Untested Bosses: Analysis and Implications for the Sepulcher RWF

As we all eagerly await the opening of Sepulcher of the First Ones on Mythic difficulty, it is worth discussing why the upcoming Race for World First (RWF) is going to be special. It is not just because the last time an expansion had only had 3 raids was 7 years ago with Warlords of Draenor or because this is going to be the final tier of this expansion. What makes this particular raid tier notable and unique is the fact that there was no PTR testing for the final 3 bosses of the raid, and one boss was substantially reworked after PTR testing concluded. Not only that, but none of the untested bosses will even be available before our RWF Contenders step into the Mythic Sepulcher of the First Ones on March 8th (9th for EU, 11th for China).

In an article we published earlier today, we interviewed players from 6 of the top world guilds about this topic, so make sure to check out their thoughts and opinions on this very unique situation here.

Based on the responses we received from top raiders, this article analyzes and predicts the trajectory of this RWF in regard to the tuning and balancing, and the challenges that await all competitors when dealing with the 3 untested bosses for the first time.

Table of Contents

Tuning and Balancing

Over the past few years, we have had our fair share of bosses with secret phases and, at times, the Dungeon Journal has purposefully kept us in the dark about the details of Mythic difficulty mechanics or abilities. However, this new approach of leaving several end bosses untested on the PTR goes far beyond what we have experienced in over a decade of raiding, and one of the big questions is whether the bosses will be well-tuned and bug-free.

As with any encounter, Blizzard has been doing internal testing, but it is impossible to compare that to having dozens or hundreds of guilds spend 60 to 90 minutes fighting the bosses on PTR. As Anduin looked to be a very formidable enemy during the brief testing months ago, we might be getting some Sanctum of Domination Deja Vu. Painsmith Raznal held up every guild for a day or two, but the following bosses proved to be more of a nuisance than a challenge on the path to Sylvanas, and the untested encounters after Anduin might be meeting a similar fate.

Having bosses completely untested carries a significant risk that the Painsmith Raznal situation might repeat itself. As the new Patch introduces two new systems that improve player power — Tier-Sets and the ability to use two Legendaries — it will all come down to what power level the bosses are tuned around. Historically, when RWF Guilds reached new bosses, they were undergeared and had to make up the difference in gear and player-power through mechanical skill, strategy, and building effective raid compositions.

The expectation for this raid seems fairly obvious at first: The last handful of bosses will be tuned around players having their 2-set and 4-set tier bonuses, as well as wearing two Legendaries instead of one. Neither of these power gains will be available to our RWF competitors, as the second Legendary slot will not be available until the third week of Mythic Raiding. Also, as 2 of the 5 set-piece tokens drop from the bosses that are unavailable during the first week of the raid, it is impossible to have access to this power spike by the time that Mythic difficulty of Sepulcher opens.

Having spoken to multiple RWF competitors, most of them expect to be progressing through Mythic wearing no more than two tier pieces. The loot-system is simply too unreliable to count upon having more than two — largely due to the restrictions on trading tier-tokens. Despite the massive amount of preparations and resources that are being put into this race, there will only be a handful of lucky people wearing four tier pieces in the first Mythic Week, and others might have to sit on the bench because they didn’t even obtain two.

“The initial Mythic bosses are going to be tuned to be killable without set bonuses or double legendaries. On the other hand, the tuning baseline for the untested bosses will likely be on the basis of double legendaries and 4-set. —Riggnaros, Soniqs Imperative

Due to the tuning of these two systems, the damage output of the raids will increase drastically with each ongoing week. The lack of access to 4-set bonuses in Mythic Week 1 will surely be made up for by another round of split raids in Week 2, and there is a real chance that this might be the first raid tier in a long time to go into a third Mythic week. If that were to be the case, guilds would be able to log into the game, finish their campaign, and gain another massive increase in DPS and HPS by obtaining/equipping their second Legendary.

“I don't think the RWF will go into a third Mythic week. If it did, it would…almost certainly result in all bosses dying within 16 hours of the reset hitting, as double legendaries offer a huge power spike.” —Crystallize, SK Pieces

While this already seems problematic, an even bigger and more pressing issue is the matter of how bugged these bosses may be. As we’ve seen multiple times in the past, there are always some bugs that slip through, which can lead to impossible overlaps in boss timers/abilities, or an unfair amount of mechanics being thrown at the raid. Sometimes, the pendulum swings the other way where bosses that are supposed to be difficult and major gear checks die within a few dozen pulls. While bosses being too hard or too easy due to bugs is very rare these days, the PTR testing most certainly contributes to these largely bug-free release versions of new raid encounters. This will not be the case with the last 3 remaining encounters of the Sepulcher.

