I’m about to hit you with an unpopular opinion, but it needs to be said – I like it when the game I like makes positive changes.
In the newest PTR build for World of Warcraft patch 9.1 (still not a release candidate), Blizzard has done just that, taking player feedback under advisement for a set of Mythic Plus changes that hit a number of problem spots that we’ve been vocal about since…beta…but hey, better late than never.
In no particular order, the changes are as follows:
Storming Affix: Now moves slowly, in a fixed, clockwise pattern. The damage done by storming has been reduced by 20% and whenever a storm hits a single player, it despawns.
Necrotic Affix: Mirroring a BfA-era change on bosses with this affix, on trash mobs, the stacking Necrotic debuff is now only applied on every other attack, dropping the acquisition rate on tough trash pulls substantially.
De Other Side Boss Nerfs: Two big wins here – the first is a somewhat confusing set of changes to Hakkar. Basically, it goes like this – right now, when he does his big barrier cast, he continues to gain energy to summon another shield, so if you have low DPS that fail to pop the bubble in time, you can end up “trapped” on the shield phase of Hakkar, while his Blood Barrage stacks higher. Meanwhile, the current casting of blood barrage is 14 seconds exactly, so when he stops that cast, he can resume his normal attacks while empowered with the shield, meaning the group will then have to spread for Corrupted Blood and deal with his normal melee attacks, all while being unable to damage him until the shield is damaged, which compounds if he gets the energy for another one. This is made even worse on Tyrannical weeks, because the buffs to Hakkar from that affix mean there is a rapid degeneration of the fight should you hit a shield you cannot tackle.
The changes now make this much easier. During Blood Barrier, Hakkar no longer gains energy in 9.1, and just casts Blood Barrage until the shield is popped. Functionally, this means that the fight will have a series of equally-long shield-less phases, during which the DPS can burn Hakkar, and it also means the punish is far less severe if your group doesn’t save DPS cooldowns for the shield, particularly on high-Tyrannical weeks. Right now, the only real way Hakkar is dealt with on Tyrannical weeks at proper gear level is to bring Prideful into the fight, pop big cooldowns like Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp and potions, and go to town on the first unshielded phase into shield, popping it as quickly as possible to have time in a second shield-less phase to burn him most of the rest of the way. In 9.1, you can now easily ensure that you’ll get a fair amount of uptime without the barrier, and can do things like hold CD’s to pop the shield quickly and move into an actual damage phase, or you can hold CD’s for the tail-end of the shield, pop it, then have solid uptime on CDs for actual damage phases, where right now, you basically have to throw everything at Hakkar to start, and if you fail on a high-key Tyrannical week, that’s basically the end of the run, why a lot of groups go to him first.
There are also small tweaks to Dealer Xy’exa in the dungeon. Her fight is nasty on Tyrannical weeks because the damage is all Arcane and ramps heavily – with her Arcane Lightning stacking an Arcane Vulnerability debuff on anyone hit that increases ALL arcane damage taken. In 9.1, this is no longer the case – Arcane Lightning now has lower base damage, and the debuff it applies now only boosts damage from the Arcane Lightning spell, albeit now by 5% per stack instead of the previous 3%. Overall, this should make the fight far less stressful on healers especially on Tyrannical weeks (a theme!), and should reduce the dependence on super-cautious placement of lightning on higher keys, since you can outrange the chaining to other players in order to cut back on damage intake for the party.
Other Boss Nerfs: Amarth in the Necrotic Wake will now do less damage with his Tortured Echoes, a stacking DoT applied when things die in the fight. Given his add phase forces the rapid death of multiple targets, what is a relatively small change here adds up quickly. Amarth himself isn’t the absolute worst boss or anything, at least in groups I’ve done, but a lot of groups also tend to save most of their Kyrian weapons for this guy in order to end the fight quickly, and that should be less necessary now.
Sanguine Depths is seeing nerfs to Kryxis, the first boss devourer, and his two main group damage mechanics. The damage of Juggernaut Rush is being nerfed, which should open up strategies around fewer stacked players depending on the key level and affix set, while his Essence Absorption orbs now will do less damage to soaking players. Both of these are welcome changes – I would like to see some small tweaks to Executor Tarvold and the third boss for Tyrannical weeks where they can ramp up out of control, but Kryxis has his own challenges and this is good to start!
A Boss…Buff?: The Affront of Challengers fight at the start of Theater of Pain used to be 4 challengers on Mythic, with Xira, a rogue, who would jump in and ambush players. For whatever reason, she was hotfixed out early in the expansion, and the fight has been 3 NPCs ever since. The patch now appears to be the opportunity to bring her back, with some tuning increasing her ambush damage ever-so-slightly.
A Slate of Venthyr Trash Tuning: No, I don’t mean tuning for Venthyr players either.
Rather, in Sanguine Depths, there are targeted changes to two mobs, with the Remnant of Fury getting large damage reductions to their Explosive Anger and Explosive Rage abilities, and the Chamber Sentinel gargoyles now no longer do a frontal cleave, but instead apply the bleed the cleave used to apply directly to the target (ideally, the tank!). This should reduce a lot of the healer awfulness in the middle ring leading to Tarvold – less critical to interrupt the Remnant of Fury casts, more ability to use the debuff to increase damage output for your group without the explosion killing, and less positional nightmarishness for the gargoyles, who offset their cleave with an AoE reposition that was also previously nerfed to select fewer targets and do less damage.
