Managing Cooldowns

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!

Team Talk for all players from a tired Tank

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.

Forewarned is Well Armed

“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.

The Fine Art of Bandaging

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. :)

Trial of the Champion: Yikes!

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.

Tips for the New Tank

If you’re thinking of being the tank for a group, either for a team of your friends, a raid, or in a pug, I’ve got a few small suggestions that may help you out.

1) Be consistent.

When you get together with any group of people, you have to keep in mind that even if someone else is directing the overall strategy for the run, everyone else takes their cue from the tank. Everyone will be watching how you do things, NOT to judge whether you know what you’re doing, but to see HOW you will be doing things, so they can adapt themselves to your style.

There are so many ways, so many styles you can have as a tank. Each has it’s good points. But whatever you do, be consistent in how you perform each type of pull, so that your DPS and heals can adjust themselves to your flow.

I do not mean always pull every group the same way… but you should have one common way you do things, and then some variations depending on the opposing group’s makeup.

An example. If you prefer to charge into a group of mobs, and then drag them around so you are facing the rest of the party, providing melee DPS with a straight up-the-kilt shot as they run up… do that every time, not just some of the time. If the melee get used to running in after you and NOT having to maneuver around behind the mobs… if you suddenly change styles in mid stream, and stop dragging them around to put their back’s to the party, it will throw the flow off. And if you swap your style every other pull, it’s gonna annoy the shit out of them.

Being consistent in how you pull and how you position yourself allows the rest of the group to get an intuitive feel for how you do things, and they will respond by moving confidently to the attack without wasted motion, and your healers will be better tuned in to what your final range from them will end up being so they can position themselves well.

2) Encourage focus fire on targets with Raid Icons.

Most of the time, whether in Heroics or on raid trash, nobody uses CC anymore. Ulduar, of course, is a different story, but for the most part the normal sequence is pull, generate aggro, kill ’em all, next pull.

Marking targets for Crowd Control or a detailed kill order really isn’t necessary, but there are advantages to marking a primary kill target to encourage everyone else to focus their attacks on that one target.

If you have a good group who know how to play they’re classes, then those with fast cast time attacks or insane burst damage will target your primary kill target while those with slow cast time attacks or powerful DoTs will know to take the initiative and work on some of the other unmarked mobs.

The fast cast burst damage will blow away the focus fire mob so quickly that the slow cast or DoT player wouldn’t have contributed much to that kill… but he will have done great damage against one of the other targets during that time. Everyone wins.

To encourage this, rather than stopping and marking everything up prior to engaging normal trash, instead use either an Addon such as Quickmark that lets you fast click a mark on your current target, or create a macro to let you mark a target with one keypress.

I don’t have a preference. If you like keybindings for macros and are comfortable with them, it can be a nice time savings in the middle of a pull to mark with one key press. If you are used to clicking the screen, then Quickmark is a great addon.

For a macro to mark a Skull over your currently selected target, I recommend the following line of code;

/script SetRaidTarget (“target”, 8)

Make the macro and then move it to your bottom left  button or whatever your “1” is, and as long as you are the party leader or raid leader or assistant, then by tapping the “1” once you’ll put a Skull up on your current target automatically.

Alternatively, you can make a mouseover macro that will let you put a Skull over any mob, just mouseover it and tap your “1”. I don’t use it myself, simply because I want the majority of damage to be hitting my current main threat target, but your mileage may vary.

The code for a mouseover version is as follows;

/script SetRaidTarget (“mouseover”, 8)

As with any text you copy/paste from the internet into the game, copy it into Notepad or some other text editor that strips the hidden HTML code out, and then copy THAT and paste it into WoW.

And yes, of course you can keybind that to other things, I’m just using the “1” as an example.

Quickmarks gives you greater flexibility with what marks to use and when, but it takes some screen clicking distracting time to get ’em up. Still a lot better than right-clicking an enemy portrait and using the drop down menu to assign marks.

Whatever way you choose, marking a kill target on the fly, and selecting another as soon as the first one is dead leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind WHO exactly you intend to focus your main attention on.

Many players will, without a kill target, assume that your current target is your main threat target.

The problem with that is, you might not stay on one target all the time. Most tanks will, at least occasionally, tab-target off the main threat mob to apply some good housekeeping Mauls of approval on some of the others, just for that extra wiggle room, and then go back to the main target.

