Vims has already speculated on when Arena Season 4 will arrive, pegging it somewhere around early to mid-June. I tend to agree with that statement as Blizzard has noted on several occasions that Season 4 isn't coming anytime soon. Considering that none of servers worldwide have even opened the second gate in Sunwell Plateau, it means that equivalent level PvE items won't be cascading into the player base for quite some time. This gives players roughly around a month and two weeks to prepare for the next Arena season, if not longer.
Because Arena points are capped at 5,000, players with enough Arena gear can start banking points in preparation for the new season. If gear prices remain the same (which is likely as prices have been constant through Seasons 1-3), players can open the Arena week with 3/5 Brutal Gladiator pieces: the gloves, which are priced at 1,125 Arena points during the current season; and any two of the chestpiece, headpiece, or leg piece, which go for 1,875 points. It is also possible to purchase the 1,500 points worth shoulder piece on the first week if players manage to raise their personal rating to a highly restrictive 2200 if the speculated changes make it live. Because personal ratings are calculated directly after each game, it is possible to purchase the personal ratings-limited shoulder pieces or weapons provided the player has enough points during the first week.
Players only beginning their Arena trek now can bank 5,000 points in five weeks by maintaining at least a 1959 Rating in 5v5, 2065 in 3v3, and a high 2259 in 2v2. Realistically, however, many players will probably average around 1600-1700, which will net roughly 353 Arena points for a 1600 2v2 team up to 607 points for a 1700 5v5 team. Maintaining these moderate team ratings for the rest of Season 3 should guarantee enough Arena points for at least one Season 4 piece.
Another option for players is to bank points for the eventual price reduction on Season 3 items. If the new season follows tradition, current Season 3 armor will receive up to a 245 Arena point reduction in cost. For many players, that's one week less of fighting in the Arenas. It isn't such a bad idea to go for the previous season's gear as it will gear up players faster and offer more Resilience and overall power than all other gear aside from the latest Season. Ideally, of course, players will have gotten 5/5 Vengeful Gladiator, and one or more S3 weapons. But for those who started Season 3 rather slowly, there are many ways to be prepared for Season 4.
With the new Honor grind easier than ever, it's a relatively simply task to accumulate 75,000 Honor points before the beginning of the next Season which -- if Blizzard stays true to form -- will see Season 2 Merciless Gladiator gear become purchasable through Honor. Season 1 gear will fade into obsolescence and most players will theoretically receive a gear upgrade. Because Honor is calculated live, spending Honor points as soon as they come become available is highly recommended. An easy way to accumulate Honor is by cycling through all the Battlegrounds until players have 3 Marks of Honor from each one for turning in to For Great Honor or Concerted Efforts. It is relatively easy to casually grind 5,000+ Honor a day, allowing a lot of Honor to be banked or used at the player's discretion. Dedicating more play time to the Honor grind can guarantee a Vindicator piece in a couple of days.
Calculating the odds
Depending on what players are after, it takes a bit of planning to achieve goals at season's end. Arena titles are awarded to the upper 35% of active Arena players. The top 10%-35% of players will receive the somewhat denigrating title of Challenger. Depending on your Battlegroup, this rating can vary. It is also important to note that there are far more active 2v2 teams than there are 3v3 or 5v5, whereby the rating required to achieve certain ranks will be higher for the smaller team brackets. The top 3%-10% of players will be conferred the Rival title, and the top 0.5-3% will become Duelists. If this season is anything like the last, it's a good bet that most players with a team rating of over 2000 will qualify for Duelist. The top 0.5% will be granted the title of Gladiator and receive a PvP Nether Drake. For most Battlegroups, that's around the top 160-170 teams in 2v2, the top 75-80 in 3v3, and top 35-40 in 5v5. A precious few players, a mere handful from each Battlegroup, will receive the title of -- if precedent holds -- Vengeful Gladiator. This rare, temporary title is awarded to players who belong in the number one team in their Battlegroup's bracket.
Personally, I think the Arena titles are somewhat uncreative and don't have the menace or tone of older PvP titles such as High Warlord or Grand Marshal. Even the Battlegrounds titles of Conqueror and Justicar sound more dignified. On the other hand, the most dedicated Arena players look forward to obtaining Gladiator rank and the 310% speed flying mount. The only other 310% speed flying mount in the game is the Ashes of A'lar, which drops off Prince Kael'thas in Tempest Keep. It's arguably as difficult to get an armored Nether Drake, but it's also arguably easier to organize two to five people to get together for a few hours a week.
It's important to note that only players who have played 20% of their team's total games will qualify for titles and the nether drake. Because many teams change members depending on member availability and, well, efficacy, some members may fall short of the required game minimums if they're not conscious of the match count. Teams will also need to have members that have played 20% of their total games in order to qualify for the final tally. This is only a concern for teams that have replaced most or all of their members at one point in time. Teams must have also played a minimum of 20 games throughout the season to qualify, although this is probably the easiest requirement to achieve. 20 games will not take a 1500 team very high, so expect most high rated teams to have games numbering in the hundreds.
In order to qualify for end of season rewards, a player must also have a personal rating that is within 100 points of her team's rating. This is a concern mostly for mid-season recruits whose teams are highly rated and starting off with 1500. The gap closes pretty quickly, however, as the personal rating system is designed to compensate for a player's personal rating matched against the rating of those she plays against. This means that high rated teams will be matched against similarly high rated opponents, and although the point gain (or loss) may be moderate for the team, a player with a high point differential (presumably lower) will gain a lot of personal rating points from a win and lose little from a loss.
Why is Season 4 important?
Season 4 marks the end of an era. Season 3 as it stands now is currently the longest running Arena season. It also represents how gear has cascaded into the general World of Warcraft community. Arena as it is within the game is a means for Blizzard to narrow the gear gap between players. Season 3 item sets are item level 146, directly on par with the raid sets from Mount Hyjal and Black Temple. Season 3 started when a good number of players were geared from MH/BT. As Blizzard has noted several times, Arena and Honor PvP gear is designed to match PvE gear progression. When Season 4 begins, it signals the last phase of narrowing the gear gap before Wrath of the Lich King.
Because Sunwell Plateau is the last new instance before WotLK, it's a fair bet that Season 4 will be the last major event push as the new expansion goes into the home stretch. This also means that Season 4 is pretty much guaranteed to be the last Arena season before the expansion. There are certain to be minor class changes in a minor patch before then, but Arena play at its highest level will change. Season 4 will be the last Arena season without the Death Knight and the last before new spells and abilities make or break existing comps and strategies. With Tom Chilton acknowledging the introduction of new maps, as WotLK brings in a new class, new skills, Season 4 becomes the last training ground for a new era in Arena play.
It is with Season 4 that all players will make the last push for gear that will carry them through the first few levels in Northrend. More than ever, Blizzard has allowed the gear discrepancy to narrow with PvE Badge of Justice gear and Arena gear in preparation for the expansion. Preparing for Season 4 isn't so much preparing for another round of arena tournament as it is preparing to acquire gear for leveling through Wrath of the Lich King. More than any other Arena season, the next one is merely a preparatory period for a new chapter in the World of Warcraft.
Zach Yonzon writes the supposedly weekly The Art of War(craft) but has succumbed to numerous writing pushbacks. He promises to deliver more killing blows on a regular basis, although he struggles not to tank his team's ratings while carrying his five-month old daughter in one arm and a stylus in the other.