A look to the past as we explore what built up to and resulted from some of the most interesting boss kills I’ve been apart of.
Quick decisions are unsafe decisions-Sophocles
Edit: Video added!
Everyone remembers Sunwell right? It was a magical land of milk, honey, joy, and joyness. Where the beer flowed like wine and the epics rained down from the heavens like April in Seattle. It was a simpler time, a–wait no, we’re talking about Sunwell? The Sunwell. The same instance that Blizzard famously asserted was far too difficult.
We didn’t know any better. We were just a hard-nosed group of hardcore raiders looking for something to raid after Illidan met his demise. The encounters in Sunwell were intense, cinematic, and presented challenges that no one had ever thought possible in a raid instance.
From the demon world of Kalecgos to the dueling Fire and Shadow Eredar, every step along the way was a test of mental toughness. Raid Leaders were forced to make wild swings in composition adjustments from one boss to the next (and there were only six!). Substandard classes were sat outside on buff duty to prep the brave raiders who had the cajones to enter and face these bosses. One such boss, the third in the instance, Felmyst; a blue dragon struck down by the mighty Brutallus and resurrected with his demonic essence.
Felmyst was a challenge. In raid composition, tactics, and the raid leader’s ability to make lightning quick decisions that decided the fate of the entire raid. In just mere seconds, that decision could be the difference between a wipe or a kill.
Ninety-nine percent of all raid leaders go into a fight already knowing the basic strategy and mechanics. They’re on the web everywhere the moment they’re seen on the PTR and when the top guilds first topple them (the exception being Lich King 25: Heroic…for now). The one mechanic that needed to be handled perfectly from the very first pull was Gas Nova, a brutal mechanic that drained mana and did a large amount of damage. This was countered using Mass Dispel. So, logically, what does one do when something like this crops up? You divide the raid into groups. Each group gets a priest, Felmyst casts Gas Nova, you get dispelled, everyone is happy.
If only it were that easy.
Mass Dispel is a ground targeted mechanic, so that means on a sloped, uneven surface littered with debris, mistakes will be made. Targeting circles got stuck in the wrong spots and sometimes the dispels were just mis-cast altogether. Not enough priests? Only have terrible priests? Then, no, you can’t do Felmyst.
I was hard on the priests from the start, maybe too hard at times, but this was something that had to be done correctly.
As Blizzard is wont to do, if one mechanic encourages you to be grouped up, another will be placed along-side it force you to run or spread out. This came in the form of Encapsulate. The encapsulated person could remove it if they were a Paladin/Mage/Rogue. If they weren’t, that group needed to move quickly to avoid taking a large amount of pulsing Arcane damage. Naturally, since Murphy is always your 26th raid member, he’ll make sure that Felmyst lines up her Encapsulate and Gas Nova timers so that you have to SPREAD OUT and GROUP UP at the same time. Organizing groups to run to specific locations was a feat all in itself, but once the healers were comfortable switching from group to group properly topping people during encapsulate casts, it smoothed out. There’s just one problem: you need to do this 3 times.
Shake Your Money-Maker
Now comes the sticky part for the raid leader. We’ll skip all the mumbo-jumbo about needing a Prot Paladin and picking up skeletons. The real meat of this encounter were the breaths. These aren’t some candy-ass Onyxia deep breaths. They’re breaths that cover nearly 40 yards and mind control anyone caught in them…permanently, even through death. The layout:
From the East, a breath could come in any of those three locations. From the West, a breath could go in the North or Middle sections. Once Felmyst made her first move, you had approximately 5 seconds to get the hell out of Dodge.
A lesson was quickly learned by me as a raid leader: To learn the fight you will need to kill your raid members, and you need to be ok with that when it happens. This is what placed me permanently into a mentality suitable for healing. As a raid leader (or a healer), you will need to make decisions. Sometimes they only come up once or twice in a night in really bad situations, and sometimes they’ll crop up several times in one boss fight.
Who to battle rez and how quick the call is.
Will the tank live until my next heal while I top off the melee?
Are we safe to transition to the next phase?
How close is the next defile? Which way should we go next for Val’kyr?
And finally, do we need to move for the next breath?
Determining the breath location was a fine science that required patience and a clear vent channel. The worst wipes were the ones where you called it correctly, but someone else called it incorrectly just moments before you; causing the rest of the raid to pause for a critical (and lethal) half second. The learning attempts on this boss started with me knowing before we even pulled that I would be wiping the raid in approximately 2 minutes.
Handling that responsibility is not easy, but overcoming it and knowing how to call the breath perfectly every time was fulfilling from a gaming point of view. One of my hunters and I talked back and forth in a Vent bind, picking up on the tells and rules for the breath locations, so that helped smooth the learning curve.
Remove the breath mechanic and you still have a very tough fight. Learning the calls and breath locations became my one purpose over the time it took to drop this boss, and we ended the learning process with a typical first kill: The bubbled paladin finishing the last 0.5%
Farewell to Quel’thalas
Felmyst was the last boss that we defeated before the 3.0 Patch that was the beginnings of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Our final attempt pre 3.0 on the Twin Eredars was a soul-crushing 1% wipe that I’ll never forget. Had we the ability to see their exact HP, I’d guess it was in the 0.1-0.2% range. We finished the neutered version of the Sunwell and banished Kil’jaeden, but it did not feel as complete as a pre-nerf kill would have. A progressive buff, like in Icecrown Citadel today, would have done wonders for the Sunwell, the most challenging raid instance Blizzard ever created.