The clock started bright and early on November 12, 2019, as many groups gathered for the epic world race in the newest Ultimate raid, The Epic Of Alexander (TEA). Known for manipulating time and famous for becoming a raid group destroyer during its savage tier, Alexander was sure to bring on a great challenge to all those who dared enter.
Thoughts Per Second was one group who dared, and they conquered. Clearing the full fight in less than 4 days, they swept away the competition and ended time for Alexander. The members of this incredibly skilled group have graciously provided us with insight into the thoughts that raced through their heads every second of the fight and how they prepared for this ultimate race against the clock.
How did you prepare for the race, both personally and as a group?
SUPER PEASANT: I personally tried my best to make sure I didn’t eat anything that would make my stomach upset or make me feel kinda crappy. The day before I ate a solid breakfast, a very light salad for lunch, and a heavy hearty beef and potato stew for dinner to help me sleep. During practice I tried to build good mental habits by developing step-by-step mental checklists for complicated mechanics that required me to remember small details. This actually ended up being a huge benefit during wormhole.
SHINDANEKO HANSHA: I prepared with extra care this time; making sure to adjust my sleep schedule a few days before hand. Despite what some people might think, my diet was nothing like the memes of “Mountain Dew and Doritos.” I personally prepared a week’s worth of chicken wraps, salads, and quick snacks like granola bars or crackers. As a group, our in-game prep was the usual of getting enough consumables for the entire raid that would last a week. In addition to that, we ran old content with extra restrictions to make it challenging for us and force us to respect every bit of damage and mechanic that came out.
KIONA LYNAER: There was a lot of preparation, mostly challenge mode on Heavensward raid fights (minimum item level with some pieces of gear removed as well). Practice made all the difference for our team as we were extremely familiar with all the repeated mechanics from old tiers in the race.
SFIA PIRION: Real life prep is the hardest part to be honest. Allocating free time and making sure you are completely free for an extended period of time can be really challenging. Then being from New Zealand my sleep prep was super important. Waking up and functioning at 10PM is HARD and takes some time to organise. Eating well and staying healthy so prog time can be as productive as possible is an ongoing thing. In game though, doing everything possible to be performance ready. The hardest content in the game made harder through gear restrictions, pug stuff to make sure I’m ready to... adjust to new situations.
REIMI SHIROHIME: I honestly made a mistake this patch in prep cause I pushed all my sleep adjustments into 2 days which was miserable. Alongside the in game challenges we had, I had a personal experience due to my left hand being... not what it used to be, where I practiced on controller as much as possible to have a backup plan to be able to transition if necessary.
Did you change your group make up at all during the race? If so, what prompted the change?
ARA HOSHIZORA: I have been the flex caster for this group since Eden and when we picked up Sfia I looked towards RDM and SMN. SMN was largely favored this patch thanks to the job adjustments, which is great because I’ve loved the job since ARR. Oddly enough though I’ve mained healer for as long as I can remember in this game so these swaps were jarring for me to say the least. Very grateful the group took the plunge for me when I swapped off in ShB!
KIONA LYNAER: I guess I’ll talk about healers - we entered and stayed with white mage and scholar. Reimi was prepared to switch to astrologian if the conditions favored it, but we were happy with the tools white mage had and their use in the fight, so we never made a change.
REIMI SHIROHIME: I'm actually a big fan of current astrologian and was considering using it all the way up to a couple days before patch. In the end I felt the ease of use in the white mage kit justified itself enough to ride it unless a very specific situation occurred that suited astro.
SINDALF SINDALF: We originally went in with a dancer but why would you take a DNC when there are two targets for the first two phases? I swapped to bard and called it a day. If they buffed warrior to be actually good, I'd play that instead of DRK. I don’t understand GNB enough to actually even consider it. Paladin is no brainer for prog since it offers a lot of mitigation tools.
Were there any points in the fight that proved to be the biggest wall(s) for your progression?
