Monthly Archives: June 2011

Battleground PvP Gear in Cataclysm Patch 4.2 / Arena Season 10

Cataclysm patch 4.2 brings with it the start of a new PvP season, season 10, which means a new tier of PvP gear – Ruthless Gladiator’s Gear – has become available.

Following the Cataclysm pattern outlined in my Season 9 guide and 4.0.6 update, there are still three levels of PvP gear you can consider current: crafted, purchased with Honor Points, and purchased with Conquest Points.

There has been a substantial change with the introduction of Season 10, however. Unlike the previous 9 seasons, last season’s gear has been completely replaced by sets with the same name but different item levels. PvP gear is now marked with Season 9 or Season 10 in the tooltip to help distinguish between the two sets.

The changes affect the gear purchased with Honor Points and Conquest Points last season.

  • ilvl 352 Bloodthirsty gear (purchased with Honor Points in Season 9) has been replaced by crafted ilvl 358 Bloodthirsty gear.
  • ilvl 365 Vicious gear (purchased with Conquest Points in S9) has been replaced by ilvl 371 Vicious gear (purchased with Honor Points).

This means that, unlike every other previous season within an expansion, the gear earned in a previous season is actually worse than the same named set of the new season. Full Season 9 Conquest gear is inferior to Season 10’s honor gear by 6 item levels, or half a tier. This is a noticeable difference in PvP, so you will need to decide if grinding out the full set is worth it. Fortunately, the honor gains from regular Battlegrounds have been increased, so it should take less time than the Season 9 grind, which was too long (without Tol Barad.)

Due to this change, it is no longer advisable to grind Honor Points in the week between PvP Seasons, as the gear gained will be obsoleted at the start of the new season. Max out both your Honor and Justice Points to prepare for the new season, but wait for the new gear to drop before grinding out a new set.

Last season’s crafted pieces (blue gear with no set bonuses) are no longer available, as the patterns have been replaced with the new Bloodthirsty versions. Crafters do not need to do anything to upgrade existing recipes – the new ones just show up. If you have any of the old gear (like a Fireweave Robe), replace it with the new crafted Bloodthirsty gear right now. Or, better yet, go straight to Vicious gear through Honor Purchases.

A new level 85 character who wants to start playing in Battlegrounds should purchase the crafted Bloodthirsty gear as soon as possible. Getting the 2-piece bonus should be your priority if you are only getting a few crafted pieces because of the +400 Resilience bonus. The crafted gear lacks gem slots, so properly enchanted and gemmed S9 Bloodthirsty gear is about on par with the crafted S10 Bloodthirsty gear. A full crafted set is a great start.

You can, of course, start PvPing without PvP gear, but generally I don’t recommend it. Endgame PvP is designed around a certain amount of Resilience gear, and while you might do okay in PvE epics, your survivability will be low.

Let’s take a look at what you can get in Season 10 from PvP.

HONOR AND CONQUEST

The PvP vendors for level 85 are still in the Hall of Legends in Orgrimmar’s Valley of Strength and the Hall of Champions in Stormwind’s Old Town.  There were some minor changes in Season 9, notably the addition of the <Honor Trade Goods> and <Honor Heirlooms> vendors, but otherwise things are the same.

If you’ve never been in these locations before, the picture above shows the Stormwind vendor layout, and below is the Orgrimmar layout. The person you’re going to want to talk to first is the <Honor Quartermaster>.

Regular battlegrounds, Tol Barad, and world PvP award Honor Points. With them, you can purchase last season’s top gear, Vicious Gladiator’s gear from the Honor Vendors. If you don’t participate in Arenas or Rated Battlegrounds, this is the set you should be aiming for. You can only have up to 4000 Honor Points at any one time, but there’s no limit to how many you can earn over time.

Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds award Conquest Points. Conquest Points purchase the current top PvP gear, Ruthless Gladiator’s gear, from the Conquest Vendors. There is a weekly cap to the amount of Conquest Points you can earn that is related to your Arena Rating and Rated Battleground Rating, but there’s no limit to the amount you can have at one time. You purchase Conquest gear from the <Conquest Quartermaster>.

The point costs for each set of appear to be unchanged from Season 9, with two exceptions.

Slot Vicious
Honor Points
Ruthless
Conquest Points
Head 2200 2200
Neck 1250 1250
Shoulder 1650 1650
Back 1250 1250
Chest 2200 2200
Wrist 1250 1250
Hands 1650 1650
Waist 1650 1650
Legs 2200 2200
Feet 1650 1650
Ring 1 1250 1250
Ring 2 1250 1250
Trinket 1 1650 1650
Trinket 2 1650 1650
2H Weapon/Ranged 3400 3400
MH Weapon 2450 2450
OH Weapon 950 950
Wand/Relic 700 700
Minimum Total 26,850 26,850

The exceptions are for purchasing PvP weapons.

  • PvP weapons can now be purchased with Honor Points. This is a great change, as PvP weapons were formerly not something regular Battleground players could acquire.
  • PvP weapons now require a minimum number of points earned in Season 10. You must first get 7250 Honor Points before the Vicious weapons can be purchased, and 7250 Conquest Points for the Ruthless weapons. Points earned the week before Season 10 do count towards this total.

The first change is great for people who only run battlegrounds, and for people gearing up alts. It provides a way to put PvP gear in every slot to get Resilience up, and provides a level playing field for PvP.

The challenge it introduces, of course, is that those weapons are really good for starting out in PvE. This change could potentially drive people into PvP just to gear up their characters for raids, which is – in part – why we have the second change, requiring players to grind out a certain amount of Honor Points before they can get them. This will prevent these weapons from being easily obtainable for PvE, though 7,250 Honor isn’t a terrible amount to grind. The original figure of 18,500 Honor Points was 69% of the way through assembling a full Honor BG kit, and was probably prohibitive.

This is all a good thing. Battleground enthusiasts will now be able to get weapons, and PvE enthusiasts will find better weapons in PvE.

The Conquest weapons are similarly restricted to make them unavailable to endgame raiders at the beginning of Firelands. At the very top tier of PvP play, these weapons will not be unlocked until the 3rd week of Season 10. At the lowest tier, they’ll open up in 6 weeks.

LEVEL 85 GEARING STRATEGY

For level 85 endgame characters, I would adopt the following general strategy for gearing up for battlegrounds, Rated Battlegrounds, and Arenas:

  1. Get as many of the crafted Bloodthirsty pieces made as soon as you can. Any Resilience is good. Go for the 2-pc bonus (+400 Resilience) as soon as you can. These tend to be selling very cheaply on many Auction Houses right now.
  2. Supplement with good items gained from PvE, but only if they’re a substantial upgrade over the Bloodthirsty gear.
  3. Run Tol Barad dailies for the PvP head and shoulder enchants. Use good PvE enchants on your gear in the interim.
  4. PvP in regular BGs for Vicious gear. I use RatingBuster to help show what each upgrade will give me, but in general if the primary stat (Intellect, Strength, Agility) and Resilience bonuses are the same, I upgrade the secondary stats (Hit, Haste, Crit, Mastery) which favor my current specialization first.
  5. If you are upgrading from crafted Bloodthirsty gear, you will want the bonuses on the Vicious PvP hands first, followed by the 2-pc and 4-pc set bonuses. If you are coming off the Bloodthirsty gear purchased through PvP, the order doesn’t matter much.
  6. Once you have a complete set of Vicious gear, use Honor Points to get PvP enchants for your new head and shoulders. You don’t need Tol Barad dailies anymore.
  7. Participate in as many rated PvP matches as you can, up to the limit of Conquest Points you can gain each week.  Even pugging Rated Battlegrounds can net you some benefit.
  8. Upgrade your weakest pieces with Conquest gear. If you have a mix of Bloodthirsty and Vicious gear, upgrade the Bloodthirsty to Ruthless first.
  9. Upgrade your PvP weapons whenever they become available, regardless of level. If you can upgrade to the Glorious Conquest weapons (2200+ Rating), do so in favor of other upgrades.

You can upgrade your Conquest armor to Glorious Conquest armor with a 2200+ PvP rating, but it is purely a cosmetic upgrade. A high PvP rating only gets you better PvP weapons, not better armor.

PVE GEAR IN PVP

Generally speaking, I don’t like having lots of PvE gear in PvP. You need a lot of Resilience to stay alive and do your job, and too much PvE gear dilutes it.

That said, if you are able to run Heroic raids, the ilvl 391 Heroic Firelands trinkets look like an attractive option over the Ruthless trinkets. Much like the Darkmoon Cards of Season 9, these trinkets can give you a damage boost without sacrificing a lot of Resilience.

If you’re able to get your hands on one of those trinkets, definitely consider them for PvP.

RATED PVP CHANGES

This doesn’t affect players who strictly play regular battlegrounds, but there have been some substantial changes to the way in which Conquest Points will be awarded in Season 10.

  • Players will have different caps for Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds. They can earn total Conquest Points up to the higher of these two caps.
  • Rated Battlegrounds will have a 22.2% higher Conquest Point cap than Arenas for the same PvP rating.
  • Arena Conquest Point caps range from 1350 to 2700.
  • Rated Battleground Conquest Point caps range from 1500 to 3300.
  • The Arena and Rated Battleground caps govern how many Conquest Points can be gained doing that specific activity. If one’s total Conquest Point cap is higher than the activity cap, then the additional Conquest Points must come from another source.

I’ve talked about these changes before at some length, so let me focus instead upon what this means to the casual Arena and Rated Battleground player. If you’re running Arenas with friends for weekly Conquest Points:

  • If your Arena rating is below 1500, you will not reach your total Conquest Point cap each week.
  • At low Arena ratings, you can still get a minimum of 1350 Conquest Points, which is equivalent to the Season 9 cap.
  • You can supplement your Conquest Point earnings through a variety of means – Rated Battlegrounds, daily random Battleground/CTA weekend rewards, or converting Valor Points to Conquest Points from raiding, Troll Heroics, and random Heroics.
  • At the lowest ratings (or no rating at all), you’ll need 150 Conquest Points from other sources to hit your cap.

If you are able to run Arenas with your friends, it’s still a worthwhile activity that gives you a gearing edge in regular Battlegrounds. You can supplement it with other activities, including PvP, to gear slightly faster than in Season 9 at sub-1500 ratings.

One last note: if you are primarily a PvE player, you can convert Valor Point to Conquest Points at a 1:1 ratio. Once you have exhausted your Valor Point upgrades, you may want to consider using them to purchase Conquest PvP gear.

UPDATES

Like with previous seasons, I’ll update this page as new information is released.

June 28th, 2011 (Patch 4.2 Day): Patch 4.2 has dropped, but not all of the gear described in this article is available yet. Vicious Gladiator’s Gear is still available at the Conquest Quartermasters, but it now costs Honor Points. It’s marked with “Season 9″ underneath the title, which is a nice addition.

Ruthless Gladiator’s Gear is not yet available, but should be once Season 10 starts. I expect that all of the gear will shift to their normal places once that happens.

I’ve updated the section on crafted gear based on feedback from Poneria and Gameldar, as well as what I’ve finally observed on live. The crafted patterns now have “Bloodthirsty” in front of their previous items names (i.e. Bloodthirsty Fireweave Cowl instead of Fireweave Cowl), and they’re a little different from the original sets. They are slightly higher ilvl than the original (358 vs. 352) and generally lack gem sockets. It’s a moot point for upgrading – if you have Season 9 Bloodthirsty, go straight to Vicious, do not stop to craft – but it’s an interesting move by Blizzard.

I can also confirm that they lack all bonuses but the 2pc +400 Resilience bonus, so get whichever pieces you can get, in whatever order you can get them. The crafted Bloodthirsty gloves lack any unique bonus, so I’ll remove that section from the post – but those should still be the first ones you get with your Honor Points.

Also, Vicious PvP weapons currently require you to have earned 7250 Honor Points in the current season. I assume that requirement will go up to the 4.2 patch notes level when Season 10 starts, so it’s probably a good idea to grind out some honor this week and get them first.

Update 7/8/2011: Wow. I step away for a few days and miss a gear debacle.

  1. Blizzard screwed up the Conquest to Honor point conversion at the end of Season 9, making it so that players who had amassed Conquest Points with the goal of converting them to Honor points lost their stockpiles early.
  2. Blizzard failed to announce that the gear ilevels of the same tier of gear would change between seasons, so that the Season 9 Vicious gear is a lower ilevel than the Season 10 gear of the same name. This caused people to go farm Vicious gear during the week between the seasons, only to be rudely surprised that it was inferior to the gear purchased a week later.

Blizzard has issued an illuminating statement on the matter:

We agree that the mistakes made were very unfortunate and unfair to a lot of players. We’re currently exploring some options to try and alleviate some of the misfortune many of you experienced while purchasing PvP gear in the last week.

… We know we messed up in multiple ways. This not only made our intentions very unclear, but led players to make choices to spend their Honor Points they otherwise probably would not have made.

If everything went according to plan, you probably would’ve spent any HP over the 4,000 cap last week on any remaining Season 9 items you maybe didn’t have. You then would have saved 4,000 HP to get started on the low tier Season 10 items. This is the way we’re looking at it and will let you know if and when we have more information to share.