Maybe on your initial pull, you decide to use a ranged DoT like Moonfire to start some threat on a target that you intend to take second. You Moonfire, the group comes, and then you switch to another target to be the one you blow the shit out of.

If the DPS is going off of your current target, they might not have noticed you moved off your initial target… and will be going all out on the wrong target and pull threat away.

No big worries, just a helpful tip that using a Raid Icon to mark your primary threat target on the fly, every time your main target changes, helps keep everyone on track.

3)  Be mindful of lines of sight.

Some instances have terrain that rises or lowers, such as hills or stairs, and there are the ever-present doorways.

Keep in mind that, when fighting, if you are positioned at the peak of such a terrain feature, the healer and ranged DPS  are likely below and behind you… and the melee DPS and pets are in front of you, over the rise, getting behind your opponent.

This can leave your melee DPS and the pet out of line of sight of the healer. Violet Hold is infamous for these types of fights, with portal spawn points being at the top of rubble piles or being at a platform above a long flight of stairs.

Be mindful at all times of your position relative to the party, and ensure that you are not only keeping yourself within healing line of sight, but also the ones doing the fighting at the mob’s rear.

Never be afraid to grab your mob at the top of the terrain feature, and then drag him/them back far enough so the pet is within line of sight, too.

4) Knowledge is power.

One of the simplest things that will make any tank’s life easier is knowing what to expect.

For boss fights, this is obvious. Knowing what the boss does helps you devise your tactics against him.

When trying to tank a run as smoothly as possible, it’s just as important to know the characteristics of the trash you will face.

At the most basic level, is knowing who is a caster, and who is melee. Knowing who will heal, and who will net you in place and then run away to shoot at range.

If you know a group is melee, then you can just do a standard pull and everybody comes running. If one of them is a caster, however, knowing it in advance can let you target him for a sheep to get him out of the way, or inspire you to do a line of sight pull around a corner to make him run to you and get clumped in with the melee.

It should be your goal, when dealing with trash, to find a way to either clump them all up so your threat generating abilities will easily tag them all, or to get those that won’t come into your range out of the fight temporarily.

Sometimes you don’t want to run up to the group to make sure you engage the ranged attackers in melee range. The group might be close to a boss, or another pack of elites, or some other issue may come up.

So keep in mind that if you run out of line of sight of a group after you aggro them, even the ranged will come running after. Also keep in mind that your taunt abilities can be used at range, and so long as nobody is dealing damage to the ranged attacker, your taunt will keep them from attacking anyone except the healer’s global aggro.

A tip? If you have a GOOD working relationship with some ranged DPS, you can have your DPS friend damage the ranged mob a bit while you build initial aggro on the melee group… and then when he gets aggro and takes a few shots, he can switch over to your normal target… and you can Taunt the ranged mob, bumping your threat on that target up to match your DPS friend… WAY over the healer’s global threat. You won’t have to worry so much about reapplying Taunt after that.

The point is, knowing what to expect from the mobs you encounter will help you pull in such a way as to get them all clumped up in your threat range without pulling additional mobs, and without letting any run free to harm the rest of your group.

5) The first rule of martial arts; The board does not hit back.

When you are preparing to be a tank, what you should focus on, first and foremost, is being able to take being hit, not your DPS output.

Everyone tries to stack their armor, avoidance and health that is always active.

But you’ve got a host of other abilities to help keep you alive, and knowing when to use them is key to going from an okay tank to a good tank.

Tip? PvP duels can be great ways to practise your ‘oh shit’ techniques.

Are you a Druid Bear Tank? Then arranging your sequences so it’s easy to trigger Survival Instincts/Frenzied Regeneration (and an optional Lifeblood) when necesary is great, but being practised in USING them when the shit hits the fan, at exactly the right moment, is much better. Especially when you can tell your healer that you’re good at the moment; go heal someone else for 10 seconds.

Knowing how much you can expect to recover from this manuever, by actually having a friend beat the heck out of you in PvP down to bare bones, and then triggering your ‘oh shit’ technique and getting a feel for how much Health you will recover, how much damage you will avoid using Barkskin or Evasion, how much of a hit your bear bubble will eat on a Crit, all these things help you better prepare for when you’re in deep trouble..and will help prevent you from looking at your ghost form, and think “Oh yeah, I should have used my Healthstone/Healing Pot/Lifeblood/Shield Wall/Survival Instincts/Evasion/Bubble.”

