Beware of the Great Bear in the sky

I love it when the game makes fun of me for whining.

Wah, everything seems so mundane, nothing's even worth taking a screenshot of, yadda yadda yadda.

Then I fly towards the Whistling Grove to do Those Bears Up There and see this:

So, Shintar, how does that make you feel?




Thanks, WoW, for making me laugh. Even if it's at glitchy graphics.

As an aside, I have no idea how that happened, other than that it seemed to be the bear cub that by boyfriend's character had already been holding up for some time, while waiting for me to finally stop being distracted and catch up. I guess they really get quite heavy after you hold them up for a while...


I like long queues and I cannot lie

I think one more reason that I've been playing my hunter more lately is that I enjoy having slightly longer queues in the dungeon finder, even if dps queues are pretty short these days anyway. Yes, you read that right. I like to wait. I do not like instant or really short queues.

Am I mad? Maybe.

I understand why people like to have short queues. They have limited time to play and want to get to the content that interests them as quickly as possible. However, while I've generally adjusted to the dungeon finder like everyone else, this attitude of a dungeon being something that you do during your lunch break is still one that I can't quite wrap my head around. In my mind a dungeon should be (and in early WoW, it was) an epic adventure, and that takes time, including time for preparation beforehand. So I never queue for an instance unless I know that I've got plenty of time to spare, way more than the actual run should take up. That one time when I was late to work because I had agreed to heal a Halls of Stone run when I really didn't have the time for it was enough, thank you.

Joining the dungeon finder as a tank is still a bit of a culture shock to me every time. "Hm, I guess I could do a dungeon..." BAM! Here's your group! You're in the instance! Now gogogo! There's no "sure I'll tank the daily for you, just find us some more dps" and the associated idling around. No "I can tank a run for you, a bit later". It's now or never. It's kind of funny, because people complain about how everyone always expects the tank to lead, but the thing with the dungeon finder is, the tank is the leader before the party has even formed! Join up now and lots of people will follow you into a group (even if it's fully automated). Wait a little longer and everyone else in the queue has to wait too. It's more power than I ever wanted.

More importantly though, instant queues mean that running a dungeon or doing something else (such as questing for example) is always an either/or decision. Either you queue up for a dungeon and run it now, or you don't. You can't queue up now and join later. You can decide to do something else now and queue up later. But the moment you queue up, you instantly have to stop whatever else you've been doing.

The result of this is that I'm always struggling to get more than one thing done on my tanking characters, because I'm very wishy-washy at decision making. If I start questing with the intent of doing an instance later, I'll keep wondering when I'll find the right moment to queue up... but I'm in the middle of questing, I don't want to interrupt myself now! /whine. Then I just end up questing the whole evening and wonder where the time went. On the other end of the spectrum, I'll queue up for an instance as soon as I log on, then find myself back in Orgrimmar half an hour later and go: "Huh, what was I going to do again? Nothing important I guess, if I'm still sitting in Org. I can do another dungeon I guess..." Rinse and repeat, and I never even get out of the city.

Being a healer is not much better. Usually you'll have at least a few minutes of wait time, which gives you a chance to mentally prepare yourself for whatever lies ahead, but at the same time it's usually too little to get anything done properly, and the pop-up will appear at the most inconvenient moment, before you've even had time to finish taking care of your mail, or while you're in the middle of your first daily quest. This just leaves you wondering why you even bothered to start anything. Of course if you do not start anything while waiting, the wait time will grow longer and longer and longer while you tap your foot, waiting for something to happen already.

A queue of twenty minutes or more is a wonderful thing on the other hand. You can go out and actually get some things done, whether it be quests, farming crafting materials or working on your archaeology.

You could rightly argue that technically, there's no difference between me questing for twenty minutes and then joining a dungeon via an instant queue, or joining a twenty-minute queue and then questing for the duration of the wait time. The end result is the same! And the instant queue has the advantage that if you don't want to do quests or anything else, you'll never be left with spare time between dungeons where you have nothing to do. How efficient.

Unfortunately there's this thing called the human mind, and it likes to play tricks on us. I already explained my dilemma about whether I should join up to get an insta-party now, or later, or never, but on the other end of the spectrum there is waiting. Waiting is a funny thing, because technically it's not an activity, it's a state of mind. While you sit around and read or do whatever, you're thinking about something that you expect to happen soon, ready to stop your current activity in its favour. Yet somehow this still feels like something that we're doing actively, so if I'm waiting in the queue and doing some quests at the same time, I actually feel like I'm multi-tasking and consider myself wonderfully efficient. When there is no queue to wait in, I can only ever do one thing at a time. How sad.

Also, anticipation. I hardly need to explain how it makes everything you like just that little bit better. Now dungeon finder pugs may not always turn out to be great, but I wouldn't be queueing up for one if I didn't expect the experience to be enjoyable in some way, and the longer I wait for it, the more I get to be excited about it. Which is not very excited, I'm not that crazy. But a little. Ooh, only five minutes to go on the estimated wait time, any moment now!

