It's March. It's the time of year when people remember how much they love brackets. Here's a bracket the likes of which you've never seen.
You see, there are bosses, and then there are bosses. The baddest of the bad. The epic-est of the epic.
Let’s see who they are.
It's time to pit the bosses from a given raid tier against each other in a seeded tournament of DEATH. Like March Madness, except with at least 25% more fatalities. Only one big-bad will emerge from each tier. There is only the barest modicum of method to this madness, the rules are kept secret even from the judges, and the final winner will be completely arbitrary.
A few very rough guidelines are in order. Abilities that kill players instantly will be assumed to be non-fatal (but painful) to bosses. Bosses will be allowed to target intelligently but their adds will follow normal aggro rules. Bosses are immune to CC, while their adds might be depending upon how the actual fight goes. No one will make any attempt to dodge anything unless they’re chasing a target; when you’re a boss, you don’t move out of the fire, you dare the fire to do its worst. Seeding order will be determined by order of appearance (because the hardest bosses are at the end… except when they’re not).
Let’s start with the very first raid tier, the original, the one that made every raider sick to death of its black-and-red color scheme: MOLTEN CHORE! Er... Core.
Ragnaros (1): Bye
It’s good to be the king… or the Firelord, as the case may be.
Majordomo Executus (2): Bye
10-boss tiers make for strange-looking brackets.
Golemagg the Incinerator (3) versus Lucifron (10)
This looked at first glance to be an even match, as each side’s two adds locked up against each other while the bosses applied their debuffs. But the underdog never really had a chance. Just when it seemed like the add battles would go to mutual annihilation, Golemagg’s dogs self-healed back to full before tearing Lucifron’s guardians limb-from-limb. It was right about then that Lucifron noticed that Golemagg’s debuff, which had started off so painless, had stacked to alarming levels. The salamander tried to plead for mercy until he realized that, like most MC bosses, he doesn’t actually have any lines or, for that matter, a voice.
Sulfuron Harbinger (4) versus Magmadar (9)
It would make sense for SH and his bevy of adds to give Magamdar fits. It would make sense that the healing abilities of the adds would overcome Magmadar’s not-inconsiderable AoE. It would make sense for Magmadar’s lack of a dispel to cause him to succumb to the many, many debuffs SH’s tag-team presents.
But when victory was at hand and the Harbinger raised his weapon to strike the killing blow, he looked at what it was he held, and despaired. For he was holding the single worst weapon in all of WoW raiding history—the Vendorstrike. Unable to come to terms with the sheer awfulness of his loot table, the Harbinger plunged Vendorstrike into his own heart. His healers fled, leaving Magmadar winner by default.
WINNER: Magmadar (upset)
Baron Geddon (5) versus Gehennas (8)
Between his bomb and his AoE, Baron Geddon made short work of Gehennas’ adds. Without them, the salamander had nothing going for him but an anti-healing debuff that made Geddon laugh and a Rain of Fire he ignored. As his life flashed before his eyes, Gehennas realized for the first time that his true purpose was never being a worthwhile boss, it was tempting raiders to make the incredibly stupid move of going for him before Magmadar. Overcome with inadequacy, he resisted no further as Baron Geddon reduced him to a pile of ash and charred horn.
WINNER: Baron Geddon
Shahrazz (6) versus Garr (7)
Shahrazz grumbled about this matchup at its announcement, and with good reason: his blink and anti-magic protection were singularly unsuited for a fight against the heavy physical damage of Garr and his Garr-lings. As the rocks rushed the caster, Shahrazz fired off his Arcane Explosions with wild abandon. He forgot one vital fact: Garr-lings explode upon death. Remembering this at the last moment, Shahrazz quickly put up his anti-magic protection, and followed with an Arcane Explosion, only for Garr to dispel the buff almost instantly.
The catastrophic chain reaction that followed left the arena devoid of all life.
Ragnaros (1): bye
Majordomo Executus (2) versus Golemagg the Incinerator (3)
One-on-one, Golemagg’s dogs were a match for Majordomo’s minions, while the giant himself could take Executus on. Sadly, that left six adds unaccounted for, and Golemagg had no real plan to deal with them. To add insult to injury, Executus would turn on his spell reflection right before Golemagg cast his random fireballs. Then he’d giggle.
