Ready Check is a weekly column focusing on successful raiding for the serious raider. Hardcore or casual, ZA or Sunwell Plateau, everyone can get in on the action and down some bosses. While enjoying sparkly new raid buffs...
Once the upcoming content patch hits, our raids are going to look pretty different. Or are they? Currently, balancing your raid is a delicate game that involves weighing up various gains and tradeoffs, while simultaenously placating people who are all competing for the same spots. While this micromanagement doesn't appeal to everyone, looking at a raid and acknowledging it as a feat of min-max perfection does bring a certain warm glow to one's heart.
Of course, knowing the exact DPS increase from putting a feral druid in the melee group or running perl scripts to calculate a retribution paladin's RDPS contribution is considered overkill by many. Perhaps it's with a sigh of relief that we look forward to 3.0.2's new buff system, where such things will be unnecessary – though I think the logicians among us will always look back slightly wistfully at the way things are now.
So, how do you optimise your raid when the patch hits?The first time you put a raid together under the new system, things might be a bit messy. Especially if your group has less PTR or beta experience, everyone will be fumbling around for a little while; perhaps with sub-optimal specs (especially as level 70 specs will miss something), perhaps demanding a certain buff without realising they already have it in a different form. Plus, you've got to learn2play yourself. It's not going to be easy, but this little shake-up is likely the most fun you'll have had in raids in a while, so savour it while it last.
First up, make sure you're on top of all the changes, and aware of the tools that can help you with the new min-maxing. Organising buffs just got a lot easier; there are very few abilities that are still party-wide, and so you can arrange groups around draenei auras or Tranquillities or simply by colour, since most of the time it won't matter any more.
Out-of-game, MMO Champion's RaidComp is a good way of testing your upcoming raid setups before you do them. Plug in your 'usual' setup for various bosses and you might be pleasantly surprised – chances are your current setups work extremely well for 25man raiding, although you might find huge holes in your 10man compositions.
In-game, InTheBuff is a nice addon which does much the same thing as RaidComp; you can also check different groups against each other, before splitting a raid into smaller chunks, which is a nice feature for balanced 10-manning.
There are a few concerns here, though, especially when it comes to 3.0.2 raiding. We're all going to be pretty starved for talent points initially, yearning after abilities and talents that are out of our reach until we hit 80. However, some of the raid buffs and debuffs are talented – it's likely that a feral druid will pick up Leader of the Pack, but they might not get Infected Wounds for now. Similarly, your balance druid might not have Improved Faerie Fire. Repeat this for every raider and you might find your 'perfect' raid setup isn't so perfect, but let's face it – at this stage you're unlikely to actually need it to be. Besides, if one raider is missing a talented buff or debuff, chances are another one is contributing it anyway in a different form. If you're still trying to down a boss, be aware of where the holes are here, but if you're just farming up levelling gear it's not likely to make much of a difference either way.
Another concern deals with the new egalitarian playing field we're going to find ourselves on come patch day. There are two classes of players that are going to suddenly get worried about their raid spots: players whose class doesn't contribute many raid buffs, and players who aren't any good and only had a spot because their buffs were needed. If your class doesn't bring much to the table, don't worry. In a fully-fledged raid, very few classes bring something unique – it's the combination of every class's buffs together that makes the raid powerful. If one player needs to go, you can look at the difference in buffs with and without them, and find a replacement that makes up that difference; it doesn't have to be the same class or even the same role, any more.
Some classes are increasingly worried that their lack of raid utility will get them shelved, but as people have already discovered, you don't need 25 buffing classes to cover all your bases. There's plenty of room for everyone, and even classes that don't contribute a lot in terms of raid buffs do have things like debuffs and situational uses that can't be evaluated with a series of tickyboxes.
Of course, maybe certain players are right to be concerned about their future. We've all raided with someone who really wasn't all that; dragged people through content simply because they gave us mana, blessings or bloodlust. Now their ticket into a guaranteed raid spot is in danger – they're no longer unique and can be replaced with someone who can actually play their class. How do we deal with this?
As the player in question – you probably have some idea that you're not that great, and you're worried. Now's the time to start making a better impression, maybe asking those of your class how you can improve, and showing that you genuinely want to turn over a new leaf and are dedicated to the guild. Start passing on loot to those who need it more, learn to play your alts properly, and do a lot of background reading to make sure you're totally prepared for the changes to your class and the expansion. Maybe there are things hampering your performance – your UI might be terrible, or your rotation sub-par. There are places that can help with that. Use them.
If you're an officer or raid leader and there's someone you're trying to bump out of raids, you're in a difficult position. It can be hard telling someone they suck, and they might have a lot of friends and respect within the guild regardless. How you deal with this is ultimately down to you, but consider trying to help the person improve instead of simply shutting them out; give them a mentor, and helpful pointers, and maybe re-trial them before kicking them for good. If your guild members start seeing the weaker players disappear, and you've got a large enough playerbase that it doesn't impact the ability to form a decent raid, you're still sending out some pretty harsh messages: "if you suck, you're gone". This works just fine for some guilds, but most of the ones I've been in contact with require a somewhat gentler touch. Some people might be irreplaceable until you get a Death Knight or two, but if you plan to kick them the moment you do, it's only fair to tell them what's on the cards.
Raiding post-3.0.2 will, in general, look pretty much the same as it does now. You've already got a balanced raid force, you've already got all the buffs available. If you've been raiding for a while, your players probably have decent off-spec gear and some of them might even be able to play those specs, so even if there is a hole, you can switch around to fill it. The main headache is going to come as people find their feet with the new talents, and learn that they should stop whining for Blessing of Salvation. Encourage everyone to read up – on their own class, at least! -- and you'll all be perfectly prepared when the patch hits.
[Credit to guildies, who started discussing raid composition while I was writing this article and whose comments have probably slipped in somewhere.]