Archive for the “Strategy” Category

It’s probably something everybody’s already on top of, but I thought it’d be fun to trade our methods for managing cooldowns and arranging our button bars.

Why? Because it’s something everybody has to do, and some folks might have ways they like that someone else will think is an interesting idea to try.

For example…

I was playing my Warrior the other night (Prot spec while leveling) and noticed I had a neat ability called Concussion Blow on my toolbar.

Okay, so I get a single target stun. That’s cool. My Rogue got a lot of use out of that little button while leveling.

But wait! When I got that ability and stuck it on my button bar, I put it where it’s a little away from my ‘use all the time rotation’ abilities. It’s over in the area of my button bar where special abilities with long cooldowns get placed and saved for rainy days.

See, when I lay out my button bars, I use the default layout… with all ‘extra’ button bars enabled. Left, Right, and both the ones on the side. I do that so on borked/broken addon patch days, I am mostly unaffected. Vanilla WoW cured me of UI changing addons forever.

I arrange the center of the bottom bar with the abilities I use most often, and then radiate outwards from there in both directions for the lesser used abilities. Typically, pulling/initial abilities radiate outwards to the left, while healing or taunting/aggro control abilities move out to the right. I’ll start the pull on the far left, gravitate to the center for the most ufrequently used abilities, and when I need to pop something special dart the mouse to the right. If it’s utility or situational, OR cross-form, then it goes right above. I’m looking at YOU Druid and Priest!

The abilities that complement them, or should be triggered first, or are situational/utility typically go on the bar right above, again starting in the middle for most used/fastest cooldown and working outwards to both sides.

This leaves me with a small area in the middle of the button bar where I’ll be spending most of my time, and a relatively short distance for mouse travel no matter what other ability I need at a moment’s notice.

I did that automatically, because first, I like clicking buttons, and the more alts I make, the more I click buttons. I just don’t use number keys for abilities on all these alts. On my Druid, sure, I use number key shortcuts. But not the alts, thank you very much.

Second, when I did a time analysis study on the ‘pick and place’ SMT equipment I used to program, it was very clear that this method was the second most time effective technique in picking and placing surface mount computer components from feed trays.

Lemme ‘splain.

In building modern circuit boards, you use what are called surface mount components. Rugged components are still soldered ‘through hole’ style, connectors and toggle switches and big doodads, but the rest are small, flat bottomed components that are shipped in reels. You load these reels up by the hundreds into a pick and place machine, one reel per part. So, you’ve got a long bank of hundreds of reels of computer parts. In the center of the machine is a fixed pick and place head, basically a vacuum system attached to teeny nozzles that can move up and down and rotate, with camera inspection.

The entire rack of parts reels is on moving rails. The pick and place vacuum head is fixed in the center. So, when you program a machine to build a circuit board, you have a list of all the parts that will be populating the board. You have sizes, shapes, part #s, etc. You want to create a build program that will populate a single circuit board in the shortest time possible, because the board is going along on a conveyor one at a time, and the longer you take to place parts per board, the fewer possible boards you can build. It’s a natural choke point.

So, say you’ve got 1200 parts to place on a single circuit board. You’ve got maybe 230 different part numbers. You use 250 of one particular part, 80 of the next, 63 of the next, and so on.

In this second fastest technique, the first thing you do is analyze what the most frequently used parts are. You want to minimize travel time of that big honking rail full of reels of parts. A single parts reel can be from 1 inch to 5 inches across depending on the size of the part in it, and if you’ve got hundreds of reels on a machine, travel time sliding that rail back and forth to get from one reel to the next to present a part under the pick and place head is… slow.

So it’s all about minimizing rail/reel movement as much as possible. Orrr…. minimizing mouse movement as much as possible? Eh?

Now, you might think that the best way to do it is stick all of your most used reels on one end, and slowly work your way down the row.

The problem with that is, when you optimize your pick speed, you find that you have to take ergonomics of rail motion into account… and also the fact that frequently, in order to minimize PCB board travel (that thing you’re sticking the parts on, which itself has to move around for the fixed pick and place head to stick parts down), you’ll start populating one section of the board… then when it’s mostly full, move on to populating another PCB board section.

You end up wanting to come back to those most frequently used parts throughout the course of the board build, not just blow through them all up front. If you stick them all at one end of the reel rail, then after a while you go all the way down one end, get a part, and all the way back to the first, over and over again.

So, when in a situation where you have several parts (buttons), some used more frequently than others, some with longer delays before able to be used again, and some you need to come back to more often than others, it’s more time effective to put your heaviest hitters in the center of the rail (bar), with the lesser used parts (buttons) going further and further out in each direction based on frequency of use, linked part associations and length of cooldown. Err, pick speed.

I’ve done a lot of time studies on programs like that, and it just works real well. So, if you’re, basically, a clicker, it’s a great default system for button placement. :)

Now… when you really crunch the numbers, this is, as I said, the second fastest button clicker technique I know.

You want fast? You take rotation sequence into account, and you streamline those sequences to make the mouse flow smooth across the board, then mirror it for secondary button placement about the bar. I actually did that with my 969 rotation for my Paladin tank button arrangement. Since you’ve got a fixed cooldown sequence for the rotation, it only makes sense to optimize placement based on mouse movement and associate buttons with similar cooldowns.

Anyway, for me, a button clicker with lots of alts, that’s what I do. And a lot more information than you care to know, I’m sure.

Where I am going with this behind the scenes look at the way I setup my button bars/UI, is that I had initially placed Concussion Blow with the ‘long cooldown, to be used in tight spots only’ abilities on my bar, up on the top bar and far to the right of bottom center.

Re-familiarizing myself with the abilities caused me to take another look at Concussion Blow.

The cooldown is only 30 seconds.

Well, dip me in mustard and call me a weiner if that wasn’t a bad mistake, pardner.

