Manaflask Article

The Core: Blood Legion's Shinafae

We're back with Blood Legion again and this time it's Shinafae's turn, professional figure skater turned warlock!

Tell us about yourself a bit.

Well hello! I'm rather atrocious with introductions but I'll give it a crack. When I'm not warlocking, I'm a 22-year-old graduate student looking to apply to medical school within the next few months. I currently reside in Arizona, USA, and lament the surfeit of free time that permits me to do things like spending hours making rage comics about the minutiae of my WoW existence. I spent most of my early life - thirteen years, in fact - training as a figure skater and Olympic hopeful. Sadly, I had to retire from serious skating at the age of 18 due to numerous injuries that eventually resulted in the loss of most of the cartilage in my right ankle. Prior to my premature exit from the sport, however, I had managed to achieve a measure of success at the top level of the sport, representing France in numerous international competitions. I utterly devoted my life to my sport for as long as I was able, and I think that it in turn allowed me to develop the discipline and patience that I rely on to excel in WoW.

As I no longer devote 30 or more hours of each week to training, I spend a prodigious amount of time online, reading, or working in the small art studio I've set up in my home. I've also been a gamer for as long as I can remember, having picked up my first SNES controller at the age of three. My lifelong love affair with gaming has since encompassed most major consoles, several PC titles, and numerous tabletop games such as Magic the Gathering, Shadowrun, and Warhammer 40 000. I think it is both surreal and oddly fitting that at this juncture in my life, I am being interviewed online on the basis of my participation in a video game. Thank you for having me.

What's your WoW history been like so far?

I first picked up WoW in July 2008, at the behest of a few real-life friends who wanted to get back into the game after having played through Vanilla. Entirely new to the game, I chose to roll a Warlock because I had read in a gaming magazine some months prior that the class was overpowered. I named the character "Shina'fae," after a dark elf wizard of the same name that I'd played in a long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign with said real-life friends. By the time WotLK was released in late 2008, their brief stint in Azeroth had already concluded, so I decided to give raiding a try mid-way through Tier 7 in order to find something new and interesting to do. I raided with a casual guild on my first server, Quel'Dorei, throughout most of Wrath, clearing Tier 7, Ulduar, ToC, and some of ICC with them. In time, I became aware of the larger raiding community as a whole and of websites such as WoW Progress and WoW Web Stats (although I suppose that WWS has been entirely supplanted in favour of WoL by now). I learnt, essentially, that WoW could be a competitive game if I so chose, through which I could regain some of the feeling of competing that I had so loved when I had skated. Being an insufferable completionist, my desire to improve my ranking was also fuelled by my love of Achievements and longtime goal to earn every last one.

I think it was around the time that ToC was released that I had an epiphany of sorts: I really wanted an Ironbound Proto-Drake (mount reward from the Ulduar meta achievement), and I believed that I was good enough to get one. Why limit myself to normal mode content ? I was quite naïvely confident in my abilities at the time, but fortunately for me, Reawaken of Staghelm chose to accept my second application to their guild midway through ICC progression, so off I went. They were 9/12 Heroic at the time, and I was, I believe, 7/12 Normal. Looking back with the perspective that I have now, I can see that it was a pretty huge leap of faith on the part of the GM, Lokoshkan, to bring me in on progression. I'd like to think that things worked out for the best, though.

I finally got the mount after all!

I had intended to make Reawaken my permanent home, but when they, like so many other guilds, were on the verge of falling apart from non-attendance after five months of Heroic Lich King attempts, I realised that I no longer was enjoying the game. I began to search in earnest for a new home. In September of 2010, I transferred yet again, this time to Stormreaver in order to join Out of Line, who were the top guild on the server at the time. I raided with Out of Line through Cataclysm release and the marathon that was Tier 11 progression. OOL had a more serious approach to progression and rankings than I'd been exposed to previously. By the end of the tier, however, my ambition had again outpaced my guild. Server firsts just weren't enough. I wanted US firsts. I wanted world firsts. Thus, when Blood Legion were recruiting during Tier 11 farm and it was suggested that I apply, I did just that. I transferred over to Illidan at the beginning of May 2011, and the rest is history !

What do you think makes you a good raider, why are you a core part of your guild?

