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Challenge mode whiz kids spill their strategies


Taking your challenge modes from gold medal range to world record status represents a whole different mindset and approach. We continue our two-part interview with two young players from Montreal, Canada, the US region realm champs Nerthfu and Bouleau, to explore their speed-demon strategies for challenge mode tanking and healing.

WoW Insider: Bouleau, what class and what qualities do you feel make the best healer for CMs?

Bouleau: Looking at the current worldwide leaderboards, I suppose most would be inclined to name the priest class, which I think is an accurate guess. Priests -- more specifically, discipline priests -- excel more than any other class at dealing damage reliably while healing, and this matters a great deal when pushing for times, both for gold ratings and beyond. And yet game balance always fluctuates over time, and I recently learned that Blizzard has Atonement under the radar. With 5.2 not out yet and class changes still being announced regularly, it's not impossible that we see a shift in favor of another class in a not-so-distant future.

For those that may be wondering why discipline is superior to holy (which doesn't mean holy isn't viable for gold times), here's my view. As a healer, you ideally want to achieve two things: Keep your group alive, and deal damage. It seems simple enough on paper, at least until you start improving your times beyond the gold milestones.

Challenge mode whiz kids spill their strategies
Main character Nerthfu, pandaren brewmaster monk
Guild Haven
Realm Lethon (US)

Main character Bouleau, pandaren discipline priest
Guild Haven
Realm Lethon (US)

Read Nerthfu and Bouleau: Mauling the challenge mode record charts.

WoW Insider: And what the priest can do changes from gold medal levels to world record levels?

Bouleau: To put it simply, holy falls short of providing the same quality and amount of cooldowns as discipline. Guardian Spirit, which would almost inevitably proc on some of the pulls that we do, heals a damage-oriented brewmaster for about 150k; Pain Suppression can prevent up to at least twice this amount of damage. Divine Hymn, while undeniably potent, suffers from the same flaw (at least in keeping your tank alive) and is also a channeled spell, while Power Word: Barrier is not, which is relevant on pulls where you may get interrupted or need to dispel quickly. Then holy has exhausted its cooldowns, while discipline still has Spirit Shell every minute.

As far as dealing damage goes, if fighting a dummy seems to favor holy, it's not necessarily representative of challenge modes. The reason why I can get away with stacking crit and haste as discipline is because I am effectively healing a lot while DPSing. You don't get Atonement as holy, and this requires you to cast (more) direct heals, reducing your total damage output to discipline's level or below. For the rare fights where barely any healing is required -- so fights where you'd expect to really DPS as holy -- you are likely better off going shadow (assuming you can afford to respec).

Do either of you have any strong feelings about melee/ranged DPS in challenge modes? Is there any particular class that you have a strong preference to bring whenever possible?

Nerthfu: For me, melee or ranged doesn't really matter. It only comes down to how much can a class offer in AoE, in single-target and in burst. The utility they bring is a big bonus, but it's rare that we can afford to bring a class for their utility over their damage. It also comes down to the players themselves. Outside of what a class can do, players play on different level, and if a player can do the damage we expect from the DPS we run with, than his class really doesn't matter in the end. I actually really enjoyed playing with a ret pally for a while because he was able to make my life so much easier with his hands abilities and had an insane single-target burst.

How do you fill your challenge mode groups? Where do you find your DPSers?

Bouleau: It's a tale of love and hatred. Nerth and myself have always been interested in running challenge modes. A week or two after Mists of Pandaria launched, we started asking players from our guild to attempt them and, more often than not, we were [told], ''Sorry, I've got dailies to do,'' which really is the kind of answer that makes you hate dailies. So on the guild side, not much ever happened and it became clear that we had to look for other players on our realm.

Fortunately for us, other players from another guild were attempting challenges with more or less success and we managed to form a group with them. You'd think the love story would begin here - well, it didn't. Days and days would go before we could enter a challenge for a mere hour; we had conflicting schedules, we had conflicts between players (can't bring everyone to a 5-man dungeon, eh), and it was no different from planning small-scale raids. After many postponed events and many deceptions, we managed to earn our transmog sets -- on Dec. 2, which I believe to be about three months after Aquila.

