Challenge Mode Primer

Challenge Modes were by far the feature I was most looking forward to in MoP; it’s fair to say they’re primarily why I resubbed after my long break. A few weeks ago I finally had the time/opportunity to get a regular weekend group going, and we’re getting close to completing all of the gold times. This actually brings me to my first point about challenge modes–even after a few months delay on getting started, they’re still exactly the same content for me as they were for the people who did them in the first few weeks. Unlike raid content, I can start whenever I have time and not have missed out on doing it as it was when the expansion was fresh, before everyone outgeared it, etc. That’s pretty novel.

I’ve been putting video guides of zones I’ve finished so far here. I do think those should be helpful for anyone who’s trying to learn any specific instance. But I also wanted to make a post with general information on things you might want to know before making a challenge mode group.

This is primarily for people who are trying to get good at the zones to achieve a certain time (whether your time goal is gold or something lower). If you’re just looking to run a zone once for a daily, which is incidentally the fastest way to get VP, it doesn’t apply as much.

Scheduling a Group

Scheduling a challenge mode group is much like a raid team, only much simpler with only 5 people. This is mostly obvious, but I highlight it only to point out that in order to succeed at zone, you need to bring the same group of 5 people for a substantial number of attempts. Simply going and running a zone once with a group and then running it again with a different group isn’t going to work. Even more so than in raid content, your team of 5 will be working together to plan a routine for a lot of detailed strategies, and you need to be able to progress as a group. Schedule a few hours with a group just like you would for a raid.

Similarly, whatever your goal is (e.g. gold), I’d recommend you stick with one zone until you get it, before moving on to the next. The experience of sticking with the zone and getting familiar with it with the same 5 people, ideally in one sitting, will get you there a lot faster than switching zones in order to get your title/mount and then coming back for golds.

Something to think about is whether you want to have only 5 people who come regularly, and not be able to run if anyone is out, or have a few extra and clear zones multiple times to get every person through each one. The latter is not so bad since, like with raids, once you know a zone it is much easier to swap one person and still clear it.

Class Setup and Talents

Gold can be achieved with basically any reasonable group setup. However, making sure you meet a few basic criteria will be helpful:

Buff/debuff synergies. The usual stuff from raids–you usually can’t meet all of them in a 5-man, but you can get pretty close. In particular, if 2 of your DPS are of the same type (physical or magical), try to make sure they’re not missing anything important like their haste buff. Remember a Hunter can fill in whatever is the most important buff that you’d be missing otherwise (including Bloodlust, which is generally an important one). If you’re missing Stamina (no Priest/Warrior/Warlock), a Runescroll can get you 8%, which is nearly as good.

Melee vs. ranged DPS. There’s no hard and fast rule here, and some zones can be done with any amount of melee, but in general having two ranged and a melee will be a convenience.

AoE stuns. These are worth their weight in gold. Having two in the group is great–the third is less valuable due to DR, but if you’re moving quickly it lets you potentially use stuns on more packs. All CC/utility is going to be helpful, but I’m singling out AoE stuns because of how instrumental they can be in hard trash packs. AoE silences and to a lesser extent AoE disorients are also great because they can be chained once stuns are on DR.

While not technically a stun, there is also a special honorable mention for Army of the Dead, which can severely neuter whatever is the hardest trash pack in a given zone. Not to mention, the Death Knight can also bring Remorseless Winter, a great AoE stun, and if that’s not needed, there’s always a use for Gorefiend’s Grasp.

AoE roots are a bit less desirable since they can result in melee DPS being instantly killed. Similarly, AoE knockbacks are more situational–they disrupt DPS and sometimes can’t be used for fear of aggroing extra mobs. When safe though, they can provide a valuable extra interrupt or few seconds’ reprieve for a tank.

Beyond this, I’m simply going to say that every class has its utility and has to think of ways to use it. Preemptive HoP can allow a healer to stay at range during a tough pickup without getting aggro. Silencing Shot can get casters to come into the clump of mobs so they’ll be in the stun rotation. Ursol’s Vortex can help a tank kite. Success in challenge modes often comes down to people being able to make strong use of their utility effects.

Consumables

You obviously want to be flasked while running them, and using typical raid food. As always, don’t get caught up obsessing over things like 300 stat food, but use whatever you’d use in a raid. There are only a few challenge-specific things:

Invisibility Potion: Challenge modes have a minimum number of trash mobs you must kill to complete the zone, but this is generally tuned to allow you to skip a few packs. The easiest way to do this is to use Invisibility Potions. You’ll want to have a good supply whenever you’re doing your serious gold attempts. There is also a Lesser version that may be cheaper and is often sufficient.

