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The Art of War(craft): The limbo season

Zach Yonzon

Welcome to the most worthless Season ever. This Arena period, not technically a season because there are no associated rewards, is a season in limbo. The end-of-season rewards for Season 4 have been handed out -- incorrectly in some cases -- and there is no scheduled end to the current one with no new gear will be released for Level 70 players. Unlike in the past, this season has an indefinite end for Level 70 players and no foreseeable continuity with future Arena Seasons which will be focused on Level 80 play.

Ironically, this is also the best season for a lot of players to catch up on their Arena gear. For one thing, the top Arena players no longer have anything to play for. Most have already gotten full Brutal Gladiator sets, their titles and / or mounts, and have no incentive to continue participating in Arenas. Because Arena points are wiped the moment a character levels to 71, players who have all the gear have no point in accumulating it. Because there are no end-of-season rewards, ratings don't mean anything. Lastly, dedicated Arena players typically use one season to gear up for the next. Because the next stage of meaningful competitive play is at Level 80, this makes the current season's gear useless for future Arena PvP.

This leaves the door wide open for other players who wish to gear up for Wrath of the Lich King. And that's the heart of things -- any gear that is obtained through Arena Season 4 and this limbo season is purely leveling gear. Granted, Brutal Gladiator items will last way past Level 76 -- in some cases even serviceable all the way through 80 -- but the main purpose of the gear is lost. Unless Blizzard introduces leveling through PvP sometime soon, all this Arena gear are mere placeholders until we get something better in Northrend.

For those who play on PvP servers, it will probably help. On the other hand, there is no Resilience upgrade from Season 3 to Season 4, so it's not such a big deal. The biggest Resilience upgrade for players since Season 4 comes from the Honor-bought Medallions of the Alliance and Horde. Speaking of Honor, Blizzard has stated that it will not be reset, so players are actually better off grinding for Honor to have the maximum 75,000 banked all the way to 80. While items will predictably be more expensive, it's currency that can be spent at Level 80 as opposed to the Level 70-only Arena points.

This Arena season also sees the most imbalanced match-ups ever as players have access to abilities tuned for Level 80. While this means an opportunity to test the new environment, it should be noted that there will be itemization changes and 10 more levels and talent points at Level 80. Among other things, Warlocks will no longer have the massive Stamina they used to enjoy and Druids will no longer benefit from exceptional Armor Values from items. There is a homogenization sweeping through the game that will affect Arena play to a great degree.

The fact is, Patch 3.0.2 broke Arena status quo. With many classes capable of ridiculous burst pre-Level 80, such as the recently nerfed-to-the-ground Retribution Paladin, it isn't uncommon to see healer-less teams plow their way through traditional comps with a hefty amount of RNG. Double DPS in 2v2 is fine, but when you start seeing triple DPS in 3v3 and -- in extremes -- 5 DPS in 5s, you know there's something not quite right about the metagame. In some ways, this is a really good thing. It shakes up game balance. It gives other classes a chance to shine. It gives other specs a chance to shine.

For a while, there was a proliferation of Retribution Paladins who would burst out the gates with their bubbles and wings, laying things to waste in seconds. Since when did that happen before 3.0.2? For the first time in four seasons, Retribution Paladins broke 1800 without having to get carried. Sure, it was unintended, and most of those Retadins got by with RNG and ridiculous burst, but boy did it shake up the lower brackets unlike anything ever seen in Arenas. Retribution Paladins got nerfed to kingdom come, but the environment will never be the same again.

These days, Mages running around in Arenas are more likely to unleash an Arcane Barrage than they are to call out a Water Elemental. Imagine that. Arcane Mages more dominant in Arenas than Frost Mages because the idea is about burst and not survivability. Warlocks come into the Arenas with a Felguard now, too. You know what that means. Metamorphosis may suck as a PvE talent, but it's the only way Warlocks can remain competitive in Arenas these days. When Warlocks transform into that shadowy black mass that sorta kinda looks like Illidan -- well, that's fun.

You're just as likely to run into a Shadow Priest as you are into a Discipline Priest. Sure, Dispersion isn't a phenomenal talent but even our resident Shadow fiend Alex has extolled its uses. It gives Shadow Priests a chance to stay competitive in Arenas, specially in the new burst-oriented environment. More importantly, it gives them hope that the spec, commonly the first target of a train, can actually be viable in the new age.

That's the thing. This is the new age. It's a new environment, a new paradigm. Most of the high ranked Arena players won't be bothering with this residual season because it isn't representational of Level 80 Arena play. Anything that happens between now and the start of Season 5 (or Level 80 Season 1 -- who knows how it'll be called?) is irrelevant. With 10 more talent points to gain, builds will change drastically. One example: every PvP Retadin will have 18 points in Protection for a 20 second cooldown stun at Level 80. You think they're no fun now? Imagine them stunning you silly in ten more levels.

Arenas now are merely for exercise. Specially with the new Arena maps which came live in Patch 3.0.3 (I'll talk about those maps soon), everything has changed. If you play Arenas now, understand that it will be completely different when the new season starts. With Blizzard actively rebalancing classes in a way they never have, expect Level 80 to be a completely shocking ball game. The whole all-DPS philosophy also has a lot to do with everybody speccing for Northrend.

For one thing, a lot of people are specced to DPS in preparation for Leveling through the expansion. Raid specs and dedicated PvP specs will settle in at Level 80 so the metagame right now isn't quite indicative of how things will be for the next Arena season. In fact, the metagame at Level 80 will be completely different simply because of one key thing -- Death Knights.

The addition of Death Knights will completely change the face of Arena play because of new class dynamics. What classes will flourish with Death Knights? What classes will they counter? Everything changes in the next official Arena season, so any games played now are merely exercises or for fun. Really, Arenas for fun. Who'd have thought, right? So go. Have fun. Queue up for games without thinking of ratings or Arena points. Treat anything you get now as a bonus. Play around with your spec, practice in Orgrimmar and Dalaran Arenas. See you in Northrend. See you at Level 80.

Every Wednesday (honest!), Zach Yonzon writes the PvP column The Art of War(craft), which now covers both Battlegrounds and Arena play formerly covered by Blood Sport. After playing some casual games post 3.0.2, he's taken a break from Arenas and doesn't know what to do with the 5,000 Arena points he has stockpiled.

If you love PvP, then Zach loves you. Every week, he writes about Arenas, Battlegrounds, and world PvP in one column. As long as it's PvP, you should be able to find it here every Wednesday. You can still read old Blood Sport articles, specially his preview of the new Level 80 Arena gear.

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