Ride like the wind
The key to winning in Arathi Basin, quite simply, is communication. The game is all about movement, about getting to a node faster than your opponent. According to Sun Tzu, "let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest," which means it's good to travel fast and generally in groups. He continues, "in raiding and plundering be like fire, in immovability like a mountain," which refers to rapid attacks and steadfast defense. Allow me to explain.
In Arathi Basin, there are five nodes to fight over and fifteen players per side; conventional wisdom dictates that a team can allocate about three players per node. But Arathi Basin is a constantly moving game, and good matches see nodes change hands several times over the course of the match. There are times when a single person can hold a node for the entire game, and times when it takes very nearly your entire team to repel an assault. The important thing is to reinforce a controlled or contested node as quickly and efficiently -- that is to say without leaving a controlled node open -- as possible.
For levels below 40, classes with improved mobility have a distinct advantage. At level 20, Shamans and Hunters get Ghost Wolf and Aspect of the Cheetah respectively; Druids get Travel Form at level 30; while Rogues and Paladins have talents that increase movement speed, as well. Needless to say, at level 60 and higher, an epic mount is a must. Speed increasing items such as the aforementioned Riding Crop, or the Netherwing quest reward Skybreaker Whip (neither will stack with other speed-increasing items) help players get to their destinations faster. Paladins have Crusader Aura, which gives a 20% increase to mounted speed, making Paladins the fastest class when mounted.
Mike wrote about a post by the leader of the guild Casual on Hyjal, who delineates some basic principles of fighting in Arathi Basin. These are really simple things that all players should -- but very often don't -- do, such as fight on the flag, don't fight on the road; call incoming assaults early; and never leave a node unguarded.
Fight on the flag
One of the biggest mistakes players can make in Arathi Basin is to waste time fighting away from flags. The only acceptable exceptions to this are when you are assaulting an enemy or uncontrolled node. If you arrive at an uncontrolled node ahead of the opposing team, ride past the flag and fight slightly forward to prevent enemies from getting to your teammates who're tagging the flag (don't forget that). When assaulting a controlled node, it makes sense to fight away from the flag purely as a distraction to draw defenders away from it. Sun Tzu wrote, "to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of deviation." So fight away from the flag only if you are assured that one of your teammates is going to tag it.
Under any other circumstances, fight as close to the flag as possible and always pay attention to it. Flags that are under assault generate a swirling graphic around it, making it easier to spot. Even if you are attacking someone, when you see an enemy tagging the flag, switch targets. Resist the urge to land that killing blow, even if the enemy is at a sliver of life. The split-second can mean the difference between keeping and losing a node. If there are multiple players assaulting your flag, hit as many as you can. Mages make great defenders because of Arcane Explosion, an instant AoE that can disrupt concurrent attempts to tag the flag. It's also good to remember that DoTs don't break tagging the flag, so use whatever direct damage effect or dispersive spell is at your disposal -- auto-attack with wands, mass fears, Searing Totems, etc. -- to prevent a tag.
Call it early
Don't be afraid to call for help. Always be aware of your surroundings, as it's easy enough to spot incoming assaults. Druids and Hunters can track humanoids, which helps watch troop movement at a glance. Remember to have your mini-map zoomed as far out as possible. As soon as you see movement towards the node you're guarding, don't be shy -- talk on the Battleground channel and call out where your opponents are headed and if possible, their numbers as well. AddOns such as Battleground General can help you easily keep track of where your teammates are and generate automated 'incoming' messages for nodes under attack. Personally, I don't mind typing out messages on /bg. Abbreviate the nodes such as LM for the Lumber Mill or BS for the Blacksmith. You'll always find time to type something if you spot assaults early enough -- and even if you don't, you'll have plenty of time to type while you're sapped.
Corollary to calling it early is responding fast. If a teammate calls for help, lend support if at an adjacent node. Tagging a flag takes ten seconds, so getting to a node under assault as fast as possible is important. Be responsive. It is far more difficult to retake a flag than it is to tag it, and a tagged flag means no nearby Graveyard to do support rushes. While it is important to respond to calls for help, it is far more important to never leave the flag unguarded. If you are the last person at a node, do not leave. Even if you think that the coast is clear, don't take the chance of losing a node to ninjas.
Make a habit of pressing 'M' or 'shift-M' to show the battle map. This way you will have a general idea of your team's relative strength at a node. If, for example, a teammate calls out 'INC LM 4' (incoming Lumber Mill, 4 strong), a quick look at the battle map will show you how many are at the node. Battleground General will also tell you at a quick glance where everyone is at and their relative distance from the flags. If you have 4 or more, then it's probably a safe bet that you won't be needed. Having the node under your control also means you resurrect nearby, effectively increasing your numbers at that node.