Regular Potions (DPS/mana). I only want to point out that, unlike in a raid encounter, you break combat at times during challenge modes, so you can potentially use more potions. The flip side is that Invisibility Potions put your potions on a 10 minute cooldown, so if you Invis early in a zone you may not be using any potions for the rest of it.

Restorative Amber: The tooltip says they restore 150k mana over 20 seconds, but in fact they restore 300k mana over 10 seconds, making them twice as fast as normal drinking. Your healer will definitely want these (buy from the quartermaster at Klaxxi’vess). You can’t break the effect just by moving or casting like with normal food; you should make a “/cancelaura Restorative Amber” macro to make sure you can stop drinking if you need to before 10 seconds are up.

Runescroll of Fortitude: As mentioned above, can provide a Fort buff that’s just about as strong as the Priest/Warrior/Warlock one (8% rather than 10%). If Runescroll III isn’t on your AH and you don’t have a scribe handy, Runescroll II still gives 7%.

G91 Landshark: A cheap engineering-crafted item that’s usable by anyone, this does an uncapped AoE of about 40k damage per target. When killing any numerous pack of trash mobs, using one of these (they have a 1 minute cooldown) is worth the 1 second cast.

Drums of Speed: Handy in a variety of places of course, if you have any leatherworkers. The materials are very easy to acquire if anyone in the group has a skinning alt.

Worth noting that since there are no repair costs in challenge modes, the cost isn’t that bad compared to raiding, but can still be a little higher overall depending on the price of the Invisibility Potions.

Gear

All items in challenge modes are scaled down to ilvl 463. Since at this point you probably have an ilvl 463 or better in every slot (if you don’t, you should try to fill them in), there are only a few considerations:

  • Since different items can have different secondary stats, you may swap around a little from your raid gear depending on what abilities you might be using more in a 5-man. i.e. If AoEing a lot favors a different stat for you, or if you’re a healer and you want to gear for max throughput at the expense of regen (I recommend this).
  • Hit/expertise stats are not scaled down, so you will still not miss. Haste is however, so if haste breakpoints are very important to your class you should check your haste inside a challenge mode zone (from the Horde/Alliance towns in Vale, it only takes a minute to zone into Mogu’shan Palace and check). In theory you might drop your hit to the level 92 cap to gain other stats since challenge trash is only 92, but you spend enough time in combat with bosses that this is probably not worth the trouble.
  • Items with sockets are still better than items without sockets, sometimes by a noticeable margin (the scaling system doesn’t account for sockets perfectly). Likely a nonissue as your raid gear probably has all your best items with the most sockets already.
  • Trinkets may give you more options than what you have in raids, since any trinket of ilvl 458 (JP upgraded to 466) or better is a potential choice. Of all the MoP trinkets you have, you can decide which has the best stat allocation for you. If you have any 458 trinkets that might be useful at all (for example Zen Alchemist’s Stone can be quite good), you should use JP to upgrade it before the upgrade system is removed in 5.2.
  • Set bonuses and Sha-touched gems are not active in challenge modes, so these are not gear considerations.
  • Enchants retain their full value. For expensive weapon enchants, remember that any socketed (not Sha-touched) weapon, even an LFR one, is effectively “best in slot” for challenge so you should feel free to enchant it if you have one.

For the most part, this really does mean you can walk in in your raid gear, with haste breakpoints being the most likely exception. But given how easy it can be to swap between gear/reforge sets with an addon, it can be worth reshuffling things to be a bit more optimal before spending a whole evening in challenge modes.

Planning and Executing Runs

The first issue is to try to know the zone a little in advance. You may not remember the heroic version well if you haven’t done it in a while, and even then, if you’re seriously thinking about doing challenge modes, heroics were probably so easy for you that you didn’t notice all the mob abilities (especially trash). Suffice to say, you will need to know what even the trash packs do. Wowhead’s zone page (e.g. Scarlet Monastery) has an “NPCs” tab that’s very helpful for this (the pages for individual spells can also show the damage difference between heroic and challenge). You can click through to any individual enemy type to see its abilities. Watching a video of the zone is also a good preparation, and can give you ideas about the route to take.

Once you’re in the zone, the main philosophy is to first plan out the whole run, and then try to execute it for gold once you know the whole plan. Don’t fall into the trap of starting, and then resetting each time something goes wrong. As any speedrun enthusiast knows, there are a number of problems with this, chief among them that you never practice the end. You also never establish good time benchmarks, or see how timer usage affects later parts of the run.

