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Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron path


From 0 to 90 with no gear, no talents, no grouping or professions, and perma-death -- no more playing that character if you die ... It's a grim challenge that only one player so far has managed to take to its conclusion. Yet so compelling and addictive is the unforgiving gameplay of the player-created Ironman Challenge that Mists champion Lyssan is already rolling a new monk down the iron path.

An interview with the triumphant Lyssan, a Diablo 2 hardcore mode veteran, reveals a player bubbling with wry humor, an adventurous spirit, and an abiding appreciation for the very fabric of the World of Warcraft.

WoW Insider: Leveling under these conditions sounds absolutely brutal. How much do the restrictions of the challenge impinge on normal game play?

Lyssan: Playing under Ironman rules makes WoW an entirely different game. You no longer have the luxury of trial and error with the "one death" rule. The skillset available is very limited, and you need to use it to its fullest in order to advance. One mob that for a regular toon is just a minor nuisance on the way to the quest objective is most of the time a deadly puzzle for an Ironman toon: Do I have enough HP/mana to take it down? Will it call reinforcements? Do I have an exit strategy in case something goes bad? Are all my cooldowns ready?

Due to these restrictions, playing content at the character level is usually not a very good idea. With Lyssan, I was most of the time at least two to three levels above the content I was doing, except for quests that didn't involve any killing. (I've done some of those in Pandaria.)

Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron path
Ironman Challenge Champion Lyssan, unspecced night elf priest
Guild Unguilded
Realm Vek'nilash (US)

WoW Insider: What was your leveling strategy, in a nutshell?

Lyssan: My plan was to quest in zones where mobs were at a level where Lysann's HP/mana (especially mana) were sufficient to bring them down safely. Also, after several runs, I developed an optimal leveling route through the old world zones with regards to the risk vs. reward ratio. For instance, Redridge Mountains, which is one of my preferred zones to do with a regular toon, is a big no for my Ironman toons. There were countless challengers killed in that zone.

At high levels, I tried to mix regular questing with dailies in order to gain the huge amount of experience required to advance in level.

As a side note, before 5.0.4 and the mana scaling change, Lyssan had big problems with mana. In fact, it was so bad that at level 84, I could only kill level 80 mobs in Mt. Hyjal with the help of my Shadowfiend (then on a five-minute cooldown). This forced me to level from 84 to 85 mainly through dailies.

A look at the grim core rules of the challenge:

  • No items equipped other than white or gray items.
  • No heirlooms.
  • No talent points -- no specialization. You may train class abilities.
  • No professions, primary or secondary, other than First Aid.
  • No food or water above vendor-quality white items.
  • No groups -- no BGs, no instances, no raids, no quest groups. No guilds.
  • No enchants, scrolls, potions, elixirs, or glyphs.
  • No outside financial or equipment assistance (including gold or bags from other characters).
  • The Big One: If you die, ever, you delete that character and start over at level 1.

Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron path
What rule gave you the most trouble?

The "no talents" rule, mostly because of the flashing talents button that kept taunting me to press it.

What aspect or aspects of the challenge seems to have the greatest effect on gameplay? Is it the fear of death, having no talents ...?

The "one death" rule has the greatest effect on gameplay, without a doubt. It affects everything from zones you level in to quests you decide to do or skip, mobs which can be dangerous to attempt, etc. There is also the limited arsenal at your disposition (no talents or specialization). This, coupled with no stats on gear, means that you have to choose your battles very carefully.

What was the easiest part of the rule set to adjust to?

All of the rules were pretty easy to adjust to. In fact, for Lyssan and my other Ironman toons, I added some personal rules: no AH usage at all (either sell or buy), no consumables of any kind (including beverages and food), and no looting unless required for a quest. These are all just quality of life features for an Ironman, and I found I really don't need them.

Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron path
Did you experience any deaths/failures along the way?

Of course I did. My first ironman was a human paladin which made it to level 44 before being brutally slaughtered by the Lone Hunter in Eastern Plaguelands. (I avoided that quest after that.) I had several other Ironman toons that died before reaching the top at higher levels, among them two paladins (died at 73 and 70) and two warriors (79 and 64). Lyssan was the only one to go all the way to 85 and then 90.

Did Lyssan participate in the original Ironman Challenge in Cataclysm?

Yes, I started playing Lyssan around April this year, and I reached 85 in the middle of June. I was the 10th one to do it since the start of the challenge, according to the tracking site.

