One of the things I’m most enjoying in Mists of Pandaria, besides the excellent new raid content, is Challenge Modes. CMs solve the problem of dungeons becoming boring. Heroic dungeons start off a bit tough when you’re doing them in greens, but put on a few pieces of raid gear and the difficulty becomes laughable. In CMs, all your gear is scaled down to ilvl 463, so the only things that makes them easier are practice and skill.
The Bronze level of Challenge Modes are pretty accessible. I found most of them were easily achievable on the first run through. You can wipe a few times and still be well within the time limit. Silvers are a large step up in difficult as they generally have about half the time requirement as bronzes. This is where you need to step up your game – trash needs to be chain pulled, healers have very little time to drink and while you may be able to recover from one wipe, it’ll be tough. Golds are very challenging (as they should be). You basically need to pull as much trash as you can at once, you need to find a way to skip any trash you don’t need and your group’s dps needs to be as high as possible. Be prepared to run the dungeons over and over, resetting any time something goes wrong.
Generally, the trash packs are the most challenging part of the dungeons. Bosses do hit much harder than in the heroic mode dungeons, but it’s the trash that’s going to be the thing that kills you more often than not. Cleaves will kill your melee, a wrong step or being a second late on a cooldown will result in your tank being globalled by the 12 mobs attacking them.
My regular Challenge Mode group consists of a Blood DK tank, Rogue, Mage, Ele Shaman and me (Resto Druid). I think Druids are a great asset to any challenge mode team and I love how CMs force me to think critically about my talents and abilities. I get to use many abilities that are often ignored in other situations.
Since the trash is usually the most difficult part of the dungeon, especially when you’re pulling multiple packs at a time, the more cc available to your group the better. Once trash is rounded up we try to make sure they are incapacitated for as long as possible. Abilities we chain together include Ring of Frost, Remorseless Winter and Capacitor Totem. Our rogue uses Paralytic Poison to keep things stunned as much as possible. As a resto Druid I can help with cc too. I use Disorienting Roar when the stuns are down – it doesn’t work for long since it breaks on damage, but it gives a slight reprieve from damage and interrupts spell casting. I can Typhoon if it will do more good than harm (that’s not always the case). I also put Symbiosis on our Shaman, allowing him to use Solar Beam to further incapacitate casting mobs.
Skipping trash is something that needs to be done in a number of the dungeons in order to save time. There are a few options for this. First there’s Shroud of Concealment. This will work in most situations, you just need enough room to get around the mobs so you don’t aggro them. Sapping the one you’ll be moving closest to can be required. You can also use Potions of Invisibility. These are easier to use as once they go into effect you can run right through mobs without them seeing you. The downside is that they trigger a 10 minute cooldown on potions so it limits your group’s ability to use dps or mana pots. There are also some trash packs which can be aggroed by one player then reset, allowing the rest of your group to run by them.
There are a few other really useful abilities that resto Druids bring to challenge modes. The first is Stampeding Roar. When speed is of the essence, this is great to help your tank aggro multiple packs, make Invisibility pots take you further, or just get from point a to point b faster. Heart of the Wild is also great. When I first started challenge modes I was hesitant to spend much time doing damage because I felt like people would die if I stopped healing them for even a second. However as I got more comfortable, and my group got better with cc, I found there were a number of opportunities for me to do some damage. On trash packs HotW plus Hurricane can do a lot of damage, though channeling instead of healing can be dangerous. I find HotW most useful on bosses where the healing requirements aren’t too high. Just let your tank know to use their own cooldowns, pre-stack Lifebloom, put up Ironbark, pop the ability and go to town. Doing this is especially helpful on fights where phase repeats are based on time, such as the last boss in Temple of the Jade Serpent – if you can prevent seeing phase 2 more than once you can save a lot of time. Soothe can also be very important when you run into trash mobs or bosses who enrage.
Challenge modes are a lot of fun and I recommend everyone give them a try. They’ll really make you work hard to use every possible advantage available to your class and spec and allow for some creative puzzle solving. They’re also a great source of Valor Points, and much more enjoyable than the alternatives of LFR, random dungeons, or dailies. The rewards for getting all bronzes, silvers or golds are nifty too, and are made even more attractive by the idea that these modes will never be nerfed or outgeared, so they will stay relatively exclusive.
One gold down, 8 to go.