SK Gaming interview: Kil'jaeden, Sunwell, and why to stack +haste

Allison Robert
A. Robert|06.03.08

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SK Gaming interview: Kil'jaeden, Sunwell, and why to stack +haste

Recently WoW Insider caught up with Neg, a restoration-specced Orc Shaman who raided with Nihilum before leaving recently for SK Gaming. An experienced player who has seen all of Blizzard's raid content, from Molten Core through Sunwell Plateau, Neg's talked to us previously about high-end raiding and what Sunwell was like on the PTR. As he's become one of a small group of raiders worldwide to finish the whole zone, we've asked him some follow-up questions about guild stability during the transition to Wrath, what Sunwell was like going live, why there are so many Shaman nowadays in high-end raiding, and the best and worst raid content on offer in WoW.

If you didn't catch our first interview with Neg, you can find that here, but read on for an inside look at the toughest raiding you'll find in the game:

WoW Insider: What was behind your decision to leave Nihilum?

My initial decision to leave Nihilum was made quite some time ago, about 2 months. At that time, the effect of 8 months without new content started to become very clear to me. A lot of people just weren't interested in WoW anymore; they were saying on vent that they wanted Kil'Jaeden to be released as soon as possible so some guild could kill him and they could quit WoW. And as Xi from Death and Taxes stated, people didn't have the decency to quit so they could be replaced. Having unmotivated people in your guild isn't really an issue while you're farming content, but when new content arrives and really intensive raiding is needed again, then all of a sudden problems start to arise rapidly and make it almost impossible to raid competitively, the way Sunwell requires. The whole atmosphere just changed and not for the better. That we lost so few core raiders during BC also worked against in a way; the longer people play, the bigger the risk of a burnout.

I also started to lose confidence in Kungen. He is the sole leader; if he doesn't do something, it doesn't happen, simple as that -- and I didn't see any indications that Kungen was likely to fix our roster problems. I also started to get the feeling that personal relationships were starting to influence his judgment. People were getting credit based on their friendship with Kungen. I can't prove that of course, but to me it was the only explanation for some of his decisions, and thoughts like this troubled me. Kungen's behavior in raids also started to annoy me more and more. A lot of AFKing on trash, taking unannounced breaks all of a sudden as he had to go do something, and starting raids at times that were only good for his schedule. When Kungen instantly hearthstoned out of a Mount Hyjal farm raid once he'd finally gotten his Pepe's Shroud of Pacification (a trash drop epic tanking cloak), I snapped. There were 24 other people there farming a really boring instance so that a few people could get an upgrade. You don't bail on them the second you get your own upgrade; that's a big no-no in my book.

I decided that it was time to leave right there, but instead of /gquitting right away I spoke to Kungen about my concerns. To my surprise he agreed on some of them, and told me he would make a post about how things were going in the guild. I decided to not leave Nihilum right away but to give things more time in the hope that matters would improve.

Some weeks later Sunwell Plateau was released. No post was made, nothing changed. Sunwell went as expected -- really badly. And when M'uru was released people started bailing big time. Raids with 8-10 casuals or people who quit playing ages ago aren't going to win you a world-first kill. When we even had to cancel a raid on M'uru I /gquit instantly. Fortunately SK Gaming was looking for a Shaman and I moved to them straight away.

WI: A lot of guilds seem to be encountering major problems in Sunwell. Is it the zone itself, or is it just a normal transition period with Wrath of the Lich King coming up?

In my opinion it has nothing to do with Sunwell itself, which is the best raid zone of Burning Crusade without a doubt. I think it has more to do with the timing of Sunwell's release. No content for 10 months is a killer for a competitive guild -- you lose people, but still worse are the people who lose motivation but stick around. When they're called upon for hardcore progression content, there is a big chance they will let you down. So a lot of problems in the guild will stay hidden and then erupt all of a sudden when you least want them.

WI: What happens during the M'uru and Kil'jaeden fights? You've previously described M'uru as an add fight; what happens during KJ that we don't necessarily see from the videos? What are the fights like to heal?

You see almost everything in the video, as it is a pretty straightforward fight. The only thing you might miss is that the dragon that assist you buffs the raid with his breath. How to kil Kil'jaeden should be quite clear after a few tries, but executing it all perfectly? That's really hard. And I really mean perfectly, because Kil'jaeden (and M'uru) have been tuned so well. I've fought every boss ingame, but I didn't know Blizzard could tune this well; it's a welcome surprise.

Healing Kil'jaeden is absolutely a lot of fun. Blizzard is really taking the idea of raid damage to another level in Sunwell. There is so much going on during the encounter that you have to be on your toes all fight long.

WI: Is it somewhat comparable to Archimonde, which seems to be the existing fight with the highest degree of personal responsibility? A lot of Tier 6 guilds trip on him for this reason, and it sounds like Kil'jaeden's the same way.

Archimonde is an easy fight compared to Kil'jaeden -- the personal responsibility isn't that high with the major thing there being not to die from fall damage. There are far more demanding personal elements on Kil'jaeden. Positioning yourself correctly all the time, moving at the right moment, and keeping yourself alive with the burst damage that gets spread around.

I would actually compare it to C'thun. It has a lot of the same elements that C'thun had, both with respect to positioning, individual DPS requirements, and moving from deadly abilities (C'thun's Dark Glare and Kil'Jaeden's Darkness of a Thousand Souls).

WI: Overall, how would you describe the level of tuning in Sunwell? Is it comparable to what Naxxramas was like, harder than Naxx, or easier?

