Sunday, September 21, 2008


With the expansion fast approaching, there isn't really much to do progression-wise so I've been taking care of some things I've been working on for a while - most of it on the Alliance side.

I've decided that I want to get one of the Dranei mounts for Gifteye. I don't know why. It just seems fitting. So that means getting to exalted with Exodar. Even with the human 10% bonus, that's proven time consuming - but it was a blast running around the Dranei starting area at level 70. You don't get much for gold for the lowbie quests, but they still give full rep. Next will come a couple thousand turn-ins in AV to make up the remaining 5k or so.

I've gotten both of my Alliance 70's to exalted with Shattered Sun Offensive. Gifteye is exalted with the Scryers. I've been doing some quests that have been in the Alliance toons' logs for well over a year. I've also collected enough gold between them to get one of them an epic flying mount. It would bankrupt me... But I'm thinking about it.

The Brewfest boss has been a pleasant distraction. I've run it 11 times now and it's a good way to kill an hour or two. It's something the guild can do with small numbers and minimal time commitments... Plus it's guaranteed gear that is equivalent to the 41 badge trinkets. I've already picked up a couple of them.

The one thing that I've been doing to help prepare for the expansion, however, is to try to get some legitimate weapons for my paladins. They have decent one handers but the best two hander they have is the axe you can get at revered with SSO. They _can_ kill things... It just takes a while. So I've been PvPing to get the Meciless Gladiator's Greatsword for both of them. That means a lot of time in Alterac Valley...

And maybe it isn't this way on EVERY server but it's like the difference between night and day. On my horde server, the horde wins occasionally but when they do, it's a somewhat protracted affair. They do the same thing every time and they lose and lose and lose. Every rushes to kill Balinda. Someone will tap Stonehearth Bunker and Icewing Bunker and then abandon it to fight for Stormpike Graveyard. Every time they see someone on the road, they stop and fight them. They pull the NPC's by the Aid Station flag EVERY SINGLE TIME. It's the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think someone might have won once with that "strategy" and then told everyone about it so often they horde thinks it's the only way to win. Needless to say, the horde honor grind can be quite frustrating.

The Alliance, on the other hand, is methodical. Brutally efficient. Half the squad goes to kill Galv. A bunch goes ahead and taps towers while a token force stays back to slow the horde down because that's all it takes. When they tap a tower, 3 to 5 people will stay there until it caps. They go back and recap towers the horde has tapped. They skip horde along the way and go straight for the game objectives - usually the Frostwolf Relief Hut. And you can tell that they've thought it through... You want to know how I know that? Because if you cap Frostwolf Graveyard before the Relief Hut, you are called all kinds of names... I mean... Really bad names. It isn't done.

The logic is simple. There are 4 major objectives in the horde base: two towers, a graveyard and Drek. If you cap FWGY before the RH, any horde you kill will respawn back in the base. This means that they can throw themselves at the Alliance in waves. But if you cap the RH first, they spawn... Elsewhere and they have the base to themselves. They thought it through.

Plus there's a whole different attitude. Everyone is pleasant. They say please. They say thank you. No one is yelling at anyone (who doesn't cap FWGY before FWRH, of course). They don't really even give directions or discuss strategy. Everyone knows what the plan is.

And it works... Today I went 18-1. Most of the games were 10-12 minutes and we only got less than 400 bonus honor points twice (a 399 point win and 357 in a loss). The one loss was a protracted affair where they had a lot of people respawning at FWGY and they repeatedly wiped us on Drek. And I think I only had one loss on Saturday - and that was to a premade. We still came up with 252 points and still almost pulled it out.

Not only has it been a fun experience ("I love winning. It's, like, better than losing." - Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh) but I think I've gotten a little better at tanking as a paladin. My Alliance paladin doesn't have anywhere near the gear that my horde paladin does so I have to really push my abilities to generate threat and to stay alive.

When I tank for my horde guild, I generally open with Seal of the Crusader and built additional threat that way. But in the battlegrounds, people don't necessarily wait. They just open with their biggest nuke so I have to have a big threat lead to maintain aggro. That means loading up Seal of Righteousness, popping my wings, throw Avenging Shield and then judge Righteousness on my way in and then drop a consecrate at the back. That usually allows me to keep the boss on me for the duration of the fight. But I have to keep an eye on my holy shield to compensate for my gear... But I have to keep consecrate up and keep judging righteousness to keep threat... It's a lot of work.

