Tag Archives: Battleground Strategies

Graveyard Control in Alterac Valley

If Fight at the Flag! is the best tactical advice I can offer in the battlegrounds of Azeroth, establishing graveyard control is the best strategic advice I can give.  It’s an essential concept to understanding how battlegrounds are won and lost, but it’s not an easy one to grasp at first glance.

Graveyard control doesn’t have a catchphrase that can be shouted out in /bg chat.  It’s not something that has an easy, universal application.  Sometimes it involves making calls that seem counterintuitive, or downright crazy to other players.

But believe me when I say it’s absolutely critical to winning.

RESURRECTION VECTORS

What happens when you die?  Where do you go?

This is not a metaphysical question in the battlegrounds, but instead a matter of deep pragmatism and strategy.  When you die you aren’t taken out of the battle permanently.  Instead, you’re sent to the closest penalty box, told to go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done, and wait out your resurrection by the local friendly spirit healer.  Running back to your corpse is a bad idea, because all it takes is one enemy to loot your insignia and… poof, you’re stuck away from the graveyard with no corpse to reenter.

Resurrection waves come every 30 seconds, as the spirit healer … I don’t know, needs to recharge?  Wants to make sure you’ve thought about what you’ve done wrong?  Whatever it is, every 30 seconds the graveyards pop out another set of reborn heroes, ready to buff up and fight again.

Which graveyard you go to depends upon where you died:  you always go to the closest graveyard under your side’s control to your corpse.  This is what I call your resurrection vector – the direction you will go when you die.

Understanding where you and your teammates will go when you die is important.  Knowing where your opponents go when they die is critical.  Why?

Because by controlling which graveyards are available to them means you can relocate your opponents to places which no longer have strategic value.  You can send them away from the node you are attacking, away from the flag room, away from keep defense, all by controlling which graveyards are available to them.

In some battlegrounds, like Arathi Basin and Eye of the Storm, the graveyards are closely aligned with the respective nodes.  If the Alliance controls the Blood Elf Tower, fallen defenders will resurrect at the nearby graveyard down the slope.  If the Horde controls the Blacksmith, their dead will return from the graveyard on the other side of the building.  In other battlegrounds, like Alterac Valley and Strand of the Ancients, they are not associated with specific objectives, but are rather separate places to contest and control.

Because the graveyards are completely disassociated from the towers in Alterac Valley, let’s use AV as our example to illustrate how resurrection vectors and graveyard control works.

THE NINE GRAVEYARDS OF ALTERAC VALLEY

Alterac Valley is an epic battleground.  Seriously, it’s huge.  Including the 9 graveyards, there are 23 objectives in the battleground to be controlled or destroyed.  If we added in all the quest-related objectives, there are over 30 different objectives, but since those rarely come into play these days let’s narrow our focus to just the graveyards.

Did I mention this place was big?

Each side begins with 3 graveyards and their spawn point: Stonehearth (SHGY), Stormpike (SPGY), and the Dun Baldar Aid Station (AS) for Alliance, Iceblood (IBGY), Frostwolf (FWGY) and Frostwolf Village Relief Hut (RH) for Horde.  Snowfall Graveyard (SFGY) is neutral at the start.

It will take you at least 5 battles before you figure out where all the graveyards are while playing.  Seriously.  And then people will only speak in acronyms, so those subtle differences between SHGY and SPGY (and Icewing versus Iceblood) will still trip you up.

The two caves (Dun Baldar Pass and Rock of Durotan) are the initial spawn points.  Players will get sent back there if there are no other graveyards available.  Since they are a little special, I’ll fade them out until they become important in future diagrams.

Graveyards, like the towers in AV, need to spend 4 minutes in a neutral state before they change to the opposing side.  So for the first 4 minutes of the game, the Alliance cannot resurrect any further south than Stonehearth and the Horde is forced back to Iceblood.  This means that any casualties on the other side of the Field of Strife will come back across midfield and reset there.  The resurrection vectors during this initial time look like this:

The simple way to say all of this is, if you are Alliance:

  • If you are south of the fork in the road by the lake, you will rez at Stonehearth.
  • If you’re north of it but east of the bridge, you’re probably going to Stormpike.
  • If you’re west of the bridge in Dun Baldar, you’re going to the Aid Station.

If you are Horde, it’s a little more linear:

  • If you are north of Tower Point, you’re going to rez at Iceblood.
  • If you are south of Tower Point but north of Frostwolf Keep, you’re going to Frostwolf.
  • If you are in Frostwolf Keep, you’re rezzing at the Relief Hut.

Obviously, this all starts to change once the battle begins, depending on the strategies used by each side.  But in many cases, this initial setup is going to be the one we keep coming back to over and over again.

Let’s look at a few common AV scenarios to see how graveyard control works in practice.

THE ALTERAC BLITZ

The Alterac Blitz is when you focus upon one thing, and one thing only — killing the enemy general as quickly as possible.  Whatever defense is offered by the blitzing side is irrelevant; the key is that there is a coordinated effort to get as many people to the opposite end of the map to kill the general.  Any towers or graveyards assaulted are incidental; the key is killing the general.

The Blitz is extremely challenging at lower gear levels due to the presence of 4 very big, very angry adds surrounding the general.  Each Warmaster or Marshall is linked to 1 of the 4 towers on that side, so the more towers that are up, the more adds are in the room.

Did I mention the buff they give the general, too?  Oh yeah.  Each one gives a +25% stacking buff to the general’s health and damage.  Stacking.  So if all 4 towers are up, the boss is +144% health and damage, and there are 4 adds in the room who can’t be pulled separately.

Before ToC and ICC, the most common way to do this was to run 2 well-geared tanks, 4+ healers, and as many DPS as could fit all the way down the map, where the MT would tank the general, the OT would tank the adds, and everyone would DPS as fast as possible to get the boss kill.  As gear improved, however, single-tanking the room became possible.  Watching a single ICC-25 geared tank hold aggro on the entire room is an awesome, awesome sight.  But no matter how it’s done, the map almost always looks the same.

