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320+ Achieved

What a joke.

Yesterday, I was talking about the Gearing Deadzone that exists between ~295 and 320 average ilevel. I had been receiving a few lucky drops from heroic dungeons, so I was quite far along in my quest to queue into Warfronts by that point, when I stumbled upon some easy “upgrades.”

First, Plundered gear. These are mostly “transmog” weapons that occasionally drop from Island Expeditions. The thing is, they are actual 325 ilevel weapons that sell for as low as 12,000g on the AH. The Agility 1-handed weapons are quite a bit more (around 20k), and you really want two of them, but it’s possible that this is an avenue to get you past the deadzone. If you have ilevel 300 weapons already, each Plundered upgrade will give you another +1.56 average ilevel.

Second, and I can’t believe this still works, just having BoE gear in your bag counts. Remember how I was saying that the DPS Darkmoon trinket cost 70k and that’s not worth the +3.75 ilevel bump? Well, I purchased the tanking Darkmoon trinket for 12k with the expectation of “I might potentially tank on this character someday anyway”… and then queued for Warfronts without equipping it. Because the 320 gate doesn’t care about equipped gear apparently. If I can sell it for the same price that I bought it, I’d only be out like 600g. That’s like four herb nodes.

So, I queued for Warfronts. Spent the entire battle wandering around, trying to figure out how to chop trees. Killed some mobs. Then got ilevel 340 gloves and ilevel 370 helm after about half an hour.

WoWScrnShot_Gloves

That was my lowest-level piece too.

Again, what a joke.

I’m not the sort of person that participates in the “log in, loot epix” criticisms of WoW. Using gear as the metric of achievement or skill always seemed asinine to me, because the drops are random. We all know (or have been) someone that cleared a raid a half dozen times with zero drops before. Having the whole set meant you were either lucky, or grinded out the RNG for months and months. Is that somehow more admirable than the person standing next to you, with the same Achievement unlocked, dealing comparable DPS in lesser gear because they rolled low?

The whole thing is silly, has been silly since the very beginning, and is especially silly in a world where Mythic Uldir gear is likely to be transmogged into gear sets from a decade ago the minute it’s equipped. Gear’s only relevance is to indicate how sloppy you can be and probably still complete content, or otherwise used as an artificial gating mechanism.

WoWScrnShot_Helm

Just a smidge of an upgrade.

Having said that, what is ridiculous and poorly designed is precisely this dumb gap between the end of leveling gear (290) and free loot raining from the sky (320). I understand the mechanics behind why the system is designed this way. Specifically, if Warfronts only rewarded 325 gear or whatever, then no raiders or Mythic+ players would participate, and it’d be dead content the entire expansion. Meanwhile, the 320 gate was slapped on so as to not invalidate dungeons altogether with fresh level-capped players getting fulls suits of 340.

But, seriously, man. After checking last night, the Warfront is actually going to be active for another day or two. Which means I’ll be chain-queueing that and turning in lumber until I have 340 gear in every slot. Then I’ll be running around tagging Arathi rares for every more loot and toys until it goes away for 2-3 weeks. The cycle will then repeat itself, possibly at a higher ilevel.

And that’s fine… if it were consistent with the rest of the level-cap experience, which it’s not. You ding and either cheese the 320 gate via gold/guildies, or slog through a bunch of dungeon content for hours and hours. Then, at 320, it’s free loot for the rest of the expansion. “Luckily,” by the time 8.1 rolls around, new alts will probably not have to endure this awkward phase at all and jump straight into Warfronts as soon as they hit level 120 via Profession BoE gear.

Fake Edit: In one, long Tuesday evening of playing, I queued five times for Warfronts and received 5 additional pieces of 340 gear. Not sure if it’s luck that I haven’t received any duplicates, but I almost cannot even stand to queue for it again. I see why people AFK through it – it’s not engaging.

Gear Deadzone

Never thought I’d be in this place again, but I spent the weekend chain-running dungeons in WoW.

My for-now main is a Demon Hunter, and I had been relatively satisfied with the ilevel ~290ish gear she had. Mobs scale up with ilevel now, and I’m not doing regular raids, so who cares? The thing is… character progression is nice. Also, I found that there must be breakpoints at which World Quests just refuse to grant higher-level gear. My understanding is that if you are at 290, you should see some 295 gear, presumably until you reach 295, at which point you’ll see 300, and so on. After 3-4 days of WQs, that did not appear to be the case.

Plus, the Alliance Warfront was active this past week, and that apparently hands out 340 gear every 20 minutes you chain-run it, with an extra 370 piece once a cycle. The catch is that you need to have 320 to queue for it. Also, you need 320 to queue for Raid Finder. So, how the hell are you supposed to hit 320?

