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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 WoW.com, 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:

Ghostcrawler
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.

Zarhym
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)

The Art of War(craft): Assembling your dream team


Zach wanted to time this article with the NBA Finals, but alas, shoddy internet had other plans.

Well, so much for PvP guilds, huh? That's good news for everyone, I think. That means I no longer have to put up a separate battleground-specific guild and break away from my more pacifistic friends who prefer dungeons and raids. Scrapping guild talent trees and currency just might turn out for the better and it's good that Blizzard decided to drop the bomb sooner rather than later. Perhaps if they'd told us that about the dance studio back before Wrath was released, we wouldn't still be whining about it. At least this way, we can set our expectations accordingly. Blizzard didn't reveal much about the Path of the Titans, so it doesn't feel like such a big loss. It was a cool, curious concept, but now we can keep our focus back on the basics.

Today, we'll discuss how to form our battleground dream team. Unlike battleground PUGs where we're beggars taking scraps -- figuratively, of course -- we can actually choose whom to bring in our battleground premades. For a guild to earn achievements or XP, roughly 75% of the team has to belong to the same guild. It's still unclear as to whether rated battlegrounds will function identically to arenas, where teams have set rosters at any given time ... although in that scenario, guild recruitment seems like an easier way to assemble teams.

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

The Art of War(craft): Preparing for rated battlegrounds

Zach brings you the weekly column The Art of War(craft) where he talks about good, old-fashioned PvP. He's also a huge NBA fan, so he's taking this opportunity to remind you that Game 4 of the NBA Finals is on right about now. Which means you should probably read all this during halftime. Or not, since the StarCraft 2 commercial should be debuting during the game.

Last week's column generated quite a bit of a stir when I recommended taking a break ... even during an ongoing match. A lot of you took exception to the suggestion, noting -- with much merit -- that being away from the game has a detrimental effect on the ongoing match. I agree, although as unreasonable as this may sound, I still think it's no big deal. Make no mistake, I'm strongly against AFK play or soaking up honor while deliberately not doing anything. That's just abusing the system. Most of you downranked my responses to blackness, which is actually an encouraging sign for me because it means there's a lot to look forward to when Cataclysm unleashes rated battlegrounds.

I'll say right off that I don't take current battleground play too seriously because the environment simply isn't conducive to true competitive play. I would have said neither should you, but clearly many of you feel otherwise. This is a good thing. I still think arenas are currently the better environment for intense PvP competition, but it was promising to read your opinions because it revealed that many of you actually do get invested in the game and that you keep your focus clearly on the match -- even with a PUG! That's perfect, because rated battlegrounds will be the environment to do just that.

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

The Art of War(craft): Surviving battleground PUGs

Zach has always been a Kobe Bryant fan, ever since his rookie year and even through those air balls he took in game 5 of the first round of the playoffs against the Utah Jazz in 1997. In fact, it was those three air balls that convinced Zach that Kobe was his favorite basketball player ever. Because taking those shots took guts. And taking those shots eventually resulted in Kobe's hitting game-winner after game-winner many years later. Zach also writes about the battlegrounds, and this is his cue to tell you that if you keep trying and you have guts, you just might become the Kobe Bryant of WoW PvP. All right, probably not -- but it's an inspiring thought, anyway.

More than a few comments on last week's column made me pause for thought, in particular some responses to my assertion that battleground play is an excellent stress reliever. I have to admit I've had more than my fair share of hair-tearing moments in the battlegrounds ... I might have made it easier on myself and my blood pressure had I pursued achievements using premades. But I'm a pugger at heart. That's likely to change when rated battlegrounds debut in Cataclysm, but for the vast majority of my PvP life, I've lived and died through PUGs. The glaring exception would be the old school honor grind, when going it alone was tantamount to tanking your weekly ranking.

I think PUGs are awesome. Yes, they can totally drive you nuts and sometimes be a colossal waste of time, but I've come to appreciate the wonder in a group of strangers coming together and performing well. There's a certain satisfaction to be gained from that -- I'm sure many of you have found PUGs that just clicked, where everything just worked out and everyone else on the team possessed more than half a brain and a decent grasp of the game. Those instances feel good, don't they? They happen only on occasion, but when they do, I personally think they make up for the times when I feel I've been grouped with, um, complete morons. For today's column, I've prepared a handy guide for you folks that should help you survive the wonderful world of battleground PUGs. After all, between now and Cataclysm, you just might need it.