I typically break cooldown abilities into sub categories.

There is the “this is my oh shit button, to be saved for when it’s REALLY an oh shit situation”, and then there are the “this is pretty good, but the cooldown is long enough to only break it out on boss fights, and trash fights when I can expect the cooldown to be up when the next boss fight done cometh”.

And then there are the cooldowns that go into the sub category of “short enough to pop every bloody fight at least once in the beginning.”

A few examples?

Enhancement Shamans have one of the medium cooldowns, boss fight plus early trash – Shamanistic Rage. Geez, a 1 minute cooldown sounds bad, but it’s up for 15 seconds and gives you just tons of mana on top of the damage reduction. I pop that sucker all the time.

Feral Druids have Survival Instincts, which is great but on a 3 minute cooldown. That’s definitely long enough to make it an “oh shit,” held in reserve button. But, it’s also complementary to another long cooldown, Frenzied Regeneration, which is, hey, on a 3 minute cooldown.

Now, one common method of getting the most out of that 3 minute long cooldown is to only use those two together. You pop Survival Instincts, which raises your maximum health, and then you pop Frenzied Regeneration, which bases healing per point of Rage off of max health AT THE TIME IT’S ACTIVATED. So, SI boosts Healing Per Second/Healing Per Rage of FR when triggered first, for the entire duration of FR.

A few folks I know, during boss fights, actually don’t do this. What they do is stagger the cooldowns. Instead of one really big huge whomping heal with a 3 minute dead time, they space it out, taking the reduced survivability benefits of only having one effect up at a time, in exchange for having them up twice as often. 1.5 minutes and pop, 1.5 minutes and pop… If all you need is a little ‘oomph’ to help your healers out, why drop the big bomb when a well placed single shot will do?

But what about Barkskin? Barkskin is right on the edge, isn’t it? It’s a 1 minute cooldown, so if you’re doing fairly middle of the road content, heroics and easy raids, it’s no problem to incorporate it into a macro that pops it whenever it’s off cooldown. It’s not on the global cooldown, so no worries on working it in. 100% uptime. Doing this means it’s uptime is maximized, so you’re getting it’s benefits and saving your healers’ mana as much as possible for the long term fight over the course of a run.

BUT… 1 minute is long enough, and Barkskin’s 20% damage reduction is powerful enough, that if you’re raiding something serious you most likely want it OFF a macro so you can pop it in sync with a boss attack, perfectly timing that 20% damage reduction for when it’ll do you the most good. Like, say, when the entire raid is taking massive damage, and you want to give the healer on YOU the chance to ignore you for a few seconds to help keep the squishies alive.

The trade off, of course, is then you’ve got another button to remember to pop during the trash fights, and that might lead to suboptimal usage and reduced overall uptime.

Umm, wah.

Oh, wait.

Anyway, I wanted to bring it up all up to see if I could inspire you to share your own thoughts on how you like to arrange your abilities, what your philosophy behind it may be, maybe even what UI addons you just couldn’t live without, and how you like to control your cooldowns.

And to leave you with this one, key point…

The only truly bad use of a long cooldown ability is when you save it for a rainy day… and then never use it all when it might have saved your butt.

Practise using them! Much better to use them all the time and sometimes have them on cooldown when you’d like them than to never use them at all!

If you use them all the time, and get used to using them, then after a while you can back off and use them more strategically.

But use them!

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I’ve talked about running instances from the point of view of a tank that wants to help other new tanks prepare themselves to do the best they can in groups.

I tend to focus on group play rather than soloing, and tanking rather than DPS or Healing. It’s what I mostly think my WoW related rantings on this blog are all about.

It’s what I do. Well, it’s what I do when I’m not doing something else.

I think it’s time to touch on first principles briefly.

I talk about group play in general because when you play solo, no matter how crazed or off the wall you may play, no matter how little you may know about your class spells, Talents, gear or playstyle, the only person’s time you affect is you.

If you want to try to level from 1 to 80 as a pacifist, never harming any other living digital creature… more power to you. Have fun! Send screenshots.

In group play, there are other people present who depend on you to act a certain way, play a certain way, and work towards a common goal together. You’re no longer just handicapping yourself; you’re bringing other people down with you.

So I talk about group play more, because in my mind playing well in groups in a multiplayer game is a higher priority that fine tuning solo performance. 

I talk about tanking because it was the single most challenging aspect of the game for me, personally, to learn when I started. I leveled as DPS Cat/Bear, and I raided as Healing at level 60 end game, but it wasn’t until I hit true Bear tanking in BC that I felt challenged… and rewarded for skillful play. It’s that feeling of satisfaction with Tanking as part of a group, and the enjoyment of doing something difficult very well, that led me to write guides and offer suggestions about it, to help others get started in a little seen aspect of the game and share the fun.

So, I talk about group play because I want to help people be the best member of their group that they can for everyone’e benefit, and I talk about tanking because that was the role of a group I personally found the most challenging to learn.

A statement of my tanking belief.

I feel that, as a member of the team in the role of the tank, it is my primary responsibility to do the best I can to be a team player, and work towards the success of the group. Everything else is built on the foundation of being a team player.

Building on the foundations of being a good team player, I feel that as a tank, it is my job to;

  • Keep all aggro from mobs on me instead of the team.
  • Regain lost aggro as quickly as possible to keep mobs from interfering with other members of the team.
  • Be as difficult to hurt as possible to ease the strain on the Healer to keep me alive through a fight.
  • Be as difficult to hurt as possible to ease the strain on the DPS to kill all mobs before I and the Healer are overwhelmed. 

Those are the core duties of the role. All are focused on being a good team player.

There are other aspects of playing a tank that may not be readily apparent, but when you think in terms of being a good team player, there are lots of things you can see to help.

Remember, my point is to approach the game with the attitude of being the best team player you can; to do what is within your power to ensure the group’s success, and to help everyone towards victory.

