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The Raiding Pinnacle: Exorsus

Article originally posted on Manaflask

Here we are in the first Raiding Pinnacle since the last tier, and this time around we get to talk to the No.3 25 man guild in the world - Russian champions Exorsus! There's a lot to talk about so let's just get right to it (and yes, we talk about the video drama, don't worry).


Lei Shen 25 World third

Introduce yourselves!

Alveona (Альвеона), protection paladin (GM and RL of the guild). 22 years old atm, living in Moscow, just finished both of my higher educations.

Revenant (Ревенант), DD-Death Knight.

Seu (Сэу), I am playing rogue. In real life I'm a medical student.

Shadow (Шаадоу), my real name is Mikhail and I've been playing shadow priest in Exorsus for 2 years.


Tell us a little something about the guild.

Alveona: Exorsus is a Russian speaking guild with a long history. Before the creation of Russian realms it was called Initium (EU-Shadowmoon) and my first content with this guild was ToGC (T9 content). In T10 content I became a Raid Leader. We`ve been constantly improving our results every content (from rank 43 in T8 to rank 3 in this tier), so I’m really looking forward to the next content. Our roster has always been between 35-50 players, however, some of them are unable to play all the time during the progress raid hours so they’re helping us as much as they can when it’s possible. So, more realistically, we’ve got around 35 hardcore players and 15 semi-hardcore ones. We love to organize guild meetings even though some of us are so far away from Moscow.


From the Blizzard Cataclysm Beta Screenshot contest

So, World third in 25 man in this very long tier, after your No.5 placement in t14. Did you expect to be here before the start of ToT?

Alveona: Definitely yes. Of course we were thinking about World First, but the top 3 was our minimal plan for this content.

Seu: It may be a little self-confident but this result was pretty expected, at least for me. Our roster was getting wider and more flexible with every content patch, we were working pretty hard with our alts (each raider has at least one, most have two, well geared alts), we hadn't missed a single PTR raid test and so on.

Shadow: We knew that our roster was decent enough to compete on the top level and we understood that everything is in our hands.


As you progressed through the raid, when (or if) did you start thinking you had a real shot at the top 3 or perhaps even higher?

Alveona: Well, after Dark Animus we realized that we got really huge chances for top 3 or even higher. The only moment when I was a bit worried was Ra-den.

Revenant: We were going through all the content with the same speed, so looks like everything happened as planned. But it’s pretty bad luck that Ra-den depended so much just on one feature of the fight, so who discovered that first (and that required you to spend only one try) had a shot at killing the boss first.

Shadow: In the first days of the heroic progression we'd seen many good guilds pushing early bosses hard and I personally started to think that maybe something was going wrong with us, but every next boss gave us more of a feeling that we’d end it at the top 3. Animus was a key boss for us from this point of view.


Do you feel this tier was the best for you so far, in terms of roster, player availability etc? Did you have any issues during it, was there something that was slowing you down?

Alveona: It was quite good content for us in terms of roster, however we still had some issues (one of our main boomkins and shadow priests left the game during progress). Surprisingly, internet connections weren’t a problem this tier for our raiders. At the start we were performing quite badly - Council of Elders stopped us for 8 hours, which was terrible, mostly due to fact that we were thinking this boss would be a complete pushover.

Revenant: We didn't have a lot of roster problems, although it’s kinda frustrating when one class (warlocks) has much more single target DPS and much higher AOE than any other (maybe except elem shamans), and that makes it mandatory to stack them at most bosses.

Shadow: If you count a PTR at a really uncomfortable time for us, tons of alt raids to prepare for ToT normals, 6 normal raids themselves and the main heroic progression, that is a lot of time investment overall! Honestly, players became tired at the end, some of them didn’t show up sometimes. Add internet issues, that's so frustrating for our country. :) The main thing that we could really improve was to kill Lei Shen one cooldown earlier. As you may know, we killed him on the first day of the new cooldown. The day before we had like 20 pulls under 10% and around 5 pulls under 3%. The apogee was the try when we had 25 players alive at 4%, but our DK fell asleep and didn’t grip sparks! It was the most stupid wipe ever 5 seconds later.


