When I started playing World of Warcraft, I had no idea what I was doing. I strongly suspect that a lot of people were, or even are, in the same boat. Over time, I educated myself about the game and what I, personally, needed to do in order to advance myself in the game. As I started playing in Vanilla, that meant getting attuned to Molten Core, Onyxia’s Lair and Blackwing Lair.

Along the way, I picked up a bunch of keys. The quests involved in forging the Scholomance key were great experience and fun, if a bit lengthy and, at the time, pricey. Back in those days, keys actually took up precious bag space and it was not at all uncommon for people to not actually own the key to an instance like Scholomance or the undead entrance for Stratholme. Even more common was the single person in the group (a group you had probably painstakingly assembled over the course of over an hour) who had the key had almost certainly left the key in their bank.

The keyring was excellent. No longer would we forget keys in the bank!

I always liked my keys. I even had the key to Searing Gorge on more than one character! The one key that eluded me was Gnomeregan and I picked that up shortly after 3.0 dropped so that I would get the Keymaster achievement when I got the key to Violet Hold in Wrath. I was so, so sad when they removed a bunch of the keys for Cataclysm, like the Scarlet Key and the Key to the City.

It must seem foolish to speak so fondly of an old, antiquated system, to many readers who are newer to the game or who remember all the keys we needed to do heroics in Burning Crusade. But key quests and attunements were bonding experiences.

I can hear the scoffing from newer players. I suspect the older players either think I’m certifiably insane or they’re nodding their heads in agreement.

One of the all-time longest attunements that people regularly did (no disrespect to AQ gong ringers!) was the Onyxia attunement in the original WoW. I’m not sure how bad it was for the Horde, mind you, but for the Alliance, it consisted of something like 16 quests. And we’re not talking easy quests, either. A lot of them had to do with group content and instances.

In particular, the sticking point for a LOT of people was this one quest called “Jailbreak!”. In it, we are tasked to go to Blackrock Depths and free Marshal Reginald Windsor from the prison there. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Not only did you have to form a group of people willing to help you out with this task, but you had to be at the right part of the quest chain to benefit from the pain that was freeing Marshal Windsor. You also needed to have the prison key from the boss in that section of the instance. (Possibly a rogue would also work, but as I was a hunter at the time, I needed the key.)

Then, you had to be really good or really lucky to free Windsor without pre-clearing all the trash along the route Marshal Windsor wants to take, once he’s freed. And guess what? He wanted to exact revenge on several people in the prison (and free someone else) before he would save his own skin.

Not only that, but he would trudge so slowly through the instance that you just wanted to kick him in the ass to speed things up. At one point in time, although this might have been fixed, later on, if you went too far ahead of Windsor, he’d despawn.

So we had to:

- form a group of like-minded individuals (either willing to do Jailbreak! or on it themselves)
- get to the instance
- know what you needed to do once you were there and likely clear both rings in the prison section — possibly killing the prison boss as well
- then free Windsor and wait for him to catch up to you every few seconds

Finally, at long last, Marshal Windsor would run for the entrance of Blackrock Depths.

But were you done?

Hell no.

THEN, you had to go back to Stormwind and WAIT for Windsor to show up. (Sometime AFTER I’d done the attunement, they brought in “Squire Rowe”, who stands by the gates of Stormwind. You talk to him and that essentially triggers Windsor’s arrival.) Then you walk with him through Stormwind (again, he used to despawn if you went too quickly) where he would confront Lady Katrana Prestor and accuse her of being Onyxia and then Bolvar Fordragon (SOB, I miss that guy!) would open a can of whup ass on the guards — who were all disguised dragonkin in service of Lady Katrana Prestor.

That was a cool part actually, but then we return right to more suck. We then had to go to Upper Blackrock Spire (never you mind that this required a whole other epic quest chain itself AND ten people!) and kill General Drakkisath for the Blood of the Black Dragon Champion. They eventually changed it so it was lootable by anyone with the quest, but for YEARS, it was a green item that only one or two people could loot (more than one could drop). That meant multiple UBRS runs.

Once you got that taken care of, you would receive the Drakefire Amulet — a fire resistance necklace that you needed in your bags in order to enter Onyxia’s Lair.

Epic-sounding, right? No doubt this is why they started out with such things. It quickly loses its appeal, however, when you’re on your third or fourth toon who you decide to attune.

