Primigenia’s Guide to Raiding
This guide is meant to impart the knowledge I’ve gained by being a top-tier raider for the past three expansions – that is, the almost intangible knowledge and concepts that I have mostly learned and picked up through trial by fire, and by taking an intellectual and analytical approach to the game. It’s not a typical intro to class play, but rather a tool to help a competent raider work towards becoming an exceptional one. It will also be useful for somebody new to raiding, although the accessibility may be a little lower – I took a certain amount of previous knowledge for granted throughout the guide. For top players though, this guide will probably be redundant. It's not a groundbreaking treatise on raiding, but it does put a lot of the things some of us have been taking for granted for a long time into words in an organized matter - which I hope can at the least make you look at things from a different point of view.
I’m writing this guide because in spite of all the research I have done on World of Warcraft over the years, I have (with few exceptions) never seen a guide that focuses on the less concrete and obvious aspects of being a good raider. I know quite a bit about theorycrafting, min/maxing, and individual class play-style, however that is beyond the intended scope of this guide, and I will leave that to the much more talented group of theorycrafters that already post their findings on other websites. The purpose of this guide is for me to provide and expound upon some general tips for being a heroic-progression caliber of raider, through detailing my own play-style and approach to raiding and by emphasizing a lot of the mental preparation that goes into raiding.
It is not my intention to presume that my play-style is the very best, or that this guide is in any way comprehensive; I do believe, however, that seeing and reading the in-depth details of my play-style and the preparations I take may at the very least cause you to pose similar questions to yourself, and that it raises notions or ideas that may not have occurred to you before – if anything it should just allow you to more clearly view and improve your own ability as a raider. Hopefully, it will also cause you to learn to approach each fight from an analytical problem-solving perspective, and to cause you to discover your own “pro-tips”.
I don’t think that enough people give credit to how much your physical (out of game) environment can affect your play when you’re trying to perform at a maximal level. You should be playing preferably at a desk, with a comfortable chair, and enough space that you don’t feel confined. Also, have snacks or drinks around – over the 3 or 4 hour raid they’ll help to keep you focused. Try to minimize distractions – undesired ones at least; some people like to have music running, but I would advise to refrain from watching TV shows, movies, or surfing the web, even between pulls. Those kind of mental distractions are what break people’s continuous concentration, and have often been a cause for inability to focus during mind-numbing progressions (we all know How I Met Your Mother is more fun than chaining 70% wipes).
Also, I can’t emphasize highly enough the need for a keyboard and mouse that you feel comfortable with. Two or more side buttons on a mouse are nice for keybinds, but most importantly you need a keyboard that you won’t fat-finger (unintentionally strike a key) Lay on Hands with, and a mouse that doesn’t irritate you.
On inhibitants: some people really like to smoke or drink when they raid, and from personal experience I know it can certainly work for some people, and less so for others. In my opinion, the fact that these things inhibit your general functioning indicates it will inhibit your mental clarity and overall performance as well; however, this is still a game, albeit a really complicated one that people care passionately about. My advice is to be a good judge of your ability, and if showing up blitzed to raid is making you cause wipes, cut back on the sauce – likewise for Mary Jane.
User Interface (UI)
Everyone has different UIs, and that is evidence enough that different things work for different people. The most important thing about a UI for being a top-flight raider is that it is as informative as possible, without being distracting.
General advice for designing your UI:
• Compulsory: Use keybinds. It is literally mathematically trivial to show that keybinds are more efficient and faster than clicking the icons on your bars.
• Compulsory: Use Deadly Boss Mods or a similar raid mechanic alert addon
• Compulsory: Run damage/healing meters (use Skada or Recount) – you need to be aware of how you are performing relative to both your personal expectations, and other raid members
• Use Omen Threat Meter; most people think it’s useless, but I promise you that in certain situations you’ll need to be aware of the threat table
• Place your character and target panes close to the center of your screen – you don’t realize how much glancing to the upper-left corner can break your focus, even momentarily
• Use an action-bar addon (Bartender or Dominos), it will give you a lot more versatility with arranging your action bars to leave your view less obstructed
• Use a good unit frames addon – there are dozens (Grid, TidyPlates, etc.)
• Use Clique; it is used in conjunction with Grid or other unit frames to allow click-modifiers (e.g. Ctrl+Shift+RtClick) to cast spells on players. I discourage its use for general healing, but it is exceedingly helpful for those rarely-used clutch-decision spells
Overall, what matters most is that you find a UI that works well for you, and can help you to be the best raider possible. Experiment, and don’t be afraid to drastically change things around – it’ll feel awkward as hell at first, but you might discover something much better. A great UI that suits you well will easily take 2+ hours to get together the first time, but it is well worth the effort.
