Mythic Plus affixes have been a hot topic in Dragonflight right off the bat.
Season 1 of Dragonflight, while it’s been fairly decent in terms of participation and overall reception, has cast an even bigger spotlight than ever before on the affix system for Mythic Plus and where it feels bad, and it makes sense. Season 1 of Dragonflight has had some of the worst healer combos ever, with the Grevious/Bursting week being a big stressor for healers and other weeks still mixing in the so-called “Healer affixes,” expecting healers to play at a far higher responsibility level than the rest of the team.
To mitigate this, Blizzard has been working on new Affixes and changes to the affix system as a whole. When the patch 10.1 PTR started, the announcement was simple – no new seasonal affix and a rework of the level 7 affix pool. However, that has now become a nearly-full reimagining of affixes, including sharp changes to the old level 7 pool and a rework to what key levels affixes are added in at, which means that “level 7 pool” is actually now the level 14 pool, and then these new affixes were tested, and…well, there might be valid reason to have some concerns about Season 2 of Dragonflight when it comes to Mythic Plus.
So today, let’s explore these changes, and first, I want to kind of lay out my philosophical outlook on Mythic Plus and affixes.
Affixes, huh? What are they good for?
Affixes have been a part of Mythic Plus from the beginning, since the mode was added in Legion. Intended to add variety to the mode, affixes rotate weekly in a fixed, designed rotation from Blizzard. At present in Dragonflight, a season has a 10-week rotating affix window, with alternating weeks of “base” affix (Fortified or Tyrannical, increasing trash health/damage or boss health/damage respectively) and then 3 additions to the stack – at level 4, 7, and 10, with level 10 being a Seasonal affix. With the Seasonal affix retiring as a concept in Season 2 of Dragonflight, we’ll be back to Legion status with 3 affixes in total.
Affixes add spice and variety to dungeons by changing the core gameplay of a run in several ways. You might change pull patterns based on which base affix is in play, since Fortified trash can be much more deadly, and your group might need to make a call to pull less on an affix that spawns things based on the number of mobs in a pull, like Explosive or Spiteful. Since a season only has 8-10 dungeons within it, weekly variations add a little something that keeps dungeons feeling somewhat fresher, and affixes provide that freshening for the mode.
Now, before we dive into the changes, I want to talk current state a little bit, because the statement I made above is…well, not what affixes are today, and that needs to be said.
For me, I think an affix should be something that enhances a dungeon or adds some cognitive burden, but it should never become the singular thing you are most concerned with at any given point in a run. What makes a good affix is when it challenges you just enough to require thought and attention, but not so much that the rest of the dungeon becomes a grey mass of nothing against the giant pressing concern of an affix mechanic needing management. Current affixes often fail at this – Explosive is, in current form, one of the biggest limiters to trash pulls during Explosive weeks and it requires an almost complete focus of your healer in the present iteration, as one example. Grievous becomes most of what a healer thinks about during runs on those weeks and it makes sharp and bad-feeling changes to healing patterns and pull recovery, and Thundering forces a lot of thought about positioning and movement as the mechanic timer counts down. Some current affixes are genuinely good in my estimation – having played two tanks in M+ this tier, I actually like Sanguine because it adds a smidge of tank engagement outside of pulling, core rotation, and defensive play, but it never becomes completely divorced from the trash pull and even outliers where it becomes more dangerous are still normal play scenarios – interrupt and control a mob, kite to avoid a patrol, etc. Stuff like Volcanic and Storming can be annoying, but they also create interesting play scenarios around positioning and the penalty for failing them is very forgiving, most of the time. Quaking is annoying as a melee specialist, but it also has a lot of valid counterplay and doesn’t force group comps unless you happen to be a 3-melee sicko party leader.
So while a minority of current affixes are attention-dominating clusterfucks, there are enough that almost every single week has something that demands attention in a way that detracts from the dungeon and learning the core mechanics at the heart of a route. This is what I think has made affixes such a pain point during Dragonflight Season 1 in spite of them not changing much from prior seasons – the combos are built to just be overlapping in a way that feels bad, and the seasonal affix, which can be seen over 100s of potential runs per player (if you’re a dungeon freak like me), feels bad, which means every run has something dragging that feels bad. It hasn’t been enough to kill the mode of play, but there are clearer bad weeks than ever before, where keys just straight-up shrink in population.
What does changing the key level affix pacing even do?
The current pacing of affixes at 2, 4, 7, and 10 is a holdover from the introduction of seasonals in BfA and is that way because at that point, a +10 key was the highest you needed to get on the books for a week to have a max item level reward in the then-current M+-only weekly chest. The reward maximum was changed twice in the last couple of years- first to +15 with BfA Season 4 and now to +20 with Dragonflight Season 1. You can sort of already see it, maybe, but that original cap on key level for rewards is the reason why affixes rolled out that way – with the last affix at 10, the final reward tier of that era had a jump in power that required you to push harder against a final affix. However, as that has changed in late-BfA and beyond, affixes still clump up at the lower end of the keystone level curve.
The new system, then, makes strides towards acknowledging the changes to reward curve by better-pacing the affix additions, with base affix still at 2, but the first added affix now at level 7 and the last added at 14. This, conveniently, leaves room if a fourth affix or Seasonal was to return to be added as high as 20, allowing them to cap the rewards journey as affixes once did, but for now, it means that mid-keys are no longer quite the rapid climb in affixes, which means that, in theory, Dragonflight Season 2 will be easier at some key levels than before, notably from 7-14 as you’ll now only have two affixes and then again from 14 and up as you’ll only have 3 total.
