Tag Archives: tanking

I love you, Charge

You know I’m a big fan of our mobility. Yesterday, I got to love it even more.

We’ve been having our first serious and prepared looks at the Lich King. We took two attempts at him before, when we finished off Sindragosa with still half an hour left on the clock, but those were really more oooh-and-aaah attempts than serious ventures. They were useful regardless, as at least we got an idea of how things look and feel. So, serious Arthas action yesterday. To foreclose – no, we didn’t kill him.

During one of the attempts, when the first phase transition was about to end, I started running in a bit too soon and blundered right into a frost sphere, which went “wheeee!” followed by “kaboom!” and sent me flying towards (and beyond) the rapidly disintegrating edge. Wipe, right? Except, I was still targeting the raging spirit I was tanking, and in a reaction that was really more reflex than conscious response hit my Charge button. Swoosh, back to safety and “hell yeah!”

PS: Defile is certainly one of the more impressive and literal ways to wipe.

PS PS: I’m kind of glad there is no realistic way for me to charge off the platform. Now that would be exceptionally hilarious, wouldn’t it? ūüėÄ

Transferably applicable knowledge

A long time ago, when I was just getting into raiding in LotRO, I remember excitedly telling a friend about all those exciting raid boss mechanics I was encountering and learning. My friend, who, not at all coincidentally, was the person who initially convinced me to try LotRO and MMORPGs in general, but never “seriously” got into the whole end-game thing himself, asked me a question. It was a hard question I had trouble answering at the time. Now I know how troublesome and central that question actually is in musings on all things MMORPG. What he asked me – and I am not quoting verbatim – was this:

When you raid, when you learn how to defeat a raid boss and get better at defeating that raid boss, do you actually acquire transferable knowledge? Do you learn how to play the game better? Or do you only learn how to raid better? Or do you only learn how to beat this particular encounter better?

I felt it was an important question, and I felt that yes, raiding experience makes me a better player overall, but it was very hard to empirically back up that feeling. Certainly, having to run away when Barz would yell “I’ll gnaw your bones!” as well as not to run away when he’d yell “No power is stronger than Barz!” instead, taught you to pay attention to events and to react to them appropriately. The lever rooms during the Balrog encounter would teach you how to kite, Mordirith would give you a very unforgiving lesson on positioning, phase 3 on Thrang would give you the ultimate “deal damage on the move” experience. Bunch up for mobs with random aggro, spread out for mobs with AoE attacks, don’t stand in cleave or swipe, focus fire by following a kill order or the main assist target, all that and many more.

The thing is that with LotRO’s end-game being rather small and isolated, while you had the feeling that you were learning somehow generic skills, practically many of them just did not find themselves applied to many other cases. Yes, you’d keep your back to the wall when fighting something with an affinity for kickbacks, but, frankly, that was something you’d learn from fighting simple cave trolls already (and you’d apply it mostly to cave trolls as well). When you’d be in a group you may have looked for opportunities to crowd control and focus fire, and that was it, for the most part. I would still say that raiding, even back then, made me a better player, improving my situational awareness, ability to recognise encounter patterns, understanding of group synergy, and simply teaching me to better use the right ability at the right time as well as remembering the less frequently used abilities. But it was hard to practically explain, and even harder to make a case that it would actually matter anywhere outside of raids, for it mostly didn’t.

If my friend has asked his question to Tobold, he most certainly would have gotten a negative answer regarding raiding in Wrath of the Lich King. I won’t link a particular entry, both because I’m lazy and because it’s kind of spread out across several things Tobold writes, but he’s of the firm opinion that WoW raiding as it is today is all about “learning the dance” (a reference to the godfather of gimmick-fights, Heigan) for every single encounter and then moving on to learn the next dance, taking only little with you. You learn the encounter, not your class, says Tobold.

There are two things that I’d like to remark on that. For one, WoW raiding is pretty old now, and the lessons in “playing your class” have been taught many times over since the times of Molten Core. Today’s encounters don’t teach us much about playing our class because we (in general) became so damned good at playing our class already. For another, while I’m certainly not one to tell people that they are “doin it rong”, I think Tobold’s perception is strongly affected by the way he experiences most current encounters. He’s fallen out of step with his guild regarding raiding for entirely understandable reasons, so when he raids these days it’s an off-night fun-run with tactics presented in a nutshell and bosses on farm. The thing is that on paper, or in explanation, or during the singular attempt, every encounter appears incredibly gimmicky. It’s only when you do it, and redo it, when you start recognising patterns and applying experience.

