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State of the Game—November 26, 2007

Shaking Down the Shake-Up
Early impact of recent skill balance changes on competitive play

By Harold J. Chow

Special note: Each State of the Game presents the opinions and insights of one game observer. These observations are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinions of ArenaNet. While ArenaNet does review each State of the Game article to assure that it offers content that is respectful of all players, we intend to allow our reporters the freedom to inject some personal opinion into descriptions of the current atmosphere of competitive play in Guild Wars, and to express views based on their experience and observation.


Casters with Heal Party run flags and help relieve pressure on the party without fear of an Assassin jumping on them. Monk backlines run Word of Healing. No, you haven't stumbled upon another "remembering the past" article. This month, two significant skill balance updates shook up the metagame. At this rate, this article may become outdated before it even gets published! So let's take a quick look at some of the more immediate effects on PvP: Monk Skill Bars have changed dramatically, Assassins must re-evaluate how quickly they can take down enemies, and fewer teams will ask Necromancers to substitute for Monks.


Goodbye, Light of Deliverance. Hello, Word of Healing.

Forget that the old LoD could only heal party members who were below 80% Health; this little Nightfall elite warped the competitive landscape by providing a simple solution to pressure-based offenses. In the days leading up to LoD's nerf, teams had even begun running two copies because prolonged shutdown of the skill caused a team to collapse. Now, despite the fact that LoD can unconditionally heal all party members within range, the new two-second cast time means it no longer provides reliable party-wide healing at the flag stand or follow-up self-healing after Infuse Health because it's an open invitation to any number of debilitating interrupts.

Word of Healing
Word of Healing
Word of HealingWord of Healing [Elite]
Monk - Healing Prayers - Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.75
Recharge: 4
Spell. Heal target other ally for 15..100 Health. Heal for an additional 15..100 Health if that ally is below 50% Health.

Enter the new-and-improved Word of Healing. After the updates, the net change to the skill allows it to act as a self-heal. As a powerful, versatile, and cheap heal, WoH has found its way onto the Skill Bars of both Infusers and split Monks. The most common two-Monk backline after these updates has one Word of Healing Monk and one Restore Condition Monk. However, many teams run a Word of Healing Monk runner as well, who can keep NPCs alive fairly well in split situations.

Despite the improvement to Word of Healing, the loss of a cheap, efficient party heal has teams scrambling for a replacement. Heal Party now heals for more Health, but still suffers from a very interruptible two-second cast. Protective was Kaolai recharges too slowly to keep up with sustained pressure. Mystic Healing, despite a recent nerf, still provides a decent party-wide heal, but generally requires a build that can make use of an Arcane Zeal/Order of Pain Dervish.

Healer's Boon
Healer's Boon
Healer's BoonHealer's Boon [Elite]
Monk - Divine Favor - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.25
Duration: upkeep
Recharge: 10
Enchantment Spell. While you maintain this Enchantment, your next 10..30 Healing Prayers Spells cast 50% faster and heal for 50%% more Health.

The improvement to Healer's Boon, however, has encouraged teams to experiment with it. Under HB, Heal Party becomes a one-second cast, which helps immensely in high-pressure situations. On a Monk, however, Energy issues prevent prolonged usage of Heal Party. All of these tradeoffs between party healing options have increased the diversity in flag runner builds. Ritualist runners may bring Protective was Kaolai (and sometimes Life) to relieve pressure between flag runs. Word of Healing or Healer's Boon runners can provide party healing as Energy allows when not running or defending. Even Ether Prodigy runners have started to make a return, particularly with the likelihood of an Assassin gank lessened by recent nerfs.

Some guilds haven't written off LoD just yet. After all, other than its cast time, it still makes an efficient party-wide heal, so some guilds have tried keeping LoD on runners. However, traditional LoD Monks had difficulty defending the base by themselves before the skill update, so it seems the effectiveness, if any, of these Monks as runners would depend heavily on the map and the team's build.

Most interestingly, some guilds, such as Vroom Rulez, have tried a three-Monk backline consisting of a Healer's Boon Monk and a Shield of Deflection Monk at the flag stand, along with a Word of Healing runner. Despite its earlier nerf, Shield of Deflection still packs plenty of power while a Healer's Boon Monk at the stand allows the team to drop Infuse Health and have a party-wide heal option.