Examples of other things you can do as a tank to be a good team player;

  • Hold mobs physically stationary whenever possible so that melee DPS have an easier time of getting behind them. Melee DPS have to properly position themselves to achieve their most effective DPS.
  • Keep the style of your pull as consistent as possible to help your healer and DPS players anticipate what you are about to do (run in and turn around to face mobs away from the rest of the group, or turn to the side, or mark first and second kill targets, etc). This helps everyone else learn to anticipate what you will do, and be prepared for the best time to unleash their skills without pulling.
  • Move mobs and the party out of AoE effects as quickly as possible; don’t just get yourself out, reposition the mob so the DPS behind him are also free from pools/slime/kabooms.
  • Watch mana levels in the group and pause for clearly announced “mana breaks” when really necessary, so that Healers do not feel overly rushed from pull to pull. Encourage the Healer or other players to announce when they want a mana break, and do not listen to people who want to ignore the requests of other team members for a mana break. Only the player who is low on mana can decide for themselves when or if they need a mana break.
  • Pause before the very first instance pull to allow everyone time to buff.
  • Communicate clearly with the group, both with what you intend to do, and also what you would like others to do. Communication also includes asking if anyone is new to an instance, and providing tips before tricky pulls where appropriate.

These things are not written in stone as what a tank must do, but every single suggestion, if followed, can help contribute to a smoother run for the team.

If you are consistent, calm and clear, it helps to cut down on chaos in the party, and players that learn to know what to expect of your pulls will be that much faster in target selection and destruction.

Bringing the same principles to the other roles of a group.

What I listed above applies to tanks. Things to think about, things to watch as opportunities to help as a member of a team. There are many other things that tanks can do to help, as well. That’s why I’ve got a blog, to chat about them.

I’d like to take this opportunity to refresh the idea of good team work and group play in the minds of my readers.

It’s not just tanks that are responsible for being good team players. Every member of the team has a responsibility to do the best they can to contribute to the success of the entire run.

Talking about Threat

One of my first rants on this blog was about Damage Meters. The reason I ranted was because of the effect on a team. I believe that the obsession with reaching the top of Damage Meters indicates that the player is more concerned with scoring a high DPS number than he or she is with being a great team player, and that irritates me.

Let me be more specific. A lot of classes have threat reducing abilities. Paladins have Hand of Salvation, Kitties have Cower, Rogues have Feint and Vanish, Hunters have Feign Death and Misdirect, Mages have Ice Block, etc. Sure, not all classes do, but a lot do. There is no satisfactory reason to ignore the threat reducing tools of a class, because it is not the tank’s job to generate threat that exceeds every player’s maximum possible potential DPS. It’s not, and if you think it is, well, you’re wrong.

There is an excellent addon called Omen, which is a Threat Meter. If you install it, by default it will show you what your threat level is on your targeted mob, in comparison to other players, including the tank.

Even if you do not use Omen, WoW now has an option to enable a flashing red warning on the screen when you are pulling aggro on your target.

Even if you don’t use addons, there is still a way to get an indication when you are exceeding threat.

The most fundamental responsibility of DPS and Healer players as part of a team is to not pull aggro off of the tank. Period.

You can easily do this by using Omen, waiting for the tank to get at least one attack off on your targeted mob, and then opening with auto-attack or a low damage attack. Then you glance at Omen to see where you stand on threat. You do as much damage as you can, up to and not exceeding the threat the tank has on the mob.

If you are capable of doing 7500 DPS, but the tank is not capable of matching and exceeding your threat, then it is your responsibility to throttle back your DPS to the point where you can attack without pulling.

If you, as a DPS player, are not capable of throttling back your threat to match the tank, then you, not the tank, SUCK as a team player.

Why?

Because yes, while the tank has taunting abilities, those abilities are better used as emergency pulls when adds run in, or when someone gets a surprise critical strike that pushes them over the top,NOT as something to be used on every single cooldown just for you, personally.

If every DPS player in a group is pulling aggro off the tank, and the tank only has one taunt, then there are two other players that are eating their mobs, and while we can say we don’t care, you pull it you tank it, the fact is, this is creating chaos. It is stressing the Healer. It is stressing the Tank. It is causing the run to be a big, crappy mess.

This is the fault of the player that regularly pulls aggro. None other. And apologizing in advance that you’re going to be pulling off the tank regularly because you’re “lol so leet”, just says to me, “Hi, I don’t actually know how to play my class, but look at all the neat loot my friends got for me!”

Do you think I respect you because of your gear score, when you don’t have any idea how to manage your threat ina  group? Or, even better, don’t care? I have far more respect for any player that tries their best to be a good team player no matter what their gear. Far more

Every player in a group should be starting with the idea, “What can I be doing to help the group succeed?” If you’re not, why are you grouping? Chances are high it’s because of selfish motives. And I have no respect for that, either.

For DPS, here are some tips.

Watch your threat, and take care to not regularly exceed the threat output of the tank. You can use Omen, or again with the addon plug, you can use a Nameplate addon like Tidy Plates with Threat Plates. It works great for DPS as well. If you see you are about to pull aggro, use a threat dump like Feign Death, switch to auto-attacking for a bit, or switch your attentions to a different target.

Be prepared to protect the healer. Try to watch for adds that run after the Healer. Yes, DPS players can and should try to intercept mobs that escape the Tank to head for the Healer. That can easily happen if there are adds that are pulled, but have no threat done to them. Such adds are loose, and will go after the Healer as soon as the Healer creates healing threat.

Some specific suggestions that you used to see all the time; Hunters hanging out near the Healer, and dropping Ice Trap in front of the Healer to automatically grab the first add that runs after him. Warlocks that have their blueberry taunt mobs off the Healer (if it’s out) when they run in. Priests can Shackle if it’s Undead. Paladins can either bubble the Healer, or cast Hand of Salvation on them (or on other, super high threat generating DPS). And on and on.

