With Dragonflight right around the corner and the preparations for the Vault of the Incarnates RWF well underway by the top guilds in the world, I think it's a great time to look back into what happened in the last two years in the biggest PvE competition for WoW.
Oh boy, Castle Nathria sure did deliver as the first raid of the expansion, featuring an intense fight between the old but new players in the recently formed Echo, pushing forward to bring back the EU dominance after the US powerhouse of Complexity Limit (now Liquid) brought the World First title to the region with the World First N'zoth at the end of BfA.
As a raider and viewer myself, in my opinion, Castle Nathria had maybe one of the greatest first bosses of the expansion, Shriekwing. The bosses that followed also did not disappoint, with fun encounters in Sludgefist and even a healer focused fight with the Sun King’s Salvation boss fight (let's put SLG behind us).
The Composition of RWF guilds in Castle Nathria
With the Anti-Magic Zone ability proving to be very powerful, Death Knights became the staple of every single boss kill, with the meta and raid composition discussion being mostly around what mechanics you could just ignore with the spell and therefore how many Death Knights you needed. This led to them showing up in 58.5% of the melee spots for the raid and subsequently contributed to the spell being nerfed in patch 9.1.0 for the second RWF of the expansion.
The crazy throughput brought by the Marksmanship Hunters and Balance Druids also brought them into the spotlight, with raid composition seeing up to 5 Hunters in the same fight. Overall being very present in the raid encounters, as seen on the graph below. This was the start of a trend throughout Shadowlands raids, with the dominance of Balance Druids in the following raids.
Specs who are missing here didn’t appear at all in the World First kills.
With the first 3 bosses being downed quite easily by the major guilds, we saw a dominant presence of Brewmaster Monk and Vengeance Demon Hunters. With Bremaster actually rocking a solid 30.7% participation across the board, making them the most used tank for WF kills of Shadowlands as a whole; this was maybe due to the fact that the other Monk specs were just not as competitive for their respective roles, leading to Monks being tanks for the raid buff. It could also have been that they were just dealing that much extra damage compared to other tanks, with the major exception of Complexity Limit bringing a Protection Warrior instead of the monk.
The Trial of Flames
The top guilds really only slowed down at the Sun King’s Salvation encounter, which brought back the famous character Kael’thas, the end-boss of the Eye raid back in Burning Crusade (and the barrier between me and my Ashes of Al’ar), in an interesting healing focused encounter, where you have to actually save the Prince of Silvermoon.
Don’t get me wrong, World First healers are still crazy when it comes to pumping numbers, the problem was actually the insane DPS requirement for breaking the Cloak of Flames shield, which will instantly wipe the raid after 6 seconds if not broken. It’s important to notice that the Cloak was not only for DPS, as the boss also casts the healing version as an absorb shield, but I saw far more wipes to the DPS version. They debuted the Holy Priest in the race for their insane Power Infusion + Guardian Spirit combo, making the huge 531k shield of Cloak of Flames way easier and secured them the World First after 31 pulls.
After saving the proud Prince, we had to deal with another weird, and sometimes very messy encounter with the shady Xy’mox. This fight maintained the trend of extremely throughput critical encounters in the raid, making overlaps and transition timings very hard to keep consistent, but it wasn’t enough to stop Complexity Limit grabbing the World First.
After finishing our business with the dealer, EU guilds started working in the Council of Blood fight, I say EU guilds because Limit accidentally killed the boss later in their raiding day during testing some new tactics, with streams turned off and bought them some time in the lead.
Getting to Sludgefist, we saw the pull count jump massively for every guild due to the extremely high healing and damage checks required, with Complexity Limit bringing it down after 166 attempts.
I think this is the best moment that highlighted the other spell that shined in this race, the Discipline Priest's Spirit Shell. Currently at the end of Shadowlands, Spirit Shell scales with the priest's spell power, but back then, the ability scaled with the priest's maximum health and wasn’t nerfed to 80% of the healing like the current version, being a full 100% in the 9.0.0 race.
