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?


  • enterFrags says:

    Concerning trinkets. When I did them on my druid I used the agility trinket (Arrowflight Medallion) you buy from the Dominance Offensive/Operation Shieldwall. It was a great DPS increase, and survivability, giving both agility and critical rating. It really helped my group to save a lot of time, and survivability shouldn’t be an issue, at least it wasn’t for me.

  • Elamari says:

    Great guide. I want to finish off the CM’s before the expo ends.

    No mention of Symbiosis. Any suggestions or recommendations? I’ve found Consercrate and Lightning shield to both be useful.

    Bone shield is probably one of the “better” defensives (short CD, no rage cost) but having viable comp probably wouldnt lend to being able to use it. Thoughts?


    • Pancakes says:

      There are a lot of handy abilities you can get/give with symb.

      My top two targets are a dps shaman first then a dps warrior.

      Shaman’s lightning sheild = more dps + the nearly over powered solar beam they get.

      Warrior’s spell reflect is handy in a couple situations, but the extra stampeding roar they get can be really effective if used well.

    • Arielle Arielle says:

      I virtually ignore Symbiosis unless there’s an Elemental Shaman in my group to get Solar Beam, or a DK for Mushrooms.

  • Vasagore says:

    I finished off my Challenge Mode Gold runs last night after having put it off for waaay too long…the removal with pre-patch got me going luckily ;)

    I was grouped with a resto shaman and used symbiosis on him for Lightning Shields added dps for all instances except Stormstout Brewery, which by far has the tighest timer. However for this one we opted for symbiosis on dps warrior to chain two stampeding roars on the run to first boss and again for gaunlet run to second boss and yet again on the run to last boss. We felt that this gave us the best overall time saving by far.

    I didn’t have the best trinkets but found Curse of Hubris really nice, not so much for the stam although it probably saved me a few times, but more because of the on use crit which amounts to roughly +10% crit for 15 sec and lines up with Nature’s Vigil so I macroed it in and saw a big benefit both in terms of dps and active mitigation for “tight situations”.

  • Buraan says:

    Symbiosis on a mage for Frost armor is what I tend to go with if we’re just going for gold clears as it just adds so much safety. If you pull too much, kiting is very easy, and with a typhoon or equivalent, you have a huge safety net.

    Alternatively lightning shield for the solar beam.

    Else the usual targets are good:
    Pala for consecrate (+ rebirth is useful)
    Dk for bone shield (+shrooms are good)

    If you’re REALLY out of options, a warrior for spell reflect+ extra stampeding roar maybe, or hunter.

    Lock, priest, monk and rogue are pretty pointless in the context of challenge modes.

  • Lifespark says:

    One potential place where Heart of the Wild could possibly be useful would be the Lillian Voss “down in one” burn, since she does no tank damage while at ~60% in the center of the room and coupled with a SP weapon it might/might not be more damage than Nature’s Vigil. The disadvantage is that for Darkmaster Gandling you wouldn’t be able to switch out of the talent, but he’s not as bad as a boss.

    Another time I can think that Heart would be useful would be for the final boss of Gate of the Setting Sun, Raigonn.

  • Zira says:

    Thank you for making this – a month ago I had barely played a bear at all (I’m normally a prot pally, and my druid used to be a boomkin), but your guide got me through all nine golds on my druid in 3 sessions. Another reminder that you don’t have to be perfect to get golds – just ‘good enough’!

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