Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have been super-excited about this for ages:
Tier 14 is the first Tier I have ever completed without nerfs or gear from later Tiers. I have killed every boss since the start of Wrath, but this is the first time I feel like I’ve earned those kills. And it was an incredible feeling to see Heroic Sha of Fear fall over, two weeks before the next patch and a probable round of incoming nerfs.
To know that I can finish a Tier … well, it’s not something I ever really thought I would be able to do, so doing it – and in a Tier like this one, where the majority of the challenge came from punishing mechanics rather than class-stacking requirements or simply being able to stay awake for 15 minutes of bland repetition – has been an amazing experience.
With that in mind – and with not a little arm-twisting from a guildie, Anafielle of Sacred Duty, who has politely requested I make a post like this - I thought I would write up my impressions of Tier 14. But before I do, I want to give you some background on where I’m coming from, because I think that my particular path up to this point has informed a lot of my opinions that other raiders at my level may not share. You can skip that and go straight to the Tier eulogizing if you’d like
Making the Move to Hardcore Raiding
Definitions vary, of course, but before Tier 14 I did not consider myself to be a hardcore raider. Sure, I killed every boss – on every difficulty – eventually doing so on three or four characters. (I had four Saviors of Azeroth – all healers – and got really close on my Warlock as well.) I spent more time raiding than most people (myself included) spent at their jobs. But I always felt “casual”, because these kills were all gained with buffs (ICC), nerfs (Dragon Soul), or by outgearing things (killing Heroic 10 Anub’arak a week after ICC was released).
All through Wrath I participated in both 10- and 25-player content, and enjoyed them both equally. 25-player raids presented more of a technical challenge, but 10-player raids were more intimate, cozy, fun. When Cataclysm hit, I had to choose: was I a player who valued technical challenge over the intimacy of a small group?
It was a tough struggle, but I chose challenge, and applied to an Australian guild that was in the running for server firsts over on the Oceanic server Dath’Remar. That was my first exposure to “real” raiding – I use the term ironically, because I don’t believe in the pissing match of 10-vs-25 – and I loved it. We were in the top 2500 guilds in the US, with I think an Oceanic 19th on Heroic 25man Beth’tilac, so it was a considerable step up from where I had been in Wrath, pugging all my raids, but it was not really an impressive progression record.
It was there, in that now-defunct guild, that I began to understand what progression raiding was like: excitement, accomplishment, stress, and not a little pain. Heroic Baleroc nearly destroyed me. It was easily the worst experience I ever had in WoW. I simply couldn’t keep my crystal-soaking target alive, no matter what I did. For the first time I went searching for help outside of the game, and found Vixsin writing about her struggles with the same fight - ones she eventually overcame, but I did not. Until the blanket 15% nerf of all Firelands Heroic modes, my guild was simply incapable of killing Heroic Baleroc, because they kept bringing me.
This guild fell apart shortly after reaching Heroic Ragnaros, and I decided that perhaps 25-player progression raiding was not for me, so I returned to 10-player raiding, and put progression out of my mind…
… Until MoP Beta. In the first few weeks of the MoP Beta I had an epiphany, and decided to start this blog. I wrote a bunch of stuff about Shamans and Druids, tested a bunch of Talents, found some bugs, and when raid tests started I knew I needed to be in there testing the new abilities in raiding situations.
The very first raid test I did put me in a group way, way over my head. That group was from a guild called Something Wicked. I didn’t know anything about them – I’ve never been one to watch the scoreboards or pay attention to anyone’s progression but my own – but it was clear from watching them play that they were amazing and I would have to work really hard to keep up. I ended up doing nearly every MoP Beta raid test with that group, and during Heroic 10 Elegon testing, one of them reached out to me and asked me to consider applying. It was a huge ego boost, especially since that person was well-known to me as sort of a healing rockstar. I began an anxiety spiral that lasted 3 months while I agonized over whether to apply: Could I be good enough? Was I ready to try 25-player progression raiding again? What if there was another Baleroc…?
