6 Down, 3 to Go

September 28, 2014

Week 2 went really well. The first 2 dungeons went better than I could ever possibly have expected. The first two dungeons took us less than 30 minutes each (not counting travel time between dungeons or bio breaks).

First up, Temple of the Jade Serpent. One-shot? Yeah. One shot. No wipes, despite the fact that I somehow managed to die not once, but twice on Wise Mari. Seriously, how did I do that? I mean, WTF? Anyway, spanked it and took away it’s birthday. The trend once again continues: we are pulling easier because we only need Silver, but by being a little more aggressive we could totally get Gold.

Next up, Shado-Pan Monastery. We flubbed the first pull, because some mobs didn’t behave the way I thought they did, but after a quick reset and a change of tactics, we stormed through that zone, too. We cut the timer closer than I intended, but we also stopped to explain tactics before several parts, too. Going back a 2nd time without having to pause for tactics and maybe one or two more aggressive pulls and we could have Gold on this one.

Finally, Scarlet Monastery. This one actually did give us a bit of trouble, taking us almost 2 hours. It took us several attempts to figure out the best way to do the first challenging hallway pack, but eventually we settled on Army of the Dead and some stuns and that worked really well. We CCed half of the pack to start off with, but between the stuns and the ghouls taunting, we would probably have been ok pulling it all. At any rate, we had the time to burn on CC, so we burned it. After we sorted that pack out, it gave us no more problems. Oddly, it almost became easy, once we found that tactic that worked for us.

The next obstacle was the invisibility run immediately after those trash packs. After taking turns having the mobs see through the invisibility (I think some of us were taking 1-2 steps too many toward the mobs before popping the potion), we took a bio break and when we came back, we finally got that sorted out. As it turned out, it was a great idea to take a break at that point, and I’m really glad Ven mentioned it. A few minutes away from the keyboard was just what everyone needed to soothe their frazzled nerves and regroup. It was fresh from coming back from that bio break that we decided to try out Army on that pull, and it really just made things click.

We had one good attempt in which our ele shaman got caught, and we had him reincarnate and run as close to the waterfall as he could before he died again. Rezzing from the end of the decorative overhang by the stairs allowed us to “port” him past the trash. We didn’t end up having quite enough time to finish off the run on that one, but I was pretty proud of it anyway. Seeing the group adjust and adapt and think on its feet was pretty fun, even when it didn’t quite pan out. After that attempt, we reset again, and were on a record pace when I accidentally strafed too close to the monks on the fountain. Argh! If I hadn’t messed that one up we would have had a real shot at Gold. We were steamrolling on that attempt.

Anyway, it didn’t take us too long after that to finally knock it down. Our successful run wasn’t our fastest pace through the front end of the zone, but we managed to speed it up at the end and get the boss, anyway. The way the group kept adjusting made me really proud of them, and honored to be a part of the group. I need to work on looking away from the health bars a little more often (which may help me stay out of the bad a bit better), but sometimes the spike damage is scary high in challenge modes. There were a few times that I poured everything I had into somebody and they still just melted. Still, the successful run did have an epic save in it. After I unfortunately lost Askevar to spike damage (those purifying flames are *nasty* I tell you),  Askevar had the awareness to prompt me to use Earth Elemental, which I did and it worked great. Between CC and the elemental, we managed to save the pull, finishing 2 men down (I also lost my sister on the pull before getting the elemental out). A quick rez, some aggressive pulls and we were the proud owners of another Silver medal. It’s the sort of thing that, if used *proactively* could have helped to shave time and prevent deaths. Hey, you learn as you go.

At the end of the night, I felt really good about it all. Once again, everyone was kind and courteous, even when tensions got high from wipes. Once again, the group kept adjusting our tactics and getting a little bit further each time. More often than not, it was a simple matter of a learning curve. There were a few “oops” wipes, where one of us just executed something poorly (facepull, caught out of invisibility, etc.) but not that many, and mostly we took turns doing it (I may have taken a few of Askevar’s turns, because I’m selfish that way, and besides, she wasn’t using ‘em, anyway). Mostly, though, once we figured out how to do something, it didn’t trip us up again, and we got a little better/faster at doing it each time. Overall, I was extremely proud of this group. There were some epic saves, clutch rezzes, and taunts so quick it would scare a quick-draw artist. It was just a really great night, with some really good runs, and I had a wonderful time doing it. There’s not a single member of the group that I would hesitate to run with again. (Although I died so many times I’m not sure why they’d want to run with me.)

