The date was Thursday, March 18th, 2021. With just under 70 pulls on Sire Denathrius, including a very disappointing Wednesday raid spent exclusively pulling and wiping to the Sire, Thursday seemed pretty dire. Spirits were down, the main raid lead was turning 40 and was not going to be on, and it seemed like the other raid team in our guild were going to beat us to Denathrius on Heroic, after they had been ahead of us for most of the tier’s blocking bosses, like Council of Blood and Sludgefist.
Some of this is dramatic retelling – at 9 AM on raid day, we had confirmed the raid lead was going to be on and playing, and while spirits were slightly down, overall, it was a wipefest night on Wednesday prior – not an unusual thing for a group of raiders pushing Heroic content casually to encounter.
I formed the raid, got our raid leader in, but had set out determined to raid lead fully. I’m already a co-raid lead, but it is unusual for me to make all of the calls. However, I knew that after Wednesday, our main leader was taxed, and he was making a concession, however stagecrafted – while he didn’t have plans for the night of his birthday, it was a major milestone and he was making a sacrifice to come and play, especially after our dismal performance the night before.
The first pull, we went right to phase 3 of Sire, which was somewhat unusual, but not altogether unexpected. What came next was not expected, as while we pulled for nearly two hours, there was almost zero regression. It was like our raiders had shifted gears, come prepared, and each pull felt like steady progress towards our shared goal – the death of Sire Denathrius on Heroic difficulty.
We saw so much more phase 3 than we had previously, pre- or post-nerf, and each progressive pull felt better and smoother, with only minor exceptions which led to a brief break. My raid calls were growing in frequency and confidence, and there was this nagging voice in my head, saying with some small glee that we might beat the boss that night, cap off our launch Shadowlands experience, and beat the other team to him after being setback for other crucial parts of the tier.
I shortened my calls, perfected my pacing, and worked to make sure everyone knew what was happening. I got to slot into a role I wasn’t expecting when the night began – the positive raid leader. We were on the cusp of a win, and everyone remained focused and disciplined as we closed in.
Finally, with around 20 minutes left in our raid night, our last of the week, I set out our last feast. I thought to myself that I would need to raid the guild bank for another after this pull.
Phase 1 had a healer death due to his own sloppy positioning.
Phase 2, we got him up, and everyone lived. We pushed to phase 3 in short order, almost immediately after defeating 3 of 4 Crimson Cabalists in the second wave of them during phase 2, leaving one ranged add, used for tank positioning, at 18%. Everyone converged on Denathrius at the center of the room, the ranged quickly doing away with the remaining add to remove the healing debuff it gains in that third phase, dealing with our last set of Crescendo swirlies to dodge. The boss was pulled to the corner, and everyone survived the knockback.
Then there was fatal finesse and the seed soaking. Everyone survived that.
One-third of the room filled with pizza sauce. Everyone remained alive, with Sire at 22% health remaining.
The next crucial checkpoint of the fight, the back-to-back Fatal Finesses with two sets of seeds to soak and less space to place them and manage. We survived and they were fully soaked. Sire at 18.4%.
The next crucial checkpoint arrived – the overlap of Massacre and a single cast of Fatal Finesse. We all lived, Sire at 13.9%.
Hope had not entered my mind yet.
We survived a knockback/Hand of Destruction combo, only then losing two players (our Hunters) to the Fatal Finesse cast during that combo. The seeds were soaked and Sire was at 8.91%.
The second Ravage hit, a tank going down to the damage of the phase but no one stuck in the pizza sauce left on the second third of the room. A battle resurrection fixed that in short order. Sire was at 6.96% health. I did not expect victory.
The next round of Fatal Finesse was soaked, but not without a casualty, as our shaman healer took a hit of Hand of Destruction while soaking and died. Sire was at 4.25%, and I was braced for the wipe.
His last Shattering Pain knockback hit, killing me and a small handful of remaining players, including a tank and two healers. Sire was at 2.76% and the closeness of this wipe was killing me but I was proud.
Then it hit me.
As I recoiled in my chair, my character’s dead body on the floor of Castle Nathria, I realized we still had 6 DPS alive, 1 tank, and 1 healer, with just over 2% of Sire’s health remaining. I loudly exclaimed “oh my god OH MY GOD!” while making eye contact with my wife, and then looked back and gave the command to burn during the final Fatal Finesse, as our normal raid leader made the call to not soak the seeds from the last Fatal Finesse.
Within seconds, Sire Denathrius Heroic was dead, and we had won.
83 pulls on this boss, nearly a full month of multiple attempts per week, including two weeks spent heavily just on this boss.
When the raid night was about to start, I opened my stream with a little bit of commentary, a sort of doomsaying over the night. I refused, actively refused, to believe we were going to get the kill until I saw the closeness to it we had reached when I was dead and had a moment not controlling my character to appraise the situation.
We won. We beat the fight, we got our Ahead of the Curve, and we beat the other raid team in the guild to the kill after spending much of the back-half of the raid tier in Heroic behind them. However, just as with Normal when we first started the split raids, it was the same here – we got the first Sire kill. And it felt really, really good.
I picked up the mantle of raid leader over a decade ago, at a moment where our guild was about to form and we were missing a leading voice. It was a hard skill to learn, and harder to master, and I wouldn’t say I had mastered it when I left the game in 2013 and passed the mantle to the person who currently raid leads the other team. But I know since I returned in 2014 that I had a sense that I would handle the job differently – sometimes I voiced it as constructive criticism (and sometimes not so constructive heh) but often I found myself thinking about how things might look if I were still raid leading the guild.
