The Four Horsemen (4HM) used to be something special. The fight was considered the pinnacle of vanilla WoW. It was extremely technical and it came down almost entirely to execution, not RNG or gear or dps. The only drawback of the fight was that it required a lot of tanks and they all had to be geared pretty well. Before I talk about how to do the fight now, I want to talk about how it was done at 60 because I think it is pretty cool to know the history of stuff like this and hopefully I can give some insight into why this fight was so highly regarded. If you don’t care about the history, uh… too bad, read it anyway because many of the mechanic are the same or at least similar (but heavily watered down) and I don’t want to type it twice :P
The four horsemen were Thane Kor’thazz, Sir Zeliek, Lady Blameaux and Highlord Mograine. There is some lore hitch that I don’t really remember that required Mograine to be replaced with Baron Rivendare in the level 80 version of the fight. Each of the bosses did relatively high melee damage and had another special ability. Kor’thazz called meteors down on a random person and it did a boatload of damage, but, if there were other people near the target, then damage was split amongst all the people it hit – just like meteors from the anubisath in AQ20 and AQ40 – so if it only hit 1 person, it was probably a 1-shot but if it hit 10 people, then all 10 took a little bit of damage. Zeliek had a spell called Holy Wrath that acted like a chain lightning with holy damage and the damage got more severe with each person it chained to. Blameaux summoned void zones on the ground that did a whole bunch of damage would kill anyone but a tank that stood in it for more than 1 or 2 ticks. Compared to the others, Mograine was fairly tame because he only did damage to the tank, but he hit like a truck and he had a chance on hit to proc bunch of fire damage (gogo fiery enchant!).
The bosses each applied their own mark (Mark of Zeliek, etc.) which would stack with itself but not with marks from the other horsemen. The marks were not resistable, could not be removed in any way and ignored immunities (iceblock, pally bubble, etc.) and they did increasing damage based on how many stacks you had. Health pools were pretty low back then and the damage from a fourth or fifth mark was nearly fatal for most classes. The Horsemen had a 75 yard range with the mark so you had to rotate early and often because you would usually pick up a mark while you were running to the boss and another while you were running away. Since they were cast every 12 seconds, and you never wanted more than 4 or 5 stacks, you only really had around 30 seconds of dps on a boss before you had to start moving again. The marks had a 90 second duration back then which is incredibly long compared to the current version which is in the neighborhood of 20 seconds (I don’t remember exactly how long, but I think its about 20s) and depending on how quickly you were rotating, it was entirely possible for you to start on Horseman X, rotate through the other 3 Horsemen and get back to X and still not have had Mark of X expire. If that happened, you had to go into the safe spot and wait for your marks to expire before you could safely join the rotation again. Since the Horsemen had a much longer range than they do now, the safe spot was pretty tiny and required the tanks to position the horsemen as deep into the corner as possible or else the safe spot wouldn’t exist at all. And back then, after you killed a horseman, his spirit stayed at the spot where he died and continued casting marks so even if you had an insane amount of dps and could zerg one down, that quadrant of the room was still dangerous.
Since the marks did a relatively large amount of damage, even the tanks couldn’t stay in place for very long and survive. After a while, guilds were able to do it with only 6 or even 5 tanks, but for the first kill and to play it safe, you really wanted to have 7 or 8 tanks. With 8 tanks, you would have 4 of them start in the safe zone and 4 of them on bosses. When the tanks on the bosses picked up 4 or 5 marks, they would call for relief and the 4 tanks hanging out in the safe spot would go and taunt the bosses and then the tank rotation would begin. Depending on how many tanks your had, they might be continuously rotating around the room or you might only have 4 main tanks moving around the room while the others just went in and out of the safe zone as relief only. Either way, there would be a lot of taunting going on and back then, spell hit and melee hit were two separate things and taunt was only affected by spell hit so resisted taunts were at least a hassle, and at worst, fatal. Before people were exposed to this fight, the 4 piece set bonus on T3 (+5% to hit with taunt) seemed dumb, but after this fight it all made sense.
If you think about it, threat should have been a complete non-issue on the fight – the tanks are taunting off of each other and therefore conserving a threat pool while the DPS is only really generating threat on a particular boss for 30 seconds or so and then rotating around the room for at least 90 seconds. On a fight like 4HM where everything else is so elegantly handled, making threat a complete joke would have been awfully ham-fisted. I don’t really remember exactly how the designers overcame that problem but they did. I recall talk of the Marks reducing threat by half when they were applied and I remember talk about a share threat pool. I don’t know if anyone conclusively determined how the threat mechanics worked on that fight, but whatever it was, tanks actually had to work for it. It wasn’t overly difficult to hold aggro during the fight, but you couldn’t be asleep either.
When the horsemen hit 75%, 50% and 25% they would cast shield wall which lasted for long enough and reduced damage enough that it was not worthwhile at all to keep dpsing them which added another twist to the rotation since people were better off just going to the safe spot than taking damage from marks while doing relatively little damage to the boss.
You had tanks rotating around the room and the entire raid taking damage which meant that healers had to be really good to switch targets and keep everyone up as well as rotating themselves. The entire raid was contantly in motion. And as much as you tried, people were bound to get out of sync with each other so the group you started with probably wouldn’t be the same as the group you would end up with. That meant it wasn’t really feasible for a raid leader to try and direct the fight, everyone had to keep track of things on their own which added another layer of difficulty.
