Evaluating Encounter Balance: 10 vs 25

11 January, 2011

The hallmark of Cataclysm raiding was the new one instance  lockout. You can kill a boss on 10 man or 25 man, but not both (heroic raid-size locking aside). The immediate and obvious question: how are they going to balance these encounters?

The Impossible Task

Their intention was to make the difficulty between the two sizes equal. Anyone with a brain (or a calculator) can see that it’s simply impossible to manage that kind of balance. It’s not to say they haven’t tried. On paper, many of the fights look identical and even in practice, some of the fight mechanics aren’t much different on 10 or 25 man.

We’ll do it like those checkmark lists you see before big football match ups. All of these judgments are based on equal gear and equal skill (“all things being equal” as they say). I’m going to be talking about a lot of raid mechanics. Seek out the usual sources for boss strategy and in-depth ability descriptions, let’s get right to it!

Throne of the Four Winds

Conclave of Wind: Not nearly as exciting as the Concubine of Wind, but an interesting fight nonetheless. Any time the raid is forced to split up in separate rooms/platforms, I give the nod to 25 man. More healing coverage, less touchy on the DPS balance. Advantage: 25 man

Al’Akir: Lots of mechanics in this fight that involve movement and individual responsibility. From running between tornadoes to spreading and staying within your own sector, it all favors a 10 man raid. Healing is slightly easier in the 25 man version, as is often the case, but I have to give this one to 10 man. Advantage: 10 man

Bastion of Twilight

Halfus Wyrmbreaker: This is completely dependent on the combination of drakes you get. If the Storm Rider is active, 25 man has a huge advantage (almost too huge). Now that I think about, even the other drakes are easier to handle as a 25 man raid because you simply have more options available to you. More tanks, more healers to assign, etc. Advantage: 25 Man

Valiona & Theralion: Limp-preventing DPS timer, a little bit of movement in different phases, but quite possibly the easiest encounter in Tier 11. Advantage: Even.

Twilight Ascendant Council: Advantage: 10 Man, all that needs to be said.

Cho’gall: Cho’gall is an interesting fight to look at in terms of raid size. There are some ground targeted things and corrupted blood which require some individual responsibility. Based on my experience and the thoughts of others who have done this fight, the variety provided by a 25 man raid is a big help. You have more things to help interrupt Worship and damage splitting for add control in Phase 1 is always more easily handled by a 25 man raid. Phase 2 is about even, difficulty-wise, with maybe a slight edge given to 10 Man. Advantage: 25 Man

Blackwing Descent

Omnotron Defense System: Lots of different abilities that constantly cycle. All of these abilities go from “meh” to “wow” by adding another 15 players. Things like interrupting, slime kiting, and Lightning Conductor become noticeable in a 25 man setting. Advantage: 10 Man

Magmaw: Magmaw is another tough call. There are some ground effects that will endanger more players on 25 man (not to mention the parasites), but the larger raid probably has an easier time killing the parasites and keeping DPS up while chaining Magmaw. Another boss that is too easy to really analyze at this level. Advantage: Even

Maloriak: This analysis will vary greatly based on raid composition so with that being said I’ll give it to 25 man. AoEing a lot of adds, RSTS that only ever hits one person. The healing is significantly easier under 25% in 25 man. Advantage: 25 Man

Atramedes: Another prototypical “spread out and stay away from the poop” fight. There is less of everything in 10 man, but with the recent nerfs, 25 man doesn’t have too hard of a time. Due to room size and the strategy…Advantage: 10 Man

Chimaeron: A pure healing check. This list is trending towards giving the healing-heavy fights to the 25 man crews and it’s no different here. Advantage: 25 Man

Nefarion: This is the only fight I’ve done no significant progress on, so I can’t really comment. Based on the complexity of the fight it might favor 25 Man, but I don’t have enough personal experience to rate it.

If you’re keeping score at home…

By my count that gives 5 fights to 25 Man, 4 fights to 10 Man, with 2 as a toss-up with 1 undecided. I would say that’s a pretty even balance from top to bottom. My 5000 ft view of Tier 11 shows me a slight edge to 25 man just because many of the fights can make use of so many class mechanics. If you were to take 1 of every class in a single 10 man, you would be able to cover everything in every fight but it isn’t uncommon to have 2 of a certain hybrid class (or even 3 in some cases).

