Preparing for Challenge Modes

February 10, 2014

Challenge Modes


I’ll be honest, I was really trying to find a way to justify watching Lego Movie tonight. But I knew I had to get this post out instead. A lot of people have been asking me lately about what they should do to prepare or get through Challenge Mode dungeons. I’ve been getting back into them in a big way recently with my friends, so I wanted to share my knowledge and things I’ve learned with everyone else.

Before you even step into a CM, there are some mechanics differences that are specific to CMs that you won’t find in any other aspects of the game (at least right now). Once you understand those differences you can prepare your gear, talents, and glyphs. Finally I can leave you with some basic ideas on when to use cooldowns, how to to pull, and what sorts of dangers to look out for as a tank.

Challenge Mode Mechanics

Vengeance doesn’t behave the same in Challenge Modes compared to everywhere else in the game. You’ll probably recall that for 5.4 it was nerfed from a 2% gain on unmitigated damage, to 1.5%. Not only that, but a diminishing returns was added if you’re receiving damage from more than one source (1/n based on melee damage of the mob – highest first). The beauty is, neither of those nerfs apply to Challenge Modes. This means that it’s always advantageous to pull as much as you can handle to increase your damage as much as possible. Tank DPS is incredibly important, especially for sub-optimal compositions that may not have great AoE potential (I recently did a Scholomance run with a Ret Paladin, Rogue, and Moonkin).

The timer forces you to pull mobs as quickly as you can conceivably handle them. However it’s incredibly important to keep track of where your cooldowns are at from pull-to-pull. The last thing you want to do is initiate an incredibly dangerous trash pull before you’re ready to do so. While DPS is a substantial determining factor in a successful Challenge Mode run, communication and execution of a plan to handle each pull is by far the most important.

Challenge Modes are divided between two distinct types of encounters – Trash and Bosses. Trash encounters will vary wildly, but by and large you want to pull as much as possible. That means that trash will not only take significantly less time than a given boss, but will be much more dangerous. Both of these factors should obviously tell you that survival cooldowns like Survival Instincts will be used on trash, whereas DPS cooldowns like Incarnation will be used on bosses.

Finally, Legendary Items and Set Bonuses do not function in Challenge Modes. Therefore you will want an Agile Primal Diamond for your meta. You don’t need to throw away your tier 16 gear for Challenge Modes though, since it’s so incredibly well itemized. Nor do you need to throw away the cloak, for exactly the same reason. Heck you don’t really need to swap your meta if you don’t want to, you just need to be aware that it won’t work.

Gear, Talents, and Glyphs

Selecting Gear for Challenge Modes is basically the same as any other kind of content for a Guardian. The first priority is to make sure you are capped on both Hit and Expertise (2550 and 5100 rating respectively). Your second priority is to get as much Critical Strike Rating as you can get your hands on, for the same reasons as you would want it for a raid encounter or Proving Grounds. Of course you can really use any old gear to accomplish this, but the more gem slots a piece of gear has in it, the better. The budget from a gem slot only comes from the primary stat – Agility – and secondaries. The value of Armor and Stamina is unaffected, which means it’s a net increase in value to have an additional gem socket on a piece of gear.

The place it gets kind of messy is with trinkets. Almost all of the Siege of Orgrimmar trinkets (like Vial of Living Corruption) scale down to near uselessness at 463. Heck even most of the RPPM trinkets introduced in Throne of Thunder are pretty bad, especially after the RPPM nerf in 5.4. On-use trinkets, or trinkets with the most passive stats are the best options you have – with one exception: Delicate Vial of the Sanguinaire. This trinket is incredible for Guardians in Challenge Modes – in fact it’s probably the only situation in the game where this trinket excels. Combine huge numbers of mobs swinging at you on many of the trash pulls with a naturally high dodge chance, and you get very large chances to proc the trinket. On many of the larger trash pulls it’s very common for it to stack to 3, which grants you a whopping 50.79% armor increase.

For survival it’s a no-brainer really.

My favourite 2nd trinket for Challenge Modes is easily Ghost Iron Dragonling. 1800 undiminshed stats is really hard to turn down. The one problem is that the pet will sometimes proc at inopportune times. In my opinion that’s a small price to pay for such a valuable trinket. In reality you can pick any two trinkets and do just fine, but those are definitely my personal favourites.

