I have a confession to make. I love Warsong Gulch. It's my favorite Battleground. Most people I know abhor the place, but I genuinely enjoy it. The way I see it, Warsong Gulch is a map that's conducive to combat. It's small, straightforward, and fairly uncomplicated. Other Battleground maps are big enough to avoid confrontation. Alterac Valley, in particular, often turns into a race with minimal conflict -- even with the new changes. There are games in Arathi Basin or the Eye of the Storm where one is left guarding a node for the entire game and hardly see combat. On the other hand, it takes a monumental effort to avoid fighting inside Warsong Gulch.
Warsong Gulch is situated in the Southern part of Ashenvale and the Northern part of the Barrens. It represents a contested area where Grom Hellscream's Warsong Clan made incursions into Ashenvale with their logging operations, earning the ire of the tree-hugging Silvewing Sentinels. Fighting in Warsong Gulch awards Warsong Gulch Mark of Honor, which is used as currency along with Honor points for various items. Players can fight in Warsong Gulch starting at Level 10, making it the first Battleground players can enter. Warsong Gulch is the domain of the Level 19 twinks, so lower-level players wishing to get a taste of their first Battleground would have it in their best interest to be prepared to face opponents decked out in fully enchanted crafted and twink run blues. As a general rule, it would be best to be at least at the highest even-numbered level of a bracket -- 18, 28, 38, etc. -- when joining the Battleground in order to contribute more.
There is basically one objective, to capture the enemy's flag which is situated at the heart of the enemy's base, or flag room. The very concept of the Battleground, capture-the-flag, necessitates killing. If your opponent gets your flag, you need to kill the flag carrier in order to get it back. There are no nodes to tag and guard, no Generals to kill, and no resources to gain or deplete. Coincidentally, this straightforwardness or lack of a resource timer also creates Warsong Gulch's greatest flaw: it can go on forever. Because of its length and because bonus Honor is awarded only during a flag capture, Warsong Gulch gives the lowest Honor for time played ratio. Even during the Warsong Gulch Call to Arms weekend, the Honor bonus of 143 (20+41+41+41) for a win and about 82 (41+41) for a loss is very small. In that regard, it's the worst Battlegrounds to farm Honor from. Reputation for Warsong Gulch is also no longer necessary to obtain PvP items and because reputation gained from each game is extremely low (35 reputation for each flag capture; +20 during the weekend), there are no compelling reasons to play Warsong Gulch. In its current form Warsong Gulch is pretty much broken. This begs the question: why enter Warsong Gulch?
Personally, I do it for fun. And probably because I'm a little insane. A PUG Warsong Gulch is without a doubt the most time-inefficient means of farming Honor (premade WSG teams can farm games in under 10 minutes). Bonus Honor is only awarded during a flag capture, making each game a gamble. It's possible to go for long games only to end up losing 0-3, whereby the only Honor gained from a game outside of the Call to Arms weekend comes from Honorable Kills, which is subject to diminishing returns. In about half an hour in WSG, you will have likely reaped enough Honor from your opponents to make any kills thereafter purely for sport. What I probably like best about the Battleground, however, is that it is arguably the ideal training ground for combat.
Silverwing Hold and Warsong Lumber Mill are architectural mirror images of one another, offering interesting combat opportunities. The map has several geographical features that are ideal for different classes. There are indoors and outdoors, multiple levels, narrow passageways, and a wide-open midfield. The tunnel leading into each base is superior terrain for Rogues, for example; the topmost floor of each base is an excellent sniping spot for Hunters looking into the flag room; if all else fails, there's the generally wide-open midfield that just begs for skirmishes.
Many games of Warsong Gulch have degenerated into hours-long skirmishes on midfield. Although often criticized by many players, fighting midfield isn't always a bad thing. Personally, I think it's one of the more fun things about the Battleground. Done properly, fighting and controlling midfield establishes control over the map and passage to and from bases. Control of midfield makes it difficult for the opposing team's flag carrier to get across; it limits or hampers assaults on your base. Because each team has a maximum of ten players, players are less likely to encounter a full-on zerg without any assistance. It's all too common to be the sole defender of a node in Arathi Basin, for example, and be torn to pieces by an entire assaulting team. In Warsong Gulch, I find being outnumbered three-to-one to be common but fairly acceptable odds during encounters.
