Maybe it's just me, but it seems like challenge mode dungeons are the most underutilized new feature in Mists of Pandaria. It's something I didn't even touch for the first year of the expansion until I started to run out of other things to do. Cosmetic rewards don't get everyone excited, and I think some people are intimidated by them. Getting all gold medals is definitely a challenge, but you don't have to strive for that on your first run at them. Silver medals should be doable by any organized group, and bronze medals have a long enough time limit to be completed in a decent pickup group.
Gear optimization can help somewhat, but ultimately challenge modes are about skill and efficiency. There's still room for mistakes – even for a gold medal – but your group will be relying on you to maximize your DPS, crowd control, and interrupts. Hunters can be strong in challenge mode dungeons and any group will welcome a competent one with open arms. If you have the class aptitude to complete the gold medal in the proving grounds, you are ready to go for the gold in challenge modes.
Quick look at rewards
Completing a challenge modes reward you with valor points, and there is also a daily quest which gives you more valor and a Heroic Cache of Treasures. Every time you complete one with a gold medal time, you are rewarded with a teleport spell added to your spellbook which ports you to the outside of that dungeon. These teleports have a shared 8-hour cooldown but are reset whenever you complete a challenge mode.
- Bronze Medals: "The Undaunted" title. This title will be available to all level 90+ characters on your account.
- Silver Medals: Ancestral Phoenix Egg, which lets you choose one of the Pandaren Phoenix mounts. Choose wisely because it's only one mount per character and this is not an account-wide mount.
- Gold Medals: Golden Chest of the Howling Beast, which includes a full 8-piece transmogrification set (the armor you'll see in the pictures of this article).
Let's start with what spec you want to be. While raiding hunters can be competent as any spec currently, in my opinion survival is the strongest spec for challenge modes. Beast mastery can be just as strong if you are on the ball with positioning your pet properly to maximize Beast Cleave damage on the run. As survival, you can keep serpent sting rolling on everything quite easily, whereas pets don't DPS so well while moving. That being said, beast mastery will likely have stronger single target burst at this gear leve,l and you may need to run it for Ancient Hysteria. I just felt like survival was the best overall fit with perks like Entrapment, but honestly any will work with the exception of marksmanship and its poor AoE damage.
- Level 15 Talent: I liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimaera because I found myself using Deterrence a lot. Narrow Escape also provides more crowd control options if you're having trouble there.
- Level 30 Talent: Binding Shot. Forget you even have other talents available here. AoE stuns are god mode in challenge dungeons.
- Level 45 Talent: Aspect of the Iron Hawk is the best choice here. Your health pool is quite low and the regeneration from Spirit Bond isn't very high. You're better off being able to survive large damage spikes.
- Level 60 Talent: I've tried them all, and I loved Fervor the most for challenge mode. It always seemed to be giving me focus when I needed it. Dire Beast may remain the go-to choice as beast mastery, but be very careful not to use it if you will be using an Invisibility Potion within the next 15 seconds, as the pet won't go invisible with you and could cause a wipe.
- Level 75 Talent: If you're running beast mastery, you are basically relegated to using Blink Strikes because it will boost Beast Cleave damage significantly. As anything else, A Murder of Crows is the best bet. I saved it to use on every boss because few trash mobs last long enough to fully benefit.
- Level 90 Talent: Glaive Toss is what I would recommend. Barrage is excellent AoE but it's incredibly easy to pull stray trash with it, and there is a lot of trash you should be skipping. Pulling an extra pack usually means an instance reset if you're going for a gold medal. The AoE damage from Glaive Toss is quite good when mobs are clumped up, anyway.
Everything in challenge modes is scaled down to ilvl463 (but items below that are not scaled up). A hunter in tier 16 normal mode gear will only do about one third of their normal raid damage output. It really puts into perspective how gear has scaled exponentially in Mists. The first thing to note is that hit and expertise magically stay capped while everything else scales down, so any reforges you've done to juggle hit caps will be intact. However, you will want to swap out some of your regular pieces where appropriate.
For armor pieces, you want something with sockets because gems aren't scaled and these pieces will give you more bang for your buck. Tier 16 gear is great for this because it's loaded with red sockets. Don't worry about breaking set bonuses because they are completely deactivated in challenge modes, as are the sha-touched gem, legendary metagem, and legendary cloak proc. If you're an engineer, Deadly Retinal Armor is by far the best choice for your helm slot as the cogwheels do not scale down either. Don't forget to use a Agile Primal Diamond instead of your legendary one.
For trinkets, you want to focus on procs with an internal cooldown (ICD) because RPPM trinkets seem to scale very poorly. One of the best trinkets you can use is the Relic of Xuen. I kept the Assurance of Consequence in my other slot because the proc has an ICD and I still received a 17% cooldown reduction with it. For weapons, choose whatever one you have (ilvl463 or above) which has a socket and the best stat allocation. I ended up using Hellscream's Warbow because it had two red sockets which put it far above any other bow I owned.
- Use Misdirection as much as possible. Trash mobs will not always glue to the tank like they do in raids.
- Ice Traps ... ice traps everywhere! Seriously, any time you can slow down the inevitable train of mobs that will be following you throughout these dungeons you should be. One less hit on your tank can make the difference. If you're survival, Entrapment makes them even better.
- Binding Shot should be used any time your tank is pulling an especially deadly trash pack. AoE stuns will protect your tank from being instantly blown up in such situations.
- There is always something to interrupt, so make sure you communicate what you will be interrupting with Counter Shot so you don't waste your 24 second cooldown on something already being interrupted. Counter Shot shines on Wing Leader Ner'onok in Niuzao Temple. Use rocket boots (if you have them) on the first transition and you will be able to ranged interrupt his wind ability instantly. If you don't have a second movement speed cooldown for the second transition (Stampeding Roar or Darkflight), you may want to leave a couple of seconds early so you can grab the interrupt in time.
- Keep your pet on passive and manually control it as much as you can. The last thing you want is for your pet to derp and pull something. Pre-dismiss your pet when you are about to use an invisibility potion and before any questionable jumps. Being cautious with my pet is another reason why I preferred survival.
- Focus fire important targets when appropriate. AoE damage is important, but you cannot always tunnel vision with Multi-Shot. Your Serpent Sting will continue to tick while you focus on them, so only periodic refreshing is necessary in such situations. Throw your Black Arrow on the highest health target.
- Aspect of the Pack is a must whenever you're using invisibility potions, just be sure to cast it before everyone uses their potions.
The most important tip of all is to have fun! If you go into challenge modes with the intention of having a good time, you will. Have something goofy happen? Laugh about it, reset, and try again. You don't take any durability damage, and resetting is just a click away. Anger and frustration is the quickest way for a challenge mode group to fail. If you're looking for some general strategies for getting gold medals, I highly recommend these videos. I hope I've convinced you to give challenge modes a try. I wish I had tried them out sooner.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From raiding tips and hunter addons to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the ten support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?