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Filed under: The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): Must-have PvP talents for death knights in 4.0.1

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Art of War(craft), covering battlegrounds and world PvP, and Blood Sport for arena enthusiasts. Want to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women? Battlemaster Zach Yonzon, old-world PvP grinder and casual battleground habitué, rambles on about anything and everything PvP.

So the bomb finally dropped. As expected, Patch 4.0.1 finally made it to live realms and players are scrambling to get used to everything new. For most players, that first free respec is used for PvE to enable them to join the latest PUG looking to down the week's raid boss. This is when reality bites -- that spec you've been fiddling around with over at Wowhead or isn't delivering the way you thought it would. That's OK. If you're doing some PvP, understand that there are a number of bugs out there, so things aren't behaving exactly as they should. Add to that the fact that the game is balanced around being level 85, that stamina is low, and resilience has taken a hit ... things are going to be somewhat wonky. So don't write off that spec you've theorycrafting on for weeks just yet.

Since specs are pretty complex and fluid at this point, we'll take a look at vital PvP talents instead. The fun thing is that at this point in the game, all specs are good to go for PvP -- although your mileage may vary. There isn't much room for variation, unlike before, when players could reach deep into two trees, especially for PvP. But inevitably, there are talents that are extremely useful in a PvP environment. Today we'll take a look at core PvP talents for each spec for death knights, just in case you were wondering what to do with those last few talent points. For this exercise, we won't bother discussing any 31-point talents because, well, you're supposed to pick those up, anyway.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, Death Knight, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): Your Cataclysm launch day PvP countdown

Every Thursday, Zach brings you the battlegrounds PvP column The Art of War(craft), while C. Christian Moore covers all aspects of arena play at Blood Sport every Tuesday.

So it's official. All those clues and rumors pointing to a Dec. 7 launch date turned out to have more than a grain of truth to them. We now have officially a little over eight weeks to go before the expansion drops on our collective heads and much, much less before Patch 4.0.1 kicks off the chain of events that breaks the game world pretty much literally. Now what? With the clock ticking to definite date, we have to plan ahead. With the revelation that arena Season 9 and rated battlegrounds begin a week after launch, that doesn't give us a whole lot of time.

So let's plan ahead. Not that most of you haven't already laid out your plans, but considering I'm a lazy player, I'm betting a whole bunch of people haven't been conscientious about their preparations for Cataclysm. Today, we'll keep it simple -- we'll run down the next few weeks with a checklist of things we should do in the days leading up to the expansion. We'll count it down from Tuesday, maintenance day, or what many players typically know as the day we get to go outside the house. Besides, Dec. 7 falls on a Tuesday, so we'll count backwards from there.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): Building your battleground kill crew

Zach of The Art of War(craft) enjoys PvP in all its forms, which includes competitive sports, martial arts and the considerably less badass and infinitely geekier miniature wargaming. Like Warmachines. Or maybe it's because he kind of just likes anything with the word '"war" tacked onto it.

Last week we took a look at the delicious possibilities that Cataclysm will bring to battlegrounds PvP. It's going to be pretty brutal out there, and you're going to need friends. While there is a whole bunch of cool stuff all over, the best thing about Cataclysm for battleground enthusiasts will be the rated battlegrounds. Unfortunately, one of the things this will contribute to is the decline of solo play. In order to get the most out of your battleground experience, you'll need to be part of a group so that you'll reap the benefits of rated matches.

The new Vicious Gladiator gear for arena Season 9 (or rated battlegrounds Season 1) is listed on MMO-Champion, and I'm sure avid battlers are drooling in anticipation of how these sets look. Then again, it could just be me. At any rate, there's a whole load of gear waiting to be claimed through honor and conquest! Most importantly, one thing that separates itemization this upcoming PvP season -- and this is a game-changer -- is the availability of personal-ratings-free weapons and armor through the new system. That marks the first time that max-level PvP weapons will become obtainable by players of all skill levels and the first time that top-tier PvP armor will only have a cosmetic distinction separating them from their ratings-free counterparts. You read that right: PvP gear with ratings requirements will have the exact same stats as PvP gear with no ratings requirements.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): The shape of Cataclysm battlegrounds PvP

Zach loves all things PvP, which is why Fight Quest is the only thing he watches on television. Well, that and Glee, which contains absolutely no PvP whatsoever. Except maybe if you consider Rachel Berry and newcomer Sunshine Corazon's rivalry some form of The Art of WarCraft. I mean, it could be.