The loss of LoD has also affected Heroes' Ascent backlines, but Healer's Boon makes a logical replacement in the typical three-Monk backlines. Word of Healing and Restore Condition typically occupy the elite slots on the other two Monk bars. However, some teams have experimented with running two HB Monks for raw healing power in addition to one Restore Condition Monk.


Assassins Silenced...?

Recall
Recall
RecallRecall
Assassin - No Attribute - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 1
Duration: upkeep
Recharge: 10
Enchantment Spell. While you maintain Recall, nothing happens. When Recall ends, you Shadow Step to the ally you targeted when you activated this skill.

Assassins had much of their killing power sapped by the recent skill changes. Recall allowed players to Shadow Step instantly across the map, which made it possible to split and collapse instantly in GvG. In Hero Battles, a player could cast Recall on a Hero, cap a shrine, and then Shadow Step to safety if the opponent tried to go for a kill. With the ten-second skill disable, Recall becomes a lot less flexible, and generally a bad idea for Monks. However, this nerf alone did not do much to deter Shadow Prison Assassins.

Black Lotus Strike
Black Lotus Strike
Black Lotus StrikeBlack Lotus Strike
Assassin - Critical Strike - Attack
Energy: 10
Activation: 0
Recharge: 12
Attack. Must strike a Hexed foe. If it hits, Black Lotus Strike strikes for +10..31 damage and you gain 5..20 Energy.

The latest update, however, severely hampered the ability of Shadow Prison Assassins to insta-kill their targets. Changing Black Lotus Strike to a lead attack decompresses the Assassin's Skill Bar, requiring another attack skill to get to the damage-dealing dual attacks. Horns of the Ox, which provides the knockdown that typically seals the kill for the Assassin, had its damage virtually taken away, thereby making it harder for any Assassin to make effective use of the attack. The skill changes even debilitated the most likely successor to the Black Lotus Strike/Black Spider Strike attack chains by reducing the damage from Trampling Ox and giving Impale a one-second cast. Although Assassins still do quite a bit of damage, they have become more manageable, particularly one-on-one.

Much to many players' dismay, however, the Deadly Arts Assassin has remained untouched from the time when Deadly Paradox received a slight nerf. However, Deadly Arts Assassins have yet to really assert themselves in the GvG or HB metagames.


Spiriting Away Spiritway

Energizing Wind
Energizing Wind
Energizing WindEnergizing Wind
Ranger - Beast Mastery - Nature Ritual
Energy: 5
Activation: 5
Duration: 30..150
Recharge: 60
Nature Ritual. Create a level 1..10 Spirit. For non-Spirit creatures within its range, all skills cost 15 less Energy (minimum cost 10 Energy), and skills recharge 25% slower. This Spirit dies after 30..150 seconds.

Spiritway, which many viewed as a degenerate build in 8v8 formats due to its simplicity and the easy inclusion of Heroes, might finally rest in peace. With Soul Reaping no longer triggering on the deaths of Spirits and the loss of exploitable pet corpses, Necromancer/Ritualist healers lose one component of their Energy engine and minion masters have a much tougher time making new friends. The change to pet corpses also means that opposing teams can kill pets without worrying about a Well of the Profane suddenly debuffing the party or a massive wave of minions overpowering their Monks.

On top of these changes, Energizing Wind costs more and has a much shorter duration, making Rampage as One harder to maintain for Hammer Rangers. However, the build, while more fragile, may still pack enough punch to remain competitive. Between Signet of Lost Souls, pet deaths, player deaths, NPC deaths, minion deaths (animated from dead players and NPCs), and the efficiency of Restoration Magic, Necromancers still have a decent Energy flow and can remain effective healers.


More Changes Needed?

Although the recent changes have arguably produced positive results, many players feel the need for even further nerfs. Aside from the Deadly Paradox Assassins mentioned earlier, Avatar of Melandru Dervishes continue to warp the PvP landscape with their immunity to conditions (particularly Blind and Deep Wound). However, these Dervishes serve to stymie such easy anti-melee measures, forcing teams to diversify their defenses. Still, the recent balance changes have gone quite far in addressing key issues that have concerned PvP players for the past few months.


Harold J. Chow is a freelance Guild Wars reporter. His in-game name is Guild Informant.