Formerly Hardcore #2: Adventures in BRF, Part 2

Ragar talks about his adventures in Warlords of Draenor's newest raid

Hello and welcome to the 2nd edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAMs column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. For our second column, we’re going back into WoW’s latest raid, Blackrock Foundry. So far we’ve covered the four easiest of the ten encounters in BRF, as well as some talk about my experience with using WoW’s Group Finder tool. Now it’s time to move on to the heavy hitters – compared to those first four bosses, these next six are far crazier and far more interesting. 

Flamebender Ka’graz: Everything Is On Fire!

We’ll start where most raid groups are likely to go after those four we talked about last week: The Black Forge. Hans’gar and Franzok are the first encounter you’ll face in this wing of BRF, but there’s two more left after they’ve been defeated: Flamebender Ka’graz and Kromog. Bear in mind that all of this is from the perspective of one of the raid’s two tanks. I will try my best to speak of the mechanics everyone needs to watch out for, but I’m usually too busy focusing on what’s trying to kill me to worry about what the ranged DPS is dodging.

Flamebender Ka’graz starts off fairly simple – besides her, there’s one other Orc in the room, Aknor Steelbringer, and he’s got significantly less health than Ka’graz (about half of what the miniboss right before Ka’graz). Aknor will add some damage to the raid with his Devastating Slam frontal cone attack and his Drop the Hammer leaps, but he’s easy enough to tank by the melee facing away to burn him down with little more than cleave damage. Once Aknor is down, you’ll get a decent amount of time to just focus on the boss. Up until Ka’graz hits 50 Molten Energy at about a minute in the fight, the tank’s job is very simple and the offtank’s even more so. All three of the early mechanics are focused on ranged players (Lava Slash, Molten Torrent and Summon Enchanted Armaments), so the two tanks can simply focus on damaging the boss – the damage during this part is minor enough that you won’t need any active mitigation. This changes once the boss hits 50 Molten Energy and summons a pair of Cinder Wolves.

These wolves will pop out of the forge behind Ka’graz with a fiery beam between the two that will Singe any player who passes through it. The first wolf is untankable and simply fixates on random ranged targets. The other wolf will become Overheated, boosting their damage and movement speed, but also rendering them tankable. As the offtank you’ll be picking up the Overheated Cinder Wolf and positioning them close to the melee for cleave, but also facing away from everyone so the Charring Breath doesn’t roast your raid. If you’ve got an absorb cooldown like Guard, that mitigates most of the first attack, but this Charring Breath will also stack a debuff on the offtank that increases the damage they take from further Charring Breaths, so you will have to swap tanks but the Wolves’ other mechanic gives you a good guideline for that swap. Overheated is a temporary buff and when it wears off, that wolf now becomes the untankable Fixated one and the other becomes Overheated – this is the best time for the two tanks to swap Ka’graz and Wolf duties. This swap will continue until the two Wolves are dead, but that has its own caveat - the raid needs to be careful to split damage between the two Wolves so they die within eight seconds of each other, otherwise the Wolves will Rekindle back to full health and that high damage phase will continue. That sounds bad enough, but it’s an even bigger problem once Ka’graz gets to 100 Molten Energy.

Blazing Radiance at 75 Molten Energy adds yet another mechanic for ranged players to worry about, but the real trouble starts at 100 with Firestorm. Ka’graz will start channeling Firestorm and doing significant raid-wide damage – this hurts by itself, but if those Cinder Wolves are still alive, each of them will start to channel Firestorm as well and likely overwhelm your healers. After the Firestorm channel finishes, the AoE raid damage continues with Magma Monsoon falling on ranged players. Most of the damage from Magma Monsoon can be avoided though, which is good considering that the high tank damage part of the phase is about to start when Ka’graz casts Flamefury and starts stacking a DoT on the active tank, requiring the two tanks to start swapping back and forth until Flamefury falls off and her tank damage drops back to normal. Of course by this point, she’ll likely be back around 50 Molten Energy and it’ll be time to play with the Wolves again. This cycle of Molten Torrent, Cinder Wolves, Blazing Radiance and Firestorm will continue until either Ka’graz is dead or your raid is. If you can get the Wolves down before Firestorm and keep your raid from dying during that first Firestorm, you should have this fight and your raid’s first piece of tier 17 gear no problem.

There is one more potential twist to complicate this fight – the Garrison follower achievement for Aknor Steelbringer. If you can keep Aknor alive until Ka’graz is dead, he’ll be coming back to your Garrison to run missions for you or to send to the mines as punishment when he fails a 97% mission again. Trying for this achievement does make this fight slightly more difficult to do since it means you’ll need someone dedicated to tanking him out of the raid and that third tank will have to be careful not to kill Aknor given his tiny health pool. In addition, it means you’re down the DPS from that third tank on the boss during all of those other mechanics and you’ll be taking extra raid damage from Drop the Hammer while Aknor is alive, especially when you’re stacking for Firestorm.