Taking out just one of those (maybe a warlock for healthstone, as an example) could hinder you on a particular fight. If players have to handle mechanics on an independent level, 10 man has an edge.

Twenty-five man raids still incur the logistical challenge of maintaining a large crew but the amount of loot (and extra Valor Points per boss) you receive cannot be discounted.

I’m currently loving the single lockout and what it has done to really improve the outlook of a raid week. I don’t have to get on people to make 10 mans on the weekends, and even if folks have to sit out for some bosses, they aren’t missing a ton of loot/points. Maybe 25 man raiding isn’t dead after all.

Encounter Order

Many of you might have waited until after the New Year to start into raiding, and might have a tough time deciding on where to go or what is appropriate. This is my ideal kill order based on difficulty, travel time, and also strat complexity:

1. Halfus Wyrmbreaker

2. Valiona and Theralion

3. Magmaw

4. Conclave of Wind

5. Omnotron Defense System

6. Maloriak

7. Atramedes

8. Ascendant Council

9. Chimaeron

10. Cho’gall

11. Al’akir

12. Nefarian

You can flip Council/Chimaeron and Al’akir/Cho’gall and get a list that is just as good. My reason for putting Cho’gall first is because his loot is much better than Al’Akir’s.¬† In any case, Nefarian is a difficult boss that definitely should be saved for last.

Be Heroic

Don’t look at what the “Top Guilds” (Top Guilds) have done as a model for your team. Only you will know when you’re truly ready to tackle the hard mode encounters. It will likely take some trial & error with plenty of log digging to determine what needs to improve to take that step over the heroic hump. Don’t fear it, but also don’t waste time on something that needs a little more juice in the gear department.

(Keep in mind you need to complete an instance on normal before opening it’s heroic mode)

Our raid week involves 3 full 25 man raid nights with a 10 man running Monday to try out any new encounters or work out strat kinks for the next raid week. Having that little bit of extra info can mean several attempts with your full raiding crew.

Raid leading is fun, isn’t it?

Obviously this all just my opinion from doing the fights, I’m looking forward to hearing how other people’s raids have been going early in Cataclysm.

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Cataclysm Raiding: Do It Right, The First Time

13 December, 2010

You know, as I lie here, I can’t help but notice… the reason I am out of nine millimeter rounds is that I was not properly briefed. And the reason for that is that this mission was not properly researched. If certain people had bothered to gather intelligence on the creatures before bumbling into the situation…-Burt Gummer, Tremors II

By now you’ve likely experienced the rush of leveling. The grind out of the gate when you hit the floor in Hyjal and were knee-deep in dead NPCs. Dozens of random cut-scenes, hundreds of quests (and maybe a dungeon or 2 later), you are 85 and ready to enter heroics.

The most likely outcome? Your group crashed and burned by the second trash pack while your healer sat gasping for mana. This was the case for me, and it was one of those “we’re doing something HORRIBLY wrong” situations. What you’re doing wrong is ignoring the individual abilities of the trash mobs (or bosses). Not standing in cleaves, avoiding aoe damage, interrupting, and over-CC’ing willl make your heroic dungeon experience infinitely easier. Do you need to CC 3/4 mobs in pack? Probably not, but better safe than sorry on your first trip.

It’s no mystery that the first foray for our a group through a particular dungeon was painful. Figuring out the nuance in each trash pack and what makes a certain boss simple as opposed to a healing nightmare is a refreshing change. You need to learn what is going on and actually deal with it correctly.

Saying Hello With a Punch to the Face

This leads me directly into a discussion on Cataclysm Raiding. I decided to schedule a quick impromptu 10-man raid on Sunday (12/12/10). The usual process followed for brand new content: look and see which starting boss was killed the most and go for that one. That boss was Omnotron Defense System. A pseudo-council boss sitting in the right-hand wing upon entering Blackwing Descent. For those who haven’t traveled there, BWD opens with two bosses (think Ignis and Razorscale). Each boss has has 1 (Omnotron) and 2 (Magmaw) trash pulls respectively.

I immediately say to myself: “SELF! Only one trash pull, this will save tons of time.” A crazy zerg shit-storm later and we have it down…the trash pull.

