Challenge Accepted Part 1: The Highlord’s Return from Six Angles

So I can start writing a new series, because I have finished not one, but two entire role’s artifact challenges.

The tank challenges are fascinating, and I did use the plural purposefully. While they all get the same basic encounter – Highlord Kruul as the main event with Inquisitor Variss holding down the first phase, the fight is, in many cases, drastically different depending on the class you are using.

Let’s start with my experience. Across all six tank specs, I probably put in just around 300 total pulls to get all six appearance unlocks. The majority were spent on my Demon Hunter, my first kill, at near 100. Prot Warrior was 70 pulls, Guardian Druid was 30, and the others were all just under 20.  I did Vengeance as my very first successful challenge, dying at 0.5% health on Kruul, which thankfully the useless NPCs managed to damage before they died. I did that around 905 item level. For my alts, they ranged from 915-933 average item level, and usually between 60-66 points into their tanking artifacts, with the appropriate Netherlight Crucible traits unlocked.

The core beats of the fight, for those without a tank, are pretty simple. The first phase is a positioning-heavy fight, requiring you to be aware of your position and facing for two different knockback mechanics designed to end the fight if you fail by sending you flying off into space. For some specs (Vengeance, Brewmaster, Protection Warrior) this is almost too easy, as your movement mechanics allow you to purposefully cheese through them, particularly for Vengeance. For the other specs, if you get popped by these, you’re done unless you have a Goblin Glider on-hand. Fun! Variss has an Aura of Decay around him that reduces your max health and stacks indefinitely, meaning you can eventually whittle your own max health to nothing, and self-healing will do little to save you from this. It forces you to spend some time in this phase, as you are limited by the amount of ranged DPS you can do and the effect of any DoTs you can put on the boss for the limited melee engagement time you are able to eke out. Most specs get a similarly sized aura, except Guardian Druids, whose aura is probably over 2 times the size (to prevent ranged Thrash and Swipe from being able to hit at the edge – although the right legendary loadout can fix this and make Phase 1 comically easy). He spawns 3 types of adds – Tormenting Eyes, which engage you with a beam that requires you face them. If they channel to completion and you are not facing them, they will send you flying. They have tiny amounts of health, so they are typically either killed via ranged abilities, or for Prot Warriors, used to build rage for Ignore Pain and killing blows for Victory Rush. The Nether Fiends spawn 4 at a time regularly, stacking a debuff that increases arcane damage taken, and for some specs, using an ability called Netherstorm, a channeled cast that deals substantial Arcane damage and synergizes far too well with the debuff. Then there are the infernals. They only banish and reactivate when “killed” and serve to hit you with Smash, a frontal-line knockback that can launch you off the platform, but which weakens in effect the more damage they have taken (represented by their physical size). While dealing with all of this, Variss will cast Mind Rend, a decently heavy magic nuke, and will occasionally cast Drain Life, which does decent damage and heals him.

The basic flow for all specs is to kill Variss as quickly as possible, using lots of burst damage for the time you can spend in the aura, and then ducking out between 3-7 stacks of the debuff to reset it. During this time, you are often picking up Nether Fiends, killing eyes to avoid a massive number of knockback casts, and kiting Infernals. Velen is your companion here and helps by casting Holy Ward, which spawns an orb you can touch to full-heal and disorient all active enemies for a couple of seconds. Depending on your spec and skill, these are usually going to be used more for the disorient, as it can interrupt active casts from the mobs, saving you from a bad Drain Life or knockback and giving you a moment to breathe and press on. The core of having Velen actively out is to teach add management – the Infernals and Nether Fiends love to zip right over to him, and while the Infernals can’t knock him back or move him, the Nether Fiends can tear him apart very quickly. So you find a groove for the full fight – smashing into Variss for 10-15 seconds at a time, cleaning up eyes while picking up Fiends, and damaging down Infernals enough to prevent huge disasters. You need to do this phase relatively quickly, and once Variss dies, you move on to Kruul.

