Every Friday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting balance druids and those who group with them. This week, we are exploring two of the four wings in Heroic ICC. Be prepared to face some of the most challenging content the game has to offer, folks -- it only gets real from here on out.
I know, I know: No one cares about ICC any more ... Everything is all about Cataclysm ... So why bother talking about it? That's far from the truth, though. ICC still matters to many people. However, if you happen to be of the more pragmatic sort, then hear me out for a little bit. Most of the server-first and world-first kills may have already been claimed, but there is always loot to be had, gear that can be helpful for either soloing things now or leveling in the expansion. Beyond simple gear, heroic ICC is simply fun. People have argued that hard modes aren't quite the same as a truly difficult raid encounter because they are the same as the standard encounters -- perhaps true to a point, but heroic modes are really fun when they are done correctly. Heroic Putricide feels like a completely different encounter when done on heroic mode and is extremely fun.
Perhaps this issue is a little bit late in coming, and for that I apologize -- but it's better late than never, aye? To start with, the first order of business is to ensure that your guild is prepared to go against heroic encounters. The ICC buff can be very intoxicating to some players, and it may make you feel more prepared than you really are for these encounters. Perhaps, in some cases, you are, and perhaps in others, you are not. Not all heroic encounters are created equal; some are far more difficult than others. Since this issue will deal with the opening Lower Spire and the Blood wing, the three encounters you'd want to start with would be Marrowgar, Gunship and Blood Princes; Deathwhisper, Saurfang and Blood Queen Lana'thel would be the three more difficult encounters in these two sectors.
Heroic Marrowgar isn't all that difficult of an encounter, nor is it all that different from the standard encounter. There is actually only one difference between the standard encounter and the hard-mode encounter -- that being that Marrowgar will now use Bone Spike Graveyard during Bonestorm. Other than that (and increased damage and health), the encounter is exactly the same as what you've been doing all along.
- The entire raid, barring hunters and obviously tanks, should group up directly behind Marrowgar, right inside of the hitbox. This will prevent Marrowgar from using Coldflame on the raid. Marrowgar will still use it on the hunters, who cannot stand inside the hitbox due to their minimum range, and the tanks.
- The raid should spread out a few seconds before Bonestorm starts in order to mitigate the initial damage. Marrowgar's Bonestorm will then follow one of the farthest people from his current location. Having the raid spread out will assist with mitigating damage against the raid.
- Predominantly, ranged DPS will be best choice to deal with Bone Spikes during Bonestorm, due to Coldflame's being spread during this time, which will either cut off melee players from the victims or put them on the spikes themselves.
- Even though Starfall is a great single-target damage boost, you should try and save it for Bone Spikes whenever possible, particularly during phases when the raid is clustered behind Marrowgar. Two stars per second and splash damage will significantly assist in bringing them down.
- At times, it is best to use Wrath as opposed to Starfire when dealing with Bone Spikes, even at the cost of Eclipse. Although this does result in lower overall DPS, Starfire still has a prohibitive cast time and, particularly during Bonestorm, you will have little time to stand and nuke straight out.
- If you find yourself cut off from the raid and taking damage, which can occur during Bonestorm, it is often best to throw a couple of HoTs on yourself as you run back into range of the rest of the group. This will help keep you alive in instances where your healers often cannot.
Deathwhisper is one of the hardest heroic encounters within this sector and one of the harder ones within ICC in general. The key differences between standard and heroic is merely a matter of numbers, as she doesn't gain any new abilities. Instead of Mind Controlling a single target, Deathwhisper will choose three victims each time; more ghosts will spawn during phase 2; and three adds will spawn on the standard time frame from either the left or right side during phase 2, as well. The difficulty of this encounter comes more from the chaos that can occur during phase 2; thus, defeating the encounter is more a matter of keeping everything under control.
- During phase 1, the raid should be split evenly on either side of Deathwhisper, with the adds being allowed to run up onto the stage. All of the melee adds should be tanked right next to Deathwhisper, with ranged players killing them off while the caster adds are taken down by the melee players and generally not tanked at all.
- During phase 2, ranged DPS will be the primary source of damage against Deathwhisper. The only melee DPS that should be attacking her should be those responsible for interrupts; all other melee need to be dealing with the additional adds that spawn.
- You only need to use a single tank on Deathwhisper during phase 2, as she is untauntable, making tank-swapping difficult. All Misdirects and Tricks of the Trade should be focused on this tank, since their threat generation is going to be diminished. If ranged DPS gets close to pulling threat, they can peel off and assist with adds to allow time for the tank to get a larger threat lead.
- Crowd-controlling the mind-controlled characters is extremely important, and as a balance druid, you have the best method of doing so. Cyclone lasts just about as long as the effect does, and it prevents cleave or other AoE effects from hitting the players or breaking the CC. Personally, I use VuhDo and have it set up to where I can simply right click the MCed player's name in order to cast Cyclone on them; this allows for a fast response.
- Starfall is very tricky to use at any period during phase 1, and usually, it's best to just forgo the ability completely. Although its damage is high, since the adds take time to travel to the tanks and there are MCed players running around, it can be fairly risky to use. During phase 2, it's easier to use; just watch for the MC timer.
- Threat on Deathwhisper should never be an issue for a balance druid, provided you have enough hunters and rogues. If you do have threat issues, your only option is to assist with adds for a while.
There is no difference between the standard and heroic version of this encounter beyond additional health for the other gunship. This is the easiest encounter in the entire instance and frankly is something of a joke in terms of difficulty. The encounter itself is fairly enjoyable as a relaxing break from the harder encounters of the instances, so really, just sit back, enjoy the ride and do everything that you would for the normal encounter.
