Category Archives: Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual

Start Here, at Cataclysm’s End

One of the great flaws of the weblog format is how older information, no matter how good it is, fades away under the deluge of new posts. As Mists of Pandaria launches next week, I thought it appropriate to take a look back over Cataclysm before everything gets buried.

This post has a secondary motive. I am going to take a bit of a vacation from Cynwise and recharge my mental batteries, so this blog will be on hiatus until 2013. Since this weblog is pretty big – I write a lot, okay – I thought putting a map for new visitors up at the very top of the front page was the best way for me to leave the store unattended for a while.

So let’s start here, at Cataclysm’s end.

THE ESSENTIALS

In 2012, I wrote a book called The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm. It didn’t start out as a book, but rather as a series of posts analyzing why warlock populations were falling. An unpopular class was growing less so: why?

The core thesis of Decline is that warlock populations declined because of Inelegant Complexity without Reward; that multiple factors lead to players either abandoning the class or the game entirely. This thesis was debated in comments, in forums, in emails, and even in Blizzard development team meetings. It was, and remains, a contested theory, but it’s one that I absolutely stand by. Decline framed the discussion around the future of warlocks at a critical time in their development in Mists, and I think the class dev team did a great job with fixing the problems of Cataclysm.

I would love to share more of the stories behind this, like getting emailed by Xelnath while at my kid’s soccer game and going, okay, this is only the second strangest email I’ve gotten from my blog, or arguing with my editor Narci over whether a tangent was worth exploring (it almost always is.) I’d love to debate more about if Demonology should be a tanking spec (yes) and the challenges that have to be overcome to make that happen (itemization, player resistance, tank balance, active vs. passive mitigation strategies) – but alas, there is no more time. Mists is here, time to move on.

I’ll have to share those stories over tacos or something at Blizzcon next year.

If Decline was the most important post I wrote in the past year, I think my best post was something totally different – On Snow Crash, Virtual Avatars, and Warcraft’s Social Network Appeal, which I wrote back in January. The “Snow Crash Post” (and its followup) was born out of a frenzied realization where I could see how Twitter and Facebook had irrevocably changed the MMO landscape, and that doing stuff with your friends is the whole thing now.

Ghostcrawler said “playing with your friends is the sleeper hit of Mists of Pandaria,” and I completely agree. So many changes have been made to Warcraft to enable this simple thing that I can’t help but add two more predictions to the Snow Crash list: cross-faction grouping will become a thing, and Blizzard will license the Battle.net API infrastructure.

We’ll see if I’m right.

This weblog started off as Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual and (mostly) focused on casual battlegrounds and Player versus Player (PvP) content. It was an area which I have really enjoyed writing about, but there are three contributions I’m most proud of:

Topological Battleground Maps – inspired by the London Tube map, I depicted the logical flow of the various battlegrounds instead of the terrain in maps. (Developed here, refined here and here, seen all over.) In many ways, this map style was essential to my future writing on battlegrounds – I needed a better way to explain what I was talking about than just marking up maps.

Resurrection Vectors – BGs are won and lost by controlling graveyards, but the why and how is hard to explain if you don’t have a way to describe the way troops move when their killed. Starting with Arathi Basin and Alterac Valley, my posts on Graveyard Control and Rez Vectors looked at a lot of the battleground maps before I stopped. If you want to know why you don’t take the South Graveyard in Strand or why graveyard camping works, you should read these posts.

Relentlessly Positive Attitude – More than maps and theory, what I hope my writing about PvP accomplished was to inspire people to do better. To try those things they thought they couldn’t do, to find fun in things that they thought were too hard. That’s why I kept writing for so long – I really enjoyed teaching people how to play, and I hope I inspired them to have fun. You’ll see this attitude in posts like my guide to The School of Hard Knocks (wow, is that old!) or How To Win Tol Barad - where I had to take my own advice, knuckle down and figure out how to win that damn thing. But you’ll also find it in my passionate defenses of Healers Have To Die, talking about disposable heroes and iterative twinks, and even the ever popular PvP gear guides.

PvP can be fun. Just don’t give up. You can do this. Keep on trying.

There are other PvP posts which I think are worth noting – The 20 v. 24 War looked at the impact of Stater Edition twinks on the 20-24 bracket, The Battle for Gilneas is a straightforward guide to the best battleground of Cataclysm are both standouts – but I think it’s also important to remember the things which didn’t go well in PvP, like the rating exploits which caused so many problems in S9-S11, the increasingly hard PvP reputation grind, the repeated attempts to make Rated Battlegrounds popular, or the S9-S10 gear transition fiasco.

Actually, that last post about the S9-S10 PvP gear transition is a good one to stop and reflect on for a bit.

THE PIGGIE AWARDS AND THE FIELD NOTES EXPERIMENT

While writing Decline, I repeatedly said that I didn’t quit playing my warlock because of the increased complexity without reward, but that is very much the reason I didn’t go back to her for over a year. The reason I quit playing her was twofold:

You could look Cataclysm as an arc in my weblog: starting with Blizzard Killed My Dog (I still love that title), to a nadir at On Priorities, Elephants, and Desire, and then up to the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm. This has been a story of someone losing his way and finding it again.

