes happens that people you already know might be keen. I think my wider social group falls into three main categories:
(A) Those who have never played WoW and never will
(B) Those who have played WoW and never will again
(C) Those who are playing WoW and are pretty happy with their current situation.

So I’m not really holding out great hopes there, but it might happen. I can see, however, that the long-term prospects for my Horde guild are limited. The loss of even one more member of the existing team would cause us to stop raiding. At which point the guild is likely to start fading in numbers. I think about half the guild would stop playing altogether. A few might transfer to other guilds, but again that would be a server/faction change … it would cost me about $250 dollars to do that, which is a lot just to keep playing a computer game. I floated the idea of trying RIFT, but no one else in the guild was keen. So I can see a day in the future when Azeroth will no longer fill all my waking hours.

The care and feeding of mages

My cliff notes on the role Mages will play in raiding in Cataclysm.  I know Fire/Arcane the best, so I may have it all wrong for frost.

General Buffs

Time Warp at Level 85, a 30% haste buff for 40 seconds.  Arcane Brilliance, mana and spellpower boost.

The Good: Arcane mages bring steady single target DPS and a phenomenal burst DPS that can be deployed in a bosses moment of weakness to make them QQ warlock tears. They bring a single target +3% crit bonus, and a raid-wide +3% to damage done.

The Bad: If they screw up their evocation, they lose a major component of their burst DPS.

How to spot a good Arcane mage: they have Mage armour equipped and glyphed and keep their mana at 85-100% until evocation/mana gem come off cooldown, then they pop the gem and go nuts on DPS for 10-20 seconds, then back to maintaining 85-100% mana.

The Good: a fun spec with good single target DPS and the potential for amazing AoE damage. Even stronger when the boss is below 35% health, just in case you were wondering who deserved the battle rez. Provides +5% spell crit chance for the raid.  Cauterise gives amazing survivability, and improved mobility will increase contact time. Better yet, you can go OOM and still do damage with a combination of mana free Scorch and mana free Pyroblast.

The Bad: Ignite is still buggy, and the spec is very dependent on crit (and luck) for damage. Living bomb only hits up to 3 targets, can be accidentally overwritten for major DPS loss and interacts with Impact procs in counterintuitive ways (impact spreads damage to adjacent mobs, see the 3 target limit for why this is a problem).

How to spot a good Fire mage: it’s all in the use of the Combustion cooldown, which combines all existing DOTs into one mega-dot, so a good fire mage will wait for all three of their DOTs to be rolling on a target before pushing this cooldown.

The Good: a permanent pet! Mana replenishment for the raid. Competitive PvE dps for the first time since A’lar in Tempest Keep.

The Bad: Frostburn can be too bursty, so some threat generation issues on pulls (yes, thats right, frost mages can now do too much damage, inconceivable!). Almost no useful off-spec talents to spend points on. Pet is so awesome it may have mana issues from doing too much damage…

How to spot a good Frost mage – they cast in the following priority list:
1.Frostfire Orb, if cooldown is up.
2.Deep Freeze, if cooldown is up and Fingers of Frost is active.
3.Frostfire Bolt, if Brain Freeze is active and Fingers of Frost is active.
4.Ice Lance if Finger of Frost is active.
5.Freeze, if cooldown is up, Deep Freeze cooldown is up, and Finger of Frost is not active.

The Highlander Run

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.

10 Easy Ways to Fail as a Raid Leader

I have pugged a lot of 25 man raids during Wrath of the Lich King, and every week I seem to encounter a new way for pug raids to collapse into a frothing pile of rage and unrequited ambition. I have witnessed each and every one of these, usually more than once.

10. Ignore all questions asked in Raid chat.
9. Refuse to tell anyone who the tanks are.
8. Forget to set Master Looter, refuse to explain the loot rules when asked, and then attempt to change the loot rules half-way through the run.
7. Refuse to explain the fight mechanics when asked.
6. Fail to set the raid to the appropriate 10 or 25 man setting.
5. Order a healer to stay on the Lootship, but fail to tell a tank to stay to protect the healer.
4. Order the tanks to pull while half the raid is still AFK from the previously announced break.
3. Refuse to use vent, even when all 24 other raiders are in a vent someone has kindly provided.
2. Recruit only two healers for a 25 man raid, and then wonder why 80% of the raid died in the first trash pull.
1. Form up the full raid, then announce that “my little brother” did the raid earlier in the week, and drop from the group.

On the whole, I look forward to largely sticking with Guild 10 man runs in Cataclysm.