The only graveyard that each side usually takes is the one right next to the general: the Aid Station and Relief Hut.  And the Alliance takes Snowfall Graveyard, because it’s right next to their running path across the Field of Strife.  Someone always peels off to assault it.

However, because the Blitz is so fast, the resurrection vectors are still mostly in their initial state.  They’re a little worse for defenders if the AS and RH are actually assaulted, as any deaths will send them outside the defensive bulwarks of their respective bases, but for the offense the resurrection vectors are even worse.  You can’t continue the assault if you are suddenly 2/3rds of the map away, either at Iceblood or Stonehearth.  Any losses by the offense cannot be replaced.  Less obviously, casualties can’t switch to defense because they are 1/3rds of the field away from their own base, and (usually) the opponent is already pulling the general.  So you can’t attack, you can’t defend.

Your only real hope at that point is hoping your opponent wipes on the general as well.

The Alterac Blitz is a high risk, high reward strategy.  When it works, it’s brilliant.  And when it fails, it fails spectacularly.  It is highly dependent upon clutch performances by a few people — the tank(s) and healers — and as such is easily disrupted.  A single stealthed druid casting Typhoon at the right moment will wipe your entire Blitz.

The Alterac Blitz completely ignores graveyard control in favor of achieving the victory condition.  If you wipe, you are completely at the mercy of your opponent.  What’s scary is that the graveyard map above is the best case scenario for the Blitz; if your opponent assaults all the graveyards along the way, you can be sent all the way back to your spawning cave!

I don’t like the Blitz.  More specifically, I don’t like the current incarnation of the Blitz and how it plays out.  It can work, and it can work well when properly executed.  With the right team, you can rack up an impressive number of wins in a short period of time.  But those Blitzes are sadly the exception, not the rule.  Too many Blitzes start without a solid tanking and healing team identified, yet the entire strategy depends upon them.  Charging the enemy general without knowing how you’re going to kill them is like going all in during a poker game before the cards are even dealt.  It’s foolish.

The Blitz focuses upon the PvE aspects of the battleground to the exclusion of the PvP.  If you do it right, your team never comes into contact with enemy players, or perhaps brief contact with their defenders in the enemy base.  If you really Blitz right, it’s nothing more than a competitive PvE race to kill a boss.

Before 3.3.3, the Blitz was a good way to grind honor if your team was good and your opposition didn’t know what was going on.  I don’t think it’s nearly as good of an honor grind now with the advent of the Random Battleground Finder and massive honor boosts in all the battlegrounds, so hopefully people will start looking at other ways to play AV.

The Blitz requires a team to commit to it fully because the price of failure is so high.  Recovery from a failed Blitz is very difficult because of the complete lack of graveyard control and the resurrection vectors present at the time of the wipe.

ISLAND HOPPING

In contrast to the Blitz, where no graveyard control is displayed, Island Hopping battles focus on isolating the opponent from effectively attacking or defending.  The key is skipping non-essential targets and focusing your attention on taking towers while defending your own territory.  While sometimes you’ll see this strategy used during Blitzes, the Blitz is over too soon for graveyard control to matter.

(Island Hopping is the strategy used by the United States in the Pacific Theater of WWII; whenever an island had no strategic value, the US simply moved around it to the next target.)

Alterac Valley’s map is asymmetrical, and those differences of geography matter while Island Hopping.  Here’s what it would look like if both sides hopped but conveniently forgot to defend:

You can see both sides have taken each graveyard along the way but one.  That one graveyard becomes the place where all casualties over the entire map will go.  For some, it will mean moving forward.  For many, it will mean going backwards.  But for all of them it means getting sent out of position.

The above map doesn’t show any defense — we’ll get to that in a second.  But for each side, it takes the least advantageous graveyard for the opponent and sends casualties there.  Let’s take each in turn.

The Horde should skip Stonehearth Graveyard because:

  • Stonehearth does not control a choke point, unlike Stormpike GY.
  • It is on the wrong side of the Icewing choke point, allowing the Horde to use IWB as a defensive bulwark.
  • Stormpike GY is useful as an assault point against Dun Baldar, even if the Aid Station is still under Alliance control, both due to closeness and straight LoS across the bridge.
  • Sending Alliance casualties to Stormpike only gives the bridge as a defense against their rez waves.  Sending the Alliance to Stonehearth allows the road and canyons to be used as additional defenses against Alliance trying to get to Dun Baldar.

The worst thing you can say about leaving Stonehearth in Alliance hands is that does make taking the two adjacent bunkers more difficult for the Horde.  But a common way around that is to wait for Snowfall to go Alliance, and then assault Stonehearth anyways.  At that point Snowfall graveyard becomes a trap.

An important thing to consider is the location of the Alliance Cave.  If no graveyards are available for you to resurrect in, you go back to the cave.  The Alliance cave is more defensible than the Horde cave, and it’s very easy to get to Dun Baldar.  Sending Alliance casualties back there is less optimal than sending them to either Stonehearth or Snowfall, like so:

Smart Horde players will look and see if the Alliance captured Snowfall before taking Stonehearth.  Ideally, the Horde should wait until Snowfall is actually under Alliance control before taking Stonehearth away.  And at no point should they try to send them back to the cave in Dun Baldar pass, because that’s too close to Dun Baldar and SPGY.

Astonishingly, the situation is somewhat more complicated when we look at the Alliance’s situation.

THE PROBLEM OF FROSTWOLF GRAVEYARD

The rule of thumb when playing Alliance is: skip taking FWGY unless you want to have a lot of players yell at you.  The conventional wisdom is that taking FWGY will lead to a turtle; more specifically, taking FWGY before the Relief Hut will lead to a turtle.

The idea is relatively straightforward and has some merit.  If Frostwolf Keep and Village are heavily defended, Horde casualties will be sent back to the Relief Hut, where they can further fortify the position, causing a defensive war at the bulwark.  If FWGY is still under Horde control, casualties at the bulwark move forward to FWGY, on the other side of the defenses, so that they have to run through the gauntlet to rejoin the fight.  While you’re now fighting a two-front battle, at least the FWGY forces are being corralled into narrow passageways, unlike those still inside the Keep.