Kruul is an entirely different game. The eyes stop spawning, but you still have infernals and fiends to deal with, requiring continued kiting and add management. Kruul’s normal attacks aren’t much of a threat, but he does three new things that can mess you up bad – he casts Annihilation, a relatively standard tank-buster ability that does huge physical damage, requiring a mix of proper active mitigation and larger cooldowns later on, as it also stacks a debuff on you that increases the damage dealt by subsequent Annihilations. He does a leap to your location, leaving a persistent patch of fel fire behind which does big damage, and then he casts Twisted Reflection, which, if cast successfully, debuffs you and makes it so that he heals for 5% of his health on successful melee hits. This alone might not be so bad, but when coupled with the DPS race as enforced by Annihilation, you can’t really allow this to be cast and must interrupt it (or Spell Reflect it so you get the benefit, quite literally the only advantage a Prot Warrior gets here). While all of this madness is unfolding, you also have to ensure that Kor’vas Bloodthorne, a helpful DH ally, is not standing in fel fire (Velen generally seems to be okay with it). Oh, and also, occasionally 3+ shadow tractor beams push across the platform, requiring you to either push against them to move through, move around them, or jump over them.

You can see how this would be challenging.

Here is what I like about this challenge – it reflects the state of Legion tanking very well. Each boss has a couple of mechanics, and the adds have their thing they do, but bring it together and chaos erupts. Also, it tests, even more than survival, your ability to maximize damage dealt without sacrificing survivability. Having said that, it does, however, reflect something of the state of balance among the tanks. Let’s recap each spec and my experiences!

Vengeance Demon Hunter: By far the best mobility toolkit a tank can have, Vengeance shines here as they are capable of both extreme repositioning but also recovery from all forms of knockbacks (fun fact, Gliding cancels the knockback altogether), which means that much of the challenge is stripped out. Having said that, generally, the high damage output the class gets is also extremely helpful, although often you are forced into recovery mode from Mind Rend casts, particularly once Empower Wards is on cooldown, as you have to save you main interrupt for Drain Life and your Sigil of Silence for Nether Fiend storms. Overall, however, this is probably one of the easier ones, only taking me a large number of attempts due to it being the first one I cleared and at the lowest gear level and artifact traits, along with not having Netherlight Crucible bonuses.

Brewmaster Monk: A moderate difficulty challenge – Chi Torpedo and Transcendence can mitigate much of the knockback danger, so the core challenge of the first phase is mostly gone. You can also use Paralysis along with Spear-Handed Strike to interrupt Variss’ drain life, giving you a ranged and melee interrupt. The hardest part is mostly the DPS check, and with strong gameplay around Breath of Fire, this isn’t bad either. Nothing about doing this spec’s version of the challenge stood out as particularly bad to me.

Guardian Druid: The weirdest version of this fight by far. The majority of the first phase is spent on the edge of the circle, Moonfiring onto Variss, then weaving in Thrash and Swipe while you can after resetting Aura stacks. I did not have the legendaries most will tell you are “mandatory” which did make things harder but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It means your first phase drags on a bit and you have to be slightly more cognizant of picking up adds. I even did this without Mark of Ursol, which meant that often I was forced to just take Mind Rends to the face for full damage. You’re more reliant on the Velen orbs for healing, but overall, this one wasn’t bad at all.

Protection Paladin: I will say this – to my experience, this was the easiest one of the challenges to do, but I did have the Avenger’s Shield legendary so I could hit more targets for more damage, alongside Sephuz Secret – pretty much the best legendary combo one can have for this. This was the first time I noticed the Nether Fiends not casting Nether Storm, and it does make this version far easier, as you can use Avenger’s Shield more frequently on Variss or Kruul to do more damage to them. Mobility was a slight concern – of my attempts, 13 were spent knocked off the platform, and number 14 saw me kill Kruul very quickly.

Blood Death Knight: I expected this to be harder – the meme of DKs in general is slow, plodding movement, and so I thought I would have a rough time just kiting and moving around. And sure, DKs are a bit slower and have fewer options for rapid movement, but this one was fairly easy. The self-healing being tied into physical damage mitigation makes for a powerful combo, coupled with the mobility of using Blooddrinker to do damage and heal – all told, this one was not nearly as scary as I suspected it would be.

