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State of the Game— May 29, 2007

Swiss Blitz
Preparing for the Automated GvG Tournament 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.


Searing Flames
Searing Flames
Searing FlamesSearing Flames [Elite]
Elementalist - Fire Magic - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 1
Recharge: 2
Spell. Target foe and all nearby foes are struck with Searing Flames. Foes already on fire when this Skill is cast are struck for 10..100 fire damage. Foes not already on fire begin Burning for 1..5 seconds.

After spending weeks perfecting your team's GvG build on the open ladder, your guild finally decides to risk the rating points and signs up for its first Automated Tournament. After paying five Tournament Tokens to Tolkano, your guildmates buzz with anticipation over your voice server as the seconds count down until your first first-round pairing. The moment of truth arrives. As the Automated Tournament system pairs you up with a top-100 guild you’ve played before on the ladder, you feel confident that meticulous skill selection and attribute point tweaks will earn your first tournament victory in a high-profile match. Zoning into Burning Isle for round one, your team races across the lava, ready to Hex some Warriors and knock down some Mesmers—only to have your team spiked out and rolled over by five Searing Flames Elementalists.

Welcome to Automated Tournaments, where guilds can use their knowledge of both the maps and their opponents to rack up Qualifier and Tournament Reward Points.


Fixed Maps

When signing up for Automated Tournaments, each tournament lists the maps for each round. Recent tournaments have had teams face off in the Burning Isle during the first round, followed by Imperial Isle, Isle of Meditation, Druid's Isle, and Frozen Isle. As discussed in a previous article, each map features unique quirks and encourages different styles of play.

Virtual Dragons [vD], currently ranked #1 on the Guild Ladder, recently surprised a less-experienced first-round opponent with a Searing Flames spike. While easily stopped by prepared opponents, Searing Flames can cut through teams that over-prepare for melee pressure or Hex-heavy builds, both of which also take advantage of the cramped corridors and anti-split landscape of Burning Isle. Searing Flames benefits from the lava pits, which inflict the Burning Condition that Searing Flames needs to deal damage to its targets. Naturally, [vD] switched to a more conventional build for Round Two on Imperial Isle against a higher-rated opponent.

Rotting Flesh
Rotting Flesh
Rotting FleshRotting Flesh
Necromancer - Death Magic - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 3
Recharge: 3
Spell. Target fleshy creature becomes Diseased for 10..25 seconds and slowly loses Health.

Another top-ten guild, Ominous Latin Name [tag], recently took advantage of the cramped quarters of Imperial Isle to run a Hex-heavy build. With the team able to cover both routes to their base, [tag] forced its opponent into an 8v8 situation, shut down enemy melee with Hexes such as Spirit of Failure and Price of Failure, and locked up key elite caster skills with Signet of Humility. As the enemy Monks began to falter under the pressure, [tag] tightened the screws and used Rotting Flesh to spread Disease on the retreating foes.

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.

A top-25 guild almost went down to defeat at the hands of a mid-400s guild in a fourth round match on Druid's Isle because their build did not split as well as the opponent's Recall-powered split. The game came down to the disparity in GvG experience, as the top-25 guild adjusted to the opposing split, evened up the NPC numbers at VoD, and prevented the opposing Assassins from ganking the Guild Lord. While the more skilled guild prevailed in the end, this guild could have come better prepared to face such extreme split builds considering the pre-determined map choice.


Known Opponents

Five minutes before each tournament match starts, Guild Wars identifies your opponent. If you know a particular opponent well and have prepared to play a plethora of builds, you can use those five minutes to adjust your team's build to capitalize on your opponents' weaknesses. For example, if you know they have trouble against enemy splits, consider swapping to a split build.

Even when you don't know what your opponent will run, you can still run a build that will allow you to make the most of the announced map. This way, regardless of what your opponent decides to bring, you can still try to execute your game plan.


Case Study: Hex-heavy Builds

Reaper's Mark
Reaper's Mark
Reaper's MarkReaper's Mark [Elite]
Necromancer - Soul Reaping - Hex Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Duration: 30
Recharge: 15
Hex Spell. For 30 seconds, target foe suffers -1..5 Health degeneration. If that foe dies while Hexed with Reaper's Mark, you gain 5..15 Energy.

