Meaningful Choices: RWF Preparations

The Race to World First (RWF) is almost upon us, with only a couple of days separating us from the inaugural Shadowlands Mythic raid! We've recently talked a lot about race preparations with the top guilds, from the gold involvement in the race to the legendary situation, and now we're delving into the rest of raid preparation, with Covenants, Conduits, Mythic+ farming, Maw sockets and more!

We have Siory from Complexity Limit, Dyse and Saltad from Pieces, Nexxzz from Aversion and Impakt from BDGG talking to us about how they have prepared (and are currently preparing) for Castle Nathria Mythic!

Starym: Now that we’re so close to the RWF itself, how do you think the Covenant switching drama played out? How is it impacting raid preparation on your end and how much of an issue is it really?

Siory - Complexity Limit: At this point in preparation most everyone in the guild is confident in their Covenant choice and not really expecting to need to change for the raid. There are still a few edge cases, mostly for DPS classes, where one Covenant is significantly better for a different spec than the one they initially plan to play in the raid. If one of those unplanned specs ends up being particularly powerful on Mythic Denathrius, then those players are prepared to swap to the corresponding Covenant (and with the Renown catch up mechanics and current low Renown level overall, it’s not expected to be very detrimental for them). The bigger concern as always is Blizzard deciding to change the tuning/behavior of many different Covenant abilities for several classes in a way that would force a larger portion of the guild into swapping.

Dyse - Pieces: I feel like the whole Covenant switching drama was blown out of proportion about it being too big of a thing for the World First race. Obviously it would be preferential to have it be a talent system with free switching, but as it stands at this point, switching Covenant is a small commitment. The problem is when you want to swap back, as that is a way bigger commitment. I think the bigger problem is going to come when it comes to farm and your different Covenants dominate different parts of the game - then you will feel forced into picking the one that is best for the content you want to do, but will make you enjoy the game less in other aspects.

Nexxzz - Aversion: We had to prepare and double check way more before the expansion launched than ever before, but now with Shadowlands being live, the Covenants system works for us and we haven't had any issues with it. Most of the players from the top guilds chose the same Covenant and as long as there isn't a Covenant tuning pass happening after the Heroic ID it shouldn't be an issue for us.

Starym: Compared to other similar systems in the past, where would you rank Covenants/conduits in the “making it harder/much more annoying to prepare for a raid” department?

Siory - Complexity Limit: Covenants actually feel less restrictive this early on in the expansion than most of the systems in Legion and BFA. In Legion you had to commit all your AP to a single spec’s weapon and all your loot events to a single spec’s legendary, and there was no mechanism at all for swapping that power to a different spec. In BfA high ilevel Azerite was incredibly scarce, and the traits on it were less balanced, making it difficult to get a really good set of Azerite armor for your spec (or to play a second spec if that armor didn’t also have good traits for that second spec). In Shadowlands, it’s actually quite easy to switch to another Covenant, provided you haven’t already been a member of it in the past.

Dyse - Pieces: I would say it has been a lot harder to do this pre raid preparation because there is very rarely a conclusive answer for which covenant is the better pick for your class. This has made it so there is an interesting choice for you to make and makes a clear skill difference between how good people are at figuring out the best strategy.

Nexxzz - Aversion: Since we had so much time to do the theorycrafting for it, it won't be an issue during the Race nor has it been in the 2 weeks before it. You can farm the Condiuts easily during the Heroic ID and for the first weeks of Castle Nathria you can just equip 2 Conduits in total. Overall it is not the best system they brought up, but definitely it isn't that bad either.

Impakt - BDGG: Covenants and Conduits are incredibly easy to prepare. These barely take any time. The big time requirements at the moment are Maw rep if you are going for sockets, M+ for gear, and raid splits since Heroic turned out to be much harder than most people were expecting.

Starym: Have you already had a case of a player choosing the “wrong” Covenant and having to switch? Also, Do you think the 10 base + 1/day Conduit change limit will affect you at all during the race?