The only WoW queues I don't like are those where the game can't even give me an estimate. It makes me fidgety. In the battleground queue, you have no way of telling how close the system is to actually getting a game together. Are we just one person away from having a Warsong Gulch match? Or have less than five people been in the queue for this for the entirety of the last hour? In the dungeon finder you get to see which roles can currently be filled by the system, but that doesn't make it much better. If you've ever had a really long wait where you saw people join up for different roles and then leave again (maybe because they were put in a different group), then you'll know that it's just another type of agony, making you wish you knew who that person who just got greyed out was, so you could reach out to them and beg them to stay for just five more minutes, you almost had a full party there...!

But generally? I'm cool with waiting in queues. It adds another dimension to the game where getting into groups instantly falls kind of flat for me.


Nostalgia and doubts

My guild turned five years old the other day, which I considered a reason to celebrate. I've always found that "internet time" seems to operate under different principles than real time, meaning that things come and go much more quickly because it's very easy to put a new website up or to take an old one down. It's amazing for me to think of all the forums and community sites that I've been a part of over the years, the drastic changes they've undergone and how many of them have even vanished completely. With that in mind, a guild in an MMO surviving for five years is pretty damn good in my opinion, even if it's gone through a lot of changes during that time as well.

It's not all sunshine and roses however. While working on commemorating the occasion, I went through a lot of old screenshots and blog posts of mine, and it was a somewhat strange experience. Nostalgia is always bittersweet, happy memories combined with the knowledge that those events and people are in the past and gone forever. You can never go back to how it was; I know that. Yet still, looking at those memories captured in pictures and words, I did find myself wondering about why some things have changed.

For example I came across some (what I thought were) absolutely gorgeous screenshots of boss fights in action. "How come I never take pictures like that anymore?" I asked myself. The answer? Probably because I'm a ten-man healer now instead of a twenty-five-man damage dealer. Many of those pictures were taken while I was hugging the floor and people were still struggling to salvage a fight gone bad. I was only one of over a dozen dps, I was expendable for at least a while. This kind of thing never happens anymore. Healing ten-mans is srs business. If I die - or any other healer for that matter - we'll end up wiping pretty quickly, whether we want to or not. No time for distractions!

As much as I do love healing, I'm wondering whether spending some more time as dps again wouldn't be good for my sanity. I've been running random Zulroics on my hunter but no other characters lately - is that my subconscious trying to tell me something? And today a guildie invited me to join a Baradin Hold pug with my hunter and I was thrilled I tell you. Thrilled! Not having to worry about anything but blowing shit up? Sign me up!

But then, raiding as a whole seems to have lost a lot of its luster for me. I found an old blog entry about the first time my guild downed Magtheridon, and I quoted a guildie as describing the reaction on voice chat as similar to a "mass orgasm while trapped in a burning building". Compare that to our latest first kill, Beth'tilac: my boyfriend wasn't in the raid, just occasionally glancing over my shoulder from the sofa, until he suddenly said: "Oh, you got her down then!" He hadn't been able to tell because I hadn't had any kind of reaction to the kill. It's also a world of a difference compared to the nights when I'm doing rated battlegrounds, constantly giggling at some nonsense that's being talked about in chat in-between games, and keeping my eyes glued to the screen at the exclusion of everything else just to keep our flag carrier alive for a couple more seconds.

And the sad thing is, I don't even know why. Out of all the parts of WoW that I believe lost some of their appeal over time, raiding would probably be dead last. Yeah, personally I would have preferred tens and twenty-five-mans to remain separate, but Blizzard still makes some great encounters regardless. Yet somehow... something is missing. There's a definite feeling of going through the motions to it all - and not just with raiding actually.

Again, looking at those really old blog posts about how I used to spend my time in game... wow! No plans, just messing about. Log on, see if any friends are online, then do something together, even if it's just mucking about in Stranglethorn in some way. Nowadays it's: log on, do some solo activity to progress my character, log off again. I could wait for friends to do something together, but all too often that random dungeon or battleground button is too tempting.

I don't know how much of it is simply due to the game itself changing and how much is me, but it's certainly food for thought. I'm enjoying the game in its own way still, but while there is no going back in time, I still can't help but wonder whether I couldn't have more fun with it if I managed to return to my roots in at least some aspects. The problem is that it's hard to break established habits, and you can't be a true noob twice. You can't "un-know" what you already know about the game, such as all the rewards you're missing out on by choosing a less focused approach. But can you still try?


Random Firelands Dailies Thoughts

So how is everyone doing with the new Firelands dailies? I have a couple of guildies who've been doing them religiously and have by now unlocked the second vendor or so; I'm not sure as I haven't quite been keeping up myself. I was trying to originally, but I prefer to team up with my boyfriend who doesn't feel like doing them every day, and once I realised that acquiring more marks of the world tree on my own would only cause us to get out of sync I gave up on it.

I quite like the dailies in Mount Hyjal, they are fun and reasonably varied. Sethria's Roost is becoming a bit of a social hangout as people like to team up and take out the mobs there together, seeing how the credit gets shared automatically and everyone gets their quests done more quickly that way. I found that with all the helpful NPCs that you get, you can actually solo the elites quite easily even as a healer, but it's slow and certain abilities can get quite annoying if your class/spec doesn't have any good means of countering them (for example an interrupt to prevent the Seething Pyrelords from putting their reflective shields up).

