June 8, 2009

The Colosseum: Ogc the Warlock

And now for something completely different. Ogc is a Warlock. Specifically, he's the team captain for one of the highest rated 5v5 teams in the world. We've been hoping for a Warlock for the Colosseum for a little while, so we were thrilled with this opportunity.

Check out what Ogc had to say after the cut.
WoW Insider: What comps do you run? Why Warlock? What is it about the class's toolbox that appeals to you for competitive Arena?

Ogc: Before our warrior recently transferred, we were running Affliction Warlock / MS Warrior / Holy Paladin in 3s, and we run a cookie cutter 2346 setup in 5s. 2346 stands for Disc Priest / Holy Paladin / MS Warrior / Elemental Shaman / Warlock (Destruction for now). I don't have a 2v2 nailed down, although I was doing 2s at around 2600 rating with a Discipline Priest. But I have recently gotten out of that to help powerlevel people for gold.

Warlock has always been my favorite class. I've tried to get into several other classes since I've gotten into competitive arena, but always come back to my demons and DoTs. I enjoy the playstyle of a utility class with a ton of buttons and lots of role shifting in different positions and situations.

On my Warlock, I feel like I make a significant difference in every game, unlike when I played my healer. I just felt like I was keeping my partners up and they were doing all the work. I got Brutal Gladiator on a 5v5 running a three-healer comp as Felguard spec, and it was one of the most fun experiences I've had playing WoW.

Competitive arena is not friendly to warlocks right now. According to SK-100 we have approximately 2% representation in terms of all three brackets, which drops lower than that in 2s and 3s, but is considerably higher in 5s. The three different Warlock specs all offer vastly different tools in PvP. The toolbox that we bring to the table could be considerably improved,even though I definitely like it as is.

With Affliction, you get high consistent damage, a unique protecting debuff in Unstable Affliction, and lots of multi-target damage that doesn't require the opposing team to bunch up. Unfortunately, Affliction suffers from survival problems, long games which will hurt you because of pet survivability, and virtually no burst capability whatsoever.

In Demonology, the warlock gets a great pet that can take a good amount of hits as well as a large amount of sustained survivability and consistent damage with some burst. The down sides are that you have to pass up the Felhunter (which gimps you a dispel and a spell lock), and you don't really have anything special about the spec. If you go deep enough to get Metamorphosis, the 51 point talent can actually hurt you more than it can help you due to opposing Turn Evil and Banish. This tree is my personal favorite, and I really wish it would bring more unique crowd control components to the table. Currently the Felguard is missing a slot on his pet bar (no joke!), giving him something simple like a hamstring would go a long way to making this spec arena-viable.

Destruction offers ridiculously high burst damage currently (I expect a heavy nerf soon), and a lot of different kinds of CC (thanks to Shadowfury stun, and Succubus Seduce, if you choose to use her). Unfortunately, Destruction is the easiest warlock spec to 'lock down' with melee as so much of its damage is dependent on cast times. Melee can interrupt, silence, or cause a fair amount of spell pushback on the warlock to prevent Incinerate spam. Also, Destruction suffers from not having any Immolate protection, which is fundamental to virtually all of our burst spells. Dispel the Immolate and our Chaos Bolt and Incinerate spells drop in damage by a ridiculous margin, and we're not even able to use our Conflagrate.

Overall, I enjoy being able to completely dominate an arena game when we're winning via CCing healers with spell lock,shadowfury, Death Coil, and of course Fear. I also enjoy dispelling teammates or opponents and either putting out lots of multi-target damage or bursting like crazy. That's easier said than done since the opposing team has ways to limit both my CC and my damage, but we seem to make it work alright.

WoW Insider: So, given the state of the Arena right now, what's your analysis of this season's dynamics?

Ogc: I'll try to answer this question more generally than specifically, as we could talk about the differences not only between 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5, but also between different successful comps. Burst is still very high. Ghostcrawler has gone on what seems to be a personal tirade lately, trying to assure everyone that burst is much better than it was in S5, but I'm not so sure it is. I mean, if I'm left to free-cast, wearing full PvP gear and Demon Armor, I can still take out someone in a global pretty easily if my Chaos Bolt, Incinerate proc (or Searing Pain) and Conflagrate all crit at the same time. I've heard of other classes doing things just as (or nearly as) ridiculous, and it's just kind of disheartening to die in a global based on RNG crits.