Well, we have to talk about the video release issues. You put out your Dark Animus and then, more significantly, Ra-den video before the No.1 guild. With Ra-den specifically, you may have affected the outcome of the final race, with two guilds getting the kill soon after the video. Why did you do that, what was the reasoning behind either of those two releases?


Alveona: Regarding the Dark Animus video release – it was just an ordinary release with the start of the next raid cooldown, no idea why someone should be angry about it. The funniest part that as far as I know someone from Method asked on their stream to dislike the video, however after 5 days their video got around 900 dislikes and 200 likes when our video had the opposite situation so they turned off the counter completely. Just to clarify, we were not asking anyone to dislike their video at all, that’s just a community reaction.

And now about the Ra-den video release. I’m not going to lie that we made it accidentally. However, I can’t tell the whole story due to some private discussions involved in it. The only thing I can say there was some kind of agreement that was violated by Method, so after that we felt that there’s not a single reason for us to do the right thing either. I don’t like this situation too and hope that we will sort out situations like this with other guilds, but probably it will help to understand that it’s way better to discuss things if you're interested in the outcome and not just do things on your own.

Seu: First: I personally never heard about the KILL 1ST@RELEASE 1ST rule before this content.
Second: If you remember, Method have done quite the same thing with Sha of Fear heroic  video.

Shadow: In both situations enough guilds already killed the boss when we released the video. As you may remember Paragon released their videos immediately after world 2nd kill in WotLK and if now there are “different  rules”, they may delay their videos as long as they wish, it’s not our business.

Is the guild composed of all Russian-speaking members or do you have some international players as well?

Alveona: We’re using Russian language only for communicating, so that’s the requirement now. Of course we’ve got members from Ukraine and even Cyprus, but they all use Russian language. So if you’re interested in learning our language and killing some bosses – feel free to apply!

Shadow: We've had and have players from different countries such Ukraine, Belorussia, Germany, United Kingdom and even Japan. But the main rule is all our players must perfectly communicate in Russian.


At a RL meeting

What is it your guild does differently from others that makes it special (can be good or bad)?

Alveona: We’ve got awesome core raiders for sure. Most of them have been playing together since the end of WotLK / start of Cataclysm. In my opinion that’s one of the main reasons for our constant progression in the world rankings.
Speaking of bad things – we love to invent too complicated strategies for the raid bosses, which slow us down sometimes.

Seu: We are pretty young collective in comparison with others (Method, BL, etc). And well, we speak Russian. :D


And more RL meeting pics!

To what extent do you monitor what other guilds are doing and does it influence you?

Alveona: Pretty sure every guild competing for the WF does it. Sometimes it helps with the boss, sometimes only leading to the wrong direction. Of course that’s minor influence on result, but still can help.

Seu: Honestly, the only thing I do is checkg wowprogress 3-4 times between the pulls. Sometimes our raiders like to prank each other with linking  'fakeprogress' to the guildchat to escalate the situation once again. Something like:
1    Blood Legion (25 recruiting)    US-Illidan    13/13 (H)    37500.00
at the first day they reached him. I'd be lying if I said that we do not check raidcomps of other guilds. Sometimes it gives us a general idea of what strategy they're using, but it rarely affects ours if we have one.




How would you rate the difficulty and design of the instance overall, compared to previous raids in WoW?

Alveona: Definitely one of my favorite ones along with Ulduar. It’s better than T11 and T14 due to a great final boss , similar to Ragnaros (Lei Shen ofc, not Ra-den!)

Revenant: The raid design was pretty nice, that is a step forward. I thought about quitting the game after Cataclysm, mostly after DS, because it was so poorly made that I thought WoW would die in the next expansion for sure (there weren’t even any new boss models except for Deathwing, not to mention the lore failure). And Throne of Thunder feels as epic as Ulduar was, every boss has its own model and it’s a pretty hardcore tier – I really like it.

Seu: Difficulty 8/10. I personally do not like moments when the next boss is a lot easier than previous (Iron Qon, for example). Aside from this, the difficulty of the instance is pretty well tuned.
Design 9/10. ToT is super-atmospheric. Bosses are pretty original and different. The only thing I didn't like is the trash. I especially hate the trash packs before Megaera.

