(Update 10/31/2021: These ideas are all speculation and most have been disabled or worked-around with the recent PTR testing of the Timewalking Mage Tower. A new post is forthcoming that details the actual rules of TWMT as defined at present!)
In World of Warcraft’s upcoming patch 9.1.5, a popular feature from the Legion expansion will return – the Mage Tower. For those unfamiliar, during Legion, from the launch of 7.2 until the BfA pre-patch, the Mage Tower was a solo skill challenge players could undertake on the Broken Shore. It required a building rotation that players contributed to with the world questing on the Broken Shore to unlock, and the Nethershard currency to buy attempts past the first one each time it was up (until the end of Legion, when the building was up 100% of the time and the cost on attempts was removed). Completing a challenge successfully rewarded you with a special Artifact weapon skin and further tints that could be unlocked.
With the end of Legion, the Mage Tower was closed, until now, when Legion Timewalking brings it back. There are a few things that have changed – the weapon skins are no longer obtainable, instead a new armor set is offered per class instead of per spec. Guardian Druids get the additional bonus of having a new werebear skin available from the Timewalking version of their challenge, which, given that the weapon wasn’t the point for Guardian Druids, means that it is the one spec that still lets you get a version of the original reward – arguably, a cooler one at that. The Mage Tower of today will only be open during Legion Timewalking weeks – which means two weeks upon patch launch (which best signs point to being the second week of December) and then around 4 times a year thereafter for one week each time.
Outside of that though, because the new Mage Tower version is tied to Timewalking, there are some peculiarities compared to the first version that we must prepare for. In Legion, you could overgear the Mage Tower – it was designed for players in Nighthold gear to be most challenged, and the game had two tiers of raiding past that in Legion which allowed player item level to climb by 100 (representing, by Blizzard’s public explanation, a 100% increase in power). With Timewalking, you can no longer outgear the challenge – you’ll be scaled to character level 45 and to an appropriate item level (I haven’t seen a value from PTR yet, but the highest item level rewarded in Shadowlands by Legion raids is item level 51). I would suspect that tuning will be a little bit softer in the Timewalking version, as players will have far less opportunity to practice runs and refine strategies, making each Legion Timewalking week a 7-day sprint against the content and other goals (if you’re still raiding in the live game, PvPing, or running Mythic Plus, which Legion Timewalking also has a unique mode for).
Given that, and my far-too-high level of pride in having done all 36 specs through the Mage Tower in Legion, I thought it only appropriate to offer some help, to cobble together what we know now about the Legion Timewalking version of the Mage Tower and to provide some preparation tips. While we won’t be able to outgear the challenges altogether, there are still some ways to work around the Mage Tower, to prepare now in order to make your patch launch runs go as smoothly as possible. However, to be clear, many of these are speculation based on the current way in which Timewalking is handled and the PTR data, all of which can change.
While it is true that you will not be able to outgear the TWMT(I’m not typing Timewalking Mage Tower past this point!), there are some smart plays you can make to improve your power.
Firstly, let’s talk about Azerite Armor. Blizzard has been talking about nerfing this for Legion Timewalking Mythic Plus, but it is yet to be seen if the nerfs are self-contained to M+ or extend to all TW content. Given that, let’s discuss as though it will work in the Mage Tower, and then discuss why it might still be worth a look even if the traits and powers don’t work.
Azerite gear occupies 3 slots (Head, Shoulders, and Chest) and offers no secondary stats, but instead a wheel of traits comprised of an item level boost, two defensive trait wheels, and two offensive trait wheels, each wheel allowing you to pick a single trait. These traits are often highly impactful and can significantly improve your performance, outstripping the value of the (missing) secondary stats. They must be worn with the Heart of Azeroth necklace, which activates the traits and provides its own empowerment through Azerite Essences, a set of 3 passive buffs you can select, and a main trait, which provides a passive effect but also a new ability to use.
Azerite is powerful in Timewalking for a couple of reasons. Assuming that the traits and Essences continue to work in TWMT, then the benefit is that you gain a powerful on-use ability, multiple passive powers and buffs, and, to cap things off, Azerite Armor offers more primary stats for the given item level value of a piece of armor. Here is a SoD raid cloth chest compared to an Azerite chest, both scaled to WoD Timewalking:
So there are two things to consider. The first is this – if the full extent of Azerite systems work in TWMT, then they are well worth farming up to prepare, because the traits offer substantial value and the Essences offer that along with a lot of customization. The best news is this – because the item level will be squished down anyways, you don’t need to push to farm cutting edge content from BfA, which can still be difficult or even impossible to solo. Instead, you just need basic pieces from any raid after Uldir (except Crucible of Storms, which doesn’t drop Azerite pieces) – Battle of Dazar’alor, Eternal Palace, or Ny’alotha. These pieces have the full array of trait tiers, where World Quest Azerite only has 1 each of the offensive and defensive rings. Ny’alotha generally had the best traits loaded onto its Azerite selection, so it might be worth farming some of those pieces up.
