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Blood Sport: Become a 5v5 master (4 DPS/1 healer teams)


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: Talking Heads with "Psycho Killer." I love David Byrne.

I've been playing Cataclysm beta for about a week and a half -- well, if I can call it playing. I've done a few quests in Hyjal. I'm still level 80, about 25 percent of the way in. It's been fun, but I haven't been able to break away from arenas and battlegrounds on the live realms. Oh, how I've missed thee, my beloved PvP.

Offense vs. defense

4 DPS teams are offensive quintets (even the healers participate in damage most of the time) that use incredible damage to accomplish quick wins and losses. They're often referred to as "zerg teams." Silly StarCraft references.

When I first started playing arena, a friend much more PvP-experienced than myself explained to me the difference between two-healer team and 4 DPS: "A two-healer team is a balanced fighting force, using positional and defensive advantages to their advantage. Think of a castle, fortified with archers and boiling oil. A 4 DPS team is more akin to a juggernaut, barreling through walls and relying on brute force. Sometimes the castle wins; sometimes the battering ram is successful. The lines of attack and defense are much different, however."

The goals of 4 DPS

The general strategy of a 4 DPS team is focus-firing a favorable target to force the opposing team to play defensively. Once the opposing team is on the defensive, crowd-control enemy healers at times when burst is lined up.

Switching is far less common on 4 DPS setups because of two factors:

1. Less time. Shorter matches. The longer the match goes, the more likely the 4 DPS team is likely to lose. If a team weathers the initial assault, they feel much more apt to put pressure on the 4 DPS team. This allows for a sense of greater control.

You've probably experienced arena matches in which it feels like you're in complete control -- you're not under any pressure to avoid damage or crowd control. You can adjust strategy and tactics much more easily than you could if you were being constantly berated by damage and loss-of-control effects.

Not only do advantages like this allow you to win the game, they force you to become a better player. If you forfeit the advantage, the loss stings more. Coordinating kills with teammates when you are in a equal state with an opponent allows you to understand each other more fully.

4 DPS teams don't ever want you to be in a comfortable position. They want to pile on the damage until you feel you have to drop your strategy just to survive. At this point, they throw as much crowd control as they can muster on your healers. If they're successful, you'll almost assuredly lose.

Switching does not factor into this equation. It allows the enemy team to see it coming and throw up a defensive cooldown, such as Pain Suppression or Hand of Protection. Moreover, it takes time to switch. That five seconds when everyone is setting up to surprise the enemy? The opposing team could regain control by hitting the 4 DPS team with some solid crowd controls.

2. More damage. A 4 DPS team can put out incredible amounts of damage. Two healers can rarely heal through four opposing DPS on a single target, especially when many (or all) of those opposing DPS have instant-cast Counterspell effects or crowd controls (like Blind).

Switching is nearly necessary for two-healer teams because it's much harder to heal a switch of three coordinated DPS than it is to healbot through constant damage from the same players. It's also worth noting that two-healer teams rarely have a shaman-druid lineup for maximum crowd control -- therefore, it's harder to stop opposing healers from simply outhealing your team's damage.

School lockouts

Polymorph, Fear and Cyclone are all exceptionally good crowd control at virtually all points in the game. However, these effects are less efficient at scoring a kill than others.

4 DPS teams have always had an affinity for Counterspell effects. There are many reasons school lockouts like Counterspell, Wind Shear and Spell Lock are superior (especially on 4 DPS teams) to cast-time crowd control:

  1. Cast-time crowd control suffers spell pushback.
  2. Cast-time crowd control itself can be interrupted, negating lots of damage in the future.
  3. Instant-cast school lockouts stop healing for 2 to 3 seconds.
  4. Often, instant-cast school lockouts will apply a magical debuff that (if not dispelled) will increase the time of the Counterspell effect.
  5. Front-loaded time is lost from the heal that was never completed, while virtually no front-loaded time is lost from a school lockout ability.
  6. Instant-cast school lockouts are much harder to predict and avoid.
For this reason, 4 DPS teams are usually stacked with classes that possess school lockout effects. Warlocks, mages and shaman all bring exceptional counterspells to the table, while rogues can Kick and shadow priests can Silence. A death knight's Strangulate is also a valuable tool, but usually overlooked.

Because of the plethora of interrupts available to most 4 DPS teams, avoiding overlapping counterspells is a huge issue. If the opposing team has two healers, splitting each teammate to a different healer and allowing them to work in tandem is the norm.

For example, an opposing team has a priest-paladin healing duo. The warlock and shaman will be assigned to interrupt the paladin, while the mage and rogue work to interrupt the enemy priest. The warlock will have to let the shaman know when he is spell locking and the shaman will have to call out Wind Shears. The mage and rogue largely ignore these calls, as they are not assigned to deal with the paladin (but instead are doing the same thing by calling out interrupts on the priest).

An example: JAC

One of the most successful 4 DPS compositions, especially late in The Burning Crusade, was a composition known as Jolly Asian Clams (or JAC for short). JAC is composed of:
  • affliction warlock
  • shadow priest
  • frost mage
  • subtlety rogue
  • restoration shaman
In its season 4 hayday, JAC teams were widely regarded as one of the most powerful 5v5 compositions of all time. They used many of the strategies I've outlined above but were incredibly efficient in virtually every aspect of the game.

Many gladiators at the time were upset at the "ease" of JAC team wins. The idea at the time was switching was the best, most effective and "skillful" strategy. JAC teams quickly realized that they didn't need to switch to win arena games -- switching was actually detrimental to their success!

Wrath ushered in a "damage wins" mantra that's been with us for almost four seasons now. It might seem absurd that there was once a time where brute force wasn't the primary way to win an arena game. If you're interested in seeing some of the archived discussion between gladiators (NSFW), check out an old thread on JAC.

Defeating a 4 DPS team

A skilled 4 DPS can put out an enormous amount of damage in the blink of an eye. One of the most successful strategies for two- and three-healer teams against a 4 DPS lineup is to use crowd control and interrupts on the opposing spellcasters. If you can reduce the amount of potential burst damage the team has access to, you'll be in a better position to make the game last longer, which is always more favorable to the team with a smaller amount of DPS.

I mentioned last week that our Team Asia 5v5 was consistently having trouble with 4 DPS teams. Our problem was we were too worried about the enemy healer. Once we realized that we could completely ignore the single enemy healer and only focus on controlling enemy DPS, we went undefeated from that point on.

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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