So when shadow priest Shantál of Al'akir (EU) recently pulled off an eye-popping kill of heroic Alysrazor, the WoW community sat up and took notice. With a painstakingly developed strategy that carried him outside the flame wall and exposed him to increased damage, Shantál picked his way around each road block in the encounter to achieve a uniquely remarkable victory.
Main character Shantál
WoW Insider: Congrats again on the hard work. Let's go from the very top -- what gave you the idea of pursuing a solo kill of heroic Alysrazor?
Shantál : A strategy for killing Alysrazor on normal kinda came to me out of nowhere when I couldn't sleep a few days before the initial normal kill. That worked out well, so I figured I'd try heroic mode in the next lockout -- even though the HP difference (an 70% increase over normal mode) seemed enormous.
Have you done much instance and raid boss soloing before this?
I used to kill Kael'thas, Malygos-10 and Onyxia-10 weekly for their respective mounts. I stopped doing the former two after they dropped, though. I also did some soloing of various Wrath raids up to and including ICC -- nothing quite on the level of heroic Alysrazor, though.
Persistence was obviously a huge part of your success. Just how many attempts, how many wipes, how many hours did this project take?
Overall, I'd guess somewhere around 85 attempts. This count includes normal mode, as about half of the strategy is the same there as it is in heroic. Time-wise, I spent around 3.5 hours attempting normal until that kill. Heroic took me approximately nine hours of attempts plus another three hours of theorizing.
Picking through the mechanics
Theorizing ... So what did you identify as the problem mechanics you'd have to find a way to work around? What differences between the normal and heroic modes complicated matters?
When pulling the boss, the first problem becomes apparent -- picking up the third feather and thus leaving the ground before the boss has also done so will cause the entire encounter to reset. This can obviously be prevented by picking up the third feather just after the boss has lifted off, but it can be annoying if you lose focus and/or min-max too hard.
After you managed this part, the flying phase starts. Note that no adds from the ground will be able to attack you while in the air -- the hatchlings can't melee you, for obvious reasons, and the casters will refuse to attack anything airborne. If you've done this encounter, you should be familiar with the basics of what happens next. You fly after Alysrazor, who drops rings which give you a stack of the Blazing Power (+8% haste, stacking to 25) buff. If this buff hits 24, you also gain Alysra's Razor, increasing your crit by 75%. As the most difficult part of the encounter is meeting the extremely steep DPS requirement, you want to gain as many stacks of this buff as possible as quickly as possible.
This is where a small trick comes into play: The rings work by giving you a short, hidden Blazing Power Prevention aura that is supposed to prevent you from gaining multiple stacks from a ring. However, this aura's duration is slightly shorter than the actual ring's active duration, meaning that being in the ring as it spawns and then staying in it until it despawns will net you two stacks of Blazing Power. While it is only possible to do this every second ring, netting three stacks per two rings, it is still an incredible DPS gain and required for meeting the DPS check.
On heroic difficulty only, Alysrazor can fly either clockwise and counterclockwise during this phase. Clockwise results in rings spawning closer to the center of the arena, and you can get closer to a perfect 1.5 stacks/ring ratio that way -- but counterclockwise is superior during the second and third air phases because it brings Alysrazor closer to your Ignited phase positioning, netting both a higher DPS time and more overall stacks. Ironically, the boss chose to go counterclockwise on the first and clockwise and the latter two air phases during my kill.
Also only on heroic, the boss will cast Firestorm twice during each air phase, replacing Molting. This deals 50k resistible fire damage per second for 5 seconds. The first cast will require you to use Dispersion for around two ticks, while the second is barely survivable thanks to the larger number of Molten Power stacks plus Vampiric Embrace.
And then there's your literally out-of-the-box solution to the next phase ...
About 60 seconds after the second cast of Firestorm, the boss cycles around the arena and initiates phase 2. Landing in the arena is, of course, out of the question, unless you fancy being torn apart by hatchlings. Flying out, however, poses a problem -- every three seconds for the duration of the tornado phase, the stacking Harsh Winds debuff is applied to players outside the nest, dealing 10k unresistible damage per second and stack.
As this phase lasts about 23 seconds total, you could be hit with 8 stacks in total. However, by staying airborne inside the arena and not flying out until just before Wings of Flame is removed after the boss cycles the arena for the second time, you gain both extra DPS time and less stacks of Harsh Winds (usually reaching only six stacks).
After flying out, you want to re-DoT the boss whenever possible at low stack counts -- 25 stacks of Molten Power combined with Alysra's Razor result in ridiculous DPET here. Once damage starts ramping up, use hasted Greater Heal spam to keep yourself alive. The last six seconds should be absorbed by Dispersion, as the damage grows too much for even hasted Greater Heal.
Once you manage this part, the boss will fall to the ground and be exhausted. You have some breathing room here; use it to make your way over to Rhyolith's ramp. I chose this ramp because the boss has to climb quite some vertical distance to reach me, slowing her down. You really can't afford to take any melee hits here, but you also have to make sure to keep a direct walkable path between you and the boss at the time she reignites or the encounter will reset. Once she targets you, you're free to run up the mountain, forcing its path over as much vertical distance as possible and hopefully keeping you alive.
