I Did A Thing – A Reflection on (Already) Getting Shadowlands Season 2 Keystone Master

I may, just might have, enjoyed running dungeons the last…10 days.

This being the first season where Keystone Mater has a rating component instead of a flat, complete everything on a +15 criteria, the hunt for KSM has a lot of new contours and changes that result from that simple tweak. There are both pros and cons to it, and today, fresh off of getting the last 10 points of rating (yes, really) needed at 10 AM, I have some thoughts. I’ll have more on the specific dungeons, gameplay, and this week’s path to it in next week’s Weekly Scuff (that one edition feature that everyone loves so much and is definitely familiar with), but I want to zoom in very specifically on the rating system and how it changes the nature of the KSM chase, such that I think it made me want to get it more and enabled me to chase it harder than I otherwise would have.

The Rating System, Explained

Firstly, while my Season 2 post went into this, for the sake of consolidation, let’s do a quick recap. Blizzard’s new Mythic Plus rating system works on a simple-enough premise: do dungeons, get rating, repeat. It assigns rating values through a simple, linear scaling mechanism, where each keystone level rewards a set base amount of points, each affix adds points to that (meaning there are breakpoints at +4, +7, and +10 where values jump), and then you get a bonus or deduction for time, with the highest bonus coming by completing the dungeon in 60% of the allotted time, and the biggest reduction with points still awarded at 140% of the dungeon timer. You get a score for both Tyrannical and Fortified as the base affixes, with your highest score of the two awarded at full value for each dungeon and the lower of the two at 1/3rd value, combined to show a total score per dungeon.

With that in mind, Blizzard rewards your rating total across all dungeons using a mix of Valor upgrade breakpoints, achievements, a title, and ultimately, KSM and the seasonal mount. At 750 rating, you unlock Keystone Explorer, but before that, a rating of 600 is enough to upgrade dungeon gear to a maximum of item level 229. You then gain upgrade ranks piecemeal at 1000, 1400, 1700, and finally at 2000, going up to a maximum upgradeable item level of 246 (the same as Heroic Sanctum of Domination loot from Kel’thuzad and Sylvanas). The other achievements are Keystone Conqueror at 1500 rating and KSM at 2000, with the Tormented title at 1500 and the Soultwisted Deathwalker mount at 2000.

Basically, what this all adds up to is simple enough – run a dungeon you haven’t run on the current base affix? Points. Run it on a higher key level than you already have? Points. Time it on an equivalent keystone level but faster? Points. Any new level of accomplishment – faster, more difficult, different base affix – there is an incentive to run. Blizzard then also layers on incentive through the Valor system, rewarding the whole group additional Valor for any key completed with a rating increase for at least 1 party member – meaning there’s an incentive to help friends, to join lower-tier PUG groups, or to simply chase your own goals. Capping Valor under this system through just dungeons is so, so much easier, as 10 runs with rating increases nets you 650 Valor alone, not counting end of dungeon rewards.

So far, pretty decent and conceptually easy!

The Benefits of the New Rating-Based Goals

There are a few big upsides to the new system of rating-based goals for Mythic Plus. The first is that the scaling of values means that you have an explosive start on a character’s rating – just putting a dungeon on the board for the first time will be worth a lot of points, and putting up a new base affix result is also worth a decent burst of points. You’re not stuck waiting for a very-specific keystone at a very-specific level – you can run whatever gives you rating and the user interface in-game cycles to show your lowest-ranked dungeon last, meaning you can run through very easily, identify your weak spot, and find a key to run that will give you some increase in rating. If you have a favored dungeon you could run in your sleep, do it – putting up a +16 is no longer a valueless overachievement for those who can, but instead a viable pathway to ratings increases such that in my case, doing two 16s negated the need to even time another dungeon at +15 – my best Plaguefall runs were +14 and +13 and that was enough because I had two dungeons with +16 as the high mark! Finally, the way the new rating system works with upgrades is really quite well done and creates less dead-ending – under the “time one of everything” system, you could be screwed on gear upgrades if the right dungeon didn’t pop up with your social group’s weekly keys, even at the lower levels. With rating, you can just run anything worth points, and with more than 3 breakpoints for upgrading, you get more frequent opportunities to upgrade your stuff, which makes a lot of sense given that there are 12 ranks for Mythic gear. It still isn’t so granular as to be 12 different upgrade tiers through rating, which I think is good – it jumps quickly and then tapers to offer a little less as the gear you are surely getting from end-of-dungeon caches is higher.

The Downsides of Rating

Because the rating is linearly scaling, with new high scores replacing old ones, you’ll have a sort of interesting dilemma as you climb the ranks – the first 1200 or so rating is almost simple to get, just run every dungeon on your highest viable difficulty once per base affix – you’ll likely end up around the 1200-1400 mark just from that, provided your highest viable keystone level isn’t like a +4! That’s great and it creates a satisfying early push – I was loving running dungeons last week but a big part of the joy was watching my rating scale up higher and higher and seeing myself move so quickly to the achievement ranks available, such that I joked I would get KSM this week (and I mean, well, it wasn’t such a joke in the end…). However, because of that, once you have your base 16 runs on the board, going further beyond becomes a sizeable challenge, as you’re basically stuck min-maxing what dungeons you run if you have a goal (like KSM) in mind. Getting those first 1500 rating points? No problem. Getting to 1600? Harder. 1700? Even more effort. If you come in hot off the season 1 chase and run 12s to start, it will take you around 16 runs to get to 1600 and then it will likely take almost as many, if not more, to get the last 400 points for KSM, because you’re then at a point where runs are giving you only a single-digit number of “new” points.