Let’s take a look and see the result of this strategy.  If FWGY is allowed to remain under Horde control, this is what the map looks like after a few minutes:

The tactical situation within Frostwolf Keep is exactly as predicted; casualties are going to FWGY, north of the defenses.  The biggest problem is that all Horde casualties are going to a spot just north of the Alliance offensive, where they can turn south and demolish them.  The only thing that saves the Alliance offense is that the Horde casualties come in small waves, instead of one large group.  If the Horde groups up in FWGY and then does a concerted assault on the Alliance in keep, they can do a lot of damage.

Now, the conventional wisdom is actually completely, 100% correct here.  If you take FWGY before RH, then all casualties, all over the map, will go to the Relief Hut and make Frostwolf Village a defensive monster.  So skipping FWGY in favor of RH makes sense.  (Taking FWGY after RH doesn’t really matter, because the Horde Cave is right across the field.  It actually worsens the Horde position somewhat to do so, but people will still complain you took FWGY.)

But look at the map again, and compare the resurrection vectors to the Horde map.

By hopping over Stonehearth and Snowfall graveyards, the Horde create a situation where the Alliance is sent to the middle of the map.  This is bad when the middle of the map is being contested, but very good for the ends — which means assaulting Dun Baldar and defending Frostwolf Keep.

The problem with the Alliance map isn’t Frostwolf graveyard, it’s Iceblood and Snowfall.

IBGY is the best graveyard in the game from a terrain and positioning standpoint.  Like Stonehearth, it’s close to two towers.  Iceblood is on the defensive side of the chokepoint, however, whereas Stonehearth is on offensive side.  Furthermore, IBGY is the only graveyard in the game that doesn’t resurrect you in a canyon; you can turn and immediately ride north across the Field of Strife without passing the graveyard flag.  Every other graveyard forces you to travel some distance before you get back into the battleground, but not IBGY.  You can reinforce the defense or offense from it.  It’s perfect for protecting TP and IBT, and control of it blocks the chokepoint.

Snowfall, on the other hand, is probably the worst graveyard in the game, but it is irresistible to Alliance. The Alliance path across the Field of Strife favors the west side towards Galv and IBT, while the Horde favor the right to SHB and Bal.  The ramp to SFGY is right there when you’re running south as Alliance.  Someone always peels off to go cap it.  And while it might help during the assault on IBT/TP, it becomes a serious liability when the Alliance gets to FWGY.

IBGY is too good not to take, and SFGY is too easy not to.

I said in the very beginning that graveyard control sometimes makes you do crazy, non-intuitive things.  This is one of those situations where in order to get your opponent’s resurrection vectors to go where you want, you are probably going to have to do some crazy things.

Either:

  • Take all the graveyards except FWGY, and move your defensive line south of the Field of Strife.  Hold the Tower Point checkpoint as strongly as you can and let no Horde pass.  Trinket back if a stealther gets through.
  • Take all the graveyards and bottle the Horde up in the Cave.  This only works if there’s a large difference in players, which hasn’t been the case in a few patches.
  • Give up SFGY or SHGY to the Horde and strongly fortify the south bunkers.  (Or yield the south bunkers and hold the line at Icewing Bunker.)
  • Direct the Horde to FWGY while IBT and TP are falling, then let the Horde go north unopposed to IBGY while the Alliance goes full on offense.

The Alliance can certainly win if the Horde is concentrated in FWGY, and it is preferable to concentrating the Horde at the RH.  Is it the best option?  No.  But it’s not the worst option for graveyard control, so it’s worth pursuing.

THE ALTERAC CAMPAIGN

Back when Cynwulf was a 59 DK twink, I had a macro I would spam at the beginning of every Alterac Valley:

Welcome to AV! If this is your first time here, kill Galv, take the towers, kill Horde, defend towers until they fall, then kill Drek.  Got it?  Let’s go!

At level 60 (in WotLK), it’s really tough to get tanks who are geared enough to take on Drek/Vann+4.  The Blitz is far too demanding at this level to have everyone do it all the time, and while there is still a rush down to Drek, it’s a controlled rush.  Taking the towers while defending your own is the name of the game.

Unlike the previous two strategies discussed, this one actually relies heavily upon the PvP skills and abilities of the combatants.

Each force will send the majority of its forces towards the opposing captain on the other side of the Field of Strife.  The Horde will charge through IBGY along the east side of the Field of Strife, while the Alliance will pass Bal’s bunker on the right and take the west side straight to Galv.

The majority of each force will go after the respective captain, while small teams tend to peel off to take the nearby towers and graveyards.

The initial rush changes the resurrection vectors substantially as graveyards are assaulted.  If the towers are defended, casualties are going to start going back even further than the initial phase once the graveyards are assaulted, like so:

It’s at this point when PvP usually starts happening.  Stragglers meet on the Field of Strife, some players like to stay back and defend the towers and captains, others turn back to help defend… it can become very chaotic at this time.  Small unit tactics and individual contributions are essential during this phase — move in packs, protect your healers, engage when you outnumber the enemy, otherwise evade or slow them down to let others catch them.

You can see the value of a good midfield defense during this phase when graveyards are in play.  Casualties will be sent all the way across the map and be taken out of the midfield arena if they die now.

By the time SHGY and IBGY change, both of the Captains are likely down, and the towers are either going or have gone down.  This phase really depends upon your team’s ability to execute and then defend the targets as they are taken.

Once the graveyards have flipped, things polarize.  If you win the fight at midfield, you’ll have the advantage going into the next phase.

All the casualties at midfield have become your defense, as their resurrection vector punted them back to either SPGY or FWGY.  The strength of your defense is proportionately strengthened by how badly you were hurt at midfield, so while it’s possible to have two balanced battles going at once, in practice usually one or the other has the majority of players and becomes the central focus of the battleground.