Saurfang isn't that difficult of an encounter in normal mode, and the heroic version doesn't introduce anything particularly new to the encounter. Saurfang deals vastly increased damage; he has additional health; he gains Blood Power faster; and the Blood Beasts now have an aura that cripple run speed, preventing players from running from them. All in all, Saurfang would probably rank as the third in the difficulty level of the four token bosses.
- As with the standard encounter, the ranged DPS should spread out around Saurfang to avoid splash damage and help limit Blood Power gain.
- There are five Blood Beasts spawned each time, four of which should be killed by ranged DPS and one of which should be killed by melee DPS. Of the four that ranged needs to kill, there should be at least two ranged members per beast. Hunters should also be dropping Frost Traps around Saurfang in order to slow them down as much as possible; enhancement shaman should also be using Earthbind Totems.
- The one Blood Beast that melee are killing should be chain-stunned until it is dead. It should never be allowed to attack one of the melee players and needs to die very quickly; given the number of players on it, that should not be an issue.
- Mages who get Boiling Blood should use Ice Block when available in order to mitigate the damage; for any other ranged DPS who get hit, paladins can use Blessing of Protection to remove the debuff. Also, any mage who gets hit with Mark of the Fallen Champion should switch to Ice Armor in order to mitigate as much damage as possible.
- This may start to sound like a broken record, but saving Starfall for when Blood Beasts are about to become active can be a major asset for getting them down rapidly. In this case, you don't absolutely have to do so; it is merely something to consider. Starfall will not be available for every Blood Beast spawn, so relying upon it isn't a good idea.
- Typhoon is an extremely powerful and useful ability for Blood Beasts. It should be used a second after the Blood Beasts are spawned both to create additional travel time for the beasts and to initially slow them. For this, you should always be standing directly in front of Saurfang, as close to the tanks as you can, while still maintaining a safe distance from the beasts.
- During Heroism/Bloodlust, it is best to stick exclusively with Starfire when killing Blood Beasts. Wrath clipping can cause staggering issues in the damage and allow them enough time to catch you. Starfire is more than enough to deal with them.
Blood Prince Council
The Blood Princes is another fairly straightforward fight to transition to from standard to heroic, where the differences are fairly minor. The only real difference is that movement now places a stacking debuff that inflicts shadow damage every second that you move, with the damage ramping up the more that steps that you take. This is primarily of concern in terms of avoiding additional damage from Empowered Shock Vortex. Due to this, you really cannot move for prolonged periods of time, which can make getting into targeting range of each boss difficult. Still, the encounter isn't all that difficult, as far as heroics go.
- As per normal, everyone in the raid must remain spread out while Valanar is empowered, to avoid additional damage from Shock Vortex. This is more imperative in heroic because not only is the damage from Shock Vortex higher, but getting thrown about will cause you to get stacks and take additional damage as you move into range again.
- The ranged tank for Keleseth doesn't have to worry too much about the movement debuff until Keleseth is empowered. This is because the debuff is shadow damage, and the orbs will reduce it significantly.
- Flame Orbs do not reduce in power via distance in heroic; they must pass over other people to disperse them. This makes positioning more important for Empowered Flame Orbs, given that the person kiting cannot run for very long due to the debuff.
- Always remember that Starfall will not target the Dark Nuclei, and it is safe to use it at any time. In fact, it's suggested that you do use it, as Starfall can target Kinetic Bombs and hit them up into the air, away from the ground.
- Barkskin is an awesome ability that you should use liberally during this encounter. Use it for extended periods of movement, to mitigate Flame Orbs, to mitigate Shock Vortex -- pretty much any time you can use it to reduce your damage taken, you should.
- If you have to move a long distance, combine Barkskin with Cat Dash to get there faster and reduce the damage that you take as much as possible.
- Remember to watch Force of Nature carefully. Ideally, you should use it only on Keleseth or Taldaram and right after a target swap, but they still may choose to wander off and attack one of the other targets upon being spawned. Using the pet attack command to force them onto your current target.
- Should you ever need to, you can shift out of the debuff from Glittering Sparks (or our priests are just that awesome and I only think you can). Normally, there isn't much of a need to, given that the damage is minimal, but if you do find yourself in a position where you need to move quickly, this tactic can help you out.
Blood Queen Lana'thel
Out of all the encounters, this is perhaps the least changed -- barring Gunship. The only difference between BQL on normal and heroic is that players will take additional aura damage the more vampires that there are -- essentially, to counteract the self-healing powers that said vampires gain. Beyond there, nothing else really changes. Unfortunately for balance druids in this encounter, I've tended to notice that we usually aren't that highly ranked on the bite priority of most guilds. Your guild could be different, but it's a trend I've noticed. All in all, it's a rather simplistic encounter in terms of mechanics and has pretty limited movement.
- It should go without saying, but players need to be spread out in order to avoid taking splash damage. This is especially true during the air phase, when the damage of Bloodbolt Whirl can be pretty devastating.
- Due to the limited time available for spreading out during the air phase, it's usually a good idea to have predetermined locations where players will stand during this time. While this can take a long bit of set-up time, after several weeks, it becomes second nature, with people taking the same position every week.
What you can do
- To be honest, there are no real DPS tricks for this encounter, as for the most part, it is purely a stand-still DPS race. The best advice is to simply perfect your rotation as best you can.
- Always use Barkskin during the air phase to reduce your incoming damage as much as possible. Taking less damage is always a good thing -- always.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a look at the disappearance of the bear tank and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).