The main concern with this situation, is that encountering a major bug on one of the last few bosses is all but a guarantee. Hotfixes during progression are nothing new, and any guild progressing on a boss, especially when being first in the world to reach that boss, will feel their lead slip away whenever they are encountering a bug that requires urgent fixing. A 6-hour lead can shrink down quickly if it takes Blizzard several hours to identify and hotfix an issue that has kept players from progressing further on the encounter. This puts a lot of agency on Blizzard to not only release these bosses in a state that makes them difficult yet not unkillable, while also being quick to adjust and fix issues that make progressing an encounter feasible. With guilds racing each other all around the globe, this will be a difficult task to accomplish, as it would require round-the-clock monitoring of the race to swiftly squash any major bugs.

Reaching Encounters First

“For me, it’s always more mentally comfortable to be chased rather than the guy doing the chasing. However, with potentially bugged bosses, the advantage of being ahead could be nullified.” —Deepshades, Echo

This brings us to the age-old issue of NA vs EU (and let’s not forget China and their raid release being almost 3-days behind). Naturally, any guild progressing first on a new boss will feel the adrenaline surge and the joy of progressing something entirely new. This will be particularly true for the untested bosses, as just pulling the trash will already be exploring unknown territory. We don’t even know what the boss areas will look like, so amidst the desire to go as quickly as possible, there will be a lot of new sights that the players will have to forget about until the race is over. Hopefully the path to Rygelon and the Lords of Dread is very clear, as we wouldn’t want anybody to get lost.

Fighting and progressing on these bosses won’t be much different than in previous tiers. Once you get past Anduin, you’re very likely already done with your splits and have prepared as best you can. It will come down to finding strategies that work and executing them to perfection to move towards defeating The Jailer himself, and that is no different to previous raid tiers. As every Guild is streaming their progression these days, being in the lead will come with the privilege of showing the world what these new encounters look like, while allowing any competitor to watch and learn as you’re making your first attempts on these completely new bosses.

With the approximately 16 hour head-start for NA due to the earlier reset, it is likely that we will be seeing at least one NA guild push past Anduin and explore the untested fights first. As stated earlier, any mid-progression hotfix will make this lead shrink down. Other guilds' ability to follow your progress allows them to adapt new strategies and get a visual on unseen mechanics before pulling the encounter for the first time. Timers and Weakauras can be set up in advance, and you generally have a pretty decent idea of what is waiting for you and what the critical points during an encounter are. If encounters happen to be undertuned, the other guilds will know in advance and are able to employ whatever strategy led to a quick kill.

“Being ahead definitely gives a different mentality. Personally it REALLY sucks for the EU to always have to play catchup. We often have super good ideas for bosses and it will just be looked at as a copy if we end up with the same plan as the guild ahead.” —Cayna, Method

It is the mid-progression hotfixes that hurt the most, as you are either waiting for Blizzard to fix something that is too difficult to deal with, or strategies that you have employed for hours are suddenly no longer viable. Figuring out a unique approach to a difficult encounter, and being able to secure a quick kill with it, means any guild coming after you will not have to go through this learning process. Any lead, whether it is due to the different starting times of the regions or to superior play on the previous bosses, has typically shrunk down by the time everybody meets the final boss head-on, and this returns every time a progression race goes into a second week.

Hopefully, the tier will be difficult and challenging enough so that no guild is already progressing on The Jailer when the first Mythic Week ends. No boss in the past could withstand a raid decked out in new gear after a fresh reset, and the Jailer will be no different if guilds are already progressing on him. The weekly reset not only refreshes the raid's ability to gain sizable increases in power due to split-raids and the Great Vault, but it also resets the clock on the region-based lead that has typically shrunk by the time the first Mythic Week ends. No one wants the race to be decided because a guild logged in and got to use a second legendary to make up the last few missing percent points on a boss.

Raid Preparation

The unprecedented situation of having 3 untested (and one majorly reworked) encounter has led to some interesting and concerning developments when it comes to preparing for the Sepulcher of the First Ones raid as well.

As mentioned earlier, split raids have become a core part of the preparation before and during the Race for World First. Split raids allow guilds to funnel gear to the most important classes, achieve a higher item-level than a regular clear of the raid on heroic and normal would allow for, and it lowers the risk of getting unlucky with the loot and being left behind during the rest of the progression.

“Yes, the (loot) restrictions absolutely changed our splits preparation. It changed the way we plan so much that we just threw the old sheet away and made a new one from scratch…” —Romp, Aversion

Split raiding to achieve the best possible gear has become an integral part of the race. The removal of Masterloot and item-trading restrictions have made this effort more difficult to accomplish, but not impossible. However, something has changed this time around: Tier Tokens cannot be traded, unless you already have a set-piece of the same or higher item-level. This restriction on being able to trade tier-tokens has led to a lot of guilds preparing so-called “Mirror Mains” . Mirror mains are when raiders play multiple characters of the same class/spec to essentially double the odds of having their main character gain the gear that they expect and want it to have for the upcoming progression. As the information on these trading restrictions only came in during early February, it meant that a lot of guilds had to quickly prepare these Mirror Mains, and not all of them acquired the gear they needed in the handful of resets after the official confirmation. Guilds have dialed their split-raid preparations up to eleven these last two weeks, and it has raised some doubts on how healthy these efforts are and whether there will be a point where it has become too much. This even included setting up split raids for some of the Sanctum of Domination bosses, as some of the Mirror Mains were still lacking critical gear, like the Sylvanas Dagger, that continues to be worth using even in a new raid tier.