I think that there is more that goes into being a raider in the highest echelons of play than just numbers, but one cannot downplay the primordial importance of how to get the most performance out of one's class across a variety of different situations. This is achieved primarily through a nuanced understanding of game and class mechanics, and is made apparent in a raider’s ability to consistently deliver the numbers required for progression. Above and beyond mechanical execution, I think that a good raider is both intelligent and analytical. He is willing to sit down and discuss theory and strategy for hours after seeing a new Heroic boss. He will know his class well enough to understand how it can best contribute to the overall strategy for each encounter, whilst maintaining good awareness of how all of the other classes and roles interact with his own. A good raider also has a good attitude, discipline, and a sense of personal responsibility ; in this way, WoW is not too unlike a competitive sport. The best raiders are those who understand that the ultimate goal is killing the boss, even at the expense of personal placement on the DPS or healing metres, and their choices will reflect this attitude when the situation requires it. They are punctual and reliable, showing up for raid on-time and with the mindset of playing to win. Above all, they are their own worst critics, and always strive to improve in some way, to better their performance. It can be a tempting trap at a certain level of raiding to fall into complacency and egotism, and I think that, more than anything else, an insatiable hunger to succeed, to progress, and to win is the most valuable asset that a raider can have.

For my part, I attempt to exemplify this ideal, and although I have fallen short of the mark on many occasions, I am always seeking to improve. I think that my background in high-level sports has informed my attitude towards raiding greatly, and I find that the discipline, meticulousness, and perseverance that it has instilled in me from a very young age have greatly benefitted me in the game. I understand a great deal about what it takes to succeed in world-level competition, both physically and psychologically, and apply that knowledge to the "sport" of competitive raiding. I suppose that for these reasons, I have been a very reliable raider for Blood Legion for as long as I've been here. My fondness for maths, theorycraft, and spreadsheets has also proven useful, as much for guild administration as for strategy development on particularly complex or challenging encounters. If I am a "core" raider though, it's only because there is a fantastic guild in which to raid, and I don't think that our success thus far can be attributable to any one individual over the rest. What makes BL what were are today is a group of kindred spirits united in our aspiration to be the best in the world... of Warcraft.

A typical BL raid. In my head, at least.

What was your favorite moment in WoW?

This is a difficult question. I'd probably have a different answer for you depending on when I was asked, but I think that my favourite moment or collection of moments would have to be the first day of Dragon Soul Heroic progression. The adrenaline rush of downing each boss yet pausing not an instant to rest our laurels, the inspired urgency and mutual understanding of what was at stake... it's a truly rare and special thing to be part of an environment like that, where everyone thinks and acts as a well-oiled machine in pursuit of a singular goal. The feeling is downright intoxicating.
I will admit though that if I manage to earn my first Gladiator title at the end of this arena season, that’s going to be the best in-game experience I’ve had to date. In the past, frequent mid-season server transfers have prevented me from ever making a serious bid at the coveted title, so the day that I log on to the achievement, title, and mount that I've been working very hard towards for quite some time will probably beat out every other moment of my WoW career thus far.

What are the best and worst features of your main class?

I think that the best feature of Warlocks, from the standpoint of a Warlock player, is the vast array of different spells and playstyles available to us. I think that one of the primary reasons that the PvE game remains interesting to me is that, as a Warlock, I often need to completely adjust my rotation and playstyle in order to optimise my damage on each raid encounter. I'm going to adopt a completely different strategy for a single target fight, a multitarget fight, and an add fight. Because cooldown and proc management really matters for us, the timing of certain encounter phases can completely change up our rotations as well. I love to theorycraft, and I feel that my class is one that really encourages and rewards theorycraft and innovation. Perfecting strategies and cooldown schedules for every encounter (as well as seeing the brilliant ideas that others have come up with) keeps the game fresh for me. Also, 'locks have a distinctively evil flavour, which is refreshing in a world full of "heroes" whose heroic actions primarily come down to... killing a lot of stuff.

On the flipside, I think that one of the worst features of Warlocks right now is our ramp-up time in every spec and total and complete lack of on-demand burst. Our weak standard nukes have a long cast-time and travel time. Destruction requires the application of a cast-time DoT before it can begin to think about bursting, or even nuking at full strength. Demonology's "burst" is built upon the Metamorphosis cooldown and Doomguard over 30-40 seconds and with the assumption that DoTs have already been applied. And Affliction ? Burst ? What ? Even the Felhunter, who amongst all the pets is most capable of delivering a bursty Shadow Bite, requires a target to be fully debuffed with 3-4 DoTs before it can achieve good numbers. Taken as a whole, this means that our class is pretty terrible for killing anything that lives less than ten seconds, and only truly comes into its own if a target has at least a minute to live, preferably more. In a raid tier defined by Burning Tendons and filled with Blistering Tentacles, Elementium Bolts, and Flails of Go'rath, the lack of on-demand burst capability was definitely noticeable. The class is to undergo a major overhaul for Mists, and optimally, some of our new abilities will provide us with the tools we need to make a contribution of some sort to burst DPS phases, even if we will never truly excel here.

What would be the single most important thing about playing your main class well?