The way back was through an experiment I started right after the one-two punch of the elephant post/S9 transition, Cynwise’s Field Notes, an experimental weblog where I stopped writing about warlocks and PvP and instead wrote about … whatever the hell I wanted.

It was liberating. Instead of the long, researched, carefully considered posts that went up on the Battlefield Manual, I adopted what were to become my Five Rules for Cynwise’s Field Notes, where I stopped obsessing over every little detail and just hit publish. Post after post came out, some not very good, others that I think were quite groundbreaking or prescient for the time.

I was really honored to receive several nominations for the 2011 Piggies on MMO Melting Pot. I was even more blown away by not only receiving several honorable mentions, but also winning the 2011 Most Memorable Blog Post award for my CFN post, On the ForsakenThat post not only led to On Blogging Heroes (in response to the Piggie award), it inspired several entries in the Blizzard Global Writing contest, including one of the 2011 Finalists, Daughter of Lordaeron. This, in turn, led to me picking the thread back up again in On Silverpine Forest, which lands me right in the middle of the Forsaken storyline and embracing the cause of the Dark Queen.

Will there be an On Hillsbrad Foothills? I hope so! Baby Cynwise is still waiting… though she’s like level 29 from leveling gathering professions. >.>

During this time the PvP Columnist position at WoW Insider opened up. I declined with several regrets, as I think the staff there is great and it would have been a great experience. But in retrospect it was the right decision, not only for me, but for WI. (Oliva Grace is fantastic in the role, much better than I would have been, and has become a great contributor to their site. I wish her, and the entire WI staff, well heading into Mists.)

There are a lot of standouts from the CFN days; take a look through the CFN tag on this site, or visit the original site on Posterous if it’s still available. (I moved the posts back to this site because I had, frankly, too many sites. This decision seemed really wise when Posterous’s future came in doubt after the company was acquired by Twitter.) Some of them, like On Digital Detritus and the Merit Badge post, are still really applicable as we head into Mists.

I’m not going to lie, I kinda miss that website now.

TAKING A BREAK

I don’t really know what will be involved in this break. There are no hard and fast rules in life, just guiding principles like “don’t give up” and “put first things first.” I have been Cynwise online for almost 4 years now. We’re comfortable friends, she and I, even though I’m a middle-aged married father of two and she’s an ambitious warlock from Northshire in a video game. I, the person behind Cyn, who’s the player and author behind Cynwise, need a bit of a break from all those layers. I might set aside my Twitter for a bit as Mists gets going, I might not, who knows? I sure don’t.

Thank you very much for reading Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual, Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual, Cynwise’s Field Notes, Green Tinted Goggles, Punt This, Go Mog Yourself, The Adventures of Sparkbinder Cynix in the Worldbreaker’s Shadow, The Warlock Is For Burning, and the continued insanity which is @wowcynwise’s Twitter feed. (Dear LORD that is a lot of weblogs, did I really do all of that?) I really appreciate it, and hope that you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read.

My BattleTag is Cynwise#1158. I’m still planning on playing, but will be quieter on the internet – so please, keep in touch.

Be good to each other, and enjoy the pandas.

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On The Sublime Joy of Destruction Warlockery

Holy crap, I’m on fire! Abelard, I’m on fire!

Oh, wait. I’m a Warlock. A Destruction Warlock.

Setting things on fire is what I do.

(Previously. Previously.)

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Queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the Same Time

Unexpected – but welcome – addition in 5.0.4 is that you can now queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the same time.

DPS players, rejoice!

UPDATE: Oh, hey! You can queue for everything ALL AT ONCE!

 

Aw yeah. I’m going to sit around Dalaran and WAIT in several lines AT ONCE.

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Macro: Clear Your Keybinds

Following up on my advice to trash all your keybinds, I found the following macro on Twitter from @pontelon:

/run for i = 1,120 do PickupAction(i) ClearCursor() end

This will remove everything from your bars in one fell swoop. (Be sure to get your secondary specs, too!)

Thanks, Pon! Great macro!

 

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On Worse is Better

I’ve mentioned before that JWZ was one of my blogging heroes; but one of the most dramatic influences he had on me was introducing me to Richard Gabriel’s essay, The Rise of “Worse is Better”. Even though it’s about Lisp and Scheme versus Unix and C++, it’s an excellent, thought-provoking read which looks at why certain computer languages work and thrive, and why others fail. You should read it.

How many of you still use Scheme after college? I know I haven’t touched it or MATLAB since COMP 101, but I’ve sure used Python, Java, and C/C++ in my career as a professional programmer. Is Scheme still useful? Yes. It is widespread? Not outside of academia.

