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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.)