And then Blizzard gave me a gift. They buffed Healing Rain and Chain Heal in the last two weeks or so of the Beta. Shifting more of the Shaman healing budget into spells that were predominantly used in 25-player raids - surely this was a sign. I sucked it up and applied. And two nerve-wrackingly long weeks later, my application was accepted and I transferred to my new home.
Learning to perform at this high of a level has been … well I won’t lie. It’s been stressful. I’ve always held my performance to high standards, but with each new boss we kill those standards get a little higher. I learn a little more about the game and how I am doing it wrong a lot of the time. I tweak my UI a little, I research more, I trawl more logs, I test more things, I spend a lot of time outside of raid just perfecting as much as I can about my play. I had a lot to learn, a long way to go, and I still do. But honestly, it’s kind of exhilarating being the worst player in the team, having so much room to improve, and knowing that there are so many exciting new experiences out there for me to have.
And now, having rambled on quite enough about the strange journey I took to get to where I am today, I’ll take a look back at Heroic Tier 14 (in no particular order) and how I, the hardcore-newbie, felt about the fights.
It should be no surprise to my readers that the two fights this Tier that excited me the most were Gara’jal the Spiritbinder and Heroic Tsulong. I love encounters that make me think in a non-standard way about my healing. (There are a lot of healers out there who believe that personal throughput is the most important thing, and always strive to top the meters and whatnot. I am not one of them. The only meters I have ever cared about have been dispel meters on Yogg-Saron and PhoenixStyle’s Searing Plasma meters for Heroic Spine of Deathwing. So these encounters, with their focus on maximising throughput, made me approach my role in a whole new way.)
Gara’jal in particular was sort of my first taste of real progression. To make the DPS check we had to drop to four healers. Usually when that sort of thing has happened before – *coughHeroicRagnaroscough* - I was the benched one. This time, I was in. And I was feeling the pressure. I had to justify that raid spot because my usual justification – Mana Tide Totem – was undermined by the fight mechanics. I didn’t have a tank cooldown, or any way to prevent Voodoo Doll damage. And every time I dropped Spirit Link Totem, a Voodoo Doll died. I felt pretty overwhelmed and useless!
So I turned to obsessive-compulsive overanalysis to learn more about the way the encounter worked, and cracked a few Spiritual Innervation codes. I made damn sure my DPS companions in the Spirit Realm had 18-20 “stacks” of the buff when they came out. And some of them noticed. That was a nice feeling
When we finally downed H Gara’jal, after several 0% wipes and a break to go get Halloween masks that ended up being a moot point since half the raid forgot to switch out their Stormwind cloaks or Kirin Tor rings for real gear, that was probably the proudest I have ever been of my performance. Not because I did well on the meters – we all know Gara’jal meters lie – but because I knew I had nailed it. I had completed my first real progression fight.
For similar reasons, H Tsulong kind of rocked my world. Sure, it was frustrating when we’d have attempts that didn’t progress past Night phase, but trying to figure out the optimal healing rotation – not just for myself, but for the healing team as a whole, because I didn’t want to advocate the wrong things – was a blast. Hitting a spike of 9 million HPS wasn’t so bad either
Protectors of the Endless – I love this fight for reasons entirely unrelated to healing. Dispelling, interrupting, and Purge! The fight itself, well – our DPS would be better positioned to tell you about how it feels, mechanically. The healing was not terribly challenging or remarkable. Final phase, chain CDs until the boss dies or your stack-soakers mess up or your adds-killers mess up or your Water Bolt-interrupters mess up and you all die. *shrug* But dispelling, interrupting, and Purge!
Imperial Vizier Zor’lok – Mechanically one of my favourite fights this Tier. Double Attenuation is awesome. I completed this fight at 4 FPS (my CPU was sitting on 99°C the whole week we worked on this) and while under the effects of some powerful muscle relaxants that gave me terrible nausea. I’m pretty sure during the first Attenuation I keyed my mic and said, weakly and pathetically, “Spinny noooooo” over Mumble. But I still loved it. Working out when best to use my CDs took a while but I was inordinately proud of the rotation I came up with. I felt that this fight really used all my cooldowns and tested my reaction time and raid awareness, so I was thrilled when I overcame all my own obstacles and survived the whole fight and we got the kill.