Taking the graveyards on the opposite side of the Field of Strife polarizes the battlefield.  In the previous phase, the emphasis is entirely upon midfield.  Once the graveyards flip. you can see there’s a lot more corpse movement, both forward and backward.  Capturing (and holding) graveyards on the other side allows your offense to establish a beachhead to launch their attacks.  It also prevents a complete reset, like we see in a failed Blitz.

Consider the following example.  The Horde having a strong offense that dominated at SHB/IWB and left enough people behind to inflict a lot of casualties on the Alliance offense at IBT/TP.  There are more Alliance casualties than Horde casualties as a result of this phase.  The Alliance force resurrecting at Stormpike will be larger than the Horde force going to Frostwolf, but the Horde offense moving north is larger, too.  The battleground population shifts towards Dun Baldar.  The Alliance offense down south becomes progressively weaker with no reinforcements, and while they are able to assault and hold towers until they fall, they are impotent to tackle Drek on their own.

From this phase, it’s a matter of execution.  One side or the other will dominate and push forward into the enemy base, either pushing them aside (the lessons from Island Hopping apply here) or forcing them aside until they rez on the other side of the Field of Strife.

Whatever happens next, it’ll be epic.  And it’ll be the Alterac Valley I love.

CAPTAIN’S GAMBIT

I’ll leave you with one last example of graveyard control in Alterac Valley for your consideration: the Captain’s Gambit.

The Captain’s Gambit is when you don’t defend your general, you defend your captain instead.  As few as five and as many as twenty players peel off from the main assault and go into the captain’s bunker to help defend them.  When the other side comes roaring in for the easy kill, they find considerably more than they bargained for and sustain heavy losses.  If the defenders die, they are either sent to the midfield graveyard (if it hasn’t been assaulted), or the next defensive graveyard, SPGY or FWGY.  Either result is fine for them as defenders.

The attackers, however, are sent back to a graveyard that is likely under assault.  If enough casualties are inflicted, the offense is shattered and doesn’t have enough people to dominate any further conflicts.

Let’s take the example of the Alliance running the Captain’s Gambit on the Horde.

The Horde concedes Galv to the Alliance, focusing instead upon SHB and Balinda.  The Alliance chooses to defend Bal.  Galv falls easily, while Bal does not.  The Horde offense is sent back to FWGY, while the main part of the Alliance offense is already on its way past Tower Point.

The result of the Captain’s Gambit is that the front moves very quickly from midfield to the FWGY/TP area, with the Alliance setting up a defensive bulwark at IBGY.  Because the Horde advance was stopped so early on, no footholds are established for them to launch assaults on Alliance bunkers, so the Alliance defenders are able to move up to support the offense and support the push into Frostwolf Village.

The population of the battleground shifts to the south, and the front moves with it.  The Horde is now at a disadvantage both in position and resources, as losing Galv and towers depletes their resource pool dramatically.  Even if it turns into a slugfest by the Rock of Durotan and Frostwolf Village, the Alliance has the upper hand.

You will notice that I call this the Captain’s Gambit, not the Captain’s Sure-fire Way Of Winning Alterac Valley.  That’s because there’s an element of risk and sacrifice involved.

First, the Horde could have chosen to skip Bal and go straight to Vann.  If they’re Blitzing in any way, this is actually likely to happen.  There might be a few stragglers who decide to take her out, but not enough to really make a difference.  This is definitely the biggest risk — that the enemy will refuse to take the bait.  The impact of this depends on how many people stayed to defend Bal.  If it’s 5, okay, no big deal.  Twenty?  Yikes.

Second, there’s a sacrifice involved with the people who stay behind.  They are going to have a hard fight on their hands.  It’s not as easy to cause a raid to wipe with the Captain as it is with the Generals +4, and there’s every likelihood the defenders are going to get facerolled.  But it’s not a hopeless task, and even failure just means moving further back in the defensive line, falling back towards your own base.

GRAVEYARD CONTROL

Alterac Valley makes a fascinating study of graveyard control because the graveyards are separate and distinct resources to capture.  They’re also unrelated to the victory conditions of AV; they add no resources to your total, nor can they kill the enemy general for you.

Yet, they are a critical part of whatever strategy you adopt.  Controlling where you will resurrect — and where your enemy will, too — is an important part of the battle.  You have to understand resurrection vectors to be able to predict what is going to happen next within the battle, but also so that you can get better for the next one.

You’ll find this concept in every battleground with controllable graveyards.  The lessons from Alterac Valley apply everywhere; Strand can be lost by capturing the wrong graveyard, and Isle of Conquest can be won by getting the Keep’s defenders out of the way with a graveyard snatch.

So, good luck out there.  May the spirits of your enemies be sent to a place with no strategic value!

(Yeah.  I’m still working on a good catchphrase for this concept.)

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Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Fight at the Flag!

Fight at the Flag.

You’ll hear this saying many, many times in battleground chat. If I could only give one piece of advice for how to fight well in the battlegrounds, this would be it. It’s that important.

When you hear people saying this, it is both a reminder and a warning — make sure that when you engage the enemy, you do so at a strategic point. The key is fighting where your battle has meaning, and not needlessly dying over a piece of dirt that means nothing.

SEIZING THE FLAG

In most battlegrounds, the strategic points are the flags. In some, like Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch, they’re the whole game. In others, they are part of a strategy, usually of resource or base control. And if there’s a flag to be captured, you should most likely be fighting next to it. An 8-second lull in the battle is enough to capture a node, but you can’t do that if you’re not near it.

The offense should do whatever they can to get to that flag. Get up the AV tower and fight around the ring of the bunker, get to the EoTS node and stay there, ride as close up as you can to the AB flag and click it when they’re not looking. In Warsong Gulch, you should be relentlessly pursuing the EFC to kill and retake your flag.

Because it takes so little time to capture a flag, defenders should remain in range and in LoS of the flag to prevent it from getting captured. This doesn’t mean all defenders should be at the flag at all times, but it does mean that some of your force needs to physically protect that flag. Depending on the terrain and situation, it’s often appropriate for some of the defense to move forward to hit the offense before they can get to the flag, as establishing distance from the flag always favors the defense. If you can push the offense away from the node, then they are less able to capture it. But you have to be near it to protect it.