Looking at some threads on the forums, I see that this was picked up on the PTR but never made it into the patch notes. I’m sorry that I didn’t see those threads earlier – this is really a case where I feel like I let folks down in not catching it. Following the patch notes sometimes isn’t enough. :-(

This season transition has not gone well. Let’s see what, if anything, Blizzard does to rectify the situation.

Update 7/15/2011: I have updated this post significantly to account for all of the changes that took place with this transition. Entire sections needed to be rewritten due to the issues around the transition from Season 9 to 10.

For my analysis of the changes, please see The Changing Face of PvP Gear and the Rocky Road to Season 10. My followup post, ilvl 365 Vicious Gear and the Phantom Tier, goes into the reasons behind the change. There are good reasons, though they don’t excuse the lack of communication on Blizzard’s part. But what’s done is done.

I updated the following in this post:

  • Clarified the difference between the S9 and S10 versions of Bloodthirsty and Vicious gear.
  • Added item levels to gear descriptions as appropriate.
  • Updated the required weapon HP/CP requirements to 7250, not 18,500 Honor Points or 11,650 Conquest Points originally stated in the release notes.
  • Added note about Points earned before Season 10 applying to weapon point limits. (Thanks, Gameldar, for these two!)

Blizzard has said that the 4k Honor Point compensation package will be coming to affected players on 7/19, next Tuesday’s maintenance. Affected players are defined as those who purchased Vicious gear between Seasons 9 and 10, and should receive the Honor Points via in-game email. I won’t be able to personally validate this, but it should be present after the servers come back up.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Wednesday Reading

You know, it’s been a while since I’ve done a link post, and there are some great posts out on the web right now. Here are a few that have caught my attention over the last week or so.

  • I’m so glad to see Lara posting again at Root and Branch. Her latest, “Fight On The Flag, Damn You!” is an excellent tale of bloodshed in the gulch.
  • Gnomaggeddon gives great advice, again, to folks who want to lose quickly in How to end a BG quick – without bitching!
  • Murmurs has got a great post up on Blood Pact about How to be a True Warlock, covering the basics of the class in what might be the best warlock post ever.
  • Psynister delivers another great leveling gear post by asking, Are Heirlooms Really Best in Slot? (He also reminds me I should probably drop my heirloom weapons on my Rogue and get some decent ones.)
  • I know that this has nothing to do with PvP, and my own adventures as a druid are of the Fail!Druid type, but A Sunnier Bear has a great post up on Feral Macros. I love me a good macro post!
  • Speaking of Druids: Oombulance. That is all.
  • Heavy Wool Bandage has a great expose on Yetimus, because what you don’t know will hurt you.
  • Jaedia has a wonderful post up on How to Win the Stranglethorn Fishing Extravaganza. (I finally won it!)
  • Jinxed Thoughts took a look at Healing classes and the 5×2 project, with some great results!
  • Vidyala at Manalicious has two interesting posts up about alts, mains, and which one you raid with. I think a lot of us with dedicated mains can identify with this struggle – I know I sure can.
  • And, in case you had any doubts that Blizzard really wants people to start playing Rated Battlegrounds in 4.2, there will be New PvP Mounts for Rated Battlegrounds. I’m sure you’re all shocked that another carrot has been offered.

Also, for fans of Cynwise (the character), I’ve added an Artwork page to this site.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Links

The Persistent Problem of PvP Rating Exploits

Velidra sent me the link to the above video of a Destruction Warlock tearing apart battlegrounds with his bare hands. The guy takes on 3 Rogues at once and walks away the sole survivor. If I walk away from an encounter with a single Rogue, I usually count myself lucky. Three of them at once? Game over, man. Game over.

But not for Adouken.

I enjoy PvP videos. They usually make me feel bad about my own UI (how do they do that with so few addons?) but they make me feel great about the potential of my class, and I try to learn from them as best I can.

Videos naturally show a skewed version of a player’s skill, but that’s doesn’t mean that players who show off their skills in them are somehow faking it. They might not be that good all the time, but damn if they weren’t that good at some point, when the cameras were rolling. Odds are pretty high that they are that good, and that they operate at a high level of play all the time.

I don’t play anywhere near as well as you see Adouken play in that video – far from it. Watch that first segment and realize that he’s casting Nether Ward inbetween the time a spell is cast at him and the time it reaches him. You notice how it looks like he reflects Death Coils back at their caster? He’s casting his own Death Coil while his opponent’s spell is in the air. That’s awesome.

There is an objective difference in skill between Adouken’s player and me. While it may not be easy, surely, we can measure it somehow, right?

That’s where PvP ratings are supposed to come in and help us know the great from the good, the poor from the mediocre. They way they work is simple, at least in concept.

  • There are two numbers used in the rating system: Matchmaking Rating (also called MMR) and your PvP Rating. You have different values for each bracket.
  • Your Matchmaking Rating changes with every win and loss, and is used by the system to try to find a level of skill where you’ll win about 50% of the time. You can think of the MMR as measuring your aptitude, your potential rating.
  • Your PvP Rating is based upon your performance over time, changes slowly, and is what PvP achievements, gear rewards, and titles are based upon. PvP Rating, in theory, measures your performance over time.

The goal of the PvP rating system is to match you up with people of equal ability, not to allow you to win all the time.

That’s kinda weird, isn’t it? From a sport perspective, it would be really strange to have a system that wasn’t based on win/loss records (performance). But you also have different leagues and ways of stratifying talent that don’t exist in computer games – local, regional, and national competitions, playoffs, major, minor, and little leagues. So instead, the goal is to put a number on you and say, this is an arbitrary level you’re performing at.

All other things being equal, you should win about 50% of your matches against teams and people of similar PvP rank.

But that’s not how it works.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING MMRS

So a funny thing happened in the 4.2 Patch notes.

  • The individual Matchmaking Rating column has been removed from the Arena scoreboard.
  • The individual Matchmaking Rating column has been removed from the Rated Battleground scoreboard and replaced with a team Matchmaking Rating.

This is kind of curious, isn’t it? What’s going on here?

I’ve said several times that Blizzard is trying to encourage people to get into Rated Battlegrounds in patch 4.2, and that many of the changes are with this in mind. You might think that a change like this is just to make it so that people who join rBGs don’t see how outmatched they are and throwing the match immediately.

While this makes a limited amount of sense, it’s not what’s going on. Yes, this is to try to make Rated Battlegrounds more fair, and therefore more attractive. But hiding the personal MMR is aimed at stopping a series of exploits people are using to get titles in both Arena and Rated Battlegrounds, exploits which are running rampant right now. The most common exploit involves using alts to boost the main characters’s MMR, then winning enough games at the various high levels to get the desired titles.

If you’ve been comfortably playing in a lower Arena bracket, you may have noticed that the last 2 weeks have been rather… more painful than before.

You’re not imagining things.

THE PROBLEM WITH MMR, OR WHY THAT TEAM JUST STOMPED US

[Player]: How about a joke before you go?
[GM]: Your Arena rating.
[Player]: /facepalm

Consider the following facts about how MMR works.

  • Your team MMR (different from your rating, mind you) is equal to the average individual MMR of all the players on the team.
  • In the event of a win, individual MMR should go up, thereby raising the team MMR. Losses reduce MMR, but not as much as wins do.
  • Players on new teams start out with 1500 MMR.

Let’s look at how this works out.

You start the season out with your two friends and start playing 3v3 on your mains. You win some, you lose some, but your individual MMR rises and falls together. If your MMR hits 1800, your teammates are also at 1800. Your MMR, and eventually your PvP rating, accurately reflect your team’s performance to date. Everything is rosy.

Now let’s say one of you has an alt you want to bring in. Maybe it’s because it’s a better comp, maybe it’s just time for a change. Now you’ve got two people at 1800 MMR and one person at 1500 MMR, so your team has a MMR of 1700. You’re facing teams which are a little worse than you were doing before, but maybe the alt is undergeared, so it balances out.

What’s interesting is that it might balance out to fair matches in the 1700-1800 bracket, your individual MMRs are now going to be out of sync. The alt will always have a lower MMR than the other two main characters, and can never catch up.

Now let’s take a step back and change the conditions a little bit. You have a 3v3 team, starts fresh at 1500 and goes to 1800. Two of you drop your mains and swap to alts. Your team’s MMR is now 1600. You’re facing easier teams than you did at the 1800 bracket, so you win, even though the alts might be a little undergeared. They gain +200 MMR, you gain +200 MMR, you’re now at 2000 MMR, they’re at 1700 MMR – and your team is back at 1800 MMR.

With me so far? You’re still playing at 1800 MMR teams, but your personal MMR is 2000, your team’s alts are at 1700.

Now, you swap to to one of your alts, and one of your teammates swaps to their mains. 1500 alt, 1700 alt, and 1800 main are now on a 1666 team. You play until your teammate’s main is at 2000. (You’d be at 1700, the second alt would be at 1900.)

You see where this is going, right?

By cycling through alts, teams are able to artificially boost the individual MMR of their main characters.

Now let’s take this a step further. The team cycles through once or twice, everyone’s mains are sitting around 2000 MMR. The alts are all around 1800, which is really where people’s skills are at.

So the team hops on their alts and loses every single match. Their MMR tanks. They go from an 1800 MMR team to a 500 MMR team in a night. Those characters have terrible MMR now, which is exactly what they want.

Because now, you have a crop of alts at 500 MMR to swap into a team with a 2000 MMR main. The team’s matchmaking rating is 1000, so they’re going to be facing significantly easier opponents. But they’re capable of playing at 1800 MMR, so they dominate. The main’s MMR shoots up to 3000+ while the alts are climbing back up to 1800.

And then once everyone’s mains have an MMR of 4000+, they all rejoin the team and play enough matches to bring their team rating – and therefore their PvP rating, which gives the Gladiator titles – up to the desired level. Yes, their MMR will fall from the heights it reached, but the PvP Rating will rise to meet it somewhere in the middle.

When that team comes and stomps your 1000-rated group you and your friends put together to screw around on with perfect CC chains, huge burst damage and flawless target switching… they should never have been playing you in the first place.

BUT WAIT, RATED BATTLEGROUNDS ARE EVEN WORSE

You know why MMR boosting is an even bigger problem in Rated Battlegrounds? It’s not because they’re BGs, and it’s not because I am trying to pick a fight with rBGs this week.

No, it’s because:

  1. There are 10 people on your team, and
  2. Rewards are based on your individual MMR, not your team MMR.

Nice, huh?

Swapping alts (or even players who don’t care) in and out of BGs can be done like in Arenas, but it’s a little easier to boost MMR due to the number of low rated alts you can bring to the team. If you have 2 players at 1800 and 8 players at 1000, your team will be at 1160 MMR and (hopefully) get matched accordingly.

The coordination required to alt swap and lose MMRs is harder to do with 10 people than with 3. There’s a lot more time involved with Rated Battlegrounds, and the effort put forth by a low-rated character is often the same (or more) than a high-rated one, but the high rated one will get rewarded disproportionately to their efforts. While there is some alt-swapping going on, it’s not as easy as some other methods of boosting your MMR.

No, the best thing to do is to work with a strong group until you’re all up to a decent level – say 1800-2000 – and then PuG like crazy. Get into the worst groups you can find who still have a chance of winning, and play with them. This has the same effect as the alt-swapping MMR boost – when you win, you win big, when you lose, you don’t lose that much – with none of the headaches of having to swap alts yourself. You can go from PuG to PuG, increasing your MMR with each win. You may not win as consistently as you do with your set group, but you will get a great rating, which in turn gives you access to the PvP titles. You don’t even have to win any matches at your new MMR to get the titles, because nothing is based on your team’s MMR or rating – just your individual rating.

Remember back when you thought people’s rating really measured their skill?

/AFK FTW

At some point above, you probably wondered how people can preserve their ratings while losing.

Well, if you leave a match before it finishes, it doesn’t count. This is how win-trading works – people queue in off-hours, trying to get specific teams to match up against, and leave the match if it’s not them. When people leave the match as soon as things start going a little wrong? They’re leaving to preserve their MMR, which gets modified at the end of the match.

You didn’t think people were /afking because they were scared of you, right? :-)

WIN TRADING

Another reason why people /afk out of an Arena (or Rated Battlegrounds, though I think this is less common) match is because they’re trying to trade wins with another team.

This often happens late at night, when there aren’t a lot of teams playing in the different brackets, and it’s been a problem since Arenas started, but obviously if you can find a team who will throw the match for you, it’s a great way to get your PvP Rating to match your possibly inflated MMR.

I don’t have a lot to say about win trading. Don’t think it doesn’t happen, because it does.

WHY BLIZZARD IS HIDING INDIVIDUAL MMRS

Given that there are two different types of MMR inflation going on in both types of Rated PvP, you can start to see why Blizzard is trying to hide that value. It’s not going to prevent the problem from happening, especially not in Rated Battlegrounds, but it can reduce the precision with which people are doing it now. There will be more guesswork when exploiting, both in boosting and tanking individual MMRs.