The core idea of the Worse-is-Better philosophy is that simple implementations which achieve most of the desired functionality are superior to complex implementations which achieve the whole thing. UNIX is really a collection of small programs which do certain things adequately, assembled and refined over the years until it’s a rock-solid operating system. But it’s not the stability which makes it so ubiquitous – it’s how it can run on almost anything. Microsoft figured this out with the NT to XP transition, and the success of XP – and relative failure of Vista – should be object lessons

Warcraft, in many ways, is an adherent to the Worse-Is-Better philosophy. The cartoonish graphics and relatively low pixel counts have allowed Warcraft to spread, like a virus, on computers which would not normally be considered gaming machines. The graphics degrade well because the style is simple and doesn’t require high resolution to convey the desired image. More processing power adds better effects but isn’t a requirement to play.

Simplicity is good for adoption. At any time, half of the computers out there are below the median, and if you are spending marketing dollars to get people to try your game you don’t want their machine to be an impediment. Games that don’t support certain operating systems or have high graphics requirements automatically start off at a disadvantage because they limit their customer base. This is a tradeoff from a development standpoint – you can’t port your game to every operating system, you can’t support everything, but you have to support enough to be profitable. I probably would have tried SW:TOR if it had a Mac client, but it didn’t, and I didn’t feel like buying a Windows 7 license and running Boot Camp to try it out. Bioware made a conscious decision to not support Macs to keep their development costs low, which eliminated me as a potential customer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff! It happens all the time. You have to focus your efforts to ship a product.

But that development decision had implications down the road.

Yesterday’s WoW patch (5.0.4) brought with it the new graphical requirements for Mists of Pandaria. It was a bit of a surprise to me, since my laptop – which had run the Beta fine – was suddenly unable to run Warcraft. I wrote about how it affects me personally on tumblr, but I don’t want to dwell on it. It’s done, I can’t use the laptop, my playtime is reduced until I upgrade it (which isn’t happening soon). Other people have it worse than I do – their only computer can’t play their favorite game, and I feel really bad for them.

I think it’s more interesting to consider the bind Warcraft’s longevity has put Blizzard’s developers into. Every year that WoW continues is another year where technology gets better. If we follow Moore’s Law, computers today are 16 times more powerful than when WoW launched, and the game competition being developed now can take advantage of that increase. Warcraft is competing against games that can count on a computer having an order of magnitude more resources than when it was first designed.

In many ways, that’s Warcraft’s strength, because it’s a social game, and mass adoption is key to continued success. I’ve said before that Warcraft is really a video game bolted on top of a social network. But that strength is also a weakness as the game ages, because WoW competes in the market with those other games. It has to adapt, which means that events like yesterday happen. Customers log in and discover that they’re suddenly unable to play because their computer is no longer good enough. All the marketing costs to acquire that customer, all the support and development costs to keep that customer, are lost if they choose not to upgrade their computer.

Consider that cost for a minute. Blizzard incurs a cost to acquire a customer (marketing dollars, core game development, retail packaging and distribution) and an operational cost (customer support, continued development, server hosting and operational upgrades, corporate expenses). The customer has an initial startup cost (buying the game) and an operational cost (subscription fees). This is all pretty straightforward in the short term.

In the long term, however, both sides incur costs to support the game. Blizzard has to spend development resources to maintain old operating system versions, old hardware models. Customers have to invest in hardware to be able to continue playing the game. (The initial investment in buying a computer which can play the game is often overlooked, because it’s the very first part of market selection – “does this person have a computer?” – and is a fundamental assumption.) Increasing the minimum requirement for the game brings this specific assumption into question – does the player still have a computer which can play the game – and also increases the cost for the player. Instead of $15 a month, now the player needs to look at it and say, should I spend $1-2k on a new computer so I can continue to play WoW?

If we assume a 36 month lifetime of a given computer upgrade, it’s $27.78-$55.56 additional a month for the customer. So at a minimum, purchasing a $1k computer to continue playing Warcraft is effectively the same as spending $45 a month on on sub.

Warcraft (or any software package which forces one) gets an unfair part of the blame in this decision to upgrade. There are usually other reasons to upgrade a computer which factor in to the decision (faster CPUs, more hard drive space, more memory) – but psychologically, the triggering event is the one which we focus upon. If I want to play Warcraft on a laptop, I need to get a new laptop. That’s the decision some people are faced with today. They aren’t saying, my web browsing is kinda slow or running a lot of applications (they probably are). They’re looking at Blizzard and Warcraft and going, is this worth an additional $30-60 a month? Do I have the cash to do this? Oh god Christmas is coming up and I was going to get Mists and now I can’t play Warcraft holy fuck what am I going to do I wanted PANDAS.

But computers are sixteen times more powerful than they were when Warcraft launched. That’s amazing!

This is a really interesting aspect of the game industry, and the MMO industry, which I don’t think gets enough attention. How do you have a subscription model where, over the long term, your customers will churn due to equipment requirements? What happens when your product is still going strong almost a decade later? How do you get the broadest adoption?

Worse-is-better is the answer.

