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The Art of War(craft): Absolute beginner's guide to Strand of the Ancients

Zach Yonzon

Zach enjoys the Battlegrounds a lot. He thinks it's one of the most re-playable content in the game, so he writes about it every week to spread the word. When all players are finally in the Battlegrounds bashing each others' brains out, he'll consider his mission complete, and he'll sneak out to farm Shoveltusk Meat in peace.

We're now at the end of our Absolute Beginners series, which has been surprisingly helpful to a lot more players than I expected. As it turns out, the game still gets a lot of new players even after five amazing years, which is really cool. Players still leveling up might want to check out where we kicked this series off, an introduction to the Battlegrounds. Once you get an idea of what its all about, you can get your feet wet (or swords all bloodied...) in Warsong Gulch. Ten levels later, you can enter the proving grounds of Arathi Basin, or wait until you level up a bit more for the snowy landscape of Alterac Valley.

Players who have upgraded to the Burning Crusade and leveled past 60 can get a taste of some space action in Eye of the Storm. When Wrath of the Lich King shipped, Blizzard introduced a brand new Battleground unlike anything that had come before it, an assault and defend scenario that was about as balanced as a Battleground could be because the factions took turns playing the exact same map. Strand of the Ancients also introduced the new vehicle combat system and destructible buildings, which made for a whole new gameplay experience. Click on read more to see what this Battleground is all about.

What is Strand of the Ancients?

Strand of the Ancients is a 15-player per side Battleground where the ultimate goal is to capture the Titan Relic (located in the South of the map above where the swirly thing is) in the shortest possible time. It is unique among all Battlegrounds in that it employs an attack and defend mechanic which allows players to experience assaulting the keep as well as defending it. Prior to Patch 3.2, the Alliance always started the game on the offensive, allowing them to set the time for the following round. Currently, the game randomly selects which faction starts on offense.

Strand of the Ancients, or SotA, is also the first -- although with the introduction of the large scale Isle of Conquest no longer the only -- Battleground to employ vehicle combat and structures that can be destroyed. In this case, players on offense must break down gates in order to advance towards the goal of capturing the Titan Relic. On the Northwest, there's the Gate of the Green Emerald, or 'Green', and right below it on the Western side is the Gate of the Purple Amethyst, or 'Purple'. If you're on the offensive, these are the gates on the right side. On the Northeast, there's the Gate of the Blue Sapphire, or 'Blue', and right after it on the East is the Gate of the Red Sun, or 'Red'. These gates will be on the left side if you're on offense.

The last two gates are the Gate of the Yellow Moon, or 'Yellow', which when broken down opens up the Courtyard, and finally the doors that open up the Chamber of Ancient Relics. There's no shorthand for that gate, because when players finally get to the keep, everybody on offense should just yell, "break down the (expletive) door!" and there should be no confusion as to which door that is. Gates can be destroyed with vehicles or bombs, which players can plant beside the gate to deal it damage.

The team that starts on offense has 10 minutes to capture the Titan Relic, which is an instant tag. It's a glowing, spherical thing in the center of the room. You can't miss it. Once the starting offensive team captures the Titan Relic, the first round ends and another begins. This time, roles are reversed and the defending team gets to assault and offensive team gets to defend. The new assaulting team must either beat or match the time the opposing team set in the previous round. It is possible to have a tied match of Strand of the Ancients (e.g., both teams are unable to capture the Titan Relic within the allotted 10 minutes).

There are also three flags that can be captured -- the ones near the green and blue gates grant access to Goblin Workshops and a graveyard. The one at the center of the map grants a graveyard near the yellow gate. For all you SotA beginners, do your team a favor and don't ever capture the flag at the center. I can explain the whole rationale behind this but it's a long discussion. Just trust me on this one.

It sounds like an extremely complicated Battleground compared to the others, doesn't it? The goals of SotA aren't readily apparent, and the quick assault/defend scenario can be confusing to a lot of players. I was very disoriented the very first time I entered the Battleground, but it's easy enough to acclimate yourself with a few games. When in doubt, destroy a gate (if you're on offense) or a vehicle (if you're on defense). Heck, if all else fails, just kill opposing players.

