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The Colosseum: Retrospective, Spring 2009


The Colosseum takes us inside the world of the Gladiator (Brutal, Vengeful, Merciless, and otherwise), to interview some of the top Arena fighters in the battlegroups. Our goal is to bring a better understanding of the strategy, makeup, and work that goes into dueling it out for fame, fortune, and Netherdrakes.

It's been six months since the last time we summarized our collection of Colosseum interviews. With at least a season and a half of Wrath of the Lich King now behind us, now's a great time to look over the gladiators who've shared their experiences. We've had Paladins, Hunters, Death Knights, Paladins, a Shaman, Paladins, and even a Warlock. There are certainly common themes among these discussions. By comparing them, we can hope to get a better idea of what's going on this season.

Lightss of Korgath was our first interviewee of the year, back in January 2009. A Holy Paladin, Lightss had been running a Protection spec through most of Season 5. What's interesting about that fact, however, is that Protection spec healers have been making a comeback in Season 6. A lot of the explanation for this nowadays seems to be that Protection spec offers a great deal of defense and utility that's missing out of the Holy tree, especially since the Hand of Freedom nerf in 3.1.3.

Lightss was the first person to confirm that Arena players have moved on to Gladius instead of Proximo. The newer mod has the same functionality as Proximo, but with a few more bells and whistles to go along with it. And even though the hubbub on the forums in January had been that healers didn't have much effect in an Arena match, Lightss argued that a skilled healer was still key to success. Commenters at the time pointed out, however, that a Holy Paladin displayed survivability no other healer could match. The lack of that kind of survivability was what hurt other healers.

By comparison to Holy Paladins, you never did hear much from Rogues in Season 5 or early Season 6. That was probably how Anthany liked it. Anthany foretold the major theme of Wrath of the Lich King Arena matches. They days of Crowd Control dominance are mostly behind us, with the major theme for Arena success being "pressure."

The skillful application of pressure is what controls an Arena match nowadays, not simply dropping a Cyclone on the opponent's healer. This isn't to discount the power of crowd control, but that it introduces the idea that long term pressure is required to handle most long term matches. As Footwerk points out, if you fail to accomplish a kill on your focus-fire target, you do have to pull the match back to equity using whatever CC you have available. It's a fine balance.

This idea of "pressure" and "burst damage" was confirmed by Infractus, a Death Knight. Infractus disagreed with Lightss, claiming that with the amount of pressure and burst available in Season 5 "healers just can't out heal 2+ DPS." That might seem obvious, but it helped spell out the dynamic of "survivability" versus "lethality," and how that plays out in small-format PvP fights. Meetsi echoed Infractus' feeling by pointing out that one of the things that made Paladins so attractive as healers is the fact that they can survive that burst and pressure, by using their legendary bubble powers.

Dcane of Korgath represented a significant break from the Holy Paladin/Death Knight mold, however. A Discipline Priest partnered with a Rogue, Dcane is used to a more technical, crowd-control format than the burst/pressure tactic. Using the Rogue's superb player controlling abilities, as well as a Priest's own Fear, they cripple their opponents while focusing their available lethality on the un-controlled target. While a Discipline Priest is able to survive an amazing amount of damage, even Dcane mentioned that it was incredibly difficult to even try and heal through two DPS opponents.

Dcane wasn't the only Arena fighter with this perspective. Gladiator Lamures also runs a Discipline/Rogue composition, and he re-emphasized the dire need to crowd control any double-DPS opponents. According to Lamures, one of the ways they tend to win a match was to "Chain CC one of the targets and wear down the second one eventually killing it in a good CC." Lamures reinforced that if the opposing team did manage to live through a strong round of burst, it almost always meant they had ripped through their available cooldowns.

By the time we were fully into Season 6, however, the Discipline/Rogue composition had become much more common. A Discipline Priest's ability to provide solid shielding and effective healing made the class attractive, with its periodic crowd control (in the form of Fear) sealing the deal. While the Holy Paladin had ruled the day in Season 5 thanks to its bubble-blessed invulnerability, the more technical Season 6 matches are requiring the toolbox of a Discipline Priest.

Mana Burn represents an important part of a Discipline Priest's toolbox, but it's one that Merlizzel cautions his brethren to use very carefully, "I remember letting my partner die once while Mana Burning," he said. "Since then, I vowed to never let that happen again because I felt like such an idiot at that point. If my rogue notices the opposing priest in a mirror Mana Burning when his rogue is in any bad position, he'll blow CB and I'll try to burst him down."

This flaw that Merlizzel is referring to is known as "tunnel vision." The general idea is that the player becomes so obsessed with completing a single objective, that the players loses awareness of what's happening in the environment. If you can detect an opponent suffering from tunnel vision, that's the perfect time swoop in for a kill.

Some of the best advice for new folks coming into the Arena was actually provided in the last few weeks, by Ogc the Warlock and Ninchuu the Hunter. One of the most frequent questions I see about the Arena and PvP is "How do I get started?" Considering an Arena match is entirely a zero-sum game, it can be incredibly intimidating to newcomers. (Especially since there's more reason to not fight in the Arena than to do so, if you don't think you'll get high enough ratings to get gear.)

When you get started fighting in the Arena, Ogc recommended you think back to when you first started playing WoW at all. "Think of when you started playing the game and how much more you know now. It's a lot," he said. "In the same way, when you take your first steps into an arena, you're going to get dominated. If you stick with it and really enjoy your class, you're bound to get better with every arena game. You'll soon find yourself vanishing Death Coils or spell locking Fel Dominations in no time."

And when you inevitably do lose matches, Ninchuu had some fantastic words of wisdom for folks. "Don't play while under stress or when you're in a bad mood," Ninchuu warned, "this only creates tension between you and your teammates and ultimately causes nerd rage. Don't play while sleepy or when hungry, your mind will wander off. And finally, never ever point fingers when you lose an arena match. This isn't dueling, this is a team-based effort, always question what you could've done better rather than demanding more from your teammate."

Both Ninchuu and Ogc stress that you have to have fun while fighting in the Arena. Ogc discussed his Warrior teammate, who transferred to a different server. Even while saying how much he missed the warrior, Ogc wished his ex-teammate the very best. He hoped the warrior was accomplishing the goal of having more fun with a different environment. Ninchuu confirmed it all, when he revealed the greatest mystery to Arena success. "The best 'secret' I can share for success in arena, is to enjoy the arena," he said.

The Colosseum is an interview series by WoW Insider, meant to reveal strategies, compositions, and tactics from the Arena fighters who use them. For more PvP information, be sure to hit up Blood Sport and the Art of War(craft).

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