Strategies and tactics

When raids go well, it doesn’t leave much to talk about in a blog post. Last week we downed Omnitron on the second attempt, Magmaw on the first attempt (I think), and Maloriak (guild first!) on the second attempt. Next week, we’ll probably try the two bosses of the Throne of the Four Winds, as they’re easier than the next lot of bosses in Blackwing Descent.

I’m having fun being in the progression part of raiding. When I first started in Karazhan at level 70, the guild had already been raiding it for some time. At level 80, I was a bit quicker off the mark and participated in a few guild first kills in Naxxramas, but it didn’t feel so ‘cutting-edge’ as it was an old level 60 raid that had been updated. Level 85 raiding is the first time that I’ve been experiencing new content at the same time as the guild – and at the same time as most other raiders. Of course, the world-first boss kills happened back in December by guilds that had been practising on the beta servers. But I don’t think that two months later is much behind the curve!

I don’t know how the beta testers work out the tactics for boss battles. I suspect that the game devs give the big guilds a run-down of the boss’s abilities and mechanics, but leave the raiders to figure out the strategy themselves. But I don’t really know. Because of the beta stage, even on the day of the official expansion release, there are guides and strategies for the raid bosses on the internet. These obviously improve as time goes on, and eventually they coalesce into the definitive strategy – the one that even pugs (pick-up groups) will know and can just get on with. However, we haven’t got to that stage yet. It’s interesting to see the different guides out there, and how they differ. Unless you happen upon an excellent guide, you generally can’t just use one resource and get the boss down on the first attempt. And even if you do get that perfect guide, your raid set-up will almost certainly need some adaptation (we all have different roles, gear and skill levels, and even the amount of lag can have an impact).

Let’s take the Omnitron Defense System (ODS) as an example. My quick and dirty explanation the other week, coupled with a list of each of the mini-bosses’ three abilities, is actually a decent explanation of the fight. But it doesn’t really describe what’s going on. Where are the bosses? Where does the raid stand? There are a lot of effects that require movement, and not seeing the space beforehand is problematic. Thankfully, most guides are better than my explanation (although I have seen some as bad…). A good guide will tell you what the bosses will do, and will give you a good idea of what you should be doing too. Pictures with arrows on can help, but for ODS this is less useful as positioning depends on the mini-bosses activated and there is a lot to adapt to.

A relatively new type of guide is the video guide (well, video guides aren’t new. Good ones have only been coming out for about a year or so, as far as I remember). Again, these vary in quality. A basic one will show you a run-through of the fight, with a commentary to tell you the boss abilities and basic tactics. The best ones are well edited to give you a view of the fight from different angles – the physical angles as well as the metaphorical ones such as tank perspective, healer perspective etc. Tankspot were the fore-runner of these kind of guides, but Yogscast seems to be a close second these days. Actually, I’m biased towards Yogscast, but that’s because they’re English and funny. I haven’t linked to their sites, as I find the easiest way to find their videos is via a quick Google search.

Hopefully, all the raiders will have looked at the boss abilities and some guides before the raid. But it’s up to the raid leader to pull these together and communicate the strategy the raid is actually going to use. With a lot of luck, the first attempted strategy will work, but it’s unlikely. It takes a good raid leader to then be able to adjust the tactics (with information and ideas from other raiders) for the next attempt to overcome the problems with the strategy. I say the problems with the strategy, because even if it falls down because of one or two people’s skill or gear – a good tactician can work around this and come up with a plan B.

I haven’t got a recent example for the plan B approach, so I’m harking back to the Naxx days, and Gluth. This fight had a big dog construct thing at one end of the room, and zombies that appeared at the other end. If the zombies reached Gluth, he would be healed for many hit points. The strategy guides all made short work of this by saying something like “The zombies should be slowed and kited by ranged, until Decimate (when everything in the room except Gluth is reduced to 5% health) when DPS should burn them down”. Easy! But not all potential kiters were rolled equal (‘kiting’ is when you drag mobs around without them hitting you – you hit them enough to keep aggro on them but keep running away). Hunters and mages are good, as they have area-of-effect slows and can do AoE damage. But mages can suffer from mana problems, and both classes can suffer from being dead if they make a small mistake. And by golly, those mistakes are easy to make on that fight. It’s a big ask for the kiter to keep alert and awake, wipe after wipe. It’s frustrating, when you do everything right and it still doesn’t work. It’s frustrating when you fumble your mouse and end up being Zombie Chow chow. (Yes – this is how tanking is all the time. But tanks get to practise what they do on every fight!) Many plan Bs were needed for this fight as kiters got tired, or weren’t in the raid that evening, etc.

Even though I’m in a casual guild, we still have excellent tacticians and people who can tell what’s wrong with a strategy and adjust on the fly. We also have people who can draw tactics pictures in MS Paint. It is purely for those of us without such talent that I will pimp Boss Blueprint as an alternative 😉

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