The other extreme are the venerable “ah, that’s just like in Black Temple” veterans, who will always be happy to let you know that this particular mechanic reminds them of just that other mechanic they experienced over their year-stretching WoW raiding career. Every single mechanic. Which is also not really surprising because, quite honestly, there’s only so much a raid boss can do to you in terms of variety. Yeah, a Bone Spike is essentially the same thing as a Snobold or an Iron Root; you need to kite Blood Beasts, Blistering Zombies and Swarm Scarabs; the Debuff of Tank Swapping really got somewhat overused this expansion; there’s always something on the floor and you should either stack together or spread out, and so on and so on.

So, we are left with “it’s all just gimmick fights” and “it’s all the same gimmicks” at the same time, which is, as it usually is with contradicting negative statements, probably not such a bad place to be in. And it leads us to experiences such as the one that provoked this post in the first place. Read on…!

As you may have read on the blogs of my wonderful guildies, we finally defeated Professor Putricide this last Tuesday! What can I say, it’s an amazing fight, very complex and thus very fun and (positively) taxing, with a high demand for conscious execution, especially on the phase transitions. I probably would rank it as the best encounter we fought in WoW so far, although I shall openly add that this is only because as a tank I had a more interesting job than on Yogg-Saron. That factor aside, Yogg would definitely win, but, hey, I am a tank after all, so that’s my perspective. And here we’re edging ever closer to the topic. Tanking Putricide proved to be an incredibly interesting, involving and diverse affair. Well, probably not for Vael, our trusty slime slurper Abomination tank, but for me, most certainly.

On our first attempts (a few weeks ago) someone jokingly pointed out how half the raid was struggling to beat the tank’s (mine, that is) DPS. The reason was obvious. While everyone was still figuring out what to hit, when to switch and where to run, I was the only one enjoying the unrestricted comfort of pumping my rotation into the perfectly debuffed boss all of the time. Over the course of our later attempts (still before this week) I slowly began wondering why that would be so and whether that’s such a good thing. Technically, I’d be standing there, with the boss, in a relatively abstract spot, watching everyone wrangle with an Unstable Experiment and .. well .. not contributing much. And then I’d have to get the boss to the other side, but would have little in terms of rhythm regarding when would be the best time for it; consequently the healers also found themselves in a somewhat abstract space, where the tank would spontaneously decide to run over to the other side of the room at the same time as they’d have to be healing a raid damage spike. It all felt rather disconnected (to me) and in particular I was feeling like I was sleeping on the job.

I began trying to assist on the Experiments a little bit, positioning myself such that when it’d pass I could Cleave or Shockwave it. Which for one wasn’t much and for another often ended with me taking additional damage (from the Experiment reaching its target) for little benefit. However, over time I was, of course, doing other things as well. Lots of other things. Like Gunship Battle, mostly as the “boarding tank”. What does the boarding tank do on Gunship Battle? Well, you jump to the other boat (wheeee!), aggro Saurfang (or Muradin if you’re Horde), debuff his damage output and then .. uhm .. then you stand there, hitting him for no real reason. Until, of course, you realise that that one Shield Slam already generated all the aggro you will ever need, that there are Axe Throwers who are being a pain for the healer who’s keeping you up from back on your boat and that as long as you keep Saurfang in front of you, you can just as well do damage to one of said Axe Throwers instead. Maybe you can kill him, but at the very least you’ll make sure he’s killed faster, while damage done to Saurfang, on the other hand, is completely wasted. And when your boarding buddies are on their way back, they’ll stop and help you finish the job happily – just make sure they don’t get cleaved!

