This Week in Raiding: Nerf Acceptance... Sort of

"From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate." - Socrates
Yesterday, Blizzard announced that Dragon Soul would receive the first of a series of progressive Nerfs, starting on January 31st. They are starting with a 5% reduction in health and damage dealt to all mobs in the instance. As well, there will be a way to toggle the Nerfs off, similar to how Icecrown Citadel's buff worked.

Now, I'm sure that many of you are thinking to yourself, "Oh shit, here he goes again. Another vitriol filled post about how much nerfs sucks and how they're ruining the game. Where's the fucking exit?"

Well, stick around; I don't plan on spewing any Nerf hate today. No sir, not me. Nuh-uh.

Now, while I'm no fan of Nerfs (as you may recall from this post from September), I am in a zen-like state of acceptance with this round of adjustments for a couple of different reasons:

Firstly, Blizzard approached these changes differently than previously in that they made no attempt to hide the fact that they were coming. Even before Dragon Soul was released on the live servers, the developers told us that they would be nerfed at some point. As well, they are giving us almost two weeks of notice before they come into effect. Contrast this approach with the sudden onset of the Firelands changes and it makes them a lot easier to accept.

Secondly, they are gradual. Looking again at Firelands, the nerfs that were implemented were savage in their  scope and extraordinarily sudden in their implementation. Such is not the case with Dragon Soul. Starting with a 5% reduction in all damage and health is reasonable and won't have such a jarring effect as the Firelands changes did. Dragon Soul will not turn into pale shadow of itself overnight; the adjustment period will be slow as the nerfs are gradually but progressively increased over the next few months.

Thirdly, they can be completely turned off to experience the fights at full difficulty. This brings back the successful buff system that Blizzard put into place for ICC, whereby talking to an NPC will turn off the Nerfs so a raid group can see the fights at full difficulty. This is a tiny bone to the hardcore players out there in an attempt to keep them happy by giving them the option to make the instance the original difficulty.

However, while it's nice to have I doubt this feature will ever be used—even by the extreme hardcore amongst us. And the reason is that there is no benefit to turning off the buffs other than self-satisfaction. With no way to tell whether a boss was killed with the Nerf on or off, any boss kill after the nerfs are implemented are tainted from a progression standpoint. I can say that I am 7/7 in Firelands, but anyone can look at the date of my Ragnaros achievement and see that it occurred after the Great Nerfening of September. That kill is valued less on a potential guild application than it would be if it had been done the week before. Dragon Soul will be the same.

Lastly, Dragon Soul normal modes are easy enough that it felt nerfed right from the beginning. So in that context, what does another Nerf matter? It's hard to get upset when something goes from easy to slightly easier.

I do have some questions though:

Why a raid-wide nerf? I don't think that a raid-wide buff was needed, honestly. Some of the bosses in normal modes could certainly use some tweaking: Zon'ozz, Ultraxion and Warmaster Blackhorn being the three that gave our raid team the most trouble. I sincerely believe that it's better to balance specific fights that are overtuned rather than nerf the entire instance. If a specific encounter is tuned such that the majority of people with the appropriate gear level cannot beat the encounter then by all means it should be re-balanced to bring it in line, but I feel the raid-wide approach is a bit like using a jackhammer to open a can of beans.

Why so fast? If, as Blizzard says, these Nerfs are being implemented because Raid Groups are hitting "brick walls" and not progressing, we now can gauge exactly what pace Blizzard expects their content to be cleared. These nerfs are appearing 9 weeks after Dragon Soul launched, meaning that Blizzard expects raiders to clear one boss per week at minimum before it considers them "stalled". Apparently, wiping on a boss for several weeks is now considered "hitting the wall" and "getting stuck on progression" and thereby grounds for nerfing the instance. Whereas in previous expansions wiping on a boss repeatedly was called "figuring out how to do shit" and an essential part of the learning process.

As with Firelands (which was nerfed in 12 weeks, giving slightly less than two weeks per boss), Blizzard isn't giving us enough time to figure things out. They continuously make more difficult and more elaborate dances in their encounters and are continually cutting short the time we have to learn them before getting heavy-handed with the nerfbat.

