I wasn’t in a real raiding guild in Burning Crusade. We had several weekly Kara groups, and eventually I managed to get some action in ZA, but our forays into 25-main raids were fairly minimal. I always hated the larger raids, not only because (sorry guys) the number of baddies in that guild was pretty darn high, but also because it felt like a huge uncontrolled mess. That was due to the bad players, lack of leadership, not to mention the fact that my computer couldn’t handle so much going on. I’ve since upgraded all of that – a much better computer, a real raiding guild, solid leadership – and found that 25-man raiding can be every bit as solid as 10-man raiding.
With WoLK, Blizzard introduced the notion of parallel raiding tracks for 10-man and 25-man groups. I thought this was brilliant. I envisioned a world where smaller guilds would progress on equal footing (sharing equal pride) with larger guilds, and perhaps partner up if they wanted to do the 25-man versions of content.
It hasn’t entirely worked out that way. Not many players see themselves as 10-man raiders. Which is why I wanted to include Sinespe in this Q&A series. His guild, Fancy Hat Club, is a “strict” 10-man guild, which is a term that GuildOx uses when ranking guild progression. It places clear limits on the type of gear one can be wearing to qualify for their progression chart. I sought his priesty perspective on the 10-man raiding scene, even though he is only a part-time discipline priest (and in fact, he’s written a fantastic guide for shadow priests, not to mention a blog for the dark side, called Anathema). Unfortunately, due to some technicalities regarding alts and 25-man runs, they are currently disqualified from GuildOx’s 10-man strict rankings, but that will be cleared up soon.
One last note: Sinespe speaks a dialect called “Old English.” It’s not his fault, really; he hails from Old England. I’ve tried to make sure he’s understandable through his thick accent.
PP: How long have you been raiding?
Sinespe: I have been raiding since approximately June 2007, when I first hit level 70 with my Forsaken Priest. At the start of my raiding career, I was shadow – and loved it to a fault. My only experience of healing during TBC was in heroics as holy, at which I was terrible for a couple of weeks until I learned to down-rank Greater Heal to ranks 1 and 3 for mana-sustainability. It was there, of course, that I learned to love Prayer of Mending – well, not just there: there's nothing quite like doing 5v5 arenas with two discipline priests, especially when you come up against a DoT class with ADD, who will Curse of Agony everyone and send PrOM flying everywhere.
However, because I was pretty terrible at everything, hating arenas especially because of how often we screwed up, I didn't get much exposure to raid healing until after I re-learned my class. This happened when I made a new priest and re-levelled, and for some reason just realised all the things I'd been doing wrong previously. I started pulling 1.1k DPS on Nalorakk in Frozen Shadoweave-level gear, causing our tanks to panic from how close I came to over-aggroing, and our rogue to fight every second for his top DPS spot; and, on the holy side, I got into the proper groove of exiting the 5-second rule wherever possible, cancel-casting Greater Heal 3 when it wasn't necessary, etc. etc..
My real exposure to discipline healing occurred during 3.0.8; as with TBC, I focused on shadow as my main spec, but I made serious, early efforts to keep my discipline gear on par so that I could dual spec and double my utility. Naturally, with the homogenisation of loot, this was a lot easier than it was in TBC. I loved the emphasis on shields, as well as the beauty of Penance and the familiarity of pre-Black Temple holy healing; the holy tree, meanwhile, has morphed into something completely alien to what I had become accustomed to doing in TBC, so I've left it alone with no real desire to go exploring its mysteries. Furthermore (although this has changed in 3.3 with haste becoming far more important for shadow than it has been up until this point), the itemisation of high-end disc play fits in very nicely with shadow theory: crit/SP gems in yellow sockets enable items such as Merlin's Robe to be usable in both specs, which lowers the overall gear maintenance requirement of each spec. As I say, in 3.3 that has changed and I will have to maintain two different gear sets almost completely; however, I look forward to having two full sets of Tier 10 with the knowledge that I want every single piece.
PP: Wow. Well that about covers it, thank you for coming!
PP: Ok, ok. What level of content are you at now? How many hours per week do you raid?
Sinespe: Fancy Hat Club, raiding eight hours per week, has managed to down Anub'arak on 10-player Heroic, focusing entirely on 10-man raids with minimal gear pollution from the 25-man sector, with 49 attempts remaining. We value every hour and use it to its maximum potential, being able to keep up with guilds who might raid three or four nights a week, thanks to our efficiency. We'll be looking forward to ICC10H.
