:We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again."
--General Nathanael Greene, Continental Army*
I believe I'd been spoiled.
My first full raiding experiences --not counting Zul'Gurub-- were for raids that were already effectively on farm.
Take the Friday night Molten Core run that introduced me to full 40-man raiding. That first run I spent 45 minutes prior to raid time quickly skimming bosses and trying to figure out what to do without looking like a complete idiot. Actually getting into the raid required me to navigate the auto-invite add-on, which until that moment I never encountered. And when I was told "whisper [name] inv" I thought that was the weirdest message to ever send to someone. I was half convinced that I was the butt of an elaborate prank, but as soon as I sent the message I got the invite and away I went.
But the raid itself? I discovered pretty quickly that the raid was designed for alts and the occasional pugger, so lil' ol' me was surrounded by people who knew the raid far better than I ever hoped to. Because of that, I had an easy time slipping into raiding.
My second 40 person raiding experience actually came with AQ40, as it was on a Monday versus the Friday night BWL run. And that first night the raid team finally downed Twin Emps for the first time, so I experienced success without the pain as well. From that point forward, the progression team made steady progress until they finished all of the nine bosses.
Jumping ahead a few months, and Naxx came calling. The progression team made steady progress once more, and I was confident that process would continue.
And then we ran into Four Horsemen.**
I'd never experienced this part of a progression raid: the pounding of your head against a concrete wall.
Spending more than half of a raid night trying --and failing-- to make much in the way of progression against a boss was a humbling experience. I realize that there wasn't much me and the rest of the ranged DPS could do until the complex healing and tanking rotations got themselves straightened out, and that was a long and painful process.
And I'll be honest in the middle of all of this figuring things out I managed to pull aggro and wipe the raid on two separate occasions. I'm not sure why, but I didn't feel bad when it happened, and I don't feel bad about it now. Perhaps because it was a learning experience my brain basically told my conscience to "shake it off and let's go", or maybe it was that the constant stream of raid wipes had dulled my senses, but I'll never know for sure.
It was at that point that I realized that every raid team has to find a way to climb over that hump, to get past the pesky boss, or be at a risk of the boss becoming their own personal Waterloo. When I saw raid teams --and their associated guilds-- fall apart when they couldn't down Arthas in late Wrath, this is what they faced. The mental strain on raid leadership, not to mention the entire raid team, can be considerable. Cracking under pressure is a very real thing, and I've seen it happen at work.
After my nuking the raid last night, that very next try we finally broke through and defeated the Four Horsemen. You could feel the relief in the cheers; we downed our bugaboo, and now we could move forward and bash our heads against another boss.
This time it is Sapphiron, the undead frost wyrm.
And I will never again take for granted our upward progression. Time to put on a crash helmet and pound my head against a stone wall again.
*Okay, get ready for an info dump on one of my favorite people from the American War of Independence.
Nathanael Greene, nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker", was the person originally charged by George Washington with the job of Quartermaster General: in charge of procuring food and supplies for the Continental Army during the American War of Independence. In the countryside there were bumper harvests, yet the fledgling Continental Army had to beg for scraps. Nathanael managed to somehow keep the army fed, even in the dark days of the winter at Valley Forge, by a combination of persuasion and personal loan guarantees. Without his logistics, the Continental Army would have collapsed long before the entry of the French and the Spanish on the American side.
In 1780 he was given command of the Southern Continental Army, which had been practically annihilated by the British. The first half of the Southern Campaign saw Greene's forces spending most of their time being pursued by the British army, led by Lord Charles Cornwallis, across the Carolinas. Nathanael, like George Washington, knew the importance of actually keeping an army in the field. If the Southern Campaign were to devolve strictly into a guerilla style campaign, the British would never accept the legitimacy of an American victory. Therefore, to win meant beating the British on the battlefield itself, and Greene's forces were badly outnumbered and supplied.
Cornwallis fought Greene on several occasions, beating him on the field of battle, but Greene managed to escape each time and keep the Continental Army largely intact. (At the battle of Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis' situation was so dire that he ordered his cannons loaded with shot and fired into his own troops, who were engaged in close combat with Greene's.) Once Greene was able to keep his Continentals in the field and safely make across the Dan River to the Virginia colony, Cornwallis turned east expecting support along the Tidewater coastline. You see, Cornwallis' pursuit of Greene's army came at a huge cost, as Cornwallis was forced to abandon his advantage in supplies to chase Greene's more nimble Continental Army.
Once Cornwallis turned east, Greene split his forces, turning south with the majority of the Continental Army to push the British back to Charleston, and allowing his second-in-command, the Marquis de Lafayette, to command of the troops following Cornwallis. The pursued became the pursuer, as Lafayette's forces harassed Cornwallis all the way to the coast, where Cornwallis made his stand at a small town named Yorktown. General Washington and French Forces commander Rochambeau marched their combined armies south, pinning Cornwallis against the coast. When the French fleet defeated the British and closed an escape by sea, Cornwallis surrendered.
The quote above comes from the depths of the Southern Campaign, when it seemed that even Providence itself wasn't cutting the Southern Continental Army a break.
**For some strange ungodly reason, I keep typing "Four Horsement" instead of "Four Horsemen". Beats me why I do that.