Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to be an Effective Raider

Raiding is one of those "easy to learn, hard to master" kind of undertakings.

WoW is full of those. In a break from the norm around here at Unliving a Death Knight, this post will not be dedicated to Death Knights. This post instead is directed towards anyone and everyone who wants to get into raiding or wants to improve their raiding, and to help make the transition from raid attendee to an irreplaceable asset and member of an effective team.

I want to stress that raiding isn't supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to come naturally. Raiding is the most fun I've ever had in a video game, but more often than not it's challenging, stressful, and full of pressure on you to perform well.

This post isn't going to assume any sort of prior experience. I'm going to start by covering the basics. If you've raided in a semi-serious fashion before this first section isn't going to offer you much, but the other segments will, so feel free to jump ahead a few paragraphs. Don't worry, there should be something here for everyone!

Section 0- The Basics

  • Find a raiding group that fits you, don't conform. I cannot stress how important this is. If you're looking to be in the top 5% of the entire world with regards to progression, kills, and gear and your raid team thinks differently, you're doing yourself and your entire group a disservice by raiding with them. The same applies in the opposite case. If you want a fun, low stress, low expectation group don't put yourself in a raid that expects more of you. This is the number one cause of drama in raiding, and it's a completely avoidable headache. Try running a few heroic dungeons with the group you're looking at and hang out with them in their voice chat for some time before you start raiding with them.
  • Try to make everyone else's job easier. If you're a healer and you're not prepared with the gear or methodology to heal through an encounter without running your mana to empty you have work to do. The same principal applies to tanks with regards to threat and survivability, and to DPS with regards to threat and damage output. Avoid damage and play to the mechanics of the fight. The easier you make everyone else's job, the better experience everyone (yourself included!) will have.
  • Swallow your pride and follow orders. Never talk over a raid lead, down to a raid lead, or express your doubt about them or their decisions publicly. Your raid leads are put in that position because they are trusted to make good calls,  know the fights, keep order, and push progression. If you have an issue with a particular raid lead's decisions either whisper them (don't make it a public confrontation, certainly not in raid!), or seek arbitration from another raid lead or the guild leader.  
  • Learn the fights before you show up to raid. Go to www.icy-veins.com, www.tankspot.com, consult your raid journal etc. Your raid leads will probably go over the  mechanics (at least on a rudimentary level) anyway, but don't leave them wholly accountable for your understanding. You should know the ins and outs of the basic roles in the fight, the major mechanics, and how to avoid unnecessary damage. This will smooth out your experience in raiding significantly, and your raid leads will be eternally grateful for one less headache.
  • Install and maintain the necessary addons and programs. The programs part is easy- get yourself connected to voice chat with everyone else. Not being in Vent / Mumble / Teamspeak with your raid is unnecessarily crippling. Even if you don't have a microphone, you must be there to at least listen. The addons I mentioned will change from person to person, but a basic raid mechanics addon like DBM or Bigwigs is a must, and the always lovable GTFO is worth a look. Threat meters/alarms are also a must. The Curse program/addon repository is a great resource to get and maintain these and any other addons.
  • Speak up! If you get tagged with a nasty mechanic in the fight, warn your raid so they understand to stay away from you, heal you etc. Alert people to your actions so they can react accordingly (taunts, damage soaks, interrupts, raid cooldowns etc). If you have questions don't sit silently- your raid leads would much prefer (even if they react grumpily!) that you ask questions before the next pull rather than you enter a fight unprepared in any fashion. Be vocal and participate, there's a lot at stake in a raid and you don't want to be accused (fairly or unfairly) of wiping your raid for lack of speaking up.
  • Come prepared. This means potions, flasks, food, 100% durability on your armor and weapons, the proper gear level, reforged properly etc. This one is pretty simple and shouldn't need much explaining. As a raider this kind of thing is your responsibility now, and your raid won't appreciate you having to hearth back to take care of something during trash.
  • Know your spec. Be authoritative on it, even. If you don't know your spec well enough you might accidentally "ninja" some loot from someone else, or simply under-perform  Don't be that person. guides are everywhere on the internet these days, so there's really no excuse aside from not caring enough. Even just visiting Noxxic for their simplistic guides is better than nothing (although consulting the Elitist Jerks or Icy-Veins guides is highly recommended).
  • Bring a good attitude. The reality of raiding is that when you finally kill any boss you're likely to have wiped for hours, days, or sometimes even weeks on the stupid thing. Don't get discouraged or upset. It's a process, not an instantaneous result. Try to have fun and help others have fun too. A negative attitude from anyone in a raid is more lethal than any enrage.
  • Jump in! You're not going to log in one day to find yourself surrounded by 9 to 24 people with bosses dropping left and right and shiny loot shoved in your hands. Take the initiative and get into some old content raids for starters, and once you're comfortable with raiding start looking for a regular raid or raiding guild in trade chat, the recruiting channel, forums, or through word of mouth.