Chain-run dungeons like a chump, apparently.

The experience has not actually been that bad, at the moment. I queued for some normal dungeons at the beginning, so I could hit the 305 breakpoint to queue for heroic dungeons. That took around two dungeons’ worth of drops. Then I ran about four heroics in a row, with about ~15 minutes of queue times inbetween them. Heroic dungeons drop 325 gear, which is nice, if a little weird considering how that’s 20 ilevels above the minimum.

During this process, I was very tempted to solve my situation with gold. First, by buying BoE epics from the AH. The DPS Darkmoon deck is 355, for example, and there were some BoE wrists that drop from Uldir too. Before committing, I decided to do the ilevel math myself to see how much of a bump that might give me. Going from a 295 trinket to 355 should be a big boost right? Well…

5016 (total ilevel) + 60 = 5076 / 16 = 317.25. Or +3.75 average ilevel.

While that ain’t nothin’, it also isn’t 320. Plus, the Fathoms deck is 70,000g at the moment. While I was poking around the AH, there were a couple of advertisements in Trade chat from people doing Mythic dungeon carries. I was very, very tempted to check up on the prices of that, out of curiosity if nothing else. Then I saw one being advertised for… 350k. Even that started to sound a bit reasonable as the Warfront window is rapidly to drawing to a close. Gold it meant to be used, right?

What brought me back to reality was Blizzard’s own intrusion into the real world. Specifically, WoW tokens. Current prices are 107k gold for $15, which meant I was about to pay $49 to get to 320 ilevel. That doesn’t seem all that good. There is often an argument to be made regarding how much time I am going to spend running heroics (etc) instead, and how I could just “work another hour of overtime” instead of spending 3+ hours doing something I don’t expressly enjoy.

First, I don’t have a job where I can just magically get overtime – that shit has to be approved on two different management levels. Second, there is a wide gulf between a distasteful or boring task in a videogame, played at home, in a comfortable chair, with a refreshing beverage, than there is with another hour spent at work. My job is relatively easy and stress-free, but I’d still rather be doing damn near anything else, including nothing, if given the chance.

Anyway, the decision is likely already made for me, as the Warfront window closes soon. I’ll continue to casually run heroic dungeons until I hit 320, so I can unlock LFR, which will give me a steady stream of gear for the rest of the expansion. This initial hump is extremely awkward though, as it’s likely to be pole-vaulted beyond for anyone playing in 8.1 given the next tier of crafted gear coming out.

I’m fine with Blizzard wanting there to be some sort of hazing phase where they want everyone doing 5-man content before “graduating” into raiding. I just think it’s weird to have Warfronts dropping 340 gear like candy for something that, by all accounts, is significantly easier than even 5-man normal dungeons. Finally getting over that 320 gear deadzone will apparently set you up for easy gear the rest of the expansion, and that’s just a strange sort of design decision.

Dungeon Run Strategy

I had a much longer article started on the various strategy considerations one needs to ponder in order to clear Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run game mode with all nine classes. Then I realized that perhaps a TL;DR version might be better. So here it is:

Passive Buff:

  • Captured Flag (+1/+1 to your minions)
  • Cloak of Invisibility (permanent Stealth)

Treasure:

  • Wax Rager (5/1 Deathrattle: resummon)
  • The Candle (4 damage to enemy minions, reshuffle into deck)

You can win without this combination of passives and treasures, and you can absolutely lose even if you get all of them. Dungeon Runs are the typical Hearthstone clown fiesta of RNG cranked to 11. But the short version is that giving all your minions +1/+1 allows you to counter a ton of boss gimmicks, permanent Stealth bypasses targeted removal and bad trades, and Wax Rager can usually win the game on the spot with infinite value.

As far as deck composition, you will want two things: creature-based tempo plays and an emergency value generator. Spells are incredibly discouraged in Dungeon Runs, as Boss health generally makes it impossible to kill them before getting overwhelmed yourself, and several Bosses actively punish spell use. At the same time, it’s possible to run out of gas if you’ve been trading all game, and bosses have more cards than you do. In those cases, having an Antonidas or Lyra can pull you from the brink. Those value cards just can’t be your win condition themselves, as they are much too slow versus the bosses that win on Turn 5.

And… that’s basically it.

If you’re looking for tips regarding specific classes, it can basically be summed up as:

  • Shaman/Druid/Rogue: Picks Jades.
  • Everyone Else: RNGesus will guide you home

Priest was by far the worst class for me, although Shaman cut it close. In both cases, the starting deck is just bad, so you have to lean hard on getting good Passives/Treasures and strong card picks after each boss. I had perfect picks in half a dozen of my Priest runs, and it still took a total of 15 attempts before I squeaked by. Even then, the winning run was due Lyra giving me a Power Word: Glory, which I was able to leverage into an incredibly unlikely win versus Waxmancer Sturmi as he repeatedly copied the enchanted Sylvanas.