Yikes.

Trash mobs with 6.5M hit-points using abilities that will two shot anyone and put tanks in constant danger? Where are the AoE flowers and robots that I can ride? Maybe they are found deeper in the dungeon but they certainly are not present in the front of the instance. Assigned healing, something that floated out of existence for an entire expansion, has returned. The two sentinels standing guard in front of Omnotron were merely an introduction; a sample of what was to come.

Mr. Obvious Gives You Advice

A one sentence overview of Omnotron Defense System: It will punish you severely when you do it wrong, and will become simple to execute when done correctly.

“I know, Mr. Obvious, of course if you do the fight correctly it will be simple.”

This has not always been the case. Having only one in-combat rez and a disadvantage in the gear department compounds the above statement. Omnotron has abilities that directly (and serverely) punish the raid if they are not properly handled. Travel to wowwiki and read up on the fight if you aren’t intricately familiar, but here is the basic idea. A robot activates and fights you. After a certain amount of time he will put up a shield which turns on a new robot. When a robot runs out of mana he shuts down (post-shield). This rotates around until their shared 32.5 million hp bar is depleted and you can collect your epics. By their names you can guess what they do (kind of).

Arcanotron. Magmatron. Toxitron. Electron. Not always in that order.

1) Don’t DPS the Shield

With a few attempts under our belts we decided to adopt a “Don’t DPS the shield” strategy. Nothing good can come of damaging the shield. The difference in raid damage is immediately noticeable. This made it easy for us to debug problems in the strategy in regards to positioning and how folks are handling the other RSTS abilities. We placed all of the trust in our tanks to pick up the newly activated robots on time and told the DPS to start immediately.

2) Identify When to Group Up

The only robot that is sensitive to raid positioning is Electron (chain lighting). While all of the others are active, be closely grouped to make it easier on your healers. My default command was to call group on Arcanotron” when he was active. The pool he drops will be on the raid immediately and it will allow your healers to sustain this ~9 minute fight. The team of Arcanotron and Magmatron plays very nicely with this strategy.

The hardest combination to heal is Magmatron and Electron since they have conflicting abilities (chain lighting, raid wide fire area of effect). Healing Stream Totem glyph is handy.

3) Tank Cooldowns When New Robots Activate

There will be a small window of time when all 3 robots will be active. As a tank is changing from his shielded robot to the newly activated one, have them pop a cooldown to buffer the damage. Magmatron, in particular, hits hard and getting behind can cost you some vital mana reserves right as an ability is about to be used. If the tank is out of cooldowns, throw on an external one. Since our healing crew was druid-shaman-shaman, we didn’t have that option but did ok nonetheless.

4) Handle the Abilities

If you don’t put Magmatron’s laser away from the raid, kite Toxitrons slimes, or interrupt (most of) Arcanotron’s bolts, you will pay. It’s not a “woops get the next one” situation at this gear level. Each player needs to know how to react when things target them or the robots do certain things. It is not the most complicated fight I’ve ever done, but it will test your abilities and give you a quick introductory course on what to expect this expansion. The closest fight it resembles from WotLK is a slightly easier Mimiron.

Everyone but the tanks were working under completely new rules when it comes to playing their characters in a raid. We all had our toons geared through heroics, but amping it up and doing full (correct) dps rotations or properly healing to sustain a fight of this length is a test. If you can do this fight, you’re ready to go. All of the elements to a raid encounter are present.

  • Don’t stand in the Bad
  • Identify the Good, stand in it
  • Listen for vent calls on positioning
  • Switch targets on time
  • Keep your DPS/Healing up while moving/handling abilities

Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to take a step back and see why you keep wiping. Have your tank look at his death log. It might be something as simple as an interrupt or mob-facing. Be sure that you are accounting for each ability (heroic, raid, or otherwise) and over-compensate for them. One thing is certain: you will waste far more time wiping to blissful ignorancethan searching wowhead for the abilities and some tips to help out.

So far, so good. On to Magmaw.

I’m not comfortable giving a complete breakdown of our strategy (and my healing strategy) yet; not for “secrecy’s” sake, but for correctness. I think there’s a few things I can do better to improve my output and make the most out of my mana bar.