Talents are a little more 50/50. Some tiers have purely default choices, whereas others are basically user’s choice.

  1. Tier 1: Take Feline Swiftness or Wild Charge. The problem with FS is you’ll often have other party members which will be slower than you – but on the other hand you almost always want to be the first one to reach a trash pull or boss. Charge is incredibly useful for kiting, which is quite often something you’ll end up doing to stay alive.
  2. Tier 2: This tier offers something of an interesting choice. Typically Cenarion Ward doesn’t get much traction in in raids because any predictable damage you can use it on is easily covered by normal healing. However in Challenge Modes it’s very easy to find a GCD between pulls to throw a CW on yourself to give your healer more time to react when you pull a new group of trash. Of course Renewal is still off the GCD on a much longer CD, and Ysera’s Gift will still provide constant passive healing. I prefer – and recommend – CW for Challenge Modes, you can use any talent on this tier and do fine.
  3. Tier 3: There really isn’t any real choice other than Typhoon. It functions either as a secondary interrupt or to give yourself breathing room in order to kite.
  4. Tier 4: At the launch of the expansion Soul of the Forest was pretty worthless. It’s since been buffed to be competitive with Incarnation over time. The problem is boss encounters in Challenge Modes are where you need the most damage, and conveniently bosses are usually 3 minutes apart more or less. That makes Incarnation the easy choice for Challenge Modes. Don’t even ask about Force of Nature.
  5. Tier 5: This is a choice between Mighty Bash and Ursol’s Vortex. You can pick the talent that’s appropriate to your group composition or the dungeon you’re doing.
  6. Tier 6: You might think there’s actually a choice here at first pass, but there really isn’t. Heart of the Wild isn’t usable as a tank on any bosses except maybe the first one in Jade Temple. Which brings us to Dream of Cenarius which is a complete DPS loss if you use an HT instead of any offensive ability, and unlike a raid scenario the healer will cover all of the incoming group damage. That leaves us with Nature’s Vigil as the obvious choice.

That leaves us with Glyphs.

  • Unlike a raid scenario I’d avoid Survival Instincts. You want to have the full 12 second duration, and conveniently the most dangerous pulls are 3 minutes or more apart. Leave this one out.
  • Also unlike a raid scenario Fae Silence is actually incredibly useful. Silence effects are far more uncommon than stuns, and being able to keep dangerous casters locked down is valuable.
  • A no-brainer glyph slot goes to Maul. Nobody says “No” to free extra damage.
  • Stampeding Roar can be valuable, but over 90% of the time when you use Roar in a Challenge Mode, your group will be stacked up for an Invisibility run.
  • The last glyph that can definitely be useful is Faerie Fire. Combining this with Fae Silence allows you to grab dangerous caster mobs from range.



The first thing that you will learn when doing a Challenge Mode is when to use your survival and DPS cooldowns. I’ve mentioned this before, but our major survival cooldowns – Survival Instincts and Might of Ursoc – are primarily used on dangerous trash pulls. That leaves our minor cooldown Barkskin available to be used whenver you need it, due to the buff it received in 5.4. If you think you might be in danger in the next few seconds, don’t be afraid to press Barkskin. I often use it pre-emptively on any new trash pull to give Delicate Vial of the Sanguinaire a chance to stack up and carry you through the pull.

Single target DPS cooldowns – primarily Incarnation – should be saved for bosses. Whereas Berserk is best used on either large trash pulls, or bosses with more than active target on which DPS is valuable. That leaves Nature’s Vigil which should basically be used on cooldown to maximize the benefits.

Be adaptable. Just like a raid encounter, hardly anything goes your way the first time you attempt it. Don’t be surprised if you need to alter your strategy for a specific boss, how much trash you pull, or how often you pull it. You don’t need to be perfect to get your transmog set, but you do need to execute a plan from start to finish. That plan can only be formed if you know what to expect, so be open to only getting Silver or even Bronze your first time through.

What about you? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?

Hello Guardians!

It’s that time again. The time when I go through a bunch of tweets and news hoping that maybe I’ll find something worth talking about.

Celestalon Tweets

Any chance active talents on the same tier could all get a “Mage Bomb” style button?

Yes. We will do this when it’s appropriate (similar role, all actives)

I’ll be the first to admit that this confused me at first. Then once he elaborated with:

Sorry, I think you still misunderstood. We’re not talking about the design of the buttons. Just the button UI.