WoW Insider: There's obviously concerns about melee domination of the ladder, about 2v2 maybe being a lost cause. Additionally, Ghostcrawler did just say they're not happy with Warlock representation. What do you think's going on to make things this way?

Ogc: Melee are very good right now, for reasons I could probably spend 12 pages listing and analyzing. However, I think an eloquent way to summarize some of the problems warlocks is the following...

Pyrilus (a Brutal Gladiator Warlock like myself) wrote the following post on the Melee vs. Caster imbalance:

"Speaking from a warlock's perspective, the one thing that I knew for sure while leveling my warlock was that a warlock was an anti-caster caster, and that mages were anti-melee casters. I absolutely enjoyed the dichotomy and really believed in my role as a caster-controller. As the patches have been pushed through, many changes were made to warlocks to make them less of an anti-caster, especially against mages. Magic resistance was removed (but subsequently given to mages) and Tongues was toned down (as well as all other cast time increasing effects). Other side-effects include the fact that many healers that relied solely on casted heals were given castable options and many classes were given anti-fear abilities and effects.

Some things still in place that give warlocks an anti-caster edge are things like Unstable Affliction, Soul Link being a consistent mitigating ability for both magic and physical, and Nether Protection. But these aren't as potent in some respects as many of the things other classes now have. Cloak of Shadows, AMS, AMZ, the plethora of silence and interrupts that almost every class has access to. The disconnect is that there aren't as many disarms, pacifications, or immunities available to the rest of the casters, and CC has become so much less a part of the game than it used to be. Warlocks used to have the ability to tank melee and had the highest HP pools among anyone, all gear being equal (besides PvE tanks).

Simply put, the game has evolved into an arms race (as was mentioned) that, from a warlock's perspective, has not been kind to warlocks or casters. It's a mess that I frankly don't envy the developers of having to fix.

However, I don't agree that casters need more escapes. Or rather, I don't think that's the only solution. I think the whole caster/cloth defense system needs to be rethought, because as items continue to inflate in power, physical damage classes will continue to have an easier time of pushing damage out and generally being able to "cleave" their opponents with greater and greater efficiency.

Not only that, but facing requirements in a game where melee classes are generally on top of their targets really does not allow for a very viable mechanism in a game that punishes casts either by interrupting them or completely negating their effects after a successful cast."

WoW Insider: Will the Hand of Freedom and Juggernaut nerf really make a difference?

Ogc: No. These are specific changes to certain classes (and only Paladin / Warrior at that) that don't address the true issue of the Melee vs. Caster imbalance. The true problem lies in the instant-cast immunity-type defenses that melee classes get and the plethora of interrupts that the physical DPS classes get.

In addition to this, melee has infinite resource mechanics while offensive casters need to sacrifice something to get mana back, whether it's time (Evocation), health (Life Tap), or damage (Aspect of the Viper), and yes I'm lumping hunters in there. I mean, when's the last time you saw a rogue take a second out of his busy day to 8 second channel adrenaline rush?

WoW Insider: What can reasonably help Warlock representation?

Ogc: Pets. Warlocks' #1 issue is pet scaling. It needs to exist. Right now, Felhunters are basically level 74 Enhancement Shamans in full greens. They need to scale with spell penetration and resilience on a 1:1 ratio basis. In fact, they need to scale everything on a 1:1 basis. If you need to make the base Hit Points of the pets worse in order to adapt, so be it.

The cost of losing a pet to a Warlock in incredibly devastating. Not only do they lose key abilities from the pet (usually Devour Magic and Spell Lock), the ability to keep an opposing class in combat, and a meager amount of damage, but warlocks lose Soul Link which is currently what their survivability is based on. They can use a ridiculously long cooldown to get a summon on a new pet, but that one dies just as easily as the first. The opposing team is not CCing itself to kill the warlock's pet (contrary to the developer's belief), they're destroying his survivability and utility by killing it. If you don't want to use Fel Domination to get a new pet out, you have to sit there for 5.5 seconds trying to get a new pet out,then Soul Link it with another global cooldown afterwards.