At about 500 honor points per game, I'm just 8 or 9 games away from a new toy. Here's hoping the horde doesn't think it through in the next 18 hours... What am I saying? Of course they won't... Sometimes I'm not sure if they can.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Obligatory "The Expansion is Coming" Post

Blizzard recently announced that the Wrath of the Lich King will be released on 11/13/2008. There's a lot to look forward to including but not limited to: Death Knights and a new profession, Inscription.

Inscription will allow you to modify certain spells and abilities through the use of Glyphs. One of the first ones that was announced was the Glyph of the White Bear. This glyph changes your bear form to that of a polar bear.


Yes. I've been staring at the unpleasant end of a bear for the better part of the last year and a half... With some off and on time before that. But one of the big complaints about druids is that... There's no variation between forms. Some of us have worked very hard to improve our gear or to grind rep and there's no way of showing that. Every single bear looks like every other bear. Alliance. horde. Doesn't matter. My level 58 female night elf druid in blues in greens looks just like my level 70 tauren druid in Arena and badge reward epics.

But now we have the option to get Glyph of the White Bear....


Now there will be exactly two types of bears running around. Granted, it's a 100% increase over the previous two and a half years that I've been playing but... There are millions of druids out there.

I'm not (necessarily) advocating that Blizzard find a way of displaying gear when druids are in forms. That would be a tremendously difficult task... But I remember back in the day when my Alliance mage was walking around in 7/8 Tier 2. You KNEW where he'd been. You KNEW how much work he'd done. And, if you were a warrior, you KNEW you should start running now (or should have... Some of them _still_ got out their epeens and gave it a shot).

Not so with my druid. He's a fierce tank. He's done some crazy, crazy, impossible things. But he's also done some really, really tedious things. I single pulled mobs in Steam Vault for about 6 hours to get to exalted with Cenarion Expedition to get my Earthwarden. I wear their tabard with pride. It says: "Yeah... I've done the work. If you have me as your tank, you know I'll have one of the top mitigation/threat generation weapons in the game."

But you don't know that most of the time. All you see is bear. And maybe you don't remember that when things go wrong. Maybe you forget that I've got the gear and that you should just take a deep breath because as long as I've got a healer (and sometimes if I don't) we'll get through this.

And to top it all off? They're also introducing barbershops... So that every other character can change their appearance. Sure... I've got a female rogue who has a nose ring I'd like to lose. But I never play her. I only rolled her because I was having such a hard time with them on my mage so I wanted to see what rogues could do. Well, that and open lockboxes... But I'm going to be doing instances again and I'm the tank. I'll be back to the same form I've had for years... Or maybe a polar bear.


So here's what _I_ would like to see. That mark on the shoulder of bear form... How about that changes to whatever is on the tabard you had equipped when you went into bear form. So... When I'm tanking, maybe you'd see something like this:

It's a simple thing and it would allow druids some more choices for customization beyond brown or white. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

You _can_ go back again... But not for long

In 1999, I made a trip to Detroit to see Tiger Stadium before it was gone. I've never been a Tigers fan, nor have I ever really liked the pictures of the stadium but it had been around since 1912 and was a big part of baseball history. So I dragged two friends through Canada (the fastest way to get to Detroit from Vermont) and in 42 hours, we drove to Detroit, had some car trouble in Toronto rush hour traffic, stopped by Niagara Falls, caught a ball game from the right field porch and returned home.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not equating a World of Warcraft instance that, admittedly, few people ever saw, but the feelings I have about Naxxramas are similar. I only went there maybe 8 times pre-BC and we only ever downed 2 bosses but I have vivid memories of it. I remember grinding Argent Dawn rep for hours... There are a handful of mobs in the Eastern Plaguelands that give rep even at honored. I killed them by the hundreds. I bought my arcane crystals as soon as I learned that we were going to go to Naxxramas because I knew that 40-50 people trying to buy them at once would really drive up the price. When we finally got 40 people attuned, we went in and we wiped on Anub'Rekhan for hours. Three of them on a Sunday afternoon. We never got him past 55%.

But we kept plugging and plugging. We got the locust swarm transition down. We downed the adds faster. We learned the range of the spikes (it turns out that a fire mage can just stand there and not worry about the spikes... Max range is one yard outside their range). When someone died, we dropped everything to down the little scarabs. And then one week, we downed him. It probably took us 8 hours over 4 nights for our first kill. Then we moved on to the Instructor.

He was easier... We downed him in about our 9th attempt. He was easy mode. But I do remember a lot of talk beforehand about getting the priests to the spell hit cap so their mind control wouldn't be resisted. I remember running back and forth around that bannister to get out of line of sight of his shout. That's when things got complicated.