Warcraft has taken a lot of heat for its cartoonish graphics, its low-polygon models, its antiquated engine. But that art style, that engine, has had good survival characteristics in the marketplace. I think other game developers and game enthusiasts alike should take note of it – long term success requires broad adoption over a variety of platforms. Your product needs to be easy to port, easy to adapt. Making a hugely complex jewel of a game which can only run on 5% of the computers out there is not going to be as profitable as making a Facebook game.

There’s a somewhat unique balancing act here that Blizzard has to walk. They are tied to old technology that has good survival characteristics, yet have to compete against new tech that can be shinier, faster, fancier. Much like UNIX, I don’t think that a competitor who follows Blizzard’s model is going to usurp them. MMO game clients which overly rely upon the customer’s hardware will keep running into adoption problems. Thin clients with broad platform support are much more of a threat than a traditional MMO because they can be adopted quickly. Put most of the graphical processing up in the cloud and watch the same game get ported to consoles, PCs, smart TVs, smartphones, microwaves, in-car entertainment centers – who knows where they will end up next?

I know I don’t. Not really, not yet.

But I do know that the game industry needs to start thinking more about the lessons Common Lisp taught more than 30 years ago, because asking your customers to purchase new hardware to continue your revenue stream is a tough sell.

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Warlocks, Trash Your Keybinds

You’ll get all sorts of advice before having your first kid. Most of it will be bad. “Get plenty of sleep now!” sounds great, but it’s really bad advice – it makes you freak out about the impending sleep deprivation while not actually helping you cope with the reality of the first year or so of raising an infant. Getting 8 hours of sleep during the second trimester does you no good when your 8 month old is still waking up every three hours and oh god could I haven’t had a complete REM cycle in forever. It’s even worse advice if you’re the one who is pregnant, because getting a good night’s sleep during the final month or so is basically impossible due to the very large, very active kicking being in your belly.

“Assemble the crib in the nursery” is a bit better, because it points out something you might not realize if you’ve assembled furniture but not cribs before – they’re too wide to fit through doors, but not so wide that you’ll immediately realize it. So if you assemble the crib out in your living room (where there’s more room) and try to get it through the door, you’re bound for frustration. But you can also probably figure this out yourself.

The best advice I got before having my first kid, and I’m now giving to you, is to start lifting light weights as soon as possible. Get some light dumbbells, curl gallons of milk or six packs of diet coke, do some pushups – whatever you can to start getting your arms ready for carrying 8-10 lbs of baby around all the time. I wasn’t prepared for that, and even with the advice (which I didn’t follow enough) I found myself still struggling with how much more physical I was going to have to be. Kids are gradually increasing weights, so you catch up – but I could have used even more of a boost.

So, I’m going to pass on something that I learned in the beta which you might not have considered. You can take it, or not, but if I had to go through the experience of picking up my Warlock all over again this is what I’d do.

Trash your keybinds.

Take everything off your bars. EVERYTHING. Take every ability off your action bars and start with a blank slate. Look over the spec you’d like to try, open up the spell book and read over the new abilities. Go to a training dummy and start, slowly, bringing stuff back onto the bars.

My initial experience in the beta was awful. It was terrible. I told Xelnath that after the first hour of trying to make sense of the changes, I nearly quit in frustration. This was before the Core Abilities tab, or the What’s Changed Tab – I was trying to set everything up like I was used to having them and it just didn’t work. Warlocks have changed too much to bridge between the patches. Your macros are probably useless. (Stop trying to cast Fel Armor, you don’t need to do that anymore!)

Start over from scratch.

My second day in the beta, I threw everything out. My intricate bindings were gone. I switched, for the first time in years, to a WASD setup, and started adding things back onto my bars. I remapped to different buttons. I looked at the spellbook and threw out what I thought I knew about playing a Warlock. It wasn’t easy. But instead of being totally frustrated with the strangeness of it all, of cursing that it doesn’t work this way and why doesn’t my buff macro work it was, oh, I have a suite of defensive CDs now, I should group them over here, and Fel Flame can always go here, and …

I was amazed at how much better this went, how much easier it was to adapt to the changes of the class. Forget that, I was amazed at how much room I had on my action bars now! By giving up mouse driving and going WASD (and eventually ESDF), by admitting that my previous strategy of having 120 potential binds wasn’t needed, I got rid of my expectations that I knew the class and got back to learning it anew.

The class is different now. Even Affliction – the spec which is the most similar – is really quite different. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing – you don’t. Not yet. That’s what this next month is for.

Start over. Nuke your whole UI if you have to, but start by jettisoning your keybinds.

Your keybinds carry expectations with them.

Today is a day to reset and start over.

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Revisiting Gnomebliteration

I was in Uldum tonight questing for some transmog gear when I came to everyone’s favorite mass-murder excused by a machine, Gnomebliteration. As the gear I wanted for my warrior was a reward from said quest of doom, I set aside my in-character brain for a bit and rolled a flaming ball of death over the doomed expedition.

I killed a thousand gnomes for some red plate gloves. And I liked it.

My opinion of the quest hasn’t changed since the last time I wrote about it. I still think its morally repugnant, out of character for a lot of characters, and a hell of a lot of fun.