Compare this to the Death Knight pet. Not only does it have better abilities than the Felhunter, (Gnaw, Huddle, Leap), but it's instant-cast, and much more easy to recast with Night of the Dead. The Death Knight also doesn't depend on the pet for his survivability.

I'm not saying that Warlocks should have Death Knight pets, or that Death Knights should even have Death Knight pets. But the fact that Warlocks are a pet class, yet have to go through all this red tape just to get a key part of our class into the game (and if we don't have it we're probably subsequently dead as our survivability is tied up with our pet) is just kind of ridiculous. It can get very depressing when comparing Warlock pets (or Hunter pets for that matter) to DK pets, so I think I'm going to stop here. DK pets need to get toned down, but all pets need to scale with all stats on a 1:1 basis to solve these problems.

All other issues for Warlocks are secondary. In 5v5, we're actually a fairly survivable class because of Nether Protection (melee doesn't dominate in 5v5 like it does in 2v2 and 3v3, although lots of high-end PvPers will probably tell you that a Mortal Strike class is completely necessary, but that having a melee on the team to lock down the opposing [insert caster class here] is extremely beneficial).

Warlocks can benefit from overall survivability increases (and not depending on Soul Link for it), as well as some interesting changes to the Demonology tree that I would really like to see. Immolate protection would be nice, as would removing frontal requirements on spells. Shaman and Warlocks both could really benefit from an immunity-type instant cast spell like Ice Block, AMS, Cloak of Shadows, etc, that works vs. physical damage.

WoW Insider: In terms of casters, who do you think the worst off would be? I'd guess Boomkin and maybe Shadow Priests, but I don't seem to see a lot of Elemental Shaman in there either.

Ogc: It depends on bracket. Elemental Shamans are exceptional in 5v5, just absolutely fantastic. This doesn't come from their survivability, it comes from the ability to put out enormous amounts of damage while retaining some totems for some cool buffs and Shocking when they need to.

In 2v2 and 3v3 they are much worse because their class mechanics are not as important. Shocking is not good when they have to sacrifice DPS to do it (the other two people can pick up on DPS in a 5v5 if they're going to interrupt a heal), and the totems affect less players.

As for Boomkins and S. Priests, I don't have much experience with playing with either, in any bracket recently. If I had to pick an absolute worst caster, I would go with either Demonology Warlock or Fire Mage, just because they have better options available to them and don't really ever try to make it work.

I've seen some Shadow Priest / Rogues in 2v2, but it's much better for the shadow priest to just go Disc for that team, so you rarely see that as well.

I'd really like to see every class of every spec equally viable in arena, but realistically that's probably never going to happen (too many rainbows), and I kind of like Blizzard's philosophy of making sure that a class is represented fairly well in arena rather than worrying about specs first.

WoW Insider: What would you say to new Arena fighters?

Ogc: Find partners who are willing to do lots of games with you. Try to find a good "popular"comp and play it, don't worry about losses that much, you're just learning. Focus on what you're doing well. Ask people on your server for advice. Try to always see the 'big picture' of what's going on. A lot of times you'll die and you'll have no idea what happened. Other times, you'll know it's because they chained a Fear into a Blind into a Sap into a Mind Control. It's not a big deal, figure out what you can do to make it better and move on. Most of all, if nothing else, try to have fun and do what you enjoy doing.

WoW Insider: Where's the best resource for a new player, and how long should they wait before thinking "Maybe I'm not cut out for this"?

Ogc: www.arenajunkies.com is by far the best resource on the web for arena advice and research. As for the "Maybe I'm not cut out for this," it takes time. Think of when you started playing the game and how much more you know now. It's a lot. In the same way, when you take your first steps into an arena, you're going to get dominated. If you stick with it and really enjoy your class, you're bound to get better with every arena game. You'll soon find yourself vanishing Death Coils or spell locking Fel Dominations in no time.

WoW Insider: Serennia recently suggested abandoning the 2v2 bracket, instead pushing for the creation of a 4v4 bracket. But others suggest that would simply make 3v3 "the" bracket, and may or may not be better. What's your thuoghts on this?

