It's been a while, hasn't it.
By my count, it has been 324 days since I first embarked on my epic journey. Across continents, worlds, dungeons, raids, characters and guilds. I told a story through pictures and words. I took footage. But at some point, when there was no more levelling to be done I felt I had reached a point where writing about doing the same content every week was filled with tedium.
So I let this series sit. In stasis. I gave up writing about the Canberra Raiders this year because, let's face it, they're not very good and that's pretty miserable reading. And writing.
When I published my last article, entitled "the rest of the game", Burning Crusade Classic was still in Phase 1.
To stretch out the content, Blizzard carved up the game into a number of "Phases". Burning Crusade was released in 2.4.3 state, i.e, the Sunwell Patch, however the content has been time gated.
This is different from original Burning Crusade (TBC), which had Karazhan (Kara), Gruul's Lair (Gruuls), Mag'theridon's Lair (Mags), Serpentshrine Cavern (SSC) and Tempest Keep (or, more accurately, Tempest Keep: The Eye - TK) available. In the repackage, this content was split into two phases. Kara, Gruul and Mag made up Phase 1 and SSC and TK made up Phase 2.
Then came Phase 3 with Mount Hyjal (MH) and Black Temple (BT). Most recently we've had Zul'Aman (ZA) in Phase 4. As of writing this, Sunwell has made it to the public test realm (PTR) but has yet to be released. Arena season 3 (Vengeful) has just closed, meaning phase 5 will be here soon and promises to be very difficult.
So the game has expanded quite a bit since my last writing. As to be expected of someone who has done nothing but played World of Warcraft pretty close to non-stop in that time, so has my library of characters. So, let me tell you all about it:
Critical Information Summary:
Character 1 - Naveau
Current Playtime: 1223 Hours
Professions: Enchanting (362), Leatherworking (375)
Character 2 - Vulkan
Current Playtime: 680 Hours
Professions: Herbalism (375), Mining (375)
Character 3 - Konrad
Current Playtime: 131 Hours
Professions: Skinning (323)
So I've been busy.
It's been a rollercoaster. Some weeks the mountain has felt impossible to climb, other weeks I can't get enough of playing wow much to the detriment of my physical and mental health. Would I do all this again? Yes. The reason I would do it, have done it, and will continue to do it until the expansion ends is the same reason anyone does anything. To say that I have done it. With photo evidence. And not a little bit of video.
But in the months since my last update, a lot has changed. So I'll break it down by phase, which might help me structure this article a bit better. My memory is cloudy as there has been lots going on - yes, it would've been easier to cover these phases at the time.
Regular readers will remember that halfway through phase one, right after our first unsuccessful Gruul's Lair (which only gave one token and one item, as opposed to three tokens and one item, which is a doubling of loot), my previous guild leader, Gandrayda, and her raid leader husband, Tearyal, saw the mammoth task ahead of them and fled. The discord deleted, the guild destroyed and both of them disappearing without a trace.
I took up the reins - and early on things seemed to be going ok. We forged an alliance with Kitty Island Adventure, another small guild and were able to consistently attempt 25-man content. Starting out rough, the highlight was when we were able to defeat pre-nerf Gruul.
We got close to Mag'theridon on a number of occasions pre-nerf. It wasn't easy, because we lacked the gear to punch through. This is important later, as from here, little cracks began to spread. In me, the Marbles and my joint raiding venture.
For now, Marbles cleared Gruul and Karazhan every week, progressed on Mag'theridon and then, on the horizon, came the phase 2 announcement. Among the first things to appear was guild banks (which did not exist in classic or phase 1 TBC) and also the first real push, because we had a big chunk of players who needed to be attuned for Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep.
Attuning, for those that are unfamiliar with early world of warcraft, is a process of tasks that need to be completed before entry to a raid. Sometimes these are long, sometimes they're difficut. I liked the idea because it gave context to what you were doing in the world (of Warcraft). But, as you'll soon find out, it caused problems for smaller and less successful guilds.
But I digress.