Much like last week, I felt good coming out of them. I’m feeling more certain than ever that we’ll get our mounts and I’m so excited about that. Screen shots/gloating (hopefully) incoming next week. According to Wowhead’s guide, the ones we did this week were 4, 5, and 9 in difficulty, leaving us with 6, 7, and 8 next week. According to Aftermath’s guides, the ones we did this week were 5, 7, and 9, leaving us with 4, 6, and 8 next week. Either way you look at it, the worst of it should be behind us (both guides place Scarlet Monastery as the hardest CM). At any rate, for me Scarlet Monastery was the litmus test, and IMO, we passed.

However you rank them, next week is Mogu’Shan Palace, Siege of Niuzao Temple, and Stormstout Brewery. I think we have what it takes to down them and claim our mounts. After the run, I talked to Askevar and she agreed that, come next expansion, we should start working on challenge modes earlier in the cycle. I wouldn’t mind pushing for golds next time around, making it a “one dungeon per week” sort of pace as opposed to 3 per week, as we’re doing now.


Eureka!

September 23, 2014

Ok, so maybe that’s not quite the right sentiment, but I have come to a decision regarding next week’s challenge modes.

I’m leaning towards starting off the evening with Temple of the Jade Serpent, then heading on to Shado-Pan Monastery, and finally finishing things off with Scarlet Monastery.

This will be a somewhat more challenging evening than last week. In fact, this will likely be the most challenging week overall. I may be pushing things too far, but I’m pretty confident on the group’s abilities. I think we can rise to the challenge. I know that it’s an ambitious schedule, especially Scarlet Monastery (which most people rank as either the hardest or 2nd-hardest zone), and that we probably won’t finish quite as quickly as last week. On the other hand, we should be able to get off to a quicker start this week, and we did have time available to use at the end of last week that we didn’t end up using.

That being said, we learned a lot last week, and this week we know many things we didn’t know then. We know that we have time to pull small or hard CC half a pack if we need to. We know what to expect in terms of incoming damage. We know that we have enough soft CC (stuns, blinds, disarms, etc.) to smooth out tougher pulls if we’re pushed for time and need to speed up. We know how to reset the instance (and all major CDs) without leaving the instance. I think between all of that this should save us some pretty decent time. Even with harder content, I don’t think the number of wipes will go up too much, and those we do have should be somewhat more efficient.

We may not be able to match last week’s pace of averaging under an hour per instance (bio breaks included), but we should have enough time available to suit our purposes. If all goes well, this week will put the worst behind us. If not, I want as much time as possible to act as a safety net.


Hmmm

September 22, 2014

I just found some news that is potentially a game-changer.

Initially Askevar and I wanted to get the Scarlet Monastery Gold in order to get the Shado-Master title. But, according to some comments I found on Wowhead, a Blizzard poster said the CM Gold requirement is being changed to SPM: Heroic in 6.0 (original tweet the comments reference is linked below). That Blue was none other than Watcher (Lead Game Designer Ion Hazzikostas) himself.

If this is true, and I’m understanding it correctly, then it would make my scheduling decisions much easier.


Next Week’s Challenge Modes

September 22, 2014

I’m a bit up in the air about what to do next week.  In theory, Blizzard will release patch 6.02 on October 14 (the Tuesday one month before the WoD release date), which gives us 3 remaining weeks to get all our CMs done. That said, I’d hate to count on it and then not get it, so I’m hoping to get it done in 2 weeks.

I’ve researched as best I can, and despite some widely varying opinions on the relative difficulty, I’ve come up with a list of the 3 “medium” difficulty instances and the 3 “harder” instances. In roughly ascending order of difficulty: Temple of the Jade Serpent, Mogu’Shan Palace, Shado-Pan Monastery, Siege of Niuzao Temple, Scarlet Monastery, and Stormstout Brewery. I’m not quite sure where to place SPM on our list. Most people agree that it has a very forgiving Gold timer, but all the same, I would think even a forgiving Gold is bound to be more challenging than a Silver.

Basically, if we number them in ascending order of difficulty (getting numbers 1-6), we have some option to split them up such that we try to gain some sort of strategic advantage out of the selection.

On the one hand, we could do the three easiest remaining instances (1, 2, 3) next week, but that leaves the three hardest (4, 5, 6) for the last week and I’m not sure I like that.

We could also pair 1, 3, and 6 for one set and do 2, 4, and 5 the next. In theory, this would give us a roughly equal amount of difficulty each week and also allow a small progression curve each week.

Alternately, we could do 3, 4, and 5 on one week, and do 1, 2, and 6 on the other. This would give us one week that is somewhat more challenging overall (the middle), but also allows the easier week overall (the bookends) to maximize time spent on the hardest single challenge (6) by throwing it in with two easier ones.