This led to a massive payoff in bringing Warriors to the raid, due to Rallying Cry temporarily increasing everybody's maximum health, which in turn, increased the maximum throughput of Spirit Shell to basically save everybody from the hardest soaks and environmental damage that the encounter had.
Why Did You Fail Me, Renathal?
After downing the Sire's most beloved pet (as he himself states), we entered the absolute nightmare of the Stone Legion Generals encounter.
Similarly to the Carapace of N'zoth bonanza, where you could just be instantly Mind Controlled by the Mental Decay, we had another second-to-last boss that almost brought the race to a halt.
With both Echo and Complexity Limit reaching pull counts that surpass the Mythic N'Zoth encounter, due to consistent bugs (blades double hitting, adds not spawning in the intermission) and failed interactions in the fight, SLG was ultimately defeated after 292 attempts by Complexity Limit.
I'll try to break down the encounter, in the hope that the challenges these guilds had to overcome doesn’t get forgotten. Also, keep in mind that the raiders we're doing this fight with an average of 215 item level, on a boss that drops 233 item level gear.
The Mythic version of the Stone Legion Generals consisted of constant adds, that required precise bursts of damage in order to deal with a very sensitive timing requirement to when you lowered their health below certain thresholds. This alongside the required good positioning and defensive cooldown management by both healers and DPS with their personal cooldowns made it very tough.
There were 3 types of adds. Firstly, the Stone Legion Skirmisher that spawned another Wicked Laceration blade, adding another stack of the damage over time effect in the raid that was already pretty nasty by itself. When lower than 30% health, it started casting a very strong wind effect that tried to push players to the open edges of the platform; this wind effect stacked for each Skirmisher, intensifying the speed at which you were moved, so you wanted to avoid just burning them all down at the same time.
The Stone Legion Commando were pretty tough adds. When they were below 20% health, they gained a 200k shield that had to be broken, else it would wipe the raid in 4 seconds (I still have bad memories of just wiping randomly because of 5k left on a shield).
And the last one, the Stone Legion Goliath was the nastiest of them all, casting Soultaint Effigy, a stacking 20% healing reduction debuff on the entire raid upon reaching 30% health, stacking to 5, meaning that by the end of it, you literally could not be healed by any means.
Keep in mind that we're talking about a pretty large arena, where you could easily out range a 40-yard Aura Mastery cast, let alone stay in a Spirit Link for its duration. Plus, with the constant knockbacks and repositioning required for the soaks, I'm actually more impressed it didn't take longer for the guilds to kill it.
And to cap it off, the encounter has a scripted intermission that starts when one of the two bosses reaches 50% health, during which, you have to carry out little orbs to Prince Renathal near the top section of the arena. Each orb deals periodic damage to its carrier, and knocks back everybody in a 45-yard range from where it was handed in, which could be a dangerous combination with any Skirmishes that are active during the intermission. Since in order to outrange the knock back, everybody would stand on the very edge of the platform at all times, this meant that the raid was pretty much in danger of falling constantly, while having to deal with the adds and the Wicked Blades.
An interesting fact is that both Complexity Limit and Echo brought a Venthyr Arms Warrior to help out with the massive Condemn ability to burn down the adds,especially when the Goliaths started their healing reduction.
An Audience with Arrogance
After the SLG nightmare was over, we got to arguably one of the best characters in the expansion, and for me personally for sure the best fight of the entire expansion, Sire Denathrius.
The Sire was a very interesting encounter. It brought a mix of cleave, spread cleave, full blown AoE and windows of single target focus throughout its 3 grueling phases. Surprisingly, this boss took a very low number of attempts, with only 143 pulls for Complexity Limit to get the glory and bring home the back-to-back win. Compared to 274 attempts required to defeat Mythic N’zoth or the unbelievable 359 wipes to Mythic Queen Azshara (we don’t talk about Uu’nat okay? Too many bad memories for me personally, although GGs to Pieces to endure over 700 pulls) the Sire was less of a challenge than some previous end bosses.
The encounter was fairly simple, with a debuff called Burden of Sin that you have to clear in order to make the run from the outer edge of the room to the center during the intermission before phase 2. Clearing these stacks involved being stood within a frontal ability Cleansing Pain, which in turn spawned adds for each stack removed from the targets.