I do kind of wonder where all those NPC druids come from. Weren't druids supposed to be semi-rare once upon a time? Now there seem to be four of them for every player regardless of class... Also, I can't decide whether the random named NPCs that show up to help you are simply funny or bordering on ridiculous. They make funny quips while fighting, but I can't help but find it slightly weird that Mog'dorg the Wizened for example has come all the way from Blade's Edge Mountains just to help me with my dailies. People like Budd or the paladins from Eastern Plaguelands make sense to me, but... Chromie? I thought you'd be better than having to do dailies like some random schmuck!

I'm a bit undecided about the Molten Front itself. I've enjoyed watching the tree grow (the "personal phasing" works quite well as far as I'm concerned), and I like that the initial set of dailies are all very forgiving towards people who may not be very well-geared or questing in a non-dps spec. There are so many NPCs around and fighting that it's easy to pick and choose your battles even when it's busy. I think Burn Victims is also the first daily in the history of ever where being a healer actually gives you a slight advantage! On the other hand, the quests are fairly repetitive, with every day consisting of the same round of mob-killing and clicking on some sparklies on the ground. I don't mind plain old kill quests at all if I can construct my own story around them, but if they are supposed to be part of an epic pre-made story of how I single-handedly conquer the Firelands by doing daily quests (or something) then I expect a bit more.

The quests for the Shadow Wardens and the Druids of the Talon are a bit more challenging in terms of mob density and respawns; I wouldn't want to be caught out there on my own or I'd get mauled pretty quickly. I also find it a bit annoying that you have to do the first round of Molten Front dailies every day to be able to access the other two factions; it would be nice if you could simply pick and choose once you've unlocked them the first time.

How does the Forlorn Spire keep getting rebuilt every day anyway? This really strikes me as one of the worse quests to make a daily out of. I can't help but picture a bunch of Sons of Ragnaros or imps slaving away, doing nothing but rebuild that spire, day after day, and sighing in exasperation when those bloody druids tear it down yet again.

Druids of the Flame possibly have the most annoying mob sound effects ever. Every time I kill one, it feels as if I'm facing off against a miniature Sindragosa, and there are quite a lot of them... /twitch.

Enduring the Heat seriously traumatised me the first time I did it. Now that I know how to do it it's stupidly easy, but the first time I just kept wondering WTF was going on since I could hardly see anything for all the fire elementals piling on my head, fell into the lava and then struggled for ages to climb back out again.

Falling off Fireplume Peak and getting rescued by a druid who dumps you in a random place is fun exactly... once. Then you just want to be able to get on with it.

I've only had a brief look at what I'm working towards next, but talking to the lady standing next to the empty moonwell really made me thoughtful. From the way she talks about it, filling up the moonwell would have been a perfect excuse for a daily quest, transporting a bit of water through the portal every day, and maybe working some kind of enchantment to prevent it from evaporating. Instead, we are tasked with gathering some arbitrary currency, and once we pay her the right amount of marks, it'll all happen on its own. Somehow this doesn't feel very adventurer-like. Instead of actually doing the thing I want to do (fill up the moonwell), I "work" by killing mobs to earn enough currency to let someone else do it. Reminds me a lot of the "running heroics to get raid gear" debate.

Looking at the big picture, I'm also still undecided on how I feel about the system of daily tokens slowly unlocking new vendors that sell things for gold, instead of the vendors opening up fairly quickly and the player having to grind out tokens to buy their wares, as it was done at pretty much all previous daily quest hubs. I don't like that the current method encourages reading up outside the game quite so heavily. In-game you have no way of knowing which future vendor will actually sell something that you'll want, so if you just play and pick whatever you like the sound of, you may end up getting very disappointed and feeling like you wasted a lot of hours of token-grinding. (EDIT: As commenters have pointed out, you can in fact see the vendors' wares before unlocking them. Hooray!) On the other hand it feels less demanding, as there is a clear end in sight - unlocking all the vendors - whereas acquiring tokens as currency often left you feeling like you always needed more because there were just so many things to buy.


Bad in Blackrock

I continue to be amazed at the current state of pugs for the old heroics. I honestly couldn't make up things as bizarre as the behaviour that some players display there. Good thing I was on my hunter on Friday night, feeling relatively unaffected by other people's failures, and in one of those moods where I was able to detach myself emotionally and just laugh at the whole situation from a distance.

Basically, I had queued up for an old random heroic because I didn't just want to run Zuls and nothing else, and because my hunter still has an old trinket for which about three possible drops in the old heroics would serve as good replacements. I ended up in Blackrock Caverns with a druid tank, accompanied by a priest healer from his guild, a mage and a dps warrior who did over 20k dps on the first pull. Clearly he was an experienced valour point farmer who was also aching for a bit of variety. He would soon regret it.

My spider sense started tingling as soon as the tank decided to pull the first boss with the vast majority of the trash in the room still alive. When I'd seen people try the same thing in the past, he had always called for help and pulled everything nearby into the fight regardless. This time however he didn't, the druid pulled the boss back into the tunnel and I thought "oh well, I guess it works after all". Then the boss suddenly turned around, ran back into the middle of the room to cast his chain spell, and landed us all smack in the middle of three different trash pulls. Mayhem ensued and we wiped.

