Monday, December 24, 2012

The End of an Era...Kind of.

Guys, I've done something drastic. I'm officially stepped down from raiding, at least for the moment.

I don't think this fact has truly set in for me yet. Raiding for me has been that thing I've always done, it's what has been the consumer of the bulk of my in-game time since I began playing "seriously" back in the Burning Crusade. While I do enjoy a good reputation grind, the hunt for those elusive rares, and playing dress up with my latest alt, raiding has always been where I've sent the vast majority of my energy. Why on Azeroth would I remove myself from something I love so wholeheartedly, even temporarily?

The answer to this question is rather complex, but the TL; DR version is simply: Burnout.

I've been raiding full tilt for a bit over a year now, much longer if you add in my prior years of raiding. I came back into the raiding scene shortly after the initial nerf to Firelands after a lengthy forced break and haven't had a whole lot of down time since. Mists of Pandaria, while fantastic on so many levels, has proven to be an incredibly overwhelming experience for me. Between the rush to level 90 - which was great fun and one rush that I'm unlikely to repeat - and the reputation grinds and the mad hurry to get geared up, get through this raid, loot dramas, fight this boss, show up every night, oh crap we need to recruit, do up the videos, write some posts, run this, organize that, solo all the things, raid raid raidsmashfaceonkeyboardginger shamanistic has kind of all piled up on me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that I'm somewhat masochistic when it comes to this game and all of my projects. I'm everywhere at once, and I have a tendency to take everything upon myself. Is it necessary that I be the keeper of combat logs, maker of pixelated kill videos, manager of the guild's website, and the one who is first to jump up and say "I'll do it!" whenever the guild needs recruitment forum posts? Absolutely not, but I've always enjoyed doing all that because some of those things need to be done anyways, and I like to make it so that my guild may have nice things. There's also absolutely no reason why I should be the only person to have a hand in the Twitterland Raiding site, but I have that terrible habit of taking it all on by myself. Making guides on this blog or videos for Youtube isn't mandatory for enjoyable game play, but I do it anyways because I know that there are a few select folks who enjoy seeing that sort of thing. The things mentioned in this paragraph are all things I highly enjoy. I do not believe that my issues lay within all of my projects, but rather in one aspect of my favorite pastime.

For the past several months, logging on to raid has felt like more of a chore than something I looked forward to. Instead of thinking to myself "Yes! It's raid night!" my thought processes were more along the lines of "Fuck, I have to raid tonight." This shift in the way I thought about my evening activities were brought on by a number of things, things I shan't go into detail at this point in time, but let's just say I'm not very happy with this change.

Needless to say, my negative way of thinking has impacted me on several levels. Where I was hyper aware of what was going on in the raid, I tend to find myself on auto-pilot, even on new encounters where such a thing can be incredibly hazardous to a boss kill. Where I was once able to easily joke and bullshit with my raid mates, I'm finding myself to be grumpy and resentful. Where I was once relaxed, I'm finding myself feeling anxious and often end up with stomach aches and massive tension headaches. Raiding, for as much as I love the thrill of seeing a new boss fall, love pushing myself to perform on the next level, love getting that new weapon just, it doesn't feel right anymore. It feels bad. I don't enjoy having something that I adore so much feel so wrong.

Change is absolutely needed, so it is with a heavy heart and an "aw crap, this sucks" look on my face, I am removing myself from the raiding scene for now. I'm unsure if this will be a permanent change, but it is most certainly one that shall remain for the time being. Whether I'll return with a renewed vengeance in a few weeks, a few months, a few tiers, or a few years, you can bet your butt that I'll come out swinging harder than ever.

So, what now? Why am I bothering to write this post at all? Well for starters, this post is me working through a massive knot that's been building in my belly for quite some time. My thoughts about stepping down have stricken me with quite a bit of internal conflict, and in a way I just needed to get it down in writing. Like most bloggers, I have that need to just get crap off my chest, and I prefer to do it in my own little realm of the internet. This post is also in part to inform my readers that, despite me removing myself from one of my main activities, I do plan on remaining quite active in the game. Saz will not be laying down her weapons anytime soon, but she will definitely be taking a bit of time to hit up the spa and relax her weary muscles.

