Stormie of Shadow Council has placed well over 2000 in each Arena bracket for the last two seasons. A bit of a character, and well-known on the Shadow Council forums, Stormie's always been kind enough to share wisdom (and wit) with most anyone who asks. "Ask Stormie" threads pop up from time to time, and usually get helpful useful answers from the Arena celebrity.
The Colosseum was able to snag a bit of the gladiator's time for some questions, and you can check out Stormie's answers behind the cut.
WoW Insider: What challenges does your team have? How do you prefer to run your comp?
Stormie: For 2v2: Run the standard everyone-hates-it druid / warrior. My warrior Oriyn and I have known each other for quite some time, so all of our coordination is on another level from other good players who randomly team up. This is as to be expected of course, although I think this knowledge of what my partner is going to do before they do it really helps.
For 3v3: I haven't played as much lately, but when I did, I played warrior/ warlock/ druid. I played it more on the defensive side, as that has always been my playstyle. I'm not sure if I prefer a rogue or a warrior for this comp, both have advantages. I am starting to prefer playing more and more aggressively, so a rogue might be my first choice. But I've known my warrior longer.
For 5v5: I play Eurocomp (Mage, Lock, Rogue, Druid, Priest). We play much more aggressively than the standard strategies. We use our massive amount of CC more to get a kill, rather than to just shut down and out-mana our opponent. The only target we attempt to keep permanently locked down is the warrior or rogue, if the enemy has one. From that point forward, we play to get a kill.
WoW Insider: What's your opening strategy? What do you like to do as soon as the gate opens?
Stormie: At about 12 seconds into the match, you Regrowth someone (typically your warlock) and then a 2nd person (usually Priest), before putting up Nature's Grasp and buffing the newly summoned Felhunter warlock pet. I put up Nature's Grasp, since if we start fighting early, a warrior will likely intercept me after I've Cycloned him for the 2nd time. The buff will have a few seconds left on it to root him. This also means I have it available again in a few seconds if I need it.
As soon as the gate opens, we find out what the opposing team's class composition is like, and from there we all know what to do. Typically my opener is CC on their warrior or rogue.
WoW Insider: Which mods do you use -- how have you customized your screen?
Stormie: Not too many, actually. I've always stuck pretty close to the standard Blizzard UI. Some that you may want for arena though are:
-- Some mod that will allow you to see focus frames
WoW Insider: How do you work out target designation? (Does someone call it out, or is everyone on their own to figure it out?)
Stormie: With the amount of information being called out on Vent (you should be using vent!), it's best to have one or two people calling targets. The opening target should be fairly obvious, and if theres a question the group can decide fairly quickly. You should then have one or two people who are looking to call for target switches. These people should have a good overview of the whole arena, allowing them to see the entire fight. Good classes for this are generally casters, and sometimes healers.
WoW Insider: How do you schedule your playtime? Do you try and work during "good times to queue?"
Stormie: Typically, it's whenever the team is online and wants to. Afternoon and evening, sometimes into late at night. From my experience, unless you play at some crazy hour like 4 am, you can usually get a decent team to queue against.
WoW Insider: What's been the biggest change in your strategy between each bracket of ratings? (1500s, 1600s)
Stormie: At earlier ratings, you see some extremely weird comps. So strategies and such aren't always applicable. This doesn't always make it harder, as the players in those ratings are generally not the best, but it can lead to some confusion.
Strategies don't necessarily change on a rating basis, but on a individual team basis. Some teams will play their comp more aggressively or more defensively, and the team needs to react to that. You need to be able to capitalize on a 2345 playing too aggressive and gib their warrior, or a 4 DPS team playing too defensive and get off crucial crowd control.
WoW Insider: What signals to you that you need to radically change strategy midmatch? (And how do you accomplish that change?)
Stormie: Mana levels, or how the other team is playing their comp. Is their comp playing extremely aggressively? If so, you need to make sure people don't open themselves up to get blown up in the middle of the arena, and possibly be ready to use defensive cooldowns.
Sometimes, you will notice the other team's healers have a big mana lead. This means you need to possibly shift targets and try for a kill while CCing the healer, or focus that healer down while CCing the second healer (if there is one). With our comp, I can also set up a time where my priest can drink, then come back in and use all that new mana on burns on their healers. You just need to coordinate all the CC.
WoW Insider: What's the key for your composition's strategy?
Stormie: Timing and coordination of all our CC. Overlapping too much is bad, and not having CC on a key target is even worse. With as much CC as Eurocomp has, it's actually quite a bit to manage on the fly. Although we do play it more aggressively, we try and open up kills frequently. This means less lockdown on some of their team, but in the end its how we played it and preferred to play the comp.
WoW Insider: You hear a lot about clicking versus binding. Which skills do you still click, which do you tend to bind?
Stormie: If you can, bind everything. WoW has a 1.5 (sometimes 1.0) global cooldown, but that doesn't mean it gives you time to click the next spell. In the arena, you need to be watching everything: the other team, predicting moves, and talking on Vent. That's on top of playing your own character. You need to get your spells and abilities down to a 2nd-nature keybind.
Most people use 1-6 on their main action bar. This leaves open `, t, y, f, g, h, z, x, c for easy to reach keybinds. Then you can get into "Shift +" those keys, as well as "Shift + 1-6." My vent key is left control, so I don't use "Ctrl +" anything for binds.
WoW Insider: Often in sports or other pursuits, folks have a "learning gap" to get over -- and once they've achieved that epiphany, they find their performance improving all at once. The moment they "get it." Do you think this applies to the WoW Arena? What do you think the most common "learning gap" might be?
Stormie: Understanding the match as a whole. What do you need to have happen soon to get a win, or what do you personally need to do to keep or turn the game to your advantage. Knowing when bursts of damage are coming before they do, and who it's going to be on. What you can do that most cripples the other team.
I suppose the hardest part is looking down the road, seeing the match in the future. Planning out your cooldowns, and looking past the warrior who just intercepted you.