There’s a concept in security circles called “Security through Obscurity,” which is a way of describing any security system that relies upon something being hidden for it to be secure. It’s usually treated as a bad thing, because once something is found that relies on it, it’s completely insecure. In cryptography, if your sophisticated code algorithm uses a single seed to generate codes, once the seed is known your code is useless. In piracy, if you bury your gold but don’t put a lock on it, anyone who finds the gold can take it.

In other words, security through obscurity is generally not very secure.

There’s a temptation to say that hiding the MMRs is just that – not making the system any less susceptible to exploitation, just hiding the problem. People can still do the things they’re doing now. You are going to face teams who are boosting themselves, who have great gear and skilled players but are playing with an MMR well below their real skill, and you won’t be able to tell anymore.

But, removing the data points does make it more difficult on the exploiters. Not a lot – not like a complete revamp of the MMR system would – but a bit. It’s a relatively simple change in terms of development time which will have some impact. That’s why it’s happening now.

I don’t really like this change, but I see that Blizzard has to do something.

Will teams still be able to boost their MMR into the stratosphere? You bet. As far as I can see, as long as the three conditions I laid out about the MMR system hold true, boosting is possible. You can’t have flexible teams and not have this kind of potential abuse. Will it be harder for other players to find out who is boosting? Yes, it will.

It’s not great. But it’s a start.

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

Man is the measure of all things.

-Protagoras

The interesting thing about the PvP Rating system, at least the Platonic ideal of the PvP rating system, is that it provides a way to compare people with very different character types. No matter what you play, or what your team is like, it should provide a relative measure against other players. The values are arbitrary and entirely dependent upon the actions of other players, as well as your own.

I think about other rating systems that assign a numeric value to your ability – college aptitude tests like the SAT/ACT, IQ tests, even professional placement exams – and they all measure ability based upon fixed criteria. Here is a test, there are right and wrong answers, how did you do? (Please note, I am an old fart, and I still think of the SAT as having all multiple-choice questions, none of this fancy writing stuff.)

Both types of test assign numeric values, which of course makes them more scientific.

But more than that, both purport to measure aptitude, but one is easy to game for your advantage, while the other is not. Why is that?

Take a look at the exploits again. Each one of them involves using other people. The system isn’t the problem, the people are. The system relies upon measuring you and your teammates, and your performance against other teams, which provides two places where it can be exploited.

Your opponents can really only modify your rating through throwing a match and win-trading, which is one kind of problem. You and your teammates can modify it through careful manipulation, boosting some characters, tanking the ratings of others, and preserving gains through /afking.

If these ratings were static and based upon some kind of objective performance, this kind of exploitation would not be possible. You can’t cheat an aptitude test by trying to throw off the bell curve and flooding the test pool with people who are going to score 0. You can’t get a 1600 on the SATs by being better than everyone else in your testing pool – you have to get every question right.

There are objective measurements of player skill, even in an environment soaked in relativity like PvP. Go back to the video at the top of the page. The player’s reaction time is faster than many others. They choose the right spells and abilities to succeed. They position themselves well, they use their abilities in the correct order. There is a measurable difference between that kind of play and my own, and that means we could construct a static test to measure it.

But static tests are hard. They have to be randomized, administered sparingly, maintained and updated. I don’t know how it would capture performance in the field fairly. I have only the vaguest ideas how a static PvP test would work. Perhaps like kata in martial arts, where mastery of a ritualized set of moves – perhaps a scripted PvP encounter for each class – is required to move to the next level?

That doesn’t feel much like PvP to me. PvP requires other players, living, breathing, thinking teammates and opponents.

And yet, as soon as we bring other people into our measure, we open the door for manipulating that rating.

SKILL > RATING

PvP Rating is not equal to skill. As much as we would like to have a system that really represents skill, the PvP Rating system is not it.

The more I look at how the PvP Rating system is being manipulated, the less I respect it. There are a lot of highly skilled players with high ratings, where ability and performance are in sync. But there are plenty of other teams that are taking shortcuts, who are going for the quickest way to their desired goal. They’ll stomp through the lower brackets while boosting a friend’s toon. The only incentives that aren’t about gaining the coveted rating are designed to get people into Rated Battlegrounds – everything else is about getting your numbers up.

Players who deliberately game the rating system sadly affect other players. A 2500 player playing in the 1250 range artificially depresses the ratings of people who would naturally be in the lower brackets. The upper brackets, in turn, get filled with people who have artificially inflated their ratings, giving the people who actually perform at that level easy opponents, inflating their ratings in turn.

The more players who game the system, the more imbalanced the brackets get.

And none of this is a reason to not play Arenas or Rated Battlegrounds.

  • Arenas remains the best place to learn how to win fights in PvP, period. (The only other activity that even comes close is dueling, which is really 1:1 Arena.) Yes, it’s a death match. Yes, there are strict limits about what you can and can’t use. Yes, you’re going to have unbalanced matches. Try to win them anyway. Learn from your losses.
  • Rated Battlegrounds delivered on their promise – they let you play BGs with the team composition you want against really good opponents. You have to win the individual fights, you have to execute a strategy, you have to do it against an organized opponent. Yes, you’re going to have unbalanced matches. So what? Get stronger.

As long as PvP Ratings are a relative measure, players will work together to game the system and artificially inflate their ratings. The exploits I’ve discussed are just some of the ways that players are trying to get around the system.

Is this cheating? Yep, you better believe it. Creative use of game mechanics, my foot.

But while it unbalances PvP, it’s not a reason to abandon Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds.

Skill is not equal to rating. Skill can’t be gamed, it can only be acquired through work and talent.

Screw your PvP Rating. Focus on improving your skill instead.

If you do that, all the exploits in the world won’t matter one bit.

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Disguising Sticks as Carrots: the 6/16 Conquest Point Cap Update

The 4.2 Patch notes have been updated last night (6/16) with a dramatic shift from punishment to reward regarding the Conquest Point cap changes of 4.2.

The entire set of patch notes are below, with my comments following. Updated information is in red.

  • The minimum cap on Conquest Points earned per week from Arenas is now 1500 1350 at 1500 or less Battleground Arena rating. The maximum cap remains is now 3000 2700 at 3000 or more Battleground Arena rating. The cap continues to scale non-linearly between those two points. For comparison, during season 9 the cap ranged between 1343 and 3000.
  • The game now separately tracks different Conquest Point caps for Battlegrounds and Arenas. The cap for Arena rating will always be 2/3 of the cap for Rated Battleground rating at any given Arena rating. Battleground ratings receive a bonus of 22.2% to the cap they generate, meaning the cap from Battleground rating now ranges between 1650 and 3300. Players may earn a total number of Conquest Points per week equal to the higher of these two caps, but once players have reached the cap for either Arenas or Battlegrounds, they can no longer earn Conquest Points from that source. Conquest Points from Battleground holidays only count toward the total Conquest Point cap.
    • Example: During the first week of Season 10 everyone starts with a rating below 1500. Therefore, the cap from Rated Battlegrounds will be 1500 1650 and the cap from Arena rating will be 1000 1350. In the first week, the character wins enough Arena matches to reach the 1000 1350 point cap. After that point, Arena wins will no longer grant Conquest points for the week. However, the character can still earn up to 500 300 additional points, but can only earn those points from either Rated Battlegrounds, or from the Conquest Point bonus for holiday and/or daily random Battlegrounds. The following week the cap will be recalculated based on the character’s ratings, and it is possible Arena rating could now generate the higher cap. The second week, the character’s cap from Arena rating is 1600 1800, and the cap from Rated Battlegrounds is 1500 1650. The character has a total cap of 1600 1800 Conquest points for the week. Up to 1500 1650 points can be earned from Rated Battlegrounds, but the last 100 150 must come from a different source.

The situation remains essentially the same, with sticks replaced by carrots. The ratio is slightly different, the math is more complicated, but the design goals are identical to last week’s version.

Players are being encouraged to go to Rated Battlegrounds, and it has nothing to do with slowing down the rate of acquisition of gear.

Take a look at the changes.

  • The gap between Arena and RBG caps has been reduced from 33.3% to 22.2% across the board.
    • The gap for the lowest-rated players is now 300 Conquest Points, down from 500.
    • The gap for the highest-rated players is now 600 Conquest Points, down from 1000 points.
  • The Arena cap for high rated players has been increased 700 points.
  • Instead of phrasing the change as a penalty to the Arena cap, the change is now phrased as a bonus to the Rated Battleground Cap.

High-ranked Arena players now continue with a majority of their play in Arena matches, but will need to do some Rated Battlegrounds, Zulroics, or raids to get their remaining 600 Conquest Points.

Since there haven’t been any changes to the Arena Conquest Point per hour rate on the PTR, low-ranked Arena players are now able to gain gear at the exact same rate that they got it in 4.1. Unless the prices for Ruthless Gladiator’s Gear go up, there is no change to the absolute rate of acquisition.

If this was PvE, then this would all be a moot point. Gear increases are relative to a static encounter difficulty, so you can make the argument that you can choose to do, or not do, Rated Battlegrounds, based on the desires of your raid group.

But this is PvP. The encounter difficulty of PvP is entirely relative to other players. Players who play Rated Battlegrounds, even who play them poorly, will gear up faster than players who do not. 

Rated Battlegrounds are not giving out more Conquest Points relative to their current version. Rated Battlegrounds are not being made a more attractive investment of one’s time – but they are being made into a requirement to stay competitive.

The only substantial change in this update is psychological. The stick has been replaced with a carrot, but there’s still a stick there. Cutaia pointed out this morning that this kind of change worked well before with Rested XP – changing the model from “Tired = XP Penalty” to “Rested = XP Bonus” made it vastly more attractive to players. That the time spent leveling didn’t change wasn’t important – giving players a bonus instead of a penalty changed their behavior. Rested XP is a bonus!

But it’s also the speed at which you were expected to level with originally. Whoops.

Ignore the hands, people!

The challenges of moving players away from Arenas into Rated Battlegrounds are substantial. It’s hard getting 10 people together when you’re used to only getting 2-5. It’s hard when rBGs don’t have enough players to offer newbies a fighting chance. It’s hard when the coding has been broken, when the maps aren’t tuned well, when you need a very specific comp to be successful. It’s hard.

I appreciate that Blizzard is at least looking at the way in which this change is presented. I really do. It didn’t go down well when it was announced, Blizzard is obviously trying their best to fix the the queue problems in Rated Battlegrounds, and they have to do something.

But no matter how these changes to the Conquest Point changes get spun, their purpose remains the same:

Get players into Rated Battlegrounds at any cost.

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The Carrot and the Stick: Rated Battlegrounds and the Conquest Point Cap of 4.2

Ed: Please see my next post for the PTR changes of 6/16/11.

There has been a conflict brewing in the Arena community over the last few weeks over an upcoming change to the way Conquest Points will be awarded starting in 4.2. From the PTR notes:

The game now separately tracks different Conquest Point caps for Battlegrounds and Arenas. The cap for Arena rating will always be 2/3 of the cap for Battleground rating at any given Arena rating. Players may earn a total number of Conquest Points per week equal to the higher of these two caps, but once players have reached the cap for either Arenas or Battlegrounds, they can no longer earn Conquest Points from that source. Conquest Points from Battleground holidays only count toward the total Conquest Point cap.

This is a somewhat confusingly-worded note, but the intent is that there will be a fundamental change in the way Conquest Points are earned. The only way to reach the weekly Conquest Point cap will be through doing Rated Battlegrounds, not Arenas. You can get 2/3rds of your weekly CP through Arenas, then the remainder have to come from Rated Battlegrounds.

If you want to be competitive in higher-end PvP, you must play Rated Battlegrounds in 4.2. That’s the intent behind this change. All rated PvP is not equal. Zarhym writes:

So, as many of you are interpreting this change, it is to encourage more participation in Rated Battlegrounds. We see the fact that participating in Arenas is by far the superior way of obtaining top-notch PvP gear, in terms of time investment, as a problem. If you want to maximize your Conquest Point gains in patch 4.2, you’ll need to participate at least a little bit in Rated Battlegrounds.

We know this may not sound very appealing to those of you who have grown accustomed to spending as little as an hour a week getting the top PvP currency in the game via Arenas over the last couple of expansions. To put things in perspective though, the total number of items that can be purchased with Conquest Points today is much larger than what you used to be able to buy with Arena Points pre-Deathwing world explosion. And there is no longer a requirement to “grind” unrated BGs for Honor each season, so the real time investment isn’t changing as much as some players are perceiving it to be.

On top of that, the frank reality is that the total time investment required in season 9 to get all your points has been much, much too low, as you could do that from a few 2v2 Arena games each week completed in less than an hour’s time. It shows that Rated Battlegrounds are currently sub-par in terms of the rate at which points can be accumulated.

We do feel this change is necessary to keep the time investment vs. high-quality item accumulation in check, even if it doesn’t read well on paper. However, as always, your constructive feedback is welcomed. :)

This is an interesting response, because there are two reasons given for why this change is being made, not one.

  • First, to encourage participation in Rated Battlegrounds.
  • Second, to require more time playing to get high-end PvP gear.

