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Blood Sport: Beginner's guide to arena, part II


Want to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women? Blood Sport investigates the entirety of all-things arena for gladiators and challengers alike. C. Christian Moore, multiple rank 1 gladiator, examines the latest arena strategy, trends, compositions and more in's arena column.

Listening Music: The cutest kid you've ever seen covering Jason Mraz. Blood Sport normally features the musical works of professionals. For this little guy, we have to make an exception. My favorite part is right before the first verse. I love the intense scrunched face and little head nod. I dare you to find anything even half as cute. That video of a tickled kitten has nothing on this.

Last Week: part one of our beginner's arena guide. First, we fielded a possible complaint about catering to casuals. After that, we talked a little bit about some of the best ways to gear up: finding an arena team, doing battlegrounds, and running Vault of Archavon. Check it out if you have the time.

This week, we'll talk about some frequently asked questions players have when considering jumping into the arena. Read on for part two of our arena guide for beginners after the break!

Frequently Asked Questions

The two most common questions new arena players have are: What spec should I choose? What team composition should I play?

The first time I was asked to give advice on arena, I was flattered. He played warlock-paladin in 2v2. He asked me "what would you do against druid-warlock if you were us?"

If I recall correctly, I typed the guy a War and Peace sized answer. I detailed the finer points and intricacies of crowd control chains, using Curse of Shadow on opposing felhunters, debuffing with the felhunter, using Drain Mana on not just druids, but also near-oom felhunters, and the importance of Judgment of Justice (no E in judgment because I'm not British and neither is the spell I just linked).

After about five minutes, he responded "Okay, dude, that's cool. What do we kill?"

Me: "...Everything? You're a warlock team. You have four dots. You should put them on the druid, warlock, and felhunter."

Curious George: "Okay, why didn't you just say that to begin with?"

I was shocked. I figured this guy wanted to know how to beat the very best warlock-druid teams. Nope. He just wanted some very basic direction. Now, I usually give one sentence answers to basic inquiries because 90% of the time, that's what people want. If I try to wax philosophic on why spec, comp, and gear don't really matter, people usually think I'm not much help at all.

So, I'll split this article into two sides for each of our talking points -- easy answer and long answer. Easy answers will be what I tell people with no explanation. Long answers are what I would actually recommend to PvP newbies who think arena might be a part of the game they will really enjoy (eventually).

What spec should I choose?

Easy (gigantic margin of error) Answer:

  • Priest: Discipline or shadow depending on if you're going to heal or not.
  • Mage: Frost.
  • Warlock: Whatever you're most comfortable with. Start out using a felhunter (or felguard if you spec demonology).
  • Druid: Whatever your gear is suited for.
  • Rogue: Whatever you're most comfortable with.
  • Hunter: Whatever you're most comfortable with. Start out using a pet you're comfortable with.
  • Shaman: Whatever your gear is suited for.
  • Paladin: Retribution or holy depending on if you're going to heal or not.
  • Warrior: Arms or protection, depending on what your gear is suited for. (I'm looking forward to angry comments about PvE hero protection warriors in PvP)
  • Death Knight: Unholy.
Long Answer:

Pick what you enjoy most in other aspects of the game. Spec doesn't really matter. If you choose to do arena as a fire mage (the worst spec I can think of in arena off the top of my head), you can make it work. You're not going for gladiator here, you're just trying to get a feel of how arena works. Even if you were going for gladiator, you can probably attain it with good teammates and a composition tailored for your spec.

Certain specs do better with certain compositions. If you are planning on healing, you don't have to think very hard about which spec to choose. On the other hand, if you are a warlock thinking about getting into 3v3, you will have a lot of spec options. For example, many warlocks choose affliction for "balanced" compositions (melee + caster + healer), but on teams with two casters and one healer, almost all warlocks spec destruction. If you hate one and love the other, just play the spec you enjoy regardless of team composition.

If you have the luxury of picking up two PvP specs with dual spec, it gives you the ability to try a different spec after every game without worrying about spending lots of gold. If you're tied down to keeping your PvE spec, or you just don't have enough gold to buy dual spec, don't worry about it -- just pick one and run with it.

If you have the very unfortunate circumstance of being tied down to two PvE specs (and I cringe at the thought), feel free to switch back and forth in between games to see which one works best for you.