Section 1- DPS-ing

In the DPS (Damage Per Second) role, your job is to heap as much damage as possible wherever it's needed. However, a good DPS player is more than a button masher who destroys meters. 
  • Avoid the "bad", "bad stuff", "shinies", or whatever you want to call it. Nothing about your job is more important. Nothing. Your incredible gear and amazing priority-rotation mean jack-all when you're dead on the floor. Taking any avoidable damage to hit the boss even one extra time is a big no-no. Your healers have enough to do already. Even if you don't die outright you're costing them excess mana and time that should be used on unavoidable damage. Your DPS meters might be amazing and beautiful but if you cause your raid to wipe what does it matter?
  • Speaking of meters- hide/ignore your DPS meters every fight. That's right, you heard me. The meters will be there when the fight is over to stoke your ego. During the fight looking at the meters or worrying about how awesome your DPS looks compared to everyone else's reinforces stupid behavior. A prime example is the "Spine of Deathwing" fight from 4.3. On "Spine", adds are everywhere and it's very tempting to just go to town with AoE- but if you spend your time on AoE you're wasting resources and losing damage where it counts- on the target that needs to die NOW (Tendon or Amalgamation). Not to mention that on that particular fight killing too many bloods too quickly, or killing any extra tentacles will wipe your raid outright. Blizzard loves these kinds of mechanics because it rewards good behavior from DPS players and punishes careless destruction. Don't worry about beating the meters- beat the fight!
  • Watch your threat like a hawk. Vengeance is all sorts of stupid amazing now, but if you're hitting the wrong target at the wrong time you're likely to pull threat and get yourself killed. Keep your threat meters and warning bells turned on and pay attention!
  • Be ready to stop damage, and stop it fast (Including pets, white hits, DoTs etc). There are tons of examples of fights where you need to immediately stop hitting a particular target at a particular time. Anticipating these abrupt halts and (again) disregarding your DPS meters for these moments is key.
  • Have your hit (spirit for you weird casters) and (if applicable) expertise capped. If there's a single DPS spec that does more damage by disregarding the relevant accuracy stats in favor of a different secondary stat I'm unaware of it. Being even a few tenths of a percent under your accuracy caps will make your DPS look sooo last expansion.
  • Did I mention how you are supposed to hide/ignore your DPS meters?

Section 2- Tanking

As a tank it's your job to prevent as much damage from happening to your raid group as is possible. It used to be that all you had to do was taunt a few times and reach your avoidance caps. That isn't the case anymore.
  • Above all else- know the fight. The raid will be almost wholly dependent upon you to survive the fight. Our healers have a saying in my guild- "I can't heal stupid.". Much of the damage that can kill you in a fight is avoidable or mitigable with a simple movement or cooldown. Make your healers bored, if possible! 
  • The general rule of tanking is that you should be able to take 3 full hits of any variety from any boss and survive without any help. This gives you and your healers a cushion of time so that they can move and execute mechanics without worrying about your pretty face getting bashed concave. Once you have the health and mitigation to pull off that feat, the rest is simply preventing undue damage to the rest of the raid.
  • Watch your threat and listen to voice chat carefully. There are many threat-drop mechanics and add wave mechanics in this tier and every other. Vengeance doesn't grant you the ability to ignore threat, it simply allows you to keep it in 70% of all situations. The other 30% of the time you still need to be ready to act.
  • Be ready to make any necessary sacrifice. Sometimes this means getting a lower ranking on World of Logs. Sometimes this means soaking damage or saving a careless DPS player from their own mistakes. Sometimes this means dying and accepting a rez (or just watching the fight finish from the floor). Don't just let bad things happen to your raid. As a tank it is your prerogative to do something about it with the massive toolkit Blizzard has granted you.
  • Your DPS matters, and should be a priority of yours if you're not in trouble with regards to your survival. This statement will probably earn me many angry grumblings from raid leads, DPS players and tanks who dislike this kind of standpoint. Frankly I don't care- this is a point I'm quite confident of. Look at it this way- doing more DPS as a tank means the worst phases are shorter and the boss dies quicker. If that doesn't "prevent as much damage from happening to your raid group as is possible." I don't know what does.