SUPER PEASANT: Definitely Fate Calibration. It simply wasn’t making sense, and to even get a datapoint for this mechanic, we needed to pass wormhole. Thankfully we were consistent enough to get 7 datapoints before we slept that night, which was enough to basically conclude that we simply were not seeing everything.
SINDALF SINDALF: Aside from fate calibration; wormhole. Without that mechanic the fight would have died a day earlier for sure. It's an exercise in keeping a spatial layout of the arena in your head and knowing the locations of every other person. Early on we had some abstract locations figured out but this leads to too many options and decisions being made on the fly that leads to inconsistent mechanics. Abusing the natural markers on the ground such as the red dots and nuts/bolts helps this immensely. Instead of a million different possibilities of where you could end up in relation to another person you now have an exact location and as a bonus you now know where the person on the other side of the map is as well.
What was going through your head during the final transition?
SINDALF SINDALF: I was just looking for the next mechanic. Trying to see if I could gain anything from it. The transition itself I figured I would see a million times so I could appreciate it later.
SHINDANEKO HANSHA: Gundams and Gattai!
How much do your healers dislike Living Liquid?
REIMI SHIROHIME: In the beginning it was quite wild having a relatively strong healing check in the doll feeds and then immediately into splash plus drainage. At first I thought "oh, this is a step above Twintania" and worked on making it as consistent as possible. Then 6 throttles hit our team and I knew the dev team was laughing. I'm not sure what the general opinion of esuna mechanics are but personally I like it when, like in living liquid, they come at a perceived bad timing.
KIONA LYNAER: It’s definitely the scariest in terms of damage variance! Sometimes tanks or players can drop dangerously low. But we have run it so many times, it’s like riding a bike now. “Oh, the tank is about to drop from 90% hp to 10% hp in the next few seconds. I’ll just spam some adloquiums for a few GCDs.”
ARA HOSHIZORA: My Scholar has to use excogitation on me during Jagd dolls, enough said.
SINDALF SINDALF: "Use Living Dead." "Don't use Living Dead". Make up your mind already!? I'm sure they had "fun". Especially early on we didn't realize that Living Liquid shot a protein wave forward every single time. I kept dying every pull no matter what I did.
Were there any "OH NO!" moments when you first saw a mechanic?
SINDALF SINDALF: Anything related to Limit Cut. Players have always been bad at counting numbers, myself included. That aside, I actually thought inception tethers after the heart were going to be a lot of trouble. That is until we realized we could send everyone one direction and just one person that was static with the stack marker by giving them a massive shield. Removes all thought from the mechanic.
KIONA LYNAER: Wormhole Formation was the first mechanic that created that feeling of dread. I couldn’t help but think “Wow, even if Brute Justice did not exist in this mechanic, it would still be very difficult.” Fate Calibration α was a different kind of “Oh no,” where it wasn’t mechanical difficulty that loomed, but an impossible problem that had no paths to victory. While Wormhole induced fear, Calibration induced despair.
SFIA PIRION: Nisi. When it was first placed on us with nothing to interact with and no idea of where the goal line was with it I immediately panicked. Nightmares of spending the next 15 minutes with this god awful buff going through my head. Thankfully the dev team was kind and let me get rid of it after only a couple minutes. Oh. Wormhole was like seeing suppression for the first time but much, much, worse.
Did you encounter any mechanics you wish they had included from the Savage tier of Alex?
ARA HOSHIZORA: Where was height error!? I was also sad Digititas didn’t make its appearance as we had practiced that one for a long time.
SINDALF SINDALF: More timestops and height. So much of this could have been used and combined to create a really dynamic and challenging fight. We really prepared for that and it just never came.
SFIA PIRION: I feel like Faust should have made an appearance. Does he count as a mechanic? The singular Gavel being as easily resolved as it was, was also a surprise. No steam regulators, no prey marker?! I also wanted to see Sindalf get run over by giant balls.
SUPER PEASANT: A big disappointment was not having a more difficult temporal stasis and definitely not having a super complicated Gavel. That kind of sucked.
