One useful data point is the cost of gold from illicit services. The WoW Token has taken a bite from their business, but these people are still out there, botting trade goods and stealing and pillaging accounts despite Blizzard’s continuing attempts to ban cheating accounts and confiscate illegal gold. The going rate for gold from these outfits is about $15 per 100,000 gold.
I used fully upgraded and enchanted heirlooms; missing only the fishing ring. Leveling from 1-20 took ~3 hours, at which point I immediately turned on War Mode for the duration. I rarely encountered enemy players, and when I did they almost always left me alone. But the few times I did get ganked, the total cost in time was insignificant. Maybe a total of 5 deaths from ganks in the entire 40 hours.
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I found that in most cases, I could pick the zones I liked and skip everything else. It was slower, but I still wasn't forced to do quest zones I hated (and, notably, I skipped the entire Cataclysm expansion's content -- sorry, Thrall.) I did do dungeons, both in group finder and by two-boxing (more on that in a moment as well), but only once for the quests, and mostly to clear what felt like an awfully long slog from 40 to level 80.
Prior to update 7.3.5 it was far too easy to level up a new character. The experience needed to advance from one level to the next was too low, resulting in players out-leveling the story quests in each zone, moving on before getting the full experience. With low monster health and high player power (especially when players were outfitted in ridiculously powerful heirloom gear), creatures dropped like flies. Combined with easy experience gained by joining parties in the dungeon finder, the first 60 levels in the game flew by.
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Footholds into enemy territories can be done as you grow in levels and should be completed before reaching Level 120. Take the time after completing your first zone to do your first foothold. Similar to how your initial zone selection was largely irrelevant, this selection is, as well. Simply pick one and complete it to earn your Mission Table second champion. Send your champions out on missions, recruit troops, and then head back out to quest in your second zone selection.
Congratulations on reaching Level 120! There are a myriad of new things to do. The first thing you should do is head to your faction hub ship where you have been doing your mission table quests and footholds to pick up and complete the quests necessary to unlock World Quests. World Quests will provide you an opportunity to grind reputation levels, acquire gear, and gather Azerite. There are tons of new things to do that we will cover in our Level 120 Battle Guide found here: Level 120 Battle Guide