In this post, I wanted to do a quick rundown of some interesting changes made last-minute on the patch 9.1 PTR (or, in some cases, not on PTR and simply in the patch notes). There’s a lot of smaller topics here that reflect an interesting extent of player responsiveness which I appreciate, and overall, I think Blizzard deserves kudos for them (with one maybe sort-of exception I’ll call out when I get there).
Something that is always really interesting is to see how Blizzard chooses to respond when players figure out a quirk in the game that creates a benefit for those players.
In the case of Legendaries, they’ve been the hot topic of debate once it became clear that players would likely, depending on armor class, preferred memory, and slot, need to recraft their legendaries to clear the way for new raid armor bearing the Domination Sockets, powerful gem slots made for special, upgradeable and reusable gems called Shards of Domination. However, that system isn’t really what I want to talk about today in this post.
Instead, there was an interesting secondary quirk people found as they began to explore the last build on the PTR prior to launch, and earlier this week, the news broke that the socket-adding items from Ve’nari, which go away with the patch as they are only for Season 1 items, can be used on Legendaries that are crafted in 9.1, provided said legendary is in an armor slot which can be socketed (helms, necks, bracers, belts, and rings). While the items are currently expensive, requiring 7,200 Stygia, it appears that the socket would remain on PTR when upgrading to newer ranks, allowing you to add a fair amount of power to your legendary in those slots. This isn’t universally useful (my best legendary as Havoc DH currently for single-target damage would be best crafted in 9.1 for the back slot, so a socket could not be added), but for those where it is useful, this adds a fair amount of power, given the value of sockets on armor in a world where gem sockets are hard to come by and gear customization is limited.
This was fascinating to me, because I fully expected Blizzard would patch that up and just remove the ability for that to happen. But, sometimes, the world has surprises in store, and Blizzard leaned in, instead deeming that any legendary crafted in the applicable slots after 9.1 launches will just automatically have a socket added.
I think I want to start with the negatives and then move to the positives, because I think overall, I’m more positive on this change than you might expect.
In a way, Blizzard is giving people with the slots in question for their preferred legendary more power than they’d otherwise have, with higher item level armor at max rank than anyone can get in any other slot. It also comes much, much easier than socketing any other slot, which gives players with a preferred legendary in those slots an advantage over other players. It also requires recrafting, and while a couple of the slots, based on armor type, may have already needed that (for Shards of Domination), it is still sort of a bad feeling to push that on players who already have good legendaries in these slots. Unless it turns out that upgrading an item in these slots will also add a socket if not already on the item, in which case, that concern is moot.
However, I think that, those issues aside, this is actually a cool and forward looking move for Blizzard. Rather than letting players spend their last week of the launch state of Shadowlands grinding out Stygia (and if you need to get all 7,200 from scratch, that is a grind) they got in front of it, made a small change, and I think overall, this was a good bit of community response. While I do think it gives a smidge more power and could, depending on the spec, give a lot, generally, slots that can be socketed are pretty low value, save for helms, and even then, if you raid, all armor types have a Domination Socketed piece in the head slot in 9.1, so crafting a new legendary in that slot is short-sighted unless you’ll never enter the raid at all. It also gets in front of those already recrafting into one of these slots and gives them a clear signal to wait to craft their new item until Tuesday, and that kind of heads-up (especially when the way Mythic key distribution will work for the first week of Season 2 has still not been clarified) is something that Blizzard gets a bit of credit from me for.
Now, of course, there is a slight wrinkle here, which is that theoretically, the Season 2 item should work as well for adding sockets to Legendaries, and reading seems to make it sound like the Season 2 socket item will be easier to get, as it has multiple acquisition paths, both of which sound slightly easier from what I can make out. Stocking up on the socket item now seems like a fairly high-level play type of thing – most of the players I know, even the most tryhard, weren’t planning on even trying to do that (okay, I know one person who was going to, and he is the try-hardiest try-hard I know), so it isn’t even a thing that most players would have been aware of or doing. That, I think, actually benefits this change even more – a casual player making a new legendary in 9.1 in an applicable armor slot will get a pleasant surprise, and Blizzard then also gets the high-level player vote of confidence on this change since they no longer have to run to the Maw and grind to Eye of the Jailer level 5 for 4 days to get close to a simple stat boost.
