"It's not important to us that every single class is equally balanced against every single other class in a 1-on-1 PvP situation," said Rob Pardo, vice president of game design, at this year's Blizzcon Class Panel. (Interesting sidenote: Rob's daughter happens to play warlock)
There we have it, straight from the proverbial horse's mouth. Now this question begs to be asked: If the classes aren't created equal, what then is the power relationship between them? In other words, who's the rock, and who's the paper or scissors?
While class designer Kevin Jordan stated at the same panel that "WoW isn't a dueling game," the 1-on-1 scenario does happen often enough on PVP servers, in the battlegrounds, and of course, duels. Afterall, what are duels but 1v1 'Arenas' with no reward other than the joy of beating your fellow player? (ok ok, bragging rights too.) The 1v1 encounter is the cornerstone of PvP, even for the most well-oiled Arena machines.
How much does the 1v1 superiority of a class, say the warlock, translate to 2v2, 3v3 or 5v5 Arena situations? What should you do if you meet a character of the opposing faction while soloing on a PvP server - fight, or flight, or something in between?
Hell, which class should you re-roll, for better PvP performance?!
We hope to answer these questions by looking at the power relationships between the classes in 1v1, before wading into the deep waters of group PvP (which Blizzard insists what WoW PvP is about).
Note that these relationships aren't set in stone and there will ALWAYS be a chance for a 'weaker' class to beat a 'stronger' class, notwithstanding gear and the relative skill of the players. What I'm stating here is the tendency of one class beating another. I'm also assuming that the classes are all played, specced and geared correctly. I've also decided against working the chart down to the spec level – it would have been too cumbersome to be useful.
I present the '1v1 Who-pwns-who Matrix' current as at WoW v2.2.3:
Regretfully, there isn't any statistical data backing these observations; they are purely based on experience, conversations with fellow players and conventional wisdom. So please don't email me saying, "Lrn2play! I'm a [insert random class] and I pwn evrything!!1!"
Some notes on the classes, in no particular order:
A cursory look at the table does not reveal any dominating class, although the shaman and paladin might have a harder time against other classes. Even then, these 'underpowered' classes are by no means pushovers, having an even chance in most matchups.
Warlock - widely regarded as the just so OP class currently, especially in 1v1 situations. Between their fear, dots and pet, a warlock is known to beat most other caster and hybrid classes. However they do have trouble against melee opponents: warriors with their own fear and anti-fear abilities, stunlocking rogues, or even a BM-specced pet. Blizzard has admitted that balancing fear has been a "never-ending struggle."
Shadow Priest - the pre-BC PvP melter of faces, with fear and dots akin to the warlock. No longer the redheaded stepchild of raiding and still a formidable force in 1v1 situations!
Rogue - powerful stun abilities and incredible burst damage puts this class firmly as a strong anti-clothie class. Widely regarded to be the 'anti-warlock'.
Shaman - originally intended to be the 'offensive hybrid', the shaman is currently considered one of the weaker classes in duels - due to the lack of crowd control abilities and the static nature of totems. Resto shamans, however, have been known to prevail by simply outlasting some opponents.
Warrior - strong and durable Arena class, known to do well against most classes, including warlocks. In fact, they are doing so well that they are a staple in Arena teams, much like in PvE groups and raids. In 1v1, the warrior has trouble with classes with kiting/rooting abilities, eg. mages, hunters and druids.
Mage - the 'glass cannon': fragile but packs a wallop. With polymorph, blink, and various ice effects, the mage can easily keep classes that deal only melee damage at bay. Seems to be warlock/felhunter fodder most of the time, unfortunately.
Druid - jack of all three MMORPG trades – tank, dps and heals - the druid doesn't fare so well against dedicated ranged DPSers like the mage and warlock. For a class built on versatility, the moonkin's modes of ranged damage are ironically not versatile enough in a PvP situation. Feral druids suffer the same problems (and enjoy the same benefits) as warriors and rogues, with their shapeshifting evening out their odds in some matchups.
Paladin - the original bubble-hearthing defensive hybrid. Not considering the yawn-inducing paladin vs paladin duel, this class is built on the principle of 'defense being the best offense'. Due to their durability but poorer DPS, they generally excel more in supporting roles, buying time for DPSers to do their thing, or simply soaking up damage. This stalling effect is critical in Arenas, making this class almost second to warriors in terms of being the staple Arena class.
Hunter - perhaps the class that most exemplifies 'easy to learn, hard to master'. Bestial Wrath and The Beast Within represent two of the most powerful talents a hunter can bring to the Arena. For 18 seconds - an eternity in a duel - both pet and hunter have increased DPS, and are completely immune to all forms of CC. However, diminishing returns kick in, resulting in a conspicuous dearth of hunters at higher levels of Arena combat. Line-of-sight and the dead zone have always been the hunter's Archilles' heel in close quarters combat. With the minimum range reduced to 5 yards on the PTR currently for patch 2.3, will this herald a new era in hunter PvP effectiveness?
Do you agree with our observations? Did Blizzard do a good job with the rock-paper-scissors model of 1v1 combat? Let's have a "calm and rational discussion on PvP!" :)
Next week: the pipe dream called 'perfect balance'. In future 'Blood Sport' articles, we'll look at popular class combos in the various Arena formats and discuss their viability, strengths and weaknesses. We'll also examine the class compositions of top Arena teams, and get some insight into the metagame of WoW Arena combat.