The Art of War(craft): Keybinding your way to winning form

Zach Yonzon
Z. Yonzon|09.16.10

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Zach only has one key bound on his keyboard: the I WIN button. Welcome to WoW Insider's weekly PvP column, The Art of War(craft), focusing on good, old-fashioned PvP.

Last week, we discussed a few pointers on how to continue your winning ways on the battlefield. We talked about how your machine and connection will help give you a competitive edge, and we also briefly touched on how other playstyle improvements such as macros and keybindings will contribute to your game. Keybinding, quite simply, is using your keyboard keys (or mouse buttons) to activate your spells and abilities, as opposed to clicking on them with your cursor. If there is any bad habit at all that you need to break, it's clicking. It's an even graver gaming sin than keyboard turning. In fact, learning how to keybind can effectively prevent you from keyboard turning.

By default, the game has set the W, A, S, D keys as forward, turn left, backward and turn right, respectively. Keyboard turning means you use the A and D keys (or any keyboard keys set to rotate) to change direction. You can easily remedy this by unbinding the A and D keys and binding them to the strafe buttons instead. Head on to the game menu by pressing the Esc key (instead of clicking on the computer icon on your bar -- isn't that much faster?) and going to the Key Bindings section. You'll see that World of Warcraft actually allows for two different sets of keys or instructions for movement and other game commands. In most cases, you'll only really need one set.

Change the Strafe Left and Strafe Right defaults by clicking on the buttons and assigning new keystrokes -- in this case, A and D, which will automatically unbind the Turn Left and Turn Right keybinds. For good measure, go to the right column and unbind the secondary instructions, too, by clicking on the Unbind Key button at the bottom of the menu. Alternately, you can assign the left and right arrows to strafe, instead. By doing this, you prevent yourself from keyboard turning by accident. Heck, you won't be able to keyboard turn even if you wanted to, so congratulations. If you're left-handed and use your right hand for keystrokes, just try to flip it over to the other side. Bear with me on this one, since I have no idea how it works in the leftyverse.

The next thing you should do is assign your most-used and clutch spells to easily accessible keys. This means that unless you're Mr. Fantastic or a Dreman, you should stay clear of the keys past 5 or 6, or any of the keys that require you to actually move your hand in order to reach them. The idea behind keybindings is that they make everything faster. If there's anything you should've picked up by now from all that I've written, it's that faster is always better in PvP. All your important spells and abilities should be within easy reach, so keybind your clutch PvP spells like interrupts, stuns and most especially your PvP trinket. If you use a multi-button mouse, you can keybind abilities to those, as well.

The default UI You can go about keybinding in two ways -- either by using the default UI or using an action bar addon such as Bartender4 or, if you use the Razer Naga, the RazerNaga addon (which is based on Dominos). Personally, I highly recommend getting an addon, because it'll make your life easier. I've found keybinding through the default interface to be cumbersome and less than intuitive. The game allows the use of 12 action buttons by default, which is shown on the lower left bar of your screen. These buttons correspond to the keys 1 through = (or 12 on the num pad). There are also six default action "pages," which means you practically have 72 buttons to assign by default; that should be enough for a lot of folks.

Since the bar only shows one page, or 12 buttons, you'll need to move to another page to access other abilities. By default, the game allows you to page your action bars by pressing SHIFT N, where N is the number of the action page. This will change the bar displayed on your UI, allowing you to access the abilities shown when you press your number keys. Special Action Buttons or abilities accessed through another state or form, or auras and stances, are keyed by default to CTRL FN, where N is any number from 1 to 0. Secondary Action Buttons are pet abilities, which can be accessed with CTRL N, again where N is 1-0. These are the game controls at their most basic.

Learning to use buttons exclusively, even without extensive keybinding, will improve your game greatly for PvP. Resist the urge to display all your bars through the interface menu, as it will only tempt you to click on things. Removing them from display forces you to rely on muscle memory for your spells. Learning how to press SHIFT N and then the spell button is simple keybinding. You can make it easier on yourself by giving each action bar a theme -- action bar 1 for commonly used combat abilities, action bar 2 for heals and defensive spells, action bar 3 for consumables, and so on and so forth. This should work fairly well. At least you're no longer clicking anything onscreen.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks to the default UI and how it works. First, the bars default to the number keys on your keyboard, which for most human beings aren't completely accessible on one hand without moving it. Second, having to shift to another page consumes a small bit of time. Even if it takes you a split second to move to the proper action bar, it's still a split second slower than direct access to the spell. That said, the game allows you to assign action bar functions to different keys or even mouse buttons. The important thing is accessibility: Your keybinds must be within easy reach. There's no point in assigning spells to keys if you won't be able to reach them, anyway.

This means that you'll be using just about half of your keyboard, as indicated above. The blue keys are where you should put your most important spells. The more frequently used or more critical the spell is, the closer it should be to the center of the controls; for example, your PvP trinket would be bound to the Q key. Because mouse movement generally frees up the middle finger, more important spells can be bound to the keys above and beside the W key. W, A, S, D keys are retained for movement, with the A and D bound to strafe. As much as it isn't a good idea to backpedal, retain the S key setting, because there are minute adjustments you can make walking backward that you can't quite achieve while moving with your mouse.

I recommend keeping the tab key and space bar set to default -- tab selection and jump -- because of sheer convenience. Tab-selecting targets isn't as terrible in PvP as it is in a dungeon. In fact, it's often a great way to select targets in a chaotic battlefield. Jump is a basic part of movement and helps cancel spellcasting in a pinch. Finally, there are the three modifiers, SHIFT, CTRL and ALT, that can be used in conjunction with other keys (blue) for more commands (remember that the shift key + a number is bound to changing the action bars by default).

If you've never played with keybindings, expect to fumble around a bit as you begin to memorize your hotkeys. Some players lay out their keybindings using an Excel file, but you can make do with a simple piece of scratch paper or nothing at all. Next week we'll take a more detailed look at keybinding using an addon, my preferred method of binding keys, as well as explore how these can work with more dedicated peripherals such as a gaming keypad and multi-button mice (also my preferred playstyle). Until then, start exercising those finger muscles and win, win, win.

Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. Find out how the Cataclysm talent tree redesign affects PvP, how sub-speccing will work at higher levels in the expansion, and how the new Azeroth will affect world PvP. Visit Blood Sport for the inside line on arena PvP.
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