Arena: Initiative, Momentum, Parity
I originally wrote this on my blog and for the official WoW PVP forums (where I got few replies, most people would rather moan about their missing honor updates), but someone suggested EJ forums for a better discussion. :( Hope I don't get flamed, my rating is humble (1700-1800ish in 3v3 and 2v2 brackets), but I like to theorycraft quite a bit and share discussion.
Arena is a wonderful meta, a game inside the larger game that is PVP, which itself is inside the larger game of WoW. Lasting longer than a duel but shorter than a BG, an Arena match is simple enough in objective (we fight, they die, SPARTA!!!11one) while being complex enough so that not only classes/gear/talent specs matter, but also team dynamics and coordination.
With that said, I'd like to take a look into some generalized strategies and tactics in Arena and break them down under the terms Initiative, Momentum, and Parity---and discuss how understanding what's going on can make you more prepared and aware for Arena.
Initiative is often understood as the introductory step, the opening move, or the first strike.
In the old Honor system, the initiative of a premade was forming up the raid, queueing together, and having assignments for nodes/flag running---compared to a PUG with players zoning in on the fly with people they don't know, the premade is 2-3 steps already ahead before the game even starts. In World PVP, it's most commonly understood as who has the jump on who---the ganker takes the initiative when he goes after the opponent who is engaged with a mob or isn't aware of enemy presence (or both).
I'd like to further examine initiative and it's Arena role---in my opinion it can be summed up as "they will play our game instead of theirs, at our pace instead of theirs". Keep this phrase in mind as you read the rest.
Mekila (2000+ rating in all brackets), a Rogue from the Spinebreaker server, talks briefly about what his 3v3 team does in the early moments of the match:
"All buffs must be cast on everyone, even spirit on rogues, underwater breathing, etc to buffer the important buffs from being dispelled. Dispels are random in which buffs get removed, so it is important to reduce the chance of having key buffs removed at the wrong moment by having stupid buffs on everyone."
I know this isn't a new idea, but I'll explain how this works into initiative. Here his team takes the initiative against opposing dispel/purge pre-emptively, with the idea that useless buffs become useful if they are removed instead of the buffs they want to keep up. More importantly, opposing dispellers are not "playing their game at their pace"---spending more time on dispel/purge, more GCD's to remove the correct buff, this adds up as an advantage to Mek's team. The time and GCD's spent dispelling in combat are certainly not equal to the time and GCD's that Mekila's team spent buffing before the gate opened.
Another example from my own team (Paladin/Lock/Rogue or Paladin/Lock/Warrior)---as the gate opens, we'll rush out mounted and charge right away into the enemy team, and if they are grouped up and huddled near a pillar, I dismount and Howl of Terror. Here, we take the initiative in engaging so they don't play "peek-a-boo" behind pillars---they are feared right away or perhaps not in optimal poisitioning, yelling out our class makeup in chat/vent while under immediate fire, etc.. Taking the initiative in this manner punishes slow reaction and makes them "play our game"---if they don't adjust and defend properly, it's over very quickly.
For those teams that play an outlast/survival strategy, initiative still plays an important part even if they aren't aggressive from the get go. Usually this can be seen in Hunters setting up their traps/flares, Shamans working on their totem towns, ranged classes getting onto the Pillar in Blade's Edge, etc. and getting into a favorable position where incoming attacks are where they want and expect.
Momentum is mostly understood in the realm of physics, and in a nutshell, it describes moving objects with regard to their mass, velocity and direction.
For Arena, I see momentum as an overall measurement of which team is maintaining control of the match (obtained from their initiative) and gaining more options (while slowly taking away the enemy's outs). If you've ever heard the term "slippery slope", the basic idea is that after the first downward slip, it's harder to not keep sliding down, much less stop and hike back up---in the same way, a team that is under fire from a team that is gaining momentum rapidly, has fewer and fewer ways to gain back control over the match and "hike back up" (aka win). Maintaining who has to do the "hiking" is the key.
Mek's team plays a overall defensive strategy which tries to halt the opposing team's momentum to a dead halt with their Lock/Priest/Rogue lineup---some illustrations on how this works against a not unusual Paladin/Warrior/X team:
1) Priest shields everything the Warrior is on to minimize rage gain.
2) No DPS on Warrior to minimize rage gain.
3) Rogue locks down an offensive oriented target, especially if capable of dispel/purge (continued pressure from their initiative of padding buffs, and lowers chance of Priest shield being removed).
4) Lock COT's casters and locks down Paladin with Fear.
5) Slow and steady DPS from Rogue/Lock on Rogue's target, saving major burst cooldowns until after Paladin bubbles.
6) Final nail in coffin with either Mass Dispel or waiting out Paladin bubble, and using those saved cooldowns to burn down a target.
Instead of trying to burn down one target with a train right away, they play a reactive strategy that keeps as many options/outs available to them as possible while slowly taking away options from the enemy---the Warrior has less abilities to choose from with minimal rage gain, the X is under stunlock and has to choose between survival or DPS/dispel, and the Paladin needs to worry about heal/cleanse while maintaining control of his character under COT and Fear juggling. By stopping the enemy team's momentum, Mekila's team will give them no choice but to Divine Shield and switch to defensive play.