Oh, decisions, decisions.


Well, that wasn’t so bad

September 21, 2014

As the title says, that wasn’t so bad.

I went into tonight’s challenge mode attempts as a big ball of nervous energy. I was worried, but cautiously optimistic, but also worried I was being overconfident. You can see where this vicious cycle is headed. I pretty much went into the dungeons feeling equally certain that we would beat them all no worries and also fail so miserably we accomplished nothing. Long story short, I didn’t know what to expect.

I had never attempted any challenge modes before, so I didn’t have any personal experience to go on. Everything I had heard so far by people who did attempt them was that it was insanely difficult. Even talented, experienced players were regaling me with tails ranging between complete futility on one end of the spectrum and managing Bronze, but missing Silver on the other end. Basically, nobody was saying “Silver is doable, even if not easy.” One commonality between all of the stories was wipes. Lots and lots of wipes. It had me wondering if we could pull it off.

So, to better prepare myself, I did what I always do: seek out more information. I watched video guides, I read written guides, and when I was finished, I did it all over again. I bugged Askevar to no end (sorry, Askevar), pumping her for information on her previous runs to see what happened, where, and why (the Black Box dissection, if you will). I made notes and checklists and watched the videos again. My sister even pitched in and made up a quick summary/cheat sheet/ outline. When all was said and done, I was as ready as I could be to lead the party to victory. (Well, so to speak. Technically I was supposed to be on point with the whole thing, but I’m not the greatest leader. As the tank, Askevar was playing field general, with me giving brief tips and plans when and where I could).

Right off the bat, we had a bit of a hiccup. I wanted to be online and ready to go at 4:45 (with an ostensible pull time of 5:00), but my little sister dropped by for an unexpected (though not unwelcomed) visit with the new 1-month old nephew. I didn’t manage to get to my computer until almost 4:50, so I was already running late, when I clicked my Battle.net app launcher and… nothing happened. Confused, I clicked again, and it brought up the “Launching Battle.net App” message and then… again, nothing. Hoping the third time was the charm, I tried again with exactly the same results. Rather annoyed (and embarrassed) at this point, I restarted my computer. By the time it came back up and I tried to launch the app again (with exactly the same results), it was nearly 5:00 and I was beginning to panic. I hate to be late for a scheduled event at all, but to be late for an event that I scheduled myself, well that’s just not something I was feeling okay about. Anyway, I finally managed to get into the game by digging into the wow folder and launching the game and signing in manually.

We went to Gate of the Setting Sun first, because that was the one I heard was easiest. I felt a bit better about (though still embarrassed by) my tardiness when it turned out that the hunter was a no-show so we needed to grab another DPS, anyway. They found a shaman, going elemental, who ended up doing an excellent job in our group.

With our group finally gathered, and ready to set out, we entered the Challenge Mode almost half an hour behind schedule. I gave a very brief game plan and we hit go and then shortly after, we wiped. So we reset, and then promptly wiped again. Apparently forgetting to mention half of the instructions and then standing in the bad is… well, bad. So we reset, gave it another go, and we cleared the first hallway.  (Huzzah!) And then we wiped on the boss because the fail-ass healer kind of sort of stood in the bad again. An epic moment for any witnesses. It went a little something like this… “I can’t see the bombs!” and less than 2 seconds later, *BOOM* goes the bomb, “Beep!” goes the low-health warning, and I’m dead. The group valiantly tried to save the pull, but the last person died with 1,971 health left on the boss. No, seriously. Less than 2K health and we wiped. Stupid healer! Oh wait, that stupid healer was me. So we reset again, and this time I was bound and determined that I would absolutely positively NOT stand in the bad this time. And from that point on, everything just sort of clicked.

Granted, we pulled slow and we pulled small. We weren’t pushing ourselves to try for a Gold time pace, but it’s not like we were struggling for Silver, either. The next few dungeons also had a few unexpected bumps in the road, and we had a few more wipes, and a few more resets, and we had to run back really quick after we killed Koegler in Scarlet Halls to kill a few extra mobs, because we somehow got off on our count. A lot of our problems were merely lack of experience. Mobs died faster or slower than expected, or else they refused to LoS around a corner, and a few times groups were pulled unexpectedly. But all in all, these little obstacles were just speed-bumps, not roadblocks. Most importantly, everyone was kind, polite, and open to discussion. A slight adjustment and we were back in business. The group just kept getting better and better as we chugged along.