Come on. How many of you, with a straight face, can tell me you never died with a Healthstone still active in your inventory.

It won’t be second nature to use your ‘oh shit’ buttons, if you normally aren’t in ‘oh shit’ situations.

So practise it!

And what the hey, while you’re at it, practise your bubble/self heal, or your quick-shift/self heals, and get a feel for how long your cast time leaves you vulnerable, versus how much health you get back.

Practising as a Bear Tank to see how fast you can pop out of Bear, throw down two insta-cast HoTs and pop back into Bear can give you some good skills.

I know that when fighting Moroes in less than full groups, being able to self-heal during a Vanish is a wonderful thing… but leaving yourself in caster too long while trying to get greedy with the heals on long casts is embarrasing.

Your goal is to absorb damage and stay alive first, aggro everything second. If one mob gets loose, you might only lose one person. If you die, you will probably wipe the run.

Priorities, cheena. Priorities. You first, healer second, the DPS gets a rock.

6) Never assume.

For better or worse, the main tank is often looked to as the raid or party leader for group events.

If you have run something a thousand times, that’s great. When you are tanking a run though, you have to remember, just because YOU know what to do, doesn’t mean everyone else does. Remember that knowledge thing up above? Yeah, if you know what to expect, and there is a trick to keep things going smoothly… share the trick with your group.

Communicate clearly to the group your expectations for a fight… and be open to suggestions on different things to try. Please, for all that is holy, don’t tell other people how to play their class or character. But DO suggest a tactic that has worked in the past, things you’ve seen or asked other classes to do before, and ask if the other players can try the same thing.

Again, don’t tell other players how to play, and do be open to constructive suggestions after you’ve said your piece.

You know the portal to the upper left in Violet Hold that is going to spawn a group that splits up in two? Well, when it spawns, don’t just run around in silence, tell the Hunter that you’d like a Misdirect if possible onto you for the left pair, or that you want everyone to move back to the stairs to give yuo more time to round ’em all up, or explain that you feel suicidal and you’re gonna bear dance and let the team wipe.

Don’t act in silence.

Likewise, don’t assume that the current boss is ‘ezmode’, so you don’t need to explain your intentions on a boss fight or your expectations of the team.

I get a LOT of crap in my guild, because every time we do a raid, I ask if there is anyone on a boss fight that doesn’t know what to do… and if I get an affirmative, then I take the time to explain what is going to happen, and make sure that person and anyone else is clear on what we will do.

I get a load of crap… but our runs are always pretty smooth, even when we are learning a fight for the first time.

I’ve been on raids before where the raid leader apparently thought that being master looter meant he was a leader. That’s great, but when you have folks just blindly shooting at whatever comes along, and hoping they don’t screw up, afraid to speak up and ask questions because they’ll ‘slow down the run’, then I call that a massive failure on the raid leader’s part.

If you invited them on the run, then you are responsible for making sure they know what to do, and aren’t treated with derision for having the temerity to ask questions.

If you want everyone to have studied their role in an upcoming raid in detail before you ever set foot inside… make sure that expectation is communicated ahead of time. And then feel free to rearrange your raid if that was your rule, and someone showed up unprepared.

You can have a speed run where no words are exchanged the whole fight and everything died anyway, awesome loot, kick ass, no deaths… and if one person on that run felt that if they spoke up, they’d be mocked for not knowing what is going on, and spent the whole run tense and confused and unhappy and fearful of screwing up, I consider that a crappy fail of a run.

But then, that’s just me.

The fish wrap-up.

I hope some of this can prove helpful if you’re just starting out as a tank, and wondering what kind of things to think about to help make your runs go smoothly.

Until next time, have fun!

Tanking the first boss in Azjol-Nerub

I had an email come in from Sean, who has been trying to take down Azjol-Nerub to get the Essence of Gossamer off the second boss.

He had a question for me on any tips on getting past the first boss on Heroic mode, since so far his team hasn’t had a lot of consistent success.