Section 3- Healing

In yet another break from Unliving a Death Knight tradition this section is not written by me exclusively. I have never (nor do I plan to ever) heal in a raid setting, so it seems fitting to seek out help from someone more qualified. Today I have the honor of posting content written by my friend and raid's "flex"-healer, Sun.

The first thing to know when raiding as a healer is your role. Are you a tank, raid, or a flex healer? I’ll go over each role in more detail, but I’ll give a brief overview now. A tank healers primary focus is keeping the tank(s) alive, raid healers are responsible for everybody else in the raid. A flex healer will heal where needed but quite often will be a tank or raid healer, depending on the current fight. Being a flex healer can be a bit more complicated than the other two roles and in my opinion relies heavily on instinct. 

Determining which healing role you will be is primarily decided by your spec and the spells you chose. For example, a Discipline Priest is specifically designed to be a tank healer, whereas a Restoration Druid will almost always be a raid healer. In Mists of Pandaria, Blizzards makes us choose between one of three spells per tier. If you are a tank healer, you will want to choose abilities that increase your healing on a single target, whereas a raid healer will want to choose abilities that increase their AoE (area of effect) healing.

  • Tank healing As I stated above, a tank healers primary focus is to keep the tank(s) alive.The reason why I say ‘primary focus’ is because even though you are assigned to heal a specific tank, you still need to heal the rest of the raid where needed. The purpose of assigning healers their targets is to try and minimize deaths and overhealing (trying to heal a target when he/she is already at full health). During parts of the encounter where the entire raid is taking damage, feel free to throw out a few AoE heals, but your primary focus should be on the tank(s).
  • Raid healing A raid healers job is to keep the rest of the raid alive. You will want to focus on aoe healing spells, however that does not mean to only cast aoe healing spells. If only one player is taking damage at a time, it is usually more mana efficient to cast multiple single target heal instead of aoe healing. Again the reason to do this is because it minimizes overhealing on the rest of the raid that isn’t taking damage. 
  • Flex healing A flex healer has a very crucial role. It is a flex healers job to be able to switch between tank healing one fight, raid healing the next, and possible a combination of both for another fight. I like to say that a flex healer relies on instinct, that is because they constantly have to switch their gameplay and healing style to adapt to the situation in which they are needed the most. 

Raid healing is a bit different than dungeon healing because your job is usually not to keep the whole party alive, but the few individuals that you are assigned. This by no means indicates that you are not at fault when another raid member goes down when they were not assigned to you. You should still help heal others where needed, but if a situation comes down to one or the other, you should heal the one that is assigned to you.

Mana conservation is essential because the fights are usually long and it is very easy to go OoM (out of mana) very fast. This is perhaps one of the biggest problems that healers will encounter during a raid fight. It is essential to try and cast mana efficient spells as much as possible, but still keep everybody as a healthy level. This will allow you to cast those very big, mana hogging spells when needed and still keep your mana at a reasonable level.

I know that we all like pretty numbers and being able to boast how much healing you did for that fight, but a boss down is a boss down. Having pretty numbers but a boss alive means very little. In some situations this means that you weren’t paying attention to the people you were assigned to, but instead trying to heal the majority to improve your own numbers. It could also mean that you were spamming your biggest healing spells and ran out of mana. No mana means no healing, no healing means people die, peoples deaths means raid wipe. 