A little bit of class
Pure, unadulterated combat aside, there are numerous ways by which players can make the best use of their abilities in Warsong Gulch. Keeping the primary goal of capture-the-flag in mind -- and many players including myself are sometimes guilty of losing sight of that during the match -- each class has skills and talents that play very well in getting the job done.
Even though anyone can run for the flag, the game lends itself well to classes with improved mobility. Druids are the champions of WSG, being the most notorious flag carriers owing to their travel form and ability to shift out of most immobilizing effects. Their bear or dire bear forms also make them extremely resilient, which comes in handy when the enemy comes to take their flag back. Even if not Restoration-specced -- but specially if so -- a Druid's healing is very handy because their Healing-over-time spells such as Rejuvenation and the stacking Lifebloom can be cast in motion, which is often necessary when accompanying the flag carrier.
For flag retrieval, Druids have Entangling Roots and Cyclone, which are effective snares and crowd control for the enemy carrier or their escorts. In cat form, Druids have Track Humanoids, which is useful in locating the opposing flag carrier before the timer reveals their location -- a feature added to expedite games -- on the map. Names of flag carriers are now shown at the top of the screen, making it even easier to find one's target.
By the sheer nature of their name, Hunters make excellent flag retrievers. They have numerous abilities that slow down or otherwise immobilize opponents. Concussive Shot, as well as the Marksmanship talent Scatter Shot, are PvP staples often used to slow the enemy flag carrier or split them from their escorts. The improved Survival talent Wyvern Sting can keep a carrier's healer out of play for a good length of time. A well-placed Frost Trap at the entrance (or exit, as the case may be) to the tunnel is a common strategy for slowing enemies. With the advent of The Burning Crusade, Hunters have become very fond of using Snake Trap in PvP. When chasing down the enemy flag carrier, Hunters should resist the urge. Although crippling poison is one of the possible effects, the results are too random to predict. Frost Trap is more reliable and is even more effective with the Survival talent Entrapment. Just like Druids, Hunters have Humanoid Tracking to help locate the flag. With a simple Attack command, pets can intelligently show the path to a target for those times when a player is able to target their opponent but can't seem to find him. On the fun side, the ability Eagle Eye can be chain cast from an outdoor location within one's base (the ramp leading to the third floor, for example) all the way into the opponents' base for distance reconnaissance.
On the flip side, Hunters often don't make good flag carriers because their only speed boost, Aspect of the Cheetah or Pack, causes them to be dazed when struck. The class also doesn't have enough natural damage mitigation to absorb focus fire. If found carrying the flag, though, make sure to turn on Aspect of the Beast to help travel undetected. Hunters can also control midfield excellently, because good positioning allows them to snipe opponents unmolested over the clear terrain.
Mages provide excellent utility in Warsong Gulch from crowd control -- sheeping the healer, for example -- to slowing down entire teams. A well-timed Frost Nova can split a flag carrier from their escorts or conversely halt a team of chasers in their tracks. Fire Mages use Dragon's Breath to great effect, just as Arcane Mages use Slow on the right targets. Polymorph works well to separate healers from their carrier, just as Counterspell can foil a crucial heal. More than anything, however, Mages make among the best flag retrievers simply because of the raw damage they deal. I once had the unpleasant task of guarding a 14k health druid only to see his health go down from full to a sliver in an instant to a pair of crits from two POM-Pyroblast Mages.
Even though Mages can Blink while carrying the flag, a Mage flag carrier is a temporary arrangement at best. Key survival spells such as Ice Block and Invisibility will cause the flag to drop, which makes squishy Mages less than ideal flag carriers. Mages are built to destroy things and contribute to their team best when they do exactly that.