Kurn wrote an excellent article talking about the Dragon Soul nerfs and goes into a lot more detail on the timelines that previous instances have see in regards to difficulty changes. Check it out here: A Sigh of Resignation. She seems... uh... a little more angry about these nerfs than I am.


Matthew Rossi of WoW Insider shares an interesting statistic:
The Raid Finder is head and shoulders above normal mode raiding in terms of popularity. 35% of level 85 players have completed Raid Finder vs. 4% completing normal mode; that's a huge, huge shift. Keep in mind that Blizzard has more exacting statistics available internally, but this serves as an indicator of a trend.
On the surface, that is a shocking number. It seems like a lot of people have jumped in the Raid Finder at one point or another and have succeeded in killing Deathwing, far more than have done it on Normal difficulty. A 29% difference is significant, certainly, but let's think about this for a moment.

First of all, the statistic is for those players who have completed Dragon Soul by defeating the Madness of Deathwing encounter, something that can be done in the Raid Finder in an hour or two. Normal modes require a significantly larger investment in time, so it's not surprising that fewer people have completed it. Not only that, but divergent schedules of the raiders and other factors that aren't a concern in LFR can lead to slower progress. Nerfs can't fix that problem.

I don't know about your guild, but ours hasn't had enough time to even pull the Madness of Deathwing encounter yet after only 7 weeks of raiding, and yet I don't feel that we've hit a roadblock in our progression. In fact, at 7/8 I had thought we were making damned good progress towards our goal—until I heard about these nerfs that is. Now it seems that we're behind the curve and require some divine intervention from the developers.

I think Blizzard is making the classic mistake of underestimating it's user base. We're a resilient, intelligent bunch of people who are very good at figuring out what to do to get an encounter down given enough time.

I would be very interesting to see just how far people are getting in Dragon Soul without the nerfs. If 4% of level 85 characters have cleared Dragon Soul on normal, how many have gone 7/8 like me? How many are 4/8 and stuck on Ultraxion? How many are 2/8 and stuck on Zon'ozz? How many people just need more time to clear 8/8?

If specific encounters can be found that are causing the majority of the problems, then adjust those encounters to help those that are stuck and let the rest of us get back to work.


Frankly, I've come to accept that the days of the exquisitely difficult raid encounter are gone for good. No more will a raid encounter stubbornly refuse to yield to a dedicated and prepared raid group because the developers were feeling really evil when they designed it and just made that particular boss a massive son-of-a-bitch. The hard work, preparation and min-maxing that those encounters required are an out-dated mindset, apparently. And the raiders who enjoyed that type of challenge—the smart, resilient problem-solvers who think figuring out a problem is half the fun—are continually being marginalized.

If Blizzard feels that the raid is difficult enough that it is preventing people from completing it, then they should do what they feel is in the best interests of the health of their game. I can accept that.

Really, I don't much care what difficulty baseline Blizzard wants to set for it's raids. Whether it's incredibly hard, ridiculously easy or walking a fine tight-rope in between, I just want to complete the raid at the same difficulty level as the top-end guilds and everyone else. I don't want help and I don't want charity.

I'm not trying to sound elitist here. I don't consider myself a hardcore raider by any stretch of the imagination. I don't spend hours thinking about my spec or my gear or where I need to stand during an encounter. I have never run a gearing simulation and wouldn't know how to use a spreadsheet to tell me anything about WoW at all. All I do is show up and push buttons and dodge the fire until the boss dies.

If the fights are legitimately too hard, I'm all for nerfing them carefully and thoughtfully until they provide a good balance between challenge and accessibility to everyone. Everyone deserves to be able to play all aspects of this game, including Normal Mode raiding.

But I hope the developers never forget that there is a benefit to hard work. We as human beings learn from failure more than success. And while making raids simpler and easier is a good way to increase the overall number of raiders, allowing people to fail every once in a while—to truly have to work at something before succeeding—will make them better raiders.


  1. Blizzard pushes blanket nerfs to current content because it's easier than properly tuning the instance. They can't figure out how to create a smooth difficulty curve, so they instead smash it flat. That's been their MO since T9, and I'm very disappointed by it.

