In my last post, I talked about how I just hadn’t done that much inside the new raid added to World of Warcraft in Patch 9.1, the Sanctum of Domination. Over the last 3 days, I’ve made it a goal to change that, and with my Mythic Plus rating sitting in a comfortably-high nest, not quite to a 2-week KSM reach but damn close, it was raid time.
Firstly, because I am now a guildless (well, functionally) scrub, we need to discuss the harder part first – the PUG community for raiding.
I’m used to guild raiding, and what I affectionately call the “scraps” method. I haven’t paid attention to min-max ratios of tanks/heals/DPS since the very beginning of flex raiding, and instead just ran with whatever we had on hand. Sometimes, that means asking for role switches, but most of the time, it just worked out. We didn’t really optimize for ranged vs. melee and had a pretty admirable streak of people getting to play whatever they wanted, which was cool.
In PUGs, it all comes down to the ratio. Are we going with 10 players? It better be 2/2/6. Want to grow the raid a bit larger? 2/3/9. Want to call Jenny? 8/6/7/5/3/0/9 (should I have broken the formatting for that joke?). PUGs live and die by the precious, theorycrafted ratios. Sitting atop a guild meant rarely thinking about that – because it was down more to individual performance, and you knew that taking an extra healer over a DPS would be fine if Paul was playing DPS because he’d always outperform, the same people wanted to tank usually, etc. I used to laugh at the ratios, but on a fundamental level, I get it – if you’re trying to maximize performance in an unsure setting, you need guides to lean on to best determine how to build your group, especially since Blizzard’s raid count scaling is not linear and the ratios acknowledge certain breakpoints where the scaling lets up a smidge because it assumes an additional healer.
So the LFG tool is a confusing mess of “FRESH SOD, AOTC NATHRIA LEAD, 2/3/9 COMP, DISC REQ” and other various alphabet soups that you only come to understand after having been in the trenches of the game for a bit. I expected finding groups to be harder and more time consuming. However, I was met with a pleasant/unpleasant surprise – getting the group was the first part, and the actual play was the hard part.
I’ve been sheltered in a guild from the sort-of mainstream of the WoW raiding scene for a decade-plus, so I’ve always been sort of skeptical about claims that PUGs are either amazing or awful. I found myself leaning to awful, but just for social reasons – not due to any feeling that PUGs are incapable of playing the game or anything, but just that I didn’t want to be in and out of new groups all the time and it seemed like a stressful way to manage one’s engagement with the game. And in truth…it is! However, it has had pleasant upsides as well.
Firstly, groups move quickly to bring in new players and most of my raid-pugging negatives at the start of a run have been down to the placement of the Sanctum raid portal. It’s really bad, folks! If you PUG the Tarragrue, it’s especially bad, because a player zoning out to help summon loses their Anima Powers and must retake them, rolling new options, which can cause players to hold out on helping with summons. If your group doesn’t have a warlock, you’re fucked – and most of the PUGs I’ve joined have not had one.
Secondly, most groups use Discord voice these days, and that works out fairly well. A lot of groups I’ve joined have made what are clearly burner Discord servers just for that individual raid, which is fine and I think a smart approach. Most well-established guilds likely get to know each other on a personal level and thus I wouldn’t want to bring someone in if that were me, nor would I want to manage layers of permissions just to create that protection. I was in two groups that didn’t use voice – a Heroic PUG on Eye of the Jailer that failed due to, you guessed it, a lack of communication, and a Heroic BOE farm group, which was mostly Spanish players typing basic instructions. It was kind of funny, but because I didn’t understand the instructions as typed, I simply stayed close to the tanks and it worked out well enough.
Thirdly, it takes an eternity for most PUGs to pull anything. Trash at the front door? That’ll be 15 minutes, please. Our guild leader just DC’d and has been gone for 30 minutes, let’s sit at Remnant of Ner’zhul waiting for him to return so we can pull, oh no, he’s still not back, we’ll kick him now and pull (why not 25 minutes prior?). You might be in a group that pulls trash with less-than-ideal ratios only to then sit in front of a boss waiting on LFG to supply the filling out of a proper raid ratio. I am, generally, a patient person, but I was starting to lose my mind in some PUGs. There was an Aussie PUG on Heroic that I killed the Tarragrue with a second time just to get to Eye and keep pushing deeper, maybe even to get a Heroic vault slot next week, but instead, I left after the Tarragrue because every single thing took minutes of discussion. So no loot was even possible and I basically wasted the time – although I suppose if all of my Heroic PUGs had logs, I might have been angling at a better Tarragrue parse! (They didn’t, duh – only one of them was a guild group!)
But it’s time for the big surprising twist…
I Made A Lot Of Progress Via PUG Raids This Week
As of this writing, I am 5/10 in Normal Sanctum of Domination and 1/10 in Heroic SoD, with a new helm (from normal, so not an item level upgrade for my M+ Vault helm from last season!) that has a Domination Socket (so an upgrade still in the end!), and I have close-calls on Normal Painsmith Raznal (an agonizing set of wipes with a guild group that ended at 32% in about an hour of play) and Heroic Eye of the Jailer (4% after about 45 minutes of first-time progression with a mostly-guild group). It took a mix of PUGs and weird progression placement to get it – I did the Nine on Normal first, and that group couldn’t get Soulrender Dormazain, so then I did Heroic Tarragrue and the H Eye prog I mentioned with an awesome/weird guild group, and then I did Normal Tarragrue and Eye, but that group took a long time to get together for the Nine (and I had already done them), so then I had to join a different PUG for Soulrender Dormazain, which went well and then they stopped, so I ran Heroic Tarragrue again with an Aussie PUG and got him again (for no reward), and then finally today, I ran Remnant of Ner’zhul with another group, got that, got my helm, and had to stop to have dinner, but also selfishly because I’ve already done Soulrender Dormazain in two groups this week with one kill to show for it, so…yeah.