What can you expect of me in the future? A lot, I hope. It is my deepest wish to get back into the loop with the lovely blogging community, as it feels like I have been neglecting you all for ages. I also hope to start doing more content videos, be it guides, soloing, or random crap I happen to be doing. I have plans that will hopefully breathe new life into the Twitterland Raiding project, and goals for both in game and out of game growth on a personal and social level. As per usual, I plan to take on a crapload of projects. Without raiding on the schedule though, I hope to bring these projects to you all, and the greater WoW community, both more efficiently and with better quality.

As you can see, I have a lot of hopes, a lot of plans. In this apparently post-apocalyptic world I shall be making a point to begin anew. Perhaps not so much anew as bringing about a massive turning point that should hopefully bring about more happiness for at least myself, if not those around me as well. That's the ultimate goal: to create something(s) that not only make me happier, but to also bring some happiness to my fellow internet friends. After all, happiness breeds happiness, and negativity is always sure to be a continuous downward spiral.

Let's all keep on swingin'. Here's to new leaves being turned over, new projects, new horizons, and a soon to be new year.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How To Enhance: Combat Openers and the Cooldown Toolkit

Whatever it is you do, be it raiding, PvP, brawling, or soloing, knowing how and when to use your DPS burst capabilities - regardless of your class - can often mean the difference between a win and a corpse run.

Once upon a time, enhancement was known for its turtle-like damage. Slow, steady, always statically dependable. It didn't have that fancy thing called "burst" and often suffered on certain gimmick fights *coughspinecough* because of this. Those days are no more though. We shaman are now the kings and queens of mean burst, and how to get the most out of this bursting capability is what I'd like to talk about today.

First, let's cover which abilities actually give us our high burst.

Ascendance - Our big "lolol I WIN" button. This is pretty much our biggest source of burst these days, and the best part is that it can be used at range. Super handy for certain situations, like say for the air phase on Onyxia or the head on Mimiron.
Heroism/Bloodlust - Tasty, tasty haste! Generally this is considered a raid cooldown, but for soloing it can be either an "I WIN" button or can be saved as a panic button.
Stormlash Totem - Oh Stormlash Totem, allow me to sing you a song of my love! While this is a very potent raid cooldown, it is also a humungous personal cooldown, given how it weaves together with Windfury, our special attacks, and our auto attacks.
Fire Elemental Totem - Big Red is now a viable DPS cooldown for us! He slices, he dices! Oh He just burns all the things. He'll happily apply Searing Flames stacks for you, making your Lava Lash hit harder, plus he can do okayish AoE, provided he has something to actually hit (he's kind of completely useless on Lei Shi's Hide phase). This guy is a pretty nice bursty CD, so use him often! You can have him out even more often if you have him glyphed, but it's not recommended to do this unless you're a Troll. Even if you're a Troll, you only may want to do this if you're elemental, or maybe even a restoration shaman regardless of race. Maybe.
Feral Spirit - Our beloved pups, how silly you two are! These guys aren't the hardest hitting DPS cooldown in our arsenal, but they are one none the less. They give you some pretty potent passive healing, especially if they're glyphed, so definitely use these guys often.

Elemental Mastery - This isn't a talent that's typically taken by enhancement shaman, though certainly has some uses in certain situations. I recommend this talent for certain encounters where you need very focused burst, or for those solos that require you to kill the bad thing before your cooldowns run out and it kills you. Times up nicely with your wolves, and if you're an engineer like I am, your Synapse Springs, for those longer boss fights.
Synapse Springs - The glove enhancement for engineers, which may be applied in addition to our usual glove enchant. Synapse Springs are on a 1 minute cooldown, so I personally macro them to my wolves, which are on a 2 minute cooldown. So long as you use your springs as soon as they come off of cooldown, these two things should always line up nicely for you. They may not always be as ideal as a static stat boost, such as an enchanter's ring enchants, but they are awfully nice for kicking out extra burst.
Berserking - This be da Troll's racial, mon! It's a nice little haste buff that can be timed up very well with Ascendance. If you're a Troll, use this. Love this. Own this!
On Use Trinkets - Use trinkets are thus far not as prevalent in MoP through PvE content, though they still do exist. Most of the use trinkets will provide more of a boost as far as burst is concerned in general, and more than likely will be more powerful than your Synapse Springs (assuming you're an engineer). Keep in mind that trinkets and springs do trigger a 20 second cooldown when one or the other is used, so you will not be able to stack them. My advice is to tie in the stronger of the two options in with whatever DPS cooldown lines up the best with that trinket's on-use cooldown, then simply use the other once that 20 seconds of lockout time is up for the other item.

