State of the Game— June 11, 2007
Working the Midline: Second Rate Positions or Critical Facilitators?
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Ask GvGers what role they usually play and they'll normally respond with frontline, backline, or midline. The job of the frontline (Warriors, Dervishes, thumpers, etc.) is to disrupt, pressure, and, ultimately, kill the opposition. The role of the backline (primarily Monks, but perhaps including Ritualists) is equally clear—to keep the team alive. In contrast, the midline is less straightforward. Although a team might expect the midline to directly help kill targets or heal teammates, usually the midline's major role is to facilitate the frontline and backline in accomplishing their respective jobs. So how important is the midline?
Lines in the Sand
Players often debate which is more important: offense or defense, Warriors or Monks, frontline or backline. Rarely does someone espouse the importance of the midline over the frontline or the backline. In fact, when teams have new or less experienced players, it almost seems a forgone conclusion that they fill a midline role, while the most experienced players always end up in the frontline and backline roles. This sort of allocation could be a significant mistake. The midline's role is crucial to multiple players on the team because midliners provide both offensive and defensive support to the other lines. Thus weak play at the midline can hurt the team's ability to drop targets, while leaving Monks wide open to Warrior trains and other damage and disruption. So, while some may think the midline is a good place to hide inexperienced or mediocre players, these positions are such critical facilitators for a team's overall performance that it is possibly the worst place for these players. No matter how well your frontline and backline perform, it's hard to win if the midline doesn't do its job.
Master of Magic
Master of Magic [Elite]
Elementalist - Energy Storage - Enchantment Spell
Enchantment Spell. For 20 seconds, whenever you cast a Spell, you gain 0..2 Energy for each recharging Skill that does not share this Spell's attribute.
The role of the midline has evolved considerably over the past two years. Before Factions, common midline builds often included Elementalists with Ether Prodigy to power Heal Party and Blinding Flash, Rangers with Crippling Shot and several interrupts to disrupt the opposing team, and Mesmers with Energy Surge and Energy Burn for both damage and Energy denial. New campaigns introduced new skills (and subsequent skill balances) leading to altered midlines. For example, we've seen Smiters built around Air of Enchantment, Master of Magic, and Signet of Removal. Mesmers, and later Elementalists, have used Blinding Surge to derail Warrior trains. And, with Nightfall, we've seen extensive use of both offensive and defense-oriented Paragons. Yet, even though the specific builds have changed over time, the basic role of the midline has not; it is still responsible for assisting the offense and defense of the team.
Hex Eater Vortex
Hex Eater Vortex [Elite]
Mesmer - Domination Magic - Spell
Spell. Remove a Hex from target ally. If a Hex is removed in this way, foes near that ally take 30..120 damage and lose one Enchantment.
The midline provides both direct and indirect offensive assistance. Direct offense may come in the form of targeted damage (spiking with something like Lightning Orb or Vicious Attack), area-of-effect damage (such as Searing Flames or Splinter Weapon), or disruption (such as Gale or Power Leak to hinder opponents or Mirror of Disenchantment to help remove their defenses and facilitate a kill). Indirect offensive assistance usually means removing Conditions or Hexes from frontline attackers so they can dispatch targets. Back when Blinding Flash was ubiquitous, a spot Condition removal such as Draw Conditions was very common in the midline. Now, with the advent of so many heavy Hex builds, elite Hex removals such as Expel Hexes and Hex Eater Vortex are prevalent.
Scoring kills requires close coordination between the frontline and midline. When midliners come in with direct damage on a spike, they must time their skill activation closely. If the damage arrives early, it warns opposing Monks and gives them time to Infuse. If it arrives late, the damage loses effectiveness because the opponents have had time to react with defensive Enchantments. Off-target disruption by the midline is especially important. Interrupting defensive Hexes and Enchantments often enables the frontline to score kills. If the midline cannot prevent these types of active defenses, it must coordinate with the other lines to remove them.
Monk - No Attribute - Signet
Signet. Remove all Hexes and Conditions from target ally. You lose 10 Energy for each Hex and each Condition removed.
In addition to providing offensive assistance, the midline usually has a central role in the defense as well. Such direct defense includes Aegis chains, Wards, defensive Hexes, and Blinding Surge, as well as defensive Shouts, Echoes, and Chants. Although somewhat rare now, the midline used to carry party-wide Condition removal such as Extinguish or Martyr. As mentioned above, it is more common these days to see elite Hex removal for both defense and offense in the midline. Also common are non-elite Hex removal skills that work on multiple Hexes, such as Convert Hexes and Purge Signet. These skills are useful because many Hex builds come with Signet of Humility to shutdown elite Hex removal.
So, why do teams carry both direct and indirect defensive skills on the midline? Basically, spreading the defense frees up valuable skill slots on the backline, thus increasing its effectiveness in Healing or Protection. In the current metagame, both heavy physical damage and heavy Hex builds run rampant. If a team designs its backline to counter one of these builds, it loses some ability to counter the other. Shifting some of the defense against these builds to the midline allows the backline to worry more about general Protection and Healing, while the midline responds to highly situational threats. Paragons are an especially strong midline utility class because they offer excellent offensive and defensive non-elite skills, and have durable armor allowing them to push forward more aggressively than their softer counterparts.
Midline Decision Making
In the distant past, many midline players focused exclusively on an offensive or defensive role, but even then this was weak and ineffective. Today a midline build typically incorporates a mixture of both offensive and defensive skills. Thus, midline players must shift between multiple roles during any given match. An Elementalist might have several responsibilities: use Draw Conditions on the frontline, put up Aegis for party-wide defense, spike a called target using Lightning Orb, and snare called targets or Warriors with Freezing Gust. This diversity of roles can make the midline difficult for less experienced players. Midliners need swift action and correct execution of their various roles, prioritizing what needs to be done when, and to whom on the fly. More often than not, a novice midline player focuses on one skill or role to the detriment of the others. Rather than mindlessly casting spells over and over again, successful midline players study the flow of battle to find the deadliest threats to their backline as well as the most severe obstacles to their frontline. Then they must respond to these threats using the most appropriate skills in their repertoire, disrupting an opposing player actively defending against their frontline, or possibly helping disrupt the opposing frontline. These decisions don't happen in a vacuum of silence, of course. Team communication is vital to helping prioritize all actions of the team, but it is up to the midliners to understand the strategies and tactics of their job and execute their role when the time comes.
A team is only as strong as its weakest link, even if that link is in the midline. When inexperienced players try to hide in the midline, their shortcomings come to light when other players on the team can't accomplish their own jobs. Midline players need to be able to adapt dynamically in their multifaceted roles as the match progresses. Effective decision making in the midline thus depends upon clear and consistent team communication. Because less experienced midline players already have a tendency to focus on fewer roles, a team with such players may decide to design its midline to have limited and more straightforward roles to play. Unfortunately, this can limit the effectiveness of the entire team.
Billiard is a Senior Moderator at GuildWarsGuru.com and long time guild leader of Xen of Onslaught [XoO], one of the largest and most active PvP guilds in the world. Billiard can be reached in game as Billiard The Bold, or by private message at the [XoO] website.