But in the end, while all of that sounds awful, I maybe only went over the time I would have spent doing raid content with my former guild by about an hour, and I made more progress. I talked to a lot of different people, got to play a ton of different ways, and even ended up being a good, reliable mechanic helper on several fights, doing chains on Dormazain and the Torment orb on Remnant of Ner’zhul. I made quips and jokes in a couple of groups and it actually was kind of nice to float freely around, picking and choosing what bosses I did and just having fun playing. My favorite thing was that a lot of groups, whether jokingly or not, were talking up their guild’s Demon Hunters to me, like I would have a hurdle beating them at DPS and pitching a faux-war, which was great, because each time it happened, I beat the other DH by nearly 2x. I have a mid-blue parse on Normal Dormazain, a high blue parse on normal Tarragrue, and a very low grey parse on heroic Tarragrue, but hey, got the fight done! The intrinsic motivation of just wanting to do better for my own self-gratification has been powerful, and that’s been key for me to having fun with all of these varying PUGs – I never say anything about a DPS race or try to push hard on how good I can be – I just let my performance do the talking and it works out pretty damn well, all told!
The only disappointment that I had is that my scheduled PUG raids were very flaky this week, so I’m likely hunting a new group, which has been a challenge because Tuesdays are off-limits every other week for me to play D&D with my friends. However, if I can just keep fishing up LFG runs that get me as far as I got this week or even further, well, that’s pretty damn okay, all told! It may just be the case that Mythic Plus becomes my main engagement point with the game, which has definitely been true this week even with this raid progress!
Overall, personally, it’s been fun to engage with the game in this way, and mostly good, too. Even the bad PUGs tend to be amusingly bad, like seeing the myriad funny ways players can fail mechanics, the way group dynamics play out as a stranger in a guild run, or the like, and I’ve been in some genuinely high-skill PUGs that have challenged me to stretch my play to meet them, which has been personally satisfying.
The Raid Itself
Sanctum of Domination is a raid that I was visually worried about, because of the fear of it being HD-remaster ICC. Thankfully, the raid makes much more careful color and design choices – the raid uses a mix of Torghast assets rather smartly to deliver varied hues – deep and foreboding blues, fiery reds and oranges, and a mix of internal environments that pay homage to the Torghast experience we all know and love (I guess?). It circumvents the ICC visual mess by using more varied colors for things like skyboxes and accents – in ICC, each wing had an accent color but remained mostly a muted blue and grey. In Sanctum, things flow nicely and there’s a similar mix of inside and outside time, as far as I can see.
Design-wise, there are some interesting choices. The use of Anima Powers for the Tarragrue and some Torghast-callback pots and souls (with different uses) allows you some interesting interplay with the trash leading to the Tarragrue. The runback for many bosses is agonizingly long – I think a big part of the Painsmith Raznal walling, besides his general tuning, is that the runback is also too long for what it is, such that a dedicated guild going 90 minutes on that boss can get as few as 10 real attempts in. 9 minutes a pull isn’t bad, but my experience on Raznal today was that the pull itself was less than half of that time, with most of it being wipe recovery, and if you don’t have battle-resses, Shamans with ankh, or a Night Elf with jumper cables (or I suppose a res ability!), you have to make a huge run back. The checkpointing inside is not frequent enough, and while the inclusion of a repair vendor inside on the early part of that runback is nice, it also is a bit tedious overall and having a repair vendor does not meaningfully offset that.
In terms of the actual boss mechanics, the Tarragrue was a fun DPS check fight. The anima powers and requiring wrangling for those adds a lot to the fight, while the last phase is a very fun take on the enrage mechanic that isn’t just simple heal-dumping. The Eye of the Jailer is a great fight I enjoyed, because it has a good mix of mechanics to show who’s prepared in a raid, and the chain jump is a very cool mechanic. The Nine as a fight was…okay, but it’s layering of mechanics was somewhat unsatisfying, both because things could seem hairy, but even in a normal PUG, never felt that dangerous. Soulbinder Dormazain (I almost accidentally typed “Bormazain” ha!) is actually fun in my eyes, but it’s basic execution stuff – move in time, handle chains well, use the debuff to help with adds – but because WoW hasn’t done a lot of debuff management in that style, I found it interesting. Remnant of Ner’zhul was fun but way easy, at least on Normal – but I think that as a previous healer main, the trigger discipline on dispels is genuinely quite interesting to play with, especially because here you have to mind both the location of the dispelled person but also watch for any orb runners. I had a healer nearly blast me off when I was running orbs on the kill I got today, which I was only able to circumvent because of DH privilege! Raznal is actually quite simple and I think a lot of people just get punked out by what is a fairly easy set of movement mechanics, but there is layering as the fight moves on that can make things a fair bit more challenging. That being said, I think most of the walling I have seen (and played) here comes down to just needing to play smarter – to not hook your raid with bumper cars, to not push people at balls (heh, heh), and to manage the spikes intelligently, because his actual health bar melts. My first pull, we knocked off 23% of his health in around 30 seconds before dying, and sure, that was a Heroism on pull, but his health bar isn’t that big with good DPS, you just need execution (it feels like to me, at this point).
Overall, I actually am liking the raid thus far, and I am surprised that it is even happening at all, given that the way in which I’ve had to enter it is perhaps less than ideal, but even in that, there has been a lot of fun and a lot of progress.