Not that this wasn’t a brutal, and punishing, fight. We started well after the most brutal and punishing bit – the starting platform selection – was fixed, but we had a few ridiculously frustrating moments. Bugging the encounter out via Invisibility wipe-recovery techniques, and having to give up on the fight for the night ’cause we would have to wait for a soft reset to fix it, twice, was certainly … suboptimal. But this was one of those classic progression kills where we just got closer … and closer … and closer until finally he died.
Grand Empress Shek’zeer was surprisingly easy for us to kill; after all the time we’d spent on Amber-Shaper I was expecting something a little less of a pushover. I think we killed her the third time we pushed her into phase 3. Granted, it took us a while to get into phase 3, because we had to sort out our Dissonance Fields strategy and then learn how to handle the adds phase, but once those strategies were in place it was a very simple kill. While that doesn’t make for a very exciting Heroic fight, I still really enjoy this one because the fight has a few interesting elements to it. Plus, hey, I got the Heroic Tier chestpiece and the Heroic mace off of Elder Coins, which pretty much means I should buy a lottery ticket the next time we kill her.
Wind Lord Mel’jarak is another fight that I enjoy because of my utility rather than the healing challenge. I just love interrupting. And I got to do it on this fight, yay! I’ll always volunteer for interrupting jobs because I firmly believe that, whenever possible, healers should pick up utility roles and leave DPS to kill stuff. It’s not that I don’t want DPS to have to deal with mechanics, it’s just that by taking a little bit of burden off the DPS, the fight will end a little bit sooner, and we’ll have a slightly higher chance of success. I also got to change up my Glyphs a little, going for Glyph of Fire Elemental Totem, which – at the time of our first kill, when we weren’t chaining Recklessness together – got me a total of 60 seconds of Recklessness uptime with Primal Fire Elemental. Whee, I contributed!
Stone Guard – Oh man, I was so nervous coming in to this fight. The first Heroic fight of the first full Tier of raiding with my brand new guild, and I, being on trial, was several item levels behind the other healers on our team. I’d never walked in to a fight this undergeared before – back in Tier 11, we farmed 10-player Magmaw and Halfus for weeks before putting together a group of people to start 25-player raiding, and by the time we got into Heroics, we were all well above the minimum iLvl for the fights. But here I was, in blues, doing everything I (thought I) absolutely could to get through the encounter, and we spent a whole night wiping on it.
I still remember my guild leader’s somewhat snarky comment to me after that raid. “Dayani, why do you hate Spiritwalker’s Grace?” I hadn’t even used it once in the entire night of trying. I explained – lamely – that I had retrained myself to use it as a throughput CD instead of a movement CD, thanks a lot 4pc t13!, and while that is true, what is probably more true was that I was already struggling.
Doing this level of content and remembering my myriad new cooldowns and how to use them was overwhelming – something I hadn’t really felt before. Thus was born the “&@#%-up Notebook”, a little flip-top notebook that I keep just under my monitor and on which I write down all the ways I screwed up on a fight while I’m running back from the wipe. I filled it up with things I did wrong and ideas on how to do more for the encounter – it has about 10 blank pages left now – and I kept it open as a reference during the fights. Combined with my Stormlash timing spreadsheet on my 7″ monitor, these two things were failsafes to make sure I didn’t forget what to do. And they’ve served me well.
We went back in on the second night that week and knocked Stone Guard over unexpectedly quickly – first attempt, I think – and then moved on as if the previous night had just never happened. I still enjoy this fight, although with the gear we have now it’s all over before it gets interesting.
Feng the Accursed is an excellently designed fight, in contrast to another four-”phase” fight I could name but won’t. Testing and perfecting each of the four phases before the final synthesis of the strategy was … well, totally my cup of tea. And, lots of stacking for lots of Healing Rain and Chain Heal goodness. We got this kill relatively quickly as well, I think the same night we got H Stone Guard down, or if not, very early into the next raid night. But I rather appreciate the elegance of letting us determine the order in which we will handle the abilities. I just wish there was an achievement for doing some unorthodox orders, instead of an achievement that the whole raid isn’t able to participate in.