Playing in General
In recent expansions, Blizzard has made an effort to give most specs/classes quite a bit of individual raid utility, in that we now have many spells that can affect us individually during a fight – minor things that, when utilized correctly, make the difference between a good raider and an exceptional one.
The first advice for any class, is to read your entire spellbook and talent tree completely through, two or three times in a row. It never ceases to amaze me how many people respond with, “Oh, I didn’t even know I had that spell!” when I offer advice on an ability. Simply being aware of the tools at your disposal is the first step towards using them effectively.
Something I cannot emphasize heavily enough is that these spells be on your action bars and are keybound. Just knowing about them isn’t enough when the off-tank needs a Hand of Freedom in the next half-second or it’s a wipe.
Utility spells are equally useful for self-use and use on other raiders; just attempt to view each ability from a standpoint of what situations it could be used. Once you understand their uses, the key is having enough raid awareness to recognize when one of those situations arise, and use the spell accordingly.
Now that Blizzard compressed the talent tree, and has added Tome of Clear Mind, it is possible to switch talents and glyphs completely painlessly and instantaneously. This means that, as an exceptional raider, you should be aware of which of your talents/glyphs aren’t set in stone or completely compulsory, and therefore could be swapped from encounter to encounter. Read each of your talents and glyphs, and try to discern ahead of time in which situations each would be useful.
Some of the common decision points in the talent trees/glyphs:
• Picking between a stun, slow, and CC: pretty straightforward, will any of these be used in the fight?
• Picking between a passive speed boost, sprint ability, and another option: Although a passive speed boost will aid in overall uptime on a boss, in my experience any kind of sprint ability is infinitely more useful when applied at the right time (a rush to stack up, platform switch, etc.)
• AoE vs Single target damage: A lot of glyphs will allow you to tune an ability more towards one or the other. If you’re expected to bring down a lot of adds in a fight, you might consider an AoE slant, but otherwise single target will be generally optimal.
• Picking between several utility spells: Some classes have a choice between two or three very situational abilities, that may all seem generally useless; think about each choice and which will be best for that specific fight.
“Raid awareness” is one of the biggest buzzwords in raiding; how many times have you heard “STOP TUNNELING” or “PAY FUCKING ATTENTION” yelled into vent? Raid awareness and raid mechanic competence are the two most single valued traits in a raider; a player who tops charts but repeatedly fails at mechanics is infinitely less useful during heroic progression than someone who is under-geared but executes flawlessly. So yes, we all agree raid awareness is useful, but how does one actually gain it? It seems people either have it or they don’t.
From my experience, the main contributing factor to someone’s raid awareness is the mindset with which they approach raiding. Often people approach an encounter solely from the standpoint of absolutely maximizing their healing or dps; this is absolutely the correct approach – but only with the caveat that properly executing mechanics, being aware of your surroundings, and contributing to raid utility are your first priorities. New raiders should begin with perfecting these skills, and then move on to climbing up the charts.
Many people also forget that the actual game is in fact the boss and the characters jumping in circles and standing in fire on your screen – not the tiny health bars in your Grid, or the sexy crit numbers scrolling through your combat text. These are indeed very representative and irreplaceable data – that absolutely cannot be ignored – however it is incredibly easy to slip into a Zen-like state of tunnel vision when you focus solely on your UI: you start pulling higher and higher dps, you can feel a streak coming on, everything just proc’d, you blow your CDs – and then you die to fire. We’ve all done it, and we’ll do it again, but forcing yourself to look at the actual screen often, keeping your camera zoomed all the way out, constantly rotating your camera around to get a mental image of other players’ placement, and actively thinking about what you’ll need to do next will all help you to minimize those elementary screw ups.
• Keep your camera zoomed out to the maximum (without slipping behind textures into ceilings/walls) distance, and rotate it with your mouse occasionally, taking mental note of the raid’s overall position, visualizing where the raid will need to move/shift to over the next minute or so.
• Constantly be watching your DBM timers; know what abilities are coming up and what you’ll need to do when they happen.
• If you find yourself tunneling or slipping into a monofocal state, consciously bring yourself out of it; take a mental step back and re-embrace the encounter as a whole.
• There will be natural slumps in a fight, and they will happen at different times for each role (dps: waiting for adds to spawn, tank: tank and spank phases, healing: reduced raid damage, light tank healing phases), but be aware of when they will happen and allow yourself to take a mental break – loosen up your grip on the mouse, shift your posture, take a deep breath, and then dive back in. These mental breaks will help you stay focused throughout the longer 10-12 minute encounters.
Mental preparation for an encounter
This is possibly the single most important section of the guide, and at the same time the one that you might read and think, “Well yeah, no shit Sherlock.” But the reason I include it, is because nobody does these things. I’m serious; I’d be willing to make a sweeping generalization that 90% of all WoW players do not consistently mentally prepare for all the fights they will do.