WINNER: Majordomo Executus
Baron Geddon (5) versus Magmadar (9)
This grudge match between living flame and flaming dog was close-fought from start to finish. Magmadar’s flame breath and Conflagration gave him more direct damage than Geddon could muster, but Geddon had an ace in the hole: fall damage. Because fall damage is proportional to maximum health, Geddon was able to knock off large chunks of Magmadar’s life each time he cast bomb. Ultimately, it was just enough for him to put down the puppy.
WINNER: Baron Geddon
Ragnaros (1) versus Baron Geddon (5)
Once upon a time—when these bosses were relevant—certain things made sense. Skeletons weren’t subject to bleed effects. Mechanical foes were immune to disease. And fire elementals were immune to fire damage.
This had the unfortunate effect of driving 95% of raiding mages to respec Frost and the remaining 5% to try out Farmville.
Later on Blizzard would decide that players getting to play the rotation they liked was more important than silly things like logic or realism, and all enemies became vulnerable to all forms of damage. It’s just as well, because if they hadn’t, Ragnaros versus Baron Geddon would have no winner. Sadly, a draw was the best outcome Baron Geddon could have hoped for. Ragnaros’ stacking debuff was too much for Geddon to handle, and when Rag wanted to put on the finishing touch, he knocked Geddon back and obliterated him at range. “I should demote him back to being a Son of Ragnaros,” the Firelord mumbled afterwards.
Ragnaros (1) versus Majordomo Executus (2)
The pre-fight betting established Ragnaros as a prohibitive favorite. Many spectators pointed out that Ragnaros one-shot his Majordomo when it suited him. How, they wondered, would Executus and his minions overcome the knock-back-and-Pyroblast combo, or the stacking debuff, or the Submergence?
Spoiler alert: they couldn’t.
Not that they didn’t try. Executus very cleverly placed himself with his back towards his fire pit. When Rag knocked him back, he landed near his fire pit, then teleported Rag to the pit, preventing the firelord from casting Pyroblast. Unfortunately, that trick only worked once. Despite spell-reflecting shenanigans and a huge combined health pool, Team Executus failed to win the battle before Ragnaros submerged—and the mana burn aura of his Sons shredded Executus’ forces. By the time Rag surfaced once more, only the Majordomo remained, and he was already cooked enough to eat, albeit a bit on the rare side. But Ragnaros smashed Sulfuras into his underling anyway, just to be sure.
FINAL WINNER: RAGNAROS
Molten Bore had a lot of problems. The fights were, by modern standards, incredibly simplistic and, by any standards, mostly static. Only one fight had anything resembling an enrage mechanic, meaning your DPS players could be AFK, asleep at the wheel, or just bad, and there would be minimal impact on your success. The respawn timers on the trash, most notoriously the Ancient Core Hounds, were draconian. And there was a near-total lack of not just new models, but new *skins*.
The exception to all of that, of course, was Ragnaros himself. His was a new model and new art. He actually had a voice and lines and personality as opposed to the lootbags in his army (Majordomo also gets a pass here). His fight required movement, both choreographed and unplanned, and featured a soft enrage timer in the form of a second wave of adds. It wasn’t all good; he had a truly trollish ability that did nothing but take durability off of your weapon. And only in vanilla WoW could a raid boss turn a level 35 quest area into a world PvP hotspot, thanks to that wonderful thing called “resistance gear”. But in terms of delivering an epic bossfighting experience, Ragnaros is head and shoulders beyond anything else in the Snore.
Nefarion (1) versus Razorgore the Untamed (8)
8-v-1 matchups rarely leave much hope for the 8. This was no different. While the constant stream of adds ground each other down, Nefarion’s Shadowflame and huge health pool gave him a big edge over Razorgore. The match looked ready to tip when Nefarion’s supply of adds expired, letting Razorgore’s reinforcements begin to bear down on the black dragon. But Nefarion’s dark resurrection of his minions, followed by a well-timed fear, turned the tables. As the skeletal drakonids messily dismembered Razorgore, Nefarion sat back and watched, already contemplating ways of making his creations more efficient.
Chromaggus (2) versus Vaelastrasz the Corrupted (7)
Everyone licks their chops at a boss who starts the fight at 25% health. Unless, of course, you have no sort of Execute ability, which Chromaggus doesn’t. As the spliced-together monster trundled into the arena, Vael was already there, being attended to by goblins. Noticing his opponent had arrived, Vael stood and stomped on one of the goblins before it could escape, and in the process looted a Sand of Time which would let him offset one of Chomaggus’ abilities. Chromaggus’ two heads both sighed. It was going to be one of those days.