Kromog, Slayer of LFR Groups

Kromog is the last boss in the Black Forge – as soon as you enter his room, you see his massive upper body sticking out from the pit in the Great Anvil. From a tank’s perspective, most of this fight is a pretty simple single-target fight with tank swaps for the ever-present stacking debuff (in this case, Warped Armor). There’s some finesse involved with the tanks stacking close to split Fist of Stone damage, splitting briefly to avoid Slam, then moving back quickly to prevent him from using Stone Breath on the raid, but for the most part your job as the tank in Phase 1 is just to stay alive – Kromog is a high tank damage fight. There’s some raid damage from the periodic Stone Breaths, but the vast majority of the other raid damage during this phase is avoidable. Rippling Smash has a long telegraph before it hits, Reverberations are easy to see and dodge, and the Runes of Crushing Earth have giant hands sticking out of the ground with a glowing red target rune in the middle that screams “Don’t stand here!” Phase 2 is another matter altogether though.

At around the one minute mark for the encounter, and roughly every two minutes after that, Kromog will stop attacking the tank and begin casting Rune of Grasping Earth, which summons a variety of glowing orange runes on the ground. As opposed to the red “this is bad!” Rune of Crushing Earth, these are good runes. Players will run over to these runes and stand on them until Kromog stops channeling the Rune ability, at which point all of the players on their marks will get grasped by stone hands, which will deal an increasing amount of damage every second the longer they stay alive. At a glance, this sounds bad, but it’s better than the alternative. Once Kromog stops channeling Rune, he will repeatedly smash the ground with Thundering Blows. All players who aren’t standing on a rune, or are standing on a rune already claimed by another player, will be struck by Thundering Blows, dealing a massive amount of physical damage and launching the player into the air. The fall from this height is likely enough to kill any player, but for those few who can cheat a gravity death, the constant damage from Thundering Blows will finish the job.

This means that if you want to live through Thundering Blows, you’ll have to get gripped by the Rune hand, but that’s only part of the solution. You see, soon after Kromog’s done channeling Thundering Blows, he’s going to be ready to start smacking around a tank. If that tank’s still gripped by a Grasping Earth hand however, Kromog will start chain-casting Stone Breath and decimate your raid with AoE damage. This means that your raid needs to have the hand gripping your main tank nearly dead by the time Thundering Blows is finished so it can be quickly burned and he can get into place before the boss starts on Phase 1 again. Ideally you’ll also have at least one healer’s hand ready to go down so they can focus on the tank, but getting your MT out and in position ASAP is your number one priority. Other than that, AoE damage, especially DoTs, are great for getting all of the hands low and ready to go down at the end of Thundering Blows – just be careful that you don’t burn too quickly and someone gets sent sky high because your DPS got trigger happy. Got both those phases down? That’s all there is to killing Kromog, getting your tier 17 helm token and destroying the production capability of the Iron Horde.

All of the Coordination, None of the Voice Chat

After that last section, some of you might be wondering something. Why did I call Kromog the “slayer of LFR groups”? The reason is that Kromog is an example of how some fights translate better to LFR difficulty than others. I’ve spent my fair share of time in both Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry LFR on my main and the other four 100s I’ve geared up. When we started with LFR in Highmaul, things looked great for the more casual of raiders – all of the encounter mechanics were there, but they were tuned down enough to allow for less than optimal play due to no voice communication and suboptimal DPS rotations. Kargath and Butcher are great examples because they were also tuned to the point where you could lose players to repeated failures at fight mechanics and still down the boss; this may sound awful to some players out there, but to those DPS players sitting in 30-60 minute queues the last thing you want is chain wiping because you can’t control all 24 of the other players in your run. There’s also the Determination buff to give your raid a stacking 5% buff and allow you to steamroll it, but in Highmaul that wasn’t really an issue for the first two wings.

Things started to change a bit once you get to Imperator Mar’gok. This encounter is where the mechanics actually became a concern and could conceivably wipe the raid repeatedly. Phase 1 and 2 weren’t issues since there’s just not enough raid damage here even since the Destructive Resonance mines only hurt the one triggering them; you might get some larger hits from the Mark of Chaos if the tanks don’t swap or reposition, but LFR can still slop through that kind of damage early on. It’s when you start bringing in all the adds for the intermission and the Phase 3 and 4 mechanics that things get ugly. Raid AoEs all the little adds down at the same time? Healers might get overwhelmed by the raid damage. DPS ignore the summoned ogres? Ton of extra raid damage. The real kicker is that Phase 4 version of Force Nova; every time I ran LFR Mar’gok, there were always deaths from that because people refused to spread out and would just stay stacked up while running back in to DPS.