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

The Art of War(craft): The battlegrounds as a bridge between content

Welcome to this week's installment of The Art of War(craft), a confusingly named column that actually discusses PvP and not, you know, art or crafts. It's a play on Sun Tzu's military treatise and predates the Paladin talent The Art of War. Yeah, the column's been around that long, even before arenas became the new hotness. Soon arenas'll be the old, busted joint and battlegrounds will be the new hotness. Or just hotness, because the battlegrounds are actually pretty old.

I've always believed in the replayability of the battlegrounds. It's why I've always thought they were some of the most valuable content the game has to offer. It's heartening to see how Blizzard has committed to giving more attention to battleground development in Cataclysm. Moving forward, I think it will only make the game more robust. At this point in the game, as the next expansion looms on the horizon, a feeling of impatience and even boredom pervades the playing community. The upcoming Ruby Sanctum is what I'd call pantawid gutom, a Filipino term that literally means "something that helps one get across hunger" It's not a real meal, just something to prevent us from starving. The sad thing is, no matter how awesome the Ruby Sanctum will be, it won't be appreciated as much, because everyone is looking forward to Cataclysm already. Arthas is dead. Bring on the new bad guy.

Right now, it's a bit of a waiting game. Killing time. Even our WRUP asked a couple of weeks back what people were doing in the time leading up to Cataclysm. I wasn't able to submit my answer to the bonus question thanks to my email flaming out, but my response would've been the same as it always is during the lull between expansions: I hit the battlegrounds. While the rest of the raiding world is waiting for the next big baddie, my true enemy never left -- players of the opposing faction. This is why I'm so stoked that Blizzard is ramping up the tension between the two factions in the expansion and bringing back the conflict that's supposed to be at the core of the game. We needed to be reminded that it's WARcraft, not cuddle-and-be-chummy-in-neutral-cities-craft. Battlegrounds are a great representation of the ongoing battle between the Alliance and Horde and overall gives Blizzard the most bang for their development buck.

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

The Art of War(craft): Looking ahead to battleground guilds

Zach had hoped his people would be smarter this time around. He was wrong. They're dumber than ever. So, Zach ends up playing video games and escaping to a world where people aren't ignorant, misled sheep. Most of the time, anyway.

Arguably one of the biggest features of Cataclysm -- I say "arguably" because World of Warcraft's next expansion is going to have a ton of new features -- would be guild talents and progression. Not much has been revealed about this feature, but it has the potential to forever change the way guilds work. In particular, the emergence of rated battlegrounds combined with guild talents geared towards PvP play can possibly result in a schism between PvP and PvE players, forcing them to choose between a PvE-oriented guild or a PvP-centric one.

The guild progression system is such a great incentive for players to be part of a guild and allows guilds a better focus -- a guild's choice of talents should indicate the character of a guild. Although the benefits are relatively minor, they are telling of a guild's priorities, such as increased gold drops off bosses or reduced repair costs. Blizzard has only revealed a taste of PvE guild talents for now, but developers have mentioned that there will be PvP guild talents as well. This is where the potential for conflict arises. Players currently have dual specs that allow them to keep a spec for raiding and another talent spec for PvP, but will guilds have the same flexibility? There's not enough information to know for sure right now, but if there are distinct trees or talent for PvP and PvE, players will have to make some tough decisions when forming or joining a guild. In that scenario, guilds geared towards battlegrounds or even arena play will form and for the first time, players who thrive in PvP will have an environment in which to flourish.

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

The Art of War(craft): Paradigm shift

Zach resides in a country where leaders are elected on the basis of genealogy, rather than any actual capacity to lead, and where the widow and son of a plundering despot can weasel their way back into public office because the electorate are an ignorant, forgetful lot. He takes much escapist comfort in the battlegrounds, where he can actually smite the bad guys.

The wind of change is blowing through the World of Warcraft. Whether we like it or not, PvP's focus in the expansion will shift from arenas to the battlegrounds. Blizzard has announced that they'll be shipping Cataclysm with at least one new battleground, the Battle for Gilneas City, and the promise of much more throughout the course of the expansion. MMO-Champion's datamined screenshots from the alpha -- before Blizzard ordered everything taken offline -- revealed a zone speculated to be a battleground, situated in the Twilight Highlands where the Dragonmaw clan of orcs and the Wildhammer clan of dwarves are locked in deadly combat. From all indications, this battleground will be ready by the time Cataclysm ships. That's exciting and is indicative of Blizzard's commitment to the new directive. Maybe we'll even see more than two battlegrounds on ship.