We never downed another boss in Naxxramas. We tried the other two bosses in the Spider wing but we couldn't keep the tank up through the stun on Maexxna and the adds always gave us trouble on Grand Widow Faerlina. So Naxx nights became two sets of trash clears to do the same two bosses over and over followed by repeated wipes on trash and two bosses that had our number and punctuated with a hefty repair bill - and this was before daily quests. If you were in epics, you had to spend a lot of time farming just to raid... And with 3 official and two unofficial raid nights a week, that didn't leave much time. We actually had one person get kicked out of the raid because he couldn't pay the repair bot.

So... On Naxx nights, people stopped showing up. Sure they were on for Blackwing Lair. We had that place on farm. We cleared it in 3 hours every week. They showed up for AQ40 because you were guaranteed a shot at a drop from at least 5 bosses... Then 6. Then 7. People even showed up for Molten Core. Sure it was a lot of alts and people were usually pretty drunk and there were only 33 of us, but we still killed Ragnaros every week. At one point, we had two full MC raids going a week... But Naxx? That died for Crucify.

And that made me sad. The four boss fights I'd seen were the most interesting, most challenging I'd seen save for Twin Emperors and C'thun. I'd always wanted to go back.

But now they're tearing it down....

Well... Not literally... They're repurposing it as the first level 80 raid in Wrath of the Lich King. They're making a 10 man version and a 25 man version and removing the 40 man, level 60 instance. I hear it has the same dimensions but it feels empty with just 10 people there. A lot of the mechanics are similar but it's lost it's epic feel.

That's why I was so pleased when I heard that a horde guild on my server was running Naxxramas every Saturday night... Of course, I wasn't attuned. Hell, none of my characters were even honored. So I took a Friday night and started doing the quests. I got my Barov Peasant Caller. I got my Argent Dawn trinket. I got the key to the city. I got to honored. Then I started running Strat Undead. I found that with some careful stealthing, minimal clearing and a LOT of really good gear, I could solo 45 minute Baron runs. With fragment turn-ins and with me getting all the scourgestones, I got to revered with Argent Dawn by 11 pm that night.... WAY faster than I thought I would. I bought a nexus crystal on the AH and bummed an arcane crystal (I already had one) from a friend I've done some favors for and waited. When the time came, the raid didn't happen. Another guild had poached a few raid members and they didn't have the numbers... That ended up being a really good night because I got my Champion of the Naaru title so it all worked out. That was two weeks ago.

On Friday, posted a rundown of the beta version of Naxx-10 and I started thinking about the old 40 man instance again. I went to the realm forums and the same people were hosting another Naxx run. On Saturday, It took me a few whispers but I got an invite. I was still resto from Arenas on Friday night so I went as a healer. We ended up with about 28 people, 4 of whom were at or around level 60.

I'll admit, it's a little less challenging with 24 level 70's but the some of the fights are still very interesting. We were a little light on DPS but we still overpowered the spider wing. We stomped Patchwerk and Grobbulus. We wiped a couple of times on Gluth but we finally figured it out. We didn't have the DPS for Thaddius but it was interesting to see where the mechanic for the first boss in Heroic Mech came from. We downed Razuvius pretty easily - with a player tanking him instead of MC'd adds. But we didn't have enough melee and tanks/healers for Gothik because people had left or gone to bed so we just cleared some trash in the plague wing to complete the first quest and we called it a night at about 1 am.

All told, we killed the two bosses who stopped Crucify cold and three I'd never seen before and I got to see two encouters I'd never seen before. The fights were so much fun. Very different from your typical tank and spank. I'm glad I went and I think I'll be going again... I may even try to recruit a friend.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Know your enemy: rogue

Alterac Valley weekend just ended and I'm pretty much burnt out. I spent the majority of the day yesterday on my Alliance mage grinding honor (It's crazy how fast the Alliance can get honor in AV) but I did do a few battlegrounds on my druid.

Alterac Valley is a big enough map that even with 40 people on each side, there are still significant opportunities for one on one combat. At one point, I did a few with a guild mate and he came to tower point to find me dueling a warrior and both of us under 1000 health. It was funny really. He was on _his_ druid so he topped me off and I said "I woulda had him".

What he _didn't_ see was the druid I found in cat form at 60% health and the rogue who caught _me_ in cat form before I could finish the other druid off. Both were long dead and the tower had still burned but the warrior and I were still going at it. My friend's druid is getting to be pretty well geared but he still seems to marvel at how easily I handle some classes. He shouldn't. There are some classes that a feral druid can absolutely school. Take, for example, rogues...