Siory - Complexity Limit: We’ve had a very small number of players decide that they should be a different Covenant on either a main or alt after feeling out their first choice in various areas of content and talking about how both would play out in progression. Switching right now is fairly painless and all of those who did change are fully back on track. I don’t really expect the limitations on Conduit swapping to affect any player here during the race, largely because of how few Conduit slots characters will have access to in Mythic progression. Conduits will certainly be swapped, particularly on the more difficult fights, as players test things to find what works best for the demands of the fight - but with only two slots to swap around the first week, and less than ten potency options for most specs, I don’t think anyone will be limited by the system. It will, however, grow into a much larger concern as the expansion progresses and players gain access to many more Conduit slots and presumably new Conduits in future raid tiers.

Impakt - BDGG: Yeah. At least a few of our players regretted their decisions pretty quickly and wanted to switch, but assuming your initial Covenant was not the completely wrong choice, switching before Mythic is the wrong decision. It’s better to wait and see to make 100% sure you know that you need to switch before doing it. A -> B is free, but B -> A takes two weeks, so if the switch is wrong you cannot go back during progression for the most part.

Most of us keep very well informed on where everything stands in terms of balance though, especially for something as significant as Covenant choice. When I say a player is unhappy with their choice it’s more that something else was slightly better or enabled them to play a different build, not that it was just “oops I picked Night Fae and it is completely unplayable.”

Starym: Are there any other limiting/annoying factors in the Shadowlands gearing design that you think are affecting the race/race prep?

Siory - Complexity Limit: The two systems that I feel have the largest effect on prep are, in order, are Soul Ash and Conduit RNG. The limits on Soul Ash means everyone has to weigh the value of having more Legendary options versus having the highest ilevel on their best throughput Legendary. Many legendaries for many specs have lower throughput generally, but very strong specific use cases. However, using Soul Ash to make those has a non-negligible impact on total raid throughput and HP values on specific characters, which always matters in early progression. The limitation also makes it impossible for a single character to play multiple specs at the highest power level, as they’d have to split their Soul Ash across specs. Comparatively, Conduit drop RNG is generally not as impactful. Still, for specs with strong scaling Conduits, not getting that strong conduit to drop at the highest ilevel in the limited amount of M+ someone permanently slotted into the progression raid team will be able to run will absolutely have an affect on their character’s power in the raid.

Weapon and other loot RNG in the first week of the season also has a large impact on which characters end up the most powerful, but that isn’t unique to Shadowlands.

Nexxzz - Aversion: I really don't like the fact that Sire Denathrius drops a Weapon Token for everyone and that the item level of the last two encounters is higher than the previous 8. The result is that we have to play 3-6 times the same class and hope that RNGesus is on our side. Heroic week is wild again!

Impakt - BDGG: Gearing is definitely slower than in BFA. This tier is probably one of the more complex optimization problems that has ever come up in terms of expected value out of splits, M+, and raiding in general. Most top guilds did very different things for splits and heroic week gearing in general, which is cool to see.

Starym: How do you think the various degenerate Maw Farming strategies will impact the race, and were you expecting to be able to purchase sockets during this race?

Siory - Complexity Limit: Our initial assessment was that sockets (which had required 42k total rep for quite some time) would be out of reach for most people on launch of the Mythic raid but potentially obtainable before Mythic Denathrius died. Certain highly degenerate strategies and some bug exploitation moved that forward a little; some players will probably now get sockets at Mythic raid launch or shortly thereafter, if they’re able to consistently put in the time it takes to be hyper efficient in the Maw all through Heroic week. The level of impact of sockets and Conduit upgrades may end up being somewhat overstated though, particularly since the old primary stat gems were nerfed. As it stands for many specs, a Heroic Denathrius weapon is worth more throughput than 5 secondary stat sockets so a main or even alt that lucks into getting one of those could easily end up ahead in power compared to a main that unlocked sockets in time for the raid, but failed to win the loot lottery.

