The Mists talent trees have been up for a little while now, and we've all had a chance to look through them for our specific classes. I can tell you right now, I'm excited. Gone are the days of the boring talent -- you know, the one like Bane that shortens the cast time of a spell by 0.5 seconds. To my mind, the majority of these talents are like the special, gold-bordered one that you get excited about working toward as you level.
Now, a caveat, as we must have said a hundred times here at WoW Insider over the past few weeks that these are in their early stages and definitely not set in stone. I mean, heck, some of them aren't even finished yet! But the ones that are there are pretty exciting from a PvP perspective.
In order to avoid boring you with a huge, long list laying out each talent and discussing its potential PvP implications, I'm going to bundle them into a few categories. Trust me, I've done that discussion in my head, and it wasn't pretty. But first, let's consider these in a more overarching way. Right now, if you're facing, for example, a restoration shaman in Arena, you're likely going to have a pretty good idea of their abilities. They cast shields -- one that generates health when you hit it, and one that generates mana. They have a totem that avoids fear effects, one that grounds spells, one that increases spirit, and one that shares out the health of everyone in the swirly disco.
A really key part of success in PvP is knowing your enemy. People who know that restoration shaman are likely to start with a grounding totem up if they don't know what's facing them will fire a spell at that shaman to destroy the grounding totem before they use the key ability they wanted to fire off. A mage will Ice Lance before they Deep Freeze.
But come Mists, that required knowledge just stepped up a rank. A shaman could feasibly pick between three talents for each tier, not being bound by spec as they currently are. So what the dedicated PvPer will have to do is think, "OK, this shaman has Earthgrab Totem, which means they don't have Frozen Power or Windwalk Totem." That's not to say that for certain tiers of talents, there aren't more obvious choices for PvP; in some cases, hybrid classes have fewer PvP options, since arguably one option could be considered to cater for each spec.
I do think that builds will emerge for PvP, starting from the beta. It's hard to tell from the talent calculator what will be really strong, and I'm not sure to what extent Blizzard will try to balance things out to maintain its ideal of genuine choice, but it'll be interesting to see.
What's fantastic about these new trees is that, with a few exceptions, all the talents seem viable options for PvP in this early stage. Indeed, people have complained that the talents are too PvP-oriented. No such thing in my book! They seem to be split into functions, and while my word limit doesn't allow me to run through everything that's available, I'm going to set out what I think are some of the key PvP-related choices Blizzard is giving us and consider them.
Stuns, slows, screams and snares
This is an area where Blizzard is asking players to make some really interesting choices. The warlock tree has a fine example of this. In the level 30 tier, the warlock chooses between Howl of Terror, Mortal Coil and Shadowfury. So, you either have a 5-person fear breakable by damage with a reduced cooldown chance, a single-target horror effect with a 25% heal, or a stun for all enemies in range. Blizzard is asking 'locks to weigh up the pros and cons of each talent, and there's not a clear and obvious choice.
So how would you make that decision? In Arena, you'd no doubt love to make it once you knew what comp you were facing, but I have a sneaking suspicion that won't be allowed. In Battlegrounds, the two options that affect more than one target are most likely better, and indeed in Arenas with larger comps. In 2v2, I'd probably lean toward the single-target horror with the 25% self-heal over Howl of Terror, but since the tooltip doesn't indicate a minimum cooldown, maybe Howl of Terror is superior! Stunning enemies in place with Shadowfury doesn't create distance between attacker and target like a fear or horror effect, but it has a shorter cooldown than the other two effects if the warlock isn't taking damage. And if your team can create that distance themselves, maybe it's the better option. This tier of talents, to me, is pure genius!
Other classes' trees have slightly less exciting choices to be made. For example, priests at level 15 get to pick between Void Tendrils (an AoE root with 8-yard range), Psyfiend (a repeatedly Psychic Scream-ing stationary fiend with a 1.5-minute cooldown) and Psychic Scream. To me at least, given the choice between a root effect and a fear effect, I'd take the fear effect every time. Rooting a caster is far less effective than fearing them, as they can still cast and dispel while rooted, and the cooldown is the same. And since priests don't have a Blink equivalent, getting melee players away from you with a fear is far better than rooting them within melee range of you. The psyfiend could be a fantastic personal cooldown for Battlegrounds, helping to prevent enemies getting too near to you and others in range for an unspecified length of time, but I think I'd take the other options over it in Arena.
No doubt players are already looking at these options for their class and weighing up the best choice for themselves, their comps and their style of play. I'd love to hear what you're thinking!
Survival, shields and speed
As I've said before, survival is key in PvP. Any spell that absorbs or prevents damage is a survival spell. Any spell that creates space between you and your attacker can be a survival spell. Any heal is a survival spell. CC can be a survival spell. Arguably, anything that allows you to use abilities faster is a survival spell, especially if you're a healer. You can't always rely on your healer to keep you alive.
In the hunter tree at level 45, one option allows you and your pet to regenerate health via Spirit Bond, an improved version of the current talent. Another, Aspect of the Iron Hawk, reduces all damage taken by 15% when you're using Aspect of the Hawk. The third, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chimera, reduces the cooldown on Disengage upon receiving melee damage and Deterrence on receiving ranged damage. Quite apart from having the best name, the third option is pretty cool. It tailors itself to the nature of the damage you're receiving and responds accordingly. I can't help thinking that the cooldown reduction will stop at some point, though, and 8 seconds off a 110-second (glyphed) cooldown isn't going to be a huge impact, but 4 seconds off a 20-second (glyphed) one is! This, of course, relies on the hunter's being under attack -- but if you're not under attack, then you're less in need of survival cooldowns.
The aspect-switching of the Iron Hawk talent is an interesting idea, sacrificing mobility from Aspect of the Fox but gaining attack power and damage mitigaton from Aspect of the Hawk. This is strong in a different way. By switching aspect, you're getting constant, reliable, yet less powerful damage mitigation, rather than a reduced cooldown on an ability you might not get to use a second time. The upgraded Spirit Bond is even more constant and reliable, working in all aspects but providing less of a buff. So these talents are a gamble -- do you take the one that provides awesome buffs but with less of a chance of getting used, the one that provides a decidedly mediocre buff but is active 24/7, or the one in between?
Mages get interesting options too at level 30 with Temporal Shield, Blazing Speed and Ice Barrier. Temporal shield absorbs damage and undoes damage taken over 6 seconds. (I assume that means it heals you!) Blazing speed allows you to escape slows and move at +150% speed for 1.5 seconds. Temporal Shield seems like a good choice, but Ice Barrier lasts longer and prevents knockback -- but it may absorb less damage. Blazing speed has no damage absorption at all but will likely enable you to get out of harm's way and (it seems) if you're using something that can be cast while moving, it won't prevent you casting. Again, Ice Barrier is the safer option; you have a whole minute to use its damage absorb, and it can be kept up if unused. Temporal shield is far shorter but could absorb and undo far more damage. Blazing Speed could be very powerful against certain classes but is extremely situational and therefore far more of a risky option.
What I love about these talents is that they ask us to question our PvP playstyle. Are we the risk-taking, offensive, all-or-nothing types, or the level-headed, measured types? What are the best talents for our comp? Are we suffering more against certain types of teams? Are we facing more melee or more casters? Are we even reading the tooltips correctly?!
I can't wait for the beta.
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