The first one is obvious, but what’s interesting is that it’s not the focus of Zarhym’s post. Of course this is being done to motivate players into playing Rated Battlegrounds. But why? After the first sentence, it’s not mentioned again and the entire response is about the problem of time investment versus gear acquisition.

Doesn’t this strike anyone else as being a little odd? Give one reason, then talk about another one that’s not really related to the first?

Let’s say that the problem is that Conquest PvP gear is too easy to get – a problem that I’m not sure is a real problem, but I can accept it for now. It’s not even that it’s too easy, it’s that it doesn’t take enough time each week if you do Arenas. Put the problem another way: too many Conquest Points are awarded per hour in Arenas.

Okay! That’s a solvable problem!

When we’ve seen similar problems with Battlegrounds and Honor Points in the past, you know what Blizzard has done? They adjust the rate of points gained in a battleground. This is not rocket science – we’ve had several Honor Point adjustments when developers felt that it took too much time to gear up via Battlegrounds versus Heroics (patches 3.3.3 and 4.1 most recently, if my memory serves me correctly.)

The logical response to Arenas giving too many Conquest Points per hour is to reduce the number of CP awarded per match, not to send players into a different activity. I’ve seen many good, creative suggestions about how to handle this on the official forums and Arena Junkies. Any of a number of solutions could be implemented to increase the time per piece. In fact, Blizzard has already done this once before in Cataclysm, normalizing the CP per Arena win in 4.1 so it took at least 7-8 victories, regardless of bracket, to reach the minimum cap instead of 5.

First I’m asked to believe that the graveyard changes of 4.1 were an anti-camping measure, and now I’m being asked to believe that these changes are to solve the problem of Arenas awarding too many Conquest Points per hour?

I… I actually feel kinda insulted by this post. I never thought I’d say that about a Blizzard blue post, but … there it is. I know I’m supposed to take a page from the Vulcans on just about everything, but… really? Really?

You really expect me to believe this is about CP/hour?

THE PROBLEM OF RATING

I think there are numerous problems affecting Rated Battlegrounds right now. These problems drive players to disproportionately avoid rBGs and favor Arenas, which in turn causes problems since Blizzard must justify the development cost of Rated Battlegrounds. My hunch is that, much like in Tol Barad, Blizzard feels that the solution to these problems is one of scale, not design, and that by adding more people the problems will resolve themselves.

They might even be right.

Gevlon describes the underlying problem with Rated Battlegrounds when he writes:

Rated games have about 50% win rate. A bit more when you are underrated and a bit less when overrated, but after you reached your “real” rating, it’s 50%.

If you played rated BGs, you know it’s absolutely not true.

The objective of rated play is to determine ratings. That sounds silly to say, but I think it’s important to come out and say it. It’s not about being “better” or “harder” – it’s about putting quantitative measurements on people’s play, which in turn can elevate the level play with good matching. Ultimately, though, it’s all about assigning numbers.

In theory, every team (and player within that team) has a equilibrium that they’re moving towards, a rating that represents their true ability demonstrated over time. Players should converge on their real rating as they play, and – in theory – they should have a roughly even chance of winning against someone with the same rating. Through the crucible of rated play, your team’s measure is taken.

When it works, ratings can be a hugely compelling incentive towards playing Arena because they guarantee that you’ll win some of the time. You can pick up a new partner and after a few hours of play your rating will settle to that point of equilibrium. Once you’re through that initial period – and it’s often surprisingly fast – things will settle down and you’ll start winning about half of the time.

This is not the situation in Rated Battlegrounds. Team MMRs – the measurement of the overall team’s ability – are often wildly mismatched. And I’m not talking about 100-200 points difference – we’re talking 1000-1500 points variance. That’s just ridiculously unfair matching.

If we assume that the same matching programs are in use between Arenas and rBGs, then the problem isn’t that there’s buggy code – it’s that the finder slowly relaxes its standards until it finds a suitable match. Let that sink in for a minute. Assuming that it’s working correctly, the hugely imbalanced match was the best match it could find.

Which, in turn, means that there aren’t enough teams in the system, period.

At best, there are clusters of teams in the queue, grouped around certain rating points. At worst, the queue is empty enough that the clusters don’t exist, and it’s all about finding any match.

I expect that the truth is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – the few teams that survive the initial beatdown get established, allowing them to rise a bit, which in turn lets them win against the hapless newbies. It’s a vicious cycle where the strong thrive and the weak are pushed out, causing fair competition to cease at the lower skill levels. (Oh, hi, Warsong Gulch 10-19 bracket before the twinks left. It’s nice to see you again.)

Cross-battlegroup queues was the first step towards solving this problem. Making same-faction matches possible was the next step towards solving this problem, as it effectively doubles the size of the matchmaking pool. Requiring Rated Battlegrounds to cap Conquest Points is a logical step in this progression.

As long as Rated Battlegrounds require a full raid group to enter the queue, this problem will bedevil the system. Twink battlegrounds have similar problems with population, but can draw from individuals queueing in addition to guild groups. Arena 2s and 3s will enjoy fairer matching (and more accurate ratings) than 5s or rBGs due to larger populations to draw from, which in turn is due to the relative ease of coordinating smaller groups.

Much like Tol Barad, Blizzard needs to do something to get people to play Rated Battlegrounds. If the problems are not simply technical, but rather one of scale and player distribution, then driving PvPers into rBGs is the logical solution.

Much like awarding 1800 Honor to the attackers for a victory in Tol Barad, I expect that this will work… in much the same way, sadly.

THE CARROT AND THE STICK

I think we’ll look back fondly on the problems we had with Tol Barad during the first few months of Cataclysm, because this change to Arenas is going to make the TB debacle look like child’s play.

I confess, I was nervous when Rated Battlegrounds were announced as part of Cataclysm. The idea sounded all well and good, but the devil is in the details of implementation. How would ratings be assigned? How would losses be handled? What would this mean for the current setup? I had dozens of questions without any answers.

- “Preparing for Rated Battlegrounds,” June 2010

I wrote that a year ago. Let’s take a look at some of the problems Rated Battlegrounds have had since launch.

  • Having both 10-man and 15-man rBGs proved to be very difficult to staff for, causing 15s to be underplayed.
  • 15s were cut to drive players into 10s, which removed half of the battlegrounds from rated play. This left only two types of games – Capture the Flag and Resource/Node Control – on 3 maps. (10-man Arathi Basin was added later to compensate.)
  • Compositions which dominated these two games – especially the 4-healer/1-tank teams in CTF – caused a very defensive type of game, necessitating major changes to all rated maps, which in turn affected non-rated play.
  • Wins were often not recorded properly, sometimes causing teams to lose MMR for a victory. Can you imagine going through the effort of putting together a 10-man raid, downing a boss, and getting penalized for it?

On top of that:

  • Due to a lack of players, inexperienced teams will usually find themselves facing far superior opponents. This demoralizes the new players while boring the experienced ones.

The devil is in the details. Any one of these problems might not be enough to cause a mass exodus from rBGs, but over time, they’ve whittled down people’s desire to play them. Looking at the list above, as well as the cross-battlegroup and inter-faction changes designed to bring more people in to Rated Battlegrounds, paints a rather gloomy picture of this part of PvP.

In Tol Barad, Blizzard used a carrot to get people to fix the problem of people not playing it anymore. By offering massive Honor Point rewards for winning on offense, they caused rational win-trading by masses of their playerbase, completely undermining the zone. They made 2 more changes to the reward structure before finally implementing the solution that actually “fixed” Tol Barad – change the game mechanics to allow for an easier final base cap.

The carrot got people back into Tol Barad, but it didn’t solve the problem.

It backfired pretty badly, to be honest. I’d be shy of offering carrots after that week, too.

So, instead of a carrot to draw people in to Rated Battlegrounds, Blizzard now offers us a stick. And make no mistake about it – this is a stick. If you don’t do Rated Battlegrounds, you will fall behind in Arenas. Instead of offering better rewards from rBGs – or poorer rewards from Arenas, which works out to the same thing – we get an ultimatum. Instead of making Rated Battlegrounds more fun than Arenas, we get handed a chore that must be done.

You will do Rated Battlegrounds if you want to cap Conquest Points each week.

Period.

THERE’S ALWAYS A BIGGER CARROT

Tol Barad has more incentives to play than Wintergrasp, but players are less enthusiastic about it. Rated Battlegrounds have more rewards than Arenas and normal battlegrounds, but participation is low. Conquest Gear is too easy to get, while Honor Gear is too hard.

What the hell is going on with PvP in Cataclysm, anyways?

It’s so strange to be writing about the problems with Rated Battlegrounds when, for me personally, Season 9 has been a blast. I have had so much fun screwing around in Arenas it’s not even funny. This is, admittedly, a very personal perspective – we finally have enough folks interested in Arenas in my guild that we have a definite PvP subculture growing. Some weeks are bad, but most are good, and the time spent in the Arena has been rewarding on a lot of levels.

I still think a lot about my motivations that led me to write Replay Value, and why it is I’d rather PvP than raid. Arenas play a large part of that right now; it’s more appealing to me, with a somewhat fractured schedule, to know that I can bang out my weekly cap in a night or two of play, no matter the comp I choose to go with. I hang out with my friends, we have fun, we win some, we lose some, we have fun. Bring the player, not the class, right?

All of these little carrots that Blizzard manipulates in-game help us justify our specific choice of activity – in-game. They guide us towards certain things that we want. If we want to be a respected PvPer, we’ll probably want a PvP title, so we’ll work towards it. Perhaps we want a cool mount to show off our raiding skills, or a title that shows how much we like Fishing.

But there are bigger carrots out there, motivations that have nothing to do with in-game bling.

  • Am I having fun?
  • Am I enjoying spending time with the people I interact with?
  • Do I have a sense of accomplishment for the work that I’ve done?

Sure, the loot is nice. Shiny purples make you feel like, damn, I done good. Having a character with accomplishments makes you feel better.

But what happens when something in game simply isn’t fun for people?

This is the biggest carrot of all that a game, any game, can offer – this is more fun than the other things you could be doing right now. Why are mobile games so popular? Because they’re more fun than just waiting around in line somewhere. You can play Angry Birds on your phone for a few minutes while waiting in line at the DMV. You can play Words with Friends while killing time at the coffee shop. You can play World of Warcraft instead of watching TV, to unwind at the end of a busy day.

Why are Arenas popular right now? Is it the easy loot? Sure, that’s part of it. But they’re also more fun than Rated Battlegrounds for a lot of players. When I took my casual PvE-oriented guild into rBGs for a night, we got matched up with teams way beyond our rating – and we got stomped. The next rBG night we begged and pleaded for people to give it another try – and got stomped again.

We haven’t been able to fill out a rBG team since. Arena teams? Yes. Regular battleground groups? All the time. But no more Rated Battlegrounds.

This is not an easy problem to fix. Rated Battlegrounds aren’t fun for those who aren’t already good at them, so inexperienced teams find themselves matched up against good teams who destroy them, which drives the inexperienced teams away, perpetuating the imbalance.

I find myself thinking about the bigger carrots more and more these days. Why did I find Wintergrasp so much more fun than Tol Barad? Why do I prefer Arena to rBGs? Are these little carrots even worth it anymore?

Having little carrots replaced with a little sticks makes me wonder about the bigger carrots.

THE PROBLEM OF MINIMUM COMPETENCE

I witnessed a fascinating exchange over Twitter a few weeks ago between members of a highly progressed raiding guild about Rated Battlegrounds. It went something like this.

  • GM: I’d like to put together a Rated BG team.
  • PvPer: Please make sure that the people on it are good, or we’ll get destroyed.
  • GM: Well, this is something that I think a lot of people are interested in.
  • PvPer: Seriously, people need a 1900 Arena rating, or this is a waste of my time.
  • PvEer: I was leveling a priest specifically to help fill out our PvP team, but since I don’t Arena I’m not sure why I’m bothering if that’s your attitude.
  • PvPer: I appreciate what you’re doing, but I’m also being realistic here. It’s not enough to have a priest. We need good players in every position or it’s not worth our time.
  • PvEer: Thanks for demeaning my contribution before I’ve even made it.
  • GM: I just wanted to have us run some rBGs, people.

Rated Battlegrounds are like raids in organization, time investment, and composition. You need to have certain roles filled, players need to invest time in getting appropriate gear, and players need to be able to execute their roles correctly.

They are unlike raids in that the difficulty of the activity will vary from encounter to encounter, and will never get easier – at least if the rating system is working correctly. You will go from getting your ass kicked all the time, to getting your ass kicked some of the time, to getting your ass kicked occasionally but still losing roughly half of the time. Raiding generally doesn’t work like that – you get your ass handed to you for a while, then you make progress, then eventually the boss goes on farm status and you move on.

The conversation I watched unfold on Twitter had two people arguing two very valid, but conflicting, points of view.

The first point of view is that you need to be good enough to play with us. Raiders already know this, and many raid teams enforce strict rules about who can raid or who cannot. If you ignore the labels, the PvPer was actually espousing a philosophy of minimum demonstrated competence – you have to put in the time to show that you can perform up to a certain standard before you get the job. You have to be able to run Heroics before you raid. You have to be able to play in the Arenas before you rBG.

