Thursday, August 13, 2009

War Stories: Onyxia's Lair

With the recent announcement that Onyxia would be making a return in the upcoming patch 3.2.2 I started getting a little misty eyed for the raids of yore. In a nostalgic haze I stumbled through the heroic daily this morning (Utegarde Pinnacle) remembering the good old days when hybrids were healers and frost was the best DPS build for a mage. During one of the packs following the first boss I was happily skinning the dogs when I noticed that one wasn’t available to be skinned. Still trapped in November of 2006 I joyously yelled out ‘LOOT THE HOUND’ expecting a round of giggles and groans from my groupmates.

All I got was ‘sure m8’ from the rogue.

Crushed, I realized that these poor folks had probably never set foot in Molten Core, especially when Core Hound Leather was still a valuable commodity. To them MC was simply another achievement (a particularly small one at that) to be earned on an off-day.

So in honor of the return of the big bitch herself, I figured I’d take a few days to go back over the raid content that at one time or another was SERIOUS BUSINESS, starting with that vile pit of whelplings known as Onyxia’s Lair.

Depending on when you got into raiding you may have either headed here or MC first, but for the original raiders, Ony was all there was. Actually the lair of Onyxia, the Broodmother for the Black Dragonflight, one of the biggest of the bads in Azeroth. It was a prototype of many of the stand-bys that would be included in later content such as attunements and one-boss instances.

Depending on your faction you had to embark on a lengthy series of quests before you could even step foot in the instance. These have since been removed, but the scars are still there for those who had to do it. I’ve never done it Horde side, but I’ve heard finding Rexxar was quite the challenge. Instead, as Alliance, you were tasked with springing Marshal Windsor from Blackrock Depths, a small sidequest in an instance so crowded it can only be fully completed with a handle of vodka and some good friends. Once you managed to get him out you then had to ascend the upper reaches of Blackrock Spire and defeat a high ranking official of the Black Dragonflight: General Drakkisath.

Needless to say, it was always fun to hear, moments before zoning in, that the new trial hadn’t gotten attuned yet.

With attunement came a nifty necklace that allowed entrance as long as it was in your inventory. That’s right, either kiss that one slot goodbye or make sure you remember to bring it before every raid.

The trash leading up to her wasn’t entirely memorable. Giant dragonkin, fire nova that gibbed melee, blah blah blah. You were ready for the big show, not this rabble. Once you cleared the trash in the hallway leading up to Onyxia (and cut through the lava pool to avoid the final pull of course) you were greeted with one of the most intimidating sights in the game thus far:

She was just waiting for you, lazily dozing in her lair. Led by your tank all 40 of you would run down that ramp, spamming whatever battle cry macro you had.

At the time Onyxia was an insanely long and complex encounter. It had three phases:

Phase 1 was a tank and spank. She would cleave, wing buffet, and tail sweep. These are all old hat now, but back then trying to get melee out from behind her was practically impossible. It was common to see at least one rogue go flying into the breeding pits on either side of her, a horde of whelps trailing behind him as he sprinted back. Also, since this was before the invention of such lovely abilities as Shield Slam, threat was of primary importance here. DPS could, and would, pull aggro off the tank, getting entire sides of the raid blasted by her flame breath.

The flame breath was also interesting, as it was the first attack that required the use of resistance gear. Tanks had to be FR capped before even looking sideways at Onyxia, lest they get gibbed by her powerful gouts of fire. Sure, it only did 3-4k damage, but that was a lot back then!

Once Onyxia was reduced to 65% phase 2 began, and this is where things got interesting.

Onyxia phase 2 stayed near and dear to the hearts of trolls well into BC. Cries with every patch that she Deep Breathed more often can still be heard to this day if you listen hard enough. Still a source of great contention, phase 2 introduced Deep Breath, a nefarious mechanic that still hasn’t really been duplicated to this day. In phase 2 Onyxia would take to the air, flying back and forth in her chamber spitting fireballs at random raid members. At the same time, her whelplings would spring to her defense, flooding out of the breeding chambers on either side. You had to split your raid into two separate groups filled with tanks, mages (this was before anybody else could REALLY AOE), and healers whose job was simply to kill and control the whelps before they flooded over the raid.

While you were busy with all this you might’ve had the time to look down at your chat log and notice Onyxia emote ‘Onyxia takes a deep breath…’ before you died. Occasionally (and to this day I’m pretty sure nobody knows how this is determined) Onyxia will take a deep breath and blow a wave of flame over half of the room, most likely killing anybody inside of this. As a raid you had to act quickly when the call came, running either to the other side or scaling the walls.

It was theorized that as long as Onyxia had a full set of DOTs on her, she wouldn’t Deep Breath. Whether this is true or not, this has been immortalized forever thanks to a certain anxious raid leader. To this day the rallying cry of MORE DOTS can still be heard coming from the mouths of raid leaders across Azeroth.

Whatever the case, as you hit 30% (or sometimes less, Onyxia was finicky that way) she would land and immediately kill a healer. Well not always, but it was practically inevitable considering how back snap aggro was back then. The tank would pick her up and phase 3 would begin.

Phase 3 was much more hectic that phase 2. It went much the same way as phase 1 did, except with two important changes: Bellowing Roar and Lava Walls. Every now and then the ground would begin to tremble and suddenly the entire raid, tank included, was sent cowering in fear for a few seconds. Back in the day this meant an aggro wipe for the tank, which spelled doom. This meant one of two things:

You played Alliance and had a dwarf priest that kept Fear Ward on the tank or you had a real tank that learned how to stance dance. Stance dancing is a complicated term for quickly swapping into Berserker Stance and using Berserker Rage, which makes you immune to fear, before quickly popping back into Defense Stance before you’re gibbed.

I can tell you, as someone who had a dwarf priest pre-BC, most Alliance tanks didn’t know how to stance dance. Still a virulent debate to this day, the fight over Fear Ward was ended when Horde was given it during BC and Blizzard quickly allowed tanks to retain aggro during fears.

At the same time as the roar, lava would fly out of the ground, doing heavy enough damage to anyone running through it to stress out your healers. It wasn’t uncommon to get feared through two or more lava waves in a single fear either, so be ready for a speedy death if you aren’t topped off.

Should you be able to overcome all these challenges, Onyxia would fall and you would get a Stormrage Helm and Nemesis Helm…again…for the third week in a row. I’m not bitter, not at all.

If you got lucky, she would drop two tier 2 helms (before most guilds even knew that tier 1 existed) along with some other random items (most likely a Ring of Binding and not that Deathbringer or Vis’kag you’ve been waiting for) alongside her OWN HEAD, which could be redeemed for a variety of tasty rewards and a few hours of glory taking screenshots in front of it in either Stormwind or Orgrimmar. She also dropped an amazing 18 slot bag, which was the biggest anybody had seen at the time, which was usually the most hotly contested piece of loot as time went on. Lastly, when skinned, she would offer up 2-4 Scales of Onyxia, whose use would become apparent much, much later.

And that’s Onyxia’s Lair, the first, and one of the best, raid instances in World of Warcraft. Next up will be Molten Core, which was the other potential entry point raid during vanilla WoW.

How about you, do you have any great stories from Onyxia’s Lair? Share them and let’s all get excited for Patch 3.2.2 together!

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