Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Beginning and an Ending

(written from the perspective of Ekaterinae)

"Is there anything I can take for this headache?" I moaned as I collapsed back into the fireside chair.

"Hey look on the bright side, you don't have to stitch up your robes too much tonight Ekat" replied Cazaldora, who had also taken up a spot by the fireside with cicero.

"I suppose, but I don't know if I will ever shake that atrocious laugh. It shakes you down to the core, drives you insane. And that was with the help of the Keepers. Just how will we manage alone in the darkness?" I questioned.

Cazaldora mused for a moment and took a long sip from her cup of tea. "We gained enough knowledge and experience to deal with less help than we had. We will overcome that demon god with his laughter, as we must to save Azeroth from extinction."

"Yes I know" I agreed. "I just need to recharge and put on a good face when we do take our strike force in there. There's nothing more disheartening than a discouraged leader."

"Well it's almost time to set up the team, so I think I will go to bed and think about my final decisions" Cazaldora stated as she rolled onto her feet.

As Cazaldora strided out of the room, I turned my attention back to the crackling flames in the fire. I found myself lost in the warmth and the flickering light, entrancing me and soothing my mind from the vicious intrusions of Yogg-Saron. Although my eyelids became very heavy, I couldn't help but detect a welcome tingle on the back of my neck that indicated Gaurin had arrived at the fireside.

"So are you ready to prove yourself to the Keepers of Ulduar?" Gaurin asked.

"I think so, although I am not looking forward to rejecting their help in the darkness of the prison of Yogg-Saron" I replied. "How about you?"

Gaurin took a long pause at that point, so I turned to face him. I could see something wrong in his eyes. "Well that's what I came over to talk about."

"What's wrong? I want you by our side, and I need you by my side, as a buoy to life our spirits in the darkness like you did tonight." I pleaded.

"It's not just this task. You will be absolutely fine with Caz, and you certainly do not need me. It's more than that." At this point Gaurin looked down to the scars on his hands. "You know I've been toying with the idea of retirement for a long time, and I just cannot neglect the urge to go make a life and have a family away from the edge of the battle. I do not know what challenges await us in the future, but in the plains of Westfall, I can rest and do those things long neglected."

"You've always been there for me, my closest companion on the front lines, chuga. It will not be the same without you" I opined.

Gaurin smiled "No it will not be, but we survived the loss of Gabranth and you'll survive my loss. After all, I will still be reachable, just not right here on the front with you. You are still young and full of battle ahead of you. In fact, I know you will do great things in Ulduar and then in Icecrown Citadel. Where you go from there is unclear, but I know you will return to a safe Azeroth as a triumphant champion."

I looked in his eyes to see if there was any glimmer of regret, or any hope of changing his mind. It was clear that was not going to happen. "I certainly hope so. Have you told Caz?"

"No, but as one of my closest companions out here, I'm sure she knows already. In fact, she probably knew before I did." Gaurin nodded toward her sleeping quarters and added "you know, she's in there right now and will be up all night thinking and re-thinking tonight's battle and the group you will return to Ulduar with."

I shook my head in affirmation. "Yeah, but that's why she is such a good leader."

Gaurin stood to leave, "I need to go pack my bags, as I've always hated goodbyes."

I let him get two paces away before leaping up and grabbing him in a huge embrace. I couldn't help myself from tearing up as I whispered "Thanks for everything, chuga, and please be safe in your journey back home."

Gaurin paused a moment before returning the embrace. "I'm not the one you should be worried about now. Wish Averlaine my best when you see her again. We may have had our differences, but she deserves to know that I always respected her and I hope she can be helpful to you in this hunt."

At this point, I could feel the hot tears running onto my cheeks as I released Gaurin from a literal bear-hug. "Alright, will do. Goodbye, friend."

As Gaurin retreated from view, I turned back to the fire. I expected to feel a deep emptiness sucking me into a tempestous sea of loss, but somehow getting engaged with the crackling flames again kept me afloat. It may be an ending for another close friend on the front lines, but it is only the beginning of the hunt for Algalon.

to be continued...

Patch 3.3.3 goes live with one big surprise

Two straight entries about being a tree! You'd think I was a tree hugger all of a sudden. But in game, I suppose I am. Ariel dinged a shocking 6 times in maybe 4 to 4.5 hours of gameplay this weekend. She also managed to level herbalism and alchemy in that amount of time to nearly 300 apiece. How did this happen at such a high level? Well when Patch 3.3.3 went live this week, the Call to Arms weekly holidays became more relevant thanks to honor bonuses being implemented for running the chosen weekend battleground. So I jumped into my first ever battleground at level 51 on Thursday night and I figured out how AV works.

