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Blood Sport: 2.4, Arena patch

V'Ming - who thinks that gnome warlocks are travesties of nature and need to be KOSed - shares thoughts and ideas on becoming deadlier at the Arenas. He also dabbles in the dark arts in Blood Pact.

This progressive patch is turning out to be quite an event in itself. We are seeing some pretty important changes in every PTR build and the community is watching every change with bated breath. One thing's for certain though: many of the changes are Arena-driven, as Blizzard tries to get the PvP aspect of the game in gear for the 3v3 tournament.

Let's look at the numbers from last week's games first:



And the most popular comps for high-ranking US teams:

5v5
Warrior-Paladin-Priest-Shaman-Mage 10.7% (+1.9% from my last sampling)
Warrior-Paladin-Priest-Shaman-Warlock 9.1% (-3.4%)
Rogue-Priest-Druid-Mage-Warlock 5.9% (not in top three last sampling)

3v3
Rogue-Priest-Mage 11.9% (-1.5%)
Warrior-Druid-Rogue 11.4% (+2.5%)
Warrior-Druid-Warlock 5% (-1.1%)

The Rogue-Priest-Mage team still sits as the most popular comp in this bracket, but the Warrior-Druid-Rogue is nipping at its heels. This bracket will certainly be important to watch as we approach the tournament.

2v2
Warrior-Druid 23.5% (+2.4%)
Warlock-Druid 12.1% (-1.9%)
Rogue-Priest 11.1% (-4.9%)

With the patch still very much in flux, I will take stock of some of the most important changes so far and try to figure out what they mean for the average Arena gladiator. Note that some of these changes could very well not be included, or be modified from their current form, in the final build.

Shaman

It looks like Blizzard is finally delivering on its promise to buff shamans - enhancement shamans specifically in this case. In a nutshell, shamans are potentially getting:
Shamans have traditionally suffered from lack of mobility and CC abilities, so it's no surprise that the melee-based enhancement shaman is a rare breed in all Arena brackets. Only 3.8% of shamans in Arenas are enhancement. The new Tremor Totem and Toughness talent both address this mobility issue. An instant-cast ghost wolf form (with talent), while not removing snare and polymorph effects like the Druid's shapeshifting, helps with zipping around Arena maps. Will enhancement shamans be less-kitable with these new tricks?

A key strength of the Shaman class is the "multiplier" effect of their totems. These temporary buffs scale dramatically with the number of toons teamed with the Shaman - explaining the stronger presence of the Shaman in 5v5s. The new flametongue totem basically gives everyone (except feral druids in animal form) in the party a healing debuff to use on opponents. Yes, even casters get the option to swing to land a 50% healing reduction on their opponents.

Just as Hunter buffs in 2.3 increased the representation of hunters somewhat in the Arenas, these changes are clearly aimed at addressing the dearth of shamans, particularly enhancement, in 3v3 Arena.

Druid

Unlike shamans, druids are well-represented in the 3v3 bracket. In fact, resto druids are considered the best healers in Arena currently. If Patch 2.4 is meant to balance the classes and their builds based on their Arena performance, we might expect to see some buffs for ferals and nerfs for resto druids:
  • Healing coefficient for Lifebloom reduced
  • Empowered Rejuvenation properly affects the final heal from Lifebloom
  • Nurturing Instinct increases healing spells by up to 50/100% of Agility, and increases healing effects by 10/20% while in Cat form
  • Lacerate deals additional damage based on attack power
While Lifebloom potentially heals less than before, it is somewhat balanced out by the Empowered Rejuvenation fix. Other changes to the Druid class seem aimed at improving the viability of Feral Druids in the Arenas, who are all but absent from all brackets.

We may consider the recent proliferation of MS effects (first Hunter, now Shaman) as an indirect nerf of Druid healing in the Arenas. Unfortunately, other less versatile healing classes are naturally hit as well. Is the MS effect Blizzard's "super-nerf" to healing in general, in an effort to tweak the balance between dps and heals? Perhaps they are trying to limit overly defensive tactics in the upcoming tournament - come on, nobody wants to watch a 10-hour match.

Mage

Mages are generally in need of more survivability in small-bracket Arenas, and this is what they are potentially getting this patch:
  • Arcane Fortitude increase armor by 100% of Intellect, instead of 50%
  • Improved Blink gives a 25% chance of avoiding attacks after blinking
  • Mana Shield absorbs more damage, depending on spell damage bonus
  • New talent Molten Shields replaces Improved Fire Ward and has the additional effect of giving Molten Armor a chance to deal reactive fire damage against ranged and spell attacks
  • Damage cap of Arcane Explosion increased by 50%
  • Blink, Slow and Spellsteal cost less mana
Blizzard is obviously addressing the lack of Arena viability of fire and arcane mages here. Unfortunately, I feel that these buffs are too minor to have any effect on Mage representation in the Arenas. Molten Shields, in its current state, is generally agreed to be underwhelming for a 17-point talent - especially one that "improves" an easily dispellable self-buff (Molten Armor).

Trainable Ice Block in patch 2.3.2 have done little to improve fire and arcane mages in the Arenas since January. In fact the buffs to Frost in that patch have further solidified the Frost Mage as the build of choice for Arenas. Let's hope that Blizzard is not done with changes for the Mage class here; as it stands, frost is still king, with various synergistic immobilizing effects.

Warlock

Ah, the class that everybody loves to hate. Soul Link warlocks who stack tons of Stamina have always been almost inordinately durable in the Arenas, compared to other cloth classes. Coupled with an efficient Life Tap, they can last indefinitely through a match, doing nasty Warlock stuff.

Blizzard definitely doesn't want SL locks to ruin the party and has made Life Tap take a percentage of health instead of an absolute amount. As it stands:
  • Life Tap now has three ranks. Each now costs a fixed percentage of maximum health to cast, and grants the same fixed percentage of maximum mana: Rank 1 is 5%, Rank 2 is 12%, and Rank 3 is 20%.
Without repeating myself, this nerf basically makes life tapping in PvP a tactical decision, as it can go wrong for a high-Stamina Warlock tapping at the wrong moment. Unfortunately it also has the effect of changing how PvE warlocks play and gear. The Warlock community will definitely be watching how this change pans out.

Water

Who would think that something as innocuous as water would be nerfed? To make mana an even more precious commodity in the Arenas, the mana regen properties of water will only kick in after five seconds of drinking in the Arenas. Will this make mana draining an even more deadly strategy in the Arenas? Is this another "super-nerf" for healers?

There we have it, the most important changes so far in this progressive patch. Nothing is set in stone at this moment, and many shamans doubt that the healing debuff will stay in its current form, particularly for the Flametongue Totem. PvE warlocks are hoping for the Life Tap nerf to properly address PvP performance without changing the way they play and gear. Mages are hoping for, well, more buffs.

With the tournament tentatively scheduled for April, I can't help but feel that Blizzard is really cutting it close here - timing-wise - to be introducing some of these changes. Many of the changes are PvP-driven, with significant (negative) implications for PvE.

Is Blizzard merely tweaking the game for the tournament? Or setting the stage for Death Knights? Are these "retrofitting" changes meant to position WoW to effectively compete with the upcoming PvP-oriented Warhammer Online? Stay tuned as we bring latest news of patch 2.4 - the Arena patch.

Filed under: Druid, Mage, Shaman, Warlock, Patches, Analysis / Opinion, Classes, Blood Sport (Arena PvP), Arena

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