Most Paladins perform best in Warsong Gulch as support for the flag carrier. Blessing of Freedom is an invaluable spell when cast at the right time, allowing the carrier to cross the field with relative ease. Some Paladins will cast BoF on the carrier too early, allowing it to be Purged, Dispelled, or Spellstolen, leaving the carrier vulnerable while the BoF ability cools down. Blessing of Freedom should only be cast when slowing or immobilizing effects are already on the flag carrier, thereby removing what is often multiple debuffs. Paladins healing a carrier should always be in front of their target -- mount up, use Crusader Aura, and ride ahead of your flag carrier -- because Paladin heals must be cast standing still. The carrier should always be in motion, so a Paladin healing behind their carrier too often loses their target to range. Never cast Blessing of Protection on the flag carrier as this will cause the flag to drop.
Paladins also have an excellent utility spell, Seal of Justice, which, when Judged on an opponent, limits their speed to 100%. Just as BoF is a key spell when escorting the carrier, Paladins should make a habit of judging Seal of Justice on the enemy's flag carrier. This is the best counter to fast-moving Druids in Travel Form or Shamans in Ghost Wolf form. Protection Paladins make hardy flag carriers while Retribution-specced Paladins can give good chase with Pursuit of Justice, as well as slow opponents down with a complement of their baseline stun Hammer of Justice and the 31-point talent Repentance.
Healing is key to the survival of a team's flag carrier and very few classes can match the versatility of a Priest's healing and support. A Priest's Renew, Prayer of Mending, and Power Word: Shield can all be cast in motion, making it easier to heal the constantly-moving flag carrier. A Priest should also always judiciously cast Dispel Magic on the flag carrier to remove any harmful or slowing debuffs -- and conversely use it on the enemy flag carrier to remove buffs such as Blessing of Freedom or Healing-over-time spells. Discipline Priests can use the new and improved Pain Suppression to extend the flag carriers longevity.
Shadow Priests have the invaluable Mind Flay to slow down enemy carriers and simply deal a face-melting amount of damage. It is also a good strategy to ride into the middle of the enemy contingent and belt out a Psychic Scream to start things off. This usually helps split the enemy flag carrier from his team. Chasers can also use Mind Vision to locate flag carriers who try to hide.
With Sprint and Improved Sprint, Rogues can make great flag carriers across the field, albeit only for short periods. Abilities such as Evasion, Cloak of Shadows, and the Subtlety talent Cheat Death make Rogues somewhat more resilient than some classes as flag carriers. An old trick that Rogues used to pull off was Vanishing with the flag, thereby dropping it and dropping out of target, then picking it up again. This is no longer advisable because dropping the flag applies a debuff that prevents picking up the flag again for 3 seconds.
Just like mages, Rogues contribute the most when they do what they do best: kill things. Crippling Poison is a PvP no-brainer and helps slow down chasers and carriers alike. Rogues can also stun, disorient and incapacitate opponents to break an escort flow. Deadly Throw is a very useful ability when used against enemy carriers. Just like a Warrior's Hamstring or a Hunter's Wing Clip, it is a Physical debuff that cannot be dispelled easily.
Ghost Wolf allows Shamans to be very good flag carriers, specially with the Improved Ghost Wolf ability and Blood Guard's Mail Greaves for the level 51-60 bracket. Ghost Wolf also prevents being tracked as a humanoid. Shamans also have several utility spells to aid in either escorting or flag retrieval such as Frost Shock and Earthbind Totem. Very few Shamans take -- and for good reason -- the Elemental talent Earth's Grasp, but for those who do, congratulations. This is where that talent can be put to good use. The shameless use of Purge is a PvP habit that's good to pick up and works very well on the enemy flag carrier. Blessing of Freedom? Purge. Earth Shield? Purge. Power Word: Shield? Purge. Spam Purge generously.