In addition to what is listed above, pre-potting is also a highly encouraged option (not always applicable, depending on the start of a fight). Being able to use two pots within a single encounter is an easy way to get the biggest bang out of your damage.

I'd also mention gear swapping here, but as of the last patch (5.1) Blizzard has officially broken the ability to swap a gear set and keep the buff it a given set provides. The biggest example being: it was a pretty nice DPS increase for both enhancement and elemental shaman to equip the tier 13 restoration 4 piece set, activate Spiritwalker's Grace for the haste bonus it gave (30%), and then to swap back to their normal gear just before a pull. Now when you switch back to your normal gear, you lose the Spiritwalker's Grace haste buff, making the gear swap completely pointless. You may now safely vendor your old restoration set, unless you want it for transmog, and remove your gear swap macros from your macro book.

Alright, now that you know the toolkit, let's put it into practice. Your opener, regardless if you're soloing or simply raiding with your buds, can often mean the difference between beating that enrage timer or going splat. It requires a certain finesse. You often want to put out the highest damage possible off the bat, but if you're in a raiding environment, you want to do so without pulling threat off of your tank(s) as well. You'll have to learn how many seconds you need to count before you can open up on a boss (less if you have a strong, geared tank and/or 2+ misdirects from rogues and hunters going out, more if you are missing these things) on your own; each group is a bit different and each gearing plateau is a beast of its own. Right, so a standard opener for raiding looks something like this:

- 5 seconds before pull: Use Spirit Walk, if you need a gap closer between yourself and a boss.
- 3 seconds before pull: Use potion
- 2 seconds before pull: Pop your Fire Elemental totem.
- 1 second before pull: Pop wolves (this would be your Synapse Springs + Feral Spirit macro, if you're an engineer)
- Give the tank a tick or two to hit the boss, doing his/her aggro thang.
- Unleash Elements as you close in on the boss.
- Flame Shock if you're not quite there yet.
- Stormstrike
- Ascendance + Heroism/Lust + Stormlash Totem (Hero/Lust assuming your raid wishes to have it at the beginning)
Stormblast (aka Super Stormstrike)
- Lava Lash (you should most certainly have 5 searing stacks up by now; if you don't, check the pulse of your fire elemental)
- Swing into your usual rotation of using SS/LL/UE on CD, weaving in your Flame Shock and Earth Shock in as normal, plus using Lightning Bolt (or Chain Lightning in cleave situations) with 4-5 Maelstrom Stacks up. Use Fire Nova only after you've used Lava Lash to cleave your Flame Shock to multiple targets, and only if you need to spellcleave.

If you're a Troll and/or if you're specced into Elemental Mastery for a given encounter, it may be best to stagger your haste CDs some, especially at higher gear levels, simply because you'll hit that ceiling where your haste is just, well, a waste! If you're not using Hero/Lust off the bat, you can burn these two cooldowns right off the get go, then simply continue to use them with their paired DPS cooldowns later on (wolves with EM, Berserking with Ascendance/Glyphed Fire Elemental Totem). If you ARE Heroing/Lusting off the bat, the use of these other haste CDs can get a little funky. Apply them to the best of your abilities and where they make the most sense for the given encounter. For soloing, especially those shortish fights that are to short for using your cooldowns a second time, but long enough to outlast Hero/Lust, simply pop your secondary haste abilities once Hero/Lust wears off.

Now, the above advice is by no means perfect, but I've been finding that it works very well for me. It puts out some pretty incredibly high opening numbers, while at the same time it *usually* keeps my threat under that of my tanks. If it doesn't, the panicked Wind Sear gets thrown out there, and on occasion I do find myself toggling off my auto attack in a mad hurry. For the most part though, the above has been serving me incredibly well with both raiding and soloing.

