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.


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!

18 thoughts on “Tanking the first boss in Azjol-Nerub

  1. I guess I’ve been fortunate in my PUGs as we always get the first boss in 2 tries or less. However, I have never successfully killed that last guy on heroic difficulty. The first couple of times it was easy to write off as lack of DPS (one time we even got a fourth wave of adds!), but last nights run had awesome DPS and we still couldn’t kill him. Recount showed our DPS pulling 2300, 1800, and 1700 dps over the entire run before the last boss. I was the healer and was pushing 2200 HPS during the fight. But we still couldn’t get him down. Except for one try where the boss turned immediately before the pound and destroyed our melee DPS (and the tank eating it once), it wasn’t much of a problem. I will say that people weren’t very good about getting out of the spikes, but I suspect that was lag because I got caught in them twice even though I appeared to be on the other side of the platform at the time. Anyway, I don’t see what else we could be missing: we had tons of DPS, usually avoided poundings, but did often get caught in the spikes. Is it really impossible to beat this guy unless everyone makes zero mistakes?


  2. I know these are all about strats for the first boss, but try this for a laugh on the second boss: have a rogue (or mage) aggro one of the first mobs waiting for you in the web-room where you’d eventually fight the 2nd boss. Immediately after aggro’ing, have them vanish (invis). Ta-dah! The room is clear of mobs, proceed onwards to find the big ugly spider boss waiting in farther into the dungeon (with your wonderful trinket) and get the achievement.


  3. I prefer to enter the area and move to the far right side, not the left. I was taught this in a pug, and it gives a lot more room to maneuver and see what’s happening.

    In my opinion, the most important part of BBB’s advice: bring the dps. If you don’t have the first pack down before the next pack comes, leave your party and do some dailies.


  4. Thanks for the run through BBB. Definitely going to try all this out. Never knew about the skirmisher mechanics but it all makes sense now. 🙂

    Quick note: As a warrior tanking, you can use heroic throw coupled with the Gag Order talent to bring the Shadowcaster closer. It will silence them due to Gag Order and cause high threat with the Heroic Throw.


  5. We ran into an interesting problem last night in AN trying to get our off-tank the trinket:

    First group, burned down fine. Second group, burned down fine. Third group, the boomkin’s trees, the DK’s ghoul, and the warlock’s pet all went after the boss before the third group was pulled.

    This caused us two wipes and got really frustrating.

    The third time, nobody was allowed to use pets and it went smoothly.

    Just something to watch for – I’ve never seen it happen before and the pets were not set on Aggressive.


  6. We tried this one night on heroic and couldn’t get this down, it was late and we were all tired after runing back to back heroics all night. As none of us had run AN more than once we didn’t realize the packs were on a timer, this killed us over and over as I saw myself drop out of combat I’d pop FF on the next pack and get to work, but the Second and Thrid packs would then activate simultaneously. Very Bad. The next morning, refreshed and ready, we decided we had to get back on the horse and I had a burst of inspiration and decided to wait for the next pack and sure enough, there was a timer linking them

    TLDR version: Word to the wise, let them come to you on their own, don’t try to chain pull the packs.


  7. Quick note: Any class with a ranged interrupt can deal with the shadowcasters. When I’m running this with my RL buddies , our group composition looks like: Tank Warrior, Tank DK, Elemental Shaman, Pally heals, Affliction Warlock. As the warlock, 99% of the time I have a Felhunter out, and I pull the casters with Spell Lock. Your DK could just as easily pull the caster in with Strangulate or Mind Freeze too.

    On the plus side, I now know why Death Grip doesn’t work on skirmishers when they switch aggro to me. Apparently it’s not just taunt that they’re immune to while enraged.

    The best advice I could add to this, btw, is that the 3 watchers each have one unique ability in addition to their shared skill set.

    The far left one sprays poison on the whole group, which should really be cleansed ASAP. Poison Cleansing Totems helps a bunch with him, but it doesn’t really hit hard enough that I’d consider it a necessity.

    The watcher in the center group simply enrages periodically, but unlike most mob enrages, while his attack speed increases by 300%, the damage he deals per swing is cut in half. Net result is a paltry 50% increase in damage, and at least one of the other mobs should be dead by the time that happens anyhow. If you can heal your tank while he’s being beat on by the previous packs, you probably won’t even notice this guy does anything special.