Shadow: I’ll rate the design of this tier in around 5th place, after Black Temple, Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel and at the same level as few other tiers. From the viewpoint of difficulty and balance ToT is one of best tiers ever. 


Did you prefer this rading schedule or the one in tier 14 with three shorter races?

Alveona: T15 was ideal for progression time - and boss-wise, only Ra-den was a mistake.

Seu: Good question. I think the t14 schedule was perfect for the beginning of the expansion, when all players are extremely undergeared. Three shorter races gave us time to not RUSH everything in hope that the needed piece of gear will drop. For t15 there is no reason to gate the instance since everyone has quite the same ilvl (at least top-guilds).

Shadow: One long race is better, simply because we can’t be available to raid 15 hours a day 3 month long! :) Short breaks between gates or instances don’t help much, we have to spend all the time to prepare for next gate, gear up more alts etc. Also the gating system clears all difference between top guilds when the next gate opens.


How would you improve on the overall raid design that is currently in place?

Alveona:

  • Remove the Thunderforged mechanic – this game has enough random things to take care of;
  • Normal week is just bad for progression – that’s why top guilds are leveling 3+ alt characters and so on. So the best way would be hardmodes from first week, it would make the race way more fun and less frustrating (6 normal raids on 1st week = bad design);
  • Ra-den should be the last boss with limited attempts. Hardmode-only boss is fun, limited attempts is not;
  • Melee classes are useless most of the time + half of the boss mechanics are not working on them (say hello to tunnel vision playstyle). Some fix for this problems would be nice.


Revenant: Remove 10 and 25 man raids, introduce 15-20 raids, make the last wing bosses share a number of attempts 'till they would despawn, at least on heroic difficulty – that would be pretty nice, in my opinion.

Seu: Get rid of TF gear. It random and frustrating. It diminishes the value of '35 gear. It makes people to reject it in hope that '41 will drop soon (which, basically can never happen). 

Shadow: Return Asia servers to the same instances and gear that the rest of the world has, so they can compete in the race. Make the instance open time exactly the same for all regions. Another wish will most likely never be real, but it sounds really cool and it may solve many problems for top guilds. When you play DotA or LoL, you can choose any hero you like, so you don’t really think about the class balance, don’t think before the game that your role or hero will be useless etc. I imagine such a system in WoW, where you can choose your character’s class right before you enter the instance. Should be very cool for the top race!


What was your favorite boss in the instance, which was the most fun and which do you think was the best designed one?

Alveona: Favorite boss – Lei Shen, it’s hard, fun and nicely tuned. Reminds me of Ragnaros, however Rag was better and way more epic. Most fun – Durumu the Forgotten. Really love arcade bosses like him and hope there will be more like this one in the future. Best designed – Dark Animus. Great encounter with interesting mechanic and awesome tuning.

Revenant: Dark Animus.

Seu: Lei Shen. If first two phases (+transitions) are pretty simple and require nothing but perfect execution, third phase got a quite a wide room for experiments. Dark Animus is pretty interesting too, but it's from quite a different league.

Shadow: I like the ideas of many bosses such as Ji-Kun, Durumu, Dark Animus or Twin Consorts. But Lei Shen is the best balanced in terms of hp and damage, has many paths strategically and is quite dynamic. Unfortunately Lei Shen is very picky about raid setup, so he can’t be called “the best designed boss ever”.


Dark Animus


Which boss was the most frustrating and why?

Alveona: Council of Elders for sure. We spent 8 hours on it due to terrible strategy. That’s why the obvious tactic is sometimes way better than a complicated one.

Revenant: Ra-den, because of the mechanics.

Seu: Lei Shen. With all those 1-4% wipes.

Shadow: I can’t say that any boss was too bad, but well… maybe Iron Qon? The early phases are easier than normal and then there are 2 minutes of “everything at once”. After the PTR we were thinking that this boss could be one of the hardest bosses in the instance, or at least would require tons of gear etc. And the final version was just not so hot as it could have been.


Lei Shen is getting a lot of compliments and superlatives thrown at him, what's your opinion of the boss? Is he really in the same league as Ragnaros, Firefighter, Yogg0 etc?