On the one hand, this isn’t so bad, because you can push it in other ways – instead of trying to push slowly up the ranks, you can get in with an A+ group and do a +16, or you can replace a prior week’s best run with a new best – only did a +14 Halls of Atonement on Tyrannical, that’s fine, do a +15 on Fortified and instead of getting like, 8 points, it’ll be like 24 or so. The game makes it fairly easy for you, as mentioned above, to see your lowest current dungeons by rating and to work to bring those up – easy identification of what keys hold value and what to look for in LFG or see if you can get from the swap NPC on completing a dungeon.

On the other hand, this is obtuse as you get way closer in rating because you can’t simply know that you’ll get 20 points from A + B dungeon on a 1-higher key level. You’re left, effectively, to guess, and once you know how the ratings work, you can do a decent job predicting how many points a run will get you and doing it. For example, my last two runs – I was able to correctly predict that a Spires of Ascension +15 would override my tyrannical best from last week and give me 12 points, but then, I couldn’t find a Plaguefall group that was competent to save my life (I did a 15 and that fell apart after the first boss). So instead, I ran a Necrotic Wake 16, and that was cool, but I had a record for the week of 3-chesting a +14 in that dungeon, so it was kind of unclear if I’d get enough rating to beat the timer bonus points for having done the 14 so quickly. It turned out I did – 10 points against 8 needed, so the job was done and I landed at 2002 rating points! But that’s the kind of challenge that may discourage people – the start is fast and feels so good and it makes the rest feel like a giant slog. Every 100 rating past around 1600 felt so, so much harder to get in terms of effort spent, and a part of that is that you’re still limited to the available keystones in the community.

Especially this early in the season, when many PvE players have prioritized raiding, there just aren’t as many high level keystones. In the past, certainly, had I even tried to push Mythic Plus, it would have been on a very basic level and I would have been scared to death of touching a 12, much less a 16, and I have a feeling from the players I’ve run dungeons with and especially the ones I’ve raided with as of late that many players “stay in their lane” on PvE content. WoW definitely has a reputation for a toxic community, and not all of it unearned, so I get it, but at the same time, my impression of the game’s community is slightly better for the journey. However, it still creates a challenge – getting more and higher keys out in the wild is tough, especially early in the season where everyone is comparatively undergeared for the scaling of those high keys – being 220 item level average last season on a 15 is like being 246 in the current season for a 15, but there’s a problem – almost no one has even broken 235 yet. I’ve gotten a ton of upgrades from Mythic Plus, but even I’m still at 233.75 item level, so a bit behind where I was when I finally started pushing keys last season. I’m quite proud of the fact that I went for it anyways, and I did quite well – I only got one 4-person team who was effectively carrying me with some ridiculous level of strategy, and even then, I was pulling weight in DPS and performance.

But, that was a huge sidebar to say something simple – every 100 points is substantially harder than those that came before it, with the exception of the first 1200 or so. Expect scaling up to be harder and harder and your key options to still get smaller and smaller, as they did in the prior KSM model – but, the benefit is that you still have more choices than before and there’s value to activities that were all flex before, like doing anything higher than a 15.

Lastly, the need to do Tyrannical and Fortified still feels sort of cheap. In the end, I’m glad that Blizzard made focused nerfs to painful bosses and worked to smooth out spikes in difficulty, but it still feels like a non-solution to what makes Tyrannical unpopular. However, from a play metrics standpoint, it will almost certainly work.

In Closing, For Now

I’ll have more to say next Thursday (super-obvious future post plug!) but I really am quite glad I decided to go on this journey through an early-season KSM run. I didn’t think I would actually get it, which made it feel really nice this morning when the achievement popped at the conclusion of that Necrotic Wake +16 run and I was able to pop on the mount and run around. I’ve spent most of my day AFK in Oribos, Korthia, and the Night Fae covenant sanctum (outside, because you can’t mount in the tree!) just sitting on the mount as a big flex. And yeah, I try to not be that kind of person, but it felt really, really good to get this done so early in the season, such that I can now work on alts (who have access to the gear upgrade options) and focus in on other goals. It took a lot of dungeon runs for me to get here, more than the rating increase alone accounts for, but it was a ton of fun. The external rewards and the recognition of watching people run past, then double-back when they realize I already have a Season 2 mount is really fun, but the intrinsic reward of having pushed my personal play to a level where this was even possible and then obtaining it even when I suspect I wouldn’t was very personally satisfying, and I am happy with the effort I put in.

Plus, now I can help lower key groups as an overgeared tank when I learn to tank (which I don’t know if I’ll do, but it would probably be easy valor!).

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