Our two Karazhan teams eventually cleared Nightbane, the eleventh (and optional) boss of Karazhan which required an attunement process all of its own (more on that in another article, I hope). Team 2 did it in a one-night clear, our first three-and-a-half (which would later drop way down when it was nerfed) but this boss was an assblast and a half. So understand my enthusiasm when it popped (although I muted my own mic here).
Team 1 eventually came back doing overtime and cleaned it up. Nightbane was the first part of the attunement required for Serpentshrine Cavern, also requiring you to kill Gruul.
Of course it wasn't as easy as that, because to even get the quest (and then to turn it in) you had to go into Heroic Slave Pens. No mean feat in blues, greens and the occassional Karazhan purple. And here's where the cracks began to spread.
It was clear that some people were just content to cruise along and not put in the effort required to access the content. This left the dedicated people who worked hard for their spot (including me) frustrated at the thought of having to put these players on our back to access the next wave of content. We also needed to organise the materials for a Frost and Nature resistance set, which was required for the first boss of Serpentshrine Cavern, Hydross the Unstable. And by 'we', I mean 'me'. Guild leader perks, I suppose.
I have a lot of regrets from this era. I regret not delegating more, I regret not setting higher standards to raid as a Marble. I regret not using logs until it was far, far too late. But it's always easy to nitpick mistakes and not celebrate what few successes we had, in spite of all this. Some Marbles pushed very hard to get as many people attuned (for SSC, anyway, as TK required Mag'Theridon and three of the hardest heroic dungeons) as possible. Then, ready or not, phase two launched.
Phase two started with a whimper as rather than experience the content, the guild opted to take a break. I felt my frustration build, although I did paint this Ultramarine in my time off.
Before pushing into SSC, we were still raiding with Kitty Island Adventure. But what was once profitable soon turned into a nightmare as I had to juggle forty raiders for a 25-man raid. I learned a painful lesson as I tried to organise two 25-man raids, which ended in dismal failure for the second raid, which I was in. The good news is the other Raid cleared Mag, but I can still remember my rage and heartache as I realised that by over-reaching for other people who did not care for me, I was not part of Marbles' first Mag'theridon kill.
It did not help that, the person who replaced me in team 1 was keeping me updated about their progress. His good intentions only fuelled my negative emotions.
That night I sat down with the officers of both guilds and informed them that we weren't going to joint raid anymore. Both sides accepted the decision and agreed it was the best way to go forward. I still don't know if it was right or wrong. But it was the choice we (jointly) made.
But after a break, a break-up and frustration at working so hard to recieve no benefit, Marbles were (kind-of) ready for SSC.
After pushing and carrying people through the attunement process, we marched into SSC and it was a bloody nightmare. We were not very prepared (geddit) and so even the trash was putting us on our arse. But with help from PUGs (including Meleeweaver, the alt of one Rosslyon, a server personality from one of the top guilds, Parseholes) Marbles cleared Hydross on the first night.
That wallpapered over some significant cracks. Namely, the low DPS and healing outputs, which caused us to hit the Hydross enrage timer. To this day, people still cannot believe that we did that. I sometimes think on that as a symbol of Marbles' inability to raid properly and as an extension, my own poor leadership skills.
With a foot in the door, I thought we might have turned a corner. That turned out to be untrue when as other guilds were killing boss 3, 4 and 5, we stayed stuck on Hydross, even regressing. We lost players, it became a struggle every week just to get enough people to raid. We became desperate and took on underperforming players. People stopped maintaining what little standards we had.
The next week we decided to go straight for boss three, Leotheras. After a two-and-a-half hour slog, we got there and somehow managed to kill him too:
Our victory was short lived, though. For weeks afterward we continued to wipe on both bosses. We went almost a month without killing either one. The server population shrank. Marbles was at the bottom of the barrel, no-one wanted to raid with a losing proposition like us.
Desperate to try and find a way to increase loot output, I tried to drive the raid team to get attuned for Tempest Keep. Not easy, as it required lots of difficult heroic dungeons (namely Shattered Halls, the Arcatraz and Shadow Labyrinth, arguably the three hardest dungeons at the time), but we had the tanks and the resources. What I didn't have was enthusiastic players who wanted to push.