By now, most GvG players have seen the team build archetype that runs two to three Hex casters, two melee characters, a Water Elementalist flag runner, and two Monks. This Hex-heavy build relies on overloading the opponent's Hex removal options, thereby getting ahead of the opponent on Energy and Health and scoring kills from the inability of opposing Monks to keep up with melee pressure. A Necromancer fueled by Reaper's Mark and Glyph of Lesser Energy spreads anti-melee and Health degeneration Hexes such as Reckless Haste and Suffering. A Mesmer brings the anti-caster Hex, Migraine, and other degeneration spells such as Conjure Phantasm and Images of Remorse, while keeping Energy up by combining Spirit of Failure with the Necromancer's Price of Failure. Optionally, a second Mesmer uses Panic to escalate the opponents' woes while using other Domination Magic spells to shut casters down. Some teams prefer a Burning Arrow Ranger to this second Mesmer for split capability, backup flag running, and spammable interrupts.

In halls such as Burning Isle and Imperial Isle, which do not favor splits, Hex-heavy teams can keep opposing melee from exerting enough pressure on their soft-armored casters while preventing opposing casters from stifling their own melee. Experienced opponents, however, focus on interrupting and removing key Hexes while taking down the Monks and the most problematic Hexers. Teams that rely on their Warriors need to keep them free of the Necromancer's performance-reducing Hexes—sometimes to the point of bringing off-Monk Hex removal such as a Paragon/Mesmer with Expel Hexes—while caster spike teams can mostly ignore the Necromancer but must focus on the Mesmer(s).

Hex teams have somewhat of a disadvantage at VoD, though, because Health degeneration does not become any more effective at VoD while more conventional offenses deal additional damage thanks to the VoD shout. Less experienced teams who run this type of build also tend to have issues dealing with splits.

But let's say that a guild decided to run Hex-heavy in an AT. While Warriors provide more consistent melee pressure, Melandru Dervishes can take advantage of their immunity to Conditions on Burning Isle. The narrow paths in Burning Isle also make a Dervish's scythe more deadly because it can more often strike multiple targets with one swing. This AoE damage gives the Hex-team an option to slaughter multiple NPCs simultaneously at VoD, thereby nullifying one drawback to running Hexes. For the second round on Imperial Isle, however, the Hex-heavy team may want to swap back to Warriors, who split better than Melandru Dervishes and do not rely on confined spaces to pressure the opponent. Going into the third round on Isle of Meditation, such a guild would then want to swap in a Burning Arrow Ranger if they did not already have one for the better split capability in that split-heavy map. Thus, even established builds can use modifications from round to round to optimize the team's chances of winning.

Shield of Deflection
Shield of Deflection
Shield of DeflectionShield of Deflection [Elite]
Monk - Protection Prayers - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 0.25
Duration: 1..7
Recharge: 5
Enchantment Spell. For 1..7 seconds, target ally has a 75% chance to block attacks and gains 15..30 armor.

Now let's say the opponent knew the guild well enough to know it would most likely face a Hex-heavy build. The opponent could elect to run Divert Hexes, to remove Hexes en masse, or Shield of Deflection on one of its Monks instead of Restore Condition to prevent the Hex-heavy team’s melee characters from doing much damage.


A Slight Diversion

Reverse Hex
Reverse Hex
Reverse HexReverse Hex
Monk - Protection Prayers - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 0.25
Duration: 5..10
Recharge: 10
Enchantment Spell. Remove one Hex from target ally. For 5..10 seconds, the next time target ally would take damage, that damage is reduced by 5..50.

With Christian's recent article on Dervishes, I wanted to share a Dervish build my guild has experimented with in ladder play to combat Hex-heavy builds. Eschewing the Energy-hungry Avatar of Melandru, we instead used the heavily armored, speed-buffed Avatar of Balthazar. The long duration on the Avatar combined with the Holy damage meant that our Dervishes could keep up the pressure on opponents for quite some time. To battle Conditions such as Blind and Cripple, our Dervishes carried Mending Touch. The Monk secondary also allowed our Dervishes to bring the recently-buffed Reverse Hex. While lackluster for other professions, Reverse Hex shines on a Dervish. The quarter-second cast allows for pinpoint Hex removal without the need to maintain an Enchantment like Holy Veil. As an Enchantment itself, Reverse Hex gave back Energy due to the Dervish's Mysticism attribute (when used on the Dervish itself), and its ten-second recharge allowed our Dervishes to use the skill quite often.

Most notably, the Balthazar Dervish/Monk splits quite effectively. Between Reverse Hex, Mending Touch, and the Avatar's armor bonus, the Dervish should never lose to the average Shadow Prison Assassin. If paired with a Water Elementalist runner, the Dervish can pack Rending Sweep to punish casters who try to gank.

While this type of Dervish might not find a home in every build, keep in mind that metagame solutions can exist outside of what you commonly see on Observer Mode. In addition, the few losses we did suffer while using these Dervishes indicates that success in Automated Tournaments and Guild Wars in general still boils down to play skill, not just the skills you play.


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