The druid apologised, we chucked it up to the learning experience and ran back. This time we cleared the room beforehand and killed the boss without any further problems.

On Corla, the druid launched into a lengthy explanation of the fight even though nobody had asked for one and at least one person had asked to just pull already. He also explained it wrong, claiming that the transformation happened at 80 stacks, which we corrected him about. Eventually we started the fight, and the mage messed up despite of the explanation, causing us to wipe again. He apologised though and promised that he'd do it right next time. So he did. I took note of the warrior interrupting all of Corla's fear like clockwork.

When we approached Karsh Steelbender, the druid asked for tactics, claiming that he had never done this boss before. After his elaborate explanation of Corla, this didn't strike me as a very good sign. I misdirected the fire elementals on him when they were on the far side of the boss and explained the strategy. "Oh, I remember! I have done this before!" he exclaimed all of a sudden... and proceeded to pull the boss and just tank him next to the pillar. After a while the warrior ran to the other side and taunted the boss briefly to pull him through and melt his armour. After that the druid seemed to get the idea, though he still moved the boss in a fairly messy manner. We got add spawns several times, but the warrior just soloed them and they appeared to have been stealth-nerfed to not leave lava puddles upon death anymore, which made them a complete non-issue. Anyway, the boss died.

Up to this point I hadn't really considered the run bad. A bit bumpy perhaps, with the better players having to compensate for the worse ones, but that's not at all unusual in a pug. However, things were going to get a lot more interesting still. I foolishly hoped that I would be able to watch Castle in a few minutes, seeing how the last boss was just around the corner... oh, how wrong I was going to be.

We killed the elemental patrol and snuck past the first trash pack on the side by running along the wall. Then the druid asked me to trap the closest mob belonging to the second pack, so that we could "run past it". I probably should have known that this wasn't going to be a good idea, considering the druid's earlier displays of expertise, but with 4.2's crowd control changes, who knew? So I did as he asked, we walked past and I feigned for good measure. Then he pulled Beauty. The trap ran out and the entire mob pack joined the fight, causing us to wipe.

On second thought I realised that I had had a similar wipe to this one in Zul'Aman before, on a different character. I think it's highly ironic that a change that was introduced to make pugging less painful has ended up adding another way for people to wipe stupidly, though I guess I can't blame the players entirely for this one. After all it's very unintuitive for CC not to cause aggro when you cast it, but then cause aggro when it runs out. Sap doesn't do that, and people think that everything works exactly like sap now. Let this be a public service announcement that this is not the case.

Anyway, the funny thing is, the druid didn't even notice. While running back he just talked about how he was confused by the fact that the pups and Beauty aggroed all at once, and when I brought up the trash mobs joining in he was just bewildered. This is when the warrior decided to throw in the towel and left. Then the healer, who was the druid's friend, dropped as well. "Sorry guys," the druid said, "but my healer friend wants to do ZA/ZG so I'm going to leave too." I think I laughed out loud at the screen. If you can't even make it through BRC, you're not doing anyone a favour by queuing for a Zulroic instead.

The mage and I made it back to the trash pull in question and requeued. After about a minute we got a new druid tank in heroic tier eleven gear, another priest healer and a shadow priest. "Oh good," I thought, "this should be finished quickly then". We finished killing the trash. As I tried to move on, I noticed that I was taking damage because the healer hadn't bothered to dispel the shadow prison debuff, so I stopped and waited for it to wear off. Our tank didn't and kept running until he fell over and died at the entrance to Beauty's lair. /facepalm. Once again, heroic raid gear is no indicator of anything.

Meanwhile, the healer asked the mage to create a table. The mage told him that he didn't have reagents on him. The healer ignored this response and kept repeating his request, adding a swear here and there for good measure. The mage finally got him to acknowledge his response by repeating it in all caps. I think they tried to manually trade a stack of food after that, but the mage claimed that it didn't work. Eventually the priest just said "fine" and ported out to fetch some of his own drinks.

The rest of us sat around and waited. Finally the healer ported back into the instance and said "ok go", no less than three times - while he was still at the instance entrance. The tank didn't pay attention to the priest's actual location and just took him by his word. Of course we wiped with no heals. "I didn't mean go right now," the priest snarked in an exasperated tone. What the hell did he mean then? Who says "gogogo" when they don't actually want the tank to pull?

We ran back in and gathered up once again. Except... we were still missing our healer. He was dawdling around somewhere in the middle of the instance, claiming to be lost and demanding that someone should come and fetch him, though as soon as someone started moving he said that he had finally found his way.

When he arrived, we finally got to kill Beauty, though it was awkward and took ages. The druid didn't want any CC and just tanked everything, but nobody but me bothered to dps the adds. When I noticed this I eventually switched to Beauty as well, since me staying on the pups on my own wasn't going to achieve anything. Afterwards the healer chided us for having bad dps, saying that we really needed to pick up our game even if his healing was "grate" [sic].

