I Got Keystone Master For Dragonflight Season 2 In Eight Days, and I Have Mixed Feelings About It

I set a goal of KSM on my raiding main Monk in two weeks this season. I expected to be hundreds of points away by this point in time, as I write this, and the version of events in my head would have seen a hard push today and tomorrow to squeak over the finish line.

I did it on reset day, instead. Less than eight full days into the season, I have KSM on my raiding main and a good chunk of the progress into Keystone Hero, my next objective, done. It feels…weird.

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I wanted to do, and I made the push precisely because I wanted it fast, because I wanted the thrill of pushing early in the season with ill-defined routes and learning new tech on the job instead of via YouTube videos and Twitch streams weeks later. I expected it to be a hard grind, I buckled down prepatch and amassed a mountain of consumables in preparation for the grind to come, and then I kind of casually just strolled through and got it done. I wouldn’t say I pushed that hard, given that I distributed my total number of keys done in a week across a roster of 15 characters, and I didn’t do the worst (but smartest) aspects of my prior pushes where I’d do any old baby key to get a score in a dungeon and then push into gradually higher ones – I started last week doing 5-10 range and ended doing 14-16 key levels, and I started this week in 14s and 15s, only stepping down off the gas when I realized I could still easily meet the point goal in front of me without pushing as hard.

The process and reflection I’ve done since achieving this on Tuesday night have left me with some thoughts about how Mythic Plus has changed and how I feel about that, so rather than doing a blow-by-blow listing of all the things I did, I’m going to talk through the process at that higher level instead.

The Purpose of Rating

In the new paradigm of season 2 of Dragonflight, rating feels like it has returned to being more like it was when it was just a thing in an addon like Raider.IO – it helps players filter groups to ensure success, more than anything. When Blizzard added rating in Shadowlands Season 2 as an official component of the game, rating was used to determine upgrade eligibility for M+ gear, assign rewards like titles and mounts, and while the titles and mount are still a thing in DF season 2, upgrades are tied to the system of crests and Flightstones and so pushing rating tiers doesn’t really do much of anything. It’s bragging rights, pure and simple…and that makes it feel kind of a little empty.

Ultimately, I’ve only ever cared about Mythic Plus rating as a function of getting into groups and reaching upgrade milestones. In Dragonflight Season 1, the hardest I ever pushed before now, I cared only in as far as reaching rating breakpoints gave me more player power or an aesthetic upgrade like the Keystone Hero reward unlock. On alts, the same was doubly true – pushing 3 characters total over the KSM hump last season was simply a function of wanting to efficiently gear characters I enjoyed playing, and since raid gearing is anything but efficient, M+ was the way and the truth.

In DF season 2, rating feels adrift a little bit as a component of the official game system from Blizzard. It’s not a community-sourced accounting of player skill nor a way of increasing player power, save for the tier omnitoken you can receive at KSM if KSM is the first achievement of the 3 eligible ones you complete – and since there’s no MMR equivalent like PvP rating, it just feels a smidge vestigial this point – it exists, it’s not bad, but it also means a lot less to push it. In a social game like World of Warcraft, this is probably okay – it has social value as a determinant of how likely someone is to contribute to a group play setting, tarnished though it can be through the availability of carries and boosts.

The Difficulty of the Season

Difficulty discussion is subjective and tedious, and I want to say that up front, I know and respect that folks will feel all sorts of different ways about things. I likely feel differently about the dungeons this season than many of my readers, and everyone will likely have a spectrum of personal experiences that have varied wildly. I’ve played 16 different specs across 12 classes at varying levels of keys already this season, so I think I have a decent grasp on what the season feels like to me as a player, but I respect and appreciate that there will be disagreement and a lot of players will have their own takes. I don’t intend to dismiss any of those nor will I attempt to invalidate them – we’re all out here just living and doing our own thing, and stuff that clicks with me might not click with you and vice-versa.