I picked it up myself that night again as a favor, not asked for but given all the same, and while I would not even come close to crediting my raid leading as any factor in our somewhat-unexpected success that night, it felt really good that it came at my hands and guidance all the same. It had felt like riding a bicycle – it was easier because I didn’t have to explain much about mechanics or do the overview of the fight, but Denathrius requires a lot of quick, precise calls back-to-back, and by taking charge as I did while making calls short and succinct, we found a way to make it work. It helped that everyone came determined, that we guilt-tripped our raiders for costing our normal RL his birthday night on his 40th, that we had near 70 pulls of practice and learning before that, many of which were ugly and awful. In a weird way, calling the fight was something that worked for me – not because it helped my performance (I parsed pretty poorly on the kill!) but because it felt relatively easy to pickup and call. I sometimes felt like I was unsure of the mechanics, or how to lead through them, but I made a set of choices that felt right in the moment. Raid team 1 was struggling with calls by ability name, so I used dumb shorthands (Crescendo is “swirlies, watch your feet!” Shattering Pain is, “Knockback, position!” Massacre is “dodge, dodge, dodge!” Fatal Finesse are “seeds” and Ravage is “pizza sauce”). Raid team 1 had a lot of problems with backseat raid leaders making wrong calls and being condescending, so I made my calls loudly, clearly, and didn’t relent – only leaving tanks to call the Wracking Pain cone on phase 2 and for ranged DPS to advise when a Cabalist would die. When asked a question mid-pull, I saved it for later while acknowledging I had seen it – all to avoid any confusing double-calls, overlaps, or snippy mid-pull bullshit.
For me personally, it was a great night in a moment I needed it. I haven’t had a great year, all told. I’ve been out of work for over 9 months, staying at home and avoiding the outside world due to COVID-19. I’ve been working on passion projects and various other things to find a transition path for myself going forward, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Since I got married in September of 2020, I haven’t really had a moment where I felt like I really achieved something, where it felt like I applied my skills and got something back in return. I’ve written before about how I’ve found value like that in World of Warcraft at times in the past, and I haven’t had that feeling in a long while in-game, sometimes because the game doesn’t make things feel like an accomplishment and most of the time because since I returned from my sabbatical from the game years ago, I’ve never really been a leader again. I’ve been an officer, and people will sometimes look to me for feedback or ask me questions, but usually, I’m just some guy in the raid doing things – especially post-guild merger in 2019.
When we started the split raid experiment, I thought I didn’t want to lead, and we had found someone who had raid leading experience for the guild we had merged with to do it. He brought myself and the other officer in our raid team in, and we have established a camaraderie that I, frankly, didn’t expect. It wasn’t that long ago that I had written here that I might be quitting raiding because the split teams put me on a roster with none of my real-life friends and with a pair of players I was particularly unfond of. And in truth, I still am not too fond of those two, although one has grown on me a bit. But as the tier progressed, it actually felt kind of nice to be in a different group, and the fresh surroundings I feel like kind of helped me find my way back into the game a bit more than I expected.
In other words, I never knew I missed raid leading until I got to share it with a new team, and getting it back was surprisingly effective at reinvigorating my joy in WoW.
The competition between groups is largely just a fun construct, in that it doesn’t mean anything overall and is just a point of pride for the players in the winning group. But for me personally, it felt like the culmination of the unexpected joy I felt this raid tier, and a sort of interesting case study about all those times I questioned our raid leadership in the past and how things were being done. Yes, ultimately, I am a little bit full of myself in that regard – but at the same time, at least now there is some evidence that it wasn’t just ego and that I do have something to offer in that leadership role – reaffirming why I’m still an officer despite the years of being “the raid-leader’s IRL friend.”
I won’t lie, I did definitely go back to watch the stream of a raider from the first team to see the moment where the guild achievement for our kill popped up and see the reaction live from the other team when the race was decided – and I feel sort of bad for having done it, like a misery tourist of sorts, but I did do it and it was interesting to see them have a great attempt through to Phase 3 after that news, followed by bad regressive wipes. It felt bad seeing it unfold and knowing that the raid leads in that team were struggling with the condescending and bad backseat leaders, who had pugged the fight and were calling all over the top of the actual raid leads. At the same time, their Thursday raid, which ended without a kill, looked a lot like our Wednesday raid – ending with a sort of listless despair over the fight and the state of the pulls that night, flailing at potential issues (extra ticks of Burden of Sin damage in the Phase 1 transition at the point those adds should despawn) and with frustrated raid leads who were struggling with how they’d come back and win the next week. Our raiders did a great job of not being too jubilant in guild chat or rubbing salt in the wound, but there was definitely a tale of two raids happening that night, and it felt pretty good to be on the happy side, a majority Night Fae raid with their veilwing Soulshape forms won, everyone talking about getting it for the raiders we had that missed the kill or what we’d do next.
And in the end, I am so glad I streamed raids since returning to Twitch, because I had video of the kill, and I got to clip it and share it for all. I’ve watched it probably 15 times at this point, luxuriating in the moment where we finally, 83 pulls deep, won the race in our guild and to present the AOTC achievement and win to our main RL as a birthday present.
And if you’d like to see it without the dramatic blow-by-blow I put above, here is that video.