As it turned out, Vael’s low health was married to absurd damage output. Even when Burning Adrenaline is adjusted to fit the format of this tournament, its impact is egregious when combined with the extreme damage of Vael’s basic abilities. It all came down to which of Chromaggus’ breath abilities were in play. Vael couldn’t remove curses, so he’d be taking 50% increased fire damage. With the black and red breath attacks, Chromaggus would have enough fire damage output to trade blows with the red dragon.
Unfortunately, this week he got blue and green.
Chromaggus’ two heads had enough time to sigh again before his body burst apart from within.
WINNER: Vaelastrasz (upset)
Flamegor (3) versus Broodlord Lashlayer (6)
The three black drakes were a bit confused when the tournament began. They were so similar in abilities and loot, and so used to being thought of as a unit, that the idea of being separated was almost alien to them.
This disorientation let Lashlayer get a substantial early lead. Flamegor quickly recovered, however, and his self-Enraged attacks began to get the better of the Broodlord. In desperation, Broodlord knocked Flamegor back—right into the Suppression Room. The slowing effect on Flamegor’s melee attacks completely changed the damage race. With several unnecessary flourishes of his glaive, the Broodlord decapitated the drake.
WINNER: Broodlord Lashlayer (upset)
Ebonroc (4) versus Firemaw (5)
In this black drake beatdown, the self-healing Ebonroc took on the damage-stacking Firemaw. It was as good a matchup as Ebonroc could have asked for; Firemaw’s effectiveness against multiple targets was worthless, while Ebonroc had only one target to focus his self-heal debuff on. As the fight wore on and Firemaw’s debuff stacked to silly levels, it got a bit scary for Ebonroc, but his huge early lead held true.
Nefarion (1) versus Ebonroc (4)
Nefarion entered the arena with a smug expression. Ebonroc returned a shrug. “I was lucky to survive last round,” he said. “This time? I know I don’t have a chance.”
“Quite right,” Nefarion agreed. “In fact, I’ll make you a bet. I bet I won’t even have to take my true form this fight.”
“What are the stakes?”
“If you win, I’ll only use your body for one experiment.”
“Fair enough. I’ll take that bet.”
When Nefarion’s drakonids were through turning Ebonroc into a mound of meat and scale, Nefarion had them collect the fallen drake’s blood for further use. He fed the rest to the next generation of whelps. Waste not, want not, he thought with a savage grin.
Broodlord Lashlayer (6) versus Vaelastrasz the Corrupted (7)
Lashlayer’s abilities are designed to mess with players. He has an anti-threat attack that throttles your DPS, a Mortal Strike to torture your healers, and knockbacks to mess with your tanks. He’s frustration incarnate.
Vaelastrasz is a murder machine.
Murder machines don’t get frustrated.
Nefarion (1) versus Vaelastrasz the Corrupted (7)
Nefarion had a plan going in to this. Drakonids were a part of that plan. A cleave and a firebreath later and the Drakonids were not as much a part of the plan anymore.
As the berserk red dragon tore into him, Nefarion realized with a shock that his victory in the lore meant nothing for the purposes of this tournament; also, that his unusually large healthpool just made Burning Adrenaline more damaging. In a growing panic, the black dragon resurrected his minions, only to watch Vael’s pulsing AoE destroy them in short order.
Vael knocked Nefarion down and towered over his foe. “Revenge is sweet, punk,” the red bellowed, and then ate Nefarion’s face.
FINAL WINNER: VAELASTRASZ THE CORRUPTED
For a long time, Vael held the position of number 2 NPC killer of players. (#1 was the humble Stormpike Archer.) It’s easy to see why. Most guilds’ first attempts on the guy lasted less than ten seconds. Even when everything goes perfectly a quarter of the raid is dead at the end.
It’s easy to criticize the fight. It’s overly simplistic; it eliminates resource management; it removes threat as a concern; it trivializes rotations; it’s subject to bad RNG regarding who gets Burning Adrenaline. Except for the last part, though, that’s kind of the point. Both BWL and AQ are full of bosses that make threat a big problem and fights that are long enough to make mana a problem. They’re full, in many ways, of tedium. Vael was anything but tedious. Vael takes those other concerns away and says, “Do your worst or die trying! Burn half as long but burn twice as bright!” No other fight, before or since, is quite like it.