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The Art of War(craft): Winning Tol Barad

Zach Yonzon

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Art of War(craft), covering battlegrounds and world PvP, and Blood Sport, with the inside line for arena enthusiasts. Want to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women? Battlemaster Zach Yonzon, old-world PvP grinder and casual battleground habitué, rambles on about anything and everything PvP.

Just like Wrath's introduction of Wintergrasp, Cataclysm implemented an outdoor (non-instanced) PvP zone where the Horde and Alliance fight for control. This place is called Tol Barad, and most of what I'd written from the beta still applies. What I didn't write about then (and what wasn't quite apparent from beta testing) was how imbalanced the zone could be in favor of the defenders. If you're level 85 and play a few battles of Tol Barad, you'll understand what I mean. While I've won more assaults than I've lost, this anecdotal experience belies the fact that the defenders have a distinct advantage -- they only need to keep one point from being captured, while the attackers need to hold all three at once. Because of how the flag is captured, through proximity and numbers (similar to the towers in Eye of the Storm), it is ridiculously easy to ruin an assault by simply zerging one capture point.

Mat McCurley's post going through the problems of Tol Barad is a pretty good read and should give you an idea of the problems with the zone and some suggestions on how to fix them. For today, we'll take a look at how we can win in the zone despite the overwhelming odds. A fix is probably due, but until then, we'll all have to do battle under unfavorable conditions. This happens often in war -- so soldier up.

Fight at the fringes. This is pretty counterintuitive. This flies against that habit you need to pick up for objectives-based PvP, which is to fight near the flag. This time around, you should actually fight as far away from the flag as possible while still counting toward the objective. If you don't see the control slider on the upper right hand of your screen that tells you the status of control of the objective, you're fighting too far away. One big problem with Tol Barad is that you don't actually know your numbers until the slider starts to move in one direction. If you're a hunter or a druid with humanoid tracking, you can probably tell at a glance by checking the minimap. Otherwise, you don't actually know if you're fighting a losing battle.

Fight near the entrances. This will accomplish a few things. First, it will allow you to minimize entry into the objective and possibly prevent the defense from counting toward the slider. The best result is engaging opponents in skirmishes that keep them just outside the entrances -- if your opponents get caught up in that, you will have forced them into the Tol Barad equivalent of fighting on the roads. Second, it will allow your teammates who resurrect in the adjacent graveyard to re-enter the battle without too much trouble. Keep the lanes to enter the keep clear to make sure your teammates always count towards the flag slider.

Get back into the fray. The only advantage you have as an attacker is the proximity of your graveyard to the objective. This theoretically allows you to re-enter the battle sooner than your equivalent defender, so take advantage by getting back into range of the flag's slider as soon as you can. Every player counts; always add to your team total. The only time you shouldn't have the slider on your screen is when you're moving to another capture point, or doing another critical thing ...

Destroy those towers. Mat made an important point about the towers in Tol Barad, noting that all you really get out of destroying the towers is extra time. In this case, however, it's time that you need. The more time you have, the more opportunities you'll have to hold all three objectives at once. It doesn't create the sort of urgency that destroying the towers in Wintergrasp has, which is why defenders don't bother to protect their towers.

For now, take advantage of that lack of urgency and destroy the towers. With a siege engine, it won't take too much time to destroy, and it buys your team more time to rally. It won't change the zone's victory conditions, but it will get you some breathing space to accomplish the gargantuan task of coordinating your army. Once you've blown up the towers, leave the vehicle, because it does absolutely nothing else and will just bog you down. Because of the way things work now, you'll need as much time as you can get to do things right. Unless you play on some backwater server where one side doesn't bother to queue, it means it's virtually impossible to get the achievement For Whom the Barad Tols. At the very least, destroying towers also grants honor, and you should never say no to free honor.

Communicate. Call everything out. Holding two objectives is deceptive because it's very, very easy to lose one while you're attempting to capture another. Defense typically zergs one objective and wrests control from the attacking force, so it's of vital importance to communicate enemy movement. This is probably the hardest part of attacking Tol Barad, because it's remarkably easy to simply bum rush one point to prevent the attackers from accomplishing anything. However, if you communicate well enough, you can manage to head off an attack by loading up their next target with enough warm (or in the case of Forsaken, cold) bodies. Use raid chat or the zone's channel -- and always be mindful of what's going on.

It's important to respond to calls for help, because it can spell the difference between victory or defeat. The defenders have an advantage here because they spawn at the center of the map, which means if they communicate their zerg, it will be impossible to beat them because they can get to an objective faster. Fortunately, because of the ease of defending, your opponents probably won't. In all likelihood, they'll check their map for wherever there seems to be a lot of fighting and head there. This works to your advantage because you can pretty easily capture the points where there isn't much fighting. Capturing two points isn't too hard. It's getting the third one that will take a lot of work.

Fight smart. This seems like a no-brainer piece of advice, but considering it's an open battleground, too many players fight recklessly, knowing they can easily resurrect at a nearby graveyard. The problem is that the objectives count living bodies, so the few seconds you spend with the spirit healer and travel time back into the objective is time away from getting that slider to move. Remember that your window to capture all three is very, very small. Even though you're only required to hold all three for a split -second, it doesn't take long to lose one objective you've already captured.

This means you should, as much as you can, stay alive. If you're getting low on health, fall back and heal up. Play wisely and try to kill without being killed. Don't rely on the fact that there's a nearby graveyard to save you. It's easy enough to be thrown to another graveyard if the enemy controls the objective. Stay alive for as long as you can to count towards that slider and keep it moving towards your end.

Move quickly. Getting back into the objective you're fighting in is easy. It's getting to the next one that's hard. You have a longer travel time than the defenders, who spawn at the center of the map. The most important time to move fast is when you have two nodes. Immediately after the capture of your second node, you must move as quickly as possible to the third node. Zerg it if you must, if only because it's always an all-or-nothing gamble. The more players you have at a node, the faster the slider will move, which means it makes sense to zerg that third point as fast as possible before the defense has time to react. If you fail and capture that node but lose another one (or two) in the process, you can always try again. That's why it's important to knock those towers down. You'll need as many chances as you can get.

The bottom line

Is Tol Barad winnable? Absolutely. Is it easy? Hell no. Any defending force with half the coordination of the attacking force will win. This, on the other hand, means that defense always plays carelessly. If you're going to attack, you'll need to coordinate with your team and fight a little (or a lot) smarter than your opponents. Until Blizzard delivers a fix, you'll need to grit your teeth and fight harder on offense.

Next week, we'll take a look at what's in store for the victors of Tol Barad, namely, the dailies, the raid zone, and the sweet rewards you can buy with those shiny commendations!

Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one bloodthirsty column. Figure out the best talents for PvP in the expansion, depending on your class: death knight, druid, hunter, mage, paladin, priest, rogue, shaman, warlock, and warrior.

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