Then, this happened. The plot thickens, as you see, parallels all over. So when the “good news!” arrived this week, I ultimately and definitely found myself thinking “you’re doing it on Gunship, you did it on Freya, why would you not be doing it here as well?” – and so I did! It came close to backfiring at first, but I kept learning and adjusting. So, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Really, really avoid turning your back on Putricide in the process. He’s no kitten. Whatever relative worth avoidance has, it’s better when it’s there. You can’t afford taking avoidable damage spikes at the same time as your healers most likely are being on the move, required to heal raid damage, rooted, chased and possibly out of range. Better lose some damage on the Experiment than take additional damage from the Professor.
  • Strafing is your friend. You’ll strafe a lot and yes, you will have to reach over your own fingers more often than usual. Not only was Xevozz a good task master, but the jousting dailies were an even better one. Talk about useless jousting!
  • Refresh Thunder Clap and Demoralizing Shout while the Experiment is forming, that way you don’t have to worry about them while chasing around.
  • Even though you yourself can be sure never to be targeted, don’t take off too early, as you’ll otherwise rip the boss out of the melee range of the DPS who are obediently waiting by the wall for the Experiment to choose. Or you’ll goad them into abandoning position too early. Don’t be a hero, be a help.
  • “But it’s so dangerous!” – actually, if you’re careful, it’s not. Yes, you may out-range your healers, but you will also out-range Putricide. He’s not the fastest one to catch up, and being out of his range is equivalent to 100% avoidance. Or 0% damage. Imagine you’d have a skill that says “Cannot be hit with melee attacks for 2-5 seconds. 30 seconds cooldown” – would you not want to use it on cooldown? Bet you would. Well, guess what, if you’re a Warrior tanking Putricide, you have something very similar. We have amazing tools and abilities, we need to use them!
  • Having the tank helping out on the Experiment and with Putricide tagging along, it means that when the Experiment goes down your DPS (especially melee) will be able to immediately switch onto the Professor for efficient damage output. Win! Especially true for the Clouds, as after the Ooze you may have been kicked back or need to immediately run over to the other side.

So, how did it play out? Well, I started out with the thought that, if nothing else, at least I can put up some Sunders. The log for our successful attempt shows that my contribution on Experiments accounted for 10% of our total damage on them. More to the Gas Clouds, less to the Oozes (the way Oozes move it’s harder to attack them without exposing your back to Putricide). So, Experiments going down on average 10% faster? I would say that is not bad at all, seeing as that’s pretty much the make-or-break mechanic of the encounter. And that’s not even taking into account possible benefits from said armour sundering, or the general feeling of being more “connected” and “fluid”. Oh, and my total DPS output (if you want to go there) did not suffer either – after all, I didn’t stop attacking, it was only about what I was attacking.

So, at long last, there we have it. Raid encounters that in the long run teach you to be a better player – a better raider at the very least. The combined experience of different encounters that appear to have very little in common (you’d never think of similarities when fleetingly looking at Freya, Gunship and Putricide) together with lots of subconsciously accumulated expertise (jousting? jousting!) teach you a pattern that you can adjust and apply to a new challenge and help your team achieve great success. I dare say it’s not all about learning the dance after all.

PS: On that successful attempt, which was our eleventh and announced final of the evening, everything came together perfectly. No deaths, perfect execution, perfect phase transition, smooth and controlled to the end. It was an amazing experience. Huge thanks to our guildies for making it possible. We rock!

Thanks Vene!

We interrupt the scheduled programme for a spontaneous acknowledgement. Just about a week ago I was looking around the archives on TankingTips.com and stumbled across a brief article on tanking Freya.

The main notion therein: if you are tanking Freya, don’t waste your time standing there staring up her skirt, go help on the adds! No one’s DPSing her, and all damage you do to her is negated by her self heal as well, so, make sure you always have a safe lead on threat, keep your debuffs up and go do something useful. Especially if you’re a Warrior with all that mobility at your disposal.

Yesterday we’ve been in Ulduar and Freya hard mode was suggested. It took us three attempts to adjust to the different circumstances and get a reading on the mechanics – on the third attempt, she went down! And I can proudly and happily say that over the course of the decisive first phase less than half of my damage output was directed towards Freya. Which basically means that half of my potential contribution would have been wasted had I been religiously standing there and “tanking” the boss. I’d like to think it was one of the factors that helped us succeed.

And I’d like to thank Veneretio, the author of TankingTips.com, for all the useful information and hints he’s providing. If you are a Warrior, and a tank, and you are not reading TankingTips.com – change that. Now!

Distribute the last 5-10 points however you like

This is Blizzard’s declared goal for talent trees in Cataclysm. Ghostcrawler & Co have stated time and time again that they do not want to “kill cookie cutter builds” or something ridiculous as that. Of course, they say, there still will be a large core of talents which are somewhere between mandatory, crucial or signifying for a particular spec. What they want is that after you pick up what you indisputably need, you’ll still have room for a few utility and flavour talents of your liking. “We want cookie cutter specs to say ‘and distribute the last 5-10 points however you like’,” is what they say. I like the notion and I’m curious whether and how they’ll make it work.

What suddenly occurred to me yesterday regarding this goal is that if you have more talent points than mandatory talents, you will never have to choose between mandatory talents for different scenarios. Now, this may be a matter of semantics. Maybe this is precisely what “utility and flavour” is supposed to mean. Here’s a very practical and close-to-home example.