There was one of my officers who waited until I organised his dungeons for him (he was playing New World at the time, so, fair cop, kind of). It all came to a head when we assembled for raid that Sunday and I had to run a heroic Steam Vault for one of our Warlocks. The end result was we got to have an hour of Tempest Keep where we cleared trash to the second boss, had one attempt, then wiped.
Those were dark days. Frustration, stress, anger - toxic emotions maintained by the consistent failure of my guild, with me at the helm. I'll own my failures, but the more I think back on it, the more I think that I cannot bear sole blame for the difficulties encountered along the way.
So, after informing my leadership team that I would be seeking offers elsewhere, I reached out to a handful of guilds that were recruiting. I got offers from the Drop Bears and the guild I eventually accepted a spot with, the Mighty Ducks.
I talked with Ducks' guild leader - Pumpy. Not physically of course, but over discord. He explained my logs weren't great and that he would be taking a punt on me as a long term prospect. It was like a job interview. Eventually he tipped his hand and extended an offer. After that we talked for awhile about the succession plan for marbles, my frustration with trying to organise a raid team and players. Like a big detox.
I joined and my first raid night was an immediate success. I was stunned at how far behind the Marbles really were. It was a breath of fresh air being in a team full of people that had all worked hard on getting attuned and performing well.
But my brain betrayed me. The bad chemicals (and also one of my officers yelling at me) told me that I had abandoned my people. This was compounded as I watched them wipe on Hydross for three hours. So a fortnight later I took some lessons with me from the Ducks and returned to Marbles after an awkward conversation with Pumpy. To his credit, he understood and let me go.
I helped Marbles kill Lurker, but knowing how easily the Ducks had done it versus how Marbles struggled, it felt hollow and empty. I caught it, but it didn't feel the same. Maybe you can hear it in my voice. Then again, maybe not.
And then all the old frustrations came back. Scraping for PUGs, dealing with underperforming players. Despite all my experience, I could do nothing for them, or their players, or the culture that existed (that I had fostered, before you start feeling bad for me). So another two weeks later (in which the Ducks got Kael'Thas and Lady Vashj, the two end-bosses of TK and SSC) I rejoined the Ducks, this time for good.
From there, things calmed down for me. I slotted into their raid team after a few awkward weeks, they got to know me, I got to know them. I cleared both end bosses with them - although they weren't guild first kills. They were mighty tough bosses in their day, though.
Eventually SSC and TK got nerfed into what most players saw originally, and like Gruul and Mag, turned into big money bags. They became so easy (at least to the Ducks) that we ran split raids and caught up on all the pre-nerf loot we missed. Players hit phase 2 best in slot (a key benchmark) at twice the pace and we were in the driver's seat for phase 3.
At that point all my guilt had settled down, I accepted my decision. I watched Marbles successfully transition from raiding guild to levelling guild and the social players be happy with their lot in life. That's still the way they are today, and some of the best people I play with today formed the anchor around which new Marbles still exists. Players like Blackend, BloodyOath, Tigerlil, Freekyman and Kish.
Eventually I helped take them through Karazhan, which turned out to be a barrel of fun. We made a regular timeslot out of it and Marbles still raids 10-man content currently. Sometimes I join in, sometimes I don't, as it all became too much for me between PUGs, Core Raids and Marble Raids.
At the closing of Phase 2, there are plenty of good people who I'd like to pay my respects to, who did not make it. They may find this and read it, they might not. People like Barri, Shampon, IHaveHots, Janelle, Spyair, Soggyboggy, Cowdungs, Dael, PancakeButt, Effie and many more besides. If you're reading this, I failed you and I hope post-wow treats you better than P1 and P2 of TBC did. Maybe you'll find your way back in Wrath.
Launching in early January, phase 3 marked the start of Black Temple and Mount Hyjal. Whereas phase 2 held the promise of very few upgrades due to its close proximity with phase 1 content, phase 3 was a game changer.
Tier 6, the final tier of TBC, holds the second most powerful gear in the game - behind Sunwell.
There was a big difference in the transition from the end of phase 1 to the end of phase 2. I had all the gear I needed from the raids and so did the rest of the Ducks' main raid team. We did one split at the start, clearing Mount Hyjal to attune all our core raiders in the first week and then started progging on Black Temple.