After Alysrazor lifts off again, pick up the dropped feathers ASAP and follow her. From here on out, it's rinse and repeat with a few differences:
The boss spawns less Molten Power rings during these air phases since it needs to fly back to the starting point first. Shadowy Apparitions will no longer trigger. I tried hard to find the cause for this, but to no avail.
That's a lot of trial and error. What single mechanic proved to be the most challenging to get past? Was there any part that was simply up to the gods of RNG?
The largest issue to overcome when soloing this boss is the ridiculously high DPS requirement. You have three air phases to take down 65.7 million health, as after the third air phase, the boss will fail to reignite fully, staying grounded and killing you. This means that every attempt is to a certain degree in the hands of the RNG gods.
If I had to point out a single mechanic, I'd say picking up Molten Power rings is the most challenging part, due to the extremely precise execution required. I ended up aborting a lot of attempts just after the first Firestorm due to not having at least 22 stacks of Molten Power up by then.
Coloring outside the lines
Many players are saying that because you kited the boss outside the flame wall, you exploited the encounter. How would you reply to that? In what ways did you continue to work within the scope of the encounter design, even outside the flame wall?
First off, I'd say Blizzard obviously thought about players leaving the arena while designing the encounter; the Harsh Winds debuff is proof of that. However, they chose neither to make the debuff a one-shot mechanic nor to block flying outside the arena. Also, Alysrazor will, unlike most other bosses, not reset when kited outside her nest.
Obviously, the definition of exploiting is a very much grey area. To me, exploiting is when you apply game mechanics to a fight where they were not intended to be applied -- see Saronite Bombs dealing siege damage or brain chamber evading Immortal Guardians of Yogg'Saron for examples. As I illustrated above, moving Alysrazor outside her nest was obviously thought of when designing the encounter, as measures to discourage it are in place. Thus, I would not consider it exploiting.
Did you respec, reforge or regear specifically for this encounter? What was your strategy for those changes?
In order to meet the DPS requirement, I had to use a spec that does not sacrifice any DPS talents while giving some degree of survivability. I decided on this in the end.
I reforged to hit > haste > mastery > crit. Now, reforging to haste > mastery may seem confusing, as I'm already below the GCD cap; however, if you consider that all outside haste effects from buffs stack multiplicatively with haste from rating, it's a very clear choice due to the ridiculous tick rate achieved.
The only change in my usual gear is replacing heroic Cunning of the Cruel with heroic Insignia of the Corrupted Mind for two reasons. Haste rating is amazing on this encounter, and Cunning can lead to wipes when the final ticks during the Tornado phase proc it and cause hatchlings to kill me.
So has soloing heroic Alysrazor given you a taste for more boss soloing? Any new projects in the works?
Working around various limitations and beating the DPS requirement was certainly a very challenging and fun experience, and I enjoyed having a project like this to fill time during farm content, as the MoP beta has not really gotten underway content-wise yet. I'm also looking to do more solo kills and have some ideas in mind. I also plan to make a small video series clearing Raid Finder difficulty with as few people as possible -- I just need to find competent people to join me first.
What do you enjoy most about playing a shadow priest right now?
I love the utility it offers. You have great survivability and passive self-healing, and you can pull off great saves with Life Grip. I also greatly enjoy the playstyle with the new T13 four-piece set, which alleviates the issue shadow priests faced in the past of not having any burst DPS.
What are you hoping for from your class in Mists of Pandaria?
I'm not a particular fan of the class changes in the current beta -- losing Devouring Plague made me sad. The plan of not forcing players to adapt to a single cookie-cutter DPS spec is not really succeeding right now, with there only being one viable DPS talent in every tier of the tree.he procs that give you an instant Mind Spike or execute SW:D are nice and all, but they all add a large RNG factor to the rotation, de-emphasizing skill and making the spec lose a great amount of fluency.
The only change I like is changing our mastery to a flat shadow damage increase instead of the Shadow Orb RNG, especially once four-piece T13 is dropped. However, I'm really happy with where my spec is on current live with T13 four-set and not really happy with the way it's going on beta. We seem to be turned into yet another proc-dependant DPS caster where you do amazing DPS on one fight and shit DPS on the next because RNG decided to be a bitch. I'm sure fire mages can tell a tale about this one.
Now to be constructive, I'd like to see the procs removed again and replaced with the current T13 four-set in talent form while leaving the spec largely unchanged otherwise. However, it sadly seems that Blizzard intends to go with the Shadow Orb change, so I can't really see that happening.
And finally, what's your gig when you're AFK? What do you do when you're not playing WoW?
I'm 20 years old and don't play any games besides WoW competitively. I'm into watching TV series (GoT, Breaking Bad, Dexter, etc.) but don't have any hobbies in real life. Oh, and like most of the readers, I'm really looking forward to D3 launch.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.