The other point of view is that you need to value the contributions of the members of your team, no matter the level of competence. Dismissing someone’s effort of leveling another character to 85 and gearing it up for rated PvP play based on an arbitrary qualification absolutely destroys their motivation. The PvEer in question is an excellent raider with strong loyalty towards their guild, but without a lot of PvP experience on that character. By adopting the attitude that it’s a waste of his time if people aren’t already really good, the PvPer made his participation conditional on the PvEer’s performance – which is not good for building a team.

(As an aside, flip the roles around and see how this conversation applies to raiding. It’s a fascinating exercise.)

The problem here is that the bar for minimum competence in Rated Battlegrounds is high, because mediocre and fair teams don’t keep playing.

Guilds are in an awkward position here; many have preexisting raid teams of skilled PvE players who would like to try rBGs, but don’t have the same level of experience or commitment to PvP yet. They can’t even practice in regular battlegrounds to help gear everyone up – they can only hope to find a like minded group to war-game with, which is time fighting without improving even basic gear. PvPers in non-PvP guilds are in a similarly awkward situation, having to mentor and assist their guild in preparing for an activity not everyone signed up for.

The new guild system only exacerbates this problem. Guilds are tempted by the new achievement structure to expand their normal spheres of activity. Players are encouraged to do things in guild groups, further increasing the temptation to have guilds just try out things like Rated Battlegrounds – even if there’s not a solid PvP core. Players who want to both raid and PvP either have to find a guild which is a good fit on both, or consider splitting their time between guilds by having a PvP toon in one and a raiding toon in another – a hugely awkward solution.

I brought up this conversation because it reflects a real problem with Rated Battlegrounds – there’s not really any way to do them causally, unlike raiding. You can’t bang your head against them and make some progress. The content doesn’t get nerfed over time, things won’t get easier naturally. You never outgear your opponents, and the way things are structured now, you must have a good level of gear and competency across the team to have a chance. The similarities to the heyday of 10-19 Warsong Gulch twinking are apt.

The only way to make rBGs more accessible to casual PvPers is to lower the overall minimum competence required by flooding the system with weaker teams. Otherwise, the pool will remain populated by dedicated PvP teams who will crush aspiring teams as a matter of course.

I’ll let you try to find a good way to spin that inconvenient fact into a press release.

TAKE IT TO THE MATTRESSES

I keep coming back to that blue post about this change and wondering what the behind-the-scenes discussions are like at Blizzard regarding Rated Battlegrounds. Only they have the real numbers behind participation – only they can really tell if the amount of developer time spent on the key PvP feature of this expansion has been worth it. Are enough players playing rBGs to justify their cost?

The change to how Conquest Points are being awarded in 4.2 isn’t about slowing down gear acquisition; it’s an effort by Blizzard to get players back into Rated Battlegrounds to solve a number of problems that, upon due consideration, stem from not having enough teams distributed throughout the rBG system.

That’s okay. I can understand it. This is their business, and ultimately this is about their bottom line, not mine. I can be curious, I can have opinions about it, but let’s face it – my criteria for the success of a game (is it fun?) is different from theirs (is it profitable?). I can enjoy an activity that isn’t making the developer any money and call it a success. The popularity of Rated Battlegrounds, and therefore their profitability, is not really my concern.

At least it wasn’t, until Blizzard just made it my concern by affecting the fun I was having elsewhere.

There are things I care about as a customer of any product or service, and there are things that I decidedly don’t. I care about the product I get, the service I receive, and the price I pay. If you fail to deliver what I paid you for, here are some things I really don’t care about:

  • Your other customers.
  • Your internal problems.
  • Your bottom line.

This is just business; it’s not personal. I don’t care about your other customers if they’re taking away development resources on things I’ve paid for. I don’t care about your process problems which cause you to be 6 weeks late in installing a circuit, and then cause you to do it wrong. I don’t even care if you’re going to take a loss on the transaction. None of those are my problem.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that problems happen, I provide goods and services too. I value long-term partnerships, and don’t throw them away because of isolated issues. I want us both to be successful. I want my partners to make money and have a profitable relationship with me.

But when someone says the reason they failed to deliver something they promised due to an internal problem, or due to other customers, I remind them that I don’t care about their problems. I care about my problem, which is that you failed to deliver on a promise!

And if you can’t fix it and make it right, then I will start looking to take my business elsewhere. It’s just business; it’s not personal. You screwed up, which I can forgive, but then you tried to make your problem into my problem, and I don’t forgive that easily.

It took me several days to realize that my reaction to Zarhym’s post was exactly the same reaction I have to someone telling me they’re going to have to limit services I receive due to process problems that resulted from, say, a reorganization, or a new product launch. And hey, prices are going up, too!

I was actually quite relieved when I realized this. Like, okay, I get why I’m pissed about this. Got it.

Why should I care that Rated Battlegrounds need more teams playing it? I enjoy playing PvP with the people I play with. We tried Rated Battlegrounds, didn’t enjoy the experience, so went off to play Arenas instead. It’s not a judgement call on the Rated Battleground product as a whole – it’s just that it wasn’t fun for me and the people I wanted to play with. Other people love them, which is great! But not us, not right now.

I like Product A, and have liked it for a while. But now, in order to enjoy Product A, I have to also buy Product RBG, which is more expensive, is more of a hassle to assemble, and takes longer to deal with. I can get Product A on its own, but I get less than I used to without Product RBG.

And this change is because sales of Product RBG are low. It’s a quirk of the product that if more people had Product RBG, it would probably be easier to use, which is arguably a good thing for the vendor.

But how is it good for me, exactly?

Other people’s problems are not my problems, and I don’t appreciate it when they try to make them mine.

THE PROBLEM OF SHUT UP AND DEAL WITH IT

I don’t think it’s my place to say if Rated Battlegrounds are a success or a failure. In my world, that’s a business evaluation that only Blizzard can really perform, because it really only matters to their bottom line.

As a player, however, I have to look at it and ask why I’m being asked to change my behavior. Why am I being asked to stop having the fun I’ve been having in Arenas and start having less fun in Rated Battlegrounds? Does it add up that this is really about slowing down gear acquisition?

I think that’s what bugs me the most about this change. I understand corporate logic; you can’t come out and admit that a game is not attracting players, because that’s a tacit admission of failure in the marketplace. That’s not going to happen. It’s dumb of me to rationally expect Blizzard to come out and say, “Rated Battlegrounds are not doing as well as we would like; not enough teams are participating, so we’re going to force our PvP players to participate – despite their unwillingness to do so to date.”

Yeah. Not going to see that in a press release.

But this is the second time that major changes have been introduced to PvP due to Rated Battlegrounds that affect other parts of PvP, and the second time that such changes have come out with misleading explanations. And much like saying that the graveyard changes were to prevent camping (when they obviously were not), saying that the changes to Arena Conquest Points are to slow down CP/hour is simply … wrong. Dishonest. It doesn’t hold up.

Come right out and say it: we need more teams participating in the lower rating levels of Rated Battlegrounds. That is the fix that’s needed. If rBGs are to have a chance at being successful in this expansion, more people absolutely need to be convinced to put forth the effort to give them a try, casually, to give the matching algorithm a chance to work.

There’s a little carrot called gear that’s being held out to PvPers to get them to play Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds. The stick is now there, too – if you want to stay competitive in Arenas, you’ll do your rBGs and like them.

I don’t expect this to change, and I don’t expect Blizzard to say anything more on the matter.

All I ask is that that we be honest about why this change is happening, and make our choices accordingly.

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PvP Season 9 Ending Soon

Well, looks like it’s time to get ready to gear up for PvP again. From a recent Warcraft blog post:

Arena and Rated Battleground Season 9 is scheduled to end as early as June 21. …

At the end of the season, Conquest Points will be converted to Honor Points, possibly exceeding the 4,000 point Honor cap. … (A)ny Honor accrued above the 4,000-point cap will be converted into gold at a rate of 35 silver per point.

All Season 9 items will cost Honor Points (equivalent to their previous Conquest Point cost) when the season ends. … Season 10 rewards will be made available for purchase with Conquest Points awarded during the new season.

This is the first time we’ll go through the point conversion Blizzard described at the start of Cataclysm, and the process will be very similar between PvP and PvE gear. Come the end of this month:

  • All Conquest Points will be changed to Honor Points. If this brings you over the Honor Point cap of 4000, you’ll get some gold back, but you won’t be able to break the cap.
  • Conquest Points will get you new shiny Season 10 gear from the Conquest Quartermasters.
  • Honor Points will buy you Vicious gear from the Honor Quartermasters.
  • Crafters will be able to make Bloodthirsty-level gear, as well as the current ilvl 339 blue gear.

If you are competing only in normal battlegrounds, this means you will now be working to upgrade your kit to full Vicious, including the Vicious weapons. Current builds on the PTR have these purchasable with Honor Points, which has never happened before with arena weapons. Take advantage of this and upgrade your weapons as soon as possible. (Edit: You will have to earn a certain amount of CP/HP before you can purchase them – they can’t be your first purchase.)

PREPARING FOR SEASON 10

At this point, there’s not a lot you can do to stockpile points to make this into a hugely profitable endeavor. You can cap out Honor Points and get some money from your Conquest Points, but it’s not really the most profitable use of your time – you’d make waaaay more money fishing up Volatile Fire than trying to make huge sums off your stash of Conquest Points. Remember, you can’t grind Conquest Points due to their weekly cap. So if you have a stockpile, great, but if not, don’t sweat it.

What you can do, however, is have a stockpile of Honor Points ready to go for two reasons.

First, you will want to complete your Vicious Gladiator’s set quickly. If you have not completed your Vicious set, you’ll be able to do that with Honor points. Having capped your Honor now will give you a leg up on the competition then.

Second, you will want 3000 Honor Points to get the PvP helm and shoulder enchants. Once you start getting new Conquest gear, you’ll want to be able to enchant it quickly – but it’s entirely likely that we might get a new round of stronger enchants, so don’t go buying the Vicious ones just yet – unless you’re just totally out of things to buy with Honor, in which case, go ahead and stockpile these. :-)

I haven’t seen any indication of new enchants on the PTR yet, but given the names I’m being conservative here; if someone has knowledge about them, I’d love to know more!

MORE TO COME

There are some interesting changes coming on the PTR to how we purchase gear, but we’re still far enough out that I don’t want to comment on them too much yet. It looks like you’ll need to earn a certain amount of Honor and Conquest points before purchasing weapons, which will change gearing strategies and delaying their acquisition until later in the season.

We’ll see what this all looks like when it gets to live. Stay tuned.

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Rogue Twinking

Rogues are one of my favorite classes to twink. They have incredible burst, some of the more useful CC in the bracket, and their stealthy play style lends itself very well to my PvP twinking taste.

As I have laid my own twinking blog down to rest, Cynwise has graciously offered to let me wear his goggles from time to time and share my twinking experiences and information with you here. I heard a call for 19 Rogue information, and I have come here today to answer that call. Are you ready to go stab people in the face? Alright then, let’s get started.

PLAYING A ROGUE

Before we get into the gritty details, lets first talk about the different play styles and roles that a Rogue are best suited for.

Your play style is how and where you’re going to play your Rogue. First off we have the Defender, one who guards the flag and rarely leaves the flag room except to chase down an EFC. Second is the Assassin, focusing on hunting down EFC’s and recapturing your flag. Third is the Harasser, whose sole purpose is to put as many of the opposing team’s members into fits of uncontrollable rage as possible so that they play poorly out of frustration.

The Defender will spend most of the match hiding somewhere in, or near, their own flag room waiting to ambush (literally) those who come to carry it away to the enemy base. The two most effective locations for doing this are in the tunnel near the spawn point of the speed buff, and right outside the two doors associated with the Ramp and Graveyard. The most common mistake that Rogues make on defense is defending in the flag room itself. The reason why the two locations I mentioned are the best is because it gives you time to attack would-be EFC’s before they ever get to the flag so that if they manage to either kill or CC you, you still potentially have time to catch them again before they make it out to midfield. Don’t wait for them to grab the flag, kill them before they get the chance.

That being said, if you’re the sole defender, then your best location is somewhere closer to the flag room so that you can protect either entrance. My personal preference is on the second floor (not the roof, the middle where the Ramp comes in) because it offers the clearest view of all four entrances to the flag room.

The Assassin has a pretty straight forward role, but they often play the entire map. Some Rogues prefer to stay stealthed within the enemy base, some prefer to stay near the exits of their own, and others prefer playing the role of the Harasser until it’s time to be the Assassin and play the whole map based on the situation. There isn’t really a “best” location for you to play the Assassin. My personal preference is to stay near the enemy base doing a little bit of harassment when there’s no EFC.

When the enemy has your flag, and you can’t afford to let them cap it, you have two options; either you kill them, or you grab their flag. That’s why I prefer to hang out near the enemy base. If I see the EFC break away from the rest of my team and have a clear path to cap the flag then I’m not going to bother trying to kill them, I’m going to grab their flag and run to prevent them from capping. When you’re not in the twink brackets (your experience is still turned on), you can often one-shot EFC’s because they have so few hit points. In the twink brackets though, you’re not going to one-shot anyone that has a clue how to twink. You might still be able to kill them within a matter of seconds, but you won’t one-shot a twink.