Essences require the completion of some additional BfA questing added in patch 8.2 and then require that you farm the essences of your choosing. Essences drop in all kinds of content, often with reagents that drop in lower quantities than needed that you later then combine by clicking them to create the Essence. Essences came in 4 ranks – the fourth rank is no longer obtainable but was cosmetic only, so you’ll want to aim for Rank 3 in your preferred essences. Most essences are proc-based, either providing passive bonus damage or stat procs, while the active buttons vary a bit more and include some active abilities alongside some activated buffs.
For your given class and spec, you may need to dig to find the best traits and Essences – Wowhead’s guides that mention Azerite seem to have lost simulation data and other common theorycrafting resources do not list them, so you are at the mercy of a good guide writer detailing out which traits are preferable in the Wowhead guide or being able to find an older version or forum post via Google.
Lastly on Azerite, if Blizzard does indeed just blanket disable the system in all Timewalking content (which might happen), there is still a slight value to having higher primary stats if your spec’s stat weights favor it. It would require a gear simulation to determine with utmost certainty, but for most specs in the game, it is likely that more primary stat is going to be hard to beat. Our next option for empowerment might win out over that alone, though.
Shards of Domination, the current system attempting to “enhance” raid loot by offering powerful bonuses to players, is worth a look for the TWMT as well. The basics are simple – there are 3 elemental schools of Shard and 3 types of shard – an offensive one, a defensive/healing one, and a tertiary stat one. Players gain access to 5 sockets for Shards of Domination through raid loot in the Sanctum of Domination – every armor type has the first 3 on Head, Shoulders, and Chest, while the other two slots are varied based on armor type. Wearing 3 Shards of the same school confers a set bonus that only works in Maw content – Sanctum of Domination, Korthia, Torghast, and the Maw itself. However, the base bonuses of the Shards work everywhere.
Shards themselves can be upgraded with Stygian Embers, which drop from named trash mobs and bosses in the SoD raid as well as in select Maw and Korthia rewards. Shards have 5 ranks, with the highest ranked damage shards conferring a 1-2% increase in total DPS. The raid armor comes in all standard item levels based on content difficulty, from 213 to 259 item level.
Because the set bonuses do not work in TWMT, to make the most of Shards, you’ll need 3 armor slots with sockets and then your preferred Shards for those sockets. It may vary based on class, spec, and the challenge you’re facing in the TWMT, but I generally imagine most people will be taking the 3 DPS shards. There is a case that can be made for the defensive or healing shards in some challenges (mostly the healer one) but even the healer challenge relies on the player pushing phases ahead with DPS throughput (especially the Discipline Priest one, which is just a straight-up DPS challenge shared with Hunters and Warlocks among others). Recommendations in current guides for what to bring for Mythic Plus for your spec will generally fit well for these challenges.
If Azerite works in the TWMT, then there will be a tradeoff to make here, as wearing 3 Shards will mean foregoing at least one piece of Azerite armor, and vice-versa for wearing 3 pieces of Azerite armor. In my opinion, Azerite traits generally offer slightly better overall improvement, and if they work in the TWMT, my suggestion would be to take 3 Azerite pieces and two DPS Shards. Of course, if Azerite traits are disabled in Timewalking with the patch, then this is moot, wear your 3 best Shards in whatever armor slots work favorably for you!
For current Shadowlands gear, added gem sockets are available in Korthia for either Catalogued Research or for Soul Cinders from Torghast. These sockets can be applied to a handful of item slots and are worth having for the stat boost they offer. While it is just secondary stats, these can often pay off wonderfully and being able to add a few extra hits of your preferred secondary is always going to be a boon. These can be applied to Helms, Necks, Bracers, Belts, and Rings, and are capped at one socket per item. If you got the lucky RNG on the roll and it came pre-socketed, or your preferred legendary is crafted in one of those slots, you don’t need an added socket for that slot! The item to look for is the Alloy-Warping Facetor.