Myself as a healer
Perhaps the question that I get asked the most often is why. Why did I choose that particular ability over another, why do I use those spells in that situation, and why am I gearing the way I do. My reason every time is ‘I don’t know, it just felt right’ (on the occasion I’ll say because it looks pretty, but that’s another discussion). I know there are many theorycrafters out there who are probably digging me a grave for saying that (especially the pretty part), but I’ll go over why I say that. There isn’t a ‘rotation’ for healers and I believe there is not a best way for stat weights. We use different spells depending on the situation and I like to say that healing is an art. In that, you have to adapt to your environment, not the environment adapt to you. The best way to do this is experience. You’ll eventually get the feel of your class, and will be able to string a variety of spells together because ‘it feels right’. That becomes your art, your personal touch to healing. I think it is essential to have that down because then you can focus more on the fight (avoiding shinies, moving to the correct spot, etc) while at the same time being able to heal just as effective if not more, than the people who use a particular spell because the ‘numbers told them so’.

Section 4- Raid Leading

I can say with a certainty that raid leading is not for everyone. It is one of the hardest things I've had to do. While your role will vary from group to group your responsibilities are typically to keep the raid group in order, push progression, maintain morale, know the fights well enough to adjust strategies, and answer any questions. 

Sometimes you must exude confidence and determination when it's the 28th pull on this boss and you know you don't have a snowball's chance in Tijuana. Sometimes you must confront your closest friends about their performance or attitude. Sometimes you must give positive reinforcement when you want to scream at someone. Sometimes you must express your disappointment and disapproval, but do so in a way that doesn't hurt the raid's morale- instead driving them toward success. Sometimes you're a babysitter and sometimes you're a commander in the thick of battle. It's never easy.

I'm still pretty new to this particular role, but I firmly believe in these methods.
  • Keep control of your emotions. You need to maintain control and keep your raiders focused and effective. Screaming, yelling, swearing, tantrums, personal attacks, and vindictive behavior are not good courses of action here.
  • Attempt to remain neutral. There will be times when your personal strategies, performance, or decisions will be called into question. Sometimes you have to step back and examine these with an unbiased, critical eye. Don't be afraid to be wrong, but do your best to be correct.
  • Praise the good as much as you nitpick the bad.
  • Drop your close friendships and vendettas at the summoning stone. Despite knowing or liking some raiders better than others, you cannot afford to play favorites here. Be certain to put the most qualified and effective people in each role, regardless of your personal feelings towards them.
  • Bring the player not the class. This one explains itself. The best spec for any particular situation can still be played incorrectly. Effective players on their most effective spec are almost always a better choice than the "better spec" they've hardly played.
  • Seemingly in direct contradiction to the above, raid comps are still important. If you bring 3 DKs and 3 rogues on a run you'll be hurting on buffs, you'll get destroyed on many mechanics, and your raid isn't going to gain much in the way of gear. Not bringing a wide variety of specs to every pull is unnecessarily crippling.
  • Review the logs. Make certain the raid is being parsed by someone who can upload the results to World of Logs and go through those parses like an over-caffeinated IRS agent paid on commission. The logs (especially the kill logs) are solid gold. You can see what went wrong and what worked. Even better, you can spot issues as they occur making your insight into your raiders and strategies very well informed. Remember that numbers aren't everything, but always see if you can to help those who seem to fall behind.
  • Keep personal confrontations to a minimum, but don't avoid them. Most players know if they are screwing up, and typically wipes are not dependent upon a single player- no matter how bad their choices. However, if you believe a player is consistently making a mistake, don't avoid the issue. Get it out of the way as quickly and as smoothly as possible to keep your raid running effectively. I personally have found that starting such a discussion with a simple question like "Hey, did you know that you can/should do this?" is typically accepted gracefully. Starting this conversation in a public channel with "Hey dip$&*t, why the #&*% aren't you doing X? I watched you do Y the last twelve damn wipes in a row, and every time it was your fault!" would probably end up with bad blood between you and that player at minimum. The other raiders (your friends included) won't respect you for bludgeoning the offender over the head with your authority like that. Keep in mind that even you can make mistakes and misinterpretations of things that seem certain.  

Above all- remember that this is a game and you should be having fun!