On the next pull he then just let the tank die and dropped group mid-combat. Okaaay. Our next healer was a paladin called "Deathlol" (with some accents), which I thought was hilariously appropriate. With him we finally finished the instance. I offered to kite the adds on the last boss even though I wasn't very good at it, but apparently I've improved over time as we got the Ascendant Descening achievement. I also got a new bow, but my tv show was already halfway over by then. Two bosses and three trash pulls really shouldn't take over half an hour, but I guess you can't win them all.


Just Another Day in Tol Barad

I've fallen in love with Tol Barad recently - not so much the PvP battle, which I join only rarely, but the zone itself (which includes the peninsula). I know, I'm very much behind the times, considering that it's all happening at the Molten Front these days. Nonetheless it was only recently that I realised that Tol Barad is a zone with a certain "old school" charm, reminding me more of what the game used to be like than some of the revamped low-level zones do these days.

For one thing, you can actually die in Tol Barad, and once again I'm not referring to PvP here. Presumably this is already becoming rarer and rarer, what with people having better gear available to them faster than a few months ago, but still... when I first started doing dailies in Tol Barad, I got my little green butt kicked by mobs quite a few times. I was questing in a healing spec, true, but for the better part of Wrath this hadn't been a problem, so it was still a shock to the system for me. Initially I was rather ticked off by this too - it doesn't matter how much I want the game to encourage grouping, when you're used to tackling content on your own and then it unexpectedly knocks you down a peg, that's off-putting. However, as it often goes with these things (for me at least), what frustrates me initially becomes all the more fun once I've mastered it, and this was the case with the Tol Barad dailies as well.

Then there's the fact that it's an outdoor zone where you can't fly. Don't get me wrong, flying mounts are great when you just want to get from one point to the other as quickly as possible, but if you're actually playing out there in the world, there is something to be said for experiencing it from the ground (as I already discovered over a year ago).

Varied terrain makes for great gameplay. Hands up if you've ever got yourself killed trying to ride past a load of densely packed mobs straight towards your quest objective, just to end up getting dismounted and mugged. (Or maybe that's just me...) Ever got caught off-guard by Tank because you couldn't move as fast underwater as he swims? Personally I love levitating off Largo's Overlook. I've also hurled myself off the bridge connecting the two islands and swam around to escape gankers that were trying to prevent people from returning to the peninsula right after a battle. All of these little things would never happen in that form if we could just have our multi-coloured dragons drop us off exactly where we want to be at any time.

Also, you actually get to meet people. With all the portals and teleports and phasing, I don't get to see much of the rest of my server other than whoever happens to be standing next to me when I log on in Orgrimmar. But in Tol Barad, people actually come together to do things other than read their mail, and it increases awareness of (what's left of) the server community. You remember the guild tag of the guy who stepped in to help you take down Problim. You happily wave at the former guildie whom you haven't seen in a long time, and he follows you around to skin the dead crocolisks you leave behind. Nothing invokes a feeling of "the good old days" for me like little interactions like that.

Finally, and this may sound a bit weird, I like Tol Barad because its quests are a little dull. No exciting adventures here, just lots and lots of quests to kill ten spiders/pirates/ghosts and gather eight hides/ghoul bits/rifles. Again, this is very reminiscent of vanilla WoW and makes the zone a great place to quest in if you just want to kill some time pressing your buttons, without having to worry about story, cut scenes, activating the right quest item or any of that fancy stuff. Just kill everything that moves and click on the sparkles.

The lore is also somewhat thin, and I actually find this amusing because it allows people to make up their own stories. As one of my guildies remarked, the quests tend to not really tell you anything about what you are supposed to do and why beyond "these things are in our way, so kill them". What is up with Rustberg Village? Why are we being sent to kill its poor villagers over and over? Every time I go there I just see people trying to build houses and catch some fish, races of the Alliance and the Horde living together in remarkable harmony. Or as one of my guildies put it: "I just see 'suspicious villagers'. I'd be suspicious too if someone kept stealing all my seabass every day!" Are we really the good guys here? /cue ominous music. For some reason little mysteries like that are way more entertaining to me in game than epic cut scenes.

I wonder if the Molten Front dailies will ever invoke similar feelings in me. From what I've seen of it so far, the Firelands look very different.


Point Madness

I've expressed concerns in the past about the way the badge/point system is developing, and I have to say that the latest patch hasn't really been helping matters in my eyes.

First, there has been the recent debacle of the PvP season ten start. Now, there are several different things that went wrong with this, but let me briefly sum up the point that I consider the most annoying, in terms that someone who only ever plays PvE would understand. Imagine you've spent the last couple of months raiding and are now in full ilevel 359 gear or higher. Then Firelands comes out... and along with it, Blizzard releases a new tier of justice point vendor gear that is six ilevels higher than anything you're wearing, while telling you that this is what they intend you to wear before starting in Firelands. Would you relish the thought of grinding out over 22k justice points in five-mans before getting back to raiding? No? Well, this is pretty close to what happened to PvPers in the past week.

I'm currently feeling a little bit of trepidation when thinking about my first night of rated battlegrounds coming up tomorrow. I thought I was ready for the new season after having worked my way up towards a full set of gear in the previous one, but thanks to the aforementioned change every single piece of my gear is now worse than what's available from random battlegrounds at the moment. I really don't want to let my team down... but I honestly also don't have the stomach to grind out over 22k honour in randoms. All I can hope for is that more people feel the way I do and that we won't just be steamrolled by teams who've got all the new gear already. But it's a downer for sure.

