Spiritual Guidance: A shadow priest's first look into the Raid Finder

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen comes from out of the darkness to bask in your loving adoration and grant you one birthday wish ...

Let's start off today's column with a question to you, the reader: How did you get your start raiding?

Me, I got my start in the PUG raiding circuit of yore. Someone would spam trade chat with their need for one ranged DPS for whatever raid instance happened to be in fashion at the time. I'd whisper them, hoping to snag that elusive slot (and believe me, as a DPSer, that slot was very elusive). Generally, I had no idea what I was doing while in the raids. I knew not to stand in stuff and to target whatever had the skull over its head.

I was a pretty lousy PUG raider. Let's face it -- we all were. PUG raids aren't known for their rates of success. Which is why I was intrigued when Blizzard announced its new Raid Finder system, coming in patch 4.3. Could Blizzard have found a way to make PUG raiding ... bearable?

The few, the proud, the 68%

Leading raids is a pain. It requires skills and patience that I frankly don't have. And I know a lot of you are the same way -- it's part of why we chose the DPS role in the first place. We like being important to a raid. But we don't necessarily want the pressure of being the make-or-break component. We want to be part of the 17 of 25 who queue as DPSers. We are the shadowy 68%.

That said, every raid needs a competent leader -- a tough-as-nails 4% type. One figure to unite us all. One person to take the responsibility. Failing that, every raid needs a generic leader who at least shows up and goes through the motions. It's a pretty important aspect. Raid encounters have a lot going on. Leaders help make sure their raiders are on the same page and doing what they're supposed to be doing. They're the glue that holds a raid together. You can down a boss with 16 of 17 DPSers, but if you go zero for one in the leader department, you're screwed, my friend.

This is where the Raid Finder tool breaks down. You don't get glue. You get that crusty paste that toddlers stick pieces of construction paper together with, if even that. That's not to say you can't wind up with a skilled leader. I'm just saying you probably won't.

I speak from experience.

That terrible first attempt

After waiting a solid 12 to 16 hours for all the patches to be applied to my PTR client, I decided to hit the brand new Raid Finder to get the shadow priest's perspective. After all, I needed something to write about this week, didn't I? After a mercifully short wait, I was invited to join an in-progress group that had downed two of the eight bosses.

Now, for those of you familiar with the PUG raiding circuit, you know what it usually means when a group is looking for new members when just two bosses are downed: It's a raid on life support. People are quick to give up on bad groups.

Against my better judgment, I joined the raid. I was immediately sent to the deck of The Skyfire, and two minutes later, I had engaged my first boss in the Dragon Soul raid. Here's a screenshot of that first attempt:

Do you have any idea what's going on in that screen shot? I sure as hell don't. Thirty seconds into the fight, it was pretty clear that I wasn't alone -- no one really knew what they were doing. No one, that is, except for the two or three people who stopped DPSing long enough to type out "FAIL RAID," and "NO SUTPID WHY YOU DO THAT," and of course, "U GUYS SUCK." We lost about five people to the boss, another five to rage quits. I just jumped off the side of Deathwing in frustration, finally earning myself the Stood in the Fire achievement.

Raids are inherently different from heroics. They tend to be more focused on bosses. And they also tend to be more difficult. Most players can go in and fake their way through a heroic. It's a lot harder to fake your way through a raid.

The Raid Finder tool is going to be filled with players who are curious about raiding but have yet to dip their toes into that particular pool. That's cool -- I think it's great that players are experiencing new content in new ways. But the problem is that the Raid Finder is an unforgiving mistress. They've reduced the difficulty of the Raid Finder raids, but they're still hard. Players are going to wind up wiping a lot, regardless of their own personal skill level.

And if there's one thing players don't find fun, it's failure. These new players are going to hate raiding.

Experience 2: Warmaster Blackhorn

My second encounter put me in the middle of a group attempting Warmaster Blackhorn. It's very much reminiscent of the S.S. Lootship fight back in the Icecrown Citadel raid, but with an actual boss (eventually) that needs to be DPSed.