There were a few fights this Tier that I just didn’t appreciate. Don’t be sad, guys; it’s not you, it’s me. You’re not The One. It’s ineffable. I’m just really busy right now. Let’s be friends?
Elegon – Okay, first of all. What the hell? You transform us into mini-Algalons but you don’t think to give Ghost Wolf, Cat, and Bear forms their own astral version? I am disappoint. Seriously, opportunity missed.
This fight just wasn’t different enough on Heroic to make me care. Granted, I wasn’t in for the progression attempts – Elegon and Sha were the two I sat out for this Tier – but still. A resounding “meh”. The healing challenges were not that challenging, either. Again, simply chain CDs to get through the final phase, and deal with some spot healing and minor CD usage during the first two phases. I will note that this fight – well, at least on normal, and in 10man – is a lot more fun as Disc Priest, with ridiculous Atonement healing and timing Spirit Shell to soak Total Annihilation.
Garalon – Bleh. Although I will note a few things.
This was the first fight I ever experimented with Echo of the Elements on. I knew its constant damage would mean Chain Heal was rarely an overheal, and the extra chance for Chain Heal to proc the Echo – 22%, rather than 6% from our other spells – made it worthwhile. I ended up falling in love with Echo, and using it for most other fights this tier, except for specific burst situations like Tsulong. Plus, with Glyph of Deluge, I just love seeing moar Chain Heals!
The fun I have in this fight varies with the healing assignment I am given. When I can heal the melee, I love it. I get to run around, predict where the melee are going to be, throw down Healing Rains, use all my CDs, Chain Heal like crazy, and I feel really useful and mobile. And getting the #15 parse (At the time! Not anymore, sigh.) on our first kill was pretty exciting. I had never really ranked before, and especially not that high! But when I am assigned to tank/kiter healing, it is drudgery, awful, the worst thing ever and I am so booorrrreeed and please won’t it die now. Ugh.
Lei Shi – Just uninteresting. And also, I feel a little guilty about attacking her since she is just so adorable. I, too, want to Hide and tell everyone to Get Away! when I am under attack. I just wanna hug the poor girl!
Presumably this fight is more interesting for the people who have the extra job of stacking Scary Fog, but like Elegon, it simply wasn’t different enough to Normal mode to get me excited. I did enjoy throwing out a clutch Bind Elemental here and there to save our poor beleaguered Resto Druid from dying
And there were a few fights this Tier that made me want to curl up into a ball and just die. Usually for my own failings, but not always!
Blade Lord Ta’yak – I am just so bad at Tornado Frogger. So, so bad.
On the Beta I was all excited about this boss. The one-minute timer on Unseen Strike plus the knockback just whispered tantalisingly to me, “Totemic Restoration. Spirit Link. Doooo eeeeet.” But the reality, on live servers, was much, much less exciting. It was more like, “Spirit Shell laughs in your face, and you wonder why you’re even here.” Until phase 2. Where things got a little interesting. Except that I would almost always die, because I paid too much attention to other players’ health during the tornado corridor and not enough attention to my own position. Always the martyr.
It got a lot better when I realised that Totemic Projection worked in Ghost Wolf form. Get a Roar from our Druid, pop SWG and spam Chain Heal on myself while dodging, drop Healing Tide Totem and shift into Ghost Wolf form, dodge until 75% of the way there, project HTT forward, and finish the run. I started living all the way ’til the end once I worked that out, but the scars were still there.
Amber-Shaper Un’sok – One of the most frustrating things in any encounter is a mechanic that a single, random person must be responsible for, and if they fail to do it, it is a wipe. Amber-Shaper is one such fight. And I was one such random person. I hate causing wipes. It gives me flashbacks to my Baleroc inadequacies. And yet I let the Destabilize stacks fall off of Amber-Shaper. Once, but once is enough, especially given that almost everyone else did it too.
The rest of the fight didn’t pose enough of an interesting challenge to overcome the pure white-hot ball of stress that formed in my stomach anytime I saw that “Reshape Life on you!” message pop up on my screen. Seriously, the first time I did it right, my heart was pounding 200 beats per minute and I felt like I was going to throw up. Ugh.