But at the end of Cataclysm I’m left wondering, why wasn’t this made into a daily quest?

This is a serious question. You’ve got a quest which is popular and provides a fun little mini-game. It’s in a zone which only has two daily quests for reputation, both of which have different mechanics than normal play and the body count of an ’80s action movie, so killing cursed gnomes fits in with the theme of Uldum. The quest got a lot of positive feedback on the forums and on wowhead. Players asked to do a quest again – that’s pretty high praise!

So why didn’t it happen?

Normally, when I write a post like this I have some kind of action that I’d like to argue for, some option or alternative to pursue. Here, I don’t. There are less than two months before Mists; thinking this should get changed now would be naive folly. It’s done. Gnomebliteration is never going to be a daily quest. That’s okay! It’s time to move on.

And I don’t think we, as players, will ever know why it didn’t happen. Development priorities are subject to a lot of different pressures, and I don’t subscribe to any A/B team conspiracy theories. Did this idea even get raised to the developers? Did it get serious attention? We’re there other priorities that kept it pushed down on a feature request list, or was it shot down for technical reasons? Was it deemed more important to keep it a unique part of leveling, one shot and you’re done on that toon?

Or did someone just not like the suggestion?

I have no idea.

What I do know is that, while rolling around a giant flaming ball of death on a quest I should have morally objected to for any good-aligned character, I had more fun than I’d had in the entire zone. Possibly the only real fun I’ve had in Uldum, once I get over how gorgeous the place is. Wheeeee! roll down the steps, pick up more gnomes! It’s not a complicated mini-game, it’s a visceral one.

And to me, this quest seems to symbolize the problems of Cataclysm. Many things were done right, but the things which were truly fun seemed to be shunted aside, fleeting moments. Opportunities to create more fun weren’t capitalized upon. Instead of Gnomebliteration as a daily, we got Tol Barad and the Molten Front. There were a lot of almost-rights, of things which were just a bit off, of things which didn’t quite flow enough to be fun.

Would we have gotten bored of crushing cursed gnomes? Maybe.

But we never got the chance.

I’ve come to accept that I don’t think Cataclysm was a very good expansion. Yes, there were plenty of quality of life improvements which made the game more enjoyable to play – vast UI improvements, transmogging, revamped old content, flight almost everywhere – but many missed opportunities for making the game fun. It was so close to being good, in so many places, but the execution was off. There was a lot of good work, and the game of Warcraft itself is still enjoyable, but I just haven’t found Cataclysm content compelling. I haven’t found it fun.

I don’t really have much else to say about Cataclysm; I had fun, I had frustrations, I’m glad it’s done.

And I’m left wondering why Gnomebliteration never became a daily quest.

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Resurrection Vectors in Strand of the Ancients and the Problem of South Graveyard

Strand of the Ancients is a battleground dominated by demolishers and walls. The core object of the map is to break through a series of gates and capture the Titan Relic at the south end of the map. Each side takes turns attacking and defending, with the fastest time winning the battle. Since speed is so important, using the demolishers to take down the gates quickly is a key component of any strategy. You can take down a gate with the bombs littered around the beach (takes about 10-12 bombs), but it is much slower than taking a pack of demolishers through.

Speed and demolishers are the key to Strand, and they create a truly unique situation for the resurrection vectors in this BG – namely, that there is a graveyard objective which can considerably cripple the offense’s ability to win.

Don’t cap South GY unless you know exactly what you are doing.

Let’s take a look at the map.

The rules governing resurrection vectors are relatively straightforward; attackers will go to the highest (most southerly) graveyard they control, while defenders will fall back to the highest defensible point. Once taken by the offense, a graveyard cannot be retaken.

The above map shows the initial rez vectors with the Horde on offense. When the Horde is on the beach and has not knocked down any gates, they will continue to resurrect on the beach. Alliance defenders will resurrect back at the workshops, behind the gates, though the flags which control the graveyards are on the opposite side of the path.

Once the first set of gates is breached, the Horde should concentrate on taking the East and West Graveyards. Not only will this change their resurrection vector to the workshop level, but it will make the workshop’s demolishers available to your team. This is critically important because as the Horde moves south on offense, it will take longer and longer to drive demolishers up to the relevant gates. Having demolishers available right outside Green and Blue gates is much faster than having to run back down to the beach to get one.

Remember, speed is really important here.

As the Horde offensive progresses, Alliance casualties will be sent back to progressively higher levels – first E/W, then South, then the Courtyard. It’s possible to skip a level by dying on the beach and resurrecting in the South GY – but unlike the offense, defenders can use the teleporters by each gate to achieve the same result.  Tying up their team down on the beach is often a good tactic, but not if demolishers are rolling up to Yellow unopposed.

This brings up the problem of South Graveyard.

WHY SOUTH GRAVEYARD IS A TRAP

The South Graveyard is a trap for the offense in Strand of the Ancients. Taking it puts the offense at a disadvantage entirely because of resurrection vectors.