In the end, that is fantastic news all-around, and whether Blizzard did it to head off bad press for players over-grinding the Maw or to just fix what they saw as a problem and give players something good is ultimately kind of irrelevant to me – a good change is a good change and I’ll give them the kudos for it.
Mythic Plus Loot Level Tweaks
Based on datamining early in the PTR cycle, the Mythic Plus gearing brackets seemed to be on-track to work similarly to how they did in Season 1, both for the end of dungeon reward and the Great Vault. The final PTR build has shown a few changes that were unexpected.
Firstly, the end of dungeon rewards are changing slightly. Early on, it was expected for a big jump in loot from a +5 (220) to a +6 (226). This has now been smoothed out, such that a +6 and +7 reward 223 item level gear, while a +8 is now the lower bound for an item level 226 piece. The rest of the bracket remains largely untouched from earlier in the PTR cycle, with the top end being a +15 being item level 236 loot. Is this a particularly big or alarming change? Not really. It actually better fits the contours of the current end of dungeon rewards in Season 1 while still being pretty rewarding – I have a fair number of slots that would benefit from 223 items all the same, and with upgrades, that isn’t all bad.
The second change I do take some umbrage with, however. The Great Vault currently rewards players for completing as high as a +14 keystone, with that being the top level needed for rewards. The difference is fairly small (if you can do a +14 in time, a +15 is not a stretch) but it does mean that early in the season, as you’re grinding towards Keystone Master, you have access to better loot earlier. It’s one piece a week, so there’s not much risk of players getting too powerful off the back of that system, because they need to get lucky to get that ideal piece out of a loot table of nearly 100 items, and they can, under the GV system, pull a maximum of 3 slots to roll, which, even then, requires that player doing 10 +14s in a single week.
The current change pushes the top-end reward to requiring a level 15 keystone for a 252 item level piece of loot, or 4 of them for the second slot to be 252, or 10 of them for the 3rd vault slot to have a 252 option. Now, to be clear, this isn’t a huge sea change – in Legion even, this is how the weekly chest worked as far as item level of the reward went – but given how long we’ve been in Shadowlands season 1, with the relaxed requirement (“relaxed”) of a +14, some players are bound to be rankled. I am slightly, because it does mean that early season pushing will be a little less rewarding than expected (a lot of my guild wanted to run +6s to sprint up past Normal raid item level and then start closing in on the 3 tiers of upgrade achievements). Ultimately though, it isn’t the worst change, and given that Blizzard hasn’t really communicated these changes in the patch survival guide or the like (that will likely come next week), there is both time to change their minds again as well as to communicate the end-state of Season 2 loot, whatever shape that takes. For elitist key pushers, they seem happy with the change, so hey, cool I suppose. Even for me, a relatively casual dungeon runner that tops out at that 15 level, this is fine enough. Arguably, it actually gives an incentive to push to 15s sooner and not play it safe by gearing in 14s for a few weeks before running at the 15s. Even then, again, if you can complete a 14 in-time, a 15 isn’t really a huge reach unless your 14s are all buzzer-beaters.
Mythic Plus Nerfs!
This I take joy in, because my chief complaint about the handling of Season 2 Mythic Plus, especially Keystone Master, is that Blizzard has gone the route of making both Fortified and Tyrannical runs on +15 a requirement to reach the rating needed, without making substantive changes to how some of the dungeons in Shadowlands actually feel on Tyrannical – namely, they’re boring healer endurance contests that kind of suck!
So I was thrilled, positively thrilled, to see that Blizzard had hit a big handful of bosses and dungeons with nerfs, along with nerfing some affixes and even nerfing trash. Let’s go through the big fun list!
The first thing is that Mythic dungeons are being buffed by 26%, which matches with Blizzard’s 1% = 1 item level philosophy. Since Mythic base dungeons are going from 184 gear to 210, that represents 26 item levels, easy. Because of the way the math of item levels and their stepped nature works out versus a single-shot 26% upgrade, this should, relatively, make them ever-so-slightly less threatening at a baseline. That alone means we’ll be in a pretty good spot right off the bat, but then there are targeted nerfs.