PP: Do you raid on any other toons? And what have you learned from non-healing roles that assist you on healing duties? Was a priest always your main?
Sinespe: I do have a Blood DPS death knight with whom I run ToC10/25N and other such casual raids with my guild's wide variety of alts, but that's really just a boredom killer. The Blood DK and my role as shadow have one thing in common: insane survivability as a standard part of our DPS. Blood, every 10 seconds or so, regenerates 15% of the user's own health through Death Strike, and shadow has the constant 25%-damage-as-healing stream from VE pouring into me. As a result, I've tried to learn that certain DPS have quite a bit more resilience than healers tend to give them credit for. It's very easy when you watch Grid to see someone's health drop by 75% and think “ohcrapohcrapohcrap”, but they might not die at all within the next 5-10 seconds because the danger of further damage might not be present.
And, yes, I have most definitely been a priest all my life. It is the only class I have ever raised to the level cap from level 1 – death knights skip all the horror of Vanilla levelling, so they get around the requirement for me to be in love with them in order to level them. I do have to be in love with my class to haul it through the poorly designed mess that is 1-58 Vanilla questlines.
PP: How much time do you spend healing versus shadow?
Sinespe: Since shadow is my main-spec, I spend more time in shadowform than I do throwing bubbles and balls of light around. However, I would say that the split is closer to healing 40 : 60 shadow than, say, 25 : 75. My role becomes more fluid as we start farming content rather than training content. I anticipate that I will be in shadowform for 90-100% of my time in Icecrown Citadel, perhaps healing in the last week before a new wing gets opened up if it is required of me to do so. Ultimately, I like to get a feel for an encounter as a DPS before considering that I'll be good to heal it. I'm good at discipline, but it is not yet as instinctual as my ability to DPS.
PP: Your favorite raid? (Before it was on farm status.)
Sinespe: Ulduar, without a doubt, but Black Temple comes in a close second. I was still a scrub when I was raiding Black Temple, but the fights were really well-designed. I went there recently and heard Mother Shahraz's spine-chilling voiceover without the hectic noises of 24 other people casting spells. Ulduar has so much depth: the encounters, in general, are well-designed and the graphics show a lot of polish. The best thing about Ulduar while training it was the ability to choose a completely different progression route from one week to the next. One week you might want to work on Vezax and Yogg, so you'd rush through FL+0, Trinketscale, and all the non-optional bosses, clearing the keepers quickly; another, you might want to work on a specific keeper or Iron Council, so you wouldn't even go into The Descent into Madness.
PP: Why do you raid in a 10-man guild? What are the unique challenges or opportunities?
Sinespe: I raid 10-man for a number of reasons, but the chief one is that I feel lost in a group of 24 other people. I very briefly (i.e., a single raid) raided Ulduar alongside a good friend of mine, Zicon/Isolde, in her 25N guild on the Quel'Thalas-EU server. I did something I very rarely do: I died. This was on Mimiron: he lag-bugged when he targeted me with his Spinning Up attack. This caused him to turn anti-clockwise while I was moving anti-clockwise to avoid the incoming beams, meaning not only that it was impossible for me not to get hit by the beams but that I also took a few people down with me. Naturally, they killed him without me needing to be alive. That's what I didn't particularly like, and what I mean about feeling “lost”: it felt like if I screwed up it didn't matter so much because one death in 10-man is worth 2.5 in 25-man. The other “lost” feeling comes on the social side of things: in FHC I'm one voice in 10 rather than one voice in 25.
PP: How do you feel Blizzard has done in creating a satisfying 10-man raiding game?
Sinespe: WotLK is the first time they've attempted to do this, and they've been trying various different ways of implementing it – I think it's too early to declare it a success or a failure. I am very glad that they implemented it all the way up to ICC. That's as much as anyone should be able to expect for one expansion, and I think there will be greater things to come with Cataclysm and the Guild Levelling system – there's a lot of scope for 10-man raiding in the future.
PP: The notion of 10-man strict is not a Blizzard creation. Do you get respect from 25-man guilds for the progression you’ve made?
