Listening Music: The xx with "Basic Space." The real talent is the guy playing the buttons.
Drain teams were exceptionally successful in The Burning Crusade, so much so that developers went out of their way to make burst damage, and only burst damage, a successful strategy in Wrath of the Lich King. The problem, of course, was that it went completely overboard, and we were stuck looking at extreme dominance from classes that did best under high-burst-damage conditions.
In season eight, we're seeing a return to some strategies that try to get an enemy's mana to 0 percent before they make a serious attempt to kill anything.
I have a special place in my heart for drain comps. My first No. 1 title came from playing a drain team with fellow gladiators; it was our first time hitting No. 1 together and it was an amazing time. I probably sounded like a little girl when I screamed ridiculously loud as I saw that coveted title attached to my character's name.
The term "drain team" comes from the spell Mana Drain. Other abilities like Mana Burn and Viper Sting are known as "drains" because they drain an enemy's mana. Most people think of priests, warlocks and hunters when they think drain. However, a drain team does not necessarily have to have any priests, warlocks or hunters on it.
At the most basic and fundamental level, a drain team is a 5v5 that has three healers and two DPS classes. Although certain classes work much more effectively than others, any three-healer (or possibly four-healer) team will be considered by many to be a drain team.
Drain team goals
The goal of the drain team is to outlast the opposing team until an enemy healer's mana is entirely or almost entirely used up. At this point, the team will (essentially) be playing 5v4 and will be able to score a killing blow relatively easily. This is accomplished by crowd-controlling most of the enemy DPS while putting heavy pressure on the untouched DPS, as well as using mana-draining abilities on enemy healers.
Hopefully, the damage of drain team's two DPS classes will be high enough to keep enemy healers pumping heals into their teammate. This does two things: It wastes healers' mana by the heals themselves, but it also keeps the healers in range of their teammate. This allows the drain team to hit that healer with Viper Sting, Mana Burns or Mana Drains.
I've seen drain teams take a healer from 100 percent mana to 0 percent mana in the matter of 15 seconds. Granted, the healer didn't try to avoid or dispel any mana draining mechanics; it was a very impressive feat nonetheless.
A historic drain team in practice
Perhaps arena's most successful drain composition is Unstoppable's Team Asia. Team Asia is composed of:
- demonology warlock
- marksman hunter
- discipline priest
- holy paladin
- restoration druid
Warlock The warlock's primary job is to Fear enemy DPS off of his healers while throwing mana drains where he can. DoTs aren't incredibly important, but if he can get them to stick, they'll be valuable in aiding on damage. If he's specialized for demonology, his Felguard will be a valuable tool to keep healers in combat (Intercept is fantastic for catching opposing healers as they try to line-of-sight). Affliction and destruction have similar playstyles and will be used to do more damage at important points in the match.
Hunter The primary DPS of the team, the hunter will be pumping out consistent damage on ill-placed targets. Traps are incredibly important on drain teams that use hunters. Snake Trap and Frost Trap are exceptionally useful to limit enemy DPS. Successfully freezing-trapping an enemy healer who can dispel (a priest or paladin) is the mark of a good drain team hunter.
Priest Mana Burn and defensive dispels are the priest's primary responsibilities. Off-healing is also required of the priest. When the drain team shifts to kill mode, the priest will help with DPS via burst combos like Mind Blast > Shadow Word: Death. Psychic Scream is also an important ability; hitting 2+ DPSers with an AoE fear can be crippling to the enemy team early on. Fearing rogues, enhancement shaman and retribution paladins off teammates is also important, as is fearing healers when going for the kill.
Paladin As primary healer of the team, the paladin will be trying to avoid enemy Mana Burns while applying heals to teammates. The paladin normally has an easy time; a discipline priest and restoration druid helping off-heals makes any primary healing job very luxurious. We assigned our paladin to only Hammer of Justice the opposing melee while we were in drain mode. Hand of Freedom is important to get teammates out of tricky situations; if your priest gets in a tricky situation, you'll want to HoF him immediately. Because the team possesses three capable healers, Divine Shield (pally bubble) is often never used.
When opposing teams would attack our paladin, normally we would simply laugh while we directed all our efforts toward their healers. Our paladin would call that he was going to use bubble, and we would then crowd-control their priest or warrior (classes that can break bubble) while we prepared to kill him (as we had drained all their opposing mana). Using bubble as a time to ignore offensive abilities of the other team is something we'll go over in a later article, but it's worth wrapping our heads around that idea now.
Druid Cyclone, Cyclone, Cyclone. If I were a warrior fighting a skilled drain team, I might want to quit arena for a little while. The druid's primary responsibility (similar to the warlock's) is to crowd-control enemy DPS to prevent damage (and therefore preventing healers on the drain team from losing mana). Luckily, druids don't usually have to guess switches with HoTs. If the enemy team switches targets, the drain comp has Cyclone, Fear, Scatter Shot, Psychic Scream, Hammer of Justice and three healers to soften the blow.
Defeating a drain team
I was a member of a Team Asia composition in its season four heyday. Once we figured out how to defeat each opposing team, we went undefeated to rank one with ludicrous ease. Our most difficult challenge early on was trying to figure out how to conquer 4-DPS teams. I've heard many people say that 4-DPS is one of the easiest matchups for a drain team, but this is not necessarily so.
A team packing only a single healer can do over double the amount of damage that a drain composition has access to (when you factor in that the drain team's warlock's responsibility is primarily crowd control). Even with three healers, successful switches are incredibly hard to heal through if the drain comp team needs to use defensive cooldowns to break the oncoming damage.
Drain teams often rely on being able to crowd-control enemy DPS freely. Try to stop them by locking down both the warlock and druid. Splitting DPS against a drain team might seem counterintuitive; most people believe that killing them very quickly is the way to go. However, splitting can be a very successful strategy against a drain team if you're locking down the most important crowd controllers on said team.
I hope this has helped you to understand drain teams more thoroughly. I might write about particulars next week, or move right along to 4 DPS. Who knows? I might get sidelined by something huge in Cataclysm beta. Until then, take care and own some noobs for me.
Want to ascend the arena ladders faster than a fireman playing Donkey Kong? Check out WoW.com's articles on arena, successful arena PvPers, PvP and our arena column, Blood Sport. You'll be Vanishing Death Coils in no time.