Ready Check: Sartharion

Ready Check is a weekly column focusing on successful raiding for the serious raider. Hardcore or casual, ZA or Sunwell Plateau, everyone can get in on the action and down some bosses. This week, we try to avoid dying in a fire. Again.

In keeping with this weekend's theme, we all know there's nothing that shows your love for another pixellated avatar as sincerely as slaying a dragon for them. Throughout history, knights in shining armour have triumphed victorious in the face of fire-breathing monsters, and this week's Ready Check is no exception. (We'll deal with Sartharion's frost-breathing compatriot in an upcoming week, don't fret!)

Sartharion the Onyx Guardian is a 'standalone' boss located in the Obsidian Sanctum below Wyrmrest Temple. Accompanied by a trio of lesser drakes, this encounter can be approached a number of ways, making it challenging to a wide audience. Although clearing the trash is necessary, killing the drakes before engaging Sartharion is optional; any drakes left alive before beginning the fight will join in during the encounter, adding extra challenge (and loot) to those who desire it.

The easy way to defeat Sartharion is to ensure all three drakes are killed before pulling Sartharion, making for a fairly routine tank and spank fight. The hardest way is to leave the drakes alive and deal with them during the fight, with each of them bringing extra multipliers and abilities to the table. Why bother? An extra achievement, glory in the eyes of raid guild ranking sites, and a chance at a rare drake mount.

Of course there are two intermediate steps as well; pulling Sartharion with one or two drakes alive, rather than all three. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Let's look at Sartharion and his little family.

Sartharion himself is the large red dragon standing proudly in the middle of the Sanctum. Like dragons the world over, he has a frontal breath (fire damage) and a tail swipe, which stuns players unfortunate enough to get too close to his rear end. He also cleaves and deals melee damage.

When pulled, regardless of drakes, the Sartharion encounter has several other elements. The most prominent is regular fire walls, signalled by 'The lava around Sartharion begins to churn' and clearly visible as waves of fire moving either from north to south or vice versa. Fortunately for us flammable mortals, these walls have large gaps in them. The wave originating north has gaps roughly in the middle and edges of the central island; the wave originating south has gaps further towards the sides. The easiest way to learn to cope with these walls is to watch them very carefully and learn for yourself where they originate and where the closest safe place to stand is. Being hit by a wall means a lot of fire damage, a knock back and general mocking from the raid group.

The flame walls dictate, to some extent, the main tank's and Sartharion's positions. Having seen many different positionings already for this fight, it's safe to say there is no universally accepted 'tank spot' but you need to ensure that the melee do not get tail swiped, that the casters can DPS and healers heal during the majority of flame walls, and that the tank can safely avoid every flame wall (as being knocked back doesn't help with the positioning!). Generally the dragon is tanked facing either north or south, with the tank in a safe spot for the flame wall originating behind her. She then has plenty of time to move the dragon should a flame wall spawn from the other side. The raid should get well away from the dragon's front if this happens, as the range on his flame breath can be deadly.

As well as walls of fire, Fire Cyclones shoot up and land every so often during the fight which are hard (but not impossible) to avoid; the achievement 'Gonna Go When The Volcano Blows' requires not being hit by one, which is most easily achieved by suiciding at the start of the fight (not recommended unless people are specifically on an achievement run!). Additionally, small fire elementals spawn throughout the encounter which need to be controlled and killed; control is essential since the elementals enrage if hit by a lava wall. On normal mode it's easy enough to have a DPSer (warriors work well due to the incoming stream of rage and ability to taunt) handle these but on heroic mode you will probably want a dedicated tank.

Without drakes, this is all there is to the encounter, barring a slight enrage ('the zerg') at 10% where more and more fire elementals are summoned. During the zerg it's best to focus on DPSing Sartharion as fast as possible -- it is possible to wipe to the elementals at this stage.

The three drakes living in the Obsidian Sanctum are (clockwise from south) Vesperon, Tenebron and Shadron. To kill them before engaging Shadron, clear nearby trash and pull them one by one. Each has a shadow breath and will summon Shadow Fissures (void zones) throughout the fight, which are easily avoided -- they recently changed from red to blue in colour, but are still recognisable. During the fight each will open a portal to the twilight realm.

Vesperon summons a disciple within the portal which afflicts the raid with Twilight Torment, a debuff that causes you to take damage while dealing damage (often called the emo effect). Facing Vesperon alone you can choose whether to have a healer and DPS enter the portal and dispatch the disciple, or stay in the normal world and heal through the aura. If you're well geared the latter is the quickest option but the former is safer.

Tenebron hatches eggs within the portal. You can either enter the portal and kill the eggs, or ignore the portal and wait until they hatch, whereupon whelps will spawn in the normal world. Depending on gear, kill or offtank these while Tenebron dies. (If your Tenebron DPS is low, and you're likely to get additional whelps, you should probably kill them or they will overwhelm you.)

Shadron summons a disciple within the portal which buffs Shadron with a shield making him immune to damage. As you can't DPS through this, everyone but the tank and sufficient healers to keep the tank alive should take the portal, kill the disciple and then return to DPS Shadron.

Each of the drakes drops a badge; if you engage Sartharion with n drakes alive, Sartharion will drop n+1 badges.

We'll look in more depth at Sartharion plus drakes next week, but here's a preview of the drakes' abilities if left alive: Tenebron's presence causes everyone to take double Shadow damage, Shadron's is double fire damage, and Vesperon's decreases everyone's maximum health by 25%. Each drake still makes portals, too, so you have whelps to deal with and a self-harming aura as well as Shadron's disciples, which increase Sartharion's breath damage. Hint: To kill with all three alive, your tank needs to have a lot of health, a lot of cooldowns or you need a lot of DPS. (Or all three!)