So is Lyssan your main WoW character? Is she a side project for you, or is the bulk of your play time spent on her?

My main is a night elf druid (Annelis on Vek'nilash), which I started playing five years ago. I also have five other high-level alts with levels between 85 and 90 and several other low-level alts. Lyssan and my other Ironman toons started as a side project, but at this time I play them more than my regular ones -- almost exclusively after I got my main to 90.

Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron path
Isn't there a fairly warm little community of players gathered on the official forums of the Ironman tracking site who participate in and support the contest?

There was a fairly large and friendly community on the official forums when this challenge was in its prime. It started to vane a bit after Kripparian made it first to 85 and after each ironman that reached 85. Nowadays, there are not many posting there; however, a tight group of veteran challengers are still exchanging information and cheering any new achievement on the Proboards Ironman forum. I haven't posted much on the official forums, but I was permanently reading them as the information posted there (such as dangerous mobs, quests etc) was very useful.

That being said, this has been pretty much a solo project.

What about the new challenge modes that came out with Mists of Pandaria? Any thoughts on those?

I haven't personally tried them yet, but I think they are more a measure of group coordination and personal skill -- both of which can be improved through repetition and training. The consequences for failure are minimal -- just restart the instance and try again. The Ironman Challenge is a solo endeavor which requires you to beat the game with the bare minimum. And if you die, you start from the beginning. Of course, personal skill and game knowledge play an important role in the Ironman Challenge as well, but here, you make one mistake and you're out. This makes Ironman playing more exciting, in my opinion.

Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron pathTell us about the toughest encounter you had, the closest you came to dying and losing it all.

The toughest encounter ...There are many tough encounters when you have no gear, no skills and no talents.

But the one I remember most vividly has taken place in Vash'jir when Lyssan was level 84. Naga Warden Azjakir was a required kill in order to advance in the zone. The bad news was that he had about 40k HP, which Lyssan could not hope to burn even with her Shadowfiend's help. So after several failed tries, I decided to use a strategy I haven't used until then: I brought him down fast to 20k using the Shadowfiend cooldown, and then I Mind Controlled him (this was before 5.0.4; I still had Mind Control) and moved him away from me. Although I couldn't do anything during MC, my mana was slowly regenerating, so when MC expired, I had just enough mana to throw either a DOT on him or a Renew on me before starting another MC. I had to repeat this process about 20 times until he finally died due to my DOTs. The fight took about six minutes. At the end, Lyssan had less than 2k HP. At that moment I felt like I just downed a tough raid boss.

The closest I came to dying ... I had two really close calls.

First one was due to multiple respawns in Hibernal Cavern in Storm Peaks, with me running away dazed from three jormungar with Shadowmeld on cooldown and barely any mana and HP. Luckily, Power Word: Shield kept me barely alive until the mobs decided to stop the chase.

The second one was in Deepholm, in the cave with the huge worm going in circles right next to the entry. I stood too close from the circular room and the big worm took me for a ride, eating 90% of my HP before throwing me down. I honestly thought that was the end for Lyssan. She was level 88 at the time.

Why the WoW Ironman Challenge champion is returning to the iron path
I notice Lyssan still looks pretty bare in the armory. Are you still playing in Ironman mode? Are you planning to finish Mists under the rule set?

As far as finishing Mists with these rules, I'm afraid it's not possible at this level. The mob scaling is too high for an Ironman toon.

Lyssan reached her goal, which was to attain level 90 as an Ironman. After that, I tried going back to my main and alts, and I found it's just not that fun anymore, so I started playing a new Ironman monk (level 15 currently) -- and honestly, it's a blast.

That's quite an endorsement! What got you interested in the Ironman Challenge in the first place? Were you looking for something else to keep you going in game, or was it simply the difficulty level that appealed?

I used to play a lot of Diablo 2 hardcore mode before WoW, and that influence was so great that my first WoW toons were deleted outright when they died. I just couldn't play a toon that [had] died. After a while, I reluctantly accepted that death is part of this game, but when I found about this challenge, my old "no-death" Diablo 2 hardcore mentality came back and I decided to give this a try. (It also helped that I was at a point in the game where all I was doing was leveling alts and hunting profession recipes with my "regular" toons.)

Since then, it became almost an entirely new game for me. This is now the game I always wanted to play: hard and unforgiving.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to

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