Halls of Atonement has some mix of nerfs and buffs to the first room trash. Firstly, the Shards of Halkias are being tuned so that Thrash does less damage but has a higher radius, reducing damage by almost 30% but increasing the range by 50%. A common strategy is for ranged to outrange the Thrash by riding the edge of the AoE effect, and at the new distance of 60 yards, this is going to be impossible unless you’re a Marksmanship Hunter with an ungodly amount of Mastery (which is likely a nonviable strategy as-is). This should make being melee in this dungeon on Fortified weeks a little less painful for you and your healer, while all-ranged group comps will suffer a bit more as a result. The net effect seems good to me. Then, there is the Depraved Obliterator, a mob that largely exists to chunk your tank with their Wicked Bolt casts. Apparently, Blizzard thought this wasn’t hitting hard enough (a likely victim of the tank tuning that saw magical damage reduction go up across the board), so the damage dealt is being buffed by close to 30% baseline. The obliterators have a curse that is the top interrupt priority, so this just pushes the burden to tanks to use proper magic mitigation when available and to healers to keep on a tank on pulls with these mobs.
The Tormented Lieutenants Gain Power: In prior builds with the new seasonal affix, the lieutenants had a small slate of abilities – 2 each in total – that made their fights challenging. The newest build has given each lieutenant an additional ability for the group to contend with when pulling them, nearly all of which are hard-hitting AoEs. In addition, Soggodon the Breaker, who previously had pretty much nothing but his aura, has been redesigned and now is a lot harder, with a tankbuster that cannot be kited out of, a hard-hitting AoE, and an AoE death grip-styled ability that roots players by the lieutenant as he begins casting a massive AoE hit with knockback. The challenge of all of the lieutenants has gone up, keeping with the kiss/curse theme – the Anima Powers on-offer are incredibly strong, but the fights against the Lieutenants are no laughing matter and easily take as long as a boss.
On these changes, most of them I will say Blizzard deserves praise for. The Hakkar change alone should make DOS a much more doable key on high-levels in Season 2, especially on Tyrannical weeks, and that is without getting into how the Xy’exa change will help too. The other changes should help a bit, as they ease less-intense pain points in other dungeons, although I am curious to see how much the metagame of Season 2 is shaped by these changes.
A lot of the current kiting metagame for tanks comes down to the dungeon design and affix combinations being particularly lethal, but many of these changes help fix a lot of that. Not all of it, but a good chunk. Necrotic moving to every other attack applications alone is a huge fix that addresses a ton of issues new M+ tanks have with it – my bear druid friend often gets way too many stacks of Necrotic on decent trash pulls and has to make huge runs away to fix it, which this should alleviate. A lot of these help address the stress placed on healers – tanks get the most credit for shaping an M+ run, but often your healer is just as impactful, if not more so in some cases. This full set of changes should help healers have less overly stressful moments, where it feels sort of hopeless, but maintains the more plannable of those high damage events, which should make being a healer in high keys feel slightly less bad while still keeping the playstyle interesting, especially since more specs will be able to choose between damage dealing and healing in Mythic Plus – okay, Mistweaver will get that choice more, at least.
Anima Powers help bring more positive anti-kiting changes to the tank meta, but we need to address the lieutenants for a minute. They seem like they may very well end up being overtuned given these current changes, but it is clear that they are still working on finding the groove. If the mid-July rumors are true (oof, if so), then I expect there will be another two weeks followed by a likely release candidate build with further changes to the lieutenants to bring their damage more in-line. Them being challenging isn’t bad, and is in-fact how it should be – but the tuning of them after these changes seems like it might be a real nightmare as you try to push into 15s for Keystone Master. That being said, on PTR the level scaling fixes players testing M+ to 226 item level, where most players doing 15s are likely to be nearing 240 on live at the same time, between a mix of vault options, raiding, and higher base item level drops from lower keys with upgrades from Valor. Given that, the current sights on PTR aren’t indicative of any longer-tail problems – if you’re up to pushing a 15 week one, you’ll meet with some resistance, by the time most of us get there, gear inflation and familiarity from lower keys should make the difference.
Overall, to close out, I need to both praise and chide Blizzard for these changes. A lot of these have been community issues since Beta, with feedback threads, tweets, and posts detailing the exact problems we were facing, especially with a boss like Hakkar. Waiting for the patch on these changes is baffling considering how many changes were made to tuning mid-season (tank DR, SD and NW nerfs, removing Xira from ToP, etc) so I don’t buy the “purity of the season” argument given all of that. However, late is better than never, and since most of these changes are based on well-reasoned player feedback, I have to say that this is a welcome set of changes that should help make Tyrannical weeks a little less tiresome, especially in DOS, while the other tweaks are some welcome starts to help make things better. I’d like to see more boss adjustments for SD, and I’d like to see more accurate ilvl-based testing on PTR for the lieutenants to understand better how they are working and where the tuning actually falls, but this is all a pretty good start to get my interest back up, and that’s good news for me, if nothing else!