The Harasser covers multiple play styles, but their purpose remains the same. Harassers are there to make people mad so that they make stupid mistakes. You can do this a few different ways. Graveyard campers are a great example of a harasser. Rogue who prey on players with small health pools are also harassers, as are those who simply Sap you, multiple durations worth, every time they see you.

By doing things like this you end up getting a lot of players upset. It’s mean and it really screws with someone else’s “fun time”, but it’s PvP and it’s all part of the game. You know you’ve succeeded in being a quality Harasser when people ignore your flag carrier strictly to have a shot at killing you. Once you have successfully made the enemy hate you, your play style switches between harassment and bait. Luring people away from your flag carrier is just as good, and sometimes even better than killing them.

Rogues are often associated with their ability to kill people, so many players just rush out there and jump into combat every chance they get. How you play is up to you, but there is so very much more to this deadly class than that.

TALENT SPECS

Once you have your play style down, it’s time to figure out which spec you’re going to take. All three specs can fill any of the roles I mentioned above, and each of these specs has their own strengths and weaknesses. My personal preference is by far Subtlety, but if you like one of the other specs then by all means run with it.

Nightstalker 2/2: Increases your speed while stealthed by 10% and reduces the cooldown of your Stealth ability by 4 seconds.

Improved Ambush 3/3: Increases the criitcal strike chance of your Ambush ability by 60% and its damage by 15%.

Waylay 1/2: Your Ambush and Backstab hits have a 50% chance to unbalance a target, increasing the time between their melee and ranged attacks by 20%, and reducing movement speed by 50% for 8 seconds.

Subtlety gets a fantastic spell called Shadowstep which allows you to teleport behind your target, that also increases your movement speed by 70% and gives you a 30% damage buff to Ambush for 3 seconds. They also get Master of Subtlety which gives you a 10% damage buff to attacks used while stealthed and for 6 seconds after breaking stealth, and Sinister Calling which grants a 30% Agility buff and a 40% damage buff to Backstab.

If you’re dead set on dealing damage above all else then you can trade Waylay for Opportunity to increase your Backstab and Ambush damage by 10%. The benefit of Waylay is that you have a chance to slow your target which is really good for hunting down EFC’s, and it also grants some amount of survivability by slowing the target’s attack speed.

Lethality 3/3: Increases the critical strike damage bonus of your Sinister Strike, Backstab, and Mutilate abilities by 30%.

Deadly Momentum 2/2: After killing an opponent that yields experience or honor, the critical strike chance of your next ability within 15 seconds is increased by 40% and your Slice and Dice and Recuperate abilities are refreshed to their original duration.

Quickening 1/2: All healing effects on you are increased by 10% and your movement speed is increased by 8%. This does not stack with most other movement speed increasing effects.

Assassination gets Mutilate, an instant attack with both weapons that deals 150% damage. They also receive Improved Poisons for an extra 50% chance to proc your Instant Poison damage, and Assassin’s Resolve increasing your melee damage by 15% and increasing your maximum Energy by 20 when dual wielding daggers.

The Assassination tree has a lot of really cool abilities in the second tier, but we only have one point to spend. I prefer Quickening because being able to move faster than your opponents is one of the strongest advantage you can have in PvP. Puncturing Wounds is a decent choice for extra crit chance on Backstab and Mutilate, and Blackjack really good for taking on EFC’s or high damaging opponents by reducing the damage they deal after being Sapped by 33%.

Improved Sinister Strike 3/3: Increases the damage dealt by your Sinister Strike ability by 30% and reduces its Energy cost by 6.

Improved Recuperate 2/2: Causes your Recuperate ability to restore an additional 1% of your maximum health and reduces all damage taken by 6% while your Recuperate ability is active.

Improved Sprint 1/2: Gives a 50% chance to remove all movement-impairing effects when you activate your Sprint ability.

For choosing Combat you get access to Blade Flurry which is a buff that slows your energy regeneration but causes your attacks to hit an additional nearby opponent (making it great for assaulting healers and casters). You also get Vitality which increases your energy regeneration rate by 25% and your Attack Power by 25%, and Ambidexterity which increases the damage you deal with your off hand and thrown weapons by 75%.

An alternative to Improved Sprint would be Improved Kick which causes your Kick ability to also silence the target for 1 second which is great for bringing down enemy casters, particularly healers.

PLAYING YOUR SPEC

While each spec can fit into any of the play styles that I mentioned up above, each spec has its own style as well. For example, the Assassination Spec is good from a stealth position and then deals a lot of damage right after with good burst damage from their increased chance to proc poisons. Combat deals most of its damage outside of stealth and gains extra survivability from their talent tree to make up for that. Subtlety deals the majority of its damage from stealth and relies much more on stealth than the other two specs.

Stealth is an advantage that all Rogues have and all of them should use, but where a Sub Rogue will run away from combat after killing an enemy in order to re-enter Stealth to open on another target, a Combat Rogue would simply choose another target and stab him in the face, and Assassination loves picking off the loners one at a time. Sub Rogues need stealth, Assassin Rogues want stealth, and Combat Rogues use stealth because it’s there.

Subtlety

As I mentioned before, Sub is my preferred spec for twinking, largely due to the usefulness of Shadowstep, and also their big burst damage from Stealth. Shadowstep is often used in lower brackets for its increased damage to Ambush, but the real beauty of the spell lies in its teleport and speed increasing properties. You can use Shadowstep to leap behind targets while stealthed to then Sap them rather than using Ambush, you can use it to flee from a hard hitting opponent, or to move more quickly for either catching an EFC or capturing an enemy flag yourself.

You want to get very, very familiar with using Shadowstep, and I suggest you try some of the macros I use for it as well. Once you’re familiar with how to use it, then it’s time to start thinking about creative ways you can use it. Just because it has that damage buff to Ambush doesn’t mean you have to attack after using it, it doesn’t even mean you have to Sap them. Sometimes the best use of Shadowstep is simply taking advantage of the teleport and increased speed to get to where you’re going. I’ve used it to jump from the bottom floor of the base to the roof, I’ve used it to get from my graveyard to the ledge above it (after the recent map change in WSG), and I’ve used it to score a winning flag cap seconds before they grabbed our flag.

Being able to move more, better, or faster than your opponent is even more important that dealing more damage of having a larger health pool. Sub Rogues will use mostly daggers for the extra damage for Ambush, but when you can’t utilize stealth you generally get more benefit from swapping to swords until you can regain stealth and switch back to your Daggers.

Assassination

I like Assassination for its damage output, it seems to have more frequent burst damage to me than the other two specs even if Sub’s Ambush puts the other two to shame. Assassination is really good at bursting through a target quickly. Your talent points also include an increase to your movement speed which again proves to be a really big help in PvP.

Another benefit you get from your talent points is survivability by resetting the duration of Recuperate when you kill a target, so you’re not quite so vulnerable outside of stealth as Subtlety is, though you’re not quite so comfortable as Combat. Assassination likes to kill things and kill them quick, then get back into stealth and surprise the next person. It’s a very solid spec for 19 Twinking.

Assassination is good at dealing burst damage, especially with their signature Mutilate attack. Attacking with both weapons at once allows you to deal more damage in a shorter time not just because you hit with two weapons instead of one, but also because you have a chance to proc any on-hit effects from both weapons at the same time. So both weapons deal damage, both poisons have a chance to deal damage, and proc based enchants can fire from both weapons as well. That doesn’t mean that you have to use proc based enchants like Fiery Weapon, Crusader, or Lifestealing, but it does give you the option for more burst damage or healing that way. You definitely want to make use of your poisons, though.

The biggest drawback to Assassination is that you have to dual wield daggers or else you can’t make use of Mutilate. The benefits typically outweigh the drawbacks, but if you don’t have access to heirloom weapons then you could probably perform better as another spec.

Combat

Combat does really well outside of Stealth, and they’re the best option for facing multiple opponents at once. You don’t have any super special abilities that make stealth a requirement for you, it’s simply another tool in your belt. Stealth is how you’ll move around and open on your opponents, but it’s not key to your damage. Combat isn’t bad, but it’s not my favorite option. Its main benefit is that it has some of the only AoE in the bracket which can be an asset if you’re trying to bring down an EFC who is surrounded by defenders, forcing healers to either keep up multiple targets or allow someone to die.

Combat is also the only spec that really wants to make use of weapons other than daggers, making their average damage per hit higher in general than the other specs. You won’t deal as high burst damage, but you will have bigger hits in general.

CHOOSING YOUR GEAR

As with everything else in Azeroth, you’ve got options. There are three main methods of gearing a Rogue twink.

  • Glass Cannon – stacking Agility and Attack Power
  • Survival – stacking Stamina, Dodge, and Parry
  • Balanced – a combination of the two above

Glass Cannon Rogues typically fill the roles of Harasser or Assassin. When you’re actually twinking and in the experience-off twink bracket, being a Glass Cannon is typically a poor choice. Sure, you’ll get some kills and you can do some really great damage, but if you don’t have a healer then you’re likely going to die – a lot. Glass Cannons are all about damage output, following the belief that the best defense is a strong offense.

Survival Rogues are willing to trade damage output (some, not all) for extra survivability. Survival Rogues typically fill either Assassin or Harassment roles, and often choose to run the flag themselves as well, making use of abilities such as Sprint for faster flag captures and defensive abilities such as Evasion for extra survivability.

Balanced Rogues shoot for the common ground, looking for gear that has a combination of both Stamina (or avoidance) and Agility. Rogue twinks who only want to farm a single set of gear are suggested to go with this route as it provides the best overall set of stats for a twink, and it allows you to fulfill any of the three primary roles.

When gearing up your Rogue, start off gearing for one of the roles that you think best suits your style. If you’re not sure, go with a balanced gear set. Of course, the best twinks like to follow the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared”, collecting multiple sets of gear to adapt to any situation.

Finding Gear
If you want to know what your best options are for heirlooms, then you can see my post, 4.1 Heirloom Guide, which also includes a list of enchants for them. You can also take a look at my post on Hand-Me-Downs to see which enchants I would suggest for your other pieces of gear. You won’t use the gear I have listed there (the point of that post is enchanting white gear that doesn’t bind), but the best enchants for those are also the best enchants for twinking since they cover the same level brackets.

The best way to find gear that fits the style of gearing that you want to go with is to utilize Wowhead’s database. Rather than building a single gear list for you and telling you to go get “this gear”, I’m going to give you links to several queries in the Wowhead database, covering each slot.

Main Hand DaggersOff Hand DaggersMain Hand Non-DaggerOff Hand Non-DaggersRanged WeaponsHelmShoulderCloakChestLegsFeetWaistBracerGlovesNeckRingsTrinkets

With the exception of the Trinkets link, you won’t see heirlooms listed in those links for a bit of a glitch in Wowhead’s database that makes their minimum level 80-85 depending on which ones they are. However, for slots where heirlooms do exist you can pretty well rest assured that the heirloom is best in slot. It might not be BiS for every situation, but generally speaking it’s either the best option or so close that it doesn’t really matter unless you’re going for hardcore twinking. For the heirlooms of choice, go check out that link I have up above to my post on 4.1 Heirlooms. [Edit: The trinket link only pulls up the heirloom trinkets because they're the best of the "easy" trinkets to get and most others don't really compare to them. The one exception to that of course is the Arena Grand Master which is the twink trinket. Cyn has already covered the AGM trinket in his post, The Arena Grand Master.]

You’ll see in my 4.1 Heirlooms post that I mention Thrown weapons being a better choice for Rogues than the heirlooms because of the Rogue’s unique ability to “enchant” their ranged weapons with their poisons. In the 19 bracket the only poison you have access to is Instant which only adds extra damage and only has a 20% (base) chance to add that additional damage. If you want stats then I suggest you go with an heirloom (Bow > Gun). If you want the ability to potentially deal some solid burst damage with your ranged weapon then your best option is going to be the Venomstrike bow found in Wailing Caverns. You won’t find it in those links I posted above because it gives no attribute bonuses at all which all of those links include (which is why you really need to learn how to do your own queries on Wowhead to find exactly what you’re looking for).

You can get bows that are better, stats-wise, than the heirlooms from quests if you’re Horde, and some that can come pretty close to matching it from Alliance quests as well.

CONSUMABLES

First off, you’re going to need some level 15 food. There are plenty of options for you to choose from, just grab something simple from a vendor like Snapvine Watermelon or Dwarven Mild. Don’t bother with buff foods that you need the cooking skill for, because every twink worth his gear will be using another consumable I’ll mention in just a second that counts as your food buff.

Next up, you have your most necessary consumables:

These bandages are the bomb. Unless you’re a freak like Cyn who has a level 19 twink that’s pushing 3,000 health then this bandage is basically a full heal in a matter of seconds. A single tick from this bandage can restore enough to turn the tide of battle. Black Label is far better than any buff food for a level 19 twink. It doesn’t restore any health when you use it, but it gives you 150 more health instantly when you use it and counts as a food buff.