So, having said all of that – I had a smidge of an easier time than I expected this season. A lot easier, actually.

I’ve still failed keys, low and high, on my main and on alts, and I’ve had groups disband before the end because of what felt like impenetrable walls, but overall, this season feels so much better aligned than last season in terms of overall difficulty. Not to say there aren’t easy keys (both BfA dungeons are surprisingly generously tuned on timer and overall difficulty) or difficult keys (Vortex Pinnacle, amazingly, has some points in both Tyrannical and Fortified that are group/timer killers), but there are fewer outliers – there’s not a Shadowmoon Burial Grounds true gimme key this season, nor is there a white-knuckle disaster zone like Ruby Life Pools. Everything is, for the most part, pretty in-line, especially after this week’s hotfixes have sanded most of the roughest edges down. There’s still stuff to manage, but Blizzard made a real effort to make this season less dreadful than a lot of us were braced for, given especially how some of these dungeons were on Mythic 0 runs at the start of Dragonflight.

In my early season post this time out, I talked about the math of tuning and how Blizzard has traditionally managed scaling, especially with how it often is eclipsed by raw player-power gain, so I won’t repeat all of that here – but I think it is safe to say that Blizzard stayed gentle on tuning curves this time. I think a part of it is that they have varied tuning in the past as-is, but a bigger part is that with a new dungeon pool for Season 2 M+, they wanted to ease the learning curve more than usual, so they scaled week 1 keys down sharply on key level for returning players and pushed overall to flatten the learning curve down to mechanical comprehension more than anything.

Now, I say this as the beneficiary of the WoW Information Complex – I watched videos of PTR dungeon runs, I studied routes and strategies the weekend before the season went live, and I downloaded updated DBM packs, WeakAura packs for season 2 dungeons with callouts including custom voices, and Plater profiles with easy color coding to show what mobs are dangers for interrupt requirements and frontal cleaving attacks. If you raw-dog these dungeons without that preparation, without those addons – I could see them being tough. However, Blizzard has also done some interesting stuff with mechanics to try and make the trashheap of mechanics readable to the average player. Nearly every frontal cleave attack this season leaves some sort of debuff, which makes the mistake of positioning more costly, but also communicates what happened instead of just doing all the damage up-front and one-shotting your poor healer for standing in the wrong place. On interrupts, you generally need less-aggressive kick rotations and management than season 1 required, which is good, but there are still a lot of un-interruptible casts that require you to instead use a stop like a stun or CC to break casting, and the game isn’t super-great about communicating that to players, which is ultimately a social friction problem and not completely bad, but hey.

I think there’s something worth saying though – I think the dungeons were easier because I came very well prepared. Too well prepared, in fact. The fact that dungeons have enough going on to create a market for packs of 5-6 addons/WA packages JUST for dungeons is, well, maybe not ideal, but it is the backdrop that modern WoW is set against and so long as players have API access and modders able to write the code to enable this, it is going to happen. I don’t think the dungeons require this level of optimization and I find the argument that WoW PvE content has been blown up by addons and such to be overblown – but I cannot deny that being prepared with those things on day 1 helped me progress faster because I already had a roadmap through each dungeon and ready-made reminders about how things worked as I was in the dungeons. I still think most players can learn by doing and do so pretty fast, and that is helped this season by having less harsh failure states for kick rotations and other control scenarios falling apart – if you miss a few key interrupts, you can most often still recover the pull and keep it rolling, and failure is an effective teacher (most of the time, for most people).

Do I think the dungeons are overall just easy this tier? No, absolutely not. They are still difficult content with layers of learning that must take place, but if you are a DF Season 1 KSM coming in to Season 2 ready to roll, you’ll be fine up to 15s provided you can play your spec well and pay attention to what is happening. Checks get sharper and harder in that 16 and up range, but even then, by the time you’re in that range, you have an established base of knowledge about the current season to work from and can prepare yourself for the harder checks in a dungeon. Are they easier than last season? So far I would say they are, yes.