After turning in some quests to get to 52, I parked myself in Feralas and sat in the queue while I herbed during the weekend play sessions. With the Call to Arms bonus, the first time you win AV in a day you get about 60% of a level instantly. After that each win is worth about 30-35% instantly. Add to that the 30k experience for capturing the four towers and killing the first general, and you rack up a lot of xp in a mighty hurry. So even when the battles turned into so-called "turtles" a couple of times, it's still more experience per hour than LFG, which takes longer to pop in the 50's, also known as Black Rock Depths levels. So without much effort, Ariel is now level 58. Such a perfect time for the Call to Arms weekend, and now I can skip into Outland and enjoy the questing and instances there. So good progress made.

Ekat also ran a couple raids, saw 25 man Yogg-Saron finally but did not down him. We came very close but ran out of time. I got the first waitlist spot for ICC-10 unfortunately again, so I jumped into the impromptu third run again and we got 3 bosses down without too much trouble. No loot, but I'm about 4-5 emblems away from a second tier piece. So my main also continues on her path.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Arielae - The Boss has focused on You!

Well the time has come and gone for interest in Navarionae, and considering he is not a healer, that should not come as a surprise. Thus, with Ekat simply raiding and doing frost dailies and Navar basically becoming a JC daily fiend and moneymaker DK, it is time to shift the focus back to the next leveling character. In this case, Arielae gets the focus because she is highest in the levels. In fact, she has now outpaced Bia and Clara by a wide margin. She hit level 50 this weekend, which is my third character to reach that level, and she has built up some good Feral Cat DPS gear and some good healing gear along the way. But the reason I wrote this short entry (other than saying ding 50) is to say one simple thing...


It's been a very long time since I got a new form, as Dire Bear and Cat and all those come in the first 20-25 levels as I remember. I had to respec a bit to fit in Tree of Life, but wow what a difference in my first random dungeon right after getting the Tree. All of a sudden, the healing game changed as Rejuvenation runs at all times on the tank and you cut it short at the end of the duration with Swiftmend for a massive instant heal. Mana is becoming less of an issue, and the heals are more powerful and swift. I'm sure the druid class still will wax and wane in strength through the levels, but Tree form now makes me feel like a natural healer again.

I've actually blown through rested time and now likely have to turn a bit more attention over to Bia and Clara again. However, Ariel is on the fast track and will certainly be my 3rd level 80 in a short while.

Also, the header of the blog has been updated to reflect some new pretty gear and heirlooms on Ariel and Bia. The team is above 17k gold, by pretty much making bags and cutting a couple epic gems when the raw material price is low. I need a tad over 25k to pay for all the leveling expenses of the three upcoming healers, so the business keeps churning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Very First PUG Story

Well it seems like everyone who has run a dungeon daily using the random dungeon LFG feature has found the terrible fail pick up group from time to time. And some of those transcend bad. They are so bad you tell all your friends about how awful this was, and how could this be? Well for those of us who PUG regularly, we get used to the normal bad that might send someone over the edge. However, there are still players out there who would top the incompetency charts if Recount kept track of that. I've probably even run into those before, but we've persevered in most cases and I've only ever been kicked from one group of spanish-speaking people who did not know how to do the fights in Pit of Saron and so blamed the english-speaking healer. Well I finally have a story, and it's only a week late for the contest my Horde guild ran to give away a Battered Hilt for the best fail PUG story. (Ok it's not THAT good, but it feels like it when it happens to you).

The other back note to the story is that after getting stuck with tons of Halls of Stone, my second hate hate hate instance is Nexus as it pops over 50% of the time for my daily LFG. It's ridiculous. I've never gotten Oculus at all, but Nexus, oh my all the time. Never thought I could grow to hate it, but sure enough, do it enough and you do. Going into this Sunday's LFG, I had done Nexus monday, dropped it Tuesday when tired, done it Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

So LFG pops and it is Pit of Saron in progress. Not a good sign. Well they were still on the trash leading up to the first boss, so I suppose it was a DC and not a fail group. We get up to Garfrost which requires basically one thing for your group. Stand behind saronite to get out of LOS so healers can keep up. If you do not and you are not a tank, you will die. Plain and simple. Well the first time the saronite fell in a bad place and the DPS never "found it" although the healer (me) was standing behind it. We tried again and same problem. I instructed the group of the strategy and the next pull, the saronite fell right beneath the boss. And the tank did not kite the boss away so we could get out of the AoE damage. Wipe wipe wipe. I had wanted to drop after the second wipe but I waited because my LFG timer was still high. At this point my timer was 2 minutes, so I dropped group.