Now I'd like to look briefly at offensive momentum from my own team, and how it can take away defensive options. After the initiative of mount/charge/fear at the match start, we'll pick out the softest DPS target they have and unload DPS. With either Mortal Strike or Wound Poison and my Unstable Affliction and DOT's, this puts heavy pressure on enemy healer/support. We aim to make their soft DPS play defensively (so they do no DPS) and give their healer a heart attack---after my DOT's are up, the Fears will start kicking in and their Paladin is going to have to bubble rather quickly or they go 3v2. From the start, we aim to try and eat up as many defensive cooldowns and abilities they have until we run them dry with little left, so even if we ever lose this offensive momentum, their offense is just a shadow of what it could have been.
Parity is essentially an equivalance in a system, whether it be math or economics---for Arena though, it's mostly applicable if everything is broken down into resources.
In a 3v3, you are a resource, your abilities are resources, your cooldowns are extra powerful resources, your health is a resource, your mana/rage/energy is a resource, and time is a resource. Same thing for your teammates, same thing for your enemy. How you spend your resources and how you deal with your opponents' resources is a true understanding of what's really going on in an Arena skirmish.
Curse of Tongues (Instant/GCD) -> Paladin
Unstable Affliction (1.5 cast) -> Paladin
Corruption (Instant/GCD) -> Paladin
Siphon Life (Instant/GCD) -> Paladin
Fear (1.5 cast/GCD) -> Paladin
Divine Shield (Instant/GCD) -> Paladin
In terms of Parity, the Warlock spent alot of time, GCD's and mana on the Paladin, which was then instantly removed by Divine Shield---that's 5 spells to 1 spell, at least 6 seconds (which could be very crucial if the Lock was under fire) of the Lock's time, a huge lopsided affair which shows why Divine Shield is perhaps one of the biggest bang for your buck in terms of resources---the Paladin breaks parity because it was an uneven trade. I've seen horrible Paladin's bubble up on my first AE Fear at the start (which would be a 1 to 1 trade) which is a waste IMO, as I spent minimum effort to nab one of their most important resources.
I'll term this "breaking parity", the point in the match where all of a sudden things aren't equal. This extends to all aspects, not just one cooldown or one player going down, but everything in conjunction with each other. The team that breaks parity is in a very solid position to come out on top, literally being ahead in the resource game.
Mek's team breaks parity by saving their real DPS cooldowns for when the Paladin bubbles---although I mentioned before that a Paladin's Divine Shield is a great resource because you can nullify so many things for just one spell, Mek's plan was to bait it out in the first place and unload in the short timeframe where their enemy is most vulnerable (namely after Diving Shield wears out or is Mass Dispelled)---Felhunter Spell Lock, Shadowburn, Adrenaline Rush + Cloak of Shadows, etc.
In my initial mount rush/AE fear at the start of the match, I'm trying to do something very subtle (aside from initating engagement and causing chaos)---I'm trying to get ahead in resources. If my 1 Fear catches 3 people, 2 of whom use their PVP trinkets and say 1 who uses Will of the Forsaken, that's a huge gain of 1 to 3. From there I won't have to deal with trinkets and WOTF for another 2 min (makes my 1.5 casting times on regular Fears that much better), while my AE Fear has a much quicker cooldown. If their trinket also protected against other things such as stun, this parity break is that much better for when my Rogue comes in for Cheap Shot/Kidney Shot or my Paladin HOJ, which will be uncontested.
Basically, understanding parity and creating situations where you make trades with the other team that are favorable for you will win the game in the long run. This is why after a Paladin bubbles (a huge chance to break parity), if your team STILL hasn't reclaimed control of the match, you are very succeptible to never recovering again.
Seize Initiative, Maintain Momentum, Break Parity:
This turned out longer than I originally desired, but it should give you an idea on how really complex things can be when you break it down (lawlatthosewhothink WoW PVP is ez). But if you've read it all, you should start seeing how the 3 topics are very closely related and dictate what happens in Arena. Nail them all down and you can better work our tactics for your own team, as well as adjust to what other teams will try and bring to you.
Initiative ensures that your overall strategy is obtainable because you dictate "how the game will be played."
Momentum ensures that "how the game will be played" is under your control and not by your opponents.
Parity ensures that "how the game will be played" is stacked against them when they have less resources than you.
Seize Initiative, Maintain Momentum, Break Parity. 2v1, 3v2, 5v4, gg.
Did you play Magic: The Gathering by chance?
This reminds me of the type of articles that started to pop up around the internet on various fan sites as the professional aspect of the game started to get off the ground. Arena WoW seems to be experiencing the same metamorphosis, and it's fascinating to me.
You left out a very important resource: attention.
There's only a limited amount of actions each player can pay attention to and so you want to hide the important moves(high parity gain to your team) in a bunch of non-important moves (zero-parity moves).
For example detect magic/polymorph spam from mages is in this category. If countered, it is a zero-parity move, however it requires attention from the dispeller so you are using up his attention resource and he could very well just not notice a more important debuff that requires dispelling or a teammate in need of a heal.
Calling everything else is probably the most important thing, if you're feared call it out, giving people information that they wont be getting a heal for X seconds due to CS or you wont be able to resheep a healer for 5 seconds helps a ton when it comes to planning.
Not really much to say myself except I enjoyed reading your post. While simple on the outside, there is a lot of depth to Arena's, especially 5 v 5.
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