I was supposed to go into detail with keybindings using an addon this week, but we'll put that on hold for now. We can always revisit keybindings another time, but so much has happened on the beta that it would just be wrong not to take a look at what's going on. By now, many of the abilities are pretty set, and with a rumored November release on the horizon -- an idea that's got some meat behind it now that the background downloader is working on a hefty 4 GB worth of 4.0.1 goodness -- it looks like what we see is what we'll get. The numbers will probably be tweaked up or down on some spells and talents, but for the most part, I think we've got a pretty solid feel for how the game will play.

The new game mechanics will take some getting used to for some classes such as warlocks, who become a cooldown class, and paladins, who now manage a secondary resource. Players have all of the pre-Cataclysm and the grind to level 85 to get a good feel for things, and that should be plenty of time. But never mind the new abilities -- those are fun, for sure -- but there's an entire support system for World of Warcraft PvP that raises the bar in a way we've never experienced. New battlegrounds, a standardized currency on par with the PvE system, guild support ... Cataclysm PvP is going to be fun as hell.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): Keybinding your way to winning form

Zach only has one key bound on his keyboard: the I WIN button. Welcome to WoW Insider's weekly PvP column, The Art of War(craft), focusing on good, old-fashioned PvP.

Last week, we discussed a few pointers on how to continue your winning ways on the battlefield. We talked about how your machine and connection will help give you a competitive edge, and we also briefly touched on how other playstyle improvements such as macros and keybindings will contribute to your game. Keybinding, quite simply, is using your keyboard keys (or mouse buttons) to activate your spells and abilities, as opposed to clicking on them with your cursor. If there is any bad habit at all that you need to break, it's clicking. It's an even graver gaming sin than keyboard turning. In fact, learning how to keybind can effectively prevent you from keyboard turning.

By default, the game has set the W, A, S, D keys as forward, turn left, backward and turn right, respectively. Keyboard turning means you use the A and D keys (or any keyboard keys set to rotate) to change direction. You can easily remedy this by unbinding the A and D keys and binding them to the strafe buttons instead. Head on to the game menu by pressing the Esc key (instead of clicking on the computer icon on your bar -- isn't that much faster?) and going to the Key Bindings section. You'll see that World of Warcraft actually allows for two different sets of keys or instructions for movement and other game commands. In most cases, you'll only really need one set.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): A handy guide to winning at everything, part 2

Zach enjoys PvP in all its forms, but the form through which he enjoys it most is the winning form.

Today we'll continue our handy guide to winning at everything. By "everything," I mean PvP encounters, and by "winning" I mean as close an approximation as you can get to not embarrassing yourself. Last week, we talked about the absolute basics of heading into battle, which starts with your machine and your internet connection. For a lot of hardcore PvP players, these are investments as much as athletes or hobbyists would invest in sports equipment like better bicycle parts or top-of-the-line running shoes. They won't make you win, but as with all tools, they'll give you the edge with all other things being even.

Sometimes, distance can be a limitation when it comes to our connection, although there are ways to compensate for that. One of these methods is SSH tunneling, which in a nutshell carries your World of Warcraft data on the express lane, while normal connections are on the freeway on which everyone else has to contend with traffic. It's like knowing the shortest route to a destination, while normal routes force you to contend with longer roads, more turns and more stoplights. The technical explanation is more complex than that, but what this basically does is lower your latency -- sometimes by as much as several hundred milliseconds, which in PvP translates to landing that killing blow before your opponent does. There are several paid services that provide tunneling, such as Gamepath or Lowerping, and I know of a lot of players outside the United States who use these services to achieve better response times in the game.

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Filed under: PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): A handy guide to winning at everything

Zach enjoys PvP in all its forms, thus celebrating when some form of PvP was introduced to the Facebook game Pirates Ahoy!