    The watcher in the far right group has possibly the worst ability, “Blinding Webs”, which disorients your whole group for 5 seconds. Not only does this mean that your healer won’t be able to heal your tank/group, it also means that your tank won’t benefit from any of his avoidance for the duration either, so he’ll be taking some pretty nasty damage. Short of having a tank with truly prodigious amounts of stamina, the only other way to ensure you survive this is to make sure that either the tank or someone with heals can trinket/racial out of the disorient. (Humans have “Every man for himself”, I’m not sure what else works, but I know that does. Fortunately for us, our regular group has a human tank *and* human healer, and this fight still gives us hell.)

    Honestly though, I have to agree with some of the others on this. Heroic AN is *the* gear-check heroic, just for this event. Highly skilled and well prepared players might squeeze through a little earlier (gear wise) than most, but I really can’t see any way you could clear this with a “heroic entry level” group simply for lack of the required DPS to drop each group in the time allotted.

    On the plus side, once you can get it down consistently, Heroic AN takes about 20 minutes, so I love seeing this as the “Proof of Demise” daily now. It’s not quite the “Mechanar of WotLK”, but it’s close.

    Next step: The “Watch Him Die” achievement. 🙂


  8. Interesting. I’ve never had a problem with this boss, but I have to say this is a good write up. We typically pull the left group first. Pull it back into the hallway. As you say, always kill the Skirmisher first. Use temp CC like Pally stuns and bear stuns to keep the third kill busy. Then just burn burn burn.


  9. Awsome write up! didn’t know it was a set person (furthest from the group) just figured it was a random non melee. Explains why certian people always died first in this fight. We’ve always managed to get though this fight but out of BFFI over a plan. looking forward to not wiping next time.


  10. Thanks for the write up, BBB! We don’t usually have a DK available, but knowing that Tranq Shot works is a boon in and of itself.

    I will spread this link around and get my guys ready for another run at it. (I am the one who asked the question in the first place.)


  11. As a hunter, I tried to macro Tranq Shot similar to what you have in your post, but I used Steady Shot instead of Arcane Shot. The problem I ran into was even though Tranq Shot would not fire because of no Enrage or Magic Buff on the target, it was still preventing my Steady Shots from casting. I went through the entire Gluth encounter in Naxx before I noticed in Recount that I never fired a Steady Shot.


  12. My guild made the mistake of trying AN as our first heroic – this wave event chewed us up and spit us out.

    What I do is mark the skirmishers first – because while squishies should be priority when the skirmishers aren’t there, it’s a clear indicator to the group that THIS GUY RIGHT HERE needs to die RIGHT NOW.

    Additionally, having everyone lump together (since we didn’t have a hunter…) really helped with managing the skirmisher, combined with actually using Bash. While it’s not the best stun, I’ve found it can definitely help when the Skirmisher is going after the healer.


  13. I don’t remember but would mage counterspell also allow for the shadowcaster to come to the group? Or do they have other spells up their sleeve?


  14. A a Holy paladin I stand almost in melee range. Not only does this put me in place to generally avoid the Skirmisher’s enrage / charge, but it also puts me in range of the mobs so I can stun if necessary. I can also drop a Consecration and / or Holy Wrath for additional DPS, AND my glyphed Holy Light will heal everyone (including ME) near the tank.


  15. Thanks for the explanation. I have been lucky and succeed in running AJ on heroic and got my trinket. Usually that has involved at least one combat rez with the another pack incoming.
    The skirmisher doing the enrage thing completely explains the disintegration of the backfield in what I was originally believing was a charge or loss of agro issue.


  16. Nice article. 🙂

    Yeah, I think this is probably the hardest boss in the game right now. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and even well-geared players can wipe on it.

    I’ve personally found that it feels a lot more controlled if we shackle the skirmisher. This way we don’t die a horrible death if the skirmisher is active and one of the watchers decides that web-wrapping the tank would be awesome. It really depends on how many stuns you have, I guess. If I can bash it and make sure that someone else can stun it, it’s usually dead before anything happens. Still, a shackle just lets it chill out while the other two mobs are dealt with easily.

    Then again, my wife’s a priest, so the coordination is usually a bit easier 🙂


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