H'okay so, we've covered the opening. What about your burst later on in the encounter? Well, this completely depends on the encounter. On a standard Patchwerk like fight, which are quite rare these days, you'd simply use your cooldowns again as they came up. With many encounters, this theory still works fine, but on others you may find that you can't - or shouldn't - always use them all willy nilly. There will be times when you may want to hold off on popping a cooldown lest you get gimped by a boss mechanic, effectively wasting your cooldown (I find that Amber Shaper is great for this; I've learned to hold off on Ascendance especially if Reshape Life is about to go out since he just LOVES to cast it on me if I've just popped Ascendance). Timing is absolutely everything. Until I can get around to dissecting each encounter and get around to writing a guide for them all, I'm afraid you're all on your own with figuring out how you should pop your cooldowns on a given fight. I'm not terribly worried though, you're all smart cookies and are more than capable. I mean, you all chose to play enhancement after all!

As always, if you have any questions about the topic covered here, or any aspect of enhancement for that matter, please do not hesitate to drop a comment here or to contact me through either Twitter or my email (listed under 'Contact' on this blog). I'm always happy to answer questions. I promise I don't bite too hard!

Until next time, keep swinging!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Art of Soloing - Where To Begin

Greetings young Grasshoppers. So you've come seeking wisdom on how to solo raid bosses, eh?

Whether you're after some sweet transmog gear, chasing a new rare raid drop pet, looking for a mount that supposedly exists, or just in the market for a few luls, I am here to happily give you a few pointers on how anyone of any class (and *most* specs) may do any of the things mentioned above.

Pull up a chair and let's get down to my top 5 tips on soloing old content.

1. Throw your old raiding habits out the window

For DPS: You know those old time rules that are practically beat into the head of any raider ever? That silly thing called "watching your threat" and "not standing in front of the big baddy"? Guess what, both of those ideas need to go. No more hiding behind the skirts of some tank. YOU are now the tank. You need to THINK like a tank, move like a tank, DODGE ALL THE THINGS like a tank. You know how you'd maybe only hit those personal defensive cooldowns when the raid damage got kind of ouchie? Yeah, you'll have to learn where you'll actually need to preemptively hit those for certain fights during times you may not be used to. Those security of life blankets we know as healers? GONE. You, my dear little one, are now your own healer. You'll have to learn how to time your personal healing cooldowns to keep yourself from becoming a crispy corpse on the floor.

For Tanks: You dudes and dudettes pretty much do what your usually do, but now it's with a bit of a twist. You'll now be up against possible enrage timers that you'll have to play the role of DPS to get past (though, you buggers with your Vengeances, for the most part damage dealing shouldn't be much of a problem). Like the DPS though, you know longer have your healers at your back. You'll have to absolutely know when to use your mitigation cooldowns to prevent your health from dropping in the first place, and you'll have to know how to heal your own hide in the event that it does dip in percentage.

For Healers: First of all if you're soloing things as a healer, you are A) bloody insane and B) a badass if you're actually pulling it off. In general, with the exception of perhaps Discipline Priests and maaaaaaybe Restoration Druids specced into Heart of the Wild, most healers these days don't have a whole pile of consistent hurt to put out there. Likewise, the majority of healers lack enough personal defense cooldowns to rotate through a given fight. Some do, some don't; the mileage may vary. What I'm getting at is that soloing as someone in a healing specialization may not necessarily get the best results due to either enrage timers or hard hitting mechanics. I shall not deter you from your goals though. If you wish to solo content as a healing type, you go out there and get on with your fancy self.

2. Be aware of EVERYTHING

To semi-contradict the title of the previous point I made, not all raiding habits should be thrown out of the window. Certain things such as getting out of the fire as quickly as possible and watching your timers? Great habits to hold on to. While yes, there are many encounters where the mechanics can now pretty much be ignored, there are still plenty of situations where you'll want to avoid the bad, damage x component of y boss at z time, take down adds so that they don't nuke you, burn down that boss before he can push you six feet under, heal at this time, move when that happens, etc. This goes double for you if you're going for achievements, since many of those are "Don't get hit by this!" or "Kill x of that!" You'll need to watch your feet, your health, the boss' positioning, buffs/debuffs, possibly dispells, interrupts...all the things that you'd usually have 9 or 24 other brains and sets of hands helping you take care of, all by yourself.