Let's continue from last week's handy guide which was titled intentionally to play on the various meanings of "good." This week, we'll go through a few pointers at how to win at everything. Or, at the very least, to put up a decent fight and not go down in a terribly embarrassing fashion. That's all one can really ask for -- that one puts up a fight. Note that in most cases, the victor won't care because a win is a win, especially in PvP. There are no moral victories in PvP, but there are educational defeats. If you're going to lose, at the very least learn from it, right?

The first rule to winning is to think you can win. If you don't give yourself a chance to win by thinking you're outmatched, then unless your opponent is a total buffoon, she's already won. Don't worry too much about class or your level differential. You must go into the battle thinking you can win or, if you're a healer, at least survive indefinitely. It doesn't matter if you can actually win or not, especially when you're clearly outmatched, such as when you're many levels below your opponent. In such cases, your opponents already expect to win, so if you surprise them with some resistance or maybe even bring them dangerously low, then you will have put some doubt into their heads. As I mentioned last week, most griefers don't actually look for a challenge. So there, the most important rule: Believe you can win.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): The handy guide to being good at PvP

Zach writes the weekly column The Art of War(craft), which focuses on good, old-fashioned PvP. He isn't really left-handed, either.

Let's take a little break from beta-related posts for a while -- Cataclysm isn't going to be out for a few months at least -- and talk about some old-fashioned PvP. Something I've been meaning to write about for a while are my personal guidelines to ganking, or more generally, world PvP. There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding world PvP, although I follow a personal code of conduct when it comes to these things. Think of it as a guide on being good -- character-wise, if not skill-wise -- or how not to be an asshat in PvP. Today, we'll go through a few simple unwritten rules or ideas and my reasoning behind them. That way, I can also say they're no longer unwritten rules.

It might seem futile to lay out some ground rules for world PvP, considering that at the heart of it, they're not really enforceable, but I'd like to think the world (of Warcraft) would be a better place if everyone followed a few simple rules of PvP engagement. It would certainly go a long way towards rectifying the image that some PvE players have about those who PvP. I mean, we're not all uncouth ruffians. At least, not all the time -- oh, who am I kidding? PvP players are bastards. But some of us, at least, are nice bastards.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): Tol Barad field report from the beta

Zach, who writes the weekly PvP column The Art of War(craft), is having the time of his life in the Cataclysm beta now that they've enabled testing of the new battlegrounds. He logs out in Tol Barad and is constantly in queue for Twin Peaks and the Battle for Gilneas. Now if only those other battlegrounds would actually open up for a game or two ...

The latest beta patch had a lot of goodies from the obvious, such as new talents, to the subtle, like changed items. The most interesting news for me, of course, was that Twin Peaks and Tol Barad are finally open for testing. I didn't have much luck getting into a Twin Peaks game even after hours of being in queue, but I did manage to get more than my fair share of Tol Barad battles. Granted, it was far from massive -- neither side barely managed more than two parties, let alone a full raid -- but it was easy enough to learn how everything works.

Today we'll dive right into Tol Barad, from the landscape to the gameplay to other random notes about the new world PvP zone. The isles of Tol Barad's actual geographical location is a bit curious at the moment. From the games panel at last year's BlizzCon, the developers showed a map where Tol Barad was in a body of water west of Khaz Modan, south of the Hillsbrad Foothills and east of Gilneas. The current Cataclysm beta map isn't the same, although there are two small islands west of Gilneas and north of Vashj'ir that could represent Tol Barad. There is currently no physical means to go to or leave Tol Barad -- players must enter by queuing for the battle and leave through other means such as a hearthstone. The zone currently does not permit flight, even between battles.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP), Cataclysm

The Art of War(craft): Random thoughts on Cataclysm PvP

Zach brings you the weekly column The Art of War(craft), in which he talks about good, old-fashioned PvP.

Changes in the beta are fast and furious. There's practically a new build every week, just about whenever the live realms go on maintenance, sometimes even sooner. While a lot of the things in the beta are subject to change, we're beginning to see some things that will probably stick. By now, big changes like the new soul shard mechanic, hunter focus and even the new paladin holy power system are probably locks to go live. For today, we'll take a look at a bunch of things all over the beta that will likely contribute to the PvP experience come Cataclysm.