Poison Cleansing Totem is the most important water totem for PvP. Drop it constantly while moving across the field if there are Rogues or Hunters on the opposing team. Grounding Totem is the best air totem to use and should be cast every time its cooldown is up. Although it won't last long because of the number of harmful spells flying around, with a little luck Grounding Totem will absorb crowd control spells aimed at your carrier or healers like Polymorph and Cyclone. Far Sight, like Eagle Eye, can be chain cast to spy on any area in the Battleground.
Unlike other classes that have specific utility spells that aid in slowing down teams, Warlocks only have the Affliction talent Curse of Exhaustion and the 2-second mass stun of the Destruction talent Shadowfury. What Warlocks have in abundance, however, is a plethora of fears that can break the flow of an escort run. A Succubus works well to keep healers in check, but so does a Felhunter's Spell Lock. Soul Link Warlocks make resilient flag carriers because of their high HP and mitigation, but are still less than ideal.
Generally, a Warlock's role in Warsong Gulch is to sow chaos and wreak havoc, two things they do extremely well. It is difficult to execute a cohesive escort run when half of your team is running around horrified. More than Rogues and Mages, a Warlock's ability to kill things -- particularly the method by which they do it -- are key to flag retrieval. Stacks of damage-over-time spells can, and often will, finish off a flag carrier even if he has eluded your entire team across the field. Fear everyone and DoT everything is a good motto.
Because of their high HP and armor, Warriors make the best flag carriers if properly supported. Despite not having improved mobility, a well-geared Warrior with a few healers can steamroll through the opposition while carrying the flag, sometimes using Charge or Intercept as an expedient means to cross the field quickly. Warriors attempting to retrieve the flag can spam Hamstring on the flag carrier and Arms Warriors' Mortal Strike often ruins healers' attempts to keep their runner up. The Fury talent Piercing Howl is useful in slowing down the opposing team's entourage, and Intimidating Shout can break their formation apart similar to a Priest's Psychic Scream or a Warlock's Howl of Terror.
There are also quite a few items that help make Warsong Gulch a fun experience. When I know I will be traveling to Warsong Gulch -- I think of it as a vacation -- I often pack several stacks of Free Action Potion and Swiftness Potion. Both are low-level Alchemy recipes and are fairly cheap to make. Engineers can use Gnomish Net-o-Matic Projectors and tailors Heavy Netherweave Nets to immobilize the carrier. Because the Battleground is all about transporting the flag, all items that can be used to snare or prevent snares are contributive.
As fun as I think it is, if there's any Battleground that's due for a review, it's Warsong Gulch. Although not a foolproof solution, Blizzard did good with Patch 2.3's changes to Alterac Valley, bringing the focus more to PvP. Warsong Gulch needs a revamp that will prevent it from being a Battleground played only out of necessity and ignorance -- many players wrongly think that playing Warsong Gulch during the Call to Arms weekend yield good Honor. It doesn't. Honor gain from Warsong Gulch is pitiful, even with the bonus added in Patch 2.3.
A few quick fixes I would like to see would be a significant increase in reputation gain, if only to make the grind towards a Justicar or Conqueror title more bearable. Blizzard made dramatic changes to some rep grinds, so increasing Warsong Gulch reputations should be an easy thing to do. Each flag capture should also be worth more Honor, perhaps equivalent to an Alterac Valley bunker or Captain at 62 Honor rather than the current 41. As it stands now, losing in a short game of AV can yield more Honor than winning in a long game of WSG.
A more extensive fix is needed, however, to prevent games from extending into mind-numbing hours. The Battleground was designed to be short and sweet but has turned out to be quite the opposite. The timer that reveals the flag's location to the opposing team was a step in the right direction but it isn't enough. New game mechanics have to be implemented to make it worth everyone's time. With the changes to Alterac Valley, Blizzard has shown an awareness of problems with the Battlegrounds and an intent to fix it. I'm fairly confident that they'll soon come up with novel solutions that will make Warsong Gulch fun again. For everyone else, anyway. I always have the time of my life.
Next week: Arathi Basin
Zach Yonzon writes The Art of War(craft) while brewing Major Combat Mana Potions -- which tastes like lambanog -- with Krukk and the boys from the Warsong Clan.