    I'm not a fan of Rossi's thought process, because it compares two different things. LFR isn't raiding. It's just an LFD group with five times as many people. That's the level of accessibility there. If you want to get a feel for how many people should have completed DS on normal by now, you should look at the rate of completion on previous tiers. As of the time of posting this, there have been 19,200 Deathwing Normal kills, 54 days after release. It took 89 days for the 19,200th kill of normal ragnaros. The 19,200th kill of normal Nefarian took place 150 days after the he was available. The 19,200th kill of the Lich King took place 115 days after he was available. Deathwing is already, by far, the easiest end of expansion boss in the game's history, and the easiest end of tier boss since Anub'arak in T9. The addition of LFR does nothing to dispute that fact, in fact, if anything, it reinforces it, because there are many players who fought hard for their Rag, Nef, and LK kills in previous tiers who kicked Deathwing over in LFR and called it good. Without LFR, the number of players who down Deathwing would be even higher.

    I'm seeing some eerie parallels between the reactions of a lot of the prominent bloggers on this topic, and the stages of the Kubler-Ross model. I'm not sure what that portends for the future of the game.

  2. I think the answer is simple - and shows in the design of Cataclysm. Failure is not allowed anymore - at no level. Too many people complained about hard heroics... well, why shouldn't they, after the leveling process was so quick and painless.

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

  3. Technically, they're not nerfing the content at all. The bosses' health, damage, and abilities will remain the same. What's happening is they're buffing US - buffing health, damage, and healing by 5%, IIRC. We still can't be idiots - standing in the fire will still kill us. Not burning an algamation down to low health before we let it go nuclear will still kill us. It may be nerfed, but like I tell people when we go back to do old school raids - if you don't respect the mechanics of a boss fight, you will die no matter what your gear is. Some stuff you can steamroll though, that's true. Other fights, not so much. I feel it's always important to have a good idea of a fight no matter what it is and to perform it to the best of your ability, whether you're progressing on Madness or clearing Karazahn for transmog gear.

    1. Actually, no, this is a nerf to the content. From the official announcement: "...Power of the Aspects” spell, reducing the health and damage dealt of all enemies in the raid by 5%."

      I agree with everything you said though. It's still very easy to wipe on nerfed content if you're not careful. And the nice thing about this particular round of nerfs is that they are mild and gradual. At some point, however, we will likely be looking at a big ol' 30% nerf to Dragon Soul, we will have just had time to get used to it.

  4. Great commentary, but I feel that you left out something in the timing section: How many weeks has DS been available *OUTSIDE* of the Christmas holidays? I agree that Blizzard is perhaps pulling the trigger early. I also think that many of the 'stalls' that they say they're seeing are easily related to the holidays and getting back into things after them.

  5. I'm feeling quite satisfied here. I know that the hardcore guilds destroyed the normal raid in the first week.

    I know that a lot of raiding guilds are at heroics now. For our 'guild raid', that started like 3 weeks ago, we've downed heroic morchok.

    A group of loosely bound people on my server, which we call the alt run, clears 8/8 every week. Note, we're talking about a very decent group here, with a few ranking-dps every raid night.

    And then, there's my "old" guild. A friend of mine has too much loyality to leave after i've been guildkicked for "Showing off". They are, in fact, hitting a brick wall. 3 weeks ago, they first killed ultraxion. The week after, they failed. Today, they barely got it down - about 10 seconds on the enrage timer left.

    They're struggling to down their old amount of bosses. Usually, there's about 30 minutes left for trying to learn a new fight.

    While most of them are by no means good players - most of the dps score in the 20-25th percentile on raidbots ultraxion 10N, they are paying costumers. Every week, they spend three nights raiding.

    These people want to down the bosses too. For them, they're getting a small push in the back, to keep 'm going. Next month, the dps requirement for ultraxion will be slightly lower - maybe saving them one, or two, wipes on it. That can easily give them 20 minutes on warmaster Blackhorn. The month after that, they've gotten far more gear - they get an hour more at warmaster.

    They're going slowly through it. In fact, they haven't even downed ragnaros, opting to start in dragon soul. And, this buff is for them.

    Note: If i'm correct, isn't there an applied aura if the nerf is on?