Some of those other few things that will probably make it live are the worgen and goblin racials, which we can view as templates for the new batch of racial abilities. The developers mentioned that they'll be handing out new racial abilities to bring the rest of the races up to speed compared to the worgen and goblins. Some of the abilities won't have PvP applications, but other passives will contribute to some degree, such as Viciousness and Aberration for worgen. But a few active abilities jump out as exceptionally useful -- and fun -- for PvP, such as Rocket Barrage and Rocket Jump for goblins and Darkflight for worgen.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(Craft): Low level PvP in Cataclysm

Zach sees everything through the PvP perspective of The Art of War(craft), including homemade banoffee pies made by his supremely awesome and sexy baker wife. He sees the banoffee pies as opponents that need to be devoured in a methodical, strategic and soul-crushing manner. He advises everyone to look at all things (especially food) as adversaries that must be defeated and guarantees that success in life will follow. Probably.

I've said it before, but low level PvP is going to be insanely fun come Cataclysm. It will be so much fun, in fact, that it will almost be worth rolling alts for and maybe even turning off XP gains to stay in the lower brackets just a while longer. The big change is because of the bonus abilities players gain when choosing a tree to specialize in. Although every character gets one big, signature spell, they are bundled with complementary abilities or skills that define the spec.

When I first reviewed the initial talent overhaul, the developers hadn't settled on exactly what abilities to give to classes at level 10. Several builds into the beta, we have a better picture of how the various specs will look, and it's not very likely that these will change much when the game goes live, considering that each spec basically revolves around these core abilities. For the purposes of this post, we'll take a look at the first two battleground brackets -- 10-19 and 20-29 -- mostly because characters get talent points every other level now, so these two brackets should cover the first two tiers of each tree. We'll try to be general for now because everything is in such flux, so expect a few errors as abilities get moved around from one beta iteration to the next.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): World PvP in the new Azeroth

Zach sees everything through the PvP perspective of The Art of War(craft), including homemade cookies baked by his supremely awesome and sexy baker wife. He sees the brownies as opponents that need to be devoured in a methodical, strategic and soul-crushing manner. He advises everyone to look at all things (especially food) as adversaries that must be defeated and guarantees that success in life will follow. Probably.

Let's face it. Right now, if you're a regular reader of, we're in some sort of holding pattern and the biggest thing that interests us about the game is what's going on in the Cataclysm beta. It's still far too early to settle on any talent builds, but who can resist playing with those talent calculators, right? Certainly not me. The beta changes so rapidly, though, that it would be foolish to write anything without the proper caveat that the final product is likely going to be much different.

One thing that's likely to stay the same throughout beta, however, is the ravaged landscape of Azeroth. This should create some interesting possibilities for world PvP. The biggest change is that the continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms will become flyable. It will become harder and far more dangerous to level as players must now not only watch their literal backs but also look skyward for potential griefers. On PvP servers, this makes it a far more dangerous and exciting world.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

The Art of War(craft): Sub-speccing for PvP in the current Cataclysm beta

Zach sees everything through the PvP perspective of The Art of War(craft), including eating homemade brownies baked by his supremely awesome and sexy baker wife. He sees the brownies as opponents that need to be devoured in a methodical, strategic and soul-crushing manner. He advises everyone to look at all things (especially food) as adversaries that must be defeated and guarantees that success in life will follow. Probably.

A new, exciting build of the Cataclysm beta has been released, implementing the promised overhaul to the talent trees. It's still raw at this point, but we get a glimpse of the direction the developers want to take. The basic or starter abilities have been defined and although some of these may change, such as Divine Storm for retribution paladins (Ghostcrawler, lead systems designer, mentioned that it would probably go back into the talent tree), the changes feel solid and refreshing. One of the ideas the developers have is that "both the 31-point and the 10(-point) ability need to have more single-target use," which means we should get very good one-on-one abilities early on as well as at higher levels. As we mentioned, the trees are a long way off from being done, but that shouldn't stop us from taking a look at them and picturing the possibilities.