Lastly, on the matter of Legendaries. Legion legendary effects are disabled as of 9.0, so they are not worth farming or pulling out of the bank. Instead, you can use a current Shadowlands legendary, many of which use effects from the Legion armor as-is. Because of the squish going into TW, you do not need a maximum-rank legendary, since the effect of each legendary is either a flat percentage or scales on your total attack power/spell power/other stat, all of which will be squished down to Legion levels as-is. Building an item level 190 rank 1 legendary for a character without one or with a better choice for the Mage Tower is perfectly fine. For this, I would recommend looking at the recommendations on Icy Veins for your spec’s preferred Torghast legendary (unless it is Stable Phantasma Lure), as this choice on their guides reflects an expectation of solo content with a mix of single-target priority damage and multi-target hectic cleaving. You can also use any recommended power for Mythic Plus or even raiding – keep in mind that most of the Mage Tower challenges involve multiple targets and thus the current raid recommendations may not meet the challenge. For healers, I would still say the Torghast recommendation is sound, but given that the fight often involves healing multiple targets, a Mythic Plus legendary is probably most ideal. Make sure to load the missives for your top two secondary stats!
Covenants and Soulbinds
These systems didn’t exist in Legion and are likely to not exist past Shadowlands, so I would suggest taking advantage of their power now. Whatever Covenant you have is likely to be fine for the TWMT, although if you have a choice of an overly-strong single-target Covenant or a more versatile AoE Covenant, picking the AoE option is more likely to help.
What you want to prepare ahead of time is your Soulbinds and Conduits. For these, I can, without qualifier, recommend the Icy Veins Torghast suggestions for Soulbind path, as these do again focus on solo play with a good mix of single-target and cleave damage. In order to make the most of it, you’ll need to level your Conduits as high as possible. Currently, Conduits can be leveled up to item level 252 and the TW squish does not impact their potency, as they are percentage values. In order to get a Conduit, you need to either farm specific bosses for the drop (these are listed in the Dungeon Journal in-game and are always bonus looted to you without counting against actual loot drops), complete world quests with Conduit rewards, or complete Korthia activities, as daily quests there have a chance to offer you missing Conduits and the Death’s Advance weekly chest will contain missing Conduits as well. New drops with higher item level will override your existing one to the higher item level of the two, so farming drops from Heroic or Mythic raiding is advisable. You can also rank-up your Conduits through two items in current content. The first is the Soultwining Crescent, which has a chance to drop from rare mobs in Korthia as well as Korthian treasures. The Soultwining Crescent will either unlock a missing conduit at the base 145 item level or up-rank an existing Conduit in one-tier increments up to a maximum item level of 226. Because these can be annoying to get, I would highly recommend ensuring you have unlocked your full slate of Conduits at a base level at least before you start plugging these items in to avoid wasting one to unlock a chintzy low-level Conduit!
The second item is the Death-Bound Shard. This item will upgrade your existing Conduits up to a maximum of item level 252 in one-tier increments, and can be obtained in two ways – the first is a once-weekly drop from the Adamant Vaults in Torghast, which requires getting a 5-gem run on any instance at layer 9 or higher with the Adamant Vaults trait in the Box of Many Things unlocked, and then running those two floors of the Adamant Vaults and defeating the boss, who can drop it (higher layers mean more chance, and with a recent fix, every Layer 12 I’ve run has given me one for the first run each week). The second way is in Korthia, through Archivist Roh-Suir, who offers these for 3,000 Catalogued Research and requires you to reach Tier 6 research with the Archivist’s Codex first to unlock these.
Because the Death-Bound Shard works on any level of Conduit, I strongly encourage you to unlock and level up your Conduits to 226 before starting to use Death-Bound Shards. As they are rare and expensive in terms of time investment, you do not want to waste them leveling Conduits up to 226 when the Soultwining Crescent or raid drops can provide you with that to start with, reducing the number of these much-rarer items you need.
With maxed out Conduits, an ideal Soulbind and a strong Covenant, you’re set there!
These also scale and are squished, so you can use either your current Shadowlands consumables stash or the original Legion items. Depending on your auction house pricing and loadout of tradeskills on your characters, getting the Legion ones might be cheaper or easier to do solo, but they may also be more expensive. Check prices on your home server and see what makes the most sense here!
However, there is one particular scenario of the Mage Tower in which consumables can be gamed to get a much-greater benefit. The Agatha the Imp Mother scenario, which is offered for Fire Mages, Fury Warriors, Unholy DKs, Outlaw Rogues, Feral Druids, and Elemental Shamans, is counted as an outdoor, Broken Isles zone. Because of this, a selection of Legion consumables that only work in the Legion open world do work in this one scenario despite its instanced nature. While this could be fixed for TWMT, it was reported for months in Legion and was never fixed, and indeed was enhanced with a new item in 7.3, so it seems quite likely this will persist into TWMT!