Be prepared with your own bandages and consumables like Healing Potions. Yes, there is a group healer, and I’m sure they’re doing their best. But every Healer has priorities, and if the Healer is overtasked keeping the Tank or themself alive, you might not get a Heal when you want, and you should be prepared to spot heal yourself.

Don’t run ahead of everyone else to push the pace. It’s a team effort. If you’re in that much of a hurry to lead, then make a tank and find someone to heal you. If you are not the tank, then it is not your job to pull unless specifically expected to do so by friends or asked to by the tank.  It is not funny, it’s not cute, and it’s not helpful. It’s being an asshat in the minds of every team player I know. If you don’t like the pace of the random you got, then only run with friends. If you don’t have any friends willing to run with you, then maybe you need to think about why that is.

There are so many things that DPS players can do to help make a run smoother, it boggles the mind. Heck, I didn’t even mention using CC on loose mobs that the Tank hasn’t grabbed yet, or using other class abilities like Tremor Totem for Shamans when fighting mobs that Fear regularly, (or Priests likewise using Fear Ward on the tank when fighting a mob that Fears), or Druids Innervating Paladin tanks or Healers that are low on mana mid-fight, or…

Well, you get the point, don’t you? If you’re trynig to be a good player, browse your spellbook. You might find something there neat to try.

Priests using Mind Control to have mobs buff the team? Ever try it?

There is more to being a good team player for DPS than going all out on their attack rotation the second the tank pulls, and maxing the DPS Meters.

A few suggestions for Healers;

Watch your threat. Healers DO create threat. You gain threat for the healing that is actually done on your targets, divided amongst all the mobs currently aware of the target you are Healing.

If the Tank is running forward at the group of mobs, and is at max health, then if you cast a HoT, the HoT does zero healing on the first tick, and does zero threat. The threat does not start until there is actually damage to be healed, and only does threat per point healed, not based on the maximum potential healing the spell could have done.

If the Tank is below max health before the pull, you cast a HoT, and the Tank runs forward within the awareness range of the mobs, then if the first tick hits before the Tank has done ANY damage, every mob just aggroed on the Healer, and start running for, or begins casting attacks AT the Healer.

You can prevent this by waiting until a target or the Tank has done some threat before you heal them. Tanks in particular should be allowed to attack once or twice before you unload heals and HoTs on them.

Watch your mana level. Use mana regeneration abilities to top up on the fly, or be prepared to drink between pulls quickly. Others should try to give you time to regain mana, but be proactive in looking for opportunities to keep yourself topped up.

If you queued as a Healer, make healing the entire group your priority, and NOT dealing DPS. If you are so eager to top the DPS meters, queue as a DPS. The group needs to be able to count on your heals being there in an emergency. If you can drop some DPS into the mix, that’s fine, but never let it get in the way of performing your prime duty; keeping the team alive.

A few general suggestions for EVERYONE.

Be repaired, be armed with your proper Reagents, and BUFF PEOPLE. Few things say “lazy selfish bugger” to me quite as clearly as someone that just can’t be bothered to buff anyone else on the run. I don’t care if you think it’s necessary or not, the point is that as a team player, you have a way to contribute to the overall success of the group. So buff people.

Don’t queue up for a run unless you intend to stay for the entire length of the run. Within reasonable limits, of course. If the group is just completely fail, and you try and try to pull things together and people just aren’t willing to listen or work together, then no, I’m not saying stick it out for four hours. I am specifically saying, don’t queue for a group, get a group, start the run, and ten minutes later announce “Whoops, raid time, gotta go, bye!” and drop group.  That’s bullshit. If you don’t have ten minutes, then you don’t have time. Don’t queue.

I have never said all this stuff before, at least in so many words, because in my heart I thought everyone that wanted to group, wanted to do their best to be a team player.

I’m writing this in the hopes that people really DO want to be a good team player, but don’t understand how.

What I’m afraid of is that most people that act like selfish asshats in teams do so intentionally, because they really don’t give a damn about anyone else. Nothing will help that situation, except an ever-expanding ignore list.

I’ll end this with one very serious statement.

Having a high gear score does not make you a good player. Putting out 15k DPS, having 100K Health, or being able to heal a Squirrel through a Hurricane does not make you a good player. I will not kiss your ass. Those stats are loot based. Static. They say nothing of how good a player you are, they only indicate what kind of content you’ve run successfully in the past with other people. 

What they really tell us is that you’ve run in a group that had some good players in it. It tells us nothing about YOU.

What makes you a good player is how you behave as part of a team, in every team you join. You have to prove yourself fresh every single time you join a group.

In WoW, just as in real life, nobody cares how you played on your other character, on your main, in your raid group, or with your friends last week. All we care about is, how are you playing right now?

I invite all other bloggers to think about what their favorite class can do in terms of being a strong supportive team player, and write a post to help guide folks along those lines.

I know it seems, well, obvious, but seriously, based on the runs I go on it’s past time to be clear about this stuff, and bring team play back to the front of people’s awareness.

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“Why is it that there is never enough time to communicate a plan, but always enough time to release and run back in?”

I had a nice reader, Trystalia, send in an email that got me thinking once again about roads left untraveled.

She reminded me that I’d meant to do something… and then let myself get distracted.

Oooh, shiny!

What she did was mention an old post I wrote, once upon a time, about Azjul-Nerub, talking about tanking the first mobs and boss.

Particularly, addressing the Skirmisher game mechanic. 

I’ll direct you to the post if you’d like to see it for old times’ sake, but in essence, I was simply talking about the way the Skirmisher mobs respond normally as melee mobs at first, but after a set time delay they abrubtly drop aggro, become untauntable, and dash straight for the player furthest away from them, there to whack them on the head, hey diddle fol-le-roll. 