I was like “Awwwww man, that’ll only work for ONE tier of my talents. Boo.

Druids were unfortunate enough to be blessed with 5 tiers where at least one talent is passive. It’s a great design don’t get me wrong, but for changes like this it means we get left out in the cold.

There are addons that will let you do this currently, but it would be nice to have in the default UI.

NV resets? Are you sure the CD doesn’t just expire? I’ve never had 3m CDs reset. Ever

Yes, pretty certain. Ironic b/c 1.5m cd. Additionally racials don’t reset. Often waiting for these b4 pulling a boss

This isn’t strictly a “Celestalon Tweet” but it was a reply to one. Apparently Nature’s Vigil resets after a wipe even though it’s only 90 seconds? I’ve never tested it personally since it’s always available for the next pull after you recover from a wipe. If I looked for it I could tell, but I never need to.

Has anyone else found this to be true? It’s probably a bug if it does, but a really meaningless one.

While I sit here, waiting for my lunch, tell me… What ability do you have that you’re afraid we’ll cut due to button bloat, but love?

The developers have actively said they’re looking at the masses of keybinds we have and trying to find ways to remove some of them. Thankfully after the Feral/Guardian split, and because of shapeshift bars, this isn’t really that big of a deal for us. Pretty much every ability we have while in Bear form is used in some manner.

The buttons we could stand to lose are things like Innervate, Soothe, Maim, or Ravage. I’ve often thought about what a world would look like without Enrage, but I think it’s a better idea to re-purpose that ability instead of cutting it entirely.

Will full pets always benefit? Didn’t on H stone guardians/protectors of endless for sure. Possibly sha of pride and norushen?

Yes. Any encounter buffs to your damage should affect your pets and guardians as well.

For us this only affects Force of Nature. However since nobody actually takes that talent anyway, it’s a pretty meaningless thing to note.

Watcher Tweets

Ty for clarifying. Totally quoting this when pugs try to blame hunter pet for a ravager in flex.

Yes. When a damaging spell/attack hits Nazgrim, he asks “is the source a player?” If yes, +rage. Else, no.

Again something that only affects Force of Nature. Too bad there isn’t a Guardian that actually cares.

And that’s it! Still a slow news week (or two) obviously. I’ve been asked a couple of times about Challenge Modes and how to do them recently. I want to write something on the topic, and hopefully (/crossfingers) I’ll have time to do that this week.

I’ve also been (slowly) adding new heroic raid videos. I forgot to record Pride the last time we killed it (/sadface), but we’re re-clearing this lockout so I should grab it, and everything up to Thok then.

Hello Guardians!

I took a bit of time off to do the 30 Days of Character Development posts, but we’re back now with a new roundup! Nothing in terms of changes to the game, but there are a few interesting tweets that I would like to comment on.

Celestalon Tweets

6.0 tanks will do 70%(?) dmg of a DD-since you can kill every boss with every tank, isn’t it obivous best dmg tank>other tanks?
No… We’ll be balancing tank DPS just as much as we balance DPS DPS. Tanks have their own strengths and weaknesses, as always.

I mean….I would hope that would be obvious to most people. When tanks have a “fixed” DPS value (relative to actual DPSers) of course they have to be balanced with each other. I hoped everyone would’ve understood that by now.

Does that mean tanks are going to end up less-fun? A lot of the fun of tanking recently has come from vengeance.
Who can say if any specific change makes the game more or less fun for any given person. But no, it shouldn’t.
You’re most likely not having fun because of Vengeance->DPS; rather because you do good damage, and the def gameplay is fun.

I’m sorry but if you’re a tank because you like doing lots of DPS, you’re a tank for the wrong reason. You should be a tank because you like being the one “in the line of fire” so-to-speak. Tanks will obviously still be expected to DPS to their maximum potential, that potential just won’t be the same as someone that specializes in dealing damage, for example.

I imagine a change like this might drive away some tanks, but all of the good ones that actually enjoy tanking as a role will stick around.

Watcher Tweets

Would you agree that that there’s a tad too much spiky damage favoring smart healing? E.g. Galakras drakefire and juggernaut
Alternately, there’s a tad too much smart healing and ambient AoE healing so that non-spiky damage isn’t even noticed.