If a teammate is guarding a node alone, remember to occasionally check on them. You can simply select that teammate and immediately see if he or she has any debuffs. Recognizing debuffs is a valuable PvP skill that allows you to determine what classes and how many opponents are at a node without having to be there. It allows you to make snap decisions on whether or not it's worth it to send support. Shamans can use Far Sight and Hunters Eagle Eye to watch over nodes from a distance. Items like Ornate Spyglass or the 350 Engineering goggles achieve the same effect with the caveat of not being chain castable.
Don't get bored
The greatest enemy a player is likely to face when guarding a node isn't from the Alliance or Horde. It's boredom. Resist the urge to leave a node even when you think the game is under control. If you must, you can even play in windowed mode and alt-tab to work, surf, or otherwise loosely guard your node. I know, it's terrible advice. Just make sure to check back frequently to make sure the flag isn't capped right under your nose, because that's just plain embarrassing. I keep my headset on so I hear combat sounds or even the familiar hum of a stealther nearby. It's not the best way to guard a flag, but it'll make your opponents think twice when they see you keeping vigil.
On the other hand, there are creative ways to guard a node. Druids and Rogues use stealth and Night Elves routinely Shadowmeld to make a flag look vulnerable. There are bushes at every node, allowing players to camouflage their presence. Shamans can drop a convenient Sentry Totem to keep watch from a fairly safe distance; Hunters can leave their pets idle on aggressive mode by the flag while staying hidden themselves -- cats in particular can learn Prowl, allowing them to be almost invisible. Warlocks sometimes play the same trick with a Succubus and many would-be flag cappers have fallen under the wiles of an unseen seductress.
Always go for the tag. More important than racking up kills is capturing or defending a node, and there are several tricks one can employ when capping the flag. Larger characters such as Draenei can stand atop smaller teammates, such as Gnomes, to hide simultaneous attempts. Druids can tag the flag in bear form and are excellent camouflage for teammates, the same way hefty Tauren can completely cover up skinny Blood Elves. Try to tag the flag from the maximum distance (as soon as the gear icon turns gold) and face away from the flag to make a tag attempt less apparent. As Sun Tzu said, "all warfare is based on deception." Lastly, when tagging the flag, always deselect your current target. Having no target will make you instantly aware of an enemy that is targeting you with a spell as any opponents that target you will automatically become selected.
Under ideal circumstances, Arathi Basin provides the most Honor-per-hour of any Battleground. The best scenario for premades is to queue during odd hours when it's not the Call-to-Arms Arathi Basin Holiday, increasing the chances of being matched up against PUGs. Each winning game awards a base 200 bonus Honor (20 Honor per 200 resources), and 5-cap matches are won in five minutes.
Against a vastly inferior team, as what will likely happen with a premade that queues during off-peak hours, the 5-5-5 approach is usually all it takes to secure a fast 5-cap. Groups 1, 2, and 3 will hit the Lumber Mill, Blacksmith, and Mine, with one person tagging -- and leaving -- the nearest node (farm for the Horde and stables for the Alliance). If the initial target is clear, teams proceed to the farthest node and tag it, usually before it even turns to the opponent's control. As soon as all nodes are tagged and all enemies subdued, everyone -- save for a lone defender at each node -- moves to the farthest node (stables for the Horde and farm for the Alliance) to reinforce it. Without any nodes under their control, opposing players will resurrect at their spawn points.
With excellent communication -- premades use Teamspeak, Ventrilo, or even in-game voice chat -- a 5-5-5 opener is the best for crushing unsuspecting PUGs with a 5-cap. However, it will fail miserably against a well-organized team or another premade.
Premades can run with a 7-7-1 set up where one person tags the nearest node while teams of seven hit the Blacksmith and either the Lumber Mill or the Mine. A 7-7-1 opener is a conservative approach recommended for fighting against another premade team. Sending seven to a node is likely to give your team a slight advantage as the average size of an assaulting force is a party of five. Against a team of equal gear or skill level, the idea is to make sure that three nodes are captured and to play conservatively until the end.
Triangle offense... and defense
Always go for adjacent nodes. For example, controlling the Blacksmith, Lumber Mill, and Stables is far easier to manage than controlling the Lumber Mill, Stables, and Mine. The shorter the distance between your controlled nodes, the easier it is to send defenders. Allow a few players to move around as "floaters" that drift between nodes. Floaters can tip the balance in your team's favor when nodes are under assault. It is foolish to attempt to control the Stables, Blacksmith, and Farm because it is too difficult to defend the farthest node.
Arathi Basin is a Battleground that rewards smart play over superior PvP skills. Even if you are godly in combat, you will make your team lose every time if you keep skirmishing on the road. No matter how 'leet' you may think you are, you are a noob if you don't pay attention to the flag. If you want to win in Arathi Basin, exercise prudence and restraint. It's probably what Forsaken NPCs are talking about when they say, "patience... discipline." PvP is all about good habits, and Arathi Basin is an ideal place to start learning them.
Next week: Eye of the Storm
Zach Yonzon writes the weekly PvP column The Art of War(craft) while guarding the farm and musing about why Keldor the Lost reminds him of someone very familiar...