On top of that, wouldn't it be fantastic if the old-school battlegrounds such as Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin and Alterac Valley got some cosmetic changes to reflect the geographical upheaval that Deathwing wreaks upon Azeroth? It only makes sense, after all. Blizzard wouldn't need to adjust gameplay mechanics, just reshape the landscape a little bit. It would go a long way towards making the old battlegrounds feel new again and could even provide an opportunity for Blizzard to make Alterac Valley slightly more symmetrical. Charred earth, dilapidated structures -- these should serve to remind players that it's a broken world out there instead of feeling a blast from the past every time they zone in. Blizzard has gone all-out for Cataclysm and has confirmed that old instances will be getting some tweaks, so while I'm not holding my breath, it just might happen.

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

The Art of War(craft): Of honor and conquest


Okay, so The Art of War(craft) is a wee bit late this week, thanks to Zach's being crowd controlled rather handily by his three-week-old daughter. He would normally bubble, but it's on cooldown. Besides, baby poop breaks through Divine Shield. It works better than Shattering Throw, too, with better sound effects.

Two weeks ago, Blizzard unveiled their plan in Cataclysm to overhaul the badge system of acquiring gear and instead move it to a point system similar to the one used in arenas and battlegrounds. This change, which applies to both PvE and PvP gear, is significant and goes a long way into validating the PvP method of gear acquisition. Not long ago, Blizzard also adapted the system used by battlegrounds to create the dungeon finder, another example of how systems used in the PvP aspect of the game have improved PvE. It should be clear by now that PvP is an inextricably linked aspect of the World of Warcraft and has only served to improve the overall game experience. Even if you don't PvP, the game you enjoy has been influenced by all the things Blizzard has learned from their experience in designing for PvP.

Throughout the history of the game, the developers have tried hard to balance the rewards granted by the PvP and PvE aspects. In vanilla WoW, PvP and PvE item sets were completely different in both design and acquisition. In Burning Crusade, Blizzard stumbled somewhat by making PvP item sets that were mere recolors of PvE gear and were arguably a step behind in terms of acquisition -- the newest arena sets were knockoffs of older raid sets. Wrath of the Lich King provided what has been the best approach thus far by making gear acquisition in both PvP and PvE as parallel as possible. The return to an iterative design philosophy for PvP gear was laudable, as was the expanded method of acquiring gear. Ultimately, though, it might have been overwhelming to have the same gear accessible through too many avenues -- honor, arena points, honor and arena points, badges, boss drops -- which is why the proposed streamlining through a point system makes perfect sense.

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

The Art of War(craft): Introductory guide to fighting warriors

Each week, Zach talks about his favorite thing to do in World of Warcraft -- PvP. That kind of makes him sort of one-dimensional. Like those folks from Flatland. Except, those guys were actually two dimensional. Come to think of it, being one-dimensional is a pretty groovy concept.

Finally, we arrive at the conclusion of our guides to fighting everything. Warriors. The most "basic" class that, at least in Cataclysm, will be available to all races (the selection was unavailable to blood elves for some unknown reason). Fighters are a fantasy staple. Big, burly guy with a sword or an axe. Maybe a shield. Everyone else is optional, really. Some generic magic user, sure. Throw in a dude with a bow and arrow for good measure. But a fantasy setting without a warrior? That's just wrong.

In PvP, warriors seem like a staple, too. They're central (or at least a warrior-like ability called Mortal Strike is) to a good number of arena team compositions. You could say Mortal Strike defined the PvP environment such that Blizzard had to dispense Mortal Strike-like abilities to other classes just so they'd be considered viable alternatives to a warrior. The good news is that Mortal Strike is actually a talent, so not every warrior will be walking around smiting every foe with it. The bad news is that even the fury tree has something like it. Not only that, when you're facing a warrior, you have quite a number of things to worry about aside from Mortal Strike or similar effects. After the break, let's take a look at warriors and the most common abilities you should expect on the battlefield.

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

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