Now, there are strategic and tactical reasons for not fighting at the flag, almost all defensive. The bridge at Dun Baldar and gatehouse at Frostwolf Village in Alterac Valley come to mind; they give too much tactical defensive value to yield unfought. There can be tactical value in the surrounding structures and terrain which you should take. But the further you get away from the flag, the less safe it actually is.

This idea should be straightforward. You have to be near the flag in order to take it. You have to take the flag to win it. Ergo, fight near the flag.

But that’s not the only reason why you should fight at the flag.

GRAVEYARDS AND RESURRECTION VECTORS

Arathi Basin is the canonical Fight at the Flag battleground. There are 5 nodes arranged in a diamond shape around a central point. Each node has a flag next to a building of some sort, and can be captured by clicking on it and channeling for 8 seconds. When you capture a node, you control the resources from that node, and you gain control of the adjacent graveyard. The nodes are interconnected through a series of roads and bridges.

Here’s a map of Arathi Basin.  (You’ve been there before, I hope.)  The white circles are the nodes with approximate flag location, the squares are the graveyards.

The road areas in pink are bad places to fight. Even though they are choke points, they are the most worthless areas of the map to contest, and not just because they aren’t near a flag.

It’s also because they’re not near a graveyard.

Death in PvP is a temporary thing. It’s like a 30 second penalty that strips all of your party buffs. It also sends you to an out-of-the-way location to rez; in AB it’s on the other side of whatever structure is at that node. So if you die while defending a node, you have up to 30 seconds to wait to get rezzed, another 5 seconds to rebuff, and then 5-10 seconds to get back to the flag. So depending on your luck, you might be back in 15 or 45 seconds. As long as the flag stays in your team’s possession during that time, all defenders will come back.

The offense has a tougher time of it. The penalty for dying is getting sent back to a graveyard you do control, which may be on the other side of the map. So while you might have an epic battle going for the Lumber Mill, if you haven’t captured any graveyards yet, your reinforcements are going to go back to the spawn point, not to the Stables or Farm — even though you may have assaulted those flags.  Graveyard placement is vital.

Let’s continue with Arathi Basin to illustrate this point further.  We’ll take a traditional 5/5/5 middle offense versus an 8/7 hook rush.

The Farm and Stables are assaulted as a matter of course.  The Horde attacks strong-side (Lumber Mill and Blacksmith) while Alliance sends 5 to each node.  Assuming no huge individual imbalances at any given fight, they should result in the following map:

The vital thing to notice here is that NO graveyards are captured yet, only the spawn points.  Everyone is on offense, so death means you get sent halfway across the map.  Because the Horde outnumbers the Alliance at their chosen nodes, they take them with fewer losses than the Alliance are able to inflict.  So the Alliance has 2/3rds of their team sent back to their spawn point, while far smaller percentage of the Horde resets.

While all this is happening, the close graveyards (Stables, Farm) start flipping as the nodes are actually captured.   However, the battle is already turning against the Alliance:

With only two nodes solidly in either faction’s control, the Horde is in a much better position as they move into the next set of fighting because of the graveyards.  As 2/3rds of the Horde assault the Stables, they are about to have two graveyards come under their control.  If they fought at the flag and assaulted the node early in the first fight, then they will have one or two nearby graveyards to reinforce the Stables fight.  The Alliance is in worst shape; they have a weak force entering hostile territory, with reinforcements coming from three sides.

Removing the vectors, this is where your people will be.

This is why you fight at the flag.  Right here is the entire match — if the Horde can take the Stables Graveyard from the Alliance, then all reinforcements from the main battle will go back to Trollbane Hall, completely isolating the Alliance offense.  If the Horde fails to take the Stables, they still have the close graveyards of the Blacksmith and Lumber Mill to regroup at and hold to apply pressure on the Stables and Gold Mine.

If the Alliance can take the Farm graveyard, they strengthen their position and disrupt the Horde’s march to a 4-5 cap.  They’ll send the Horde back to the spawn point or the Blacksmith.  They’re at a disadvantage compared to the Horde due to having to divide their forces between the Mine and the Farm, but it’s the best they can do with the situation.  If the Horde shifts away from the Lumber Mill, or sends troops back from the Stables to take the Gold Mine, the Farm offensive is in real trouble.

I’ve been talking in terms of holding engagements near the flag at each node.  Let’s consider what happens if you fight in the road, instead of at the flag.

If the Horde engages away from the Stables flag:

  • Horde casualties will go back to the Blacksmith, or maybe the Lumber Mill (depends on which road and where.)
  • Alliance casualties will stay at the Stables.

If the Alliance engages away from the Farm flag:

  • Alliance casualties will go back to the Gold Mine, which will be vulnerable to attack.
  • Horde casualties will to stay at the Farm.

If they both do these things, then the map will stay exactly as it is right now, with Horde leading 3-2.

If one group fights at the flag and takes the graveyard away from the opposition, however, they increase their odds of winning dramatically.  Alliance has a shot of going 3-2, and the Horde can dominate with a 4-1 (and should go for a 5 cap at that point.)

Here’s what phase 3 looks like if both sides fight at the flag.

Now, the Horde still has the upper hand at this point, but the Alliance has driven a wedge into their march to a 5 cap.  Whichever side is able to continue to send dead opponents away from nodes will come out on top, and the only way to do that?

That’s right.  Fight at the flag.

UNIVERSAL LAW

Arathi Basin is one thing, where the graveyards and nodes are right next to each other.  But does that mean that “Fight at the Flag” is universal?

Yes.  Yes, it does.