One of the cooler, less noticeable things to come out of this build are the one-liner descriptions about each of the talent specs, allowing players to quickly grasp the concept of each spec. Blizzard seems committed to keeping this model, complete with talent tree lock-outs to prevent players from straying into other trees early on. As you might have suspected, the real culprit (or at least the most notable one) behind this change is PvP:

Whenever a popular hybrid spec comes up, it's usually because of some sneaky build that is broken for PvP by snaking down to pick up key talents in two trees. It's not because the player really wants to play as say two specs -- they are just cherry picking the talents. Since those builds almost always feel broken (as in breaking the rules) we don't want to design around them.

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Filed under: PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP), Cataclysm

The Art of War(craft): What the new talent overhaul means for PvP

Zach Yonzon believes in social media and thinks that Real ID is the new battleground.

Oh man. We knew Cataclysm was going to change everything, but I don't think any of us really expected that Blizzard meant everything everything! Yesterday's bombshell of an announcement regarding the talents and masteries threw everyone for a loop. When talent trees from the alpha started appearing in Wowhead and MMO Champion, some of us wondered why most of the unexciting, passive talents were still there despite the developers' mentioning that they'd be removed in Cataclysm. Granted, the game was too early in its development to have concrete trees, but I don't think any of us thought they'd be pared down the way they would be. Let's review some of what Blizzard said.

Talent trees will have around 20 unique talents instead of today's (roughly) 30 talents, and aesthetically will look a bit more like the original World of Warcraft talent trees. The 31-point talents will generally be the same as the 51-point talents we already had planned for Cataclysm. A lot of the boring or extremely specialized talents have been removed, but we don't want to remove anything that's going to affect spell/ability rotations. We want to keep overall damage, healing, and survivability roughly the same while providing a lot of the passive bonuses for free based on your specialization choice.

While leveling, you will get 1 talent point about every 2 levels (41 points total at level 85). Our goal is to alternate between gaining a new class spell or ability and gaining a talent point with each level. As another significant change, you will not be able to put points into a different talent tree until you have dedicated 31 talent points to your primary specialization. While leveling, this will be possible at 70. Picking a talent specialization should feel important. To that end, we want to make sure new players understand the significance of reaching the bottom of their specialization tree before gaining the option of spending points in the other trees. We intend to make sure dual-specialization and re-talenting function exactly as they do today so players do not feel locked into their specialization choice.

That's a whopper. There go the passive talents we were all wondering about. Instead, talents in the talent trees will all be cool and special, making every choice meaningful. That also means having fewer points to spend. At first look, it seems like something has been taken away from our characters -- fewer talent points feels less powerful. But when you realize that each talent point actually gives you something awesome, like a new spell or a cool effect, that changes things drastically. This also impacts PvP in a big, big way.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP), Cataclysm

The Art of War(craft): Twin Peaks

I was writing about something else completely, but now that the NDA has been lifted and closed beta has begun for Cataclysm, I think it's just proper that we turn our attention to the Twin Peaks, the new capture-the-flag type battleground debuting in the next expansion. The floodgates have been (officially) opened, so us battleground freaks can join in on the fun ... You can soak in all the screenshot goodness over at MMO Champion. The coolest thing about Twin Peaks is that it's a fresh take on a familiar concept. Any player who has ventured into battleground PvP understands Warsong Gulch, as it's the first and most basic battleground, virtually eliminating any learning curve of the game's mechanics. The new, asymmetrical map rejuvenates the CTF concept and necessitates a new approach to the game.

Because of the geographical asymmetry, the Horde will have different strategies from the Alliance. The deep river adds a new dimension to the map in a way that hasn't been fully utilized in any other battleground except for Arathi Basin -- and even then only to a minor degree. That the river essentially cuts the map in half makes it a critical element in gameplay. Because there's a sewage-pipe-style opening on the Western side of the Horde base leading into the water, it isn't merely decorative; it's strategic, too. On the Northern end of the map, the Alliance stronghold utilizes multiple levels, making abilities that minimize or eliminate falling damage a nice bonus. Three ways in and out for each of the nearly identically laid out bases, two graveyards per faction, and a bothersome intersecting river make for an exciting new twist on an old premise.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

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