If left alive long enough, the Skirmishers bear down on clothies like a steam locomotive driving down on a tied-up, helpess maiden lying on the tracks. It’s quite frightening, when it’s you they come after. Briefly frightening, anyway.

These days, with the rapid rise in potential DPS, they are almost extinct as a problem. Most groups I see don’t even seem to realize there is anything different about them at all.

It was nice to be reminded of the post, mostly because Trystalia said knowing what the heck was going on with those idiots really helped her get her tank on in AN. The groups she tanked wasn’t focusing on them, so they’d have some wipes. I love hearing that something I wrote actually helped someone. 

The other thing it really did, as I said, was remind me that I had always meant to write more… about game mechanics and learning to be a tank.

Here’s the thing. And here’s where it might get ugly.

Being a tank has a lot in common with being a raid leader.

For good or bad, with the rise of PUGs, more and more the tank is expected to be the leader, set the pace, make the decisions and lead the group.

When you zone into a Heroic PUG (or PUG Raid) as the tank, you really need to understand what is going to happen in the upcoming fights. If you haven’t seen the fights before, or only seen them in another role with a tank that maintained his silence, then you’re going to need to do some research on your own to prepare.

It’s your responsibility, now. You signed up as tank, and yes, that does mean you are saying you know what you’re doing, not just with your class abilities, but in leading the group as a whole.

If you are not confident, in your own mind, that you know what to expect, then you’re not prepared enough to do the best you can.

You need to understand the mechanics of each encounter, and you also need to understand the basics of all the abilities all the other classes have to draw on. You cannot expect everyone else to know what you expect them to do, and just do it.

Yes, you should be able to trust other players to know how to play their own class, but as the tank, it is up to you to specify that you want the Priest to keep the target you marked with a Moon shackled during the entire pull, and leave him for last. Or that you want the Hunter to use Freezing Arrow to ice trap the Hunter or Mage on each successive wave during Halls of Reflection, to keep the overall ranged damage down during the fights. The other players know they can do it, but in most cases they expect to be told if you want them to or not.

You need to know not only who to pull and how, but also know what the mobs will do that other classes can counter-act, nullify, cleanse and overcome with their abilities. You need to know that a boss or mob can and will Fear the group, and if there is a Shaman in the group, make a point to ask for Tremor Totem to cut down on silly running around.

Did you know Priests used to actually be asked to Fear Ward? No, really.

Above all, you need to be able to communicate, to direct those other players in what is coming so that they are prepared. They need to know exactly what to expect, and you as the tank need to provide clear directions on what you want them to do in special circumstances.

There is one last thing you must do, that is the hardest thing of all, especially with strangers. You really have to be brave enough to ask other people to do something other than mindlessly following along doing DPS or Heals. Expect some to be pissed at slowing down even for a second, but you have to be able to do it. And once you specify what you want someone to do, you have to trust them to do it on their own. You need to lead from the front as the tank, focus on doing your own job to the best of your ability, and trust that everyone will work together as a team and do the things that will make the run work.

That is the ideal. That should be every player’s ultimate goal in group play. To play with knowledge, with skill, and as a fine-tuned team, making every encounter you face seem smooth and effortless. To make the game look easy to any outsider. 

To be a master of the game.

Does that description characterize the runs you go on?

Do you try your best, study the encounters from afar, and stand prepared to Ice Trap or Shackle or Feign Death or Misdirect or use Tricks of the Trade and Fan of Knives? Do you watch your aggro, Misdirect incoming mobs to the tank, know to kill the Skirmishers first and foremost, know what happens when King Dred raises his claws in a threatening manner?

Or do you resent anything that requires you to hit any button that does not directly apply to a DPS rotation? Do you resent it when a healer doesn’t keep you alive while you stand in the green slime, so you are forced to move away, losing precious seconds of your DPS rotation? Do you resent it when you have to Feign Death for a millisecond because you were overtaking the Tank on aggro?

If you intend to play the game in a group environment, you should not be satisfied by ‘phoning it in’ and just mindlessly following a rotation no matter what. That’s fine in solo play, where no one suffers for your lack of skill or poor performance but yourself.

If you have no interest in actually trying to be the best you can be at what you do, why are you even doing it? Go play Hello Kitty Island Adventure and pick out a pretty sparkly wand with a hair bow and leave the rest of us alone, okay? 

What you’ll see in PUG after PUG is a lack of communication, a tendency to brute force everything, and at the first sign of trouble or a wipe, somebody will blame a bad tank for not holding aggro, or a bad healer for not keeping everyone alive, and drop group.

Do you buy into it? Is that really your view on how the game works when you play properly?

One prevalent attitude I’ve noticed is that raids are considered important enough to study, practise and learn about. To prepare for.

Heroic instances? Those are the places you go on your own to get your Emblems, lowering yourself to do content that is beneath your gear score, but what the heck, you’ll demean yourself to get your daily two Emblems of Frost if you have to.

There is no respect for the content, or the players around you. If people stop for two seconds to say something, to communicate, to do anything other than chain pull through a brute force approach, then the pissyness comes out fast.

I’ll be blunt. If you think that having 5500 DPS in Drak’theron Keep makes you shit hot, and that’s all that matters, then I’ve got news for you, sunshine; it doesn’t mean jack shit. It just means you’ve got good gear, not that you know how to play.

Any moron can stand there looking cute and repeat a chain of attack moves as instructed by Elitist Jerks. ANY moron. That many people do not visit Elitist Jerks to aid them in optimizing a DPS rotation just makes those that do think they are truly teh aw3some.

That does not make you a good player. A good player is not someone that can stand still and mash buttons in the right order to pump out DPS up to the potential permitted by gear and spec, while standing still and ignoring Mana or Threat levels.

Sorry, it doesn’t. The good players are the ones that are doing all the little things to keep the group alive and stable while you are playing Lone Ranger for the sake of your DPS meter e-peen. 