All is not rosy in PvE either however. I read an interesting post at Kurn's Corner today, and while I won't go into detail about which parts of it I agree and disagree with, I did come away from it with a lot of interesting bits of information. For example I hadn't even done the maths to realise that killing all of tier twelve on ten-man normal mode would still give me less valour than doing random heroics. That's just depressing. Likewise I hadn't been aware that three out of the five new tier pieces will be available from vendors only, and aren't even included in the loot tables of any Firelands bosses. Again, I find that pretty sad considering that tier sets used to be the iconic pieces of raid loot. Now we won't even have the option of collecting our tier exclusively from boss drops. Kurn eventually concludes that boss loot isn't all that anymore, and that it's all in the valour points, which are easier to get via five-mans than via raiding. I do think that's kind of messed up.

This then leads to the inevitable idea that raiders have to farm five-mans to continue raiding. I have a couple of guildies who have been doing their seven Zuls a week since the patch, but personally I just shudder at the idea. I like doing five-mans, but not in a seven-days-a-week-and-for-months-on-end kind of way. In fact I dare say that my refusal to farm instances like crazy is part of why I still like them. I can't imagine that many players could keep up that kind of play style without eventually burning out on the content. I do feel sorry for people who feel that they have to play like that to be competitive, but personally I'll be quite happy to not be competitive in this case.

Aside from the issue of simply overdoing it, I reckon that right now is also a bad time for enjoyable randoms in general. I always have the best runs when the rewards have lost some of their shine already and people only really go back because they like dungeons. Grumpy made an impressive post the other day about just how bad some pugs can be right now and I've had similar experiences.

The first time I decided to brave a random heroic since the patch I did so on my shaman. I got heroic Stonecore, no biggie. The first pull went atrociously though; the tank didn't have aggro on half the mobs, nobody interrupted anything and there were some deaths as I frantically struggled to keep people alive through the madness. Afterwards more than one person (three of them were from the same server, I think they must have been buddies) immediately started to insult me, calling me a terrible healer and an idiot. Now sometimes rudeness like that can get to me, but in that case it was just so utterly ridiculous that I could only laugh. I said that there was only so much any healer could do if there was no control on the pull and that they could kick me if they wanted to. Of course they couldn't, because people like that already lost their vote-kick privileges aeons ago. The dps paladin respecced to holy to back up my oh-so-terrible healing and we continued with two healers. People still died! We even wiped once, with two healers doing overtime, because it was just that bad. I mostly hung around to see whether the other two would make any more smartass comments now that their mate couldn't keep them up either, but everyone was quiet. On Corborus we wiped even faster than I expected, as the tank barely even had aggro half the time and nobody dpsed the crystal shard adds so they blew up in everyone's face. At this point the other party member who wasn't part of the amazing trio left, and I followed his example - no deserter debuff and my cooldown was up so could requeue right away. Still, that must have been the worst group I've had since the Cataclysm hit, and that's saying something. Beware!

Anyway, where was I? Yes, valour points. You don't want to go crazy grinding them because you'll burn yourself out, you're putting yourself at an exceptionally high risk of getting grouped with rude and stupid puggers right now, and also... have you thought about 4.3 yet? There have been no news about that patch yet, but I reckon that it's going to be at least another six months away. Now, I did some maths and if I were to buy every single valour item that's useful to my main (that's assuming that no boss will ever drop any viable alternative for that slot), I'd need 9800 valour points, which is as much as you would have after grinding to the weekly cap ten weeks in a row. If you really did reach the cap every single week... this would then leave you with over three months of valour points going to waste (as a raider you'd still get some from boss kills after all). Does that really sound that appealing? I know it doesn't to me.

Firelands was designed to be beaten in tier eleven gear. Bringing my best to the raid, to me as a relatively casual raider, doesn't mean having to outgear the place from the start. There's nothing wrong with maxing out your valour points if you really enjoy it of course, but if it just feels like an annoying grind to you - remind yourself that you're in this to have fun. The Firelands bosses won't get any stronger in the time it takes you to gear up more slowly.

Which brings this back to the PvP note at the start of this post - I feel worse for the PvPers, because if you decide to say "screw the crazy grind" as a PvPer, there's still a chance that you'll run into opponents who have done it and who will hurt you all the more for having taken your time.


Miss Medicina's healing questionnaire revisited

Remember Miss Medicina's healing questionnaire from about two years ago? No? Well, either way, Saunder from Non-Squishy Heals would like to revive it, and he asked me to fill it in as well. Why not, I thought, the game has changed quite a bit since then and it should be interesting to see whether my answers to the questions have changed as well compared to last time. So, without further ado:

What is the name, class, and spec of your primary healer?
Shintar, holy priest.

What is your primary group healing environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)
With Shintar I mainly heal ten-man raids these days. Once a week I also do rated battlegrounds, and with 4.2's new valour items I might be coaxed into healing the occasional five-man as well, but generally I'm not keen on doing five-mans on my raiding character.