As much as I love the mechanics Blackrock Foundry has brought to the table, there are some players out there that just can’t handle them. They may not have read the in-game Dungeon Journal, they may just have a hard time piecing together the exact mechanics killing them or they simply don’t care and want to tunnel vision on the boss; whichever the reason, all of these are a bad mix for these more complicated LFR encounters.

It’s not all at the single player level either. Some of these mechanics really should be done with voice chat to coordinate with one or two voices making all the calls; for example, Kromog needs someone directing which tank and healer should be broken out first from Grasping Earth. Some mechanics should really be handled at the addon level. Tank swaps for debuffs are the obvious call here and something that’s often mishandled in LFR (just because you can tank the whole fight doesn’t mean you should), but there’s some other major boss mechanics. Oregorger’s hunger level, the timer for Gruul’s Inferno Slice, Beastlord Darmac’s Rend and Tear, and so on – all of these become significantly easier with something like Deadly Boss Mods providing timers and giving you ample opportunity to react and prepare. When we get to the later bosses, especially Operator Thogar and Blackhand, these mechanics are going to be much more of a problem for raiders running without these vital addons.

To those of us who run the instance in Normal or higher difficulty, this isn’t a problem – you’ve already got DBM or an equivalent as well as any other addons you find necessary to optimize your healing/DPS/tanking. Bear in mind however that while you may be running LFR to get upgrades for those slots that just don’t drop in your regular raid or to gear out one of your alts, for many of the other 24 players in your LFR run this IS their only raid. They aren’t running Normals or Heroic raids and they aren’t seeing these mechanics in a well-coordinated group. Some of them may not even have much experience with running group content. Between Garrison mission rewards, crafted/purchased gear and Nagrand quest gear (especially with the Dwarven Bunker/War Mill), many players can jump immediately from hitting level 100 to LFR Highmaul without a single dungeon run. There’s no Silver Proving Ground test to prove that you have a solid DPS/healing rotation or have a solid grasp on tanking fundamentals. All you need to meet the requirements of Highmaul LFR is a 615 item level and you’ll have the chance for 640 gear off each boss. Blackrock LFR sets the bar slightly higher at 635, but that just requires you to have been in Highmaul LFR long enough to get all the drops necessary for it.

Before anyone goes accusing me of being anti-LFR, I’m not – I still think it’s a good idea to have so all players can have the chance to experience the content being provided by developers. In addition LFR is one of the main ways new raiders can gear up to an acceptable level before joining a regular raiding group and for old raiders to deck out an alt for those nights when you need to cover for someone who’s out. The pros for the system outweigh the cons of wiping due to player inexperience, missing addons, trolling, etc. Is there a way to do LFR and fix all of the issues? Possibly. You could encourage the players to use the built-in Voice Chat, but that’s never been particularly good so it’ll be a hard sell.

The best way I could see to keep the mechanics from wiping the raid as well as teaching the players how to defeat the encounter properly is to incorporate an LFR-only equivalent of DBM. Whenever one of the more important “move or you will die” mechanics is about to occur, the default UI will give you an indication of some kind: Move Out, Use Cooldown or some other message that’s as simple or as detailed as they want to make it. Many of the dungeons in WoD have something like this in already for the bigger mechanics, but I don’t recall seeing anything like this for the raids (bear in mind this is coming from someone who’s had DBM installed for years though). This kind of feature could be disabled by those players who would rather use DBM or a similar more detailed addon, but by adding in this simpler version as a default for all those players running without the more complicated tools of Normal+ raiders, this would both help them survive through all of those encounter mechanics as well as teach them the fights in such a way that they’re more likely to learn than reading the Dungeon Journal or watching a boss video outside of the game.


This week’s column puts us at 6/10 for Blackrock Foundry’s boss encounters, but those last four are where this raid really shines. Operator Thogar is a personal favorite, but Iron Maidens and Blast Furnace are both intense fights that test a raid group. Finally there’s Blackhand himself, who essentially takes the intensity of the Imperator Mar’gok fight and ramps it up by changing the fight environment every time he changes phases. Those will have to wait until next time though.

That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. We’ve got four more bosses to discuss next time, but what would you like to see in this column after that? I’ve got a few different ideas right now including pet battles and heirlooms, but I’m open to suggestions from the community. Tell us what you’d like to see in the comments below.

Michael “Ragar” Branham


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