WoW's top guilds are locked in a savage race to beat its latest raid

Mythic raiding is the Olympics of World of Warcraft—a gruelling test of smarts, teamwork, and endurance as the world's best guilds race to be the first to work their way through a gauntlet of indomitable bosses. Last week, Legion's final raid was opened for those playing on normal and Heroic difficulty. But for World of Warcraft's true elite, the real fight began yesterday when the Mythic-difficulty version of Antorus, the Burning Throne became available. The 11 bosses peppered throughout the demon-infested halls of the Burning Throne's Mythic version don't just hit harder and have more health, they come packed with entirely new abilities that guilds will have to contend with. It's World of Warcraft at its most brilliant and difficult. 

After repelling the full-scale invasion of Azeroth, players have travelled to the ancient dranei homeworld of Argus, the Legion's main headquarters, to end the war once and for all. That player-led invasion started in patch 7.3 as players toyed around with some new progression systems to gear up for when Antorus opened up. But now that its Mythic version is available, the top guilds are spending almost 12 hours a day trying to blitz through it.

Tank and spank 

It's daunting to understand all of the blood, sweat, and tears that comes with playing World of Warcraft at this level. The competitive Mythic raiding guilds, like Method, treat it like a full-time job. Each of the 20 players on the team has a main character that they play as, but they're also expected to have anywhere from five to 20 alternate characters, or 'alts,' geared up and ready to go. When Antorus' easier difficulties opened earlier this week, those guilds began farming them with multiple teams, funneling the powerful loot that dropped toward the main characters who would then tackle Mythic Antorus. This post on the Blizzard forums explains the process a bit more. In addition to that, Legion's grind is technically limitless as Artifact weapons can always be powered up and Titanforging, which randomly makes gear more powerful than it should be when it drops, dangles that loot-carrot just out of reach.

For casual raiders like me, stepping into Antorus the first time is a completely different experience. Blizzard has the normal and Heroic versions available on their test realms well ahead of launch, and by the time the raid actually opens there's already an abundance of guides available to help navigate the complex fights. Mythic raiders have no such luxury. They fight each boss blind and have to die countless times trying to decipher their abilities and how to thwart them. Because Mythic difficulty isn't tested by players beforehand, it's also common for bugs to crop up that make fights impossible to beat. Blizzard keeps a team of engineers on-hand who watch these guilds and make hotfixes if there's a bug or exploit that might make the fight too easy. 

Strategy and execution is everything, which is why none of the competitive guilds are streaming their progress. They can't risk a rival guild stealing one of their strategies for a boss and then executing it before they do. Right now, raiding guilds have only released videos of them killing Kin'Garoth, the seventh boss of Antorus. More recent kill videos will take time to be released, as no one wants to leave behind a map that another guild could follow to catch up and try to snipe the world-first completion of the raid. Some lesser raid guilds, like this one, are streaming earlier sections of the raid as they struggle to progress.

If even one player messes up, it can spell disaster for the entire team.

At the time of writing this, Method is on the final boss, Argus, while Exorsus and Limit are all stuck on Aggramar the Avenger, a fallen titan corrupted to serve the leader of the Burning Legion, Sargeras. He's the last boss before Argus himself. To give you an idea of how complex these fights are, the 20-player raid teams must respond to almost a dozen different abilities that each require different positioning across three phases. If even one player messes up, it can spell disaster for the entire team.

During his first phase, Aggramar uses a deadly combo attack where two tanks need to swap aggro in between each swing of his sword. One tank takes the first hit, the other then taunts Aggramar so he faces them and the rest of the raid, and they soak another massive hit that splits damage equally between everyone. Then that same tank has to face Aggramar away from the group and take another hit before facing him back toward the party for one more group attack. Then everyone has to run away as Aggramar casts Searing Tempest which engulfs nearly half of the arena in in flame. And that's just half the first phase. On Mythic difficulty, things get even more sinister, with abilities that randomly select party members and deal damage over time to anyone near them and enhanced abilities with new debuffs to account for. Wowhead's guide on the encounter is a staggering 3,500 words long for just that fight.

Part of the strategy for killing a boss like Aggramar also involves knowing which classes to bring to which fight. Every detail matters, and while classes in WoW fall into the traditional archetype of tank, healer, and damage-dealer (DPS), subtle differences can really stack up. For example, melee DPS aren't favored by many of the high-end raid guilds because they have to be too close to the action.

Some raid bosses have stumped guilds for days and even weeks while others have taken hours.

Argus, the final boss, will present a special challenge because players have no idea what will happen during his last two phases. Normally, Mythic versions of bosses have new abilities that are spelled out in the in-game Dungeon Journal. It's usually similar to easier difficulties but with a few nasty wrinkles tossed in. Mythic Argus, however, is a complete mystery. His final two phases aren't detailed at all, and it's likely where this race will come down to a photo finish as competing guilds work to puzzle out what they need to do in order to survive. It's anybody's guess how long that could take, however. Some raid bosses have stumped guilds for days and even weeks while others have taken hours.

If you want to track the progress of each guild, Method.gg is the place to go. The US-based guild Limit had a hearty lead thanks to Antorus opening first on North American servers but EU-based Method and Russian Exorsus have since caught up, with Method taking the lead. As the two most dedicated guilds with the best track record of world firsts, Method and Exorsus are expected to be the main finalists. When that finish line will be crossed, however, no one can say.