The first thing you should do is at least one complete run of the zone, not resetting no matter what happens. For each boss or trash pack that you wipe to, when you do kill it, take note of whether you think you have a reliable plan or whether it is likely to wipe you more times unless you practice it more. Also track how many mobs you’ve killed, and depending on whether you’re replicating a route you saw in a video, which packs you can skip and still make the enemy count. Don’t hesitate to intentionally wipe on pulls if you think more practice is needed to make sure you can do them reliably.

A particular point sticking point is the invis potion. If your invis routine is messed up in any way (someone gets broken out, someone aggros something, someone is in combat at the wrong time, the group miscommunicates on timing, etc.), you have to reset the run and moreover, you have a 10 minute waiting period before trying again. This is another reason why you don’t want to be doing runs with full consumables until you know the route–once your failures start incurring a 10 minute wait, you want as few as possible. Practice the invis potion once during practice runs (even though it “wastes” 5 potions) just to make sure everyone knows exactly where and when you enter and exit invisibility. After that, simply clear the trash you’d otherwise skip on practice runs (don’t worry about doing it fast) so that you can practice the parts of the zone that come after.

Raid markers persist when you resist a challenge mode, so you should place them down liberally on your first practice run–most importantly mark the locations where you enter and exit invisibility, and then any other significant things that come up along the way.

Remember that you cannot invis pot in combat, so take two seconds on Mumble to confirm that everyone’s out of combat before clicking them. Also remember that using an ability like Stampeding Roar or Aspect of the Pack will break the user out of invis; that person has to use it before drinking the potion.

If you have a Rogue in your group, Shroud of Concealment not only avoids much of the above hassle, but potentially allows you to skip trash at two different points in the zone as long they’re 5 minutes apart. It also lets the group continue using potions for the entire run, which is a nice DPS increase.

Once you’re done with a complete run on what you think will be your final route, you have to ask if there are any sticking points. Is there any pull that you’re not comfortable one-shotting? Typically people in the group are working out things like “when we pull trash pack X I’m going to use spell Y on mob Z to make sure it doesn’t cause a problem.” The tank and healer typically have to make note of what packs will instantly flatten the tank unless cooldowns and spam heals are used preemptively. You know who stuns first on every hard pack and exactly when they’re going to (i.e. the moment the mobs are all clumped near the tank)–the tank and healer will be counting on that to happen so they use their cooldowns after the stun and not during it. The healer knows when he drinks and how he’s stretching each mana bar between combat breaks (in general you are rarely out of combat except when forced by the zone design or when your healer needs it during a lot stretch).

You get the idea. The point is that all these things happen naturally in a practice run, and the main effort required is to remember them and plan to repeat them. It’s much like learning a Heroic raid encounter–you build a routine of who does exactly what exactly when. The difference is that all boss fights have some degrees of repetition. But a challenge mode, though not longer than a long raid boss, is a series of totally different encounters strung together, so there can be a lot to plan out.

Conclusion

The first conclusion about challenge modes is that you should try them. I made this point about healing in a recent post, but it applies to anyone. The challenges you face are different than in any other type of content, and you will learn to play your class better. The second is that, while they are hard, the gradations of difficulty make them a lot more accessible than they seem. With raiding, if you can’t kill the boss, there’s no consolation–you’re just stuck. With challenges, if gold is still beyond you and your group, you can still work on silver and have a very similarly rewarding experience to show for it. There’s no reason not to try, and I hope this post has somewhat demystified them.

The only thing you have to do after reading this is find 4 friends who are also interested. I believe that even in this age of LFR, that is not too much to ask.

2 thoughts on “Challenge Mode Primer

  1. It’s too bad I’d have to go through this big MMO in order to play what sounds like a pretty fun team coordination game!

    • Buy a character :P . Only issue is that actually learning to play well probably will take a little longer than you expect. This is ostensibly part of the function of leveling–WoW classes have huge ability lists and it’s pretty reasonable to think most people would be a bit overwhelmed if you just dropped whole thing on them at once. The process of reading and memorizing them all and then synthesizing it into understanding the themes of the class is totally doable but takes a while* and is not what you’d normally consider good gameplay. It’s still faster than leveling though.

      *I know this since I’ve been doing it a lot on the PTR. Once of my goals was to try to learn other classes, but I can’t do it on live servers since I also find leveling pretty intolerable. So 6 or 7 times so far in the past couple weeks I’ve started completely cold with abilities I knew nothing about and gone from there to having the basic idea of how to use them all in an hour or two. In none of those cases would I yet be good enough to try challenges, but in all of them I’m better than what I’d be as a fresh 90 with no dungeon experience.

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