With that being done, Nerth and I also wanted to compete for better times. Most of the players that we ran with to obtain the gold ratings weren't that interested or at least weren't for long, and because Lethon is a small realm, we considered looking for players cross-realm. The official WoW forums helped us get in touch with some very skilled players that shared our goals -- and that, dear readers, was the beginning of a love story.

WoW truly becomes an amazing game when you meet other players that want to outdo themselves while having fun; the hours spent attempting to break a world record, regardless of the result at the end of the night and regardless of how long your record holds when you finally earn it, provide a great gaming experience. Even if we still struggle to this day to run on a regular basis (we don't have many players on our roster, and most of them do raid quite a bit), I think that every moment spent with a solid group is well worth the wait.

What if players are still having a hard time finding other players to run challenge modes with? Is there a website or blog or forum where CM fans tend to gather?

Nerthfu: I wish there was. Like everyone, we're having a hard time finding players and we only have the WoW forums to find players. Maybe I should make a website for that ...

Bouleau: I recommend using the official WoW forums. In the US region at least, on the Dungeons, Raids & Scenarios board, there have been several huge threads that each contributed to the creation of cross-realm groups for challenge modes, where players post their class, experience, availability, and favorite ice cream flavor. The feedback from many seems quite positive.

What's the single most important thing to remember for success in challenge modes?

Nerthfu: Push yourself; you can always do better. I honestly often feel like crap after we got a world time because I'm disappointed at my own performance. I'm and always been my harshest critique by a long shot.

Bouleau: Make sure never to run out of consumables, both in-game and in real life.

Let's get down to brass tacks. Nerthfu, what are the top three tips you'd give someone who wants to start doing challenge modes?

Nerthfu: If I could go back in time, there's one thing I'd absolutely need to tell myself first week and that's that I should not be afraid to play with PUGs. To be more specific, giving a chance to players that want to do challenge modes when you have no knowledge of their competence is something we should have done from the start. We met great players that way and got better ourselves. In the end, you're gonna progress more in challenge mode by actually doing them than by staying in Shrine of Two Moons waiting for a group.

The second most important thing for challenge modes is gathering information. There are a lot of guides, videos, and discussion going for challenge mode. The more you know the better, and having multiple point of view helps too.

Personally, I'd suggest reading/watching:

Finally, try to be competitive. Even if you're not aiming for world times, being competitive about it will help you squeeze those precious seconds that can make the difference between a gold time and a silver time. If you do not have the habit to push yourself, you're just holding your group and yourself back.

Bonus tip: Everyone doing challenge modes should welcome criticism. For those who've played with me, it's not because I argue or disagree that I do not take into consideration everything that was said to me.

Bouleau, how about your top five tips for healing challenge modes?

  • Don't stack too much spirit -- fights are relatively short and you can drink often.
  • Buy some Restorative Amber from the Klaxxi. The food restores all of your mana and health within 10 seconds (despite what the tooltip reads). It also doesn't get canceled if you get in-combat.
  • Plan your cooldowns ahead for the tougher pulls; don't overlap them with your tank's.
  • Try to deal damage whenever you can, as your contribution is very noticeable in 5-man dungeons.
  • When a wipe occurs, look with your team at what went wrong. A missed interrupt, bad positioning, someone aggroing an extra pack are just a few reasons out of your control that can explain it. It's not always the healer's fault!

Sound advice! So what's the toughest challenge mode you've run so far? What makes it difficult?

Nerthfu: That's a hard one. From my perspective, as a monk tank, the hardest one to do would be Mogu'shan Palace, where there's only three pulls in the entire instance, but all three are a pain for me.

  1. First pull, I'm actually so limited on globals and resources that if one of my Keg Smashes gets parried during the pull, it's a wipe. Same happens if I do the slightest mistake.
  2. The second pull is just really annoying because I need to "dance" with the skulker or I end up stunned for 5 seconds, which is a huge DPS loss.
  3. The last pull, I honestly don't know how I'm still alive every time we do it. It must be the most damaging pull we've done of any challenge so far, and there are so many ways to die for everyone it's just insane.