After a requeue, the Nexus screen pops up. Somehow I'm not surprised. Karma bites me right in the tail. So we zone in and it's a beartank and some low-geared DPS. No big deal, I've had this group before plenty of times. Well despite the bear tank being nearly as well geared as me (which means likely ICC experience), this tank set a new record for failure of situational awareness. I don't think this bear could be nicknamed anything other than tunnel vision. Here's just a sample...

Scenario 1 - throughout the instance, there are patrolling packs of mobs around stationary ones. For some reason it seemed like every pack of patrolling mobs was completely ignored by the tank as he pulled a pack right as a pat approached. Hence, we had a ton of hard pulls. It did not matter because the tank and I were well geared, but still, it makes things a lot harder than it has to be.

Scenario 2 - a little later in the instance we are on the ramps and platforms in Anomalus's area. As every hunter knows or should know, jumping off the ramps is not what your pets do, so they always pull a pack of mobs behind the party if youd o not dismiss them. Over half the time we just deal with the mobs, but the hunter typically needs help if they are not overgeared. And we had a hunter who left his pet out. So while I trailed the group, I saw the hunter turn back to help his pet, I threw a couple heals and ran after the tank, who kept pulling. Then the hunter dies and the mobs come all the way up the platforms and catch up with us. Despite positioning myself on the other side of the platform, the tank somehow doesn't realize I've got aggro and runs up and pulls the boss. I end up having to fight off the mobs myself and we barely survive Anomalus.

Scenario 3 - After clearing Omorok, there is one big tree guy right at the doorway to Omorok's area that you can skip if you hug the wall. Well again the bear is charging ahead and the rest of us cleat except the hunter's pet. Well this time the hunter wises up and FEIGNS DEATH right next to me. So I get stunned and then pummeled to death. Meanwhile, the tank has engaged Keristraza the last boss.

As it turns out, one of the DPS saves the group because he was a paladin who knew how to use a healing spell. I ran back in and got to the boss just in time to cast 3 spells before she died, and the hunter DEMANDED A REZ. Needless to say, I dropped group having "earned" my frost emblems. How this tank ever gets through an instance with that level of tunnel vision I'll never know.

Protip #1 - If you feign death so a healer can die for your mistake, run back for goodness sake.
Protip #2 - If you are a tank and you don't understand the concept of situational awareness or keeping threat off the healer, you need to learn to play.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tier 10 Changes in Mid-Flight

When Tier gear is spoiled for a new raid patch, there's always tons of speculation and commentary on the new bonuses you get for collecting 2 or 4 of the 5 possible pieces of gear in the set. In fact, it is common for the masses and the theorycrafters to get the developers to change a Tier bonus before it goes live or tweak a bonus where the original bonus announced is not great or does not work well. For every single class and role within that class, Blizzard is challenged to come up with 2 new bonuses every single raid tier, and they try to mix in a lot more than just passive 5% buffs to a spell. So in my short time seeing the endgame, I've experienced firsthand the joys of Tier 7, 8, 9, and now 10. Now there were a lot of things grabbing my attention for frost emblems, including the tier 10 stuff. In fact, I started by saving up 95 emblems for the headpiece. But then I looked at the tier bonuses and it was just more efficient for me to make much more needed changes with my next emblems to the belt slot, although cape and trinket were also huge upgrade possibilities. I just could not justify even getting a second piece of tier 10 for the admittedly good Flash Heal bonus over the bigger bump in stats from the belt. So perhaps I'm not one to talk about Tier. However, this week Blizzard also let out on the PTR (public test realm) for Patch 3.3.3 a new 4-piece set bonus for healing priests. Here's the rundown currently.

OLD BONUS - Your Circle of Healing and Penance spells have a 20% chance to cause your next Flash Heal cast within 6 sec to reset the cooldown on your Circle of Healing and Penance spells.