What is your favorite healing spell for your class and why?
I'm really fond of the different holy words associated with Chakra. The instant heal on a short cooldown from Holy Word: Serenity is just awesome and I wouldn't want to have to do without it anymore, and the glowy floor caused by Holy Word: Sanctuary - while situational - is both visually impressive and fun to place. Also, they do feel kind of special for not being available to me at all times.

What healing spell do you use least for your class and why?

Desperate Prayer. I actually specced into it for PvP but I've got it on some really convoluted keybinding that I can never remember when I would need it the most. Holy Nova is still not very useful as an actual healing tool, but it does a decent job at interrupting flag caps in PvP. That said, I have to say that Blizzard has done a really great job at making all the other healing spells viable for holy in some way or another this expansion, even after they added no less than three new ones. Body and Soul gives me a reason to cast the occasional shield even as holy, and even Lightwell has finally gained some acceptance. That's pretty damn impressive in my opinion.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of your healing class and why?
That we have lots of fun spells to play with and can produce a considerable amount of burst AoE healing.

What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your healing class and why?

I may be imagining it, but I've got a vague feeling that we're starting to fall behind a bit in terms of mana regen. I healed a Zul'Aman run the other day and was running low after nearly every single trash pull. I'm fully raid geared, that really shouldn't be happening in a five-man! Maybe it was just that particular group, but I'm not sure. It seems to me that in raids the other healers also always have more mana left at the end of a fight than me.

In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best healing assignment for you?
I don't really know, as I haven't set foot in a 25-man in over a year! I would guess that holy priests still shine as raid healers.

What healing class do you enjoy healing with most and why?

I find this one hard to answer because our current raid healing roster is pretty much all priests, all the time, so I haven't had much interaction with other healing classes in a while. I'm not sure if PvP counts, but I love it when a paladin has my back there, because I know they'll keep me up if I get focused. Then again, a lot of this is also about trust and mutual understanding between players, regardless of which class they play.

What healing class do you enjoy healing with least and why?

See above. Though I have the vague feeling that druids are lagging behind a bit in terms of dealing with burst damage, and there seems to more of that than of regular AoE, which always makes me worry that if my own heal doesn't land in time, the druid's HoTs won't be able to keep up.

What is your worst habit as a healer?
I think my worst healing habit these days is being lazy about theorycraft and optimisation. I'm not sure how much of that is truly related to healing and how much is simply me getting tired of classes getting changed back and forth every couple of months (what, Holy Shield is an activated ability again? Come on) and me having to relearn everything, but the fact that healing is only ever about being "good enough" has certainly amplified it. Healing more can only ever go so far in making an encounter go more smoothly, because you can only heal as much damage as is being taken, so trying to optimise beyond that feels kind of pointless.

What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while healing?

This is still the same as two years ago: people being completely oblivious to what the healers are doing and just assuming that it's all easy. This includes things such as tanks never using any cooldowns and then wondering why they went splat, or people commenting that "healing is easy on this fight, right" while the entire raid gets drowned in waves of AoE. I don't expect praise for my job all the time, but some kind of acknowledgement that health bars don't keep themselves up and that someone does in fact have to work at keeping everyone alive would be nice every now and then.

Do you feel that your class/spec is well balanced with other healers for PvE healing?

Yes. PvE healing strikes me as quite balanced at this time. That said, I'm actually miffed now that holy is the only healing spec that is not PvP viable (not that this prevents me from playing it anyway, but you know what I mean). I didn't mind while disc was only good for PvP and holy was only good for PvE, but now that discipline works for both I don't know why holy couldn't receive the same treatment.

What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a healer?

Whether people live, and numbers on Recount to see whether I carried my weight compared to the other healers. We don't bother with detailed combat logs anymore since nobody can be arsed to record and upload them.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your healing class?
That holy is uncool because it doesn't focus on shiny bubbles.

What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new healers of your class to learn?
WTF do all these spells do? Chakra, what?

If someone were to try to evaluate your performance as a healer via recount, what sort of patterns would they see (i.e. lots of overhealing, low healing output, etc)?

Without meaning to blow my own horn, I always have pretty high output with pretty low overheal. What I find more interesting these days however is just how many spells I use. On an average encounter I'll easily have a dozen different sources of healing, and with a pretty wide spread as well. This goes with what I said earlier about all holy priest spells being useful for something these days, and I take pride in being able to find the right niche for each spell.

Haste or Crit and why?
Crit is still crap for priests these days, despite of the recent buff to critical heal size, so it's no contest.

What healing class do you feel you understand least?
I have a level eighty-five of each healing class now, but the one I understand the least these days is definitely the paladin. With the dungeon finder queues and Call to Arms it's very tempting to run my own pally as a tank at all times, so I've hardly done any healing on her since 4.0. Paladins also used to make great healing alts because of how simple and straightforward they used to be, but these days there's holy power and a gazillion different procs, so whenever I do give healing on my paladin a try I just flail around a lot, unsure of what the hell I'm doing. This is not a criticism of the class at all by the way, I'm just saying that they need more dedication and time investment to be played correctly these days and I don't have that at the moment.

What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in healing?
Healbot 4 life! Don't need anything else.