When all was said and done, I was left with the overall feeling that this group *could* get Gold if we practiced a bit and, more importantly, actually tried. Yes, there were places that we could have pulled bigger. And, yes, there were places we could have pulled faster. But for what we set out to do, our pace was fine. I firmly believe that a lot of our wipes could/would be fixed with a little communication, planning, and experience. I wasn’t using all of my CDs and we weren’t using an organized stun-rotation on the dangerous packs, so there were times that two stuns went off at once, and times when none went off at all. Fixing that would allow much more aggressive pulls. But for all that, there were lots of moments of smart play, too. My sister dropped Ring of Frost a few times that turned a difficult pull into a fairly easy one, the elemental shaman saved us several minutes running back from a wipe with a heads-up use of reincarnation, and if I’m not mistaken, Venoym was tossing some off-heals in dire situations (it was either him or the shaman). Askevar was, of course, Askevar, and Askevar is an amazing tank. So, I’m not really worried about getting our Silvers, anymore. Granted, the 3 we did were the easiest ones (well, depending on who you ask), but we finished all 3 in good order. Despite our late start, we finished the 3rd with nearly an hour before we would have had to call it quits for lack of time. We averaged about 50 minutes per dungeon, bio breaks included. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.

I’m left with a bit of a buzzed, head-rushy feeling. I’m working out all that nervous energy I had bottled up before the runs. I feel a bit bad in retrospect. After each successful run, Vent was ablaze with cheers and elation from the other 4, but I never let myself feel it. I was too busy going “whew” and trying to remember to breathe again to go “woohoo” and celebrate. Now, though? Now I feel good. I feel bad-ass. I feel confident that this group can get any of the Silvers (and even the optional Shado-Pan Gold for the Shadomaster achievement), that we set out to get. As long as we have 2 more weekends to do this before the patch drops, we can do it.

TLDR: I wouldn’t say Challenge Modes are “easy,” even on Silver, but they are certainly “doable.” We pulled small and slow, we used CC, we wiped a few times, and we still made it with plenty of time to spare before Bronze. We didn’t breeze through nonchalantly, but we didn’t really struggle, either. All in all it was a resounding victory in my books.

Thanks again, Askevar and crew, for joining my sister and I for a great evening. Your great talents and equally great attitudes have made this endeavor a pleasure. And your son’s bubbly display of cuteness certainly helped lighten the mood and set things off on the right foot on our second dungeon. Here’s hoping that next week goes as smoothly.


Tackling the To-Do List

September 13, 2014

I’ve had a very productive weekend. I crossed off the Crackling Jade Serpent mount from my list (still need to get one for my sister). I also managed to cross off Shadow Priest and Holy Paladin from the Proving Grounds Project’s gold list, making it 10/11 classes complete now.

It’s looking like I managed to find a group for challenge modes this weekend (and/or next weekend). I offered to heal them, and with Askevar agreeing to tank, along with her husband and their raid’s top dps  joining my sister as dps. I’m really excited to take some first cracks at it. I want them mounts. :)

My only problem now is choosing which toon to bring along. I’m thinking either my druid or my shammy. I’m pretty good healing with both, and, having been tackling proving grounds with them, both are pretty well geared for challenge modes (with sockets and reforges for scaling). I’m leaning towards the druid, since he seemed to handle the scaling better in proving grounds, but with so many group CDs, it’s hard to overlook the shammy. I’m not sure what Venoym is bringing, either, probably a paladin(?). I think any way we slice it, we’ll have a pretty good composition. The mage and hunter alone bring all sorts of burst and CC to the table.


Salvaging Progress from Frustration

September 4, 2014

About a week ago, I was excited to have a new self-built computer. The classic downside to building it yourself? No store to take defective parts to. I’m now a week without a desktop while waiting on tech support to answer my tickets so I can be sure it actually is a defective part and return it. I’m estimating another week or two without it while the the defective parts travel to NewEgg and back. It’s been an endlessly frustrating experience. This isn’t what dropping $750 on a new PC is supposed to feel like. :(

 

On the bright side, I am able to use my sister’s laptop to take some of the edge off my insanity. While it’s not powerful enough to run raids or dungeons (or even proving grounds), I can at least level alts and work on pet battles. I’ve gotten my monk up to 82 and he needs to build up rested again. I’m wanting to get him to 85 so he can learn the guild mount I bought. Meanwhile, this should give me a chance to get back to work on my sister’s toon, so she can get the mount, too.

 

It’s hard to make plans for such things when you don’t have a computer and don’t know when you’ll get one, but I would very much like to form a Challenge Mode group to get the mounts (get any 1 of them and you’ll have all 4 account-wide come 6.0). I also want to get my hands on the normal-mode Garrosh mount, but with the average PUG group wanting you to be fully heroic-geared before doing normal mode, that won’t be an option.


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