Currently, I run two Protection specs. One uses 3/3 Focused Rage, while the other one grabs those three points and puts them into Improved Disciplines as well as into the fifth point in Shield Specialization. Also, the first uses Glyph of Cleaving, while the second one uses Glyph of Shield Wall (it’s really the talent distribution that’s the main deal here – at this point in time I could do perfectly fine without the Cleave glyph, but Focused Rage is the ultimate distinction). Spec Two is my progression spec; Spec One is my “everything else, mostly content I desperately overgear, so I’m in perpetual danger of rage starvation” spec. And the point here is that most, almost all tanks would be perfectly happy to only use the progression spec, however, I actually like running content that is not “the latest and highest raid tier”, so I was reluctant to let go of that aspect. Throw in the fact that I really love playing Protection, and do not really love playing Arms or Fury, and there you go, prot/prot.

Enter Cataclysm. Now, since I am supposed to have 5-10 points for non-mandatory talents, it means I’ll be able to pick all the mandatory talents before! But, wait a second. Maybe this is precisely what it means? Maybe these are the sort of optional talents they’re talking about? Like, you know, Sword and Board and Toughness are mandatory, but Improved Disciplines and Focused Rage are utility/flavour.

At this point, of course, the example becomes very far fetched. For one, things will change a lot in Cataclysm. It means talents, mechanics and, most importantly, encounter balance – the way we play and the way we spec will not be the same as now, so there is absolutely no point in pondering the relative and absolute worth of a particular talent or ability in Cataclysm based on its current implementation and importance. Currently, nearly every progression tank will call Improved Disciplines mandatory and Focused Rage situational at best. A point could be made, based on the very limited information we have so far, that if these talents will be present in Cataclysm at all, their value may invert. No way to tell. So, I am not pointing at these specific talents and saying “this one and that one”, but only saying “talents like these, in an approximative, general way”.

Where am I going with all this? Vaguely to the point I was expressing at the beginning. If after filling the mandatory parts of my talent trees I am left with more points than currently, I am much less likely to be missing points for something I desperately want to get. Which would make it much more likely to come up with a spec that is optimised for me, rather than for the content (or, in other words, more likely to find a spec that is optimal both for me and the content). This seems to be what Blizzard has in mind, and it is a goal I find appealing.

Who knows, I may even end up with a DPS off-spec again! Which is a great transition to my next post, which will be about my thoughts on the qualitative state of Warrior DPS and what I’d hope and wish for in Cataclysm.

On being Prot

Look, I know I’m doing it all wrong. I respec to Prot and … start looking for ways how to maximize my damage output. I know the rulebook says that from this day on, I should only concern myself with Dodge Rating and Effective Health, but, honestly, can you see that happen? With me? I doubt you can.

But, oh boy, is Prot a fun spec to play! I effectively have two ranged interrupts (Charge and Intercept) and two melee interrupts (Shield Bash and Concussion Blow) accessible at all times, without any need for macro-stance-dance-GCD-awkwardness. And Shockwave has yet to come..! I can generate enough up-front threat so my favourite Druid doesn’t need to wait with her Moonfire until the fight is half over, and can soak up enough to make her worry less about my survival and free her up for some nuking. I can Shield Slam nasties into oblivion, and strike them with the full wrath of Remaglar’s Revenge (hey, that’s what it says in the combat log..!). All that, while only beginning to put points in Sword and Board.

Long story short, I’m having fun. Just wanted to put that fun into writing.

Legacy issues

When people refuse to think around corners, hilarious things happen. Let’s recap a “conversation” of sorts that goes on for a while now between the players of the Warrior class in WoW and Blizzard.

Players: Warrior-tanking is very weak. We need buffs. Like, for real.

Blizzard: Well, matter of fact, it seems you guys are tanking the majority of the content just fine, so…?

Players: Yes, true, we’re able to do it, but the style we’re forced into just isn’t fun. That’s a quality of life issue.

Blizzard: Okay, you have a point there. We’ll look into it.
*doesn’t directly buff Warriors by much, but applies a few changes that should, taken together, enable Warrior tanks to spec and play differently*

Players: When I do things exactly the same way I used to do them before, the improvement is marginal / non-existent / actually an aggravation.

Blizzard: Wait, wasn’t the whole point of the matter that you change the way you do things?

Players: I hate u and ur mom!