Ogc: 4v4 is without a doubt the worst thing that could happen to Arena. The games would be most similar to 2v2. I'll explain this really quickly. The differences in arena brackets are usually due to healer to dps ratio.

2v2: Most teams are 50% healer (1:1)
3v3: Most teams are 33% healer (1:2)
5v5: Most teams are 40% healer (2:3)

Based on this data, you would naturally assume what practice has shown us over 5 seasons of arena play. 2v2 is primarily the outlast bracket, 3v3 is the bursty bracket, and 5v5 can be either but normally tends to be a bit more bursty than normal. Of course, if you go up vs. a two healer 3v3 or three healer 5v5, you're probably going to be in there a while, especially if the opposing team is good at healing but bad at doing dps.

4v4 would be almost unanimously 2 healer, 2 dps with a MS class and a high damage class. Consider already that 5v5s caneasily be healed by 2 healers in most regards. Sometimes, my burst-comp 5v5 can go for 4-5 minutes versus a similarly stacked team just because of how defensive cooldowns work when you put them on your teammates at the right time.

Consider also that the opposing team has 5 people to try to lock down my healers, but they often can't because of the additional people (DPS) on my team preventing them from doing such, in addition to the double healing / double defensive cooldowns that we have.

A three DPS / one healer team vs. a double healer / double DPS team would find itself in a very bad position. Not only does the double healer team have 4 people to lock out that single healer if they want to go for a burst kill, but they also have enough adequate DPS and healing to sustain themselves through the opposing three dps (just like they do in 5v5).

Because mana efficiency is so important on this 4v4 setup, a Mortal Strike class would be 100% necessary. This means that you would need to have a Warrior, Rogue, or Hunter. You would also probably want a priest for mana burn, but I can see shaman-paladin or paladin-druid working as the healers, even though I think priest-paladin or priest-druid would work best.

The other DPS class that you would need would most likely be something that already goes well with a mortal strike class in 3v3 that has an infinite resource (because remember, these games are long). Death Knights and Ret Paladins, because of their large damage output in addition to utility would be fantastic additions to a 4v4 team like this, Affliction Warlocks would be fine in theory too, but you'll probably be going up vs. Warrior-DK, Warrior-Ret, Rogue-Ret, Rogue-DK, etc, so you might want to rethink that Warlock. :P

Overall, the 4v4 bracket would be the penultimate outlast bracket that would go to time far more often than 2v2 matches, and would be in general incredibly annoying to play for most teams. I believe at high levels you would see incredibly small variance in team composition compared to the other three (current) brackets, even less variance than 2v2.

I could mention some good things about the 4v4 bracket, but I could make the same arguments for 3v3 and 5v5 and nothing good would really be unique to 4v4 as I see it. It seems that the trend in these later seasons has been the larger the bracket, the better the balance. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know.

WoW Insider: Before we finish up, is there anything in particular you'd really like people to know, or think about?

Ogc: Our warrior recently transferred because he wanted to move to a better BG (we're currently on one of the worst ones). He was with us for all of our 187 games in 5v5, and was holding #1 spot just like the rest of us, but he wanted to move on to greener pastures. Arena isn't just about winning, it's about having fun, and in my experience most high-rated players feel this way. I'm sure many readers are probably telling themselves "Why would he leave a #1 5v5? He was gonna get Furious Gladiator!?"

Sure, but the important thing was him having fun the way he wanted to. He thought transferring to another server would make him happier and I think he's probably accomplished that. So I just hope everyone continues to have fun with the game, especially in PvP, because at the top you can really get focused on just winning-winning-winning instead of having a good time.

And uhh... yeah, for a plug, WE NEED ANOTHER AMAZING WARRIOR FOR 5v5. Please make a character on Tortheldrin-Alliance or PM me on Arena Junkies if you wanna apply.

WoW Insider: What do you wish people would keep in mind more about the Arena?

Ogc: The big picture. Arena is all about figuring out what's going on at that time for your team vs. their team. A lot of that has to do with the positioning of the players and what cooldowns are being popped. If the opposing team is LOSing you defensively, then you might not wanna rush around that corner, especially if you're at low health or vulnerable because you popped defensive cooldowns. They might be setting you up to kill you by LOSing your healer. That's just one example. Always try to keep the big picture in mind, and always try to keep having fun.

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