I’ve been doing challenge modes for the last few months with Voss (tanking on his DK), Millya (frost mage), Shaen (elemental shaman), and Itanya (resto shaman). Last month we got our first gold, in Temple of the Jade Serpent, which was a bit of a turning point for our plucky band. Before that we had spent the previous two or three months using our allotted two hours on Sunday to collect random bronze and silver medals, but gold seemed too far out of our reach.
So in July we buckled down and decided to really try for gold. We would farm up invis pots, read up optimal strats, change gear around –whatever it would take. We started with Gate of the Setting Sun, widely considered one of the easiest golds, if not the easiest. Unfortunately we found ourselves stumbling in there, always about three minutes behind where we needed to be. When you only have thirteen minutes to begin with, that’s a huge gap.
Eventually we grew terribly frustrated of Gate and decided to — for the sake of preserving our sanity and our desire to do CMs at all — try a new location. We changed tracks and refocused our sights on Temple of the Jade Serpent, which we then proceeded to spend three weeks on shaving more and more time off of every attempt.
What frustrated us most about Gate, I felt, was the beginning with the bombs. The first two minutes of the whole place is a massive storm of stress and danger, and having to do that over and over because someone exploded wore thin very quickly. Temple, in contrast, was pretty “smooth” the whole way through. The trash was dangerous, but there were no insta-gibbing environmental hazards ready to beat you over the head. In short, it felt more manageable.
And it was! We flourished in there. Eventually we were consistently 30 seconds shy of gold, and needed to find someway to make up a good chunk of time. At this point, I was tanking all of the challenge modes and Voss was DPSing and (with all due respect to Voss) we weren’t in an optimal configuration there. Voss had just shifted to a new class (DKs) a few months prior and I don’t think he was as practiced or comfortable with damage-dealing in his new skin.
We decided on a lark to swap things up. He’d go tank and I’d go DPS. I didn’t tell him at the time, but I had a whole boat-load of reservations, from giving up Battle Healer for the group, to my tanking DPS, to my mediocrity with retribution. However, Voss was clearly ahead of the curve, as it was that very day that we ended up getting a gold ranking in Temple. My DPS was higher than Voss’ by a not-insignificant margin and I was able to make up enough time that we got to the Sha with plenty of time to spare. We then knocked him over and celebrated our very first gold.
That gold was a major shot in the arm for our group. Before then we had begun to wonder if we were good enough to achieve the gold times … did we really have any business trying for them? But, yes, our success provoked a welcome dose of new confidence. It was time to really get to work.
Indeed, how fitting it was the Sha of Doubt we had to overcome for that first gold.
Breaking the Siege
After Temple, our next target was the Siege of Niuzao Temple. I was initially hesitant because it seemed like it would be somewhat difficult, but when all was said and done it wouldn’t prove to be that awful.
For the last three weeks we worked on Siege, practicing, reducing timing, learning when to use what when, etc. All those fun things you do when you essentially commit the flow of a challenge mode to muscle memory via rote.
I could close my eyes right now and repeat in my head all sixteen-odd minutes of every action I need to take to do my fifth of what needs to be done for a gold medal in that dungeon. This might be a sickness, I’m not sure.
Anyway, two weeks ago we had a really good set of runs in Siege that allowed us to save a lot of time on our run. The first was changing where we used invisibility potions, to a much safer (less goop-y) place in the top rung of the tree, and secondly committing to getting the second to last boss and blowing up all his trash as part of the fight.
The latter part required a lot of coordination because it was a lot of damage for Voss to be taking. He moved around cooldowns, and I switched around some macros/keybinds to be able to toss and chain Hand of Sacrifice on him with only a single keypress (ditto Lay on Hands), to do my part to level off his damage. I also glyphed Blinding Light to get an AOE stun off to buy him a few seconds.
Initially it was a lot of chew all at once, but in time we got really good at keeping Voss on two feet. It also helps that he’s a great tank and was able to manage the juggling act with tasked him with.
We had one heartbreaking attempt at the end of the night where we had plenty of time to kill the boss, but we lost our healer during the fight, then Voss, and it collapsed from there. That hurt. But, it told us we were just about there.
So this past Sunday we met at the usual time and headed into Siege for our usual “stretching the legs attempt” — the first attempt of the day where we re-remember everything we do and score an easy silver. Despite a few oopses (including me blowing myself up on the bomb boss), we actually managed to score a very easy gold. The group was floored, and also slightly confused as to what we should do next.
“Well,” I said, “we’ve had a lot of practice on Gate… maybe now’s the time to go finish it off?”
None of us really wanted to admit it, but I think we were all thinking that. So, with a lurch, oncemore into the breach we went.
The sun sets at last
Our first few attempts were on the order of “take the first hallway up to the first boss in two halves, focus sappers, pray for no bomb deaths” and while it worked, it was just too much time to cede to the ever-ticking clock. We had to do that first hallway in one big bite, we needed the extra minute and change it would allow us.
So we threw a few frustrating wipes at it until we came out on the other side with everyone alive. Knocked out first boss, on to second. On the way there’s that pack of three adds — two reavers, one wind shaper — that you’re supposed to game to kill the wind shaper but not his two friends. Unfortunately, there was some kind of bug going on where if we ignored the two reavers and took the elevator up, after the signal fire was lit and the cinematic fired, those two adds would run across to use and pull the two packs of adds between us and the third boss.
I recommended try to poly/hex them before we entered combat and see if that kept us out of combat once the wind shaper dead, and thus those two reapers not disclosed to rushing halfway across the map to kill us later on. During the attempt we tried CC, we were still in combat as we stood on the elevator. Voss commanded us to turn around and kill them, and I just groaned because it was so much time to give up to go back. We paid our due to the clock, and rode the elevator up.
Despite that massive waste of time, we still dropped down to Raigonn with about two minutes left on the clock. We also had heroism available because we only used it at the very beginning once we had bunched everything up in that first hallway, so enough time had elapsed to let it come off cooldown for the last boss. I launched up with Shaen and let forth with all the burst I could command. When I hit the ground the boss was in the high-30%s for his carapace, and it was up to Millya and Shaen to finish off Raigonn’s shell.
In what I would say was probably easily the gamechanger for our gold, we broke Raigonn’s shell in two jumps, rather than three. That left us with a solid minute to bring the big bug down. Child’s play, really:
And thus we managed to score two gold medals in one day. More importantly, we got the massive monkey that was Gate off of our backs. A massive relief, believe me.
With three gold medals around our necks that leaves us a third of the way done and with all the hardest ones still to go. We’re feeling pretty confident, though. We can totally get our crazy transmog gear before the end of the expansion. We’re up to the challenge.