But the difference in difficulty was considerable. Flush with P2 gear and the (relative) lower difficulty of both phase three raids, we had cleared Black Temple in three weeks. Pre-nerf SSC and TK, at time of writing, represents the hardest thing I've done in a WoW raid setting.
From there it was just a downhill grind as the core raid got armed to the teeth with weapons, main tier 6 pieces, trinkets and one (just one) Warglaive:
Which of course went to our (now former, more on that later) guild leader, Pumpy.
I still tried to help Marbles where I could, but I told myself that I was not going to burn myself out shouldering their burden. To this day I still help with raid sheets and sometimes come and raid with them, especially in Phase 4. More on that later. But I have learned to avoid over-reaching. I have my own goals and objectives in WoW, and never again will I sacrifice my personal and mental wellbeing without a very good reason.
This time it was the Ducks' turn to be stricken with drama, as one of its core members playing the role of a Boomkin (a critical role for physical DPS due to improved faerie fire and for adding a critical strike buff for casters) produced a thirty minute long rant deconstructing percieved slights against him and other guildies by our guild leader.
Prior to that he secretly recorded a conversation between himself and Ducks' Raid Leader and Guild Leader and uploaded it.
He created a now famous MS paint diagram, but unfortunately it, the video which it was contained in AND the secret conversation have all been lost to time, so all you have is my word for it. At that point, we also lost one of our Arcane mages and our main tank (who had been a former marble, although long before we started raiding.)
So after some adjustment, reshuffling and a step back, we ended up taking two steps forward.
At this time, I also started to run PUGs on Saturday nights of SSC and TK (seeing as they had been nerfed into the ground) which continue to run and have been pretty successful. Also helped me to get some footage for my raid reports which may come out. Maybe.
We hadn't had a full clear of BT in one night this phase due to the logistics of Mount Hyjal which required everyone to fly to Tanaris in the old world, but that would all change with the next wave of content.
This phase, the phase we're in now, is the catch-up phase. There's a lot of gear available for badges of justice, which you now get from Karazhan, Gruul, Mag, SSC, TK and the new kid on the block, Zul'Aman. Here's a taste of the hype:
Clearing this raid was one of the goals I wanted to achieve when I first started playing both now and as a teenager. It's a mystical place dripping with atmosphere and music. The bear run is tense and exciting, and the raid itself offers plenty of gear, even for those nearing or at phase 3 best in slot.
There's other things in phase four, like a teleporter in the World's End Tavern in Shattrath City that teleports you to Tanaris so you don't have to schlep all the way out to the caverns of time, thus enabling a single night BT clear.
It wasn't all upside though - after a long time trying to maintain peace and order in his life as well as manage his unruly game kids, Pumpy had to step down as our guild leader. He still raids with us and it wasn't a death knell for the Ducks, but it was still sad to see our stalwart leader step down under pressure from the real world. Bloody real world.
Early in phase four I also hit a block of burnout. Raiding three times a week with my guild, then once or twice with marbles, plus a PUG on Saturday and Sunday (before I went to one day a week) turned out to be too much. I burned myself to a crisp and had to skip a fortnight of raiding doing absolutely nothing to recover.
But at that point I also started levelling a rogue with my wife. I started raiding less and become more casual. Kind of. Levelling and playing with the Marbles rekindled my passion for the game and I've been happy as a pig in mud ever since.
So what happens now? Well, Sunwell is on its way - I'm quite melancholic about this as it means the end of my TBC journey. It's part of the reason you're getting this article at all. I'm faced with a choice about giving up or continuing with World of Warcraft as Wrath classic was announced as it was always going to be.
I have some articles and things I want to produce on TBC. I have raid reports to produce, some much longer than others, although they are in need of an edit. My Karazhan one was almost 9,000 words. Which is probably too much.
Plus I also want to bring up some of the day-to-day of TBC. After all, you have to do something when you're not raiding to pay for all your consumables, repairs and shiny mounts. TBC wasn't the first to do dailies, but they are an important part of this and future expansions.
So, (hopefully) stay tuned - and I'm also periodically streaming my raids over on twitch.
Catch you next time,
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