A good player is one that knows all those OTHER abilities of their class, and will use them when the situation calls for it, in their best judgment, or when called upon by their teammates, even if that means their DPS drops by a couple hundred on that pull.

A good player is one that knows the mechanics of the encouters they are going up against, is mentally prepared for the fight, and is ready to MOVE THEIR ASS and use class abilities other than DPS when necessary to ensure the success of the team.

That Skirmisher situation mentioned above?

Trystalia was glad to know about the Skirmisher mechanic, because she had problems with most runs, experiencing at least a wipe or two each time as the healer went down, and she was hurt for consistently being blamed for losing aggro.

She was blamed by pissy little snots for losing aggro on the Skirmishers.

Guess what, a good player of a DPS class knows that the Skirmisher needs to go down firstest and fastest, because in a few seconds it’s going to drop aggro from the tank and charge the person furthest away, and whomp them good.

You know, when the Skirmisher runs free, it’s not a failure on the part of the tank, it’s a failure on the part of the DPS. The death of the Skirmisher is a DPS race, pure and simple. If the Skirmisher nails a non-tank, then the DPS failed. Period. Bitch at yourself, not the tank, because you failed.

A smart Healer on those pulls will make sure they’re not the most distant from the tank, so that if/when the Skirmisher runs free, the Healer isn’t the one to go down, and they can heal someone through getting pounded.

Let’s use another example I see all the time, of mindless brute force in an inappropriate situation.

Heroic Halls of Stone, on the last boss, Sjonnir the Ironshaper. Sjonnir has a Lightning Shield, a Lightning Ring, applies Static Charge to a target, and taken all together they do hellacious group AoE damage to people close to him if those people all dogpile on top of him and hang out as a brute force approach.

He also does a Chain Lightning for up to 3 jumps, and stacks a debuff on players that causes you to take even more damage from Nature attacks (like all that Lightning), which stacks up to 20 times.  TWENTY TIMES.

God, I feel like shouting OVER 9 THOUSAND.

There are also adds that come rolling in from each side, and when ignored, inevitably they gain Healer aggro and start interrupting/slowing the Healer’s cast times just when everyone needs heals the most from the Ring of Fire… the Ring of Fire. Er, Lightning. Sorry, flashback.

What do I see? I see people literally all piling on top of Sjonnir, EVEN THE HEALER, getting as close as possible so that everyone can ignore the adds, trusting the tank’s AoE threat to grab them, and try to brute force him down fast. Inevitably, that leaves everyone within melee range and chain bouncing range of every single high damage ability that Sjonnir can do. AND also puts them all within range of the stacking debuff.

This is Halls of Stone, people. This is not a Halls of Reflection run, it’s not even Trial of the Champions.

And still, time after time, I see 5200+ gear score groups die by droves and even wipe on Sjonnir. 

After all, it’s just a Heroic, right? It’s easy mode, noob tank, noob healer, you all suck, /leave group in a huff.

Smart groups take the extra 3 seconds to decide that the tank will hold the boss in the center, the ranged will all spread out to prevent chain hopping lightning, a melee DPS or two (if present) will take the adds and keep them off the healer, and guess what?

The Healer is left to focus on the few players still in melee range of Sjonnir, the adds are never an issue, the Chain Lightning doesn’t jump 3 times, most people don’t get affected by the melee range AoE, and even the Static Charge is only a momentary nuisance on 1 or at most 2 people.

Almost as though the instance was designed to favor the mentally prepared, and those that take 3 seconds to formulate and share a plan.

I cannot count the number of Halls of Stone runs I’ve seen, across all my characters, where everyone just piled on in, even the ranged and healer, and then it’s a race to see if the entire group wipes before the boss dies. 

It’s disgusting, and people who play that way should be bloody well ashamed of themselves. If you’re not going to take the time to learn how to manage game mechanics and play your class in Halls of Stone, when the heck were you intending to start? Ulduar?

ICC?

I am, finally, getting to my point, and my point is this;

If you intend to tank, study the game mechanics of the mobs and bosses in advance, so you know what to expect. You will gain confidence and feel better prepared.

Give the encounters and your teammates the same amount of respect you would in a raid. A group activity is still a group activity, even if it’s with strangers, and it’s fewer people. Every instance is an opportunity to hone your skills and practise for the real serious shit.

Prepare properly. Take notes on what special problems there can be, find out who has abilities that can counter those problems, and use your judgment and experience to decide which game mechanics can be ignored and bulled on through, and which ones deserve your time and attention to nullify.

If you want to tank, even if you’ve seen all the fights as DPS, study them from the point of view of the leader. The organizer. The dungeon guide. You will have to explain them to other people, and that means you need to be able to articulate fast, with minimal typing. The better you understand the problem, the better you will be able to share your ideas and plans.

If you know what to expect, then you will feel much more confident in doing your job. I promise you.

At the very least, you will begin to learn that sometimes, when you might have thought you simply lost aggro from over eager DPS, you actually lost aggro due to built-in game mechanics. Or that the group wiped not because you failed to have aggro, but because the wrong mob was targeted for death first, and he had abilities that hit like a brick shithouse.

It may look from the outside like every pull and every boss in a Heroic is just “grab ‘em and go”, but that’s not the recipe for success.

Tanks, knowledge really is power.

On the first boss in Old Kingdoms, know that the boss becomes invulnerable when the add spawns, and make sure you grab that add. After all, everyone that is DPS should be trying to kill it fast so you can all get back on the boss, right?

On the Etherial boss in Violet Hold, know that standing there and getting nailed by the summoned orbs is a sure prescription for pain, even in Tier 9. Don’t be afraid to move your ass a little.

If you prepare yourself, yes, you will find that a lot of things can be forced, game mechanics can be ignored.

