Since dinging 80, I've done my fair share of Naxxramas runs, both good and bad. And though we eventually failed (if ever so close) at Kel'Thuzad, tonight's trip to ten man Naxxramas reminded me why I love raiding, and why I love tanking, so much. The conditions could have been better - our raid leader didn't show up so we had to appoint an ad-hoc placeholder, our offtank, though a hell of a threatbuilding monster, appeared to have less situational awareness than a mole, two of the raid members dinged 80 the day before and another three were healers going offspec. The group was, theoretically, sub-par in every respect, and when we proved to make it work, at times even like Swiss clockwork, it was truly a wonder to behold.
As stepping up from the offtank role to being the maintank proved a first maintanking run for me, I've sat down and reviewed ten man Naxxramas from this fresh perspective. Tanking things first hand and not just zerker stance shield slamming most of the time really makes you see the instance with new eyes, and to be honest, it's beautiful on many levels.
THE ARACHNID QUARTER is, in many ways, both easy-mode as well as a solid presentation of what's to come. Voices from the past whisper that even top guilds wiped on Anub'Rehkan back in classic, and it's easy to imagine locust swarm having something to do with it. From a tanking point of view, he's basically a more interesting Attumen - demanding very little apart from parking him in his spot. And when he occasionally beats you sky high, just use one of your clever macros to burn Recklessness or Retaliation before you come down. Piece of cake. Faerlina down the hall proves almost easier from a maintank perspective - taunt her off the OT, park her and wait for it. When even third boss Maexxna is the same thing, and even the trash proves very little challenge, this quarter really is somewhat walkthrough. Demands are, quite honestly, a lot higher on the OT than the MT, at least making it interesting for the (on many fights) least useful member of the raid.
THE CONSTRUCT QUARTER immediately proves more challenging. The mini-Patchwerk trash hits hard enough that you feel it, the sludges just annoy everything and everyone, and the amount of trash before Patchwerk is somewhat annoying. The boss himself, however, is great fun. Though essentially a tank and spank encounter, the sheer intensity and nerve of the fight, the knowledge that two Hateful Strikes in a row WILL break you unless your healer have godly reflexes, makes it extremely thrilling. Unlike PW, however, Grobbulus really is just an annoying fight. It's not that he's hard - even with all the elements of the fight (adds, clouds, injections), he really is an easy fight once you understand him. That's also his main weakness - learn him, and he's just five minutes of avoiding the boring stuff while walking backwards in a large circle - not at all my cup of tea. I don't mind a challenge, but I do mind a proposed challenged drowned out by easily breakable mechanics. The next boss, Gluth, falls into the same category of encounters that just don't get me hot in that special place. From a tanking point of view, it's not even a challenge as soon as your VT is up. What annoys me about him is that he's near undoable with the wrong group. Our retadin, feral kitty, arcane mage, boomkin and elemental shammie DPS setup simple couldn't kite the adds well enough, making it a downward hit points spiral taking him out. Being dependent on decent kiting for a single encounter makes raid composition an issue, which it should never be - composition should be secondary to skill. Thankfully, though, the wing completely redeem itself with final boss Thaddius, a masterpiece of an encounter. Unlike his borther Grob, Thaddius has all the elements of a great fight - phase 1 with the throws (which are about the funnest thing ever for a tank), the polarity shift, the actually having an enrage timer (even if it's nowhere near being triggered, ever), the yelling of "DON'T LOOT YET" when he goes down - Thaddius makes a challenge, which is beatable with focus and skill, yet at the same time great fun.
THE PLAGUE WING is home to two of the most annoying trash rooms in the entire instance, and three bosses that really isn't much of a challenge to any group that already did Thaddius. Noth is another offtank race, the occasional curse is probably intended to cause trouble but for some reason, good casters kind of make it not appear challenging. Heigan, scourge of noobs and slackers is more of the same, though with the adds replaced by an amazingly hilarius safety dance in a sea of some... plagued watery magmaish stuff. He does take some work positioning, especially being a caster mob and thus not necessarily agreeing to being kited all the time. As soon as you get him in his place, though, he's mince. The wing's final boss, Loatheb, is maybe the single most boring tanking encounter in the entire instance. He's 100% tank and spank, letting the rest of the raid doing the job. Overall, this is by far the least exciting wing of the instance, and just about the easiest as well.
THE MILITARY QUARTER, however, fast ups the ante for a decent challenge. Already on the first trash pull, you want to be careful as the trash hits hard and fast and a lot - and there are many of them. The trash up to Instructour Razuvious is a bitch of a job for a warrior tank, which is where we're forced to excel the way we're meant to. The instructor himself places little demand on your tanking skill - again, the offtank does all the footwork while you're off playing with jewelery and toying with NPC minds. The MC'ing is, however, a demanding strain on a trained tanking mind - 15 second taunt cooldown? 10 yards range? WTF? These death knights apprentices are obviously noobs and have no home in my raid group. Gothik the Harvester is another case of "mindless minion management" - tossing heroic level mobs on you in slow succession for nearly five minutes before entering the room with less than one million hit points? Please. Calling for a challenge, The Four Horsemen answers by delivering a fight equal to or even better than Thaddius in intensity, difficulty, discipline and sheer fun. The forced mobility and changing of targets makes for a wonderful change to the overabundance of tank and spank encounters so far, resulting in the wing being by far the most interesting and challenging to tank.
SAPPHIRON'S LAIR hoses the two final bosses of the instance, and make no mistake - these are, compared to what you've seen earlier in the instance, the HARD bosses. Sapphiron himself isn't much to learn, and as soon as you understand him, he's not much of a challenge. What makes him hard is simply the discipline and endurance needed to down him - it takes a lot of damage to down him, and he dishes out a more than fair share in return. Tanking him as a warrior is rewarding in the sense that you get to blow off all your finesse in both building threat as well as positioning, while at the same same making sure you're in range of the ice blocks when they pop up. That he's a fairly standard dragon fight, however, isn't up for much debate, and there's a small miracle there aren't actually any form of adds to the fight. Next to him stands the big, bad mastermind himself - Kel'Thuzad, final boss of Naxxramas and harbinger of tier 7 headgear. Divided into three phases, one of which is boring beyond imagination, another one which is all about postitioning and a final one that's clearly designed to drive healers insane, he's by far the most challenging encounter in the raid, but not, necessary the most fun challenge. Having to do phase 1 over and over again on wipes is possibly more discouraging than clearing the trash before Shade Of Aran before you got the elevator, a truly ghastly endeavour. The bossfight itself, however, will have you sweat out your ears looking out for red circles of deathy death while at the same time praying silently that your healers are still both alive and not iceblocked. A good solid challenge to finish of an overall not as challenging as one would want instance, containing a good portion of decent, challenging fights, but mostly... "You! Minion of evil! Stand here while I bash your crotch in!"
They never learn, do they?