Sinespe: Well...I would actually disagree with the statement that 10-man strict is not a Blizzard creation. It is not enforced by Blizzard in the same way that it is by GuildOx, but it is certainly encouraged with and recognised by achievements such as Herald of the Titans and Tribute to Dedicated Insanity. The “strict” paradigm as it stands with regards to gear restriction is certainly a GuildOx creation, though, and I think Blizzard does need to implement some kind of deterrent for hardcore 10-man guilds not to pollute themselves with 25-man gear. Just to pull an example out of thin-air, a way to do this would be to force raiders to accomplish the “Glory of the Icecrown Raider (10-player)” drake-yielding achievements under Herald/Dedicated Insanity conditions. Out-gearing the 10-man version of the raid is a serious problem for a number of reasons, although I don't wish to pre-empt my answer to the next question.
My thought about 10-man strict can be summarised thus: Blizzard encourages it when they should restrict it by such things as the Herald idea suggested above; GuildOx doesn't do enough to restrict it in terms of building up a progression table. It is unfair, for instance, that a 10-man strict guild has the potential to be usurped on the rankings by a guild who, until 3.3, decided to run ToC25N, but after 3.3 chooses to do 10N/H raids only. GuildOx relaxes the rules on previous tiers of content far too soon. Once more, I pre-empt a question here by evoking the example of ToC10 trinkets being appalling compared to their 25-man counterparts – yet, until a 25-man guild exempts itself from the 10-man Icecrown listings by clearing the 25-man content, it will be listed as a “strict” 10-man guild, with all its 25-man trinkets and other gear.
Within my own guild, I'm hoping that the 10-man strict paradigm will be followed more seriously in 3.3. As I said earlier, we have self-disqualified from it purely because we have alts in FHC who run ToC25 – even though they don't run with the main 10-man team and have no ToGC10 experience at all, they cause us to be disqualified from a listing which will remain disregarded as a serious progression table unless the 10-man raiders themselves make a conscious effort to make themselves noticed and competitive. So, to anyone in my guild reading this: please do consider the setting up of a <Fancy Alt Club> or something, so that our guild's armoury page doesn't get polluted in 3.3 with irrelevant 25-man kills.
PP: Does it bother you to see 25-man raiders talking about how easy 10-man raids are…even hard modes?
Sinespe: Yes, it does bother me, because it's not true. It is a myth which has hung around from TBC when 25-man was the only progression path available to anyone who wants to get media exposure within the WoW community – and before that, in Vanilla, it was the same with 40-man guilds. 10-man raids are easier only in the sense that they can be out-geared if you run 25-mans. ToGC10, for instance, is tuned around the premise that it is challenging but possible (that is, after all, the definition of cutting-edge content) in approximately 70% 232 gear and 30% 245 gear. If you're raiding ToC25/ToGC25, however, your gear makeup is more likely to be 40% 232/60% 245, or even more over-geared than that. The problem with evoking ToGC10, I should note, is the fiasco with trophies only being available at the end of the damn instance in ToGC10 instead of dropping off each boss (à la conquest emblems from Ulduar-10H bosses) – an issue which Blizzard themselves has admitted was a mistake; so, hopefully, we'll see Tier10.264 turn-in tokens dropping from Lord Marrowgar-10H, not from a chest after killing Arthas-10H.
I fear, however, that this is one of these issues which is only provable if/when a blue poster comes out to say, “We tune 10-heroic fights to be proportionally difficult compared to 25-heroic: they are as hard as each other unless you out-gear them.” Until we get a definitive answer like that, among other things that Blizzard could do for us, we'll be second-class raiders.
PP: Many people claim that the game is harder for 10-man guilds. Fights like Sartharion 3-drakes (pre-zerg) had far less room for error than they do on 25-man. And until the recent addition of drums, you were less likely to have a full set of raid buffs.
Sinespe: Sartharion+3 10-man was a bit of an aberration in terms of difficulty. If you were in full-213 gear with no 226 pieces, it's very unlikely that you'd be able to complete it. Herald/Dedicated are extremely difficult, but I'd say Sartharion+3 10 was nearly impossible. After the initial fiasco of Ulduar-10 scaling to 25-man values, everything balanced out somewhat. In terms of encounter tuning, ToGC10 has been very decent. With another raid night per week, we'd have Insanity by now, without question, but not without some serious toil. In short, Blizzard is getting better with the way they're tuning 10-mans as the expansion goes on and it bodes well for the future in that respect.