    1. I think your example of the type of raid group that this is designed for is very good. I'm not going to argue that everyone has had the same level of success that I have, as my group have certainly run into our own share of troubles as well.

      But your example just goes to prove the main point that I was trying to get across: Nerf or rebalance the fights that are causing the roadblocks, not the entire raid.

      Ultraxion is a pain in the ass. He's a DPS check that requires some very precise, very sharp and flawless play for a group in 378 gear to get down. However, a couple of tweaks, either to his health or the Fading Light mechanic (that's what always screws us up), and suddenly he is no longer quite the roadblock he was before and I don't have to complain about it. I don't mind nerfs when they're thoughtfully considered and applied with care, but taking an axe to Dragon Soul and chopping it down bit by bit feels like a quick and sloppy fix. And as far as I'm concerned, it devalues the hard work that everybody has put in on these bosses already, regardless of where they stand in their progression.

      And there will be an applied Aura, yes, just like in ICC. However, the presence or absence of that aura will not show up in the logs, or in achievements or anywhere else. So there would be no way to prove—on a guild application for instance—that any particular boss that is killed after the nerfs are implemented was done at the regular difficulty or the reduced difficulty.

  6. My problem with the nerfs is simply that they're coming so fast. Sure, the timeline is for a boss a week or whatever...but I know our guild has had a lot of roster issues, especially around the holidays where we weren't able to work on progression. I think in general a lot of guilds are actually spending less time a week raiding than they did in previous expansions. Taking all this into consideration, I don't really feel like we've "hit a wall" yet. We've barely been able to bite hard into some of the heroic fights.

    Yeah, we can turn it off. But I'm guessing the consensus will be that we just leave it up. Seems like a cop-out way to raid.

    1. Well put. You've concisely summed up that idea that took me 1700 words to get across. Bravo. :)

  7. The exquisitely difficult raid boss is alive and well. See: heroic modes, heroic Ragnaros.

    1. I think you'll find that the majority of people who have issue with these nerfs are like myself who are in a guild generally only capable of normal mode raiding, perhaps 2 or 3 heroic kills. Heroic raids are to me what Normal is to the "casuals". I thought that was the point of introducing Raid Finder... to give the people who don't have time / can't be a$$ed to partake in organised challenging raiding a chance to "See it all". The fact that there is at least another 6 months until any signs of MoP begin to appear begs the question, what is the use in nerfing challenging content at any level so that we can spend the next 6 months farming it? With gear drops obtained from 4/8 bosses weekly the "brick walls" will be surmounted eventually, and provide something to do for the remainder of this expansion.

  8. I personally feel the nerfs are too soon, mostly because due to Christmas and all, it just feels that my guild started late and we haven't really hit a "road block" just yet.

    Ultraxion gave us some trouble but that was easily solved by 2 healing the fight and having all DPS pre-pot. Warmaster Blackthorn went down comparatively quickly by my casual guild's standards and we did well on Spine too, just lacked time.

    Meh, if we didn't have attendance issues, maybe this wouldn't feel like "wait nerfs incoming already?"

  9. I'm going to /agree with what you've said here. The nerfs are too soon--and at the same time, they're not. I raid with two guilds--a small progression 10-man group Alliance-side, and an even smaller casual 10-man group Horde-side.

    My A-side group is a two-or-three-night group, and we're currently 5/8. Why are we getting hung up on Blackhorn? Simple--we're having some roster issues. Between the holiday and the semester change (a fair number of us are part-time college students taking night classes), we've lost a few members, and a few others have switched their raiding spec and role to fill in the gaps. We'll be resuming regular runs this week, and when the nerf goes live, I'll be lobbying to my raid leader to turn it off. I hope she considers it!

    My Horde-side group is tiny. We're 6/7 Firelands--this was a major progression week for us, this past, with four new bosses down! We're really casual, running one, maybe two nights a week. We're less Bowling League and more like Pub Crawl with Extra Ouchy Death (no tax!). We take whoever logs in (usually six or eight of us), and we pug the rest. These nerfs are going to enable that little group to see that content, whereas otherwise I think we would have gotten very stuck and frustrated.

    So, yeah. I agree with your post--especially the positive aspects of gradual+able to be turned off.

    I love both my groups. Just sayin'.