For that challenge in particular, you’ll want to make use of a few unique consumables. The first is Sylvan Elixir, which you can pop before engaging the encounter – it makes you a tree and offers you a 10% stats buff that increases duration the longer you remain a tree, up to 1 hour (of buff, not tree time!). The second item is Lightblood Elixir, which is crafted using materials and a recipe from Argus. This elixir grants you bonus damage against Demons, which are the only enemies in the Agatha challenge and thus make this item high-value. The third and final item to discuss is the Spiced Falcosaur Omelet – this gives you a well-fed buff (and would thus replace your main secondary stat food or Feast primary stat buff) that grants a movement speed buff and attack speed buff when you deal a killing blow. This is not necessarily useful to the casters in this challenge, but for the melee specs, this buff is insanely helpful, as movement is core to the challenge, you have a lot of targets to kill, and the attack speed buff substantially boosts your DPS, giving you a sharp ramp-up from add packs where the first one dies and then the rest will melt from your raw power, sustaining the buff into the single-target phase and allowing you to burn Agatha effectively while being much more mobile. While not a consumable, if the original bugs persist, the Agatha challenge will also allow you to bring the Command Center buffs from the Broken Shore in to the challenge, further increasing your power in this one case.
The only consumable that we currently have which does not have a Legion parallel is the Desolate Armor Kits of Shadowlands. The buff on these does scale down, but is likely to be worth having as it lasts two hours, persists through death, and offers a reasonably good boost to survivability.
Edge Case Possibilities
Outside of preparing your character through the means discussed above, we need to tackle the possible requirements for Mage Tower. In Legion, you had to complete the 7.2 introductory quests and to unlock the Legionfall traits on your Artifact Weapon, as the quest that did that was your introduction to the NPCs and story that lead into the Mage Tower challenges. While I think it is unlikely that the TWMT should require these, since they haven’t seemingly tested the feature on PTR as of yet, I would strongly suggest going to the Broken Isles and knocking out these quests if you have not done so, just in case a bug pops up or they are indeed required. If they are not required, I expect a Timewalking quest that will drag you to Broken Shore to unlock the feature will be a prerequisite before you can smash face against the challenge.
The original Mage Tower required a Nethershard cost to enter for each attempt past your first of a given Mage Tower opening, at least until the end of Legion when it was blown wide open for last minute attempts. It seems incredibly unlikely that they will have the cost tied to the TWMT, so I would not waste too much time on the Broken Shore, but if you haven’t done the quest chain there, it is worth doing, as the ending will rain a fat stack of Nethershards on you and the class mounts from Legion are quite cool and all worth having.
Lastly, the Mage Tower was originally part of a building mechanic on the Broken Shore that meant the Mage Tower was not always open and required player investment. If Blizzard left this requirement in place, it would be insane, so I fully expect it won’t be the case, but I also like to say jinxing things and so now here we are.
A Quick Discussion of Difficulty and Who The Mage Tower Is For
The Mage Tower is such a tricky topic to broach because the difficulty of each challenge of the 7 on offer is widely contentious. Most people who did it will say their first challenge of each was hardest – this was the case for me, where the ones I did on my DH, Monk, and Priest were harder than later attempts on other specs where knowing the fight makes a world of difference. I say this because I want to follow up with this: don’t let old guides or difficulty rankings for these challenges deter you from trying.
The Mage Tower is an exceptionally good piece of content overall in my opinion, that helps players learn the extents of their class and spec and tests you in new and unique ways within the toolkit you have available. It is hard, but it is a crucible, one which can push your skills in WoW to new heights by testing your limits. At the same time, it is rarely unfair – screaming moments of being launched off the tank challenge platform aside, everything has a relatively clear cause and effect and will make you better. The tank challenge spawns adds all over the room and your dumb NPC party will pull threat (surely players never do that), the healer challenge asks you to do damage and heal while also stretching your toolkit – AoE damage and healing is asked of you and a lot of CC for that first phase, with the last phase being a bit of a rush where you need to pump damage into the boss, and the DPS challenges all have elements of various fights – add spawns, priority target shifts, cleave and single target.
Timewalking tuning and balancing is most likely going to make these easier overall than the Legion originals, especially since they’ll be a recurring feature into the future of the game. Because of that, I highly recommend that if you want to test yourself as a WoW player, get in and at least try them. The stakes are low, but they are surprisingly addictive and really, I think they are for everyone. I set out only expecting to farm them on my raid main, but then I had to try my old raid mains, and then I had to try classes and specs I was enjoying in Legion, and then around 10 challenges I just said “fuck it” and went all in on the full stack, which provided me with some of the most fun I have ever had in World of Warcraft. I had nailbiters (I died at 0.5% on my first tank one, yelled in agony, waking up my wife as the NPCs finished the challenge for me and I won) and I had some easy ones (I think I took like two tries on the Beast Mastery challenge 4 on Prot Pally, and around 5 attempts on Mistweaver Monk) but they all helped me grow as a player and understand the game and interplay of group comp better.
Plus, you get cool armor, and hey, that’s often reason enough to do something that can be agonizingly hard in World of Warcraft.