When South Graveyard is held by the defense, the following conditions prevail:

  1. Offense rez vectors are to the workshops, next to the demolishers.
  2. Casualties are able to grab a demolisher at the Workshop and bring it up to Yellow gate in about 25 seconds.
  3. If no demolishers are available at the Workshop, players can retrieve demolishers from the Docks for an additional 50 seconds.

Let me illustrate this scenario using our battle from above. Horde is attacking.

Leaving South GY ensures a constant stream of demolishers to replace any which are destroyed assaulting the Yellow Gate or the Titan Chamber.

If the Horde takes South GY, however, the situation changes drastically with respect to the demolishers.

By taking South GY, the Horde casualties will spawn just outside Yellow Gate. This would be great if no vehicles were involved; having a close respawn point helps turn the tide in many battles.

But vehicles are involved, and they’re now much further away in time and in distance.  25 seconds to run to the West Workshop, and about 35 seconds (best case, not counting getting slowed by the defense) to get to the East Workshop. Then it’s another 25-30 seconds to get back up the hill to Yellow. Taking South GY doubles the amount of time to bring demolishers into play.

The demolishers on the beach become effectively unreachable when South GY is taken. It’s now nearly two minutes to get one of them back to Yellow, which at the later stages of the battleground is an eternity. Taking South GY effectively halves the number of demolishers you can use.

It’s really hard to get people to not take an undefended flag. They see a flag, they cap it, normally this is laudable behavior. It’s hard to get people to see that it’s actually changing the resurrection vectors away from the demolishers and why it’s better to leave it alone.

But it is. Leave South GY alone.

The only time taking South Graveyard conveys an advantage to the offense is when all walls are down, including the final one to the Titan Relic. Only at this point in the battle do the demolishers become less important than people reinforcements. At this point you want all hands on deck up at the courtyard, and having the South GY is now advantageous.

But the scenario of breaking down the wall yet not taking it is pretty rare.

Leave South GY alone on offense.

OFF-CENTER SOUTH GRAVEYARD

The other curious thing about South GY is that it’s off-center. The flag has a central location, but the actual rez point is on the west side, closer to Purple than Red. This location has tactical ramifications for both sides.

In general, weak-side attacks from the East (Blue/Red Gates) will fare a little bit better than those from the West, all other things being equal. The demolishers have a clear path to the gate, their escorts can establish a buffer around them in the middle, and defensive casualties will be sent a little ways away from the action.

Strong side attacks from the West (Green/Purple) have to go through the spawn point, which can sometimes lead to rez waves appearing right on top of them:

In this example, if the Horde can get their demolishers past the South GY, Alliance casualties will get sent behind them, making it a little easier to get by. But the Alliance defense will be stronger on the West side because of the graveyard proximity and resurrection vectors.

(Don’t use this as an excuse to cap South GY. Just don’t.)

This off-center location can be used to the offense’s advantage, especially later on when Red and Purple are both down. By concentrating attacks on the strong side, the Horde can draw Alliance attention and focus to the demos on the West, while sneaking demos in from the East.

Good defenders will be aware of this trick, call out incs, and not get pulled too far down towards Purple. They’ll also hold back forces, choosing to concentrate near the front of Yellow instead of down past the trees and ridges. A spread defense is preferred to a concentrated defense here – stacking your whole team on either side is rarely a wise choice on defense.

(Letting the offense take South GY uncontested, however, is almost always a wise defensive strategy.)

Good luck!

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Resurrection Vectors in Arathi Basin

Arathi Basin provides a dynamic set of resurrection vectors. Bases can and will change hands throughout the fight, causing troops to scatter across the map in ways you’ll just have to adapt to. Unlike Warsong Gulch, it’s practically impossible to base an Arathi Basin strategy around Rez vectors. They are something to consider, to be sure, but are nowhere near as strategically important as in some other battlegrounds. You are better served by having a solid team which can take a flag quickly than try to engage in a protracted battle to force a rez vector.

That said, there’s one tactic which takes advantage of rez vectors in Arathi Basin – disrupting the initial flow of the battle and sending the opponent back to their spawn point. The spawn points (Trollbane Hall, Defiler’s Den) are substantially inferior graveyards in AB for two reasons:

  1. There’s only one exit, not two, making it easier to farm.
  2. They’re away from a node, so rez waves are not contributing to any flag’s defense.

The spawn points are bad places to be, so forcing your opponents there is good. If you can divide the other team so that some of them are resurrecting at the spawn point, while others are on the field of battle, you weaken them considerably. Whoever gets sent to the spawn point is effectively removed from the field of play for a minute or so, and their ability to influence events is curtailed dramatically.

Arathi Basin can be somewhat complicated to map out, so I’m going to use a sequence of topological maps to outline how this happens. The arrows do not represent movement, they represent resurrection vectors – where players should go if they happen to die.

In this scenario, the Alliance begins by sending 1 to ST, 7 to LM, 5 to BS, and 2 to Farm. The Horde sends 8 to BS, 3 to LM, 3 to GM, and 1 to FM.

