1 April 2008

Out of my comfort zone in magister's terrace

Down and out in magister's terrace

So I'd seen the reports and heard a few rumours from friends - magister's terrace, the new 5-man instance on the Isle of Quel'Danas, required a lot of strong cc. Meh, I thought, we were all in raid gear and it was a normal mode run. How hard could it be? To borrow a phrase, we were not prepared.

I went in with a warrior tank, a fury warrior, an affliction lock and a holy priest. All excellent players. We were short of cc so I ended up using mind control a fair bit. On the most part, it worked well. With maximum spell hit, and by keeping the mind controlled mob close to my body, I managed to maintain control for the spell's full duration a lot of the time. Where it started to go wrong was on later pulls with aoe mobs. The damage would break mind control and I went down like a sack of spuds.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When I wasn't using mind control, I was fearing. Before the first boss, there are two groups of five that you can pull out and fear away. That all went nicely and the first boss was a push over.

Echoes of murmor
Things got tricky ahead of the second boss. There is a large hall full of mana worms. To start with, you have to pull them back into a very tight corridor. They are non-elite but hit hard and come in packs of 8-10. It took us a while to figure out a strategy - basically, I stopped hitting things and started tossing heals into the group. It was slow but it worked.

Vexallus is an arcane void wraith who does pure arcane damage (even melee). He just stands there, like Murmor, so the tank can run in to start with and you can get on with burning him down. But he occasionally spawns energy adds that do hideous damage if not killed. They have very low hit points, but once you do kill them, you get a stackable dot and a 50% damage increase buff. So the trick here is to spread the adds out among the group so the dot doesn't get unmanageable. Close to death, Vexallus starts nasty arcane blasting that will kill you rapidly if you don't burn him down quick. We wiped once on this guy, and lost both warriors on the second successful attempt.

There are some more nasty groups or four or five mobs on the path to the third boss. Some can be skipped, but some are unavoidable. At this stage, you start to see ethereals - the aoe mobs I spoke about earlier. They teleport all over the place and generally wreak havoc. At the same time, you have a succubus to deal with, seducing everything that moves, a magister dealing hideous frost and arcane damage, and numerous other mobs with knockbacks, stuns, interupts, spell locks, you name it. If you can pull them far enough back you can keep them feared. Otherwise, it's a race against time to get them down before they kill your healer.

Arena match
But we made it through with some difficulty and came face to face with the third boss, Priestess Delrissa. This is the encounter everyone is talking about, and one of the most innovative things Blizzard has done in a while. Essentially, it is a 5v5 arena match. Like Moroes in Karazhan, Delrissa will spawn with four friends chosen at random from a pool of 8. But unlike Moroes, there is no threat table. Tanking is irrelevant and, frankly, impossible. To win this fight you have to use every crowd control, spell and dirty trick in your arsenal.

To a group of dedicated pve players, this is anaethema. Every rule and tactic we knew from our pve experience went out the window. Just how do you face a group of five players who don't respond to threat? Who have more crowd control than you are used to? A team of arena players would have had no problems, I'm sure. But we wiped twice in a row because we had no strategy for even attempting the fight. In the end, we spammed fear and lucked out in the way the mobs targetted us. We banished a demon, stuck a felhound on a mage, feared and focused fire in a loose kill order - the priestess first (she heals), an arms warrior second (he hits hard), then it was free-for-all on the remaining mobs.

If you get past Delrissa, you are only one pull away from the final boss, Kael'thas himself. You walk into a corridor, turn a corner, and climb some steps you can even see him. There is just the matter of a six mob pull between you. There is a healer, two mobs with aoe, a magister, a mage guard and a succubus. Just how hard could it be in normal mode? Well, we were about to find out.

End game
Without reliable cc, there is no good way to approach this fight. Our mistake was to try and use any crowd control at all. We must have wiped ten times switching our kill order around but every way we cut it the healer pulled agro and went down hard. Mind control was a liability, as the aoe damage would break it wherever I stood. If it didn't, I couldn't drop it to backup heal. The difficulty of close-quarter fighting only added to our misery. After the second repair run of the night we almost didn't go back in but we gave it one more shot. And this time I healed. That's how we got through it - we banished the succubus, spam feared and had two healers.

This is in no way a reflection on our healer, who is outstanding. But I was one less person for him to worry about. And instead of having to heal himself, I could do it. With a few prayers of mending flying about and the odd lesser heal, we cracked it.

After that, Kael'thas was a bit of an anti-climax. The fight is a lot of fun, but it no longer seemed like a challenge. Basically, there are two phases to the fight. At first, it's a straight-forward tank and spank. During this phase, he summons a phoenix that does aoe damage and must be burnt down quickly. He turns into an egg when he dies, and the egg must be killed too or else he will respawn. The phoenix is on a timer - if you are quick, like we were, you will only get one; other groups may get two before the second phase. At this point, he channels gravity well and we all start flying through the chamber. You can still do ranged damage, but the priority is to stay away from the obs that chase you. They do nasty damage if they catch up. There is a short time where he drops gravity well and is exhausted. He does no damage during this period, and you do what you can to burn him down. You might get another gravity well. We had a second one before we killed him. Both the lock and myself died in the process. The shot above is post res :)

It was a relief to walk away from this one with all bosses down, but not a pleasure. For most of the run I was well out of my comfort zone, either channelling mind control or struggling to maintain some semblence of threat management on large pulls. I've run instanced with little cc before, but never one quite so unforgiving as magister's terrace. I am deeply uncomfortable with the way Blizzard clearly designed this instance to be dependent on the primary dps classes with their reliable methods of CC. There should be a sign outside saying hybrids like shammies, druids and shadow priests are not welcome. And even if there isn't as cc issue, I really don't think end bosses should be easier to kill than their trash. That's just not in the spirit of instances. Still, I am proud to say I was able to run it and clear it, despite the many wipes, and pleased to walk away with a runed crimson spinel as a reward for killing Kael'thas. I also received 'heroic countenance', which enables me to enter magister's terrace in heroic. Not that I will be rushing back any time soon.

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