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State of the Game—September 25, 2006

Adapting in a Dynamic Metagame

By Harold J. Chow

Special note: Each State of the Game article 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.


A fresh GvG season and concurrent skill updates mean that new or modified individual and team builds come into play. For the Autumn Season, the alterations to guild hall NPCs and Victory or Death (VoD) mechanics further complicate matters and give guilds more to cope with. Properly predicting the prevalent builds and preparing accordingly can mean the difference between holding one's own against a tough opponent and an early resignation. In order to adapt to any new GvG season, we must first anticipate what changes will have an impact, what that impact will entail, and how we can adjust our own builds and strategies to take advantage.


Skill Balances from the Back to the Frontline

The Autumn Season features several critical skill changes that shake up the common builds from the GWFC season. In light of these updates, running a completely unmodified team build from last season will not likely bring much success.

Backline play: With the decreased efficiency of Divine Boon, Blessed Light Monks have in many cases replaced the Divine Boon Protection Monk (Boon Prot) as the build of choice for healing in GvG.

Blessed Light
Blessed Light
Blessed LightBlessed Light [Elite]
Monk - Divine Favor - Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 0.75
Recharge: 3
Spell. Heal target ally for 10..115 Health and remove one Condition and one Hex.

However, the Blessed Light Monk can only sustain so much healing power under pressure because, unlike the Boon Prot, the Blessed Light Monk cannot use an elite Energy management skill such as Mantra of Recall or Energy Drain to recoup Energy.

While the Boon Prot remains fairly robust in theory, the increased recharge on Divine Boon makes the build far more susceptible to Enchantment removal. The omnipresence of Blessed Light Monks carrying Drain Enchantment for Energy management only increases the likelihood that Divine Boon, which powers the Boon Prot's healing output, will not last long. Without Divine Boon maintained, a lot of Boon Prots lose survivability because they rely on Contemplation of Purity to remove Hexes and Conditions.

Shelter
Shelter
ShelterShelter
Ritualist - Communing Magic - Binding Ritual
Energy: 25
Activation: 5
Duration: 30..60
Recharge: 45
Binding Ritual. Create a level 1..8 Spirit. Non-Spirit allies within its range cannot lose more than 10% maximum Health from a single attack. When this Spirit prevents damage, it loses 75..45 Health. This Spirit lasts 30..60 seconds.

With the hits to Ritual Lord and defensive Spirits such as Shelter and Recuperation in the latest skill balances, Ritualists cannot dominate a match like they used to. However, the effects from these Spirits still provide strong support for a typical two-Monk backline. Furthermore, with the buffs made to offensive Ritualist spells, Ritualists now have the potential to deal significant damage.

Smiting Monks: Likewise, Smiting Monks now have greater weakness to Enchantment removal, with a timely Enchantment removal leaving the Monk without the damage output of Zealot's Fire for up to 15 seconds more than last season (the skill recharge increased from 30 to 45). Coupled with the decreased duration of Balthazar's Aura, Smiting Monks have a much higher risk-to-reward ratio for teams looking for area-of-effect (AoE) damage output.

Elementalists: During the GWFC, Ether Prodigy Elementalists found their way onto almost every championship team's build at some point. With the added damage when Ether Prodigy ends, these Elementalists have a lower margin of error for their Energy use. A well-planned Shatter Enchantment can put that Elementalist in need of more than just a Heal Party. Elementalist/Monks must also guard their use of Extinguish, as the increased activation time makes the skill quite vulnerable to Distracting Shot and other interrupts.

However, with the faster recharge and lower cost of a few elite Elementalist spells, some guilds have incorporated, with moderate success, damage dealers with one of these elite skills. Combined with the increased damage and reduced maximum Health at VoD, an Elementalist with just Lightning Orb and Mind Shock can come very close to taking down a single target. Two such Elementalists at VoD can strike down any target that doesn't dodge the Orbs, and opponents likely will not have Shelter up to stop it.

Frontline play: With the changes to Tiger's Fury and Irresistible Blow, top guilds have shifted away from using Ranger/Warrior "Bunny Thumpers" and have left melee fighting to the Warriors.

Irresistible Blow
Irresistible Blow
Irresistible Blow Irresistible Blow
Warrior - Hammer Mastery - Attack
Energy: 5
Activation: 0
Recharge: 6
Attack. If this attack hits, you strike for +5..20 damage. If Irresistible Blow is blocked, your target is knocked down and takes 5..20 damage.