The Mythic only twist to the Burden of Sin is that for each person with the same number of Burden stacks as you, you would take extra shadow damage from a single Blood Price cast, making it very painful if you're in the 2 stack group (which was usually the required number of stacks to make it safely to the middle in the intermission) or the first cast of the fight, where the majority of the raid had the full 6 stacks.
This is only Phase 1, and we have already seen a lot of small optimizations from the top guilds, mainly in the form of a Druid running the Front of the Pack conduit in order to use Stampeding Roar right before the Intermission was triggered when the 70% health mark was reached by the boss.
This helped everyone get through the intermission, and made it possible to make it through with 3 stacks instead of 2, allowing the raid to split the number of players more evenly across the Cleansing Pain casts, reducing the spike damage of Blood Price. Death Knights were again very valuable, due to the Death’s Advance passive effect not allowing them to be slowed that much, enabling them to make the run without clearing any stacks by using the Death’s Advance mobility spell in addition to the Druid’s Roar.
Even Shamans and specs that used the Night Fae Signature Ability, Soulshape, could reduce the impact of the mechanic, also helping to reduce the overall damage by getting into the center without having to clear all stacks.
Getting to Phase 2, after a very cool, Blackhand-style drop, you get to a cross-style platform, surrounded by 4 smaller platforms.
Once in Phase 2, you have to deal with very specific adds that spawn on separate platforms from the main play area. They are each unique, and each apply a stacking damage over time against the players, so the longest you took to take them down, the harder it would make the fight.
The first one, Lady Sinsear was usually taken down by the ranged DPS players, to stop the frequent wave of silencing bolts that she fires in all directions.
Lord Evershade was the second who spawned adds upon reaching 66% and 33% health that required either a lot of damage, or 5 interrupts on their casts to stop inflicting damage to the raid. Usually guilds send their melee DPS through a Warlock’s Demonic Gateway and even specs with 15 second interrupts (like shaman’s Wind Shear) if needed.
Baron Duskhollow was quite simple, just a fun mechanic where he would pull you into melee range (and into his platform) if you attacked him from more than 25 yards away.
Last, but not least, Countess Gloomveil, whom which casts a Smoke bomb (similar to a Rogue’s PVP talent) type effect, where you could not cast anything on players or her within the area from the outside and vice versa.
After jumping around the platforms to deal with the adds, Denathrius, who is now asking his fierce sword Remornia to help him, would pull all the raid back to his melee range when casting Hand of Destruction. This cast would be the DPS check in order to avoid sending people back over to the platforms again.
After a couple more waves of normal adds in the main platform, you would move the boss around using the mirrors. The mirrors are located in the cardinal positions of the arena (the yellow dots in the image above), they allow you to teleport from one end of the platform to the other to out-range and avoid the damage from Hand of Destruction. Once this has been done a few times and the boss is getting close to 40% health, we get to my favorite part of the fight, Phase 3, with the Mythic only “Through the Mirror” mechanic.
When the boss reaches 40% health he starts the phase by blocking and teleporting to the center of the room. He creates a very high damage inflicting zone around the room, covering the mirrors and essentially trapping us in the middle of the cross-shaped arena, but still leaving enough room for you to get pushed down by accident. The Mythic twist was that anyone that crosses the mirror right as the phase begins were transferred into another dimension (the Mirror Realm). Inside this dimension, some of the mechanics are reversed, mainly the very hard hitting tank buster, Shattering Pain, which now also knocks the non-mirror dimension raid away from the boss and pulls the players in the mirror-dimension towards the boss. This becomes very dangerous, because if you touch another player in the other dimension (lets say, your warrior accidentally got knocked into a ranged DPS) they both die instantly, making a very coordinated dance to solve the mechanics of this last phase.
Overall I personally loved the theme of the raid and was really pleased to see that some of the fun encounters were brought back in the Sepulcher of the First Ones raid, but that’s a topic for another day.
GG's to the World First winners of this race, Complexity Limit and all other Guilds that brought us the show, and we await you all in the Race to World First for the Vault of the Incarnates!