Alveona: And where’s the Lich King in this list? It’s hard to compare such fights, I love them all. Another reason why it’s hard to compare them – the skill level of the guild when you were trying these bosses was different. My personal PoV is Ragnaros > Lei Shen > Lich King = Firefighter > Yogg0. (edit - LK wasn't mentioned because of his limited attempts nature - Starym)

Seu: I didn't play so hardcore at the time of Ulduar, so I cannot really compare it with Yogg0 and Firefighter, cause I killed it in another guild with other priorities. As for Ragnaros I think they're pretty equal in terms of difficulty and basic fight design (with 2+2 "easy" phases and last phase hard as hell) with the difference that on Ragnaros it was clear that the last phase would be HARD when on Lei Shen it was quite deceptive: it seems easy at first sight, but the farther you advance, the harder it becomes. I think Lei Shen is almost the ideal example of a last boss of a tier: it's brutally hard, unforgiving for mistakes, a bit hope crushing and spectacular to watch.

Shadow: Lei Shen is easier than Ragnaros or Yogg+0, at least because he’s becoming a lot easier with better gear, and we’re still far from bis.


Lich King 25                                                                          Ragnaros 25


Take us through the timeline of your Lei Shen attempts, the strategies, the weird attempts, and whether you thought that it wasn't doable at any point.

Shadow:
1.    Going into first transition with one overloaded platform, wiping here a lot.
2.    Thinking better about composition on every platform and getting into phase 2.
3.    Going into second transition, where it wasn’t possible to survive with our platforms choices.
4.    Thinking again, understanding that phase 1 can be complete without any platform overloaded! :D
5.    Starting to reach phase 3 that looked absolutely impossible.
6.    Brainstorm, trying different ways for phase 3. Keep in mind we reached phase 3 maybe 1 try per hour if not less.
7.    Figuring out the right strategy! It happened on around 400ish pull or a bit later. (And we killed the boss on 600ish pull)
8.    Stupid wipes! They actually happened everywhere in this list, but I just put it here :)
9.    A lot of low percent wipes. We reached phase 3 nearly every pull and everyone in the raid understood that we just need a pull with better luck.


The great Lei Shen vs. Ra-den debate - which do you think was the "real" endboss?

Alveona: There shouldn’t be any debate. Lei Shen is the endboss. Ra-den is a mistake of this tier.

Revenant: Ra-den would be the “real” end boss if he wasn’t “find one feature and kill the boss” fight.

Seu: Definitely it is Lei Shen. It's harder in theory, has a wider room for different killstrats, requires more personal skill. The only reason why Ra-den suddenly becomes a 'lastboss' is wowprogress.com which consists of a single person who's not even been raiding quite a long time ago. Blizz said that it will be BONUS-boss like a bonus-level in Super Mario Bros., top guilds are confirming it. But people are still arguing thanks to wp.com.


How do you feel about limited attempts bosses in their most recent incarnation?

Revenant: I like the idea in general, but not in the manner of Ra-den. If the boss was already killed by Blizzard testers, they ruled out most of the bugs and all other players haven’t seen him – that is the nice kind of limited attempts.

Seu: As for Ra-den I think it is acceptable. The main problem is: it makes people far from hardcore raiding think that Ra-den is the last boss of the instance which is basically not true. Limited attempts may find their place at solo-activities like some sort of  'elite' quests with good rewards, brawlers guild and so on.

Shadow: Well, it’s interesting! Guilds with limited raiding time like Midwinter or ScrubBusters can show what they are made of here.


Which do you think was harder, Lei or Ra, taking into account the limited attempts?

Alveona: Without “clever usage of game mechanics” tactic on Ra-den I’m not sure. With current tactic – Lei Shen is way harder even with limited attempts on Ra-den.

Revenant: Lei Shen of course.

Seu: Lei Shen.

Shadow: What do you call the “harder boss”? Someone can say, it’s time spent “in the raid”, another guy will call the amount of attempts, or a real life time that was needed to master the fight. Ra-den took more time, if you count limited attempts.

Biggest rage moment during progress?