The fight was just so elegant and such a pure execution fight and that is what made it so great. There were only two legitimate reasons for people to fail on the fight 1) they didn’t have enough tanks or 2) they didn’t execute. Number 1 was a legitimate gripe, the fight did require an awful lot of tanks and it’s a real pain in the ass to wipe for logistical reasons. But once you had enough tanks, the only other failures came from execution. The fight wasn’t a dps race and it didn’t have any significant randomness so you didn’t have to worry about RNG or passing a gear check (if you got there in the first place, you had enough gear). You didn’t have to worry about weird new mechanics and the fight wasn’t resting on the shoulders of a select few people. It all came down to having the right strategy and having everyone in the raid be able to execute it.
Of all the fights in Naxxramas that have gone from hard at 60 to laughable at 80, this one is the only one that I am really disappointed with. I am not surprised or angry or upset about it, just disappointed. I can’t imagine how they could have possibly tuned this fight for 25 people, let alone 10, while still keeping the difficulty and the spirit of the fight alive. Then again, Blizzard is a lot more creative than I am and a lot better at making designing a video game so I had hoped that they would figure something out. I think I am most disappointed because the whole point of re-releasing Naxxramas was so that a much larger audience could experience a fabulous dungeon with excellent boss encounters. But this fight in particular had to be nerfed quite hard in order to go from 40 down to 25/10 people and because it was a step above the rest of the instance in terms of difficulty at 60, it had to take an extra whack of the nerf bat in order to be suitable for an entry level raid. The end result is that after all that, it really isn’t the same fight anymore. It’s a catch-22, in order for the masses to experience the encounter, it has to be nerfed to such an extent that the masses are only experiencing a shadow of a reflection of the original.
That said, the new version is a good fight, it fits well with the rest of the instance, it requires newcomers to have their heads on straight and its not a total pushover. I am sure Blizzard could have changed some elements of the fight to make it closer to the original and therefore a lot harder, but then lots and lots of people would be getting stuck on it. Having a boss that it is a wall is ok when it is the hardest dungeon and it is one of the last bosses i.e. the original 4HM, the original Mother Sharaz, M’uru. Hardcore raiders may bitch and moan a bit when they are banging their head against a really hard boss, but really, they are used to it by now and most actually relish the challenge. But you just can’t do that to casual/social raiders. My only regret is that Blizzard took the very best fight from vanilla WoW (maybe all of WoW) and made it just another entry level raid encounter. The current incarnation is not a bad fight by any means, its just not special anymore.
Well, after that trip down memory lane, I can talk about the fight as it stands today. The major mechanics of the fight are the same, the bosses put up marks on everyone in range but the range and duration of the marks is a lot shorter and the damage relative to your health pool is a lot lower. The marks will still kill you if you let them stack too high, but just about everyone in the raid can live with up to 5 stacks without being in mortal danger and since the range is much smaller, you get a lot more dps time. The bosses still have the same abilities, void zones, holy wrath and meteors, but I am not really sure what Rivendare does, if anything. Blameaux and Zeliek automatically run to their corners when you pull and they just sit back there and chain cast and never melee which means they are tankable by just about anyone with a decent sized health pool. Kor’thazz and Rivendare also run to their corners when you pull but they can and will move around and melee people so you will want to put proper tanks on them.
The way my guild does the fight is to zerg down Kor’thazz as fast as possible because once one of the horsemen is down, the fight becomes terribly easy. Everyone pops cooldowns and burns Kor’thazz like mad. Last week, in the 25, we killed him before the second mark was cast. I think the goal for a guild new to the fight should be to get him down by the time the fourth mark goes off or at least get him low enough that the tank can finish him off. If you can’t quickly kill Kor’thazz quickly (this is usually the case in the 10man or in the 25man if you are new to the fight), you will want the Kor’thazz and Rivendar tanks to switch. We have all the DPS stay in the corner while the tanks (along with a healer usually) run toward each other and they each taunt the other guy’s boss. Then the tanks run with their new boss back to the same corner they came out of. So nobody actually rotates or changes sides except the bosses. Then the dps hits Rivendare until they get four marks again and the tanks switch back. During the tank switches, and when DPS is on Rivendare, Kor’thazz can be pretty dangerous because his meteor will be hitting only two people – the current tank and his healer (who is standing on top of the tank so that meteor damage is split). After another four marks, the tanks switch back and this time, Kor’thazz will almost certainly die to the second round of dps. After Kor’thazz dies, the dps moves back to Rivendare once their marks have expired and they finish him off.
While all that is going on in the front of the room, we have a few healers in the back of the room ‘tanking’ the caster bosses and rotating with each other to keep their marks low. You could also have some people with high hp back there tanking, but that means less dps up front. The only hitch is that if no one is in range of Blameaux/Zeliek, they will start nuking the entire raid and they won’t think that anyone is in range of them unless your healers back there take some aggressive action against the boss. Think of it like tapping a mob anywhere else in the game, a single melee swing or a dot is enough – you just have to let them know you are there.
Once Rivendare and Kor’thazz are dead, the dps heads to the back of the room to clean up back there. Zeliek’s chain lighting can and will kill a bunch of people if all the melee flood in there so we have them go to work on Blameaux first and then a couple at a time can go work on Zeliek. As a tank, I don’t really have anything else to do at this point. The two bosses in the back don’t need real tanks and I am just making Zeliek harder if I try to dps him so I go and tank Blameaux for a little while. When I have a couple marks from her, I run out and go /dance in the middle of the room until the fight is over. I am helpful.