 

Dungeon Runner

I have spoken about Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run mode before, but these last few weeks I have finally figured it out: Dungeon Run is the mobile version of Hearthstone.

That is, of course, a pretty silly thing to say considering a feature-complete version of Hearthstone is already an app. In fact, you can only access Dungeon Run from within the regular Hearthstone app. But having played it at work pretty regularly now, consider the following:

  • It requires no prior card collection
  • Randomized bosses/abilities for variety of experiences
  • No Rope, e.g. time limit on turns
  • Relatively fast games
  • No real penalty for losing (or winning)
  • Can stop and start at your leisure

The last point is a bit dubious, as I have had my Run prematurely canceled when I closed the app in the middle of a match and came back hours later. But aside from that, as long as you complete the current match, I have been able to come back and choose my set of cards for the next round.

In short, I have been having a lot of fun with Dungeon Runs on mobile that I was not having playing at home. And that is largely because I wouldn’t play regular Hearthstone at work, because I might have interruptions that would cost me a game (and ranking). Clash Royale has the same issue, honestly, but losing 2v2 is not a big deal, and each round takes a maximum of 4 minutes in any case. And on the flip side, playing Dungeon Run at home feels pointless because there aren’t any rewards or real “reason” to, comparatively.

Not that it would happen, but I honestly think Blizzard should just release Dungeon Run as a standalone app in the future. Hearthstone on mobile is incredible bloated – the latest balance patch was over 700 MB worth of downloads, and the overall install sits at 3.41 GB, which is absurd for an app. Then there are all the 3Dish animations for cards and minions that are not strictly necessary and could be simplified. So, size, CPU usage, patching… all of those things could be scaled back and optimized as a standalone package.

Or, I suppose, I could try finding a good CCG-ish app that already does those things.

Uh… any recommendations? Aside from Shadowverse, of course – I’m looking for more Ascension-esque than a competitive CCG. I’ve heard good things about Slay the Spire, but that’s Steam only.

The Dungeon Runs

Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Kobolds & Catacombs, introduced a new single-player feature: Dungeon Runs. Designed to emulate roguelikes, it has you face off against a random assortment of bosses – eight in total per run – with each success resulting in selecting between three sets of three cards, which then get added to your current deck. Sometimes you get bonus cards, which can either just be overpowered cards, or passive effects like doubling your starting HP, or having your Battlecry effects trigger twice.

Dungeons Runs are the most entertaining addition to Hearthstone in years. And the least rewarding.

Just to be clear, there are NO rewards to Dungeon Runs. Well, unless you count a card back for clearing all the final boss with all nine classes. No daily wins, no quest credit, nothing. “Fun is its own reward!” For now, that is indeed holding my attention steady. However, considering I could be playing on ladder, or casual, or even in a Tavern Brawl (most days) and be getting rewarded while also having (less) fun, I am actively harming my collection progression. And let me tell you, Blizzard has the thumbscrews firmly in place this expansion, as usual – all the staple cards are Epic or Legendary. So, in effect, I am having fun at the expense of my future self.

Beyond that, Dungeons Runs can be extremely frustrating too. Yeah, Hearthstone is always random, sure. But this game mode is about sixteen different layers of RNG, starting from what cards you are offered, which bosses you encounter, what your random effects do, which cards you draw, what cards your boss draws, etc etc etc. Fights that should have been easy are instead lost from a single coin-flip. This isn’t like Binding of Isaac where your reflexes could theoretically save a bad run.

Also, can I just say that Azari is a complete bullshit last boss? I’ve gotten him like 80% of the time, and it essentially means I have to chew through 70 HP with just half my deck – he automatically destroys your top 2 cards each turn. And he starts with 2 mana crystals? And that hero power costs zero? Some of the bosses are unfair, but goddamn.

Perhaps I would be more upset if there was a defined prize at the end. So in that sense, Blizzard might be doing me a favor.

Regardless, I remain fairly surprised at how compelling the game mode can be, and how ingenious in a way. If you are a brand new player with a small collection, Dungeon Runs give you a peek at how powerful older cards could be, or new cards for that matter. In that sense, it can be a pretty good advertisement for buying a few packs and hoping to pull one for everyday play.

I do wonder what Blizzard intends to do in the next expansion. Will Dungeon Runs be supported? Will there be newer cards, newer bosses, or anything else? Most people are saying “No,” but a flood of posts on Reddit got Blizzard to change their mind with DK Rexxar, insofar as his hero power will incorporate newer beasts going forward. Which pretty much ensures that Blizzard won’t be doing that sort of ability ever again, but good on them changing their minds.