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State of the Game— April 2, 2007

Preparing for the Worst
Countering the 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.


When designing a new build or retooling an old one, players must consider prevalent trends in the current metagame. This process begins a game within the game of trying to play a build opponents won't expect and, therefore, won't be prepared for. Deciding whether to use a narrow skill to counter a specific threat or to handle opponents in a more general manner depends on how important it is that you diffuse the threat, the frequency with which you expect to encounter the threat, the effectiveness of your narrow solution, and the synergy of that solution with the rest of your build.


Threat Level

Before equipping skills to respond to builds prevalent in the metagame, players should first determine whether those builds even pose a threat to them.

Price of Failure
Price of Failure
Price of FailurePrice of Failure
Necromancer - Curses - Hex Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 2
Duration: 30
Recharge: 20
Hex Spell. For 30 seconds, target foe has a 25% chance to miss with attacks and takes 1..46 damage whenever that foe fails to hit in combat.

Let's say Hex-heavy teams, those that rely on Hexes to pressure and shut down opposing offenses, dominate the current metagame. After watching matches on Observer Mode, a definite pattern of Hexes being used by these teams emergesPrice of Failure, Spirit of Failure, Reckless Haste, Blurred Vision, Insidious Parasite, and Spiteful Spirit all focus on shutting down opposing melee characters. A team that relies on Warriors and Assassins should consider bringing skills such as Purge Signet or Convert Hexes to remove the Hex stacks from melee characters. Otherwise, their offense will be in danger anytime they run up against a Hex-heavy build. On the other hand, an all-caster spike team can typically get away with running single removal skills such as Holy Veil against the same teams. Holy Veil can mitigate Migraine while regular healing can deal with Health degeneration.

Changing tactics may often be more helpful than switching up your skills. Outside of a tournament situation with a known opponent, changing your Skill Bar to account for one opponent leaves the team more susceptible to other opponents. Changing tactics, however, allows the team to work with familiar skills, just in a different way. Instead of taking the other team head-on, your team can split against a Hex build. Rather than focusing on Monks, your Mesmers can shut down the Hexers, freeing up the Warriors to pressure opposing Monks more directly. Monks can use Holy Veil as a maintained Enchantment to immediately remove Hexes that would otherwise get covered.


Frequency

How often you encounter certain builds also helps determine whether you should bring narrow skills or prepare more general solutions. Come up against a build often enough and it seems foolhardy not to prepare for it. Yet, if you devote too many skills to handle one threat, you leave yourself vulnerable to other threats; and the diversity of the metagame dictates that you will face other threats at some point.

For example, Aegis only blocks attacks, not spells. Against caster-based spikes, Aegis actually turns into a liability because it fuels Shatter Enchantment on a spike. However, the high percentage of teams using melee characters in the metagame justifies its use. Likewise, very few teams currently run Air Spike, so Mantra of Lightning and Ward Against Elements, while excellent counters to Air Spike, become wasted skill slots in most of the matches your team will play.

Purge Signet
Purge Signet
Purge SignetPurge Signet
Monk - No Attribute - Signet
Activation: 2
Recharge: 20
Signet. Remove all Hexes and Conditions from target ally. You lose 10 Energy for each Hex and each Condition removed.

Given the same hypothetical Hex-heavy metagame from the previous section, if every other opposing guild seems to run a lot of Hexes, then, at the very least, Monks should carry some form of Hex removal by default. Having two copies of Holy Veil and one Purge Signet distributed among your backline provides quite a bit of Hex removal when coordinated correctly, and allows each Monk to bring enough other skills to keep the team alive against different types of threats. Purge Signet even doubles as Condition removal and can help a Monk remove the Dazed Condition from himself.


Effectiveness

Expose Defenses
Expose Defenses
Expose DefensesExpose Defenses
Assassin - Deadly Arts - Hex Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 1
Duration: 5..20
Recharge: 25
Hex Spell. For 5..20 seconds, target foe cannot block your attacks.

Players must also gauge the effectiveness of the skills and strategies they use to deal with popular builds as they make choices about how to counter those builds. Imagine that Shadow Prison Assassins plague the current metagame, Shadow Stepping into backlines and unleashing a lethal flurry of attacks that require a Hex on the target. General counters such as Aegis and Guardian work well against other melee characters, but these Assassins cast Expose Defenses and proceed to pulverize otherwise-protected players. Teams must then bring more effective counters, such as Hex Breaker or Holy Veil, that remove the Hexes fueling the Shadow Prison Assassin attack chain, or use more proactive measures such as Blinding Surge or Faintheartedness to simply stop the attack. These latter counters also help your team regardless of the build you face because these skills offer direct damage or Health degeneration.

Guiding Hands
Guiding Hands
Guiding HandsGuiding Hands
dervish/Wind Prayers - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.25
Duration: 20
Recharge: 30
Enchantment Spell. For 20 seconds, your next 2..6 attacks cannot be blocked.

After coming up against a lot of these counters, however, melee-centric teams will bring ways to deal with them. Mending Touch currently has the same recycle time as Blinding Surge and gets around any attempts at covering Blindness with another Condition. Of course, the melee character loses out in the long run in this skill battle, because he has to stop chasing his target and cast each time the counter gets applied. Melee characters work better when a support profession keeps them clean. Melee-spike teams can also bring Warrior/Dervishes with Guiding Hands to simply make their attacks unblockable during a spike.

General counters such as interrupts and knock downs, as well as skills like Diversion, prove effective against most builds. These do, however, require more knowledge and attention in combat to use effectively than narrower skills that shut down specific threats. For example, Diversion takes practice to use effectively. Placing it on an enemy randomly produces little benefit. The player with Diversion must know what causes the biggest problem to the team's build, and target Diversion and other shut-down efforts at stopping that problem. Blinding Surge, as mentioned above, hinders melee characters. Targeting the blinder with Diversion can help a melee-heavy team sustain their damage during a spike.


Synergy

Natural Stride
Natural Stride
Natural StrideNatural Stride
Ranger - Wilderness Survival - Stance
Energy: 5
Activation: 0
Duration: 1..8
Recharge: 12
Stance. For 1..8 seconds, you run 33% faster and have a 50%% chance to block incoming attacks. Natural Stride ends if you become Hexed or Enchanted.

You should favor those solutions to the current metagame's threats that have greatest synergy with the rest of your team's build. This prevents the team from sacrificing too much of its own effectiveness solely to deal with what the other team might bring. A split team can deal with melee threats by bringing Ward Against Melee or Aegis, but these solutions cut down on the team's mobility and ability to split. A solution such as Natural Stride allows team members to run quickly while also blocking a number of attacks.

Teams can also choose similar skills that have great synergy with the solutions they have chosen. A team that decides to run Aegis may select Dismiss Condition for Condition removal over Mend Condition or Mend Ailment, because placing an Enchantment on every member of the team turns Dismiss Condition into another heal and also provides spot Condition removal.


Skill over Skills

Despite the availability of hard counters to just about any skill that could become prevalent in the metagame, the mechanics of the game still favors player skill to the skills on that player's bar. A balanced team with more general solutions should perform well against a gimmick build but can still go toe-to-toe against other teams. Players should use skill selection as a countermeasure sparingly, hedging against only those popular builds the team finds too difficult to counter normally or when facing a known opponent who will most likely run a certain build.


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