Mythic Plus and Gearing

The new upgrade system is a genuine boon to gearing in raid. It makes raiding, particularly Normal raids, vastly more valuable as mechanisms to power-up your characters, because gear from Normal can go all the way to end-tier Heroic item level with enough work and players have multiple ways, over time, to earn the crests needed to upgrade even a tier up from the content they are actively playing on a given character.

However, M+ gearing is still the undisputed king of gear grinding in WoW. In every single run, you have a 40%ish chance of getting something. That something will be upgradable, at least a little bit, and if there’s a particular something you want, you can run the dungeon that drops it over, and over, and over again, as many times as you can find keys for that dungeon. You can run lower keys and try to upgrade it, you can push hard on higher keys and hope for a better item level floor and upgrade ceiling, but you can keep going. Raid, on the other hand, is still deeply constrained to 1 run a week per difficulty, hope for the best on loot. Sure, at this point in the season, getting tier is vastly easier in raid than in M+ (token drops versus hoping and praying for that vault slot to be tier), but in nearly every other regard, M+ gearing is better for the average player – higher item level overall, unlimited chances at drops, Vault rewards punching above content difficulty, and the eventual ability to convert those M+ pieces into tier gear. You also have more flexibility in gearing through M+ on average, as each gear slot will tend to have 1-2 more viable options from dungeons, without accounting for how the Catalyst means tier itemization is a viable choice in each slot from M+ as well.

A lot of my guildies who have mostly or only raided are just flatly lower in item level. Our first batch of KSM players this season are around 429 item level, already exceeding the level of the Normal raid. Our next closest is at 425, also exceeding the raid on Normal. Our more casual key-players are siting around 417-420 (blaze it?) item level, and the people who don’t run keys at all are around 409-411 – still firmly in the Heroic Vault of the Incarnates item level range. The entire raid has gotten something from Aberrus at this point, and the non-M+ers have likely gotten more since people tend to pass on loot if they have good dungeon drops as-is, not to mention a week of Great Vault options – yet still, in spite of the factors contributing to more available gear in raid for those not doing dungeons, there is a very clear divide between pushing keys, casually doing keys, and not doing keys, and it’s about 10 item levels per step.

The new upgrade system is, overall, better for raiders than the prior iterations from season 1 of Dragonflight and Shadowlands before it. And yet, still, here we are now, in a situation in which Mythic Plus still produces undeniably better gearing outcomes for players. Granted, these players are also raiding, and I’ve gotten a drop from raid myself as a part of my 429 item level, but I can invert this point quickly – my well-played Mythic Plus alts have better gear (as high as 420) than the raid-only main characters in my guild, and my alts have only done Mythic Plus.

So two things are true at the same time here – Mythic Plus remains king for gearing a character quickly, effectively, and with a wider range of choices, while raid gear has improved at least slightly for the changes made in 10.1 but still has a ways to go if the intent is that it ever catches-up with Mythic Plus or even gets better than it.

My Alt Goals

I’ve been playing my alts a lot more this season, keeping that guiding principle of spreading my fun out over multiple characters, and I’ve really enjoyed this process. I’ve learned this week that I’ve been undercutting my player skill a fair bit though – I easily Discipline-healed a +13 key when my prior best was like a 9, and my DH tank went straight into a 14 and 15 back-to-back and was thriving for it. My account-wide M+ progress, as I write this, now looks like this:

I’ve let off the gas a little bit on the lower 10 alts (I’ll get to them when I can get to them) but I’ve made a point of putting 8 dungeons up a week on my main 5, so that my characters I intend to push over the finish line of KSM or even KSH have multiple gear choices and a strong path to stay viable as people start getting pickier. I’m still trying to do at least one key a week per character below that, so there is some option of gear upgrade available, but that is the first thing I am wavering on this season overall – because at a point, just racking up a single key per week isn’t a huge deal (even if it is the biggest bang for your buck in terms of return on investment).

