Looking for something else to do during the downtime between expansions? Why not give challenge modes a whirl? Challenge mode dungeons are more than heroic dungeons with a timer attached. Enemies have more health, they hit harder, and mechanics can not be ignored. If you are interested in challenging small group content, there is nothing better. On the surface they may seem a bit daunting, but who said you have to go for realm records on your first go at them? There's nothing wrong with just going for a bronze or silver medal your first time out.
You're not decked out heroic warforged gear, you say? No problem. As long as your items are ilvl463 or higher you won't be hindering yourself that much. All items are scaled to this level in challenge mode, and things such as the legendary cloak procs are disabled. There are ways to optimize your gear, which I'll touch on briefly, but the goal of challenge mode is to put everyone on equal footing. Teamwork and improving your personal performance is the name of the game. There's no cost to running them outside of consumables because you will take no durability damage inside. Running them with your friends or in a PUG are both viable options, and if you approach them with the right attitude you are going to have a lot of fun.
- All 9 bronze medals: "the Undaunted" title, available on all of your level 90+ characters.
- All 9 silver medals: The bronze reward plus your choice of one Pandaren Phoenix mount. Choose carefully as you can only get one mount per character, and this is not an account-wide mount.
- All 9 gold medals: The bronze and silver rewards plus an 8-piece set of transmogrifiable class armor.
- Each gold medal: A teleport spell added to your spellbook which ports you outside of that dungeon. It has a shared 8-hour cooldown with all dungeon teleports. The cooldown is reset when you complete any challenge mode.
- Valor points for each challenge mode completion. 165 VP for gold, 150 VP for silver, 125 VP for bronze. There is also a daily quest which rewards Heroic Cache of Treasures and some more valor points.
- Unique titles if you hold the realm record time for a particular dungeon. These titles are removed if someone beats your record.
- All gear above ilvl463 will be scaled to that level, but gear below will not be scaled up.
- Items with gem sockets are better than unsocketed items. If you have lower item level gear with sockets it is probably better than higher level stuff without sockets once scaled down.
- Trinkets which use RealPPM for their procs are generally worse than trinkets with internal cooldown procs at this item level. Darkmoon trinkets tend to be very strong for challenge modes.
- The legendary sha-touched gem, legendary metagem, and legendary cloak procs do not work in challenge mode.
- Tier set bonuses do not work, so feel free to break them.
- If you are reforging for hit and expertise caps, these will magically stay intact once scaled down, but if you are swapping out a lot of gear you may need to do some reforging.
- Invisibility Potions are used for skipping trash packs which aren't necessary to kill for completion. These are not required for silver or bronze medals in most cases. This one lasts 18 seconds and triggers a global 10 minute potion cooldown for all of your potions.
- Lesser Invisibility Potions last 3 seconds less and are sufficient for the majority of trash skips you will do. Refer to the video guides for more specific information.
- Flasks are very important. Tanks usually run with DPS flasks.
- Bring Banquets or Noodle Carts. Preferably of the 300 stat variety.
- DPS potions (4000 primary stats for 25 seconds).
- Restorative Amber for healers (requires honored reputation with the Klaxxi).
How to complete a challenge mode
You cannot queue for a challenge mode and must physically go to each dungeon with a pre-made 5-man group in order to begin. From there, the group leader simply sets the dungeon difficulty to challenge mode and once inside there is an orb to click which starts the timer. There are a few objectives to complete inside each challenge mode to earn a medal:
- Defeat all bosses. These will be listed in your on-screen quest tracker and will be checked off the list once you kill them.
- Defeat X number of enemies. You will never have to kill every enemy in the instance. Knowing what enemies to skip is crucial to getting gold medals. The video guides will cover which packs can be safely skipped.
- Kill all bosses and the required amount of enemies before the time expires. The timer will be on your screen at all times, and will first start counting down to a gold medal completion. If you fail that it will switch to silver, and so on.
- Any group composition can work, but your DPS should be focusing their spec and talents on whatever does the greatest AoE damage. Obviously, the more buffs you can get out of your group composition the better. Having a mage, shaman, or hunter for Blood Lust is helpful. Unfortunately, Drums of Rage do not work in challenge modes.
- For crowd control, any class which can offer an AoE stun will be immensely beneficial.
- Being able to control the toughest trash pulls is the key to success. Surviving these usually involves a combination of crowd control, tank cooldowns, and healing cooldowns. These need to be coordinated so you have adequate time to kill everything.
- Speed boosts (Aspect of the Pack, Stampeding Roar, Drums of Speed) are very helpful.
- The tank should remember to periodically leave combat so the healer can regenerate mana with Restorative Amber. Just a few seconds inside the amber is enough to regenerate a lot of mana, and they will keep regenerating if combat starts again.
- In general, trash packs are the main challenge. Bosses are usually the easiest part of a challenge mode. Sometimes it is better to use big DPS cooldowns on difficult trash packs rather than bosses.
- Healers will often have an opportunity to help DPS during boss fights. Every little bit of damage helps.
- Try to stick with the same group members whenever possible as you learn a new dungeon.
- Can't find anyone in your guild or realm who wants to run with you? Give OpenRaid a try. Challenge modes are cross-realm.
I am of the firm belief that you can "wing it" for a bronze medal, and possibly even for a silver medal, without looking at any video guides. It will depend on your group's overall skill. Gold medals require much more trial and error, and watching a video guide for that specific dungeon will likely save you many wipes and resets. The Aftermath guides are from a tank perspective and the HamletEJ ones are from a healer perspective. Both provide commentary.
In terms of what is most difficult, I did my best to list them from easiest to hardest below. Everyone will likely disagree on the ordering, but most will agree that Scarlet Halls and Scholomance are some of the smoother ones.
- Scarlet Halls: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Scholomance: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Gate of the Setting Sun: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Temple of the Jade Serpent: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Mogu'shan Palace: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Shado-Pan Monastery: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Siege of Niuzao Temple: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Stormstout Brewery: Aftermath, HamletEJ
- Scarlet Monastery: Aftermath, HamletEJ
When you gather your group for a challenge mode you'll have to decide which medal you are aiming for. If going for gold, you will have to reset the instance after any kind of wipe or bad pull. Such mistakes can usually be afforded for silver and bronze. It is probably beneficial to see each instance from start to finish before you go for the gold, but if your first attempts are very strong you may be able to go straight for the gold on some of the easier ones.
Be sure to find like-minded individuals for your group. Not everyone is up for resetting a challenge mode a dozen times to get it right. Ask them up front if they're prepared to go all the way, or if they'd prefer the quicker path of only getting the title and/or mount. The most important thing is to have fun. Anger and frustration won't get you anywhere.
If all goes well, you'll be flying around on a stylish mount and donning some of the coolest armor available. Maybe you'll even make a run for some realm record times and claim one of the rare titles. The big question I still have is, will these rewards turn into feats of strength in Warlords of Draenor? It's something you may want to keep your eye on as we get closer to release so you don't miss any opportunities. Good luck!