Rogues are leather wearing, sneaking around, stabbing you in the back, stun locking, running away if things don't go their way, good for nothing wastes of oxygen who can't heal themselves. I mean that. That said, they also seem to be intended to be chew toys for feral druids...

There are three basic ways an encounter with a rogue will start:

1) They are stealthed and get the jump on you.
2) You are stealthed and get the jump on them.
3) Neither of you are stealthed.

If you get the jump on a rogue, you want to open with a pounce. Not only does this give you a chance to front-load some damage, it puts a bleed on the rogue and bleeds will, eventually, pull a vanished rogue out of stealth and cannot be removed by Cloak of Skill. Furthermore, bleeds still do damage during Evasion. Then I like to follow with a rake and a rip (even if it's only a 2 combo point rip) and then drop into bear form before Pounce wears off. 'Tis better to leave combo points on a rogue than to be stunlocked in cat form.

For scenarios 1 and 3, you want to get into bear form as soon as possible... OK. Maybe you don't... But I do. You see... rogues are a crit happy, melee damage class. Bears are designed to soak up crits and melee damage with insanely high armor.

If you get caught in cat or caster form, you want to hit Barkskin. You can cast it while stunned or feared and it will help you ride out the initial stun and mash your "Rawr bear!!" button repeatedly.

Once I'm in bear form, I like to open with Feral Faerie Fire. Not only does it reduce their armor, but prevents them from going into stealth - and that's a major objective because rogues have a number of very annoying abilities while stealth. Vanishing during a fight is a large portion of a really good stunlock. As an added bonus, FFF will frequently get a rogue to burn cloak of skill.

After FFF, I like to use Mangle to do a mess of damage and to increase bleed damage and then Demoralizing Roar. Not because it does much but because it's annoying... And if I'm at half health or more and the rogue doesn't have any friends, I'm going to win... It's just going to take some time. I'm going to use this time to annoy the rogue.

At this point, you're just tanking the mob... I mean rogue... So next come the lacerates. I like to do two or three and then mangle again and hit FFF every now and then just to make sure it doesn't run out. If there's an enemy healer nearby who might help the rogue out... Pull the mob... I mean rogue... Around a corner or a long way away from the healer. You're going to want privacy for this...

If the rogue tries to run away, I'll Feral Charge them to catch up to them and root them. Maybe bash them if it's up and cyclone them during the bash. That should eat up most of the duration of the sprint. Or... If I know dash is up, I'll go cat form and use that - if we're outside, I'll catch up to him eventually... Or... If they're low on health, I'll moonfire spam the runners.

If things aren't going my way... There's Frenzied Regeneration. If I know I'm going to be using that soon, I'll stop using special attacks to to build up some rage and make sure I get the full benefit. I've got macros that allow me to cancel form, pop a health potion and a charged crystal focus and then drop back into bear form. It's instant cast - you just have to make sure that your global cooldown is up or you'll get caught in caster form. And then there's the classic bash and heal. You might, say, Bash and hit rejuvenation, Lifebloom and then drop into bear form. For extra style points, move away from the rogue while you're doing this. It will take them a couple of seconds to catch back up, giving your HoTs a chance to kick in.

Why does this work? Well... Feral Faerie Fire removes a lot of a rogues most damaging abilities and bleeds draw them out of stealth if they get out of FFF. Bear form increases your armor by 400% (~440% for a properly specced tanking druid) and PvP armor has insanely high amounts of armor (I use at least 3 pieces for every day tanking because it's so awesome) and the Merciless Gladiator's gear is available to everyone through battleground honor points. In all Merciless gear (with season 3 and 4 PvP gear thrown in), you should be pushing 20k armor - which would absorb 60-65% of melee damage coming in. PvP gear also has crazy amounts of agility which increases your chance to dodge (probably upwards of 25%) and increases your chance to crit... And when you crit, you get 4% of your health back (effect not happening more than once every 6 seconds)... And in bear form, your max health goes up by... My estimates put it at around 63% with the right talents. Which means you're healing for 4% of... A lot. It adds up.

I've used these techniques to solo a cheat death rogue with dual warglaives who got the drop on me _before_ the cheat death nerf. It was close but I think we both knew that he'd need some lucky procs to win... He didn't get them.

So... The next time you "encounter" a rogue, don't panic. Just tank them.