Really, this comes down to understanding the mechanics of the game in general and the class in specific. I would say that 90 percent of the questions that I am asked about my class could be very easily answered with a very basic understanding of how class abilities interact with other elements of the game. For Warlocks specifically, this includes understanding how the game engine calculates DoT damage under a variety of conditions, and using this knowledge to evaluate the damage-per-execute-time of different abilities on the fly under fluid, dynamic conditions such as those found over the course of a boss fight. To this end, I will be writing and publishing a Warlock mechanics guide that hopefully will teach readers how to find their own answers rather than needing to rely on advice from other players. I truly believe that if a player is comfortable with mechanics, it is very simple to figure out the optimal approach for each encounter with a bit of thought.

What makes your guild special, what separates it from the other top guilds?

It is difficult to answer this question from a truly omniscient perspective, as I've never been in a guild that I consider to be top-class outside of Blood Legion. However, based on my experience with previous guilds, I find BL to be exceptionally well-organised and efficiently run, which is something that agrees well with my own personality. This guild has an unnatural fondness for Google Docs spreadsheets, which are really a fantastic tool to publish, share, and edit information in real-time and utilised to good effect by the guild to help plan out things like raid rosters, compositions, schedulling, strategy, and so forth. Really, there's nothing in life that a spreadsheet cannot make better. :) Additionally, it is clear that the vast majority of raiders in the guild are here because they want to be, day-in and day-out, through farm and through progression. I must say that this sort of universal hunger to succeed and improve is something that I've never experienced in another guild. Motivation truly is contagious, and the positive, ambitious attitudes of those whom I play with fuel my own drive to win, and vise-versa. In Blood Legion, we can and have put in 12+ hour days during progression during which each and every hour spent in the instance is a productive one. Of course, this is not always the case, but it's true more often than not, and I think that it is a critical component of our success to date. Additionally, we maintain a fairly small roster of very dependable people, which I find to be something of an advantage over a more expansive roster, as it enhances raid synergy and familiarity with one another's playstyles. Until there are soloable progression raid bosses in the game, the best guild is not the one with the best individual players, but the best team. 

I made and maintained this spreadsheet throughout Tier 12 DTR farming.

What is your favorite game outside of WoW?

This is a difficult question because although I've grown up gaming, WoW's increasing demands on my schedule have effectively prevented me from playing much else in the past year or two. Currently, I'm playing a bit of Diablo 3, but for all time, my favourite game would have to be either Metal Gear Solid (PS1) or Super Mario RPG : Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES).

My main on D3. Okay, perhaps playing “a bit” was an understatement.

Would you say DS was a successful dungeon overall (regardless of the drama surrounding the WF race at the start)?

I actually enjoyed Dragon Soul quite a bit for what it was and find many of the criticisms levelled at it unjustified. The fights did not want for variety, and the lore elements were passable, if not up to the high standards of Ulduar. Players are demanding increasingly more innovative and complex mechanics from new raid instances, and I'm impressed with the ability of the encounter design team to deliver on that front, for the most part. I found that the instance only fell short at the Deathwing encounter. 25-player Spine of Deathwing had great potential as a technical encounter in which controlled DPS, positioning, and precision swaps were paramount, but the tuning of the fight at release was such that defeating it relied far more on a guild's ability to stack the raid with 12 or more rogues and mages to burst down the tendon than strategy development or individual player skill. For this reason, I will admit that my progression kill of this encounter, when it finally came, was more of a relief than a truly satisfying accomplishment.

Madness of Deathwing, for its part, was a brilliant fight on normal mode that definitely lost something in the translation to Heroic - the mechanics and strategy of the fight remained essentially the same, with only the addition of two add types that were trivial to deal with because of the fight's Spellweave mechanic. New, Heroic-only phases have traditionally been a staple of end-boss encounters, and Madness, with all of the great lore of behind it, could have really benefitted from an additional phase that punched up the difficulty, if not overall length, of the encounter. Personally, I'd have loved to see the raid ported into some sort of alternate dimension in which we directly faced the Old God most responsible for Neltharion's corruption. This expansion definitely did not have enough Old Gods in it !

What are your thoughts on the beta so far?

Thus far, I have been impressed with the consistently high calibre of encounter design that Blizzard has brought to the table for Mists. The ten-man normal mode encounters felt fluid, original, and well-tuned for the most part, even at this early stage of testing. There seems to be enough depth to most of the encounters to make for a truly challenging and satisfying raid tier on Heroic mode, and I hope that the upcoming Heroic raid testing phase bears out my high expectations. Aside from raiding, I must admit that the art team has done a beautiful job in bringing the lush environments of Pandaria to life. Levelling through the new zones was a visual treat, and although the quest lines still need more polish, the 85-to 90-grind has the potential to be quite a pleasant one, even on that third, fourth, or fifth alt.

