We’ve been working on challenge modes for several weeks now. I realized that if we didn’t schedule a specific time and day, we’d never get them done. So sometime last month we finally got it started, choosing Sunday mornings as a time that works for all five people in our group. We do them for about two hours, which seems to be the magic number to make progress each week and end before people get too tired.
Challenge modes are both exhilarating, and exhausting. When we first started doing them we did very little research beforehand, and just did whichever one happened to be the daily quest at the time until we had worked our way through all of them. Most of the Bronze rewards are a given and we were usually able to snag a Bronze without any preparation. There were a few instances where we achieved a Silver our first time through: Siege of Niuzao and also Temple of the Jade Serpent.
The most commonly recommended “easy” first Gold is Gate of the Setting Sun but we did not find that to be the case for our group. We have Rhidach (prot/ret paladin), Itanya (resto shaman), Shaen (elemental shaman), Vosskah (Blood/Frost DK) and myself (Fire/Frost mage). When we were working on Gate, Rhidach was tanking and I was still fire. We had many frustrations with all of that initial trash. People getting killed by the sappers, people getting killed by bombs. It was aggravating in the extreme. We eventually ended up deciding to focus on another CM for awhile before coming back to that one.
Our next target was Temple of the Jade Serpent, because we’d gotten a Silver there without trying. It’s considered a medium difficulty challenge mode but it seemed like a good fit for us. As we worked towards a Gold, we really had to refine our strategy. We used invisibility potions to skip trash in-between the first boss, Wise Mari, and the second encounter. This has to be carefully orchestrated because if you skip too much trash you won’t have killed enough enemies to complete the challenge. The most challenging part of this instance was really the final courtyard and the trash packs here. Many times we wiped to those pulls prior to the Yu’lon fight. We weren’t even sure what we were doing wrong or what we could do differently. In the end, we decided to change tanks between Rhidach and Voss and see if that made the difference. It really did, mostly because Rhidach’s DPS is a ton better than Voss’ (sorry, Voss). And Blood DKs do so much damage anyway that he was actually doing more damage after switching to tank than he had been as a DPS.
It’s tough, because you want to just bring your friends in their preferred roles to CMs, but in order to get Gold we really did have to do some optimizing. We still have a tank playing off-spec though and he’s getting more comfortable in the role all the time. Just this past Sunday Rhi couldn’t use an invisibility pot because he’d used a strength potion on the boss – I was so proud. Granted, it wasn’t the best time for a potion but using potions at all is a great DPS impulse. I really appreciate that Rhi has been willing to step outside his accustomed role in order to ensure success of the group. And we did have success, snagging our first Gold from Temple just a few pulls after switching things up a bit.
We decided against using the technique to have one person pull the last three trash mobs and then lose aggro on them in order to skip them. With dragging them into the Sha’s room and alternately freezing and DPSing them they didn’t hit too hard and we were still within the Gold timer when we downed Sha. Whatever works, right?
That brings me to the other major change that happened in between some of our struggles in Gate and our success in Temple. That was when I switched from fire to frost and it made a huge difference. I don’t think on boss fights it’s necessarily as large a margin, but with Glyph of Cone of Cold and Glyph of Ice Lance the AoE burst that a frost mage can put out is ridiculous. They also scale very nicely with a lower item level of gear and so overall I felt like a powerhouse instead of struggling with my crit rating as fire. It took a few runs to really get the hang of running as frost and to truly maximize the capabilities. A well-placed Frost Bomb, elemental freeze, Deep Freeze or Cone of Cold can really make some of the trash packs more manageable. It was also fun. Not because fire isn’t fun, but because doing really good DPS is fun. Feeling like your contribution matters is also fun.
Switching to frost in CMs had the unintended effect of making me frost all the time for right now, which is okay too. I may swap to fire once Siege of Orgrimmar comes out, but current Combustion nerfs on the PTR are staying my hand for the time being. It helps that it’s enjoyable to play. I’m nervous about the new frost mastery. It sounds like it is not good in situations when you can’t accumulate Icicles quickly enough, and compared to Frostburn there are times when your mastery isn’t active. We’ll really have to wait and see, though. I think it will actually be beneficial in cleave situations, so continue to be very strong for Challenge Modes at the very least. If frost lags behind in raids, I will swap back to fire.
Our current CM challenge is Siege of Niuzao. We had our best time this weekend, a Silver very faintly tinged with Gold. The biggest stumbling block has been the second to last boss with his immunity shield and bombs. The way to quickly move past this entire area is to not pull any trash beforehand. The first time he goes immune and begins summoning bombs, you use the bombs to easily dispatch all of the additional trash as well as the trash he summons during the fight. The problem with this has been that we keep having those existing adds run at us during his phase. One time it was my stupid Mirror Images; another time it was possibly a totem. I don’t know whether my water elemental will also pull them so I’ve been dismissing him as soon as that phase starts. It’s frustrating because it feels a bit random in terms of being able to achieve it and it comes after such a long run to get to that point. I think our scheme for next week is going to work though. I’ll be sure to put Ring of Frost down on the other side of Voss to keep him from going splat the way he has been. Even if we can just buy enough time for bombs to start coming out it should work. That time saved should be the difference between a Silver and Gold run, so I’m hopeful for next week.
Challenge Modes have been a great way to push ourselves to play better and to think creatively. They might just be my favourite thing added to the game during Mists – and that’s saying something, because there are so many things about Mists that I have enjoyed. My only regret about CMs is that unlike raids, I don’t get to do them with all the people I like to play with. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to two separate CM groups. Have you tried Challenge Modes at all yet? How have they been going for you?