Speaking as someone who was an officer in a Vanilla guild, attuning people was a pain in my ass.

Hell, attuning people to Black Temple in Burning Crusade (even after the attunement was lifted, just so that we could get the Medallion of Karabor for the shadow resistance!) was a pain in the ass.

As much as it was all a pain in the ass, though, it was what you had to do to get into 40-man raid content back then. So people did it. There was a never-ending swarm of people who applied to guilds and needed their attunements done. I can’t tell you how many times I ran Jailbreak or ran people through BRD to get attuned to Molten Core.

But there was something about that shared suffering that bonded people together. No, I’m serious!

To this day, I will always remember getting attuned to Molten Core. I was in BRD for six hours that night. We had a paladin (!) tanking, a paladin (!) healing, another hunter and a mage. It was me and the healing paladin who were there from Fated Heroes. The tank and the other hunter (who was survival! That was SO rare then!) were from another guild and we picked up a mage to help because we were doing what was called an “emp run” — that’s to say we were going to clear the last boss.

That night, I got attuned to the core, got my Shadowforged Key, did an Emp run (which is where the T0 paladin gloves used to drop until they moved them to an easier-to-kill boss), knocked out a ton of quests… it was epic. The only thing we didn’t do was Jailbreak, because no one had gotten to that point in their quests.

And it was FANTASTIC. It was great!

I don’t remember the name of the puggers, but I do remember we were, collectively, awesome.

To this day, I will always remember running with Majik to get his Jailbreak done. We had to do it TWICE. We went in, did it (it took about 45m-1h back then) and then realized that since Majik had died during a pull, he had failed the quest. So we had to reset the instance AND DO IT AGAIN.

To this day, I will always remember getting Toga and a couple of his cousins attuned to Molten Core. We pugged a healer who then joined the guild. (Granted, he guild-hopped on us TWICE in as many expansions, but it was still a great attunement run.)

My own Jailbreak run had my brother on his druid, a dwarf (!) priest from our guild, another hunter from our guild and … someone else. We didn’t know to pre-clear first. We had to blow my brother’s half-hour cooldown Rebirth (battle rez) on the priest at some point and my brother even blew Tranquility at some point. Totally epic!

I will always remember that I essentially soloed a 5-man portion of the Black Temple attunement. I killed a bunch of adds and was well on my way to killing some elite quest mob all by myself, because my guild (love them!) essentially all said they were “too busy” to help me out. So I did this part of Shadowmoon Valley all on my own until some wonderful shaman from another guild whispered me with “invite!” and I invited him and he HEALED ME and we both got credit for that mob.

Going through steps of attunements was a GREAT bonding experience.

Keys were a way that you could show people you cared about your character and its progression — particularly the more difficult keys. Attunements were a way that you could show people you cared about your character AND that you could get through the difficult challenges most of these involved. It also usually proved that you could work as a member of a team and what is raiding if not working together as a team?

So as we anxiously await Firelands and 4.2, let’s take a moment to remember the countless hours spent on getting keys. Let’s take a moment to remember that, once upon a time, we couldn’t just stroll into a raid instance without being attuned, having an amulet, doing a huge number of quests or even paying gold.

Attunements are already a thing of the past, but I’ve held on to my keys all of these years. I’ve been proud of having them, all of them, and so, as I download 4.2, I will take a moment to think about all these entry barriers I successfully navigated and the crazy shenanigans that usually went along with those runs.

Goodbye, my dear keys. I don’t regret a single moment I spent getting any of you.

(Pictured, from left to right, top to bottom:
Prison Cell Key – BRD, Key to Searing Gorge – Quest, Relic Coffer Key – needed for a portion of BRD, Jump-a-Tron 4000 key – Nagrand quest, Boulderfirst Key – Nagrand quest, Coilskar Chest Key – Shadowmoon Valley quest, The Violet Hold Key – Quest, Zuluhed’s Key – Shadowmoon Valley quest, Flamewrought Key – Heroic Honor Hold key, Key of Time – Heroic Caverns of Time key, The Master’s Key – Karazhan key, Reservoir Key – Heroic Coilfang Reservoir key, Auchenai key – Heroic Auchindoun key, Warpforged Key – Heroic Tempest Keep instances key, Gordok Shackle Key – Nagrand quest, Rusty Prison key – fished up in Dalaran.)