The very first phase shows the Stables and Farm under assault but not yet captured. All resurrection vectors are pointing back to the spawn points; no matter how far away people are when they die, they will go back to their side of the map.

The skirmishes shape up to be:

  • ST, FM, GM, uncontested. Farm has 2 incoming.
  • BS: 8 Horde, 5 Alliance.
  • LM: 7 Alliance, 3 Horde.

We will assume, for the moment, that numbers prevail. This is not always a safe assumption, but this is Xs and Os.

This early stage is always so interesting to me because everything happens so fast as flags are assaulted. There will be casualties, but how many and from where is always totally up in the air. Stables and Farm are ticking but haven’t flipped as LM, GM and BS get assaulted, so all casualties go back to the spawn points.

The key to watch is Farm in this example. If the Alliance outriders can take it from the defender, they disrupt the graveyard flow of the Horde. It’s actually really important to hold ST and FM long enough to provide your team with a decent graveyard!

Let’s assume they succeed – no small assumption, I know – and see what happens.

Let’s assume total casualty rates at each base for the losing side, and some losses for the victorious side. The Horde at LM, FM and Alliance at BS are sent back to the spawn points. This is numerically worse for the Alliance (they lost more at BS) but they hold the strategic advantage at the Farm.

All rez vectors are still plausibly pointing back to the spawn points, but ST is about to flip.

Horde sends 2 from BS to ST. Alliance sends 3 from LM to reinforce FM.

Here’s where it starts getting interesting. I’m going to focus just on a few of the Horde rez vectors here, because once ST flips the blue team will all go there.

The Horde attacking ST are going to be in trouble. They are going to meet the rez wave coming out of Trollbane Hall and get steamrolled – but because there are no red graveyards yet, they’ll go all the way back across the map.

The Iron Triangle junction between LM, BS and FM is another place to watch. Farm will be under attack, there will be a lot of attention on it from the Horde. BS will split its defense, sending 2. The rez wave will come at it from the other side.

If the Alliance is smart or bloodthirsty, LM will send most of its troops to Farm to counter the BS reinforcements.

The key to notice is that the Horde is still sending all casualties away from a defensible node in this scenario.

Here’s the map about 30 seconds later, or around 1:45-2:00 into the battle. The second tier of nodes convert and the Horde finally gets some graveyards on the map.

The problem is now that they’re split across the map at the Farm. Almost half of their team has rez vectors pointing to the Defiler’s Den, while the rest are pointing to BS or GM. If the Alliance meets the rez wave on the GY side of Farm, they’ll keep sending the Horde back to the spawn point. The BS flag is pretty far away from the Farm, so the Horde really need to be near the Iron Triangle junction to be sent back to BS.

And if they do that, chances are pretty high that they’re not fighting at the flag, they’re fighting in the road.

This is a bad situation. If you are attacking from BS and get too close to the flag (like you should) but fail, you’ll get sent to the corner of the map to the spawn point. In that case more of your team will be moving out of the effective field of play to the edges, weakening BS further and further.

I see this split a lot. A fast counterassault on the Stables or Farm can really throw off a team’s rhythm and they won’t even know why – they just know that people aren’t getting the job done, that Farm/Stables is a problem point, can’t someone please take a base?

The split can be overcome, but it’s not easy. The people who got sent to the spawn points might have died because of overwhelming numbers, but they might also have died from getting outmatched. The attack vector out of the gate is somewhat weak (no cover, highly visible approach, easy for defenders to engage away from the flag.)  There are times that being in the spawn point can work in your favor – if you have 3 people repeatedly rezzing there, and 5-8 opponents holding the node, those 3 players are creating a statistical imbalance elsewhere on the map by getting farmed.

This goes back to one of the important points about Arathi Basin – you have to win the individual matchups. AB rewards pure PvP play all over the map. If your team can’t take a base with a 1:1 matchup, then they’re going to lose no matter what kind of strategy you have.

FIGHTING IN THE ROAD

It happens to all of us. Sometimes you get jumped, sometimes you are trying to defend something, sometimes you just see red and stop thinking, and then … you’re fighting in the road.

Away from a base, away from a flag.

Keep in mind that fighting in the road can be a viable defensive strategy under the right conditions. If others are holding the base and staying at the flag, then killing the enemy out in the road doesn’t pose much risk, and your own death should put you back at the base in a reasonable amount of time to help defend. The attackers are intercepted well away from the flag and have no opportunity to assault the base.

However, for attackers it’s a pretty bad idea. You’ll get sent back to a base you control, you’re nowhere near the flag, and even if you defeat this defender, they’re going to show back up in 30 seconds at the base you’re assaulting.

Avoid it if you can on offense; the rez vectors don’t favor you.

Fight at the flag, instead.

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Tactical Graveyard Control at Arathi Basin Nodes

This is the second post in my series on resurrection vectors and graveyard controls in Warcraft’s battlegrounds. I should just go ahead and admit that this is going to be a series; it is. I don’t have a catchy name for it yet, but why wait for a title? Let’s just dive right on in and talk about Arathi Basin.