NEW BONUS - Priest Tier-10 4-Piece Healing Set Bonus: This bonus now increases the effectiveness of the caster’s Power Word: Shield and Renew spells by 5%.

My jaw hit the floor when I saw this proposed change. Why, you ask? Well because until the past two weekends, I had not been raiding. So when healing a 5-man heroic that you overgear usually, you get into habits to make things more convenient or easy. For me, it was running discipline spec with Power Word Shield, Renew, and Prayer of Mending as my main weapons with Penance when I need a big heal. Thus, I am not exactly efficient but I cover most damage coming in without needing to rely on being reactive. So if there's two spells I cast an absolute ton, it's PWS and Renew. If this change goes live, this set bonus would be a real boon to my play style in 5-mans, which is what I do most of the time.

To be fair, the most effective raid healing as discipline does not use renew. Hell, even holy spec priests do not use renew a lot, especially when a druid is around. Rejuvenation is more efficient on mana by saving overheals and is just plain better than renew, even with holy talents boosting renew. Thus, the key spell for both specs is Flash Heal. However, that has already been boosted in the two-piece bonus, so we have to have some placeholder match for PWS and it's renew. The upshot is that for regular raiders who maximize their healing output, the new four set bonus is actually a downgrade! This may be hard to believe, but the blog universe has pretty much confirmed that those who have the 4-set bonus now know it boosts them more than a passive 5% bonus to PWS and Renew. Of course healing is not always about thoroughput, but when it is, that's when you need to shine. Put bluntly, when you are at your best, the old bonus is better.

So why is blizzard proposing a change then? Well for one, a lot of people are not saavy with macros and add ons that would allow them to know every time the old 4 piece bonus procs. Thus, they waste a lot of golden opportunities to use the bonus and that indeed makes a passive bonus more appealing. I myself am just getting in the hang of using two very powerful trinkets with an equip benefit and a use benefit every 2 minutes or so. But with a simple addon, you can have some indication on par with the light flashes that happen when a holy-spec priest has a free Flash Heal proc waiting. So that's no excuse, but the masses appear to be complaining or like me, just not buying tier 10 with their emblems. Although I had other reasons for upgrading elsewhere in my own gear progression, I can see if Blizzard sees very few priests using the 4 piece healing bonus then there must be something wrong. So they make a change. Or at least propose to make a change.

So even though this change favors the casuals and my own playing strategy, in the week of commentary that has passed since the announcement, I've gone from excited to totally against this change. Part of this is principle. Sometimes Blizzard makes tweaks that do not work, but that does not mean we should get our way as a playerbase every single time something happens that is minor, such as a tier bonus flopping. If something truly flopped, maybe you revisit it in a future tier. To make a change halfway into the heat of the ICC raiding cycle that completely changes the Tier-buying game makes everyone in favor of the change throw up their arms in disgust as all their precious emblems to date have been spent elsewhere. And if the normal person plays about as much as I do, then they only have 2-3 pieces of frost emblem gear so far. In time, we will all get the gear we want with the frost emblems, but for some people this change makes them feel awful about choices they made on old information. Usually tier bonuses do not change except in drastic circumstances, and the priest nation is now dealing with the potential consequences of that drastic action.

This is like pulling the rug out from under someone, and not unlike the changes to frost orbs. However, where frost orbs were not a huge deal, the end tier gear in an expansion is a big deal. Plus it is actually a downgrade for the best priests in the game. While the masses rejoice, they rejoice for a change they never got to experience before the change. This is like catering to the uneducated masses in politics, which happens but leads to very bad results usually. So although it is just a tier bonus, priests just got nerfed. And the tier bonus that went live in 3.3 is in fact not the tier bonus that people will go away into Cataclysm with. This is a bad change any way you slice it, and one I hope does not hit priests or any other class in the future.

Priest Tier 10 Changes...yay or nay?

Monday, March 1, 2010

An Interesting Twist of Fate

So I had a full weekend of bachelor time in the house this weekend without a honey-do list, which is probably an occurrence that will not repeat itself too often over the course of time. This was a well-needed chance to rest up and recharge the batteries for real without any guilt for being selfish with the me time. Did I accomplish anything over the weekend? Well I did some dishes and grocery shopping, but seriously, it was the just not caring that made things perfect. By a poor dash of luck, my guild was only running one raid this weekend because it was our 1.5 year anniversary and we promote veteran members to "knight" every 6 months for some very outstanding guildies. Or at least I like to think so as I was knighted 6 months ago! There were some fun events planned including a costume contest and a human dart contest (which I finished second in, argh!). Some very nifty outfits by the guild members, and a testament to all the detail that Blizzard puts into gear at all levels.

