An Inside Look: Shadowlands Game Systems and the RWF

Sanctum of Domination opened today and, with it, the “warm-up lap” of the Race to World First (RWF) has commenced. As Heroic week rages on, we’ll be kicking off our RWF “hype train” with lots of new content to keep you updated on the race.

Today, we discuss the effects and implications of Patch 9.1 on the RWF in collaboration with BDGG’s new raid leader/coach/21st raider, Impakt.

Table of Contents

“There will certainly be some RNG with the socketed items. Most people want the Unholy set bonus, which means every single person in the raid needs a helm with a domination socket.” — Impakt

Shards of Domination and Sockets

The big change to raiding this tier is the addition of new special, upgradable gems called Shards of Domination, which can be socketed into Domination Sockets. These gems and sockets drop exclusively from the Sanctum of Domination and add some pretty juicy bonuses while inside the raid instance. These gems are a pretty significant source of player power, despite the recent post-9.1 release nerfs. Having all of the desired socketed item slots available for each player in the RWF will be crucial.

Domination Sockets are also a system that hits differently for World First competitors. Running Split Raids of both Heroic and Normal will be used to make sure that mains have 5 gear pieces with those sockets. Several guilds are offering gold and promises of future carries to incentivize helpers to fill out those splits.

With the vast amount of Heroic split runs the top guilds will be doing, this shouldn’t have too much of an impact — especially since this tier’s race is expected to last at least 2 weeks. There will be plenty of time to get those final few items with week 2 Heroic splits if needed. In short, all of the top players should have completed their sockets and gems by the time they reach (or at least get close to killing) Mythic Sylvanas.

“Recrafting — it just feels bad.” — Impakt

Recrafting Legendaries

The sockets that are arriving with the Sanctum will force most players to re-craft their legendaries, so they can move them to slots where there are no Domination sockets available. This has caused a large stir in the general community. However, as you might imagine, this isn’t that big of an issue for the top guilds.

Despite almost all top players having hoarded ]Soul Ash during 9.0 and 9.0.5, it still makes them feel like a lot of that farming was wasted, as they’d rather have made some new legendaries to try out instead of spending upwards of 20,000 Soul Ash just to remake what they already have. As Impakt said above, it’s not an actual issue or obstacle for the race; it just leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.

“When you only play 1 spec during prog for the most part, Conduit Energy stops mattering.” — Impakt

Conduit Energy

Moving back a bit to some original Shadowlands systems, Conduit Energy has also been a big talking point of the general community. However, its effect on the race may look worse than it really is. The top guilds’ rosters have been steadily growing, and as more and more players arrive, each player tends to specialize into 1-2 specs. Therefore, the system may not present the same issues for top guilds as it does for everyone else.

Conduit Energy is a system you'll hear about from a lot of streamers and enfranchised players on Twitter, but it's actually not impactful for the Race to World First. It's a system that adds a lot of friction for players who want to play multiple specs in multiple forms of content, but it's fairly non-impactful to players that have one single overriding goal to optimize for, like World First raiding.

The Conduit Energy system is still a pretty big annoyance for those who wish to participate in multiple types of content or play more than 1 spec, but it will not have any significant effect on the RWF.

The Covenant Dilemma

Another very widely-discussed issue throughout Shadowlands is the impact of Covenants and their abilities — especially with a new patch and a tuning pass for both classes and some abilities/Soulbinds. These changes will definitely have an effect on the race, but maybe not to anyone’s detriment, as many guilds have already prepared for such eventualities.

Covenants have certainly been important during progression but most of the speculation about the degeneracy they might lead to hasn't come to pass. Nobody is really using multiple characters of the same class with different covenants - at worst, people have farmed Renown 40 across multiple covenants and are going to be ready to swap to whatever's best, and with the recent Covenant Swap Forgiveness, players will be well positioned to make whatever swap becomes necessary at the drop of a hat. We saw this happen in Castle Nathria with Boomkins, several of whom started the tier as Kyrian before swapping to Night Fae upon realizing that it was better overall.

“Basically, the majority of what dominated the last race is gone from comps now. Overall, you'll see some very different setups coming out of top guilds.” — Impakt

Class Balance

Patch 9.1 has changed things up for class balancing. While we won’t hear the full story from the guilds themselves, (as they keep their secret weapons for each individual fight confidential), there are some general observations that we can make. Some of the big-hitters in the DPS role have been toned down quite a bit. Most notably, Fire Mage and Affliction Warlock have dropped down the power scale, and Hunters are continuing in their downward trajectory, which started in 9.0.5 with the nerf to Wild Spirits. The biggest news, however, relates to Balance Druid. The spec was already a very high performer in Castle Nathria, but with 9.1 and their new Venthyr legendary, Sinful Hysteria, it is showing even more impressive potential. It is important to remember that sims don’t always quite pan out, but at the very least, Boomkins will likely shine in fights where they can showcase their insane amount of burst damage.

“This is probably the lowest time-sink raid tier in a long time.” — Impakt

How Intense is the Prep for This Tier?

With the significance of PvP gear having been downgraded, where it was very high-priority for the Castle Nathria preparations, all that’s left are the Heroic splits and Mythic+ farming for gear.

This raid tier has very low time requirements due to the absence of Artifact Power, PvP rating, leveling, or any other extreme time sinks — so that’s pretty good as far as these things go! And while there’s always a chance of extremely bad gear RNG that could strike in Mythic+ or the Heroic splits, RWF guilds have so many splits prepared that the gearing process should all even out in the end.


Today, we took a look at some of the systems that will (or in some cases, won’t) be affecting the RWF as players start getting their game faces on. While class balance usually seems to have the biggest impact on the race, the top guilds prepare so many options for compositions to account for this variable. For guilds competing in the RWF, it’s not about simply having enough of a “hot” spec or not, but rather it’s about figuring out which spec to use and where. Despite RWF strategies being more transparent in recent tiers due to the explosive popularity of broadcasted events, strategic group composition will still probably be the biggest factor in determining which guild kills Mythic Sylvanas first.


About the Authors

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.

Dratnos hosts the The Titanforge WoW Podcast. He’s also an Officer in the World 36th guild poptart corndoG, and a commentator for events such as the MDI and the Race to World First! He streams on Twitch, where he likes to review his friends’ logs.