This is something that’s been touched on before, but I wanted to bring it up again. The smart heal “arms race” has become a problem that now even directly affects tanks. Many raids nowadays don’t even have someone dedicated to looking after the tank, this is something even Treckie and Slootbag both referenced during the recent Protection Paladin episode of Final Boss. There are so many smart heals flying around that any gaps in a tank’s survival are fully covered without any direct attention from a healer. Any other spikes a tank can cover on their own.

There has been some discussion whether simply “dumbing down” smart healing will be enough. I think that, plus the change to a fixed 20m raid size – at least the raid size that has the razor’s edge balance – will go a long way to bringing back actual decision making when healing.

will of the emperor was a really fun fight to tank because it wasn’t “taunt at x” any plans to make more encounters like this?
Awesome, glad you enjoyed it — we’re always looking to add new and engaging tank mechanics. We know “taunt at X stacks” is bland

You may remember that I alluded to this directly in my Blizzcon Recap post. I’m still not going to tell you what we talked about, but it did cover other ways to make encounters engaging for tanks when they aren’t getting smacked in the face. Trust me when I say that Blizzard understands this is a problem and wants to improve it.

with the ease of spec switching gear in WoD are we likely to see fights intended to be 3 or 4 tanked for mythic?
Not 4. 3 sometimes, when it adds something to the fight, kind of like 25H has always worked (e.g. Stone Guard, Dark Animus).

This isn’t really too far off from what Watcher and I talked about at Blizzcon. Right now there are a couple of encounters that benefit from having a 3rd tank around….Dark Shamans being the most obvious. With a 20m Mythic raid size you’re going to have at least one extra tank class on your raid team – our current plan is to have both a 3rd and 4th string tank that mains melee DPS – so it stands to reason they might be expected to jump in and tank once in a while. Obviously a similar caveat to the above tweet applies, you can’t do that on every encounter.

Guardian Roundtable 4

In case you missed it, we recorded the 4th edition of the Guardian Roundtable this past weekend. Go take a listen and let me know what you think. Have any ideas that you think might be cool? Send them my way!

Here we are wrapping up this series. It’s been fun, and we’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming on Monday.

Second day of favorites! Favorite comfort food, favorite vice, favorite outfit, favorite hot drink, favorite time of year, and favorite holiday.

Ooooooo more favourites!

  • Comfort Food: Freshly caught salmon from the river. In Bear form.
  • Vice: The only thing that she might consider a vice is enjoying combat too much.
  • Outfit: Easily her robes that she earned from time-trial (Challenge Mode) dungeons.
  • Hot Drink: Arielle doesn’t enjoy hot drinks.
  • Time of Year: Winter. She enjoys the cold, probably because she spends most of her time in an animal form.
  • Hohliday: Lunar Festival.


Pick two songs that describe your character at two different points of their life, and explain why you chose them.

I’ll be honest here, I’m really terrible at songe. I’m going to have to pass on this question because I can’t think of anything relevant :|

If your character’s life was a genre, what would it be?

Action-Adventure. Easy.

How does your character smell? Do they wear perfume or cologne?

Arielle typically smells like either a freshwater stream or a coniferous forest. In genereal some kind of “nature” scent. She doesn’t “wear” anything per se, but since she spends most of her time in the forest it tends to permeate her skin.

And finally: Write a letter to your character, from yourself.

Dear Arielle:

Thank you for all of the friends you’ve allowed me to make over the years. Don’t worry, you’ll always be playing with your friends for as long as you live.



Getting Into Theorycrafting

January 15, 2014

The idea for this post came from a Twitter discussion between myself, Poneria (author of the Warlock column on WoW Insider), Dayani (author of Healiocentric), and Theck (author of Sacred Duty) about how someone should start theorycrafting. Something that was brought up is that noobie theorycrafters find it far too daunting of a hobby to get into. So I thought I’d share with you how I got started, and maybe you can take some inspiration from it.

In an Expansion Far Far Away….

Some (or most) of you may not actually know this, but I only started seriously “theorycrafting” at the tail end of Wrath. As you may or may not remember when the pre-Cataclysm patch hit, Swipe was doing basically no damage. It was actually causing some pretty significant problems for Bear tanks (including myself) that were still dallying around in ICC. I looked around the on the forums, and didn’t see anything that would explain why this had started happening. Since nobody else appeared to be doing anything, I took it upon myself to do some digging. Back then I didn’t do any sort of empirical evidence gathering – or turn out to be right even – I did dig deep enough to get a response from a Blizzard CM. That got me noticed by a couple people you might know. Reesi and Fasc.

