BDGG's Thoughts on Shards of Domination and the Race to World First
20.09.2021 um 06:00
We’re now over a month out from the launch of the Sanctum of Domination and with the Hall of Fame coming to a close, we're looking back at this past tier’s newest and most influential system - the Shards of Domination. If you spent time watching this past race to world first, you probably heard casters and players speaking begrudgingly about their shards, or lack thereof. What’s more, several of the world’s best players were effectively barred from participating in the race to world first due to missing out on these shards. So what happened?
The Two Part Problem
It’s important to note that the shards themselves weren’t implemented to be tested on the PTR until after the Sanctum boss tests had already been concluded. This meant that it was practically impossible for Blizzard to gain meaningful data as to how powerful these sets would be, and they’d especially lack data for how they compare relatively to one another.
Inevitably, this meant that the shard sets wouldn’t be relatively balanced and we ended up with the frost set coming in woefully undertuned compared to the other two, with unholy pulling ahead as the clear winner. But the 2nd part of this problem came in with acquisition.
Because of the late implementation of the shard set to the PTR cycle, and because they were simply added as items on a vendor, players never had the opportunity to test or give feedback for the system's largest failure - the acquisition.
As we logged into the game on July 6th, we were immediately faced with our biggest fear; the shards were a tertiary personal loot drop. To make matters worse, it had a somewhat low drop rate, and there was no way to target specific shards. This meant that players were relying upon luck to get shards, relying upon more luck to get a completed set of shards, and relying upon even more luck to get a completed set of their best set (unholy). In addition, you finally had to have the correct gear slots with domination sockets to use your shard set. And for the guilds hoping to complete the raid in the first week or two, this meant that you had very few chances to smooth out this randomness.
All of this, coupled with the fact that these shard sets weren’t balanced and contributed an abnormally large amount of power to the player, meant guilds would potentially be leaving 1000’s of DPS on the table by using a player who had zero shard sets over a player who did. The result was that players, who would have otherwise been able to participate in the race, weren’t being utilized in favor of other players who had completed these powerful shard sets.
How differently could this race have played out if shards either weren’t implemented or weren’t this impactful? A guild's preparation for raid composition could be entirely thrown out if, say, your rogues didn’t get shard sets but your warlocks did.
While the race obviously wasn’t decided by any guild’s number of shards, this system absolutely played a role in how effectively Echo was able to find enough damage to defeat Sylvanas in the first week of Mythic. For context of how great their preparation was to maximize shard sets and utilize their heroic week, when Echo killed Mythic Sylvanas at the end of the first week, they had a total of
70 shards equipped
, with 36 of them being unholy shards. For reference, when BDGG killed Sylvanas an entire reset later, they had just slightly more, coming in at 77 shards equipped.
This Patch and Scaling
Now that the race is over and guilds have over a month of this tier under their belts, most players who’ve cleared regularly until now should have all of their shard sets completed. With that being the case, and all of the previous taken into consideration, here comes the hot take -
this system isn’t actually terrible at this point in the tier
. It provides a way of continuously soft-nerfing the raid at the beginning of the tier by making players incrementally stronger every week. We’re reaching the cap on how strong players will get from this system as players are reaching rank 5 in their best shard sets, but it’s already giving vibes reminiscent of corruption gear from Ny'alotha.
Lessons and Improvements Going Forward
From a top-end perspective, this specific implementation was a failure with regards to its impacts on the race. With that said, not all systems are or should be designed with us in mind. However, there are some concerns that the player base at large should all be sharing with this system being implemented. The main concern is that Blizzard tends to test-run game systems before they bake them into the game as a whole (e.g. Netherlight Crucible became Azerite Armor). If this trend extended to shard sets, this patch might have signaled Blizzard’s idea for a modern take on tier sets.
So how could we improve on this system going forward? For one, systems should be implemented earlier in the testing cycle so that players have the opportunity to provide meaningful data and feedback (and get any balancing passes before they make their way to live servers). Secondly, acquisition of tier-defining systems should not be locked behind random tertiary personal loot with a weekly lockout. Additionally, it misses one of the fundamental aspects of tier sets; they’re class specific and change how specs play from patch to patch. These shard sets aren’t particularly interesting for how you play, rather they just soft-nerf the raid over time.
Do top guilds want this system to return in the future? Yes, assuming the above issues are addressed. Otherwise, if it ends up being the case that this is the next iteration of tier sets, we can all expect the next race to world first to have a lot more degeneracy, with players stacking multiple copies of their main to attempt to counter the ultimate pain-point of this system - acquisition.
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