  • In Warsong Gulch, you should be fighting to protect your flag carrier or trying to kill the enemy flag carrier.  All other places where you fight — midfield, in the enemy base, in your base — all need to be considered with where the two flags are relative to you.  I’m not against fighting in midfield per-se; it just needs to be done with an awareness of what you’re doing (forward defense of your flag, clearing a path for your flag carrier, etc.).
  • In Alterac Valley, the towers and graveyards are separate, but each one requires several minutes between assault and capture.  If you do not defend the flag once you’ve assaulted it, you deserve to have it recaptured by the enemy.
  • In Eye of the Storm, the bases serve as the flags, and are what you should focus on.  The presence of an actual flag confuses things, but you really don’t want to fight at it unless you have to.  This is the only place where I’d say “Fight at the Base” instead of “Fight at the Flag,” because 3 bases > flag.
  • In Strand of the Ancients, the walls and graveyards are separate, and while you have to carefully manage which you capture, the walls are your main objective.  Getting stuck in a firefight on the beach means your demolishers can’t hit the walls.  (Consequently, fighting on the beach or on the roads favors the defenders.)
  • In the Isle of Conquest, control of a node equals control of a nearby graveyard, as well as special abilities or vehicles that you need to win.  If you can capture the enemy Keep, you make it very difficult for defenders to reinforce the generals.

Fighting at the flag is the one strategy that applies to all of the Warcraft battlegrounds.   (Yes, even EotS.  Hush.)  You fight at the strategic points to both seize control of the key resources of the battleground and to redistribute your opponents to your advantage.

So take my advice.  Fight at the flag.

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Battleground Exploits

I remember riding back to the Stables at Arathi Basin and finding an Undead Mage on top of the roof, running around and slaughtering the Alliance troops underneath him. It was a mad run to try to DoT him up before he could kill me with massive amounts of fire or dive to the other side of the roof to heal. The stalemate was only broken when a Night Elf Death Knight also climbed up on the roof and killed the Mage.

It took me a while, but eventually I learned how to get up on that roof myself.  I’ve seen dozens of people do it, but it always seemed a tough climb for me, much like getting to the top of the Blacksmith in Goldshire.  I could never do it reliably, but if I’ve got nothing else to do while guarding the Stables I would give it a try.  When I could do it, defending became much easier.

Blizzard considers climbing onto the Stables roof to be an exploit. It doesn’t matter if you climb up via the outhouse, jump the side building, or float down via parachute cloak from the Lumber Mill — if you engage in combat from that roof, they consider it an exploit.

Yet… it’s something that is possible within the confines of rules of the game.  There’s no software being hacked, no mods being used to change any code — just some creative jumping and use of terrain to let you target opponents without them easily able to engage you in return.  Not that it’s impossible — just difficult.

I play a battleground to win.  I might play it for other reasons, but almost always, my goal is to win.  It is my duty to use every bit of my grey matter to outplan, outthink, and outfight my opponents to reach that goal.  I use potions and flasks to expand my abilities.  I use Frostweave Nets like nobody’s business.  And you better believe I will climb up on that roof to defend the Stables if need be.  Every advantage will be pursued.

Does this attitude surprise you?  It shouldn’t, and I suspect you share it.

Within the confines of Warcraft there are strict, specific limits on the things I can do and cannot do.  I cannot blow up the tunnel in WSG, even though I have charges that can blow apart a wall in the Strand of the Ancients.  I cannot use grappling hooks or ziplines to get from the Lumber Mill to Blacksmith to Mine quickly.  I am completely limited to those things that the developers allow my character to do.

How is jumping on to the Stables roof — something any character can do, though perhaps not easily — an exploit, if I’m able to do it in the game?  If hundreds of players can do it?  Through jumping?

Let’s take another battleground example: getting on top of a wall or pillar in Wintergrasp Keep by flying into position before the game starts.  Trivially easy to do, and you can take out defensive cannons and defenders with ease up there while exposing yourself to minimal risk. Smart use of the roofline and LoS, just like on the Arathi Basin Stables roof, allows you to be effectively unreachable by other players on the ground.

Is that an exploit?

The blue post says,

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

If we use that definition, this is the very essence of an exploit.  But yet — it’s allowed to happen.  You don’t get kicked off the top of a wall when you land there, you get to stand and kill cannons with impunity.  Interestingly, if you’re on a tower you do get kicked to the ground — but only when the battle first begins.

So what gives?  Is this an exploit, or not?  I’m not trying to deliberately break the rules here, but if I can do it in the game… why shouldn’t I?  Why shouldn’t you?  How are you, someone whom I assume is not a Blizzard developer, to know if this is right or not?

I find myself in complete agreement with Cassandri when she says there’s no such thing as an exploit, at least not in the context of in-game mechanics.  There might be bugs, but bugs are not the fault of the user.  We cannot be expected to know the intent of the developers.  Quoting from that excellent article:

…(B)ecause they exist unchanged in the game, that implicitly confirms that they must be working as intended – otherwise they would be changed. We accept them and the best of us turn them to our advantage.

You don’t question whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not your place to question what is and isn’t a mistake in the game. You are a gamer. It’s your job to win.

Cass is writing about PvE in general, and the banning of Ensidia for the use of Saronite Bombs in the 25-man Lich King world first kill.  I’m staying away from discussing that specific topic because it is a charged, emotional debate about ego and bragging rights.  There  is the additional component of whether Ensidia, or Exodus, or any of the other guilds who have been taken to task for exploits in PvE, “should have known” that the encounter was not working as designed.  That’s the whole crux of the debate, actually, which is why it’s so complicated.

PvP is simpler.  If you don’t pursue every advantage — be it in gear, skill, level, consumables, positioning, macros, addons, communications, whatever — someone else will.  If you don’t send people on the walls and towers of Wintergrasp, the other side will.

And if they have an advantage that you choose not to take, you will probably lose.

I don’t want to get banned by Blizzard.  I enjoy playing their game and try to follow all the rules they set forth in their ToS.  I’m not trying to cause problems with their code or servers, or gain an unfair advantage in their economy.  I don’t want god mode cheats.  I don’t want world first titles.  I just want to play their game and enjoy it.

But when I play, I also want to win.

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How DID They Win That Wintergrasp?