This group was blessed with a leader who at least took the time to bark out general instruction: "Ranged DPS, attack the drakes." "When the boss yells, stand in the purple." Crude directions, sure, but they were all that we needed to avoid massive casualties. We downed the boss on the first try. Sadly, the group fell apart after downing the boss. Even though we got just one boss down, though, it felt like an accomplishment.

I didn't feel incredibly useful during that fight, even though I probably was. There's a lot of target switching, and as a spec that requires a bit of a ramp-up time, each time I switch targets I feel like my DPS is suffering. With more experience, I'm sure I'll be multi-DoTing adds like a pro.

Experience 3: The Maelstrom

My third experience put me in a group battling Deathwing at the Maelstrom. It's your typical final boss in an RPG fight -- the villain descends even further into madness, with his body decayed and corrupted to match his mind. It's pretty epic stuff. And, as you can guess, pretty difficult stuff to conquer.

The fight has a lot of different mechanics that add to the "fun" of the fight. You get your own bonus defensive cooldown that reduces the damage you take (briefly) by 50%. The dragon aspects give you a number of buffs, including a haste buff. At most times, you have two targets present, allowing you to multi-DoT. Specifically, as a shadow priest, I felt powerful.

There were a lot of things going on during that fight that your average player will have to know about to be successful. You need to know what tentacle to DPS and when. You need to know what platform to be on. You need to DPS the party-wiping Elementium Bolt, or at least know to get out of the way of it. You need to switch targets. You even need to interrupt Deathwing when he attempts to call forth a second Cataclysm.

Ultimately, my group failed to beat Deathwing. It fell apart to an irreparable extent after the second wipe. I guess that means that "all was lost." Oh well. If at first you don't succeed, queue in the Raid Finder again.

General advice

Unfortunately, my Raid Finder experience was rough enough that I wasn't able to complete a full raid, start to finish. Still, I was able to see a large variety of content, and I did get some bosses downed. That in mind, here are some of tips learned through my own personal experience with the Raid Finder:

  • Press Shift + J and read the Dungeon Journal! It has valuable information about all the new raid bosses. You don't have to be an expert, but you do owe it to your fellow players to know at least something about the fights you're going to attempt.

  • Once a PUG raid starts to fail, it's next to impossible to rescue it. Players get frustrated and leave. Others stay, but develop bad attitudes. For this reason, I generally advise against joining raids that have already downed bosses.

  • If you're going to use the Raid Finder tool, you'll be more successful if you put your own group together. Obviously, getting 25 people is ideal, but even if you can only muster 20 or 15, you'll still be starting with a solid foundation of people who you know.

Fixing the Raid Finder

I'm not sure that the Raid Finder in its current form is the best of ideas. Even with a good leader, raiding is difficult. And though content is easier when experienced via the Raid Finder, it's still not easy. Groups are going to wipe.

And ultimately, therein lies the problem. PUG players typically have a sense of entitlement to a smooth, difficulty-free run. We don't want to be thrown into a wipe-filled, four-hour Throne of Tides heroic. We want the 20-minute flawless cruise through the instance. We'll tolerate some failure here and there, but we're not going to bang our heads against a wall --especially when you can just ditch the strangers you're with and find a new group at the push of a button.

Raiders generally have a higher tolerance for failure; the wipe is an integral part of the raiding experience. But when you start throwing random people into the mix, something about the raid dynamic changes. Mistakes are more forgivable when you already know and are friendly with the person making them.

This version of the Raid Finder will fail, because it's not what the players want it to be. Players using it aren't going to want a raid-type experience. They're going to want a heroic-type experience. And that means only one thing: For this Raid Finder to be successful, the difficulty level is going to need to be nerfed through the ground.

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? We've got more for shadow priests, from Shadow Priest 101 to a list of every monster worth mind controlling and strategies for raiding Blackwing Descent.