One of the first things (and most important) is to decide on the classes in your Arena team. Let's start by looking at what the top teams are doing:
I won't expect the chart to change much until patch 2.3. These distributions are very similar to last week's, with hunters in dire need of some Arena love.
Each Arena format evidently demands different things. A 2v2 is as close to a duel as you can get, while the 5v5 is a totally different game.
In PvP, each class can essentially be described by four traits: Damage, Heals, Control and Durability.
Durability can be very situational. I will define it as general survivability under focused fire and the availability of 'escape' abilities such as bubbles, shapeshifting, blink and Cloak of Shadows.
Time for some more pretty colors:
Looking through the top-ranked Arena teams on the Arena PvP Ranking table, most teams typically cover all four quadrants, even in the lean and mean 2v2s.
2v2 teams: bank on stacking on damage and other threats as quickly as possible. Individual survivability is critical, and both toons are usually big in the Durability quadrant. You'd also want classes that can Heal and exert Control cheaply, with minimal micro-management and casting times. Other factors to consider include ranged vs melee classes, and 'free' class synergies. Popular builds generally pick one from each of these two columns:
Warrior-Resto Druid: A quarter of top 50 US Arena teams run this configuration. Resto druids are durable healers with access to all four quadrants. HOTs on the move, curse/poison removal and cyclone gives them a wide range of answers to most threats. Shapeshifting also makes Druid effectively immune to certain forms of Control and insta-shifting coming in 2.3 should make the Druid an even greater asset in teams. MS warriors are the stalwarts of Arena combat, Damage and Durability being their greatest assets.
Warlock-Resto Druid: another popular team. Healers generally draw focused fire - the resto Druid is quite capable of withstanding the inital onslaught, leaving the unchecked Warlock to do his or her nasty stuff. The Warlock is a durable class among clothies, with an average health of more than 12k at top level Arenas. And we aren't talking about Soul Link yet. The versatility of fear effects - which can be used offensively or defensively - brings the dueling power of warlocks into smaller formats of Arena as well.
Kalgan has indicated on Nov 6 in a blue post that he isn't 'truly satisfied' with current 2v2 balance, with specific reference to the two combos above. According to him, a lot of classes are left out of having a reasonable chance because of the endurance nature of the format, and that warlocks' drain-tanking was 'felt' by the class team to be a part of the problem.
Trying not to read too much into his words, it's peculiar to me that he should single out drain-tanking as a problem when the Warrior-Druid is a solid answer to the Warlock-Druid. Incidentally, the latter forms 10% of the top 50, as opposed to 24% for Warrior-Druid teams. Blizzard seems to believe that warlocks are more of a 'problem' in this format than warriors are (I guess when you say 'nerf locks' often and long enough, it actually happens). Whatever the case may be, I believe that we can certainly look forward to many class changes in 2.3 and beyond, depending on how the Arenas shake out.
Other popular combos include the more aggressive Rogue-Priest, and the more defensive Warrior-Paladin.
3v3 teams: the empasis here is Damage and Durability again, with more room for Control, as seen in the dramatically better representation by mages compared to 2v2. With three toons, it is easier to solidly cover all four quadrants. Again, most teams pick a class from each of these columns:
5v5 teams: there are 1,287 possible 5-man combinations from nine classes; it will be more fruitful to discuss them in terms of the quadrants than specific class mixes. In this format - which many consider to be where the real Arena is - the OP-ness of strong dueling classes give way to teamwork, synergies and multipliers. Control becomes more important: take one toon out, and you're ahead by a few seconds. With ten toons in a confined space, there is a lot happening. Players need to be aware of what is happening to them AND their teammates AND their opponents, to respond accordingly with threats and/or answers. Here you'd want to maximize multiplier effects, or effects that scale with the number of combatants.
1-Heal team: aggressive archetype that seeks to overwhelm opponents with fast and hard threats. One toon is dedicated to Heals and this slot is usually filled by the Paladin or Priest. The other four slots are taken up by Damage classes. These teams make for very quick Arena matches due to sheer dps; team coordination becomes very important as reaction time is minimal. Since gear directly determines dps, toons in these teams need to be geared to kill fast.
2-Heals 1-Control team: Main Heals is typically a holy Paladin. The Shaman or Priest fills in the second Heals slot, and is expected to contribute to Damage and Control if needed. The Control class is usually a Mage. Shamans and mages are more prevalent in 5v5s for quite different reasons. Shammies bring with them the multiplier effects of their totems and Bloodlust (or Heroism), among other abilities. These effects become more powerful in bigger teams. With Durability being relatively less of a concern in 5v5, mages survive better, and contribute in the Control department (more important in 5v5s) - whereas they simply do not stick around long enough in 2v2 to make an impact. The last two slots are for Damage classes, and would usually include a Warrior:
3-Heals team: the antithesis of the 1-Heal team. Between three healers, the objective of this makeup is to outlast their opponents by shrugging off threats. Due to longer battles, damage dealers must constantly stack on the threats and not run out of resources - this favors melee classes such as warriors, rogues and casters like warlocks.
I'd like to say at this point that popular builds are by no means sure-winners, and there is always room for more 'exotic' archetypes, the double mage for example. Do you have a winning combo that isn't cookie-cutter? Why do you think that rogues and druids are less common in 5v5?
This wraps up part one of this article. In part two, we'll look at other facets of building an Arena team:
- Players and playtimes