WG-Fail-Train.jpg

Anyone who spends a lot of time in Durotan’s Wintergrasp is familiar with the above sight. Sometimes, no matter what you do, the Horde is able to launch a massive assault on the west wall of Wintergrasp Fortress with 8-12 Siege Engines in the first 2 minutes of the game. If all Alliance defenders, and I mean ALL defenders, don’t rush out to the west and try to stop them, the mass of siege will break through and capture the fortress in under 6 minutes.

At that point, the QQ starts. “Cheaters!” “Hax!” are some of the kinder words thrown at the Horde. But, unlike exploiting the old bug that let you drive siege through walls, this is just smart thinking by the outnumbered side, using the mechanics of the game to fight an opponent who outnumbers them 2:1 (on a good day.) The Horde groups up their siege for one massive push that the defense cannot stop.

The key is a tactic that both sides should use, no matter who has numeric superiority.

  1. Focus your kills to rank a few players up to First Lieutenant.
  2. Have those players create Demolishers and Siege Engines at the Workshop, and then abandon them to go create more.
  3. Other players without rank man the abandoned vehicles and wait.
  4. Once all vehicle slots are filled, everyone goes together.

That’s it. That’s how you win an offensive Wintergrasp battle. Group all your siege together and shove it through the walls. Organization and discipline will win you Wintergrasp.

This tactic works nearly every time; the only counter is for a very strong defense to start attacking the group as it leaves the Workshop and keep going until it stops — if the defense waits for them to hit the first wall, it’s over.

Now, there’s a legitimate question of how can a side start creating Demolishers and Siege Engines within the first 15 seconds of the game. It’s tough to rank up to First Lieutenant — my personal best is after about 45 seconds, which meant I was creating Siege Engines at 1:30 into the game. But sides with Tenacity have it a little easier.

Tenacity increases the “kill value” of NPCs, making it easier to rank up. On an imbalanced server like Durotan, where 20 stacks of Tenacity are pretty much the norm, a single NPC kill will grant First Lieutenant rank. This gives your side heavy vehicles right away, and if you are organized and disciplined at the Workshop, you can create your Siege mass within a minute.

The more commonly QQed tactic, sometimes called the Wintergrasp Logout Exploit, is to have characters log out during an active Wintergrasp battle so they can log back in to another battle in progress with their previous rank. But with the advent of queuing for Wintergrasp, this exploit just doesn’t work. The buff is removed when you queue for the battle and your status is reset. This was never really the primary reason sides massed siege — consider the logistics between this and the Tenacity option — but it was possible, so people latched on to it.

So how did the other team get 12 heavy vehicles and take Wintergrasp in under 5 minutes? It wasn’t by cheating, or using exploits, or because Blizzard hates your faction. It was because the other side had Tenacity and was organized, disciplined, and executed a massive offensive push that your side didn’t defend adequately against.

It’s okay. Don’t take it too hard. The next battle, you’re on offense. Show ‘em what you’ve got.

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The Imperfect Isle

Alliance Keep on the Isle of Conquest

I tried Isle of Conquest again this weekend, and lost. Not a lot, because I know when it’s just not working and quit while I was ahead… but I didn’t win any of the battles. The Alliance would mostly rush Docks, but every time we would get outnumbered and eventually get overwhelmed. Once the Docks were gone it would take maybe 10 minutes before the Horde stormed the Keep and won the match.

It’s a pretty consistent story now on the Alliance side.

THE SNIPE SPOT

Cassandri at Hots & Dots has a short but sweet look at the Isle of Conquest, and why the Alliance has such a tough time winning it.

It comes down to the Snipe Spot described by Rubymelon in his great post, The Secret to Winning Isle of Conquest and also discussed in this comment on WoW Insider. The secret, such as it is, is that the Glaives have a longer range than the defensive cannons on the keep. Their longer range exploits the strong-side/weak-side asymmetry Ihra noticed while looking at win/loss data, where the Docks’ western placement puts them on the Alliance Keep’s weak side (and the Horde Keep’s strong side.)

So the strategy that results in a Horde win every single time is for them to rush the Docks, take the Glaives, knock down the Alliance Keep’s west wall with impunity, and then kill the boss. The corresponding strategy on the Alliance side is to take the Hangar, but it is a weaker strategy because the Horde Keep walls are not destroyed, nor is there a disparity in the offensive/defensive weapon ranges.

Don’t mistake this for QQ. Fighting a battle means exploiting every asymmetrical advantage you can, and I’m really quite impressed at the players who figured this out. I’m not asking for any changes. The map is laid out in a way that favors certain tactics from certain sides, and there’s no way around that. Alterac Valley is the same way. I don’t think normalizing the ranges between the glaives and cannons will fix this; this is a map problem, too.

It’s no excuse; the Alliance should be able to find a counterstrategy that works:  destroy the Glaives at all cost, for instance.  But I think the damage has already been done to this battleground.

GO HARD OR GO HOME

Let me switch to Alterac Valley for a little bit. The 50s bracket of AV in Ruin was (before the sweeping PvP changes of 3.2) completely Alliance dominated. The matches would start 40 Alliance : 10 Horde, and the Horde would get slaughtered on the rush to Drek. Half of the Alliance team would get Drek, the rest would push them into the cave, and the matches didn’t take very long.

The Horde didn’t lose because of a map imbalance, though the AV map does favor the Alliance. (The bridge at Dun Baldar is a great defensive structure that when properly manned cannot be bypassed; the path into Frostwolf Village is not at good because the line of sight is broken, limiting many player abilities.) They lost because they didn’t show up. No matter how good you are, you can’t win a battleground against 3-4 times your number.

But you have to dig deeper? Why didn’t the Horde show up in that bracket, while the Alliance turned out in droves?

Because once upon a time, when it was equal, the Horde lost more games than they won due to a map imbalance. So they did what any rational player would do: either afk in the cave for marks and get honor elsewhere, or play something else entirely. There’s no reason to fight a losing battle when you can fight a winning one elsewhere.

But a funny thing started happening late nights while I was playing AV. The Horde showed up. And they showed up big time, with level 60s who knew what they were doing, and even though the matches started out 20:40, they soon filled up. Premades or not, if you have 40 on 40, it’s a real battle.