This new pacing is theoretically more interesting, because it provides a smoother difficulty ramp through the key level range and it provides meaningful increases in challenge once you hit breakpoints – with the final push to KSM through 14-16 range keys having that final affix loaded in and ready. This is, of course, theoretical – because so much depends on the affixes themselves. How has Blizzard done there?
The new affixes on the block
The changes Blizzard promised were a total revamp of the level 7 (now level 14) pool of affixes, retiring several affixes and making the pool more limited and more in-line with player expectations. The new pool sees Storming return and Explosive return in a new form, alongside 3 new affixes – Afflicted, Incorporeal, and Entangling. Storming remains identical to current form, and will likely be the easiest affix of this bunch. New Explosive is a ball that spawns as it currently does, which is immune to cleave and eats AoE for breakfast, however it now has substantially MORE health and needs to be DPSed to death before it finishes its cast, which now…shields all enemies in the pull for a percentage of the remaining health of the orb. Afflicted summons a number of mobs scaling off the size of your pull that has every dispellable type of debuff and missing health on it, and you need to either dispel the mob of one of the debuffs or heal it to full to stop it from casting a Haste debuff on your party. Incorporeal summons spirits that need to be CC’d to avoid a damage and healing done reduction debuff. Entangling summons a root that slows you by 50% and asks you to move 10 yards within 8 seconds to avoid a 3 second stun. Movement speed effects all work and so for most, this will be relatively trivial.
And then there’s new Explosive, which we need to discuss in more detail.
So above, a big part of the preamble to this was to set up this very moment. Explosives currently are one of the worst affixes because it gets dumped on the healer, demands complete attention when they spawn, and serves as a high-friction mechanic that presents a pretty bad failure state. The new one…makes this even worse, somehow!
Making Explosives have more health on their own is fine to a point, under certain circumstances. My preferred Explosive fix has always been to buff their health, make them cleaveable and AoEable, and widen up their hitboxes so they can be rolled into more pulls, and while they might end up being a priority target for their duration, at least on those terms, they’re not totally awful. Instead, what Blizzard has done is make Explosives require EVEN MORE direct focus and attention, because they must be single-targeted, will eat cleaves and AoEs even if they are targeted abilities that happen to put damage on multiple nearby enemies, and the failure state can make a pull ratchet up in time more and more. With the most recent Explosive nerfs on PTR, the health total of the Explosives and their spawn behavior makes them a lot less worrisome, but they are still a big outlier in the affix pool for how much direct attention they demand. Incorporeal can be hit easily with area CCs like Leg Sweep and Ring of Frost, and Afflicted can be handled easily by even DPS dispels via talents, like a Brewmaster or Windwalker Monk taking Detox from the class tree talents, but Explosive now demands the whole group play like healers currently do during this affix – turning full attention to focus down the orb. At current health totals, this might play out okay enough, and I’m open to waiting, but the changes don’t make Explosive better as much as they just make it different, and this is a case where different is not, I think, better.
Over the course of PTR, there have been consistent nerfs to these new affixes, most significantly to their spawning behavior. Explosive currently is a giant pain in the ass because it spawns scaling numbers of orbs based on how big your pull is, so a big proper pull like the trash around Overgrown Ancient in Algeth’ar Academy becomes very dicey on Explosive weeks, especially if you’re dealing with Fortified/Explosive, because then you’re seeing 6 orbs at a time and the length of time more orbs can spawn for is pretty wide open given how long the full-room pull can take on Fortified! With the PTR tweaks most recently made, the general behavior caps all of the spawning-behavior affixes at two – two Incorporeals, two Afflicteds, two Explosives – regardless of pull size, and that is…interesting. While we are, in theory, closing in on the end of PTR with the patch set to be live in less than a month, a lot can change between now and then, especially given that focused M+ testing has not yet really happened.
What’s the end result of all of this?
Well, I think that the current state of balance on PTR with these new affixes is intriguing in, honestly, a good way. Some of the new affixes are really great in practice – Afflicted allows a lot of room for DPS to take dispel talents to help, Entangling beats Quaking in terms of movement denial and is easily countered with almost any movement speed increase ability you can think of, and at current health levels, while I dislike that you have to hard single-target Explosives, it is also much more of an attention check than anything else and they’re pretty easy to deal with at a spawn rate of maximum 2 orbs. There are questions of visibility and readability of some affixes, and Entangling in particular needs to do something to make it clear it happened at all, but otherwise, it’s not a bad set of changes.
The affix flow is the thing that actually has me excited more than anything. The current affix flow is very front-loaded and it translates to keys early on feeling more challenging than later keys in a way. Sure, scaling of health and damage output makes high keys dangerous in their own right, but you’re basically done with *new* tech by level 10. In the new system, there’s a bit of room for things to breathe and I think it stands a good chance of increasing key play in that 7-13 range of keystones, since learning the keys and refining strategies will lie less in learning affixes and more in the dungeons themselves. On top of that, the new affixes give a clear pecking order to difficulty – the new level 14 affixes are more involved than the level 7 ones, and so the strategies needed will increase in difficulty up the curve. Sure, at the key levels a lot of M+ addicts are fond of, you’re not going to see much change, but one less affix is still a reason to celebrate, especially if the refocus makes the dungeons more interesting. About the biggest negative I have from current PTR state is that Storming now feels really straightforwardly simple compared to the other affixes in the 14 pool, which means that push weeks are still very much going to be a thing, but how much so will depend on the final affix schedule, which remains to be seen.
Overall, I’m pretty excited for the next season and to see what happens!