It's as if your raid awareness suddenly needs to be hopped up on coffee. The special kind.

3. Know thine utility

Unless you're a high(er) end PvP type, or on the cutting edge of PvE content, changes are pretty good that you may only be aware of a small fraction of the toolkit available to you. It personally took me many years to learn fully understand how important it was to use Shamanistic Rage as a defense cooldown (heck, for a while in ICC it was a DPS cooldown of all things...). With the added utility that has been added into Mists of Pandaria, I'll even admit that there are times when I forget to use certain totems in certain situations (Capacitor Totem is notoriously forgotten by many shaman, yours truly included sometimes). Soloing content will often force you to think outside the box as far as your cooldowns and bag of tricks are concerned. Dismiss nothing in your toolkit. Become familiar with how certain cooldowns may interact with each other, if you're not already. Test out which utility spells help you out in which situation. Push your limits, your knowledge, and if you seem to be falling short, start digging to learn more. Never stop playing mad scientist.

4. Know the fight

Yes, this might be a /facepalm tip but it really does pay to know the mechanics of a fight, even if most of those mechanics no longer necessarily apply. If you cannot kill something within your "zerg" window, you may find yourself having to play nice with mechanics. You may have to roll defensive CDs to mitigate Patchwerks Hateful Strikes. You're going to have to be aware that all three body parts of Mimiron will need to die within a certain time frame from each other in the final phase or things on him will gain health back. And of course, if you're an achievement chaser, you absolutely will need to know how both the achievement works and the mechanics of the boss. A little knowledge can go a long way in preventing frustrations and achievement failure.

5. Know your limits

Soloing is part character level, part gear, part skill, and sometimes even part luck. Some raids are easier to solo once you hit x level plateau. Some boss mechanics are impossible to deal with until you manage to hit y gearing threshold. Many fights have RNG aspects to them that may frustrate you. All of these aspects can affect you to varying degrees depending on your skill level on any given character; some encounters may be neigh on impossible for you until another aspect of the presented equation shifts. It is my firm belief that if you want to solo something, give it a couple of shots. Try anything once, if only for the laughs. If you manage to down it, great! If not, know when it's time to leave it be until you manage to get your mits on better gear or you familiarize yourself with your chosen class/spec further. Not all classes or specs can solo all of the things at the same time. A Blood DK can solo certain content much sooner than an Enhancement Shaman. An Enhancer can solo a lot more currently than say, a Holy Priest. Test the limits of your chosen role, but don't push yourself to the point where you hate what you're doing. Know your personal limits and the limits of your class.

Overall, taking on old content by one's own self is a bit like spinning plates. You need to be aware of a lot of things at once, and if you muck up the balance on one of the plates, everything may come tumbling down. It's all on you and you alone. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but I think that's the beauty of it, personally. There's no blaming Cindy for missing her taunt, can't complain to Bob for not getting his heal off in time, and Jackie can't be yelled at for not DPSing hard enough. It's all you.

Soloing is a testament to your skill, patience, and I personally think that it shows a certain sort of dedication to your chosen character. It's not always easy, nor is it always pretty. It may come more naturally to some than it does to others, and that's perfectly okay. When you're soloing, you're not on anyone's schedule. No one but you can get frustrated at your mistakes or get huffy when you want to AFK for 30 minutes to grab a bite to eat or get the kids to bed. No one will ever breathe down your neck for not making enough progress in your allotted window. You take everything on in your own time, at your own pace.

One final tip I can give and cannot stress enough is this: Have fun with it. Try to view soloing not as some chore that needs to be done for x item, but as an opportunity to learn a few things about yourself as a player. You may find that you have certain strengths and weaknesses that you weren't aware of before. Soloing is an excellent time to work out some kinks in your playstyle, not to mention to have a little bit of in game *you* time. Again, have fun with it and roll with the punches. Now get out there and do your thang.