Moral of the story: You're just trying to get your feet wet -- you're not jumping overboard just yet. Pick your favorite spec and play it, you'll have much more fun. Remember, playing arenas is fun!

What team composition should I play?

Easy (and probably incorrect) Answer:

Go to an arena website and copy whatever is popular. The SK-100 and ArenaJunkies both have ranking pages that you can check out what composition is best for your class. Go there, check it out, and play that.

Long Answer:

Team composition, like spec, does not really matter that much. People seem to get bogged down about team composition more than anything else when it comes to starting up an arena team.

There is enormous danger in copying a 'good' team composition as your first arena team. Let's say you choose to play rogue + mage + priest. I'll refer to this comp (as many player do) with the abbreviation RMP. This 3v3 team comp is perhaps the most famous and well-renown of all 3v3 team compositions. If you've played more than 20 arena games in 3v3, chances are you've played against two or three RMPs.

RMP has been a successful team composition in every single arena season. The primary reason for this is the synergy of the crowd control RMP has access to. Polymorph, Psychic Scream, Sap, and stuns are all very powerful when combined with each other.

When you are just starting to play arena, you might not have exceptionally skilled teammates. If you play as the priest on the team, your mage and rogue might not have a lot (or any) experience playing with each other or arena in general. Your rogue might not get a successful Sap off to start the game. Your mage not be able to position himself to Polymorph the healer and DPS the kill target simultaneously. You will not have a grasp on what an opposing team's likely kill target will be. You might expect the opposing team to target your mage, but they kill your rogue in a global cooldown or two.

Some players think that if they are 'running an overpowered team comp,' winning will be much easier. This is never the case. If you believe team comp is the primary factor when it comes to arena victory and losses, you are in for a rude awakening.

Playing as a successful popular composition can actually be a detriment. Many opposing teams will have played against your composition in the past and have strategies worked out beforehand to combat you. These strategies might have evolved over hundreds of games spanning multiple seasons. Playing something "ridiculous" like fire mage + demonlogy warlock + holy priest might catch a seasoned team off guard and you'll be able to steal a game or two where you wouldn't have otherwise.

Although there is certainly a precedent for public opinion, there will always be "hidden" comps that are amazing if piloted by skilled players. Priest + mage in 2v2 and beast mastery hunter + enhancement shaman + holy paladin in 3v3 were mocked for the majority of arena history as being terrible compositions. Those are some of the most successful compositions right now. Don't be afraid to play what works for you.

Losing is fine. It's the learning process. You'll definitely lose more games than you win in your first week of arena. It's not a big deal. You and your teammates will eventually learn what works and what doesn't. Have fun in the process.

Moral of the story: Don't copy what's popular, try to find what works for you. It might catch opposing teams off-guard.

If you really want my recommendation in different brackets:

Remember, these are just recommendations, they're not must-haves. The above still holds true (fun should be your primary goal, not success -- make that secondary or tertiary). These recommendations are based on what I've found to be generally (not always) successful for new players.

In 2v2, you can make literally anything work. I've seen protection paladin and protection warrior at 2600+ ratings (and yes, they were playing those specs in arena). Hunter + mage, enhancement shaman + feral druid, discipline priest + discipline priest (no typo there, yes two disc priests) all sound terrible to your flavor of the month gladiator, but each of those comps have hit top twenty on a battlegroup in the past. Play with your best friend and have a blast.

In 3v3, I would recommend playing with one (and only one) healer. If you have great PvE gear and you're a melee DPS class, two healers + you can be successful when you're just starting out. Otherwise, I would try to stay away from two healer setups -- you and your partners probably (unfortunately) don't have a lot of PvP gear to make it work.

In 5v5, try to organize a team with two healers, two classes with very high DPS, and a class with a 50% Mortal Strike effect. Most high rated 5v5 teams follow this model because it combines the best defensive capabilities with offensive capabilities. With a four dps or three healer composition, you'll experience 5v5 in a way that might bias your approach to the bracket in the future.

Moral of the story: They're just recommendations. Don't get hung up on them. If you want to play 5v5 with all DPS classes because you think you will have more fun, do that and ignore the above advice.

Long column this week.

I planned on discussing how to gear your character up for PvP and what to do when you actually step inside the arena. Oh well, I guess they'll have to wait until next week. Maybe I'll skip the advice on gearing your character and jump right into strategy. What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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