With gear level availability the way it is, though, there is no excuse for you to be found dead in Halls of Stone because you were in Brann’s chamber fighting wave after wave, and you stood in the big golden beams of death and died during Phase 3. When the golden beam hits your ass, MOVE!

Yes, even the Tank.

It’s disheartening, it really is.

Not that people are getting used to using brute force to solve all their problems, no. No, that’s expected and, given the current state of affairs, inevitable.

No, it’s disheartening how often people try and brute force things because they don’t know any better, and then when they fail in a Heroic, they lash out at the tank or healer, dump their anger out on the rest of the party, and then abandon group.

Don’t be like that. Take pride in what you do, even if other people around you don’t.

If you take the time to upgrade your gear, gem it, enchant it, plan your DPS rotations or set up your healing macros, or study how to generate and hold threat, then take it that next step further. Do what you can to learn the fights, the encounters and mechanics, and when you see yourself in that instance, know what mob will do what, and how you can deal with it.

One last thing.

Don’t be shy about communicating.

If you know what’s about to happen, you go ahead and try and offer some suggestions for a smooth encounter. If you’re rebuffed, or ignored, or even ridiculed for it, don’t take it as a sign that you are in the wrong. No, take it as a sign that those people who reacted in that way are poor players, or that they don’t respect you or the game itself. That makes them prime candidates for your ignore list so you don’t see them again in the future. 

When you do meet someone that plays well, knows what they’re doing, and is open to a plan, add them to your friends list. Build a network of people that actually give a shit.

In time, maybe you’ll forget that the other kind of player ever existed.

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In my opinion, one of the most enjoyable parts of WoW is not just playing with close friends, but leveling with close friends.

The standard, of course, has been for folks to solo while leveling, and then look for friends to group with to do instances. Or, acknowledging the reality, look for friends with high level characters to run them through quickly to knock off some high-XP quests and get an item upgrade or two. The new low level LFD tool has made it even easier to solo the whole way through, either by ignoring questing and just staying in LFD or by mixing them up, and never even involve your friends at all.

Talking briefly with my buddy Melpo last night, about his level 51 Paladin, and he shared that in the last two weeks he’s used LFD to run as a tank in instances, and he complained that he never gets a chance to train skills or do quests, because there is no queue wait for him. He’s gone from the 30′s to 51 in those two weeks, in LFD groups.

I have to imagine he isn’t alone. I’m pretty sure Elystia is doing much the same thing, at least with her Horde side Mage. :)

The interesting thing is, playing with your close friend or significant other is awesome while leveling, especially if you both choose classes that complement each other.

The most traditional style groupings are those that include a tank and a DPS that can cast heals, you know, your Druids, Paladins, Shamans, Priests.

Having one person tanking and locking up a group of mobs, and the other person doing DPS, but able to cast a heal or two in a jiffy is ideal, right? Unending beatdown, no downtime.

The problem with that can be that maybe the other person doesn’t want to play a Druid, Paladin, Shaman or Priest. Classes that have healing spells are also classes that people love soloing with in the first place.

That’s where the magic of Bandaging comes into play.

It’s long been a joke, one person asks for a healer to join their group;

  • “Pit of Saron LFM, have tank, need healer and good to go.”
  • “I have bandages, I’ll go.”

In a two person leveling group, that actually can be true.

Take, for example, the Tank and Frost Mage combo. As this is my blog, we’ll of course make the Tank a Bear.

The Bear runs or charges forward, gathers up the mobs and Swipes them up. A Maul gets thrown.

Then the Frost Mage runs forward, Frost nova pins them all in place, and Blizzard begins raining down chilly destruction on the whole group.

Bigger the group of mobs, the better. Except… the Bear is taking a multiple beating.

Bear tanks, of course, can pop Rejuvenation and Regrowth on themselves just before charging in, but if you’re chain pulling groups, it can be annoying to build up Rage only to drop it again by popping out of forms to heal all the time.

And if the Bear’s health is dropping like a stone a little too fast, what is the Mage supposed to do?

One potential answer is Bandages. No, really.

Once you reach level 35, you can learn max First Aid skill to 300 right from the Azerothian trainer. You can learn how to make, and use, Bandages up to Heavy Runecloth.

But that’s not all. The only requirement for using Bandages is that you have the applicable First Aid skill level.

And on top of that, you can train your level 35+ character past 300, to a max of 375, by visiting Olissara the Kind, the First Aid trainer in Dalaran.

That’s right, you can learn how to make, and use, Bandages up to Frostweave directly from the trainer in Dalaran, even at level 35.

By way of comparison,

Why use Runecloth when Netherweave is so easy to come by, and let’s hold off on talking about Frostweave, since it’s potentially useful in crafting Cloth gear so it’s more valuable in general than Netherweave. Heck, if only for making 20 slot Frostweave Bags, Frostweave is too tasty to blow on Bandages all the time.

And that’s what we’re talking about. Using Bandages ALL the time.

The Heavy Netherweave Bandage clocks in at healing 3400 damage over 8 seconds.

As you well know, that ain’t “wait 8 seconds and get one big heal”, instead that’s 3400 healing spread out over time, and the more powerful the Bandage you use, the bigger the healing in a short time.

At level 35 to 40, the tank portion of your group will likely have, even with optimized tanking gear, less than 3400 total health.

If the tank has aggro on the groups, then you can run forward and Bandage the tank. Damage taken interrupts healing, on the person doing the healing, not the person getting the heals.

Your tank can be getting pounded on, and as long as they have aggro, you can channel the entire 8 seconds and heal them to full.

Even if you’ve got mobs in the group that pull off the tank and go after you, or who do AoE damage that will break you out of your Bandage channeling… if you just get a couple ticks of healing off on the tank, that’s one hell of a boost.

Using a Silk Bandage? Useful, but no big deal.

Using a Heavy Netherweave Bandage? Suddenly, you ARE a DPS/healer, at least for the sake of your two person group.