Saltad - Pieces: The Maw has been the only problematic factor concerning race prep. Lately people might have seen streams of top guilds running multiple “Maw Raids” a day to maximize the reputation gained. If you have consistently done the maw since day 1 you will hit Appreciative (Exalted) with Ve'nari on Mythic release. This means that before even entering the raid you have the possibility of adding 4+ sockets to your gear.

However, as I would expect everyone would agree, the effect of the sockets will not prevent someone from winning the race, as it will boil down to whoever played the best and had the correct preparation. Personally, I did not expect gems to be available until late Mythic week, but to achieve it at all you need to spend a lot of time during Heroic week each day, and you have to evaluate whether it's worth it or not.

Nexxzz - Aversion: That is the only weak point of Shadowlands - I don't think that the Maw will have an impact as high as Heroic Denathrius has, but it is definitely questionable that Blizzard didn't do something to prevent sockets being unlocked before or with Mythic Raid release.

Impakt - BDGG: They won’t. It’s just one of those things where if you truly had the time and the willpower you absolutely can put in the work, but it’s for an incredibly small reward. Sockets are not nearly as valuable as they have been previously, and you will maybe get 3 sockets max out of it. It’s definitely not nothing, but it’s not going to be what makes or breaks the race. We definitely were not expecting sockets to be purchasable during the race, but more and more stuff kept getting discovered in the first few days and suddenly it became on the table, then possible, then likely.

Starym: Does the unknown World Boss rotation affect any of your plans, with items like the Fire Mage BiS Legendary potentially being unavailable depending on what spot in the rotation that boss occupies?

Siory - Complexity Limit: The world boss rotation and the possibility of some specs not getting their optimal throughput or other situationally useful legendary is definitely something we’ve considered and tried to plan around with the characters everyone is preparing for progression. The exact actions we take in response will vary from fight to fight but it could mean some specs and strategies involving those specs are totally off the table, but in other cases those specs might still be in and just doing less throughput because what they bring inherently is so useful on the fight in question. Personally, I think it’s a really poor design decision to have specific legendaries only for certain specs being unobtainable until the second week of the Mythic raid, with seemingly no real thought being put into which legendaries get that treatment. Part of the problem with the decision comes back around to the Soul Ash limitations at this point in the expansion.

Nexxzz - Aversion: I Hope that it won't, but for Fire Mages and Unholy Death Knights it looks like they have to be lucky to acquire their best Legendary for Mythic Progression, and that shouldn't be a thing. I hope that they have this problem in mind and the "right" boss will spawn during Mythic week.

Starym: How hard will you be going at Mythic+ in comparison to Heroic splits?

Siory - Complexity Limit: Because of the relatively high difficulty early in the week of trying to do large Heroic splits with unoptimized characters (saving Soul Ash and not crafting legendaries and not doing much M+ beforehand) compared to prior raid tiers, we did scale back some of our Heroic split plans for the sake of time efficiency. We also didn’t get as many weapons as we were expecting from the runs we did. This naturally has pushed us more towards more structured M+ groups as a way to gear up all the characters we want to have available. The changes to the rate of loot drops in M+ has made that also a bit slower than in the past but it’s still a consistent way of gearing characters.

Saltad - Pieces: This is obviously a question that can’t be answered in full detail. All I will say is that comparatively Mythic+ during SL Season 1 Heroic week is worth more than previous Heroic weeks.

Impakt - BDGG: Heroic splits will not be nearly as valuable as they have been before. Mythic+ will be a bigger deal this time compared to at any point in BFA I think. You’ll still see Heroic splits happen, but I think it’ll mostly be to gear targeted characters quickly. Mythic+ should be much more valuable overall.

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About the Author

Starym is an old-school raider with a wide history of World Firsts under his belt. He is a long-time news writer and interviewer for Icy Veins and formerly Manaflask. Having raided in the Race to World First (RWF) until the end of The Burning Crusade, he has been covering the events since Cataclysm and the RWF has become his greatest passion in WoW. A (Tauren, obviously) Warrior main at heart, when pushed, he will admit to loving Diablo more than WoW and, thus, should be punished.