Revenant: My failure with grip on 4% of Lei Shen that led to a wipe, was a bit distracted

Seu: The biggest rage moment was when, on a possible killing try, our DK got distracted and did not massgrip the ball lightnings and they killed the raid pretty fast. After that the entire raid just became enraged, everyone was blaming each other and the screaming in voice chat was so loud that officers had to mute it for a while. I am personally a pretty calm and stress resistant person but when it happened I naturally took off my headset and threw it to the wall.


Funniest moment during progress?

Alveona: Random people falling off the platform during the Lei Shen encounter. Ninja-pulls of Lei Shen before the timer with great soundtrack on Ventrilo for such moments - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2a4gyJsY0mc

Revenant: Warlock that had some keyboard issue so he just ran forward till he fell of the Lei Shen platform in demon form.

Seu: Our officer's NetrollTUZ screenshots of fails with funny comments.


What's the craziest tactic you tried on any of the bosses?

Alveona: Kiting the Giant robots on Dark Animus with using the Matter Swap ability. Pretty sure it’s possible to kill it in a such way btw!

Shadow: We tried to tank big adds on Animus without receiving any damage from them! We matter swapped them every time for this and this actually worked well, at least on normal :)


What did your typical progress day look like?

Alveona: Raid starts at 14-00 (GMT+3) till 02-30 with 2-3 breaks for 30 minutes and some random ninja-afk due to member problems for the first 2 weeks. 19-00 till 02-30 after the second hardmode week.

Seu: So, my typical progress day looks like:
7 am waking up and getting myself to the clinic, where i study.
12:30 coming home and trying to sleep some time before the raid starts.
13:30-14:30 one of the officers waking me up with a phone call. Raid starts. We raid to 3-4 am with a couple of small (5-20 mins) and one long (40-70 mins) break. I`m trying to use most of the free time for a sleeping, even 20 minutes is enough for me to be concentrated for a couple of hours. It causes some jokes, but I'm okay with that.


What was the class balance like in this tier? Any OP classes or less than useful ones?

Alveona: Overall class balance was quite bad.
Tanks: Monks and paladins > others;
Melee DD (well, if you need them at all :D ): Rogues and DK >> other choices;
Ranged DD: Warlocks and mages >> others;
Healers: Paladins > others

Revenant: WARLOCKS ARE FINE!

Seu: Warlocks: 15/10.
Mages: 9/10
Rogues, DK: 8/10
Boomkins, Shadow priests: 7/10
Hunters, Ret Paladins, Shamans, Warriors: 6/10
DD Monks: 3/10
We do not have any cats in the roster, but I can suggest they would be on a par with hunters, paladins, shammys and warriors.

Shadow: Warlocks are too strong now. They have good single target damage, good 2-3 target damage, best aoe. I understand situations where aclass is strong on the one hand and weak on the other. But what if the final boss requires 4 warlocks, they do more damage and survive better on all other fights? Once again many fights were designed with a limited amount of melee, so for this tier it’s not the best choice to be one of them.


Favorites!

- Raid instances
Alveona: T8, T11, T14, T15.
Revenant: Old Naxxramas, AQ40, Ulduar, ICC.
Seu: Karazhan, Ulduar, ToT.
Shadow: Black Temple.


World First 25 man Glory of the Icecrown Raider

- Boss encounters
Alveona: Firefighter, Yogg0, Lich King, Ascendant Council, Ragnaros, Durumu, Dark Animus, Lei Shen.
Revenant: Classic Horsemen, C’thun, Yogg’Saron.
Seu: Yogg-Saron, Legnaros, Dark Animus, Lei Shen.
Shadow: Mimiron 25 hardmode.

- Expansion
Alveona: Hard to say, probably MoP as of now.
Revenant: Classic, TBC, a bit WotLK.
Seu: To be honest MoP is pretty good.
Shadow: MoP.

- Tier set design(s)
Alveona: T6, T8, T10.
Revenant: Warriors tier 12, some of tier 3 sets, druids tier 12, most of new challenge sets and some more that I cannot remember, but mostly tiers are ugly.
Seu: Rogue t8, t12; warrior t6.
Shadow: Warrior tier3.

- New Features
Alveona: Hardmodes, Active mitigation for tanks, Challenge modes.
Seu: MoP talent system,  Dualspec, Heirlooms.
Shadow: Cross-realm (5-man, LFR, quest with friends from other realms).