One of the more worrying trends is the reliance on non-guild members that can help funnel specific pieces of gear. Obtaining optimal loot in the RWF is no longer determined solely by having your raiders and their alts getting assigned in elaborate spreadsheets for maximum split raid efficiency. Instead, top guilds are reaching out through social media at the start of a new tier to entice and compensate volunteers to help gear their raiders.

Sources: Pieces and Echo

Split raids have typically been delayed until each guild felt they needed the additional gear for a specific boss. With the untested bosses dropping 2 out of the 5 set-piece tokens, this will likely change, as we will be seeing a lot of guilds do these bosses on Normal and Heroic difficulty as soon as possible come Mythic Week. This will identify the correct Mirror Main to be prioritized by each player, largely based on how lucky or unlucky they got with tier-loot drops from these bosses and from the Great Vault. Splits will then be tailored around these characters, and their gear will receive further boosts as the guilds start progressing through Mythic. This will be a very different approach than what we’ve seen in past progression races, as guilds never went back to Normal and Heroic mode to do split raids until they started struggling on a Mythic boss due to the high DPS or HPS requirements.

While not all RWF guilds will follow the plan we described earlier, hundreds of other guilds will start fighting the untested bosses on Normal and Heroic difficulty before Mythic Anduin falls. Information will be gathered on mechanics, combat data will be analyzed for Boss-timers, and WeakAuras can be tested to see if they’re working as intended. A lot of the guesswork on mechanics will be taken out of the picture, and it will give Blizzard an opportunity to fix potential bugs and take an early look at strategies that might be employed in Mythic difficulty as well. Guilds that aren’t directly part of the RWF will be contributing to this data collection by playing these bosses on Normal and Heroic difficulty long before any guild even beats Mythic Anduin.

Hopefully, this will lead to mostly bug-free encounters that are challenging enough for our RWF competitors without causing too many frustrations. We are all looking forward to seeing bosses for the first time, and while this extra incentive surely isn’t needed, any guild beating Rygelon, the Lords of Dread, and the Jailer first can truly call themselves World First.

How Do the Top 6 Guilds Feel About Sepulcher?

With only a few more days until the doors to Mythic Sepulcher of the First Ones open, it is quite clear from the responses to our Pre-race Interviews we posted earlier today, that everybody is really looking forward to being first on these new bosses. While it would obviously be a great boon to the progression efforts in the RWF, and solidify the leading guild's advantage as they make their way towards the Jailer, it is not just about the final boss kill anymore.

Once the first guild starts making their way towards The Lords of Dread or Rygelon, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people will watch the progression of these bosses for the very first time. Being one of the players that gets to unveil this content to the world is going to be a moment of pride and a personal achievement that these players will remember for the rest of their lives.

“…I am definitely excited to play new bosses that have not been tested on the PTR…even though the dungeon journal should have probably been left blank by Blizzard in my opinion.” —Nnoggie, Echo

“It’s exciting to be going into a tier with 3 fully untested bosses, as it will allow guilds to show off their initial experience against a boss encounter.”
Maevey, Liquid

Closing Thoughts

As we all gleefully await this very special RWF, we can only hope that some or all of the concerns we have analyzed here will be non-issues or quickly forgotten by the time Mythic progression is in full motion.

We have seen a good chunk of the bosses now, and while the uncertainty about the tuning and balancing of the last three bosses will remain, the initial reception of the new raid has been very positive so far. With Halondrus receiving a full rework since it was last tested and yet turning out great already on Normal and Heroic difficulties, hopes are high that the experiment of releasing untested bosses as part of the RWF will be an astounding success.

This would mark a great end to an expansion that saw players and developers alike dealing with lots of hardship, frustration, and disappointments, both inside and outside of the game. The RWF has always been a powerful uniting force, and while everybody might cheer for different players or guilds, we all share the same excitement and passion for the game.

We at Raider.IO are looking forward to having all of you with us throughout the race. Our full RWF coverage starts March 8th, so keep your eyes peeled!


About the Author

Seliathan has been playing Rogue for over half his life, since the initial release of WoW over 16 years ago. After a long career of Raid Leading, Theorycrafting, and pushing Mythic+, Seliathan enjoys creating all kinds of PvE content on Twitch, co-hosting the Tricks of the Trade Rogue podcast, contributing to the Raider.IO RWF Coverage, and writing guides for Icy Veins.