Instant Poison is a new addition to the 19 bracket that came with 4.0. Every extra bit of damage helps, and you definitely don’t want to pass on using poisons.

Halaani Whiskey is better than the Rumsey Rum and works the same way. The difference is that the Whiskey is BoP and can only be purchased from a vendor in Halaa while your faction controls it. So if you want to get it then you’ll have to take your twink there to purchase it and you have to control Halaa in the first place. You can use a Warlock summon or Have Group, Will Travel to get there easily, or the Recruit a Friend summon if you have an active referral link. I’ve never bothered getting this because I just don’t care enough to put that much effort/hassel into it.

Potions

Potions share a cooldown, so you’ll have to decide which of these is more important to you. If you’re carrying the flag or chasing down the EFC, then you might want to consider Swiftness unless you’re already under fire in which case the situation could demand either one. If you are in stealth then using a Swiftness Potion will pop you out, so make sure you use it prior to stealth if you’re trying to get the jump on someone.

Elixirs

Here are two options for each type of Elixir. Remember that you can only have one of each type (Battle and Guardian) active at any given time. My preference for Battle Elixir is Lesser Agility because I usually try to get enough Hit from my gear. That’s not always possible though, so keep some Minor Accuracy on hand.

For Guardian Elixirs I decide based on the enemy team. If there are a lot of casters then I use Troll’s Blood, if there are a lot of physical DPS classes then I go Defense. A lot of people don’t care for Troll’s Blood because the healing seems really weak, but over time those heals really add up, especially if you’re playing defensively and making frequent use of stealth and repositioning. Now that we have Recuperate we can do some pretty serious healing over time.

The Scrolls aren’t quite as good as the potions, but they can be pretty cheap to make and you can usually get them incredibly cheap on the AH from people who are leveling Inscription.

Explosives

Explosives are open only to those with the Engineering profession, with the exception of EZ-Thro which anybody can use. If you’re using Engineering then Big Bronze Bomb is your ranged AoE stun. It doesn’t last long, but they’re great for stopping heals or slowing a runner when you time them right. You have to remain stationary to use a bomb, moving will cancel the effect, so they can be dangerous at times as well. Heavy Dynamite on the other hand can be used while moving which is why I prefer it as my primary explosive. I use the dynamite either to break people out of stealth by anticipating their movement, revealing flag defenders who like to stealth right on top of their flag, or for dealing extra damage to an opponent that I’m kiting by throwing it ahead of me and then running into it.

Explosive Sheep are a lot of fun, but I generally don’t use them. I don’t really have a reason, they just aren’t my personal preference in most cases. If you’re not an engineer at all, then go ahead and grab the EZ-Thro anyway. It has a chance to blow you up instead of your target, but if it does then you don’t trigger the 1 minute explosives cooldown and can just throw another. I have had three of this explode on me in a row before, but it does usually work on your enemies…usually.

Situational

There are also a few other potions that you may or may not consider worth your time to carry around. I’ll go ahead and list them since I do occasionally use them if I’ve recently leveled an Alchemist and have extra mats to make these.

Holy Protection Potions are decent against Paladins, especially Holy, and pretty good against non-Shadow Priests as well. Shadow Protection Potions are fantastic against both Warlocks and Shadow Priests. Minor Magic Resistance Potions are decent against all casters in general, and it’s the only defense you’ll have against Arcane and Frost Mages which are two of your toughest opponents.

Potion of Curing is pretty situational, basically only useful against Hunters in this bracket. However, a Hunter’s Serpent Sting will keep you from getting into stealth because of it’s DoT effect, and stealth is your safe place, so if he didn’t bother to mark you then line of sight him, remove his poisons, and hope you can drop combat soon enough to re-enter stealth before you go stab him in the face. Swim Speed is only useful if you like to do Arathi Basin, which I do. I don’t have to bother crafting these anymore since you get one for basically every Fishing Daily you do. They’re good for assaulting the Blacksmith or for moving from BS to another node. Since we don’t get glyphs until 25 now we can no longer just run over the top of the water, so the next best thing is to fly right through it.

The Minor Fortitude Elixir is kinda crappy, but the mats are cheap and another 27 health never hurt anybody. I like to use these before I know for sure how good the other team is so I have a little bit of a buff and don’t mind “wasting” it if I happen to be facing opponents who are really good and constantly killing me.

The Flame Deflector and Discombobulator Ray are both Engineering items, and you have to be a Gnome to use the Ray as only their racial bonus to Engineering will allow you to use it in the 19 bracket.

MACROS

I use a lot of macros in my day to day play, and I do so on every class and spec that I play as well. It is rare for me to have a character that doesn’t have at least 15 macros by level 30, and at 85 it’s rare that there are any macro slots available at all.

#showtooltip
/startattack
/cast Sinister Strike
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

This is the most basic of macros, the one that I use for basically every attack spell that I use on any character. The /startattack line is like turning on auto-attack, it will target an enemy in front of you if you do not already have one and begin your auto-attack and if you have a hostile target already then it will keep that target but turn on auto-attack. The next of course casts your Sinister Strike, and for a 19 Rogue twink that is your spam button when in combat and out of stealth. And that final line simply clears off error message from your screen. You could turn off the sound with a macro as well so you don’t get those annoying “I can’t cast that yet” type of messages in your audio, but I find 80% of my stealthed opponents through sound so I never allow my audio to turn off for any amount of time.

#showtooltip
/cast Sinister Strike
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

This one is exactly like the one above, except that it doesn’t include the /startattack. Why? Because this is the version of that macro that I use while I’m in Stealth. I don’t want to ever accidentally trigger auto-attack in stealth or else I’ll auto-attack my way out of stealth and lose the ability to use an attack that requires it.

#showtooltip
/stopcasting
/cast Kick
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

Now, Rogues don’t really have anything that they channel which would require the use of the “/stopcasting” line, but on the off chance that you are doing something similar (like using a bandage), this will stop you from doing whatever it is that you’re doing and cast Kick on your target instead. You don’t want to miss a critical spell interrupt just because you’re in the middle of doing something else, do you?

You could also modify this to make it Kick your Focus target if you had one and all that fancy jazz, but I don’t like switching Focus mid combat and chances are if there’s a caster that I’m so worried about that I’m watching for Kicks then I’m most likely going to focus my attacks on that target as well which would make a focus macro pointless.

#showtooltip Ambush
/cast Pick Pocket
/cast Ambush
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

Pick Pocket doesn’t do anything against players, but even twinks do things outside of PvP now and then so I have it in there. Shadowstep isn’t always going to be off cooldown when you need it, nor are you always going to want to use Shadowstep right away, so this is your option for using Ambush without burning Shadowstep.

#showtooltip Sap
/cast Pick Pocket
/cast Sap
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

This one is the same as the one above, except that we’re using Sap. You don’t want to burn Shadowstep on a Sap if you don’t have to, so here’s your option for doing that.

#Showtooltip
/castsequence reset=combat/target,10 Shadowstep, Ambush
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

I’ll often tie my racial ability to this as well if it has an offensive benefit, such as Orcs and Trolls. When doing that I usually change the first line to “#showtooltip Shadowstep” just so that I know when it’s off cooldown as I’ll use this macro regardless of whether or not I have a racial and regardless of it being on or off cooldown. If you want to add your racial ability, put it in as line two, “/cast Blood Fury”.

It’s important to note that these /castsequence macros don’t just fire off all of the spells at once, the global cooldown still applies where applicable. Most racial abilities and some others (too many to list) don’t trigger the cooldown. What this means is that you’ll need to press this macro multiple times to get all of the spells cast. IN this example, racials such as Blood Fury don’t trigger the GCD so they’ll cast essentially the same time as Shadowstep. So Ambush will not be cast until it is pressed second time. Personally, I just spam the crap out of it to make sure I get the spell off. Since Shadowstep increases your speed when it’s cast as well it’s easy if you and your target are both moving for you to run past your target and if they suddenly stop or change directions it’s even more likely, so I like to spam it to increase my chance of hitting it at the right time.

#Showtooltip
/castsequence reset=combat/target,10 Shadowstep, Sap
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

This one is the same as the one above, though I wouldn’t bother attaching a racial ability to it since the spell we’re actually casting at the end of it is Sap rather than Ambush, so a racial will most likely be wasted.

#showtooltip Recuperate
/cast Lifeblood
/cast Berserking
/cast Recuperate
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

This is your emergency button. Lifeblood is an Herbalism spell, so you have to be an Herbalist to use it, but it provides both a heal and a Haste buff. Berserking is the Troll racial, so of course you have to be a troll in order to use it, but it also provides you with a Haste buff. Recuperate is a healing ability that turns your existing combo points (even on a dead target) into a heal over time effect. The haste buffs from the first two spells in the list will make your Recuperate tick faster so that you get more healing in less time.

This one is best used when you’re in stealth and needing to get away to heal for a second before going back into combat. If you don’t need to get back into combat then you’re probably better of just running/stealthing away and then either using a bandage or eating.

You could also modify this one to include “/cast Evasion” before the Recuperate line if you’re going to use it in combat. You could also do “/cast [incombat] Evasion” if you want to have that functionality but only cast it if you are in combat as the spell is useless while in stealth.

#showtooltip Heavy Runecloth Bandage
/cast Lifeblood
/cast Berserking
/use Heavy Runecloth Bandage
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

This macro works just the same as the one above, except that it uses a bandage to heal you instead of Recuperate. You want to use this macro only if you have either the troll racial or the herbalism spell as otherwise it’s a waste of a macro slot, but if you do have them then this macro is best used when you’re in a combat situation and need whatever healing you can possibly get. You could use a Healing Potion instead of the bandage if you’d like, though I would remove Berserking from the macro in that instance.

ACTION BARS
Everyone has a personal preference for the action bars, so I’m not about to tell you what to place where as it’s not my place to do so and I’m sure we have different preferences. However, I am going to make some suggestions to that effect and give you the reasoning behind it. I’m also going to give you some tips on how to use your attacks and when.

There are two action bars in particular that you need to be familiar with; the normal action bar, and the stealth action bar. I like to synchronize these bars, but that’s my personal preference. I don’t keep them so in sync that the same spells are on the same exact button (though that is the case for some of them), but I like the spells to be somewhat related. For example, I use my Shadowstep>Ambush castsequence macro on the 3 button on my stealth bar which is Eviscerate on my main bar. Why? Because I almost always follow up my Ambushes with an Eviscerate, so spamming the 3 key will Shadowstep > Ambush > Eviscerate which is the most damage I can do in the shortest amount of time.

ENERGY
Another pairing that I do is the Shadowstep>Sap macro (stealth bar) on the same button as Gouge (normal bar). The reason for this one is that both of them are crowd control (CC) effects and require specific circumstances to be used. Sap can only be used while in stealth while Gouge can only be used when your target is facing you. Again, that’s just my preference and my reasoning behind it.

What I want to talk about in relation to attacking though, is Energy. Energy is the Rogue’s resource. Where casters have Mana, Warriors have Rage and Hunters have Focus, Rogues have Energy. Most Rogue are button-spamming fiends, burning their Energy as fast as possible and spamming attacks even when they don’t have enough Energy to use it yet. When you talk to long term Rogue players who have experience in both raiding and PvP, you’ll find that they see increases in their DPS by intentionally not spamming their buttons and instead following a steady pace to always keep Energy below a certain amount while also leaving a small pool untouched.

Energy restores itself at the rate of 10 Energy per second. If you’ve ever been a musician then you can likely keep a 1 second beat going in your head or with your foot and keep up on your Energy level subconsciously. A general rule of thumb is to always stay below 80 Energy when you’re in combat, and trying to keep a reserve of about 20. What that does is it leaves you with a much better opportunity to have the energy you need when you need it to use your interrupts (Kick and Gouge) instead of being Energy starved, and you’re not accidentally missing an opportune moment to cast because your energy is too low. You can get by with spamming, but if you really want to play the Rogue well then managing your Energy is pretty key.

PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
Alright, so I’ve thrown a lot of different topics at you here. Twinking any class and spec can be either as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. You don’t have to be super sophisticated and detail oriented to be good as a PvP twink, but like anything else you’ll typically get back what you put into it. A lot of people look at Rogues and say, “Now that’s a cheap, easy class to play that can dominate PvP.” The reality of the situation is that Rogues can be extremely tough to play and extremely complicated to master.

Outside of the twink brackets you can really see how “cheap” and “overpowered” Rogues can be, but that presents an illusion. Yes, Rogues hit hard and fast and they’re slippery little buggers that often escape your wrath only to come and gank you for an easy kill when you’re already near death from another opponent or something. That’s the way Rogues work, it’s not that the players are bad at PvP or that they don’t have the balls to stand toe to toe with you, it’s that they’ve embraced who and what their class really is and used their strengths against you.

Rogues are a force to be reckoned with in PvP from level 10 all the way through 85. When you come across a bad Rogue, you know it. When you come across a really good Rogue, you know that too. Most of the good Rogues out there are good because they’ve taken the time to learn how to utilize their abilities and maximize their performance. As I said before, you’ll get out of twinking your Rogue what you put into it. You can be the easy Rogue and gank those 400 health clothies, or you can be a friggin’ ninja and combine your damage, survival, and CC abilities to destroy healers and plate wearers pushing 3,000 health.