But yeah, mental preparation. Before the tank even begins a countdown for pull, you should know everything you’ll do in a fight: the physical paths you will take, the points at which you will blow your CDs, phases where you’ll need to give your utmost concentration, and phases where you might be able to catch your breath. Knowing all of these things ahead of time will make your role as a raider nearly perfunctory – which then allows you to top charts, which is of course, everyone’s ultimate goal.
So here’s a [general] step-by-step process in a semi-ordered list that I use to prep for fights:
1) Watch a video on the fight
. Seriously... watch the video – it’s almost like cheating it’s so helpful. Things to watch for:
a. The visual on-screen cues for boss abilities (e.g. ground effects before a cleave, circles on the ground preceding fire, etc.) are good to know and recognize, it can only help you to be better at mechanics.
b. How the players physically move: are they strafing out of fire, or stepping forward? Do they run through the boss, or around the boss? Is it an extremely tight stack, or just loosely around an area?
c. And of course, just get a good feel for the fight. Watch the video an extra time through without thinking too hard, just absorbing as much as you can and letting your mind become accustomed and comfortable with what you’ll have to do.
d. A final note
: Encounter videos will only be as good as the person/guild making them, and therefore you need to take them with a grain of salt. Below are some reliable websites/YouTube users, but just always watch videos with a critical eye. As you are noting the details and nuances of a fight, consider if there is a better way you or the raid could execute.
i. TankSpot: used to be the single best encounter video team, however lowered activity and losing their G4-esque raid girl Aliena that did a lot of the videos has made them sub-par
ii. FatBoss: two British guys do these videos in a very Top Gear-ish approach. The videos are solid, and have good effects, although they seem to gloss over some things and are less detailed than the TankSpot videos used to be; I would say overall they are currently the best resource.
iii. Random YouTube videos: If you search for a fight in YouTube, you will inevitably get other results of guides for the fight; use these as you see fit, they obviously will vary in accuracy and usefulness.
2) Phase Transitions
: where will you personally be moving from and to, will it be far enough to use a movement CD, will you be required to dps/heal during it, or is it a good time to regen mana? Think about how the transitions will each go as a whole.
3) Cooldown Management
: Knowing how and when to use CDs is one of the most seemingly intuitive, yet difficult to master aspects of the game. The key is having a good sense of how they will be used in a fight, before you ever step into the instance. CDs are a versatile enough topic that I’ll break it down into the three archetypical roles, because within these they are somewhat similar:
: For a dps, using your CDs is almost purely in the realm of theorycrafting. You face essentially a tradeoff between using them during optimal phases (i.e. during BL/Hero, when the boss is vulnerable, or where little movement is required of you), and using them every time they are up off of CD. Generally though, there will be enough “optimal” opportunities to use your CDs that you will be using them more or less as soon as they are off of CD. The key is making absolutely sure that they are available during phases that absolutely necessitate it (i.e. a soft berserk at 20%, an add/damage intensive phase you’ll need to burn through, during BL/Hero, etc.).
: Using tanking CDs consists of constantly making mental decisions between two ideals: saving the CD for later for when you’ll really need it, and using it now because you either don’t want to overly stress the healers, or you’ll die if you don’t. It’s a good idea to know when you’ll absolutely have to have them up off of CD (typically a phase of heavily increased boss damage to the tank). The most important thing is to keep a healthy balance between having a CD available when you need it, and not being afraid to use one when you do. Also, fights or specific phases seem to tend towards one of two “styles” of incoming tank damage:
i. Uniform and intense: Some fights are just going to be difficult for healers, plain and simple. Everyone is taking massive amounts of damage, tanks included, and it’s basically terrible all the time. During these types of fights, tanks should “rotate” their CDs, essentially using them as soon as they come off of CD, with perhaps more precise timing to when their health has spiked particularly low
ii. Slow and spikey: Some fights oscillate between light damage phases and heavy ones, or even on the micro-basis of a slow-swinging boss that hits really, really hard. In either of these cases, you might want to reserve your CDs for a more "panic button" basis, because there will likely be times in which you’ll die if you do not have a CD available.
: There are usually two types of healing CDs:
i. Mana Regen: These should generally be used immediately once they are off of CD to maximize total mana regained for a fight, with one exception: some mana regen CDs have negative side effects (Divine Plea for example, reduces outgoing healing by 50%). In the case of these types, you essentially should use them as soon as you can without jeopardizing your healing ability – transition phases, light dmg phases, etc. It is a common mistake for healers to not use their mana CDs when they are still around ~90% mana; if your mana is low enough at any given time that using a mana CD will not cap you at 100% mana, then you should use it – you don’t need the mana now but you will later.
ii. Throughput Increase: Identify the phases that will be healing-intensive, and be sure to have one or more CDs readily available to compensate. The rest of the time, use them whenever the raid is dangerously low, or you need to simply heal harder. As with other CDs, you should ensure that they will be available when you know for a fact they’ll be necessary, but don’t hesitate to use them when the situation merits it.