- Game(s) aside from WoW
Alveona: Everquest 2, ME series, Blizzard games in general.
Revenant: Batman: Arkham City, Crysis 2,3, Dead Space 2,3, BioShock Infinite, Darksiders 1,2, Starcraft 2 Wings and HoTS, Diablo 3, Heroes 6.
Seu: Half-life; Silent Hill 2; Portal.
Shadow: DoTa, SC2, Poker.


What are your overall thoughts on Mists of Pandaria and what's your favorite/least favorite feature of the new expansion?

Alveona: Favorite: Challenge modes
Least favorite: “dailymania” + thunderforged gear

Seu: Blizz done a really good job with MoP. I like the simplification of the annoying/unnecessary elements such as the old talent system, when you have to go to your class trainer every time just to change some utility talents to perform better on the current fight. I like the legendary quest chain. I also don't really like simplification of class mechanics, when the "skill cap" keeps lowering.

Shadow: This expansion looks friendly for casual players, they have enough things to do without a group, can easily join raids like LFR or 5-man and communicate with their friends from other realms. For me personally the game now looks a little boring, because I have to do the same things again and again and again. The game requires too much time for dailies, valor points, repeating the same on alts, which are a must for top guilds.


A very close Lei Shen wipe

What do you think of the progress the game has made since it came out, what were some of the crucial moments in WoW history for you and how did they change the game?

Alveona: For me it’s definitely T11 content when 10 and 25 man modes became “the same” (as some people still think they are, but they're not, of course). I don’t want to accept it, but 25 man raiding is dying and in my opinion MoP will be the last addon with a 25 man raiding race. Even now it’s only 10 guilds left, competing for the top spots. Recruiting is a pain too now, the main source of the new members are disbanded hardcore guilds (multinational guilds got some advantage due to quantity of servers). In my opinion the best way to fix this would be to introduce 15 man raiding instead of 10/25 modes. It would help with a lot of problems, including the testing cycle (2 x less to tune ), creating new dungeons (platforms sometimes too small for 25 man and too big for 10 man etc) and so on. Current “help” for 25 man raiding with thunderforged gear is just a “band aid” for on dying person, not the medicine to save it. Let’s hope that I’m wrong, but we will see.

Seu: LFR, Unification of 10 and 25 (in terms of loot and achievments), PvP Arena. I personaly do not like any of these changes.

Shadow: The game is progressing overall; changes made the game better for playing solo or in a smaller groups. Players can choose from more and more things and do only the part of the game that they really enjoy. The most important moments are the 10-man bracket, achievements system and battle.net social network (including cross-realm in-game interaction).
But well, you can’t use an engine from 2004 forever. Also, new players aren’t really enjoying the process of catching old players up. Let’s think – you have to buy the original game and 4 expansions, do you think a new player will choose it, if he can play a game where everyone will get a fresh start?


In closing, do you think we're headed in the right direction in top-end raiding, on Blizzard's side and on the guilds' side?

Alveona: I don’t think that raiding for 16 hours/day with 6 normal mode raids to gear up your mains on the first week is the right side for top-end raiding , however I'm not sure that there’s some way to turn it back to something less hardcore and time consuming (normal mode part can be fixed, but not the raid time part). That’s why hardcore guilds are killing themselves (less and less people are ready to play so much to compete for the WF). On Blizzard’s side – they've made great raid dungeons in MoP, I hope the last tier will be at least the same quality as T14 and T15 ones.

Revenant: If it is the right direction from the guild’s side, in a year we would make one normal raid raid per every main character that would be on progress. And 20 hours raid every day would be TOTALLY FINE for a progress race.

Seu: I do not think so. 25s are dying slowly. Even 10s are dying now. LFR is enough for most people. Despite Blizzard making quality content, raiding becomes a significantly lesser part of WoW now.

Shadow: I like the way Blizzard improves the raiding part of the game overall – PTR was more stable, bosses had less bugs and were better tuned. Personally I don’t like the idea of LFR/normal, where you can too easily see all end-game content. Back in classic and BC you had to attune for the raid, and when you finally moved inside of the instance you had an absolutely awesome incomparable epic feeling. New players, you’ll never feel it :)