Reset Spirit Kings – Actually, this fight was pretty cool. But as one of our guildmates commented over Mumble after a particularly grueling night of pull – “Reset.” – pull – “Reset.” – pull – “Reset.” – pull – “Reset.” ad nauseam, “There has got to be a more efficient way to delete potions.”
The thing I didn’t like about this fight was that, while learning how to deal even with Qiang’s mechanics, the players who did it right were punished for the mistakes of those who did it wrong. I stuck to our tank like freaking glue, and died so many times to Massive Attack I just wanted to scream.
Also, the healing was only really interesting during Qiang/Subetai overlap and the later bits of Meng where Cowardice was high and we had Maddening Shout. Outside of that, meh. I did enjoy dispelling and interrupting Zian, and as I said, the fight itself was very cool, with lots to keep track of and react to. So many mechanics! That would usually make me happy, but I can’t forgive the awfulness of “Reset. Reset. Reset. Reset.” or the painfulness of dying to other peoples’ mistake.
Will of the Emperor – Another fight that I really loved, conceptually. Sure, it was 12 minutes of perfect performance, but there was enough variation and enough to do that it kept me interested. I got to sling my totems around like a BAMF, there was plenty of AoE damage to heal up, and a lot of raid awareness to pay attention to. It was such a great fight, except.
Except, I was assigned to heal a tank, and I just … couldn’t … do it. I got pretty frustrated about it. I looked through logs, I started monitoring tank trinket and tinker usage on Grid so I could see what was going on with him, I sought help from others who had already killed it, but the simple fact was that – despite the many reasons I had for not being able to do it, like the melee dancing on that tank’s boss needing heals and sparks from the other tank’s Courage always making me move out of my tank’s range at the worst possible times – not being able to do it was unacceptable. This was starting to look like Baleroc 2.0, and I was starting to feel like I was going to prevent the guild from its first ever Realm First!
We assigned a second healer, and got the fight down just fine. But this remains one of those shameful situations where I simply didn’t measure up, and I’m not sure where I went wrong.
Sha of Fear – No. Just, too long. No.
It was not entirely unpleasant. Just too long. Like Madness or Spine, it’s frustrating whenever a fight “begins” at 20% health and everything you do up until that point is curiously lethal trash.
I had to sit myself out for a night of attempts due to severe queasiness and being unable to execute the Shrines properly. It was brutal and I didn’t want to sit, but I knew that waiting several minutes between pulls for me to go throw up and come back would not be acceptable either, so I sat. And that night the group got to a 2.9% wipe, so I gladly sat again when attempts resumed, and cheered the guild on in Mumble as they sat through four hours of wiping-on-phase-1 to finally getting the kill. And I nerd-screamed as loud as they did when they actually got it!
Despite not having been there, I take a small, tiny bit of credit for the kill. We were having trouble using our ground-based AoE damage reduction cooldowns on the Huddle in Terror targets as the Dread Expanse was just kind of really hard to judge distance on, and the raid markers that DBM puts up just weren’t giving us enough information. So I wrote a WeakAura to put a chat bubble above a player’s head when they had Huddle in Terror, and that made a world of difference in finding a cluster of Huddled targets and throwing a Barrier or a Spirit Link at them. So, yay me?
Tier 14 was nothing short of epic to me. I loved it, all of it, even the stuff I’ve categorised as the Bad and the Ugly. (They’re relative terms, OK?) I’ll always look back fondly on this Tier as the first Tier I ever finished; the first time I ever felt like a real progression raider; the first time I developed hypotheses about the way the game worked and tested them and discovered things that other people didn’t really know. I went from finishing in the US top 2500, to finishing in the US top 50 - 47th to be precise – and I have proved to myself that I am capable of a heck of a lot more than I ever thought I was.
And, if I may take a moment to be a little sappy, I would like to thank all the people in Something Wicked for a truly awesome journey. In this guild, I’ve found a home, and I’ve had the best, most amazing time I’ve ever had in WoW. You guys are the awesomest! ♥