The resurrection vectors of Arathi Basin are to the nearest controlled graveyard, including the original spawn point. These vectors have tactical implications for skirmishes at individual nodes and strategic importance when dealing with troop movement. In this post I’ll focus on the tactics at each node; we’ll talk about the Iron Triangle in the next one.

Control of the node’s flag gives your team control of the node’s graveyard. Each node starts off uncontrolled, but clicking on the flag assaults the base, turning the flag grey. The graveyards come into play one minute after the initial assault, when the node is captured and the flag turns blue or red. From this point on, they work like a standard graveyard with rez waves at the spirit healer.

Each node’s flags are on the other side of some object or building preventing the resurrection wave from knowing exactly what is happening at the flag while dead, and requiring them to run around the obstacle to get to the flag. There are thus two components to the local rez vector that have to be considered:

  • Casualties/reinforcements are blind to the situation at the flag; they don’t know if someone is assaulting it or not.
  • Defenders will always have at least two routes to return to the flag1. The route chosen will determine how quickly they get it back in sight, as well as which side of the offense they can attack.

Because defenders have to run a route to get back in sight of the flag, attackers have  additional time to allow attackers to assault the base. These lines of sight are important!

The above diagram is a general representation of each node. You might have to flip the orientation a bit, or change the building shape and add in chickens or undead horses or something, but it’ll suffice for a discussion on graveyard control. The routes aren’t equal length to run, but it’s more important to get to where you can disrupt the attackers than necessarily get back to the flag.

From a tactical standpoint, the ideal placement for defense is near the flag to prevent capture, no matter where the attack comes from. Fight at the flag! is the rallying cry of introductory battleground manuals everywhere, but the real tactic is:

  1. Establish a buffer zone between the flag and the attackers. Engage them away from the flag to deny them opportunities to assault the base.
  2. Position so rez waves reinforce the flag first.

Creating this zone of control is important and takes practice. You don’t want to stack on top of the flag, but you don’t want to be too far away from it. Teams should get used to moving forward and engaging the enemy away from the flag without getting pulled off it.2

Furthermore, the direction reinforcements come will either help or hinder your flag defense. Having rez waves passing by the flag to get back into combat is far safer than having them never see the flag.

Let’s take a look at a flag-side assault.

Attacks on the flag side of the node generally put the defenders in a good position. They are able to watch the flag and have a few people cluster near it while sending DPS off to meet the assault at a moderate distance. Lines of sight are usually pretty clear on both sides, and rez waves know which direction they need to be heading to get to either the flag or to battle quickly.

Flag-side assaults are often slugfests and death matches.

A more interesting tactic is to assault the graveyard side directly, with the intent to both pull defenders away from the flag and neutralize rez waves quickly.

Attackers can (and should) use the resurrection vector at the node to their advantage by drawing defenders into this kind of fight. Pushing towards the graveyard:

  • Blocks line of sight to the flag for many defenders
  • Focuses attention away from the flag
  • Allows attacks on newly-resurrected characters, when they are unbuffed and unprepared

Establishing this kind of control allows attackers to really use the rez vector of the node against the defense. Remember, the whole point of using rez vectors is to send your opponents where they don’t want to be, where they will be ineffective. Hitting the GY side allows you do shift all defenders away from the flag.

Shifting defenders away from the flag means you’ve opened up the Ninja Zone. The reason that people like me yell FIGHT AT THE FLAG! so much is because if you’re not near the flag, not looking at the flag, not remembering that the flag is the really really most super important part of the entire node, then it’s open for the enemy to take. Ninja: doesn’t need to be a rogue! 

One thing I like about Arathi Basin is how the resurrection vectors don’t dictate the entire battleground’s strategy. There are a lot of different ways to take a base. There are a lot of responses to which route you should take in which situation, depending on your class, role, and the position of your opponents. It’s not wrong to assault flag-side! There are plenty of ways that it can work – one of my favorite strategies is “ride in and kill everyone in sight, take the node before they rez.” Another one is “hit defenders with CC chains while standing/healing at the flag, click it often, steal the node while the defenders are still alive.”

But I also like that I have to ask questions like: where are the reinforcements going to come from? How long do I have before the next rez wave arrives? Am I getting pulled off the flag? Is it worth it to get pulled off a little bit?

I think it’s interesting how the answers change from battle to battle, from skirmish to skirmish.

Next time, I’ll zoom out a bit and look at the strategic uses of rez vectors and graveyard control in Arathi Basin.

—-

(1) Even the Gold Mine allows two ways to return to combat – the path down the mine, and the path to the mine roof. GM suffers a bit in that the second route doesn’t put you on a radically different attack vector; ideally, you could turn right after leaving the graveyard and approach the flag from the Stables side.    

(2) In an earlier post, PvP Playbook: Pulling Defenders Off Flags, I talked about how you can pull defenders off a flag just by letting them engage you at maximum distance – basically goading defenders to fight in the road. Don’t be that defender.

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