4) Raid Utility
: Raid utility has already been covered extensively in this guide, so I won’t cover the nuances of it. The point is, think analytically ahead of time which auxiliary spells will be useful in this fight (are there any slows, stuns, unusual threat mechanics, etc.), refresh your memory of the keybinds (although this shouldn’t be necessary), and be ready to use them when that time comes.
World of Logs
If you are unfamiliar with World of Logs, it is essentially a website that does in-depth parsing of the default WoW combat log, and allows you to fully analyze your performance graphically and quantitatively, in comparison to previous attempts you’ve had, as well as against some of the best players in the world. Once you find yourself hitting a glass ceiling with performance, I promise you that comparing your WoL data against top attempts by players on the leaderboards will give you some insight that will allow you to improve. One critical thing to look for is how your spell damage/healing is split proportionally between spells (it should somewhat match that of top players, even if the magnitudes vary); this will be reflective of if your general rotation is correct, and (pertaining to healers) if your general play-style is correct.
Teamwork and Meshing as a Core
Firstly, if you don’t have a microphone you will never be a serious raider; Vent communication is far too vital to ensuring the coordination of a raid group to forgo it. If you don’t have one, pick one up on Amazon for $15 – it’s worth it. If you can’t afford one and you’re in a serious raiding guild, just ask. Someone will buy one for you.
The main goals of Vent communication are awareness and synchronization. Typically your raid leader will be responsible for callouts of mechanic timers, handling a large portion of the awareness issue; however, you can do a lot as an individual too. Let other raid members know if they’re standing near fire, tell the group to re-spread if they’re clumping, tell the other healer if you need to channel a potion, etc. Simple communication like this will help to build a much tighter-knit raid core. The other goal is synchronization: the tank counts down for a pull, the RL counts down for everyone to stack up, two members coordinate to pass off a debuff or manage a linking ability, etc. In my experience when trying to synchronize anything in an encounter, just be as vocal as possible. Confirm handoffs, give people warnings, and simply over-communicate until there is no doubt about what’s about to happen.
Raid Core/Guild Dynamics
I hesitate to even write a section about this because it is a somewhat heated topic, but it is something that needs to be addressed. The single greatest killer of guilds is not halted progression, subpar attendance, or even general incompetency; it is guild drama. Any kind of disagreement that can happen in real life, can and will happen in a guild: dating issues, intense mutual loathing, entangling alliances, or simply grating personalities.
The thing to remember is that if you want to be in a stable, reliable guild, you must do your best to not instigate and at times mitigate guild drama. Don’t start drama, don’t get involved in things that aren’t your business, and try to resolve the things that are. Additionally, be nice. Snide comments and biting sarcasm can be funny when they're tactful, but when they are pervasive they can create a hostile raid environment. I can't stress enough how much a hostile environment will slowly break down a guild, fracturing it over time. Try to be just generally nice to other members in the guild, and when tempers run high during progression, always keep in mind that you're all on the same side.
Something that also can cause fracturing in a guild is a sense of a permeating elitist attitude in upper echelons of the guild. Now that 10m guilds represent the vast majority of raiding guilds, this is less prevalent than in the past, because the leadership in a 10m guild is often small enough that it is a non-issue. However in 25m guilds or larger 10m guilds, the officer core and guild masters must always be wary of slipping into a mindset of lazy entitlement, expecting to continue to garner respect and loot while lurking at the bottom of the meters. Another subset that needs to keep themselves in check are the truly outstanding players in a guild. You know who they are; they've been topping charts for as long as you can remember, and they routinely outperform players that significantly outgear them. These players simply must be sure to avoid developing a serious elitist or condescending attitude towards other guild members. This can lead to nothing positive, and certainly has the potential to cause drama. Guild leaders must take it upon themselves more than anyone to cultivate and maintain the dynamic of a guild, and to guide it where guidance is needed.
The final aspect I want to touch on is the addressing of underperforming players. At the end of the day, it is the job of the guild leadership to decide on a healthy balance between callousness and being realistic and pragmatic when it comes to underperforming players. There is no right answer to the dilemma, simply because it is a Catch-22: while likability and reliability are often accompanied by pure performance, the two are in fact independent, and sometimes a player that everybody loves may be bringing the guild down as a whole (e.g. due to subpar dps). At that point, it is simply up to the guild leaders to decide how serious they are about progression, and if leaving some people behind coincides with the guiding ideals of the guild. Again, there is no right choice, it is just something that each guild will have to decide for themselves.
Beyond those basics, just always remember that we’re all just human, and things do happen. Just play nice.
That’s all I’ve got right now, and I hope that you got something out of reading this laboriously long guide besides slight eye strain. If you have any questions, feel free to email me or post a reply to the guide.