What are you most looking forward to in MoP, aside from raiding?

I'm very interested in the new Challenge Mode 5-man dungeons. As both an avid PvE'er and PvP'er, I have always felt that PvP has had the edge on PvE in terms of competition and longevity. Yes, the epic semiannual PvE progression races to clear new content are exhilarating, but there is relatively little to do during the long stretches of farm time in between. In PvP, on the other hand, there is a possibility of facing a worthy opponent with every queue, and the sense of competition and achievement is ongoing throughout each season. I think that Challenge Modes will bring the best of this PvP sensibility - year-round competition - to the PvE game. Players who clear all of the content on the hardest difficulty early in a tier's life cycle will have renewed reason to log in to the game every day, to keep their skills sharp, and to push themselves to the next level at all times. As a former athlete, this sort of competitive spirit is what keeps the game fun to me, so I'm very happy to see Blizzard embracing it fully. Ultimately, I hope for full-scale Challenge Mode 25-man raiding, perhaps even a sort of head-to-head Warcraft PvE league. We've already seen the glimmerings of the beginning of that in the BlizzCon 2011 Live Raid and Athene's Dragon Soul Challenge earlier this year. Hopefully, future events such as these will gain in popularity to the point where they are officially sanctioned by Blizzard and integrated into major gaming tournaments worldwide. That's the dream.

Other than Challenge Modes, I'm pretty happy about account-wide achievements. I've never been an alt person, and I think that a large part of my reticence is due to the fact that when I play an alt, I am "wasting" game time I could be using to get those last few achievements that I need on my main. Having achievements become account-wide gives me a bit more freedom to choose which character I wish to use at a given time. As an added bonus, account-wide mounts mean that it will no longer be heartbreaking when "the mount" finally drops and I happen to be on an alt...

What do you think about the new talent system, both in general and specifically for your main (and maybe alt) class?

Overall, I think that the new talent system will add needed depth to the gameplay. I can only speak for my class, Warlock, as I've not looked too closely yet at other classes' talents, but I believe that overall, the talents in each tier do a generally good job of bringing something distinct yet useful to the table. Thus, there is an incentive to change them up situationally, depending on what you need your character to do. In other words, I do not think that there will be a single "cookie-cutter" build that will dominate entire raid tiers or arena seasons, and in that, Blizzard has accomplished their major stated design goal quite well. Thus far, I've enjoyed the added layer of strategy development required to find an optimal talent setup for each raid encounter, given my raid group's composition and needs. It speaks well to the quality of class design that an entirely different setup altogether could be equally viable for someone else in a different raid that uses a different boss strategy. I can't wait to see what sorts of clever builds players come up with over the course of the expansion.

I will admit that I do miss some of the old, "boring" talents, e.g., X % Spell Critical Strike. If nothing else, they gave me a sense of becoming quantifiably more powerful as I levelled my character. The new talents are primarily based around utility rather than throughput, as they need to be in order to offer the flexibility that Blizzard intends. I believe that most of the old throughput talents were either rolled into spec choice or axed entirely, which can at times leave me feeling a bit underpowered. Fortunately, four-digit stat values on gear somewhat make up for this. :)

What's the biggest change coming in MoP and is it good or bad?

Off the top of my head, I'd say that the talent system revamp is the biggest change I've seen for Mists thus far. It will probably take the community at least a tier or two of content in order to fully realise the game-changing potential that the new talent trees bring. That said, it's important to remember that WoW's fourth expansion is also bringing us a brand-new class, the Monk, which will join Paladins and Druids as the third class able to fulfill all three primary roles. I think that properly balancing Monks and allowing them to find their niche - particularly as healers and tanks - will be quite a challenge, and will likely need several raid tiers of iteration to perfect. I honestly cannot predict at this time how an eleventh class to juggle and fit in to raid compositions is going to affect the game in the long run - time will tell.

Would you say raiding (and the game in general) is going in a better direction or not and why?

I would say that yes, the game is headed in a good direction, primarily because of the Challenge Modes and the enormous potential that they represent for the future of the PvE game. As I noted earlier, competitive PvE could really revolutionise the game and bring something fresh to the dated MMO genre, and there's no better place than Warcraft, with its immense and well-established playerbase, for this to occur. On the PvP side, the planned gear revamp is very interesting in that gear obtained from PvE will have much less of a place than it does currently in PvP and specifically Arena. I think that this move will quell many of the common complaints about PvE being a requirement for success in PvP, which will hopefully bring some fresh blood into the Arena for an exciting and fun Season 12. I know that it may not be a popular opinion, but overall, I am optimistic for Mists and the continued success of WoW.

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