We also had a guild olympics event since seemingly half our guild is Canadian. The battle was to full clear Naxx in the quickest time. Just like the hockey game that ended the real Olympics, this battle was close right up to the end. Team Canada won by 20 seconds, which is astounding considering that we're talking about an 80-90 minute time window! I was a bit disappointed to be left out of the fun on that, but I was on team 2 for the 10-man ICC runs the next day so I consoled myself with a PUG VoA run since we finally won wintergrasp. This was my first look at the new boss, and while he is kind of healing intensive, there's nothing hard at all about this fight. Kind of disappointing really.

Well we get the boss down and the priest tier 10 DPS pants drop. Not PvP pants! Well there was another priest in the raid but obviously we both roll and I win with an 11. What a crappy winning roll! She asks if I want to sell it, but I cannot afford to with my first ICC coming up the next day. I also had accumulated just enough badges after VoA to buy a massive belt upgrade with frost badges. These two upgrades literally jumped my gearscore nearly 200 points in 10 minutes. Awesomeness!

The weird twist of fate comes in that we go to Icecrown Citadel and we do very well for the guild's second team. We downed all four bosses in the lower spire and made an attempt at Festergut after downing the two Gluth pets. We also downed a miniboss on the ramparts for the raid weekly quest, thereby racking up the emblems (like 16 or 18 total). However, absolutely zero cloth pieces dropped despite having 1 warlock and 3 priests in the raid! Normally I would be truly pissed because of wasting a bunch of gold on a progression raid with no benefit, but I was just on such a high after the raid. I think this was a confluence of four things.

1. It had been absolutely forever since I progression raided. After grinding out essentially two tier 10 level pieces by 2 badges per day (some days) and 5 badges per week (most weeks), to just immediately get 20 badges was thrilling. Plus I finally got to see past Lord Marrowgar, who is clearly the hardest boss in the lower spire in my humble opinion. I got to bring utility to the raid being the only real dedicated tank healer but also having the shadow spec back in the mix for the fourth boss when you need more DPS to knock down Blood Beasts. I think the last time I progression raided was ONE TIME in ToC-10. That's right, two raids ago for me was in Ulduar. Scary, no? Well there's just something fun about overcoming tough tasks together and progressing against the endgame, and I lost that feeling until yesterday.

2. I did get an upgrade, albeit a silly one. I blew through neutral and most of friendly in the Ashen Verdict rep grind, getting the first level of the awesome rings they give. So, while it's not a huge upgrade, I feel like I'm finally moving towards the best ring in the game right now.

3. The people. This is not a knock on Team A, but let's face it, Team A will always be more serious about progression raiding. And that's OK because I can take it seriously. But Team B has slightly less expectations and some really sweet personalities. Despite not raiding much for the past 4 months, I gelled with people I knew in the run and many people I did not know well. The main tank and I threw barbs in vent at each other for fun and we got along so well it's as if I've been running with him for ages. Furthermore, I was rusty...I made a mistake on gunship that wiped us and made a mistake and facepulled the third pull of the instance. Yet nobody yelled at me or told me to get my crap together, and others made mistakes as well, but it was no big deal. We kept at it and triumphed together. It made me truly proud to be a part of that group and makes me want to come back for more!

4. I got a chance to see a slight glimpse into the guild inner circle this past weekend (no, absolutely no details on how or substance...that's not proper). And let me just say I am thoroughly impressed with the guild officers and how they conduct business. It makes me feel very hopeful about the continued future of the guild that started right before I joined the game. It's just like the partners in my law firm. I have no idea how many tough decisions they have to deal with this this kind of economy, but I know if I did ever happen to be a fly on the wall (will never happen) I would probably find that we have the same kind of strong leaders in that group. Or at least I figure this is the case after seeing how we're still doing OK and hopefully starting to come out of the recession. One can be hopeful! But that's not here nor there. The point is, I saw a new side of our leaders that made me appreciate them even more.

So all in all, I never would have thought that I would luck into gear when I was out of ICC on the weekend, but that's how it goes sometimes. I sure hope I can find time to build some more relationships like this in the future. Of course helping Mikola run the Ulduar hard mode events is one way to keep this going, so let's hope that goes well.