Protection Warrior: This one took the most tries relative to gear level and artifact trait level. I think it says something that while I did not optimize secondary stats for any other tank (some didn’t even have enchants or gems at all!) this one required careful attention to Haste, which, for a fourth-string alt of mine, basically meant enchanting and gemming haste to the tune of a whopping 800 rating total and then using Drums for the haste at the very start on Variss instead of waiting for Kruul (the typically recommended strategy). Even then, I was largely dependant on keeping charges of Intervene banked for knockbacks and the fight demands a high degree of positional awareness – perhaps more than I expected given the number of mobility tricks you can accomplish with a Warrior. Nether Fiends seemed easier to pick up, as thunderclapping even one of them would attract the whole lot in most cases. I spent the second largest number of overall attempts on this, and many of the attempts I simply died – Warrior self-sustain is kind of not great compared to every other spec, in that their self-heal, even talented, either requires being able to keep a combo string of killing blows up or spending rage that is better spent on Ignore Pain, which, while good, often is easily burned through by Mind Rend, much less any other damage being taken. On top of that, while you have a larger number of cooldowns like Last Stand and Shield Wall, these often don’t last long enough and aren’t quite as powerful as would be useful. The biggest thing I noticed is that I could not count on any one cooldown alone to save me – often getting out of dicey spots without using an orb (which you super want to save for Kruul) meant using either Last Stand or Shield Wall, then popping Ignore Pain, Shield Block, and perhaps even Demoralizing Shout if it was off CD. Even then, damage still sneaks through and the recommendation of many guides it to take Devastator over Indomitable, which means that you lose a big boost of health and Ignore Pain power. While the rage generation is supposed to cancel that loss out, I often found that even at 922 average item level, my health pool was just too small to be able to effectively deal with the mechanics in play. Once I took Indomitable, the fight got easier – a change I would recommend to anyone struggling, even if it noticeably complicates the DPS check.

Overall, while many attempts were frustrating and I often screamed (literally!) at my PC in agony over failed attempts, I am glad to have done it. It has made me a better tank and I think a better commentator on the challenges faced by tanking. It makes me appreciate that while I feel like some tanks *cough Prot Warrior* are undertuned, you see good representation overall for the specs in current raid content.

Also, damn, I love those flail models.

8 thoughts on “Challenge Accepted Part 1: The Highlord’s Return from Six Angles

  1. Amazing! I would love to see/hear more about the DK and Druid ones, although I would probably only be able to give a serious try to the DK.

    Will you do this amazing type of post for the other challenges as well? 😀 (Please say yes xD)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is the plan! I have done all the healer challenges and I think what I can do for DPS is sort them by challenge rather than role, so as I do those, I’ll probably push in that direction!

      Also, unless you don’t have the desire to roll alts at all, I wouldn’t count out the ability to do characters besides just the DK! The core challenge of these fights is learning the fight itself – once you have that down, it is easier to do the others! I thought I’d only ever do classes I mained, but now I have 19 appearances done including all tank and healer specs. Don’t count yourself out!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. But arent ilevel and legendaries an important part? More like “have them or its next to impossible?”

        I do understand that. Knowing the fight. Really knowing, not knowing just the basics. But my main problem is that I struggle on the dps ones, so I cant even imagine the tanking challenges.
        Except for my Blood DK, who tanked his way to Legion. And Guardian Druid is something I’ve only played until lvl40 something..(My feral is 110, still at 922 ilevel).

        Last week I took many shots at the Tauren + Worm one (BM hunter) and at the Agatha one (Feral).
        While on Agatha I’ve managed to reach phase 3 a couple of times, the BM challenge seems a bit more straightforward. But there was always a couple of casts that went uninterrupted due to stuns and kaput.

        And my BM healing legendary are the pants that heal while you stand still, which in that fight isnt really an option for more than a couple of seconds.

        I didnt let that get me down, I understand it is made to be challenging and each player will require different numbers of attempts to complete them. But my experience with gearing up in mythics has not been positive (what the heck is wrong with people, demanding 930 ilevel for a keystone that will drop 910? XD)

        I’m really excited about this series, the way you present the differences between each spec on the same challenge is very cool 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That is one of the things I want to cover more in these write-ups – while I haven’t done all of them yet, I’ve found the claim of mandatory legendaries to be mostly overblown. They can make the learning curve easier, sometimes a lot easier, but it ultimately comes down to how many solid learning attempts you can get in when the tower is up – kind of like Algalon or Ra’Den in that way, constrained to learn within a limited amount of time and gaps between those windows.

        Thanks for checking it out – I should have the one on healing challenges up later this week (including Disc which also gets the Tauren challenge and with no actual interrupts!)

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Hey, I just did the Mage Tower for my BM hunter and wanted to say thank you. These posts really helped me get over my failed attempts and lose my fear of continuing to try. Thank you! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, such a unique view into the challenge this way. Well put together! 🙂 I am only good at healing, but perhaps this could convince me to give my Guardian spec a try…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They’re definitely worth a shot! I wouldn’t say I am the best player or anything, but once you do one challenge successfully, it puts you in a good mindspace for knocking more out – especially if you really like the appearance! I only ever expected to do the two DH ones and maybe a priest or monk spec or two, and now I have 19 including alts I haven’t played much!

      Liked by 1 person

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