My Goals and Player Progress

A lot of my drive to push hard in Mythic Plus during Shadowlands came from a desire to curb external criticism – to shut up people who were derisive of my skill as a player and to be better than they were. It was, perhaps, not the healthiest way to come at a goal, but it also led me to learning that I was really enjoying Mythic Plus and that it was really clicking for me as a way to play World of Warcraft. For Dragonflight, my pushing of keys and desire to push hard on these goals has been for self-gratification and nothing else – and that feels a lot better.

I can say that for any self-deprecation I have, I am a good WoW player, and I think I fundamentally understand the game at a high level and can execute complicated raid mechanics and narrow-margin dungeon runs with relative calm. Still, in spite of that, I did not expect to be here this soon, to have obtained my two-week KSM goal in just barely over 1 week. I’m certainly glad I did it, but it has also led me to this weird feeling of extra time – the ability to push alts has opened a lot more for the season because it seems likely that I can meet my 5 KSM/2 KSH goal in a relatively short window. Hell, if I push some hard keys on my monk today and tomorrow, I could even be dangerously close to KSH this week! That’s a weird thought for me to have – because it still feels like KSH should be on a pedestal out of reach for at least another week in my goal-setting regimen, and yet here we are now, with it well within reach and only 388 points away with two days still left in week 2.

That opening of possibility presents me with more choices that I absolutely did not expect. Do I push more characters to KSM? Do I push more of my main 5 to KSH than just 2 of them? Do I want all my characters to enter next season with at least 435 item level? Could I get full Mythic appearance tier sets for all 13 classes? Do I want to try alt raiding? Should I be pushing harder in raid like PUGging more of Heroic? At what point should I stop to farm crests?

I think the bittersweet thing is weird, in that I expected it to be more of a journey. I expected to meet resistance at points, to have a grindier path before me, to have multiple posts documenting the journey, but not even that long after I wrote my early experiences post, BAM – Keystone Master. It is a worthwhile journey to me, and I think it reflects well on the progress I’ve made as a player in terms of my skill and willingness to get in there rapidly with strangers and just go, but it also makes me contemplate what I would even set as goals next season. Do I go for week 1 KSM and push super hard? I was already pretty close, and if I gear better this season, complete 20s as often as possible, that doesn’t even seem out of reach really. Do I try to get multiple characters to a week 2 KSM? Do I go for week 2 KSH?

In my head, I guess the funny thing is that I also expected this to be the culmination of my WoW journey in some ways, a point where I hit a peak of skill I could ride out from here, and yet now I find myself wondering if I was too conservative with my goals – maybe I should have pushed a week 1 KSM, because it seems to me like I could have gotten it done had I tried with that in mind. It’s bittersweet because it feels like I could have done more, pushed even harder and done even better – and I didn’t. For as much as I try to not downplay my ability to do well in WoW, I did it anyways – I set a goal I was able to bound over with relative ease. There’s a part of me that worries that setting too aggressive of a goal next season might lead me to a bad path, push me in a way I find unsatisfying for the way it feels.

For all this talk though, I feel like I’ve already had a lot of fun this season, and I think that is what counts for me. I’ve embraced that I play WoW largely to have fun, and for me, dungeons this season have already been very enjoyable. I’m in a minority of players that push keys to that level (Data for Azeroth shows last season had a roughly 20% rate of KSM achievement among players), and while I think the game can do better at building a more interesting gameplay model for people outside of that group (future post foreshadowing!), I’m glad that WoW offers this kind of content that I enjoy, even if some people curse and malign it. I have felt myself getting better as a player, which helps me enjoy the game more, and creates a cycle that is very fulfilling for me.

But now we enter the next phase – Monk to KSH, Priest to KSM, and the other 3 to some mix of KSM or near it, with alts picking up the rear as I go!


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