Previously, I discussed how I wound up with a level 50 Pally a guild that was gearing up towards raiding back in early 2005. I was, however, getting pretty darned bored with the DPS, and it occurred to me one day that it would help my unfortunate Blacksmithing habit a bit if I had a level 35 alt to transmute my very own [Arcanite Bar] supply. As it happened, I had a level 1 gnome mage bank alt, named Greenwiz because all of my alts were named Green-"something" where "something" was somehow descriptive, and I'd enjoyed playing the mage in beta, so I decided to take him out of Ironforge. Greenhammer did eventually hit level 60.... in February of 2008. And they say Pallies level slowly.
The mage died a lot - indeed, even more than mages do today since +spell damage gear wasn't really something that was in the game much in the early days, and you need to do more damage when your life depends on killing foes quick before they squash you. But in other ways, the WoW mage was a lot of fun. I've tried just about every character in the game, and solo play with a mage takes a certain degree of finesse. You don't have a pet, a suit of heavy armor, self-heals, or escape into stealth to save you, just your own abilities to keep your foes from getting to you for long enough to kill them.
I leveled as an Arcane spec (at the time, you needed 18 points in Arcane to get Evocation and to make your Arcane Explosion instant cast, so I figured I might as well keep going to the top). I eventually picked up a Fire sub-spec for Impact and Pyroblast for pulling purposes. Both talents are under-rated by the mage community for solo play to this day - an impact proc means two seconds of uninterrupted casting, and the Pyroblast -> POM Fireball (at the time, Pyroblast had a cooldown) -> Fireball -> Fireblast combo is generally more than enough to snipe down any single non-elite mob, which you'll get done before they even get to you if Impact procs.
Anyways, I eventually made it to level 60, announcing to /guild that I was tired of Blizzard's slow updates and would not be leveling Greenwiz anymore in protest until they got off their tail ends and released the expansion. I had some misgivings about moving into the raid game - partially cause I was no where near ready for it in terms of skill or gear, and partially cause I didn't really want to play on a schedule. None the less, I was in a raiding guild and the level 60 endgame was nothing if not "raid or die", so a-raiding I went.
Phoenix Syndicate was a great guild, and I'm very glad they put up with me. In all honesty, I had no business being in a raiding guild at all, much less one that was attempting top end content. I generally didn't do much in the way of farming consumables. I did make an effort to enchant good quality gear as I got it, cause enchants don't go away every single time you die (if you haven't raided, know that you die a lot), but realistically I was well behind the curve because I had re-rolled and landed in Molten Core nearly directly after leveling since the guild wasn't running many official 5, 10, and 15-man zergs anymore. I dunno if they kept me around because the were too nice to punt me, or if I got some points for showing up for the jobs no one else wanted (somehow, there always seem to be empty slots available on nights that promised lots of painful death and no loot - at least until Naxx came along, even a woefully undergeared and soon to be dead player was still generally better than an empty slot) or what.
That preface aside, I definitely had some good times during my raiding career. The company was good, which probably played a bit part in it - I haven't had anything like it since, and that may have something to do with why I've been more willing to up and leave games as I run out of stuff to do in them. I arrived late in the progression through MC (the screenshot above, of a Domo attempt, was my very first raid, as the guild was working on Rag - see previous comment about how there was sometimes empty space for the ill-prepared on learning nights), but I got to be there for our entire journey through BWL, and the early portions of AQ40 and Naxx we cleared before the expansion.
Honestly, though, I probably had more fun with the 20-man raids - raids we were technically speaking overgeared for. As a graduate student, I put up with a lot of delayed gratification in real life - projects failing repeatedly for weeks on end before (hopefully) finally coughing up the data I needed. A night or two of learning how to kite Ossirian, I was prepared to deal with, but literally weeks of trying to figure out Anub'Rekhan were more than I had patience for.
At the same time, though our kills of Huhu and Instructor put us at one point as high as 8th on the server guild rankings, I think PS hit the dedication wall. The level of commitment we expected simply wasn't high enough to beat encounters like the Twin Emps, or, really, most anything in Naxx. This wasn't our fault, and the officers did all they could through some trying circumstances (with many of our best jumping ship to faster-moving guilds, further slowing our progress). It's just the direction Blizzard chose to take the raiding game in, away from content anyone could beat by showing up (provided at least the MT and had the requisite resist gear and a good healer or two) and towards content that taxed groups to the limits. Ironically, smaller raids in the expansion would mean that even the entry level content would be harder - with a 10-man group size, Blizzard doesn't have to worry as much about you stacking your raid with 10 tanks, certain Pally incidents notwithstanding.
There were some good times to be had in WoW@60. Getting my epic horse (as a gnome, remember) really felt like an accomplishment in a way that even my epic flyer didn't at 70 due to the comparative ease of getting gold and the number of other things to do while earning gold. AV rolled out with rep rewards that were actually somewhat useful in bridging the gap between crappy leveling items and raids. I eventually powered my way to "Knight" status in the old PVP system, just so I could say I got into the barracks back when this was still moderately exclusive. Still, I think I would have quit well before the expansion if not for the company.
One last war story, of probably my only moment of shining glory. I will always remember the night I got the [Head of Nefarian]. Patch 2.0 had just rolled out, breaking all of the major raiding add-ons a month before the release of an expansion that would render all raid loot obsolete. I had been practicing doing without De-cursive in favor of a click-casting addon for a while, and it wound up paying off. I, in an ice block, was the only player capable of decursing to survive Phase 3 of the Nefarian fight. It had been a long night, the boss had that atrocious 15-minute respawn timer, and it had been announced that we would have to give up if this last attempt failed. As a DPS class, it isn't often that it's so abundantly clear that the whole fight hinges on you. Sure, if the raid wipes at 1% and you weren't near pulling aggro, you could have done more, but that's hindsight. Right then, until the end of that fight, either I was going to keep the main tank decursed or everyone was going to die and the night would end in failure. And this was something I had never done before and wouldn't even have really known how to do if I hadn't been practicing before the patch hit. It was probably the most stress I've ever had in WoW, and I'd never ever want to do it again. But I'm never getting rid of that [Master Dragonslayer's Orb] either.
All that said, I don't think I've ever anticipated any video game, book, movie, or anything the way I anticipated the launch of The Burning Crusade, the expansion that would save me from the day to day life of raiding, or so I believed. But that is another story.