It's harder then most of Naxxramas. The Eredar Twins, M'uru and Kil'jaeden are tuned so well that it makes them really enjoyable. People should also not forget that the intensity of raiding has gone up a lot. Top guilds have better rosters these days than back in the 40-man raiding days. Just being good doesn't cut it anymore; you need to be really good and willing to free up a lot of time for progression content. Kil'jaeden went down in 4 days, but that was 4 days of full-throttle raiding, around 46-48 hours. That's 8-10 old raiding days by comparison.

WI: In your opinion, what is the best fight in Sunwell?

Kil'jaeden without a doubt. It has everything a fight needs -- it's very dynamic and people have to move all the time, which is so much better then static fights like Brutallus. And it comes down to personal performance again: DPS has to push it both with orbs and Kil'Jaeden, healers have to be prepared for anything because anyone in the raid can take unpredictable burst damage, and everyone has to survive a lot of things by moving and positioning themselves just right. I remember that we killed Illidan with 14 people alive after phase 2 on our 3rd or 4th kill -- that just shows how much room for error there was on that fight. Losing people on Kil'jaeden is not an option.

WI: You've raided now with two of the most elite raiding guilds in the world. What advice would you give to competent raiding guilds who are looking to improve their level or rate of progression? Is it all about the people, or have you observed a pattern in successful guilds that can be copied?

Of course it is a lot about the people these days, and every fight can be brought down to individual performance. You can't compensate for a bad player, or a player who dies constantly, with a few other good players. On a guild-wide level it is really important to be clear about what you want as guild. All three high-end guilds I've been in were very clear to their members that they strive for world-first kills, and if you weren't dedicated to that, you would be removed. Everyone has to have the same attitude towards the game, and you can't be successful if people expect different things.

WI: On that note, how does SK Gaming differ in its approach as compared to Nihilum?

Well, the biggest difference is without a doubt the use of Vent as raid tool. I must say I love it and didn't know I missed it that much. Especially as healer who spends 90% of his time looking at Grid, using vent to communicate is far superior to raid warnings.

Another big difference is how encounters are approached. In Nihilum it was mostly brute force: just out-DPS, out-heal everything, don't question why it happens, deal with it and make it work. In SK Gaming, encounters are approached with a measure of theorycraft, resulting in more efficient (but arguably harder to execute) strategies.

WI: You're probably one of the few people on the planet who's seen all of the existing raid content in World of Warcraft. In your opinion, what are the best and worst boss encounters in both vanilla WoW and BC?

It's easy to say that the Molten Core and Blackwing Lair encounters were bad, but Blizzard was clearly learning there, so they don't really count.

The worst encounter would still be Gruul. The design of it is just wrong, completely wrong. Now that it's nerfed, it's not that hard anymore, but when it was released it was pure horror. When Gruul went live and guilds were trying him, people were raiding with 7-8K HP and the Shatter ability did horrendous damage. Being close to another raid member would kill you instantly. Randomness isn't always bad, but basing an entire encounter on randomness is very bad. I really don't see how Blizzard could have made that encounter and not realized how bad it was.

As for the best encounter I would still put Four Horsemen at the top of my list. Making 40 people run around that large room on such a strict schedule was truly epic. I still think that if you take 40 level 70 players who have never done the fight before, they're still going to have a very hard time with it.

The perfect tuning of Kil'jaeden and how the fight is structured puts it really close to Four Horsemen, but 25-man encounters just feel less epic then 40-man.

WI: I've noticed that guilds in Sunwell are continuing to run 4-5 Shaman. You've mentioned before that Nihilum went looking for 5 Shamans for the Brutallus fight as Grounding Totem soaked up a ton of potential damage; why are Shamans so valuable in the rest of the zone?

Shamans grounding a lot of damage on Brutallus was only on the PTR; unfortunately it didn't go live. But overall Shamans excel in Sunwell because of the amount of raid damage that Blizzard is programming into the fights. It's really insane. In some fights you have 2 tank healers and every other healer will be healing the raid. That's just so different from how it was back in the days where you had 14-15 healers on a single tank with the raid taking almost no damage.

Priests also shine in Sunwell -- Circle of Healing and Prayer of Mending are insane (nerf!), but they don't bring buffs or Bloodlust/Heroism. And with the very tight tuning in Sunwell, totem buffs are very valuable. The same (but a bit less) is true for Druids; excellent Sunwell healers but no buffs. Paladins are the healers who really get left behind. They were the kings of healing in early Burning Crusade, but the most efficient way to use them in Sunwell is quite sadly having them outside of the raid buffing people.

WI: In the Kil'Jaeden video that SK Gaming's posted, I've noticed that the resto Shaman seems to be packing a lot of +haste. At least, Chain Heal is firing fast, insanely fast compared to what I'm used to seeing. You mentioned in our previous interview that the +haste gear from Sunwell made a huge difference to the healers' speed. Is +haste becoming the new must-have stat for for healers? Is raid damage sufficiently bad in Sunwell that it's a virtual necessity?

Haste is without a doubt the strongest healing stat around right now; you can downrank to save mana, and a heal landing for a bit less but faster is usually enough to save someone. Going from a 2.5-second cast time to a 1.9 second cast for the exact same spell is an enormous difference.

But the really fast healing on Kil'jaeden is partially because of a buff you get from the dragon's breath. It gives you faster attacks, casting and running. Combining that buff with a lot of +haste gear gives the speed-casting you see in the video. I think we reached around a 1.4-second cast time on Chain Heal there.

These buffs are crucial to killing Kil'jaeden; without them you will never have enough DPS, but getting the buffs themselves is the tricky part. Kil'jaeden has four abilities that will kill your raid if you hug at the wrong time, so it has to be executed perfectly. Hug too much and at the wrong time, you'll die; hug too little and people won't get the buffs, so your DPS won't be sufficient to banish him before he kills the raid.

Many thanks again to Neg for his time and willingness to answer questions!
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