It is assumed that your goal is to get to a reasonable entry level for Nighthold Normal and that you have a fresh 110 character with minimal progress in World of Warcraft. Reasonable entry level here means 860+ average item level equipped (in-game recommended item level for NH Normal according to Group Finder), and Artifact Level 35 (one point into your paragon trait).
Catching up may be or maybe not depend where you left off and how long you have been away. You will focus on three things:
(1) Getting to Artifact Knowledge 25
(2) Getting 35 traits in your main spec artifact
(3) Getting geared to 860+
Will be straightforward from their progress and I assume you know what to do.
Artifact Knowledge (Goal: AK25)
For Your Main
AK0 to 14
Go to the AK work order NPC in your class hall.
Buy Artifact Research Synopsis until you reach AK15 (Cost: 500 Order Resources each, 7,500 total for AK0>15). AK15-24. Roll AK work orders (500 resources each) until you reach AK25 (~30 days with the current catch-up discount for work orders).
You are done. For now. Go to artifact level, or see For Your Alt below.
For Your Alt. If the main is at AK25. Go to the AK work order NPC in your class hall. Buy Artifact Research Compendium: Volumes I-IV (Cost: 1,000 resources). Go to Ilnea Bloodthorn in Dalaran. Buy 13x Order Resources Cache (Cost: 13x Blood of Sargeras). Mail the compendium and caches to your alt. Use compendium to boost your alt to AK20, and use resources to roll work orders to AK25 (~15 days).
If your main is at AK10-24.
Same steps as above, with lesser ranks of the compendium boost token, and more order resource caches to finish the job. Get your main to AK25 to unlock higher ranks of the compendium tokens for your alts.
Artifact Level (Goal: 35 Traits)
If you are starting with an alt that is not yet at AK25, you may want to boost it with the compendium token and leave it to idle just doing work orders until it gets there, to expedite the rate of AP gain once you start the real work. You can do this at any level of Artifact Knowledge, but it will go much faster at AK25. Once you have boosted your knowledge as far as you can, here are your options: If you have not done Suramar.
Do Suramar. It’s Suramar. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it's still rep gated. It also gives the biggest lump sum gain in artifact power that you can get as a fresh 110. For a character that has done nothing there, at AK25, you will get 11 million AP for a full play through including the recently added Insurrection campaign. That is enough to raise two weapons to 34 points, or one weapon to 37 points.
If you have done Suramar and you have lots of time. Grind Mythic Plus. You can do this with friends or PUGs, starting from low keystone ranks. Trade Keys for Carries. You can do this with zero gear, as long as you have keys people want to run.
Mythic plus dungeons, whether you run them under your own power or trade keys for carries, can give you a limitless amount of AP, subject only to your tolerance for grinding them. This will be exponentially more lucrative as you get closer to AK25. You really want to get there as soon as you can to ease the pain and max the rewards from this.
You need to have lots of patience.
Run class hall follower missions for AP (best with followers tuned for 200% bonus chance). Clear world quest emissaries (focus on objectives that give AP or resources) (every 3 days). Run random heroic dungeons (every day).
These are your go-to options for the most progress in the least /played time, especially if you have limited hours per week to play and need to minimize time in game outside of raid nights. If you can log in once a day to do a random heroic dungeon for the daily reward, roll over follower missions as available (can be done from anywhere in a couple minutes with the Legion phone app), and clear world quest emissaries every third day, then (at AK25) you should gain a full bar of AP every 3 to 5 days (a bit slower once you are deep into the paragon trait).
To keep up your supply of resources for follower missions, make sure to do the World Quest Bonus Event when it is up for the extra 5,000 resources (you will be doing the world quests anyway, so the added time is minimal to get this bonus when it is available).
GEAR (Goal: 860 Item Level)
If you have not finished your class hall campaign. Finish your class hall campaign. This unlocks the third relic slot for all your weapons, which gives you an instant 45+ item level upgrade for your weapon (minimum +3 boost to your average item level).
Do world quests for gear to 845+. From 845 to 859. Nighthold LFR (requires 845 to 855; drops 855 to 865; wings open between 1/24/17 and 3/7/17). Timewalking Dungeons Event. The TW bonus cache now drops Nighthold Normal gear (870+), including tier. Legion Dungeons Event. This event cache now drops Nighthold Heroic gear (885+), including tier. Supplement with Mythic Plus grinding if you have more time.
If you have lots of gold. Make or buy crafted gear (item level 815). Upgrade to 9/10 (item level 860) (Cost: 9x Obliterum + 18x Blood of Sargeras per piece). You can buy the crafted base gear and Obliterum, but if you do not already have the needed Bloods, then you will need to do world quests and farm kills or mats for them, because they are BoP. If you are revered with The Wardens, then the Bloodhunter shoulder enchant will help with this. You can upgrade pieces all the way to 10/10, but if your goal is to head straight into raiding NH Normal, that's just a waste.
I only recommend this route if you already have all the needed Bloods, have more gold than you can possibly find anything to spend it on, and want to spend absolutely zero time getting geared. If you do not have most or all of the needed Bloods, then farming those probably will take more time than getting gear directly by the other methods suggested above, and farming gear gives you the chance to also get occasional lucky forged drops that may last you for much longer than fully upgraded crafted pieces.
After Patch 7.2 (Release Date: TBD). Do world quests for gear to 860+. Nothing. You're done. Go to Nighthold. The world quest base item level cap will be raised to 860 in patch 7.2, but that likely will be several months from now. Dungeon loot and crafted gear will be buffed at the same time. It’s unclear how much will be involved to complete it, but your class hall armor set also will be upgradeable to 860 in patch 7.2.
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