Support vs. utility
Support means healing your teammates and using defensive cooldowns on them (and yourself) to ensure you survive long enough to win an arena match. While other classes have a limited amount of support abilities (think of a rogue stunlocking an enemy DPSer to peel an enemy off of a teammate), healers are the kings of support.
A healer who is exceptional at supporting his team will be able to accurately predict bursts of damage incoming on a teammate and heal at the exact right time. Avoiding crowd control and being able to use defensive cooldowns at appropriate times are tried-and-true marks of skilled arena healers.
Utility, on the other hand, is all the fun stuff employed by skilled healers. A few examples of utility:
Pretty much any offensive ability (such as Moonfire
) can also be lumped into utility when talking about healers in arena. Does it heal? No? Then it's probably utility.
Utility is what healers are impressed by at the high end of arena ladders. Using Shadow Word: Death
to remove an enemy's Polymorph
was at one time considered to be the mark of an extremely skilled discipline priest. It's still pretty impressive, but less so now that most of the arena community has caught on to this trick. If a priest had this skill set in his arsenal, he would find himself able to find much better arena teams. He can do things other priests can't; that is a valid and important selling point in the arena world.
Game plan vs. disruption
Most popular Support is by far the focus of the vast majority of arena teams. At the top of the ladder, however, healers place a heavy emphasis on utility and are impressed with little skill sets that come up relatively infrequently.
Generally better Support is why healers are used. Sure, Cyclone is an incredible ability and will aid your team in defeating the enemy team by using it both defensively and offensively, but your teammates should be picking up the majority of the workload when it comes to crowd control and pressure. If you are amazing at keeping your team alive and decent at some more complex tricks, it will benefit you far more than the reverse.
What I tend toward This is actually different depending on class. On my restoration druid, I love utility (Cyclone is the most fun ability in the entire game). On my paladin or shaman, I'd rather support my team with heals and use cooldowns defensively to allow them to win our matches for me. I don't play a priest anymore, but when I did, I loved the utility and offensive capability that came with it. I'm not necessarily correct in playing those classes that way, it's just what I tend toward.
Think of the best arena team you've ever been on. How did you go about defeating the enemy team? You probably didn't just rush in there without communicating what your overall strategy was going to be. You formulated a game plan and tried to stick to it as best as possible. Similarly to a raid, perhaps you were all assigned roles and were expected to perform them. If a bump came along in the road, you dealt with it as it came.
A good game plan is essential to having everyone on the same page. If the hunter on your team's primary goal is to DPS clothies when they are out in the open, that will allow others on your team to know what to switch to if a clothie evades the hunter by jumping behind a pillar. It will also give you a general sense of primary and secondary targets.
Perhaps your team's game plan is to have multiple targets and switch between them. Crowd-controlling healers right before a switch is usually an important part of this strategy; it needs to be talked about and assigned with great detail. Experience pays off huge in these cases, as an expert crowd controller will understand when it is best to go for a burst attempt on an enemy team. Perhaps a dispeller is too busy surviving or dispelling another teammate, or perhaps the enemy team has positioned themselves poorly and given themselves bad LOS (line of sight) so the dispeller cannot remove your team's crowd control. Whatever the case, everyone falls into a role, and if executed well, your game plan will tend to succeed. If the gameplan is executed well yet it's still not working, you can just switch up your game plan.
While a successful game plan has many moving parts and is somewhat complex, disruption is perhaps even deeper and more involved. Disruption involves figuring out the enemy team's game plan and trying to stop them from achieving whatever goal they are attempting. If they have a hunter who has the job of controlling your clothies, perhaps DPSing him so your clothies have free rein is best. Does their druid Cyclone your DPSers or your healers? Can you assign someone to interrupt the Cyclones on certain members of your team, but not others?
Granted, this takes a large amount of intuition. Do they telegraph their switches? Perhaps your team pops offensive cooldowns in addition to defensive ones while in a compromised position, to make the enemy team believe you are about to switch to them.
Disruption gives a team a next-level type of skill. While certain game plans are successful, teams might revolve around those game plans and expect them to work against every single team out there. Lots of teams give very little thought into both what the enemy team is doing and how to prevent it.
Most popular Following a set game plan is by far the most common strategy used in every rung of the arena ladder. It's much easier to stick to a plan than to collectively understand what the enemy wants to do and try to stop it from happening.
Generally better Disruption. I don't know if it's possible to be successful at disrupting enemy teams without a game plan; I've always played with a game plan, no matter what. That being said, disruption is the next step in evolution of exceptional arena play and is devastating to your opponent if they aren't prepared for it.
What I tend toward Game plan. It's easier, and against many teams, you don't actually need to figure out what they're doing if your game plan is strong enough. Sometimes you will just mow people down and have no clue what their game plan was. While some would consider this a bad thing, short arena matches are more pleasant than long ones. It's been my experience that fun, short arena games contribute heavily to a longer life expectancy of that arena team.
Mumford & Sons' The Cave
Part 1 in this series Offense/Defense, Crowd Control/Damage, and Leader/Follower
Want to ascend the arena ladders faster than a fireman playing
Donkey Kong? We'll steer you to victory with the best arena addons and let you in on some rank 1 gladiator PvP secrets. Be sure to check out our guide to PvP keybindings.