The biggest right off the bat is that all enemies in Mythic and Mythic Plus dungeons have 10% reduced auto-attack damage. This should make all affix sets easier – I don’t have tank-brain enough anymore to say with certainty that it will improve or mitigate the kiting metagame that has been the standard in Shadowlands season 1, but it should certainly help, particularly with Fortified weeks. Tyrannical benefits as a lot of the affixes on those weeks buff trash, and a couple of bosses have very heavy auto-attacks, but Fortified really wins here.
On the affix side, we see a big slate of nerfs to problematic affixes. First up, Bolstering now only increases health by 15% per stack instead of 20%. Bolstering was a big annoyance because it typically popped up in Tyrannical weeks and would make the big pulls you’d want to do more dangerous, on top of the health boost acting as a de-facto heal to the affected trash. Big thumbs up for this one coming down slightly. Still, the incentive is a targeted, smart and steady even kill of trash – but offsetting that even slightly is nice, especially since I’ve never seen a group I’ve been in be able to pull off a simultaneous 5-kill (I think one run we managed to do a quadkill, which was cool). Next up is Necrotic, which was nerfed big, reverted slightly, and now affects a mix of trash. Right now, all trash applies a stack of Necrotic on each auto-attack. With the change, all trash that is level 61 or higher in a dungeon will only apply a stack on every other auto-attack, with level 60 and lower trash mobs doing it on every swing. This sounds very weird, but makes sense – on all big pulls, the aggregate number of Necrotic stacks will be down, and the affix should require less kiting and less heavy-handed management than before.
Next, we have Raging nerfs. This one was also highly annoying because it pops on Tyrannical weeks and like Bolstering, makes trash that should be easy on those weeks much harder to manage. Instead of buffing damage by 100% for affected enemies, it will only boost damage by 75%. This seems small-ish, but represents a substantial damage reduction for enraged mobs. Face-tanking them is still not likely a thing you’d want to do, but it means if you fail to run immediately on the first enraged mob, your face will only partially be caved in, and that’s good! Lastly, we have Storming, which gets a trio of great nerfs to reduce its annoyance factor substantially. First, it moves slower. Secondly, it always moves the same direction, so there are no more criss-crossing tornados. Lastly, a Storming tornado will always disappear once it hits one target – no more lingering for a set period of time. This affix made a lot of groups move away from taking melee at higher key levels, so hopefully this should reset the meta a bit alongside class, spec, and dungeon changes.
Then we have dungeon targeted nerfs. The biggest I covered in a recent post, so I’ll just link that here. A handful of changes were in the patch notes that were not there, however. There is a small set of changes to Mists of Tirna Scithe, mostly health nerfs on the first boss, but a few trash buffs, most notably to the Boughbreakers in the first segment of the dungeon and the Spinemaw Staghorn at the end. The Guardian’s Bucking Rampage spell can now be stunned successfully, as the cooldown starts as soon as he casts it instead of needing to finish it, so a stun will interrupt him out of it and leave the ability on cooldown. Hooray! There are some Necrotic Wake changes with health reductions to Amarth and the adds on Nalthor, and some mechanical tweaks on those same fights to make them easier. Plaguefall sees Globgrog’s health reduced and a set of Plagueborer changes aimed solely at the high level players using them to do the dungeon for them.
Sanguine Depths, which has a very bad rep on Tyrannical, saw big nerfs to both Kryxis (reducing the damage of his biggest abilities) and to Tarvold (reducing the add damage by a pretty big 20%). There’s also a lot of big nerfs to the ring trash before Tarvold that should help, including no more puddles on the ground, longer cast times on the Explosive Vellum, and reduced AoE damage through nerfs to Explosive Anger and the Chamber Sentinel no longer cleaving. Xav in Theater of Pain has reduced health on the Banners, which is great news for Tyrannical weeks, and Ventunax in Spires of Ascension only gets two Shadowhirls, as each Recharge will remove the active ones on the field, meaning Tyrannical weeks are no longer dodging contests as the fight grows longer.
Overall, all of these are hugely good changes that bring a lot to the table, and I am glad for all of them. While I still think Tyrannical needs a look-in, these targeted boss nerfs (along with the prior round that was on PTR) add up to a great set of changes that should make the requirement to do Tyrannical runs for KSM a much easier pill to swallow!
I think that these changes, along with actual new content, are big reasons to offer Blizzard a crumb of praise. I still think 9.1 has some fundamental flaws in execution, especially when it comes to systems, but these all are good (and even great) news and worthy of admiration in my eyes.