For a long time, raid testing was something mysterious to me. Something the makers of guides and the best of the best raid teams did. But this time around, I’m writing the guides, I’m raiding, and I have access! All I needed was to drag my guild in there too. Which may sound easy, but apparently not everyone shares my initial enthusiasm to jump on and go testing.
I don’t really blame them though. The testing times are not particularly attractive for EU raiders. With each test night being scheduled at 22:30 (start boss 1) and 00:00 (start boss 2). On top of that, my guild is a 3-day a week raiding guild. We know we will be following the strategies of the hardcore guilds – we are not raiding enough to compete.
So they try not to bother with alpha too much. Let the expansion be a surprise and the content long-lasting. I get that, I really do. But I have guides to write and readers to inform. And I’ve always told myself: if you play alpha or beta, start early on so that you can benefit for the full extent. There is no added value to me in ruining the launch surprise for two weeks at the end of the beta. Since I got access in the first waves, alpha is where Dorelei goes.
We are already behind
Most of my alpha raid testing has been joining pugs (other raid teams lacking a few people). I did not attend all tests and neither did my guild. In a way, we are already behind. What a crazy thought! The teams that are striving to reach the top rankings next tier are creating their advantage right now – and we are not even in (official) beta yet. They have loads of members that have 10+ pulls of experience, on all bosses being tested, and they already killed most of them.
You don’t have to be max-level on the alpha to test raids. They scale you up to 110 (the new level cap) and give you the appropriate gear. So far I’ve seen 750 for the heroic mode in the Emerald Nightmare, including end boss testing (Xavius). In the second raid (The Nighthold, or Suramar Palace) we were scaled to 789 item level for heroic mode testing. I didn’t participate in mythic testing, so I don’t know the item levels used in there.
The main thing you will notice (in output differences) is when people did not complete the artifact questline on their character yet. The first boss we ended up 9 manning with a few without an artifact. That we noticed. Where other groups killed the boss, we got to halfway of the second phase (out of three).
Balance versus longevity
Currently, a debate is trending in the high end raiding community. Most seem to value both balance of classes in the initial mythic progression race, as well as longevity of artifact progression. It makes sense that we can’t have both at the same time. Blizzard currently tests with artifacts fully enabled (just like item levels and levels, artifact properties are also fully unlocked). This seems to imply that there is a reasonable possibility that artifacts will be fully unlocked once mythic progression starts.
Large groups seem to benefit in testing in general. This is something you would notice as well at the start of Hellfire Citadel. Large groups had less issues dealing with mechanics. Not only because there are more people to deal with the basic mechanics, putting less pressure on the individual raid members. Scaling seemed to benefit larger groups. It is likely that larger groups will have an easier time running through normal and heroic mode content at the release of the Emerald Nightmare raid.
You don’t go to the raids yourself. In a way, raid testing works a lot like LFR – except you have to create the group yourself. Ethereals are positioned in the main city. You talk to them, and they transport you to the raid. Upon arrival you find yourself in an empty instance, and you have to look for another Ethereal semi-stealthed somewhere in the corridor. Talk to that guy, and you get the option to port to the actual boss being tested.
Well hello there Krom, uh Korm, uh Krosus
And there you are, in front of a brand new boss. The dungeon journal gives you a few tips on the abilities and how to deal with them. But no one really knows what will happen. So you pull the boss, and probably die within half a minute. There are no boss mods to help you. Only your wits as a group to counter the abilities. Incredibly fun for a team that is farming mythic together for a while now.
Recently, an early form of add-ons was enabled on the alpha. Until that moment, everyone raided on the game’s default UI. Being able to format your standard raid frames to something that allows for convenient raid healing, but it requires a little bit of knowledge. It is something I intend to write about in the near future. Because being able to format basic frames, helps brand new healers and players in general. It is a light weight solution which is surprisingly well-performing.
You end up pulling the boss for about 10-20 times. Perhaps you even kill it. All testing concludes with something that could be called an early form of a boss strategy. You run into interesting phenomena’s. Spell visuals not showing, abilities not hitting targets, environmental imperfections, mobs that don’t do any damage, cooldowns resetting and bosses that just stand there being hit in the face for a full phase.
The red arrow
And then a red arrow appears above everyone’s head. Blizzard has decided they have gathered enough test data, and they press the button to close down testing. This can be 30 minutes in, or 2 hours later. Although more often the first, and less often the latter. After a few seconds of a glooming red arrow, everyone gets ported. You’d think to a safe haven like Dalaran of Stormwind, which is often the case. But a few nights ago I ended up in Orgrimmar. Which is slightly risky for a little draenei like myself. Luckily, I had no problems hearthstoning back to the main city.
The socket revelation
Combat logging works like it normally does. This is a very important tool. It allows us to try a bunch of different talents and see how they play out in the environment of a certain raid boss. If there is someone playing the same class and spec, you try to outperform them of course. At least, I get slightly competitive in these situations. And then the hammer hit me. There was another resto shaman in the group. But no matter what talents I chose, I could not keep up. My best attempt got me into a 5-10% difference range with the other guy.
I did notice one thing during testing, this shaman was spamming chain heal. To the degree that his riptide casts were suffering (so many chain heals were going out). This was remarkable, but apparently it worked. His output obviously was higher than mine. I tried spamming chain heal as much as I could. But (unlike my fellow shaman) I went out of mana so fast. At one point I resorted to wellspring (big wave hitting the entire raid), to at least have some fun.
The next day I poked Keehn. He’s my go-to-log-doctor. I felt like a scrub. How could I not keep up? What was the other guy doing, that I clearly wasn’t? Keehn quickly discovered the crit percentage of the other shaman. Apparently, this guy was running around with crazy levels of crit, allowing for crazy amounts of resurgence (gaining back mana through critting). That explained why he was able to keep spamming chain heal, and I was going OoM.
But where did he get this crazy crit percentage (42% of his chain heals critted, and mine 15ish%)? Little did I know, Jewelcrafting is already hot business on the alpha. Rings and necks can be crafted with gem slots and socket bonuses. That is how my fellow shaman was able to ramp up his crit levels. Needless to say, I just spend my last silver on a ring, a neck, and two gems. On top of that, imagine the difference between a raid group fully decked out with these items and a group without. That is alpha testing for you, and in a way cutting edge progression.
Reporting from alpha build 184.108.40.20631,