Blood Sport: Become a 5v5 master (DPS clusters on 2-healer teams)

C. Christian Moore
C. Moore|08.09.10

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Blood Sport:  Become a 5v5 master (DPS clusters on 2-healer teams)
Blood Sport: Become a 5v5 master (DPS clusters on 2-healer teams)

Blood Sport: The only column where we crush the corpses of our enemies into golf balls, drive them 300 yards down the fairway and hear the lament of Tiger Woods. And Tiger Woods fans. And Tiger Woods' mistresses. And Chewbacca -- just because. We also play sweet music that doesn't really go hand in hand with crushing corpses, but whatever.

Listening Music: Regina Spektor with a piano-only live performance of "Fidelity." Better than the album version, imo.

This Week: Group composition is an important part of arena. There, I said it. Not like you didn't know that already. Pretty much everyone knows that a five demonology warlock team isn't going to break 2,000 in 5v5.

Unless, of course, the demonic quintet is paired up against an all-mage 5v5 and goes 100-0.

Boom, in your face, Archmage Pants. Ouch. He's gonna need a sparkly pink Band-Aid for that burn. Cry me a river, bottle it up and serve it to your healers in your pansy raid, Belt. Mwahahaha.

Seriously though, understanding why certain 5v5s work is as important to 5v5 success as understanding your own class. Last week, we talked about why some healing pairs (such as paladin-priest and druid-priest) have been historically successful. Today, we'll be discussing DPS trios on a two-healer team.

The necessity of healing debuffs

Simply glancing at the SK-100's 5v5 rankings, one can see the vast majority of teams use a 50 percent healing debuff. Mortal Strike, Wound Poison or Aimed Shot is almost required on a two-healer 5v5. I say almost because some teams have been successful without the assistance of warriors, rogues or hunters -- but they are very rare.

Two-healer compositions have relatively diverse strategies compared to one- or three-healer setups. One-healer (four-DPS) teams always want to win quickly by bursting the opponent, and three-healer (two-DPS/drain) setups want to drag the game on until the enemy's mana is exhausted. Two-healer teams, however, are able to execute either strategy.

Teams with 50 percent healing debuffs are efficient in both scenarios; bursting an opponent is much easier when an incoming heal only hits for 5,000 instead of 10,000. In fact, that simple debuff has directly contributed to possibly more 5v5 wins than anything else, period. Moreover, if opposing teams are focusing on controlling members of the other team instead of healers, the healing debuff acts as a Mana Burn. While certainly more rare in Wrath of the Lich King, a healing debuff can be the difference between opposing mana bars at 25 percent or 0 percent. That is a giant difference.

Exception: Spell burst

Wrath has been notorious for burst damage -- particularly from casters. Since the rise of wizard cleave (two-DPS casters + healer) in season 6, more 5v5s have adopted a strategy of stacking spellcasters that can do enormous amounts of burst damage. Needless to say, it's been very successful.

While many of these teams are four-DPS, one or two successful 5v5s (particularly in season 8) have adopted a two-healer, three-DPS spellcaster setup. Virtually all of these teams have a frost mage or shadow priest for a 20 percent healing debuff, and a shaman (whether it be elemental or restoration) for Wind Shear, a +spell damage totem and Bloodlust/Heroism.

Balanced compositions

Balanced setups are a mixture of physical and spell DPS (with a penchant for switches). They might look something like Euro Comp. If you remember from last week, Euro Comp consists of:
  • Restoration druid
  • Discipline priest
  • Rogue (multiple specs have been successfully represented)
  • Warlock (multiple specs have been successfully represented)
  • Frost mage
Balanced compositions get their archetype name from the idea that you're representing a nice balance of damage on a two-healer team -- a mix of physical and spell damage. Looking at terminology from another arena bracket, we find that balanced 3v3s are composed of one healer, one physical DPS and one spellcaster DPS.

On a two-healer 5v5, a balanced composition's DPS cluster might be one physical DPS and two spellcaster DPS -- or two physical DPS and one spellcaster DPS. Euro Cleave, which substituted a warrior in place of the warlock on Euro Comp, would still be considered a balanced team composition.

The strategy for balanced setups vary, but switches are very common. A balanced team will usually start off the arena with two targets in mind -- against a 2345, the "primary target" might be the frost mage. DPS will attack the frost mage, intending on limiting his DPS and getting the healers to tunnel-vision heals onto him. Meanwhile, the discipline priest is removing the buffs of the elemental shaman on the team -- he is the true target, the "secondary target."

When the elemental shaman is fully stripped of buffs, the balanced team will call for a switch, usually counting down from 5 on Vent or Skype ("5-4-3-2-1-SWITCH"). When the switch is called, every DPS on the team will hit the elemental shaman with the most damage possible. When done correctly, the shaman's health will go from 100 percent to 0 percent in the matter of a global or two.

If the frost mage (the primary target) Ice Blocks early or receives Hand of Protection or Pain Suppression, a mini-switch can be called to another opponent. Another strategy is to stay on the mage and let your team's discipline priest try to Mass Dispel it. The ability to do many things with similar strategies allows for balanced compositions to successfully play very differently from one another.

Cleave compositions

Cleave teams, on the other hand, are entirely composed of either physical damage or spell damage from their DPS cluster.

Perhaps the first successful physical cleave 5v5 was Serennia's "Trifecta" composition, which consisted of:
  • Discipline Priest
  • Holy Paladin
  • Arms Warrior
  • Enhancement Shaman
  • Combat Rogue
  • An iPod
This team was created to be a counter to Euro Comp and was exceptionally potent at tunnel-vision focus-firing clothies. Strategy for this team composition is simple: Pick a target and stay on it. Opposing warlocks and mages rarely survived longer than two minutes.

Teams that stack all-physical or all-spell DPS are often one-sided against differing enemy compositions. Cleave teams are generally regarded to epitomize rock-paper-scissors (they have easier matchups vs. teams they are created to beat at the expense of added difficulty defeating countercomps).


Successful assists are a universal tactic of high-ranking DPS clusters in 5v5 -- when everyone on a 5v5 is attacking different targets, it usually ends in failure. Assigning some members to assist others is an important role. For instance, on a 2346 team, the elemental shaman might only damage whatever the arms warrior is currently dealing damage to.

As we talked about last week with main healing and off healing, it's important to work out who will be doing what within DPS clusters. Usually teams are broken down to 50 percent debuff class and two others. It's important to assign one of those members to assist the 50 percent debuff class at nearly all times.

Moreover, DPS need to know who on the opposing team they're "taking care of," i.e., elemental shamans should have a "Wind Shear target" that doesn't interfere with a frost mage's "Polymorph target." This will allow the 5v5 to crowd control more effectively at important points in the match.

I mean, think about it -- if your warlock Death Coils an opposing holy paladin, only for it to be negated by your restoration druid's Cyclone, that's a giant waste of that Death Coil.

We'll talk more about tactics and assignments with greater detail in a later article, but it's worth understanding that this is a DPS responsibility first and foremost. A holy paladin's Hammer of Justice comes in handy, but relying solely on your healer to crowd control an enemy healer is assuredly a failing endeavor ...

... like an all-mage 5v5 team.

Want to ascend the arena ladders faster than a fireman playing Donkey Kong? Check out's articles on arena, successful arena PvPers, PvP, and our arena column, Blood Sport.

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