Yes, the Horde won most of those matches. They came in and played smart, with a good mix of offense and defense. They capped and recapped and defended and fought at the flag and took down Van in no time flat. They slaughtered the unprepared Alliance forces.

It was glorious, even from the losing side.

Those were the matches that taught me how to play AV, not the facerolls. /bg chat may have been filled with cries of “OMG WE CAN’T LOSE” and other QQery, but enough of us fought through to figure out how to win in the face of an actual opponent. Some of the best AV matches I played were those late-night AVs where the Horde showed up. Losing 0-10 on resources is heartbreaking, but also a hell of a game. We won some. We lost some.

When I got to the 71-80 bracket, I found where all the Horde really were. They were up at the level cap fighting normal AVs, and winning some of them. Not all, but they weren’t fighting a population disparity right away. The lessons learned in the earlier brackets came in handy as the strategies were the same, just the 80s hit much, much harder.

This old war story has a point. The Isle of Conquest has a balance problem that will drive players either to it, or away from it, just like Alterac Valley. Battlegrounds PuGs are good randomizers, so all other things being equal, an advantage in one side will cause that side to win more often statistically than the other. A rational player will look at this and say either this is to my benefit or disadvantage, and participate accordingly. Now that there are so many battlegrounds to choose from, players will go to where they feel they can get the best reward for their playtime.

I worry that Alliance participation is going to plummet in the Isle of Conquest, just like Horde participation did in Alterac Valley. Perhaps it will happen even faster, or has already happened — I have no way of knowing. But I have a hunch people will act in their own self-interest and the Alliance will stop showing up.

Which is really too bad, because the example the Horde set in Alterac Valley is the right one Alliance players should draw from. Don’t give up hope. Find a better way to fight, and exploit advantages that you do have. If that means making a premade, or only letting 60 twinks into the battleground, so be it. Perhaps the advent of rated battlegrounds will give the Alliance the organization it needs to overcome the Snipe Spot strategy. Perhaps not; the advantage will not be asymmetric. I think a more traditional strategy is necessary: yield the Docks, but kill the Glaives at all costs while pursuing a Hangar seems to be a good start.

But I do know that the imbalance in the Isle of Conquest map is already affecting people’s decisions about where to spend their time. Time will tell if this will turn the Isle into an Alliance ghost town or not.

POSTMORTEM

After writing the original post above, I logged in to the Isle to get some screenshots. I had been there for no more than 20 seconds when the Alliance won.

Sure enough, the player count helped explain why: Alliance: 40, Horde: 35.

I then won 3 in a row.

Moral of the story: You have to show up to win.

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The Hangar Blitz

The Hangar Blitz.png

I’ve noticed a change in the Isle of Conquest in the few short days it’s been open. There’s now a vocal minority advocating a full assault on the hangar, storming the keep, and killing the General. This same group complains vociferously when the other players don’t follow this advice.

In other words: full-on nerd rage that everyone else screwed up their quick win.

I’m sad to see this appear so soon in the Isle.

The proposed strategy is relatively simple: attack the Hangar in force to control the Airship, use the Airship to parachute in force into the enemy keep, and kill the enemy general for a quick win.

The problem is, I’ve yet to see it work.

I think the Hangar-only strategy can work, if all of the steps above are followed and nothing goes wrong. Attacking with a sizable chunk of your force is essential to winning with it, though, and it can be stopped by a strong keep defense.

There are flaws with the Hangar-only strategy, though.

First, it’s not flexible in the face of failure. If you don’t win on the first try, you’re out of position for the rest of the map, and your keep defense is vulnerable. You might hang on to the airship, but at the cost of the Docks and Workshop. I have already seen a lot of nerd rage about how the failure to rush and hold the Hangar resulted in an automatic loss. I think that’s a problem with the strategy, not the execution.

This is because of my second objection, the extremely fragile supply line. You must hold the hangar to reinforce your assault, because the walls have been bypassed, not opened. You have no close graveyards to rez at, and if you lose one node the forces inside the keep are isolated.

My third objection us that it’s not a good maximizing strategy. Even if the Rube Goldberg-like steps are followed, you’ve traded a quick win for a lot of honor. Taking and holding the Quarry and Derrick yields a constant flow of honor. If you’re not in it for the honor, okay, I get that – but don’t tell me you’re in it for the marks. (Can you buy ANYTHING with Isle marks?)

This last part touches on what I think is the source of the Hangar-only strategy: Alterac Valley. The accepted AV strat is to kill Bal/Galv, take the towers, kill for 4 minutes, then kill Drek/Van. Because the map is asymmetric, the Horde have to also recapture TP or IBT to slow the Alliance zerg. But either way, this maximizes the honor you get from the battleground objectives while keeping the games short. There are some nuances to the order graveyards should be capped (skip FWGY or risk a lot of QQ), but this is pretty much the game plan.

The Alterac Blitz, though, forgoes every single objective but one: kill the boss at the end. Take at least half your force with 2 tanks and 4 healers and ride without stopping to the end of the map; do not engage the enemy at any cost, abandon everyone along the way, then MT on boss, OT on everyone else, and bring the heat. It’s a ludicrously simple plan to beat; put a quarter of your force to defend the chokepoint into your base, kill half as they ride by, the other half as they reach the boss. Without a nearby GY the attackers are sent to the other end of the map.

The way I see it, the Hangar-only strategy is a bad variant of the Alterac Blitz. It ignores all battleground objectives but one, it is fragile, and easily countered. I’m worried that the Hangar will become like the Stables are in Arathi Basin for Alliance, or the Blacksmith is for just about everyone – a node with more psychological than tactical advantage.

I don’t have a good counterstrategy to propose yet. I would think a balanced offense focusing on one node to bypass the walls (Hangar/Docks) to soften the defenses, and another to destroy the walls with siege from the Workshop is necessary. This needs to be coupled with roving packs to take the honor-producing nodes and interrupt the enemy, and a good, solid Keep defense.

Sadly, it’s much easier to yell “everyone to the hangar!” in /bg.

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