I felt that was an excellent question, because we didn’t have consistent success either, until we figured out a few things, and before that it had been wipe city.

Very, very frustrating. Like, “AN? No, I ain’t up for that crap tonight” kind of frustrating.

So, this isn’t a guide, but it is absolutely a few observations I’ve made on the first boss encounter in Azjol-Nerub, and what we’ve done to put it on farm.

Krik’thir the Gatewatcher (hereafter referred to as AN’s first boss) is a pushover. The problem of course is with all the bloody mobs you have to deal with before he finally comes.

The layout.

When you enter the first chamber, the first boss is protected by three packs of mobs in front of him, each pack consisting of three mobs apiece.

These three packs are tied together. When you pull any one of them, it begins a single large encounter with timed waves. Each pack activates, one after another, followed ultimately by the boss.

If you get too close to another pack before it is set to pull, it will activate early and attack you. They are a little forgiving on the aggro range of face pulling them, but make no mistake; you get close enough, they’ll come.

If you carefully pull one pack, then after a measured interval a second pack will activate and attack your party… and then after another interval pack three comes. And then, finally, the boss comes along.

The packs and boss come based on timing, not on death. If you kill a pack very fast, you will have more time to prepare before the next pack comes.

After a pack is killed, you DO drop out of combat so long as the next pack has not activated, allowing everyone to drink and eat QUICKLY.

The packs do NOT come in any certain, predictable order.

The packs are formed of a few different units, a core unit of a Watcher that has a unique name but common abilities among all three Watchers, accompanied by either a squishy Shadowcaster ranged spellcaster, a tough Warrior melee fighter, or an insane piece of crap Skirmisher melee rogueish slaughterhouse.

  • The pack on the left has the Watcher Silthik, a Skirmisher and a Shadowcaster.
  • The middle pack has the Watcher Gashra, a Skirmisher and a Warrior.
  • The pack on the right has the Watcher Narjil, a Shadowcaster and a Warrior.

You can choose to pull whoever you want first. Which pack comes next of the other two is random. I generally always pull the left pack first.

Enemy abilities.

The first priority for a kill order in a pack is always the Skirmisher.

The Skirmisher is a melee rogue style opponent, it hits for a ton, it’s very brutal. He can EASILY two shot casters in cloth, or even in mail… and it can enter an Enrage state, where it picks the FURTHEST target from it at that time, charges them, and for the next ten seconds it is ON them, UNTAUNTABLE, and will destroy it’s target 9 times out of ten.

Amusingly enough, in our groups we almost always had the Healer hanging the farthest back from the melee scrum because we didn’t know the mechanic. So the Skirmisher, of course, would always seem to be prejudiced against our Healer. Go figure.

Now, I’m not kidding. The Skirmisher will Enrage, and go charging off behind you to pound on someone, and Growling or Taunting does nothing. The Skirmisher can be Stunned, but no other form of CC will work. Killing him is the only absolutely sure fire approach to removing him as a threat to your group.

The Skirmisher has one other special power other than Enrage. He can also Backstab any target that it is behind for about quadruple normal damage. It’s a one shot kill of a Rogue in melee range, so it can destroy your run if things get messy on positioning. On Cassieann wearing leather, it has done 17,500 damage in one blow. Yeah, no shit.

The Enrage affect can be removed by a Hunter’s Tranquilizing Shot, or by a Rogues using Anesthetic Poison II. As far as I know, those are the only two ways of removing it.

As Hunters rarely have an opportunity to use, or remember to use Tranq Shot, it may be a good time to mention that it only fires off if there is a Enrage or Magic effect on the target. If the target is NOT affected by an Enrage or Magic effect, it does not activate.

I have not personally depended on a Hunter removing Enrage so I have not tried this, but I would think that a Macro could be written attached to a frequently cast attack, such as Steady Shot or Arcane Shot, that would try and fire a Tranq Shot FIRST, and, if the target is not under the affect of Enrage, much like a trinket macro not doing anything if a trinket is still on cooldown, it would go on and fire the Arcane Shot instead.