While non-Hammer Warriors must use their knockdowns a little less indiscriminately given the increased recharge for Bull's Strike, many Warriors still dabble in Air Magic for the pinpoint knockdown ability of Shock. Despite the lowered damage from Eviscerate, Axe Warriors still pack enough punch to take down targets on an adrenal spike.

In addition, Assassins have seen a number of their skills buffed to the point where they have become legitimate threats outside of the Aura of Displacement infiltration method of play. The lessened reliance on this elite skill to impact the battlefield has led to the use of other elites, even from other professions, such as the Warrior skills Flourish and "Coward!", in early Autumn Season play.


A Brave New NPC and Some VoD Shakeup

For the Autumn Season, we say goodbye to a Bodyguard and Archer in the Guild Lord area and welcome two new Knight NPCs. As melee characters, Knights will aggressively charge out of the Guild Lord's inner chamber to attack enemies. This change makes each base much less of a sanctuary for defense-oriented teams. Teams can whittle down the Guild Lord's defenses quite effectively by first luring out and eliminating the Knights before pushing into the Guild Lord's chamber.

More importantly, the removal of a Bodyguard makes the NPCs far more susceptible to a split strategy. With only one source of AoE damage to worry about, a one- or two-person "gank" squad can easily wipe out the NPCs guarding the Guild Lord if left unchecked.

However, defensive builds can now rely on VoD to arrive ten minutes sooner and to affect all players. Thus, a build that can combine solid defensive capabilities with a high-powered damage spike can hold out for VoD and take advantage of the lower health totals and the damage boost to quickly slay enemies.


Building With It All Together

After pondering these changes, we can draw a number of conclusions. First of all, two-Monk backlines will have much greater difficulty sustaining healing. Second, the Guild Lord's chamber not only offers weaker defenses for a turtling team, but has also become likely to get dismantled by a split strategy. Lastly, guilds that play for a VoD advantage reach ideal circumstances sooner.

The next step involves creating or tailoring your team's build to deal with these new developments. As we have already seen this season, top guilds have taken advantage of the backline deficiency by playing pressure builds featuring two Warriors and two or three Rangers with Debilitating Shot. For example, focus-firing on one Monk and draining 20 to 30 Energy at once, combined with the reduced ability of a Blessed Light Monk to recoup that Energy loss, means that opponents have a far more difficult time keeping up with both the Warrior damage and Conditions from Ranger preparations such as Melandru's Arrows and Apply Poison.

However, guilds must also consider the strength of their own backline. The most extreme pressure builds simply rely on out-damaging the opponent to keep their own Monks protected. Others bring a Necromancer with an Energy-recharging skill such as Blood Ritual or Blood is Power to charge up their Monks and reduce the effect of enemy Energy-denial tactics.

Blood Ritual
Blood Ritual
Blood Ritual Blood Ritual
Necromancer - Blood Magic - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 2
Duration: 8..14
Recharge: 2
Enchantment Spell. Sacrifice 17% maximum Health. For 8..14 seconds, target touched ally gains +3 Energy regeneration. Blood Ritual cannot be used on the caster.

Some guilds have tried to incorporate a Ritualist or third Monk to the build. Both of these characters may contribute to offensive output through Channeling Magic and Smiting Prayers, respectively.

Note also that pressure builds can take advantage of both of the mechanical changes to GvG play. By pressuring the opponent's defenses until they can no longer withstand the damage, a pressure build can push surviving foes back into their base, where the NPCs have become easier to pick off. Victories come quickly, particularly against those who have not adapted their backline to deal with their Monks' decreased efficiency. If the game somehow goes to VoD, the damage boost and lower Health totals typically give the advantage to a normal pressure build's Warrior-heavy offense.

Putting these concepts together, a savvy guild may run a pressure build featuring two Warriors, two Debilitating Shot Rangers who apply different Conditions to opponents, a Tainted Flesh Necromancer who spreads Disease to opponents while charging up two Blessed Light Monks with Blood Ritual, and an Elementalist flag runner who can provide long range support with Heal Party and Extinguish. Such a team can send a Ranger with Crippling Shot and Apply Poison with the Elementalist to counter opposing attempts to eliminate its NPCs. Moreover, these character builds suffer from few negative effects from the skill changes.

Likewise, guilds can consider making changes to keep existing builds competitive. For example, with Irresistible Blow becoming less ubiquitous, skills such as Aegis and Ward Against Melee now become less risky to run. Both of these spells also help against pressure builds, stopping a good percentage of both melee and ranged attacks. While team builds can vary greatly, making even minor adjustments based on anticipating the competitive environment can reap major benefits.


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