Other than that, when we get closer to perfect runs in each challenge, I think Siege of Niuzao Temple is gonna require more coordination than any other challenges because of the ooze management (kiting them during the entire instance and killing one every 25 to 29 seconds).

Bouleau? What about the toughest challenge from your point of view?

Bouleau: That's a tough one. The difficulty of every challenge can vary a lot depending on your composition and the time you're aiming for. The hall in Mogu'shan Palace leading to the first boss encounter is absolutely brutal to a melee-heavy group (or even just a tank) lacking good stun coordination, as whirlwinds cut through players like scissors through paper. Many wipes can ensue to get the pull right, as most groups pull everything at once to trigger the event faster, but learning it has the merit of being worthwhile to earn gold ratings and even compete for region records. In other words, it's a pull that you don't have to relearn when you start pushing for top times, so the difficulty is fairly static.

In the same instance, there's also the hall leading to the third and last boss. Now, if you go for gold and manage to get there within 8 minutes or less, you can likely afford to kill each pack individually or at least kill a few enemies before moving on to the next pack. Doing about three pulls (the two guards at the entrance and the patrol inside the boss room, then the quillens, and then the boss) makes it very manageable for everyone. If you want to go faster, however, you'll want to do one pull less by getting the quillens with the patrol. That alone adds an element of difficulty, as your tank and healer will have some pressure. Then, if chaos is your thing, you can decide to do a single pull and enjoy your dance with death while it lasts.

This step-by-step increase in difficulty defines, I think, the nature of time attacks. Every dungeon offers room to do crazy pulls and occasions to challenge your DPS and coordination to save precious seconds. In example, Scholomance is one of the few challenges where we can benefit from two Bloodlusts without needing anyone to die, if we use our first one against the Lich. But this comes at the price of fighting Lilian Voss with the sated debuff, and that makes the DPS requirement to defeat her before her transformation very steep.

So what's the toughest challenge mode for us, all things considered? I think that Siege of Niuzao Temple requires the most coordination and planning from the moment you start kiting oozes outside of the tree to benefit from the residue debuff for as long as possible. During several minutes (it's possible to keep the debuff up to the last boss), you need to kite the oozes in a manner that they don't ever get cleaved and one needs to die every ~25 seconds with everyone in range to refresh their debuff. Executing this strategy right is an achievement in itself, and I think that anyone interested in the hardest 5-man PvE content should give it a try.

Challenge mode whiz kids spill their strategies
Are there one or more instances you suspect you've pushed just about as far as you can take them in terms of improving times?

Nerthfu: We can still get better times in all our runs but for some of them, we're at the point where all we can do is have a better execution or swap some classes around. The net result shouldn't be too far from the times we already have. Those instances are Stormstout Brewery, Mogu'shan Palace, and Scarlet Halls.

Bouleau: Not yet. I think we can improve all of our nine times by at least 30 seconds each (and some by much more).

What instance do you think holds the most potential for knocking off still more time?

Nerthfu: Most definitively Siege of Niuzao Temple, where we can save a good 2 to 3 minutes.

Bouleau: I'm tempted to say Siege of Niuzao Temple or Scarlet Monastery.

So what's next on your list of goals?

Nerthfu: I guess maintaining world-best time in all CMs (except Scarlet Monastery -- I loathe that place).

Bouleau: We're all pretty excited for the 5.2 patch. Balance changes and better itemized gear will help everyone improve their times further, so we're looking forward to redoing all nine challenges (hopefully) within the weeks following the release. It's also worth noting that with the competition being more fierce than ever, I'm not even sure if we'll still hold any world record when this article is published. And, frankly, I think that's great -- nothing will motivate me more to outdo myself.

So to everyone that I had or have the pleasure of competing both with and against, I raise you my mug. Cheers!

Read Part 1 of our interview, Nerthfu and Bouleau: Mauling the challenge mode record charts.

"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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