I had gotten a taste of what it felt like to be recognized…..and to be honest I liked it. I wanted to pursue it a bit further. So naturally the first step was to learn more about combat mechanics. I had a bit of an understanding based on the years of experience already playing the game. I knew what the various stats did but I didn’t really study them in great detail. So I took the next step.


I took Fasc’s spreadsheet (at the time) and started playing with it. I learned what each of the stats did, how they interacted, coefficients, ratios, the list goes on. This knowledge helped me find defects in the spreadsheet and help Fasc fix them. Not only that, but once I understood how Armor worked, I moved on to what would be my first serious bit of theorycrafting.

Back in Catactlysm beta Astrylian had started a thread on EJ for basic storage and updating of Guardian information. During Cataclysm beta it quickly became evident that this information was not being kept up-to-date. I found that abilities were not doing the amount of damage they should’ve been doing, at least according to the listed AP coefficients. Since Astrylian was no longer updating his post, I decided that I might as well start doing tests myself. This lead to what is now known as the DPS/TPS Spreadsheet which you can find in the menu above. Not only that, but it would also lead to determining what the ideal DPS rotation was for Bears in both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. Tangedyn and Yawning would go on to use this information in Mew, and most recently Pawkets has been using it to keep SimC updated.

None of that would’ve happened if I didn’t first take the time to learn WoW’s combat system, and how it affected my class. Pretty much all of that information is available somewhere on the internet nowadays for your particular class and spec. A quick Google search is usually all you need to get started.

It’s All About Accuracy

One of the things that will make or break a serious attempt at theorycrafting is accuracy. I’ve previously mentioned that my first attempt wasn’t even remotely accurate, primarily because there was no practical way to gather the data to make a diagnosis. For most of you out there, this is not the case. There aren’t any ambiguous mysteries left in this game, and any that are introduced are swiftly clarified by Blizzard themselves. Therefore it comes down to making sure that the data you’re presenting is actually accurate. The two methods that I use the most to ensure accuracy are In-Game Experimentation and Peer Review.

In-game experimentation is actually relatively simple, and usually involves things like target dummies. For example the method of verifying the AP ratio on a physical attack reduced by Armor:

  1. Strip all gear and buffs.
  2. Use the ability on one of the respawning target dummies in a starting area (I used Stormwind). These dummies have 0 armor – verified by testing for a difference in damage between a dummy affected by Weakened Armor and one that wasn’t).
  3. Add various levels of gear and repest (2).
  4. Compile the results and determine the slope. This is your AP modifier.
  5. Check the slope by calculating the damage value from AP at various levels of gear. If all have the same base damage, you have the correct slope and your damage equation.

Of course, when you’re presenting your information it’s a general rule that you will include your data and your methods so that they can be replicated by others. That way they’ll know you’re right.

Peer review is the act of asking someone to look over your work. For the information I compiled on trinkets in ToT, I asked Theck and Hamlet to look over it to make sure I had done it right. Since they were the ones that did the original proofs (one of them even at my request – remember Talisman of Bloodlust?), it made sense to ask them for a little help. It’s worth pointing out that asking someone in private – in game or a DM over Twitter – is much different than doing it publicly. Most theorycrafters are actually quite nice, and are very willing to help out when asked. However when you do ask for peer review, don’t harass the person you’re asking. We’re typically a very busy bunch. Here’s a general overview of the projects I have going on right now:

  • Writing Blog Posts for TiB
  • Hosting, Scheduling, and Recording TWP
  • Moderating and Responding to TiB Forums
  • Checking in on the Official, MMOC, Icy-Veins, and EJ Forums
  • Running a Heroic 10m Raid Team
  • Creating Video Guides
  • Streaming

And that’s just the WoW related stuff. We’re very busy people. Nice, but busy. We’re happy to help, but if you ask us you can’t harass us to get it done for you. If you don’t hear anything in a week or so, it’s fine to just check in and see how things are going. But if you nag us daily or something else equally ridiculous, you will swiftly become ignored.

Remember if you want anyone to take you seriously – be it your audience or someone reviewing your work – you must be professional.