A possible macro, totally not tested, that might work is something like this;

#showtooltip Arcane Shot
/script UIErrorsFrame:Hide()
/console Sound_EnableSFX 0
/cast Tranquilizing Shot
/script UIErrorsFrame:Clear(); UIErrorsFrame:Show()
/console Sound_EnableSFX 1
/cast Arcane Shot

Oh, and those sound effects modifications? Those ain’t mine, those are courtesy of Jennifer, AKA Djyn. Thanks, Jennifer!

Anyway, the point is that while Hunters CAN remove it, they need to be fast on their toes to nail it after it Enrages, but BEFORE it reaches someone squishy.

What I personally do is count on having Cassieann or Melpo the Rogue with me, with Anesthetic Poison II on their weapons, and cleansing the Enrage that way. I also count on them using their Stun abilities as much as possible on the Skirmisher, especially if it starts running to lock it down and give the Anesthetic Poison a chance to take effect.

The other thing to watch for is the Watcher ability to Web Wrap. It’s a 3 second cast time spell that picks a target at random and wraps them in a web coccoon, taking them out of the fight. If it happens to a tank, the tank still has aggro. The coccoon itself must be targeted and destroyed to remove it. The casting of the Web Wrap CAN be interrupted with a Bash or other stun.

And of course, there are the poisons someone should be ready to remove. Yay.

Preparation for the fight itself.

First, the goal is going to be to pull and kill one entire pack as fast as possible, leaving enough time to recover and eat/drink before the next pack comes. If you do not have enough DPS, it is not going to happen.

Don’t let pride get in the way. If you do not have enough DPS for the fight, it will just not happen as the packs start to overlap each other.

The mobs are considered Undead, so a Priest could Shackle one of the Shadowcasters or Warriors in a pack for each pull… but that is stretching the fight out, which is NOT what you want to be doing. You can also have a Hunter use a Freezing Arrow for a ranged trap, I’ve had it done before, and I understand thanks to Graimerin that Paladins have this Repentance CC thingie that they can use on Undead… but again, you don’t WANT to drag the fight out longer. You want FAST.

So you need to be bringing the DPS.

The second thing is, you want to fight towards the start of the chamber where you come in. Kind of close to where the last group of mobs were standing before you faced these three packs and the boss.

You want a few seconds warning as a pack runs at you so everyone can target the Skirmisher, but if you start TOO far back, the Skirmisher can Enrage right away, not giving you enough time to burn it down. It takes about 10 seconds from the activation of a pack for the Skirmisher to trigger Enrage.

So you don’t want to wait way back around the corner to try and line of sight the Shadowcasters, because by the time the Skirmisher finally reaches you, he’s already Enraged or damn close to it. 

And you don’t want to go to melee range if you can avoid it, because you can either body pull a nearby pack, or you will have SHORT time to react when one of those packs activates.

You COULD try and run in on a pack, kill it, and run back out to the starting point to prepare for the next pack to start. I think that’s what most folks do. We tried it for a while ourselves with mixed results.

What we do is, we try to have at least one ranged DPS at the extreme max range, normally either Sinnas the Hunter or Elystia the Mage. Then, a  little closer, is our Healer, usually Nighthawque the Druid or Paracelsis the Paladin. That way if the Skirmisher Enrages, it’s not the Healer that buys the farm.

Next, you have melee DPS and me. We assume the position, with me ready to pull with Feral Faerie Fire on the Skirmisher in the left most pack, the pack I always pull first. I’ll have the Skirmisher of the middle pack marked as well, so when that pack comes he stands out easy.

And now our secret cheating strategy.

We try to have, if at all possible, a Death Knight as one of the melee. Usually Razedbarre. He’s our secret weapon.

I get full of Rage, I’m ready to pull the Skirmisher, I have the targets marked for a kill order of Skirmisher, Shadowcaster, Watcher… and I let Razedbarre inch close enough to be able to get range on the Shadowcaster, with me standing beside him.

I pull the Skirmisher, the Skirmisher and the Watcher run towards me….

…and the Shadowcaster stays put way back there to try and throw down that spellcasting shit, and Razedbarre Death Grips his ass RIGHT into my face.

Where I happily Swipe and Mangle and Lacerate and Maul all over the Skirmisher, all DPS is burning down the Skirmisher, but I am getting aggro and holding the Watcher and Shadowcaster right on top of me.