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Double-O-Cyn

Last week, I had the pleasure of recording the Double-O Podcast with Oestrus and Ophelie. I had a great time with them and totally smashed through their 1 hour normal run time. (Sorry! I like to talk! Oestrus and Ophelie are terrific hosts!)

Cyn, Lose or Draw is available for your listening pleasure over on the Double-O site. I’m going to go have a listen myself now!

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The PvP Pause

One of the reasons I enjoy having a twink like Cynderblock is that, because she is not leveling, I really get a chance to understand the abilities she has, how they interact, and what their limits are. I love XP-locked twinks because I have time to figure out the intricacies of a class and I’m able to get the best gear without it changing on me. Playing with XP off lets you learn nuances to your character, like how to pull trash versus how to pull a boss, or how to quest in areas well below your level versus those well above your level. You determine the right gear and abilities to use in different situations, and then you modify your interface – on screen, macros, keybinds, mousebinds –  to reflect that knowledge.

By keeping your level (and eventually, your gear) static, you are able to deeply understand the abilities your character possesses, and play them to their full potential.

Endgame characters are similar to twinks in that you spend a lot of time learning how a class operates at the endgame, but there are some differences:

  • The gear available to you will constantly change. As time goes on, better and better gear will be released, and no matter where you are on the raiding/PvP tree, your gear will improve over the course of an expansion. This usually represents an increase in power, not playstyle, but it does require some adjustment.
  • Your class abilities will change. Nerfs and buffs happen, often. Spells and glyphs get redesigned, or removed. These changes often affect endgame play more than lower levels, because they’re designed to affect endgame balance.
  • There is more theorycrafting available for endgame characters than leveling characters, so there is less need to figure it all out on your own. You can learn to play a spec effectively by following a guide.

These differences between endgame toons and twinks are pretty small, and the first two come in intervals that leave plenty of time to learn how things work before they change again. You have time to get your UI and macros set up the way you want them, configure Power Auras and NeedToKnow to display the right information, to understand how different talents and abilities interact and work.

But if you stop playing for a while, your class can change underneath you, sometimes dramatically. I played my Death Knight only occasionally in the later days of Wrath, and I found the constant changes to be difficult to cope with. The transition to Cataclysm actually helped me a bit, because I was able to jettison my thought that I should understand the class and instead approach it fresh; but I still struggle with him. Guides have helped, but there is still a sense of discomfort whenever I leave the Frost 2H playstyle – because that’s how I learned to DK, as a level 59 PvP twink.

You also have to play relatively often to stay current on an endgame character’s gear – what is good gear for one raid tier or PvP season will be insufficient later on. Generally, once you’ve geared up for specific PvE content, you stay geared for that content, but new content will need new gear. PvP is an arms race, so if you skip a season, you will be facing better geared opponents, and suffer accordingly.

The last point I made above, that the ready availability of guidance on how to play a spec at the endgame makes you less likely to really master it, is one I wrestle with. You can excel in doing something without understanding all of it. I’ve seen this in many different aspects of my own life, in sports, in technology, in science, and even in video games – performance and understanding are related, but not dependent, variables. But I also think if you pick a spec up at the endgame,  you’re less likely to fully master it than if you leveled with it. That’s not to say you can’t excel at it, just that you’re not going to understand it as well as someone who leveled with it. There’s a knowledge base gained through learning how to do something yourself, of what works and what doesn’t work, that you can’t completely replicate with a guide or manual.

And yet… knowing how to level in a given spec doesn’t mean you’ll know how to play the spec at endgame. It doesn’t mean you’ll know how to squeeze out the last bit of DPS, tank a raid boss, or heal a heroic dungeon. Leveling is not as rigorous an activity as most endgame pursuits. Specs play differently at endgame than earlier. Knowing how to tank Ragefire Chasm like a pro doesn’t mean you’re ready to tank Cho’gall.

But it might help you be a better play of the class, overall.

WHY EXPERIENCE IN BATTLEGROUNDS IS BAD

I have a working theory about why I like playing my warlock so much.

Cynwise was one of a field of 10 characters I rolled when I first started playing. She was the one I got to 20 first, which still took a long time. She’s the one I explored with, she’s the one I learned not just the warlock class, but the game with. After a while, I deleted all those characters except ‘wise and my banker and got on with the business of leveling.

In retrospect, I was not very good at leveling. I was not a very good player, to be honest, but that was fine – I was learning how the game worked. I had sworn off PvP, because that shit is just scary, and I didn’t run dungeons, so I just quested and tried to make sense of WTF I was supposed to do. It was fun.

At level 51, and to this day I don’t know why I did it, but I queued up for a battleground. It was Alterac Valley, and it was exhilarating. We won. And I was hooked.

I eventually figured out that I would do better if I leveled up to 58 or 59, which I did relatively quickly, and then I set about playing battlegrounds full-time. This was before battlegrounds awarded experience, and only AV awarded a pittance for the deaths of NPCs, so it was pretty safe to stay in a bracket and PvP as much as you wanted.

All that background leads up to my theory. It has several parts.

  1. While PvP doesn’t teach you everything about your class, it can provide a crucible to learn how to use your abilities under pressure.
  2. PvP Battlegrounds provide short, manageable periods of time to try out different strategies and tactics, with immediate feedback about how they work. Did you win, or did you lose?
  3. When Battlegrounds awarded no XP, they served as the one place you could refine your play with a character without them changing.
  4. Therefore, XP-less Battlegrounds provided the ideal place to master a class.

I look at some of my high-level alts, compare them to Cynwise, and I wonder if I will ever come close to understanding them like I do the Warlock class. I don’t know about you, but I struggle when I know I’m not as good as I could be at something, and when there are better alternatives for me.

And I really wonder, how much of that is because it took me 6 months to get to level 80, with fully 3 of those months spent playing in the battlegrounds?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s a personal failing, but I know that when I get on my Druid, and I suck at PvP or PvE, it hurts to be incompetent. I hate it. I get overrun and wonder how I was supposed to escape. When a tank dies on my watch, I wonder why I’m even trying.

This is a natural response to poor performance, and I get over it, but I am really left wondering – will flailing my way to 85 make me happy? Or wouldn’t I rather go play someone who makes me feel good about myself and my abilities, even if it’s just my ability to play a video game?

I want, very much to take every alt and just PvP on them until I get it. I want to get how the class works before I move on any further.

Losing the ability to play in battlegrounds to our heart’s content at a given level has its downsides. It’s probably not enough to offset the massive benefits that XP-on BGs has brought – greatly increased popularity of BGs in general, making for more fair fights in most brackets – but it also has removed the PvP pause where we master our character before moving on to the next set of abilities and challenges.

WHO ARE YOU AGAIN?

There are no more twinks in here anymore. We’re all just ex-twinks.

- Cynwulf

The other downside of XP in battlegrounds is that you don’t have a chance to form a community in them anymore. You’d see the same faces over and over again in battlegrounds before this change happened, on both sides, and you got to know people. Not in depth, but certainly you’d know if someone was competent or not.

My Death Knight, Cynwulf, was essentially a level 59 DK twink at a time when DKs were so massively overpowered even bothering to call him a twink sounds silly. He hung around in various bars in the cities of Azeroth, drinking his Scourge-induced woes away, and PvPing. I hated Warsong Gulch on my warlock, but on Cynwulf, it was a total love affair. Howling Blast packed a huge punch (and was available at 59). The confines of the map, coupled with having the only epic mounts at that level, meant it was possible to blow off steam and just destroy a battleground.

I particularly enjoyed Alterac Valley on Cynwulf, because it was my chance to tank Galv and Drek. And people knew me as a good tank. Players in that bracket would see me speaking up and know that I was going to tank Drek, and do a good job of it. Warbringers up? Give me a few seconds, let me get D&D/HB out, then go wild. There were healers I’d know would have my back. There was a Paladin who dinged 60 one match and we all had a very fond farewell party for him in the Field of Strife.

But, eventually, XP came, and the decision had to be made between staying and going, between leveling up and continuing to PvP, or hoping for an XP-off queue to pop.

They never popped, so I leveled Cynwulf up. And the familiar battlegrounds were thriving, but thriving with strangers. The community was gone. They might realize who I was from the big numbers I was putting up, but live or die, I was probably not going to see very many of these people ever again.

My hero of the Stormpike was no more. My dear, drunk Death Knight brother was going to have to move on.

I dinged 60 with Cynwulf in Hellfire Peninsula. I knew there was no going back to the 51-60 bracket that I knew so well with him.

It was time to move on.

WHEN IT IS TIME TO MOVE ON

I enjoyed playing Cynderblock so much that I rolled another warrior, Ashwalker, with the intent to level her. Ashwalker has taken up most of my alt time these days. I’m having a blast with her, questing, tanking, PvPing, seeing all the things I want to see in Cataclysm from the ground up.

At level 20, it was strange playing Ash over ‘block, because she had… half the health of my twink? Even decently geared with full heirlooms, there was a huge gulf between the twink and the leveling toon, but the playstyle was very similar, and therefore very comfortable. I tried Arms for a while, but eventually settled back into Protection, first to help tank some instances, then because it was fun in its own right.

By the time I hit the 40s, though, I was starting to get nervous. How does this new stuff work? Where do I put things on my bars? What am I missing? What do you mean, I don’t need to stance dance to Charge? When should I use Whirlwind? Should I look at Arms again? What about Fury? What about PvP?

So I locked my XP at level 49 until I could get my mind caught up to my character.

I talked a little bit about this in the 5×2 Project, but I found this pause really helped me out. It gave me time to fiddle with macros and keybinds and screen layout. It let me figure out what abilities I really needed to hit more often, and which ones didn’t make sense to use anymore. It even gave me time to set up my dual spec correctly!

What it didn’t do was give me a chance to try things out in PvP. I did queue, but never saw a single queue pop. Not one. If I wanted to try something out, I had to try it out in a dungeon. Not that dungeons weren’t valuable, because they were!

But it taught me how to tank well at 49. Not PvP well, but tank well. That’s important, too.

I found myself tempted, while XP was locked, to go do crazy twink things. I very seriously considered getting the Argent Champion and Ambassador titles at level 49. (I have the Argent Crusade tabard as a result.) I considered trying to get her twink-level gear and solo instances at level.

The temptation was strong. I’ll admit it.

But I did the right thingt; I spent only a few days at 49 before finally admitting that I’d gotten the main benefit from the exercise and turning XP back on again. I no longer felt overwhelmed by my abilities or bars. I was back in control. I was comfortable with the talent tree I’d chosen, of my macros, and of how to play. I didn’t need to grind dungeons for titles.

No, after some reflection it was very clear that I don’t need to spend months in the battlegrounds anymore to learn how to play a character. When I did that on Cynwise and Cynwulf, it was because I was not just learning the class – I was learning the game. I was learning how to win the battlegrounds, how they worked.

I needed the six months of time to get my first character up to 80, because there was so much to learn. This included how to play a class, but it also included how to play. I don’t need to learn those lessons again – but I do need to learn how to play a warrior. While that includes leveling, it also includes the endgame, and I know I have a lot to learn there, too. I need questing. I need dungeon experience. I need balance.

Ashwalker just dinged 58, and has entered Outlands. I don’t know what I’m going to do next with her – maybe quest for some rewards, level her professions, run some dungeons, PvP up to 60 – but I still feel like I have a handle on playing a Prot Warrior.

Maybe my theory that XP-off battlegrounds are the best places to learn your class isn’t that good after all.

THE VALUE OF PVP PAUSES

I absolutely think that PvP is a great part of the leveling process. Leveling is, by its very nature, a learning process, and including PvP as part of it is really vital to understanding all of a class.

But it has to be balanced.

I have to be careful to not read too much into my own experiences. Yes, I spent nine months in ICC as a Demonology warlock, and while I understood it well enough to teach it to others, I never felt like I’d mastered it like I had Affliction and Destruction – the specs I had leveled as, the specs I PvPed with.

Yet, I raided well as Demonology. It wasn’t a mark against me that I couldn’t PvP with the spec – I didn’t need to PvP with it. I was there to raid.

It’s odd that we can play a spec, and play it well, and yet not feel like we’ve mastered it. I can look at my Warlock at 85, with her overwhelming number of buttons, and feel totally comfortable – yet my level 70 Druid makes me go AMG WHAT DOES THIS BUTTON DO.

It’s not just a question of complexity – it’s how we handle the complexity. We don’t start off with endgame characters for a simple reason – they’re too complicated to play well if you don’t spend some time leveling them.

It makes sense, though, when we look at why the leveling process exists. It exists to teach you how to play the class. Abilities are given gradually, to allow players time to absorb their use.

The PvP pause from XP-free battlegrounds was nice, and when no other options existed to lock XP, they were the best option to slow down your leveling. Now that you can lock your XP at will, the PvP pause isn’t the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. You can lock XP, figure things out in PvE, and then return to PvP when you’re ready to move on. It’s the reverse of how things used to work – but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Balanced leveling is the best leveling.

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