Uh, okay. Why am I doing this again?

Because Titan Relics are filled with awesome power and whoever possesses it gets to kick major butt. No, really, that's all there is to it. Continuing the trend of having no Battleground factions stared by Eye of the Storm, there's nothing more here beyond honor and necessary Strand of the Ancients Marks of Honors for particular items. Oh wait, let me see... SotA marks aren't even needed for any items! It's just part of the turn-ins for the quests for more honor. So more than any other Battleground, SotA is basically all about honor gains. It's a lot of fun, though.

Ok, fine, I want honor. Where do I sign up?

Strand of the Ancients is one of the features of Wrath of the Lich King, so you must first upgrade your account to the expansion. It also requires that players be Level 71 or higher. There are two brackets for this Battleground: 71-79 and 80. Similar to Eye of the Storm, there is no physical entrance for Strand of the Ancients although it is supposed to be located off the Southern coast of Dragonblight.

Because of vehicles and bombs, even lower-level characters can contribute. Players on offense can just hop on a vehicle either as a pilot or a passenger, making team members useful regardless of level. Defenders can man turrets that flank each gate and do considerable damage to assaulting vehicles and players.

I'm on offense! Help!

One of the very first things you should do is try to memorize the colors of the gates or at least understand where everyone is going when the game starts. You'll start the game on a boat landing on a beach and teammates will usually ask 'Green or Blue'? Blue is on the left side, while green is on the right (it'll be reversed on your mini-map since the Battleground is oriented Southwards). Once your team has decided which gate to assault heavily, go to that side and do one of three things: 1) ride a Demolisher and drive towards a gate while blasting away, 2) pick up a bomb from the docks and drop it by the gates, and 3) kill enemy players trying to destroy your vehicles.

It gets easier from there. Once you're inside, you must try to capture either the Eastern or Western flag to gain access to a workshop. Don't worry about the flag once you've tagged it, as its permanent and cannot be recaptured by the enemy. The trick is to keep moving forward -- keep pushing uphill until you've smashed all the gates. Always have a bomb, even if you're piloting a vehicle. Chances are, the Demolisher will blow up near a gate, anyway, so make sure to drop a bomb to make it all worthwhile.

And whatever you do, please don't capture the central flag.

I'm on defense! Help!

At the very start of the game, there are a few options that you can pursue. One is to hop onto a cannon and blast away towards the shore on all incoming vehicles. Another is to get to the beach and start whacking away at the Demolishers once they become attackable. One last, but more difficult, option is to defuse the bombs that enemy players place near your gates. It's a channeled action, so it can be hard to pull off when enemies are bonking you on the head.

Protect the Eastern and Western flags as long as you can. The longer you maintain control of those flags, the farther away offense has to start with their Demolishers. It's good to note that cannons can disrupt attempted flag captures, which is a channeled action. If the secondary gates -- either the red or purple ones -- are broken through, drop whatever you're doing and fall back to the yellow gate and protect that (and needless to say the chamber doors) like I protect my Krispy Kremes. That is to say, rabidly.

Oh, and don't defend the central flag. When enemies try to capture it, let them. Then laugh maniacally.

Whew! On to more interesting things!

I only recently wrote a guide to the Isle of Conquest, and while it's not written in the complete beginners' style, it should give players the rundown of what the Battleground is all about. If you're ready for large-scale Battleground action in Wrath, hit that up. This means we can talk about something else next week! If you have any PvP-related or Battleground question you'd like to ask, send them my way and we'll see about answering them in this column. Until then, battlegrounders, I recommend you cause some mayhem!

Zach has actually managed to write weekly about the Battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column! He kicked it off with a beginner's guide to Battlegrounds, and then looked at the following BGs: Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, Alterac Valley, and Eye of the Storm.

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