Usually, the Skirmisher dies fast, without getting Enraged, or if he does Enrage he gets Stunned and then has it cleansed off fast by Anesthetic Poison II. Then we burn down the squishy Shadowcaster who is sitting right there, and finish up the Watcher.

In these pulls, the only random factor becomes dealing with Web Wrap… it can be interrupted, it has a long cast time, but for the most part the Watcher is not getting the focused attention to interrupt them while we deal with the Skirmisher and Shadowcaster, so it goes off. But someone is always near someone else, and so it gets cut off the target off pretty fast.

Keeping the Shadowcaster in melee range really lets us focus ALL our attention on killing, and not waste time running around.

We can rest for a few seconds and get back mana or even do a battle rez, and be prepared when the next pack comes.

Again, it is the Death Knights’ job to pull the Shadowcaster into my Swipe range, while it is my job to pick up the Watchers, Skirmishers and Warriors.

By the time all three packs are down, we generally have plenty of time to swagger on up to the boss and prepare for his tank and spank, with an awareness that he summons swarms of adds that we can apply AoE to. They are pretty weak adds, it’s an easy beatdown as long as you are preaapred to Swipe, and have some AoE in the group.

For myself, the first pull on the left pack is a coordinated pull at our pace, so we control it’s outcome. It always goes easy.

The second pull may either have the middle pack with a Skirmisher and a Warrior, or the right pack with a Warrior and a Shadowcaster.

I save my Challenging Roar taunt for the all-melee pack, the Skirmisher and Warrior, to make damn sure none of them run by.

With the Warrior and Shadowcaster pack, I know the caster will be pulled by the Death Knight, so I only have to grab two melee targets inbound… and I will have a Feral Faerie Fire AND a Growl to use at range as they come in to make sure none of them run by. I’ll FFF the Watcher first, and then Growl the Warrior and stay on the Warrior as they come in to get a Mangle on him.

By that time, Razedbarre has the Shadowcaster in my face, so I can Swipe the whole posse once for general principles, and then switch targets to the Shadowcaster as we burn him down fast. 

When no Skirmisher is in the group, squishy dies first, of course. :)

The only worry during the time the pack is incoming is Healer aggro if the healer tops people off before I apply threat, and grabs the attention of one off me. That can hurt, it can cause mobs to run by that Ii wasn’t expecting to ignore me, and has in the past caused chaos and confusion.

But communication, preparation, and everyone knowing their part and doing it is what makes the fight a very, very satisying kill. You know you did more than just stand there looking cute when the boss goes down.

If you don’t have a Death Knight, it is still doable, of course… we’ve done it before.

But in those cases, you either need to use CC to keep the Shadowcaster out of your hair, or you’ll have to preiodically taunt him with Growl at range to keep his attention on YOU while the melee range stuff is handled. And someone is going to have to go chase him to kill him at some point, bringing everyone in range of the other packs, and risk a face pull.

And even if you don’t aggro one of the other packs, chasing the Shadowcaster will slow you down, leaving you less time to prepare for the next pack pull.

So yes, this is one of those situations where I recommend ignoring the ‘bring the player, not the class’ BS that we all bought into for a little while, and see if a Death Knight can come along.

If you have a DK tank, what the hell… go Kitty and DPS and let him tank and do his own Death Grip to bring his mob into range. Whatever works for you.

Conclusion.

I hope that this breakdown helps someone even a little when planning on how to get their own Essence of Gossamer.

And remember, this little collection of tips is aimed at the folks, very much like myself, that are still at the pre-Naxx, ‘gearing up for Naxx’ level.

If your group has been running Naxx already and getting plenty of drops there, then you should have plenty of DPS to take care of things quickly.

So please, for your own sake, let’s not have any morons chiming in saying e-peen things like “I don’t understand why anyone would have any trouble with this boss, it’s easy mode if you are a REAL player. In fact, I soloed it on my xx. You must just suck.”

Because my first reply is, “If you’re just that skilled, and it’s not your gear at all that is helping you get through it, or that of your friends that carried you, then have your team run it naked and FRAPS it. I’d love to see it. Otherwise, shut the fu([ up.”

Hmm, did I say that out loud? Oops, my bad. Must’ve been reading WoW Forum replies to people asking reasonable questions, and getting tired of the same tired old bullshit e-peen responses. 

Anyway, have fun! And may the loot fu be with you!