Do you strive primarily for balance between your healing stats, or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?

Well, intellect is king for all healers these days, including holy priests. Spirit is the next big thing, and after that it's down to haste vs. mastery. I prefer haste and gem for it because I can feel the results of it more than I can extra mastery, which only really shows up on Recount as more healing done without any input from me. Still, the only things I reforge are crit (go away) or anything into spirit if the item doesn't already have spirit on it.

Now, Saunder also asked me to pass on the questionnaire love, preferably to people who play a different class than me, so I'm going to tag Vidyala, since she's back to being a holy paladin full time, and The Grumpy Elf - while he's mainly a hunter, he's been complaining about spending too much time healing as of late, so I'm sure he's got some insights about (shaman) healing to share.


The Day Tier 11 Died

Tonight was my guild's first foray into tier 11 content since the patch. We had saved our old raid IDs that only had Al'Akir and Nefarian left alive, as those were the only two bosses that we hadn't managed to kill before the nerf. Al'Akir was a two-shot, to many exclamations of incredulity and some maniacal giggling from our guild leader. Before the patch, we had still been working on perfecting our phase two execution, though we had seen phase three a couple of times. A lot of the time the soft enrage caused by stacking Acid Rain had wiped us, when it got up to about sixteen stacks and was doing 8k damage per second to the entire raid. After the nerf, it doesn't stack anymore. At all. Sometimes it even dropped off completely. I felt completely superfluous as a healer, and was mostly standing around and twiddling my thumbs in-between the occasional Circle of Healing. That is not what I call a twenty percent nerf, Blizzard.

After our Al'Akir kill, we went down to Blackwing Descent to kill Nefarian. Unlike Al'Akir, we had never even attempted him before the patch, which I suspect helped my enjoyment of the fight a lot, since I didn't have a frame of reference for how things should have been, only a vague idea that a lot of small mistakes that people made and that were easily fixed with an extra heal here or there probably would have wiped the raid before the nerf. However, I couldn't know for sure. Also, because we were completely new to the fight, there were tactics to learn regardless, which was reasonably entertaining. Still, by the end of the night, Nef was dead as well. Everyone was quite happy to earn a new achievement, mount and title - including me - even if we were late to the party. Now we'll just try to get a couple more kills for the raiders who couldn't make it tonight, but otherwise we're completely free to focus on Firelands.

When the news about the big nerf to tier 11 in patch 4.2 came out a little over a month ago, I didn't make a post about it. Not because I didn't have an opinion about it, but because I felt that I had already expressed it well enough in a comment on this editorial at the MMO Melting Pot. (All the comments seem to have disappeared since then, but oh well.) Basically I was agreeing with Rebecca that the nerf wasn't a very good idea, as I still remembered the last time the devs implemented a raid nerf of such scale: patch 3.0.

Back then my guild was working its way through Black Temple and had just killed Mother Shahraz. After the patch we blew through the remaining Illidari Council in one or two nights and killed Illidan shortly afterwards. I remember healing through some insane AoE damage on the latter fight and thinking, "No way we can be doing this right, before the patch that would have wiped us three times over." In the end I was always left with a vague feeling of embarrassment in regards to finishing off that tier, because it just didn't feel like we had really earned it. To this day I always talk about how we made it up to Mother Shahraz in Black Temple, because anything that came afterwards didn't really count and just left me feeling empty.

I was worried that this would happen again with the tier 11 nerfs, and I think I was at least partially right. Killing Nefarian was still elating, because as I said we were all lacking a frame of reference, but I doubt that it will be a very memorable kill in the long run. Downing a boss after less than ten attempts simply doesn't make for a grand tale to tell the newbies about. Al'Akir was a complete downer for me though. The fact that the one mechanic that had made phase two interesting as a healer was culled completely and left me feeling unnecessary was depressing, and after all the work we had done to improve our performance before the patch, the actual kill felt like it took less effort than many of our previous wipes. Thank you, Blizzard, for reminding me once again how pointless it can be to even try in this game.

There was one positive side to the whole ordeal that I hadn't considered though: it allowed us to make our peace with tier 11 quickly and move on. In previous years we often suffered from internal disagreements about which bosses to prioritise if a new patch opened up better loot for less effort. Why "waste time" on Kael'thas if we could progress through Mount Hyjal and Black Temple instead? Why spend any more time in Ulduar and wipe on Yogg-Saron if Trial of the Crusader and the bloody daily heroic gave us better gear anyway? At least tier 11 is not presenting us with such a choice. (Going back for that one night hardly counts.)

This makes the situation somewhat different from 3.0 after all, because back then it was the end of the expansion and everything getting nerfed into stupidity was like a big "game over" sign. There was nowhere else to go. Now on the other hand we have the Firelands to dig our teeth into, and I'm actually looking forward to it. Let the trade pugs have fun in tier 11 if that's what the devs want. (One of my fellow raiders said that he cleared Bastion of Twilight on an alt in under an hour and that there were no wipes despite of lots of fails.)

Of course, we'll see what things look like in a few months. If we've killed Ragnaros by then and are only left with boring heroic modes, I might still find myself wishing that Blizzard had allowed us to finish tier 11 on our own time instead.