I wanted to bring this up, because I really do love the idea of having folks playing classes they might not solo themselves, from squishiness or from boredom. If I can help encourage just one couple to think, “Hey, why not try tank and Mage, or tank and Warlock” when they might not have given a squiddly a try, then my work here is done. :)

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I may have that name wrong, but if I say that I’m talking about the new 5 person normal/heroic instance, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s been a bit of a busy week, but that’s no excuse for not having set foot in the new 5 person instance. Last night, Cassie and I wanted to rectify the situation, so we asked some folks in the guild if they’d be willing to give it a try.

We went into normal mode first, with Falromord as a warrior tank, myself as a resto healer, and Wetfoot, Cassieann and Pushpin for DPS, a Survival Hunter, Combat Rogue and Death Knight, respectively.

Normal mode was a comedy of errors as I relearned healing on the fly in a brand new instance, after tanking a lot recently. “What does this button do again? Where the hell is the button for Nature’s Swiftness? Shit, I forgot treeform for the whole run! Aw shoot, I forgot to use Swiftmend instead of Nourish again.”

Sigh.

Okay, it wasn’t really that bad, but it was pretty frantic.

About the time I pulled myself together, we’d finished normal mode Trials, and had some interesting perceptions of the run.

Then we went right back in on Heroic mode, and… umm, well, we won? 

I wouldn’t call it a smackdown, but we were still standing and had loot at the end of it, so woot!

Whether in normal or heroic, the first section consists of fighting as a group while mounted with a lance, followed by being dismounted and fighting as a normal team with tank, DPS and healers.

When you enter the instance, there is someone you talk to for starting the fights. Before that, you might look around and notice the lance racks and mounts around the edge of the large circular chamber where ALL of the fighting takes place.

You can come in, if you don’t have a Lance you can grab one from a rack, mount up, and start stacking Armor/Defend.

When you start the encounter, three champions of the opposing faction, races varying per encounter just as Moroes’ guests do, come out. Each has an entourage of three suckups with them.

You get one champion sending a wave of three suckups at you, and once those are down the next three come, and then the last three. Once all the suckups are downed, the three champions come out to get lanced.

As I’m sure you know, once a champion is dismounted, he’s on the ground and stunned for about ten seconds (much less in heroic mode… or maybe it only felt that way). Then he gets back up, and heads for the nearest mount at the wall, ready to get mounted and return to battle.

Once a champion is dismounted, you can run over him with your valiant steed to trample him back down again. There are no special commands, buttons or abilities to trigger. You literally ride over him, and he gets flattened.

In your favor, if YOUR mount loses health and you get dismounted YOU can run over to a mount along the wall and remount and get right back in the fray. Watch out, if you are on foot and they run over you, YOU get trampled. Word to the wise.. DUCK!

One other thing, and something we abused the heck out of… throughout the entire instance fight, whether on a boss or not, whether in heroic or not, if you die, you can release to graveyard nearby and come RIGHT BACK IN IMMEDIATELY.

Warning, if you release and THEN the boss dies before you come back in and gets looted, you might still be able to get your Emblems, but you won’t be able to roll on loot. So folks, please don’t be fast to loot. Remember, rez/recover first.

Anyway, what we did on heroic, that we worked out on the normal run, was to have two designated ‘tramplers’. Cassie was trampler #1, and I believe Pushpins was trampler #2. As soon as the first champion was downed, Cassie just ran over that bastard endlessly.

As soon as the second champion was downed, Push ran over that one. The rest of us just kept repeatedly charging and breaking the third champion. Zero problems.

Zero problems until all three went down, at any rate. We were dismounted instantly, and even though we knew it was coming, we all died from being spread out when the standard part of the fight began.

I think for our next shot, we need to have the person with aggro work on using melee attack to kite the champion to one constant location, while the rest use shield breakers to keep them weak, and make them die in one pile, then rinse and repeat, so that we’ve got one controllable pile. They hit hard enough to damn near oneshot cloth.

Anyway, once we all died on the dismount, we came back in and easily beat them once prepared. Just made sure to kill the Orc (we’re Alliance) first, since his Whirlwind attack is pretty brutal on a melee heavy group.  

Now, I could try and go into detail on fights two and three… but I think this post has gotten pretty long, and I’d rather tackle it a few more times to nail down the ins and outs.

What I will say, is that on the Black Knight, we found kiting the boss around was successful, because when he drops the green crop circle with wisps of smoke, it does a lot of damage over time plus has a big slow effect, and when lots of people are in it, healing the whole group gets VERY tough. It makes bears whine about healing stress. It’s ugly. Also, on the final encounter, Shadow Resistance is awesome, because he does a Shadowbolt volley on everyone that hurts hefty amounts.

The fights stress a healer a ton… at least, in my iLevel 200 gear I felt it stressed me out a lot, I healed my butt off, in many cases simply spamming Nourish on the main tank and letting DPS drop like flies to try and make it through. As I said earlier, we heavily abused the fact you can run in from the graveyard in mid-fight.

Damn, that instance is fun, though.

I’m sure that folks that are in Naxx 25 gear or higher probably do it on snooze mode, which is as it should be considering the quality of gear it drops. But for a 5 person team in Naxx 10 gear and heroic epics and crafted, it’s tuned really well. It’s a heck of a challenge, but you know that it CAN be done, and done well, once you get it down. And it is very fast.

Oh, one other thing if you haven’t done it yet. There are three encounters, but it drops not three epics, but five. The first encounter has one epic drop, and each of the next encounters drops two. Five iLevel 219 epic drops for one heroic run of 30 minutes is… well, expect it to be the new standard instance for an evening, yes?

Share your own tips, let us know the different things that you found that work well on that. I think it was a lot of fun fighting Onyxia in our nightmares… even if she DID fear us all over the place.

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