I often get asked: “what’s the easiest and most difficult class for arena?” Well, I think you can agree that I am being pretty impartial when I say that warrior is probably the easiest class to learn for arena. A good (read: effective) warrior focuses primarily on putting out insane amounts of damage and pressure, forcing the enemy team to play on the defensive for the majority of the match. The grace and finesse needed to play something like a rogue just isn’t there for warriors. When I think of rogues, I think of vanishing death coils, proper cooldown management, redirect kidneys, and usually relying on target swaps for a kill. When I think of warriors, I think more of the iconic “Hulk smash!“
As far as the most difficult class, I would probably pick something like a shadow priest. They have a wide range of tools available to use, and require excellent awareness since they need to be good at recognizing burst opportunities while also keeping a close watch on their teammates’ health and debuffs. And a good shadow priest isn’t one who just starts healing their teammates as soon as their health bar moves; they need to really judge the situation and understand exactly when they should be helping to heal, and when they shouldn’t be. Basically, they have much more to monitor than what a typical warrior does, causing them to have a reasonably higher skill cap.
Now I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this disparity except that it often leads to one thing: the low skill cap classes being under-represented in high-end arena. Why? Because I believe that Blizzard, perhaps despite their best intentions, usually balances around a low-to-mid level of arena. So a class like warrior, that is relatively easy to pick up and learn at lower levels of play, is going to far outshine the harder-to-play classes at those same ratings. Does that mean that warrior is a better class than shadow priest? Hardly. Does it mean that an 1800 skill level warrior is going to usually win versus 1800 skill level shadow priests? Probably. The best way I can represent this is visually:
Notice how at 1500 skill rating, warriors have a significant advantage over shadow priests. They maintain this advantage at 1800, and it isn’t til around 2200 that the potential of a shadow priest can start to overcome the capability of a warrior. The dilemma is what section of the graph that Blizzard uses to make balance decisions around. It’s no secret that many of the developers at Blizzard don’t play anywhere near a gladiator level, but given the importance of their job, we hope that they are capable of balancing beyond simply what they experience in-game. While I’m sure they are capable of this to some extent, I fear that their personal interactions and observations of the game will usually outweigh any outside information that they happen to take into consideration. The result of this can be seen in the upcoming warrior nerfs, with the removal of gag order. Now, I will be the first to admit that gag order is too strong of an ability on its own, but I also recognize that it is the only thing keeping warriors even remotely viable versus wizard cleaves. In my opinion, top-tier wizard cleaves already have a decent advantage versus any top-tier warrior comp. However, just like the graph, this advantage isn’t apparent until you are playing with the absolute highest level of players. Removing gag order — without compensating for it in some other (higher skill cap) utility — may prove to be disastrous for warriors. It will lessen the gap between 1500 warriors and shadow priests, but it will widen the gap between 2400 warriors and shadow priests (picture a downwards vertical shift of the blue line).
The most important thing to understand about this graph, is that even though warriors continue to improve at higher skill rating, their relative strength only decreases. Other classes catch up to them, and at a much quicker rate — represented by the almost flat slope of the warrior curve, and the almost diagonal slope of the shadow priest curve. So will there be a difference between a 2200 and 2400 warrior? Sure. But it won’t be nearly as noticeable as the difference between a 2200 and 2400 shadow priest.
So, how to fix this issue? Well, the most obvious way is to attempt to raise the skill cap of the warrior class, without making them even more overpowered at lower skill levels. Warrior skill cap could be raised in a number of ways. One way that I’m a huge fan of was the old Unrelenting Assault ability. This ability may have been annoying for casters, but I loved the concept of it. Something as simple as lowering the base damage of overpower by 5%, but granting the warrior a 10% to all damage buff for 15 seconds when successfully overpowering during a cast would be great. And how about this: lower the base damage of colossus smash by 5%, but allow it to do 15% bonus damage if used while the target is facing you — and lower the base damage of mortal strike by 5%, but allow it to do 15% bonus damage if used while behind the target. These are all relatively simple changes that could do wonders for the class. It would weaken lower rating warriors and slightly buff higher skill warriors, all while encouraging warriors to do more than just stare at their three main DPS abilities. I would also love to see staggering shout and mass reflect swap positions in the talent tree. This would allow more common usage of mass spell reflection (which I believe to be an inherently high skill cap ability), increase warriors viability against casters, and open up the new possibility of a piercing howl + staggering shout combo. I would also love to see stance-dancing become more important than it currently is. The bonuses offered from battle and berserker stance are just too weak when compared to a flat 25% damage reduction. This could be accomplished in a number of ways, including something as simple as a 5% damage buff on battle stance, or a 15% cooldown reduction on berserker stance (or an innate 10% damage reduction for warriors while changing defensive stance to be only 15%). These are all just a few tiny ideas that could improve the skill cap (and eventually high end class strength) of warriors. If anyone at Blizzard happens to read this, I’m sure I could think of many more if you feel like contacting me!
I could also suggest nerfing the utility of some shadow priest spells that only higher level players are able to take full advantage of, but I don’t think that is the right route to go for balancing. I’m a huge fan of high skill caps, so I would much rather see the lower skill cap classes brought into line with the higher ones. If all classes had a similar slope and position on the “relative class strength” graph, then it would be much easier for Blizzard to make balance decisions (at almost any rating too). Also, I don’t mean to keep picking on shadow priests; I am just using them as an easy comparison since I believe there is a drastic difference between them and warriors.
I think that MoP has brought about some of the most fun class changes that this game has seen yet. I really, really enjoy the play style of many of the current classes — they have simply made for far more enjoyable gameplay. My only concern is that Blizzard is acting notoriously slow on pushing through any balance changes. (If I was a rogue or disc priest, I may have already quit the game by now!) If they can just speed up their balancing process, while addressing the skill cap disparity, I think we may be looking at some of the best seasons ever for WoW arena.
Question to the Readers
What would you guys like to see more of in my blogs and/or stream? I’m all ears for new ideas or constructive criticism! In my next blog, I probably plan on doing a breakdown of my take on class balance for all of the prominent PvP specs, but let me know if you have any ideas for after that! (And I do read all of the comments left on each blog post, even if I don’t respond to them.)