PP: Do you find that, other than the obvious incremental benefit you’d get from slightly higher-level gear, that you are being left out of some fun or exciting gearing opportunities? Ulduar 10-man trinkets were verygood. In ToC, you have one 10-man trinket that’s sharded more often than it’s equipped (sorry!), and one 25-man trinket that’s overpowered.
Sinespe: It has felt like Blizzard has given more than just an extra tier level to 25-man raiders. However, I will admit that from a discipline perspective it hasn't been all doom and gloom on the trinket front. Those Ulduar trinkets, along with the Talisman of Resurgence, provide a good pool of BiS slot items for discipline – they make Solace seem not so much of a huge loss: we don't need Solace to get by in a 10-man setting. On the DPS side of things, however, things are pretty grim. If I were to make a BiS list of items from purely 10-man loot lists, Broodmother would be top of the list and then Abyssal Rune / Sundial of the Exiled, a heroic-accessible trinket, would be below it. There just haven't been many decent options at all. Really – who designs a spellcaster DPS trinket without putting spell power somewhere on it? The ToC10 trinket designer needs to have unpleasant things done to him; and it's a bit of an insult that our 10-man ICC trinket is just a re-hash of something that 25-man raiders have had access to since 3.0.8. It's not a bad trinket – not at all – but it shows a distinct lack of imagination or ingenuity.
Similarly, we don't have any legendary items. Blizzard has said that legendaries are a 25-man only thing for the time-being, but why? 25N is easier than 10H, but 25N gets access to Val'anyr and Shadowmourne? What did casual 25ers to do deserve that treatment that hardcore 10ers didn't do? Form a larger group of people? Irrelevant, surely. Where legendaries are concerned, it should be difficulty that determines worthiness, not number of people with whom to compete over the item and cause guild drama. I would like to see 10-man-H raiding get something unique in terms of loot, not just in terms of Herald/Insanity achievements.
PP: You can make one change to the discipline priest. It can be talents, mechanics, cooldowns, you name it, but keep it reasonable.
Sinespe: New Talent: Reflection of Piety. 20% of base mana. Instant: Your target receives the buff Confession, which lasts for 90 seconds. 60% of the healing of your Penance spell is applied also to the confessing raid member.
Very simply, it is a weak form of Beacon of Light. I don't at all think that our tank healing is bad. But, especially in the 10-man raiding scene, and especially in ToGC, paladins are able to out-perform us to such a huge degree that they pretty much break Anub'arak-H as an encounter: They are the reason why 2-heal 6-DPS is even possible on 10-man: because you can leave both tanks to be healed purely by the paladin and have your discipline priest focus on Pen Cold with super-fast shields and Flash Heals. It would boost our tank healing in a minor way: 8 seconds would not seem like such a long cooldown for Penance.
It's also an excuse to see Penance's animation bounce from one raid member to another. Penance has a gorgeous animation.
PP: What was your proudest or most memorable moment in your career? It doesn’t need to be a guild event or boss kill; it can be something personal, solo or in a pug.
Sinespe: I can't recall one specific time, but I feel proud every time I out-perform someone, either healing or DPSing, when, on paper, I shouldn't be able to do so because of gear difference, guild reputation or unfavourable encounter mechanics. I love being the underdog, and I love discrediting the opinions of pseudo-elitist gearscore followers – as anyone who has read my blog knows. I still need to get my BiS blue list together and get into a Naxx25 raid to show that it's possible to pull 4k DPS through sheer skill.
My most recent victory is detailed in my blog. Hybrid power.
PP: Overall, what is your experience of the discipline priest community?
Sinespe: This is a bit of a generalisation, but it seems to me that discipline priests fall into two categories: People who get it, and people who don't. The people who don't get it are not necessarily the people who cannot perform, but they are the people who complain that we don't heal as well as a paladin, or that we get schooled on the healing meters at every turn ... They forget that, while we might be a different kind of healing priest, we're still a priest: we're supposed to fill multiple roles. “Jack of all trades” still applies, even if “master of none” does not. The people who do get it are the people who wouldn't want to heal any other way – or the people who are dual-specced disc/holy.
PP: Well, I said it before, but this time I really mean it! Thanks very much for your time.