REIMI SHIROHIME: I do wish there was a harder temporal stasis. Aside from that, I wanted a mega beam, I mean come on it’s in the song.
What was your favorite mechanic/the most fun mechanic?
ARA HOSHIZORA: I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Fate Calibration! I’m a huge fan of memory games and the presentation of how it works is the coolest thing they’ve ever added to this game.
REIMI SHIROHIME: I think the design of both fate calibrations are out of this world. That was not a mechanic I would have expected in 1000 years and it fits so amazingly into Alexander’s theme that it feels perfect.
SINDALF SINDALF: Dropping the ice in Brute Justice to freeze the tornado only because I got to mix my cooldowns up around there for some really nice water/thunder mix. Had a really specific spot to drop the ice in so the rest of the group could forget about it. Rampart + TBN for the ice. Rampart + Dark Missionary + (optional) TBN for the thunder/water.
SUPER PEASANT: Fate Calibration was really fun, but nothing gets me excited like Wormhole. I love our strat because it makes wormhole very dynamic. Even if you got the same number twice, it might be different each time. The feeling of doing wormhole correctly is also just really nice.
There seems to be a consensus that this might very well be the best fight they have ever designed, how would you rate it?
SUPER PEASANT: I think the fight is great. At least for right now, it’s honestly super enjoyable, and there’s probably still so much we don’t know about it yet. I’m definitely looking forward to running it more.
REIMI SHIROHIME: Being the newest fight usually earns higher ratings. We’ll have to see later down the road how it holds up without the massive hype. As of now, I say it’s my favorite though.
SHINDANEKO HANSHA: TEA is thematically and aesthetically excellent; alongside The Unending Coil of Bahamut.
How does the fight shape up compared to the other ultimates?
SINDALF SINDALF: UCoB is technically "harder" due to more trios and more spots where you could wipe at. TEA just had a higher chance of wiping due to wormhole existing. UWU is a prog only fight in terms of difficulty. One other thing about TEA is that in its current state it's much harder or impossible to recover from a death or a mistake. In UCoB and UWU you could recover and continue the run. This will probably change as buffs and new food are introduced to the game. Look at the dps check in UCoB now for example, it's a complete joke.
REIMI SHIROHIME: For me it’s hard to judge since I chose not to prog Ultima and my player evolution has changed since the first ultimate. In UCoB I remember thinking explicitly “there’s no way I can do this, it’s impossible, I’ve hit my limit” on multiple mechanics, but after a couple years you adjust to the difficulty and nothing seems impossible at face value. One thing I think Alexander does better than the other two is punishing mistakes. While I’m sure some cheese strats will be discovered, at least for the first time around it felt we truly needed to do all the mechanics correctly as intended.
SFIA PIRION: I think it’s the hardest. There are very few spots where you can make a mistake and you’re fine. Other ultimates are more forgiving in that regard. I also think more time and effort was put into the development. So many new assets were used in this fight and that takes time. I’m so happy to see that they are continuing to move away from the “low effort” ultimate format that started in UCoB.
ARA HOSHIZORA: I think it’s by far the most ambitious, they made new assets for it and created some really fun mechanics for the final phase. It has definitely raised the bar for what these fights will give us in the future.
How did it feel to be the first to clear TEA?
SUPER PEASANT: Amazing. I do progression because I want to clear content fast, but I think part of why I even do world prog to begin with is out of duty, or necessity. I want to see my teammates succeed and be happy, I want them to experience the joys of victory and feeling accomplished. Some of the members here were part of Wheelchair Emoji, which took Sigmascape world first, and I was so glad to have been there helping them achieve their first World First. The feeling is the same now: I am glad that I could help them achieve their first WF Ultimate!
SINDALF SINDALF: Call me a sore winner but I didn't feel much compared to everyone else. I've been highly focused on a lot of things outside of the game so I just didn't get that same spark everyone else did. In fact I was generally unhappy most of prog because I thought we were behind and throwing. Although we did say before prog "Our prog may be bad but then you find out everyone else's is worse". I was very surprised how long it took everyone else to clear.